There were two #Reverb12 posts I never got around to completing/posting.  This is one of them.  This falls into the former category of lack of completion.

December 28: All grown up: What did you want to be when you grew up?  Are you that thing?  If not, are you working to become it, or have you chosen a completely different path?

Am I the woman I thought I’d grow up to be?  I ask myself this question more often than I’d like to admit.  I also wonder whether I should want to be that woman.

Years ago, someone sent me the transcript of Edward R. Murrow’s original This I Believe broadcast, and as has been the case with many, many people over the years, the bit about his beliefs being “in a state of flux” stuck with me.  I thought that, at my core, I would always remain firm, but there was something charming about growth and change around that central purpose.  Like the ugly duckling shedding its grey down, and the caterpillar emerging from its cocoon to become a darling butterfly, the state of flux was a means to an end — a way of becoming to get to the heart of things that always were.

The past few weeks have made me wonder about the purpose of flux; have made me question things I thought were unmoveable.

What I am trying to say is: I thought I would grow up to be a lawyer and a wife; a woman with long, blonde hair living in New York City.  I knew there would be growth and change and that I would get stuff and that I would give up stuff to arrive at this place.  What I didn’t expect was that I would watch really good people suffer; that I would suffer myself; that I would witness people who did awful things prosper.

I was explaining this to my mother, because, for once, I was rattled by how moved I was by The Icky Stuff.

Dad and I were watching some cold case show, she said in response, And it was about this guy who went out for a burger and came home to find his wife murdered.  He was charged with the crime and he served a 16 year sentence.  When he didn’t think he could bear prison any more, he called out to the Lord for help and suddenly, the State found the guy who did it, and they overturned his conviction.

I pondered that for a moment.  It seemed we heard stories of redemption; prosecutorial ineptitude all the time these days.

Then the State paid him restitution to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  He paid out a third of it to his lawyer, and then he lost the rest in the stock market.  And yet the guy  was still perfectly content with the outcome, and he said, “I guess God wanted me to be free, but not rich.”

(I’m taking liberties in paraphrasing her recap of the show, but I think I’ve captured the heart of it.)

It seemed that the man had not been changed by the experience, he had remained who he always was:  Faithful to what he had known.  Rich in his freedom.  The man he had always been.

What I realised, then, is that even if my beliefs about the world and myself are in a state of flux, perhaps at my core, I am still the girl I thought I’d grow up to be.  I’m still that lawyer; I was still that wife; I still have long, blonde hair; I live in New York City.  The change I am undergoing and that is happening around me is not making me different, it is the same as it always was.  It is still just stripping away the grey babydown.

Maybe it’s better to suffer than prosper when the time is right to suffer.

Everything in its season.

Turn, turn, turn.

I still shall not be moved.

Kat, Sarah, and I have collaborated to post a prompt-a-day in December. Check the #Reverb12 page for prompts and and take a look at the main page for the basic instructions on the project.

December 31: Clean Slate: Tomorrow begins a new year.  What will you do with your new beginning?

This post could well be called Meredith’s Uncanny Habit of Getting in Cars with Strangers.

When I was in Chile two years ago at Christmas, I went wine tasting in the Maipo Valley.  I took subways and buses and taxis to get out to the wineries.

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I ended the day at a rather large winery, and thought I was the only American in the group touring the grounds. But as we emerged from the caves, one of the other group members placed a Penn State cap on his head, so I struck up a conversation and we hit it off.  He was an older fellow, and was travelling with his partner.  At the end of the tour, we stopped in the wine shop.  There, we picked up half a dozen bottles of wine, a corkscrew, and took our tour glasses and sat out on the veranda and drank ourselves blind.

Eventually, the sun began to set, and the winery informed us in no uncertain terms that we’d have to leave.  It was then that I discovered that they had driven to the winery from Santiago, did I want a ride back to the city?

I’d been drinking all day in the sub-equatorial Patagonian sunshine, so yes, it made perfect sense to get into a car with two drunk strangers in a foreign country.  But we made it back to Santiago, and they invited me out for a lovely dinner — which we had, and we drank until well past midnight over seafood in the heart of town.

This got me thinking:  I trust strangers all the time.  I get into taxis; towncars.  I believe in these strange men with whom I often do not even share a language and trust that they will take me to where I want or need to go.  And yet…I so rarely trust the people who are closest to me.

So on New Year’s Eve, I found myself dining alone at a celebration dinner.

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This was fine, because I’d planned for a quiet night in.  But over dinner, a fellow at the table next to mine struck up a conversation, and I discovered that they were a table of Americans.  I moved over to join them for drinks, and somehow wound up in the ocean, with my clothes on, and then later, having changed, on my way to ring in the new year in a nightclub in Chaweng.

As we piled into the taxi to head from the resort to town, I must’ve looked mildly amused or perturbed by the whole thing because one of the girls gestured to her girlfriend and said: Don’t worry, the two of us are going to stay till Midnight, then we’ll be back if you want to make sure you’ve got a safe ride.

The club was called Green Mango, and we were about 10 years older than everyone else in the place.  The music thumped and we stood on the platform above the crowd, as I drank bottled water and danced.  At dinner, the band had finished their set by playing “You Can Call me Al,” and there we were — spinning in infinity.  Angels in the architecture.

The clock struck midnight, and I was ready to leave.  So were the girls.  And we left.

In the taxi on the way back to the resort, we somehow got on the subject of life, and family, and where we were from.  Somewhere along the line, we discovered that I’d gone to school with the cousins of one of the girls; they’d lived one street over from my parents.  I didn’t know them terribly well, but well enough to recall very specific details about the family.

And then it struck me: I had done so much spinning and running and dancing and moving around the world; so much chasing my own tail and getting into cars with strangers, only to find someone related to a family who’d lived on the street next to my parents.

The point, I suppose, is just what it seems.  The things we run around searching for are exactly where we left them — which is typically right back at the start.  A girl like me could run from city to city chasing boyfriends and husbands and couching those moves as the pursuit of her own academic advancement or her career dreams, but never finding That Thing — that magical It that would soothe the existential ache.  In Recovery, they call it “Doing a Geographic” — running; taking chances; assuming that trouble won’t follow.

In sum, on New Year’s Eve, I once again got into a car with strangers, and after midnight discovered that I was in familiar territory but not at all in the way I had expected.  Instead, I was right back at the start.  I was so confident with people I didn’t know very well, but so often failed to trust that the people close to me (or one step removed from closeness) could get me to where I needed to go.

Last year, I was the captain of my own shipwreck — washed up on a beach in Australia, in the company of the familiar but not comfortable in my own skin.  And this year, I had run willingly into the sea fully-clothed, surrounded by strangers, but suddenly, no longer strange to myself.

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Kat, Sarah, and I have collaborated to post a prompt-a-day in December. Check the #Reverb12 page for prompts and and take a look at the main page for the basic instructions on the project.

December 30: Undone: Bucket lists, To Do Lists, Always crossing things off.  2012 is almost over — what is still left standing?

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship in a Republic, Paris, France 23 April 1910

I love this.

I mentioned I was reading Brené Brown’s book, and she uses this quote as the framework to bring together warm fuzzies and her empirical research.  She likes the bit about daring greatly while I like the part where Teddy says: the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…

You see (and you probably know), I am a do-er. That is, when I say I am going to do something, generally I do it.  Last year, I picked five things I wanted to do; to achieve.  I wanted to be a “better” runner.  I wanted to run an international marathon.  I wanted to watch more James Bond movies; cook more; stop post-morteming my marriage.

What’s left unfinished?

I am not sure I became a better, faster, stronger runner.  In fact, despite more consistent training and nutrition, I had a quantifiably slower and shittier racing year.

But finish times and splits aside, I discovered some interesting and unexpected things about running, and friendship and resilience that I never expected to find.  I never expected to cross a finish line with eee.  I never thought I’d watch Strand complete her first marathon and hug her when she crossed the line — I remember when she was a chain-smoking college sophomore!  I never dreamed I’d finish the Berlin Marathon on my own, or stand outside the Javits Center, wrecked, sobbing like I did when my grandfather died after I got word of the cancellation of the 2012 NYC Marathon.

I didn’t expect that my brother would call me one morning and say he’d be keen to run a half.

Running tied together peaks and valleys of my 2012.  And I was open to people and experiences because of running.  So I guess I became a better runner after all.  Just maybe not a faster, stronger, slicker, high-ponytailed, sub-4; 4:15 marathoner.

And in July, as I came in from sweaty summer training, BBC-A or Encore or some cable network showed James Bond films each night.  Each July, I’ve relapsed like woah — gratefully sinking into the familiar embrace of command and control — it seemed sensible to have dinner with a tuxedo’d secret agent.

So we dined.  It’s silly, right?  But that ridiculous smirk got me through the summer.

Sean Connery as James Bond

But all was not a success.  As to cooking…well, I tried.  And I’ll try again.  And I’ll report back in 2013.

Marriage.  I’m still learning the right ways to frame that experience.  Sometimes I want to scream and remind myself (and everyone else) that I did it; I had it; there are all those photos of me on my daddy’s arm at the Cathedral.  I know what it was like, and it happened.

And then, some part of me feels like I talk about it because I don’t want to forget.

But at the same time, my marriage was so lonely that being single doesn’t feel that different.  How odd.

And then I realised: I’m Okay with post-morteming the Thing until it feels right to stop talking about it; and stop using examples of it.  Andrew is a ghost, now.  But the experience of the marriage is still present for me.

As to the things undone, it has taken me all this time to discover that the critics don’t count, really.  Not the ones outside my head, and not the Self-Doubt Troll that lives in my head.  I am a do-er of deeds; I am a woman who gets into the arena; who strives valiantly.  Who errs; fails.

I’ll always be aware of relapse — but I have good support.  I might never be a consistent presence in the kitchen — and that’s okay.  And if I’m always rattled by the fact of my first marriage…the great news is that I’ve done it, and there are all those beautiful pictures of me on my daddy’s arm in the Cathedral, and I know both victory and defeat and never have to do that shit again…

Kat, Sarah, and I have collaborated to post a prompt-a-day in December. Check the #Reverb12 page for prompts and and take a look at the main page for the basic instructions on the project.

December 29: TryWhat do you want to try this coming year?  Is it something that has been on the bucket list for a while, or is it something you swore up and down to others you’d never, ever do?  What new waters – those uncharted or those well-navigated – will you dip your toes into this year?

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Kat, Sarah, and I have collaborated to post a prompt-a-day in December. Check the #Reverb12 page for prompts and and take a look at the main page for the basic instructions on the project.

December 27: Hidden talent:  Do you have a hidden talent?  Dazzle us.

I am a serious person.

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My talent has always been being the serious one. Playing the straight (wo)man. Remaining calm in a crisis.  Being prepared.  As my ex-husband would say: Semper Paratus!  Always prepared!  (This, from the man with the machete in his Jaguar.  You know, in case we had to fight our way through the bush of Fairfield County or something.)

I digress.

In private, and in the present day, semper paratus takes on new meaning in my house.

Behold:

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I always keep a spare pack of moustaches handy.  One never knows when she’ll need a disguise.

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And I never pass up the opportunity to see if my face really will freeze that way.

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What I am saying is that, given my many disguises and layers of funny faces and silly hats…perhaps my hidden talent is not being very serious at all.

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Kat, Sarah, and I have collaborated to post a prompt-a-day in December. Check the #Reverb12 page for prompts and and take a look at the main page for the basic instructions on the project.

December 26: Typical dayDescribe a typical day in your life.  What do you think would surprise most people about your ordinary day?  How do you cherish and appreciate the everyday?

As you likely know, I am at a yoga retreat in Thailand.  So my “typical day” this week looks a bit different than what my days look like in New York or London — but when I am “home,” I am unlikely to have any kind of routine.

Which has, admittedly, been undoing me for the last year or so.

Here, however, I have a strict schedule, which is challenging.  And yoga is hard.

It has been particularly difficult for me — in ways I expected, and perhaps didn’t expect — to put myself at the mercy of a schedule someone else has laid out for me.  And to give my body over to the practice.  To submit to breath work, and routines, and physical activity outside of my comfort zone.

This isn’t how we do it in Manhattan.  This isn’t how it’s done in Mayfair. 

The routine:

6.00a – wake up.  Listen to the sounds of my Swiss German roommate rustling below me.  She speaks very little English, and I pretend that I speak less German than I do.  Swiss German, though, is a challenge.

(I spend the next 45 minutes catching up on emails.  I admit that freely.)

7.00a – swallow one of the peanut butter packets I smuggled in from the States.  We are not permitted to eat before 11.00a, and I am a first-thing-in-the-morning breakfast eater.  I am downright hostile if I am not fed immediately.  Also, I dutifully consume the day’s first handful of pills.

7.30a – opening session.  Prana; breathwork.  The first hour is focused entirely on the breath.  The first few days, this was torture.  How do I keep my mind from wandering.  How can I keep from focusing on whether my extended family is having an okay Christmas despite some devastating news; whether my brother is upset that his gift was sent to my house instead of his; whether my friends are fine in their various situations; whether I even want answers to questions I am not asking.

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Approx 8.30a – Asana begins. The first few days, this was instructor-led.  Now, it is on our own.  Primary; secondary; tertiary (?).  Do you do yoga?  Do you know the names of this shit in sanskrit?  I’ve done yoga — fairly seriously — for a long time.  But I am struggling and do not know how to ask for help.

11.00-ish – WHEN DOES IT END?? How do I manage my expectations when I cannot schedule things; when my day is approximated and not divided into blocks?  When can I eat my big breakfast of foods that I cannot guarantee that I will like; that I cannot order from Seamless Web; that will not necessarily satiate me??  Why is it that I can only have brunch and not a proper breakfast and lunch like I prefer?

Why am I not in control?

Noon – 4.00p – Free time.  This means I post the next day’s #Reverb12 prompt, and I then I take a walk, and I sit in the sun, and I try to sort myself out.  On two of the days, I got massages.  On another day, I went out snorkeling.  I then remembered why I hadn’t been snorkeling since 2005.

I’m glad diving and snorkeling is good for you. I, HOWEVER, DO NOT LIKE IT despite many attempts.

4.00p – Q&A; anatomy lecture. Why are we doing what we are doing and what is going on inside our bodies when we do it?  By this point, I am sticky with bug spray and sun cream and trying to stay awake.

5.00p – restorative practice.

6.00p – dinner, which ends with me casing the “dessert table,” insofar as these things can be called “desserts,” begging sweet Jesus for just a touch of white sugar.

9.00p – I am asleep before my Swiss German roommate comes back from singing kirtan around the fire, or whatever it is people do at night.

That’s my day.

I am Trying to Sort Things Out.  I am trying to put myself at the mercy of others; trying to accept the things I cannot control — which I wasn’t seeming to grasp on my own, so I came here to try it in a very literal way.

And finally, one aspect of yoga is touch.  A yogi must submit to the breath; to the pose; to the touch of another human being if the teacher comes to adjust the position.  All of those things are hard for me.  I use my routines and control to keep people away.

This is a challenge.  And these typical days are scary (in fact, I messaged a friend just this morning and said: If I ever again say tell you that I’m going to a yoga retreat, please beat me).

But these are truly extraordinary days.

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Kat, Sarah, and I have collaborated to post a prompt-a-day in December. Check the #Reverb12 page for prompts and and take a look at the main page for the basic instructions on the project.

December 25: TraditionsDo you follow old traditions or do you work to create new traditions?  What role has tradition played in your life over the past year?  Are there traditions you hope to create or embrace in 2013?

In my family, we have tons of traditions.  So many that I think we have trouble distinguishing what is tradition and what is not.

For example, “The Birth of the Stuffing” at Thanksgiving:

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(Believe it or not, these are from three separate years.)

To some extent, I have inherited this tendency to make a tradition out of things (everything).  It is a way of putting down roots; creating spaces and places.  Naming a place in time.  It is a way of being a latter-day Henry(etta) Hudson, I suppose.  And I mean that quite literally.  I mean that I charted course for one place, and wound up somewhere completely different, but I am perhaps laying down the foundation for much greater things to come.

That said, whether my family choose to admit it or not, we’ve never had a lot of traditions around Christmas, and I’ve spent only two Christmases with them since 1998.  There’s a lot to love about the holidays, but the expectations of the season make me uncomfortable.  And Christmas with my ex-in laws crushed my spirit.

As Andrew and I were splitting up, and after I got divorced, I made a tradition of taking Christmas for myself.  I’m not sure my family liked this at first, but I think they’ve come around to it.

I spent that first year in the Bahamas with dear friends.  We drank and danced all night; burned a turkey.  I made my lethal mulled wine for everyone (the secret is that it’s full of Maker’s Mark).  All my expat friends could handle their liquor like it was nothing, while I slept through Christmas and Junkanoo.

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The next year I took the only real thing of value I got out of my divorce — the oodles of Amex points — and went to Chile; primarily to Santiago, but also to Valparaiso and Easter Island.  The court had signed off on the papers on the first of December, and it wasn’t until I was on the plane that it occurred to me that I was en route to a foreign country where I spoke almost none of the language, to spend ten days alone.  My divorce was final, and I was really, truly, flying solo.

I finally took off my wedding band.

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The funny thing was that I’d barely worn it when I was married, and yet, it was so hard to part with it once I’d lost the right to wear it.

Last year, I went to Australia to be with my best friend Jade, and Das, and Jade’s brother and sister-in-law.  I suppose last year counts as a family Christmas.  But still…

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And now, I’m in Thailand.

When I called my parents to wish them a Merry Christmas this year, they were drunk and jolly and teasing me about my travels, but in good spirits about the whole thing.  I’m not sure whether they appreciated that my chronic absence from their Christmas dinner is the hallmark of their positive contributions to my life, but I will tell you that it is.

Tradition, I think, is comfort, and it is courage.  To create sameness in the face of the mundane is comfortable — and that is good.  To create routine in the face of change or trauma or tragedy is courageous — and that is sometimes necessary.  I was raised in a way that empowered me to forge my own path and that taught me to say: This is what I need for me! even when those words were precisely the ones I wasn’t able to utter in my marriage or at home.

I think these traditions I have learned and gained and am growing on my own are good enough for me, and me alone.

Maybe that sounds selfish; maybe that sounds mean.  But I think it means that we come together for the things that are right for us as a family, and in the gaps and spaces and times that are right, we go forth in space and we do things on our own.

It means that I wear the traditional turkey hat and dutifully snap the pictures of The Birth of the Stuffing each November, and it means I have the courage to give myself the space I need at Christmas.