Artist Date 84: Moreloveletters

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“If you can read this, then it’s yours! Enjoy!”

I’m standing in the bathroom at Weight Watchers with Leah.  A brown envelope sitting on top of the tampon machine catches my attention.

There’s a hashtag on it: #moreloveletters as well as a website: moreloveletters.com.  Inside is a card with an owl and the words “yooo-hoo!”  And inside that are these words:

“Dear Amazing Person,

You are the lovely recipient of a card from moi! A total complete stranger! Not the creepy kind, more like a loving kind to tell you how awesome you are! Every day as you grow you become more and more amazing! Don’t ever doubt yourself!  You rock!  Keep smiling! Share joy with others!  Lots of hugs, Sunshine”

A wave of joy and gratitude washes over my body.  It is an auspicious beginning to my Artist Date – number 84 – which in my mind doesn’t begin until this evening.  I have treated myself to a front row ticket for the Chicago Human Rhythm Project.  I wasn’t familiar with it, but I liked the sound of it.  And already, the magic of the Artist Date – the magic of being filled up – has begun.

I am reminded of my spiritual business teacher Anne Sagendorph Moon, who taught me that money begets money.  That I am able to receive only by giving.  And to tithe the sources of my inspiration.

I recall another of Anne’s students getting two, crisp, $100 bills from the bank, dropping them in the hands of two complete strangers and running away, grinning.

This note in my hand feels like a $100 bill.  My life feels magical and full of possibilities.  I want to deliver my own little brown-wrapped notecards of love into the world.

And for the rest of the day, I do.  Energetically giving and receiving loveletters until I can pen my own and join this crazy, mad, lovely movement.  Hoping that love begets love.

I text the chef – a man I’ve just begun dating.  I recall it is a day of great transition for him and I wish him well.  I do not ask him any questions, nothing that requires action or a response on his part.  I receive one anyway.  “Was thinking of you…Funny.”

I call out a message of encouragement to the woman in the dressing room next to mine at Intimacy – a upscale lingerie shop.  An invitation to treat herself.  She has just let out a squeal of joy.  That “aha-you’ve-changed-my-life-with-the-right-size-bra-and-thank-you-for-showing-me-how-to-wear-it-properly” cry of relief.  I know it.  I’ve had it here.  More than once.

She laments, “Now I have to make choices.  I’ve never had choices.”

“Buy them all,” I yell through the walls.  Laughter.  Hers.  The salesperson’s.  My own.  A host of other women behind closed doors.  “Seriously.  Do it.”

I don’t know what she does, but I leave smiling with a bag full of lacy bits.  Bras and panties.  Silky. Filmy. Embroidered. Embellished.  The price tags make me giggle.  $40.  $65.  $110.  Ridiculous.  Each rings up at 70 percent off.  A sexy little loveletter to myself.

I call a friend and hold her heart.  I eat dinner and go to the show where I receive the sweat, the lifeblood, of the dancers – literally.  Bits of salty water catching light, cast into space.  The clickety-clap tapping of the feet of teenage girls allows me to imagine a different trajectory.  Sliding doors.

I am recognized as a dancer in my own right by the woman in the seat next to me.  She dances the beginning level West African class at the Old Town School of Music and sees me coming in for the intermediate one.

She sees me.  She has seen me.  She wants to know how long it has taken to arrive where I am.  I tell her I have no idea.

On the way out, I trade a big, wide grin with the handsome sound engineer.  His smile back reflects my own.

I do not give him my card or try to engage him in conversation.  I allow this simple exchange of heart to stand on its own, as if to say “Namaste — I see the God on you.”  A final loveletter of the night.

Artist Date 29: Undressed

undressed
Degas’ “Woman at her Toilette”

I don’t recall ever having erotic musings at a museum.  Until today.

But I also don’t recall seeing a posting at the entry of an exhibit, a warning that explicit content lay ahead, possibly unsuitable for children.

But there it was.  And there I was in front of Felicien Rops’ “For You, General.”  A mild flush on my face –  Artist’s Date 29.

I returned to the Art Institute of Chicago for “Undressed: The Fashion of Privacy,” an adjunct exhibit to the newly opened “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity,” which I saw last week – Artist Date 28.

I liked the name.  It reminded me of my strong belief in really good underwear – or none at all, which my friend Clover reminded me of when she was visiting last week.  She came out of the bathroom smiling.

“Right…really good underwear,” she said, referring to the lacy bits drying over the shower rod and towel bars.  We giggled knowingly.

There is very little underwear in “Undressed” – but a lot of vulnerable nakedness.

Sketches and paintings in all array of medium.  Women bathing.  Dressing.  Masturbating.  Breast feeding.

Mothers.  Prostitutes.  Children.  Defined spines.  Soft lines and folds of skin.

They remind me of something Geneen Roth wrote in her book When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair or 50 Ways to Feel Gorgeous and Happy (When You Feel Anything But).  Suggestion 25: Stare at Normal Women’s Bodies (Normal Does Not Include Models, Actresses, and Elite Athletes).

I’ve done this at women’s spas.  Sitting in the dry sauna, noticing dimpled thighs and buttocks.  Six-pack abs and round bellies – some large and pendulous, obscuring any hint of pubic hair.  Breast implants perched nearly at shoulder height.  Mastectomies.  Single and double, with and without reconstruction.

Pierced nipples.  Pierced navels.   C-section scars.  My own scars.  Two faded purple lines running vertically from my areolas to the folds under my breasts.

Sometimes I forget what real bodies look like.  How they move in the world.  I am reminded.

Degas’ “The Tub.”  A bronze sculpture of a woman submerged in water, her leg outstretched, washing her foot.

Klimt’s “Seated Woman from The Front with Hat, Face Hooded.”  Wispy lines of pastel pencil.  Her legs are spread and her hands are between them.  A large hat lazily tilted over her face.

debauchery-second-floor-1896_jpg!Blog

Lautrec’s ”Woman in Bed – Waking.”  She is turned toward me, one sleepy eye just opening.  Sexy.  Soft.  So different from his prostitute in “Debauchery” –a hazy, colored drawing of a woman being groped from behind.  His hands over her breasts.  Her arm extended, a martini-shaped glass dangling from her hand.

There are men too.

Delacroix’s “Standing Academic Male Nude.”  Chiseled.  Holding a stick, he appears to be rapping it onto his flat hand –a threatening gesture.  As if preparing to punish some innocent, or not so innocent.

As if HE is the general Rops’ alludes to in “For You, General” – an old woman holding a younger one over her knee, her buttocks exposed, an offering.  The girl’s bunched up skirt covers her face.  The old woman is smiling.

boys bathing

Munch’s “Boys Bathing 1896.”  Like tadpoles.  “Boys Bathing 1899.”  Like many letter X’s, like many little frogs.  “Men Bathing.”  Like figures from a Hatch Show Print poster –iconic wood-block images made in Nashville, announcing the Grand Ole Opry and Johnny Cash.

There are children.  Rafaelli’s “Germaine At Her Toilette.”  A young girl in a white dressing gown, her black tights wrinkled and baggy at the knees.  Even religious icons.  Munch’s “Madonna,” like an album cover or t-shirt from a 70’s rock band.  Bands of colors tracing her image.  And who is the small character in the bottom left corner, seemingly questioning all of this?

Edvard_Munch_-_Madonna_-_Google_Art_Project_(495100)I notice the few pieces by women. Just  a few — always.  Suzanne Valadon sketches.  Mary Cassatt paintings.  Her style is bright.  Animated.

I peer deeply into black and white woodcuts.  I love their simplicity, their precision.  And yet, I am not quite sure what I see.

I come close and step away and come close again.  It reminds me of the drawings on the back page of children’s magazines.  The ones that ask “Do you see the old woman or the young woman?”  Where once you see one, it is impossible to see the other.

It is the same with Vuillard’s “The Birth of Annette.”  Finally, after many minutes, I see the baby’s head.

Perhaps that is the point.  The experience of “Undressed,” of being undressed, is so intimate, so private.  I am an invited voyeur.  It is not mine to fully know.