I can’t remember it, but I believe it. Mrs. Bonfonti had been trying to convince me to put my shoes back on for several days. Every time I would come into her class, I would be wearing two shoes. But somewhere throughout the course of the day, I would suddenly be barefoot, walking around the room and talking to other kids, working with blocks and playing with the Playskool kitchen as any kindergartner would. Apparently this was such a grievous incident that it came up in a parent-teacher conference.
I can just imagine how that went.
“Pilar won’t keep her shoes on.”
“Well, she’s creative.”
“A lot of kids are creative who still keep their shoes on.”
I’m sure my mother was very offended. She must have been because she still talks about it today as if someone had called me a mental defective at the time. I don’t take it that seriously, but I can remember disliking Mrs. Bonfonti heavily after that. She seemed bony and dry. Why didn’t she want me to enjoy life? I enjoyed life without shoes. Why didn’t she understand that?
I tended to be remarkably honest with people at that age. And maybe a little rude. I remember asking that same teacher who had lobbied for my shoes, about her feminine “pouch” that sits right beneath her bellybutton.
“What is that?” I pointed to her belly.
“What is what?”
“Why do you have that bump?” I was curious because I liked it. I thought it was something interesting about her, that she always wore high-waisted pants and right where she buttoned those pants started the half-moon bump of her feminine belly.
“I stuff tissues in there.”
I have since come to realize that this was a lie.
So what does it mean, I wonder still, that I was considered creative so young… or “gifted and talented,” as they began to call us in the 90’s? Why does one child enter 1st grade early while another is kept back? Why does one child get placed into a class where the teacher will nourish and encourage the specific gifts of the individual, and another gets placed in a class where his/her creativity will be stifled? Obviously there are socio-economic and gender values that are related here. But I just want to talk about relationships and encouragement.
Mrs. Bonfonti is not to be blamed. Keeping my shoes on was a way that she wanted to keep me safe. I have since been told by numerous guardians and caretakers to keep my shoes on. In France, they told me to wear slippers. In Mexico, they told me my colds were due to the fact that I never wore shoes. This isn’t a closed issue. My kindergarten teacher was not trying to stifle my creativity. She was trying to make sure I was safe.
And let’s face it. Nothing that anyone did could stop the ramble of my mind that wanted (and still wants) to make, to be recognized for creation, to be bright. I can’t really go more than a few days without writing something, singing a song or just making one up on a walk, inventing characters or thinking about ones that other people have invented, editing my own writing or other people’s, taking pictures of things, even organizing events is a creative process to me. It’s making. I make. That’s what I do.
Maybe even before I stepped (bare)foot into kindergarten, I’ve been creative in different ways. Throughout my education, I took everything from basic drawing and composition to film and editing. I’ve taken acting classes, singing lessons, piano for years. I’ve played the violin, the cello, the guitar, and I have a fascination with synth sounds and electronic keyboards. I’ve been in orchestras, bands, plays, films. I’ve been an editor of a newspaper, editor of a film, writer of a novel, writer of movies, director, camera person. I have 5,000 photographs. I have about 25 journals since age 9 stored up in a plastic bin. The first of which was a goody bag gift at a friend’s sleepover birthday party with Simba from the Lion King on it. I still have it and I think about on a regular basis. I’ve read it a hundred times.
I had varying levels of respect and encouragement for this creativity. The primary encouragers are of course my parents. My parents are writers anyway, so I was a lost cause from the start. Neither of my parents are visual artists. That just popped out of my head. Also, they don’t call themselves artists. But I grew up around their friends who did call themselves artists. I think my parents are artists, but they are conservative ones. They are concerned with home life and family. They make sacrifices and are not self-absorbed. These are hard things for artists to avoid.
Then there were teachers and peers. Beyond Mrs. Bonfanti, my elementary educators were environmentalist and peace activist Mrs. Harmon; there was Ms. Casey who encouraged me to write my first short story and then read it in chapters to the class; there was Mrs. Rooney who chose me as a lead in our class play. Later I had friends, peers and mentors in school and college who encouraged, workshopped, and collaborated on my work. I’ve even begun to be paid for it. And that’s when, *I think!*, we begin to call ourselves professionals. Hopefully.
I lucked out because I was placed in special classes that nurtured my abilities. I was blessed to find friends and relationships that strengthened my passions and cultivated my art forms. But what I don’t know is if I had not been given opportunity in these primary grades, would I have still turned out as apt to make and create as I still am today? Would I have the confidence and the gumption to seek out resources and support for my projects? I do believe that the first responses to your creativity are the most important. But I also think that creativity is a seed-bearing plant. Even if the first crop gets cut down, a new one should spring up if watered by inspiration. And that is what is really so divine and important about creativity. It’s natural for a child to believe that creative expression is fun, novel, and noteworthy. It’s an inherent state of being for a human. It comes back, again and again.
So, hopefully those shoes will end up back on the floor.