My parents came out this morning for a birthday visit and brought me a big canvas to use for my painting above the fireplace. They had a piece of modern art on an extremely well built canvas and a couple of canvases that I painted when I was in school that they said I could repurpose. I’ve been searching for the last week or so through my idea repertoire and my boards on Pinterest thinking that I would know what would fit above the fireplace as soon as I saw it…nature themed with blues and greens – but I did not settle on what I was going to do until this afternoon. Once I settle – it has to be done. I painted off and on during today and to my great satisfaction for one more project completed, I now have a large painting above the fireplace. Check. My parents left before it was finished but I called my dad and sent several pictures of the work in progress before what I ended up with.
I love bringing literature into the lessons that I teach for several reasons. It unifies a group of kids with varying life experiences and allows them to focus on a common theme told via narrative; good literature is a clear model to instill strong composition skills in young writers; who doesn’t like to look at pictures while hearing a story? One of my favorite lessons to teach incorporates Marie Bradby’s Momma Where Are You From? as my introduction. The illustrations are amazing watercolors and I am always drawn to pictures where the artist can create authentic light sources within the work. The language, of course, is the highlight of the piece where the mother in the poem explains to her daughter where she comes from. She never mentions the town or state but uses beautiful imagery and expresses where she comes from is from all of the details in her life that made her who she is – from snap beans to Count Basie music, Coca Cola and laundry on a clothesline. It is abstract thinking for young kids to reflect on where they are coming from while they are still in their childhood – but it is one of the first snapshots I have to see promising writers at work. I am rewarded by this experience and appreciate the moments children feel are special enough to share in their original poetry born from stylizing Marie Bradby’s example. Before I ever had a class do this assignment, I had to write my own for them – which I did a couple of years ago.
After writing my example – I couldn’t help but think that I am only able to help a class of writers each year because of ‘where I am from’. When I was a kid, my dad was my ‘go to’ person for all things creative. I hope that my creative energy has grown as I have gotten older because I know it is exhausting for my family now when there is always a project going – so I can’t imagine if it was at the same extent as a child because I must have kept my father very busy with feedback demands. Whether it was writing, painting, piano, debating, gardening or the gammut of things kids dabble in – my dad always provided a fair critique, the creative outlet, praise for a productive argument, cues on how to find that note way at the bottom of the keys, or a patch of land with a handful of seeds. To be a writer, you have to have a reader; for me that was my dad and because of him I can be a reader for a classful of aspiring authors.
While on the phone tonight, my dad laughed as he went through aspects of my painting he thought should be tweaked saying, “This painting is being done as a committee.” While we talked, I painted based on his feedback. I realized who we become begins so early – it’s based entirely on ‘where we are from’. Years have passed since I was a kid planting corn seeds on the top of a dry hill and forgetting to water them and drawing ponies in a sketchbook to hang in my room – yet I am the same girl who likes a chocolate cake brought by her parents to celebrate a birthday – not little anymore – just a bit wiser – who no matter how old still thinks that my painting won’t be right until I have my best critic take a gander. Thanks dad.