I cried my eyes out for the first three days of high school. I think my mind has shut most of the painful parts out, but I remember certain aspects of those early days so vividly, even twenty-four years later. I had registered for all of my classes well before the start of school, and my first period class was Art. Art was my favorite subject, and I planned to take four years of it, culminating in AP (Advanced Placement) Art which required submitting a portfolio on slides for review by a faceless committee somewhere. There were only six class periods in the day, so taking four years of Art meant that I had to forgo other electives like Band. The world can thank me for that decision. I might have been a somewhat decent pianist, but flutist extraordinaire I was not.
I walked into that first high school class of my life and saw not one single familiar face. Not only was this a classroom of complete strangers, but it only took me a few moments to realize that the course was not populated with future artists, but rather, with near high school dropouts trying to pad their schedules with classes they might have a slim chance of passing. Most were seniors, or seniors+ – I’m quite sure a few were pushing twenty. All were guys, and most were sporting Jon Bon Jovi look alike hairstyles. It was a sea of frizzy locks and teased bangs, chairs tipped back, boots on desk, pencils and paperwads flying through the air. I can only imagine what I looked like walking into that room. I’m quite sure I was clutching a Trapper Keeper and coordinating pencil box with graphite pencils and Koh-i-noor technical pens. There was no teacher in sight.
I took the only empty seat, right next to Bon Jovi Junior, who blew his bangs out of his face enough to take a long, slow look at me. The laughter began and the tardy bell rang. Several long minutes later the teacher walked into the room – not from the entry door that opened into the adjacent cafeteria, but from the back door that led to the outdoors. She stood in the doorway just long enough to extinguish her cigarette, and a few other smokers followed her into the room. They did not get tardy slips I noticed. I had been thoroughly warned about tardy slips at the end of eighth grade, and had nightmares of pink slips before I ever held my first paying job. I would have left my Trapper Keeper in my locker before I would have borne the shame of getting a tardy slip.
We did not actually do anything art related that class period. The teacher gave us a brief overview of the room and then rested her gaze upon the kiln in the corner. She told us it was off limits and that if misused it could blow the whole school up, or at the very least, the whole classroom. The Bon Jovites sat up a little straighter in their tipped back chairs at that idea. I was shaking so hard in my seat I knew it was visible. Those were the longest fifty minutes of my life. I say this after having birthed an 8.5 pound baby with no drugs. Longest fifty minutes ever.
Reuniting with my friends in age appropriate classes for the remainder of the day did little to erase my absolute terror of the morning. For the next two days it was more of the same. I cried and cried and cried about school. I hated it with every fiber of my fourteen year old body. I considered quitting art completely and pretend-playing my flute through the next four years. Even if it meant marching with said instrument. Even then.
The weekend came, and then Monday, and maybe a few Mondays beyond. We began to do some drawing, and I poured myself into each project with gusto – if only to block out my surroundings. The thing is – I was good, and there were just a few of us that really were. I may have been the most straight laced fourteen year old who looked more like a twelve year old that these small town Kentucky wannabe glam metal rock stars had ever seen – but most people generally respect a person who can straight up draw. I started to garner a little respect in the room, and the teacher noticed as well – this was probably because I was the only one actually working on the assignments. And then a truly miraculous thing happened – at some point during that first semester my teacher didn’t show up for a few days. A week or two later a new teacher was there – and he just happened to be the art teacher that I had adored from my middle school days. I ended up having him as a teacher for seven years straight (minus those first few awkward weeks of high school), and I kicked some AP tail on that portfolio in the end. I like to imagine that the other teacher ran off with one of the third year seniors and eventually had children with fabulous eighties hair. I do know that the kiln never took down the school – I later found out it was defunct and couldn’t have exploded if we had tried. Just a little scare tactic to add to the utter terror of starting the first class of the first day of the first year of high school with an elective.
I will remember that lesson and relay it to my children for sure.
These memories all came flooding back this past week when my sister-in-law emailed me my niece’s latest two-point perspective from art class. She’s just started middle school (which I hope is not inducing the kind of stomach churning terror that the first few days of my high school career created for me). Perspective drawing was one of my favorite things to do – I loved the introduction to it in school, and the further work in college architecture classes. I even taught it for years at the college level. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and some people just never really get it. But when it clicks, it clicks. I’m just amazed at how quickly it’s clicked for her.
This is her two-point perspective rendering / interpretation of a favorite board game.