Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year. Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!
Prompt for December 31: Clean slate: Tomorrow is a new year. What do you want to do with your clean slate?
As it turns out, there is no “Saint” Kilda.
In Melbourne, where I’ve been for the past week or so, the town of St Kilda is named for a ship called the Lady of St Kilda, which in turn was named for an archipelago off the coast of Scotland. How the islands came to be known for an imaginary saint is still a matter of conjecture. One theory is that landmasses derived their name either from old Norse – sunt kelda for “sweet water” – or from a Dutch assumption that the spring on the island – Tobar Childa – was named for a saint (thus giving the place the oddly tautological placename of “well, well.”) Another theory is that the islands were called by an ancient word for Viking shields, which is what that bit of the Outer Hebrides looked like when viewed from out at sea.
Well, well. As New Year’s Eve began, I found myself in an inner-city suburb of Melbourne at a party on my best friend’s mother’s deck, wondering how to emerge from the shipwreck of a terrible decade. With silly hats on heads and amber liquid swirling in glasses, I couldn’t say that I knew much more about life, or love, or men, or any of that than I had 10 years prior. In a decade, however, I had learned quite a lot about navigation.
For instance, at a certain point as the ship hits the rocks, you discover this: a privileged childhood is no guarantee that you won’t be a divorcee as a thirtysomething. The Los(t) Angeles suburbs don’t prepare you for the complicated reality of anything. It’s not black and white, like your parents’ marriage seemed — your parents, in their sixties, who met in the Sixties — which was no guide for what to do when monogamy failed you. How grotesque all of those unrealistic suburban expectations were!
Relationships are messy. Commitment of any sort is scary. There is no chart; no sextant to help navigate the treacherous waters of big cities; of loves that open and shut; of difficult men; of cheaters and liars, and people who don’t know what they want. The North Star won’t guide you through the failure-feelings of professional let-downs, that gut-wrenching feeling of being needed when you’ve nothing left to give, and surviving a marriage that isn’t going to make it.
I had no idea of all this a decade ago. I was red-haired, and fresh-faced, and full of ideas that Everything Would Always Be Okay. But I found out that it’s not always Okay, that sometimes you know you’re wrecking the boat and don’t care, and sometimes there are icebergs beneath the surface you never could’ve known about. I found out that loving someone isn’t just about plotting an acceptable course, it’s also about staying it; surviving it. It’s also about someone who will hold your hair back if you get seasick. You will get seasick — and you will have to mop the deck in turn.
And even then, you still might fall in love with someone’s vessel. But they don’t tell you this in Los Angeles – they don’t tell you about the subtle messiness of life and love, and the way hulls don’t properly patch once breached – unless you believe in Woody Allen films (which you won’t, unless and until you move to Manhattan).
All of this in mind, there I was, on New Year’s Eve in St Kilda with my family of stranded sailors: my best friend, her brother and his girlfriend, and my best friend’s mother.
2011 had begun as a painting: swirling, twirling; a couple dancing in evening-wear in an airport and on a plane – the New Year ringing not once but multiple times. And then it had been a whirlpool from there — trains and planes; hotels and airports; lobbies and bars; lobby bars. Kisses on the forehead. It ended it by washing ashore on a beach named for an imaginary Scottish saint. After our night of silly hats and drinks on the deck, we walked along the street looking for a pub or party. We danced up and down the St Kilda Road when no party was to be found – spinning and shaking in our own time – until we were back on the deck when the clock struck twelve.
I put Mairi Campbell’s auld lang syne on the stereo; my best friend and I kissed on cheeks and forehead. And 2012 rang in without much fanfare, and few expectations, but a good deal of hope.
The Lady of St Kilda, as it turned out, did shipwreck. She met her end in Tahiti in the mid-1800s, but had sailed a useful, if brief, dual life as both a trade vessel and a yacht. But her importance to Melbourne remains, and her namesake bay is gentle.
As the captain of my own shipwreck, I am not sure I can explain the manner in which 2011 chased its own tail. I have no explanation for what the dancing couple in the airport last year foretold. I do not know why I got on that train in Edinburgh. I’m not even sure how I wound up on St Kilda beach on the same-named bay at the end of a difficult year. But I suppose with this slate wiped clean, and starting a new captain’s log, I don’t have to offer any justifications for the past wrecks. I am merely headed for; seeking sweet water.