when I was in ninth grade, I took the obligatory art class, where I tediously drew silver spoons and butterflies. I created a wood cut of a cow’s portrait that won a small area prize, which felt insignificant to me. I created a rendition of american gothic where I replaced the man and woman with napoleon dynamite and his llama, tina, that I spent many weeks meticulously shading and correcting. however, in the process, I lugged that piece around, letting it become creased and smudged. my art teacher, an older woman with silver-grey hair and a disapproving face, told me that I had skill but needed to take better care of my work. I felt both encouraged and ashamed. it was the last art class I ever took but I won’t forget the look in her eyes. it said, you have a gift. don’t waste it.
my mom encouraged me to pursue writing. she must have told me I was good at it but I don’t remember her specifically saying those words. I just remember knowing that it was what she expected me to do. she told me I could be a lawyer or “even a speech writer for the president!” I remember thinking that was a totally normal suggestion at the time, which was maybe late elementary school.
when I went to college, I wanted to change the world. but I had so many interests, and I felt bewildered by all of my options, while also feeling suffocated by the debt that would follow, and my parents expectations. I majored in journalism (my mom’s suggestion) but was most energized by the liberal arts aspect of my education. I left my Social Psychology of Justice class wanting to be a lawyer, and my Crimes Against Humanity class wanting to work at the Hague. but I would fall asleep in my dorm room each night paralyzed by the fear of making a wrong choice, and so I made no new choice at all.
I am 26 now, and bought a house this year with my husband. I have hardly decorated, which embarrasses me when we have guests. I tell them we’re going to paint soon, even though I’ve been saying that for four months. this morning, I realized I don’t decorate because, in our first apartment, attempting to hang up art always produced tension between us. I would rather have a sparse, unfinished house than have conflict, even though I feel frustrated, like I am a bad wife.
I feel young, but worn, and fearful.