By Susan Jacob
I am relatively new in Laguna Beach; I arrived only 20 years ago. I believed that the magnificent background and sea air were behind the incredible artistic community we enjoy. I continue to realize additional depth and diversity in Laguna’s world of art as years go by.
I originated from St. Louis, known best for a muddy river, mosquitoes and murder. The only thing I recall about art is that my high school teacher was obsessed with a determination that her students not chew gum. She was continually aggravated by the rubber bands in my braces she believed were gum. I was exiled often. St Louis has contributed one artistic achievement I watched develop during my youth. The famous monument took from 1947 to 1967 to finance, complete and open. Perseverance ultimately won out and St. Louis is now known by the largest manmade exit sign in the western hemisphere; the Gateway Arch showed us the way out and directing us west. I never chewed gum again.
Riverside is in California and originally that was sufficient for me. To their credit, the city managed a postage size art museum and a tiny theater in the round. There are also some die hard artists who paint and teach in the Inland Empire. Plein air is out however. I had to leave because eventually I could not breathe and I could not find an art supply store. I am sure there are many wonderful things about living in Riverside, I just can’t recall them. My brain is smogged concerning my time living there. I do recall a freeway sign saying Beach Cities that I eventually followed.
I moved to Laguna Beach, began to catch my breath and to take art lessons at the art college’s adult education class. Only in our dear city would one encounter the likes of Roger Armstrong. He was magical, vibrant, and inspiring in every way. He had a gift for sharing his wisdom in a light hearted, humorous manner. It was only later that I would realize he may have said something profound. Roger believed in all sincerity that art was the only acceptable vocation.
I once shared with Roger that my daughter was considering law school. He responded, “don’t’ despair my dear. Most attorneys find that vocation tiresome and become artists, as do psychologists.” He treated us all as artists, therefore we felt like artists. He had the rare ability to teach without ever saying anything negative. One day after class he blew me a kiss and waved goodbye. A few days later, brush in hand, his tender heart did the same. He mentored hundreds of local artists. Not an easy act to follow. I remember towards the end he told me he needed to live to be 100 because he wanted to write a book. He believed artists have amazing longevity because art provides such an emotionally satisfying lifestyle.
I missed the significance of Roger’s desire to write until recently. If he had become a writer, would he have survived to be 100? I collect stories like sea glass. It is appealingly beautiful, formed from debris sand and sea. Sometimes sea glass becomes useful to share as an illustration of a perspective. Fridays, my day off, had a huge hole since Roger’s departure, so I decided to sign up for a community writing workshop. Miraculously, I discovered another extraordinary jewel in Laguna Beach. I encountered an exceptionally gifted, knowledgeable and encouraging mentor, Christine Fugate. Among her students, current and past, are incredibly talented published and unpublished writers. Literature has taken root and flourished in our creatively fertile environment. Christine has helped develop the confidence and skills of many of our abundant authors. She believes we all have stories to tell and only need to develop the skills required to share our voice. I have seen her ignite our stories with a sound, a smell or a piece of sea glass. She believes we are destined to write and so we become authors. I am pretty sure she will live to be 100.
Once I found a way to park myself in Laguna Beach, I no longer want to get in my car and leave. Who knows what else our city may be known for? I would rather hike around to see what I may have missed.
Susan Jacob is a psychotherapist who has lived in Laguna Beach for 20 years.