In the ’80s, my mom took night classes at Bronx Community College. She wanted to be a paralegal, and sometimes she could focus on it, but mostly her mania made it hard for her to pick one thing and see it through. But when she was present for her career ambitions, I went with her to class because she couldn’t afford child care.
Night classes at the college level were pretty boring, even as a nerdy kid. After being in school all day, by the time evening came, I’d have finished my homework. I was gifted, but my brain wasn’t that interested in case-law in second grade. It was obvious to everyone, including one of Mom’s classmates, who must have been a mom. She opened up a page in her loose leaf notebook after watching my eyes glaze over for about 20 minutes and said, “Wanna learn how to draw a doll?”
Now, in this era, I was obsessed with Rainbow Brite and Cabbage Patch dolls. Of course I wanted to learn! I nodded eagerly, quietly and sat, rapt with attention, as she drew a simple figure with a blouse and a skirt with a blue Bic ballpoint pen. She had a fashion magazine, too, and she let me borrow it so I could practice drawing what I saw.
It was the most fun I’d had in my life, drawing what I saw. Until then, I had only taken in the fast-moving world around me. I had not tried to interpret it in any way. This was my beginning as an artist, though I didn’t have language or confidence to claim that title. It felt distant. It felt white. Not mine.
In the years to come, I sketched on the margins of paper and of my life. When I came of age, the fashion designer Byron Lars was hot and the Village Voice was a plump pulp product I flipped through every Wednesday as soon as it was folded neatly and flat in the red plastic bins that seemed to appear on every Manhattan street corner. One week, I saw that Lars would be greeting people at Bloomingdale’s. It was my first real life meeting with someone Black who was living one of my dreams. I hopped the turnstiles from the Bronx and made the sojourn to shake his hand, to laugh shyly when he greeted me and encouraged me to keep drawing.
Sometimes, all our creativity needs is a cracked door. The door doesn’t need to open all the way, we don’t need to be flooded with light. You just need a sliver, like a plant. More light is better, usually, but really you just need to not be completely shrouded in your own darkness. Some part of the real you that needs feeding and nurturing — that needs the light.
I was thinking about this when I started drawing again at the end of last year with intention and sharing my work online, because I simply love it. I’ve always had a meditation practice (when I am disciplined) and a writing practice/discipline, which I center my life around. But taken together, these are all creative practices, like singing and dancing.
It took me decades to get back to that second-grade-self, the one who drew like no one was watching. I’ve spent the first couple of months of this year sorting out how to convey the importance, to myself and others, of holding on to that light energy, the feeling of creating something beautiful for the sake of creating it. Not to win fans or followers. Not to augment your brand, though these things are nice. But creating for the sake of feeding your soul, letting the light in: This is my wish for myself this year — and for those of you who make things, beautiful or in progress, or rough drafts or things that feel hard to get right — this is also my creative wish for you.