I have done a lot of artwork in my day. It started very young, although I don’t recall my drawings ever being displayed on the refrigerator. I thought they were good. But I suppose they weren’t refrigerator good. Some of them must have been garbage good when I found a few in the trash. Of course I did have a rather active imagination. But If I had been a horrid artist and even horrider child, I would have been drawing skulls and crossbones on doors instead of flowers and people on paper. I asked my mother about my many missing popsicle stick and elbow pasta project pieces. She squirmed delinquently. I’m sure it was very itchy and painful to have to fess up to the fact that she fed the landfill with my fine works of craftsmanship.
Mom must have asked me a million times to brush my teeth. Eventually she told me that I didn’t have to brush all of them, just the ones I wanted to keep. This is how artistic I really was. She found me in the bathroom brushing but declared snidely, “Nice use of watercolors, but you were assigned to brush with toothpaste.” I could have really made her mad by brushing my teeth with glitter or food coloring. I should mention the time I was sentenced to four hours of cabinetry crayoned removal service. That night at dinner, she mentioned the benefits of joining art classes in Singapore. She couldn’t lose me to another country, not when I became the teen who decorated all the placecards for her dinner parties. I wanted to calligraphy hangover cures, but basic etiquette told me not to. As did my mother. I thought I was being very creative and helpful the times the doorbell rang when nobody was there, and I drew a pretty sign and sat it outside our front entrance that read: Doorbell ringers and runners will be executed to the fullest extent by the dog, and the boys who reside here.
Think about this. My mother had ten children. Multiply that by crayons, paints, pastels, glue, and palettes of paper. Being left alone to create something with all these things is a pretty strong indication that a gaggle of kids are going to draw, tint, or use stickum on something they aren’t suppose to. It was just my rotten luck that sibling six leaned on a paint tube sending the splattering colorant all over sibling four. And sibling five cut and glued the tablecloth. We were blissfully unaware that my mother was hovering nervously from the doorway. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Just because I was oldest in the birth order and so depended upon, she shot a look at me like she might be interested in homicide. Funny, but after that she still continued to bring more children into the world. She’s lucky that my baby brothers sagging diaper contents that smelled like the Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site didn’t end up being handpainted all over her furniture. But there were several crepe paper rolling Rembrandts running through the house. As a result, Mom ended up being quite skillful in several languages. English, sarcasm, mockery, and profanity. Usually with the eldest, there’s a spectacular scrapbook saved with many original memories. The youngest is lucky if there’s even a hand or footprint from birth. In my case, I don’t have anything to show for my work, when my youngest sibling has enough to practically fill a museum.
Creativeness also came with stumbling blocks. In one grade school class, we were supposed to draw a feathered dinosaur. I became mystified when the head needed to emphasize reptilian scales. Then I drew feathery arm flaps but became mentally challenged with the dinosaur’s beak. More importantly, how was I going to visually convey the variation from warm-blooded to cold-blooded? The worst part was when someone ran off with my pencil sharpener.
I was painting my nails artistically long before salons made it fashionable, which was a very calming and prolific way of expressing myself. Mom would tell me, “Gee, I see you’re awfully good-natured today. What medium do I owe that pleasantness to?” I told her that she should be colorfully artistic herself by having all of our names tattooed on her body. But she said that she already had a multitude of tattoos in the form of stretchmarks.
The day came when I told my parents that I really needed to focus on my art. They wanted to send me to Pratt Institute, one of the leading colleges of art and design. Yet they couldn’t afford to feed me much less send me to a prominent school in Manhattan. I sometimes wonder whether it was me, or if I heard my mother snickering while saying that she’d rather jet me off to boarding school. Who knows if Pratt would have turned me away saying, “We really love your work, but…” Heavily encumbered with my mental collegiate defeat, I was staring down the path of burger flipping, wondering how I would handle the pressure of people who needed something from me when they asked, “Can I have two large fries please?” Instead, I have become extremely well educated in perseverance, child rearing, and figs. I found out there are quite a number of things you can do with figs. Better to know extensively about aggregate fruit than become a burger and fry eating blimp, or possibly a crack whore.
When I lived in Michigan, there was a period when I made chairs out of cut wood and washed up branches from the Lake Erie shore. I must have built fifty of them. But there were emotional stages of furniture assembly, and it was always when I was in the worst mental states that I cranked out my best artwork. Sometimes I turned a thicket of trees into goddamn sawdust. To think I could have been a carpenter. I never produced anything that Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci might look at. But being creative now keeps me from sitting around aimlessly or taking on other more disreputable hobbies. Like prank calling people I don’t know, or choking on big cigars.