Issue 5 of the beautiful magazine Bella Grace carries a gorgeous illustrated quote from a chap called H. Jackson Brown Jr as follows:  “Watch the sunrise at least once a year, put a lot of marshmallows in your hot chocolate, lie on your back and look at the stars, never buy a coffee table you can’t put your feet on, never pass up a chance to jump on a trampoline, don’t overlook life’s small joys while searching for the big ones.”

What small pleasures gave you moments of intense joy in 2015?  What more could you cultivate in 2016?

Small Pleasures

  1. Seeing the sunrise over the East River from my bedroom window
  2. Really good noise-cancelling headphones
  3. Descending a long staircase and bumping into a friend, unexpectedly, at the bottom
  4. Late drinks in the bar at Claridge’s till the very polite waiter refuses to keep serving
  5. Birkenstocks
  6. Pulling out the annoying bobby pin in a chignon
  7. Puppy breath
  8. Watching your friends achieve the things they’d waited so long for
  9. Observing a child reading on her own for the first time
  10. Getting over it

What radical act of love or non-conformity did you embrace this year?  How did performing this alchemy affect your ancestors and what is the gold waiting to be shared with future relations?

I am going to break the fourth wall here and tell you that these prompts are way outside of my comfort zone. I have been trying to bend/break them to my writing will, but writing about the alchemy affecting my ancestors, and the gold awaiting future relations makes me feel like I am writing about Leprechauns or Rumpelstiltskin.

I understand what this prompt is asking for: We are talking about why/how radical, non-conforming acts of love affect us not only now, but how they will affect us in the future. However, I feel like the Sister Grimm responding to this prompt – spinning Life Lesson flax into gold by branding my own foolishness as some kind of radically cool, non-conforming love-act.

This is not That, by the way. This is a story about beating dead horses.

I am the sort of person who talks too much. Not in the sense that I will talk over you, or blabber on and on and on. But I am the sort of woman to beat a dead horse.

I am not the sort of person who picks fights I cannot win, or makes arguments without facts. Even if an argument is hopelessly stupid, if I feel I have been wronged, I am likely to take up the case if I believe I can prove my side of it. Even if every single bone in my body tells me to shut my damn mouth and let something go, there is some part of me that simply…cannot. Perhaps this is why I became a lawyer. Or perhaps this is a result of being a lawyer. Or maybe that’s a chicken-and-egg sort of thing, and we may never know which came first.

So the other night, I was at a party for the release of my friend’s book. This was a mutual friend I shared with my ex-husband. My ex looms as this odd spectre that haunts my life, and probably always will. We work in the same industry; we share a few very close friends; we live mere blocks apart. But we never see each other; we do not talk. We are not friends on social media. In my mind, my ex plays a certain, specific, sometimes villainous role in my life, as I am sure I do in his – but in reality, he is just a downtown lawyer and an Upper East Side dad.

I walked into this party the other night and instantly saw my ex-husband across the room from me. I hadn’t seen him in…years.

Sidenote: We, as a species, are Unreliable Narrators. We embellish things, and accuse others of exaggerating THEIR stories, believing ourselves immune from doing the same. By way of example, I had been telling One Particular Story a certain way for years, painting myself as the hero/victim, and painting my ex as the aggressor. I have also kept a journal for about 25 years, where I have recorded my Life Events nearly contemporaneously, in efforts to remedy/mitigate the Unreliable Narrator problem. Needless to say, I truly, earnestly believed my version of the One Particular Story I was telling, because over the years, I had accepted my version as Truth, and had never bothered to check my facts because my version of the story rang so true to me – how could I be wrong about that?!

Over Thanksgiving Weekend, I was home, alone, with James Bond movies and a bottle of Hendrick’s. Eventually, this resulted in me re-reading old writing and journals, and I stumbled upon my contemporaneous account of what had happened with That One Story. To my horror, I discovered that my version of events was not what had happened at all. But I had wanted to believe myself so badly that, over the years, my embellishments had accreted into the Generally Accepted Version of the story, in which I was the victim.

What I am trying to say is: I spent 40 minutes talking with my ex-husband the other night. We are much older now than we were when we married. He asked me about my family, and I asked him about his, and I said: How old is your little sister now? And he told me she was 28, and I said, That makes me feel very old because when we first started dating, she wasn’t yet old enough to drive.

He introduced me to some of his university friends he’d been chatting with, who were also friends of our mutual friend. That we had once been together was not relevant to the conversation or introduction. And I realised that night that sometimes, you have to love yourself enough to know that you can be terribly wrong about things; and you can be wrong about yourself even, but that doesn’t mean the story you’ve been telling wasn’t worth getting out there in the first place.

What I am also saying is that, over these many years of story-telling, I have learned and am learning the radical art of shutting my mouth every now and again.

If you’ve been a part of Reverb before, you know that this is the bit where I invite you to share your favourite photo of yourself from the year (selfie or otherwise).

A few of my favourites from 2015:

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Cliffwalk, Newport, Rhode Island: (photo by eee) I love this picture so much. It was the weekend of my hen party, and Newport is a wonderfully special place to me for so many reasons. eee captured me in contemplation as we took a break from our bike ride, and it was just a perfect moment.

 

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Dublin, Ireland: My husband, making Blue Steel at the last wedding we attended before our own, the weekend Irish marriage equality passed. It was a joyful celebration and a really happy week on travel.

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Washington, DC: Me with my bestie from law school at our reunion – I have infinitely more hair; he has less. I love this picture because we may be older, but we’re still as wacky and wild as we were when we were much younger.

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Tarrytown, New York: My mother handing off her wedding gown to me. (photo by eee)

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Edinburgh, Scotland: Me with eee, posed and snapped by our friend M, the day before the Edinburgh Half Marathon. Scotland is magical.

In her seventh ever blog post, all the way back in March 2003(!), the inimitable Andrea Scher wrote: “Maybe lists are like prayers.” What sorts of lists do you have on the go at the moment? What do they suggest you are praying for?

I have lists everywhere.

Half-completed lists; half-written in American English; half-written in the Queen’s English; Half the items half crossed off. I travel so much and am married to a European and that is why I cannot get anything done and why I inconsistently insert a random letter “u” in words and occasionally replace my “z”s with “s”s.

I have personal lists; professional lists; household lists; holiday lists. I have lists dating back twenty years that are stuck inside old journals. I have playlists, and task lists, and outlines for conversations that were never had, and indices for arguments left unspoken.

The other night, I came across a grocery list tucked into a cookbook I had long forgotten. It was meant for a party I had hosted back in 2008. I used to host an ugly sweater Christmas party every year, and I did this for almost ten years until I moved house last year, and everyone got divorced, or got sober, or had kids. Those weird little parties I used to host simply weren’t as fun as they used to be once everyone spawned, and started Crossfit, found a Higher Power.

The party in 2008, though, was remarkable. I had come back from one overseas adventure and was soon off to another. My first marriage was in shambles – we were at that stage where we couldn’t have people over or socialise unless it was in a big group. Maybe you’ve seen this behaviour in the wild when you’ve observed sniping friends whose relationship has run its natural course, or attempted to diffuse divorcing spouses interacting in an enclosed space.

Everything in our house, by that stage, had escalated to a clattering rumble but had not yet fallen apart, as if the 6 Train were passing under our feet at all times. Rocking, rumbling, screaming into the din. Still…intact.  Otherwise, falling apart – it was 2008, the world was ending! – but the party had to go on.

My grocery list for that night included, inter alia:

Eggs
Puff pastry
Brie (round)
Flaked coconut
Vanilla frosting
Canned pears
Rum
Red wine
Makers Mark (?)
Sugar
Cigarettes
Popsicles
Ice
Tictacs

What was I even creating out of all that? I can make sense of most of the ingredients, but I get lost around cigarettes, popsicles, and tic tacs.

I look back through the photos of that night, and I marvel at who showed up; who was in the same room for one night only. It is completely incomprehensible to me now to see all these people together because they could only have existed on the same plane if it were The Last Night of The World.

We fit more than 50 people into our one-bedroom, Tribeca apartment. We were drinking, and dancing, and kissing under the mistletoe, and I was wearing shiny gold leggings that people commented on for years afterward. People were laughing and eating, and greeting each other like old friends, when half of them barely knew each other and were only connected through me.

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It was also the night of the first snowfall, which I realised when I stuck my head out the window at one point, and the flakes stuck to my halo of blonde curls. It was perfect, and beautiful, and if the world was never going to be the same ever again, that was exactly how I wanted Christmas to end: With everyone I knew from every moment of my life together in the same room; drunk on the mulled wine I whipped up each year and always made so sweet that everyone forgot it was filled not only with spices, but also, bourbon; and the first snow of winter falling in the background.

The party went until sunrise. The marriage lasted only a few months more. Most of the friends present have now moved away.

It was funny: I knew in my heart, the morning I made that grocery list, that it was The End. That the party was over before it had begun. I knew that the days of wacky excess and wildness were all at an end. I could’ve done the meek and mild thing when my ex and I began rowing over the groceries in the morning – I could’ve cancelled the party. I could’ve torn up the list; spent the evening in my sweats; accepted what was obviously fate.

There’s something so funny about struggling against fate, isn’t there? There was something so gorgeous, and pathetic, and wonderfully divine about successfully hosting a last party together as husband and wife. There is something sweet, and sad, and prayerful about my mediation on eggs, and puff pastry seven years later, knowing that the world ended, and that I survived.

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.

#Reverb15 is the opportunity for us to reflect and project throughout 2015.   Each month, KatSarah and I will be posting on a new prompt.  Please check out the #ProjectReverb main page and join in.

School’s Out: Share what you’re doing when the sun doesn’t set until 9 PM!

Here’s what I did with my Summer:

I did not take any vacation of note.

I did not go swimming in the ocean.

I went to Los Angeles to help my parents clean out their house before they moved from my Childhood Home, only to have them accuse me of weighing them down; leaving behind “so much crap.” When pressed, I realised they were referring to the one (admittedly large) box of mementos I had packed up and asked them to ship to me.

My parents are weirdly dramatic.

Then again, my parents are also the proud owners of a “Snow Village,” consisting of hundreds of small, ceramic houses, people, and accessories, which is set up each year at the holidays for my mother to gaze upon, heave sighs, and say, “I just wish I lived there!” The boxes comprising the Snow Village at one point overtook every closet in my childhood bedroom; my parents’ old laundry room; and several other cupboards. They had to permanently rearrange their parlour to accommodate December’s Snow Village arrival.

So the fact that they complained about one box of my stuff, and yet found no issue with moving thousands of tiny pieces of useless ceramic should maybe tell you something about the particular brand of bonkers I am dealing with.

I went to Santa Barbara to run a half marathon, forgetting that I love to run on the East Coast because the sunrises are dramatic.

I miss the West Coast sunsets, and watching that heavy, fiery orb sink into the Pacific. But running at the break of dawn along the shore is nothing particularly special in California. The sky is just grey; pink; yellow; then suddenly…blue.

I went to Governor’s Island with my bestie for a race and wondered why I had never been; I went to Fire Island on a day trip with my friends and my dog, and wondered why I don’t go more often. On both of the aforementioned trips, we encountered the kind of freaky beach detritus that may or may not have contained human remains. In the style of true New Yorkers, we simply looked the other way and continued to enjoy the view.

I slipped and fell during a race in the beginning of August, and wound up having to fly back from Dublin and have emergency reconstructive knee surgery a few days later. I hesitated in making that public because I have had to deal with all types of smug, but well-meaning people leaving Facebook comments and sending messages with stuffed with annoyingly bold assertions like: Maybe this is God’s way of telling you to stop running!

(I am truly fascinated that I know so many people who are able to interpret God’s will; who have personal knowledge that God is a couch potato.)

In reality, this injury was a freak accident. It could’ve happened by walking down the street. But there is something about distance running that inspires…envy?…disgust?…in people who don’t do it and do not understand it.

I am on the mend now. The past few weeks have been a blur of crutches, rehabilitation, and more pain meds than is perhaps socially appropriate to mention in a public forum. When I woke up from hip surgery last summer, I felt like a million bucks – the injury itself had been so painful that the operation brought instant relief. No one bothered to tell me until after I had my knee surgery that operations like the one I had are typically more painful than the procedure I had on my hip.

So that was what happened. It was a far cry from what I wanted to do.

I wanted to run Summer Streets.

I wanted to train for more races.

I wanted to hike in the Adirondacks or the Berkshires.

I wanted to go camping.

I wanted to take my kayak out for the first time in years; hose out the boat; unstick the rudder pedals; paddle around the Sound.

There is a part of me that feels as if I have missed the small joys of summer the past few years; that I am Getting Through rather than really experiencing anything. There is a part of me that is angry that many of these things have been…missed…due to things well beyond my control.

But there will be other summers; there will be more races. There will be new memories to make. This is just my particular brand of bonkers I am dealing with in this sticky middle season of my life.

This is the 12th in a series of posts about New York

For years, my friends and I got together on Wednesdays to drink wine. We called it “Winesday.”

Eventually, we got old, and could no longer guzzle a bottle or two of wine (each!) mid-week, so the tradition tied out, but the name prevailed.

Winesday, though, was such an integral piece of my New York experience. Every year that I have done these New York posts, I have written about these people and the process of coming together at the table to drink and break bread like it’s a religious thing. In some ways, it was.

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We may have gone our separate ways and moved on, but these are my people.

My New York People.

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