Thursday, December 19, 2013

13 Life Lessons for 2013: Things I Learned in the Past 12 Months

1. Sex with an ex rocks (for one night only), but going full steam behind with one is risky business. As time goes by, we tend to remember old relationships the way they weren't -- happier, calmer, sexier -- only to pull out the ex files and get smacked by cold, harsh reality: People don't change. They just get older.

2. Friends (and strangers) are more likely to cheerfully offer their help to you if you don't ask for it. During Days of Our Lives' Will Horton vs. Nick Fallon storyline earlier this year when EJ DiMera suggested that his father, Stefano DiMera, was more likely to join Team Will if they made him think it was his idea, I thought, How Stefano. But really, as I found out late in the game, how everyone.

3. Oh, so that's what Bluetooth is for! Seriously, I only figured it out in August when I had to find a way to transfer music from my computer to my smart phone so that I could have both my tunes and a camera with me when I went on my scenic runs around Rome.

4. Speaking of cameras, never leave home without one. (It's even more important than owning an umbrella, which I haven't done in nearly three years.) You never know what or whom you'll run into while walking down the streets of any great city. And pouring rain often makes for quite lovely images, which are harder to capture when you're lugging around an umbrella.

5. Italy must be the most compact, easy-to-get-through country on the planet. Either train travel has improved immensely in the last nine years, or I've gotten a lot more patient than I once was because train trips between Italian cities used to feel interminable to me. But in all of the cities I visited during my recent stint in Italy (Milan to Venice to Bologna to Rome to Florence to Rome to Pompei to Rome to Sienna), I was never more than two hours by train away from the next major one. And extra props to the Trenitalia trains with Wi-Fi!

6. I can actually live without AC! Unlike my sticky month in Berlin this past July/August, I've spent five weeks and counting without it during the summer in Cape Town, and I haven't really missed it at all. Of course, it helps when you spend the first month living on a hill in the middle of the woods in what must be the windiest city in the world before moving into a high-rise apartment with 16th-floor windows overlooking Table Bay to the north (no direct morning or afternoon sunlight!), and there's a fan in both pads to keep things cool. (I wonder if, like microwaves, fans are considered environmentally unsound in Berlin.) When I return to the land of the air-conditioned on 20 January (the date I move into my first Cape Town pad with AC), will I even bother to turn it on? Of course, I will.

7. The best place to be on any given weekend night is in whatever accommodation I happen to be calling home that weekend. This might be the first year of my adult life during which I spent more weekend nights in than I did out on the town, regardless of the town. In Tel Aviv, the so-called gay capital of the Middle East, I had minimal motivation to find out why/how it earned that label, and I'm still not completely sure what that MCQP (Mother City Queer Project) "Space Cowboy" party this past Saturday night at Cape Town Stadium was all about. (No, I didn't go.) On one of my favorite nights out in 2013 -- a Monday in Jerusalem -- I was in bed by midnight! Clearly I'm officially immune to Saturday night fever, which makes Sundays so much more enjoyable.

8. The mark of true friendship isn't how often you see each other when you're living in the same city, or whether you stay in touch when you aren't. It's how you reconnect after months, or years, apart. I don't believe I've ever enjoyed so many reunions during one calendar year (in Melbourne, in Buenos Aires, in Berlin, in Italy, in Tel Aviv, in South Africa), and in almost every case, the chemistry was just as we'd left it. Now that I'm probably closer to the end than I am to the beginning (and thanks to Facebook, which, despite its flaws, does more than anything I can think of to keep people in touch with each other so they can know when and where to reunite), "friends forever" is so much more than something naive teenagers write in their high-school yearbooks.

9. It'll never feel like the holidays when its blistering hot outside (thank God). This is my eighth Christmas season living outside of the United States, and my sixth in the Southern Hemisphere, where it literally feels like Christmas in July back home. I haven't heard anyone sing "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" in ages because, well, it never is. I thought that after a few years, I would get used to it, but nearly a decade later, Christmas without all of the winter trappings that I've always associated with it still doesn't feel like Christmas at all, and considering how I feel about that holiday season in general, that works just fine for me.

10. Walking down that hill can be just as challenging as running up it. That's something I've learned maneuvering the steep inclines of Jerusalem, Amman and Cape Town. Despite the constant threat of making one small misstep during the descent and tumbling from top to bottom, I don't know that I could ever again live on flat earth.

11. Fifteen minutes is all you need to close the deal. Who knows where I'd be living after January if I hadn't asked the rental agent to show me the apartment at 9.45 in the morning, 15 minutes before the open house was scheduled to begin. By 9.55, he was on the phone telling everyone who had scheduled a viewing not to bother coming, and I was already making myself at home.

12. I still have it in me to make a commitment. Signing a one-year lease might not seem like such a big deal to most people, and considering that I've bought two apartments this century, you'd think it would be next to nothing to me, too. But when you've spent nearly three years living in month-to-month rentals, avoiding long-term rentals with as much dedication as you direct toward avoiding long-term relationships and winter, signing an agreement that will tie you to one city, Cape Town, until January 31, 2015, can feel a little bit like signing your life away.

13. But who knows what the future holds? Although I know where I'll be spending 2014 (or at least where I'll be based, as I do plan on exploring Africa a bit), I'm more at a loss than ever to predict what it has in store for me or to even describe what I want it to bring. And I'm actually kind of good with that. As ready as I am for life with a little bit of stability, may it never be at the expense of possibility and unpredictability.

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