Artist Date 69: Spicy. Trouble.

It smells warm inside Savory Spice Shop on Lincoln Avenue. Artist Date 69. And while I know intellectually that warm is not a smell, it feels like it. Spicy. BBQ rubs. One is called Pearl Street Plank. I take a photograph of it.

I am afraid I am going to get into trouble.

I am often afraid of getting into trouble. Like the time Julie and I smoked cigarettes inside the multiplex at a midnight showing of The Crying Game.

The movie had been out for a while and we were the only ones in the theatre. Julie lit up. I was aghast. “What? Are you afraid we are going to get into trouble?” she asked. A little bit mocking. Well, yes…I was. Just like when we smoked cigarettes in seventh grade on Shabbat.

Julie was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household. On Saturdays, my mother would drop me there for the day. Sometimes we watched movies on the Betamax (Meatballs was our favorite.) – her father’s concession.

Irv was a wise man who understood that raising his girls in an observant home, but not in an observant neighborhood, was tricky. Their customs were “other” than those of the secular Jews surrounding them. So while Julie could not go to movies and dances on Friday night and Saturday, she was allowed to watch movies, regardless of the prohibition against using electronics on the Sabbath. And also to go for long walks. Walks that often involved McDonalds’ French fries and Virginia Slims Menthol 100s.

Julie was brazen. I was convinced we were going to get caught and get into trouble. We didn’t. But that sense that I might have to explain myself has never entirely left me. Even today at the Savory Spice Shop.

I know some stores prohibit photography. I know I could ask if it is ok. But I don’t. Instead I snap and hope no one will question me. It is this sort of internal gyration that causes me anxiety. The kind I could easily avoid.

2014-03-23 14.14.42An employee says to let her know if I have any questions, and invites me to sample and to brush any excess onto the floor. She adds that my boots are “magnificent,” and we talk for a solid five minutes about the quest to merge fashion and function. I am reminded, part of the joy of a funky aesthetic is people want to talk to you. Want to talk to me.

She makes no comment about my photography.

I finger baking spices and books on pickling. But the spices from far away call me like a siren. Exotic. Other. Like I always wanted to be. I try to conjure up the smells of the market in Kigali, in Argles, in Jerusalem, but I cannot. I only know I was there.

I smell red peppercorns from the Szechuan Province. Green ones from Mysore. Dried Kaffir Lime Leaves. Asafetida from Iran, also known as Devil’s Dung and Stinking Gum. The label says it smells like garlic gone bad. To me, it smells like sulfur. Eggs.

There are Grains of Paradise from West Africa and Pinchito from Southern Spain. Preserved Lemon and Pomegranate Molasses. Marrakech Moroccan Spice and Berbere Ethiopian Seasoning.

2014-03-23 14.19.28I think about cooking and wonder what I would make. My repertoire has become small as a single woman. Often times, it just doesn’t seem worth it. So I stick to egg-white omelets, soups and salads. Black beans, kale and squash. An occasional piece of fish roasted with fennel and oranges and olives.

I think about travel. The recent loud and incessant call to go away – somewhere big. Somewhere sexy. Sometime this year – my 45th come October. Italy or India.

Today I do not have to decide.

Instead, I allow myself the pleasure of revisiting Africa. Spain. And France.

Israel. Germany. Amsterdam.

Ireland and Mexico.

To return to each marketplace I visited – photographing beans drying in the sun. Salted fish. Unskinned rabbit hanging from a hook.

To the suburban movie theatre and the safety of Julie’s home. To her basement where her papa fed us Oreo cookies with a finger pressed to his lips as if to say, “shh…don’t tell.”

I think about the real trouble I caused in my travels.  The kind I should have been worried about but wasn’t. In Berlin.  Avignon.  Puerto Vallarta.  Today I know better.

Today there are no secrets. Nothing to hide. Nothing to get me into trouble.

Artist Date 61: Permission to Want Love

I cannot remember the last time I was carded.  My friend Debbie reminds me that I don’t drink, so I am not often in bars.  So my lack of recent experience with carding shouldn’t be a surprise.

But I am in a bar tonight –the night before Valentine’s Day.  I have been “invited” for the final performance of “Solo in the Second City” – a live lit(erature) series about the nature of relationships.  Artist Date 61.

solo in the second cityI wish I would have known about this sooner, but I didn’t.  And the only reason I know about it at all is because I participated in my first ever live lit event last week – Story Club, a monthly event featuring three invited storytellers, and three audience members whose names have been pulled from a hat.  Except it’s not a hat, it’s a monkey carved out of a coconut with the words, “Have Fun” scrawled on it.

It is the winter of the Arctic Vortex in Chicago and only three people have put their names in the monkey.  This is seemingly unheard of.  I am one of them.

I climb up on to the stage, pull on my “cheaters” and read an extended version of my blog post “I Love You.” “Thank You.”  About me and my divorce buddy.  About walking through hell together.  And learning to walk on my own.  It is tender and raw and real.  I feel like I have earned my place on this stage.  It feels amazing.

I am followed by Carly Oishi, a featured writer.  She weaves together three stories of love and loss.  I am riveted.  She is speaking my heart even though I do not recall her exact words.

At the end of the evening, I approach her and introduce myself.  I tell her I like her piece.  She tells me she likes mine and invites me to “Solo in the Second City.”  I mention it to Debbie and we agree we will go.

And so I am here, at Beauty Bar, sitting on a low bench surrounded by 1950s hairdryer chairs, listening to stories of breakups and broken hearts.

One woman reads about watching relationships bloom and wither.  But only watching.  She has closed her heart off.  Closed herself off.  I know there is more because I am overwhelmed with feeling and identification, but I cannot access it.

Another reads, perhaps more accurately shouts, about when a man drops off the face of the earth without a word.   Not a peep.  A text.  A fuck off.  Nothing.   She talks about body parts that are usually covered up meeting other body parts that are usually covered up.  About giving someone VIP access to that place where her children were born from.  She says it is a big deal.

story club magIt is a big deal.  To give someone VIP access to that place.  To literally let someone inside of you.  For so many years I did not think so.  There was no velvet rope.  No line to enter.  At least to my mind’s eye.  And each and every one who came (no pun intended) was given an all access pass.  Once upon a time.  Now single again after 15 years coupled, and solo in the Second City, I can play it differently.  I can have a different experience.

I am humbled by her cautionary tale of pain.  For taking me back to how it was.  And showing me how it still can be.  How I can be.

Carly, the co-producer of the series, is the last to read.  It is the story I heard last week.  But this time I can hold on to the words.  At least some of them.  The part about love and how you will do anything for it.  To taste it.  To experience it.  To feel it if only for a moment.

Yes.  That is how I feel.  How I have been ashamed to feel.  The message I can discern from the noise and static surrounding me post-divorce is “You don’t need it.”  “You shouldn’t want it.”  “You need to learn to be alone.”

I know how to be alone.

I go to the opera alone.  Dance performances alone.   Art shows alone.

I live alone.

I work and dance and write.  I have a large and diverse cast of characters I call friends.

I love my life.

And yes, I want love.  That kind of love.

Hearing Carly’s words I feel somehow lighter.  Less burdened by my desires.  Free to let go of this misplaced shame.

I tell her so after the show.  That I am grateful for permission to want love.  She is visibly moved.

I remind her we have met and she admits she didn’t realize I live in Chicago.  “So you ‘do this’?’  Write?  Tell stories,” she asks.

“Yes,” I say.

She smiles and tell me she is putting together a story-telling series of all women, and asks if I would be interested in reading my work.

I smile back and give her the only appropriate answer – “I would love to.”