on consulting + going out on my own

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You’re never leaving, right? my client jokes last week after I give him a recap of my activity. Even though I’ve been on this assignment for only a short period of time, I feel connected to the people with whom I’ve been working–the ease in which I’ve assimilated into the group shocks me still–and my client, in jest, talked about having me aboard, full-time. I laughed, shook my head quietly, and said no, committing to someone for five days a week just isn’t my bag.

Last week, a fellow freelancer talked about consulting in terms of relationships: I’m dating a ton of people right now, and I have no interest in a commitment. I nodded my head because after seventeen years bound to multiple offices, computers, logins, politics and process, I want something other. And while I’ve been privileged to have been offered a slew of executive roles in agencies and at companies over the past year, I’ve ceremoniously turned them all down because the idea of having ownership of my time was infinitely more attractive than the illusion of financial stability. I’m insanely focused during the hours I’m on an assignment, and then I have the FREEDOM to work on my novel, take Brooklyn Body Burn classes during the day, and meet friends for a meal without having to frantically check my phone. I used to be the person who always checked the time, now I’m someone who allows it to pass.

Although I dare say I miss having consistent health insurance and a 401K.

Another freelancer, my dear friend Alex, and I spoke of the freedom of creating a life of your own design, of experimenting with models, modes of work, and failing forward while devouring the menu at Trattoria il Mulino. Although the risk of failing when you’re constantly hustling for income is a real one, it also allows you the space and time to really analyze your failures and make transformative change in how you act and work. You’re rarely afforded the ability to fail forward in a traditional workplace since failure, by definition, bears a negative connotation–it’s the thing to which we’ve been trained to avoid by all means possible. So we’ve been groomed to believe that running through ribbons is success, while I believe success is falling on your face, tasting your own blood, and getting up to run again. Perhaps considering a new course or direction.

Here’s the thing: I’m often nervous about maintaining deal flow, I loathe networking for the sake of networking, and I generally make less money than I have in the past, BUT, BUT, I’m happier. My days are my own to design; I only take on projects that challenge me; I work with people who inspire me; I collaborate with other freelancers, regardless of peer level and age, as a means to test out ideas and new ways of thinking + working; I’ve always operated from a place of integrity, which has afforded me a strong, reliable network. So when people ask me if I’ll ever go back to full-time {and this question is a constant, as folks somehow operate under the impression that full-time employment is risk-averse}, I talk about marriage. I talk about the seriousness of commitment. I now come from a place where I view a full-time role as a mutually-beneficial partnership rather than a honor bestowed by the employer.

I only wish I’d embarked on this path sooner…

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ice cream + friendship

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Today I bought an ice-cream maker, this one to be exact. In my ongoing quest to make my house a place I’d always want to return to, I’ve been slowly accumulating the things that bring me joy and allow me to share my space with those who I love. Over the past few weeks, a steady stream of friends have made their way to my new space {well, newish}–their arms filled with mason jars, cookbooks, and sweets–and I’ve made them roast chicken dinners, crisps topped with Ample Hills salted crack caramel ice cream {I MEAN!}, and pressed bags of rich, sugary cookies and crumble muffins into their empty hands.

Nothing gives me greater joy than cooking a meal for my friends. If you’re in the neighborhood, know that I’ve a banana loaf in the oven or a pie cooling on a rack. Know that my cat will likely bury his face in your shoe or roll around at your feet {he’s got a weird foot thing, don’t ask me}. My fondest memories have been those spent in the company of those who’ve burrowed their way into my heart, and in that space between me opening my door and closing it, there’s a meal. A group of friends eating off one another plate’s or two girlfriends digging their spoons into one another’s cups of ice cream. There’s always, This is soooooo good you have to try it! There’s always, The line might be insane but it’s worth it. There’s always, Felicia, I really love your home. I guess it’s not enough that my house is a home for me, it also has to be a home for others. It has to be the place where my friends leave drowsy, invigorated, sated, inspired, exhilarated, and full.

I’ve had an exhausting week, and today my sweet friend Persia text’d me that she was in my neighborhood for a baby shower and would I be around for a coffee? I’d plan to spend the weekend locked up in my home, baking and writing, but I couldn’t resist a friend who has this incredible ability to make me laugh. So I countered her coffee with an invitation to grab some ice cream, and two hours later we were two women sitting in a park, talking about how our vanilla bean and salted crack caramel cups were just so damn good.

So I bought an ice cream maker and an incredible cookbook, against any sort of rational thinking, because wouldn’t it be more pragmatic to get something else? A multi-tasking machine of some sort? Well, no. This summer, I plan to churn sorbets, gelatos and coconut cones. Coconut milk, caramel cookie, pistachio and hazelnuts, I’m going to make all the dairy for my friends, and all the coconut milk-based ice cream for me. Because who in their right mind would refuse a cone?

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making connections, building your kula over two plates + blocking the barnacles

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When it comes to people I have a very simple rule: if I can’t share a meal with you I don’t want to know you. Regardless of age, industry or income, food has the magical capacity to bind us, allowing for real, meaningful connections even if we don’t realize it. What we reveal about ourselves when faced with a table, napkins, flatware and plates goes beyond words — it’s something kinetic, visceral. We are our truest selves when exercising the most primal of acts: nourishment. We eat to sustain; we eat to comfort an ache and complete something within us that’s missing.

Whenever I meet someone I rarely go for coffee because it’s cheap and quick, and I’ll never truly know the kind of person you are until you’ve held a fork in your hands, until I see the shape of your face shift after you’ve taken your first bite. Do you fall deliriously in love with what’s on your plate? Are you present to appreciate the color and texture and taste of what you choose to put into their house? We have this one body, our home, and are you the kind who cares about how you’ve outfitted it {have you given care to the selection of fabric and wattage of the bulbs}, or do you just purchase exquisite finery to only discard it to the floor? Do you eat without tasting? Do you swallow without savoring? Do you spend your meals only for the sole purpose of getting a contact or lead, or do you genuinely ache for that spark, that hiss and spit of flame that happens when you’ve talked about the things that matter. The things you carry.

Over the course of a meal, I learn many things about a person. How attentive they are to the wait staff, if they reach to refill your glass before theirs, and if there is a pregnant pause after that first bite, because regardless of what’s being said, can I just tell you how good this is?

So many bloggers and experts and networkers will talk to you about acquiring fancy business cards and working a room. They’ll talk to you about follow-ups and how to work the rolodex, and while I appreciate the methodical nature of this hustle, it’s not my bag. While a large part of being a freelancer boils down to hustle, I focus more on cultivating what in yoga folks call a “kula” or community. I build the village around my house brick by brick. I mix the cement, I lay the foundation and I choose which bricks go where. I focus on how much I need and how I will build a village that will sustain me, that will lift me up, inspire me, and catch me when I fall.

I don’t own cards. Large groups of people give me vertigo. I tend to forget people’s names, and the idea of asking for favors outright feels unseemly. Instead, I meet people individually, and get to know them as people, and in that process projects, connections, favors are organic and thoughtful. I seek out my kindred spirits and collect them, and as I selflessly help them with no expectation of a return favor, I find that in the end my relationships keep me going, even when the darkness obscures everything in view. And these relationships are built on trust, mutual respect, reciprocity, creativity — not on a shared Google doc. Do we marry on the first date? Then how do we expect to unload ourselves, our platonic hearts, after one meeting? In a culture consumed with personal velocity, we don’t want hear that things take time, that we have to put in the work. We want the now, the immediate, the can you connect me with…

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Have you ever asked yourself: do I know the people I know? Do I know what wakes them up in the morning and how they take their coffee? Did I make the effort to know this person for who they are rather than what they can give? Have we thought about what we can give?

I spent the day with two markedly different, yet equally brilliant, women. We talked about mentorships, our respective affections, and spent our time simply to suss one another out. Perhaps auditioning ourselves for the role of village member. We spoke about the mistakes people make: not making their intentions clear at the first meeting {someone once rolled up to a lunch with their resume in the guise of loving my blog, while another ambushed me with mentorship questions even before the menus hit the table}, or assigning us homework after. Our lives are so hectic that the idea of leaving a first encounter with an epic task list and a request to comb through your contact list is exhausting, and I tend to cut the barnacles before they’ve formed their spindly attachment. I remember a meeting with a woman who I really admired. She’s creative, smart, ebullient and had an enviable online presence. When I met her I was bummed that she had already defined our relationship as mentor/mentee, simply because of the fact of our decade age difference, and all the while I just wanted to be her friend. Mentorship is organic, not forced, and while I know we need to be strategic about our careers, our lives, I can’t help but want to pull back, to pause, and continue to build my house, my village, keeping out the folks who take rather than nourish and give. Folks who ignore the food on their plate. Folks who want to meet for a quick coffee. Folks who just don’t have time.

But isn’t time the one thing we should preserve? Shouldn’t we swathe our clocks in blankets and hold them close to our quick-beating hearts? If we value this time and we have so little of it, why not spend it meeting people who inspire you to go back and build that house rather than heading home and collapsing on the pavement?

Perhaps this is a long-winded way of saying I had a great day with great women and I expect nothing other than the excitement of getting to know them more.

Breakfast @ Egg | Late lunch at The Fat Radish

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fried chicken, french toast, slt + great girlfriends

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“None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.” ― Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Sometimes the hardest journeys we take measure the shortest of distances. We need not travel across an ocean to lose ourselves; we’re capable of doing that in the confines of our living room. We’re can lose our way walking down the most familiar of streets. And you say to yourself, how is that I’ve navigated this street, know every inch of it — from the sidewalk to the pavement to the grass that grows next to my feet — and now I need a compass, a map and seeing glasses to make my way home? Fear settles in, cradles you, and you start to wonder if vertigo is a constant state. When, you ask, will I be able to find my way home?

Then I had a thought. What if getting lost wasn’t such a bad thing? What if it was your heart quietly nudging you along a new path? What if it was your mind telling you that everything you know has brought you to this point, but now there’s a whole new terrain worth navigating, and you have a choice to leap or keeping circling the familiar, run only to stand still. It’s the difference between being a phoenix or a crow — rising anew or feasting on the remains of things.

I had a tough week: a few projects I’d banked on before I left for Dublin fell through, a few friends I’d invited to my housewarming party suddenly went M.I.A., I received a staggering tax bill, and nothing seemed to fit. Instead of skirting this sorrow, I breathed through it, and hurtled into it so hard that I hoped my movement through this state of entropy would propel me to the other side. Suddenly, I think of physics: force = mass x acceleration, and this puts me to thinking that maybe it’s easier to move through sadness if you have another body helping you push your way through.

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the best egg sandwich in new york. prove me wrong.

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The best scrambled egg sandwich can be found at House of Small Wonder. Farm-fresh eggs, thyme, parmesan, salt + pepper, this sandwich is deceptively simple and delicious. I usually get my sandwich on a fresh ciabatta instead of a croissant, and if you’re not down with a scramble, the other affordable eats on the menu are pretty damn delicious.

brunch at lafayette + meeting “new” people {it’s a journey, folks}

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Contrary to popular belief, I am not an extrovert. Casual acquaintances and work colleagues will probably beg to differ, for I can be pretty gregarious around people I’ve come (or have been paid, as in the case of work) to know. When I say that crowds give me anxiety, that the idea of working a room gives me vertigo and I’d rather cower in the corner than be the center of attention, I’m typically greeted with guffaws. You, SHY? I can’t believe it, is a common refrain, to which I respond with a thin smile and a quiet affirmation that I prefer my circle intimate and my evenings quiet. When given the choice, I want my world small. People who know me best know that I bloom in pairs, that I tend to retreat into solitude in order to refuel, and it takes me an awful long time to let someone “new” in.

Lately, however, I’ve been trying to open the door, albeit just an inch. Just enough to let some of the mothballs flutter out and for a few new voices to slip in. Granted, I’ll never be the kind of person who needs constant stimulation, who always craves the company of others, but I’ve learned that while I love my tiny circle of friends it’s often refreshing to meet someone new.

This past weekend I spent a few hours feting my friend Meg for her birthday at Lafayette {best. brunch. ever.}. You can’t even know how much I deliberated not going, not because I don’t adore my friend or want to toast her on her special day, but because the idea of being confronted with four new faces gave me anxiety. What if they thought I was strange? What if, what if, what if???? However, in the end, I put my sweet friend (and her special day) over my fears and I went. AND THANK GOD I DID because I met a host of audacious, smart, well-traveled women who love fitness just as much as I do. I left brunch giddy that I’d made new friends and that my small circle was budging an inch or two…

I’m also noticing that I no longer cover my face with a book while waiting for workout classes to begin. Instead, I’m striking up conversations with strangers. Whether it’s affirming that indeed these seat lifts are killing us or to trade Classtivity stories, a few moments with strangers has oddly {and wonderfully} changed the shape of my workout, tacitly reminding me of the importance of a cultivated community. That I don’t need to live in friends extremes. That I do have the capacity to let a few people in.

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brunch at sarabeth’s + cultivating a kula

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Today I had one of those days where nothing happened, yet everything happened. Forever petrified of “new” people, I spent the morning with a friend and her best friend, working out and eating all there was to eat at Sarabeth’s. When I left, I found myself staring at a woman at the crosswalk, and when I shouted, K? Is that you?, she glanced up and beamed and we embraced in the middle of the street. K and I have been friends since we met at the Columbia writing program in 2001, and she’s since moved to New Orleans to be with her boy and her writing, and she occasionally visits the office of the fancy magazine of which she’s employed. She’s also the only person with whom I’ve entrusted my novel in all its messiness and broken pieces.

After we hugged and gushed over the randomness of our encounter in Union Square, we made our way to the sidewalk where we shivered and caught up and spoke of the children we were harvesting — mine in the form of a novel, and hers in the form of a little girl who will see sky come August. When Sophie died, K told me that she cried in a hotel room in Sweden. She wept because she knows how I grieve, how I can so easily fall into a kind of private dark. I know how you love, but I also know how you grieve. Nodding, I confessed that I’d had a tough summer, the worst I’d known. I’d fallen down the stairs and come autumn I’d started to climb them again. I’m forever climbing.

Before we departed, before I promised K a home-cooked meal and proper nuzzling with Felix (so regal! she said) in February, she held me close and stared at my face in a way that would make most feel uncomfortable, but from her it was home, and she said, You’ve looked the best since I’ve known you. How do I get that glow? How do I get what you got?

I laughed, still rotten at taking compliments, still, and said, This is what happens when you go off the sauce and work out five days a week.

On the subway ride home, I thought of K, of a lesser version of myself all those years ago, and I felt humbled by my life now. While I’m still paying off thousands of dollars in graduate loan debt, while I’m still uncertain how I will be employed past May, while I don’t know where the day will take me, I know this: I’m the strongest I’ve ever been and I finally have a close group of friends on whom I can lean. No longer do I care about collecting acquaintances and strategic connections, about the people who are good to know, I care more the quality of the people I’m cultivating in my life and the time I’m committed in sustaining these friendships, knowing that there’s beauty in watching them bloom.

In yoga, there is a term kula, which loosely translates to community. In this community, there is balance and harmony and beauty and age, and right now I feel all of these things. I hear the sound of forks chinking at Sarabeth’s as we dive into one another’s plates and I squeal that the English muffins look like the ones in her cookbook! I feel the tight hug of a friend who doesn’t want to let go, a friend who tells me that I need to keep at this book, that it’s good, really good, and in return I tell her that I can’t wait wait wait until I lay eyes on her beautiful little girl.

It’s good to be on speaking terms with the people you used to be, but it’s even better to fall in love with the woman you’re becoming.

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little prince + a meditation on what’s next

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I’m constantly aware of lost opportunities. I used to think such lost opportunities were beautiful towns flashing by my train windows, but now I imagine they are lanterns from the past, casting light on what’s ahead.Chris Huntington

Some time ago I thought I’d lost four years of my life. I kept running to stand still, but there was no stillness, only noise — so much of it that it threatened to crowd and smother. As a result, I lived on autopilot; I became a person who was what I was going after. Having grown up in New York, I used to feed off the frenzy, thrive on my own personal velocity, but it wasn’t until the past few years that I’ve craved quiet. I’m desperate for the minimal and the beautiful. So I rid myself of my finery — pretty handbags and expensive shoes — because I never wore those trappings of supposed success. They merely served as bandaids for my misery. I rid myself of barnacles, unhealthy attachments in the form of people and things, to be present with people who inspire and challenge me. Finally, I rid myself of a job that made me sick, and although I’m humbled to have had such an auspicious professional opportunity, the losses I experienced were incalculable: I stopped reading and writing and living my life as I once did, mindfully.

I spent this year getting reacquainted with Felicia Sullivan. I read books, all kinds. I started a novel. I baked boxes of delicious sweets. I took on consulting projects with companies and people whom I admire and respect. I suffered a grave loss and gained a new love. I spent time rebuilding friendships, making up for the weddings I missed and minor triumphs celebrated in my absence. In essence, I became present in my life, all of it, even the dark parts. But still. Even with the compasses calibrated, a focused mind, and a voice that is softer and slower, I can’t yet find my way.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve lost time or opportunities until I read that quote above, and realized that I am where I’m meant to be, as this is the place that will take me to what’s next.

After a week catching up with some of my closest friends, I spent an afternoon at Little Prince, a serene French bistro in Soho, with a new friend. We knew one another as client and consultant, and now that my project is over, we’re delighted to find one another now as friends. We spoke about work and travel and love, and it occurs to me that over a year ago I spoke of working outside of the U.S., in some capacity, and that gnawing feeling hasn’t abated. It just got lost in my exhaustion over visa requirements, paperwork, and the bureaucracy that surrounds living in a country that is unfamiliar. I also indulged in flights of fancy (Paris) when my French is subpar, instead of focusing on markets that would make sense for my skillset.

Honestly, I don’t know what 2014 brings, but I plan to say YES. I plan to think about Singapore, China, Australia, and other parts of the world I’d dare to live. I plan to finish my book and bake many more loaves and spend time with many more friends.

Until then, I can revel in the fact that I’ve discovered one of the best burgers New York has to offer, and a brunch spot that doesn’t feel as if I need a megaphone for a conversation. Until then, I can continue to be present and enjoy this life.

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