I Almost Missed What I’d Been Missing or “You Don’t Turn Your Car Around in Springfield”

Like the Madrid sky...an impossible shade of azure blue.
Like the Madrid sky…an impossible shade of azure blue.

It is 7 a.m. Sunday morning and my phone is ringing. Correction. Skype is ringing.

I look down at it and smile. It is D.

I’m bleary-eyed and disoriented. I have adjusted to Spanish norms regarding time and turned off the lights only five hours earlier.

If it were anyone else, I might roll back over and return the call later. But I don’t. I am, in fact, delighted.

I plug in my headset and pad into the living room where the Internet connection is stronger and our call will be clearer. I sprawl out on the floor and watch the sun come up through the opened balcony windows. I tell him that it is cool outside and that I am wearing his wool socks. I tell him about life in Madrid. Unfiltered.

I tell him that I feel like a child because I don’t know the language. That I am frustrated because I do not have ready access to the words I need to express myself. That I cannot participate in so many conversations. And that the ones I can join are simplistic, slow and involve many “¿Come se’ dice-s?”

I tell him that I do not like teaching little children. That I find it exhausting, and that I feel trapped as I have accepted a position that includes working with a three-year-old and a six-year-old.

I tell him that some days everything feels hard. Grocery shopping. Getting a monthly metro card. Completing my student visa requirements.

And then I burst into tears.

I tell him I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing. That I don’t know how much I need to work. Should work. How much I need to earn. That I do not own anything except my clothes, a pocket-size sculpture of Ganesh and the fancy shaving tackle he bought me.

“I hate when I am like this…when I don’t feel grateful, when I don’t see what is magical in my life.”

He laughs and tells me that I am magical. That ownership is an illusion. That the language will come…along with everything else.

“It’s like you are driving to St. Louis from Chicago. You know where you are going. But somewhere around Springfield you get a little bit lost and tired. But you don’t turn around and drive back to Chicago…you keep driving, because you know where you are going.”

I laugh.

“I miss you,” I say.

“I am right here,” he replies.

And he is.

“I miss being able to talk to you whenever I want to. I miss eating breakfast with you and swimming in Lake Michigan and going to the Green Mill to hear music. I miss your hands. I miss your lips. I miss making love to you.”

I am certain I can hear him smiling.

And then, “I am so happy and grateful to be talking to you right now.” As the words tumble out of my mouth I feel a palpable shift in my body and my emotions. I realize that in this moment I do feel happy and grateful. I tell him this. Then I tell him about the sun coming up over the Spanish tiles out my window. And about the impossible color of the morning sky — an almost cartoonish shade of azure.

And I realize that by focusing my attention on what I didn’t have, or soon wouldn’t, rather than what I did right in this moment, I almost missed what I’d been missing – the chance to be with D.


I bask in our connection. In our “being here” now. In sharing my morning and his night.

And my life feels magical.

Artist Date 109 (Madrid Artist Date 1): Too Caught Up To Notice

2015-09-08 19.39.42“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore
something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly
“artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the
imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the
play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well
of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask
yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.”

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

I tell myself that every day in Madrid is an Artist Date.

I am a liar.

I have been here a little more than 40 days. And it is true that most every day is a solo expedition – at least in part — and that most every day I am exploring something that interests me — my new home.

That there are moments of whimsy and of play, when everything looks like eye candy. Sun-washed orange and yellow apartment buildings, lined with rows of black iron balconies, that look like cardboard cut-outs against the navy-painted sky. Others the color of cotton candy, hugging a traffic circle that my friend Dirk refers to as “the big circus intersection.”

BUILDING_AT_EAST_END_OF_YOUR_STREETA man with two teeth playing accordion on the street. Another, with a full-white grin, feeding peacocks from his hand in Retiro Park.

Everything is new.

And yet my hours are filled with classes. With looking for an apartment and looking for work. (Blessedly, both have come to me quickly and easily.)

With scheduling appointments to complete my visa paperwork and to obtain a monthly Metro card. (No, I cannot just purchase one at the station.)

With navigating a new city and a new language.

Despite the creative inspiration surrounding me, my inner well has run dry.

I have felt this before, when my ex-husband and I moved cross-country – first to Chicago, and later to Seattle – when the work of the adventure of living some place new took so much out of us that we had little, if anything, left to give the other.

Our relationship needed tending to, but we couldn’t see it.

And now this relationship, mine to myself, does too.

I respond, purchasing myself a ticket to the Victor Ullate Ballet’s performance Samsara – Artist Date 109, my first in Madrid.

The ballet announces itself to me every morning on the Metro, a siren-like blur through the windows as the train passes from Opera to Diego de Leon.

At home, I watch a video clip online and feel that heart-leaping-out-of-my-skin-I-know-this-is-God-sensation I have gotten every time I see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

This, coupled with a Tuesday ticket discount and a single seat available at the end of the second row, proves an irresistible combination, and a few hours later I am walking up Calle San Bernardo to Teatros del Canal.

I’m giddy in that “I’ve got a secret” kind of way, which is not unusual for an Artist Date…except that something my friend Robert told me the day after I arrived has been banging around in my head ever since.

“Spaniards don’t do anything alone,” he said. “A server will bring a glass of wine to a woman eating alone because he pities her.”

This has been confirmed by others.

This does not bode well for a woman who travels alone, goes to movies and lectures and operas alone, who not only enjoys being alone but craves her own company.

And yet, no one seems to notice me standing at the bar eating a piece of chocolate cake – alone – before the performance.

And no one seems to notice me sitting at the end of the second row – alone — during the performance. Least of all, me.

I am too caught up in the music. In the movement. The costumes. The stories.

I am too caught up in counting the dancers’ ribs and watching beads of sweat literally slip sideways off of them.

I am too caught up trying to translate the Buddhist quotes projected on the stage before they fade away.

I am too caught up trying to keep my heart from leaping out of my skin because I know this is God. Because this is decidedly Alivin Ailey-esque — specifically Revelations, Part 1: “I’ve Been Buked” –  and my body knows the motions, my lips know the words.

I am at once in my seat and in the dance, but most certainly not in the head of any Spaniard who might want to buy me a glass of wine because he pities my being alone.

It is a Revelation. It is Samsara, “journeying” – birth, death, rebirth.