An Early Formative Experience

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Photo by Sole D’Alessandro G. on Unsplash

I read once that Francis Ford Coppola had an illness when he was a teen that kept him in his bedroom for a year. To keep himself from going crazy at what he couldn’t do, he used to create puppets or characters and stage plays in his room. No doubt this staging and directing on a small scale contributed to his achievements in Hollywood, which included hits like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.

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Painting by the author.

On a smaller scale I had a bout with pneumonia in seventh grade which contributed in no small way to making me who I am. There were five weeks left in seventh grade when I learned that I had pneumonia and that I would have to stay home and rest. Frankly, I did not feel ill. It was a form of walking pneumonia, so I didn’t have a strong incentive to stay housebound. When my mother came home from work she’d find me continually in the woods behind our house or doing things in the yard when I was supposed to be “at rest.” The doctor explained that it appeared the only way to keep me inactive, short of shackles, was to hospitalize me.

After five days in the Somerset Hospital I was released back to the custody of my parents, whereupon I was constantly reminded that if I did not rest and stay in the house I would be back in the hospital.

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Drawing by the author, 1968.

Evidently my parents recognized that I needed something to keep me busy, and they bought me a paint-by-numbers set. The set had two paintings of a pair of Springer spaniels, along with all the appropriate paraphernalia to make them. A card table was set up in the family room and I allowed myself to become mesmerized by what was involved in creating these paintings, which ultimately hung on the wall of that room for several years.

You may scoff at paint-by-numbers art, but the whole procedure is quite instructive. First off, you come to understand that what you see up close and from a suitable distance is different. You learn attention to detail, and you learn patience. If nothing else, you learn how to control a brush, how paint adheres to a surface, how appearances are deceiving, and maybe how long it takes to get bored with an activity that is tedious and time consuming. Some people may not have the patience, though frankly, the process of putting paint on a surface still fascinates me to this day and I can’t imagine ever getting bored with it.

After my bout with pneumonia I did not immediately become an artist. Baseball was my passion at that time. Later in high school, while feeling introspective and somewhat alienated, I returned to my art, inspired by album covers and the works of Hieronymus Bosch.

In college I continued my pursuit of an art major and this, combined with my habit of writing about anything and everything I was associated with, led to a career in advertising. It only follows that my blog would be representative of these same twin passions, writing and art. The B&W image at the top is that first paint by numbers picture from the weeks I rested and recovered from my pneumonia. The face below is an early drawing from high school.

Can you recall an early formative experience that contributed, in unexpected ways, to who you are today?

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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