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.

photobracelet

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.

Issue 5 of the beautiful magazine Bella Grace carries a gorgeous illustrated quote from a chap called H. Jackson Brown Jr as follows:  “Watch the sunrise at least once a year, put a lot of marshmallows in your hot chocolate, lie on your back and look at the stars, never buy a coffee table you can’t put your feet on, never pass up a chance to jump on a trampoline, don’t overlook life’s small joys while searching for the big ones.”

What small pleasures gave you moments of intense joy in 2015?  What more could you cultivate in 2016?

Small Pleasures

  1. Seeing the sunrise over the East River from my bedroom window
  2. Really good noise-cancelling headphones
  3. Descending a long staircase and bumping into a friend, unexpectedly, at the bottom
  4. Late drinks in the bar at Claridge’s till the very polite waiter refuses to keep serving
  5. Birkenstocks
  6. Pulling out the annoying bobby pin in a chignon
  7. Puppy breath
  8. Watching your friends achieve the things they’d waited so long for
  9. Observing a child reading on her own for the first time
  10. Getting over it

#Reverb15 is the opportunity for us to reflect and project throughout 2015.   Each month, KatSarah and I will be posting on a new prompt.  Please check out the #ProjectReverb main page and join in.

Daily Life | Show us a day or a week of your life! Include pictures!

I love ABBA.

I don’t remember when or where this began, because my parents are, at best, ambivalent about ABBA. They may have been the only people who made it through the 1970s without owning a single ABBA album.

So at some point in my young life, with or without the assistance of Mums and Daddy, I discovered ABBA. And I loved the beat; the enthusiasm; the vaguely Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice-ness about the foursome; the fashion; and mostly, that biting Scandinavian earnestness that was at once an invitation and a fuck you.

And I think there are two types of people in this world: People who love ABBA, and People who don’t get ABBA. There is no hating ABBA. That’s like saying you hate IKEA or Volvo, and similarly, ABBA is just too mild and ubiquitous for one to have a strongly negative opinion about them.

No one hates IKEA or Volvo, because even if you THINK you hate IKEA, you probably have a BILLY bookcase somewhere in your house. And even if you THINK you hate Volvo, you probably have a fond memory of making out in someone’s mom’s flesh-tone 240 GL Volvo wagon.

Mild. Ubiquitous.

I rest my case.

On Saturday, I flew from NY to London, and London to Mumbai, and I watched an endless amount of in-flight entertainment because that’s a lot of air to cover. During the course of scouring British Airways’ TV system for something — anything — new to watch, I stumbled on to an ancient documentary about ABBA and iconic photos taken of the band.

Early in the documentary, they played the Lasse Hallstrom-directed music videos the band released with their first few albums in countries in which they weren’t immediately touring: U.S.; Australia; etc….

I began to laugh.

There was one night during my last year at UCLA when my roommate Legs and I went down to the Blockbuster? Hollywood Video? (I’ve reached the age where I can no longer remember the things I thought I’d always know!) at the corner of Gayley and Wilshire – you know, the one where you had to park on the roof.

Legs and I were famous for many things – among them, renting absolutely terrible films and returning them months late. By the time we graduated, there was not a single video store on the Westside that would rent movies to us.

So we walked in one unremarkable night – undoubtedly in our matching uniform of running shorts, UCLA sweatshirts, and Rainbows – and instead of the ordinary action films playing on the TVs, ABBA’s classic music videos were on all the screens. Some bored clerk had unearthed those precious laser discs and Benny, Bjorn, Frida and Agnetha were writhing and grooving across the CRT TVs rigged up all around the video store for our viewing pleasure.

We were mesmerised.

We were too young to have seen the videos the first time they were played, so we were hooked. I think we probably stood there in the middle of Hollywood Video for an eternity that night – slack-jawed and entranced by the sparkly, soft-focus jamming happening on the screens as ABBA awkwardly shuffled and danced to their greatest hits. We were witnessing history. We were witnessing love, Scandinavian style.

I’m not even sure we left with a video that night.

In the intervening years between that night on Wilshire and last Saturday, I’ve listened to a lot of ABBA. But I hadn’t thought about those music videos until I was leaving New York on a London-bound plane.

It had been a long time since I was a student. It had been a long time since I was the kind of girl who wore low pig-tails, and smoked cigarettes, and tied up the landline with gossip; and sat outside in that heavy, salty Westside night air; and since Legs and I made pasta in our shared kitchen and drank too much cheap beer and ate too many cheese fries and cried over silly sappy TV shows.

Now Legs sings ABBA songs to her infant son, and I’m on a flight from New York to London, and London to Mumbai, and we’re a long way from Westwood, but we’re still those same girls, I think.

IMG_4783

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo 1

(Obviously, I just discovered Instagram.)

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

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

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

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

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

lond thurs 2

From a taxi, between meetings in London.

This winter has been so long, and when I left New York on Tuesday, the spring was just creeping up on us.  In London, the weather was gorgeous, and even between meetings, and with the sunshine on the river and the green just popping on the trees, everything felt…perfect.

It has been a long, cold winter, but I feel as if I am just coming back to life.

 

I landed in London yesterday morning, immensely grateful to be out of New York.

In case I have not made it abundantly clear, I hate the cold.  And when you hate the cold, 10C feels like summer compared to consistently sub-freezing temperatures and piles of dirty, frozen snow.

(Why do you cite temperature in Celsius? someone asked me recently, with a weird scowl on her face, as if she was calling me out for Trying Too Hard)

(Because in January alone, I was in five different countries, and if the weather reports in the places I travel are to mean anything at all to me, I should probably be fluent in how that news is delivered? I replied, trying to sound Not Annoyed, but my voice clearly rose into a question mark at the end, daring her to challenge my logic.)

(Why do Americans think other Americans are being snobbish when they do things that aren’t obviously American? As if speaking in unfamiliar units of distance or temperature is pretentious or somehow treasonous, when in reality, it’s a measure of self-preservation.)

(Anyway.)

It is a fairly well-documented fact that emergency room admissions for interpersonal violence increase on the hottest nights of the year.  The weather has the opposite effect on me.  The colder it gets, the more hostile I get.  The heat lulls me into a dreamy, drowsy, happy state.  The humidity makes me a little cranky, but I am still docile.  I can’t really describe why the cold does to me what it does, but it shakes me at my core; makes me feel as if I will snap.

I am so tired of New York right now.  I am tired of winter.  I am tired of the dirty, frozen snow, and the brackish, icy ponds of street-slush that appear ankle-deep but are really more of a mid-calf situation.  I am exhausted of the landlords who don’t shovel, and the salt-shortage, and the New Mayor who is trying to start some sort of class war by not plowing uptown — particularly the streets around Mayor Mike’s brownstone.

London was a welcome change, tube strike notwithstanding.

So I landed at Heathrow, and I napped, and then I went for a Long Run in the Park in the Afternoon-into-Evening.

There are few greater joys in the dead of winter than running in a place where the grass is still green — even if that greenness is only the difference of 10 degrees Celsius above freezing.  And there are few things lovelier than the late afternoon sunlight in Hyde Park, as the sun dips behind Kensington Palace.

photokensington

I ran for miles and miles.

Generally, I am a big believer in the idea that one cannot/should not run away from one’s problems, and that one must sit through the suck.

But sometimes, it’s not just distance one needs from one’s problems; sometimes, it’s perspective.  Occasionally, perspective is one of temperature.  Sometimes, a girl just needs to thaw out a little before she can be or do or see any good.

Kat, Sarah, and I have once again collaborated on Project Reverb — a prompt-a-day writing project throughout the month of December.  Check out the Project Reverb page for instructions, and to sign up to receive the #Reverb13 prompts in your in-box daily.

December 4: 20/20: Hindsight is the one thing we never benefit from in the present.  Is there one moment you wish you could do over?

London_TheDorchester_Lobby

No.  I wouldn’t do anything over.

I’ve just learned that, until very recent history, my taste in hotels was better than my taste in men.

That said, even in hindsight, I’d never take back, or un-do those gorgeous, cinematic kisses in the lobbies of some of the finest hotels in the world.