My lull in employment this fall (I’m currently sponging off Paul and sending off job and post-doc application packets) has meant a return to my calligraphy hobby, something I had to give up with the pressure of finishing my Ph.D. got out of hand. I’ve missed it.
For the past month I’ve been taking a six week course in the foundational hand from a new calligraphy teacher. Changing teachers is always hard — I was used to my previous teacher’s style of having us turn in homework and her handing it back each week with red pen marks. (This became the basis of a scene Paul and I did during my gothic calligraphy class.) My current teacher has us put our homework up on the board and then we all gather around and critique it. Since I’ve had less than a year’s worth of classes as a beginner, while the women I’m studying with are advanced students, many of whom have been studying calligraphy for more than fifiteen years, saying they’re a lot better than me hardly covers it. Add to that my having started this class two weeks late and it’s safe to say I’m at the very bottom of my course. Most embarrassing moment? Having to be shown how to properly line paper using a special calligraphic lining tool and t-square. I’m still not clear how it works and still painstakingly rule each page by hand, too self-conscious to ask to have it explained again.
Let me be quick to say that the other students and teacher have been nothing but supportive and enthusiastic about my work. But after being at the very top of my beginner’s classes, it’s quite a change to find myself the worst in class. I’ve had to stop comparing my work to others and live by a mantra “this is my best at the moment.” I hadn’t realized how important being at the top of classes was to my student identity until now that I’ve had to face the stark fact that not only am I at the bottom, but there’s no way in the forseeable future I’m ever going to be the best in this class. I am not teacher’s pet. One thing that hasn’t changed in the time I’ve been away from lettering is how much I love it. When I found myself too emotional to letter the other evening (hands were shaking), I started to cry at the sense of loss.
As ever, the class provides fodder for fantasies. This past week the other students and teacher were talking about other teachers around the country with whom they’d studied. I ventured the fact we may be moving to the UK in the next couple years. My teacher, who has studied all over the world said their were wonderful calligraphers and calligraphy teachers in England. But she added, I’d find them much more bound to tradition and stricter about historical forms than teachers in the US, especially those out here in creative California. Given my long-simmering story (yes, I will write it someday I’m sure) about a recent literature Ph.D. from California (someone say a lot like me) who for various complex reasons is given the chance to study with an extremely talented but very untraditionally traditional English calligraphy master, I became distracted by my fantasy world for the rest of the conversation.
Daydreaming in class on top of everything else. Ever the naughty schoolgirl.