C is for Chopin: The Awakening and Why Fiction Matters

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One of those embarrassing pictures of my youth held hostage by the Internet featured The Awakening. My senior year of high school, I posted a series of selfies (before selfies were cool, of course) of my reaction to Kate Chopin’s classic to that early social network, Friendster. Mildly pleased at first, then bored, then scandalized and confused, and finally, empowered and satisfied.

Years later, when I went through my internet photo purge preceding my first year of teaching, I contacted Friendster and asked them to take down the pictures. I had long forgotten my email and password, and I needed their help. They asked for pictures of my driver’s license and other personal information to confirm my identity. Too much work, I thought, mostly because I didn’t have access to a scanner. I crossed my fingers and hoped my students wouldn’t find those pictures and turn me into a meme.

They didn’t. And now Friendster is dead, and I assume, so are my pictures. Alas. I did actually like those goofy selfies.

The Awakening has slipped into my life at infrequent intervals: first during my senior year, then during a college class on feminist literature, then as the literary analysis piece for my ELAR teacher certification test. Now that I am a wife, a mother, and a teacher, I think of it constantly. Particularly, I think of this passage, the one that stuck with me the longest after high school, and consequentially, the one that showed up on my teacher certification test:

 

“It would have been a difficult matter for Mr. Pontellier to define to his own satisfaction or any one else’s wherein his wife failed in her duty toward their children. It was something which he felt rather than perceived, and he never voiced the feeling without subsequent regret and ample atonement.

If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing. Tots as they were, they pulled together and stood their ground in childish battles with doubled fists and uplifted voices, which usually prevailed against the other mother-tots. The quadroon nurse was looked upon as a huge encumbrance, only good to button up waists and panties and to brush and part hair; since it seemed to be a law of society that hair must be parted and brushed.

In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”

 

When I was a child, my mother would mourn for my future husband, saying I was too strong-willed to be a good Indian wife. When I decided to become a teacher, my friends and family questioned me, wondering aloud whether I was nurturing and gentle enough for the field. When I became pregnant, I worried for 9 months that I couldn’t be like my Facebook friends who had transformed into Chopin’s “mother-woman.” 

But it is because of Kate Chopin and Edna Pontellier that I learned that I did not have to lose myself to be a good wife, mother, or teacher. I love and find joy in my husband, daughter, and students, but I do not worship them or see them as infallible. (Although I must admit, my daughter is a toddler and I am fully enjoying these adorable years before she becomes an awkward, intolerable adolescent.) I have a life outside of them, and that is OK. In fact, I find that my ability to set boundaries allows me to be more fulfilled in my roles as wife, mother, and teacher.

This is why fiction is important. It shows us possibilities, allows us to see what we can be, especially when the people around us do not. Through fiction, we can imagine solutions and make them a reality. Were it not for Kate Chopin, my struggle to maintain my individuality and identity through marriage, motherhood, and employment would have been much greater than it has been. Edna Pontellier’s story may not have ended perfectly, but through her I was able to create a better story for myself. Stories have that power. 

If one of my students digs through Google Images and stumbles across my selfies from years ago, I won’t be ashamed. That was the moment that a book sowed seeds of strength within me, and of that I am proud. I may look like a doofus, though. Alas, even the most empowered women can’t change those awkward adolescent years.

 

Title: The Awakening

Author: Kate Chopin

Published: 1899

Category: Literature; Feminist literature

What it’s about: Edna Pontellier struggles to maintain her individuality in a society that insists that a woman’s identity should be limited to her duties as wife and mother.

Read online

 

The C for Chopin image is part of my new project, AlphaLit Books. I am currently featuring women writers for each letter of the alphabet. I will be posting these on Instagram using the hashtag #alphalitbooks. Let me know if you have ideas for writers that I can feature!

 

The Cover of My Imaginary Memoir

“If there was a book about your life, what would the title be?”

This was the prompt for this week’s #goodtypetuesday, a 24-hour lettering and typography challenge hosted by @goodtype. Although this week’s a bit busy for me, I couldn’t pass up the chance to combine lettering and books, as well as the opportunity to imagine the realization of my dream: writing a book!

If I wrote a memoir, I would begin with my first-generation experience: the challenges of straddling two cultures, constantly trying to please parents while still trying to fit in. My biggest challenge as a first gen kid was telling my traditional parents about my white boyfriend (now husband). I wrote about this on OneFifty years ago; it was one of my favorite pieces on that blog. Since I have gotten to know a whole new circle of creatives after starting my lettering/Instagram journey, I used today’s Goodtype challenge to introduce my new community to my story.

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The design I created is a simple one; I didn’t have a lot of time to figure out how to doctor an image to make it look like an actual book cover. I just wanted to doodle for the night. I tried to channel some of my favorite simple book covers: Americanah and Eleanor & Park.

I love their distinctive type, but more than that, I love that something about their design lends themselves to a soft book cover. I love books with soft covers and thick, jagged pages. If I ever got myself to complete writing anything beyond a blog post, it would be bound with a soft, cuddly cover and roughly-cut pages.

What about you? What would the cover of your life story look like?

 

Mission: Lettering Literature

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If you follow me on OneFifty, you know I’ve got a bit of a branding problem. Namely, it’s hard for me to commit to just one idea because I want to do it all! Any rational human being would say, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” Oh, wait. That was Ron Swanson.

But branding can also be difficult when you’re still in the process of discovering yourself as an artist, or “a creative,” which may be a better term for me. I’ve always had a penchant for writing and for words—it was my first passion. Lettering, art, and crafting are things I do to unwind, and things I happen to do pretty well, too. But while I’m an experienced teacher in the world of words, I’m a kindergartener in the world of visual arts. And like a child, I want to do it all, learn it all, and be all of the things.

After nearly a year of being engaged in the Instagram lettering community and studying the crafts of lettering, calligraphy, and typography, I feel like I’m starting to get a focus. I had grand ideas of wedding signage and birthday chalkboards (I’ve actually gotten the chance to do the latter over the past year!), but I think my passion lies somewhere smaller.

I had to remind myself of why I started. I had to remember that I started a public lettering journey not just to reduce stress, but because the source of that stress angered me so much that I wanted to create a voice for myself.

I’m an English teacher in an education system that is shifting to becoming entirely career-centric. I was told that the books I wanted to teach were antiquated and had no more value in our modern world. I was nudged in the direction of more practical reading and writing that would be better suited for the workplace. And maybe that’s where education is now. Practical work-related tasks. But that’s not what drew me to being an English teacher. I believe in the power of reading, the value of beautiful words, the magic of those rare moments of connection that we find in the words of others. I believe that the arts and humanities do have a place in the modern workplace–especially now, when we are suffering from a lack of empathy and connection. It was that belief that brought me to lettering; it was that rage that drove me to find a creative outlet.

As I continue learning and practicing the craft of drawing stylized letters, I want to focus on my true passion: literature. Books are where I started, and books are what I want to highlight. I dropped off on my Literary Whiteboard Lettering project around February because school got hectic, but I’ll be moving forward along the same lines: handlettering lines from books and sharing their stories. These books will range from “the classics” to modern capital-L Literature to popular YA series. My goal is to encourage people to see the magic within stories and their ability to show the power of the human spirit. To me, this is far more valuable than any practical, work-related texts or writing that I would be told to teach at school.

My blog will finally have a focus: books and lettering. It will go hand-in-hand with my Instagram (@nerdladydraws), where I post my daily adventures in art and lettering. I already started a new series after refocusing: #alphalitbooks is a passion project in which I highlight different works by the alphabet. Currently, I’m working with the names of women writers. I’m also hoping to continue with #literarywhiteboardlettering once school calms down a bit (after our state test ends in two weeks). I hope that pairing my Instagram and blog–the former for all my artistic exploits, and the latter for my Lettering Literature project–will give me both the versatility and sense of purpose I need.

As always, thank you for following me on this journey. Creativity can light a burning desire in you, and it can be really scary to share it all and announce a purpose. It helps to have a supportive group of people when you’re trying out new things. I’m looking forward to exploring new books and styles as I delve into literary lettering! Leave a comment with any book recommendations! I’m always on the lookout for a new book.

January’s Literary Whiteboard Lettering: New Year, Old Plays, Fantastic Discussions

January was a time to set the stage for the new year, a fresh start at the semester, and to delve into my favorite genres to teach: drama and poetry! I loved guiding my kids through difficult texts–and I always love a good excuse to say Don John the Bastard or gush about Lady Macbeth!

Day 54: “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye

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What It’s About: This is a poem about burning the minutiae of the previous year and holding on to the few things that last.

Read it Online.

Day 55: Macbeth

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What It’s About: My favorite Shakespeare play! I’ve already summarized it, I believe, so here’s an explanation of this line: Lady Macbeth is coaching Macbeth to commit evil acts by looking sweet, but being venomous. Gah. Love that woman.

Day 56: You Can’t Take It With You

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What It’s About: This is a depression-era play that is a basic meet-the-parents dilemma with a rich, conservative family and a tax-evading family of misfits. Think “The Birdcage,” but for the Depression. The lesson? You can’t take “it” (money, fame, glory) with you, so you might as well enjoy the little things and avoid taxes. A good story for those struggling with money.

Day 57: Much Ado About Nothing

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What It’s About: Don John the Bastard’s first speech. I love thinking of Keanu Reeves performing this in the Kenneth Branagh version — he is such an emo Don John!

Day 58: Twelfth Night

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What It’s About: One of the big themes in Twelfth Night is a question: how much do we really know the people we fall in love with? In this excerpt, Olivia hints at her love for Cesario (Viola disguised as a man), and Viola hints back that Olivia is barking up the wrong tree.

Day 59: “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What It’s About: OK, this isn’t a book or a poem, but Adichie is a writer so I’m counting it as literary. In this TED talk, she speaks of a “single story”–when people go by the one-sided narrative that they have been fed about a people, instead of understanding their complexity as human beings.

Watch it online. 

Day 60: The Kite Runner

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What It’s About: This poignant novel tells the story of Afghanistan through the friendship of two boys. I can’t say too much without spoiling it. It will make you cry.

Coming up in February: World literature and more poetry! Hopefully. If I don’t get so stressed by my to-do list that I neglect my book talk goals.

Handlettering on a Budget: Affordable Tools to Start Your New Hobby

One of my favorite things about handlettering is that you can take it anywhere, and practice with any writing instrument! However, when you start going through YouTube or Instagram for tutorials, it can seem like you have to buy a lot of tools. Tombow dual-tip markers, Ecoline watercolor markers, oblique dip pens with fancy holders, and the iPad Pro are the dominating tools in most of these videos. However, beginners need to remember that lettering is a skill and it takes a lot of practice—and you don’t need the expensive stuff to practice! Here are the basic supplies that I think beginners need, and you can find all of them under $20 (and a good number of them for free if you’re… uh… resourceful like me).

  1. Pencil + a good eraser: Drafting is a must. I wasted so much paper and ink as a beginner because I was watching Instagram videos that were sped up and doctored. I also suggest wooden pencils over mechanical ones. The trusty yellow school pencil is a lot less harsh on paper. Art people can probably tell you why, but I’m not an art person. I think it’s because the lead doesn’t stay deadly sharp the whole time you’re drawing. You want something that’s softer because it doesn’t make ridges in the paper as you draw. These ridges could divert water when you’re watercoloring, or show through when you’re coloring with crayons or colored pencils.
  2. Ruler: Duh, it keeps straight lines. You can use this to draw out really specific guidelines for the tops, bottoms, and crossbars of letters if you’re a perfectionist. I just draw out lines like ruled paper so I don’t draw all over the place.
  3. Black pen: You pick the kind of black pen. Pictured is a gel pen that I stole from work. It writes fairly smoothly, and best of all, it was free! I also suggest the Papermate Flair pen… it’s just lovely.
  4. Sketchbook: Cardstock or printer paper are fine for practicing or sketching, but they’re not really absorbent. If you want to try color blending or brush lettering, get a sketchbook with thicker paper. Pictured is my favorite cheap Target sketchbook with 75lb paper.
  5. Washable markers: I cannot stress how amazing washable markers are. They allow you to blend colors like the pros, and they’re great, affordable tools with which to practice calligraphy!

I’ll be featuring these tools all week this week on my Instagram account. Follow the hashtags #letteringonabudget or #cheapaflettering, or just find me @nerdladydraws to see some awesome things that you can do with these basic tools!