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.

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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.”

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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.

Artist Date 36: The Happy Show

2013-08-22 17.12.37I am chewing on a piece of ginger candy and drawing a daisy – poorly – on a square of yellow paper, giggling to myself.  The enormous blow-up animal in the other room, the one with its ass cocked north, is dancing around in my head.  I am happy.  Not just in a general way.  But in this very-present, animal-ass-in-the-air, right-now moment.

I give it an 8.

2013-08-22 17.06.05I’m on the fourth floor of the Chicago Cultural Center, at The Happy Show – Artist Date 36.  Two people mentioned it to me within two days of one another.  I take it as a sign.

Walking in, I am asked to rate my happiness and to take a gumball from the large, plastic tube with its corresponding number.  I say 7.  Popular number.  This is the least filled cylinder, followed by 10.

2013-08-22 15.57.37Ten.  No greater happiness.  Unless it goes up to 11 in a This Is Spinal Tap sort of logic.  I have been at 10…in moments.  And I think that’s sort of the point – recognizing pure-bliss, happy, 10 moments when they happen.  And thanking your lucky stars.

Noticing the runny yellow and crisp white of a fried egg.  The chills up your spine every time you ride a scooter on a beautiful, windy road.  No helmet.  Listening to music you love, but don’t know well enough to have stories associated with it.  These are Stefan Sagmeister’s – the show’s creator – happy moments.

Mine is on my bike.  A vintage, Raleigh three-speed with a basket and a bell.  Except I wear a helmet.  And I don’t listen to music.  I sing.  Usually Rosemary Clooney’s “Do You Miss New York,” or Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere.”

“There’s a city in my mind, come along and take that ride and it’s all right.  Baby, it’s all right.”

Sagmeister designed album covers for Talking Heads, as well as my hero, Lou Reed.  I wonder if he designed Little Creatures, the album this song is from.

I am photographing every inch of the exhibit – Sagmeister’s 10-year exploration of happiness – literally.  The language is so spot-on.  I don’t want to forget a single word – all of it printed on yellow walls, in fonts that look like handwriting.  Some words are cleverly crossed out.  Perfectly imperfect.

Rules to live by, culled from Sagmeister’s diary, manifested in print, sculpture, video, and dance.

“Uselessness is gorgeous.”

Thousands of cigarette papers are taped to the wall with fans blowing on them.  I step away from them to see the words embedded in the paper.  It is gorgeous.  I think about my friend Pam noting that I wear a $2 shirt from the Salvation Army with $85 underwear.

Not quite –$35 is my max.

2013-08-22 16.18.54“Make the first step.”

I watch a video of a group of Balinese girls performing a dance, unrolling strips of yellow fabric, displaying these words.  Sagmeister recalls his mother approaching people, rather than waiting to be approached.

“I do this,” I think.  Almost always.

“Over time I get used to everything and start taking it for granted.”  Sagmeister writes the words with his finger – in the dirt on a car, in soapy suds on a man’s hairy chest.  With playing cards and with hotdogs.

Yep.  It’s true.  And, Sagmeister explains, even the words “I love you,” said by the same person, become boring.  I think about my ex-husband.  In the year since our divorce, he has often told me that he misses our life together.  And that I look really good.

I want to tell him he should have thought about that before he opted out, but I don’t.  I know there are reasons our marriage stopped working.  Among them, I am certain, that somewhere along the line we took one another, and our life together, for granted.

“Actually Doing the Things I Set Out to Do Increases My Overall Level of Satisfaction.” Agreed.

2013-08-22 16.55.16“Everybody Always Thinks They Are Right.”  ‘Nuff said.

“Drugs Are Fun in the Beginning But Become a Drag Later On.”  Ditto.

On my way out, I am asked to draw my symbol of happiness on a square of yellow paper.  No smiley faces allowed.  It is the second time I am asked to do this – the first time, on the way in, I draw a heart on one side, two stick figures holding hands on the other.  This time I draw a daisy.  I don’t know why.  It just makes me smile.  Like the flowers I buy for myself most every week at Trader Joes.

Hans – my favorite, morning check-out guy – once gave me sunflowers.  Pulling them from my basket, he asked if the blooms were for me.  When I told him that they were, he responded, “They are on me.  And pick up a second bunch on the way out.”  I think it made us both happy.

I walk through the exit, which has been made into art.  The words, “every” precede “exit,” and “is also an entrance” follow it.  As instructed, I push a button and take the card which shoots out.  It reads, “Find a reflection of yourself and tell it what you really think.”

On the way out, I stop in the bathroom.  I look in the mirror and whisper to myself, “You are lovely.”  My lips curl into a big smile.  And I am.

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And you?  What do you say to your own reflection?