the ones you least expect: on friendship + the challenges geography brings

broadway lafayette

Over text the other day one of my closest friends tells me there was a time when I pushed her away and she took the hint and stayed away. I tell her I don’t recall this, although much of the years I spent working at an agency were a blur of anxiety and boundaries crossed. If you would’ve asked five years ago if this friend (Amber) would be one of my closest I would’ve dismissed you. Not because she wasn’t kind, smart or fun to be around–my friend is all these things–but because I never expected it. You have an idea of who’s going to be in your life and you’re often surprised. The first, for most, comes when you graduate high school and you realize most of your childhood ties you aren’t so binding. Then college, and the first few years of your adult life, and then marriage, children, geography–all of these things shift the ground beneath your feet and you find that you have to hold on to the grasp to stop yourself from slipping.

There was a time in my life (late 20s/early 30s) when I wasn’t a particularly kind person. I have a stockpile of reasons for this, none of which are particularly interesting, and cost me years and dollars in therapy to resolve. I remember the feeling of having dozens of numbers in your phone book but no one I could really call. So over the past decade I’ve resolved to be present, to listen–to be a better friend, the kind of friend I want to have. And this is not to say that this resolve comes unblemished because I’m human, fallible, blah, blah, blah, but when I left New York this year I felt as if I had a foundation. I collected a motley lot of strange, wonderful, brilliant people and we would endure the challenges that geography brings. We wouldn’t have the kind of passive friendships that only require a quick scroll and a read. Oh, I know how she’s doing; she posted that photo on Facebook! I don’t need to make an effort, do the work. No, I thought. We wouldn’t be this until we were this, and there’s that.

When I first moved to Los Angeles I met an east coast transplant who’s lived here for two years, but only until recently she felt comfortable calling L.A. an adopted home. I remember that first week when I was jubilant, high off the weather, physical space (no more crowded subways! no one booking one-way tickets to my sternum, etc), and vernacular, and my new friend shook her head and told me that I was in for a big awakening. After the new car smell wears off, you’ll start to see the people who are unencumbered by distance. And I’ll tell you, she said, it’s never who you think it’ll be.

It took me four months to realize she was right.

I’m seeing a psychiatrist, and while I won’t talk about the specific goings-on of my offline life, I will say that I’m working on dealing with loss. It only occurred to me that I suffered a lot of losses this year–most were good and necessary, others were surprising and heartbreaking–and I was too busy, too focused on my move out west, to deal with them. I would just consider the loss at the time, say, oh, this thing is happening, and move on. And then I moved here and things got quiet, really quiet, and the losses stockpiled and smothered. Individually, they could have been managed, but collectively they were the equivalent of an emotional monsoon. Think of it as if you’re running the longest marathon you can imagine and you only feel a portion of the pain while you’re in the thick of it, but after, the days after, whoa, you are bedridden.

Through all of this, it’s been interesting to see who’s remained on the sidelines, demonstrably silent, while others emerge, become omnipresent. And like my friend warned, it wasn’t who I expected. My friend Amber and I text nearly every day and Facetime a few times a week. Yesterday I asked her if supermarkets in New York had aisles of wine–I couldn’t remember–because every market in L.A. offers a sommelier on-demand. We talk about our days, but mostly I know she wants to check in, to see how I am, because she cares and she can take the dark bits with the good. My friend Liz, whom I’ve known for half my life, is an incredible mother, brilliant lawyer and devoted wife, but she still makes an effort to call me on her drive home, and now that she has an iPhone (finally!), we can iMessage with ease. When I was in college I never anticipated that Liz and I would be as close as are for as long as we have. We’ve endured distance, marriage, children, my multiple addictions and emotional instability and frenetic careers–but we still fall into that comfort we had when we were 19 and wearing flannels and bad baseball caps. Sometimes I miss how we were then–how we’d walk around campus in the dark and ride the train into the city, feverish over the night’s possibility, or studying for finals in our pajamas while watching 90210. But it’s also wonderful to witness how we’ve grown as women. In so many ways Liz and I are completely antithetical, but our friendship works and I never expected it would, but I’m grateful it has. Same with Amber. We were always friendly, always enjoying our banter, but it wasn’t until we took an interesting holiday together did we become close.

The past year I’ve seen cracks in the fault and efforts at repair. I’ve seen those whom I thought were essential in my life drift or disappear altogether. At the same time, I’ve seen new friends enter the frame, and although I’m trying to reconcile the losses, I can’t help but feel privileged for the slow and mounting gains.

I love the saying “play it as it lays”, and I’m trying to be present for all the change. I’m trying to accept that geography plays a powerful role in who’s in your life and who isn’t, and this isn’t about anger, it’s frankly about reality. And although it’s challenging for me to make new friends I’m trying. And that’s all I can do for now–the work.

california living cross-country move

new book, new life

Untitled

Lately I feel like a child forever pointing at things, asking, what’s that? My agent replies to an email I’d sent him regarding my next project, saying something to the effect of, good to know you’re working on something cheerful! To which I respond, when have you ever known me to be attracted to the sweet story, the happy ending? When will I ever be attracted to something not in a state of disrepair? I tend to fall in love with things (and people) that are a perpetual state of dressing their wounds.

I believe that all ideas are in the ether waiting to be snatched up, obsessed over, developed. And once you arrive at the thing that puts your heart on pause, you start to notice all the nearly phosphorescent signs pointing to it.

Over the past few months, I’ve been reading a series of articles about touched houses. I’ve a predilection for the macabre; I’m the sort who will watch surgeries on television with considerable interest. I spend most of the early hours of the morning reading, and I paused on those two particular articles with more than a passing interest. I even thought–imagine if I wrote a novel about a house. A present day Shining. The Shining is the first movie I remember seeing as a child, and to say that it’s left an indelible mark would be an understatement. I’ve watched the film more times that I’d like to admit, and I’ll see a monsoon of blood spilling out of elevators, painting the walls claret. I’ll incant T.S. Eliot’s The Burial of the Dead from “The Wasteland” like prayer. I’ll see a man pretend to a boy bouncing a ball off the walls, feeling haunted by what’s come before, the massacre of American Indians who once inhabited the land.

A house is a home is a house, and this is a place to which one seeks refuge. But what if your home isn’t safe? What if your home is a man-made prison, a place where madness breeds? I’ve always been curious about that which is contained (or confined) within four walls and a roof.

I read those two articles, paused briefly, and moved on.

You write out your obsession, what takes hold of you, until you’ve exorcised the thing that threatens to put your heart on pause. I’m being dramatic for effect, but writers tend to be obsessed with the stories that find them, and it is through the act of writing, of transcribing experience to type, that one is free to part ways with that which has arrested them.

Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about writing as an act of continual failure. You have this brilliant idea–you can practically hear the music in your head–but when you sit down to translate it, what you have in your head never magically appears on paper. (I mean, unless you’re Nabokov) The work is in that realization and the perseverance that comes to revision, the hope that the idea that seized you will someday makes its way on paper as close to the way you’d seen it.

I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and loved it. I was dazed for days.

Untitled

Living in Los Angeles forces you to learn an entirely new vocabulary. The tentacle arms of the cactus; mountain dandelions and lemon bottlebrush trees–species of flowers and trees previously unknown now an assault. The shape of houses and land feel unnavigable. I discovered that I’m interested in learning more about my adopted home. I bought a stack of books on Los Angeles architecture and history (including: Southern California: An Island on the Land, California: A History, Houses of Los Angeles, 1920-1935, Los Angeles Residential Architecture: Modernism Meets Eclecticism, Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective’s Scrapbook, among many others), and found myself drawn to novels where California is a character. I met up with an old friend, and he had a book about the making of The Shining on his desk. I gasped, and he was kind enough to lend me the book for as long as I need it. He told me about the You Must Remember This podcast, and then I found the No Sleep podcast.

I recognized this feeling, a seizing, an obsession mounting.

I found a new story. I wrote my first page, and then retreated.

Imagine two stories converging. A gruesome murder from the 1950s juxtaposed with the story of a man who specializes in appraising/selling disaster properties forced to live in one of the homes he tries to sell after having lost his job. He moves into this home and slowly begins to unravel. He becomes paranoid, irrational, convinced that he’s being spoken to. Instructed.

This idea excites me for a number of reasons:

1. A new landscape–I’ve a desire to learn as much as I can about Los Angeles (art, history, architecture) so I can cogently write about it. The feeling that Los Angeles is a terrain I’m obsessed to navigate.

2. Writing from the male point-of-view. Although I’ve a central male character in my second novel, women in my books tend to drive the story. However, writing as two disparate, brilliant mad men, thrills me.

3. Attempting to write a story that is fairly linear. Although I’ve dueling narratives (1959/Present), the novel will follow a linear time arc. And anyone who knows me or at least has had a conversation with me knows that it’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE for me to follow a straight line. It’s as if I’m not able to understand the natural progression of time. The structure will likely pose the greatest challenge–one I’m anxious to meet.

4. Writing a ghost story. What I love about The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and the like is the fact that the stories are extremely realistic in its rendering and the supernatural events could be construed as real or madness–one can never really tell. I like this ambiguity, a lot, and I love the idea of making people wonder if these events are truly rooted in the supernatural or in a man’s psychological unraveling.

Being here has thrown open all the windows and doors, and I can’t wait for what’s next.

Untitled
Untitled

book buff cross-country move

first impressions: my first month in los angeles

Untitled

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.

Untitled

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.

Untitled

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.

Untitled

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.

Untitled

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.

Untitled

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.

cross-country move

what no one talks about when you move to los angeles

in los angeles

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.

body deli products

cross-country move style

constant land movement

Untitled
Was it only a dream that Literature was once dangerous, that it had the power to awaken and change us?Joy Williams

You’ll meet the thirsty assholes soon enough, someone tells me. Everyone’s in the business of producing, yet few have an idea of what it is that’s actually being produced. But they’re busy, and they’ll remind you of this by referencing their multiple calendars. They’re booked solid for the first half of September, but maybe we can squeeze in a coffee on the 24th between 10:30 and 11:45am? Thirsty, like the Sahara. Like, give this girl a thimble of water to drink. At least in New York they say a proper fuck you to your face (Hmm, not necessarily true. Cue social kisses and g-chat trash talk). But here, here, they got that knife in you, and they’re taking photos for their Instagram as they’re driving it all the way in. I pause and consider filters. I imagine a car. I imagine driving it. A small vehicle, something low to the ground so I can see the road ahead of me.

In California, I have cable television but regard it as white noise, a distraction. Mostly I watch movies on my laptop while black boxes collect dust. I wake and think, I live here. Although it feels natural to be here, at the same time it feels unnatural not to be there, and I sit in the discomfort known as the betweens. Later this month I may have to take a work trip to New York, and it feels strange to dread going home, because it’s no longer home, and you know how it is. Can’t I just sit still, even for a little while? I stayed in a hotel in New York once. We were ten teenagers renting a room in a hotel in midtown because we wanted to be fancy. I remember riding the elevators and roaming the halls. All the televisions were tuned to a different channel, and all I could hear were voices announcing a murder in the Park, a man screaming Edith! from his chair, a newscaster reading from sheets of paper: if we could just get to the root of the problem–all of which became a different kind of white noise. Hotels were, for me, a collection of voices that didn’t belong to the people inhabiting the rooms. I pictured vacant rooms with only the televisions turned up, if only to give the impression that people occupied these small spaces.

I pass a sign on the street, a bit of graffiti scratched on a wall: In case of earthquake, remain calm. My building rolls with the top down, which is to say that in the center of this structure is a man-made courtyard leading up to the sky. This morning I wonder what if it rained? What if the rain came down in sheets and flooded the halls, the railings spilling water over to the hallway carpets. What then?

Girl, you live in California now. There’s no more rain.

This morning a man shouts to an owner of a shop that sells expensive pastry: What are you doing for the white man, white man? A friend writes to ask me what riding the bus eight miles to West Hollywood was like. Someone emails to schedule a meeting. Why don’t we do it 1pm, your time? As if three hours were something I could claim, as if time was something I could own.

In California, I eat salads for lunch and order personal pan pizzas the size of two palms for dinner. I take pictures of fruit and think: This is pretty, this is bullshit. This is pretty bullshit. But in the end I can’t find an image that explains to you just how I feel.

My kitchen isn’t here yet, I tell someone. It’s somewhere between New York and Los Angeles. That’s why I keep calling for delivery, or maybe it’s for the joy of a stranger knowing my number, my name. Maybe it’s to fill the space that furniture has yet to occupy. Maybe your things don’t want to leave. LOL, a friend texts.

Over the weekend I walk along pavement that separates a ticker tape of houses from sand. For some reason I think of Beverly Hills 90210 and Kelly, David, and Donna living by the beach. I remember this! This all feels familiar, until I realize that that was a show and this is real and what’s familiar is an image of how one could live by the beach. I don’t know why this thought embarasses me, but it does. I buy tacos that are cooked medium and I’m too ashamed to send them back so I sit next to a man and offer him my food and we talk about the weather. He asks me where I live and I say, here. He points to the ground, and laughs, Yeah, me too. I stutter out an apology, feeling like an asshole, feeling my privilege. In response, he laughs again, says, What are you apologizing for? You gave me these tacos, some talk. That’s more than most. After a half hour I leave for home.

My kitchen isn’t here yet.

At night I work because the East is quiet. I wonder whether I should be doing something. Going out more. Seeing more. I wonder if I’ll grow lonely. I read this and it puts my heart on pause. I order pizza again, say my hellos and goodbyes to Pete, and work on this:

She’d outlived her best-by date. She accepted that she would never scramble eggs. She would always burn or break bread. She would only kneel in bed. Her skin would itch and blister after a man touched it. There would always be marks and stained sheets. She would never understand the nuances of dinner parties, where conversations required constant costume changes. She would never maw down to the bone. She was cautious of birds. She would live in a series of homes and never see the deed, never bear witness to the bill of sale. She pinned butterflies to the walls of her room to replace the mirrors that had been removed. The days would continue to leave their scars. She would never take her own life because she couldn’t bear the thought of writing the note. Instead, she’d leave behind other marks. She opens the bible and reads the book without understanding the story. It didn’t matter. In the end, the men will save. This is what she was told. What she needed to know was this: her role was to own the books and believe. Men would do the work.

Untitled

Untitled
Untitled

cross-country move

playing camp in california: snapshots from an empty home, but a full heart

Untitled

I’m writing to you from the floor. My first week in California has been exhilarating and extraordinary, even if I’m taking conference calls from the carpet and using aluminum foil as a dinner plate. As of right now my furniture is still in a warehouse in New York, and I’m trying this new thing where I don’t flip out when things don’t go according to plan because it takes more energy to be a screaming asshole than it is to resolve situations with grace and calm. I spent the morning talking to the very kind and helpful head of sales at Shlepper’s and I’m hopeful that my furniture will arrive within the next week. But given how beautiful my apartment is, I’m thinking my situation is more like glamping with an added benefit of Some Assembly Required. I’m thankful for Taskrabbit since assembling furniture is a skill that eludes me. Part of me is strangely happy to be living so minimally and save my books, I kind of dread the 49 boxes that will soon find their way home.

“I was never a fan of people who don’t leave home…It just seems part of your duty in life.” –Joan Didion

Someone recently asked me what it’s like living in California, to which I responded, I don’t know, really. It’s only been a week. All I have are vague, strong impressions–kind of like skywriting–that I’m sure will fade and morph into something tangible, real. Perhaps I’ll have a better answer in six month’s time. But right now I know that the light here is clean, that I’ve been starved for common courtesy and decency–characteristics that are the stock and trade of most Californians, or at least the ones I’ve encountered so far. I know I’ll have to get a car at some point, but it’s been nice walking the four miles to Brentwood. I finally know what it’s like to have a good avocado and a ripe white peach. What it’s like to eat healthy–all. the. time. I know what it’s like to sit next to a group of people and have them fold you into their conversation so soon your two tables become one. I know what it’s like to wake to quiet; I live by the beach and it feels good to be close to water. I wrote someone this week, I’m never coming back.

Santa Monica

This week I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been and the most frightened I’ve ever been. By definition, everything is new to me, and all the things I’ve taken for granted–close friends, a strong professional network, and my family, all close by–I realize I have to, in some way, rebuild. I’m painfully shy but I’ve thrown myself into Facebook groups, scheduled “friend dates” with friends of friends (vetted strangers, really), and reconnected with people from a former life–people I used to know. There’s a lit scene here and I’m nervous about navigating it (although I’m admittedly curious). It’s hard making friends when you’re over a certain age since people are settled, but I hope to find my way here. Build my tribe.

I wake to a pile of email from the East Coast, which alters the shape of my days. But mostly I wake, shell-shocked. I live in California. At one point I’ll have to get a license and drive a car (not sure how I’ll afford one, but I’ll cross that bridge…) I wonder if I’ll be lonely. I wonder if I’ll find project work. I wonder what I’ll write on this space. I wonder when my furniture will arrive so I’ll no longer have to take my meals and calls from the floor.

Everything: I’m working on it.

Untitled
Untitled

cross-country move

what I've learned from making a cross-country move

IMG_2673

It’s five in the morning here and I just woke from a twelve-hour “nap.” One minute I lay my head down to rest and the next I wake to darkness, cat curled up beside me. After months of planning, and creating unnecessary drama regarding the transportation of my cat (yes, I sometimes manufacture drama where none exists and I’m working on this), I’ve finally made it to Los Angeles. While I don’t have much to share in terms of my home (my movers haven’t arrived yet), or my area (I’ve been in my apartment for most of the time dealing with various utility companies and deliveries–except for the five minutes I ventured out to Whole Foods and came home to realize I’d forgotten to pack any dishes in my checked-luggage. Cereal tastes good when you’re eating it out of mixing bowls you had shipped to your new house), I do have a wealth of information to offer about those who want to embark on a big move. I’ve made some good choices and BAD mistakes, and I’m here to give you the low-down.

Moving Your Pet: I’m starting with this because I think I’ve read through more cat forums and articles about moving your cat than I’ve read about anything, all year. First off, you should know that you can’t take a pet larger than twenty pounds on a plane, and most airlines now won’t allow pets into cargo. That means twenty pounds or less in the cabin. Pets can’t also be in first, business or exit row seating–on all airlines. After a pretty exhaustive search, I discovered that JetBlue is the BEST airline to fly your furry friend. They even have a frequent flyer program for your jetsetting pooch or kit. Most airlines will charge you a fee for traveling with your pet and my total ticket from JFK to LAX was $400, which included expedited security, my pet fee of $100, and an aisle seat with more leg room.

We tried the Thundershirt. It worked, but he wiggled out of it when I put him in the carrier so I didn't get the full airline experience.
We tried the Thundershirt. It worked, but he wiggled out of it when I put him in the carrier so I didn’t get the full airline experience. That’s Felix in his carrier during our flight. He did so well!

Since airlines are pretty strict about pet rules (DYK that your pet has to remain on the floor for the duration of the flight?), I purchased this TSA-approved carrier, which was roomy enough for Felix and rested comfortably below the seat in front of me. In terms of calming agents, know that I purchased and road-tested nearly everything on the market (multiple collars, sprays, catnip spray, etc), and nothing worked except for the Thundershirt. Apparently the pressure is purported to calm animals, and when I tried it out the day before we left, he loved it. While he did do the “fall and flop” (which means cats are getting used to the slight change in pressure), he was soon purring. Sadly I didn’t get to test this out while traveling because as soon as I got him into the carrier he flipped out for the first ten minutes and managed to wiggle out of the shirt.

When you fly with a pet, you have to check in at the airport counter and they’ll note that you’re carrying a pet with you. The worst part of traveling is airport security. I’ve already calmed down from the rage blackout I had yesterday where I yelled at a TSA agent, but let me tell you this–if your pet won’t come out of the carrier you have to go into a special room for a pat-down, and let me tell you this: NO SUPERVISOR WANTS TO DO THIS. I waited twenty minutes–along with another cat and dog owner–until all of us had to force our pets out of the carrier and hold them while our hands were wiped while holding the pet and the carrier x-rayed. Luckily, Felix was so traumatized he fled back into the carrier. When I got on board, I asked my seatmates if they had a cat allergy (as I was prepared to move seats). I told everyone that Felix might mew before take-off, but no one would hear him above the engines. Luckily, he was docile for the flight and trip to my new home.

My friends recommended that I carry tins of food, two bowls (water and food), and have his litter and litterbox in my home before my arrival. True to form, the first thing Felix did when we arrived was use the bathroom. Although Felix adjusted surprisingly quickly to our new home, these pet tips were super helpful and informative.

Untitled

Selecting Movers + Prepping: Remember when I told you I was checking out PODS? Well, don’t go near them. They’ve scores of terrible reviews and they quoted me $4500 for a move and I’d STILL have to pack up my truck. After one conversation and a quote, they also sold my information to TONS of people. In one day, I received four phone calls with inquiries for how someone can help me move my products into my POD for the low, low price of $1,000. No thanks. I ended up going with Schleppers (my move cost $2,095). I moved with 49 boxes total (a mix of small and medium), two tables, one lamp, one bed, two chairs, and one desk–enough to fill 400 square feet. While my furniture hasn’t arrived yet (they give you a nine-day window), the team has been nothing but prompt, helpful, patient with my endless questions.

A word to the wise: pack your books in small boxes and buy loads of bubble wrap. You’d be surprised about how much you have to wrap and protect in preparation for your move. I love the boxes I purchased because they’re not only eco-friendly, they allowed me to get specific when it came to labeling (room, placement, contents, etc).

THE BIGGEST MISTAKE I MADE: I thought I was pretty smart to have decided to ship essentials (bowls, towels, basic appliances) before I left since I’d be without the essentials for the better part of 10 days. What I didn’t realize was how much it would cost. Yes, you can use book rate, but I just don’t trust sending my valuables without tracking information and the promise of arrival by a certain date. I didn’t ship so far in advance (I would have saved $600 for boxes that have YET to arrive. Showering without towels is hilarious) because I was worried about packages being left around and stolen. Had I known to ask if my leasing company would store my essentials, I would have saved so much money.

I also brought so much checked luggage (one was just for my air mattress, which is quite large), I ended up spending over $500 on baggage fees. In retrospect, I would have shipped a lot of my checked luggage with the movers, but now I know.

THE SMARTEST MOVE I MADE: Buying and shipping some of the basics before I arrive. While I fouled up my kitchen and bath essentials, I did manage to order cleaning products, toilet paper, cat food, cat litter/litterbox, new flatware, and basic food via Amazon + Amazon Fresh. I was torn about this, having recently read about Amazon’s subpar culture, but I couldn’t find any other way. Recommendations are always welcome!

Before I moved, I boxed up all of my cupboard items and spices. Why throw out good food when you can ship it? Make sure you check the expiration dates on all your items, especially spices, since you don’t want to pay to ship something you’ll only end up throwing out.

Purchasing Furniture: I left a great deal of my furniture behind in New York and opted for a whole new look and feel in my new home. Not only did I ask my leasing company for the dimensions of each room, I inquired about the fit of certain pieces of furniture (i.e. couch, bed, ottoman), so I had a good sense of where and how items would fit–a decent proxy for the fact that I wasn’t able to actually see my place before I moved in. While I’ve plans to show you a tour of my new home when I’m settled, I bought pieces from One King’s Lane (ottoman, rug), CB2 (bookcases), Crate & Barrel (couch), Overstock.com, GiltHome, Wayfair, Target, IKEA (stool, storage carts). Order any custom pieces at least 8 weeks before your move so you don’t have to live, like me, without a couch for two months.

Misc. Logistics: Before I left, I scheduled appointments with all my doctors (GYN, GP, dentist, eye doctor) to run all my annual tests, get new glasses + contact lenses, and secure prescriptions. Note that you can’t transfer a lot of out-of-state prescriptions. CVS/Walgreen’s/Duane Reade will allow for a one-month grace, but the pharmacy in your new home will require a new prescription. This might vary for controlled substances, but query your local pharmacy (as well as your new one) to understand the rules.

I also made an exhaustive list of all the addresses I needed to change, services I needed to cancel, mail that needed to be forwarded, etc. I stuck to my original plan and everything’s been pretty flawless. I did have to call Verizon regarding the return of my equipment, and the good news was that if you’ve owned your DSL wireless modem for over a year you can toss it. All other equipment requires a return, and VZ will ship you a box and instructions once you file to cancel services. I changed my address for all the online retailers I frequently patron and my banks a week prior to my move.

Finally, I used Paperless Post to schedule my move announcement. They’ve tons of fun templates, and it was easy to upload addresses from my address book and schedule my message.

Untitled

So! I’m in my new home, adjusting. I’m back to blogging but you’ll see some new changes over the coming weeks. I plan on featuring other women freelancers/entrepreneurs so you can see how they’ve grown and managed their careers + businesses. I also plan to share more book reviews, and more about my novel (which will be published in 2016 by The Feminist Press–I’m so privileged to have Jennifer Baumgardner, a hero of mine, as a publisher!). You’ll still get recipes and personal stories, but I want to let a little air in and share more about those whom I admire, those women who are breaking ranks, kicking ass and taking names. Lots of good stuff to come and I hope you’ll remain for the ride.

Thanks for your patience during my radio silence and I hope to bring a lot more clarity to this space as the days move on. And if you any questions re: moving, please don’t hesitate to ask!

cross-country move

"obstacles are smaller when you dream bigger"

IMG_2515

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.

IMG_2589
IMG_2609
IMG_2587
IMG_2592
IMG_2615
IMG_2606
IMG_2611

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.

IMG_2538
IMG_2545
IMG_2548

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.

IMG_2565
IMG_2569
IMG_2570
Untitled
IMG_2576IMG_2578
IMG_2566
IMG_2579

bali cross-country move traveling girl

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.

cross-country move

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

cross-country move dairy-free recipes gluten-free pie + tart recipes