Artist Date 88: Tied

rcfIt’s Sunday and I’m not at dance class…which feels really weird. I’ll be away more than here – to San Francisco in September and Italy the following month – so it didn’t really make sense to enroll this session.  Except it’s “what I do.”  Except today.

The sun is hot, the air is crisp and the sky is a perfectly blue sky blue. The kind of day I would lament missing if I were in the dance studio.

I jump on my bike and pedal to Wicker Park for the Renegade Craft Fair: Artist Date 88.

There’s a DJ spinning records and it’s all I can do to not spontaneously bust into dance. Although I’m pretty sure no one would mind.

There is leather and pottery. Fibers and lithographs.  And lots and lots of jewelry.

I strike up a conversation with a young jewelry maker from Wisconsin. We talk about art school – where she went, my desire to go.  She is flanked by her mother who notes the wholehearted support she offered her daughter in following her bliss.

For years I blamed my parents for my not going to art school. Truth told, I don’t think I had the drive, let alone the chops.  I fancied myself a fine artist but I didn’t have the discipline.  A discipline I only found later in life – much later, in my 40s, when I took on Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for a second time.

Feeling desperate, crazy and on my knees, I embraced the book as others might the Bible or the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Viewing it as a salvation.  The keys to the kingdom.  The yellow brick road.

I took on nearly every suggestion – most noteworthy, the bogeyman – the Artist Date. That hour or so alone each week to fill my creative coffers.  Scheduled.  Planned.  And penciled in to my calendar.

A commitment to myself and my creativity.

It changed my life. And I’m pretty sure saved it.  Or at least my sanity.  It forced me to focus on me.  Not in a navel-gazing way, but more in a “What have you done for me, lately,” Janet Jackson kind of way.  Except I’m not asking some no-goodnik while dancing at a diner…I’m asking myself.

When I speak of it, I feel like the Pied Piper.  And today I should have brought my flute.

I run into my friend Whitney, who introduces me to a colleague, who innocently asks, “What brings you here?”

The answer seems obvious. The art.  The weather.  The promise of Black Dog Gelato.  Instead, I tell her about The Artist Date.

As I speak, I become excited by own story. Almost as if it is someone else’s story.  And I am reminded that my life is really quite magical.  That I AM the woman I always wanted to be.  A cool, creative, urban chick.  Like the women I saw in photographs when I was 12 – waiting on line for a shave or a Mohawk on Astor Place in New York.

It is the same feeling I have talking to the boys from San Francisco – where I lived for 14 years – who make and sell tea, T-We. We talk about what took me there – a job.  And what brought me here – love.  For my then husband, when I followed him to Chicago for medical residency.  And later for myself, the people, and the place itself – when I returned by choice, alone, a little more than two years ago.

It’s the feeling I have trying to put a ribbon into an old manual typewriter – part of a salon set up on Division Street by a woman renting vintage furniture. I tell her I learned to write on a typewriter – an IBM Selectric – when I was in journalism school.  About editing the newspaper on boards.  Printed stories rolled on to glass with wax and hacked at with a blue marker to fit the page.  It is the work that took me to San Francisco.  To Germany and Israel.

It’s the feeling I have talking with the woman who make shoes with ribbon laces – MOPED. I am lacing up a pair with gold ribbons and wonder aloud if they might not serve me well in Italy.

We talk about volunteering overseas. My upcoming flight of fancy at a fair-trade chocolate festival in Umbria, where I will live in an apartment with other volunteers from around the globe, and play out my “I live in Europe” fantasy.  I tell her about volunteering in Rwanda and in the South of France.  How traveling this way allows me to go alone without being alone.  How it ties me to people and place and purpose.

Like the ribbons I pick to take with me – seven in total. Purple.  Black.  Grey.  Pink stripes.  Navy stripes.  Silver glitter.  Gold.

Ribbons that tie me to these shoes.

To the ground.  To myself.  To this life.  The one a 12-year-old imagined – right down to the shave.

Artist Date 75: No Excuse. That I Might…

black square 2Last week marked Artist Date 75.  I didn’t go.

I didn’t even pretend to go.  Or to dress up what I did do instead, like the way I used to dress up my alcoholism.  Wrap it up in trips to wine country and witty repartee with vintners and sommeliers only to be told by a stranger in no uncertain terms that wine aficionado is just a fancy word for a drunk.

No, I didn’t pretend that a day at home cooking constituted an Artist Date.  (Although it might have.)  Or that the date I had with my friend Clover before she gave birth to Juniper Maya, thus setting her life on a wildly new trajectory, somehow counted either.

My friend Lynn told me this would happen eventually.

I recognized that my process — the weekly Artist Date — had become a practice.  And that it had unintentionally given a sub-theme and a structure to my blog, and the story of returning to myself post-divorce.

She said there would be weeks that I wouldn’t go, or that I wouldn’t blog. And that those experiences would be worthy of words too.

So here they are.  Without apology.

It is both a relief and a disappointment.

——————–

Friday afternoon Pam asks me about my weekend plans.

Party.  Haircut.  Client.

Weight Watchers.  Dance.  Church basement.

I confess I am not sure where or how or if I might squeeze in my Artist Date.

“You can’t always be prolific,” she replies.

Somehow I think the rules don’t apply to me.  That I should be above them.  Better than that.  Less than human.

That if I make a commitment, I have to stick to it.  Period.  Which is ironic as I am greatly irritated when held to words I ostensibly said 20-plus years ago – possibly in a blackout.

I come home from work feeling tired, overwhelmed and jangly.  At a friend’s suggestion, I call the hostess and offer my regrets – letting her know I will not be able to attend.  I tell her the truth, which she not only understands but supports.

candle-at-night--burning_19-126713It occurs to me that perhaps I am the only one keeping score.

The next day my client cancels.  The day prior, my own massage is canceled too.

It feels like a message from the universe.  All of it.  Slow down.  Lie down.  Say no.

Stay home.  Pay some bills.  Write.

Ride your bike.  Go thrifting with a girlfriend.  Eat gelato for no other reason than it is sunny and more than 70 degrees.

Be less frantic.

Make room for nothing.

——————–

I remember being an editor at the college newspaper when the Gulf War broke out.  The entire staff gathered around the small television precariously placed on top of a metal file cabinet in the back of the newsroom, watching CNN.

We are too young to remember Vietnam.  We have not lived through a war.

We dispatch the writers and photographers on to campus to capture the mood and the moment.  In the newsroom, we debate our position and how we will represent it on the Opinion Page, of which I am the editor.

We consider blacking out the entire page – as it was rumored our predecessors had done when the United States put troops in Vietnam.

Instead we run a single photograph taken that evening – a student sitting cross-legged, lighting a candle.  In prayer and hope, I imagine.

I think about that big black page as I begin writing today.  Of darkness.  Nothingness.  And the statement it made.

I don’t have a statement to make.  My lack of Artist Date just isn’t that important.  The only war going on is inside of me.  The only dying off I need consider is that of old ideas.

I decide the absence of Artist Date 75, and the absence of spin or excuse, might serve as a metaphoric kindling of light.  A prayer and a hope that I might quit keeping score.  That I might continue to make room for nothing.  That I might allow myself the space to change my mind.  And to be gloriously, imperfectly human.

Artist Date 74: Letting Go of The Ghosts

cicada

 

It is Saturday.  My friend Amy has invited me to see the world premiere of Cicada at the GreenHouse Theatre – Artist Date 74.  It has been a labor of love – hers and others – for three years.  She has asked all of her friends to bring their friends.  To spread the word.

I say “yes” to the first part, “no” to the second – honoring my commitment to my weekly solo date.  To myself.  And write it in my calendar in pen.

But now I want to change my mind.  I want to see a boy.

He is young.  Younger.  He visited my OKCupid profile.  I visited his.

He reminds me of Mr. 700 Miles – my last love, my last heartbreak.  Right down to the part where he moved home to be with his mother when she was ill.  That’s the part that really knocked me out about 700 – his seeming unselfishness and big, shiny heart, which he proudly wore on his sleeve.

It is flawed from the start and I know it.  Making contact because he reminds me of someone I used to love.  Someone I am trying to let go of and clearly have not entirely because I am still writing about him.  Because I am attracted to someone who reminds me of him.

We exchange a few messages.  And then we talk.  He isn’t 700.  But I like his voice and there is something sweet and spiritual inside of him.  We talk about gratitude.  I tell him I’m sober – something I have consciously not mentioned in my most recent dating forays up until now, for no other reason than it is not yet germane.

We make a date for the following week, based on my schedule.  But I want to meet sooner.  I think of inviting him to the play with me, reasoning that I sometime go to events with others and still count it as my weekly Artist Date.  Even though it isn’t.

But I know this isn’t the answer.

I meet him in the afternoon instead.  Prior to the play, when a client cancels.  We go for a walk at the lake.  I tell him I had thought of inviting him to the play but didn’t – explaining the ritual and commitment of my weekly Artist Date.  He says he wouldn’t have gone, he wouldn’t want to get in between me and me.  My words, not his.

I had the same experience with 700 in January when I let it slip I would skip my Artist Date to talk with him on the phone for the first time.  He said he would feel horrible if I missed the movie I was planning to see and suggested I call him later – which I do.

It is astonishing how quickly I will abandon myself.

——————–

It is a story about holding on.  And letting go.  About memory.  Identity.  The stories we repeat.

Conversations with ghosts that allow us to live on with those no longer present.  Some haunting and angry.  Some decidedly sweet and tender.

I think about my own ghosts.  About serendipity – the times 700 has recently “showed up.”

An invitation he sent months ago to download Facebook Messenger pops up on my phone without cause or reason – his name and profile picture announcing the old request.

The license plate frame on the car in front of me, from a car dealership in the town where he lives – a village of only 5,000.

I whisper, “Are you there?”  Sometimes I swear I can feel him.  I wonder if he is thinking of me in those moments.  I like to think so.

It hurts watching Amy, as Lily, struggle to let go of the one she loves best.

It is not a single action, letting go.  More a process.  A dropping off, bit by bit, until there is nothing left but the shell of what once was, and you don’t even notice until someone asks you about it.

Like when I went to the Facebook page of the Southern Svengali for the first time in months, and saw he was living in Boston.  How could I not know?  And how is it, I could not care?  I was happy for him.  For the work he was doing.  But I was not affected by it.

——————–

Two days later I cancel my second date with 700 Stand In.

I am overwhelmed.  I am working three jobs.  Plus writing, dancing, and ostensibly looking for work.

I have not exercised since Sunday.  I am again sleeping less than six hours a night.  My apartment is a sty.

Something has got to give.  The choice is obvious.  I choose me.

I let the few other men I have been communicating with know I am on hiatus until June 12 – when my contract work is completed.  I give them my email address and I disable my OKCupid account.

I feel sad.  Like I have given away a puppy.  I forget doing what is right does not always feel good.

I know if I can let go of the attention, and the possibility of romance at least for now – the rest will drop off too.  Like it always does.  Until I don’t even think of it, think of him, until his name is mentioned.  And by then 700 miles is just a measurement of distance between here and there.

Pretend Boyfriend

I tattooed my aspirations on my body lest I forget them.  Lest I again consider leaving myself.
I tattooed my aspirations on my body lest I forget them. Lest I again consider leaving myself.

“You want a relationship, right?”

The words tumbled out of my Rabbi’s mouth.  Innocuous.  More a statement than a question.  Nearly an afterthought as we wrapped up our monthly meeting.

“I…I think so,” I stammered.

We stared at one another.  There it was.  The truth.  It fell flat on the floor, spreading out in the space between us.  Consuming.  Shocking.

We’d spent an awful lot of time talking about relationships over the years.  Talking about my fathers – both of them, the biological one and the one who raised me, my Dad.  My husband – now my ex.  The smattering of men who had come in and out of my life since the dissolution of my marriage.

My Divorce Buddy.  The one I talked to each night, into the wee hours of the morning.  Half a country apart.  Both of us alone, in the dark, navigating our way through the sometimes messy endings of marriage.

The Southern Svengali.  Genius artist in a Johnny Cash t-shirt.  He guided me through Charleston and my last visit with my biological mother before she died.  Pressed his lips against mine and nothing more.  Called me “Lil Pearl” and taught me how to be a better artist.

And most recently, the man I have affectionately come to call Mr. 700 Miles – referring to the physical distance between us.  In our hearts…it is just inches.  But in our lives… oceans and continents apart.  He is clearly, plainly, 100 percent unavailable.

Separated, but not quite divorced.  ”Kinda dating” someone in his own zip code.  He is finding his own center – spiritually, emotionally, creatively – and his own truth.  Work I have already done.  Work I continue to do.

And yet, when we talk or Skype, there is a familiarity that speaks of karmic attachments and lives shared.  Quite simply, I am in love with his heart.

He is, what my friend Rainey calls, a pretend boyfriend.  They all are.

A "selfie," on the road with my Divorce Buddy.  He never wants to show up in pictures. Hm...
A “selfie,” on the road with my Divorce Buddy. He never wants to show up in pictures. Hm…

She uses the words in a matter-of-fact way that implies everyone has one.  Has had one.  Like a cell phone or email address.

Deep friendship.  Emotional intimacy.  Trust.

Companionship.  Connectedness.  A shared sense of not being alone even though you are – when you are one instead of two.

But without a physical dimension, or a commitment to anything more.

She assures me that she has had several over the years.  And that sometimes, pretend boyfriends become real boyfriends.  But mostly they are pretend.

This has been my experience too.  Although I am usually too blinded by hope to see it at the time.

Good for practice.  For reminding me of my loveliness.  What it feels like to be close.  And allowing me to believe in possibilities.

No good at all in moments when my bed feels cold and lonely.  When I want nothing more than to feel arms wrapped around me.

Downright disastrous when I bring expectations of a real relationship to it.

My friend Kerry called me out on my penchant for pretend boyfriends this past weekend.  He wanted to know what I was afraid of.  Why I wouldn’t try online dating.  Why I wouldn’t make myself available to someone who is available.

A gift from one of my pretend boyfriends.  He said that I fell out of his head and on to his sketchbook.
A gift from one of my pretend boyfriends. He said that I fell out of his head and on to his sketchbook.

I felt sick inside.

“I don’t want to be left,” I said quietly in a voice that did not seem my own.

Was I referring to my partner of 15 years “leaving me?”  My birth parents “leaving me?”

Or was it me leaving myself?  Pushing aside my art, my values and my aspirations for someone else.  Someone who never asked me to.  And for something else – a relationship.  Believing that alone I was somehow less valuable.

Earlier that day, I left a voicemail for one of my girlfriends.  “I want a real boyfriend.  Not a pretend one.  I just had to say that out loud,” I announced into the digital abyss.

And I do.  Someone who is here.  Who I can physically feel.  His lips over mine.  His breath on my neck.  His hands on my body.

Someone to hold on to me.  And who I can hold on to.

Someone to eat with.  Sleep with.  Dance with.

A partner.  An equal.  Someone I can grow with.  Grow old with.

But I want me more.  The chance to be with myself.  To not leave again.

Yes, I want a real boyfriend.  I just don’t want one yet.

Artist Date 52: Exactly Where I Am Supposed To Be

This time last year I was on my knees.  Literally.

It was my first holiday season divorced and living back in Chicago, alone.  My girlfriend called me out on my obsession with the man I like to call the Southern Svengali — the one I kissed for two nights while in Charleston in late October.  She said she could not hear about it, or him, anymore.

My non-relationship was affecting my relationships.

I felt desperate and scared.  I called a friend who advised me to get on my knees and ask God to remove my obsession him every day.

I did.  But I needed something more.

the artists wayI remembered the comfort I had found in the structured creativity of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and decided to pull it out again —  a hopeful, albeit artsy, roadmap out of myself.

This time, in addition to taking on the weekly reading and writing assignments, I committed to the weekly Artist Date – the weekly hour or so block of time, alone, to fill my creative coffers – and to a weekly blog about it for a year.  Fifty-two Artist Dates.  Fifty-two blogs.

Thursday is Artist Date 52.

I am sitting in a Starbucks on Michigan Avenue killing time before Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.  It is 6 p.m. and I have been downtown since 11.  I am tired.  I am questioning the wisdom in staying here as opposed to driving home at 2 p.m. when I was finished with my work and returning later.

Until I get the text which lets me know I am exactly where I should me.  It is from my friend Matt.  He is at a coffee shop around the corner, also killing time, before his couple’s therapy session where he will ask his wife for a divorce.

I tell him where I am.  Within moments he is standing over me and then we are hugging each other tightly.  Teary.

I remember when he told me that he and his wife were separating, more than a year ago.  I still lived in Seattle, but was visiting Chicago – smack dab in the middle of my own divorce.

Matt is appropriately anxious.  I reflect back to him how thoughtful he has been through this entire process – never rash.  We hold hands and we pray together, in the middle of Starbucks.  It doesn’t seem strange.

He leaves.  And shortly after, I do too, pulling my wool long-underwear back on over my tights.  It is December and the temperatures are already in the teens.

I love Chicago at night.  Especially during the holidays.  Michigan Avenue twinkles with white lights, and skaters glide around in circles on the tiny patch of ice in Millenium Park.

Photo: The Inside Scoop Chicago
Photo: The Inside Scoop Chicago

I walk up “the hill” that is Randolph Street to the Harris Theater.  My body has once again adjusted to the flat Midwest and takes note of the incline.

I pick up my ticket at will-call and make a beeline for the bathroom, peeling off my long underwear.  Winter in Chicago is a lot of work.

My friend Lori is coming out.  We embrace and talk excitedly about her ceramics show.  Lori is a genius potter.  We met her at Lil Street Art Center, where I was stumbling through a beginners’ class.  Lori taught me how to glaze.

She asks if I will come back to Lil Street.  I am not certain as I have committed my creative energies to my writing and my dance – at least for now.

She asks if I remember Kevin from the clay studio and reminds me he is a member of Hubbard Street.  I do remember.  It is one of the reasons I am here.

We part company and I run into a woman I have danced with.  She is enrolled in Level three West African Dance.  I am in Level two.  Later, I see Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The world seems small and I am a citizen of it.  Or, at the very least, a citizen of Chicago.

The woman in the seat next to mine is alone.  As is the woman next to her.  We make easy conversation.  She is a Weight Watchers member.  I am a Weight Watchers leader.  She is looking for a massage therapist.  I am a massage therapist.  She is a widow.  I am a divorcee.

She tells me she lost her husband four years ago, and she tears up.  For the second time today I am clear that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  Right down to my seat: BB10.

The performance, One Thousand Pieces by Alejandro Cerrudo, is inspired by Marc Chagall’s America Windows – the installation I visit every time I am at the Art Institute, my favorite.  I shared it with Matt a few months ago when we met downtown for a member’s-only café re-opening.  It was summer and we sat in the courtyard noting who was checking the other out.  It seems a long time ago.

One Thousand Pieces, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
One Thousand Pieces, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

It is my first time seeing Hubbard Street Dance.  The dancers’ bodies are strong.  Gorgeous.  Not sinewy, like ballet bodies.  I think my legs approximate the same shape as theirs, albeit less toned and I feel at the same time cocky and ashamed admitting this to myself.

The stage is glossed and looks like water.  I am looking for Kevin.  My eyes occasionally roll back into my head.  This almost always happens to me at performances.  The lights go down and my sleepy kicks in.  Except for last year when I saw Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre  – twice.

My seats were good – dress circle one night, main floor the other.  My experience was dramatically altered by looking straight at the dancers as opposed to peering down at them.  I vowed then I would always buy good seats for dance.  These seats are good – the Harris Theatre is small and there are no “bad seats.”  But not good enough.

And then it is over.

The performance, but not my Artist Dates.  They “work.”  Like being on my knees works.  Not so much in desperation (although I am certain I will find myself there again many times in this life), but in prayer – the antidote to it.  Exactly where I am supposed to be.