It's cold, wet and shitty out. Thankfully the schools are closed so I won't get a call for work tonight. It's good to sit here in the den, and listen to the rain with Booger the Cat curled up at my feet. I mentioned this in the comments to yesterday's post, and I've brought it up frequently in exchanges across this knotwork of blogs. These pieces are old work, and I haven't produced anything new in a long time. As I mentioned this morning, I tried to re-draw the cloverleaf knot in the center of yesterday's picture, and I couldn't figure out how I did it. It's a little depressing.
I miss the creative burn. It sustained me, fed me in a way, for a very long time. From '87 on, I always had a project on the board. I'd finish a piece, frame it up, and spend about fifteen minutes enjoying the satisfaction before starting a new piece. I couldn't wait to get home from work so I could tune out the world, and tune in to working on what felt like my real job. There is a saying- be careful what you pray for. I always took that seriously, and never pray for gifts or goodies. Nonetheless I found it creeping into the morning prayer- I would like to be able to do this undisturbed by the necessity of doing the daily grind.
I was teaching high school English in Los Angeles. And I mean L.A., not the surrounding areas that usually get lumped in with the city itself. I chose to go there. I had the grades, and the recommendations to get me into a quiet Orange County district, but I felt like I had a mission. I didn't go into teaching to get summers off. I was full of altruism, and ideals, and dedicated to "making a difference".
The school was not as bad as some, but it was bad enough. Gang turf. Dozens of teen mothers. Usually one or more students per school year shot, and many more arrested. You didn't hang around there after dark. When you're in college, or listening to in-service speakers, or politicians what you hear is something to the effect that the only difference between an inner city school, and its suburban counterpart is the numbers on the parents' W-2, and the funding level from the state. If they only had more money and (of course) better teachers they would perform on a par with the best. That's bullshit. The raw, politically incorrect truth is that inner city schools are full of stupid ass, lazy kids from stupid ass, lazy parents. There are bright ones among them, and they do just fine. They work hard, graduate, and they get the hell out of there as soon as they can. But there is also a huge percentage of the student body on whom education is simply a waste of time and effort.
But I'm getting sidetracked here. The topic is the creative burn, synchronicity, and all that kind of metaphysical stuff. You can't force synchronicity. Neither can you rely on 'The Voice' to tell you what turns your life should take. The high school went year 'round, and I was stuck on a track that would put my breaks in the late spring, and the late fall. No more summers traveling on the Hog. So I jumped ship, and took a transfer out of the main high school into a continuation school nearby.
Wait a minute. This is not the story I set out to tell, and I really hate talking about this stuff. I just got back from taking a break, to run some errands, and I found myself shaking in the goddamn supermarket. I'm not going to cliff hang this into two posts either. It's going to come out now, or I'm just going to nuke it. Anyway-
Odd that I never saw it coming. The signs were all there. Teaching in continuation was less work, but no reward. Nobody did shit there. We ended up with an affirmative action principal who was worse than useless. He opened the door to the most hard core thugs in the area. The ****gang decided who could go to school there, and who couldn't.
When I say I never saw it coming- well, when I was in field service, and later in the office I got to a point where I actively hated the job. That never happened at the school. But I remember during that last school year that I found myself unable to eat. I would get hungry, but I had no appetite, and I had to force down food. I was living on diet coke, cigarettes, and making up calories with crap like Ensure. Couldn't sleep either. I'd lay down and fall about eighty percent asleep, and just hang that way until morning without ever getting any real rest. But I had the burn. I drew the pieces I've been including with these posts.
I threw some of the worst actors out of my class. That prompted a parent conference. Remember, in these neighborhoods the gang affiliation is generations deep. Mom and Dad, and even Grandma and Grandpa had been jumped in as soon as they were old enough to throw down. The parents threatened to shoot my ass right there in the principal's office, then went out and rallied all the students into an impromptu 'demonstration' on the street in front of the school. The principal got them diverted long enough for me to get in the car and jam out of there. That was my last day as a teacher.
I broke. I got home, and found myself curled up in a sobbing ball on my living room floor.
The parents filed a million dollar lawsuit against the district claiming I had assaulted them. (Well, in their defense I did raise my voice, and say "Listen Dammit!") And I couldn't pull out of it. Day after day I'd get up, and tell myself, "OK, that was bad, but I can deal with..." But I couldn't deal with... It just kept getting worse. Before I knew it the District sent the Workers Comp people to my door. I never called them. I became passive as a sheep. They said, "Go here", and I went there. And the hired gun shrinks whose job it is to smack down malingerers, and keep the district from paying out claims suddenly declared me an 'admitted case'. When I asked what that meant, no one would tell me. So I got a lawyer of my own. The next two years were a fog of depositions, mandatory visits to doctors, phony bio-feedback machines...
And the burn. The burn was my lifeline. I finished up the last Celtic piece, and Eadhmonn, the instructor from Elkins, found out about a guy in the San Fernando Valley who sold stone and tools from his house. I set up the stonecarving table in the back yard at my mother's house, and started working like a crazy man.