Posted on April 21, 2016
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
Posted on January 1, 2016
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.
Posted on December 19, 2015
I’m a creature of habit, and twice a week I’d walk to Cobble Hill to take a megaformer class, but it was mainly a ruse for the latkes I would invariably hoover at Karloff, a joint that I’m sure is now far fancier than it used to be. I loved the ritual of sitting down in a familiar place and ordering the same thing time and time again. Ritual delivers me calm, gives me a sense of home, and if you ask me what I miss about New York I’ll likely tell you that I miss latkes at Karloff. I miss ice cream at Ample Hills. I miss walking around Prospect Park while I played a single song on repeat. I miss repetition.
The folks at Karloff made superb latkes, and I would have them with a red pepper aioli sauce (don’t ask me because I loathe mayonnaise, but for some reason their aioli was golden) instead of the traditional sour cream and applesauce. Sometimes I’d have my latkes with a kale salad (when I was feeling semi-virtuous), but other times I would simply enjoy fried potatoes simply for the sake of having them. I miss that. Potatoes on a plate every Monday and Wednesday. Funny the things you miss. Funny the things that follow you months after you’re sure you’ve forgotten them.
Today I had plans to see an old friend and go to a fancy book thing, but I’m not yet ready for crowds and it’s supposed to rain (a rare treat in Southern California), so I decided to stay home and make latkes and watch movies. I decided to recreate one of the many things I loved about living in New York, a place I will always, fondly, call home.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Bon Appetit, with modifications. This recipe makes 24 latkes, but I like mine hefty so I got about 15.
¼ cup almond meal
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
⅛ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
3 pounds russet potatoes (3 or 4), peeled
1 large onion
1 large egg
2 tablespoons olive oil (the original recipe called for schmaltz, and I know that olive oil doesn’t have a high heating point, but it worked just fine and I like the flavor it imparted on the latkes)
2 tablespoons (or more) vegetable oil
Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet; line with 2 layers of paper towels. Combine almond meal, salt, baking powder, and pepper in a small bowl.
Using the large holes of a box grater or a food processor, grate potatoes and onion. I’m not going to lie–I used a box grater and I got an arm workout. Transfer to a large kitchen towel. Gather ends of towel in each hand and twist over sink, wringing out as much liquid as possible. Open towel; toss mixture to loosen. Wring out again (excess moisture will lead to soggy latkes).
Transfer potato mixture to a large bowl; add almond meal mixture and egg. Toss with your hands to thoroughly combine.
Preheat oven to 425°. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil and 2 tbsp. vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Drop a small amount of latke mixture into skillet. If the fat sizzles around the edges, it’s ready (do not let it smoke). Working in 5 batches and adding more oil to skillet as needed to maintain about ⅛” fat, drop small spoonfuls of mixture into pan, pressing gently with the back of the spoon or a spatula to flatten slightly. Cook latkes, occasionally rotating pan, until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. (You may occasionally need to pick out stray potato bits from oil if they start to burn.)
Transfer latkes to prepared rack and let drain. Remove paper towels and bake latkes in oven until all are warmed through and re-crisped, about 5 minutes.
Posted on December 8, 2015
Over text the other day one of my closest friends tells me there was a time when I pushed her away and she took the hint and stayed away. I tell her I don’t recall this, although much of the years I spent working at an agency were a blur of anxiety and boundaries crossed. If you would’ve asked five years ago if this friend (Amber) would be one of my closest I would’ve dismissed you. Not because she wasn’t kind, smart or fun to be around–my friend is all these things–but because I never expected it. You have an idea of who’s going to be in your life and you’re often surprised. The first, for most, comes when you graduate high school and you realize most of your childhood ties you aren’t so binding. Then college, and the first few years of your adult life, and then marriage, children, geography–all of these things shift the ground beneath your feet and you find that you have to hold on to the grasp to stop yourself from slipping.
There was a time in my life (late 20s/early 30s) when I wasn’t a particularly kind person. I have a stockpile of reasons for this, none of which are particularly interesting, and cost me years and dollars in therapy to resolve. I remember the feeling of having dozens of numbers in your phone book but no one I could really call. So over the past decade I’ve resolved to be present, to listen–to be a better friend, the kind of friend I want to have. And this is not to say that this resolve comes unblemished because I’m human, fallible, blah, blah, blah, but when I left New York this year I felt as if I had a foundation. I collected a motley lot of strange, wonderful, brilliant people and we would endure the challenges that geography brings. We wouldn’t have the kind of passive friendships that only require a quick scroll and a read. Oh, I know how she’s doing; she posted that photo on Facebook! I don’t need to make an effort, do the work. No, I thought. We wouldn’t be this until we were this, and there’s that.
When I first moved to Los Angeles I met an east coast transplant who’s lived here for two years, but only until recently she felt comfortable calling L.A. an adopted home. I remember that first week when I was jubilant, high off the weather, physical space (no more crowded subways! no one booking one-way tickets to my sternum, etc), and vernacular, and my new friend shook her head and told me that I was in for a big awakening. After the new car smell wears off, you’ll start to see the people who are unencumbered by distance. And I’ll tell you, she said, it’s never who you think it’ll be.
It took me four months to realize she was right.
I’m seeing a psychiatrist, and while I won’t talk about the specific goings-on of my offline life, I will say that I’m working on dealing with loss. It only occurred to me that I suffered a lot of losses this year–most were good and necessary, others were surprising and heartbreaking–and I was too busy, too focused on my move out west, to deal with them. I would just consider the loss at the time, say, oh, this thing is happening, and move on. And then I moved here and things got quiet, really quiet, and the losses stockpiled and smothered. Individually, they could have been managed, but collectively they were the equivalent of an emotional monsoon. Think of it as if you’re running the longest marathon you can imagine and you only feel a portion of the pain while you’re in the thick of it, but after, the days after, whoa, you are bedridden.
Through all of this, it’s been interesting to see who’s remained on the sidelines, demonstrably silent, while others emerge, become omnipresent. And like my friend warned, it wasn’t who I expected. My friend Amber and I text nearly every day and Facetime a few times a week. Yesterday I asked her if supermarkets in New York had aisles of wine–I couldn’t remember–because every market in L.A. offers a sommelier on-demand. We talk about our days, but mostly I know she wants to check in, to see how I am, because she cares and she can take the dark bits with the good. My friend Liz, whom I’ve known for half my life, is an incredible mother, brilliant lawyer and devoted wife, but she still makes an effort to call me on her drive home, and now that she has an iPhone (finally!), we can iMessage with ease. When I was in college I never anticipated that Liz and I would be as close as are for as long as we have. We’ve endured distance, marriage, children, my multiple addictions and emotional instability and frenetic careers–but we still fall into that comfort we had when we were 19 and wearing flannels and bad baseball caps. Sometimes I miss how we were then–how we’d walk around campus in the dark and ride the train into the city, feverish over the night’s possibility, or studying for finals in our pajamas while watching 90210. But it’s also wonderful to witness how we’ve grown as women. In so many ways Liz and I are completely antithetical, but our friendship works and I never expected it would, but I’m grateful it has. Same with Amber. We were always friendly, always enjoying our banter, but it wasn’t until we took an interesting holiday together did we become close.
The past year I’ve seen cracks in the fault and efforts at repair. I’ve seen those whom I thought were essential in my life drift or disappear altogether. At the same time, I’ve seen new friends enter the frame, and although I’m trying to reconcile the losses, I can’t help but feel privileged for the slow and mounting gains.
I love the saying “play it as it lays”, and I’m trying to be present for all the change. I’m trying to accept that geography plays a powerful role in who’s in your life and who isn’t, and this isn’t about anger, it’s frankly about reality. And although it’s challenging for me to make new friends I’m trying. And that’s all I can do for now–the work.
Posted on October 9, 2015
I joked the other day that life is so good I’m forgetting to photograph it.
I drafted this post early today, and I’m returning to it after having spent the day with an incredible writer and new friend. We were supposed to meet at Joan’s on 3rd, but we didn’t realize that two existed so we ended up at different locations. After a series of hilarious email exchanges, we finally met up and I realized I’d found a kindred spirit. We both grew up in New York (me in Brooklyn, she in the Bronx) and migrated west. We’re writers who are passionate advocates for marginalized/WOC voices. Most of my close friends growing up were Puerto Rican and being with her, and talking about the New York we knew as teenagers (Unique–did you get a spray-painted jacket? YES!, Antique Boutique, Co-op City, 3rd Avenue in the Bronx), felt like home. I rarely feel an instant connection with someone, and I think of this as a gift–what happens when you open all the doors bolted shut and let people in.
I know I’ve said this, ad nauseum, but it’s REALLY hard for me to meet new people. I’m shy and the idea of reaching out and making plans with strangers gives me crippling anxiety. I tend to talk a lot to fill the empty spaces, and half the time I wonder if I come across as a lunatic. When people are shocked over the fact that I’m shy, I’m an introvert, I want to shake my head and say, no, no, you really do not understand. However, I’ve been forcing myself to do it, and this week my friend Alexis and I ventured to downtown L.A. for two events targeting women and freelancers, hosted by Maker City Los Angeles and Spark Los Angeles. I’ve also joined a host of private Facebook groups targeting women writers, freelancers and entrepreneurs, and have been setting up friend dates like it’s the end of days. It’s interesting how these perfunctory get-to-know yous are a bit like dating–everyone’s been wonderful but you sort of know when there’s a spark, when you lose track of time and get excited about making plans again. Selfishly, meeting new people also allows me to check out these chow spots. I’m a regular at Huckleberry, and the chorizo eggs at Cora’s Coffee Shop are next level.
If you’ve been around these parts for a while, you might have noticed that I’ve got a taste for the macabre, and I’ve been immersing myself in the darker aspects of L.A.’s history. From snapping up books on L.A.’s profane origins (and the torture and murder of Indians) to discovering the secrets of haunted houses perched on hills to booking Blood + Dumplings and Helter Skelter tours–I feel overwhelmed, in a good way. I’m setting my third book in a touched home in Los Feliz (I keep calling it The Shining in L.A.), and I’ve started the arduous research process. It’s funny–I never thought to learn about the place in which I grew up, I suppose I took it for granted, but all I want to do now is understand the city where the word “tourist” found its origins. While it’s true that the history of Los Angeles is really the story about water (I’m reading accounts of irrigation scandals and floods, forest fires, and droughts from the late 1800s to the 1940s, and the scenes playing out could’ve taken place today), it’s also the story about dreamers and people in search for an idyll, for something other.
Although I love living in 75 & Sunny (my nickname for L.A.), I find myself looking at the calendar and waiting for the rain, the crisp evenings I’ve known in New York. It’s so weird to say this but I miss rain. I miss the dark clouds and the sky opening up, and me at home, curled up on the couch with the cat, watching it pour. Now we look out and it’s…75 & Sunny. Everyone tells me that it’ll get cooler, and I’m oddly giddy about going to Lit Crawl in Seattle this month, simply to feel a bit of chill.
At lunch today I tell Lilliam that I’m anxious; there’s so much to see. I have to constantly remind myself that I know New York because I’ve lived there for the whole of my life, and it’ll take me years to feel even a fragment of comfort here, the feeling that I know this place and is vernacular and vocabulary. I have to allow myself time.
Speaking of which, something else has been gnawing at me. The constant refrain of “I’m so busy.” I hear and read this every day. I get emails from friends talking about how they’re slammed, drowning, killed. I’m greeted daily with these violent images and people who brag about thousands of emails in their inbox with a pride that is the antithesis of humility. I’ve been through busy and go through times that are hectic still, but if we are the privileged, we choose busy and how we react to it (always with the chaos vs. the calm). We choose how to frame our days, the people with whom to spend time. Being here has made me acutely aware of how fast I speak, how treat a sentence as if it’s a marathon I’m desperate to finish, and how I need to slow the fuck down. I’m not curing cancer. My writing isn’t changing the world and saving lives.
It’s going to be okay. The world won’t end if I slow down.
*I’m thinking of making this a semi-regular series where I share cool spots, books, and other experiences specific to Los Angeles. If you think there are places I should be visiting, let me know. I’m excited to navigate my new home!
Posted on September 28, 2015
People ask me why I moved to Los Angeles. Why I tossed nearly all of my belongings and moved me and the cat out west. Everyone I love lived in a ten mile radius. All of my professional contacts were in the tri-state area, and I had a steady stream of projects. I spent most of my time in a huge rent-controlled apartment in a brownstone in Park Slope. Everything appeared good on paper. Everything was going according to plan.
The only way I can make sense of the past year is to say that I’d become allergic to my home. Space didn’t exist other than in the confines of my apartment. Everyone was loud and suffocating. Days would pass and I’d become exhausted with the idea of going into Manhattan. I was forever tired, depressed and anxious. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t write.
In Nicaragua I met a couple from Santa Barbara, and we bonded over our obsessive affection for our cats. At the time I planned a four-state adventure (remember?) My project was an expensive, logistical nightmare and I spent most of my time over thinking how I’d do it all. The couple listened politely, and as I was telling them of my plan I started to feel that it was kind of ridiculous. I’m someone who needs roots; I’m far from itinerant. At the end of my story, the husband said, I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to tell me the first word that comes to mind. Don’t think about it. Just speak. I nodded; I’d play along. If you could live anywhere in the states, where would you live? he asked. Don’t think.
I’ve been here for over a month and my only regret is that I haven’t moved sooner. I don’t yet have the privilege of perspective–that aerial view–however, the only thing I can say is that California feels right. Everything about being here feels right. Is it an adjustment? Absolutely. Do I miss my friends? So much it hurts. Am I nervous about paying the rent for my expensive apartment? EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. But I don’t regret it. And while I’m not yet at the place where I can give you a narrative, I’ll share my impressions. These aren’t truths; this is me acting like a tourist sketching the shape of things without understanding its true form. Think of it was an outline before it gets fat from fleshing.
1. FOOD: The best thing about childhood is the wonder. How you always have a first. How all the things that adults take for granted and invariably ruin, are beautiful and complete. While I knew the produce in California was superior, never did I anticipate that I would love eating more than I already do. I’d spend mornings at the farmer’s market in awe. Four variations of avocados, ripe peaches, mountain-reared apples, local chorizo, figs, guava, watermelon, plums, and a dizzying amount of herbs. And when I’m not at the farmer’s market, I’ve eaten lunches in places that make you excited about ordering a salad.
Because salad is an EVENT in Los Angeles.
This isn’t about a pile of sloppy greens on your plate. Oh, no. People take salad to a whole other place. I’ve had peaches, grilled chicken and local goat cheese dressed in a spicy cashew dressing. I’ve had things done to pork one wouldn’t think possible. Being here actually inspires you to eat healthy. And that’s not to say that I haven’t had my fair share of pizzas, tacos, and blueberry crumble bars–but there’s a real pride about the ingredients and everything tastes better. Eating gluten-free is easy here because restaurant menus are abundant with healthy and gluten-free options.
2. WATER: All conversations converge to water, the lack of it, how to conserve it, and how it tastes like wet coins shoveled into your mouth. Each tenant in my building has to pay for their individual water usage, so while I have a dishwasher and washer/dryer, know that I’m not just tossing in dirty items, willy-nilly. I have a shower filter and a water filter, because there’s no way I’m drinking out of the tap. And I’ve booked an appointment with a dermatologist next week because the water and my skin are in an acrimonious relationship. While the breakouts on my face have improved somewhat, I’ve scattered bumps on my chest, back and shoulders that aren’t going away.
Also, it never rains. The one night it did pour, my building’s fire alarms blared at 3:30AM, and people were more fascinated by the fact that it was raining than the idea that we’d be engulfed in flames. My neighbors’ reactions were much like this. In Los Angeles, you know the date it rains because it never does. Rain is also an event.
3. NEIGHBORS: THEY EXIST. AND THEY SPEAK TO YOU. Actually, everyone speaks to you here. Let me give you context. In all the years I lived in New York I only knew my neighbors by calling the cops on them or complaining about them. No, it’s not okay to have a threesome while blasting Britney’s “One More Time” on a Tuesday night when I have to be at work the next day. No, it’s not cool to have your dealer pound on my door when he mistakes my apartment for yours. No, it’s not normal to beat your front door with a snow shovel in the middle of July because you’re wasted and your husband’s frightened of you when you go off your meds. The last time I felt any semblance of community was when I was small, living in Brooklyn. Back then it was everyone’s business to know everyone else’s business. We traded stories on stoops and messed around with tire swings in the park or treaded water in the pool in Sunset Park.
Maybe I had the wrong neighbors or maybe I was a shut-in? Who knows. What I do know is that it’s normal in Los Angeles for people to ask about your day and genuinely care about it.
My next door neighbor just moved from Union Square, and sometimes we’ll catch one another on the stairwell and talk about Los Angeles as if we were gathering our findings and comparing notes. We actually lowered our voices and said, people talk to you here, and realized how asinine that sounded as soon as we said it.
4. THE CAR SITUATION: What it relief it was to toss my Metrocard. You can’t even understand how I don’t miss the MTA, LIRR, and NJT. I do not miss Showtime! Showtime! I do not miss being screamed at because my soul has yet to be saved. I do not miss stories about rats and pizzas and men telling me I’m beautiful. Smile, baby. I so much wanted to reply with Cry, baby. I do not miss the collective rage blackout that is the morning commute.
In Los Angeles, most people drive. I do not, which makes sidewalks blissful. I can walk around without having people book a one-way ticket to my sternum. My friends are awed by the fact that I walk four miles to Brentwood or two miles to Venice. For me, anything under five miles is walkable. The buses are pretty amazing and reliable, and I can take cabs for long-distance rides. While I’m still adjusting to life here, I can’t bear the thought of taking driving lessons, and I’m in no financial shape to buy a car, deal with insurance, gas, parking, and the inevitable accidents that will ensue. Most of my friends live in, or near, the Westside, so I’ve been managing well. It’s also amazing that I’m able to supermarkets, fitness classes, and the beach are in walking distance.
When I can afford it, I will invest in a car because there’s so much to see. California offers the desert, mountains, and beaches, and I want to explore them all. I love the idea of being alone in a car and driving to Joshua Tree. I love the idea of being alone, in a car.
5. MY TRIBE: I’ve read countless articles on the dangers of technology. You’ll be distracted; technology kills conversation and empathy, however, I’m finding a need to rely on technology to connect with those whom I miss and love. I use Facetime, Skype, email, social media and the good old phone to keep up with the relationships one can easily take for granted if geography isn’t an issue. Geography, and the distance between myself, and everyone I love is real, constant.
I miss my friends, and the ease in which I get to see them.
I knew that moving here would be tough. I would have to rebuild my life, establish professional contacts, and make new friends. Logically, I knew all of this and I expected to feel as I do now, but knowing doesn’t make discomfort any easier to bear. It’s hard for me to reach out to strangers and arrange friend dates (fear of rejection), and meeting them (!!!) presents a whole new set of anxieties. I tend to talk too much when I’m nervous. After meeting up with a new friend (I met this lovely women by way of introduction from a mutual friend) and her two sweet dogs for coffee, I text’d the friend who’d introduced us, writing: I really liked her. I hope she doesn’t think I’m…crazy. I’m reconnecting with old friends who I haven’t seen in years and it’s almost as if I’m forging new ground. Yes, we know one another, but we knew previous versions of ourselves so the getting-to-know-you phases is as pronounced in these scenarios because I don’t have the privilege of a clean slate.
And for the first time in nearly a decade, I missed have an artistic tribe. I used to be deep in the book publishing scene in New York and I…hated it. Nearly every minute of it. For a number of reasons I won’t go into. Suffice it to say it’s taken me a while to even consider the possibility of surrounding myself with fellow artists, attend readings and be part of something. After posting questions on a few closed forums on Facebook, I found what I wanted didn’t exist. I was blue for a couple of weeks and then I decided to create that which didn’t exist.
I posted a long call on several local Facebook groups populated by women creatives and artists. Similar to a salon I once co-hosted in New York (which gave me more stress than joy), I offered up my home as a meeting place for a small group of like-minded women who wanted to talk shop, collaborate, or just make new friends. What binds us is our art, our verve, and our drive to build. I was shocked about the overwhelming response, and a friend emailed me and said that Los Angeles is aching for more meet-ups that I’m trying to cultivate–we’re all so spread out!
I’ve been visiting Los Angeles since I was 17 and only now did I realize the geography. When it took me two hours to get home from Silverlake by bus did I understand that L.A. is MASSIVE. No wonder people crave connections–we’re all so far away!
I’m also flying to Seattle ($150 airfare!) for LitCrawl in late October–something, candidly, I would never have done had I still lived in New York. However, I’m staying with a fellow writer friend who has pets and lives far away from where the action is, and I see this as a good thing. I’m excited to see Sarah Hepola talk and a host of other writers read.
Luckily, I enjoy my company and don’t need many friends in my life, but I’m reminding myself that this work, these friend dates, this crippling anxiety–all of this is necessary.
Professional contacts….working on that.
6. THE LANDSCAPE: It’s incredible how a shift in geography will change everything. I’ve a whole new vocabulary to learn, a landscape to navigate. Plants that don’t grow in the East, tectonic plates that keep shifting, land that constantly rearranges itself. Even though I’ve traveled to Los Angeles on and off for twenty years, there’s nothing like setting roots here. My novel takes place in New York, Nevada and California, and much of the book relied on my impressions of the West coupled with research. Last week an idea crystallized for the third book, and I’m excited because it’ll take place in California during the 1920s and present day. This means more land to navigate, more to learn, more to feel.
My friend Pedro once told me that in order to learn a new language you have to think in the language. He’s fluent in five languages so you know I paid him the strictest attention. You can’t translate from the English, he said. You have to think, yo quiero ir… instead of I want to go… in the Spanish. Thinking in another language makes it intuitive; you feel the words as you’re saying them instead of relying on your brain to decode and translate. I feel that way about being in California. Until now I’ve been translating (and I’m still looking at this place through the lens of New York), and it’ll take me time to naturally interpret and speak the landscape so it feels visceral, real.
As you know I’ve a taste for the macabre, and the fact that my new novel centers around the appraising and selling of “touched” property (think cults, gruesome murders, suicides, the occult), I’m oddly excited to learn the language of construction, to see these houses and understand their architecture. There is so much history here, and I’m hungry to learn it.
7. FELIX UPDATE: In Los Angeles, there is no cowering from the light. In New York, buildings shielded me from the sun, but the light here is clean and abundant. So much so that it’s made my special guy content. I was worried how he’d adjust, and although he initially had a hard time without furniture (translation: boredom), he’s now content. Most days he stares out my many windows, battles with the washing machine and garbage disposal and longs to go out on my deck (not happening, mister). Much of his time is spent lazing in various columns of light that stream into my apartment. He’s so comfortable I wonder if I can send him out on my friend dates in my stead. He’d make for better company, clearly.
There’s so much more and I know I’m missing it, but these broad strokes are all I’m able to share at the moment. I can only imagine what it will feel like in a year’s time looking at this post with the advantage of perspective.
Posted on September 9, 2015
I’ll never again take lying in a bed for granted. We slept the sleep of children last night–me curled up next to Felix. I love Santa Monica because the skies are perennially pink come nightfall, and the air is cool and crisp. I’m near the ocean and I sleep with my windows open, which is a luxury, really, because not too long ago I was enduring relentless heat and humidity. I lived in a home where false cold air blew in.
My furniture finally arrived yesterday (it’s been a month in the making), and I spent five hours cutting up boxes and unpacking. 39 of the 49 boxes contained books, and I’m still sore from moving them around my apartment, trying to make room for all that I’ve collected over the years. A friend sent me a note last night, asked if I’d seen the sky. She was driving home from Marina Del Rey and caught sight of it. I paused and walked downstairs and saw the sun settle into the horizon, and there was a kind of purple haze to it, a cool fire, and I felt the word home.
I fell into bed around 8:30pm, aching, exhausted–hands all cut up and bleeding–but happy that everything I love occupies this space. I don’t have my couch yet, but you can sort of tell from the mess below it’s coming together. Slowly, but surely.
I’ve been on work calls since seven this morning, and I finally had some time this afternoon to bake. I bought three pints of fresh strawberries for $7 and couldn’t wait to make a crisp.
Odd thing is, I wasn’t excited about photographing this. I brought the plates, napkins, and marble slab out onto the deck and it felt…false. I can’t explain it. I brought everything back in and set the dishes on the counter and took photos with my phone. I guess it felt more real to me–a first home-cooked meal in a new house. It felt like, okay, this is it.
I live in California.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, with modifications
1 pound hulled strawberries, cut into halves and quarters
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic cane sugar sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup almond flour
1 cup gluten-free steel-cut oats
5 tablespoons cold salted butter, cut into cubes (I found goat butter in my local market and it is INSANELY good)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Put the strawberries into an ovenproof dish (a pie pan is a good size) with the 2 tablespoons of sugar, orange zest and almond extract.
Mix the almond flour, oats, and the rest of the sugar in a bowl.
Break the butter into little chunks and add it to the bowl or pour in the coconut oil and then use your fingers to rub the mixture together, lifting them out of the bowl to get some air into the crisp topping. Once the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs and there are no big lumps of butter, you’re golden. I used an old fashioned pastry cutter.
Pile the mixture on top of the strawberries and bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes, until the top is golden and the strawberries have shrunk and started to caramelize around the edges.
Posted on September 6, 2015
I’m buying a few peach tops–I thought I should warn you, I text one of my closest friends. This is huge because I mostly wear black and blue, the color of bruises. I’m grateful for technology since it has a way of bringing people whom I love, people who are thousands of miles away, into my home. Even though much of my professional life revolves around digital marketing, I’ve shied away from the tools. Rarely do I Skype or Facetime–I’m old school: I like to see you in front of my face or behind a chat screen. But living in Los Angeles has made that tricky. I can no longer board a subway into Manhattan. I can no longer ride the elevator up. I can no longer collapse onto my friend’s couch and sigh, you don’t even know the fucking day I had. You take that for granted–the small space you occupy with the ones you love. This week I thought about my friends’ homes, how they’ve arranged their furniture, the pictures they’ve placed in frames, the perfume they wear. I think about their hair and how they’ve curled it, or piled it in a bun, or I can’t even be bothered, you know what I mean? I play back the last month of goodbyes–all the tight hugs and faces buried into hair–and I hurt.
It’s been hard coming to this space because I don’t know what to say. I’ve lived a month without furniture and my neck aches from sleeping on an air mattress. A small part of me likes the sparseness of my home and I dread cutting up 49 boxes when my furniture finally arrives this week. Part of me wants to keep the books and toss the rest. It’s hard because I’m shocked by how much I don’t miss New York, but I ache for my father (who, as of late, has been sending me pictures from when we were young), my friends. I’m adjusting to the fact that I can’t find my favorite seltzer in stores, the water tastes tinny, and sometimes girls walk around in bikinis even though we live by the beach but are not on the beach, and I guess it’s cool but it takes getting used to. I’m growing accustomed to making small talk that is less perfunctory and more genuine. I go on a slew of first friend dates, which gives me mild terror (what if I’m too weird? what if they don’t like me?), but I know I have to do this. This is part of the work. This is part of letting people in. This is what it means to build a tribe.
In the midst of all of this, I’ve started a consuming month-long work project, which happened to land the day I received my book contract. So there’s me moving from marketing to murderers over a course of a weekend. At least I’ve a cute, furry editor. Personal pizzas the size of two palms (why is all the yummy food made in miniature?!) can be an effective salve–especially on a day when you have to do So. Much. Work. and your attention gets diverted by some fat-shaming Youtuber, who forgot the laws of basic human decency: don’t humiliate people (marginalized or otherwise) for sport. One can be funny without having to kick someone in the face a few hundred times (also: watch this because we’re all human and let’s try to remember that) /digression
Whenever I feel in the middle of things, I come back to the mat. I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for over thirteen years. I’ve practiced hung over, high, depressed, heartbroken, jubilant, excited, proud and strong. I started practicing when I was an alcoholic trying to get over a coke problem. I continued practicing when I fell in love and brought the man I loved on the mat and our love became the distance between our two bodies. I continued the first few weeks of sobriety when it felt as if the volume on everything got turned all the way up and everything hurt. I continued through love, loss and everything in between. I’ve done hatha, kundalini, vinyasa, ashtanga, anusara (when it wasn’t a dirty word), and Iyengar. I practiced when I was a negative integer and when I was forty pounds overweight, body riddled with burning hives. I fell in love with a practice that acknowledged and celebrated everything that anatomically wrong with me (my uneven arms, which render some poses impossible, while others require the use of a block to balance me out).
The only way to get around pain is to go through it. You have to breathe through discomfort, the dark spaces.
When I first landed in Santa Monica, I walked around with a map on my phone. If I could get a sense of coordinates, if I could the work the angles, I wouldn’t feel so unsettled. But more than that, I wanted to practice. It’d been months since I’ve been on the mat because I’d become obsessed with spinning and the megaformer in the last few months I lived in New York. So I had to accept that I needed to be patient–my body wasn’t going to immediately assume all of its former shapes.
I’m still working my way through the yoga studios in Santa Monica; I’ve enrolled in ClassPass for a month so I can scour the Westside with little risk. I’m still trying to find my studio, my energy, my tribe, and that’s hard. Some studios are great but they’re not so focused on alignment. Other studios aren’t my vibe, reminding me of gyms. I’m about to hit up some spots in Venice next week, but I found one place that surprised me.
If you asked me a year ago if I’d roll up to a hot yoga class I would’ve countered, are you high? I’d often (and erroneously) confuse hot yoga with the cult of Bikram, and all the unseemly, and downright disturbing, associations. However, the reviews of Sweat Yoga were formidable, and I signed up for a class, downed a gallon of water, didn’t eat for two hours before class (okay, that was really hard), and hoped for the best. I already planned to lay my mat next to the door in the event I needed to run.
Luckily, I did not die. I even went back for seconds.
What you notice about Sweat when you enter the studio is the energy. The front desk staff are genuinely helpful and effusive (I practiced at a few other studios this week where people didn’t even look up from the computer screen as they handed me a clipboard with a waiver). The space is drenched in light and smells of lavender. The bathrooms are impeccable and stocked with organic products. More importantly, the teachers are the real deal. I recommend coming early to class so you can meet the instructor, share your yoga history and any injuries, and get used to the heat. It took me a good ten minutes to adjust to the 102 temp in the room, but then it felt like a normal packed yoga class in New York. However, in the few classes I’ve taken at Sweat, the classes aren’t packed and there’s a fair amount of space between mats. Over the course of an hour, the teachers take you through a series of poses, focusing both on alignment and the need for everyone to go at your own pace. Modifications are routinely given to dial up and down poses, and for the first few classes I had to come down and rest just to get adjusted to the heat. I also loved the music and how it’s used as a vehicle for those who want to explore the depths of their practice.
Based on some of the reviews I can see how the structure of the class might not be for everyone–especially for newbies or those who want a rigorous, coordinated flow. Will Sweat be my main jam? Probably not. However, it’s a nice respite for those like me who are Type A and sometimes need a break. The space is a sweet juxtaposition to the more formalized yoga classes I crave, and while it may seem minor to you, taking this class was HUGE for me because I’m slowly doing things that are far out of my comfort zone.
It’s okay if I meet new people and we don’t hit it off. Odds are, we will. It’s okay if I walk into a studio and I don’t like the vibe (at least I tried it). It’s okay to miss my friends (we’ll always have Facetime). And it’s perfectly fine to fall in love with Los Angeles, even if I was born in New York.
Posted on September 2, 2015
Was it only a dream that Literature was once dangerous, that it had the power to awaken and change us? —Joy Williams
You’ll meet the thirsty assholes soon enough, someone tells me. Everyone’s in the business of producing, yet few have an idea of what it is that’s actually being produced. But they’re busy, and they’ll remind you of this by referencing their multiple calendars. They’re booked solid for the first half of September, but maybe we can squeeze in a coffee on the 24th between 10:30 and 11:45am? Thirsty, like the Sahara. Like, give this girl a thimble of water to drink. At least in New York they say a proper fuck you to your face (Hmm, not necessarily true. Cue social kisses and g-chat trash talk). But here, here, they got that knife in you, and they’re taking photos for their Instagram as they’re driving it all the way in. I pause and consider filters. I imagine a car. I imagine driving it. A small vehicle, something low to the ground so I can see the road ahead of me.
In California, I have cable television but regard it as white noise, a distraction. Mostly I watch movies on my laptop while black boxes collect dust. I wake and think, I live here. Although it feels natural to be here, at the same time it feels unnatural not to be there, and I sit in the discomfort known as the betweens. Later this month I may have to take a work trip to New York, and it feels strange to dread going home, because it’s no longer home, and you know how it is. Can’t I just sit still, even for a little while? I stayed in a hotel in New York once. We were ten teenagers renting a room in a hotel in midtown because we wanted to be fancy. I remember riding the elevators and roaming the halls. All the televisions were tuned to a different channel, and all I could hear were voices announcing a murder in the Park, a man screaming Edith! from his chair, a newscaster reading from sheets of paper: if we could just get to the root of the problem–all of which became a different kind of white noise. Hotels were, for me, a collection of voices that didn’t belong to the people inhabiting the rooms. I pictured vacant rooms with only the televisions turned up, if only to give the impression that people occupied these small spaces.
I pass a sign on the street, a bit of graffiti scratched on a wall: In case of earthquake, remain calm. My building rolls with the top down, which is to say that in the center of this structure is a man-made courtyard leading up to the sky. This morning I wonder what if it rained? What if the rain came down in sheets and flooded the halls, the railings spilling water over to the hallway carpets. What then?
Girl, you live in California now. There’s no more rain.
This morning a man shouts to an owner of a shop that sells expensive pastry: What are you doing for the white man, white man? A friend writes to ask me what riding the bus eight miles to West Hollywood was like. Someone emails to schedule a meeting. Why don’t we do it 1pm, your time? As if three hours were something I could claim, as if time was something I could own.
In California, I eat salads for lunch and order personal pan pizzas the size of two palms for dinner. I take pictures of fruit and think: This is pretty, this is bullshit. This is pretty bullshit. But in the end I can’t find an image that explains to you just how I feel.
My kitchen isn’t here yet, I tell someone. It’s somewhere between New York and Los Angeles. That’s why I keep calling for delivery, or maybe it’s for the joy of a stranger knowing my number, my name. Maybe it’s to fill the space that furniture has yet to occupy. Maybe your things don’t want to leave. LOL, a friend texts.
Over the weekend I walk along pavement that separates a ticker tape of houses from sand. For some reason I think of Beverly Hills 90210 and Kelly, David, and Donna living by the beach. I remember this! This all feels familiar, until I realize that that was a show and this is real and what’s familiar is an image of how one could live by the beach. I don’t know why this thought embarasses me, but it does. I buy tacos that are cooked medium and I’m too ashamed to send them back so I sit next to a man and offer him my food and we talk about the weather. He asks me where I live and I say, here. He points to the ground, and laughs, Yeah, me too. I stutter out an apology, feeling like an asshole, feeling my privilege. In response, he laughs again, says, What are you apologizing for? You gave me these tacos, some talk. That’s more than most. After a half hour I leave for home.
My kitchen isn’t here yet.
At night I work because the East is quiet. I wonder whether I should be doing something. Going out more. Seeing more. I wonder if I’ll grow lonely. I read this and it puts my heart on pause. I order pizza again, say my hellos and goodbyes to Pete, and work on this:
She’d outlived her best-by date. She accepted that she would never scramble eggs. She would always burn or break bread. She would only kneel in bed. Her skin would itch and blister after a man touched it. There would always be marks and stained sheets. She would never understand the nuances of dinner parties, where conversations required constant costume changes. She would never maw down to the bone. She was cautious of birds. She would live in a series of homes and never see the deed, never bear witness to the bill of sale. She pinned butterflies to the walls of her room to replace the mirrors that had been removed. The days would continue to leave their scars. She would never take her own life because she couldn’t bear the thought of writing the note. Instead, she’d leave behind other marks. She opens the bible and reads the book without understanding the story. It didn’t matter. In the end, the men will save. This is what she was told. What she needed to know was this: her role was to own the books and believe. Men would do the work.
Posted on August 28, 2015
I’m writing to you from the floor. My first week in California has been exhilarating and extraordinary, even if I’m taking conference calls from the carpet and using aluminum foil as a dinner plate. As of right now my furniture is still in a warehouse in New York, and I’m trying this new thing where I don’t flip out when things don’t go according to plan because it takes more energy to be a screaming asshole than it is to resolve situations with grace and calm. I spent the morning talking to the very kind and helpful head of sales at Shlepper’s and I’m hopeful that my furniture will arrive within the next week. But given how beautiful my apartment is, I’m thinking my situation is more like glamping with an added benefit of Some Assembly Required. I’m thankful for Taskrabbit since assembling furniture is a skill that eludes me. Part of me is strangely happy to be living so minimally and save my books, I kind of dread the 49 boxes that will soon find their way home.
“I was never a fan of people who don’t leave home…It just seems part of your duty in life.” –Joan Didion
Someone recently asked me what it’s like living in California, to which I responded, I don’t know, really. It’s only been a week. All I have are vague, strong impressions–kind of like skywriting–that I’m sure will fade and morph into something tangible, real. Perhaps I’ll have a better answer in six month’s time. But right now I know that the light here is clean, that I’ve been starved for common courtesy and decency–characteristics that are the stock and trade of most Californians, or at least the ones I’ve encountered so far. I know I’ll have to get a car at some point, but it’s been nice walking the four miles to Brentwood. I finally know what it’s like to have a good avocado and a ripe white peach. What it’s like to eat healthy–all. the. time. I know what it’s like to sit next to a group of people and have them fold you into their conversation so soon your two tables become one. I know what it’s like to wake to quiet; I live by the beach and it feels good to be close to water. I wrote someone this week, I’m never coming back.
This week I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been and the most frightened I’ve ever been. By definition, everything is new to me, and all the things I’ve taken for granted–close friends, a strong professional network, and my family, all close by–I realize I have to, in some way, rebuild. I’m painfully shy but I’ve thrown myself into Facebook groups, scheduled “friend dates” with friends of friends (vetted strangers, really), and reconnected with people from a former life–people I used to know. There’s a lit scene here and I’m nervous about navigating it (although I’m admittedly curious). It’s hard making friends when you’re over a certain age since people are settled, but I hope to find my way here. Build my tribe.
I wake to a pile of email from the East Coast, which alters the shape of my days. But mostly I wake, shell-shocked. I live in California. At one point I’ll have to get a license and drive a car (not sure how I’ll afford one, but I’ll cross that bridge…) I wonder if I’ll be lonely. I wonder if I’ll find project work. I wonder what I’ll write on this space. I wonder when my furniture will arrive so I’ll no longer have to take my meals and calls from the floor.
Everything: I’m working on it.
Posted on July 11, 2015
Sometimes these questions arise most urgently only because you are the one instigating the move. If some employer or relative or force of nature compelled you to move, then you’d just do it and get it done. Sometimes it helps to adapt as if one has no choice other than to adapt. It’s a way of snipping ties and burning bridges quickly, without dragging that big bag of Looking Back behind you. That said, I remember the time it was finally real that I was moving out of Michigan, and I felt like I was seeing my hometown for the first time. It felt like preemptive nostalgia. I think this is also the nature of sensitive creative types. We just feel everything too damn much. So keep writing about it so you can keep perspective. Obstacles are smaller when you dream bigger. —my always wise, always thoughtful friend, David, in response to me writing about my fear of leaving.
I held off signing my lease for days because committing myself to a new home for the next fifteen months became all too real. I got surgical with the contract, posed endless questions, and this morning I woke to the last of my seemingly endless inquiries met with cheerful, patient responses, and I signed a 42-page electronic document that would put me on a plane to Los Angeles in less than a month.
This is the part in the story when I become terrified. When I feel like the call is coming from inside the house (to quote my friend Amber). When it seems as if I’m the star of my own horror movie. This is the moment in the story where fear registers high, and even though I’m 8,615 miles from Los Angeles and 10,125 miles from New York, I want to crawl under my covers and scream into pillows.
However, I refrain, fearful that my fancy Balinese hotel would charge extra for the outcry.
The year before I left for college, I took a cross-country trip to meet a pen-pal, Leilani. We exchanged letters where we wrote at length about our affection for hip hop, and how we felt as if we were tourists in our own skin. She was Hawaiian, forever perceived as a chola; I attended a predominately all-white high school where I was an outcast, considered an other because of the disconnect between my unruly, kinky hair and my pale skin. I was white but not really, and in a high school where my classmates thought black people were ball players, rappers or criminals, I was often met with confusion, fear and disgust. Leilani and I issued countdowns for our respective escapes (she was 19 and finally had enough money saved to move out, while I was college-bound) and we decided to spend a week together celebrating in Los Angeles.
Boarding a plane at 17–at a time when I considered Long Island another continent in comparison to Brooklyn, where I’d grown up–was inconceivable. I didn’t even know how to buy a plane ticket and I refused to hand over my life to a giant flying machine suspended in midair. Flying was out of the question–who had all this money for a ticket that was the equivalent of riding the Cyclone, but elevated thousands of feet from the ground?–so I took a series of trains into the city to purchase a Greyhound ticket.
The trip took three days. Until then I’d never left the city perimeter, so I was in awe of the accents I’d only seen played out on television. Mouths made the strangest sounds. People said pop instead of soda, and regarded New York as a place where people got maimed and murdered. A man boarded the bus in Wisconsin smelling of sweat and coconut oil, and regaled me with his tales of being a male escort. I changed seats. In Montana, a woman boarded and cried for two hours, occasionally banging her head softly against the window–but not too loud as I suspected she’d get kicked off the bus for bringing crazy. I clutched my bookbag to my chest. The rest stops stenched of bleach blended with urine and air conditioning, and I’d enter diners, bleary-eyed and exhausted, and feast on cinnamon buns or charred, buttered toast–whatever my meager pocket money afforded me. By the time I arrived in Los Angeles, all I wanted was a shower in silence.
Back then the only word I could use to describe my initial reaction to Los Angeles was sprawling. The roads were winding and seemingly endless. Numbered streets didn’t exist–there was no rhyme or reason for intersections and thoroughfares. Where were all the people? Why were the streets wiped clean of them? Had my post-apocalyptic fears come to pass? People don’t walk, they drive, Leilani offered in response. In Los Angeles, we were forever in a car, always on a freeway. In New York we wouldn’t think twice about walking miles to a movie theater or a pool, however, in California you turned on the engine to move a few feet.
Yesterday I’m reminded of this when my guide takes me to the temple at Batukaru. Built on the slope of Mount Batukaru to ward off evil spirits, the climb up is windy, arduous, and my guide tells me that during sacred holidays cars are verboten. Everyone must make the journey up by foot! His voice registers a quiet kind of horror. I regard our differing perspectives: how he shivers in the 70 degree chill and considers a trek uphill as a form of torture while I’m willing to take the mountain air and hill like sacrament. Several times during our walk along the lush terraces of The Jatiluwih Rice Fields, my attentive guide inquires whether I’d like to pause, if it’s all too much. I want to say it’s not too much, it’s never enough, but he wouldn’t understand because what I can and cannot endure at this moment has little to do with rice paddies. Instead I tell him that I’m fine, everything’s okay. Let’s keep moving.
This is my life, I think. Forever fine. Forever moving.
I watch monkeys and how swiftly they move. How the mother carries her young as she flees into the trees, deep into the green. I watch fathers sift through hair and skin to ferret out burrowed ticks and bugs. Everyone is in the business of care and protection. And then I see a lone monkey (first image, above). He’s small, agile and resistant of the slightest gesture of affection. When other monkeys approach (and you can tell it’s with trepidation), this one scurries away, climbs up a tree. Watching from above. When he’s assured that danger in the form of attention no longer exists, he climbs down and watches the other monkeys playing, as if a self-made partition exists between them. My local guide dismisses this monkey, calls him antisocial, and I disagree.
I think he’s scared. I think he has a great deal to protect. Why else would he build a fortress around his heart?
My friend David serves as my occasional moral compass. Years ago, he called me out for expressing anger over the ingratitude of others I’ve mentored. With calm and clarity he told me that my intentions weren’t whole and honest because I’d delivered kindness with the expectation of something in return. Instead, we should give kindness simply to give it without any desire for reciprocation. Karma will care for us in the end, he said, and I fervently believe this. While we haven’t seen one another in years, whenever he writes me I pause, read and reflect. I treat his words with care because they come from a place of complete selflessness. Somehow he always manages to inspire clarity and calm whenever I’m flailing. I deeply admire him this–his propensity for reflection and honesty. A few days ago I posted a flippant comment (half-joking, half-serious because this is how I manage discomfort–I swathe it in forced gaiety) about being terrified of leaving. I had all the questions. I’m signing a lease for an expensive apartment–will I be able to pay for it for 15 months? I’m thousands of miles away from my closest friends–will I sustain those relationships while cultivating new ones, even as an introvert? Will I get over my fear of driving and get in a car? Will I become one of those people who complain about walking a mile? (oh dear god, I hope not) Will I finally be in a place where I can fall deliriously in love? Will my cat survive the plane ride? (yes, of course, of course, but I’m panicking nonetheless. I imagine Cesar Millan wouldn’t be pleased) How will I pay for the insane $3K+ it costs to move my stuff from one home to another (do you believe it’s this expensive!)? And on it goes.
Hours later, I scan Facebook and pause when I see David’s comment:
Sometimes these questions arise most urgently only because you are the one instigating the move. If some employer or relative or force of nature compelled you to move, then you’d just do it and get it done. Sometimes it helps to adapt as if one has no choice other than to adapt. It’s a way of snipping ties and burning bridges quickly, without dragging that big bag of Looking Back behind you.
Somehow this puts me to thinking of my relationship to alcohol. There was a time when my significant relationship was with a bottle of red wine because it was my one constant, the one thing that would never leave. I needed this permanence and the way alcohol blurred the edges of things. I spent most of my adult life numb until I woke up one day, fed up, aching to actually FEEL something. Quitting the drink felt like bandaids ripping off. The pain was that real and acute but I dealt with it. With the passing of each day, I rationed, it had to get easier. The once-throbbing pain would dull and I would only suffer the occasional pang. As it turns out, I was right, and looking back on my life I’ve so much regret that I spent it anaesthetized. I’d much rather have endured the hurt–all of it–because it’s temporary and the light always rises up to meet you once you’ve crossed over to the other side of sorrow.
So I imagine moving from my home, all that is familiar, is much like this. A burn, a sting that will invariably heal.
Right now I have $0 in my bank account because I’ve paid off much of my debt and I’ve checks to deposit (thank god). Right now I’ve booked a one-way ticket, have given notice to my current landlord, and will spend tomorrow comparing rates from various moving companies while perched in front of The Indian Ocean. I will push through this and feel the bandaids ripping off, one by one. I will feel it. I will write about it. I will get through it. I have to believe there’s something just right beyond my reach, on the other side.
We just feel everything too damn much. So keep writing about it so you can keep perspective.