Quiet Desperation

The past keeps populating the present


For the past year and a half, old acquaintances I haven’t heard from in five, ten, fifteen and even twenty years have written to me.

Has the same thing been happening to you?

Most have been former students. There are over 10,000 of them. It’s possible some of them are re-evaluating the time we spent together in the perspective of maturity; i.e., maybe I wasn’t such a (expletive deleted) after all.

Perhaps others want to know if I am still alive.

These reunions have a short shelf life.

They last for an afternoon, a couple of days, a week at most.

Once we have provided updates, they enter an odd phase of wondering, “Where is this going?”

Often they begin with, “You might not remember me.”

Often I don’t.

Schoolteachers, especially at the college level, encounter an extraordinary range of individuals.

I’m convinced college art teachers encounter the most (unusual) individuals.

Art attracts all kinds. Misfits, flakes, dilettantes.

Also focused, committed, insightful.

Any one of the classes I taught could have had its story made into a film.

Invariably, there was both drama and conflict.

Because art is a subjective experience, students often distrust their grades.

Low grades were generally a result of absences, failures to complete projects, or drawing a shoe when the assignment was to draw a fish.

But taking personal responsibility for a low grade requires an ability to be honest some don’t have until later on.

“I realize now the grade you gave me was deserved. Sorry I stuck a screwdriver in your tire, Mr. Smith.”

The subjectivity I refer to doesn’t occur in math classes.

Two plus two always equal four. If a student answers “Nine,” well, they’re wrong.

How can one drawing of an apple be better than another? Trust me, it can.

Many of the emails I’ve received have been heartwarming. I am, despite a contrary illusion, a sentimentalist.

Some messages are comical, some poignant.

“My husband and I stay together for the kids, I have been vaccinated, but he refuses, the dog is incontinent, I haven’t picked up a drawing pencil since your class, goodbye.”

“You always played music while we were drawing. I heard a song today you used to play. It brought back some good memories.”

Perhaps that’s why I have been hearing from people out of the blue: good memories.

Since, oh, 2016, the scrapbook has not been filled with jollity.

Unless you are The Amazing Criswell it’s impossible to remember the future.

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember what I had for breakfast.

But somewhere in the brain’s reliquary are enduring memories.

I’ve been reminiscing about Little League baseball. My dental assistant’s son is 8. He’s playing T-ball.

I played T-ball when I was 8. The following year we had pitchers on the mound.

My team was unbeaten for two years.

I still have my glove. It’s my “Rosebud,” if you get the film reference.

After Little League, Life came along.

The internet makes these reunions much easier than they once were. You can find almost anyone now, unless they have changed their name.

There’s an artist named Grow Love. Her name used to be Robyn Frances. If you’re looking for Robyn Frances, look for Grow Love instead.

Saul Bellow: “Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.”

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.

Old acquaintances, Craig Marshall Smith, past and present


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