Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Walking the Walk: Facing my Fear

 Last October my advanced class made artwork dealing with fear, ideally facing their own fears. To help motivate the students to think deep, I decided to walk the walk and face my own biggest fear- spiders.
I've always had a fear of spiders, since I was a toddler at least. When I really analyze my fear, I find that I'm not afraid of getting bitten, whether or not a spider is poisonous or not and the size do not matter. I'm afraid of them touching me. Spiders alway hang around being sneaky and you never know when one is going to pop up. For several years I've been trying to make peace with spiders- if one is hanging out by my front door, I try to just let them be, but I was/am still afraid. I think I made big progress while working on this project.
Though I teach PreK-12th grade now, my classroom is located in the middle school/high school building. Two of the science teachers have tarantulas in their rooms. I got it in my head that I should try to touch one. When I stopped the middle school science teacher in the hallway to ask her about it, my stomach clenched up, my hear started pounding, and I almost got light headed. She suggested that I start with a skin that her tarantula had recently shed, as a friend of hers had been advised to touch a snake skin to begin getting over her fear.
Have you ever seen a tarantula skin? They are weird. It looks like a live spider, except the abdomen part kind of caves in a little. The skin she gave me was in a clear plastic box and it was hard for me to just reach for it because it still looked so realistic. Later I was helping a student in my room and forgot that I had the skin on my desk. That gave me a fright when I turned around!
Eventually I worked up the nerve to just touch the skin. First I closed my eyes and a student lifted the skin up to my finger. By the end of that class I could touch it myself. They are surprisingly soft. I thought the hairs would be course but it felt like a kitten.
I think it was a few days later that I was finally ready for my reference photo. I laid on a table with my eyes closed and tried not to freak out. A student gently set the skin on my face and I opened my eyes for a picture. Now the skin is no big deal, and I even got better about looking at photos of spiders since I had to find a reference to help finish the tarantula in this painting. Before, just looking at photos made me feel sick.
Besides the project being good for me to do, I think it was good for the students to see me working on it and watch the progress. Art teachers can be artists too! Most students didn't know it was me- I took off my glasses for the painting and I rarely make it through a whole day with my hair down. One student kept asking when I was finally going to finish the painting so I brought it home on break. I think I'm finished now...
My next graduate course will be my last elective- painting! I'm really looking forward to having time dedicated to painting.

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