//word vomit and a healthy dose of whiny self-pity incoming
After a few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I‘m a single-minded person.
Well, not really me per se on the “coming to conclusion” part. It was a few years of people constantly pointing it out for me, me ignoring them, and then me eventually admitting that hey, wow, I actually am pretty fucking obsessive about the things I like.
This is why I mostly flinch and inwardly recoil when someone remarks, “You’re so lucky you draw,” or “It’s nice that you read so much.”
To be honest, both things have probably ruined my life or any chances I had of exhibiting what’s considered healthy behavior.
Starting with drawing. Or art in general.
Drawing used to be fascinating.
When I was three or four, I remember vandalizing our walls with permanent markers. I did lots of DIY shit. Cars, castles, and people out of paper. Cotton robots for everyone. Fancy paper androids and hand-made cards. Powder plus alcohol in a mini-washing machine with red dye and tissues (don’t ask).
God, I was a messy kid. Every inch of my house was lathered in paint. Pretty much anything I could find was subjected to my feverish drawing, cutting, and gluing. It was the highlight of my childhood, watching all those stuff pile up. I remember thinking this was normal behavior. And it was, up until my playmates started growing up or some other shit that required us not to waste time on artsy-fartsy stuff.
I don’t remember when it started. Me hating art, I mean.
Maybe it was during first grade, when drawing ships and constructing families out of clay didn’t get me a smile anymore. Maybe it was when my dad, this one person I regarded so highly and feared so much, started saying he resented me for drawing when I didn’t really need to, and did I really think I had talent? -because I didn’t. I should stop kidding myself. Problem is, I was well aware of this already. I guess the discouragement wasn’t that effective. I wasn’t really dismayed, with my “hopes and dreams crushed, forever emotionally crippled and unable to engage in my calling” or some other dramatic artist complex. I was just really fucking scared shitless. Basically I still did what I’ve always done, only coupled with a sense of paranoia that would only grow worse over the years.
I started doodling behind my notebooks, which all kids were bound to do. I got scolded of course. It was a new thing for me. My parents used to encourage “creativity” (yes, that is exactly how condescending it sounds in real time with the italics and quotation marks) so long as teachers and other acquaintances ooh’d and aah’d over my cute little efforts and I cleaned up my mess afterwards. Well, until the habit started eating away at me. My time. My thoughts. My personality. They told me to stop. Stop it, don’t draw anymore. It’s pointless. You’re not going to get anywhere with art as a career.
And you know what’s the most effective way to have me itching to do something so bad I’d die? It’s telling me not do it. It’s weird. I’m a passive sloth but I get random bursts of irrational defiance. It’s shitty behavior. I’m still trying to fix it. I don’t know how I would have ended up exactly if my parents didn’t tell me not to draw. Maybe with a less shitty and apathetic disposition when it comes to life in general.
I lost myself in sketching. I was horrified to find out that the more I tried to stop, the more it got worse. The more I got verbally and physically scolded, the more I felt that drawing was horribly wrong, and so so right. It wasn’t relevant, it was a waste of time- and it’s true. It’s true, when it’s consuming you like that. When the drawing is drawing you. It was like a vomit of my thoughts, inversely proportional to how I felt.
Sketch, sketch, it went. My parents acted like drawing was something akin to watching pornography and I did as well. (No, not watch pornography, c’mon, I mean like, felt the same way they did about drawing.) They’d hover over my shoulder, poised to catch me in the act. I’d take out my pad and pen when no one was around, stuffing it under some pillow or corner at the slightest noise. Fucking James Bond dramatic shit, but I was- in all honesty- a dramatic little shit back then. I was all for the theatrics because somehow making it look worse than it was made me think it wasn’t that bad after all.
What really freaked me out is when I developed this habit of automatically covering or immediately hiding whatever the fuck I was doing/drawing, even at school, far away from my parents. People would look over, I’d duck it out of the way, and they’d either think I regarded my drawing too good for their mortal eyes, or that it was a faux shyness move, or me attempting to be movie-esque mysterious.
All I ever felt was this violent, nervous churning in my gut.
Whenever a feel someone looking, I get an irrational urge to gouge their eyes out. The fact that I could do it freely in public but this stupid urge to hide it because I got used to doing so got me furious- and you know how I’m a master at projecting misplaced anger. Why the fuck was I doing it? What the fuck is wrong with me!? Fucking goddamn-
Man that sounds horrible of me, seeing it written down. It’s a little okay now though; from gut-churning violence it’s just this uneasy bubbling in my stomach. It was a cold, creeping realization when I knew that I hated drawing but couldn’t, for the life of me, think of giving it up. It made me feel complete in the most awful way possible.
Keep in mind that I don’t resent my parents for this. Some might argue over their methods, but their priorities were in the right place. They didn’t want me to fail. And I didn’t. I never did. That’s what I thought was the injustice of it all, I never did fail despite my inclinations, and they still acted like me engaging in anything relatively artistic- calligraphy, cutting, coloring, folding- was like walking in on me smearing bloody pagan symbols all over the walls, attempting to summon some transvestite pole dancer.
But really, all they wanted was a stable study habit and I was making cities on the back pages of my math notebook for christsake. Any parent would be frustrated. I wasn’t being productive. Sure maybe they played a part in me being this ungrateful mess of pompous cynicism, but it was mostly me. I had the primal desire to do things anyone insistently tells me not to do- then when that defiance wears out, I either get the luck of losing interest in it or- much like this drawing case- an unfortunate parasitic roundabout dependency that I just can’t do moderately.
I knew what was wrong with me. It just felt doubly awful that my parents thought the same thing. It’s a fucked up cycle of feeling bad about drawing, then curing that bad feeling by drawing, which is what made me feel bad in the first place. I never felt comfortable labeling what I did as ‘art’ or calling myself an ‘artist’. It sounds like a farce. How can something so beautifully described in the books I love be so horrifying? People throw that word around all the time and it’s really unsettling.
That’s the worst thing about being mediocre at drawing. You’re not that bad, so you have these wonderful people complimenting you and saying how good you are. But of course you know that you’re never going to be good enough, that there are a million people out there better than you. And this fact is okay with you when you really love drawing, but if you dare voice these sentiments out, saying “Oh no, I’m not that good,” there are only two main sentiments that you generate from other people who hear this (at least the ones I’ve had the wonderful experience of witnessing over and over and over).
It’s either this silent thought that creeps on their face like a cloud on a sunny day: “Douche, you’re just pretending to be humble. Fishing for more compliments, expecting me to coerce you into ‘believing’ you’re amazing at this,” or this other one that they’re more inclined to dramatically voice out: “How on earth can you say that!? Do you know how lucky you are? How dare you feel that way about your talent!”
It made compliments painful to hear. It’s nice, you want to feel nice. But you can’t and you feel hopelessly lost instead. It’s supposed to be a compliment but then it starts getting invasive. Or am I just an ungrateful git? No one is aware how a simple, inconsequential “how dare you feel that way about your talent” triggers unwanted recollections of how it’s always been drilled into me to feel that way. It’s no body’s fault that I feel awful, since it’s not really something I say out loud. Like, “Haha, oh yeah thanks- but can you not do it? It makes me feel sick.” What the fuck, right?
Welp, eventually I got over it- hahaha, no, I didn’t. I’m still as fucking obsessed with drawing as I was then. I just gained more privacy when I got older so I got found out less. I got a little comfortable.
So what’s the moral lesson? Nothing. It’s a destructive habit and I still do it, because even after hating it so much, it’s been with me for so long that love and hate are starting to mean the same thing.
Sometimes I dream about getting my own apartment one day, a place where accidentally leaving a sketch out in the open won’t send me into a mini cardiac arrest or make my parents obsessively converge on this single piece of illustration as a beacon that my life is on the road to hell once again- with the dramatic tears, anger, violence, and look of disappointment usually reserved for situations where other teens confess unplanned pregnancy. But then again, if I ever do get an apartment I’ll probably die of starvation first because I can’t cook for shit.
Books, books, books.
This is what I’ve always wanted to ask people who make reading list goals: why do you do it?
By “reading list goals”, I mean people who go, “My goal: To read 50 novels this month!” as if they need to set a minimum amount of books they have to get through. Like reading casually is a task they have to get over with. These lists are totally devoid of caring whatever title they want to read, all the purpose it serves is to tell people that they must read something at this amount or they have failed. The way I regard reading, it’s like people saying, “My goal: To take a maximum of 50 packs of marijuana this month!”
I was under the impression that reading is a voluntary act for most people. Why would you need to tell yourself to do it if you really wanted to do it? The reason, “Oh I’m too busy so I needed a reminder,” really doesn’t fit in either. I mean, isn’t it, “Oh I’m too busy- fuuuck! MUST. RESIST. DOING. IT.”
Usually you only need these compulsory ‘reading goals’ when it involves academic textbook reading. If I had a goal that involved books they would probably go along the lines of, “My goal: Do not fucking touch a novel for a week while trying to review for your prelim exams”, or “My Goal: Go to sleep”
Unlike drawing, reading didn’t get better over the years. It got worse, because now I have easier access to books I wanted to read and no one can ever guess that I was simply reading and not texting.
Same scenario: when I was a kid, I loved reading. I’d alternate between sketching this dude’s face and finishing a book. My parents (again) thought it was cute when I was like three or four. My picture books fueled both my addictions. The words were comfortable tunnels, the illustrations my own temporary universe. I had an epiphany too: “I can write my own story and draw my own pictures, holy shit!” I shed the picture books early enough, deciding that I wanted more words, more twists and turns. My head and hand can take care of the graphics. (No. Mind out of the gutter please.)
Reading books, unlike drawing, didn’t immediately set alarm bells ringing. It was so easy to think that reading books is good for your child, expanding her vocabulary, and making her explore new worlds. I guess they just got worried around that time I burned through my own selection of books and started stealing my sister’s books from her high school library.
The warnings started endearing at first- “You read too much,” they’d say smiling. Then it was, “Why are you still reading,” until it got to, “So help me god, I will burn that [censored] [censored] book if you don’t [censored] put it down,” and eventually exploded into a series of, “PUT THAT GODDAMN BOOK DOWN. STOP WASTING YOUR LIFE.” [Cue in a bunch of shattering glasses and banshee screeching.]
You can probably guess what happened next.
They forbid me from reading, so at seven I started hiding in closets and reading through the slits of light that filtered in from the cracks. God, those were some pretty weird days. Forget drugs, doing that shit had me zoned out for weeks.
I’d read things I shouldn’t be reading till the wee hours of the night- and when they were asleep, finally I’d flip my lamp on and read it out in the open. Karma, I found out when I got older, is truly a bitch. My eyesight needed over 200 graded lenses during sixth grade which eventually deteriorated into 600/550. When I take off my glasses everyone is just a blob of iridescent light now. If you think that kind of obsessive reading is something to be proud of or something worth telling others without shame, then you must have serious issues. If you think I could have stopped doing that as easy as, ‘Oh, I should stop reading now and do it later,’ then I’m clueless in explaining how I couldn’t have done that either.
Some friends comfort me by saying, ‘I know, it’s the story, it pulls you in, you can’t blame yourself over a good story. Sometimes I stay up all night because the story is so exciting and I finish everything’.
I wanted to believe that, I wanted that sense of kinship so much. And I did find friends who read to get lost for a while, who sometimes desperately tried to stop but couldn’t. But most I just wanted to gag for implying that reading is always for fun and for socialization with others who’ve read the same books while blithely shrugging off the idea that reading can both be rapture and desecration at the same time. “Really now? Don’t be silly,” they’d say. And it hurt.
The idea of an entire life in those pieces of paper themselves was so enticing. I’d drown in longing even before I got to the first chapter, just thinking how I can lose myself in those pages. Those goddamn convenient collection of words that spin one alternate reality after another. I’d run amazing stories over and over again in my head until it made me desperate to flee from it- enough to read another book that I’d inevitably get addicted to as well. Rinse and repeat.
As the youngest in every class and in the family for five years, people never took me seriously. I can repeat their dogmatic adult arguments and how much I wanted to grimace at how homophobic and prejudiced they are. It felt like they were deliberately slandering the diverse characters I admired. But I couldn’t, I was a kid, and if I questioned them they’d start asking where I knew, where I learned that word, and then they’d take my books away the same way they took my sketch pads.
Hunger frequently gnawed at the edges of my thoughts. I’d read just to hear that satisfying crack when reality ceased to exist for a while. I’d remember the Ostrogoth camps in vivid detail, with the bloody and brilliant conquests in between while Saio Thorn the Mannamavi won over my admiration. I’d remember it all, and forget I was simply reading and not witnessing the unification of the Gothic empire myself. (But more than those amazing tidbits, I knew they’d focus on the fact that my hero was a heroine at the same time, and that I shouldn’t read things like that. I don’t know, I guess they thought there’s an age appropriate time to teach a kid the word “Hermaphrodite”? I wondered then what they told the kids who were born as such.)
When I got older and age versus maturity didn’t really match up anymore, I thought this would be it, I can talk with sense, with people who expect me to make sense. Sadly, society is a little piece of shit, and they pumped out this curious generation. At this age, people don’t actually like going into details- or they like going too much into details that they lose sight of why there are details. Simply put, people I could comfortably converse with more than books are still few and far in between. So I read. And read some more.
I can go on and on, trying to describe the horrors of falling into this cycle and never actually wanting to get out but I probably won’t convey the whole sentiment across because there’s a stigma that reading is always, always good for you. Reading must make you brilliant and profound. Reading must mean you’re a smart cookie.
Reading can’t mean that you’re a junkie. Reading can’t mean that you started questioning and stopped believing in religion when you were in sixth grade, and you were so scared because why am I thinking this? Why is this happening to me? -but you couldn’t talk to anyone about it.
Reading can’t mean that it made you hate people you were best friends with. Reading can’t mean that you questioned and thought twice about anything you say, which led you to not saying anything at all. Reading can’t mean you tuned everyone out and ran away from present concerns because you’re too much of an insecure scatter brain to actually do things that need to be done. Reading can’t mean that you’re starting to think everyone is so sickeningly idealistic, that permanent happiness can’t possibly exist, that you’re turning into a fucking disgusting hateful cynic during your formative years. Reading can’t mean that you start thinking you’re so special, so different, and it comes crashing back that you’re pretty much like everyone else thinking they’re special too. Reading can’t deal you two totally opposite cards of self realization and self hatred at the same time. Reading can’t mean that the more you read, the more you feel like you’re turning into a horrible person.
Funny, because it totally can.
But yes, that was a rather harsh portrait of an activity that got me through my childhood. Reading can be all that, and so much more. Reading isn’t just good or bad. Reading is something that doesn’t only tell you what “good” and “bad” is- it tells you there’s so much more in between.
Might sound horrible, but do I regret any of it?
Reading, or drawing?
Never. I wouldn’t be me otherwise.
Eventually, I’m going to pick up a book to forget I typed down any of this.
Those were the big two, I guess. Others are like their babies. Those two obsessions have given birth to the others.
Writing. (Ha. Now that I think about it, writing should be one of the big two- wait, three. Except I write like some viscous chupacabra is chasing me and I have to type in sentences as if it’s my last. I use the word ‘like’ a lot. I know it’s confusing. They spill, these thoughts, I have to string them all into one giant train wreck or they’ll scatter off into the woods. I’m sorry. I’m not a story teller so I don’t think I can claim dedication to writing. I only do that chronological narrative for pretentious bullshit. Most of the time it’s just me writing in tangents. Like this. In this stupid fucking long arse side note parenthesis. Fuck.) But yeah, writing is great therapy so I guess it counts.
Coffee. Comics. Bands. TV Series. Lots more.
When I don’t like something, I plain out don’t. But when I do like something, which is few and far in between… uh, you could say I don’t go half way. I plunge into it with vigor and forget anything else exists. I like scorching my interests down to the core, leaving nothing to look back on.
What did I get in exchange? The burden of knowing useless things (well what do you know, ignorance really is bliss), shitty socialization skills, devastatingly poor eyesight, and a cognitive mistrust for humanity.
As usual, there is no moral lesson. My life is just one big accumulation of petty concerns and fucked up cycles.
Don’t do it kids. Don’t follow your childish impulses.
Don’t draw the things you dream about, just draw the ones that teachers tell you to. Don’t read books you like, read the books you want people to see you reading to amp up your image instead. This way you can stop at will and do something productive with your life afterwards.
Overbearingly long rant over, thank goodness.
Alright. Shut up, me.