One Hour A Week — Or Less

“I’m allowed to draw for one hour a week,” says my 16-yr-old SAT student. Anime characters look up at me from the pages of her sketchbook, as wide-eyed and alarmed as I am. “My mom says that’s enough.”

Enough for a teen who’s aiming for a career in medicine or law, she means. And what other career would a mother expect her daughter to go into after she pays through the nose for one-on-one tutoring, SAT classes, and weekend AP courses?

Makes sense.

But this student’s work is good, and I can tell she’s sneaked in a lot more than an hour a week to fill up this sketchbook.

“You can’t neglect this,” I tell my student. “If you keep at it, you could do something special with your art.”

But she will neglect it, mostly. She’ll convince her mom to let her take AP Art, but she’ll agree to major in something more practical, and eventually her studies will push out all time for drawing.

Many of the students at the Bay Area tutoring center where I work are barred from creative activities. Declarations like the one above seem to go hand in hand with a question my students ask me all the time: “Why do you work here?” Usually I answer with something to make them laugh. “Haven’t you seen this place??” I exclaim while gesturing at posters of punctuation marks made into cartoon characters.

The real reason I work part time at a tutoring center (instead of full time as an engineer/lawyer/doctor/CEO as falls in their realm of possibility for careers) is that I want to spend a lot of time with my five-year-old and I want to spend a lot of time writing (and–crazy–I actually love tutoring and teaching). Sure, I’d also like to spend a lot of money–but I’m not willing to devote all my time to making it.

When I explain this to my students, I can never tell if they understand it or not. In any case, it’s the right choice for me right now.

Is it a choice I can encourage my students to make?

Well, their parents are paying me to help them get into top colleges, so I should probably keep my mouth shut when I’m not extolling the praises of the UC system.

But when I look through a student’s treasured sketchbook, when she shows me her short stories posted online, I can’t be complicit with “one hour a week is enough for creative endeavors.”

At the same time, I know these students’ parents are trying to save them from the precarious financial situations I’ve been in more than once. It feels irresponsible to say, “Pursue your art! Don’t worry about the money!” when I know how much time I myself spend worrying about money.

I usually stick with a middle road. I tell my students, “You can major in engineering if you feel that’s what you need to do, but you can still write/draw/dance on the side.” This is a lie. Already these kids are being told that their art is at best a distraction. No way they will stick with it when the pressures of MIT come down on them. No way they will seek out classes or mentors or fellow artists while they’re competing for a spot at Google. I imagine them finishing school, completing internships, working out of a cubicle for a few years before suddenly remembering how they used to copy that one character over and over until they got it right. Or going back to that short story they never finished, and wondering how it should have ended.

And then what? Quitting their lucrative jobs in spite of the student loans that hang over them? Maybe they’ll take up sketching again as a hobby. “Just a hobby!” they’ll say as they paper their cubicles with drawings. Maybe they’ll start to lose sleep working on that old manuscript before bed. Maybe they’ll find a way to incorporate animation into their jobs.

Deep down will live stifled horror, or maybe something as harmless as faint regret, at never having developed their talent. And the rest of us will contend only ever with the ghost of their art, wonders never expressed and never observed.

parker photo Parker Peevyhouse works as an SAT prep course instructor and tutor in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also works as a substitute teacher at a K-8 school. Her debut YA novel, FUTURES, will be published by Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin in 2015.

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25 Comments

Filed under Creativity, Education, Writing and Life

25 responses to “One Hour A Week — Or Less

  1. kevanjatt

    I’ve pursued my art, worry about the money, and still can not imagine any other career. (Though I do spend one hour a week engineering.)

    Great post, Parker!

    Like

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      As long as you keep that engineering down to one hour a week… haha. I’m glad you are drawing bunnies for a living!

      Like

  2. Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

    Of course you can’t do other than what you already are doing with these kids under the circumstances. But for my own kids, I try hard to make sure I encourage them to pick stuff that makes them happy. Money and happiness doesn’t always keep company, though it’s nice when they do. And I hope the kids will avoid too much stress, too. All of it is so hard!

    Like

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      A lot of kids in my area are married to stress. I love to see them reading or drawing or doing anything that isn’t *required* during their downtime (what little they have).

      Like

  3. This is the truth! Writing is my second career and I do look back and wish I’d devoted time to it sooner. But most of my creative energy was being used in my career as a teacher (not a rollin’-in-the-dough career, but still it was steady income). What energy was left over went to my family. I know people do both but I didn’t. I tell myself this was my journey to writing because that sounds like the right thing to say but it bugs me that I will never write as much as I could’ve if I’d taken the leap. Your post really spoke to me!

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    • Parker Peevyhouse

      Teaching takes so much headspace, right? A lot of thought and creativity has to go into it. I do it part time and it still exhausts me.

      Like

  4. Lindsey Lane

    Your post sparks so many thoughts for me. Like: Do we really ask ourselves: what is enough? in terms of money and possessions. Do we ask ourselves: Is this how we want to contribute to the world? in terms of our jobs. It takes bravery to step back and look at how we want to live our lives so they aren’t full of regret. Bravo, Parker.

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    • Parker Peevyhouse

      Thanks, Lindsey. I realize that not every kid has these great opportunities to go into a lucrative field. But then what good is going into a lucrative field if you’re miserable?

      Like

  5. I have read that most children stop drawing before the age of 10 and that among adults only 1 in 10 draws. I feel SO lucky that I never had parents who pressured and that now I draw for a living.

    Like

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      I remember learning to draw in 5th grade. We had this really great drawing unit. But I’m terrible at drawing, so I’m glad we also had a creative writing unit that year. 😉 How great that you can do what you enjoy for a living.

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  6. Much food for thought here. I think it’s important to honor one’s own creative gifts, even if there isn’t enough time to develop them. Wish I had an easy answer. My own high school senior is fabulously creative, but like those under your tutelage, she has very little time to put into her writing, crafting, and theater–even though we recognize how important it is to do so, because it’s a big part of who she is.

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    • Parker Peevyhouse

      I think one key is expressing to a young person how important her creative gifts are. She might not have time to explore them now, but if she learns to value them she will probably be more likely to spend time on them when she can. Maybe?

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  7. It’s such a fine line. I never want to tell my pawns you can’t follow your dreams, you have to do something practical. At the same time I don’t want them to dash it all for the hope of making it big in a rock band or something impossibly hard to do.

    Such a well written post, on such a very difficult subject.

    Like

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      Thank you. And I’ll admit to feeling the same caution around encouraging kids to pursue risky careers. It’d be really nice if we coulf teach them how to balance practical concerns with creative ones… after we get that balanced figured out. 🙂

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      • Right? I can barely figure out the balance myself. On the one hand I have a good stable career that will provide for my family for a long time to come, and I actually enjoy the work. On the other hand I only get to write after the pawns are in bed and I’m too tired to even keep my eyes open. I end up waking up in the middle of the night with the urge to write some more and then I think, ah heck I should just can it all and move into a coffee shop and write full time… such is life.

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  8. Hopefully if a child/student/young adult goes into corporate life they will still write/draw during their lunch hours and weekends – like John Grisham did when he wrote his first novel in the bathroom on yellow legal pads. 🙂 My good friend and author, Carolee Dean, is a speech/language pathologist at a high school and has to support her family. She either gets up very early each weekday morning to write for an hour or uses her lunch hours to sit in her car with her notebook computer and write. There is burn-out though. I guess I just hope that creative people of any age do not get discouraged and find a way to write/draw/make music/sculpt/ etc around their *regular* lives.

    P.S. Congrats on your upcoming YA, too! I’ve met Kathy Dawson a few times and she is terrific. (Another San Francisco Bay Area girl here. :-))

    Like

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      Thanks! And I admire people who are devoted to creative pursuits while pursuing other careers. I know this is a reality for the vast majority of writers.

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  9. The urge to drum creativity out of kids is wrong for so very many reasons–not least of which is that the parents are behind the curveball about what corporate recruiters are actually looking for these days. Very persuasive on this point is this book I’m currently reading: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781594481710
    And there are articles aplenty, too, like this:
    http://upstart.bizjournals.com/news/wire/2012/05/14/survey-on-millennial-hiring-highlights-power-of-liberal-arts.html?page=all

    Like

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      Really cool article. “Companies are looking for soft skills over hard skills now because hard skills can be learned, while soft skills need to be developed.” I do see parents in my area emphasizing hard skills over soft ones (like communication), and I wonder how much this has to do with the fact that I live in a place with so many engineering jobs. I’ve also heard plenty of recruiters say they would love to find someone with BOTH sets of skills, which is a tall order (e.g. strong writers who are also certified in engineering). But it proves that a laser focus on academics isn’t always the best route to success, paradoxical as it may seem.

      Like

  10. Joshua McCune

    Brilliant post. As an Engineer by degree, I’d definitely say balance is critical… and then there’s that Einstein dude and his whole opinion on imagination. I’m riding with Einstein.

    Like

  11. I have struggled with this conflict every day of my life, and now as a parent to teens, I think its even worse: what do I tell them? I can remember my mother saying to me that writing was only an “avocation” but it couldn’t be my “vocation” (and yes, she used those words). I wonder constantly about what could have been if I had fully committed to writing when I was younger… but then, I wouldn’t be where I am now, and I wouldn’t want to change that either. There are no easy answers for anyone, clearly.

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    • Parker Peevyhouse

      I sometimes wonder too why we are so afraid to let our kids struggle, or even to fail. If a young person wants to try writing as a living, but ends up needing to get a full time job after all–okay. That’s fine, right? I’d like to think I could be okay with this when it comes to my own son. But we’ll see what happens when he’s a teen.

      Like

  12. This is a very tough subject. Finding ways to support children’s dreams without interfering with their home values is so hard. I bet you’ve inspired your share of kids, just by letting them show you what they’re drawing or writing or planning. Having your attention and interest directed toward a part of their lives that is otherwise neglected is going to make a difference, at least for some.

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  13. Parker Peevyhouse

    And hey look: NPR just posted about a study that found that having creative hobbies boosts performance at work. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/04/17/303769531/could-those-weekend-pottery-classes-help-you-get-promoted-at-work
    So it turns out all work and no play makes Jack less likely to get a promotion.

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