Gently Nudged

 

With gratitude for 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. Those who inspire me. Those who unselfishly prod me toward my one, precious life.


August 14

Among my many 20-something gripes was the idea that I didn’t “have a thing.” A passion. A commitment. A “thing” that defined me. Drove me. That people associated with me.

A medium of creative expression.

Like Sherrod Blankner with paint. Over the years I watched her toil outside my house on Liberty Street in San Francisco and at Artist Residencies in Mendocino. I watched her put on shows in Berkeley and sell her work to patrons everywhere. She was (and is) a “working artist.” A description she once laughed at … “If that means I earn enough to pay for my supplies, I suppose I am.”

Like Julie Brown with a lens. We met on assignment for the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California in 1995 — the camera to my pen. Portraits. Projects in Guatemala. Even my wedding — she wanted to be a guest, but wanted me to have beautiful photographs even more — Julie captured, and continues to capture real life from the other side of a piece of glass.

Thank you, Sherrod. And thank you, Julie. For inspiring me with your work and your commitment. And for your generous donations to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign.

Turns out I did “have a thing,” and a medium … I always did. Words. It took the aftermath of divorce, sans romance, to wrangle them out of me and onto the pages of “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”

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Liberty Street in San Francisco … where I logged many hours with both of these ladies.

August 19

In Jewish tradition, the number 18 represents “chai” or life. And it is customary to give gifts in denominations of $18.

So it seems only appropriate that my friend and “sister of choice,” Julie Kupsov, would so generously donate to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign in this way.

Not only because we are both Jewish. But because we have experienced so much life — the birth of her son, for which I had the great, good honor to be present as her doula — and death — the passing of her parents Irv and Carole, who provided a safe, loving home away from home for me for more than 30 years — together.

And everything in between.

Julie pushed me to accept a newspaper job in San Francisco more than 20 years ago … thus leaving Detroit and our standing Thursday “date night.” And she loaned me money to volunteer in Rwanda in the midst of my divorce. … where the seeds of my book and my Spanish sojourn were planted.

Muchas, muchas gracias, Julie. (We learned that much in high-school Spanish class, right?) For your generous support of my campaign and of all my journeys.

(By the way, Julie is a genius writer in her own right … keep your eyes peeled for her name on Amazon!)

me-julie-and-jaron
With Julie and Jaron … just before leaving for Spain.

20 August

Math was never my strong suit.

“I don’t get it,” I’d sigh, slightly exasperated, plopping my textbook down on Mr. McClew’s desk in high school.

“OK,” replied the ever-patient instructor of snotty, privileged teens. “Tell me what you don’t get.”

“It!”

“I can’t help you, Lesley … You have to tell me what you don’t understand.”

I’m not sure I ever could. That I ever got “it.”

But I’ll tell you who does … my mother.

Because of her generous contribution to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign, I’m more than half-way to my goal. And over-the-moon delighted and grateful.

What?! Fuzzy math? Lesley logic? The campaign says $1,956 to date. The goal is $4,250. Huh?? My mom is old school. She wrote me a check.

Thank you, Linda Park. For your contribution. And for always supporting me …

Pink hair. (“Not a word,” she’d mutter to my father after a trip to the hairdresser.) Bad behavior grades. (I once received an “unacceptable” conduct mark. She told the teacher in no uncertain terms this was preferable to me cowering in a corner. And afterward, convinced Coach Downs to give me a passing grade in gym class.) Pillbox hats to high school. (Enough said …)

Moves to San Francisco. Chicago. Seattle. Chicago. Spain. And Chicago again.

My choices may not have been her choices. But she “got,” and still gets, that this is my one and only life. And she bolsters me in any healthy way she knows how.

Like saying “yes” to my book “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a (mostly) happily-ever after, after divorce tale. The story of how 52 Artist Dates healed my heart and helped me to step into my one and only life. The life I always dreamed of.

mom-in-70s
Feeling held … now and then.

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.

 

 

So It Is Written

 

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.


29 July

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.)

snews 2


31 July

Early memories of writing …

First grade.

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.

Third grade.

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.)

ballet


1 August

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.)

 

me and lkc


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.

With Love, The Universe

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, sans romance –and my dream of manifesting blog into book deal.


20 July

Last night I had the privilege of reading my work at Nikki Nigl’s AboutWomen in Chicago.

“I began having experiences instead of talking about them.”

I never know what words will resonate with an audience. This time it was clear, as this quote was posted on Facebook later in the evening.

I’ve talked about publishing a book for a long time. Now I’m ready to have the experience of it. Many thanks to Dana Harmon for her generous contribution, which brings me one step closer … (to) my dream of turning my experiences — my weekly Artist Dates, chronicled at http://www.awanderingjewess.com — into a book about the possibilities of happily going it alone after divorce.

(With Nikki, at AboutWomen.)

me and nikki about women


23 July

I forget that the universe is busy working on my behalf, even when I’m not working. In fact, sometimes it does its best work when I am at rest …

I was reminded of this truth this afternoon when I (uncharacteristically) sprawled out on the couch, listening to an interview about creativity with writer Elizabeth Gilbert.

I dozed off for about 20 minutes. When I awoke, I was met by a notification of a donation from my dear friend, Nikki Nigl.

Nikki packed 90 percent of my life into two suitcases and two carry-ons nearly one year ago, thus preparing me for my move to Madrid. She picked me up at O’Hare when I returned home 15 days ago. In between, she sent packages with what I couldn’t easily buy in Spain (travel-size toothpaste, Weight Watchers journals) and notes of inspiration. I’m fond of saying “Everyone needs a Nikki Nigl in their life.”

Many thanks Nikki for all that you do … and for taking my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign past the $1,250 mark. The retreat — where I will meet with literary and film professionals to transform my blog into a book — is now half funded. My goal is to have it completely funded ($2,500) when I send the manuscript to my retreat mentor on September 1.

(Notes from Nikki. I “found” these in the pockets of my winter coat … which she sent to me in Madrid.)

notes from nikki


25 July

I learned to meditate more than 14 years ago . I brought flowers and fruit as an offering for receiving my mantra. And I remember asking my friend and teacher, Paul Brown, how it was he “made a living” as a meditation teacher.

“I don’t know, honey bunny,” he said. “I just do. Money comes to me.”

It sounded ridiculous at the time. It was a hard idea to wrap my head around. Sometimes it still is. And yet, I find it is true in my life too … as evidenced by the success of my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign and Paul’s recent contribution to it. Muchas, muchas gracias a mi amigo y mi profesor.

I believe we attract abundance to us when we do our soul’s work. For me, that work is telling my story — of how I found a happy ending after divorce … even without “getting the guy.” I didn’t see many models for this when my marriage ended … so when romance eluded me I had to forge my own path. Little did I know it would be such a rich and satisfying one. One that would lead me back to myself. The self I had lost along the way without even knowing it.

(Paul and I in Golden Gate Park … post mediation glow.)

me and paul brown


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.

 

Artist Date 114: Residence

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Image by Anna Katharina Scheidegger. Collection 2016. Casa de Velazquez.

I’ve lost some work.

Last week my boss forwarded a text from the company where I’ve been teaching. They need to cut costs and will not be continuing with English classes. So I have to cut costs.  Or find more work.

I mention this to S over lunch.

He doesn’t inquire about teaching. Instead, he asks why I am not submitting my work to writing contests with cash prizes…like he has done. Or artist residencies where I can be housed and fed (and occasionally paid a small stipend) while I write.

I don’t have an answer.

He continues, casually mentioning that he will be living in Italy for five weeks this fall. In a castle. Writing.

“How’d you swing that?” I ask.

“Artist residency.” he says, right on cue. “I applied. You can too, you know.”

Yes, this is the same S who, a little more than two months ago, casually mentioned I might consider applying to the Institute of Sacred Music at the Yale Divinity School. (Which I did. And from which I am now eagerly awaiting an answer.)

Clearly he is a messenger, sent directly to me.

That night I poke around the Writers and Poets website, researching writing contests with cash prizes. I am too fixated on financial concerns (and already dreaming of New Haven) to give much thought to artist residencies.

Not until the next day. Artist Date 114.

My student A has invited me to Casa de Velazquez for “Puertas Abiertas” – literally “open doors” or , more accurately, “open studios.”

A has warned me that it is a bit difficult to find. And that Google Maps isn’t particularly helpful.

She is right.

My mood is low and the weather matches it. Windy. Grey. Cold.

But I’m determined.

I walk up and down the same street again and again, looking for Avenida Arco de la Victoria, only to learn I am already on it when I finally ask for directions.

I am reminded of a huge billboard on I-75 North, on the drive from Detroit to Saginaw, Michigan to see my nana. A picture of Jesus with a caption that reads, “Are you on the right road?”

I am now.

And eventually I make my way to the large, stone structure that is less than a 15-minute walk from the metro – although it has taken me close to 45.

I send A a message, letting her know I’ve arrived. She meets me outside of the library and takes me on a short tour – at which time I learn it is not her work I’ve come to see , but that of more than a dozen artists in residency.

The timing is not lost on me.

I tell A about my conversation with S. She smiles. “Yes, you could apply for an Artist Residency,” she says, gently adding “Just not here. Because you don’t speak French.”

Indeed, I hardly speak Spanish. And some days, I’m not sure I speak English anymore either.

We walk down the hill, past the empty swimming pool and a sculpture of a pig face, to the cottages where the artists live and work. A introduces me a photographer who speaks English, and who wears the same haircut as me.

We do that, “I like your hair.” “I like YOUR hair,” elbow-nudging thing. I ask where she is from.

Everywhere. Nowhere. Last stop – Paris.

I understand. When asked the same question I pause, stymied. I’m from Detroit. But I lived in San Francisco for 14 years. Chicago for seven. A year in Seattle…I never know quite how to answer.

We talk about this. About creating a life with the whole of one’s belongings fitting neatly into one or two bags. She feels liberated by it. I feel a bit untethered.

For her, this residency is as much her residence as any other.

I leave, thinking about the word residence. Later, I look it up in the dictionary. Merriam-Webster offers several definitions, among them:

1b: the act or fact of living or regularly staying at or in some place for … the enjoyment of a benefit.

2a: the place where one actually lives as distinguished from one’s domicile or a place of temporary sojourn.

4b: a period of active and especially full-time study, research, or teaching at a college or university.

And then I understand the difference in our perspectives.

What I have is a room in a flat in the center of Madrid. What I crave is a residence. A residency.

 

 

 

Everything I Didn’t Write – September

A few days ago, noticing I had hardly written since arriving in Spain but acutely aware of my many Wandering Jewess experiences, I pulled together my Facebook posts from my first month in Madrid in a blog post. What follows is a Facebook accounting of how life unfolded in that second month – no longer a TEFL student living in Airbnb digs, but suddenly an English teacher with a permanent address.

September 2

Churros and chocolate with dear friends from the United States, Melinda and Craig. In these moments the world feels both vast and intimate.

September 4

So much to celebrate! New work! New home! A friendship that cuts across oceans. And yes, without question, the most fun meal I have ever eaten. Three Michelin Stars. Entiendo.

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September 8

Esta noche…first “official” Artist Date in Madrid.

September 12

When Seattle descends upon Madrid…Salpicon, Burrata and Churros, oh my! Were your ears burning Pamela and Molly?

September 13

A Rosh Hashanah Story or This Is What Happens When You Say Yes…

A couple of years ago, someone (you can’t remember who) invites to you to join an online group of women writers — thousands of them. A few of them live in Madrid. And one of them is Jewish and from Miami. She invites you to a Rosh Hashanah service and seder put on by a newly formed Reform chavurah.

You have never met her in person, and you feel uncomfortable as hell, but you go anyway. You are asked to light the candles during the service — which is all in Spanish and Hebrew, of which you speak only a little of each.

You have dinner with a professional flamenco dancer from New York, a makeup artist from New Zealand, and a Spanish window maker, his lovely wife and daughter. An engineer from Colombia and a woman from Buenos Aires (who might as well have “Friend” tatooed on her forehead…instead she has Shalom on her ankle) ask for your number — they want English classes.

You eat apples and honey, challah, pomegranates and dates. There is a fish head in the center of the table to represent moving forward…”away from the tail.” (This must be a Sephardic tradition.) All of it happens in a mish-mash of broken Spanish and English. Remarkably, you feel a part of…even the parts you don’t understand.

There are hugs and kisses and What’sApp exchanges. You walk home through Plaza Mayor. There is a chill in the air. Tomorrow you begin teaching. It is a New Year.

Thinking of you this Rosh Hashanah, Brant, Mary Jo, Matt and Pamela. Besos!

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September 15

It was suggested I try reading in Spanish. Suggestions from Jesus at La Buena Vida. Feeling excited and intimidated. I think it is going to be a slow read…

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September 17

I just received a refund from the Oficina de Correos. Seems they gave me the wrong post box in July and any and all mail sent to me now resides in the Bermuda Triangle of correspondence. While somewhat unbelievable… what is equally unbelievable is that I received this refund less than a week after the error was discovered. That and the fact that I don’t speak Spanish and no one at the office speaks English. (Thank goodness for my friend David who just happened to be there last Friday and served as translator.) Oh..and the refund came with a handwritten receipt. Ping me privately if you need my mailing address.

September 19

Read 5 pages of a Lorrie Moore short story today — in Spanish. Something about 6 months after a divorce not yet taking off one’s wedding ring. Cut off the finger? Cut off the hand? Slow going…but I’m amazed at my perseverance — looking up every fourth or fifth word — and how much I did understand.

And grateful that when my marriage was over, I could take off the ring.

September 21

Man on Metro with thick New York accent: Your hair looks fantastic. I love it.

Me: How did you know that I was American?
Man on Metro with thick New York accent: Are you kidding? No Spanish woman would ever wear her hair like that. Or British woman for that matter…

September 22

On this eve of Yom Kippur, as I head out the door to go to High Holiday services in Spanish and Hebrew, I am reminded of where I was at this time last year…on the precipice of something big, although I did not know it. Flu-ish and packing for three-weeks in Italy. Near the end of that trip, riding the light rail to a dinner party in Rome with a fist full of flowers, I thought, “It’s like I live here…I can do this.” Nearly one year later, I am doing “this.” This is grace.

September 23

Just completed my first private Spanish lesson. I walked in nervous … nowhere to hide. Sixty minutes later I feel inspired and, dare I say, empowered … like maybe, just maybe, I can learn to really speak this language. Up until now I have only shared my students’: experience of humility … now I know their joy!

Considering twice weekly classes …

September 26

Up late with Marissa and The Cabbage Ministry (at The Tempo Club).

September 27

Learning Spanish through food and song, at a former slaughterhouse. We didn’t plan it. It just turned out that way…

 

2015-09-27 14.17.16September 28

It’s hard to believe I left the United States just two months ago today. Feels like I have been here so much longer…

September 30

Seems a fitting Facebook memory for today (“My first memoir piece in print.”)… on the heels of Tim posting that my profile picture screams “book jacket” and a meeting with friend and fellow writer Nicola in an effort to get “writing accountable.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything I Didn’t Write — July and August 2015

I love words.

This should hardly be a surprise as I call myself a writer. Used to make a living as one. As the words “Left” and “Write” are tattooed on my wrists.

And yet, since leaving the United States on July 28 with a one-way ticket to Spain, I’ve written little.

Little about what it is to live in a country where I hardly speak the language. Little about the heartbreak of leaving a deep and unexpected love. Little about the humbling that accompanies beginning yet another career at the age of 45. And little about what it is to turn 46 in this place I now call home.

I’ve written little about my private victories. About being asked for directions and being able to give them – albeit in English. About when Spanish words tumble out of my mouth without my thinking – simple phrases like, “Para llevar for ella, para aqui para mi” – and having them understood. About getting paid in euros. Jumping through hoops of securing a Spanish ID card. And fulfilling a dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember – to live overseas.  A dream so faint, so distant, so seemingly unattainable that I forget it was my dream and that I am actually doing it.

I’ve written little about my work teaching English, about my friendships with fellow wanderers and about my travels since arriving. Except on Facebook, where I have posted short, pithy, true-in-the-moment whispers of my life in Madrid, and many, many photographs.

What follows is a chronicle of my first 30-plus days here in Madrid – as they appeared on Facebook.

July 30

I have a Spanish phone number. (Message me and I will give it to you.) Most challenging interaction I’ve had so far, but I got it done. People are amazingly kind and helpful — like Jose, another customer at the post office who offered to help translate. (I will be going back tomorrow to get a box to receive “real mail” now that I can provide a local number.) He said my Spanish is good. I do not agree, but I think I am maneuvering well having been here less than 36 hours. Off shortly to an intercambio at J+J Books to meet Facebook friend Robert. Thanks for the connection, Jessica.

July 31

Third time IS the charm. Third day at the post office. Finally had everything in order to get a box. Here are the keys!

I wanted to take a photograph of the women who greeted me there these three days in a row, who were so patient and who were able to finally hook me up. They couldn’t imagine why. “Ayuda me.” (I meant to say “You helped me”…I was close, and they understood.) “It is my job,” replied one, in English. “It is my job.” Amazing.

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August 3

First day of school.

August 4

How much do I love my girls in Chicago? How much do they love me? Thanks for lifting me up. XOXO

nikki and melissa

August 4

(Meme from aforementioned great love – posted to my page)

“Hmmm.

We can skip the wine.”

dirk meme

August 5

It begins to feel like home when I run into people I know on the street. I remember when it happened in San Francisco and Chicago. Now Madrid.

August 9

Falling head over heels over head for this city.

Magical skies. The energy of its people spilling into the streets after dark. A surprise misting by the evening sprinklers in Retiro Park.

Lunches with new friends — yesterday at Botin, the world’s oldest restaurant, today on Plaza de la Independencia — running into others on the streets.

Hard to believe I arrived less than two weeks ago. I feel so present, so here…

August 15

Officially overwhelmed…

August 16

Sunday morning in Retiro Park. Why yes, I should be doing homework. But first — sun, stillness and a shot at serenity. Refueling following a Saturday of letting go…and filling up for the week ahead.

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August 17

Trust. Just got my hair cut by someone named Pepe. He does not speak English. I hardly speak Spanish. I think we did okay.

August 25

Woo hoo!! Student of the week. Not bad for the oldest student in the class…

Tomorrow is the BIG grammar and phonics exam, as well as my final observed teaching. All good juju welcomed.

The past four weeks have been humbling, exhilarating and, at times, overwhelming. In the home stretch…looking forward to what comes next.

August 28

DONE! When they handed out the certificates, they dubbed me Lesley~I will conquer Spain~Pearl. Your collective mouth to God’s ear.

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August 29

I am walking to pick up the keys to my new apartment. At the corner of my street and Calle Mayor I see this banner. I look at the door and know it like I know my name. Every hair on my body stands up and I begin to weep.

My first night in Madrid, 16 years ago with my then husband …our waiter speaks perfect English. I ask him about it and he tells me he learned it on a kibbutz in Israel. I mention I’m Jewish and that my grandmother did not like visiting Spain because there weren’t any Jews here. After dinner, he sends me across the street … to where I am standing now, to this place with the beautiful doors.

How is it I am living here 16 years later…literally here? With the Jews? With the vintage camera shop? The bookstore? And the bakery? With a landlord and roommate named Maite, a former UN translator just five years my mother’s senior … in an apartment with an unheard of eat-in kitchen, a balcony overlooking a plaza, a piano, and lots and lots of original art. A home I didn’t even have to look for it…it literally came to me. (Thanks Kylie.)

I’m not quite sure what to think … Moving is hard. And it is magic. And I am definitely, definitely supposed to be here.

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August 29

(In response to Facebook memory “On This Day…”)

On this day in 2012, moving back to Chicago. With John and Karin on the exact same day one year prior.moving from Chicago to Seattle. Today I picked up the keys to my new digs here in Madrid. Something about August 29 and big movement in my life. Only thing missing is John and Karin…

August 30

Home. Fully unpacked for the first time in more than a month. (Including Ganesh. Thank you, Clover. And a hand-spun wool bowl made by Deb.) Also for the first time, I moved in a cab. Two suitcases. Two backpacks. A couple of shopping bags. Many thanks to Nikki who packed me the first time. (This time was easier but not nearly as much fun.) And to Jennifer who helped get me from Salamanca to Opera. As I write this, I am reminded that I don’t do any of this alone.

2015-08-30 13.11.12

Nose-ing What Is Right For Me

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The last page of the wedding ceremony…

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine posed a question on Facebook, asking what she should do with her many years of journals in the course of a move.

I’d been wondering the same thing as I am moving to Madrid later this summer. My plan is to board the plane on July 28 with a one-way ticket, a one-year visa and two suitcases — but no journals.

“Burn them,” my friend Scotty wrote in response to the original question, the answer not intended for me. And yet, it was, as I intuitively knew he was right.

I had been an avid journal-er in my 20s — tucking into bed each night with a notebook and pen and chronicling the events of the day. Sometimes in prose. Occasionally poetry.  Lush, detailed descriptions of the sex I was having. Barely decipherable drunken scrawls, desperate and self-pitying.

I carried them with me for nearly 20 years — from Detroit to San Francisco to Oakland. To Chicago to Seattle and back to Chicago — about a dozen of them, most of them with hard covers.

I stopped journaling not long after my then boyfriend (now ex-husband) moved into my apartment — choosing to tuck in with him rather than a stack of pages and my most intimate thoughts.

I returned to the practice 15 years later, switching the time to first thing out of bed — Morning Pages, as suggested in the book, “The Artist’s Way.”

When I moved back to Chicago in 2012, following my divorce, I began reading my old words  — the ones I had carried with me for so long.  Juicy bits about the photographer who kept a studio above the restaurant where I worked. The aspiring rabbinical student. The actor.

The much, much older man from Detroit who suggested I meet him in Vail — “just as friends.” The lawyer and part-time musician. The doctor I met on a press trip in Germany.

I had forgotten.

It was fun at first, feeling like a voyeur, remembering who I had once been — until I considered contacting one of those men, at which time a friend suggested I take a break from my reading. And I did.

Meanwhile, I continued filling soft-covered notebooks with Morning Pages, stacking them one on top of the other on a shelf in my bedroom closet — until a few weeks ago, when I placed them in a box along with my marriage license and a copy of our wedding ceremony and drove them to Michigan, to the home of my friend Paul, the sometimes reluctant shaman.

That evening, at Paul’s suggestion,  I tore off the covers from my notebooks and ripped pages from their metal spirals. I threw a glossy journal into the wood-burning stove that heats the entire house and watched the resin-covered cardboard catch, shrivel and glow. I tossed in several more, until the oven was filled with ash. Then Paul played John Lennon’s “Starting Over” and we danced, laughing.

In the morning I brought the remaining notebooks, wedding ceremony and marriage license outside to a fire pit Paul had dug. He said a few words, inviting in the spirits, and I again began the process of burning my words — stopping occasionally to read a random page out loud before throwing the notebook into the flames — until the pit was overcome with ashes like the stove the night before.

Nearly two hours later, I wasn’t done. Paul suggested I leave the remaining notebooks with him, promising to burn them at his next sweat lodge. I agreed, and asked that we end the day’by burning my marriage license.

Several people had suggested I might need it one day, but I couldn’t imagine any reason to hold on to it. So I offered a few words of thanks to my ex and once again set him free — something I had done following the completion of our civil divorce, and again following our Jewish divorce.

The legal document crackled and hissed, engulfed in yellow and blue flames.

Since then, my ex and I have had precious little contact. And the relationship that had begun just prior to my trip to Michigan has blossomed.

Paul closed the ceremony by bringing me inside, where we sat in meditation. Then he sang and he drummed, smudged me with sage and handed me a rubber nose in a small plastic container — the kind from a bubble-gum machine that contains a prize, a ring or tattoos — and assured me if I continue to listen to my heart and to my spirit, I will always “nose” what is right for me.

Like knowing when to let go of my stories and how to do it. With fire, with friendship, and with God.

Artist Date 100: No More Fear of Flying

View from the "Jong Section" of Ravenswood Used Books.
View from the “Jong Section” of Ravenswood Used Books.

Second Jewish confession regarding Artist Dates.

I have never read Fear of Flying.

Some might fret about skipping the classics — Crime and PunishmentSons and LoversA Tale of Two Cities.  But this is my own personal blasphemy.  Isadora Wing.  The Zipless Fuck.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.  Ever since my friend Paul asked me which living writer I admired most.  I didn’t hesitate.  Erica Jong.

“Good,” he said.  “I want you to write Ms. Fear of Flying.  I want you to introduce her to your work.”

Gulp.

I remember being introduced to her work, more than 25 years ago.  I was a freshman in college.  That year, Ms. magazine published a conversation between Jong and radical feminist, Andrea Dworkin.

The spread included several photographs of them sitting on stools, talking.  Dworkin wearing a pair of large overalls, her hair — signature frizzy; Jong in a smart, form-fitting suit and heels.  She is laughing.  They both are.  Dichotomies collide.

I do not remember a single word of the interview.  Only these images, and that this was my first introduction to Jong, to her brand of sexual empowerment and liberal use of fuck and cunt — which, at the time, seemed shockingly like my own.

So today, when Jessica at Ravenswood Used Books asks if she can help me find anything, I do not hesitate.

Fear of Flying.  Artist Date 100.

It is bright inside, which I don’t quite expect.

Jessica leads me past shelves slightly groaning under the weight and familiar musty smell of aging paper.  Past the required bookshop pet, a greyhound in a zip-up vest turned animal parka, lying on a large, plaid dog bed.

All the way to the “Jong section” at the back of the store.

She climbs a ladder and pulls down a stack from the very top shelf — Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones.  Parachutes and KissesHalf-Lives — an early book of poetry.  Hard and soft copies of Fear of Flying.

I gather them into my arms and settle into a chair.

I remember reading How To Save Your Own Life, the follow-up to Fear of Flying, in my 20s while living in San Francisco.  Picking it up at Manzanita Used Books in the Mission, where I loaded up on yellowed copies of Philip Roth novels after my once-upon-a-time boyfriend Jason turned me on to Portnoy’s Complaint.

I remember reading Seducing the Demon: Writing For My Life — which I had picked up at another used bookstore, Powell’s in Portland — more than 20 years later.  Cracking its spine I felt eager to tuck into bed each night, alone, to savor a few juicy pages before passing out.

I had let go of this ritual more than 15 years ago, when my boyfriend, now ex-husband, moved into my apartment.  But unlike writing — which, following a similar hiatus, returned to me a few months after our decision to part ways — reading had eluded me.  Until Jong.

Her words pulled me into the bedroom in the wee hours when I otherwise did not want to be there, did not want to be poignantly reminded of the empty space on my mattress.  Her words allowed me to sleep again.

I decide on Half-Lives, as it is about the point I am at — 45, middle-aged, half-a-life — along with a hard copy of Fear of Flying.  I smirk.

On my way to the register, I pick up Women Who Run With the Wolves, a suggestion from my friend Pam.  She said it changed her life.

I want to change my life.

I am changing it.  I have been for nearly three years.

Returning to Chicago — neatly packing my messy life into cardboard boxes, living alone for the first time ever.  Returning to writing.  To reading.  To traveling alone — to Rwanda. To Ireland, Italy, Belgium and France.

I pull Italian Days by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison and Almost French by Sarah Turnbull down from the stacks and add them to my pile — talismen.  Protectors of my very recent decision to not renew my lease, but instead move overseas to teach English.

Anecdotal instructions by those who went before me of how to change my own life.  Reminders, like Jong’s second novel, of how to save it.

Artist Date 99: Like a Motherfucker

tiny beautiful thingsForgive me, it has been 16 days since my last Artist Date and 19 days since I’ve blogged.

I feel like a Jewish Catholic at confession.  Except the only one I’m asking for absolution is myself.

I miss my alone time.  Artistic input into my body.  My head feels foggy.  Squeezed.  Heavy and thick.  As if there is no room…no room for anything more.  No room for anything at all.

I am daydreaming about when and where I can get my fix — my dose of solitude and creative sustenance.

I didn’t expect this, didn’t expect to be “hooked” when I entered into this commitment a little more than two years ago.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Only that I needed help.

I was newly divorced.  My biological mother — who I had only met just four years earlier — was dying.  And the relationship I wasn’t having  — the one with a handsome southerner who lived some 900 miles away, who I kissed for two nights like a horny but innocent teenager —  was effecting my relationships.

My friend S. told me in no uncertain terms she could not, would not, hear his name again.

I was on my knees, desperate.  The humbled position where all change grows from.

On Christmas night 2012, a voice I’ve grown to know — my wise-self voice — suggested I work through The Artist’s Way again.  Adding that this time I go on weekly Artist Dates — a once every seven-days solo sojourn to fill my creative coffers — as is suggested in the book.

I went to lectures, museums, opera.  To pottery classes, dance performances, walking tours.  Movies, thrift shops and book stores.  All of it, alone.

On occasion, I miss a week — choosing to spend a final day with a friend before she becomes a mother or sharing my artsy outing with another — but it is rare.  And I’ve never gone this long without…until now, at the Davis Theatre — Artist Date 99.

My therapist in Seattle was the first to suggest Cheryl Strayed.  “I read her before Oprah,” she insisted, imploring me to pick up Wild, as well as Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar — the best of Strayed’s advice column from The Rumpus.

Queen Anne Books placed a special order for both books.  They arrived the day after I left for Chicago.

I mostly forgot about them until this past summer — two years later — when my friend Lori insists I buy both books.  She tells me “writers read,” and drags me into the Book Cellar where she puts a copy of each into my hands and guides me to the cash register.

Both are dog-eared now, and tear-stained.  Sentences underlined, entire pages bracketed.  Words resonate.  Lessons I do not want to forget.  Whispers from the universe reminding me where I came from, where I am today.

“Unique as every letter is, the point each writer reaches is the same: I want love and I’m afraid I’ll never get it.” (Tiny Beautiful Things)

“…for once it was finally enough for me to simply lie there in a restrained and chaste rapture beside a sweet, strong, sexy, smart good man who was probably never meant to be anything but my friend.  For once I didn’t ache for a companion.  For once the phrase a woman with a hole in her heart didn’t thunder into my head.” (Wild)

Sitting in the darkened theater, Strayed words — now images — alive before me, I say, yes.  And yes.

I still fear the possibility of not finding romantic love again, but it doesn’t drive me anymore.  It doesn’t dictate my every action.  My every reaction.

I can be in “chaste rapture beside a sweet, strong, sexy, smart good man who was probably never meant to be anything but my friend.”  Lying next to one another on my couch following morning meditation, the Reluctant Shaman’s lips pressed to my forehead — my third eye.

I no longer ache for a companion.  The words, “I do not wish a man were here,” crossing my lips as I cross the Seine last October, alone on my 45th birthday..

Strayed took to the Pacific Crest Trail  — alone — to learn these truths.  To feel them in her bones.  Mine was a different path, made of clay and dance and music.  Of film and paint and spoken word.  Of pasta and gelato and nearly three weeks in Italy.  All of it, alone.  But the truths, the same.

“So write…,” Strayed writes in Tiny Beautiful Things.  “Not like a girl.  Not like a boy.  Write like a motherfucker.”

Yes.

Artist Date 97: No Longer Desperate for the Drama

A different kind of Pink Flamingos...
A different kind of Pink Flamingos…

My Artist Date blogs tend to write themselves.

I don’t plan it.  It just happens.

A flood of memories rushes in.  An experience with my ex-husband.  A story from my childhood.  Some person or situation from my past popping up in full Technicolor like a carnival whack-a-mole.

The experience of the Artist Date — a planned, solo flight of fancy with the express purpose of filling me, my creative coffers — wakes up some dormant element of my history and connects me to myself, to art, the artist and the world around me.

It is both a self-involved deep-sea diving excursion into my own unique story and the recognition of the universal experiences that knit us together in an infinity scarf of humanity.

Until today, watching Desperate Dolls, a play written by my friend’s husband, at the Strawdog Theatre — Artist Date 97.

No story.  Only feeling.

Enter three girls trying to make it big in Los Angeles, the sleazy but lovable B-movie director who gives them a shot (along with campy “showbiz” names) and a creepy-powerful, sexually frustrated devil-villain called Captain.

There is a late 60s-early 70s motel room with perfect period attention to detail.  And screaming.  Lots of it.

I covet Matchbox’s body — flat belly and perfect ass — snugly held in white panties and a matching bra.  Pretty Sexy’s Go-Go boots and thick, fluttery false eyelashes.  Sunny Jack’s belt buckle and mustache.

The thoughts are random and fleeting, in no way connected to my past.  Only Sunny Jack’s grainy girl films —  wanna-be starlets rubbing suntan oil between their breasts to bossa nova swing; kicking ass, or more literally, kicking balls of some Snideley Whiplash of a pervert chained to a tree — evoke any sense of the familiar.

A tip of the hat to John Water’s early films.  Think Mole McHenry performing a do-it-yourself sex change in Desperate Living, Babs Johnson eating dog poop in the final scene of Pink Flamingos.

It is only later that I think about my friend’s brother turning me on to these films the way my cousins turned me on to pot when I was 12, or my father returning one of them to the video rental store before I had watched it .  A liquor salesman with a strong stomach and a good sense of humor, he was horrified after just 10 minutes.

In the moment I am only conscious of my stomach tightening with the uncomfortable knowing of what comes next and wishing I didn’t.  Sick anticipation and the inability to turn away.

No story.  Only feeling.

My sympathetic nervous system — the “fight or flight” reflex that makes my heart race and the soles of my feet sweat — fully activated.

“I love the idea of exploitation movies.  Movies conceived and relying on our basest human emotions and the things that attract us to most art…” writes Anderson Lawfer, Desperate Dolls‘ Hugen Artistic Director.  “This is a style that doesn’t get done on stage because of the outrageous violence and sexual situations, but why not?  We all love it.”

I used to love it.  I chased that sympathetic nervous system hit, rushing toward roller coasters, scary movies, and without really knowing it, crazy drama.  I lost my taste for it some years ago when it became clear that real life provided more than enough opportunities to exercise my body’s stress response.

But for one night, I can embrace it — grateful for the reprieve from my mind, from my memory, and the self-inflicted, heart-pounding insanity I once craved.