He was a sage man, Mr. S.. I trusted him to be honest with me, especially since he had been the adjudicator of my entrance portfolio at my interview seeking admission to the Art School. At that time he hadn’t pulled his punches. He had asked me, then, how my parents viewed my desire to attend art school. Since it was in my best interest to be candid with him, if he would be a reliable supportive person for my poorly-formed goals as art student, I had admitted to him that my parents were full of dispair as to what was going to become of me, if I persisted in following my desire to learn intensively about “Art”.
Mr. S. encouraged me to wholly immerse myself in the art school experience. He did say that at the green age of 17 years, and relatively untested, I would come to have conflicting feelings about what all might happen to me during these formative early years. “Come and talk to me, whenever you have difficulties or have reactions which confuse you. My door is always open.”
During those four years, whenever I had doubts and questions, I’d tap on his office door and promise to bring him a coffee if he would spare me a few minutes of his time. He was always most generous and patient. He was my “eminence grise”. My parents had no inkling that there was such a trusted advisor whose opinion I welcomed and valued and weighted far more than their own. Come to think of it, he was indeed a grey, silvery presence. He was small and wiry, pale in complexion with tarnished pewter hair and beard. He seemed to be everywhere; like escaped beads of spilled mercury he could be glimpsed doing his rounds in the art school hallways and studios.
By the end of third year at school, I had paid my tuition and supply costs with a series of low-paying jobs – usherette, cleaning-woman, waitress. Still living at my parental home, I began agonizing over how, in the future after graduation I would maintain my art practice, move out into my own digs and sustain a life beyond mere existence. My parents exhorted me to give up all ideas of pursuing a life-long involvement with art. They considered my four years of art school as an early, but doomed, love affair which held out little hope for a lifetime of sustaining joy. Ildiko had gone on to university, to follow the family plan for her to become a doctor. Surely, now, the penny would drop for me, and I’d realize the fruitlessness of a life in the arts and would bend to the family plan for me to become a pharmacist. At every available opportunity, my parents would attempt to engage me in conversation about going to the U to take a degree in science. They completely and conveniently forgot those angst-ridden nights of my struggles with chemistry and math in high school and my sudden blossoming with joy whenever taken up with studies in the arts and humanities.
In the quiet working hours in the print-making studio, while engaged in preparing plates, applying grounds, working the plates in the acid baths and inking, wiping and pulling prints, I mulled over possibilities facing me in the future. I realized that making art takes materials, equipment, space and working at low-paying jobs would not afford me the means to do more than just keep a roof of sorts over my head and a few squares to sustain me. Advice from an experienced and trusted mentor was in order. I turned to Mr. S.
One morning, I nipped over to the coffe shop across the street from the art school, ordered two mugs of coffee, slices of cheese and carrots and carried them on a bakelite tray back to the school offices. “Morning goodies, for Mr. S.” I told Mrs Trevelyan, his secretary, breezing by her to tap on his door. Luckily he was peckish and glad for refreshments. He waved me into his office.
“I need your help.” I said, and launched into an agonizing and detailed account of my ruminations about my uncertain future.
He listened and ate his carrot and cheese slices; nodded between sips of the now tepid coffee. He swiveled on his oak teacher’s chair and gazed out the window; turned back and beaded me with his perceptive pale blue eyes. “You are the child of the upper Middle Class; you have learned to expect certain comforts from life. Your experience with people is mostly from that class – that is where you operate most comfortably. You need to attain the keys to that Kingdom, so you can enter it at will. It is only through further education that you will achieve the freedom to do this.” He said this without a trace of pressure. He was simply asking me to think along with him and go down that particular road of thinking. “How can you turn the knowledge and information you have gained so far to your advantage?” he asked.
“I could go and seek a position as an artist’s printer in a workshop,” I conjectured. “Although, there is no possibility of this here as there are no working ateliers. I’d have to research this. Maybe further afield. But maybe I’d not be too content labouring over other printmaker’s images. But of course, this might provide me access to a studio with presses.”
“Have you considered any other possibilities?” he asked.
“I have flirted with the idea of teaching. Am not too sure I have the patience and whatever else it takes to teach.”
“There is a way you can find out if you like teaching, or have an inclination in that direction. You can sign up as a teacher with the School Board and try your hand at teaching an adult night school course in Drawing. You’ll find out very quickly if you have the aptitude for teaching.”
He sent me on my way. As his suggestion made great sense to me, I followed up and engaged to teach a night school course at one of the recreation centres. Eight sessions. Not a huge, long-term committment, so even if I was fearful of being pathetic at this job, people’s limited exposure to my green inept methods would not harm them in the long term.
A couple of months later, after a wonderful experience with teaching and thorough enjoyment of the persons with whom I shared a limited number of hours working, I bounced into Mr. S’s office and announced my pleasure with the outcome. “It sure is hard work but, man, the expressions of pleasure in accomplishment from people in the class makes the process worthwhile. And working to help someone overcome their frustrations with a process or to unearth an untapped potential is so invigorating.”
“You know, if you have had such an good experience, maybe you might consider taking teacher training at UBC. If you do so, your parents will probably be amenable, and you will have chance to obtain one of the keys to the Kingdom. Think about it, at least.”
I went off and thought about it all. Continued to work in the studio and made the work for my graduation show. My mind was at ease, I had decided on a sense of future direction – to take my degree in teaching and train as an art teacher. Went through the application process at the university, and only when formally accepted did I make the announcement of my intentions to my parents.
“We expected you to follow up in a more worthy discipline,” argued Apu. “To be a teacher is not good enough career for someone from our family.”
“Apu. I need to work at something which provides me with personal satisfaction as well as a way to make some kind of living. I am not at all interested in studying in the sciences. Besides which, having an education degree, will provide me with a little key to the Kingdom.”
“What on earth are you babbling on about?” complained Apu. “What’s this Kingdom ?”