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October 11th, 2006

I’m a Painter

Breast Cancer Awareness MonthIt's lunchtime, and I'm at my desk reading Sark's Succulent Wild Woman and I get to a part about painting and how we can all be painters.

I think about how much I hate the way I draw; that I felt I never could draw even though I wished so badly to be able to do so. I just assumed my artistic talent in life was writing - with none left for sketching, painting, etc.

But Sark says to paint, don't judge yourself or be critical, just paint. I thought of how calming and freeing that would be.

Then she says:

Be kind to your new paint spirits - they might be young and unknown. How will you know about yourself and painting if you don't paint? Certainly not from past evidence. That has no basis. Did someone tell you you can't paint? A person, or your own inner critic?

Reading this, I found myself nodding, and a memory flooded into my mind: Third grade. Firecrackers. Shame.

I was in the second grade (or one of the early elementary grades), and there was some holiday coming up (was it Easter...or summer vacation? I can't remember). Our teacher had a long, long seemingly-endless swath of poster paper. She divided each into "sections" (one for each of us) that was ours to draw and color a picture related to whatever-holiday was impending. She intended to wrap the poster paper around the entire classroom when she was done,wall to wall to wall to wall - an on-going, never-stopping mural. It was a neat idea.

It was spread out on the floor, and we each sat in front of our section with Crayons all over the floor and around us. I used to love to draw; I was constantly getting in trouble for doodling on my desktops (I couldn't stop!). I was so excited as I planned out my picture - a house, a tree with a swing, and happy people below watching a beautiful, colorful fireworks display in the sky. The fireworks were going to be amazing; I wanted them to be as realistic as possible - so that whenever you gazed upon them, you would feel as if you were seeing real, live fireworks (yes, I was as intense a child as I am an adult).

I spent a lot of time on those fireworks. Bright, bursts of color - with rays of color coming from the center; the rays I colored in heavily so you could see (and feel) the light and color and excitement! The entire top part of my section was sprinkled with big, bright and beautiful fireworks.

I was proud; I was so excited about my piece and how it was turning out - I imagined everyone loving it and complimenting me on it and my so-real-to-life fireworks. I remember so very distinctly how I felt because it was even more of a crushing shock when my teacher called me out.

She was walking around, inspecting everyone's work, and she stopped at mine. I looked up when I heard her angry and horrified voice exclaim, "Shanna!!"

To say she hated it would be putting it lightly. She yelled at me, told me what I'd done was ugly and that I had ruined the pretty section of the girl next to me (I don't remember what she'd drawn; only that it was soft and simple). I had "ruined it", she repeated, and I should be ashamed of myself. I suppose she thought I'd done something to purposefully "ruin" the picture; I hadn't. She made me apologize to the girl drawing on the side of me.

I was numb with shock - and embarassment. Everyone had stopped coloring and was staring up at me; she was yelling very loudly. She told me I was no longer allowed to work on the mural, and sent me to sit at a desk - alone - while the rest of the class was on the floor happily coloring. I put my head down, sobbing, and tried to figure out what I'd done wrong. Was my drawing that hideously horrible? How could she think I would sabatoge an art project on purpose? Had I really ruined everyone's beautiful pictures and hard work with my atrocity? But I'd worked so hard on it! I really, truly had thought it was a firework masterpiece! I had intended to draw the best Crayon-drawn fireworks ever created - and somehow had really messed up. How? Why?

After the mural was finished, it was hung up in the classroom as planned - my shame up there for everyone to see. I stole glances at it now and again sometimes during class - still trying to gauge if it was that bad. I couldn't look at it without shame and embarassment.

Looking back now, I realize how truly awful it was for that teacher to do that to me - to belittle and criticize a child's imagination and artistic growth. At the time, I just felt I was the most god-awful artist to have ever been born. There's still a bit defiance in me, though; to this day, I still draw my firecrackers the same way.

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