When I was a small girl, five years old or younger, I knew I wanted to be an artist, both a visual artist and a writer. I had no role models, nobody I knew who was an artist, but I knew what I wanted to be.
I was twenty-three or twenty-four when I first used the word “artist” to describe what I was on my business card. I felt like a fraud. How could I be a real artist? I was only a couple of years out of university, working at my printmaking in Ithaca, New York, where my first husband* was attending Cornell University.
At the time I probably still had some notions of what rite de passage made you a real artist. I had no idea then of what I know now – that an artist isn’t something you get to be, like a goal, the way you might become a Ph.D. or the winner of a horse race. It is something you are always being or becoming. There is no bar to pass. There is no final examination. There is no single event at which you can point and say “There, then, I became an Artist.”
“Whoa! Elizabeth!” I hear you say. “You say you’re an artist! At some point you must have decided that you weren’t a fraud, and were entitled to call yourself an artist.”
That’s true. But I don’t think I could point to any specific moment that brought me to that realization that I was, after all, actually living the dream that I had had in childhood. Even now I sometimes say, “Wow, I’m starting to feel like a real writer!”, when I do know, in my head and my heart, that I’ve been a real writer for years.
There are moments that stand out. I remember a friend of mine, when we were both students, commissioning an engraving of the letter “C” illuminated with dragons as the frontispiece of her thesis. I have a vivid memory of handing her the two prints she had asked for, and her sitting down on the steps of Hart House and getting the money out of her purse. I remember the first prize I took for an engraving at an art show. In writing, I remember my first print publication (Threads Magazine, September 1990), the first time I was asked for a story by an editor (Marie Lynam Fitzpatrick of “The Linnet’s Wings” in the spring of 2008), and the first time someone said “You should be writing for publication. If anyone can do it, you can.” (Bill Richardson, 1993).
Before, between and after all those moments were many other moments; washing dishes, paying the phone bill, picking up after the dog, doing the daily stuff that everyone has to do. But every now and then I still get a moment that pokes me in the back and says, “See? You’re a writer!” I love those moments. They never lose their delight for me. They’re part of the continuous process of becoming a writer. I look forward to many more.
*I’ve been told you can’t say “first husband” unless you’ve had three or more. If you’re only on your second, you say “former”, “ex-” or “late” husband, depending on what happened to him. However, as I have married my second husband twice, I feel I’m entitled to say “first husband” about the one I had before him.