Artist Date 1.2: Life, Animated

 

 

life animated
Copyright. Life, Animated.

My commitment to the Artist Date began as a response to pain. To a man I affectionately referred to as the Southern Svengali and the short, sweet romance after my divorce that I couldn’t let go of. I sometimes forget that.

I forget because the weekly, solo play date as prescribed in the book The Artist’s Way, healed me from obsession I only hesitantly admitted.

I forget because two years of creative commitment, coupled with other work, allowed me to release him. Us. And my ideas about the way we should be in one another’s lives. (Which looks dramatically different than I had imagined. And while our contact can now best be described as sporadic, the connection remains strong … sweet and satisfying to both of us.)

I forget because it gently nudged me into becoming the kind of woman I dreamed of being. A woman engaged in life in interesting ways. Who does interesting things. Who has interesting conversations about more than relationships.

But today, I remember.

I remember as I find a hole in my schedule and watch my mind like a rubber band – snapping back to thoughts of the man I dated before I left for Madrid.

While I know there is no slipping back into one’s life as it once was, I had hoped we might explore dating again when I returned. But it hasn’t turned out that way. And in these quiet, alone moments, I find myself once again struggling with letting go. Of him. Us. And my ideas about the way we should be in one another’s lives.

And so it is grace when I hear the whisper that perhaps now is a good time to re-commit to my creative self again. That an infusion of new stimuli might once again quiet my mind and lead me back to the woman who has interesting conversations about more than relationships.

(While a year in Madrid seemed to have the makings of one grand, extended Artist Date, my days were filled with the stuff of life. All occurring in a language not my own. And Artist Dates became, unfortunately, sporadic.)

I peruse the movie guide — more concerned with time, location and the act of going than what will be projected on the screen – and choose a film.

I cut short a phone call. Say no to a text from a friend asking if I would like company. Both occurring after I’ve made the decision to go. The universe seeming to ask, “Are you sure?’

And I am.

I hop on my vintage 3-speed cruiser and pedal to the Music Box Theatre. Artist Date 1.2. (Officially, number 117 … renamed for congruence with my rededication to the practice and my return to Chicago.)

Grinning ear to ear, I purchase my ticket. Giddy to be with me.

This has always been the magic of the Artist’s Date. A turning inward. A return to myself.

Ironic, as the movie I have chosen – Life, Animated – is a documentary about Owen Suskind, a young man with autism and the tools he and his family use to pull him out from his personal world.

How Walt Disney movies become the lens and the lexicon for connection. The language for articulating what we all want. Friends. Romantic love. Work. A sense of purpose. And what we all feel from time to time, what Owen calls “the glop.” The inevitable pain when the things we want elude us.

We join him in watching scenes from Bambi on his first night alone in his independent living apartment – after his mother and father have left. And later, The Hunchback of Notre Dame when his girlfriend of three years ends their relationship.

Heartbreaking moments punctuated with joy and hope, most evident when Owen connects with his own passion and a sense of purpose. His “Disney Club” – where he and other adults with developmental disabilities view and discuss their favorite films. And experience an unscripted visit from Gilbert Godfrey, the voice of Iago from the movie Aladdin.

I sob witnessing their squeals of laughter, excitement and disbelief … as I am reminded that the universe is full of surprises. That it is always willing to conspire with us. And that our greatest joys often come packaged in a way dramatically different than we might imagine them.

That gorgeous moments of serendipity occur when we turn first turn inward – connecting with our tenderest truths – and then out – vulnerably sharing them. We allow the world to join our party. And sometimes even Gilbert Godfrey shows up.

I Held On To My Own Hand

Carrie and Petrofsky -- BEFORE he let go of her hand.
Carrie and Petrofsky — BEFORE he let go of her hand.

There’s a wonderful scene in the second to last episode of Sex and the City —  where the camera zooms in and in slow motion Aleksandr Petrofsky lets go of Carrie Bradshaw’s hand, the one he had asked her for a few hours earlier in a moment of anxiety and doubt.

“Promise me you will not let go,” a nervous Petrofsky says, fiddling with his cufflinks as he dresses for his art show opening.

Carrie nods, forgoing the party held in her honor — perhaps the first and only experience of and for herself in the City of Light.

Upon entering the gallery, Petrofsky’s fear is quickly assuaged by applause. Forgetting his words, he releases Carrie’s hand, ultimately releasing her.

I am telling this story to the man lying next to me on the futon.

We are making out like teenagers. Except that I never did this when I was a teenager. It is sweet. Tender. New. My whole body is humming.

I feel his weight on top of me and suddenly feel small, pressed down, vulnerable. My body is no longer humming. In fact, I am slipping out of it. “He will move soon and do something else,” I think. “It is fine.”

But it is not fine.

There is nothing aggressive or threatening about this gesture. He is not too heavy on top of me. In fact, I crave his nearness, and yet I am triggered by it.

I don’t know why. I don’t really care. I only know that I desperately want to return to the place where my body hums.

And I intuitively know the only way back is through — through my mouth, my voice, my truth.

I ask him to move. Kindly. Gently. Assuring him he has done nothing wrong, because he hasn’t. Assuring him that this is “my stuff.”

He rolls on to his side, kisses my forehead and strokes my cheek, and asks me what I need from him.

“Nothing,” I say. And it is true. I have exactly what I need. I have myself.

And in this seemingly insignificant moment I see the hundreds of times I have told myself everything was “fine” when it was not — saying nothing. Enduring, hoping, praying something would change, but not recognizing my role in changing it. In sex. In love. In work. In friendship. In family.

I get teary with the realization that I have never advocated for myself in this way before. I tell him this and the Carrie-Petrofsky story.

“I feel like I have held on to my own hand,” I say.

A few nights later we are again lying on the futon, under the front window that faces a church.

I am wearing decidedly less clothing than I was the previous time we were together. I feel myself slipping out of my body again.

“I want my pants back on,” I blurt out.

“Too fast?” He asks. “Too fast,” I reply.

“Yes, for me too,” he says, helping me slip back into my skinny corduroys. Zipping them, I almost immediately slip back into my body — reveling in all of the sensations created by my new partner.

I think of all of the times I have had sex when I didn’t want to. Because I thought I should. Because I thought it was expected. Because I had wanted it but changed my mind and didn’t really believe I was allowed to, that I could. Turns out — I can.

“I held on to my own hand again,” I tell him, grinning.

He smiles back, his hands tracing the seams of my corduroy jeans, kissing me like the teenager I never was.

And I feel my body humming again.

Rising Up Into Warrior

Drawings -- icedteaandlemonade.blogspot.com
Drawings — icedteaandlemonade.blogspot.com

When I was a child, my mother did yoga.

I have a vivid image of her in black tights and leotard, trotting off to our swim club – where lessons took place in the “party room,” in front of the fireplace.  She took a towel with her.  It was 1976.  There were no yoga mats.  She boasted that the teacher said she was doing well as she often fell asleep at the end, during Savasana – corpse pose.

I do not do yoga.

I have written about it before.  That I wear this like a badge of honor.  That I am the massage therapist who does not do yoga.  Who wears red lipstick, tailored clothing and heels.  Ever the contrarian.

Until last Thursday, at 6:30 a.m., when I am.

My friend Jeanette is to my left and a little bit forward, so I can watch her out of the corner of my eye.  She is tall to my short.  She knows what the poses are as they are called out.

I know many of them too.  It is untrue that I have never done yoga.  I have dabbled, and not liked it.

Sometimes because I wanted a more vigorous workout.  Sometimes because I felt intimidated.

Mostly, because it made me cry.

My last attempt at yoga was in Seattle.  One of my last efforts to bring my then-husband and I together.

He had found a studio on the top of Queen Anne Hill that he liked.  Small – with just enough room for six mats.  The students were fairly consistent each week, and none of them looked like “Western Yogis.”  Most came to heal a physical or emotional wound.  He liked the teacher.  And he thought I would too.

I did.

But every session I found myself on the verge of tears, wondering when class would end.

The poses were not terribly difficult.  But we held them for what seemed like forever.

I felt my chest rip open – my beating heart vulnerable and exposed.  Too much.  I told her that.  She said it was good.  Everyone said it was good.  That I needed more of it.

Savasana. Yogaflavoredlife.com
Savasana. Yogaflavoredlife.com

It did not feel good.  And while always one to push myself toward more growth, I did not feel like I needed more of it.

So it is a surprise to find myself here on the first day of spring, in the front row of a hot studio, not quite heated to Bikram temperatures, but more than warm.

I committed to it during a Weight Watchers meeting I was leading.  We were talking about accountability.  Partnering.  And stepping outside of our comfort zones.  Jeanette mentioned her class at Om on the Range.  I blurted out, “I will meet you there.”

It is snowing outside.  Big, fluffy flakes.  It is March 20 and the room smells like men’s body odor, which is different from women’s.

The room is darkish.  At times, even darker.  The music changes.  At moments verging on electronic dance.

We begin the session with a collective OM.  I feel the words resound in my ears and bounce off the walls around us.  I think of my synagogue in Seattle – the meditation congregation, Bet Alef.  Rabbi Olivier began each Friday night service with several collective ShalOMs.

The instructor’s name is Veronica.  I have shared my yoga trepidation with her before class, as I was the first to arrive.

She gets it.

The movements are faster, fluid — Vinyasa.  It feels better to me.  And I can mostly follow along.  Veronica makes adjustments to my body.  Uncurling my toes.  Instructing me to bring my feet closer together.  To lean into the edge of my foot for balance.

Warrior 2.  Yogaflavoredlife.com
Warrior 2. Yogaflavoredlife.com

My mat gets wet from sweat and I run a towel along it to keep from slipping.

And it all becomes too much.  Too hot.  Too fast.  Too challenging.

I am too open.

I drop into child’s pose and sob quietly.  Tears mixed with sweat.  Damn it.  My broken heart has seeped through the steely concentration of my mind and body.  And I allow myself to weep.

I stay in this position for what feels like a long time.  I remember Jeanette telling me about a man who lied on the floor with his legs on the wall for the entire hour.  I feel permission to do whatever it is that I have to do.  That I can stay in child’s pose for the entire session if I feel like it.

Veronica puts per fingers on my tailbone and gently pushes it towards my feet, curving down to the earth.  It feels good to be touched just a little.

But I do not stay in child’s pose for the whole session.  I rise up again, into Warrior.  Warrior II.  Warrior III.

We end class with a collective OM.  Jeanette high-fives me.  Veronica reminds me I have a week of unlimited classes.  I slip a schedule into my bag.  A calendar of possibilities.  A reminder.  I can do anything for an hour.  I will rise up again.

Artist Date 68: Power Cords

I have given my power away.

Valley, by Nilima Sheikh
Valley, by Nilima Sheikh

I feel vulnerable.  Ashamed.  I am “that woman,” wringing her hands about “that man.”

Disgusting.

I gave my power away when I said, “I can’t do this.”  Telling him I needed more.  And that he didn’t seem capable of giving it to me.  And did it anyway, becoming more and more deeply entwined in our long-distance intimacy.

I did it when I told him I could not Skype with him.  That it was too hard to look into his green eyes.  To see him look back at me in a way I can’t ever recall being seen.  And did it anyway.

I did it when I promised myself I wouldn’t reach out to him for 30 days.  Not as a game or a test.  But to find out how he shows up.  And reached out anyway.

I did it every time he mentioned bad timing, money or miles between us, and chose not to listen.  Only paying attention to the part where he changed his mind, usually about 10 minutes later, saying he did want to “find out about us.”

I made the rules and I couldn’t keep them.  Just like when I used to drink.  And it left me feeling the exact same way – anxious, obsess-y, over-thinking.  Knowing in my heart that something isn’t right, and trying to make it work anyway.  Somehow believing “this time will be different.”  Powerless.

***************

I am standing in my bedroom in front of a batik wall hanging of Ganesh — Hindu boy with an elephant head, Remover of Obstacles – like I do every morning.

I kick my meditation cushion to the side, put my hands in prayer, in front of my third eye, and inhale deeply.

“Lord Ganesh, give me back my power.”

I feel a surge through my body, a response, and am flooded with words of direction.

Ganesh batik in my bedroom.
Ganesh batik in my bedroom.

Carry Ganesh with you.  Visit India.  See Nilima Sheikh’s “Each Night Put Kashmir in Your Dreams” at the Art Institute.  Artist Date 68.

***************

It is the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day.  The train headed downtown is filled with drunk twenty-somethings in oversized green, foam hats, green socks and beads.  I put on my sunglasses and turn up Nina Simone and try to forget that he did not show up last night.

That he has not responded to my text.

That I am the one with the problem.

I get off several stops earlier than necessary and walk.  It is cool and sunny and I feel happy in my grey wool coat, knit hat and red ankle boots.  I make note of the galleries on Superior Street.  Future Artist Dates.  I feel my power growing.

***************

I step inside the Special Exhibit Gallery.  It is quiet.  Still behind glass doors.  I stand in front of a painted scroll titled “Valley.”  The canvas is green.  Lush and gentle.  A verdant map.  I begin to cry.

“That really affected you, huh?”

It is the museum guard –a woman named Denise.  She wears long braids gathered together.  I nod.  She says a few more things but I cannot take them in.  I am lost.  I politely tell her I need to be alone in my quiet.  She nods.  I feel my power growing.

I approach the canvas, “Farewell.”  Red, with two entwined figures – one holding open his robe, displaying a map of Kashmir where his heart should be.

Farewell, by Nilima Sheikh
Farewell, by Nilima Sheikh

“If only somehow you could have been mine.  What would not have been possible in the world?”  The words stenciled in gold at the top of the canvas.  “We’re inside the fire, looking for the dark,” on the back.

I feel like I have been punched in the gut.

The tears return.  I am breathless.

I return to “Valley.”  “…And though the guards searched for him with the sun in one hand and the moon in the other the demon baffled them.”  Stenciled on the back.

He sought me.  I am baffled, wondering where he is now.  But knowing I must continue to seek myself.  I feel my power growing.

***************

I share a bench and a cup of tea with a couple in the member’s lounge.  We talk about shoes.  About art.  About recovery and vibrators and relationships.  They tell me I need a man who is here.  I know they are right.  I feel my power growing.

***************

In some ways I feel like I have been waiting all of my life for this man.  And I am “Dying Dreaming.” (The words, like all those in quotes, names of Sheikh’s canvases.)

But I also know that his life is still a “Construction Site,” while I am “Gathering Threads” — stringing together the people, places and pleasures that bring me joy, that make me whole.  Power cords.

Artist Date 64: Not Too Much

I do not do yoga.

As a massage therapist, I know it is kind of part of the gig.  But I can’t.

chakrasystem_282_It freaks me out.  Holding poses for an extended period makes me panic.  Whether I am in a big anonymous class or in a tiny studio with just three other students and the most gentle instructor imaginable, it is always the same.  Open heart.  Teary eyes.  And a small voice crying out in the silence, “Are we done yet?  Are we done yet?”  I ignore her and…panic.  More tears.

People tell me this is good.  That it means I should do more yoga.  That I am working something out.  I ignore them and make a mental note never to discuss this topic.

Until now.  In a yoga studio.  Artist Date 64.

My friend, and clairvoyant genius, Debbie Taitel, is conducting a post-Valentine’s exploration of the 4th Chakra, the energy center of the heart.

I think I am safe because it is a meditation workshop and not yoga.  And I meditate.  I have for 12 years.

But I am wrong.  The panic is there almost immediately.  Stifling.

Debbie first mentioned the workshop to me a couple of weeks ago, during one of our clairvoyant sessions.  As I watched my heart tentatively open to hope and the possibility of love for the first time in what seemed like a very long time – for an almost bachelor, a man from my childhood, living nearly 700 miles away. (Artist Date 62)

Last week I told him I “couldn’t do it.”  (Artist Date 63) Whatever “it” was.  Seemingly falling head over heels over head for one another.  He asked how realistic it was.  I didn’t care.  I wanted to find out about us.  He said he did too.  But when I sensed his wavering, come-here-go-away, and when the excitement in my stomach turned into a knot, I said “no.”  And we somewhat sadly settled on friendship.  At least for now.

I thought that with this grand gesture of self-love and adult decision-making, my feelings would go away.  I was mistaken.

He has been dancing in my head for a good portion of the day and I am surprised.

So it is a relief when Debbie asks us to invite anyone “grounding” through us to please leave for the duration of the workshop.  I ask, but he remains.  Or I keep him near.  I am not certain.  It is the pink elephant in the room I have been told to pay no attention to.

I am embarrassed.  Ashamed.  I assume the shift is easy for him.  But I do not know this.

I am consumed by the thought that I do not want to write about this.  Especially as he regularly reads my blog.  I feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.  I want to run.  Just like in yoga.

Debbie asks us to ground ourselves and I see a climber’s rope shoot out from my 1st Chakra into the earth, its metal claws digging into clay and dirt.  Debbie saw me do this once before – during one of our sessions.  She found it clever.  A good way to shake off the too many grounding through me.

But today it feels unstable.  I want an oak tree growing out of my ass, downward into the earth.   But this is what I have.

(c) 2004.  Andrew Hall, PortlandBridges.com
(c) 2004. Andrew Hall, PortlandBridges.com

She asks us to create roses in our mind.  To fill them with past hurts.  Unrequited loves.  Loves we either did not or could not return.  And to destroy them.

I see the International Rose Test Garden in Portland.  My ex and I visited here one winter when he was interviewing for jobs.  The bushes are clipped.  Dead.

My eyes get teary and my nose flares.  I feel like I am on the verge of big, heaving sobs.  I see my ex husband.  My mother.  My father.  The first boy I took my clothes off with.

I see my first real boyfriend.  And J – perhaps the love of my life, me with a dick.  Mr. 700 Miles.

I feel Debbie lay a box of tissues on my thigh.  I am afraid to move.  That I will come totally unglued if I do and land on the floor, a throbbing puddle.  I feel white energy leave through my heart and it is over.

I destroy the rose, stripping it naked, petal by petal, while those around me engage in more violent scenarios – skeet shooting or blowing them up.

In the final meditation, safely shrouded in golden light, I loop my own energy over and over through my 4th Chakra, my heart.  I feel nauseated.  A wave slams into my gut and through me.  If I were standing it would knock me over.

Debbie smiles.  This is the energy I put into the universe, she explains.  The kind that makes people “run for the hills.”  I nod, as do most of those around me.  It is the love energy, meant for me, mistakenly turned out and overwhelming others.

I think about the old idea I still carry around sometimes, that I am “too much.”   It is quickly displaced by the realization that I no longer feel like running.  Not from here.  This place or this pose.

Not from this love.  Not from myself.

Not too much.