Artist Date 3.2: Enough To Say Fuck Off

Every fiber in my being is telling me to go home. To send resumes. Work on my manuscript.

That I’ve been downtown too long already. Eating lunch. Shopping for sunglasses. Having fun.

That I don’t “deserve” it. That I better get back home and get cracking. Find a job and start making money. And until I do, I have no right “playing” like this.

It’s an old message.

The first time I heard it I was in my late 20s, when my event-fundraising contract was not renewed.

“Enjoy this time,” my therapist said. “Go to matinees. Museums. Walks in Golden Gate Park.

“Soon enough you’ll be working again and you’ll regret not taking advantage of this time … Trust me, I know.”

And she did. It had happened to her.

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But I didn’t much enjoy that time off. Or all the other times I’ve been unemployed or underemployed since.

Not until a couple of years ago, when I took on the challenge of the Artist Date — the weekly, solo flight of fancy as prescribed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.

Until then, time not working meant time I scrambled. Wrung my hands. Ran the numbers. Sat in front of the computer. Somehow equating worry with work.

It didn’t work. And it didn’t bring me work. Just suffering. Which I seemed to somehow think I deserved.

When I took on The Artist’s Way as if it were my job, I saw the folly of my constant motion. And I learned, albeit slowly, to enjoy my underemployed status.

Friends marveled at my charmed life. Museum lectures. Book stores. Dance classes. Opera. I did too.

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But deep down, a part of me didn’t believe I deserved it.

Perhaps it still doesn’t.

It is the voice that shames me for returning to Chicago after a year abroad and finding myself, once again, underemployed. And reminds me that unlike the years of 2012-2015, I am no longer receiving alimony. It says, “Be afraid.”

Even though I am doing all the right things. Sending resumes. Writing cover letters. Incorporating edits and feedback.

Registering with temp agencies. Seeing massage clients. Applying for non-career jobs.

Babysitting.

It insists it’s not enough. That I should go home and do more. As if the one hour I have set aside for my Artist Date – number 3.2 (119) – will somehow make a difference in my ability to secure full-time work.

Even though I have enough money for today. And even tomorrow.

I tell this voice to “fuck off!” and walk down Washington and into the Chicago Cultural Center. “Which, by the way,” I tell it, “is free.”

The effect is immediate. What I used to get from that first gulp of booze. What I used to think was magic in a bottle. Relief.

My chest feels flushed, my heart full. The voice is quiet. I am smiling.

I’ve been here dozens of times but today I am particularly struck by the beauty of the former public library. So much so I never make it to the exhibit on the fourth floor.

Glittering tile work. Quotes carved in marble. In English. Hebrew. Arabic. Chinese.

Light shining through the recently cleaned stained-glass cupola.

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A poster that reads, “There are no degrees of human freedom or human dignity. Either a man respects another as a person or he does not.” James Cone.

Equally lovely.

I’d add, “…respects himself, or herself, or does not … enough to say ‘fuck off.’ ”

 

Artist Date 75: No Excuse. That I Might…

black square 2Last week marked Artist Date 75.  I didn’t go.

I didn’t even pretend to go.  Or to dress up what I did do instead, like the way I used to dress up my alcoholism.  Wrap it up in trips to wine country and witty repartee with vintners and sommeliers only to be told by a stranger in no uncertain terms that wine aficionado is just a fancy word for a drunk.

No, I didn’t pretend that a day at home cooking constituted an Artist Date.  (Although it might have.)  Or that the date I had with my friend Clover before she gave birth to Juniper Maya, thus setting her life on a wildly new trajectory, somehow counted either.

My friend Lynn told me this would happen eventually.

I recognized that my process — the weekly Artist Date — had become a practice.  And that it had unintentionally given a sub-theme and a structure to my blog, and the story of returning to myself post-divorce.

She said there would be weeks that I wouldn’t go, or that I wouldn’t blog. And that those experiences would be worthy of words too.

So here they are.  Without apology.

It is both a relief and a disappointment.

——————–

Friday afternoon Pam asks me about my weekend plans.

Party.  Haircut.  Client.

Weight Watchers.  Dance.  Church basement.

I confess I am not sure where or how or if I might squeeze in my Artist Date.

“You can’t always be prolific,” she replies.

Somehow I think the rules don’t apply to me.  That I should be above them.  Better than that.  Less than human.

That if I make a commitment, I have to stick to it.  Period.  Which is ironic as I am greatly irritated when held to words I ostensibly said 20-plus years ago – possibly in a blackout.

I come home from work feeling tired, overwhelmed and jangly.  At a friend’s suggestion, I call the hostess and offer my regrets – letting her know I will not be able to attend.  I tell her the truth, which she not only understands but supports.

candle-at-night--burning_19-126713It occurs to me that perhaps I am the only one keeping score.

The next day my client cancels.  The day prior, my own massage is canceled too.

It feels like a message from the universe.  All of it.  Slow down.  Lie down.  Say no.

Stay home.  Pay some bills.  Write.

Ride your bike.  Go thrifting with a girlfriend.  Eat gelato for no other reason than it is sunny and more than 70 degrees.

Be less frantic.

Make room for nothing.

——————–

I remember being an editor at the college newspaper when the Gulf War broke out.  The entire staff gathered around the small television precariously placed on top of a metal file cabinet in the back of the newsroom, watching CNN.

We are too young to remember Vietnam.  We have not lived through a war.

We dispatch the writers and photographers on to campus to capture the mood and the moment.  In the newsroom, we debate our position and how we will represent it on the Opinion Page, of which I am the editor.

We consider blacking out the entire page – as it was rumored our predecessors had done when the United States put troops in Vietnam.

Instead we run a single photograph taken that evening – a student sitting cross-legged, lighting a candle.  In prayer and hope, I imagine.

I think about that big black page as I begin writing today.  Of darkness.  Nothingness.  And the statement it made.

I don’t have a statement to make.  My lack of Artist Date just isn’t that important.  The only war going on is inside of me.  The only dying off I need consider is that of old ideas.

I decide the absence of Artist Date 75, and the absence of spin or excuse, might serve as a metaphoric kindling of light.  A prayer and a hope that I might quit keeping score.  That I might continue to make room for nothing.  That I might allow myself the space to change my mind.  And to be gloriously, imperfectly human.

Artist Date 70: I Am Not Thinking

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Photo: The Grand Budapest Hotel

I have just finished a blog about my friend Clover and the birth of her daughter, Juniper Maya.  She was born nearly 10 days ago, but only now am I at a point where I am able to give words to the experience and my role in it.

I’d been noodling on it for a couple of days and now it is done. I print it out. Set a timer. And read out loud.

Doors open for Story Club in a little more than an hour.  I’ve already penciled it in my book – Artist Date 70.

Story Club meets the first Thursday of the month at the Holiday Club – a bar on the north side of Chicago. Three featured writers read essays on a theme. And three audience members, called at random from a sign-up sheet, read their musings for up to eight minutes.

I’ve been called up just once before, a couple of months ago. My gut tells me I will make it onstage tonight…if I can get there.

My piece is too long. I cross out some sections and set the timer again. Still too long. Then I try again, just reading a portion of it. Up to the words, “The miracle emerges.” This could work.

And I hear it. “Slow the fuck down.” I don’t want to. But I do anyway.

I call Clover to tell her the blog is finished and to ask if she would like to read it before I hit “publish.” She says she would.

I do not usually do this. However, this is not just my story. It is her story too.

I have not given her a clever moniker like the Southern Svengali or Mr. 700 Miles. She is not anonymous. And so I offer my words to her first.

I mention I am on my way to Story Club and ask if she would prefer that I use her initials, as opposed to her real name, as she has not yet read the piece. She says “yes” again.

And it hits me – how much gyrating I am doing to “make this happen.”

To get out the door.   To get on stage. It feels like a push. An awful lot like “my will.” “If this, then that.”

grand budapest hotelI recognize that the words are still fresh to me. That, in some ways, I have just re-lived the birth. That I feel tired and vulnerable, and the idea of sitting in a bar, by myself, in hopes of reading onstage feels neither joyous nor fun. It feels like me trying to make good on my word – as if to make up for all the times when my word meant nothing.

I realize I have nothing to prove, and I give myself a pass.

I put down my papers. I pull on my coat, walk a handful of blocks to the Davis Theatre and purchase a ticket for The Grand Budapest Hotel.

I know nothing about this movie other than my friend Matt invited me to see it with him a few weeks ago. I declined, taking myself to the Art Institute for Artist Date 68 instead.

The theater is about a quarter full. I take comfort in seeing the number of people here alone – even though alone is my preferred way to watch movies.

The previews are dreadful. Even the one with Johnny Depp – who I love.

And especially the one for Transformers. Although it makes me giggle a little as I have a date this weekend with a man 12 years my junior, and he recently posted something about the movie on his Facebook page.

But the featured film is a story for storytellers, told by a storyteller. I am enchanted.

By the glory of the Grand Budapest Hotel in its heyday. And by the quirky outpost for eccentrics that it has become.

By the concierge, at once both straight and gay, tending to the elder, insecure, wealthy – and always blonde – female patrons.

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Photo: The Grand Budapest Hotel

By the refugee hotel boy with a penciled-on moustache. By the love affair between him and the girl who decorates pastry and wears braids – whose birthmark covers half of her face.

It is eye candy. Swaths of bright orange and purple. Handsome stars in less-than-handsome roles. Ralph Fiennes. Adrien Brody. Jeff Goldblum.

I am grinning. I am not thinking about what I will write. Even though I am always thinking about what I will write. The world around me a blog waiting to happen.

I am not thinking that this is a story about family. About status. About love.

About corruption. Courage. Change.

I am not thinking about my own experiences – of family, status, and love. Courage and change.

I am caught up in someone else’s story. I am not thinking. It is a joy.