Artist Date 4.2: Trumps Fatigue

tom j steppenwolfI have not waited tables in more than 20 years. Until today.

As expected, not a lot has changed. Waiting tables remains a satisfying exercise in short-term relationships, being sassy and being shiny. Except orders go in via computer now as opposed to directly on the rail.

And my body has something to say about it.

After six-plus hours on the floor, I hurt in all the places I expected to. And some I didn’t.

My shins ache. And although I haven’t eaten in hours, I’m not hungry.

In about 18 hours I leave for Tennessee to visit my mother. I haven’t packed.

And yet, I am flying down Lincoln Avenue in a red and white polka-dot skirt, Fly London Wedges and bubble-gum pink lipstick. My bike lights are on. My heart is full. I feel happy.

Art trumps fatigue. Friendship trumps fatigue. Commitment trumps fatigue.

And so I land here, in a seat at the Steppenwolf Theatre. Artist Date 4.2 (or 120, depending on how you count).

It is the student showcase – the culmination of 10 weeks of classes at the School of the Steppenwolf Theatre. My friend Tom, one of the students, mentioned this a week or so ago. I penciled it in my book and assured him I’d be there.

Tom has built me a dining room table. Installed my air-conditioner. And is also a fan, dare I say devotee, of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

I was never not going to be here.

Even though I thought about it. Even though my shins had other ideas.

One-hundred twenty Artist Dates under my belt and I’m still shocked how every single one shifts me. That the commitment in my calendar means something. My commitment to my blog. To myself. And in this instance, my friend.

That every time I begin, I feel delighted. Joyous. Like my heart might burst. No matter how or what I was feeling 20 minutes earlier.

That it really takes so little to make me happy … other than me treating me. Leaving behind the shoulds and have-tos for a little while.

Like when my aunt whisked me away on a few hours shopping excursion during a lull in the weekend of my brother’s Bar Mitzvah celebration. She thought perhaps a certain 10-year-old with a Dorothy Hamill wedge might enjoy one-on-one attention, and some fancy new duds for middle school – which she had gift-wrapped after we picked them out.

Going on an Artist Date is like that. Like being Aunt Ellie to my 10-year-old self.

Except I’m 46. My shins hurt. And I’ve grown up enough to have space and attention for the person on stage.

I didn’t for my brother. I was only 10.

But I do for Tom.

When the lights go up and the entire ensemble takes a bow, I jump to my feet along with half of the audience. Clapping wildly. Tears streaming down my face.

Pride? Joy? For someone else’s joy? Someone else’s accomplishment? Someone else’s art? Someone else’s heart?

I think Tom sees me – wet-faced and flared nostrils – but really, I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter. Because I can see him. All of him.

Because when I care for myself, I can care for and about others.

And unlike waiting tables … that has changed.

 

Artist Date 53: You Don’t Say

I used to swear like a sailor.  It was part of my tough-talking, cigarette-smoking, don’t-mess-with-this-Jew personae – affectionately known by my newspaper colleagues as “Brooklyn Les.”

Until I got hired by Weight Watchers.  My friend, and mentor Stan told me I would need to watch my mouth.  That I might think people thin-skinned, but that not everyone cottons to the liberal and casual use of the word fuck.

I trusted him, and learned to curb my four-letter tongue.  I found the more I didn’t use those words in the workplace, the more they slipped away from my vocabulary entirely.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still like a well-placed fuck.  (Double entendre not intended, but appreciated.)   Especially the unexpected sort that shocks.

tribes

Like in Tribes.  Artist Date 53 at the Steppenwolf Theatre.

The word punctuates each breath of the play’s first lines, followed by cunt and a graphic, fairly vulgar description of the much-older object of Ruth’s affection.

Uproarious laughter covers a collective gasp.  There is a shared sense of ok-ness.  That we have chosen our mores.  That we have agreed upon this use of language.

I am a part of this conscious collective too.  But I don’t feel that way.  I am self-consciously aware of feeling “not a part of.”  Disconnected.  The word rattling in my head since I lost Internet connectivity minutes before leaving the house.

It is exacerbated by the series of phone calls I make while driving that dump me into voicemail.  And even more so by the conversation to my right, once in my seat.  Flanked by two couples, I listen as they share highlights of their collective creative genius.  She leads workshops teaching artists how to write grants.  He is a photographer.  The other she is an actress.

I am envious.  Irritated.  It does not occur to me that I am a writer.  That I too have a creative genius.  One that connects me to others every time I engage it.  I am, as my friends like to say, looking for the differences.  All of the places where I don’t measure up.  At least in my mind.  I have been all day.

This afternoon, interviewing with a recruiting firm — really more of a temp-to-permanent staffing agency.

I went in worried about not wearing a suit.

I haven’t owned one in more than 12 years.  Ever since I traded prestige for peace of mind and left a nearly six-figure job to answer phones at a massage school for $12/hour and 50 percent off future classes – supplementing my new cobbled-together career as a massage therapist and Weight Watchers leader.

It had not occurred to me that my plaid, Pendlelton coat and patterned spectators might be the least of my concerns.

All around me – on both sides of employment table – are “kids.”  They appear to be born the same year I graduated from high school.

I lose myself in self-conscious concern.  About my age, my appearance, that I have not looked for work in 12 years.  And when the questions come about desired salary, and ideal work environment, I stammer.

Photo by Sandro. Steppenwolf Theatre.
Photo by Sandro. Steppenwolf Theatre.

Like Daniel in Tribes, when his sense of security – false or not – is taken from him and he reverts to old patterns.

The old tendency to try to be what you need me rushes in.  People pleasing.  Like Billy, learning to read lips rather than pushing his family to learn to sign – which seems selfish, at the least inconvenient, and might make them uncomfortable.

It is an old behavior and yet it sneaks back in as effortlessly as the fucks that can still fly from my mouth.  I feel tired and small.  And sort of stupid.  Even though I know that none of that is true.

But suddenly not so separate.  I see myself in bits of the universal dysfunction unraveling on stage.

I am like Beth.  A tentative, later-in-life writer.  Like Christopher.  Using bluster and swagger to cover up my own not knowing.  Like Ruth.  Looking for love.  Except I no longer ask “What is wrong with me?” while sobbing in my mother’s arms.

Nor do I succumb to the urge to call a boy I know while driving home, when the separateness has returned to me.  A boy fighting demons far greater than my own right now.  A boy who could never give me what I want – which right now is nothing more than to be held.  I know that this is beyond his capabilities – so I think better than to ask for it.

Age, experience – it is grace.

Once home, I write a note to my friend Melinda, as I do most nights – sharing an inventory of my day via email.  I will receive hers in the morning.

Connectivity has been restored.  To the Internet.  To my friend.  To my truth.