I’m smiling as I write this. Perhaps because it means I am “in the game.” I’ve taken another step into a vulnerable and unknown place in publishing.
Last week I began putting “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” in the hands (inboxes, really) of literary agents, hoping one will find this post-divorce memoir with the possibility of a happy ending – no partner required – compelling enough to represent.
It’s taken a long time to get here, far longer than I imagined.
It was a little more than two years ago that I sat in the drawing room of my Madrid apartment and asked the universe for guidance. It came in the form of a single email from an old beau – an introduction to the Rocaberti Castle Writers’ Retreat – and called all of my “one day-s” to task. Did I really believe a blog chronicling my path from desperate divorcee to European ex-pat – told through the lens of a weekly solo sojourn – could be a book? Was I willing to find out?
I decided to say yes … and so did many readers who funded my trip to the castle that fall.
Upon my return, I began working one-on-one with my retreat writing coach. I developed a proposal (story summary, audience analysis, competitive landscape and marketing concepts), a chapter-by-chapter outline and agent query. I spit-shined the introduction and two other chapters and made a list of target agents and a spreadsheet to track my communications.
Last Sunday night – filled with doubt and trepidation, my heart racing – I hit send. At that moment, I truly understood impostor syndrome for the first time. Who was I to pitch a writing project – my writing project – to an agent, anyway?
A few years ago I read that most people would rather fail by not trying than by trying.
I get that. And thankfully, I’ve never wanted to be “most people.”
When I received this note on Tuesday, I was assured I wasn’t.
“Dear Lesley, Thank you so much for querying me. “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain: How 52 Solo Sojourns Healed My Heart and Helped Me Write My Own Happy Ending (No Partner Required) sounds like an interesting project, but I’m afraid I’m going to pass on looking at more. My client list is very full, forcing me to be extremely selective about taking on anyone new at the moment. But please do keep querying other agents, and I wish you all the best with your writing career.”
I’ve taken this agent’s counsel and have continued to query. Meanwhile, a friend suggested I keep all of my rejection letters … “You can have fun with them later,” he wrote. “Maybe include them in the preface in future books.”
Five years ago today I boarded a plane bound for Kigali.
I was in the middle of a divorce I didn’t quite see coming, and certain I had no idea of where I was going, other than to Africa — a place I had dreamed of visiting since I was a child.
Several months earlier I had signed up to join a group of volunteers from my synagogue, working with two AIDS service organizations in the Rwandan capital. Little did I know that there — under my mosquito net in the wee hours of the morning — I would reclaim my voice as a writer, that I would succumb to the siren of the blue-light glow of my computer to tell the stories of my experiences on my blog — http://www.awanderingjewess.com.
I had secured the blog address about the same time I secured my place on the trip and had a vague notion that I might write about the road to becoming a rabbi. Instead I wrote about the road to Bombogo – a village on the outskirts of Kigali — where students learned to create kitchen gardens that would feed their families.
I wrote about house visits with social worker and part-time saint, Mary Grace, and her clients. The reed thin woman who sat in the dark, her face illuminated by a hole in the metal roof, who was unsure how she would feed her family now that her rabbits — her source of both food and income — had been stolen. And the robust one who replied to the missionary offering to help her build a roof, “Roof? I need a house!” and then built one for her and her daughters, and then another — thus becoming a landlord.
I wrote about painting walls and filling prescription packets. Dancing with a professional troupe in a style close to the one I had been studying for years. And about a room full of girls all with shaved heads, curious about the “Muzungo” with the same “do.”
The trip that began on Independence Day 2012 returned me to my craft after a 15-year hiatus, changing the trajectory of both my life and my blog. It led me to write about my experiences post-divorce, about dating, and mostly not dating — taking myself on solo excursions AKA Artist Dates instead — and ultimately moving to Madrid, the basis for “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”
I recently sent an update on the status of this project, one year after launching it. Many thanks to Tanya Gazdik Irwin, Jan Mekula and AJ Benham who responded to the update with contributions to the “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign.
The “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign was created to defray the costs of the Rocaberti Castle Writers Retreat which I attended in the fall of 2016. Additional contributions have been used to pay for coaching sessions with Debra Engle, my retreat mentor, who is guiding me in the process of taking my writing from blog to book to screen.
With gratitude for those who have supported my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain — How 52 Artist Dates Healed My Heart and Landed Me In the Center of My Life.” For those I have know in Spain and in Chicago. For those who have loved me enough to tell me the truth about myself. For those who have brought me to my fundraising goal! Muchas gracias.
I spent some time on the phone this morning, talking with a woman I’ve known for a long time but haven’t spoken to in years. She had recently opened an old email address inbox and happened upon a history of my blog posts.
“You inspire me,” she said, having read them. “You really do take lemons and make lemonade.”
I was touched and humbled by her words. And a bit tickled by the divine timing of our conversation. I’ve been thinking a lot about the people who inspire me. Not by grand heroics, but just by going about their days — stepping fully into their lives with a generous heart, and showing me what is possible.
People like Lynn Merel.
Lynn doesn’t love winter. But rather than grouse about the inevitable, she has arranged her life to spend the worst Chicago months in warmer climates.
She is a working artist. Lynn paints, and makes paper and greeting cards. (Check out http://www.lynnmerelart.com!) When I converted to Judaism in 2011 — committing to the faith I was raised with but not born into — she planted a tree in Israel in my honor.
People like Meghan Harkins.
Meg is an actor and a musician. She gives great hugs. Teaches kids ukelele and piano. And has been known to send a text from the train, inviting me on an impromptu Artist Date to the Art Institute for free-after-5 p.m. Thursdays.
We recently had a conversation about money and miracles. The power of saying no to work that doesn’t serve you. And the gift of giving money away.
Like she did by contributing to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign. Like Lynn did too.
Muchas gracias, mis amigas. For your generosity. And for showing me abundance and possibility in living a creative life.
Adjective. anon·y·mous ə-ˈnä-nə-məs
1: of unknown authorship or origin
2: not named or identified
3: lacking individuality, distinction, or recognizability
(Source: Meriam-Webster’s Learning Dictionary)
To date, I have received 69 donations to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign. Many of them are anonymous (not to me, but externally facing) — definition two. But of those, none are three.
Their stories, how I know them — not how we met, but how we “know” one another — are distinct enough to render them no longer “unrecognizable.” So I won’t tell them here. But I know them. And they do too.
Connections and tales that span the globe. From Madrid to the Midwest. All along the left coast and across all aspects of my life. The movies in my heart — that I know by heart.
I feel recognized (further dismantling definition three) — truly seen — by their generous support. As I am. As a writer.
Muchas gracias, sweet friends. You know who you are …
My “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign is fully funded!!
As I wrote early this morning on Facebook, I am in awe. Humbled and honored by the support around me and this project. Graced by this opportunity.
This is not the update I imagined writing today.
I had one planned about the friends who love you enough to tell you the truth about yourself. Like my friend Kiki who generously doles out servings of no-nonsense affection and reflection in her kitchen, along with a side of her killer homemade soup.
Like my friend Pam, who is both a truth-teller and a channel for my 12-year-old self. We can talk about “boys” for hours and laugh so hard I pee myself. (I only did that once!)
I had one planned about friends who witnessed my life in Spain. Like Lindsey, who flew from Chicago to Madrid and joined me in exploring Malaga, Granada and Tangier. Who carried an inflated mattress across town with me — her bed while staying in the capital city. And watched me clumsily communicate in the South of Spain, insisting I do in fact speak Spanish.
Like Nicole, who I knew only a little while living in Chicago … but who made time to meet me at Mox in Malansaña (one of Madrid’s funkiest neighborhoods) for an American-sized salad. And who I have grown to know more deeply since returning “home.”
But instead, I woke this morning to an $86 donation (the exact amount necessary to meet my $4,250 goal) and these words from Harriett Kelly, “Go write your book!” I laid in bed for a while, tears streaming down my cheeks — laughing and crying.
Thank you, Pam. Thank you, Kiki. Thank you, Lindsey. Thank you, Nicole. And thank you, Harriett. For your generous donations. And for supporting my dream and my story — a post-divorce narrative with the possibility of a happy ending, no partner required. One you can write yourself. Like I did.
Yes, Harriett … “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain: How 52 Artist Dates Healed My Heart and Landed Me In the Center of My Life” is written. The manuscript was sent to my writing retreat mentor at the beginning of September.
Next stop is Girona — where I will meet with an editor and other publishing professionals whose job it is to tell me the truth about my work. (Thanks for the training, Kiki!) What I need to do to bring my story to market. And how to manifest a book deal.
I leave in 13 days. I’ll send “postcards” and updates from the road here.
I’ve been asked if the campaign is still open for donations. Yes! Any additional funds raised will be used to support the publication and promotion of “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.” Think book tour! Want to know more about”They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain?” Click here: https://www.gofundme.com/awanderingjewess
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
With gratitude for those who have supported my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a post-divorce narrative with an option for a happy ending, no partner required. For those who are open to possibility and serendipity. Who celebrate lovely. And revel in real.
I’m still amazed when I receive an email alert telling me someone I don’t know has decided to follow me on Twitter (@WanderingJewess), or on my blog. Like today.
It makes me feel a little bit “real.”
But only a little bit.
I think Margery Williams best defined “real” in her children’s classic, “The Velveteen Rabbit.”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. (Named for his bald brown coat and missing hairs of his tail.) “…It’s a thing that happens to you … It takes a long time
“…That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
“Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
“…but once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
I feel the most real with people who don’t break easily. Who don’t have sharp edges. Who don’t have to be carefully kept. Who do understand.
People like Nora Handler.
I don’t remember meeting Nora. It seems we’ve always known one another. Even when we haven’t. And even when we haven’t seen one another in a very long time. Like lately.
I messaged Nora, thanking her for her contribution to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign, and suggesting we get together and catch up.
“Sounds like a plan,” she said, adding “Lots of life has happened since we’ve seen each other.”
Indeed it has.
But we are both real enough to experience it. And to share it … even when most of our hair has been loved off, our eyes have dropped out, we’re loose in the joints and very shabby.
Thank you, Nora — for all of this.
My alarm is on my phone. I keep it on the floor so I can greet the day on my knees, with thanks.
However, I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing the phone back into bed with me afterward, reviewing who has made contact in the hours I’ve been asleep. Usually it’s Facebook — alerting me that someone has “liked” my status. The Daily OM — delivering my horoscope. Or Hilary Clinton. (Actually, her campaign.)
Occasionally it is Go Fund Me, and the symbol that — at least to my eyes –looks like a crown. It appears each time a donation is made to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign.
I woke to one the other morning and this message from Kim Jupe.
“Rock it, Lesley! So glad we met in Madrid! I am a fan!”
In total, I have spent less than four hours with Kim. We met through friends of friends, unplanned. Delicious serendipity.
The moment I saw Kim I recognized her as “friend,” and invited her to join me for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants — Dionisos, where Nick the waiter is always flirtatious.
No, we didn’t eat alone in Spain that day … but in those few hours together I was reminded of the magic of traveling alone.
I seem to be open to the universe and its inhabitants in a different way when I am untethered — meeting people I might not otherwise if I were with a partner or friend. My eyes, my ears and my heart are otherwise available. It has happened while traveling overseas — in Tel Aviv, Bonn, and Avignon. Lisbon and Seville. And “at home” — in Chicago and Madrid.
Thank you Kim, for taking the time to connect in Spain. For being a part of that ever-expanding circle around me. And, of course, for your support of my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign.
In her book, “When You Eat At The Refrigerator, Pull Up A Chair,” Geneen Roth writes about a friend who sees what most call luxury, as necessity. And what others call necessity, a luxury.
Think French-milled soap. A $3 mango in January. Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
The story reminds me of my own friend, Suzanne Pollock, and the whimsical, wonderful, highly impractical coat she was wearing when we first met. White cloth and long, embroidered with large flowers. She found it in Spain and “had to have it.”
As the words tumbled out of her mouth, I knew we’d be friends.
Because Suzanne threw caution to practicality. (A white coat?!! I nearly break out in hives at the sight of white denim … memories of an unfortunate childhood incident involving grass stain and above-mentioned trousers.)
Because she chose form over function.
Because she valued loveliness.
Because she valued herself.
Many thanks Suzanne for your recent contribution to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign — my own exercise in impractical beauty and self love.
Impractical as I leave for Girona — where I will attend a writers retreat with the intention of manifesting blog into book deal — in 21 days, exactly 90 days following my departure from Spain.
Self-loving as I take my turn, embracing my own dream rather than supporting someone else’s.
Want to know more about “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — how 52 Artist Dates healed my heart 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.
With gratitude for those who have supported my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a post-divorce narrative with an option for a happy ending, no partner required. And for those who have invited me into the intimate spaces of their homes, their families and their lives.
In putting together my manuscript, “They Don’t Eat Alone In Spain,” I’ve had to revisit every single Artist Date.
As I read, I noticed the tenor of the pieces changing over time … becoming lighter, more optimistic. And that the story coalesced. The trajectory to Madrid naturally unfolding through my Artist Dates.
I am delighted.
It was always that way in my head. But turns out, it is that way on paper (or screen) too. The story telling itself. “This leads to this leads to that.”
I find it is often that way with people too. Like Janet Horn.
I met her sister Caroline in Los Angeles, working a one-day chair massage job at Bonham and Butterfields auction house. When she discovered I lived in Oakland and not Los Angeles, she took my card and passed it (and me) on to her sister Joanne. Several years later, Joanne bequeathed me to Janet when I moved to Chicago. As if the universe was conspiring for us to meet all along.
Thank you Janet for your generous contribution to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign. (And for allowing me to feel like the fourth Horn sister.)
Some days Facebook’s “On This Day” breaks my heart. Seeing photographs of my ex and me driving from Chicago to Seattle five years ago. And then driving back in the opposite direction with a dear friend exactly one year later. Gut-wrenching.
But other days, I am tickled and inspired seeing the kizmit, magic and synchronicity in my life.
Like today … when I was greeted with 30 photos of a dinner with my friends Melinda and Craig at Diver XO in Madrid, taken one year ago.
This photograph of me being fed a spoonful of cheese — one of more than a dozen courses at this three-star Michelin restaurant — has been a backdrop to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign.
Today … less than an hour ago … I submitted my manuscript, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain,” to my mentor at the Rocaberti Writers Retreat I will be attending next month in Girona, Spain.
“My manuscript” … the words floor me.
I always imagined I’d write a book. I just didn’t know about what. Until I did. And then I only talked about it. Until I was pushed to do more.
Challenged by an email with just one word, “Interesting?” and a link to the retreat website. Coaxed by its call —
“This retreat is for you if…
*You’re working on a book/screenplay combination or have an idea for one.
*You have a book and want to turn it into a screenplay or vice-versa—or sell it directly to Hollywood.
*You’re unsure how to get your book/screenplay in front of agents and producers.
*You’re serious about completing your project and making your dream come true!”
Sometimes it takes a nudge to get from here to there. And a little assistance.
Friends, family and colleagues have helped me raise $2,725 to defray the costs of the retreat and travel. Among them, Allie Vernasco.
Thank you Allie, for your support — both financial and energetic! You know the power of “more than one,” better than most.
The first time I met Sierra Veenbass I was birthing a new career. Although I didn’t know it at the time.
I was working as a director in a technology public relations firm — and hating it. On a whim, I took a 100-hour massage course on weekends at the McKinnon Institute in Oakland, California.
Sierra was the first student to put her hands on me. I still remember lying face down on the table and feeling her fingertips massaging my scalp. “Nice opening,” I thought. “She has the touch.” (Quite a compliment as I had recently married my massage therapist.)
One-hundred hours later, I left my career in public relations.
But it would be several years before our paths crossed again … and when they did, Sierra was a student in a pre-natal massage class I was teaching.
Not long after, she came to my studio … and I had the honor and blessing to work with her through her first pregnancy.
(I think it broke both our hearts a little when I moved to Chicago and was not there for her second. )
It has been a joy to watch Sierra’s girls grow via Facebook. And a wonderful, full-circle surprise to receive her support for my own birthing — of a book, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — and a return to my work as a writer.
Muchas, muchas gracias, Mama Sierra!
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.