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.

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 54: Sew, Here I Am Again

I am afraid of fabric stores.

I am aware that this is a somewhat unusual fear.  Sharks.  Spiders.  Speaking in front of large groups.  Of course.  But fabric stores…

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And yet, I love them.  Floor to ceiling bolts of brightly colored cloth, every pattern imaginable.  Zebra skin.  Tiny elephants.  Frida Kahlo faces.

Shiny scissors of every size and price range.  Silky ribbon and trim.  Envelopes stuffed with patterns – what I imagine to be the Holy Grail of well-fitting clothing.

Trouble is, I can’t sew.  And I am terrified that I wear this deficiency like a scarlet letter.  An indelible ink tattoo on my forehead which reads, “She doesn’t know what she is doing.”

I’ve tried.  In high school, when I had designs on a career in fashion design.  I knew this skill was non-negotiable.  My mother’s friend offered to teach me.  Together, we made a skirt out of a blue-green burlap-y material.  I was pretty delighted, and I wore it a lot.  But I still couldn’t sew a button-hole, make pleats or even thread a bobbin on my own.

About 20 years later I took a sewing class in Berkeley, at the shop next to the cleaner who washed and folded my massage sheets each week.  Up the hidden staircase at the back of the store to the loft above it, I sat with six other women on Tuesday afternoons for four weeks.  And when it was over, I walked out with a very expensive kimono – which I wore for years, until it became greasy from the oil I slathered on my  body every morning and no amount of cleaning could take it out.  And no closer to knowing how to sew.

I visited a fabric store on Queen Anne Avenue in Seattle a couple of years ago.  I was embarking on The Artist’s Way for the first time and took myself there on one of my tentative, first Artist Dates.  I felt intimidated and scared, hoping, praying no one would ask me if I needed any help.  No one said a word to me.

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When I returned to Chicago, I stated my intention to make curtains using ironing tape on Facebook.  My friend James was horrified. He sent me a private message saying “Please,don’t,” and offered to sew for me.  He did.  Mustard-colored with sprigs of white blossom hang in my living and dining rooms, one set tied back with bow ties, the other with scarves.  Cartoonish leaves in grey, orange and green cover my bedroom window.

All of this comes rushing back to me as I walk into The Needle Shop, Artist Date 54 – a crazy mingling of curiosity, desire and fear.

Hanging in the windows are bolts of the happiest, most whimsical fabrics I’ve ever seen.  I promised myself I would go in “one day.”  Ever since it opened up across from the Trader Joes where I shop no less than twice a week.  Today is “one day.”

It is small inside.  There is nowhere to hide.  I take photographs of the bolts.  If anyone asks, I will say I am thinking of making pillows and want to see the fabric in my living environment.

This is not untrue. My friend Julia said she will show me how.  And that she can help me shop for a starter machine so I can really learn – through practice and repetition.

No one asks.  Instead, a sales clerks encourages me to take swatches, pre-cut and pinned to the bolts, along with tags of price per yard.

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Brown cotton with turquoise doves and cream-colored plants.  White with graphic grey and yellow flowers.  Green with turquoise ginkgo.

I wander over to the bin of patterns.  They are “high end.”  Nothing like the McCalls and Simplicity patterns strewn around my ex-mother-in-law’s sewing room.  (Although they have these too.)  Sassy 1950’s style tap pants and bras.  Messenger bags.  Wrap dresses.

The fantasy returns.  I will learn to sew.  I will make my own clothes.  I will have trousers that fit like they were made for me.  Because they were made for me.  I will make couture.  I will make curtains and pillows.  I will surround myself with gorgeous, happy, sumptuous fabrics.

I sit down in a stadium folding chair with a sewing book written by a cool-looking, hipster chick.  I am immediately overwhelmed and quickly put the book back on the shelf.

I pick up a card listing sewing classes.  Easy alterations.  Roman shade.  Ragland sleeve top.  Sewing 101.  “We show you how your machine works.”

Yes.  But first I need a machine.

Not today though.

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Today, this “one day,” I leave with a fistful of fabric scraps and the notion that there may be something here for me – a reason I continue to find myself in fabric stores nearly 30 years after my first visit.

Perhaps I am bound for a fourth or fifth-act career, in fashion.  Perhaps I will just learn to hem my own trousers.  At not-quite 5’3”, petites are still too long.

Or maybe it is nothing more than my Libran birthright, which calls me to surround myself with beauty.  The swatches in my bag, a talisman – guiding me.