A few days ago a friend of mine from university posted this message on my Facebook page — “Read this and thought of you this morning. Smooches bubbala!”
Every year, The New York Times recommends 52 Places to Go, one place to dream about exploring each week. The list is an ambitious forecast of which beaches will remain unspoiled, which starchitect-designed museums will live up to their renderings and which culinary treasures are worth hopping a flight to eat.
This year, we want at least one ambitious traveler to turn our wish list into an itinerary.
We are seeking a journalist who, over the course of 2018, will go to every destination on our list and tell us the story of each place and the story of life on the road. The ideal candidate is a permanent student of life and astute documentarian of the world. This person should have a well-worn passport, the ability to parachute into a place and distill its essence and to render a compelling tale with words and images.”
As part of my application, I had to write (only) 500 words on the most interesting place I’ve been to. It was fun to go back on the Marrakesh Express … Fingers crossed!!
Marrakesh – I expect it to smell otherworldly like Tangiers, fragrant with spices mixed with sea water, but it doesn’t. Instead, I notice steam rising from the black-tar cement and yellow maze-like lines that direct us inside the airport where there is no air-conditioning, no Wi-Fi, not even a vending machine selling over-priced water.
Outside, under a white tent, wooden benches teem with drivers holding signs, like breakfast, it is included with the price of our riad.
We pile into the car and drive towards the old city. A woman wearing a cobalt blue kaftan and matching head scarf keeps pace with us as we circle the roundabout. The streets are lined with palm trees and resorts tucked behind colorful walls.
We stop abruptly at an uninspired entry point to the medina. Our driver hands us over to a small man with a wheelbarrow, who tosses our luggage into it. We follow him down cobblestone streets with no names to an unremarkable door, behind it is a courtyard with a small dipping pool and our host, waiting with mint tea. He takes us to our room — white-washed and pristine with wooden shutters that look out across the courtyard to its mirror image and upward to the sky. He marks our location on a map with an X and shows us how to reach Jemaa el-Fnaa – the main square.
We snake down dusty paths with no street signs, but that more or less match the design of the map, taking photos of the low archways we pass through and doors on each corner – my own version of breadcrumbs that will lead us home.
The streets are loud with a language I do not know. Tongue-y and shrill. Spices are piled in the shape of cones – mustard, orange and saffron-colored. Babouche, brightly colored slippers with pointed toes, line the walls. I have been advised not to look unless I am prepared to purchase, so I avert my eyes, the same way the women walking two-by-two avert mine.
The labyrinth-like streets drop us on to the main square where there are rows and rows of pop-up restaurants with metal picnic tables covered with plastic, checkered tablecloths. Each host carries a stack of laminated menus and tries to pull us in. “You are so skinny. You must be hungry. Come. Eat.”
There are tall stalls with men selling fresh dates, dried apricots, cashews and almonds. Sitting perched at the top, they grab their wares with long, metal claws and hand us samples, then fill cardboard cones with our purchases. We drink fresh-fruit smoothies served in real glasses at a make-shift bar.
Snake charmers sit on the warm cement playing flutes called pungis while serpents dance to their melody, as if agreed upon before the show. Monkeys on leashes pose for photographs. Amidst the pandemonium the Muslim call to prayer sounds from tinny speakers that crackle. It passes through me like a breeze and reminds me I am a long, long way from home.
My friend Clover knows I love papercut artist Nikki McClure and has twice bought me calendars of her work. Each has a beautiful image of the season and a single word. BECOME for January. RETREAT for April. LINGER for September. This morning I turned the page to October –AWAY.
AWAY (alone) is the gift I have learned to give myself each birthday (whenever possible), each October 20.
Forty-five began with breakfast in Rome and ended with dinner in Paris. That evening, crossing the Seine from the Right Bank to the Left, I looked out at Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower and thought, “Who goes to Paris for dinner?” and then, “I do.”
What followed shook me to my core. Alone on my birthday in arguably the most romantic city in the world I thought “I don’t wish a man was here.” “I don’t wish a man was here.” And then, “I don’t wish a friend was here or that I ate anything different or wore anything different or that anything was different.” It was a moment of pure contentment and total bliss – fleeting and remarkable.
That trip – specifically my time spent in Rome – catapulted me on to a trajectory that had me living in Madrid six months later.
I had met a woman a few weeks earlier while volunteering in Perugia. Upon my arrival in Rome, she insisted on throwing a dinner/birthday party in my honor. As I rode the tram from the residential Trastevere neighborhood to Pyramid station on a Saturday night, flowers in hand, I thought, “It’s like I live here,” and then, “I can do this.” I knew just what the words meant – although I didn’t yet know where I’d be going … or how soon.
Forty-seven found me back in Paris waking up to a text that read, “Yesterday’s kisses are still on my tongue. Delicious. Happy Birthday, Gorgeous!” I spent that afternoon on a walking tour of Montmarte with a woman I had met just that morning. We shared a chocolate tart before parting company and she sang me Happy Birthday. That evening, I walked back to the bridge where I had found contentment and peace two years earlier – alone, eating a falafel from my favorite stand in Le Marais, and equally blissed out.
The romance lasted a glorious six months. My friendship with the woman from the walking tour remains strong.
I’ve often said I am best on the road, on my own.
My internal travel clock grows loud and restless at about the five-month mark. My spirit calls for its sojourn. AWAY (alone). Some might call it running … but I don’t think so.
AWAY (alone) is a detour. It is a place where unfamiliar roads open my eyes and force me to pay attention to what is in front of me. I believe it is in that paying attention that magic shows its face and I am awake enough to notice and respond to it.
I leave for Montreal in 19 days – my 48th birthday – AWAY (alone) and wonder what gifts await me.
It is one of the many reasons I prefer bookstores to the ease of Amazon. That and the sense of possibility. Of community. Staff picks. Book Club reads. All laid out on tables, ripe for reading. A smorgasbord of words.
Land of Enchantment by Leigh Stein. Grunt by Mary Roach. M Train by Patti Smith.
I pick up each one and tuck it under my arm, carrying a small stack with me through Women and Children First Bookstore. Artist Date 6.2 (122).
Because I know of Leigh but I do not know her. Because we belong to the same women’s writing collective, but we have never met.
Because I heard Terri Gross’ interview with Roach on Fresh Air while I was living in Madrid. Their English sounded so good to my American ear and home didn’t seem so far away.
Because just this afternoon, my friend Spencer suggested Smith’s book to me.
I feel connected to these stories. Like I want to hold on to them.
Others I don’t.
Spinster: Making A Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Lang.
Because I fear there is no room in this conversation for my voice — my manuscript, They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain: How 52 Artist Dates Healed My Heart and Landed Me in the Center of My Own Life. Traveling alone. Living abroad. Writing a book. Because I fear I have nothing new to add. Because I believe publication might finally allow me to be “done” with my divorce.
Crazy Time by Abigail Trafford.
Because it takes me back to a time before Artist Dates. Before traveling alone and living overseas and writing a book. When I was just embarking upon my divorce.
I am still living in Seattle, still sharing a home with my soon-to-be ex-husband – but sleeping in separate bedrooms.
I am head-over-heels-over-head for my friend M in Chicago. He is also going through a divorce and we prop one another up through our disbelief and fear, talking on the phone each night into the wee hours of the morning.
I am also a wee bit obsessed with my friend (another) M in Seattle. He is the first man to see me naked – other than my husband or my doctor – in 15 years. We kiss endlessly, stopping only to share our stories — whispering under a blanket that smells faintly of dog.
But only once.
Since then we seem to be dancing a familiar “come-here-go-away” cha-cha. I know the tune, but still haven’t mastered the steps.
My therapist Saundra tells me about Crazy Time.
“Because it is a crazy time,” she says, speaking from both personal and professional experience. She says to tell Chicago M I have to go to sleep. She rolls her eyes at the mention of Seattle M.
“You told me I get to make mistakes.”
“You made yours,” she says.
We look at one another, a little bit shocked by her frankness and laugh.
“You don’t get to say that.”
“I know,” she says. “But it’s true.” And it is.
Saundra believes it is preferable I grieve the end of my marriage before jumping into another relationship. She says if I don’t, I’ll only run from the pain of it – from bed to bed, relationship to relationship – rather than addressing the source and healing.
It doesn’t sound so bad, really.
And yet, it is not my path.
I pull Crazy Time from the shelf and begin thumbing through it – only half reading.
“It starts when you separate and usually lasts about two years. It’s a time when your emotions take on a life of their own and you swing back and forth between wild euphoria and violent anger, ambivalence and deep depression, extreme timidity and rash actions. You are not yourself. Who are you?
“Then at the height of Crazy Time, you may get a reprieve. You fall in love – a coup de foudre – and the block of lead in your chest miraculously melts; you can’t believe it, you laugh, you dance. You know it’s too soon, too much like jumping into a lifeboat that you know leaks and has no oars. But you smile, feeling so good after feeling so bad for so long. Therapists call this the search for the romantic solution. But it’s usually not a solution.
“You crash… Now you’re really scared. You can’t believe how frightened you are; about money, your health, your sanity. In all the feel-good rhetoric about divorce being a growth opportunity for the new super you, nobody tells you about Crazy Time.”
Four years have passed since my divorce was made final by the courts.
Since then, my ex-husband has bought a home that he shares with the woman he’s been seeing for a couple of years. Chicago M is about to become a daddy. And according to Facebook, Seattle M — the one with the dog blanket — is “In a Relationship.”
I pick up Smith’s M Train and take it to the register, first slipping the other books back into their proper places on the shelves.
Still traveling alone. Still writing. Sometimes still in Crazy Time.
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
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.
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.
Many thanks 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 your stories in mine.
My friend Bob Conlin recently invited me to join a group challenge called 100 Days of Greatness.
Each of us chooses something, anything, we want to do for or achieve in 100 days. We answer a couple of questions about what we want to do, why we want to do it and how we will measure success. And then update the group at least once a week.
My 100 Days of Greatness? 100 Days of Writing and Editing “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”
“Day One. Forty-five minutes on manuscript. (I promised 30.) Setting a timer helps. Don’t feel like I made much progress … but I honored my commitment. Brava!
“When I was writing regularly the words seemed to fly off my fingers. The process, joyous. I am reminded of these words from my meditation teacher … ‘Our mind wanders, and we gently return to the mantra.’
“And I gently return to the page. The practice.”
Practice builds muscle. Momentum. And action begets action. I’ve been seeing this in my campaign. As I continue to commit to “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain,” others do the same.
Like the mother of a long-time friend from college (who wishes to remain anonymous). She’s been one of my biggest fans since I began blogging from Rwanda in 2012. She sent a donation earlier this week, adding a note that read, “I believe in you.”
Like my dear friend Kip Helverson, who in the swirl of life’s unexpected also found time to make a contribution. And Laura Silverman, whose own round-the-world adventures inspired my own. “Can’t wait to read it!” she wrote, along with her donation.
Many thanks to each of you, for your support — both financial and energetic. Seems there’s a place on the shelves for one more happy ending. — a post-divorce narrative where the protagonist sweeps herself off her own feet. (And without even trying … isn’t that always the way with romance?!)
“It’s not about the money….”
I’ve heard these words more times than I can count. In work. In divorce. In marriage. In financial decisions. My experience is, the moment I say “It’s not about the money …” it IS about the money.
And yes, this IS a fundraising campaign.
And yet, I have been delighted by the non-monetary gifts that have come from this effort. They are:
1. I’m having fun! When I’m writing my blog, a paid-assignment, or a piece to submit for publication, I toil. Considering each and every word. Not so here … Much to my surprise, I write these updates right on the Go Fund Me site. No cutting, pasting, perseverating, or wringing of hands. It’s an update or a thank you. Nothing more. An unexpected exercise in keeping it light!
2. I continue to gain clarity about my vision. Every time I write an update, I need to answer the question, “What is ‘They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain’ about anyway?”
It’s my story. About how I found healing after my divorce, not through the love of another person. But by romancing myself. That by committing each week to doing something fun, interesting, inspiring or different — Alone! — I began to see clearly who I was. What I liked. What I didn’t. And was able to step into a life I’d been dreaming of. A life as a writer. A life overseas.
Or, for the purposes of keeping it the length of an elevator ride, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” is a post-divorce narrative — told through a series of weekly “Artist Dates” — that offers a different option for a happy ending. One that doesn’t require a Prince or Princess Charming. But instead, where the heroine rides off into the sunset on her own white horse.
3. I’m not doing this alone. I do my best growing in groups. Weight Watchers. Twelve Step. My Artist Dates are solo. But publishing a book doesn’t have to be.
5. I’m connecting with all sorts of people from my past and present. Among them, David Hicks. I haven’t seen David or his wife since I left Oakland in 2007. And, truthfully, I’m not exactly sure when or how we met. What I do know is the connection was easy and true. And it still is.
Thank you, David for supporting my vision from across the miles!!
Sunday night. I am stretched out on the couch, laptop on my lap, considering digging into my past. Actually, not so much digging as reaching into … or reaching out to.
I would … except I’m not certain the interaction will give me what I want or need. Clarity. And a sense of connection.
So I connect to myself instead — writing.
(This logic of turning inward to get what I crave outward reminds me of what Woody Allen said about masturbation, “Don’t knock it — it’s sex with someone I love.”)
It can be any writing. Journaling. Blogging. In this case, penning A Go Fund Me update. As long as it brings me back to myself. To my life. The life I want. The life I am creating.
I hit “Post My Update,” feeling infused, inspired … and not the least bit interested in digging around in my past.
Funny thing happens … my past comes to me. Not in the form I think it might. But in contributions and sweet notes from people from my past, who are still part of my present.
Among them, my high-school creative writing teacher, Jan Mekula. Strangely, I don’t remember a thing I wrote in her class. (I do in others.) What I do remember is feeling incredibly safe in her classroom. (I didn’t in many.) Seen, honored and valued as a person.
Sharing my post on her Facebook page, she wrote, “My former student, a fine writer and amazing fierce brave human being.”
My heart swells and my eyes get teary.
I wake up the next morning to three more donations. (I’ll be thanking the donors individually.) It feels like a nod from God. “You’re on the right/write track. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
Like working on my manuscript — “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.” A post-divorce narrative of how 52 “creative dates” (aka Artist Dates) healed my heart and pointed me in the direction of my dreams. A year living abroad. A life as a writer.
Thank you, Jan Mekula!
(Photo: Outside hotel in the South of France where F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald took up residence. Apropos for honoring my high-school creative writing teacher? )
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.
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 … one that offers the possibility of joy without partnership –and my dream of manifesting blog into book deal.
Today I secured a freelance writing assignment … in the bridal space!
The universe has a sense of humor.
I was a little worried when I applied for the position as my most recent published work (Washington Post, XO Jane ) has been about divorce. I assured my new employer I would be delighted to write “from the other side” for a change.
Maybe I’m getting ready to pen “a new chapter?” Or perhaps it’s just a nod to my moniker as writer, a reminder that I have lived and can tell many tales. And that I am a fun and flexible storyteller … like my friend Tanya Gazdik.
Many thanks Tanya for your generous support of the “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign. And for your unyielding support of my writing for the past 25 years (Tanya was my first newspaper editor!) and my journey.
(The State News — where Tanya and I worked together.)
Early memories of writing …
Journals on lined paper. I told my teacher, Mrs. Blum, the words I wanted to say. She wrote them and I copied them on the line below. A sentence or two. Sometimes I would draw a picture … me in my pink ballet shoes. My mother saved all of these until I was 25 and she and my father sold my childhood home. I insisted they had to go. But first, we read each of them.
A book on Paul Revere. We glued wallpaper scraps onto cardboard to create the cover and stitched the binding by hand. “One if by land, and two if by sea …” I had a tough time drawing a horse.
Letters to my aunt in California. She owned a stationery store and sent beautiful cards and paper for me to write on. She was my first (and only) pen pal. I often wonder what I wrote. And marvel at her commitment to corresponding with an 8 year old.
Several years later, upon my graduation from university, she sent me a Waterman pen. A luxurious elegance celebrating my commitment to my craft.
Yesterday, I received her donation to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign, along with a note: “No gift needed. The gift will be knowing that you will fulfill your dream (and a book).”
Thank you to my “somewhat anonymous aunt” … for supporting me in every step of my writing journey.
“They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a post-divorce confessional, offering a contentedly solo happily- ever-after ending — promises to be a bit juicier than my 8-year-old letters or retelling of the ride of Paul Revere … but hopefully, equally heartfelt and true.
(Photo taken the same year I wrote about Paul Revere.)
Around the time I was leaving Chicago — for the first time, in 2011 — my friend Lisa said to me in passing, “I think you’re going to write a book.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Because I do.”
Lisa has an economy of words that I am in awe of. She is a careful listener. Has (clearly) good intuition, the patience of Job, and a big, shiny heart.
Many thanks Lisa for your generous donation to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign, and for helping me tell the story of how 52 Artist Dates saved my soul, my sanity and my serenity after my divorce. How 52 Artist Dates gave my life creative structure, taught me how to really be okay with being alone and led me to a life I had only dreamed of. A life as a writer. A life lived overseas.
(Me and Lisa … before I left Chicago, the first time.)
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in churches. Some great, Gothic cathedrals like Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Others, little more than rooms off of side streets, secret gems, suggested by locals.
As a Jew, the words feel strange, incongruent, as they fall from my fingertips on to the keys. As a traveler, one-time reporter, and student of faith, they make complete sense.
I’ve been in churches for professional reasons.
On a press trip to Israel some 20 years ago, where I replied to a colleague’s exhausted and overwhelmed inquiry, “Where are we?”, with “Somewhere where Jesus did something.” Laughing loudly, as Americans sometimes do, we were promptly chastised in a language we didn’t speak. My intention, never to be flip … just honest.
I’ve been in churches for personal reasons.
For a Catholic wedding – where I kept looking for the words everyone spoke in response to the priest – assuming I would find them in a book or on a card. I never did. “You’re just supposed to know them,” my friend Andre explained.
For a colleague’s funeral at a Baptist church in Oakland – which my friend Michael referred to as “a tame affair … nobody threw themselves on to the casket.”
But I’ve never been to a church, “just because.” Until now. Artist Date 112.
If I am to be honest, even this visit isn’t “just because.”
It is because my friend is a priest here – Iglesia Catedral del Redentor. It is because he is preaching this evening, in Spanish – about lepers. About touch. And about his own healing.
I think this will be a good way to practice my Spanish listening skills.
I liken it to watching Spanish television, something that has been suggested many times but that I have yet to do for more than a few minutes at a time – usually when my landlady is half listening to the news. I have not cultivated the habit, and I’m not sure I want to. I haven’t owned a television for many years and don’t miss it.
So I come here instead, to hear this story which I more or less know.
Except that I don’t know it. I cannot find it. My Spanish isn’t that good. I can understand words and phrases but I cannot put them together.
So I focus on what I can see instead.
The words to songs I don’t know, in English or Spanish, projected on to the wall with an overhead projector, an acetate sheet moved up and down by someone’s large hand as each set of lyrics have been completed, making room for the next. I haven’t seen an overhead projector since college, when a friend of mine would drop colored liquids onto the glass plate, projecting swirls of color onto the wall, and we would dance to the Grateful Dead.
The African women – some of them Muslim, wearing head coverings. The families from South and Central America, their children with big, almond-shaped eyes playing in the back of the sanctuary. Many are here for the free bag of groceries they receive after the service. Nary a non-Catholic Madrileño in the crowd.
“All driven out or killed by Franco,” R, a former minister from New York, explains to me.
He and his wife moved to Madrid some years ago after she dreamt about the two of them living here as missionaries. Being fluent in both Spanish and “Christian,” he explains different elements of the service to me.
Two velvet bags attached to wooden sticks are passed through the pews.The gesture requires no explanation and I drop a euro into one of them.
At the end of the service, S walks down the middle aisle – offering his hand, his cheek and his heart to the parishioners. The older ladies grab on to him. They clearly adore him.
Like I adore him.
I think of what my friend D calls “divine attraction.”
“Whatever it is that gets you to God,” she explains to me over coffee, many years ago, when I fess up to having a crush on a “man of the cloth.”
The piercing blue eyes and suede elbow patches of a college religious studies professor.
The compassionate heart of a rabbi who understands my need to convert to the faith of my childhood when I don’t quite understand it myself.
The friendship of an American priest who helps me navigate my way through a Spanish-speaking world.
An empty belly and a the promise of a bag of food.