When my parents moved out of the second home of my youth, mom put together a collection of essential and non-essential miscellany for each one of us six kids to come and collect. Things like old report cards, birth certificates and any art work that managed to survive the first move, decades ago.
I was married at the time and raising a child of my own, so needless to say, I was delighted to find in my potpourri of my personal ancient artifacts, an autobiography written in second grade (which, conceptually tickles me. How much living has a second grader done that is worth writing about? Mine was 10 pages.)
But there was also a piece of artwork from kindergarten which was a big deal to me as it’s my first recollection of being able to put myself “out there” for others to see. At least that’s how I viewed it.
We worked on it for several days. There’s planning involved, which makes me feel both impatient and important as it includes a large drawing on manila paper. (What makes this paper manilla? And why do teachers act like it’s made of gold? )
In the final product, carefully attached to the artwork is printing paper, containing it’s essential road map of two solid green lines and a broken center line.
(Annoying as I find this, I’ve learned to embrace the center line because it’s like the “yield sign” in letter writing. Without it, my h’s, m’s and n’s are unruly and often go rogue. These lines provide discipline and structure, the earlier trait being my friend, the latter, not so much.) Nonetheless these lines serve as a marker for progress and understanding of letter formation, something which may comes easily to some, not so much to others.
I love this project, although handwriting is my “Waterloo”. (I sometimes find some of my letters facing the wrong way, as though they are eager to chat with the one next to it. It’s how I got the nickname “Culie cools!” Think about it.)
In spite of my confused handwriting, I still get a chance for my moment in the sun because the second part involves artwork which requires careful thought and planning and helps to drive my project. Sister Marie Imelda isn’t going to just thrust us willy nilly into the universe to create just anything. That decision alone could take weeks. It requires a theme. (Sister’s no slouch when it comes to teaching. On the contrary, she’s a warrior in the front lines, standing less than 5 feet tall, never raising her voice, with the help of a rather meek assistant in her 40’s , she teaches 50 kids in the morning and another 50 in the afternoon. She was also my parents’ kindergarten teacher, with no sign of stopping.)
The theme is “If you could be anything, what would you be?” The prompt alone gives one pause, as this is where the crossroads of planning and execution meet. My answer is crystal clear. I want to be a famous movie star who sings and dances like Shirley
Temple (aka “Heidi” or Judy Garland “Dorothy”.) But here’s the “rub”, as they say. There’s no way my art can do either person justice with my box like figures. What’s the point if I am forced to explain my work?
The serious waning of my enthusiasm is not lost on Sister. (I don’t have a good poker face.) She comes over and puts her arm around me.
“What’s the matter Julie? Are you having trouble? Why aren’t you working?”
But I can’t draw them. No one will know who I’m drawing and it will look stupid! So now I don’t know what to do.”
“It won’t look stupid. Why don’t you try? I’ll check back with you. ”
I secretly want to bring in a picture and just glue it. But we’re not quite at the multimedia stage yet. Nor does it allow me the opportunity to draw with crayons.
I tried very briefly to execute Shirley’s curly head to no avail. She looked more like a deranged Medusa than Shirley Temple.
Sister came around again. In spite of being visibly frustrated, I’ve made up my mind that I’m going to conquer this beast!
“How’s it coming dear?” She asks.
“You know Julie, it will be lovely no matter what you do because it comes from you. ”
“Thank you. But if we’re putting these up in the wall for parents’ day, I want it to be good! ”
“I understand. Let me ask you something. If you don’t like to draw people, what do you like to draw? What do you think you’re good at drawing?”
“FLOWERS! I LIKE TO DRAW FLOWERS!”
“Wonderful! Everyone loves flowers. Is there a way you can use flowers as part of your story? Think about that and then maybe it will come together for you.”
“I don’t know how to spell “flowers”. That sounds like a lot of letters.”
“I will get you a flashcard with the word “flowers ” on it. You copy it. Ok?”
“Ok!” I reply, as though I’m Steve Jobs having just convened a board meeting where I’ve decided to launch the first ipod.
I put on my “thinking cap” and go to work, trying to translate my dream of being a famous singing movie star into flowers. That’s a tall order. Talk about non-sequitor…
The third chance to shine in this project (in the event that art is not your thing, and handwriting is a big challenge) comes in the form of content. How to succinctly convey your dream in only a few sentences. After all, we only had 4 lines to work with and my printing was huge.
I ponder my words over and over as I draw daisies. How do I use flowers to say what I really want so people will understand?
Do you ever find yourself standing before a birthday cake, delaying the ritual of blowing out the candles because of the annual birthday wish? I do…always. (Admittedly, it’s been awhile since I had a birthday cake. Nowadays mine would have so many candles that any delay in blowing them out might create the equivalent of a layer of hot lava swimming around an erupted volcano.)
I always take too long for the wish as though a magic genie is standing in the wings growing impatient saying “You’ve got one wish. Better make it a good one!”
That’s how I feel about my words in this project. After all, this will be my first “audience”. (My other “audience” is comprised of crashing the adults’ cocktail parties and singing for spare change.) But this is different. I’m creating content. It’s like putting my wish out into the universe. It has to be right!
Finally. The day arrives when Sister’s assistant comes around to assemble our masterpieces, fastening the manilla paper to the handwritten story. Et voilà!
After assembling mine, she reads it, smiles does a double-take at the box like figure that is me, poised in the middle of lots of flowers. It reads, ” I would like to be a flower so everyone will like to look at me!”
And so, fifty some odd years later, this is the reason for my blog. Perhaps it’s classic middle child stuff, but I have so many stories to tell and so much to share, that I intend to do it here.
Although I’m not big on socializing these days, that doesn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying life and being truly inspired, amused and grateful on a daily basis. I often find myself laughing (alone) out loud. That may sound nuts to you, but if you knew some of my thoughts, you might laugh too. Perhaps you’ll stick around and tell me if you do. Time will tell.
Thanks for checking out my new blog. I intend to write as often as possible, with the caveat that I may cover a wide range of topics, whether it’s about a favorite artist, cultural trends, a show I’m currently writing, or even a favorite recipe.
Some days I may rant, while others I may rejoice. Regardless, I hope, if nothing else, you find my “Where’s Waldo/ADHD writing style entertaining.
And now A WORD ABOUT TEACHERS…
I’d like to dedicate this piece to all the dedicated teachers out there. Although you are considerably underpaid for your devotion to helping form and inspire young minds, you have the power to change the future. Please take it seriously and take solace in that.
Steve Jobs, Orville and Wilbur Wright and Eleanor Roosevelt all had teachers. At one time their young brains were like sheets of paper with very little writing on them. Clearly someone inspired them and countless others. You have both the honor and awesome responsibility of being able to write on your students’ “pages”.
To those of you who are dedicated to your students and try to keep that responsibility in the forefront, you have my greatest affection, respect and admiration. It’s a tough job (particularly having to deal with parents) and by far, one of the most important if not the most important one there is.
If you happen to be a teacher who has lost your zeal or worse, who hates your job, please do yourself and others a favor and either fix it or leave the profession. You’ll be happier for it and no one will judge you.
Given the profound impact teachers may have in writing on that page, I think teachers should try to live by the part of the Hippocratic Oath that says, “First, do no harm.”
Case in point: My dearest friend on the planet, the kindest person I know, had a second grade teacher who humiliated him in front of the class telling him he was a terrible singer and he should never sing in public again. Then to add insult to injury, she put him in the corner. This story breaks my heart. Music is a gift that should belongs to everyone!
To this day he wouldn’t be caught dead singing in front of anyone. This is a raw deal by any standards. What’s even worse is, this horrible woman was not only cruel, but clueless about music! Unbeknownst to him, I overheard him happily singing to the radio one day and there wasn’t a pitchy note in the bunch. He sounded great!
I’d like to think that as an entrepreneur raising funds and filling theatre seats for 30 years, as well as some of my performances, have had a positive impact on some people’s lives. While my parents played a role in my successes by example and by affording me wonderful educational opportunities, in essence, they provided the vehicle. But it was my teachers who gave me the road maps, taught me to drive and gave me the courage to keep going forward no matter what obstacles or potholes may appear along the way.
If I could, I would give them all a “certificate of gratitude”, but many of them have either departed from the planet or are inaccessible. In any event, here’s my “list of honorees” and their respective contribution.
I neither expect or anticipate that you will read my list of honorees. Just creating it has been cathartic. I do hope, however that it inspires you tu create a list of your own.
LIST OF HONOREES
Sister Marie Imelda, Kindergarten, ST . GILES . Kindness, empathy, discipline and patience, and how to tie my shoes…which took forever to learn!
Sister Catherine DeRicci, 1st grade. ST GILES. Kindness, compassion and enthusiasm.
Mrs. Dreves, ST. GILES 3rd grade, etymology, history and love of language.
Miss Kelly, at home French tutor for about 2 months, my first exposure to my longstanding romance with French culture and language. (She also had the patience of a saint, taking on 5 kids at our dining room table once a week.)
Mr. Norton, 8th grade history, HERRICK JR. HIGH. He taught his love of the constitution to us by having us role play the members of the Continental Congress. It was the beginning of my fascination with the constitution, revolution and the brilliant concept of checks and balances.
Miss Wright, DOWNERS GROVE NORTH High School French Teacher, Love of French language and culture.
Sister Francia, Political Science, TRINITY HIGH SCHOOL She was a little pistol who didn’t take guff from anybody and was very outspoken, particularly about women’s rights…which was no small feat for a nun. I was so intrigued by poli-sci after taking her class, I entered college as a poli-sci major, fully intending to go to law school…until I dated a few law students.
Sister Ignatia Downey, TRINITY HIGH SCHOOL, piano teacher and close friend to Nadia Boulanger, Gaby Cassedesue and Pablo Casal. Not only was she a brilliant pianist. But she taught me about process and discipline, requiring me to throw everything I had learned on the piano (in the 7 learn proper technique. She even had me ride her hand as she gently played so I could feel the different mechanisms of her fingers as she applied various techniques. I loved her enormously. (She was also my mom’s teacher at one time.) She was very nurturing and also taught me warmth, expression and fearlessness. She submitted a recording of my playing to Nadia and I was accepted to FONTAINEBLEAU AMERICAN ACADEMY OF THE ARTS
Dick Carstens,DOWNERS GROVE NORTH high school history. He was also the football coach. His approach to history was like that of a coach. He had a great sense of humor and was very forgiving if you didn’t have your homework done. He taught personal responsibility because at the end of the day, whether or not I passed a test would ultimately be up to me. He also approached history lessons as football plays. While I’ve never been a fan of football, I became a history minor partly due to his passing on his love of history to me.
Nadia Boulanger,FONTAINEBLEAU ACADEMY OF ARTS, Fontainebleau France. Piano and theory. She taught me discipline and appreciation for music on a level I had never known before.
Annette Dieudonne FONTAINEBLEAU ACADEMY OF THE ARTS (translated means “God given”. She certainly was.) Solfège and composition teacher. She is the first person to ever tell me that I should be singing.
Dr. Solveig Randolph, English, DRAKE UNIVERSITY . I was accepted on a transitional basis because of some LD issues, which I was completely unaware of until my acceptance. I attended Drake summer session to prepare me for the fall session. She used to give us writing prompts and then put on a Bob Dylan or Pink Floyd album to write to. My first exam was en essay based on a lengthy poem about a prostitute. While the rest of the class took the obvious route making her a victim, I wrote mine saying her “john” was the victim and she was the one in control because he was so lacking he had to pay for sex. I thought I might fail the test. Her comment on my essay was ” A++ for not only a well written piece, but for showing me an angle I never would have considered!” She taught me the value of holding to your ideas and not being afraid to explore them at any cost.
Dr. Julian Archer,DRAKE, History teacher and historian. I took two classes from him. THE FINAL SOLUTION about the propagande machine that created Nazi Germany also, THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, which only had 10 people in it. He was AMAZING! He made history human. Particularly when he told a story of how Cardinal Richilieu wanted to have sex with Marie Antoinette but had to send someone to King Louis. I believe he wrote a book about the French Revolution.
Portia Boynton, DRAKE . Acting teacher, former acting coach at 20th Century Fox Studios and friend to Uta Hagen, acting guru. She made me cry when she gave me an undeserved “A” one semester in her acting class. I told her I didn’t deserve it as I messed up lines in my monologue for finals. Her response was “There will no doubt, come a time in your life when you won’t believe in yourself and you’ll want to give up. When that happens, I want you to remember that I believe in you and your talent and I’m telling you to keep going forward!” I can’t tell you how right she was. Her words still ring in my ears 30 years later!
Dr. Mike Barton, DRAKE. My handsome acting teacher and director who looked like he belonged on a film set, not on a which was a good thing. There was never any pretense with him. (He was also the teacher and director of Michael Emerson, who just received Rolling Stones Award for one of the top 10 tv villians of all time, the the series “Lost”.) He reminded us that ultimately, acting should be fun!
Sally Garfield, Dance and choreographer (also a former member of Jose Limon’s dance company.) Sally is probably the earthiest, most inspired and sensual woman I’ve ever met. Much like Sister Ignatia, she tore up the road map laid by my previous dance teachers and taught me to dance from within, starting with a breath and having ALL the senses fully engaged. She was tireless, passionate and treated us as piers.
Dr. Alan Lehl, Voice teacher DRAKE. It never hurt that he looked just like Paul Newman. He also told me “Trying to train your voice is like trying to park a mack truck in a Volkswagen parking spot.” (I never did learn how to properly control my powerful belt, so I don’t use it.) He got me to quit smoking by saying “I think it’s great that you’re parents pay you to come hear and wheeze. It’s very generous of them.” That nailed it for me.
Sheldon Patinkin, instructor, director, improv EUGENE O’NEILL THEATRE INSTITUTE . While we didn’t always get along, he taught me to believe in myself saying “You remind me of Catherine O’Hara. I’d have to listen to 100 lousy ideas from her because 98 or 99 or usually golden! So don’t give up or stop because your first idea fails. There’s gold in there. It just needs to be mined.”
Fred Voelpel, Costume designer. EUGENE O’NEILL THEATRE INSTITUTE. Fred told me that if I didn’t make it in “The biz” it would not be for lack of talent, but because I didn’t want it enough to be as competitive as it required as was evidenced by my helping the competition with their auditions.
David Hayes, EUGENE O’NEILL THEATRE INSTITUTE scenic designer and instructor . David taught us to go big or go home.
Henry Winkler, actor, director, producer and friend. EUGENE O’NEILL THEATRE INSTITUTE. He taught me the importance of tenacity, fighting for things you believe in and to fight the urge to see myself through the eyes of others. He also told me I was funny, when a director shewed me from the stage saying ib want funny. He said that being funny is a gift that doesn’t usually go away.
Who’s on your list?