Artist Date 2.2: Hello, Old Friend

“Hello, old friend…”

I whisper the words to no one in particular. Smiling as I take a seat in front of Marc Chagall’s “America Windows.” Moments ago, the bench was occupied, but serendipitously it is free… as if waiting for me.

My friend Colleen invited me here – to the Art Institute of Chicago – to catch up over coffee and “peel off for our independent Artist Dates.” Number 2.2 (118) for me.

She knows me. The sacredness of my weekly solo sojourn.

We breeze through admissions and before entering the exhibit –“America After the Fall: Paintings in the 1930s”– (my choice), I kiss her on either cheek, holding fiercely to the traditions of my year in Spain. I wish her joy on her Artist Date and thank her for bringing me here.

Here. This place that used to feel like my home. But that I am acutely aware I am a visitor in.

Colleen’s visitor.

I used to be a member.

I loved sitting in on mid-day member lectures … the youngest in attendance by several times around the sun. Taking advantage of early viewings, free coat check, and complimentary coffee and tea.

But most of all, I loved the freedom to just “pop in” at any time … never worrying about “getting my money’s worth.”

I would always end up here. In front of Chagall’s Windows.

Usually I’d stand up close, looking for new details I might have missed. But today I find myself sitting back. Taking it all in. The whole of it.

It is a metaphor for the day.

The AIC is busy and the exhibit feels congested. I’m somewhat surprised as it has been up for almost two months now. There are a lot of children. And a lot of loud Midwestern accents.

It does not feel like mine anymore.

I snap photographs.

“American Landscape” by Charles Sheeler. Grimy and distinctly Midwestern. Something I kind of romanticized while living abroad. Kind of.


The frame from Grant Wood’s “Young Corn” which reads, “To the Memory of Miss Linnie Schloeman Whose Interest in Young and Growing Things Made Her A Beloved Teacher In Woodrow Wilson School.”


The rolling hills that make up the naked, female form in Alexandre Hogue’s “Erosion No. 2 – Mother Earth Laid Bare.”

mother earth

The cartoonish characters and cartoonishly thick pain in William H. Johnson’s “Street Life, Harlem.”

street life

I wander out of the exhibit and take a photograph of the words on a door across the hall – “A Lot of Sorrow.”

Yes, there is. And I am.

Moving is hard … even when I choose it. The place that was mine has changed. I knew it would. It did before. There are new inhabitants. There always are.

And yet, if I look I can still find myself here.

In the words leaping from the panels introducing the exhibit. Eerily appropriate today.

“The title of America after the Fall refers in one sense to the (stock market) crash, but is also aptly describes the pervasive concern that the nation had fallen from grace.”

“Regardless of style, many painters hoped their art could help repair a democracy damaged by economic and political chaos. The diversity of approaches made the 1930s one of the most fertile decades of American painting.”

In Archibald Motley’s “Saturday Night,” which I saw for the first time a little more than a year ago. On another Artist Date, at the Chicago Cultural Center. The date before the date – the one with the man who would become my lover for the months leading up to my departure for Spain. I smile and my heart aches just a little.

saturday night motley

On the bench in front of “America Windows,” where today I see nothing new at all. The sameness – both beautiful and comforting.

“Hello, Old friend.”

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

Like the Madrid 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.