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Would you help me reinvent myself? Right now? All you have to do is keep reading. Go ahead, believe I’m a writer. Besides this being a thrill for my husband who can pretend he’s having an affair with another woman, I’ll be a step closer to the miracle of finally being what I want to be when I grow up.
I’m thinking like this because of the charcoal sketch. The one I run into every five or so years when I’m inspired to sift through a dusty old trunk full of ‘saved stuff’. Since I am supposedly a left-brained scientist and therefore theoretically art-impaired, when I saw the charcoal sketch this time I saw it as an anomaly worth celebrating. Not that I wanted to do anything fancy but I did decide to hang it on the wall.
I went to the frame shop on my birthday to have my first ever published story framed, and figured I’d get a mat for the sketch at the same time. I was going to toss it into a frame I already had that was practically the right size. No need to put any money into the thing.
But when I told the lady behind the counter of my plans she said, “Oh, that’s too special to put in just any frame. I can make this thing look fantastic.” This was her job after all.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I stalled. It was just a little drawing, not real art for Pete’s sake, but it would be nice. She announced she could do it for $45, which was of course, way too much. Was I crazy? Forty-five dollars to frame a scrap of paper?
My husband said, “Why not, go ahead, you want to.”
So I did. I said okay to the lady.
In no time I was crying. This happens sometimes when I do things impulsively, casually granting myself some little perk. That’s when I discover that I actually have greatly wanted this experience without ever letting myself in on the whole struggle. As you can see, I have impressive powers of self-denial. It was like the time I purchased fifty dollars worth of arranged flowers, which we should not have been affording, for our four-month old baby girl. It wasn’t until I stepped out of the florist shop, order form in hand, that I realized celebrating the joy of her joining us with flowers was really a symbol for my intentions to celebrate her always, and I choked back happy tears at my effort. And I guess it was like finally framing a picture I’d held on to for thirty years. The meaning, in the juxtaposition on the counter, of my published story right next to my unlikely artwork, took me by surprise. I had tricked myself into believing the sketch was literally just a sketch, when apparently it symbolized much more.
My education has rarely included art classes but in 1976 to fulfill high school graduation requirements, I took ‘Fashion’, a drawing class. I was quite confident I couldn’t draw, but I was curious about the process. Connie Burkhart, the teacher, would not accept my claim that I wasn’t an artist, but insisted that I could draw if I tried.
She’d coach me, she said, and, “You’ll see, you can do it.”
I doubted seriously whether I could produce anything respectable, but I was there to learn, and I was young and gullible so I went along.
Her first instruction was to believe I could do it. Right. Flatly, obediently, I suggested to myself, I believe I can do it. Day after day in addition to this grandiose idea, I applied her technical direction as well. To get the ‘essence’ on paper, not the literal picture, ‘just get the suggestion’ of the fur coat she told me. We’ll fill in the details later. In this vein I tried to get the ‘essence’ of believing I could do it, ‘just the suggestion’ of believing. We would fill in the details later. I worked hard on my semester-long sketch, and slowly it came to life.
In fact, something absolutely magical happened. One day I noticed that the forces of nature had come together and some how, ideas met physical nature and the force of will, and the whole damn thing emerged as a real drawing that I had personally done. It appeared as if an artist’s hand had sketched the lithe uptown woman posing provocatively in her lavish fur coat, staring from the page in stark black and white shadings, as a direct copy of the newsprint. At least that’s what I saw.
In the end she showed me, she proved to me, she insisted to me that I could draw if I wanted to. More than that of course she was teaching me a life lesson. The point was that if you decided ahead that you couldn’t do it, you would need some serious coaching out of that place. But if you decided ahead you could do it, well with the right coaching, the right help, and with that idea of limitless possibilities, it could be done.
I haven’t done any artwork like my charcoal masterpiece since, but I have been creating other things. For a while now I have been fooling around with words, lining them up in different ways just for the fun of it. The truth is I probably saved my ancient artwork deep in a trunk of childhood papers and journals and reports cards and term papers so I would find it years later. So I’d find it when I needed it most, that is when I needed to be reminded of the lesson it supposedly had already taught me…that with anything in life you just have to believe you can do it and it can happen.
So, since I guess you’re still reading, I’ll say thanks.