My new year began with some disappointments and being laid out with a wretched cold, so rather than sulk I thought it was a good time to pen this entry I’d been thinking about for awhile. Hopeful messages are good medicine for the brain at least ;). The first week of January is a time that seems to be made for reflecting, as a new season begins and things are still slow after the rush of the holidays. As I made some professional changes this year that will allow me to put my whole focus into not only my own art business but teaching, something I’ve discovered I love doing no matter the age or ability level I am working with, I feel compelled to share something about myself that many may not know.
Though I now talk all day as my vocation, this is not something I originally would have thought possible. I had a speech delay which I went to therapy for as a young child. It was discovered I knew and understood words, but just wasn’t saying them. I’ve been told even as a baby I was quiet, no babbling or anything, just silence and the occasional prolonged grunt that sounded like a lawnmower motor. I can only imagine what my parents must have been thinking! Though I was soon able to communicate fluently at home, around people I wasn’t as familiar with it was still a struggle. No one that heard me playing in the backyard at home would ever think of me as being “reserved”. Still at school, which I found for the most part enjoyable, I just didn’t know how to communicate with others. I remember one of my most embarrassing 5-year-old moments was when I got called out while playing in a group for participating in the imaginative play by just repeating whatever my best friend made her dinosaur say over and over (We were all playing with plastic dinosaurs at the indoor sandbox station, THE best station in the entire kindergarten). “Why do you just keep saying what she’s saying?” I was asked, followed by the dreaded “You’re weird!” Sigh … my camouflage had failed. When playing by myself I could think up all sorts of great lines and fantastical stories – I was never short on creativity – I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get my brain to “work” around other people.
Even up to high school I experienced a degree of what I now know is called “selective mutism” in public spaces, though public speaking or giving formal presentations in front of a group never bothered me a bit. In college, I ended up choosing to study interior design and had also thought about web design, because I figured there would be a little bit of back and forth interface with clients since I did enjoy people and hated being entirely alone, but then I could go back into my little office space and be creative without constant social pressures – the perfect balance. What do they say about the best laid plans?
I had an English teacher in high school once tell the class “Who you are at 10 years old is your truest self, and you will always come back to that”. I think about that often. As an 8-10 year old kid, I thought I wanted to be a teacher and loved “playing school” with my dolls so much that my parents even got me special little stamps and grade books from the local teacher supply store to enhance the realism of my playacting. I volunteered as a helper for kids programs in the summer, and even job shadowed at my old elementary school when it was required in my first year of middle school. However, I found it stressful not knowing how a real person was going to act and react, whereas with my dolls I was writing the script. I never did like surprises.
I pretty much wrote off that future life plan as I became a teenager, realizing I just didn’t have the skills for it. After graduating from college and experiencing a parade of poorly fitting jobs and pretty toxic work environments which is its own story for another day, I got an email from some mailing list I was on advertising that a local gallery was looking for instructors for a new day program. At this point in my life my confidence in my ability to be a functional human was at an all time low, so I decided what the hell, at least I know I can do art. Let’s give this a go. The rest is history.
I personally have a faith, and I believe receiving that email (and the fact that I actually opened and read it at just the right time!) was quite literally divine intervention. I teach at a variety of locations now outside of my main “hub” where I started, but I truly believe if I hadn’t began my foray into art instruction with the Artshop prograrm at Creative 360 in an environment of radical acceptance that embraces people’s quirks and operates like its own odd little family, I probably wouldn’t have kept at it. The main point of all this personal storytelling is, don’t limit yourself.
What you can do at the moment is not all you’ll be able to do forever. Sometimes, it isn’t that there is something wrong with you, it’s that you aren’t in the right environment.
I am in no way doing what I thought I’d be doing when I was 18, but my 10 year old self may not be that surprised. Guess what? I still am terrible at socializing with new people and making friends. But, I’ve been told I’m a wonderful teacher and that I make people feel valued, and help them believe they can do things they never thought they could do. I’m good with that.