The world has been fairly awful over the past few weeks, and I have no real desire to comment on it at this point. I think we all have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to be actively engaged in current events, but as a privileged, white Western woman, I think I have a lot of listening to do before I start making proclamations about The State of The World.

As recent events have unfolded, I have watched about half my friends take serious political and moral positions and share them on social media. I have watched the other half post photos of something called the Spouse Challenge, wherein they post a bunch of photos of themselves and their spouses to show the rest of us how much they love each other. I have gotten a little bit of crap (some good natured, some not) for not having a Hot Take in either direction.

Because Paul does not use/understand social media, he finds things like the Spouse Challenge deeply intrusive and upsetting. I find them unnecessary. We are the sort of people who don’t sit next to each other on planes because we both like the window seat, so the thought of us posting photos on social media celebrating Our Love in order to prove it to the world is…ridiculous.

We both came to this point in our lives, and this relationship, Gently Used. It would be weird to pretend that I’d never loved anyone before Paul, or that my entire life Up Until This Point had had no meaning, or bearing, on Anything I’m Doing or Experiencing Now.

With all of that said, here is a brief playlist for your enjoyment detailing the past decade of my romantic history, and how I got to where I am now. This has absolutely nothing to do with politics, police brutality, gun control, race relations, or how much I love my spouse.

Okay, maybe a little bit with why I love my spouse.

Bonus points if you can guess which of these songs corresponds to which era.

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.

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(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.

I have been travelling so much lately, I’m not sure I know my own name.  (I say this all the time).  And it all sounds very glam, but it’s not.  It really sounds very yuppie asshole, and maybe jetsetty, but it’s not that either.  There are reasons for the way I live; there are things that drive the life that I live — and in reality my life is extremely mundane.

I suppose that if you’re not living it, it sounds much more exotic than it really is.  But the reality is: I have been in Los Angeles, New York, London, Dublin, New York, and arrived back in London all since the first of this month.

So it was Tuesday night in London, and D and I were scheduled to have dinner with R and N, whom I had not seen in quite some time.  In the mid-afternoon, D emailed and asked if I wanted to get a drink before we headed to the restaurant, and I did, so we met for a pre-dinner cocktail.

It was good to catch up.  It always made me laugh because sometimes I wondered if D and I hadn’t worked out because I wasn’t British enough for him, since he always took great pains to explain things that I already knew.  But he had no idea what I knew, or that I’d been a politics major at UCLA; that I could pick up a conversation about the life and culture and the political climate in most jurisdictions, sometimes better than the locals who actually had voting rights.

Then at one point, he made reference to commentary by a comedian and paused and askedDo you know who Michael Palin is?

For a moment, I was too stunned by the question to answer.  For a moment, I wondered about what kinds of Americans he knew; about who didn’t know who Michael Palin was; who hadn’t been brought up on Monty Python; who hadn’t…

Nevermind.

It was funny.  Funny-strange.

Then we finished our gin and tonics (I was never a gin drinker until recently), and we headed over to the restaurant to meet our friends at a wonderful restaurant.  D and I were seated and waited for N and R to arrive.  N arrived first.

N and I had both arrived from New York that morning — his trip had been quick and I teased him about never calling me when he travelled.  But once R arrived, the conversation quickly turned to other things. Throughout our dinner, we laughed and chatted, and then got to talking about sporting events.  There was talk of golf, and cricket, and yoga, and rugby, and tennis — especially tennis — as D had been at Wimbledon a few weeks prior.

D had a friend — an American friend from his university days — whom he’d visited in Chicago during the Ryder Cup last year, and whose name escapes me now.  And when the subject of Wimbledon came up, he brought up this friend again.

Why do you Americans call it “Wimpledon”?

Excuse me?  It was another question that stunned me into silence.  Wimpledon??

Yes, Wimpledon.  

The table agreed that there was some transatlantic disconnect between the British and American pronunciations of the name for the tournament played annually at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club.  They further agreed that Americans pronounced their “T”s with a “D” sound, which was true, but beside the point.  The point was…Wimpledon.

I didn’t know what to say, or do, except to issue a firm denial.  I had, a year or two prior, briefly dated an Irish guy (recall: Chip Pringle) who had been a standout junior tennis player in Ireland when he was young, and was currently a member at the aforementioned club.  He had never commented, one way or another, on my pronunciation of Wimbledon, but then again, that was maybe the difference between the Irish and the English.

Taking care not to say the name of the tournament, I continued to deny that the American tongue could be so clumsy.  And D, N, and R continued to insist that Wimpledon was A Thing.

The situation did not resolve, but it was no impediment to a wonderful night with people I truly adore.  We finished the dinner and parted ways in the lovely London evening.  It was close, and hot, and dry, and clear — just like it had been last summer when we were in Portugal together.  And it seemed that any distance between us — through time, or space — was irrelevant to our friendship.  The only thing that separated us was a common language.

I just need to get through this last afternoon meeting, and then I will have dinner with D.

My meeting runs long and I am running late.  I message D to let him know, and he counters with That girl is here — what’s her name — the Canadian.  You’re better with this stuff than I am.

I know the woman instantly, but I cannot recall her name, except that it begins with an “A.”  She is a friend of a friend of his. This amuses me to no end, and I hurry out of the office, toddling out on to the Mayfair cobbles on my tall, wrecked heels.

I arrive at the restaurant, which we’ve been to before, and I meet D in the bar.  We like places we’ve been to before.

Did you see her??  I told her I was meeting you and she said, Oh, I thought you two broke up!

I guffaw.  We had dated briefly two years ago, and have remained close friends.  Our manner together is that lovely and sometimes uncertain ease that comes when it’s long over, but you still like and respect each other, and, besides, you’ve got mutual friends.  I have occasionally complained about this whole situation, as if I aspire to change it, but the honest-to-God truth is: I haven’t ever had any real qualms with the status quo.

If I had, I would’ve changed something.

I’ve learned this: men and women really can be friends — even after they have seen each other naked; even if they’ve shared sweet nothings and intimate moments.

As it turns out, there is life after sex.

D and I catch up on the basics, and we joke, and he says, in reference to something I’ve said:

So they’ve left no skeleton unturned — er no stones — er, no skeletons under any stones?

No stones in any closets? I counter.

Here, we say cupboards, he rejoins sternly, Unless, I suppose, you’re coming out of one.  In which case, it’s a closet.

So what you’re saying is that in the UK, only homosexuals have closets?

We dissolve into giggles.  The thing I’ve always loved about D is that we make each other laugh.  And he makes me laugh at myself.

We move from the bar to a proper dinner.  By this point, four people have joined the Canadian outside, but we do not say hello.  We (by which I mean “I”) decide to allow irksome speculation as to the non-status of our relationship.  We go upstairs, where the waitress tries to hurry us along in ordering, and as a result, horribly bungles our order.  We try for bruschetta, instead she tries for proscuitto, and then charcuterie, which they are out of, and we wind up with a pizza and salad as a starter.

At this point, we take what we are given.

It is the same as always; the same as it ever was — which is surprisingly lovely in an era of change.

But then midnight is creeping upon us, and we realise how much we’ve had to drink — which is something that always happens.  We part ways in the springtime night.

Which direction am I walking?  Do you want a lift?  he asks.  I point him in the correct direction.

No, I’m just down the street, I reply.  And he looks confused.

Let me know when you arrive at your destination, he says.

I walk back, and let him know when I am safely flopped in bed.  And it is strange, because suddenly, I am aware of how how much has changed since the weekend two years ago when he convinced me to come back from Edinburgh.  We were both new at everything then — we had both begun new jobs; we had both undertaken new lives.  Now it seems we are much more confident in all we are doing.

Despite my best efforts to box him into the category of Things That Have Stayed The Same In an Era of Change, we, too have changed.  And I suppose that is not a bad thing after all.

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 7th: Feast: Hopefully you’ve had more than one spectacular meal in 2012, but what is the first that comes to mind?  Were you surrounded by family at the dining room table?  Sitting on a bench by the lake?  Bring us there.

I’ve had a lot of great meals this year.  Some were fantastic because of the food; some were wonderful because of the company.  Many of them were near-Bacchanalian and expensive and winesoaked, and were probably not as good as I remember them, but because my recall is shaded in a grapey fondness, everything seems glorious in retrospect.

I think it was in January that D and I had dinner at Hakkasan — the one in Mayfair.  While the place is more remarkable for its scene than it’s food, the dinner was rather late-night so the restaurant was quiet.  The meal was excellent.  I went back the following month for a business dinner and literally fought someone over shards of caramelly Peking duck.

And then in one of the rare times that I’ve cooked this year, Winesday had our Burns’ Night at my house.  It was a small, weird affair, but I’ve discovered that of the things I can cook — and cook relatively well — British food seems to be within my repertoire.  Though this seems not to sit well on the American palate (i.e., my horrorshow vegetarian haggis was not…a hit, though my cullen skink did not seem to fare badly.)

However, the meal was great because we laughed all night.  And because I am a sucker for plaid.

Strand + pudding = bliss.
Strand + pudding = bliss.

I eat at great restaurants all the time.  I live in New York City; I travel for business.  My friends are foodies, and while I would hardly consider myself one, I have the benefit of their expertise.

I would say, though, that one of the most memorable meals I had was when we were in Portugal.  There was nothing memorable about the lunch N, R, D, and I had, except that it was piles and piles of seafood — stacked up on the table and extremely fresh.  Sardines, freshly caught and grilled to order.

The story of the Lisbon trip, by the way, is slightly more complicated than lunch or dinner.  R had invited me to come along with them after we’d had dinner one night in the spring.  And I’d cleared it with D:  That’s not going to be…weird, is it?

Why would it be weird? he replied, as if I’d asked the stupidest question in the world.

(When someone deciphers the emotional makeup of the 40-something-year-old British man-boy, please call me.  I will pay cash money in your currency of choice for that cracked code.)

So we walked around hot, sunny Lisbon all day; baked our skins in the sun.  Then we stumbled upon a cafe where the proprietor spoke little English and we spoke less Portuguese and we tried to order a selection of fish for a late lunch.  It was presented — grilled, salted, oiled, lemon’d — and we tucked in.

Later that night, we had dinner in an old water tower up on a hill.  The meal was tapas, and fabulous — each bite more exquisite than the last.  The wine flowed freely, and the company was excellent.  Then we stumbled into taxis and went back to the dusty concert venue to watch The Cure play under the starry Portuguese sky.

There were no good pix of lunch or dinner. This was the only non-blurry one of us at the concert that evening.
There were no good pix of lunch or dinner. This was the only non-blurry one of us at the concert that evening.

It was a memorable day.  A memorable evening; a memorable suite of fish and sea and dust and laughter and music in the open night air.  Everything tastes good under those circumstances.

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 1: Where it began: Review and reflect – how did 2012 begin for you? Tell us how the year kicked off; start your renewal by beginning again.

I woke up on the New Year in Melbourne, Australia, in summertime weather, having perhaps enjoyed a wee bit too much whisky the night prior.

IMG-20120101-00277After the glitter of hugs and kisses and swooning under the swell of auld lang syne had faded, the actual work of the new year had to begin.

Which it did: With a sunburn and a hangover.  And a trip to the beach.

kneesFor the first time in my life, I had no real object, no resolution, except to Begin Again.  There was no Peak Moment ahead; no milestone birthday; no Feat of Strength on the docket.  And it was weird to be exposed for being without an identifiable angst to which to channel my proposed achievements or my malingering anger about other things.  I was, in a way, stripped of all of the things I’d once fussed over and put between me and the world.  In other words, my ship had washed ashore at St Kilda and I was a naked, shipwrecked sailor — free, finally, to Begin.

I’d always been drawn to the water, and as Jade and I sat at the water’s edge on New Year’s day, I said: Let’s go in.  We waded into the waves.  It was a purifying ritual in which we had engaged many times — whenever we were in doubt, we always headed to the nearest body of water.  We’d done it years earlier in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark on the day we were clearing out the pain built up around my divorce.  On New Year’s Day, though, we didn’t know that we were bathing to make room for challenges to come.

So we were both guarded and naked.  To the extent that one can be those things on a public beach.

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(While I normally have an objection to bathing suit pictures, I was recently told that my 50something self is going to be furious with my 30something self for not posting more bikini pictures on the internet…)

So I suppose this year has been about The Beginning — being (or feeling) free to finally start living.

And that, too, was how this month began.  I’d flown to London from Hong Kong and while I should’ve been asleep in the wee hours of this morning, I was still awake.  So I took a bath.

I stepped out of the water for a moment when I realised I’d made it far too hot.  And I lingered over a stack of books on the desk.  My hotel in London is notorious for stuffing the rooms full of dusty tomes, and also for its weird taste in mirrors on the walls.  I caught a glimpse of myself at the desk reading and laughed.  So I messaged my best friend:

Am completely naked sitting at my desk in London, reading the Oxford Book of English Verse.  

Then I got back into the bath and was finally able to sleep for a few hours.

Later today, I went to lunch with D.

We’ve been here before, yes? he asked me as I looked around the restaurant.  Indeed we had been.

But that was a long time ago now.

We were sharing stories of our recent adventures, and he was telling me the tale of a friend who was celebrating his 40th birthday away from his family.  The guy’s kids and wife had called him on Skype to wish him a happy birthday — and the 3 year old son had popped into the call and then had disappeared.

Let me guess, when he came back into frame he was stark naked?! I snorted, anticipating the ending.

Yep.  And he said, Say hello to Mr Penis.

Clothing is overrated anyway, I giggled.

Yes it is, he agreed.

We dined together for the next few hours before he drove me back across town, and I collected my bags then went to the airport.  It was the first time in a long time that D had driven me anywhere — perhaps since that day that he’d picked me up at King’s Cross after he’d convinced me to come back from Edinburgh.

I suppose that this all goes back to the point of how this year began, though, which is that it began mostly naked, half-submerged, open to possibility.

It seemed funny, suddenly, that beginnings and endings were all smashing together at once — flotsam; jetsam; bits of debris crashing on the shore.   The year began where the last had ended and where the next would begin, and the thing to do was to strip down to essentials — get naked — and dive in.

What a long, strange (couple) of week(s) this has been!  And I have been somewhat of a failure as a writer, but that is the nature of the beast of having an active Real Life in the Third Quarter.

I was in California visiting family at the end of August/beginning of September (as you know), then at the end of the Summer holiday weekend, I made my way to LAX, then London.  I was in London for a week or so, save for a day in Amsterdam.  My trip to the UK culminated in my dear friend D’s 40th birthday party:

It was all good fun!  (I’m standing next to my friend R in the striped top.)
D’s friend the Baron got a little TOO friendly at one point, and someone “borrowed” my phone and tweeted this picture from MY account. (NOT funny, dude.)
Me with the Birthday Boy. There was also a really funny picture of the two of us with him holding off the Baron with one hand.  Also, it’s not personal…I lean away from everyone in every photo. 

It was a fun night, until the party moved from the pub to a rooftop club.  I looked around and lasted about five minutes before I called a taxi and went home.  By which I mean, my home away from home.

The next day, I left London in the mid-afternoon, not much worse for the wear. 

On the plane, because it was a Saturday, I kicked back into my seat and flipped on the in-flight entertainment system.  When I travel, I usually work on the plane, or I write.  But the week had been successfully busy, so I decided upon movie-watching instead of work, and my brain was too fried to write.  However, the best of all of my terrible cinematic choices was The Five Year Engagement.

The movie wasn’t good.  But the soundtrack was: it was entirely classic Van Morrison — an awesomely cultivated playlist; stuff I would’ve picked out, if I were putting together a collection of Van Morrison songs.  I have loved Van Morrison since I was sixteen and lugging a portable CD player on trains in Spain; since I was a university student interning in Washington, missing her boyfriend and playing Into the Mystic on repeat.

Anyway.  I fell asleep watching the film, the bulky, noise cancelling headset over my ears; mask over my eyes.  At some point, though, I began to wake up in the dark on the flight in a somewhat-sensorily deprived stupor, with nothing but the sound of the movie being pumped into my head.  And it was a point in the film where there was only music playing.

That was when it got…weird.  I had absolutely no idea where I was.  In my tired, slightly hungover state, I was waking up in the pitch black to Sweet Thing in my ears, convinced it was 2009.  Sweet Thing had been the soundtrack to the end of my marriage.  It was the song of things that were over. 

At that moment, and under those circumstances, I burst into…Big Crying.

As the tears came, I began to feel the mask on my face, and suddenly was able to place where I was and what was happening.  But by then it was too late.  The flight attendant came tearing over — from the sound of it, I think he thought I was getting sick.

Are you okay? he said.  At least, that’s what I think he said in his somewhat unintelligible Scottish accent.

I’m sorry, I said, I just. I don’t know. I’m divorced and Monday is my wedding anniversary and I woke up not knowing where I was

I didn’t mention the part about waking up thinking it was 2009.

He was very kind.  And brought me a bottle of water.  The flight eventually landed, with only one further incident (this one related to landing in a storm, not some crazy American divorcee with a penchant for Van Morrison), and then I made my way back to my New York home.

The thing is this: anniversaries are hard even if you were the one who left.  And while I am surprising even myself with how Okay I am beginning to feel, there are still moments that are so surprising and painful they take my breath away.

But they come, and then they go.  Bittersweet things.