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

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this is 39: the year you no longer give a fuck

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo


My life, which exists mostly in the memories of the people I’ve known, is deteriorating at the rate of physiological decay. A color, a sensation, the way someone said a single world–soon it will all be gone. In a hundred and fifty years no one alive will ever have known me. –From Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

Over dinner I remind my friend Liz that we’ve known one another for half our lives. We were young, wide-eyed, scrubbed clean. We once hatched plans to live in the city after college, and I saw those plans wither as she returned to Connecticut for law school and I made my way around Manhattan, alone, filling myself with drink and stories. But here we are, older, scrubbed honest–we are our most compassionate selves, and it feels like a privilege to carry the weight and potency of the years on our backs. It occurs to me that Liz knows me longer than anyone, save my father. We’ve grown into adults, apart and sometimes together, and it’s been awe-inspiring to watch our respective bloom.

Much of our conversation over the weekend centered around time–how we have so little of it, how it’s imperative that we don’t squander it, and the knowledge that all roads inevitably lead to zeo predicates how we live. We shape our lives around time because there was a moment when we felt infinite, and as the days pressed on the finite revealed itself in degrees. I like to think Liz understood the weight of her mortality when she had children (although I can’t be certain since I never asked but can only assume). While mortality is vivid, omnipresent because I fear the moment when I’ll lay dying.

This knowledge (or fear, as honesty will have it) makes life clear in the way it hadn’t previously. When you’re at the midpoint of your life you tend to focus on bringing presence and meaning to the hours. You don’t consider what you’ve lost, rather you focus on minimizing the bloodletting; you think about the joy, love and wisdom that’s left. You wonder how you can imbue your days with meaning. You care less about noise, the superfluous.

You start to give fewer fucks.

I suppose it’s fashionable to pen lists of things you’ve learned by a certain defined age (30 seems popular), however, I think learning is continuous–we’re always students, sometimes guides or teachers, but mostly we’re here to learn. For me, age is about letting some of the noise dissipate. Age is about shedding that which is unnecessary. For me, 39, right now, is about giving fewer fucks. For example:

You don’t like me; I don’t need my phone list to resemble The Yellow Pages: When I was in my 20s I wanted the whole of the world to like, no, love me. I vivisected conversations, scenarios, and encounters much like how a doctor would attend to life-saving cardiac surgery. When I was younger I believed in the power of quantity over quantity, and the more people who attended my parties, the more people who attended the readings I hosted, the more people I could program in my phone, the better. Never did I equate the fact that the amount of alcohol I consumed was in direct correlation to the amount of people who orbited my life. Never did I consider that being surrounded by people–making sure I always had a drinks plan, a movie plan, a book party plan, a stay-at-home-and-faux-relax-with-ten-friends plan–exhausted me.

I didn’t realize that I was an introvert until I was 37. I stopped caring what people thought about me around the same time. I have a specific sense of humor (dark, sarcastic, and biting at times) and management style (I’ve a low threshold for bullshit, entitlement, laziness, complacency and stupidity; I don’t do office/friend politicking, etc), and I know I’m not for everyone. I realize that some people might think me intense, others might consider me aloof. Do I care? Yes, to a certain extent–especially if I know I’m making a bad first impression on someone whom I care about. However, in the grand scheme of things I’m not changing the core of who I am, so if people can’t roll with my style I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I’m more interested in finding my tribe–people who challenge me–rather than surround myself with people who are intent on changing me. Big difference.

At the end of the day, my people love me–flaws and all. When you get older you winnow down the phone book to those who are necessary, those whom you need and love.

“Eventually I confess to a friend some details about my weeping—its intensity, its frequency. She says (kindly) that she thinks we sometimes weep in front of a mirror not to inflame self-pity, but because we want to feel witnessed in our despair. (Can a reflection be a witness? Can one pass oneself the sponge wet with vinegar from a reed?)” ― Maggie Nelson, Bluets

Want to know a secret? This is the moment when you break down the doors and all the mothballs flutter out. This is the time when you finally, finally, let the right ones in. All the way. This is the time when you no longer wince when someone draws you closer. You allow yourself to cry the tears you’ve been holding back–you are a river and you are fine. You lay your greatest hand on the table, your heart. You feel safe; you tell your friends this: you’re home to me.

Sometimes you stumble backward. Sometimes you revert to old habits. But this is life, and at 39 you acknowledge this too.

You’re, like, really important or something: Why is it that people think I care about how important they are? Do I care that you’ve made it on a list defined by accomplishments by a certain arbitrary age? Do I care that your book was published in 23 countries and an A-list actress X will play you in the film adaptation of your life? Do I care that you’re a blogger who gets paid six figures to sell pieces of yourself to the highest bidder? Consider me a headliner at The Fresh out of Fucks Tour 2015 because I don’t care about your verbal CV or all the finery you wear on your sleeve.

I care that you’re a person with integrity. You’re not some cretin who disposes of your friends when they no longer suit you. But mainly I care about the fact that I’m not occupying space with an asshole.

The people who inhabit my life are the kind of people I want to invite in my home and with whom I want to share a meal. They’re the kind of people who would lay down their heart for you. They’re the kind of people who will carry you through the dark instead of affixing bandaids over your mouth and skin. I’m impressed by the content and quality of your character, not the length of your CV.

I’m no longer a size 0: Being an integer was fun for a total of five minutes, and then I became that annoying girl in the dressing room who whined about the tragedy of clothing stories failing to stock sizes less than zero (these were the halcyon days before the 00). I was also a functioning alcoholic recovering from a cocaine addiction so I was clearly not living my best life although the media would have you believe I was based on my dress size.

After waging an outright war on my body for nearly two decades, I finally have become comfortable in my own skin. I no longer talk about “earning” the right to eat. I no longer fixate on working out as a means to eat, rather I focus on filling my body with good food so I can live, perform my best when I hit the gym.

I look at photographs of myself in my 20s and it takes everything in me not to cry. You should know that it takes a lot for me to waver, break, but I wish I could hurtle through time, sky and space, and hold my younger self close, bury my face in her hair and tell her that she is so fucking beautiful. You know that, right? You’re beautiful as you are, as the world meant for you to be. You know that beauty isn’t just about whittling down to a bone, right? You know it’s about how you write, love, and breathe.

Lately I care more about running up flights of stairs, breathless. I care about being strong. I care about nourishing my body with the good stuff and some of the not-so-good stuff because I have this one life and am I going to spend it grabbing at flesh and punishing it?

Where does a number get you? Does it inch you further along your journey to fine? Or is it really a shackle, a self-imposed prison where the wardens are endless rides on a spin bike and grating your teeth through green juices and undressed salads?

Stupid people, drama, stupid dramas: There was a time that I reveled in the telenovela–I lived for the drama, drinks thrown, and intrigue because it all made for a good story. However, I’m now at the point in my life where I’ve been through war and dressed the wounds; I’ve a great deal of stories, and now I care about living a good life.

“Before I took to the road, a friend tried to get me to go to a department store with him. He said it was to improve the place where I lived. He said,” I want to know you are reading beneath this lamp. ” This fellow was dying. He knew it and I did not. I think he was tucking me in. He was making sure all of his friends had the right lamps, the comfiest pillows, the softest sheets. He was tucking us all in for the night.” ― Amy Hempel, The Collected Stories

It occurs to me that the older I get the more I see people die. A good friend of mine, who was the first person to really be a friend through my alcoholism, died of cancer a few years ago. Two friends of mine died in their early 20s. An acquaintance I knew, a glinting literary light, committed suicide. Time takes it all, washes it away, and what you have left are the hours. So when you think about the fact that every day forward is a march closer to the grave, you start to think about the quality of your days and who occupies them.

I used to be friends with really shitty people. Catty women who clawed and conspired. People who were covered, head-to-toe, in issues. I used to love men who were incapable of loving me in the way I deserved. And while this is life and there are times when my dearest friends will experience periods of darkness and heartbreaks, I no longer have time or energy for people who are less than extraordinary. I no longer have patience for people who refuse to tend to their hearts like a well-desired harvest. What I don’t have time for? People who put themselves on the road to ruin and like it. People who act as if these are the last days of disco. People who connive and scheme.

I have a cat. I sometimes fall asleep at 9:30PM. I don’t have the time.

sophie + felix

sophie is so over me
Yesterday morning it occurred to me that this month marks the anniversary of my Sophie’s passing. It’s been a year since my relapse, since the whole of my world was shrouded in darkness. I don’t deal with loss well, and I didn’t anticipate just how devastated I’d be when she died. I couldn’t find the right words to describe the enormity of my grief. When I held her as she was being put to sleep, I didn’t feel the rush of heartbreak that I would inevitably feel weeks and months after. On that rainy day in late July, I was numb, sick and bewildered. I felt nothing. Hmm, that’s not true. I felt the heaviness of her departure, this unbearable disquiet.

I loved Sophie. Really loved her. She was prickly, prone to paw swats and over-excited hisses, but she was mine. She curled up next to me while I read, and slept beside me when I was sick. Even now, even as I type this, and page through images of her, I start to cry. Hers is a loss that I’ve come to learn how to bear. My god, she was so fluffy! So insouciant! So RUBENESQUE at her 14-pound height. I mean, look at that diamond belly! Nothing compares to you, as Sinead O’Connor so sagely crooned.

sophie

Yesterday morning I ran errands, fixed up my apartment, and while I was taking dishes out of the dishwasher Felix meowed. It’s rare to find him on the shelf where a photo of Sophie and I, and her remains, lie, but he was there. Crying. I set the dishes down and turned around and watched him touch the tin that holds her remains, and I broke down and sobbed. I didn’t tell him to get down, I didn’t advance. Rather I stood there and watched and realized that there is a possibility that he could feel a whisper of my grief. A grief that has gone cold and quiet, yet lingers.

I can never thank my dearest friend Angie enough for driving me to the shelter to pick up Felix. I was hungover, grief-stricken, and probably incoherent, yet she was calm, comforting, and moved me from cage to cage until I spotted my little man. The sweet boy who would make me realize that there is indeed space in my heart for more love.

Sometimes I find myself comparing Felix to Sophie, which I suppose is inevitable, however, they are nothing alike. He prefers his belly rubbed, and he follows me from room to room. I joke that he’s a dog in a cat outfit. We play and I spoil him rotten. I love him beyond measure, but it’s a different love than what I felt for Sophie, not a lesser than, but different. Felix is easy and Sophie was well-earned.

I don’t know what to say about all this other than I’m grateful for my life and all the beautiful people in it. I’m grateful to have had Sophie for those seven years, and I’m grateful for having fallen madly in love with Felix, my special guy.

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on consulting + going out on my own

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You’re never leaving, right? my client jokes last week after I give him a recap of my activity. Even though I’ve been on this assignment for only a short period of time, I feel connected to the people with whom I’ve been working–the ease in which I’ve assimilated into the group shocks me still–and my client, in jest, talked about having me aboard, full-time. I laughed, shook my head quietly, and said no, committing to someone for five days a week just isn’t my bag.

Last week, a fellow freelancer talked about consulting in terms of relationships: I’m dating a ton of people right now, and I have no interest in a commitment. I nodded my head because after seventeen years bound to multiple offices, computers, logins, politics and process, I want something other. And while I’ve been privileged to have been offered a slew of executive roles in agencies and at companies over the past year, I’ve ceremoniously turned them all down because the idea of having ownership of my time was infinitely more attractive than the illusion of financial stability. I’m insanely focused during the hours I’m on an assignment, and then I have the FREEDOM to work on my novel, take Brooklyn Body Burn classes during the day, and meet friends for a meal without having to frantically check my phone. I used to be the person who always checked the time, now I’m someone who allows it to pass.

Although I dare say I miss having consistent health insurance and a 401K.

Another freelancer, my dear friend Alex, and I spoke of the freedom of creating a life of your own design, of experimenting with models, modes of work, and failing forward while devouring the menu at Trattoria il Mulino. Although the risk of failing when you’re constantly hustling for income is a real one, it also allows you the space and time to really analyze your failures and make transformative change in how you act and work. You’re rarely afforded the ability to fail forward in a traditional workplace since failure, by definition, bears a negative connotation–it’s the thing to which we’ve been trained to avoid by all means possible. So we’ve been groomed to believe that running through ribbons is success, while I believe success is falling on your face, tasting your own blood, and getting up to run again. Perhaps considering a new course or direction.

Here’s the thing: I’m often nervous about maintaining deal flow, I loathe networking for the sake of networking, and I generally make less money than I have in the past, BUT, BUT, I’m happier. My days are my own to design; I only take on projects that challenge me; I work with people who inspire me; I collaborate with other freelancers, regardless of peer level and age, as a means to test out ideas and new ways of thinking + working; I’ve always operated from a place of integrity, which has afforded me a strong, reliable network. So when people ask me if I’ll ever go back to full-time {and this question is a constant, as folks somehow operate under the impression that full-time employment is risk-averse}, I talk about marriage. I talk about the seriousness of commitment. I now come from a place where I view a full-time role as a mutually-beneficial partnership rather than a honor bestowed by the employer.

I only wish I’d embarked on this path sooner…

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amer fort: jaipur, india {the longest post, ever}

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Perhaps I was too ambitious. Maybe I thought the physicality of ticking off an item on a list was still a marker of achievement. I came to India with purpose — I would have the space, time, and clarity to bring my novel home {the physical} while at the same time finding out if I need to define what it is that I want to do with my life {the mental; line forms to the left}. And naturally, there would be time, oceans of it, to complete freelance projects, and make sense and shape of all that is India. I would navigate its streets, inhale its spices, feel its people.

I never conceived of that fact that India is both exhilarating and exhausting, and I’m again reminded that once you attempt to define something, that thing changes its form until it is something else altogether.

We’re closing out our trip in Jaipur, which is a city of three million people, but it might as well be thirty with its symphony of sound, color, taste and smell. Yesterday we wandered The Pink City, and I tried to ignore the way men looked at us, looked through and under our clothes. I tried not to feel unsettled by the fact that there were hundreds of women covered in black cloth with only a slit for their eyes to betray their identity. We wove in and out of a thoroughfare of chaos with the constant drone of a horn honking {this is the norm, it seems}, people shouting, women negotiating fruit and fabric, men calling — always the siren call of the sea nymphs turned land turned street turned petal pink — cows swaggering, camels sleeping, dogs nipping, cats calculating, and the seven of us wandering, making sure we were always, always together.

There was the hiss and spit of fire {The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf/Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind/Crosses the brown land, unheard./The nymphs are departed, writes Eliot}, the spark of turquoise and cobalt dyes, the men walking beside me, telling me, It costs nothing to look. Come look. Come over here. I do not follow because I think of the fire and charcoal and how it is possible that within eight short days I can bear witness to so many examples of following a loved one into the dark.

I was supposed to finish this book. I had a kind of idea of how I would end it. The novel is a triptych of sorts, a verse repeated three times — three generations of broken women — but finally broken {a new song sung, a new page being written} by a woman who starts off the story by setting a woman’s hair on fire, but ends up wanting the single thing she, and all of the women who had come before, had been missing — someone to follow her into the dark.

Believe me when I say that I see the pages. I see the words as I’m typing them, but all I can do is feel. All I can do is exist amongst these stories people whom I hardly know, tell, and I’m reminded of the fact that I am very much on the verge. I am on the precipice of something, and the idea of returning to New York to deal with all this shit is at turns thrilling and frightening.

I’m genuinely excited and frightened of a great many things, and this is okay to feel this. It’s okay to settle into the dark but not set up shop in it. To not lay your bricks down, but perhaps a little blanket that you can carry with you when you’re ready for the light.

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Today we spent a great deal of the deal at the Amer Fort in Jaipur. From the intricate fusion of Hindu and Muslim architecture and the iridescent embossed silver mirrors, walls and doors, to the cool pastels of the summer rooms and the the apartments of the 12 women the king kept, the Fort {Palace} is an extraordinary sight to see. One could wander the stairs and tunnels and complex irrigation systems all day. We also procured fragrant oils in cactus, lavender, jasmine, sandalwood, rose and grass, whose flowers were hand-pressed and melded with hands that come from three generations of fragrance manufacturing. We saw fakirs {!!!} and cobras and dogs on their backs, and monkeys, who, in one moment would eat from the palm of your hand and then attack it.

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All the while I think of an honest love letter a new friend of mine wrote to her childhood friend, who has slowly become more than that. I remember reading it over dinner and feeling the familiar ache of a woman who has the strength to risk plucking out her heart and laying it down to be received. I was struck by this love described so simply, so plainly, and it is the very thing in which I desire for myself and for my Kate, the center character in my novel.

I think of our tour guide, Raj, a kind man who regaled the story of he {a Brahmin} and “Sweetie” {his Sikh wife}. They were beloveds through high school and college, but they kept their love a secret to no one save the very fundamentalist family. So Raj would escort her on movie dates and drop her off around the corner of her house, and Sweetie would pursue three different degrees to defer the suite of arranged Sikh suitors her parents had dutifully selected. Sweetie went on her interviews, which were a constant play on what is said and unsaid, and after having told three families that no, she does not eat meat, and no, she does not cook, and no, she is not religious, Raj’s family met with Sweetie’s and told the story of two people very much in love.

In short, this meeting was a disaster. Raj’s family was escorted out before the chai had been laid down on the table, and the father blamed the mother for the catastrophe that was Sweetie’s digressions. Family members made the 10-hour journey from Punjab to discuss, for 15 days straight, the plight of Sweetie. There were tears, threats, anguish and despair, and finally Raj took a calculated risk and told the family that he and Sweetie had already signed papers to be married.

A family debacle is one thing. A legal one is quite another. Arrangements were made, concessions acquiesced to, and for seventeen years Raj and Sweetie made a wonderful home and life for themselves, and the families became whole with the birth of two very beautiful children.

I listen to this story on a moving bus, and parts of it are funny and other parts are heartbreaking, but the light, the love is palpable, and this was once a young man who would risk everything for the woman he loved.

I think: I have this. I have this story in my hands and what to do with it? I wait for the time when mind, heart and hand are ready to move. I’m excited for the velocity of this book. I’m frightened of my personal velocity {the life undefined, the financial insecurity that is real}, and I know right now that I can’t control any of it.

All I can do is breathe, be present, and hope that life and art intersect and the character gets her way and the woman gets her way, and everyone is followed into, and ushered out of, the dark.

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on feeling lost + writing your way back

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We are taught that when we’re young there is so much possibility. You spent your whole life wanting to be older, desperate to be legal, to be an adult, to get out, and when you finally get to the age you desire, you pause, turn every which way, and wonder if this is actually it. {The bills, cramped apartments, roommates and their nocturnal habits, visions of stapling things to employer’s heads, money and how there’s never enough of it, the bone-crushing commute — we wanted this?} If all the rushing to get out of your childhood, out of the house was worth this, shouldn’t we have enjoyed all the days that came before, more? Shouldn’t we have wanted to linger in bed a little longer, cling to the days a little harder?

Why is it always that the young race to press time forward to only find that we spend our whole adult life trying to rewind the clock back? I wonder about the age when we’re actually present, 25, 26? Does this age actually exist, or are we forever oscillating from one extreme to the other — the provenance that comes with being being older or the magic in climbing our way back to childhood?

If we set aside the talk of generation, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think of work, of a singular vocation that promised prosperity. Born in the halcyon 70s, raised in the greed-stricken 80s, our plan was written right out of the womb: college, job, marriage, kids, house, retirement — in that order. While girls were giggling about condoms in grade school, I clung to my books {yes, I lugged around a backpack of at least six library books} and even asked the janitor at my elementary school to let me in early so I could study. My “sex” talk consisted of my mother telling me that sex got you pregnant or “VD,” and pregnant women don’t go to college. In retrospect, I find it at turns amusing and sad that my first idea of sex, an act of pleasure and love, was inextricably tied to punishment. So I kept to myself, kept away from the boys, and worked.

When my childhood consisted of summers subsisting on a bag of potatoes and a stick of butter, it’s no wonder that I saw money as the salve to every ache and need. In college, I remember watching Wall Street, pointing to the screen and saying, I want that. I want Wall Street. For the whole of my life, I operated under two masks: a woman whose sole purpose was to procure a job that would pay vast sums of money, and a woman who wrote.

So I got my fancy job at a merchant bank {right when Glass-Steagall was being repealed}, got recruited by an even fancier investment bank, and I finally made this money, finally had the DSPP, ESPP, and every money-related acronym you could imagine, but I was miserable. I worked through school, endured countless accounting and finance classes in college when I could have been reading books, for THIS. FOR THIS. To wear suits that fell just below the knee and crunch numbers in a spreadsheet all day. To this day, I hate Microsoft Excel.

While employed, I applied to MFA programs because I was curious if this other half of me, this writer, was someone worth meeting. When I resigned, my managing directors were baffled. First, they thought MFA was a finance degree of some sort {these are the same people who penned my letters of recommendation} and more horrifying was this: writers don’t make money.

Felicia, writers don’t make money, they said. Read More

designing your life: bad-ass entrepreneur, persia tatar von huddleston’s sucre bleu

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Imagine living a life of your own design. You bolt out of bed each day because every day is now an awakening. Every day is finally yours. Some time ago someone told me that you can either work for your dream or someone else’s. This year, my friend Persia and I decided to pursue our dream. Over the past year I’ve been privileged to see her idea — a line of high-end luxury religious chocolate {Jesus sprinkled with sea salt, can you even?!} — bloom, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to see her dream realized. I asked Persia, my dear friend and badass entrepreneur, to talk about what lead her to make this auspicious leap. Below, she shares a bit about her journey.– FS

A few years ago I left a job that was just ok, for what I hoped was a job that would make me happier, have less anxiety and actually look forward to Mondays. That never happened.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve liked every job I’ve had to-date, I met awesome people who are now friends and mentors, created some cool things and learned a ton, but the joy and happiness just was never there. Maybe that’s alot to ask from something that affords you a living, but I don’t think it’s a lot to ask from something that takes up such a large percentage of our lives and our thoughts.

This winter, over coffee, Felicia told me that I need to do what makes me happy with such assertion and certainty that I had to listen. I finally realized I needed to stop trying to find a job that was my perfect dream and create my own. My new assignment was to connect things I love with something that I could love as a business. I came down to a few things: food and art. As I went through my daily motions I would meditate on how I could fuse these together in many ways…until one day it hit me.

caf71dde231b11e3bf4822000a1ddbe2_7A flicker of a dream I had as a kid came to me – to create a chocolate Jesus (yes I’m serious), this is something I had always wanted to do growing up. I realized this childhood idea is the fusion of food and art for me, in the form of delicious sculptures.

This summer I took my savings and created the first prototype Jesus working with the amazing people at Tumbador and am now launching on Kickstarter! From idea to reality in under a year! The process to get here has definitely been challenging, but I can say this is the most fun I’ve had in my life and I now look forward to my Mondays!

About SUCRÉ BLEU: We’re artists and pop culture enthusiasts who want to make the world sweeter and more deliciously irreverent. Through our company SUCRÉ BLEU we’re creating a line of absurdly delicious chocolate figures of our culture’s most revered icons.

Our aim is to provoke, amuse, entertain, and compel you to blurt out: “WTF? This is crazy, awesome, beautiful, weird AND delicious. Why would anyone make that?!”

Our debut product will be a seven-inch 72%, 5oz dark chocolate Jesus on a cross, sprinkled with sea salt. Each luxuriously rich chocolate will be packaged as a super mod museum sculpture and include a personal handwritten note from Jesus. Our limited-edition run of 500 will be sold on Kickstarter for the holidays — each box will be signed and numbered.

Support my sweet friend’s venture on Kickstarter by clicking here.

in the company of our kind

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Long ago when they first invented the atomic bomb people used to worry about its going off and killing everybody, but they didn’t know that mankind has enough dynamite right in his guts to tear the fucking plant to pieces. ― John Cheever, Falconer

For fourteen years I endured you, my tremendous love, my devastating heartbreak. You came like swallows that year as I spun out like thread and wove through metal doors, into the girls’ rooms. A spray of lilac perfume, jeans wiggled into and then discarded on the floor, U2’s Achtung Baby on blast, windows open, owls burrowed in the trees, air still warm and fragrant but on the verge. Back then you were only a whisper, a finger of vodka in a chilled glass. I mixed you with cranberry juice because the girls told me you’d taste just like summer that way. The summer when it was all Coca Cola in a can and juice boxes with a straw. But it was a new year and I consumed you whole. I felt warm and numb — am I supposed to feel this way, I asked, numb? The girls laughed, clinked glasses filled with chipped ice and said, soon you won’t feel anything at all.

And so it goes. I realized that the girls were right. For fourteen years I felt cold, vacant. My heart, a condemned building on the verge of collapse.

Our group in college were overachievers, we graduated with honors and wore sashes and medals around our necks. But come nightfall we were marauders, we’d drink until we saw black. Sometimes I’d jolt up in terror, wondering if there would be a time when I wouldn’t come back from the darkness, when you were all that would be, but a blurred face, a mess of hair, a slur of speech would hold my shoulders and say, Felicia, you’re drunk. You’re fine, just fine. Everything will be fine in the morning.

She cried for herself, she cried because she was afraid that she herself might die in the night, because she was alone in the world, because her desperate and empty life was not an overture but an ending, and through it all she could see was the rough, brutal shape of a coffin. ― John Cheever

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Glass tips, falls, have another, you called. But I don’t feel fine. Come morning I’d pull down the shades, bury myself under my covers to find you. You’d been there all along, holding me close; a whisper that had morphed into a gentle, constant murmur said, I’ll never leave you. Then I’d bolt out bed, wave my hands in protest and say, Listen, this isn’t a serious thing. Let’s keep it casual; I’ll call you when I need you. Because I learned from an early age to never let anyone see me cry, that love was a transaction not a laying down of one’s beating heart. My mother taught me to never want, never need, never love. And that heart? Wrap that up in some newspaper and send it down a river. It’s the only way.

Who knew then that the inability for my mother to give trespass to her heart would be her ruin? Who knew that me letting the light in would be my salvation? But not yet, not yet, not yet. Why do you smell like apples?

Then one day my mother drove up in a blue car, stormed into the house, took all her records, ripped photos of herself — the good ones — out of the family photo album and sped into the gloaming. HURRY UP, PLEASE. IT’S TIME, Eliot wrote. My father called me and told me that my mother had left us for a man who promised her Disneyworld. I cried once, in my best friend’s arms, the day I told my mother that I no longer wanted her in my life. My first love, my first hurt, cut a phone line, but I was fine, just fine. There was me falling down some stairs. There was me graduating with honors. There was me blacking out. There was me securing a coveted position at a global bank. There was me making the boys nervous because I could drink them under the table, under a whole set of living room furniture, when they said, take it easy, Sully. Don’t worry, she’s Irish. She can hold her drink, I heard one say. In a quieter voice, another said, She drinks a lot. And then you appeared, placing pillows over their puckered mouths. By then I’d grown used to you, admired your commitment. You seemed completely and utterly devoted to me.

No one had ever loved me that much.

The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. ― Ernest Hemingway

So I gave you the keys, let you in the house and locked all the doors. Second bottle of wine in, you and me, kid. Grief is like an ocean, consuming you into the depths of it. And the constant memory of the people you carry are tidal waves, night thieves. But you promised me that you’d be the anesthetic of the century, a life-long blackout. I had all this pain and didn’t know where to put it. Where do you put so much pain? How many boxes does it fill? Is there a limit? You’d hush me, tell me that I’d feel none of it. In that moment that’s all I wanted to hear.

Sometimes I wonder if I drank all those years to stop time and find my way back to my mother, or if I just didn’t want to feel the weight of having lost her, the enormity of it, how it filled a room, muffled a scream, paused a heart.

From dorm room to the Bronx to Long Island to Manhattan, you made good on your promise. You were a lover that would lie down beside me at night — when the windows were open and all I could hear was a woman singing Chinese arias and the clang of knives from the restaurant down below — untangling my hair, getting lost in it. You had become something of a barnacle, and the more I let you in the less I saw of me.

Someone asked me once, Are you happy? Define happy, I replied, even though I knew the answer.

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Years later I let someone in. All the way. And you started to get pissed. You were an only child — or so you thought — and you didn’t like sharing. Over time, my new friend told me about your half-sister, heroin, and all the tawdry details of the breakup. To say it was a massacre was an understatement. She needed to put three thousand miles of distance to get herself straight. I tell my new friend that there isn’t a picture without you in it, and I laughed. But she didn’t. You’re drunk in every single picture that’s been taken of you? Are you serious?

The words “trial separation” needed to be said out loud. Huffy, you packed your things, but left the essentials because you knew you’d be back. Look at how much I’ve done for you. The time I put in. Fourteen years! you shouted. To which I responded, Look at what you made me give.

You know that notion of darkness? How one paints a pretty picture depicting its poetry? How one makes a romance out of it, makes you feel special for wading in it? Well, it’s all bullshit. Pain is pain. Dark is dark. And there’s no poetry in it. There’s only the silences. The silences of friends who won’t take your phone calls, of the loved ones who tried so hard to break through the fortress that was you. Of the memory of all the grief, still raw and new, that’s an apparition whenever you decide to take a smoke break.

Look at what I made myself give.

I remember our great row. It was a war of sorts. Tupac’s California blasted from a laptop and we all drank cheap red versions of you in an apartment uptown. There was a moment, a shift imperceptible to anyone but me, when I knew that I’d gone too far. Drank too much. That I had to stop. But I couldn’t. I just kept drinking. Next thing I know I’m in cab but I’ve no idea how I made it home.

The next day I call my friend, shaking, and told her, I think I drink too much. And she asked me why I didn’t stop. Why I had two more glasses of you, to which I responded, I can’t stop.

And then I did. Changed all the locks. Hid all the photos. Tossed you in a bin and for the first year without you every day was a new bandaid tearing at raw, bruised skin. I’ll always be here, you shouted from the street. After a few years the voice grew meek, hopeless. That bombastic lover was a washed-up old fellow with a limp.

There was me, running to the light. Finding it. Getting lost in it. Realizing that you weren’t of my kind. But there’s time! So much of it left to let all the right ones in.

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happiness is…

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A life mindfully lived. A life lived with integrity. A morning curled up in bed. Chocolate cake for breakfast. Re-reading Play it as it Lays. Plotting my next move. Staring out into the Indian Ocean. Quiet. Love. Regretting none of it.

there is so much magic in the world, still!

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The clocks are sometimes tricky, always cruel. Sometimes they’re fakirs, whispering about time, how much has passed, how much of it is running out, and you start to believe the voices in your head until it’s all you hear. And then you succumb to the fiction and live your life trapped by voices that convince you that as time passes the magic fades. All the beauty of roots breaking ground, of water getting caught in our eye, of tumbling in the green with the one you love, of the we’ll never know another day such as this, of watching pink skies settle into the ocean, of tickling feet, of singing from the rafters — all of this, we’re told, suddenly dulls as we grow older. It loses its luster, becomes grey and cold, a photograph worth shredding. But I’m telling you that it isn’t. Whether you’re five, thirty-five, fifty-give, one hundred and five, there is magic in the world, still. You just have to open your eyes to it. You have to find it.

Two years ago I stood in front of the Indian Ocean and took this photograph. Back then I was obsessed with doing the maths. How much time I spent grieving a mother who was my first love and hurt, how much time I lost trying to ruin everything it was that I had, and so much time, so much of it, trying to figure out who that woman was — that woman who kept staring back from looking glasses each and every day. I was a house of regret, and all the while I was fixated on the losses that had been mounting, I didn’t open my heart to all that I had gained. In front of ticker tape of blue, grey sand and billowing trees, I could only see the magic, partially. All because I was determined to keep some of the dark in the kaleidoscope that was my heart, my life.

Funny how time sorts things. Undoes it, rips it apart, builds anew.

Today I found myself hugging my friend, telling her that she deserved this great happiness, this great life after so many years of loss and heartbreak. You deserve every moment of your happiness, all of it, I said. I thought it was a common thing to say, until I looked at my friend who blotted her eyes with tissues. Here was my friend, weeping with joy, and I was present to witness it. This is magic and a few simple words, unbeknownst to me, created it.

And I found myself coming back to this photograph and I can finally see it. Thirty-seven years later and I can see it as if I were newly born.

Two months ago I resigned from my job, and I don’t know what’s ahead of me, But I know this — I can finally see.

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