Artist Date 77: Rekindling the Romance

I am writing my morning pages – one of two “core practices” in The Artist’s Way, my unofficial roadmap through the past two years of transition – the daily purging of random thoughts taking up real estate in my head.  It is Saturday, the end of the week, and I realize I have not planned an Artist Date (The Artist’s Way other core practice) for myself.

2014-05-24 15.20.01A part of me rejoices in my loosening the vice grip I seem to have on everything.  A part of me laments.

Am I entering the transition from passionate love to either compassionate love or break up?   The six-month mark in a relationship when partners finally rouse themselves from bed and can think of something other than sex and one another.

If it is, I’ve had a hell of a run – 77 weeks of Artist Dates and only recently have I become somewhat bored, lazy with the idea of planning a solo excursion for myself.

Trouble is, I am the type that loves to be in love – the first six-months girl, as evidenced by my blogs.  The Southern Svengali.  Mr. 700 Miles.  My Divorce Buddy.  Ridiculously romantic stories with heartbreaking endings.

My lament is about wanting to hold on to my ridiculously romantic story with myself – with my Artist’s Dates.


Italy – quite possibly the sexiest, most romantic place on the planet – calls like a siren.

I Google “volunteer, Italy” and in minutes am poring over possibilities.

I have volunteered overseas twice before – in the South of France and in Rwanda (the trip that gave form to this blog).  Traveling this way gives me a deeper sense of people, place and purpose.  It is cost effective.  And I meet other unaccompanied adventurers I might not otherwise know.

I find “my trip” through Volunteers for Peace – two weeks with the Milano Film Festival.  Only seven volunteers are accepted, and a letter of motivation is required.

I get writing.

I send my short essay to my friend, Melinda for feedback.  She likes most of it, and gently offers, “Is this an opportunity to introduce yourself as a creative, fun, movie-loving, gelato-eating event coordinator who is a world traveler and wants to visit Italy without referencing your divorce?”

Yes, it is.  And so I do – removing the reference to my divorce from the essay before hitting “send.”


And so this morning, noodling over my morning pages, I settle on a trip to the library or bookstore, to pour over travel books.  Artist Date 77.

I think about Powell’s and flash on a date I treated my ex to when he completed his first year of residency – a bike tour of Chicago, highlighting book stores, record stores and pastry shops.

Recalling what I have done for someone else but am not doing for myself lights a fire in my belly.

2014-05-24 15.20.08It is warm and stuffy in the library – a small, neighborhood branch.  I am surprised how many people are inside, considering outside holds the promise of the spring we Chicagoans have been waiting on.  Most of them appear to be studying – determined.

I find the Italy section in the stacks and am disappointed to not find a single travel book.  No Fodors, Frommers, Lonely Planet.

I pull La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind, Traveling in Italy with Henry James, and D.H. Lawrence and Italy from the stacks.  I finger through the first, I am somewhat amused but it is not what I want to read.  I am distracted by the underlining and highlighting that mars the second.  I put them back, hold on to D.H. Lawrence and check out – unsatisfied.

At the Book Cellar I grab three titles and settle into a somewhat comfy chair wedged in the corner of the shop.

I am quickly overwhelmed.  My plan is to travel on after the Film Festival (I am already assuming I am going.).  But where?  Venice? Rome? Florence?

The Amalfi Coast? Sicily?

Too many choices.  Too much for a single trip.  Too much to consider.

This was supposed to be fun.  It isn’t.

I close the books and return them to the shelves – still unsatisfied.

Perhaps it is enough to know they are there when I am ready – tomorrow, next week, next month.  When I know more, like if I am in fact going.  (I will receive notice in three to five business days.)  Or if I am going somewhere else.  Like to Reykjavic for its film festival, or Portugal to help restore a traditional, community bread oven – other possibilities.

Perhaps all that really matters is I took action to rekindle this romance – the only one I have any control over.  I recall our couple’s therapist, Robert insisting that even if only one of us is doing the work, the relationship will change.

Today I did the work…and wait for the change.

Artist Date 26: Some Kinda Love

10 poems to set you free

I have come to crave myself.

The words surprise me.

It is subtle.  A quiet yearning.  It doesn’t scream with white-hot fervor.  It is not that impulsive.

It guides, rather than drives, me.  Less a need, more of a desire – a siren calling with patient intensity.

I am not certain I have felt this way about anyone.

But how could I?

I’ve been “seeing’” myself (pun intended) for six months now.  Twenty-six Artist Dates.  Half a year.

This is my third-longest relationship, the longest being my ex-husband, followed by my first real boyfriend – who I dated for just shy of a year.  The others have been days, weeks, a couple of months.  Until now.

Some dates are exciting, juicy, aimed to impress – the Lyric Opera, Steppenwolf Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet.  Others are simpler, without fanfare or tickets.

Saturday is the latter.

I am on my way to the Conrad Sulzer Library in Lincoln Square.  An Artist Date return destination.  I want to read poetry.  Anne Sexton poetry.

I’ve been chipping away at her biography for several weeks, renewing it twice from the library, and paying $7.50 in overdue fines.  I read a chapter each night before bed.  I had been reading old journals.

One detailing a love affair with a man I imagined was beyond my reach.  Movie star handsome.  Devilishly sexy.  With a name to match.   Fantasy sex.  It was 19 years ago.  I had forgotten.

Another notes that I have stopped reading.  Stopped writing.  I have been dating my now ex-husband for one month.  My therapist has called me out on this.

In many I have written” I want to drink.”  Again and again.  I know I can’t.  But I don’t know how to not.  Not yet.  I lament the end of early love.

A trusted friend suggested I put the journals away.  At least for now.  An exercise in being fully present.  It’s been Anne and I, mostly, ever since.

I imagine poring over, pouring myself into, her work.  To Bedlam and Part Way BackAll My Pretty Ones?  Love Poems?  I’m not choosy.  Whatever is on hand.  I want to go to the source.  To the one who now keeps me up late at night.

But there is no Anne Sexton here.  None of her writings, that is.  Most of it is housed at the Harold Washington Library downtown, the one with the huge gargoyles on the roof.  I’ve yet to go inside there.

Plan B.

I roam the poetry stacks.  Ten Poems to Set You Free, by Roger Housden.  Lofty promise.  I’m intrigued.  Hopeful.   I grab it, find a seat near a window – near the jigsaw puzzle half done, inviting patrons to add a piece to its completion— and begin to read.

My head softens.  Opens.  Like when I meditate.  I didn’t realize I had a headache but now it is starting to clear.  It is quiet.  Blessedly quiet and I am blessedly alone, reading – once again.  Like I used to.

“Shake off this sadness, and recover your spirit; sluggish you will never see the wheel of fate that brushes your heel as it turns going by…the only thing which lasts is the work; start then, turn to the work.  Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field,” Miguel de Unamuno

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others.  Unfold your own myth, without complicated explanations, so everyone will understand the passage, We have opened you.  Start walking toward Shams.  Your legs will get heavy and tired.  Then comes the moment of feeling the wings you’ve grown, lifting.” Rumi.

The poetry is like prayer, each word a meditation.

My nose feels hot.  My nostrils flare.  My eyes are wet.  Emotions greeting my senses.

“And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul?”  Mary Oliver.

No one, I whisper.

“Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!”

I cannot move fast enough.  Suddenly I know that I’ve come here only to receive my map and my marching orders.  Not to stay.  Not today.  My soul isn’t in this place.  It is outside the window.

In the park across the street where 10-year-old boys are playing baseball; where parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, sit in folding chairs, drinking beer and soda, watching.

In the gelato shop where this date began.  Where I let cinnamon and toasted coconut and sea salt caramel play on my tongue.

I rush down the stairs, adding myself to the check-out queue.  Quickly, it is my turn.  “Come on down,” the librarian cries.  “I don’t watch the Price is Right since Bob Barker retired,” I say.  She laughs.  Neither does she.

I rush out into the sun that made itself known just an hour ago, after a wet, grey morning.  The air is hot and thick.  Moist.  Steam rising up out of the sidewalk.

I cross the street, walking into the park I pass nearly every day, but have never stepped inside of.  I find a quiet bench, mostly, and continue reading.

“…don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now, work gone wrong, your plans all proving deceptive – don’t mourn them uselessly…say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.  Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say it was a dream, your ears deceived you: …go firmly to the window and listen with deep emotions, but not with whining, the pleas of a coward; listen – your final delectation – to the voice, to the exquisite music of that strange procession, and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.” C.P. Cavafy.

I read the words again, flummoxed.  Surprised.  Affirmed.

My experiences are real.  All of them.   No matter how long or short.  No matter if another understands or believes.  Each is real because I felt it, thought it, lived it.  It is true.

This is what I hear.

Celebrate it.  Honor it.  Mourn it.  Give it a proper send off.

The former symphony conductor.  My traveling companion in Germany.  The horny artist from New York.

The photographer, fantasy-sex lover, from journals 19 years old.

My ex-husband.

I savor each word, read them over and again – like a mantra offering me permission, I tenderly hold each little love.  Precious.  Complete.  Over.

I lie down on the bench and close my eyes.  I feel the sun blanket my body.  Lie on me heavy, like a lover.  Church bells merge with traffic and the dull empty whack of a bat hitting ball.  Clapping.  Squealing.  A man is doing lunges on the cement patch in front of me, groaning.

I walk home slowly, eyeing the cute boys on Lincoln Avenue.  They do not look back at me.  They never do, I think.  And then, “Lesley, that is simply not true.”  My own voice.

I walk into my apartment, turn Pandora to Lou Reed.  He sings to me.  Straight to me, through me.  Always.  I bypass songs, one, two, three, four, five.  Six, I cannot bypass.  “Some Kinda Love.”  It is what I had hoped to hear.  God is with me in the little things.

I chop onions and garlic, cook them with wild cod, capers and tomatoes, grill a side of bright green asparagus.  I sit at the table.  Cloth napkin.  Sunflowers in a vase.

Some kinda love.

Artist’s Date 17: If You Knew What I Was Reading…a Little Bit Naughty at the Library

I am reading erotica at the Chicago Public Library.

I didn’t plan on it.    

I am here to pick up a Charles Bukowski biography.  Or perhaps Sylvia Plath.  Anne Sexton.  Or Pablo Picasso.

It is one of my weekly assignments in Finding Water, the second in The Artist’s Way trilogy – reading a biography (or autobiography) that details an artist’s life, especially the disappointments and hardships weathered.  It’s an easy and obvious Artist’s Date – number 17. 

But first, I’m going to need a library card. 

It’s about 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon and it’s busy in here.  I ask the guard what I need to do to get a library card.  She points me to a painted blue desk to fill out a form, and then to the check-out counter, where there is a long line, for processing.

A little girl in front of me is trying to balance a stack of large books she has chosen.  She is about five.  On the wall to my right is a display of staff picks, among them, Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert.  It is the follow up to Eat, Pray, Love.  I make a mental note.  I’ve wanted to read it, but not today.

I am handed a library card, my name printed on it with a Sharpie marker.  The librarian apologizes that there is no clear tape to put over my name so it doesn’t smear.  I lay it flat in my wallet and hope for the best.

The map on the wall guides me to the second floor.  I’ve been here once before – this past fall, to print out boarding passes for my trip to Charleston.  I forgot I could pull them up on my smart phone at the gate. 

It was raining and I was talking on the phone to my father, telling him about my plans to see my birthmother.  I had gotten a call just the day before.  She was dying.  It seems like a lifetime ago.

I point myself to a bank of computers, to locate the biography section.  My search does not pull up the results I am looking for.  I change my search terms.  Nothing.  It is not intuitive.  I miss the card catalog.  The tiny wooden drawers with typed cards sitting in alphabetical order inside.  It was easy.  Hello, Dewey Decimal.

I wander away from the computers to the shelves.  Each end cap lists what is contained in the stacks.  Of course it does.  I wander through the periodicals.  AARPPeopleThe Chicago Jewish Week.  There are bound books, entire years of Time, The Saturday Evening Post and National Geographic dating back to the 1940s.  I make another mental note, to come back to better acquaint myself with publications I plan to pitch.

I keep wandering, reading end caps.  Nope.  Nope.  One of my Weight Watchers members is standing in front of me.  She is wearing purple horn-rimmed glasses.  We exchange hellos and brief small talk.

“American Literature.”  Sounds promising.  I feel silly, like I should know my way around the library.   I remind myself I’ve only been here once before.

I remember feeling intimidated by the library at Michigan State University.  I avoided it, even when class assignments clearly dictated its use.  That is, until I started going there with my friend, Brian. 

He suggested we go to the library to study on the weekends.  And to look at cute boys.  We took cigarette breaks in the men’s bathroom on one of the upper levels, sitting on vinyl couches in the tiled bathroom lounge as if we were at Nordstrom’s.  Smoking.  Guys would come in to pee and look at me funny.   Confused, sometimes blushing.  No one ever said a word.

I am in the A’s of the American Literature section.  The first book I see is The Best American Erotica 2005, edited by Susie Bright.  I love the Best American series.  I have copies of several years of The Best American Food Writing, The Best American Travel Writing and The Best American Essays.  I didn’t know there was a The Best American Erotica.

I pull it from the shelf.  On the cover, a pair of women’s feet strapped into incredibly tall sandals.  The heels look like nails.  Thin.  Silver.  Blue, sheer panties dangle around her ankles.  I carry it with me, smiling to myself.  I hadn’t planned on this.

The section includes both literature and biographies.  I pull titles that speak to me.  Names I do not know.  Women war correspondents.  I put them back.  I think I should write them down so that I can mention them in my blog, but I don’t.  I’m trying to be “in the moment.”

I stumble upon Henry Miller.  There are several biographies.  I think about reading Tropic of Capricorn.  I had tried many times without success.  It “took” the day I approached it hopped up on coffee and cigarettes. 

I felt frenetic, like the writing, stretched out on the couch, reading the minimally punctuated stream-of-consciousness straight through.  I don’t remember much of what I read, but it made sense to me at the time.  I felt like I had cracked the code.

I settle on The Happiest Man Alive by Mary V. Dearborn and tuck it under my arm with the erotica book.  A theme is developing.  I scan for Anais Nin.  No biographies.  No Delta of Venus – my favorite.  Only her journals.

I pick up a biography on Anne Sexton, a black and white photograph of her on the cover.  She is wearing a sleeveless dress with a swirling pattern, and she is holding a cigarette – her hands gesturing.  She has great legs.

I read the inside cover and learn that she was a fashion model.  That she married in her teens.  That she attempted suicide after the birth of her second daughter, and that a therapist suggested she try writing poetry.

She wrote for 18 years, producing nearly a dozen books – including Pulitzer Prize winning Live or Die.  The final words on the inside back jacket read, “It is not a tale for children nor for the innocent, for Sexton’s complicity in her own self-destruction was the despair of her friends, to many of whom this biography will reveal more than they understood while Sexton was alive.”

I add the book to my stack.

The alphabet begins again and I find Bukowski, Philip Roth, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou.  I pick up the Bukowski biography.  It is much thinner than the Miller and Sexton tombs.  Most of his face is covered by a folded newspaper, but he is clearly smiling.  The crow’s feet at his eyes and the parentheses around his mouth give him away.  His hands have age spots.

I am limited to checking out just five books during my first 30 days, so I think it is best to stop.  I sit down at a table by myself and open the erotica book.  I scan the table of contents, looking for a short reading. 

“The Bounty of Summer,” by Carol Queen.  Pages 79-81. 

It is well written, neither violent nor overly sentimental.  It’s about play and surrender, trust and fruit.  Yes, fruit.  She writes, “It’s the honeymoon suite, though we are not married, just fucking like it’s the only thing we will have to do for the rest of our lives.” 

I like it.

I begin another story, “After the Beep,” about a man receiving anonymous, sexual instructions on his answering machine.  It is titillating but too long.  I do not finish it.  I begin another, “Sit.”  Three pages in and it’s all still set up.  Nothing dirty.  I cannot “sit” with it.  I close the book. 

I think about the journals I recently unearthed.  They are filled with poetry and prose.  Juicy, explicit details of my experiences in my 20s, when I was single.  The writing is good.  Better than this, I think.

I gather my books.  Before heading to the check out, I pull a second The Best American Erotica from the shelf – 2006.

The librarian scans the Miller biography.  Bukowski.  Sexton.  They are due back May 4.  I will never read them all by then.  She scans in the two erotica books.  “Figures,” she says.  “They are not in the computer.” 

What does that mean?

“I’m just going to give them to you.”

I giggle to myself.  There’s a dirty joke in there somewhere.  And I walk out with my stack.