My eldest son is – for one more week – a high school senior. He’s a creative kid, always has been. Creativity and imagination are things I’ve always encouraged in my children. I mean, obviously. I write. I crochet, sew, and make all sorts of crafty things. And let’s be honest, if you’ve ever met me in person, “creative” might be a word you’d use to describe me. (Also potentially suitable: quirky, odd, freak, hippie, pirate, punk, anarchist, bohemian…)
So it pleases my odd little soul when my kids get inspired to be creative. When I see some creative dream lighting a fire within them, leaving them bright-eyed and talking at the speed of light about their new interest. I love it. It always makes me smile.
Last week I attended my son’s senior exit project presentation at his school. He looked sharp in dress pants, dress shoes, button down shirt, suspenders and bow tie, hair carefully combed. He shook the hands of each person on the panel and introduced himself, grinning and maintaining eye contact. Then he stood in front of an audience and went slide by slide through a Power Point presentation he’d made over the course of several days and in a clear, loud voice, discussed his plans to become an actor & musician. He’s already enrolled in a local college for this fall, pursuing an Associates degree in media arts & technology, with plans to transfer to University for a Bachelors in theater & music.
He’s worked the last three years as a service clerk at a local grocery store, pays his own car payment and car insurance, as well as most of his own cell phone bill. He talked about that as well.
After the presentation, the panel – made up of adults, mind you – was allowed to ask him questions about his future plans. Instead of asking him about his dream, most of the questions went like this:
“You know why they call people like that starving artists, right?”
“How do you plan to pay your bills?”
“What will your real job be?”
“I knew a guy once, thought he could be an actor. Waited tables while he waited for his big break. Guess what he’s doing now? Still waiting tables. You want to end up like that?” (This one really struck a nerve with me. Double whammy. Let’s simultaneously shoot down his dream while also shitting on people doing hard, honest work in restaurants. Super inspiring!)
Though my son patiently went back over his plans – a back-up degree so he can work to pay his bills while he auditions and figures out his way along this journey – the remarks didn’t change. It frustrated me to no end. He maintained his composure throughout his presentation, and afterward shook the hand of each panelist again, thanking them for their time.
One of the panelists marked him down several points because he wore tiny silver hoop earrings with his dress clothes.
Here’s the thing: as adults, we’ve got to do better. Teach responsibility and accountability, for certain, but imagination and creativity are just as important in life. Of course bills need to be paid, but is there no room at all for dreams? No stress upon the way passion for an art improves our lives? The way art teaches us empathy, compassion, and personal discipline?
If we spent the same amount of time & energy on encouraging kids & teens to pursue their artistic bents as we spend pounding the idea of becoming another cog in the machine into their heads, we might ignite a revolution.
Imagine that. Oh, wait. Imagining things isn’t directly linked to a paycheck, so it’s obviously not worth doing. Forgive my folly. Must’ve had a bit too much to think.