“I’m Sorry.” Or, Watch It Scatter Like Cockroaches

disappointmentI woke this morning to this message on my Facebook wall. “Any news?!?!”

It seemed like a sign – that it is time to speak my truth. To cast a light on my darkness and disappointment and (hopefully) watch it scatter like cockroaches.

Sigh.

I have not been accepted to the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University.

I’ve known this for a little more than two weeks.

I’ve shared the news slowly. With a few friends. My ex-husband. My rabbi and other personal references.

But I haven’t been able to tell either of my parents. Post it on Facebook. Blog about it.

I’ve been transparent about so much in my life. My divorce. The failed romances that followed it. And the beautiful one that began the day after I bought my ticket to Madrid.

My struggles with weight.  With alcohol. With making a life in a new country.

My breast reduction.

The death of my biological mother.

But this felt strangely tender and raw. Perhaps a little shameful. Disappointing and shocking because I really thought I was going.

Ever since my friend Spencer mentioned it to me while we were on holiday in Prague. When my spine straightened and my whole body screamed, “Yes! I have no idea what the Institute of Sacred Music is but, Yes!” When I suddenly “knew” (or thought I knew) why I had been called to Madrid.  To meet Spencer and to have this conversation.

And the people around me…they thought I was bound for New Haven too.

They saw the way my face lit up, how my resonance changed when I spoke about combining my lifelong practices of writing and spirituality. How I felt like I was finally redeeming myself to myself. How the “smart girl” was finally going to “live up” to that moniker. And how I was going to give myself the gift I couldn’t until now – art school and graduate studies.

I felt confident about my personal statement and my writing sample, the glowing letters of recommendation.

“You’re going,” they said, as if they had seen the future in a crystal ball. And I believed them. Not because I wanted to. But because I thought it was already written.

Unfortunately, this was instead.

Dear Ms. Pearl:

The Admissions Committee of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music has reviewed your application with great care. I am sorry to inform you that your application has not been approved.

We recognize your dedication to the church and appreciate your great interest in the educational mission of the Institute. We send you our best wishes for success in realizing the goals expressed in your application.

Sincerely,

Martin Jean
Director
Yale Institute of Sacred Music

“Clearly it wasn’t meant to be.” “It isn’t God’s will.” “Something better is around the corner.” “Fuck Yale.” “I know just how you feel.”

I’ve heard these words, spoken with love and compassion. And while I’m sure they are true, it’s been hard for me to accept them, to take them in. I’m just not “there” yet.

I’m certain I will one day look back and view this with gratitude and the “ahhhh” of understanding. But until then, and without faith on my part, the words feel somehow hollow, a little bit like platitudes.

Surprisingly, I’ve received the most comfort from the words, “I’m sorry.”

Perhaps because they speak to where I am at this moment.

Sorry. Yes. Me too.

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.