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The Artist Date

SLOWLY learning myself part II

There are three memories, one book, and one event that has led me to this place.

photo: Filippo Andolfatto


Memories not in order.

Memory #1: I specifically remember sitting around my mom's big wooden round table with about 15 newly empty-nesters. They were all women. And they were expressing all the feelings surrounding being alone. I was home visiting from New York. I was so confused by the emotions and at the lack of excitement of unplanned days at their leisure.

Memory #2: Norma Jean is one of the closest people in my life. She is also my grandmother - she lost my grandfather after 50 years of marriage. They were so in love. I was staying with her and sitting with her in her grief. She looked at me and said, "Shelby, I don't even know my favorite candy. I may like these (she pulls out orange tic tacs). We always loved chocolate boxes. I don't know what I like to do without him." It threw me off (as a candy eater). I didn't understand how such a simple element of yourself could be lost in love and togetherness. Then I visualized my parents thoughtlessly grabbing licorice, a HUGE diet coke, and popcorn at the movies. There was no conversation. They knew their order. What was their favorite candy when they weren't together?

Memory #3: I was at a Brooklyn restaurant with my cousin, Mia. As we were sitting there, this beautiful woman sat beside us. She was about our age. She was alone. She wore fresh sweats, damaged but ridiculously cool sneakers, and her black curls tumbled out of her high ponytail onto her forehead. She was so cool. And she confidently sat down and ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and a soda. And she sat there eating it slowly, without a phone, a book, or a distraction. She was at such peace (outside of a few men that tried to sit with her). She would casually let them know she was enjoying her time alone. She never tried to talk to anyone. She was at peace with her own company.


Book: In 2009ish, a phenomenal artist and playwright friend told me to read the Artist Way. She allowed me to read her copy. She told me that she saw so much hidden potential in me as an artist. She was ten years my senior and someone I greatly admired. I read it and loved it. I gave her back her copy, and it wasn't until 2019 while doing a Good Will book haul, I found it again. I submerged myself in it, and this time (like last time), I enjoyed it. But this time, it spoke to me. In it Julia Cameron, says:

"The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly“artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it."

I read it, and then COVID-19 hit. And I, like the rest of the world, nuzzled into our COVID rhythm. One that did not include Artist dates.


Event: I took the latter part of my birthday week to be super reflective. My birthday, entering my late 30s, hit me in a way I didn't expect. At all. Anyway, I asked a dear nanny to come over and watch the boys for three hours as I took time for myself. We share our passion about childhood development, so after running my mouth with her for thirty minutes, I took the time to practice some self-care with reflection. Well, after an hour and 45 minutes...I was lost. I was back to the familiar thought, "what now?" And because I was uncomfortable with that, I told the nanny that she could leave early. It's my pattern. With the babysitter that I've had for a while, she knew the routine and was happy to get back a few minutes, an hour, or her whole time back. I consistently cancel out on childcare help. A moment of boredom makes me feel guilty, and so, I am often ready to dive back into my role as a mama. As she was going to her car, she looked at me and gently said, "Shelby, next time you don't know what to do with yourself... just relax...take the time anyway."

photo: Cristian Newman


My cousin, Ashley, and I were having one of our many weekly conversations. This one happened to be the beginning of COVID. I was surprised at how well she occupied herself. I mean, she was so content and yet, never leaving the house. Others realized this about her and reached out to her about how she knew what to do with herself. It was like a superpower. We were laughing, and she's like, "couso, I do this. I spend time with myself all the time, and I've discovered what I like." We discussed how her being an ambivert, living away from family while being single, equipped her for this time. In the conversation, she asked me what I like to do without the boys? Without Mike? And I named some things ... but often reverted to my days pre-kids.

And then I realized that I surrendered so many parts of myself throughout the years. And I happily did and would do it again. But now, it's time to add the layers. I will never be the same as I was in my twenties, pre-kids nor do I want to be. I don't EVER want to walk through an art gallery as I did before knowing motherhood (at 28). I will always ponder the art and think, "boy Neiko would love this piece, or wow, I'd love to show this to Noah." I will forever see movies and wish that Mike was there to comfort me when I cry ugly crocodile tears. And each shopping trip, I will desperately desire my mom and sister's opinion...

But I've realized that it's time to spend time and get to know another very important lady: myself.

Peace and self-discovery,



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