I’m sure it happened long before I consciously remember, but the “shop” in our basement is my favorite place to spend time. We call it the shop, because it’s where my dad does his stained glass, and it’s where he’s set up a desk for me to splatter finger paint and dump glitter, but to anyone outside the family, it’s our furnace room.
The shop has an old jukebox and a metal card catalog from an old library. The metal drawers hold pipe cleaners, pom poms and paint brushes.
I work alongside my dad.
I’m scared and excited to go to kindergarten. I make my parents walk me to school a week before it starts to make sure I’m not missing anything. I don’t want to be late.
When I get to school, I am always rushing. I can never finish my paintings on time. I am the one who is late this time.
We have to draw what we want to be when we grow up. I say I’m going to be a painter and sell my paintings for $100 each, the largest amount of money I can imagine.
My parents buy my sister and I a huge chalkboard for our basement. We play school and doodle. Our dad paints the boarder of the chalkboard pink after asking us what color it should be.
I make a 3-D box collage out of an old cigar box for an art contest at school. My mom tells me that I can’t win a prize for my work because they don’t allow 3-D projects, and asks me if I want to submit something else. I tell her no, because its the art I am most proud of. I get a certificate of participation for entering.
First grade is torture. I have a teacher who makes us do the same set of worksheets everyday. The only thing that changes is the number and the letter on the worksheet and where we have to cut and paste the answers. One day I cut my Brownie uniform while mindlessly cutting the worksheet. I stare out the window longing for the playground.
I have to go to a special class because my teacher thinks I have a problem reading and drawing. My spelling is really bad and I don’t understand phonics. Turns out I don’t learn well from worksheets and I’m left handed.
Second grade is heaven. Practically all we do is arts and crafts. My mom is worried that I don’t know how to tell time.
We have a “make and hang night” where our parents come to school and we all make and hang up giant dinosaurs around our classroom. I choose a t-rex because I think it’s the best dinosaur. My dad makes a little square book and writes “Thesaurus” on it and hangs it up next to my t-rex. I don’t really get it, I am a little embarrassed, but I think my dad is awesome.
We have a substitute art teacher for the day. He has red hair growing out of his ears, is morbidly obese and smells like body odor. He’s also in a terrible mood. We are supposed to learn about complimentary colors and paint them in a pattern. He makes us replicate the art project exactly as the teacher has made it - with orange, brown and white paint. I would rather do anything than be in a room with this man.
We have a mandatory art class in middle school for a trimester, but I’m excited about it. I make a sculpture in the “shop” for an assignment. It’s so big that it’s a bit awkward to carry on the bus. My teacher doesn’t really seem to care about the work I put into it. I’m disappointed.
I’m selected to take honors courses in high school. I’m not told directly, but it’s inferred that if I want to get into a selective college (which I do), there isn’t time for art in my schedule. And I’m college bound, so I don’t take art classes.
I have to take one fine arts class and one performing arts class to graduate from high school. I choose ceramics because it sounds fun and one of my cross country coaches is the teacher. I’m worried about the grade I’lm going to get at the end of the semester.
Second semester senior year my schedule eases up a bit. I take jewelry class as an elective with my friend Meghan. I have more fun, probably because I care less about the grade I’m going to get. I’m already the Vice President of the National Honor Society and I’ve accepted a full-scholarship to college.
As a freshman, I take pottery again, this time for college credit. Once again I’m worried about the grade I’m going to get, because the teacher is incredibly intimidating.
Study abroad fuels my need to document and create as I roam between three different continents. I quickly realize that my photos and training can’t express what I’m experiencing. I decide to learn photography.
I convince the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies that I should be a photography student in their program, even though I was accepted into the writing program. I don’t have a portfolio, but I do have an internship lined up at National Geographic.
For three months, I roam the halls of National Geographic. My brain is on fire. I walk the streets of DC by myself just to take pictures.
Salt lets me spend the next five months figuring out how to turn a bunch of images in to a narrative. My dad lends me his old camera. I learn how to navigate a darkroom and develop my own film. I go through my first critique and experience my first show.
I add photography as a minor. It’s not officially a program of study, but I make a well justified case.
I graduate and move to Southeast Asia, and once again a new landscape has me documenting everywhere I go.
I arrange a photo editing internship with Time Magazine. It’s the internship that keeps almost happening until it doesn’t. I can’t get the right visa to make it official.
I stick to street and travel photography.
I get my first “real job,” but I’m bored after work. Instead of making time for art. I make more work. I start freelancing and start a business “on the side.” I start to burn out.
After a sabbatical, I move to Kabul. It’s the most creative job I’ve had, and it still doesn’t feel creative enough.
I’m too afraid to take photos, especially at first. I’m not sure what’s OK and what’s not. I stick out with a camera around my neck, so I usually leave it at home.
I journal myself through the ups and downs.
My MFA program application is due the day of my dad’s funeral. I send it to a friend to edit and submit for me. I can’t even think straight.
My stepmom finds my dad’s old camera and gives it to me. We both cry.
I rearrange my life to live in NYC. I got accepted to
grad design school.
My MFA cohort has a special opportunity to work with a renowned sculptor to put on a show our second semester. We each get a table and chairs from Ikea and are challenged to make a statement about food through our work.
It’s a year to the day that my dad has died. I’m working on my sculpture and it’s taking forever to finish. I’m pissed off that no one from my family has called me.
It dawns on me that I’m in my new version of the “shop.” It may be in NYC, but I’m in a basement creating art. I’m exactly where my dad would want me to be. I cry the entire way home.