Artist Date 72: I Hadn’t Even Realized They’d Been Gone

On Wednesday, Linda emailed me to cancel our date to the Art Institute.  Understandably, as she recently fell and cracked a few ribs.  She is on the mend, but not quite well enough to go out.

And just like that, the universe provided me with my Artist Date – Number 72.

I’ve been struggling with them lately.  Planning.  Going.  Writing.

I thought about messaging R. to see if he wanted to meet me.  We’ve been messaging one another on OKCupid, but haven’t met yet.  We will next week, over coffee.

Yes, I just not-so-subtly slipped that in…that about two weeks ago I somewhat hesitantly joined the world of online dating.  Although I haven’t had a date yet.

Yes, my entire blog centers on life after divorce.  The heart-breaking dalliances, and the more than year-long commitment to dating myself, courting my own creativity.  But I neglected to write about this.  Amazing.

Yes, blog forthcoming.

And yet, something knew better.  A higher self?  Just the universe at work?  For several weeks now, despite my feelings and my best efforts, time and space for my solo sojourns has serendipitously appeared.  And my feet have followed.  Habitual.  Almost like brushing my teeth.  But coupled with a craving –for time.  With me.  Outside of me.

And so I nix the message to R.  Grab a banana and a latte at Starbucks – the divorcee’s dinner – and head to the Art Institute for the lecture, “Return of the Modern Masters.”  I hadn’t even realized they’d been gone.

Crossing the street I see A. reading a newspaper, waiting in line to enter the museum for free after 5 p.m.  I invite him to jump the line with me – pulling out my member card.

We are early for lecture.  We wander into the Nilima Sheikh’s exhibit “Each Night Put Kashmir in Your Dreams.”  I saw it the day Mr. 700 Miles slipped out of my life without a word.  When the heart space between us –which up until then had been just inches –became a chasm I couldn’t seem to reach across, no matter how I tried.  Artist Date 68.

I tell this to A. while we view, Farewell,” a red scroll with two bodies entwined.  A man peeling open his chest, exposing his heart.  It reads “If only somehow you could have been mine.  What would not have been possible in the world?”

I tear up.

“I’ve done that too,” he says quietly.  Somehow, this makes me feel better.

He tells me he couldn’t face hurting her.  That he told himself he was sparing her.  Sober now, he understands he was only sparing himself.

I tell him that 700 Miles is active in his addiction to drugs and alcohol.  He nods.  “That’s what we do.”  This is not the first time I’ve heard this in regards to him and our story.  I nod, but I still do not understand it.

I show A. Marc Chagall’s “America Windows” outside of Rubeloff Gallery, where the lecture is.  He hasn’t seen it before.  I tell him that Ferris kissed Sloan here.  I am not sure he is old enough to remember the movie.  I feel like a docent, showing A. my Art Institute.

The lecture moves quickly – giving context to the positioning of the paintings and sculptures that have been returned to their rightful homes.

I am tempted to take notes.  I have before, knowing I was going to blog.  Sitting with A. I feel somehow self-conscious.  As if he might ask why.

I think about my friend Nithin commenting on kids and not-kids filming concerts on their phones.  Experiencing the music through a screen rather than directly.  Disconnected.  Too busy “showing” everyone where they are – via Facebook, Twitter and the like – rather than “being” where they are.

I imagine my note taking might fall into the same category.  I allow myself to just listen.  I free myself from the need to remember.

A. and I part ways after the lecture.  He is meeting a friend for a concert at the Chicago Theatre. (I wonder if he will watch it through his phone.)

I climb the open-backed stairs – the kind that make my ex-husband nauseated and panicky – to the third floor galleries, to see the “Returned Masters.”

The galleries are crowded.  I wander.  Thinking about the lecture.  About artist life in Europe before and during WW II.  But ultimately seeing the work through my own lens.

I drink in the juicy, ripeness of Max Beckman’s “Reclining Nude.” And I wonder why I am so set on waif-y thinness for myself.

I smile at Chagall’s “White Jesus,” recalling it is a favorite of the current Pope.  I notice my tendency to breathe deeply when facing his work.  As if I might inhale something of him.

I recall “Human Figure with Two Birds” from the Max Ernst show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I greet it and Loplop – the bird which comes to represent Ernst, “the private phantom attached to my person” – like an old friend.

I giggle at the “Exquisite Corpse,” a game played on paper by Man Ray, Andre’ Breton and Yves Tanguy while they waited for WW II to end – each adding to an unseen figure, folded back accordion-style, out of sight.

I long to feel the smoothness of Alberto Giacometti’s “Spoon Woman” and Constantin Brancusi’s “White Negress II.”

The “returned Masters” have helped return me to my own.  Out of my head and my heart.  Into my feeling body.  Like the Masters, I hadn’t even realized it had been gone.

Artist Date 31: He Played Debussy on my Naked Body. Believing in the God of Synchronicity

pianist of willesden laneLast week Stephanie W. invited me on an Artist Date.  This week Stephanie G. did.

However, unlike Stephanie W., who offered a suggestion – one that allowed me the prescribed solo experience of an Artist Date – Stephanie G invited me to join her and our mutual friend, Hallie, at the theatre.  Not solo.  Technically, not an Artist Date.

Yes, I spend this sort of time splitting these sorts of hairs.  As if the Artist Date police might show up at my door.  So I was relieved to read the following in Julia Cameron’s Walking in the World – her follow-up to The Artist’s Way, where I first became acquainted with the Artist Date.

In the section titled “Basic Tools,” Cameron writes:

“…the Artist’s Date…is assigned play…

“Synchronicity – that uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time – picks up markedly as we practice Artist’s Dates.”

Stephanie’s invitation to The Royal George Theatre for The Pianist of Willesden Lane – Artist Date 31 –felt like that, like play, like synchronicity.

I’ve been thinking about music a lot lately.  My coffers crying out for sound.

I considered Harry Connick, Jr. at the Chicago Symphony.  Tickets were pricey unless I wanted to sit in the rafters.  Which I didn’t.  I wanted to see him.  Easy on the eyes, as my friend Teresa used to say.  Sitting in the gallery section would only frustrate me.

I considered a free concert at Millenium Park.  I considered a trip to the record store.

Yet I found myself in a woefully off-center, red-velvet theatre seat, flanked by Hallie on my right, and a mercifully empty seat on my left.  A Steinway Grand (Baby Grand?  Concert Grand?) and a handful of oversized frame mirrors on stage in front of me.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane is the story of Lisa Jura.  How her commitment and passion for the piano, along with the “kindness of strangers” and some sort of higher power – call it synchronicity – saved her life during World War II.  Written and performed solo by Jura’s daughter, Mona Golabek, The Pianist of Willesden Lane is told both in words and music.

Bach. Beethoven. Rachmaninoff.

Debussy.

I feel fingertips on my body.

I am lying in bed with the former symphony conductor.  He is playing the notes on my naked body – silky strains that sound like watercolor.  Ridiculously sexy.  He is teaching me about music.  Telling me about his life.  Interlochen.  Tanglewood.  Studying with Leonard Bernstein.

I have been assigned to write the obituary for his father – a kind-hearted, heavy-hitter in the community.  We speak over the phone.  He is funny, wry.  Smart and sweet.  I find a photograph of him in the files.  He has dark hair and a beard, bright eyes and a kind smile.  He is wearing a tuxedo.  I am smitten.

We meet through a series of synchronicities, and spend the next couple of weeks in bed – with Debussy, and frequently a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Mint Oreo Cookie.  I fancy myself “Mrs. Former Conductor.”  And then it is over.

I haven’t thought about him for a long time.  But my body remembers.

Like the Holocaust survivor I interviewed.  She lost her sense of smell during the war.  She regained it more than 40 years later when she returned to Germany.  She smelled manure.  Her body remembered.

I’ve been thinking of her ever since I saw Brighton Beach Memoirs a few weeks ago with my friend Michelle.  I told her how I had the great, good fortune to interview and tell the stories of so many Holocaust survivors when I worked for the Jewish Bulletin.

I don’t hear their stories much anymore.  Most of them are gone.  Until now.

Lisa Jura arrives in London from Vienna – one of thousands of children on the Kindertransport.  She is 14.

A few years later she is a student at the Royal London School of Music.  In the evening she plays piano in a hotel bar, where she meets many admirers.  Among them a Royal Air Force commander.

He is shy.  His English is poor.  His comrades approach her with a rose and act as his translator.

He says she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.  That she must tell him when she makes her debut.  And then he is gone.  Not just from the bar, but from London.  To war.

Lisa Jura and the Royal Air Force Commander.
Lisa Jura and the Royal Air Force Commander.

And then it is over.  The war.  Just like that.

Miraculously, the commander is at her debut.  So are her two sisters.  They too have survived.

The lights go up.  Golabek steps out of Jura, and back into herself.  Post Script.  Lisa Jura immigrated to the United States.  The commander followed her, married her.  He is Golabek’s father.

I get teary.  Really teary.

I want to believe in ridiculously romantic love.  The kind I shared with the conductor.  The kind I had a glimpse of when a certain southern gentleman, upon learning I could not possibly see him again, pulled me close to him and said, “I’ll come find you.”

I want to believe in a God that allows three Jewish sisters to survive the Holocaust and then somehow find one another in post-war London.  Who then places two of them across the street from one another in Los Angeles.

I want to believe in Go(o)dness.  The go(o)dness of people who care for children that are not their own.  Who feed them.  Clothe them.  Shelter them.  Love them.  Foster their talent and dreams while a war wages outside their window.

I want to believe in the God of Synchronicity.  And I do.