Art Is Life

And Lack of It Almost Killed Me

Story and Photos by Jessica Tookey

A curly-headed little girl barely old enough to hold a pencil began to draw and to write under the tutelage of her older sister, using her left hand. This little girl was me. My sister taught me to write before I started school, and my grandfather said I sent him picture stories before I could write letters to him. I never encountered an adult who wanted to change me until kindergarten. My teacher decided I should switch to my right hand, because I held the pencil incorrectly in my left. Many years later, when I found this out, I was annoyed with that teacher for not allowing me to be me. At the time, I had no idea she would be the first of many well-meaning adults who wanted to change me, although her interference did turn out to be a blessing, which I’ll explain later.

I excelled in all things artistic. I joked that I was so good at it because my family was boring. They really weren’t, but as a child, I thought they were. Whenever we visited family, I would get bored out of my mind sitting there (we had to stay inside and “spend time” with each other). Rather than sit and twiddle my thumbs like everyone else, I brought my sketchbook. I would make a drawing in my grandparents’ house and then give it to someone when it was time to leave. Everyone always told little me I was very good and I would reply excitedly, “I’m going to be an artist when I grow up.” Yet it seemed the adults never failed to smash my dreams by saying, “That’s a great hobby, but what are you going to do for a real job?” Throughout elementary school, the well-meaning adults in my life—teachers and family—continued to try to guide me to a “real job,” until I felt completely lost. I knew in my heart I was an artist, but they kept telling me I couldn’t be one when I grew up.

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