A test: Out of the box – Isthme

I park in the same parking spot that I use most days of the week, the one painted with the white wheelchair depicted in robin egg blue located directly across from The Stream, the arts building at Edgewood College.

The building itself is modern and gorgeous, with a spiral staircase visible through a clear glass facade. I take my bag out of the passenger seat and roll it around the building. I rush past the sculptures and artwork and take the elevator to the second floor and room 202, where I spend most of my days.

Some days I feel a bit embarrassed – my invisible disabilities (I have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome) mean I sometimes use the elevators, a rolly-pack, and the accessible parking space. But once I get to room 202, the main classroom in the art therapy department adjacent to the office of her supervising teacher, Molly Tomony, I tend to relax. It’s a small department, a department where we all know each other by name. We filter in and out of Molly’s office and classroom like worker bees around a queen, entering and leaving classes in painting, lifespan development, ceramics and psychotherapy.

I had spent my life making art – everything from scribbling around the edges of notebooks to painting in swirling abstract acrylics. When life turned bleak in my 30s and early 40s, art therapy brought me through an eating disorder, substance abuse issues, and the devastating death of my partner. I knew the power of art and I knew I had to find a way to bring that light to the surface for others. Edgewood has grown into one of the few undergraduate art therapy programs in the Midwest.

Thanks to COVID, my first full year at Edgewood was spent in a “highly flexible” format: classes were offered live and online simultaneously, and students and faculty were given the choice of attending one or more. the other format. It made for an interesting learning experience. In some classes, teachers gave lessons from their kitchens, dogs and children scurrying through the background, while masked students sat six feet apart in a classroom. campus class. Likewise, some teachers were on campus lecturing in front of a screen full of small students in plazas.

In a way, I was thankful for the high-flex model. As a returning non-traditional student, I was frankly, well … terrified. I was in the process of transferring from Madison College, where I had been taking classes here and there for years, and I was also enrolled in UW-Madison as a single mom in my 30s, so I wasn’t foreign to school. Yet entering Edgewood at 49 was very different from Madison College, where half the students were non-trades, and UW, when I still felt young enough to claim an element of cool. This time I felt old.

It didn’t help that my daughter was enrolling in college at the same time. Our family friends were half joking that we could hang out in cafes and have sleepless nights together. I recoiled inwardly thinking about the last time I hadn’t slept for 24 hours, I was ready to drop the nuclear apocalypse on anyone who irritated me slightly. We would not have sleepless nights.

As it turned out, I was not the only non-traditional student at Edgewood; there were many of us. And I started to observe a strange phenomenon among us. We weren’t afraid to talk in class. I can’t pinpoint the exact cause: maybe because we’re peers, if not older, than teachers. Or maybe it is the experience of a lifetime to draw on to answer questions. Or maybe it’s just that we’re more likely to have our homework done than, say, a freshman.

Whatever the reason, it turns out that many non-traditional students speak first and answer the most questions. As a result, we bring to the table deep knowledge that young people who have just entered university may not have. Understanding this and familiarizing myself with Edgewood on the high flex model made me realize that there was nothing to worry about.

In August, Edgewood returned to face-to-face teaching. I was nervous again: it meant longer days on campus, a challenge for me. But I have plunged into a very busy semester. So far, meeting people beyond the tiny boxes on the screen has been mostly positive. I only felt embarrassed or out of place maybe 20 percent of the time. And I quickly found my place among the occupants of room 202.

Going back to school has been one of the most positive experiences of my forties. It gave me new faith in the next generation, which impresses me every moment. We’re in good hands, folks.

Still, going back to college in your 40s is not for the faint of heart. The hours are crappy and the pay is horrible. Having to squint at a computer screen six hours a day to do homework is difficult, even with bifocals. I drink a lot more caffeine than I should and live on protein bars that I eat between classes.

But I wouldn’t withdraw this decision for the world. Art therapy opens new doors for me, new worlds. I am thriving and my mind is a sponge for learning in a way it never was when I was younger. Someday this education will allow me to bring some healing to the world, and it’s worth it. But I still draw the line to sleepless nights. I need my beauty rest. m

Rene Livingston-DeTienne, poet, freelance writer and full-time student, lives in east Madison with his wife, daughter and four unruly little dogs.

If you are interested in writing a personal essay for Isthmus, please question [email protected]

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