Friday, September 19, 2014

"With the pride of an artist, you must blow against the walls of every power that exists, the small trumpet of your defiance."  ~ Norman Mailer

I HATE coloring books! HATE them! 

I learned to HATE them when I was in 2nd grade in San Antonio, Texas. Now, don't think we lived in the San Antonio of today with its River Walk and its elegant homes… NO! We lived in the dry, dusty, old-time San Antonio with "talking" wind and dust in your eyes and the little bitty Alamo in the middle of town. We lived there because my Dad was an instructor in the Air Force back then, and the city had not gone through its metamorphosis, yet.

I'd loved coloring books up until then. And I especially LOVED it when Mom would buy me a new box of crayons every so often. The first time she bought me that 3-tiered box of 64 crayons was the day I nearly swooned! It wasn't just the colors, themselves, either. Their names were exotic, too. I took a piece of paper and scribbled every color on that page just to see them altogether in riot-mode.

In the house next-door there lived a girl with a coloring book. I still can see her naturally-curly blonde hair that fluffed her head… maybe addled her brain inside, too… don't know, for sure. We met, we talked, like little girls do, and then she asked me to come over to her front porch and "color" with her. I started to trot over to her house, but she yelled out, "Let me see YOUR coloring book first!"

I LOVED coloring, and I was happy to show it off to my new friend. I raced into the house, found my coloring book, and raced over to her porch. She snatched it out of my hands, and, beginning with the first page, she examined each colored design like a detective looking for clues. Mothers and teachers were the only people I'd ever seen do that in my whole life… never another kid!

After she studied the last page, she looked at me and said, "I guess it's OK if you color in MY book. BUT, YOU HAVE TO OUTLINE EVERYTHING ON THE PAGE FIRST! THEN YOU CAN COLOR IT IN! BUT YOU HAVE TO COLOR IT IN LIGHTLY, SO THE LINE IS THE DARKEST PART!" 

That settled it! I feared for my life! I would do exactly as I was told for the very honor of coloring in that sacred book of hers. Especially after she said, "You're the only one on this whole block I'm letting color in this book, Terry!" (She was a year older than I was, and she talked in that elevated fashion… or was it my fear of her that made me think she did? Shhhhh, don't talk loudly… She doesn't like others to talk loudly! She 's the only one who can do that. And remember, coloring book lines are sacred to her!)

"TERRY! What are you DOING?"

"I'm coloring a giraffe."

"You're using a PURPLE crayon! Everyone knows that giraffes are brown and yellow, NOT PURPLE!"

Purple is pretty, I thought… "OK," I said, and grabbed the stupid mud-brown crayon, carefully coloring INSIDE the poopy brown lines I'd drawn.

That was summer in San Antonio, Texas for me, until one day when a new girl moved in across the street. She was even more timid than I was, and she was shorter, too. She was nice, and I liked that. It was a wonderful change from my next-door "friend."

"Do you like to color?" I asked her.


"Well, come next-door with me. That girl has a coloring book and colors… Come on and color with us," I said to the short, nameless little girl.

"OK," and she did.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING!" That wasn't a question. It was a royal oral beating from the Queen of Coloring Book Land.

"I'm coloring…" said the new kid.


"But I'm not finished coloring the grass…"

"I said, 'Let's turn the page. NOW!'"

I didn't cry. But I didn't obey. I guess I just crouched there, looking at her more clearly, as we sat on that summer-hot cement porch in San Antonio, Texas.

Then I stood up, and I walked back over to my house. The little girl followed me, but I guess when the door slammed in her face, she didn't know what to do, so she just cried there on my porch.

I was back within a minute or two, MY coloring book in hand, and a box of crayons, too. No, not what you think… The crayon box I brought out to the porch had 16 colors in it. I wasn't going to let anyone else touch my 64 glorious colors, not even a crying little new friend! I was no angel, just ask my little brother!

We laid down on that porch and spread open two pages full of animals. We picked any color that wasn't the "right" color, and we scribbled and laughed and made a mess of all the animals, not staying in any lines for love nor money! And we made polka-dotted lions and striped bears and tangerine horses with green manes and tails made up of 16 different-colored hairs! It had been a long time that summer since I'd had that much fun.

Later, much later… so much later that I'd been through art classes at the university and graduated, taught high school art for 11 years, and moved with my husband to California. I'd substitute-taught for 6 months, and I was applying for a permanent teaching position at a junior high school near our house. The interview was going pretty well, and I was trying to be genteel, while answering his questions truthfully. I wanted that job. 

"Now, Mrs. Waldron… your credentials are in order. You've taught before… good. We're looking for an art teacher to replace the one who's leaving, as we said. But we need someone who can keep the kids' hands busy, busy, busy… you know… like coloring books… stuff like tha-"

"Coloring books? COLORING BOOKS! Keep their hands busy? KEEP THEIR HANDS BUSY!!! Mr. I-Forget-Your-Name! Art is NOT "keeping their hands busy"!!! Art is decision-making at its highest level! When you face an empty page, you have to make your first and most crucial decision. That first decision informs your second decision, and that second one then informs the next one, and that one the NEXT o… 

"OK, OK, Mrs. Waldron!!! You've GOT the job! Go to the District Office and sign the papers today. But will you PLEASE STOP POUNDING ON MY DESK?" 


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