Friday, November 4, 2016

call out the art

"You are different." So often that statement is meant as an insult, when in reality it is a truth that we should learn to embrace about ourselves. All humans are born with innate characteristics that are unique to our person. Qualities and attributes and personalities that differentiate us from the next person. Many times, we are aware of our differences from an early age. I have blue eyes but always envied my cousin's dark brown eyes. That sort of thing.

But there are other unique qualities that sometimes we do not recongnize in ourselves. Things that may stay hidden, and require just the right circumstances and timing to come pouring out.  It is internal art. We often do not even know it’s in there, waiting, standing at the door. If left inside, we are keeping the best of ourselves from the world. It is a disservice to not only our true beings, but to those on the outside who might just need what you have to offer.

            The art that spilled out of me when I was an awkward little twelve-year old was words. Through all of my schooling, I was not a high achieving student. This was not for lack of intelligence, I was just happy to let other students shine brightly and let myself skate by unnoticed. So when my 7th grade teacher presented us with an optional extra credit assignment for our English class, it didn’t even register with me. “Optional” in my brain meant something not worth doing.

            But the night before the extra credit was supposed to be handed in, I had second thoughts. It was nearing the end of the year and my English grade was less than great. So I grabbed a spiral bound notebook and started writing about the given topic of the essay, “Why I’m Proud to be an American.” This was 2002, barely a full year after 9/11. A time when everyone had yellow ribbons tied to trees in their front yards and the stars and stripes raised proudly on their car antennas.  Patriotism oozed out of every corner of small town America, so this assignment made sense.

            I remember sitting in my living room that night only half paying attention to the words I was writing. Maybe it was my ex-air force Dad in the next room, or just the thought of hot dogs on the 4th of July, but I did my best to communicate the proper amount of American Pride. I tore the 2 pages out of my notebook and set them on my teacher’s desk the next morning. I had done my scholarly duty, and walked away just hoping it was enough to raise my letter grade.  

            A few days later my teacher pulled me aside. The words she spoke to me that day in school still resonate with me. She had my paper in her hand, looked up at me and said, “Lindsey, this is very good.” Her compliment was met with a blank stare. It was the last thing I was expecting and didn't know how to respond. It had taken me 20 minutes the night before to complete this half-assed excuse for extra credit. But she was serious. Nothing more was said, but those few words bolstered my self-confidence more than maybe anything else has in my life. I didn't realize it until much later, but in that middle school classroom in Gettysburg she called out my art. 

            Most of the kids in my class had submitted essays for the extra credit (overachievers). But what I didn’t realize at the time was that this whole essay thing was a much bigger deal than I thought. The teacher probably explained this when she told us about the assignment, but as soon as my brain heard the word ‘optional’, I tuned out. My 7th grade teacher, along with many of the other 7th grade teachers in the county, were submitting these essays into a contest run by the American Legion Association (the essay topic made even more sense now). The top 4 essays would be awarded with a certificate and cash prize. I was suddenly much more interested in this extra credit gig.

            A few weeks later my Dad flicked a letter my way. Not having any clue who would be sending a 12 year old mail, he stood by as I tore into it. It was from the American Legion congratulating me on my essay. I won 3rd place in the contest out of all the 7th graders in my county! I screamed and ran the 2 flights of stairs and nearly busted down my parents bedroom door to tell my mom. They picked me? They picked me! (After two others, but hey!)

7th grade Lindsey (on the left) had a hard time doing well in school and keeping her eyes open in pictures.
            My parents were so proud, my teacher was proud. My small private school had chapel every Monday morning, and asked me to read my essay aloud to the whole school. My mom took me shopping to buy a new outfit for the award ceremony held at the American Legion. My grandparents came and I rode in the back of their car. I got my picture in the paper and the cutout hung on our fridge for months.

            At the end of 7th grade, my teacher had a small ceremony for the class where she awarded each student with a certificate. The certificate listed that students’ strengths and talents. When she gave me my certificate it said, “Great Writer.”

            Throughout high school I wrote into the late night hours when I couldn’t get to sleep. I kept journals and tattered notebooks in piles around my room. I wrote about things I was dealing with. Awkward boy encounters, falling-outs with friends, times when my sisters got on my nerves and my parents weren’t fair. I wrote on the plane when I left America for the first time, and I wrote in my bedroom the night I first met Kevin (I was 17).  I couldn’t explain why I wrote about everything. It would be like trying to explain why I breathe. The things I wrote didn’t always make sense, and they weren’t pretty or meant for other people to read. It was an unwinding process for my tangled teenage mind.

            I can’t count the number of files on my computer that are half finished paragraphs of thoughts that came spilling out. Writing often feels like throwing my brain at a white wall and hoping the splatters make sense. And if the splatters are incoherent, that’s fine. They are often just meant for myself. But even if one person can make sense of my ramblings, and relate or gain understanding and strength, then I cannot ask for more.

Us women are appreciated for many things. Unfortunately, we are often first valued for our physical appearance, but those things are fleeting. Clothes and hair are not representative of who I am. But when a person compliments my writing my heart swells like when the Grinch comes to love Christmas.  I remember every single person who has ever had a kind word to say about something I have written. They are their own unique category of incredible people, beginning with my 7th grade teacher in 2002. I am so thankful to her for calling something out in me that I didn’t know was there. 

We all have the power to do that with people around us. We can sometimes see things living inside others who are unaware.  When we highlight a strength or talent in someone, we may be giving them courage and confidence that has an effect on the rest of their life. If you see art in someone, speak it, and if someone sees art in you, believe them when they say it.