By CHRISTIE LEE, MFA student in the Writing and Consciousness MFA program
This post was written as an assignment for Professor Cindy Shearer’s Aesthetics of Value course. In Aesthetics of Value, students explore their arts heritage and inquire into the values that guide their creative work.
Much of my identity is connected with the idea of being a perfect Chinese girl (serious, put together):
- my appearance
- how I express myself (don’t say anything, keep quiet, don’t be a pest)
- familial expectations: do what is expected out of you, not what you want to do, because security is important, having a good paying job is important. Please don’t embarrass your family.
I graduated from a good school with a useful degree. I fell in love with my first boyfriend, expecting to marry him despite our differences. I worked nine-to-five jobs for security, health insurance, and 401(k) benefits because I thought this was what I was supposed to do.
I have struggled with my weight since junior high, going on my first diet in the eighth grade, taking diet pills, binge eating, compulsive eating, starving myself, doing drugs, and smoking cigarettes in college—just so I could be skinny and desirable.
I kept a journal to chronicle everything so that I wouldn’t forget anything. Two years ago, as I desperately tried holding onto my ex-boyfriend, I harassed him with emails. One day it occurred to me that I was recreating what my father did to us. I knew I had to stop.
It wasn’t his responsibility to make things better for me. I couldn’t torture either of us anymore, so I took the first steps in reclaiming my life back.I enrolled in graduate school. Writing was the only thing that I knew I wanted to do. I never made the connection that writing was art because certain family members told me that it was silly and stupid. How could I expect to make any money by doing art? I made a decent living by being a paralegal, office administrator and manager, but it never made me happy. My soul was yearning for more.
In my quest for perfection, the spirit of the little girl inside me was silenced when other people told me what I should do with my life and I believed them—my angry father telling me to be obedient and quiet, my family’s insistence on security and stability and an ex-boyfriend who made me believe that my love was what he needed to be saved from himself. Perfection is limiting, mistrustful, inflexible, judgmental and unyielding. Being an artist is the exact opposite of all that. What I am finally able to do now—what I couldn’t do before—is take responsibility for my life. I get to ask the questions; I get to decide what is right for Christie Lee and no one else. I get to define what an artist is, what she looks like, and how she behaves. I never believed that if I didn’t do it, it would kill me, but because I didn’t do it for so many years, a part of me was killed. This is my letter to the world.