Artist Date 1.2: Life, Animated

 

 

life animated
Copyright. Life, Animated.

My commitment to the Artist Date began as a response to pain. To a man I affectionately referred to as the Southern Svengali and the short, sweet romance after my divorce that I couldn’t let go of. I sometimes forget that.

I forget because the weekly, solo play date as prescribed in the book The Artist’s Way, healed me from obsession I only hesitantly admitted.

I forget because two years of creative commitment, coupled with other work, allowed me to release him. Us. And my ideas about the way we should be in one another’s lives. (Which looks dramatically different than I had imagined. And while our contact can now best be described as sporadic, the connection remains strong … sweet and satisfying to both of us.)

I forget because it gently nudged me into becoming the kind of woman I dreamed of being. A woman engaged in life in interesting ways. Who does interesting things. Who has interesting conversations about more than relationships.

But today, I remember.

I remember as I find a hole in my schedule and watch my mind like a rubber band – snapping back to thoughts of the man I dated before I left for Madrid.

While I know there is no slipping back into one’s life as it once was, I had hoped we might explore dating again when I returned. But it hasn’t turned out that way. And in these quiet, alone moments, I find myself once again struggling with letting go. Of him. Us. And my ideas about the way we should be in one another’s lives.

And so it is grace when I hear the whisper that perhaps now is a good time to re-commit to my creative self again. That an infusion of new stimuli might once again quiet my mind and lead me back to the woman who has interesting conversations about more than relationships.

(While a year in Madrid seemed to have the makings of one grand, extended Artist Date, my days were filled with the stuff of life. All occurring in a language not my own. And Artist Dates became, unfortunately, sporadic.)

I peruse the movie guide — more concerned with time, location and the act of going than what will be projected on the screen – and choose a film.

I cut short a phone call. Say no to a text from a friend asking if I would like company. Both occurring after I’ve made the decision to go. The universe seeming to ask, “Are you sure?’

And I am.

I hop on my vintage 3-speed cruiser and pedal to the Music Box Theatre. Artist Date 1.2. (Officially, number 117 … renamed for congruence with my rededication to the practice and my return to Chicago.)

Grinning ear to ear, I purchase my ticket. Giddy to be with me.

This has always been the magic of the Artist’s Date. A turning inward. A return to myself.

Ironic, as the movie I have chosen – Life, Animated – is a documentary about Owen Suskind, a young man with autism and the tools he and his family use to pull him out from his personal world.

How Walt Disney movies become the lens and the lexicon for connection. The language for articulating what we all want. Friends. Romantic love. Work. A sense of purpose. And what we all feel from time to time, what Owen calls “the glop.” The inevitable pain when the things we want elude us.

We join him in watching scenes from Bambi on his first night alone in his independent living apartment – after his mother and father have left. And later, The Hunchback of Notre Dame when his girlfriend of three years ends their relationship.

Heartbreaking moments punctuated with joy and hope, most evident when Owen connects with his own passion and a sense of purpose. His “Disney Club” – where he and other adults with developmental disabilities view and discuss their favorite films. And experience an unscripted visit from Gilbert Godfrey, the voice of Iago from the movie Aladdin.

I sob witnessing their squeals of laughter, excitement and disbelief … as I am reminded that the universe is full of surprises. That it is always willing to conspire with us. And that our greatest joys often come packaged in a way dramatically different than we might imagine them.

That gorgeous moments of serendipity occur when we turn first turn inward – connecting with our tenderest truths – and then out – vulnerably sharing them. We allow the world to join our party. And sometimes even Gilbert Godfrey shows up.

Thank You For Your Bad Behavior

Last Saturday I ran into R. at a party. We hadn’t seen one another in a while. And while she looked stunning at first glance, I intuitively knew something was wrong.

Her vibration was low. And she seemed less sparkly than usual.

She confessed she was in what I like to call a “come-here-go-away” relationship. She had become involved with someone who was not emotionally available.

I could only smile. Not for her pain. But because I know it so well.

For the past two months Mr. 700 Miles (Away from Chicago) and I had been doing the same thing. Until two weeks ago, when – without a word – he went away. No text. No phone call. No Facebook message. Nothing.

A part of me felt sideswiped.

We had just Skyped the night before, before bed, as had become our ritual – enjoying all that technology allowed us to enjoy about one another. We blew a kiss goodnight. He said he would call me the next day.

Intellectually, I had no reason to believe he wouldn’t.

With Jo, the night he walked away.  I told her he wouldn't call.  She told me to let it unfold.
With Jo, the night he walked away. I told her he wouldn’t call. She told me to just let it unfold.

And yet all that day and the next I felt twisty and anxious. Something inside of me knew otherwise.

I was right.

What I didn’t realize was we wouldn’t speak again.

I don’t exactly understand what happened. And yet, I do. Clearly, he couldn’t do it. And for whatever reason, he couldn’t tell me he couldn’t do it.

At first I felt sad. Confused. Then I got angry — chucking magazines across the apartment, their glossy pages smacking and fanning out on the hardwood floors, and shouting into the universe, “You F**king Pussy,” choking on my sobs.

I beat the bed with a red spatula – the one my friend Kristen brought me the day I moved into my apartment – whacking it until I was exhausted.

I wrote a letter in red marker – one I will never send. It wasn’t kind or generous or understanding. It didn’t speak of my gratitude for him in my life, or that my heart would always be open to his friendship – even though this too was true.

I didn’t write it to garner a response, or to guarantee he would remember me a certain way.   I wrote it so I didn’t have to hold the pain myself. So I didn’t have to pretend it didn’t hurt when it did.

It felt good. And hard. And when I was done, I wiped the Alice Cooper mascara rings from under my eyes and went to sit in a church basement with the people who taught me I didn’t ever have to drink again – not even during times like this.

I miss him. Our friendship. Our deep connection – emotional, spiritual, creative, sexual.

But I do not miss what I saw in my friend Saturday night. The twisting. The anxious. The uncertainty.

The holding on to what was, what could be, rather than what is. The hearing only what I want to hear – what fits my story.

The trying to wedge myself into a sexy stiletto of a relationship – the one that gives me blisters.

Dressed up for the party...no date necessary.
Dressed up for the party…no date necessary.

And as R. told her story, I felt gratitude. Gratitude for his “bad behavior.” In walking away without a word, he made the choice for me. A choice I had made a month prior, in a moment of strength and clarity, when I told him I couldn’t do this. That I needed more. A choice I ultimately could not stick to it.

It all reminds me of when my girlfriend A. divorced me a couple of years back. When she told me I was “too much.”

“I am sorry you feel that way,” I said, rather than, “You are right. Please show me how to be strong like you” – which was, at the time, more my style.

At that moment our karmic contract was broken. We were done.

It has been more than four years since we had that conversation at her home in Long Beach. Over the years I have reached out just a handful of times. She never responded. And then I stopped trying.

I thought being told I was “too much,” was the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t. And in the process, I learned that I wasn’t either.

I thought “being left without a word – abandoned,” was the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t. And I learned that I wasn’t either. That that is an old adoptee fear. Old language. He simply chose a different path. And he chose not to tell me about it. It was never about me.

Perhaps that was our karmic contract. Or at least part of it.

R. left the party early. Perhaps to see her Mr. Come-Here-Go-Away. Perhaps to twist and perseverate.  I’m not certain.

But I stayed. I ate cake and talked with friends about the book proposal I am working on, the contract work I recently secured, and about dancing a master class with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.   Anything but him. But us.

And on the way home, I thanked Mr. 700 Miles – for many, many things – among them, his “bad behavior.”

Real. With Most of Her Hair Loved Off

I’m sitting in a big upholstered chair at The Book Cellar, a stack of children’s books in my lap. Tears streaming down my cheeks – red from the warmth inside.

There is a discussion panel about the Arab Spring just a few feet away from me.  Every seat is filled – except for mine, tucked away at the end of the stacks.  A couple of people are standing.

friendsI’m supposed to be choosing a gift for my friend Clover’s yet-to-be-born baby.  Her friends are throwing her a shower this weekend.  And she and Andy have asked guests to bring a book for the baby’s library.  I’m pretty sure I’ve chosen hers – Friends, by Eric Carle’s.  The words are simple, the illustrations lush.  I think about our friendship.  That my wish for her child is to have a friendship like ours.

On the inside back cover is a photograph of Carle and his friend.  They are three-years old.  The month it is taken is written in German, by his mother.  Carle never saw his friend again.  “I often wonder what happened to him,” he writes.

Tears.

I think about people leaving and having no say in the matter.  Powerless.  My adoption shit is all stirred up.

I am reading The Velveteen Rabbit.  I sort of know the story – my friend Rachel used to reference it, talking about being real and having all the fur loved off of you.  But I don’t think I ever actually read it.  Or had it read to me.  Until now.

“ ‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day…’Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’ “

I smirk.

“ ‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. (Named for his bald brown coat and missing hairs of his tail.)   ‘It’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

Loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with…I let the words wash over me.

“ ‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.”

Yes, I whisper, to no one in particular.

Illustrations, William Nicholson
Illustrations, William Nicholson

“ ‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’ “

Bullshit.

“ ‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’ ”

All at once.  Wound up.  That is my history – mostly.  All in love.  Insanely inside one another’s skin.  Until now.   I’ve been getting to know some new someones, bit by bit.  It is new.

“ ‘It doesn’t happen all at once…You become.  It takes a long time.’ “

Amen.

“ ‘That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

So we don’t all become real?

Do I break easily?  Because I cry easily.  Because I hurt easily.  I decide that it is not the same thing.  Although pieces have certainly chipped off in transit.  I am soft, at times ridiculously so, free of sharp edges.  And despite my seemingly fragile nature, I do not have to be carefully kept.

“ ‘Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.

“…but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again.  It lasts for always.’ ”

Yes.  I think so.

Except for when I am not.  Not Real.  Twisting myself inside out to be who I think you want me to be so that you will love me.  It is more infrequent now.  Subtle.  But it still happens.  Awful.

The way I make myself small, without even knowing it, so you won’t feel overwhelmed by me.  My desires.  My needs.  My emotions.  I found myself doing it today.  Unconscious.   Until I wasn’t.

“How sick to be small and to sit by and wait until you can accept more of me,” I wrote in my notebook.

The Skin Horse tells his story.  Illustrations, William Nicholson.
Skin Horse tells his story. Illustrations, William Nicholson.

“The Rabbit sighed.  He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him.  He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad.  He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.”

Me too.  But so far, these “uncomfortable things” have been the wellspring of change in my life.

I remember once saying to my girlfriend Julie, having again gained back all of the weight I had lost and then some, that if someone could wave a wand and make me a healthy weight, I was certain this time I would maintain it.

I doubt it.

The Rabbit does become Real.  Not just to the child who plays with him, but to everyone.  Real with real hind legs – no longer made from just a single piece of fabric – the kind that allow him to jump without the boy tossing him in the air.

And one day, when Autumn became Winter became Spring, the Rabbit saw the boy again – playing in the woods.

“ ‘Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!’

But he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real.”

Come back to look at the child…yes, sometimes they come back.  High-school friends I never really knew.  Birth parents.  And old boyfriends – 18-plus years later – just to say they are sorry.

Sometimes.

I pick up both books and take them to the register.  I have one gift wrapped for Clover’s baby.  The other I keep for me – the one with most of her hair loved off.

Artist Date 44: You Are Really More West African

Mary is coming toward me but I can’t place her. In fact, I don’t yet recall that this is her name.

I scan through my mental Rolodex as quickly as I can trying to match a face, a name, an experience.  I come up blank other than to know that she is familiar, and we are at my synagogue, so I figure I must know her from here.

One of the many children I met in Kigali...introduced by Mary.
One of many children I met in Kigali, introduced by Mary.

She puts her arms around me and asks how I am.  I tell her I am well and she says that I look it.  Her response is genuine.  Like she has taken a few minutes to take me in.  All of me.  Like she’s seen me before.  And she has.  Even though I cannot remember where.

She begins talking about the speakers I am here to hear.  Dr. Naasson Munyandamutsa and his wife Donatilla Mukumana.  That she has been traveling with them.  Out West, where Naasson received the Barbara Chester Award from the Hopi Foundation, for his work with torture victims.  And now here, to Evanston.  To my synagogue.  My more head-y than usual Artist Date – Number 44.

Finally, I humbly admit I cannot remember her name.  It is Mary.  I tell her mine is Lesley.  She hadn’t remembered either.  Just my face.  She has seen my face.

In Rwanda.  Her name shakes something loose.  The pieces fall into place.

Mary is one of the founders of WE-ACTx – an organization supporting women and children with HIV and AIDS in Rwanda.  We met in the summer of 2012 when I traveled there with my Rabbi and members of my synagogue, the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation.

rwanda filling rxOn the ground, we filled prescription packets, painted walls, built a library.  But mostly, we witnessed.  The people.  Their lives.  The help they required.  And the heroic, albeit shoe-string, assistance that was being provided.

It was an antidote, a balm, to the crazy, or at the very least, unsettled, that was my life at that time.

Smack dab in the middle of my divorce.  Neither in nor out.  I was living in Seattle, with my soon-to-be ex-husband, sleeping on the fold-out couch in the office.  I had decided I would decide in Kigali where to go next.  If I would stay in Seattle.  Move back to Chicago.  Or San Francisco.

Or go somewhere else entirely – like Kigali.  Where it was suggested more than once, by residents, by ex-patriots and by several of those on my trip, that perhaps I should consider staying.

All of this comes flooding back to me as Mary is speaking to me.

Patrick.  His greeting to me each time we met: "Liora, you should stay."
Patrick’s greeting each time we met: “Liora, you should stay.”

The bindi I wore every day – the jeweled accoutrement pasted between my eyes that I had taken to wearing.  The mark of a married women in Indian culture.  My own private, not-even-conscious, barrier between me and the world.  A secret “Don’t-even-fucking-think-of-it.”  Even though it was all I was fucking thinking about. Fucking.  Because I wasn’t.

The name I claimed – Liora, my Hebrew name.  It means “my light.”  There were two Lesley—s on the trip and it just seemed easier.  For everyone except my Rabbi, who knew me as Lesley.

The words, “It’s ok.  It was a long time coming,” that flew out of my mouth regularly.  Every time I spoke of my impending divorce, which was a lot.  It was my story, as we each told our stories to one another – 12 of us over 12 or so days in sub-Saharan Africa.

It seems a lifetime ago.

Nights under my mosquito net talking with my roommate – who, just a few months later, would begin walking through her own divorce – talking about the day.  Blogging by the light of my computer after she had gone to bed.

rwanda dance posseDancing with a professional troupe in a “cultural village” (read: Tourist Destination) near the Ugandan border.  Dancing on the hot concrete at the WE-ACTx compound and on the lawn outside of the hotel in the evening – a party thrown just for us, complete with a DJ, BBQ, and a movie – Gorillas in the Mist – shown on a screen outside, just like in Chicago during summertime in the parks.

I am jostled back into today as Mary introduces Naasson and Donatilla.

They are sitting at a table, each with a laptop computer in front of them.  His, a MAC Airbook.  Hers, an HP, like mine.

They talk about their work with rape.  With depression and suicide.  Their voices are sweet, slightly lilting.  Easy on the ear.  Their faces express nothing of the pain of their work.  Of what they, and those around them, have experienced.  It is typical for people from this part of Africa, and they speak to it – the shrouded emotional life of Rwandans.

There are only five psychiatrists in all of Rwanda.

I lean over to my Rabbi.  “It’s a good thing I didn’t stay there, “I whisper, remembering he was one of the ones who encouraged me to consider staying – perhaps his own “road-not-traveled.”

“Yes, you are more West African,” he whispers back.  We laugh.  Even though I don’t quite know what it means.  But I like it.

I like it because I “study” West African dance.  Spending Sunday mornings barefoot, moving in lines across a wood floor, supported and surrounded by a posse of drummers and other dancers.  Leaping.  Learning to shake my hips like a not-locked-up-up-tight American woman.

My heart seemingly bursting through my skin.

I don’t know anything about West Africans – other than what I experience from my dance teacher and some of the drummers.  But I know that I am emotionally “raw.”  And not just now.  That I am “wild” in comparison to Rwandans.  And to many Americans.

I like the idea of a place where people live like this.  A land of “misfit toys,” like in the animated holiday special, Rudolph’s Shiny New Year.  Where everyone’s heart is seemingly bursting through their skin.  Spilling out with love.  With pain.  With life.

Artist’s Date 24: Finding “Epic” Acceptance

epic flyingWhen I was about eight, my parents took me to see The Black Stallion at the Keego Theatre, a movie house where they played second-run shows for a buck.

Onscreen, a storm is raging.  Passengers of a luxury liner jump into life rafts.  A young boy cuts free an agitated, tied-up horse, and it leaps from the boat.  The horse’s angry owners hold the boy at knife point before he is flung into the dark, choppy waters.

I am hysterical.  Sobbing.  Unable to catch my own breath.  I do not know the horse will rescue the boy.  That the story is just beginning.

My mother pinches me under the arm.  “Do we have to go out to the car?” she asks.

My feelings are too big for my family.  This is what I believe, true or not.

It is why I often watched television upstairs in the guest room, alone – my emotions leaking out with Folgers commercials and documentaries on PBS.  It was a source of teasing – mostly good-natured – in my family.  But I was too sensitive to realize it.

Sitting in the Davis Theatre watching Epic – Artist’s Date 24 – I remember all of this.  The fear.  The anxiety.  The shame that is tied to these feelings.  I am experiencing it now.

I’m old enough to know that good will prevail.  This is a PG movie.  I know that the Leafmen will “win,” that the pod will bloom in the full moon, that the forest will be saved.

And yet.

There’s this loud, foreboding music.   Crescendo rising.  Bats flying.  Forest dying.

The Images are dark.  Mandrake, nemesis of the forest, of life itself, wears a rat skin like a hooded cape.

I feel my heart quicken, a desire to turn my eyes away.  I am afraid.  I do not trust it will end well.

I am the only adult in the theatre without a child in tow and I feel a little bit self-conscious.  I retreat to my head.  Do the parents think I am suspect?  A child molester?  Why aren’t the children afraid like I am?

A dad ducks and scurries out, gripping two little hands, one in each of his.  Are they frightened?  Or do they have to pee?

epic flowersI saw the trailer for Epic a few weeks ago, on another Artist’s Date.  I was enchanted by its beautiful images – flower-people, with heads like cotton pom-poms, dandelions turned to seed.  Faces on sunflowers and gerbera daisies.  I was called by its questions about belief.

This is what brought me here, on a day I find myself emptied out, running on fumes – the promise of loveliness.  Of faith.  Of possibilities.  This is what I receive:

Professor Bomba’s unshakeable belief in something he can’t see, but only knows.  Like God.  Like Horton Hears a Who.  His willingness to be perceived as crazy.  His willingness to lose seemingly everything for his belief.

The Leafmen’s simple code, “Many Leaves.  One Tree. You are Never Alone.”

I learn that love can bloom riding gently on a deer.  And a pod that blooms in full-moon light is the source of all creation.  That hummingbirds make great horses, but common brown sparrows can do the job too.

I am reminded that relationships between fathers and daughters are sometimes hard.  And that it’s ok to hold on to someone you hardly know – if they offer you a hand or a torso and you need one.

That each of us has a purpose – even slugs and snails.  We might not know it.  Don’t always ask for it.  But we can embrace it.  And continue to put one foot in front of the other.

That life is about finding out what we are capable of.  How high we can jump to get ourselves out of a hole.  And that each of us can learn to fly.

That we all experience loss.  Of a parent.  Of a friend.

And that sometimes, love comes back – oftentimes in the most unorthodox and unexpected of ways.

Queen Tara’s energy, twinkling light like Tinkerbell, speaking to Ronin and to MK after she has left this-worldly plane.

MK’s reunion with Nod, straddling “normal” and Lilliputian-sized worlds for the promise of connection, of love.

I think of my own recent reunitings, seeing someones I never thought I’d see again … and then did.

The tears stream down my face.  Gratitude.  Beauty.  Joy.  I feel their salty release.   I notice them, like I notice the fear, and do nothing.  I let them roll off of me in the darkness.  I can sit with them.  They are not too much for me.