There's a blizzard on today, and so I finally have time to think. Happy 2013, Snow Day. ***
I began 2012 in a terrible scramble to write. On the 11th of January, I'd be giving a reading at Real Art Ways. Years ago, in early 2008, I'd read a flyer with RAW's movie listings and decided it would be ok to move to Hartford. My last tether to New York-- the movie theaters where I'd sit and watch second-run indies, alone-- was no longer valid. I moved to Hartford, and four years later, I was on the flyer. I was a Real Art, or at least, on my way.
I read about airplanes and karaoke, I read about dogs and a lot of other things. The woman who introduced me reminded the room that I had a New Years' resolution to do one symbolic pull-up, something I'd never done.
I was all resolutions in January: the pull-up, mostly; but I also resolved to run twelve races, and write, and cook, and all of those things we all resolve every year, if not on January 1st then on other little days in our heads. Mostly I resolved to get to Zero. I had a to-do list three hundred items long, and dammit, I would blast them each away like a wizard poofing out knickknacks with the end of his wand.
By the end of January, after two weeks of vacation which I took alone in my apartment, I was down to four to-do's. I knew I would never get to zero because of a red coat. It badly needed to be relined; it was badly, badly tattered. Every time I put my arm in one sleeve it would end up somewhere I didn't intend. Along the back, or in the collar, or, most distressingly, once again in the open air. Pockets were worse. I'd put my keys or a wallet in and it would swim all around the coat, jangling along until it fell out hard on the floor of the bus or in Mark Twain's parlor. Luckily, all my stuff is loud. It smacks hard where it lands.
I knew that fixing up the coat required more steps than I could quickly execute; by the time I found a lining and a tailor I'd have more things to do. I gave up on zero. January ebbed, and the tidal wave of 2012 crashed in.
It was hedonistic from the start. I saw giant horse puppets shudder and die in Lincoln Center; I learned how to evaluate whiskey; I almost went to a Dr. Zhivago party in an old curtain factory, but then I didn't go, which is even more self-indulgent.
In February I remounted the Love-Chase, a play written by Twain's daughter Susy, and a bunch of little girls put on Susy's exact words in the exact spot where they were originally performed. At Syllable, the reading series, people read from their diaries and poems and I sang a song and thought this is how this series will always be. I ran my first race of the year: Cupid's Chase, around the park by my house, and I thought I will meet these resolutions. I am Cupid, and betterment is what I take aim at.
In March there were birthday parties and engagements. In March I was supposed to go to a Black Keys concert, but just before the train doors closed, we saw the dates on the tickets were wrong and we ran off, laughing, and got sangria instead. I had interns, I ran races up stairs, I had an improv coach. I wrote sketches. I fought forward. I ran the O'Hartford 5k, I ran the Fight for Air Climb. Three down.
In April, I found fantasy. My boss and I took a photoshop class and I faded together pictures of Beluga Whales; Eve Ensler shook my hand and the memory of who I was and what I'd believed when I was nineteen came thrilling back; I told stories at a fundraiser for a friend I'd known, even then, wouldn't live. I began practicing how to improvise a disaster-- ridiculous plane crashes and animal attacks, so that, come showtime, I'd be able to find myself a survivor. I wrote down "DISASTER #1" for the first rehearsal. I flew to Seattle and jumped in Puget Sound to prove I could handle the ice water. I was building myself, doing push-ups against the world, readying myself for the races.
By the time May came everything was real. I called Judy Blume on the phone, and I wrote a grant, and Sea Tea won a years' worth of Cage Matches. That night, I braided my hair for the Mudder-- that was my battle armor. Greg and I drove to Vermont and I was terrified.
The morning of the Mudder, I found myself standing in a pit of mud, my sister whispering, "go." She and my cousins and my brother hauled me over a wall. We swam through ice water, we climbed rocky hillsides. There was quite a lot of jumping and falling and crawling and swimming. There was mostly fear, resolve, and trying. I tried. I tried. I tried. I was never so happy to fail over and over; I was never so much a part of my family. Towards the end of our five-and-a-half-hour race, during which we agreed to not talk of the past or the future-- even so much as which obstacles were coming next-- I walked across a balance beam over a pool of ice water. I made myself not fall in. It took me forever. I made it. It was hard not to fall-- but it had also been hard to will myself to fall off a 30-foot platform earlier that day. Of course, falling on purpose has a different name: jumping.
I crawled back to Connecticut and it was still, miraculously, May. I ate lunch, I raced a week later to raise money for breast cancer. At a bachelorette party I destroyed a dirty pinata with what was left of my Mudder strength, while blindfolded. We went to a picnic wedding, we ran races that got us doused in paint. I read the collected works of Judy Blume. May was candy-colored and joyful.
By June, I was jumping over and over. On the first Sunday in June I ran a half marathon I'd forgotten I'd signed up for. I put on my pants and broke my best time by half an hour. I set up a dunk tank at work and dunked my coworkers. In one Disaster Show, I played a robot, a band leader, and a floutist, and I killed of all three of my selves with glee. I got to interview both Judy Blume and Joan Didion onstage, truly two of the best nights of my lives.
But also in June, I was falling. A friend from graduate school jumped from a bridge. A friend in Hartford died of cancer. Joan Didion's hand, thin and delicate and strong like a bicycle wheel covered in tissue paper, waved in the air as she described her grief for her child. I got the feeling that her glasses weren't enabling her to see but that her eyes saw, on the backs of the lenses, all that she'd lost and all that was over.
So thank god for July, because July is surreal, always. I rode a horse through a forest; I stood on a paddleboard on the Farmington River and paddled my way down; I looked into the jellyfish exhibit at the aquarium; I want to a wedding in a forest hundreds of miles away; I stood around the Twain House in a little girl's dress threatening people with a lead pipe; I threw an ice cream social. I ran another race, the Fugitive Mud run, in which you begin trapped and must climb you way free. You must begin by untying your hands before you can climb out of the trap. You are relieved by the time you're crawling in the mud.
August was all about one single mountain: Katahdin. But on our way to it, my family paddled in a canoe in a pond on Cape Cod. We swam out to a swampy island. We walked in many woods. My sister and brother scaled the Otter Cliffs in Acadia, and the following day we climbed the Beehive, swam in the Bowl, Hiked Mount Acadia, and swam in Echo Lake. Hike, swim, hike, swim: the real Mudder. We biked the old carriage roads in Acadia and drove out to Baxter Park and camped at the base. We completely failed at lighting a fire.
We climbed Katahdin; and the next day ate popovers and read tarot cards in the rain. We went to Wells Beach on the way home and got one quick, glorious sunburn. When we returned to Connecticut, Greg and I found an archery range and I made him take aim in front of me. He hit target after target. On the last day of August, Greg and I took out the scooter and laid on a blanket and watched ET in a park, and I cried at the end, as always, whispering "Stay... come...!"
September: Boston for improv workshops. Gasping at Hedda Gabbler, sitting alone in the theater. Bacheloretting down under the eaves of pink Victorians on Cape May. Teaching workshops on Civility. The one-year anniversary of standing in front of a music stand at a tiny reading series and introducing hopeful young writers to each other. Tasting whiskey. Improv show after improv show. Beerfest tasting, with more beer than ever. Writing a Civil War play, performing it, and that same day, improvising a full-length musical. I spent every weekend outside attempting to run twenty miles along the river.
In October, the year had already become a marathon, and the marathon was coming. But there were all sorts of little sprints before that: lectures on charcoaled graphic novels, and a big work event with RL Stine and Sandra Brown. Literary Disco had taken off and I was reading books early in the morning. Anytime I wasn't running, I was reading. We put the keys into the door of our improv studio for the first time, making something previously invisible visible.
On the morning of the marathon I stood next to the Hartford Carousel crying into my gloves. What was I doing? I wasn't ready for this. There had been too many whiskey tastings, too few Katahdins. Too many late nights after locking up the studio, laughing about what my friends had said. What I thought would happen, when I started the year, was that I'd become some kind of lithe, fit Amazonian woman. I'd hoped that by the time I got to the marathon I'd be just another zippy athlete jogging along 26 miles. But I wasn't. I was still completely, horribly myself, every step effort. I began to run, because I had to. And after three miles I ditched my hat and felt fine. And after ten I ditched my gloves and felt amazing. And after seventeen ditched the possibility that I wouldn't finish. And after 25.9, heard my friends playing the trombone and cheering for me, and sprinted through the end, where Greg was waiting with a sandwich.
But I'm still me, still not the perfect athlete, so two hours later I was wearing a squirrel costume and darting through Elizabeth Park at sunset. And a week later was picking pumpkins and tasting wine and definitely not running at all. And a week after that getting cheap, behind-the-stage tickets to Bruce Springsteen and feeling embarrassingly moved by 'Everybody Has a Hungry Heart.' Because I do. Because I am not a calm collected Amazon.
And yet, the marathon was over, but the year wasn't. November came on the edge of a hurricane. Greg did avante-garde theater as a bearded Toulouse-Lautrec. We scooted out to a wedding in a barn in our fanciest clothes, and then we drove up to the Cape to have cake for my Grandfather's 92nd birthday. On election night we fell asleep in our lobby. I went up to Vermont and returned in time for our Sea Tea Improv Studio Grand Opening, and the next night worked the Medieval Gala in a paper cone princess hat. And-- shit-- despite the Mudder and the Marathon, I had three races left to go, so I ran through the woods on Veteran's Day. We went down to see Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross, and came up to meet Hal Holbrook. And on Thanksgiving I ran a 5-mile race with Greg by my side, and the entire way we listed things we were thankful for. We got into the hundreds.
December was quiet at first. I was tired. We saw Neil Gaimon and Neal Degrasse Tyson discuss Vision and Brilliance, and let ourselves be inspired. I worked the door at the Holiday House Tour and got to hear hundreds of people be similarily inspired by the stenciling in Mark Twain's front hall. I read a lot of Henry James, and let the kids I was teaching ride in a horse-drawn carriage three times in one afternoon. It was really a very quiet month, even when I woke up one morning and agreed, under the blankets, to marry Greg. It was quiet when we walked around with that secret for days, telling people one at a time, on the street, on the phone, in our apartment, in Twain's basement. It was quiet when I told our dental hygienist and he was sincerely overjoyed, since he's taken care of both of our teeth and cares very much about who we might be kissing. It was calm when our friends came over to swap cookies, and it was calm when we watched "It's a Wonderful Life" from the balcony at Cinestudio, and it was calm when it began to snow on our way out to Cape Cod. We were there, and we were in Simsbury on Christmas Eve, and woke up to snow, which quiets everything. And it had been quiet on the morning of my last race, the Blueback Mitten Run, which was just a little 5k and seemed over before it began, and full of hills, just like the whole year.
On December 29th we took a bus into New York, spent the day in another snowstorm, and ate apples before going through security. We all slept on the plane-- me and my friends, that is-- it had been a long year for everyone. On New Year's Eve we walked through the desert on the edge of an erosion crater in Israel. That means it wasn't hit by some outside force, some meteor of luck or fate or destiny, but eroded on its own, making its own form from the tiny forces of what was already there.
There was so much already there in my year: a job, a home, a huge snowfall of interesting and loving and weird friends and acquaintances. There were a hundred improv shows, a hundred events at the Twain House, a hundred hours spent reading and recording for Literary Disco. More than a hundred miles slogged out in the year. More than 200, in fact. And my to-do list was as long as ever. I'd put the keys to my life in the coat I'd made, and they'd flown all around the lining and landed with a loud smack at the end of the year.
What I thought would happen is that I would become someone else: a person with more energy and more achievements. A person for whom moving forward is easy. But of course, that's not what happened. What happened was the details eroded into a strange and beautiful shape, and the year was a crater. Everything was hard, and everything was easy, too. Now, more than a month later, I'm standing on the edge of that year, looking down into it, remembering that I didn't fall into that crater. I jumped into what I had made. And as my memory reconsiders those days in which I climbed, paddled, canoed, swam, crawled, grieved, flew, improvised, read, wrote, recorded, fell, jumped, and landed, the crater will take on a slightly different shape. It is already happening now.
But that is too huge and terrifying to think about. So on the last night of 2012, my old friends and I took a bunch of sparklers into a restaurant and lit them. Nobody around us cared about the turning of the year, but those sparklers burned bright for a minute, and I was grateful for everything they lit.
Photos by Greg Ludovici, me, John Groo, Kevin Panko, Summar Elguindy, Jessica Hurley, Catie Talarski, Chion Wolf, Steph Drahan, Katherine Martinelli, a generous guest at the studio opening, and an overjoyed European man in New York.