For Those Who Have Opted Out of Facebook …

I was visiting my mother in Tennessee recently when a friend of hers asked about my blog … reminding me she follows it, but that she isn’t on Facebook.

Which meant she missed most of my photos and musings about life in Madrid during my year abroad.

Which meant she didn’t know I would be returning to Spain this fall for a Writers Retreat … with the aspiration of manifesting my blog into a book — “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.” About the Go Fund Me campaign I launched to help offset costs. Or the generous support I have received … and how it has connected me with my past, as well as my present, and people I know just a little.

With each contribution I’ve offered up thanks on Go Fund Me, Facebook and Twitter. Over time, these messages of gratitude have grown into stories, becoming blogs in their own right.

So this (and the series of updates which will follow ) is for my mother’s friend … and for every reader who wondered where I was wandering during that year abroad. Or wonders where I am now. Thank you for reading, and for wondering …

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Since launching my blog “A Wandering Jewess: My Journey Back to Self”  in 2011, I’ve often been asked “When is your book coming out?” My answer has been a vague, “One of these days.” Truth is, I didn’t know. For personal reasons, I didn’t want to self publish. And I didn’t know how to move my writing from blog to book deal. Until now.

About two months ago, I ended my morning meditation with the words, “Show my work, show me my money, show me my love.” I then opened my computer to find an e-mail from my ex-boyfriend, sent exactly eight minutes earlier, just one word — “Interesting?” and a link to the Rocaberti Castle Writers Retreat in Barcelona .

This retreat is for you if … You’re working on a book/screenplay combination or have an idea for one. You have a book and want to turn it into a screenplay or vice-versa —or sell it directly to Hollywood. You’re unsure how to get your book/screenplay in front of agents and producers. You’re serious about completing your project and making your dream come true!” 

Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

I am a big believer in fate. In signs. In messages from the universe.

So this October I’ll be returning to Spain for the Rocaberti Castle Writers Retreat.Joining a small group of other writers, I’ll meet with expert mentors – published authors, produced screenwriters and film producers – for the express purpose of taking my writing from screen to page to big screen. 


(Taken in Seville … before I knew I was going!)

My proposed project, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” garnered a half scholarship to the retreat. I need your help to raise the other half, plus airfare, reward gifts and incidentals. (See budget breakdown below.)

“They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” is based on posts from “A Wandering Jewess,” about my choice to “go it alone” for a year after the dissolution of my 10-year marriage and how Julia Cameron’s “The Artists Way” offered me an unintended framework for doing it.

“They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” is a series of 52 Artist Dates – one-person play dates – which led me on solo sojourns to the opera and the Art Institute, to a three-week stag jaunt in Italy and ultimately an unaccompanied year in Spain (Ironically, a country notorious for togetherness. “Look around,” Robert said over lunch on my second day in Madrid. “No one here eats alone. They just don’t …”)


(They don’t eat alone, but sometimes the servers will feed you … literally.)

Whereas the majority of “post-divorce” reads fit neatly into one of two categories – “How To’s” for getting back in the relationship game or “Crazy Dating Confessionals” (“I had sex with my boss, my trainer and the bagel boy … in the same day.”) – “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” offers another possibility, a happy ending that doesn’t end in romance.

“They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” offers no advice, no salacious sex, no Prince Charming – just a weekly “postcard” sent from the road  back to self, a journey taken on the backroads … stopping to fix my own flat tires, visit old promises – traveling alone, living overseas, writing a book – and becoming the heroine of my own story.
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Budget Breakdown

Rocaberti Castle Writers Retreat, Half Tuition: $2,500

Round-trip Airfare from Chicago to Barcelona and Back: $900

Accomodations, Food, Incidentals for 2 nights (pre and post retreat): $200

Rewards: Up to $300

Go Fund Me: 7.9 percent + .30 per gift: Approximately  $350 on $4000

(https://www.gofundme.com/awanderingjewess)

Everything I Didn’t Write — July and August 2015

I love words.

This should hardly be a surprise as I call myself a writer. Used to make a living as one. As the words “Left” and “Write” are tattooed on my wrists.

And yet, since leaving the United States on July 28 with a one-way ticket to Spain, I’ve written little.

Little about what it is to live in a country where I hardly speak the language. Little about the heartbreak of leaving a deep and unexpected love. Little about the humbling that accompanies beginning yet another career at the age of 45. And little about what it is to turn 46 in this place I now call home.

I’ve written little about my private victories. About being asked for directions and being able to give them – albeit in English. About when Spanish words tumble out of my mouth without my thinking – simple phrases like, “Para llevar for ella, para aqui para mi” – and having them understood. About getting paid in euros. Jumping through hoops of securing a Spanish ID card. And fulfilling a dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember – to live overseas.  A dream so faint, so distant, so seemingly unattainable that I forget it was my dream and that I am actually doing it.

I’ve written little about my work teaching English, about my friendships with fellow wanderers and about my travels since arriving. Except on Facebook, where I have posted short, pithy, true-in-the-moment whispers of my life in Madrid, and many, many photographs.

What follows is a chronicle of my first 30-plus days here in Madrid – as they appeared on Facebook.

July 30

I have a Spanish phone number. (Message me and I will give it to you.) Most challenging interaction I’ve had so far, but I got it done. People are amazingly kind and helpful — like Jose, another customer at the post office who offered to help translate. (I will be going back tomorrow to get a box to receive “real mail” now that I can provide a local number.) He said my Spanish is good. I do not agree, but I think I am maneuvering well having been here less than 36 hours. Off shortly to an intercambio at J+J Books to meet Facebook friend Robert. Thanks for the connection, Jessica.

July 31

Third time IS the charm. Third day at the post office. Finally had everything in order to get a box. Here are the keys!

I wanted to take a photograph of the women who greeted me there these three days in a row, who were so patient and who were able to finally hook me up. They couldn’t imagine why. “Ayuda me.” (I meant to say “You helped me”…I was close, and they understood.) “It is my job,” replied one, in English. “It is my job.” Amazing.

2015-07-31 18.16.39

August 3

First day of school.

August 4

How much do I love my girls in Chicago? How much do they love me? Thanks for lifting me up. XOXO

nikki and melissa

August 4

(Meme from aforementioned great love – posted to my page)

“Hmmm.

We can skip the wine.”

dirk meme

August 5

It begins to feel like home when I run into people I know on the street. I remember when it happened in San Francisco and Chicago. Now Madrid.

August 9

Falling head over heels over head for this city.

Magical skies. The energy of its people spilling into the streets after dark. A surprise misting by the evening sprinklers in Retiro Park.

Lunches with new friends — yesterday at Botin, the world’s oldest restaurant, today on Plaza de la Independencia — running into others on the streets.

Hard to believe I arrived less than two weeks ago. I feel so present, so here…

August 15

Officially overwhelmed…

August 16

Sunday morning in Retiro Park. Why yes, I should be doing homework. But first — sun, stillness and a shot at serenity. Refueling following a Saturday of letting go…and filling up for the week ahead.

2015-08-16 11.44.56

August 17

Trust. Just got my hair cut by someone named Pepe. He does not speak English. I hardly speak Spanish. I think we did okay.

August 25

Woo hoo!! Student of the week. Not bad for the oldest student in the class…

Tomorrow is the BIG grammar and phonics exam, as well as my final observed teaching. All good juju welcomed.

The past four weeks have been humbling, exhilarating and, at times, overwhelming. In the home stretch…looking forward to what comes next.

August 28

DONE! When they handed out the certificates, they dubbed me Lesley~I will conquer Spain~Pearl. Your collective mouth to God’s ear.

2015-08-28 15.49.15

August 29

I am walking to pick up the keys to my new apartment. At the corner of my street and Calle Mayor I see this banner. I look at the door and know it like I know my name. Every hair on my body stands up and I begin to weep.

My first night in Madrid, 16 years ago with my then husband …our waiter speaks perfect English. I ask him about it and he tells me he learned it on a kibbutz in Israel. I mention I’m Jewish and that my grandmother did not like visiting Spain because there weren’t any Jews here. After dinner, he sends me across the street … to where I am standing now, to this place with the beautiful doors.

How is it I am living here 16 years later…literally here? With the Jews? With the vintage camera shop? The bookstore? And the bakery? With a landlord and roommate named Maite, a former UN translator just five years my mother’s senior … in an apartment with an unheard of eat-in kitchen, a balcony overlooking a plaza, a piano, and lots and lots of original art. A home I didn’t even have to look for it…it literally came to me. (Thanks Kylie.)

I’m not quite sure what to think … Moving is hard. And it is magic. And I am definitely, definitely supposed to be here.

2015-08-29 11.49.32

August 29

(In response to Facebook memory “On This Day…”)

On this day in 2012, moving back to Chicago. With John and Karin on the exact same day one year prior.moving from Chicago to Seattle. Today I picked up the keys to my new digs here in Madrid. Something about August 29 and big movement in my life. Only thing missing is John and Karin…

August 30

Home. Fully unpacked for the first time in more than a month. (Including Ganesh. Thank you, Clover. And a hand-spun wool bowl made by Deb.) Also for the first time, I moved in a cab. Two suitcases. Two backpacks. A couple of shopping bags. Many thanks to Nikki who packed me the first time. (This time was easier but not nearly as much fun.) And to Jennifer who helped get me from Salamanca to Opera. As I write this, I am reminded that I don’t do any of this alone.

2015-08-30 13.11.12

Artist Date 108: A Room of One’s Own

The site of Artist Date 108 -- lots of locations, but no Madrid.
The site of Artist Date 108 — lots of locations, but no Madrid.

I’m supposed to be getting rid of things in preparation for my departure to Madrid later this summer — like the Bianchi road bike I sold last Friday.

Instead, I’m in a furniture store — Artist Date 108.

I’ve passed by here hundreds of times. Today there is a sign in the window pointing to a new entrance. It feels like an invitation.

Inside it is crammed with a collection of furniture sourced from India, Indonesia and other faraway places. Red bookshelves. Green sideboards. A tall chest with tiny drawers — like a library card-catalog file — each painted a different color, each begging to be filled with a special treasure.

A real desk. A weathered armoire. A butcher block on wheels — the one I never got around to buying for my kitchen.

I think of a friend who recently commented that my apartment — while inviting and well-appointed — has a sense about it that implies I never planned on staying.

Perhaps he sees the empty spaces on the futon where pillows and a throw might go. The missing bedside table. The crappy knives.

He does not mention any of these things, but I see them — reminders that I never entirely put down roots.

Or perhaps he sees the table made of suitcases stacked on their sides. The snowshoes tacked to the entryway wall. The hung pieces of fabric I collected in Rwanda. A traveler’s accoutrements.

I think of all the places I’ve lived and what made each one mine.

The Indian cotton blanket and Picasso print I bought at Cost Plus World Market to dress up my dorm room.

The Morticia Addams-style wicker chair I found at a yard sale in the Castro and carried to my apartment in Haight-Ashbury. The yellow  walls in the great room of that apartment, painted with my roommate Tim in the wee hours of the morning. The scratched parsons table and chipped black bookshelves gifted to me from the As IS room at Crate and Barrel.

The mezzuzah my friend Pam gave me when I left Chicago, and that I tacked to the doorway in Seattle as soon as I arrived.

Each like a fingerprint, identifying my space.

Much of what fills my current apartment was gifted to me. Two wooden chests of drawers that had been taking up space in my friend Patrick’s storage unit — delivered on my birthday. I sobbed putting away my socks for the first time — overwhelmed and grateful to finally have a place to store them. The dining-room table my friend Tom made from a door. The lamp that was Mimi’s.

Each object has a story. I mention this to my friend — the one who says my apartment has the feeling of being inhabited by one who isn’t planning to stay.

“Somehow I knew that,” he replies.

He reminisces about traveling through India, China and the former Soviet Union — decorating rooms he would keep for just a month or two with postcards, fabric and fragrant bars of soap purchased in the market.

“You will do the same,” he reminds me.

He is right.

The idea is a comfort as I prepare to move overseas with two large suitcases and two carry-ons; my plan being to find a room already outfitted with a bed and a chest of drawers –space within a place someone else calls home.

I trust I will find it. That I will find room within a room to call my own. And that that which is mine will come to me once more, dressing up the empty spaces. A train map. A rock. A card from a lover.

A tattered copy of Tropic of Capricorn. A packet of seeds.

Each with a story I will share with that friend…and that I will share with new friends. Each a fingerprint, marking my place in the world.

Artist Date 103: Oh The Places You’ll Go

Backstage at the Museum of Contemporary Art
Backstage at the Museum of Contemporary Art

I don’t want to go.  I never want to go.

Artist Date “Dirty Little Secret” — I almost never want to go.  The same way I never want to get on a plane to somewhere I’ve never been before.

I do when I book the flight or when I make the reservation for a performance or workshop.  But when the actual time comes, I feel anxious and sick inside.

Like the first time I went to Europe.  The German Consulate in San Francisco sent me.  Lufthansa Business Class.  Four and five-star hotels in Bonn, Berlin and Dresden.  (Or as luxury as was available in Dresden in 1995.)  Access to end of World War II commemoration events where I spied Helmut Kohl, Al Gore and Francois Mitterand.

But I am at the airport in San Francisco, talking with my friend Peg from a payphone — in tears.

Ten years later I am on my way to France, by myself.  This time it is my husband and a cell phone.

And to Italy this past fall.  From Chicago O’Hare.  I call my girlfriends in quick succession.  Ann, Julie, Lynn, Chase.  No tears this time.  Just an overwhelming sense of dread.

Each time, I am anxious with uncertainty.  Anxious, that I don’t speak the language — German, French, Italian — that I won’t understand.  That I will feel foolish.  That I will fail.

My fears are not baseless.  Each time I depart the plane, I don’t speak the language — not fluently.  Just a little French.  A little Italian, leaning heavily on my high-school Spanish.  And German, none at all.

I often don’t understand.  And I sometimes feel foolish.  But I never fail.  Mostly because it is impossible to fail at traveling.  Unless one fails to get on the plane.

It is the same walking into the Museum of Contemporary Art for a flamenco workshop — Artist Date 103.

I am anxious as I don’t know the genre.  I do not know what to shoes to wear (if any), what clothing.  Afraid that I will feel foolish.  That I will fail.

I think back to the master class I joined with a principal dancer from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  The workshop was described as intermediate.  I had been dancing for six years — once a week at the Old Town School of Music.  But the others had been dancing all of their lives.  It was my Flashdance moment — sans rolling on desks in front of an admissions board — I was out of my league.

I did feel foolish.  At best, I got one-third of it.  But I didn’t fail…because I got on the plane, as it were.

And I lived a fantasy I never imagined I really would or could — to dance with Alvin Ailey company members.

I remember this and call the MCA to inquire about attire.  I do not receive a phone call back.  I pack a pair of hard shoes with wooden heels, a sports bra, yoga pants and too-big jeans and go.

When I arrive the program manager takes me into the theater, through the side doors and into Dressing Room B.  “You can change in here,” she says.

I ask her what she thinks would be best — yoga pants or jeans.  Either will work, she replies.

It doesn’t matter.  I don’t care anymore.

I could leave now and be “good.”

I am in the dressing room at the MCA.  The same dressing room Mikhail Baryshnikov *might* have used when he performed here last year.  (There *is* a Dressing Room A.  And there may be more — C, D.)

I am giddy.

I feel like an imposter.  I take a photograph of myself, change into my yoga pants and go out to the stage.  (The same stage where Baryshnikov performed.  The same stage where Sonia Sanchez will perform tonight.)

I can't believe where I'm at...
I can’t believe where I’m at…

I could have worn jeans as it is not a workout, per se.

We do unwinding exercises and learn the foot pattern that matches the Flamenco rhythm.  (One. Two. Three-two, three, four.  Four-two, three, four.  Five.)  We create improvisational pieces with partners that we perform.

Some of the women have been dancing flamenco for years.  They wear Gypsy-style skirts and black, heeled dance shoes.  Others have never danced a day in their lives.  They are dressed for a winter’s day in Chicago.

And Sonia, she doesn’t speak English so much.  And I really don’t speak Spanish.  But I understand… enough.

Enough to be reminded that I really can’t fail if I show up.  And that when I do, I get access to places I could never go on my own — into dressing rooms, onto stages, into my fear.

Artist Date 58: What It’s Not About

llewyn davisI keep waiting for it to happen.  This movie.  Inside Llewyn Davis.  Artist Date 58.

I am sitting in the Davis Theatre in Lincoln Square.  There are about six other people here besides me.  It’s a Thursday night and the temperature is hovering around 5 degrees.  The streets are noticeably, eerily quiet.

There is a single, double seat tucked into the aisles.  Like a love seat.  I am tempted to sit in it and sprawl out, but I don’t.

There is a preview for a movie about Jesus, one about an escaped convict – wrongly accused, of course – falling in love.  And one for Dallas Buyers Club, which I saw a few months ago.  Artist Date 47. I well up all over again.

And I am waiting.   Not for the feature to actually begin, because it already has.  But the story.  I’m waiting for “it” to happen.

I think maybe “it” is about the cat who runs out of Llewyn’s friend’s apartment.  The one Llewyn carries with him, a guitar in his other hand, until he can return him.  The one he feeds cream to out of a saucer at a café.

I am reminded of silly, sassy cat asses.  And that I miss having a cat.  That maybe I should get one.

“It” is not about cats.  Or just that cat.  Or about carrying around shit that doesn’t belong to you.

I think maybe “it” is about taking a journey.  In this instance, with John Goodman – who looks suspiciously like one of my clients – and his driver.  Like the one in Deconstructing Harry, where Woody Allen takes a road trip with a black prostitute, up to his kid’s college graduation.  Like my many road trips from east to west and back again.  The one where I took photographs of myself at the Mitchell Corn Palace and ate butter pecan ice cream at Wall Drug.  And the one where I learned to shoot a gun in rural Montana.

corn palace

“It” is not about journeys and road trips.

I think maybe “it” is about Llewyn getting Jean, his friend’s girlfriend, pregnant.   About responsibility and taking what isn’t yours.  That “it” is about Llewyn finally arriving in Chicago and meeting the man who might change this musical trajectory.  About dreams and taking chances and storybook endings.

But “it” isn’t.

I keep waiting for “it” to happen.  And “it” never does.

Because waiting for a movie to happen is like waiting for life to happen.  I can spend so much time and energy sitting on expectations – how I think it should look – that I miss all the gorgeous, perfect moments along the way.  The movie moments.  The “it’s.”

Like playing your guitar for your father in an old folk’s home and for a brief moment seeing his eyes register recognition.  That he knows you.   Knows this song.  And then shits himself.

Like when the woman who calls you an asshole like it’s your given name, discloses a single act of kindness and you reject it.  You tell her you love her.  And she doesn’t call you an asshole.

Like when you finally make it to Chicago to see “the man” and he says to show him what you’ve got.  His eyes are soft and the lighting is perfect, streaming through dusty windows on to a dusty floor.  And your pitch is right and you are singing from inside, just like he asked you to.

And he tells you that you’re not front-man material. That he might be able to make it work if you shave your beard into a goatee and stay out of the sun.  But that your best shot is to get back together with your partner.  Because he doesn’t know your partner is dead.  That he jumped off the George Washington Bridge.  And that someone, anyone, singing his harmony sends you into a PTSD-like rage.

Llewyn’s “it’s”

Like picking up the phone and your meditation teacher asking you to sing “Easy to Be Hard” while he rides his bike in Golden Gate Park.

Like connecting with an old acquaintance who has been living your marriage and is now living your divorce – except you didn’t know it, until now.  Who speaks your heart and your story.  Talking to one another and saying over and again, “me too.”

Like sitting in a movie theatre alone.  Because you have chosen to be alone in this moment.  Because you enjoy your own company.

My “it’s.”

Maybe that’s what “it’s” all about.  These moments.  That, and a couch you can sleep on no matter what you have said or done.  A place to call home for a minute or two while you wander around in your boxer shorts eating scrambled eggs.  Friends who love you.  And a cat –something soft to hold onto, something to care about besides yourself.

The rest just fills in the blanks.

Artist Date 56: Kind Of Like I Know You

2013-06-04 17.12.55
I coulda, shoulda
worn this hat this night.

It’s raining. Pissing raining. And dark. The snow from the storm which renamed this place Chi-beria is melting and I’m certain the city will flood.

And what look like parking spots in Rogers Park are a siren’s calling mix of ice, snow and deep water. My wheels are sliding under me. And then my feet, unsteady in the rain boots I never wear. The ones I bought a few years ago. That I thought could pass for winter boots as the shaft is made of grey flannel. I was mistaken.

I walk gingerly into the tiny theatre and choose my seat from the 25 or so, covered in red velvet. I lay my gloves, scarf and hat on the chair next to me to dry.

I smell like wet dog.

Eric Warner sent me an invitation to his performance –“A Life in Tending,” Artist Date 56 – on Facebook, just after his last performance, where he shared the stage with my friend Clover. Artist Date 45.  The same night I realized I have danced with his fiancé years.

So I kind of feel like I know him, even though I don’t really. But he greets me at the door like I do. Even though Clover isn’t here. And neither is his fiancé.

He takes me into The Purple Hotel on Lincoln Avenue with him and his friends – long after it has closed. When the ground is grown over with weeds and the swimming pool is filled with black algae. When they snuck in, several years ago. Or more to the point, when they committed a felony in the name of urban excavation. Of bearing witness.

Which takes him into his grandmother’s home.

And he takes me there too, introducing me to the fierce, loving, tough-as-nails matriarch whose only rule was “Do whatever you want but don’t burn the house down.” Who, when informed her grandson’s classmates call him “fat” and “stupid,” asks, “Do you think you are those things?” Adding that people will tell him he is all sorts of things, what matters is that he knows who he is.

It is no longer that place since his grandmother died several years ago – even though his grandfather remains. He has taken to sitting in her chair, instead of staring at the empty space, where she used to be, from his own.

Pimp or Orthodox Jew?
Pimp or
Orthodox Jew?

Her walker, commode and oxygen tank sit, as though waiting for her to return. Tsotchkes line the kitchen table, sold for a song to feed his Keno habit. And perhaps also as a way of emptying the house, so his family won’t have to when he dies.

I think of my birthmother’s home, a place I visited just three times. Once to meet her. Once to say goodbye. And once to bury her.

On the first visit, I noticed the oxygen tanks in the kitchen – she was just 56. When I returned a few years later, a walker, shower bench and commode had been added.

On the third visit, we got rid of all of it. Me, my “aunt, uncles and cousins,” all of whom I’d never met until now. Except for my aunt. And her, just once, on my second visit.

I tossed reams of paper into large, black garbage bags – notes on an unsolved murder mystery she was following, years old credit-card statements, meeting minutes from the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

I remember standing back as my cousins fingered through her jewelry. My uncle telling me to “get in there.” I didn’t want anything, but I took a brooch anyway.

A few weeks later my aunt sent me my birth mom’s fur hat and coat –her name embroidered on the inside lining. It had belonged to their mother, my “grandmother.” I have never worn fur in my life. I cannot decide if I look like a pimp or an Orthodox Jew in it. It hangs in my coat closet still, even on the chilliest of Chicago days.

This morning, my birth mom’s son, my “half brother” friended me on Facebook. We have never met, or even spoken. A few months ago his daughter wrote to me. We exchanged a couple of emails where I filled in the blanks, explaining exactly who I was.

The timing is not lost on me.

I want to tell Eric all of this. To share my story, because he has shared his.  Because I feel like I know him.  To say “me too.” But I don’t. I do not see him on the way out and I am anxious to get home.

When I arrive I look at the calendar hanging in the kitchen – a gift from my “real” mom, the one who raised me. I’ve written just two things for January. The anniversary of my spiritual teacher’s passing, and my birth mom’s birthday. They are the same day, January 12 – this Sunday.

A Birthday Story: Celebrating What Is

It is four something in the morning.  I woke up at the same ungodly hour yesterday – my 44th birthday.

I have always loved birthdays.

My birthday didn't begin with laughter...it ended with it.
My birthday didn’t begin with laughter…it ended with it.

I’m a big celebrator in general.  Ask any of my Weight Watchers members.  I love to clap and give out Bravo! Stickers for behavior changes.  Those subtle little miracles.

“Where else do you go that they clap for you?” I ask.

Well, 12-Step meetings.  But I don’t bring that up as it isn’t germane.

Birthdays are like that.  It seems the whole world is clapping, rooting for you, that day.  Mostly.

This year I awoke feeling a little less clap-y.  A little less celebratory.

I’d been aware of a low-grade sadness tugging at me for a few days.  Aware this was my first birthday since my birth mother died.

We found one another in October of my 40th year.

Ours was not always an easy relationship.  Some days I think she would have jumped in my skin if she could have, while I took a more tentative approach to our relationship.  Timing.  Expectations.  Boundaries.  Those were our lessons.  And we were one another’s teachers.

She sent me flowers when I turned 40.  A card the following year.  And then phone calls the next two.  She wasn’t well and it was difficult for her to get out – both physically and emotionally.  This year there would be no flowers, no card, no call.  I felt sad.

Like I did when her name was read at the memorial service on Yom Kippur.  Like I did when I returned from Ireland last month and felt like calling and for the first time realized I couldn’t.  I find myself surprised by the sadness, although I’m not sure why.  It makes perfect sense – at least on a cellular level.

So there was that.

And there was the aloneness of being not-so-suddenly, but-still, single.

My ex was a great gift giver.

Birthday and anniversary mornings I would find a card on the bed, slipped into place when I got up to shower.  A gift would come later.  Usually something I had spied and mentioned in passing months earlier.  Something I had forgotten about until I saw it again.  A hand-carved wooden jewelry box.  Strands of smoky quartz and hand-colored pearls.

2013-10-20 20.19.35
Kristin. Who reminds me of the love in my life when I cannot see it.

He gave me a watch when I turned 42 – my last birthday with him.  I had been wearing the same Seiko tank since I was 14, gift from my Aunt Betty.  She had lost hers.  Found it.  And gave the original to me.

I replaced the band and battery several dozen times over the years.  Until the crystal broke and a jeweler told me it couldn’t be fixed.

I didn’t like the watch he bought me.  I don’t know if I would have liked anything he bought me at that time.  He had recently asked me for a divorce – and then recanted the next day – but it was there.  The truth about our relationship.  It was over.  We just hadn’t cut the cord yet.

He was hurt and offended that I didn’t like his gift, but offered to take me shopping so I could pick out something else, anyway.  I couldn’t do it.  I kept the watch.  I am still wearing it.

When I woke up early yesterday, I noticed the absence of a card.  Of a body in my bed.  Specifically, my ex’s.  I do not crave him being there – but I was used to it.  To him, for so long.

I rolled off my mattress and dropped to my knees in child’s pose – both a stretch and a prayer.   “modeh ani lefanecha.  Thank you G-d for returning my soul to me.”  I asked for several obsessions to be removed.  And then, still on my knees, I opened Facebook on my phone.  The messages had already begun to pour in.  Old neighbors.  Acquaintances from grade school.  Family – by origin and by choice.  From Africa.  And from just down the street.

I wrote. Meditated. Showered and went to work.  Weight Watchers.  It felt life affirming.  As did dance class.  I made lunch and took myself shopping at my favorite resale shop.  I bought a grey wool coat that ties at the waist.  It fits as if it were made for me.

I talked to a few friends on the phone.  Around five a girlfriend picked me up and we went to do what we do to make sure we don’t drink today.

I used to make a big “to do” out of my birthday.  Or at least try to.  Those expectations often left me feeling sad and frustrated.  I was unclear why.  But today was delightfully ordinary.

Indian sweets.
Indian sweets.

It ended with cheap eats at a large, bright Pakistani restaurant on Devon Avenue.  The kind with a menu posted on a TV screen.  Where you wait in line to order food and pick it up on a tray.  Where you eat with plastic utensils.

Where I feel conspicuously white.

There were eight of us.  Among them, my divorce buddy – the man I walked lock step with through the dissolution of our marriages.  And then watched my friendship with him dissolve.  I hadn’t invited him.  But there he was.  I was delighted.

“Of course he’s here,” Kristin said.  “He loves you.”

I decided to believe her.  And to believe in all the love around the table.  JB’s.  Tom’s.  Matt’s.

Rebecca’s.  Brian’s.  Kristin’s.

And to focus on it.  To focus on who was there, instead of who wasn’t.  The calls, texts, cards and Facebook greetings I did receive.  Instead of those I didn’t.  (Well, mostly.)

We took pictures and ate fried bits of goodness – both sweet and savory.  Drank lassis and tea with evaporated milk.

I came home and ate the last of my sweets.  I felt a little overly-sugared.  Overly stimulated.

And I fell into bed.  Alone.  Sated.  Full.

No Longer Waiting. And Other Little Miracles

I have a bit of a sugar hangover.  I blame the French meringues.  Stacked in big glass jars.  All shades of gorgeous.  Purple cassis.  Cocoa salted-caramel.  Yellow-cream.

2013-10-06 13.12.36I blame the lemon and apple tarts, covered with glazed domes, glistening, yellow and red.  So shiny and perfect, at first I think they are glass.

I am at my cousin Andrew’s wedding.

I had not planned to eat so much sugar.  I never do.  Just like I never planned to drink so much, for things to go sideways, as they often did.  Especially at weddings.

This is no longer my experience.  At weddings.  Or anywhere else for that matter.  I don’t stick my hand in the cake (already cut up and served, thank goodness) on the way out the door.  I don’t offend the groom’s cousin by dissing where he lives.  The bride doesn’t have to separate me and her 17-year-old boy cousin who I am grinding with on the dance floor.  The one who thinks perhaps this is his lucky day.  Or night.

I am grateful.

And I am triggered.

By this girl – a woman, really – who reminds me of me when I drank.  She stumbles back to the hotel with us, barely putting one foot in front of the other.  Shuffling.  Earlier, sitting at the bar, I watched her eyes roll back in her head.  Her words don’t make any sense to me.  She is speaking gibberish.

I remember making dinner for my girlfriends many years ago in California.  Being drunk before they arrive.  My friend Rainey, sweetly, sadly, telling me she doesn’t understand what I am saying.

Nobody tells this girl she doesn’t make sense.  No one seems to mind.  She smokes a joint thick as a cigarette and waves it about.  I have to leave.

I am triggered by my brother.  Showing up to the wedding with his new girlfriend.  It isn’t her.  Or him, for that matter.  But that he always has a girlfriend.  Always had a girlfriend.  Always.

I am triggered by my aunt’s stories of dating in her 40s, after her divorce.  The seeming line of suitors, one more exciting than the next, waiting for a chance to be with her.  Her year in Italy, living with a Count.

My aunt and I.  She is so beautiful.  I can imagine her line of suitors.
My aunt and I. She is so beautiful. I can imagine her line of suitors.

This is not my experience.  Any of it.  And yet, the shame that rises is all mine.  It is so familiar.  The shame I used to feel in my drunken-ness.  The shame I still sometimes feel in my alone-ness.  Even if I have – mostly – chosen it.

So sugar seems like a good idea.  At the end of the night.  Alone, in my cousin’s hotel suite.  Tired.  Waiting for him and his husband to take me back to their apartment where I am staying.

The meringues are like a siren.  The shiny slices of mango torte know my name.  Even the leftover pastry from the morning is alluring.  All from the patisserie where my cousin works.

I sample each, many times over.  Quickly.  And then…I stop.  I realize I am going to be physically uncomfortable very soon if I continue.  I say this out loud to myself.  I realize I am uncomfortable in my skin right now.  Triggered.  I call my friend Matt and we talk it through.

I do not shame myself for using food.  It is a small miracle.  A victory.  As is the stopping while I am in it.

This morning, it all feels a long time ago.

I am walking to the market to pick up some yogurt and produce for the apartment.  A coffee.  I am dropping into “my life” here in Minneapolis.  My life for two and a half days.

I marvel at how easily I can make a place my own.  Like I did in Dublin, with Steven.  Renting an apartment.  Finding my coffee shop.  My grocery.  My people in meetings in church basements.

I’ve done this in many places.  In Brussels.  In Charleston.  Even my hometown, Detroit.  Here, this morning in my cousin’s city, I remember a time when it wasn’t like this.

I was 17.  My parents sent me to Los Angeles to visit my cousin – their high-school graduation gift to me.  It is my first time traveling alone.  I am terrified.

Andrew goes to work, leaving me with a key and suggestions of where I might go while he is away.  Places I can walk to right out the door.  There are plenty.  Surprising for Los Angeles, but true.

I can’t leave the apartment.  I am stymied.  Paralyzed.  I hang out with the cat.  Listen to Carly Simon.  Smoke his weed.  Drink his booze.  And wait for him to come home.  While Los Angeles waits for me.

It is no different in the years that follow, as I continue to visit him in Los Angeles.  I stay in when he is gone.  Alone.  Afraid.

Perhaps it’s just age.  Or maybe it is travel.  But I cannot imagine sitting inside today, waiting.

Just like I can’t imagine being the drunk girl at the wedding.

I can almost imagine men lining up to date me, like they did for my aunt.  And that in itself is another miracle, that I can even imagine it.  Even if it hasn’t happened.  But I’m not waiting on that either.

The wedding.  The real reason I am here.
The wedding. The real reason I am here.

Instead, I think about now.  About dancing all afternoon at the wedding.  A three-piece band –  keyboard, stand-up bass and drummer – playing jazz and swing.   About Peter swinging me around the floor.  A strong lead, I follow easily.  He dips me at the end of each song and I smile big.  It is not a love connection.  We are just dancing, having a great time.

About Emiko, my cousin’s friend from Los Angeles.  She literally watched me become an adult, in those years that I visited, when I afraid to leave by myself.  We talk as though no time has passed, picking up the thread of easy connection and filling in the blanks.

About Monica, my cousin David’s wife.  The last time we saw one another was at my going-away party – when I was leaving California, with my then husband, for Chicago.  The city I embraced as my own – even though it was his dream that brought me here.

About her words to me.

She tells me she is excited for me.  For this time in my life.   For the adventures I’ve lived, and those I am about to live.  That I look amazing.

She doesn’t see the fear.  The worry.  Just this woman who flew in just this morning to show up for her cousin.  For her family.  For her life.  Not waiting…for anything.  For anyone.

This morning, walking, writing, making Minneapolis mine, if only for a moment…I see the same woman.   No longer waiting.

Artist Date 38: Creating Community…It’s Not About the Shoes

I don’t know if I filled my creative coffers this week.  By my spiritual and social ones are brimming over.  And that will have to do this week for Artist Date 38.

Overlooking Lake Michigan, at Dawes Park.
Overlooking Lake Michigan, at Dawes Park.

Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. 5774.  I’m at Dawes Park in Evanston for the ritual of tashlich – where we empty bread from our pockets into a body of moving water.  Some think of it as casting away one’s sins.  I prefer a gentler interpretation.  That I am simply cleaning out the residue of the last year.  Whatever is stale.  Has been sitting around in the corners of my consciousness slowly growing a somewhat furry mold.

I’ve stuffed a package of naan bread in my bag.  It’s been in my freezer since November.  A friend brought it to a party I had, to go with the curried lentil soup I was making.  I’m not much of a bread eater, so I tucked it away for just such an occasion.

Another woman has matzo.  I could have brought that two.  I buy too much every year.

It is my third High Holiday season with the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, so I know where we meet.  But this year is different.  I not only know the place, but I know many of the people here too.

My friend Phil is here with his family.  He introduced me to this congregation – specifically the Rabbi — a number of years ago, when I was feeling particularly wayward and spiritually lost.

Since that time I have developed a close relationship with Rabbi Brant and Cantor Howard.   They are tuning up for this short, mostly musical, service that precedes the tossing of the bread.  Jeff is tuning up as well.  We met a couple of years ago at a Shabbat morning service I attended just once.

He seemed to sense I was new and somewhat hesitant, and warmly welcomed me in.  I have had several encounters with him since them.  Perhaps my favorite being when he sidled up to me during last year’s High Holiday services.

He said he read my blog postings from Rwanda and that he liked my writing.  I thanked him and told him I used to write professionally.  “It shows,” he said.  And was gone.

Moments before I had silently cried out to G-d, asking what the plan is, what it is I was meant to do.  I recall looking up toward the heavens, smiling and saying, “got it.”

Mary Jo is here.  Brant introduced us several years ago when I completed my conversion to Judaism.  She joined him and Howard as my witnesses, and was there in that same role when I received my get, my Jewish divorce.

I am now on her permanent invite list for Passover, and the breaking of the fast on Yom Kippur.

I feel a tap on my shoulder.  It is Rachel.  She is a Weight Watchers member I know.

Monica is here with her family.  We met at Shabbat services at the lakefront a couple of years ago.  Michael is here too.  He blows the shofar every year at High Holiday services.  He introduces me to his daughters who are following in the family tradition.

I see Hannah.  She used to wear her head shaved like mine but now she has a mass of ringlets.  She tells me that she’s bought a condo and that she broke up with her boyfriend.  She introduces me to her friend Kelly and we agree we must get together.

A woman I have never met before approaches me.  Her name is Sheila.  She likes my shoes and takes a photograph of them.

Yes, they are “the shoes.”  The shoes that have seemingly come to identify me.  My orange Fly London peep-toe wedges.

The shoes...
The shoes…

The first summer I owned them, people literally chased me down Michigan Avenue to find out what they were and where I got them.  It was fun, talking with all sorts of people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.  And today is no exception.

Walking to the water, a tall woman with a mess of dark curls puts her foot next to mine.  “Nice shoes,” she says.  She is wearing the same ones in pewter.

She tells me she is tossing out the year of rehabbing her broken wrist.  It is healed.  I do not tell her what I am tossing.  Instead, I tell her I like our shoes so much that I have two pairs.  That the second I bought before my divorce was final, when my then-husband kindly said, “Do what you need to before we separate our monies.”

I bought a new lightweight massage table, a Torah commentary, and the peep-toe wedges in mustard.  We laugh at my choices.

I wish her a sweet New Year and peel off to throw my bread, my karmic residue.  There are so many things I could get rid of.  The litany that I repeat every year – self-doubt, unkindness, judgment of myself and others.  I recall that last year I tossed away my identity as a wife.

It was a Monday.  I knew divorce papers were signed on Mondays in the county where we filed.  I had a sinking feeling at that moment that I was officially divorced.  A call to my mediator later in the day confirmed it.

Today I am casting away what my friend Lisa likes to call “an old idea.”  I am embarrassed to admit that I have continued to hold on to it.  Actually, I’m not sure I was consciously aware that I had it, but a series of recent events has cast a glaring light upon it and I can no longer turn away.

I point myself east, tear off a piece of naan and whisper to myself, “I let go of the idea that I am only desirable for sex.”

It is windy and the naan flies back at me.  I turn west off of the dock where the waters are still.  I repeat the words.

I’ve got a lot of naan so I say it a couple of more times, ripping and tossing.  Ripping and tossing.

When I am done, I am approached by a woman.  She asks me about the shoes.  She is radiant and I tell her so.  She tells me about her job search.  Her cancer.

I suddenly remember that people used to tell me things about themselves all of the time.  Friends and family, and random, almost strangers too.  Cab drivers especially.  I realize people are talking to me in this way again.

It’s not the shoes.  Because I wore the same ones last year…I am different.  My heart has healed just enough to let some of my light shine out.  I am open and there is room for others.  They sense it and come in.

Artist Date 32: In Between Dates. Some Things You Just “Know.”

2013-07-28 13.50.19I’m standing on the corner of 4th and Main in Royal Oak, Michigan.

I had breakfast with my old boss, Bill, a couple of hours ago.  We met at the restaurant he owns, where I used to work.  I was employee number seven.  Or maybe it was six? Nine?  We’re not exactly sure.  We decide seven sounds about right.

I haven’t seen him since my divorce.  Since he met DD.  We wax nostalgic about the early days.  Toast that came out 20 minutes after the eggs.  The decision to hire a cleaning service because I didn’t want to scrub the toilets.  The handsome photographer upstairs.

I spent years in this city.  As a teenager – thrifting and hanging out at Patti Smith – not the musician, the other one.  At her clothing store – talking, listening to music, wanting to be a grown up.

After college, I moved here and lived in an upstairs flat with my friend Mona and her two cats.  I worked at a weekly newspaper, waited tables on the weekends, and drank my tip money.

I haven’t been here in a number of years.  And alone, probably never.  It seems the perfect destination for Artist Date 32.  That’s what I had in my head when I planned my trip “home” a few weeks ago.  Except I didn’t make much time for alone.  I never do.

I just left coffee with my 17-year-old niece.  I found her waiting for me on a concrete planter outside of Caribou – which wasn’t Caribou when I was 17.  I remember “punk rock” kids getting dropped off here and walking down the street to meet their friends – as if their parents had not just dropped them off.

I tell my niece I used to hang out here 26 years ago.  She’s floored.  As she is when I tell her what 17 was like in my house.  That it wasn’t so different.  That I too felt grown up in so many ways, but still a kid in others.  How I just wanted to go – to New York..but Royal Oak would do.  And how sometimes I wanted to stay – in my bedroom with the blue shag carpet…forever.

Mostly, we agree that 17 is hard.

I’m due to meet Danny in a half hour.  We met at a Jewish retreat the summer before we entered high school.  He was funky and quirky and a good dancer – like me.  Perhaps he too felt like a black, drag queen trapped in a small Jewish body.

A half hour isn’t really long enough for an Artist Date, but I decide it’s kind of like exercise – a little bit is better than none.  I let go of all the “why didn’t you plan for your Artist Date” chatter and spend the next 30 minutes absorbing this place I used to call mine.  The clock is now ticking.

2013-07-28 13.47.12There used to be a bank here, just south of this corner.  I made out with Joe A. in my maroon Chevy Corsica, parked right in front of it.  He moved to Tucson not long after.

I see a guy sitting on the patio at Tom’s Oyster Bar.  He has the shiniest black hair I’ve ever seen.  Beautiful, with waves.  He looks like Joe’s musical partner – who I also made out with.  But later.  A couple of years later.  Just before I moved to San Francisco.  I cannot remember his name.  He looks up at me.  We smile at one another and he returns to his book.  I do not know if it is him.

So much has changed.  And yet, a lot is still the same.  The independent stores that serve as anchors –Haberman Fabrics.  Incognito.  Noir Leather.  I once bought an erotica book here and popped it in my lover’s bag before he headed out of town, with a dirty letter I penned tucked inside.

Bright Ideas – a modern, cool, functional interiors store.  It’s been here as long as I can remember.

I walk in and my head quiets.  I am sucked in by what is in front of me rather than what is in me, in my head –Joe A., his partner, my niece.

2013-07-28 13.54.46Detroit drink coasters.  Symbols of my childhood.  Drink Faygo Orange.  Better Made Potato Chips.  The iconic scrawl of Sanders – hot fudge and ice cream shops, and Vernors – better and spicier than any ginger ale you can imagine.  It used to be used medicinally.  Quintessentially Detroit.  All of it.  I am smiling.

There are tiny bud vases in a variety of colors, thrown on a potter’s wheel.  They began as a fundraising activity and blossomed into a business.  I think about my own somewhat disappointing foray into throwing.  Disappointing because I had expectations.  I thought I’d be good.  Immediately.  Because I worked with clay when I was 17.  Because I have no patience.

The vases are made in Seattle.  I am wistful.

There are low-slung couches with chrome and clean lines.  My nearly 5 foot 3-inch body sits comfortably in these.  At home my feet dangle off of the pricey futon.  I bought it because I had a notion that I would sleep on it and my bedroom would be my massage studio.  That’s not what happened.

I wonder if I can fit one in my hatch.

2013-07-28 13.47.28There are pillows with birds painted neon pink and green and blue.  An orange flower is growing out of another.  Several are felted, with messages “seemingly” just for me: “Let’s Make Out.”  “Happily Ever After.”  “Think Big.”  “Breathe.”

Yes. Yes. Yes and Yes.

2013-07-28 13.48.32There are yellow, leather “Star Trek” chairs.  Body hugging, with matching ottomans.  On the wall are grey circles with the letters S,M,L.  Like the three bears in Goldilocks.  I wonder which one will be just right for me.  In chairs.  In all things.

I look at my watch.  It’s time to meet Danny.  I feel surprisingly and strangely refreshed having taken these 20 minutes alone.  A little lighter.  A little clearer.  Time apart.

I find Danny down the street and throw my arms around him.  He is wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt and shoots me a big smile – a cross between a 5-year-old’s pure joy and “I am up to no good.”

I tell him I’m hungry and he takes me to Astoria Bakery – formerly Cinderella’s Attic, one of my early thrifting haunts.  He orders a walnut roll.  I get a cookie laced with honey and a flirtation of anise.  His is better.

We catch up on our lives post-divorce.  He is a year ahead of me in the process.  He tells me about his kids.  About dating.  I tell him about not dating.  About my inability to compartmentalize.  My wish that I could.

I do not tell him about my Artist Dates.  I am not sure why.   I figure he already knows.  In the same way that I already know.  It’s just like that sometimes.  With some people.  In some places.  Like here, right now, with him.