Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
This is the time of the year, as the beginning of the school year approaches, when my spirit starts to wane significantly. I’ve taught high school special education for 21 years. By and large, over the years my students have been great; in fact, I’m honored to have taught and known the majority of them. Unfortunately, though, in the two decades that I’ve worked in public education, interacting with wonderful kids just hasn’t been enough to sooth my spirit. It’s probably politically incorrect for a teacher to admit—but I’ve come to dislike what I do for a living. I enjoy the kids, but I can’t stand the rest: from the mountains of paperwork and forms to crazy parents, from axe-grinding school board members to department infighting, from decisions-by-committee to moronic politicians thinking they’re education experts because Acme Testing Corporation cuts them fat campaign checks.
Yes, I can hear the scoffing now. “Oh, you spoiled teachers! Jeez, you get your summers off—and the holidays and spring break, too. What’s so bad about that?” I know—believe me, I know—my situation could be much worse. I could be shoveling hot asphalt in 100-degree heat. I could be cleaning toilets ten hours a day. I could be slinging fries and burgers for minimum wage. So don’t get me wrong. I understand that in the big picture, my situation is pretty darned good. But that doesn’t stop me from taking what-if trips in my head. During the two-and-half-months in the summer when I sequester myself to my studio and immerse my mind and body in my art, and my J-O-B is a million miles away, I’m reminded of my Big Dream: doing the art gig full time. I’m a realist; I know that for many people—me included—dreams are just devices to keep them from going off the deep end. And so I continue to I hold onto mine.
I didn’t set out to become a special education teacher; I guess I just sort of fell into it. Originally, in the back on my mind, I saw it as a temporary deal, just something to pay the bills until I landed something more dear to my heart. But then—surprise, surprise—life happened and it became tougher to, so to speak, jump ship. In that regard, I’m so thankful for my art because without it, I’d be up the proverbial shit creek. My art keeps me going. And even though the job stress and frustration I lug home with me does its best to numb my creative spirit for three-fourths of the year, the Big Dream’s always there, whispering to me, Get out! Bring me to life.
As an artist I draw inspiration from a wealth of sources, one of which is other artists. Obviously, I draw inspiration from their creations, but I also find gold in what they say. Michael deMeng is one of those artists. In Jenny Doh’s book Art Saves, Michael shares an epiphany of sorts he had many years ago. “[H]e lived tending bars 20-30 hours a week, and making art 40 hours a week. It was a midnight brightly lit by the full moon when he decided that even if he might never find acclaim, even if he had to tend bars for the rest of his life, art would remain his pursuit.”
Michael did a better job explaining the power of art than I ever could, but that’s exactly how I feel. I may never find acclaim as an artist, and even if I never manage to free myself from my job as a special education teacher, art will remain my pursuit.
The (sometimes mad) ramblings of a mixed media artist.