Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Life as a Quitter

I don't know what's wrong with me. I really don't. I've passed up so many opportunities to really do something with my life. My parents discouraged me from going to college, and it'd hard to blame them. They really couldn't afford to send me, and my grades sure weren't good enough for a scholarship. I never brought home a book during high school. Actually, I hated school and hated studying, but I somehow had it in my head that I would do well in college despite my track record for being lazy with the books and not sticking with things. I didn't recognize it for what it was then. I just knew I had a kind of restlessness in me that wouldn't allow me to focus on anything long enough to get good at it or take it seriously. I also had a prideful streak. I was a darn good basketball player for instance, but when we moved to a new town and I had to transfer schools after my sophomore year, I decided I didn't like the new coach and would just be a walk-on in college. Of course college never happened really. (I did eventually get a year in). I went into the Army instead and was basically a washout there too. That is, I didn't even finish my first hitch once I was offered an early out. Also, my second day at boot-camp, myself and one other recruit, were pulled out of the lineup and taken to a room where we were both offered the chance to go to West Point because our entrance scores were pretty good. Here I finally had my chance to go to college, and I promptly turned it down!, saying I had already had enough of the Army. All I did was complain the whole time I was in too. And there were other missed opportunities. Lots of them.
My sister and I were going through some old books our parents had after they died. In one of two big family bibles I found the following pictures. I drew them when I was only about five or six years old, and I think anyone would admit these are pretty accurate drawings for someone so young. And no, I didn't trace them either. Most of these cartoons were on a lunchbox and thermos I had. I just sat in front of them and drew what I saw. The Popeye drawing comes from a punching bag I had. Part of the reason it looks a little out of kilter compared to the others is because I had to try to follow around the curve of the bag,
and also because I wasn't very good yet at up-sizing and down-sizing pictures, so trying to make this big print on the punching bag fit onto a small piece of drawing paper was quite challenging for me as a child. However, I soon managed to draw this Popeye picture from memory. I recall all the kids in my 1st grade class hovering around my desk waiting for me to finish a drawing of Popeye for each of them.

Many people, especially teachers and an artist from our church, constantly told my parents to get me into an art school. I'll tell you what happened though. When I was in the 5th grade I met a kid who was better then me. He already knew all about shading and other things no one had taught me.
I didn't realize at the time that someone had taught him these things. I just figured he was naturally a lot better or smarter than me, and I didn't want to do something unless I could be the best at it, so I basically quit drawing after that. That was my life in nutshell until I was in my late thirties. I seldom finished things, and would quit anything art related if I thought someone was better than me. I guess the latter was a pride thing. I wanted to make my mark in the world. It's hard to do that when other people's marks are so much bigger than yours.

What turned me around? God and Christianity did. CS Lewis once said that Christianity was an education in itself, and that it's what permitted a guy like John Bunyan to change the world with just one book despite his lack of formal education. I think this must be true. I had read the bible all my life, but had never really studied the thoughts of other people about God and the world. I had plenty of my own thoughts about the cosmos, because I had been a slacker and had little else to do but daydream and think about life. I figured no one else thought like I did about things. Then I read Mere Christianity and found someone who had all my thoughts. More than that, Lewis knew of lots of other people who had had those same thoughts long before either of us did. He had studied the philosophy of mankind through the ages and the mythology that inspired so much of it. Before long, reading philosophy became a passion for me too, especially theology and thoughts in general from Christian thinkers. I learned things from them, but it was mostly this confirmation of my own thoughts I was after, and I found it in spades. There was something about studying spirituality on a deeper lever that turned my whole life around although I couldn't tell you how it happened. All I knew was that when I emerged a few years later on the other side, I was suddenly a better man. I could stick to projects and get things done. I've recorded several CDs, written a book, made a movie etc. None of these are great art by anyone's measure, but just the fact that I was able to get them done seems a minor miracle considering how useless I was before. I guess that's the bottom line in a Christian self-education. It takes useless people and makes them useful. They used to call Christian hippies Jesus Freaks, but those same people would reply, "God doesn't make freaks out of people; he makes people out of freaks."

I always knew I would have to be an autodidact if I was going to learn anything in life. I don't like formal education. I enjoy learning what I want to learn on my own. But it took Christianity to give me the tools to do it right. I'm fifty-one now, but I'd like to think I'm actually gaining steam, and the best is yet to come.


shadowlands said...

'I'd like to think I'm actually gaining steam, and the best is yet to come.'

I agree, I think you are in your prime of illumination!!

C W Seper said...

You flatterer you!

Actually, I'm very serious about doing a full-scale documentary on the works of CS Lewis next. I've already re-read the space trilogy and am now nearly done re-reading the Narnia tales and taking notes. I've still a lot of work to do though.