Bach, a Hand, and a Dress with Pockets

The fashion industry is sexist trash and women’s clothes are impractical. For once in my life, I would like to buy a dress that has pockets so I’m not holding my wallet and phone and keys in my hands like a monkey that has just robbed a picnic. Jeans are no better. Women’s jeans have tiny pockets—often fake—which only exist for the aesthetic appeal. The fashion industry is obsessed with aesthetics over functionality, but that’s a rant for another article.

I’m wearing stupid jeans with useless pockets and typing this with sore hands, still recovering from violin class. That’s my Saturday routine. I wake up, travel halfway across the city to learn violin, and then sit in a café to write. I know—bougie cliché, I’m sorry. Sometimes I’ll sketch, too. I have a little wooden human figurine to help me with body proportions, and a lump of malleable grey rubber that artists call a kneaded eraser. I own a cube of rosin, an amber-colored lump of stone that you rub over a violin bow to get better sound, and a couple of pretty notebooks for my stories. I’m as virulently ‘hipster artist’ as you can imagine, but it’s taken me a lot of self-reflection to get to this point, so I’m going to flaunt it.

All my life, people have told me I have a talent for writing. I don’t know if that’s true or not—you be the judge—but either way, it shaped my childhood identity. I was Writer Girl. I Wrote. I wrote poems and stories. I Wrote novels. I Brainstormed. I had online usernames with variations of ‘LightningWrites’. The writing was the one thing I thought I was good at, my only personality trait, my defining characteristic.

Sure, there were other things I wanted to try—sketching, music—but I didn’t dare. I wasn’t talented at those. I was Writer Girl. Writer Girl didn’t draw. It took a shattering mental health crisis to convince me otherwise.

Picture this: I’m in England, I’m 22, I’m studying something I thought I would love, but my anxiety and depression have gone out of control, and suddenly, Writer Girl is alone in a strange country, doubting her writing skills, and hating every minute of being alive.

I’d…I’d attempted drawing before. A few times in the last year. I was bad at it. But in a desperate attempt to find some meaning in life again, I picked up a pencil and started to seriously practice sketching. Imagine that! Writer Girl, sketching? Crazy. I benefitted from having close friends who were all artists. They chipped in to give me advice, feedback, offering insight and encouragement. I’d always wanted to be able to draw. Perhaps now, when I was doubting my writing abilities, I could finally learn, talent or not.

My sketchbooks are filled with trashy attempts at human figures. I even did my first ever Inktober (for the uninitiated, it’s a drawing challenge that takes place on a global scale every October. The only goal is to draw every day, usually from pre-assigned prompts.) All of my Inktober doodles are awful, but I adore them. I started using my newfound knowledge of sketching to draw the characters in my stories. Sketching, it seemed, was helping Writer Girl get her groove back.

Around this time, I also started learning how to sew. This was because I was in England, in love with all of the clothes, and also socially-aware enough to realize the ethical dilemma of fast fashion. Maybe I can learn how to make clothes, that way I won’t buy them from evil brands that profit off underpaid labor from Asian countries, I thoughtSewing was another thing that lifted the depression off my shoulders. I stitched a skirt for myself. I still have it. It’s red, with a gold buckle, and it’s cuter than anything you’d find in a store.

By the end of my year abroad, I’d come to the conclusion that Writer Girl was a stone-cold idiot. After all—how could I have convinced myself that my only talent, the only thing that made me worthy as a human being, was prose? I was improving my sketching every day. I’d sewn myself a skirt. Was it possible that the idea of ‘talent’ was a hoax? Like the Loch Ness monster?

The answer, of course, is yes. Talent is horse poop. It’s fed to us from childhood to make us feel bad about ourselves. To keep us in line. We are always fed stories about Da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa, and never about Da Vinci practicing basic shapes.  There’s nothing romantic about Da Vinci or Michelangelo or Titian figuring out how to draw ahead. No, we want to believe in Genius. It’s easier, I think. Easier to believe that we can’t do something because we weren’t born with the ‘Gift’.

Okay, so if talent doesn’t exist, then does that mean I can do anything I want?

Yes, actually. Writer Girl could draw, and Writer Girl could sing, and Writer Girl could climb a mountain if she wanted. So—what did Writer Girl want to do?

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I wanted to learn the violin. I had become obsessed with it over the last couple of years. So much so that I’d created stories about them. I’d started drawing them. I have pages and pages of sketchbook paper dedicated to doodles of violins. Just the sound of them made my heart fly to the sun. I wish I was a violinist, I wish I was a violinist, I was constantly thinking, imagining myself on stage in front of two thousand people, all of them watching as I serenaded them with the most difficult musical instrument in the world.

I am an absolute trash violinist. In fact, I feel embarrassed even calling myself that. I am no violinist; I am simply a person who owns a violin and goes to a class. Maybe someday I’ll be good enough to earn that title, but not today. But honestly, who cares? I live for the violin class. I count the days. And after months of regular practice, I’m starting to learn Bach. BACH. BACH. Me. I am playing Bach.

In my second violin lesson, my professor taught me how to hold the bow. It’s actually more complicated than it sounds. Your thumb needs to be in a 90-degree angle against your middle finger, your pinkie needs to rest on top of the bow, and your fingers need to be artfully curved, no part of them tense and flat. There’s a science to it; your grip needs to be loose and graceful, but also firm, providing balance. When it’s done right, it looks so pretty. I feel like a dancer.

So I drew it once. I drew two sketches of my own hand, holding a bow, just to figure out how the finger placement goes. I showed them to my teacher. “Oh,” he said, “you draw too?”

“Yep,” I replied, bursting with pride.

He nodded. “The next time you draw the bow hold, your knuckles should be a little higher.” He demonstrated by raising his wrist and lifting the roof of his palm, his fingers curled around his own bow.

I almost laughed. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have thought myself capable of drawing, lot less playing an instrument. Or drawing myself playing an instrument. But here I was, no longer just Writer Girl, but as someone who felt fearless in pursuing any interest that captured my imagination. I’d given up the idea of talent. I was free. I haven’t sewn any clothes lately. I have a machine, I just need the time, and a teacher. But I’ll do it. I love clothes, I hate fast fashion, and the urge to create something new is still alive inside me. And I know what I’ll make, too. It’ll be a dress with a flared skirt and a sweetheart neckline. It will have pockets big enough to carry my drawing pencils and my rosin, but not big enough to fit my new identity. That I don’t mind carrying in my hands.

Written by Damini Kane

This article was first published in Storizen Magazine August 2019 Issue