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.