Artist Date 55: Saving Myself. No Wand or Wings Required.

I’ve been having a hard time getting myself out on weekly Artist Dates.  Ever since I hit that “magic” one-year mark.

Carmel and I.  Extras.  Fans.  And Friends.
Carmel and I. Extras. Fans. And Friends.

Maybe it’s because, as suggested, I didn’t date for a year after my divorce became final.  The passing of 52 Artist Dates meant that that year had passed.  And perhaps on some subconscious level I thought it was time to date others instead of myself.

Even though nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed in my romantic life.  Even though I don’t even have a crush.  And for perhaps the first time in my life, the world still feels full of possibilities.  That is a big change in my romantic life.

Or maybe it’s because maintenance is hard.  Of anything.  Eating well, moving my body and maintaining a healthy weight.  Staying sober.  Meditating.  Artist Dates.

Each serves me, makes me feel better, be better in the world.  It would seem I would only want to perpetuate these patterns.  But somehow it doesn’t work that way.

My brain is a liar.  It tells me “I’ve got this.”  Which, when it does, is the exact moment I need to redouble my efforts.  And I need other people to do that.  To remind me that my brain is, in fact, a liar.  And of what actions I can take anyway.

It’s why I work for Weight Watchers.  Surround myself with sober individuals.  And probably why I only meditate in the morning but not the evening, even though Vedic meditation is a twice-daily practice.  I’ve been doing it alone ever since I left California in 2007.

The Artist Date is a solo process.  No one would know, or probably care, if I did or did not engage in it.  Except me.  By stating my intention and blogging about it, I invite others in, and I stay in the action of it.  Action that always makes me feel better.

So I was grateful when I saw a Facebook post from my friend Lori late Friday night, asking if anyone was available to be background talent for a music video she was filming the following day.  Without thinking, I said “yes” – Artist Date 55.

“Who knows?” I thought.  “Perhaps I will meet Mr. Right…”

skatersBy morning I wasn’t so sure about that.  When I opened Lori’s email with details for the shoot, I found myself feeling incredibly resistant.  So much so, I told her I may have spoken too soon.

I shared my “dilemma” with a friend who reflected back to me that I am a woman who does what she says.  And so I did.

But when I arrived, the first words out of my mouth were, “Do you have enough people?  Because if you do…”  Yes, she said, adding, “If you have somewhere to be, go…”

But I didn’t.

Knowing that, something shifted.  And I decided to stay.

I took a seat on an empty bench where the Windy City Rollers practice and watched the girls go around and around in circles, fading in and out of the fog of the smoke machine – the set for the music video, for a song written by one of the skaters, Xoe.

I joined about a dozen extras as a Windy City Rollers fans.  Our job was to rush the red team after winning the bout.  To jump up and down and high-five the skaters, and each other.  Simple enough…even for a non-sports fan like myself.  But first, we waited.

angelsI watched the big cameras zooming in and out.  Xoe’s stunt double — dressed like a guardian angel with wings, a wand and a sequined dress — “saving her” from herself, and knocking out a couple of the Rollers in the process.  I looked at the snack table and thought it could use a makeover.  That I would replace some of the donuts, Oreos and chips with fresh fruit and vegetables, hummus and low-fat cheese.  But nobody asked me.

A woman I know just a little, but like quite a bit, showed up and she and I talked like old friends for the better part of the afternoon – telling stories about boys, our bodies and travel.

I noticed the high concentration of men on the set – lots of tattoos and wool hats.  But I didn’t “recognize” my mate.

The day ended with a whack upside the head.  Literally.  It was an accident.

During a “pretend” fight scene,I leaned into the fist of a wisp of a girl standing next to me.   She apologized profusely.  I laughed.  It somehow seemed right.  Like I had definitely “connected.”

This morning, I put my hand to my forehead.  It was sore.  A little tender spot reminding me of how much I fight myself.  And of how I can save myself – no wand or wings required.

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.

Artist Date 46: Why I Am Here

Future Hits Halloween Show at Schubas.
Future Hits Halloween Show at Schubas.

Some Artist Dates are easy alone.  Museums.  Lectures.  Dance performances.  Opera.  Theatre.  Some, like movies, I even prefer that way.

Live music, however, is far more difficult.  Even when the audience is children.  Perhaps even more so.

And yet, this is the set up for Artist Date 46.

I am parked outside of Schubas.  My friend Matt’s band – Future Hits, self-proclaimed Fun (Yet Secretly Educational) Music for Kids, Families and Teachers – is playing this afternoon.  It is a Halloween performance and party for children, hosted in collaboration with Whole Foods, The Kite Collective and Adventure Sandwich.

I stand in awe of how Matt puts himself out there.  Performing.  Recording. Last year, Future Hits cut its first CD, Songs for Learning, funded by KickStarter.  This past summer he spent a month in South America, improving his Spanish.  An ESL teacher for Chicago Public Schools, he requested, and received, a grant that paid for everything.

But right now I am standing in fear.  Rather sitting, in my 13-year-old Honda Civic.  I feel anxious about going inside.  I don’t have children.

I sometimes feel this way walking into synagogue by myself – which I began doing several years ago.

As fresh meat, I was quickly swarmed and warmly greeted.  Peppered with questions.  Top on the list: Do you have children?

“No.”

“Oh…”

Pause.  Uncomfortable silence.  I often feel I have to fill that space.  Say something clever or pithy to put us both at ease.  I am getting better at just letting that dead air “hang.”  Like summer in Charleston.  Heavy.  Still.

I wonder what they are wondering.  If I cannot have children.  If I am childless by choice.  If I am waiting for the perfect sperm to swim into my life.  I am told that this is none of my business.

Mostly, I imagine they wonder what brought me there.  It’s a reasonable enough question.  And the assumption that I have children is equally reasonable.

Many, perhaps most, join a congregation when their children are of school age.  They recognize it as time to do what their parents had done – provide their children with a Jewish education.  Sometimes for no other reason than, “this is what we do.”

Perhaps the second most popular reason for joining is the gift of a complimentary one-year membership, given when the Rabbi or Cantor of that congregation marries a couple.  (I will have to query my Rabbi to see if I am correct in my speculation.)

Gene and Oscar
Gene and Oscar

I walked into synagogue for my own reasons.  Neither recently married nor considering a Jewish education, I am the Jew who converted to Judaism.  It’s a long story.  One that doesn’t fit neatly into conversation over coffee and pastry after services.  But it is mine.  And I am assured that I have a place in the congregation.

Nonetheless, it is often still daunting walking through those sacred doors alone.

It is too at Schubas.  Even after seeing my friend Joe, smoking outside.  He doesn’t have kids either.

I walk in, pay $10, get my hand stamped and say to the bouncer, “Am I the only one here without kids?”  “Nah,” he replies.  Looking in, I’m not so sure.

The lights are dim and a bunch of little people in costumes are making kites and eating granola.  Matt and his band mates are dressed in caveman attire.  Think Flintstones.

Our friend Lily is selling CDs.  Gene is on the floor with his son, Oscar, making a kite. Jenny is helping her son Seth into his costume.

Matt’s mom, Rhonda, is here.  His dad too.  I love Rhonda.  Our conversations meander from fashion to Transcendental Meditation (which we both practice) – seamlessly.  I feel like the universe has conspired for us to meet.  We pick up where we left off last time.

Matt is delighted to see me.  Grateful for the support.  He always is.

I remember the first time I heard him play, at the Beat Kitchen.  I arrived early and was standing on the corner outside.   When he saw me, he dropped to his knees – on the sidewalk – his hands in prayer.  Total gratitude.

This is why I am here – to support my friend.  But I forget, falling into a swirling pit of “me.”  Self-conscious about my childless-ness.  Even though I (mostly) chose not to have any.

And then the music starts and I forget all of that.  I forget myself.   I have seen Matt perform many times, but this my first time hearing Future Hits.  Even though I was a KickStarter supporter, which earned me a button and a CD.

The Kite Parade.
The Kite Parade.

I’m surprised.  The music doesn’t feel like kids music. It is pleasing to my ear.  It’s not sing-song-y like Barney.  Something to be endured.  I am delighted watching Emma go from bass to flute to tambourine.

The kids are invited to dance.  They do, with joyous abandon.  Oblivious to the concept of rhythm.  I would like to shake a tail feather myself…but I’m suddenly self-conscious again.  So I watch instead.  Although I do raise my hand when the band asks if anyone’s birthday is in October.

There is a kite parade for the kids to show off their creations.  More music and a dance contest.  The winner – dressed as a werewolf – leaves with a Halloween-decorated bag of schwag.

And soon after, I leave too.  Holding tightly to the light I see in Oscar’s face.  In Seth’s.  And the lesson they teach me.  Beaming over the simplest things.  Costumes.  Music.  Paper kites.  They do not concern themselves with why they are here.  Just that they are.

Artist Date 36: The Happy Show

2013-08-22 17.12.37I am chewing on a piece of ginger candy and drawing a daisy – poorly – on a square of yellow paper, giggling to myself.  The enormous blow-up animal in the other room, the one with its ass cocked north, is dancing around in my head.  I am happy.  Not just in a general way.  But in this very-present, animal-ass-in-the-air, right-now moment.

I give it an 8.

2013-08-22 17.06.05I’m on the fourth floor of the Chicago Cultural Center, at The Happy Show – Artist Date 36.  Two people mentioned it to me within two days of one another.  I take it as a sign.

Walking in, I am asked to rate my happiness and to take a gumball from the large, plastic tube with its corresponding number.  I say 7.  Popular number.  This is the least filled cylinder, followed by 10.

2013-08-22 15.57.37Ten.  No greater happiness.  Unless it goes up to 11 in a This Is Spinal Tap sort of logic.  I have been at 10…in moments.  And I think that’s sort of the point – recognizing pure-bliss, happy, 10 moments when they happen.  And thanking your lucky stars.

Noticing the runny yellow and crisp white of a fried egg.  The chills up your spine every time you ride a scooter on a beautiful, windy road.  No helmet.  Listening to music you love, but don’t know well enough to have stories associated with it.  These are Stefan Sagmeister’s – the show’s creator – happy moments.

Mine is on my bike.  A vintage, Raleigh three-speed with a basket and a bell.  Except I wear a helmet.  And I don’t listen to music.  I sing.  Usually Rosemary Clooney’s “Do You Miss New York,” or Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere.”

“There’s a city in my mind, come along and take that ride and it’s all right.  Baby, it’s all right.”

Sagmeister designed album covers for Talking Heads, as well as my hero, Lou Reed.  I wonder if he designed Little Creatures, the album this song is from.

I am photographing every inch of the exhibit – Sagmeister’s 10-year exploration of happiness – literally.  The language is so spot-on.  I don’t want to forget a single word – all of it printed on yellow walls, in fonts that look like handwriting.  Some words are cleverly crossed out.  Perfectly imperfect.

Rules to live by, culled from Sagmeister’s diary, manifested in print, sculpture, video, and dance.

“Uselessness is gorgeous.”

Thousands of cigarette papers are taped to the wall with fans blowing on them.  I step away from them to see the words embedded in the paper.  It is gorgeous.  I think about my friend Pam noting that I wear a $2 shirt from the Salvation Army with $85 underwear.

Not quite –$35 is my max.

2013-08-22 16.18.54“Make the first step.”

I watch a video of a group of Balinese girls performing a dance, unrolling strips of yellow fabric, displaying these words.  Sagmeister recalls his mother approaching people, rather than waiting to be approached.

“I do this,” I think.  Almost always.

“Over time I get used to everything and start taking it for granted.”  Sagmeister writes the words with his finger – in the dirt on a car, in soapy suds on a man’s hairy chest.  With playing cards and with hotdogs.

Yep.  It’s true.  And, Sagmeister explains, even the words “I love you,” said by the same person, become boring.  I think about my ex-husband.  In the year since our divorce, he has often told me that he misses our life together.  And that I look really good.

I want to tell him he should have thought about that before he opted out, but I don’t.  I know there are reasons our marriage stopped working.  Among them, I am certain, that somewhere along the line we took one another, and our life together, for granted.

“Actually Doing the Things I Set Out to Do Increases My Overall Level of Satisfaction.” Agreed.

2013-08-22 16.55.16“Everybody Always Thinks They Are Right.”  ‘Nuff said.

“Drugs Are Fun in the Beginning But Become a Drag Later On.”  Ditto.

On my way out, I am asked to draw my symbol of happiness on a square of yellow paper.  No smiley faces allowed.  It is the second time I am asked to do this – the first time, on the way in, I draw a heart on one side, two stick figures holding hands on the other.  This time I draw a daisy.  I don’t know why.  It just makes me smile.  Like the flowers I buy for myself most every week at Trader Joes.

Hans – my favorite, morning check-out guy – once gave me sunflowers.  Pulling them from my basket, he asked if the blooms were for me.  When I told him that they were, he responded, “They are on me.  And pick up a second bunch on the way out.”  I think it made us both happy.

I walk through the exit, which has been made into art.  The words, “every” precede “exit,” and “is also an entrance” follow it.  As instructed, I push a button and take the card which shoots out.  It reads, “Find a reflection of yourself and tell it what you really think.”

On the way out, I stop in the bathroom.  I look in the mirror and whisper to myself, “You are lovely.”  My lips curl into a big smile.  And I am.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

And you?  What do you say to your own reflection?

Pulling Myself Out Of The Pity Pot, “Just Like Starting Over”

double fantasyI’ve been sitting in the pity pot for a couple of days now.  Actually, I‘ve been stewing in it – my attention laser focused on what I don’t have, what isn’t working, and most of all, the ways in which I have not changed or grown.

It’s terrifying.  Mostly because I lived my life this way all the time, once upon a time.  It was only in “so-sad-rescue-me-from-myself-because-I-don’t-know-how-to” mode that I dared to believe I might get what I thought I needed.

Things changed.  I changed.  I’m not sure how – if it was learning to meditate, cognitive behavioral therapy, or a spiritual-business class.  Making gratitude lists, losing weight, or getting sober.  Just getting older.  Or perhaps a little bit of all of it – but I did.  And today, as a rule, people tend to see me (and I see myself) as pretty sunny, light.  A light – full of gratitude, a big believer in G-d, the universe, and possibilities.

So it’s scary returning to that once familiar place of darkness, hopelessness, and self-pity.  A not-so-fun house of circular thinking.  Even if it’s brief.  I know it’s not reasonable to think I will never take a sojourn here.  And yet, it surprises me every time.

I forget that the way out is gratitude.  Not just once, but continuous and sustained.  Ever growing.

My nightly gratitude list, the one I exchange with a friend, the one I’ve been writing for double-digit years, isn’t enough right now.  I had to pull out the big guns.

Last night I wrote on Facebook, “The universe is conspiring with me.  At least in work.  I need to say this out loud because it is true, as opposed to the lies my brain likes to tell me.”

I immediately felt better.  Very quickly, I heard the Pavlovian “ping” of my cell phone, alerting me of Facebook activity.  Thumbs up, sunny responses, connection – like attracting like.

This morning I woke to a message from a friend that didn’t sit right with me.  Intellectually, I knew what he was asking of me was perfectly reasonable.  That it had nothing to do with me.  Nonetheless, I found myself wondering if I had done something wrong, along with the dreaded thought  – “Are we ok?”

It was quickly displaced with, “Think about all of the love in your life.”

It was reflexive.

I thought about my friend Jonathan calling me “brilliant,” reposting my Facebook status, because “it is so appropriate.”  About Amanda doing the same, writing, “(it is) My new mantra.”

I thought about the 30 people at the table jumping up and down to be with me, instead of the one who didn’t show – a lesson my friend Lisa tried to drill into my head for years.

It appeared I was no longer in the pity pot, ladling my fears over me – the old “I’m-not-loveable-I’m-doing-it-wrong-I’m-broken-God-is-fucking-with-me” refrain.  I am certain this is a direct result of my speaking my gratitude – again, again and again.  In larger and larger circles.  How else could I have broken the cycle?  I certainly wasn’t going to think my way out of it.

I thought about my drive home to Chicago, from Detroit, a few summers ago – right after my best girlfriend’s father died.  On the way in, I noticed my car sounded really loud.  Her husband took it to the shop for me.  The muffler had a hole in it, but his mechanic couldn’t fix it right then.  So I drove home “as is.”

Julie and I in happier times.
Julie and I in happier times.

My 4-cylinder Honda Civic is great on gas.  Great for parking.  But a powerhouse on the road, it is not.  And with the muffler shot, I had less power than usual.

Around Kalamazoo I found myself wedged into a single-lane gauntlet, construction barriers on either side.  As a rule, I do not like narrow spaces, but here I was – with an aggressive Michigan driver on my ass, with nowhere to go but forward.

I was terrified.  And then I wasn’t.  Something kicked in.  I began reciting a gratitude list out loud.  Quickly.  Without breath or punctuation.  Everything and anything that came to mind.

“I am grateful for this car.  For Julie.  For my flexible schedule that allows me to take trips like this.  I am grateful for the sun.  That I live close enough to drive to Detroit there easily.  For the CD in the car.  For John Lennon.  I am grateful for John Lennon singing to me, “It’s been too long since we took the time, no-one’s to blame, I know time flies so quickly.”  That shaky, kind of rockabilly quality to his voice.

And then the lanes opened up.  I glided over to the right and watched the aggressor behind me whisk by.  I was safe.  It was over.

It was been said that fear and faith cannot exist at the same time.  I don’t know.  I don’t know if I had faith in that moment that I was ok.  But I could name what was ok.  Just like I did last night.  And again this morning.  I stepped out of the pity pot and wrapped a plush, oversized Ralph Lauren towel of gratitude – of ok-ness, of ok-enough-ness – around me.  And I was ok.  Perhaps, even more than. It was “Just Like Starting Over.”

Artist Date 34: In It’s Proper Place

2013-08-11 15.45.12I hired a professional organizer.

I have admitted that so many areas of my life had become unmanageable, and then asked for help.  So why not here?  I’m tired of the stacks and stacks of paper that have no home.

I am, as Maggie – the professional organizer – said, “the tidiest, unorganized person” she has ever met.

We met last week for a consultation.  My assignment prior to our first paid meeting, this coming Tuesday, was to go to The Container Store and “just browse.”  My only guidance was to think of “boxes” – four of them.  In.  Out.  To Be Dealt With.  Want to Keep – Just Because.

We agreed I would take photographs of items that interested me, but that I would buy nothing.  It seemed like an easy Artist Date – Number 34.

I was mistaken.

I rode my bike over to The Container Store this afternoon.  Tossed my basket in a cart and began my work.  Up and down every aisle.

Almost immediately, I was overcome with sadness.  All around me, groups of people.  Couples shopping together.   Roommates shopping together.  Moms and dads and bound-for-college kids shopping together.  Together.

I remembered shopping here with my ex – when we moved to Chicago for his residency.  I felt wistful stumbling over the collapsible mesh cubes – the kind we bought to store our record albums.  He didn’t think they would work well, but I knew better.  Three of them sat under the Parson’s table, holding our music collection – his and mine.  I left them in Seattle.

Albums I bought in high school at Sam’s Jams in Ferndale.  The Specials, debut album of the same name.  Elvis Costello, “Punch the Clock.”  Howard Jones, “Human’s Lib.”  My mother’s copy of the original Broadway production of “Hair.”  My brother’s copy of Queen, “A Night at the Opera.”  There is a piece of masking tape on the front cover with his name and our telephone number written in magic marker.  I’m not sure how I ended up with it.

hairI knew every word to every song, having spent hours on my blue-shag carpeting, in my bedroom, singing along with the words printed on the album sleeves.

I don’t have a record player, so I left them.  Plus, they were too cumbersome to pack.  Funny thing is, it’s not the lost records that choked me up.  It was the damn mesh cubes.

And the laundry aisle.  I remember spending hours trying to find just the right laundry bin to collect my massage sheets and take them back and forth from my office to home, to be washed and folded.  First I bought a cart with the idea that I would take the train to and from my office.  With sheets.  In the winter.  I quickly gave up this environmentally-conscious fantasy and started driving to work.

I found a lot where they cut me a deal because I was a local business owner – $14 a day.  A steal, considering I was right off of Michigan Avenue.

Tony, the Palestinian kid who hooked me up, got fired right before I moved away.  I always felt badly about it – even though I hadn’t done anything wrong.  I used a red, collapsible “laundry” backpack to haul my sheets the six blocks from the lot to my office.

I missed having someone to discuss options with today.  I suppose that is why I took photographs, to discuss them with Maggie.

I looked at fabric bins.  Metal bins.  Cardboard bins – some made of bright, solid colors, others printed with flowers and graphic designs.  Bins made of recycled paper.  I snapped photographs of each product and its accompanying card, describing the item and listing its price.

2013-08-11 15.38.34I got distracted by travel supplies.  Luggage tags.  Hanging dop kits.  (I need a new one.  Mine is torn.)  And Ziploc bags for creating more packing space – like the space bags I used when moving cross-country.  I stacked my dresses and trousers inside, while Michael used a vacuum cleaner to suck the air out.  We were giddy when the first was complete.  Shrink wrapped clothes.

I remembered that I needed hooks for hand-towels in my bathroom.  Milk crates for my prayer and meditation nook – to lift my deities and ritual items off of the floor,  and to be covered with a piece of fabric I bought in the market in Kigali.

I also remembered that Maggie and I discussed finding a solution that didn’t involve putting anything else on the dining table – which is also my writing desk, my art table, and where I spend about 80 percent of my time when I am home.

I looked at hanging solutions.  There weren’t many.  A few different kinds of folders that hang from the wall.  Some painted metal.  Some plastic.

Then I wandered into the Elfa department – custom solutions for the closet.  So complex there are employees specific to just this department.  I know people go wild for the yearly Elfa sale, as it is pricey.

And yet, open, wire drawers on casters seemed to make sense.  With a top to hold my printer.  I looked at other shelving units as well.  I remembered our conversation about rethinking how I consider my dining area.  That is it really more multi-purpose.  Think function rather than fois gras or fondue.  I serve neither.  But I do throw a hell of a dinner party.  And it needs to work for those occasions too – especially as Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner and for the past 19 years I have, more often than not, hosted a holiday meal for stray Jews and others.

I thought about my friend Tom who is going to string two lines of wire across the wall opposite the windows so I can hang photographs, cards and collages with metal clips – slightly reminiscent of the drying lines in the darkroom I once inhabited.

I picked up several catalogs, tucked them into my bike basket, and did a final sweep of the store.

I felt myself welling up the entire ride home.  I wanted to be excited but I wasn’t.  I was sad.  Acutely aware that this was yet another step in creating my home, my life, without my ex.  Acutely aware that we don’t talk much lately – my choice, to save both my heart and my sanity.  All of this necessary, but still painful – nearly a year after our divorce was final.  Time takes time.

I thought about something Maggie said.  That there is always something more under the disorganization – something else going on.  She believed the stacks of paper, the lack of “home” for my things, was me being afraid I couldn’t put my hands on something when I needed it.  A need to keep all of my things near.

My friend Kevin refers to this as my issue with object impermanence.  The notion that until a certain age, children do not believe in that which they cannot see.  Put a towel over your hand, et voila, you have no hand.  At least in their minds.

It’s like that with me and people sometimes.  If I can’t put my hands on them – see them, feel them, hear them – it is as if they were never there.  It’s better than it used to be.  At least to me.  I’m not sure what Kevin would say.

So this organizing business – finding a home for my things, learning to be ok with them in their proper place – maybe it will spill over into the other areas of my life.  That the people I can’t put my hands on anymore – for a variety of reasons –perhaps they too will find new homes.  Tucked away in my heart.  Never gone.  But in their proper place.

Plant Whisperer

dying plantI killed a cactus.

Actually three of them.  And two succulents.

One of the cacti sat in a beautiful terrarium – a gift from a friend.  I took it to the shop owner and he replaced it with a sweet baby succulent, along with specific instructions.  Water once a month.  Half a cup, using a dropper.  The succulent gets an extra watering mid-month.  Ditto for the larger succulent, a jade, I bought the same day.

The baby succulent wilted to nothing – is lying flaccid upon itself.  One of the cacti, like the first, is about to go.  And one is gone. Dead.  Dried up.  As if it had never been there.

And the jade?

I bought it in response to the suggestion I don’t date for a year.  An homage to Leviticus – to the prescribed year without planting and harvesting that follows seven years of specific crop rotation, allowing the soil to rest, regenerate, to become prepared.

I remember sitting in meditation and the imagery coming to me, followed by the thought, “I am the soil.”  And then, “I should get a plant.”

All went well for a few weeks.  And then it appeared to perhaps be outgrowing its container.  (The shop owner assured me it wouldn’t for at least five years.)  The soil seemed constantly dry, even though I followed watering directions to the letter – sitting it in the sink and letting the faucet run until water leaked out of the bottom.

Now, two sad, pale green stalks remain.

Normally, I would laugh about this.  I never have had terribly good luck with plants.  Except for mint.  And even that dried up eventually.  However, this jade had come to be a symbol of me taking care of me, of my own soil.  So its demise makes me more than a little uneasy.

I remember coming home with it.  Talking to it.  (I never talked to a plant before.)  I told it I didn’t know how to care for it.  That it would have to tell me how.

I recently read a piece in Oprah about a woman who claimed to have a black thumb.  She planted a garden and she got weeds.

One day a friend informed her that her weeds weren’t just any weeds – that they were delicacies in Japan, good for cooking.

But her cooking was like her gardening — yielding less-than-desired results.   Until she asked for help.

She took the weeds to a chef in New York.  He taught her how to cook them.  And she kept bringing them.  Eventually selling them to the restaurant, and about 100 others.

A couple of years ago, she and the chef wrote a cookbook together – Foraged Flavor .  She quit her job as legal counsel to devote herself fulltime to her new work.

And my dead plants?  What are they, the universe, God, trying to tell me – besides that I too have a black thumb?  As my friend Stan likes to say, “What’s the lesson?  What’s the gift?”

That sometimes conditions are just too unfavorable – that the plants needed a little bit of light and received none?  That other people – even shop owners, even experts – don’t always have the answers?  That I can follow directions and still get shitty results – that nothing is guaranteed?

That things die?  That I need to pay attention to what is still living (barely) and nurture that?

That the soil is poor, needs nutrients?  That my year off is ending early?

I don’t know.

The plants have proven themselves to be quiet messengers.  I will continue to ask, and to listen closely.