09 July 2016

An interesting list for July

I've been sporadically participating in the "Every Day" Facebook challenges, although I never manage to make a sketch every single day. Still, the creative prompts occasionally inspire me, so I always join up and check in. For Every Day in July, though, I had a reaction to the list provided by this month's moderator.

There wasn't anything wrong with it...if you were white, over 50, and had roots in a rural or suburban lifestyle of a certain kind. Rather than make a list of things she thought would be good art prompts, she made a list of her fondest memories of July, and since July is the "home" of Independence Day, many of them included patriotic prompts (red, white and blue, flags, firecrackers) and summer nostalgia hearkening back to a simpler time and place (potato sack races, pollywogs, the County fair). As I said, nothing inherently wrong with it, but as I was perusing it, I thought about all the people for whom some of these things would draw a blank--non-Americans, to start with, and then people younger than 40, city dwellers who had never been to a County fair or seen a pollywog or knew who Smokey the Bear was, and so on. So, since the month hadn't yet started, I messaged her off-line (not wanting to say something potentially embarrassing to her in front of the 100+ members who had so far joined the page) and gently (I thought) suggested that the list might not be relatable to everyone.

The one prompt in particular that candidly set my teeth on edge was "Vacation Bible School." I thought it was inappropriate, given that many on the list might not be Christian, or might not have fond memories of that particularly American institution. (I certainly do not.) So I mentioned that to her, again trying to be tactful.

I got back a fairly pleasant message from her, saying that these were HER fond memories but anyone was welcome to substitute their memories if the ones she provided didn't resonate, to reinterpret the prompt to suit themselves, or to skip the prompt entirely if it made them uncomfortable. While this was a reasonable response, it did make me wonder why prompts would be provided if people couldn't relate to them...but I let it go.

Then she proceeded to post ON the list her dismay that someone had found her list "offensive." Since I had very carefully not used that word in my message to her, I found that disingenuous and self-serving. And of course there was an outpouring of sympathy for her, and a plethora of comments directed at my inflexibility, insensitivity, and lack of more important things with which to find fault. Fortunately for me, she didn't mention my name, so they weren't aimed directly at me, but still...not very nice.

So, when we got to July 8, which was the "Vacation Bible School" prompt, I made a picture to relieve my feelings. I hesitated about posting it, but then decided to go ahead, with an explanation to go with it:
At first I was going to skip this one, since for me (especially in retrospect) it is not a fond memory; but I decided instead to address it honestly. I was compelled to be part of a church from birth. At a fairly young age, I realized that Christianity wasn't for me, but my family gave me no choice in the matter, and where they went, I had to follow, until I was old enough to go my own way. So after 11 years of Vacation Bible School and three years of church camp, today I would like to share a sketch of what I would have liked to have been offered, had I had a choice.

I fully expected a hail of criticism and censure to rain down upon my head, but instead I got some unexpectedly refreshing comments. One person said she had left the group because she found the list "too American." Another asked, "Do lots of Americans go to Vacation Bible School? I find it a very strange concept." I got a "No kidding! I would have loved this summer camp!" and an "I love your humanist approach!"

Even from the people who had had good experiences at VBS and cherished their Christian backgrounds,  I got some nice shared memories followed by an "atta boy" for expressing my own. And there were a few who reminisced about parents who sent them and their siblings to church while staying home and getting drunk themselves, which made me realize there could have been far worse experiences than mine!

So--I'm glad I posted it. I never did "out" myself as the person who had "complained" (again, not my intention or my word), or said anything in response to the more unforgiving comments on that thread, but I imagine that a few people may have guessed that it's me, based on my Humanist Holidays bus!

I'm doing my best to reinterpret where I can (see my post above with the drawing of my neighborhood, with teensy little plastic flags, planted by the local realtor, in front of every house) and skip what I must. So I guess I am actually doing what the moderator suggested...but I look forward to another month with more universal prompts. (I really enjoyed the Beatles song prompts from June, which were, admittedly, a form of nostalgia for me! but which also had a more wide open interpretation.)

LePen .05 and watercolor.

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