Sunday, May 9, 2010

Chapter 24: When Dreams Come True

It wasn't coming out right. Was it the lines that were wrong, the shading? Shulamit wanted the dress to be simple, fresh, but instead it looked flowery and naïve on paper. She ran a thick x through the center of the charcoal figure, and folded over the sheet.

The blank whiteness of the new page reflected back at her, as if it were the enemy, mocking her. She'd never found it so difficult to work before. In school she'd always been drawing. While the teachers drawled on, while the girls giggled and gossiped, Shulamit had drawn out her fantasies, working her way back from the ends of notebooks to their centers, only stopping when she reached class notes and homework, encroaching from the beginning.

The pictures she'd produced had been admired, praised. "You're so talented", they told her. 'You have a gift." "Don't forget us when you're famous."

And she'd believed them. She'd always known what she wanted to be when she grew up. She enjoyed drawing and designing dresses, she was good at it, she was meant for it.

So really everything should be perfect now. Finally she could spend all day studying and practicing fashion, art, and design.

The table was spread with charcoal pencils of varying thicknesses. Dovid was in school, Abba was at work, Ima was out shopping; the house was quiet. It was too quiet. Shulamit found her portable microphones in Dovid's room, plugged them in to her IPod. All artists needed background music to work to, why hadn't she thought of that before?

Being an artist was a lot of pressure. She couldn't sit around and wait to be inspired. She couldn't work when she felt like it. There were deadlines, and assignments to hand it. It was positively draining, sucking out every ounce of creativity she'd ever possessed. No wonder her pictures were falling flat. What did they expect from her?

How did the other students do it? How did they turn up week after week with original masterpieces? Were they better than her? Was she good enough? Maybe she'd made a mistake? Shulamit couldn't bear to be mediocre, when she'd always thought she was the best. Should she give up, and go back to the Seminary where she belonged, and study teaching, together with all the others?

She needed a break. Shulamit remembered the girl from Sara Leah's wedding; Karen, that was her name. She'd told Karen she had a Shidduch for her. Daniel would be perfect; he was sophisticated and worldly, just like Karen was. Had Karen tried dating Baal Teshuvas before? It really was the ideal solution for her. Anyway, she'd call him. Sometimes being a matchmaker was much more relaxing than being an artist.

"Hi Daniel, it's Shulamit, can you talk now? How are you?" Shulamit cradled the cordless phone in the nook of her neck, even though the school nurse had told them how bad that was for posture. She needed her hands free to fish for the scrap of paper where she'd written down Karen's details. When she'd emptied out her evening bag, where had the contents landed?

"I'm doing well. I'm enjoying this Zman at Yeshiva. Still fitting in the basketball I told you about. The dorms are emptying out, with all the boys getting engaged, but the truth is I'm enjoying the space."

"Right. That's great." Shulamit had been expecting a grunt and a swallowed "Baruch Hashem", not a whole conversation.

"And how are you, Shulamit?" Daniel prompted.

Now Shulamit felt obliged to give a genuine response. "Well I'm also studying..."

Her voice trailed off.

"I remember. Fashion design. Your dream! Is it going well?"

Shulamit didn't know how it happened. But Daniel was the first person to ask the question, and sound like he wanted to know the answer. The words tumbled out in a torrent, flowing smoother than the sketches she'd been agonizing over. She told him everything. He was patient, on the other side of the line. He asked more questions, encouraging her to talk. Shulamit realized that she'd been lonely, working at home all day. And classes weren't much better, she felt an alien there, among the students in their T- Shirts and Jeans. It felt good, to be finally talking to someone.

But suddenly, she was embarrassed. She had no business mixing her personal life in with making Shidduchim.

Shulamit lowered her voice, making it sound more businesslike and mature. "Listen Daniel, it's been great talking to you, but I actually called to ask you something. I have an idea for you."

"An idea?"

"You know. A Shidduch idea. Are you free now?"

"Of couse. A Shidduch..."

"She's an amazing girl! I met her last night. Remember how you said you're looking for someone intellectual? Well she's really into all that stuff."

Shulamit didn't understand why Daniel sounded so reserved all of a sudden. He really was the most perplexing boy. But as long as he'd agree to go out with Karen, it didn't matter.


  1. Ah, cheers are the art school pressures, well presented.

  2. Great piece, some of your best yet. The exquisite writing and pace gets us curious and involved and keeps us there. You pull out the details just right and the story develops nicely, with the reader getting an idea of what's really going on, but still curious to see how it's going to play out. You also really tap into the average reader's private, yet commonly held feelings of similar situations. Great job.

    I have a few thoughts that I'll share as my own, admittedly biased, constructive criticism though:
    Watch out for cliches, none here really, but sometimes you use 'expressions of ordinary talking' that the reader is too used to seeing in all kinds of contexts. Try keep it a little more original in parts.

    Also not really in this piece, but often before, in your more descriptive sentences, try keep it a little less formal, and a little more flow-y; reducing unnecessary "that"s and using more contractions. Making it more like dialogue. For example, here, when you said "The blank whiteness of the new page reflected back at her, as if it were the enemy, mocking her." - reduce some of the detail, like "at her", and be less explicit, taking out "as if it were" to make it more metaphorical.

    While I'm on it, maybe also follow through with the metaphors you create. Like for the one above, keep it going beyond just that one sentence, or dot back to that idea later, of the blank unyielding page and book as some kind of ongoing adversary.

    And by the way, I think they were portable speakers, or headphones, not mics?

    But, I'm being over-critical here just to try to share some thoughts. For the very most part your charpters are coming along great, and thoroughly enjoyable!


  3. Thanks for the critique! I'll try and work on that in my second draft. (This is the first draft, where I'm still collecting feedback such as yours!)

  4. love this! she just doesn't pick up on the source of his awkwardness. He is interested in HER, not her pink slips of paper...