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.