Tag Archives: role models

Beware of the Ash Men

As a writer, I am always in search of inspiration.  I stay on the alert for people, places, and events that I can draw inspiration and creativity from.  Sometimes inspiration comes to me like a thunderbolt from Zeus himself and sometimes, I need to dig deep for that inspiration.  Thankfully for those times when an Olympian God is nowhere to be found and I need to dig deep, I have a letter from my art teacher.

When I was 9, I created the Ash Men.  Born from my youthful mind, the Ash Men were a direct result of the superheroes I loved to read about and pretended to be like.  They were powerful, full of personality I injected in to them, and to my eyes, artistic masterpieces.  In reality, the Ash Men were mere pencil scribbles which somewhat resembled human figures shooting ray beams from their faces and hands.  But I took great pride in not only creating the ‘Ash Men’ but great pleasure drawing them.

I not only created stories about them but drew them everywhere.  On the backs of restaurant paper place mats, napkins, walls in the house (that was before my mom saw it…let’s just say that was the last time I did that), and on every piece of paper I could find.

My mom, who was a teacher, had asked me if it would be ok with me if she took my Ash Men in to school with her to show the high school art teacher.  Had I known who Arthur Danto was at the time, I would have surely made some sort of analogy to him and his work as an art critic.  As a 9 year old, I am fairly certain I instead went with a, ‘that would be awesome’. My mom took the Ash Men in for Mr. Minter, the art teacher, to look at.  I waited all day trying to anticipate what he would say about them.

My mom came home from school that night with a letter.  In was in a white envelope with my name on it was a letter from Mr. Minter.  I tore in to the envelope anxious to read what a real life art teacher thought of the Ash Men. Although the letter has been lost to antiquity, the last lines written in it have been permanently etched in to my mind…

“Keep drawing and beware of the ASH MEN!”

An Ash Man circa 1984.

That letter became my holy grail.  I would soon leave behind the notion of growing up to be a fireman, astronaut, and Captain America to focus on becoming an artist.  The words Mr. Minter wrote to me would ring in my ears for years to come, “Keep drawing and beware of the ASH MEN!”

I told my mom; one day I wanted Mr. Minter to be my art teacher.

I would eventually make my way to the high school and find myself in Mr. Minter’s class (by my senior year, I had 3 art classes a day and he was my homeroom teacher).  He was honest, critical, supportive, and pushed me to be a better artist every day I had the privilege to sit at the art tables in his classroom.

After almost 20 years removed from graduation, I still remain close to my art teacher.  We have worked on projects together and I have sought his opinion about work I have done even though it now longer needs to be graded.  I honor him the only way I know how, by continuing to address him as Mr. Minter.  In my own way, I believe this lets him know the respect I had for him as my teacher has not faded since the last time I sat in his classroom.  I consider him to be an occasional collaborative partner, my friend, and a mentor.

I did eventually stop drawing the Ash Men.  I also never became the artist I thought I would be (to be fair, I never ended up as an astronaut, fireman, or Cap either).  Life stepped in, priorities changed, I had spent a few hazy semesters at college and chose another path but I never put down a pencil. I still draw on the backs of restaurant’s paper place mats, napkins, with my kids, and on the walls (but just in the garage).  His influence and guidance have been on every artistic endeavor I’ve embarked on for 3 decades.

My drawing. Mr Minter’s coloring.

I don’t know if Mr. Minter remembers the letter he wrote to a 9 year old boy 28 years ago much less the affect it had on that 9 year old but I know that when I am in search of inspiration or a spark of creativity, sometimes my mind goes back to being a 9 year old boy reading a letter with my name on it.  A letter from my art teacher who told me to keep drawing…and most of all, Beware of the Ash Men!

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Finding Mr. B

Kids are always searching for someone to provide them direction. Someone who they believe knows more than their parents do, who is not out to perpetually embarrass them at any given moment and wears the hottest clothing.  With the bevy of choices provided to all from Twitter, Facebook, TMZ, and reality television, if we aren’t careful, our kids, after their adolescence has kicked in and they have cast us to the side, are going to be searching those places for their role models. One minute they will be our sweet little angels and the next, they’ll be wearing meat suits and complaining of Bieber-Fever in between fake pot bong hits and posting semi-nude pictures of themselves all over the web.

Like most teens, I decided my parents knew nothing too. In fact, not only did they know nothing, but they were unresponsive to my demands, and completely cramped my style (I don’t know what the big deal was about a 3am curfew?).  Sure I appreciated their lessons on potty training, using forks and spoons to eat, and dressing myself, but I was 13 and didn’t need or want them trying to shape me in to a decent member of society.

I was content to let MTV, entitled athletes, and badly behaved celebrities do that for me.  I scoured Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, and Headbanger’s Ball in search of the right role model for me. But before I was able to find the right person from Hollywood, or a professional sports team, or an MTV production to attach my extremely impressionable adolescence to, I met Jack Bertolet (admittedly, I did find Beverly Hills 90210, or at least the Dylan Walsh hairstyle…not a good time for me).

Jack Bertolet, or as I had referred to him as, Mr. B was nothing like my parents.  He was married, a parent, and he had a job (see, nothing like my working class parents who were married for 35 years). I met Mr. B just as my parents’ knowledge finally faded and my bloodstream was not infected with adolescent defiance and know-it-all attitude.

I was also in the midst of dealing with a father who was slipping further and further down the neck of a bottle of booze.  My dad’s alcoholism cranked up the usual parental embarrassment to 11.  I was eager for a father figure while mine worked through his demons.  Mr. B became that figure and very quickly, he became someone very important in my life.

Ironically, he would spend the next years of my young adult life teaching me the same things my parents did (it just sounded different when he said things).  He would be the first to congratulate and the first to tell me if I were wrong. He taught me the power of a smile and the infectiousness of a belly laugh.  He taught me the absolute importance of being honest, not only with myself but with others.  He listened as I lamented over girlfriends.  I listened as he told me stories when he was a defiant teenager.  I knew if I needed him, he was a phone call away.  I knew he was standing behind me when I needed help staying up. He was the Obi Wan Kenobi to my Luke Skywalker (minus the lightsabers).

This is not to say I didn’t get caught up in the hype of the Fab Five at Michigan or celebrity trends (I mentioned the 90210 hairstyle) but his influence never let me get swept away by any of it.  Twenty three years later, I still find myself at times asking, “What would Mr. B think?” “What would he do?”

Outside of my parents (When I got older, as part of my reparations to them, I signed a written statement that they were in fact vastly important in my life.), there has been no one that has helped to shape who I am more than Mr. B. I really love that man.  I love him like a father, a friend, and as my mentor, even till this day.

And I’m hoping, when my kids reach the same point in their lives that I did and they shove me to the side (I envision one of them on their hands and knees behind me and the other pushing me over), it’s not for some pop star who doesn’t know the lyrics to the National Anthem or a celebrity who has more DUI’s then movies on their IMDB.  After my kids have determined I don’t know anything and live under the fear that I could pull out naked baby pictures at a moment’s notice, I pray they don’t turn to Twitter, or Hollywood, or SportsCenter for their role models. More than anything, I want my kids, as they search for their role model, to be lucky enough to find themselves a Mr. B.