Thursday, June 30, 2011

Animated People: Erik Timmerman

Erik Timmerman
It has been eleven years since Erik Timmerman passed away. So, in memory of Erik, I'd like to share a story from grad school that illustrates how Erik would teach larger lessons about life in the context of the smaller lessons found in our class assignments.

We were all first year grad students, sitting in the classroom. But, being budding artists, none of us had taken the time to develop a thick skin regarding taking criticism of our work. I think part of it was also due to the fact that none of us knew how to properly provide constructive criticism. But, during our classes, this would lead to the usual hurt feelings, snippy comments, and oversensitivity when hearing the thoughts of people whom we thought either "didn't get it" or had their own ideas of what "it" was.

So. The assignment was to create a storyboard that described a scene where Don Quixote tilted at windmills. We had all produced our storyboards and Erik was expecting us to show them to the class for peer (and instructor) review before handing them in the following week for a final grade. Well, when Erik asked who wanted to go first, no one moved. We all sat there with this deer in headlights look. Erik prodded us a little further, but no one made a move. So, understandably frustrated, Erik dismissed the class for the day so we could finish up our storyboard assignment.

Afterwards, Erik and I retired to the Graduate Student's lab as he had some work for me to do. It was nearing the end of the quarter so time was precious and the work needed to get done--he wanted to give me detailed instructions. When I sat down, Erik shook his head and said how he didn't understand why everyone just sat there.

"Don't they understand that this is a chance to fix problems with their storyboards so they can get a better grade," he asked me somewhat rhetorically. I responded with a truthful, albeit lame, excuse about how everyone put a lot of work into our storyboards and couldn't handle the criticism from everyone. Erik looked at me and said the following:

"When you were a child, you said to your mother 'I want a cookie' and she gave you a cookie. And when she wouldn't, you would cry with tears streaming down your face until she gave you one. When you get older, if you asked your boss, 'I want a cookie', and if you didn't get one, you started to cry, he'd look at you like you're crazy."

The point being that the things you did when you were a child are clearly inappropriate when you're an adult. Sort of an Erik way of saying that 'when I was a child, I thought like a child, spoke like a child, acted like a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.'

I said that I understood what he was trying to get at. And I think that he believed me because when I asked him to take a quick look at my storyboards, he did so and then gave me some sound advice on how to fix a couple of problems. Then we went back to work on the lab.

Although I'm sure he didn't know it at the time, that was one of those moments where Erik, in his own way, helped usher me into manhood--one of those many moments where it all started to make sense in my head and I could almost feel myself maturing mentally/emotionally in a real, concrete sense.

Erik died eleven years ago. And yet when I reminisce about him, he's still there, giving me lessons about life.

Eleven years later, he is still my teacher.

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Photograph from Andrew Davidhazy's Retired Professors and past colleagues from the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at RIT webpage.