[Originally performed at the Berkeley Poetry Slam on January 14th, 2016. Video here.]
When I tell my mother, “I want to be an artist,” she looks at me as if I’m a rotund six year old crying out to be a ballerina. The thought so akin to the absurdity of becoming a stripper-EMT-lottery winner combo, she tells me, “Marry well.” Hitch my wagon to something more stable, for my ambition is full of air quotes, a “profession of passion” instead of security. Don’t I want to support her hypothetical grandchildren?!
Not this instant, no—infants are squishy, big-headed shitbombs—but maybe, someday. So I date tech nerds. Boys suited as men sporting perpetual entrepreneurial boners, with salaries large enough to pay the hospital bills every time I near death by boredom from their bragging. At dinner we play a lopsided game of twenty questions, the first—from me—about his business, the remaining nineteen an internal, “Oh, my god, will he even notice if I start drinking shots instead of beer?” but eventually his lips will run dry from kissing his own ass and he’ll stop to take a sip and return the favor. “So… what do you do?”
And I have thought of so many ways to spin this—the fact that my “career” is both a small child’s recreation and a senior home therapy technique but not an acceptable day job. That I’ve chosen a path where the only way to succeed at meeting expectations is to fail. To preface what I love by assuring him that I know there is no money in discussing the discrepancies between Manet and Monet, as if comparing ancient French dudes like apples and oranges could ever make still lifes less fucking boring. That I, too, think most abstract art looks like the most poetic dribbling of vomit on vinyl. That I am aware I will spend my entire life “exposing” myself under the pretense of networking, only to one day roll over in my grave as some schmuck buys my prints for 50 cents at an estate sale because being appreciated while alive is more of a joke than pissing on a poodle and calling it performance art.
See because when I say, “I’m a photographer,” and my date says, “Oh, cool!” but all I hear is, “Oh, so, you use a filter other than Valencia?” I can’t get mad because the apprehension in his voice merely echoes that in my own. I have mastered the art of self-loathing because I’ve heard that can lead to some profound, visionary shit. And I’ve been told, “Doing what you love means you’ll never work a day in your life!” but most days I am more full of burritos than inspiration, and creating something beautiful when everything around me feels ugly is not in my job description. I’m a “free-spirit” paralyzed by my freedom—too scared to paint because that first stroke on blank canvas feels like defining the relationship and I’ve never been good at the talk; too shaky to draw because who ever knows what the fuck to do with their hands?!
So I stick to the digital world and I cling to the undo, because when I call myself an artist, I see a 23 year old girl crying out for any sense of purpose but can’t seem to get the focus just right, doesn’t know what she’s aiming at, whose pictures are meant to convey more than a thousand words ever could but feels like she has nothing worthy to say. A girl stifling insecurities behind closed doors because it makes people uncomfortable when I try to hang them on walls and yet the first thing my mother sees every time she crosses the threshold into her home, proudly on display for all to admire, is a 4×5 print of everything I’ve been taught to be ashamed of.