If I Was a Sculptor…

Sweetpea is the only one of my children to ever ask, “What should I be when I grow up?” She’s asked way more than once and as time goes by she seems more panicked about it. I remember being just like that at her age, when it is most important.

I wasn’t always like that. At the age of six, we had a neighbor who was a nurse. She wore white uniforms and the nurse cap and a beautiful black cape. That’s what I wanted to be, a hero in a black cape.

Then I wanted to be a nun. We had a convent in town and that place was gorgeous. So was the cathedral. I wanted to live there. It had dramatic ceilings was full of stained glass and marble sculptures. A lot of the nuns were either school teachers or nurses, so that didn’t mess up my first dream. I could be both.

Then the artist came to our house. My mom was sewing the bridesmaids dresses for a wedding she was in. She came by for a fitting and stayed the afternoon. I was forced to go play outside, so I don’t remember her, the artist, just her car in the driveway. It had been rear-ended so it was all crumpled up and tied closed with a piece of rope.

My little brother and I had to go inspect. We could see in the trunk and get our tiny hands in there. I don’t remember if it was he or I who did it, who stole all those paints, all I know is that for years we had a stash of high grade oil paints under the house. And so began my love for creating art.

I started with paint by numbers which is really a bad way to learn. That is not how real painting is done. It just teaches you how to stay in the lines. That is something no one should be taught.

I was always creating things. I’d paint, sew, sculpt, whatever, to make the things I wanted. The idea of making something out of nothing thrilled me. What facinated me most though, was machines. I wanted to build one. I also had a deep fascination (still do) with cogs and wheels. Electricity scared the hell out of me so all my stuff was hand crank. Once I made a movie projector out of a flashlight and paper towel rolls so I could show the neighbor kids a movie I’d drawn. On paper towels. No, it didn’t work, but I was gifted at selling things, see. I convinced them it did work. They witnessed for themselves my complete failure on the big screen, but left my theatre believing they’d just seen my movie.

The materials I needed to build my things were not only unavailable to me due to lack of funds, I just didn’t have a basic understanding of tensil strength. I was always making things out of paper.

“Dancers” made out of lobster shells by some French artist.

So. When I met Blane, a guy who always knew he wanted to be an engineer, you can’t imagine how he rocked my world. He understood machines, he had buckets of cogs and wheels and he knew how to build things and wasn’t afraid of fooling with electricity. He invented things and they worked.

For a while I thought I might be a hairdresser. I’d started cutting my own hair when I was about thirteen. After practicing on my brothers, I got really good. Next thing you know, I was cutting my dad’s hair, my grandmother’s, my friends, their mothers… The reason I didn’t become a stylist was because every person I interviewed about that career told me not to do it, that they stay on their feet all day.

Funny that I would become a nurse and stay on my feet all day. It was a career that was intense, yet satisfying. Every day was different.

A perfect fit for what I’m doing now, writing. Hospitals are full of all sorts of people from every background, and as a nurse I was privied to intimate details about these people. Information gathering which I’d store in my mind for later use.

Funny how things turn out.

The thing that stands out the most in my mind about growing up and what interests fit me best is the movie business with the neighbors. I loved it that they believed in my show, my story. But most of all, me.

So my advice to my daughter is to do what she loves doing. I remind her of her talents, her strengths. Never her weaknesses. She probably does enough of that herself.

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14 thoughts on “If I Was a Sculptor…

  1. How I love, love, love the image of you and your brother and your stash of stolen oil paints. I mean oil paints – right? Take forever to dry, require turpentine/linseed oil to clean – complicated way to start – the antithesis of paint-by-numbers, really, in the big picture.

    I have had this theory that we know best who we are at around 5 years of age, spend our adolescence wrapping that self in bullshit or simply trying other personae on and then spend the rest of our lives trying to strip that stuff off and remember who were were when we were five.

    Seems to me, if you don’t already have one, you should get a video camera or a really great old-school 16mm film camera (little Bolex might do ya’ as they are hand-crank capable)… And, it seems to me, you and sweetpea should ask yourselves what she did most when she was 5 or 6? It’s a fun game if nothing else.

    I used to fold paper into quarters, tear along the lines, staple the pages into books and write stories, as an example…

    Really beautiful post Kitty.

  2. Hey Sulya,
    I believe that too( to a certain extent), about who you are when you are five. I keep telling Sweetpea stories about the Baribie clothes she used to make. She even created her own fabric for those clothes because what was available wasn’t what she envisioned.

  3. Reading along, Kitty, I was smiling. I do not know if you yourself noticed, but you actually did become all of those things that you’ve once dreamed of being (well, all but the nun, thank God!). A nurse you are/were, an artist you are still being, you are being involved with “productions” (or at least you write them. Same thing). As for machines, you have made three exceptional inventions with the most excellent of cogs and wheels.

    As for me, ever since I can remember myself, when people would ask, I would reply that I wanted to be an English teacher and human. One of them I am. The other, I’m still striving.

  4. There is a practicality to the arts. I know it does not seem like it at times. But there is. Once you get past that it is almost impossible to succeed and probably you will starve and live in a paper box aspect. [wry smile] Your daughter is gifted in many ways, which probably makes it confusing to her because even picking an art, she is looking at choosing one thing among many. And wondering what is the “right” choice. When the arts themselves are mostly treated as the wrong choice by society at large.

    If I were advising a young artist, I would say, Make a list of everything you do. After you make that list, go through it item by item, and ask youself this question. Which items on this list would make you die inisde, if you were not allowed to do them? And, which items on this list would it make you die inside, if you had, absolutely, had to do them?

    An artisitic pursuit changes when it becomes a profession. It is not something you do merely because you enjoy doing it. It is something you get up and do whether or not you wish to, because you are being paid to do it. That is very different from doing it because you just love doing it. That is doing it come rain or shine because it is your job to do it no matter whether you feel inspired that day or not. And when that change takes place, no matter how much you love something, it does become a job.

    The people lucky enough to have jobs that are their loves in the first place are very lucky. But that aspect, it is your job, is something many people do not notice or are not aware of going in. And it matters. Because it is not always for fun any more, and once other people are signing a check for you to do it, they get input too.

    So. What must you be free in just to enjoy? What could you not live without? The what you could not live without thing is probably the thing to pursue the hardest.

    And then you get practical. You look at what tasks you can and should pursue and complete in order to make an act of art an occupation. You make a plan. You lay it out. It has a lot of arms, a lot of possibilities, a lot of avenues in — you mark all of them out, and as new ones show up, you mark those out too, and you follow them and pursue them and you do that hard till you make it in.

    I do not know if any of this helps. It is just what comes to mind.

  5. I think that age, when one is deciding what to do, is exciting – it is filled with possibilities for the future. But I also find that people change, and find new things that they like to do that they have not been exposed to before [like screenwriting] – so I would tell Sweetpea that whatever she decides, there is no pressure to make that final – life changes, she will experience new things that may intrigue her all through her life.

  6. That’s what messed up the nun thing with me too, Boz.

    Michele, so true, we are exposed to new things and we go through changes too that open new possibilities.

    Thanks Soph. You would make an excellent English teacher. Or you could come here and teach Greek. : )

    Anita Marie, you are the storyteller’s storyteller. (shivers)

    And Max, thanks for your words of wisdom, those are excellent points you made. I like the way you got it all down to one question, “What could you not live without?” and the advice to persue that one the hardest.

    I am going to print out all this advice and give it to her to read. Hang it up in her room, maybe.

  7. I think guidance plays a big role, good and bad in these situations. I had an arts teacher, in the field I am currently employed in, that “suggested” my vision was too outside the box and not regimented enough to succeed in what at the time was my chosen path. My perspective was never the traditional one, it was always a little different to others, but I think that is what made it “my” perspective.

    Anyway. This threw me for quite a while and made me doubt what it was I actually wanted to do. Made me doubt and question who I was. So I ended up idling for a while on a career choice. I remember talking to my mom about it in length, who at the time wanted me to do a course in business so I had “something to fall back on” should I starve in the arts.

    Then out of the blue, coincidence or whatever you want to call it, I ran into another teacher. More of a mentor type actually. He did not teach in any school or colleges, and knew industry rather than text book. He saw something different in my work, something the other teacher had seen too, but he found the perspective a positive rather than a negative which in turn gave me some confidence back and plonked me back on the path to where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.

    I guess what I am saying, in a long winded way is, if you know you want something, do not doubt yourself for anyone or anything. Usually we know we want to do. Sometimes we are scared to commit though because when we say it is something in the arts, people always say “but what are you going to do for a real job?”. Usually though, the people who end up saying that, do not understand, because they never had the gusto to go all out for what they want.

    If you have the gusto and you want it bad enough? — knock backs, awards, rejections, career recognition, good, bad, what ever, you can take it all because you are doing it for something you love.

  8. Don’t you feel guilty about stealing that paint? About Sweetpea’s future, if she’s not sure yet, get enough education until she does know, then she’s got something to build on. If she leaves school now to join a rock band, she might have a lot of fun, but she’ll be at a disadvantage should she want to become a doctor in 10 years time. I always wanted to be a mom, and I am.

  9. Thanks AJ, for the advice. I talked to Sweetpea today about the comments here (yours wasn’t in yet) and surprisingly, even though this kid has the flu and rarely reads my blog, she is keeping up with this post. I hadn’t even told her about it. I think Spanky found it and told her about it.
    Anyway, she has been thinking a lot about what people have written here and I’m glad you came in and added your experience in the professional arts, all this has been extremely helpful.
    What she has seen here in our family, the way we had to do things because we had our first child so young is to forget about art as a first career and get jobs that would insure we had food on the table. She has also seen a return to the arts. That burning to do what we desire to do, like Max said, that thing that makes you die inside if you don’t do it.

    Sweetpea does have drive, she does not give up when she sets out to do, is willing to sacrifice and live broke, she says.

    Liv, no I don’t have any guilt about the stolen paint, LOL. I don’t think I stole it, I was so little, maybe 4 years old, all I remember is digging in that trunk to see what was in there and then I remember having paint under the house for a long time. I never did steal that I can remember, I don’t think I have it in me.

    The artist deserved it, she was the one who insisted we play outside, my mom never forced us to stay outside when we didn’t want to.

    Sweetpea is not thinking about quitting school, fortunately. She’s still got two years of high school, she’s just wondering what college to go to and what to study. She is thinking about photography or fashion design.

  10. I’d say, whatever direction she chooses to follow, it’s got to be something she loves. Something she really loves. I have seen people in lucrative jobs, making big bucks and living in the most amazing of houses, but still they are miserable and complain about everything. Monday morning is always Monday morning for them. I have also seen people who make only what it takes to make ends meet, they live in small apartments but they are so sublimely happy because what they do is what they love and always have. And on the hardest of days, they smile knowing they will soon get over it. Monday morning is a beautiful day.

    Give Sweetpea my get well wishes. She is a brilliant young girl. She will find her own path. Not necessarily an easy path, but it’s gonna be her own path. One that will eventually lead her to the most spectacular of all places.

  11. Thanks Sophia, I took her to the doc this evening and hopefully the antibiotics will help her get better faster. It sucks to be sick, but sick during summer break from school?
    She’s very social so staying away from her friends is killing her.

  12. Pingback: The Talented and Amazing Spanky « The Show Must Go On

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