My father is here.
This is the first time I’ve ever reunited with him for the past three years. I invite him home, and he sees my family gallery- my living room wall.
He wonders if I can give him a painting as a souvenir.
“Your work looks so cool!” He says.
When you were born to an upper-middle-class family in Shanghai, China, your life was pretty much planned. I was always grateful for what I had. Not every kid in China got to attend operas or symphonies on a regular basis. Neither did they begin learning a second language at age three. When you were born in such a family, there gotta be something wrong with yourself if you couldn’t live a bright future, vibrant life with a prideful career.
I lived up to that expectation.
I was always one of the best students. I knew I was smart, and I was hard working on top of that. When you were born to such a decent family, you naturally had higher standards about yourself, and you probably have developed a definition of losers since you were in kindergarten.
Unfortunately, artists usually fell into the loser category.
When I first found peace in painting and writing, I totally freaked out.
I was eight. I was drawing on the margin of my textbook during class time because whatever was being taught was far too easy for me — too dull. In China, a good student could get away with tons of thing. For example, doing other things when you were supposed to be paying attention.
Soon the doodling developed into short manga strips and story script written in a tiny teeny font. It was only a year before I blatantly brought an empty notebook and directly stuck it under my large textbook. That way, when I wanted to write or draw, all I needed to do was pushing my book further up, and my notepad would show underneath.
Luckily, my teacher didn’t really give a crap as long as I was still the same straight A student.
Unfortunately, as my passion for writing and painting grew, so did my family’s problem with my “wasting my time on useless activities.”
“I can’t give you any originals.” I refuse.
I tell him that galleries only take originals since I am a painter, not a printer. If I make limited edition prints myself it would have been different — but I don’t.
My father seems disappointed.
“But what would I do with a copy?”
Confusedly he asks. His eyebrows twitches, his face shrinks.
I stare at him blankly, not knowing what to say.
My parents didn’t waste time on prep talk. They went straight to the topic.
My mother sat me down and told me she once wrote as well, but only as a hobby.
“You should never let your hobby get into your life.” She said.
She just bought a new pair of eyeglasses. The lenses were installed on a thin, grey metal frame. They looked a lot like the ones some of my teachers wore.
She continued: “I know writing and drawing must be fun, but it is not your life.”
I was 12 and I was confused. That was the first time I questioned how my life should really be. I meant I wanted to be in a bright office and make tons of money and buy fancy clothes and go to cocktail parties (speaking of a 12-year-old’s ambition,) but I also wanted to write and draw, and make stuff, and I didn’t want to wait till I retired to do these things, as some“after real-life hobby.”
Eventually, my mother concluded: “You are always such a stborn child. Fine, you win, and I’ll leave you alone — but you better live up as my daughter”
I almost want to ask my father since when they are so proud of me for my art. But I think that might ruin the day and the man does have to fly for nearly 24 whole hours to come to the states.
“But I can’t give you an original.” I finally come up with a good excuse.
I say: “I have some gallery shows pending. Maybe after these busy month, next time you can take one home.”
“Okay.” My father agrees.
I have a feeling he understands the subtle implication now. But the fact is no artist will give away originals, especially real originals.
Those ones have our heart in it. And only goes to people who truly understands them.
I managed to make peace with my parents until my high school years. Then the hormone blasted during my late-arrival of rebellion.
Suddenly I began talk about dream and pursuit. I began tell my parents that I did not want to live my life like their’s.
“What do you mean like our life.” My mother screamed.
That high-pitch voice became my only impression of her for a very long time.
I stared at her: “I want to do what I like, that’s all. I love writing, I love painting, I wanna be an artist.”
That was it.
I said it.
The one thing I should have never said in my family no matter how I truly felt because “dream” had no place in my household.
Rather, it was always profit, income, success and reputation.
Being an artist might bring all of those things, but not in a respectful way, according to my family.
The argument ended with a strike of parental authority: no more notepads, no more library card. No more “wasting time.”
But I was never a typical “good child.”
As a response, I started drawing character strips and writing novels.
My father apologizes to me by the end of the day.
He says: “I hope you don’t mind those things we said when you were younger.”
I blank out for a second.
I mean, that was only five, six years ago. I am not that old now, and I was not that young back then.
But still, I reply: “Forget about it — I’ve forgotten about it.”
My father laughs with relief: “I knew you’d forgotten it by now. I told your mother. She wouldn’t believe so. She said you still hated her.”
My writing craft bloomed earlier, and faster than my passion for painting, simply because China had an enormous web fiction market whereas original manga, anime and especially serious surreal art was less explored.
I read all the time, and began to write a classic Chinese Wu Xia story.
Because I wrote in class a lot, I developed a habit of drafting on my notepad then type my draft into the computer once a week.
One night, I was feeling a really good flow. My bedroom lamp went out so I moved to the living room.
It was 10:30 pm. Usually I’d be in bed by then, but that night I wanted to finish my chapter.
My grandma, my mother and my father all yelled for me to go to bed. At some point it turned into a nerve-wrecking ordeal for me, and a crucification carnival for my family.
“You need sleep. That is why you’re always so tired in the days — you don’t sleep enough.”
“You are still a kid, you should be in bed by 10!”
“Cut it out, you can write tomorrow!”
The words began to fall apart and I desperately tried to grasp my thought before it was gone.
If only they’d leave me alone, I thought.
And I said it out loud: “Just be quiet! It’s almost done! Don’t you understand if I don’t write it down now it would be different! It won’t be as good!”
I wasn’t sure what I said wrong. Or if it was my urging tone that offended my family member.
All I heard was someone screaming: “Not the same? Don’t make me laugh — you’re not a writer! You’re just a fake! And you’ll never live as an artist because you’re not made fore it!”
My father seems to regret what he has said.
And I regret for even arguing about originals and prints.
I tell my father: “I don’t hate her. That is ridiculous. I don’t hate either one of you, in fact.”
My father grins nervously: “Of course you don’t.”
We fall into an awkward silence.