Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Writer's Glamorous Life: Graciously Accepting Critique Despite Cellulite and Asymmetry

By Sofie Couch

Yes, it is a glamorous sort of life. I’m sure some writers spend their days dictating their novels from chaise lounges while eating chocolate bon-bons and sipping mint juleps. Sadly, I wouldn’t know about that. I occasionally come out of the ivory writing tower to do less glamorous things. Things like, window washing, and dish drying, and laundry, and writing. Alone. In a hard chair. With the curtains drawn to cut out distractions. Part of that glamorous life has involved a trial by fire – in learning the delicate art of critique.

Attending university in my thirties reminded me that it is still not quite common for a woman over the age of twenty one, to take day classes at a four year institution.
In my Life Drawing class I had to fake knowledge of the art of “beer pong” with the lovely young woman who sat on my right. I learned a thing or two about body piercings and tattoos from the twenty year old gentleman to my left who had no less than seven visual aids to go along with the discussion, two of which were attached by a chain that ran from his lip to his nose. But the one thing we all had in common was our mutual love of art – a passion that supersedes all differences in age or background.
University of Virginia

It wasn’t until the final exam rolled around that the difference in our ages became an issue. The assignment: execute a life-size self-portrait, in pencil… nude.
Being the most senior member of the class, I was discreet in my gasp of horror. (I don’t think anyone heard that grunt, the sort that comes a second after receiving a sucker punch to the solar plexis.) While my classmates shrieked and moaned, I just put one hand to my mouth and another to my stomach as the bile churned. (I would later learn that was morning sickness, but that’s another “Glamorous Life of a Writer” story.)
Closing the bedroom door at this point, suffice it to say, I completed the assignment and the next and final class, I was determined to “grin and bear it” like an adult, a mature lover of art in all its forms. I wouldn’t be childish.
What was I thinking? I had forgotten the most important element of our class – the final hour critique!
Albrecht Durer, self-portrait
To further complicate, this class was to be a two hour pot-luck mixer/critique session.
So there we were at the last class, all twenty students, all of us reluctant to put our “all” out there, me holding my drawing rolled up in a tube in one sweaty hand and a container of three dozen deviled eggs in the other. I put my plate of eggs on the buffet table and walked to the cork-covered wall. Mr. Body Piercings put his six-pack of beer on the buffet table and saddled up beside me.
“Psst. Did you do the assignment?” he whispered.
“Thirty percent of our grade? You bet I did the assignment.”
“Whew.” He pretended to wipe sweat from his brow. He was actually nervous about displaying his nude self-portrait? The man who had had to shuck clothes to have piercings and tattoos put in places where no one should be putting needles, was more nervous about this assignment than I was. I felt smug and a dram of confidence.
Beer Pong Girl came in, put her six pack of beer on the buffet table, grabbed a deviled egg, and saddled up to Piercings and myself.
“Did you two do the assignment?”
Piercings played it cool. “Of course. It’s thirty percent of our grade.”
Beer Pong looked him over from head to toe. “I guess we’ll see what else you got pierced.”
He lifted his shirt and pointed to six-pack abs. There was a silver loop in his belly button attached to a chain that disappeared inside his waist band. I turned away to grab a beer from the buffet table.
Students were slow to trickle in that day, but as they did, the buffet table filled with six-packs of beer and the lone dish of deviled eggs disappeared before class even began.
Until finally, the moment of truth arrived. I would not hold back like some wall-flower school girl at a dance. I unscrewed the cap from my portfolio tube, pulled out my drawing and started pinning it on the wall, all six feet of 100% rag cotton paper with push pins at the corners so it wouldn’t curl up out of modesty.
Piercings stepped up beside me and unfurled his own drawing. I averted my eyes, fearful that that much, that close, might be more than I could take. Beer Pong stepped up to my other side and unfurled her drawing. I averted my eyes. I would not compare my own self-portrait to the nubile, ninty-nine pound, post-teen beer pong champion. I took interest in my shoes as I turned and walked away from the wall of nudity.
I was pleasantly pleased with the initial responses from my classmates as I walked away from the cork board. I heard “oohs” and “ahhs” and one “you go, girl,” and with less reluctance, the other members of our class, with beer for fortitude, posted their own work next to ours.
It wasn’t until I was across the room that I felt like I had the strength to look at my body hanging on the wall between the girl who looked like a cover model and the boy who used his body as a tapestry for artistic expression.
I took a swig of beer. (All the eggs were gone.) I looked up and….
I got an A+ on that final exam and all of the critiques were positive – not a single suggestion for possible changes. No one said anything about cellulite or commented on the obvious asymmetry in the upper torso area.  They were kind and everyone was EXTREMELY complimentary of the “bold execution.”
Mr. Piercings probably received half credit, for the half of his body he did actually draw – from the waist up. Ms. Beer Pong employed the artful use of a ladder back chair to function as censor bars, and EVERY other blinkin’ drawing up there was fully clothed!
So, you see, the inglorious life of a writer requires training. It requires fortitude. It `requires beer, best served before you put your all up there on a wall for everyone to see. When a writer puts something out there, it’s a bit of their soul, a slice of something that they’ve kept private for a very long time. I still have the asymmetry and the cellulite, but I “boldly execute” wherever I go.
Sofie Couch has matured since her days at the University of Virginia. She writes sweet romantic comedy, with fully clothed characters, some of whom struggle with cellulite and asymmetry.

You can read her latest novel, KEEPING UP WITH MR. JONES in paperback, and e-copy at Amazon and discriminating booksellers every where!


Beate Boeker said...

I had to laugh so hard when I read your post. Thank you for posting such an entertaining piece!

Sheila Claydon said...

Aw shucks! You didn't post a copy of your A+ piece for the rest of us to critique! That sort of experience must make book critiques really easy to deal with though.

What a fantastic post:-)

Marilyn Shank said...

I loved your post! I was there in that classroom with you throughout. And since I attended college in my 30's as well, I could identify. Your humor is a delight and so is your writing style. Loved it!!!

Heidi said...

Love this!

Gina Ardito said...

It takes a great deal of courage to bare yourself to the public, whether in art class or through our writing. Thanks for the fun reminder!

Sofie Couch said...

Awww, thanks bunches, Ladies! If only it were fiction. Sadly, all true, and yes, my mother still has the drawing stowed in her attic somewhere. With any luck, the moths have "censored" it for me. :)

Leah St. James said...

Figures the "kids" would cop out! You are way braver than I could ever hope to be, even for 30% of a grade. But then I wouldn't have attempted a drawing class either! Thanks for sharing that fun story. Too funny.

Kaye said...

Loved your blog.
You are so right. We do put it all out there. Cellulite and all.

Sandy Cody said...

Love, love, loved your post, Sofie. If you draw as well as you write, your portrait should be in a museum (all things, considered, that may not be what you want). I'll remember this next time I'm tempted to hold back.