tagNovels and NovellasImperfect Beauty

Imperfect Beauty

byAmy Sweet©

Author's Note: This very short novel is a result of a writing challenge called NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. It is currently a hot topic on the Author's Hangout, if you'd like to learn more. Please remember that the point of this challenge was word count and not quality. Read at your own peril:)

The phone rang. It was my mother.

"So are you seeing anyone?"

"Well, hello to you to."

"Well?"

"No mom. No one seriously."

"What does that mean? You aren't giving the milk away for free are you?"

I groan. I can't believe that my mother really talks like this. I know for a fact that she wasn't a virgin when she married, because I was born two years before that date. She knows I know too, but mom has a very selective memory when it comes to these things. She wants grandchildren, and she wants them yesterday.

Ever since I passed 25, she's been breathing down my neck to get settle down, get married and start popping out babies. The more the merrier! She figures that if I make the guy wait, he'll buy my the ring.

"You're a beautiful girl, Nicole. Any man is going to want to marry you if he knows it's the only way to get into your pants."

"Mother!!!"

Why must our mothers embarrass us like this? Why must they always say what seems like the most inappropriate thing that they could possibly say in any given situation? Why? Why? Why?

And do I really want to put myself on a crash course on becoming like this?

Of course not! But will my mother listen? Of course not!

"I'm just saying," she sniffed defensively.

"Well don't. Your going to give me a complex."

"Try not to be so dramatic dear. Your not seeing some kind of therapist and talking about what a bad parent I was are you?"

"Of course not, ma. I always defend you to my therapist."

"Hardy har- your mighty fresh Nicole. You know that?"

"Yes mom, you've been telling me that since I was eleven."

"Try four."

"Listen mom. I hate to break up this funfest, but I've gotta go. I'm late for work."

"I thought you were a freelancer?" she asked suspiciously.

"I am, mom. But I've got an appointment with a gallery owner." I hoped she would fall for the lie. It seemed innocent enough.

"Fantastic! I can't wait to tell everybody. My little girl is meeting with gallery owners! I'm so proud of you honey. Maybe you'll meet some single men at one of those openings or whatever they call them. I hear that it's a hot spot for wealthy art connoisseurs! Just the guy for you. Someone who can take care of you, so you can work on your hobby."

I start to say, ‘Mom! It's not a hobby! How many times do I have to tell you this?' But I already know that if I do that, I'll be in the phone all day. So instead I take a deep sigh and say. "Ok, ma. I'm going to be late."

"No time for your old ma. I understand. knock ‘em dead honey. I love you-"

"I love you to mom."

Click.

This is not a story about my relationship with my mother. It just happens to be a great place to start. It might explain to you a little bit of my craziness. My mother lives half way across the state, but with one phone call she always manages to get me worked up over my life choices. And when I hang up, I feel like I need a nap.

I have no time for a nap today however. Although I lied to my dear sweet mother about having a meeting, I do need to get some productive work done. The problem is, I finished my most recent painting two days ago, and can't quite seem to get inspired for the next one. I know that I can't just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, however so every day no matter how I feel, I make a point to go into my studio (more about that in a minute) and set up my supplies. Sometimes when the blank canvas becomes too intimidating, I just dip my brush into my paint and streak a swash of color across the white board. It doesn't always inspire me, but it makes me feel better. It's sort of like giving the demons of self doubt a big middle finger.

Now about my studio. I live alone in a one bedroom apartment in a college town a few blocks from the campus were I used to attend. It's by far the arts capital of the world, or even the country but it's nice here and there are plenty of opportunities for a talented artists who's willing to try. Of course it's the talented part that always hangs me up. I mean, I know that I'm good. My pictures usually look like what they are supposed to be and all that- but do I really have talent? Of course that's a subjective question and my artistic need for creating my own agony keeps me from being able to firmly settle on any sort of definitive answer to it. Some days I'm convinced of my own genius, while others I cower in fear that I'll be found out for the hack I really am.

So anyway, this studio of mine is in the bedroom. I myself sleep on a loft bed in my living room. I tried the futon thing, but it just didn't make me feel like I was at home in my own home. So I traded it in for one of those beds with a seating bench were the ‘first bunk' would be and a nice firm mattress up by the ceiling. At night when I can't sleep, I like to reach up and trace designs with my finger on the stucco. I think it's good practice and it helps me focus my subconscious mind on creative things. Then again, it could be just that I can't sit or lie still.

Ok, the studio. Well, as I said, I sleep in my living room in order that I can turn the one bedroom in this apartment into a studio. I keep my easel, my supplies and my art books in this room. I have a window with a view of the street, so I use white curtains to let in the natural light when I want to block out distractions. But just as often I like to look out at the business below me. It helps me to get energized, it makes me feel less lonely, sometimes it inspires me or sets me off into a daydream. I'll admit it, sometimes it's just a technique to procrastinate.

I also have a radio that plays CD's, tapes and records. Yes, records! I have a bunch of them from my childhood and I love to listen to them while I paint. Especially Leslie Gore, and my best of the sixties and seventies collection. I like that I can shut the door, play my music and enter into a new world. Then I can take that world and put it on canvas to share with the rest of the world.

Is this talent? Bringing my vision, my world out were others can see it? I don't know. But it keeps me sane. Or relatively so, I should say.

After a conversation like this with my mother, it defiantly helps to listen to the tunes. Nothing distresses me like bopping around to "sugar, da da dada da da, ah, honey, honey; you are my candy girl… and ya got me wanting you…" Yeah, that shakes the cobwebs out.

Well, I'm still stuck here facing this mocking white canvas, so I guess I better just splash some goldenrod across it. Yeah, that looks good. How ‘bout some more? Now I'll blend in some white and give it a little bit of an ethereal feeling. I like this already. You just gotta put that brush down and move it. It's the only way to start, to get something good. To get anything at all. Who cares if it's good? As long as at the end of the day I can say I did something, I painted something- I feel better than if I painted nothing. And I've got a lot better chance of painting something brilliant, something wonderful, something passable if I do something than I do if I do nothing at all.

Sure it seems obvious. But I have to remind myself every day.

Swash! More color. It's bright and soft at the same time. It's the perfect background for something with wings. An angel? A fairy? A butterfly? I think a pixie it will have to be. Something mischievous, slightly naughty like I'm feeling now. About to start some trouble, splash some water in a cat's face.

That's it! That's my painting, my inspiration. Thank the muses! I've got my subject- and now the work begins. I've got a file box of clippings and I start to dig through it. I find a cat who's eying a goldfish. It's perfect. This cat is being bad, the pixie is being bad, wonder what this fish could do that would be naughty too?! I'm going to call it Misbehaving. I think it's a good sign. Sometimes I don't think of a title until my piece is done, and it's always more difficult this way. The sooner in the process I know what to call it, the more I feel like my work will be successful. I guess it's superstitious, but I think most artistic people are. Besides, it provides a focus, it really let's me know in a concrete way, what the painting is all about.

I flip through some pictures, culled from magazines, catalogues and other sources looking through a variety of fantasy creatures. There are pixies and other fairies in this section, but nothing really strikes me as right for this picture. I think back to my original idea of painting a butterfly, and I realize that those are the kind of wings I want to pain. I have nothing in my file box, but I have a few books that showcase many beautiful butterfly species so I look through those and find just the right one. Irreverently, I rip out the entire page so that I can tape it up by my work station.

Now what to do about this mischievous pixie? She needs a body and a face. This is the easy part, because I know that I really am the naughty little fairy in this painting. Not surprisingly, I do a lot of self-portraits of this sort. It seems I'm always putting a lot more than a little bit of myself into my work. So of course I have a few mirrors in my studio. I drag my easel over to the full length mirror. Now standing in front of the mirror, the light from the window comes in over my left shoulder and from behind. This is perfect.

Now, I tape the large butterfly picture on the wall next to the mirror, and set the smaller cat picture right on my canvas. It's time for pencils. I've got to draw my vision.

Interstingly, this is the time when I start thinking of reason's to procrastinate. I should get a drink, or fix something to eat. I think I have to go to the bathroom, but realize that I really don't. I run my tongue over my teeth though, and realize that they could use a good brushing. And I should change this shirt, it's really to nice to be working in.

I know that all of this is just a way to avoid potentially spoiling the beautiful golden background I've created by putting down my pencil and what? Finding that it won't yield under my hand, won't turn the way that I want it to or dray the lines that I see in my mind. Sometimes this happens, The pencil draws, but it bears no resemblance to the thing I wanted to create. When I was a kid, I used to think that artists were people who could just put down there brush and beautiful masterpieces would flow right out, without fail. Perfect every time. Well, there may be some body out there who can do that, but I've never met them. Most of the artists I know throw away at least twice as many canvases as they keep.

Of course, I never really throw away a canvas. That would be silly. I just paint over it with white paint, or some other color and begin again. Canvas is to expensive for a starving artist to just throw out. Again, there may be some wealthy painters who just throw them out the window, but I've never met any.

I went to work sketching out my vision, integrating the features of each picture and making it my own. In a couple of hours I was finally finished with stage one and I really did need to eat, use the bathroom and get something to drink. My throat was dry from all of my thoughtful and slow breathing, usually from my mouth despite the hazards that this presents.

Its ok, I've gotten enough done now that I can cut myself some slack, stretch out a little rest my eyes and fill my tummy. Besides, this book really isn't about my painting career either, although that too is a big part of who I am.

If my relationship with my mother explains why I‘m nearly insane, my painting explains why I'm not. Sure, as an artist I'm a little loopy as a rule. Sure I hop around to my oldies records like a six year old on a sugar high, sure it's my craziness that fuels my need to paint- but it's the actual act of painting that keeps me sane. It's a paradox for sure. But painting is my meditation. I don't know where I'd be without it.

At this point, you're probably wondering,- Nicole, what is your book about anyway? You've already told us it wasn't about your relationship with your mother, and it isn't about your painting career. Does it have a point, and are you ever going to get to it?

The answer, my friend is likely as not, no. If there is a point, I may never get around to telling you just what it is because I'm kind of like that. I'm not really good at getting to the point, as you may have already noticed. And by the time I get done explaining to you how unlikely it is that I will plainly state the point of my story I will probably have forgotten exactly what that point is. But don't worry, I do have one and it will reveal itself on the pages ahead.

I suppose I could summarize and say that it's about me and my life as a single woman, but that wouldn't be quite right. Or I could say it's about my constant battle with my own insecure, even though deep down I know that I'm pretty I'm talented and I'm a decent person, but that wouldn't be quite right either. I could tell you that if you are accepting this to be some kind of Bridget Jones rip off, you should probably go read something else. That wouldn't quite explain what this book is about, but it would give you some idea what it isn't about.

It's not about looking for love. It's not about finding a husband. And it's certainly not about oh-woe-is-me I'm nearly thirty and still single. Or about clicking biological clocks. Although it is about the fact that my single friends and my mother don't quite understand why I'm so happy being single- even though I'm not completely satisfied with everything in my life.

Yeah, a lot of my single friends seem to think that 'finding the one' will solve all of there problems, despite the fact that we know plenty of married people and none of them seem to have it all figured out. If anything, they have twice the number of problems as the rest of us. Maybe my mother didn't tell me the story of Cinderella enough times as a child. I just never picked up that starry eyed romanticism of happily ever after and then fade to black.

It actually sounds kind of boring to me. Oh I like romance. Flowers and music and being made to feel special. I just don't have this overall view that romance is the beginning and the end of happiness or even love. Or for that matter sex.

That's right. I said sex. Just as my mother suspects, I'm giving it away for free. Not like I'm just this slut who puts out to anybody who turns my way- and not to be immodest, but there are quite a few of those. But I'm what I like to label sexually liberated. I'm not above a booty call, or any other kind of mutually enjoyable activity among consenting adults. Hey, why spend the night alone if you know somebody who wants it as bad as you do? I suppose that there are plenty of people who would say this does make me a slut, and to them I would say- absolutely nothing. I don't give a damn what they think, and don't give it a second thought.

Except of course when that self doubt kicks in and you wonder if the guy your having dinner with would freak if he know how many guys you've been with. Not that I'd ever tell. I never tell. Any guy who asks will get a very polite, it's none of your business, I don't discuss that. If he asks again, it's over. Ya gotta have boundaries.

And besides, if a guy can't take a hint, that's no guy I want to be with. Even as a friend with benefits, any man I'm with needs to be able to appreciate the subtleties of a woman. He has to know when to stop and when to go, when to slow down and when to back up and try again later. He's gotta know all this without me having to know it, because I'll admit it, sometimes I don't know my own mind.

I don't suppose it's politically correct to admit such a thing, and my friends in the local NOW chapter probably wouldn't appreciate me saying so but I have this bad habit. Sometimes I can be honest to a fault. Of course, I'm not above being dishonest to a fault either, as you've already seen. I'm a bundle of contradictions. If a guy can't handle subtlety, she sure as hell can't handle me.

Did you catch that last bit? Yeah, I have friends in NOW. I'm a member myself, although I don't go to meetings and gatherings as often as I should. I pay my dues and I get involved when I have time, or when the issue is particularly important to me. Some of my friends get pissed off when the issues that they think are important are not the one's that I think are worth hallin' my tail around for, but they usually get over it. I wouldn't be friends with them if they didn't.

My friends are all pretty cool people. They have to be to put up with me. They gotta put up with a lot. I can be moody, I can be temperamental, I can lock myself away for days on end and then call them up one day like no time has ever passed. But they get a lot in return to. I'd walk to the end of the earth for a friend in need, and it's probably a cliché to say so but I'm a painter not an English major so I'm not afraid to say it because it's true. My friends know that they can count on me and that's the bottom line.

In fact, this same night that I wiggled away from maternal confrontation and started on my rebellious little painting was also the night Glen and Zoë and I had plans for some serious bar hopping.

Remembering this, I decided to give Zoë a call while I made myself a sandwich.

"Simone is coming with us," she informed me as I spread a thick layer of full fat mayonnaise over thick crusty slices of wheat bread. I groan, but only to myself and only silently.

Simone Webster is tall slender with a beauty to rival Whitney Houston in her heyday. She has smooth brown skin, sexy long black hair, and full sensual lips. Her eyes are wide and sincere, and it's not an act. She really is one of the nicest people I know. There's really nothing to dislike about Simone.

Except that when you stand next to Simone you feel like a slob. Regardless of how well you've dressed, she's dressed better. And she's probably spent about half as much to do it. She has amazing style and her body is a perfect fashion plate. Everywhere you go, people are guaranteed to look at her, and look past you. When you stand next to Simone Webster, you are invisible.

Simone is Zoë's friend from way back and my friend too, but mostly through Zoë. It's not that I don't like her, as I said I do. Especially on those days when I'm not to susceptible to negative thoughts and insecurities. But on a day like this, after having the cow-and-milk discussion with my mother I just wasn't sure if it was one of those days.

"Great," I said out loud. "What are the driving arrangements?"

"We're taking my car. Simone is going to drive to my place then we are going to pick up you and Glen and you get to drive everybody home. Your still our designated right?"

I layer ham, roast beef and cheese onto my sandwich and nod. Then I remember she can't hear my head shaking over the phone so I nod and say, "If I don't sell a painting soon, I may take the next two times too."

"Hey we'll take you up on that!" she joked. I was one of the few of the gang that really enjoyed being the designated driver. For one thing, it's a great excuse to try all of the interesting non-alcoholic cocktails that the bars have to offer. And for another, the designated driver doesn't have to pay for drinks. Each round, one of the other members of the group buys a drink for the unlucky slob who gets to stay sober all night. And for a girl of limited funds such as myself, it allows me to go out and enjoy myself far more than I would be able to otherwise.

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