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.

option-2-they-dont-eat-alone-in-spain
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.

 

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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 31: He Played Debussy on my Naked Body. Believing in the God of Synchronicity

pianist of willesden laneLast week Stephanie W. invited me on an Artist Date.  This week Stephanie G. did.

However, unlike Stephanie W., who offered a suggestion – one that allowed me the prescribed solo experience of an Artist Date – Stephanie G invited me to join her and our mutual friend, Hallie, at the theatre.  Not solo.  Technically, not an Artist Date.

Yes, I spend this sort of time splitting these sorts of hairs.  As if the Artist Date police might show up at my door.  So I was relieved to read the following in Julia Cameron’s Walking in the World – her follow-up to The Artist’s Way, where I first became acquainted with the Artist Date.

In the section titled “Basic Tools,” Cameron writes:

“…the Artist’s Date…is assigned play…

“Synchronicity – that uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time – picks up markedly as we practice Artist’s Dates.”

Stephanie’s invitation to The Royal George Theatre for The Pianist of Willesden Lane – Artist Date 31 –felt like that, like play, like synchronicity.

I’ve been thinking about music a lot lately.  My coffers crying out for sound.

I considered Harry Connick, Jr. at the Chicago Symphony.  Tickets were pricey unless I wanted to sit in the rafters.  Which I didn’t.  I wanted to see him.  Easy on the eyes, as my friend Teresa used to say.  Sitting in the gallery section would only frustrate me.

I considered a free concert at Millenium Park.  I considered a trip to the record store.

Yet I found myself in a woefully off-center, red-velvet theatre seat, flanked by Hallie on my right, and a mercifully empty seat on my left.  A Steinway Grand (Baby Grand?  Concert Grand?) and a handful of oversized frame mirrors on stage in front of me.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane is the story of Lisa Jura.  How her commitment and passion for the piano, along with the “kindness of strangers” and some sort of higher power – call it synchronicity – saved her life during World War II.  Written and performed solo by Jura’s daughter, Mona Golabek, The Pianist of Willesden Lane is told both in words and music.

Bach. Beethoven. Rachmaninoff.

Debussy.

I feel fingertips on my body.

I am lying in bed with the former symphony conductor.  He is playing the notes on my naked body – silky strains that sound like watercolor.  Ridiculously sexy.  He is teaching me about music.  Telling me about his life.  Interlochen.  Tanglewood.  Studying with Leonard Bernstein.

I have been assigned to write the obituary for his father – a kind-hearted, heavy-hitter in the community.  We speak over the phone.  He is funny, wry.  Smart and sweet.  I find a photograph of him in the files.  He has dark hair and a beard, bright eyes and a kind smile.  He is wearing a tuxedo.  I am smitten.

We meet through a series of synchronicities, and spend the next couple of weeks in bed – with Debussy, and frequently a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Mint Oreo Cookie.  I fancy myself “Mrs. Former Conductor.”  And then it is over.

I haven’t thought about him for a long time.  But my body remembers.

Like the Holocaust survivor I interviewed.  She lost her sense of smell during the war.  She regained it more than 40 years later when she returned to Germany.  She smelled manure.  Her body remembered.

I’ve been thinking of her ever since I saw Brighton Beach Memoirs a few weeks ago with my friend Michelle.  I told her how I had the great, good fortune to interview and tell the stories of so many Holocaust survivors when I worked for the Jewish Bulletin.

I don’t hear their stories much anymore.  Most of them are gone.  Until now.

Lisa Jura arrives in London from Vienna – one of thousands of children on the Kindertransport.  She is 14.

A few years later she is a student at the Royal London School of Music.  In the evening she plays piano in a hotel bar, where she meets many admirers.  Among them a Royal Air Force commander.

He is shy.  His English is poor.  His comrades approach her with a rose and act as his translator.

He says she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.  That she must tell him when she makes her debut.  And then he is gone.  Not just from the bar, but from London.  To war.

Lisa Jura and the Royal Air Force Commander.
Lisa Jura and the Royal Air Force Commander.

And then it is over.  The war.  Just like that.

Miraculously, the commander is at her debut.  So are her two sisters.  They too have survived.

The lights go up.  Golabek steps out of Jura, and back into herself.  Post Script.  Lisa Jura immigrated to the United States.  The commander followed her, married her.  He is Golabek’s father.

I get teary.  Really teary.

I want to believe in ridiculously romantic love.  The kind I shared with the conductor.  The kind I had a glimpse of when a certain southern gentleman, upon learning I could not possibly see him again, pulled me close to him and said, “I’ll come find you.”

I want to believe in a God that allows three Jewish sisters to survive the Holocaust and then somehow find one another in post-war London.  Who then places two of them across the street from one another in Los Angeles.

I want to believe in Go(o)dness.  The go(o)dness of people who care for children that are not their own.  Who feed them.  Clothe them.  Shelter them.  Love them.  Foster their talent and dreams while a war wages outside their window.

I want to believe in the God of Synchronicity.  And I do.