The Icebreaker

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It’s 9:30 on Sunday night, and I can no longer hear my next-door-neighbor’s television. He must have gone to bed early.

If he’s home and he’s awake, his TV is turned on and tuned into news. I can’t make out most of what the talking heads are blathering on about, but every so often I hear the word “Trump”.

It triggers my PTED. Post Traumatic Election Disorder.

I’m trying to practice my speech for Toastmasters. This is the first speech a member gives. It’s all about you, I mean me. It’s the “icebreaker” that lets the other Toastmaster members get to know you, I mean me.

I actually gave this speech last month, but we’re having an open house in a couple of weeks to attract new members, and I was asked to give the speech again. I’m not sure that listening to me talk about myself is conducive to signing up new folks, but, I’ll give it a go.

Here’s the speech:

My name is Laurel, and I’m an artist.

That’s a really hard thing for me to say.

I grew up as the sixth of nine children and I was easily lost in the crowd. I always loved to draw, and the praise I got for that made me feel noticed.

I brought home pictures from kindergarten and my mother would gush about how I was drawing fully-fleshed out people instead of stick figures. She would show off the pictures to the neighbor ladies saying, “Look what a wonderful artist my daughter is!”

In a big family like ours, there wasn’t a lot of money for extracurricular activities, but my mother made sure I had art lessons after school. I hiked up to the Motherhouse, a huge convent at the top of a Rochester hill, and got lessons from a nun whose name I cannot remember. It made me feel so special.

In junior high, I drew cartoons for the school paper, and made posters for school events. I designed programs and tickets for school dances. I made banners to hang in the church on special holidays.

In high school, my friends would ask me to draw portraits of their favorite movie stars. At class reunions even decades later, they let me know they still had them and cherished them. I was kind of an art star at my little parochial school.

I was so excited to be accepted at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design after graduating from high school. I moved from Rochester to Minneapolis and prepared to dazzle everyone with my brilliant talent.

Imagine my surprise when I found I was not the most talented student there. All the art stars from all the little high schools were there, and I was pretty average. Not the best, not the worst, just…average.

That was tough enough, but part of our education was critiquing other students’ work. We hadn’t learned the Toastmasters’ sandwich technique of offering constructive criticism sandwiched between statements of praise, so the critiques were often quite…humbling.

I dropped out of art school after one semester. A former high school classmate offered to buy one of my paintings for five dollars. The materials had cost me ten. Does that make me a professional artist?

The other paintings were given as gifts to various friends and relatives, and eventually found their way into closets around the state.

I continued to try to put my artwork out into the world, but it was never accepted into a juried show.

Although I still got lots of positive feedback from most of my loved ones, I remember a particularly awful date I had with my boyfriend. I had a painting of a Native American woman over my couch, and a drawing of a Native American man on another wall.

My boyfriend knew I had created those pictures and I was tired of his total silence on the matter. I asked him point-blank what he thought of the painting.

“The hands look kind of funny”, he said. Ouch. Honestly, they did look kind of funny, because hand are very hard to paint, and the model had left the studio before I’d finished the painting.

I asked him what he thought of the drawing, because I was especially proud of that. There was a long pause, and then he said, “I guess I’m not into Indians as much as you are”.

We broke up the next day. Unfortunately, I seemed to have broken up with art, too, and gave up drawing and painting for years.

Now that I’m retired, I’m getting back into creating artwork. This time, it’s just for me. It’s for my self-expression, and I don’t need to show it to anyone else. I don’t need anyone else’s approval or praise. If I like what I create, that’s all that matters.

I am Laurel, and I am an artist.

Stay tuned…

P.S. Here’s a few beautiful things I made this week:

MADE CARDS

MADE CARDS

MADE MORE CARDS

MADE MORE CARDS

CLEANED THE CLOSET

CLEANED THE CLOSET

My First Date

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Oh. My. Goddess. I have gained 15 pounds since I’ve returned to the USA from Costa Rica. I either have to go back on the keto diet, or I have to buy bigger pants.

But let’s not talk about that. (Classic avoidance.)

Let’s talk about my first date, ever. Because, why not?

I was 17 and I was selling movie tickets from a little glass booth that protruded out onto the sidewalk. A man paused as he was walking by.

theater cashier

SORRY, BUB, CASH ONLY. THIS WAS THE SEVENTIES.

I don’t remember his name, all these years later, but let’s call him Pete. He was probably in his twenties or thirties, and fancifully dressed in magenta velvet coat with white fur trim, and a jaunty fedora.

Pete asked me what time I got off work. I got off at ten p.m., and we agreed he’d meet me back at the movie theater at ten, and he’d take me out for coffee (so grown up!)

The doorman was the only other one still working at that hour, as he had to work past the end of the last screening and clean and lock the place up.

His name was Jim (I do remember that), and he was horrified that I was letting this guy pick me up so late.

Jim tried to talk me out of going, but I naively said, “Hey! It’s just coffee. Be cool, man.” (It was the seventies.)

Jim made me agree to come back to the theater before he closed up, so he could be sure I was okay.

Pete picked me up, and we went down into the subway to stay warm. There was no coffee.

That was when Pete gave me my first kiss. Awww.

I remember thinking, “What is all this fuss about kissing? This is doing nothing for me.” Very disappointing.

I kept looking at my watch over his shoulder to make sure I got back to the theater on time, so Jim didn’t have a cow. (It was the seventies.)

Pete got my phone number, and walked me back to the theater.

Jim was relieved, and I was still confused about his concern.

The next day in high school, I told my girlfriends, who were much more worldly than I, about my date with Pete.

They said, “Oh, Pete the Pimp? I don’t think you should go out with him again.”

Oh, well, that’s probably a valid point.

When Pete called a couple of days later to ask me out, I told him I didn’t want to see him again. (I was much more blunt in my youth.)

Pete asked’ “Is it your parents? You can sneak out to meet me!”

I laughed, “No, my parents don’t care!” No wonder I’d been confused by Jim’s concern. I hadn’t experienced anyone being concerned about me before.

Pete went away without a fuss.

It would be another year or more before I was kissed again. The next time, I could understand the fuss a little better, thank goddess.

Stay tuned…