It’s the woman who made me analyze the Oreo box. Contemporary Art and Criticism every other day right before lunch, my stomach growling, she went from discussions of lengthy packets on semiotics and orientalism that I had never bothered to read straight to that frustratingly empty cookie dispenser.
“Think about the font,” she said, wiggling the container at us from the front of the asbestos-laden classroom, her sonorous alto voice competing with the rattling air vents for our attention, “how white and creamy it is. This wasn’t done by accident. Even the background, the blue. Think about the use of a cool color rather than a warmer one. How would that affect your reaction?”
I pretend to ponder this while desperately praying that the hollow grinding in my abdomen isn’t too audible. Not too many days afterwards, she tested our ability to critically assess design by showing us the Burger King website. The woman was killing me. She had unassuming medium-length straight blond hair and an eye color that didn’t really stick with me. Only in her mid-thirties, she was already on her second husband and about 75% of the way through her goal of visiting every bit of art she lectured on. She had the slides to prove it. Well not the husband bit. That part came up one day during a lecture about use of line.
“See how the artist decided to keep the stray lines here, giving it a sense of imperfection? The choice to keep the mistake visible is a very interesting one. And you see how sharp these lines are on the frame of the body and how thin the figure is? Think of how painful it is to have to deal with such bony protruding hips,” her mouth almost immediately retracting the statement after it slipped out of her abundant, matronly frame. She didn’t actually have children, and I don’t think she really wanted to. In a way, we were her children already, grown adults though we supposedly were.
One day she decided to treat us to ice cream after a voluntary weekend excursion cleaning up the beaches. It’s silly that it took that long for me to really like her, and I suspect the ice cream had something to do with it. I was already nearing graduation with copious recitals and exit exams encroaching upon the relative peacefulness of my consciousness. I’m not sure how we ended up side by side that weekend, but her warm smile and knowing eyes disarmed me. We struck up a conversation, and she inquired as to my graduation date. I’ll never forget her response.
“Wow. 2006. It’s funny; it sounds so unreal. Being in this new century makes things sound so much farther in the future than they really are. Like it sounds like we’ll never make it that far.”
She never did. An aneurysm swept her away from us one cruel Good Friday morning. The woman who encouraged my writing, fostered my ability to critically perceive of the world around me and, yes, took us on a random field trip to the mall across the street to discuss the effect of shop design on our spending habits- she died long before I ever knew what she meant to me. But doesn’t it always work out that way?