I’m having a mini-crisis.  You know the kind I’m talking about: the kind where you felt like you had everything under control for a little while, and now, you’ve slept through your alarm every morning for two weeks straight.  Where every single little thing that could go wrong did go wrong, and now, no one seems to respect you.  Where you don’t know HOW to command respect, and this makes you realise that you’ve been in crisis mode for longer than you thought.

Where you wind up losing your temper and screaming: You are not being helpful!

(That, by the way, is not how to command respect.  That is also something I used to scream at my ex-husband.  Those are the kinds of fighting words that WASPs use.  It was like how I told him I was leaving him by buying a sofa.)

I feel stuck

Have you ever felt stuck?  How does one get get unstuck?  How does one regain focus after the last few years of rattling heartaches?  Is there a magic pill that will make me want to put on clothes other than running clothes, and leave the house after dark to do something other than go to Bikram?

I am more shocked lately when people are nice rather than when they are horrible.  Yesterday morning, as I walked the dog, Roo picked up a branch as big as his entire body.  That boy loves sticks.  A woman passed by and giggled.  I said: I know I should take it away from him, but watching him makes me laugh.  And she thanked me for making her day with a chuckle.

But more typical of my interaction with people is that a Rebekah Brooks look-alike will scream at me not to let Roo pee on a tree.  Or a woman will shout obscenities at me when I tug on the dog’s leash when I don’t notice that he had a false stop to being done with his business.  He isn’t finished going, you bitch! How can you do that to your sweet dog?!

Look, lady.  I’m sorry you had a bad day.  I did too.  When I last looked down, he was done.

These kinds of things, in addition to the cheating ex-boyfriend, and the hit-and-run driver, and the streets piled with garbage, and the constant attitude and snark from people who are supposed to be helping me make me never want to put on mascara or wear anything other than leggings ever again.

So I feel a little stuck.  I feel stuck because my cheating ex-boyfriend told (tells?) people I wouldn’t go out with his friends because I was jealous of anyone younger and prettier than me (when I’d been routinely told he was out with his male friends from work, who approximated the cast of Jersey Shore.  And while they were very well maintained, they were, in fact, all older than me.)  I feel like I’m moving in place because I can’t move past having had people lie about me, and I couldn’t (can’t?) control it.

I feel like I am spinning my wheels because I was taken advantage of, and even a year later, I blame myself for not having noticed it sooner.

I feel like less of a woman because I don’t always know how to strike a balance in an industry that isn’t known for being kind to women.

So, how does one regain the respect of others, and respect for herself, after on-off weeks of feeling like this for a year?  How does one decide to put on something other than running tights when she feels like a woman who looks like someone who wears nothing other than running tights?  (Granted, I have really nice running clothes.)  I really don’t know.  I suppose, if I did, I’d have done it already.

I surround myself with generous, kind people.  I didn’t know that I could have women friends who were not mean girls.  I found them, and they are the best thing that ever happened to me.  I have great mentors in life and in business.  For the most part, I have terrible relationships with men, but oddly enough, I have a great relationshp with my father, and always have (yes, this confounds every therapist I’ve ever had.)

I go to yoga.  I talk about my feelings.  I make mistakes.  I generally own up to them.

I think I’m doing as much right as I can do.

I think this funk is not extraordinary.  I think it’s unremarkable; circumstantial; transient; environmental.  I think I am in a sticky place — a place I am unaccustomed to being, because my life has always been one of remarkable forward motion.  And I am having difficultly expressing the most basic of human needs, which are that I just want someone to be nice to me; to tell me that I’m not crazy; to remind me that I’m doing a good job; that I am making the right choices; that I’m a great dog owner.  I need someone who is not related to me by blood or marriage or similar obligatory status to shake me by the shoulders and say: THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT these people who hurt you were rude, mean, uncool, impolite, probably from New Jersey anyway, and can just go suck it

(Whatever “it” is.)

And remind me that everything will be okay.

Scintilla Prompt #8: What are your simplest pleasures? Go beyond description and into showing the experience of each indulgence

 1)      Cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin: I went to Washington over the weekend for an event, and to see friends.  I’ve waxed poetic about the cherry blossoms before, but I do love them.  During my years living in Washington as an intern, as a student, and as a professional, I fell in love with the springtime blooms.  They’re delicate; hopeful.  Ephemeral.  To me, they were and are the amuse bouche of the garden – a quick bite of something beautiful before the springtime truly takes hold.  They always meant the beginning of good things to come.

 2)      Unexpected upgrades:  eee and I were both in Washington over the weekend.  I was to meet her at her hotel on Friday, where we were going to stay, before going to Bethany’s on Saturday.  eee messaged while I was on the train to tell me that we’d been upgraded to a suite at her hotel.  It wasn’t just any suite – it was literally a princess suite.  A massive living room, two full baths, a full kitchen, etc. 

 I made a video tour of the whole thing, but can’t figure out how to upload it.  The next morning, we showered in our separate showers, and played our own morning music from opposite sides of the suite, never hearing or disturbing each other.  We were still giddy with joy at the space.

 I’ve stayed in some of the best hotels in the world.  I should be inoculated against excitement at large, otherwise ordinary accommodations.  But eaven help me when the unexpectedly pleasant no longer thrills me.

3)      Gold ballet flats:  For reasons I don’t quite understand, gold ballet flats have become a staple of my wardrobe – particularly the type you can fold in half.  I love them; they give me immense joy.  I’ve tried the exceptionally expensive kind that they make by hand; the cheap Gap kind that go on sale and give you sweaty feet; right now I have a middle-of-the-road pair that has held up quite well, but is looking a bit long in the tooth.  I love the feeling of ballet slippers.  There’s something terribly luxurious about the sense that your feet are nearly-naked.

 4)      Penguins:  Ever get sucked down the YouTube rabbit-hole of videos of penguins doing adorable things?  You’re welcome.

5)      That moment:  When it becomes clear that there are several ways something will ultimately end, most of them won’t be very pleasant.  Regardless, the ride is and will be a gloriously complex, uncomplicated joy.

Scintilla Project, Prompt 6: Talk about an experience with faith, your own or someone else’s.

When I was at my parents’ house this past July, a number of utterly bizarre things happened.  First, in a Sauvignon blanc induced haze, I decided to clean out a large container of junk in my childhood bedroom.  This led to me finding a veil studded with plastic penises from my “bachelorette party” (which consisted of Tink taking me to Sunday lunch at Souplantation in Oxnard, where I wore the aforementioned veil, much to the abject horror of the families dining).  Under the influence of wine and nostalgia, I placed the ridiculous crown on my head, and continued to sort junk (pun intended.)  My mother soon found me, and somehow, the evening devolved from paper-sorting to veil-wearing to trying on each other’s wedding gowns.

Second, I love my mother, but the world should know this: my mother dressed me like a cupcake when I was married.  I remember standing in the changing room at Rene Strauss for the Bride on Wilshire in Beverly Hills, saying I want to try on simple dresses; sheath dresses.  And my mother replying, You’re going to regret that.  Don’t you remember that you always wanted a princess wedding?

I had not, in fact, always wanted a princess wedding.  I loved playing wedding when I was a little girl.  I grew up in to a somewhat stiff and difficult woman, but I love romance; I love love stories.  I think there are some men I’ve dated (or married) who might tell you that I am not a romantic, but I’ve always felt that they missed the obvious.

One might say, Meredith, your mother did NOT dress you for your wedding.  You were a grown woman.  You had a choice.  But have you ever watched one of those wedding shows on TLC, where the girl seeking a gown is so concerned about what Mamma and Grams think about the dress?  Those ones where the she wants to look like Marilyn and her family wants her to look like Lady Di?  Guess who wins?  The bride-to-be comes out in some Frankenstein combination of sexpot with sleeves, and there are tears – the happy kind – and life goes on.  Mine was a happy choice, and a pretty dress.  The world kept spinning.

 

Third, on that sticky Southern California Sauvignon Blanc-soaked night this past summer, my best friend showed up, and my mother and I got tipsy and tried on each other’s wedding gowns.  What was instantly clear was this: we had made an awful mistake.  Even back in the early 70s, she should’ve worn a dress in the style of mine, and in the mid 00s, I should’ve worn a dress in the style of hers. 

My mother is a beautiful woman.  And In my sparkly, too-white-for-me dress, she was radiant.  The silk swirled around her, and suited her frame.  The bodice was tight, but the dress was otherwise perfect for her.  And I understood, then, why she’d picked it for me.

Similarly, her dress was perfect for me.  It was simple, and classic, and had a history of things that had worked.  I love found things; things with a story.  My mother loves things with possibility.  Our younger selves had somehow missed the obvious nearly a decade ago.  However, we’d been different people, and in those days, we’d not been able to see even the noses on our faces.

So we stood in my parents’ front room, laughing our heads off and drinking our wine with my best friend, and remarking that if I ever undertook a second marriage, I should probably consider wearing my mother’s dress.  Those were all strange thoughts: history, possibility, do-overs.

Earlier in that evening, as I had gone through that box of papers, I had found in an envelope a copy of my marriage license along with copies of photos of members of Andrew’s family and mine on their wedding days.  Lots of successful marriages.  Ours was one of the only divorces.

Sitting on my childhood bedroom floor, under the whitewashed walls and ceiling, I dry-heaved.  Divorce as a concept; marriage in retrospect – i.e., the thing about which I most often write – it is an easy thing to digest.  It is pre-chewed.  But I was suddenly confronted with life before the war; my younger self, i.e., the girl who wore twill skirts and pop-collar polo shirts, and had a diamond solitaire.

It isn’t that I’m not that woman, nor is it that I never was her.  But what I learned was this: I’d married because I had faith that it would work.  And it didn’t.  I’d survived my divorce on hope; friendship; maybe too much wine; and believing I would survive.  But the things I’d believed had been tested.  The years between signing that piece of paper to bind, and signing the one to release me had been a test of my faith.

That silly night in my parents’ house with my best friend and my mother reminded me of what was to come; it renewed my faith in possibility; reminded me that love remained.  And hopefully, it prevented me from ever again having that mermaid tail-and-mutton chop-sleeves moment on the dressing room chopping block in front of the three-way mirror.

There’s an old episode of South Park where the boys enter a bar, and the scene is set up a bit like an old-timey Western, and someone says: We don’t take kindly to folks who don’t take kindly around here

It’s kind of funny.  My brother says that all the time.

The line is from an episode called “Sexual Harassment Panda,” and if you know how I feel about pandas, it makes the line even funnier.  But the whole idea of the episode was kind of on point here, which was to make sensitivity training sort-of accessible.

There are a few things to which I take exception; to which I don’t take kindly.

Here’s one example:

Totally jeals you’ve had a stomach bug!  I wish I could stop eating for a couple of days!

I’ve been really sick for the past week.  I did not have a stomach bug.  I thought I did.  But it was a bad reaction to a hard-to-tolerate rheumatoid arthritis medication.

My sick-feeling has been miserable.  I have had blisters in my mouth, and the inside of my nose.  I have been blindingly nauseated.  I have experienced myriad other side effects that wouldn’t be right to mention even in impolite company.  I am prone to headaches anyway, but I’ve had a mind-splitting one.  I’m not one to skip work, but I stayed home on Friday, laying on the bathroom floor until my housekeeper moved me so she could clean it and she put me back in bed.

I am not proud of how bad I feel and have felt.  I am angry; I am sad.  And I’m jealous that your life is different.  This is going to pass, I know.  But it sucks, and I’m wallowing in it.

However, I don’t think your jokes and comments are funny.  I don’t want to hear about your herbal supplement that totally kills your appetite.  I don’t want you to congratulate me on being so lucky to not have to eat for a whole weekend! 

I have run ten marathons and I am trying to stay healthy.  I am fighting rheumatoid arthritis, and I am a recovering anorexic.  Even if the aforementioned weren’t part of my  identity, I still think your inane statements are hurtful to me, to yourself, and to women.

I am trying, desperately, to be kinder to myself.  I don’t take too kindly to when you don’t think before you speak.

Scintilla Project, Prompt 4: Talk about your childhood bedroom. Did you share? Slam the door? Let someone in you shouldn’t have? Where did you hide things?

I always felt bad for kids whose parents cared about the “look” of their children’s bedrooms, as if the children were meant to be carefully kept, and the bedrooms were their beautiful boxes.  To have a mint condition child required Shaker-style bunk beds, and a madras duvet.  Those well-minted children in their dollhouse bedrooms would obviously grow up to be less-damaged than the ones who had been not raised under the auspices of Ethan Allen.

I can say with certainty that even while I was in the thick of being parented by and surviving Tom and Linnie’s parenting decisions, I am pretty sure they had no intention of having me in bedroom full of heirloom furniture.  Instead, my life began with the freedom to govern my own space. 

In other words, Ethan who?

I like to create things; I like design.  I love beautiful lines, and décor that makes people think.  If you come over to my house now, there is a bit of provocative art; there are lines and angles; there are soft things, too.

I like made things; I like found things.  The parsons tables in my house, about which I so often wax poetic, were inherited in my early 20s.  But they were slathered in a dark stain that had chipped, and even where it was still intact, it completely obscured the delicate inlay on the top of each piece.  I spent the summer after I finished college painstakingly sanding those things; scraping them.  Staining them by hand.  I worked in the oppressive Southern California heat, alone with some sandpaper and couple of cans of Minwax.  Halfway through the project, I finally relented and bought myself a power sander.

But refinishing a set of tables was not unusual for me, even at that point in my life.  Years earlier, I’d had a vision of how I wanted my childhood bedroom to look, and effecting the design required the same effort and precision as fixing up those tables ultimately did.

I had wanted my bedroom to look like the outdoors.

I suppose calling this my childhood bedroom would be a misnomer, because we moved house when I was a tween.  But this was the room in which I spent the most important of my formative years.

So I plotted a course towards My Dream Bedroom.  In order to get anything in my family, I was required to present a proposal.  If powerpoint had existed at that time (or if it did, if it had existed for Apple), I am sure my father would’ve required a slide-deck and a business case.  (My childhood was spent presenting my case to my father.  There were always proposals; papers; I recall one or two posterboards, even.  He governed my life like he was the Dean of a one pupil business school.)

I presented my case, and it was accepted, and we moved towards the implementation phase.  First, I would sponge paint the entire bedroom a matte blue.  Then, I would paint the baseboards with a semi-gloss green, and paint grass growing up from the baseboards.  After that, Dad would take me to the hardware store, and we’d purchase a length of picket fence to nail to the walls.  And they would replace the carpet with plush, green wall-to-wall.  There would be accessories and things to match, of course.  But that was the gist of it.

I had to do it myself, too:  me, a ladder, sponges.  Paint brushes.  I had a crick in my neck for about a year after sponge-painting my ceiling, but I finished the job.  The end result was gorgeously whimsical, and conformed exactly to what I had wanted.

It was a safe space.

There were times when I hated that my parents hadn’t bought me durable, matchy-matchy furniture.  There were times when my teen angst and self-loathing were such that I had to pin every award I’d ever received to my wall to remind me that I was worthy.  Sometimes, I cared that my mother didn’t seem to give a hang what I did to my bedroom, when everyone else’s mother was hung up on whether the things that defined her daughter looked right.

There were times when I wanted to be like everyone else.

But I wasn’t.  And I’m not.  And the little blue room with the green grass and the picket fence was where I had room to be me.  But where I had space to grow, I eventually outgrew.  Mums and Dad whitewalled the room during my first year at UCLA.  By then, I didn’t need the little blue room any more.  Over the years, I learned that I wasn’t cut out for the fenced-in life; that my tastes tended towards the sleeker, sharper, more open and modern.  But how wonderful to grow up damaged and wild, under cover of a private sky.

(Voila: the awards; the filing cabinet (!); the white picket fence; the sky; the grass. And the bat I once hung from the ceiling fan.)

I had brunch with a friend from California today, insofar as I could brunch.  But that’s a different story.  My friend had lived in New York for a year before returning to the place from whence he came.  From whence we came, since he’s from the town where my parents live.  And we talked about what we each liked and loved about New York City, and why people leave.

The conversation had come up in the context of my friend applying to graduate schools all over the country, in a seemingly scattershot fashion: coming back to New York, going to Washington, staying in California, maybe giving the midwest a chance, trying the South for a while.  He mentioned a book he had read recently – Who’s Your City? by Richard Florida.  The author had studied location and personal happiness and had plumbed the question of why people don’t see their life in a city as requiring the same thought and effort as having a relationship with that location.

I get sick of those girls who come to New York because they fell in love with Joan Didion in Freshman Lit, I snorted, But they never read all the way through the anthology! They don’t understand their own temporariness. 

By 30, I had settled for Manhattan.  A few years earlier, I had come to New York affianced, on the cusp of a marriage that wasn’t destined to last.  I divorced; I bought or inherited reasonable furniture.  Thirtysomething and alone, I gave in and painted my bathroom a shade of grey called Nightingale.  Putting paint on walls was a display of permanence I’d not undertaken since I was trying to force myself into committed submission in a Virginia townhouse a decade earlier.

People come, expecting to leave.  I came, expecting to stay.  Except the reason I came became irrelevant, and since then I’ve been reminding myself that I have a reason to hang on.

Didion, of course, came back.  And lives relatively close to where I live, as far as I understand.  Like many female writers, I have been influenced by her work.  But there were and are other, much greater influences too.  However, I am always struck by the lines in Goodbye to All That, where Didion says that she’d left behind in an apartment a poster of Sacramento, one that “reminded me who I am.”

Who am I?  I have nothing on my walls to remind me of California, save for a photo or two of having visited; some coasters and wine glasses from a California hotel I once had to close down.  To the board above my desk, I have pinned a map of the Sierras, where I have climbed; a map of the New York City Marathon, which I have thrice conquered; a map of Hyde Park, where I sometimes run; a quote from Elisabeth Badinter, snipped from The New Yorker.

On the shelf above: travel books; Edith Wharton; Virginia Woolf; Anne Lamott.  Baudrillard; Foucault.  Two finance books pilfered from my dad; books he’d used in getting his MBA in the Seventies.  CS Lewis; Seamus Heaney; Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  And a dusty book on French vocabulary.

I suppose that is a fair representation of who I think I am.  A woman without a country; a girl who reads.

Back on Planet New York, my friend and I finished our brunch in Union Square.  He was headed off to meet another friend, and I was headed to Strand Books — a quintessentially New York institution.  And as I am wont to do, I lost myself for an hour or two in the stacks; came away with a few old books.  It reminded me of the New York I knew when I was married — churches and bookstores downtown; long afternoons spent fighting the vicious throngs of tourists on Broadway.

But unlike those days, I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted.  Buy books or not.  Stay or go home.  Being unleashed still feels delicious, even three years after having moved out.  That part of New York is still new for me.

I headed home, and realised that one’s own New York depended upon one’s expectations — not necessarily the New York experience.  If one always expects new faces, one cracks when the well of people runs dry.  If one always expects the extraordinary, then one will never see the magic in the mundane.  To pin all hopes for excitement and adventure on a place alone is to reduce that magical relationship to a co-dependent catastrophe.  New York simply cannot stand up under the weight of all those young girls’ dreams.

Thankfully, the girls become not so young and they leave.

And there is dirt, grime, and rotten produce; high rents and apartments without views left for the rest of us.  And there are ordinary, extraordinary dreams to dream and live — dreams that could likely have been dreamt and lived most any place, but are best lived for some under the bright lights of this big City.

To get back into the writing groove, I signed up for the Scintilla project.  Learn more here.

Prompt 3: What’s the story of the most difficult challenge you’ve faced in a relationship? Did you overcome it? What was the outcome?

My relationship with New York City is long and complicated.  I’ve had my doubts, but it is the only romance I have ever been all in.

I’ve been here seven years this year, but this past year has been a serious look at what that relationship will look like in the future: why am I here?  Why does this feel so good and so bad?  What kind of person am I in New York City?

I left the city for a handful of months in 2009 — months during which I was putatively based in Washington, but was mostly on travel and spent every weekend commuting home.  Those months were a series of firsts and lasts, and I find myself going back to my notes about that time to uncover what it is about New York that keeps me here; what it was that I missed then; what drives this relationship in my moments of doubt.

I said to a friend last night: Please remind me not to go through these old notebooks so I can “write” about this stuff after I’ve been sick all day.

He replied: Time to move on to fiction rather than historical reflection.

Ironically, this was the friend who had, in the thick of the darkest days of that chaotic year, sagely told me to go back to New York and sort my life out.  At the time I had refused to accept a single bit of advice from anyone, except for that one piece of wisdom.

New York is an easy place to love; it is a hard place to live.  Likewise, people say that about me:  you are easy to fall in love with, Meredith Ann; you are impossible to live with!  And I am.  I am selfish, and mercurial.  Like New York, I am not one to compromise and I am composed of a bunch of discrete, prickly little extremes.  In Manhattan, each block is its own extreme — New York is notoriously, fiercely protective of its individual localities.  Chelsea is distinct from Soho is distinct from Tribeca is distinct from the Financial District.  Indeed, one can feel the difference as one crosses into a new sub-city.

For an illustrative transcontinental comparison, one knows when one has left West Hollywood and is now in Beverly Hills.

But that isn’t my point.  My point is that, I frequently hate this place.  From time to time, I wonder if this is the seven year itch, or if I have come to a point where I do not like the New Yorker I have become.

Example:  yesterday, a woman passed me on the street as I walked Roo, and she screamed (unprovoked), Not on the tree! as he went to lift his left (insofar as he lifts his chubby little legs) next to a tree.  This woman must’ve been twice my size, and bore striking resemblance to Rebekah Brooks.  In other words, she was scary.  Unthinking, all 5’2″ turned and screamed: Who made you mayor of this block?!

Imagine me, the pugilist — petite, blonde hair in a ballet chignon, wearing the quilted jacket that is the uniform of a certain type of woman.  On the other side of this fight was a now-legendary henchwoman.

A verbal scuffle ensued.  During the melee, Roo peed on the tree anyway.

My takeaway was: this would only happen in New York.  And I am sick of this.  I am sick of the filth, and the nasty people.  I am sick of feeling lonely in a crowd of strangers.

So was my friend right?  History or fiction, did it not matter?

I had once written:

I’m homesick.  I’ve never been homesick for a place like I am for New York.  My friends; my dogs; my can openers; my steak knives; each and every one of the things that I had always dismissed as “just things,” and now I crave with a passion like none other.  The shoes that I only wear a couple of times a year.  My stuffed monkey.  My cashmere shawl from Kashmir.  Every little glorious thing; every detail; I miss it.  I want it.  I want to kiss and hug and touch all my things and say “Thank you, things.  Thank you for existing, and anchoring me, and being MINE.  All mine.  I am so blessed to have things, and to be and to exist and to have one place to go to, and one place to be, and to not have to run around any more.  To exist in just this one place, and not fragmented all over the country, world.”

Maybe all romances are history and fiction.  Relationships are the work of navigating filth, and mess, and loneliness — and surviving it together.  They are the history of a New York remembered through cards and letters and margin notes, and they are a fiction based upon that and the dreams to come.

I think relationships are over when there is no longer fiction; when there is nothing left to romanticise but the past; when the loneliness is such that the flirtation with other cities consumes.  And I don’t swoon any more when I land at JFK after being on travel.  I don’t tolerate the noise and the dirt because it is so charmingly New York.  That bit is over.  But on quiet mornings, when the City is perfectly still; when I see the sun rise over the East River my heart skips a beat.  And there is history yet to be made; fiction left to create…whether both feet are on the ground here, or merely my heart.