HOW TO BUILD A BETTER REINDEER
BERGEN, Norway: "You need a man who understands and respects your work," Denise announces.
Oh my. We've reached the proclamation stage of this Bergen pub crawl.
"What are you scared of?" the underwater photographer challenges. "Too many young women neglect their talent. Why don't you just go for it? And find someone who supports that? Or just be alone ..."
Rattled, I skitter to the bar, once a warehouse for dried cod. What a miserable place for an epiphany. I couldn't be musing in the Pantheon or Petra's Siq or the Pasayten Wilderness. Nope. I'm suffering a sea change on the docks of medieval herring merchants. And I hate fish.
Indignity aside, I study my discomfort. Yes, yes, she's right. I've dabbled, where I should have dove.
As my friend Edward often complains, I "ascribe to the Grinch theory of distraction: If I can't find a reindeer, I'll make one instead!"
What would I want, truly, all presets and dithering aside?
This year, I learned to be alone. I remembered how to travel not merely on assignment, but to refill my lungs, my heart, my head. And, somewhere in that solitude, I found the words that escaped me for so long. The ones that are mine, regardless of where they parade on the page.
Golly, wouldn't it just be nice to share the love?
But the Grinch, see, doesn't build a better reindeer: "He took his dog Max, and he took some black thread, and he tied a big horn on top of his head."
I bring Denise another glass of wine. After we drain the dregs, we link arms and stroll into Bergen's gentle night. Searching for an artists' nightclub, we wander the alleys of the fish lords. Lost and laughing and uncaring.
Then I know this, as surely as the cobbles underfoot or the incipient hangover: the right reindeer can only be born, not made.
At least, not made by me with spit and shoe-polish and string.
Thus I leave the capital of the herring-mongers, the counters of cod. I'm not sad to go, though the town is lovely, stacking pastel buildings between the wedgwood water and pined slopes.
Somewhere on the horizon is the better reindeer.
And until then, I have much to keep me busy.