when you can’t be the person the internet wants you to be

Photo Credit: Jacqui Miller

 

I hate the word “trainwreck”. People take comfort in their own moral compass, and in doing so find themselves passing judgment. They think: I’m definitely not like that; I would never do that; How could she be dumb enough to put herself in that situation because I would never. And if you should find yourself in said situation, you might say, I handled it this way, so, in fact, it’s the right way–and why doesn’t she just do that? It’s easy to judge a situation without context, without actually standing in someone else’s life. It’s easy to deliver sideline commentary without actually being in the game. Watching others in varying states of undress gives people a convenient remove, an emotional distance because what they’re viewing is a performance delivered by a stranger, someone they know only slightly, because they’ve been admitted entry into a particular aspect of a someone’s life not realizing that the whole of that life lies behind a curtain. Some of those performances are done for effect (think reality television) and some of them are real and uncomfortable to watch. Instead of practicing empathy, we grab our popcorn; we mouse click, prod, poke fun and shame people into silence. We admonish them for the mess they’ve made and their inability to quietly (and quickly) clean it up.

Nearly a year ago an old coworker of mine sent me a text about a mutual friend. This coworker and I weren’t friends, per se, but we cared enough about this mutual friend to get on the phone and deal with the uncomfortable conversation we were about to have. This former coworker asked if I had noticed our mutual friend’s disturbing rants on social media. I admitted that I hadn’t because I was commuting nearly five hours a day to Princeton, New Jersey for a work project, and by the time I got home I was ready to collapse into bed. While on the phone, I scrolled through our mutual friend’s social feeds and winced. The words were painful to read and I remembered another friend making an offhand joke about this person, about how dramatic this person was–that this person was always kind of a trainwreck. I thought about that flippant comment while on the phone with my former coworker, who wondered aloud what we should do. Would it be okay to ask our mutual friend if something was wrong? Was it our place? Should we say aloud the two words we were thinking: mental illness? And why is it that those two words are ones that are routinely whispered?

Fifteen minutes later I chatted with the mutual friend and asked this person if everything was okay. I could be off-base but I’m concerned about what you’re writing online and I’m here to listen or help, I remember saying. Or not, if that’s what you want too. I ended up connecting the mutual friend to a psychiatrist, and in that moment, I felt ashamed for not standing up to that flippant comment. For saying, maybe instead of rolling your eyes maybe be a friend. Even with the people we think we know, we don’t know the whole of their life–only what they choose to share with us. When I was young I remember kids laughing at someone when they tripped and fell. I never really saw the humor in someone falling as my first inclination was to ask if the person was hurt. Are you okay? But as the years moved on, I programmed myself to laugh, albeit uncomfortably, when someone stumbled. Because I guess it’s easier to ridicule instead of making yourself vulnerable.

It can sometimes feel like everyone on the internet is obsessed with positivity and inspiration and motivation. There are so many graphics and Instagram posts and listacles about how positive energy will change your life, and you have to ignore the haters. The advice claims that you have to believe you’re going to win, you can’t worry about your problems, you need to stop stressing. As though a positive mind set really will make every aspect of your life better and solve your crushing problems. –From Jon Westenberg’s “Blind Positivity Sucks”

Online, you can’t be a trainwreck but you can’t project perfection either–lest you be deemed inauthentic, a “fake”. You can’t be too sad or too happy. You can reveal a little about your personal life but not too much, and know that people like the comeback story rather than watching you wade helplessly through the dark. They want your dark in past tense because no one wants to deal with your present or future tense sadness. They want that storyline to be played out behind the scenes, but they’ll stick around for the post-mortem. Over the past few months, a few friends have reached out to me privately to acknowledge that their sadness has also been shamed into silence–that the internet doesn’t have the patience for unhappiness. This puts me to thinking about what the poet Jenny Zhang wrote:

Darkness is acceptable and even attractive so long as there is a threshold that is not crossed. But most people I know who suffer, suffer 
relentlessly and unendingly no matter what sort of future is proposed (“it’ll get better/it won’t always be this like/you will start to heal/
I know it’s such a cliché but you really will come out of this stronger in the end”). –From “How It Feels”

I’m having the worst year of my life. There, I said it. My mother died, and there was a lot of private drama that circled that event. I made a huge move across the country and although I love Los Angeles and it feels like home, I’m lonely. My father and I fight often–via text, as that’s his preferred method of communication–and the people with whom I used to feel close now seem like strangers. I relapsed, again. I started seeing a psychiatrist after feeling some harrowing feelings of depression and suicide and I had to stop seeing him because I can no longer afford it. I spend six hours a day looking for work and I haven’t landed anything substantial yet. I spend most of my time at home, alone, because sometimes daylight feels unbearable. Every day I worry about losing my home (even though my best friend has generously and kindly offered hers as a temporary salve), and I live on a clock. I have literally enough money to last me until April 1, and then I default on all my debt and lose my apartment, and this reality is one I deal with daily. It’s one I deal with when I go on job interviews and present my best self. When I text friends, who are so amazing and beautiful and kind and they tell me they feel helpless about my situation and ask what they can do and I tell them, in response, you’re doing it. Keep sending me those cat pictures because sometimes it’s nice to take a break from all this sadness. I ask about their day because I care and because it’s a needed and desired distraction. My best friend calls me on her drive home from work and asks me how I’m doing, really doing, and I tell her, and then I ask about her kids, her brother who just got married, and I cry a little when I tell her that I remember when he was a sixteen-year-old kid drinking beers with us when my best friend and I were freshmen in college.

We’re old, we joke constantly–but the joke is not out of regret, it comes from a place of comfort for having endured what we have. Our years.

I spend most of my days oscillating between two faces–the presentable, together one, and the one behind who lives in abject terror. Patiently I wait for the next project or job offer so I can pick up the phone and schedule an appointment with my doctor because I want to get better. I want to get back to this place. I want to stop thinking and start doing.

Why is that in a maelstrom of kindness we fall prey to that one cruel remark? How is it that we’re so easily wounded by an off-hand comment or swipe? A stranger writes and tells me not to talk about anything that’s happened to me this year because future employers will consider me “unstable”. I don’t know how to respond so I don’t. I spent the better part of my life behind a mask, suffocating from it, and if someone can’t respect a person trying to get through a tough time, that someone is human, this is probably not a person with whom I want to work. Friends with whom I thought I was close maintain a safe distance, and part of me wonders if they think this is what I want, perhaps they’re trying to be respectful, but then I think of my other friends who text, Facetime, and come by my home and drag me to the beach and pay for my lunch or donuts because I can’t really eat out anymore. These friends don’t act like a therapist and I don’t expect them to. Sometimes I just want a donut or a cat photo or a friend like my dear Amber who will Facetime me and ask me, no, really, how the fuck are you? And she’ll sit there and listen while I talk about really uncomfortable things and Amber does exactly what I need a friend to do–listen without making me feel ashamed for not snapping out of my sadness.

There are people who don’t like me, who are reveling in the fact that I’m having the worst year of my life, and while I’d like to say that this doesn’t bother me I’d be lying. Because we innately want to be liked by everyone even if this isn’t a reality. I think about a few random comments and I think about others–strangers and friends and casual acquaintances who cloak me with their compassion and kindness, and both disparate experiences made me realize the weight we place on what we hear and experience in the world. I can’t change who I am or what I’ve done, only the way I come to and manage my experiences, moving forward. What’s important for me right now is to surround myself with people who care and give me honest feedback when I need and deserve it simply because they want me to get better, do better, feel better. What matters right now is that I do whatever I can to get better. That I keep moving forward. That I sit in my sadness when I need to and lean on others when the sadness becomes entirely too palpable to bear.

I don’t know how often I will come back to this space, honestly. I don’t have recipes to share and I’m reading books at a slower pace, and I’m not entirely too comfortable documenting, in detail, my journey back because there’s much to be said for doing a lot of work offline. However, I’m really fucking tired of feeling ashamed for going through tragedy, of feeling depressed. I’m tired of managing everyone’s discomfort, their uncomfortable silence and unsolicited feedback. Friends put in the work. If I’m putting in the work to get better and be better, put in the work of learning how to deal with someone going through a tenuous time. Practice empathy and compassion. Don’t laugh when someone falls down because it’s gossip, because it’s what you’ve been conditioned to do. It’s easy to be an asshole. It’s hard to be patient and kind.

You’re either on or off my bus.

 


 

On an unrelated note, I’m proud to share a new short story published in QuarterlyWest

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there’s beauty in the attempt (and honesty)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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first impressions: my first month in los angeles

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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.

California.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

what no one talks about when you move to los angeles

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I’ve seen many things since I’ve landed in Los Angeles: grown men walking bengal cats and brown bunnies on a leash, women buying produce wearing scraps that give the suggestion of clothing, couples taking a taxi to their parked cars. I’ve been warned that I live in a place where the land may never settle; the threat of tectonic plates shifting is a constant. A place where to which people emigrate from the east, seduced by palm trees, warm weather, chakra cleanses, and a turbulent history. In California, all conversations converge to that of water–parched lawns and weeklies that bullet out all the ways in which one could conserve, save.

I knew what I was getting into–a temperate city without seasons, a drought, a way of life that existed without subways, and the conservative politics. However, very few people talked about a minor, yet constant discomfort–what happens to your skin.

Having had the luxury of drinking water straight from the tap, I remember my first few days here, of wincing from the tap’s tinny taste. Now drinking requires filters, a water system. Over the course of a few weeks I started to see demonstrable changes in my skin. I burned easily (I now wear a sunscreen with zinc, every day). And even after showering, I rarely felt clean, rather I felt as if there existed a thin layer of something on my skin, a film I couldn’t rub off. I broke out. EVERYWHERE. Shoulders, back, chest, face. Bumps I haven’t seen since I was a teenager now blanketing my skin.

Naturally, I freaked out. I fired off emails to recent transplants, commiserated with my neighbor who suffered the same plight since she moved from New York, and took to the internet…where there was nothing. I spent hours trying various keyword searches; I paged through acne forums and Los Angeles Yelp pages riddled with bad jokes and drought complaints. Amidst the noise, I found these helpful articles. I discovered the difference between hard and soft water, how to test for hard water, and I’ve since installed a shower filter. I bring a change of clothes to my workouts, because even though most of the classes I take are within a ten-minute walking distance from my house, I worry about sweat and bacteria clogging my pores. I’m also trying different products in an effort to modify my routine because what might have worked in New York is proving disastrous in Los Angeles. Yesterday, I indulged in an incredible clarifying facial, an experience which reminded me of an excavation, but I look a lot better after having Body Deli products all over my skin. I’m also test-driving several facial cleansers that don’t require water–I’ll keep you posted.

Everyone tells me that it’ll take my body up to six weeks to adjust, but one of my friends said it took her two dermatologists, a change in birth control, and a year to get back to where she was. Has anyone moved cities and had similar skin problems? Tell me everything.

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“obstacles are smaller when you dream bigger”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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it’s really happening

Photo Credit: R. Jordan N. Sanchez

Photo Credit: R. Jordan N. Sanchez

Today I signed a lease and booked a one-way ticket to my new home in California. I feel frightened, uncertain. To be honest, none of this felt truly real until yesterday, until I called my landlord from Asia and gave him notice that I was leaving my apartment building of five years. It didn’t feel real until I emailed a friend of a friend who’d expressed interest in taking over my apartment, writing, you’ll like it here. It didn’t feel real until I text’d my pop that I was leaving in a month’s time and I responded to his succinct cool reply with, so when can I see you?

And it didn’t feel real until I spent an hour on the phone with Jetblue negotiating a flight with my pet. When the agent asked when I wanted to book my return, I responded, I’m not coming back.

My best friend, a woman who I’ve known for half my life, writes, I can’t believe it’s really happening.

People move all the time. People leave their home for colleges across the country. People study abroad. People are itinerant. I’ve been none of those people. I’ve done none of those things. I went to college and graduate school here. And while I’ve traveled through much of the world I always flew home to JFK and felt the word home.

Until I didn’t. Until there came a time when I replaced the word home with here. Oh, I’m here.

I can handle logistics. I’m Type A; I’m surgical when it comes to details. I’m able to negotiate between various moving companies from a hotel in Singapore with ease but the one thing that I find difficult to do is sit with the unease that comes with the knowledge that I’m about to walk into the familiar, eyes open, heart first. Logically I know this is what I want. I know I need to move, however, that doesn’t make this experience any less frightening. It doesn’t make the questions go away: Will I find work while in California? When will I have to get a car? Can I parallel park? Will I find love? How will I adjust being away from everything that is familiar, everyone whom I love?

I’m feeling the questions hard right now.

roasted strawberry raspberry tart with toasted almond crust

roasted strawberry raspberry tart with toasted almond crust
It seems to me then as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time. ―W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

You feel what follows you. Lately I’ve been thinking about an old friend. Let’s call her K. We met at Columbia, at one of those forced gatherings where everyone was fresh-faced and feckless. Where everyone traded stories about their high hours at Bowdoin and Swarthmore, or talked about the new Rick Moody and the old Joan Didion. They were mostly white and hailed from New England or some other tony town they were intent on fleeing. Towns that would forever haunt their fiction, even though they didn’t know it, even though they were equally desperate not to show it. I thought I had this game racked having graduated from Fordham, where affluence was ubiquitous, where my friends rowed crew or played lacrosse. College was the first place I learned that people could summer and winter. But this was a whole other level of wealth–my classmates had the kind of money that afforded them the ease of worrying about how to fill the hours, while I was calculating the time from now until I had to return to work so I could afford all the books and supplies necessary to learn how to write.

I remember sitting on the grass eyeing the exits, wondering if it would be rude to run. What was I doing here–a failed banker turned dot-comer–with my stack of sloppy, overwrought stories about my mother? I’d spent much of life writing my way to her as if she were an undertow from which I wanted escape and absolution. While these strangers had their two-floor homes and childhood rebellions, I had a specter with hair that was a forest I’d spent my childhood wanting to get lost in and the feeling that I would never fit in. These strangers would soon read my stories (and butcher them) and I was frightened of being second rate, of being found out.

I thought again about running. There was still time to withdraw. I could cancel the loans, get back my deposit and go on with my life. I wonder now how my life would have been different if I left. I think about that a lot sometimes, although I try hard not to because there’s no sense in revisiting a past that’s impossible to rewrite.

Then someone suggested an icebreaker: let’s all name our favorite authors. I thought I was well-read until I heard my classmates speak. When it came my turn I talked about Salinger, Cheever and Bret Easton Ellis. I’d read American Psycho in college and I was obsessed with Pat Bateman’s pathology and the nihilism in Ellis’ work. This guy was dark and I was having all of it. And although it was a dark that was foreign to me–wealth, beauty, privilege–Ellis’ rage, anger and rawness was palpable. These were pretty people doing ugly things and not giving a fuck about it, and when I was 24 that was all I wanted to talk about.

Judging from the uncomfortable silence I was the only one in the group who wanted to talk about Bret Eason Ellis. Until K. Until a beautiful blond from California–specifically, Newport Beach–leaned into me and confessed that she loved Bret Easton Ellis. We became fast friends because I suppose we felt like outcasts. She took a workshop with Ben Marcus and everyone skewered her stories set in Los Angeles and Vegas. They judged her striking beauty and her predilection for tight clothes. And I, well, I was strange, insecure.

Back then I was the kind of woman who’d already be drowning before I set foot in the water. You’ll drown before the water lets you in. The trick, what I’d mastered, was how to breathe while treading water.

K had a sister, and their story played out like Less Than Zero. K was the good daughter, although her family thought it silly that she’d fought hard to go graduate school (To write? On the East Coast?) because she’d only come home to marry a real estate developer and bear his children in their McMansion. But they allowed her this diversion, this temporary $100,000 vacation while her sister liked her party favors more than she should.

Looking back, I think K and I became close because we were alone, lonely.

After my first semester I dropped out of the writing program because I too liked my party favors more than I should, while K pressed on, writing her stories. We were friends for the two years she remained in New York, and I remember following her out to Los Angeles for a week-long vacation. It was the second time since I’d been to California (the first was a Greyhound I took to meet a pen pal when I was 17), and I climbed into her SUV at LAX and she laughed at my-all black outfit and told me I had to change. We spent that week drinking in yacht clubs and doing far too many drugs. And for a long time that’s how I regarded Los Angeles–a city where one could so easily drown. A prettified place where one comes undone. I boarded a plane back to New York and I felt strange. I felt a clock ticking, our friendship expiring. It would be another year until she’d tell me that she wanted to go back home, she had to because California was home.

Where does everyone go when they say they have to go?

This would be a year before we sat on the shoreline in a beach in Miami watching the sky paint the waves black. This would be a year before she’d order ceviche and we’d sneak out of our cheap motel with scratchy blankets for dinner at the Delano. This would be a year before she’d tell me that we’d always be friends. This would be two years before I learned that we wouldn’t always be friends.

You feel what follows you.

It’s been over a decade since K and I have spoken. She’s married with a beautiful child, living in a home with a man I never liked. And it occurs to me that this is the coda to the two stories of friends I’ve lost (I’ll meet S a few years later after K), the refrain of look at her get married, look at her have children, look at her go… It occurs to me that S and K are from Los Angeles. We share a broken familial lineage, a history of drugs, and intense loneliness.

It’s only until this week did I take responsibility for two great loves falling out of my life. Granted, they’re not without fault, but while they climbed their way out of the dark I was still content on burrowing my way in. I wore my sorrow proud, and felt defined by my history. For years I hated Los Angeles–I used all the storied stereotypes, talked about how I was team Biggee, went on about how could one live in a city filled with so many cars–because the place of their origin was a reminder of their limits. Maybe there came a point when they decided it wasn’t worth it to follow me into the dark. Perhaps they realized before me that pain wasn’t beautiful, cathartic or romantic–it was just pain and they were tired of feeling it. It would take me years to climb out and I did it mostly alone.

I’m this close to signing the lease on my new home in Los Angeles. Come September I’ll be in a new home, and I’m relieved that I no longer conflate an entire state with my broken friendships.

This weekend I found myself cleaning, sorting, packing, and I came across photographs of me and K from that weekend we took in Miami. I think about her now, I wonder about the terrific stories she wrote that she never published, and I hope she’s happy. I hope they’re both happy.

You feel what follows you.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, slightly modified.
For the crust
3 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup toasted almonds, divided
1/4 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour

3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

For the filling
1 pound strawberries, stemmed and cut in half
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp maple syrup, divided
3/4 cup + 1 tbsp apple juice, divided
3/4 tsp powdered gelatin (the original recipe called for agar flakes, but I couldn’t even find these in the specialty store)
1 tsp arrowroot (you can also use cornstarch)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups fresh raspberries

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line the bottom of a 9inch springform pan with parchment paper, and lightly oil the sides.

Grind 1/3 cup almonds, oats and salt in a food processor until coarsely ground, about twenty seconds. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the flour. Hand chop the remaining 1/3 cup of almonds and add to the mixture. Drizzle in the olive oil, and mix with a fork until all the flour is moistened. Add maple syrup, vanilla, and almond extract. Mix well until evenly incorporated. Wash and dry your hands and then press crust evenly into the prepared pan until you’re a 1/2 inch up on the sides. Prick bottom several times with a fork and bake for 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Raise the oven temperature to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Add strawberries and drizzle with olive oil and 1 tbsp of maple syrup. Toss until coated and roast for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Combine 3/4 cup apple juice and gelatin in a small heavy-bottomed pot and bring to boil over a high heat. Whisk, cover the coat, bring the temp down to low and allow it to simmer for five minutes. In a small bowl dissolve the arrowroot in 1 tbsp of apple juice and slowly drizzle into the hot gelatin mixture, whisking vigorously. Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining tablespoon of maple syrup and vanilla. Set aside, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Place roasted strawberries in a bowl and pour in the warm gelatin mixture. Stir gently with a rubber spatula. Add raspberries, and toss until evenly distributed. Working quickly, transfer the mixture to the baked tart shell and carefully spread out the filling in an even layer. Refrigerate for 25-30 minutes until filling is completely set.

roasted strawberry raspberry tart with toasted almond crust

roasted strawberry raspberry tart with toasted almond crust

grilled corn + herb chowder

grilled corn and herb chowder
Why do we fear failure? It’s quite often not failing itself that strikes fear into us, it’s the other negative outcomes that come along with failing like a lack of income or potential embarrassment. –From Ash Reed’s essay on conquering fear

I used to hate rain, now I welcome it. Especially when it come down in sheets through my window. It’s funny how we’re conditioned to fear rain–the inconvenience of it (my hair! my clothes! my shoes!), how it ruins and disappears things. But are we really afraid of water? Of papers getting soiled and hair coming undone?

When I got sober I composed a list of fears I wanted to overcome, things I wanted to do previously considered impossible. It was 2002 and I wanted to publish a book, see much of the world, and stand in the rain.

It took years but I remember a Thanksgiving when I found myself running around the park, getting drenched in a surprise thundershower. The sky darkened and the air turned cold. I stood still in the middle of it and thought, this feels good. This is what it feels like to no longer be afraid of that which is temporary and real.

It’s been a challenge to write lately because all I can think about is leaving. Originally I’d planned to wait until fall, until I had enough money saved and time to sort out the logistics. But really, I need to deal with four things: packing + moving, changing paperwork, finding a place in California and moving there. So many people make such a huge deal out of moving (the dramatics of which can be exhausting to read), but in its simplicity it’s just about moving a body and possessions from one place to another. It’s a week of phone calls and coordination and saying goodbyes.

Part of me wanted to be more productive this weekend–write more, work more, see more–but I ended up seeing a friend, binge-watching shows related to serial killers, making this chowder, and thinking.

Thinking maybe it won’t be so crazy to leave sooner.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Small Plates & Sweet Treats
4 ears of corn (you’ll need 3 cups of corn)
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (1 15oz can)
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
3 sprigs thyme
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium shallot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp chopped fresh chervil (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the grill. Peel and rinse corn (removing all of the corn silk, I think that’s what those strands are called). Grill the corn over medium-high heat, charring the outside. It should take 8 to 10 minutes. If you don’t (and I certainly don’t), you can char these in the broiler for 15 minutes, turning every so often. Let the corn cool slightly and then cut off the kernels.

In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk, vegetable broth, thyme, and corn kernels. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Turn the heat off and let it steep for 15 minutes.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, onion, celery, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper, ground cumin, and ground coriander. Cook the vegetables over medium heat for 5 minutes or until soft but not brown. Add the coconut-corn mixture. Bring the soup to a low simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.

Add the cilantro (and chervil, if using) and stir. Then serve the soup warm.

grilled corn and herb chowder

finding the edge of your ocean

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Usually I make it a point not to see people on Thursdays because this day is devoted to being free of people–I need time alone, in unadulterated quiet. I can’t function otherwise. However, I acquiesced to meet old colleague whom I admire and hadn’t seen in years. What he probably doesn’t know is how I remember him. He was one of the first who interviewed me for a job that I once loved and slowly, over time, began to hate, and much of the interview centered around The Shining. I realize it’s odd to talk about a movie so horrific so comfortably, but we laughed over the twins, dissected Kubrick, and I revealed a predilection for horror movies.

People who are frightened of flying are often put in mock planes so that they could overcome their fear by confronting it, by breathing through it. One is never comforted by statistics because we always think that our flight could be that one in a million. We ignore silence so wholly and completely because our heart wonders how is it possible that a giant machine can be suspended in midair? We think ours will be an inevitable ruin, a tumbling and fall, and no amount of comparing plane crashes to car accidents will help. But if you put us on a plane and make us go through it, again and again, the hope is that we’ll find a way to cope with maths, probability. We’re never really cured, but we can sometimes go on planes without believing we’ll die. I like to think of this as being at the end of our private ocean–a life spent on the shoreline and then we’re propelled to take out a boat and move it as far as it will go until we’re at the edge. We never go over the edge but we know it exists, we’ve seen it, and we take comfort that we’re closer to it than a life lived on dry land.

This is probably why horror and darkness comfort me. They are my edge of the ocean.

So in that small space of time spent with a stranger who will become a coworker and now a friend, how could he know that on that particular day I started to work through why it is that I’m able to sit so comfortably still in the dark.

Time passes.

Yesterday we spend a few hours in a restaurant that serves good eggs and has a tree planted in the middle of the dining area. We talk about a lot of things–work created and owned on our own terms, the place where we used to work, and more importantly, what’s next.

I told him about my decision to move to Santa Monica, how I didn’t want advice (please don’t, please don’t). When he asked about Santa Monica I told him it was about being in the midpoint between the familiar and the foreign, and he wondered aloud if I was prolonging that which I desired for the sake of being comfortable. Was I losing time by settling in a place that in my heart I suspect won’t be home. So why not risk it and plant roots to prove my gut right or wrong, to know that I made a choice without regret, that certainty will invariably reveal itself.

Why not go to the edge of the ocean instead of paddling halfway?

He said all of this without judgment, without talking about the pros and cons of north vs. south (I’m sure you’ve already worked that out), but he suggested I make a choice based on time and gut and heart–the rest will sort itself out. And then I came across a typewriter on my way to the bathroom in this restaurant, reminding me of my presence in prose.

I left exhilarated, confused, feeling as if I walked in a metronome and walked out oscillating wildly. I have so much to think about in the coming months, so much to consider.

Then I came home and fell into a world of work and watching The Fall. I felt sick because the character so closely resembles Kate in my novel and I realize that I’m not quite done with examining the masks people wear in my work. I’m still paddling–not quite at my edge yet.

A small note: For the next few months I won’t have comments activated on this space. It’s not out of disrespect, but more from a place of self-preservation, and a need to filter out distractions as much as possible. There will come a time when I’ll reopen them, I promise.

mint, pistachio + zucchini balls

mint, pistachio and zucchini balls
Always the setting forth was the same, Same sea, same dangers waiting for him, As though he had got nowhere but older. Behind him on the receding shore, The identical reproaches, and somewhere, Out before him, the unraveling patience, He was wedded to. There were the islands, Each with its woman and twining welcome, To be navigated, and one to call “home.” The knowledge of all that he had betrayed, Grew till it was the same where he stayed, Or went. Therefore he went. And what wonder, If sometimes he could not remember, Which was the one who wished on his departure, Perils that he could never sail through, And which, improbable remote, and true, Was the one he kept sailing home to? — “Odysseus” by W.S. Merwin

It’s normal for me to wake at dawn, to feel the cool air coming in through my window. I spend most mornings working, reading, making food to post on this space (like these veggie balls), contemplating and planning, and by nine it already feels like afternoon. Already I’ve asked myself where the day has gone. Already I’m thinking about time, how there’s never enough of it; how it’s slippery, it’s the one thing you can never retrieve or contain. There is six, seven, eight and nine in the morning. Gone. The past becomes irrelevant, the future is always on the verge, lingering, waiting with bated breath, and as Buddhists will have it, we only have this one moment in which to live, the present.

Easier said then done.

I remember coming across Merwin’s poem when I was working on my first book. I was searching for the right words to introduce my story but I couldn’t find them. I read Merwin’s words but couldn’t inhabit them–they were an ill-fitted suit, a pair of too-tight shoes. Merwin’s words were beautiful and clean but impenetrable, and it would take me years to understand that I, much like Odysseus, was forever tethered to the extremes of past and future, creating a kind of self-imposed alienation that only served to imprison, rather than liberate, me in the present moment. I’d become fixated on finding myself a home that spanned across two points of time, yet ignored the life I lived in this moment. Right here, right now–not what came before and what will inevitably happen, but this breath that I continue to breathe. What of that?

I hadn’t had the distance to see the flaw in a man who tried to find his way home because time had become a metaphor for his self-doubt and fear.

I just remember sitting at my desk thinking, I can do anything with my time. Anything. Is this what I want to be doing? –From Elle Luna’s Design Matters Interview

People tell me they admire me and this makes me uncomfortable. Strangers act like they know me, like we have this intimacy, and this makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know. I wake every morning and try to be brave. I try to remember that there’s a quiet nobility in leading a good life that need not be large or thick or heavy. That abundance isn’t about the size of what you occupy, but it relies more on how much of your heart you’re willing to bear. How you’re willing to play a hand without looking at the cards. Years ago a great love told me that I was a coward, that I slept on top of the sheets instead of between them and I never let him, all the way. He was right. Abundance would’ve been flinging the doors open and letting the mothballs flutter out. Abundance would’ve been folding him into me and letting him be there. I’ve learned from that, and in my morning hours I remind myself to let the right ones in. Not everyone, but the right ones.

I sat in my mentor’s office crying. You should know that I’m not the crying type, but that day I went the distance. We’re talking marathon tears: flushed face, tissues askance, contact lenses ready to fall out–that kind of cry. All because he’d asked me a single question: Are you happy? It took me a good ten minutes to choke out, between cries, that no, I was not happy. Never did I conceive that I could just get up and walk away. That I could leave that which no longer brought me joy in search for what could. After the tears I got pragmatic, hyper-rational. I had all the questions.

What if this doesn’t work out?
What if I become broke?
What if I lose my new apartment?
What if I break every connection I’ve made over the past 3 years?
What if this is a decision that I regret in 3, 5, 10 years? –From Sean Smith’s
“The Truth About ‘The Right Time'”

What if I fail? I said. Impossible, my mentor said. And then he corrected himself. Over the course of my life I will fail. I will face-plant onto the pavement and I will have to sometimes rely on splints and bandages. I may even need a walker. But choosing to live my life instead of sleeping through it was the antithesis of failure. It took me until now to see that. It took me quitting my job without a safety net or familial financial assistance, and breathing through the months I sometimes had to use my credit card to pay for my rent, to realize that the road to joy is winding, circuitous, and sometimes painful. Periods of darkness and uncertainty are inevitable but if you remind yourself that all of this is temporary, necessary even (as David Cain posits) , you will get to a better place. The optimist in me believes that.

Figure credit: David Cain, Raptitude

Figure credit: David Cain, Raptitude

I’ve been thinking about cliff dives, fear and the agony that is uncertainty. I’ve also been thinking about time. Over the next few months I plan to play a tourist in my home. I plan to do all the things I’ve largely ignored as a born New Yorker because I’ll get to it. There’s time (not really). I plan to travel to Asia before my move out west because being in Asia gives me the kind of clarity and quiet I rarely achieve elsewhere.

And then I plan to follow my gut. To ignore making the “right” decision because I don’t quite know what is right, only other than the fact that I need to leave. As of this moment, I’ll be moving to Santa Monica. If over the course of the next few months I change my mind that’s cool too, because I know I’ll have to live through questions in order to wade my way home. I have to find my own room and I can only do it by living moment to moment, tuning out the periphery opinions and noise, and cleaving to that which brings me joy and shelter.

Ultimately there’s no escape from living with uncertainty, for anyone. No matter how often you compare yourself to others, or check your email, or read the news, no matter how much you worry, you’ll never know what happens after you die, or what other people really think of you, or what your life will be like in five years. So it helps to get comfortable with the small uncertainties, too. Then, at least, you’re used to it. –From Julie Beck’s “How Uncertainty Fuels Anxiety”

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, with modifications
For the balls
1 1/4 cups (250g) cooked puy lentils
2 zucchini, grated (about 275g)
1 cup (100g) almond meal
4 1/2 oz goat cheese
1 tsp minced garlic
Finely grated zest 1 unwaxed lemon
1 red chilli, chopped, or a pinch dried chilli flakes
Bunch fresh basil (or mint), leaves picked and roughly chopped + reserve greens for topping
Olive oil for drizzling

For the pistachio pesto
Handful pistachio nuts (about 1/2 cup)
Small bunch fresh basil, leaves picked
4 tbsp olive oil (I used 2 tbsp pistachio oil because I ran out of olive oil and had this on hand + 2 tbsp olive oil)
3 tbsp water
Juice ½ lemon

DIRECTIONS
The hardest part of this recipe is all the annoying prep work (cooking the lentils, grating the zucchini) because this is a one-bowl dream. Mix all of the ingredients for the balls until completely combined. Allow the mixture to rest for 20 minutes while you preheat an oven to 425F.

Roll the balls into small meatballs (you can get 24 small bowls out of this mixture, but I prefer fat balls so I managed 18) and add them to an unlined baking sheet. I made the mistake of lining one of my trays with wax paper and the balls stuck to it which made removal a nightmare. Drizzle with olive oil on all sides and cook in the hot oven, rotating once, for 22-25 minutes until browned.

While the balls are cooking, blitz all the ingredients for the pistachio pesto and set aside. Once the balls are done, dress them in this delicious sauce and eat with a pile of greens or quinoa cooked in vegetable stock. Trust me, you won’t be able to eat just FIVE.

Mint, pistachio and zucchini meatballs.

banana mango smoothie

banana mango smoothie

People have opinions, even if you don’t invite them in, even if you don’t want to hear them. People will share them, emphatically, just so they’re heard. Just so they have a say. They want to tell you about that time they lived in the wasteland that is Los Angeles and hated it. They want to tell you that California isn’t New York, not by a long-shot, and in response you sigh and close your eyes and wonder if people really think you’re this naive or stupid. And then there are the clamouring voices of those who love New York, those who couldn’t imagine abandoning it, and they ask, with a mixture of confusion and mild disdain, why would you ever leave New York? Perhaps it never occurred to them that I am not them. I do not live my life according to anyone else’s opinions or flights of fancy.

I don’t make life decisions based on consensus; my move isn’t a team effort. I haven’t spoken or written much about my impending journey west because everyone seems to think they know exactly what I should be doing and how I should be doing it. They consider their opinion of a place as fact, and Felicia, you need to know all the facts. You need to know what you’re getting into.

I may not know what I’m getting into, but I want to flee all the noise, the constant barrage of unwanted color commentary. I do not want your opinion about where I should move, especially when I haven’t asked for it. You are not me.

Right now I’m going through a battle of the Santas: Santa Monica vs. Santa Cruz, which is really a battle between the bridge to the unfamiliar and the completely foreign. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Santa Monica over the past 11 years and while Los Angeles is not my vibe, I love the compactness of Santa Monica. I love that it’s familiar, yet different from New York, and navigatable. I’ve been mulling over this privately, and it wasn’t until a beautiful friend reminded me a simple, brilliant truth that put my heart on pause:

Maybe this is one of those moments where you realize that there isn’t a right decision. Both places would be awesome and you truly can’t go wrong. There’s a lot of freedom in that! I personally always spend a lot of time trying to make the “right” choice. But sometimes I realize that I’m stressing over nothing because both choices would be good outcomes–just different ones. I bet that’s the case here. Either choice is a right one. As big a deal as moving across the country is, ultimately…it’s not that big of a deal. Meaning that if you move to one place and hate it (unlikely), you can pick up and move to the other. Then it’s just a slight detour, but still a lesson and an experience you’ll be glad to have had.

I could just pick up and leave. I could leave! The point isn’t the final destination, rather it’s the journey home. And I’m deliriously excited to make the leap!

INGREDIENTS
1 cup spinach
1 banana
1/2 cup cubed mango
1 cup almond milk
3 pitted dates

DIRECTIONS: Blitz until smooth!

banana mango smoothie

flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

flourless peanut butter cookies
I know, you never intended to be in this world. But you’re in it all the same. So why not get started immediately. I mean, belonging to it. There is so much to admire, to weep over. And to write music or poems about…Do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going? Let me be as urgent as a knife, then, and remind you of Keats, so single of purpose and thinking, for a while, he had a lifetime. –From Mary Oliver’s “Blue Horses” (via)

I’ve fallen in love with children’s books. Milk smeared above the lip, crumbly cookies by the bedside, a hand gliding across a page, and a small voice inquiring, and then what? We all want the promise of a beautiful life, a kingdom unfurling at our feet, and as children we architect these magical worlds that adults find ways to ruin.

I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember but I recall few children’s books in my hands. There were no Seuss or cats staggering out of hats, rather I moved quickly to books without pictures. I remember wondering what if blue wasn’t the color of the sky? What if the kingdom we were promised ended up underwater? Possibly I got started too quickly, moved from wonder to skepticism; I was impatient and hungry and didn’t believe in magic. I only knew of a world where magic was at the bottom of a vial and money was the church in which we all worshipped.

Lately I feel as if I’m living in reverse. I ache for permanence and firsts, but at the same time I want to crawl my way back to the wonder. Today I was supposed to see my pop and I made it all the way to the train station to then realize I left my wallet at home. By then I missed my train and spent the better part of an hour on the phone with my pop talking about moving to California because New York no longer feels like home. He’s solemn because we’re so close and the thought of thousands of miles between us is unfathomable. Then he tells me he wants nothing more than my happiness. Go, run! he says. And I laugh at the irony of the joke because after a grueling double-hip replacement surgery he’s able to run for the first time in nearly four years. I tell him that I can’t wait to come home next weekend just to see you run.

And then in a few months time he’ll see me make my own passage. We talk about home a lot because I call my apartment home, his apartment home, and I tell him that the word home lacks permanence for me, that for years it was simply four walls and a door and a place where my mail had been forwarded. I realize that home is more than a place, it’s a feeling. Some of my closest friends are home to me. Liz, you’re home to me, even if you live so far away. Angie, you’re home to me, even if it takes you forever to text me back. Pop, you’re home to me, even though we bicker like old people.

I tell him about this book I ordered. It’s a children’s book, “an imaginative taxonomy of houses and a celebration of the wildly different kinds of people who call them home.” A this is where we live, this is where we make our house.

This is where we love. This is where we lay down our head to rest.

I tell my pop that I’ve had a tough few months but I think this is part of the journey out of the dark into light. I think of Dante, of a post I wrote last year asking a pile of questions about my life:

In the midway of this our mortal life,/I found me in a gloomy wood, astray/Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell,/It were no easy task, how savage wild/That forest, how robust and rough its growth,/Which to remember only, my dismay/Renews, in bitterness not far from death. ― Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

My pop listens, his voice cuts in and out because I have AT&T, and he acknowledges that this is a rough time but, (he chuckles) isn’t life sometimes tough or always tough? Don’t we always make it out all right? Don’t we always, he says.

I come home and watch this exquisite illustrated interview with the great illustrator and children’s book author, Maurice Sendak. I’m in love with this world, he cries out. His only lament is seeing his friends pass before him. He pantomimes live your life, live your life, live your life. I play the video over and over and I incant those words as if they were prayer, and I think about Jane Goodall, 81, dancing, living her finest life in the blue years, and I see their wonder. I see it completely. I see it beautifully. I see it quietly. And I can’t wait to break ranks, to join them in this journey in being so in love with this one life.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Nicholas Strand’s (The Peanut Butter Boy) recipe in Go Gluten Free (Spring 2015)
1 jar (16oz) of creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the peanut butter, maple syrup, coconut palm sugar, baking powder and salt until combined and the peanut butter has a “whipped” quality to it. Add the egg and mix until completely combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls (this recipe makes 48, but I got half that since I like my cookies quite big–but go with what works for you) and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. With the tines of your fork, press down gently to make an indentation and then press in the opposite direction. Don’t worry, the cookies won’t spread as you bake so you can crowd to your heart’s content. We’re not playing the flour game.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Don’t underbake because the cookies won’t hold their shape, and don’t overbake or they’ll burn on the bottoms.

Cool on a rack for an hour before devouring. Namaste.

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