I woke this morning to this message on my Facebook wall. “Any news?!?!”
It seemed like a sign – that it is time to speak my truth. To cast a light on my darkness and disappointment and (hopefully) watch it scatter like cockroaches.
I have not been accepted to the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University.
I’ve known this for a little more than two weeks.
I’ve shared the news slowly. With a few friends. My ex-husband. My rabbi and other personal references.
But I haven’t been able to tell either of my parents. Post it on Facebook. Blog about it.
I’ve been transparent about so much in my life. My divorce. The failed romances that followed it. And the beautiful one that began the day after I bought my ticket to Madrid.
My struggles with weight. With alcohol. With making a life in a new country.
My breast reduction.
The death of my biological mother.
But this felt strangely tender and raw. Perhaps a little shameful. Disappointing and shocking because I really thought I was going.
Ever since my friend Spencer mentioned it to me while we were on holiday in Prague. When my spine straightened and my whole body screamed, “Yes! I have no idea what the Institute of Sacred Music is but, Yes!” When I suddenly “knew” (or thought I knew) why I had been called to Madrid. To meet Spencer and to have this conversation.
And the people around me…they thought I was bound for New Haven too.
They saw the way my face lit up, how my resonance changed when I spoke about combining my lifelong practices of writing and spirituality. How I felt like I was finally redeeming myself to myself. How the “smart girl” was finally going to “live up” to that moniker. And how I was going to give myself the gift I couldn’t until now – art school and graduate studies.
I felt confident about my personal statement and my writing sample, the glowing letters of recommendation.
“You’re going,” they said, as if they had seen the future in a crystal ball. And I believed them. Not because I wanted to. But because I thought it was already written.
Unfortunately, this was instead.
Dear Ms. Pearl:
The Admissions Committee of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music has reviewed your application with great care. I am sorry to inform you that your application has not been approved.
We recognize your dedication to the church and appreciate your great interest in the educational mission of the Institute. We send you our best wishes for success in realizing the goals expressed in your application.
Martin Jean Director Yale Institute of Sacred Music
“Clearly it wasn’t meant to be.” “It isn’t God’s will.” “Something better is around the corner.” “Fuck Yale.” “I know just how you feel.”
I’ve heard these words, spoken with love and compassion. And while I’m sure they are true, it’s been hard for me to accept them, to take them in. I’m just not “there” yet.
I’m certain I will one day look back and view this with gratitude and the “ahhhh” of understanding. But until then, and without faith on my part, the words feel somehow hollow, a little bit like platitudes.
Surprisingly, I’ve received the most comfort from the words, “I’m sorry.”
Perhaps because they speak to where I am at this moment.
The waxy brown cotton of my lapa feels soft between my fingers. Like my body. Like my heart.
I thought the African skirt would become this way over time, as I danced in it – but it remained rigid and stiff. Until today, when, in the dark and heat of the sweat lodge – Artist Date 79 – it softened, pinning itself to my body.
I roll the fabric between my fingers like rosary or prayer beads. I feel the moisture accumulate between my breasts – grateful for their small size. Grateful for the darkness to peel off my sports bra, unnoticed, and let my t-shirt from the Knoxville Farmers’ Market cover me. Given my druthers I would wear nothing. But I respect the modesty requested at this ceremonial gathering of men and women.
I close my eyes, breathe in the sweet sage, and fix my ears on the beating drum and the sound of my friend Paul’s voice.
It has been a journey just getting here.
I arrive despite a blinding thunderstorm, the need for on-the-road car repairs, and a bit of information which shakes my sense of perception and causes me to question if this is right for me, right now. And with the aid and calm of friends who ferry me to and from.
I walk about a quarter of a mile through wet, freshly mown grass to where the lodge is set up – my orange, peep-toe wedges gathering silky, green slivers.
I remember wearing these shoes through Rwanda two summers ago – collecting the red earth of the land of 10,000 hills between my toes – and recalling Patsy and Edina schlepping their Louis Vuitton bags through sand in the Morocco episode of the BBC’s Absolutely Fabulous. Dragging my rolling suitcase filled with towels, sweat and apres-sweat clothes, I feel like a bit actor in the Sweat Lodge episode.
Paul is draping blankets over the hut he constructed out of river willows – collected from his sister and brother-in-law’s property a few miles away. Rocks are heating in a pit outside of the lodge, and he has built an altar from the dirt inside of it.
Paul is the third in a line of spiritual teachers with the same name. The first being my university religious-studies professor, the second, the one who taught me to meditate – leading me through initiation with an offering of fruit, flowers (star gazers, my favorite) and the bestowing of a mantra.
Our paths have been crisscrossing for most of our lives. We agree the universe has been conspiring for us to meet.
There are eight of us, the last arriving in a John Deere Gator Utility Vehicle. She looks like an African Queen, regal in her loose batik dress with dragonflies on it, her grey hair braided at the temples and wrapped around her head like a crown. Her face is at once both sad and serene.
She reminds Paul they have been in ceremony together – with her former partner. The break-up is obviously fresh.
Words tumble out of my mouth about divorce, change and the painful nature of endings – no matter how right or how kind. How people will say all sorts of stupid things. And that she is, no doubt, on the precipice of some sort of adventure. She smiles in a way that tells me she has lived a thousand lifetimes and knows that this kind of pain is just part of it. That she has chosen this and is not fighting it.
I mention that I wasn’t sure I would make it here today. That I wasn’t sure it was right for me, right now. “Until now. You are why I am here.”
Paul smudges each of us with sage and we enter the lodge on our hands and knees, proclaiming “Aho Matakuye O’yasin – Greetings, All My Relations.”
I remember Patsy smudging my ex and I when she officiated our marriage. And me doing the same for my friend Chase when her divorce was final, smudging the entire house – making it “her own” again.
It is hot and humid inside. I feel a wave of nausea wash over me as Paul explains what will happen in ceremony.
Rocks. Herbs. Water.
Chanting. Praying. Smoking.
Connectedness to the earth. To one another. To ourselves.
I am afraid. Afraid of the total darkness. Afraid of what I might feel, what might “come up.” Afraid I cannot physically or psychologically endure this – even though Paul has assured us that this will be a “gentle sweat.”
But the heat is like a balm – different from the still Midwestern humidity that settled heavy around me just moments before. The drumming and chanting force all thoughts from my mind. I only hear my friend’s voice – strong, confident, prayerful – and the African Queen’s. It is sweet and slippery and hard to hold on to. But very much there. Just as I feel her, very much there, next to me.
Everything softens. My body. My brain. My lapa. I feel the sweat sliding down my body and I am deliriously in love with it. This body I have fought for so much of my life. That has brought me here and is sustaining me today. It is strong and small and very, very feminine. I feel my hands pressing into the earth beneath me. My legs. My feet. My ass. The soft dampness of moist earth is flesh, the spiky grass is hair and we are one.
I pray for my stepfather and my two girlfriends who are battling mightily. And I ask for prayers for myself. For compassion and acceptance for myself, for where I am, not where I think I should be. My voice cracks and I add, “May we all have compassion and acceptance for ourselves and for one another.”
I pray for the man who hurt my heart not so long ago. I call out his name when I am certain no one can hear me.
I smoke from the Chanupa — the sacred, ceremonial pipe. Sober nearly seven years, my addict is awakened.
I am back in college, sitting in a circle. My friend Brian stirs the bowl and lights it while I suck in all that I can, holding it in my lungs. I converse easily while I do this – like one of the big boys.
But I am not talking. And this is not weed. It is tobacco, although it tastes like juniper and pine. It is ceremony. It is holy. It is community. It is what I longed for, sitting in a circle like this, so many years ago.
I weep in the darkness. I am certain no one can hear my dying animal letting go. And it is over.
We crawl out on our hands and knees, just as we had entered, saying “Aho Matakuye O’yasin – Greetings, All My Relations,” once again.
Paul greets each of us with an embrace, and we greet one another in the same way. The African Queen’s eyes are wordlessly different. Lighter. As if the color has changed. She presses me tightly to her.
The group walks towards the house for a celebratory feast, but I stay behind and wait for Paul.
While I am waiting, I do cartwheels around the lodge. One after the other after the other, until I feel dizzy. I feel the pull of my pelvis – the source of chronic pain – and I welcome it. I feel the lightness of my body, of my mind and I welcome it, give thanks for and to it.
I had believed I was here to meet the African Queen. That was only half of the truth. In the stillness of the after-lodge, I know its other half, its twin — I was here to meet myself. “Aho Matakuye O’yasin — Greetings, All My Relations.”
On Wednesday, Linda emailed me to cancel our date to the Art Institute. Understandably, as she recently fell and cracked a few ribs. She is on the mend, but not quite well enough to go out.
And just like that, the universe provided me with my Artist Date – Number 72.
I’ve been struggling with them lately. Planning. Going. Writing.
I thought about messaging R. to see if he wanted to meet me. We’ve been messaging one another on OKCupid, but haven’t met yet. We will next week, over coffee.
Yes, I just not-so-subtly slipped that in…that about two weeks ago I somewhat hesitantly joined the world of online dating. Although I haven’t had a date yet.
Yes, my entire blog centers on life after divorce. The heart-breaking dalliances, and the more than year-long commitment to dating myself, courting my own creativity. But I neglected to write about this. Amazing.
Yes, blog forthcoming.
And yet, something knew better. A higher self? Just the universe at work? For several weeks now, despite my feelings and my best efforts, time and space for my solo sojourns has serendipitously appeared. And my feet have followed. Habitual. Almost like brushing my teeth. But coupled with a craving –for time. With me. Outside of me.
And so I nix the message to R. Grab a banana and a latte at Starbucks – the divorcee’s dinner – and head to the Art Institute for the lecture, “Return of the Modern Masters.” I hadn’t even realized they’d been gone.
Crossing the street I see A. reading a newspaper, waiting in line to enter the museum for free after 5 p.m. I invite him to jump the line with me – pulling out my member card.
We are early for lecture. We wander into the Nilima Sheikh’s exhibit “Each Night Put Kashmir in Your Dreams.” I saw it the day Mr. 700 Miles slipped out of my life without a word. When the heart space between us –which up until then had been just inches –became a chasm I couldn’t seem to reach across, no matter how I tried. Artist Date 68.
I tell this to A. while we view, Farewell,” a red scroll with two bodies entwined. A man peeling open his chest, exposing his heart. It reads “If only somehow you could have been mine. What would not have been possible in the world?”
I tear up.
“I’ve done that too,” he says quietly. Somehow, this makes me feel better.
He tells me he couldn’t face hurting her. That he told himself he was sparing her. Sober now, he understands he was only sparing himself.
I tell him that 700 Miles is active in his addiction to drugs and alcohol. He nods. “That’s what we do.” This is not the first time I’ve heard this in regards to him and our story. I nod, but I still do not understand it.
I show A. Marc Chagall’s “America Windows” outside of Rubeloff Gallery, where the lecture is. He hasn’t seen it before. I tell him that Ferris kissed Sloan here. I am not sure he is old enough to remember the movie. I feel like a docent, showing A. my Art Institute.
The lecture moves quickly – giving context to the positioning of the paintings and sculptures that have been returned to their rightful homes.
I am tempted to take notes. I have before, knowing I was going to blog. Sitting with A. I feel somehow self-conscious. As if he might ask why.
I think about my friend Nithin commenting on kids and not-kids filming concerts on their phones. Experiencing the music through a screen rather than directly. Disconnected. Too busy “showing” everyone where they are – via Facebook, Twitter and the like – rather than “being” where they are.
I imagine my note taking might fall into the same category. I allow myself to just listen. I free myself from the need to remember.
A. and I part ways after the lecture. He is meeting a friend for a concert at the Chicago Theatre. (I wonder if he will watch it through his phone.)
I climb the open-backed stairs – the kind that make my ex-husband nauseated and panicky – to the third floor galleries, to see the “Returned Masters.”
The galleries are crowded. I wander. Thinking about the lecture. About artist life in Europe before and during WW II. But ultimately seeing the work through my own lens.
I drink in the juicy, ripeness of Max Beckman’s “Reclining Nude.” And I wonder why I am so set on waif-y thinness for myself.
I smile at Chagall’s “White Jesus,” recalling it is a favorite of the current Pope. I notice my tendency to breathe deeply when facing his work. As if I might inhale something of him.
I recall “Human Figure with Two Birds” from the Max Ernst show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I greet it and Loplop – the bird which comes to represent Ernst, “the private phantom attached to my person” – like an old friend.
I giggle at the “Exquisite Corpse,” a game played on paper by Man Ray, Andre’ Breton and Yves Tanguy while they waited for WW II to end – each adding to an unseen figure, folded back accordion-style, out of sight.
I long to feel the smoothness of Alberto Giacometti’s “Spoon Woman” and Constantin Brancusi’s “White Negress II.”
The “returned Masters” have helped return me to my own. Out of my head and my heart. Into my feeling body. Like the Masters, I hadn’t even realized it had been gone.