Saturday, August 15, 2009

When "Back to School" Launched Me Forward

I went away to study Graphic Design at Otis/Parsons in Los Angeles when I was a skinny, shy 18-year-old. I was dragging a suitcase and kicking along a box of art supplies with my foot, slowly making my way to the curb to hail a cab. I was terrified to be alone in the heart of Los Angeles by myself. (Can you imagine? Coming from UTAH?) The dorm was right across the street from MacArthur Park (which we affectionately called MacMurder Park for the nightly killings taking place there.) I didn’t know a single soul. It was a scary-fast way to grow up and enter adulthood.

There was a broad range of characters...people so interesting and/or funny you’d swear I made them up: The rich Australian playboy whose dad ran a hotel school in Geneva and had just come via some fancy boarding school in France. The guy who walked and talked like a penguin, majored in fashion design, and almost got expelled for flushing plastic bags full of veggies down the toilet. The kind-hearted Jewish girl whose single mother was battling cancer. The smart kid from the midwest who drove his own car out, and loved to listen to bluegrass music. The couple who got kicked out of the dorms when the maids found whips and chains, and the bed smeared with whipped cream and honey. (I was like, What?) My own roommate from Chicago, who was allergic to air conditioning (Kill me now--I had to shower three times a day to survive that heat!).

That first evening, a teacher spoke to all the incoming students in the grand ballroom, attempting to educate us on being street-smart in the big city. She said she had her personal painting studio in the roughest part of town (although I honestly couldn’t imagine anyplace rougher than where we were!). She told us she kept getting stopped by panhandlers and was even mugged a couple of times on her way to the studio...until she got smart. Then, inspired with a solution only an artist would devise, she literally put together a “street-person costume” complete with bedraggled clothes, a big, baggy jacket, mismatched shoes, and an old misshapen hat she pulled way down to hide her face. She said once she started donning her “homeless outfit” to go to the studio, no one ever bothered her again!

Yeah, that first day of Design School was like crashing head-on into a train called World. But it didn’t kill me. To the contrary, I found it terrifyingly exhilarating, more like a launching pad hurling me toward real life!

14 comments:

Sandy M. said...

Great post Jana - it's like the beginning of a novel. Aren't arty types fun? You've reminded me of all sorts of people I knew in my late teenage years. I'd like to ask you about the veggie bags being flushed down the toilet, but I know there doesn't have to be any logical reason for it :)

Smart disguise on the part of your art teacher. I believe I would have done something similar.

Your first day there was interesting. What happened after that?
:)

ps Disappointed that you haven't (yet :) posted photos of your 18 year old self to illustrate your text. Next installment perhaps?
:)

InkMom said...

Wonderful. Brings back memories for me of being that age, too.

Have I told you that I love your chosen blogosphere moniker? In my patriarchal blessing, I am told that I will have the opportunity to have "a meeting of the minds" with people of all different backgrounds and circumstances from all over the world. Your name makes me think of that.

Roban said...

This WOULD make a great book! Loved hearing about your experiences and the people who made up your world back then. So, how did it go? I'd love to hear more!

Kristina P. said...

A homeless costume is ingenious! I think I should do that for walking around at the Gateway.

Becky said...

Yikes! Sounds like you could have your own tv series: Girl Meets World. :)

I keep reading all these posts about exciting life adventures and wonder if I need more spontaneity in my own life. Maybe I'll go a little wild and eat dessert before lunch today...

Kimberly said...

Wow, I can just imagine! I kind of wish I'd been hurtled out into the world like that. Dumped into the coldest, deepest part of the Lake of Life instead of just dipping my toes and ankles in all hesitant like...

DeNae said...

I really needed to read this. I'm launching two kids in the next two weeks, and I needed to hear that they're facing a much more gentle, safe introduction to the REAL WORLD, and I can stop hyperventilating!

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

One of the greatest lessons I've learned is that you can survive the "real" world if you hold on tight to what's really real. We don't have to be afraid. Cautious, yes (your teacher was smart), but not afraid.

Kazzy said...

Ahhh...MacArthur Park. I remember it well. Passing by as quickly as possible in the car, with the doors locked.

Look at all of the ties you have to that LA area! School, mission, hubby, Burtons... :)

Brillig said...

OH MY GOSH THIS HAS TO BE A BOOK WRITE IT RIGHT NOW OKAY THANK YOU.

Seriously. I'm laughing SO hard about these characters that you met and your lessons in survival, etc. (And whips and chains and your reaction of WHAT?. HAHAHAHA.) So funny. If you sent this post itself as a query letter, it would be snatched up by every agent in town.

Not kidding. Get started. Ready, set...

Eowyn said...

Um, what's the rest of the story? I love reading these things.

I hope things go well there.

Mrs4444 said...

That must have been quite an experience, going from your familiar home in Utah to L.A. Wow! I'm impressed. I'm also impressed with your instructor's creativity. I think I would enjoy dressing in character like that (as long as I didn't have to sleep on the street.)

LisAway said...

Wow! What a way to grow up quick! I remember thinking my cousins were so weird for being SO afraid of everything in California when they came to visit from Utah. And we lived in Burbank!

Allison said...

Allergic to air-conditioning? What the eff? My husband would divorce me.