mexican meatloaf

mexican meatloaf

Meatloaf never makes for a pretty picture, no matter how many pressed linens or bone china plates you add to the mix. It’s sloppy, messy, brown and red (tough colors to photograph), but it’s the kind of mess I like. It’s the juices-running-off-your-chin messy. It’s the I-got-chorizo-all-over-my-shirt (this actually happened) messy. Meatloaf is the kind of food you eat standing up, fork digging into the loaf pan, mixing moistened meat with scalding sauce. It’s the kind of food that will stink up your refrigerator, but who cares? No one should judge you for the contents of your fridge.

Most of the week I’m crazy busy, but I reserve Saturdays for “me” time. Now this isn’t the sort of time I use to get perfunctory work or errands done because I consider that work, rather it’s a day when I read long books, watch good movies, bake meat in loaf pans and take copious pictures of my cat pressing his vanilla paws into his face. However, lately, I’ve also been using it as a means to learn something new each week. This week a friend (and colleague) taught me how to use Snapchat, a non-intuitive platform that I abhorred using for a while. An old friend from New York and I chatted via Skype yesterday while she taught me sophisticated ad targeting techniques. Another friend taught me how to take better pictures (I’m still learning). And yet another friend reminded me about being patient, how to play the long game when it comes to my life and career. Not all of us have the means or privilege to “hunt down our passion” or “quit our day job”, but there exists nobility in finding purpose in the work that you do and then making time for the things you love to do that don’t necessary yield profit.

During my recent financial crisis, where I was living off my credit card and frightened of eviction, some of my friends suggested I monetize this space. I have a fair amount of traffic and readers and I could make some decent change by adding affiliate links to the books I suggest since I tend to read a lot of them. I thought about this, albeit briefly, and shook my head no, not because I was taking a moral high ground, but rather it would make this space work. Making everything about work takes the joy out of the pursuit. Or to put it bluntly, Lenny Kravitz learned from Prince that”[e]verything isn’t for business. It’s for the sake of doing it. It’s about the art, the moment, the memory and the experience.” While I’m not suggesting I create art on the level of Prince on this space, I do get a great deal of joy coming here without the burden of being beholden to people or feeling frightened that I’m not making as much money as I should. I don’t come here with the intention of creating posts that will generate more traffic (I mean, come on, I write 1,000-word posts that have nothing to do with meatloaf). I come here because sharing the food I make, the books I read, the experiences I endured make me happy in a way that’s difficult to describe.

Yesterday, I focused on learning and taking care of myself. I made meatloaf, and while you’d hesitate in wanting to take its picture, this is the kind of meal you want to be eating.

I have a hectic few weeks ahead of me, and I keep saying to myself: take care, take care, take care.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook, modified slightly
1 pound ground beef, make sure this has 80% fat or your meat will dry out
1 pound chorizo
1 red bell pepper, dice
1 shallot, minced
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 tablespoon garlic powder
1⁄2 tablespoon onion powder
1⁄2 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup blanched almond flour
1 large egg
1⁄4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
2 cups salsa of choice, divided
DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. The original recipe doesn’t make the following notation, but trust me, it will save you agony later on. Layer the pan with a sheet of parchment paper that hangs a few inches off the sides. This will help when you want to remove your boiling hot loaf from the pan without an epic collapse.
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the salsa. Press the mixture firmly into the prepared loaf pan. Pour 1 cup of the salsa on top of the meatloaf. Bake for 1 hour to 1hr 15 minutes until the meat is completely cooked through in the middle. Remove the meatloaf from the oven, top with the remaining 1 cup of salsa, and garnish with extra cilantro.

making mexican meatloaf

mexican meatloaf

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running from ambition toward grace: the year I stopped wanting all the wrong things

pineapple in the ocean

There goes that pineapple again.

Let me tell you what I thought I wanted. I wanted to write a New Yorker story and get a blurb from the Michael Cunningham of 2002. And then I read the magazine and didn’t particularly like the stories or their formulas and Michael Cunningham started writing books that drew a chasm between author and reader and it had become an ocean I was too tired to cross. I wanted blue glitter heels that gave me the advantage of a few inches because height, the ability to stand over someone and stare down at them, got you places. Or so I thought. But the pretty tall shoes pinched my feet and one day I tripped and fell and nearly twisted my ankle. I donated the shoes and hoped they wouldn’t pinch another woman’s feet. Now, I mostly wear flats and have lost interest in staring. I thought I wanted an expansive brownstone apartment outfitted with a blue velvet couch, and when I had the home I lamented over the largeness of it and when I finally bought the couch I felt it was a thing you would admire in a magazine but an item in your home that you’d dust and preserve but wouldn’t dare touch. Everyone complimented my blue couch while I sat on the floor repelled by it. I spent over two thousand dollars on a piece of furniture and when I moved to Los Angeles I sold it for $50 and begged a young woman to take it away as quickly as you can. The thing I’d coveted had become an eyesore–a reminder of all I hadn’t wanted. I thought I wanted a job with a fancy title and a check with a sizeable number of zeros because I thought that represented respect and intelligence, but the job became my slow burn ruin and the paycheck only served to buy things that self-medicated (see: blue glitter shoes, blue velvet couch). I didn’t need a title to tell me I was smart and a title doesn’t actually hand you respect–you earn it. I thought I wanted what Tony Montana wanted: the world, chico, and everything in it because I spent my childhood playing the role of parent, of an adult. Because I thought I deserved it. But who deserves anything? Who says that with a straight face? And I came to realize that the words that found themselves replayed in rap songs and printed on posters and t-shirts weren’t two arms wrapped around a globe, rather they were a black ocean intent on swallowing me whole. When you have all there is to have you have nothing. The ground gives way and the fall is bottomless as a result of your want, which is never really fulfilled because you dedicated your life to accumulation rather than cultivation.

Funny how time sorts things.

A while ago, one of my closest friends, Amber, asked if I’d seen the Nora Ephron documentary, “Everything is Copy”. I said no in that dismissive way I can sometimes be, and told her I’d add it to my Netflix queue. She posed that question while I was surveying my home with the realization that I didn’t want this apartment. I didn’t want much of what was hanging in my closet. Pacing my very expensive apartment I kept saying I don’t want as if it were a sermon, a prayer.

Then I boarded a plane to New York for a work trip and when I landed in the maelstrom that was JFK I was exhausted. In Manhattan, I viewed the buildings and the people with their clipped tones and determined gait moving every which way with dread. My home, my place of origin, after eight months, had become a stranger. My solace were people: my client team who’s smart and passionate and funny, my mentor who told me I seemed changed but in a good way, and the few friends I was able to see whom I held close and made a point of smelling their hair and feeling my cheek against their shoulder or neck. I know that might sound strange or primal, but I wanted to remember them whole not in parts. I want to remember what it felt like holding them close rather than what they wore or how they colored their hair (all my friends have lightened their hair since I’ve last seen them, which is interesting. More so when one of them pointed out I’d lightened my hair too, to which I responded, laughing, L.A.). This was me taking a picture of them because I knew I wouldn’t see them for a while. And this want, this desire to have them close to me, in my home, broke my heart in places I never conceived could break.

While I was in New York, I stayed with Amber and we watched the documentary and all the while I imagined Joan Didion calling Nora Ephron a cool customer. In her dying days, all that ambition, all that want, morphed into a grace, a quiet and deliberate receding. She’d built a career on ambition and there’s nothing wrong with that–in some ways we should want and work for that want–and I consider the balance of ambition and grace. It seems to me that one tends to follow the other–maybe because of age or exhaustion, who’s to say–and I wonder if both of them, grace and ambition, can occupy the same space and live amicably. To want but not to be subsumed by it, to recognize that life is not a series of battles waged, wars conquered and spoils savored. To realize that one can want but one can also simply be.

In the cab headed to Kennedy, it occurred to me that New York is a repository of my history of wants, of so much history that it’s daunting–all of it is entirely too much to bear and carry. Perhaps this is why I was so anxious to abandon the only home I know because the memory of it was inextricably tied to the life I’d devoted to creating–a life I ended up never really wanting.

I’ll tell you what I do want. I want to stop wanting because desire can sometimes be exhausting and often confused with need. I want a small house I can afford with a yard because I’ve never lived in a house, only apartments. I want this space because it affords me quiet and it would be nice to watch my Felix roll around in the grass. It would be nice to consider adopting a dog. I want to write without caring where my work would be published or if it achieves any level of acclaim–and I’m nearly there, but not quite. I want to live within my means and not feel the pang of desire simply because someone else has more things. I want to be calmer, quieter, less reactive and more forgiving and pensive, and I’m almost there but not quite. I want my ambition to be graceful and filled with grace. I want to remember this is how her skin felt when I left her. This was the crush of our embrace and it feels good to love and be loved.

I want to be and remember this moment as it happens as it’s happened as it has happened and as it will happen.

I would also like a pineapple.

 

Image Credit: Unsplash

finally!

fucking finally

You better believe I’ve posted a picture of a pineapple perched on top of an ocean rock. It’s been that kind of week.

The past six months have been nothing short of horrible, and I finally feel as if I’m climbing out from under the rubble. When I moved to Los Angeles, I had no idea that I’d have to confront all of my losses, which had been slowly mounting. I hadn’t realized that I was approaching the middle of my life and I needed a change, a new course of direction. Instead, I spent the past year myopic, driven toward a single goal: leave New York, and it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d arrive here and have to sit with my losses spread out in front me, alone, confused, in complete quiet. It’s kind of like sitting naked in a room surrounded by mirrors and you’re forced to confront your most raw, unattractive, and frightened self. And you look at the person rising up in front you and the one behind and beside you, and for the first time you look around and haven’t a clue as to what to do.

And then depression. And then the realization that some friendships can’t survive geography. And then the fear that I will always, in some way, define myself in the context of my mother.

Last week a friend warned me about what I choose to share online. He came from a kind and concerned place and said that some hands are worth holding close simply for the reason that people don’t know how to handle discomfort. They don’t want the burden of one’s sadness. And I considered what my friend said and told him that while it appears that I share a great deal online, I don’t. I’m surgical about what I share and do so because if words have the propensity to make someone feel less alone, then I’ll keep writing them until all the pens run out. I don’t care if people don’t like me or what I say, rather I care more about people who’ve been forced to suffer privately or feel the stigma that accompanies addiction or mental illness. Over the past six months, I’ve been a voyeur in other people’s lives–reading blog posts documenting their constant struggle or scrolling through their photos as they try to survive their day without screaming into pillows. I drew comfort from this because it reminded me that there are others. And while this is captain obvious, you’d be surprised how swiftly and often we forget. How we believe that our pain is an anomaly, that our suffering is singular and acute.

One night last month I wrote a post that I subsequently deleted–one where I shared that I no longer feared death, and wouldn’t it be easier if I took my own life? I then went to bed, oblivious to the panic I’d created amongst my closest friends, and I woke the next morning to a slew of messages. My oldest friend called me from work and I could hear the pain in her voice and the difficulty she had in assembling her words. Listening to her, I tried to arrange my face in the shape of fine but the shape wouldn’t take and my voice shook, and I promised to return to therapy because I loved her and it killed me that I was hurting her. When I hung up I wanted the love I had for her to eventually become a love I would reserve for myself.

Whenever you think life doesn’t get better, it does. Eventually. I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

Last night I spent an evening with old and new friends and I was comforted by how freely we spoke about politics, mental illness, familial anguish and discord, and addiction. There was no shame, only laughter between people who had gone through war and sometimes knew they’d have to dress their wounds. We are the bandages that we wrap around our hurt selves. We are our urgent care.

Then I thought about my friend who told me to play my cards close and now I shake my head. No. Fuck no. If someone reads what I write here and judges me for being human, for trying to take my life back and live it–that’s not someone whom I want to know. I’m finally, slowly (snail’s pace, people) getting back on track. I’m in the contract phase for a new project, with a list of good leads coming in. I’m hosting my first dinner party next week for old and new friends in Los Angeles. I’m volunteering at Kitty Bungalow, helping feral kittens get adopted. I’m reading and writing. I’m more present for my new friends, and I’m doing everything I can to help those who are struggling since I’ve been humbled by those (strangers and close friends) who’ve extended me their heart, compassion, and care.

And when have I ever played a straight hand? I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I feel good. I have hope.

If your words have the capacity to shake someone, to comfort someone, use them. Keep writing, keep talking, keep texting, keep caring because we all walk quietly through this world bearing varying degrees of struggle. Why not be empathetic? Why not pause and care and not immediately judge or dismiss? Why not say: What can I do? How can I help?

Because I’ve been there. Or simply, because I care.

 

the cult of cruel: on duplicity + hate-reading

donuts at sidecar

In high school, Mike B. made it hard for me to get out of bed in the morning. There’s no logic to who gets chosen as the object of one’s vitriol, other than perhaps the fear of someone or something other–disgust toward a person who doesn’t conform or blend in. Mike B. was relentless. His friends vandalized my locker and all the girls on the kick team (think cheerleaders, only cooler because these were the kind of girls who smoked Newport Lights and swiveled their slim hips) called me “Fro” because my hair didn’t blend. My hair wasn’t fine and smooth and like Renee’s. Renee sat in front of me in A.P. Bio and she was a smart girl but she played dumb because she filled out in all the right places and with Renee you didn’t hit bases, you knocked her right out of the park. Boys didn’t like hot girls who were smart. It just didn’t make sense. But Renee was the only one who was nice to me–she didn’t ridicule me like her friends did, and when I tutored her in English and she helped me in Bio, she confided that none of these people matter. Mike B. was one of her best friends but on that afternoon in her bedroom, she rolled her eyes and said, Mike B.? Wait ten years. He’s going to be such a loser. Renee would tell me about the boys she slept with and the boys she didn’t want to sleep with but had to sleep with anyway because this was high school and she was Renee and she was popular and she didn’t want to be the girl who didn’t give guys a good time.

For two years I was the subject of Mike B.’s torment. I devised alternate routes home in fear of him driving beside me, yelling out his insults and taunts. I ate lunch alone in the senior lounge or in teachers’ offices because I was the kind of girl teachers trusted. Renee opened doors; I closed them. I was miserable but had a certain satisfaction when I received acceptance letters and scholarships to all the schools to which I applied–NYU, BU, UPenn, Fordham–and Renee confessed to me that Mike B. was going to community college if that.

Ten years later, a chorus of people from my high school somehow tracked me down and sent invitations for a reunion at a waffle joint in Long Island. I browsed the website they’d set up, which reminded me of a Geocities page, and it amazed me that the people who made my life miserable were intent to find out what I was up to. What ever happened to “Fro”, they probably wondered. Word had gotten out that I’d attended Fordham and Columbia, that my career was somewhat successful, and Mike B. still hadn’t left Valley Stream.

High school’s supposed to be terrible, right? Par for the course, right? But how is it that you can remember those days, hallways, and the places you hid, so vividly? We never remember the kind words, rather we feel old wounds opening up, raw and fresh as if you’re forever paying homage to that old hurt.

I can’t imagine high school and the internet because my only solace back then was the fact that there places Mike B. and his tormentors couldn’t reach. For brief periods of time, it was as if everyone in that school ceased to exist.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately–the ways in which people exact their minor and major hurts. People subtweet about their hate-follows and hate-reads. People talk smack behind other people’s backs to then kiss-kiss, hey how are you? to that person’s face. People leave hateful comments tearing apart someone’s appearance: well…if she didn’t want to hear how fat she was, she shouldn’t have posted that picture online, which reminds me of a similar refrain: if she hadn’t worn that short skirt or that tight top, she wouldn’t have gotten assaulted. Same country, different state. Groups exist on the internet devoted to the care and feeding of  hate.

Yesterday, I read two articles about trolling and hate, and saw a tearful Brianna Wu on SyFy’s new show, “The Internet Ruined My Life”. Brianna tweeted last night that she was afraid of her mentions, and amidst all of the support for her bravery, for not backing down against men who make it their business to “put women in their place”, there were articles and tweets calling her story a “great comedy”, lambasting her with cruel retorts. Just the other day, I tweeted a retort to an outspoken feminist friend who routinely gets trolled by men, and a self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi called me a cunt.

A cunt.

We live in a country that espouses free speech, but many are forced into silence in fear of the hate avalanche. I’m in a private Facebook group, and many of the women who are writers talk about not reading the comments of their published articles out of sheer self-preservation. A few bloggers shared stories about strangers calling CPS based on their opinions of a blogger’s particular Instagram post, and their views on how a mother should/should not raise her child. Because, as you know, an online representation of one aspect of someone’s life is the complete story, the whole of someone’s life (/sarcasm). A few years ago, I was the subject of a man’s ire, someone whom I believe I knew (or at least had come into contact with during my agency career, which makes the whole situation that much more jarring), who essentially rambled on about how much he hated me, how I was a troll, etc, because I stood up for women who had been ridiculed because of their appearance. A decade ago, a small circle of literary bloggers posted cruel blind items about me and I remember being at work, in front of my computer, reading these posts and my whole body going numb.

While it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone will love you, what you do, or what you choose to put out into the world, that knowledge doesn’t remove the sting you feel when you saw yourself as the object of someone’s ridicule on the internet. While the taunts of the Mike B.s of the world in the early 90s have a limited shelf-life, words published online leave a permanent indelible mark. It’s public, made searchable by your family, colleagues, and friends. It’s a cruel reminder that always hovers, whispering, we don’t like you.

The spectrum of cruelty feels seemingly infinite–from the side-eyes and whispers behind one’s back to the full-blown doxing and harassment of women and minorities online, made that much more ubiquitous in today’s frightening political climate where people wear their hate as a badge of honor. And we’re all culpable, we may have talked shit behind someone’s back and played nice in front of their face, or we may hate-read someone’s blog or Instagram waiting for the object of our ire to stumble and fall. Or maybe we leave anonymous comments–words that burn and hurt. We’ve all been cruel in one way or another.

I’ve been guilty of double-talk and hate-reading, and I always felt dirty doing it because I know exactly what I was doing, felt horrible for doing it because I wouldn’t want someone to do this to me. But it was hard, especially when I was deep in my depression and sneered at everyone living their best life because, frankly, I was jealous and wanted that life too. In January, at the height of my depression, I read a post from Paul Graham that put me on pause. Life is short, and we’re literally giving away time in our life to others. He talks about arguing online with strangers. He writes:

But while some amount of bullshit is inevitably forced on you, the bullshit that sneaks into your life by tricking you is no one’s fault but your own. And yet the bullshit you choose may be harder to eliminate than the bullshit that’s forced on you. Things that lure you into wasting your time on them have to be really good at tricking you. An example that will be familiar to a lot of people is arguing online. When someone contradicts you, they’re in a sense attacking you. Sometimes pretty overtly. Your instinct when attacked is to defend yourself. But like a lot of instincts, this one wasn’t designed for the world we now live in. Counterintuitive as it feels, it’s better most of the time not to defend yourself. Otherwise these people are literally taking your life.

Hating people is exhausting. Perhaps it’s easier to hate than to be empathetic and kind because that requires us to be vulnerable and exposed. It forces us to ask that uncomfortable questions about ourselves. What about her bothers me so much that I have to leave that comment, say that thing behind her back? And hey, awful people who do awful, stupid things, exist, but we have a choice to devote our attention to them. We choose to give them our life in exchange for the privilege of hating them, publicly or privately.

The past six months have been the hardest I’ve ever known. I have to devote all of my energy to putting one foot in front of the other. I have to wake every day to this financial anxiety and devise ways in which I can get back to a place of stability. My time and energy are precious–they’re things I can’t ever get back–so I’ve made a conscious choice to lay down my anger, jealousy, annoyance, and fear. Years ago, a wise friend told me that crooks undo themselves, always, so there’s no need for us to contribute to their inevitable downfall. So why should I waste my time picking apart others when I can instead use those moments to put myself forward and spend time with people I do love. I don’t hate-read and while there are people in this world I do not like, I no longer devote my energy tending to that dislike.

You have one life. Why would you waste it hating people and acting on that hate? Where does it get you? Does it move you forward? Ask yourself why you might feel so satisfied in a feeling that’s so destructive?

Why not focus on yourself and moving your shit forward?


 

You might wonder why there’s a donut in this post. I had a crap day and decided to leave my house and treat myself to a donut. That’s why. 

forget mass-market. why not play small?

SAMSUNG CSC

 

What we are is a set of walking contradictions. Our inner lives are not partitioned like day and night, with pure light on one side of us and total darkness on the other. Mostly, our souls are shadowed places; we live at the border where dark sides block our light and throw a shadow over our interior places…We cannot always tell where our light ends and our shadow begins or where our shadow ends and our darkness begins. — From Lewis Smedes’ Shame and Grace

We always want more — even if we don’t want it, even if we never needed it. When we were children our eyes roved over the things we saw–the pink light that filtered in through the trees (dusk), machines that raced down streets (cars), furry things that licked their paws (cats, dogs–this could get complicated), and in those experiences we cultivated memory — the first of our many acquisitions. Everything used to be a puzzle; images and words played Lego, and we leaned on others for definition, interpretation, and perspective. We were taught to believe that everything in the diminutive represented an unfinished state, something not yet realized and far from its potential. That cute wobbly puppy will grow into a dog that can sprint. That infant who once smelled of clean cotton sheets will become someone who will build houses, fly planes, cure diseases. Our memory of the miniature plays out in sepia, it’s hazy and often romanticized — we only fixate on what we’ll become, leaving our previous states aside.

We always dismiss our smaller, unfinished states in favor of the large and seemingly complete.

I’ve been thinking about children lately. Not having them, but observing them. I’ve also been thinking about death and making connections between the two. Our destination varies depending upon what you believe, but I wonder if the place we’ll go vaguely resembles the one from which we’ve come, and the space we occupy between the two, our holding pen called life, will be spent trying to make sense of our journey from one place to the other.

Or maybe that’s my life.

We cry coming out and we weep slouching home, because isn’t that what death is? Our final stop, a story, a home that can’t be torched or torn down? Our tears come from fear of the unknown, of what’s to come. I assume babies scream-cry because they consider everything an assault. What are these shapes, colors, and lights? Who are you? What is this, what am I, and so on. Over time, the answers are revealed in degrees, and for a brief time, we are comforted by these certainties. Life becomes a slow conquering of sorts, a means to ferret out truth from the unknown, and our death is a surrender. We lay down our armaments because we’ve no idea which tools we’ll need for the next battle. Come our twilight years, I suppose we’ll weep because we’re left with a life where most riddles have been resolved, loves have been felt, truths have been revealed — to what? A fugue state that morphs into the eternal black? Or do feel sorrow because we’ve spent our lives trying to know what we’ll never know. Have we wasted time in this single, temporary waking life?

“I greatly fear my hidden parts”–From Augustine’s Confessions

It occurs to me that these moments, life and death, are monumental, yet we’re small when confronting them. We’re small in the beginning (literally), and, in the end, we become small in ways that are more complicated. In both states we don’t consider the notion of wanting more; we can’t even comprehend acquisition, and isn’t it funny that we face our two greatest moments being valiant and great in our smallness, in our need for nothing?

Lately, I’ve been feeling, for lack of a better term, colonized. Colonized in terms of defining a home, colonized in reference to how I live my life. We all have a reference point. I came from a home that had nothing and spent my 20s and early 30s in the business of hyperaccumulation in hopes that it would satiate a need that could never be truly filled by the things bought in legal tender. I hailed from a generation that believed in the beauty of size. We measured our self-worth in width, height, and weight, and our homes made us feel like dwarves, our Italian leather handbags threatened to swallow us whole. We became bound to this title, to those letters after our name, as if ascension equates to human greatness or a rich character.

The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry souffle. I did that at least twenty-eight times before I finally conquered it.” — Julia Child

A friend and I talk about the avalanche of e-books and articles we read: how to build your newsletter, how to achieve a million readers, how to grow at scale — apparently you cease to matter if the world doesn’t read you (that tree in the forest metaphor). I’m a difficult woman who writes often about the darker aspects of life, so I know I’ll never be fit for the masses. I’m not someone who colors in the lines, rather I’d rather create new books in which to color. I know I’ll never be “big” or widely read, or deeply connected or nominated for the fancy awards, and I’m okay with this. I’m okay with playing small and accumulating a wonderful, compassionate tribe.

I think about my dad. For a time, I couldn’t comprehend why he didn’t want more from life — why he didn’t demand the world and everything in it just I had. His home and closets are spare, he has only what he needs. He cleaves to his rituals: coffee in the morning, coffee as a means to connect, and long drives to clear his head. He holds few photographs. Luckily, I’m in some of them. He doesn’t speak about the past often, but what he remembers are the moments I sometimes struggle to recall: they’re small, but we explode into laughter when he recounts them. The day he drove down a one-way street. The day we made a point to eat one meal from every fast food joint in a five-mile radius (I don’t recommend this). He has the ability to say one string of words and we’re immediately transported back and I can feel everything. He has a way of making the world simple, clean and neat–even when he’s engulfed in sadness, loss, heartbreak.

I admire him this, his quiet nobility. I admire a man who’s lived a great, small life–who loves every minute of it. You feel everything so hard, he once joked. When I look at him or when I think about children, I’m reminded of the beauty of playing small. Of not needing to puff up my chest, resume, byline or biography. Life is still worth loving even if I don’t win prizes, or reach financial and professional heights. Last year I read David Brooks’ The Road to Character and in the final chapter, he underscored the dangers of a society focused solely on meritocracy, on the accumulation of desires and the constant cult of “big me”. He writes,

The meritocratic system wants you to be big about yourself–to puff yourself, to be completely sure of yourself, to believe that you deserve a lot and to get what you think you deserve (so long as it’s good). The meritocracy wants you to assert and advertise yourself. It wants you to display and exaggerate your achievements. The achievement machine rewards you if you can demonstrate superiority–if with a thousand gestures, conversational types, and styles of dress you can demonstrate that you are a bit smarter, hipper, more accomplished, sophisticated, famous, plugged-in, and fashion-forward that the people around you. It encourages narrowing. It encourages you to become a shrewd animal.

We covet the largess of life, yet we end up feeling silly and small. What if we revered the reverse? What if we came from a place of curiosity, humility, self-acceptance, and honesty? What if we formed our character based on how we loved, what we built as an extension of that love versus blasting out what we’ve acquired, the weight of objects we carry? I think about this tension a lot, especially when I read that I have to make a ruckus in order to break ranks. What if I ceased wanting all the things? What if I burned the measuring tape and scales, and stopped equating large and more with joy and greatness? Fewer, better. Quality reigns over quantity. I’ve done this in nearly all aspects of my life, but not completely. I wonder if that’s even possible. I’m not sure that it is, so perhaps that’s part of the journey, too.

Why are we defining success by a metric, a site visit, or a number of comments? Why is mass suddenly the marker of achievement? A blog with a book deal and a stylish lifestyle show and a line at a fancy department store — are these the new markers of success? Have we updated the old playbook where we were told as children that a good life meant having a career, getting married, having kids, buying a house, having a summer house, and retiring? Shouldn’t success and happiness be the achievement of what we love to its own end, knowing that end might be private and personal? That we should strive to create depth, complexity, difficulty, meaning and devotion in everything we do instead of optimizing our content for search or being “social” because that’s the sort of thing we ought to be doing?

The idea of working a room makes me want to gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch.

A boss once we told me that we have to think about content in the context of its distribution. For nearly four years I clung to this fiction, repeated it to a litany of clients, left an indelible mark on those whom I mentored, and it occurred to me that this statement was wrong. Of course, we don’t create something to simply leave it there to gather dust, but if I start to fixate on the end game, the thing I’m creating suddenly loses meaning. It becomes airless, soulless, a pretty picture worth pinning with nothing beneath the surface.

Fuck being big. Fuck scale. Fuck viral. Have integrity. Because when you achieve the largeness, it never is what we wanted it to be, and we end up just wanting more. Instead, create that which bolts you out of bed. Build and be everything that gives you heart and purpose, a big life lived small squeezed between our beginning and inevitable end.

Why not play small?

Image Credit: Pexels

you want to pay me $250 for a comprehensive marketing strategy? that’s cute.

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Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Let’s not talk about the time I was offered $250 for a comprehensive marketing strategy — weeks worth of work — and say we did.

There’s something many of my peers have been discussing in private groups and behind closed doors but no dares to speak out loud for fear of losing work. We trade emails where editors think $25 for 500-word articles, replete with secondary sources and rounds of revision, to be a living wage. We lament over the fact that seasoned marketers are being outbid by people with little to no actual work experience beyond preening themselves in front of a camera. I’m told, why would I pay X if Competitor A offers a third of your rate, to which I respond: I don’t compete on price; I compete on value, efficacy, and experience. Last week someone told me that she made more money doing the same thing ten years ago than she does now. Her professional life is one of diminishing returns: she has to work twice as hard now to make the same money she made a decade ago. In a private Facebook group, scores of influential bloggers talk about how brands and publicists trot out the word “exposure” in exchange for free work. Recently, writer Victoria Philpott shared a perfect scenario of this charade in her incisive essay about the trap of blogging for exposure:

A new startup wants you to review their app on your site, host a competition to give 5 away to your readers and write about them on the App Store. In return you’ll get to be one of the first to try the new app. You go back and tell them that’s advertising and will cost but they ‘don’t have the budget for that’.

So, they want a good few hours work, and access to your audience, in return for an app you didn’t ask for or want?

Another friend seethes when she’s told by her editor that college kids would be willing to work for free (or for a fraction of the standard rate) because everyone wants exposure and experience. In a hustle economy, everyone’s juggling side gigs and projects, and the refrain is constant: we’re working harder for less.

I worked through college — balancing a 20+ hour work week with a full course load, volunteer activities, and a social life. Most of my internships were paid because I couldn’t afford not to make money, and while I understood that my compensation directly correlated with my experience, it was unthinkable to compete with full-time employees’ comp, people who had years of experience.

Let me be clear and say that this isn’t a get-off-my-lawn rant, a Gen X vs. Gen Y kerfuffle that rivals Biggie and Tupac. We need each other, and I believe in the power of symbiotic mentorship. After I left a digital marketing agency where I was an equity partner, I kept in close contact with many people who reported to me, brilliant women who went on to break ranks and with whom I forged close relationships. Although we were 10–15 years apart in age, we knew our respective value, and it was equal and powerful. I mentored women on being a manager and leader, how to negotiate comp and deal with toxic employees, and they kept me fresh on burgeoning trends and social media, and what I’ve learned most from my millennial friends is the power of reinvention. Of taking something old and seeing in it the new.

So if you’re ready to get riled up at the kids today, there are plenty of articles on Medium that will satiate you — this is not one of them.

For the past few years, I’ve witnessed a disturbing trend in some agencies where they’ve skimmed the top (less P&L impact) and hired junior talent in hopes of growing them rapidly into senior roles. A whole middle layer of management was nearly non-existent, so you had very senior people too deep in the weeds and junior talent feeling overwhelmed and non-equipped to manage work and situations in which they had little experience. In The Devil’s Advocate (bear with me), Al Pacino’s character tells a young and arrogant Keanu Reeves:

I know you got talent, I knew that before you got here. It’s just the other thing I wonder about: pressure, it changes everything. Some people you squeeze them, they focus. Others fold. Can you summon your talent at will? Can you deliver on a deadline? Can you sleep at night?

Some people surprise you — they’re natural leaders and they exude confidence and acumen beyond their years, a talent that’s rare and priceless. A soon-to-be college grad outlines, in detail, how hard she worked to get published in bold-face publications before graduation, and I respect her tenacity, talent, and hustle. Yet, there’s something to be said for tenure, for having the years, for enduring experience and learning from it and then having the perspective that only time and distance brings to bear on new situations. I will always believe in the adage “you get what you pay for”.Replacing tenured talent with cheap labor to save bottom-line impact isn’t a viable long-term strategy. Placing band-aids on dams might work in the short-term but inevitably the dam will burst.

There’s real and tangible value in having a college or intern perspective. There’s value in having someone who knows the nuances of a particular social media channel give input on content and strategy. However, the value is complementary, not interchangeable. Just because someone will do something for free doesn’t mean you need to take advantage of it for the short-term savings, completely sacrificing the value of experience and perspective. Complement, don’t replace all.

Let’s revisit that offer of $250 and what comprises an integrated marketing strategy. Building a strategy requires (I’m summarizing big time here):

  1. Discovery/Research: A complete brand and business immersion and discussions with staff across business units — all of this in the context of industry factors and consumer trends/behavior
  2. Key Learnings: From all of the research and discussions, I tend to identify challenges and opportunities, along with some kick fixes or wins. Since I’m removed from the day-to-day, I have the fortune of distance and perspective and can usually identify issues (internal and external) and opportunities that staff too close to the business might miss
  3. Objectives/Goals Discussion: This is lengthy, and often we review past day and performance as well as a deeper conversation about their existing customer base. We discuss quantifiable and qualitative goals and objectives, knowing that our strategy has to satisfy or meet those goals/objectives. We discuss what success is and how to measure/optimize it, by channel, by tactic
  4. Strategy Outline: This is the “What” — What we’ll do to service the goals/objectives. This isn’t a tactic, a “we’ll launch an Instagram channel” or “we’ll hire a YouTube celeb to bolster our brand” — this is the big idea and plan that will impact the entire business, and will be implemented across paid, owned, earned and partner media.
  5. Tactical Roadmap: From the strategy falls the tactics, which brings the ideas to life in a practical way, i.e. the “How”. This will invariably require the collaboration between partners (internal and external) for development of distinct and detailed plans with budgets, timelines, and allocated resources

So you think all that work — weeks of labor — is worth $250? I’ve worked hard for 17+ years to be paid $250 for a marketing strategy? Surely you jest.

You think the hours it takes for writers to find sources, compose interview questions, transcribe interviews, draft articles and make revisions are worth $25? $100? $250?

As Shannon Barber so sagely writes: “No one can eat exposure.” I tell people I’m not operating a non-profit. Would I ask my doctor to reduce her rate because someone down the street charges less? Would I nickel and dime a plumber? Would I ask someone to paint my apartment for free in exchange for an Instagram post? Why is it that people find it easy to diminish the value of writers and marketers (non-tactile skills)? Why is it so easy to sacrifice quality for short-term profit?

When will brands and businesses focus on complementary talent rather than bottom-line savings that hurt over time?


I originally published this post on Medium

old school social media: friendship books (FBs) and penpals

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Photo Credit: Unsplash

When I was small, I became aware of the spaces between people. A fence separated the building where I lived and the girls who played jump rope next door, a physical barrier that was no match for a religious one. They wore skirts that grazed their ankles and blouses that cinched at the wrists, and I wondered if they could feel the heat. One summer I wore a mint-green short-set until it was threadbare and when I asked the girls next door if they wanted to play, they ignored me. We occupied the same space — why were they unfazed by the hot sun bearing down? Why wouldn’t they play with me? Days later, a small boy would tell me that they weren’t allowed to speak to “people like me”, much less share a rope.

It was summer and I was friendless with only a stack of library books and squirrels scavenging through the trees to keep me company. Everyone seemed to have a crew, a pack of friends with whom they played double-dutch or swam in the 4-ft pool at Sunset Park. I don’t remember how I discovered Friendship Books (FBs) or how I found my first pen-pal, but that summer I finally befriended dozens of girls my age and was awed by the places in which they lived. Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Canada (!!!) — I considered these faraway lands exotic countries because the farthest I’d ever traveled was to downtown Manhattan. No longer did I spend my days alone! That summer, I spent hours buying Lisa Frank and Ms. Grossman stickers, colored markers, and construction paper with the small amount of money I’d saved — all in an effort to make me desirable, because who could resist an eleven-year-old from Brooklyn who hoarded iridescent unicorn stickers?

Soon I mastered the acronyms:

AA — Answer All
AM — Answer Most
AS — Answer Some
AVF — Answer Very Few
SNNP — Sorry No New Pals
NNP — No New Pals
SNNS—Sorry No New Swappers
NPW — New Pals Welcome
NSW— New Swappers Welcome
LLP— Long Letter Pal

Within a year, I migrated from “AA” to “NNP”, a status that would fluctuate until I stopped “palling” when I was seventeen. Trading sheets of stickers, stationery, and glitter pens would evolve into trading clips from popular teen magazines: Bop, Big Bopper, Teen Machine, and Sassy. Even though foreign penpals meant more stamps to lick and calculations to navigate, glossy spreads of my favorite teen stars (Corey Haim, Robert Downey Jr., Kirk Cameron, Andrew McCarthy, NKOTB) from magazines published in languages foreign to me were worth the trips to the post office. And I had friends! Some pals were purely trading partners while others became close friends. We traded long letters about our parents, all the ways we didn’t fit in at school, and the movies we watched and books we read because we were lonely kids and teenagers and we desperately wanted to feel less alone. Mail was something to look forward to, and I’d stare out my window breathlessly awaiting the men dressed in blue to make their way to my building, and when they left I raced down the stairs and cradled my bounty back to my room. Sometimes I’d open the fat envelopes midway up the stairs, giddy. Other times I’d spend long afternoons writing letters in neat cursive and decorating my small piece of real estate in the FB I’d received.

When I was 16 and 17 I rode a Greyhound bus to Washington state and California to meet my best pals in person, and we snapped photos with our 110 cameras and ordered late-night pizzas. It never occurred to me that I had to travel thousands of miles to do the kind of things ordinary girls did with friends who lived within a 5-mile radius.

This morning, I read a remarkable post about a woman who’s made hundreds of friends through social media. Ella Risbridger writes:

We write online — tweets, DMs, emails — and we write to each other offline, too. Sometimes I picture our correspondences criss-crossing the globe, like those maps of trade routes: old copies of the New Yorker and pictures of cats, postcards, platonic love letters, stickers with lions, little lovely things that might make our disparate lives a little better, a little closer, the world (in the very best sense) a little smaller.

1-lon_HLCqSNYm4G93Xun7cwHer words put me to thinking of space. There was a time when if you wanted to contact someone you had to phone them, write them, or show up at that doorstep screaming their name from the street. There was a time when they only way you could escape the world you lived in was to write your way to a new one through the art of pen palling. FBs were the original social profiles and calling cards, ways in which we could showcase our plumage and find friends who closed the spaces between people. My new pals might have lived thousands of miles away but they felt closer to me than the girls playing rope next door or the cheerleaders in high school who routinely ignored or made fun of me.

And while I miss the tactile ways in which I used to make new friends, I’ve found dozens of wonderful people through my blog and Twitter with whom I’ve formed similar bonds. We may not be trading shiny strips of stickers or pictures of cute boys in magazines, but we’re sharing words, kindness, knowledge, perspective, empathy, and, more importantly, we’re making ourselves feel less alone.


Second image credit: Geek Girl Pen Pals

there’s beauty in the attempt (and honesty)

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I have a friend coming over for brunch today and I’m pulling out all the stops: homemade blueberry waffles topped with fresh compote, maple bacon, fruit salad and brewed coffee. It’s been a while since I’ve had someone over–possibly because my home is my refuge, and I couldn’t imagine anyone in it because I viewed the slightest intrusion as a pillage on my sanctuary. Although I’ve been in California only a brief time (five months), it feels like home because it’s not yet blemished by all the history. Even though I moved apartments in the Brooklyn brownstone I once lived, I felt haunted by Sophie’s passing (among other things), and I could feel the weight of having grown up in Brooklyn and seeing it changed. And while the city has been remodeled to the point where it’s barely recognizable, I still have the memory of it. I still remember being a teenager, riding the subway, my feet on the seats.

In Los Angeles, there are no subways, and the streets are clean and expansive. People drive and I walk, and sometimes I’ll walk the eight miles from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica simply to feel space.

Last week, WordPress emailed my end-of-year report, which is kind of like an annual report for your blog, and I normally try not to look at these things, to concern myself with the business of numbers because numbers have a way of doing things to you, altering what and how your create. And it’s no surprise that this space had demonstrably more traffic when I was happy, and people seemed to fall out of the frame when I got sad. And then this put me to thinking about social media and how it can be brutally suffocating with everyone demanding that you be positive, happy and in a constant state of growth and repair. People want to read about your dark times only in the past tense, only when you’ve made it out to the other side and you are gleaming and dressing your wounds. There is so much talk, so much desire for that which is real and authentic, yet we see time and time again how people are rewarded for their artful representation of a coveted life. People want their darkness in manageable doses (that one book everyone reads/movie everyone sees) because possibly they have so much (or little) going on in their lives that they don’t want the burden of someone else’s grief. Rather, they reach out to light so religiously they don’t realize when they’ve been burned and blinded by it.

When I was a teenager, I kept losing PTA-sponsored writing contests because people always died in my stories. Parents can’t reward something that disturbing, a teacher once confided to me. Later, when I was at Columbia, a teacher asked me in my first year why people in my stories died and I was confused and said because that’s what happens. My father once told me that I hold on to darkness too hard. In response, I said no, it was more like I didn’t like letting it go. There’s a difference, even though at the time I didn’t know what that difference was.

 

I’m going to ignore what’s popular and inherently desired because I think that our work allows us to weed out that which does not serve us. I’m in this kind of purgatory where I’m not as low as I was a few months ago, but I’m not out of the woods yet and I feel this tension between the need to get better and the ache of giving up. Being in Los Angeles has given me so many things already–a new book, space, and the want of rebuilding a tribe when the old one didn’t serve me well. It’s hard, really fucking hard, to see the constant stream of posts that speak to how everyone’s life is so! fucking! awesome! when my life is anything but, but their life isn’t my life and there’s no joy in comparing myself to others and what they chose to edit and project out into the world, so all I can do is keep attempting, keep doing, keep working, and keep being my most honest self–even if it’s not as attractive as the world would want it to be.

I woke this morning and thought: well, at least it’s no longer 2015.

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my favorite posts of 2015

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Photo Credit: Annie Spratt

 My favorite writing comes from a place of compulsion. Writers tend to exorcise their obsessions through prose, and every time I’m finished with a project I feel done. I’m in-between writing projects at the moment, awaiting notes from my editor on my second book, and I’m finding it hard to start my new project even though I know what it’ll be (a fictional retelling of Genie: The Feral Child) because I don’t feel what my friend Kira calls “the hot poker pressed up against your back”. Right now I don’t feel much, honestly, so I’m hoping to revisit the words I wrote here that came from a place of verve in order to get some of that verve back.

 1. Some Thoughts on Professional Etiquette Because Some Of You Need It: This morning, I came across an article about how coffee dates kill productivity. Recently, I was duped into a “pick your brain” meeting in the guise of a new business opportunity, and I left the hour drained having given a stranger several ideas and strategies for how they could start their new business venture. As an introvert I rarely get energy from spending time from people, rather the opposite. Often, I leave these coffee dates depleted, energy resources spilled into the person who conveniently forgot to pay for the cappuccino. I remember writing the above post after spending the bulk of my time giving free advice to others. Granted, I think it’s important to be an advisor or mentor to others, however, I also believe in reciprocity and paying my rent and $1,000 monthly student loan bills. In an age when people think it perfectly normal to cancel plans via text message at the last minute, I still believe in etiquette.

2. On Perception and the Delicate Dance of Masks: Scrolling through Instagram last night I paused in front of an image of fingers making air quotes with the words “I’m Fine” in between. I had a conversation with someone recently where I said that how I represent myself is markedly different from my actual self. Curious, he asked how I was different, and I said that I appear mostly put together even when it’s clear I’m falling apart. I say I’m fine so much it’s become a comical refrain, a prayer, and mantra, and this post was one of a few I wrote that attempted to navigate the many masks we sometimes have to bear.

3. Can We Just Be Still for a Moment?: I wrote this post in Nicaragua as I was bearing the weight of a significant loss while deciding whether or not I wanted to leave New York. Often we’re painfully reminded of our need to move, catch up, don’t pause because we need to be at a certain place. Personal velocity is a lauded virtue in an age where idleness is synonymous with laziness, and I wondered aloud about the benefits of simply standing still.

4. New Fiction: Women in Salt: It takes me a long time to write anything that pleases me. And I spent years not writing anything at all. However, in the past three years (specifically, the past three months), I’ve written more than I have in decades. I finished a story collection about various women in and out of peril, and while it sits with my agent I keep returning to this particular story, which is my favorite. When I write I don’t care about plot, rather, I get off on interesting people and seeing where they go. I loved writing in Ava’s voice (I also adored Alice), and I was humbled that so many of you liked this piece too.

5. There’s a Difference Between Feedback + Vitriol: I wrote this piece (and this one in 2014) because I think the word hate is being abused so much it’s starting to lose its meaning. This is hate. Women who face abuse and threats to their person and their family deal with hate. People who are bullied because of their race, sexual orientation, appearance, weight, age deal with hate. However, readers who offer constructive criticism about the way one runs a blog or a business is not a hater. I’m honestly baffled by people who only want to surround themselves with people who hurl praise at them to an unhealthy degree. From teachers, I would hear how I was this gifted writer. From bosses, I would hear about my talents as a leader. I would nod and thank them but then immediately counter with, how could I do better? How could I grow? How could I improve? Feedback is hard to hear, at first, it stings, but it’s knowledge that you could choose or choose not to use. Constructive criticism is different than hate, and I’ve grown increasingly annoyed at how the terms have been conflated, and how bloggers wither and recoil if they’re not told they’re special, perfect snowflakes.

23560415289_b8b86ca48f_z6. The Obligatory Mid-Life Posts: I turned 40 last week and I’ve had a lot of feelings over the year about it. I feel and don’t feel my years if that makes any sense. I am riding the fresh-out-of-fucks tourI made some crazy decisions regarding my career and the importance of a side-hustle learned some stuff, meditated on regret, felt (and still feel) afraid, and realized I’m still learning.

7. Women Who Inspire Me: My friend Arlene awes me with her second and third acts. And meet two women who are really changing the world and breaking ranks.

8. Some Thoughts on Losing Your Best Friend: As you get older, you lose people. Over the past ten years, I’ve lost two very close friends and those losses were devastating. I wrote a bit about losing a best friend.

9. On Publishing + Writing an Experimental Novel: By the time my second book will be published, it’ll be nearly a decade since my first, and my god, so much has changed. I wrote about taking big breaks, finding your voice, and the process of selling a dark novel about a difficult woman.

10. On Marriage, Children + Wearing a Blue Dress: When I graduated college, I thought I would work in investment banking, retire at 30, get married, have children and have a little house in Westchester. Um…things didn’t turn out as planned.

on social media: flowers, coffee, a book on the table + a quivering heart

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You should know that it took me a while to find the right fake photo for this post. An image that conveys a mood of a life so messily, yet so beautifully lived–a kind of Kinfolk existence where everyone is preened to dishabille perfection. The kind of life you could live if only you tried harder, if only you purchased that precious mug. The equivalent of a drive-by life, but instead of surveying wreckage we’re marveling over feet in knit socks, gloved hands, the spines of old books, and steam rising up from a mug. It occurs to me that this life is an even more terrifying wreckage because the damages it inflicts are elusive, monstrous. We don’t see the hurt coming.

In 1999, I’d grown uneasy with my career at an investment bank. This was a time when you mailed paper resumes and you never conceived of leaving your industry. I’d meet with recruiters who told me that the only jobs worth applying for were those at merchant and investment bank. Perhaps a foreign bank, they suggested. Perhaps you can work for the Japanese although the amount of women in senior positions is anemic. You can only go so far. At the time, I lived with my father above a barn in Long Island where it would take several hours to download a single file. I had an AOL account and I used the internet for messaging people and purchasing collectibles off eBay. One morning on the train to work I made the connection between an unmet need and a fervent desire–people around the country wanted access to designer goods without the hefty price tag. I lived in New York where samples sales and outlet shopping were the norm for those who could afford it, and I started a business where I purchased goods and re-sold them online. I filed for an LLC, did my own taxes, photographed the goods, wrote pithy descriptions and posted the goods online. My only risks at the time were inventory management (holding products that I couldn’t move) and overseas credit card fraud (of which I once fell prey), but the upside was immeasurable. I carved out experience in an industry where I had none. After a year of managing a successful online business, I got a job at a burgeoning dot.com in 2000. Over the next 16 years, I would take jobs and live much of my adult life being a part of the online space. I was able to move across industries simply because I was one of the rare few who had real business experience but knew how to navigate the Internet.

I built projects online, made friends, published writing–all in this rarefied existence, a marketplace where people told stories, shared ideas and wanted to be heard.

I’ve written a lot about the unseemly aspects of playing online. I’ve read countless click-bait articles about how the web is making us brain dead sociopaths while allowing for meaningful connections and a platform for disenfranchised communities. I’ve read the spectrum. I’ve worked on the brand side and have understood the business side of bridging the gap between consumers and companies. I’ve been on the consumer side where I crave stories and connection. I’ve been in the middle where I’ve seen how social media has shaped and grown careers, how one post could rocket someone to infamy, how a tweet can cause a maelstrom of online chatter on the level of a tsunami. Admittedly I’m indebted to social media because it shaped much of my professional career, it’s educated and informed me on the lives and plights of people of which I wouldn’t ordinally be exposed, and it’s brought me some of my closest friends. Having a postage stamp of virtual real estate has given me the privilege of sharing my thoughts with strangers. But…but…

Maybe I’m feeling particularly sensitive lately but I’m feeling dwarfed by the sheer volume of you. I feel subsumed by the masks we all wear on one channel and how they’re cautiously (or not) removed or switched on another. I de-activated my Facebook account over the weekend because I grew exhausted scrolling through everyone’s projections of their best lives lived, replete with photo-tagging and witticisms. I grew tired of the self-editing, the curating. Then I went to Twitter, a place where I receive much of my world + business news, and I felt subsumed. Syrian refugees, the banal evangelism of “happy” via listicle and newsletter, the rape allegations against James Deen, the terrorist attack on Planned Parenthood, the relentless sales (please stop telling me what you think I need and do not need), and personal brand self-promotion, the deserved rage toward the U.S.–a country far from benign, gun control, the mind-boggling stupidity of Donald Trump, and on it goes. I felt the phoniness of Facebook jutting up against the realness of Twitter and I posted a picture of my cat on Instagram because everyone I know has pretty much tired of me talking about depression. There was a moment when I just didn’t want to see because it (everything) was just too fucking much.

Or maybe I’m just on edge. Who can say? I guess I feel like I’m vacillating between two precarious states–feeling everything (the collective bandaids ripping off all at once) and nothing at all (the cool desensitization that accompanies being numb; the anesthetic). The equivalent of a song played on volume 10 and a room gone silent.

I once had a friend who lived what appeared to be an enviable life. Her blog was serene and beautiful as was she, she traveled the world and took pictures of herself in fanciful hotels. This was a time when there weren’t many blogs online and I remembered feeling like I wanted to dive into her world and feel everything it. Our paths crossed and we became friends and then we stopped being friends because the life she architected online was partly true, but only a single aspect of her character–and there I go believing that this slice was the sum of her parts. I don’t remember why we stopped being friends, I just thought you are not who you say you are. Part of that’s my fault because I was feeding off of this fantasy, that if I had proximity to it the fantasy would rub my sadness away. That never happened and I had to find other ways to build a life that made sense for me, but I get the escapism. I know all these projections on social media aren’t the entire story, but I can’t help but feel sickened by the partials or the nothingness.

Perhaps this is why I love The Leftovers so much–it’s a show that terrifically navigates our desperate need to be awake but also the beauty in our sometimes quiet desire to be asleep. The storyline pushes the extreme (of faith, love and rage), inviting us to feel so that we could understand contrast in a way that we couldn’t before. There are days when it feels right to walk around in white, smoking cigarettes, writing things down in an effort to make people remember versus the constant chatter of those living their half-lives.

I read a few articles that spoke of the paralysis that comes with having unlimited choice. I’m feeling this, acutely. Sometimes it’s nice to have guardrails, confinement, and constraints. Sometimes it’s comforting for the shouts to dull down to a murmur because right now social media feels like me opening a door to an onslaught of primal screaming. I don’t have a solution to any of this, only that I’m trying really hard to carve out the small space in the world where I can know, feel, create without the burden of noise.

Until then I’m going to keep staring at this photo, wondering if I should get off Twitter too. Wondering if my feeling this noise-induced paralysis is related to what’s going on in my life and the fear that surrounds it.

 

pasta with pumpkin + tomato sauce // the weight of what you carry

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I’m in this odd place. After a bewildering few weeks, I finally felt some semblance of normal. I cut my hair, ripped hair out of my face (as I’d start to resemble Chewbacca), drafted new project proposals, revised short stories I’d written, and resumed trading cat photos with my closest friends. And then yesterday happened. I couldn’t get out of bed and I felt such a wave or sorrow I crawled under the covers all day and wrote. This felt so unsettling that I made myself walk nearly five miles to Marina Del Ray to watch Room. I had the theater to myself and it was strangely wonderful to enjoy (if one could say that about Room) an exquisite, heartbreaking film. After, I felt normal. On the way home I realized I agreed with this review, that I’d just seen a misogynist movie about misogyny, and thought about all the ways we’ve internalized hating women for the choices they make. Even the most resolute feminists. I came home and it was cold and I stayed up late, seemingly happy, and made plans for today.

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about the concept of how we choose to share parts of ourselves online. I’ve shared much of my life (with some very definitive limits I’ve set for myself–things you will never know) on this space but lately I’m feeling the need to withdraw, because sharing drives strangers to tell me what they feel is best for me and even though the words come from a place of good, they’re words from someone who knows only one part of me–the one I’ve chosen to share online. Very people know the whole of other people–doing that not only requires a tremendous amount of vulnerability but it empowers people to know you in context, know you beyond the words you share or how you shape a story. They see beyond your shape.

My friend Amber (who’s the kind of beautiful friend who checks in on me daily and I love her for it) shared this post today and much of it resonated, specifically this:

Another thing I’ve learned about friendship is that you will often be surprised by who shows up for you and who doesn’t. Sometimes, the people you show up and show up and show up for let you down. And sometimes they show up and show up and show up for you and you let them down. And sometimes the people you’ve blown off or that you would blow off if given the opportunity are the first to show up for you.

Geography has a way of letting you know which of your friends are willing to put in the work, or which friendships devolve into the passive catch-up game on Facebook. I read your status update and blog post, hence I know what’s going on in your life. The kind of friendships you scroll through but never exist in a more profound way. Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve found comfort from people whom I least expected. New friends and old who’ve been through what I’m going through or they’re good at navigating sorrow. They don’t try to “fix me”, rather they just listen. The say, what can I do? They ask, how can I help? Sometimes they don’t say anything at all but they pick me up at my apartment and walk around Santa Monica and let me talk about everything but my sadness because my sadness has been the only thing I’ve been thinking about. Or they invite me to their home, cook me dinner and give me a list of things I need in the event of a zombie invasion. I laugh on the car ride home and think the world is filled with good, beautiful people and happiness is something worth fighting for. I wake to hope because reading this makes me feel like I’m not crazy.

So I’m doing this most annoying thing ever–I’m writing a winded blog post about what I’m not going to talk about. I’m in an odd place and every time I’ve attempted to blog I struggle with not wanting to talk about what I’m going through and finding something else to say. I’m finding a way to talk around this that’s honest because I only want to publish something on this space because it means something to me. I’m not here for the filler. I’m not beholden to anyone but myself. I don’t care what people think of me. While this vague and very nebulous sadness weighs heavy (and will be resolved, offline), I’m also surprised at the rate in which I’ve been able to produce new work. Amidst all this stuff, I’ve been writing non-stop. I’m working on a mixed-media story collection tentatively titled, Women in Salt, and these are stories about women in and out of peril, in various states of disquiet and unrest. I’ve living off savings at the moment and I’ve been spending money in commissioning custom illustrations and photography for the pieces I’ve written–all in an effort to add a visual layer. I also want to include short commissioned films throughout (10-15 seconds) so you feel these characters as if they’re matryoshka dolls–the varying media forms reveal layers within the story.

I published this short piece on Medium today, and who knows if anyone’s reading these stories or if anyone cares. Yet there’s one truth that is a certainty to which I need to hold on–this work is giving me joy amidst a disquiet I can’t logically explain. While my consulting proposals sit in inboxes this work gets me up in the morning. This work makes me want to care for the person in disquiet.

So there you have it. What I’ll talk about (everything but the elephant in the room), what I won’t talk about (this sadness and my journey through it), this new project, and lunch thrown in for good measure. I never said this was going to be neat and tidy. But it’ll be honest.

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil
2 tbsp of the reserved olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp onion powder
4 sage leaves
1 tsp salt/1 tsp pepper
1 15oz can pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups crushed red tomatoes
4 cups of chicken stock
Salt/pepper to taste
1 lb gluten free pasta
1 lb ground sirloin
1 cup pecorino romano cheese

DIRECTIONS
I was inspired to make this dish based on a soup I made last year, which was surprisingly delicious. It may sound bizarre to mix pumpkin and tomato, but I assure you that the combo yields such a superb depth of flavor. Just make sure you use pure pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie mix–they’re often shelved alongside one another during the holiday season so be careful as you don’t want your pasta to taste like pie…well, unless you’re into that sort of thing.

In a large pot, add the sundried tomatoes, reserve oil, garlic, onion powder, salt, pepper, and sage leaves and cook until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the pumpkin, tomatoes, chicken stock and stir until completely combined. Let it simmer on medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Blend the mixture with an immersion blender or in a standard blender. Allow the sauce to simmer on low, and if you need to thin out the mixture, add chicken stock.

In a large pot with salted water cook your pasta to al dente based on the package directions. I chose a gluten-free rigatoni, however, you can use any kind of pasta (linguine, fettucini, penne, etc). While the pasta is cooking, fry up the sirloin in a large skillet on medium/high heat. Over the years, I’ve learned a sage lesson about browning meat–don’t mess with it. Add the meat to the hot pan, break up a little with a wooden spoon and let cook for 4-5 minutes before you break down the meat so it cooks completely. If you keep futzing with your beef, you’ll overwork it and it’ll get mealy.

When the meat is done, ladle in the sauce, drain and add the pasta. Add salt, pepper, and pecorino cheese and serve immediately!

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coconut apricot bars + some thoughts on transparency as an aesthetic

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Your limitations are important because you must eventually come to the realization that your time on this planet is limited and you should therefore spend it on things that matter most. That means realizing that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. That means realizing that just because you like certain people doesn’t mean you should be with them. That means realizing that there are opportunity costs to everything and that you can’t have it all.Mark Manson

This week I learned that the appearance of integrity has become one of the many masks people wear. Integrity is borrowed finery, it requires you to be humble and honest even when it proves impossible to be anything but. Invariably, the weight of the mask becomes too much to bear and one sheds it, revealing their truest self, which was never honest to begin with. Between the acts, between the outfit changes and the curtain fall, our faces are scrubbed clean and our hair come undone, and when the mask has been discarded just as swiftly as it was worn, we see people for who they really are. I wonder though, if they’re able to see past their duplicity.

I spent much of my adult life swallowing voice. I was amiable, rarely did I break waves or raise my voice in dissent. My rebellions were minor emotional thievery, but in the end I wanted to be part of the hive, to blend in. Even if I knew the people who occupied my world were catty, cruel and conniving. Even during junior year in college when all my homophobic friends said cruel things about my roommates whom everyone suspected as gay. Know that I’m ashamed of this, still. Even when I sat in a meeting and watched my boss lie to people. Never did I raise my voice, and it took me a long time to see that my silence was deafening, my complicity was worse because I knew what was right and I smothered myself. It took a long time for me to find my voice, my place, and it’s heartbreaking that the moment when I’m finally loud becomes a time when so many want to silence me.

Wow, you’re really intimidating, someone tells me. You’re, like, really aggressive on Twitter, someone tells me. You’re very vocal, someone tells me. Why are you so angry? someone tells me. How do I react?

Shall I curtsy? Affix a muzzle over my mouth? Would my silence make you more comfortable?

I live in a world where black men are assassinated in daylight simply because they are black. I live in a world where women are routinely raped, harassed, demeaned, admonished, silenced and disrespected. I live in a world where illiterate bloggers preen for the camera and architect an artificial world for the peanut-crunching lot and they make $5,000 for a fauxto, meanwhile I spend weeks building value, creating meaning, and I make less. I live in a world where feminists tweet lines from The Bachelor and get annoyed when I complain about it. I live in a world where I tell bloggers that it’s unacceptable to act like they’re celebrities because no one person is better than another. I live in a world where I don’t know how to play nice amongst people who make it their life’s work to be on an even keel. I live in a country where most are ignorant about what happens outside of our borders because it doesn’t affect us, doesn’t impact our noon SoulCycle sign-ups. I live in a world where stupid people get book deals and they’re lauded because they have so many followers. I live in a world that values quantity over quality, noise over quiet, the guise of humility over exposing yourself raw. I live in a world where people play the integrity game but only as far as it elevates their personal brand–gets them that deal, that job, that extra zero at the end of a check.

I live in a world where women constantly tell me that I’m too loud, too vocal, too aggressive, too opinionated, and I wonder if they would say all of this if I were a man. If the words I say don’t cause them discomfort, because god forbid people graze a moment of darkness. God forbid people acknowledge their ignorance and privilege. God forbid people examine themselves just as I’ve spent two decades confronting the most unkind aspects of my character. God forbid people do the work.

Now it’s time to make your dent in the world. –Mark Manson

I don’t trust people. I see people I care about getting taken advantage of because they’re kind in a way most people aren’t. I see people try to align with my integrity, all the hard work I’ve had to do, because by association perhaps they’ve made the difficult choices I’ve had to make. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes I’m bristly, I recoil often, and people have said my viewpoints are polarizing, but at least I’m honest. What you see is always you get because I’ve worn masks for the whole of my life and my god have I grown tired of playing the part of so many other people.

I read somewhere that the true test of whether you’re an artist is to ask yourself how you would feel if someone told you that you couldn’t do the thing that you loved for the rest of your life. Straightjacket my arms, cut off my hands, eliminate any trace of paper and pen. What would be the limit of your sacrifice? Is there a limit? Can you go without a lifetime of committing words to paper (or screen, as it were). For me, not writing a waking death. Intellectual suicide. I couldn’t live in this world without writing through, and about, it, and everything in me has come to calm when I finally decided that all I want to do is write.

All I want to do is write more, shout louder, and be with the people who are like Vivian Gornick, people who are unafraid and unapologetic. People who can give a fuck about an even keel or playing nice. People who don’t wrap themselves up in their personal brand or transparency because it’s the fashionable dress they need to wear. The real and the true are few and far between, and I hope to hold on to my tribe here in New York and find my people out west.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well, modified
For the crust
1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 cup gluten-free oats
1/4 tsp aluminium-free baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I prefer Cup4Cup)
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling
1/3 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
1/2 cup unsweetened apricot jam

For the topping
1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/3 cup raw cashews
1/4 tsp aluminium baking powder
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp of olive oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of one lemon
1 cup dried, unsweetened, coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line a 13 x 9-inch pan with parchment paper; set aside.

For the filling place the thinly sliced apricots in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to softened for 5 minutes while you make the crust.

To make the crust place the coconut, oats, baking powder, and salt in a food processor; blend until fine, about 45 seconds. Add to a medium bowl and mix with the almond meal and gluten-free flour. In a medium bowl, place the oil, maple syrup and vanilla, whisk until combined. Add the coconut and oat mixture, and mix with a fork until combined. Dough should be moist but not sticky. With your hands press the dough thinly and evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Prick crust with a fork, and bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside; keep the oven on.

While waiting for the crust to bake, drain the apricot slices and set aside to drain well.

To make the topping place the maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and lemon zest in the medium bowl. (Use the same bowl used for making the crust – no need to clean). Whisk to combine and set aside. In the food processor place the shredded coconut, cashews, and baking powder, and blend until ground and moist, about 45 seconds; transfer to the bowl with the wet ingredients. Stir to combine. Mix in the flaked coconut.

When the crust is ready, spread the apricot preserve over the crust and sprinkle over the apricots. Crumble the topping over the apricot crust, leaving some filling showing.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes or until golden on top. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool completely before cutting into bars.

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