Day 290 - Susan (3rd person I approached)
October 17, 2014 - Today was one of the ‘I hope to find a story in the lunch hour’ days. When I saw Susan, she was sitting reading a newspaper, conveniently in a mall food court. I approached the table she was sitting at and as i did, I noticed a large musical instrument case next to the table. ‘Musician’ I thought, hoping an artistic nature might indicate a willingness to chat! I explained to Susan what I was doing, where my stories get posted, and showed her my Facebook page. I also mentioned it would involve me taking her picture. She folded her newspaper, laid it down and said ‘okay’ as she did so.
I was explaining a little bit more about why I don’t take notes, when I sensed someone standing on my left. There was a man with a tray of food, unfortunately not for me. It was Charles, Susan’s husband. We shook hands and I moved to another chair, so he could sit with his wife. I asked if they minded if we continued and they both graciously agreed. Charles was eating Indian food and the smell of his curry was only moderately distracting. I could eat Indian food everyday, every meal.
Susan was born in Brooklyn, New York. She is the oldest of three children, with a sister four years younger, and a brother seven years younger than herself.
“My parents were both sick when I was a child, so as the oldest I had a lot of responsibilities. Looking after my younger sister and brother and helping my parents. My mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was four years old. When I was seven, my father was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the liver,” she told me.
“I felt like I never had a childhood. That was based on my comparison of what I saw others having as a childhood. Of course, you never know what their lives were truly like.” Susan said that at that time, there wasn’t any organized support at any level by local or national government.
“You just did what you could. My mother’s family were helpful and always chipped in with support,” she said.
In school, Susan showed a flair for art.
“I went to school in Manhattan. I had always been drawing and painting, pretty much self taught. I guess you could say it might have been a form of escape. My teacher's noticed that I was good in Art and they nurtured that,” she said. After graduating from high-school Susan went directly to Pratt, an arts college ranked as one of the best in the USA (United States. *Fact Check - see link below.)
“I studied there for four years, taking Graphic Arts and Illustration,” said Susan.
After graduating from Pratt, Susan started working immediately. She got a job with a publisher in New York, Dover Publications, as a commercial illustrator. Dover was instrumental in transforming the paperback book market.
“I was a book designer. The client would give me their typeset copy, and I would design the actual book,” she said.
“In that job I worked mostly in acrylic on a cardboard stock.”
“The Vietnam War was happening, and I had a friend that had moved to Canada. There were a lot of Americans leaving the country and going to Canada. A lot of New Yorkers were going to California as well. I didn’t want to go that far, because of my parents. I don’t know why but Montreal appealed to me. It was far enough away to feel like breaking out, but close enough to reach New York by train, from Montreal,” she said.
Susan found work as an illustrator and lived there for a few years.
“Then the situation in Montreal was changing with the Quebecois and the separatist question. I wanted to learn to do medical illustrations and there were only few places that taught that. The one place in Canada was in Toronto, so I moved there. I had a job and went to school. I didn’t graduate from the program, but I did go on to do freelance work in medical illustrations,” said Susan, smiling. I said the only medical illustrations I could think of, were the Leonardo de Vinci works he did in anatomy and dissection.
“Well, that was how it was done in his time, but yes, along those lines. There weren’t many people that even knew of it, let alone illustrated,” she said. I asked Susan if she made any art outside of working.
“No, I felt that I was getting what I needed out of the work I was already doing.”
Susan and Charles met when they were both in their early fifties, and they married. Charles had a career in computer programming. When he retired, he took up piano and keyboards. It was his keyboard in the instrument case next to the table.
“We moved to Vancouver in 2000,” said Susan.
“It wasn’t for me, it was for Charles. He wanted to sail. But he didn't want to do that in Toronto because they only place to sail there is on the Great Lakes,” said Susan. Charles and I joked about only being able to go round and round on a lake, in circles, and the want for an ocean to sail crossways.
“Yes, I had enough of going round and round,” said Charles. He also told me the yoghurt chicken curry was delicious, but that the chickpea dish was ‘under-seasoned.’
They consider Vancouver to be home, and Susan feels that this is where they shall remain.
“My parents have both passed away. My sister and brother still live in New York. We’re close and stay in contact,” she said. Now that Susan has retired, and isn’t creating art for work, I asked if she still had an outlet for her creativity.
“Yes. I do portraits now. Mostly in acrylics.” Full circle. #notastranger
*Fact Check - https://www.pratt.edu/the-institute/