Is it odd that I can pinpoint a life event that completely destroyed my aspirations to draw? Even if that event happened forty-one years ago?
I’ve had an interest in art and the creative since my first memories. As I recall, there was always an internal desire, maybe even a need, to draw, paint and express.
However, back in those days, at least in my reality, the encouragement or support to pursue the creative arts as a profession or even as a hobby was non-existent. The authorities over my life said verbally and by example it was more important to pursue a skill set that would ensure an income, prosperity, financial security, put food on the table and pay the light bill.
Yet, I felt compelled to draw, I wanted to draw. I mainly sketched, doodled. In middle school I started to draw comic book super heroes. I dreamt of drawing for Marvel and DC.
Unlike in today’s society where comic books and super heroes are normal, cosplay is generally accepted and there are Comic Con conventions. Back then, that kind of fantasy world was considered stupid, silly, a bit gay, illogical and to be hidden and avoided if you wanted to be normal.
With my paper route money and income from cutting grass and other odd jobs, I had amassed a small collection of comic books. I was serious about the collection, storing back issues in plastic bags, keeping current issue on display.
In those days, comics books were hard to come by, at least in my reality. In the store, comic books were displayed on a rotating wire rack next to the magazines. The range of titles and publishers was limited.
Today, there is a retail shop totally devoted to comic books, graphic novels and super hero memorabilia less than a half mile from my house. There are several such retail shops in the city.
Slowly, I learned that many people, my peers and especially those holding the greatest influence over me believed drawing, the arts, painting to be a hobby, something you did when there was disposable time and money. Which, of course, disposable time and money were as scare as a blue moon, even for the middle school aged kid who had a paper route, did chores and whatever else the parental authorities deemed was necessary for a delinquent to keep from being idle.
As I transitioned into high school, a school with a typical art department, the philosophy of making a living via a respectable profession started to take a deeper hold. Although I wanted to be involved in the arts and theater and other creative endeavors, the practical ‘college bound’ curriculum didn’t allow much wiggle room.
I had a taste of the disdain and contempt for comic books and art in general during a first semester English class where the assignment was to give a speech on something that interested you. Of course, my topic was my comic book collection, the investment I had made from my personal income and the return I expected. I was taken aback by the jeers, the giggles, the utter disdain and blanket contempt for my topic as it wasn’t the normal sports or car related topic as my peers presented.
Within that freshman year, other veins of depression, worthlessness, peer rejection, bullies began to inflict torment on my mentality. Soon, it was hard enough just to make it through a typical high school day and then contend with turmoil at home. Drawing, comic books or the arts in general lost much of its desire.
I gave up collecting comic books as I began to see it as an impediment to gaining social acceptance. Yet, a desire for art and creativity still bubbled in my soul.
And, so, that brings me to this life event that certainly did alter the next four decades of my life.
In the second semester of my freshman year, my afternoon study hall was in the school cafeteria, filled with typical cafeteria tables freshly cleaned from the lunch period. Three students were assigned to each table. There was plenty of space for each student although it wasn’t a very private venue.
The freshmen were usually grouped together apart from the sophomores, juniors and seniors. Why, I don’t know but it was the policy. However, I, as a freshman was exiled to a table with two seniors.
Thankfully, I knew one of the seniors at the table as he lived in my neighborhood. I thought it would be a safe space.
However, he didn’t acknowledge me. I was a nerdy freshman who didn’t dress well and socially awkward. He was a popular guy from a wealthy doctor’s family. He had his friend sitting next to him. I was the lone man out.
Cortez was his name.
I accepted the silence, after all it was a study hall. Besides being a wealthy upper class Senior, he excelled at his studies and he did study while in study hall.
But, still, a nod of acknowledgment would have been encouraging, maybe even life changing.
A day or two later I casually spread some papers over my ‘workspace’. On one of the papers was a small sketch of a super hero that I wanted to develop into a larger drawing. It was just a quick sketch with several poses and not refined in any detail.
Within moments of its exposure, Cortez and his sidekick were pointing to it, laughing among themselves obviously amused at my inept sketch of a super hero. Although I did not hear what they whispered, the pointing, the laughter, the air of ridicule that began to circulate over me was enough to know they were laughing at me and my artist creative expression.
Causally, as if I was unaware of their ridicule, I placed a page of class notes over the sketch. It was now hidden but I could still feel their amusement.
I never sketched another character, superhero or not after that incident. Never spoke about comics. Packed up the small collection I had. That collection didn’t see the light of day until I gave it away to a local boys club years later.
From that moment, I believe drawing or creative expression was just not ‘me’, I devoted myself to journalism in high school and broadcasting in college. For me, it was a merger of creativity and practicality.
I made a living in the ‘field’. Although my employer constantly chided me for being too ‘artsy fartsy’. I married, created two kids, divorced, married again, added two more kids, divorced again. In those forty years, there wasn’t much, if any creative expression. It was life as society requires, earn a living, pay taxes, pay bills, raise kids.
I rediscovered a love for comics and comic art in early 2002 when I bought a single comic book from a Borders book store in West Lafayette Indiana. However, I didn’t buy many more in the years following. Didn’t draw. Didn’t pursue anything creative but devoted my time trying to give happiness and fulfillment to others who would eventually leave.
I regret the four decades of loss caused by the insensitive laughter and directed ridicule of a single peer. Although his ridicule was the pivot it was certainly preceded by the lack of support and encouragement from people who could have directed me.
Now, later in life, I’m single and have paid down marital and other debt so I have a small amount of disposable time and income. As such, I have restored some of that creative passion. I paint in a Jackson Pollock abstract splatter and drip style being large canvases and building the strainer frames.
And, I try to draw. I’ve purchased several figure drawing books intending to teach myself how to draw people, faces, scenes in this new year of 2018.
I wish I had a better support system back when I was young and naive. I wonder what I would have become had I studied and practiced what was a passion back then. In those days, at least in my reality, it was better to work to pay bills and manage a respected life of illusions than to dwell with fantasy of comic book super heroes and other creative expressions..
If I had that support and encouragement from the people who I believed should have encouraged and supported me, maybe the Cortez incident would not have made such a pivotal impact on my life. Yet, the lack of support or encouragement from those who should have and the ridicule of my peers, drawing or anything creative wasn’t to become a part of my life.