Monday, 30 May 2011


When people ask me almost anything these days – whether I miss London, how I like New York, how I plan to pay my bills, where and when and if I'll move – I have little patience for it. The most honest answer I can give to anything is this: I don't even know who I am any more.

I've always felt I never had a strong internal compass; a mental north that keeps me focused and on the right track. Remember that scene in Runaway Bride where Richard Gere finds out that Julia Roberts always ordered her eggs the way the man she was with did? Sometimes I feel like that's me (except obviously without the perpetual boyfriend, never mind the killer legs and megawatt smile). So think about what six months in near-total darkness – which is what this New York experiment has been, in so many ways – would do to one's sense of direction. It's suddenly hot and bright in New York, and I'm slowly emerging, disoriented and blinking furiously.

I'm not making excuses for the semi-outrageous behaviour I'm about tell you about; only saying at this point I'm not even sure I can say it's most un-Beth-like, because what the hell _is_ Beth-like anymore? Thursday afternoon, feeling (for once) like a properly dressed employee of a major media company in a killer three-year-old black dress from one of my favorite London boutiques ("that dress is hot," said my boss, a woman not given to friendly compliments) + Jimmy Choo slingbacks (from my days of sample sale-ing) + vintage Celine belt (another old London purchase), I had a huge meeting. It went so well I feel guilty that tomorrow I'm about to write "This job sux" in red lipstick on the wall (YouTube footage forthcoming).

At just after 4 pm, I walked out of the office and headed to the garden bar of the Hudson Hotel, where I proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon drinking and then snogging quite possibly the most dashing, smashing, bright, witty -- and totally unavailable -- man I have ever met in my life. I had hoped to save myself from the inevitable post-date low and binge, and so went on to have dinner and more drinks with a PR woman (something I never do). I can't exactly remember how I got home, and whether I actually walked in my heels. I know there was a binge involved. I'm missing a flip flop.

I woke up Friday feeling so wretched I couldn't get out of bed. So I didn't. I didn't even call. It was a half day at work, I sit in the corner where no one notices me, and I figured I have worked more than enough hours for them. Plus, um, what are they going to do? Fire me? I'm quitting on Tuesday morning, anyway. (OK, there is part of me that's a little scared they'll fire me. Eeek.)

I usually like to sweat out excess, but the thought of the gym was unbearable. Eventually I dragged myself out to run a few errands, do a tiny bit of work at the Starbucks, and finally to meet friends for a late showing of the rather situation-appropriate Hangover 2. (I'd have skipped the film had I not already paid for it.) I couldn't wait to go home and wake up feeling normal, whatever that is.

Saturday night I did the sort of thing that once upon a time I did so frequently it wasn't notable, which is to say I took a random person up on a spur-of-the-moment invitation. When I first moved in, I met one of my neighbors, and have only seen her about one other time since. When we bumped into each other Friday (on our front stoop, where I also nearly walked smack into Matthew Broderick), I asked if she were around this weekend. She suggested drinks. So we embarked on a tour of neighbourhood spots we'd both been wanting to try. I felt post-binge frumpy and slightly grumpy next to my tall, glamorous California blonde neighbour, and briefly wondered (uncharitably) if she were the sort of person who liked to go out with women who never drew attention away from her.

At one spot – the sort of place that serves its cocktails in Mason jars and champagne in 1920s glasses – she insisted the bartender was flirting with me.
"He's a bartender," I said. "He has to."

"That was beyond bartender flirting," she said. "I think you should go back there."

Honestly, where do people get this stuff from, and where was I when male behaviour was being explained to the rest of the class? Daydreaming, probably.


At one point a couple of weeks ago, our fitness director complimented me on the shape and definition of my calves. Is this the fitness equivalent of Anna Wintour complimenting me on my outfit? Discuss.


I told a guy I'd lost 100 pounds. He assumed I'd been anorexic. I cannot begin to figure out how I should interpret this, and I'm not sure I should try.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Assignment: Eat the Cupcake

(No) thanks to the job plus the endless winter, it’s been a bloody miserable six months. And when I finally picked up my head and looked over the next cubicle at 2 in the morning, I realized my world had gotten very, very small.

I was working, and I was worrying about my diet: what I would eat, and when I’d exercise. And that was literally the extent of it. If you think I’m exaggerating, let me admit that I picked my way through weeks like a superstitious child avoiding cracks in the sidewalk, literally planning what I would and wouldn’t do based on eating exactly what I wanted (=eating exactly what was “safe”). I got up at the crack of dawn for workouts, often grueling ones. I rarely had the time to go out for dinner, but if I did I’d only go for sushi, and occasionally I schemed to make it so.

New York is a foodie paradise, and here I was eating the same 12 things while reading about restaurants I was so curious about yet, frankly (and I say this without hyperbole), was scared of. I’d pass places in my neighborhood and figuratively press my face to the glass, envying the apparent ease with which patrons ordered food and lingered over it, laughing and chatting.

There were occasional breaks in the my routine (a brunch here and there, non-sushi, obviously), and – in the last month – weekly (if not more) binges; binges that were so spectacular that they undid pretty much all the weight loss I’d achieved in the previous few months of closing myself off from the world.

This, I’ve been realizing over the past month, is not a life I want. At my sister’s in April I was utterly disgusted with myself and the complete indulgence, luxury, and frankly, dullardness (OK, not a word) it is to be so utterly obsessed. (With triplets, one obviously cannot live the life I do.) Plus, being thinner does not make one happier. Proof positive: I was my thinnest ever when I was dating BN2 and that’s because food was almost the only thing I had control over (for the record, I suspect the control issue was why I was so diet-obsessed these past couple of months).

After the last binge — 10 days ago — I started to think that perhaps I needed to start eating regularly the things I’ve been bingeing on with wildest abandon: muffins, and cake with frosting. I thought about setting myself the task of eating a Magnolia cupcake a week until it becomes just another food. (In the interest of full disclosure, when I’m bingeing I get their gigantic slice of cake; no almost-reasonably-sized cupcake.) Then I started worrying about what would happen if I didn’t really want that; if really I’d rather have a muffin of some sort. And on from there in utter boring-ness I won’t replicate.

Whenever bad things happen to me, I wonder why. Not “why me” in the tragic, hand-wringing way, but why – what is the lesson I will extract from this? In several years, what will I look back and think: Well, but I did X or learned Y from this experience? For a while, it seemed that maybe New York was going to be where I finally got a handle on the bingeing — remember those 100 binge-free days? I don’t know that it won’t be the place, but I’m hoping instead it may be the place that food and I shake hands and make peace, a rather different idea than just being binge-free.

I’m exhausted and shell-shocked at the moment, so there isn’t any plan for this just yet. But slowly, slowly, I’m – if not climbing out of the box – at least seeing a few cracks of light. In the past 10 days, I’ve only eaten my “safe” dinner once. I ate extra food this weekend. I let myself off the workout hook. I went for drinks not once, not twice, but three times (once at a bar with John Mayer, believe it or not – he’s much skankier in person, and heavier, than I imagined). That’s about three times more than in the previous four months.

On Saturday, I went to a spin class at a new studio and the instructor said: “It’s Saturday. Time to leave the week behind and reach for something new.” And that day I read something I’ve been thinking about since: Eat for how you want to feel right now.

On Sunday night, I realized I hadn’t been counting binge-free days. Somehow, that seems like progress.

Friday, 6 May 2011

A Signal and a Sign

After working Monday and Tuesday until midnight and Wednesday until 9 pm, editing and copyfitting on layouts I only received Friday at 6 pm, I arrived at work this morning to find a question from the top editor about almost every other word on my pages.

Her complaints, among other things, were that the book reviews sounded too much like book reviews. She asked such detailed questions about exercises you'd think our readers were learning to be personal trainers – or that she was. She wanted to know why I mentioned beach volleyball in a caption on sun hats. She didn't understand half of the music apps descriptions and wondered why we were running this story in July in the first place. (Um, she approved the lineup as my section's contribution to our July summer music issue -- that is the peg.)

I am not exaggerating for any effect, comic or otherwise.

Tears of anger and frustration welled up in my eyes. I spent a few minutes breathing quietly. I looked at the file again to see if I'd misjudged; if maybe it really wasn't that bad.

It was. It was worse.

I ran to the bathroom and properly burst into tears. I sent a few text messages, then marched myself back to my desk and began slowly working. I tried to concentrate on one little bit at a time and not get overwhelmed with how much had to be done. I tried not to think about the fact that it had already gone through one level of editing and I'd had to make changes and make those changes fit. I tried not to yell and scream that there's only so much useful information one can pack into a five-word caption about a summer hat, for heaven's sake.

I tried not to think that I'd get to repeat this whole process again on the next round of proofs, when the same people would ask different questions, some of it based on information they'd insisted I should delete this time around. I tried not to think about the approximately 27 other things I also needed to be doing so as not to get further behind.

I tried not to let tears well up in my eyes. I failed miserably at that.

I marched out, somewhat defiantly, to a vinyasa yoga class at lunchtime. I couldn't stop crying. I didn't want to go back there. I thought about the fact that even if I walked back in to quit I'd still have to finish this part of the job, and the trouble with this type of job is that you can't half do it or it just gets sent back to you to redo. (In my defense, the editor between me and the top editor – who is widely acknowledged to be the smartest person at the magazine – made only a few changes to my section before shipping it upstairs. And I can't decide what it means that the top editor herself, not prone to gratuitous compliments, thought my section was great. Oh, except for about 10 million little details.)

I struggled to quiet my mind during yoga – to focus on each instruction and bit of advice the teacher gave. I couldn't.

But I did find a small bit of peace. For weeks I have been terrified of making the decision to leave. I've questioned myself and second-guessed myself endlessly.

No more. I am leaving.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Acting My Age

At the doctor's office I used to fear pain, needles, and the possibility that something would be wrong, maybe even irreparably wrong.

Now I fear questions.

Since my grandmother died, I've been incapable of entering any type of medical office without crying. There was the dentist last month. And last week I went to a doctor's to test a cosmetic procedure.

"Do you have a family history of varicose veins?" the receptionist asked, scanning my form.

"I don't know," I answered. Tears pricked my eyes before I was even sure why.

Then I realized: I'll never know. There's nobody to ask.

Whoever knew that when I was lying on the bed at my grandmother's, she sitting in her chair watching TV (she loved Dancing With the Stars), me flipping through a magazine, instead I should have been asking her about varicose veins and life insurance policies and where this coral, lapis and gold brooch was from. And about a thousand million other things.


It's been a tough week. I binged again. I passed my six-month anniversary of living in New York – a milestone that only made me realize how miserable I've been, and how small my world is here. (How could it be otherwise? I worked Monday night until midnight, not for the first time.) I'm torn between wanting my upcoming birthday to pass unnoticed, and knowing that however I mark the day, it's probably going to hurt.

That said, I did a handful of unpleasant things today that made me feel like an adult. (It's about time, considering I'll be 36 in less than two weeks.)

I'd been going back and forth with the guy I went out with about another date – a date I did not particularly want to go on, and that could potentially lead to my usual variety of self destructive behaviour.

I didn't lie, or evade, or just disappear.

I wrote: "Sorry I've been making this unnecessarily drawn out and complicated. I had fun on Saturday; I like you and I think you're great. But I don't feel what I need to feel to move this forward."

I wished him well, clicked send, and waited for my computer to explode. It didn't.

I went out to an appointment and feared hitting refresh on my email. When I got back to my desk, I saw he responded graciously. I wondered if I'd made a mistake, but knew I hadn't.

One problem sorted in a way I feel no shame about.

Then I sorted problem two. I was supposed to go on a party weekend to New Orleans this weekend. I bought a flight in New Orleans back in December, knowing full well it was shipping time at the magazine but thinking – naively – that things might get better. Either way, I figured I'd work it out.

And I probably could have. Except that the last thing I need right now is four days of drinking and eating with Friend Bearing Chocolate and another seven people, none of whom are particularly good friends. I feared endless bingeing, stray molecule-ness, the stress of trying to get out of the office, and how awful, physically and mentally, I might feel by Sunday. Not what I need right now.

There are some people who aren't very happy with me. I'm definitely losing some money and may lose more. I'm a little disappointed and even slightly embarrassed that I can't just go party like a normal person. But although I'm not sure what I need right now, I'm pretty sure a crazy weekend filled with endless potential to self destruct on multiple levels is not it.