Here’s part of the story that nobody knows — the start of the story of how we got to the mountaintop.

Back in December, I was badly sunburned, sitting in a bar in Santiago, Chile.  I had gone to South America to bask in the sun for about two weeks and burn off a backlog of self-doubt.

(Gross.)

Under the influence of a bottle of local wine, I decided my 2011 goal would be: Climb Mount Whitney.  It was something that had been kicking around in my head for years.  I am not sure how seriously my friends took my announcement that this is what I wanted to do, and that, since I couldn’t do it alone, some combination of them would be doing it with me.  Maybe they were so used to my edicts that they perceived them as invitations…and so I entered all of our names in the hiking permit lottery.

Time went on; they forgot about it.  Then, in early April, I noticed a charge from the Park Service on my credit card, which meant that we had received a permit.  This was really happening.  I sent out an email entitled: Friday Inspiration, with a photo of the mountain attached.

The next day, I was hit by a car.

Two days later, I found out that the man I had been dating for some time had been cheating on me.  His betrayal was more personal than run-of-the-mills infidelity — the whole mess tugged at the ties that bound Winesday.

I didn’t realize how significant the car accident and the betrayal were to the Climb until a few days later when I was sitting at SFO with an old friend.  I was travelling between the airport and Monterey for a wedding; he was on his way home.  I was immensely grateful for the friendly face; still so shell-shocked that I couldn’t articulate what had just happened.  My friend and I were finishing our tea — I was headed out of the airport and he was heading for his flight.  He looked at my vacant face and my sling-bound arm and said something like: How are you getting down the coast?  Are you driving?  Are you sure you can drive?

It hadn’t fully occurred to me until then that I had been hit by a car a week prior.  Nor had it registered that I had a two hour drive ahead of me and I hadn’t considered whether I could actually drive with only one arm.

But I did it.  Awkwardly.

As I drove down the coast, waking up from my stupor, I stopped at an REI store off the 101.  Okay, I said, Focus.  REI will have maps and books on California mountains.  Find some information on Mount Whitney.  Organize the rest of the Spring around this. Focus on something other than what just happened.  Move on.

I gave it some more thought.  No.  Screw that.  Give it up.  You were betrayed.  You should’ve known this would happen.

I texted my brother.  His response:  How could you have known? And stop dating short guys.

I got out of the car, and wandered around REI.  As I flipped through the Mount Whitney materials with my one good arm, I started to sweat a cold, panicky sweat.

Should I forgive, forget? Should I climb this mountain anyway?  What is going to happen to this group of friends I hold so dear? 

In another life, at another time, I might have called my grandfather for advice.  But he had died six years earlier.  However, he gave me a bit of wisdom at my high school graduation when I was an hour out from speaking at the event and terrified about the coming uncertainty.  He held on to me, then held up a tissue, which I thought was for my tears.

Take off your lipstick, he commanded, And get out there. You can do this, Baby.  You’re going to do this.  There was such conviction in his encouragement, it was as if the world would make sense again if I would just take off my lipstick.

(I took off the lipstick and delivered the speech.  And my life sorted out just fine.)

I drove, then, from REI to Monterey.  I had last spent a significant amount of time in that part of California during the opening stages of my divorce; back when I had climbed Half Dome with Jade and organized my life around THAT climb in the face of uncertainty.  So I drove until I found a spot on a beach.  I parked, got out and sat on a bench, desperately missing the man who would’ve told me how to proceed.  I had hit a wall, and we hadn’t even started the journey.  But on the beach, arm throbbing, I was ready to consider whether this hike was still a good idea.  I had no clue what to do next about the permit I’d just received; the goal I’d arbitrarily set; the women with whom I was supposed to climb a goddamned mountain.

There was no reason I had to decide right then and there, but for some reason, because I had made so many significant life decisions on the shores of the Pacific, it seemed necessary.

Then my phone buzzed.  It was my friend eee, just checking in.  Which was, in that moment, kindness enough to get me over the wall.  I stood up from the bench; pulled out a tissue and wiped my lips.  I could do this; I was going to do this.

When I got back to New York the following week, I wrote the second Inspiration Mail email for our Mount Whitney climb.  I never looked back.

(To be continued…)

(Part Five in my series on my six years in New York)

Europe again?

Paris, yes.  Just barely 24 hours, though.

Where are you staying?

I told him, my old friend.   He’s a pro at Paris; is here often; he quickly reverted, like he does, with suggestions for things to do/eat/see.

I’m literally only here for tonight, though.  Then to London.  Jury still out on how I feel about that.  But I’m in an “I love New York but I need a break” phase again (as is probably so obvious I don’t even need to say it).

I love New York — I love it the way a woman loves a lover she knows is a cad, a bounder.  But every couple of years I ask whether I should leave for a while; take a break; see how things are somewhere else.  During our last “seeing other people” phase, I spent some time in Washington.  It was a failed affair — it taught me that one shouldn’t look to a past relationship to forge her future (I think that advice also came from a fortune cookie, later, and related to Frederic…I digress).

But I need to leave sometimes.

The Greek chorus of maybe you should leave New York grates on me, but also becomes a refrain woven into my own narrative.  It nags; it vibrates against my eardrum.

Maybe I should leave.  Paris is sort-of nice, this time around.

London wasn’t so bad during my last visit, either. 

But then again, maybe it’s not so simple.  Maybe New York was once a new lover, with all his new tricks and quirks and fancy moves…and now…real life has set in: he used to go to the gym; we used to go out; I pay all the bills. 

How come you’re so lazy?  Why don’t we do anything together anymore?  How come you never take out the trash?  Are you even listening to me??

It’s a hassle to pay city taxes; the constant snowstorms where the trash didn’t get picked up were more than a bother — prying mysterious frozen streetshit out of the dog’s mouth all winter was a health hazard for him and for me.

It has become like a marriage to a man who won’t change; to a man to whom I say, plaintively:

Why won’t you love me for who I am, where I am?

And he responds, looking up from the Yankee game:

‘Cause that’s not the way the world is, Baby.  This is how I love you, baby.

I’ve been in this relationship before; I’ve been in it all my life — and indeed, I waited for New York all my life because it filled a certain part of me I couldn’t get anywhere else.  And New York is home, and it’s comfortable, for those reasons.

But because that’s not the way the world is, I travel away from New York.  I make friends who travel; I meet people on the road — personally, professionally.  And we share our stories, and we weave our lives together; and we meet up in airports and on Twitter, and in person and in bits and bytes to chart this strange course.

Even then, there are spots that go untouched; things unfulfilled; there are open, gaping, raw and empty parts where the wanderlust seeps; where the yearning rushes out fast and furious sometimes — and even as I am wandering and lusting, I am somehow always looking to be loved for who I am, where I am.

Wherever that may be:  New York.  Or not.

December 31Core Story What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world?

(This post was written in the end of December, but due to some computer issues, it was not posted.  It has been backdated to reflect when it should have been posted.)

One of the things I always love about Non-New Yorkers is that when New Yorkers get a bit of the existential ennui (or, heaven forbid, the existential grippe or malaise) these Non-New Yorkers purse their lips and furrow their brows and say, “Well.  Maybe you should leave New York for a while.”

And even if I can’t see them pursing their lips, I know, just know, they are doing it.  Like a latter-day Vicki Lawrence in Mama’s Family, with the raggedy grey wig and the threadbare housedress and looking like she was living inside of a Whitman’s Sampler box, probably pining for the days when she could bust out with “The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia,” and be done with all of it and all of the people wanting her to mete out advice like she was actually their Mama.

I digress.

There are few things in this world I like less than the well-meaning, albeit misguided chorus of, “Well.  Maybe you should leave New York for a while.”

Maybe you should come to New York for a while, and understand the beauty and wonder that are here, before you suggest that somewhere else, somewhere that is right for YOU, would be even momentarily better for me.

Let me tell you…

I did leave New York for about nine chaotic months.  But in recovery, we call that kind of leaving doing a “Geographic,” as if the troubles won’t follow like the little dust cloud that shadows Pigpen from Peanuts.  Because even when you arrive, largely unscathed, in a new, Non-New York place, where the dust and grime haven’t yet settled and things aren’t blighted or crumbling, or cast in a faux shabby-chic kind of shit-caking, you realize one day while you are eating panang tofu in your (mostly empty) new place that while the place is new and shiny, YOU are still shit-caked and trying to pass yourself off as shabby-chic.  Shabby-chic would be at best charitable, and at least…disingenous.

You are still You.  And your heart is full of New York Feelings.  And you could call up a therapist in your Non-New York town to dispose of all of your New York things, but all of the therapists have New York names, like Ellen Rosenblatt and Ira Kornfeld.

And there you are — alone at square one, party of shit-cake.  You did exactly what Vicki Lawrence told you to do and it got you precisely nowhere.

But perhaps, that is the core of this story.

I used to depend so heavily on what others thought of me, and I used to not be able to filter other people’s advice from the things that my own heart and head and gut were saying.  One look from Mama, and I would go scurrying in the direction of a Non-New York place.  Because maybe what ailed me was that I just needed to get out of New York for a while.  Maybe what ailed me was whatever someone told me was what was ailing me.

It had not occurred to me that the things that my head and heart were telling me were hurting were actually the things that hurt.  I was caught up in my various identities — daughter, sister, friend, wife; ex-wife; lawyer; woman — and had forgotten what it felt like to feel like Me.

So the moral of this story; and the story of this year, really, is that I am on a search; a quest; definitely a journey, possibly a mission.  And leaving or staying or coming and going is not going to define me, or cure the guilt or fear or anxiety or any of the things I want a change of scene to fix.

I will always be a seeker, a finder, a wanderluster.  But I came back to New York to settle the things that had shaken me, and the story of this past year is one that will continue.  I have to sit with the feelings, and be responsible for what happens, instead of blaming place or time or circumstance.  The problem is not New York.  The problem — and of course, the solution — is me.

December 29Defining Moment Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year.

(This post was written in the end of December, but due to some computer issues, it was not posted.  It has been backdated to reflect when it should have been posted.)

There were so many moments in this terrible year that I could point to and say “THAT.” And you would probably know exactly what I am talking about.

And in the alternative, there were so many joyful moments too.

This long and rotten year led up to one crystal clear moment, in a taxi, headed to the airport on Christmas Eve, when it suddenly struck me that I was off to a country where I knew virtually no one; had very few solid plans; and did not really speak the language.

Mind you, I have traveled alone before.  And I have even traveled alone in places where I do not speak the language.

But traveling in those places is different when you are on a schedule; when you have a plan; and oh yeah, you have a private driver.

I suppose the aloneness factor was relative, then.

But how glorious a moment it was, passing over the Robert F. Kennedy (nee Triboro) Bridge and into Queens, knowing that the things I had been telling myself, and the world were actually true.  I am enough for me.  I am enough for now.  I can do this on my own.

We all say these things — these life-affirming things — to ourselves, all the time; I am sure it is not just me whispering them to myself and to the universe.  And we should say these things.  Because they are true.  But it is those rare moments of…proof…that are so fleeting, so hard to find, so viciously ephemeral.  And they are impossible to predict; capture; affirm.

This year, then, was framed by the sun behind me; the BQE ahead, with me looking down at my tattered leggings and my zip-up cardigan; running my hands along the well-worn straps of my beloved bright orange backpack and reciting the things I have said a thousand and one times, I can do this on my own, and knowing deep in my heart, surrounded by proof, that the words were true.

December 28Achieve. What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.

I think it is disingenuous to ignore two, fundamental things about this moment.

1) I am in South America — Santiago, Chile, to be exact.

2) I am traveling alone, and have been since Christmas eve.

These are, of course, the macro facets of this moment.  The micro parts, are that I am back in Santiago after having spent the last two days on Easter Island (a story I’ll get to in a moment).  And that I am, in this moment, sunburned, and consuming a delicious glass of local Carmenere, while my New Yorkers gnash their teeth at me from under two feet of snow.

I am not sorry.  I am the kind of woman who typically gets in the wrong line at the grocery; who selects the FINAL SALE garment with the stain on it from the table full of unblemished ones.  It is not to say that I deserve this moment.  But it is to say that, on balance, right now, I am exactly where I need to be.

So if the question is, what do I hope to achieve in the new year, and how do I hope to achieve it?  Maybe I came down here, in part, to address that question.

I have learned a few things so far, while traveling, but the primary one is that there is no one thing that makes a person feel happy, complete, blissful.

I realized that a few years ago in Western China, and remembered it the other night with the breeze blowing in off the Pacific on an Easter Island night.  And as the family who owned the inn at which I stayed kissed me as I headed off to the airport today to travel back to Santiago, I remembered that back in 2008, when my world was crumbling, and I took off for China, my desperate heart wanted only one thing — to stay true to myself.

The same holds true now.

The truth is: happiness is not so simple. And lasting happiness, or bettering ourselves cannot necessarily be achieved through resolutions, or quick fixes to the human predicament of being born alone and leaving this world alone.

I am blessed to have secretly resolved, in 2010, to connect with people, on a fundamental level, after having spent my 2009 finishing off my 50 things I wanted to do in 10 years.  This past year was about re-settling and reconnecting.  And I think this next year will be about deepening those connections; blowing the bellows on the coals of those relationships; and continuing to stay true to myself.

Which is a doing thing.

This year, that means spending more time seeing people one-on-one.  And also climbing Mt. Whitney.

Simple achievements, I think, are the best.

Though I suppose climbing a huge mountain is not necessarily a simple achievement.  But after you get a law degree or two, pass two bars, put a couple of men through rehab, and get divorced, a couple of marathons and the tallest peak in the lower 48 seems like a bloody effing cakewalk.

December 27Ordinary Joy Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

I write about Winesday a lot.  I think about Winesday a lot.  I facebook about Winesday a lot.  In fact when I did that silly “Meredith’s Top Words of 2010″ thing on Facebook, Winesday was my top word.  Not “me” or “I” or “baby” like most of my friends.  But “Winesday.”

Which should probably tell you something about what I think most about.

I tend to be a lone wolf.  And I spent a good eighteen months of my life, perhaps even a full two years, on travel and/or surviving the complete chaos of a crumbling marriage and career upheaval.  So the start of Winesday represented some kind of permanence to me — the beginning of a family for which I felt responsible.

I mean, I feel responsible for most things.  I feel responsible when my brother does anything silly, three thousand miles away.  I feel responsible when my parents have bad days; or when my closest friends are sad.  I’m that kind of person.

But every Wednesday, this group of people comes together and the magic happens.  Every week, each one of us comes as we are; brings our nonsense to the table, and is fed (typically we are fed mostly carbs and alcohol, but that is neither here nor there).

Sometimes, I think I survived my childhood solely because I had a best friend who made my every oddity feel completely ordinary.  And now, I like to think I have survived these extraordinary times because I have a group of friends who have made these speedbumps in the road I’m traveling feel as if I’m still driving over the bumps in a Jaguar.

Everything works out.

But I am blessed; honored; lucky to share an ordinary — extraordinary — joy each week with my Winesday friends.

December 26 – Soul Food. What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?

In Iceland, there is this restaurant called Fish Market, which was included as a part of Frank Bruni’s 2009 review of Reykjavik.  If you follow my tweets, you may know that I love most things Scandinavian.  One might even argue that I collect Swedish friends (but this would be an exaggeration; I would say it is mere happenstance).  But I loved my trip to Iceland.  LOVED it.

Anyway, included in Bruni’s review, and in my own travels, was a dinner at a restaurant called Fish Market (though my own dinner there was influenced not by Bruni’s review, rather by a late afternoon nap that drifted into evening, and an easily available table there versus several of the less-expensive places in town.  Indeed, austerity has affected us all.)

Anyway.

I don’t eat meat, but I still eat fish.  And Fish Market has it all.  Including…whale.  If you count whale as fish.  Though I won’t admit whether I ate it or not.

But I ordered the cod hot pot: cod; black rice; lemon balm. Perfection. Warm, appetizing, it was delicious.  The meal was everything I like about food.  And I don’t always like food.  It was familiar, the way the ocean is familiar.  Like we’re all reminded of our mothers and wombs when we smell saline.  Or something.  Supposedly we’re like 75% salt water.  Or maybe that’s something I just made up, because I’m a Pisces.

This meal was mind-blowing.  It made me miss all the meals I had skipped; and it made me want to eat all the meals I might forsake in the future.  This food was soul food, the kind of sustenance that made me realize the things I had been missing; made me aware of the things I had lost.

I know you’re not me.  I know your relationship with food is probably pretty ordinary — that is, that food gets you from point A to point B, and you probably don’t look at every meal like its your mortal enemy.  But if you DO ever struggle, just know, that a meal like the one that I had at Fish Market is the kind of meal that gives a girl hope that food is for eating, not wounding, and flavor gives hope, it does not cause grave harm.

And if you’re going to go to Iceland, and you’re going to go to Fish Market, and you’re going to order the cod hot pot, may I recommend an icy cold Sauvignon Blanc?  Just trust me on this one.