From 5th Grade and Beyond

“I don’t know – must have been about 5th grade.” Whenever I remember something of any kind of importance from my grade school era, I say that sentence. Evidently, 1978 was a watershed year for me. I haven’t really had much insight into this personal peccadillo until I recently made an effort to pinpoint the wherefores of what I have come to call “my 5th grade default.”  In the course of thinking about this, I remembered something one of my 5th grade teachers did that has had lasting influence.

Mrs. Crone was one of my 5th grade teachers. If I remember correctly, she taught us English. Mr. Gift did science and math, and Mrs. Sauerman presented us with history lessons. But, it is Mrs. Crone that stands out to me because she took a personal interest in my writing and my dancing. She encouraged me; she asked me to stay after school on more than one occasion to talk about writing and dancing and music. She played music in her classroom. She was unabashed in her enthusiasm for the arts.

One day Mrs. Crone asked me – and I agreed – to dance for our class.  She had all of the kids move the desks to the edge of the classroom, played the music from a record, and I can vividly remember her smiling a true, genuine smile throughout my ballet performance and leading the applauding and the standing ovation.

I don’t remember my peers’ specific reactions, but I know that this was one of the last public solo performances I did until decades later. My peers thought Mrs. Crone was a little “off.” She was weird. And, man, in 5th grade, I wanted to fit in. Hanging out with Mrs. Crone was not cool. So, I decided she was weird, too. I quit going in after school or talking about dancing or music or anything creative. I didn’t want to be weird. I needed to be cool – even if that meant giving up a few things.

For the next few decades I did some creative stuff: I still wrote some things; I was in drama and band; I directed a couple plays. But, I gave up solo performance (unless it was in the basement and involved some bad pop music, I didn’t dance in public again). In some way, I had perverted my teacher’s enthusiasm and support of my endeavors into a need to hide and not be different. Oh, sure, my peers helped, but I acquiesced all too easily. I didn’t want to stick out.

Have you ever had a Mrs. Crone? Someone who really believed in something you were doing – someone who unabashedly supported you – someone who you turned your back on? I am chagrined when I think about that. I wonder what kind of friendship we might have maintained had I been willing to accept her love and mentorship. I wonder if I might have had more solo performances well before I was 47. I wonder if I would have known that Mrs. Crone sang soprano, was active in an opera house for over two decades, and was a writer herself – before I read it in her obituary.

Mrs. Crone was teaching our class that sharing your art – whatever form it takes – with the world is a wonderful thing. She was teaching us to love and support each other in our endeavors. Maybe fifth grade was a little too young  to learn that lesson, but I’ve got it now. I’m sure my performance back in 5th grade was not standing ovation-worthy, but Mrs. Crone believed that creativity was. And now, some forty years later, I think I’ve got it.

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Just Color!

“You know, Laura, you really can’t do this. Would you like to leave the class?”

Wait. What? I was part of a group paying this person to teach us basic watercolor techniques. During the second class she offered me the door and a partial refund.

That’s exactly the thing that life, teachers, partners, peers, and parents can do to us over the years. It’s happened to me more than once. It’s the reason I do not sing or dance in public or do watercolor at all.

Until now.

For Christmas middle son gave me the book Syllabus by Lynda Barry; I gave him What It Is by the same author. Lynda sums us the hibernation of creativity like this:

“By the 6th grade I stopped doing ordinary things in front of people. It had been ordinary to sing, kids are singing all the time when they are little but then something happens. It’s not that we stop singing. I still sang. I was just alone when I did it, and I made sure I never did it accidentally – that thing we call bursting into song. I believe this happens to most of us. We are still singing, but secretly and all alone . . . My only feeling was embarrassment.”                          (Lynda Barry, What It Is)

My teen years were rife with such occurrences. I quit dancing after I unsuccessfully auditioned for Oklahoma! my freshman year in high school.  Having been told years prior that I couldn’t sing, all I wanted was to be a corps dancer. I didn’t fit into the look they wanted for the show; my movements weren’t quite right. Suddenly, I was no longer a dancer.

Still, consider myself one of the lucky ones because for some reason, I always had words. Poetry was able to stay with me – perhaps FullSizeRender (14)because the writing of poetry can be intensely private. No need for public performance or audition to put pencil to paper.  However, I was even published in the school literary magazine (despite the efforts of an adversary who was on the editorial board). Words stayed with me long after singing, dancing, and drawing had gone into hiding.

Over the years, the desire to develop broader creativity in my life was thwarted by rationed time, by unsupportive husbands, by self doubt, by watercolor teachers.

I think it’s time to end the rationing. It is immensely fun to read artistic exercises in Lynda Barry’s books and do them on my own. Or modify them for my purposes as part of my writing work.

Creativity is for everyone. A colleague of mine took a welding class; one of my friends is thinking of an improv class; another friend is founding poetic endeavors in our area; middle son is looking forward to baking more. As I write this, that same son is reading the community college continuing education offerings to me – culinary, yoga, arts, welding – it’s all there.

New Year – new canvas. Do something creative every day, week, or month. And share it with someone. With an audience. Don’t limit yourself. Be brave. I’ll go first.  FullSizeRender (13)

If you have no one to share with – send a picture of your creation to me. I’ll share it here for you. And remember, creativity comes in all forms and is for everyone. Embrace that.

Join me.