Saturday, October 1, 2011

In Memory of Peace

October has begun and with the change in month comes the promise of cooler, crisper temperatures, colorful leaf turnings, and the return of the pumpkin spice latte - oh the rapturous odes I could write about the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte...but even with all of these exciting changes on the horizon, I cannot enjoy them.  The turmoil at my alma mater, Peace College, has reached critical mass in the past few months.  New indiscretions continue to be uncovered almost daily, and current students' testimonies about the lack of communication and support when faced with major changes and transfers break my heart.  But instead of belittling the current President and her regime, including the Board of Trustees (again), I want to share a defining moment from my time as a student at Peace.

Sitting at a low table in the back of the oversized art classroom of third floor Pressley, I stared at the pencil drawings of women with downturned eyes and romantically disheveled hair strewn across the surface.  In the center of the table lies a small round mirror, ornately carved.  A copy of Kathryn Byer's poem "Vanity" is partially visible amid the clutter, proclaiming "Without hands / a woman would stand at her mirror / looking back only, / not touching, for how could she?"  A flutter of papers and a long, printed dress draw my attention to the right.  Carolyn Parker, Peace's art teacher, emerges from her tiny corner office, various canvases and wire sculptures stacked around the entrance.
"How's it going?" she smiles as she settles into a chair beside me.
"It's ok - I found some great photos online, but I am having trouble deciding which one to use.  This one is my favorite though."  I indicate the one closest to me, a profile of a lithe young woman with loosely curled ringlets falling to her shoulders.
Carolyn picks up the picture and studies it silently.  "Hmmmm..."  She places the picture back on the table and scans the handful of others spread out around the mirror.  "Hmmmm...."
I have always been able to appreciate art, but my own artistic intentions rarely ever come to fruition.  I have nothing to say in return to her noncommittal response to the pictures I chose to complete my project with.  Before I can fumble my way through a justification of the images littering the table, Carolyn asks, "What is the poem you are basing your piece on?"
"Kathryn Byer's 'Vanity'" I hand her the poem.  She reads it silently, mouthing the last lines "who dared eat / from her own hand / the fruit of self-knowledge."
"What attracted you to this poem?  Why did you choose it?"
Finally.  I am more comfortable with words than images.
"Well, I liked the images she evokes - like "the lips rubbed rose with a forefinger" and the poem's simplicity.  I think Byer is attempting to expose the illusion of beauty - how women spend so much time at a mirror altering a reverse reflection of the self - something that is not even real."
"Yes," Carolyn nods, encouraging, "I agree."  She pauses, glances at the pencil drawings of women whose beauty is almost unearthly.
"Have you thought about using a picture of yourself?"
"Yes.  I think your project would make more of a statement if you used a picture of yourself."  She gestures across the table.  "These women all have their eyes downcast.  In your picture, you should look out as if challenging your viewers to eat "the fruit of self-knowledge" for themselves."
I am momentarily stunned into silence.  "Ummm...Maybe I could try that?"
Carolyn nods decisively.  "Yes.  Try that.  Bring me your self-portrait when we meet again."
"Okay?"  I slowly gather the scattered pieces of my project.  "I'll see you in class."
Back in my dorm room, I grab the digital camera I just opened over Christmas break and contemplate the best way to snap a self-portrait.  I haven't yet joined the social networking revolution of MySpace and its emerging competitor, Facebook, so I am unsure of how to capture the infamous "MySpace angle."  I back up against the slice of wall separating my closet from my roommate's - the only neutral backdrop in our room - and tentatively press the button.
Not bad, but my face barely fills the screen.  It seems lost and a little unsure.  Fortunately my roommate and best friend, a graphic designer, returns.
I share with her my conversation with Carolyn, and she offers to frame the shot.
"There.  That's it."  And she's right.  My face fills the screen, and I look content, confident.  Like I have a secret, but one I am willing to share.

Peace is a place that encourages you to be comfortable and confident in your own skin.  Without Carolyn, I never would have chosen to share myself with the world.  Without Mr. Smith, I never would have tried out for the Chamber Singers.  Without Dr. Duncan, I never would have considered being editor of The Prism.  Without Dr. Hiscoe, I never would have been published nor would I have discovered my passion for teaching.  These people, and countless others, molded me into the person I am today, and it is with deep gratitude that I offer them thanks.

My art project featuring Kathryn Byer's "Vanity"

1 comment:

  1. I will not lie.... I almost cried... pretty sure tears formed...