Do What You Want If It Takes Your Mind

10 Aug | personal / writing | no comments

When I was in middle school (which, for me, ran from sixth to eighth grade), every sixth grader was required to take an “exploratory” class as an elective. Which, you know, required elective. Very funny, right?

Anyway: this exploratory class covered the four main classes that could be taken as electives as a seventh- and eighth-grader. You had one quarter each in basic (not BASIC) computer programming, tech ed (shop class), art, and home ec. As far as such things go, this was a pretty effective way of exposing kids to the choices available to them.

I learned several things from the exploratory section. I learned that sewing is pretty awesome (which I then promptly forgot for 13 years). I learned that (obviously) shop class is awesome, if for no other reason than you’re dealing with fucking METAL. Also, wood. I didn’t learn that art is pretty awesome, because I already knew that. And I learned that computer programming is not really my thing, to the eternal shame of my bank account balance.

After that exploratory section, I chose to take tech ed for both seventh and eighth grade. In retrospect, this was a monumentally poor decision, and I’ll tell you why:

When I was a pretty small kid, I was not a bad artist. I could draw well and had a surprisingly strong grasp of anatomy for someone so young (thanks, comic books!). However, I didn’t really focus on it, and didn’t get better. By the time I was in fourth grade, I was no longer the acknowledged best artist in the class, not even by myself. In retrospect, it’s possible to read a lot into my reaction, but it was impossible to recognize then just how microcosmic my deciding not to worry about art anymore, in fact, was vis-à-vis.

In sixth grade, my particular rotation of the exploratory sections placed me in art for the third quarter. Each quarter was tasked with drawing a holiday-themed piece, and our holiday just happened to be Valentine’s Day. While I hadn’t grown much as an artist, my skills certainly hadn’t deteriorated, and when I showed my angel-winged, t-shirt and jeans-clad version of Cupid to my teacher, she looked at me and stated, in no uncertain terms, “You should definitely take art next year.”

Now, I’m almost 26 and considering going to school for illustration or graphic design. I’m the biggest sucker in the world for a well-done graphic image. I even became a writer because I wanted to script movies, a way of creating a visual art using a skill that I had actually worked on and improved. Obviously, I should have taken two more years of art in middle school and moved on to more advanced arts in high school. But I didn’t. Instead, I took tech ed both years, including one year as the teacher’s assistant, which means the only thing I learned that second year was how to cut a metal tube to length to help my friend make a pipe for smoking… tobacco. I then proceeded to take four years of gym in high school, even though only two years are required and your average Special Olympian is more athletic than I am. I did take two more years of art in high school, and I still wasn’t bad… but I wasn’t as good as I should have been, either, and I’ve barely touched a pencil since then.

I chose not to do art (or home ec, something else that would have been more functional for me) because of some possibly (read: probably) non-existent social stigma. I went against my own nature and skills because I thought other people would make fun of me for doing what I wanted to do.

This is the reason that children need guidance. I was still too stupid to live when I was 19; who the hell allowed me to make decisions that affected my life so adversely when I was 11?

There’s a reason that every rebellious teenager who says they’re not going to treat their kids “like that” when they are parents grows up and changes their mind: they realize that kids are dumb.