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.