coconut apricot bars + some thoughts on transparency as an aesthetic

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Your limitations are important because you must eventually come to the realization that your time on this planet is limited and you should therefore spend it on things that matter most. That means realizing that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. That means realizing that just because you like certain people doesn’t mean you should be with them. That means realizing that there are opportunity costs to everything and that you can’t have it all.Mark Manson

This week I learned that the appearance of integrity has become one of the many masks people wear. Integrity is borrowed finery, it requires you to be humble and honest even when it proves impossible to be anything but. Invariably, the weight of the mask becomes too much to bear and one sheds it, revealing their truest self, which was never honest to begin with. Between the acts, between the outfit changes and the curtain fall, our faces are scrubbed clean and our hair come undone, and when the mask has been discarded just as swiftly as it was worn, we see people for who they really are. I wonder though, if they’re able to see past their duplicity.

I spent much of my adult life swallowing voice. I was amiable, rarely did I break waves or raise my voice in dissent. My rebellions were minor emotional thievery, but in the end I wanted to be part of the hive, to blend in. Even if I knew the people who occupied my world were catty, cruel and conniving. Even during junior year in college when all my homophobic friends said cruel things about my roommates whom everyone suspected as gay. Know that I’m ashamed of this, still. Even when I sat in a meeting and watched my boss lie to people. Never did I raise my voice, and it took me a long time to see that my silence was deafening, my complicity was worse because I knew what was right and I smothered myself. It took a long time for me to find my voice, my place, and it’s heartbreaking that the moment when I’m finally loud becomes a time when so many want to silence me.

Wow, you’re really intimidating, someone tells me. You’re, like, really aggressive on Twitter, someone tells me. You’re very vocal, someone tells me. Why are you so angry? someone tells me. How do I react?

I live in a world where black men are assassinated in the daylight simply because they are black. I live in a world where women are routinely raped, harassed, demeaned, admonished, silenced and disrespected. I live in a world where illiterate bloggers preen for the camera and architect an artificial world for the peanut-crunching lot and they make $5,000 for a fauxto, meanwhile I spend weeks building value, creating meaning, and I make less. I live in a world where feminists tweet lines from The Bachelor and get annoyed when I complain about it. I live in a world where I tell bloggers that it’s unacceptable to act like they’re celebrities because no one person is better than another. I live in a world where I don’t know how to play nice amongst people who make it their life’s work to be on an even keel. I live in a country where most are ignorant about what happens outside of our borders because it doesn’t affect us, doesn’t impact our noon SoulCycle sign-ups. I live in a world where stupid people get book deals and they’re lauded because they have so many followers. I live in a world that values quantity over quality, noise over quiet, the guise of humility over really exposing yourself raw. I live in a world where people play the integrity game but only as far as it elevates their personal brand–gets them that deal, that job, that extra zero at the end of a check.

I live in a world where women constantly tell me that I’m too loud, too vocal, too aggressive, too opinionated, and I wonder if they would say all of this is I were a man. If the words I say didn’t cause them discomfort because god forbid people graze a moment of darkness. God forbid people acknowledge their ignorance and privilege. God forbid people examine themselves just as I’ve spent two decades confronting the most unkind aspects of my character.

Now it’s time to make your dent in the world. –Mark Manson

I don’t trust people. I see people I care about getting taken advantage of because they’re kind in a way most people aren’t. I see people try to align with my integrity, all the hard work I’ve had to do, because by association perhaps they’ve made the difficult choices I’ve had to make. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes I’m bristly, I recoil often, and people have said my viewpoints are polarizing, but at least I’m honest. What you see is always you get because I’ve worn masks for the whole of my life and my god have I grown tired of playing the part of so many other people.

I read somewhere that the true test of whether you’re an artist is to ask yourself how you would feel if someone told you that you couldn’t do the thing that you loved for the rest of your life. Straightjacket my arms, cut off my hands, eliminate any trace of paper and pen. Would you sacrifice writing? For me, that’s a waking death. Intellectual suicide. I couldn’t live in this world without writing through it and about it, and everything in me is so calm when I’ve finally decided that all I want to do is write.

All I want to do is write more, shout louder, and be with the people who are like Vivian Gornick, people who are unafraid and unapologetic. People who can give a fuck about an even keel or playing nice. People who don’t wrap themselves up in their personal brand or transparency because it’s the fashionable dress they need to wear. The real and the true are few and far between, and I hope to hold on to my tribe here in New York and find my people out west.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well, modified
For the crust
1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 cup gluten-free oats
1/4 tsp aluminium-free baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I prefer Cup4Cup)
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling
1/3 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
1/2 cup unsweetened apricot jam

For the topping
1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/3 cup raw cashews
1/4 tsp aluminium baking powder
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp of olive oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of one lemon
1 cup dried, unsweetened, coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line a 13 x 9-inch pan with parchment paper; set aside.

For the filling place the thinly sliced apricots in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to softened for 5 minutes while you make the crust.

To make the crust place the coconut, oats, baking powder, and salt in a food processor; blend until fine, about 45 seconds. Add to a medium bowl and mix with the almond meal and gluten-free flour. In a medium bowl, place the oil, maple syrup and vanilla, whisk until combined. Add the coconut and oat mixture, and mix with a fork until combined. Dough should be moist but not sticky. With your hands press the dough thinly and evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Prick crust with a fork, and bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside; keep the oven on.

While waiting for the crust to bake, drain the apricot slices and set aside to drain well.

To make the topping place the maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and lemon zest in the medium bowl. (Use the same bowl used for making the crust – no need to clean). Whisk to combine and set aside. In the food processor place the shredded coconut, cashews, and baking powder, and blend until ground and moist, about 45 seconds; transfer to the bowl with the wet ingredients. Stir to combine. Mix in the flaked coconut.

When the crust is ready, spread the apricot preserve over the crust and sprinkle over the apricots. Crumble the topping over the apricot crust, leaving some filling showing.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes or until golden on top. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool completely before cutting into bars.

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why I closed shop on comments on this space

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

What happened to listening and engaging with people? What happened to “how are you?” I remember when people used to complain about people tweeting what they had for breakfast. Perhaps they still do complain. That never bothered me though. At least their breakfast didn’t want something from me.Annie of Ethical Thinker

I don’t want new friends. That may strike you as a bit cold, but it’s honest. I’ve spent the great deal of my life focused on personal velocity, acceleration, volume and quantity, and I’m at a place where I have what I need. I want for nothing more. Years ago I took a workshop taught by Nathan Englander, and during office hours he would sit with two copies of my short story. One version was clean and the other was a massacre of red ink. Over time he taught me to be economic with my writing–how to find one word that could do the work of three. Make the line work harder, he taught, and I’ve since applied this axiom to all aspects of my life. I’m surgical about the people who inhabit my life and I’ve no desire to pander or please the smart set, or be “famous” or “popular.” And while I realize that one can’t live in complete solitude (especially as I plan to move to the unfamiliar), I plan to befriend a few rather than entertain the masses. I don’t mind traveling or being alone; I prefer my own company. I’ve had all the fanfare and confetti in my 20s. Now, I crave the minimal and the quiet.

Some might find this intimidating while I view it as a means of keeping myself honest.

Over the past year I’ve started to feel the tension that comes with more people discovering your work. I wrote some pieces that garnered a modicum of attention and I started to feel noise occupying previously empty spaces. I received demands of friendship and attention from strangers. I received a deluge of requests: Can you read/edit/help me publish this? Can you help me with this? Can you link to this? Can you promote this? Can you do this? Can you meet me for this? Can you connect me to this? Socially, we’ve been conditioned to help, to give away pieces of ourselves in service to others at the expense of ourselves. If I say refuse, I’m the “bad guy”, but no one ever considers that the invasion of one’s life and time as inappropriate social behavior. I don’t exist to service strangers.

Putting myself out into the world has allowed me to meet some truly wonderful and courageous people. I’ve made great acquaintances around the globe, have found online spaces where I want to spend time, and I’ve exposed myself to cultures and ways of thinking I never would have otherwise encountered. I’m grateful for this. Yet I sometimes feel that the noise–the persistent clamour, the questions, the look at me!–subsumes the beauty I’ve accumulated. A handful of people have come here for insightful, passionate discussion while others leave links in hopes that people here will go elsewhere. People don’t read, they skim. People don’t connect at a visceral level, they self-promote. People tell me this writing intimidates them without having to do any of the work to move past their discomfort. People feel as if they are entitled to access to my life, time, and contacts, simply because I publish words on this space. People (even friends) feel as if they can give me unsolicited advice even when I haven’t asked for it or needed it. People often listen as a means for waiting for their turn to speak (or type, as it were). People add my email address to mailing and press lists even when I emphatically state that I do not want to be pitched or contacted for promotional/commercial purposes (I thought you might be interested in…you thought wrong). I want to forge real, meaningful friendships. Have honest conversations. Love, and be loved, deeply.

Within the next few months I have to make decisions. I’m uprooting my life (and cat) and moving west. I’m starting another book and editing a second one without any guarantee that anyone will read my work. I have to figure out a work structure that will help me pay the bills. I have to learn how to drive a car. I have to say goodbye to people whom I love. I’ve a lot to navigate and I need my world quiet.

I may not be making the right decision in shuttering comments here (temporarily) but I’m doing my best to quell the noise.

freelancer files: people are funny about money

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Once a week I’ll field an email from a recruiter or have a conversation with a friend where they’ll remind me that the freelance life bears an expiration date, and thus: when will you go back to full-time? To which I respond, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch. Over my twenty years in the workplace (from intern to middle management to executive to consultant) I’ve learned that chaining yourself to a desk in a company merely gives one the illusion of job security, however, the only secure fact is that for a period of time you will get paychecks every two weeks. I’ve been through enough corporate restructurings, failed dot.coms and agency right-sizing to know that people are disposable. No one is truly indispensable–one can be always be replaced. Because at the end of the day most companies are focused on profit rather than people. This is a cold truth, admittedly, but a real one. Many have failed to understand that when you place people over profit you incur more revenue and satisfaction. So when a recruiter (or friend) prattles on about the perfect job and compensation package, I ask three simple questions:

1. How do you practice flexible work schedules? (Notice how I didn’t phrase the question as “Do you…” because the latter gives employers an escape clause to prattle on about how employees can work from home one day a week but those employees tend to overwork out of guilt, and the only flexibility they truly have is the ability to wear sweatpants)
2. Do you create an environment where employees are encouraged to pursue side projects?
3. If so, tell me about the side hustles of your employees (junior to senior).

Radio silence. Crickets. Tumbleweeds, etc.

Until an employer can answer those questions to my satisfaction, I’ll play in this sandbox over here, pursuing my own projects and passions. Creating my own rules.

Two years ago I resigned from a job that was slowly killing me. I left a place where I no longer believed in the integrity of leadership for something other. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t what I’d left behind. But I was frightened, lost. My generation was taught to stick it out; we believed in the promise of a corporate ladder, even if the ladder was poorly assembled. I didn’t know how to price myself or get clients or build a pipeline. I only knew my value.

After I left to pursue consulting, my mentor gave me the best piece of advice I’d ever received: surround yourself with smart people. These people need not be in your industry, nor are they steps to get you to your next project–these are people who are inspired by what they do, can offer you information about their industry and adjacent industries, and surround you with good energy and light, because if you asked me two years ago what I would be doing today I would never have conceived that I would have had two large projects relating to organizational workflow and process design (a fancy way of saying I put my Type A organization + financial skills to use).

One thing I did notice is that people are funny about money. No one wants to talk about it. This baffles me because it isn’t as if we were working in the same company (although learning about disparity in previous roles has helped me negotiate aggressively come annual review) or bidding on the same project. In an age where people share the most intimate details of their personal life online (I used to know an executive who regaled the details of her sex life on Twitter), money is still taboo. What if I make more? What if I make less? These are the reasons people SHOULD talk about money. Talking about money has helped me create alternative pricing based on my skillsets (my strategy work rate differs from my copywriting rate), and has helped me determine my day rate vs. project rate and how to account for all the outliers in my contract.

Believe me when I say finding consultants who are open about their finances was akin to finding a thimble of water in the Sahara.

Luckily, there are resources that give clarity: rate calculators, generating alternative revenue streams, smart tips on project pricing, and overall survival guidelines. Frankly, this isn’t enough. We can read countless articles written by freelancers, but that can never replace speaking openly and honestly with our peers. I know of two women who have at least ten years experience in online marketing and they were pricing themselves out for under $100/hr in New York. Granted, the pay scale varies by industry, but that’s why it’s so important to supplement online research with real conversations. I’m transparent about all my rates (standard rate, day rate, agency rate, copywriting rate, discounted rate for non-profits, start-ups and passion brands) and I talk about the things that are not in standard calculators (is the client that sort that requires a lot of education and hand-holding, which amps up the billable hours–ruin if you’ve signed on for a project rate since you’ll likely burn through your allocated hours without the ability to tack on an hourly rate on top of your project fee if you’ve exceeded an hourly count OR building in all of this from the onset). I learn a lot about a client through the pitch phase–initial calls to communication preferences to proposal review–which helps me deliver project and hourly rates that ensure they get the best work while I make a profit.

See what I mean? All the online research doesn’t compare to real-life scenarios from people who have been there. When I determined my rates, I used a calculator, considered what will keep me sustained every month–but I also considered the market, industry size and sector, so I tend to customize my rate but I have a threshold below which I won’t fall and the client is satisfied.

This is not to say that I won’t get emails from people expecting that I will take on projects for $50/hr when I’ve nearly 20 years of work experience. This is not to say that people will ask me to work for free or relay that they can get my services cheaper from some kid down the block. And then I have to remind everyone that I don’t compete on price.

If I’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s this: be open. Talk to everyone–from seasoned executives to junior talent just starting out. Talk to smart people and hear what they have to say. Ask them questions about money and be willing to share your own experiences because in the end we all want fair compensation for the work we do.

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.

coconut blueberry loaf + some thoughts on writing, publishing, and “playing the game”

coconut blueberry loaf (gluten-free)

Part of the struggle of actually finding happiness as an artist is the daily fight to not define success the way the rest of the world defines success – which is hard, because you have to fight the same battles every day. Success has this very two-faced essence… As an artist playing the game in the industry… you kind of have to play that game a little bit and ride the balance, trying to get your book on the New York Times bestselling list and knowing what to do to do that, but also, simultaneously, not drinking the Kool-aid – swishing it around your mouth and spitting it out.Amanda Palmer (via).

I used to play the game, I used to be good at it. But I wasn’t always this way. I spent much of my childhood alone, and while I received praise and accolades for my writing throughout my life, the sting–of repeatedly pulled into rooms and asked, in hushed tones, if there was a problem at home, or losing prizes because my writing was too dark, too haunting, because you can’t expect parents to give an award to someone who wrote a story about a girl hanging herself–was sometimes too much to bear. It was as if my writing had to bear the constant weight of a coda, a we love this but…

Why can’t you write happy stories? Are you incapable of it? Making me feel I have to apologize for the fact that my repertoire sits perhaps too comfortably in disquiet. Making me feel small and confused when I tell someone this isn’t that dark, to which they respond, with a sigh, oh, but it is. As if darkness can’t have a voice–it must be smothered until the flames flicker and fade out and there are only the peonies to harvest. There can only be the simple and compact, where all worlds are reconciled neatly by the final page.

But that doesn’t interest me.

I’ll tell you how I write. I hear voices–calm down, calm down–I hear a character. This is how a story begins for me. I start with people and see where they go. I’ll be on the subway like many of you, and I’ll even swipe here or turn a page there, but a scene will play itself out in my head. At first I’ll know nothing about these people other than the fact that they’ve seized my attention. And that’s what’s important–someone brings me in. Over time, the scenes start to multiply and I can see faces. They’re fictional, really. Maybe it’s a man I’ve seen in the street and my gaze will linger longer that what’s appropriate. Or maybe it’s an actor–someone not famous, but has been in more bad films than good (I often thought of Kyle Gallner–my god, he’s beautiful and fragile; I can’t stop staring at his face–when I created Jonah)–and then I’ve got people to play with. Suddenly, they’re real enough for me to get them on the page and see where the day takes them. My stories always start with a scene and I build around that. Nothing is ever linear, nothing is ever defined–that’s the after-hours work. I just move as my characters move and I love this; I love looking up and thinking, where the fuck did the day go?

Nothing thrills me more than leaving a still-hot page and listening to the chatter that continues on in my wake, because a scene never ends just because you decided to stop writing. It goes on, and I love when characters are like, you can do your own thing, but we’re going to keep talking over here. As the hours pass, the shouts become murmurs and whispers and soon they fall to quiet, ready for resurrection. For me the writing isn’t hard, rather it’s the architecture of the story that threatens to undo me. I have all these scenes but how do I arrange them? Much of my work is reconstruction, puzzle-work.

The last thing I’m thinking about is whether or not the story will be a happy or a linear one.

Years ago I drank my way through book parties, readings and other literary events that made me want to take acetylene torch to my eyes. I was forever feeling imposter syndrome–I could never keep up with the latest book, lit mag or 30-under-30 on the rise. I never thought my writing serious enough, you know, the worthy of James Wood piece or a Guardian review. But I had an MFA from a fancy school, a lit mag that was going places, and more importantly, I knew my booze and how to share it.

Still, I always felt like an outsider, someone skirting the edges of things. I was forever uncool, and exhausted of wearing the mask of an extrovert. All I wanted to do was go home and read and write, but people kept telling me that the business of publishing, the people who are good to know, was just as important as what I laid down on the page. Amidst the talented writers I’d come to know where people who got deals because they were beautiful, connected, had some sort of credential or “platform” or a combination of all of the above. And while it’s true that this has always been the case, discovering it, for someone who spent the bulk of her writing life without a community, was much like finding out there is no Santa Claus. The quarters under your pillow are not gifts from The Tooth Fairy, rather it’s an act of commerce. Teeth for cash. And through all of it I wrote less because I was distracted. I spent too much time playing a losing hand instead of surrounding myself with all sorts of people who could lift me up. I spent so much time working the room instead of untangling the voices in my head.

It’s not the book that counts but the aura of its author. If the aura is already there, and the media reinforces it, the publishing world is happy to open its doors and the market is happy to welcome you. If it’s not there but the book miraculously sells, the media invents the author, so the writer ends up selling not only his work but also himself, his image. From Elena Ferrante’s Paris Review Interview

Earlier this year, my agent circulated my manuscript to a host of prominent editors. I can prattle on about their praise but it doesn’t interest me. What rattled me was the fact that my book was too hard for American audiences, too dark and alinear. Many couldn’t “relate” to my sociopathic lead character (ah, apparently in order for fiction to be sellable it has to be relatable). I’ve never been more proud of my book and here we go again with the codas.

I have a friend who is a tremendous writer. She is well-connected (not her doing, really, people genuinely want to orbit her), published and praised, and it was hard to see her write that so many dark, experimental books were being published and it took everything in me to tell her that her small circle was being published. That for every Maggie Nelson or Lydia Millet there are thousands of authors who are told they won’t sell because people like their characters flawed but not too flawed, and they prefer their endings like a good gin–neat.

It took me a while to stop judging the value of my work against a decision for someone to publish it. While we try to get this book out into the world I’m working on a new collection (I’m sure my agent would weep if he saw this) of stories about women at various stages of their undoing and unrest, a small taste of what you read this weekend.

We think we know her, but what we know are her sentences, the patterns of her mind, the path of her imagination. –Meghan O’Rourke on Elena Ferrante’s anonymity

I admire Ferrante’s vigilance in protecting her identity, of keeping the author photo in the frame blank. All too often people look at my work, look at me and try to make connections between the two as if I don’t have an imagination, as if everything I write comes from personal experience. And then there are others, for whom what I write rings true and they feel somehow connected to me. And while I want to foster a feeling of community and connectedness, all too often people mistake that for knowing me. For thinking that reading something of mine gives them trespass to the life beyond what I’m comfortable sharing here. Both make me so unbearably uncomfortable because it makes me feel that the work could never stand on its own and that somehow me putting things here makes them less mine, me less mine.

I look at the woman I was ten years ago and she’s a stranger to me. I can’t even imagine moving at the same velocity or bearing the company of unkind people. Ferrante intrigues me because I crave so much solitude and I’ve consciously done things to compromise it. I love writing in this space but I don’t always love what it brings. So I keep strict guardrails in my world to protect my work and the quiet in my life.

At the end of the day what gives me joy are stories and the small, strange group of people around me who make them easier to tell.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, with modifications
2 large eggs, at room temperature
7/8 cup of coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup and love it more than Bob’s Red Mill)
scant 1 cup of coconut palm sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup dried coconut (coconut flakes)
2/3 cup almond flour
3 1/2 tbsp coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/2 cup fresh blueberries tossed in a scant amount of flour

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Spray an 8 inch loaf pan with coconut spray, line with parchment paper (bottom and up the sides) and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, coconut milk and vanilla. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flours, sugar, baking powder, and coconut. Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the milk mixture, and mix on low until all the ingredients combine. Stream in the cooled coconut oil and mix. Fold in the blueberries.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake for 45-50 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out on a rack.

coconut blueberry loaf (gluten-free)

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.

short short: the man and the rice girl

fiction

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

I held her. Both arms. And asked her to stop. She shrugged me off and told me to where to go. Then she fell. Knocked her head against the table. I heard her neck snap. I wanted her to rest somewhere beautiful. Somewhere where I could see her every day at the exact center of my world. Here. She looked so beautiful. –From Hinterland, “The Girl in the Water”

The sun came down on the branches, lit them up in a pale fire. A man leans back, considers his life. The whole of it. Thinks about the girl he left in the field, which puts him to thinking about the girl he used to love who worked in a church. She was the rice girl, responsible for harvesting the white pearls just as quickly as they were hurled at couples, who seem to perpetually move in slow motion. Couples who were once sepia and sun-kissed, but the rice girl knew that sepia invariably crescendos to color to only tumble to black. She knew this because the women who shook rice out of their hair would one day charge back into the church and ask a man of cloth if it was possible to once feel a love so great her heart would burst to then feel nothing at all?

The rice girl told the man this while he cut the ends of her hair. She liked this, she thought, the feeling of damage being excised, removed. How do you tell them that their faces will be a river, the rice girl said, to which the man replied, what do you do with the rice? Throw it away? The rice girl laughed, said that would be bad for business. No, she said, we box it up and onto the next. The man considered this act of recycling life, of throwing the same seed. This didn’t sit well with the man, no it did not, and he considered ending it, ending her, until she interrupted and said that municipalities were cracking down, laws were in the process of being rewritten, and now she’d been forced to be creative. The rice girl rose from the bed where the man held a pair of sheers in his hands and she came back with packets of sunflower and bird seed. She said why not get to straight to the point because one day one of them will decide to leave.

Because people always leave.

My hair, please cut it, the rice girl said. She couldn’t imagine parts of her still broken, breaking. He had to cut it all, she thought, there’s no other way.

The man met the rice girl on a cold beach and felt something resembling affection when he caught her staring at a little boy longer than she should.

The man realized that she would bring him seeds and then nuts and then he’d have to leave her because who up and kills the nut girl? You can’t rationalize that. He liked them simple, knocked-kneed and wide-eyed. He preferred their vocations to be among the unnecessary, the exotic, the no-one-will-ever-miss-you variety. The woman in Japan who was responsible for pushing people onto trains during morning rush. The woman who fluffed pandas. The woman who was paid by doctors to feign illness for internists to diagnose. The woman who dressed circus elephants in all their silks and finery.

These were women who hated their mothers and secretly thought about killing (or fucking) their fathers. They were brilliant but they would come undone in the face of simple arithmetic. And they needed to hold every single kitten on pet adoption days. The rice girl was all of this–beautifully insignificant, and then she started talking about nuts and possibly a day job in an office with air conditioning because she’d never been in a place that was temperature adjusted, unless you count the mall.

The man cut more than he should have. How did she fail to notice the sweep of hair blanketing the bed? How hadn’t she noticed her cool neck? For a moment he pressed the metal against her shoulder, let it linger and the girl moaned and wondered aloud if living with air conditioning was like boxes of scissors pressing up against your body.

Something like that, he said, rising from the bed. I got to go, he said. I have a shift, but he didn’t have a shift or a job or a home. He lived where they lived. He occupied their territory, learned their passwords and pin codes and paid their bills on the 1st and 15th. He wondered about supermarkets, if there were people who still bagged groceries or was it all just self-serve now?

Where does everybody go when they say they have to go, the rice girl asked. He distracted her with talk of packets of petals and dried leaves, other things one could throw. For some reason this made the rice girl nervous and she cut the bags of seeds open and began eating until there was nothing left.

You can leave, you can leave, the rice girl said.

Please leave, the woman in the field says, now. Give me the dignity of not having to die next to the man who killed me. Give me at least that.

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

grilled halloumi with strawberries + herbs

grilled haloumi with strawberries + herbs

Nine months and a handful of days (give or take), and here’s me giving birth to a plate of halloumi covered in macerated fruit. We’ve come a long way baby from the days when I thought it logical to douse everything in cheese, and after nine months of keeping gluten and dairy in exile, I’m able to enjoy both again, albeit sparingly. And by sparingly I mean I can only have gluten or dairy every two weeks. For the rest of my life. I’m going to let that sink in for a second.

Last week I risked it, got cocky, had cheese on my burger and a bite of a tart, and I ended up breaking out in hives. That night I fell asleep with steroid cream slathered on my arms.

Good times, people. Good times.

The good news is that I’m no longer addicted to carbs. Gone are the pasta and muffin cravings, and I finally understand the joy in eating wonderful, diverse food. My journey was never about weight or fitting into a certain size or getting that “summer beach body” (brief aside: it takes everything in me not to punch people who serve up this garbage as gospel), it was about how I felt and functioned. It was about sleeping the sleep of children. It was about coming to my workouts energized and strong. It was about falling in love with my body and everything I put in it. Your body is your house, and do you want to spend your whole life stripping the floors and stuffing it with trash off the street? No, you want to care for it the best way you know how. For me, that was eating the rainbow and enjoying a mostly plant-based diet.

Over the past nine months I’ve fallen in love with flavors and cuisines I’d previously ignored because why bother when there’s a box of pasta in the cabinet and pesto in the fridge? Dinner in 10 minutes flat. Yet, I was never full. Yet I was always sluggish and tired and forgetful. Now I grate cauliflower and saute it with coconut oil. Now I roast chickpeas and cover them in a mustard sauce. Now I eat a beet burger from Sakara, and think, holy shit, this is actually good.

Now I realize that if I have pasta it has to be the good stuff. It has to be homemade and worth the brain fog that will invariably ensue. If I have a croissant, it can’t be the crap kind from the local deli. And my muffins? I’m no longer into the hockey puck of full-butter game. Every time I touch gluten or dairy it has to be worth it.

And can I tell you that this dish was WORTH IT. I love, love, love halloumi, and the sweet berries married with mint really cut the saltiness of the fried cheese. I devoured this along with a salad and felt sated.

It feels good to be healthy, strong and present in my life. It feels good to no longer view a shrunken frame as a badge of honor or something worth fighting for.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Vibrant Food
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1 serrano chile, seeds removed if desired, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (8- to 9-ounce) package halloumi cheese, cut into 8 slices
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

DIRECTIONS
To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, agave nectar, serrano, and pepper to taste. Toss the strawberries with the dressing and set aside.

Heat a very large skillet over medium-high heat and add the 1 tablespoon olive oil. When hot, add the halloumi slices. Cook the cheese for 2 to 3 minutes per side without disturbing, until a deep brown crust forms.

Remove the cheese from the skillet and spoon the strawberry mixture over the slices of cheese. Serve immediately, while the cheese is still warm.

grilled haloumi with strawberries + herbs

that time I bought things + told you about them

all the beauty products you need

Beauty: You guys. I don’t purchase many beauty products because I can’t be bothered with the upkeep. Save for red lipstick, I don’t wear makeup because I can’t cope with a multi-step process. I’m serious about this. My beauty routine has to be simple, fast, and efficacious. I’ve always been into skin + body care. Luckily, I’ve been blessed with good genes and my skin is fairly unblemished and I’m only just starting to see small lines around my eyes. Unlike the rest of the free world, I’m not all that concerned about the aging process (if you set aside my crippling fear of death), however, I do want to look like I’m not digging my own grave. Nutrition, water, proper sleep and exercise play huge roles in my life as does my skin care regimen.

I haven’t been into serums until this year (because process), but I’ve been using Origins’ Original Skin serum for nearly two months and it is my JAM. I have noticed a demonstrable difference in the appearance of my pores (smaller) and people have remarked on my glowing skin (this could also be attributed to the fact that I’ve been eating greens like a fiend). I use the serum before my moisturizer, and these days I’m rocking either Jurlique’s Skin Balancing Face Oil (I have combination skin and I’m still shocked that my face doesn’t resemble an oil refinery) or Caudalie’s Premier Cru The Cream (it costs a MILLION DOLLARS but it’s worth it).

It should be said, out loud, that my friend Grace has all the knowledge. While many bloggers have devolved into the equivalent of the women who spray perfume in your face in department stores, Grace is one of the good ones. She tests all the products she uses and she’s genuinely excited by the hunt and discovery. I trust her implicitly, and she’s never steered me in the wrong direction. Last week, I found myself pawing her beauty products and she preached the gospel that is One Love Organics. When I wasn’t huffing her coconut scrub, she told about Skin Savior, a miraculous cleanser + moisturizer (dual purpose!) that doesn’t require you to wash your face! Apparently, the oils in the balm attach to the oils in your skin, making for a deeper, nourishing wash. I’ve only used this for a few days and I’m already in love. I’m still not used to washing my face without water, but I’m giving this a go.

After I finished pawing her beauty products, I sprayed Grace’s Coqui Coqui Coco Coco on my wrists, and I black-out shopped this perfume using her computer. The fragrance is fresh, not cloying and smells of Indonesia (coconut, sand and ocean). I plan on wearing this perfume to the grave.

Finally, the gross bit of the lot. If you suffer from allergies as much as I do (I’m on prescription meds, people), you will love this souped-up neti pot. I’ve been using this simple solution for a week, and while it sometimes feels like I’m drowning, I’ve noticed that my nasal passages are clearer, and I’m wheezing less. You won’t be too thrilled with what exits your nasal passages (I’m fascinated), but you will feel clean.

Books: Believe me when I say that a tower of unread books rests at my feet. From David Brooks’ The Road to Character to Maeve Brennan’s biography, and scores of unread fiction, it’s been hard to play favorites amongst the lot vying for attention. However, this past weekend I found myself cleaning out my bookcases and I’m stumbled upon a book a friend had given me as a gift–and would you believe it was Elena Ferrante? A full two years before I discovered her remarkable Neapolitan tetralogy, a friend inscribed The Days of Abandonment with: you must read this. Ironic that I wrote about being comfortable with not being married and then I go find a book about a woman coping with her husband’s untimely abandonment.

Another book that eclipsed the rest is one that arrived in the mail yesterday. You should know that I stood outside of my apartment building, ripped open the Amazon box and nearly squealed as I unwrapped Chloe Sevigny. I’ve been infatuated with Sevigny since her Sassy days and I obviously purchased the blue tee she wore in KIDS after I saw the movie in the theater. Although our styles couldn’t be more divergent, Chloe is just so cool. She gives zero fucks and this is precisely why she continues to inspire me even after all this time. The book is a compilation of private and public photos snapped over the course of two decades (snaps of scripts, Chloe’s room, traveling with friends), and it’s satisfying, inspiring, and captures everything I love (and didn’t) about the 90s. Within 24 hours I’ve shown this book to four people and we pored through the photographs like they were gold.

Naturally, the time I would meet Chloe would be the day I’m barrelling down the block with a huge bag of laundry. Yep, I ran smack into CHLOE SEVIGNY while carrying my laundry bag and wearing sweatpants.

And of course she looked the epitome of cool.

Travel: I went from being a woman who only carted around designer gear to a woman who reused Whole Foods and Sakara Life delivery bags for gym and travel. Until this year I haven’t owned a proper carry-on and I finally broke down and purchased Lo & Son’s Catalina bag. You can fit a small CHILD in this bag it’s so roomy. I love that I can toss the cotton canvas in the wash and it’s sturdy enough to fit a pile of clothes, shoes and accessories. I can’t wait to test-drive it when I head to Singapore + Bali in July, and it will obviously come in handy when I move to California come September!

living with only that which you love + need

books on my bookshelf
I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. ― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Someone once asked me about the kind of man I’m looking for, to which I responded, I want someone who’s been through war and has some of the bruises, but doesn’t make changing bandages his life’s work. Give me a man with scars on his back and I’ll deliver you my still-beating heart. Tell me you’ve carried the weight of the world on your back and you’ve somehow survived, in-tact and victorious.

Over the past few years I feel as if living in New York has become a wound that never closes; it festers and aches with the passing of each day, and I spend most of my time searching for thicker bandages, new ways to dress an injury that will never heal. I quit my job (ambulance, CPR); I made it my goal to see much of the world (ointment, cloth, and bandage); I came home in pursuit of a life of intention (dressing, redressing)–but still I bleed. Still the phantom ache.

During a trip to Nicaragua, a man asked me if I could move anywhere in the states where would I live. Don’t think, he said. California, I said. As soon as the words left my mouth I found myself surprised over the fact that I’d uttered them. I’m from New York–it’s in our DNA to eschew all things west coast. I spent a good deal of my life on the Biggie side of the Tupac/Biggie war (although technically Tupac grew up in East Harlem), preached about the pernicious disease that was California with its tomb of lithe bodies, Less Than Zero nihilism, and monosyllabic vocabulary.

And then I got wise to the fact that I based my opinions on stereotype. How could I believe that a small fraction of people were emblematic of an entire state? Also, how could I ignore all the pinpricks that had transformed the place I’ve known for the whole of my life into a stranger? Imagine waking one morning to find the streets you once loved erased and the friends with whom you’ve shared your most intimate secrets suddenly packing up shop and scattering about the globe. A certain kind of sadness sets in when you realize your house is less like a home and more like the place to which your mail is being forwarded.

Now I wake to the thrill of saying, I’m leaving. It hasn’t quite hit me that I’m leaving New York this year. Maybe it’s because bills continue to be stuffed into my mailbox, my books remain in bookcases, and lilacs stand stalwart in vases. The reality of my move out west feels like a whisper rather than a shout because I haven’t done anything other than to confirm the location of my new home. There are items to pack, mail to be forwarded, dozens of phone calls and lease negotiations to be made. I’m biding my time on this, waiting another month to launch the blitzkrieg.

Until then I’m slowly, deliberately removing items from my home.

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. ― William Morris

We won’t talk about the fact that I still own a Ayn Rand book. We’re just going to shuffle along; keep it moving, nothing to see. Know by the time I hit the “Publish” button, Night of January 16th will bask in a Brooklyn stoop sun.

Many of my friends are Kondo’ing their life. Don’t think I haven’t acknowledged that we’re at a place in our culture where the name of a Japanese decluttering consultant morphs into a verb. I’ve even circulated this humourous take on Kondo tackling Anthropologie (a refuge that straddles the spectrum of joy and clutter). Nearly all my friends have tried to press this book into my hands, and in response I shake my head because I don’t need to Kondo–owning what I love and need has been my practice for some time.

Over the past three years I’ve hemorrhaged books, cookbooks, clothes, shoes, accessories, cooking utensils, and anything that takes up unwanted space in my home. However, until this year my wardrobe and book collection have felt like clown cars–there was always more that could be discarded, and it took time to realize that living mindfully isn’t simply about discarding what is longer necessary, it’s about the connection you make with things before you purchase them. Do I really need this? What purpose or function does it serve? Do I really love this? Why does it bring me joy? Am I only filling a void with an object whose value will only depreciate and whose sheen will inevitably dull? I grew up poor, and for a time I was fixated on the accumulation of things because I felt it said something about me. You know what it said? I owned a lot of shit.

Because there’s a difference between owning things and things owning you. Did you ever consider how much time and energy you exhaust managing your things? The things need to be dry-cleaned. The things need to be dusted. The things need to be sorted and managed. The things need a lot of upkeep, don’t you think?

Years ago, I bought a gorgeous navy Jil Sander dress. It was classic yet architectural and I loved how I felt when I wore it. I considered it my “power dress” or whatever that means. Then stress consumed my waking hours, pasta became the sole food group and the dress remained unworn in my closet for three years. Recently, I zipped it up expecting to feel what I’d felt all those years before…but nothing. I stood in front of my mirror and fidgeted. The dress no longer brought me joy, in fact it was a scab-picker, a cruel reminder of my life all those years ago. And for a time I clung to it because it was beautiful and classic and Jil Sander.

When I met my dearest friend Persia last week for a long lunch it occurred to me that SHE would look so beautiful in the dress. I remember describing it to her, telling her that I sometimes still cleave to things for all the wrong reasons. She listened, her face was awash in light. So this morning I wrapped the dress in tissue and sent it to her home. Because bringing joy to my friends feels like a wound closing up. Love feels like a set of bandages discarded. Leaving feels like a wound healing.

There will come a time when my wardrobe won’t be the kind that covers wounds. There will come a time when I will trace my body with my hands and feel scars, not wounds. Let all the light in. Soon, soon.

cleaning out my closet