Thursday, December 2, 2010

Elation and Anxiety - it's a mixed bag right now.

So this morning, as each morning the last few days, I woke up feeling a mixture of elation and anxiety.  I'M GOING TO DO MY ART FULL TIME!!!!!  YIPPEE!

Oh, crap - I'm going to be doing my art full time!  What am I thinking???!!!

It's a mixed bag.

Sunday night I informed the parents of my students that I will be leaving tutoring to pursue my passion in art.  Monday and Tuesday and today I've been telling my students individually.  Monday I wrote an email to the faculty at the school where I work to let them know of my decision.  It is becoming very real and irreversible the more people I tell.  It's one thing to tell people with shiny eyes that I'm going to be a full time artist when they're standing in the gallery at my exhibit.  It's quite another when I'm informing the people who have been financially supporting me for 23 years.  Yikes!

The reactions have been almost universally kind and enthusiastic and supportive.  (Or nonexistent!  Those are the disconcerting ones!)

The parents of my students were generally very kind, though sad that I wouldn't be working with their children anymore.  One mother was so kind - she said there were a lot of feelings in their household that night - happy for me, sad for them.  Her daughter came to school Monday - I asked her if she hated me.  She gestured her hand, "Maybe yes, maybe no.  Some."  I understand.  I was working with a therapist once who decided to stop being a therapist so she could travel the world.  I was devastated because she was a fantastic therapist and I was getting so much out of our work together.  She was really good at letting me have my feelings about the separation and loss - that was good work too!  I sense that a couple of my students might be experiencing some of that.

Others, the boys for the most part, hear that I'm leaving, say "Oh, OK,"  then open their math books without a question or any other expression.  I find that disconcerting.  My ego wants to be acknowledged as at least a tiny bit significant in their lives since I've spent countless hours one-on-one with them giving them undivided attention and help.  My more mature side realizes that they may be having feelings but not be able to express them.  I also realize that I am a commodity to them - someone who teaches them what they need to know so they can do what they need to do.  I am replaceable.  I don't think anyone really wants to feel replaceable.  I know I don't really like the feeling.  I also know that I have helped them.  They might not remember me when they're 30 years old, but hopefully they'll remember how it felt to be listened to carefully and patiently, to have information explained in a way that is clear and simple and understandable.

There are a few people who might be able to take on my students.  When one of the administrators told me about one of the women, I started to feel very territorial!  Yes, I am leaving of my own accord. Yes, I want to do something else.  But I've built up this clientele over the last 20 years and now I'm going to just hand it over to someone else who hasn't???!  What am I thinking???!!  Then I remember when I started working for the agency which employed me for 10 years.  I couldn't believe anyone would ever leave that job because it was such a great job, but he did, and it gave me a chance to be able to support my family AND be home with my kids for their entire youth.  It was a huge gift.  And now it's time for me to move on and to pass on the gift.

It's very strange to think about leaving tutoring.  I've been doing it since college.  I did volunteer GED tutoring there for a young man.  Then I taught German for 2 years in Vienna, Austria, then came back to the US because I was pregnant and I wanted to give birth in English, even though my German is fluent.  When my baby was 6 weeks old, I began tutoring a couple of neighborhood kids while I was nursing my son.  That eventually became a very solid, very lucrative part time job for a local tutoring agency where I stayed for over 10 years - not the nursing my son part - just the tutoring!  I got past multi-tasking like that pretty quickly!  At one point I took a full time job at a private school because my uncle counseled me strongly to get a job with benefits so I could responsibly raise my kids.  It was not a good fit for me, but I'm glad I was there.  One of my dear friends works there so I got to see her frequently, and the school paid for most of my Masters in Art.  It was while I was working there that I began drawing and learned that I have some ability in that area.

To give an example of how poorly I fit in there, I designed a class I thought I'd like to teach called "Follow Your Bliss."  It was meant to help kids discover their passion and learn what they'd like to do with their lives.  Such a class would have revolutionized my life if I'd had one at a formative age.  It would have helped me see there are options I'd had no idea about.  When I presented the class proposal to the committee in charge of making such decisions, one of the administrators asked me, "But how could we justify giving credit for a class like this?"  Case closed.  Such a lack of attention to the children's souls horrified me, and I left at the end of that year. 

I was planning to do art full time at that point, but it was not to be.  I didn't have a well thought-out plan or a strategy for earning enough money.  I enjoyed the summer with the kids, then, just as I was getting ready to gear up to earn enough, my youngest became very sick and needed an emergency operation and 6 weeks in the Children's Hospital to re-learn how to walk, etc.  I cared for him pretty much full time for that period then began tutoring a tiny bit at a different private school.  That tutoring turned into 20 hours/week more or less for the next 9 years, up until now.  It has been a fantastic job.  I love teaching.  I love working one-on-one with kids.  I love it when the tutoring mixes in with "therapy" - i.e. when the student and I talk about real life and things that really matter to them.  Those moments make my heart sing and my eyes tear up.  There have been a lot of those over the years.  They're sweet.

But I've realized that I need to be working on my art now more than I have time to do if I'm tutoring 3 days/week.  There is so much I want to do.  It's not just painting.  I want to talk to people about women's body image, about how the media portrays women and influences us to hate how we and others look.  I want to write a book about it.  I want to teach classes in Nude Self-Portraiture and Follow Your Bliss and all sorts of great stuff.  I want to lead workshops.  AND I want to show my work in galleries and museums.  AND I want to sell my art and have it in major collections across the globe.  I want people to get what I'm saying and be moved by it.  I want those real conversations I had with the kids to be the stuff my life is made of.  I think that will happen if I follow this passion and share it with others. 

So this morning when I woke up with some anxiety, I did my Morning Pages (see Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way if you don't know what I'm talking about) and told God I need some very concrete signs to show me if I'm doing the right thing.  I started contemplating whether or not I should keep my 4 calculus students since they might not be able to find another tutor and it would mean steady income.  At that moment, my pen ran out of ink!  I've decided that was Sign #1.

During my free period, I went to talk to the counselor at school who asked me about giving a talk about women's body image to the girls (and their mothers?) at school sometime.  Sign #2.

At lunch today at school several of the teachers came up to me and congratulated me on my decision and asked me about it.  The art teacher told me about ArtNews this month which has an article about women painting men and how that hasn't been acceptable though men have been painting women forever.  The teacher also asked me to talk to her classes about my work and said I should be in ArtNews with my work.  Sign #3.

One of the teachers is buying something from me, thus providing me with a bit of income.  Sign #4.

When I got home, another of the teachers had sent me the most wonderful card congratulating me on my decision and wishing me well.  Incredibly kind!  Sign #5.

And I got a letter from a local co-op gallery, a highly respected one, telling me "the members of XYZ value the work you are doing and would like you to consider joining our member-supported gallery." Sign #6.

I love it when God answers my requests (sometimes demands) for assurance like this!  It's so much fun!  And it helps me begin to feel safer when I'm doing something so darn exciting!

I'm so looking forward to this shift.  I know it's going to be exciting.  I know it's right.  I know God will provide me with sufficient income to allow me to do this important work.  I just have to put one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing that occurs to me.  That's how dreams come true.

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