All art is quite useful

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Emily Bi/Staff

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I am a liar. I am the unreliable narrator of my own life.

Time and time again I have professed my deep infatuation with writing, called myself a writer on the internet — all the time knowing full well that I am anything but secure when it comes to writing.

I have always considered writing the greatest love of my life thus far, and perhaps ever. And I always hesitate before putting my words out there for the world to see, too blinded by my own insecurities to recognize anything valuable in them.

In the preface to one of my favorite books, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Oscar Wilde claims, “All art is quite useless.” This is something I’ve turned over and over in my head since I first read those succinctly contradictory words back in high school. I don’t agree with it unconditionally, but I have admittedly fallen victim multiple times to the belief that certain art, in certain situations, is useless.

And most of the time, the art I find most useless is my own.

Despite how much time I spend writing and oversharing about my spectacularly interesting life on the internet, I choke up whenever I have to say, aloud, that I am a writer. It’s hard to call myself a writer because I feel like I haven’t earned the right to say I have that magical, elusive “something more” that makes someone a writer, whatever the hell that “something more” may be.

I constantly see my articles and other writings through publication, and at the end of the day, I still don’t feel like I am a writer. I still get bashful, sheepish, borderline scared when I have to say to someone without the shield of an online platform, “I am a writer.”

Color me spooked whenever someone asks what I want to do with my comparative literature major and creative writing minor — I have to cough and stutter a bit before I’ll admit what I truly want to be is a published novelist. Nothing more and nothing less.

In three months, I’ll be 20 years old, and of the two decades I have spent on this planet, I have been a writer for three quarters of that time. By the time I was in the first grade, I was writing multichapter stories for class assignments. As soon as I could, I started reading everything I could get my hands on. I was a vivacious reader, an overachiever in language arts and a barely average math student. My notebooks were filled with ideas, and I passed my time looking at author biographies on book sleeves, pretending it was my name and photo there instead.

Cardenas, the Mexican market I grew up a few blocks away from, held a Mother’s Day poetry contest one year. I can’t remember what I wrote or why I wrote it, but I ended up winning first place and was given a television. At the time, I was disgruntled, petty, not all that pleased — I wanted the laptop reserved for second place so that I could write more, not a television to idly pass time. After all these years, I’ve buried this childhood memory in the back of my mind alongside other things I seem to have decided don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

For a long time I used to qualify my status as a writer with the word “aspiring.” I felt like it was truer to life if I tacked on that word and claimed to be an “aspiring writer” rather than simply a “writer.” But what is it exactly that I am aspiring to? Publication is the easiest answer. But if that’s the answer, then I should feel secure saying those four little words: “I am a writer.”

When I think about the timeline of my writing career, I draw blanks instead of all the memories that should have cemented in my mind the fact that I am a writer. And yet, I still don’t feel like a writer. But I’m always writing. I’m writing right now. Doesn’t that make me a writer? Is there anything that makes someone a writer aside from the fact that they write?

The answer is obvious, after a certain amount of fierce introspection: of course not.

What I’ve come to realize is that this is a hallmark of writers: to doubt what they are despite what they do, to always aspire and aspire without taking a moment to recognize what they have already done. Next time I have to say it aloud, I’ll be mindful. I won’t avoid it; I’ll confront it.

“I am a writer.” Nothing more and nothing less. If I write, if I write anything at all, I am a writer. If you write, you are a writer.

To counter Wilde (and pray his ghost doesn’t haunt me), this is what I have decided: All art, in the end, is quite useful. All writing is quite useful. All writers, each and every one of them, are quite useful.

Alex Jiménez writes the arts & entertainment column on consuming art as an artist. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @alexluceli.