The following article portrays my journey as I continue to forge my career in art.
Chasing Dreams: We are so much more than we appear to be.
April 28, 2016
Often I wonder what society would be like if instead of judging one another based on our career title or accolades in the business world, we would stop for a moment and get to know someone for who they really are. If we could leave behind notions that our material wealth defines us and instead focus on what matters to the human beings around us. I love learning about people. I want to know what makes them tick, why they get out of bed in the morning, what they want to say with their lives. That said, let me introduce to you my good friend Allie-Sue. Well that’s what I call her. You can call her Susan MacKay. She is the reason I started this blog- and I am so much honored to have had the opportunity to interview her.
Let me quickly set the scene: I pull in to a lovely home surrounded by various trees and plants creating a sanctuary around the entire yard. I hear her voice say, “Welcome!” as I get out of my car and immediately Sailor, her little dachshund rescue pup, circles my vehicle attempting to intimidate me with his little barks. (Poor Sailor doesn’t know I have over 220 lbs of dogs at home to contend with.) Instantly, Sue answers the question I meant to ask by explaining the various plants, trees, flowers and herbs that are popping up all over the place. Fifteen years of owning this home is reflected in the massive perennial collection she has amassed and already I am blown away by this woman and I’ve only been here five minutes.
Picture converse style sneakers, loose blue jeans and a lovely little top. The long blonde hair is flowing and the blue eyes are sparkling. The air around her is literally glowing- and those of you who know Sue- you know exactly what I mean. I feel as if I’ve been to her home a million times and I’ve known her for as many lifetimes. I’m so honored to be here. We make some green tea with lemon and settle down for a chat. Sailor eyes me suspiciously but ultimately decides to let me live. 🙂
Many people know Allie as the ever-present bartender at Go Fish. That’s where she and I met. There are far too many people to whom she has served drinks to over the years who have mistaken her for an excellent bartender. That’s not what she is. Sure, she can provide incredible service and a lovely experience to customers all night long five days a week, but really, she is an artist. An exceptionally talented, disciplined artist who has been perfecting her craft and chasing her dreams for a lifetime.
Sue started drawing with detail and finesse beyond her years at the age of three. Her artist mother recognized the gift in her daughter and encouraged her to take classes and hone her skills. By her high school years, Susan already knew Art was her passion in life and arranged her schedule in such a way that by her senior year she had covered all of her required classes and was able to spend five out of seven periods of the day in the art room. After graduation, Susan realized money was an issue so she began to work in the restaurant business during the day and take classes at night.
The following year, Susan applied to the Lyme Academy and was accepted on a full scholarship. Each year she would have to bring in her work for review, and each year the scholarship committee would offer her a full ride. What a gift to have five years in which she could paint and draw by day and sculpt by night. Many of us would have taken as few classes as possible in college but Susan was the opposite.She appreciated at even such young age what a blessing it was to be able to attend a school that encouraged her in her passion. The only negative was that Lyme Academy was not an accredited school at the time. So despite all of her hard work and talent, Susan did not have transferable credits from the academy.
After Sue’s time in Lyme Academy, she headed to Middlesex college to continue her education. Here she discovered another talent: writing. An influential professor encouraged Allie to perfect her writing skills and she did! For the next year she worked as a literacy volunteer to elementary school students. Even though she was excelling in Middlesex college, an end to a tumultuous marriage sent her back to the Mystic area to start a new life.
Never one to shy away from pursuing her dream, Sue found herself interested in a “Return to College” program that Conn College was offering. After meeting with representatives of the college she was informed that she would need more recent grades from an accredited school to be eligible. Sue was still not discouraged- she simply headed to Mitchell University where she excelled in her Graphic Design and Art History classes. “Real” credits in hand, Sue made her way back to Conn and was accepted into the program. Her first day at Conn she explained how excited she was, light on her feet, almost bouncing with joy onto campus as the doors of opportunity were opening before her.
Susan sat down with the Dean of the Art Department, transcripts and portfolio in hand, ready to stun him with her qualifications and talent. He abruptly blew her off, claiming that her time at Lyme academy was not valuable to the program and that the work she had produced was not the “kind of work” they do at Conn. Of course Sue didn’t say anything rude about this man, but allow me to just say that his pretentious dismissive attitude caused him to totally overlook an immense talent. His loss. (This is why blogging is so much better than newspaper writing, I can say how I feel. 🙂 ) What is important here is that the unstoppable Sue did feel “deflated.” This man took someone passionate and excited and squashed them. Thankfully, Sue did not quit.
The Dean of Art told Sue that he would like her to start in Art 100. Not only is this insulting, it is a waste of time! Still, Sue pressed on and enrolled in the class. Not even a week of class went by before her professor asked her what she was doing in such a low-level class. She explained the situation and he suggested she focus her energy on Art History, and hopefully a new Dean would come in eventually and overturn the madness. In Susan’s junior year, a new Dean of Art was appointed. Around the same time, Lyme Academy had become accredited! The new Dean recognized Sue’s talent and allowed the transfer of all of her Lyme Academy credits. In the end, Sue ended up graduating with a double major of Art History and Studio Art as well as a certification in Museum Study. Susan had accomplished so much- and all the while she was also being a mother to her new son, a wife to her husband and working at Go Fish to make everything financially possible.
Over the years, job opportunities in her field did arise. For example, she was offered an Assistant to The Director position at Lyme Academy. After explaining the arduous workload, Susan was informed that the Job paid $10.00 per hour. If she took the job she would have to put her son in daycare, still have to work at night, and have no time to paint! It was becoming increasingly clear to Susan that she would have to continue on in the restaurant business while she pursued her painting career in order to stay afloat financially and in order to have time to spend with her children. Over and over throughout our conversation I was struck by Susan’s positive attitude in the midst of trials.
When you are a creative person, the path is not always easy. The linear method for climbing the career ladder does not necessarily apply. Instead one must pull and pry at opportunities that may or may not pan out, all the while staying true to your craft and what you know in your heart is what you are meant to do. As Susan said, “That stuff makes you stronger. You just keep painting. I don’t think you choose to paint. Maybe its just in your blood.”
Susan’s daily schedule is one that I admire. She wakes up each day and after feeding her kids and getting them off to school she goes down to her awesome studio. She writes in her journal and then exercises for a half hour. After this, she practices piano and accordion, (right! did I forget to mention she is also a musician!? Sue is a member of three bands, one of which she has been a part of for 23 years!) and then she proceeds to painting. Sue paints for about four hours a day, after which she heads off to work… Five Nights A Week.
This is what it looks like to pursue a dream. You don’t stop. You don’t quit. You work at it until you physically don’t have any hours left in the day.
I could go on and on about Sue. I could tell you about how she is competing with artists who project images onto their canvases instead of painting without technological assistance as she does. I could explain how Susan comes from an amazing set of parents who encouraged her throughout her life to chase her dreams, or about how she had a brilliant teacher who taught her that “Being an artist is training your eyes to see.” I could tell you she is a committed and devoted mother to her two sons, and is a part of a successful marriage to a supportive husband. You might not know that she loves playing the accordion because, “It’s like a piano that you can play with your whole body,” or that she took botany in school and as a result has a perfectly designed progressive bloom pattern in her flowering trees and plants. As I said, she is an astounding woman.
But what I want to share most is her dream:
“I want to be able to support myself and my family with my art. I want to pass on what I’ve learned. I want more than to just survive. I don’t want to worry so much. I don’t want things, I want to be able to see the wonders of the world with my children.”
So, if you walk into Go Fish one night, and you think to yourself, Oh, there is Allie Sue, the bartender, think again. That’s Susan MacKay, Artist, Mother, Musician, Botanist, Writer, Sculptor, Pet Rescuer and Friend.