…If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,
It’s up to you, New York, New York…
– Frank Sinatra, New York, New York

It’s not actually a Frank Sinatra song.

It was written by Kander & Ebb for Liza Minnelli; recorded for a Scorsese film.  Minnelli’s original recording dates to 1977; Sinatra didn’t record it until 1979.

But if you’re a Yankees fan, you’ll beg to differ — Sinatra plays when they win; Liza plays when they lose.  If you care about baseball, you will want to convince yourself that Frankie’s New York, New York is the only New York, New York, facts be damned.

I don’t really care about baseball.  I’ve been to only a handful of games in my life, and brought a book to half of them.  But one doesn’t live in New York for the better part of a decade and avoid baseball games.  It isn’t done.

And I didn’t know there were “win” songs, and “lose” songs until I finally saw the Yankees lose, and Liza sang us out of the park.  It was then that someone explained that baffling concept to me.

Regardless of who sings the tune, in New York, it’s hard to judge success; what it means to be making it.  Is it money; is it power; is it sex or drugs or rock ‘n roll?  Is it having a bigger apartment — one with a view?  Or is it finding love in this City where everything — anad every one — seems to be fungible; trade-up-able?

Dunno.

What I do know is this:

photofortunecookie

The ones who make it here are generally the ones who find a way to be compassionate with and to themselves.

They’re not always — not just — the ones who can afford tickets to the new Yankee Stadium.

(Throughout the month of June, I’ll be writing a series of New York-related posts, and/or inviting some friends to guest post about their New York experiences, to celebrate my eight years in New York City.)

I arrived in London this morning after a much-delayed flight.

After a day full of meetings and delays, I cracked a fortune cookie from lunch:

photo-5What.  What does this even mean?!  The Fortune Cookie Prophet is rarely ever wrong.  But I have been breathlessly busy for the last six months.  How could my working spirit not be affected by becoming…busier?

But the day was…awfully busy.

So the evening fell and I left the office, and walked through the bright green evening; through Grosvenor Square, with its American flag, and its September 11th memorial.

photo-6The inscription on the memorial has always struck me:  Grief is the price we pay for love.  Each time I pass it, it knocks on my heart.  And May is the month in which I am always just trying to keep my head above the waters of my own grief; bobbing nauseated in the swells and going deaf from the beating noise of it all.

There is more than just my own grief, I know.

In fact, I know I am surrounded by people I love who are hurting, and I’m not ignorant of their pain, or blind to what they’re experiencing.  But the point of my writing is that it’s my story to tell, and while we are often the stewards of other people’s stories, the only ones we ever really have full authority to tell are our own.

With that in mind, it was getting late in the day so I went for a run to clear my head.

BK5QU2GCYAATzyH.jpg_large

I jogged the well-trod path in Hyde Park — a trail I’d run many times before — and I watched the sun sinking, just as I’d watched the sun rising that morning, before the plane dipped below the cloudcover to touch down at Heathrow.

There was So Much that was happening, and so much that had gone on.  But strangely enough, it all felt just…normal.

My working spirit, as it turned out, was unaffected by anniversaries, and grief, and life, and so on and so forth.

The cookie prophet was rarely ever wrong.

I went out to dinner on Saturday with Rebecca.  By the time she got to me, I had cleaned my entire apartment, and had started on the single-malt.

Desperate times called for desperate measures.

We had resolved to have Chinese food and wine, since it was a snowy weekend and that sounded about right.  It was also the dawning of The Year of The Snake.  So.

I was in a terrible mood.  I was supposed to be on a plane to London, and instead, I was stuck in New York.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t thrilled to be at dinner with a dear friend — it was simply that my travel had been cancelled; my meeting schedule was in shambles.  And that was always enough to…put me in A State.

I was frustrated, and I was staring down some personal and professional challenges that, in those moments, seemed insurmountable.  So before Rebecca arrived to pick me up for our girl date, and in the midst of my cleaning-under-the-influence, I’d had a brief conversation with another friend of mine about my irritations and insecurities over all of the stuff brewing.

When was the last time you had to be the boss when you felt like you had no idea what you were doing? he asked.

2009, in California, I said.

Ah, yes, he recalled, I remember you were far away from home; in the middle of a bad divorce; working with a difficult client and a shape-shifting boss.

It was true.  Back in those days, I’d had no permanent address; I was in the middle of total personal life upheaval; I was trying to manage a very challenging project with very little direction.  In all circumstances, it was my first time.  I had to be the boss, and I had no idea what I was doing.

Bird by bird, babe, my friend said, You know it.  You believe it.  Set it up the same way and just take it bird by bird.  You’ll come through just fine.

He said it in a way that my grandfather might’ve said it to me, and I knew — just knew — that those words were coming from him.

Then I went back to my drink, and my Dyson, and finally, Rebecca collected me for our trip to Shanghai Pavillion II, where our sesame prawns were beyond all reasonable expectations of delicious.

After a few glasses of wine, we began flirting with the 60something-yearold waiter.  (As one does).  And we loudly complained when no fortune cookies were forthcoming at the end of the meal.

That’s so out of fashion, the waiter and the manager protested.  Like, ten years ago!  Like, 90s.

(Even after my Ramona Singer-sized glass of Sauvignon blanc, I was not about to point out that the 90s were going on 20 years ago.  Arithmetic has never been my strong suit.)

Rebecca and I were preoccupied with paying the bill for a moment — her degree in Mathematics notwithstanding, we somehow struggled with this.  While we were doing that, our waiter disappeared for a moment, and returned with two fortune cookies — one concealed in each hand.

We save these for the five year old girls, he smiled, but I found them just for you.

(You know what?  I’ve got a birthday coming up.  I’ll take being called a five year-old.)

We giggled and opened them.  Squealed over the fortunes.  I was somehow still thrilled by this; unfussed by the fact that I had a box of 350 fortune cookies at home.  Restaurant cookies will always have a special place in my heart.

As always, the weird cookie prophet who follows me from New York to London and back again did not disappoint:

fortune cookie sat

There are so many opportunities to find the extraordinary in the ordinary; so many tiny moments to be encouraged by even the most ridiculous and mundane of things.  And we can take them or leave them; write them off as stupid or cherish them.

Sure, we’re all slogging through the shitswamp, here.  But the swamp is just a temporary condition.  I think a person has to look for the good in the world; seek out the signs of the great things around, because there are much, much more wonderful things ahead.

Yesterday was the third anniversary of me asking my ex-husband for a divorce.

Have you ever asked anyone for a divorce?  If you have, I’m sorry.  If you haven’t, I don’t recommend it.

I have tried for days; weeks to write something heartfelt about this.  I have tried to sum up ten years of knowing my former husband into neat cliches.  Even looking at it from three years’ distance, cliches fail me.

Speaking of space:  I think about relationships from a distance often.  My parents marriage was, for a long time, successfully lived with time apart, since my father travelled.  And my mother recently told me that their marriage had worked well because her father had travelled, and so the whole thing felt very normal to her.

At the very end, Andrew — in a rare moment of outright screaming — had raged at me about my life on the road.  Instead of responding, I had quietly walked out, taking our separation papers in a manila envelope; hailing a taxi bound for LaGuardia.  Then I unceremoniously caught the next flight out of New York.

We were experiencing the world and our marriage in completely different ways, and I was having a long distance relationship with myself.  The center could not hold.

So where cliches fail me, I’ll give you a brief, disjointed travelogue of my life with Andrew:

I knew him well before we started dating. This was snapped in the apartment I shared with George, back when Dileep still had a full head of hair.  Arlington, VA
We were engaged after dating for seven months.  Georgetown, DC
This was the formal engagement party my parents threw for us the summer after we were engaged.  Mums & Dad’s Backyard, CA
A wedding picture I love; the cake was disgusting.  Santa Monica, CA
My cousin’s wedding. You can start to tell that I’m sick.  Camarillo, CA
Shortly after our first wedding anniversary.  Soho, Manhattan, NY
Another summer, another wedding.  San Luis Obispo, CA
This was us.  Duck, NC
And this was…me.  Ruby’s, Coney Island. My brother, not pictured, with us for this portion of the summer.
“Darling, I want to go to China.” Which was markedly different than the time I said “Darling, I want to go to Toronto.” At midnight.
This was…me.  Beijing, Summer Palace
Me. When it got harder and harder to find pictures of…us. Valencia, CA
Dan & Sarah’s Wedding.  Vienna, VA
Distance.  (Book in my hand is The Stranger)  Duck, NC
The last photo I can find that was taken with the two of us in it. Killington, VT
Ten days after I signed our papers, I climbed to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
Two months later, I was in Big Sur. Standing on the cliffs; seagazing. Stumbling.

Fast forward three years.

I was at a party, recently and I forget how it came up, but someone commented on my bracelet — the one I always wear.

What are those stones?

They’re citrines, I said of the stones on either end of the cuff.  I explained that they were Andrew’s birthstone.  I loved orange; loved rusty, dusty citrines.  Back when I was married, I’d worn the bracelet and a matching ring — often instead of my wedding jewellery.  Some mothers wear their children’s birthstones — I didn’t have any children, but I liked the idea of always having my nearest and dearest nearby.

I also have a lot of sapphire jewellery, I offered, Since we were married in September, and that’s September’s stone.  Everyone looked at me for a moment.  I could see in their eyes what seemed like recognition, but also, it seemed, disbelief.  As it if never occurred to them that I had ever felt that way about the man I sometimes openly mock, and about whom I frequently express frustration.

But I loved him.  Enough to marry him; enough to wear his rings.  Enough to keep wearing these silly orange stones, and thinking fondly about the day I finished my master’s degree and he handed me the box with the bracelet inside.

There is much I miss about the man.  It seems sad, and strange that our journey together ended.  That he’s not going to be there on my 60th birthday saying: Darling, you look the same now as you did on your 25th birthday on that rainy day in Paris!

I’ve said that so many times, but it occurred to me recently that maybe, I don’t really want that.  I looked pretty rough on my 25th birthday.  And in retrospect, that trip to Paris really kind of sucked.

Life, like Paris, depends very much on the people with whom you experience it.  And three years after making the decision to leave my marriage, I am slowly gaining confidence that people can and do find the right distance in order to make things work.

I have been in a terrible mood all week.  So I think it’s time for another installment of:

Fifty Things That Make Me Happy

50) Warm weather;

I debated whether to stick the Fahrenheit or Celsius screen capture here

49) Compression sleeves;

48) Writing and sending letters (and sometimes not sending them);

47) Wearing very tall heels;

46) Trusty, horrible old ballet flats;

45) Well-made cups of tea;

44) White wine;

43) My brother, my friend;

42) Queensboro Bridge runs;

41) Remembering the mountain top;

40) Guilty pleasures;

39) Remembering that the 18th of July wasn’t just a sticky anniversary.  It was my grandfather’s birthday; the man who always came through for me;

38) My boys;

37) My girls;

36) The feeling of having a best friend;

35) Road trips;

34) Rainy days with nothing to do but watch the rain;

33) Berkeley Square;

32) Hopeful people;

31) Wheels up at JFK;

30) Remembering that my best friend and I once convinced someone that I had a twin sister named “Toe.”  (And we kept it up for years!);

29) Fast cars;

28) Victorious moments spent with my family;

27) Manicures and pedicures and the way the hush falls over the salon I go to when that woman from the Today show walks in;

26) Kisses on the forehead;

25) That moment when the dog sits down beside me, and rests his head on my leg, and reminds me that in those perfect, still seconds, there is nothing more necessary than simply to be loved;

24) Two words: DONUT HOLES;

23) Beach hair;

22) That story my father tells every year on my birthday: I used to make breakfast, holding you, and you were so small, I’d hold you like this, right here, in the crook of my arm… (as he holds out his arm to demonstrate)

The shirt, by the way, says “muy simpatica!”

21) Unapologetically taking pictures of my feet;

20) YouTube videos of baby animals doing adorable things;

(this came to me via D, the Englishman, who is my baby animal link-aggregator extraordinaire)

19) Being okay with making decisions about my life (and living to tell the tale!);

18) Belts (I love belts);

17) Chocolate rice cakes;

16) Jell-o Instant Pudding (that Strand makes);

15) Winesday;

14) Peanut Butter Jelly Time;

13) Bananas;

12) Refrigerator oatmeal;

Also, Coke Zero. BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS.

11) Good workouts;

10) Tall men;

9) Nonsense poems;

(and the dish ran away with the spoon)

8) Wearing my glasses;

7) Sweet potato tempura from Aki Sushi on York Avenue;

6) That breathless moment of finally understanding something previously incomprehensible;

5) This picture of the weird and magical trip that Andrew and I once took to the South of France and Monaco;

4) Remembering that time Jenn and I drove around Scotland (the entire country of Scotland) in a snowstorm with me wearing a plush highland cow hat, until a rugby team pulled up beside us, complimented me on my hat using the universal language of charades, then mooned us;

3) Spaghetti squash;

2) Late night phone calls with old friends, spent giggling and telling secrets like we’re still in middle school;

1) Fortune cookie wisdom:

Pick one, I said.  Right, he replied.

And so begins another weekend; another week; another golden opportunity to seek, to search, to be happy, to sort things out.