A Day in the Life: Tuesday

“So what exactly is a host?” my dining companions often ask when they see my position listed on my nametag.  Where to start? I often wonder.

My short answer is this: I live and work here in exchange for room and board and a class every week.  The “class every week” part stops most people cold, as that sounds like heaven to many students here.  I can see their wheels turning as they then ask me to elaborate on the “work” part.

So I thought I’d do a “Day in the Life” series.  Since I’m writing this on a Tuesday, that’s the first day I’ll do.  I make no promises that I will do all the other days, or any other days for that matter.  Life is too short to make promises you might not want to keep.  But here’s Tuesday:

**Note: My co-host and I do some tasks together while others we alternate each week.

7:15: Eve leads morning walk – I get to sleep in.

7:40: Eve returns from morning walk.  I’m still sleeping. (Lest you feel bad for Eve, I’ll note here that I have had to do morning walk for the last three weeks straight…a long story, one that I’m glad is over.)

8:05: I meet Eve in the kitchen for breakfast set up.  We dish out the bread and syrup to each table, unwrap the brown sugar, yogurt, and raisins that accompany the grits we put out.

8:15: Eve rings the breakfast bell.  Students stream into the dining hall, get their drinks, then stand behind a seat.  Eve and I are back in the kitchen helping the kitchen staff to get the hot food onto the rolling carts.

8:20 : Eve sings the blessing, after which the students sit and we both serve breakfast.  Today is was eggs, potatoes, and bacon.  Then, we sit to eat ourselves, occasionally visited by an instructor asking us a question.  (A lot of our job is answering questions, some of which we know the answers to.)

9:00: We all (me, Eve, the students) head off to class.  Except that this week, I’m not taking classes.  But that’s a story for another day.

12:00: Morning class session is finished.

12:05: Meet Eve in the kitchen to prep for lunch.  We put out salads, dressings, and bread.

12:15: Eve rings the bell.

12:20: Eve says the blessing.  We serve lunch.  Today it’s a Cobb Salad – with all the ingredients I expect of a good Cobb salad: avocados, egg, turkey, bleu cheese.  Eve and I sit to eat, and talk about what we need to do the rest of the day.

12:40: I go to the microphone to do announcements.  This afternoon, after classes are over, there’s a field trip to Blue Moon Elise – a shop in town that makes and sells soaps, lotions, and other potions.

1:00: After finishing lunch, Eve and I head up to the Community Room in Keith House to move chairs.  There’s a cartoon drawing in my room that a former host did.  A person stands behind a chair and the caption reads, “I sing behind the chair.”  We move a lot of chairs as hosts.  Today, we fold them and line them up in stacks of four against the walls to make room for tonight’s dance.

1:15: Eve and I take care of instructor requests.  Today we move tables.  An instructor requested a certain table in her studio, which we did on Sunday.  But at breakfast she informed us she wanted two different tables, so off we go.

1:30: Afternoon class session begins.  Except that this week, instead of going to class, I go off to write and dream:)

4:30: Afternoon class session is over.  I grab the key to one of the Folk School vehicles, walk out to the gravel parking lot, and take the grey Suburban over to the Craft Shop where I meet anyone who wants to go on the aforementioned field trip.  (The transition from driving my Beetle to driving the Folk School Suburban took a little time, but I’ve finally got it down.)

4:45: We depart the Folk School and arrive at our destination.

5:30: We depart Murphy to give me enough time to get back for my dinner duties.  I drop the students back off at the Keith House and return the car to the gravel parking lot.

5:50: I meet Eve in the kitchen for dinner prep.  You’ve got this part down by now.  Tonight’s dinner:  pasta with peas in a cream sauce.  Bell, Blessing, Serving, etc.

6:30 (if I remember, 6:40 if I’m running late): I announce tonight’s activities.  Tonight is the weekly dance, so Bob Dalsemer (our director of dance and music programs) will sometimes introduce that event.  No partners needed.  No experience needed.  From 7-8 (remember this is why we moved the chairs earlier).  I also announce that we’ll be showing Sing Behind the Plow – the documentary about JCCFS – tonight after the dance.  I try not to say, “Sing behind the chair.”

6:50: Eve or I heads up to the Living Room to get out the DVD player and rearrange the chairs for the screening.

7:00: Dance.  If you’ve been here before, you know what the food is like and the need for me to dance at least once a week.  If you’ve been here before, you also know there’s a whole cast of characters at these dances, but that’s a story for another day.

8:05: The dancers gather in a circle to sing the closing song.  They are then encouraged to help us put the chairs back in their original formation.  In the space of three minutes, a hundred chairs get opened up and slid across the floor as Eve and I grab them and try to get them in their correct places. It’s part chaos, part well-oiled machine.  And it sure beats doing all that work ourselves:)

8:15: Eve or I start the documentary.

10:00 (or 9:30 if I’m tired): I close the Keith House.  You would think this means locking it, but you would be mistaken.  “Closing” involves dumping the extra coffee and rinsing the pots, putting the newspaper in the recycling (a bench that opens – classes that need newspaper then go and grab it from there), closing some of the lights (but not all for fire safety reasons), and just all around making sure the first floor of the Keith House looks neat and inviting.

10:15 (ideally): I climb into bed and read.  And pray that no one calls the host cell phone with an emergency.  After all, at orientation I explained to the students that Eve and I are the after-hours on-call people, so if they have an emergency please have it during the day when the office staff are here to handle it:)

A Host Not Like Most?

“So have you made a lot of things so far?” my new co-host asked me. Having taken eight weeks of classes here at the Folk School, one would assume I have a cabinet filled with the fruits of my labors.

“Actually, no,” I said.  “I’ve purposely chosen classes where I don’t make a lot of stuff.  I may hold the record for the Host who produced the least amount while at the Folk School.”

I explained that I’m kind of a minimalist.  It was the first time I’d used that word to describe myself but I felt like it fit perfectly.

  • Scottish Cooking and An Abundance of Appetizers left me with delicious recipes.
  • Nature Writing left me with some blog posts and stories – all stored electronically.  And one hand-made book.
  • My Building A Garden Shed class was tasked with creating a shed for the Folk School – nothing for me to take home except the knowledge that I’m not cut out to be a builder.
  • From my Genealogy class, I gained a destination for my trip to Italy in March: Corigliano.  It is in that class that I learned the name of the town my great-grandmother came from.  I now own a copy of the ship manifest that shows her arrival in the port of New York on the Perugia on June 7, 1913.
  • I have an eight-ounce cup full of Glass Beads, most of which I’ll donate to Beads of Courage.
  • I made five hooks, two bottle openers, and a fork in my Blacksmithing class – all useful things either for myself or as gifts.

In fact, everything I’ve made can fit into my purse.  Which fits my minimalist lifestyle just fine:)

A couple cookbooks, a handmade book, some beads, a ship manifest, a genealogy guide, assorted blacksmithed items

Therapy

This morning at the Folk School the blacksmiths pounded steel and the woodcarvers gouged bowls. The cooking class fried stuffed peppers and the rug hookers dyed wool.  Where was I?  Lying on my back staring at the clouds – doing “cloud therapy” as my writing instructor called it.

It was while watching wispy clouds flow towards each other that I thought back to the the last time I did this.  I was a child – and it wasn’t called therapy.  It was just something we did because it was fun.  In fact, there are a lot of things we did as kids that, as adults, now have the word “therapy” after them: music therapy, art therapy, physical therapy – even play therapy!  How interesting that when we’re ill, our healing involves going back to those things that we did as kids.

Here’s the good news: you can get all that therapy in one place.  Right here at the John C. Campbell Folk School.  You can hear music every morning at 7:45, every Tuesday night at the dance, every Friday night at the concert.  You can get some physical activity by doing Morning Walk every morning at 7:15 (with yours truly), or by participating in the aforementioned weekly dance.  You can take classes in all sorts of arts and play for hours in your chosen medium.  Therapy, after all, isn’t just for the sick.

Dressing the Part

“Oh – look at your pretty toes!” she said. I smiled as I looked down at my Merlot-colored toenails.  They hadn’t been out in public in quite some time.  No, it wasn’t the beginning of summer.  This was last week.  Weather-wise, we are still in open-toed shoe season, but here at the Folk School I’ve taken classes that require me to do something I haven’t done since I was twelve: wear sneakers for a week straight.

I’m not the sneaker-wearing type.  There was a two year period in college when I didn’t even own sneakers.  In general, I’m not a casual dresser either.  Yes, I wear jeans.  But usually with a cute top, earrings, and nice shoes – heeled boots in winter, platform sandals in summer. I don’t have a floor-to-ceiling closet full of shoes like my youngest sister Meg, but I’ve got my fair share.  Unfortunately, most of them haven’t been worn for quite some time.

Why?  Because I’ve chosen classes over the last few weeks that have an unwritten dress code.  In woodturning, there are plenty of sharp objects that can go flying – or falling.  So close-toed shoes are a must.  So are high-collared shirts for women.  No one mentioned this to me, but I was smart enough not to wear my usual V-necks to class.  What I thought was a high neck-line didn’t cut it, though.  Thankfully, the resident woodturner is a woman.  She understood and had a T-shirt on hand that I adopted as my smock for the week.  Prior to that, I had woodchips in places that I don’t care to get into here.

Also no-no’s in woodturning: hair worn down or in a pony tail.  Getting your hair caught in a lathe spinning at 1200 RPM’s – not good.  Getting anything caught in a lathe spinning that fast wouldn’t be good – so jewelry is also out of the question.

Me on the lathe in woodturning.

After my adventures in woodturning, I took a cooking class.  You would think you could wear whatever you want while cooking, but not in a place that has liability to worry about.  Knives can fall and slice toes, so once again my open-toed shoes were relegated to the back of my closet.

Last week, I was building a garden shed.  Well, trying to learn at least.  You don’t see open-toed shoes on a construction site.

Building A Garden Shed (back row: Francois, Cecily, Jane, Louise; front row: Tom (instructor), me, and Matt)

Thankfully, there is at least one night per week that open-toed shoes, earrings, and even dresses are seen on campus.  Every Tuesday night, there is a Contra and Square Dance in the Community Room.  Locals join students for this weekly event that even has live music.  No experience necessary, and no partner is needed.  In fact, this is the only place I’ve been where I’ve actually witnessed a shortage of women at a dance.

Dresses! Skirts! Jewelry! (Well, except Brad) And a little face paint to celebrate Scottish Heritage week. L to R: Lindsay, me, Victoria, Rachel, Julie and Brad

So on Tuesday nights, the dresses I used to wear so often in my previous life finally get to see the light of day.  I reach into the depths of my closet, pull out my open-toed shoes, slip my feet in and smile at my painted toe nails.

On Gifts

I believe that there are certain gifts we’ve all been given.  Call them talents, strengths, whatever.  We’ve all got some.  (If you don’t think you have any, please contact me!  I’ll help you figure out what they are.  No one should go through life thinking they don’t have gifts.)

One of the things that makes life so interesting is that we don’t all have the same gifts.  It’s why we need other people.  I, for example, have no gift for fixing my car.  My uncle, however, was blessed with this gift.  This is great when he and I live in the same state, but when my car dies in North Carolina and he’s in New York, well, at least I can call him to vent (I also have a gift for communication).

In my last few weeks at the Folk School, God has laughed as I’ve tried to develop gifts I haven’t been given.  I can see him up there looking down at me trying to hammer a nail in straight, shaking his head as he giggles to himself.  One of my gifts is making God laugh:)

This is not to say that we are not meant to try new things.  In fact, trying new things is one way to discover new gifts you didn’t know you had.

But then there are those of us who – really, truly, deep-down – know there are certain gifts we have not been given nor are we ever meant to have.  Making things out of wood is one of those things for me.  Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had fun trying (and plenty of ups and downs) as these pictures show.

My first time using a circular saw! (For those of you saying, "What's a circular saw?" Well, that was my question, too.)

 

Hammering nails in straight is harder than it looks... (L to R: Louse, Jane, Matt, Tom, Francois)

Skydiving? Done that. Roller coasters? No problem. Standing on a scaffolding while hammering nails into tin? Nope. I got up on the scaffolding, realized how scared I felt just walking along it, and promptly decided this was an experience my classmates needed more than I did:) (L to R: Jane, Matt, Francois, Cecily, and Louise)

What I’ve also gained:

  • an appreciation for builders, roofers, woodturners, and anyone who works in construction or makes things out of wood
  • a reminder that it looks easy when the teacher does it because they’ve been doing it for twenty plus years
  • knowledge of how a shed gets built, how a wooden bowl gets made, and knowledge that I don’t want to be the one to do either

So thank you to my kind and patient instructors who never doubted for a moment that I couldn’t learn their craft.  I could. But thankfully God gave me other gifts, so I don’t have to.

 

A Trip to Lowes…again

On my first evening in the woodturning studio two weeks ago, I put on the safety glasses the Folk School had on hand.  I could feel the plastic digging into my cheeks.  Wearing these things for six hours a day for the next five days was not going to be comfortable – and the indented-skin-around-the-eyes look just wasn’t doing it for me.  So I decided to head to Lowe’s the next morning to get myself my own pair of safety glasses.

I’m not your typical Lowe’s customer.  First of all, I’m female.  Secondly, my typical attire includes heels and jewelry and makeup.  But this can all be used to my advantage to get in and out of these places as quickly as possible.  So on Monday morning, I did what I usually do when I have to step into a home improvement store: I dressed cute, put on a smile, walked in the door and asked the first person I saw where I could find what I wanted.  I was in and out in five minutes.

Me at my lathe in my fancy new safety glasses.

Two weeks later, I found out I’d be heading to Lowe’s again.  Twice in two weeks?  Who have I become?   This time, however, it was a little different.  I had missed the first half-hour of class Sunday night as I was doing my host duties.  When I arrived, our instructor Tom filled me in: the class had requested we take a field trip to Lowe’s on Monday.  This being a course on Building a Garden Shed, the request was not unreasonable.

“Before you go, you should know what you want,” Tom explained to us in our outdoor classroom Monday morning.  “Just like when you go grocery shopping.”  So I listened as Tom asked us to dredge up our fourth-grade math skills to figure out how much wood we would need.

Our outdoor classroom. Tom, our instructor, is at the chalkboard.

Our class would be using wood salvaged from the Folk School’s maintenance department to build a garden shed for the school, but my classmates would have to buy their own wood if they wanted to do this at home – which half of them did.

So after our lesson on building materials, I got behind the wheel of the Folk School Suburban and drove us all to Lowe’s.  I walked into that store looking almost like someone who belonged there (i.e. dressed in jeans and sneakers as opposed to heels and a skirt).  Tom led us into an aisle I never would have dared enter prior to this class: the one full of wood.  Tom patiently answered everyone’s questions about two-by-fours, plywood, and roofing materials.

Field trip to Lowes! (L to R Francois, Cecily, Louise and our instructor, Tom)

“If we have enough time,” Tom said earlier that morning, “we can head over to Tool World.”  I thought it funny of him to call the tool section Tool World.  Not til we got there did I realize Lowe’s actually has those very words written on the wall.  Tom showed us the tools that were worth the investment and those that were truly unnecessary.

There really is a Tool World.

I walked out knowing a lot more than when I walked in, but thinking my life would not be missing anything if I never had to step into Lowe’s again.

Adventures in Woodturning

An emotional roller coaster.  That’s how you might describe a tough week of unexpected things.  Or, if you’re me, that’s how you describe your week in the woodturning studio.  By 3:30 on Thursday, I’d had enough.  I put a plastic bad over the piece I’d been working on (to keep it from drying out) and walked out the door.  I hid in a corner of the porch, shed a few tears, and then listened to my heart.  The conversation went something like this:

-What do you want to do Rebecca?

-Well, I sure don’t want to make another bowl.

-So don’t.

It was that simple.  But how to tell the instructor?  Ugh.  So instead of going back in, I wandered next door to the painting studio.  There was near silence as the students painted seascapes and gardens in acrylics.  I wandered from easel to easel admiring their work and clearing my head.  (Well, figuratively at least.  I found out on Monday I’m allergic to sawdust – so it wasn’t possible to literally clear my head.)

Having restored my sanity, I walked back into the woodturning studio.  “I’m done,” I told my instructor.  “I don’t want to make another bowl.”

“Do you want to make something else?” he asked.

“No.  I’m just not having fun anymore,” I said.  He had reminded us nearly every day that we were on vacation and we were there to have fun, so he understood my sentiments, but seemed a bit surprised – even a bit crestfallen.

I went over to my lathe and pulled off the hunk of wood that had defeated me.  I squirted compressed air over the beastly machine and swept up my plot of studio space as we did each night.  My teacher sat in the classroom area a few feet away.  It was the first time I’d seen him sit in the studio all week.  I couldn’t look him in the eye.

My workstation for the past week

I finished cleaning, walked out, and burst into tears once again.  There’s a fine line, I decided, between giving up and just not feeling it’s worth doing something anymore.

The next morning I headed back to the woodturning studio.  On this, our last day, all I wanted to do was finish the projects we’d started earlier in the week.  This was the first time in my life I’d been the last in the class, the slowest one.  While the other students plowed away at new projects, I spent hours finishing the first two we had worked on.

And as I was turning a stem onto my mini-goblet, I remembered how much I enjoyed doing this same technique the first day – experimenting with making beads and coves down a line of pine.

My finished mini-goblet

Experimenting with beads and coves on Monday night.

Bowls, on the other hand, were not something I enjoyed.  So though I had spent the Thursday night reworking my entire class schedule to avoid wood or traditional “manly” crafts for the next three months, I changed my mind (as I so often do).  I even told my instructor I might be interested in a class that focused on spindle work and not bowls.  He told me which teacher to avoid – because he’s mean to his female students.  Since I’d been near tears more than once in his class, I greatly appreciated his advice.

Next week, I’m taking a cooking class.  Unlike the woodturning studio, I have actually been in a kitchen before.  I know what a lot of the tools are, and the basics of how to use them.  I could even make something with them.  So I figure already I’m off to a much better start.  And now, I can appreciate every wooden piece I will touch in that kitchen:)

A Birthday Present – Times Three

I am always a little late to the first night of classes.  I hate being late for anything.  But I have Host duties to attend to, so I always arrive about a half hour late.  My co-host Cory says the worst thing about this is that you miss the introductions.

My spinning teacher over the weekend caught me up herself – she went around the room and basically introduced everyone to me as a way to remind herself of who we all were.  Tonight, when I bounced into my woodturning class at 7:15 and took my seat, the instructor asked me to tell everyone a little about myself, “but what I really want to know is why you signed up for a woodturning class.”

“Because I’ve never done it – well, except for eighth grade shop class,” I said.  The guy next to me laughed and pointed at our instructor, Steve.  “You, too?” I asked.  He nodded his head.  Later I found out Steve did some woodturning in middle school, too.  Then years later he took a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School, and now he’s here teaching.

I finished my introduction by explaining my host position with my standard spiel: I’m here for four months working for the school in exchange for room, board, and a class every week.  That last part elicits gasps many times – people spend years dreaming of coming here and taking one class, and here I am in the midst of taking fourteen.  But my three classmates – all men – weren’t as emotionally reactive to my statement, which was fine by me.

Steve went on and told us how the week would go, then he led us over to a side room and doled out canvas bags with our tools in them.  We picked our work stations, opened our cabinets, and placed the tools in their holders.  I had no idea what any of them were.  Thankfully, this is a beginners class, so I’m not expected to know anything.

But I wanted to know this: Were my classmates all true beginners, too?  As Steve came to each person’s station to be sure we had all the other devices we needed, one of my classmates said, “I have a hostess question for you, if that’s okay.”

“Sure!” I said.  I can’t tell you what joy I derive from being a resource to people – someone they can go to  for the answer to a question.  It was one of the things I loved about my park ranger job, too.

“I’m staying locally with my wife and parents,” he explained.  “We rented a cabin.  I see there are evening activities here – can they come to those?”

“Definitely,” I told him.  “They can come to the demonstrations in the afternoons, too.  They can come anytime and take a look at what you’re doing, or walk around to the other studios and see what else is going on.”

My woodturning classmate gave me a look that said he wasn’t so sure he wanted the family around that much.  So I changed the subject and got into what I really wanted to know.  “So have you ever done this before?” I asked him.

“Nope.  This is my first time,” he said.  I was relieved.  Sometimes experienced folks take beginner classes – because it was the only week they could come, or because they like the instructor, or they just want some studio time.  This is fine because sometimes these folks are another resource for you, but can also be intimidating.

Turns out none of my classmates have ever done this before.  But all three have something very unusual in common: they’re all here thanks to birthday gifts.  One guy got a trip here as a gift from his wife.  One guy gave it as a birthday gift to himself.  How fabulous.  I’m a big fan of giving yourself a birthday gift.

“How’d you hear about this place?” I ask him.  It’s my default conversation-starter here at the Folk School.  (On a plane, I ask “Are you coming or going?”  When I was a park ranger, it was “Where are you visiting from?”)

“I picked up a catalog in a doctor’s office about twenty years ago,” he explained.  “I’ve gotten the catalogs on and off since then.  Next month’s my birthday so I decided it was finally time to come.”

So here they are: three men celebrating their birthdays.  With me:)

 

Things You Wouldn’t See Back Home

“Cheap Cigarettes” – words you’d expect in the window of a gas station, but in the foyer of a library?  $1.50 a pack for Seneca cigarettes it said.  He had examples to show me it said.  Wish I’d taken a picture of that sign for you all to see….

Craving chocolate, I stopped by the local drug store.  No luck in the front of the store, so I wandered to the back where I found I could buy a hot dog at the snack bar.  A couple of people occupied the stools in front of the counter.  A quick glance at the menu overhead told me they weren’t selling chocolate.  That, combined with the “you’re-not-from-around-here” looks the counter staff gave me caused me to move toward the pharmacy.  Bingo.

Oh, but if it were only that easy.  Time moves differently down here.  So I patiently waited as the woman in front of me was helped – not just with her prescription, but then to a nearby bench because she’d been standing on her bad leg too long.  “And can you get me a bigger bag so I can put all my stuff in it?” she asked the pharmacist, who eagerly attended to her every need.  My father would have made some under-his-breath comment at this point, but I have a little of my mother’s patience in me as well, so I didn’t mind waiting – all the more time to decide between a Milky Way and Peanut M&M’s.  I chose the latter – priced at seventy-three cents.  Seventy-eight with tax.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve gotten a candy bar for less than a dollar.  But even more peculiar was this:  other candy bars were seventy or seventy-seven cents.  I can only imagine the guy that pores over the books for this place.

Adelaide and I then headed back to the Folk School.  For those of you that don’t know, she conked out the day after I got here.  With a jump, she could get going, but then lose all her power after an overnight in the parking lot.  She’s back to working now.  But there’s a big hole where my radio used to be.  But that’s a story for another day.  The important thing is that today, I got a much-needed top-down drive into town.

In other news, I’m taking a spinning class this weekend.  When I told this to my youngest sister last night, I felt the need to qualify that statement: Spinning as in wool, not bikes.  For those of you that still have no idea, go back to your childhood fairy tale books and re-read Sleeping Beauty.  Pay careful attention to the part where she pricks her finger…

Another Job

I dropped my bag onto the bathroom floor and closed the door behind me.  As I pulled off my jeans and stepped into a silky  red halter dress I’d borrowed, I overheard the instructor telling her students, “The model is in the bathroom getting ready.”   This was the first time in my life I’d ever been referred to as a model.  For a moment I felt displaced.  Then, I reassured myself.  This  wasn’t a photo shoot for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.  This was a portrait painting class.  And by the end of today, each of the five students in the class would add to their collection a portrait they painted of me.

My bracelets dangled as I dabbed on some eyeliner.  As I held the mascara brush up to my eyelashes, I could hear the instructor guiding her students as they mixed their paints.

I dropped my makeup back into its case and stuffed my jeans and T-shirt into my bag.  I took a deep breath and opened the door.

“Oh, you look beautiful,” someone said as I walked into the studio.

“What a gorgeous dress,” someone else said.  Well, I could get used to all these complements, I thought.

I accepted their words with a smile and stepped up onto the pedestal.  I sat in the same position I’d seen the instructor sitting in when I walked in that morning:  feet flat and together, knees off to the left, hands in my lap, head turned slightly to the right.

“Remember, you’ll be sitting this way for a few hours, so find a position that feels best for you,” she told me.  I asked for a second cushion on my seat.  After placing it on the chair, to the class she said, “You never want your model to be uncomfortable.”  There is was again – the word model. 

The instructor adjusted the light and asked her students if they felt it was positioned correctly.  All eyes were on me.  Being the center of attention is nothing new to me – I’ve been a teacher and a tour guide.  But when they are studying you, looking at the shadows on your face, it feels a little different.

The instructor encouraged the students to move their easels to get the view they desired.  Again, their eyes darted between their easels and me.

“Can I move closer?  Is there enough room?” a student asked.

“Of course you can move closer.  I’ve taught in rooms with thirty students surrounding a model – there’s plenty of room in here,” she said.

She then approached me with a roll of duct tape in her hand.  “I’m going to put tape down to mark where the chair is and where your shoes are,” the instructor explained to me.  “I guess I can’t use tape to mark your hand position,”  she said.

I had already thought about that.  “I’ll just remember that I’m holding these four fingers with my other hand,” I said as I showed her.  “Oh, good,” she responded.

I picked something to focus on – the white label on the fire extinguisher hanging near the sink.

Me, in my pose, with Paul and Rachel at work, and Julia's portrait-in-progress

The instructor went over how the day would work.  I would hold my position for twenty minutes and then get a five minute break.  After a couple hours, I’d get a fifteen minute break. We would take our lunch, and then do the same thing that afternoon for three more hours.

As the students continued to prepare their paints and adjust their easels, the teacher said, “You know, there are people who make a career out of this – they move from art school to art school.  You could make a lot of money.”

I knew, of course, that those models posed nude.  I wasn’t ready for that yet.  But added it to my mental list of possible future jobs to try.

At 9:40AM, the timer started.  For twenty minutes I stared at the white label on the fire extinguisher.  During breaks I talked with the students, all of whom had some painting experience but varying levels of portrait painting experience. I accepted compliments on my ability to assume the exact same pose every time we started a new session, and on how my hair seemed to fall into exactly the same place each time.  That, I confessed, was a conscious effort on my part not to run my hand through my hair and change the part in any way.

“What did you think about while you were up there?” one of the students asked me the next day.

“Well, I was thinking about how, in eighth grade, I sat alone in the cafeteria at lunch.  It was my first time going to public school and I didn’t know anyone.  Nowadays, I’d just go up to a group and ask if I could join them.  But back then I was very shy and scared.  Soon I learned I could get a pass to the library during lunch.  Eventually I changed my schedule so I didn’t even have a lunch period.  And then I was thinking about how amazing it is that I’m now up here on a pedestal being referred to as a model.  If you told me that back then, I never would have believed it.”

Perhaps you’re wondering how it is I ended up in this position – that of being a model for a painting class, I mean.  Well, the girl who was supposed to do it moved and they needed one or two people.  Since my position as host is not compensated monetarily in any way, my supervisor thought I’d be interested in this as it paid a nice little sum.  So I took a day off from hunting down census records for my genealogy class, borrowed a dress from one of the work study students, and spent a day having a whole new experience in the painting studio.  And you know how I love to try new things.

Modeling for a painting class was never on my list of things I wanted to do, but that’s what great about life.  You’re given opportunities to do things you never even thought about.  And if you’re me, you take advantage of a lot of them:)  And then have another story to tell….

Here are some of the finished products.