Looking back at the start of becoming a professional music artist, I felt that I was and still am paving a path somewhere in a thick forest, with hope that I won't come across any grizzly bears and that I’ll make it out alive. I imagine that if I had a mentor, the path would be smoother to pave and I would talk to her about this one issue that keeps coming back...
I often think about making music for the rest of my life, but because I don’t personally know many who’ve also said the same thing and I find it hard to break the norm, this thought kept running in my mind:
“How can and will you possibly do that? No one you know has ever really done that before, Pagnia.”
I wasn’t the only one thinking that. My father, my grandmother, my uncles all had their doubts too. (I know it’s out of their caring hearts.)
Yet it wasn’t until recently that I came across something that truly resonated with me.
I can’t recall when I first heard of the American author, Elizabeth Gilbert (who wrote the 2006 New York Times bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love). But just last year, I grew fond of her and became glued to her very witty and insightful Facebook posts.
I love how, as an artist, Gilbert is unapologetically open in showing us her vulnerabilities as a creative person.
There's a chapter on page 63 that really clicked for me in her latest work, Big Magic, a book where she shares amusing wisdom and perspective on creativity (something I’ve been seeking).
It's called, "Your Permission Slip."
And in it, she asks me to think about my family’s history, my people’s history, and if they were makers – creative people. She remarked that I would discover people who weren’t just passively living their lives; they were constantly making things.
And that this is my origin; this is where I came from.
She boldly states,
"If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, builders, […] – these are our common ancestors.”
This brought me back to my Hmong people.
The Hmong people are, historically, natural creators. Our history has been captured through oral storytelling, paj ntaub, and traditional folk songs. Today, you can find ib tug txiv qeej serving his surrounding community with his musical talent and in return, being offered freshly butchered meat as a form of compensation and respect. Hmong women who are greatly skilled in making paj ntaub and/or designing Hmong clothing are sought after by those who desire to look their best at the Hmong New Year. Culturally all around the world, ib tug mej koob must hais ib zaj tshoob before entering the home of niam tais thiab yawm txiv during the wedding ceremony.
The Hmong people are, historically, culturally, and naturally creative people.
Indeed, this is my origin; this is where I came from.
I’m proud to say that I am a professional music artist who wants to make music for the rest of my life – for many reasons, including that making art is in my Hmong roots. And it is very possible that I can and will do that – even if no one I know says they've made art professionally before.
So if you’re like me, and you need some guidance to move you toward your creative aspirations, look no further. I highlighted these words in bright pink, written by Gilbert:
You do not need a permission slip from the principal’s office to live a creative life.
Or if you do worry that you need a permission slip – THERE, I just gave it to you.
It’s a new year, dear. Take this permission slip and run with it.
Your turn! Are you an artist who wants to pursue your craft professionally and others doubt your creative dreams? Or do you have advice for aspiring artists?
I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below (and yes, I read every single one)!
Until next time…