It’s past my bedtime, but my eyes are wide open and my brain buzzes giddily, my fingers moving faster and faster. My hand aches and there’s a dent next to my right middle fingernail, where I’ve been gripping the crayon. I keep drawing. Before me is a large piece of white paper, but it’s becoming more alive with color with each passing minute. A huge rainbow arcs across the page, a blood orange sun on top of it, its rays spiking out in all directions like a 1960s Star Burst Clock. The turquoise sky is dotted with puffy white clouds and birds, their arched wings shaped like the McDonald’s “M.” Under the rainbow are flowers colored every shade in my 64-crayon Crayola box.
That morning my first grade teacher had given each of us a piece of paper and told us to cut loose. Well, she may have phrased it differently, as nuns don’t usually say things like “cut loose!” Sr. Miguel was about 60 or 65, less than five feet tall, and her soft body and frequent hugs made her a dream of a teacher for a 7-year-old girl like me. I was timid and un-athletic, but with a crayon in my hand I came to life. A blank piece of paper didn’t intimidate me, like the ball whizzing by in Phys Ed did. A new sheet of paper was the portal to my imagination.
A week later I’m standing in the brick school gymnasium looking at all the drawings taped to the wall. I find mine, but it seems a little different than I remember. Now there’s a blue satin ribbon on the right side. I’m not sure what a blue ribbon is. Someone tells me I’ve won first place in the coloring contest. I feel surprised--I didn’t know there was a contest. I was just doing what I loved most: drawing. Don Takemura has the 2nd place red ribbon and Jordi holds a white one. Someone’s mom tells us to hold our ribbons up while she takes our photo. I smile, eager to please.
Nearly 30 years later I’m still an artist, still eager to please, but trying to care less about pleasing others. I look at the photo taken in the gym that day. I see a girl with an innocent, open face who is proud but not arrogant. My left knee sock is pulled up a little higher than the right one, which tells a lot about who I was back then, and maybe even who I still am. Back then I probably didn’t notice if my socks weren’t perfect. Now I’m a woman who tries to do everything right, but inevitably has mismatched socks or fly-away locks of hair. I wish I could unlearn the self-doubt I came to know in the years after 1st grade. I wish I could enjoy my talent again, purely, without comparing myself to older, more experienced artists. In that photo my 7-year-old face shines with joy. I’m not self-conscious. I’m not doubtful about whether I deserved that ribbon or whether I could have done a better drawing. I’m just happy.
I can’t return to the innocence I knew at age 7. A 34-year-old can’t view the world as simply as a child does. But seeing this photo reminds me that I need to make moments of pure happiness for myself, and to allow myself to feel undiluted pride in my talents. And because my imagination is still young, I believe I can reconnect with the joy I felt that day, somewhere over the rainbow…