Flower dribble painting done by a middle school girl in Lowell, MA, public schools.
A week before posting the blog Just Be Yourself, I was speaking excitedly to another artist about the artwork I was doing with kids in public schools.
When I saw her again a few days later, she’d processed the information, and she told me what I was doing wasn’t such a big deal, inferred it was a menial job, and I shouldn’t be getting so excited about it. I think she took my excitement as bragging, when it was just pure excitement.
I was blown away. Am still in shock. She’s an artist and she’s telling me teaching kids art isn’t important? I could see right through what she was saying. If I had a show at a gallery then I’d be important, then I’d have the right to be excited. (Although I’m thinking she would probably have found a way to crush the spirit of that too.)
You’ve got to love New Englanders for their passionate clinging to status. Whereas on the US West Coast, an artist friend might grapple inwardly with their ego demons, here people just say it all out loud. I feel like everyone here has one of those squeaky plastic mallets and they keep bonking each other on the head with them.
I’ll also put out there that this woman suffers from depression. Clinical depression. I always wonder how much such depression has to do with the rabid constraints, the voracious demands of the never satisfied ego.
I know as I’ve followed the simplicity of my soul message, my depressions have disappeared. These soul messages have urged me toward very humble pursuits, not toward some fancy university education in fiction, but toward teaching writing in community college extension programs (which led to a successful and edifying writing coaching and teaching career).
Or these messages led me to explore my own spiritual connection, to study mysticism and read tarot cards in the back of an independent bookstore — Santoros Books in Seattle (which led me to read independent authors extensively and fostered a friendship with another lover of words, Carol Santoro, the owner, who then supported public fiction readings of my work and my students’ work).
I don’t want to underestimate depression. I’ve been through hell and back so many times I’ve got frequent flyer miles. All aboard! Next stop hell! No charge! So, please don’t think I speak of freeing myself from depression lightly. But I see it again and again, the humbler and more open to the simplicity of the spirit we are, the less likely we are to suffer depression.
Spiritually, deep down, I think I knew I had to give hundreds of kids in a ‘normal’ school setting permission to be themselves, so that I would give myself permission to be myself as an artist.
And I know that doesn’t mean a gallery show. Anyway, I’ve always known I won’t be showing in any sort of gallery that wants reproductions of bucolic lighthouses and seascapes. It’ll have to be a pretty radical gallery. But I’m not going to live my life in depression waiting for that to happen.
I’d rather be happy now, and splash some paint around with sixth graders. Yesterday, after I finished a quite brutal two and half hours of painting with 40 middle schoolers (Miss, should I use blue or red on the hat? Miss, does this eye look OK? Miss, Miss, Miss, Miss…) anyway, after we’d finally finished our boards and this cacophony of color pulsed up from the 40 boards lining one of the tables, the teacher blared music from a stereo. And we danced. We danced and danced.
We did the maquerena.