Three Strikes You're Out - AN ARTSY JOURNEY # 16
I could think of a hundred things I’d rather be doing on a frigid Thanksgiving eve than chasing after a wind-swept letter in Bismarck, North Dakota. Another gale blew and the letter leaped over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. I sprang into a jog and bounded for the gate. I drew a deep breath into my lungs, feeling the burn of the cold air.
It should take under two minutes to leave my back entrance, scoop mail out of the front door mailbox, and return. Yet, I had been chasing this letter for more than ten minutes, and it was farther away than I could toss a pumpkin pie, Frisbee-style.
I rushed through the gate, tripped, and sprawled face-down on the ground. November lawns in North Dakota are weather-beaten patches of brown. I picked myself up, knees and elbows stained.
Thankfully the runaway letter was wedged against the far side of the fence, trapped in the wire mesh. I didn’t have to run any longer. I hobbled across the crusty grass, snatched the letter, and headed into the apartment.
I held three pieces of mail – all had the promise of grandiose news!
For months I’d been working at ways to generate income that would let me survive in the visual arts and finish my marketing education. All along I did small things to save money. I’d cut my own hair. I’d have the cheap college cafeteria lunch special. If I did go out to dinner with friends I’d skip the entrée, order soup, and save ten dollars.
I had conquered the small ways to pinch pennies, but it was the big break that I was counting on to make my painstaking efforts pay off. Any one of these letters could do just that.
Which letter first?
-St. Alexius Medical Center.
-International Art Concepts, IAC.
-North Dakota State University.
I blew on my hands for warmth and shook my numb fingers. My arms were pebbled with goose bumps. I picked St. Alexius, fumbled with the envelope and finally ripped it open. “… sorry we will not be implementing the Alex the Cat comic strip series …”
My heart stung as much as my cold and thawing hands. I had poured my soul into cute and funny anecdotes of cartoon Alex. My idea was to purchase an actual newspaper advertisement, but the ad would be disguised as a comic strip. I thought it was an ingenious concept to mingle the good-will of Alex’s animation with the Sunday funnies. In 1990 hospitals didn't run ads, so what better way to promote St. Alexius than through humor? Instead the joke was on me.
The return address on the second letter was IAC, the business that had launched my cottage industry. The company had turned the apartment/art studio into a whirlwind. Powerhouses, Beth and Bobbie-Jean, painted, punched, and paper-cut more than a thousand crafty mini collages. The initial design exploded and we cranked out multiple orders. I had submitted a new floral design and we had recently shipped a small “trial run.” I was hoping for a large reorder.
With shaky hands, I struggled to open the letter from IAC. “… sorry we are discontinuing your flower-branch motif …” The letter escaped from my grip and plunged to the floor. Working for the national brand company, IAC, was like riding a Tsunami. Deadlines were fierce often needing me to suddenly increase staff, and then, like this termination of a design, halt all production and lay-off workers. I was drenched in a wave of nausea.
Dredging up some courage, I yanked open the third and last letter, from North Dakota State University, NDSU. “I’m sorry we will not be accepting your college application at this time …”
I momentarily stood paralyzed. It was a standardized form letter, yet the chicken-scratched signature scrawled at the bottom was personally signed by Clarence Berg, the department head of visual arts.
Slowly, I traced the letters with my finger, hoping the message would change. My thundering heart wanted the words to say: “we will be accepting.” My watery eyes told me the truth – “we will not be accepting.”
My mind came out of the daze, focusing on the frost-bitten NDSU trip to Fargo when Mr. Berg was not available for the scheduled appointment. I had returned home and telephoned Mr. Berg. He briskly instructed me to, “Submit slides of your artwork and I’ll review them.”
He clicked off the line before I could ask Mr. Berg any additional questions. So I submitted twenty-four pristine slides. I was very thorough. Twelve slides depicted my paintings and twelve slides detailed classroom assignments from my transfer school, Bismarck State College, BSC. Purposefully I included examples from advanced drawing to lettering to pottery to jewelry in an effort to support the grades on my transcript.
Then, meticulously on the typewriter, I pecked out titles, labeled each slide, and slid them into clear presentation sleeves. Beyond requirement, I enclosed my 4.0 grade-point-average academic admission slip, and a cover letter stating my interest to further learn and grow under his leadership.
Now, standing in my basement apartment, I shook the envelope. Empty, except for the rejection letter.
He hadn’t even returned my slides.
My goal had been to complete my education with a Bachelors of Art and Business, adding credibility to my marketing efforts. All I needed to achieve this goal was Mr. Berg’s approval.
This letter changed my life!
My legs trembled, and I felt myself spiral downward. I crashed into a folding chair. All along I had been nervous about being able to earn a living as an artist. I was certain the answer to my success was to complete my education.
The cold metal chair radiated a chill through me. The three rejection letters were at my feet along with my heart. I had taken a risk leaving nursing and entering the world of creativity.
It had been a risk of hope, one with the promise of something better. The journey hadn’t been easy, but taking a risk was never easy. These three letters proved that.
Anger overwhelmed me and I kicked the scattered letters. One flew up off the floor. I caught sight of my calendar – the one with commitments … and hopes. On the calendar were other risks I had planned to try. I had airline tickets for New York City to attend Art Expo – a risk that might allow me to move back to Michigan and live off the arts.
Then it dawned on me. I WAS living off the arts. Right now! Today!
In fact, I was approaching my first anniversary. Fifty percent of all small businesses fail within the first year so that meant I was already beating the odds. I just had to keep going.
And I did. I circled the anniversary with a bright purple marker and then drew shiny gold stars all around it, letting the color bedazzle the calendar and my spirits. I focused on celebrating the good news while tossing the rejection letters in the trash. It was time to move forward trying other options. If I threw enough darts out there, one of them had to stick. I just didn't know how many darts I'd have to throw.