Excerpt from Playing Botticelli by Liza Nelson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Playing Botticelli

by Liza Nelson

Playing Botticelli
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2000, 288 pages
    Jan 2001, 288 pages

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I am against coping on principle and I tell her so. Coping is an acceptance of less than you want. I expect more and don't mind doing what it takes to get more. That's why I hammered and forged and sculpted until I built the life I wanted. And when I decided I needed to earn a living and find a job, I did not simply cope. I made the job fit me, not the other way around. Of course, that choice of jobs remains beyond my mother's comprehension. Needless to say, she never tells anyone in Hilton Head how I earn my living, and she can't understand why, if I'm going to call myself an artist, I choose to live in Esmeralda, where she's never been, instead of some overdeveloped artist-slash-tourist colony like the Vineyard or Greenwich Village.

"There are such limited opportunities."

"You mean to meet men." Men I can live without, as I have shown my entire adult life. Men are generally what I don't want to meet, and if Esmeralda has few to tempt me, the better off I am here. But I bite my tongue. My unwritten rule of etiquette states that if she's paying for the call, I try to avoid out-and-out confrontation. "Try" is the operative word.

"Not only men. Educated people." That cute little hurt in her voice could not be louder and clearer if she were standing next to me in the room shouting through a bullhorn. "And what about Di?" She loves calling Dylan "Di," as if she were named for Princess Diana, although, of course, Dylan was born long before the royal wedding. "What kind of education can she get there? Do they even have advanced-placement classes at the high school?"

"Dylan is happy."

"So you say."

I bite my tongue again. Dylan not happy? We have an almost perfect life. Not almost. Perfect. We play together, we create together. Dylan has never been merely my daughter, the way I was my mother's daughter, a responsibility to give birthday parties for and drive to dancing classes. Dylan is a mind in formation, a spirit I am helping to shape. She goes to the local, admittedly mediocre school, but I have been her primary teacher. I don't say it hasn't become a challenge lately, now that the demons of adolescence have begun to circle. She can be moody and a little prickly at times, but not like other girls with their parents. Our relationship is different. Being Dylan's mother is as intrinsic to my wholeness as a woman and an artist as being my daughter is intrinsic to her wholeness. Dylan, as much as myself, is the beneficiary of my quest for perfected vision.

That is what life is all about, isn't it? Seeing true and clear to the core, so that you know the essence of a thing despite the detritus. When we happened into Esmeralda ten years ago I was just beginning my search, trying to piece together the elements of a life that would allow me to slough off all that garbagey stuff that clings to most people, women especially. Most have no vision so they are trapped in what they call their lives-narrow alleyways cluttered with all the petty trivia of television, office politics, bill paying, dating. Those dancing classes and birthday parties that kept cornering my mother and me in my childhood. The prosaic routine of domestic dependency. I wanted more. I wanted to inhabit my space in the world as I pleased.

So after Daddy died, I turned the twenty thousand dollars he left me into traveler's checks, over my mother and her lawyer's strenuous objections. Then I loaded all our worldly possessions into the back of Miranda, my VW bus, and took off, clutching a map of America's back roads. Dylan was barely five, but she was a fine traveling companion for those three weeks, enthusiastic most of the time and surprisingly patient through the inevitable long stretches. I had not planned to stop in northwest Florida, but I fell in love with that barely visible line in the distance where sky and sea meet, how the roots of the scrub oaks dig in and take hold in the sandy soil. The spiky leaves of the palmettos. All that gnarled resilience. When I saw the FOR SALE sign at Point Paradise I knew we were home. It was destiny. Walking the marshy shore and looking out across the cove to flat open water and empty sky, watching Dylan's delight in the geckos and in the pelicans nesting on abandoned pilings, I knew this particular geography had been ripening for years while it waited for me.

From Play Botticelli, Liza Nelson. (c) December 1999, Liza Nelson used by permission.

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