Donna Harlan :: Everybody Has a Snowman Story ::

Creative Non-Fiction

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I grew up in the foothills of East Tennessee, and honestly wasn’t always proud of it, knowing that others thought we didn’t wear shoes (never mind that I enjoyed being barefoot and still do). In college I had a friend from “up north” explain to me how a long “I” should sound, and it took a few times of listening to “get it.” I’ve lived in both Singapore and Holland and traveled the world. I love all the different cultures I’ve experienced, but I’ve also learned to love the one I grew up in.

Everybody Has a Snowman Story

Frosty stood proudly on a green lawn, which apparently warranted my grade of “C” in first grade. I have no memory of why no snow was on the ground. Had it melted? Had I actually seen a similar sight? Did I not really understand what a snowman was? I’m actually a little haunted by these questions, and I’ll never have the answers. And then there were other questions: Why was the “C” an art grade rather than a science grade? Why didn’t the teacher ask me why the grass was green? Maybe in my own six-year-old way I just wanted the grass to be greener on my side of the fence, and then I found out that white was better than green. 

What I do know is that the teacher made her point, and she has continued to make it every time I attempt artistic endeavors. This conversation comes along frequently with most people. I recently sat at a table for a college graduation event, and two very successful women told their stories. One of them was sent to music class because she “had no artistic ability.” The other spent a year learning to paint, and her instructor told her she didn’t “have a gift for it.” All these comments fly in the face of a quote I learned late in life. “If you want to be good at something, first you have to be bad.” If you want to take it a step further, you can rely on this quote: “If you can’t learn to be good at something, learn to enjoy doing it poorly.” 

Everybody has a snowman story, a soccer story, an instrument story, a public speaking story—stories that made us throw our papers in the trash, sell our instruments, or sit quietly with our heads down. Yes, perfect pitch is a gift, but practice is a gift you give yourself. Learning to express yourself without encouragement is truly a gift you give yourself. Accepting a “C” with pride because you enjoyed the process of creating is worth far more than a grade. 

Don’t we all wish we could return to those defining moments and craft a different ending. I have many such stories, and armed with the experience and wisdom I’ve gained, I could defend the color under the snowman and argue for a different grade. As long as I have opportunity, I must continue to learn with humility from those who know their subjects, but I must also learn to express myself even if I’m the only one who “gets it.” Will we ever forget those hurtful remarks? Probably not, but we can promise ourselves never to be the one who makes them, and to always be the one who listens and says to keep creating. 

We must recognize that the power is not with the one discouraging and deflating, but lies with the doer, the dreamer, the learner, and if you want your Frosty to stand on green grass, let him stand proudly and unashamed.