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Professor No Taught Me Everything I Know

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As a shy, country girl who tried my best to be invisible, I had the self-confidence of an ant racing away from the shadow of a size 10 shoe as it looms large over its existence.

Being “less than” was an identity tattooed daily on my psyche.  Our two-grade class room, all through grade school, was further divided into those that could and those that couldn’t.  Need I mention that I was in the “couldn’t” section? While others were learning, I was secretly reading a book tucked into the storage area of my desk. Why constantly court failure by participating? A particularly degrading day came, when out of school for two days for Rosh Hashanna when I was in first grade, I walked in the next day to find out we were having a test. I zipped triumphantly through the test and handed in my paper. I was confident of a good mark. I got a ZERO! They had learned subtraction while I was still on addition and, of course, I never read the test’s directions.

I entered Junior High School where 90% of the class was on the college tract. Other ideas were advanced at home. “Be a secretary and get married” was the mantra of my daily existence. So it was shorthand and typing for me. However, I did take art classes and I loved it. No matter how much my teacher berated me for having “no control” I cheerfully continued to flow my watercolors like a raging river.  This art teacher, Mrs. Marsden, I later found out, told the rest of the class “Why can’t you paint like Joan? You are all too tight and afraid to experiment.”  That statement whispered into my ear by another student, failed to compute, but I filed it away in the “maybe there is hope for me” cabinet at the bottom of my brain.

High school is supposed to prepare us for life – especially those of us who are on the business tract and not going to college. We took an aptitude test to help us decide where our talents lay. I was told that nothing definite leapt out from my test results, but there was a leaning towards making of an auto mechanic. I had no mechanical skills—couldn’t even change a tire—so I felt wary of ever finding my niche.

After high school I worked as a secretary for a while but boredom took over and I decided to go to the big city from upstate New York and go to art school. I hated it. It was too rigid. They concluded I was without talent, which is what my father had told me before I left home. “No you can’t” from a plethora of Professor No’s, became a chorus of deep throated frogs singing off key and negating my existence. I tried Hunter College. I failed. I went to the Art Students League where you were not graded but even though I sold some art work here and there I realized I might become just another starving artist. I then decided to attend Pace. Pace made me prove myself and matriculate. I worked full time and took 12 credits at night, racking up two A’s and two B’s each semester.

Did I mention that I was married before Pace and after Pace? I was. My first husband told me not to go to college. “Your father didn’t send you, why should I?” The second husband decided I should run his office.  In the meantime, we had adopted two children and his consistently telling me that the two children were “not the same as having your own”. That, along with his blaming me for everything wrong that ever happened, threatened to happen, or could possibly happen in his life, gave me cause to chalk up divorce/failure number two.

As the divorce ground on, slowly stripping me of everything that was secure in my life, I enrolled in Georgia State.

My college creative writing teacher told me I was a “no” talent. Mid-way through the second creative writing course with him (after telling me that I also had no talent for poetry writing), he decided to enter my short story into the Southern Literary Festival.

At this point I had become so weary of “You can’t” that I had worked myself up to a 3.5 point average and was told I could graduate cum laude but had to do a successful project. How handy that I had a short story that my creative teacher liked! That would be my cum laude project. Except the professor in charge of that assignment told me that my story was not even college level. After the eighth rewrite (two rewrites after winning second place at the Southern Literary Festival), I gave up.

After my third divorce I smugly informed my father that he should be very proud of me. He told me to be a secretary and get married. I had been a secretary for about ten years, and I had gotten married, and married, and married. Poor dad was speechless.

Husband four didn’t work out either but I am now married to my knight in shining armor who encourages all my schemes and dreams with positive enthusiasm.

I have tried my hand at retail (I had the first ever cartoon store outside of Disney World), created, published and edited a monthly good news newspaper in New Jersey for eleven years (along with an area guide for the local hotels) and I am now a rehabber. I take tired old houses and smack them back to life by constantly encouraging my workmen into finishing projects while trying to come in under budget (we never do). I have dull doors drenched in varying shades of  tangerine or green, add shiny toilets with new plumbing, have crumbling walls plastered and painted. My tenants think I am an artist. My friends think I am superwoman and the energizer bunny rolled into one. But I am just trudging along, trying my hand at whatever pops up, proving to all the Professor No’s in my life, that he/she/they are WRONG.

Below is a watercolor I recently finished and a small seascape that I am working on:

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Author: Turnip Times

Sometimes the truth is funny and sometimes sad. But the truth is always the truth.

5 thoughts on “Professor No Taught Me Everything I Know

  1. Joan, this is an incredibly honest and straightforward write-up of your life. I wish there hadn’t been so many “no-Sayers” along the way. I don’t know the person they were talking about. To me you have always been hard working and resourceful. I love your recent works. Thanks for all the sharing.

  2. * **This is wonderful, Joan. I can’t imagine one change. It grabbed me from the beginning, even though I had already read it a month or two ago, and I was hanging on every word to the end. It’s got (self-deprecating) humor, all the “I’m a failure” feelings so many kids feel, and it’s so easy to identify with. Kudos!!!!*

  3. A very inspiring story, Joan. So many people are knocked down by narrow minded parents and teachers and never believe in themselves. I’m happy you were able to rise above it all.

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