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.