This is an auspicious beginning to any date – even an Artist’s Date, one that I take by myself.
I assure Eric, the salesperson at Blackbird Gallery and Framing, that I am not.
“I love this,” he continues, gesturing to my bindi. “All of this,” he adds, waving his hands in small circles around his face. “You are beautiful.”
I like this man. Of course, he is gay.
In my hand is a cardboard tube. I’ve made a handle out of packing tape so I could carry it from Nashville to Knoxville to Atlanta and home to Chicago. Inside are two posters.
I bought them at Hatch Show Print in Nashville – America’s oldest working print shop – where letterpress posters summoned me through glass. Where nary a square inch of wall isn’t covered with iconic images of Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and the Grand Ole Opry.
A smattering of them are for sale, among them “Luana. Danse Savage” and “Island of Lost Souls with the Panther Woman.” As soon as I spotted them, I knew they were mine.
Eric unrolls them onto a large table and places weighted felt bags at each corner so they lie flat. They are made of heavy cotton paper, printed in single color ink. Luana is deep purple – women dancing in short fringed skirts, with cuffs around their ankles. Island of Lost Souls with the Panther Woman is forest green – a vamped-out, busty broad holding a wild cat on a leash.
Island of Lost Souls. I feel like I took up residency there about a year ago. I often times still feel wayward. Uncertain. Acutely aware that little in my life has stood on terra firma for some time now.
Marriage dissolved. Another move cross-country, this time bringing little with me that feels like home. At the time it felt liberating – packing the 13-year-old Honda Civic and leaving the rest behind. Only later did it register as frighteningly impulsive and potentially foolish.
And yet, my ex doesn’t seem to feel any less lost than I – living in the house where we once lived together, sleeping in the bed we used to sleep in together, surrounded by “our things.” Perhaps I got the better end of the deal. Spiritually, at least.
I like the panther on the poster. And the va-va-voom dress the woman is wearing. A sexy new take on Cat Woman. The possibility of living as a super hero.
Luana reminds me of Sunday afternoon dance class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Of the serendipity and just plain good luck I had to dance with a troupe in Rwanda this past summer. The dancers’ surprise and delight that the muzungo (white person) could follow.
Luana seems the opposite end of the Island of Lost Souls. Yet I am both of them at once.
The posters are big. Big enough to make a dent on my big, blank canvas of a wall – painted eggshell by my landlord. The colors, the same as those in the fabric hanging on the adjacent wall – a few meters cut and carried from the Rwandan market.
They are not what I had envisioned here.
I had imagined my friend Slade’s sketch of me. Shaved head, bindi, a whitish aura around me – he is not the first to comment on it. I look a little bit African American, a little bit Hare Krishna. Thin, wispy, spiritual. I love it. I love how he captured me. But the piece is small, and it lives in his sketchbook.
I had imagined a map. Or a series of maps, playing off the unintentional travel theme of the room. Snowshoes on one side of the entry way, license plates from California, Washington and Illinois on the other. Stacked suitcases turned on their side make a table. There’s the Rwandan fabric, and a painting I bought from my friend Scotty of a woman leaving her home, leaving her tribe. It’s called, “You Can Take it With You.”
I am amazed at how the space is filled when I let go of my ideas and make room for God.
Eric and I lay frame corners on the edges of the posters. Painted wood. Maple. Birch. No. Not quite. I place a sample of metallic sage on one, metallic plum on the other. A marriage is made.
Eric places a card on top of the posters. It shows the differences between three types of glass. Three price points. I submit to the middle grade. Less reflection. Less distortion. UV protected.
We talk about spacers and decide I can do without.
Eric crunches numbers and square inches. I look at paintings and photographs on the walls. The artists are young, accomplished – as evidenced by their bios. Talented. I feel woefully far behind in my craft. As if I’ve been losing time for some time. On that Island of Lost Souls for far longer than I realized.
He produces a framing estimate that shocks me. Even with my $61 Yelp! coupon credit it is much more than I anticipated. I consider leaving and sticking a tack into Luana and the Island.
I think about all the things I left behind so that I could create something new. Something shiny.
I hand over my credit card and put down a deposit, hoping the second half will show up on next month’s bill.
I tell Eric about the posters. About dancing in Africa in the middle of a divorce, leaving the Island of Lost Souls for a spiritual sojourn. He tells me about his photography work. We talk about my return to writing.
Perched up on a three-legged stool, I realize I am flirting. It doesn’t matter that he is gay. I feel light. Like myself. Or who I used to be. I enjoy our easy rat-a-tat-tat repartee.
I ask him his sign. Sagittarius, he says and I laugh. I should have known. I tell him I love Sagittarians. I do not tell him that the book Love, Sex and Astrology says that Libra and Sagittarius meet at half past 7 and are in bed by 8.
I keep this to myself, along with stories of all the Sagittarians I have loved – my first real boyfriend in college. My one-time drinking partner. My religious studies professor – the object of my unrequited desire for so many years. Unfinished business.
Instead, I tell him I am a Libra. He tells me I seem strong. Resilient. I smile and nod.
“Sometimes,” I say.
After nearly an hour with Eric, I leave with a pink receipt and a card for his next open studio.
As I cross the threshold on the way out, a couple walks in with a large piece of art for framing. So large it requires both sets of hands. Divine timing. God filling the space I am leaving.