December 11 2013
It’s been 10 days since I finished the novel, or I should say, the first draft, and I remember thinking, when I put the cap on my fountain pen, how wonderful it would be to take a week off before starting revision. A week of pampering myself, I thought, envisioning days spent lolling in front of the fire; days that featured some light reading and a fair amount of chocolate and ice-cream.
That was on the Sunday. On Monday I felt howlingly bereft and unable to relax. By Friday, having OD’d on chocolate and ice-cream I had acid reflux. By Saturday, a splitting headache arrived brought on by, no doubt, instead of light reading, immersing myself in “The Signature Of All Things,” a stunning work of art by Elizabeth Gilbert, to whom I tip my hat for a literary accomplishment that puts her up there with the big boys and which, me being me, made me doubt the worth of my own novel. But the best was yet to come.
On Sunday, one week after having capped my pen, my dear husband informed me that in fact he needed to spend 2 months in New York, not the 3 weeks that we had planned on since September. We were lunching out and so I wasn’t free to knife him. But I felt the ground go out from under me, so much so that I tensed my legs so hard in order not to fall into the abyss that for the next two days I would be unable to bend over at the waist.
Feeling Our Way Around, that’s what we entitled this year, our year in Europe. And we meant it in both senses: feeling our way around as one does in the dark, the dark being unknown territory, and feeling our way around in the sense of connecting to, and owning our feelings; the painful ones as well as the jolly. And then, in the twelfth month of what has been the best year of our lives, we had a head on collision. Fortunately there were no fatalities, but the whiplash was impressive. It took us 24 hours to recover. But perhaps more important was what we uncovered.
The way in which Joel withholds his truth because he is afraid of disappointing me.
The way in which I believe what I hear because it’s what I want to be true, even though I know it’s not.
The way in which we build resentment of the other; Joel because he feels pressured by me to move faster; me because I feel frustrated at having to slow down.
The way in which we both fear that we will have to give up something important to us in order to please the other. For Joel, the fear that he will have to give up the city he’s loved, lived and worked in for 75 years, and for me the fear that I will have to give up my European roots.
Over the years, I have been told by many people, some of whom I count among my best friends, that, in a manner of speaking, I should get over it; that place doesn’t really matter. It is worth noting that none of these people have ever lived outside their own countries.
So, how does one come to terms with these polarities that exist to some degree in all relationships? Well, it starts, always, with the truth. Everyone, after all, has a right to what is true for them. But here, now, I turn to women and the ways in which women, especially of my generation, still surrender their truth/independence, in order not to lose their mate. The truth I had to uncover on Sunday, was not only that I often choose to believe what I want to hear, but that by so doing, I not only build resentment when the truth finally comes out, but I also lose my independence.
I knew, really, for a couple of months, that Joel wanted to spend more time in New York when we go in January, but I was so afraid that it meant that we were going to have to live there again that I ignored my intuition. And poor Joel, afraid of disappointing me just kept yessing me.
The first few hours weren’t pretty, but then we did what we always do; we return to the love and then start feeling our way around and through. It turned out to be our year-end bonus. Throughout Monday, we would talk and then take a break to digest and then come back together and talk some more and what we came to understand is that we both want to continue living the way we’ve lived this year, but that New York needs to be restructured so that when we are there we enjoy it and each other as much as we do here.
To that end, we see the eventual closing of the studio and the selling of our apartment, which, although we completely renovated it four years ago, nonetheless is – as was the Cape cottage – formerly the home of Joel and his ex-wife. Well, I’m done with that. It’s time for a sexy pied-a-terre in Manhattan, a place to drop into whenever we want, from where we can hang with family and friends, in a neighborhood with yummy cafes, close to the theatre and culture and the park. The rest of the time we can be found – and visited – in our rented farmhouse, deep in the tranquility of the Tuscan countryside.
This plan will involve Joel’s spending periods of time in NY during the next 2 years. Sometimes I will be with him, sometimes not. This January we’ll spend together in NY and then I will return here to Bonnieux to spend a month alone with the revision of my novel before Joel returns in March. We hope to return to Tuscany at the end of April.
One of the issues that kept cropping up this year of being together everyday, was how to remain independent; to value separateness and to trust love. It took this year and the collision to:
Strip away the pretty, cunning avoidances of truth.
Own resentment and disappointment.
Honor progress and accept the imperfection of existence.
Appreciate the gifts that each of us brings to our relationships.
Joel and I will never move at the same rate of speed, but we sure do have rhythm. I think we were both feeling our way toward an intimacy that we have longed for but were afraid we couldn’t have. When we impose these 100/100 either/or choices on reality, e.g., person or place; love or career, we ensure that we won’t get what we want. Sure, you can’t have everything, all at once, all the time, but neither do you have to sacrifice one thing completely in order to experience the other. If we embrace truth, even when it’s difficult, then we soften the opposition.