Artist Date 111: The Heart I Am In Love With

 

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Note: The entire time I was writing, I was certain the Katherine Mansfield quote referenced was “The heart I am in love with has to be a little bit wild.” It was only when I placed the photograph (above) into this post that I realized my error. That the quote was, “The mind I love must have wild places.” I am choosing to leave the essay as it was written, assuming it is the truth of my subconscious…that the heart I am in love with has to be a little bit wild…and honoring it. 

“The heart I am in love with has to be a little bit wild.” (incorrectly attributed to Katherine Mansfield.)

The words are written on a wooden bookshelf with black Sharpie marker. I smile as I snap a photo to send to D – as requested – proof that I, this little bit wild heart he once loved, made it here. To Desperate Literature, Artist Date 111.

This mostly used, mostly English-language bookstore is about a seven-minute walk from my house – the other two locations are in Brooklyn and Santorini, Greece – but I’m only just now finding it. That’s how Madrid is. Lots of windy paths, disguised as roads, bumping into one another. Arteries and veins, as I like to call them.

There is an economy of space here, and it’s easy to miss so much as there are no familiar grids to zig up and zag down. One either stumbles onto a place or is told to go there.

In this case, the latter.

First by Naked Madrid – a must-read blog for non-natives looking for a local experience. And again by my friend E after she attended its “The More Eggnog the Better” Christmas party.

It’s noon – still fairly early for a Sunday “morning” in Madrid – when I stumble in and am greeted by a small man wearing small, round John Lennon-style glasses.

“Please excuse me for just a moment,” he says in a proper Londoner’s accent. “My father just texted, insisting I call him.”

I am charmed by his BBC accent. His familiar greeting. His use of the phrase “excuse me” – words I so rarely hear here, either in English or Spanish. It is simply not a part of the culture. Instead, it is common for Madrileños to push against one another on the metro and in the streets. The lack of “perdon” or “con permisso” considered neither rude nor noteworthy.

There are “Books for When You are Bored” here. “Sexy Books.” “Boozy Books.” (Which come with a shot of whiskey.) “Books for When you are Desperate.”

A vintage typewriter with onion-skin paper slipped through the scroll and a hand-made sign taped to it that says, “Write the poem.” Not A poem. THE poem.

2016-02-07 12.30.54A chess board with the words “play me,” written on it – also in black Sharpie marker. A copy of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass on the nearby shelves.

A small, children’s mattress stacked on top of a wooden bench built into the wall – the ultimate reading nook for anyone under the age of 10. Forty-six, I nonetheless settle in with a handful of books and consider the possibilities of words.

Meanwhile, the owner returns offering me a cup of ginger tea and an update on his father – seems he’s getting married for the fourth time –  while characters from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, painted on the wall opposite of me, return my gaze.

I open Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Big Country. Four handwritten messages are scrawled inside the front cover. Among them, “Adios, hijo de puta. Que te rompan el culo en NY. Peter.”

And while I am still a Level A – beginner— in Spanish, I do know the meaning of “hijo de puta.” (My teacher Diego just taught it to me last week.) And I smirk.

I lean into Bryson’s first essay, “Coming Home”– about his return to the United States after a 20-year sojourn in England – and well up. I’ve been here just six months but wonder if I too will struggle to find the words I once knew, like spackle and anchor. Already I grasp for language, ultimately feeling like I speak neither Spanish nor English very well. I am told this is not an uncommon experience.

It feels like a nod from God…that I am supposed to be here.

As does Lefty Frizzell piped through the speakers, singing about Saginaw, Michigan – my mother’s hometown.

As does the copy of The Artist’s Way, propped up behind the front counter. The book that introduced me to the Artist Date. That I was looking for a copy of last week – my dog-eared copy tucked away in an attic in Chicago – to cite in my graduate-school application.

As does the Katherine Mansfield quote on the bookshelf.

Somewhere at my mother’s house there is a photograph of me sitting in Mansfield’s husband’s (Irving) lap in Beverly Hills. I am five-years-old, wearing a brown and white, gingham-checked bikini with cherries on it. My hair is wet and we are smiling big – both of us, in love with my little bit wild heart. The same little bit wild heart that brought me here.

 

irving mansfield

 

 

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Brooklyn Les

brooklynThere was already a Leslie when I arrived to work at The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California in 1995, so I quickly became Les – which was strange because up until that time, only my parents had ever called me Les.

However, not long after that “christening,” I earned the name Brooklyn Les – used exclusively when I would lead with my mouth.

Brooklyn Les swore like a sailor. Kept a pack of Newport Lights in the pocket of her leather jacket – a tan vintage number with a paisley silk lining which my friend T affectionately referred to as the Serpi-coat, an homage to Al Pacino in the movie of the same era. Brookly Les was feisty. A little bit angry. And funny as she let the expletives fly from her lips.

In those first few years in San Francisco, Brooklyn Les showed up a lot. But as time passed, her role became more of a cameo — the walk-on of a once beloved character that had moved on.

I quit smoking. I got older. I went to therapy.

I quit the job I hated and learned to curb my tongue at the one that I loved. I learned to meditate. I joined a spiritual business group.

There was less to be angry about.

“Remember when you used to be surly, Pearly?” my then-husband asked, only half in jest.

I did.

When I moved to Chicago in 2007, Brooklyn Les began appearing again. Sans cigarettes.

I was newly sober and leaking emotion. Joy. Gratitude. Pain. My friend D insisted I was angry but didn’t know how to express it.

And yet, every once in a while, I did. Usually with my friend M, over food or coffee. Always unexpected. What started as simple conversation quickly developing into full-fledged rant. About my husband. Or my parents. Or my birthparents. The weather. Weight Watchers. Chicago. Occasionally myself.

M would clap with glee. She loved Brooklyn Les. Probably because she only turned up occasionally and was so different than the woman I presented as. She was funny and crass and said things none of us dared say.

But I always felt apologetic. Like I shouldn’t behave this way. That I couldn’t afford the luxury of a good resentment.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Brooklyn Les. Strangely, she didn’t show up during my divorce or my pained efforts at dating after. She didn’t show up during my move to Seattle or my unfruitful job search in Chicago.

I was angry. But it wasn’t funny or functional. Instead, it mostly got turned inward, on to me.

My friend S noticed and thought that breaking some rocks might help release it. Or at the very least, invite Brooklyn Les for a visit.

So a few weeks ago, we drove out to El Pardo – a park outside of Madrid where Franco used to shoot deer. (Rumor has it he was such a bad shot that his lackeys would literally have to place deer – I don’t know how – directly in front of his aim if he was to have even a minimum of success.)

Inside the park, at a quarry of sorts, S demonstrated.

He picked up a rock, said some choice words, threw it against another and watched it shatter into bits. Then he invited me to do the same.

I picked up a rock. Threw it. And watched it bounce off another and roll onto the ground.

“I can’t even get angry correctly.”

S invited me to name my anger – more specifically, the sources of my anger – but I couldn’t. I could only cry. So he named them for me. And I cried even harder.

I cried and muttered and prayed…threw some rocks. A few shattered. Many bounced.

It was a beginning.

I’m sure Brooklyn Les could have done better. But she was nowhere to be seen.

I thought I recognized her walking through Sol, the center of Madrid, the other day. As I was jostled and bumped by Spaniards just doing what they do – walking four or five across on the sidewalk, slowly, seemingly expecting everyone else to move. They all seem to navigate just fine around each other but I haven’t quite figured out their system.

But instead of Brooklyn Les, I felt more like William Shatner in an Everyready Battery commercial circa 1978. “I dare you to knock this battery off of my shoulder.”

My anger scared me. It still does.

I thought about my ex-boyfriend D. How I more than once told him, “I won’t fight with you.”

“People fight,” he insisted. But I wouldn’t.

I thought about my ex-husband. How he was one of less than a handful of people I would fight with – who I felt safe enough to fight with.

But mostly, I find myself just fighting with myself. It’s exhausting.

It seems clear I need to find a way to purge this anger from my body – without imposing it on others, or turning it on to myself. Although I’m still not exactly sure how.

Perhaps Brooklyn Les might have an idea…