April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

You are Helen,
And charming,
And a paragon of what a woman
Should be.
Locked up in your ivory tower,
Lost without your worldly power,
Continue on your odyssey.

Odyssey—
Keep going.
You can never go home once
You’ve gone.
Sinking in your self-restraint,
You nurse your wounds without complaint,
And sing your silly siren song.

You are virtue,
And wonder,
And the girl you always wished
You’d be.
Would he love you violated,
How he loves the things you’ve hated;
You’re drowning in tranquility.

(May, 2006)

April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

Long hair
is for Young women
And short hair
is for Mommies
And grey hair
is for Matrons,
silver with
age and confidence

But my hair,
Flaxen
Grab-worthy
For cinematic streetcorner kisses
Lexington, Park
Uptown, downtown
My hair,
Gentleman-preferred
Is for you.

(August, 2008)

I live in a doorman building. In my New York City Life, I have always lived in doorman buildings.

In my last building, the staff were Family. The doormen knew all my girlfriends by name. They cheered me on for the Marathon, and got special permission to wear the t-shirts I made instead of their uniforms on Marathon Sunday.

In my current building, the staff are Political. They play favourites. They are careless; sometimes even mean. For instance, they have sent my laundry off to the wrong laundry company Just Because – which turned into a multi-day drama where the offending doorman gave my phone number out to the woman whose laundry account they charged, and even after I paid her back, she repeatedly called and texted me to complain – as if I had scammed her.

There were so many things wrong with that situation (from the sending of my laundry to a random company, to giving my contact details to a stranger without my consent, to forcing ME to pay for something I didn’t want), that it was laughable. It was something that simply shouldn’t have happened in a luxury high rise. It was something that would never would have happened in my old building – and if it did somehow happen, the building would’ve paid for it; no one would’ve gotten mixed up with strangers angry-texting strangers.

Also, we recently begun renovations on our apartment, and my relationship with the staff had deteriorated considerably. They kept finding “issues” with our construction, each of which set us back weeks and cost thousands of dollars. The setbacks meant I couldn’t use my living room or kitchen…for weeks…and had to go out every night. Being that social had left me irritable.

With that for context, a few Mondays ago, I went to dinner with a friend, but on the way home, I got into a rather heated phone conversation over something over which I had no control (this was a conversation unrelated to the building, btw). I am not normally one of those women who stands outside a building screaming into her mobile phone like a petulant teenager, but on that night, after half a bottle of wine, and several weeks of demolition dust, I hit a wall.

So I stood outside my building – unwilling to go upstairs into my destroyed apartment – screeching. Flailing. Gesticulating wildly, as if the person on the other end could hear my hands. In my younger days, I might have even thrown the phone against the wall, but I was slightly older and with the one shred of sanity I had left, I remembered that our IT guy told me that he was going to start charging me for phones if I kept losing them and/or breaking them.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my doormen watching me making a total fool of myself on the street. It wasn’t late enough for me to have privacy for my tantrum, and people who were out walking their dogs were actively avoiding me on the street. I could see the doorman who asked me every night where I’d been hovering at the desk at an angle where he was in my direct line of sight; I could see his colleague angling for a better view.

A ten minute eternity later, I slunk into the building, not making eye contact with the doormen. Then I went upstairs, and changed clothes to come down and walk the dog. Naturally, I acted like nothing happened. But on the inside, I was panicking. Because in our building it was fine to be selfish or stupid, but you couldn’t be embarrassing without consequence. And I had just behaved quite embarrassingly.

Then, a solution dawned on me.

On the way back in from our walk, I said loudly to the dog (within earshot of the doorman), C’mon Roo, let’s go back inside and see your Auntie.

The next morning, I did the same thing – except I walked the dog at a different time than usual, and I changed clothes each time I came in and out of the building and took my rings on and off for the rest of the week.

That Thursday, I left for a one-day trip to London, which was the perfect time to bring my plan to its natural conclusion. I travelled with only my trusty bright orange backpack, which was hard to miss as a piece of luggage. Upon my arrival, home the next day, I extravagantly greeted the doormen, then went upstairs, changed clothes, threw what I had been wearing into an old overnight bag, and left again.

Leaving again so soon, Miss S?!

What? No! You didn’t know? I’m her sister. I’ve been visiting all week – we’re twins!

As the doorman’s jaw hung slack, I walked out of the building, went around the corner, put the bag in my car, and changed back into my clothes in the back seat of my Jetta (much to the chagrin of the parking attendant). Then I walked to Starbucks to kill some time before coming home as myself again, just as Paul was arriving.

Since the week my nameless twin sister came to visit, every single member of staff has been exceptionally polite to me – presumably because they are unsure whether their experiences have been with me or with my twin.

I am sure there are less drastic ways to deal with judgmental doormen over what probably seems like a minor incident, but if you have never lived in a NYC doorman building, you simply wouldn’t understand.

twins-1-copy

When I was 19, I decided to get my navel pierced. This was not an act of rebellion, per se, because I never really needed to rebel. I was one of those terminally straight-laced kids, so a body modification that required even one iota more firepower than the sort available at Piercing Pagoda at Century City Plaza was Kind Of A Big Deal.

I found a place to get the job done and I took $60 cash from my bank account to pay for it. I rallied some of my sorority sisters and led the charge into Westwood Village to have a hunk of metal inserted through the flesh of my stomach. I still remember the piercing parlour (which was right next to Noodle Planet, for you old-timers); I still remember how the woman behind the counter told me, as I waited, Oh, you’re so lucky Janeen is piercing you. She splits dicks.

Come again?

Yeah, like, she mutilates people. She’s amazing. She can turn a penis into a flower. She’s like, the most gifted girl we have.

Was that A 90s Thing? Do people still do this? Personally, I don’t think I know any dudes walking around with daisies in their trousers, but maybe I’m not running with the right crowd.

The experience of being pierced was unremarkable, and it was over quickly.  From that day on, I was a secret, WASPy subversive with a navel ring. The plackets of my blue button-downs would occasionally gap to reveal the metal and friends would do a double-take. I kept that jewellery in for much longer than I should have.

Whereas most of my compatriots shed their belly piercings by the end of their college days, I had mine till I was nearly 30. This was partly because Janeen had wedged the ball of the piercing in the jewellery so tightly that it took me nearly 10 years to get the thing undone. And partly because my ex loved the cognitive dissonance of a WASP with a flash of silver under the twin set.

So when my ex and I split, I did three things right away: 1) I moved uptown; 2) I registered to run a marathon; and 3) I bought a pair of pliers and I took out that stupid navel ring. But the piercing left…a hole. Literally. I’d left it in so long that the hole in my middle was bigger and more permanent than those on the girls who’d had the good sense to remove theirs when they were 21.

I became unhealthily obsessed with covering up the scar left behind, and I decided I was going to get a tattoo instead – something massive and dramatic. Maybe a giant squid that started on my clavicle and came over my shoulder, with tentacles reaching down to my stomach.

To say I was preoccupied with the Giant Squid Tattoo would be an understatement. I found myself driving to Rhode Island and Massachusetts on alternate weekends, travelling to scrimshaw exhibitions all around New England to get ideas. But I did not realise I was in trouble at that point. No one questioned my judgment. No one thought to say: Hey, Meredith, you are putting thousands of miles on your car so you can travel the northeast investigating giant squid pictures for a massive body modification. Are you okay? Do you want to talk? Do you need a drink? 

This story has a happy ending, and a friend intervened before I got a massive tattoo of a rarely-seen sea creature, all to cover up a tiny scar the size of the point of a pen. I thought everyone could see I’d been blown apart, and I didn’t understand until much later that I didn’t need to keep slathering on the layers to keep myself together.

This story also has a point.

I am telling you this because recently enough, I started telling people I was going to shave my head. Maybe not my whole head – maybe just the sides; maybe leave the top long and do something edgy, like Tilda Swinton. Maybe dye it platinum. A couple of my friends responded positively to this proclaimation (possibly because I have had super short hair before). Most people raised an eyebrow.

But it was not until I was sitting in the stylist’s chair, trying to convince her to just cut it all off that she flat-out said, I’m going to trim it, and you’re going to like it, and then you’re going to take a vacation.

Huh.

It had not occurred to me until that very moment that I was not giving myself a break. The hair; the tattoo – it wasn’t because I actually wanted to shave my head or mark my body with a giant squid – it was more that I thought that completely destroying and remaking my old self would cleanse the palate; could be a short-cut for doing the hard work of resting and re-evaluating; might distract others from the fact that I wasn’t holding it all together very well anymore.

What I am trying to say is this:

Let my experiences be a horrible warning to you. Give yourself a break – especially since it’s the holidays and we’re all in misery. Are you doing too much? Are you chugging ahead when you really need to step back? Take it easy, friend. No one expects as much of us as we expect of ourselves. No one sees that you’ve been blown apart; even the greatest achievers in the world will extol the virtues of taking time off.

Honestly, you don’t want to end up with a navel ring, a giant squid tattoo in the style of 19th century New England arts and crafts, and a Tilda Swinton haircut to learn that lesson.

Or maybe you do. Maybe you live in Bushwick and sell artisanal sauerkraut for a living – I don’t know your life. In that case, I would be happy to teach you all about scrimshaw.

 

I find myself in a series of situations where I have to sit through a lot of complex feelings — quickly — to restore the status quo.  Not just restore order — I must Get Excited.

Would that the heart and head could be so cooperative.  I am finding this whole thing…Difficult.

Paul and I are buying an apartment, and while this should be an occasion for champagne and celebration, I am Freaking The F*CK OUT.  Having now lived by myself for five years, I know I should be excited about How Great This Is, and I am.  Also, I am Terrified. I am scared of the quotidian struggles that destroy relationships.  I fear the burden and expectations of others looking in and saying, WHAT DOES THIS NEXT STEP MEAN?!?!  (Ans: It means we are buying an apartment.) I am even afraid of picking the wrong paint colours and window treatments. 

My problem, really, is that I am terrified of being tied down; stuck. Like tonsils, or an appendix, the only purpose this fear serves is to become infected and engorged — becoming bigger, heavier, and harder to bear than it needs to be.

I have always been light on my feet.  Because what if I suck at whatever comes next?  Better to make a quick and graceful exit than be caught flat-footed like a fool.

Right? 

Because what if I have to be a Real Girl, Living a Real Life? My entire life for the past few years has been a 1990s romantic comedy. You may get that impression from some of my writing, but in reality it has been more like a Nora Ephron written-and-directed-film-starring-America’s-Former-Sweetheart-Meg-Ryan than you may actually believe.

I have been taking Adventure Travel Towards Self Realisation, and have swooned over the Wrong Men in the lobbies of the World’s Finest Hotels. I have had the kind of romances that most women only dream of, but these men — they’ve always left me at the doorstep.  And now, now I’m going All The Way, with someone who might actually be The Right Guy.  Now we’re opening the door; we’re buying the house, we’re going through the threshold and building the future and doing it together…

And I’m scared.

About paint, and walls, and curtains.  And, for that matter, what if I’m no longer Interesting if I am suddenly so tied down and boring and solid and staid and … I am making all of the silly excuses that serve to prevent the real thing from happening. I am stalling. I am buying time.

I’ve always been good about being good. I’ve always been a know it all; I’ve long been obsessed with being right, and preventing myself from getting hurt. I’ve protected myself from some of the More Bad decisions I might’ve made.

But this has kept me from some of the More Good.

Tonsils and an appendix can easily be removed by a surgeon. My own fearful ego is not so easily excised. At this stage of my life, I just need to get out of my own way.

I know a man/he came from my hometown/
he wore his passion for his woman like a thorny crown
He said “Dolores, I live in fear/my love for you’s so overpowering, I’m afraid that I may disappear.”

 Paul Simon, Slip Slidin’ Away

Here are the things that I am afraid of:

1) Ebola

2) Financial regulators (global)

3) Little people, and the various television shows about them (this is an irrational fear, but we are being honest, here)

4) Living without passion

5) Never being loved the way that he loves Dolores

California I’m coming home
Oh will you take me as I am
Strung out on another man
California I’m coming home

 – Joni Mitchell, California

I ran the Big Sur International Marathon last weekend.  This was significant for a whole lot of reasons, all of which require me to tell the back story of Daily Angst, and my once-upon-a-time life on California’s central coast, and how I got into Marathons in the first place.

I’ve been writing Daily Angst for ten years in October, and started writing it on this site five years ago this year. At the time I started writing here, I was still in private practice and working very closely with a client in Carmel, California helping to close down a business.

At the time, I was young, new divorcee who literally did not know a single divorced person.  I think my parents had one, chronically divorced manchild friend who had a collection of wives, and a collection of Porsches, but that was basically my only example of How To Do This.

So there I was.  In Carmel.  Alone, but for a rag-tag bunch of executives from the client, and a marathon training plan for my first marathon, and the occasional middle-of-the-night phone call to Asia or from my insane then-boss.

I had started running marathons in the first place for two reasons: 1) because I had made a list in the end of the nineties of fifty things I had wanted to do in ten years, and I was coming to the end of the time limit in which to do them, and the only thing that remained from that list was “run the NYC Marathon,” and 2) my ex-husband used to say he was “allergic to exercise” and truly resented when I would go out and run — in fact, I recently found some old writing where I recounted that he’d held off proposing to me until I’d agreed not to train for a marathon — ever.

(I don’t think I’ve ever told people that before.)

Running, in my mind, was freedom.  Probably the first self-care type-thing I did upon leaving Andrew was investigate options on how to obtain a marathon entry.

So my  life in Carmel was a lot of late-night whisky, and chocolate cake, and running on country and coastal roads.  And I survived; I made friends; I thrived.  Then I went home and began again.

And life went on.

Late last year, when someone tweeted the date of registration for the Big Sur Marathon, I knew that I would sign up.  My marathon days are getting small — partly because of motivation; partly because of my health.  I have been running injured for a few races now — I tore the cartilage in my hip about a year ago, and it’s not improving.  I’ll probably have to have surgery and the recovery is long and painful.

So it seemed right, and good, that Big Sur might be my final marathon — at least for a while.  It also made sense to end things where I began things, and the Big Sur marathon begins in Big Sur and runs north up Highway 1 into Carmel.

eee and I flew to San Francisco last Friday, and drove down to Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur last Saturday to pick up our race numbers then spend the day relaxing on the coast.  We arrived at the hotel I had once shuttered, which had re-opened in the late Autumn.

This is where I ran away to when I got divorced, I laughed.

It’s a nice place to get divorced, she said approvingly.

It was a strange and familiar homecoming.

Here is the pool, and here is the parking lot, and here are the pathways I walked with friends.  Here is the fireplace we sat by that one night after that dinner with Maria Shriver, before we knew her own marriage was hanging by a thread, and where that weird lounge singer and his lawyer friend offered to fly us down to Esalen post-haste.

Don’t you remember?

It was so much tension, and so romantic, and such a wild adventure!

But there was no time to reminisce — we had to grab dinner then go to bed, since the buses left for the start at 3am.

So.  I ran.  It had been nearly five years, but I was there to run.

big sur marathon 2

One of the great thrills of the Big Sur marathon is crossing the Bixby Bridge, because not only are the sweeping views simply to die for, but there is also a tuxedo’d man seated at a grand piano on the bridge’s northern side.  People remember what he was playing when they crossed.

When I ran my first marathon — NYC 2009 — by some magic, when I crossed the 59th Street Bridge, my iPod queued up the 59th Street Bridge Song.

And when I ran Big Sur, as I crossed the Bixby Bridge, the piano player struck up Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Sometimes, things just work.

The run was hard, and the run was long and slow, but I finished it.  I met old friends at the end.  I went back to the places I had been before and I made it through them with new and wonderful memories; possibilities.

What I am saying is, going back to the places that hurt is not always equal to “being stuck” or “dwelling in the past.”  Sometimes, it’s the most glorious and triumphant way of moving forward.