I Just Haven’t Met You Yet

walking in the worldI’ve been keeping a nightly gratitude list now for close to 10 years.  The practice was first suggested by my then spiritual-business teacher, Anne Sagendorph-Moon.

I would buy small, lovely journals and packages of 36 fine-point markers, and each night, in bed, write my list – a different color for each blessing in my life.

The practice has taken different shapes and forms over the years.  For the past few, I have done it on my computer, exchanging my list via e-mail with a friend in San Francisco.

So whenever a gratitude list is suggested as a part of any spiritual practice, in my head I tick it off as “Got it.”  “Done.”  Until yesterday.  When I had a *new* experience.

I am in week 2 of Walking in the World, Julia Cameron’s follow up to The Artist’s Way.  The book resonates deeply for me as walking and writing were the only things that made any sense during my divorce.  Either action had the power to ground me – almost immediately.  Still do.

My assignment yesterday was to take a 20-minute walk, with the intention of naming the blessings in my life with each foot fall.

Off I went, down Ainslie Street towards Winnemac Park – a few short blocks away from my home.  A place where I can duck into short paths, surrounded by tall, weedy plants, and feel like I am far away.  As I began walking, I began naming – to myself, my lips moving in the silence.

“I have a home.  I am in Chicago.  Japanese maples.”  It felt contrived, forced…but I kept muttering to myself anyway.  “My friend Julie.  Michigan blueberries.  I know how to be alone.”

I was flummoxed.  Was it really true?  Did I really know how to be alone?  Not just survive sans partner, all the while “wishin and hopin and dreamin,” but really know how to be alone and really be ok with it?  Even grateful for it?

Yes.  I think so.

This is not to say I wouldn’t like to meet a mate.  It’s a pretty universal desire, as my friend Mary Kate pointed out to me.  But it is how I live my life “in the in between” or “until that time” that determines my “ok-ness.”

I’ve been great with the action part, filling my life with dance, writing, friendship and family.  Travel.  Writing.  Recovery.  It’s the perception part that was kicking my ass.  Until it wasn’t.

I’m not sure what happened.  I used to think being alone meant I was a loser.  Unloveable.  Undesirable.  I suddenly don’t feel that way anymore.  I see my aloneness, to quote a good-bad Michael Buble song, as “I just haven’t met you yet.”

I remember being in my 20s.  My friend Carlos set me up with his business partner – a Jewish doctor.  He owned a great, stone cottage on a lake.  Good art work.   But we had little in common.  Little to talk about.  I wasn’t excited.  About him.  About us.

But I liked the idea of him.  Of us.  And I thought, “I can make this work.”

Thankfully I didn’t have to.  I got a job offer in San Francisco not long after we met.  The universe at work.

I recently had that thought again.  I met a man.  Nice looking.  Easy to talk to – especially about our divorces.  But that was where it ended.  We didn’t have much else to say.

As I was having those “this could work” fantasies, it hit me – why would I bother?

I know what it is like to meet someone and feel literally swept off my feet, equilibrium disrupted.  To wonder how it is we ever didn’t know one another.  To have so much to say to one another that we both wonder how we will ever get it all out…but delight in trying anyway.

This wasn’t it.

So I added to my list: Grateful to know what excited feels like.  To have experienced it.  To remember it.  To have faith that I will experience it again.

Grateful to know when I’m not excited.  And to know I would rather be alone than to settle.  To know how to be alone so that I am never beholden to anyone again.

And then…

I am grateful to know what great sex is like.  I am grateful to know what it feels like for someone to be wild about me.  To not be able to keep their mitts off of me.  Touching my hair, my face, my hands, my ass.  Kissing me in the middle of a crowded room because he “just had to.”

Thank you Mr. Sexy Photographer from Detroit.  Thank you short, horny, Jewish artist.  It was a long time ago.  But I remember.  And I have got to believe these weren’t limited-one-time exclusive offers either.

That is a new idea.  To believe in abundance in ALL things.  Including love.

I am grateful for that too.  And for the women who promised me I would arrive here one day.  The ones who cry when I share this with them.  They are abundance.  They are love.  I am loved.  And grateful for it.

Artist’s Date 19: We’re Only As Sick As Our Secrets

anne sextonI met Catherine Kaikowska my senior year of college, in an 8 a.m. poetry class.

She was all black.  Turtleneck.  Boots.  Leggings.  All hair.  Brown.  Shoulder length.  Wide and kind of frizzy.  She hiked herself up on the desk, crossed her legs in front of her and cracked open a can of Diet Coke.  “Fuck, it’s early,” she mumbled.

I liked her right away.

She liked me too, and invited me to meet her at The Peanut Barrel – an East Lansing institution known for good burgers, cheap pitchers of beer, and peanut shells covering the floor – where we sucked down Labatts Blues, chain smoked and talked about sex until closing.

She was from Ohio, and used to work the door at a club where Chrissie Hynde played before she made it big with The Pretenders.  The place she vowed she’d never return to until that time.

I haven’t thought about Catherine in a long time.  Until last Thursday, when I slipped a biography of Anne Sexton into my robin’s egg blue Samsonite carry-on bag, circa 1972, and boarded a plane bound for Nashville.

I was first introduced to Sexton in Catherine’s class, along with Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich and her mentor at Michigan State University, Diane Wakoski.  Yet my interests lied with the testosterone-rich voice of Charles Bukowski.  The beatnik fantasy of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

I pulled the book out – a tomb, really, nearly 500 pages, hardcover and wrapped in acetate that is supposed to protect it – at Midway Airport, after checking my orange hard-case luggage and picking up a mediocre Americano.  Artist’s Date 19, surrounded by fellow travelers with faces tucked into ipad and smartphone screens.

If we are only as sick as our secrets, then Sexton was the picture of health – for she had none.  She was transparent, as I have been described.  Only more so.

Teacher and mentor John Holmes begged Sexton not to publish her darker, highly confessional poems.  Advice she ignored, and turned into, “For John, Who Begs Me Not To Enquire Further.”

And yet, clearly she wasn’t well, as she took her own life at 45, just two years older than my 43.

Sexton threaded the stories of her life through men – how they reflected her.  She was wildly flirtatious.  A presence.  And, at times, profoundly sad.

She tended to sexualize significant relationships.  She had fluid boundaries.

She felt, at times, in competition with her mother.  And was considered alcoholic.

She gave away her heart too easily.

In “More Than All the Rest,” a poem to her long-term psychiatrist Dr. Martin Orne, she writes:

“Oh, I have raped my inner soul/And give it, naked, to you,/Since my warm mouth and arms/might love, and frighten you.”

I saw myself.  I looked around the airplane to see if anyone else saw me too.

I felt sick, like the medical-school student convinced she has contracted each disease she studies.

But I am not Anne.  I didn’t suffer post-partum depression.  I didn’t hand over my children to be raised by my mother-in-law.  I don’t have children.  I’ve never been pregnant.

I haven’t been institutionalized.  I didn’t take my own life.

Sexton’s gift was making something out of her sick.  Creating art.  Allowing others to see inside the most shameful parts of herself and whisper, “me too.”  In the process, she found both “her people” and herself.

Me too.

The plane touched down.  I was 78 pages in.  I slipped an index card into the book to hold my place, on it is a prayer I had written.  My own words.  My own healing.