Saturday, December 08, 2007

Encyclopedia of Me


Lately, I've come across several Encyclopedia of Me blogs. Some of them have been around for awhile and a good number have been abandoned. Still, I'm always looking for ideas to prompt my writing and this one seems to have merit.

As far as I can tell, it originated with a meme dreamed up by Bella Dia in this post and she, in turn, got the idea from the book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, titled Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.

The instructions are simple: Write a post per day (or thereabouts) for one month using the alphabet from A to Z as the prompt. It can be about anything to do with your life - past or current. It can be short, long, serious or whimsical. Pretty much anything goes.

Since there seem to be several variations of the original (just do a Google search and you'll find lots), I've also decided to do my own take on it. Instead of one letter per day for a month (and because I think this should be a pleasure, not a chore), I've decided not to have any time constraints -- just A to Z posts whenever the fancy strikes. It may take me a month. It may take me a year. I'll have to wait and see how it all plays out.

Here's my first:

A is for Artistic
When I was young, my relatives thought I was artistic. They gave me gifts of pens and crayons, drawing books and sketch pads, how-to draw anatomy and learn-to-paint books. I don't know where this perception came from because I never felt particularly artistic. Perhaps, my mother was artistic. She died when I was a toddler and I don't have any memory of her. So maybe the family was projecting their image of her onto me.

At any rate, when I was in school, certain teachers persisted in this same notion. I still didn't get it. I didn't have the drive to spend endless hours sketching and painting like my friend Kathy. Now, Kathy was talented. She drew constantly. Her books and papers were filled with doodles and wonderful landscapes. She used every available piece of paper, including the margins of notebooks. You can imagine my shock when one of our teachers chose me along with Kathy to decorate and paint the classroom windows one Christmas. I felt like a fraud beside a real artist.

Around the same time, I realized that being smart – as in intelligent - was more highly valued in my family and at school than being artistic. I tried my best to prove that I was more "smart" than artistic. This tactic, more or less worked. I left behind my art supplies and went on to university and took mostly sciences. I occasionally took out my sketch book and made half-hearted attempts at drawing. Nothing was ever quite good enough for my liking. More often than not, pages were torn out and thrown in the wastebasket. I was my own worse critic and could never get past the self-editing (I now realize this had a lot to do with my inner competitive nature - but more about that another time).

Later, I married and had children. Lo and behold. D, my first-born, from the age he could hold a crayon in his little fingers, loved to draw and colour. When he learned how to draw a car, he drew pages and pages and pages of cars of every size, shape and colour imaginable. When he learned to draw people (well, cartoon people), he doodled caricatures and cartoons everywhere. When he was given colouring books by well-meaning friends and family, he always came up with atypical colours (what, you've never seen a tree with purple leaves?), and more often than not, coloured and drew extra "stuff" outside the lines. Clearly, he was more artistic than I ever was. I let him and his imagination be.

When he got to elementary school, his teachers noticed his artistic abilities and his artwork was often posted on the walls and bulletin boards. In about grade 6 or 7, he was asked to paint a winter scene on the classroom window. No other instructions, just a winter scene. Because he was a huge hockey fan, he decided to paint a hockey scene. Hockey is a winter sport, right? Well, it turns out he painted a scene of a hockey fight – complete with a bloody-nosed, bruised and cut combatant. The picture was deemed inappropriate and his teacher and principal told him so. He was forced to wash off the offending painting and not allowed to do another.

D was mad. He couldn't understand why his teacher hadn't been more specific in his instructions and/or at least give him another chance. If he had wanted a picture of children frolicking in the snow, why didn't he just say so.

Now, D was and still remains a strong-willed and independent free spirit. He's not one to go down without a fight. In this case, he couldn't really do much about the windows. The teacher had made up his mind and that was that (although D confided in me that he was tempted to erase all the windows in the class when no one was around). I asked him if I could speak to the teacher about it. He flatly said, no because he'd already tried and it wouldn't help.

Then, for the remainder of the year, he mounted his own silent protest. In some ways, I think it was a subconscious reaction. He doodled and sketched in the margins of all his school notebooks, assignments, and even test papers, if he had extra time. And guess what he drew? He sketched cartoons and caricatures of people fighting – the bloodier and gorier the better.

His teacher was not pleased. The teacher spoke to him about it. We spoke to him about it. He was given detentions. He didn't care. He thought he'd been treated unfairly, and felt this was his only way to express his displeasure.

Eventually, he got over it, but sometimes I blanch to think what some child psychologist might have thought about those bloody pictures.



1 comment:

Diana said...

I love this idea, and you've reminded me that I was doing something similar on my blog (but haven't for a long time!).

One thing I was trying to learn from: I read Rosenthal's book and wanted so much to like it but kept thinking throughout, "So what?" So, the challenge (for me) is to write what the l etters of the alphabet prompt me to without being self-indulgent and boring.

I hadn't seen Encyclopedia of Me blogs and will try to google some up.

Great idea!