5.02.2012

"YOU Don't Look Like An Art Student..."

I began taking life drawing classes at the end of January. What makes this important is that, even though I haven't written too much about it, my entire adult life has been spent under the shadow of a ridiculous (but very real) phobia of drawing.

Thankfully, I've been getting past it the past few years, thanks to some gentle encouragement from just about everyone in my studio (and some not-so-gentle encouragement from my wife, who loves me and has been pushing me to do this for years, and has some rather vulgar things to say about the people in my past who got in my head and beat down the excited little artist in me years ago). 

My first class was on my birthday, actually. They were a gift to myself. I finally decided, at 35 years old, that I was going to quit listening to voices from the past perpetually talking down to me in my head, and instead listen to the incredibly inspiring and encouraging voices that surround me now.

My way of doing that was to give myself the gift of learning to draw and paint. I get to do that, because I'm an adult. And being an adult means, with a few exceptions which are outlined in the codes of law in your particular municipality, you can do whatever the hell you want, and your family and teachers from school and people in your past can all go fuck themselves.

Of course, they don't need YOUR permission.. After all, they're adults. They can just up and fuck themselves whenever they want.

At any rate, I was walking into class last night. Out in front of the building were a group of art students on a break, smoking and talking and generally being art students on a break. The thing that always happens as you approach a group of people you don't know happened, where eye contact is made and a nod is given, and the conversation between them doesn't quite stop, but definitely quiets down a bit.  There was a girl sitting on the flat wooden handrail going up the stairs, slightly reclined, enjoying a cigarette. I looked at her; she smiled.

"That's quite a precarious perch," I said, being friendly.

"I live dangerously," she replied, as if she was in a John Hughes movie.

We chuckled. I walked up the stairs past her. As I arrived to the entrance to the building, one of the guys in the group says, "Wow... YOU don't look like an art student..."

Emphasis on "you."


I don't look like an art student. I don't look like an art student. This guy doesn't think I belong here. I suppose his friends standing with him felt the same. And for whatever reason, he felt the need to say it aloud. 

You know what I said in response? If you've been reading my stuff for any period of time, I bet you've got an idea.

I bet you think it was something like "Well then, what the fuck DO I look like to you? The janitor? I'm not sure if you've ever tried to plunge a toilet with an eighteen-by-twenty-four clipboard and some charcoal, but it doesn't work that well! Or wait -- do you think I look like a janitor who is also really stupid and forgot the correct tools? I didn't get the memo that there was a dress code to enter this building! Tell me, stick figure! Tell me what the fuck I look like! I'm excited to hear your assessment!" And so on.

But your idea is wrong.

"Eh," I said. And then I shrugged and walked in the door. I didn't even ask what he meant. His verbal photon torpedoes impacted on the surface. It wasn't until I got to the door of the classroom that it hit me, what had just happened. And you want to know the really confusing-yet-comforting part? I wasn't proud. I wasn't overjoyed. I wasn't even mildly amused.

I was happy.

Not "Oh, boy, cupcakes!" happy. The kind of happy you are when you've had a headache for hours, and then suddenly realize that the Tylenol worked. The pain is gone. But you're not dancing around celebrating, you're just happy the painful shit you had to put up with went away.

A few months ago? I would have taken those words like a dagger thrust into my guts, turned 90 degrees, and stabbed directly into my heart, popping it like a grape. "Get out of here, jock boy!" The words I put in their mouths would have said. "You're too big to express yourself visually and indulge in these fine arts of ours! And you're dressed all wrong! You have to look like Lisbeth from Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to enter these premises! Because that's how artists LOOK! Well, you know... Until next year, when there's a whole new rebellion aesthetic that's en vogue... But even then, you'll look so out of place, with your stupid rock t-shirt and your stupid regular pants and your stupid tennis shoes! And what's that on your arm? Anime tattoos!?! You're not allowed to like anime! You're not cool enough! You work out! You have to like sports! Get the hell out of here!"

But last night, "Eh" is all they got out of me. And that's all they deserve, regardless of how they meant it. 

It's really rare that you get to have a moment where you realize, with resounding clarity, just how far you've progressed in your personal development. It's rarer still when you have to sit there and think about the moment and its impact on you, because your reactions now are so different from what they used to be. Those moments are when you realize you've changed.

But when your dismissal of something that used to bother you, is so natural and such a part of who you are now that you almost missed it? That's when you know you've grown.