Thumb Suckers

Thumb Suckers

“Do You Ever?”
— oil painting on canvas —

At the start of my first semester at NCSU’s Design School I was battling expectations, reality, and doubt. I entered my first studio and immediately felt a blanket of lead drape around my insides. I stuck out like a sore thumb surrounded by the freshly sucked thumbs of infants. The class was the first studio for all design students, which meant, a bunch of freshmen, which meant, me and the professor were the only people in a room of 30 that had ever stepped a legal foot into a bar, and everyone noticed. In my eyes, I felt I had traveled back in time 3 years. It might not seem like a big difference, but I had already tossed myself to the wolves and survived. These babies with their cutsie first-day-of-school outfits and brand new pencil pouches knew nothing of the real world for an artist.

It was a rough semester. I didn’t befriend a single student. I didn’t want to. And I expect, they didn’t want to either. The kids were terrified of me and my barefoot confidence. The closest I got to interacting with a student was after playing the lead role of a rumor going around about my relationship with a professor. Tis’ true, I had developed quite the relationship with my professor, but unfortunately, it didn’t involve sex.

I met… let’s call him “Sherman”, after the first day of “Design Thinking”. It was a lecture hall required for every first-year design student, so about 100 kids. I waltzed in, late, no shoes, barely any clothes, carrying a longboard, and plopped down on the front row. Sherman nodded his head in a sassy, “glad you could join us” type of manner and continued lecturing. After class, I remained seated as all the children funneled through the exit at once. He approached me and asked,

“Where are you from?” You’re obviously not from around here.”

I could tell he wanted me to say in some sexy accent that I was from a European country (he was from France), but instead I took it as an opportunity to engage with his comment about my out-casting behavior.

“I just transferred here from New York.”

He said, “You’re an art student, I can tell.”

I felt my armpits prickle at the mention of his observance of my appearance.

“I am.”

The conversation wrapped up quickly for it seemed he had somewhere to be. The next class, I pretended to immerse myself in my phone screen until the kids filed out the door. Again, he approached me a prodded some more into my life.

This interaction occurred about five more times until he decided I was worth a directly intentional conversation and invited me into his office.

We met every Monday before class for an hour. The conversations always began with fake dialogue about class until they veered off into a more interesting direction.

“You seem nervous.”

He said this one meeting.

“I am.”

He smirked. That was enough. I forgot how to comfortably sit in a chair and proceeded to melt away until I was only a puddle of fumbling words and sweaty palms.

These conversations were the only stakes in my life that kept my grounded and from flying off the handlebars. Sherman was my rock. He kept my head above the sewage by guiding me around the useless and meticulous obstacles in which undergrad professors are typically so fond of. That doesn’t mean, however, that I breezed flawlessly through design classes. Oh no, I said my head was about the water, breathing, but everything else was submerged. After all, I was a grungy artist entering the territories of “design”.

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