For art, go stand by an eagle.

It was the first day of kindergarten, and free time had begun. Importantly, I had done everything Miss Petersen had said to do –to the letter. In fact, I was pretty impressed with myself for having identified and found an eagle in the visual cacophony of the kindergarten classroom at Manasquan elementary. There I was standing underneath the flag to which we had earlier learned to pledge our undying allegiance to the great man who made America possible, Richard Stanz, and yet I still had no painting supplies in my hand.

I had art to create. I felt I had done some amazing work with finger paints in pre-school, and I was looking forward to seeing what I could do with an actual brush.

“Everyone who wants to paint, go stand by an eagle.” Those were her words. Eagle. I know –it made no sense. Some kids went into an alcove and stood by big, propped-up boards. I didn’t know what you called those big, propped-up boards in the alcove, but they certainly weren’t eagles. I looked around the room. You could say I had an eagle eye. (Sorry. Not sorry) We had a bird book at home, and eagles looked exactly like what was at the tip of the flagpole at the end of the blackboard by the classroom door. So I stood there. Certainly she would get around to me sooner or later and lead me to that arting heaven I was promised in church. But she never did. Why did Miss Petersen hate me? I had half a mind to tell on her to Richard Stanz if I ever met him.

I slumped my shoulders and went to play with the only things that weren’t already taken, the wooden blocks. This sucked; I had plenty of blocks, better blocks, at home. The only kids playing blocks were two other boys, big for their age and drooly. Every time I got three blocks stacked in a pleasing arrangement, they would take turns knocking them down. Then they would laugh as I would stack another creation. Five, and I’m being mocked for my sculpture.

The next day, Miss Petersen again said, “Eagle,” and I dutifully went to stand under the flag. Now I wasn’t stupid; I knew those big, propped-up boards in the alcove had something to do with painting. After all, kids were painting at them. BUT THEY WEREN’T EAGLES. And my mom was very adamant in her demands that I listen to and do exactly what Teacher told me to do, or she would hear about it. And my mom had good ears; she could he the lid lifting off the cookie jar all the way upstairs. That would send here into a rage: “Who’s eating a goddamn cookie!!!” she’d screech. I didn’t want to know what she would do when it got back to her I wasn’t standing near the eagle when told to do so.

Miss Petersen cocked her head and approached me. “You don’t have to be frightened. Look, Steven and Tad are playing blocks. I’ll take you over there.”

“I’m standing under the eagle,” I countered.

“That’s nice,” she said in a voice that indicated that she’d be making a notation of some sort in her book that day. “Let’s go.”

I trudged over to the land of the big and drooly. “Stephen. Tad. Chris is a little shy today. Why don’t you two show him how you play with blocks?”

Today’s amusement for Steven and Tad came from letting me stack upwards of ten blocks before knocking them down. I would’ve just quit stacking, but Miss Petersen kept glancing over.

This continued all week: “Eagle,” standing, stacking, knocking down.

Why didn’t I ask Miss Petersen for help? It could have been the shame of knowing, just knowing, that I was doing something stupid by repeatedly standing under the eagle. It had to do with those big, propped-up boards. I knew that. I just didn’t know what the big, propped-up boards were called. It had to be something that sounded like eagle, something I just wasn’t getting.

But, Chris, why didn’t you just stand by the big, propped-up boards? That would’ve been the sane, logical thing to do. Because she said, “Eagle!” Looking back, I know it was some sort of gestalt that was turning an unknown word into a known one. Also, deep down, I needed to be right. I always needed to be right in all matters academic from this kindergarten “eagle” mishap all the way thru senior year Brit Lit when I argued with Mr. DeMatteis that, if we had to memorize the order of British royal succession, we might as well memorize their shoe sizes.

Yes, I was too stubborn to admit to anyone, even at the age of six, that I didn’t know the complicated word for the big, propped-up board on which one painted. I had some notion in my head that I was smarter than a lot of the other kids –at least I didn’t knock down my blocks on purpose. Did I already feel I had some sort of braniac rep to protect at six? After all, wasn’t I the guy who memorized the state capitals at age four? I don’t care if you’re Dad’s boss, the capital of Arizona still ain’t Tuscon. Dammit! The woman was saying “Eagle!”

The gears began to clash…

I like painting, but the world is conspiring against my art.

Always follow the rules! Do what Teacher says!

I’m usually right! (A fact I’m pretty sure about.)

Those kids standing in front of the big, propped-up boards are mocking me in their smocks! Even if I did figure out the magic word, they probably wouldn’t let me in.

THE WOMAN IS SAYING “EAGLE!” THE WOMAN IS SAYING “EAGLE!” THE WOMAN IS SAYING “EAGLE!”

Nevermind.

Maybe art isn’t for me after all. That we don’t always get to do what we want is an important lesson for a kindergartener to learn.

I gave up after a week. I cut my losses. Standing by the eagle was only getting me noticed. I spent the rest of the year playing with the general toys, including the blocks. I got real good at screaming bloody murder whenever someone knocked over any of my creations.

POSTSCRIPT: I finally got unfettered access to an easel some 25 years later when I spent six months in a “facility.” I didn’t have to stand near any birds to get a chance to create my art; all I had to do was take my meds.

FullSizeRender(2)
An example of what I was capable of when I finally got to stand at an easel. Sometimes, I think I was better off standing under the eagle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stand by the eagle…

 

It was the first day of kindergarten, and free time had begun. Importantly, I had done everything Miss Petersen had said to do –to the letter. In fact, I was pretty impressed with myself for having identified and found an eagle in the visual cacophony of the kindergarten classroom at Manasquan elementary. There I was standing underneath the flag to which we had earlier learned to pledge our undying allegiance to the great man who made America possible, Richard Stanz, and yet I still had no painting supplies in my hand.

 

I had art to create. I felt I had done some amazing work with finger paints in pre-school, and I was looking forward to seeing what I could do with an actual brush.

 

“Everyone who wants to paint, go stand by an eagle.” Those were her words. Eagle. I know –it made no sense. Some kids went into an alcove and stood by big, propped-up boards. I didn’t know what you called those big, propped-up boards in the alcove, but they certainly weren’t eagles. I looked around the room. You could say I had an eagle eye. (Sorry. Not sorry) We had a bird book at home, and eagles looked exactly like what was at the tip of the flagpole at the end of the blackboard by the classroom door. So I stood there. Certainly she would get around to me sooner or later and lead me to that arting heaven I was promised in church. But she never did. Why did Miss Petersen hate me? I had half a mind to tell on her to Richard Stanz if I ever met him.

 

I slumped my shoulders and went to play with the only things that weren’t already taken, the wooden blocks. This sucked; I had plenty of blocks, better blocks, at home. The only kids playing blocks were two other boys, big for their age and drooly. Every time I got three blocks stacked in a pleasing arrangement, they would take turns knocking them down. Then they would laugh as I would stack another creation. Five, and I’m being mocked for my sculpture.

 

The next day, Miss Petersen again said, “Eagle,” and I dutifully went to stand under the flag. Now I wasn’t stupid; I knew those big, propped-up boards in the alcove had something to do with painting. After all, kids were painting at them. BUT THEY WEREN’T EAGLES. And my mom was very adamant in her demands that I listen to and do exactly what Teacher told me to do, or she would hear about it. And my mom had good ears; she could he the lid lifting off the cookie jar all the way upstairs. That would send here into a rage: “Who’s eating a goddamn cookie!!!” she’d screech. I didn’t want to know what she would do when it got back to her I wasn’t standing near the eagle when told to do so.

 

Miss Petersen cocked her head and approached me. “You don’t have to be frightened. Look, Steven and Tad are playing blocks. I’ll take you over there.”

 

“I’m standing under the eagle,” I countered.

 

“That’s nice,” she said in a voice that indicated that she’d be making a notation of some sort in her book that day. “Let’s go.”

 

I trudged over to the land of the big and drooly. “Stephen. Tad. Chris is a little shy today. Why don’t you two show him how you play with blocks?”

 

Today’s amusement for Steven and Tad came from letting me stack upwards of ten blocks before knocking them down. I would’ve just quit stacking, but Miss Petersen kept glancing over.

 

This continued all week: “Eagle,” standing, stacking, knocking down.

 

Why didn’t I ask Miss Petersen for help? It could have been the shame of knowing, just knowing, that I was doing something stupid by repeatedly standing under the eagle. It had to do with those big, propped-up boards. I knew that. I just didn’t know what the big, propped-up boards were called. It had to be something that sounded like eagle, something I just wasn’t getting.

 

But, Chris, why didn’t you just stand by the big, propped-up boards? That would’ve been the sane, logical thing to do. Because she said, “Eagle!” Looking back, I know it was some sort of gestalt that was turning an unknown word into a known one. Also, deep down, I needed to be right. I always needed to be right in all matters academic from this kindergarten “eagle” mishap all the way thru senior year Brit Lit when I argued with Mr. DeMatteis that, if we had to memorize the order of British royal succession, we might as well memorize their shoe sizes.*

 

*SIDE NOTE: I did it. The fact that, prior to the 19th century, shoes really didn’t have sizes helped greatly. Actually, it was more of a written plan on how one would go about figuring out royal shoe sizes. But I did call Buckingham Palace and got a member of the Queen’s household staff to yell at me. It was the most charmingly exasperated “How the hell should I know?” I’ve ever heard. More importantly, Mr. DeMatteis featured this episode in his recommendation letter for the Ivy League college I spectacularly flamed out of the following year.

 

Yes, I was too stubborn to admit to anyone, even at the age of six, that I didn’t know the complicated word for the big, propped-up board on which one painted. I had some notion in my head that I was smarter than a lot of the other kids –at least I didn’t knock down my blocks on purpose. Did I already feel I had some sort of braniac rep to protect at six? After all, wasn’t I the guy who memorized the state capitals at age four? I don’t care if you’re Dad’s boss, the capital of Arizona still ain’t Tuscon. Dammit! The woman was saying “Eagle!”

 

The gears began to clash…

 

I like painting, but the world is conspiring against my art.

 

Always follow the rules! Do what Teacher says!

 

I’m usually right! (A fact I’m pretty sure about.)

 

Those kids standing in front of the big, propped-up boards are mocking me in their smocks! Even if I did figure out the magic word, they probably wouldn’t let me in.
THE WOMAN IS SAYING “EAGLE!”

 

Maybe art isn’t for me after all. That we don’t always get to do what we want is an important lesson for a kindergartener to learn.

 

I gave up after a week. I cut my losses. Standing by the eagle was only getting me noticed. I spent the rest of the year playing with the general toys, including the blocks. I got real good at screaming bloody murder whenever someone knocked over any of my creations.

 

POSTSCRIPT: I finally got unfettered access to an easel some 25 years later when I spent six months in a “facility.” I didn’t have to stand near any birds to get a chance to create my art; all I had to do was take my meds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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