Sunday, October 28, 2007

Art school dropout

Don't think I've ever told the whole real story of how I came to be a writer. I'll start today. This could take a while.

I entered Furman University in South Carolina as an art major. After just a semester, though, I realized that the school was not the right fit for me. (The cafeteria was segregated, for a start.) I transfered to a community college for the remainder of the year because I had missed the deadlines to transfer to any of the other schools I was interested in.

My big hope was to go to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), but I applied to several other schools "just in case." The acceptances came in quickly-- Pratt, Parsons, I don't even remember where else. I took a trip into the city by myself one day to see how it felt, though, and a man followed me from the subway to Parsons. I ended up hiding in a bathroom for at least an hour until he left. Decided the city was not the place for me. So I eagerly awaited the response from RISD. I watched the school video, reread the brochures, and plotted how great my life was going to be when I painted my way through Rhode Island.

Then I got the rejection. The only rejection I had ever received from a college, and it had to be that one. I was devastated. My little sister and her best friend even made a sign that they stuck on my door that said something like, "RISD is dumb! They don't know what they're missing! You are sooo good at art!" It was super-sweet.

Anyway, then, like the reasonable person I am, I went to a psychic, who told me I was going to school in Boston. Considering I had not applied to any schools in Boston, I left chiding myself for wasting $20.

The following morning, my dad's cousin, an artist, called out of nowhere to say, "Has Jen considered Boston University?"

That was all it took for me. My best friend and I drove to Boston pronto, and I knew I was in the right place. I transfered as an art major, and had to go to the department chairman with my portfolio to determine if my freshmen credits would count.

He gave me a condescending smirk as he looked through my portfolio, and told me that, no, I would not receive any credit. I'd have to start all over with the intro classes. I was disappointed because the message was clear: my work wasn't good enough. I felt like I was being left back. Well, I sort of was.

On the very first day of classes, I watched in amusement as a young man drew himself a bracelet "tattoo" in Sharpie marker while we waited outside the building for the professor to arrive. We struck up conversation and ended up deciding to go shopping for art supplies together that night. He became my closest friend right away.

Which was rather unfortunate for me, seeing as he was far and away the best artist in our class.

See, I stood next to him every day, and as I drew my not-quite-right noses and painted my slightly distorted apples, he made masterpieces effortlessly in half the time.

It did eventually occur to me that maybe I wasn't very good after all. So at the end of the year, I approached the toughest professor. He liked me, and he knew I was serious about working at my craft, and I figured he'd give it to me straight.

"Am I good enough?" I asked. "Tell it like it is. Can I make a living at this?"

I don't remember his words at this point, but I remember what he did NOT say. He did not say, "Don't quit! You are fantastic! The world will be losing a great talent!" It was more like, "Well, a lot of people discover they're not really cut out for this, and you don't have to consider it a failure if you decide..."

'Kay.

A bit deflated (of course I was hoping he'd tell me my fantasticness was waiting just around the corner), but glad for the truth, I switched majors. I switched to advertising mostly because I figured I could still use my art training, but in graphic design rather than fine art. As part of the advertising major, though, we all had to take some writing courses.

And that's where I met the professor who sexually harrassed me and made me a writer.

Tune in next post for part II.