The fire's already roaring in the fireplace (even though it's a good 40 degrees outside), my cats and I are curled up on the couch. We have a stack of movies for watching and a pot of ropa vieja (my very first attempt at cooking one of my favorite cuban foods) on the stove, bubbling away. Were it not for the crick in my neck that's preventing me from turning my head to the right, it'd be a banner New Year's Eve. Who am I fooling? It's a banner one, anyway. I've got a roof over my head, all my needs are met (if not all my many, many wants) and I get to wake up each day in circumstances drastically better than 99% of the population of this over-crowded planet. If that's not enough to make me grateful going into 2007, then what is?
Plenty, actually, starting with a reflection on the year that's getting ready to take a bow. Chris and I kicked off 2006 -- on Greenwich Mean Time, at least -- outdoors at the intersection of the neighborhood I grew up in in Glasgow, Scotland. We had the streets to ourselves, it seemed, and the minute the bells rang at midnight, the city came alive in all directions. We heard the whooping and hollering of the Hogmanay ceilidh at the nearby church. We had a bird's eye view into the living rooms of the city's gorgeous sandstone tenements. We watched as a few family's pulled open a window to let the old year out and the new one in. We watched a group of children hold hands and dance in a circle, like something out of an old movie. The sky above us lit up in all directions with fireworks and people took to the streets to start first-footing neighbors.Â I surfed a wave of nostalgia so overwhelming tears streamed down my cheeks. It may be my favorite New Year's memory of all time.
It was an entirely appropriate start to a year that was filled with travel for us, more than probably all our years together cominbed. In February, we went to Istanbul with the Knight-Wallace Fellows and I got to set foot on the Asian side, adding a whole new continent to my repertoire. On our way back home, we spent some time in Amsterdam and then visited my friend Deborah in Milan, Italy. We returned to Glasgow in November, which is the first time I've been back to Scotland twice in one year.
We traveled plenty within the states and its environs. There was a quick weekend in Toronto with pals from the Fellowship. A group of us also went to New York together and while visiting the New York Times and enjoying a lunch hosted by managing editor Jill Abrahmson should probably be the highlight, I confess that I got a bigger thrill attending a taping of The Daily Show and getting a backstage tour beforehand. We managed a second trip back to New York in early summer to attend the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of my friend Matt Tauber's film, The Architect. That was a real treat.
And in the midst of all that craziness, we still managed to steal away for a brief but fantastic respite in one of our favorite places in the world, the rainforest in Puerto Rico.
As if all that movement weren't enough, it's also been a year of big change and transformation for us. When we began the year, I think Chris and I knew that we were itching for something different, that if we didn't make some sort of life changes after the soul-enhancing period of the Fellowship, we'd be wasting some sort of gift. Yet neither of us dreamed that changes would come hard and fast and that if we showed up and were simply willing to turn in the direction the universe pointed us in and put one foot in front of the other, we'd land where we were supposed to.
We never thought that Chris' inkling of an idea and on-a-whim email to Mark Cuban would result inÂ his launching Sharesleuth.com just a few months later. Nor did we really expect that when we asked ourselves where we'd want to do it, the answer would be Ann Arbor. It just was. I've never been able to explain that decision any better to anyone, except to say it felt right. And it continues to.
For me, in terms of my writing, it's been a year of inestimable growth and transformation. I took the Fellowship year off from freelancing, where I'd been resting in my comfort zone. Some friendly cajoling from Graham and Gerard got me to try Terry Lawson's Screenwriting Class at the University of Michigan in the second semester of the Fellowship. It was simultaneously the most frustrating and thrlling experience I've had as a writer in years. I had to step far, far outside that comfort zone of stream-of-conscience nonfiction and start thinking about plot, dialogue, characterization and structure for the first time in overÂ a decade. When I started the class, it seemed a ridiculous notion that I would produce a feature-length first-draft screenplay by the end of the semester. But I did, as tough and time-consuming as it was. It was good enough to earn me a coveted auditing spot in Jim Burnstein's Advanced Screenwriting class this fall, where I learned even more and, more importantly, increased -- not quenched -- my thirst to keep trying my hand at something that simply doesn't come naturally for me. I'm very grateful to both Terry and Jim for giving me the opportunity and being so very generous to me with their time and energy.
My experience in Terry's class gave me the courage to ask the Knight-Wallace foundation to find a writer to coordinate a fiction writing workshop for those in our class who were itching to push ourselves. We landed Valerie Laken, a U of M grad and teacher (now teaching at Carthage College near Minneapolis), who was so lovely and smart and kind to us as we stumbled forward. I remembered why I'd loved writing fiction in high school and college. And I remembered all the fears and insecurities that kept me from pursuing it professionall, that sent me scurrying back to the safety of copywriting and then journalism. It was at Valerie's kind suggestion that I did the toughest and bravest thing I've done all year -- applied to the MFA program at the University of Michigan for one of their Creative Writing slots. I had to push myself hard to come up withÂ threeÂ short stories with which to apply and I sweated over things like my academic statement of intent and my personal biography. But the amazing part is that I actually got the application completed! And turned in! ON TIME!
I don't have a lot of regrets about 2006. I've spent the past couple of days scurrying around cleaning the house. It's a Scottish tradition to have your home in tip-top shape for theÂ New Year. I think it has something to do with a messyÂ house foreboding a messy year. Something silly like that. But I still like to do it. And, believe me, if you'd seen the cat hair clouds under the beds in our house, you'd know that I didn't spend nearly enough time cleaning in 2006. And I don't regret a minute of it. I was thinking about this today - I'm a lousy housekeeper. I have good intentions but little follow-through and, when it comes down to it, the truth is I just don't care. I don't care that much how my house looks, and the kind of people IÂ value are not the sort who would judge me on it anyway. I'm sure there were countless times when I passed up a sink full of dishes so I could knit a little, read a little, get a little writing done.Â And I'm glad.
Although I haven't woken a single day in Ann Arbor and regretted my decision to move here, I do miss terribly the amazing friends I have in St. Louis. People I've known for nearly half my life now, people who are as comfortable to me as...well, insert your own cliche here. I miss being known the way I am in St. Louis, having people who have been along for the ride for years now and know the score. But I'm also enjoying -- far more than I thought I would -- the experience of being discovered again, having people get to know me for the first time and forming new friendships. I'm not a patient person, but I have enough experience and faith and patience to believe I'll have good friends here too before too long. And I can't even begin to express the gratitude, the comfort in knowing that I have my St. Louis pals behind me all the way.
So I say thanks to everyone out there and pass on my wishes for a happy new year. I still can't turn my head to the right and my cats are more interested in warming each other than keeping my toes cosy. My coffee's grown cold while I write this and the fire's backed up a bit so the living room's a bit smokey. In other words, like I said, it's a perfect New Year's Eve.