[SWP: Behind the Book] A Chinese Artist Steps Out

The two biggest surprises that came from writing my memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, was announcing I was a visual artist to the world and sharing my Chinese heritage with others.

Prior to writing Red Eggs and Good Luck, I was a closet artist. My need to capture the world in images remained a secret until I met my husband, who was an artist. In his presence, I felt safe. At night, I would work alongside him as he finished his assignments. Sometimes my work turned out better than his, and he would praise me as the better artist. I always blushed and shied away from his compliments, unwilling to believe they were true. After all, he was the real artist. He earned money from his art, and his work was proudly displayed for the world to see.

Over the years, I continued living as an artist within the privacy of our home. Whenever I knew someone was coming over to visit, I quickly hid my paintings and sketches in the closet or the garage or the filing cabinet in a folder labeled “Personal.” I felt more comfortable pretending that part of me didn’t exist.

However, after I finished writing the first draft of Red Eggs and Good Luck, I sat at my kitchen table and cried. I finally realized I had betrayed myself. Though I never stopped drawing and painting, I was too ashamed to show my art to anyone except my husband. By writing my memoir, I was able to clearly see how my adult fear had derailed that hopeful young girl who believed she was a visual artist. If I was going to honor myself, I realized I would need to rediscover the courage of my twelve-year-old self. I would have to take pride in my art and start sharing it with the world.

When my five-year-old daughter asked if she could take one of my autumn landscapes to school for show and tell, I wrapped the painting up carefully and offered it to her. She came home beaming with pride. “Everyone loved your painting,” she said. “My teacher wants to know if you’ll come to our class and show us how you painted it.”

I accepted the offer, which led to a regular job teaching art to elementary school students in the after-school program. Eventually, I found the courage to enter exhibits and contests. As my courage grew, my ambitions grew. I registered for a business license and started selling my artwork to retail stores.

The other surprise from writing Red Eggs and Good Luck was a new appreciation for my Chinese upbringing. For years I had denied my culture, refusing to say what my ethnicity was. I always marked “Other” on government forms and surveys. I didn’t want to risk discrimination. I shied away from applying for scholarships and grants based on my ethnicity. I didn’t want to be singled out as an Asian. I only wanted to be accepted as a human being.

But the world has changed since my childhood. Cultural diversity is the new normal. By finding the courage to write about my Chinese upbringing, I discovered the beauty of belonging to two different worlds: one rich in folklore and tradition, the other clouded by the myth of the American Dream. I started retelling the stories my Chinese father had told my sisters and me, first to my children and later to preschoolers and elementary school students. Eventually, I looked forward to celebrating Chinese New Year with children who were eager to learn what birth-year animal they were and whether or not those animal traits matched their personalities.

This October, Red Eggs and Good Luck will be published by She Writes Press. I look forward to sharing the book that launched my transformative journey.

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  • Michelle Cox

    What a beautiful story, Angela!  I'm so glad you finally discovered who you were meant to be!  I love your autumn landscape.  Thank you for sharing, and the very best of luck to you!

  • What a great story!  Thanks for sharing.  Looking forward to your memoir!

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt

    Mosey on over to my web site and sign in for your free gift -- an mp3 of me reading my book's first chapter about a beggar in Iraq! ...And a pre-publication discount!
  • Melissa Burch

    Thank you for your words. A friend of mine, an amazing NYC painter, Meredith Lund, died two days ago. She never received the recognition for her work that she deserved http://www.meredithlund.com/meredithlund.com/Welcome.html As my artist friends are getting older and passing on we have to recognize each others legacies and talents.

  • Angela Lam (Turpin)

    Oh, Cate, how your post warmed my heart!  Yes, please do step out and proudly share your art with the world.  It's your gift to give. 

  • Angela Lam (Turpin)

    Thanks Lene!

  • Lene Fogelberg Writing

    Thank you for sharing your moving story! I love how memoir writing can help us realize who we! And I find your painting truly beautiful! Now I will put Red Eggs and Good Luck on my autumn reading list.