I arrived in class anxious to hear what our clay project would entail. I’m not sure if my professor was going for “shock & awe” but that’s what she got as she stood at the front of the room, pulling the sheet off of the podium next to her as if she was a magician revealing her trick. There, staring back at me was a stoic larger-than-life clay bust. She then explained that we would be using the remainder of the semester to make clay busts of ourselves and that this was also considered 50% of our grade. Walking to the back room I pulled a huge plastic bag of clay off the shelf only to have my arm practically ripped out of its socket. Dragging it to my little artist table I set it up, tools in hand, ready to chisel my features into the block. “One clay head, comin’ right up!” I thought. Days turned to weeks as my huge block began to turn into a hairline, then cheekbones and even a neck! I sort of looked like Medusa, you know, the woman from Greek Mythology with the live snakes for hair? But every time my professor walked by she would stare proudly at it and whisper, “She’s beautiful.” My professor always called our projects “she’s” which is where the mysterious part of being an artist came in.
I came early to class. I stayed late after class. I had never worked so hard on any project in my life and it was really starting to pay off. With just a couple more weeks to go and my very own clay head nearing “her” completion, a fellow student came to gaze at my work. Although it all happened so quickly, I remember it in slow motion: The boy pausing to gaze at “my head”…the boy turning his body in the aisle…the boy’s hip hitting my artist table…my mouth and eyes opening wide…and “my head” somersaulting to its death on the floor. Yes, its true. “Her” face was flat as a pancake. Her head dented by the blow. She was…she was…a goner. I left the classroom in complete discouragement and never came back. Ever.
…2 years later I happened to be passing through the art hallway. I held my books up in front of my face and shimmied along the wall, trying to blend in with my surroundings. When suddenly I heard, “Jennifer? Jennifer is that you?” Lowering my books, I saw my art professor peering over her glasses at me. “Oh, uhhhh…yeah.” I nervously laughed. She summoned me into her office and I took a deep breath, knowing full well I was about to be slammed with a lecture on being irrisponsible. She raised her hand in the air and I winced, ready to feel her smack some sense into me, when I realized she was reaching up on her top shelf. My eyes widened as I looked into her arms – she was holding…my head?! “Isn’t she simply beautiful?” she said quietly, laying her gently in my arms. “I finished her after you left that day and didn’t come back and then I fired her, hoping someday I’d be able to return her to you!” Stuttering I spoke, “I, umm, don’t really know what to say – (and I didn’t. “She” looked like an alien!) – but thanks. Thank you so much.”
I walked out of school that day with my heart feeling strange and warm and huge. I had walked out on someone…but they hadn’t walked out on me. That afternoon I put my clay head on the family fireplace mantle. It was quickly taken down – even though no one will claim shoving it in the basement closet. Alien-head or not, its my head. And a great reminder to believe in someone even when they don’t believe in themselves.