I was sitting in my office the other day, looking for my keys (a hourly activity), when one of my favorite students came in to talk. Flustered, her words spilled onto my desk. Like so many students, she felt an incredible amount of pressure to decide between a creative career and “something practical.” Finally, she looked up and said, “You always seem so happy. I guess what I need to know, Dr. Z, is how did you become you?”
It was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.
I know my response wasn't eloquent. She caught me off guard. I think I told her to not worry about where you will end up. Just put yourself in places you like, with people you enjoy, doing something that makes your brain feel alive. One adventure at a time until suddenly your entire life is carefully curated Pandora station of "amazing."
But I've been thinking about her question ever since. My family is a small army of medical professionals but there wasn’t a cell in my body that felt at home in the world of abbreviations and body parts. I double majored in Art and in English. I taught truly amazing high school students in Baltimore. I fell in love with a brilliant man who was organized and meticulous, and who loved teaching so much that he took acting classes to overcome his shyness. I gave birth to a daughter who hates to write but she is brilliant at making miniature clay figures, never being able to find her shoes, and completing math problems way above her grade level. I ran a poetry slam team and I performed with my students at local venues. I saw firsthand how important it was for young people to learn how to communicate effectively as a means of changing the course of their lives. I wrote about these students when applying for a PhD program in Rhetoric and Composition. Even though everyone told me it would be really difficult to sell myself in more than one world, I pursued a dissertation that used a kaleidoscopic lens of art, theater, rhetoric, and literature. I’ve found wonderful places to work, with people like me, and people that make me better. And now I can really say every day is better than the last.
Watercolor and Ink
Study in Red
Oil on Canvas