Artist Date 32: In Between Dates. Some Things You Just “Know.”

2013-07-28 13.50.19I’m standing on the corner of 4th and Main in Royal Oak, Michigan.

I had breakfast with my old boss, Bill, a couple of hours ago.  We met at the restaurant he owns, where I used to work.  I was employee number seven.  Or maybe it was six? Nine?  We’re not exactly sure.  We decide seven sounds about right.

I haven’t seen him since my divorce.  Since he met DD.  We wax nostalgic about the early days.  Toast that came out 20 minutes after the eggs.  The decision to hire a cleaning service because I didn’t want to scrub the toilets.  The handsome photographer upstairs.

I spent years in this city.  As a teenager – thrifting and hanging out at Patti Smith – not the musician, the other one.  At her clothing store – talking, listening to music, wanting to be a grown up.

After college, I moved here and lived in an upstairs flat with my friend Mona and her two cats.  I worked at a weekly newspaper, waited tables on the weekends, and drank my tip money.

I haven’t been here in a number of years.  And alone, probably never.  It seems the perfect destination for Artist Date 32.  That’s what I had in my head when I planned my trip “home” a few weeks ago.  Except I didn’t make much time for alone.  I never do.

I just left coffee with my 17-year-old niece.  I found her waiting for me on a concrete planter outside of Caribou – which wasn’t Caribou when I was 17.  I remember “punk rock” kids getting dropped off here and walking down the street to meet their friends – as if their parents had not just dropped them off.

I tell my niece I used to hang out here 26 years ago.  She’s floored.  As she is when I tell her what 17 was like in my house.  That it wasn’t so different.  That I too felt grown up in so many ways, but still a kid in others.  How I just wanted to go – to New York..but Royal Oak would do.  And how sometimes I wanted to stay – in my bedroom with the blue shag carpet…forever.

Mostly, we agree that 17 is hard.

I’m due to meet Danny in a half hour.  We met at a Jewish retreat the summer before we entered high school.  He was funky and quirky and a good dancer – like me.  Perhaps he too felt like a black, drag queen trapped in a small Jewish body.

A half hour isn’t really long enough for an Artist Date, but I decide it’s kind of like exercise – a little bit is better than none.  I let go of all the “why didn’t you plan for your Artist Date” chatter and spend the next 30 minutes absorbing this place I used to call mine.  The clock is now ticking.

2013-07-28 13.47.12There used to be a bank here, just south of this corner.  I made out with Joe A. in my maroon Chevy Corsica, parked right in front of it.  He moved to Tucson not long after.

I see a guy sitting on the patio at Tom’s Oyster Bar.  He has the shiniest black hair I’ve ever seen.  Beautiful, with waves.  He looks like Joe’s musical partner – who I also made out with.  But later.  A couple of years later.  Just before I moved to San Francisco.  I cannot remember his name.  He looks up at me.  We smile at one another and he returns to his book.  I do not know if it is him.

So much has changed.  And yet, a lot is still the same.  The independent stores that serve as anchors –Haberman Fabrics.  Incognito.  Noir Leather.  I once bought an erotica book here and popped it in my lover’s bag before he headed out of town, with a dirty letter I penned tucked inside.

Bright Ideas – a modern, cool, functional interiors store.  It’s been here as long as I can remember.

I walk in and my head quiets.  I am sucked in by what is in front of me rather than what is in me, in my head –Joe A., his partner, my niece.

2013-07-28 13.54.46Detroit drink coasters.  Symbols of my childhood.  Drink Faygo Orange.  Better Made Potato Chips.  The iconic scrawl of Sanders – hot fudge and ice cream shops, and Vernors – better and spicier than any ginger ale you can imagine.  It used to be used medicinally.  Quintessentially Detroit.  All of it.  I am smiling.

There are tiny bud vases in a variety of colors, thrown on a potter’s wheel.  They began as a fundraising activity and blossomed into a business.  I think about my own somewhat disappointing foray into throwing.  Disappointing because I had expectations.  I thought I’d be good.  Immediately.  Because I worked with clay when I was 17.  Because I have no patience.

The vases are made in Seattle.  I am wistful.

There are low-slung couches with chrome and clean lines.  My nearly 5 foot 3-inch body sits comfortably in these.  At home my feet dangle off of the pricey futon.  I bought it because I had a notion that I would sleep on it and my bedroom would be my massage studio.  That’s not what happened.

I wonder if I can fit one in my hatch.

2013-07-28 13.47.28There are pillows with birds painted neon pink and green and blue.  An orange flower is growing out of another.  Several are felted, with messages “seemingly” just for me: “Let’s Make Out.”  “Happily Ever After.”  “Think Big.”  “Breathe.”

Yes. Yes. Yes and Yes.

2013-07-28 13.48.32There are yellow, leather “Star Trek” chairs.  Body hugging, with matching ottomans.  On the wall are grey circles with the letters S,M,L.  Like the three bears in Goldilocks.  I wonder which one will be just right for me.  In chairs.  In all things.

I look at my watch.  It’s time to meet Danny.  I feel surprisingly and strangely refreshed having taken these 20 minutes alone.  A little lighter.  A little clearer.  Time apart.

I find Danny down the street and throw my arms around him.  He is wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt and shoots me a big smile – a cross between a 5-year-old’s pure joy and “I am up to no good.”

I tell him I’m hungry and he takes me to Astoria Bakery – formerly Cinderella’s Attic, one of my early thrifting haunts.  He orders a walnut roll.  I get a cookie laced with honey and a flirtation of anise.  His is better.

We catch up on our lives post-divorce.  He is a year ahead of me in the process.  He tells me about his kids.  About dating.  I tell him about not dating.  About my inability to compartmentalize.  My wish that I could.

I do not tell him about my Artist Dates.  I am not sure why.   I figure he already knows.  In the same way that I already know.  It’s just like that sometimes.  With some people.  In some places.  Like here, right now, with him.

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Like Trying To Hold On To Lightning Bugs

My mother must have the photo I am referring to...This is me and my brother, before the training wheels came off.
My mother must have the photo I am referring to. My brother and I, before the training wheels came off.

I’m trying to hold on to a new idea.  A new behavior.

It’s like trying to hold on to lightning bugs.

It’s like riding a bike for the first time without training wheels and turning around to see if mom is still holding on.

I have a photograph of myself on a pink two-wheeler.  I’m wearing a t-shirt that says A-Jerx.  (There was a whole series of these – gum and trading cards too –a play on words of household brands with artwork leaning towards the grotesque.)  My hair is in pig tails.

I remember leaning side to side, riding in an S-shape pattern trying to steely myself.  Shaky.  But most definitely upright.

Until I turn around.  My mother is several feet behind me, standing in the driveway.  She is no longer holding on.  I am delighted.  I am doing this thing.

And then I’m down on the ground.  I don’t yet know how to keep my balance looking anywhere but forward.  (Do I even now?  In all things…not just biking.)

I feel like that now.  Excited by self-awareness and the practice of new behaviors – seemingly without effort.  And yet a little uncertain at the same time.

I spent the day with my friend Pam on Saturday.  It began with gelato, moved into thrifting, dinner and ended with a stealth run to Trader Joes.  All told we were together for probably six or so hours.  And I could have kept going.

We never run out of things to talk about.  And we giggle, constantly.  When I am with her I feel like I am at a perpetual Bar Mitzvah party at Tam O’Shanter Country Club circa 1982.

Except for when we are baring our souls.  Speaking the words we only whisper to ourselves in the dark.  And being met with love and compassion, always.

It’s awesome.

I told her so on Saturday night when she was dropping me off.

We were giggling about the cute boy at Trader Joes.  The one I chatted with for 20 minutes in front of the canned beans.  The one I gave my number to a couple of weeks ago.  Who sweetly explained that he hadn’t called because things were “complicated.”

While he and I were talking, she posted on Facebook that she was watching a “love connection.”  So she was surprised that he didn’t ask me out.  That we spoke for that long.  That he seemed completely unaware that anyone else was in the store besides us.   That the chemistry, to her perspective, was palpable.  And yet, nothing.

She asked what I thought I might do about it.

“Nothing,” I replied.

He has my number.  He knows I’m interested.  And his landlord is a friend of mine.  He knows where to find me.  “It’s like you taught me,” I said.  “I don’t ever again want to be a dog begging for a bone.”

It was, as they say, a moment.  A spiritual awakening.

I also told her I decided to not contact an old flame when I head to Detroit later this month.   He’d been dancing around in my head for weeks.  And yet I hadn’t contacted him.  Suddenly I knew why.

I “played the tape.”   I realized that, best case scenario…even if I did see him,even if it was like it used to be, that I would be trading my serenity for a passport stamp at Crazy.

I had learned I’m not the kind of girl who can casually physically connect, then say, “That was fun.  I’ll see you next time I’m in Detroit.”  That I get attached.  That I want more.  Deserve more.  That my life is here, in Chicago.  Looking forward.

I told her, and here’s the kicker, I only want to date someone who I have as much fun with as I do her.

She smiled.  I knew what she was thinking.  What she has said to me so many times, “You are growing.”

Pam and I.
Pam and I.

I felt chuffed.  That great British slang my ex-mother-in-law used to use, that roughly translates to “pleased with myself.”   I felt like I had “licked this problem.  This old way of being.”

And then this morning I felt differently.

I saw Mr. Detroit on Facebook.  I immediately thought how nice it would be to catch up on nearly 20 years.  Just coffee…riiiight.

GRRR!!  I thought I “had it,” I told my friend, Lynn.

I told her how I felt like it slipped right through my fingers.  Like the lightning bugs – which half the time I cannot even believe are real, they are so magical.

I remembered all the times I thought “I got this,” in Weight Watchers.  And all the times I gained my weight back.  And then some.  I wondered what was different this time.  How it was that I had maintained a 35-pound weight loss for 11-plus years.  Through three cross-country moves, getting sober, finding my birthparents, getting divorced, and burying a birthparent.

The only answer I could come up with is that I just kept practicing the behaviors.  When they were new.  And when they weren’t so new.   Even when I didn’t feel like it.

I kept weighing and measuring.  Writing down my food.  Moving my body.  Making better choices.  Most of the time.  I haven’t been perfect.  Thank goodness that wasn’t demanded of me.

It isn’t demanded of me with Mr. Detroit.  Or Mr. Trader Joes either.  I can, and will, have these thoughts…these suggested detours to Crazy.  But I’m no longer a slave to them.  I can notice them, perhaps name them, and…not react to them.  I can do different.  And keep on doing different until different becomes the new normal.

Until it’s like riding a bike.  Which today I can do AND look over my shoulder.  Even take my hands off the handlebars, and stay upright.  No longer on the ground wondering what the hell happened.

Artist Date 31: He Played Debussy on my Naked Body. Believing in the God of Synchronicity

pianist of willesden laneLast week Stephanie W. invited me on an Artist Date.  This week Stephanie G. did.

However, unlike Stephanie W., who offered a suggestion – one that allowed me the prescribed solo experience of an Artist Date – Stephanie G invited me to join her and our mutual friend, Hallie, at the theatre.  Not solo.  Technically, not an Artist Date.

Yes, I spend this sort of time splitting these sorts of hairs.  As if the Artist Date police might show up at my door.  So I was relieved to read the following in Julia Cameron’s Walking in the World – her follow-up to The Artist’s Way, where I first became acquainted with the Artist Date.

In the section titled “Basic Tools,” Cameron writes:

“…the Artist’s Date…is assigned play…

“Synchronicity – that uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time – picks up markedly as we practice Artist’s Dates.”

Stephanie’s invitation to The Royal George Theatre for The Pianist of Willesden Lane – Artist Date 31 –felt like that, like play, like synchronicity.

I’ve been thinking about music a lot lately.  My coffers crying out for sound.

I considered Harry Connick, Jr. at the Chicago Symphony.  Tickets were pricey unless I wanted to sit in the rafters.  Which I didn’t.  I wanted to see him.  Easy on the eyes, as my friend Teresa used to say.  Sitting in the gallery section would only frustrate me.

I considered a free concert at Millenium Park.  I considered a trip to the record store.

Yet I found myself in a woefully off-center, red-velvet theatre seat, flanked by Hallie on my right, and a mercifully empty seat on my left.  A Steinway Grand (Baby Grand?  Concert Grand?) and a handful of oversized frame mirrors on stage in front of me.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane is the story of Lisa Jura.  How her commitment and passion for the piano, along with the “kindness of strangers” and some sort of higher power – call it synchronicity – saved her life during World War II.  Written and performed solo by Jura’s daughter, Mona Golabek, The Pianist of Willesden Lane is told both in words and music.

Bach. Beethoven. Rachmaninoff.

Debussy.

I feel fingertips on my body.

I am lying in bed with the former symphony conductor.  He is playing the notes on my naked body – silky strains that sound like watercolor.  Ridiculously sexy.  He is teaching me about music.  Telling me about his life.  Interlochen.  Tanglewood.  Studying with Leonard Bernstein.

I have been assigned to write the obituary for his father – a kind-hearted, heavy-hitter in the community.  We speak over the phone.  He is funny, wry.  Smart and sweet.  I find a photograph of him in the files.  He has dark hair and a beard, bright eyes and a kind smile.  He is wearing a tuxedo.  I am smitten.

We meet through a series of synchronicities, and spend the next couple of weeks in bed – with Debussy, and frequently a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Mint Oreo Cookie.  I fancy myself “Mrs. Former Conductor.”  And then it is over.

I haven’t thought about him for a long time.  But my body remembers.

Like the Holocaust survivor I interviewed.  She lost her sense of smell during the war.  She regained it more than 40 years later when she returned to Germany.  She smelled manure.  Her body remembered.

I’ve been thinking of her ever since I saw Brighton Beach Memoirs a few weeks ago with my friend Michelle.  I told her how I had the great, good fortune to interview and tell the stories of so many Holocaust survivors when I worked for the Jewish Bulletin.

I don’t hear their stories much anymore.  Most of them are gone.  Until now.

Lisa Jura arrives in London from Vienna – one of thousands of children on the Kindertransport.  She is 14.

A few years later she is a student at the Royal London School of Music.  In the evening she plays piano in a hotel bar, where she meets many admirers.  Among them a Royal Air Force commander.

He is shy.  His English is poor.  His comrades approach her with a rose and act as his translator.

He says she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.  That she must tell him when she makes her debut.  And then he is gone.  Not just from the bar, but from London.  To war.

Lisa Jura and the Royal Air Force Commander.
Lisa Jura and the Royal Air Force Commander.

And then it is over.  The war.  Just like that.

Miraculously, the commander is at her debut.  So are her two sisters.  They too have survived.

The lights go up.  Golabek steps out of Jura, and back into herself.  Post Script.  Lisa Jura immigrated to the United States.  The commander followed her, married her.  He is Golabek’s father.

I get teary.  Really teary.

I want to believe in ridiculously romantic love.  The kind I shared with the conductor.  The kind I had a glimpse of when a certain southern gentleman, upon learning I could not possibly see him again, pulled me close to him and said, “I’ll come find you.”

I want to believe in a God that allows three Jewish sisters to survive the Holocaust and then somehow find one another in post-war London.  Who then places two of them across the street from one another in Los Angeles.

I want to believe in Go(o)dness.  The go(o)dness of people who care for children that are not their own.  Who feed them.  Clothe them.  Shelter them.  Love them.  Foster their talent and dreams while a war wages outside their window.

I want to believe in the God of Synchronicity.  And I do.

A Year After the Day Before Everything Was About to Change

Wandering in Brussels with my friend, Tim.  I love putting the camera in front of faces and seeing what is captured.
With Tim, in Brussels

A year ago today I was in Brussels.

I didn’t know that everything was about to change.  Or maybe I did know.  The universe did.  Perhaps that’s why I was blessed with an extra day there, even though it didn’t feel like a blessing at the time.

I’d spent the past two days in what I’d come to call “Paris Small.”  One of them, with my old roommate Tim, who flew in from Dublin for just one night – just to be with me.  We rented an IKEA-decorated studio, a few blocks from the train station.  Its red wooden shutters opened onto the square.  It was perfect.

That day, we Skyped with Tim’s boyfriend Martin, who was living in Yorkshire.  We got our heads shaved.  Ate Belgian Waffles covered in powdered sugar, walking and talking until the sky turned navy.

I spent the next night alone.  I called my friend, Michael, my divorce pal in the States, before going to sleep.  Just as I did most nights back at home.  Ever since my ex asked me for a divorce and he and his wife also decided to separate.

The next morning, a year ago today, I arrived at the airport and learned that my plane had been grounded due to a cracked windshield.  I stood in line for more than two hours before reaching the counter to re-book my flight – surrounded by people loudly sighing and complaining.

I made friends with a gay boy from Missouri.  I watched the family in front of me – husband and wife, and almost grown kids.  They seemed nonplussed.  Almost enjoying the time.  As we approached the counter together, I commented on how happy they seemed.

“What else can we do?” the father responded.

Happy, even though they had missed the Chicago portion of their vacation.  Would miss their connection to San Francisco.  And were just hoping to recoup their time in Los Angeles.  Happy.

They wrote a list of suggestions for how I might want to spend my extra time in Brussels.

We wished each other well, and parted ways.  Me, with a voucher for a hotel room across the street, and a boarding pass for a different flight tomorrow.  No longer direct, I would fly to Frankfurt – the first airport I landed in overseas, nearly 20 years ago – before arriving in Chicago.

I took the train back to the City Centre after checking in to the hotel and retraced my steps down the cobblestone streets.  Enjoying another waffle.  Purchasing pale nougat studded with almonds and dried orange pieces to bring home as gifts.

I walked to a park overlooking the city and read in the cool sunshine.  I browsed a museum gift shop, as I arrived too late to see the exhibit.  And then I took the train back to the hotel, stopping in the airport to buy a phone card, hoping to speak with Michael again.

I tried phoning him from my room, and then realized I hadn’t put enough money on the card.  I stuffed it in my wallet and went to the lobby to take advantage of the free WiFi.

I noticed it was my friend J’s birthday while trolling Facebook.  I sent him good wishes, which he was on the other end to receive.  It was still afternoon in New York.

He told me he would be spending his birthday eating crab legs with his girlfriend.  I told him I was on my way home from Rwanda.  That I was grounded in Brussels.  That I was divorcing.  And that I was moving back to Chicago.

I threw up on him.  And then I went to dinner.

When I left Seattle nearly a month earlier, I didn’t know where I would settle.  Now I had a plan.

I arrived in Chicago the next afternoon.  (I was fortunate, for those who were able to re-book on the original flight remained grounded in Brussels for another day.)  I informed my friends I was now going by Liora – my Hebrew name – as that was what I was called in Rwanda, the result of having two Lesleys on the trip.

I had dinner with Michael.  And after, we stood under a street lamp, holding on to one another for what felt like forever.  I didn’t want to let go.  I told him I would see him in a month.

My friend Emily picked me up at the airport that evening.  She remembered what re-entry was like after spending time in Africa.  We had dinner.  She took me grocery shopping.  And then she dropped me off at home.

The cats greeted me at the door.  My then soon-to-be-ex-husband was noticeably absent.  I felt painfully alone as I rolled my hard orange suitcase into the house.

I saw Michael sooner than anticipated.  At my request, he flew to Seattle, helped me pack my car and drive home.  We stayed with friends of mine in Missoula and Bozeman.  I shot a gun for the first and only time somewhere between the two cities.

2012-08-31 10.30.32
Hiking in the Badlands.

We camped along the Missouri River, under a blue moon, at Teddy Roosevelt National Park.  Hiked the Badlands the next day, and stopped somewhere outside of Fargo that night, sharing a room at The Bison Inn.

We stayed with my college roommates on our final stop in Minneapolis.  They stuffed us with homemade treats.  Michael replaced the radiator in my 2000 Honda Civic.  It failed just as we were entering the city.  My job was to hand him the tools he called for.

We arrived home the day before Labor Day, around 11 p.m.  I dropped him off at home in his questionable neighborhood, sobbing on the front lawn.

July 19, 2012.  I didn’t know everything was about to change.  That, in many ways, it would be the last day of my “previous life.”   How could I?  And yet, how could I not?

I believe my brain was protecting me from that which I could not yet conceive of.

My divorce was final a little more than 10 months ago.  I live alone for the first time in my life.  I buried my birth mother in the spring.

I felt new lips over mine for the first time in many, many years.  And I watched my heart crack open.  Then again.  And again.

A couple of weeks ago, I initiated the process of separating our monies.  When that is complete, only our condominium, which we rent out, will bind us – financially.

I applied for a job today.  The first in more than 11 years.  I’m excited.  Fingers crossed.

This morning, two women commented that I sounded really good.  A third asked for my blog address.  Later, my friend Jess asked if I could have imagined how much I would have healed by now.  It struck me as funny, as I didn’t feel particularly healed.  I decided to trust her perspective, and that of the three other women.

I wrote J a birthday greeting.  I wished him what I wish for everyone I love – joy and the causes of joy.  And then I wished him something special – something  just for him:  a nice piece of liver for dinner.

He knew exactly what it meant.  And suggested a watermelon instead.  I laughed out loud.

It is comforting to know not everything has changed since July 19, 2012.  To know that some things have survived.  Friendship.  Love.   Shared memories and private jokes.  And most of all, me.

Artist Date 30: Among the Flora, Invited Out

Stephanie
Stephanie

One of my readers invited me on an Artist Date.  Number 30.

Actually, she’s a friend…and a reader.  Her name is Stephanie.  Last week, she sent me an email inviting me to the Bucktown Tree and Garden Walk.  Hers would be among the 80-plus featured.

I was touched, delighted that she had somehow become “involved” enough in my story, in my process, to join in, to help me along.

So Saturday morning I pedal my vintage Raleigh to her neighborhood.  The day is sunny and hot, but not humid.  A Chicago miracle.

I tie up my bike at Club Lucky and buy a ticket for the walk. In exchange for $5, I receive a map of the gardens with descriptions of each, access to a complimentary trolley, and a coupon for $10 my next meal of $35 or more.

I hear my name called.  It is a woman I used to know.  I didn’t recognize her.  She isn’t surprised to see me.  She heard I moved back to town.  That I am divorced.  Chicago feels like a small town.  It is comforting.

We embrace.  And I jump back on my bike, headed to Stephanie’s, forgoing the trolley.

Her partner Errol is on the porch painting, plein air.  She is inside sautéing onions and baking a pizza – snacks for the other artists expected today.

She gives me a tour of her home, its walls spilling over with her artwork, Errol’s and that of other creatives.  Her first still life hangs in the stairwell.  It is a pear.  Or is it an onion and ramps?  There are several, grouped together.  I don’t recall.  In some ways it doesn’t really matter.  Her raw natural talent is obvious.  It is the kind that makes me wonder why I bother.

Stephanie and Toulousse
Stephanie and Toulouse

I meet her cat Toulouse, and a black one whose name escapes me.  He is missing some bone in his head, which makes his face appear somewhat smushed.

I leave my helmet and my basket with her, and receive explicit directions to stop by Sam and Nick’s.  She points out their location on the map.  “Just tell them we sent you.”

On the way I stop at my first floral garden, (Stephanie and Errol’s was planted with art – some framed and hanging.  Other funky and environmental.  A striped sidewalk created with a power washer and wood planks.  Painted sticks growing out of the soil.  Their colors “changing” from orange to green depending on your position.  Like a painting by the Israeli artist, Agam.)

Marsha is watering plants.  She seems surprised to see me.  Actually, many of the garden owners do.  As if they have forgotten that the garden walk is today.

She shows me her zinnias and her tomatoes.  Nothing remarkable, but lovely. Sweet.  Growing.

Walking into the private space of a stranger, I am reminded of being in Amsterdam.  According to my Frommer’s guide residents intentionally keep their shutters open – proud of their homes, inviting a peek inside.

This is Marsha’s first season in the garden.  She moved in recently, leaving the suburbs and joining her husband in the city.  Her house is on the market and she is keeping her fingers crossed.  She gives me hope – seeing her in this new space, putting down roots, with a partner.  And also knowing that she had a life all her own before this change.  And I assume, to a certain degree, still does.

I don’t tell her any of this.  Instead I tell her about my recollections of Amsterdam, how I recently killed a cactus, and about being invited on an Artist Date by her neighbor.  I run my hands through a tomato plant and bring them to my face.  I love the smell.  I rub my hands on my neck, as if putting on the earth’s fragrance.  I thank her and say goodbye.

2013-07-13 12.31.31

A wading pool is set up at the corner of Hoyne and Moffat, along with a glass bubbler filled with ice water, cucumber, melon and strawberries.  A few chairs are perched in the shade of a tree.  There is a note, “Relax and Hydrate.”  I fill up my water bottle and keep moving.

I stop at Nick and Sam’s.  Sam is wearing a white bee keeper’s hat.  I go inside and talk with Nick about his artwork.  Striking etchings using photos from the Kinsey Institute.  He points out the racy elements because I don’t see them – not at first.

I admire his collection of roller-skate cases lined up on a shelf, each with a tag hanging from it – letting him know what is stored inside.

I visit more than a dozen gardens.  Some consisting of little more than sod on a double-wide lot – one with a basketball net and cement court, another with a large inflatable swimming pool.  Two toddler girls in matching hot pink bathing suits and white sun hats are wading in it.  Their limbs, deliciously chunky.

Others sit on top of garages, tucked behind homes.

I follow arrows and stairs climbing up.  Water spills out of the wall and is caught in a ceramic bowl, a chalice.  Suspiciously clean, striped pads sit on top of teak furniture.  Several blue umbrellas block the sun.  A man, presumably the owner, offers me a bottle of water from a cooler.  I feel like I am at a spa.

At another, an intruder.  I am greeted by a man eating his lunch under a wooden canopy covered with vines, listening to the radio.  His daughter hangs shyly behind him, swaying side to side, her head following her hips.

Most of the homes are noticeably without “hosts.”  Only a laminated card, with a number corresponding to the map, identifies them as part of the walk.

I had expected storybook gardens, like something from the south.  Manicured.  Dense.  Sweetly pungent.  Or wild and overgrown, with tall, smiling sunflowers – like my favorite one in Mendocino, a sleepy resort town on the northern California coast.  A sign implores visitors to photograph, but to refrain from picking.

Instead I encounter mostly neatly trimmed hedges, modest groupings of plants and flowers that clearly thrive, creative use of small space —bringing nature into the city.

2013-07-13 12.54.05I remember moving to Chicago the first time, in 2007.  I was heart-sick for San Francisco.  For pastel-painted Victorians, rolling fog and rolling green hills.  I made it my mission to take the most beautiful path I could wherever I went.  The one with the most trees, prettiest homes.  I had forgotten about that.

Eventually I settled into Chicago.  My surroundings ceased to be new.  And I ceased to notice them.  Until today.

I return to Stephanie and Errol’s to pick up my things.  A few of Errol’s painter friends are here.  They ask if I am a painter.  I shake my head.  I tell them that I am a writer, a dancer, a frustrated potter.  A girl on an Artist Date, being reminded of the loveliness all around me.

When You See Yourself…or, Memory is Tricky

black beautyI stopped calling my ex by his name in writing.

It happened a little while ago, when a friend casually asked me if he minded being named.  I didn’t know.  So, I asked.

He said it didn’t matter.  But I stopped anyway.  As a show of respect.  To allow him to retain his anonymity among those who don’t know him, or me, or “us.”   And quite possibly, as another way of letting go.

I have a habit of inserting lost loves names into conversation, just to make them real.  To keep it, them, alive.  I didn’t think I was doing that with my ex – but maybe I was.

I started thinking about naming people.  I don’t do it often.  When I do, I ask myself why, and how they might feel about it.

Some people love it.  It brings attention to their art.  Or it feels like an honoring of our relationship.  On occasion, it has led to a burgeoning friendship, like with a local actress to whom I owe a phone call.

But for others, it has caused pain.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend took exception to the moniker I had assigned him.  He called me out on it – citing the sometimes negative connotations associated with it, per Wikipedia.

I was devastated.  I adore him – perhaps too much so, sometimes.  After receiving his email, I phoned him immediately.

I did not pause – even though I know better.

I got his voicemail and I left a message.  I said I regretted causing him any pain, that it was never my intention.  I shared my interpretation of the moniker.  I told him that he was my teacher.  That he inspired me.  And I told him I loved him.

That was about a month ago.  I haven’t heard a peep.  I am letting him have his space, his own experience.  This is new for me.

Something similar happened between my mother and me.

I had written about my over-emotional nature as a child – recounting a story that took place in the dollar movie theatre.   She remembered the situation differently than I.  She too called me out on it.

This time I did pause.  And because the harm was done electronically, I made amends in the same way.  I told her I was sorry that my writing had caused her pain, just as I had done with my friend.

This time the result was different.

It led us to a conversation about memory.  How tricky it is.  How three people can see the same accident and yet each remembers a different color, a different make car.

call of the wildA few weeks later I received a package in the mail from her.  Inside was a vintage copy of Black Beauty that she found in an antique store.  Actually, it is two books in one.  Black Beauty on one side.  The Call of the Wild on the other.

The memory in question was in regard to The Black Stallion, but I got it.  Completely.  I was touched by her sweet gesture, her way of letting me know we are more than fine.

A couple of days ago I posted a blog about exs.  One of them commented – favorably.

I wrote to him, “I trust you recognized yourself.”  He did, and we began chatting — online.

We too talked about memory.  About the last time we saw one another, on Venice Beach.   I had just returned my roller skates.

I remember him calling my name.  Going to him.  And him asking if he could see me.  I remembered him kissing me.  He didn’t.  He remembered me angry.  I didn’t.

I asked him what happened between us.  I never understood.  I had asked before but he never answered, and I didn’t push it.  This time he told me.

He told me that I awakened something in him.

He told me how he remembered me. Kind.  Open.  Dirty.  Loving.

He told me our time together mattered, that I mattered.  That I was important in his life, as he had been in mine.

I asked him if we might speak.  Moments later we were.

I had forgotten what his voice sounded like.  Seventeen years had passed since we had last spoken.   I felt a strange sense of relief mixed with joy.  As if to say, “Oh, there you are.  Of course.”   As if he had been there all along.  Which in some ways, he had.

A flood of memories came rushing back.  Hazy.  Not completely formed.  Together, we tried to put together the pieces.

We talked for about an hour, tripping down memory lane.  Talking about our lives today.  The time in between.  Slipping in the occasional flirty quip.  We were always like that.

I wanted to tell him I loved him, but I didn’t.  Instead, I let him know that he is in my heart and I am grateful to know I am still in his.  It is more accurate.

I feel like a piece fell into place in my life.  And a peace, as well.

Plant Whisperer

dying plantI killed a cactus.

Actually three of them.  And two succulents.

One of the cacti sat in a beautiful terrarium – a gift from a friend.  I took it to the shop owner and he replaced it with a sweet baby succulent, along with specific instructions.  Water once a month.  Half a cup, using a dropper.  The succulent gets an extra watering mid-month.  Ditto for the larger succulent, a jade, I bought the same day.

The baby succulent wilted to nothing – is lying flaccid upon itself.  One of the cacti, like the first, is about to go.  And one is gone. Dead.  Dried up.  As if it had never been there.

And the jade?

I bought it in response to the suggestion I don’t date for a year.  An homage to Leviticus – to the prescribed year without planting and harvesting that follows seven years of specific crop rotation, allowing the soil to rest, regenerate, to become prepared.

I remember sitting in meditation and the imagery coming to me, followed by the thought, “I am the soil.”  And then, “I should get a plant.”

All went well for a few weeks.  And then it appeared to perhaps be outgrowing its container.  (The shop owner assured me it wouldn’t for at least five years.)  The soil seemed constantly dry, even though I followed watering directions to the letter – sitting it in the sink and letting the faucet run until water leaked out of the bottom.

Now, two sad, pale green stalks remain.

Normally, I would laugh about this.  I never have had terribly good luck with plants.  Except for mint.  And even that dried up eventually.  However, this jade had come to be a symbol of me taking care of me, of my own soil.  So its demise makes me more than a little uneasy.

I remember coming home with it.  Talking to it.  (I never talked to a plant before.)  I told it I didn’t know how to care for it.  That it would have to tell me how.

I recently read a piece in Oprah about a woman who claimed to have a black thumb.  She planted a garden and she got weeds.

One day a friend informed her that her weeds weren’t just any weeds – that they were delicacies in Japan, good for cooking.

But her cooking was like her gardening — yielding less-than-desired results.   Until she asked for help.

She took the weeds to a chef in New York.  He taught her how to cook them.  And she kept bringing them.  Eventually selling them to the restaurant, and about 100 others.

A couple of years ago, she and the chef wrote a cookbook together – Foraged Flavor .  She quit her job as legal counsel to devote herself fulltime to her new work.

And my dead plants?  What are they, the universe, God, trying to tell me – besides that I too have a black thumb?  As my friend Stan likes to say, “What’s the lesson?  What’s the gift?”

That sometimes conditions are just too unfavorable – that the plants needed a little bit of light and received none?  That other people – even shop owners, even experts – don’t always have the answers?  That I can follow directions and still get shitty results – that nothing is guaranteed?

That things die?  That I need to pay attention to what is still living (barely) and nurture that?

That the soil is poor, needs nutrients?  That my year off is ending early?

I don’t know.

The plants have proven themselves to be quiet messengers.  I will continue to ask, and to listen closely.