“ Before the world existed, before it was populated, and before there were wars and jobs and colleges and movies and clothes and opinions and foreign travel — before all of these things there had been only one person, Zora, and only one place: a tent in the living room made from chairs and bed-sheets. After a few years, Levi arrived; space was made for him; it was as if he had always been.”
–Zadie Smith, On Beauty
It never fails to astound me or Joyce that when people hear us interacting at the Yoga Studio, they do not assume we are sisters. “Do they think I would be this bossy with a friend?” Joyce wonders aloud. (For my part, I think people are scared that if they are wrong, we’ll respond angrily and say, “So you think all Asians look alike, do you??”) Because it’s not just any bossiness, it’s that particular bossiness that comes from being the eldest child, and knowing your younger siblings for a lifetime.
Recently, I was sitting on the kitchen floor, deciding what to draw for the chalkboard. “A lotus,” I announced. “Make sure you make it more graphic,” Joyce chimed in. “What do you mean?” I asked, gazing up from the iPad where I had pulled up photos of lotuses. “Make it flat,” she answered. I looked at her quizzically, so she grabbed a pen, and drew what she meant on the back of an envelope. “Ah, I see, yes that looks very nice,” I said. I grabbed a pink chalk, and with my eyes on my sister’s example, I began drawing. I was soon interrupted. “Don’t look at mine when you are drawing!” exclaimed Joyce, exasperated. “Yes, of course not.”
Sitting there on the floor, with my sister hovering above me I was reminded of our childhood “art classes.” I would be doing something perfectly easy, and simple like playing pick-up trucks with my brother, when Joyce would interrupt us and announce, “we are playing art class today.” I’d hold my breadth, and wait to see if we were going to do something fun like papier mache, or collect leaves and flowers for collages. Sometimes, I let out a sigh of relief, but sometimes, Joyce would lead us to the porch, and my stomach would fall. I knew what was coming up: still-life drawing. Waiting for us would be some mishmash of fruits made out of glass, wind up clown dolls, bowls, and my glow-in-the-dark troll, whose hair she had demolished into a buzz cut. Then, she handed our blank pieces of paper, and pencils, and say, “begin.”
When I tell Joyce now how much I dreaded art class, she is surprised and not a little hurt. “But it was my favorite game!” “Yes, your favorite game.” “I tried to make it fun. I really did. I collected magazines so that you could cut out pictures.” “Yes, yes, yes, I know,” I say. She’s had two glasses of wine, and is thinking about it too hard; she says, “I really felt it was my responsibility to give you and Joseph and arts education that was also fun, but you hated me.” “No, No. Just at the time, I didn’t always see it that way.”
I continue reassuring her–“We don’t hate you now,” I insist–while she goes on to tell me that I need to lighten up the front of the lotus with some contrasting colors, and deepen the back petals so that it will “really pop.” Even I must admit, the lotus does look a lot nicer with added yellow highlights, and the lettering much better with blue shadowing. So, I suppose art class was successful.