Blogathon: 14th Hour

Ay yay yay.

My brain is SO mushy!

I must have written well over 10,000 words by now.

Maybe some extra estrogen will help…

Or I can tell you the story of how I became a writer. And why I’m subjecting myself to this right now instead of painting pretty pictures.

Since I was really, really little I always had an exceptional talent for drawing. My parents were fond of it, too, and proud, and encouraged me. My father in particular strongly suggested that my destiny was to someday be an artist.

Though I do remember my mom once telling me that the reason she gave me her maiden name as my middle name was so that I had something pronounceable and “distinguished” to use if I became a writer. Which is a bit funny in retrospect since although I DID ultimately take that name as my surname, I didn’t take it as my pen name, opting instead for “Reed”… which, as I’ve confessed before, is really just a stupid little play on the word “read”.

Anyway, so as I grew up with my prodigal drawing skills, it felt my life was already kind of laid out for me before I even began. Sometimes I wonder to what degree the personality I developed and cultivated was influenced by that, and the ideas our culture has about what an “artist” is meant to be. Sometimes I worry that I made a whole lot of hasty decisions based on that predetermined conception of myself rather than my actual desires. For instance, in college I didn’t take any science classes, because I was “creative”, not “analytic”. It wasn’t until my senior year, when I was already 23, that I realized how much I love science.

Paths not chosen and all that.

But yeah, I was to draw. That was my thing.

As I got older, though, my love of drawing slowly faded. Where before I’d filled up reams and reams of computer paper my mom would bring home from her job as a secretary at John Abbott college, with mazes and monsters and ghosts and maps and dragons and all kinds of things (even making my own story books), eventually I grew up, and I felt obliged to start taking my talent “seriously”.

I enrolled in painting classes and things. I once had the “honour” of getting to take a painting class for experienced adults when I was 13.

And I eventually went to a magnet high school specifically established for teenagers who excelled in the arts. Where my electives focused primarily on visual art.

This was shortly after I’d moved away from Nova Scotia, leaving behind the first set of friends I’d managed to make since my awful, horrible, awkward, confused, deeply traumatic adolescence began.I know everyone says that about their adolescence, but yo. Seriously.

One of those hot, balmy summers in North Carolina, when I was 16, I had a particularly prolific couple of months. Almost every night I’d grab another masonite board, my palette, put on some music (I listened to a lot of gothy stuff around then… The Cure, Tori Amos, Bauhaus, This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins, The Smiths, etc.) and would paint a new picture.

Later that summer we took a trip back up to Nova Scotia, where I was going to visit all my old friends, who I dearly missed. I brought all the paintings with me, and on the last night I was there, when my friend Michael (in whose trailer I’d been staying) happened to be throwing a big party. I laid out all the paintings, at least thirty in all, out on the grass and as I was leaving (I couldn’t stay for the party) I said everyone could choose whichever one they liked best and have it to remember me by.

Around that same summer, I’d started dabbling in writing poetry and experimental prose and stuff. It was just something new, something I thought I’d try out, since I was also reading a lot in those days and wanted to try out some of the forms I was reading about.

A few weeks later, I called Michael to chat. He non-chalantly, as though completely not caring how it would make me feel, told me about what had happened at the party after I’d left.

Everyone had dropped a bunch of acid. Michael’s trailer was deep in the woods on the outskirts of Mahone Bay. There was a lake nearby, off a trail maintained by the inability of new trees and bushes to grow over the stones and rails that had once been train tracks. After they were deep into their trip, they decided to take a walk down to the lake, and took all the paintings with them.

They tossed the paintings into the lake.

After that, I just couldn’t paint anymore. But by then it was a bit too late. I’d long since consigned myself to the idea that I was an “artist”. Of the three children in my family, I was the “sensitive”, “artistic”, “creative” and (my dad’s favourite word to describe me) “weird” one.

Funny how obvious, in retrospect, those are as code words for “feminine”.

So… feeling I had to be “creative”, writing it was.

This was deepened a whole lot by the absolutely horrible art teacher I’d had that following year. There was exactly one form of visual expression I started to enjoy again, and that was drawing weird little sort-of-surreal, iconic cartoons. Little devils standing on clouds and stamping their feet to make exclamation marks pour out. Things like that. My art teacher chastised me for “wasting my time” and that I ought to be spending my talent on “serious” work like the dull class assignments.

That cemented things pretty thoroughly. But one of the funny little codas to this story was how several months after I’d finally dropped out of high school, I got word that a self-portrait I’d done (that the loathsome, joy-sucking art teacher particularly liked) had been taken by the school to the state fair without my permission as a representation of the talent of their students and subsequently lost.

They just plain had no idea what happened to it.

So… yeah… nothing like the people around you losing and destroying your art to make a girl’s work feel appreciated, yeah?

The nice thing about writing is it’s reproduceable. You can ignore or hate my writing. By all means. But you can’t toss it in a lake.


  1. MaNonny says

    That does appear to be something unique to certain types of visual arts – in order to be successful, you can’t really “own” it anymore. As in, you have no access to your originals and have no say in what’s done with them. Written word can be copied a hundred times and still be the “original” that you created and presented to the public.

    Although, I think that is something common to most arts – you don’t really have any say in how people react to your creation and what they decide to do to/with it. It’s probably what makes it such a deeply personal endeavor – you are creating something that needs much work and insight to be good but then could very plausibly be rejected by everyone else in the world. It’s a scary process, really.

    It’s sad that you lost your interest in something that seemed to bring you joy because of how others behaved. I hope you find many awesome future endeavors that others will be incapable of taking away.

  2. says

    I know this is ridiculous to say with all the other stuff you’ve been through, and this only applies to the one incident, but DAMMIT your Nova Scotia friends SUCK.

  3. sheila says

    My great Aunt took up oil painting after she was widowed at the age of 84, and she got to be rather good before she died. You could go back to painting and drawing if you wanted to. (OK, so oil paints and canvas aren’t cheap)

    But I’ll be sad if you stop writing.

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