By Sue Murphy
OK kids, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve barely gotten your swimsuits wet and the stores are stacked with Back to School supplies. Pen, pencils, glue sticks, spiral notebooks. The sun is still shining on the pool deck and already your backpack weighs heavily upon your shoulders.
Summer is too short. That’s true. But, in a quiet sort of way you might actually be looking forward to your first day back at school. Things went well last year and you want to keep the momentum going. Or, if last year wasn’t your best, you may be anxious to reboot, get a fresh start.
Of course, you could also be dreading that first bell. You’ve heard horror stories about your teacher. She’s crabby, she piles on the homework and you have no idea how you’ll ever get through (shudder) fractions.
I know what you mean. Back during the Dark Ages when I was in school, I spent every First Day Eve in total panic. I’d leaf through my tower of textbooks and think … I’m never going to be able to do this. Never.
But I did. Blessedly, it turned out no one expected me to conquer the entire stack overnight. One indented paragraph, one set of end-of-the-chapter questions at a time. Stay in step, cipher and decipher, fill in the blanks, memorize the spelling words, close your eyes and visualize the borders of all those wacky European countries. It could be done. After all, the correct answers were printed in ink in the back of the great teacher’s manuals. All I had to do was transfer those pre-set pixels to my brain.
As students, we were there to take things in. Even art class usually consisted of coloring in ditto sheets (Xerox’s Dark Age cousin) where the lines were already drawn. We could select the crayons we used from our issued 24, but if our blue-line holiday characters consistently came out in shades of gray, someone would alert the school psychologist.
Every once in a while, however, during an unexpected overrun of time or classroom supplies, the teacher would hand us a blank sheet of manila paper and say, “Draw whatever you want.” Freedom at last! Some kids got right to work, scrubbing out a cheery house and family, a bouquet of flowers, a hot rod car. I sat frozen in place. All that paper. All that space. There were no lines, no rules, no clear cause-and-effect expectations. I could draw whatever I wanted to.
Trouble was, I had no idea what that might be. I’d become expert at taking in information and spitting it back, but this was something else entirely. Oh sure, if pressed, I had a few fun ideas floating around in a secret stash in my brain, but which one to choose? I had a single sheet of paper. If I messed up, I wouldn’t be given another. The pressure was too much for me. Sometimes I did nothing at all.
Once I hit creative writing class, I was okay. There, bad first drafts were part of the program. It was expected that you would require more time and paper to edit and change. Everything worked out. Still, while I was in the checkout line picking up another gross of erasers, I looked with awe at the brave souls carrying blank stretched canvases, knowing that at some point they would simply pick up a paintbrush and let ‘er rip.
I guess what I’m trying to say is … Don’t let the vast manila expanses of the new year scare you. You can do this. Fill in the blanks when required, but don’t shy away from filling people in on your own ideas as well. Look around. The world is desperate for new thoughts, new approaches. Let ’em rip. I’ll give you another piece of paper if you need one. I promise.