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.

As the year ends, and we look back at the joys, achievements and disappointments of the past twelve months, it’s worth taking some time to recognise what our efforts have demanded of us and where our resources have been depleted. Whether you have spent 2015 bringing some long-cherished project to fruition or simply trying to keep your head above water, it’s likely that this has come at some cost to you. How can you replenish your (physical, mental, spiritual and/or emotional) resources? What do you need most of all at this moment?

I have written before about how intense the last few years have been, and how I love the bit in the Sermon on the Mount about how one should understand the importance of taking the plank out of one’s own eye before trying to get the speck of sawdust out of one’s brother’s. How, if we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot survive this crazy life. I love that bit so much that, even as a seasoned traveller, I still listen when they tell you on the plane that you should put your oxygen mask on first because obviously, it’s the Word of Our Lord. 

It was not until about mid-November that the plank-sawdust-oxygen mask thing really became a non-anecdotal, real-life thing for me, though. You see, I can summarise my life into neat little Life Lessons on the Internet. But I am not as good at understanding those lessons when I am actually hitting a wall and need to replenish my energy in Real Life.

The best analogy/simile I have for this is that of my 1999 Honda Civic. (Yes, I am going to frontload all of my literary devices, why do you ask?) I used to drive a Honda with a floating fuel gauge that would tell me I had a third or a fourth of a tank of gas left when I really had only fumes. So I would believe I had ample time to find a service station, and instead, my car would sputter to a halt on an interstate exit ramp. So while in my head, I am a state-of-the-art jetliner with sophisticated gauges and sensors and I carry enough fuel to circumnavigate the globe and beyond; in reality, I am much more like a 1999 Honda Civic with absolutely no clue when I am about to run out of gas.

With all of this in mind, in mid-November, I found myself on one of those exhausting multi-city business trips. By the time I finally arrived in Dublin at the end of it, I was completely, utterly worn out. Worse, I was so knackered, I had no clue how dangerously wrecked I really was.

I spent an ordinary-but-exhausting weekend in Ireland, and headed back to NY (via London) that Sunday. In Dublin Airport, however, things got weird. An airline employee mistook me for another passenger and grabbed my bag out of my hand, ripping it completely open. My stuff went everywhere. I stood for a moment – frozen – and then began to yell at her; she began to yell back. In the midst of this, my flight began to board.

So I scooped up my stuff, and moved with the throbbing masses towards the boarding zone with a large Eastern European woman trailing me, screaming. When I arrived at the gate and proffered my passport and boarding card, the woman’s colleague informed me that I would have to check my bag – not because her colleague had ripped it open – but because the bag was “too big.”

It was at that point that I lost my mind.

Have you ever lost your mind in public? I don’t recommend doing it in an airport, especially since, after a few minutes of back-and-forth, the gate agent appeared to radio for the police.

Ultimately, I gave up and got on the plane. I looked forlornly up at my bag on the platform as I trudged down the the jetway, hissing to myself about the injustice of it all as the gardai arrived to speak with the gate agent. As I sank into my airline seat I knew two things for certain: 1) I was very, very lucky that my tantrum hadn’t gotten me arrested, and 2) there was absolutely no way in hell my bag was going to arrive in New York that night.

Predictably, I arrived at JFK without bags. The next morning, no bag came to my house, either. I finally had to call someone at the airline’s customer service hotline, at which point, I lost my jetlagged mind again, and threatened to go to some guy’s house if he didn’t give me the number to reach a live person at the baggage counter at JFK.

Madam, you cannot talk to me that way. Madam, I am in India you cannot come to my house.

When I finally reached a live person at JFK, I rushed out an apology as I explained the circumstances (leaving out the part where I had threatened to go to Bangalore to beat up a guy) and begged for my luggage. Don’t worry, the woman said, It sounds like you’ve been through a lot. I have your bag in hand and I will send it out tonight.

Within an hour of that call, my bag had arrived.

The point is: Admitting to yourself that you are more like a 1999 Honda Civic and not Boeing 787 Dreamliner in terms of your energy resources and long-range capacity is only the first step in learning to care for yourself. The second step is taking the plank out of your own eye; putting your oxygen mask on first; not letting yourself become so depleted in the first place…lest you become a raving lunatic nearly taken into police custody in the middle of Dublin Airport.

Reverb14 is a prompt-a-day series for the month of December designed to reflect on 2014 and project hopes and dreams for 2015.  Throughout December,SarahKat and I will post each day with a new prompt.  Join us by writing, or join us by reading.   Follow us on Twitter @project_reverb and #reverb14.

Never | I never thought I’d…What did you think you’d NEVER do, but you did this year.  Why?  What changed your mind?

True story: I hate Christmas.

When I got divorced, I gave myself the gift of quitting Christmas. It just felt like a lot of obligation, and seasonal décor, and food I didn’t like, so I opted out. And it was a relief.

American Commercial Christmas does not fit into my belief system. I feel overwhelmed by it. I like sending Christmas cards, and I like a couple of Christmas movies, but otherwise, I find the whole holiday season to be a sea of wasted resources and forced obligation.

My mother tells me that she doesn’t understand why I hate the holidays because I used to anticipate them so much as a kid. But I think she’s projecting that on to me. She and my father both love Christmas; they take great joy in buying gifts, and decorating the house, and they enjoy the build-up.

I hate anticipation. I won’t watch suspenseful movies. I even fast-forward through films I’ve already seen at the “exciting” parts. I find suspense so agitating that I avoid situations where I don’t know what comes next. I find those sorts of situations and movies to be something to be tolerated rather than something I enjoy.

And I think that my mother confuses the abject anxiety I had as a kid about the holiday anticipation with the (admitted) joy I had about receiving gifts. So what I have always seen as a really anxiety-provoking experience as a kid (albeit one that included the thrill of presents),  my mother viewed as something I really looked forward to at one stage.

I can see where she’d maybe be confused. But the truth is…I’ve just always hated the holidays. Once I quit Christmas, I felt like the pressure was finally off; like I didn’t have to put myself into any of those situations where I didn’t know what was happening next. I didn’t have to eat any foods I didn’t want to eat; I didn’t have to have all those tchotchkes in my house representing Santa and Elves and what have you — things I didn’t like and didn’t believe in and that looked and felt…creepy.

I was free. I went skiing in Europe. I went to the Caribbean. I went to South America. I went to Australia. I went to Thailand. I ate a ton of Asian food, and I slept in, and I ran, and did yoga, and helped the needy, and saw friends, and engaged in absolutely none of that Commercial Christmas Bullshit, and I felt wholly human and completely engaged with the holiday spirit.

Just…not in that terrible, red-and-green-paper-wrapped, commercial, anxiety-provoking way that I’d been told my whole life was CHRISTMAS.

And then I met Paul, who is a Christmas Enthusiast.

Paul loves Christmas. He loves Santa. He believes children should believe in Santa (whereas I feel one should not lie to them and lose credibility as a parent). Paul believes a home should be decorated for Christmas, whereas I, personally, cannot fathom ever putting up and decorating a Christmas tree ever again. My feelings about Christmas trees are roughly the same as my feelings about sailboats — I enjoy and admire them when they belong to someone else.

Paul and I are of the same mind about most things, except this.

And this is why, after I swore up and down that I’d never, ever celebrate Christmas again, I am sitting in the airport lounge, waiting for a much-delayed flight, so I can fly to family Christmas in Dublin.

I love Paul, and I love his family, and even though this whole season makes me want to tear my hair out, one reaches a point where it’s not about one’s own fears and anxieties and frustrations anymore.

In other words, you just shut up, and get on the plane.

Reverb14 is a prompt-a-day series for the month of December designed to reflect on 2014 and project hopes and dreams for 2015.  Throughout December,SarahKat and I will post each day with a new prompt.  Join us by writing, or join us by reading.   Follow us on Twitter @project_reverb and #reverb14.

Leap of FaithWhat decision did you make this year that was a leap of faith? Did it work out? Or not?

It began in the wee hours on Monday morning, 24th of November.

I’d gone to bed just after midnight, in my half-unpacked new apartment, due to leave for California for Thanksgiving that evening. I was missing my long-dead grandfather for no discernible reason. He had been gone for nine and a half years, and yet I was overcome with the desire to send him photos of Roo; to tell him about Paul; and, to tell him to his face: Look, your being dead has been highly inconvenient for me.

He would’ve laughed at that.

I went to sleep and woke up with a start around 2.30am. The house was silent, then I heard hysterical laughter. My grandfather’s distinctive laugh. And then it was quiet again.

I hadn’t heard Bop’s raucous laugh in a decade and still, there was no mistaking it. It was like the laughter was trying to tell me something, and I didn’t yet know what.

I flew to Los Angeles that night, and the next morning was getting ready to leave for the drive to Yosemite National Park, where my family spends Thanksgiving (and indeed, has spent the last 31 Thanksgivings.) I mentioned the story about Bop to my mother, who was a True Believer in the supernatural, so virtually nothing was too batshit for her. Whereas I was feeling marginally self-conscious about being the type of person who had just heard her dead grandfather laughing in the night, my mother was the type of person who whole-heartedly embraced that sort of thing.

Of course, my mother said, I’ve been feeling Bop nearby too.  As if what I had just told her was the most normal thing in the world.

There was nothing more I could say to that, so I began to blow-dry my hair and got ready for the long drive to Wawona.

Paul and I drove to Yosemite, and were planning for a Big Hike in Yosemite Valley the next morning. I thought nothing of this, because we’d discussed doing this the year prior, and hadn’t gotten ’round to it. But he was pushing the idea again this year, and asked me to plan it, so I did. (And if you have ever run a race or done a Sierras climb with me, you know that this is my specialty). We had initially settled on Half Dome, but after further consideration, decided upon Upper Yosemite Falls.

At 5.30am on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we set out for Yosemite Valley from Wawona, and embarked on a Big Hike.

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And so we climbed.

We didn’t talk much on that first mile up. It was early, and cold. And I was thinking a little on how Paul and I had met. It was the end of May 2013, and I had been in Scotland for the Edinburgh Half Marathon. I had been dating a Random Finance Guy, and the relationship clearly wasn’t going anywhere.

In the course of hanging out with a friend who was also in Edinburgh for racing; eating Mexican near the University (shockingly, not half bad); waiting in a hotel room for the northern sun to set around 10.30pm; and, running in the sunshine along the North Sea, I had sent a message to Random Finance Guy calling it quits. He wanted to be a senator, and had told me time and time again that I wasn’t senator’s wife material.

I didn’t want to be with someone for whom I wasn’t enough. Again.

After the race, I left Edinburgh and went back to London to see PG, and then flew back to New York. And I listened to my mother moan at me for breaking it off with Random Finance Guy because No one is just going to walk into your office and sweep you off your feet. You need to put yourself out there.

That following Friday, Paul walked into my office for a meeting.

We’d talked on the phone and by email for some time — his firm had done work with my company for years, and I’d worked with him on a few projects. But we’d never met. And he was looking to talk to me about some European directive, however, the conversation never got that far. Instead, we spent an hour or so talking about life and friends and California and how we’d both been to Easter Island.

At the end of the meeting, he said he was in town for the weekend, and asked for some suggestions on what he should do. I gave him some and wondered if he was asking me out.  But at the end of the meeting when no date was forthcoming, I shrugged it off.

I would later learn that Irish men are oblivious.

He emailed the following Monday, confessing his obliviousness, and asking me out. He booked a trip back to New York, and…on a leap of faith, I booked a trip to Dublin. From there, it wasn’t all smooth sailing (for instance, we didn’t really get along that first weekend), but we’d been together ever since.

So fast forward a year and a half or so to the present day, there we were, climbing the trickling falls above Yosemite Valley in the place nearest and dearest to my heart. It was the place I sought shelter in times of trouble. It was the place I went to feel triumphant.

Look at that view, Paul remarked, a couple of hours into the climb.

Gosh, it’s gorgeous.

I pulled out my phone and snapped the view. I had been taking photos all the way up, but this particular vista seemed especially breathtaking.

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When I turned back around to him on the trail, he was, down on one knee, asking me to marry him.

Of course, I said yes.

And then I knew immediately why I’d heard that laughing in the night earlier in the week.

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To borrow a cliché, they say that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. But I don’t necessarily look at it that way. I would say that I waited my whole life to meet someone who I don’t have to explain myself to; who is perfectly receptive to my batshit suggestions like Let’s go to Japan, and then doing it; who knew my heart so well that he proposed in the Sierras halfway through a strenuous hike, with Half Dome in view.

I would say that this is the sum of experience and a hopeful willingness to look stupid with someone.

One might even call it a leap of faith.

Lie in.

Discover Paul has downloaded a new iPad game and has been playing some weird equivalent of Risk for hours as I slept.  He shouts at me because I wake up Not Hungry, and he is afraid of me becoming a monster.

Truth: I haven’t had much of an appetite in weeks.  The only thing that tastes very good is clementines.

Maybe he is not afraid of me becoming hungry.  Maybe he is afraid of me remaining Not Hungry.

We bicker.  We fight about his silly computer game, and the way the women get dressed up for each other in Dublin, and how I just want to spend my Saturdays in running clothes but in Ireland, that is not a done thing.  We argue about breakfast and brunch and whether to go into to town or stay close.

We decide to stay nearby and go to the place we always go where we have the same things we always have, regardless of which city or country we are in: eggs and smoked salmon for me; whatever the special is for Paul.

Paul needs his hair cut.

He says: I won’t bother; I will wait.  But I tell him that he isn’t coming out for Easter with a shaggy head of hair.

Let’s go get your hair cut.

We drive to the center of town and we are early for the haircut.  So we go to buy Paul a new pair of jeans at Brown Thomas.  The heavily made-up, spray-tanned salesgirl tries to interrupt me as I am asking Paul about which jeans he likes.

I know I have unwashed hair, and I have been in Amsterdam, London, and Dublin since Wednesday.  I know I am not wearing any make up, and have topped my fancy jeans from LA with an old cashmere sweater.  I am wearing hot pink flats because I had nothing else.  I know no one is looking twice at me.  I know I left all the hallmarks of worldly success back in New York — the big handbag, the sunglasses, and the other Wealthy White Chick accoutrements.

I was in the c-suite by 30.  I’m here on business.  This is hard.  Sometimes I just want to wear running clothes on Saturday and not be bothered.

The girl keeps bringing Paul jeans, and I know it’s just her job, but she’s bringing him brands that don’t fit him, and the one thing I know is my ultra-premium denim.  He buys the pair I have suggested, because it’s the pair that fit him like they were made for him.

I may not be anything special to look at, but I know my denim.

Paul goes on to get his haircut and I walk around.

Walk walk walk.  What am I doing.

I haven’t had time to consider anything that has been happening.  Should I feel guilty about Andrew?  Should I apologise for the tough and consequential things I have been tackling — and succeeding at — in my career?

Should I apologise for being who I am, where I am?

Everyone loves an underdog; everyone reveres a hero.  But what happens to you when you’ve survived the worst of the underdog days and you’re just slogging through the middle part?  When you’ve picked up the pieces of ten years of constant catastrohpe, and you’ve managed okay, and you’ve survived humiliation, and heartache, and you’ve finally met a nice guy, and you’re doing well in your career, and you’re just trying to be a good person and get on with life?

What I’ve discovered is that nobody likes that.  That’s a shitty novel that doesn’t sell; a pilot that doesn’t get picked up for the full season.

Should I buy tights?  I think I need to wear tights to this meeting on Monday.  I should stop at H&M and buy tights.

I buy tights.  In one pocket of my jeans is Sterling; the other Euros.  That’s the same for most of my coats, and bags, and I don’t remember the last time I could find a US Dollar.  This isn’t to say I’m fancy, this is just to say my life has changed.

Paul’s haircut is finished.

I go back across the street to meet him.  My hair is still unwashed; I am still not wearing any makeup.  I thread my way between the tourists and the natives, and find him at the appointed meeting place, texting me.

We buy smoothies, then walk across St Stephen’s Green back to the car — the morning’s bickering forgotten; the afternoon light filtering between the trees.

I am thinking too much; I am thinking about nothing at all.  I am thinking only that my sense of relief is palpable — the same thought I have been having for days — the only thought I can muster.

I had believed for so long that I had done something terrible by getting divorced — that I had ruined or broken Andrew and scarred him for life.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love him — I did — but circumstances were such that our marriage was never going to work.  I knew it, and I knew that I did the right thing, but the guilt of the last five years has been…crushing.

Some of my divorcee girlfriends struggle when their spouses remarry because they feel inadequate, or they become nostalgic, or the pine for what could have been.

I didn’t ever feel that way.  I just felt the weight of the world, and the Catholic church, and a man who still called his mother “Mommy” on my shoulders.

We walk through St Stephen’s Green, where we laid in the grass last summer on my first visit to Dublin, and I think: For the first time in five years, I can finally breathe.

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By Friday, I was that special kind of exhausted — that hot and dizzy kind of Too Much Going On tired that didn’t go away with water and clementines, which seemed to be my panacea lately.

I was in the office, and in meetings, and I was meeting D and Rach for lunch.  It was hard to believe how long I’d known them now.  It had been three years since D had convinced me to come back from Edinburgh over the bank holiday weekend; now N and Rach had a baby — not a baby, a little boy! — and D and I continued to be the unmarried, childless friends.

So much had changed in both New York and in London and still nothing had.

We met, and we ate, and it was lovely.  Then Baby Z fussed a bit, and mother and child had to dash a bit early, so D and I stayed and caught up.  It was one of those gorgeous springtime Fridays in London where the sun was out, and the trees in Grosvenor Square were green, and even the squat, post-modern, could-only-have-been-hatched-in-a-Cold-War-architect’s-imagination American Embassy was softened around the edges.  (Which was true, but is a terrible thing to say, because later that afternoon some building right behind it collapsed and a man was killed).

Then our lunch ended, and we kissed on the cheeks, and we were off into the afternoon.

A little bit after that, I was off to Heathrow for the third time in three days, and then on a plane to Dublin.

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(Obviously, I just discovered Instagram.)

Paul and I had a dinner date with one of his best friends and his wife — he was an Irish native, and she was a Californian, as is the case with many of Paul’s friends (strangely enough).  She grew up about 15 minutes from where I did.

It was strange, you know, sitting in a restaurant in Dublin with a couple whose experience was similar to ours — both lawyers, both grew up in the places we had.  It was so strange that I couldn’t wrap my  head around it.  It was strange that I could say the words “the 405” or “the 210” or “where the 10, the 210, and the 57 meet” and she would know what I was talking about.  I could probably have sung the radio jingles of my youth and she could’ve chimed in.  It was weirder still to think that she probably knew what the smog looked like in the ’80s, and the way that the Earthquake felt, and all of those weird, muscle-memory things about Southern California that you want to forget but never do.

But I was too tired for any of that.  We just talked in the way that Strangers talked — the same way I would have talked if she were Irish or English or Chinese.

So we talked and laughed and shared food and wine, and I stumbled into bed later than I had expected.

I am happy.  Things are lovely.  But I am at a strange crossroads.  As it turns out, my entire life has been a series of forks — a hideous, unexpected, dusty table laid with cutlery where just when I think I have grasped the right utensil, it is time for another course.