Wednesday, December 7, 2016

How I Became an Artist and Other Things I Don't Regularly Think About

This morning, I had someone ask me how I became an artist, storyteller, and dreamer, and it was more in depth than I was prepared to answer, so I turned to my blog, where I like to think (especially when I plan to share those thoughts with others).

To me, it all kind of rolls together.

I was seven years old when I first taught myself how to lucid dream (control and direct my dreams while sleeping).  I hadn't planned it, researched it, nor even knew it had a name.  It came about because of two things:

First, when I was six, I used to dream about -exactly- my days.  At six, they're pretty predictable:  wake up, dress, eat breakfast, go to school, sit at my desk, write, do math, eat lunch, out to recess, come home, have a snack, go outside and play, wash up for dinner, eat dinner, take a bath, get ready for bed and go to sleep.  I was constantly having deja vu, and lost track of the days/ couldn't necessarily tell when I was sleeping, and when I was awake.  I -literally- dreamed exactly my days, complete with going to bed and then waking up into reality.  Moving to Germany helped break the loop because that was something that ONLY happened in reality.

Second, I had a recurring nightmare.  It was being chased by Freddy Krueger down a long hall, while he scraped his creepy metal nails along pipes, and fires sprouted all over the place.  I would wake up sitting bolt upright in bed, cold and clammy and afraid.  I didn't actually manage to use my lucid dreaming to stop this nightmare until I was 12, when I stopped running, turned around, pointed at the flames over his left shoulder and said, "You need more flames to make it believable" and he vanished.  I had this nightmare for five years, at least twice a year until that moment, and haven't had it since.  But waking up from it (and that first year, I had it at least once a month), I would lay back down and think myself back to sleep -away- from the nightmare-- and could eventually control my dreams.

I don't do it so consciously as an adult.  Now, I typically let me dreams go as they will, or have been lucid dreaming for so long, it's entirely automatic and I don't even notice it anymore.

Also in this same age range, with my mother in the military, my sister and I lived with our grandparents for a bit.  My Grandma Betty was incredibly crafty and creative!  She had coloring books and tracing paper in her buffet.  That way, all of us grandkids could trace the one we liked, and color it to our hearts content.  We could trace and color the same one differently, over and over, if we wished.  Or we could ALL color the same one if we wanted to.  Plus hand tracing it meant that we also practiced concentration and hand eye coordination, though that wasn't something I think she was consciously doing.

I'm going to take a moment here and tell you about family reunions (lol).  Each year, my husband's family has them.  The first one that we went to happened in West Virginia-- they set up a different tourist friendly location every year-- attractions for the families to see, as well as a variety of golf courses for the Uncles to play.  It's a week long adventure of catching up and seeing the sights together, with card games at night, some mild gambling, and lots of eating together.  After we got home, with wide eyes, I told my husband I'd very much enjoyed his family reunion-- but that they were -nothing- like my family's reunions.

Ours revolve around weddings and funerals.  They're a weekend at longest.  Getting ready for the event, attending the event and then going to my grandparent's house afterwards.  And afterwards would be filled will singing, either accompanied by Grandma Betty on the organ, Aunt Karen on the piano, or any number of family members on the guitar.  While the grown ups talked, the kids went outside to run and roll down the hill, play tag, explore the creek and the critters in it, toss horse shoes, and play tag or hide and seek.  At dinner, my Momma and her sisters would help my Grandma Betty cook, and they'd help to clean up together afterwards, complete with singing in harmony (though not necessarily on key!).  After dinner, we'd gather for stories.  Some of them were memories shared, related to the reason we were all there.  Some of them were stories about catching up with each other in the time since last we'd been together.  And some of them were actual stories-- humorous joke stories, ghost stories, and (my favorite) fairytales.

And between staying with my grandparents and how my family would interact, we have the recipe for both a love of arts and crafts, as well as a tradition for stories.  My Grandma Betty taught me how to draw some of the things I saw in my mind.  And when my sister and I were coloring our traced Barbies-- and lamented that they didn't have a skin color crayon that looked anything like our tan-- she taught us how to blend colors to make our own.  We made posters and banners and went through miles of rolled blank news print or brown craft paper and worked on projects for days, sometimes even weeks.

Like most little girls, my sister and I loved horses, and would beg my Momma to draw them-- she made this adorable horse head and taught me about drawing eyes as seen from the side (as opposed to putting forward eyes on a profile)-- she taught me to SEE.

And from this young age up, I kept a dream journal, worked my way through a constant supply of paper and crayons and pencils and colored pencils-- well into my teens.

But after third grade, I didn't actually want to take any formal classes in art.  I can remember the exact moment.  We were in art class learning how to do potato prints.  I made a spiral and had purple paint.  And I covered my paper in awesome purple spirals.  But I had a second half of a potato, and what I really needed to finish my painting would be orange stars.  But when I went to make the second potato stamp, the art teacher rushed over and took the potato, and told me to just put more purple spirals on my paper.  So I did.  Unhappily, I did.  I basically made the entire piece of paper purple with overlapping purple spirals.  And at the end, she said, "Good" and I knew that it wasn't and decided I didn't want to take any more art classes if it meant I was going to have to do what someone else told me and make ugly boring things.

So we fast forward to the eleventh grade, when I've been drawing, and coloring, and making, over all these years on my own because, as one of my favorite college professor's Greg Skaggs says, "Makers are going to make", and I my favorite history teacher, Coach Nichols, decides to offer a painting class.  He introduced me to oil painting and I enjoyed it-- but more importantly, I realized that I had progressed as far as I was going to on my own, and maybe it would be a good idea to actually get some formal training.

In my twelfth grade year, I have the opportunity to either leave after my 2 mandatory classes, or take 4 electives.  We're at my third high school, and I've always loved learning, so, to the utter disbelief of the guidance counselor setting me up for classes, I chose option number 2.  I was only required to have Chemistery and English.  I also signed up for psychology, library studies-- and with the permission of Mrs. Hardwick, the art teacher, I skip Art 1 and take both Art 2 and Art 3 instead.  I just brought my portfolio (though I didn't know that was what it was called-- it was just the collection of my art) and showed it to her, and asked to skip the first one.  I learned SO MUCH in her classes and was introduced to all sorts of mediums and techniques!  And I knew that art -had- to be a part of my life.

So when I went to college, it was no surprise that my majors were Art and History.  But in that first semester, it turned out that pretty much ALL of my friends were theatre majors.  And they talked me into auditioning for a show.  I climbed through the center of a chair and did the monologue of "Mouse's Escape from Aquilla"...  I'm just going to leave it at that (lol).

I didn't get the part, but I did enjoy theatre and very much enjoyed getting to see the show, especially since we were reading the play in my literature class.  If you're curious, it was Lysistrata (;

So by my second semester, I was majoring in Theatre and Art.

But life doesn't always go the way we think it's going to-- and I did not, in fact, graduate from my first college.  Instead, I married my best beloved and started a family, and bought into the unspoken, but mostly assumed thought that becoming a wife/mother/ grown up meant getting a day job and giving up my arts.  The whole idea of putting away childish things, yes?

Except that when I look back on it with near perfect 20/20, I can see that I didn't really put them away.  I just changed their focus.  Instead of writing poetry-- I made up songs and stories to entertain my children.  Instead of drawing or painting, I created projects to do with my boys, or made house decorations or gifts to give to my friends and family.  I was always putting on some sort of entertainment for my kids-- and used my sewing skills to make them costumes, or curtains, or... well, whatever I needed to make.

But that hindsight was almost 9 years in the making.

When I went back to college here in Alabama, my very first semester, I was worried that I had lost it.  That art and creativity were something that went away entirely without use.  And I was truly blessed to have Skaggs and Larry Percy as two of my instructors.  They inspired me to find my own artistic fingerprint and eased my fears.  And working on my senior thesis, I finally accepted that I -might- be an artist.

But most inspirational of all, to keep making art, was was when our Senior Thesis director Pamela Allen advised that most college artists (over 80 percent) never make another piece of art after they graduate.  In that moment, I decided I wanted to accept that challenge and not fall into that statistic.  So I signed up for my first non-college art challenge with Leslie Saeta.

As for the dreaming, I started using my personal facebook as a quick journal because I could swype, and record it from bed, right when I woke up.  I had friends who started commenting on my dreams and encouraging me to continue sharing them.

I like to think I'm just starting this journey into being an artist and a storyteller.  I've already made several hundred pieces of art (though not all of them are good enough to be in my portfolio).  I'm in the process of editing the first 365 dreams and am looking foward to getting it published.  And I'm already over 200 dreams into a second book (though I'm editing this one as I go this time!), because just because I was ready to turn it into a book didn't change the fact that I'm a vivid dreamer.

And still, I continue to work towards the goal of eventually living by my arts.  I think -that's- when I'll really consider myself and artist and a storyteller.

(If you'd like to follow the progress of my art, or read my dreams the morning after I have a new one, I regularly update here.)