Playing with Picasso

I caught my breath as my foot slipped on the slick slope. “Oh God,” I prayed. “Please do not make me have to explain that I broke my ankle climbing up the Picasso.” It was slipperier than I thought it would be. I made it to the top and sat down, running my hand over the cool, rough metal.

I had discovered that the sculpture that I’d walked by a dozen times was a Picasso on my first visit to the Art Institute. I learned all about how Picasso created it –making sketches and then building it, first in cardboard, and then in steel, before finalizing the design to send a bridge builder in Indiana for fabrication and installation. I’d read about how he had donated it to the people of Chicago. Suddenly, the sculpture I had been referring to as the “wolf-angel” (because nobody knows what it is) had new significance. It was a Picasso.

This Saturday was a beautiful late summer day and the city was alive. The sun was dropping behind the buildings as I took a left onto Washington, heading to the Walgreens to return the movie I’d rented from Redbox. Daley Plaza was more crowded than usual. People sat in twos and threes on the benches watching the children run in packs. I stopped to take it all in, enjoying the way the cheerful chatter of the place mingled with the rattle of the jackhammer two blocks over. Then I noticed the sculpture.

It had its usual crowd of admirers, their cameras pointed up to capture the face of the 50 foot tall statue. But something was happening at the base that I had never seen before. Kids were climbing up the 8-foot slope and then sliding down to land on the marble pedestal. I watched, slightly horrified, as three of them climbed up and then came down head-first on their stomachs, stretched out like Superman. What were they doing? Where were their parents? Didn’t they know this was a Picasso? I stood there and watched as they came down again, hooting as they spun on the descent, from head-first to feet-first. I watched parents slide with their kids tucked between their knees and couples come down, their hands clasped together. And all I thought was…but this is a Picasso!

Somewhere between dropping off that movie and driving back into the city this afternoon after visiting a friend, I started to consider what Picasso would have thought if he’d been standing with me. I realized that I didn’t think he would have been offended. I think he would have been delighted. As an artist, I think he would have relished people enjoying his creation. I think he would have been enchanted with their play. I think he would have loved seeing them engage his art, maybe in ways he’d never thought of.

So that’s how I found myself perched at the top of the makeshift slide at the bottom of the Picasso. I tucked my purse under my arm, glanced around to make sure that nobody was looking, and pushed off. I came to a stop on the flat marble and jumped off the pedestal. I hurried back across the plaza, pushing some escaped hairs back into my ponytail. I stopped at the corner to look back at the sculpture, and smiled. And I think Picasso would have smiled too.


Setting goals…

When I look back on this year, I want to remember it as a year that I did things. I want to remember it as a year that I took risks and set goals and embraced as much as I could. So…here’s what I’m aiming to do:

1. Say yes when I’d rather say no. When I’m invited to do something or go somewhere, especially if it’s new and different, say yes.

2. Walk. 15 miles a week. At least.

3. Set a personal record in a 5K.

4. Write. Spend at least 15 minutes a day writing. And, publish three blog posts a week.

5. Learn to knit and knit a scarf.

6. Take advantage of all the theaters nearby. See an opera at the Lyric, see the Joffrey ballet perform, go to a concert in Millennium Park.

7. Attend a lecture at the Art Institute. Don’t miss any of the special exhibits this year. Even the weird ones. (Like Magritte)

8. Go see Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me taped. (They record it six blocks from where I live! SIX BLOCKS!)

9. Read. Turn off the tv and read.

10. See the Badlands before I go back east.

11. Swim in Lake Michigan.

12. Visit the Hull House.


When the L rumbles by under my window late at night…

When I see the reflection of the city in the curve of Cloud Gate…

When I live my life within a 3 mile radius…

When people around me choose vulnerability…

When I open my door and a little black cat stretches and bumps her head against my leg…

When I hear words of hope and healing spoken…

When I walk to the Art Institute and spend an hour looking at miniature rooms…

When I get to spend quality time with an old friend…

When the concierge in the lobby greets me by name…

When I smell the roses near Buckingham Fountain on my evening walk…

When people I’ve just met feel like people I’ve always known…

I realize again what a gift this place is.

After the rain in Ohio

Sometimes I write just to write; to see if I can put into words what I was seeing in a way that brings others in to it. I don’t try to imbue it with some kind of meaning, I just try to capture the scene. I’ve been more intrigued by trying do engage in this kind of concrete writing since taking a class called Writing Close to the Earth with Jonathan Rogers. So, this is one of those just-to-write kind of posts…


I was somewhere in Ohio, and the storm that I had passed through had been the worst I’d ever seen. Torrential rain coupled with lightning that rivaled a strobe light at the local rave made driving impossible. For the first time I can remember, I was forced to pull over and wait it out.

I pulled into the parking lot of the Red Roof Inn just before midnight. The place was quiet and the night clerk yawned as he assigned me a room. “223. Best thing to do is just pull around back and go in there. Up the stairs and on the left.” I followed his directions, trying out several parking spots before settling on one that seemed to give me the straightest path to the door. The rain was still coming down, and I was resigned to getting wet. I grabbed the cat carrier and yanked it out of the seat, feeling the weight shift as the little black cat inside slid from one end to the other. “Sorry, Asha,” I said, pressing my face to the carrier door. She turned her back to me. I waded through the water in the parking lot, soaking my jeans to mid-shin. The clerk hadn’t mentioned the flooding.

Early the next day, the rain had stopped, and the streetlights glinted off oily puddles in the dark parking lot. I coaxed Asha back into her carrier, bribing her with treats and bits of food and headed out into the cool morning. I was  trying to pile a suitcase, a litter box, a bouquet of flowers carefully wrapped in wet paper towels and several miscellaneous bags in the front seat when I heard a rapping. I stood up, and looked around. The parking lot was still empty, and all of the rooms on that side of the hotel were dark. I leaned back in to create a space for Asha, who was in her carrier, loudly explaining why she did not think any of this was a good idea, when the rapping came again. I straightened up and hit my head on the door-frame as I tried to catch a glimpse of the culprit.

On the second floor, just above where my car was parked, an old man had pulled back the curtain to his window and was looking at me. Despite the darkness I could see him clearly. His thick grey hair was tousled, as if he’d just crawled from the bed. He was naked from the waist up, and I briefly wondered if he was wearing pants when he rapped again. He wanted my full attention. My eyes met his and his eyebrows pressed together as he jabbed a finger at me. I looked at him, slightly perplexed, wondering what he could possibly want from me. I looked around the lot, and confirming it was empty, pointed to myself, raising my eyebrows. He jerked his head once, down, then up, and pointed at me again. Then he pointed at the car next to me. I was still confused, and he repeated his motions, adding a snarl this time. You. Car. I looked over at the old black El Camino parked next to mine, and suddenly I understood that he was concerned that I would ding his car as I loaded mine. I gave him two thumbs up and a wide grin to let him know the message had been received, and I was committed to protecting his car.

He stayed at that window, watching and scowling, as I finished moving stuff around in my car, loaded the cat in, and tucked the flowers behind her. I thought about taking my time finishing the packing just to see if he would stay there, but there was something slightly unsettling about being watched. I shut the passenger door and walked around the car with his eyes still on me. And then, just before I got into the car, I did what any 21st century person with a smartphone would do: I took a picture. The flash reflected against the empty window, and the light went on in the room. I jumped in my car, turned the key and headed on out before he could make it downstairs. I wasn’t sure what he was intending to do, but I was pretty sure he wasn’t planning to make a new friend. Plus, I still didn’t know if he was wearing pants.

On liminality and leaving

Richard Rohr writes that liminal space is “a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”

I learned about liminal space last year at about this time, and for the first time I had words to describe what I was experiencing. Over the past five years nearly everything that I have defined myself by has been stripped away – even my hopes for what the future would be. My old “comfort zone” had become so unfamiliar it’s hard to believe that I’d ever been comfortable there. But, there was no new normal. I was in limbo, stuck. I became smaller and smaller, losing the core of who I was, until my friends became concerned. One of them finally articulated what she was seeing. “You’re muted,” she said. “You don’t laugh anymore.” That conversation was a turning point.

Slowly, I learned to live with ambiguity. I learned to trust and wait. And I started to grow – in ways I’d never expected. I learned to advocate for myself. I learned to set boundaries and stick to them. I grew braver. I started to laugh again. And Friday, I packed up my car and I started driving west.

I believe that I am finally through this season of liminal space. I barely recognize the person I was before…and I’m thankful for that.

Beginning again

It has been a long time since I had a blog. And, honestly, when I did have a blog I was not very good at updating it. (Boy, was I good at thinking about it though!) So, just to set expectations, my own and anyone who actually clicks on this, it’s possible that this will be my only post.

But…I hope not. I hope I have the tenacity to write through this year. I hope I sit by Lake Michigan this fall with my notebook and struggle to put life into words. I hope this winter finds me admiring brightly decorated store windows trying to describe them perfectly (and probably freezing my rear off while I try). And I hope the spring inspires me to capture the city crawling out of its hibernation.

Here’s to new beginnings…