Driving through Vermont in the rain listening to U2’s Joshua Tree
Awakening to birdsong
A pretty new cardigan in ballet-slipper pink at Ca Va De Soi, a knitwear firm with shops in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto — and also soon online
Feeling so well-loved by dear old friends who welcome us back into their homes, year after year
A badly-needed 10-day vacation — then returning to multiple freelance assignments and teaching gigs
Bonus: Having two countries I’m legally able to belong to, and to work in: Canada, where I was born and raised and the U.S., where I have lived since 1988 and am lucky enough to have a “green card”. I get to celebrate my two countries in the same week each year —
Coming home after the concert to a midnight supper of soup and sandwiches
Treating myself to a beautiful DVF skirt on sale
The fresh-earth smell of spring
Forsythia in every vase in every room
Re-finding a very good pair of earrings I’d thought I’d lost years ago
The magnolia tree that blossoms — so briefly! — and smells so delicious on our building’s property
Listening to Yann Tiersen’s haunting, lovely music for La Valse des Monstres
After a long, cold, bitter, icy winter, finally walking along the reservoir with warm sunshine on my shoulders
Pretty new curtains — shower curtains re-purposed! — for a grand total of $50
Finding a very good new-to-me Manhattan restaurant whose desserts are $6 — not the usual $10-12
Receiving an email this week — three years after the publication of my last book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” — which began with the words: “It was a great book. I was captivated from the start, interested in your fellow employees and appreciated the research and insight you provided.” It’s so satisfying to keep finding appreciative readers.
My husband’s surprise gift to me — deep purple suede loafers with bright orange soles
An out-of-the-blue email apologizing for a decades-old shattered friendship from someone I miss
A hand-written thank-you note from a client
Two offers of paid work in one day, both arriving unsolicited
This amazing goat cheese, super-creamy.
The medicinal smell, translucent brown and lush lather of Pears soap, a brand founded in 1807
A stack of unread library books: (I watch GOT on HBO and follow fellow Canadian and very cool astronaut Chris Hadfield on Twitter)
The image is our wedding, in September, 2011, late afternoon, in a small wooden church on an island in Toronto’s harbor.
We met in March 2000, online, and after our first date at a lovely French bistro in midtown Manhattan, that was it.
We couldn’t really be more different. Jose — an American, the cherished only son of a small-town Baptist minister, loves routine, security and familiarity. I — Canadian, the oldest child of a film-maker father and journalist mother, globe-trotters both — live for adventure, new experiences and spontaneity.
But we’re still delighted to have found one another.
Here are 14 reasons why:
We laugh our asses off
People look at us on the commuter train, where everyone else is quietly reading the paper, or snoozing, or texting. What’s so funny? Anything, really.
We talk to one another, every day, a lot
His workday — as a photo editor for The New York Times — is crazy-hectic, with six scheduled meetings every single day. He juggles assignments for photographers, staff and freelance, literally across the world, and speaks to dozens of editors and reporters. Sometimes he’s even emailing at 3 a.m. to a guy in China or India. But we chat, even for a minute or two, several times every day. I want to hear his voice, share a triumph and connect. When we’re home, our computers are (mostly) off and we eat our dinner by candle-light and catch up. Studies have found that the average couple speaks very little during most days. I find that really sad.
We have very different interests
I’m a culture vulture, forever seeing museum and gallery shows, theater and dance, coming home from the library with a pile of books. He’s a devout Buddhist who meditates every morning and reads his texts. But we have enough overlap and mutual curiosity about one another’s interests.
We share a ferocious work ethic
God, that man works hard! So do I. As I write this, it’s another major blizzard here in New York and he’s working from home. We attach to our computers and phones and go. He’s seen my freelance workday up close, and knows how intense and focused it is. We are both career journalists who started selling our work to national outlets while we were college undergrads. We enjoy our work and know why it still matters, to us and to the larger world.
We have one another’s backs
He has verbally taken both of my parents to the woodshed when needed, hotly defending my needs and concerns when I just couldn’t seem to do it myself. I’ve done the same for him with neighbors or anyone, anywhere, who disrespects him. He is Hispanic and has been mistaken for a manual laborer, when wearing his casual clothes. The man has a Pulitzer prize. I tell people that. He tells them about my accomplishments. We are absolutely one another’s best advocates.
We both have spiritual lives, individual and shared
He is a devout Buddhist, who had an altar and prayer flags hanging in his Brooklyn apartment when we met. I’ve been attending a local Episcopal church since 1998. We’ve attended one another’s services and appreciate and respect our individual traditions and choices. I’ve seen, and been touched by, how connected he is to his guru, Lama Surya Das, now a friend of ours, and we’ve invited our church ministers home for dinner.
We treasure our friendships
I love his loyalty to friends. We keep our friends close, even when they live many miles distant.
We take care of one another
After my left hip replacement, in February 2012, Jose took three weeks’ vacation time to stay home and nurse me. He made an enormous list of all my pills and exercise schedule and stuck it on the wall. He cleaned my wound, all 12 staples of it. I make our home as clean and attractive as possible: candles, fresh flowers, pretty linens, a beautiful table for mealtimes. I make us delicious meals, when I can muster the energy. I even brush and polish his shoes, much to his embarrassment. It’s just care. It’s what a good marriage is about.
We’re not scared to have a (loud, scary) argument
This was a big step for us. We fought like crazy for years when we met: stubborn, mid-life, long divorced, battling for recognition and respect in a dying and difficult industry. It’s not easy to allow someone new into your life after you’ve already had a few decades of one. He also grew up in a family that never (visibly) argued. It’s almost all mine did. That was an adjustment.
When we do, we know it doesn’t mean the end
That was another big step. For a variety of reasons, I’m a little (OK, a lot) freaked out by possible abandonment. He never once stomped away in silence or shut me out for days or weeks, as some men might. While we were dating, we both left one another’s homes in fury but we also made up the next day, after we’d cooled down. Just because we fight sometimes doesn’t mean we don’t love one another deeply.
We save a lot of money for our (we hope!) shared future
I save 15 percent, which I hate. He saves 10 percent. I want a comfortable retirement. The only way toward that is saving a shitload of money.
We play together
We love to play games — golf, Scrabble, Bananagrams, gin rummy.
We both survived lousy first marriages and want this to be our last
Once you’ve tasted the bitter fruits of a nasty marriage and even nastier divorce, marriage can terrify you. It scars you and scares you. It’s expensive and miserable and confidence-shaking. Why even bother doing it again? My maternal grand-mother married six times — maybe eight — we lose track. My parents’ marriage busted up when I was seven and my mother never re-married or even lived with another man. You have to really want to be married and do the work it takes to stick around.
We know we have a lovely thing going, and tell one another this often
We both say thank-you a lot, and mean it. I never take him for granted. Life is too short to waste it being horrible to the person you have taken vows with.
For many of us, the holidays are a time of frenzied shopping, wrapping gifts, tearing them open with glee, (and pretending we love those socks, really!) — surrounded by loved ones, deep in the bosom of a welcoming family.
For others, it’s a lonely time of want and exclusion.
My greatest gift, for the past 13 years, has been my husband, Jose, who proposed to me on Christmas Eve, with snow falling around us, after the evening service at our small historic church. He knew that night had many painful memories for me, going back decades, and decided to “re-brand” it with something new and happy.
But we didn’t marry until September 2011, eight years later, in a small wooden church on an island in the harbor of my hometown, Toronto.
Our marriage, which we cherish for this, is hard-won.
We were — and still are — two hot-headed, competitive, stubborn workaholics, both career journalists more accustomed to pouring our best, (our all), into our work, a safe place to win recognition, awards and income. His parents died before he was 30 and we’re not close, emotionally or physically, to our families, no matter how hard we’ve tried. No one from his family attended our wedding, nor did one of my brothers or my mother. We have no children.
So we’re very much one another’s family.
We also married, (the second marriage for both), at what is euphemistically and hopefully called mid-life.
I’m grateful for the daily gift of a good man who loves me deeply.
We laugh loudly, and a lot. We talk for hours. We lean our heads against one another’s shoulders in public. He does the laundry. I do (some!) of the cooking. He’s starting to beat me (damn!) at Bananagrams. He’s the guy who — when I start waving the wooden stick after I’ve finished my ice cream bar — makes the buzzing noise of a light saber.
The furthest apart we’ve (yet) been — I was in Tunis on a solo vacation and he was in San Francisco, judging photos for the “A Day in the Life of America” coffee table book.
In this, our 13th holiday season together, he has shown me, more than anyone in my life so far, that love doesn’t come in a box or bag or sealed-plastic container.
It has no price tag or return policy.
If we’re really lucky, it’s right there in front of us.
I had a business lunch recently with a woman a bit younger than I. We both work for ourselves, battered survivors of the (most recent) recession, hanging on to long-term clients while seeking solid new ones, a combination we admitted can be exhausting.
We’re both married suburban home-owners.
Although we had never met, and knew no one in common, we felt comfortable enough to speak more personally.
“I’m not where I expected to be,” she said.
I sighed, with relief that she had said it, that someone else felt as I often do, that we could talk about it without self-pity or whining — but truthfully and candidly.
Where I live now, in suburban New York, one is expected, from birth onward, to be Very Successful. Those of us who live in apartments or modest homes, driving old vehicles and doing funky creative work with inconsistent incomes are very much the anomaly in a sea of corporate poobahs and tenured academics, like two of my next-door apartment neighbors.
I recently attended a backyard book party for someone I frankly envy: huge, gorgeous old house; her book an instant best-seller; a tiny, trim figure in a stunning new dress from Paris.
I admit, I find it hard sometimes, surrounded by others’ success in all the areas I’d once hoped for, to look at one’s own life with deep satisfaction and gratitude.
Yet I know mine is good: a loving second husband; a home we own and enjoy; friends, decent work, health, retirement savings.
I never was someone with a Set Plan. I married late, at 35, to a physician, so I basically expected to stay married, and to enjoy a life of growing material ease.
But the marriage was unhappy and brief. I was once more single, living alone on a very tight budget, for six years.
Sometimes I am still shocked by where I am in life: a widow, former caregiver, film writer/director who still works a day job and barely scrapes by, at 42 years old. Not feeling sorry for myself, just stating the facts. Actually, I was reminded of the facts yesterday.
Before leaving said day job, whether next month or next year, I’m using my health insurance to get everything checked out. There I was with a new OBGYN, from whom I need a referral for a mammogram, getting thoroughly probed and questioned about my family, medical and sexual history. Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, the conversation found its way to a subject which I had not anticipated discussing, and inadvertantly brought up the reality of my situation.
“Are you thinking of having children?” the doctor asked.
“I’ve… thought about it,” I answered slowly. “But I’m not really sure what my options are at this point.”
Maybe, at any age, we’re all still waiting and wanting — something.
“It’s crazy. Isn’t being Jasper Johns’s assistant enough?”
Then there’s Woody Allen’s newest film, Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett in a Blanche duBois-esque role, a Ruth Madoff character who’s plummeted from flying private in Chanel to living in her step-sister’s crowded, grubby walk-up in San Francisco. It’s a searing, depressing, reminder that hitching your entire identity and ego to wealth and power, especially someone else’s, is rarely wise.
A supermarket is not where Ms. Barberena, now 56, thought she would be at this stage in life. After completing undergraduate studies in chemical engineering at one of Mexico’s best universities, she led a comfortable middle-class life in Mexico City.
But she left in 1995 with her husband, two small sons and a sense of desperation. A neighbor’s daughter had been abducted, bringing an epidemic of kidnappings within reach of her own family.
“I lived in panic because I did not have any way to protect my children,” Ms. Barberena said.
In 1996, her father, a naturalized American citizen, presented a green card petition for Ms. Barberena, his married adult child. And the wait began.
It’s an odd thing, this life.
We often grow up with such high hopes, even expectations, of who we will become and where we will live, the people we’ll love and who will love us.
Of our children, our home(s), our studies and travels and achievements.
(Who factors in the stumbling blocks of infertility, miscarriage, divorce, premature death? Grieving takes time and energy. It slows, or stops, our momentum. So do illnesses, surgeries and recovery, job losses and and protracted searches for paid work.)
We — naively — assume, or hope, we’ll earn and enjoy rising, unbroken income streams and good health, stunned and felled when one or both fail us.
We forget, or don’t want to imagine, that people we adore will die, sometimes very suddenly, tearing a hole in our world that no one else can replace.
While still working, I’m doing it well outside the structured environment of corporate America. It definitely feels a little wacky some days. Technically, I think the actual description for what I’m doing is “Leaning Out.” Maybe even aggressively.
At least that’s what the 20-year-old-version-of-my-40-year-old-self thinks I’m doing. And she is deeply, deeply uncomfortable with it all.
My actual 40-year-old self is just fine thankyouverymuch. First of all, she begs to differ with her 20-year-old-version when it comes to the leaning out description. Um hello? Since when did sixty hours of work (even if you put them in at non-standard times) count as slacking?
As for marriage, kids, suburbia, and the unconventional job?
I chose them. Actively, willingly, excitedly, with arms-wide-open.
I want to be exactly where I am. Doing what I am doing. Downshifting, side- shifting, upshifting…whatever the current moment calls for.
Are you happy with where you are right now?
How much do you plan ahead — or wait for fate to dictate your next steps?
I’ve spent much of my adult life striving, mostly professionally, often socially. I left my native Canada, and a thriving career and dear friends, to follow a man I married, (who walked out after two years of marriage). I’ve survived three recessions since 1989 and four orthopedic surgeries since 2000.
Would I ever have a calmer, steadier life?
Recently, I’ve felt…happy.
Dare I even write those words? I feel like I’m tempting fate.
But things have been lovely of late.
I know one reason — the endless crisis/problem-solving/emotional dramas/fear and pain of the past few years are gone. My left hip, which caused me 2.5 years of 24/7 pain, was replaced 18 months ago. My mother, whose crises seemed endless, is now in a nursing home. Work, finally, seems to be much more solid than the terrifying, scraping pennies-from-the-sofa-cushions dips of 2008-9.
Here are some of the things that make me happy:
— Our town’s reservoir, whose landmarks are a cormorant who stands very still and spreads his wings in the sunshine, white swans, duck bums in the air, Queen Ann’s lace and orange lilies by the roadside. Best of all — turtles! There are about a dozen of them, all black and round, who line up along some rubber tubing at the water’s edge.
— The flowers on our balcony, orange and purple and white and yellow, adding beauty to every day.
— My husband’s kisses.
— My dance classes, jazz and modern. It’s such a delicious relief to leave words and speech behind, to sway and bend and spin and twist with others. To stretch, still touching my palms flat to the floor. I love using a corporeal vocabulary I’ve known for decades: chassees, plies, tendues, battements, ronds de jambes.
— A surprise check at the exact moment I need it.
— An unexpected assignment, two of which showed up this week.
— A full refund, many years later, for a spendy skirt I bought at Nordstrom.
— The pool at our apartment building. On these 95+ degree days, it is such a blessing to plunge in and cool off.
— Freshly-baked banana bread, hot from the oven, that I made.
— A full pot of tea, poured from a white china teapot.
— A big bunch of white flowers.
— Fresh corn.
— Our new tent, which I can put up, alone, within minutes.
— Outdoors antiques fairs and flea markets, where I always find something fantastic — an Edwardian necklace, a Moroccan lantern or some vintage crochet edging.
Mother of pearl, metal, glass beads and ebony, $55. Score!
— Throwing a party. Tomorrow we’re having about two dozen friends over to celebrate Malled’s publication in China.
— Making new friends.
— Discovering the most unlikely connections with a new friend, like the woman my age with whom I went for lunch to talk about work. She had been a professional ballerina, and danced in productions with Nureyev. I had performed at Lincoln Center in Sleeping Beauty with him in the lead. The odds?!
— An hour+ long phone chat with a friend who’s known me for decades.
— Helping younger journalists who ask me for advice.
— Having our suburban NY street thick with bushes full of ripe raspberries.
Half an hour before I walked down the aisle to re-marry, after 19 years as a divorcee, I was sitting in a church pew, barefoot, my legs stretched out before me, savoring the moment.
“You’re calm, cool and collected,” the minister, said, surprised. No hyper-ventilating, no last-minute panic, no wardrobe malfunction. A bride just…happy and calm.
I realized that day why I was so calm, because I had included, without consciously thinking about them all, seven things that always soothe my soul. Enjoyed in combination, bliss!
I’m always happiest when I can easily escape into nature, and the church we chose for our wedding is set in a public park on an island. The little white building, from 1888, stands beneath ancient weeping willows, shaded by maples and oaks, a carpet of green grass all around. Ten minutes before the ceremony, the minister walked outside and began gathering huge armfuls of goldenrod, which he put into two tall metal buckets at the church door. I loved his spontaneity and this powerful reminder we were as much as part of that world as that of the church itself.
To get from the vestry to the church door, I walked, barefoot, through the grass, before slipping into my Manolos, connecting me to the earth.
During the silent moments of the service — which we deliberately built in — we could hear one sound from outside. Crickets.
I’ve been a water-baby forever: sailing, water-skiing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking. I grew up in Toronto, on Lake Ontario, attended summer camp ages 8-17, always on the water, often living in a cabin where the lapping of waves on the shore was the lullaby soothing me to sleep each night. I now live with a clear, year-round view of the Hudson river and take a commuter train into Manhattan along tracks that hug its shoreline. I love being near water.
The photos of my father and I, standing outside the church awaiting the music of my processional, show us laughing so hard we could barely stand up…because the sound we were hearing was that of cows mooing from a nearby field. I’d forgotten that Centre Island also has a petting zoo with cows, sheep and other animals.
I’m much happier and calmer I become when I’m around dogs and horses, especially. (Cats, not so much.) One of my happiest moments anywhere ever was riding on an elephant’s neck (!) in Thailand.
I thrive on physical beauty — in nature, design, color, architecture — and feel its absence keenly. I flee surroundings that are ugly, thoughtless, dirty or poorly maintained. I seek beauty everywhere I go, and am grateful and delighted every time I find it. Our church that day was spectacularly lovely, its stained glass windows glowing with late afternoon sunlight like jewels.
I don’t have many acquaintances and make little time for people unless they become, and want to be part of, my inner circle. Emotional intimacy matters deeply to me, and when I find it, I try to nurture it as the treasure it is. We had only 24 guests at our wedding, every one of them carefully chosen as the dearly beloved to us that they are.
Old places, buildings and landscapes with a long, deep, rich past, move me most deeply: the Grand Canyon, the Arctiche rough, wild, landscape of Corsica. Shiny, new, sleek modern spaces leave me cold. I want the patina of others’ hands and lives, to know I, too, am a part of their tapestry, a continuum reaching back centuries, even millennia. Our church that day had the smell of sun-heated wood, a scent which shot me back to my 12-year-old self in the hall where we rehearsed our musicals at camp. Heaven!
My wedding processional was, a capella, the lovely round Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Peace) and our processional the joyous and playful “You Are The Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder. Music is a daily pleasure, whether jazz, rock, classical, or big band.
What are some of the things that soothe, calm and satisfy your soul?