being authentic

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. – e.e. cummings

My love for writing and art developed at a very young age. Whether it’s because real life could sometimes be a little boring or that I found freedom in expressing myself through these mediums (or maybe both), I primarily lived inside my head, weaving rich tapestries of stories and images that would eventually come to life on paper. English and Art were my best and favourite subjects in school.

Today, I identify as a writer and an artist.

Those two words – those labels – they make sense to me.

But I tried so hard to live up to so many other labels – many I took on because of my own insecurities and ones that were given to me by others – that it took me years to peel them off and get to my core.

To my authentic self.

~~~

When my high school art teacher encouraged me to pursue a career in arts, the image that came to mind of my future self was that of a starving artist. Growing up in a small mountain town, I didn’t know that careers outside of pure fine arts actually existed in the world.

But I did love to paint and draw. And I was good at it. I once had a scratchboard of an anime-style mythical dragon scene stolen from the art showcase in the hallway (I never did find out who took it, but after that all student artwork was posted inside a locked showcase). I could draw live portraits of people. Confidence in my artistic ability kept my hand steady and my lines flowed naturally.

I loved blending colours and painting landscapes. I preferred acrylics as they were more forgiving and easier to work with than oils.

A few months before graduation, I was accepted to a Hotel & Food Administration degree program.

I stopped painting and drawing after high school. There was no need for me to continue.

~~~

I fell in love with K-pop in the early 1990’s. I also fell in love with writing fanfiction (I’m slightly ashamed to admit this but it’s part of my writing history and I can’t deny it). I included one of these fanfics in a submission to a writing contest at school when I was in Grade 11.

I won first prize.

I wanted to become a novelist or write short stories for a living. But I kept hearing about how difficult it would be to get published and that I might never get a book released. Instead of a starving artist, I imagined a starving writer, desperately sending her manuscript to anyone with a heartbeat, wasting away in her decrepit unfurnished hole-in-the-wall with nothing but papers scattered on the floor of stories that the world would never read.

I stopped writing fanfics in my early 20’s. There was no need for me to continue.

~~~

From a little spark may burst a flame. -Dante Alighieri

Often it’s easier to look back on the regrets of life – the “what if’s”, the “I should haves” or “could haves” – worrying about them as if this very act of regret could somehow reverse the clock and right all the supposed wrongs that happened along the way. If only I had done this… or said that… or took this job instead of that job… if only… if only… if only

If only we’d just stop “if onlying” ourselves to death.

I could look at not pursuing art or writing when I was much younger (and perhaps brighter) as one of those “if only” situations. And believe me, it replayed constantly like a really catchy song by an artist I hate that happened to get stuck in my head. It was an all-too-familiar tune.

“Look at how you wasted your youth.”

“Starting over in your thirties, already a decade behind the rest.”

“Too late to make an impact in the world, why don’t you just give up now?”

“Go back to your safety net and forget about your dreams.”

“Dreams are make-believe. Wake up to reality!”

The past year has been about peeling off all the false labels that I had accumulated along my journey. I suffered from depression earlier this year and it was only through this dark period that I realized how much baggage I was carrying around, trying to fit into the person I thought the world wanted me to be. It was painful – like slowly ripping off bandaids, one after another – and leaving myself exposed like this made me feel naked and vulnerable. At least what those labels afforded me was protection, like a thick fur coat.

Without that coat, what was I? What did I look like underneath?

Was I ready for the world to see the real me?

~~~

I’m nothing special. I’m just an ordinary thirty-something Korean woman living her ordinary middle-class life in an ordinary Albertan city.

The odds of my existence being the catalyst for a huge change are slim to nil. I will not win a Nobel Prize. I will not be on the list of the world’s billionaires.

But that’s okay, because that’s not who my authentic self is striving to be.

My authentic self finds true joy and freedom in gliding a paintbrush across an empty canvas, in bringing together lines of all shapes and sizes to create a composite, in putting my thoughts and experiences down into words to share with others so that they can see who I really am.

“Look at how you wasted your youth.”

“Starting over in your thirties, already a decade behind the rest.”

“Too late to make an impact in the world, why don’t you just give up now?”

“Go back to your safety net and forget about your dreams.”

“Dreams are make-believe. Wake up to reality!”

I stopped listening to that song. There was no need for me to continue.

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