We had a houseguest a few days ago and he said, “The thing I like about your books is that I feel like they give me permission.” I’ve heard other people say, “You gave me permission,” to do this or that, but I always found it sort of bewildering. “Permission” makes me think of a teacher handing out passes to the bathroom, or a parent signing off on a field trip. I’m just a writer, you know? I write about stuff I’m trying to figure out, then I share it.
I kept turning that word over in my mind — permission — and then I was sitting in front of a video at Nina Katchadourian’s show at the Blanton Museum, and I doodled this page in my sketchbook. Like many doodles, I wasn’t sure what it meant, if it meant anything, but as I was walking around the museum, looking at Katchadourian’s work, it clicked for me: Every piece of art or writing I’ve ever truly loved was a kind of permission, a permission to bring forth what I felt was already inside of me.
Permission to be humorous. Permission to draw. Permission to write poetry. Permission to use the simple tools at hand. Permission to write books with pictures. Permission to suck. Permission to love my family more than the work. Etc.
At the end of Katchadourian’s Q&A, a woman raised her hand and said that she found the show so funny she couldn’t stop laughing, and then she felt bad about laughing, because she’d never laughed in a museum before, and she wasn’t sure you were supposed to. She was, in a sense, asking for permission.
I turned the page in my notebook. You don’t need permission. But if you insist, here it is…