I am writing this in bed, in Mumbai. It’s the last day of our four day trip, but I still haven’t quite worked out whether or not I should call it ‘Mumbai’ or ‘Bombay’, or which is the more offensive and to whom (it seems one could represent oppressive colonial rule, another fascism). Outside the car horns beep and blare, and the sky is milky pale with the fumes and dust and heat of a massive city. It’s a strange place to spend the end of our year, but it’s also entirely fitting for a year spent in perpetual motion, with barely time enough to put down a suitcase, let alone roots.
This year, Ben and I have spent time in New Haven, Washington DC, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Los Angeles, Big Sur, Salem, Lowell, Vermont, New York, London, Wales, Switzerland, Iceland, Italy, India, and probably a hand full of other places I can’t remember right now. Some of them (the first five) were stops on Ben’s tour, and some of them (the first four, along with New York) were places that I lived for varying periods of time.
This year has brought new friends and wonderful new experiences. I have learned that I adore soup dumplings. I have learned how to pack a suitcase at least a little bit better, or at least how to recognize and attempt to deal with the stress involved with it. My fear of flying and the general anxiety that surrounds the business of travel by air has not diminished, despite it being a (far too much for my liking) regular occurrence. I started making hats again. I continued collecting Tarot cards and reading them with greater confidence and enjoyment. I sunbathed on Italian terraces and broke down into tearful prayer in Icelandic nightclub toilets. I painted our bathroom and chose kitchen cabinets, hung up pictures and fetched wood for our bedroom fireplace.
Just outside San Francisco, in Oakland, I had a Viking sigil tattooed on my hip by a Celtic war-goddess worshipping witch named Morpheus. The symbol named vegvisir is a Norse compass, and is meant to help the wearer find direction. As the needle inked the lines into my skin I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, trying to equate the pain to the chill of the snowy expanses of Iceland that I love so much, to the North, to the wild. Half sheepishly I silently dedicated it to the Norse goddess Freyja, the strange, complicated deity of both love and war. She seemed to symbolize so much that I was coming to understand about myself, that we’re all faceted and complex and fucked-up and distorted, and that this is what being human is.
In November I was present at the birth of my best friend’s baby, an experience and an honor that I can never do justice to. That night was a Soup Of Emotion (title of my future memoir. Only half joking here.), the weirdest mix of fear and joy and love, sadness at the passing of one era in our friendship, excitement at the beginning of a new one. And also jet-lag, a LOT of jet-lag, since I’d arrived back in Wales from NYC only that evening, with enough time to shower and eat and put one leg into bed before the call came that waters were broken and contractions were happening and the baby was coming, breech, 12 hours earlier than the scheduled c-section. I am so excited to get to know this wonderful, brand new human.
My brother got married this year, as did both of Ben’s brothers (one of them in India this week, hence my current location). It was wonderful to be part of such joyful moments. Plans are proceeding for our own wedding, but the day still seems so far away and my impatience is growing. By the time we tie the knot we will have a full set of married siblings and an almost two year long engagement under our belt. So much of life seems to have been pushed back or put on hold until Ben’s tour is over, and I’m scared that we’ve put so much pressure on this ending and “real life” beginning that it can’t possibly live up to our unrealistically hopefuly expectations. After all, life will always have challenges, ups and downs. But the situation is the way it is, and we’ve tried to cope with it as best as we can. Our best has not always been brilliant, but we’re learning, and trying, and that’s all we can do. Our relationship continues to develop and grow and exist in bizarre ways, since the life that Ben and I lead has been so decidedly odd, and perhaps always will be to a certain extent. Case in point: the day that my wedding dress arrived was the day that Ben had gone to see a lawyer to discuss a potential pre-nup. When he returned from this meeting, and with none of my bridesmaids or family within a couple of thousands miles, Ben was the only one on hand to help button me into the dress as I tried it on, and the atmosphere was loaded and heavy with the strange emotional fallou of discussing the theoretical dissolution of a marriage that hadn’t even happened yet.
Despite telling myself otherwise, my years of single life had lead me to fall for the rom-com movie trap, where I began to believe that love is a Disney story, that it should come easily. I thought that all I needed in this world was the man that I loved, that finding him would mean automatic happiness, and contentment, purpose and serenity would follow with. I’ve discovered this year that this is far from real, but that love is no less true when it requires work – not blind but mindful – sacrifice, compromise and lessons learned, sometimes the hard way.
This year I finally began to understand (only began – it’s a tough one for me) that I am allowed to ask for and to accept help, professional and otherwise. I confronted the stigma and shame that I felt in my own life, and began to see a therapist regularly. After almost a year of trying in America (and most of my adult life in Britain before that) I managed to find a gynaecologist whose office I didn’t leave weeping, feeling degraded or insulted or simply ignored. I was diagnosed with something called vestibuladynia, which I won’t go into yet, although I mention it now as a way of dipping my toe into some challenging waters since I intend to write about it fully at some point. (For now, I’ll leave you to google it.) With the help of my doctor I was able to assemble a team of fierce, professional, kind women to begin the process of kicking the arse of my disfunctional vagina, and sorting out the situation that I had found myself in. It’s going to be a long road. It involves regular pain, and the confronting of things that rhyme with pain, like ‘shame’, and ‘blame’. But having learned a little more about these kind of things I was amazed and saddened at the statistics, the sheer number of women who suffer daily, in varying degrees of pain and discomfort, too embarrassed to talk about an issue that is not their fault and has deep emotional impact. So here I am, over-sharing, in the hopes that more people might do the same, and that “over-sharing” will slowly become just “sharing”.
I also won’t go into great detail about my experience of the American presidential election this year, because I’ve already done that and quite frankly it’s exhausting and saddening. I’m trying to figure out what I can do to help. One of my small resolutions for 2017 is to do my teeny tiny part to look out for the environment, an issue that has felt rather overshadowed by the constant onslaught of horrific gender inequality, racism, and civil rights attacks happening now or on the horizon. After all, we can only sustain so much outrage, and there are pressing issues to fight, but sometimes you need to direct your energy at one area rather that spreading yourself thin. There’s a lot that I can’t do, not yet being an American citizen, but as it looks like our soon to be President is going to shit all over climate change and environmental issues, I might as well roll up my sleeves and do what I can. I’m determined to explore all the recycling options available where I live, to use less plastic and stay clear of as many plastic water bottles as I am able to. I want to buy responsibly and thoughtfully. It’s a bit like trying to bale out the icy waters flooding the Titanic’s boiler room with a shot-glass, but “be the change” and all that I guess.
Something I’ve been chasing this year and intend to continue chasing is grace. It’s a toughie. I’m trying to confront so many things that I think and feel. I’m trying to understand, to accept, to change the darker bits of myself. I hold a grudge. I have a sudden temper. I catastrophize situations and victimize myself. And I judge. One of the really interesting things that I’ve noticed during this trip to India is my latent prejudices and misconceptions, the way I often use my over-developed sense of empathy to look at other people’s lives through the lens of my own own. The human experience is different for each of us, and though it’s admirable to want to help people in need it’s arrogant to always assume that they need help, just because their life is different to yours. I know that I am privilidged and lucky in so many ways, I know that I need that grace and humility when it comes to expressing my emotions because I’m not the center of the world, or the first person to think or feel this way, and my difficult experiences is often just the foothills of a mountain that so many others have spent their entire lives being forced to climb.
And on that note, that’s far and enough about me. Let’s just say 2016 has been an upper and a downer and whilst it’s given me a lot I’m not remotely sad to see it go. 2017: pull up a chair, let’s get this thing started.