I have a love of learning, but I also have a learning disability. For me, school was a place where I experienced stress and shame because I did not learn as quickly as my peers. Often my coping mechanism was to cease trying. The material I did learn was painstakingly digested. Over the years, I accumulated resentment and frustration that would be triggered while engaging with material I struggled with the most. I had rageful arguments with family members who tried to tutor me, although because of their help I eventually managed to scrape my way into a university. I even attended a graduate program where I completed all the coursework with an almost a 4.0 grade average. I did this with a combination of manic workaholism and a series of strategically dropped courses.
Finally, as a re-entry student at age 38 majoring in computer science, I landed in a learning disability assessment program that changed everything for me. I could now learn from audio versions of my textbooks and visit a lab full of tutors, for example. Also, I finally had the confidence to stand up for myself in class, requesting specific assistance from teachers. I have grown strong in my ability to learn, and have had many employers and coworkers compliment my learning gains, completely unaware of the challenges I have faced.
This piece has an empty figure in a graduation outfit in the foreground, inviting the viewer to look over at the climber scaling a precarious vertical wall. It also has a carving (from an unknown trading partner of the ancient Sumerians) with a woman who mesmerizes large horned animals. The climber represents the focus and danger Emily Schleiner perceives while learning and the animals represent her impulses to rage and give up. The woman figure represents Emily Schleiner's efforts to calm and focus her conflicting drives. Overall, this piece conveys the struggle and corresponding fortitude required when Emily Schleiner consider what ‘strength’ means to her.