MAYBE SHE WAS lamenting a disappointing path in love, since corrected, or actually cleaning out her closet, but all I remember is saying to my sister, barely looking up from whatever I was doing at the time, “You have to let go of the rhinestones to make space for the rubies.” It was an offhand comment that has become something of a mantra for me.
A dear old friend and I used to always say that the key to advancing a crush (either getting the guy or getting over him) is “embracing the void.” It’s so hard to take up residence in that state of no texts, no emails, no calls — the bardo of love, I suppose (a bardo is a Tibetan Buddhist term for the state of nothingness between lives, during and in which all possibility exists; a seeming paradox that makes perfect sense) — but finding comfort in that distance can be essential to obtaining perspective on a situation. Could you discern, while tangled up in the action, which of the potential outcomes is best?
When I was first asked to write this series twelve weeks ago, I thought to decline until I noted the auspicious suggested start date of my birthday, an annual personal reckoning in which I examine every aspect of my life. I thought it might be a useful exercise to keep a diary of sorts, and that each column could focus on a particular lesson I’ve learned in the past year. As it has turned out, some of those lessons have been more recent than others.
More than anything this summer, I’ve learned that the determination to see things as “complicated” is a choice. Last night I was having dinner outside at a very chic restaurant in the company of a man who has appeared in one way or another in almost every one of these columns of mine, by happenstance or design. I try not to say too much because, in my favorite story involving him, as we were leaving another very chic restaurant months ago, he leaned down quite far, and then closer, until we were about eye level, and said, “You’re not going to blog this, are you?” And so I shan’t speak anymore of him, but I can say that in those hours of spirited discussion, I came to see something about myself that had eluded me all this time. My decisions, and so-called mistakes, things I may’ve long wished I’d done differently, are at peace now. I have such appreciation for the times when I took action, and I dared to ask for what I desired most. Now that I’m older, I try to be a bit more cognizant of the invitation that is extended to me by another, because you can be ready for the gig, or the romance, or the city, or the adventure, and all you dream of may not be quite there, poised to embrace. At least, not yet. And so I continue on my merry way, grateful for each day, appreciating good friends and nice company, and a blessed life.
I’m not sure that I want to live in New York, or that I want to keep doing my job, two questions that I’ve grappled with for the whole decade I’ve lived here, doing what I do. I thought I might gain more perspective on that quandary this summer, and it hasn’t yet materialized. I am comforted, though, by the insight of the clever minds around me, like the friend who turned to me this weekend on her unspeakably exquisite private beach on Shelter Island, and in response to some uncertainty that I’d expressed, said, “The thing about you is that I’d hear nothing at all for three weeks and you’d turn up married. You’d have met him, come to a mutual decision, and gone to the courthouse, just like that.”
I suppose it’s possible, as long as I keep some quality time free in my calendar. And, I do.
One year I was working a few days before Thanksgiving, late at night, when I realized that all of my clients knew that I had no partner, or children, or plans to be with my family, and that the chances of my receiving calls, emails and work requests then was quite high. Within an hour, I’d decided to go to Edinburgh, based on a picture I’d seen in a magazine and the fact that it was somewhat similar to, and yet far more affordable than, London. A day or two or later, I was there and spent a long, languid weekend doing nothing more than exactly as I pleased. I bought a leopard-print coat at a vintage shop, prowled used bookstores, saw some Titians, walked cobbled streets, and went to the opening night of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, after purchasing the last remaining single seat, front row and center. I was wearing the coat because it was colder than I’d expected it to be, and I was conspicuously alone in a sea of families. I hadn’t read the book, so I didn’t know that the play begins with a group of children putting on fur coats and discovering a fantasy world. At intermission, I bought some ice cream from the vendor passing through the theater, and noticed after a minute, some children staring at me openly. It occurred to me that they thought I’d figured it all out, in my coat, in the front row, eating ice cream.
Even though I might have felt like I’d abandoned my own mundane environs in search of something better, I saw that they were right. That broken heart I had tried to flee has healed. All those memories, they’re what gave me deep compassion for suffering, and gratitude for the soul-shattering beauty of every breath I take in this dazzling life.
I used to wish that I was an unremarkable girl, especially when it came to relationships. I was told more than once, by men who sought something less complex, that it might have helped. I don’t see my experience, or my intelligence, as baggage anymore. It’s a caravan.
Or as Nabokov, of course, put it much more aptly, and beautifully, in his Speak, Memory, “As a company of traveling players carry with them everywhere, while they still remember their lines, a windy heath, a misty castle, an enchanted island, so she had with her all that her soul had stored.”
And shine on.