Quite a few months back, my mentor suggested I read Chaim Potok’s My Name Is Asher Lev, and I finally read it last week. The novel tells the story of a young man torn between his religion, Hasidic Judaism, and his art. Asher Lev’s dedication to his craft was more than passion. It was like breathing, or a heartbeat – without it, he could not survive.
From the beginning of the novel, discord grows between the protagonist and his father. Asher’s father wants him to give up drawing and study Torah, but Asher is incapable of abandoning his art. His passion is such that at moments, he will make a drawing and not remember having done it. [**Spoiler Alert!!**] Ultimately Asher must choose his community or his art. By the end, Asher has been expelled from the community, and he hurts his parents deeply. He sacrifices his relationship with the two people he loves most for the sake of his painting.
I am lucky that I do not have to make this choice. I am lucky to have the support of my parents. For my father’s 65th birthday in April, I went with him and my mother to the Lang-Lang concert at the Granada Theater. Classical music gives you a lot of time to think, and during intermission, my mother said, “I’ve been thinking about what I can do to support you.” She was thinking about the way that she was raised, and how she has realized her passions later in life than I. I am blessed to have the emotional, and fiscal, support of my parents. I would not be where I am without them. They make the way for me to follow my dreams.
I do not have to make Asher Lev’s choice. I wonder if I could – I don’t think so. But I also do not think I would die if I could not write. I have received several responses to this. My boyfriend jokingly accused, “That means you are not a real writer!” As an artist himself, he is familiar with the self-questioning we creative types daily face. My writers’ group in Santa Barbara suggested several things: 1) it is unlikely that I would ever not be able to write, given the society in which we live, 2) not being able to write and not being able to create at all are different things, and 3) not writing may not inspire a literal death, but a figurative one. A mature, female artist friend said, “To die if you cannot create? That is how it is for all true artists.”
Professional writers write all the time, on everything. They keep notepads in their shirt pockets and scribble on napkins, in lipstick on car windows. At a UCLA panel last year, Kate Milliken said – “Writers write. If I am not writing, I do not consider myself a writer.” My passion is strong but not that strong. I am no Asher Lev. I think about his character, his story, and I am both grateful and jealous. What would life be like, if I truly could not go a day without writing? Of course, it is not something I would like to test. The more I think about it, the less I like how my life might look with such a ban. Can Asher Lev’s type of passion be cultivated? I think I shall try.