SarahKatKim & I are to hosting Reverb throughout 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. In December of each year, we host a prompt-a-day to provide structure and a way to close out the year.

Cosy // Some of us live on the Tundra, while others live where the tumbleweeds roll.  Either way, we still have to nest when December rolls around.  What keeps you cosy through the wintertime?

We were in Scandinavia in September and recently, eee reminded me that we had intended to become hygge enthusiasts this winter. That we were meant to get together in each other’s homes, like we were doing while we were in Oslo and Copenhagen.

This reminded me of the moment the hygge conversation first came up: We were sitting in a mediocre Thai restaurant in Copenhagen the night before the Copenhagen Half Marathon. As we chatted, our friend Nat casually asked How do you two know each other? referencing me and eee.

Nat, Smplefy, eee, and I had run together all over the world – Oslo and Copenhagen were the latest in a series of races, and would likely not be the last.

We went to high school together, we said nearly in unison. Through a series of give-and-take questions, we soon discovered that not only had eee and I grown up together, but Nat had grown up in our town as well; had gone to high school with eee’s younger sister.

It had only taken us a number of years and several trips to Europe to discover that we were all from a tiny map dot in Los Angeles county.

Hygge, roughly translated, means cosiness. There’s no exact translation – it’s a Danish word for the simple and coveted intimacy of people and objects. The Danes are good at this. Danish life is uncluttered; slow-ish. The view from my last trip to Copenhagen showed that Danish life looks like a Le Pain Quotidien and a Design Within Reach had a baby.

And while most of the world romanticises this convivial Scandi happiness, there are a few among us who would burst that bubble and inform us that the Danes have no corner market on the concept of cosy: that happiness is “complicated,” and that hygge exists because “[Danes] are rich, sexy and don’t work very much; they also take more antidepressants than virtually anyone else in the world…”

I think, too often, we mistake “winnowing down” for “simplicity.” We mistake a lack of crowdedness for cosiness. We think a lack of clutter will bring us that peace we crave. That richness, sexiness, and a mostly-Danish living room will finally bring complete and total happiness (I may be projecting on that last point, but still…).

I am not sure these things are true.

Over the past year or two, I had a bunch of friends read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. And everyone embarked on a Marie Kondo-inspired quest to streamline their possessions; talking to their cardigans to see if they brought them joy. I got like two chapters in and had to quit.

In truth, I am a champion thrower-outer. There is probably no one who likes to get rid of stuff more than me. But the book’s idea of simplicity and cosiness did not make a drop of sense to me. I like to entertain at home; to be surrounded by piles of books and blankets and dogs and friends. I had to admit that I like a little bit of comfortable clutterthat the road to comfort was not paved by paring my life down to spotless cupboard full of joy-inspiring grey cardigans.

We are still in the season of Advent – the season of expectation; the season of making room – but I think this Tidying Up is a mistake I have been guilty of during the season of Lent as well – and perhaps more obviously so then: Thinking that getting rid of things will bring me the clarity I’m seeking. As if giving up dessert will bring into my life that sacred comfort I’m looking for.

I once had a very wise person explain to me that the purpose of Lent was not to give something up, but to take something on. So giving up sweets is usually beside the point.

What I am trying to say is that during this season, and others, I am trying to be conscious of drawing in, taking on which is what eee had reminded me of during that trip to Scandinavia and afterward, not just making room. The clearing space is the easy part – the drawing in your friends; attracting people to your home and yourself – that’s a much harder thing to do, isn’t it?

After all, it took only a few years to make room to have the conversation with Nat about how eee and I had met; but once that room had been made, it took only minutes to draw us all in to discover our deep, shared experience; our same home town, and our rival high schools. That intersection; that cosiness; that comfort – that’s what I’m hoping to find more of and create.

This is the first in a brief series of posts.

It is May, 2013, and I am standing in a hipster bar in the middle of Amsterdam in the middle of a long afternoon-into-evening.

I have just come to The Netherlands to receive terrible news. To soften the blow of having to tell me how bad this particular situation is, a group of lawyers is taking me out for drinks. But I am jetlagged and angry about How We Got Here in the First Place, so I have become rather tipsy, rather quickly. But instead of paying attention to the Dutch happy hour and the attorneys who have graciously arranged it, I am frantically texting with a man I have loved for a long time, trying to focus his attention on me. In my head, I feel I am the embodiment of a Joni Mitchell song – winsome, wistful, lonely, pining for a man who is not ever going to be mine alone.

By now dangerously tipsy, I message the man a loaded question – a question that is meant for winesoaked lovers’ lips next to each other in bed, or the shadows of a bar, and not from halfway ’round the world via electronic pings. I ask him: Don’t you love me and want me to be happy?

He replies: I want you to be happy.

It is clear that I have made A Terrible Mistake. I gather up my things and leave the bar. I meet my colleague for dinner like Nothing Ever Happened. By the door of the restaurant there is a large, ostentatiously displayed wheel of stilton. My colleague fusses over it like it is a puppy or a baby. We English love stilton, he explains, as if that excuses his behaviour over a wheel of cheese. We finish an unmemorable meal by ordering a cheese plate – the stilton is standout. They cut it freshly from the giant wheel.

It is after Midnight when I arrive back at the hotel and I put myself to bed.

The next morning, I am up early to catch a plane to Edinburgh to run the 2013 Edinburgh Half Marathon. On the flight, I sit and observe the bracelet I am wearing, which I inherited from my grandmother – my mother’s mother.  I am flying on what would have been her 100th birthday, and the bracelet is stamped with scenes from Don Quixote.

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My grandmother was a tiny, peculiar woman, and had been the mother of four children – two boys and two girls. She had lost one of her daughters at the age of six weeks. Years earlier, when my grandparents had still been living in their house in Florida, and I was a tweenager, my grandmother and I had gone through her jewellery and she had taken tiny enamelled pins out from a case.

Those were Margaret’s, she said. Before that moment, I’d never even known such a person had existed, or that my mother had had a sister. Margaret had been born with an oesophageal condition and the surgery to correct it had failed. The absence of Margaret had left a hole in my grandmother’s heart that my mother could never fill. Perhaps any parent who has lost a child will confess to this; perhaps any after-born child will bemoan it. It did not occur to me until much, much later that maybe the Complex Grief was why my own mother and I were not particularly close: Those sorts of gaps; wounds couldn’t close so easily in just one generation.

The irony does not strike me at the time – that I have been chasing a non-existent love and fighting off imaginary giants. That my own Complex Grief has had a hand in tanking my first marriage and subsequent relationships. I just think that I am honouring the dead.

My friend Smplefy meets me in the Edinburgh Airport with a sign that says International Woman of Mystery, and I laugh for the first time in days. We go to pick up our race numbers and talk about running, and Scotland, and Things That Are Easy to Discuss.

I am grateful.

That night, we part ways early so we can each prepare for the next day’s race. I message my mother before bed, hinting at my romantic failures. You just need to put yourself out there, she advisesNobody is going to come into your office and sweep you off your feet. I roll my eyes from 6,000 miles away.

For once, I draw the blackout shades in a hotel room, because it is 10.30pm and the Scottish night is still purple and blue. It is beautiful – I could drink it in forever. But I have to go to sleep because I have to run the next day. I am filled with missing, and longing, but I am limbo because he wants me to be happy. I should be happy. Alone.

The next day, Smplefy and I meet at the Start, making it by the skin of our teeth, and running the course in the unusually pleasant Edinburgh morning. We run past the landmarks, through the city, along the North Sea. It is Perfect. My heart is breaking, but it is a Perfect Day.

I run a slow race, which is confusing. My body feels like it cannot work. I am in good physical shape, and at the finish, my hip seizes for the first time. I blame a twitchy IT band, and jetlag, but I am baffled.

That afternoon I shower at the hotel and cancel my reservation for the night; opting to head back to London then onward to New York. I have failed; I am failing. I am inordinately sore. My then-assistant manages to get me on the last flight out of Edinburgh that afternoon and by evening, I am safely back in London, my grandmother’s bracelet clanging on my wrist as I exit the Tube and make my way to dinner with my friend PG.

It is the end of May, 2013.

I do not know then that within days, someone will walk into my office and sweep me off my feet – and will later become my husband. I do not know that the pain in my hip is not my IT band – it is a serious cartilage injury that will sideline me for a more than a year. I do not know that the bracelet on my wrist and the story behind how I came to possess it will later hold the key to unlocking a serious family medical mystery; that I will be fighting a different kind of giant.

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.

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.

In the continuing saga of my life as an international woman of mystery…

I had been planning to run the Edinburgh Half Marathon for some time, so I left Amsterdam for Scotland on Saturday afternoon.

I have a weird relationship with Scotland, because my trips to Scotland or my interactions with the Scotland Tourism Board always seem to be the prelude to The Strangest Things. But more on that another time.  More on the whole story of and experience surrounding the race another time.

The point is, on Sunday, I ran.

BLMf3N6CUAATABg.jpg_largeIt was not my best half marathon; it was not my worst.

I was startled by the brilliant, crisp sunshine; I was breathtaken by the sunshine on the sea.

I have found that in running, you are often met exactly where you need to be met, even when you had no idea where you are or need to be.  That was where I found myself on Sunday: ragged; road-worn; torn-apart; over-extended; exactly where I needed to be.

I finished the race, and took some celebratory photos with a friend. I promptly lost a brand new pair of sunglasses, and then accepted the challenge to get myself back to London immediately.  I was worn out; felt rather sick; had some business to attend to that would be easier to handle from London; needed a non-hotel bed.

My dear friend PG had just returned from his North Pole trek, and I was desperate to see him, so I arranged to get back to London as quickly as possible.

PG decided I should take the train from the airport to him.

photoIronically, it wasn’t the first time I’d been convinced by an Englishman to come back from Edinburgh on a May bank holiday weekend.  D had successfully undertaken that feat two years ago.  It was hard to believe it had been two years since then!

But I made it back to Heathrow unscathed, and arrived via train to PG, where we immediately went for Thai food.  Then he walked me through a dark park, all the while crowing about how London was the best, safest city in the world.

Except for the time you got attacked by that robber!  And the recent…beheadings, I said.

Maybe a year ago, PG had witnessed a robbery on the banks of the Thames, and had chased down the robber, lightly beaten him, and sat on him whilst waiting for the police to arrive.

What?!  I attacked him!  He ignored my statement about the recent attack and proceeded to recount how he had chased down a crook.  Then he reminded me that he’d been awarded a medal for bravery from the police department.

[A beat.]

London.  Safest city in the world!

We made it through the dark park without incident, and arrived at his flat where we put Sideways on the television.  Within minutes we were both asleep on the sofa.

And it felt normal — everything felt normal again.  There on the television screen were the places I had grown up.  In fact, the characters were passing Pea Soup Andersen’s — the restaurant where my brother and I had taken photos after the half marathon we’d run together in March.

And more importantly, I was back in a city to which I had grown strangely accustomed over the last two years.

It was all as normal as my life as going to be for now.  My normal was exactly here; exactly this; exactly Okay.

Kat, Sarah, and I have collaborated to post a prompt-a-day in December.  Check the #Reverb12 page for prompts and and take a look at the main page for the basic instructions on the project.

December 1: Where it began: Review and reflect – how did 2012 begin for you? Tell us how the year kicked off; start your renewal by beginning again.

I woke up on the New Year in Melbourne, Australia, in summertime weather, having perhaps enjoyed a wee bit too much whisky the night prior.

IMG-20120101-00277After the glitter of hugs and kisses and swooning under the swell of auld lang syne had faded, the actual work of the new year had to begin.

Which it did: With a sunburn and a hangover.  And a trip to the beach.

kneesFor the first time in my life, I had no real object, no resolution, except to Begin Again.  There was no Peak Moment ahead; no milestone birthday; no Feat of Strength on the docket.  And it was weird to be exposed for being without an identifiable angst to which to channel my proposed achievements or my malingering anger about other things.  I was, in a way, stripped of all of the things I’d once fussed over and put between me and the world.  In other words, my ship had washed ashore at St Kilda and I was a naked, shipwrecked sailor — free, finally, to Begin.

I’d always been drawn to the water, and as Jade and I sat at the water’s edge on New Year’s day, I said: Let’s go in.  We waded into the waves.  It was a purifying ritual in which we had engaged many times — whenever we were in doubt, we always headed to the nearest body of water.  We’d done it years earlier in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark on the day we were clearing out the pain built up around my divorce.  On New Year’s Day, though, we didn’t know that we were bathing to make room for challenges to come.

So we were both guarded and naked.  To the extent that one can be those things on a public beach.

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(While I normally have an objection to bathing suit pictures, I was recently told that my 50something self is going to be furious with my 30something self for not posting more bikini pictures on the internet…)

So I suppose this year has been about The Beginning — being (or feeling) free to finally start living.

And that, too, was how this month began.  I’d flown to London from Hong Kong and while I should’ve been asleep in the wee hours of this morning, I was still awake.  So I took a bath.

I stepped out of the water for a moment when I realised I’d made it far too hot.  And I lingered over a stack of books on the desk.  My hotel in London is notorious for stuffing the rooms full of dusty tomes, and also for its weird taste in mirrors on the walls.  I caught a glimpse of myself at the desk reading and laughed.  So I messaged my best friend:

Am completely naked sitting at my desk in London, reading the Oxford Book of English Verse.  

Then I got back into the bath and was finally able to sleep for a few hours.

Later today, I went to lunch with D.

We’ve been here before, yes? he asked me as I looked around the restaurant.  Indeed we had been.

But that was a long time ago now.

We were sharing stories of our recent adventures, and he was telling me the tale of a friend who was celebrating his 40th birthday away from his family.  The guy’s kids and wife had called him on Skype to wish him a happy birthday — and the 3 year old son had popped into the call and then had disappeared.

Let me guess, when he came back into frame he was stark naked?! I snorted, anticipating the ending.

Yep.  And he said, Say hello to Mr Penis.

Clothing is overrated anyway, I giggled.

Yes it is, he agreed.

We dined together for the next few hours before he drove me back across town, and I collected my bags then went to the airport.  It was the first time in a long time that D had driven me anywhere — perhaps since that day that he’d picked me up at King’s Cross after he’d convinced me to come back from Edinburgh.

I suppose that this all goes back to the point of how this year began, though, which is that it began mostly naked, half-submerged, open to possibility.

It seemed funny, suddenly, that beginnings and endings were all smashing together at once — flotsam; jetsam; bits of debris crashing on the shore.   The year began where the last had ended and where the next would begin, and the thing to do was to strip down to essentials — get naked — and dive in.

It was Friday night.

What am I doing wrong? I lamented – probably hurling my wails at the wrong person.  Why is it that I always wind up in these situations against someone who is taller and blonder and more North Atlantic than me?  I simply can’t compete.

(In times of trouble, the human animal seeks fat; salt; sugar; familiar warmth.  I rationalised this not as scab-picking but as biology.)

Do you really think it’s that? He asked, It’s a good metaphor, but do you really think that this theme of being deficient of Viking blood really does appear consistently in your life?

Yes.  I said with the obstinance of a child.  But it was an empty affirmation; a silent nod.  It didn’t matter.

The point was: during my first real encounter with the North Atlantic; the North Sea, I was in Denmark and no one would take my credit card because it wasn’t a chip-and-pin card.  Everywhere I went, they said to me with utter disdain, “It’s not Danish.”  It became kind of a joke, as if to say things that were not Danish were so inferior as to be unworthy of a second look.  I was in Denmark in the Autumn, and it had already turned cold.  I’d not packed very well so I was personally freezing, and by that point in the journey, I thought that everything Danish was crap anyway.

Emerging from the North Sea, October 2009

And then the last time I was in the land of the Vikings, it was half-past February, just eight, nine months ago.  We’d flown to Edinburgh from London then driven to Inverness.  My travelling companion and I had intended to drive all the way north, but a massive snow storm had thwarted our plans.  Our little car skidded and slid on the unplowed roads; spinning out on turns – that gets you tough, like the lyrics to a Joni Mitchell song.

Just north of Inverness, Scotland, February 2012

I was tough.  But I was not a Viking.

Meanwhile, back in Manhattan:

I’m not blaming you.  This was bad pick.  Freight train full of baggage, he said.  I could hear him clucking softly through the bits and bytes of the email.  It was the same noise he’d make, years ago, when I’d call from downstairs.  The same way he’d phrase things brutally; gently but with a little bit of longing, like when I was walking down Park Avenue and he was trying to spot me with binoculars.

But those days were done.  And all the trains had left the station.

I am never going to be a Viking.  And I have not yet sorted out how to resolve that discrepancy in matters of the heart.