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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honey quick oat bread + a bit of honesty

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The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others — who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something people with courage can do without. Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs. — Joan Didion

I’ve been careless with myself. There was a time when I was a young girl trying on her mother’s adult clothes, standing in front a mirror, observing how a green dress fit. Turning this way and that, I realized it had fit all too well. Here was a child playing adult, taking on the shape of it, and realizing that it was a shape that had become all too comfortable. I wasn’t the girl who fell out of her mother’s heels or drowned in a waistless dress, rather I was the child where the world of adult fit, and I never grew accustomed to that. Even now, even as I write this.

For the past two months, I’ve been treading some deep waters, getting lost in the thick of nostalgia. I download the songs I used to sing off-key, and I pull out moth-eaten sweaters in hopes they’ll still fit. The wave is tremendous, so much so that it swallows you whole, and the undertow of that previous life threatens to bring you under. Because when you think about the songs and the sweaters and all of that, you forget the darkness that surrounded it. Suddenly, your memory becomes selective, surgical, and you’re forever trying to find the romance in the one part of your life you once were so desperate to leave behind.

Lately, the songs have taken on an octave that is gruesome, and the sweaters threaten to suffocate and maim. This old time is telling you to leave it, let it go quietly into the night. Don’t start poking around. Don’t get a taste for nostalgia, because it’ll only be your ruin.

tumblr_mdfbsluDqH1qdaw6do1_500Grief is a cruel thing, and there is a moment when I felt as if the losses were incalculable. And in that space of grief, which was large and seemingly bottomless, I became careless. I started drinking against my better judgment, and as the weeks progressed, the world felt sonnet small. I felt boxed in, no way out but a little light at the end of the alleyway. That light being the life that I’d built for nearly seven years calling my name. Downright shouting it. My relationship with the drink is a complicated one, one not so easily defined by labels and monikers, and for a time I thought it was something I could return to, but then I lost Sophie, and the whole of my world bleached down to bone.

I debated whether or not I should reveal this bit of information on this space — the fact that I had started drinking, it didn’t work out, and now I’m back to being off the sauce, with a team of beloveds on my back — but then I realized how much I had helped other people, friends, strangers, by being honest and brave and bold and not being ashamed of saying that I’m not someone who can handle her drink. I’m someone who, instead, has to design a more mindful and healthy life. I’m someone who doesn’t judge because, seriously, who am I to judge.

For the past few weeks, I knew something was wrong. And I thought about my life, and how much reconstruction I had to do on it, and I realized that I’d finally made a leap to create something real and beautiful, and why would I ruin that? Why would I chose to spend my days boxed in, when I go out and write books, meet people, build companies, love, live, eat, stretch, be.

Alcohol is the one thing that can ruin. It removes choice because you allow it to. It reduces your world to a singular, sustained heartbeat, and suddenly the vast, sweeping life as you know it becomes a metronome.

And why, why would I do that?

I made two important decisions this week that delivered my life back to me: I took the leap in faith and love and adopted Felix, and I was honest with myself in saying that alcohol may be the one thing that I need to abandon. In committing these words to this clean, white space, I open myself to judgment, misunderstanding, or petty gossip, but I don’t care. Because taking responsibility for my life and choosing to live it is my own reward. And in that new, glimmering shape, I know that there are oceans of people who are willing to shoulder me home. Never be ashamed of giving yourself your life back, ever.

So here I am, plotting all my days, giving myself a routine, and baking bread. And it feels damn good.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Kitchen Daily
1 ⅛ cup 2 tablespoon plus 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats or quick-cooking (not instant) oats, divided
1 ⅓ cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 ¼ tsp baking powder
1 ¼ tsp salt
8 oz nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt
1 large egg
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup clover honey or other mild honey
¾ cup nonfat or low-fat milk (I used almond milk)
¼ tsp baking soda

DIRECTIONS
Position rack in middle of oven; preheat to 375°F. Generously coat a 9-by-5-inch (or similar size) loaf pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon oats in the pan. Tip the pan back and forth to coat the sides and bottom with oats; set aside another 1 tablespoon oats for garnishing the loaf.

Thoroughly stir together whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Using a fork, beat together the remaining 1 cup oats, yogurt, egg, oil and honey in a medium bowl until well blended. Stir in milk. Gently stir the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture just until thoroughly incorporated but not overmixed (excess mixing can cause toughening). Immediately scrape the batter into the pan, spreading evenly to the edges. Sprinkle the reserved 1 tablespoon oats over the top.

Bake the loaf until well browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. (It’s normal for the top to crack.) Let stand in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a table knife around and under the loaf to loosen it and turn it out onto the rack. Let cool until barely warm, about 45 minutes.

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