Saturday, October 31, 2009

On Giving up the Dream

I wrote this about four years ago, when I was a senior in college. I found it today when I was looking through my old documents for papers to give my professor who's writing my recommendation to law school. I don't know how I feel about law school. I'm just trying to find a paying career, my niche, something that I'd be good at and would satisfy me. It often comes back to writing, which goes back to my lack of discipline, lack of talent, lack of propulsion. Then it cycles through again--teacher, lawyer, writer. Anyway, when I wrote this I had recently been destroyed by writer's workshops. Funny, because it still rings true today.

My father creates beautiful works of art. He’s done this since he was a small child. His mother, his classmates, teachers, everyone was enamored with his skill. They were in awe of the maturity of his eye, his attention to detail and precision in every deliberate stroke of the pencil or brush. He was a wonderful artist, and his own worst critic. This wasn’t difficult, considering he only received glowing praise from others. I sometimes wonder what his self-criticism sounded like. I now have little sympathy for exceedingly talented people who are harder on themselves than anyone else. Deep down they know they’re incredibly talented. They know they’re better than everyone around them, but are they better than everyone in the world? In history? Such thoughts are the source of torment for them. I used to be one of these people. Now I don’t have the liberty. Thinking back on the intense self-scrutiny I underwent, it all seems weak. It’s better to be the tormented genius than the hack who knows she’s got nothing to offer. My fragile ego relied on the fact that no one ever criticized my writing. When they started doing just this, I was crushed. I realized that my work is no more special than anyone else’s, that I would not have to worry about my legacy in history when I was inferior to half of my writing class.

My father never had anyone tell him that he was a bad artist. I asked him, and he said that people were always quite impressed with him, though he wished they would be more helpful. This infuriated me. It’s not fair that one can be in any sort of subjective, creative field and avoid the scathing, heart-wrenching criticism from peers and professors. I’ve had my share plus some. I’ve had others tear my writing apart just for fun. Perhaps if my father had remained in this subjective, creative field, he would have got his. But he didn’t. Vietnam came rolling by along with his lottery number, announcing his fate: if he chose to go to art school, he would go to war. Thus, he changed his path to medical school. He didn’t like the direction the art world was going, anyway.

My father creates beautiful incisions in people’s flesh. He sends balloons slithering gracefully through their arteries, pushing away blood clots that would cause ugly bouts of gangrene. My father is an amazing doctor. Everyone says so. But will the legacy of his art outlive him? No. He no longer produces art. Once, when I was in high school, I came home to my father and his friend standing in the kitchen, and a large sheet of paper that seemed to have been torn from some larger roll was taped to the microwave. It had a drawing on it, and my dad’s friend, Dennis, asked me what I thought of it. I shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s not very good.”

Dennis asked me to explain myself. It seemed a little haphazard and messy. It was a picture of the voluptuous body of a woman lying in a bed of plants, with a large sunflower sprouting from her neck in the place of a head. There was a sinister looking giant insect looking at it hungrily, attempting to drink the nectar from this flower. I explained that it was ripping off the style of Robert Crumb, what with replacing women’s heads with other objects, and that the artist obviously had issues with women. I saw my dad flinch at this, and I noticed his signature in lower right corner of the piece. I immediately felt embarrassed. I tried to explain that I thought this was a genuine piece of art that Dennis had purchased from an accredited artist, and it lacked professionalism, but I kept digging myself deeper into a hole. I didn’t know at the time that this was something he had drawn in five minutes with a set of crayons. I still become flushed with regret when I think about this incident, though logically I try to convince myself that I was in the right. I had given him the first criticism he had ever received, and he had it coming.

Not long ago my father entered a contest in which one painted anything they wanted on a two by two board. He hadn’t painted in thirty years, but he completed his work and brought it to the dining room to show me while I was visiting home. It depicted an Aztec warrior entangled in combat with a velociraptor. My throat tightened as I studied it. It was perfect. The colors, the shadow, the capturing of action. He hadn’t touched a paintbrush in three decades, and was still capable of creating something so flawless. I wanted to sob for two souls lost—his, such a great, inexhaustible talent that no one will ever know, and mine. My art was clouded with insecurity, rusty from lack of use, stunted in growth. I was a dodo compared to my father’s soaring eagle, but neither of us would live the dreams we had once been so sure would be our destiny.


Blogger Carol said...

Cassie, I don't know if you get comments from this site, but this and the kitty piece are some of the most vivid, touching, insightful work I have ever read. You are definately as gifted a writer as your dad is an artist. I don't remember as much as you do about the deaths of our pets, and it's just as well. I have so much to be sad about anyway. I do blame myself for all of their deaths, and have to keep myself from thinking about it too much. Especailly Halley...We can love our animals so much, and they will never live as long as we do. I thank you for recording these memories, and am glad that we're all busy making new ones, too. Namaste...the light in me honors the light within you...I love you! Mom

7:59 AM  

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