Cardiac Chiropractics: The Cure for the Common Valentine’s Day and Other Afflictions of the Heart

Every few months I send an email message to my clients.  I focus the message on a single letter and write to it.  I call it a bodysherpa’s alphabet, named for my massage practice.

F is for Fascia.  For Free.   G is for Grace.  For Gratitude and Gifts.  H is for Home.  For Heart.  For Help and Healing.

Today’s started, “V is for Valentine.  For Voice.”

I had the idea I would write about how I really don’t care for Valentine’s Day.  Never have.   I would offer $14 off the price of a massage during the month of February.  I would write about finding my voice through my blogging and invite my clients to it.

It began:

“In grade school we decorated brown paper sacks with doilies and red and pink construction paper, making “mailboxes” for our Valentines. 

Some of my teachers insisted we give a Valentine to every student in the class.  It was supposed to make everyone feel good.  Feel equal.  It was one of those good-intended policies that doesn’t translate in the real world.  Not everyone is equally equal.  Not everyone gets a Valentine.  At least not at the same time.”

I continued, writing about choosing the most special card from the pack and giving it to Joey Lash or Tom Hallett or James Lark.  Wearing my heart on my sleeve at just nine-years-old and hoping and praying it wouldn’t get crushed.

I wrote about coming downstairs in the morning to breakfast and finding a heart-shaped box filled with Russell Stover or Whitman’s chocolates, right next to my juice glass and multivitamin.  How it was a potent reminder that I didn’t have a sweetheart.  That the only Valentine I was getting was from my mom and dad.  How it didn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy and loved, as they had intended.

I wrote about the pressure I felt when I was a part of a couple.  The sense that there was a certain way to show love and romance on this one special day of the year.  And that more often than not, we would decide not to celebrate.  Or to only give one another a card.  How this was me making certain my heart didn’t end up on my sleeve again…all crumpled up.

I wrote that I saved the Valentine’s Day cards my ex-husband and I gave one another our last year together.  That I couldn’t throw them out.  That they used to live in a box marked “treasures,” but now they live in a black, plastic file box with a grey handle instead. 

And then I went looking for them.

In my searching I got clarity and the good sense to realize this was not the message for my clients.  It didn’t feel light, instill a sense of trust and hope.  It wasn’t an invitation to come to my table and receive love and care.  So I stopped. 

Turns out the cards I went looking for aren’t from Valentine’s Day.  They are from our 10-year-wedding anniversary – our last together. 

Mine to Lee is green with gingko leaves, and the words “Never say no to a great idea.”  Inside it reads “Everything is worth a shot because anything is possible.”  His to me is a photograph of a white cat hugging a Chihuahua.  Both are standing erect on hind paws.  Inside it reads “In our own weird way, we work.”

I’m not sure why I still have them.  As a reminder that once upon a time we were a happy couple?  Clearly we weren’t anymore.  I re-read our messages to one another.  They are heartbreakingly sad.  Our words heavy with the knowledge that our marriage is over but neither of us quite able to speak it yet. 

Really, I don’t need these cards to remind me of what my life once was.  I am reminded often enough – in these little, seemingly insignificant ways that knock me out.

Today at Jiffy Lube.  After I nix the recommended cleaning of my fuel injection system, the service technician asks if I want to change my address.  He turns the screen to me: 1308 West Wheeler Street, Seattle, WA. 

Surprisingly, I don’t well up.  My heart just hurts.

A few weeks ago.  I am putting sheets on my new bed.  White with pale green, blue and brown stripes.  I notice one pillowcase is darker than the other.  It is Lee’s pillowcase, ever so slightly discolored from the oils of his hair and skin.

The hurt shoots through me again.  The hurt of “Remember when you were a ‘we?’  Remember when you used to share a bed?”   I feel a catch in my chest, like a rib is out of place.  Breathing feels a little bit painful.  My movements are gingerly so as to not create more pain.

I need a cardiac chiropractor for my heart.

The adjustment is amazingly simple.  I buy new sheets.  Pewter colored.  Calvin Klein.  I wash and fold the striped set and give them away.  I change my address at Jiffy Lube.  I start a new client newsletter.




It’s Weird When Your Father Asks If You Are Dating

It’s weird when your father asks if you are dating.  It’s even weirder when he says “Don’t worry.  It will come.”

Thing is, I’m not dating.  Deliberately.

My father was merely making conversation.  However, my simple no and nothing more, brought our long-overdue talk to a temporary standstill. 

It’s a lot like when I was married and people would ask if I had children.  That uncomfortable silence after I answered no.   When neither of us could conjure up a single possible commonality or interest between us.

But here’s the rub.  More often than not, I feel like I have to explain.  As if I have to save us both from this awkwardness.  (This may be one of the reasons people tell me I put them at ease.  Go figure.) 

I wish I was one of those people who can sit in the silence and smile while the asker twists in his or her own discomfort.  My friend Angel was a master at this.  She had perfected that patient, semi-smile that says, “I can wait this out all day.  I’m not rescuing you.”

I am not Angel. 

Standing in the pregnant pause following “no (I don’t have children)” I’d usually follow up with a light, self-deprecating statement like, “Cats are enough,” or “I can barely take care of myself.”   Which is not quite true.  At least the second statement.  I do a pretty excellent job taking care of myself.   My rabbi often marvels at how I intuitively know how to ask for help.  To eat well.  To write.  To make time for meditation and prayer, dancing and being in nature. 

But I don’t usually offer any of that up.  I never say, “No, I don’t have children.  But I have a really full, gorgeous, sexy life.  Would you like to hear about it?” 

Perhaps I should.

This, “No, I’m not dating” – it’s a conscious decision, made for the first time in my life.  I was never a serial monogamist.  Or a woman never without a man.  I spent many years alone in my 20s.  It  wasn’t my choice.  It just worked out that way.  And I was always pretty miserable – looking or lamenting and looking again.

And now I’m not.  I don’t have a profile on, OK Cupid or JDate.  I’m not asking to be fixed up. 

Let me be clear, this doesn’t make me “better than,” “holier than thou,” particularly evolved or healthy,  or even really excited about being alone.  It means I love myself enough to not invite any more pain in my life.

The few dalliances I’ve had in and after divorce have been painful to the extreme.  My heartbreak disturbingly incongruent to the situation.  I know it.  My friends know it.  I am too vulnerable right now.  And too graspy.

And when I do meet a man who is available, seems I cannot complete a sentence without including the words “ex-husband,” “Lee,” “marriage” or “divorce.”  It’s as if I’m waving a huge flag that reads, “Make no mistake, I am not healed.  I am not available.”

Surprisingly, I’m finding aloneness doesn’t hurt nearly as much as my needy romantic obsessions.  That feeling the feelings of dissolving a 15-year relationship is less painful than prematurely putting myself out in the dating world with what my friend Lynn calls “a broken picker.”

More than once she has said, “You can’t pick available because you are not available yourself.”  I believe that that is true.  For now.

I have this image of my old cat Maude.  She’s a big calico with a pink nose like an eraser and a disturbingly human face.  I see her licking her paws, cleaning herself up a bit.  I think that’s what I’m doing.

And while I’m doing it, I’m getting to do all sorts of things I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t if I was dating.  Spending countless hours writing, editing, reading.  Collaging.  Taking photographs.  Taking myself on Artist’s Dates. 

Spending a lot of time with girlfriends.  Considering a trip to Dublin this fall for Tim and Martin’s wedding.  Or a volunteer stint in India or Italy.  Or a long road trip.  I don’t have to run it by anyone for approval either.  

I can stay up as late as I like.  Listen to the same songs over and over again.  Eat breakfast for dinner.

My friend Zina recently asked, “What would your life look like if you believed G-d had you?” 

I think it would look like this.

Artist’s Date Six: I Can Suck The Joy Out Of Anything

I can suck the joy out of anything.  Even an Artist’s Date.

Once again, my plan was to go to the Art institute on Thursday.  My friend Lisa texted that morning to say she could meet later in the day.  I had told her I would leave the time open” just in case “she was able to get together, although it didn’t seem likely.  So when she said she was available, I said yes. 

And then berated myself for throwing myself under the bus. For not protecting my time.  For missing my Artist’s Date.  Never mind that Lisa and I have been trying to meet for weeks.  And that spending time with her is both a joy and a balm. 

Lisa is an amazing woman.   She owns a bakery – her second act.  She didn’t marry until she was 51 – and is grateful for it.  She talked me off the ledge when I was in South Carolina this fall – recently divorced, saying what I thought was goodbye to my birthmother, and spinning out about a boy.  I’m just now getting to know her, and already, she’s one of my heroes.

I considered going to the Art Institute after our predictably delightful coffee date as it is open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays.  But it was cold and dark and involved doubling back and paying for parking a second time.  I headed home instead.

One of The Artist’s Way Week Six assignments is to cook or bake. 

I cooked all the time when I lived in California .  It was easy.  I worked out of my home, and had my choice of green grocers within walking distance.  That changed when I moved to Chicago and rented an office downtown.  Cooking time became commuting time.   Then I lost my appetite living in Seattle.

Now single and back in Chicago, I fall back on a repertoire of not quite half a dozen items in rotation: Green salad with some sort of protein.   Egg white omelette and a bran muffin.   Kale, winter squash and black beans. Greek yogurt, granola and fruit.  Oatmeal, bananas, berries and soymilk.

Earlier this week I made soup.  Curried Red Lentil.  It’s a simple recipe from an old Weight Watcher’s cookbook.  I served it at a party in November and it was a hit, so I decided to make it again.  The act of making food for myself felt amazingly nurturing and healing.  Like a full-body hug from the grandmother I always dreamed of –who just happens to be Hindu instead of Jewish, and actually likes me.

I decided I’d cook again and call it my Artist’s Date.  There wasn’t much in my kitchen, but I spied a bag of rainbow chard from Trader Joes that was about to turn.  I found a recipe online for a raw kale salad with red onions, sunflower seeds, and raisins.  I had chard, walnuts, yellow onions and prunes.  Close enough.

I rolled the chard, cut it into thin, green ribbons and massaged it with salt.  Just as the recipe promised, the chard grew a deeper and deeper green.  I sliced the onion into half-moons, split the prunes in two, chopped the walnuts and toasted them in a pan.  I added cider vinegar and chopped apples – as the recipe directed.  Instead of feta, I spooned in some avocado.

I planned to read after dinner, rounding out my date night “in.”  It was a sixth date.  I reasoned we had gotten to know one another – me and my artist self – well enough to forgo going out.  We’d stay in.  Cook together.  Share some stories.  Intimate.  Sweet.

But the reading never happened.  Instead I answered phone calls, responded to texts and searched online for cheap airfare to Nashville.  I concluded that my Artist’s Date was a failure – as I wouldn’t do these things on a “real date” – thereby sucking the joy out of it.

I considered many options to “save” my dating status.  Some music at Old Town School.  A writer’s salon hosted by friends.  Instead, I ended up at Montrose Beach this afternoon.

It was sunny and warmish.  Twenty-something after single digits a few days prior.  I craved fresh air. Expanse.  Stillness.

I go to Montrose Beach simply because it is close and parking is easy.  There are dunes, and a bird and butterfly sanctuary.   I spent the afternoon after my get – my Jewish divorce – here.

My feet hit the wood chip path of the sanctuary and I immediately felt better.  My head quieted.   My lungs filled with winter air.  I remembered other Week Six assignments – Collect five rocks.  Collect five leaves.

I searched the beach for pretty stones – brushing off sand with my mitten-ed hand and dropping them into my coat pocket.  I took pictures of leaves as if to prove that they were there – stuck in the sand, in the ice.   Brown.   Dry.  I took a picture of a little patch of green I found under a tree.   A close up of the skin of a birch.  Bits of light skating on top of the water  – dizzying.  I picked up a green sparkly ball the size of a marble – a Christmas ornament still on its hook – and stuffed it into my pocket with the stones and a small bit of turquoise pottery I found. 

Walking north I felt cold and pulled my “turtle fur” up around my mouth and nose.

I walked through a gaggle – shit, an entire flock – of sea birds, feeling a little bit like Tippy Hedrin.  They all flew away except one, a female.   I could tell because her markings weren’t as beautiful.  Her plainness keeping her safe to protect her babies.

Back in my car I turned on NPR and listened to a live performance.   A woman offering her story of life in prison.  I’m not sure who or where.   I came in in the middle.  Called by a number rather than a name.  Other inmates offered her a toothbrush and shower clogs when she arrived, because the prison didn’t.  Blue eye shadow or a banana from the commissary made her feel almost human.   I sat in the car for a while when I got home, listening. 

I came inside and dropped the stones in a drinking glass I bought at the Salvation Army.  It is etched with vertical rows of polka dots and feels Art Deco-y.   I can’t drink from it.  A series of lovely oval cuts wraps around the top third and water leaks through them when the glass is tilted.

I put the glass of rocks and the Christmas ornament on my kitchen table.  Next to the tulips I bought earlier in the week that need to be thrown out, and a stack of postcards I’m getting ready to send. 

And I breathed a little joy back in.

Artist’s Date 5: What if it Does Happen?

I bought myself a gift membership to the Art Institute in December.  I hadn’t yet been back there since I’d been back here.  Since the Chagall Windows had been reinstalled.  I still haven’t. 

I pencil it in last Thursday in my yellow calendar book.  “Artist’s Date 5. Art Institute.”  But my friend James offers to finish my kitchen curtains that evening.  Desperate to feel more settled, I jump at the offer.  

The curtains are up.  But I am dateless. 

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes that we “dump” in the morning pages and we “fill” on the Artist’s Date. 

I can’t make it to the Art Institute that calendar week.  I take myself to the Mount Sinai Hospital Thrift Shop instead, filling my senses with other’s castaway treasures.

I love this place.  There’s a sign behind the counter that reads “no negotiating.”  I’ve been here just twice.  The second time one of the ladies behind the counter said “I remember you,” as I was checking out.  I told her I had been there only once before.  She nodded as if she knew that too. 

Mt. Sinai isn’t the cheapest thrift shop in town.  But they’ve got great stuff, including a designer room.  I still lament not snagging the reversible green cashmere turtleneck sweater I found there last time.  I was foolishly waiting for it to get marked down, as everything does that doesn’t move.

I try on a couple of skirts.  Some sweaters.   A gold dress.  Patti LaBelle circa Lady Marmalade with a hint of Walt Disney.  Embroidered swirls around the breasts.  Thick, stretchy straps.  A lame’ poof skirt. 

All of it is too big on me.  I realize how small I have become.  But I don’t really feel it.  And I still don’t like my arms.  Body dysmorphia.  I see a different body. Perhaps one I never had but the one I was told was mine. The one I was told was too big.

I pick up a tangerine, short-sleeve cashmere sweater.  The tag reads Barneys.  $16.  Although I don’t love my arms, I can’t not.

I wander into furniture, home goods and framed art.  There is sketch of Ronald Regan in cowboy regalia.  I should have bought it.  Two copies of a print my mother has hanging over her couch.  A water-color of a woman walking her cow.  A collage of Africa.  Pieces of map and brochures of a number of countries.  Framed.  Possibly someone’s 7th grade social-studies project.   A B-minus at best.

It reminds me of my own collage.  Stretched canvas leaning on my bedroom bureau, Modge Podged with reminders of my trip alone to Paris and the South of France.  Train tickets and hotel bills. 

I borrowed the idea from my friend Selena who collaged a bowl with paper bits of her travels to Peru.  Selena is one of those inherently crafty people.  She knits and beads and used to host craft night at her house in Oakland.  I never went. I was too afraid.  I didn’t know what I would make.  She told me she would help me.  But I stayed away. 

I think of my own trip to Africa.   To Rwanda this past summer.  I didn’t collage it.  Instead I took mad photos and blogged.  Prints of my photographs from the market hang in my kitchen.  Beans drying in the sun.  Baskets of peas.  Baskets of garlic.  A store called “God is Good Fish. ‘  It reminds me of my friend Mark.  Sitting on his lap, facing one another, my legs dangling off the back of the chair.  We have been kissing all night.  I look at him, giggle and say, “G-d is good.”  His face lights up. He looks at me in earnest, laughs and repeats “God IS good.”

I find a mirror for $40.  My friend Dina tells me I need one.  But I leave it.  It seems like a lot.   Days later my friend Tom tells me it’s a good deal.

Dina also tells me I needed a suitcase to swap out with the one she used to make me a table.  She turned my orange hardcase on its side and stacked a photo box on top of it.

I find a small-ish hardcase on wheels, covered in a brown tweed fabric with the initials LW embossed in gold.  There is an address label enclosed in metal and a clear plastic.  “Mr. and Mrs. Sam Woloshin. 2970 North Lake Shore Dr. #13 B, Chicago IL 60657.”  Their names are in block print but the address is script.

I wonder about Mr. and Mrs. Sam Woloshin.  Do they still live on Lakeshore Drive?  Where did they go with this suitcase?  Did they get new luggage? Or did they die and their kids cleaned out the house and let Mt Sinai take what they didn’t want?

I wonder what sort of treasures might be inside but I can’t get it open.  I ask one of the boys who sorts donations for help. He pushes on both sides of the metal locks that read “Skyway” and the case flings open.   Empty.  I tell him of my hope for forgotten treasures inside and he smiles.  It is marked $4. 

I look at books and baby clothes and fondue sets.  I finger a beautiful camel-hair coat that seems to be my ex-husband’s size and I think he might like it if he still lived here.

I make my $20-plus-tax purchase and leave.  This time, the woman behind the counter doesn’t tell me she remembers me. 

I look at my watch.  I still have time on my Artist’s Date. I think about going to the Salvation Army but it feels like a push.

I drive up Lincoln Avenue towards home and spy Flourish Studios on my left.  I always think I will go in but never do.  I drive half a block past, notice my pattern, stop and park.

As I put money in the meter, I think about how I don’t give myself permission to meander. To explore.  Not even in therapy.  I tell my new therapist I don’t have time for it.  I have work to do.  She tells me she is interested in me.  I think it is strange.  She tells me I am a good story teller.  I tell her I know.

I look at scarves and bags and books.  Codependent No More.  It’s on my list.  Suggested by my ex-husband.  My father read it years ago and I asked him why.  He said it was because he worked in the alcohol industry.  I didn’t believe him. I wondered if he was reading it because I didn’t drink.  This was nearly 20 years ago.  Now I think it had nothing to do with me.

I see the gift edition of The Artist’s Way and smile.  Next to it is another of her title’s, The Right to Write.  I make a mental note.  It’s hard for me to remember I don’t have to buy everything I see.   I either want everything or nothing.  I live in the extremes.

I am surrounded by black wooden blocks with inspirational messages. I write them down in the front of my calendar.

“Just because someone doesn’t love you the way you want them to doesn’t mean they don’t love you with all they have.”

I get all teary and think about a friend of mine. I don’t understand his behavior. Or lack of behavior.  Why he seems to have abandoned me.  I’m not sure that he has.  He’s just not acting the way I want him to. And I miss him.  I find solace in the words.  I don’t want to forget them.  Or him.

“Risk more than others think is safe.  Care more than others think is wise.  Dream more than others think is practical.  Expect more than others think is possible.”

Yes, I think.  This is how I live. With a big, shiny way-too-open heart.  Seems it gets trounced on a regular basis.  I am terrified of it crusting over because it is too hurt. That I will become hard.  That I will cease to take emotional risks.  No longer love freely.  Live a safe existence instead of a big, juicy, overly romantic life.  That seems more painful than the hurt I know.  It is unfathomable.

I think of dinner with my friend Miriam in San Francisco.  I am 25.  I have just gotten back from Germany, my first trip overseas, and I have fallen head-over-heels for a man who is not available.  I tell her every detail through watery eyes.  When I am done she tells me she is envious of my range of emotions.  I tell her it is painful.  But I feel validated.  I feel the same way here, now.

I stop at a basket of magnets and pick one up.  It says something like “She began to heal when she realized the hole in her heart was really an opening.”  It gives me hope for keeping my big, shiny heart open.  But I choose a more optimistic magnet instead.

It is a yellow rectangle with two blue figures dancing. They have shadows beneath them and green energy slashes around them.  In red, childlike scrawl it says:

“What if it doesn’t happen?”  People are so quick, almost, eager, to prepare you for the worst.  If I give you nothing else, I’ll try to prepare you for the BEST, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll believe it’s ok to hope for it, work for it, wait for it, and embrace it when it comes…I’ll be the one saying to you, and myself, The BEST could happen…and what if it does, WHAT IF IT DOES!!”

What if it does?  I pray that I will recognize it and be ready.



It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better. And The Jeff Weinstein Method of Healing

I called my friend Kevin the morning after I arrived in Chicago, sobbing uncontrollably.

“It gets worse before it gets better,” he said.

I was horrified.  And I was grateful.  Grateful to have this information.  An ominous warning from one who has walked the path – so I might know what to expect and “prepare” accordingly.  Although I couldn’t imagine what I might do to “get ready.”  Or that I could feel any worse than I did at that moment.

Last night, more than four months since that conversation, I asked Kevin, “You told me it gets worse before it gets better.  When does it get better?”  It had been a particularly difficult and leaky day.

What he told me wasn’t exactly new information.  Something along the lines of change is incremental.  The better begins to outweigh the worse.  And the worse, when it creeps in, doesn’t last as long.  Until one day you realize it’s been better more than worse for a while.

It reminded me of a conversation I often have with massage clients – when I explain that healing tends to happen in dribs and drabs.  So often you aren’t aware of it until you are on the other side of it.  And yet it’s happening all the time.  It’s what I call the Jeff Weinstein method of healing. 

The name always peaks their interest.

Jeff Weinstein was the mostly unrequited love of my life in high school.  I thought my heart would never heal.  That I would never recover from him not choosing me.  That I would always feel broken.

And then one day, I realized it had been a couple of days since I had thought about him.  Then a few weeks.  Eventually it didn’t hurt anymore when I would think of him.  And I knew I had healed.

To be honest, I still cringe sometimes when I think of my relationship with Jeff. 

My legs still buckle a little bit under my weight and my hands shake when I run into him, as I do, every couple of years.  Body memory.    

I remember the pain of that unrequited love distinctly.  It is never too far away.  How could it be?  It lives inside of me.  But it takes up different real estate.  And while I recognize it, I really don’t feel it anymore.

This morning, as I was making my usual breakfast of oatmeal with banana, blueberries and soy milk, I realized the Jeff Weinstein method had been working on me.

I looked at a bowl on the shelf.  My friend Stephanie gave it to me when I got back to town, along with some other “starter items” from her own kitchen.  Things she no longer used.

She brought them to me after she heard me say, “I arrived with a spoon.”  It was the only eating utensil I traveled with.  It’s still in my friend Matt’s kitchen drawer – a jelly spoon with ridged edges.

The bowl is thrown pottery with a mustard-color glaze, a flocked pattern inside, and grooves at the top for resting chopsticks. 

I don’t eat breakfast out of Stephanie’s bowl anymore.  I use a Chococat cat bowl I found at the Salvation Army instead.  It makes me giggle and feels decidedly girlie.

I thought about arriving here in September.   Making oatmeal in Stephanie’s bowl and bringing it with me to my morning meetings.  It was a habit I had developed in Seattle.

Lee had asked me for a divorce.  And I just had a somewhat innocent intimacy with a friend.  He acted differently towards me after.  I was devastated.  I thought I knew him.  That I could trust him.   But his actions betrayed his words.   And I saw him all the time.  Both of them. 

I couldn’t eat.  I had never experienced this before. 

My mother put me on my first diet when I was 10, and I have done some sort of battle with my body pretty much since then.  Early on, I learned to eat when I was happy.  When I was sad.  Scared, bored, excited.  I could eat for any emotion or occasion if I let myself.  And now I couldn’t choke down food.

I had heard about this phenomenon, but it seemed like urban legend to me.  Like the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot. 

Every morning I would make breakfast.  Write my morning pages.  Pray and meditate.  And then go meet others like myself for a dose of what heals us.  I would bring my bowl with oatmeal, bananas, blueberries and, by the time I arrived, somewhat congealed soy milk.

My friends gently teased me about how I barely finished breakfast before lunch.  And about giving new meaning to “bringing my own bowl.”  They knew.  I felt safe with them.  And I was distracted enough so I could eat and not really notice.

I lost 12 pounds without trying.  I decided the divorce diet was a gift to help me in my newly single life.

I looked at the bowl.  I don’t take it, or any other one, with me in the morning.  It doesn’t sit in my car while I drive.  It no longer takes me literally hours to eat.  My appetite has returned.  It did some time ago. 

And I realize I am just a little bit better than worse. 

Artist Date 4: Stories I Tell Myself. A Visit to the Lincoln Park Zoo

I have never understood movie dates.    

You don’t talk.  You don’t get to know one another.  Don’t trade information about favorite books, first jobs and secret -private-fantasy careers.  Don’t find out if you both like to eat off of one another’s plate.  You sit in the dark, facing a screen and share an experience.  Not even.  It is parallel play.  People go on movie dates because they are easy.  They aren’t so scary.

The same is true for Artist’s Dates.

Last Tuesday.  I take myself on Artist Date Four—to the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory.   It is overcast and near-40-degrees in January.

I am looking at my watch, wondering how I am going to spend my time.  Just like I did on my first Artist Date.   I have a cold.  It isn’t as warm as I had thought.  I should have brought a scarf, and worn a longer coat.  But I want to look cute.  “It’s a date.”  I have been absurdly literal about this at times.  I even change clothes a couple of times before leaving the house.  I buy myself flowers earlier in the day – red Gerber Daisies smiling at me from the refrigerator at Costco.  Perhaps even winking.  A deep crimson with yellow centers.

 I am flooded with memories. 

My husband is ranting that he does nothing but work and run errands.  I point the car toward the zoo and bring him here.   We leave our just-purchased groceries in the car, and I appreciate winter for the first time ever.  I don’t know if he likes the zoo but we are doing something different.  I show him that this might be a place worth staying.

Years later.  It is spring.  I ask Lee to take me here.  It is days after my breast reduction surgery.  I cannot drive.  I am supposed to be healing.   I am restless.   I walk slowly.  Gingerly.  Men and women, easily in their 80s, zip past me.  I realize I am not well.  That I have no business being here.   

In his book, “It’s Not About the Bike,” Lance Armstrong writes about climbing on his bike for an “easy ride” while being treated for stage 4 testicular cancer.  But it is harder than he imagines.  Tour de France hard.  A slightly-overweight, middle-aged woman rides past him on a clunky, mountain bike as if he is standing still.  This is how I feel.  Defeated.  Demoralized.

 Zoo Lights: We are with my ex-boyfriend Stu and his wife Maria.  We have our picture taken with Santa in the Lion House and drink instant hot cocoa.  I am with my friend Damita.  Raised Jehovah’s Witness, she didn’t celebrate Christmas growing up.  Now an adult woman in her 40s, she is mad-crazy in love with the lights.

My farewell ritual with Clover.  I am preparing to leave my adopted home and move to Seattle.  We visit places of significance for me.  I leave a rock from my hot-stone massage collection in each place, along with a blessing or memory written on biodegradable paper.  The Lincoln Park Zoo is my last stop.  I get on my knees and pray, and leave a rock under a bush near the Conservatory.

 I love the Lincoln Park Zoo for about a million reasons.  It’s free.  It sits in the middle of a city, in the middle of a park.   It has boats shaped like swans. 

I first learned of it my freshman year of college.  I met a boy from the Chicago suburbs who played me a song about a guy caught with his pants down – literally – sodomizing a cow in the petting zoo after hours.  I still remember the refrain: “Moo, Moo, I love you.  I know you’re a cow but anything will do.  Oh yeah, there’s a lot to do, when it’s just me and you.” 

My first visit is 20 years later.  I have just moved to Chicago for the first time.  My step-sister’s personal trainer takes me Nordic Walking (read: powerwalk with poles) here.  It becomes a regular stop for me.

On the way from my Thursday morning Weight Watchers meeting to my office across from Northwestern Memorial Hospital.  I spend the hours between walking from the one place to the next, cutting through the zoo.

It is early and I watch the staff preparing for the day.  I visit the polar bear, watching him swim to the glass and play with any kids who might be watching.  I love his black skin, his white fur and big meaty paws.  How he swims on his back.

I don’t have a friend in Chicago.  Not yet.  So I go see the animals.  It sounds sad.  It is.

Today.  Five years have passed and I have returned to this place.  To Chicago – to live.  To the Lincoln Park Zoo – for this Artist’s Date.

The Zoo Lights are still up but unlit.  The Chocolate Bar stands are also up, but closed.  Chunks of ice, green with glitter, are melting where the carving demonstrations took place. 

I walk on the new Nature Boardwalk, taking photographs.  Reflections of the skyscrapers on the pond.  Canadian geese gathering.   Flower patterns in the ice.  A picture-postcard view of the city.

I remember being here this summer, on my way to Rwanda.  My friend Michael picks me up and asks what I want to do.  “Walk.”  He brings me here, walking so quickly I can hardly keep up in my orange peep-toe wedges.  He insists nothing is wrong but I don’t believe him.  We stop and he shines his flashlight in the water.  Bullfrogs.  He knows their song.  We look at each other and grin and I think, “We’re ok.”

The furry camels are taking turns eating.  The blind leading the blind.  Orderly. Polite.  I remember a phone conversation with my friend Slade just a few weeks ago.  He lives in South Carolina now, but lived here once for a year.  We didn’t know one another then.   I tell him exactly where I am at and describe the camels to him.  We talk about his trip to San Francisco and about making art.  I am excited about our friendship, about knowing him.  It seems a long time ago.

I visit the alpacas.  One white.  One brown.  One black.  The jaguar and the skinny lion when I go in the Lion House to pee.  The polar bear is hiding.  I go to the African Experience to warm up and to be reminded of my trip this summer. 

I am accosted by a volunteer asking me if I “want to learn some things.”  He is about 17, kind of doughy and really excited.  How can I say no?  He quizzes me on the number of bones in the hand.  A former anatomy teacher, I should know this.

72?  27.  

How many cervical vertebrae? 

Five?  Seven. 

“Counting atlas/axis?” I say.  “I guess.” 

He shows me a cast of a human hand and a gorilla paw.  A human vertebrae and a giraffe vertebrae.  He tells me giraffes have seven cervical vertebrae too.  Theirs are just bigger.  And they work like a ball-and-socket joint.  I see this in action when I spot the giraffes.  Inside for the winter.  The tall one winds her head up in a flirtatious gesture and bats her eyelashes.  I may have a new love, I think.

I consider taking a strip of photos in a booth, like I have done with Angel. With Lee.  But it seems sad to do it alone so I don’t.

I wander into the Conservatory.  My lungs fill with warm, moist air.  I feel better.  I am tired.  I walk through the tropical plants, into the fern house, into the orchid house.  I remember carrying orchids at my wedding.  A mess of them cascading out of my hands like fragrant white water.  Gorgeous.

I take a picture of a sign.  “Sensitive Plant.”  I think of my friend Dina.  She used to call me Princess and the Pea because I am so sensitive.  She is too.

I sit on a bench by the sensitive plant and close my eyes.  I am feeling more comfortable on my date.  That first hour is about easing into it.  The second hour is about enjoying it. 

I post my photos on Facebook.  I consider these memories, little fragments of my life seen through a zoo lens.  Stories I would tell someone if I were here on a date.  I tell them to myself.





When a Stick Vacuum is Self Care

I slept seven hours Monday night.   Eight Tuesday, and woke up the next morning near tears.   Salty liquid gratitude.   I was restored.  The familiar pain and pulling in my neck and across my face was gone.  The only thing I had done differently was to get appropriate sleep two nights in a row. 

I hadn’t done that since I moved out of the bedroom last April.

I hear this is common during divorce – staying up until all hours.  Literally exhausting oneself, falling into bed and passing out before you can notice you are there alone when you didn’t used to be.

I didn’t move out of our bedroom right away.  I wasn’t ready and Lee didn’t force the issue.  When I kissed a man who wasn’t him, I knew it was time, and I went into my “office.” 

Its walls were painted sage.  Happy curtains flocked with yellow and orange circles covered the windows, shiny, saffron-colored Sari material covered the closet.  I slept on an old Ikea fold-out couch/bed.  “My” art hung on the walls.  A stretched canvas collaged  and ModgePodged with memorabilia from my first travels overseas alone – train tickets, hotel bills, coasters, maps, photographs. And a painting from my friend Scotty called “You Can Take it With You.” It is a woman leaving her home and her tribe.

Now in my own bedroom, I didn’t have to consider anyone else’s comfort or schedule.  I could go to bed whenever I liked.  It was like being in college.

I started the ritual of a nightly phone call with a friend in Chicago – also going through a divorce.  We would speak into the wee hours.  And yet, I still rose early – 5:30 a.m.  I had developed a schedule.  It gave me a sense of purpose.  Of safety and feeling grounded.  I held on to it fiercely.

I stayed up just as late while traveling over the summer.  In Rwanda, my roommate Sue and I would talk in the darkness under our dreamy, diaphanous mosquito nets until we fell asleep.

Since arriving in Chicago this fall, I’ve been mostly sleeping on a couch.  First at my friend Matt’s house.   And then at my own. 

I didn’t want to move into the spare bedroom at Matt’s.  It was small and didn’t have air-conditioning.  It meant I’d have to open up a box and inflate a blowup mattress.  Easy as it sounds, I didn’t have it in me.  Also, it would mean I had really left Seattle, left my marriage.  Sleeping on the couch allowed me to harbor an
unconscious fantasy that this was all temporary.  Besides, Matt said it was kind of nice to see me there in the morning.

On my own, I ordered a top of the line futon and frame.  I made the bedroom a massage studio, while I “camped” out in the living room.  Just inches from the dining nook and my computer, I stayed up later and later each night, seduced by what seemed like connection.  Facebook.  Photographs.  Video clips of a crush playing guitar and crooning.

Last week, I bought a bed.   It came on the heels of completing a writing exercise in Week 3 of The Artist’s Way.  “Describe your childhood room…What was your favorite thing about it?   What’s your favorite thing about your room right now? …”   

I didn’t have a room.  I knew then I could no longer camp out.  I could no longer feel like a transient in my own home. 

I feel anxious and teary writing this, realizing how unkind I have been to myself.  Realizing how much I have depended on others – especially my ex-husband – to give me permission to treat myself well.  To live.  

And, to tell me it’s going to be ok.  That I’m ok.  That I won’t be homeless.  (A recurring fear of mine.)  That I will always have enough to eat.  That I am protected and cared for and safe in the world – not because of him but because of me, the community I create, the order of things.

I didn’t get that reassurance at home growing up.  It wasn’t their fault.  My folks weren’t sure we had enough.  And whether or not that was actually true, they believed it.  At an early age I watched my father with his head in his hands, paying bills.  My mother reminding us of whom we couldn’t keep up with.  Of what we couldn’t have, instead of what we did. 

They were scared.  So I got scared.   I started living tight, rather than trusting in the good of the universe, my own work ethic, and my money-handling skills.

My friend Lisa reminds me that my money fears masquerade as financial prudence to the outside world.  But really, it’s just fear.

That’s what making a bedroom into a massage studio and putting myself literally “on the couch” is – fear. 

I’m alone now and fully adult.  I can’t wait for someone to give me permission to spend money – my money.  To take care of myself.  I have to do it.  It’s a slow learning.

I decided to let go of how much money I spent on the futon and my belief that it “should” work.  I ordered a bed from  It arrives next week.  A modern, streamlined wood platform with a memory-foam mattress. 

In terms of my work, it means I’ll exclusively do house calls.  Or rent space from my friend, Dee.  Or put the table up in my living room and buy divider panels.  I haven’t decided yet.

I walk into my bedroom and I’m giddy excited to move in.  Probably the giddy excited I should have felt when I moved in to my apartment in October – my first on my own – ever, but didn’t.

I went to Target yesterday.  I bought a Dirt Devil stick vacuum.  A shoe rack.  A humidifier.  Shea butter for my hands.  Organic face crème.  Several kinds of tea. 

I stood in front of the Dirt Devil.  The shoe rack.  The humidifier.  Contemplating.   I heard the familiar refrain, “But do you really need it?”

Yes, I do.

I put them in my cart, took a deep breath, and checked out to the tune of $153.57.  I came home and built the shoe rack.  I vacuumed the closet with the new Dirt Devil and put the shoes back in it.  It looked like an After photo from a room makeover.

I kept vacuuming.  I remembered reading that Iggy Pop likes to vacuum.  So does my mother, and my friend Brian.  They find it Zen – although they wouldn’t use that word.  Right-brain activity, like scrubbing pots and riding a bike.

I marveled at how effortlessly it sucked up the dust bunnies in corners and along the baseboards.  I didn’t think I needed one because I had left the cats and their fur in Seattle.  I was mistaken.  I thought about my broom and dustpan and how I could never quite get everything up off the floor.  I’d tell myself it was “good enough.”  It wasn’t.

As I vacuumed – channeling Iggy Pop – I smiled.  I said out loud, “I think this is self-care.”

Fearing Week Four

In the last 10 minutes I’ve gotten up off the couch at least half a dozen times.  To make tea.  Check texts.  Sharpen my pencil.  

I can’t get comfortable.  I am editing as I write.  I am thinking about the zipper on my jeans that won’t stay up.

I am entering Week 4 of the Artist’s Way: Recovering a Sense of Integrity.  I am anxious and afraid.

I am thinking about the last time, the first time, I “worked” through Week 4. 

March 2012.  I scheduled a trip to San Francisco to reconnect with friends and clean up old messes.  I booked a ticket before asking my friend Rainey if she would be in town.  Turns out, she wouldn’t.  But she assured me I was more than welcome to stay in the house she and her partner share.

Theirs is a great, big, funky house built in the 1970s.  Lots of wood, brick and glass, with a gas fireplace in the center and a panoramic view of the green hills of Marin County.   Zack, a sweet but neurotic dog who likes to poop in a litter box, and a cat whose name I’ve forgotten, stayed with me.

Each morning I would drink coffee, look out at the expanse before me and write my Morning Pages.  And each morning the same words slipped from my fingers through my pen.  “I am alone in this house because I am getting ready to be alone.”  The thought didn’t frighten me.  It just seemed true.  A prophesy.

I visited my former bosses from the Jewish Bulletin.  Woody served me bagels and lox at his house nearby.  We watched the deer eat from his wild lawn.  And we cried.  I don’t recall why.  I met Marc for Chinese food in Alameda.  He looked frail and his skin was the color of cardboard.  He told me he needed a kidney transplant.  That I was a good writer.  That he attributed my “bad behavior” to youth.  And that he was sorry he never invited me for Passover.  Both told me they had not spoken to the other for several years.

Rachel and I drank tea at The Grove.   We recalled meeting at the train station in our 20s and our weekly  Saturday brunch dates.  Often teary, waxing about relationships gone awry – most notably, “the former symphony conductor.”

I met Stan for miso and sashimi salad.  And Lillie at the Cliff House where we ate crab salads and happily paid for the view.

Alex and Cara, my first friends in Chicago, fed me from the garden of their new home in San Anselmo.  Marc, my last boyfriend before Lee, and I sat at the bar at Il Fornaio, drank espresso, and talked about the truth about us.

And I visited the grave of my old rabbi and teacher, Alan Lew. 

I studied with him in my 20s after an orthodox Jewish woman, upon learning my biological mother was not Jewish, exclaimed “You’re not really Jewish.”  We were preparing for my conversion.  But we never finished our work.    

I’m not sure why.  Maybe because I met Lee.  Because I started drinking again.  Because I got scared.  Whatever the reason, one day I just stopped showing up.

 Years later, new to Chicago, in pain, and blessed with competent spiritual direction, I made plans to return to San Francisco to ask if we might complete our work.  I never had the opportunity.  Rabbi Lew died unexpectedly, two weeks before that trip.  And now, several years since his death, I was finally at his grave.

Rain pelted down in sheets all morning, then easing up as I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.  When I reached Colma, the sun was shining brightly through the usual fog.  I found Rabbi Lew’s grave, dropped to my knees and read him the letter I had written.  I meditated.  Traced the letters of his name on the tombstone.  And when I was done, rather than leaving a stone on his grave (as is custom for Jews), I left a small token that let him know exactly how I had gotten there.

And finally, I met with the rabbi who replaced him.  I told him about our relationship.  Why I was there.   That I wanted to be a rabbi, but I was living in Seattle and working on my marriage.   I didn’t see how it was possible.   “If Rabbinical school is your path, it will find you,” he said.

Lee met me that evening in San Francisco.  Our reunion was awkward and clunky.  Neither of us seemed thrilled to see the other.  We drove around the city, looking for a Wells Fargo Bank and ended up in the branch inside the Safeway on Potrero Hill – the store we shopped at when we first lived together nearly 15 years ago.  Wistful.

We ate ice cream, walked around South of Market and met a friend for dinner.  We drove back to San Rafael through the Marina district where I first met him as a client on his massage table.  I told him about the memories that flooded me over that week as I passed our old haunts and the routes we rode our bikes.  I told him I missed it.  He said it got too hard.  That he didn’t want to do it anymore.

“Ride with me?  Or be married?”

“Both,” he said, quietly.

My tires rolled on to the Golden Gate Bridge.  The calm I had felt writing about this in my morning pages was gone.  I was incredulous.  Swearing.  Shrieking, “Are you telling me you want a divorce?”  And “You’ll be sorry.  One day someone will consider himself lucky to be with me.” 

When we arrived at our friend’s home I told him not to talk to me.  I locked myself in the bedroom, called my friend Kevin, and told him I felt like drinking. 

“Of course you do, Pearlie Pants.  But you don’t have to.  You can do divorce better than most people do marriage.  And you can do it with grace and dignity,” he said.

I told him it appeared Rabbinical school had found me.  

Nine months have passed since that day.  I am free to pursue that Rabbinical calling, and yet, I have lost all desire.  Seems it was lifted from me.  I trust if it really is my path, it will find me again – eventually.

I did recover a sense of integrity that week.  With friends and within my marriage. We could no longer lie to one another about our marriage.  It’s little wonder I’m feeling anxious about approaching it again.

And then there’s Week 4’s suggested “fast” from reading.

Last time, my personal fasting rules included all media, most specifically Facebook.  Posting and checking email allowed.   But no trolling.  Or as my friend Mimi says, “No consumption.”  Same rules apply this time.

I fear “losing touch” in that easy, distanced way that social media allows.  That allows me to believe I am connected, when really I know only a piece of you and you of me.  I fear having to continue to look inside my life rather than inside of yours.  Tthat old adoption fear, that I will be forgotten, pokes at me.  And I am challenged to see what and who is there when I “return.”

Of the suggested fast, Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, writes, “For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction.  We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.”

I’m tying on my apron.  It might get messy in the kitchen.


Artist’s Date 3: How Do You Know if It’s a Date?

Shortly after I moved back to Chicago, I ran into a man/boy I used to know.

We discovered I was moving to his neighborhood and made a date to meet for coffee.  Instead, we got dinner.  The conversation was fun and easy and flowed.  And when the bill came, he picked it up and said, “I’ve got it.  Welcome home, Lesley.”

He drove me to my apartment, “Mrs. Robinson” playing on the radio.  I laughed to myself.  I am eight years older than he.  I wasn’t sure if it was a date or not.

Kind of like my Artist’s Date – my third – this past week.

The plan was to go on Wednesday – between massage gigs.  First stop, Blick Art Supplies, followed by a trip to the Art Institute.  I bought myself a gift membership in November.  The 20 percent discount offered on Cyber Monday had me paying just over $5 a month.   I haven’t been there once since my membership card arrived in the mail.

Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, suggests two hours or more for one’s weekly Artist Date.  However, my massage schedule filled up and I found myself with only a little more than an hour to myself.  I opted for Blick, painfully aware I would not have allowed this to happen on a “real” date – meaning a date with another person.  I would have held this time sacred.

Once inside, I immediately felt panicky and overwhelmed.

I remembered working at an art-supply store at 12 Oaks Mall in Novi, Michigan the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college.  I thought it would be the coolest job ever.  It wasn’t.  I sold a lot of framing jobs.  And mostly, I felt like an impostor. 

I wasn’t as naturally gifted as the others who worked there … or so I believed.  And yet, I recall seeing the handy work of just one of the other employees – Doug.  He was quiet and kept to himself.  He had a penchant for airbrushes and purple planets.

Also, I was no longer an art major.  The summer before, under the guidance (read: strong suggestion) of my parents – the benefactors of my college education – I switched from a fine arts to a journalism major.  The rationale being journalism was a more practical education than art.  I was a good writer.  And I could have an emphasis in photojournalism. (Never mind that its application of film and camera seemed diametrically opposed to that of my dream – working as a fashion photographer.)

I had long imagined myself in the shmata (Yiddish for “rag”) trade – initially as a designer.   I sketched ensembles in 11th grade Humanities class and passed them on to Rachel Plecas and Karen Howard for their nod.  That same year my mother connected me with her friend Marge who taught me how to sew.  Or more accurately, took me through a sewing project.  Together we made a skirt – with buttons.  Advanced skills.

I didn’t seem to have the exacting patience for sewing.  Or for most of my art classes.  My ceramics were sloppy.  Beautiful on the outside only.  The bottoms of my platters and the insides of my slab-built boxes were “unfinished.”  In jewelry class I spent as much time buying saw blades as I did anything else, constantly snapping and breaking mine.  It was only in Ms. Ciotti’s photography class that I found home.

I loved setting up the studio lights and shooting in black and white.  I loved reaching into the change bag, popping open the film canister with a bottle opener and rolling film on to metal reels.   I loved holding the long strips up to the light after they had been developed to see what I had – even when they came out milky because I hadn’t loaded the reels properly and the film stuck together.

I loved the smell of the chemicals in the dark room and its dim lights.  How I could alter bad shooting by good printing, burning and dodging.  I loved hanging the shiny 8X10 paper on clothes pins to dry.  It was an art form with fast-ish results and more immediate gratification than most.  How I saw the world determined much of my success.

When I moved my files from the ivy-covered Kresge Art Building, which sat unassuming along the Red Cedar River, across campus to the modern College of Communication Arts and Sciences Building, I was certain I had sold out.  That I was no longer an artist.  I questioned if I had ever been one at all.  For if I had, how could I have “agreed” to this plan? 

I punished myself for years, saying a “real artist” would not have attended a Big 10 university paid for by her parents.  She would have taken out loans or applied for grants and scholarships to go to art school.  I cringed, recalling receiving the print catalogue from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California, fingering its salmon-colored cover and knowing I would never go there.  I wondered out loud if I loved creating art or just the idea of being an artist.  As if it mattered.  But mostly, I just stopped making anything at all.

That summer, working at the art-supply store, I felt guilty and ashamed by my complicity.  But I told no one.  And so no one could tell me that I was a kid.  That I made the best choice I knew how at the moment.  No one could let me off the hook.  Least of all, myself.

Walking into Blick on my Artist’s Date, I felt that familiar flood of shame.  Mixed with excitement and a dose of overwhelm.

I stopped at card stock and envelopes first – thinking I might make cards again.  For years I sent my friends and family mini “vision-boards” in the mail, honoring their birthdays and anniversaries.  They were always met with delight.  My friend Kimmy even asked that I make her one. 

I looked at beautiful papers laid over wooden rods and sold “by the each.”   I wanted to scoop them up and take them home, but wondered what I might do with them.  I picked up expensive notebooks and wondered why they cost so much.  Upstairs I looked at stencils of birds.  Pads of paper.  Pastels.

I located the Modge Podge I needed for pasting words and images on my collage cards.  I looked at brushes, trying to determine which would be best for the job.  I chose a nylon, round “wonder white” 12.  The description reading “good for all mediums.”

I fingered guaches and sets of block watercolors.  I put a package of 20 Staedtler triplus fineliners into my handbasket.  Expensive.  I wondered if I really needed them.  Out of the basket.  Back into the basket.  I remembered buying the same set in Oakland years ago and that I used them faithfully until they dried up – writing entries in my gratitude journal each night.  A different color for each gratitude.

I dropped in a package of origami papers from Japan.  Thin, brown butcher paper stamped with dragon flies, water lilies and butterflies in varying shades of red, orange, green and blue.  I had no idea how I might use them, but I liked them.  And at $4.89 they were a frivolous luxury I could afford.

I looked at colored pencils and supply boxes and recalled that once upon a time I owned all of these things.  Some I had bought that summer at the art supply store.  Others were accumulated over the years, in spurts of faith and sometimes drunkenness, when I dared fancy myself an artist.  Or even a wanna-be artist. 

I gave away my brushes.  My paints.  Crayons.  Pencils.  Scissors.  Canvas boards.  I put them in a box and gave them to my friend Michelle who teaches “Art for the Soul” classes just outside of Seattle.  I didn’t think there was room in the car when I moved back to Chicago.  Room for them?  Or room for me – to create again, no matter how sloppy, unskilled, uneducated?

I smiled at the craft project kits for children and remembered the ones I received as gifts when I was less than 10.  I lingered in front of the bird stencils again.  Love birds, facing one another.  Beak to beak.  Painfully sweet and dear.  I thought they might work nicely with some colored pencils.  I looked into my basket and told my child artist “another day.”  But not, “no.”

My bill came to a little more than $50, and I wondered if I was doing this right – this Artist’s Date. I wondered, am I supposed to be spending money?  Is it even possible to do this “wrong?”  I constantly think I am “doing it wrong.”  Whatever “it” is.  It’s an old refrain.

I decided it wasn’t unreasonable to imagine I might spend $50 on a date.  That’s a nice meal for two.  Admission to a museum and cake and coffee for two.  Besides, last week I was a cheap date – a matinee for $5.75.

I thought about how my heart pounded as I perused the aisles.  Was it fear that someone would find me out?  Know I was an impostor?  Or was I delighted, excited and thrilled at the possibilities in front of me?  Once upon a time, only the possibilities of men tickled me this way.  But now I was enchanted by the pretty colors, tidy packages and thoughts of “what can I make with this?” 

I walked to work pretty clear one hour isn’t long enough for an Artist’s  Date.  I was only getting started. 

That night when I got home, I finished.  A collage card for a friend – the first I’d made in years.  I hope he likes it. 


Deciding What Is Mine

I just opened the last of the boxes my ex-husband shipped from Seattle.  They arrived a few days ago and have been sitting in a corner next to my futon.  I didn’t want to open them.  Any of them – coming in dribs and drabs since October.

I thought I had already decided what to take and what to leave when I drove out at the end of summer.  But my ex asked me to revisit the issue.  A gift really, for I was in no condition to make good decisions when I left.

I remember talking on the phone to my friend Lisa.  I told her I didn’t know what to pack.  What I could fit in the car.  What to do.  I slid down the refrigerator door and onto the floor.  Sobbing, I said, “I kept waiting to be in a heap on the floor.  I kept waiting.  And now I am.  I am literally on the floor in a heap.”

My friend Michael mostly packed me, me pointing out what I wanted to take.  Clothes.  Some massage sheets.  Paperwork – the kind one accumulates having survived nearly 43 years on the planet.  Leases.  Mortgages.  Attorney and mediator bills.  Client files.  Health records.

He put too-big-trousers and sweaters and dresses (I had lost 12 pounds since Lee asked me for a divorce) into large, plastic Ziploc-type bags and sucked the air out with a vacuum.  He made sure each box was filled to maximum capacity and slid into place in the hatch.

Prior to my leaving, my soon-to-be ex-husband assured me I didn’t need to worry about cleaning up.  To take what I wanted and leave the rest behind.  And so I did.  I left on August 28.  And a few days later, he left for Italy.  When he returned, he came back to the reality of what I left behind.  A lot.  He wasn’t pleased.

I had left the house like a ghost town. 

Some years ago, Lee did a medical rotation in Binghamton.  He said the town, and the neighboring towns, appeared to have closed up overnight.  That if one walked into a house, they might find a hot bowl of soup still on the table – the residents having fled quickly.  I imagine that is what I left the house on Wheeler Street looking like.

We agreed he would ship me my books and my Bianchi road bike, helmet, lock, riding shoes and snow shoes when I found a permanent place to live.  After sending those items, he asked what else I wanted.  Photographs I took in Spain and France?  Artwork we purchased together in Napa?  CDs my friends made specifically for driving cross country?  A travel journal from Amsterdam?  Boots?

I was angry.  I didn’t want to decide again.  I had left Lee to deal with the remains of our 15 years together.  And now he was asking me to share the pain.   It felt like pulling off an only partly-healed scab and my tender new skin oozed and bled when exposed to light and air.  I didn’t want to do it. 

And I was angry he didn’t pay for the shipping.  My entitled, 5-year-old, victim-y self didn’t want to pay the cost to ride the bus of my own life.  But I didn’t tell him so.  Instead, I kept it to myself.  Toxic.

And so we began the process of cataloguing what remained – together, long-distance.

Some decisions were easy.  The cookbooks I hadn’t packed in the first round.  The ones stained with food, dog-eared, and with Weight Watchers Points values noted in the corner.  Vegetable tagine.   Thai coconut shrimp.  Curried lentils with spinach.

Next came CDs.  Ceramic appetizer plates with Chicago landmarks drawn around the rim – cartoon style – a gift from my Thursday morning Weight Watchers group.  A small tray I keep my assortment of vitamins and supplements on – a wedding gift from my ex-boyfriend and his wife.   More massage sheets.  An air-popcorn popper.  An unopened, collapsible lunch box.  A small, iron teapot.  Two books of cut-out art by Nikki McClure.  A print I kept in my office – “Masks of the Healer.”

We argued about splitting up flatware and serving pieces.  He wanted to keep it even though I couldn’t imagine he’d ever have a dinner party for 12.  “You said I could have it, “he insisted.  And I had.

Sometime in November he asked that we “finish this.” It had become too much for him to move around the remnants of me.  He had changed out some photos.  Put my things in the garage.  “Moved some energy around.”  But I was still there. We agreed we would be “done” at year’s end.

I struggled with the final decisions.  I told myself it was because I didn’t know if I wanted to pay for shipping.  Or I wasn’t sure if I really wanted certain items.  Or if it even made sense to ship them rather than re-buy.  In truth, I think I was afraid to be “done.”  Even though our civil divorce was final in September, our Jewish divorce in November.

I let go of my hot-stone cooker and rocks.  Too heavy.  And I told him to keep my cross-country skis.  I was never very good at it.  And our ski trips usually ended in a fight.  I wasn’t sure if skiing was my thing, his thing or our thing.  Same with cycling.  After 15 years together, the lines of me and we had become somewhat blurred.  And I’m now just beginning to figure out what is mine.

Some of it came in those last two boxes.  In one, the karaoke machine he bought me last Hanukkah.  A last, ditch-effort at togetherness.  My friends Mike and Rachel have the same one.  I loved it so much that I asked them to host my 40th birthday party so we could sing all night.  They did.  Lee and I used ours last on New Year’s Eve 2012.  We rented a house on the river, just south of Steven’s Pass.  It had heated floors and no cell-phone reception.  I sang my “best” karaoke songs.  Dream a Little Dream of Me.  And Easy, by the Commodores.  “I know it sounds funny but I just can’t stand the pain….I paid my dues to make it….Everybody wants me to be what they want me to be….I’m not happy when I try to fake it….” 

In the other box: North Face winter-hiking boots.   Cougar rain boots with felt shafts.  A bowl from Vietnam made of lacquered paper – another wedding gift.  I called it my prosperity bowl, collecting loose change in it and cashing it in once a year. 

Green glass dessert plates, a gift from my client Joanne when we left California for Chicago. We stayed with her our final days, when our belongings were packed on an ABF truck and we had planned to sleep on hardwood floors.  A pair of winter cycling gloves.  I don’t recall buying them.  Two contact lens cases.  Three CDs.  Disc Two of the Donna Summer Anthology.  Neil Young, Harvest – a gift from Lee.  Michael Jackson, Off the Wall.

He also threw in a copy of Eat, Pray, Love.  I read it several years ago but Lee just now read it.  On the phone he would recount stories of her story to me.  How it spoke to him.  And we would talk about our own Eat, Pray, Love trips taken mid-divorce.  Mine to Rwanda.  His to Italy. 

There are no more boxes to open.  Just things.  Many of them still on the floor.  Things I thought I didn’t need.  Didn’t want.  Had already decided about.  Turns out, I get to decide again.  I get to change my mind.  Always.