In The Classroom

In The Classroom

At the Stony Brook University Southampton Campus, under the direction of my creative writing instructor, the well-known (actually, he corrected me –-“FAMOUS, Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Author-Illustrator”) Jules Feiffer, in a class called “Humor & Truth,” our first assignment was to write about being in an “uncomfortable” situation. I pondered the topic for about two seconds when I came up with – Gee, it’s this assignment! I’m halfway there, for that’s the Truth part.

My entire life, being in any classroom has made me extremely uncomfortable; and I guess sensing others being uncomfortable is kinda humorous, right? So, there I have it – Humor and Truth. What is “funny,’ anyway? Isn’t humor in the eye of the beholder? Or does that only apply to Art? Well, hold on, I’ll get to my past experience with Art in a moment. Back to Mr. F’s class, where I felt unprepared, without my own schtik – I was schtik-less, not a leg or a schtik to stand on. And I felt I had to do standup – me a self-proclaimed manic-depressive.

“I wish I was somewhere else…” I mumbled under my breath. Nobody heard me, I’m sure; they were all too busy jotting down all their ideas for the assignment, every other individual with their imaginary Ph.D. light bulbs aglow above their heads.

Ahh, back to my artistic abilities: I remember when I first dabbled in Art. I think someone had given me a Bob Ross starter kit. I was all set with easel, canvases, paints and brushes – the works. Then, I had this ingenious idea to actually register for college courses in the subject.

It started with “the egg.” That’s right, the incredible, edible egg, that plain oval-shaped, pale and colorless object void of texture or depth., Alas, I was so wrong, as we were instructed to use all our pencils; but I only had one for my three-hour-long course – the good old standard #2 SAT type. I was unprepared. I never knew there was such magnitude and variety of “the pencil.” I diligently watched the second hand on the clock gently tick-tocking on the wall above me.

“Draw,” the teacher said. Draw what? I looked around the room; was I the only novice in sight? Were they all eggs-perts? They certainly seemed busy enough, sketching and cross-hatching that stupid egg. I, on the other hand, sat there for a long while before my blank drawing pad. I think I had enough time to figure out which came first the chicken or the freakin egg before me; enough time to lay my own.

Through the classroom window, the sun shined its beam right on my talent-less face, through the classroom second story window, like a spotlight on a criminal in the interrogation room. “Is it hot in here?” I asked the annoying eggheads around me. No one answered. They were all absorbed in their work. What work? There was no work to be seen, to be had, to bluff even, not for me, the rookie artisan. After I finally got some sort of configuration of a stretched-out ball onto my blank page, I wondered why I hadn’t read the course description more carefully. Who was I kidding? I was not an artist!

The next class I took was even tougher – “Intro in the Human Body.” What was I thinking? I was thinking the models would be clothed, that’s what! Not that there’s anything wrong with the human body, of course; it’s just that I didn’t necessarily want to study it, decipher it, draw it, especially if it belonged to a stranger. Thank God I didn’t have to touch it. Thank God I didn’t go into the medical field.

One model looked to be about 80-something and kind of resembled a big old timid turtle that had lost its shell. Should I draw a shell on his back? No, that was not part of the lesson plan. Luckily, he was wearing a Speedo. When he tired, another male model came upon the stool, a younger, more cocky one, totally Speedo-less, and who I wished wore a shell. I couldn’t look! I looked everywhere but where I was supposed to look. I longed for the egg. Please, give me the egg back – I could do wonders with that egg now – I just know I could … please, the egg … the eeeggg!!!

Ahh, finally, the words I needed to hear. “Pencils down.” I was smiling, getting ready to pack up and leave, then noticed we still had another hour to go. At the same time I asked myself, What could be more humiliating than the task I had just finished? I’ll tell you what – when each student had to go around in groups and critique each other’s work. It was agony in slow motion. Why hadn’t I taken “Art Appreciation” instead? When they came around to my work of art, heads were turning and twisting, this way and that, contorting to make out my piece de resistance. Believe me, I resisted! One student moved in closer and pointed. “What is that?” I turned red, and gave an I-dunno shrug, wondering if any students had ever questioned Picasso.

So, here I was in Jules Feiffer’s classroom, all those years later, and I see that I managed to get myself into another fine mess…’Write,” he says. Write what? I think. I am not a writer! I stare at the blank page before me. Well, once again, here’s to egg on my face.

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Janet Berg

Janet Lee Berg is a novelist and a blogger, who is known for her freelance writing on the east end of Long Island, NY, including Dan’s Papers. Keep an eye out for the release of her upcoming novel Rembrandt's Shadow, a Holocaust-related story about Sylvie Rosenberg, the privileged daughter of a prominent Dutch art dealer, who never knows her father's love until the day he trades his beloved Rembrandt to the Nazis in exchange for her life.
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