Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A hard decision

I've always wanted my public persona to be Brave and Strong. I think anything other than Brave and Strong wasn't really respected in our house when I grew up.  It's a hard habit to shake. It's like the time I went out with the boy scouts, aged 9, without shoes on, running in the woods with the boys because I wanted them to be impressed. Stung by nettles and cut by wild blackberries, I soldiered on, head held high. Ridiculous, I know. I mean, generally, I am pretty brave. I deal with stuff, especially emergencies, and then collapse a few days later and stay in bed for the day.  I'm really, really good in emergencies. But sometimes you have to make a decision that maybe you wouldn't have made a few years ago and today I made such a decision. I resigned an account (fired a client) who, though a brilliant genius, was making my life a Living Hell. I've been beating myself up about it. I kept thinking it was me. If I could just be better, or more clever, things would get better, but they didn't. Our communication was horrible. And for all the accolades and all the Oscar nominations, it was no-one's fault. It was just like a shitty marriage. And better to know that now than later. But it's sad, nonetheless. I've worked with a lot of creative geniuses in my life, and it's all about the fit, the chemistry. If it works, you can deal with anything.

I told my daughter today and I was worried about it. I know she holds me in high esteem and I know that she is proud of my job and the things I get to work on. She said the greatest thing. She said, "That's great. Proud of you for doing that." That, really, was all that mattered.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Why it's important to show up at the airport (and why I'm not going to)


I plaster this all over my Instagram feed whenever I'm feeling it, hoping that the sheer declaration of the fact will make the thing go away. It doesn't. Not ever. But I keep trying. Perhaps we are pre-programmed for this kind of stuff, attracted to it (absent father etc.), however messed up that sounds. Perhaps I was spoiled in my marriage (I was). But for whatever reason, I fell in love, head over heels in love, Charlotte Bronte in love, with a kind, good, sweet, brilliant man, for whom I never felt like a priority, and it has been killing me, methodically, for a year.  It has taken every shred of my self-confidence and rendered me quite plucked chicken-like in my visage. Goosebumpy and frail and nodding and rather a sad representation of the bonnie, smiley, jolly person I think I am.

I am utterly wretched today, two days before he is supposed to come here and until last night, I didn't know for sure that he had a ticket. It's this thing I'd been looking forward to since November and now it's almost here and I don't want it. Out of somewhere, God knows where, I conjured up a tiny shred of self-respect and realized, no more, no way José. Most people would say, pull yourself together, you can't have everything. But it didn't work on so many levels: emotionally and logistically. He lives in London; I live in LA. It's been a year and in that year I think I've felt shitty about 100 times. That may be the amount of times we've broken up, or rather, the amount of times I've tried to get out of it, but he's always pulled me back in because although he doesn't want to be in it, he doesn't want to be without it (wow, that makes a girl feel good). And romantic, yes I suppose so, if you like that kind of histrionic interplay. Romantic in a slapstick farcical comedy kind of way. Romantic in a just short of getting out the knives and the poison arrows kinda way. Romantic in a Game of Thrones kinda way without the fur and snow.

But no, not romantic. Actually shitty. Actually day to day shitty. They (he) are not there. You can't see them or touch them. You can't work out differences with a kiss or a hug or talk face to face. The time is off. All of it is just shitty.

And so, today, when I realized that this normally optimistic, happy person (me, in case you wondered, because I'd been wondering lately) had become someone who could hardly get out of bed, and when my voice faltered so much I could hardly leave a phone message for my best friend, I realized that


Love isn't enough. Actually you need kindness and forgiveness and empathy and then more kindness. Also, you need flowers. Let's be honest ;-) girls need to be sent flowers, at least once...

I've bored my friends with the drama. He's bored his friends with the drama.
We can't even make it into the same room at the same time.

My girlfriend called me back, and she is Welsh and lovely and practical, and she said, "it's enough now, babe. It's enough. This is not good for you. I don't like hearing you like this. There are other people and they will love you and you will be fine, but it is enough now, enough pain. I'm going to come over for tea and bring you some ham and bean soup, okay?"

And last time I went to London, he didn't come to meet me at the airport. Had I mentioned that?

I thought about that for a while. I didn't write about it then because it was so acutely embarrassing to admit, as if I'd humiliated myself somehow, at the altar of love. (I don't care how badly you treat me, you're just forgetful/an absent-minded professor/there was a misunderstanding). And one thing like that doesn't really add up to much, does it? We can forgive individual occurrences. I've done awful things and reacted badly when in truth the email got caught in spam, or I didn't listen to a voicemail. But it's the consistency of the not showing up that erodes one's affection. (He would say that my going ballistic erodes his affection). And in the end, you find yourself at Christmastime, when everyone around you is smiling and loved, feeling quite small and alone. He didn't come to the airport. This is what stays with me. The feeling of being at Heathrow after an eleven hour flight, exhausted but giddy, the excitement swelling up inside of you, just waiting to see that smiling face, and then they're not there.

I took a cab to my best friend's house in Tooting, and cried the whole way, and told the cab driver the whole story, poor man, and there she was with tea and chocolate digestives, while I wailed and their Norfolk Terrier looked at me, curiously. (This is why I love my girlfriend: I see her now standing at the island in the middle of the kitchen with a concerned look on her sweet face while I became hideously redfaced and snotty). And then, just a few days later, we dance in her kitchen, he and I, like it had never happened. I question it myself sometimes but then I look at the photographic evidence and I see the way he looks at me and for a moment I feel not quite so crazy, that maybe for a few minutes, when we were dancing, he was in fact in it with me.

Or how we'd walk after dinner, at midnight, in the cold, his arm in mine, and always see foxes. (For people who live in London, this is commonplace and foxes are vermin. For me, it was magic.)

This wasn't just another thing. This was constantly with me, like a little bright shadow in my peripheral vision. Everything I did was marked by it. Everything. I fell so hard. Tumbled into it and kept tumbling, with this flickering light always there, in my dreams and in my waking, all the time, and especially in the time between sleeping and waking, the time when the magic happens, there it was. This was Big Love, the kind you read about.

It feels quite foolish, really. And untoward. You shouldn't tumble head over heels at my age, and certainly not with someone who isn't tumbling too, or at least not tumbling at your rate of knots. He's a slow tumbler, a measured tumbler. A careful tumbler. He calls me by pet names and I fall for it. Yep.

But then there was that time when I was leaving when he grabbed me and kissed me so hard on the mouth and told me that did in fact love me too, and he wouldn't let go and his body was shaking. And I believed it because I wanted to.

He didn't come to the airport.

"I just want one thing: not to be alone in this." I said this at the beginning.

You see, love is the opposite of fear. Love is kind. Love isn't drama or abuse or fighting or waiting for a returned phone call or wondering what's going to happen next. Love is the quiet confidence that someone has your back, is there for you, is willing to drop everything to be with you. Love is texting your ex-husband and saying "I'm not doing very well" (as I did this morning) and getting a text back that says "I can be there in 25 minutes." That is love.

Love isn't the loved-upness of spending three days with someone and experiencing the endorphins. Love is the three days afterwards when you can feel that they are still there with you even if you can't reach out and touch them. The flurry of emails. The texts that say, I can't bear that you're not here. The signs you count on to make you feel you're not in it alone. Just please, don't let me be in this alone, you say.

But you are.

At Thanksgiving, my friends Fred (who is the man who brings me Cadbury's chocolate) and Cindy came over for tea. Fred, who's in his sixties, lost his beloved wife nearly two years ago and decided, very bravely, to go out and look for love in his life again, and he found Cindy, who is smiley and twinkly and adores him. Fred has liver cancer and his prognosis isn't terribly good. They sat across from my mother and me with their cups of tea, looking intently at the other as they spoke, touching hands, linking arms, laughing. Maybe that is perfect love, when you know that your time is limited and how precious each moment is. I'd never seen anything like it before. A completely kind and harmonious unit. The sweetest thing. My mother and I were so very moved by it.

As hard as it is to give this up (and I have given it up many times before), it's time to do so, and I will be sad about it. This man is lovely. But we are not good for each other. We are a perfect storm. We are absolutely doomed. There is nothing else that can be done.

I get locked in a box. Between my work and this, I get locked in and I can't express myself, and I forget this place, this blog, a place to express things. I forget to write. I forget I can write. I forget my voice. My whole axis revolves around this obsession with perfect love, that never can be. The drug is longing. For as long as I can remember. Longing. Now is that any way to live?

The new year starts in a couple of days. Let's make it a good one. There is too much good in the world not to try to experience it without fear. It's a new fresh year. Even the sound of it is optimistic: two thousand and fifteen.

So, I'm not going to the airport. (He doesn't read this. I'm just putting it out there in the universe.) Because he didn't come to the airport for me.

Advent (For Camilla and Beatrice)

One last, silvered leaf fails to fall
from its tree. A hard year's winter
has frozen your voice.

                            You would still rejoice
if you could sing, in your listening church –
where candles thrill to their endings,
light's brave lovers – gold carols
this dark Advent;
                     the hurt heart harkening:

Lo! He comes with clouds descending.

But there is the descant moon
over our scarred world, its cold, pure breve,
and you will sing to your child
                                  on Christmas Eve.


"Advent" appears in The Twelve Poems of Christmas: Volume Six, selected by Carol Ann Duffy (Candlestick Press, £4.95).


Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel,

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

-- Thomas Hardy


Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Coming of Light

A poem for the winter solstice (h/t Michelle Hush)

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light. 
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves, 
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows, 
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine 
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.
-- Mark Strand