Despite our pleadings, Jack’s red pen showed up everywhere.
Warning! The following G-rated post contains nostalgia, self-reflection, and a gross lack of sarcasm, drinking, and swearing. Read at your own risk.
When I was in college, one of my favorite classes – besides those in my major – was a drawing class. Actually, every class besides those in my major was one of my favorites. My major was social work, with depressing coursework including Economics, Social Welfare, Statistics, Grief and Loss, Discrimination, and Policy Analysis. What was I thinking?
Like many college students, I was a change-the-world-through-organized-protests kind of gal. But I secretly found the most joy in the art class that I took when I was a sophomore. And truthfully, I learned the most about life in that class:
I learned that it’s all about perspective.
I learned that while some mistakes can be erased, others can’t.
I learned that sometimes it’s okay to stare at naked people.
I learned to keep spillable liquids (like coffee!) away from my work station.
I learned that there is no ‘right way’ to do something.
I learned that an intentional (or unintentional) smudge can cover up obvious flaws.
I learned that I love the feeling of a pen in my hand.
I learned to be open to feedback.
I learned that nothing is ever perfect, and that’s okay.
My drawing professor, Jack, was in his 60’s. He smoked a pipe in class, and carried a red pen in his shirt pocket. We’d sit at our desks, bent over our notebooks, furiously scribbling, drawing, erasing, shading, painting, on a quest to capture the vase, body, tree, sky, idea on paper. Just when one of us thought we completed something absolutely perfect, Jack would walk up behind that person, reach over his or her shoulder, and draw large red lines across the landscape masterpiece to demonstrate the accurate vanishing point, or paint a red, alternate eyebrow on the face of the beautiful portrait.
We would be devastated. Some students would gasp, others would protest, many cried. One young man yelled obscenities at Jack, left with his notebook and never returned.
Jack was a man of few words. He’d raise his eyebrows and, pipe bobbing between his teeth, he would say, “Whatever you do, don’t get attached.”
And, “If you drew it once, you can draw it again. And if you can’t, well, then the first one was just a lucky accident.”
And, “Your next drawing should be even better.”
My favorite memory of Jack is the day he sat on a stool in the middle of the room, struck ‘The Thinker’ pose with his chin on his hand, and said, “Draw me.” A few minutes later when he looked at our sketches, he leaned over my desk and muttered, “I sure as hell hope that’s not what I look like.”
He was right. My portrait of him was utterly terrible; it looked like his face was melting. We both laughed, and I loved him fiercely for his honesty.
When I pass my writing into the hands of an editor now, I expect a red pen. I expect I have something to learn from them, something to change, something to write again, something better to strive toward. I try not to be attached to my words (though I always am).
And at some point, I accept that I need to stop writing, re-writing, and re-writing again, and to hand my work over to someone I trust with a fresh perspective. I need to let go. I will never be perfect, and that’s okay. Bring on the red pen.