Keep Drawing Your Picture

I remember peeling down past the wave on a brand new purple Crayola® crayon.  Wax was caught under my fingernail that would distract me even more from the fact that I did not know what I had wanted to draw and only took the purple crayon so that no one else could have it.  The wrapper did not need to be pealed yet.  The tip was still that polished shiny new point full of possibilities. I was stalling.

I used to color with abandon.  I could draw fields of flowers with beautiful skies. I could draw people and animals in great detail that actually looked like what they were intended to look like.  Then it stopped.  I stopped. Indecision and insecurity set in.

When I was in second grade one day on the way home from school, Deana Case (not her real name) was sitting with me on the bus.  This was in a time when the seats were a simple molded plastic with no padding.  When the driver rounded a corner too fast, we would all slide in the opposite direction if we weren’t holding on in anticipation of the sway.  It was exciting and fun and lent adventure to my imagination.  The bus was always loud with chatter and laughter and the noise from the engine, wheels and breaks that would squeak and squeal as the bus came to a stop at the end of someone’s drive way.

Now that I think of that bus, big yellow orange container of so many different children.  It was like a rolling box of crayons itself full of so many different personalities and potentials.  On that one particular day, Deana pulled a drawing out of her bag.  We had a rare free time period that day and could draw and color anything we wanted. I had mine too. I loved what I had drawn and then I saw hers.

Wow.

Wow. The sight of her drawing froze me with awe.

Comparing her drawing to mine was like comparing the Sistine Chapel to the Sunday funnies.  I did like the Sunday funnies and to be honest, that may have been partly where I learned to draw so well. I noticed the lines and how a simple curve or swirl could make all the difference in the emotion or humor of a piece.  What she had done was foreign to me.  It covered the entire piece of paper from edge to edge and was an amazing scene with flowers, a house and a beautiful night sky.  She had blended her colors in a way that I had never imagined doing.  I did not even know you could do that with the box of broken and stubby crayons we passed around the classroom. Her drawing had a depth and perspective I was only on the verge of understanding in the simplest of terms.

Wow.

It was so beautiful.  I told her how beautiful it was.  Then I was embarrassed for the very first time to show my drawing to someone.  I did.  She liked it.  She complimented it as well.  I believed her because I knew Deana didn’t lie, but I still felt at a loss to understand how suddenly I was not as good as I had thought.  Had people been telling me I was good when I wasn’t?

I believe this might have been the start of my long-held inner belief that I was simple not really better at anything than anyone else.  Nothing I could do was any different, any more special or even good enough to compare from that point forward.   I got excellent grades moving through high school, graduating in the top 10% of my class and earning a scholarship.  I got excellent grades in college and was on the dean’s list several times during my freshman year.   My assumption, however, was that everyone was getting excellent or ever better grades.

There were some areas of curriculum that required I worked harder than others.  I loved geometry but could not wrap my head around advanced algebra. I loved English and all the stories and books we read – but could not embrace the ancient stuff. Beowulf for example.  I knew I had strengths and weaknesses, but again, my assumption was that everyone else only had strengths.  Even when I was called upon to tutor someone older than myself in middle school, I did not realize that this meant anything other than I was a good reader and could help this person with words just as I had helped my older brother with his math at home.

It did not mean I had any special knowledge or skill, right? I was nothing special.

While I think parents today often over-whelm their children to the point of delusion with how special, wonderful and talented they are, forever losing in them a sense of what it is like to really accomplish something from hard work, I do wish someone had noticed this in me earlier and helped me realize the truth.  It’s a fine line parents need to tread.  I was as special as anyone else. I was extremely resourceful and had talents in many areas that often outshone others and that was important and should have built confidence.  It didn’t.

No one had noticed.

On a job I had at Borders Books & More (I miss that store so much!) after college, my manager, a new manager not much older than myself, came out and asked me very pointedly:

“Do you know how smart you are?”

I shrugged it off.  It had to be some silly trick to get me to do more work.  I was prone to respond that way to a compliment.  I would work hard to please the person even more and people seemed to know this about me.

“Really,” she said, “Look at this.”  She pointed to the floor in front of my section – Reference and Foreign Languages, at that time, where hundreds of newly arrived books were stacked in front of their respective shelves waiting to be inserted into their proper places among the floor stock.  I didn’t really get what she was trying to say, which was that I was a monster when it came to getting the new stock out on the floor in the shortest amount of time.  Most staff would bring out one v-cart at a time, without putting it into order first and shelf the books one book at a time, here, there, wherever until their shift was over.  I organized my entire task putting two or more v-carts into action, then broke it down into small steps by placing the books near their final destinations first.  Lots of easy little successes in shelving that lead to getting done quickly and efficiently so that I could move on.  I also neatened and shifted and “frontalized” while I was putting out the new stock instead of going back and doing this later as a separate step.  I didn’t realize I had put any more thought into the task than anyone else. It was just the way I felt it needed to be done so that I could browse in other areas.

Admittedly, it was efficient, but it also could only be done this way during times when the store was slow.  This system had to be revamped during those times when people were rampantly shopping, were laying on the floor reading, stalking some pretty girl in the art section next to reference or wandering around with a no-foam, half-caf, mocha latte espousing brilliant philosophical thoughts to no one in particular.  I guess that was something else she was trying to point out to me.  I not only could organize a vast amount of materials so that they took up the least amount of time, but I could be flexible and perceptive enough to realize this had to be adjusted based on the store’s foot-traffic.  And all this time I had believed the guys on staff when they told me I shelved faster because I had large hands.

It was nice of her to have pointed this out.  This was the first time anyone had complimented something my brain did that seemed automatic to me.  I wanted to get done so that I could go look at new books in the Anthropology or Sociology or fiction sections.  This was the first time I was given an inkling that my brain worked differently than others and that this was actually a good thing.  I knew my brain was different.  I knew I was different, but my assumption had been from childhood that this was not a good-different.  And here was this person, a person in authority, putting an idea in my mind that my form of different could actually be a potentially useful and wonderful thing.

It took many years after that to actually flesh out that idea to a fully formed image in my mind.  Her words would come back to me in different situations where I had done the same things – automatically. This was a new perspective that no one else had ever given me.  And it isn’t at all about parenting.  Everyone needs to re-parent themselves as they grow up and learn about the world and who they are in it.   I had set myself in a picture of my world early as the underachiever. I needed to pick up crayons or markers or pens and start drawing again and keep filling out the pages until I have properly redrawn a more honest representation of who I really was.

I suspect this is drawing that will continue on. It seems the more I learn, the more I change, the more there is to draw.

 

#keepcoloring #keeplearning #crayons

Giving and Receiving

I want to write about giving.  Giving gets written about mostly during the holidays.  I think it is an all  year round thing for me personally.  It gives me a lot of joy to lend someone a hand, to answer a call for help or donations, to listen when someone needs it.  Everyone gives what they can in their own way.

A few weeks ago the office sent out a memo.  They were collecting donations of school supplies for a Back-to-School Drive.  I had initially skipped over the email, but when I was at the store standing in front of a partially set up display of Crayola Crayons, I remembered it.  The shelves were full of cases of the small box of 24 crayons each, waiting to be opened and displayed for sale.  I couldn’t tear myself away from the sight of all those brand new crayons – all that potential.  A new crayon is such an exciting thing – a whole box – well, that’s just wonderful.  From the first trail of waxy color running across a page until whatever masterpiece is completed -it is exciting. I bought a case of them and a few other items.

I felt compelled to explain to the cashier that they weren’t for me.

“Kids should have crayons,” I said somewhat feebly, after explaining it was for a school donation drive. But it was something I believed, crayons, pens, pencils, markers, paper – all those means of self-expression, they should have them.  They should have an unending supply of them for their entire lives.

“That’s great,” she said.

“I have what I need,” I said. It wasn’t what I wanted to express.  I didn’t know where to go from there.  That part made her look at me though.

I am sure like all children, I was given gifts growing up.  There wasn’t a lot of money so they were reserved for birthdays and Christmas. Once a friend gave me a little book – not on my birthday or Christmas.  I remember holding it proudly as I hopped off that last big step from the big yellow school bus.  I don’t recall what book it was but I recall my mother taking me aside to tell me that I had to give it back.  I did as I was told but this time I had asked why.  Why did I have to give it back? There wasn’t anything wrong with it.  It was nice. It was a nice thing between friends, I thought.

“We don’t accept things from others because we don’t want people to think we can’t afford them ourselves.”

“Okay,” I said, but I was a muddle of feelings – confused, ashamed, sad, embarrassed.  And I had an odd feeling, a sort of sickly revelation of the type that shakes the foundation of what a small child holds fast to as truth.  I had a feeling that my mother was wrong.  Can parents be wrong? I also had a feeling that this line of thought was an area in which I needed to tread lightly for fear any of the words in my head might escape through my mouth.

It didn’t make sense to me, but the message was clear.  Don’t accept charity. I gave it back mostly because somehow I thought I had brought shame on the family in accepting it. If we couldn’t afford it, we did not need it. And we should not want it?  I loved that little expression of kindness from my friend and was not allowed to have it.  It had made me feel special and I had needed that gesture and didn’t even know how much.  Now as an adult, I can feel the insult that was returning the little book.  And it was wrong.  My mother was wrong.  Can parents be wrong?  Oh boy, yes.  There are loads of things that people cannot afford that they do need.   Love and kindness are free….and should be freely given and accepted.

I give myself things all the time now.  I buy myself things. I create things. But I have not known my whole life how to give myself love and kindness.  The free things. I had not learned how to give those things to myself, to fulfill that need.  I have been starting by giving myself time and experiences, but it is a process.

Yesterday at the grocery store, I bought a rather considerable amount of cat food.  A shelter had put out a call for donations on Facebook.

“These aren’t for me. I only have two cats,” I said to the teenage boy ringing up the seemingly endless piles of cans of that mushy pate version my cats won’t even consider eating.  I didn’t want him to think that I was a crazy cat lady, or worse, that I was eating it myself.

“Sure,”  he nodded rolling his eyes.  I really need to stop trying to strike up conversations with cashiers.

 

(to be continued)

Lightning Bugs

The thing I miss most about childhood is lightning bugs.  Just before sundown on summer evenings, the first thing that signaled the shift to the day’s end was that the rabbits would appear. Not just one or two, but eight or ten milk chocolatey brown white cotton-tailed rabbits would move out into the front yard from the tall grasses of a field next door.  They would hop lazily around the yard, now vacated by noisy children.  That was our livestock:  wild bunnies, small and cute.

The dog would just sit on the porch watching.  She wasn’t even waiting to make a move. She wasn’t interested in chasing them.  She was just keeping an eye on her herd from a higher vantage point – glad that the day was cooling off. As the light grew dimmer, the bunnies would move gradually back to the tall swaying grasses in the field and eventually all disappear back into them as the next show began.

The lightning bugs would start their performance off slowly, with just a few lights beginning here and there.  More and more, and even more, would join in creating the most wonderful light show against the darkening landscape.  They never seemed close enough, so as a child, I would run, this way, no that way, no over there, until breathless, trying to catch them.

As I grew older I learned to just wait.  If I stayed quietly in one place, watching them as they rose and blinked, one would eventually light near me.  I didn’t want to catch and contain them or worse, squish them on my arms like my brothers.  I just wanted to catch one and watch it light in my hand. Then, when it realized it was not captive, take off and float away.  It was as though for a moment I might be able to feel real magic.

Soon we would be called into go to bed.  If I hurried I could get into my pj’s and get into bed where I could watch them from the window.  I would take the pillow and put it at the foot of the small twin bed near the window sill and watch the pitch black darkness.  As my eyes adjusted I would see them still blinking, rising up into the towering maple trees where they would spend the night.  I would fall asleep there, waiting and watching, not wanting the magic to end.