Is Art Longer?


            Was it her imagination or did the personals just take a turn for the overly precise?  No one over a size 8 need respond?  Yikes.  Renata mused that this served to weed out the weekend dieters.  There has to be a more humane way, but then she said that about everything from job interviewing to tenure.  Both of which were behind her for the time being…as were the days of being a size 8.  Though a tight 12 wasn’t something to be proud of, it was not at the top of her list of personal loathing.  She remembered reading about someone’s mattering map and how that guided the heroine’s choices; for Renata, it was clearly the personal loathing column that steered her decisions.  Perhaps after the “personals”, they should have “personal loathings”—now there’s a way to weed out the undesirables…  Renata looked out the window and saw her wilting flowers and parched cats peering back at her.  She should water both.  She should finish her book, she should work more hours at the homeless shelter, she shouldn’t call her mother.  It was all so familiar.

She tossed aside the paper and turned back to her computer —she knew how to get out of this mood but it required tremendous effort.  Surely other scholars signaled their respective muses and the words appeared on their screens.  Did others have to play computer solitaire to warm up the keys, to diminish the drone of the demons, to dispel the self doubt that raged near her temples, masquerading as a migraine?  Arrgh.  Her perennial lament—what’s it all for—seemed so humorous to her colleagues who were blissfully ensconced in denial.  Why couldn’t she shelve her angst the way others did?  The way she could “save” and exit at the drop of a hat…It was time for a double latte.  Then she would work.

Of course the first person she ran into was her ex-husband with a student who looked all of 16, but to be fair was probably over 21. Renata thought she had staked out this Starbucks as her turf, but perhaps they had joint custody of the one closest to campus.  They smiled knowingly at each other, though each possessed a very different genre of knowledge.  Now she would have to sit strategically so that she could observe the student in order to complete an impromptu comparison of their respective qualities. Inner beauty had no place in this lineup.  Ah, thank goodness for laptop screens, they hide a wealth of nefarious deeds.  Why did she keep shaking her hair back like that? It was so affected, but of course very effective. Renata felt another attack of self-loathing coming on, so she googled the personals for one of the four sites she belonged to in order to see if anyone had looked at her in the last 24 hours.  Business on the romance sites was sluggish to say the least.  One man kept viewing her profile, but not contacting her. A stalker is born.  She wonders what Hugh and the student are so earnestly talking about, surely he is not parsing Chaucer with her.  But that can be quite a heady experience; many women have fallen for Old English in good-looking bottles.  She was halfway through her Latte when she opened up chapter 3 to read over what she had written yesterday.  Not bad, really.  She could hear her thesis director chanting in her head “you need to unpack this Renata.”  What’s wrong with having the reader unpack one’s prose?  Closing her laptop, she tossed her cup into the garbage can and headed for home to clarify yesterday’s offering at the altar of Academia.  She nodded to Hugh and the student and tried not to trip leaving the coffee house.

Once home she stroked the cats, watered the plants, and decided to work on the overstuffed chair in the library. Big mistake.  But after she woke up from her coma-like nap, Renata returned to her manuscript with an amazing degree of energy and purpose. Renata wrote for three hours without many excursions to the www. or the dust bunnies beneath her couch. The seatbelt she had installed on her desk chair was pretty effective.  Embarrassing, but effective.  When she broke for lunch she read an essay on the importance of art for enriching lives and inspiring noble behavior in those who experienced its transformative power. It was then that she decided to replace her photo on the dating sites with that of Botticelli’s Venus from the Birth of Venus.  A little nudity, to be sure, and she may even be a size 10, but she embodied the beauty that characterized so many of Botticelli’s Virgins.  And talk about an interesting past!  The birth of Venus was full of thunder, sex, and seafoam—it was about as procative as any woman’s avatar could be.  Somehow in that moment of choice, Renata affirmed that both romance and life were outlived by Art, and that in the end was enough to renew her love of her work and the hope that it too could reach the lowest rung of transformative power.