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AMBITION

From Chris Wayan's journal 1994/5/25


My housemate Lily says "I'm going to my friend Teresa's panel discussion on mentoring and women artists--you wanna come along?" I instantly know there's someone I must meet there, or something I must hear.

It's downtown. We walk by windows full of mannequins in swimsuits. They all have sexy bodies and sour bored expressions. Never a smile, a laugh, or even a straight open-eyed gaze: all frowns and heavy-lidded stares. I'd never approach a real girl who looked at me like that. Is this look supposed to represent power? "I'm not a sex object!"? On the plastic faces of literal sex objects...

But if this glare is just fashion, a fake, do real women with that same glare always mean it now? Or is life imitating art? Oops, I mean advertising...

Cheryl Haines Gallery. Five old women talk about mentoring. At first, it's all abstract, so my mind drifts. I'm a concrete creature. Then I hear a phrase so odd I wake up. "The void after college." What are they talking about? "You get feedback in college, then afterwards, out in the big world... nothing." What feedback? I never got feedback in college for my art(s). Well, a little. Discouragement and incomprehension.

Now wait, is that true? Creative writing teachers! Maybe negative, maybe inappropriate (what "maybe"? They were clueless, most of them), but their critiques kept me writing, if only in defiance. The idea that ANY attention, even hostility or incompehension, might be a spur to creativity is new to me. I tend to produce when I'm alone. Alone means safe.

Just a few minutes later, Lily says "Have you had enough?" in a bored voice. I'm amazed--we just got here! But I nearly say yes, because I mustn't make her suffer. Yet... though I feel like I lack the right, I want to stay. God knows why, it IS dull. Nag myself "You always force yourself to stay for things that you're not having fun at. Like they're medicine." So I have no idea why I whisper back "Ten more minutes" and stretch that to fifteen. They open the floor to questions and things change.

A panelist (from the back row, I can't see who) answers an inaudible question. But I sure hear the answer:

"Ambition? Ambition is GOOD. I see women terrified, guilty about their ambition. What's wrong with wanting to be famous? Fame is GOOD. I see young women ambitious on the surface, but underneath they're scared to offend people. Scared of making enemies! Well, if you haven't got an enemy in the world, if you don't offend people, you're DEAD."
I know immediately this is why I came.

Because I'm dead.

But trying to learn the rules of the living.



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