Problem: It is warmer in my studio (which is unheated) than in my house (which is.). It may only be September 17 but it is 62 degrees in my house and I am turning the heat on. I tried burning candles to keep warm but the drafts keep blowing them out. My wonderful spouse has been trying to postpone the inevitable BUT since he is up in the great up nordt sitting in a tree I am pretty confident he won’t be able to beat me to the thermostat in time to stop me.
AHHHHHhhhhh. The hum of the heater is beautiful music to my ears, and my fingers, and my toes and any other currently frozen appendage. Now my coffee will stay warm enough to drink. Mmmmm-now I am smelling warmth. It is hard to describe it but there is a smell to warmth when you first fire up the furnaces for the fall-catch that nice alliteration there? It is such an evocative scent but I can only call it warmth and very unlike the smells I was encountering earlier this week.
I had the distinct and dubious honor of visiting a high school this week and I was immediately struck by two things: I am SO glad I am not in high school and man, does it smell funky in here. I sat behind a table hawking my wares while being ignored by 90% of the people going past in the hall(some things never change) so I had plenty of time to sniff, inhale and otherwise tingle my nasal palate until I was able to filter the odors into categories. The most obvious ‘fragrance’ was bodies-which in itself could be broken down into subcategories. The next layer was a bit more difficult and took a bit more sniffing (which I tried to do without looking like my son’s coon hound).YES! It was day old white bread. That dry yeasty smell that hovers over the hallways leading to and from a school cafeteria. So, we have bodies, old white bread and one more-and this on is more complex. It take a maneuver similar to wine tasting-a rolling of the fragrance and a moment of holding the breath and I have it…a soupcon of benzoyl peroxide with a dash of fear. Ah, the memories of high school came flooding back and I broke out in a sweat, packed up my belongings and fled the building. Yeah, so not going back there. I did my duty with honor. I survived my mission and next time someone else can do it.
I won’t say that this was the highlight of my week but it certainly stuck with me-so did the smell. I still get the shivers when I think about it. That isn’t the only thing I took away from the experience though. Returning to high school as an adult is a surreal experience-some of those old feelings, old hurts and fears do resurface a bit. Instead of being directly attached to my ‘self’ though they create a sort of empathy for the young faces passing my table and my heart aches a bit. There are still those lording over the halls that they are the best looking, strongest, best at and whatever else it is they feel they are ‘better than’. Rather than envying them as I would have-shall we say decades ago-I feel a form of pity for them. I can’t even say why. Then I see the ones who I just know by heart. The ones who sit apart or huddle in their own groups for protection-because that is a lot of what high school is-protecting your ‘self’ from the ‘others’. What makes me sad is knowing that the pain inflicted by some of the ‘others’ never really goes away-it shapes and forms the hidden self. In the worst cases it destroys.
High school was tough in my day-but it is so much worse now. Instead of a whispering, giggling circle of people you prayed weren’t laughing at you-there are online comments openly posted to an entire class that can take the heart out of a child and wring it until it breaks. Mean kids are timeless and universal but now they are armed and dangerous. It seems there is an ethos of heartlessness that is brushed off with a kids will be kids attitude. I don’t accept that. I choose not to accept that. Can I change it? Probably not. Can I do something to ease it? I hope so.
It’s funny, I gave up the pursuit of my artistic career and struggled with that decision for a long time. Deep down I knew it was the right thing to do. After reading Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years I was challenged to make my story matter. What do I do now? I am the director of a non-profit arts organization providing free arts and design classes for middle and high school aged youth after school , intentionally seeking to reach under-resourced populations that are often overlooked. So, what does this have to do with sitting in a high school hallway? It has everything to do with the curious and quiet souls who came up to my table and whose smiles melted my heart when I told them what we do and how much we would love to have them come-heck-we would even give them a ride to get there. It has everything to do with the parent who asks me why we do it and I tell them it needs to be done.
I started working at CultureWorks in January with a big echoing empty building and we opened our doors in April to our first students. This week we we opened our doors to nearly three times the number of students we started with and I can’t help but feel anything but gratitude. I love my kids, I love my instructors and I love my job. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done and the only thing that has ever caused me to loose this much sleep is my own kids. God’s grace is sufficient in all things and I know he is busy at work in our bustling little building. Do I still get to make art? Occasionally. Here is the evidence:
(This is a bad cell phone studio shot-I will post documentation shots later…I am participating in Artprize again this year at a great little gallery, CODA. It was impetus to work a full day and then go home and paint until I couldn’t stand anymore-and do it again the next day…)
I was one of those kids a very long time ago. One of the ones who huddled in a protective group trying to avoid detection. I was fortunate enough to have a teacher who opened me up to the world of art and she helped me access a place in myself where everything fit. My story is complicated but I feel I have come full circle-I may not be the one teaching but I can help make it happen, Check that-God makes it happen-I just get to open the door…
OK-I am off to get caught up on some of the ordinary day to day stuff that seems to multiply exponentially when I am not looking! At least I can feel my toes now!