Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"People need trouble - a little frustration to sharpen the spirit on, toughen it. Artists do; I don't mean you need to live in a rathole or gutter, but you have to learn fortitude, endurance. Only vegetables are happy."  ~ William Faulkner


I found a junior-sized Daddy Long-Legs in the sink this morning, trying sooo hard to climb up and over and out. I tore off a paper towel and put it in his way, and he jumped right on. As I walked to the back door to set him free, he crept over the edge of the paper towel and clung to the underside. When I set him out on the patio, he seemed disoriented, probably trying to find a way to get back into our house.

I love Daddy Long-Legs! I read about them once. It seems that they can inject a deadly dose of poison into their prey with just one bite. Luckily, their tiny mouths are way too small to bite into human beings! And that's what makes them so curiously loveable... They can't hurt us, and they have those precariously long, skinny legs holding that tiny body up so high in mid-air. To their enemies, though, they are lethal.

I'm pretty sure I had a human Daddy Long-Legs in the first class I taught after we moved here to California. It was the middle of October, and I'd inherited 6 junior high art classes and a filthy art room! The art teacher before me had taught in that room for a few years, and, suddenly, on October 1st, he walked out of the class, out of the school, and out of teaching all together! 

I'd seen him once before I was hired to take over teaching his classes for the rest of the school year. It was a day in Sepember and I was substituting for an English teacher. It was her conference period, so I was walking across the campus towards the Faculty Lounge. I heard loud rock music coming from the art room, and I saw a tall man coming out of that room with a female student perched high on his shoulders. They were both laughing hysterically, as he paraded her around in circles before setting her back down on the cement. I'd never seen anything like that at a school in my life! 

But I was in the right place at the right time that day in the middle of October, it seems, because the principal called me into his office, and asked if I'd like to apply for the art teaching job. Well, yeah! It was just a job for the rest of the year, did I understand? NOT for the following year... Uh huh...

"Where's Mr. D?!"

"Yeah!  Who are YOU?"

"I'm your new art teacher, Mrs. Waldron. Now sit down at your tables, and we'll get started. By the way, what were you working on before Mr. D left?" 

The laughter started with stifled giggles, but it grew pretty quickly to open-mouthed hee-haws.

"Nuthin! We weren't doin' nuthin."

"Well, you are now!" I said as I passed out drawing paper to each student. 

"You don't understand... We don't do NUTHIN' in this class, except listen to the radio and talk!"

"HEY! Where's the radio? It's all quiet... What's goin' on?"

I'd stayed after school the day before until 6PM, looking through all the art room's drawers and cupboards and the back storage room, too. It looked like the kids were right. I couldn't find much in the way of art supplies anywhere. What a difference between this and the art room I'd left back in Omaha, Nebraska where I'd been the department chair. One of my duties there was to order all the art supplies for the 3 art teachers each year, and I loved that! All 3 of us had everything any art teacher could want. But that was then...

Well, my first day I taught my new classes how to make a contour drawing... a very important thing to teach first because drawing is LINE... fluid line... not EVER that chicken-scratching that passes for "drawing." It is the beginning lesson for all true art classes. It helps students understand the discipline of learning to see, and without it, there can be no real art... only adolescent scribbling. It's like first graders learning the alphabet so they can learn to read. I thought everyone knew that...

The next day, when the first period class came in, I was told in every conceivable way that those students hated me! They didn't just dislike me, no... They hated me and wanted Mr. D back, NOW!

By the end off the day, I was ready to fall in a heap on the floor and let the tears fall with me. I would have too, but the floor was soooo dirty... My classes had been so popular back where I came from... Here I was hated, absolutely HATED! If you think I'm being dramatic, well, imagine yourself "teaching" 220 young teenagers in that one 7-hour day, and each one of them scowling at you, wishing they could make you disappear! 

Only one thing to do! Calligraphy was just getting really hot, and teenagers liked working with "mechanical" sorts of things at their age, so I went to the art store and bought 40 pen holders and 80 pen nibs and enough calligraphy paper for at least two weeks. It was the 40+ bottles of India Ink that ready thinned my wallet, though, but I was ready for them the next day.   

"What's cally-graffy?"

"YEAH! What are these pen-things, anyway?"

"Gather around me, all of you! Closer... I used my Arrid this morning! Get CLOSER!" And they DID!

They watched me, and then they began to actually learn themselves... I'd begun with the Uncial alphabet because it was the easiest, but when we moved to the Old English alphabet, they SMILED... at ME... SMILED!

It was a LOCK! They wanted to come to my class everyday now, especially big, bad-guy Ernesto, a 14-year-old guy I had assumed I'd never reach. He'd come into class early to get the "best pen," and to start before the bell even rang for class to begin! He LOVED the Old English alphabet. 

About a week into this wonderful turn-about, it was early morning and I was on my way to school, happily thinking about the next project I'd introduce to my wonderful art classes. Life was goooood! I stopped for the red light, right there where the line of stores began, and there it was!  ERNESTO  

His name was spray-can grafitti-ed in perfect Old English calligraphy all over every wall of every store for a radius of one square city block! My Ernesto had been very, very busy that night practicing his new artistic bent that I had taught him!

Oh, but it gets better...  Back in Omaha where I'd just come from, city gangs hadn't been invented yet. However, my Ernesto was the LEADER of one here, it seemed. And yes, I'd taught him sooooo very well. 

The next morning when I drove to school, I saw that Ernesto had been busy teaching his boys all that he'd learned from me. There were new names stuffed into the spaces between Ernesto's perfect Old English letters. And you know, it looked like Ernesto could have become a darn good art teacher if this pesky other group hadn't been first on his mind.         

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