Several years ago, I blogged avidly, even obsessively. My readers were mostly my best friends, and just in case we didn’t spend enough time together in reality, we interacted virtually through our blogs, as well. Around the same time, we were all also taking a life and memoir writing class, and valiantly defending the act of blogging as a form of memoir writing.
Then I started to burn out. I had writer’s block, or I didn’t feel like what I was saying was worthwhile. For about a year, I blogged only infrequently, until I started my totally diabetic-related blog, “The [Artificially] Sweet Life,” in April. Even now, I update only when I feel it’s necessary, unlike before, when I often wrote several posts in a day.
Now, however, I’ve decided to attempt another blog, hopefully with better results. I do miss the community and the sharing of blogging. I miss having an account of my life that I can look back upon. Additionally, I’ve decided to take an advanced tutorial fiction writing class in January. Converse College, where I’m a graduate student, has a January semester, and all the classes are intense and accelerated and crammed into four weeks. The writing class is the best one to fit into my schedule, and I’m excited about it, as well as a little nervous. I feel as though I’m a better memoir writer than I am a fiction writer, but I’m excited by the challenge. To prepare for the class, though, I need to be writing more. Ergo, this blog. While I may attempt to post fiction, I might also post memoirs I’ve written or just write about life. What does it matter, as long as I’m writing, correct?
So to start off with, I’m going to post a memoir that I wrote in the spring. I actually submitted this piece to a Writer’s Digest contest just to see what happened. The results haven’t been announced yet. It was a national contest though, and I’m sure thousands of other aspiring writers submitted memoirs, as well. Still, this one is mine, and I’m proud of it. It’s really personal, as a memoir should be, and I wrote it in an effort to figure life out.
What is Beauty?
I sat in a darkened classroom, chin propped on my hand and pen poised above my notebook, gazing up at a projected image on the screen. The painter had rendered an image of a wrinkled, old woman, sheathed in a bright dress with a tight, low-cut bodice. Her fingers were threaded through several paste necklaces, and her sad eyes gazed out at the viewer. I thought she was hideous and pathetic . . . until Mr. Craft, my art appreciation professor, voiced a question that made me really see instead of just look:
“Is this beauty?”
Of course it isn’t, I thought. Why would he ask that?
“I’m not asking if you like it. That’s a matter of taste. I’m asking if it’s beautiful,” he continued.
I sat up straight in my seat. Could it be that this sad, old woman who sent shudders down my spine was beautiful?
“We look at her with pity. We think she’s trying to look young again. But what do you think her husband would see? The man who’s been married to her for fifty years?”
Mr. Craft paused again, and my classmates and I sat silent. Beauty. I rolled the word over and over in my mind, testing it, searching for meaning, thinking about it in a new way for the first time.
I gazed at the old woman before me. Mr. Craft continued to expand upon the difference between taste and beauty. Between the subjective sense of beauty and the objective Beauty that is intertwined with Truth.
Could it be that there was more to Beauty that merely attraction? And if that sense of Beauty applied to art, did it also apply to people? Is the cliché true? Does beauty go beyond the surface?
* * *
I stared down at the number on the scale, then compared it to the little book my friend Jessi held. To reach my target weight for my height, I would have to lose 100 pounds exactly.
I stared horrified at Jessi before stepping off the scale. “There’s no way! One hundred pounds?” I felt the anxiety wash over me.
“Don’t panic,” she said calmly. “You’re not going to lose it all at once. It’s a step-by-step process. That’s why we’re meeting together every week.”
“Okay,” I said, reassuring her, but not feeling the panic dissipate. I took a deep breath and walked out of the bathroom and into my dorm room. I couldn’t stop the tears from welling up. Why had I never realized? And how was I ever going to overcome this?
* * *
I flicked the light off, climbed into bed, and heaved a sigh. Tears dropped onto my pillow, even while I silently berated myself for feeling so panicked.
My friends had planned a surprise makeover day for me the next morning, which they had revealed to me only a few hours before. They weren’t giving me any time to make excuses. It was going to happen—willingly or unwillingly, on my part.
They planned everything. A haircut at a spa downtown, makeup at the Laura Mercier counter at Belk, even new clothes, all to be followed by a reveal at a coffee shop downtown, where several of my friends were meeting us.
It all sounded great. Any other girl would be excited. So why was I panicking?
Inside, I believed it would do no good. Other girls were beautiful. I was not. I would never dare voice this to my friends. Instead, I had merely looked at them wide-eyed and asked, “Why?”
They laughed. Explained that I only needed confidence, and a cute haircut and makeup could do that for me.
I agreed, seeing as how I had no other option. I grinned nervously at their excited chatter. Eventually, I began to hope that maybe they were right.
But alone, in the darkness in the middle of the night, hope withered away. I let the tears fall, believing what I dared not admit aloud: “beauty” would never be a word used to describe me.
* * *
“He’s in a band!” I exclaimed.
“So?” she asked.
I paused. Shouldn’t that explain everything? I outlined all the reasons why he would never be interested in me: I’m a librarian, I’m awkward, I’m not one of those club-hopping scene kids. But most of all, he’s gorgeous and a musician and could probably have any girl he wanted. As I gushed about how amazing he is, my battered heart heaved a sigh of frustration and confusion.
“And I’m not beautiful.”
When I said those words, I felt her anger. I looked away. I’d uttered the words aloud, finally. Dared her to contradict me.
“What do you think beauty is?”
I paused. “I’m not it. I’m not skinny and . . . ”
“You look great! You’ve lost so much weight.”
I shrugged, still unwilling to relent.
Then she asked the question that just won’t go away:
“How do you know you’re not beautiful if you don’t even know what beauty is?”