Twenty-two years ago, I had to take a core requirement in Art History that I just couldn’t bear. It was taught by an extremely non-linear professor. What he was talking about had really nothing to do with the slides, and it was a hu-u-uuge survey course in this echoing concrete lecture hall with a dark high ceiling filled with several hundred communications and animal science majors talking to each other. And I was trapped there for 90 minutes twice a week.

I have a minor auditory language processing glitch. (I can’t take notes.) It gave me too many tracks to simultaneously process, and I hated all of them.

It was ADHD hell.

But the thing that made me nuts–and really, still does, and I’m not sure why–was that at the end we had to look at a slide for maybe a minute, and then sketch on an index card what we recalled, and write something about it.

And it was all really abstract modern art of the sort that makes me completely baffled why the artist gets credit for something that would have been a lot more meaningful if it had been done by a chimpanzee. Mind you, I love tons of abstract modern art. I’m not talking color fields (e.g., the spatter paintings–which can be really difficult to do to get the effect, by the way), I’m talking a tree branch splattered with random paint, with a tire hanging from it (not a swing).

I didn’t see the point. I have this overwhelming need for life to make some kind of sense, and this activity was . . . stupid. At least for me. Cherry on the sundae. I was already in raging hippopotamus mode from having had to sit through the lecture itself.

Anyway, my best friend said the prof was a sweetie, and maybe I could comp the class, and do some other project to make up for it. So I went in to talk to him–and it was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life.

The sketch cards were his particular baby. (Ooh, tactical error much?) All I really recall was sitting there crying, and his telling me that if I didn’t like sketching, then I shouldn’t be an artist. He asked me if I had any particular art project I wanted to do, and I said that I really liked Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and that I wanted to do some work illustrating the symbolism.

Illustrating. Symbolism. Sounds artsy, right? Apparently not. He told me that I should go do literature instead.

So that’s what I did. I walked out of his office in a daze. I went into the watercolor studio and tore up my entire semester’s portfolio. (I have no idea what I did for the grade.) My friend said I was dead pale.

I think she felt really guilty for innocently putting me in that chair with reasonable expectations, and she was fretting about it to our watercolor prof. She said he just grinned and said, “She’ll be back.”

Fifteen or so years later, I was sitting in a big pink dress in Harvard Yard. I have a PhD in English.

And then I broke. I’m on disability. I’m dead poor. It sucks beyond belief. There’s a good chance I won’t be on the bench forever; at least that’s my plan, because . . . well, heck, peeps, you don’t slog through 250 pages of scholarship by being a wussy quitter. I got myself this big gold ring so I could have this metal teddy bear reminding me that I did that; it’s an objective proof of “Yay me!” And I was what one could say was pre-broken when I did it–I just wouldn’t admit it.

I had plans for my life; I adore teaching. I proposed; He disposed. Me being me, ADHD and PhD and m-o-u-s-e, I couldn’t handle it. So I poked along at the infamous novel, which actually started as a sort of writing warmup while I was working on the diss. Poke, poke, poke. Many adventures. Poke, poke, poke. Had to DO something, so that’s what I did. And presto! I finished it! And am now going through the clean-up–and have started the sequel, heh.

And somewhere along the line, I had to realize that the reason the watercolor professor said that I’d be back, is that there really isn’t anywhere else for me to go. I didn’t waste my undergraduate career on the BS in Art; just as I didn’t waste grad school on the PhD. I’m an artist; always have been; always will be.

So I write (obvously), and I draw and paint. I’m pretty good at it, actually. (One would hope.)

I broke; I had to admit that I was broken–but now I have a prism. Pretty cool, huh?