DDPs, Photos, and Writing Project #1

Here are the DDPs from the past couple of days. I haven’t yet done one today.

I filled six large sketchbook pages while I whiled away my civic duty at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse. My little DDP picture was the last thing I did before they excused us for the day.

I think there is a charming quality to this kitty’s face even if her proportions and bone structure are all mixed up.

I didn’t exactly do a DDP drawing yesterday, but I did sketch this little lady on the back of my notepad while we were playing Clue. I added the balloon at Ying’s request.

I had thought she could be a new character, but this morning I realized there’s already Colonel Mustard, so a yellow character wouldn’t work. Erik and I decided she could be Ms Marigold instead, and her color could be orange.

I’ve posted a few photos from when we went to see Porgy and Bess. Here’s Margaret looking lovely and chic as ever:

Margaret, there’s another photo of you too, that’s posted right after this one on my Flickr photostream.

And here’s Jason looking quite suave:

When we had our picnic this afternoon, there were these two women there who had brought three birds with them. Pretty soon they had a crowd of kids gathered round:

And here we are, kind of sleepy and lazy-feeling, but enjoying our twobug time:

I just read Kathryn Chetkovich’s 2003 essay, “Envy,” for the first time this afternoon, though I’d heard of it before. Chetkovich’s boyfriend is celebrated novelist Jonathan Franzen, who wrote The Corrections in 2001 and subsequently got famous in a way that rarely happens to living writers of fiction. He and Chetkovich were a couple when The Corrections came out, and in “Envy” she describes what it was like to be a struggling writer herself, watching her partner hit the writer’s jackpot so spectacularly.

I really liked the essay. Many parts of it resonated with me so strongly that I had to sit down and write out some of my own thoughts. I’ll probably want to do this again later this week, because I was only able to respond to one of her statements, on women writers and the need for permission.

According to Chetkovich, women writers still feel the need to justify what they do as legitimate work, while “the big (as opposed to, say, lyrical) literary novel persists as an essentially male category.” She writes:

I was raised to admire a life of service, and to this day, I do admire it. When I see someone bend to the task of helping another, I think she is doing the work of all, the human job. But someone else’s good deed never stabs my heart the way a good book does. I admire it, but I do not envy it.

As she explains in the previous paragraph, she envies Franzen’s literary success, but even more than that, she envies his position as a male writer.

I was startled to realize that I didn’t wish I’d written his book, any more than I would have wished to wake up tomorrow looking like the beauty from a magazine cover. What I envied were what his talent and success had bestowed on him, a sense of the rightness of what he was doing. I wanted what women always want: permission. But he’d had that before this book was even written; it was, after all, the first thing I’d envied about him. It was arguably what enabled him to write the book in the first place.

In other words, nobody questions a male writer’s right to write, but women writers don’t get that same ease of acceptance.

Chetkovich isn’t the only writer who sees that this is the way things are. In Homegrown, which I highly, highly recommend, bell hooks and Amalia Mesa-Bains argue that “women of color, more than white women, still bear an enormous sense of guilt and selfishness when we put work–our individual work–first. This is especially true if it’s art or intellectual labor. If we put jobs that earn us money first, people may understand that. But if you’re putting something intangible first, it’s hard for people to understand”(40).

Reading Chetkovich’s essay, and recalling hooks and Mesa-Bains’s book, I started to remember some of the sorts of questions that I so loved discussing during Valerie’s seminar in fall quarter. Female artists and writers do face different challenges than their male counterparts, although I feel that for Asian Americans, there’s not so much of a difference — AA artists and writers are always under scrutiny in their community (or maybe just by their parents!), whichever their gender.

I’ve been grappling with this question of permission quite a lot lately. In fact it’s the biggest question that occupies me, even bigger than the what-to-do-with-myself question, probably because the answer to the latter depends so heavily on how I answer the former. Witness the following conversation, which Erik and I have had at least twice:

L: I think I could get a job at [insert name of local nonprofit here], but it only pays $13,000 a year. That’s not a lot, is it?
E: Is it something you really want to do?
L: I don’t think so.
E: What’s your motivation for getting a job?
L: …
E: …
L: Honestly? Because people expect one to do, and if I get a job maybe Mommy will stop worrying about me and bugging me so much.

It is not a good reason, and I know it isn’t, which is why I’ve left several job possibilities pass me by without applying.

But the question remains: what do I want to do with myself? Do I want to be a writer? I don’t know. A cartoonist or some other kind of artist? I don’t know. But I know what I don’t want. And I know that if I only had one year left to live and had to make a choice about how to spend my time, I’d say: “I want to write and draw and see what I can make.” If you want my totally honest answer to the question, this is it.

I think I’m in a good position to try it. After years and years of bad study habits and what Erik calls intellectual laziness*, I’m slowly learning how to discipline myself and engage critically with important questions. I’ve never been good at these things, so I’m really starting from scratch (as incredible as that may seem at 25 and with an MA), and it’s hard. Sometimes it’s just easier to fall into old patterns of spending the entire evening playing computer games, avoiding the things I know I need to do or think about. I’m too good at winging it, in both deed and thought. What responding to Chetkovich’s essay has reminded me, though, is how pleasurably absorbing it is to be a critical thinker. What I loved in Valerie’s seminar, what I love in my creative writing classes, and what they’ve taught me, is that thinking carefully and deeply on life and self is just as hard as doing the traditional academic kind of intellectual pondering — in fact, it may even require more rigorous intellectual discipline, because when we try to pull apart the things that affect us in our own lives, we’re a lot less accepting of easy answers; when something someone says about the nature of existence is BS, we know it is, because each one of us has the background necessary to determine this. We have to put in a lot of meditation and critical questioning, sometimes even research, to figure things out when we’re talking about life, and this appeals to me.

I’m not yet so good at getting myself to engage critically and creatively, thanks to the aforementioned intellectual laziness*, but I believe that any strength or appeal I may have as a creative person is going to come from this kind of critical meditation. So I need to work harder at this. Starting a Writing Project (similar to my Daily Drawing Project) will help me get going. I don’t think I have time for this kind of writing every day (though who knows?), so it can’t be the DWP, but as often as I can, at least once a week, I will sit down to write a response to something that really made me think that day. Friends’ thoughtful blog entries are almost always good inspiration, as is the NYT or the New Yorker, but even a simple Metro ride can serve, as evidenced by this entry. And judging by the amount of time it’s taken me to write all this out, first on paper and then in my journal (probably about three hours), I won’t have time to do a DDP on days when I do my WP.

So from now on, I should be producing at least one drawing or one thoughtful piece of writing every day. Celebrate! This makes me very happy. Some days I’m just pleased with my place in the universe. I guess I’ve just granted myself the permission to create as I see fit, even if other people still don’t.

*Smart, but comfortable with easy answers and and not curious about other possibilities. Don’t like to debate. Like to make up my mind and keep it there. In fact, a quality I inherit from my mother.

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com.]