December 29, 2012
School Didn't Steal My Dreams
Posted by John Spencer
When I was in middle school, I wanted to be a painter. I wanted to paint a portrait of a person - a huge, creative, surrealistic painting the size of a building. However, when you walked close to it, instead of getting brush strokes, you got more detail. You got hands that looked the way that they look under a microscope. And the surrealist images up-close would be a composite of real images of amazing beauty and horrific nightmares. And then when you step up real close, face-to-face, you see the whole thing is made up of words. It had to be a million words. Tiny words. I would call it A Picture Is Worth a Million Words.
I gave up on painting somewhere in the middle of high school when I couldn't match my dreams with my reality. I don't blame school. It wasn't school that let me down. It was realism. It was practicality. It was my own insecurity. It was growing up. If anything, teachers were the ones who convinced me to pursue art even when my hands failed me.
So, I put away the paint brushes and I replaced images with writing. I thought, at the time, that I had lost the dream. I thought I had let it evaporate on me. But here's the thing: I didn't let go of the dream of that painting. It just sort-of changed on me. I still want to create worlds that are surreal and real, magical and authentic, up-close and abstract.
I may never get published. I may write a book that only a small handful of people read. But that doesn't matter. The dream was never about success. It was always about the creative process. No, it wasn't even that. It was always about telling a story. It was about expressing what matters in a medium that goes beyond prose.
My dream didn't die. It just kind-of changed on me for the better.
I know that people are quick to say that school crushes dreams. Maybe that's true for some people. But when I look back at this dream, I can't deny the influence of teachers. It was the red and green lines and the one-on-one conferences that kept the dream alive. It was the "hey John, you have a real knack for writing" and the "it doesn't make you less of a man if you can craft words instead of throwing a tight spiral" comments from teachers that helped me see that my dream wasn't a waste of time.
It was the exposure to fantasy literature and science fiction and the teachers who were willing to geek out with me about etymology and word choice. It was the teacher who said, "your voice matters" and the teacher who said, "you have to write stories regardless of who will read them, because if you don't it will crush your soul, John."
Perhaps schools crush dreams. But it's also been my experience that there are teachers out there who work wonders with duct tape and help wounded kids learn how to dream again. True, the packets of worksheets were mind-numbing, but I'm thankful for all the teachers who pulled me out of the packet-based stupor and helped me to see the value of the creative process.