Almost, But Not Quite

 

Muchas gracias to those who have supported my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a post-divorce narrative of how 52 Artist Dates healed my heart and pointed me in the direction of my dreams –- and my goal of manifesting blog into book deal. It is a joy to share three more of their stories and how they touched mine.


August 27

October 2015. Valencia.

I am enjoying my first solo holiday since moving to Madrid. A pre-birthday celebration.

I’ve rented a bike. Treated myself to a day at the beach — complete with lounge chair, umbrella, and a massage. And feasted on paella with the friend of a friend, and her family. (A real treat — as my air bnb host has informed me restaurants do not make fresh paella for one. Solo diners have to make do with a ration, cooked up earlier in the day — mostly for tourists who don’t know the difference. Remember … “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”)

It is my last evening here. I’m strolling the beautiful, winding streets when I hear … American! Not English, American.

My head spins around, as it does every time I hear my native “twang.” Except this time I am surprised by a familiar face.

It is Gail Mathis. We met just a few weeks earlier in Madrid. And now she is here, in Valencia.

And here, nearly a year later, supporting my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign.

Thank you, Gail! For your generous donation and for maintaining the connection of chance meetings and serendipity.

I regret I won’t see Gail when we both return to Spain this fall. Our itineraries don’t quite overlap. Plus, I’ll be at writers retreat — with the intention of manifesting a book deal for “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”

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I don’t have a single picture of Gail and me … so here’s the paella instead.


August 31

The Rocaberti Writers Retreat I will be attending this October in Girona, Spain is paid in full!!

Many thanks to Angie Hubbell for donating the EXACT amount needed to help me achieve this auspicious milestone.

Angie has been a co-creator in my life for as long as I have known her.

We finally met in 2007 (We’d shared a mutual friend and had heard about one another for close to 20 years.) when she hosted my then husband and I, visiting Chicago from California, in hopes of finding a home.

After two days of real estate”touring,” we agreed on a condo we wanted to call our own. Problem was, we weren’t sure if we could afford to.

I still don’t know what kind of voodoo mathematics Angie did … all I recall is her scratching down some numbers on a margarita napkin, and showing us we could.

That same weekend our mortgage broker went AWOL. Again, Angie swooped in with a solution — connecting us with a friend of hers who brokered the deal with speed, kindness and grace.

We lived in that house for four years. Rented it for a few more. And sold it last July — days before I moved to Spain. It was the last piece tying my ex and I to one another.

I left for Madrid less than a week later, truly unencumbered. Truly free to inhabit my life. And to discover “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”

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The house Angie helped manifest.

 


September 1

I feel a bit like a political fundraiser penning a “Thanks for your donation … but there’s still work to do” email.

Yesterday I gleefully posted that the Writers Retreat I will be attending in Girona is now paid in full. What I failed to mention is I am still about $1,500 from my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign goal — as was made apparent when a friend called this morning and exclaimed, “You met your goal!” Aww … “Well, a milestone piece of it,” I responded. (Detailed cost breakdown here.)

… but there’s still work to do.

Isn’t there always?

I am a firm believer that each person we meet changes our world in some way — large or small. I also believe that, if we’re lucky, a few people change the way we live in the world.

Christine Frazita is one of those people.

I showed up in her San Francisco office in the mid 1990s, not long after parting ways with my previous psychotherapist — the one who had briefly dated my then boyfriend. And neglected to tell me about it.

Christine’s couch provided both a literal and metaphoric soft place to land. And while she was, and is, kind beyond my personal understanding or ability … she also pushed me to work hard to change the way I saw the world and myself in it.

I remember telling Christine about that then-boyfriend. How he had lived in Paris for a couple of years. How I dreamed of doing something similar, but for a variety of reasons, didn’t believe I could.

Twenty years later, I not only believed I could. I did!

Muchas, muchas gracias, Christine! For your contribution to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign. And for your help in doing the heavy lifting that got me there.

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Christine sent me this sculpture of the Hindu Goddess Durga as a wedding gift. She remembered my religious studies professor at university had mentioned a Goddess particularly appropriate for and inside of me — Durga, Goddess of Power and Strength.


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.

The Gracias Reward

When I launched my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain,” earlier this summer, I linked rewards to different donation levels. An electronic postcard from Spain for $25. A custom Artist Date for $100. A personalized piece of writing for $500.

However, one reward was promised at all levels — a personal thank-you on Go Fund Me, Facebook, Twitter and A Wandering Jewess.

Following are three more Gracias Rewards … and the stories of those who have so generously supported my dream of manifesting blog into book deal.


23 August

Shortly after my divorce, I developed a bad habit of reading old journals. Really old journals. And only the juicy bits.

There was something delicious about remembering what “was,” once upon a time. But it didn’t help move me forward. And so, at a friend’s suggestion, I put the journals away for a time. The results so effective I ultimately burned them.ultimately burned them — journals I had carried with me for 20 years … from Detroit to San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago, Seattle and Chicago again — before moving to Spain.

I haven’t much looked back at my written words since then. Until now. Pulling together my blogs into the manuscript, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”

It is an interesting, and at times painful, experience. Remembering where I’ve been … both physically and emotionally. Selling my wedding rings.

Burying my biological mother.

Navigating unrequited crushes and affections, and struggling to let go of those which had run their course.

But I also am reminded of the support I received through it all. Much of it, unexpected.

A couch to sleep on. A light box to help manage Midwest winters. The friendship of a best friend’s sister.

Muchas gracias Jacqueline Baron, Darcy Livingston and Sheryl Stollman for these gifts, and for your generous contributions to “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a new narrative for happily ever after, after a divorce.

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From the blog, “New Ring, Old Questions. Remembering Mr. Thursday.”


24 August

I’m 9 years old. Or thereabouts. I’ve just started learning Hebrew — attending classes on Sunday mornings and Wednesday afternoons.

It is one of those Wednesday afternoons. Except now it is evening. And I am waiting.

Waiting with Rachel and Robbie, Michael and Ronnie. Waiting in the quickly darkening October chill for one of our parents to pick up our carpool.

It appears someone has forgotten.

All the other students are gone. The principal has left too, beeping his horn and waving while we wait outside the school.

Robbie and I walk to the corner store and use the payphone to call our parents. The rest stay behind … in case the delayed parent arrives.

I am a little bit scared, walking on the side of the road in the dark. I remind myself I am not alone. I am with Robbie. He is older, bigger. Handsome.

I do not recall the rest of the story … who it was that forgot to pick us up. And who eventually did.

I only remember my mother’s relief when I arrived home. Her anger toward the principal for leaving us at the school. And my own worry about not completing my homework for the next day … having arrived home so late.

I don’t have any other memories of Robbie — even though he lived right around the corner from us. And none of his younger sister, Amy Freedman.

So I was especially surprised and delighted when I received her contribution to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign.

Muchas, muchas gracias, Amy!

The joys of social media.

Thirty-plus years post Hebrew school, Amy and I have gotten to know one another on Facebook. Divine timing. Everything happens exactly when it is supposed to …

Like the ending of my 15-year relationship … which forced me to face the daunting task of taking responsibility for my own life and happiness.

Like finding myself “suddenly single against my will” … which nudged me toward two years of Artist Dates (one-person play dates), a three-week stag jaunt in Italy, and ultimately a year-long solo sojourn in Spain.

Like being underemployed … which gives me the time and ability to complete the manuscript, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a compilation of blogs from http://www.awanderingjewess.com.

Even waiting for a carpool on a dark October evening … which showed me how to walk through fear, and reminded me I’m really never alone.

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My Bat Mitzvah — the culmination of  5 years of Hebrew school. I really never was alone…


28 August

I used to have a nickname in college — Lester. It still makes me cringe. I don’t know where it came from. In fact, it might even go back to high school. As I write these words, I hear voices of friends calling out, “Lester!”

I had another nickname too. One I had forgotten about until the other day … The Pest.

I was reminded by a friend of my brother’s in a private note she sent, along with a donation to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign.

Her intention was not to drudge up a painful past, but instead to marvel at the change in the relationship between my brother and me. Growing up, we were prone to unkind words and fist fights. Today, he speaks and writes about me with deep affection and pride, posting things to Facebook like —

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my beautiful, talented and well-traveled sister, Lesley Pearl. Being overseas on your birthday would be tough for some but knowing you, I am sure that they are lining up to celebrate with you!!”

Awww … sweet, right?

And I adore him equally.

Many thanks to my brother’s friend — for your generous contribution, and for reminding me that relationships change. Sometimes beautifully … like in the case of me and my brother.

And that other times … something beautiful comes from change, like the end of my marriage. While painful, the parting sent me off to create the life I had always dreamed of. A creation chronicled in “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”

Oh, and I think I’ll take Lester over The Pest any day …

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Me and my brother … pre-pest days.


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.

Gently Nudged

 

With gratitude for those who have supported my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a post-divorce narrative of how 52 Artist Dates healed my heart and pointed me in the direction of my dreams –- and my goal of manifesting blog into book deal. Those who inspire me. Those who unselfishly prod me toward my one, precious life.


August 14

Among my many 20-something gripes was the idea that I didn’t “have a thing.” A passion. A commitment. A “thing” that defined me. Drove me. That people associated with me.

A medium of creative expression.

Like Sherrod Blankner with paint. Over the years I watched her toil outside my house on Liberty Street in San Francisco and at Artist Residencies in Mendocino. I watched her put on shows in Berkeley and sell her work to patrons everywhere. She was (and is) a “working artist.” A description she once laughed at … “If that means I earn enough to pay for my supplies, I suppose I am.”

Like Julie Brown with a lens. We met on assignment for the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California in 1995 — the camera to my pen. Portraits. Projects in Guatemala. Even my wedding — she wanted to be a guest, but wanted me to have beautiful photographs even more — Julie captured, and continues to capture real life from the other side of a piece of glass.

Thank you, Sherrod. And thank you, Julie. For inspiring me with your work and your commitment. And for your generous donations to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign.

Turns out I did “have a thing,” and a medium … I always did. Words. It took the aftermath of divorce, sans romance, to wrangle them out of me and onto the pages of “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”

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Liberty Street in San Francisco … where I logged many hours with both of these ladies.


August 19

In Jewish tradition, the number 18 represents “chai” or life. And it is customary to give gifts in denominations of $18.

So it seems only appropriate that my friend and “sister of choice,” Julie Kupsov, would so generously donate to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign in this way.

Not only because we are both Jewish. But because we have experienced so much life — the birth of her son, for which I had the great, good honor to be present as her doula — and death — the passing of her parents Irv and Carole, who provided a safe, loving home away from home for me for more than 30 years — together.

And everything in between.

Julie pushed me to accept a newspaper job in San Francisco more than 20 years ago … thus leaving Detroit and our standing Thursday “date night.” And she loaned me money to volunteer in Rwanda in the midst of my divorce. … where the seeds of my book and my Spanish sojourn were planted.

Muchas, muchas gracias, Julie. (We learned that much in high-school Spanish class, right?) For your generous support of my campaign and of all my journeys.

(By the way, Julie is a genius writer in her own right … keep your eyes peeled for her name on Amazon!)

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With Julie and Jaron … just before leaving for Spain.


20 August

Math was never my strong suit.

“I don’t get it,” I’d sigh, slightly exasperated, plopping my textbook down on Mr. McClew’s desk in high school.

“OK,” replied the ever-patient instructor of snotty, privileged teens. “Tell me what you don’t get.”

“It!”

“I can’t help you, Lesley … You have to tell me what you don’t understand.”

I’m not sure I ever could. That I ever got “it.”

But I’ll tell you who does … my mother.

Because of her generous contribution to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign, I’m more than half-way to my goal. And over-the-moon delighted and grateful.

What?! Fuzzy math? Lesley logic? The campaign says $1,956 to date. The goal is $4,250. Huh?? My mom is old school. She wrote me a check.

Thank you, Linda Park. For your contribution. And for always supporting me …

Pink hair. (“Not a word,” she’d mutter to my father after a trip to the hairdresser.) Bad behavior grades. (I once received an “unacceptable” conduct mark. She told the teacher in no uncertain terms this was preferable to me cowering in a corner. And afterward, convinced Coach Downs to give me a passing grade in gym class.) Pillbox hats to high school. (Enough said …)

Moves to San Francisco. Chicago. Seattle. Chicago. Spain. And Chicago again.

My choices may not have been her choices. But she “got,” and still gets, that this is my one and only life. And she bolsters me in any healthy way she knows how.

Like saying “yes” to my book “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a (mostly) happily-ever after, after divorce tale. The story of how 52 Artist Dates healed my heart and helped me to step into my one and only life. The life I always dreamed of.

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Feeling held … now and then.


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.

 

 

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.’ ”

 

Home

The following long-form piece was written for and performed at Nikki Nigl’s AboutWomen in Chicago on July 19, 2016.

I have been back in Chicago exactly 12 days.

I miss Madrid.

I miss the winding cobblestone walk to my metro stop at Opera. The flat buildings washed yellow, orange and pink with black wrought iron balconies on every window. Cartoonish by streetlight. I swear I could push them over and they’d tumble. Just like a movie set.

I miss the fountain at Cibeles. That “birthday cake of a building” as Dirk used to call it. The old Correos. Post Office. Now a museum I never made it to. A “Welcome Refugees” banner hanging from its top, a fountain in front. In the center of a roundabout that leads you to the Prado or Calle Gran Via, depending on your preference.

I used to walk here on Saturday nights alone when the sun had receded but the air was still hot and all of Madrid filled the streets, up from its collective summer siesta. The goddess Cybel and her lions riding on illuminated pink and blue water.

I miss my metro pass. Fifty euros for unlimited rides on the super clean, super-fast metro that would take me anywhere in Madrid. And if it didn’t the train or the light rail would.

I miss Turron gelato.

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Plaza de Cibeles and that “birthday cake of a building.”

I miss private health insurance to the tune of 57 euros a month. Gynecological exam chairs that tilt down, working with as opposed to against, gravity. I miss not having to ask for a pelvic ultrasound instead of a pap as it is a matter of course.

I miss feeling safe walking home alone at night.

I miss taking the train to Seville or Valencia for the weekend. Or a quick flight to Portugal, North Africa or Nice. I miss swimming in the Mediterranean upon reaching the coast. The salty taste of my lips and the white streaks drying on my legs surprising me.

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On the beach in Valencia.

I miss tomates that taste like tomatoes, pimientos that taste like peppers and pepinos that taste like cucumbers. I miss their names. I miss Paco choosing them for me at the market and our impromptu intercambio. His corrections to my beginner Spanish. My approval of his modest English.  His stories about his daughter and the victory I felt in understanding them. Mas o menos.

I miss cheap groceries.

I miss eating rye for breakfast instead of oatmeal. Eggs that sit on the shelf. Good, inexpensive coffee.

I miss Nick, the Greek waiter at Dionisos, flirting shamelessly with me.

I miss speaking Spanglish.

I miss all of this, and yet I chose to leave it. To return to Chicago. Where I pay for every El ride. Both financially and energetically. Nausteated by the slow, insistent rattling of the train. Knowing I would get there in half the time if I still owned a car. Knowing it’s best to ask someone to walk me to the train at night in some neighborhoods. My keys laced between my fingers as I leave the station and approach my own door.

Chicago. Where politicians are proudly corrupt. People hold signs on freeway off ramps … begging for money. And 2 bags of tasteless produce cost nearly $50.

Where zero degree FARENHEIT winters are a real possibility. As is a shooting death every weekend.

I chose this.

I chose home.

Lumbering Greystone buildings, summer rainstorms and leafy maple trees. Sunday dance classes at the Old Town School of Music. Lectures at the Art Institute. Lake Michigan.

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Copyright Art Institute of Chicago HD Wallpaper.

I’ve moved several times in my life. Four states, seven cities, two countries … if you count where I was born and raised. Which is not the same as home.

I learned that the first time I moved to Chicago in 2007. I’d been living between San Francisco and Oakland for nearly 14 years when my husband and I packed up our two cats and all our worldly belonging and headed east, to the Midwest, a place I vowed I’d never live again, for his medical residency.

God has a sense of humor.

It was grey and sticky, drizzly and hot when we arrived. We opened the car doors and felt the steam rise up around us, looked at one another, and without saying a word asked “What have we done?” Followed by “We are Californians. (Albeit adopted ones). This is a temporary residence. A sojourn. We will hate Chicago together.”

For months I wore ear plugs on the El and held my hand over my heart as I walked up Michigan Avenue. Each felt being accosted, until my own vibrations rose to match those of the city.

Whenever people asked where I was from, I responded, “I was born in Detroit. I live in Chicago. Oakland is my spirit home.”

But eventually … I got worn down. I surrendered. To this city. It’s people. To my addiction. I made a life for myself here. I grew my business. Got sober. And converted to the faith of my childhood – righting a religious technicality.

I stopped beginning every sentence with “In California …”

I found my biological parents. I learned to dance. I took my husband to the place where I spent my childhood summers, 8 hours away in northwest Michigan.

I began having experiences rather than talking about them.

And somewhere along the way I fell in love with this sometimes dirty, noisy, violent city. I fell in love with its architecture. Its people. Perhaps, most of all, I fell in love with myself.

Four years later I moved to Seattle. The wife of a now doctor, I felt obligated to go.

I cried like a wounded animal. Like I cried when I left Bay Area. Mourning the loss of morning hikes in Redwood Park, Peets coffee, and KFOG radio. The Golden Gate Bridge. My old house in Haight-Ashbury. The place where I met my husband and was married.

 

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Spirit Home. The French Trail in Redwood Park, Oakland.

Except this time, the loss felt strictly internal. Chicago, the place, has never spoken to me. Its topography. Its flatness and lack of nature feel uninspired. But there is something in its soil, in its DNA, that takes root in me.

It called me back after a year in Seattle. When my marriage ended and for the first time in a long time, I got to choose where I would live.

And it called me back after a year in Madrid, where I was teaching English. Fulfilling a childhood dream of living overseas. One I spoke about here, just before I left, a year ago. My only lament that my passport is far less sexy than it would be pre-European Union.

Since arriving, I’ve been greeted with warm “welcome backs” and tentative “welcome homes.” And the inevitable, “What brought you back?” It’s a fair question. One I’ve grappled with myself since making the decision not to renew my visa a couple of months ago.

There are lots of reasons.

Living in a country where you don’t speak the language – at least not fluently, is at best, frustrating. At worst, infantilizing. Without words, one’s personality changes. Mi casera, my landlady, once commented “You are quiet.” To which I replied, “Not in English.”

I needed, and asked for, a lot of help. Scheduling doctors’ appointments. Opening a bank account. Translating government documents. Buying a Spanish cell phone to replace mine which didn’t work.

I slept in a twin bed in an already furnished room in a grand, old Spanish apartment. I felt like a child. I moved the bed. Removed a chest of drawers. A few pictures. I hung up a batik of Ganesh, a string of elephants on a gold chain and a vision board I created around Thanksgiving time. I was still acutely aware that the place was not “mine.” It was not “home.”

The thought of living alone, setting up internet and utilities felt overwhelming. Even friends who were fluent in Spanish waited two months or longer for connectivity. Making due with coffee shops and on occasion, cold showers.

I focused on gratitude. For the opportunity to live with this 83-year-old former UN translator who lived through the Franco era and who was willing to speak with me in halting Spanish or easy English. For my inexpensive rent and the courtyard our apartment looked out on to.

For the community I created. With other teachers. Other expats. And others I met traveling.

For the ability to see Eastern Europe, North Africa and a good deal of Spain. For getting paid, albeit not as much as I had hoped, to talk.

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Traveling in Tangier with my friend Lindsey.

My students adored me. And I, them. But I was acutely aware that they were my students and not my friends … much as I wanted to talk. And much as they were eager to listen.

I had a life. But it was a smaller life.

The English-speaking community in Madrid is transient, making it difficult to build and sustain long-term friendships. And I couldn’t imagine beginning a romantic relationship … in part due to my lack of language skills. But also because of cultural differences. And while my work as a massage therapist surprisingly followed me to Spain, offering me a few clients and a few extra euros a month, my opportunities for employment would always be limited.

I felt limited.

I didn’t know that until a few weeks ago when I was talking with my friend Pam … who had spent six hours in the Social Security office. Playful, friendly and highly communicative, she said to the workers on her way out, “We’re such good friends, I’m going to invite you all to my wedding.”

“That’s it,” I said, pointing to the air, which she – of course – couldn’t see.

I can’t make small talk. I don’t have the language to strike up a conversation on the metro, in the elevator or at the grocery store. I’m too busy thinking about what I’m going to say and how to say it … and by the time I know how, the moment is gone.

And in that moment I realized what home was.

Yes, in its simplest form, home is where I reside. Where I know how to get where I’m going and the fastest way to get there.

Home is the place where restaurants know my face, possibly my name, and often my order. Where I speak the language. And where I sometimes hear my name called out in the street.

But mostly it is a place where I can get bigger. Where I feel expansive. Where I can grow. And to grow, I need to root. Home is a place where the soil is loamy. And conditions are favorable to temperament. A place like Chicago.

 

 

 

Artist Date 114: Residence

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Image by Anna Katharina Scheidegger. Collection 2016. Casa de Velazquez.

I’ve lost some work.

Last week my boss forwarded a text from the company where I’ve been teaching. They need to cut costs and will not be continuing with English classes. So I have to cut costs.  Or find more work.

I mention this to S over lunch.

He doesn’t inquire about teaching. Instead, he asks why I am not submitting my work to writing contests with cash prizes…like he has done. Or artist residencies where I can be housed and fed (and occasionally paid a small stipend) while I write.

I don’t have an answer.

He continues, casually mentioning that he will be living in Italy for five weeks this fall. In a castle. Writing.

“How’d you swing that?” I ask.

“Artist residency.” he says, right on cue. “I applied. You can too, you know.”

Yes, this is the same S who, a little more than two months ago, casually mentioned I might consider applying to the Institute of Sacred Music at the Yale Divinity School. (Which I did. And from which I am now eagerly awaiting an answer.)

Clearly he is a messenger, sent directly to me.

That night I poke around the Writers and Poets website, researching writing contests with cash prizes. I am too fixated on financial concerns (and already dreaming of New Haven) to give much thought to artist residencies.

Not until the next day. Artist Date 114.

My student A has invited me to Casa de Velazquez for “Puertas Abiertas” – literally “open doors” or , more accurately, “open studios.”

A has warned me that it is a bit difficult to find. And that Google Maps isn’t particularly helpful.

She is right.

My mood is low and the weather matches it. Windy. Grey. Cold.

But I’m determined.

I walk up and down the same street again and again, looking for Avenida Arco de la Victoria, only to learn I am already on it when I finally ask for directions.

I am reminded of a huge billboard on I-75 North, on the drive from Detroit to Saginaw, Michigan to see my nana. A picture of Jesus with a caption that reads, “Are you on the right road?”

I am now.

And eventually I make my way to the large, stone structure that is less than a 15-minute walk from the metro – although it has taken me close to 45.

I send A a message, letting her know I’ve arrived. She meets me outside of the library and takes me on a short tour – at which time I learn it is not her work I’ve come to see , but that of more than a dozen artists in residency.

The timing is not lost on me.

I tell A about my conversation with S. She smiles. “Yes, you could apply for an Artist Residency,” she says, gently adding “Just not here. Because you don’t speak French.”

Indeed, I hardly speak Spanish. And some days, I’m not sure I speak English anymore either.

We walk down the hill, past the empty swimming pool and a sculpture of a pig face, to the cottages where the artists live and work. A introduces me a photographer who speaks English, and who wears the same haircut as me.

We do that, “I like your hair.” “I like YOUR hair,” elbow-nudging thing. I ask where she is from.

Everywhere. Nowhere. Last stop – Paris.

I understand. When asked the same question I pause, stymied. I’m from Detroit. But I lived in San Francisco for 14 years. Chicago for seven. A year in Seattle…I never know quite how to answer.

We talk about this. About creating a life with the whole of one’s belongings fitting neatly into one or two bags. She feels liberated by it. I feel a bit untethered.

For her, this residency is as much her residence as any other.

I leave, thinking about the word residence. Later, I look it up in the dictionary. Merriam-Webster offers several definitions, among them:

1b: the act or fact of living or regularly staying at or in some place for … the enjoyment of a benefit.

2a: the place where one actually lives as distinguished from one’s domicile or a place of temporary sojourn.

4b: a period of active and especially full-time study, research, or teaching at a college or university.

And then I understand the difference in our perspectives.

What I have is a room in a flat in the center of Madrid. What I crave is a residence. A residency.

 

 

 

Brooklyn Les

brooklynThere was already a Leslie when I arrived to work at The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California in 1995, so I quickly became Les – which was strange because up until that time, only my parents had ever called me Les.

However, not long after that “christening,” I earned the name Brooklyn Les – used exclusively when I would lead with my mouth.

Brooklyn Les swore like a sailor. Kept a pack of Newport Lights in the pocket of her leather jacket – a tan vintage number with a paisley silk lining which my friend T affectionately referred to as the Serpi-coat, an homage to Al Pacino in the movie of the same era. Brookly Les was feisty. A little bit angry. And funny as she let the expletives fly from her lips.

In those first few years in San Francisco, Brooklyn Les showed up a lot. But as time passed, her role became more of a cameo — the walk-on of a once beloved character that had moved on.

I quit smoking. I got older. I went to therapy.

I quit the job I hated and learned to curb my tongue at the one that I loved. I learned to meditate. I joined a spiritual business group.

There was less to be angry about.

“Remember when you used to be surly, Pearly?” my then-husband asked, only half in jest.

I did.

When I moved to Chicago in 2007, Brooklyn Les began appearing again. Sans cigarettes.

I was newly sober and leaking emotion. Joy. Gratitude. Pain. My friend D insisted I was angry but didn’t know how to express it.

And yet, every once in a while, I did. Usually with my friend M, over food or coffee. Always unexpected. What started as simple conversation quickly developing into full-fledged rant. About my husband. Or my parents. Or my birthparents. The weather. Weight Watchers. Chicago. Occasionally myself.

M would clap with glee. She loved Brooklyn Les. Probably because she only turned up occasionally and was so different than the woman I presented as. She was funny and crass and said things none of us dared say.

But I always felt apologetic. Like I shouldn’t behave this way. That I couldn’t afford the luxury of a good resentment.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Brooklyn Les. Strangely, she didn’t show up during my divorce or my pained efforts at dating after. She didn’t show up during my move to Seattle or my unfruitful job search in Chicago.

I was angry. But it wasn’t funny or functional. Instead, it mostly got turned inward, on to me.

My friend S noticed and thought that breaking some rocks might help release it. Or at the very least, invite Brooklyn Les for a visit.

So a few weeks ago, we drove out to El Pardo – a park outside of Madrid where Franco used to shoot deer. (Rumor has it he was such a bad shot that his lackeys would literally have to place deer – I don’t know how – directly in front of his aim if he was to have even a minimum of success.)

Inside the park, at a quarry of sorts, S demonstrated.

He picked up a rock, said some choice words, threw it against another and watched it shatter into bits. Then he invited me to do the same.

I picked up a rock. Threw it. And watched it bounce off another and roll onto the ground.

“I can’t even get angry correctly.”

S invited me to name my anger – more specifically, the sources of my anger – but I couldn’t. I could only cry. So he named them for me. And I cried even harder.

I cried and muttered and prayed…threw some rocks. A few shattered. Many bounced.

It was a beginning.

I’m sure Brooklyn Les could have done better. But she was nowhere to be seen.

I thought I recognized her walking through Sol, the center of Madrid, the other day. As I was jostled and bumped by Spaniards just doing what they do – walking four or five across on the sidewalk, slowly, seemingly expecting everyone else to move. They all seem to navigate just fine around each other but I haven’t quite figured out their system.

But instead of Brooklyn Les, I felt more like William Shatner in an Everyready Battery commercial circa 1978. “I dare you to knock this battery off of my shoulder.”

My anger scared me. It still does.

I thought about my ex-boyfriend D. How I more than once told him, “I won’t fight with you.”

“People fight,” he insisted. But I wouldn’t.

I thought about my ex-husband. How he was one of less than a handful of people I would fight with – who I felt safe enough to fight with.

But mostly, I find myself just fighting with myself. It’s exhausting.

It seems clear I need to find a way to purge this anger from my body – without imposing it on others, or turning it on to myself. Although I’m still not exactly sure how.

Perhaps Brooklyn Les might have an idea…

 

Everything I Didn’t Write — July and August 2015

I love words.

This should hardly be a surprise as I call myself a writer. Used to make a living as one. As the words “Left” and “Write” are tattooed on my wrists.

And yet, since leaving the United States on July 28 with a one-way ticket to Spain, I’ve written little.

Little about what it is to live in a country where I hardly speak the language. Little about the heartbreak of leaving a deep and unexpected love. Little about the humbling that accompanies beginning yet another career at the age of 45. And little about what it is to turn 46 in this place I now call home.

I’ve written little about my private victories. About being asked for directions and being able to give them – albeit in English. About when Spanish words tumble out of my mouth without my thinking – simple phrases like, “Para llevar for ella, para aqui para mi” – and having them understood. About getting paid in euros. Jumping through hoops of securing a Spanish ID card. And fulfilling a dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember – to live overseas.  A dream so faint, so distant, so seemingly unattainable that I forget it was my dream and that I am actually doing it.

I’ve written little about my work teaching English, about my friendships with fellow wanderers and about my travels since arriving. Except on Facebook, where I have posted short, pithy, true-in-the-moment whispers of my life in Madrid, and many, many photographs.

What follows is a chronicle of my first 30-plus days here in Madrid – as they appeared on Facebook.

July 30

I have a Spanish phone number. (Message me and I will give it to you.) Most challenging interaction I’ve had so far, but I got it done. People are amazingly kind and helpful — like Jose, another customer at the post office who offered to help translate. (I will be going back tomorrow to get a box to receive “real mail” now that I can provide a local number.) He said my Spanish is good. I do not agree, but I think I am maneuvering well having been here less than 36 hours. Off shortly to an intercambio at J+J Books to meet Facebook friend Robert. Thanks for the connection, Jessica.

July 31

Third time IS the charm. Third day at the post office. Finally had everything in order to get a box. Here are the keys!

I wanted to take a photograph of the women who greeted me there these three days in a row, who were so patient and who were able to finally hook me up. They couldn’t imagine why. “Ayuda me.” (I meant to say “You helped me”…I was close, and they understood.) “It is my job,” replied one, in English. “It is my job.” Amazing.

2015-07-31 18.16.39

August 3

First day of school.

August 4

How much do I love my girls in Chicago? How much do they love me? Thanks for lifting me up. XOXO

nikki and melissa

August 4

(Meme from aforementioned great love – posted to my page)

“Hmmm.

We can skip the wine.”

dirk meme

August 5

It begins to feel like home when I run into people I know on the street. I remember when it happened in San Francisco and Chicago. Now Madrid.

August 9

Falling head over heels over head for this city.

Magical skies. The energy of its people spilling into the streets after dark. A surprise misting by the evening sprinklers in Retiro Park.

Lunches with new friends — yesterday at Botin, the world’s oldest restaurant, today on Plaza de la Independencia — running into others on the streets.

Hard to believe I arrived less than two weeks ago. I feel so present, so here…

August 15

Officially overwhelmed…

August 16

Sunday morning in Retiro Park. Why yes, I should be doing homework. But first — sun, stillness and a shot at serenity. Refueling following a Saturday of letting go…and filling up for the week ahead.

2015-08-16 11.44.56

August 17

Trust. Just got my hair cut by someone named Pepe. He does not speak English. I hardly speak Spanish. I think we did okay.

August 25

Woo hoo!! Student of the week. Not bad for the oldest student in the class…

Tomorrow is the BIG grammar and phonics exam, as well as my final observed teaching. All good juju welcomed.

The past four weeks have been humbling, exhilarating and, at times, overwhelming. In the home stretch…looking forward to what comes next.

August 28

DONE! When they handed out the certificates, they dubbed me Lesley~I will conquer Spain~Pearl. Your collective mouth to God’s ear.

2015-08-28 15.49.15

August 29

I am walking to pick up the keys to my new apartment. At the corner of my street and Calle Mayor I see this banner. I look at the door and know it like I know my name. Every hair on my body stands up and I begin to weep.

My first night in Madrid, 16 years ago with my then husband …our waiter speaks perfect English. I ask him about it and he tells me he learned it on a kibbutz in Israel. I mention I’m Jewish and that my grandmother did not like visiting Spain because there weren’t any Jews here. After dinner, he sends me across the street … to where I am standing now, to this place with the beautiful doors.

How is it I am living here 16 years later…literally here? With the Jews? With the vintage camera shop? The bookstore? And the bakery? With a landlord and roommate named Maite, a former UN translator just five years my mother’s senior … in an apartment with an unheard of eat-in kitchen, a balcony overlooking a plaza, a piano, and lots and lots of original art. A home I didn’t even have to look for it…it literally came to me. (Thanks Kylie.)

I’m not quite sure what to think … Moving is hard. And it is magic. And I am definitely, definitely supposed to be here.

2015-08-29 11.49.32

August 29

(In response to Facebook memory “On This Day…”)

On this day in 2012, moving back to Chicago. With John and Karin on the exact same day one year prior.moving from Chicago to Seattle. Today I picked up the keys to my new digs here in Madrid. Something about August 29 and big movement in my life. Only thing missing is John and Karin…

August 30

Home. Fully unpacked for the first time in more than a month. (Including Ganesh. Thank you, Clover. And a hand-spun wool bowl made by Deb.) Also for the first time, I moved in a cab. Two suitcases. Two backpacks. A couple of shopping bags. Many thanks to Nikki who packed me the first time. (This time was easier but not nearly as much fun.) And to Jennifer who helped get me from Salamanca to Opera. As I write this, I am reminded that I don’t do any of this alone.

2015-08-30 13.11.12

Artist Date 108: A Room of One’s Own

The site of Artist Date 108 -- lots of locations, but no Madrid.
The site of Artist Date 108 — lots of locations, but no Madrid.

I’m supposed to be getting rid of things in preparation for my departure to Madrid later this summer — like the Bianchi road bike I sold last Friday.

Instead, I’m in a furniture store — Artist Date 108.

I’ve passed by here hundreds of times. Today there is a sign in the window pointing to a new entrance. It feels like an invitation.

Inside it is crammed with a collection of furniture sourced from India, Indonesia and other faraway places. Red bookshelves. Green sideboards. A tall chest with tiny drawers — like a library card-catalog file — each painted a different color, each begging to be filled with a special treasure.

A real desk. A weathered armoire. A butcher block on wheels — the one I never got around to buying for my kitchen.

I think of a friend who recently commented that my apartment — while inviting and well-appointed — has a sense about it that implies I never planned on staying.

Perhaps he sees the empty spaces on the futon where pillows and a throw might go. The missing bedside table. The crappy knives.

He does not mention any of these things, but I see them — reminders that I never entirely put down roots.

Or perhaps he sees the table made of suitcases stacked on their sides. The snowshoes tacked to the entryway wall. The hung pieces of fabric I collected in Rwanda. A traveler’s accoutrements.

I think of all the places I’ve lived and what made each one mine.

The Indian cotton blanket and Picasso print I bought at Cost Plus World Market to dress up my dorm room.

The Morticia Addams-style wicker chair I found at a yard sale in the Castro and carried to my apartment in Haight-Ashbury. The yellow  walls in the great room of that apartment, painted with my roommate Tim in the wee hours of the morning. The scratched parsons table and chipped black bookshelves gifted to me from the As IS room at Crate and Barrel.

The mezzuzah my friend Pam gave me when I left Chicago, and that I tacked to the doorway in Seattle as soon as I arrived.

Each like a fingerprint, identifying my space.

Much of what fills my current apartment was gifted to me. Two wooden chests of drawers that had been taking up space in my friend Patrick’s storage unit — delivered on my birthday. I sobbed putting away my socks for the first time — overwhelmed and grateful to finally have a place to store them. The dining-room table my friend Tom made from a door. The lamp that was Mimi’s.

Each object has a story. I mention this to my friend — the one who says my apartment has the feeling of being inhabited by one who isn’t planning to stay.

“Somehow I knew that,” he replies.

He reminisces about traveling through India, China and the former Soviet Union — decorating rooms he would keep for just a month or two with postcards, fabric and fragrant bars of soap purchased in the market.

“You will do the same,” he reminds me.

He is right.

The idea is a comfort as I prepare to move overseas with two large suitcases and two carry-ons; my plan being to find a room already outfitted with a bed and a chest of drawers –space within a place someone else calls home.

I trust I will find it. That I will find room within a room to call my own. And that that which is mine will come to me once more, dressing up the empty spaces. A train map. A rock. A card from a lover.

A tattered copy of Tropic of Capricorn. A packet of seeds.

Each with a story I will share with that friend…and that I will share with new friends. Each a fingerprint, marking my place in the world.

Nose-ing What Is Right For Me

2015-04-27 09.30.23
The last page of the wedding ceremony…

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine posed a question on Facebook, asking what she should do with her many years of journals in the course of a move.

I’d been wondering the same thing as I am moving to Madrid later this summer. My plan is to board the plane on July 28 with a one-way ticket, a one-year visa and two suitcases — but no journals.

“Burn them,” my friend Scotty wrote in response to the original question, the answer not intended for me. And yet, it was, as I intuitively knew he was right.

I had been an avid journal-er in my 20s — tucking into bed each night with a notebook and pen and chronicling the events of the day. Sometimes in prose. Occasionally poetry.  Lush, detailed descriptions of the sex I was having. Barely decipherable drunken scrawls, desperate and self-pitying.

I carried them with me for nearly 20 years — from Detroit to San Francisco to Oakland. To Chicago to Seattle and back to Chicago — about a dozen of them, most of them with hard covers.

I stopped journaling not long after my then boyfriend (now ex-husband) moved into my apartment — choosing to tuck in with him rather than a stack of pages and my most intimate thoughts.

I returned to the practice 15 years later, switching the time to first thing out of bed — Morning Pages, as suggested in the book, “The Artist’s Way.”

When I moved back to Chicago in 2012, following my divorce, I began reading my old words  — the ones I had carried with me for so long.  Juicy bits about the photographer who kept a studio above the restaurant where I worked. The aspiring rabbinical student. The actor.

The much, much older man from Detroit who suggested I meet him in Vail — “just as friends.” The lawyer and part-time musician. The doctor I met on a press trip in Germany.

I had forgotten.

It was fun at first, feeling like a voyeur, remembering who I had once been — until I considered contacting one of those men, at which time a friend suggested I take a break from my reading. And I did.

Meanwhile, I continued filling soft-covered notebooks with Morning Pages, stacking them one on top of the other on a shelf in my bedroom closet — until a few weeks ago, when I placed them in a box along with my marriage license and a copy of our wedding ceremony and drove them to Michigan, to the home of my friend Paul, the sometimes reluctant shaman.

That evening, at Paul’s suggestion,  I tore off the covers from my notebooks and ripped pages from their metal spirals. I threw a glossy journal into the wood-burning stove that heats the entire house and watched the resin-covered cardboard catch, shrivel and glow. I tossed in several more, until the oven was filled with ash. Then Paul played John Lennon’s “Starting Over” and we danced, laughing.

In the morning I brought the remaining notebooks, wedding ceremony and marriage license outside to a fire pit Paul had dug. He said a few words, inviting in the spirits, and I again began the process of burning my words — stopping occasionally to read a random page out loud before throwing the notebook into the flames — until the pit was overcome with ashes like the stove the night before.

Nearly two hours later, I wasn’t done. Paul suggested I leave the remaining notebooks with him, promising to burn them at his next sweat lodge. I agreed, and asked that we end the day’by burning my marriage license.

Several people had suggested I might need it one day, but I couldn’t imagine any reason to hold on to it. So I offered a few words of thanks to my ex and once again set him free — something I had done following the completion of our civil divorce, and again following our Jewish divorce.

The legal document crackled and hissed, engulfed in yellow and blue flames.

Since then, my ex and I have had precious little contact. And the relationship that had begun just prior to my trip to Michigan has blossomed.

Paul closed the ceremony by bringing me inside, where we sat in meditation. Then he sang and he drummed, smudged me with sage and handed me a rubber nose in a small plastic container — the kind from a bubble-gum machine that contains a prize, a ring or tattoos — and assured me if I continue to listen to my heart and to my spirit, I will always “nose” what is right for me.

Like knowing when to let go of my stories and how to do it. With fire, with friendship, and with God.