If I could paint my self portrait what would it show?
Would it show a girl seemingly young yet wise beyond her years or would it show a child who is continuously engaging in a game of dress up?
When I was younger I wanted first to be a fashion designer and have my designs inspire the world. I used to draw outfits every day, dreaming of the fashion empire I would one day rule. Then one day I gave up, and that dream went away.
The next dream was to be an FBI agent, I wanted to be a fierce female cop mixed with Nancy Drew. That was until my father told me he’d disown me if I ever became a part of the FBI, so that dream changed very quickly.
Then it was an Olympic gymnast but I was always taller than the other girls so I stopped gymnastics too. As for my dream of being a national ranked swimmer, I found out very quickly that swimming meters and meters is harder than it looks, so after a few months I left the swim team…I’m still an good swimmer though.
Then came what I thought would be my final dream. I would now be an actress. I knew that not all actresses got rich and famous but that was okay with me, all I wanted was to be in a few plays and a few of my favorite musicals and maybe then go on to chase the fame. I had always been told that I should go into theater and finally in 7th grade I got a small part in the school musical, Peter Pan, as an Indian. I guess that was all it took because from then on I became devoted to the theater world. I got the title role in the middle school play the same year and I went on to act as well as become the head costume and makeup designer all the way until the year I graduated.
The summer before my senior year was when I officially began to make my college application list, I included several schools with great all around theater programs, including NYU’s Tisch. I also included a couple of design schools just because my love for fashion had never really died. When my mom saw the list, she immediately crossed most of them off, she told me that I could minor in theater but not major in it. She wanted me to a lawyer, to be able to provide for myself and one day, maybe her. Fine I thought, I’ll show her, I’ll apply to programs like NYU’s Gallatin, where I could create my own program of study in pre-law and theater. I didn’t mind, I wasn’t opposed to being a lawyer or taking law related courses, I had many interests and this way I could fulfill them all.
But luckily for her my love for acting and being involved in theater seemed to be dying. You see my senior year my parents had financial issues and had to move me from my private prep school to the (honestly) not so good local public school.
Theater became my way of navigating the school’s cliquey seas, something I didn’t mind doing because I’d be gone soon anyway.
I got one of the leads in the fall play and instantly I was in, everyone thought I was so talented, but I knew the truth. My heart wasn’t really in it anymore and I wasn’t pushing myself. You see while I was naturally good at theater I had never really ever let myself go when I acted, if I had it was only once, not letting myself go had cost me a lot of roles that should have been mine as well as a loss of some self confidence.
But on the stage I was more myself than anywhere else and so I kept at it. Later that year I went to a theater convention down in Corpus Christi…I had reached the pinnacle of high school theater success, as a first semester senior I had already achieved the level of International Thespian, the highest level achievable, in the International Thespian Society for high school.
At the convention I was competing for some awards for two monologues I was going to perform, to say the least I didn’t place, to say the truth the judges said what I knew all along: I had picked the wrong monologues for myself, I wasn’t becoming the characters, and I wasn’t letting myself go…they knew I could do so much better.
But I never did.
After that convention I stopped acting, I didn’t audition for the musical, I wasn’t involved at all, except for helping to paint a few sets. I didn’t accept the role I had gotten in the school’s UIL competition one act, even though I was told it was a great honor since it was such a small cast…it took forever for me to stop regretting that decision. In fact all I did was direct my own senior one act…it was great, it was hilarious, but it could have been better…I could have been better.
In March of 2011, I was accepted into Wellesley College, I also received enough financial assistance from the college that would not only allow me to go attend but keep my total debt under $12,000. So for once in a very long time I did something right, that I wanted to do…I accepted the free flight to go and visit the school, I went with my dad, and when I got back home he wrote me a check for $500, and I sent in my deposit.
No one in my family really said anything but I could tell that they weren’t too thrilled. To cut them some slack I don’t really think they meant the hurt they caused me. You see most of them had never heard of Wellesley College, they couldn’t, wouldn’t…and mostly still don’t understand why I would leave Texas and instead of going to the great University of Texas at Austin or Southern Methodist University, go to Wellesley College, a small women’s college outside of Boston, MA.
But what they couldn’t understand, try as I might, was that I didn’t get into UT Austin, no matter how good my academic & extracurricular record, because of that silly top 8% rule. And as for SMU, my elementary, middle and high school experience had, for the most part been me as the “smart black girl”, they one who “made it” unlike the other black kids…I was intelligent, well spoken, and I even did community service. In their world I was perfect, in mine, I was their pet. So why would I want to go to a school like SMU, that would only have me end up repeating those experiences. My “public school year” had helped me to uncover part of my true self, no way was I going backwards.
So I left and I went to Wellesley where not only did I begin to uncover the rest of myself but where I also began to dig my grave.
I did stupid things, I made horrible mistakes…I began to first why I came there in the first place, I just wanted to follow the crowd. Then one day I found myself, in an old diary, I vowed never to go back again and I vowed to start creating instead of searching endlessly in the darkness for something I had never lost…myself.
And so here I am, thinking of what materials it would take to paint this portrait. Probably so many that I’d never be able to finish it. Then again, isn’t that what makes us special??? Isn’t it the fact that we don’t fit into a little box, that our portraits cannot be painted with a few materials, that makes us who we are? I know so.
So once again, here I am trying to paint this self portrait and trying to have it capture everything that I am.
But don’t be fooled, I am not just painting this portrait so that it can be displayed and get dusty on my walls. I am painting this portrait for people like me, who don’t fit into small boxes, who when asked to describe their interests become speechless because it is nearly impossible for us to describe everything we are interested in, for that would be nearly everything.
I am trying to paint this self-portrait for those who like me have struggled through life, who have desperately wanted to find themselves yet never have. Who are thought of by everyone to be nearly perfect, who wish to tell the world of all of their imperfections, who wish to let the skeletons out of their closets.
So here is me, once again, one last time. Here I am opening my closet, laying my skeletons to rest, and most of all, opening myself so that you too may watch while I paint this self-portrait.
But remember, although you might watch, although you might contribute to it at times, it is and always will be my self portrait, to do with as I like.
This does not mean that I love you any less, rather it means that I love you so much, so much that to please you I have and I would give up my dreams.
But that is not your fault, not is it mine…maybe it once was, but now it is no longer.
I have laid my skeletons to rest, and they will not be rising as zombies, to torment me.
I am now going to begin to paint my self-portrait, on this tabula rasa, this blank slate. I will paint it well, and you may watch if you like, but never again will I paint a likeness that does not resemble me, never again will I try to be you.
I am here, and I love you.
And now I paint…will you?