On the surface, this Christmas Eve doesn’t look much different than my Christmas eve last year. I am living in the same flat, in the same town, and working the same job. Nothing much has changed. I even drove to the same Portuguese market that I drove to last year, for wine, cheese, and sweets.
But last year, on that 20 minute drive to the market, I cried. A lot. A few weeks prior, I had parted ways with someone I’d been in love with for a year. We were supposed to spend Christmas together. I cried because I imagined the car loaded with wine, cheese, an overnight bag, and sweet little presents for him. Instead, I was in my gym clothes, killing time with pointless errands, and going to buy wine for parties I wasn’t even sure I’d have the energy or heart to attend.
Today on the drive, I was in my gym clothes again, but I was smiling. The slightly fuzzy scenes from a truly proper date last night were coming into focus, making me giggle every few miles or so. (I mean, I took a fucking saber to a bottle of Champagne like a goddamn pro, you guys!) I was smiling too, because I knew I’d come so far from the heartache of last Christmas.
2016, as hard as it was, and still is, blessed me with time and space to heal from the hell that my 2015 was. This hasn’t been a great year, (we all seem to agree on that!) but I’ll take it. I made some dear new friends, and was safe in the company of old friends who are just always fucking there somehow, waiting with love and patience that I hardly feel worthy of. But I’ll take that too, with so much gratitude, that I do not show enough.
As I write this, a sweet friend of mine is napping on my couch after having a wretched, horrible day that nobody, especially her, deserves. I’m grateful that I am healed enough from my heartaches to help her through hers. Even in our blessed and comfortable, “first world” lives, pain like this needs and deserves love and attention. Especially today, when there is so much pressure to be joyful for the holidays.
Happy holidays friends new and old. I love you all.
Prepping for the possibility that I will collapse, alone, in my apartment. Neurotic and unoriginal for a woman my age? Sure. But it is largely out of consideration for the person that finds me, (likely my landlady), as well as the person who will have to fetch personal belongings for my hospital stay (likely my brother, IT Guy). So I do my best to keep my flat an acceptable level of clean and organized. Besides, if this morbid fantasy medical emergency kills me, I guarantee you that Ghost-Louise will haunt the person who cleans out the fridge in an attempt to apologize for the month-old soup leftovers, which I think we can all agree is super lame for a ghost.
I’m really good at:
Condiments. All the condiments in my fridge are active condiments.
Making soup. I’m soup-er jazzed about experimenting with citrus in my soups this fall!
The six things I could never do without
A box of tissues. My brother says I cry a lot.
A spoon for peanut butter.
Alcohol. Or I’d have to move to a cabin in the woods in Maine.
Xanax. For those times when day drinking isn’t socially acceptable (or allowed at work).
Complete and total autonomy.
I spend a lot of time thinking about:
How I once said to my therapist “well at least I’m not a serial killer!” to which she thoughtfully (almost too thoughtfully?) replied, “well that is certainly a valid point, considering your childhood.”
What I’m going to eat next.
Moving to cabin in the woods in Maine.
Whether I’m that chubby girl who gives a BJ on a second date so guys will like me, or if I’m just a liberated, slightly perverted, sex positive woman.
On a typical Friday night I am
Trying to dodge plans so I can go home, eat soup, and work on my birding bucket list.
At a bar, not talking to you because:
I’m not attracted to you.
I’m attracted to you.
You’re talking to the tall blond types, ignoring me completely, which is your loss because this average height, 43 year old brunette pear has the breasts and the vaginal tone of a 25 year old.
I hate talking, strangers, and bars.
Recent books I’ve read:
“I Feel Bad About My Neck” – Nora Ephron
“How to Build Your Own Spaceship: The Science of Personal Space Travel” – Piers Bizony
The most private things I’m willing to admit:
I once fell asleep eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
You should NOT message me if you:
Are 22, and are looking for a cougar experience.
Are 22 and want to have a threesome, but have gravely underestimated the imagination of a 43 year old woman, and, subsequently, you cannot handle her suggested variations on the theme.
Think a first message about licking my asshole is a good strategy.
Have a user name that starts with “Tongue4Use”.
Have a user name that ends with “69”, EVEN IF THAT IS YOUR BIRTH YEAR, perv.
Are holding something dead in your profile picture.
Are wearing a ski mask (or any mask, really) in your one and only profile pic.
In early May, I drove to Maine, alone, for a much needed weekend of hiking in the mountains. My Favorite Niece, ever perceptive and generous, was largely responsible for making this happen. When I had a last minute car issue, she called upon our friend, Sugar Pumpkin, to help me sort it out, then off I went. I promised to repay them both somehow, but all they asked for was a blog post. So this is for them. A little late, and I owe them something funny eventually, but I had to get this out of my system first.
More often than not, May is not my month. The unexpected loss of my father 16 years ago left its mark. And every May since, with the background reset (cue the lilacs) I brace for the worst. In doing so, I subconsciously create chaos, or consciously cut my losses. Or, in a really bad May, I do both.
Last May, was one of those really bad ones. I moved suddenly, lost a friendship, and abruptly ended a relationship with a man I was madly in love with.
The chaos didn’t end there. In the months that followed, there were more changes, both positive and negative. In July, I lost my job, and it was awful. In August, I reunited with the man I was still madly in love with, and it was bliss. In September, I went back to work. In October, I moved again. Then, in November, with hardly a warning, the relationship ended for good, with an “I can’t do this” email, from him.
It could have been worse. Each drama, on its own, was “no disaster“, as Elizabeth Bishop put it in “One Art”, her poem about loss.But the frequent upheaval and disappointments were exhausting. It was like 6 months of May.
The external chaos finally ended in December. I was glad for the arrival of winter, and the way it demands less of us here in New England. Bewildered and dizzy from the year, I took stock. What remained of my life was exactly what I needed to recover: a place of my own, with a claw foot tub; a low stress job in a blessedly quiet office; and an abundance of free time and autonomy. But I also had more sadness and anger than I knew what to do with.
I wish I could tell you that I spent the winter drinking tea, reading Brene Brown and journaling, but it didn’t happen that way. Managing the dips of sadness, the peaks of anger – and the numbness in between – preoccupied me. In these first couple of months, my attempts at self-care were halfhearted, and short lived. I was angry at myself – enough so that I did not believe my wounds deserved attendance, or, that my bad decisions, forgiveness.
At the very least, I understood the healing power of time. In those first months of winter, waiting was the best I could do. So I welcomed snow storms, watched Netflix, and took long baths in my claw foot tub while reading entire issues of Vanity Fair. On weekends, I drove to nearby towns where no one knew me, and walked, or read books in local coffee shops. I ate ice cream, and drank bourbon. Neither tasted like love, but they came close.
After a couple months, when I felt ready to unpack it all, I called my old therapist and got to work. With her help, and with the love of my truest friends, I began to snap out of it. I watched my appetite for things other than ice cream and bourbon come back – like being outside. In April, I woke up one Saturday, drove three hours north, hiked a mountain, then got in my car and drove right back. I was sore for days, but it felt like a start.
It was nearly mid-May when I drove to Maine. I took me until then to remember the May-curse. I was five hours into a drive that was supposed to take four, and frustrated. There had been traffic, then dense fog followed by heavy rain. At hour five, Google Maps estimated another twenty-five minutes to my hotel.
But it didn’t factor in the frogs. The last twenty mile stretch of road happened to be through a marshy, wild area that is prime frog habitat. When it rains, and especially in the spring, frogs often leap onto roads looking for warmth, or food, or sex. I had forgotten about the phenomenon, despite witnessing it on prior trips north.
The road I was on was alive with frogs. There were so many. But there wasn’t anything I could do to avoid hitting them. I was on a two lane road in an area called – I kid you not – the “Unorganized Territory of South Oxford”. It was pitch black. There was no alternate route, nowhere to pull over, no friendly country cafe to pause in. And besides, the rain wasn’t ending anytime soon. There was no sense in stopping.
So I drove and squished a thousand frogs. I cringed constantly, and kept reflexively yelling “Sorry!” to them. I whispered “what the fuck?”, over and over again. I wondered what it all meant, the traffic, the fog, the rain – and now frogs? Was this another “fuck you” from the universe? Was this the start of another cursed May?
It took me 45 minutes to drive the remaining 20 miles.
The next morning, with coffee in hand and hiking shoes on, I drove on dry roads to a trail head, and thought about the frogs. I felt for them. I mean, I went looking for warmth and food and sex (well, love) last year, and I too got crushed. But I stopped this line of thought when I remembered my new policy against self-pity, and my old policy against anthropomorphism.
And did every last thing need to be a reminder of him?
Or of my shitty year?
On my first hike of the day, I admitted that it was simply a mix of decisions and timing that brought me to that road. Not to mention other factors beyond my control, like weather – or the civil engineering that went into cutting a road through a marshy forest.
While hiking, I also realized that the factors that had me murdering frogs the night before were the same factors that brought me to the wild, beautiful, breathtaking waterfall I’d just reached. The difficult drive wasn’t symbolic of anything other than the fact that life is sometimes chaos, and sometimes calm. We might think we’re in control, but we just barely are. Things can fall apart in a heartbeat, and we can wreck them in one too. My year was one long lesson in that.
When May ended, I realized that I managed to not fuck anything up, consciously or subconsciously. One bad drive aside, it was a good month, though I can’t explain why. Maybe the spell is finally broken. Maybe therapy works. Maybe going away helped. Maybe I’d finally mastered “the art of losing”. Time will help me figure it out. Right now though, I’d rather move forward, and not worry too much about being squished again.
I had what I’m pretty sure was a migraine this morning. It wasn’t so bad that I left work, but bad enough that I was planning my escape if the nausea, dizziness and throbbing pain took a turn for the worse. A few ibuprofen, and a chicken soup delivered by my coworker, The Ninja, helped a lot. The waves of nausea and pain came and went all afternoon, but each crest, while still pretty uncomfortable, was lower than the previous one.
By 4pm I started to feel the exhaustion that follows a migraine. It was around that time that I started hearing rumors of 2 hour waits at my polling place, which, with the way I was feeling, filled me with dread.
The rumors were true. A few people I know waited over 2 hours. At least one person I know had to give up, heartbroken after 2 attempts with two young children in tow. It was her first time ever missing an election. It would be one thing if the 2 hour wait was expected, but it wasn’t. People didn’t know to plan accordingly.
And yes, I’m complaining. I’m grumpy. And I suppose if I was feeling better physically, I might feel differently about the situation. But maybe not. Shouldn’t this process be easier and more accessible for everyone than it was tonight? Won’t lines like this discourage people from voting next time? As I write this, at 9pm, there are 600 people waiting to vote at a polling station in Providence. Most have families to take care of, I’m sure. And jobs in the morning. What must they be thinking?
That said, I’m still grateful. I know waiting 2 hours, even 4 hours in line is nothing compared to what citizens of other countries go through to exercise their right to vote. That is, if they even have that right. I walked 10 minutes to my polling place, not 10 miles, or 10 days.
I take heart in the fact that, in our country, something like this won’t get swept under the rug. We won’t let it. And something will change because of our ability to voice our opinions, to petition, to gather, and to have access to our chosen leaders. I know it’s not a perfect system or government. But we are still lucky, and I never forget that, even when grumpy and complaining.
For some reason, my wait tonight was minimal because I got there just as they were letting the “R-Z’s” in. I had a ballot in my hand within 20 minutes, but I know some people who got there before me had been waiting over an hour. And were still waiting when I left. I felt bad about how quickly I got through, not glad, but what could I do? No one said much. The mood was a little tense, but civil, and quiet.
When I handed over my license to obtain my ballot, I felt even worse. The volunteer who took it looked tired, and overwhelmed. Like she didn’t sign up for the chaos. Like she didn’t want to be there. Like she needed a glass of wine. I made a point to smile at her, and thank her. She didn’t smile back, just nodded and her eyes moved to the person in line behind me.
Maybe it was the post migraine haze, but my visit there left me a little emotional. Something about the tension of the voters, and the exhaustion of the volunteers got to me. It was just very clear that everyone was determined to make it happen, regardless of the fact that it was poorly planned, and somewhat stressful.
I walked the long way home, in the cold, and counted some blessings. It’s now 9:30, and I’m still a bit grumpy. But hot soup and cheesy toast is in my near future, and I’m planting myself on the couch, under a blanket, in front of the TV as soon as I’m done writing this. I’m so tired, but you bet your ass I’m staying up as late as I can to see the results.
For the first time this year, I turned my heat on this morning. It was 44°F outside when I woke up, and about 45°F in my flat (at least that’s how it felt). I pulled on a sweater, turned the thermostat to 64°, and got the kettle going. While I waited for my tea, the clicking and clacking of the baseboards was soon followed by that smell of burning dust, assuring me that the heat was working.
In that moment, waiting for warm tea and warm air to cut through the chill, I thought what I’ve thought so many times this week: I’m so lucky to have these things.
The news about the aftermath of this storm is tough to read. People are in despair, and scared, and their lives and their towns will never be the same. My heart broke more than a few times this week. How could it not, when I read of a woman whose two children were swept away, or of how many elderly people died alone in their homes?
But my heart breaks here, far from the despair, in my now warm kitchen. In a house that only shook a little during the storm. In a town that fared well, considering.
So this morning, as we began preparations for out annual Guy Fawkes Party, I insisted we stop by the brand new, 2nd location of my favorite local coffee shop, Empire. They are having a soft opening this weekend, and are donating all menu sales to the Red Cross today, and Sunday too. CJ said he felt so lucky to have no flooding or damage, and wanted to do something for those who weren’t so fortunate.
We gave a little extra to Empire’s collection, and I just donated more, through the Red Cross website. Not bragging. Just hoping you’ll do the same. They sheltered nearly 7,000 people on Thursday night alone, have served 215,000 meals so far, and have provided “more than 5,000 health services” since the storm hit.
I don’t have much more to say about that. Just that I hope everyone stays safe and warm, and that you remember to count your blessings, and help where you can.
So my friends are headed to the New England Food Truck Festival, and I’m on the couch resting. I guess it’s weird that I don’t want to go. I mean, I do want to go. Who wouldn’t want to go to a place where there is a whoopie pie truck?
Eat a whoopie pie for me, friends.
But I had a busy week, and then a late night last night. Also, I agreed to do a little cheese mongering at Le Petit Gourmet this afternoon. So after sleeping late, and getting in a good, long walk on the Cliff Walk, I just need a little rest.
And besides, real foodies don’t go to festivals, silly! You know why? Because their lives are one long food festival.
This week, for example, I ate oysters, pissaladiere, saag paneer, a goat’s milk gouda, and much too much of a tarte aux pommes. I drank a really nice Chateauneuf du Pape, along with some other amazing reds from the Rhone region of France, thanks to my lovely friend Maria. (Check out her blog!) I also attended a wine class, at Newport Wine Cellar, where I tasted Cabernet Sauvignons from Spain, California and France.
And today? I’ll be handling, cutting and tasting cheeses for 5 hours. HEAVEN. Which will be followed by dinner with Weather Girl, The Welshman, and other good friends at the Buoy Street Country Club. We’re thinking strip steaks on the grill and some local potatoes or squash – you know, simple and comforting, nothing fancy. Maybe paired with one of those Cabs I tried this week…
I am at the little writing nook in my new place. It’s not much at the moment. The desk has some potential, but, like everything else in this dingy, partially furnished, third floor apartment, it needs help. The chair is uncomfortable, and does not fit the desk in size or style. The lamp is hideous, an inexplicable combination of cheap blue ceramic with a purple velvety shade. It gives terrible light, but is fine for now.
In fact, it’s all fine for now. And in time, it will get better.
In the 18 months since The Big Breakup, I’ve lived with others in 3 different places, all wonderful, but none of which were my own. I am a slow healer, and I see now that the places I stayed were baby steps to this one. Last summer, after her husband left, my sister told me she couldn’t see a future without him. I knew exactly what she meant. We invest so much in the story that we’ll always be with the one we love that the shock of another reality can almost be too much to bear. Break ups and divorces happen every day. Still, this doesn’t make it any less painful when you are faced with the task of creating an entirely new story for your future.
My new story came into frame slowly, and being here is a welcome new chapter. Living with other people, (good friends, in fact), helped me ease into living alone again. If these friends lost patience with me for my slowness in turning the page, and for “squatting” in their homes for so long, they never showed it. And oh how I love them for that.
Moving has stirred some things up for me. There’s been some melancholy for things that I’ve lost, but mostly I feel a peaceful awe that I made it here. I’m re-learning things about myself that I forgot, like that I can be a bit messy when no one is watching. Or that I can’t settle into a place without completely transforming the kitchen first.
There are new things I’m finding out about myself too.
Like my willingness to climb down from bed each morning to meditate on the rug, my body in the direction of the east facing window so that I can feel the sun’s warmth while I sit. For some reason, I’m less hesitant about meditating in this apartment than I’ve been anywhere else. I think it’s because this space feels more sacred to me because it’s “mine”, and because there is no threat of interruption.
I’m also finding that I have patience about what this place is now, and confidence in what it will be eventually. I used to feel mortally embarrassed when things in my home weren’t just so, but I guess years of therapy cured me of that (thank you Elizabeth!). At the moment my apartment is dark and spare and in desperate need of some painting and decorating. It’s far from cozy, but my friends haven’t said boo about it. Instead, they’ve shared glasses of wine with me among the mess, and helped me figure out what should go where.
Once the kitchen is to my liking, I’ll tend to my little writing nook. I’ll get a better chair, make sure all the knobs on the desk match, and will replace the terrible lamp with an attractive one. My refuge under the eaves will be transformed into a comfortable, inviting place to write.
February was a busy blur. The blog, as you can see, was neglected. Between working much more than usual, celebrating my birthday week, and searching for a new place to live, I barely had an extra minute to think, never mind write. My life was overbooked for 29 days, and I had to sacrifice some of the things I usually do daily to keep me balanced, like exercising, and writing. All of this left me exhausted, and with a cold that turned into what is now a painful sinus AND ear infection. Lovely.
Luckily, March is already slower and more manageable than February, and I have time tonight to write this post from a coffee shop that is a two minute walk from the apartment I found. Yes, I have a long list of projects, chores and things to buy to take my new place from grungy to cozy. But my priority is to get back to a place of balance, so these things will get done after I make time for the things that keep my healthy and happy, like walking, and writing.
One of my first goals for the apartment is to make a little nook for writing in the corner of my large living room, just as Stephen King suggests in his book On Writing. In it, he explains that for years he believed a writer’s desk should be a “massive oak slab that would dominate a room”. And so, when he could afford to, he bought the desk of his dreams and placed it in the middle of a large, sunny room. When he sobered up, and gained a better perspective on his writing and on life, he replaced the large desk with a smaller one, and placed it “in a corner under the eave.” He ends the chapter with these words:
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”
I like this, not because I need to be reminded to not think too highly of my writing “talent” – I know my strengths and weaknesses. I like it because “art” being a support system for life is exactly how I feel about my writing. It enriches my life, and I’m grateful to have found something I love to do, even if it only remains a hobby for the rest of my life.
If you haven’t read On Writing, you should. It is half memoir, half instruction on how to write. I read it ages ago, but am so glad I picked it up again. King is opinionated for sure, and he throws in an f-bomb pretty often to get his point across. But his opinions are well informed by his years of trial, error, practice, failure, and, of course, great success. And, in that spirit, all I can really say is he is so fucking spot on about how to approach the craft.
It is not my dream to make a profession of this. But King’s advice and encouragement are giving me the motivation I need to keep up this hobby that I love. And now that stupid February is over, I can get back to it. It is fun for me, and keeps me happy. And with nearly 10,000 hits in 6 months, I think I finally realize that you guys enjoy it too.