JO: No, I hadn't. It was my freshman year. I got my first A-plus ever in that class. I was shocked. I think the reason the teacher liked my work was because I was very naive, I didn't really at all know what I was doing. My drawings were almost childlike in a way. I didn't know anything about technique so there was a sort of freedom then.
GS: What were you intending to study at Yale?
JO: I was thinking American studies or maybe history.
GS: Were you an intellectual in high school?
JO: I think I was a very nerdy studious girl. I liked to read. I didn't really have an idea of the world of culture until after I got to Yale. Then I felt very intimidated actually. I had never run up against people who come out of elite private schools. They seemed a lot better prepared than I was. And I had never been to New York City before. It was my first encounter with the world of culture.
GS: So your family was not into literature or culture.
JO: My parents were not readers. They might have had Reader's Digest Condensed Books. I didn't know a lot as a teenager which I think might have been fine. I had no idea what I wanted to do.
GS: Did you apply to Indiana straight from Yale?
JO: No, I waitressed in New Haven after graduation. So I took off a couple of years.
JO: I didn't think I was ready right away to go to school. I rented a little studio space. I wanted to work more on my portfolio. I thought if I took a little more time my work would get a little stronger.
GS: Were you able to get much work done while supporting yourself as a waitress?
JO: Yeah. Back then it wasn't that hard. I just rented a cheap room, and the studio was cheap. But I think I might have gotten a little lost just working on my own. Art graduate school might not have been the right thing for me to do then. But I did actually get into graduate school based on the paintings I had done while working alone which ended up being much more abstract than I had done before.
GS: What put so much pressure on you in Indiana?
JO: It was partly the environment but I think it was mostly me. My experience going to graduate school years later and writing was much different and it was because I was older. My failure in Indiana had more to do with me than the environment. It was slightly pressure-cookerish but that's in the nature of graduate school.
GS: Why did you choose the University of Indiana?
JO: It had a reputation for being a good school and the faculty had close ties to the Yale faculty. There were actually five women from Yale in my year and the year above me. It was just known to be a good art school.
GS: Why did you drop out?
JO: I just choked up. I had a terrible critique. I really lost faith in my ability to paint. At a certain point I couldn't even put down a mark on the canvas without wanting to wipe it away immediately. I think something in me just cracked. I just was frozen and I could not produce.
GS: Was there some input that made you lose your confidence? Did people say you were crummy?
JO: The final critique said I was crummy. My paintings really were crummy. I don't blame them for saying that they were. I really started at square one and my paintings were very like a two-year-old could do them. [laughs]
GS: What did they look like?
JO: I can't even remember what I put up on the wall. I can remember one painting. It was one tiny little landscape, which I actually liked. It was maybe the one strong painting.
GS: What did they say about that landscape?
JO: I think it was pointed out as being a painting that worked. The rest of them didn't.
GS: Were the other paintings mostly abstracts?
JO: No, I think I went back to working from still life, very very basic setup. Because I didn't know how to paint, I had to learn how to paint all over again.
GS: What did you do after leaving Bloomington?
JO: In November I visited my best friend in New York. She's the one who introduced me to the cafe that I've been going to all these years to write. I visited her, then I went back to my parents' for about a month. Then I moved to New York and rented a room and started temping nights. I didn't really know what I was going to do. I learned how to word-process, then I went to a temp agency. They sent me to a firm, a construction marketing company. I stayed with them for years. They bought me out of the temp agency. Later when I started to go to art school, that summer -- that would have been the summer of '88 -- I just had a desire to paint again. I enrolled in a non-degree art school in New York -- New York Studio School. I stayed there for two and a half years. That was an all-day program so the company where I was working let me work at night.
GS: Did you sell any paintings?
GS: Did you do better at the New York Studio School?
JO: Yeah, I did.
GS: Was it because there was less pressure on you?
JO: I don't know. I think I was learning. Also it was not as pressured an environment.