Artist Date 86: On a Scooter, With a Boy in Front and Chocolate in my Pocket

Final moments in St. Victor la Coste, France.  I hiked up to this crumbling castle every day.
Final moments in St. Victor la Coste, France. I hiked up to this crumbling castle every day.

I leave for Italy in 39 days.

I only recently bought my plane ticket, and just last week decided exactly where I will spend the days following my volunteer work in Umbria. I have not booked a single night at a hotel, pensione, hostel or airbnb.

This is highly unusual for me.

By now I would have secured a room for all of my nights, and outlined a rough itinerary of my days – making certain I knew when each museum closed.  I learned this from my friend Tim, who saved the Louvre for his last day in Paris, not realizing it closed on Tuesdays.  He has lovely pictures of the outside.

I would have purchased my train tickets and made copies of my passport.  My travel books would be dog-eared and yellowed with highlighter.

I have done none of this.  I’m not sure why.

And so I find myself tucked into a big chair in the back of the Book Cellar, pouring over travel guides – more out of necessity than anything.  Fodors.  Rough Guide.  Lonely Planet.  Thick books on the whole of Italy.  Thinner versions on Rome, Florence and Tuscany.  Artist Date 86.

I recall my first travels overseas – press trips to Germany and Israel.  I was in my 20s and had dreamed of traveling abroad.  Everything was handled for me.  Flights.  Hotel.  Itinerary.  And yet, I sat at San Francisco International Airport before each trip – terrified.

Flying out of SFO in 1999 to Spain – my first overseas trip with my then boyfriend, now ex-husband — felt wholly different.  I wasn’t alone.

One Saturday morning we somewhat impulsively bid on Priceline tickets to Madrid.  By afternoon, we were sprawled out on the floor of Borders Books – leaving a few hours later with copies of Frommers – Europe on $100 a day and Madrid, Barcelona and Seville.

We traveled overseas together several times over the next few years – me carefully crafting an itinerary each time.   Yet, a part of me longed to travel alone, as so many of my friends had done after college.

And at 37, I do it.

At the time, I feel too old to throw a rucksack on my back, sleep in hostels and shower in train stations.  I find a trip volunteering in the south of France, building walls as part of an architectural restoration project.

I spend a few days in Paris by myself when I arrive.  It does not feel glamorous and exciting as I had imagined.  It feels scary and lonely.  I wander the streets alone, slightly drunk and call my then husband — crying.  A few days later I join my team in Avignon.  Surrounded by volunteers from around the word, ranging in age from 21 to 73, I feel joyous and free.  I have found my place, my role.  I am the friendly American who drinks too much and gives massages.

Building walls in the South of France. 2006.
Building walls in the South of France. 2006.

Eight years later, (I will turn 45 in Italy) I do not drink anymore.  I do not have a husband anymore.  These things that I leaned into ceased to serve me long ago.  This time, this trip, I must lean into myself.  My hesitation in planning suddenly makes sense.  I am afraid.

And yet, I have a plan, a purpose – I am again joining volunteers from around the globe.  This time, at the Altrocioccolato Festival – known as the “other chocolate festival” – outside of Perugia.  This time, my alone time is on the back-end of the trip – and I will have a better sense of place.  This time I have people, “waiting” for me in church basements.  People who also used to drink too much but don’t anymore – people like me.

My friend Pam says I will go to Italy and meet a boy on a scooter and never come home.  She tells me that I am brave.  That she doesn’t know anyone else our age doing what I am doing – traveling, alone.  I do not feel brave.

And I remember what I’ve been told, that bravery isn’t the absence of fear, it is walking through it anyway.

Or perhaps flying through it – direct from Chicago to Rome on Alitalia.  Or riding a scooter through it – an Italian boy in front, and chocolate in my pocket.

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Artist Date 85: Cooking Up A Happy Ending

chef 3

I’m waiting for a call.

THAT call.  From a man I’ve been dating.

I hesitate to use the word as I’m never sure when it applies.  In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever really dated.  I’ve fucked.  And I’ve been in relationships.

We have gone out three times.  He has done all the asking, and all the paying.  This last time he invited me into his home, the home he shares with his two daughters (they were with their mother), and cooked me dinner.  He is a chef.

I believe this would be considered dating.

He tossed a salad of arugula and chopped endive with his hands (a decidedly sexy move) laid over a bed of ripe, juicy figs (a decidedly sexy fruit) and sprinkled it with knobs of goat cheese and homemade croutons.  Then fed me roasted chicken and vegetables.   Simple.  Elegant.  Delicious.

He bought me sparkling waters and sodas as he knows I do not drink.  And told me his 12-year-old daughter was suspect about their shopping trip to Whole Foods.

I set the table.  And we continued sharing our stories.  It felt easy.

At 10 p.m. he asked me if I “wanted to have a sleepover.”

I told myself I would not sleep with him.  I told my girlfriends I would not sleep with him.  I know how sex can escalate my expectations.  I know how it can short-circuit the dance of dating.  I like this man.  And so, his arms around my waist, his fingers tucked down the back of my skinny corduroys, I smiled at him and said, “I can’t.  I’m not ready to have sex with you.”

It was painful.

But more painful was his response.  “I didn’t ask you if you wanted to have sex.  I asked you if you wanted to sleep over.”

I had not woken up with someone since moving out of the bedroom I shared with my ex-husband more than two years ago.  I desperately wanted to stay, but feared not honoring my commitment to myself.

I cast my eyes down, my shirt half unbuttoned and heard him say, “Lesley, go move your car into the garage.”  Secretly relieved, he made the decision for me.

We did have sex that night.  And in the morning too.  And I discovered he was the same sweet man who cooked me dinner the night before.  Who wrapped his body around mine as we drifted off to sleep.  And gently rubbed his fingers between mine when I woke up in the middle of the night, easing me back to unconsciousness.

He kissed me and rubbed my head, told me I talked in my sleep and sent me through his youngest daughter’s pink bedroom and into the closet for a toothbrush.

Downstairs, we drank tea in the kitchen and talked.  I shared my fears about this being a one-night stand.  Just sex, as I was looking for more.  I had voiced them the night before.  Both times he responded, “I wouldn’t have invited you into my home and cooked you dinner if I just wanted to fuck you.”

I felt foolish harping on it.

I haven’t heard from him since.  It has been three days.

My head is spinning as I’ve played this over and over in my head.  Looking at the erratic nature of his communication – always, since the very start.  Wondering if I insulted him with my fears and blaming myself for being too needy of his reassurance.  Or worse, being too much.

My friends tell me that nothing has changed. That his timeline is not my timeline.  They remind me he has a big new job, is going through a divorce and has two children.  That nothing has changed.

And they give me solid advice: Do your work.  Make your art.  Go on Artist Dates.

And so I am here on a Saturday night at the Century Theatre watching Chef – Artist Date 85.

Perhaps it wasn’t the ideal movie choice this evening, but I’d been wanting to see it.

The cooking scenes are lush, gorgeous, sexy.  They remind me of the chef.  As does the relationship between the lead and his son, as he too is a divorced dad.  I am teary.

And then, blessedly, I am pulled out of recognition and identification and into the parts of the story that have nothing to do with me and my chef.  A story of friendship and road trips and standing up for what you know to be true.  Of unchecked emotion.  The power of Tweeting (I’m woefully behind).  And the ability, and responsibility, of each of us to be both teacher and student.

It is a story of happy endings.

So far, mine is not.  At least not this particular one.

I turn on my phone as I leave the theater.  No text.  No voicemail.  (And as I complete the writing of this, a week after leaving his home in last night’s clothing, I still haven’t heard from him.)

I don’t like it.

But I trust, if I follow my friends’ words — Do your work.  Make your art.  Go on Artist Dates – mine will be a happy ending.  With or without the chef.

Artist Date 84: Moreloveletters

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“If you can read this, then it’s yours! Enjoy!”

I’m standing in the bathroom at Weight Watchers with Leah.  A brown envelope sitting on top of the tampon machine catches my attention.

There’s a hashtag on it: #moreloveletters as well as a website: moreloveletters.com.  Inside is a card with an owl and the words “yooo-hoo!”  And inside that are these words:

“Dear Amazing Person,

You are the lovely recipient of a card from moi! A total complete stranger! Not the creepy kind, more like a loving kind to tell you how awesome you are! Every day as you grow you become more and more amazing! Don’t ever doubt yourself!  You rock!  Keep smiling! Share joy with others!  Lots of hugs, Sunshine”

A wave of joy and gratitude washes over my body.  It is an auspicious beginning to my Artist Date – number 84 – which in my mind doesn’t begin until this evening.  I have treated myself to a front row ticket for the Chicago Human Rhythm Project.  I wasn’t familiar with it, but I liked the sound of it.  And already, the magic of the Artist Date – the magic of being filled up – has begun.

I am reminded of my spiritual business teacher Anne Sagendorph Moon, who taught me that money begets money.  That I am able to receive only by giving.  And to tithe the sources of my inspiration.

I recall another of Anne’s students getting two, crisp, $100 bills from the bank, dropping them in the hands of two complete strangers and running away, grinning.

This note in my hand feels like a $100 bill.  My life feels magical and full of possibilities.  I want to deliver my own little brown-wrapped notecards of love into the world.

And for the rest of the day, I do.  Energetically giving and receiving loveletters until I can pen my own and join this crazy, mad, lovely movement.  Hoping that love begets love.

I text the chef – a man I’ve just begun dating.  I recall it is a day of great transition for him and I wish him well.  I do not ask him any questions, nothing that requires action or a response on his part.  I receive one anyway.  “Was thinking of you…Funny.”

I call out a message of encouragement to the woman in the dressing room next to mine at Intimacy – a upscale lingerie shop.  An invitation to treat herself.  She has just let out a squeal of joy.  That “aha-you’ve-changed-my-life-with-the-right-size-bra-and-thank-you-for-showing-me-how-to-wear-it-properly” cry of relief.  I know it.  I’ve had it here.  More than once.

She laments, “Now I have to make choices.  I’ve never had choices.”

“Buy them all,” I yell through the walls.  Laughter.  Hers.  The salesperson’s.  My own.  A host of other women behind closed doors.  “Seriously.  Do it.”

I don’t know what she does, but I leave smiling with a bag full of lacy bits.  Bras and panties.  Silky. Filmy. Embroidered. Embellished.  The price tags make me giggle.  $40.  $65.  $110.  Ridiculous.  Each rings up at 70 percent off.  A sexy little loveletter to myself.

I call a friend and hold her heart.  I eat dinner and go to the show where I receive the sweat, the lifeblood, of the dancers – literally.  Bits of salty water catching light, cast into space.  The clickety-clap tapping of the feet of teenage girls allows me to imagine a different trajectory.  Sliding doors.

I am recognized as a dancer in my own right by the woman in the seat next to me.  She dances the beginning level West African class at the Old Town School of Music and sees me coming in for the intermediate one.

She sees me.  She has seen me.  She wants to know how long it has taken to arrive where I am.  I tell her I have no idea.

On the way out, I trade a big, wide grin with the handsome sound engineer.  His smile back reflects my own.

I do not give him my card or try to engage him in conversation.  I allow this simple exchange of heart to stand on its own, as if to say “Namaste — I see the God on you.”  A final loveletter of the night.

Choosing To Be A Lesbian Alcoholist

Patsy and I in Israel, nearly 20 years ago.
Patsy and I in Israel, nearly 20 years ago.

 

The last time I saw Patsy was at my wedding – nearly 13 years ago.  She officiated, combining Jewish, Hindu, Native American and British elements into a ceremony that spoke to both of our hearts and sensibilities.

I spoke to her yesterday for the first time in more years that I can count – not quite 13, but far too long.

We talked about Mickey – her mom – who had just died and what that felt like for her.  About meeting in Israel on a press trip nearly 20 years ago.  And so much of what had happened in the in between.  Things we caught in passing, in pithy Facebook posts and the occasional email.

She had no real sense of what had happened between my ex and me.  Or even that I had (happily) given up the fight with alcohol nearly seven years ago.

And because she had not been with me for every step, every man, every tear and nuance of the journey – she saw the story, my story, far differently than me.  Her reflections were, in a word, a revelation.

She had recently asked me in an email if there was “someone special” in my life.

It was the question I have come to expect. To brace myself for. To both love and despise – as it can feel both hopeful and humiliating, depending on the day, my mood and the current state of my heart.

I told her that I did not. That it hurt my heart to write that.

I told her about the suggestion that I not date for a year after my divorce. How that was pretty easy as no one was really asking. (Which is not exactly true. More to the point would be, no one I was interested in was asking.) And how that year had come and gone.

I told her I had met some extraordinary men, experienced some wonderful emotional intimacy and some wonderful romance.  But none had been truly available for one reason or another.

I told her I am online, like every other schlub, although it is not how I imagine meeting someone. And to keep me and my big, juicy, open heart in her thoughts and manifestations.

It was “my story.” The one I tell myself. The one I tell here.

Yesterday, she helped me tell the next chapter. It had a decidedly different feel.

I told her about the “romantic friendship” with my spiritual-traveling twin. About the man nearly 13 years my junior, who has been dancing around me (and me, him) for some months, and our breakfast date that morning. And about a similar dance I have been doing with a man who looks a lot like Daniel Day Lewis – my ex’s doppelganger.

I told her about the friend who continues to tell me, “I’m still interested.” How my feelings remain platonic. And that I have no desire to try to “make them” otherwise.

And I told her about a new man – the chef – who I actually did meet online. We’ve had just a few dates, and my feelings feel “right sized.” He is easy to talk to and I have fun spending time with him. I find him attractive and I like how he kisses.

“I think you are very genuine,” he blurted across the table a few nights ago. I like that too. Because it is kind and observant, but mostly because it is true.

Patsy replied, “You ARE dating a lot of men right now. You are having fun. You just haven’t settled on one.”

It was true. It IS true. It sounds different from “I am still not in a relationship,” even though the actual details are the same. And it feels different.

She added that in the nearly 20 years she has known me, that I have always had men in my orbit. Always. That I have always been attractive to men. Always.

This was news. I had not seen it that way.

Seems I have spent the past 30-plus years mostly noticing the time in between. The times of breakup and/or longing. And believing that everyone else was constantly in relationship – meaningful relationship – and wondering why I was not.

She reminded me of the other chef. The one I dated before my ex-husband.

And I recalled the hotel bartender in Israel who suggested I show him the pictures in my room. When I replied, “I think you’ve seen all the pictures in all of these rooms,” he asked if I was a lesbian. Earlier he had asked if I was “an alcoholist,” as I turned down a drink.  Close enough.

I chose an evening with my new press-trip friends (among them, Patsy) over an overseas fling, and a good story to be certain. I chose to be the lesbian alcoholist.

And in that recalling, I saw myself as Patsy saw me. (And likely, many others.) Attractive. Discerning. At choice. I have always been at choice…in relationships. And now, in how tell my story.

 

 

Artist Date 83: On The Path All Along

Photo: Egyptian Streets
Photo: Egyptian Streets

I’m late.

I peel myself away from the Lebanese pastries – empanada-like sweets filled with sweet cheese, the other with nuts, covered in rosewater – special for Ramadan.  From this conversation which is at once both playful and real.  That reminds me what it feels like to connect deeply. To be met spiritually.

I dash into my apartment and dial into the conference call – 7 Pathways to Freedom, Love and Abundance.  Artist Date 83.

Debbie is mid-meditation.  I sit down at the table, rest my feet on the bar that goes across the underside of it, close my eyes and let myself fall into her words.

She suggested the workshop following my most recent clairvoyant reading and healing.  It made sense to me.  I knew I needed a pathway.  Or more to the point, help continuing on the path I am on.  Lately, I’m having trouble seeing the road.

Nearly two years out of my divorce, I expected to be, to have been, in a relationship by now.  I expected to be financially fully self-supporting.

I’ve had men in my life.  Moments of romance and intimacy.

Months of late-night phone calls navigating the sloppy paths of our mutual divorces, followed by a road trip on the sloppy path cross-country that brought me home.  Hours-long make-out sessions lasting from steamy evening into near dawn.  Skype dates where I bared my soul, and my body, on the promise we’d “give it a go,” throwing caution to the 700 miles that lay between us.

I’ve had work.

A place to show up – more days than not.  Money.  Benefits that don’t fit neatly into an offer package.  No health insurance or paid-time off.  Instead, the opportunity to make an impact.  To work with others.  To stumble in a safe place.  And to shine brightly too.

Cobbled together with the cash and prizes of divorce, I’ve had enough to live on.  More than.

But I want more.  More than moments.  More than enough without spousal support.  (Which, sooner rather than later, I will no longer receive.)

My hope is that something will open up for me in this workshop.  Some chakra blockage will get knocked loose.

I close my eyes and listen to Debbie’s words.  I am overcome with shame.

Shame for the relationships in my life where feelings don’t match.

Shame for the sex I’m not having.

Shame that I was set free…and remain free.

(The words slip off of my fingertips now, in real-time, as I write.  Freedom.  One of the promises of the workshop.  It is not lost on me.  But in workshop time I only feel shame.)

“I am ashamed that my friend’s feelings don’t match my own.”  The words slip past my lips as we share our experiences of the meditation.

(And again, in real-time, I realize this is not exactly true.  I think of this particular relationship, where we share a deep connection – a love for one another that is acknowledged often and freely by us both.  What is not matched is where we are in our lives – what each of us is available for.)

I speak my embarrassing, humiliating truth and nothing bad happens.

A half hour later we disconnect.  I do not recall a thing I have heard.  I am grateful for the audio link which will arrive the next day.

I brush my teeth, wash my face, and write my nightly gratitude list.  I am grateful I do not feel like calling Mr. 700 Miles today.  For Lebanese pastry and time with a friend who loves me.   I am grateful for therapy tomorrow and the Cheryl Strayed book I am reading, Tiny, Beautiful Things. 

The list goes on.  Long.  Abundant.

Freedom.  Love.  Abundance.  The workshop promises.  All right here, right now, in my life.  I am on the path.  I always was.  Now I can once again see it.