I recently went through my old college flash drive and found tons of old essays and stories that I’d forgotten about, so I might share some of them over the next few weeks. This is from my senior year, an essay assignment called “This I Believe.”
I won’t pretend that I’m thrilled about this assignment. I have a lot on my plate right now with five classes, work kicking my butt, and a novel in progress. My kitchen is overflowing with dirty dishes, my laundry isn’t put away and my living room looks like my desk exploded. One more paper to write is like a fly buzzing around my face while my arms are full of books; annoying, stressful, and something that should be done away with. What’s the point?
Unfortunately, that’s been my mantra this semester. I’m dragging myself through my literature classes, trying to absorb these literary jewels but instead wishing I could be home writing or researching my genre instead. I take notes in lectures, chew pen caps in testing centers, and wade through pages of phonetic transcription and wish I were in a book somewhere, either my own or someone else’s. I graduate in May. I’ve taken dozens of classes, written dozens of papers, taken dozens of tests and what do I know? Not much. I even made a list of important things I’ve learned and I realize very few of them came from school.
I believe school is only a tiny part of education. A degree can get you a job, but the rest of your life is a mess if all your education occurred in a classroom.
I can read and write well. I partially credit my abilities to school, but I learned to write by reading and writing outside of school, reading and writing what I wanted to. I can make a soup or casserole with anything in my fridge. I can take care of kids, balance a checkbook, budget, and pull myself out of depression, but I didn’t learn that from a textbook. Learning happens through practice, trial and error, and help from other people.
Van Gogh said “I never let school get in the way of my education.” I’ve written that quote on top of pages of notes when I start to get overwhelmed by class work and feel my brain clog up like a drain full of hair. I remember to step back, get perspective, do my own thing for awhile and come back fresh so I can absorb what I need from school.
Bad attitude? Maybe. School is important to me. I’ve had some amazing teachers who helped me become better than I would have on my own. I’ve taken classes that have opened my mind wider than I could have alone. I’ve been introduced to some amazing books, ideas, and people I may have never discovered otherwise.
School is part of education, but only a part, not the whole . Education is learning from everything while retaining your identity and core values. Learn from school, people, experiences, trials, experiments, people, places, books, and your own thoughts. Life is a giant school really, but in the school of life, you are your own academic advisor. You choose your teachers, your classes, your curriculum. The world is your classroom.
I’m sitting in the lobby of the Kimball Art Center right now at one of the café tables where I used to do homework and eat dark Dove chocolate bars during class breaks or sip mandarin orange Tazo tea on cold days. I think of the time I eavesdropped on a group of professors discussing an article on nudity in art and how pompous they sounded. I love eavesdropping.
I remember the ceiling three stories up and how I used to scare myself by looking down from the top floor. Footsteps echo off the concrete walls and no one speaks above a whisper, but somehow this space is as comforting as my own living room. I remember the ache of my tailbone grinding into the floor as I drew crumpled cardboard sculptures and the men in the African totem sculptures, and how amazing I felt when I completed a drawing.
That drawing class. The teacher required a paper pad and clipboard so big I used it as a lean-to to ward off sunburn when we spent the afternoon the sculpture garden drawing the lights. The professor told me I’d produced the best work in the class that day, that my work had “soul”, that mysterious, elusive quality that I didn’t quite understand at the time. He often made us draw the same light switches and doorknobs four times across the page, which I found agonizing. I loved it and hated it at the same time.
Even though I loved being an English major, my art experiences are what I really remember when I think of my college days. My year as an art major awakened me to so much; I’d always been an artist, but I was eighteen and the world of “serious” art was completely foreign to me.
I changed my major because I couldn’t learn art as a science, trading emotion for hard parameters and judgment. I always missed it though. I felt comfortable with English, but for the rest of my college career, I’d visit the building with a sense of longing, feel something ache inside of me as I looked over the student work on the walls or the BFA exhibits. When registration rolled around, I’d flip through the catalog and mourn the classes I’d have no room to take. It’s ironic, because I that first year as an art major, I missed writing so badly, it hurt. I loved English, but something was always missing. I left art behind. I made the mistake of choosing my writer identity over my artist, believing one was more important than the other and not realizing that I need both in large amounts. They’re both me, and I’m not just one or the other. I’m not half and half either, but completely both at the same time. Without them both, I am not me. I wasn’t truly happy, because I let the artist in me starve.
It’s hard to wrap my brain around this; how I am two seemingly different things simultaneously. I tend to think differently in “artist mode” or “writer mode”, but I never produce my best work if I only use one or the other at a time. Lately, I’ve consciously tried to maintain both mindsets, even while painting or writing.
I am simultaneously artist and writer, completely encompassed by both. Though I can’t really comprehend the logic of that, I know that it’s true and it feels right, and I am learning to embody both at all times, in everything I do.
Embody who and what you are, and live authentically.