When my elementary school teacher told my parents that I was an “artsy type,” It caused a bit of a stir, as I recall. It was at some kind of a teacher-parent meeting, in one of those moments when they send the student off to do something else and talk to the parents alone. I’m sure mom and dad had some kind of an inkling, but to have it confirmed from an outside source was something else. I remember in the days that followed, they behaved strangely. There was a career talk, in which I was informed that I could still earn a living, I could be a “graphic artist,” which of course is a graphic designer with the second word changed so as not to upset my artist’s temperament. I was less than enchanted with the idea of designing cereal boxes or ads, and I remember feeling dread.
My parents did the things that they felt they should do as parents of an artistic child. They put me in an extra-curricular art class with some teenagers… I was eight at the time. The women who ran the class questioned my presence there but worked with me anyway. They pushed me relentlessly, mocking my efforts until I produced something that they felt was worthwhile. I was relieved to be done with that class; it was difficult and harrowing to be asked to please such demanding strangers at that age, and none of the other students there wanted anything to do with me, and they were all so much older. I’m very glad I went to the class; it set me up with artistic skills that nobody else under the age of ten seemed to have and set me ahead of the curve, making learning new things in that field a lot easier, but it was the first time I had ever had to produce anything of any quality.
My parents entered me in an art contest, a thing that I’m not really sure that I understand to this day. It was a contest at the Anacortes Arts and Crafts fair, and the drawing that was entered was a pencil drawing of a mare with her foal. It was very very good for someone my age, and I wish I still had a copy of it to show you guys, but eight year olds are not the best at maintaining records, files, or portfolios, so to this day I have no idea where it is. It’s possibly I tore it up for a project of some kind; that sounds like a thing I would do with some important piece of paper. I came away with the blue ribbon in my age group.
I never shared any writing with my parents, other than what came home from school. This is for the best, as I was writing heavy-handed but upsettingly advanced erotic short fiction by the age of twelve. Don’t worry, I don’t write erotica anymore. It’s easy to titillate and to shock, but difficult to enchant, so I look at erotic fiction as the cheater’s way out. I produced several pieces of art in high school in Singapore that I brought home; one large batik panel featuring plants and animals from my home in Alaska in disproportionately large shapes and absurdly bright colors, and a couple of watercolors including a “chinese style” watercolor of some chrysanthemums. As far as I’m aware, the pieces are still hanging in the condo that my mother used to live in. I’m sure I’ll get them back someday, and stack them in the corner and stare at them every now and then, wondering what to do with them.
My “low” score on the SAT of 1360 (this was back when the test was scored out of a total of 1600) was excused by my parents because I was an artsy type. I fell in love with oil paints while I was attending classes at Whatcom Community College; the local University simply would not have me. This is probably for the best… I am a fast learner but have always been a poor student and I never graduated from community college anyway.
I had never wanted to be an artist for a living, because I was raised to believe that such a thing was not possible; that the best someone with my disorder could hope for was to create marketing visuals. It makes me wonder, if my parents had had a more complete view of the role of the artist in human societies, how different my life might have been.