Artist’s Date 14: Can I Take a Rain Check?

I had a really great Artist Date planned last week.  Kind of high-brow.  Literary.

It was penciled into my book: Friday night.  Chicago Cultural Center.  Chicago Writers Reading Chicago Writers.  The closing event for the Festival of Writers, Story Week at Columbia College.

But come Friday I had a bad case of the lonely-s.  I’d been fighting them for days.  Ever since I had my taxes done earlier in the week.  Ever since Patricia, my tax preparer, clicked “single” on the filing status box, where it used to read “married, filing jointly.”

I felt like I got side swiped.  A rush of swirling emotions slammed into my chest, like a car going 80 mph and screeching to a sudden halt.  Like my bed being thrust into the wall with one, quick, tidy thud – my first experience of an earthquake in San Francisco.

I wanted to call my ex.  I wanted to ask him if he had the same experience.  I wanted to tell him that I owed a lot too.  Instead, I sat with it.

I’ve always been pretty good at spending time alone.

As a child, I played by myself for hours in the basement.  I’d swing to Louis Armstrong singing “Hello, Dolly,” stopping only to nap on the red shag rug beneath the swing my father had screwed into the ceiling.  Year later, I’d roller skate to the soundtrack from Grease, belting out the lyrics to “There are worse things I could do…” and “You’re The One that I Want.”

But sitting alone through discomfort is still somewhat new.  And the thought of heading downtown by myself felt awful.  Like quarantine when the prescription is clearly community.

I needed to be with my people.  I knew where they’d be.  The same place they are every Friday night – in a church basement and then out to dinner.

So I bailed on myself.  And true to form, over-explained my decision to myself.

But first, I pulled on my boots and went walking.  It’s become one of the “go tos” in my life when I’m stymied about what to do next.  It clears my mind and allows for flow.

On the way, I saw the store that is never open – open.

There is a sign on the door noting the lack of regular hours, essentially stating “we’re open when we’re open.”  A phone number is listed to call “in case of an antique emergency.”

I’d peeked in the windows more than once, admiring a set of tall, thin water glasses from the 1950’s.  Each with a pattern of circus animals on it.

Inside, I discovered they didn’t have a price.  Nothing did – which meant they were dependent upon the owner’s mood at the moment.

Twenty dollars for the 5 glasses, she offered.  I kept walking, tripping over a hodgepodge of tables, some set up with little vignettes.  Others sitting alone, like I felt.

I saw a piano bench and remembered my friend Dina telling me to be on the lookout for one.  She had given me a list of things to “be open to” in decorating my home.  A mirror.  A rug “that I loved.”  A thin, high table.  And a bench.

I didn’t want the piano bench.  I didn’t want the glasses either.  I imagined carrying them home, clinking and cracking.

On the way out I spied a low table covered with a piece of batik, a mirror and an assortment of small gems that hadn’t yet found a home.  I lifted the fabric off and exposed a turquoise vinyl bench embossed with a swirly design.  It was mine.  And I knew it.

Sixty dollars.  I told her I’d think about it.  As I walked out, she said she was open on weekends – usually.

I walked home feeling a little bit better.  And later, after being surrounded by friends, even better.  But I felt a twinge of guilt too.  Like I had let myself down.

In the morning I picked up the bench.  Only after calling the still-closed store in a fit of “antique emergency.”  Once home, I placed the bench right where I imagined it.  As if it had always been there.

I wondered if perhaps this had been an Artist’s Date after all.  I was alone.  I visited someplace new.  I took in external stimuli.  Or was it just a walk and shopping serendipity.  I feared it was the latter.  I had made an unspoken commitment to a year of Artist Dates, and a year of chronicling them.  I wasn’t sure this “counted.”

I sat down at the computer and began perusing Time Out Chicago, looking to “rescue” my commmitment.  Fifty Years of Fashion Fair at the Chicago History Museum.  Food: The Nature of Eating at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.  A small theater production called “Your Problem with Men.”

It all looked juicy.  Date worthy.  And none of it fit into my schedule with the commitments I had already made for the weekend.  I considered trying to cram one in anyway.  So that I was, “doing it right.”  As if there were Artist Date police.  Or readers were keeping track.

I watched myself, an observer watching a slightly crazy person.  I recalled that in fourth grade my mother did not enroll me in the magnet program I had been invited into.  She said I already put too much pressure on myself.  She feared giving me cause to be even harder on myself.  I had a glimpse of what she must have seen in that overly sensitive 8-year-old with a Dorothy Hamill haircut.  It was frightening.

I closed the computer.  Put on lipstick and went to a party.  I didn’t think about the date again.  Until now.

I remember going on dates in my 20s and not wanting to be there.  Not knowing I could change my mind.  Not knowing I had a right to say no.  I behaved badly – cold, defensive and often mean.

Now 43, I am learning that I get to say no.  That I get to change my mind.  That sometimes a date, even with myself, isn’t in order.  But that fresh air, friendship and something a little bit shiny is.  That no one is keeping track, except for me.  That I’ve got 38 more opportunities to “get it right.”  And that’s just this year.

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In The Company of Spiritual Seekers — Walking Through It

I’ve got no business writing.  Dirty dishes are stacked in the sink.  The hand washables haven’t been washed.  Finances need tending to.  Bank transfers.  Checks written to Weight Watchers, the IRS, and the state of Illinois.

I knew this when I got home, but I didn’t care.  I dropped my bags on the floor, traded a vintage tweed blazer for jeans and boots, and headed back out the door.  To walk.  First to the produce market.  Then on to the bank to deposit checks – dropping my groceries in the car – so I wouldn’t have to stop.

Neither of these errands was particularly necessary.  I really need to go to Costco and Trader Joes.  But I was “called” to walk instead.  It’s been happening a lot lately.

Just like when my ex first asked for a divorce.  I’ve written about this before.  I walked constantly, talking on the phone to one of my girlfriends – Sarah, Angela or Kate.  Kristen, Lisa or Pam – and more often, to my divorce buddy, Michael.

Lately I don’t talk.  I listen instead.  To the Talking Heads, over and over – Stop Making Sense.  I wasn’t aware that I was…

I remember telling Michael, and others I was “ahead” of on the divorce trajectory, that walking is the only thing that makes sense.

Still is.

I’m just surprised to be here again.  The frenzied rush to move, pushing aside all other responsibilities.  To feel the crisp, cold air cutting through my jeans.  My hands and cheeks flushed with blood.  My size 6 ½ feet rising and falling on concrete.

It’s not just any movement.  It’s the specific action of walking.  It feels so familiar in my body.  Fluid.  All four quadrants engaged at once.

And it has to be outside – no matter the temperature or conditions.  Outside of my home.  Outside of myself.

Which begs the question, what’s going on inside?

Quite simply, I’m lonely.

Not all the time.  Mostly when my days wind down.  When things go quiet.

My waking hours are busy, often joyous.  Filled with work and play.  Service.  Friends.  But when I come home, it is me, alone.  It still feels new.  Uncomfortable.

I grew used to another presence in the house.  Another someone at the dinner table.  Reading in the bedroom or tinkering in the garage.

In these moments I want to call my ex.  I want to call my old divorce buddy.  I want to call the cute boy down South who I knew for two days.

Naming them in quick succession, I am aware they are all one.  Each with the potential to take me out of me.  Or more specifically, out of my feelings of lonely.  Because each of them did – for a time, once upon a time.

In my twenties I used to smile and dial down a list of men I’d been with, looking for one to “make it ok.”   To tell me I was ok.  Today I know better.  That it’s nobody’s job.   And that the asking puts me in a weakened state – vulnerable, powerless and dependent.

But my brain is like a rubber band.  It snaps back to that old idea that somehow the answer to loneliness might be outside of me.

So why the walking?

In her book, Finding Water – the second in The Artist’s Way trilogy – Julia Cameron includes walking as one of the core practices, right along with Artist Dates and Morning Pages.  She notes that “spiritual seekers have always walked.”  And “We do not come home the same as we set out…

“When we walk by ourselves, we find ourselves companioned.  We set out alone but soon sense that the Divine is close at hand.  It comes as intuition, as insight, as sudden conclusion…Without shame or scolding, walking puts a gentle end to self-involvement.”

Perhaps that’s it.  Maybe I do feel a little less alone.  A little more “with” myself when I walk.

And when I’m done, the dishes will be waiting.  The “to-do” list.  Even the loneliness.  But somehow, I’m just a little more equipped to handle it all.

Artist’s Date 13: Growing Something Green While My Soil Lies Fallow

I do not have a green thumb.  I’ve pretty much killed everything left under my watch.

My roommate Mona’s house plants which I couldn’t seem to remember to water while she was in Paris for two weeks.  The organic vegetable garden perched behind the house my ex-husband and I rented in Seattle that turned to seed.  A housewarming gift from my friend Tori, a fern, which she assured me, was very easy to care for.

So it was a bit of a surprise walking home Friday with a $30 jade plant in my hand.  It’s shiny, red-tinged leaves sprouting out of a rustic, terra-cotta planter, and safely nestled in a mesh wire basket with a loop on top for hanging.

And yet, it wasn’t.

Meditating that morning, my thoughts drifted to the suggested year off from dating and my jumble of emotions swirling around it.  I noticed each thought, watched it, and returned to the mantra – just as I was taught to do. 

A new thought emerged.  A recollection of prescriptions for planting crops in the Torah.  That every couple of years, there is a single year when nothing is planted.  The soil is allowed to be fallow.  To rest. Regenerate.  In preparation for new planting.

I knew this year off from dating was my soil resting.  Going fallow.

It was a comforting thought.  Followed by another, “Buy a plant.”

I thought it might be useful to tend to something besides myself.  To water and pull leaves and put in sun if so required.  To watch another living entity cycle through a year of seasons.  That perhaps we might grow together.  It seemed poetic.  All except the part where I’m bad with plants.

I met with my rabbi later that morning and shared my meditation with him.  He smiled and pulled out a copy of the Five Books of Moses.  Leviticus 25.  The Sabbath year.  Specific instructions that every seventh year nothing should be planted.

He also mentioned a Jubilee year.  Seven Sabbath years.  A return to one’s property and one’s clan.  I liked the sound of it.

It occurred to me that my year of Torah study in Seattle was not for naught.  And it wasn’t lost on either of us that this seemed an internal, gentle nudging back in the direction of my faith.  Something I seemed to all but abandon since returning to Chicago – with the exception of monthly meetings with my rabbi. 

We rarely talk about Torah.  But this time we did.  We talked about prayer too.  How I pray.  How I meditate.  How I listen for guidance.  And how I hear it.

Later I went walking.  To lunch with a friend.  To the Chinese grocery store whose smell I could not quite place.  A little bit rotting – but not in an altogether unpleasant way.  All the aisle signs were written in Chinese characters, making it challenging to locate the green curry paste. 

In my search I came across packages of Hello Kitty Mango Marshmallows and cookies with a panda bear on the front.  In the last aisle I found the paste in a plastic vat too large to carry home.  Then a second smaller one.  More than I will use in this lifetime to be certain but it was all they had.  I paid for it and continued on.

On the way home I found myself at the threshold of Alapash – a store I’ve passed many times but never stepped into.  I have a beautiful terrarium from here, a gift from my friend Clover.  It is filled with black sand, stones and tiny cacti.  A small gold deity poking through the terrain.  Something I ostensibly could not do damage to.

I walked in and immediately had the sensation that I never wanted to leave.  It was warm, both in temperature and environment.  A perfect respite from the cold, damp outside.  I was surrounded by air plants, cacti and succulents, salvaged wood and metal.  The smell of fig and ginger hung in the air.  Earthy and sweet.

I told the owner, Marco, about my lack of green thumb, and my desire to grow something.  He brought a jade to me.  He said it was easy to care for, didn’t require much light – just a half a cup of water, once a month.  He added that the jade will tell me what it needs if I pay attention to it.  I was sold.

I admired his gold Ganesh on the counter.  Marco said Ganesh had been good to him.  That he had to be careful what he prayed for because Ganesh brought him all of it.  “Too generous.  Too much.”

Something about Marco’s Ganesh, his passionate belief in it, his openness in telling me his story, allowed me to tell him mine.  I told him about my divorce.  About the suggestion I don’t date for a year.  About meditating in front of my Ganesh and hearing that I am the soil and this is my year for not planting.  For resting.  And the guidance to buy a plant.  To tend to its soil as I tend to mine.

I felt a little silly, vulnerable – fearing I was like the drunk on the barstool holding the bartender hostage with his woes and pet theories.  Marco must have sensed this.  He said that once a day, nearly every day, someone walks in and tells him their story.  That he is always honored to hear it.

I stuck my finger in the soil.  It felt dry.  I asked if I should water it.  He said no, not yet.  That its soil should be mostly dry.  He reminded me that succulents grow in the desert.  That they take their nutrients slowly, from what seems like nothing.

I asked if the jade would outgrow its pot.  He said that the jade prefers small, compact spaces and that the pot was large enough for five years.  I thought of my one-bedroom apartment, which most of the time seems plenty big for me – and me alone – but would certainly never be considered spacious.

He showed me how to cut off leaves and shoots.  Told me to set them on the counter until they sprout, and then pot them – growing more jades.  Marco added that jade was lucky.  That it brings money.

I paid for the plant.  Much more than I would have elsewhere, I am certain.  But I trusted that I was supposed to be hear.  Be here.  (My fingers slipped while typing.  I felt compelled to leave the homonym – the wrong kind of here.   For it really was the right kind too.)

Last night, a few of the leaves looked wrinkly.  Was it the cold, wet transport home?  Or was the soil dry?  I watered it just a little.  And then I waited.

The leaves are still wrinkly.  Imperfect.  I’m afraid I’m doing it wrong.  That I’m already killing it.  I thought about calling Marco.  About researching jade care online.  Instead I stood by it. 

I looked at it lovingly, bent down and whispered, “I don’t know how to care for you.  So you are going to have to tell me what you need.  OK?  And I will do my best to care for you.”

The words as much for me as for the jade.

When Paris Comes Calling…

It has been suggested I do not date for one year.

This should seem like a non-issue, considering just a few weeks ago I proclaimed I was not dating at all.  I said I needed some time and some tools before I ventured back out there.  That I have blogs to write and stories to pitch.  Travel, cooking, dance classes and girlfriends to fill my days and nights. 

That I never wanted to again find myself in the position I am in today – not fully self-supporting, and uncertain as to how I’d like to do that again.  Unclear about my dreams, my desires, my trajectory.  For so long I put all of that aside, under the guise of “I’m supporting my (now ex) husband’s dreams.  My turn is next.”

So this time alone…this was “my turn.”

And yet, it feels entirely different having someone tell me, or at the very least, strongly suggest, I do not date.  Even though this person has stood in my shoes.  Even though I asked for her help.

Suddenly, I’m defiant.  And I’m sad.

A part of me wants to say, “Thanks but no thanks.” 

Or better yet, “Maybe it wasn’t so bad.  Maybe I’m making too much out of this.” 

Or maybe, “This sounds too painful.  I’ll stick to feasting on crumbs.  I’m ok with that, really.”

But I’m not. 

And I haven’t been making too much out of it either. 

Just ask my girlfriends – the ones who walked with me through my long, troubled marriage and my record-speed divorce.  The ones who witnessed my brief, sweet, fairly innocent romances in the days that followed.  And the on-my-knees fallout when they were over.  None of them have hesitated in offering their support for this one-year dating hiatus.

It all feels strangely similar to my relationship with alcohol.  For years I knew something wasn’t right.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew my experiences were different than those of my friends.

I’d start the day saying I wasn’t going to drink, but by 4 p.m. I had “changed my mind.”  By 5:30 I was at happy hour. 

I would “take a break” from drinking for a number of months, then decide I was fine – that I was “making too much out of it.”  I wasn’t.

And God help anyone who suggested I had a problem.  Even though I queried those closest to me on a regular basis, asking if they thought I should call it quits and put down the bottle.

A little over five years ago I did just that.  One cold November morning, the person closest to me said, “I think you should quit drinking.”  I’d been waiting years for him to say those words.  I wasn’t angry.  Just terrified.  Because when he asked if I could stop, the only honest answer I could give was, “I don’t know.”

A friend suggested I seek help from some people who knew how to happily live without drinking, a day at a time.  So I did.

I have sparse, somewhat cloudy memories of those first days without alcohol.  I remember wanting to jump out of my skin.  I felt like I was vibrating all of the time – not in a good way.  I had drinking dreams that felt so real I had to ask my husband if I had drank.  He would assure me I hadn’t and I’d ask, somewhat panicky, “Are you certain?”

And I couldn’t imagine going to Paris without drinking.  Actually I couldn’t imagine going to dinner without drinking, but I was fixated on Paris.  Thankfully, it was gently suggested I cross that bridge when I come to it.  And since I didn’t have a plane ticket in hand, I didn’t need to concern myself at the moment.

I still haven’t been back to Paris.  But I’ve been to Brussels.  To Rwanda.  And all over the United States.  I didn’t drink.  I didn’t even consider it.

I asked for help in relationships because I knew something wasn’t quite right.  That I gave over my heart and my power too quickly, too easily.  That I I held on to what had long ago ended – wondering what I had done wrong, rather than considering it may have simply run its course.  That I accept unacceptable behavior.

Instead of drinking dreams, I have sex dreams.  I fear I won’t have it again.  Be touched again.  Or that it will be a really, really long time waiting.  I have difficulty believing the pain of being alone will be rewarded – that my relationships will be different because I am different.

So I bristle against this idea of not dating for a year.  Even though no one is asking me out.  Even though I’m not crushing on anyone.  It still feels like possibility is being cut off at the knees.

I told this to my friend – the one who made the suggestion.  She laughed, and ever so gently replied, “Lesley, if Paris comes calling, we can talk about it then.”

By then, maybe it won’t be Paris.  Perhaps it will be Venice.  Or Rome.

Artist’s Date 12: I’ve Fallen in Love

It all started innocently enough a few weeks ago.  A sunny Chicago winter’s day.  A piece of opera torte and a cup of coffee served on a silver tray.  A descent into love.  Or an ascent.

Love with myself, that is.

All my life I’ve heard I have to love myself before anyone else can love me.  Bull.  It’s simply not true. 

I have been loved.  By parents.  Relatives.  By friends.  Lovers.  A husband.  And I have not loved myself – abusing my body and my spirit with alcohol.  With food.  Drugs.  With nicotine.  With people.  I’m not sure I ever loved myself – perhaps until now.

As the Talking Heads’ David Byrne so aptly asked, “Well, how did I get here?”

Quite simply, Artist’s Dates.

Those two-plus hours alone, just for me.  To fill my senses.  To gather new input for my sticky-with-old-ideas mind.  A prescription.  A non-negotiable weekly practice in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

In the beginning I planned and scheduled the Dates, penciling them in my yellow hardbound calendar.  I had to, or else I would have found something “more important” that required my attention. 

And yet, somewhere along the way, about Week 10 of the 12-week “course,” the Artist’s Date became a creative habit.  Something I just “did.”  Like brushing my teeth.

The first time I noticed was that sunny day with the opera torte.

I have about a hundred things I can be doing.  Should be doing.  Of course, I cannot remember a single one of them now.  But the sun is shining.  (Which was once reason enough to drink.)  I say, “Fuck it!” and start walking. 

Past the antique store with the really cool 50s glassware, the one that is never open.  Past the Buddhist Temple I’ve been too afraid to go into. 

It feels so lovely, so novel, to be nice to myself.  It is something I have unconsciously looked to other people to do for me.  I’ve fallen head over heels for men who were nothing more than kind to me.  Because I couldn’t, didn’t know how, to do it myself.

I want ice cream, and this kind voice says, “Yes.”  I am thinking of gelato.  A single with three flavors, but always sea salt caramel.  And then I see Julius Meinl, the Viennese coffee shop with fancy pastries, and the voice says, “Go.  Sit.  Relax.  Enjoy.”

I grab a Chicago Reader from the free box, tuck it under my arm and head in.  I peer into the case of desserts.  I almost always get the Ezerhazy – a layered hazelnut torte.  The layers are reminiscent of seven-layer cake from the Jewish bakeries in Detroit.  But it is better.  Much, much better.

It reminds me of sitting on Ron Elkus’ kitchen counter the first time we met.  I was interviewing him for a newspaper story and we ate frozen seven-layer cake as we talked.  I knew right then we would be friends.  It reminds me of my girlfriend’s mother Carole who used to eat it over the sink, layer at a time.

But I know what Ezerhazy is.  I want to know something different.  As I am doing something different. 

I consider the banana cake.  The opera torte.  They both are layered.  But the opera torte is covered in chocolate.  It is not something I would ordinarily order.  So I do.

I sit at a marble café table, where the sun is hitting just right.  I don’t have a notebook to journal in.  A book to read.  I peruse the Reader.  I look at other people.  Most of them are also alone, doing exactly what I’m doing.  Eating dessert.  Drinking coffee.  Simply being.

My coffee arrives on a silver tray along with a glass of water, a biscuit and a tiny spoon.  A tiny fork is on the plate with my torte.

In the words of my friend Stan, I am having a relationship with my torte.  I am present with it.  Savoring every bite.  Dragging my finger along the plate so I don’t leave behind any chocolate.  And in true Weight Watchers fashion, I box up half to take home. 

It’s the kind of date I adore.  Simple. Breezy.  Cheap.  Like one of my early dates with my now ex-husband.  We wandered through North Beach in San Francisco, stopping at an outdoor café for an espresso and a lemon bar.  Waves of physical rushing sensation course through my body.  I call them “big love surges.”  I tell him about them.  He doesn’t seem afraid.

I am having big love surges this day too.  I am in love with this person who has been so kind to me.  Who lifted me out of the house, took me for a walk and treated me to a $6 piece of cake in the middle of the day for no good reason other than the sun is shining.

I don’t count it as an Artist’s Date in the moment.  Only later do I recognize it.  I’ve had a string of serendipitous Artist’s Dates since.

Week 11.  I am swimming at Welles Pool.  It is my first time in the water in more than five years.  I am sharing the slow lane with a group of ladies in their 60s, perhaps older.  They are wearing suits with skirts, goggles and bathing caps.  Underwater, their bodies belie their age.  Their skin is pearly, luminous white.  Their torsos strong, twisting side to side. 

I swim side stroke.  Not a “real” stroke.  I remember training for my triathalon in the Napa Valley.   Swimming laps in Las Vegas at the Flamingo Hotel while everyone around me is drinking.  “Come On Eileen” is playing through the speakers.  There is snow on the ground outside.  The water humbles me.

Week 12.   I stop at the Mt. Sinai Hospital Resale Shop on Diversey Parkway.  The ladies who run it are getting to know me.  I snag an $18 cashmere sweater from the designer room.  It is pinky-purply-grey.  A color I would never ordinarily choose, but it looks surprisingly good on me. 

I pick up a $40 tablecloth.  Or is it a bed spread?  I’m not certain.  It is intricately embroidered.  Well loved.  A few torn seams.  A faded silk panel.  Imperfect.  It is purple and gold on one side.  A granny-flower print on the other.  Hip-looking flowers are embroidered over the print in red and flesh tones.  And there is a single red patch in the corner.  A repair.  I’m not sure what to do with it.  But I know that it is mine.

I show up for my first of eight Latin dance classes.  Eight guaranteed Artist’s Dates.  I am anxious in my orange suede booties.

The instructor walks in.  He says hello with a voice like Barry White’s.  It feels like gravel.  Resonant.  But with a little lisp.  His head is shaved and he is wearing chunky glasses, a black turtleneck and spectator shoes. 

He has been dancing professionally since the early 1950s.  I try to do the math in my head and calculate his age.  Seventy-something, I think.

I am immediately glad I am here. 

He lines us up.  Five women and one man.  He is from France.  In his 20s.  He is here for six months on and internship and only now, here, away from home has the time to learn to dance.  He blushes when Saladeen, our instructor, tells him he will be turning all of us around.

He tells us to what kind of shoes to wear.  That we are going to learn to listen to the music.  Musicology.  I just want to dance.  And soon enough we are.  The mambo.

First step is on the second beat.  A response dance.  Left is in the front.  Right is in the back.  “Ah. Ah. Ah. Ah. Onetwothreefour,” he calls out as we watch ourselves in the mirror, repeating again and again what seems like it should be easy.

He stands in front of me, takes my hands in his and walks me through a turn.  I am blushing.  This is better than sex, I think.  It has been a long time since I’ve had sex….And yet, this is exactly what I need.  It is the reason I signed up for this class.  To feel that physical contact.  In a way that feels safe and fun.  That doesn’t leave my heart wide open, vulnerable.

“We’re going to have a good time,” he says and winks at me.  I smile and nod.

And we do.  I leave the studio.  I am aware of my hips.  The sides of my thighs. 

I stop for frozen yogurt on the way home.  The shop has just re-opened and it is buzzing inside.  The last time I had frozen yogurt was in Charleston, South Carolina.  My birthmother was dying and I met a boy who was kind to me.  I want to text him and tell him what I’m doing, but I don’t. 

Instead, I treat myself to dessert.  Just like he did.  And I walk home under a clear winter sky, falling ridiculously in love with myself.  It’s impossible not to.  How else could I feel about a person I am so lovingly “spoiling,” tending to?

The Artist’s Way was my companion during the early days of my divorce.  And again, a second time, in its fall out – when I found the prospect of partnering again too frightening.  Too painful.  When I learned how to be my own companion – because I was teachable, and the book showed me how.

In Week 12, “Recovering a Sense of Faith,” Julia Cameron writes, “We are what’s important…dead plants go; mismatched socks bite the dust.  We are stung by loss, bitten by hope…You buy a first edition, splurge on new sheets…you take your first vacation in years.

“The clock is ticking and you’re hearing the beat.  You stop by a museum shop, sign your name on a scuba diving sheet, and commit yourself to Saturday mornings in the deep end.

“You’re either losing your mind – or gaining your soul.  Life is meant to be an artist date.  That’s why we were created.” 

Amen.

 

 

Artist’s Date 11: Bindis, Burfee, Boy with an Elephant Head

I’ve been dreaming of the Hindu god Ganesh.  Boy with an elephant head.  Remover of obstacles. 

Ever since my pilgrimage to Devon Avenue with Nithin.  We went for bindis and burfee – sparkly jewels I wear on my third eye, and Indian sweets made of nuts, ghee, sugar and spices.

Ever since my friend Dina created – or perhaps, more accurately, uncovered (think David, already in the marble) – a prayer and meditation space in my bedroom.

Applying feng shui principles, she moved the position and location of my bed – leaving birch tree stickers on the wall as an off-center headboard.  Shifted a bookcase.  And a patch of hard-wood real estate emerged.

She laid down a piece of fabric I bought at the market in Rwanda and placed my sacred items on top of it.  Tibetan prayer chimes.  A swath of white cloth from my meditation initiation ceremony.  A piece of quartz, a gift from my friend Tori.

She added a round terrarium from Clover.  A sculpture of Durga – the Hindu goddess for and within me, according to my college religious-studies professor.  A carved wooden box – a wedding gift from my friends Patsy and John. 

They filled it with blank cards, inviting our guests to share their prayers for us that day.  I turned it into a God box, filling it with scraps of paper scrawled with situations I can no longer pretend to handle.  Names of boys.  Friends.  Relatives.  And also, orders to the universe.  Written as sales receipts for homes.  Offices.  Partners.  Some fulfilled.  Some I’m still waiting on.

I added some books.  A prayer I wrote to myself.  And a towel to cushion my ankles when I sit cross-legged.

I looked up from the floor.  The wall space above, noticeably naked.

Friday I went back to Devon Avenue, to Resham’s, to find Ganesh.  To fill the space.  Artist’s Date 11.

Walking in, I am overcome with the smell of sandalwood.  The smell of my meditation teacher, Paul Brown.  He doesn’t wear sandalwood.  He wears Norma Kamali.

I ask Huma, wife and half-owner, if she has a wall hanging of Ganesh.  She isn’t sure.  I ask about Durga.  She is certain she does not.

She unfolds a stack of batiks, smoothing each with her hands, stopping at an oversized piece of a goddess and forest animals.  She begins to tell me its folklore, but never quite finishes a sentence. Instead, she trails off saying, “And the story just goes on and on.” 

I get the feeling the story changes a little bit each time it is told.  Changes a little bit by each teller.  But I do not know this for certain.

She continues talking.  Unfolding.  And Ganesh emerges.  She seems surprised to see him.  I am too.  He is exactly as I imagined, even though I have never seen this batik before.  He appears to be dancing, one of his four hands in a classic mudra (Hindu gesture).  His mouse at his side, holding cymbals. 

It is mine.

I finger a rack of wool pashminas and I think of Sue, my roommate in Rwanda.  She wore one in the still cool mornings, eating fruit and some variation of potatoes.  Looking out to the land of 10,000 hills. 

I wrap one around me.  Rose on one side, turquoise on the other.  Gold threads running through it.  Fringe on the edges.  I feel her presence.  A body memory.  We are sitting in the Kigali airport.  I am weeping.  I am not ready to return to the States.  To my divorce.  To my life.  Sue’s arms are around me.  She kisses my shaved head.  I am comforted.  I feel like a child. 

I tell Huma about Sue’s scarf.  How I had wanted one of my own.  And now I do. 

We talk about travel.  About India.  About Africa.  How we feel bad ass using local toilets – holes in the ground.

I show her photographs saved on my phone, a mini album.  Little girls with shaved heads.  I tell her they are fascinated with mine.

I explain that I traveled to Africa with my synagogue.  She remembers when this neighborhood was Jewish.  Which restaurant had the best hot dogs.  I cannot imagine Huma eating hot dogs.

I mention my divorce.

She asks how long we were together.  Fifteen years.  “Yes,” she nods.  She is not surprised. 

Fourteen years is a common time for couples to part, she explains, launching into another Indian folktale.  This one of a god and goddess who lived in the forest for 14 years – lost.  When they emerge, are “found,” they leave one another.

Sound like my parents.  Like my ex-husband and I.  Iron clad in adversity.  But finding little else binding us together when that is gone. 

Huma writes up my bill – by hand.  She hesitates. 

A sign on the wall states this is a fixed-price store.  I wonder.  I have watched Nithin bargain in other stores, but not here.  Is she waiting for me to make an offer?  I don’t.  I feel uncertain.  A little foolish.  A lot gringo.  But I don’t really care.  I found what I was looking for.    

I cross the street to Sukhadia Sweets.  I order rosewater soaked “cutlets” and specialty burfee – made just during the winter.  The heat and spice linger at the back of my throat.  I am half-watching Indian soap operas. 

I text Nithin to tell him where I am.  To see if he wants burfee.  I leave out the part about paying retail.