My Car Overheats And It Is Good. It Is God.

I’ve written before about my terribly romantic life.  By that I don’t mean sexual-hearts-and-flowers romance.  Although I have occasionally experienced that too.  I mean more the serendipity which I call God.  The master quilter stitching together disparate pieces in a pattern I couldn’t even imagine. 

Sometimes it is big and gorgeous and sexy.  Like meeting a man who sweeps me off my feet and takes care of me at the exact moment when I’ve got nothing left.  Who just happens to know my friends here but lives far away.  Who just happens to be at the same place, at the same time, as me.

More often it is subtle.  But no less big and gorgeous and sexy when I pay attention to it.

I am working through Chapter 11 of The Artist’s Way.  Among the suggestions for the week, titled “Recovering a Sense of Autonomy” – walk 20 minutes every day.

“The goal is to connect to a world outside of us, to lose the obsessive self-focus of self-exploration and, simply, explore.  One quickly notes that when the mind is focused on other, the self often comes into more accurate focus.”

I love to walk.  It is one of the only things that made sense to me during my divorce – long, meandering strolls to nowhere in particular.  Just to move.  To feel movement.

I haven’t been walking as much since moving back to Chicago.  Not on a daily basis, at least.  I walk mostly for pleasure, when the sky is azure and the sun is smiling.

The temperature gauge in my car went into the red Friday night – quickly, without warning.  I had the car towed to my mechanic and have been dependent on my feet, the Chicago Transit Authority, and the kindness of not-at-all strangers ever since.

I’m kind of loving it.  Which is odd for a girl from Detroit who said the only thing she wanted in the divorce was the 12-year-old Honda Civic.

It reminds me of my first few years in San Francisco.  I sold my red Chevrolet Beretta and boarded a non-stop flight to SFO,  where my friend Brian was waiting to pick me up – literally scooping me off the ground — when I arrived. 

It was a simple time.  And a scary time.  A major victory was getting from point A to point B without getting lost.  I learned to purchase only the groceries I could carry home myself.  And I took the bus everywhere. 

To the Stud on Wednesday nights for 70s disco, spun by Andy T.  To my friend Teresa’s apartment in Potrero Hill, an hour-long trek plus a transfer from my apartment in Haight-Ashbury.  To a blind date with a man 17 years my senior. 

After dinner he offered to walk me to my car.  When I told him I didn’t have one, he asked how I got to the restaurant.  “Bus,” I replied.  He felt badly.  Said he would have picked me up if he had known.  It didn’t occur to me to mention it.

Everything took longer.  But I don’t recall being in as much of a hurry.  And when the bus couldn’t take me where I wanted to go, I called a cab.  Or a friend.  Getting a ride felt like winning the lottery, leaving me with an immense sense of gratitude.

It’s a lot the same now – being without a car.  I’ve received rides from Pam and Michelle.  From Kevin and from Sheila.  Last night Sheila and I sat outside my house talking in her car while the engine idled.  We talked about love and vulnerability.  About mind reading.  A conversation I’m certain we wouldn’t have had if we each drove away in our separate cars, going in our separate directions.

I’ve ridden the 49 down Western Avenue at rush hour, pressed up against students just leaving Lane Tech High School.  Today I took the Brown Line to my Weight Watchers meeting in Lincoln Park.  On the way to, I passed a consignment store I’d never noticed.  Peeking in the window, I admired a Buddha head and a lamp with a leopard shade. 

Coming home, I locked eyes with a white and ginger puss sitting on a green Adirondack chair in the window at PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving).  I walked past.  Turned around.  And walked in, asking for information about volunteering.  (I’m not sure I want a pet again.)  Then I went to the window to read his vitals. 

His name is James.  He’s 6, or 3, I cannot remember.  And does best in an adult-only house.  Hmm…..James.  I tried it on.  “Yes, I have a new love in my life.  His name is James….. “

I left before I could get into trouble.  I couldn’t take him home today anyway.  I was on foot, and the rain-snow mix was pelting my face, soaking my down coat with the furry hood.  But I didn’t really mind.

I talked with a Greenpeace volunteer who grabbed my attention, just as James had.  I told him he was good.  “Not that good,” he said.  “Because you are walking away.” I laughed.  And then I walked away from a Ganesh pillow and a silk meditation cushion I eyed in a shop window but couldn’t afford.   

When I stepped off the train the streets were white.  Snow blowing sideways.  Car wheels beginning to lock up on the icy-slush. 

I made some eggs.  Looked at a cookbook and wrote a shopping list.  I pulled on my wool long underwear and walked to Harvest Time Foods, stocking up with only as much as I could carry.  Later, I’ll make curried rice and beans with butternut squash.

Standing with my bags at the corner of Western and Lawrence, I felt terribly urban.  And lucky.  In awe of being able to live my life as it is – mostly – without a car.  I had forgotten. 

Right there I made a vow: that I will always live in a place where I can walk – to a grocery store.  A coffee shop.  A Walgreens.  At the very least.

I’ve lived like that for more than 20 years.  In Chicago.  In San Francisco.  In Oakland.  Seattle.  Even Detroit.  But more often than not, I don’t walk.  I drive.  I love having a car.  I love its convenience.  The speed with which I’m able to move through the world.

And yet, this time without it is a gift.  An invitation to move more slowly.  To consider a cat or a Buddha head.  To have a conversation I wouldn’t otherwise.

It is typically Libran to look for the beauty in everything.  And I do, in my saner, more sober, moments.  This terribly romantic life of mine … I think it’s all in how I tell my story.  Ridiculously optimistic and hopeful, heart wide open – looking for the good, for the God, in everything. 

My phone rang as I hit the seemingly final stroke of this piece.  My car is ready. 

It is Go(o)d.



Artist’s Dates 10 and 10A: My Date with Adam Gopnik

I love Adam Gopnik.  I want to be him when I grow up.  Well, not him exactly.  I want to be me – living  his life.  My life, really.  Which is a convoluted way of saying that his style of writing, and many aspects of his life, (writing for The New Yorker, living in Paris) resonate strongly for me.

I had an Artist’s Date with him last Thursday.  Artist’s Day 10-A. 

Me, Adam and a couple hundred others who also showed up for his talk at the Art Institute, “Picasso Not in America” – one of several events kicking off the “Picasso and Chicago” show.

Advance reservations for the free talk “sold out” weeks ago.

Like a good groupie, I arrive two hours early – hoping to snag a “day of” ticket.  Not unlike when I was 16 and slept outside of Record Outlet – hoping to nab the best David Bowie tickets I could afford as soon as the box office opened. 

I make a beeline through the ancient Greek Art to the Rubeloff Auditorium. A couple, roughly my parents’ age, are pressing a staffer with polka-dot tights and a clipboard about tickets.

I sidle up next to them.  Like I did with the American family in the Frankfurt train station nearly 20 years ago.

I am 25, a reporter.  It is my first time overseas.

I am confused by the constantly changing train numbers running on a single track.  I notice an English-speaking family and move towards them.   I ask if I am in the right place for the train to Bonn.

They are going to Bonn!  And they embrace me as their own, chatting me up the entire ride and on the platform when we arrive.

My contact tentatively approaches me.  He isn’t sure I am the young, American reporter he is sent to fetch.  “You didn’t seem lost,” he says.

I wasn’t.  Nor am I now.  Polka dot tights returns, hands each of us a ticket from a stack, and tells us the doors will open in an hour.

I head to the basement for “Recent Textile Acquisitions 2004-2011.”   It is a small collection.  About a dozen or so pieces.  Not a lot of foot traffic.

There are tapestries and shawls from Turkey and India.  Buddhist Priest robes from China and Japan.  I linger in front of series of cartoon-esque horses in different “poses” – designed in America in the 1950s.   A Marimekko swath from Finland.  And an arts-and-crafts piece from England.  A simple applique of trees, clouds, boats and the words “Ships That Pass in the Night.” 

I think of the artist who still occasionally occupies space in my brain.  He’s more a squatter than an actual tenant.  I think of all of the people who have come into my stratosphere for what feels like a moment.  Change my life.  And then continue on.

I get to the Gopnik lecture just as the doors open – a copy of Paris to the Moon tucked into my bag … just in case there is an opportunity to meet him.  There isn’t.

Gopnik is bright, articulate, clever – as I expected.  He talks about America’s fascination with Picasso.  And that Picasso never came to America – ergo, “Picasso Not in America.” 

He talks about the American ex-patriots who befriended Picasso.  How they were viewed as sophisticates in America, but to Parisians they were dolts.  His experience living in Paris mirrors this.

He talks about years of speculation – “just what IS the untitled Picasso in Daley Plaza?”  Is it the face of his lover – two profiles facing one another?  Is it his dog?  Is it both?  Like the “Do you see the young woman with the hat or the old woman with the scarf in this picture?”

He questions if the modern-art skeptics are right.  That we’ve all been “had.”  That maybe a five-year-old could make this.  That perhaps we modern-art fans take ourselves way too seriously.  That the ideas and ideals we hold to so strongly have done nothing but create new boundaries.  A new “normal” to buck against. 

It’s all about perception.  All of it.

At least that’s what I think he said.

I think about my high-school Spanish teacher, Senor Pilot.  How he called me Picasso because my hair was pink and my lipstick was blue and I wore pillbox hats and clothing from another era.  “You look like a Picasso…except your nose should be over here,” he would say, motioning to my cheek or my chin.

I think about my discarded fine arts education and career.  About how to live a life like Gopnik’s.  Like my own.

I think about the exhibit itself, and the lecture I attended on Monday (Artist’s Date 10).  About what I know now.

That Picasso’s blue period reflected not only his emotional state, but also his financial position – as blue paint was notoriously cheap. 

That Mother and Child – the big, bulbous, almost Flinstone-y pinky characters at the beach – once included a father.  Pic asso cut him out in the final painting.  But he is shown here.  Framed separately and hung to the left of the original.  A space between them.

That Picasso illustrated books.  And a series of poems.  The latter, oversized gorgeous letters wrapping around a single image.  Black and white on pages far too big for binding.  I have never seen them before.  I have no idea what is written.  But I like the way it looks.  I like the idea of it.  It makes my heart happy.

Leaving the Art Institute, I look up and out at the city surrounding me.  The sky is navy, lit by skyscrapers.  I feel incredibly lucky to be here.  Like I suddenly understand why I am here. 

This place beckons to the fine arts student I thought I left at Michigan State University.  To the poet who drank too many beers with her teaching assistant.  To the painter.  The photographer.  The essayist.  Actually, it yells.  A south-side whack-you-over-the–head call to attention – “This is for you!”

I thought I needed a special pass to gain admittance to the world of music, dance and theatre.  A pass I received in my 20s when I was escorted in by much older boyfriends with season tickets to the symphony and opera.  Now 43, I realize the ticket to enter is just that – a ticket.  One that I can buy myself.

I don’t need an escort to the life I dream of.  Not even Adam Gopnik.  I can escort myself.   

Artist’s Date 9: Twyla Tharp is Choreographing My Life

When I was five, I spent the entire night “cutting a rug” at my cousin David’s Bar Mitzvah.  One of my aunts asked me how I learned to be such a good dancer.  Without hesitation I replied, “I was just born to dance.”  She and my other aunts and uncles laughed.  I felt ashamed.  I thought it was true.  But maybe I was mistaken.

When I was 25, I moved to San Francisco.  I walked to work most every day– from Haight-Ashbury to the Financial District – choreographing full routines in my head.  My Walkman blasting Michael Jackson or Marvin Gaye.  A scarf around my neck like Isadora Duncan.

My secret-private-fantasy career is to be a choreographer.

I told my birthfather this the first time we spoke, a little more than three years ago.  Right after he told me that his dream was to move to New York to be a dancer.  And he would have – if it wasn’t 1967.  If there wasn’t a war in Vietnam.  If university wasn’t the only option keeping him safe from the draft.

“It’s in the genes,” he said.

Last Saturday I took myself to the Joffrey Ballet’s American Legends.  Artist’s Date Nine.

I purchased my single ticket a few weeks ago, another one of those “firsts” in divorce.  Right Upper Box 6.  Row 1.  Seat 3.

I’d never sat in a box before, but had often wondered about it from seats high above.

I pull back the heavy, gold velvet drapes.  Six pink velour chairs on wheels are lined up in two perfect rows.  It feels intimate.  Contained.  Communal.  A little exclusive.

I think “Sex and the City.”  Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big spot each other through opera glasses.  She dashes out of her box.  He does the same, running to catch her in the stairwell.

I experience no such intrigue.  Just two middle-aged women from the suburbs talking.  Long-time friends with season tickets to the Joffrey.  I remember only one of their names – Olfat.  It is Turkish, but she is Egyptian.

We talk about my Artist Date.  My choice to come alone.  My work.  My writing.  They tell me about their work as college professors.  About Olfat’s religious background – a Christian raised in a Muslim country.  Her fame in her home country – a published writer at 15.  And her unsettling move to North America not long after.

The lights dim, the first notes rise from the pit and my body responds as if on cue.  I feel the music.  Feel the dance.  In my feet.  In my face.  In my hands.  In my heart.  Between my legs.  A leaping, rolling, rushing, pulsing wave.

A kaleidoscope of colored tutus twirl across the stage.  Orange.  Green.  Blue.  Red.  Purple.  “Interplay.”  West Side Story – without a plot.  Only connection.  Interaction.  I think about my former client who starred in both the play and the movie.  My Berkeley brush with fame.

“Sea Shadow” is lush.  Sensual.  A dance of love between a man and a sea nymph, based on the Ondine fable.  My heart hurts.  I crave the physical closeness in front of me.  Body on top of body.  Moving in unison.   

And yet, I also want a rubbery mushroom tutu like the dancers wear in Son of Chamber Symphony.

Nine Sinatra Songs closes the show.  I sing along in my head to the ones I know – about half – and my heart feels hot, wide open.  Nine couples.  Nine dances.  Nine costumes.  Nine stories.  Nine songs.  I get teary watching the dancers in spangly gowns and tuxedos.  I realize I am holding my breath.

I am remembering dance lessons on Friday nights with my ex-husband. 

Remembering how I have to close my eyes to let him lead.  How I complain he doesn’t hold the frame tightly enough.  How I want to be man handled.  Remembering the call to switch partners.  Then again.  And again.  And when we return to one another, the delight in being in each other’s arms again.

I am remembering meeting our instructors, David and Chris – a sweet, quintessentially Berkeley couple – at Eagles Hall in Alameda to practice our steps.  The private club where patrons smoke while they drink jug wine out of cheap water glasses.  Remembering how the dancers look 90.  But on the floor – barely more than 20.  The dance steeped deeply in their tissues.

Remembering that we had been learning fox trot, waltz and rhumba.  The band switching to West Coast Swing.  David grabbing my hand and saying, “You can do this. Follow me.”

Remembering following.   Dancing West Coast Swing.  David telling me I am good.  And the toothy grin I can’t suppress.

I leave the ballet dreaming about Zydeco.  Tango.  West Coast Swing.  So different from the West African Dance I do every Sunday morning.

I dream about the physical connection of the dance.  About being held.  About holding another.  While still holding on to myself. 

My inner Twyla Tharp busily choreographing my life.

Artist’s Date 8: You See More on Surface Streets — A Lesson from Vancouver Guy

Somebody pooped in the pool.

Not an auspicious beginning to my eighth Artist’s Date.

I committed to joining the Chicago Park District pools at my morning Weight Watchers meeting.  After my friend Tom informed me there is an indoor pool at Welles Park – a less than 10-minute walk from my house.  After my friend Scotty revealed my animal spirit guides to me – salmon on my left, otter on my right – and said, “You gotta go swimming, girl.”

I was always a water baby.  Growing up my brother and I would ride our bikes to the lake or swim club – cutoff shorts over our swimsuits, towels around our necks.  We’d spend the entire day immersed in water and ride home, gripping our handlebars with fingers like prunes.  Like the prunes I see on my Artist’s Date, instead of pool water.  But I’m ahead of myself.

I pack a bag.  Towel.  Flip flops.  Lock.  Goggles that leave suction rings around my eyes every time I swim – making me look like a raccoon.  Bathing suit.  Too big.  More suited for lying in the sun than swimming.  It has red and blue stripes across the torso.  White polka dots cup the breasts, and a gold ring sits between them.  When I was a kid my mother told me I couldn’t wear horizontal stripes.  “Not flattering,” she said.  But I love it.

I slip $40 in my pocket – the cost for a three-month pool membership – and walk over for 12:15 adult lap swim.

Walking in I hear the desk clerk leaving an outgoing message.  “The pool is closed until 5 p.m. due to unforeseen circumstances.”

Think Caddyshack.  The candy bar floating in the pool.

I join anyway and wonder about Plan B. 

I want to walk.  I want to be outside.  The sun is shining and it is February. 

I head down Lawrence Avenue toward Kedzie Street – toward the Lebanese restaurants and shops.  Coming here, or to Devon Avenue – Little India with a splash of Pakistani – I feel like I’ve gone away.

I think about my friend Teresa and her one-time transition man – “Vancouver Guy.”  I’m not sure I ever knew his real name.  It might have been Kevin.  He was tall, with a sweet face and a mess of curls.  Extremely tolerant of my tagging along, as Teresa and I were a bit of an unspoken package deal.

He would often talk about driving on surface roads instead of freeways so he could watch women walk.  He saw this as appreciating women as opposed to being gross and leering.  Teresa and I secretly agreed it was kind of hot and charming.

I am not watching anyone walking.  Instead I notice all that I miss from the car.

The tailor my friend Karen mentioned, at the corner of Lawrence and Western.  According to her he is Jamaican and says “Yah man….I can do that,” a lot.  I have a closet full of too-big clothes in need of tailoring.  Now I know where he is, when before I couldn’t quite envision it.

I cut down a side street and the city quiets immediately.  I cross a bridge over the Chicago River and take photographs of the boats below, waiting for spring.

I see Bloom yoga studio, which I’ve heard of but could never place in my head.  A coffee shop I never noticed.  I walk through Ravenswood Manor, admiring the large Prairie-style homes and feel like I’m somewhere else.  Not so far away.  Just not here.  Perhaps Evanston or Oak Park.

I turn on to Kedzie Street and peer into store windows stacked with hookahs and tea sets, but I cannot figure out where to enter.  All I see are bodegas. 

I walk in.  There are bags of lentils and couscous.  Tins of sliced tuna.  Pickled turnips.  Halva.  A ground sesame sweet with the consistency of chalk.  It is an acquired taste.  And I love it.  Growing up in Detroit – the city with the largest Lebanese population outside of the Middle East – it was a staple on sweet tables at every fancy Bar and Bat Mitzvah party.  A huge solid drum of it set on a glass stand.

I think of my mother eating it from the package in the back seat of our car.  My ex-husband is astonished she doesn’t wait until we get home to put it on a plate.  But she cannot wait.  I can’t either.  And she breaks off a piece and hands it to me in the driver’s seat.

I pick up the traditional Halva.  The pistachio.  The chocolate.  I put each back.  I cannot bring it into the house.  It is crack to me.

I walk past watermellon seeds with lemon.  Dry whole lemon.  A jar called “honeynut” which appears to be pistachios, walnuts and almonds suspended in honey.  It looks amazing.  I don’t think I should bring this home either.

Past a meat counter. Large cannisters of oil.  Bags of dried apricots and prunes – called sljive.  Like slivovitz – the prune brandy only my cousin Wendy and I could stomach.

There is a second room where shelves are crammed with cheap bowls and drinking glasses.  Tiny ornate cups and pots for making Turkish coffee.  There are stacks of Islamic prayer clocks and boxes reading “Classic Mirror: To the Utmost Beautiful Facial Appearances.”

I walk into a second store specializing in hookahs.  It has the same array of Arabic foods, with a smattering of Mexican and traditional American staples.  The same cheap plates and bowls.

I stand at the tea selection for far too long, pondering whether or not I need a $2 box of anise tea.  I bring the box to the counter where the shopkeeper is sitting on a milk crate watching television.  His son and grandson eye me suspiciously.

I realize all the women I see are wearing hajib (head covering).  I feel like an interloper.  I hand the old man $2, tuck the tea in my bag and high tail it across the street to Nazareth Sweets.

I’ve been here just once before.  Years ago with my friend Angel and my ex-husband.  It’s a typical Lebanese bakery.  Glass cases filled with different variations on a theme – phyllo dough, honey, nuts.  Last time I met the owner, Khalil, who would tear off a piece of each item I inquired about.  “Taste it,” he’d say.  “But don’t share.” 

We left stuffed, carrying a tin-foil tray of goodies for later – when we would do it all over again.

Khalil is not here today.  Instead, there is a girl with heavy eyebrows behind the counter, speaking Arabic to customers on their way out. 

She fills a mini tin with about half a dozen sweets.  More than I will eat.  It costs $2.80.  It doesn’t matter.  I just want the experience of this place.   And a Turkish coffee, but the bakery only has a water bubbler with Styrofoam cups.

I cross the street to Semiramis – one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago.  It is empty.  Too late for lunch.  Too early for dinner.

I am relieved.  I have some crazy American hang up about “just ordering coffee” – even though it common and acceptable in all other parts of the world.

I order a Turkish coffee, pick up a Vanity Fair from the waiting area and sit down.

I pour over gorgeous ads for Prada and read about Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter.  About Jane Roe.  How she became a pro-life activist – which I knew.  And was a lesbian – which I didn’t know.  And perhaps most interesting, that she never got the abortion.

My coffee arrives and I pour the sweet cardamom-infused muddiness from the copper pot into the tiny enamel cup.  It is really, really great coffee.  And really, really great writing.

An hour later I leave, putting down $4 for the $3 coffee.

Walking home I notice a storefront crammed with about 30 push-carts.  The kind short Puerto Rican men push in Humboldt Park in summertime, hawking fruit ice bars.  Just sitting inside.  Waiting for spring.  Like the boats on the river.  Like all of Chicago. 

Surface-street eye candy.



Rest Easy Good Soldier, The War is Over

I have a weekly phone date with my friend Lynn.  Every Monday and Tuesday morning we speak for a juicy 15 minutes while she is driving.  We talk about art, relationships and about how much we miss one another.

Today we talked about the good soldier.

She explained that in Japan, when a man returns from war he must “honor the good soldier and put him to rest,” so that he may properly re-enter civilian culture.

My response was immediate.  Reflexive.  “I need to put to rest my good soldier: The Good Wife.”

I often think of my divorce as a big whack upside the head from the universe.  My Hindu goddess, Mother Durga, shaking me with all of her many arms saying, “He didn’t make you the doctor’s wife.  You made yourself that.  You have squandered your gifts!

“I’m going to shake you to your core.  Rip out all that is familiar to you so that you may return to yourself.

“It won’t feel like love.  But trust me, it is.”

The role of good soldier, good wife, served me well.  It kept me from myself.  From my life.  It freed me of any responsibility for creating my own happiness.  It meant I didn’t have to take risks.  And I could blame him for what I wasn’t doing. 

Not having a baby – because he didn’t want one.  (Mind you I wasn’t certain I did either.)  Not going to Rabbinical school.  Because it meant living apart.  Or leaving the six-figure dream job he had just accepted to incur a second six-figure education debt. 

I asked him to get behind my half-baked dreams – ones I couldn’t quite commit to myself.  And when he wouldn’t, I blamed him for reneging on the promise that “my turn” was next.  Perhaps, without even knowing it, I was building my case for leaving all along.  Creating a laundry list of impossible reasons why we couldn’t be together. 

And yet, I didn’t want that responsibility either.

Before I left Seattle, he asked me, “When would you have said, ‘enough?’ “


I thought it was because there was still work to be done.  Maybe I was just afraid of the fall out and ending our marriage.  And of having to own it.

By asking for divorce he told me the war was over.  He asked me to put down my weapons.  And he dropped the rope.  I did too.  Lest I be standing, somewhat confused, with a flaccid piece of braided twine in my hands.  But first, I went reeling.  I was holding on to my end so tightly, when he let go I toppled.

Nearly a year later, I’m upright again.  Dusted off, mostly.  And yet, I notice so much of my story, of my daily speech, is still tethered to that identity – the good soldier, the good wife.  I’ve just put an “ex” in front of it.

If I put my good soldier to rest, who will replace her?

Perhaps I don’t need to worry so much about the “who.”  But instead pay attention to my marching orders – whispers from the universe that point my compass and make my heart feel expansive and glowy.  They say, “Yes. Dance.”  “Yes. Write.”  “Yes.  Travel.”   And “Don’t worry so much about the boys…..”

Sometimes the words come from deep inside of me.  Sometimes I hear them in the voices of friends.  Like at High Holy Day services.  I asked God what I was meant to do.  Within moments a friend of the Rabbi’s sidled up to me, leaned in and said, “I loved your blogs about Africa.”  I thanked him and told him I used to write professionally.  He responded, “It shows.”  And was gone.

Hearing the story, my friend Tom said, “Your Higher Power responds quickly.”  Indeed. 

And now I’ve got no one to blame if I don’t follow those directives – the gentle prods of God and of my own heart.

Rest easy good soldier.  The war is over

Instant Intimacy is a Lie and Other Lessons from Richard from Texas

They say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Like when I met Paul Brown at a party 11 years ago, and a week later he was teaching me to meditate.

I brought offerings – pungent stargazer lilies, an orange and a pear.  He gave me a mantra.  And when we were done, he made me a martini – heavy on the vermouth.

Like when I met Alan Lew, the Zen Buddhist turned Rabbi who guided me in the initial steps of conversion to the religion I was raised but not born into.  And when I met Brant Rosen, the Rabbi who walked me through its completion more than 15 years later.

Like when I met a man a few months ago who affirmed my call to “just write” – and made me want to do it every day, as if I had no choice.  Just as he had no choice in making art every day.  Who inspired me to take photographs, again.  Collage, again.  Make food, again.   Who spurred me to claim my rightful name as artist.

Last week, scribbling my morning pages, my pen turned on me.  I wrote, “Perhaps he was here to put me in enough pain to want to do different.”

Yuck.  I preferred the story of him as my personal Svengali.   Southern prince in a Johnny Cash t-shirt with a paintbrush.

Ironically, the last time we spoke, I told him, “You are my teacher.”

That was November.  I’ve barely heard a peep from him since.

He stopped commenting on my writing and my posts.  Emails and phone calls went unanswered.  I received a text about a month ago saying he would call that weekend.  He never did.

His sudden disappearing was unexpected.  I took it hard.  And personally.  My tears incongruent to the situation or our relationship. 

More than one of my girlfriends gently pointed out, “You know….you only spent a couple of days with him.”

I knew.  And I felt ashamed and embarrassed because of it.  Like my feelings were wrong.

Prior to meeting my ex-husband, my modus operandi was to cram an entire relationship into an evening.  “You tell me everything about you.  I tell you everything about me.  And then we fuck.”

I could never understand why “love” didn’t last.

The artist and I didn’t fuck.  We just swapped spit.  And stories.  Lots of them.  He told me things about him that his ex-wife didn’t know, that the people we met through didn’t know. 

And when I told him about me, he didn’t say that it was all too much.  That I was too much.  He just pulled me to him, and whispered, “Lil mama, you got so much going on.”

Instant intimacy.  It’s a lie.  I just forgot.  Because it had been so long since I’d jumped “all in” like that.  Or maybe I just chose to forget because it felt so good.

For a little while. 

Then I got all tangled up in a silky web of my own weaving.  Strung up and strung out, chasing a feeling.  Of connectedness.  And being cared for. 

I’ve been afraid to put this all down.  Afraid to let people know how much I was affected by this seemingly innocent encounter.  Especially him.  Even though everyone around me knew.

And then I changed my mind, when I read this:

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants.  But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.

“A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake.  But to live with your soul mate forever? Nah.  Too painful.  Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave.  And thank God for it.  Your problem is, you just can’t let this one go.

“It’s over…(his) purpose was to shake you up…tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light could get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you had to transform your life…and beat it.  That was his job, and he did great, but now it’s over.  Problem is, you can’t accept that this relationship had a real short shelf life.”

It’s from Eat, Pray, Love.”  (My ex-husband tossed it in a box of my belongings that he sent a couple of weeks ago.)

Richard from Texas – former junkie come spiritual giant – on obsessions.  Namely, the author’s with David, and the end of their relationship – her first since leaving her husband.

It made me feel better.  Less crazy.  Or as my friend Bob likes to say, “exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

I don’t know that I would have called the artist my soul mate.  But he did exactly what Richard from Texas said one would. 

He brought me to my knees.   Made me want to change.  Beg to be different.  Pluck my heart off my sleeve and tuck it back behind my ribs, protected — at least for now.  To “slow down, lil mama” – the artist’s words not lost on me.

Yep.  He did his job.  And he did just great.
















Artist’s Date 7: Sitting With My Secret-Private-Fantasy Grandfather

My first therapist used to ask what my fantasy was about my birth family.  I told her I didn’t have one.  And I didn’t – until about 10 years ago.

I was at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for a Marc Chagall retrospective, when I was beckoned by the whimsical angels, old-world Rabbis and flying goats that covered the canvases.  As if they were calling out to me specifically.  And I tumbled head over heels for their maker.

I remembered from my adoption records that my biological grandfather was also an artist of renown, as well as a Jew.  Which is how I came to secretly ponder the possibility that Marc Chagall might be blood.

He isn’t.  This was confirmed when I met my biological father three years ago.

And yet, I continue to feel a sense of affection and connection toward him.

In 2010, about six months before leaving Chicago, I received an email from the Art Institute announcing the return of Chagall’s America Windows – which had been taken down while the Modern Wing was being built.  I promised myself I would see them before I left.  I never made it.

Last Thursday I took myself on Artist’s Date Seven – to the Art Institute of Chicago, to see America Windows .  It was my amends to myself.

Approaching the bronze lions out front, still dressed in their Christmas wreathes, I am positively giddy.  I feel like I am going somewhere special.  And I am.

I gave myself a gift membership in December, but have not been here since returning to Chicago.

Inside, I pick up a Visitor Guide and find America Windows.  But I can’t locate its gallery on the map.  Rather than ask one of half a dozen seemingly bored guards snapping their gum, I make my way toward the Modern Wing, as it appears the logical direction. 

Walking through the Alsdorf Galleries, I am welcomed by ornamental gold deities.  Pulled toward Greek cups, shaped like horse heads, I’ve never seen before.  I linger only for a moment, stealing a quick look.  I am on a mission.  I have a plan. 

Unfortunately, I don’t often stop simply because I am drawn in or curious.  Too often, I take on life like an assignment.  Each experience, something to be done.  Checked off.  And done right. 

I have a picture of myself and my ex-husband in Paris.  We are sitting at a sidewalk café in the Fifth Arrondissement, drinking wine.  I had spent the morning pouncing on the city as if I would conquer it.  I am frustrated and not having much fun.  He insists we stop and have a grown-up “time out.” 

I smile remembering him putting a choke hold on my leash, telling me to sit and me complying.

But Lee isn’t here to remind me to slow down.  So I keep moving, past the glittery jewelry and big, stone Buddhas.

I drop into the Modern Wing.  America Windows eludes me.  Defeated, I climb the stairs to the second floor galleries and venture in – abandoning the Windows and the oversized deities.

I’ve been to the Modern Wing.  It’s awesome and gorgeous and fantastic.  And not where I want to be in this moment.  I enter one of the galleries anyway and begin observing – the “right way.”  I read each placard and step back to look at each piece – in order.  DeKooning.  Rothko.  Richter. 

I venture into the next gallery, which is really the first.  I am out of order.  I am greeted by Andy Warhol’s huge Mao.  I look at some sculpture.  Wood painted white and nails. 

I am bored and frustrated.  And in a moment of intuition, I hand the date over to what Julia Cameron calls my “child artist.”  I (she) walk(s) out of the gallery, down the stairs and turn(s) left.

There is a sign and arrow for America Windows.  It has been there all along.

The Windows greet me — glowing blue.  My nose flares and my eyes get watery.  My heart feels hot – as it always does when I recognize G-d.

I once told my friend Sean about this, assuming everyone has this physical experience of G-d.  He informed me otherwise.

It is dark and quiet in this corner of the Art Institute, except for a man endlessly clicking photographs behind me.  His family is waiting on a nearby bench.  I pray he will leave soon. 

I think he is missing the Windows as he is too busy photographing them.  Like I almost missed Paris.  The clicking of his camera and his shoes on the tile serves as a call to presence.  To stillness.  I settle in.  And he leaves.

The Windows are dreamy.  Images floaty and ethereal.  I am in love.  With the yellow horn player.  The pink bird.  The wispy outline of a woman cut in half by the lead of the glass.

I look at the guard standing next to the Windows.  I want to tell her she has the best job here as she gets to stand in this glow, in this grace, in this G-d, all day long.  But I don’t.  Mostly because I’m pretty sure she doesn’t feel the same way about it.

I think about my secret-private grandfather fantasy.  About meeting my biological father for the first time.  He often wondered where the artist gene had gone, as neither he, nor his brother or his children claimed it.  He decided it belonged to me.

I stand here for what seems like a long time, trying to store the Windows behind my eyes and in my heart, when I realize I don’t have to.  I no longer have to hold onto them so tightly. 

With the price of membership I also got a tote-bag, and freedom.  The right to be here 363 days of the year, for as long or as short a time as I like.  To visit a single piece of art or a dozen.  To stop in just for tea or to watch art students copy the classics.  To leave if I am tired or bored.  And to come back the next day.

To sit with America Windows again and again.  Or with the stone Buddha, who this time I stop and visit on my way out. 

Nearby is a smiling statue of Ganesh.  Boy with elephant head, Remover of Obstacles.  I take a photograph, bow my head in reverence, and say “thank you.”