Invited Into Intimacy

 

With gratitude for those who have supported my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a post-divorce narrative with an option for a happy ending, no partner required. And for those who have invited me into the intimate spaces of their homes, their families and their lives.


September 2

In putting together my manuscript, “They Don’t Eat Alone In Spain,” I’ve had to revisit every single Artist Date.

Some are painful. Watching Daniel Day-Lewis — my ex-husband’s doppelganger — in Lincoln. Week 2 Artist Date: My Ex’s Doppelganger.

Others juicy. A production that shot me back into the bed of an ex-lover, a former symphony conductor, who taught me about Debussy by playing the notes on my naked body. Artist Date 31: He Played Debussy on my Naked Body. Believing in the God of Synchronicity

As I read, I noticed the tenor of the pieces changing over time … becoming lighter, more optimistic. And that the story coalesced. The trajectory to Madrid naturally unfolding through my Artist Dates.

I am delighted.

It was always that way in my head. But turns out, it is that way on paper (or screen) too. The story telling itself. “This leads to this leads to that.”

I find it is often that way with people too. Like Janet Horn.

I met her sister Caroline in Los Angeles, working a one-day chair massage job at Bonham and Butterfields auction house. When she discovered I lived in Oakland and not Los Angeles, she took my card and passed it (and me) on to her sister Joanne. Several years later, Joanne bequeathed me to Janet when I moved to Chicago. As if the universe was conspiring for us to meet all along.

Thank you Janet for your generous contribution to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign. (And for allowing me to feel like the fourth Horn sister.)

lincoln


September 5

Some days Facebook’s “On This Day” breaks my heart. Seeing photographs of my ex and me driving from Chicago to Seattle five years ago. And then driving back in the opposite direction with a dear friend exactly one year later. Gut-wrenching.

But other days, I am tickled and inspired seeing the kizmit, magic and synchronicity in my life.

Like today … when I was greeted with 30 photos of a dinner with my friends Melinda and Craig at Diver XO in Madrid, taken one year ago.

This photograph of me being fed a spoonful of cheese — one of more than a dozen courses at this three-star Michelin restaurant — has been a backdrop to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign.

Today … less than an hour ago … I submitted my manuscript, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain,” to my mentor at the Rocaberti Writers Retreat I will be attending next month in Girona, Spain.

“My manuscript” … the words floor me.

I always imagined I’d write a book. I just didn’t know about what. Until I did. And then I only talked about it. Until I was pushed to do more.

Challenged by an email with just one word, “Interesting?” and a link to the retreat website. Coaxed by its call —

“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!”

Sometimes it takes a nudge to get from here to there. And a little assistance.

Friends, family and colleagues have helped me raise $2,725 to defray the costs of the retreat and travel. Among them, Allie Vernasco.

Thank you Allie, for your support — both financial and energetic! You know the power of “more than one,” better than most.

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Being fed — literally — at Diver XO in Madrid.

September 7

Birth.

The first time I met Sierra Veenbass I was birthing a new career. Although I didn’t know it at the time.

I was working as a director in a technology public relations firm — and hating it. On a whim, I took a 100-hour massage course on weekends at the McKinnon Institute in Oakland, California.

Sierra was the first student to put her hands on me. I still remember lying face down on the table and feeling her fingertips massaging my scalp. “Nice opening,” I thought. “She has the touch.” (Quite a compliment as I had recently married my massage therapist.)

One-hundred hours later, I left my career in public relations.

But it would be several years before our paths crossed again … and when they did, Sierra was a student in a pre-natal massage class I was teaching.

Not long after, she came to my studio … and I had the honor and blessing to work with her through her first pregnancy.

(I think it broke both our hearts a little when I moved to Chicago and was not there for her second. )

It has been a joy to watch Sierra’s girls grow via Facebook. And a wonderful, full-circle surprise to receive her support for my own birthing — of a book, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — and a return to my work as a writer.

Muchas, muchas gracias, Mama Sierra!

mckinnon
I found this drawing of the McKinnon Institute on the school’s Facebook page. It perfectly captures the school’s cozy, magical energy. Unfortunately, no artist is listed.

Want to know more about “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — how 52 Artist Dates saved my soul after divorce and landed me smack in the middle of my own life — or how to contribute to my Go Fund Me campaign? Click here.

 

Adios, and the Ladies Who Deliver “The Lunch”

IMAG4183There are these two women who deliver lunch every day at ThyssenKrupp.

One is tall and thin. Twenty-something. Calm and smiling. The other is about my age. She wears a bob and a frantic look on her face – as if, like the Mad Hatter, she’s always running late.

Each has six or so white paper bags dangling from each arm. Some containing fish. Others chicken. Some of the students will eat their lunch before class. Others after. Never during. No matter how many times I assure them it is ok. And always, always in the cafeteria. Never at their desks.

As a rule, Spanish people set aside time for their meals – even if it is only a half hour. My students laugh watching me pull an apple from my bag at the end of class. I will eat it walking to the metro – a dead giveaway that I am an American.

This is because, as a rule, Spanish people do not rush. Every ex-pat I know voices the same frustration with Spanish people walking – often five across, blocking the entire sidewalk – slowly. It seems to be the one cultural difference they never learn to accept.

Perhaps this is why I notice this woman. The one with the pageboy and the panicked look. Because her speed, as she delivers “the lunch,” seems more like that of a New Yorker than a Spaniard.

I do not know her name. Either of their names. Or if either of them speaks English. We greet one another each day with a smile and “hola,” “buenas dias” or “hasta luego.” I’m not quite sure when this started, but it has become our ritual. “Ours” as it is mine and hers, and “ours” as it is specific to us – I do not see her engaging with other teachers, or perhaps I do not see them engaging with her.

Sometimes they are pulling into or out of the parking lot in a grey, beater hatchback, in which case, we just wave.

Today was my last day at ThyssenKrupp. I have been teaching here since last September. The company, like most companies offering English lessons, breaks for July and August, and part of June and September, to accommodate the summer schedule – a truncated day with most employees leaving at 3 and working not at all on Fridays.

Today my class insists we go to a nearby bar. That I eat tapas with them – calamares (fried squid), jamon (ham) and huevos rotos (“broken eggs” over fried potatoes with ham) – and “take a drink.”

This is the group that sang Happy Birthday to me on October 20 and bought me a gift. The group that wanted to know the details of my every trip. The group I watched “16 Candles” with, without subtitles, at the end of last semester.

Yesterday I said goodbye to my other class. The group that talked about relationships, divorce and finding love again. About weight struggles, religion and the most appropriate names for primary and secondary sex characteristics.

I’ve taught them why “normal” and “not normal” are loaded words. That we say “silverware,” not “tools.” “Outside” and not “in the street.” (I explain the difference by recalling the time my brother laid down in the street because another kid dared him to, and my mother yelling at him to “get out of the street.”) We’ve watched clips of the Macy’s Day Parade together and talked about Donald Trump … a lot.

They’ve taught me about Spanish politics, explaining how it is that the country still doesn’t have a president, and the tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

We part ways, yesterday and today, with the traditional kiss on each cheek. R. and I say goodbye twice, exchanging “American-style” hugs. E. invites me to her house for lunch, to meet her family, before I leave. I am deeply moved.

I tell them that some days, being with them was my only social interaction. That some days, being with them was the best part of my day. We agree they will let me know if they are in the United States, and I will let them know when I return to visit Madrid.

I drop off the attendance book and dry-erase marker in the Human Resources office for the last time, and return my badge on the way out. I take a photograph of the gate which has always eerily reminded me of the gates of Nazi concentration camps. Sometimes, I half expect to see the words, “Arbeit macht frei.” I once admitted this to my students and was shocked to learn they had the same response.

Walking to the train I hear a horn beeping. It sounds like it belongs to a go-cart. I turn to see the grey hatchback and the ladies who deliver lunch.

“Adios,” they call out, smiling and waving. Not hasta luego – see you later. Adios – goodbye.

“Adios,” I call back. Smiling and waving.

 

 

Everything I Didn’t Write – September

A few days ago, noticing I had hardly written since arriving in Spain but acutely aware of my many Wandering Jewess experiences, I pulled together my Facebook posts from my first month in Madrid in a blog post. What follows is a Facebook accounting of how life unfolded in that second month – no longer a TEFL student living in Airbnb digs, but suddenly an English teacher with a permanent address.

September 2

Churros and chocolate with dear friends from the United States, Melinda and Craig. In these moments the world feels both vast and intimate.

September 4

So much to celebrate! New work! New home! A friendship that cuts across oceans. And yes, without question, the most fun meal I have ever eaten. Three Michelin Stars. Entiendo.

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September 8

Esta noche…first “official” Artist Date in Madrid.

September 12

When Seattle descends upon Madrid…Salpicon, Burrata and Churros, oh my! Were your ears burning Pamela and Molly?

September 13

A Rosh Hashanah Story or This Is What Happens When You Say Yes…

A couple of years ago, someone (you can’t remember who) invites to you to join an online group of women writers — thousands of them. A few of them live in Madrid. And one of them is Jewish and from Miami. She invites you to a Rosh Hashanah service and seder put on by a newly formed Reform chavurah.

You have never met her in person, and you feel uncomfortable as hell, but you go anyway. You are asked to light the candles during the service — which is all in Spanish and Hebrew, of which you speak only a little of each.

You have dinner with a professional flamenco dancer from New York, a makeup artist from New Zealand, and a Spanish window maker, his lovely wife and daughter. An engineer from Colombia and a woman from Buenos Aires (who might as well have “Friend” tatooed on her forehead…instead she has Shalom on her ankle) ask for your number — they want English classes.

You eat apples and honey, challah, pomegranates and dates. There is a fish head in the center of the table to represent moving forward…”away from the tail.” (This must be a Sephardic tradition.) All of it happens in a mish-mash of broken Spanish and English. Remarkably, you feel a part of…even the parts you don’t understand.

There are hugs and kisses and What’sApp exchanges. You walk home through Plaza Mayor. There is a chill in the air. Tomorrow you begin teaching. It is a New Year.

Thinking of you this Rosh Hashanah, Brant, Mary Jo, Matt and Pamela. Besos!

2015-09-13 22.15.25

September 15

It was suggested I try reading in Spanish. Suggestions from Jesus at La Buena Vida. Feeling excited and intimidated. I think it is going to be a slow read…

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September 17

I just received a refund from the Oficina de Correos. Seems they gave me the wrong post box in July and any and all mail sent to me now resides in the Bermuda Triangle of correspondence. While somewhat unbelievable… what is equally unbelievable is that I received this refund less than a week after the error was discovered. That and the fact that I don’t speak Spanish and no one at the office speaks English. (Thank goodness for my friend David who just happened to be there last Friday and served as translator.) Oh..and the refund came with a handwritten receipt. Ping me privately if you need my mailing address.

September 19

Read 5 pages of a Lorrie Moore short story today — in Spanish. Something about 6 months after a divorce not yet taking off one’s wedding ring. Cut off the finger? Cut off the hand? Slow going…but I’m amazed at my perseverance — looking up every fourth or fifth word — and how much I did understand.

And grateful that when my marriage was over, I could take off the ring.

September 21

Man on Metro with thick New York accent: Your hair looks fantastic. I love it.

Me: How did you know that I was American?
Man on Metro with thick New York accent: Are you kidding? No Spanish woman would ever wear her hair like that. Or British woman for that matter…

September 22

On this eve of Yom Kippur, as I head out the door to go to High Holiday services in Spanish and Hebrew, I am reminded of where I was at this time last year…on the precipice of something big, although I did not know it. Flu-ish and packing for three-weeks in Italy. Near the end of that trip, riding the light rail to a dinner party in Rome with a fist full of flowers, I thought, “It’s like I live here…I can do this.” Nearly one year later, I am doing “this.” This is grace.

September 23

Just completed my first private Spanish lesson. I walked in nervous … nowhere to hide. Sixty minutes later I feel inspired and, dare I say, empowered … like maybe, just maybe, I can learn to really speak this language. Up until now I have only shared my students’: experience of humility … now I know their joy!

Considering twice weekly classes …

September 26

Up late with Marissa and The Cabbage Ministry (at The Tempo Club).

September 27

Learning Spanish through food and song, at a former slaughterhouse. We didn’t plan it. It just turned out that way…

 

2015-09-27 14.17.16September 28

It’s hard to believe I left the United States just two months ago today. Feels like I have been here so much longer…

September 30

Seems a fitting Facebook memory for today (“My first memoir piece in print.”)… on the heels of Tim posting that my profile picture screams “book jacket” and a meeting with friend and fellow writer Nicola in an effort to get “writing accountable.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Other End With Open Arms

With heavy bags and a heavy heart, saying goodbye at the airport.
With heavy bags and a heavy heart, saying goodbye at the airport.

I’ve begun this blog what feels like a hundred times. But each time, somewhere along the way, I’ve gotten stuck.

Stuck between here and there. Stuck between Chicago and Madrid. Stuck between continuing to tell my story and just living it — holding something and someone so tender, so intimate, so close to myself. Private.

And yet, it is all part of the story of how I arrived here.

January 2015. I make the decision to move to Madrid. To become certified in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and to stay on for a year with a student visa.

“I will never meet anyone now,” I lament to my therapist, and my friend K, referring to my decision. “It would be nice to spend some time with someone though…but not until I buy my ticket, because I am the kind of girl that will stay for love.”

Turns out, I’m not…because I did meet someone, in March, at a memorial for a friend’s mother. But he didn’t reach out to me until a month later –the day after I bought my plane ticket to Madrid.

The synchronicity isn’t lost on either of us.

And so, while our three months together prove to be a great love affair for both of us, it is never in question that I will get on the plane on July 28. It is already written.

We stand at the airport — kissing, crying, holding on to one another, saying goodbye. Watching and waving until I am barely visible in the TSA line. He gives me a final wave, puts his hands into namaste, blows a kiss and leaves — tears streaming down my face. Tears streaming down my face as I write this now.

I settle into my seat on the plane and receive a series of texts and photos from him, sent from the parking lot. Among them, “That was hard to do.” “So hard.” “You will always have a place in my heart.” And, “I hope your trip is a good one and that Madrid is standing there at the other end with open arms.”

Turns out, it is.

It is R. — a friend of a friend who takes me to the ex-pat bookstore, gives me a tour of his neighborhood and meets me the following day when I have a communication breakdown (and emotional meltdown) with Orange Mobil.

It is M. — another friend of a friend who meets me for a walk and pinchos (snacks) on the plaza in her neighborhood.

In Madrid, where new friends were waiting.
In Madrid, where new friends were waiting.

It is N., M. and E — women from my online writing group who live here, two Americans and a Brit, who offer to meet with me, as well as J. — the best friend of one of my Weight Watchers members who calls me several times and invites me to meet for lunch next Sunday.

It is the countless others who touch my life, if only for a moment, helping me to feel at home. My host, M., and flatmate, S., who builds the fan I purchase at Corte Ingles.

J., another customer at the Correos — Spanish Post Office — who helps translate for me. And the four women workers there who see me three days in a row, and who help me finally secure a box for letters — handwritten notes with lovely stamps as was suggested by the man who said “Hasta luego” at the airport — because, yes, we are just that romantic.

“Hasta luego” — see you later, but not “adios,” — goodbye. Mere nuance, the difference recently explained to me. A subtlety that allowed me to leave in spite of love and to remain available to open arms waiting— in Chicago, in Madrid — everywhere.

Hacked

hey“Hey.”

I’ve been waiting nearly six months for this.  Not this exactly.  But something like it.

Not waiting exactly.  I stopped doing that, having expectations, a long time ago.  But those close to me assured me I would hear something – some sort of word or gesture or acknowledgment – someday.

Tuesday is someday.

I am leaving dinner with my girlfriends at the Birchwood Kitchen.  Lindsey and I are considering going to Martyrs to hear an Afro-Caribbean band.  Our friend Toast has put us on the guest list.

I look down at my phone.  There’s a Facebook message.  It is from Mr. 700 Miles.

My heart stops.

Mr. 700 Miles.  The first man who ever walked out of my life without a word.  (Strangely, I have had this experience twice now.  I’m certain there is some sort of lesson in here I haven’t yet mastered.)

A man I grew up with but didn’t really know.  He lives about 700 miles from Chicago – ergo the name.

He was going through a divorce when we reconnected on Facebook.  I was on the other side of mine.  Our stories were remarkably similar.  Very quickly, an intimacy blossomed between us – first in status updates.  Then in private messages, telephone calls and Skype dates.

I was smitten.  I felt like I’d always known him.   And at the same time, like I’d been waiting my whole life to meet him.

And then one day he was gone.  No call.  No text.  No Facebook message.

I reached out to him a single time – about five days after missing our Skype date – and left him a message telling him it was clear he couldn’t “do this.”  That I had no desire to convince him otherwise.  And that I was sad.  Sad we weren’t “doing this.”  But more than that, sad he couldn’t tell me.

I reminded him we were friends.  That we had always been friends.  I told him I wasn’t angry, and implored him to contact me.  To tell me what was going on for him.

Two hours later, when I hadn’t heard from him, I knew that I wouldn’t.

And then, Tuesday…”Hey.”

I looked up from my phone, leaned into Lindsey and said, “Let’s go hear music and dance.”  My reaction surprised me.

Once upon a time I would have freaked out.  I would have burst into tears.  Or worse, burst into drama.

Once upon a time I would have dashed home (no mind that I had other plans) and called or messaged him and waited for his reply.  Or if I did go out, I would check my phone all night.  Or at the very least, I would talk about it, about him, and nothing else – all night.

That’s not what happened.

Instead, I sent a text to a mentor and friend who knows every intimate detail of the story of Mr. 700 Miles.  I let her know I had received his message.  That I was going to hear music with Lindsey.  And planned to do nothing until morning.

And Lindsey and I did talk about it, about him – some.  And we talked about other things too.

She marveled at my calm.  I felt empowered.

“I’ve been ‘waiting’ six months.  He can wait a night.  Let him squirm.”

These are not my words.  But there they were.

And then we danced.  At times, we were the only ones on the floor.  I felt confident and sexy.  I wondered if the bass player was single.  I did not check my phone a single time.

Around 10:30, we left.

When I arrived home, I went to his Facebook page.  Some wise, intuitive part of me guided me there.  His status read, “I was hacked please don’t open messages.”  (No punctuation.)

My heart sank a little.  Not because I wanted him “back.”  Not because I still wanted to “do this.”  Because I thought I might get an answer.  A courtesy.  Because I thought my friends might be right.

Because I thought he might prove to be closer to the man I thought he was, instead of the frightened boy he turned out to be.  Because I missed my friend.

But in that sinking, I recognized a victory.  A miracle, really.  My response, or lack thereof.  And it was all mine, regardless of who reached out to me, Mr. 700 Miles or his Hacker.  I acted different.  I was different.  I didn’t try to be.  I just was.

I didn’t just feel empowered, I was empowered.  I didn’t just feel confident and sexy, I was confident and sexy.

And I did not check my phone a single time.

Artist Date 83: On The Path All Along

Photo: Egyptian Streets
Photo: Egyptian Streets

I’m late.

I peel myself away from the Lebanese pastries – empanada-like sweets filled with sweet cheese, the other with nuts, covered in rosewater – special for Ramadan.  From this conversation which is at once both playful and real.  That reminds me what it feels like to connect deeply. To be met spiritually.

I dash into my apartment and dial into the conference call – 7 Pathways to Freedom, Love and Abundance.  Artist Date 83.

Debbie is mid-meditation.  I sit down at the table, rest my feet on the bar that goes across the underside of it, close my eyes and let myself fall into her words.

She suggested the workshop following my most recent clairvoyant reading and healing.  It made sense to me.  I knew I needed a pathway.  Or more to the point, help continuing on the path I am on.  Lately, I’m having trouble seeing the road.

Nearly two years out of my divorce, I expected to be, to have been, in a relationship by now.  I expected to be financially fully self-supporting.

I’ve had men in my life.  Moments of romance and intimacy.

Months of late-night phone calls navigating the sloppy paths of our mutual divorces, followed by a road trip on the sloppy path cross-country that brought me home.  Hours-long make-out sessions lasting from steamy evening into near dawn.  Skype dates where I bared my soul, and my body, on the promise we’d “give it a go,” throwing caution to the 700 miles that lay between us.

I’ve had work.

A place to show up – more days than not.  Money.  Benefits that don’t fit neatly into an offer package.  No health insurance or paid-time off.  Instead, the opportunity to make an impact.  To work with others.  To stumble in a safe place.  And to shine brightly too.

Cobbled together with the cash and prizes of divorce, I’ve had enough to live on.  More than.

But I want more.  More than moments.  More than enough without spousal support.  (Which, sooner rather than later, I will no longer receive.)

My hope is that something will open up for me in this workshop.  Some chakra blockage will get knocked loose.

I close my eyes and listen to Debbie’s words.  I am overcome with shame.

Shame for the relationships in my life where feelings don’t match.

Shame for the sex I’m not having.

Shame that I was set free…and remain free.

(The words slip off of my fingertips now, in real-time, as I write.  Freedom.  One of the promises of the workshop.  It is not lost on me.  But in workshop time I only feel shame.)

“I am ashamed that my friend’s feelings don’t match my own.”  The words slip past my lips as we share our experiences of the meditation.

(And again, in real-time, I realize this is not exactly true.  I think of this particular relationship, where we share a deep connection – a love for one another that is acknowledged often and freely by us both.  What is not matched is where we are in our lives – what each of us is available for.)

I speak my embarrassing, humiliating truth and nothing bad happens.

A half hour later we disconnect.  I do not recall a thing I have heard.  I am grateful for the audio link which will arrive the next day.

I brush my teeth, wash my face, and write my nightly gratitude list.  I am grateful I do not feel like calling Mr. 700 Miles today.  For Lebanese pastry and time with a friend who loves me.   I am grateful for therapy tomorrow and the Cheryl Strayed book I am reading, Tiny, Beautiful Things. 

The list goes on.  Long.  Abundant.

Freedom.  Love.  Abundance.  The workshop promises.  All right here, right now, in my life.  I am on the path.  I always was.  Now I can once again see it.

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 62: Standing On…? Wondering Where I Am.

"Love is Pain." Artist, Judith Hladik-Voss.
“Love is Pain.” Artist, Judith Hladik-Voss.

Love is pain.

That is what the quilt says.  Right in the center on a big red heart.  All around it are stages, stops – like on a game board.  Candy Land or Risk.  Yeah, Risk.

Love.  Joy.  Desire.

Trust.  Faith.  Intimacy.

Jealousy.  Anger.  Betrayal.

Heartbreak.  Wound.

Anxiety.  Disillusion.  Despair.

Loss.  Grief.

It is Valentine’s Day.  I am at the Greenleaf Art Center for the exhibit – Be Mine.  I am meeting my girlfriends here, but they are stuck in traffic.  So I am alone.  Impromptu Artist Date 62.  My second this week.

I step back and look at the quilt that greets me as I walk in the door, wondering where I am on it.

Joy.  Desire.

I met a man.  Or perhaps I should say, re-met.  We knew each other once upon a time.  Kind of.   We are getting to know one another – not quite again – but now, for the very first time.

He is smart and funny, creative, sensitive and sexy.  I’m pretty sure he feels the same way about me.  We can talk for hours about anything and everything.  We laugh a lot.  And I find myself smiling a lot.  Friends have noticed this.

There are about a thousand reasons why this will likely not work out and I will land on the square marked Heartbreak.  I occasionally visit Anxiety already.  I hate uncertainty.  But I can’t not see this through.  I want to find out about us.

Trust.  Faith.  I am trying to practice both in my life.  Not so much with him, but with the universe, my higher power.  Intimacy.  Yes.  We are building that — slowly.  He lives several states away, so we are forced to go at this pace.  Although the recent addition of Skype dates – we have one tonight – have added a heat to the flame.

I have not told him every single thing about me – emotionally vomiting, as if to say, “So can you handle that?”  And, obviously, I have not slept with him.  I haven’t led with my sexuality – my one-time calling card – either.  Refraining from saying things like, “I think about you bending me over the butcher block and hiking up my dress around my waist.”  I think them instead.

"Ungentlemanly Behavior."  Artist, Cathi Schwalbe.
“Ungentlemanly Behavior.” Artist, Cathi Schwalbe.

Loss.  Grief.  I still find myself here sometimes too.  Not as deeply entrenched as I once was.  I am no longer up to my knees in it.  I am standing in the sun, my feet wet, in a puddle left from the storm.

Post-divorce, grieving the loss of the fantasy, that that one person will be there no matter what.  Always.  That this love will quiet that part of me that silently screams “Don’t leave me.”  It is a lie.

Day one of my life on the planet.  Separated from my mother.  I do not recall a second of it.  Yet I know a part of my work here is to heal it.

I watch it get kicked up and manifest in unconscious, desperate attempts for control and certainty.  As if that will heal me.  But it doesn’t.  Neither did a husband.  Nor meeting my biological parents.  The work is mine alone.

I move on to a series of men’s shirt collars embroidered with real messages from the artist’s experiences with online dating.  “What kind of underwear girl are u?”  “Every young man want to get laid by a gray hair lady.” “You want a naughty pic?”  It reminds me I have not finished my Match.com profile.  And that I probably won’t.

There are maps covered with pins and handwritten notes.  Heart-shaped boxes filled with broken glass and newspaper clippings. A video of a woman covered in striped fabric dancing with a bee.

I return for a third time to a piece titled, “Love Letter.”  It is long and tall, like a body.  With hair at the top, words winding down the center, like buttons, and rocks circling the bottom.  The artist, Sherry Antonini writes, “Love Letter is a meditation on listening inward and noticing outward; on persistence and on beginning again with what is left over.”

I read the poem running down her torso again.  It is still too much to take in.  So I photograph it – in pieces.

“Keep time.  But throw away most other things, including reasons to worry…Watch for signs, however small.  Push through with ideas, envisioning them as even bigger than you think they deserve to be.  Do this until you can once again see yourself shine…

"Love Letter."  Artist, Sherry Antonini.
“Love Letter.” Artist, Sherry Antonini.

“Make a list of the things you hold at core.  Those essences nearly forgotten, cast aside for too long…Months or years it is that you have been bound tight and stilled, silenced in some darkness.  But the beauty of light is insistent…

“First, you fill up a room, then you empty it, one piece at a time and all in its right time.  No one can tell you not to.  Or that you can’t.  That you never will.  Or won’t ever again.

“When you rotate the stones point them in line with your heart’s desire, you put your hands once again on your own gleam of power and touch possibility.”

I head toward the front door as my friends are entering.  Unplanned.  Serendipity.  I meet them, filled, spilling over.  Love.  Joy.  And later, this man who makes me smile big, on Skype.  He notices my grin and tells me he likes it.  I read him the poem, still trying to sort my way through it.  Intimacy.  Faith.  Desire.

Artist Date 59: Waiting. On The Journey To Becoming

I am waiting on some news.  Both personal and professional.  Nothing scary or life-threatening…as a loving friend of mine recently asked.  But all in G-d’s time, or at the very least, not mine.

The chime on my phone notifies me of messages received and my response is purely Pavlovian.  Hope rises.  And when I check my phone and discover I still have no news, hope falls.  I feel my heart literally sink just a little bit.  Awful.

Radio silence.  My friend Michael says it is normal.  Winter.  “‘Tis the season.”  His words, literally.

I want to punch him.

He sends me photographs of the shore of Lake Michigan, taken from the Indiana Dunes.  This is what quiet looks like.  It is at once both sad and beautiful.

lonely beach

He is right though.  It is in the silence that I find my center, that I soothe myself…even though it is the silence, the not knowing, that has me so uncomfortable.

I turn off my phone at dinner with friends.  No ringing.  No vibrating.  No notifying.  Silence.

I am completely present with the people about me.  I am not thinking about what I do not know.  I am happy and serene…until I turn it back on and watch hope rise and fall again.  And watch myself respond with a level of emotion that does not feel at all congruent.

Next day, at work, I turn the phone off again.  And when I power it back on later, I ignore the notifications alerting me to the messages waiting.  Instead, I bring my attention to my friend Nora, who is sitting across from me.  I am again happy and serene.

I feel empowered.

It feels a little bit like when I quit smoking, nearly 15 years ago.  That first week, I was high on not smoking.  That feeling of “I can’t believe I’m doing this…”

The weeks that followed, sans cigarettes, were not filled with that same awe and wonder.  But that is a different story.  And a different lesson.  Fifteen years later I am grateful for a different identity – one of a non-smoker.  And the absence of the yellow stain on my second finger that I could not scrub off – my personal breaking point, my bottom.

My bottom here is that I fundamentally understand I am powerless over people, places and things, and yet, I sometimes still find myself allowing the actions of others to determine my sense of happiness, security and well-being.  I watch myself hand over my serenity.  It is painful.

And it is in this painful awareness that I recognize I have a modicum of control over the anxiety I perpetuate.  That I can dial down my discomfort by simply turning off my phone, or ignoring its messages until I am in time and space to better receive them.

That I can receive the same relief by staying busy, and by pointing my attention to what is right in front of me.

Like Nora.  Like the Artist Date penciled in my calendar.  Number 59.  Chicago Cultural Center for the “Wright Before the Lloyd,” exhibit.

2014-01-30 15.17.11

I am here just a short time – about 45 minutes.  Just long enough to feel the fog in my brain clear, making way for new information, and for my whole body to exhale.

The show is small – photographs, sketches and placards covering either side of a long hallway.  It is a journey of becoming.  The transition from Frank L. Wright, to Frank Lloyd Wright.  A seemingly subtle, but significant, metamorphosis.

I read about his mother, determined that her son should become an architect, placing engravings of cathedrals in his bedroom for inspiration.  His uncle with wild long hair, unconventional fashion sense, and a memorable three-part name who served as role model.  His work with Adler and Sullivan and the “mistakes” he made on the way to creating his signature style.

I notice that many of the buildings shown on this trajectory from Wright to Lloyd Wright are no longer standing.  Either burned down or destroyed.  Gone.  Like the yellow stain on my second finger.

I think about my own trajectory, and the people and experiences that influenced my becoming the woman I always wanted to be.

The one who dances on red soil in Rwanda and glossed, wood floors in Chicago.  Who has been invited in to the intimacy of rooms where life begins and life ends.  The one who listens with her hands and her heart.

The one with her own signature style – cropped hair, second-hand clothes and super-fabulous shoes – the kind that strangers inquire about.  Who takes herself to museums, operas and lectures – comfortably alone.  And out for strong coffee and a really good piece of cake.

The one who has learned to soothe herself.  To quiet her own crazy.  To be responsible for her own wellbeing.

Post Script:  I got a call on some of the news I’d been waiting on.  It was positive and it made me smile.  But it didn’t change anything.  Not my thoughts.  My mood.  My beliefs.  It didn’t make me feel “ok.”  It couldn’t.  Because in my heart I already was.

Artist Date 50: When the Messenger is Hot

My friend Betsy gave me a book of hers a few days after I turned 40 – one that she wrote, as opposed to one that once upon a time made a difference in her life but is now collecting dust on the shelf.  Just after I told her about my crush on a mutual friend of ours.

when the messenger is hotI told her that I was committed to the commitment of my marriage.  That I loved my husband.  That we had grown in wildly different directions, and were continuing to do so.

That I would see this other guy, our mutual friend, every Saturday morning in a church basement, where we would sit across the table from one another.  That he was funny and smart, a writer.  That he spoke my brand of crazy, which meant that when I talked, he would nod in that knowing way.  The same way I nodded when he spoke.

That I was pretty sure he liked me after he brought me an entire smoked salmon for my 39th birthday.  And that I liked him.  (Blog: I Think the Fish Guy Likes Me)

Or perhaps I just liked the way he made me feel.  Seen.  Heard.  Understood.

Betsy made a happy-sad face and told me the story of When the Messenger is Hot.

I’m standing in The Brown Elephant thrift store in Andersonville – Artist Date 50.  Her book of short stories by the same name stares back at me from the shelves of fiction.

I smile a big toothy grin.  It’s some sort of message, I think.  Which is really the crux of the When the Messenger is Hot.

That people, objects, and experiences come into our lives for a reason.

Sometimes their appearance, or disappearance, is painful.  Sometimes it looks nothing like what we imagined.

And sometimes, according to Betsy, God provides a pretty attractive delivery vehicle to make certain we pay attention.  In her case, a bad boy with the heart of a poet and a tattoo on the inside of each of his wrists, Chinese symbols for “child of God.”

She thought he might be the love of her life.  Or at least great sex.  Instead, she came to see him, and their single date – which she rated among her top 5 – but never led to another, as a template of what a date should look like – “…love songs and flowers and candles and lollipops.”  A reason to have faith.  A harbinger of things to come.

I’m still not sure what message the Fish Guy came to deliver me.  That there are attractive men all around who will bring me clever and intimate gifts that say, “I know you?”  (Because really, I don’t know any women other than myself who would swoon over a piece of fish.)  That my then-husband wasn’t the only one?  My own harbinger of things to come?

That my brand of crazy really isn’t so crazy?  That that “too much” that I fear being, really isn’t too much?

The Fish Guy moved away from Chicago – to Florida, so he could fish.  Seriously.  But the message of When the Messenger is Hot stuck with me.

The words became my shorthand for meeting someone seemingly special and not getting what I thought I wanted.  And an opportunity to look for lessons where I thought there might be love.

The teacher who taught me about spiritual intimacy through shared prayer and meditation, and long conversations about God.

When I was the muse.
When I was the muse.

The Southern Svengali who taught me about creative companionship.  What it was to be inspired by another, to have a muse.  And to be a muse.

The divorce buddy who taught me about unconditional love and friendship.  Who packed my car and drove me home from the West Coast to Chicago, even when things were awkward and clunky between us.

I think about buying Betsy’s book, just because it is here.  Even though I already have a copy.  Even though I have sent copies to several of my friends.  But I leave it.

I pick up a collection of short stories titled Tongue Party, and a hardback copy of Like Water for Chocolate, both for $1.37, instead – curious what messages they will deliver.