I enjoy working with writing “prompts,” and came across one this past week which especially intrigued me: if there was a rip in the universe and you could go back and change one event in your life, what would you change, and how would that change affect the present?
The one event, the one decision in my life that I have always wished I could change was when I gave up on my original career aspiration to become an art teacher. I had applied and was accepted to the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture and Art (now with the words “and Planning” added on the end), but money was a problem. The tuition I could have handled with a Pell Grant and savings from my summer job, at least for the first semester, but the amount of money for the supplies I was required to have was four times the amount of the tuition. Could I have gotten a student loan? Could I have bought some of the supplies at a time, rather than all at once? Could I have just taken the liberal arts and education courses I needed and taken the art classes later? I never talked to a school counselor, never contacted the university to see what could have been worked out. I just saw it as undoable, and changed directions.
My new direction was to take a commercial art course and go back to get my education credentials later, but I circumvented that by marrying young and following my Navy husband to a place where I wouldn’t be able to get the kind of education I’d hoped for at that time. I later changed direction even further and went to nursing school, though I kept that original dream in the back of my mind. Working as a nurse was gratifying and rewarding, but I could never shake the idea that I’d shortchanged myself and regret that I gave up on my dream to this day.
Had I stayed with my original course and never chosen to give up, I expect I’d be retiring from teaching about now, but I would have spent at least a good 30 years encouraging children to never stop drawing, never stop painting, never stop expressing themselves in the visual arts. Young children love drawing, painting and scribbling, but then something happens at around age 10; they begin to realize they aren’t able to make their drawings look as realistic as they’d like. They know a table is flat and has 4 legs, but how do you draw that realistically? Trying to overcome that difficulty can be disappointing, and so they stop drawing, stop painting and move on to other pursuits. What I wanted to do was step into that gap and teach art to children in grades 4-6, to show them how to draw what they SEE, rather than what they KNOW, so that their results would be more satisfactory and more students would continue to express themselves through drawing and painting, acquiring skills that could last them a lifetime as a hobby, or as part of a career choice for themselves.
I did have that career experience, just once; when my daughter was in the fourth grade I volunteered to be a “teacher” for a day during the annual “Great American Teach-In.” I wanted to teach these children a bit about what I’d always hoped to teach them. I arrived with a large poster and told them, “Today we are going to draw Mariah Carey–upside down!” I turned the poster upside down and explained to them not to think about what they knew about how she looked, but to draw the “negative spaces,” the space created by the placement of her hand on her hip, the space around her hair, around her figure. Some of the students seemed to struggle at first, but as we worked and I encouraged and explained, I saw a few faces brighten and they began to SEE what they saw, not what they knew. That one day was one of the happiest of my life.
As far as my personal life, I probably would eventually have married someone else. I would never have had my lovely daughter, never met the people in my life who’ve meant, and mean, so much to me. So I am grateful for them, and for what I have. But I still wish I’d never given up on myself in that way.
What would you go back and change? And what do you think your life would be like today as a result of that change? I’d be interested to know!