Artist Date 82: Avec moi-même

2014-07-17 17.46.31

Big Kahuna Yard Sale.  The Chicago Mosaic School.  Viva Vintage Clothing.

I am walking down Ravenswood Avenue, following the elevated Metra rail tracks.  A pathway I have taken hundreds of times.  Except that I usually don’t go south of Montrose.  I haven’t had a reason to.  And I usually walk on the east side only.

Except today.

Artist Date 82.

Earlier tonight I ditched my plans to attend an end of Ramadan feast for Muslims and Jews.  I am tired and overwhelmed and this small gesture seems like a big step towards self-care.

It is not easy as I am of the variety who fears missing out on something fantastic.  Of the variety more comfortable going and doing than sitting and being.  Even though I have maintained a meditation practice for more than 12 years.  Even though I make my living, in part, doing massage – the stillest work I can imagine.

I like an Artist Date rich with stimulation – music, prayer, food, potential tumult.  Like an end of Ramadan feast.

But today I choose to fill myself in the quietest, stillest way I know how.  Doing one of the only two things that made any sense to me during my divorce and for months after.  I am walking.  (Writing being the other.)  Walking somewhere familiar.  (Ravenswood between Lawrence and Montrose.) And then somewhere new. (Ravenswood between Montrose and Irving Park.)

It seems like such innocuous newness.  Hardly worth mentioning.  And yet, I see all sorts of things for the first time.

A Latin restaurant.  A pilates studio.  Ballroom dancing lessons.

A beer-tasting room.  Several artist studios.  AVEC painted on a building.  And again on a bridge.

French taggers?

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I take photographs of the tags and send them to a friend along with a text that reads, “Um…how do you pronounce that?!”— referencing the hotel concierge who suggested he and his date have dinner at (emphasis on hard A)vec.

He texts back “Aye-Veck!” and “Aw, Heck” and continues on and on in French.  I get about two-thirds of it, then confess I know just enough French to order pastry and ask for directions without embarrassing myself in Paris.  (I may or may not understand the response, depending on the speed of the speaker.)

We go back and forth like this for a bit and I realize I am very much AVEC.  I am very much WITH my friend.  Which is lovely and fun.  I adore him and we laugh a lot.  But this is not why I am here, wandering Ravenswood Avenue, alone.

I think about the rules I created early on for my Artist Dates: Do not do anything I wouldn’t do on a “real” date.  Answer a telephone call or text.  Listen to music.  Check Facebook on my phone.

Eighty-two dates in, I’ve loosened up on the rules, perhaps even forgetting them – until now.

I stop texting and slip the phone in my pocket.

I am amazed how quickly, how easily I can be pulled from myself, from one moment into another, from what is right in front of me.

Forty-five minutes ago I took my ear buds out and paused Aretha Franklin on Pandora.  The sound of the Queen of Soul distracted me from myself, so I put the music away.  Now the words and this relationship distract me.  I put them away too and return to myself.

AVEC moi-même.  With myself.

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Doing It Again. Confessions of a Reluctant Doula.

I vowed I would never do this again.

And yet, the words tumbled out of my mouth.  At the same time both jumbled and awkward, certain and clear.  Clover reflected them back to me.

With Clover, on one of our many gelato/sorbet dates this summer.
With Clover, on one of our many gelato/sorbet dates.

“Are you saying you want to be my doula?”

“Um…yes.  I guess.”

Pause.  Smile.  Squint.  Think.  Nod.  Nod again, excitedly.

“Yes.  Yes, I do.  If you will have me.”

She stood up from her chair — her pregnant belly announcing itself to all those around us – and threw her arms around me.   Both our eyes wet with tears.

Just a few months earlier, she had told me she was pregnant.

Sitting on the marble wall outside of the Sulzer Library.  It was summer and we had just polished off our cups from Paciugo – sorbet for her, gelato for me.  I was talking about boys.  None of it new or terribly important.

And when I stopped, she was talking about babies.  Specifically, her baby.

Later that night, we danced in the street to a band from West Africa.  And when she was tired I walked her home, suddenly terribly protective.  I called her Lil Mama – what a boy from South Carolina used to affectionately call me – and told her I would support her in any way I could.

So it shouldn’t have surprised either of us when I offered to be her doula.

Except that I am not certified as a doula.  Greek for “a woman who serves.”

I am a pre-natal massage therapist and instructor.  A friend.  Terribly interested in the miracles our bodies engender.

And I’ve done this once before.  A little more than six years ago, for my oldest and dearest friend Julie.

My then-husband and I were preparing to move from California for his medical residency.  In the two months leading up to our departure, we would travel to Chicago to look for a home, and to Oklahoma for my ex-boyfriend’s wedding.

Julie asked that I consider a third trip – to Detroit, for the birth of her son.  She wanted me to be her doula.

I was in an underground parking lot when I received her call.

Every fiber in my being wanted to say no.  It wasn’t practical.  It was expensive.  I felt overwhelmed.

The words that flew out of my mouth were, “Of course.”

Before the birth, with Julie.
Before the birth, with Julie.

I arrived a few weeks later – three days before her due date, and departing four days after.  It was spring.  No one thought my schedule and the baby’s would sync.  We gave it to the universe.

We spent our days on long walks.  Visiting her mother.  Talking – about everything and nothing.  Like we always do.

I massaged her legs while she sat on the exam table in a flowered gown, waiting for the obstetrician.  And pressed acupressure points on her hands and feet – “downward elevators” in Chinese medicine.

We ate a late breakfast following a trip to the gym – her last before becoming a mother.  Julie wanted to use the elliptical machine.  (She swears this is what started her labor.)  She ate little of her French toast.   Her stomach pushed so far up into her ribs, it left little room for food.

Around 11 p.m. that night I got the call.  It was time.

I met Julie at the hospital door.  Steve parked the car.

We walked the hospital floors for an hour, until she was dilated enough to be admitted.

Once in her room, we talked and laughed and napped over the next many hours.  Somewhere there are photographs of me wrapped up in blankets, looking like a woman from the old country.

Her husband fed me crackers and peanut butter.  I watched Julie instinctively comfort herself.  She labored many hours, insisting on a vaginal birth – even though the doctor on call wanted to perform a C-section.

Thankfully, the labor nurses supported her choice.

At their urging, I held up one her legs and counted her contractions out loud until hoarse.  Jaron’s head emerged.  Then his shoulder.  And then the rest of him – slipping out quickly like a fish.

I saw him first and looked at Julie with wet eyes, nodding.  I didn’t have any words.

Jaron was placed under a heat lamp, like a Big Mac, while the doctor tended to Julie, and the nurse made notes.   He looked wise, terribly nonplussed by this abrupt move from his inner world out.

“You’ve done this before,” I said.

Right after the birth.  My first time as a doula.
Right after the birth. With Jaron.

They say babies don’t smile right away, but I am certain he did, as he reached into the air.  “Playing with the angels,” Julie said, referring to the idea in mystic Judaism that babies are born so pure they can see angels.  A lovely idea.

I returned to the hospital the next day.  Julie was eating a cold grilled cheese and French fries – seemingly already accustomed to the realities of motherhood.

She told me I should do this work professionally.  “Never,” I replied.

A few years later her niece asked me to come to New York to be her doula.  I was flattered, but politely declined.

I didn’t want to be on call.  Couldn’t imagine putting a price to the work.  Wasn’t willing to sleep on a fold-out chair for just anyone.  Just her.

I was grateful for the experience.  To be invited so intimately into my friend’s life.  But I had no desire to repeat it.

Until I did.

Clover had just gone public with her pregnancy on Facebook.

As we ate perhaps our last gelato and sorbet of the season, I intuitively knew that I would be there.  Sleeping on a fold-out chair, eating crackers and peanut butter, a blanket wrapped around my head like a babushka.  Serving the miracle.

No Longer Waiting. And Other Little Miracles

I have a bit of a sugar hangover.  I blame the French meringues.  Stacked in big glass jars.  All shades of gorgeous.  Purple cassis.  Cocoa salted-caramel.  Yellow-cream.

2013-10-06 13.12.36I blame the lemon and apple tarts, covered with glazed domes, glistening, yellow and red.  So shiny and perfect, at first I think they are glass.

I am at my cousin Andrew’s wedding.

I had not planned to eat so much sugar.  I never do.  Just like I never planned to drink so much, for things to go sideways, as they often did.  Especially at weddings.

This is no longer my experience.  At weddings.  Or anywhere else for that matter.  I don’t stick my hand in the cake (already cut up and served, thank goodness) on the way out the door.  I don’t offend the groom’s cousin by dissing where he lives.  The bride doesn’t have to separate me and her 17-year-old boy cousin who I am grinding with on the dance floor.  The one who thinks perhaps this is his lucky day.  Or night.

I am grateful.

And I am triggered.

By this girl – a woman, really – who reminds me of me when I drank.  She stumbles back to the hotel with us, barely putting one foot in front of the other.  Shuffling.  Earlier, sitting at the bar, I watched her eyes roll back in her head.  Her words don’t make any sense to me.  She is speaking gibberish.

I remember making dinner for my girlfriends many years ago in California.  Being drunk before they arrive.  My friend Rainey, sweetly, sadly, telling me she doesn’t understand what I am saying.

Nobody tells this girl she doesn’t make sense.  No one seems to mind.  She smokes a joint thick as a cigarette and waves it about.  I have to leave.

I am triggered by my brother.  Showing up to the wedding with his new girlfriend.  It isn’t her.  Or him, for that matter.  But that he always has a girlfriend.  Always had a girlfriend.  Always.

I am triggered by my aunt’s stories of dating in her 40s, after her divorce.  The seeming line of suitors, one more exciting than the next, waiting for a chance to be with her.  Her year in Italy, living with a Count.

My aunt and I.  She is so beautiful.  I can imagine her line of suitors.
My aunt and I. She is so beautiful. I can imagine her line of suitors.

This is not my experience.  Any of it.  And yet, the shame that rises is all mine.  It is so familiar.  The shame I used to feel in my drunken-ness.  The shame I still sometimes feel in my alone-ness.  Even if I have – mostly – chosen it.

So sugar seems like a good idea.  At the end of the night.  Alone, in my cousin’s hotel suite.  Tired.  Waiting for him and his husband to take me back to their apartment where I am staying.

The meringues are like a siren.  The shiny slices of mango torte know my name.  Even the leftover pastry from the morning is alluring.  All from the patisserie where my cousin works.

I sample each, many times over.  Quickly.  And then…I stop.  I realize I am going to be physically uncomfortable very soon if I continue.  I say this out loud to myself.  I realize I am uncomfortable in my skin right now.  Triggered.  I call my friend Matt and we talk it through.

I do not shame myself for using food.  It is a small miracle.  A victory.  As is the stopping while I am in it.

This morning, it all feels a long time ago.

I am walking to the market to pick up some yogurt and produce for the apartment.  A coffee.  I am dropping into “my life” here in Minneapolis.  My life for two and a half days.

I marvel at how easily I can make a place my own.  Like I did in Dublin, with Steven.  Renting an apartment.  Finding my coffee shop.  My grocery.  My people in meetings in church basements.

I’ve done this in many places.  In Brussels.  In Charleston.  Even my hometown, Detroit.  Here, this morning in my cousin’s city, I remember a time when it wasn’t like this.

I was 17.  My parents sent me to Los Angeles to visit my cousin – their high-school graduation gift to me.  It is my first time traveling alone.  I am terrified.

Andrew goes to work, leaving me with a key and suggestions of where I might go while he is away.  Places I can walk to right out the door.  There are plenty.  Surprising for Los Angeles, but true.

I can’t leave the apartment.  I am stymied.  Paralyzed.  I hang out with the cat.  Listen to Carly Simon.  Smoke his weed.  Drink his booze.  And wait for him to come home.  While Los Angeles waits for me.

It is no different in the years that follow, as I continue to visit him in Los Angeles.  I stay in when he is gone.  Alone.  Afraid.

Perhaps it’s just age.  Or maybe it is travel.  But I cannot imagine sitting inside today, waiting.

Just like I can’t imagine being the drunk girl at the wedding.

I can almost imagine men lining up to date me, like they did for my aunt.  And that in itself is another miracle, that I can even imagine it.  Even if it hasn’t happened.  But I’m not waiting on that either.

The wedding.  The real reason I am here.
The wedding. The real reason I am here.

Instead, I think about now.  About dancing all afternoon at the wedding.  A three-piece band –  keyboard, stand-up bass and drummer – playing jazz and swing.   About Peter swinging me around the floor.  A strong lead, I follow easily.  He dips me at the end of each song and I smile big.  It is not a love connection.  We are just dancing, having a great time.

About Emiko, my cousin’s friend from Los Angeles.  She literally watched me become an adult, in those years that I visited, when I afraid to leave by myself.  We talk as though no time has passed, picking up the thread of easy connection and filling in the blanks.

About Monica, my cousin David’s wife.  The last time we saw one another was at my going-away party – when I was leaving California, with my then husband, for Chicago.  The city I embraced as my own – even though it was his dream that brought me here.

About her words to me.

She tells me she is excited for me.  For this time in my life.   For the adventures I’ve lived, and those I am about to live.  That I look amazing.

She doesn’t see the fear.  The worry.  Just this woman who flew in just this morning to show up for her cousin.  For her family.  For her life.  Not waiting…for anything.  For anyone.

This morning, walking, writing, making Minneapolis mine, if only for a moment…I see the same woman.   No longer waiting.

I Just Haven’t Met You Yet

walking in the worldI’ve been keeping a nightly gratitude list now for close to 10 years.  The practice was first suggested by my then spiritual-business teacher, Anne Sagendorph-Moon.

I would buy small, lovely journals and packages of 36 fine-point markers, and each night, in bed, write my list – a different color for each blessing in my life.

The practice has taken different shapes and forms over the years.  For the past few, I have done it on my computer, exchanging my list via e-mail with a friend in San Francisco.

So whenever a gratitude list is suggested as a part of any spiritual practice, in my head I tick it off as “Got it.”  “Done.”  Until yesterday.  When I had a *new* experience.

I am in week 2 of Walking in the World, Julia Cameron’s follow up to The Artist’s Way.  The book resonates deeply for me as walking and writing were the only things that made any sense during my divorce.  Either action had the power to ground me – almost immediately.  Still do.

My assignment yesterday was to take a 20-minute walk, with the intention of naming the blessings in my life with each foot fall.

Off I went, down Ainslie Street towards Winnemac Park – a few short blocks away from my home.  A place where I can duck into short paths, surrounded by tall, weedy plants, and feel like I am far away.  As I began walking, I began naming – to myself, my lips moving in the silence.

“I have a home.  I am in Chicago.  Japanese maples.”  It felt contrived, forced…but I kept muttering to myself anyway.  “My friend Julie.  Michigan blueberries.  I know how to be alone.”

I was flummoxed.  Was it really true?  Did I really know how to be alone?  Not just survive sans partner, all the while “wishin and hopin and dreamin,” but really know how to be alone and really be ok with it?  Even grateful for it?

Yes.  I think so.

This is not to say I wouldn’t like to meet a mate.  It’s a pretty universal desire, as my friend Mary Kate pointed out to me.  But it is how I live my life “in the in between” or “until that time” that determines my “ok-ness.”

I’ve been great with the action part, filling my life with dance, writing, friendship and family.  Travel.  Writing.  Recovery.  It’s the perception part that was kicking my ass.  Until it wasn’t.

I’m not sure what happened.  I used to think being alone meant I was a loser.  Unloveable.  Undesirable.  I suddenly don’t feel that way anymore.  I see my aloneness, to quote a good-bad Michael Buble song, as “I just haven’t met you yet.”

I remember being in my 20s.  My friend Carlos set me up with his business partner – a Jewish doctor.  He owned a great, stone cottage on a lake.  Good art work.   But we had little in common.  Little to talk about.  I wasn’t excited.  About him.  About us.

But I liked the idea of him.  Of us.  And I thought, “I can make this work.”

Thankfully I didn’t have to.  I got a job offer in San Francisco not long after we met.  The universe at work.

I recently had that thought again.  I met a man.  Nice looking.  Easy to talk to – especially about our divorces.  But that was where it ended.  We didn’t have much else to say.

As I was having those “this could work” fantasies, it hit me – why would I bother?

I know what it is like to meet someone and feel literally swept off my feet, equilibrium disrupted.  To wonder how it is we ever didn’t know one another.  To have so much to say to one another that we both wonder how we will ever get it all out…but delight in trying anyway.

This wasn’t it.

So I added to my list: Grateful to know what excited feels like.  To have experienced it.  To remember it.  To have faith that I will experience it again.

Grateful to know when I’m not excited.  And to know I would rather be alone than to settle.  To know how to be alone so that I am never beholden to anyone again.

And then…

I am grateful to know what great sex is like.  I am grateful to know what it feels like for someone to be wild about me.  To not be able to keep their mitts off of me.  Touching my hair, my face, my hands, my ass.  Kissing me in the middle of a crowded room because he “just had to.”

Thank you Mr. Sexy Photographer from Detroit.  Thank you short, horny, Jewish artist.  It was a long time ago.  But I remember.  And I have got to believe these weren’t limited-one-time exclusive offers either.

That is a new idea.  To believe in abundance in ALL things.  Including love.

I am grateful for that too.  And for the women who promised me I would arrive here one day.  The ones who cry when I share this with them.  They are abundance.  They are love.  I am loved.  And grateful for it.

In The Weeds

2013-07-17 17.22.57I like to think I am aware of my surroundings.

I’m not.

Out on a morning walk, I wander into the native planting section of Winnemac Park.  There are wood chips on the ground, soft landing for my feet.  A low wooden fence.

I’ve been here before.  But it’s been a few weeks.  Months.  I’m not sure.  I lose track of time.

Today the planting is as tall as my head. Taller.  Green stalks, some with yellow flowers and brown centers.  Purple flowers and greenish centers.  What we used to call Queen Anne Lace when I was a child.  I have to push my way through it, clearing the way for my next step.  Jungle-like.

I am smiling.

I walk through it again on my way back home, as the morning grows hot and humid.  This time I pull out my ear buds.  Right after Labelle’s Lady Marmalade.

It is so quiet. Right here in the city.  I hear the birds.  The dogs.  The cars passing by on the perimeter merely a hushed vibration.  It immediately feels different.

I don’t know why I’m surprised.

My ex always had music playing.  And while I love it, I often found it overwhelming.  I craved the quiet.

And yet, now living on my own, music is very much a part of my background.  Perhaps the quiet frightens me now, alone with my thoughts.

But now it feels like a respite.  A great, big exhale.  As if I am on an entirely different walk.  As if the walk just moments before had never been.  The change is palpable.

I look to a weeping willow and think, “I need to come here every day.  Even just for 10 minutes.  To walk on the wood chips.  To get lost in this “forest” of native planting.”

Ah.  That still small voice.  I couldn’t hear it over the Donna Summer Pandora Channel (which, by the way, is excellent for walking…except when you are trying to hear that still small voice.)

I greet a big, black lab on the path.  He is off-leash.  I am afraid for a moment.  I peer around the corner looking for his owner.  “Is he friendly?”  I ask.  He is.

His owner had been lost in his own world –his nose tucked into one of the tall purple daisy-like flowers.

2013-07-17 17.23.53I feel a tinge of sadness leaving.   I always want more.

Walking home I admire the beautiful teak wood furniture on the porch of a brownstone.  Its pads noticeably missing.  The greenish brass elephants flanking it.

Wooden flower boxes hang off the window of a multi-unit brick building.  The only ones – obviously installed by the tenant.  His joy.  Her contribution to the neighborhood.

Tiny gardens are planted in the small open spaces outside of single-family homes and brown-stone three-flats.  Shady spaces, lush with green leaves and plantings, moist rocks and black earth.  A burgundy Japanese maple.

I smile, sort of wistfully, at the sad attempt at yarn bombing on the trees outside of the church across the street.

Arriving home, my mind is noticeably still.  I could hear Pandora playing in my bag, I had forgotten to turn it off – The Weather Girls, “It’s Raining Men.”  Miracle.  I hadn’t been thinking of them at all.