When I was 19, I decided to get my navel pierced. This was not an act of rebellion, per se, because I never really needed to rebel. I was one of those terminally straight-laced kids, so a body modification that required even one iota more firepower than the sort available at Piercing Pagoda at Century City Plaza was Kind Of A Big Deal.

I found a place to get the job done and I took $60 cash from my bank account to pay for it. I rallied some of my sorority sisters and led the charge into Westwood Village to have a hunk of metal inserted through the flesh of my stomach. I still remember the piercing parlour (which was right next to Noodle Planet, for you old-timers); I still remember how the woman behind the counter told me, as I waited, Oh, you’re so lucky Janeen is piercing you. She splits dicks.

Come again?

Yeah, like, she mutilates people. She’s amazing. She can turn a penis into a flower. She’s like, the most gifted girl we have.

Was that A 90s Thing? Do people still do this? Personally, I don’t think I know any dudes walking around with daisies in their trousers, but maybe I’m not running with the right crowd.

The experience of being pierced was unremarkable, and it was over quickly.  From that day on, I was a secret, WASPy subversive with a navel ring. The plackets of my blue button-downs would occasionally gap to reveal the metal and friends would do a double-take. I kept that jewellery in for much longer than I should have.

Whereas most of my compatriots shed their belly piercings by the end of their college days, I had mine till I was nearly 30. This was partly because Janeen had wedged the ball of the piercing in the jewellery so tightly that it took me nearly 10 years to get the thing undone. And partly because my ex loved the cognitive dissonance of a WASP with a flash of silver under the twin set.

So when my ex and I split, I did three things right away: 1) I moved uptown; 2) I registered to run a marathon; and 3) I bought a pair of pliers and I took out that stupid navel ring. But the piercing left…a hole. Literally. I’d left it in so long that the hole in my middle was bigger and more permanent than those on the girls who’d had the good sense to remove theirs when they were 21.

I became unhealthily obsessed with covering up the scar left behind, and I decided I was going to get a tattoo instead – something massive and dramatic. Maybe a giant squid that started on my clavicle and came over my shoulder, with tentacles reaching down to my stomach.

To say I was preoccupied with the Giant Squid Tattoo would be an understatement. I found myself driving to Rhode Island and Massachusetts on alternate weekends, travelling to scrimshaw exhibitions all around New England to get ideas. But I did not realise I was in trouble at that point. No one questioned my judgment. No one thought to say: Hey, Meredith, you are putting thousands of miles on your car so you can travel the northeast investigating giant squid pictures for a massive body modification. Are you okay? Do you want to talk? Do you need a drink? 

This story has a happy ending, and a friend intervened before I got a massive tattoo of a rarely-seen sea creature, all to cover up a tiny scar the size of the point of a pen. I thought everyone could see I’d been blown apart, and I didn’t understand until much later that I didn’t need to keep slathering on the layers to keep myself together.

This story also has a point.

I am telling you this because recently enough, I started telling people I was going to shave my head. Maybe not my whole head – maybe just the sides; maybe leave the top long and do something edgy, like Tilda Swinton. Maybe dye it platinum. A couple of my friends responded positively to this proclaimation (possibly because I have had super short hair before). Most people raised an eyebrow.

But it was not until I was sitting in the stylist’s chair, trying to convince her to just cut it all off that she flat-out said, I’m going to trim it, and you’re going to like it, and then you’re going to take a vacation.


It had not occurred to me until that very moment that I was not giving myself a break. The hair; the tattoo – it wasn’t because I actually wanted to shave my head or mark my body with a giant squid – it was more that I thought that completely destroying and remaking my old self would cleanse the palate; could be a short-cut for doing the hard work of resting and re-evaluating; might distract others from the fact that I wasn’t holding it all together very well anymore.

What I am trying to say is this:

Let my experiences be a horrible warning to you. Give yourself a break – especially since it’s the holidays and we’re all in misery. Are you doing too much? Are you chugging ahead when you really need to step back? Take it easy, friend. No one expects as much of us as we expect of ourselves. No one sees that you’ve been blown apart; even the greatest achievers in the world will extol the virtues of taking time off.

Honestly, you don’t want to end up with a navel ring, a giant squid tattoo in the style of 19th century New England arts and crafts, and a Tilda Swinton haircut to learn that lesson.

Or maybe you do. Maybe you live in Bushwick and sell artisanal sauerkraut for a living – I don’t know your life. In that case, I would be happy to teach you all about scrimshaw.


So…I got married.

We got married.

The wedding was beautiful, and perfect, and everything I had hoped it would be. All the excellent parts were better than I had dreamed, and nothing was disappointing because I had mapped out all the potential for All That in advance.

Is that weird?

Before you judge me for saying that out loud, try managing your expectations before some big event. (Hint: The holidays are coming). Try not expecting a drop more from people than they typically produce, just because it’s a Big Occasion, and They Should Be On Their Best Behaviour.

For instance, if the average orange yields 3oz of juice on an ordinary day, than there is absolutely no reason to believe people will be Extraordinary Oranges on special occasions. Rather, people will be nervous, or petulant, or self-interested, or any number of other things that will impair their juice production. At best, they will produce the same amount of juice as usual. But you’re definitely not getting a half-gallon out of them simply because you’re the one getting married – it’s against the laws of nature!

For example:

My brother is not…an experienced traveller. He was booked on an 7:00am flight out of LAX the day before our wedding, which he missed. I had fully prepared for this – in part, because Matthew is a poor traveller. But also because that’s my brother. Before he left, I had inputted his flight details into an app I use to track travel simply because it spits out “Alternative Flight Options” in the event he missed his plane.

Which he did.

Which was how I wound up spending hours on the phone with American Airlines the day before my wedding and not writing my toast or vows.

Which is not to say I expected any different, rather, it is to say that the whole endeavour took up slightly more time than budgeted towards “Matthew’s Potential/Likely Screw Ups.” Save for my own lack of foresight in time-budgeting, the entire weekend was perfect. And I did (eventually) find time to write the vows.

But when the moment came for me to give the toast, which I’d decided to give cold, the best man and wedding planner came to me with the microphone and I looked around the room – this ancient farmhouse filled with everyone I love, and decorated with roses, and thistles, and reminders of the Sierras – I realised I didn’t need to say anything more.

And what I am further saying is this:

When I was a very little girl, I loved this movie called Pete’s Dragon. If you’re a child of the 70s or 80s, you probably know it well. In fact, I still love Pete’s Dragon.

If you know the film, you know that there are several stories within the main story – one of them being that Nora, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, is holding out hope that the sailor she loves will one day return home. He has presumably been shipwrecked and lost at sea. I watched that film throughout my whole childhood and adolescence, holding out hope that I too would find someone worthy of a ballad like the one Helen Reddy belts from the lighthouse.

Before Paul and I got married, I read through my old journals – partly out of curiosity, and partly out of wondering what my marital hopes and dreams had once been many years ago, and how accurate my predictions for myself might have turned out to be. Until then, I had mostly forgotten about my youthful obsession with Pete’s Dragon; I had even somehow forgotten that Nora had been holding out hope for a seemingly impossible to find Paul.

And I had not realised that I had once written: I wonder if I will ever love anyone like that. I wonder if I will spend my life searching for my own Paul and if I will ever find him. Or if I will be disappointed.

I had found him. And that was really all that mattered, wasn’t it?

As I looked around the room at the moment I didn’t give my toast, on that one, perfect Autumn day, it was if I had finally accepted that I had never had to be perfect and Paul would still be waiting. My family and friends would have been there no matter what.

And it dawned on me that maybe it’s true that you’re not guaranteed great results simply because you’re planning a special occasion. Maybe the result you get from people is a direct product of the love you put in.

I was lucky then, on our wedding day, to be blessed like a California girl might hope to be: Surrounded by Extraordinary Oranges.

mere paul roo

The first time I had an artichoke, I was maybe 10.

My parents Are Not Artichoke People. I am not sure what qualifies someone as an Artichoke Person, but this is simply to say that artichokes were not a part of how I grew up. We were Transplants; expats; people who left the East Coast for sunnier climes, and so California cuisine baffled us at first: Guacamole – what the hell is that? Artichokes – are these even edible?

There were so many things about being a non-native Californian that confused me; us. As I kid, I struggled to lose that faintest trace of the garbage Philadelphia accent that makes my ears bleed to this day.

Say waterthe kids on the playground would instruct.

Wodder, I would reply.

Say nothey would taunt.

No? I would say, uncertainly – wondering how I was saying it wrong – with that terrible lilt on the vowel that even Mainliners can’t escape.

(To this day, my parents insist this linguistic travesty never befell me. To this day, my father still says talls, instead of towels, so what does that guy know?)

The first time I had an artichoke, I was having dinner with my aunt and uncle, who are not really my aunt and uncle, but are the people with whom my parents celebrate every major milestone and holiday. Our families are so close that I only know maybe two telephone numbers by heart these days besides my own and my office – my parents’ and my aunt and uncle’s. And my parents recently moved house and changed their phone number, meaning that in the event of an emergency, I’m limited to calling Carol and Sam.

The Night of My First Artichoke, my aunt was explaining to me how to eat the artichoke in the first place – how to pull back the leaves, and peel the edible skin off with my teeth. It was such an odd luxury for 10 year old me! What was this joy; this strange food that I could play with and eat at once?! I think we were dipping the petals in some kind of sauce, or pots of ranch dressing (ubiquitous on California tables), and generally enjoying our dinner, digging our way deeper and deeper into the mysterious veggies. It was just a typical night in Southern California.

I cannot lie – meals in California can be idyllic. I recall so many nights in the blue twilight; eating out-of-doors with the smell of the food overwhelmed by barbecue smoke and chlorine. I remember the evening parties at my parents’ old house – people gathered in the foyer under the curving staircase, or sitting in the dining room at holidays where everything looked beautiful but smelled ever-so-faintly of cat piss because there was always a geriatric or angry cat in the house. There was a kind of comfort, and wide-openness, and informality there that simply doesn’t exist on the East Coast.

But I didn’t know that then. I was just 10, and I was eating an artichoke for the first time.  I remember, we were laughing, and eating, and generally having a good time.

And then it happened.

Someone – I think my aunt – pulled back a petal to discover a HUGE BUG. Like, fat green caterpillar-sized creature. Inexplicably, we all screamed, dropped our utensils and napkins, and ran from the table. The bug was obviously dead, having been steamed within an inch of his life. But this was no comfort to any of us. We scurried out of the kitchen and hid under the staircase, huddling like a bunch of proper idiots; half-laughing, half-crying because what if one of us had eaten a bug?

Eventually, we mustered up the courage to return to the table; chucked the offending artichoke; and finished up the dinner with something else.

Since that day, while I have been perfectly happy to eat artichokes in things, I’ve never really had the taste for plain, steamed artichokes ever again.

It is funny, to me, how fear conditions our systems. How we become afraid of one, associated thing and it makes us unconsciously afraid of everything related to a single incident, forevermore. Fear is in our DNA, I suppose.

Relatedly, I am getting married on Saturday, and for the months and weeks leading up to this event, I have had to coach myself into believing that one bad incident – one seeming failure – is not predictive of the future. I have told myself that everything is different and this will not be the same. Because it is not the same, and I know it, but we are slaves to our DNA, and biology is an awfully hard thing to overcome.

In other words, the what-ifs of one caterpillar consumption should not ruin a lifetime of artichokes.

So when the florist called the other week and asked about some final details, she said, What do you think about using purple artichokes in the arrangements if we can get them? We liked them when we saw them at the flower market, right?

And without even thinking I replied, Yes to artichokes.

I don’t write very much anymore.  Some of this is due to the wacky nature of the last 12 months. Some of this is due simply to the fact that I have Less Time.  I’ve tried to make up for the lack of writing in pictures.

Taking photos has been easier for me in some ways than writing. Photo-taking is not my primary form of expression; I am a somewhat-shitty photographer. I cannot fool myself or anyone else and claim that because I own a DSLR or a high-resolution smartphone, it means that I magically have a Good Eye. But my writing process is labour-intensive. I often write things out long-form; by hand; before things make it to the Internet. I do quite a bit of editing. I suppose I am a bad blogger because blogging evolved into Having a Brand, but my writing process stayed stuck in the Stone Age.

So sometimes photos really ARE worth the 800-1,000 words I can’t discipline myself to write.

Back in March, I flew to Paris for a conference. It was a weird weekend – it was my birthday and I had arrived in Paris to find that a dear friend had passed away overnight. Lisa had had metastic breast cancer, and she disliked all the verbs customarily associated with having had cancer (fight, battle, etc.) so I am at a loss for how to describe the situation, other than to say that Lisa had been sick for a long time, and I admired her, and the wholly straightforward, realistic, and optimistic way she handled her illness/treatment. While it was not unexpected to learn of her death, it still left a huge hole in my heart to discover that she was actually gone.

Despite the circumstances, I embraced the Paris weekend: Saw old friends; ran the Paris Half Marathon; joined a group of colleagues for a dinner following the race. Over dinner that night, my friend John began explaining a social media project he had been working on – a photo-a-day project he had been posting under the hashtag #john365 on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. It wasn’t about showing off, or simply taking selfies, or merely posting pictures of (yet another) delicious meal, he explained, but it was more about reflecting and connecting through meaningful images of each day.

(It was not, as I had wrongly assumed, a religious thing. In fact, a surreptitious Google search of “John 3:65” led me only to someone named John’s commentary on Lamentations 3:63: Look at them! Sitting or standing, they mock me in their songs, and I was pretty sure, at that point, John was not that John, and he was not that paranoid.)

The project instantly resonated with me. My friend Lisa had been known to say: Find a bit of beauty in the world. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days, this may be hard to do. Persevere. As a result, people from around the world would share photos of their found beauty with her – snapshots of their gardens; observations of things in the world they might never have stopped to notice.

I resolved that night to join John’s project, and posted my first photo.

John provides his own explanation of the project on his blog, and it’s worth a read.

If you are in a writing rut, or you need inspiration, or you find a bit of beauty in the world and you want to share it, or you have any number of reasons for taking a photo each day and putting it out into the universe, maybe you should consider #365-ing. I have found it to be fun, and cathartic, and terrifying, and a way to connect, and a way to confuse and all the wonderful things that an art project should be.

Because I am getting married is short order, here is a (non-comprehensive) list of things I have learned in the years since my divorce:

1) How to fill the fancy lighters – it took me almost seven years, but I finally (successfully) refilled the beloved lighter we got as a freebie in Innsbruck at Christmas in 2008 (NB: there is absolutely nothing special about this lighter, except it is the perfect weight and length to light virtually any candle on the planet)

2) How to buy a car without asking a dude to do the heavy lifting

3) Which remote control goes with which television

4) How to rewire the lighting in the apartment (my ex had an engineering degree and a soldering iron for every occasion, to put that in context)

5) How to properly crate-train a dog

6) How to tell people I love them in the words that mean something to them, not just me

7) That everyone should take some time to travel alone, and be organised and thoughtful – not just tick-the-box – about doing it

8) That my ex was not (entirely) crazy with his exhortation to always be prepared for a lot of different contingencies – semper paratus – but that we absolutely did not under any circumstances need an industrial air compressor and a machete in the back of our Jaguar sedan

9) That it is not wrong for me to be a runner, and that it was wrong for him (or any partner) to insist six ways to Sunday that there is no place for me to be a serious athlete in our relationship (in fact, two of the first things I did upon my split from Andrew were to climb Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, and run the New York City Marathon)

10) That the friends who were jerks to me when I got divorced were the ones whose marriages were about to end. It feels better to “like” the albums of photos of their second marriages on Facebook than it does to hold on to hurt feelings

11) That it will never not bother me to see the bikini pictures his new wife posts on Facebook, no matter how many years over the marriage is

12) That you never, ever know what someone else is going through, and it is foolish and/or arrogant to assume your experience gives you the authority to speak to someone else’s

13) That nobody will ever convince me that Channing Tatum does not look like a potato, and yes, this is a hill I am willing to die on


14) That one of the loneliest feelings in the universe is being alone in a marriage, and acknowledging that was not a failure

15) That it’s okay to be scared of what comes next, but that it would be scarier to have never moved forward at all.

Paul and I are getting married in approximately two months, and this is what people call crunch time. This also means that people around us are saying and doing all kinds of weird…stuff. Below, I briefly summarise some of the things that people are saying to me, and how I am responding…and how I wish I could respond. I am sure these things will be familiar to anyone who has ever been married. Ever.

1) The Fun Part

What people say: Only two months to go! How is planning going?

What I say: We’re down to the really fun part now!

What I mean: There is no such thing as “the fun part.” I am living a very expensive version of Hell.

2) Family Planning

What people say: So are you and Paul going to start a family right away? Are you guys already trying? What’s your timeline?

What I say: Oh, we’re still talking about all that!

What I mean: That you for your incredibly rude interest in my vagina. How is your reproductive tract doing? Do you think you want to have any more children? When was the last time you and your wife even had sex?

3) Plus 47

What people say: I noticed you didn’t invite our three kids on the envelope, so we’re just going to RSVP for the five of us. Also, what’s your childcare plan at the reception? We want to get drunk and dance, and Janie and Junior won’t go to sleep for a babysitter so it’s best that they just stay with us all night.

What I say: …

What I mean: Are you kidding me right now?

4) Plus Canine

What people say: Is the venue dog friendly? I noticed you didn’t invite Rover on the envelope, and he loves Roo so much.

What I say: …

What I mean: Are you kidding me right now?

5) Vegan Caveman

What people say: We noticed that your RSVP card didn’t specify menu choices and we only eat vegan, paleo, Bulletproof meals. What’s the best way for us to communicate our preferences to the venue, or will you do that for us?

What I say: I am sure we can work something out.

What I mean: How is that even A Thing?

6) Flora & Fauna

What people say: Can you tell me what flowers you’re having at your wedding? I have seasonal allergies, and I need an accounting of all floral products before we can decide whether we are attending.

What I say: I am sure we can work something out.

What I mean: Please stay home.

7) Benefits?

What people say: We are considering attending your wedding but we need to understand what’s in it for us…

What I say: (this is actually a real thing someone said to me, verbatim) …

What I mean: Kindly piss off.

8) Miss Manners

What people say: We want to attend, but we are not sure we can condone your second big white wedding. We will have to get back to you on this.

What I say: (this is another thing someone actually said to me) Please let me know either way before October 15th.

What I mean: Look, we’re getting married at a restaurant that’s quite difficult to book. If the taste of your moral victory is better than a free Michelin star meal, that’s your problem, not mine.

My only explanation for any of this is that weddings bring out the worst in people.

I don’t eat radishes, except when I’m at the Palm. It’s one of my rituals. Rituals are important.   – Larry King
The New York Times Magazine

I am sitting in my office, reading an article in the New York Times Magazine about Larry King. In the opening scene of the profile, King is dining at The Palm in Washington, D.C., and I am thinking about how my old boss took me there on my first day of work at my old firm. That particular boss was a big man, with a booming voice, and…hairplugs, and he was the sort of person you’d expect to see at The Palm, alongside the caricatures of celebrities, including, but not limited to Larry King.

At the time I started that job,  I had been out of work for a year, and had been travelling to Africa, and Asia. I had eaten roast yak meat, and had been roused from slumber by the sounds of bullfrogs and roosters. I had stopped running my toothbrush under the faucet at home when I brushed my teeth at night because it had been so long since I’d been able to drink the water from the tap. I was also freshly out of months and months of intensive therapy geared at saving my failing marriage. I had all but forgotten how to talk to normal people in a workplace setting. 

Somehow, none of the strangers with guns on any of my travels ever made me as nervous as I was that day at The Palm — sitting across from a man with bad hair, wondering if I could hack it back in the Real World.

The Larry King profile goes on to talk about King’s various accomplishments at CNN, and the oddities and complexities of his Life on The Air. For instance, the author claims that King “sat shiva” on CNN the night that both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died.

That same day Michael and Farrah died, I was standing in the lobby of the SeaWorld Orlando Marriott, a grown-up at a convention of college-aged women, trying not to get punched in the face by a woman from New Jersey who was screaming at me that [she] was a leader not a follower.  What the hell was I doing there? What the hell had I done to deserve that? There were TVs blaring overhead, announcing the news that first Michael Jackson had died, and then Farrah Fawcett — all gods dead, all songs sung, all faith in Hollywood shaken. 

The college girls milled around me like I was a barely-submerged iceberg in the stream of tanned, well-heeled Southern blondes. They had been taught to avoid conflict, and I was a beacon of it. I had been humiliated by a trollop in a gold lame gown, while Larry King sat shiva on CNN on the big screens that dotted the lobby. I had no idea how I had gotten to where I was in the first place.

This reminds me that the cat died at the beginning of August. Grace was my grandparents’ cat – she was all that was left of them – and my mother had taken her from Florida over a decade ago when my grandparents’ health began to fail. She had lived with Mums and Daddy until the week that they were to move house. She died days before they moved across town.

Some things just can’t tolerate change, I guess.

The day after Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died; the day after Larry King started to sit shiva on CNN; the day after I almost got punched in the face was the last time I ever left Orlando. I never bothered to go back and find out where my grandparents were buried. I never bothered to go back at all.

Larry King, according the the profile, is fixated on dying. Larry King is planning his own funeral. Larry King wants Bill Clinton to give the eulogy. Larry King will have the memorial service in a synagogue, to honour his mother, but to be clear, Larry King is not religious.

I have not been back to The Palm since that day in Washington. I will probably never go back to The Palm — not the one in Washington; not the one in Tribeca; probably not even the one in the Delta terminal at JFK.

You see, I am usually the kind of woman who Goes Back To Places. This is one of my Rituals. Rituals are important – they help you make sense of the world. But sometimes the world doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes, things fail; bosses suck; relatives die; people misinterpret your best intentions.

Sometimes, the only way Out is Through.