My junior year in college, I came across a job posting looking for someone to help with “Light housekeeping.” The address was close to my college’s campus, and the pay was decent. I wanted some extra money for my retirement fund (jk, I wanted booze money), so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so without committing to a real job. Little did I know what I was in for.

I first met The Painter in my interview. I knocked on the door of her apartment and heard someone shout “come in” over loud vibratos of Edith Piaf. Cigarette smoke was practically seeping out from beneath the door. I opened the door, and through the dense puffs saw an elderly woman with thin orange hair, a Chinese silk robe, and a red Solo cup in hand. Brown lipstick was smeared all over the bottom half of her face, and her breath smelled like an odd combination of vodka and sherbet. The walls were covered in enormous paintings of planets, which I later learned were called “Spacescapes.” And the place was a mess.

She was basically a parody of how people perceive artists.

I had gathered from our earlier phone conversation that she might be an odd woman. Yet, to me, most of the residents of my college town Annapolis, Maryland were odd, with their sailboats, seersucker pants, and affinity for crabcakes. To a certain degree, I was expecting The Painter to be merely a quirkier version of this maritime standard. When I actually met her in person, though, she who so seamlessly blended botox with bohemia, I was shocked. Her perpetual smile terrified me: I’d never seen someone with such excessive botox in real life. She later divulged to me unashamedly that she loved botox because it helped her beautify herself the same way she beautified a canvas with paint. “Artists need beauty in all aspects of their lives.” That didn’t make her occasional angry-smiles less scary.

She was, however, friendly and talkative, and despite the abnormal amount of personal information she divulged to me during our first meeting, I found her mysterious and exciting. I was delighted when I got the job.

I soon learned that “Light housekeeping” was a serious understatement. Although much of what I did for her certainly involved sweeping up ashes and wiping framed paintings clean, I also found myself basically running her life. This included activities ranging from running around town for prescriptions, coffee, and tobacco to insisting that her new tanning lotion was working wonders. I also helped her search for art-teaching positions in Egypt, because she wanted a job somewhere warm. “I’m never doing winters again” was her explanation.

She’d recently returned from a long stay in Morocco, where she’d decided that belly-dancing was her new calling. So we also spent a lot of my work hours watching YouTube videos of famous belly-dancers performing. She was adamant that I learn how and the only way to do so was to watch and emulate these dancers, she insisted. Several times I came to work in the morning to find her passed out on the couch, in a belly-dancing costume. After I woke her up (another duty of mine), she’d tell me that she’d been up until 4am perfecting her stomach roll.

Being a personal assistant/friend was more than I had bargained for, yet The Painter was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. From her unique take on life, I learned much about a kind of lifestyle with which I had never been acquainted: the life of an artist. Here are some of the valuable lessons I learned.