finding the big magic + giving zero fucks

Quotes-From-Elizabeth-Gilbert-Big-Magic
“We all spend our twenties and thirties trying so hard to be perfect, because we’re so worried about what people will think of us. Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won’t be completely free until you reach your sixties and seventies, when you finally realize this liberating truth–nobody was ever thinking about you anyhow. –Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

I’ve never read Eat Pray Love, and when I saw the movie in theaters I thought it the most painful experience (if I don’t count seeing Eyes Wide Shut with my father in the theater–now that is torture). However, I was a part of group of literary types who thought we were cool for shooting someone else down. We thought Gilbert frivolous, privileged, deserving of side-eyes and media roasts–and we hadn’t even read her book. We eviscerated a stranger who was brave enough to wake in her sleeping life and see an entire book through–all because she didn’t write the big books, the important books.

Whatever the fuck that means.

For much of my twenties (and I dare say my early thirties), I was a judgmental asshole who surrounded myself with other judgmental assholes. It’s true, you are the company you keep. We thought ourselves smarter than everyone else; we were insufferable, self-indulgent, ANNOYING. Art wasn’t art unless you were creating something important, something that would endure, even if the judgment of that art is wholly subjective. Even if the books we revered were ridiculed in their time but went on to mark the period in which they were published. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was laughed off the Parisian stage and yet it’s one of Beckett’s most memorable plays. How could one predict which stories will endure?

So I dare say that much of that vitriol toward Gilbert was rooted in jealousy over her sweeping success, and the fact that we were angry that our weird little books didn’t reach quite as large of an audience. We were only privy to the success, not the lifelong struggle that accompanies it, because people don’t want the ache, boredom, frustration, and pain–they only ferret out the fairytale ending. They crave the fanfare and confetti of the overnight success without realizing that it’s a myth. We were also frustrated that our cultural was shifting from type to reality television; everyone became tethered to their devices and their emails and social media networks were phantom limbs. Pay no mind that people have been bemoaning low culture since Shakespeare. Pay no attention to the fact that us literary types tinkered with our phones at book parties and readings.

In an 1978 interview with Rolling Stone, Susan Sontag rallied against the mythical divide between high and low culture. For her, there was no high/low, right/wrong books, rather we needed to absorb the totality of experience to create meaningful work. Sontag said,

I really believe in history; that’s something people don’t believe in anymore. I have very few beliefs, but this is certainly one: that most everything we think of as natural is historical and has roots — specifically in the late-18th and early-19th centuries, the so-called Romantic revolutionary period. We’re still essentially dealing with expectations and feelings formulated at that time. So when I go to a Patti Smith concert, I enjoy, participate, appreciate and am tuned in better because I’ve read Nietzsche. –Susan Sontag

This isn’t to say that Elizabeth Gilbert is low brow, at all (and who cares if she is?), this is more about us judgmental assholes who were myopic in our world view. We forgot that those who we revere created their work not in a vacuum, but in observation of everything in the world around them. Most of the writers we treasured barely finished high school.

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It took me a really long time to change. And even now I sometimes fight the knee-jerk impulse to judge the low. It’s hard, but I remind myself that what we need is balance and contrast. We need our world to be complex, strange, insufferable and interesting for it to be remarkable. I’m reminded of that Twilight Zone episode, “Mind Over Matter,” where a curmudgeonly man, Archibald Beechcroft, uses his mind to rid the world of people. And when he populates New York with photocopies of himself (because he can only truly tolerate fellow Archibald Beechcrofts), his vision come to pass startles him. A world full of Archibald Beechcrofts is an insufferable one, and in the end, he returns the world to what it was–even if most of it annoys him.

It took me years to enjoy low-brow without guilt, and it took me even longer to realize that if someone pours their heart into a work it doesn’t matter if it’s a pink book jacket or a dark one–what matters is that someone saw a story through. Because who really finishes anything? It’s noble to admire a fellow writer who’s able to write that book in small pockets of time during the day, and it’s cowardly to admonish him/her for the kind of work they produce. If someone writes a mass-market thriller and it gives them joy, who am I to take that away?

What right do I have to judge the worth of someone else’s labor?

Today I read a post by Dr. Andrew Weil, on why he likes to cook–the alchemy of imagination and creation:

There is another reward of cooking that fascinates and motivates me: it is excellent training in practical magic. By that I mean that cooking gives you a chance to practice the esoteric art of manifestation — bringing something from the imagination into physical reality. –Dr. Andrew Weil

It’s not about plating or cookbooks or competitions–Weil simply cares about creating something from nothing, and there’s nobility in that simple, tactile truth.

If you would’ve asked me five years ago if I would write a blog post inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert, I would’ve thought you INSANE, however, Big Magic is a real treasure. I like it because it’s simple, honest. Where so many other self-help books focus on a platform, use jargon that serves only to distance writer from reader, and I invariably feel empty, sold-to. With Gilbert, I felt as if she were in my home, whispering courage in my ear. Take your work seriously, but PLEASE do not take yourself seriously. Because my writing a novel is not going to save lives and cure cancer.

And about that elusive success? No one really enjoys insane fame and fortune and if that’s your motivation to create art, you really need to think about your life. Even if we’re not going to win big, that doesn’t mean we completely take ourselves out of the game. In Play it as it Lays, BZ folds. And even though the game is rigged and L.A. is a wasteland, Maria keeps on playing. Because Kate, because why not?

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert shares her insights, tools and stories on how we can truly live our most creative life. Fear? Have it come along for the ride but never let it take the wheel. Perfection? It doesn’t exist, rather focus on being done. The tortured artist? Stop this. Who wants to consciously inflict pain on ourselves? Gilbert shares how one can be confident, inspired, and passionate about their work and generating ideas. And even though I’m nearly 40 and have published, I still found her words inspiring. A yoga teacher once told me that the mark of an advanced practitioner is someone who doesn’t have an ego about returning to a basics class. The advanced yogi re-learns downward-facing dog. An advanced yogi knows the hardest pose isn’t handstand, but savasana. We never stop learning, and sometimes it’s important to return to the core, the fundamentals, and I feel as if Gilbert gives us that through the lens of someone who knows how to tell stories.

This is a world, not a womb. You can look after yourself in this world while looking after your creativity at the same time — just as people have done for ages. –Elizabeth Gilbert

Up until last year I really cared what strangers thought of me. I was wounded when they hated my writing or my book. I was hurt when former coworkers unfollowed me on Twitter. And then it occurred to me that it took a lot of time and energy shouldering other people’s opinions of me and my work. People will always find a reason to pull out their scalpel and do their picking. They’ll always hate something about you or what you do for a lot of reasons. Calling it jealousy would be simplistic and reductive because feedback is not always related to envy, but I realized I’m human and I’m flawed like everyone else. There are aspects of my personality that even I don’t like, so how do I even think that I’m able to control other’s opinions of me if I’m admittedly a work in progress? Did Elizabeth Gilbert care that people HATED Eat Pray Love? No. She kept on working.

I’m fresh out of fucks.

I don’t care if people hate me, hate my writing. I have a tough book coming out next year and I’m sure some people will hate it. I write things here that people will hate. I cook food that people will hate. I have friends that people don’t like. But I DON’T CARE.

Here’s what I care about:

I care about enjoying the work I do. I spent over two and a half years on my novel and I learned so much from the process, and that won’t be erased by someone’s opinion of the work. What matters is that I created something I loved; I saw a story through. I care about being a good friend to the people in my life–I hold myself accountable to them. And if I’m not being a good person or a good friend, I rely on the people whom I love to give me that feedback. I take that which is constructive to work on getting better because we’re always learning and growing, and I can’t spend my time on people who will never like me regardless of how hard I try.

Not only did the plot of my third novel crystallize while I was reading Big Magic, but I finished the book feeling liberated. I felt I’d granted myself permission to take in what is necessary, all that matters, and discard that which doesn’t.

All I can do is keep writing, keep learning, keep moving and see what happens. I can’t believe how excited I am to be turning 40 this year!

Quote Image Credit: Elizabeth Gilbert

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lentil meatballs in lemon pesto

lentil meatballs with lemon pesto
I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were. ― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

By this time next week I’ll be somewhere in the Middle East, en route to Singapore. At first I thought planning a trip smack in the middle of summer, a short month before I pick up my life and move out west, was insane. However, as the days near I’m grateful for the time and introspection. I’m humbled to return to Bali, a magical place I visited four years ago when I was admittedly a broken woman. Normally, I don’t do travel repeats because there’s so much of the world left to see, but this trip feels auspicious. I’m seeing a place from a different vantage point, and in a way I’m revisiting the woman I used to be and being present enough to see the journey from one version of myself to another.

Last week I had lunch with two dear friends. I’ve known them for nearly fifteen years and we talked about what it’s like to reach the middle of our life. They’re planning a family and I’m embarking on some major changes, and we consider our once-frenzied states, and how now our lives pretty much demand introspection and calm.

I go into next week having juggled three clients for months and I’ll leave Asia in two weeks time readying for the maelstrom that will ensue. So know that I’ll be enjoying this private space between the two, gathering strength, being quiet.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook, modified slightly
For the meatballs:
1 cup lentils, preferably French le puy lentils
2 eggs
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup goat milk ricotta
¼ cup grated pecorino romano
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
⅔ cup gluten-free breadcrumbs (you can also use almond meal)

For the lemon pesto sauce:
1 clove garlic
¼ cup pistachios
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt + pepper
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp water

lemon pesto

DIRECTIONS
Place the lentils in a pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, uncovered, until lentils are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool

Once cool enough to handle, place in a large bowl and mash lightly with a potato masher. It should be half mashed, half whole lentils. Add eggs, olive oil, cheeses, garlic, fennel, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper and breadcrumbs. Stir to combine and set aside for 15 minutes so the flavors blend.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cover a cooking sheet with parchment paper.

Meanwhile, place garlic, pistachios and lemon in a blender and blend until smooth. Add lemon juice, basil, olive oil, and water. Blend until smooth. If you like a thinner consistency, add a couple tablespoons of water.

Form 1-inch “meatballs” using the lentil mixture. If it’s too wet and not holding together, add a couple extra tablespoons of breadcrumbs. If it’s too dry, add a couple tablespoons of water. Place each meatball evenly on the baking sheet. Once you’ve made all the breadcrumbs, spray lightly with olive oil. Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes, turning halfway.

lentil meatballs with lemon pesto and kale salad
lentil meatballs with lemon pesto

on my bookshelf: reading the dead

books

I’ll let you in on a secret: when I first started the master’s program at Columbia, I felt small. I felt stupid. Here I was surrounded by people who’d attended the finest private schools and the most prestigious of Ivy’s, who were as well-versed in contemporary fiction as in obscure 14th Century poets, and I was a reformed banker who read Bret Easton Ellis and the dead. I felt like an imposter in workshop–how did I get in here?–for the form and structure, the basic architecture of writing, was lost on me. My approach to books and story writing was raw, unfinished, and I was overwhelmed by the gleaming, the seemingly poised and polished.

At 24, I felt behind. I was desperate to catch up.

Over a period of a few years (punctuated by a time when I took leave from the program because my life had spiraled beyond my control), I devoured books at a rate that would only be described as astonishing. W.G. Sebald, Joan Didion, Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, Oliver Sacks, Borges, Rick Moody, Raymond Carver, Amy Hempel, Ian McEwan, Marquez, Nathan Englander, Lorrie Moore, Michael Cunningham–the confluence of the living, and the long and respected dead, overwhelmed me, and for the decade of my 20s I read not because I enjoyed books but because I wanted to appear as learned as my peers. I wanted to fit, blend in. And while I discovered authors who would forever alter the way I view fiction and my approach to writing it (hello, Joan Didion, Kazuo Ishiguro, Gary Lutz), my desires were more from a state of urgency than self-investment.

Giving zero fucks is liberating.

I don’t roll with the “smart set”. I’ve few friends from my time at Columbia and even fewer from my stint in publishing. Now I surround myself with wonderful, strange people who challenge and support me. I no longer want the Knopf deal and the requisite story in The New Yorker (although I wouldn’t kick either out of bed); I’m okay with publishing only a second book in my lifetime while writing on this space. After years of hungering for the world and everything in it, I’m finally content with playing small, yet significant.

I’ve finally returned to the voracious joy of reading books like I’d had when I was younger. I read what pleases me rather than follow the trend of reading the right books, which speaks more to privilege than anything else. Lately, I’ve had to balance planning a major move and life change with a great deal of client work and scheduling all the doctor appointments I’d been ignoring for the past two years, all of which leaves little time for rest. When stress mounts and I have to schedule “me” time, I’m finding that spending time with the dead is comforting.

Over the past few weeks I’ve read Maeve Brennan’s The Rose Garden (I discovered Maeve’s work after reading Spinster, and this remarkable collection reminds me of Cheever and does not disappoint), Beryl Markham’s memoir West with the Night (I hope to live 10% of her magnificent life), and I’m knee-deep into Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge (I found this novel on the street and I love, love, LOVE it). I’m bringing George Eliot with me when I travel to Asia next month, and if I need a break I’ll read a contemporary story that touches on the dead.

live the questions now (long read)

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Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. ― Rainer Maria Rilke

It was a Saturday night, which had become a blurred photocopy of every other evening, and a taxi barrelled down the FDR Drive. Back then we liked it fast. We preferred to live dangerously; we were on the road to ruin–and the knowledge of this, of all it, comforted us. I took a leave from a writing program, and found myself holding a bottle of wine, a cigarette half-smoked because I wasn’t the smoking kind, and a Nokia phone, as I shouted for my friend to get in already. It was rare to catch a taxi uptown back then. I remember the car and us bending our heads as if we were supplicants called to prayer; we stole quick bumps, thinking we were all slick and discrete when we were, in fact, the opposite. The driver didn’t care about any of it, except for the fear that we might spill wine in his cab. Hunched over we did blow and then we blew smoke out of windows.

By the time we reached the Lower East Side, I couldn’t breathe. Over the past few months a habit that had once been a weekend thing, soon morphed into a weeknight thing (because there was always a dinner, a reading, a reason for party favors), and soon I fell asleep and woke to cocaine. No one really knew the depths of my fall because I was functioning, sort of. I was all broken capillaries, nosebleeds at my desk, and eyes that regarded daylight as a form of barbaric, medieval torture. But I white-knuckled my way through meetings, typed all my emails and didn’t care that my body felt like a costume I’d worn too many times. Back then I told myself I had this under control, that I would never be like her, my mother, my aunt, all junk-sick and spinning out of control, but then go the lines. Sometimes my heart would beat so fast I couldn’t stop it, so I’d drink some wine, have a little smoke, or swallow pills. I was in pursuit of the middle of nothing.

That taxi ride was the second time I felt death creep under my skin and make a home. The first time I was in Mexico and nearly drowned in an ocean. When we reached shore my body was volcanic. I couldn’t breathe; I needed my mother. I was 20, saying her name as if incanting it would conjure a version of her back to me, before the cocaine and her undoing, when it was just two girls, holding hands. Laughing. The second time all I could think about was my mother, my first hurt, and how I’d do anything to smother all the love I’d given her and how much of my childhood she’d stolen in return. I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all, Elliot wrote.

Back then I would do anything to feel nothing. In this body there is a heart that refuses to beat. Darkness becomes a homecoming–it pulls up a chair in your own home, offers you a drink, and asks, are you happy? Are you comfortable? How long do you want me to stay? Should I unpack? Should I forward the mail? And for a time, I let the dark into my heart because although I knew so many people I’d never felt so lonely. Cocaine was there all along, holding my hand, whispering into my hair that it would never leave. You have to know where’s comfort in that–a constant companion, a tender lover–and then you realize the object of your affection has grown tired of your devotion and wants more. Isn’t it always this way? The thing that you consume craves more than what you’re willing to give, and then you wake and realize the darkness wants to be all of you. It won’t just settle for a drawer in your bedroom.

That night in the cab was a preview of what would happen if I became all that I consumed. Addicts trade war stories–they talk about shame, humiliation, regret and anger, that one night, that every night–but many of us agree that there was a brief time when it was wonderful…until it wasn’t. And we’d spend so much time crawling our way back to the wonder, that first feeling of you being here but not really, and you know how it is. While the story of the day I stopped doing coke twelve years ago isn’t remotely memorable, losing the wonder continues to haunt me, still.

My dad was the first to pick up on the bigger problem–alcohol. The drink is like setting fire to a house after you’ve dead bolted the doors and locked yourself in it. The dark is always in your periphery yet you cease to care because the idea of feeling the weight of loss, sorrow and hurt is entirely too much to bear. When you have all this pain, you wonder, where do you put it? Is there a container? Will I need to request a certain size (small, medium, large? tall, grande, venti?)? What if all the pain doesn’t fit? What then? What of my heart then?

I managed to shield him from cocaine, managed to make it a story like every other story I told, and he never worried because the woman before him was the woman he’d always known–funny, strange, a picky eater, who sometimes drank too much. It’s rare that I let anyone into the depth of dark I’m able to endure, but my father knew. I suppose he’d always known. He was confused that night I fell asleep drunk on a train, somehow ending up in Ronkonkoma with my wallet missing. I woke him in the dead of night for cab fare, and I remember him asking why I wasn’t able to stand straight. I was 23, I think. I suppose he knew when he told me that if I could do him one favor, one small thing, which was for me to shield him from my drunkenness, and then I came home, weeks later, black-out drunk, knocking over things. Always with the hangover. Always with the damn wine lips, he said. I suspected he feared that I would become a version of my mother, a difficult woman. You make it impossible for me to love you, I told her twice. Even last year, even after my relapse, I mentioned my two-month binge to my father in passing. Another story. Another, I’m fine now so you don’t need to worry. Because this is what happens when you lose people–you drink until you black. You drink until you can no longer see. I’m forever shielding my father from worry. In his eyes, I’m always strong, impenetrable.

My pop asked me once about the blow and the drink. Setting aside the obvious, you saw what that shit did to your mother, there was the very clear question in front of him, which was: you’re so frightened of death, why would you do this to yourself? How to explain. Where to begin. Do you end? My father has always accepted death, understood that you one day returned to the place from which you’d come. That valiant, small fist punching its way out of the womb becomes a shuddering breath, a hand that feels like cashmere, feeling its way back home. That small, balled fist. That weathered, frail hand. We exist for most of our lives in the space between the two, and while I can accept that, I’m so frightened of the after. I no longer believe in a heaven with its blinding lights and touch of gold, or a hell that engulfs you in flames. Rather, I believe in a body settling into the earth, allowing for new life to eclipse it. We pass so others can live–this is the order of things. And the only way you continue to exist is in memory. I accept all of this as fact, but it doesn’t make it easier to bear.

In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande writes, the story of aging is the story of our parts.

But in truth no single disease leads to the end; the culprit is just the accumulated crumbling of one’s bodily systems while medicine carries out its maintenance measures and patch jobs.

Our life, as we know it, becomes a slow fade. Death is all the lights in the house, lights that once burned brightly now flicker and fade out. I’m reading a book about the science of mortality and what matters in the end because there was a time in my life when the one final act I’m trying desperately to evade was in my home, eating my food, lying beside me in my bed. People never understand when I talk about getting older, of the terror that exists in counting the years. They think it’s about vanity–you don’t even look 39–and it takes everything in me to smother rage, because age isn’t about skin and hair pigments and body size, it’s about the clocks. Every inch forward cannot be reclaimed. There is no going back. There is only the slow, steady march into the dark. But what happens when no one follows you? What happens when there is only you?

I read another article about our hunger for fame and how it’s bound to the notion of immortality. In memory, life is constant. You continue to exist when someone speaks your name. The author writes,

A fundamental belief of the Greeks: that acts of heroism or epic poems are not only nobler than mere sprogs, but also considerably more durable. Where living things fall like leaves in autumn, our cultural objects can endure. Kingdoms, titles and honour survive to be passed from one generation to the next; stories persist to be told by new generations of bards; bronze statues do not fall sick. Unlike human children, cultural offspring promise to be ‘everlasting’.

On our way to Ireland

On our way to Ireland

I think about all of this because I have no real family. Yes, I have a host of friends whom I love but they are tethered to their kin. They have families of their own, and I am not part of their legacy. This isn’t me being woeful, it’s me being honest. In an act of self-preservation, I refuse to have a relationship with my mother and her new family. And my pop, who isn’t my biological father, but has served as a father figure since I was 12, well, I don’t know sometimes. Over the past five years our relationship has shifted, and although there’s still memory and love and nostalgia, we no longer cleave to each other like we used to. When we were in Ireland, I felt the love that comes with familial history, of being bound to a name. But my last name’s Sullivan, and I’m not even Irish. I feel rootless. I feel part of a family by invitation. I’m a third African but how do I claim it? I do not want children. I am the last of my kind. There is only the dark and you alone in it.

I think about this a lot. Perhaps this is why I’m compelled to write more now that I’ve ever wanted to before. Perhaps I need to get this down, on paper, so people will know that I was once here. That long after my body has settled into the earth with gravel and rock, a part of how I loved, thought, lived, might endure. We tell ourselves stories in order to live, Joan Didion once wrote. I wonder if they serve to preserve us after our final breath shudders out. Our stories deliver us onward, maybe they tell us we mean something. That we don’t solely exist to breed and sustain new life.

Buddha says, The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment. And in that moment there are questions. I do wonder if living in punctuation will give me freedom. Will allow me to see.

literary gems: paul h. connolly’s essay collection: on essays

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Back in the days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar were the only ones just right, this lady moved on our block with nappy hair and proper speech and no makeup. And quite naturally we laughed at her, laughed the way we did at the junk man who went about his business like he was some big-time president and his sorry-ass horse his secretary. And we kinda hated her too, hated the way we did the winos who cluttered up our parks and pissed on our handball walls and stank up our hallways and stairs so you couldn’t halfway play hide-and-seek without a goddamn gas mask. Miss Moore was her name. –From Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson”

Sometimes a piece of writing will seize you, will put your heart on pause and make you come down to your knees because you feel just like that. Because the arrangement of words–and that’s what good writing is really, the delicate dance between rhythm and type–made you see the world for what it is, or perhaps it made you see something about yourself, or others, differently. For me, the power of prose is in the author’s ability to give me second sight. There’s a tree in the middle of a forest, but it’s not really a tree because it reminds you of a moment in your childhood when the forest was your house and the tree was your mother’s hair and all you wanted to do was climb up and in. A good writer arranges words in such a way that you just don’t see the tree, you see above, beyond, under, over and through it to something else, something other.

You are, if nothing else, a fakir.

I’ve been in a funk lately. I’ve dozens of books that I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t. And after completing an exhausting round of necessary revisions on my manuscript, the idea of committing to a whole new world felt unbearable. I’ve just returned from battle, and now you’re asking me to jump once more unto the breach, dear friends? COME NOW. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, I’m still waiting on finalized contracts for two projects and who knows if I’ll ever sell this dark novel. So I set aside all the novels in favor of an essay collection I picked up on the street a few weeks back. A man was moving out of his home and he put out, quite literally, hundreds of books onto the street. I’m talking first editions. I’m talking Cynthia Ozick, Amy Hempel, Janet Malcolm, and Philip Roth. I nearly had a seizure and I took as many books as I could carry (40) and rushed on home to pore over my loot.

Can I tell you that I spent the day with Paul H. Connolly’s On Essays: A Reader for Writers? This out-of-print collection is so obscure it was challenging to locate it online (Amazon doesn’t stock it, but your local library might). A pity, really, because the collection is so remarkable, and part me of me wanted to retitle the subtitle to: A Reader for Anyone Who Likes to Read. The 56 essays examine the symbiotic nature between character and style. The essays are relatively short, but potent, and what’s remarkable is that the essays are satisfying for any reader, however, for the writer, they provide an excellent blueprint for how many authors found their voice and style.

Virginia Woolf, my hero, who brought modernist, experimental fiction to the fore (DYK that Mrs. Dalloway influenced Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude? Fun fact, right?) displayed her elliptical relationship between time and the interior/exterior world in “Gas.” Sure, the essay is about tripping out on gas during a perfunctory visit to the dentist, however, you start to see how the interior (the mind) is able to move through time and space and worlds while one is confined to a chair in a state of semi-consciousness. You can see how she plays with the juxtaposition of time (the dentist visit is short but your travel and imagination makes it feel as you’ve endured years)–both devices were the foundation for her later works, notably, The Waves (one of my favorite books!!!) and Mrs. Dalloway. I also chuckled reading her rage blackout confrontation with E.M. Forrester in “A Writer’s Diary,” over women being passed over for literary prizes.

In Connolly’s collection, you’ll find essays from Joan Didion (her landmark essay, “On Keeping a Notebook,” is an obvious must-read. Then again, anything of Didion’s should be required reading), Calvin Trillin, George Orwell, E.B. White, Susan Sontag (my god, “A Woman’s Beauty: Put-down or Power Source?“), and finally Toni Cade Bambara!

There’s so much I love, and can learn from, Bambara. I’ve always been taught that if the style of what you’re trying to achieve subsumes the meaning, the style is a disservice. Writing shouldn’t call attention to itself, shouldn’t be hyper-stylized, rather the work should be speak as a whole, as a brilliant symphony of language, tone, depth and meaning. The brilliance is in the balance, and I love how Bambara’s style is visual, visceral and dramatic. Read “The Lesson,” and you’ll see what I mean. She’s telling you a story and you can hear and feel her on the page. Her language sometimes drifts from Standard English (Junot Diaz got this too, when he refused to translate from the Spanish in Drown). On a technical level, she’s a dream for me because I’m obsessed with cadence and rhythm. I read everything I write out loud, every time, just so I can hear if it’s right. It has to sound melodic, musical, potent, for me to commit to it. And like the accumulation of notes, every line has to work in conjunction with what preceded it and the line that’s about to be written. On a pure story level, her writing is smart, funny, sharp, honest, and it brings me back to old Brooklyn, when I was from around the way and boys would conversate.

I haven’t been inspired in so long, and finding Bambara was a gift. I’ve ordered all of her books and I can’t wait to dive in.

knowledge talks, wisdom listens

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Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. – Samuel Beckett

Yesterday, I fell. On the way to the train station I was fixated on reading an article on my phone and then suddenly I could see it–the trip, tumble and collapse–but I could do nothing to stop it. I tumbled a few feet and landed on the ground in the rain. I skinned my palms, my knee ached from the impact and a man helped me up and asked me if I was okay. I laughed and said, that hurt more than I thought it would.

Later on that day I read an article calling food sensitivities a myth, a product of our own psychosomatic invention, and I was angry not because the opinion was blatantly wrong, it was the fact that pretty, popular girls can publish un-researched, un-informed fiction under the guise of journalism and the masses will swarm at their manicured feet. I was angry, still, when a comment I’d posted–something I rarely do, comment on websites–calling into question the lack of research from both sides of the argument, the lack of interviews with trained medical professionals and those who actually struggle with food issues (because should we assume that since our food has been chemically and genetically modified more so in the past 40 years than the past 400 that our bodies would have a reaction of which science has yet to understand, much less concretely diagnose?), was deleted. I was angered over the ignorance and then the silencing. But the world presses on and they sell more branded gloss.

That night during my yoga class, in the dark, I kept thinking about night driving in California. How I hated being in cars at night because you couldn’t see the road ahead of you. But in California I didn’t mind not knowing, instead allowing the road to unravel ahead of me in degrees. I thought about a trip I took to Tacoma, Washington and being in car with a man who’d been drinking, and then drinking wine coolers in Manhasset, and I’m mixing it all up. All the memories are shards I can’t piece together and I’m angry that I can’t remember everything. That part of my life is gone and I won’t again feel what it’s like to be 24 in a car, sleeping while someone drives.

We tell stories in order to live, Joan Didion writes. What if the stories are all mixed up, silenced, deleted, not read, not told?

I met with my nutritionist yesterday and the weight loss slowed because I’d been, knowingly, adding more fat back into my diet. Bacon and candied pecans on salads, extra slices of sausage. I was worried, I said. About time. And I knew Dana wouldn’t understand what I was talking about, I didn’t, because I was acting like every meal was my last when another was three hours away. We tell stories in order to live, but what if time runs out? How could I explain that I worried about the time between now and then? How do I tell that story?

I met with an old friend and we talk about the business of books and I tell him I’m done with all of those people, all of that, and he shakes his head. Those people don’t matter. That history doesn’t matter. This thing about your introversion, he starts, and I talk over him, a thing I now rarely do, about how I was telling real stories on this space, on all the spaces I occupy, and he alluded to the fact that my letting people in isn’t a singular event. I have to to continue to leave the door open, even if it’s a crack. I have to keep telling stories, honest ones. I added my email to my About page, and you may think it’s not much but it’s huge, HUGE, for me. That’s the door opening, a little.

There are a lot of stories and I want to tell them but I don’t know. About how I don’t know what’s next and that’s okay but not okay. About how I have this book that I love this much but what if no one buys it, and I know I’m not supposed to wrap up my worth in the business of books but knowing something and feeling something are two different things. About how hard it is to be present because when you’re not present you fall on the ground. About letting my anger go when I see silly articles written or just how many men hate women in this world for no reason. About being young and not loving it then when I was in it and making it all pretty and romantic now when I’ve traveled oceans away from it. About hearing people who are 30 complain about being old when all I want to do is stop the clocks and go back and get a do-over because maybe I would have done things differently.

We tell stories in order to live, and I realize I write and eat and sometimes live like time is running out.

I take this picture of me in yoga class and I immediately dissect everything that is wrong anatomically with the pose. I think about the ten pounds I’ve left to lose. I show this photograph to my yoga teacher and he smiles and doesn’t see everything I do. He says, you look strong.

I think about being awake in the car. I think about driving it.

on my bookshelf

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When someone claims an author is the next James Agee or Joan Didion, I listen. So far, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, is elegant, taut and masterful | My friend Alex {and his wife, who is one of my best friends}, keep raving about M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, a disturbing YA thriller, so consider my interest piqued. And for those snobs who eschew adults who enjoy YA lit, I say, check yourself before you wreck yourself. We all need a literary balanced diet. | I took workshop with fellow Columbia alum Katie Crouch, and loved her gorgeous stories. I’m excited to dive into her new novel, Abroad | I wince whenever I hear a memoir compared to The Glass Castle, as I wasn’t a fan of the book or the writing, however, many writers whom I respect have been Facebook messaging me to check out Brando Skyhorse’s Take This Man. You better believe I can relate to a story about a mother who is a truth-concealer | And finally, I’ve been battling the comma since in utero, so I thought I’d get humble and order Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

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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pudding for heroes

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I wanted to bring my baggage and unpack it in front of you. — Joan Didion’s The Last Thing He Wanted

A few evenings before Sophie passed, I remember writing a cookbook review while listening to David Bowie’s “Heroes” on repeat. A kid jumping up and down on her bed and swiveling her sizable hips to the beat — this was a younger version of myself, feeling the lyrics out, trying the song on for size. We could steal time, just for one day. We can be Heroes, for ever and ever. What d’you say? My whole life I’d been hoarding clocks, hiding them under beds and smothering them under pillows, desperate to keep time still. Hold onto moments as they were, and feel them, completely. Did I know that an adult version of myself would harken back to that kid who wanted to be a writer, who viewed life as something one went out and simply took?

Did I know that I’d listen to the song as an adult and feel nothing but nostalgia, a feeling that resembled something like sadness, because all I could do was glance over at Sophie — as I’ve been training myself to do unconsciously, so much so that it’s become a tick, even now, even after she’s long gone. Much like how I wake every two hours expecting her small body to sieze and writhe. That doesn’t go away because the loved one does. Digressions, digressions, always, still — and wish that I could have her just for one day, and the next and the next. Until the days eclipse themselves, and in some arcane world, we’re together and she’s better again.

074926-FC50In Didion’s novel, there’s a scene where the hero, the survivor, has an ongoing dream that she’s going to die but they’ve given her an overnight pass, allowed her to spend one more day with her family. But they warn her that she’ll start to break apart, literally. Her feet will splinter and halve. The whole of her body will collapse and crumble to dust. But this is the risk our hero takes to spend one last day with her family. At one point, she inquires whether she can negotiate another day, two, to which they respond, sure, they can delay the process but our hero won’t get any better. Best to lay the botched hand down then try to play it out.

I think of that scene, I think “Heroes,” and I try to remind myself that sometimes being heroic is letting something go. Letting Sophie live out her final song, knowing that I have to think of a way of connecting her to that dancing teenager. If I connect the two, and somehow bring them here, right now, hold them close, at this moment, and find a way to love all of it for what it was, and the kind of woman I will be because I knew the greatness of those moments, then I might just be able to find my way home.

I might just be a hero in my own small way.

Last night, I fixed pudding for a new friend + my food editor. I’d spent the day in the kitchen tempering, whisking, reading, and for the first time in a while I felt normal. For four hours we talked about Goya, formalism, food, graduate school, Rosemary’s Baby and feminism, and I felt normal. And when she left, the waves of sadness returned.

So here I am trying to think about how, over time, I can change the shape of that wave to a heroic memory, of love.

INGREDIENTS: Apricot-Scented Rice Pudding recipe courtesy of Clio Goodman’s Puddin’: Luscious and Unforgettable Puddings, Parfaits, Pudding Cakes, Pies, and Pops. My stellar review in Medium is forthcoming.
For the apricot syrup
1/2 cup sugar
12 dried apricots, diced (1/2 cup)

For the rice
3/4 cup long-grain basmati rice
1 1/3 cups whole milk
4 tbsp apricot syrup (sans fruit)
1/4 tsp salt

For the pudding
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out and reserved OR 3 tsp of vanilla extract
4 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
4 large egg yolks

DIRECTIONS
For the apricot syrup: Bring 1/2 cup water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, add the apricots, and transfer to a bowl to cool at room temperature. You can use the syrup right away, but the longer you leave in the apricots, the more luscious it will be. Reserve syrup and solids.

For the rice: Pre-heat the oven to 300F. In a small, ovenproof saucepan, bring the rice and 2 cups of cold water to a boil. Immediately remove from heat, drain, and rinse the rice right away under fresh cold water. This will stop the cooking process. Drain rice in a fine-mesh sieve.

Return the rice to the same pot and add the milk, apricot syrup and salt. Cover the pot, transfer the pot to the oven, and cook, stirring every 10 minutes, until the milk is completely absorbed and the rice is plump, 45 minutes. I’ll admit that I initially misread the directions, and cranked the heat to 350 and my rice cooked 25 minutes. If you’re adventurous, risk it. Remove pot from oven and let stand, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork so the rice doesn’t congeal.

Make the pudding: Before I get started, I know some of you will be tempted to use low-fat milk in this game. Don’t make these moves. Don’t even attempt said moves. This is rice pudding. If you want a low-fat dessert, eat yoghurt and berries — don’t you dare sully this rich greatness with an inferior product. Will you get passable rice pudding? Probably. But why settle for anything less than extraordinary? JUST EAT LESS OF THE RICE PUDDING, PEOPLE.

BUT I DIGRESS. In a medium saucepan whisk together the milk and cream, then add the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean (or extract). Heat the mixture gently until hot but not boiling, 5 minutes, remove from heat, and let steep, covered, until milk comes to room temperature, 20 minutes. Chill in refrigerator for at least 10 minutes.

Add sugar, cornstarch, and egg yolks to chilled milk mixture and whisk vigorously. Return the saucepan to the stovetop and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly (and I mean constantly), until mixture is thick, 5-6 minutes.

Strain the pudding through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing pudding through sieve with a spatula. Remove stick and bean and discard. Fold rice and remaining reserve apricots and syrup into the hot custard.

Cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap, cool for at least 2 hours.

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INGREDIENTS: Coffee Pudding recipe courtesy of Puddin’
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp light brown (or coconut palm) sugar
3 tbsp instant espresso powder (I also use delicious coffee grounds, which worked fine)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS
In a medium saucepan whisk together all the ingredients. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, 10-12 minutes. The pudding will seem loose, but it will thicken pretty significantly as it chills.

Strain the pudding through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing pudding through sieve with a spatula.

Cool at room temperature for 10 minutes, press a layer of plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding, and chill completely in the fridge, at least 2 hours.

new books on my bookshelf

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Yesterday, I spent the day with Julia, an old friend and a luminous spirit. We spent a leisurely afternoon talking about yoga, anatomy, inspiring women and their transformation, living a life of truth, being humble, dismantling the ego, and of all the books we absolutely adored. From nibbling on croissants to strolling through the East Village, our conversation took us to one of my favorite bookstores in the city: McNally Jackson. McNally’s that rare gem of a bookstore that merges a cafe-type atmosphere, sweet baked goods, and the best books you never thought you wanted but absolutely need in your life. While Julia forged friendships and snacked choice magazines, I walked around the bookstore, ravenous, and here you’ll find my loot.

Joan Didion’s The Last Thing He Wanted (novel) | Kate Christiansen’s Blue Plate Special (food/memoir) | Alessandro Baricco’s Emmaus (novel) | Elissa Altman’s Poor Man’s Feast (food memoir)

ON MY RADAR. CHOMPING AT THE BIT, ETC.: Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland | Nelly Reifler’s Elect H. Mouse State Judge | Lauren Grodstein’s The Explanation for Everything | Abby Geni’s The Last Animal | Aimee Bender’s The Color Master | Kathryn Davis’ Duplex | Paul Yoon’s Snow Hunters

shelf trophies: books I love, from me to you…

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Joan Didion’s The White Album + Slouching Toward Bethlehem: Everything from Didion’s writing process to water plants and Haight Ashbury, her essays are biting and will propel your own personal velocity | Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her: on adultery, love, heartbreak and the spaces in between | Claire Watkin’s Battleborn: dark, mythic, glorious and severe short stories focusing on the Nevada landscape | Claire Messud’s The Hunters + The Woman Upstairs: a novella and a novel that speaks to brilliant women the verge | Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go: a family wrestles with the death of its patriarch | V. Nabokov’s The Eye: what happens after an affair jolts you into the afterlife | Krys Lee’s Drifting House: unflinching and graceful stories centered on the Korean-American experience | Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove: magical stories that test your imagination and suspend disbelief | Nick Flynn’s The Reenactments: a meditation on memoir, movie-making and memory | Alice Munro’s Dear Life: this is her final book and it needs no introduction | Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home: how a disturbed interloper interrupts a fragile house | Lauren Grodstein’s A Friend of the Family: a swift, enveloping novel centering on the bomb that is the next door neighbor | Sarah Manguso’s The Guardians: a graceful meditation on loss |

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get your food swoon on: bacon, figs + spinach sandwich

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I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. ― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Is it strange to hold a number but not feel the shape of it? The clocks are an altogether different matter — they force a kind of inventory. You stare at your hands, inspect your face under the glare of a sun that threatens to set your skin aflame, and contort your body this way and that. A mask, a doll, a funhouse mirror, a forest — you are all and none of these things, and you stare at photographs as a reminder of the person you used to be. As instructed, you’ve taken the inventory, you’ve done the maths, and all you’re left with are the additions. And as a result, all that has been taken away. This wasn’t what you used to look like, you think. You scramble to compare a photo taken then and a photo taken now, and you chart the minor (and sometimes significant) differences.

I’m 37, but I don’t feel it. No, that’s not true. I feel some it. I feel the quiet and patience that comes with having lived through the torrent, having felt the undertow, of having almost gone under, but didn’t. I’ve imagined all the ways in which I can end, complete — from a plane hurtling into the ocean to a wisp of air sputtering out in the middle of sleep — so the trash can flames and basement floods don’t incite the terror they once had the capacity to do. I feel something of the severe in terms of managing the multiplications. There was a time when I’d wake to a face covered in barnacles, all those who cling, burrow and fiercely attach to only drain, and I’d try to yank them off and tire from their resilience. Now I walk around with a scalpel, ready for the scraping. I feel a body slowly not able to recover like it used to. I feel the softness that won’t easily harden. I can start to see the years in my eyes and on patches of my face.

I’m 37, but I don’t feel it because I feel as if I’ve only just woken up. Had I been asleep all this time? Had I been dreaming?

This week an old friend tells me that my greatest challenge (there’s another challenge? I laugh in a way that isn’t funny) is taking comfort in the betweens. There was a time when I worked in marketing and only saw myself as a writer. Refusing to write jacket and campaign copy because it would ruin — I was a woman who would not bend. Then there was a time when I was all slideshows and key performance indicators, and all the important people in my life don’t even know I’d written a book. Don’t know I’m writing a new one. So my friend tells me that I’ve got to find a way to reconcile the two. Torch the masks and meet the world with this one face, these two hands, this one mind, divided.

We talk about the kids and their entitlement, which is sometimes true, but I wonder if we’re a little envious. If we want to age in reverse — start knowing too much to knowing nothing at all, and living every moment in the wonder of the next. It used to infuriate me to hear children cry because I wanted them to know how good they have it. How every moment forward brings a newness that they’ll never get back.

I’m 37 and I hear about the too lates, the new starts, the pivots, the awakenings — and I want to torch all of it.

I wonder if instead of us staring at photographs, obsessing over the surface of things, perhaps we can attempt to create a map of the country that is our heart, the cities that are our mind in swell, in bloom. We gawk at the largeness of it, of all that we’ve become and achieved, and perhaps we need this laid down on paper. Perhaps we need this taped to our mirrors, festooned on the walls. Perhaps then we’ll stop thinking about the maths, the numbers.

I don’t have an answer, but I know that I want to move in the direction of our heart being a country.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe inspired by Joanne Chang’s Famous Applewood Smoked BLT recipe in Flour, Too (Serves two)
8 slices applewood-smoked bacon, thick cut
4 slices good-quality slice sourdough bread
2 tbsp butter
2 cups baby spinach
12 figs, quartered
1 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette
Sea Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil and preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place bacon on the cookie sheet and bake for 24-28 minutes, until half is crispy and half is still a little bendy. Remove from oven. Lightly toast bread. Spread each slice with a tablespoon of butter. As I need to keep my dairy in check, I used Earth Balance butter. Top two slices with baby spinach and quartered figs, a drizzle of vinaigrette and bacon. Season with salt to taste. Top with second slice of bread. Cut in half and serve.

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