I’d like to go on official record and say that I’m extremely grateful that I have some real talents:
I can bake like a dream – a yummy, sweet, sprinkled dream – stirring and whipping frosting into any shade of the rainbow, mixing food coloring like a chemist or a meth dealer who prepares the stuff right in her own home.
I can quote entire movies, and should you ever have the burning desire to hear The Breakfast Club or Pulp Fiction or something more upbeat like, say, Rosemary’s Baby from beginning to end, well let’s just say that I’m your girl and perhaps the ideal travel buddy for a long road trip where we might get no radio transmission along the way.
I can talk sports or history or politics. I can listen to and then expound upon my own theories about how the universe started. I can delve into the subtext behind Hemingway’s canon of work and yet still find it in me to explain why it’s highly unlikely to believe that the virgin in Fifty Shades of Grey had an orgasm every single time the handsome sadist simply walked across a room towards her.
I can sing the lyrics to almost any song, though not one of them will be sung in tune, as hitting an actual key is not one of the things I have mastered. Belting out a tune the way I do – loudly – will undoubtedly cause a few people in the vicinity to rush outside to see where the animal is that is being strangled, and that moment might lead to some embarrassment, but at least I will know the words to the ditty I am ravaging almost beyond comprehension.
I’m also a hell of a masseuse, but sometimes that skill is hampered by the fact that my hands are kind of tiny. When someone has a broad back to cover or shoulders that are like heavy slabs of agate, it’s tough to work my hands over the terrain. But I never give up and if I really like you, I’ll use lotion to make the massage even better – and that is another one of my talents I suppose.
That said, there are tons of things I wish that I could do – things I wish I’d made myself learn how to do – and yet it never seemed the right moment to make those dreams happen. But I’m not sure that I’ll ever get to a place where I won’t wish that I could do one or all of the following with skill, with ease – and while wearing the best outfit ever:
· I really wish I could play guitar. Every guy I went out with over an eight-year period played guitar, but I never learned how to do it. Part of it came down to the tiny hand thing – it was hard to wrap one around the neck of the guitar – and pressing down on the strings hurt the delicate skin on my fingers. A major part of it was that being taught anything by a boyfriend is tough and it all sometimes becomes contentious, like the time one guy I loved tried to teach me to ski. I almost broke up with him right there on the top of a mountain after he pushed me over, face first, into a snow bank so that I could learn how to get back up while standing on a tilted angle. Had there been trees in the vicinity with berries on them, I might have created my own shelter right there and lived forever on top of said mountain, spending my frigid days foraging for sustenance because I maybe never hated anyone more than I hated him in that moment and the thought of going back to a hotel room with him made me furious. But back to the guitar. I want to be able to play and I wish I could sing because I would love to be in a band – but that can pretty much never happen because I can’t sing or play guitar. And if I’m gonna be in a band, I want to sing lead, not shake a tambourine on the side where I don’t really matter.
· Another goal? I wish I could make a good breakfast. I make lovely lunches of things like hummus-stuffed wraps and salads tossed with things like artichoke hearts and traces of feta and I’ve mastered a few great dinners and a ton of sugary and savory desserts, but I just can’t do breakfast food all that well. Sure, I can poach eggs and I can make a decent French toast, but the thing is, I don’t actually like French toast so what’s the point? But I wish I could make a great omelet or an insane vegetable-stuffed frittata, and I just lack that skill. Good thing the men I have cared about have been able to scramble a fine egg. Extra points to the one who only used egg whites.
· I also wish I could run. I know this one sounds odd because of course I can run – I thankfully have healthy legs – but the thing is, running isn’t just a thing you do; it’s a skill you learn. And I’ve never learned how to really be a runner. I don’t know how to pace myself or how not to gulp air and I don’t have the best sports bra, and that really makes running hurt. But this is one I’m going to master. I’m willing to potentially write off ever playing guitar and I’m definitely writing off the possibility of ever becoming a sous chef for a brunch place, but so help me, I will figure out how to run without dying, without keeling over, without hyperventilating, and without knocking myself out from one of my own boobs hitting me in the head while I’m in a good flow.
What brought all of this on – all of this I-wish-I-could business? Well, it was Friday night, and I found myself at a charity event to benefit those who have experienced a spinal cord injury. The money raised would pay for some of these people to go to a camp where they would kayak and engage in other physical activities, and where, perhaps even more essentially, they could participate in social activities and feel the togetherness that should not have to leave their lives just because of a disability.
The wife of a friend of mine helped organize the event, and I was happy to support her and the cause. I smiled when I saw that the theme of the night was something called a Paint & Sip. Apparently that’s a thing now, to invite people to a place where they can drink copious amounts of donated wine and attack a bare white canvas with brushes that have bristles of various lengths and fullness, all while staring hard at the teacher in the front of the room who is whipping out a sheer masterpiece on a stage, one we are meant to emulate, and into a microphone she will shout things like, “Sweep the brush!” and “Don’t forget to mix the orange with the yellow!” and “Lightly. Lightly!”
I’m pretty sure this artist, a woman who donated her services, the canvases and the paint to this operation, went home after the evening of corralling over eighty people into creating a landscape and drank an entire bottle of wine – or maybe did a keg stand. And as a teacher, I get it: it’s hard holding the focus of so many people, especially on a Friday night, especially when there is alcohol involved, especially when the participants don’t really know how to paint.
I can’t fully explain why, but I was super excited by the prospect of playing Artist for the night. I thought it would be fun and that maybe I had some kind of latent talent lying deep inside of me and that perhaps it would be this experience would draw the brilliance out of me and land squarely and perfectly across a blank canvas I could then hang proudly on a wall in my own home.
The first thing that happened when we got to the event was that we were asked to buy raffle tickets. Each ticket cost one dollar. I bought twenty. I have never – but not once – won a raffle in my life, and I have entered more than my share. The Robotics team at my school is raising money to fly to a competition in Disney where they will make some robot thing they created out of scrap metal toss balls through a hoop? And they plan to raise those funds through a raffle for a new iPad?
I like to support kids. I like iPads. I bought a ticket.
And I lost that raffle.
The Field Hockey team tried to drum up financial support for brand new uniforms by running a raffle for massages and facials.
Yeah. I lost that raffle too.
The bad luck does not run in my family. My parents won a car at a raffle they went to once, and I don’t mean a beat-up shit-brown Honda; they won a Lincoln Navigator. Sure, they ended up paying for all the upgrades to the thing – and they upgraded the fuck out of it – but still: they won an S.U.V. And there was never a vehicle I enjoyed driving more, even though steering it was like I was driving a living room. That truck was great. Once, when a bunch of us went to New Hampshire to go skiing, we went into the car late one night and played video games on its console. Because why would the car not have Sony PlayStation?
But that was not my own personal win. I have never won a single raffle, and I knew well my sad stats on Friday when I spent the beginning of the night stuffing my newly-purchased raffle tickets into two separate bags for two separate prizes. There was a bunch of stuff that was getting raffled off: gift cards to restaurants; jumper cables; knit scarves; gift certificates for local bakeries. But I concentrated on only two of the prizes, and I placed ten tickets in one bag and ten in the other, praying with all of my might that I would win either the Twelve Free Bagels Every Month or the Unlimited Yoga Classes for a Year. And if I won both, I could potentially knock out the damage done by the heavy carbs of the free bagels, and that was my big plan, fully thought out in the three seconds before I shoved my tickets into the bags while contemplating if I should remove the tickets that did not have my name scrawled on the back.
Yes, even at a charity event I entertained playing dirty.
And yes, I know that bagels are cheap and that I already do yoga, but winning shit is just more fun and I’m fine with trying to make that argument stand up in a court of law.
The drawing would not transpire until the end of the night. I wouldn’t win or not win bagels or yoga passes for a few hours yet. First there was wine to drink and watery landscapes to paint and a chance to discover if I was harboring some impressive artistic talent, unbeknownst to even myself.
The instructor, a microphone clipped to her lapel, began by giving us some information on the rule of thirds in a frame. From teaching Film, I was already aware of proper uses of space within a frame, so the information sunk in easily. But once her aides – women as old as my grandmother – put dollops of white and blue paint on the paper plates in front of us and it was time to actually create, my confidence leaked out of me like I’d been pricked with a needle.
“Using the blue, apply the paint in strokes that are shaped like an X,” she boomed into the microphone, and all around me people began to smear blue across the top of their canvas. I followed along, making tiny X shapes, and soon my sky was filled in entirely. I was careful not to go below what I knew was to be my horizon line. I was careful to follow every single instruction so my painting would not eventually be called “abstract” as a way to make me feel better for creating just a mess of bleeding colors.
But when it came time to mix the blue and the orange into a greenish hue to make the dirty water of the Great South Bay, I hesitated. My green didn’t look like the green the girl next to me had mixed. And as I applied it to my canvas, it seemed streaky and it didn’t look anything like a body of water. It looked like melted mold.
But on I ventured, swooping the brush to make the water appear somewhat unsettled and then I added a sandy marsh by using a tiny bit of the yellow paint and then it was the moment to form weeds.
“Use more water with your paint,” the instructor said as she came up behind me, walking around the room to check out all of our work. “Make the green more runny in texture.” To Nicole, my friend who sat to my right, she just said, “Great job. Put your brush down for now. You’re good.”
Not once all night did she tell me to put my brush down, though once she did come around with a roll of wet wipes so I could remove the blob of a cloud I accidentally stuck in the middle of my canvas that looked like a mixture between a ghost rising to the surface of the heavens and the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters if he had exploded in mid-air.
As the hours passed by – as we moved back to the blue and the white paint and eventually swiped in brown weeds though the green marsh we’d created – I saw that I was the only one in my row absolutely covered in paint. My hands were Smurf blue. The paint reached clear up to my elbow. I had to be wiped clean before I got into the car later on.
As our work dried, the raffle winners were announced. I did not win a single thing, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t check to see who had won the bagels to see if he was good-looking and if I could seduce that prize away from him, but it turned out the winner was a guy who created one of those abstract pieces of work and he looked himself like a piece of abstract art – and no bagel in the world would be worth the seduction in a scenario like that.
Standing at the back of the room while the prizes were handed out for the raffles I had not entered, I looked around at everyone’s finished work. Some paintings were haunting and some were exact replicas of the instructor’s, right down to how many brown weeds weaved through the green. Some were delicate and some looked like they were painted with the heaviest of hands.
And mine? It was not the worst of the bunch, though it was certainly nowhere near the best. And it wasn’t as relaxing an experience as I’d expected it to be, but I think that’s because I took it kind of seriously and really wanted to churn out something spectacular. But even though what I made was, at best, average – and even though I couldn’t paint a good sand dune to save my life – I proudly carried my work home with me. And when I got inside and placed it near the closet that holds the sneakers I bought to go running, I took a moment to look at those sneakers and then I gazed at my finished artwork. And I realized that, almost overnight, I have become the kind of girl who is always up for a challenge.
Bring on the binding sports bra.