Artist Date 77: Rekindling the Romance

I am writing my morning pages – one of two “core practices” in The Artist’s Way, my unofficial roadmap through the past two years of transition – the daily purging of random thoughts taking up real estate in my head.  It is Saturday, the end of the week, and I realize I have not planned an Artist Date (The Artist’s Way other core practice) for myself.

2014-05-24 15.20.01A part of me rejoices in my loosening the vice grip I seem to have on everything.  A part of me laments.

Am I entering the transition from passionate love to either compassionate love or break up?   The six-month mark in a relationship when partners finally rouse themselves from bed and can think of something other than sex and one another.

If it is, I’ve had a hell of a run – 77 weeks of Artist Dates and only recently have I become somewhat bored, lazy with the idea of planning a solo excursion for myself.

Trouble is, I am the type that loves to be in love – the first six-months girl, as evidenced by my blogs.  The Southern Svengali.  Mr. 700 Miles.  My Divorce Buddy.  Ridiculously romantic stories with heartbreaking endings.

My lament is about wanting to hold on to my ridiculously romantic story with myself – with my Artist’s Dates.

——————–

Italy – quite possibly the sexiest, most romantic place on the planet – calls like a siren.

I Google “volunteer, Italy” and in minutes am poring over possibilities.

I have volunteered overseas twice before – in the South of France and in Rwanda (the trip that gave form to this blog).  Traveling this way gives me a deeper sense of people, place and purpose.  It is cost effective.  And I meet other unaccompanied adventurers I might not otherwise know.

I find “my trip” through Volunteers for Peace – two weeks with the Milano Film Festival.  Only seven volunteers are accepted, and a letter of motivation is required.

I get writing.

I send my short essay to my friend, Melinda for feedback.  She likes most of it, and gently offers, “Is this an opportunity to introduce yourself as a creative, fun, movie-loving, gelato-eating event coordinator who is a world traveler and wants to visit Italy without referencing your divorce?”

Yes, it is.  And so I do – removing the reference to my divorce from the essay before hitting “send.”

——————–

And so this morning, noodling over my morning pages, I settle on a trip to the library or bookstore, to pour over travel books.  Artist Date 77.

I think about Powell’s and flash on a date I treated my ex to when he completed his first year of residency – a bike tour of Chicago, highlighting book stores, record stores and pastry shops.

Recalling what I have done for someone else but am not doing for myself lights a fire in my belly.

2014-05-24 15.20.08It is warm and stuffy in the library – a small, neighborhood branch.  I am surprised how many people are inside, considering outside holds the promise of the spring we Chicagoans have been waiting on.  Most of them appear to be studying – determined.

I find the Italy section in the stacks and am disappointed to not find a single travel book.  No Fodors, Frommers, Lonely Planet.

I pull La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind, Traveling in Italy with Henry James, and D.H. Lawrence and Italy from the stacks.  I finger through the first, I am somewhat amused but it is not what I want to read.  I am distracted by the underlining and highlighting that mars the second.  I put them back, hold on to D.H. Lawrence and check out – unsatisfied.

At the Book Cellar I grab three titles and settle into a somewhat comfy chair wedged in the corner of the shop.

I am quickly overwhelmed.  My plan is to travel on after the Film Festival (I am already assuming I am going.).  But where?  Venice? Rome? Florence?

The Amalfi Coast? Sicily?

Too many choices.  Too much for a single trip.  Too much to consider.

This was supposed to be fun.  It isn’t.

I close the books and return them to the shelves – still unsatisfied.

Perhaps it is enough to know they are there when I am ready – tomorrow, next week, next month.  When I know more, like if I am in fact going.  (I will receive notice in three to five business days.)  Or if I am going somewhere else.  Like to Reykjavic for its film festival, or Portugal to help restore a traditional, community bread oven – other possibilities.

Perhaps all that really matters is I took action to rekindle this romance – the only one I have any control over.  I recall our couple’s therapist, Robert insisting that even if only one of us is doing the work, the relationship will change.

Today I did the work…and wait for the change.

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Artist Date 76: The Lines Un-Blurred

In 7th grade I kept an oversized scrapbook on the top shelf of my closet, the same place I kept a bag with all of my “important papers” – report cards from every grade, drawings I had made for my mother, my adoption paperwork.

Baryshnikov -- Then. Photo: Galeria de Bailarines.
Baryshnikov — Then. Photo: Galeria de Bailarines.

The scrapbook was a gift my brother received for his Bar Mitzvah that I co-opted.  The pages a mismatched collection of images and daydreams affixed with Scotch tape.  The musings and considerations of a not-quite woman beginning to define herself.

Pictures of Miss Piggy.  An interest I borrowed from my cousin Wendy Schechter and her obsession with all things pig.  A review of the book, I, Me, Mine by George Harrison – clipped from the Detroit Free Press.  An homage to my best friend Nicole, who had recently introduced me to John, Paul, George and Ringo.  An attempt to blur the lines between us, like we did with our matching Tretorn sneakers and Bermuda Bags.

But some of it was purely mine.  A coin that my mad crush Kenny picked up off of the floor and handed to me, marked “Lucky penny from Kenny.”  A newspaper photograph of Mikhail Baryshnikov.  All muscle and tights.  Breathtaking.

Neither a pig nor a Preppy Handbook has crossed my threshold in more than 30 years.  I do still see Kenny on occasion.  And while he has been married to the same man for more than 25 years, I still have a crush on him – a source of joy and amusement for us both.

And last Sunday I saw Baryshnikov for the first time – Artist Date 76.

I receive a text from my friend Stephanie on Friday, asking if I have $50 and want to see Baryshnikov.  Oddly, I hesitate.  It will mean missing dance class.  Irony.  I mention this to my friend Pam, who responds, “Are you crazy?”  She has a point.  This is an icon.  A legend.  Sarah Jessica Parker’s boyfriend on Sex and the City.

I text back with a definitive “Yes.”

Intellectually I understand this is once again NOT an Artist Date as I am not venturing alone.  (I am, however, getting better at breaking the rules.)

But it does fill the criteria of filling my creative coffers.  And, perhaps more significant, it reminds me of the juicy, sexy, charmed life I lead.  The one I am beginning to reclaim – and by that I mean once again notice – now that there is little distraction in the boy department.

But this evening I am distracted.  I Google Baryshnikov.  He is 66.  And stands 5’6.”

Does he still dance, I wonder, recalling the email I received earlier in the week from Hubbard Street Dance.   The subject line “Guess Who Dropped In?” with a photograph of him smiling, observing rehearsals.

I have no idea.

In fact, I don’t actually know where I am going or exactly what I am seeing – I didn’t ask – just that I am going and that I will see him.

Baryshnikov -- now.  Photo: T. Charles Erickson.
Baryshnikov — now. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

And I do.  And he does…dance, that is.  Just not as I imagined.

His slippers traded for jazz shoes, his tights for pleated trousers.  His dance, a part of the story but not the story.  The story.  Two actually.  Adapted from the writings of Anton Chekhov and performed as Man in a Case at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

He glides across the floor softly, alone – his arms holding the lover in his mind, in his heart.  Jazz on the radio, his guests dozing after dinner.  It feels spontaneous – but of course isn’t – like my mother and I swing dancing on the kitchen linoleum.

My heart leaps.

So convincing in his roles, I have forgotten who he is.

But now I remember, and his every movement is a dance.  The gesture of his hand.  The roll of his hips.  His torso leaning forward and back, flirting but never touching.  Sexy.

When it is over, I join the throngs from my fifth row seat, rising in applause.  My eyes wet.  Looking to him as if I might catch his glance when the lights go up.

I do not.

I do not tell Stephanie about it — my folly, my fantasy — either.  Or about my scrapbook.  Baryshnikov, the pigs or the penny.

I hold them to myself instead – the lines un-blurred.  Mine alone, still.

Artist Date 75: No Excuse. That I Might…

black square 2Last week marked Artist Date 75.  I didn’t go.

I didn’t even pretend to go.  Or to dress up what I did do instead, like the way I used to dress up my alcoholism.  Wrap it up in trips to wine country and witty repartee with vintners and sommeliers only to be told by a stranger in no uncertain terms that wine aficionado is just a fancy word for a drunk.

No, I didn’t pretend that a day at home cooking constituted an Artist Date.  (Although it might have.)  Or that the date I had with my friend Clover before she gave birth to Juniper Maya, thus setting her life on a wildly new trajectory, somehow counted either.

My friend Lynn told me this would happen eventually.

I recognized that my process — the weekly Artist Date — had become a practice.  And that it had unintentionally given a sub-theme and a structure to my blog, and the story of returning to myself post-divorce.

She said there would be weeks that I wouldn’t go, or that I wouldn’t blog. And that those experiences would be worthy of words too.

So here they are.  Without apology.

It is both a relief and a disappointment.

——————–

Friday afternoon Pam asks me about my weekend plans.

Party.  Haircut.  Client.

Weight Watchers.  Dance.  Church basement.

I confess I am not sure where or how or if I might squeeze in my Artist Date.

“You can’t always be prolific,” she replies.

Somehow I think the rules don’t apply to me.  That I should be above them.  Better than that.  Less than human.

That if I make a commitment, I have to stick to it.  Period.  Which is ironic as I am greatly irritated when held to words I ostensibly said 20-plus years ago – possibly in a blackout.

I come home from work feeling tired, overwhelmed and jangly.  At a friend’s suggestion, I call the hostess and offer my regrets – letting her know I will not be able to attend.  I tell her the truth, which she not only understands but supports.

candle-at-night--burning_19-126713It occurs to me that perhaps I am the only one keeping score.

The next day my client cancels.  The day prior, my own massage is canceled too.

It feels like a message from the universe.  All of it.  Slow down.  Lie down.  Say no.

Stay home.  Pay some bills.  Write.

Ride your bike.  Go thrifting with a girlfriend.  Eat gelato for no other reason than it is sunny and more than 70 degrees.

Be less frantic.

Make room for nothing.

——————–

I remember being an editor at the college newspaper when the Gulf War broke out.  The entire staff gathered around the small television precariously placed on top of a metal file cabinet in the back of the newsroom, watching CNN.

We are too young to remember Vietnam.  We have not lived through a war.

We dispatch the writers and photographers on to campus to capture the mood and the moment.  In the newsroom, we debate our position and how we will represent it on the Opinion Page, of which I am the editor.

We consider blacking out the entire page – as it was rumored our predecessors had done when the United States put troops in Vietnam.

Instead we run a single photograph taken that evening – a student sitting cross-legged, lighting a candle.  In prayer and hope, I imagine.

I think about that big black page as I begin writing today.  Of darkness.  Nothingness.  And the statement it made.

I don’t have a statement to make.  My lack of Artist Date just isn’t that important.  The only war going on is inside of me.  The only dying off I need consider is that of old ideas.

I decide the absence of Artist Date 75, and the absence of spin or excuse, might serve as a metaphoric kindling of light.  A prayer and a hope that I might quit keeping score.  That I might continue to make room for nothing.  That I might allow myself the space to change my mind.  And to be gloriously, imperfectly human.

Things Change. Feelings Change. I Change.

I recently received a packet in the mail from my synagogue, alerting me that the anniversary of my birth mother’s death is this month.

One year.

Me and my birthmom.  Our first meeting.
Me and my birthmom. Our first meeting.

I should have remembered, for so many reasons.  But mostly, because the Mother’s Day card I sent her last year arrived on the day of her funeral.  It was delivered after the service, while her sister, brothers, nieces and I cleaned the house, preparing it for sale.

The past three years, the time that I had known her, I struggled to find a card.  I didn’t think of her as my mother or my mom.  I already had one – the woman who raised me.  But biologically, she was.  No question about it.  And I knew it would mean a lot to her to receive it.  So I bought her one each year.  Something not too schmaltzy.  Not too love-y dove-y.

But last year was easy.  We had had a tremendous healing that fall – when I flew to Charleston for what I thought was to say goodbye.  In a sense, it was, as I never saw her again.  However, she lived for another six months and during that time we spoke fairly frequently.

Things change.

When her brother phoned me last May to tell me she had died, I felt sideswiped.

My job back at the house was to toss everything that either wasn’t necessary or someone didn’t want. Notes on a criminal case she was following and perhaps hoped to write about.  Minutes from meetings of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Charleston history.  Credit cards that had never been activated.  (As I write this, I look at my own on the table next to me.)

All of it, and so, so much more into big, black garbage bags used for lawn and leaves.  One for shredding.  One for tossing.

I came downstairs when I ran out of garbage bags and saw the card on the counter.  I knew my own writing.  I said nothing.

I went to the store for bags instead.  While I was out, I texted my friend – the man who had captured my heart when I visited six months earlier – and confirmed our meeting the next day.

The Southern Svengali.

I fell head over heels over head for him.  And when I left, I was certain I would never see him again.

I was wrong.

Me and my mom mom, the one who raised me.
Me and my mom mom, the one who raised me.

I saw him the next night.  People around us asked if we had known one another forever.  It seemed that way.

Although I longed for more, our romance never moved beyond hours-long make out sessions on my first visit.  And while intellectually I knew better, I was convinced I would never get over him.

I was wrong about that too.

We had a falling out after my birthmother’s death.  He took exception to the moniker I had assigned him.  He latched on to the deceptive characteristics of the Svengali character, while I chose to focus on the Svengali as teacher – the one who pulled out the artist inside, as he had me.

We haven’t spoken in nearly a year, although we have exchanged a few kind messages.  He left Charleston for the winter, and I didn’t know about it for months as I had stopped visiting his Facebook page.  And I fell head over heels over head for someone else.  Which is all a complicated way of saying I did get over him.

Things change.

It is important for me to notice the changes, because lately it feels like nothing has changed.  Including me.  At times, I feel as sad and unsteady as when I moved back to Chicago in the late summer of 2011, just after my divorce.  It is a feeling.  It is not truth.

It hadn’t occurred to me that my heightened bout of sadness and dis-ease, at least in part, may be connected to the anniversary of my birthmother’s death.  It is a comfort to recognize.  To realize that the feeling of going backward may be connected to the act of reflection, of turning back.

The good news is, I don’t have to stay back.

My birthmother as a teen.  She's in blue.  And pregnant with me.
My birthmother as a teen. She’s in blue. And pregnant.

Inside the packet from the synagogue are several items.  The words to Kaddish – translated as “holy,” – the ritual prayer of mourning, praising God.  A showing of gratitude amidst pain.  And suggestions for honoring the deceased through Tzedakah – an obligation of charity, righteousness.

I see these rituals as a reminder of what the Buddhists call “right action,” or what 12-Step programs call “doing the next right (or indicated) thing.”

I used to believe I would think my way to happiness, contentedness or change.  That if I only dug deep enough I would finally “figure it out.”

What I’ve learned, and then forget and re-learn, is that things change.  Period.  That includes my feelings and my perceptions.

And that I change when I avail myself of the suggestions contained in the packet from the synagogue.  What the Buddhists and the 12-Steppers and all the spiritual traditions espouse – prayer and action.

I do different.  I feel different.  I become different.

Artist Date 74: Letting Go of The Ghosts

cicada

 

It is Saturday.  My friend Amy has invited me to see the world premiere of Cicada at the GreenHouse Theatre – Artist Date 74.  It has been a labor of love – hers and others – for three years.  She has asked all of her friends to bring their friends.  To spread the word.

I say “yes” to the first part, “no” to the second – honoring my commitment to my weekly solo date.  To myself.  And write it in my calendar in pen.

But now I want to change my mind.  I want to see a boy.

He is young.  Younger.  He visited my OKCupid profile.  I visited his.

He reminds me of Mr. 700 Miles – my last love, my last heartbreak.  Right down to the part where he moved home to be with his mother when she was ill.  That’s the part that really knocked me out about 700 – his seeming unselfishness and big, shiny heart, which he proudly wore on his sleeve.

It is flawed from the start and I know it.  Making contact because he reminds me of someone I used to love.  Someone I am trying to let go of and clearly have not entirely because I am still writing about him.  Because I am attracted to someone who reminds me of him.

We exchange a few messages.  And then we talk.  He isn’t 700.  But I like his voice and there is something sweet and spiritual inside of him.  We talk about gratitude.  I tell him I’m sober – something I have consciously not mentioned in my most recent dating forays up until now, for no other reason than it is not yet germane.

We make a date for the following week, based on my schedule.  But I want to meet sooner.  I think of inviting him to the play with me, reasoning that I sometime go to events with others and still count it as my weekly Artist Date.  Even though it isn’t.

But I know this isn’t the answer.

I meet him in the afternoon instead.  Prior to the play, when a client cancels.  We go for a walk at the lake.  I tell him I had thought of inviting him to the play but didn’t – explaining the ritual and commitment of my weekly Artist Date.  He says he wouldn’t have gone, he wouldn’t want to get in between me and me.  My words, not his.

I had the same experience with 700 in January when I let it slip I would skip my Artist Date to talk with him on the phone for the first time.  He said he would feel horrible if I missed the movie I was planning to see and suggested I call him later – which I do.

It is astonishing how quickly I will abandon myself.

——————–

It is a story about holding on.  And letting go.  About memory.  Identity.  The stories we repeat.

Conversations with ghosts that allow us to live on with those no longer present.  Some haunting and angry.  Some decidedly sweet and tender.

I think about my own ghosts.  About serendipity – the times 700 has recently “showed up.”

An invitation he sent months ago to download Facebook Messenger pops up on my phone without cause or reason – his name and profile picture announcing the old request.

The license plate frame on the car in front of me, from a car dealership in the town where he lives – a village of only 5,000.

I whisper, “Are you there?”  Sometimes I swear I can feel him.  I wonder if he is thinking of me in those moments.  I like to think so.

It hurts watching Amy, as Lily, struggle to let go of the one she loves best.

It is not a single action, letting go.  More a process.  A dropping off, bit by bit, until there is nothing left but the shell of what once was, and you don’t even notice until someone asks you about it.

Like when I went to the Facebook page of the Southern Svengali for the first time in months, and saw he was living in Boston.  How could I not know?  And how is it, I could not care?  I was happy for him.  For the work he was doing.  But I was not affected by it.

——————–

Two days later I cancel my second date with 700 Stand In.

I am overwhelmed.  I am working three jobs.  Plus writing, dancing, and ostensibly looking for work.

I have not exercised since Sunday.  I am again sleeping less than six hours a night.  My apartment is a sty.

Something has got to give.  The choice is obvious.  I choose me.

I let the few other men I have been communicating with know I am on hiatus until June 12 – when my contract work is completed.  I give them my email address and I disable my OKCupid account.

I feel sad.  Like I have given away a puppy.  I forget doing what is right does not always feel good.

I know if I can let go of the attention, and the possibility of romance at least for now – the rest will drop off too.  Like it always does.  Until I don’t even think of it, think of him, until his name is mentioned.  And by then 700 miles is just a measurement of distance between here and there.

Artist Date 73: Navel Gazing

navelNavel gazing.

It is the story of my life.  Or perhaps it is just my fear.  That seemingly subtle line between interested self-awareness and narcissistic self-centeredness.

I begin blogging in 2012.  Dubious.  Wondering what, if anything, I have to say.  And who, besides myself and perhaps a few kind-hearted friends, would care.

The questions become irrelevant as life becomes more Technicolor than I am used to.  I have no choice.  I have to write.

About Rwanda.  My birth-mother’s death. Divorce.  Romance.  Healing.

The unexpected gift of my return to writing following a 15-year absence – what spurs me on in my early, tentative efforts and continues to spur me on today – is the return voices of others.  The sense of connection, and its immediacy, is a balm.

I feel seen.  Heard.  Supported.  And even, dare I say, useful.  It seems the words I give to my name my experiences are words others have struggled to find.

In time, I find the writing itself is healing.  That I am healing myself.

And yet I sometimes still wonder what, if anything, I have to say.

On occasion those closest to me take exception to my writing and I have to consider if what I have written is hurtful or dishonest.  If I have compromised their anonymity.  Their right to privacy.

And, when blog posts garner little response, I question if what I have to say is still relevant.  Interesting.  Of value.

Self-doubt.  It is the devil of all creatives.  Likely all people.  But for those whose very lifeblood is the exercise of expression through words or clay or paint or charcoal.  Violin, ballet or film.  It can kill – the art.  The process.  The artist.  Either metaphorically or literally.

Sunday – Artist Date 73 – is that kind of killer.

you feel so mortalI am invited to Megan’s house for a salon.  (Think 1920s Paris, the apartment of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.)  Her friend, Peggy Shinner will be reading from her recently published book of essays on the body, “You Feel So Mortal.”

Megan thinks I will enjoy the afternoon, both as a writer and a bodyworker.  And, she thinks I should perhaps meet Peggy.

Approaching Megan’s door I hear piano music blending with animated chit-chat.  Inside there is a table covered in finger foods.  Slices of grainy-European bread topped with slices of egg and watercress.  Cheeses, jams and chutneys.  Chocolate-covered fruit.  Elegantly-penned signs in front of each platter, describing its offering.

I make a cup of green tea and easy conversation with the handful of women I know.

Megan introduces Peggy and me, highlighting our shared status as writers and Jewish women.  She asks me about my writing.  I trip over myself, talking about my blog – life after divorce, not dating, Artist Dates, healing.  My proverbial elevator pitch in desperate need of revision, or at the very least practice.

I tell her I believe it might be a book.  She smiles.

Later, Megan summons us upstairs, inviting us to find a seat from a row of chairs.  Peggy comes to the front of the room, opens her book and begins to read.

“I have Jewish feet,” she reads, continuing on about her father’s and how they are the same.  Then digging deeper, she reads about Jewish genetics, especially as applied to feet.  And how it was used against her people, my people, in Nazi Germany.

Her story is bigger than just her feet.  Just her family.

I feel small.  Self-important.  Silly.  Why don’t I include research in my writing?  Facts.  Or history — like she does in another essay about her mother and her relation to Nathan Leopold, who with Richard Loeb, sought to commit the perfect crime.

In a Q and A session following the reading, Peggy specifically mentions her desire to reach beyond her own story.  To have a greater context.

I don’t buy Peggy’s book.  I say goodbye from a distance, a wave, mouthing the words “Thank you.”  I am in some sort of self-imposed shame spiral.

I come home and finish reading, “Seducing the Demon,” by Erica Jong.  I have forgotten how smart, sassy and irreverent she is.  Her casual use of “fuck” and “cunt.”  She is my hero.

The book includes an essay that Jong read on “All Things Considered” in 2006.  “On Being a Car Wreck” – a response to unfavorable reviews of this book.

“So, instead of seeing the review as a personal vendetta or sexist attack, I’m living with the fact that the critic simply thought my book sucked.  So how can I write a better one?

“…Become less self-centered…How do I get over myself?…I’ve always wanted to improve and evolve as a writer…I’ve finally, at age sixty-four, gotten to the point where I realized that there are lives and characters more interesting than mine…”

She was sixty-four.  I am just forty-four.  Plenty of time.