When I woke, this morning, an image came into my head. It was a long ago memory, but I suddenly understood something that I have always been curious about. Yes, I am a writer, and have been writing for close to forty years, but I also dabble in visual arts. And have been doing that a lot longer. I call it dabbling because it’s playing, for me. I don’t take it seriously, it’s more of a hobby, a result of my own deeply embedded curiosity. “If I go this way, where will it lead, and what will be the result?” In other words, if it doesn’t work out it’s not a big deal, but it might lead to more ideas, and that is just plain fun.
But, writing is different. It’s far more serious, somehow. When I sit to write, I usually have a simple, but specific plan. A path that includes a beginning, a middle, and an end, a conclusion. Those three things might be represented by no more than three words. The rest is up to me and how well I follow the path I have placed myself on. And, I must add, this is work. It takes careful thought, the ability to choose just the right words, in just the right manner, so that whatever I am choosing to say is comprehensible to others, able to be understood. At least, that is my hope.
The awakening moment, this morning, came from when I was in fourth grade. My teacher had taken me aside and told me that I had been chosen to attend a special drawing class being given on Saturday mornings at another institution. The special class teacher was a well known artist, and I’d have to get permission from my parents to attend. I did so, out of curiosity, and my parents agreed, after an initial period of indecision. I had no idea that I was the only one from my school who would be attending. And, perhaps, the only one invited to do so.
Family dynamics are often a tricky business. My older sister, by three years, had already taken possession of the family’s ‘artist’ designation. In high school, everyone knew that she was headed for a position in the visual arts. After graduating, she worked at a local paper mill as a commercial artist, and later worked for the State Historical Department in the same capacity, while developing her own niche as a painter.
Meanwhile, I found work at a factory, behind a machine, and then became the relief girl as I knew how to work all of them. But, due to physical issues had to quit. Got married and had four kids, and continued to dabble with all kinds of crafts and art projects. Finally decided to try college due to that unstoppable curiosity, and found several things. I could write, I loved learning, and my marriage was a mess. Got a divorce, graduated with two degrees, honors, and later was invited to teach writing at the same University, because one of my poems anchored an anthology that was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Now, back to that awakening moment. Back there, in fourth grade, I had no idea that I had been chosen to participate in a special program. And, although I was often awarded for my artistic talents at school, I also knew it caused a problem at home. I was somehow, inadvertently invading my older sister’s space. The moment, I finally remembered was when that special teacher took me aside after viewing a pencil sketch I had done of my father. She asked me several questions about how I had come to do that, and if I’d ever done anything like it before. I told her the truth. She had told us to try sketching different things in our own home. I’d never tried to draw another person, so decided to try doing a picture of my dad. I didn’t think it was all that good, but she felt otherwise, especially because I was only ten at the time. The following week, I told my parents that I really didn’t want to go back to the class, and they seemed relieved at that decision.
All those years later, in my second year of College, one of the first poems I had ever written, won first place in a writing competition on campus. I dug in and learned as much as possible for the rest of my college career. I had finally found my own space, one in which I wouldn’t be stepping on anyone’s toes. I never lost my play space however. When words fail me, I turn to lines and colors and get lost in them until I find my equilibrium again. In that way, I keep both of my favorite spaces and they serve me well.
Elizabeth Crawford 1/28/2018
Image is a kaleidoscope made from a bonfire photo taken in my sister’s backyard.