Believe in Flying Sea Turtles

I had always known I was able to draw, and it was something I did every day of my childhood. On the first day of seventh-grade art class, I met my art teacher Mr. B. His first assignment was to draw the cover for our portfolios. It could be anything we wanted. I drew some cartoon characters that I had been working on that summer, and Mr. B displayed my work for the entire class to see as the level of art they would all want to achieve. After a few weeks, I established myself as a serious seventh-grade artist in the school. A student asked Mr. B if he thought I might become an art teacher. “Oh no,” Mr. B. declared, “He will go much further than that.”  That day I set my mind on becoming an artist and never forgot Mr. B’s words. On that day I believed in Mr. B’s words, and that belief has been with me ever since. Of course, the other side of the coin was shown to me shortly afterward when I was told you can’t make a living as an artist by my social studies teacher. I elected to believe in Mr. B’s words rather than my social studies teacher’s theory about making a living. If I believed in something, I decided I could make it my reality when I was twelve years old.

On the way home from school that day, I passed Badilla Hill which was famous for being the steepest hill in the entire town. Only the bravest or fanatical kid would ever go down it on a bike without using the breaks, let alone on a skateboard. You could go so fast down this hill that your bike would wobble underneath you, and it was said that if a cop saw you riding your bike like this you would get a speeding ticket because you could actually exceed the speed limit. That is what was said anyway, and I believed it. There was talk of a kid who had been killed going down Badilla Hill on his skateboard. He crashed and tumbled so much he tore the flesh from his bones. If you knew where to look you could still see the blood stain smeared across the blacktop.  I didn’t know where to look, but I knew it had to be true because my best friend Art Telecha told me this. Art told me a lot of things like that, and I was gullible enough to believe in everything he said. Of course gullible wasn’t a word in the dictionary back then, but a person would have to look it up to be sure. On this day, however, as I was standing there skateboard in hand looking at Badilla Hill, I wanted to challenge what people said could and could not be done. At the tender age of twelve, I couldn’t have known that belief was everything. It wasn’t only that the daredevil Evel Knievel could fly over a hundred cars on his motorcycle, but perhaps everyone was just as courageous and had the same powers of belief deep within themselves.

Just because a person believes in something doesn’t make it true, however, and I learned this the hard way when I was six years old. I dreamed for weeks every night that I could fly. One day I decided to stop dreaming and actually fly because surely that is what my dreams were telling me to do. I reasoned with the conviction of a six-year-old. All people that I saw on the television had a cape if they could fly, so I acquired a cape for my first flying experience. It did not matter that it was a bath towel embroidered with sea turtles; it was only going to be used as a stabilizer similar to the way a kite would have a tail made of rags knotted together, and attached to the bottom of it. “Sea Turtle Boy” was not the title of a super hero I would have chosen anyway. For my virgin flight, I climb on top of a brick wall that was next to the driveway that in my six-year-old mind must have been ten feet tall. I debated about jumping feet first just in case I didn’t possess the powers of flight, but that would show a lack of faith, I reasoned, and it would be the primary rationale this flight could fail. Head first would be the only appropriate posture for the implementation of my powers. I knew exactly what was going to happen anyway. I was going to drop a few inches before gravity had no effect on my body and then slowly rise above the telephone poles. I knew this slow and steady method was correct because if I flew fast at first I might become tangled in the wires of the telephone poles and I would surely get in trouble from my dad for being entwined in the wires. Besides, I was told by my big brother that if a squirrel were to touch two of the wires at the same time electricity would fry the squirrel and I didn’t want to perish on my primary flight. After clearing the wires, I expected to soar over to the school yard at a respectable speed. You see it was all premeditated, so when I dove off that brick wall cranium first and found my nose hemorrhaging profusely, the belief that I could fly quickly vanished. Some things were not possible, I realized while leaning my head back, holding my sea turtle embroidered bath towel on my nose to halt the bleeding. Still, I thought, perhaps I just didn’t have the right frame of mind that day and would attempt flight again at a later date, when the swelling had gone down.

Standing at Badilla Hill as a seventh grader now, with my skateboard in hand wanting to challenge the belief that it couldn’t be done, a person would think I would have remembered that virgin flight a half dozen years earlier. I am not sure if that experience even came to mind, as speed began to pick up under my feet and I was sailing down the great hill. I simply did it and believed I could. I knew I was going to be successful, and as the skateboard began to wobble I hoped the metal wheels didn’t catch a pebble. It wasn’t the fame and glory of being one of the few kids to conquer the hill that was in my mind, but if I could do this what else could be accomplished. This was not defying gravity like flying, but this was relying on several years of childhood skateboarding experience. I reached the bottom of the hill and began the climb upwards as the skateboard slowed to a reasonable speed. I recognized that Art Telecha was wrong, and my assessment of Badilla Hill had changed in an instant. I also understood that becoming an artist wasn’t the impossibility that my social studies teacher said but more belief in my abilities as Mr. B had pointed out in me. Making a living as an artist isn’t defying the odds of gravity as flying was but simply a belief in oneself and doing what was necessary to accomplish the goal.

I think everyone should have a few words from a teacher that helps them soar throughout their life. Those simple words from Mr. B have been foundational to the experiences and life journey of this artist. I suppose the social studies teacher was right as well when she said you can’t make a living as an artist. The truth is that people do not make a living from art. There is not a division of art and life, and this manner of life generates finances to make a living. If a person wanted to make a living from a 9-5 job he should become a plumber. An artist, however, must see things in their mind and believe they can become a reality without leaving the world of reality.  Perhaps there is a painting of a flying sea turtle riding a skateboard that needs to materialize from my easel in the future.