Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year.  Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!

Prompt for December 31: Clean slate:  Tomorrow is a new year.  What do you want to do with your clean slate?

As it turns out, there is no “Saint” Kilda.

In Melbourne, where I’ve been for the past week or so, the town of St Kilda is named for a ship called the Lady of St Kilda, which in turn was named for an archipelago off the coast of Scotland.  How the islands came to be known for an imaginary saint is still a matter of conjecture.  One theory is that landmasses derived their name either from old Norse – sunt kelda for “sweet water” – or from a Dutch assumption that the spring on the island – Tobar Childa – was named for a saint (thus giving the place the oddly tautological placename of “well, well.”)  Another theory is that the islands were called by an ancient word for Viking shields, which is what that bit of the Outer Hebrides looked like when viewed from out at sea.

Well, well.  As New Year’s Eve began, I found myself in an inner-city suburb of Melbourne at a party on my best friend’s mother’s deck, wondering how to emerge from the shipwreck of a terrible decade.  With silly hats on heads and amber liquid swirling in glasses, I couldn’t say that I knew much more about life, or love, or men, or any of that than I had 10 years prior.  In a decade, however, I had learned quite a lot about navigation.

For instance, at a certain point as the ship hits the rocks, you discover this:  a privileged childhood is no guarantee that you won’t be a divorcee as a thirtysomething.  The Los(t) Angeles suburbs don’t prepare you for the complicated reality of anything.  It’s not black and white, like your parents’ marriage seemed — your parents, in their sixties, who met in the Sixties — which was no guide for what to do when monogamy failed you. How grotesque all of those unrealistic suburban expectations were!

Relationships are messy.  Commitment of any sort is scary.  There is no chart; no sextant to help navigate the treacherous waters of big cities; of loves that open and shut; of difficult men; of cheaters and liars, and people who don’t know what they want.  The North Star won’t guide you through the failure-feelings of professional let-downs, that gut-wrenching feeling of being needed when you’ve nothing left to give, and surviving a marriage that isn’t going to make it.

I had no idea of all this a decade ago.  I was red-haired, and fresh-faced, and full of ideas that Everything Would Always Be Okay.  But I found out that it’s not always Okay, that sometimes you know you’re wrecking the boat and don’t care, and sometimes there are icebergs beneath the surface you never could’ve known about.  I found out that loving someone isn’t just about plotting an acceptable course, it’s also about staying it; surviving it.  It’s also about someone who will hold your hair back if you get seasick.  You will get seasick — and you will have to mop the deck in turn.

And even then, you still might fall in love with someone’s vessel.  But they don’t tell you this in Los Angeles – they don’t tell you about the subtle messiness of life and love, and the way hulls don’t properly patch once breached – unless you believe in Woody Allen films (which you won’t, unless and until you move to Manhattan).

All of this in mind, there I was, on New Year’s Eve in St Kilda with my family of stranded sailors: my best friend, her brother and his girlfriend, and my best friend’s mother. 

2011 had begun as a painting: swirling, twirling; a couple dancing in evening-wear in an airport and on a plane – the New Year ringing not once but multiple times.  And then it had been a whirlpool from there — trains and planes; hotels and airports; lobbies and bars; lobby bars.  Kisses on the forehead.  It ended it by washing ashore on a beach named for an imaginary Scottish saint.  After our night of silly hats and drinks on the deck, we walked along the street looking for a pub or party.  We danced up and down the St Kilda Road when no party was to be found – spinning and shaking in our own time – until we were back on the deck when the clock struck twelve.

I put Mairi Campbell’s auld lang syne on the stereo; my best friend and I kissed on cheeks and forehead.  And 2012 rang in without much fanfare, and few expectations, but a good deal of hope.

The Lady of St Kilda, as it turned out, did shipwreck.  She met her end in Tahiti in the mid-1800s, but had sailed a useful, if brief, dual life as both a trade vessel and a yacht.  But her importance to Melbourne remains, and her namesake bay is gentle. 

As the captain of my own shipwreck, I am not sure I can explain the manner in which 2011 chased its own tail.  I have no explanation for what the dancing couple in the airport last year foretold.  I do not know why I got on that train in Edinburgh.  I’m not even sure how I wound up on St Kilda beach on the same-named bay at the end of a difficult year.  But I suppose with this slate wiped clean, and starting a new captain’s log, I don’t have to offer any justifications for the past wrecks.  I am merely headed for; seeking sweet water.

Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year.  Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!

Prompt for December 30: IdentityHow did you identify yourself in 2011?  Did it change?  How will you identify yourself in 2012?

I am…

A lawyer, a writer, a runner, a hopeless romantic.  A seeker.  A woman afraid of aging ungracefully.  An unnatural blonde.  Never without red hair-ties; wearing a sweater I love beyond measure.  No longer scared to be alone.  I am my father’s daughter, wearing my grandmother’s ring, in a photo snapped by my best friend.

I am…

A New Yorker; a woman with a well-stamped passport and several phone numbers.  Someone who leads a remarkably private public life.  Rarely in one place for very long; anchored but unmoored.

I am…

Not who I thought I’d be; not where I thought I’d be.

I want to remember, from this point forward, that I am the woman in this photo above.

Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year.  Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!

Prompt for December 29: HomeHow do you make your house a home in 2011?  Did you move?  Repaint?  Redecorate?  How do you want to change your home in 2012?

When you look into my eyes
And you see the crazy gypsy in my soul
It always comes as a surprise
When I feel my withered roots begin to grow
Well I never had a place that I could call my very own
That’s all right, my love, ’cause you’re my home.

Home can be the Pennsylvania Turnpike
Indiana’s early morning dew
High up in the hills of California
Home is just another word for you

If I travel all my life
And I never get to stop and settle down
Long as I have you by my side
There’s a roof above and good walls all around

I need you in my house ’cause you’re my home.
You’re my home.

(Apologies to Billy Joel for gutting the content and intent of these lyrics; photo of Roo credit to Bill)

Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year.  Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!

Prompt for December 28: I WishWhat do you wish for in 2012?  How will you make it come true?

What’s that old saying about wishes and horses?

I don’t make a lot of wishes.  As I remind people often, I am goal-oriented.  I tend to think that wishing is for…other people.  I hope.  I dream.  I make plans.  But I don’t do a lot of wishing.  Wishes, in my view, are aimless dreams without a plan for bringing them to fruition.

What do I wish for in 2012?  World peace.  A resolution to the Euro-zone debt crisis.  For the liars to stop lying; for the poseurs to stop posing; for the copycats to stop…flattering.  I wish for a lot of devastating and annoying things beyond my control to cease.

In other words, I will leave the wishes to the dreamers, and I’ll continue in the manner to which I’ve become accustomed.  After all, I seem to be doing some things right.

Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year.  Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!

Prompt for December 27: Love:  How did you feel loved in 2011?  How did you give love?

Love, in my opinion, sits in places.  It dwells.  We identify it; we name it; the power of it is partly in acknowledging it, but it is always there.

I’ve struggled this year with feeling worthy of love; feeling unlovable.  I dreaded responding to this prompt; we didn’t need to re-heat these dull leftovers.  But I remembered this:  all cultures find a way to worship the things most important to them.  Some Native American cultures honor the concept of “place names” — i.e., naming a place recognises the power inherent in the natural world present at that site.  The name of the place becomes important on its own, but it is also inextricably tied to the importance of the place itself.

To illustrate my point:  I was on a flight a few weeks ago, and I was stuck watching the movie Beetlejuice, because that was my only option.  But in watching, I realised that the evil spirit and the summoning spell both had the same name: Beetlejuice.  The importance of the name couldn’t be separated from the power of the thing.

In other words, it’s exactly like that.

(Also, how young was Alec Baldwin?  Yum.)

So maybe the power of love is giving the thing a name.

Have I felt love this year; called out its name?  I think so.  The mechanics of love, at least for me, are very much about forgiveness; gratitude; vulnerability.  They say love isn’t about looking for it, and to some extent, I think that’s a lot of crap.

For example:

I had another conversation with Frederic recently and it made me realise this:  when you love someone fiercely and without reason, the likelihood that you’re going to have a limb torn off in love’s thresher is…high.  Anyone who has ever loved an alcoholic eventually learns that going to him for emotional validation — even after he’s sober — will be an exercise in frustration, at best.

But sometimes, you learn to give a little back to yourself, and maybe even let down your guard a little and start looking for the ways to receive love from someone who loves you very much, but simply has no idea how to show it.

And maybe you’ve even been torn up by some other heavy-duty equipment on love’s farm — the both of you — and you finally step back and notice you were just two limbless people trying to hold hands.  It was never going to work, that was the problem.  But now that time has passed, and you’re looking at the problem clearly, and you’ve learned to work things out without your arms, you can figure something else out.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, once you put a name to love — the problems and solutions — once you’re looking for it and at it, you can sort-of sort yourself out.

I have found love in many conversations and kisses; finish lines and mountaintops.  I’ve given love in public and private ways.  Love, in my life, is called by many names.  It has been armless; legless; full and hollow; whole.  Perfect; imperfect.  Sometimes ugly.  But putting a name to it gives me hope that I can sort-of sort this all out.

Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year.  Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!

Prompt for December 26: Advice: What was the best piece of advice you received in 2011? Does that advice still ring true for you?

Everyone said: Don’t be so hard on yourself, Mere.  Friends, family, everyone.

That’s not so easy to take in.  Especially when you are someone like me — especially when you believe that if you’re not hard on yourself, you’ll stop achieving; you’ll stop going; you’ll stop doing.  Being very hard on myself has allowed me to achieve and gain Quite A Lot.  It has also cost me a marriage, impacted my health, seriously damaged some relationships, etc. etc. etc.

The “hard on oneself” thing is my life’s sharpest double-edged sword.

So every Christmas, I sheath my sharp sword, and I travel alone, and I head off for some far-flung locale.  I leave New York City for sunshine.  This year, I was off for Australia.  Unsurprisingly, in the context of a Very Bad Year, Qantas managed to hideously botch my reservation.  Because I’ve come to anticipate things going wrong, I was prepared for it.  I’d noticed it a few days in advance of the flight and called to rectify it, but was told my only recourse was to fix it at the airport.  Taking my holiday in my hands, I headed to JFK on Saturday, prepared for the worst.

We can’t help you, said the ticket agent, The only thing you can do is go around the corner and speak to the British Airways agent.

Of course, this made absolutely no sense.  It was Christmas Eve; the reservation had been booked through Qantas; the flight was in two hours.  But okay.  Around the corner I went.

There were only two BA agents manning the counter — one was a trainee.

Look, I explained, Here’s the deal.  Qantas has ruined my holiday; I’m booked on three separate flights now — one of them is set to take off before the first flight even arrives; they un-did my upgrade.  Please help.

Without even asking why I was asking them to help in the first place, they began to piece through the mess.

That’s a beautiful necklace.  Are those your initials?  The agent asked, as she sat on hold with the airline.

No, I said, It says “NO.”  It’s supposed to remind me to set boundaries with people.

She smiled, then said, as if the thought struck her suddenly.  I guess you’ve been hurt before.

It was the first time anyone had ever said that to me upon noticing the necklace, and indeed, that was part of why I’d asked for it in the first place.  I’d been thinking (and writing) about the charms a lot this year because of the weird wounds and bruisings I’d suffered (some at the hands of others; some self-inflicted).

Odd that you’d say that, I said, I’ve written about that quite a bit this year.  In my professional life, I’m a lawyer, but in my private life, I fancy myself a writer.

We talked for a while longer, as she and the trainee sorted out the reservation and the conflict.  They managed to resolve the issue, and book me on an even better flight than the one I’d originally had myself set up on.

I bet you’re quite hard on yourself.  I bet you don’t treat yourself very often, she said.  Her tone was observational, not accusatory.

No.

I don’t either, she said.

I suppose I should be a bit nicer to myself.

I don’t think it’s just about that.  I think it’s probably more about the timing of things.  

I thought on that for a moment.  I supposed it was too.  Maybe my timing was just…off.  And that was something I’d been considering for a long time.

By that point, the tickets were ready, and she printed them for me.  I was off to fast track, and the lounge.  And I was relieved.  We parted ways.

Hold up!  she said, and disappeared around the corner.  She returned with a pair of sparkly sunglasses — New Year’s Eve goggles — bearing the numbers 2012.

Don’t give up, she advised, Just don’t give up.

Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year.  Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!

Prompt for December 25: Secret: Release a secret you’ve been hiding all year.  Tell us something that nobody knows.  Let it go; shout it out in celebration.

Everyone has secrets.  The adult bedwetters.  The love children; the people who have them.  The cutters; the white-knuckle million-mile fliers; the squeamish doctors.  We all have our secret vices and shame; we all have our lies.

I come across as a public person; those who know me know I am somewhat obsessive about my privacy.  The dichotomy is at once strange and startling, but it exists, believe me.  I do have secrets — some funny, some rather dark.

But in this season (on this day, really) of slouching towards Bethlehem, I cannot help but share this shameful and significant secret.  You see, in the town of Bethlehem, PA, there is headquartered the Just Born Company — manufacturer and purveyor of such “delicacies” as Peeps candies.

I hate Peeps.  Loathe them.  With a passion.  But I somehow gave my family the impression that I loved them, and for many years, they’ve sent me Peeps for all seasons.

I don’t even like marshmallows, let alone marshmallows covered in sicky-sweet sugar crystals.  When I was very young, I went to a birthday party at a candy-making place.  At the party, I was forced to eat a marshmallow dipped in molten white chocolate.  To date, that horrorshow amuse bouche is the only foodstuff upon which I have ever literally gagged.  I managed to get it down, but oh my!

Fast forward to me being an immature 18-19 year old, and we had a kind of joke whereby we’d decorate some unsuspecting chump’s belongings with seasonal Peeps.  This was funny at the time.  I think I either told my parents about this, or as a result of a “peeping,” they found a number of cartons of Peeps among my things.  This obviously gave them the impression that I actually liked the damned things.

I don’t.  I never have.

My parents were never big on “care packages” — I went to school close to their house, and even when I moved far away, they’re simply not the type.  But the times that they did send a package, they sent Peeps.  Always Peeps.  They’d come visit from California bearing Peeps.  Peeps gingerbread men.  Peeps pumpkins; Peeps ghosts.  Peeps snowmen.  Standard issue Peeps chicks in a rainbow of colours.  They’re horrible, those candies!  Just…horrid.  And again, putting a marshmallow in my mouth is akin to just sticking my finger down my throat.

But I could never muster up the courage to tell my parents about this, because I liked getting the care packages.  And they were so keen on pleasing me by remembering how much I “liked” them.

My secret is that I hate Peeps.  For the love of all that is good and holy, please keep them away from me.

So arriving in Bethlehem today, no Christmas marshmallows, please.  And if you know anything about Central Pennsylvania, you know that on the road out of Bethlehem, you must pass through Emmaus.  As Christmas ends, and Easter approaches (and I again get heavy-handed with the sweet Biblical imagery), please for the love of Christ, no Peeps in my basket.