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.

White Elephant // What are the gifts you are looking forward to giving or hoping to receive?

Smplefy messaged me days before the NYC Marathon in early November and asked something like Are you sad that you’re not running? People had been asking me that all throughout late October and into November. People always ask me that. The year before, I had stood briefly in the middle of First Avenue as they’d cleaned up the Race and felt All the Feelings of angst and grief and failure. I had just had my knee reconstructed – there was no way I could have run even if I had wanted to – but the pile-up of injuries was breaking my heart and at the time, I had absolutely no idea what was causing my Personal Mess.

I had spent the Summer and Autumn trying to embrace my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome diagnosis; trying to say Yes to everything; however, this was a situation where I didn’t want to say Yes, but had to.

I’m sad, I admitted.

But that next day, I happened to check my New York Road Runners dashboard and realised I mistakenly hadn’t forfeited my marathon entry over the summer. I could’ve sworn I’d cancelled it around the time I had hip surgery; could’ve sworn I’d sworn off marathoning forever. But if I declined my entry for 2016, that would be The End – this year was the end of New York City Marathon deferrals. Historically, if you paid the fees, you could defer your entry in perpetuity. No more.

It was then that I sat with the heavy knowledge that I was physically healthy, largely untrained but in very good shape, and had a marathon entry.

The Friday before the NYC Marathon, I walked out of my office and went out to my colleagues. Do you guys think that I could, you know, run the marathon? I asked casually.

I was wondering if you were running, one of them said.

Have you been training? another one asked.

No, I wasn’t planning to run, and I haven’t been training. But I think I’m going to do it, I decided.

And that was that. I packed up my things and headed for the Javits Center to collect my race number. On the way over JRA called me (remember, I’m still a Phone Person so my friends actually call me on the phone as opposed to solely texting me).

What are you doing this weekend?

Saturday night, Paul and I are having dinner for our anniversary and Sunday I’m running the marathon.

Wait. What. 

Yes. I just decided. As in, I am at the Javits Center now. 

Does anyone else know? Are you sure about this? Do you want me to gather Team Merethon? Should we plan a party? 

I’m going to make a gametime decision on Sunday morning about whether I’m actually going to do it, but Yes. To everything. 

Oh dear.

And that was how I wound up running my final marathon.

I left on the morning of November 6th for a perfect, clear day and a slow race. I packed my bag and said goodbye to Paul, who never noticed I was leaving to run a marathon. I left the house wearing my 2011 Team Merethon shirt in honour of my friend Scott, who died by suicide a few years ago and who loved running; loved the team shirts. I stripped off my tearaway clothes at the start, left the shirt on top of the pile at Fort Wadsworth for Scott, a veteran himself, remembering the celebratory photos he and his wife would send me to cheer me on race mornings past.

Throughout the day, various friends figured out I was running, and came out to greet me on the course: Dorota and Michael at Mile 16 with signs; JRA, PB-BG and Lady H at Mile 20 with big cheers; RHJ at Mile 24 with a phone charger. I ran the slowest race of my life – a nearly a full hour and a half slower than my personal best – and arrived home to a house full of cheering friends and Thai food. I savoured every mile. I walked when I had to. I took on the Queensboro Bridge as a marathoner one last time. I put Harry Belafonte’s Jump in the Line as the “easter egg” on my playlist and it made me crack up when it came on.

I suppose there is some Big Takeaway or some Grand Life Lesson here. The gift I most wanted this year was to be strong enough and healthy enough to run my Last Marathon – to have the support of my friends and family to be able to do that. The real gift wasn’t the medal at the end – it was the truly unique experience of doing this in the first place; the unbelievable amount of support I got from everyone along the way. I got to say Yes to the New York City Marathon one last time, and I am forever grateful.

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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.

Here is a list of things that people say that make me crazy:

1) I’m writing a book

2) I think I have a book in me

3) I really think I could write a book if I just had the discipline

4) NaNoWriMo is just my favourite holiday

5) I am shopping my NaNoWriMo Novel but I’m not getting any bites so far

6) You can buy my (self-published) novel on Amazon.

7) Why haven’t you downloaded my book, it’s only $0.99 on the Kindle store this week

8) Will you read my book?

9) You used to be so much more prolific – what happened?

10) You should write a book.

I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song
I’m twenty-two now, but I won’t be for long
Time hurries on
And the leaves that are green turn to brown
– 
Paul Simon

Sarah, Kat, Kim & I are continuing to host Reverb through 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. Here’s September’s prompt. 

September // Back to School: Back when you were in grade school, what were your favourite and least favourite subjects and why?  Did you become what you dreamed you would be when you grew up?  Or did your interests completely change?

I have been best friends with my best friend since grade school. The story of how we met has something to do with her moving to our town, and me offering her some orange candy in the schoolyard (to this day, I love orange candy), and that was that. We were both weird kids in a ticky-tacky suburban town – where all the houses were pink boxes with tile rooves and everyone lived in Planned Communities and swam on swim teams at community pools.

At first blush, my family could have Passed for Normal in that kind of town, because we were waspy, and preppy, and my father had a fancy job where he wore suits and was gone a lot. But my parents were from Elsewhere, and gave zero shits about my social status in the hierarchy of vicious packs of LA County blondes. Jade’s family, on the other hand, had moved south from the Bay Area, and she was a Child Actor, so there was basically nothing she could do except join a swim team if she wanted to be Normal.

But we found each other, and together we were invincible. There’s something special about finding a friend who makes you feel…normal.

Jade and I were both good students – she was more of an artist and I was more of a jock. In school, we were both good at language arts, and because we grew up in the era where if you were so inclined as a kid, you could just kind of disappear from the house all day in the summer, we used to vanish from one home to another and put together our own shows, and films, and dramatic productions. I’d walk or ride my bike to her house (which I now realise was Not Near to Mine, and undertaking this sort of ride as a child of 11 would probably result in a call to Child Protective Services today), or she’d come to mine, and we’d spend all day and night Doing Creative Things.

We were especially clever and creative in the days leading up to the return to school, when I think the anxiety of facing our classmates and peers ramped up in our unconscious. We’d stay up all night singing songs into the tape recorder, or making weird videos on my parents’ giant CamCorder (legendary among these is the night we decided to make a music video to If I Had a Hammer, including an actual hammer, which we shook menacingly at the camera as we lip-synched to Peter, Paul & Mary – totally missing the point of the song – until the head of the hammer shot off the handle and hit the camera lens.)

Even as a good student, there was something about the anxiety of school for me. I was an A+ kind of kid; lots of activities; varsity athlete; a strawberry blonde almost-Tracy Flick. I was good at school, but I didn’t like it. My mother always told me I’d be nostalgic for those First Days, and those dusty halls, and those shitty subjects, but xx number of years out, I still feel relief that it’s over.

So as Jade and I got a little bit older, we expanded the scope of our arts lessons from merely playwriting and filmmaking to interpretive dancing. We were Very Serious Tweenagers in the Greater Los Angeles Area, exposed to too much, but not enough, and so we’d sit on the lawn outside her family’s house, and Make Up Dances.

We were young so we were pretty limited to our parents’ music as the backdrop for our dancing. We’d flip through the tapes and find something “cool.” This usually limited us to the Beatles or Simon & Garfunkel. So we began making up interpretive dances to Simon & Garfunkel songs.

One afternoon, we created an epic interpretive dance to Paul Simon’s Leaves that are Green. We were 12. We practiced and practiced and practiced, and lip-synched our way through the song. For some reason, every dance move became second nature to us and deeply ingrained in both our memories. We very obviously did not understand the lyrics, or what the song was about, because, well, we were 12.

From there, we went on to an illustrious career in interpretive dancing to nihilist songs, including a turn in Eighth Grade Drama class when the actual assignment was to perform an interpretive dance, and none of the other kids even understood what that was. We not only had to debate which one to choose from our extensive repertoire, but selected The Sounds of Silence, and performed it from memory.

This is all a long-winded way of saying, my favourite subject in school was interpretive dance, and to this day, if you ask nicely, Jade and I will still perform The Leaves that are Green. 

 

Sarah, Kat, Kim & I are continuing to host Reverb through 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. Here’s August’s prompt. 

Nostalgia // Tell us about your favourite summer memories. As the summer winds down, tell us about your favourite summer memories from this year (or any year). We want to see your freckled faces and tanned skin. Show us your summer.

I had to retire my favourite summer dress recently.

It was a strapless dress, and I’d had it for over a decade, so it was beyond salvaging. It was just an old brown dress from Ron Herman that I’d picked up on a trip back to LA after I’d sat for the Bar. I’d taken it all over the world with me; worn it to all sorts of major life events.

I’m not sure it was even attractive, but I felt good in it.

There is something special about a favourite summer dress – mine; anyone’s. It seemed to absorb the smells of salt and sand and sunscreen over the years. The dress was constructed of a simple t-shirt fabric, and had resisted a decade-plus of spills, and tears, and subway grit, and New York City grime. I had used the dress’s length to cover up the nasty case of shingles I’d been surprised with one hot, late summer five years ago. I had sunburned the hell out of my chest while wearing it to my ex sister-in-law’s graduation. It was a sword; a shield. If you know me in person, you probably wouldn’t remember the dress offhand, but you probably have an image in your mind’s eye of me in it.

It had come with me to explore all of China, and jump fully clothed into the sea in Thailand; had travelled all over Chile and New Zealand. We had rung in the New Year in Australia together in 2012, and soaked in blue English nights over warm beer with good company.  I had worn it back to LA one warm late-winter to console my best friend after her house burned down. The dress had been my one constant over my whole tumultuous time in NYC – through husbands, and jobs; change and upheaval. No matter the circumstances or the hemisphere, I could count on slipping into my brown summer dress and feeling like myself.

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(After the fire)

A few weeks ago, I found it in the bottom of a drawer. I hadn’t been able to find it all summer, but I knew I had put somewhere last year to remind me to take it to the tailor to have the elastic around the top replaced. I obviously had tucked it away so well, it had avoided notice. The dress was getting on in years and it needed to be repaired; probably replaced, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to part with it just yet. I slipped it on anyway – wrinkled and sagging – on my way between running Summer Streets (my first outdoor run of the season!) and a hair appointment.

During the colouring process, the gown covering me slipped open, and my colourist dripped bleach on my dress. In all my years of being a bottle blonde, that has never happened. But it did, and I knew that it was the universe’s way of telling me that The Dress Was Done.

There is something funny about living in the past; about not merely breathing in the sweet summer smell of a t-shirt dress every year, but clinging to it. There’s something silly and maybe a little sad about patching up a dress that is clearly falling off your body and smells permanently of sunblock, perfume, and faintly of sweat. So when I arrived home from my hair appointment, I changed out of my dress and slipped into a different outfit before meeting some friends for Mostly Mozart that night.

I looked like myself, but different. Older, maybe.

Before I went out, I found my kitchen scissors and I quickly cut two swatches from the bottom of the dress, then binned it. I penned a letter to Jade in California, reminiscing on the night that I’d come to her house after the fire; wearing my off-season summer dress. Then I popped the note in the mail with a scrap of dress; headed off to Lincoln Center and never looked back.

In California, there is a bit of a love-hate relationship with fire. Every year, the wildfires rage and they burn the canyons near my parents’ old house; sometimes hopping the eight lanes of freeway and lapping dangerously near the pink stucco expanse of tract-homes on winding cul-de-sacs. The droughts and the ever-growing brush make this a constant threat. But farther north, the coniferous forests also need the fire to reproduce – some of the old-growth trees, like the Giant Sequoias, need fire to release their seeds from their cones. Fire is part of the renewal process. Other trees depend on periodic fires to clear the choking brush so they can grow.

Jade almost died in a fire about a decade ago; escaping at the last minute, woken up by her cat. A few years after, I dragged her into a brush fire in Yosemite Valley, deep into the Sequoia forests, to climb above the treeline; away from but still inside the inferno.

So it seemed like the right thing to do – to take the dress you wear to the water and you wore to the fire and send it back to where it came from in California.

Being a grown-up is funny, sometimes, isn’t it.

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This is the eighth (and final) piece in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifthsixth, and seventh.

By mid-June, I am feeling crazed by Not Knowing whether I have the type of EDS that will make my organs rupture without warning, and also by Not Being Able to run now, or potentially ever again.

There is nothing that makes a woman feel less attractive than spending a summer recovering from surgery. My skin and stomach are both taking a beating from the constant onslaught of anti-inflammatories. I have been nauseous for weeks; constantly dissolving Zofran tablets on my tongue. I sleep in long, monogrammed PJs even as the temperature rises because I am sick of looking at the scabby holes in my leg. I’m walking on my own, but my gait is like that of a baby giraffe and I cannot walk for too long without epic fatigue.

These are First World Problems, so I try to power through. I focus on how quickly I am healing; I talk about my progress with physical therapy. I take pictures of the scars and I post them on Instagram because when you are full of holes, you only want people to see the supernova of your body on your terms. I have two constellations of incisions – one on each hip – and a whole galaxy of scars on my right knee from repeated, failed arthroscopies during my days of competitive sports. There is also a several inches-long vapour trail running down the inside of my right leg from my running accident last summer.

I have to do something. I search for any activity that I can participate in that will Take The Edge Off and will not require more medication and that will not bore me. Under the influence of the last of my narcotics and Royal Ascot, I decide horseback riding is the way forward. I ask my physical therapist whether equitation is permissible, and he tells me that it is possible, but not advisable because Meredith, squeezing a piece of horsemeat between your legs could irritate your hip flexor.

I love making dirty jokes, but I do not take his bait because the last time I did that, I wound up announcing to the entire gym that I eat boxes for breakfast! I was talking about my prowess in conquering the eight inch riser they were having me step-up and step-down to prove my quad strength before they’d let me in the anti-gravity treadmill. But I got a few looks that morning.

I spend the next few days scouring the internet for barns that are not too stuffy, that are close to the city, and that accommodate adult beginners.

The last time I rode a horse was when I was leaving my first husband. Jade told me that when I was ready to leave Andrew, I should come home. When I knew it was time, I called my parents to come pick me up at a wedding in Las Vegas and take me back to LA. I had had several moments where I knew my first marriage was over, but that wedding where Andrew had dragged us to Vegas insisting he was the best man in a wedding in which he was not even in the wedding party provided a particular moment of clarity as to the direness of my circumstances.

Once I arrived in LA towards the end of that particular shitshow, Jade took me to her mother’s house. Jade’s mother, Das, is an accomplished equestrienne, and was one of the only divorcees I knew intimately at the time. Das took me out on the trail and we rode for hours and hours. It had inspired me to write a poem about Frederic, and horses, and divorces, which I had shared with him, and which he had praised in that way that made clear he thought it was stupid.

And that was that.

Within months Frederic was legally separated, and so was I and I thought things might go somewhere, sometime. But then he surprised me by telling me that he’d been seeing the Danish girl all that time, and what was I doing, still writing him letters? Didn’t I know that I’d caused a terrible flap between him and his girlfriend because they’d moved in together and one of my letters had been forwarded to their shared abode?

I shrunk back in a special kind of shame, then, when I realised I had left a man who couldn’t handle rejection to the point of refusing to admit he wasn’t the best man in his childhood friend’s wedding, only to find myself sending poems to a man I failed to notice was living with another woman.

I sign up for riding lessons at a farm in Pleasantville, NY near where Paul and I were married. My instructor wears concert t-shirts and has turquoise hair and tells me that I need to feel things; that I will suck at this a little to start; that feeling is first. I cry the first time I get on the horse – a giant gelding called, of all things, Bill – not out of fear, but because I am certain I haven’t felt much of anything in years.

I don’t suck at horseback riding, but I am not instantly good at it, which is exactly what I need. I need something to take my mind off of the EDS; and the whole of my lower extremities.

Hold the reigns up, like an ice cream cone! Tamara the instructor shouts from the centre of the ring, and I apologise for not doing it right. Why are you saying you’re sorry? she asks me, truly baffled, You’ve done this like three times in your life!

With that, I begin to realise how far off the rails I have gone. Literally. Figuratively.

At the end of my first lesson, I sign up for many more because even if I never master the sport, I am coming to terms with the fact that nothing will be the same again, and the future, whatever it is, will be entirely different and wholly Okay.

This is the seventh in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifth, and sixth.

It is early June, and I am finally off crutches. People ask me how I am doing, and I tell them I am great. Normally, I am much more circumspect, but when you have been on crutches for an extended period of time, walking unassisted is a terrific feeling.

I am having dinner with my friends Strand and Sam, who babysat me the day I came home from hospital. They are to be married at the weekend, and I have offered to babysit their dog, McGee, during their honeymoon.

It is a perfect night – New York is outdoing itself with the weather this season – and we meet at a burger joint in our neighbourhood, which Sam calls Hipsterburger. We have burgers (veggie for me) and beers, and I try to refrain from giving marital advice in advance of their nuptials. I am a Know-It-All; I know it. Maybe it’s part of being a lawyer.

Sam and Strand met on Tinder, which fascinates me because I went on maybe three internet dates and found the whole thing to be a horrifying sociological experiment. But I had met my ex-husband before smartphones; had ended another longterm relationship immediately before getting together with Andrew, so the last time I had dated was around the time Google was invented.

It wasn’t easy getting to this point, Strand confesses, There were a lot of broken phones from throwing things at each other.

I kept having to go to Rainbow and buy new ones, Sam laughs.

This statement, in particular, makes me chuckle, because only on the Upper East Side do you find young couples who still have land-lines; where throwing the phone is done in the classical sense. These are My People.

Strand begins to tell me about their first date; how she met Sam for coffee and he was so taken with her that he lost his composure. How they moved from coffee to lunch, which was where things got interesting. Sam tells me: I got a text message asking how the date was going, so I excused myself and I replied. Except I told my buddy, “She’s smokin’ hot; it’s going great” and after I hit SEND, I realised that I’d just messaged this to Strand and not to my friend.

At that point, Sam wondered whether he should even leave the bathroom, or if he should just quietly slink away home.

I came out, and I told her, “Look, don’t be angry. I just accidentally sent you a message meant for my friend.” It’s not bad, but I just want you to check your phone and not be mad at me.

Strand, for her part, pipes in, I thought he was sick or something had happened. But once he told me what was going on, I decided to keep toying with him. So she refused to check the message on her phone and continued enjoying her lunch, while Sam sweated it out, until he finally begged her JUST CHECK YOUR DAMN PHONE!

She saw the message and said the feeling was mutual. They’ve been together ever since, Sam’s track record with phones notwithstanding.

I laugh, because I love a love story.

We finish our dinner in the beautiful evening, and begin the slow, short walk home. It is strange to me that I am at this moment in my life: Watching the girls who I advised as their collegiate sorority adviser now getting married and having children. These girls – Strand! – were 18, 19 when I met them, and I was a fresh-out-of-Georgetown newlywed posing as an adult. I do not feel any older, but time must be passing.

The clearest hallmark of this is that during the week of my surgery, I received an email from my ex-husband. He knew Strand only as one of the college girls I advised, who would occasionally dog-sit for us. Andrew and I had not spoken in a long time. He is remarried; is a father. Of the contentious issues in our marriage “Why Can’t Meredith Act Like a Normal Wife” was a favourite of his.

He had been with his law firm for over a decade when he switched jobs and made partner in April. I found this out via a LinkedIn blast. It was unfathomably weird to me that the sacrifices I had made early in my own career – the late nights spent waiting for him, and the arguments about his paralegals – had inured entirely to his benefit. I was notified of the culmination of my efforts only because of an algorithm.

I was wondering if you’d like to attend a panel discussion on Brexit, he asked in his email.

I waited for a day, then replied, It looks like a great event but I’ll be overseas.

And that was that. I did not say Congrats on the new job! I did not tell him how lovely it was that those college girls he had once complained about were now successful grown-ups; did not reminisce about my late night drives to Staten Island. I did not tell him that I had just had another surgery or that he had been wrong about all those arthritis drugs he’d wanted me to take for my own good.

During our marriage, my complaint with him was that we were always striving to achieve only his dreams; his complaint with me was that I was perpetually in motion – always in some airport or another. In an odd way, it is comforting to know that, despite all that had happened, neither of us has changed much.