Artist Date 40: Dublin, A Fillling Station

I am not as healed as I thought I was.  I hate that.

It is September 16.  One year to the day since my divorce was finalized in the state of Washington

I arrive in Dublin for Tim and Martin’s wedding.  Everything is new.  Everything is the potential Artist Date.

Full-fat yogurt in glass jars with rhubarb layered on top.  Breakfast at the airport Spar.

A bus ride to Trinity College followed by a taxi to Tim’s house.  The driver’s brogue so thick I make out only about a third of what he says.  Among it, “Is your liver ready for your visit?”

A shower.  Tim shows me how to turn it on.  It is not intuitive to my jet-lagged American mind.  He shows me how the heat booster works.

So much shiny newness.  Other-ness.  And yet…my mind and my mouth reverts to my divorce like a rubber band.  Anger toward my ex-husband I didn’t know was there.  Anger that the dissolution of my marriage is so much a part of my story, my identity – still.  In journalistic terms, it is “what I lead with.”

By design the Artist Date is an individual endeavor, although I’ve played fast and loose with that dictate.  But it is in my alone moments here, in Dublin, where I find my grounding, my feet under me, and I am able to open myself to everything outside of me.  I discover this on my third day here, when I peel off for a few hours on my own – Artist Date 40.

The Thai storefront where I eat noodles out of a cardboard container with chopsticks, sitting on a bench on the sidewalk with locals.

2013-09-20 09.17.50St. Stephen’s Green.  I stumble on to it.  I feel like I have wandered into Central Park from the Upper East Side.  Or am perhaps along the Seine, as here too artists line up their wares.

It is sunny and mild.  Long legs stretched out on the grass.  Suits eating sandwiches on wooden benches.  I snap photographs of the geese wandering outside of the pond before they change their mind and retreat to the water.

Break dancers on Grafton Street.  A large circle forms around a gaggle of boys dressed in yellow.  Each takes a turn in the center.  I want to jump in with them.  Spin on my head.  Be a part of the dance.  Or at the very least, clap.  But I am filming them – a step removed from full presence.

I meet Steven in front of the bank at the corner of Grafton and Nassau Streets, eager to share my finds.  I take him for Pad Thai and to St. Stephen’s Green, stopping first in front of a band set up on the street.  There is a cajon, a xylophone, an accordion. A saxophone that sounds like a snake charmer.  I grab Steven’s hand and we break into spontaneous dance in the street – swing style.

I haven’t danced with Steven since my wedding in 2001.  My shirt is rising up at the waist, exposing my belly.  The cajon player is looking at me.  Is he looking at my belly?  Or my ear-to-ear grin?  Someone is filming us.  Another couple joins in.  I feel deliriously in love with the world.  With myself.  That I am the kind of woman who breaks into spontaneous dance on the streets of Dublin.

2013-09-20 10.03.54Next day we visit Kilmainham Gaol, Ireland’s most “famous” jail, and the National Museum of Ireland – History and Decorative Arts.  We hop on and hop off a red double-decker bus.  We are quintessential tourists – sans fanny pack and white sneakers.

Inside Kilmainham we receive explicit directions not to wander off from our guide and group, lest we get lost.

We peer into cells, stand in others.  We learn about its political prisoners.  Its leaders.  Women in the fight for independence.  And how, during the potato famine, some vied for a spot in this overcrowded, infected, squalid place – five to a cell with one bowl of watery soup a day – because it was better than life on the streets.

We wander into a furniture exhibit at the History and Decorative Arts Museum.  It is cool and retro.  1950s.  I remember Steven’s desire to make furniture.  I tell him about my ex-boyfriend J – how his first foray into woodworking resulted in a Mission-style bed and side table.  He is a creative genius.

I visit the collection of Adolph Mahr – an Irish Jew who immigrated to San Francisco in his teens and became a pillar in the fine arts community.  I witness the unfolding of Eileen Gray’s career – home furnishings artisan come environmental designer.

Eileen Gray, at the beginning of her career.
Eileen Gray.

That evening, I sit next to Helen, Martin’s cousin from Sheffield, at a cocktail crawl – sans cocktail.  I tell her about the gaol.  The Jewish collector and the designer.

It reminds me of a conversation I had a few months ago.  Thick in the newness of my Artist Dates, telling a man I just met about the biography I was reading.  The small theatre production I had just seen.  The couture exhibit at the History Museum.

I felt smart.  Interesting.  Artistic.  That I was the woman I had always hoped to be.  Or am at least becoming.

I feel that way again tonight.

I have something else to discuss, following so many days of talk about relationships.

I am more than my marriage.  My divorce.  My flirtations.

I already know this.  I remember it in the stillness of being alone – where I can bring the outside in.  A filling station.

Advertisements

Love Letter to My Farnow, From the Dancing Queen

Farnow, new and old. Martin, Tim and I.

The side of my face is pressed to yours.  I feel your beard against my cheek.  The bone of your right pelvis against my own.  Your leg gently, but firmly, straddling mine.

You dance tango.  But we are not dancing tango.

No matter, it is the sexiest dance I’ve ever had in my life.  I’m certain of it.

I have not danced like this in more years than I can count.

I am referring not only to the leg between mine.  Or the man, 10 years my junior, to whom it belongs.  But to the friends surrounding me.  My farnow, the Kiwi word roughly translated as “family of choice.”  Farnow I’ve known for 20 years.  Farnow I’ve known for just 20 minutes.

We are dancing to Patti LaBelle.  Donna Summer.  The Cure.  New Order.  All of us.  Like we did in Detroit.  In San Francisco.  When I was 20-something and it didn’t feel like “a thing” to stay up late to go dancing.

I am sweaty.  Low to the ground.  All hips and legs.  I feel vital.  Sexy.  Alive.

“You are in a very good place,” my friend Steven tells me.  He is right.  I am.

But not for the reasons you think.

This isn’t a story about sex.

Steven and I.  Old Farnow.
Steven and I. Old Farnow.

This is a story about recognizing another one of my teachers.  About the universe tapping me on the shoulder, inquiring exactly where I am with the old idea I tossed into Lake Michigan – along with stale bread. the ritual of tashlich – on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, just a few weeks ago.

The day I muttered, “I let go of the idea that I am only good for sex.”  Over and over, like a mantra.  The notion being that I might be attractive to men for more reasons than this.

Prior to my marriage, I used my sexuality like a calling card.  A year outside of its dissolution, I’m not sure what is.  Or if I have one at all.

Earlier in the evening, we did a different sort of dance.  Flirty.  My ass to your ass.  My back to your chest.  Your leg between mine for the first time.

“Is this ok?” you ask.  Yes, I nod.  It is more than ok.  I cannot stop grinning.

And then…you are sitting on a stool, no longer dancing.  I am not quite sure what has happened.  I think it has something to do with the girl sitting next to you, but I am not certain.

I do not want to interfere with anyone’s real life.  I am on holiday.  This flirtation is fun.  But I do not want to hurt anyone.  So I leave it be.  I leave you be.  Mostly.

I dance with Steven and Tim.  Anja and Derek.  Anne-Marie and Tom.  Everyone but you.  I ask G-d to help me to be to be present to the people who are with me and not to worry about those who are not.

Later, when you are alone, I apologize for possibly getting you into trouble with a girl.  You insist I have not.  But that you are certain I am one to get into trouble.  You are teasing me.

I tell you it is incredibly sexy when you reach down between your legs to tap on the cajon – the box drum – which I saw you do the other night, playing music with my friend, Tim.

I notice you don’t drink.  Neither do I.  We talk about living life feeling everything.  “EVERYTHING,” you say slowly, emphatically, with a knowing smile.

We talk about G-d.  That yours is like Star Wars, “The Force.”  That mine is magic, poetry and serendipity.  The kind of stuff I couldn’t think up myself.

You ask me about my work.  My Judaism.  My writing.  We talk about your music, the religion of your upbringing, and our friendship with Tim.

I tell you I enjoyed dancing with you.  You smile and reply that you enjoyed talking with me.  I am flummoxed.  It is as if the universe is asking, “Remember your taslich mantra?  The one about being attractive for other reasons…Are you paying attention?”

Anne-Marie and I.  New Farnow.
Anne-Marie and I. New Farnow.

We dance that slow, sexy dance, and say goodbye.  I kiss either of your cheeks, feeling your beard against me again.  I ask if I will see you again on this trip.  “G-d willing.  Allah willing,” you say, and list a couple of other names for G-d, but I do not hear them.  I am touched by your response.

And you are gone.

I go back to the floor and join my farnow and dance until DJ Gerry can play no more.  I think about you whispering in my ear that I could surely tango.  That I am a good dancer, but I must know this already.

I do not see you again.  I am a little bit sad, but not at all surprised.  It isn’t necessary.  I have received your teaching.

I want to tell you this.  And that my meeting you is a wink from the universe – is G-d.  But I do not.  It seems too intimate.  Too much.

So I blog instead.  My sober artistry.  A kind of “love letter,” sans stamp.  Destination: Dublin, Ireland.  I sign it,

“Until ‘the force’ conspires for us to meet again.  In gratitude, Lesley.”

Artist Date 39: Story of O (pen)

This Yom Kippur, this Day of Atonement (or At One Ment, depending on your school of thought), my Rabbi spoke about being open, and staying open – vulnerable.  To change.  To transformation.

story of oThis is a story about open.

I am anxious to write it.  It is so tender, so personal.  And yet…I have given voice to seemingly every other experience in this year following my divorce.  Specifically regarding the season of suggested “not dating,” and the process of creatively romancing myself on a weekly basis vis a vis, the Artist Date.

I am standing in front of a wall of condoms.  It is 11:30 a.m.  I need supplies.

I pulled into the Pleasure Chest on the way home from leading a Weight Watchers meeting – Artist Date 39.

I took a lover last week.

We are in wildly different places in our lives.  Not surprisingly, we want and need wildly different things.  And we are wildly attracted to one another.

He’s younger than I – which is brand new to me.  He captured my attention with a flirty quip in regards to my Artist Dates.  Something like “I’m not sure what these entail…but I qualify as an artist (I think), and I am free tomorrow.”  (Insert flush across my cheeks, across my chest, here.)

But I wasn’t.  Or the next day.  Or the next.

Until Rosh Hashanah night – the same date my divorce was final last year, on the Hebrew calendar – when the gods saw fit for me to tell a new story.

The days leading up were ripe with sexy texts and suggestive emails.  And our nights together made good on what had been promised in words.

Yummy.  Naughty.  Playful.  And then, Over.

“We can’t do this,” we agreed.  That while decidedly delicious, an ongoing entanglement couldn’t meet either of our more pressing needs.  And might even cause us harm.

Usually I would be devastated by such a fleeting romance.  But I’m not.  I see it all as a gorgeous transition.  A little poke (no pun intended) from the universe that I have opened myself up just a little bit more.  To sex.  To love.  To possibilities.

That’s not to say that I don’t miss the attention, being pursued, and getting to know someone new.  Yes, he is in fact, another artist.  Darling.  Smart and sweet.  But not “the one.”  At least not now.

This is new to me too.  Not trying to make him “the one.”

I used to insist, “this time is different.”  Until my friend Teresa gently pointed out, “It’s always different…and it never is.”  She was right.  It was the same story over and over.  Me believing that he, whomever he was at that moment, had the power to make me beautiful, desirable, whole.

My young artist didn’t make me those things.  He merely held up the mirror.

Being an addict, I (of course) want more.  But I am not acting on those desires.  I am respecting our decision.  Respecting him.  Respecting me.  Respecting us.  And trusting there will be more, with someone (s) else.

And so, I find myself standing in front of this wall of condoms, not for “us,” but for the future.

There are the usual suspects.  Trojans.  Kimono.  Durex.  Latex and non-latex.  Flavored.  Ribbed.  Knobbed.  And some I don’t know.  Plaid boxes.  Sir Richard’s.  Sounds fancy.

sir richardsI am certain any will do.  But for some reason, I decide to call in the experts.  I walk over to the glass counter.  On the other side is a woman with a mess of red curls, funky glasses and a great big smile.  Her name is Sara.

I tell her I need some help.  That I haven’t bought condoms in a while.  That I recently took my first lover since my divorce.  The first man I’ve been with, other than my ex, in 15 years.

“Congratulations,” she says.  “On the divorce.  And the lover.”

She comes around the glass and we walk over to the wall together, where she educates me on the finer points of my choices.  I am reminded of the years I spent at wine tastings, discussing the subtleties of nose and terroir.  Sara approaches our conversation with the same mix of knowledge, passion and joy.

This is what she tells me:

Latex isn’t what it used to be.  It no longer smells like Goodyear Tires when the foil is ripped open.

Stay away from the Trojans.  Too thick.

Pleasure dots are nice for both.  There’s a little pouch on the underside that creates friction.

One brand is nice.  Doesn’t taste bad.

“I’d stick with these,” she says, gesturing to Skyn, Kimono, One and Sir Richard’s.  “Or you might want to consider a sampler pack.  Includes a couple of dental dams and latex gloves.”

She leaves me to shop and reminds me she is available if I have any questions.

So many choices.  I remember coming home from Rwanda last summer, standing in front of the yogurt selections at Whole Foods and bursting into tears – overwhelmed by the abundance.  I feel a little bit the same way.

I pull down a couple of boxes and choose a variety pack from Sir Richard’s – purple and grey plaid.  Made in Boulder.  For each condom purchased, one is donated in a developing country.  A little altruism with my orgasm.  Nice.  I also grab a small box of non-latex Skyn.  I don’t have a latex allergy but, someone else might.

I take a quick spin through the aisles before I leave.  DVDs.  Vibrators.  Strap Ons.  Lube.  I grab a bottle of Sliquid and meet Sarah at the register.

She excuses herself from the couple she is assisting with harnesses.

She nods approvingly at my choices, runs my credit card through, and slips a flyer listing free workshops in the bag.  All of them have passed.

Before I leave, she tells me that she divorced more than 15 years ago, and more than made it through.  “I learned how to advocate for myself sexually,” she adds.  “It’s been great.”

I believe her.  Both on the advocating and on the great.  I’ve already opened myself to it.

Artist Date 38: Creating Community…It’s Not About the Shoes

I don’t know if I filled my creative coffers this week.  By my spiritual and social ones are brimming over.  And that will have to do this week for Artist Date 38.

Overlooking Lake Michigan, at Dawes Park.
Overlooking Lake Michigan, at Dawes Park.

Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. 5774.  I’m at Dawes Park in Evanston for the ritual of tashlich – where we empty bread from our pockets into a body of moving water.  Some think of it as casting away one’s sins.  I prefer a gentler interpretation.  That I am simply cleaning out the residue of the last year.  Whatever is stale.  Has been sitting around in the corners of my consciousness slowly growing a somewhat furry mold.

I’ve stuffed a package of naan bread in my bag.  It’s been in my freezer since November.  A friend brought it to a party I had, to go with the curried lentil soup I was making.  I’m not much of a bread eater, so I tucked it away for just such an occasion.

Another woman has matzo.  I could have brought that two.  I buy too much every year.

It is my third High Holiday season with the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, so I know where we meet.  But this year is different.  I not only know the place, but I know many of the people here too.

My friend Phil is here with his family.  He introduced me to this congregation – specifically the Rabbi — a number of years ago, when I was feeling particularly wayward and spiritually lost.

Since that time I have developed a close relationship with Rabbi Brant and Cantor Howard.   They are tuning up for this short, mostly musical, service that precedes the tossing of the bread.  Jeff is tuning up as well.  We met a couple of years ago at a Shabbat morning service I attended just once.

He seemed to sense I was new and somewhat hesitant, and warmly welcomed me in.  I have had several encounters with him since them.  Perhaps my favorite being when he sidled up to me during last year’s High Holiday services.

He said he read my blog postings from Rwanda and that he liked my writing.  I thanked him and told him I used to write professionally.  “It shows,” he said.  And was gone.

Moments before I had silently cried out to G-d, asking what the plan is, what it is I was meant to do.  I recall looking up toward the heavens, smiling and saying, “got it.”

Mary Jo is here.  Brant introduced us several years ago when I completed my conversion to Judaism.  She joined him and Howard as my witnesses, and was there in that same role when I received my get, my Jewish divorce.

I am now on her permanent invite list for Passover, and the breaking of the fast on Yom Kippur.

I feel a tap on my shoulder.  It is Rachel.  She is a Weight Watchers member I know.

Monica is here with her family.  We met at Shabbat services at the lakefront a couple of years ago.  Michael is here too.  He blows the shofar every year at High Holiday services.  He introduces me to his daughters who are following in the family tradition.

I see Hannah.  She used to wear her head shaved like mine but now she has a mass of ringlets.  She tells me that she’s bought a condo and that she broke up with her boyfriend.  She introduces me to her friend Kelly and we agree we must get together.

A woman I have never met before approaches me.  Her name is Sheila.  She likes my shoes and takes a photograph of them.

Yes, they are “the shoes.”  The shoes that have seemingly come to identify me.  My orange Fly London peep-toe wedges.

The shoes...
The shoes…

The first summer I owned them, people literally chased me down Michigan Avenue to find out what they were and where I got them.  It was fun, talking with all sorts of people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.  And today is no exception.

Walking to the water, a tall woman with a mess of dark curls puts her foot next to mine.  “Nice shoes,” she says.  She is wearing the same ones in pewter.

She tells me she is tossing out the year of rehabbing her broken wrist.  It is healed.  I do not tell her what I am tossing.  Instead, I tell her I like our shoes so much that I have two pairs.  That the second I bought before my divorce was final, when my then-husband kindly said, “Do what you need to before we separate our monies.”

I bought a new lightweight massage table, a Torah commentary, and the peep-toe wedges in mustard.  We laugh at my choices.

I wish her a sweet New Year and peel off to throw my bread, my karmic residue.  There are so many things I could get rid of.  The litany that I repeat every year – self-doubt, unkindness, judgment of myself and others.  I recall that last year I tossed away my identity as a wife.

It was a Monday.  I knew divorce papers were signed on Mondays in the county where we filed.  I had a sinking feeling at that moment that I was officially divorced.  A call to my mediator later in the day confirmed it.

Today I am casting away what my friend Lisa likes to call “an old idea.”  I am embarrassed to admit that I have continued to hold on to it.  Actually, I’m not sure I was consciously aware that I had it, but a series of recent events has cast a glaring light upon it and I can no longer turn away.

I point myself east, tear off a piece of naan and whisper to myself, “I let go of the idea that I am only desirable for sex.”

It is windy and the naan flies back at me.  I turn west off of the dock where the waters are still.  I repeat the words.

I’ve got a lot of naan so I say it a couple of more times, ripping and tossing.  Ripping and tossing.

When I am done, I am approached by a woman.  She asks me about the shoes.  She is radiant and I tell her so.  She tells me about her job search.  Her cancer.

I suddenly remember that people used to tell me things about themselves all of the time.  Friends and family, and random, almost strangers too.  Cab drivers especially.  I realize people are talking to me in this way again.

It’s not the shoes.  Because I wore the same ones last year…I am different.  My heart has healed just enough to let some of my light shine out.  I am open and there is room for others.  They sense it and come in.

Artist Date 37: Before I Was a We: San Francisco Days, San Francisco Nights

I love a Woody Allen movie.  How it is always unmistakably his, from its first moment.  Jazz crackling through a phonograph.  Names in vintage font scrolling across the screen, inviting me in.  Makes me think of Buster Keaton or some other silent-movie great.  Another time.  Dreamy and romantic.

blue jasmineLike San Francisco, where Blue Jasmine takes place – Artist Date 37.

Sitting in the Davis  Theatre, I am home – to this place I lived for 14 years.  To familiar street names like Van Ness and Post.  And the windmill at Ocean Beach.  The sky is a pale, whitish-grey.  Fog.  Wind.  Like it usually is, as opposed to some Hollywood idea of the California coast.

The shots of Marina Green are spot on.  South Park too…although it would have been a long walk there from 305 South Van Ness, where Jasmine is coming from, into the final scene.  A solid half hour or more.  But this is something only a San Franciscan would know.

Like knowing Noe Street is pronounced “No E” and not “No,” as it was incorrectly called on Party of Five, the 90s Fox hit show.

Like knowing the Dirty Harry movies filmed prior to the Loma Prieta earthquake – when the Central Freeway still ran along the Embarcadero.

When I moved to Chicago in 2007, every sentence out of my mouth began with, “In San Francisco…”  It took a long time for me to even consider letting go of my identity as an adopted Californian.  (I grew up outside of Detroit.)

It is one of the things that kept my ex and I together, and that ultimately tore us apart.

We came here united in our assertion that the Bay Area was the only place worth living.  Hubris, in a New York center-of-the-universe sort of way.  We identified as “other,” “different.”  And we were certain that this was a mere sojourn.

But I got schooled.  My eyes opened.  I quit expecting Chicago to be San Francisco (or Oakland, where also lived).  I was able to see all that was right with this place Frank Sinatra called “my kinda town.”  And I fell in love.

We never said it, but with this simple opening up, I broke our unspoken rule.  I “betrayed” us.

I’m not thinking about that today, sitting in the darkened theatre.  Instead, I am thrust back to a time before that, before us.  My single San Francisco.  The place where I became a grown up.  Sort of.

Chinatown.  Teresa would send me here on days when I was blue, with explicit instructions to treat myself to something inexpensive and wonderful.  A silk change purse or lipstick case with a mirror inside.  Embroidered slippers.  Each just a few dollars.

chinatownMarina Green.  Rachel lived nearby on Chestnut Street.  Every Saturday I would walk from my apartment in Haight-Ashbury to her tony neighborhood for brunch and the hope of spotting the former conductor I used to date.

South Park.  The DJ took me to this then-off-the-beaten-path hip, cool patch of green for lunch.  I wanted it to be a date, but it wasn’t.  I knew what he was available for when I invited him to come by my apartment following his shift at the after-hours club.  I thought I could change his mind.  I couldn’t.

He was kind, and we developed one of those painful friendships – the kind where I waited for the day he would look at me and realize I had been there all along… loyal.  And then pick me.  Strangely, we did pick one another from time to time over the years…but never for the long haul.

He spun records at my wedding.  That was his gift to me.  I saw him in San Francisco the last time I was there.  Over noodles, he recalled our unorthodox wedding.  That I was the only bride he knew that danced to the Sex Pistols.  His words fell onto the table with a thud.  Neither my then-husband nor I said a word.

On the drive home, my now-ex asked me for a divorce.

Perhaps I let go of my strong San Francisco attachment because it was “ours.”  Blue Jasmine reminded me of what was mine – alone.

Wednesday night disco at Stud Bar.  Day-long walks through Golden Gate Park.  Burritos the size of my head at Taqueria Cancun.

A reclaiming.

golden gate