Spencer has asked me this question more than once. As it is rhetorical, he is not expecting an answer. But I reply anyway.
“I believe in a God of magic and serendipity. Of coincidence. The master quilter pulling together disparate pieces and weaving something gorgeous,” I explain. “I don’t believe in a God who can love me.”
Spencer suggests I try leading with my heart instead of my head.
A few days later, I mention this to my meditation teacher, Paul.
“Oh she does love you,” Paul replies … continuing on to tell me, in the most loving way imaginable, that I have a habit of “getting in my own way.”
This is not news.
When I ask him what I can do about it, his answer is simple. Consistent. The same answer he has given me for nearly 15 years — the amount of time I have known him.
Meditate. Twice a day.
For a long time, I have sat only in the mornings.
“Try twice,” he says, reminding me that meditation is “plugging in to the source.”
I offer up a few reasons why I cannot, but they fall flat.
“Just do it.”
So I do.
I sit. I close my eyes. And very gently, I begin to say the mantra. Pleasurable, physical sensations wash over me in waves — as they often do when I meditate.
Twenty minutes pass quickly and I open my eyes refreshed, recommitted and wondering why I haven’t been doing this all along.
Less than an hour later I receive a donation to my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.” It is more than generous. A game changer. The donor asks to remain anonymous, listing the funds as coming from “The Kind and Generous Universe.” Because really, they do …
Is this the God of magic and serendipity and coincidence? Perhaps. Regardless, I’ve been meditating twice daily ever since …
I’m still $307 away from my fundraising goal. My campaign ends in 16 days — when I leave for Girona, to attend a writers retreat with the intention of manifesting blog into book deal, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”
Want to know more about”They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — How 52 Artist Dates healed my heart and landed me smack in the center of my own life. A post-divorce narrative offering the option of a happy ending, no partner required — and how to support it? Click here: https://www.gofundme.com/awanderingjewess
More words of thanks for those who have supported my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a happily-ever-after, after divorce story, sans romance –and my dream of manifesting blog into book deal.
Last night I had the privilege of reading my work at Nikki Nigl’s AboutWomen in Chicago.
“I began having experiences instead of talking about them.”
I never know what words will resonate with an audience. This time it was clear, as this quote was posted on Facebook later in the evening.
I’ve talked about publishing a book for a long time. Now I’m ready to have the experience of it. Many thanks to Dana Harmon for her generous contribution, which brings me one step closer … (to) my dream of turning my experiences — my weekly Artist Dates, chronicled at http://www.awanderingjewess.com — into a book about the possibilities of happily going it alone after divorce.
(With Nikki, at AboutWomen.)
I forget that the universe is busy working on my behalf, even when I’m not working. In fact, sometimes it does its best work when I am at rest …
I was reminded of this truth this afternoon when I (uncharacteristically) sprawled out on the couch, listening to an interview about creativity with writer Elizabeth Gilbert.
I dozed off for about 20 minutes. When I awoke, I was met by a notification of a donation from my dear friend, Nikki Nigl.
Nikki packed 90 percent of my life into two suitcases and two carry-ons nearly one year ago, thus preparing me for my move to Madrid. She picked me up at O’Hare when I returned home 15 days ago. In between, she sent packages with what I couldn’t easily buy in Spain (travel-size toothpaste, Weight Watchers journals) and notes of inspiration. I’m fond of saying “Everyone needs a Nikki Nigl in their life.”
Many thanks Nikki for all that you do … and for taking my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign past the $1,250 mark. The retreat — where I will meet with literary and film professionals to transform my blog into a book — is now half funded. My goal is to have it completely funded ($2,500) when I send the manuscript to my retreat mentor on September 1.
(Notes from Nikki. I “found” these in the pockets of my winter coat … which she sent to me in Madrid.)
I learned to meditate more than 14 years ago . I brought flowers and fruit as an offering for receiving my mantra. And I remember asking my friend and teacher, Paul Brown, how it was he “made a living” as a meditation teacher.
“I don’t know, honey bunny,” he said. “I just do. Money comes to me.”
It sounded ridiculous at the time. It was a hard idea to wrap my head around. Sometimes it still is. And yet, I find it is true in my life too … as evidenced by the success of my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign and Paul’s recent contribution to it. Muchas, muchas gracias a mi amigo y mi profesor.
I believe we attract abundance to us when we do our soul’s work. For me, that work is telling my story — of how I found a happy ending after divorce … even without “getting the guy.” I didn’t see many models for this when my marriage ended … so when romance eluded me I had to forge my own path. Little did I know it would be such a rich and satisfying one. One that would lead me back to myself. The self I had lost along the way without even knowing it.
(Paul and I in Golden Gate Park … post mediation glow.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
First day of school.
How much do I love my girls in Chicago? How much do they love me? Thanks for lifting me up. XOXO
(Meme from aforementioned great love – posted to my page)
We can skip the wine.”
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.
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…
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.
Trust. Just got my hair cut by someone named Pepe. He does not speak English. I hardly speak Spanish. I think we did okay.
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.
DONE! When they handed out the certificates, they dubbed me Lesley~I will conquer Spain~Pearl. Your collective mouth to God’s ear.
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.
(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…
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.
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.
I am nearly seven years sober and I am sitting in a bar by myself. On its face, this does not sound like a good thing. Except that it is a very good thing.
I’m at Story Club – a monthly “live literature” event where three featured performers tell true-life stories, and three audience members, invited up at random – their names pulled from a monkey carved out of a coconut, the words “Have Fun” scrawled onto the base – do the same. Artist Date 81.
My feet are slick with massage oil and slosh around in my orange peep-toe wedges. My head throbs, a reminder of the two cysts I had removed from my scalp just this morning.
I take a seat at a table up front, and immediately wonder if I should sit on a stool at the bar instead – where “singles” sit. Even though I have trouble seeing and hearing and engaging when I am that far from the stage.
I wonder if I should see if I can join another party of one at one of the banquettes against the wall.
I wonder if it is ok to take up this much space – me alone. It is a question that has haunted me my entire life.
I stay at the table, order a club soda with lime juice, pull out my reading glasses and dive into my book.
I am sitting at a bar alone with a club soda and a book.
At the table to my right, a gaggle of girls talk about San Francisco. About writing. And about a secret Facebook group of women writers – 26,000 strong.
I want to tell them I used to live in San Francisco. That I too have been wooed into the fold of these female wordsmiths. That they both excite and frighten me. And that I’m not even sure how I came to know them. But I say nothing.
My name is pulled from the coconut monkey – the first of the evening. I climb to the stage, take a breath and begin reading…”The waxy brown cotton of my lapa feels soft between my fingers. Like my body. Like my heart.”
My voice is sing-song-y and gentle. A heightened version of what I call my massage voice. It is sweet and loving, lilting and melodic. It tells you the things you wish your mother had told you. That you are human. That you are lovely. That you are good.
I hear my poetry professor Catherine Kaikowska reading her work – perched on top of a desk. Her legs crossed, Diet Coke in hand. Hair wild. “Deja-rendevous. Deja rende, rendezvous.” Hypnotic. I could swim in her voice.
But I would like to drown my own. I have fallen out of love with it. My voice. My story. Just this moment. I am bored with it. All of it.
I have not written about love and pain and loss. I have not written about sex. I have written about my connection to my body, to my spirit. It feels esoteric. Less familiar. Less sexy.
I have left out the juicy bits. The part about tearing off my lapa – my West African dance skirt – and jumping into a pond naked with my crush after the sweat lodge. The part about him plucking me out of the water – naked – when my strength failed me and I could not pull myself onto the high dock.
I have not written about any of it. I have not given him a clever moniker and chronicled the story of my heart. I have held it instead. Held my heart. Held my words. It feels unfamiliar. Untrue. It is the story I am used to telling.
But tonight, James and Carmen tell it instead.
James (AKA GPA – Greatest Poet Alive) who has committed to memory the story of Maria breaking his 5th-grade heart when she circled “no” in response to the query in his note – “Will you be my girlfriend? Yes? No?” Not even a maybe. Not even a spritz of Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel to the paper could sway her.
Carmen who invites us into her bedroom and her psyche at the moment when her friend with benefits asked her to talk dirty to him in Spanish. Her words are funny and irreverent, honest and sad. She rolls her Rs and says things like, “Aye, Poppi.” She feels like a caricature.
They are storytellers.
I fear that I am not. That I am only a writer. At least right now.
Carmen – one of the gaggle of girls talking about San Francisco and the secret group of women writers – tells me otherwise. As does James, when we gather together after the final performance.
My story is lush, he says. That he closed his eyes while I read. Listened to my words. Let my voice paint the pictures for him.
He let my lilting, sing-song-y massage voice – the voice that tells you that you are human, that you are lovely, that you are good – my storyteller’s voice, tell him a new story.
“Today is celebrated as Guru Purnimah, Full Moon of the Guru. One honors one’s spiritual lineage.”
My meditation teacher, Paul Brown AKA Paul Edward Blackburn, posted this on Facebook today along with a story from one of his associates upon meeting his teacher, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
This is my story of meeting my teacher.
I am standing at the bar at a swanky anniversary party. I order a glass of champagne. Paul looks at me, smiles, and says, “We’re going to be friends.”
He says this as if nothing could be more obvious. And nothing can be more obvious.
He is tall, with a shock of white-blonde hair and blue eyes that I want to swim in – elementary backstroke, gentle, looking up at the sun. I don’t know if he is gay or if I am in love or both.
Over dinner he tells me about Transcendental Meditation. (Now commonly called Vedic Meditation.) He tells me about meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – John, Paul, George and Ringo’s teacher – in Spain. He tells me he would like to teach me to meditate.
On the ride home I inform my husband that I will be learning to meditate. It is one of our first and few disagreements about money. We don’t have much as I have recently left a job in public relations and am answering phones at a massage school for $12/hour while I build my budding bodywork practice.
Meditation seems an unnecessary extravagance, but he relents.
I arrive at Paul’s home – a bungalow that he shares with his roommate Mikey, who runs an old-school soda fountain in Berkeley, California – carrying pears and oranges and a mess of star-gazer lilies, offerings for my initiation.
We place the fruit and flowers on a silver tray, next to a photograph of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, on an altar Paul has created. And he lights a stick of incense.
The rest is a blur.
I receive a mantra which Paul had chosen for me. He says it. I repeat it. He says it again. I repeat it again. And so we continue for 20 minutes. Saying the words to one another, and then eventually to ourselves.
I feel dizzy. And then like I am flying. I notice every sensation of my body. I feel like I have experienced this before, as a young girl…but I did not have words for it then. Or I did, but they sounded strange and silly. The feeling and the imagery is exactly the same – I am a cube of ice suspended from dental floss tied to a toothpick. Both heavy and light at the same time. And nothing more.
We finish the meditation with the words, “Jai Guru Dev. Thank you, Beloved Teacher.” And then count backwards from 100 to zero, allowing ourselves to settle back into this time and space.
When we are done, Paul makes me a martini – heavy on the vermouth, and we sit at the dining table with Mikey while he eats his dinner, sans shirt. And when he is done, he plays the guitar for us.
A few weeks later Paul teaches my husband to meditate – gratis. It is his gift to us. He thinks it is important that we be able to meditate together.
We meditate in the sun in our pajamas, camping in a field up in wine country. And on a rock face in Lake Tahoe, where we back-packed in for several days. My husband suggests we take off our watches while we are here. I agree but ask, “How will we know when we are done?” (This form of meditation is traditionally done for 20 minutes – once in the morning, once in the evening.) He laughs and replies, “We will be done when we are done.”
It seems like a radical notion.
We do this together for many years. And then we don’t. Our schedules change. He falls away from the practice. And then, we are no longer a we.
My practice changes and morphs too, and probably can no longer be classified as true Transcendental or Vedic Meditation. I add different prayers and “count” them towards my 20 minutes. At the request of a sick friend, I repeat a Durga (Hindu Goddess) mantra 108 times, at the time of her morning meditation. I let my evening practice fall away and lean exclusively into my morning sitting.
What remains true, 12 years since my initiation, is what Paul promised me early on – when I ask him how his life is different since learning to meditate. He thinks about it and replies, “I just think I have a really good and sweet and beautiful life, Honey Bunny.”
The waxy brown cotton of my lapa feels soft between my fingers. Like my body. Like my heart.
I thought the African skirt would become this way over time, as I danced in it – but it remained rigid and stiff. Until today, when, in the dark and heat of the sweat lodge – Artist Date 79 – it softened, pinning itself to my body.
I roll the fabric between my fingers like rosary or prayer beads. I feel the moisture accumulate between my breasts – grateful for their small size. Grateful for the darkness to peel off my sports bra, unnoticed, and let my t-shirt from the Knoxville Farmers’ Market cover me. Given my druthers I would wear nothing. But I respect the modesty requested at this ceremonial gathering of men and women.
I close my eyes, breathe in the sweet sage, and fix my ears on the beating drum and the sound of my friend Paul’s voice.
It has been a journey just getting here.
I arrive despite a blinding thunderstorm, the need for on-the-road car repairs, and a bit of information which shakes my sense of perception and causes me to question if this is right for me, right now. And with the aid and calm of friends who ferry me to and from.
I walk about a quarter of a mile through wet, freshly mown grass to where the lodge is set up – my orange, peep-toe wedges gathering silky, green slivers.
I remember wearing these shoes through Rwanda two summers ago – collecting the red earth of the land of 10,000 hills between my toes – and recalling Patsy and Edina schlepping their Louis Vuitton bags through sand in the Morocco episode of the BBC’s Absolutely Fabulous. Dragging my rolling suitcase filled with towels, sweat and apres-sweat clothes, I feel like a bit actor in the Sweat Lodge episode.
Paul is draping blankets over the hut he constructed out of river willows – collected from his sister and brother-in-law’s property a few miles away. Rocks are heating in a pit outside of the lodge, and he has built an altar from the dirt inside of it.
Paul is the third in a line of spiritual teachers with the same name. The first being my university religious-studies professor, the second, the one who taught me to meditate – leading me through initiation with an offering of fruit, flowers (star gazers, my favorite) and the bestowing of a mantra.
Our paths have been crisscrossing for most of our lives. We agree the universe has been conspiring for us to meet.
There are eight of us, the last arriving in a John Deere Gator Utility Vehicle. She looks like an African Queen, regal in her loose batik dress with dragonflies on it, her grey hair braided at the temples and wrapped around her head like a crown. Her face is at once both sad and serene.
She reminds Paul they have been in ceremony together – with her former partner. The break-up is obviously fresh.
Words tumble out of my mouth about divorce, change and the painful nature of endings – no matter how right or how kind. How people will say all sorts of stupid things. And that she is, no doubt, on the precipice of some sort of adventure. She smiles in a way that tells me she has lived a thousand lifetimes and knows that this kind of pain is just part of it. That she has chosen this and is not fighting it.
I mention that I wasn’t sure I would make it here today. That I wasn’t sure it was right for me, right now. “Until now. You are why I am here.”
Paul smudges each of us with sage and we enter the lodge on our hands and knees, proclaiming “Aho Matakuye O’yasin – Greetings, All My Relations.”
I remember Patsy smudging my ex and I when she officiated our marriage. And me doing the same for my friend Chase when her divorce was final, smudging the entire house – making it “her own” again.
It is hot and humid inside. I feel a wave of nausea wash over me as Paul explains what will happen in ceremony.
Rocks. Herbs. Water.
Chanting. Praying. Smoking.
Connectedness to the earth. To one another. To ourselves.
I am afraid. Afraid of the total darkness. Afraid of what I might feel, what might “come up.” Afraid I cannot physically or psychologically endure this – even though Paul has assured us that this will be a “gentle sweat.”
But the heat is like a balm – different from the still Midwestern humidity that settled heavy around me just moments before. The drumming and chanting force all thoughts from my mind. I only hear my friend’s voice – strong, confident, prayerful – and the African Queen’s. It is sweet and slippery and hard to hold on to. But very much there. Just as I feel her, very much there, next to me.
Everything softens. My body. My brain. My lapa. I feel the sweat sliding down my body and I am deliriously in love with it. This body I have fought for so much of my life. That has brought me here and is sustaining me today. It is strong and small and very, very feminine. I feel my hands pressing into the earth beneath me. My legs. My feet. My ass. The soft dampness of moist earth is flesh, the spiky grass is hair and we are one.
I pray for my stepfather and my two girlfriends who are battling mightily. And I ask for prayers for myself. For compassion and acceptance for myself, for where I am, not where I think I should be. My voice cracks and I add, “May we all have compassion and acceptance for ourselves and for one another.”
I pray for the man who hurt my heart not so long ago. I call out his name when I am certain no one can hear me.
I smoke from the Chanupa — the sacred, ceremonial pipe. Sober nearly seven years, my addict is awakened.
I am back in college, sitting in a circle. My friend Brian stirs the bowl and lights it while I suck in all that I can, holding it in my lungs. I converse easily while I do this – like one of the big boys.
But I am not talking. And this is not weed. It is tobacco, although it tastes like juniper and pine. It is ceremony. It is holy. It is community. It is what I longed for, sitting in a circle like this, so many years ago.
I weep in the darkness. I am certain no one can hear my dying animal letting go. And it is over.
We crawl out on our hands and knees, just as we had entered, saying “Aho Matakuye O’yasin – Greetings, All My Relations,” once again.
Paul greets each of us with an embrace, and we greet one another in the same way. The African Queen’s eyes are wordlessly different. Lighter. As if the color has changed. She presses me tightly to her.
The group walks towards the house for a celebratory feast, but I stay behind and wait for Paul.
While I am waiting, I do cartwheels around the lodge. One after the other after the other, until I feel dizzy. I feel the pull of my pelvis – the source of chronic pain – and I welcome it. I feel the lightness of my body, of my mind and I welcome it, give thanks for and to it.
I had believed I was here to meet the African Queen. That was only half of the truth. In the stillness of the after-lodge, I know its other half, its twin — I was here to meet myself. “Aho Matakuye O’yasin — Greetings, All My Relations.”
The words tumbled out of my Rabbi’s mouth. Innocuous. More a statement than a question. Nearly an afterthought as we wrapped up our monthly meeting.
“I…I think so,” I stammered.
We stared at one another. There it was. The truth. It fell flat on the floor, spreading out in the space between us. Consuming. Shocking.
We’d spent an awful lot of time talking about relationships over the years. Talking about my fathers – both of them, the biological one and the one who raised me, my Dad. My husband – now my ex. The smattering of men who had come in and out of my life since the dissolution of my marriage.
My Divorce Buddy. The one I talked to each night, into the wee hours of the morning. Half a country apart. Both of us alone, in the dark, navigating our way through the sometimes messy endings of marriage.
The Southern Svengali. Genius artist in a Johnny Cash t-shirt. He guided me through Charleston and my last visit with my biological mother before she died. Pressed his lips against mine and nothing more. Called me “Lil Pearl” and taught me how to be a better artist.
And most recently, the man I have affectionately come to call Mr. 700 Miles – referring to the physical distance between us. In our hearts…it is just inches. But in our lives… oceans and continents apart. He is clearly, plainly, 100 percent unavailable.
Separated, but not quite divorced. ”Kinda dating” someone in his own zip code. He is finding his own center – spiritually, emotionally, creatively – and his own truth. Work I have already done. Work I continue to do.
And yet, when we talk or Skype, there is a familiarity that speaks of karmic attachments and lives shared. Quite simply, I am in love with his heart.
He is, what my friend Rainey calls, a pretend boyfriend. They all are.
She uses the words in a matter-of-fact way that implies everyone has one. Has had one. Like a cell phone or email address.
Deep friendship. Emotional intimacy. Trust.
Companionship. Connectedness. A shared sense of not being alone even though you are – when you are one instead of two.
But without a physical dimension, or a commitment to anything more.
She assures me that she has had several over the years. And that sometimes, pretend boyfriends become real boyfriends. But mostly they are pretend.
This has been my experience too. Although I am usually too blinded by hope to see it at the time.
Good for practice. For reminding me of my loveliness. What it feels like to be close. And allowing me to believe in possibilities.
No good at all in moments when my bed feels cold and lonely. When I want nothing more than to feel arms wrapped around me.
Downright disastrous when I bring expectations of a real relationship to it.
My friend Kerry called me out on my penchant for pretend boyfriends this past weekend. He wanted to know what I was afraid of. Why I wouldn’t try online dating. Why I wouldn’t make myself available to someone who is available.
I felt sick inside.
“I don’t want to be left,” I said quietly in a voice that did not seem my own.
Was I referring to my partner of 15 years “leaving me?” My birth parents “leaving me?”
Or was it me leaving myself? Pushing aside my art, my values and my aspirations for someone else. Someone who never asked me to. And for something else – a relationship. Believing that alone I was somehow less valuable.
Earlier that day, I left a voicemail for one of my girlfriends. “I want a real boyfriend. Not a pretend one. I just had to say that out loud,” I announced into the digital abyss.
And I do. Someone who is here. Who I can physically feel. His lips over mine. His breath on my neck. His hands on my body.
Someone to hold on to me. And who I can hold on to.
Someone to eat with. Sleep with. Dance with.
A partner. An equal. Someone I can grow with. Grow old with.
But I want me more. The chance to be with myself. To not leave again.
Yes, I want a real boyfriend. I just don’t want one yet.
My friend Dina calls it “shaking the Coke bottle.”
That feeling when “nothing” is going on. When life doesn’t feel sexy. When I am going about my business doing what other people do. Grocery shopping. Paying bills. Taking out the trash. And, seemingly, not much else.
I don’t like it. Given my druthers, every day would be my birthday, New Years’ Eve and the 4th of July all wrapped into one. (Actually, I don’t really care for either of these holidays, but they speak to the notion of fireworks and something shiny, new.)
I want to make “something happen.” Anything. Ergo, Dina’s Coke bottle. I imagine it as glass, and filled with soda made from sugar, not corn syrup – before it was retro. My thumb covering the opening. Fingers wrapped around the body. Shaking violently and knowing when I let up a spray of sticky sweetness will shower me, and anyone in my midst.
Sounds great, actually. The sweet spray, that is. Trouble is, the mess. And the dreaded clean-up. Sticky residue.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way series, writes that “too much drama equals not enough work.”
There is no drama right now. Not enough work either. Correction, it is there. I just don’t seem to be doing it.
Entering billable time for the past month. A tedious and mundane task that will take me, at best, 45 minutes.
Submitting two pieces – already written – for publication. Their titles and the word “pitch,” scrawled on my white board months ago and never erased.
Tackling the looming job search.
What I am doing is writing. This is a good thing. (Consider that the word “write” is tattooed on my right, inner wrist. “Left” on the opposite.)
Except when it keeps me from taking small actions that chip away at what appear large and overwhelming tasks. When it keeps me from making those satisfying little check marks on my to-do list.
This morning, while journaling my morning pages, I gave words to the hidden fear that the Coke-bottle fantasy seeks to remedy, or at the least, cover up.
That I will run out of subject matter to write about. My blog will grow dry and fallow. My life will grow dry and fallow. I will grow dry and fallow.
There is no romance. No big, new job. No decadent travel in the works. There is “nothing” going on.
What I forget is, when I do what’s in front of me, the rest, somehow, seems to magically take care of itself. And often, sexy little gifts from the universe emerge – if I choose to see them that way.
Strangely, it is not a linear process. A plus B does not equal C.
It is like weight loss.
There are weeks when I do everything “right,” the scale registers a gain and I call it a liar. And weeks when I do everything “wrong.” It shows a loss. And I thank the weight-loss goddess and keep on moving. When this happens to my Weight Watchers members, I remind them that it is what they do most of the time that matters.
Or like marketing. My spiritual business teacher insisted that we students reach out to 20 people a day and speak our vision – what we do, what we offer, what we promise.
“I am a massage therapist and bodyworker. I help people fall in love with their bodies, take care of their bodies, and do things they never imagined possible.” Twenty times a day.
When I did this, clients came to me. Not a single one directly from the outreach. But from other places. The universe answering my call. Proof that energy begets energy.
Or, as my friend Teresa used to tell me, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Or, eventually something is going to happen.
So today, I will do what is in front of me. I will lead two Weight Watchers meetings. Meet for another informational interview. Go to a friend’s gallery opening.
I might even drop an email to my friend Steven about a trip to Italy we’ve been considering.
As I commit to this not-so-sexy stuff, the footwork, I feel my grip loosen – fully aware that the sticky, sweet will go flat. But that my life has not. Even if it sometimes feels that way.
Post Script. I met a milliner at tonight’s art opening. She shared that she used to make hats full-time, but that she had to get a “real job” when she got divorced. She found one, with great benefits and vacation. And that leaves her time and energy enough to continue to make hats.
“We’re looking to hire,” she offered. I smiled at the synchronicity. I told her our situations are strikingly similar, handed her my card, and asked if we might talk further.
Sexy little gift from the universe. And no clean up.
Feathered, 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.
And 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.
A 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.