The red line in the thermometer nailed to the front of the dusty, forty year old band saw ducked its head below the 10 degrees mark, as we continued to sand away at the bottom paint on the hull of an old fishing boat. Not faired in yet. Just keep sanding. My fingers were numb, but I couldn’t tell if it was from the buzz of the orbital, or the extreme cold in the shop. You could be at college you know, a voice whispered in my head. Drinking vanilla lattes and talking about philosophy.
But I had already done that—and I couldn’t deal with it—so I left. I went to University of Colorado Boulder for one semester, before I took a job as an apprentice at a wooden boat building and repair shop on a little island off Massachusetts. I packed my books, said goodbye to my friends, and to those glorious mountains, and went to this wintery, unheated place full of wooden planks, tin can coffee mugs, and the most wonderful, good-hearted people I had ever met.
It wasn’t the books that bothered me, nor the classes, nor the students—not even the vanilla lattes. I left because I felt that I hadn’t earned it. I felt as though I was merely there, a paper cut out, using her parent’s hard earned money to go to a University that I really only liked because of the mountains. I didn’t know what I wanted to pursue; I have always loved to learn, but I felt that there were ways to do that outside of the classroom.
Flecks of old paint flew into my mouth, and sneaked under the corners of my goggles and my hat. I wondered if I was just like that red line in the thermometer, ducking lower and lower until I couldn’t be seen. Was I hiding? No. I may not be earning a college degree, but I sure am earning something.
I had informed my parents, much to their dismay, that I was leaving college. And it was while I was there, in that wooden boat building shop, that I discovered what I really loved—something I had done my whole life, yet never really thought much of it. I wanted to purse art.
Even a sanding old paint contains art. Maybe this isn’t so bad, I thought, as the rough chips of paints began to conform to the beauty of the curved planks. At least this is real. Something real—that’s what I wanted. Not a degree, which is merely a piece of paper. Not a class, which discusses a world you have never actually seen.
That’s when I applied to art school. I poured my heart into that application. Smooth out the planks, make them beautiful, show off their curve—a great horizon. The one thing I didn’t like was the thought of how much it cost. Here, sanding paint and working with wood, I was earning money, but there? Use your hands and your tools, so this boat can go in the water come summer. Art schools are notoriously expensive, and who am I to rely on my parent’s money to get where I want to go? It just doesn’t seem right... This is your work. You are making this happen.
But the seasons carry on, and winter opens the door to let spring come through. Boats are painted, varnished, and launched. And that Spring, a letter came from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Not only was I accepted—I had received a full ride scholarship to attend. Was I going to go? Of course! And by the time I went, after knowing what its like to be cold, to work hard, to get covered in dirt and still keep smiling, I felt that at least now I had earned it more that I did before. And I felt that, more than anything, I would take full advantage of my opportunities there.
You never know what surprises may lie at the end of a well sanded plank of wood.