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 40: Dublin, A Fillling Station

I am not as healed as I thought I was.  I hate that.

It is September 16.  One year to the day since my divorce was finalized in the state of Washington

I arrive in Dublin for Tim and Martin’s wedding.  Everything is new.  Everything is the potential Artist Date.

Full-fat yogurt in glass jars with rhubarb layered on top.  Breakfast at the airport Spar.

A bus ride to Trinity College followed by a taxi to Tim’s house.  The driver’s brogue so thick I make out only about a third of what he says.  Among it, “Is your liver ready for your visit?”

A shower.  Tim shows me how to turn it on.  It is not intuitive to my jet-lagged American mind.  He shows me how the heat booster works.

So much shiny newness.  Other-ness.  And yet…my mind and my mouth reverts to my divorce like a rubber band.  Anger toward my ex-husband I didn’t know was there.  Anger that the dissolution of my marriage is so much a part of my story, my identity – still.  In journalistic terms, it is “what I lead with.”

By design the Artist Date is an individual endeavor, although I’ve played fast and loose with that dictate.  But it is in my alone moments here, in Dublin, where I find my grounding, my feet under me, and I am able to open myself to everything outside of me.  I discover this on my third day here, when I peel off for a few hours on my own – Artist Date 40.

The Thai storefront where I eat noodles out of a cardboard container with chopsticks, sitting on a bench on the sidewalk with locals.

2013-09-20 09.17.50St. Stephen’s Green.  I stumble on to it.  I feel like I have wandered into Central Park from the Upper East Side.  Or am perhaps along the Seine, as here too artists line up their wares.

It is sunny and mild.  Long legs stretched out on the grass.  Suits eating sandwiches on wooden benches.  I snap photographs of the geese wandering outside of the pond before they change their mind and retreat to the water.

Break dancers on Grafton Street.  A large circle forms around a gaggle of boys dressed in yellow.  Each takes a turn in the center.  I want to jump in with them.  Spin on my head.  Be a part of the dance.  Or at the very least, clap.  But I am filming them – a step removed from full presence.

I meet Steven in front of the bank at the corner of Grafton and Nassau Streets, eager to share my finds.  I take him for Pad Thai and to St. Stephen’s Green, stopping first in front of a band set up on the street.  There is a cajon, a xylophone, an accordion. A saxophone that sounds like a snake charmer.  I grab Steven’s hand and we break into spontaneous dance in the street – swing style.

I haven’t danced with Steven since my wedding in 2001.  My shirt is rising up at the waist, exposing my belly.  The cajon player is looking at me.  Is he looking at my belly?  Or my ear-to-ear grin?  Someone is filming us.  Another couple joins in.  I feel deliriously in love with the world.  With myself.  That I am the kind of woman who breaks into spontaneous dance on the streets of Dublin.

2013-09-20 10.03.54Next day we visit Kilmainham Gaol, Ireland’s most “famous” jail, and the National Museum of Ireland – History and Decorative Arts.  We hop on and hop off a red double-decker bus.  We are quintessential tourists – sans fanny pack and white sneakers.

Inside Kilmainham we receive explicit directions not to wander off from our guide and group, lest we get lost.

We peer into cells, stand in others.  We learn about its political prisoners.  Its leaders.  Women in the fight for independence.  And how, during the potato famine, some vied for a spot in this overcrowded, infected, squalid place – five to a cell with one bowl of watery soup a day – because it was better than life on the streets.

We wander into a furniture exhibit at the History and Decorative Arts Museum.  It is cool and retro.  1950s.  I remember Steven’s desire to make furniture.  I tell him about my ex-boyfriend J – how his first foray into woodworking resulted in a Mission-style bed and side table.  He is a creative genius.

I visit the collection of Adolph Mahr – an Irish Jew who immigrated to San Francisco in his teens and became a pillar in the fine arts community.  I witness the unfolding of Eileen Gray’s career – home furnishings artisan come environmental designer.

Eileen Gray, at the beginning of her career.
Eileen Gray.

That evening, I sit next to Helen, Martin’s cousin from Sheffield, at a cocktail crawl – sans cocktail.  I tell her about the gaol.  The Jewish collector and the designer.

It reminds me of a conversation I had a few months ago.  Thick in the newness of my Artist Dates, telling a man I just met about the biography I was reading.  The small theatre production I had just seen.  The couture exhibit at the History Museum.

I felt smart.  Interesting.  Artistic.  That I was the woman I had always hoped to be.  Or am at least becoming.

I feel that way again tonight.

I have something else to discuss, following so many days of talk about relationships.

I am more than my marriage.  My divorce.  My flirtations.

I already know this.  I remember it in the stillness of being alone – where I can bring the outside in.  A filling station.