I can still recall it with clarity and joy: the sunny day in May of seventh grade that altered my life. Personal history for me is divided between Before or After Green Man Day—the day when Jimmy Butler and I painted our faces green at the 7th grade Arts festival. What were we thinking? What could possibly have inspired us? Who knows. But it did.
First of all, it was an astoundingly vibrant and unusual day of school. All the regular classes were replaced with special arts activities. We weren’t even using the usual Junior High School facility, but an alternative location that had a studio or workshop feel to it. We were making things, painting things, constructing and collaging and weaving things; doing things. It was a day when there was a skill and behavior inversion: the kids who sat at the back of the room and were quiet, those who learned better with their hands, became more vocal and active and vital. The kids who always had their hands in the air with the right answer to the teacher-posed questions were slightly off balance. Suddenly, all the multiple intelligences, instead of just the customary book-learnin’ ones, were in bold relief. And this was about twenty years before anyone was even talking about different kinds of intelligence. And there we were, Jimmy Butler and me standing at the paint table wondering what to do with our hands…sounding our “barbaric yawp,” awaiting inspiration or mischief, whichever came first. Sometimes there’s such a fine line between the two.
It must have followed some sort of “I-will-if-you-will” dare, or Double Dog Dare. We both would; we both did. We both went Green. It signified independence and autonomy, and certainly a loss of inhibition. It was about the numerous intangibles of youth…those moments when we discover our own voice, make an independent choice, select a fresh character to play. It’s tentative risk taking; it’s forging identity separate from peers and parents and external expectations. Perhaps it was the onset of my recognition that the academic curricula come and go; the broader work of finding identity and establishing a sense of possibility for our lives is the long-term study.
It’s also simply great, sticky, gooey, glorious fun: paint smells good, feels good, and attracts attention when it appears in unexpected places. Like covering your face. Soon I would have a rock and roll garage band and drumming took the place of green face—but it was the same idea. The green paint washed off, after a very effective surprise moment for mom when I got off the school bus. But clearly, the new tint of personal legend has lingered. And, as I recall, it led shortly thereafter to a purple shirt and chartreuse bellbottoms that I wore with pride to the first day of school in 8th grade. It was a delightfully slippery slope.