Think Miss Frizzle as an English teacher, that’s Mrs. Barton. She was the zanniest adult that I had ever encountered…and she changed my world on so many levels. Mrs. Barton is the first person who spoke directly to the artist in me. It was sort of our secret. I think she spotted that well camouflaged streak in me the first time we met…She was always searching out brethren. I was not the outgoing singer, dancer, performer type. Yes, I could give a speech or oral report well, I could be in front…but my giftings weren’t really there. She knew that I loved to read and she had to suffer through my papers so I guess it showed itself somehow in such.
Mrs. Barton first introduced me to theatre. She took us to plays after school. Our parents had only to drop us off and she met us at the local venues. She opened my eyes to another way of living: free and uninhibited, though often through another’s experience. I remember in 7th grade thinking How do I throw off this accountant type persona – and be that? the artist? How do I free myself of all this weight and responsibility and prudence? A few years later when I reached high school and watched the drama kids from the respectable distance of a student council president, I thought about the many silent challenges Mrs Barton had made to me, every time she took me to those performances, Be an artist, I dare you, do it! I so badly wanted to…but I had set my course and relations and they would have none of it…So I watched in envy for years and years…and years. I have a “Me Book.” I got it when I was six. It has all these preferences which the owner fills in. They address things like: My favorite food is__________, I like the color_____________, and I like to wear______________. The book then addresses future goals. When I grow up I want to play what instrument _____________. When I grow up I want to be a_________________. I am, like most of my family, not musically inclined. It has been my worse subject in school, the only thing that I did not readily master in my academic career. I put down in the “Me Book” ( and I really meant it) I want to play the guitar. In a big steady hand I penned, “I want to be an artist.” I somehow knew even then it was impossible, we didn’t do things like that in my family. But I wrote the words anyway. I had to. That line in my book was my secret desire…how I saw myself, who I knew I was to be. I wrapped and protected that desire for years and years. I held the dream close to my vest to protect it. I whispered to it regularly, …one day. One day…when the responsibility slackens, when there is time and permission is not needed, one day…I will feed you, little fire…I promise…one day I will. Mrs. Barton stoked that little fire in me…when no one else even knew to. Somehow she saw it. I remember that everyone loved her as a teacher. Her class was so fun. I learned a lot about creative writing ( I hope). But I don’t remember many specifics about her class. I just remember being so glad to be in there, with her, breathing this air that was different from all other, air that just seemed to better suit my lungs. I conciously breathed that fortified oxygen in deep, so afraid that I would have no more for a long, long time. I didn’t. All through high school, my favorite teacher was Mrs. Lubbs, who was a scream and so like Mrs. Barton in many wonderful ways. She taught speech which I had to take, and drama, a door I never darkened…but peeked around every chance I got. I couldn’t go in… I knew that I would never come back out. All the plans for my future: business degrees and security would be cast to the wind…I knew I was one whom the first drink addicted. So, I turned down the wine extended and poured myself a water. And I survived …but joylessly.