Artist Date 28: Me, Kate Moss and the Joannes

kate mossAbout this time last year, my friend Joanne told me she had two style icons – me and Kate Moss.  I was surprised and tickled.  But mostly tickled.

I remember  what I was wearing that day.  A tight pink and white striped “French sailor” t-shirt from Old Navy, with buttons along the boat neck.  Too loose, Army-green cigarette pants from Target, purchased prior to my ex asking me for a divorce – before the weight slipped off of me, seemingly overnight.  A thin, woven belt, and my yellow peep-toe wedges with ankle straps.

I felt like a page torn from Glamour –“Great Looks for less than $50,” or something like that.  Minus the shoes.  The shoes would put me “over budget.”

The shoes always put me over budget.

“What calls for the most care in a woman’s costume is unquestionably the foot gear and the gloves.”

The words are stenciled on a wall at the Art Institute of Chicago, along with numerous other pithy statements about dress.  I am here for a member lecture and pre-viewing of “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity” – Artist Date 28.

Sometimes I feel light, superficial, because I am delighted by statements like Joanne’s.  I feel that it should not matter.

And yet, I am at a show that has toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris before landing in Chicago, a show that is focused on fashion.  Earlier this year I saw another, “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair,” at the Chicago History Museum.

I consider that, perhaps, how I choose to cover my body might not be a simple matter of practicalities and aesthetics.  That fashion – how we dress ourselves, individually and as a culture – is in fact, a statement of sorts.  A reflection of time, mood, politics.  Think hemlines rising as the economy upticks.

Or, as Gloria Groom, the show’s curator says in her lecture, “clothing is not fashion.”

The exhibit is bursting with paintings and sketches.  Advertising, bits of clothing and accessories.   Bustles, corsets, shoes.  Costumes for walking the boulevards of Paris.  For going to the sea.

“As fashion was an integral part of Paris’ character, some places – the boulevard, parks, racetracks and theatres – were constructed with the idea of it’s well-dressed pubic in mind.”

Groom ends her lecture with a joke, a “warning.”  That those experiencing a bad hair day, clothing day, face day, might do well to avoid the exhibit.  That mirrors and reflective surfaces abound.

I am standing in front of a collection of hats.  Fifty or more.  jeweled.  Feathered.  Contained in a single square of plexiglass spanning floor to ceiling.  I see myself admiring the millinery.  Recognizing one that reminds me of the hat I wore at my wedding.  I mention this to the woman standing next to me.  She asks me about it.

It is made of tightly woven straw, pinned up into corners, decorated with ribbon flowers and glass fruit.  I had to have it.

I do not mention I am divorced.  It does not feel germane.   We are talking about hats.  This is progress.

Manet-Lady-with-Fans_480My marital status creeps in later, standing in front of an Edouard Manet painting of Nina de Callais, called “Lady with Fans.”  She is lying on her side, looking straight into the camera.  If there were a camera.  Her eyes are big, dark, open.

She is dressed in black, but she is not mourning.  She is wearing jewelry.  If she were in mourning she would not be, Groom explains.  Groom adds that de Callais is divorced.  That perhaps she is “re-baiting the trap.”

The placard next to the painting notes that de Callais was known for hosting salons of writers and artists.

A woman next to me says, to no one in particular, “She is ugly.”  I do not agree.  “Don’t you think she looks and sounds like fun?” I say.

“Perhaps.  But she is ugly.  At least she is painted that way.”

I say nothing.  Like my friend Julie says, “You can’t argue with crazy.”

I wonder if I am re-baiting the trap.  Maybe.  Not long after I moved back to town, my friend Tori commented that I dressed differently – sexier, more body-conscious.  I wasn’t conscious of it.  But now I am.

There are corsets.  Boudoir paintings showing seductively naked shoulders and upper backs, napes of necks teasingly exposed.

“A woman in a corset is a lie, a falsehood, a fiction.  But for us, fiction is better than reality.” 

I think of a party I attended in San Francisco in the mid- 1990s.  There is a poster of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, circa 1976, hung in the bathroom.  By today’s standards, and even those of almost 20 years ago, the women – once considered the pinnacle  of beauty in America – would be seen as flabby, soft.  Their breasts, saggy.  Their thighs, heavy.

Like the photograph of Marilyn Monroe that was recently popular on Facebook.  She’s in a yellow bikini. Boy short bottoms. Tie halter top (I covet this suit.).  She is reclining.  Folds of skin naturally line up across her belly in horizontal rows.

I have folds across my belly.

I am acutely aware of the phenomenon of Photoshop.  Of airbrushing.  That no celebrity would willingly allow this photograph to surface.  But that it might show up in The Star or The Inquirer, with a headline like “Monroe Hits Maximum Density.”

It is a little after 4.  I have given myself an hour to tour the exhibit.  It is not long enough.  I have somewhere to be.

I want to stay and stare at the woman in the Frederic Bazille family reunion painting.  The one in the polka-dot dress staring out at me.  Her face is sweet.  It is shaped like mine.

I want to take off my shoes and run my feet through the fake grass covering the floor in the Plein Air (open air) room.

Bazille-Renoir_360I want to lean into Bazille’s portrait of Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  Hiked up on a chair, his arms wrapped around his bent knees.   He is bearded.  My type.

I want to scroll through Henri Somm’s sketchbook, digitally brought to life.

I want to see the related exhibits: “Undressed: The Fashion of Privacy” and “Fashion Plates: 19th-Century Fashion Illustrations.”

I return home and there is a message from my friend Joanne.  A different Joanne.  She was at the lecture too.  She saw me.  I saw her.  But we didn’t see each other seeing one another.  She says, “You looked lovely in that dress.”

I wonder what this dress – its halter-style, plunging neckline and flirty skirt, covered in large red and navy flowers – says.  Is it a sign of optimism, worn the day before the Supreme Court overturns the Defense of Marriage Act?  Or is it nothing more than a response to a sticky, summer day in Chicago?

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Artist Date 27: SHAME Throwing

What I was doing when I thought I'd be "throwing..."
What I was doing when I thought I’d be “throwing…”

I just got home from a gelato date.  Three flavors is a piccolo (small).  I filled my cone with pistachio-almond, yogurt-granola and rose and sat in the square watching children run back and forth and forth and back over a star pattern on the ground – my friend Ernie took a picture of me in this space when he was visiting in the fall.  He thought it was a Star of David and wanted me in the center.  It isn’t.

The sky is pale blue, silky – like underwear.  Clouds like cotton.  The weather has been unsettled for the past two days, and I too, along with it.

I feel acutely alone in this moment, which is strange as I spent the better part of the day with people I love.

During the winter I often spent Saturday nights alone – by choice.  I looked forward to cozying in, midnight blue outside my window – cooking, writing, sprawled out on the shiny, moss-green futon.  Summer feels different, like all the world is out – together.

I remember when my friend Teresa found herself “suddenly single” after a many-years long relationship.  Understanding why, on Monday, I was making plans for Saturday.  “If you don’t, you end up alone,” she surmised.

And yet, I chose this “alone” – for Artist’s Date 27.  But I never quite made it.

I thought I’d throw pottery at Lill Street Art Center.  I attended my first, First-Time Potter class on Wednesday.  Studio time – every day from 10 to 10—is included in the fee and students are encouraged to go practice.

But I didn’t go.  I talked on the phone with Chase, then Monica.  I went for gelato.  I told myself, and Chase, that I was tired.  That I needed to take it easy.  Maybe.  But mostly I think I was afraid.

What if I don’t remember how to start the wheel?  What if I can’t get the tray that sits around the wheel collecting water to snap into place?  (I had trouble on Wednesday.)  What if the wheel is running in the wrong direction – clockwise, like how they throw in Japan, instead of counter?  I vaguely remember Robert, the instructor, telling us the wheel turns in both directions, to make certain it is running counter-clockwise.  He did not tell us what to do if it is not.

My friend Mark recently told me an acronym for SHAME.  Should Have Already Mastered Everything.  Genius.

I get caught up in my pride and it stops me from moving forward.

And yet, I am moving forward.  I signed up for the class.  I went.  I kind of sucked – I certainly had not Mastered Everything.  And I loved it.

I was afraid that night too.

Afraid I wouldn’t be able to tolerate the painful callous that developed on the side of my hand the last time I tried to learn to throw.  Afraid I wouldn’t like it.  Afraid I would be an utter failure.

I didn’t develop a callous.  The wheel wasn’t painful against my skin.  Different clay, I was told.

I wasn’t an utter failure.  Two of four pieces will be fired and glazed.

I did like it.  All of it.

Will the final week of class look like this?
Will the final week of class look like this?

Buying my supply kit and writing my initials on each piece with a Sharpie marker, my full name on my blue water pail.  Picking up a 25-pound bag of clay and splitting it with a partner – separating the four vertical logs from one another, each of us taking two.

My clay “partner” is here with two of her friends.  They just graduated from high school and live in the suburbs.  One of their mothers dropped them off here.

They seem so young, so brave.

I run a wire twice through my logs and place four disks of clay in front of me.  Robert teaches us to wedge the clay, to take the air out of it and prepare it for use.

I roll one wedged disc into a ball, stick a thumb in the center, and form a pinch pot.  As we get acquainted with the clay, we introduce ourselves, sharing a bit about what brought us to this moment, this studio, this canvas table.

There is a couple taking the class together.  A woman who just moved from Minneapolis and thought this would be a good way to meet friends.  A woodworker.

I mention that I always wanted to go to art school.  That at 43 I can send myself.  The words tumble out of my mouth.  They feel profound, true.

I remember my friend Robyn saying our parents tie our shoes until we can tie them ourselves.  Throw us birthday parties until we can throw our own.

Robert moves to a wheel and we gather around him, watching him craft a simple bowl.  He shows us how to throw the clay on the wheel – “throwing” pottery.  How to center.  How to bring it up, bring it out.  He tells us to keep our clay wet.  Shiny.

We nod our heads.  Fill our buckets with water and go to our wheels.  My mind is blank.  I put my foot on the pedal.  Nothing.  The woodworker is sitting next to me.  He smiles and points to the “on” switch.  I smile back.

I throw the clay and press it down, pour water on the wheel.  I am having difficulty bringing it up.  Robert shows me how.  The bottom is too thick.  He shows me how to thin it out.

It is rising.  It looks good.  I don’t stop.   It collapses onto itself.  I throw it onto a board and put my initials in the clay with a tool.  I will let it dry out and re-wedge it to use again.

My second bowl goes better.  It is small.  Imperfect.  A reasonable effort.

Robert calls us to him again and demonstrates another bowl.  It makes more sense now that I have been on the wheel.  We return to our stations.  I remember things he has said.  To angle my finger at 5 o’clock to widen the bowl.  It feels like arriving home for the first time in a new city, without getting lost.  Without using a GPS

My third bowl collapses onto itself.  The fourth joins my second on a piece of wood, hydroplaned on.  I cover it with dry-cleaning plastic wrap and put it on my shelf – the one assigned to me for the next four weeks.

Cleaning up, I watch the potters in the advanced classes.  Their work is beautiful.  Elegant.  Effortless.  Perhaps I will be like them one day.  I am over my SHAME.  I know there is no reason to believe I Should Have Already Mastered this.  Or anything else.  Not even my Artist Dates.

Artist Date 26: Some Kinda Love

10 poems to set you free

I have come to crave myself.

The words surprise me.

It is subtle.  A quiet yearning.  It doesn’t scream with white-hot fervor.  It is not that impulsive.

It guides, rather than drives, me.  Less a need, more of a desire – a siren calling with patient intensity.

I am not certain I have felt this way about anyone.

But how could I?

I’ve been “seeing’” myself (pun intended) for six months now.  Twenty-six Artist Dates.  Half a year.

This is my third-longest relationship, the longest being my ex-husband, followed by my first real boyfriend – who I dated for just shy of a year.  The others have been days, weeks, a couple of months.  Until now.

Some dates are exciting, juicy, aimed to impress – the Lyric Opera, Steppenwolf Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet.  Others are simpler, without fanfare or tickets.

Saturday is the latter.

I am on my way to the Conrad Sulzer Library in Lincoln Square.  An Artist Date return destination.  I want to read poetry.  Anne Sexton poetry.

I’ve been chipping away at her biography for several weeks, renewing it twice from the library, and paying $7.50 in overdue fines.  I read a chapter each night before bed.  I had been reading old journals.

One detailing a love affair with a man I imagined was beyond my reach.  Movie star handsome.  Devilishly sexy.  With a name to match.   Fantasy sex.  It was 19 years ago.  I had forgotten.

Another notes that I have stopped reading.  Stopped writing.  I have been dating my now ex-husband for one month.  My therapist has called me out on this.

In many I have written” I want to drink.”  Again and again.  I know I can’t.  But I don’t know how to not.  Not yet.  I lament the end of early love.

A trusted friend suggested I put the journals away.  At least for now.  An exercise in being fully present.  It’s been Anne and I, mostly, ever since.

I imagine poring over, pouring myself into, her work.  To Bedlam and Part Way BackAll My Pretty Ones?  Love Poems?  I’m not choosy.  Whatever is on hand.  I want to go to the source.  To the one who now keeps me up late at night.

But there is no Anne Sexton here.  None of her writings, that is.  Most of it is housed at the Harold Washington Library downtown, the one with the huge gargoyles on the roof.  I’ve yet to go inside there.

Plan B.

I roam the poetry stacks.  Ten Poems to Set You Free, by Roger Housden.  Lofty promise.  I’m intrigued.  Hopeful.   I grab it, find a seat near a window – near the jigsaw puzzle half done, inviting patrons to add a piece to its completion— and begin to read.

My head softens.  Opens.  Like when I meditate.  I didn’t realize I had a headache but now it is starting to clear.  It is quiet.  Blessedly quiet and I am blessedly alone, reading – once again.  Like I used to.

“Shake off this sadness, and recover your spirit; sluggish you will never see the wheel of fate that brushes your heel as it turns going by…the only thing which lasts is the work; start then, turn to the work.  Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field,” Miguel de Unamuno

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others.  Unfold your own myth, without complicated explanations, so everyone will understand the passage, We have opened you.  Start walking toward Shams.  Your legs will get heavy and tired.  Then comes the moment of feeling the wings you’ve grown, lifting.” Rumi.

The poetry is like prayer, each word a meditation.

My nose feels hot.  My nostrils flare.  My eyes are wet.  Emotions greeting my senses.

“And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul?”  Mary Oliver.

No one, I whisper.

“Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!”

I cannot move fast enough.  Suddenly I know that I’ve come here only to receive my map and my marching orders.  Not to stay.  Not today.  My soul isn’t in this place.  It is outside the window.

In the park across the street where 10-year-old boys are playing baseball; where parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, sit in folding chairs, drinking beer and soda, watching.

In the gelato shop where this date began.  Where I let cinnamon and toasted coconut and sea salt caramel play on my tongue.

I rush down the stairs, adding myself to the check-out queue.  Quickly, it is my turn.  “Come on down,” the librarian cries.  “I don’t watch the Price is Right since Bob Barker retired,” I say.  She laughs.  Neither does she.

I rush out into the sun that made itself known just an hour ago, after a wet, grey morning.  The air is hot and thick.  Moist.  Steam rising up out of the sidewalk.

I cross the street, walking into the park I pass nearly every day, but have never stepped inside of.  I find a quiet bench, mostly, and continue reading.

“…don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now, work gone wrong, your plans all proving deceptive – don’t mourn them uselessly…say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.  Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say it was a dream, your ears deceived you: …go firmly to the window and listen with deep emotions, but not with whining, the pleas of a coward; listen – your final delectation – to the voice, to the exquisite music of that strange procession, and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.” C.P. Cavafy.

I read the words again, flummoxed.  Surprised.  Affirmed.

My experiences are real.  All of them.   No matter how long or short.  No matter if another understands or believes.  Each is real because I felt it, thought it, lived it.  It is true.

This is what I hear.

Celebrate it.  Honor it.  Mourn it.  Give it a proper send off.

The former symphony conductor.  My traveling companion in Germany.  The horny artist from New York.

The photographer, fantasy-sex lover, from journals 19 years old.

My ex-husband.

I savor each word, read them over and again – like a mantra offering me permission, I tenderly hold each little love.  Precious.  Complete.  Over.

I lie down on the bench and close my eyes.  I feel the sun blanket my body.  Lie on me heavy, like a lover.  Church bells merge with traffic and the dull empty whack of a bat hitting ball.  Clapping.  Squealing.  A man is doing lunges on the cement patch in front of me, groaning.

I walk home slowly, eyeing the cute boys on Lincoln Avenue.  They do not look back at me.  They never do, I think.  And then, “Lesley, that is simply not true.”  My own voice.

I walk into my apartment, turn Pandora to Lou Reed.  He sings to me.  Straight to me, through me.  Always.  I bypass songs, one, two, three, four, five.  Six, I cannot bypass.  “Some Kinda Love.”  It is what I had hoped to hear.  God is with me in the little things.

I chop onions and garlic, cook them with wild cod, capers and tomatoes, grill a side of bright green asparagus.  I sit at the table.  Cloth napkin.  Sunflowers in a vase.

Some kinda love.

I Released The Gold and Diamonds of My Past

rings I released the gold and diamonds of my past.

Handed them

To a stranger.  And pocketed

A check for $217.

It was a generous offer.

Commodities.

No consideration of

Labor, artistry,

Time.

Only weight.

Once I would have drunk

This pain.  Eaten

This pain.  Fucked

This pain.

Fuck this pain.

No more.

It waits until

After

The headache, the heartache

The bellyache.

Waits

For tears.  For

Grieving.  I am

In a garden awash in violet.

13-L-7ED93F53-4573380-1280-100Hidden behind

Deceptive trees.

Hidden like the little stone

Of my heart.

I offer to take

A photograph.  Sweet lovers.

They will return home, holding

Evidence.  Their time

Together.

A line of people

Sit,

On a wooden footbridge, feet

In rows in water,

Still, man-created

Stream.

I join them.

Peel the yellow straps

From my ankles and plunge

Into the cool wet.

feet in waterSun burns hot

On my neck.  Kissing

My shoulder.

Spring has come slowly

This year.  I long

For the earth’s tongue

On my skin.

Inside my wallet,  Glass horse.

Ceramic salmon.

Medallion.  Roman numeral five.

Animal-spirit guides.

Passing of sober days.

Talisman.

Is man?

And a single

Penny.  Consider my wish.

For love.

For THAT kind of love.

Tongue on my shoulder.

Slow to come.

Cum.

Cool.

Wet.

I let go

Of another piece

Of metal.

Watch it sink to the bottom,

A lost and found of wishes

Dreams, prayers.

In water, still.  Wish,

Still.  Dream,

Still.  Pray,

Still.

Bye Bye Bindi

bio photo for u club 2I took off my bindi the other day.

Stopped at a red light on Michigan Avenue, I dragged my middle finger from between my eyes down the bridge of my nose, bringing the bindi with it.  Green and gold.  Sparkly.  I looked at it and deposited it in the cup holder.

I’ve been wearing a bindi faithfully since last spring – the result of self-sufficiency gone awry.

One of my first acts of independence, following my then-husband’s request for a divorce, was to pay someone to shave my head.  He had done it for me for years, making sure all the tiny hairs stood uniformly erect – especially in back.  It’s not as easy as it seems.

I went to Rudy’s – a chain of hip barber shops – in Seattle for a $10 shave.  I asked for a one guard on the clippers – what my ex always used.

Rudy’s one guard must have been different from mine, because I walked out far more sheared than I had anticipated.  Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, hair grows – quickly.  But I had my eyebrows tinted a little darker than usual, and the combination of the two was jarring, a little bit scary.

Afterwards, I stumbled into the boutique next door to Rudy’s.  I’d been curious about it for a while.  Inside, I eyed a basket of sticky bindis, next to an array of cuffs and bangles.  $3 a package.  I thought it might soften the look.  Or at very least, act as a distraction.  It did.  And I began wearing one, every day.

Pink.  Blue.  Purple.  Glittery.  It became “my thing,” or “one of my things,” like the shaved head and the iridescent shadow I wear in the corners of my eyes.  Another “accident” that stuck.

I wore a different one every day.  On hikes.  To dance class. Camping in North Dakota.  All over Rwanda.  I got a tip to use eyelash glue to hold it in place when the sticky wore out.  When I moved back to Chicago in the fall, I went to the Indian shops on Devon Avenue to buy more.

People asked me about it all the time.  Why?  What does it mean?  I’d explain that it brought attention to the third eye, the seat of hidden wisdom, and joke I needed all the help I could get to see clearly.

Sometimes I’d explain that in parts of India it designates that a woman is married and that ironically, I began wearing mine during my divorce.

But really, I just liked it.  It was jazzy and fun.  It spurred conversation with people I otherwise wouldn’t meet.

At least, that’s what I thought.

When I mentioned it to my friend Rachel in an email, she wrote, “I found your calling toward bindis to be a heartbreaking subconscious gesture by your soul to remain coupled, or at least connected with the sacred masculine.”

I questioned if I should continue wearing it after my Get, my Jewish divorce, as I was no longer married.  When the ritual was complete, I stood in the mirror contemplating.  I decided I wasn’t ready to let go of it yet, and told myself it was a symbol that I was “married to myself.”

Every once in a while, I would forget to put one on and I’d feel naked.  Sometimes I would put a Weight Watchers BRAVO sticker in its place.

And yet when I lost my bindi at my massage therapist’s office last week, I didn’t put another one on when I got home.  I forgot.

I considered “forgetting” it the following day.  But it seemed that NOT wearing one would be a statement, one I might feel compelled to explain if asked.  So I pasted one on.

I did the same the next day, but slid it off in the car in the afternoon sun.  I haven’t worn one since.  Just a few people have noticed and asked about it.

Why now?  I’m not sure.  I felt a shift, a change.

Perhaps I’m “getting ready.”  Getting ready to meet someone.  I’d like that.

And yet, in moments of quiet I’m not certain that I am ready.  Not because it has been suggested that I don’t date right now.  But because I continue to pick unavailable.

Mr. Thursday Night.  My Divorce Buddy.  The Southern Svengali.  Most recently, the guy from Trader Joes.

I thought we were flirting so I gave him my card and said to call me if he’d like to have coffee.  He never called.  When I ran into him a week later he said things were “complicated.”

More than one person has suggested that I might be giving off signals that I’m not available – unconsciously.  Like by wearing a bindi – the mark of a married woman.  While most Westerners don’t know its significance, I do.

Is the glittery third-eye gone for good?  I don’t know.  But for now, there is a space between my eyes – an opening.

Artist’s Date 25: Following Breadcrumbs and Cleaning Up My Insides

Andrew-Gilliatt-April-2013-60-300x300
Bowl by Andrew Gilliat

I believe in “following the breadcrumbs.”  Like Hansel and Gretl, noting the obvious signs and trusting that I will always be led – if I listen.

I was on the fence about my destination for this week’s Artist Date – Number 25.  My friend Kiki mentioned she might drop by a reception at Lillstreet Art Center – one of my considerations.  Her noncommittal musing was just enough to point my compass.

I’ve been to Lillstreet just once before, for a fundraiser.  I imagined I would return here often, but I have not.  I pass it all the time and I think about going in.  I pour over the website trying to decide which class to sign up for.  I am intimidated and ultimately do nothing.

This is ironic as I am greeted by a most friendly staffer at the door.  She tells me the photography show opening today, Midwest Contemporary, is on two floors.  That beer is on the main floor, wine is on the second – in case that helps guide my decision in terms of where to begin.  It doesn’t.

But the pottery does.  Porcelain slab platters etched with lines that look like a teenage girl’s cutting.  Bowls and plates covered with repeating whimsical patterns.  Forks and knives, swings, balloons and birds in matte glaze. 

I’ve considered the First-Time Potter class here but have been leaning toward Drawing-into-Painting.  Pottery is messy and I don’t really have “pottery clothes.”  I can draw anywhere.  Yet I keep picking up the fired clay.  Running my fingers over it.  Cupping it in my hand.

I remember ceramics class in high school.  Mr. B and I argued about everything – even about how often I peed.  He said I was a sloppy student.  That I didn’t clean my edges, my insides.  It sounds true – of my work.  Of my blurry boundaries and the messy parts inside of me.

I did craft beautiful pieces in his class though.  A platter with a teal drip glaze.  A coil vase with a long neck – large and genie-like, big enough for Barbara Eden to pop out of.  My mother displays both of them in her home.  

I look up toward the photography on the wall – my chosen medium in college until I switched my major from fine art to journalism.  There is a large, creepy photograph of a doll’s head – battered and old.  I don’t like it.  I read the artist’s statement.  She photographs vintage dolls.  The cracks in their exteriors representing the broken parts in us all – some that might never be “fixed” in this lifetime.  I still don’t like the picture, or the doll’s eyes.  But I like the idea of it.

There is work from an artist who earned his MFA from Michigan State University – my alma mater.  It wasn’t known for its art department when I was a student.  I wonder how it has changed.

There is another of a trailer park along the Russian River in California with a big Paul Bunyan figure looming over the camp.  It is part of a series chronicling the photographer’s vacation destinations as a child.  I’m pretty sure I’ve been here.

I wander up to the second floor.  There is a second photograph of trailers, this one from Williston, North Dakota.  Hydraulic fracking boom town.   Michael and I drove through here on our way back to Chicago from Seattle.  It reeked of testosterone and crystal meth.  Unsettling.

There is a photograph of a young African-American man looking straight into the lens.  Into me.  The photographer is from Saginaw, Michigan – where my mother grew up. 

midwest contemporary show
“Elliot,” by Sarah-Marie Land

I feel alone.  I go downstairs , returning to the pottery, and strike up a conversation with another woman, also alone.   She likes the bowls and goblets adorned with animals.  Anything with animals, she says.  I do not, but say nothing.   As the room fills up I am acutely aware of my single-ness.  I think about staying and listening to the live music, but I’m not sure where to perch myself.

I decide to leave instead. 

This is the first time my Artist Date feels lonely, that I don’t feel filled up by it.  On the way out I stop and talk briefly with the friendly staffer who greeted me.  I remember Kiki mentioning her friend’s reception is private, on the roof – that I would have to ask to get up there.  So I do.

I am directed to the back of the building, through the music and pottery and photography, through double doors. I ask a tall man/boy with a red beard and glasses if this is the way to the roof. He says yes and we climb the stairs together. Two of mine for every one of his.

It is sunny and clear.  People are drinking wine.  I do not see my friend.  I turn to go back down.  The bearded man/boy says, “Yep.  A lot of roof.”   We walk down together.  I am not sure why he has come here.  I ask him if he has a studio here.  He does not.  He peels off to a classroom on the third floor and I go down to two.  There are open artist studios.  I missed them my first time up. 

I walk into one.  There are slabs of clay with what looks like hieroglyphics on them.  The artist is talking with a couple about her work and they rope me into conversation.  I ask about the tall, smooth pieces with wild insides.  They are wide.  Almost as big around as I, and climbing higher than my waist. 

Each represents a character from Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.”  The blue queen is smooth outside, but inside “she is mourning.”   I see it.  I see the glazed clay crying inside, rounded discs turned down upon themselves like leaves.  I wonder if this is what I look like inside.

A second character is smooth and orange-y outside, fiery and sharp inside.  She is angered by how the king has treated the mourning queen.  A third is green.  A girl child left in the woods, raised by a shepherd.  She is smooth inside as well as out.  Peaceful.

I return to a jewelry studio I couldn’t make my way into before.  Too small.  Too many people.  Edith Robertson is talking with a friend.  She has a blonde-ish/white-ish bob and turquoise eye liner.  She immediately greets me, inviting me to try on whatever I like.  She puts her hand on my arm.  Warm.

I pick up a choker made of gathered strands of thin wire with a long crystal hanging from it.  It looks like a stalactite. Or is it a stalagmite?  A piece of lapis lazuli adorns the back side – a hidden surprise.

I think of my friend Julie and the days I spent with her after her mother died, offering massage and bodywork to her family.  Of her friend Karen whisking me off to her house, plopping me into an overstuffed chair and placing a crystal in each hand. 

The effect was immediate.  Electric.  Like a volt of energy seizing my body.  I imagined smoke coming off of me, as if I had fried a chip.  I was out.  When I awoke about 20 minutes later, I felt like I had been put back together.  I wonder if this crystal would do the same for me.

Edith and I quickly realize our paths have been crossing one another for the better part of 30 years.  In Detroit.  In San Francisco.  And now in Chicago.  That the universe has been conspiring for us to meet.

She tells me that making jewelry is her second act.  I tell her about mine.  About my Artist Dates and my return to writing.  We talk about Germany – her birthplace.  The first place I traveled overseas.   She has the same last name as my ex-husband.

We talk until a couple walks in and I hand her over to them.   I sign her guest book, leaving her with my email address and her necklace.  Perhaps another time. 

I walk down the stairs and out the door, thinking about connections.  About clay classes and cleaning up my edges, my insides.  About breadcrumbs.

Artist’s Date 24: Finding “Epic” Acceptance

epic flyingWhen I was about eight, my parents took me to see The Black Stallion at the Keego Theatre, a movie house where they played second-run shows for a buck.

Onscreen, a storm is raging.  Passengers of a luxury liner jump into life rafts.  A young boy cuts free an agitated, tied-up horse, and it leaps from the boat.  The horse’s angry owners hold the boy at knife point before he is flung into the dark, choppy waters.

I am hysterical.  Sobbing.  Unable to catch my own breath.  I do not know the horse will rescue the boy.  That the story is just beginning.

My mother pinches me under the arm.  “Do we have to go out to the car?” she asks.

My feelings are too big for my family.  This is what I believe, true or not.

It is why I often watched television upstairs in the guest room, alone – my emotions leaking out with Folgers commercials and documentaries on PBS.  It was a source of teasing – mostly good-natured – in my family.  But I was too sensitive to realize it.

Sitting in the Davis Theatre watching Epic – Artist’s Date 24 – I remember all of this.  The fear.  The anxiety.  The shame that is tied to these feelings.  I am experiencing it now.

I’m old enough to know that good will prevail.  This is a PG movie.  I know that the Leafmen will “win,” that the pod will bloom in the full moon, that the forest will be saved.

And yet.

There’s this loud, foreboding music.   Crescendo rising.  Bats flying.  Forest dying.

The Images are dark.  Mandrake, nemesis of the forest, of life itself, wears a rat skin like a hooded cape.

I feel my heart quicken, a desire to turn my eyes away.  I am afraid.  I do not trust it will end well.

I am the only adult in the theatre without a child in tow and I feel a little bit self-conscious.  I retreat to my head.  Do the parents think I am suspect?  A child molester?  Why aren’t the children afraid like I am?

A dad ducks and scurries out, gripping two little hands, one in each of his.  Are they frightened?  Or do they have to pee?

epic flowersI saw the trailer for Epic a few weeks ago, on another Artist’s Date.  I was enchanted by its beautiful images – flower-people, with heads like cotton pom-poms, dandelions turned to seed.  Faces on sunflowers and gerbera daisies.  I was called by its questions about belief.

This is what brought me here, on a day I find myself emptied out, running on fumes – the promise of loveliness.  Of faith.  Of possibilities.  This is what I receive:

Professor Bomba’s unshakeable belief in something he can’t see, but only knows.  Like God.  Like Horton Hears a Who.  His willingness to be perceived as crazy.  His willingness to lose seemingly everything for his belief.

The Leafmen’s simple code, “Many Leaves.  One Tree. You are Never Alone.”

I learn that love can bloom riding gently on a deer.  And a pod that blooms in full-moon light is the source of all creation.  That hummingbirds make great horses, but common brown sparrows can do the job too.

I am reminded that relationships between fathers and daughters are sometimes hard.  And that it’s ok to hold on to someone you hardly know – if they offer you a hand or a torso and you need one.

That each of us has a purpose – even slugs and snails.  We might not know it.  Don’t always ask for it.  But we can embrace it.  And continue to put one foot in front of the other.

That life is about finding out what we are capable of.  How high we can jump to get ourselves out of a hole.  And that each of us can learn to fly.

That we all experience loss.  Of a parent.  Of a friend.

And that sometimes, love comes back – oftentimes in the most unorthodox and unexpected of ways.

Queen Tara’s energy, twinkling light like Tinkerbell, speaking to Ronin and to MK after she has left this-worldly plane.

MK’s reunion with Nod, straddling “normal” and Lilliputian-sized worlds for the promise of connection, of love.

I think of my own recent reunitings, seeing someones I never thought I’d see again … and then did.

The tears stream down my face.  Gratitude.  Beauty.  Joy.  I feel their salty release.   I notice them, like I notice the fear, and do nothing.  I let them roll off of me in the darkness.  I can sit with them.  They are not too much for me.