Artist Date 59: Waiting. On The Journey To Becoming

I am waiting on some news.  Both personal and professional.  Nothing scary or life-threatening…as a loving friend of mine recently asked.  But all in G-d’s time, or at the very least, not mine.

The chime on my phone notifies me of messages received and my response is purely Pavlovian.  Hope rises.  And when I check my phone and discover I still have no news, hope falls.  I feel my heart literally sink just a little bit.  Awful.

Radio silence.  My friend Michael says it is normal.  Winter.  “‘Tis the season.”  His words, literally.

I want to punch him.

He sends me photographs of the shore of Lake Michigan, taken from the Indiana Dunes.  This is what quiet looks like.  It is at once both sad and beautiful.

lonely beach

He is right though.  It is in the silence that I find my center, that I soothe myself…even though it is the silence, the not knowing, that has me so uncomfortable.

I turn off my phone at dinner with friends.  No ringing.  No vibrating.  No notifying.  Silence.

I am completely present with the people about me.  I am not thinking about what I do not know.  I am happy and serene…until I turn it back on and watch hope rise and fall again.  And watch myself respond with a level of emotion that does not feel at all congruent.

Next day, at work, I turn the phone off again.  And when I power it back on later, I ignore the notifications alerting me to the messages waiting.  Instead, I bring my attention to my friend Nora, who is sitting across from me.  I am again happy and serene.

I feel empowered.

It feels a little bit like when I quit smoking, nearly 15 years ago.  That first week, I was high on not smoking.  That feeling of “I can’t believe I’m doing this…”

The weeks that followed, sans cigarettes, were not filled with that same awe and wonder.  But that is a different story.  And a different lesson.  Fifteen years later I am grateful for a different identity – one of a non-smoker.  And the absence of the yellow stain on my second finger that I could not scrub off – my personal breaking point, my bottom.

My bottom here is that I fundamentally understand I am powerless over people, places and things, and yet, I sometimes still find myself allowing the actions of others to determine my sense of happiness, security and well-being.  I watch myself hand over my serenity.  It is painful.

And it is in this painful awareness that I recognize I have a modicum of control over the anxiety I perpetuate.  That I can dial down my discomfort by simply turning off my phone, or ignoring its messages until I am in time and space to better receive them.

That I can receive the same relief by staying busy, and by pointing my attention to what is right in front of me.

Like Nora.  Like the Artist Date penciled in my calendar.  Number 59.  Chicago Cultural Center for the “Wright Before the Lloyd,” exhibit.

2014-01-30 15.17.11

I am here just a short time – about 45 minutes.  Just long enough to feel the fog in my brain clear, making way for new information, and for my whole body to exhale.

The show is small – photographs, sketches and placards covering either side of a long hallway.  It is a journey of becoming.  The transition from Frank L. Wright, to Frank Lloyd Wright.  A seemingly subtle, but significant, metamorphosis.

I read about his mother, determined that her son should become an architect, placing engravings of cathedrals in his bedroom for inspiration.  His uncle with wild long hair, unconventional fashion sense, and a memorable three-part name who served as role model.  His work with Adler and Sullivan and the “mistakes” he made on the way to creating his signature style.

I notice that many of the buildings shown on this trajectory from Wright to Lloyd Wright are no longer standing.  Either burned down or destroyed.  Gone.  Like the yellow stain on my second finger.

I think about my own trajectory, and the people and experiences that influenced my becoming the woman I always wanted to be.

The one who dances on red soil in Rwanda and glossed, wood floors in Chicago.  Who has been invited in to the intimacy of rooms where life begins and life ends.  The one who listens with her hands and her heart.

The one with her own signature style – cropped hair, second-hand clothes and super-fabulous shoes – the kind that strangers inquire about.  Who takes herself to museums, operas and lectures – comfortably alone.  And out for strong coffee and a really good piece of cake.

The one who has learned to soothe herself.  To quiet her own crazy.  To be responsible for her own wellbeing.

Post Script:  I got a call on some of the news I’d been waiting on.  It was positive and it made me smile.  But it didn’t change anything.  Not my thoughts.  My mood.  My beliefs.  It didn’t make me feel “ok.”  It couldn’t.  Because in my heart I already was.

Falling Into My Feet

Healthy pelvis.  Not mine.
Healthy pelvis. Not mine.

I’m standing in the dark looking at my x-rays with Stephanie, my new chiropractor.

Tears stream down my face.  I see my body.  All of it.  Even the IUD I had put in just before my trip to Rwanda because I vowed I would not have my period in Africa.

I can no longer turn away from the physical pain I so rarely mention or acknowledge.  The pain that has been with me, moving but constant, for so many years.

Suddenly, I understand.   As a bodyworker and massage therapist, it’s hard not to.  But the dysfunction is so obvious a 4-year-old could point it out – kind of like “one of these things is not like the other.”

My left hip is significantly raised.  Several inches significantly raised.  I laugh and explain that I have a really bad case of what my friend Brian used to call “bus leg” – the stance he would take while waiting for one of four different buses that ran up and down Haight Street in San Francisco, one knee bent, leaning into the opposite hip.  He would light a cigarette in the hope that this would hasten its arrival.

My body is telling my stories.

Stephanie laughs and points out that not only is my left hip raised, but my right hip is rotated forward.  I step into this position – exaggerating the rise of my lift hip and the twist of my right – and I immediately feel the pain.

Stephanie shows me my cervical spine, my neck.  It is devoid of any curve and tilted to the right.  Cocked like a dog considering what his master is saying and whether or not to ignore it.

cervical spine
Healthy cervical spine. Not mine.

I tell her the tilt makes sense.  That this movement, right ear dipped to the right shoulder is the motion I associate with my mugging in 2007.

Just two months sober and back in California, I am held up at gunpoint on a Sunday morning in Oakland.  Blocks from where I attended massage school, where I taught, and where I treat clients each quarter, returning “home” for a busman’s holiday.

I pick up a coffee from Carerras and am talking on the phone with my friend Robyn when I feel a flurry of activity around me – circling, swirling energy, like a cartoon Tasmanian Devil.  And then a gun inches from my nose.

“Give us your shit and we won’t shoot.”

“They are kidding,” I think.  “In about 30 seconds they are going to say ‘We’re just fucking with you, lady,’ and I’m going to tell them this is not funny.”  But they never say that.  I think I am dreaming but I don’t wake up.  And then I slip back through the rabbit hole of reality and scream a scream I didn’t know I had in me.

They just look at me.

I think about everything in my bag.  My passport and how my husband and I are supposed to leave in five days for Mexico.  The flash drive that has all of my files on it and has not been backed up.  My keys.  But I am frozen.  I cannot say a word.  I cannot push out a logical sentence like, “Let me give you the money but I keep the rest, ok?”  Because this is not logical.

Instead, I cock my head to the right, opening up my shoulder and allowing them to take the bag I am wearing across my body.  They pluck my metallic-pink cell phone from my hand and are gone.

I scream and piss myself running back toward the school.  I have attracted attention and people who were not there just a moment ago are asking, “Are you ok?”  I do not realize they are talking to me until one grabs hold of me.  I tell her my story and she calls the police while a man takes my arm and walks me back to the school.

My friend Tim picks me up that afternoon.  I get a new passport and go to Mexico.  And when I return to Chicago, I engage in EMDR work – trauma therapy.  I get relief.  But the story is still in my body.

The story is my body.  They all are.

The car accident on New Year’s Eve day when a Ford F-250 with a horse trailer goes through the back of my Honda Civic Hatchback.  When my husband takes the car to the shop on January 2 and they ask, “Did everyone live?”

The piece of my cervix I have removed when I am 24 – ridding my body of its pre-cancerous cells.  And the doctor in California who, upon examining me for the first time, says, “If anyone asks, this is not what an ordinary cervix looks like.”

My breast reduction when I am 40 and the shame and depression that follows me for years like an ex-boyfriend who won’t let go.  Faint memory now, like the scars that run vertically from breast fold to nipple.

foot
Healthy foot. Not mine. But what I imagine it looks like now.

My body has held on to each of these and made them its own – painting over experience with a broad brush stroke of pain.  Not unlike the stories I repeat so often that they become my pained reality – whether or not they are completely accurate.  My skewed perception becomes truth.

I come home from my treatment, take my boots off and place my naked feet on the hardwood floor.  I feel the ground beneath me.  Supporting me.  As if for the first time.  Whereas before I seem to have been standing on only a part of my feet, tottering.

I have fallen into my feet.  Into my body.  Into truth, and the possibility of a new story.

“I Love You.” “Thank You.”

My divorce buddy signed his final divorce papers today.  It’s been a long time coming.  At least from the outside looking in.

My divorce buddy took this photograph of me.
My divorce buddy took this photograph of me.

I remember the day he called and told me that he and his wife were separating.  My then-husband and I made the same decision three weeks earlier.

I call him my divorce buddy because we walked through this thing – the dissolution of marriage – together.  Hand in hand.  On occasion, literally, but mostly figuratively.

A buddy, like in kindergarten, required for just about everything.  To walk down the hall, ride the bus, go to the bathroom.  I don’t know if it was because two are harder to lose track of than one, or that if one should stray, at least he or she wouldn’t be lost alone.

That’s what it felt like.  We weren’t lost alone.

We would talk on the phone nearly every night for hours. And on the nights we didn’t talk, we texted.  Until I came to Chicago that summer – 2012.  Something changed.  Seemingly everything.

There was a chasm.  One that hadn’t been there the night before when we talked for three hours when my red-eye from Sea-Tac was delayed.  I couldn’t get close no matter how hard I tried.

My Rabbi laid it out in simple terms.  We no longer had a phone and 2,500 or so miles between us.  We were standing face to face.  I had feelings.  And expectations – although I tried not to.

I don’t know what he had.  I often said I was not “in this” alone, but face to face, I was no longer sure.

And then, when separated by miles and a phone again, we seemed to fall back into a comfortable intimacy.  I spent two weeks in Rwanda that summer, and called him from Belgium, where I stopped for a few days before coming home.

My travel companions continued down the long airport corridor to their connecting flight home, while I found myself in baggage claim – orange hard case in hand.  I ran my credit card through the phone and dialed.  It was 2 a.m. in Chicago.  I knew he’d be up.

He sounded surprised and excited to hear from me.  I told him we had to talk quickly because I had no idea how much this call was going to cost but I had a feeling it would be a lot.  (It showed up as $65 on my credit card statement.  Worth every penny.)

In Brussels, with my friend Tim.  Not my divorce buddy.
In Brussels, with my friend Tim. Not my divorce buddy.

He gave me some practical instructions about Brussels — the airport, the train and the city — and I began to cry.  He was doing “that thing” that he does.  “That thing” I always loved about him.  Even when we were both married and I had a crush on him but he had such good boundaries that I never worried about it.

He made me feel safe.  I told him that.

And then I told him I had to go and blurted out quickly, “I love you,” and before I put down the receiver he said, “I love you too.”

He had said it just once before. The night he called me to tell me he was getting a divorce.  At the end of the conversation.  When I promised him he wouldn’t be alone.  That it just wasn’t possible…thinking but not saying, “You can be with me, silly.”  Instead, I said, “I love you, my friend.” And he said, “I love you, too.”

It wasn’t a romantic “I love you.” From either of us.  Either time.  Regardless of my feelings, in those moments, my expression was pure heart connection.  I believe his was too.

Tonight he told a group of us that he signed his final papers.  My eyes welled up, tears of empathy, of gratitude and of memory.

Later, I took him aside, and told him I was sorry.  That I understood.  That I knew.  That his “news” reminded me of what we had walked through together.   He nodded and wrapped his arms around me.

I leaned into his ear and whispered, “I love you.”  Silence.  And then he said, “Thank you.”

Awful.

I wanted to tell him I knew he loved me too.  But I didn’t.  I guess because it wasn’t necessary.  Because I already knew.

Because I’ve changed just a little.  I am no longer interested in proving myself as necessary.  Indispensable.

And because our situation has changed too.

Learning he has signed his final papers, that his divorce is nearly complete, feels like an ending.   (My divorce was final in September 2012.)  That we have fulfilled our obligation to one another.  That our karmic contract is complete.

I felt a little something break off.  It felt sad.  But also necessary, right and true.

I didn’t join him and the others for dinner.  I came home – alone – instead.  Also right.  True.

Our friendship isn’t over.  We’re just no longer lost together.  We can let go of one another’s hands.

Artist Date 45: The (Sometimes) Kindness of Strangers

This woman is wearing a knit hat, striped in colors of the Rastafarian flag.  It was a gift from a woman in Australia, while she was in Australia.  A woman who fed this woman lunch and beers but accepted no payment.  Her listening to the stories she was regaled with was payment enough.

kindness of strangersPlus, she would need it while camping in the outback.

She flew to Australia following the demise of a relationship.  Seems it is what she does.  Camping in the Outback.  Hiking in Wales.  Meditating on a mountain outside of Tokyo.

She is standing on a small stage in Rogers Park talking about it.  Coming clean, as it were.

Artist Date 45.

My friend Clover will also be reading and performing a piece .  It is about her mother.  About art school and being a performer.  About helping a man across the street who has fallen and everyone around him just keeps moving as if this hasn’t happened and the universe calls upon her to play the part of his angel.

There is a third.  Eric.  Who will talk about his need to go to a place where his father had been.  The father he didn’t know.  And then he did.  But who he never really knew.  And is now dead.

But right now I’m watching Jennifer.  I know her name because I looked it up in the program, which is black and white.  Folded but not stapled.  And reads, “The Kindness of Strangers: A Festival of Storytelling.”

And then, “A 3-week rotating mix of more than 30 storytellers weaving tales of connecting, or not, with strangers.”  The words encircled by drawings, like a globe – buildings, a boat and a lighthouse, water.

I want to be this woman with a knit hat and a beer-stained hiking map, marked up by pub patrons who laugh each time she says the word “garbage.”  This woman who takes off on serious adventures – by herself – when love goes south.  When the re-bound from the break up proves not to be the antidote to her pain.  Who is standing on this tiny stage telling her story.

I want to be that brave.  To travel alone.  Even though I’ve done it – albeit briefly — and my experience is that solo travel is most satisfying when it is connected to purpose.  And people.  Like my volunteer trips to Rwanda and the South of France.

I want a rebound.  Even though it has been suggested I don’t date.  Even though I have probably been divorced too long for anything to be called a rebound.  And my short-lived dalliances, both emotional and physical, have been painful to the extreme.

Even though my experience of being alone this past year has brought me closer to myself.  My craft.  My writing.  The very thing that might put me on stage.

Clover.  Very likely telling a story.  Just not on stage.
Clover. Very likely telling a story. Just not on stage.

I am comparing my insides to someones outsides once again.  Devaluing my own experience when confronted with someone seemingly doing what I think I’d like to do.  What I think I should do.

I well up listening to her.  While the details are different, I recognize the story as my own.

I see pieces of my story in Eric’s too.  Reconnecting with a parent who was physically absent for so many years.  His through desertion.  Mine through adoption.  Losing them again.  And what is left.  For him, a ring.  For me, a pair of opera glasses and a too-big mink coat, her name embroidered on the inside, hanging in my closet.

But I do not see myself in Clover’s story.

I’m not even looking, let alone comparing.  It is not that I am not interested.  I am.  I am teary, ass-glued-to-the-seat, riveted.

Maybe it is because I know her story.  Her stories.  She has trusted me with them over the years.

Her mother selling her art work, without her consent, as payment to her therapist.  Lying down in the street in downtown Chicago when the light is turned red.  A classroom performance piece.  The ants that crossed in front of her mattress, on the floor, in the basement of her mother’s friend’s house, in the toniest part of upstate New York.

And I have trusted her with mine.  They are less the same.  But our feelings, and our responses, match perfectly.  This is where we found our “me too’s.”

Like I am just now doing with Jennifer.  With Eric.  Connecting with strangers – who may or may not become more than that.  (Turns out, I have danced with Eric’s girlfriend on and off for years.  I’m pretty sure I’ll see both of them again.)  The place of beginning.

Artist Date 44: You Are Really More West African

Mary is coming toward me but I can’t place her. In fact, I don’t yet recall that this is her name.

I scan through my mental Rolodex as quickly as I can trying to match a face, a name, an experience.  I come up blank other than to know that she is familiar, and we are at my synagogue, so I figure I must know her from here.

One of the many children I met in Kigali...introduced by Mary.
One of many children I met in Kigali, introduced by Mary.

She puts her arms around me and asks how I am.  I tell her I am well and she says that I look it.  Her response is genuine.  Like she has taken a few minutes to take me in.  All of me.  Like she’s seen me before.  And she has.  Even though I cannot remember where.

She begins talking about the speakers I am here to hear.  Dr. Naasson Munyandamutsa and his wife Donatilla Mukumana.  That she has been traveling with them.  Out West, where Naasson received the Barbara Chester Award from the Hopi Foundation, for his work with torture victims.  And now here, to Evanston.  To my synagogue.  My more head-y than usual Artist Date – Number 44.

Finally, I humbly admit I cannot remember her name.  It is Mary.  I tell her mine is Lesley.  She hadn’t remembered either.  Just my face.  She has seen my face.

In Rwanda.  Her name shakes something loose.  The pieces fall into place.

Mary is one of the founders of WE-ACTx – an organization supporting women and children with HIV and AIDS in Rwanda.  We met in the summer of 2012 when I traveled there with my Rabbi and members of my synagogue, the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation.

rwanda filling rxOn the ground, we filled prescription packets, painted walls, built a library.  But mostly, we witnessed.  The people.  Their lives.  The help they required.  And the heroic, albeit shoe-string, assistance that was being provided.

It was an antidote, a balm, to the crazy, or at the very least, unsettled, that was my life at that time.

Smack dab in the middle of my divorce.  Neither in nor out.  I was living in Seattle, with my soon-to-be ex-husband, sleeping on the fold-out couch in the office.  I had decided I would decide in Kigali where to go next.  If I would stay in Seattle.  Move back to Chicago.  Or San Francisco.

Or go somewhere else entirely – like Kigali.  Where it was suggested more than once, by residents, by ex-patriots and by several of those on my trip, that perhaps I should consider staying.

All of this comes flooding back to me as Mary is speaking to me.

Patrick.  His greeting to me each time we met: "Liora, you should stay."
Patrick’s greeting each time we met: “Liora, you should stay.”

The bindi I wore every day – the jeweled accoutrement pasted between my eyes that I had taken to wearing.  The mark of a married women in Indian culture.  My own private, not-even-conscious, barrier between me and the world.  A secret “Don’t-even-fucking-think-of-it.”  Even though it was all I was fucking thinking about. Fucking.  Because I wasn’t.

The name I claimed – Liora, my Hebrew name.  It means “my light.”  There were two Lesley—s on the trip and it just seemed easier.  For everyone except my Rabbi, who knew me as Lesley.

The words, “It’s ok.  It was a long time coming,” that flew out of my mouth regularly.  Every time I spoke of my impending divorce, which was a lot.  It was my story, as we each told our stories to one another – 12 of us over 12 or so days in sub-Saharan Africa.

It seems a lifetime ago.

Nights under my mosquito net talking with my roommate – who, just a few months later, would begin walking through her own divorce – talking about the day.  Blogging by the light of my computer after she had gone to bed.

rwanda dance posseDancing with a professional troupe in a “cultural village” (read: Tourist Destination) near the Ugandan border.  Dancing on the hot concrete at the WE-ACTx compound and on the lawn outside of the hotel in the evening – a party thrown just for us, complete with a DJ, BBQ, and a movie – Gorillas in the Mist – shown on a screen outside, just like in Chicago during summertime in the parks.

I am jostled back into today as Mary introduces Naasson and Donatilla.

They are sitting at a table, each with a laptop computer in front of them.  His, a MAC Airbook.  Hers, an HP, like mine.

They talk about their work with rape.  With depression and suicide.  Their voices are sweet, slightly lilting.  Easy on the ear.  Their faces express nothing of the pain of their work.  Of what they, and those around them, have experienced.  It is typical for people from this part of Africa, and they speak to it – the shrouded emotional life of Rwandans.

There are only five psychiatrists in all of Rwanda.

I lean over to my Rabbi.  “It’s a good thing I didn’t stay there, “I whisper, remembering he was one of the ones who encouraged me to consider staying – perhaps his own “road-not-traveled.”

“Yes, you are more West African,” he whispers back.  We laugh.  Even though I don’t quite know what it means.  But I like it.

I like it because I “study” West African dance.  Spending Sunday mornings barefoot, moving in lines across a wood floor, supported and surrounded by a posse of drummers and other dancers.  Leaping.  Learning to shake my hips like a not-locked-up-up-tight American woman.

My heart seemingly bursting through my skin.

I don’t know anything about West Africans – other than what I experience from my dance teacher and some of the drummers.  But I know that I am emotionally “raw.”  And not just now.  That I am “wild” in comparison to Rwandans.  And to many Americans.

I like the idea of a place where people live like this.  A land of “misfit toys,” like in the animated holiday special, Rudolph’s Shiny New Year.  Where everyone’s heart is seemingly bursting through their skin.  Spilling out with love.  With pain.  With life.

Artist Date 42: Dressed, Safely Shrouded

I think I need a headdress.

2013-10-03 14.50.37Feathered, painted and beaded.  Like the one I’m standing in front of at the Chicago Art Institute – Artist’s Date 42.  According to the description, it is meant to express a sense of beauty, while spiritually protecting the wearer, providing potency in battle, diplomacy and/or courtship.

I could use that – spiritual protection and potency.  Especially in courtship.  I feel like I’m fumbling all over the place in this suddenly, or not so suddenly, single world.

Perhaps a wig would suffice.  Cover up my naked head.  My naked heart.

My cousin Andrew told me I should consider wearing them.  Over dinner a few weeks ago at a trendy, too loud, see-and-be-seen, restaurant, he leaned in and said, very seriously, “I’ve been giving it some thought…I think you should wear wigs.”

I laughed, but he was dead serious, waxing the possibilities of an Uma Thurman Pulp Fiction bob.   I showed him a photograph of me wearing a large Foxy Brown afro wig many years ago in Oakland.  I told him I wished my hair grew like that.  How I longed to wear a wig but worried about offending people – lest those whose hair grows that way think it is a joke, this seriously small white girl sporting a do belonging to someone else.

We made a date to go wig shopping but never quite made it.

I had forgotten about it until now.

afro lesleyAnd really, I probably shouldn’t be thinking about it now.  Or even be here at all.  My friend Julie arrives from Detroit in a few hours.  Her visit comes on the heels of my friend Ernie’s visit from Seattle, which came on the heels of my trip to Dublin, and precedes my trip to Minneapolis – for my cousin Andrew’s wedding – by just days.

And yet, I am here.  Stealing away for an hour or so, by myself, with no intention any more noble than to see with different eyes, hear with different ears, feel with a different heart.  To leave here a little better than I arrived.  To fill my mind with something other than “me, me, me.”  It is a relief.

My plan was to visit the African Art.  But I am stopped in my tracks in the Native American section.  Thinking about wigs.  About my cousin.  About my other cousin – Diane.

I visited her in Albuquerque when I was 17.  The trip, my first time traveling alone – to see Diane in New Mexico and Andrew in Los Angeles – was a high-school graduation gift from my parents.

I bought suede fringed boots, the kind with no hard sole, on that trip.  They snaked up my legs, stopping just beneath my knees and tied with crisscrossing leather cord.  Burnout style.  And also, a wooden box, the top decorated with a sand painting of Father Sky – it says so in pencil, written on the underside, good for storing treasures.

Diane bought me a miniature wedding vase, a smaller version of the kind I would drink from at my own wedding 15 years later.

It seems like forever ago.  As does my trip to see Diane.  Except the memories of my marriage feel sneakier – unexpected – and not as purely sweet as those of my trip to New Mexico.

So I keep on moving, rather than sitting (or like my friend Sheila likes to say “bathing”) in the feelings.  I look at pipes, teepee covers and silver jewelry, eventually moving on to the African Art section – something without connection to the past.  Something entirely my own.  Sort of.

Unless you consider it is my ex who bought me a gift certificate to the Old Town School of Music and Dance, where I study West African dance.  Or that I found myself in Rwanda right in the middle of our divorce.

And yet, Africa is mine.  It always was.  A dream since I was a child.  He just helped get me there.

The collection is small.

2013-10-03 15.09.25A few voluminous robes – the kind I have seen my instructor Idy dance in, constantly moving the sleeves in gorgeous gestures to keep from getting the fabric caught up in his feet.  A couple of headdresses and costumes, one depicting the ideal mature woman in the 17th century – prominent nose, jutting chin, and large breasts.

I think of my own breasts.  Small.  No longer pendulous.  Faded scars run from breast fold to areola – subtle reminders of my reduction surgery.  A different beauty ideal.

I am struck by the words tacked to the wall.

“Dress is among the most personal forms of visual expression, creating a buffer and a bridge between the private and the public self…Special forms of luxury dress…may (also) signal particular standing within a community or a moment of transition from one role to another.”

I think about the Native American headdress.  Of my own dress.  My friend Tori says I dress differently since my divorce.  Sexier.  It was not my intention, but I believe she is right.

Across the room is a timeline of events, highlighting key moments in both African and world history.  I snap photographs so I can remember them.

1884: European nations meet for the Berlin West Africa Conference, initiating the European scramble to colonize Africa.  By 1900 only Ethiopia and Liberia remain independent.

1957: The nation of Ghana gains independence from British colonial rule, launching a continent-side decolonization movement.

1980: Zimbabwe gains independence from Great Britain; it is the last European colony to do so.

1990-94: Civil war in Rwanda leads to genocide.

I remember my friend Geri’s map-of-the-world shower curtain – so old, Rhodesia was still on it.

I think about my own map.  My timeline.  My dress.  My independence.  Messy.  Uncertain.  Liberating.  But unlike Rhodesia, I got to keep my name.

Artist Date 38: Creating Community…It’s Not About the Shoes

I don’t know if I filled my creative coffers this week.  By my spiritual and social ones are brimming over.  And that will have to do this week for Artist Date 38.

Overlooking Lake Michigan, at Dawes Park.
Overlooking Lake Michigan, at Dawes Park.

Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. 5774.  I’m at Dawes Park in Evanston for the ritual of tashlich – where we empty bread from our pockets into a body of moving water.  Some think of it as casting away one’s sins.  I prefer a gentler interpretation.  That I am simply cleaning out the residue of the last year.  Whatever is stale.  Has been sitting around in the corners of my consciousness slowly growing a somewhat furry mold.

I’ve stuffed a package of naan bread in my bag.  It’s been in my freezer since November.  A friend brought it to a party I had, to go with the curried lentil soup I was making.  I’m not much of a bread eater, so I tucked it away for just such an occasion.

Another woman has matzo.  I could have brought that two.  I buy too much every year.

It is my third High Holiday season with the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, so I know where we meet.  But this year is different.  I not only know the place, but I know many of the people here too.

My friend Phil is here with his family.  He introduced me to this congregation – specifically the Rabbi — a number of years ago, when I was feeling particularly wayward and spiritually lost.

Since that time I have developed a close relationship with Rabbi Brant and Cantor Howard.   They are tuning up for this short, mostly musical, service that precedes the tossing of the bread.  Jeff is tuning up as well.  We met a couple of years ago at a Shabbat morning service I attended just once.

He seemed to sense I was new and somewhat hesitant, and warmly welcomed me in.  I have had several encounters with him since them.  Perhaps my favorite being when he sidled up to me during last year’s High Holiday services.

He said he read my blog postings from Rwanda and that he liked my writing.  I thanked him and told him I used to write professionally.  “It shows,” he said.  And was gone.

Moments before I had silently cried out to G-d, asking what the plan is, what it is I was meant to do.  I recall looking up toward the heavens, smiling and saying, “got it.”

Mary Jo is here.  Brant introduced us several years ago when I completed my conversion to Judaism.  She joined him and Howard as my witnesses, and was there in that same role when I received my get, my Jewish divorce.

I am now on her permanent invite list for Passover, and the breaking of the fast on Yom Kippur.

I feel a tap on my shoulder.  It is Rachel.  She is a Weight Watchers member I know.

Monica is here with her family.  We met at Shabbat services at the lakefront a couple of years ago.  Michael is here too.  He blows the shofar every year at High Holiday services.  He introduces me to his daughters who are following in the family tradition.

I see Hannah.  She used to wear her head shaved like mine but now she has a mass of ringlets.  She tells me that she’s bought a condo and that she broke up with her boyfriend.  She introduces me to her friend Kelly and we agree we must get together.

A woman I have never met before approaches me.  Her name is Sheila.  She likes my shoes and takes a photograph of them.

Yes, they are “the shoes.”  The shoes that have seemingly come to identify me.  My orange Fly London peep-toe wedges.

The shoes...
The shoes…

The first summer I owned them, people literally chased me down Michigan Avenue to find out what they were and where I got them.  It was fun, talking with all sorts of people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.  And today is no exception.

Walking to the water, a tall woman with a mess of dark curls puts her foot next to mine.  “Nice shoes,” she says.  She is wearing the same ones in pewter.

She tells me she is tossing out the year of rehabbing her broken wrist.  It is healed.  I do not tell her what I am tossing.  Instead, I tell her I like our shoes so much that I have two pairs.  That the second I bought before my divorce was final, when my then-husband kindly said, “Do what you need to before we separate our monies.”

I bought a new lightweight massage table, a Torah commentary, and the peep-toe wedges in mustard.  We laugh at my choices.

I wish her a sweet New Year and peel off to throw my bread, my karmic residue.  There are so many things I could get rid of.  The litany that I repeat every year – self-doubt, unkindness, judgment of myself and others.  I recall that last year I tossed away my identity as a wife.

It was a Monday.  I knew divorce papers were signed on Mondays in the county where we filed.  I had a sinking feeling at that moment that I was officially divorced.  A call to my mediator later in the day confirmed it.

Today I am casting away what my friend Lisa likes to call “an old idea.”  I am embarrassed to admit that I have continued to hold on to it.  Actually, I’m not sure I was consciously aware that I had it, but a series of recent events has cast a glaring light upon it and I can no longer turn away.

I point myself east, tear off a piece of naan and whisper to myself, “I let go of the idea that I am only desirable for sex.”

It is windy and the naan flies back at me.  I turn west off of the dock where the waters are still.  I repeat the words.

I’ve got a lot of naan so I say it a couple of more times, ripping and tossing.  Ripping and tossing.

When I am done, I am approached by a woman.  She asks me about the shoes.  She is radiant and I tell her so.  She tells me about her job search.  Her cancer.

I suddenly remember that people used to tell me things about themselves all of the time.  Friends and family, and random, almost strangers too.  Cab drivers especially.  I realize people are talking to me in this way again.

It’s not the shoes.  Because I wore the same ones last year…I am different.  My heart has healed just enough to let some of my light shine out.  I am open and there is room for others.  They sense it and come in.