Tear out your hair, beat your breast, fill your pants with dirt and howl in misery, all those who missed the Pumpkin Carving Contest last week in the multipurpose room. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.
Yes, it was that much fun. My team made a robot pumpkin. I was so excited about it that when we finished, I decided to carve another pumpkin all by myself. It was soon plain to me that I had followed in the footsteps of most artists of questionable talent who attempt solo careers. While the pumpkin I worked on as part of a team came out looking sassy and robotic, my pirate pumpkin, embarked upon in a selfish quest for personal glory, was neither sassy nor robotic, but it did inspire several curious onlookers to question and ultimately discard the idea of the existence of God.
It didn’t look anything like a pirate. I don’t know what it looked like. In any case it was a lopsided, toothless token of my artistic inadequacy. It reminded me of a pumpkin I decorated with a green magic marker when I was four. There is a picture of me, taken that Halloween, with my arms around it, staring into the camera with the direct, pained gaze of a misunderstood artist. My creation had an enormous raggedy maw full of shark teeth, rimmed by two eyes of different sizes, with a nose on his forehead. Examining my latest pumpkin attempt has confirmed my suspicions. Artistically, I peaked at four.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I grew up believing that I was a good artist. Perhaps I had one too many encouraging babysitters or overenthusiastic arts and crafts instructors at camp. As it is, nothing I ever draw looks like what it’s supposed to be. When I was little, I solved this problem by telling my Mom what my scribbled drawings were–there were a lot of cowboys–and having her write it at the bottom. Now that I can read and write, I do that part myself. No matter how much they disagreed with it, few art teachers could disregard the pure efficiency of this method.
I still remember the high school art teacher who broke my gentle, deluded spirit. She is the one to whom all credit is due for my sadly realistic view of my meager artistic talents. She made us paint from still-life arrangements which consisted of mountains of elaborately arranged fruits and vegetables, which, amazingly enough, after four or five months, rotted away. This infuriated her.
She was less than five feet tall and shaped like a mini-fridge, wore long beaded necklaces and made me hate myself from 2:00-4:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays. This was because she made me use color. A student of the doodling-with-a-pen-on-lined-paper-during-math-class school of art, color did not belong in my artistic world. Nor did fruit, or, for that matter, Mrs. Thompson.
After a semester, my canvas was filled with pears that looked like neon light-bulbs and bunches of grapes that looked like they were caught in midexplosion. I told myself that my fruit picture looked inept and distorted because I was working so close to it. Once in awhile I would tack it to the wall and look at it while backing away slowly, hoping that distance would resolve the colorful mess into something that didn’t make you want to stop eating fruit (or perhaps into something that didn’t look like the tragic result of not eating fruit. I don’t know what I meant by that, exactly.) The further away I got, the better I felt, not because the picture looked any better, but simply because I was farther away from it.
Near the end of the year, I came to class to find that my painting had been cut neatly into three pieces and stacked in the corner, to be used by students as scrap paper. I brought them to Mrs. Thompson and demanded an explanation. She looked shocked and apologized, claiming that she had only seen the blank back of my picture, and hadn’t realized that it had a painting on the other side. But a look of understanding passed between us.