It is the Sabbath in Jerusalem, which is a religious city, and because we are not religious, for us it means that absolutely nothing is open.

We decide to go to the Israel Museum, which is a mixed bag of ancient and contemporary; religious and non-religious art. There is also a giant model of the Second Temple there, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. I do not admit that I know very little about religious history except for what I had to learn to be confirmed as a Catholic in order to marry my first husband, and what I have picked up from the ad hoc Hebrew School lessons my first husband’s second wife – a professor of Jewish Studies – has given me during the downtime at funerals.

After our tour of the model, we fight several Birthright trips in order to descend into the cavern that contains the Scrolls, then we make our way into the Museum’s main building. We are hungry; we are tired, but there is an element of Just Needing Things to Do on a Saturday, so we stay and wander.

Almost by accident, we make our way into an exhibition called No Place Like Home, where the signage promises it will restore a transformed object to its natural place within the…home. This is right up my alley. We pass Duchamps; Warhols; etc. – the masters of pop and contemporary art – giant, absurd spoons; the Brillo boxes; exactly everything you’d expect.

And then, in the Utility Room, I see Yayoi Kusama’s (Untitled) Ironing Board under a spotlight, and instantly, am the one transformed.

In that moment, the gallery becomes twenty years ago at Christmastime in my Hometown. My high school sweetheart has come home from college. We have arrived at a party together, and everyone assumes I am there as his date, but instead, he takes the opportunity of the gathering to tell all our friends he is gay. In one horrible instant, it is the first time in my life I understand what it means to be a woman; what it means to be sexless; what it means to feel the light and air be sucked out of the room. It is the moment I learn to be hard to read.

We have come in one car. I find another ride home.

I am still obligated, after this, to go to a Hanukkah party at a mutual family friend’s house and my high school sweetheart will be there. Mums and Daddy send me with wine for the hosts and for the rabbi and his wife. I arrive at the party, and in a final fit of pique over my circumstances before I enter, I smash one of the bottles of wine on the front walk. I walk into the party with my head held high – no longer the beloved girlfriend of the favourite son. Now, I am a woman scorned.

My recollection of the scene is a little hazy from this point, but what ensues is me running through the house, yelling at my high school sweetheart, and his mother not far behind. I am so helpless; so angry. But I do know that memory is fallible – my recall is probably incorrect. It may have never happened this way at all. But everything from that night feels fraught; chaotic; tense; horrible – like a running, screaming match that definitely happened in real time.

But mostly, I remember that it is the last time I ever really lose my head.

I retreat, defeated, into the rainy El Nino night, and a few weeks later, start making out with the rabbi’s son as if to send a threat to these nice people to refrain from inviting red-haired shiksas to any more of their holidays. But behind my back, the rabbi’s son makes out with one of my friends. With the last of my sexual power, I scream and shout about it, but it does not matter anymore.

A few months pass, and the furore from Christmastime dies down. Eventually, no one remembers anything ever happened, except for me and the teachers at my conservative school who keep reminding me to hate the sin and love the sinner. The rabbi’s son, too, forgets about our angst, and and gets a new girlfriend, and the three of us go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to see the opening of Yayoi Kusama’s Love Forever, because they are artists, and I am not, but I am always game for a museum.

The Love Forever exhibit is a series of white rooms full of stitched and painted protrusions; objects covered in canvas phalluses, representing Kusama’s fear of male domination. I am floored. It is the first time I have felt anything in months; the first time I have felt swept away by art. My heart aches all day.

And then in another flash, I am back here in Jerusalem, with that Christmas twenty years ago feeling very present tense as I stare at the Kusama Ironing Board under the spotlight. How did this get here? I want to rip the protrusions from their roots; I want to smash the board like I did that bottle of wine; I want to crush the steam iron and scream: Why are you doing this to me?

You okay? RHJ asks.

Yes, yes, I say, moving on to look at a shower enclosed in a plexiglass case, dripping honey into a waiting drain.

The drip is soothing; it calms me. I am trying not to lose my head. But the fear is so present, still – of loving, of following, of being humiliated, abandoned. I am trying so hard not to lose my head.

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.

Holiday Eats // What dish do you look forward to each year at the Christmas party?  Share the recipe if you can!

I have told some version of this story before, but it bears retelling: Most people in my family think I cannot cook.

This is untrue, but my real skill is letting them think I cannot cook so at family holidays, I do not have to lift a finger. This played out most recently at Thanksgiving, where I voiced my preference for the Traditional Thanksgiving Vegetarian Lasagne, and crowdsourced recipes on social media. After selecting one, my mother and I went to Whole Foods to buy the ingredients, got into the Traditional Holiday Argument at the checkout stand, and went home to prepare it in advance of the main event. Since we spend our Thanksgivings in the mountains, some of the foods must be prepared in advance to save on prep and cooking time due to limited oven space.

As I anticipated, my mother cooked the entire lasagne. I did not do a thing except to make a suggestion here and there and throw shred cheese at a casserole dish when the time came. This was by design. While I am a competent and perhaps even a good cook, the myth circulating in my family is that I am rubbish at all things domestic, so expectations of me are sub-basement low. For many years, I found this insulting, and now, I find it hilarious and I find every way possible to shirk domestic duties because people expect so little of me.

With that context in mind, for many years, I used to host dinner parties where I would slave away over every detail – perhaps to compensate for my family’s low opinion of Me as a Traditional Woman. I would make fancy hors d’oeuvres and some kind of well-planned main dish. Now, when I have friends over, it’s more likely that someone insists we just order in Thai food (which, frankly, is awesome by me). But for years, I would have parties, and people would skip over all the fancy stuff and insist I make…chilli dip.

The dip came about as a variation on something a friend of my mother’s used to make – I made it once as a joke to complement a “cheesy foods” party I was hosting. There were piles of fancy cheese, and a brie en croute, and then this terrible dip. The dip is nothing more than a can of canned chilli and a brick of Velveeta melted together. That’s it. My mother’s friend served it with meat chilli and Fritos – since I don’t eat meat and I hate Fritos, I used veggie chilli and Scoops.

No one ate my fancy canapes. People ate two Costco-sized blocks of Velveeta that night. I was left with two pounds of Prima Donna Gouda that went bad in my fridge. It has been at least ten years since the first time I made chilli dip and I am still angry.

After that, at every party; every holiday – Meredith, can you please make chilli dip? Can you please melt together two horrible things in a microwave safe bowl and bring us some chilli dip, and bring it right here?

The indignity.

This is all to say, I really dislike holiday foods. I will grudgingly make you chilli dip if you ask me nicely. But wouldn’t you really rather I make something less horrible?

Or maybe we can just Seamless some Thai food instead.

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.

I hosted Easter dinner on Sunday.

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I briefly considered doing a Tutorial From Hell on how to make the teensy Easter baskets, but then noticed that a) I did not snap any photos whilst making the craft so as to document how the baskets were constructed, and b) they really are just fancy cupcake wrappers with half a length of fuzzy pipe-cleaner attached with tape.

(I could probably write an entire book called: Half-Assed Crafts for Every Season)

I love Easter.  I love the prospect of renewal and possibility that comes with this time of year.

And I love candy.

Our Winesday Easter was one of those lovely, happy holiday dinners where people were in good form, and everything was funny, and there was a lot of wine but not too too much, and the food was glorious and there was Enough of Everything.

This winter was long, and cold, and nothing seemed to work out right.  But having our little family around the table again — surrounded by wine and cheer — reminded me that we made it.  It was just a moment; a season of darkness, and now we are stepping out into this wonderful new light.

It has been a wild six weeks.

As you may have noticed, I usually participate in our #Reverb project, however, this year, some unexpected personal and professional matters overtook my December.  A few weeks ago, I got the news that I had some health issues that needed to be dealt with rather urgently.  I had surgery this past Friday, and when this whole situation is a bit clearer, I’ll be more forthcoming.

As this the madness was unfolding in December, Paul and I decided that I would spend Christmas with his family in Dublin, and then we would go somewhere warm for a little holiday before I had to go back to New York and face this surgery.  We booked a last-minute trip to Ile de la Reunion, through Paris, and all was set.

We landed in Saint-Denis just after Christmas, and just in time for a Category 3 cyclone to hit the island straight-on.

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(100+ mph winds)

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(Happy New Year, indeed!)

After a very tense few days, with intermittent water/power, and no mobile phone service, we eventually made it back to the airport and got back to Paris.

It was all…hard.  You know, I wanted it to be easy.  And it wasn’t.

The very fact that we can do stuff like that — decide at the last minute to take a sunny holiday; fly to places near and far — reveals how privileged we are.  I’m not unaware of that.  But in those difficult moments in December — when I had few answers about what was happening to me, and I was physically and emotionally spent from the year — I just wanted it all to be perfect.  I wanted the scrambled eggs to be the way I like them, and I wanted to sink into a fluffy white-linen’d bed every night, and I wanted to take dramatic hikes to volcanoes and waterfalls each day and look out and feel…okay.

Instead, I got a hurricane.  And Paul and I were at each other’s throats the whole time as we coped with changed plans, and changing expectations, and disaster and uncertainty.

But we made it through alive.  And finally made it back to the airport a few days into the new year.

So we were on the flight back from Saint-Denis to Paris, and we hit more storms, and the plane dropped significantly in the air.  Paul’s wine flew off the tray and went all over me; dishes were falling; flight attendants were diving for their seats.

And we had no choice but to look at each other and say, So what happens now?

The answer: NothingWe were powerless to do anythingThe only thing we could do was sit still and wait out the storm.  It wasn’t up to us to guide the plane, or make the decisions…all we could do was sit and let others do their jobs.

That was it, really.  I spend a lot of time trying to control or compensate for or understand things by being and doing, and I often forget that there is so much value in just sitting still; letting someone with more experience or expertise take the wheel.

We made it to Paris alive; made it back to Dublin safely.

And in the midst of travel chaos, and life-madness, I wrote a list of resolutions to guide the rough ride of 2014.

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Right now, I am incredibly grateful for wonderful friends, a good surgical outcome, and a great partner, I am mostly trying to embrace even the suckful moments. 

I am trying to sit still and wait out the storm.

Those that went before us have walked paths that we may never fully understand. Talk about a time when you learned something important about your family history.

My family spends every Thanksgiving in Yosemite National Park.  We have for many years.

When we were younger, the test was always to bring boyfriends to Thanksgiving.  They’d be vetted by the family; tested to see if they were fit for purpose.

My father was always the one who created the tests.  He and I are kindred spirits in that we genuinely like to mess with people.  Make up stories.  Lead people out into the Sierras in the middle of the night and take their lives in our hands.

So when we were younger, the boyfriends would be vetted on Thanksgiving night when they were three (or six!) sheets to the wind, when they’d be led out to the woods and forced to walk without a flashlight to the door of a little cabin that was literally The House at The End of the Road.

And someone would inevitably shout, or make noise, and scare the hell out of everyone.  The boyfriend’s reaction would determine whether he was Worth It.

Needless to say, my ex-husband failed this test many times over.  I think one year, he even refused to go on the walk.

I digress.

Anyway.  In recent years, the dynamic of the clan has changed.  Everyone has been busy procreating, or getting sober, or divorcing.  And this year, it was a peculiar year because everyone came down with the norovirus, and it turned the cabin into a veritable vomitorium.

However, we are reaching a state of stasis.  Everyone’s done having babies.  And I feel…normal…again.

Life is starting over.

The first glimmers of this came when I was driving up to Thanksgiving with my brother, back in November.  I was sitting shotgun in his Honda, and when the radio reception faded as we crossed into the foothills of the Sierras, I flipped through the stack of CDs he had in his car.

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Is that…mine? I asked him, incredulous.

Yeah, he grinned.

I had bought the album when it had first come out — the disc in my hand was a first edition.  So I slid it into the CD player, and we drove through the hills listening to my teen angst.

It was funny, that moment, because when I was growing up, I felt like nobody had ever grown up before.  It was like I was the first person ever to ever do any growing up.  No one had ever gone before me, and nobody would ever go after me.  But then there Matthew and I were, on the other side of an era, and it dawned on me that he had probably known exactly what it had been like, growing up in our house.

Growing up with our parents.  Driving around our hometown; listening to Alanis Morissette; wishing to be anywhere but There.

History, you know, is just a moment.  That he’d held on to that stupid CD made me realise that I hadn’t lived those moments alone.