Most people know me as a cellist. Prior to studying music, I would often draw. When I was freelancing full-time and hating life, my ex would say that I should study graphic design because he thought I was good at drawing. Being an insecure idiot, I took that as an insult towards my ability to play cello and immediately dismissed his idea.
To be fair, he wasn’t wrong. I could have been accepted into an art school. As a child, I was always artistically inclined. One of my elementary school teachers recognized my potential through the drawings that accompanied my journal entries. She entered me into an art competition where I had to write and illustrate a book. I didn’t realize at the time that it would be just myself participating and not the other classroom students until the day of the event. It was just me and my teacher. That was a special moment where I knew I wanted to be an artist.
From there, I spent a lot of time drawing. Art class was the best. My friends and I would draw comics, laugh and inspire each other. In high school, there was an assignment where we had to create something visual with our medium of choice that would represent the individual books we selected to write our senior report on. The book I had chosen was Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Being a teenager, I was very much into exploring provocative topics.
The morning of when the assignment was due, I walked into the lunchroom as usual for breakfast and sat with friends. They all began talking about what they created, and I freak out because I completely forgot. I grabbed some paper, coloring pencils and began furiously scribbling stuff I didn’t put much thought into the meaning and symbolism. I just needed to get the assignment done.
To give you some background, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is a controversial book about a middle-aged literature professor, Humbert, and his predatory obsession with this preteen, Dolores nicknamed Lolita, who becomes his stepdaughter that he sexually molests.
So my interpretation was to draw a black void to represent the nefarious overtones of the story shrouded by Humbert’s eloquent narration and his toxic poetic romanticization of Lolita. Due to the sexual nature of the story and my perverse sense of humor, I drew the void in the general shape of a vulva. I made sure to be coy in my interpretation and ensure that it wasn’t explicit enough to get me sent to the principal’s office. If you didn’t know the underlying story behind the drawing and passed by it, you would have never guessed the intent. It’s just symbolism after all.
As everyone began presenting their visual literary aids, I saw some really nice work that looked like it had taken a lot of time and preparation to create… unlike my crude drawing I did minutes before class. One project that stood out to me was by a classmate, who is an opera singer now, that did her assignment on Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. She created an intricate oven that you could actually open — referring to how Sylvia Plath committed suicide by putting her head in an oven and dying of carbon monoxide. I guess we were all a little angsty as teenagers.
Finally, it’s my turn to present. I flubbed the explanation and did my best to get a laugh so I could turn the attention away from my lack of preparation. That’s my usual mode when I’m nervous… I try to make jokes.
After all assignments were displayed, our English teachers began looking them over to name first, second, and third place. Not only did I forget the assignment, but I was also unaware that this was a competition and was ready to move on to the next class after such embarrassment. Much to my shock and surprise, I won first place! I was dumbfounded. I wish you could have seen the look on my face because I’m pretty sure my jaw was on the floor. I was excited that my teachers understood me and all my eccentricities. It was the first time I was awarded for my artistic expression, and I felt so validated.
Thank you to all my teachers who saw my potential and encouraged me along the way.