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Coloring Out of the Lines

Esther Kurtz

At least Debby is entertaining when she harasses me. But Paint Nite? Seriously? I’d send a donation, make a supper gladly, but not waste a night

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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T he phone rang. Debby.

She’s been harassing me. Maybe she has no life, maybe she has to run away from her kids. Me, I have things to do, lists that need to get checked off — and then I go to sleep. Why did she think I’d even want to do this; we’ve been friends since high school, she knows I don’t do “events.” I definitely don’t do “art.” Please, please, please let her not ask me again because there’s only so many times I can say no without looking like a jerk.

I let her call go to voicemail, she knows my rule: Leave a detailed message, I’ll call you back. No message, no call, I don’t have time for long conversations that after 20 minutes segue into a favor. It’s quiet. Good, no message. A minute later a chime alerted me to a voicemail. Ugh, it was gonna be a long one. I pressed listen, speaker, and sat back at my desk.

Hi Shira, Debby your BFF here. ‘Member me? Anyhoo. So N’shei is having another Paint Nite tzedakah event. They’re SOOOOO so so so much fun. Even you, Mrs. Never-wear-anything-other-than-black-because-I-don’t-want-to-think-about-colors-matching would enjoy it. Besides, like, really, if you say no again, even if your reason is totally true, you’ll officially be a terrible friend. You are WAY past dan l’chaf zechus territory. You’ve turned me down WAAAAaaay waywayway too many times. I know, I know you say it’s not your type, whatever, and I’m supposed to respect that as a friend, but I’ve been listening to these self-help podcasts, and it can work both ways, y’know. You can be the supportive friend to me. I keep asking, so obviously it means a lot to me and our friendship, so if you were reading self-help books — which you would never do — but if you would, because you’re not perfect — close to it, very close, but not there yet — you would understand and come with me to this Paint Nite. We’re still BFFs right, right? ‘Cuz you gotta be honest in friendship — and vulnerable. This is me vulnerable, prostrating before you. Shira, it would mean so much to me if you came to Paint Nite. You are free to reject me, but I put myself out there. I think that’s how the vulnerability thing works, anyway. Wait, I think I was supposed to be empowered by that moment, I’m not feeling it. Maybe I did it wrong. Whatever. Call me back and please, please, please, ya hear that, three pleases, please — now four — come. Love ya, Bye.

At least she’s entertaining when she harasses me. But Paint Nite? Seriously? I’d send a donation, make a supper gladly without wasting a night. I refocused on my computer, the budget was due in three days and only partially complete. I couldn’t even think of relaxing before this was wrapped up, and relaxing for me is not Paint Nite.

SHE’S FUNNY, a little crazy, but she has a point,” Shmuel said as we shared dessert. “You are a terrible friend — you have to go.”

I pouted.

“Who knows, maybe you’ll actually enjoy yourself.”

I nearly snorted ice cream up my nose.

“In a week the budget crunch will be over. Maybe you’ll have space for something other than work.” I yawned. I’d come home two hours later than usual. Shmuel had put the kids to bed, supper was takeout — not my proudest moment.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll go. Just please, don’t make fun of whatever I come home with. On second thought, I’ll just trash it as I leave.”

Shmuel rolled his eyes. “People would never believe me if I told them how insecure you are sometimes.”

I smirked. “So don’t tell them.”

THE ROOM had a dense air of perfume, oil paint, and the heat of too many people in a closed space. Easels were set up in rows, along with full sets of supplies. At the front was a slightly raised platform, and another easel. It all seemed straightforward enough.

“I don’t do creative,” I whispered to Debby. She smiled, but her eyes were wandering, taking in the room; she seemed on a high. She punched my arm good-naturedly,

“Paint Nite is for people who aren’t creative but want to pretend that they are — it’s perfect for you,” she said.

I laughed. “I have no interest in owning something that’s not mine, but I guess you harbor dreams of being the next Picasso.”


“Yup, I’m in my Blue period. I’m so blue, I can’t bring myself to paint, such is my genius.”

“And Paint Nite takes away your creative block. I get it.”

We both laughed, and Debby started pulling me toward the front and center of the room. I don’t do eager-beaver, starry-eyed front seat; just put me in the corner where I can tune out and do my own thing (like check e-mails) if I want to. But Debby knows me too well, “No corner for you tonight, honey. You’re here for me, and this is what I want.”

She plunked us down in the first two seats of the center row.

Debby seemed content to schmooze with just me, which was kind because it saved me endless introductions to people I’d never see again. And wow, it really had been a while since we just hung out. It had been a while since I’ve done anything that wasn’t work-centric, come to think of it, though this wasn’t exactly the way I’d have chosen to break my social dry spell.

The leader made her way to the platform, she was a total clich?. She held up the original painting, a nocturnal landscape with requisite glowing moon and bare trees that was going to inspire our own. Ha, love the word inspire, as if this wasn’t a glamorized cut-and-paste. I snorted, and Debby elbowed me. “Supportive friend,” she hissed. “Go with it!”

She knows how to work me, Debby; she kicked my competitive streak into overdrive. I was going to be the best supportive friend, I’d make the best Paint Nite painting ever, better than the original, never mind that the last art supply I’d held was a broken crayon. I tuned into Ms. Artsy and heeding Debby, I went with it.

The next two hours went by soothingly quickly. Maybe there is something to being creative even if I never drew a straight line. There’s something in the process that’s calming, yet exciting. When I looked up, Debby was busy schmoozing with a bunch of women I didn’t know, her painting propped beside her proudly. She felt my gaze, and quickly came over. “Let me see your ‘I don’t do creative’ results.’ ” She turned my easel. She went quiet, then the women near her who happened to glance at it went silent, too.

“You’ve been holding out on me, Shira!” Debby said. “You’re like the woman that practices exercise dance moves before going to the class so you don’t look like an idiot like the rest of us newbies.” I laughed, because that’s so me. I looked at my painting. It was nice, comparable to the original, but these were simple pictures that they chose for Paint Nite, no biggie. Or so I thought until I looked at the other women’s finished products. They’d had a good time, I could see that on their faces, but I wouldn’t hang any of their paintings in my basement bathroom.

I blushed, and tried to accept the compliments graciously, but really I just wanted to go home and think about it and maybe paint more.

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