February 16, 2016
I first met Molly Crabapple though her illustrations in a Vanity Fair story on Raqqa, Syria. They’re each defined by this incredible juxtaposition of yellow backgrounds and black ink spots. I couldn’t get the images out of my head. They moved me in a way that photographs never could.
Art and I have always conversed well. I’m eternally grateful to my artist grandma for teaching me to speak the language of paint strokes and pen lines. Though art and I have spoken many times– in museums and on my paint-stained basement floor– looking at Crabapple’s illustrations felt like an entirely new conversation.
For the first time, I was looking at art and it spoke in a bold, relevant and raw way. So I devoured every new piece of Crabapple’s work. Soon I discovered that she was writing a book and I waited impatiently for the day I could read it.
When Drawing Blood finally came out, Driven was at the tail end of our Fall Tour, and I dragged Hannah to the bookstore that day.
I was expecting to love Drawing Blood, and I did. I was expecting to be moved and inspired, and I was. What I wasn’t expecting so much was that every page would help me understand myself– who I am and who I want to be.
My story is undeniably different from Crabapple’s. I grew up in a middle-class family in the suburban Midwest. Crabapple grew up New York City and in circumstances that forced her to scratch and claw for every success. Yet, we both revere the power of words and paint strokes and constantly find ourselves drawn to the beautiful, painful, brilliant, Arab world.
Molly Crabapple isn’t a conventional role model, but she’s walking, talking, unsilenceable proof of a woman’s power. Her memoir, Drawing Blood, is an essential read for all young women. It’s a gripping narrative built on a foundation of perfect details. She’s fervent in pursuit of her dreams and brutally honest about how difficult that chase is.
This thing is launching tomorrow A photo posted by Molly Crabapple (@mollycrabapple) on
As a broke artist looking for a chance, Crabapple found employment in the sex industry. She writes about that time in a beautifully nuanced way. There are moments at work when she feels empowered, others where she feels vulnerable, and still others where she feels numb. Her words help understand a complex and diverse group of women that are so often ignored, or shamed by society.
Later, she writes of her decision to get an abortion and the physical and emotional aftermath of the procedure from a similarly human perspective.
She covers less politically marginalized, and perhaps under-acknowledged, topics as well. She writes of the addictive, empowering and terrifying experience of traveling alone as a woman. She writes of the way that women question their personal worth and the worth of their work. She also talks about her relationships with other women in a way that so many fail to articulate.
Perhaps my favorite passage in Drawing Blood is this story of a night with her friend Kim Boekbinder:
“In May, Kim played in a Village jazz club; she was the most gold-and-silver thing on its tiny stage. Afterward, as we sat on my apartment floor drinking, we told each other about our secret dissatisfactions, which we could never tell anyone else.
We both wanted to make ambitious work, work that would sear the eyes. I wanted to do murals the size of buildings. Kim wanted to play to stadiums…
We lay next to each other on a stained futon and whispered, for once without shame, about wanting to be Bowie or Picasso or any of those men who had stood before the world and taken it all with entitlement, never asking if he was good enough. They lived in freedom.”
After reading that passage, I closed the book and sat on my bed with tears streaming down my face. The realization that we all ask that question washed over me: Am I good enough?
Honestly, the entire book is full of passages that moved me just like that. I’ve read books that have helped me better understand the world, and I often turn to Joan Didion to understand myself. But I genuinely think that Drawing Blood is the most important book I’ve ever read.
Seriously, get to your nearest bookstore and get reading.