This is my third post on deciding what I want to be when I grow up. My mother always told me, “Grandma Moses started painting when she was 70 years old.” I don’t know if she meant she could have started a new career as an artist or if she meant to encourage me, but I do know that 70 years old sounded really, really, really old, and so I was duly impressed.
70 doesn’t sound that old to me now and time is closing in on me.
I decided the best way to go about this was to weigh the things I love doing against each other and to assess the monetary benefits of pursuing an action.
Writing is the most obvious way to make money, but writing is only my second love (I am excluding horses: I couldn’t make money with horses if I knew squat about them, and they cost a lot of money to own).
The first thing I ever did in life that I remember is to take a pencil and draw. I was drawing before I could write. I was in detention in Kindergarten for drawing a pine tree instead of a lollipop tree ( the kid sitting next to me tattled on me and told the teacher I was ‘drawing Christmas trees’. When I defiantly pointed out that it was not a Christmas tree (no decorations) and that it looked more like a tree than the lollipop tree (I probably used that term), the teacher made me stand in the corner. I was crushed, but my sense of defiance was strengthened).
I created my first sculpture in 5th grade. I remember it vividly: it was made out of home-made papier mâchè. Each student in class made a bird, and the popular kids were very detailed and politically correct. My bird was a fantastical parrot-like creation, green, and funny-shaped. I was embarrassed at the outcome. Later in life, I realized that’s just how my brain translates to sculpture. All my papier mâchè creations since have been grotesque and strange. I’m fine with that.
I love to garden, but I came into that passion as an adult. I hated yard work when I was a child and my father snapped a long black whip over our heads. “Work, ye slaves, work! Ground, ye are! Two weeks’ detention: spend it clearing out the boulevard! I want that salt grass gone!” Other neighborhood kids came and watched us toil in our shackles and striped pajamas. “Those poor Wilcox kids. They’ll never be free…”
Okay, it wasn’t quite that dramatic. The whip was imaginary. All the rest was real.
I love to read. If I could make as much money reading as I make working a forty-hour-a-week-job, I’d read for forty hours a week. At least. I’d even put in overtime.
I hate math. Herein lies one of the greatest ironies in life: God arranged for me to have a very nice job in a closing department for a real estate company. I spend forty hours a week dealing with numbers. I have a memory for patterns and numbers, and they come very easy for me. I only hate math because I had one good math teacher in my entire public school life (Mr. English in 8th Grade). The worst math teachers were in high school and higher math. I especially despise geometry.
I love science, but I can’t deal with the rote memory of it. You’d think that would be simple, but it isn’t. I had this very lofty dream of becoming a veterinarian when I was a freshman in high school. Enter Mr. Ricketts and his biology class. He was determined that we all understood what college was going to be like and he was hard. I learned to despise fruit flies. But what was driven home more than anything was that I do not have the ability to memorize biology terms. All we had to do was memorize the bones, musculature, and nymph system of the human body.
The final was the weekend after a big conference in Las Vegas for a volunteer group I had gotten involved with. We students screwed around a lot (one night, Tracie, “Rat”, Lance, and I ran around playing “doorbell ditch” on wedding chapels. We were all going to “get married” but we didn’t know to whom we wanted to get married). But I also spent a lot of time cramming for that test, and I remember sitting in the cafe with my biology book and notes. Mr. Ricketts was one of our chaperones and he came down for breakfast at the same time. I was making notes, reading and rereading.
I failed the test. My very first core subject failure. It was a pivotal moment in my life as dreams of becoming a veterinarian were dashed completely. Mr. Ricketts, who was a notorious bad-ass, gave me a D- on my report card. I deserved an F, but he knew how hard I’d studied in Las Vegas.
He did not know I wrote my first novel in biology and passed it around to my fellow students. It was titled, “Hey, Birds.”
Today, I had an interesting conversation with a new coworker. She’s from Iowa. I mentioned that I attended Grinnell College for a year. She replied, “Wow, that’s a rich kids’ college.” Well, yeah, it was then, too. It is also a very diverse college and a wonderful liberal arts education. I was just not prepared for living away from home in the middle of the flat lands. I was not college material at the age of 17 (my father warned me: he wanted me to take a year off and then go to college. I should have listened). I loved Grinnell.
I got to see/hear Ry Cooder. Oh my Gosh – he remains one of my absolute favorite independent musical artists. I had a great design 101 professor. I pulled a B+ average. One of my favorite courses was Humanities. World History was not far behind.
Still, I dropped out. World History, the Greeks, Poetry – those stick with me. I have a very dog-eared copy of Norton’s Anthology of Poetry (1974). John Donne became my favorite sonnet poet. Simone de Beauvoir was inspiring. I hate Freud.
I passed Physics for Dummies with flying colors with a paper on the artist Christo. What can I say? Christo had to understand physics in order to do the things he did with orange drapery.
I dropped out. I was not college-ready. I wanted to be John Steinbeck and write the Great American Novel. I’ve written three or four by now, and burned them all. The only novel I ever sent to a publisher was “Hey Birds” in the 1970’s. It was a truly awful book.
Now I am here: almost 58 and trying to decide which way I want to go. Tonight, I watched a You-Tube tutorial on oil pastels. I felt inspired. I knew that I was on the right track.
The end result of this rambling post is this: I want to be an artist. I buried my Talent for years and years as I worked my way through life: there was making a living to pay the rent, then there was marriage, and then there were children. I chose to homeschool my children which turned into a full-time job (that I will never regret, although their take on homeschooling is yet to be determined*). I was thrust into a full time job working for a real estate company.
And I found every excuse under the sun about why I couldn’t also pursue an artistic career. My bad.
Now, I want to correct that. I am leaning toward art. Really leaning. This is where I need accountability.
(I didn’t even touch on photography. I’ll make that my next post.)
*For Levi. My son. You would NEVER have broken so many laws if you had attended public school. You would NEVER have run as wild as you did if you had been in public school. You NEVER would have taken up Swing Dancing with the cute girls at community college when you were 14 if you had been in public school. I just want you to know that homeschooling worked in your favor.