why I closed shop on comments on this space

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

finding the edge of your ocean

Untitled

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

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

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

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

Time passes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

short short: the man and the rice girl

fiction

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

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

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

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

Because people always leave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I must write: when a woman finally finds her vision

Illustration Credit: Summer Pierre

Illustration Credit: Summer Pierre


Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world. –Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

When I was small I used to watch my mother knit; her thin fingers mastered the tango between two needles as they warred to create a scarf, shawl or blanket. For years I took up mimicry like a kind of cross-stitch, but I failed because the complexity of patterns and needlework subsumed me; the chink of cool metal forever eluded me. Here I was, a child composing haikus likening my mother’s voice to thunder, yet I couldn’t thread a needle. My thread always grazed the eye but never dared plunge through it. And I worried about this. A lot. If I couldn’t conjoin cheap yarn how could I possibly tell stories? How could I step into a world and inhabit it so completely? Words belong to one another, and a writer’s job is to sit amongst spools of thread and weave. Their work lies in creating tapestry, silent symphonies.

I think about the movie, Heat, specifically the “face-to-face” scene between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

These are two men who are what they go after. Two men who don’t know any other work than the work in which they do; their life is their work, no going back. And although the work is risky–it’s like risk versus reward, baby–the action is the juice. The work, the life, is the reward. Even in moments that feel like plague, when the ground gives way and the fall seems infinite, bottomless, we press on. We carry the weight of the dark on our backs in the journey into the light because all of it, the depth of it, the darkness of it, is worth the stretch.

We try to see in the dark; we toss up our questions and they catch in the trees. —Anne Dillard

A WRITER? Why do you want to be a writer? Writers don’t make any money, said a woman to me once. I remember the way she said writer, as if it were tinged, sullied, a word not worthy of the letters that comprise it. Maybe she thought herself as someone who could wash the stink off me, scrape away at the plaque that had begun to harvest its way into my heart. Because finance will make you clean again. This woman was a managing director at Morgan Stanley and I sat in her office discussing my resignation. I’d just been awarded admission to a fancy writing program and I was jubilant. My work until then had become a blanket intent on smothering me, and all I wanted to do was fucking breathe. For a time I relegated writing to a hobby state while I managed the serious work, my vocation, off to the side. Because I was an adult now. I had student loans now. I had an apartment now. I had a bone-crushing subway commute now. I had my mid-day Starbucks run now. I had happy hour now where everyone was on the road to ruin, night drinking until they saw black, now. I had to wake up now. I had to Monday moan now. I had to do this all over again now. I had to measure my own grave now.

The days had become repeats of themselves with minor variations.

I go through this a lot–trying to deny writing as something serious and true in favor of the work over there. And I always, invariably, come up short. I always end up working myself into a place of despair because while I’m good at what I do–marketing, projections, budgets, brand positioning and planning–it’s not the only thing I’m meant to do.

What I’m meant to do is write. Plain and simple. Although, in reality, not so plain and definitely not so simple, but give me a minute with this.

Illustration Credit: Elle Luna

Illustration Credit: Elle Luna

Over the weekend I read a book in one sitting, an exposition off of a widely-read essay, “The Crossroads of Should and Must”. I remember reading the essay with a considerable amount of interest and passing it along to my friends. I remember being inspired by Elle Luna’s words but untouched. Perhaps I wasn’t primed for confrontation because I was still sorting out the nuances of this freelance life, but now, right now, I’m ready to drive my car off the road.

I’m good at compartmentalizing things, brilliant even. When I resigned from my last job I talked a lot about having room for all my children to play in the proverbial sandbox, that none of them would be considered changelings. That I could practice my writing in one space, my affection for food in another, and finally, the marketing–the bill-paying stuff–in another silo, far over there. Never once did I consider how I could merge the three. How I could seamlessly move from one state of play to another and even imbue my life with play! IMAGINE THAT! Never did I think that three simple children could morph into one complex child.

Never did I realize that I’m now in the midst of my own needlework.

Over the past few months I’ve been thinking about my life. That might sound dramatic and it probably is, but when you’re inching your way toward 40 and you’re still in student loan and credit card debt maybe it’s a good idea to take a step back and take stock. I did the 8,760 hour mind map. I read a slew of books. I got angry all over again about shit blogger books getting published while I’m told my strange, beautiful writing will never find a large home (fuck this and the horse you rode in on). I thought about my move to California and the role a foreign place would have in the grand scheme of things (more alone time, more space and less distractions). And after all this noise and mess and thinking (all that yarn!) I asked myself a really simple question:

What brings me joy?

I started to look at everything I did over the course of the day and I realized that my joy lies in writing. Whether I’m working on a brand voice guide or a blog post or a short story, the art of weaving words together challenges and excites me. The art of reading and constantly absorbing information so that I can keep the knife sharp as it were, feels like home.

Writing is home to me.

It’s taken me 39 years of denial to admit that I have to put writing front and center. I have to design a career, a life, around my ability to take up wordsmithing like cross stitch. And I’ve finally landed on an idea that I’ve been sharing with friends over the past few weeks–a consultancy focused on storytelling.

Now, this isn’t about creating content or some other bullshit reductive term that looks fancy on LinkedIN or gets you penning articles for trade publications–as you know I don’t care about exposure or popularity. By default, I’m unpopular and far from mass market. What I’m talking about is the ability to hire me (and down the road, others) to help you create a world or tell stories. From product naming to brand architecture to helping you write your book, I want to be able to practice what I love, what I must do, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Will I fail? Probably. Will I get to connect with talented artists? Absolutely. Will I get better at what I do? You better believe it. Will it take the sting and weight off of having difficulty publishing my own experimental fiction? For the love of god, yes. Will I freak out? Probably once a day, on a good day.

But it’s like risk versus reward, baby.

Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigues, I have had my vision. ― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

I’ll unveil the official name + all the fireworks in the coming weeks, but for now know that I’ve set down my brush, as Lily Briscoe once did.

Know that I’ve found my vision.

the cult of awesome: we! must! always! be! happy!

always! be! happy!

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo


I wish I were happy all the time – I just don’t think it’s a very realistic possibility. The daily parade of disaster on the news is sobering enough. The fact of my own mortality is a downer. Old age and sickness frighten me. The difficulties of human communication produce as much isolation as connection. The corruption and venality of the powerful are daily reminders of the ubiquitous nature of injustice. The lot of most people in this country who simply work and work harder and harder in order to spend, or simply survive, strikes me as profoundly un-jolly. –From Tim Lott’s “The secret of happiness? Stop feeling bad about being unhappy”

Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light. Even in the beginning, there is a moment we’re hurtled out of the dark and into the light. That first cry uttered, our bodies–a miniature version of ourselves, the smallest we’ll ever be–cave inward; we’re frightened because for so long we had enjoyed being swathed in the cool, calm dark and here we are, our eyes pressed shut because we’re being assaulted by the very thing which we’ll be taught the rest of our lives to cleave: the light. A tower of matches set aflame. In that small slice of time we’ll be blinded, frightened, and we’ll want to crawl our way back into the tomb from which we’ve come. Yet from those flames. No light, but rather darkness visible. This might be the only time when we invite the darkness in, welcome it with fragile arms.

“All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.” ― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (my absolute favorite of her novels!)

Everyone’s always telling me to look on the bright side. They say, don’t be sad! They speak in sing-song or emoji; they send me “cheery” photographs: a kitten hanging from a tree (hang in there!), a baby owl being groomed by its mother, a woman on a beach in sepia. Friends rhapsodize over the perception of liquid in a glass and how its meaning oscillates between optimism or pessimism, depending on how you view a situation. Often, they remind me of an auctioneer who hocks joy to the highest bidder. The auctioneer’s voice is a torrent and you’re drowning in the velocity of words, how quickly they flood out of his or her mouth; we never never consider the meaning of what is being said, we only know more, more. Joy, joy. Happy, happy. Every day I read articles lobbying for a happy life. Daily, I’m reminded of all the health benefits of a joyful life. My social media feeds and readers are cluttered with images of joy–toes scrunched under sand, a pristine glossy workspace complete with a monogrammed mug–you can even see the plume of heat from the coffee rising up. Everything rising, rising.

Everything that rises must converge, Flannery O’Connor wrote. I would also add, combust.

aren't you happy yet?

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

I knew a woman once. She was prideful, perhaps too much, of the fact that she’d never seen a “dark” movie, that she resolved to not absorb anything “gruesome” depicted on the news. Instead, she erected a prison of her own making, and in this prison there existed only glitter, hot pink, saccharine sweet pop music, and movies with happy endings. Can I tell you her life frightened me more than any horror movie? That I realize I sometimes live amongst people for whom their waking lives are consumed (consciously or unconsciously) with the relentless pursuit of the scorching light (from which our initial human instinct was to recoil) at the expense of the annihilation of any sort of sadness. Never did we consider the extremes of light–bodies burst aflame, and the fear and greed solely reserved for those who live in a perpetual fear of sadness.

People crave the pleasure of your happiness, not the burden of your sadness.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not advocating for a life shrouded in darkness, rather I’m desperate for balance. At this moment, as I type this, I’ve so much happiness and joy in my life, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to feel all of this if I didn’t, for a time, settle into my own sadness. And settling, my friends, is different than a full-on immersion, a gasping for air underwater. All too often people I know want to instantly jolt me out of any dark moment. I say jolt because that’s what it feels like: a shock. I tell them that dumping happy emojis on my status update or sending me “happy” missives isn’t helping. That this sadness is temporary, a storm that will pass swiftly, and can’t you just chill the fuck out and ride it through? Your words aren’t a salve, they’re wounds. Wounds that remind me we’re desperate to cleave to only one emotion, joy, and to forsake anything that would grant even a modicum of discomfort.

But discomfort is part of life!

I think about the factors that sometimes contribute to my sadness: loss, failure, heartbreak, fear. For me, sadness is a quiet meditation, it’s the in-between place between two moments, and I’ve come through stronger, resilient, smarter, on the other side. Some periods of sadness last longer than others, and the only thing I’ve to worry about these moments is to not dwell on them for too long. To not become a martyr to my own heartbreak or failure. In these moments I don’t need people to erase a very necessary and base emotion. I don’t need people to rub it away, make me feel better–I need people to say, how can I help? How can I love? What do you need?

Because if you only entomb yourself in one extreme (light conversation, happy music, joyful books, happy endings, sweet songs), your inevitable fall will feel bottomless, infinite. Nothing is visible in this kind of darkness because you’d spent your whole life artfully dodging it. It’s shape and form are so unfamiliar, the first taste of it makes you wretch–all of it is worse than you ever imagined. Had you allow for it, even in minor degrees, you’d allow yourself to settle in this place, breathe through it because you always know there’s another side.

There’s magic in the oscillation, in movement from light to dark and back again. A body pulsing between the two. A heart surviving the two. A life enduring and having real joy because of the two.

this is 39: the year you no longer give a fuck

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo


My life, which exists mostly in the memories of the people I’ve known, is deteriorating at the rate of physiological decay. A color, a sensation, the way someone said a single world–soon it will all be gone. In a hundred and fifty years no one alive will ever have known me. –From Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

Over dinner I remind my friend Liz that we’ve known one another for half our lives. We were young, wide-eyed, scrubbed clean. We once hatched plans to live in the city after college, and I saw those plans wither as she returned to Connecticut for law school and I made my way around Manhattan, alone, filling myself with drink and stories. But here we are, older, scrubbed honest–we are our most compassionate selves, and it feels like a privilege to carry the weight and potency of the years on our backs. It occurs to me that Liz knows me longer than anyone, save my father. We’ve grown into adults, apart and sometimes together, and it’s been awe-inspiring to watch our respective bloom.

Much of our conversation over the weekend centered around time–how we have so little of it, how it’s imperative that we don’t squander it, and the knowledge that all roads inevitably lead to zeo predicates how we live. We shape our lives around time because there was a moment when we felt infinite, and as the days pressed on the finite revealed itself in degrees. I like to think Liz understood the weight of her mortality when she had children (although I can’t be certain since I never asked but can only assume). While mortality is vivid, omnipresent because I fear the moment when I’ll lay dying.

This knowledge (or fear, as honesty will have it) makes life clear in the way it hadn’t previously. When you’re at the midpoint of your life you tend to focus on bringing presence and meaning to the hours. You don’t consider what you’ve lost, rather you focus on minimizing the bloodletting; you think about the joy, love and wisdom that’s left. You wonder how you can imbue your days with meaning. You care less about noise, the superfluous.

You start to give fewer fucks.

I suppose it’s fashionable to pen lists of things you’ve learned by a certain defined age (30 seems popular), however, I think learning is continuous–we’re always students, sometimes guides or teachers, but mostly we’re here to learn. For me, age is about letting some of the noise dissipate. Age is about shedding that which is unnecessary. For me, 39, right now, is about giving fewer fucks. For example:

You don’t like me; I don’t need my phone list to resemble The Yellow Pages: When I was in my 20s I wanted the whole of the world to like, no, love me. I vivisected conversations, scenarios, and encounters much like how a doctor would attend to life-saving cardiac surgery. When I was younger I believed in the power of quantity over quantity, and the more people who attended my parties, the more people who attended the readings I hosted, the more people I could program in my phone, the better. Never did I equate the fact that the amount of alcohol I consumed was in direct correlation to the amount of people who orbited my life. Never did I consider that being surrounded by people–making sure I always had a drinks plan, a movie plan, a book party plan, a stay-at-home-and-faux-relax-with-ten-friends plan–exhausted me.

I didn’t realize that I was an introvert until I was 37. I stopped caring what people thought about me around the same time. I have a specific sense of humor (dark, sarcastic, and biting at times) and management style (I’ve a low threshold for bullshit, entitlement, laziness, complacency and stupidity; I don’t do office/friend politicking, etc), and I know I’m not for everyone. I realize that some people might think me intense, others might consider me aloof. Do I care? Yes, to a certain extent–especially if I know I’m making a bad first impression on someone whom I care about. However, in the grand scheme of things I’m not changing the core of who I am, so if people can’t roll with my style I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I’m more interested in finding my tribe–people who challenge me–rather than surround myself with people who are intent on changing me. Big difference.

At the end of the day, my people love me–flaws and all. When you get older you winnow down the phone book to those who are necessary, those whom you need and love.

“Eventually I confess to a friend some details about my weeping—its intensity, its frequency. She says (kindly) that she thinks we sometimes weep in front of a mirror not to inflame self-pity, but because we want to feel witnessed in our despair. (Can a reflection be a witness? Can one pass oneself the sponge wet with vinegar from a reed?)” ― Maggie Nelson, Bluets

Want to know a secret? This is the moment when you break down the doors and all the mothballs flutter out. This is the time when you finally, finally, let the right ones in. All the way. This is the time when you no longer wince when someone draws you closer. You allow yourself to cry the tears you’ve been holding back–you are a river and you are fine. You lay your greatest hand on the table, your heart. You feel safe; you tell your friends this: you’re home to me.

Sometimes you stumble backward. Sometimes you revert to old habits. But this is life, and at 39 you acknowledge this too.

You’re, like, really important or something: Why is it that people think I care about how important they are? Do I care that you’ve made it on a list defined by accomplishments by a certain arbitrary age? Do I care that your book was published in 23 countries and an A-list actress X will play you in the film adaptation of your life? Do I care that you’re a blogger who gets paid six figures to sell pieces of yourself to the highest bidder? Consider me a headliner at The Fresh out of Fucks Tour 2015 because I don’t care about your verbal CV or all the finery you wear on your sleeve.

I care that you’re a person with integrity. You’re not some cretin who disposes of your friends when they no longer suit you. But mainly I care about the fact that I’m not occupying space with an asshole.

The people who inhabit my life are the kind of people I want to invite in my home and with whom I want to share a meal. They’re the kind of people who would lay down their heart for you. They’re the kind of people who will carry you through the dark instead of affixing bandaids over your mouth and skin. I’m impressed by the content and quality of your character, not the length of your CV.

I’m no longer a size 0: Being an integer was fun for a total of five minutes, and then I became that annoying girl in the dressing room who whined about the tragedy of clothing stories failing to stock sizes less than zero (these were the halcyon days before the 00). I was also a functioning alcoholic recovering from a cocaine addiction so I was clearly not living my best life although the media would have you believe I was based on my dress size.

After waging an outright war on my body for nearly two decades, I finally have become comfortable in my own skin. I no longer talk about “earning” the right to eat. I no longer fixate on working out as a means to eat, rather I focus on filling my body with good food so I can live, perform my best when I hit the gym.

I look at photographs of myself in my 20s and it takes everything in me not to cry. You should know that it takes a lot for me to waver, break, but I wish I could hurtle through time, sky and space, and hold my younger self close, bury my face in her hair and tell her that she is so fucking beautiful. You know that, right? You’re beautiful as you are, as the world meant for you to be. You know that beauty isn’t just about whittling down to a bone, right? You know it’s about how you write, love, and breathe.

Lately I care more about running up flights of stairs, breathless. I care about being strong. I care about nourishing my body with the good stuff and some of the not-so-good stuff because I have this one life and am I going to spend it grabbing at flesh and punishing it?

Where does a number get you? Does it inch you further along your journey to fine? Or is it really a shackle, a self-imposed prison where the wardens are endless rides on a spin bike and grating your teeth through green juices and undressed salads?

Stupid people, drama, stupid dramas: There was a time that I reveled in the telenovela–I lived for the drama, drinks thrown, and intrigue because it all made for a good story. However, I’m now at the point in my life where I’ve been through war and dressed the wounds; I’ve a great deal of stories, and now I care about living a good life.

“Before I took to the road, a friend tried to get me to go to a department store with him. He said it was to improve the place where I lived. He said,” I want to know you are reading beneath this lamp. ” This fellow was dying. He knew it and I did not. I think he was tucking me in. He was making sure all of his friends had the right lamps, the comfiest pillows, the softest sheets. He was tucking us all in for the night.” ― Amy Hempel, The Collected Stories

It occurs to me that the older I get the more I see people die. A good friend of mine, who was the first person to really be a friend through my alcoholism, died of cancer a few years ago. Two friends of mine died in their early 20s. An acquaintance I knew, a glinting literary light, committed suicide. Time takes it all, washes it away, and what you have left are the hours. So when you think about the fact that every day forward is a march closer to the grave, you start to think about the quality of your days and who occupies them.

I used to be friends with really shitty people. Catty women who clawed and conspired. People who were covered, head-to-toe, in issues. I used to love men who were incapable of loving me in the way I deserved. And while this is life and there are times when my dearest friends will experience periods of darkness and heartbreaks, I no longer have time or energy for people who are less than extraordinary. I no longer have patience for people who refuse to tend to their hearts like a well-desired harvest. What I don’t have time for? People who put themselves on the road to ruin and like it. People who act as if these are the last days of disco. People who connive and scheme.

I have a cat. I sometimes fall asleep at 9:30PM. I don’t have the time.

because the cult of busy is probably killing you

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You can’t manage time. Time never changes. There will always and ever be 168 hours in a week. What you can manage are the activities you choose to do in time. And what busy and overwhelmed people need to realize…is that you will never be able to do everything you think you need, want, or should do. You will never clear your plate so you can get to the good stuff. So you have to decide. What do you want to accomplish in this life? What’s important to you right now? And realize that what’s important now may not be two years from now. It’s always changing. –From Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time

You can’t make a suggestion of sadness. You can no longer whisper or mutter your grief, rather you have to bludgeon your loved ones with it, and then you’ll realize you have their strictest attention. I have a hard time asking for help. Having had to assume the role of adult as soon as I left the womb, I never knew what it was like to be a child; I never had the luxury of screaming tears and being swathed in blankets because I was forever hushing, always wrapping people with the things that comforted them most. In my home vulnerability was considered a weakness, and I spent much of my life telling people I’m fine, even when it was abundantly clear that I was the very opposite of fine. But don’t worry, I’m taking care of it; I’ve got it under control, it’s handled, as the popular protagonist from a nighttime show would say–even when I stared down at my bare hands knowing that I didn’t have the tools for fine. Fine wasn’t a place cartographers had mapped, and I spent much of my adult life with the burden of my grief and sadness, bearing the weight of it. Alone.

Until a few years ago when after my beloved Sophie passed away and I’d left a job that was slowly killing me, and life was dark and uncertain. After seven years of clarity, I drank. A lot. And over the course of two months I’d begun to realize how this relapse was markedly different than all the ones that had become before because I had time. I had the weight of seven years of living a nearly-present life and I finally understand what was at stake, what I could lose. This time was different because I had the gift (or burden) of awareness, and in the midst of all the drinking I knew in my heart this wasn’t right, I had to stop but I couldn’t stop, and I called a friend shaking and said, Angie, can you help me?

Before that morning, that moment, I can’t tell you the last time I said those words out loud.

My friend didn’t flinch or hesitate. She dropped her kids off at school, drove to my home and got me out of the house. We drove around Brooklyn and talked all day, and over the next few weeks she made me adopt Felix. She saved my life. And I knew how busy she was–she had a full-time job as an executive and took care of a husband and two children–but she made time, and that time is something for which I’m forever thankful. Even after a year and seven months of not drinking, when I see her I sometimes remind her that she saved my life.

A few weeks ago I went through another period of darkness. I can’t describe these dark times other than to say that they’re like a storm that’s ferocious and brutal, yet passes swiftly. For a brief time the whole of my world was shrouded in grey and I had a hard time finding my way out, back into the light. Out of habit, I withdrew from friends, receded. Some of them asked what was wrong and in pained replies I said nothing. I said I was fine. But everyone was so goddamn busy, so consumed by the goings-on in their life, to notice the signs. I had become angry over the fact that the people closest to me knew something was wrong and apart from a perfunctory how are you and the answer they knew I’d give, they resumed their state of busy. In some cases, I actually told a few friends what was going on, asked if I could see them, and getting a date on their calendar rivaled admittance into the Pentagon.

Are you fucking kidding me with this, I thought.

It took a status update on Facebook (I’d pared down my friend list to those whom I know and love “in real life”) to remind my closest friends that I am someone who always goes above and beyond, who drops everything and inconveniences herself. Someone who ignores busy, who makes time for her friends when they need her. And wouldn’t it be nice for you to reciprocate? Do I always have to usher in the dramatics and a cry for help for you to make time? Must my needs always be so extreme for you to make time?

Suddenly, everyone magically had time. It no longer takes a gentle prodding to ask for someone’s time or help–it takes an enraged status update on a semi-public social media channel. I don’t begrudge my friends this because they are wonderful, devoted and kind, however, I do worry about the busyness that consumes them. Where mourning the loss of time has become common, a constant bewildered state.

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For a period of nearly four years, I was busy. I missed weddings, baby showers, important moments in friends’ lives–I missed everything. And for what? A title? A six-figure salary? The promise of ownership in a company that I’d become wedded to? Stress and busy wore me down, made me sick, exhausted, and tired, and it took a breakdown and a long conversation with my beloved mentor to convince me to resign. To take my life back because my mentor once told me that when I’m on my deathbed will I have regretted that email I didn’t send, the meeting I didn’t attend or the presentation that could have been tweaked? No, I’ll regret all the weddings and moments in my friends’ lives that I’d missed. I’d regret all the time that I’d squandered, all the people I’d abandoned. It’s been two years since I left that life behind and it’s taken me nearly that long to truly understand the cult of busy and how it can invariably ruin.

I read a lot of articles about the disease that is stress and being busy. As someone who once sent rapidfire emails at six in the morning, I’ve since learned that no one likes to wake to a flood of obligations in their inbox before they have time to wipe the sleep from their eyes. The amount of hours in a day will never change, the to-do list will never be completed to our satisfaction, we can never have all of it because all is nebulous, grey, and holds a different meaning depending upon who holds the weight of its obligation, so why not take control of our time and how we spend it? Contrary to popular belief, busy is a decision we make.

We choose busy. We choose to assume this word as a badge of honor rather than a sickness. We use this word as a measure of endurance–how much of the world could one bear and are we stronger than someone else simply for the fact that we can hold our breath for one more second underwater? Are we better than someone else because we’ve become adept at near-drowning?

For the past two weeks I’ve been immersed in Brigid Schulte’s book on the business of busy, after having read this smart interview. Although it’s primarily targeted to parents, specifically mothers, on how they can find time and balance, much of the book is applicable to everyone that feels the weight of their calendar and to-do list on their shoulders. Schulte’s shares the affects of stress on our brain, that living in a constant state of anxiety actually shrinks our pre-frontal cortex (our intellectual center, arguably the most important part of our brain) and enlarges our anxiety/depression center, all the while shooting cortisol through our bodies. Stress and busy are inextricably bound, and the physical and mental damage it can do will put you on pause. I felt the bulk of what Schulte’s research ascribes–I felt sick, gained weight, no longer felt creative. For a time, exhaustion and anxious were bedfellows.

Much of the book goes to places Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (a book I onced admired, now I question) failed to go. Schulte not only detangles the societal and social mores around women, feminism, work and what it means to be a capable parent in today’s society, she also examines (in stark comparison to other countries) how our society fails to support the family unit. And while I’m not a parent or have any plans to have children, this doesn’t mean I should be blind to how our system fails mothers and fathers–people I know and love–nor does it mean that the impact on the family wouldn’t have any adverse affect on women, particularly single women. We don’t live our lives in silo, and much of the success in other countries as it relates to the ability for people to have leisure time, to not be so tethered to their devices, has to do with a communal mindset. Taking care of yourself while keeping an eye out for your community.

Without time to reflect, to live fully present in the moment and face what is transcendent about our lives. [Leisure researcher] Ben Hunnicut says, we are doomed to live in a purposeless and banal busyness. “Then we starve the capacity we have to love,” he said. “It creates this ‘unquiet heart,’ as Saint Augustine said, that is ever desperate for fulfillment.” —Overwhelmed

Schulte also deconstructs our insatiable appetite for competition that essentially goes nowhere. We are, at best, productive for nearly six hours a day. And that’s it. At one point our overwork becomes a state of diminished returns and we start to make mistakes we wouldn’t normally make and spend (or waste) time in cleanup mode. While we’re one of the top productive nations, we’re productive when it comes to output, however, we fail at the time it takes to get to the output in comparison to other nations. It’s almost as if we’re afraid of spending time relaxing. We see leisure time as wasteful if it’s not productive (working out, organizing our closets, etc). We don’t understand the art of play and how stretches of time spent doing nothing can actually bring forth our best ideas, our greatest work.

Over the past two years I’ve been privileged in the sense that lots of companies want to hire me. They tell me about an impressive salary and benefits package, about the days of vacation I’ll be promised. The travel! The exposure! In response, I type the same two questions and wait for a response:

1. How many hours do people normally spend working and is flexible time (real flexible scheduling) empowered from the top?
2. Tell me about the hobbies or passions of two of your junior employees

Radio silence.

I made a pile of money (don’t know where that went), I had the exposure and travel and look where it got me: sick, exhausted, burnt-out. I make half as much money as I once did yet I’m richer in every sense of the word. I’ve shown a current client that in three days I can do the work of five because I’m focused. I’ve done some of the best branding and organizational design work for clients than I’ve ever done. I’ve written some of my best work since I’ve resigned from my job. I’ve traveled, discovered new foods, tastes and interests, and I’m present. Fully present for those who need me.

Photo Credits: Death to the Stock Photo. Second image, text is my own.

finding joy

climbing out of the dark + living the questions

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Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms, or books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. –Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” (via)

I’ve been having a dark time. Even as I type that I laugh because it’s silly to think that time is something you can hold in your hands; that it’s something you’re able to possess, own. I’ve been thinking about time a lot–I suppose this is the sort of thing one does when they’ve reached the midway point in their life. We think about the moment and all the ones that eclipsed it, and we wonder not about what we’ve gained, but rather what it is we’ve lost. Time takes it all, it’s true, but I wonder if it’s possible that it seized more because I feel like the decision I made to join, and subsequently become part owner of an agency, veered me radically off course. While I know that the woman who sits here typing this is changed, is resolute and centered, I mourn the before. The woman who had so much velocity, wonder and ambition. The woman who launched a dot.com luxury resale business when none existed simply because she was told that there would be no other kind of work than the kind she’d been doing. Banking and the like–creating nothing, owning nothing–merely a chess player of paper. The woman who published a literary journal because she never quite fit in with the smart set who hailed from learned homes and prestigious east coast schools (even though she attended two of them)–the set who mainly published their own. She created this online home, this book of paper, because she wanted to surround herself with misfits, the people who didn’t get internships at The New Yorker, the people who didn’t have ICM agents by the time they were 25. The woman who nearly launched a nonprofit to help disadvantaged women in Brooklyn because she wanted to give back. The woman who wrote and published a book. The woman who…

You have to understand that sometimes I need third person. So bear with me.

The difference between youth and maturity, Andrew Solomon writes in an award speech, is patience. We’re hungry when we’re young, ravenous even–we wanted things to have happened yesterday, whereas the mature has slowed down a bit, is content with the right now; they plan for what’s to come. Solomon writes:

Youth is notoriously impatient, even though there is no need for impatience early on, when people have the time to be patient. In middle age, the wisdom of patience seems more straightforward, but there aren’t so many days left. But Rilke is correct that we must all write as though eternity lay before us. Enjoy the flexibility that span of eternity offers. The discourse between the young and the nostalgic retains some of its inherent poetry in the form of a longing intimacy. The freshness of younger people awakens memories in older ones—because though you, young writers, are yourselves at the brink of your own future, you evoke the past for those who came before you.

I think about the woman who kept moving and the woman who has been put on pause, and I wonder about reconciling the two. Because right now I feel stuck in the in-betweens. I don’t have the speed I once possessed, but part of me doesn’t want all of it, just a little of it. I think about children, how, for a time, everything is a first. There is no sense of risk or loss–they are reckless, they weave down streets like spools of thread let loose upon the pavement, while adults walk a fixed line. We sometimes get frustrated when we have to walk around children because they’ve deviated off course. Or perhaps we’re just a little too fixed in our purpose; maybe we’ve drawn a line that’s too rigid.

Solomon writes: As you ripen, you’ll notice that time is the weirdest thing in the world, that these surprises are relentless, and that getting older is not a stroll but an ambush.

I feel ambushed, confused. I was on a clear course, a road that lie ahead of me, and now I’m all over the place. Nearly 40, I’m rootless, directionless. I read a post about an itinerant writer who’s fond of books. Frankie doesn’t necessarily fit the profile of the New York literary success story (and trust me, I’m paying Frankie the greatest of compliments writing this) but she writes and writes and doesn’t care if it’s published in the way we’ve traditionally conceived of publishing. She must know that others exist, others who publish with Knopf, those who are celebrated by a small circle of like-minded people who believe that there are so many small dark books getting published because they’re the representative sample! Their small, dark books are getting published! Yet, they fail to see the world at scale because it’s blissful to be amongst the familiar.

I’m sure Frankie knows all of this, yet she doesn’t seem to care. And I admire her that–her lack of ego, her volition to write simply to create. Because, frankly, I do feel bruised. I wrote an extraordinary book, one whose prose and themes far surpass those of my first book, and while so many editors penned long paragraphs remarking on my skill, poise and prowess, my novel’s just too risky, too small, too difficult. Too many unrelatable characters (because, you know, great literature is filled with relatable people. /sarcasm). And this hurt for a time, especially when I’m surrounded by so many wonderful writers succeeding. While I want nothing more than their success, it doesn’t take the sting out of my rejection. I was almost willing to give up until my agent wrote me this extraordinary note telling me that no way in hell are we giving up on this book. That I should never judge my talent and worth by whether or not some editor chooses to publish what I write. The two, he’s often told me, are mutually exclusive.

That we can create something new beyond traditional publishing. That there’s a way to share my work in the world. Because fuck Knopf. Fuck the smart set. Part of me needs to reach back to that woman who didn’t care about any of it and created anyway.

I also thought about my career and part of me feels stalled because I haven’t yet undone 20 years of believing that one had to work a certain way. I admire millennials, I do, because they have this arcane way of seeing the world, rejecting it, and building anew. They shirked traditional office environment and launched start-ups and collaboratives. They redefined work while my generation scrambled to throw glitter on shit office environments and label what they’ve done as innovative. Millennials said fuck you and your definition of success. We’ll define it for ourselves, thank you very much. We have a watch; we know what time it is.

I read an article today about the importance of playing small. Tad writes,

Who’s to say that those reaching hundreds of thousands will have a bigger impact than those who only ever reach 100 but very deeply? No one. That’s who. Niching, the finding of our role in the community, will always and forever be the dance between width and depth. And they’re both equal and needed. We need people working broad and shallow. And we need people working narrow and deep. And everywhere in between. The only question worthy of being asked is, ‘What is it that you see missing that you want to give? And how do you want to give it?’ That’s it. There’s no right answer. And then how do you make it financially sustainable?

For so long I’ve espoused this minimal life, owning only what you need and love, and never did I consider that ideology could flow into my creative and professional life. We’re taught to produce, to produce, to produce more, faster, better, smarter, and it just occurred to me that I actually don’t want a big life. I nearly had an anxiety attack when 30,000 people came to my site in a span of a few days. I can count on my two hands the number of close people in my life. I only survived hosting readings and attending fancy book parties because I was drunk 75% of the time. While I was a partner in an agency responsible for client acquisition, I often brought a hungry and savvy coworker who was all too happy to work the room on my behalf.

It occurs to me that I’m not built for a big life so why do I think I need it? Why do I think I need the book deal, the big job, the everything?

I don’t. I just realized that today and, after a few months of subsisting on my own sadness, did I finally see a small flicker of light. A flame, really, but light nonetheless.

My friends have been telling me that I’m going to be all right. Out of everyone they know, I’m the one they never have to worry about. I guess that’s flattering, but I’m not sure I believe that I have this strange ability to always know when to flee a house just as it sparks, glows aflame. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m moving and I’m exhilarated and terrified, and I really wish people would stop asking me questions and insist I perform only the excited dance. What I do know is that I live to write and I have to keep doing it regardless if it finds a traditional home. What I do know is that parts of my life were big and I fled it with abandon, in favor of the small, and now I want something that lingers in between.

We’ll see.

Note: I’ve removed comments from this post because this is one of the hardest I’ve written and I need to get it out without advice, or people remarking that this goddess bowl looks delicious or the photography is pretty or that I’m going to make it. While I do love and respect all of that, right now I need quiet. I need to sort out my thoughts and find my way back to the light, and I need to do that without the sound of anyone’s voice or words written below this post. I hope you understand.

INGREDIENTS: Protein Power Goddess Bowl recipe from the Oh She Glows Cookbook, with minor modifications
For the dressing
1/4 cup tahini
2 garlic cloves minced.
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast or a bit more, to taste (I nixed this)
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, to taste
1 tsp kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

For the protein bowl
1/2 cup black beluga lentils
1/2 cup green lentils
1 15oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, for sautéing
1 small shallot, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 large yellow tomato, chopped
3 cups lacinato kale, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
kosher salt + black pepper, to taste

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DIRECTIONS
For the tahini dressing: Add all of the ingredients to a food processor (or blender). Blitz and set aside.

For the protein bowl: Cook lentils according to package directions. Typically, lentils are 3:1, so I add 3 cups of water for every cup of lentils. After 25 minutes of simmering, I drained the lentils and set aside.

In a large skillet over low-medium heat, add the olive oil and sauté the chopped onion and minced garlic for a few minutes, being careful not to burn. Turn the heat up to medium and add in the chopped red pepper and tomato and sauté for another 7-8 minutes, or until all of the water evaporates from the tomatoes. The last thing anyone wants is a watery protein bowl. No bueno.

Stir in the chopped kale and sauté for another few minutes, just until tender. Stir in the full batch of tahini-Lemon dressing, the cooked & drained grains and lentils, the chickpeas, and simmer on low for another few minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the minced parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with lemon wedges and zest. Makes 6 cups.

protein power bowl

points of entry: when the map unfurls + all signs point to california

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I don’t say there isn’t much work to do, for there is. And some tracks lead to excruciating darkness, where a person can tumble from the sky on a clear September morning. Yet is the world not whole? Is it not beautiful? For now, let’s consider well-being a choice, something you can try on and wear. When we put on the hat and coat of well-being we incline towards joy without special occasion. –Jean-Pierre Weill’s The Well of Being (via)

The past week I’ve been thinking about living with immediacy. Even writing the word immediacy puts me to thinking of some of its negative connotations, the sense of urgency or the feeling that one might rush through our waking life. However, after watching Atul Gawande’s extraordinary PBS documentary (an adaptation of his book, Being Mortal), I’m reminded of this: we may never have as much time as we think, so why not live life as fully and richly as we possibly can? Instead of sleeping through our waking days or collecting five (It’s Friday!) in anticipation of the remaining two (Oh no, it’s Sunday!), why not treat every moment as one worth savoring, one worth living.

As you know I’ve been struggling with some pretty heady questions, and I’ve accepted that I’m temporarily living in the in-betweens, a home painted grey, with air thick and weighted by clouds, and it’s sometimes hard to see what’s in front of you. There are roads ahead, cartographers have made the appropriate measurements and maps, and your life has become a game of maths, a calculation of probability and weighted risk. Probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned from being an addict is this: you don’t erase pain by numbing your way around it, rather you have to rip off the bandaids, one by one, and breathe through it. True, you’ll spend some part of your life dressing and re-dressing your wounds but the drug to which you’re tethered to only delays the inevitable.

At some point the bandaids will have to be removed. It’s just a matter of how much time you’re willing to squander to the point where you’re ready to start ripping. Yesterday, I came across this quote from Elliot Roberts while reading an oral history of Laurel Canyon in the 60s and 70s:

The scene broke up because you became adults. We were all in our early 20s when there was that scene—all kids in their early 20s have a scene. All of a sudden you have a girlfriend or you’re getting married. By 30, 35, the scene is gone. You have families, kids, jobs. You buy a house. You want to get guitar lessons for your kid and a Bar Mitzvah. When you’re 20, it’s O.K. for eight people to crash in a living room, six on a floor. At 35 you’re not crashing anymore—your back hurts.

Reading Roberts’ words didn’t feel somber or nostalgic, it felt honest. At one point you have to accept what your life has become. Last night I spent hours with a couple from California and I told them stories from my 20s, a drug-induced time where California was simply a place where you got good coke and you could sleep while someone drove. Some of the stories are a bit colorful and wild and for people who have known me for less than a week they can see the sharp contrast of the woman I spoke of then and the woman telling them stories now. I tell them stories about a time and a woman I don’t miss because I’m so infatuated with the life I have now.

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At one point the husband, in response to my talking about my moving dilemma, says, Five seconds. Don’t think. If you could move to any state now, where would it be? No, really. Don’t think. I laugh and say, California. If you asked me this question a year ago I would’ve laughed, I would’ve made some allusion to Biggie and Tupac and how born and raised New Yorkers don’t just move to the least coast. But then I realize that California is not Los Angeles or San Francisco, two cities that aren’t my vibe, that it’s a whole landscape of beauty and warmth–a place worth exploring.

I tell them, however, that I’m not ready for California just yet. What does your gut tell you? Are you listening to it? Genevieve asks. I tell her that I want to spend a month in Portugal or a Spanish-speaking country, but the…cat, I say. Felix, I say. I realize I’m speaking to two cat-lovers, a couple who bought a cat hammock for their lovely home in Santa Barbara, and both of them say, quite plainly, that a month isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of my life. If Felix can come, great. However, if he could stay with my father or a trusted friend, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I would return.

Because do I want to live with regret? I’ve already chosen not to have children because I’m not built for it; I don’t want roadblocks. I need personal freedom. I need myself whole. And I feel part of the journey this year, part of the story I want to tell, is this: the leaving and the return.

We organize our circumstances into stories, stories we pick up along the way and carry with us. Stories that declare, I’m lacking. Why me? stories. I’m alone, stories. What will I amount to? stories. Stories about who we should be. Or think we are. They are interior maps whose familiar roads we travel. Over and over. Yet when we apprehend these maps, these stories, these patterns … we awaken and rise, as it were, to a new perspective, to new possibilities. –Jean-Pierre Weill

We’ll see. Here’s me inching out of the house, making my last payments, packing my bags. Closer.

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when you don’t know where it is you need to go

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Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life. –John Hodge, from Trainspotting

I don’t know where to go. There, I said it. I had the best laid plans–I’d spend three months in three states and decide where it is I’d make my home–and then life happened, I flew down to Nicaragua and all my plans fell asunder. I’m leaving in a few days and the only thing I know, in my heart, is that I need to leave New York within the next four months. I need to leave a place where people feel their handbags are a testament to their success and character, where instead of owning their possessions they are owned by them. I need to leave a place where people believe enlightenment can be found in the confines of a spin class. I need to leave a place where I’m crammed into a subway car and people are jostling; they live their lives traveling to jobs they hate, but the jobs pay for their finery, boutique fitness classes, and the $10 juices that serve as an acceptable form of starvation. I need to leave a place where the weather is a constant conversation piece. I need to leave a place that no longer feels like my home.

But I don’t know where to go.

Part of me entertains flights of fancy–I’d be some sort of digital nomad or travel the world for a year with only $20K to my name. But then I remember I own a cat and I have $1000 in student loan payments a month–real responsibilities–and I can’t just abandon rationality and real life because this isn’t The Secret; I don’t live my life in a petal pink delusion. In real life, I have monthly bills to pay regardless of where I go and I can’t just dump my cat in a friend’s lap–Felix is family and I love him that much.

But I want to go. Somewhere.

Ultimately, I know that I want to end up west but I can’t see myself there yet. Not in June. Possibly the end of the year. Until then I want to be somewhere else outside of the U.S. for 3-5 months even though I just signed up for pricey health insurance (there goes that pragmatic thinking again) and I have the logistics of pet passports and travel to consider. Part of me wants to explore Spanish speaking countries because I’ve an urge to be fluent and the question of quarantine is a non-issue.

I was supposed to come on this trip to figure out the details, draw an outline, but I’m back to where I started. Drawing circles in the sand and walking around what I’ve traced. Balancing memory, need, desire and reality. I was supposed to walk a straight line, write myself from here to there, and even though I always know that what you intend never is what you want it to be, I’m surprised (or maybe not), yet again, that I’m at the middle of my life and I haven’t figured anything out. I only know what I don’t want.

I don’t want leisure wear, matching luggage and a starter home. I don’t want a life treadmill. I don’t want 7-10pm and scrolling through my email during the four weeks of vacation I fought to have and everyone makes me feel guilty for taking. I don’t want a recruiter selling me on a company that lacks imagination and integrity, but don’t worry because the money is great. I don’t want unidentifiable food delivered to me. I don’t want to write blog posts like these and have people try to sew up my life for me–what I need right now is not a bandaid or an anesthetic, so please don’t. I don’t want to order a taxi with my phone and not care that the men who run the company hate women. But convenience, Felicia. Convenience. I don’t want to spend an entire day on the internet talking about a fucking dress. I don’t want to debate SoulCycle v. Flywheel. I don’t want to regard my book, this magical thing I’ve created, with bitterness because publishing is an industry crawling with sheep. I don’t want this: Why bother talking about ISIS because it’s not like my one voice can make a difference. So instead, I talk about two llamas and debate the color of a dress. I don’t want to wake up every morning and think: I don’t want this.

I don’t want what I can bear.

I stand in the middle of a forest, between two boulders and think, I want this. I close my eyes and fall asleep in the middle of a river, surrounded by 365 islands, and think, I want this. I look at my blog, this wonderful space I’ve created for myself, and wonder about a collection of essays I could write. I look at my bank account, about to be depleted come April, and wonder, how can I do any of this?

To be continued…

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tell them stories

Death the Stock Photo
You can copy me, make a portrait as precise as an artist, but my shit will always remain mine, and yours will be yours. Ah, Lenu, what happens to us all, we’re like pipes when the water freezes, what a terrible thing a dissatisfied mind is. You remember what we did with my wedding picture? I want to continue on that path. The day will come when I reduce myself to a diagram. I’ll become a perforated tape and you won’t find me anymore. –From Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

You’ll hear sort of a strange sound, the dentist tells me. He says not to worry (I worry), this is what you hear when metal breaks metal. We’re here to excavate, to break things in your mouth and put them back to together again. He shines a white light over my molars and this puts me to thinking of fireflies and I imagine a colony of them fluttering out of my mouth and out the window. This is where my mind goes when two faces are an inch from mine, and the only words exchanged are the names of the various tools entering and leaving my gaped mouth. The word suction is used a lot and I think about how much I loathe the mollusk. After, the dentist starts to talk about the strategy for my teeth because there’s so much decay. Part of the strategy centers around containment. We will drill and plunge metal into the open spaces in your mouth until your jaw shakes because once the decay hits the nerve, we’ve got a whole new strategy, a host of new words and technical procedures to deploy. While I work in marketing and often use words like “strategy” and “tactics,” for some reason, hearing them in the dentist’s office disturbs me.

Half of my face is numb, and beyond the costly nature of these procedures, I keep thinking that my mouth is an abattoir, which could either mean that I’m one who harbors the remains of things (there is constant death in this house. Do you smell it? Do you feel it rise up around you?) or one who’s about to face a series of endings (the house where we extinguish all the lights; last call! last call!).

Smoke came out of my mouth. And bits of metal. The numbness recedes and there is only this dull, persistent ache. The drugs don’t work, I don’t know why I keep taking them–habit, I guess. I nap, send emails, and laugh over the fact that nearly 30,000 people read a post that took me thirty minutes to write but I can’t sell a novel that took two years of my life because it’s too dark, too hard, and didn’t you know, kid, we’re in the business of easy. We’re in the business of from manuscript to bookshelf. We like our corners neat, characters that color in and around the lines.

No one likes sociopaths, characters that create new coloring books instead of dancing for show in the old ones. Readers are puppeteers, they need to pull all the strings and they want their redemption stories. They want to close their books or shut their screens knowing that the story they’ve just read came to its natural conclusion; we’re done with that dirty business now. We can set the story aside knowing that the world has been magically set to rights. Even when we know that people are far from neat–they are untidy, sometimes melancholy or shamelessly cruel–and endings are rarely, if ever, clean and natural.

May I point out something? You always use true and truthfully, when you speak and when you write. Or you say: unexpectedly. But when do people ever speak truthfully and when do things ever happen unexpectedly? You know better than I that it’s all a fraud and that one thing follows another and then another. I don’t do anything truthfully anymore, Lenu. And I’ve learned to pay attention to things. Only idiots believe that they happen unexpectedly. –Lila, in Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Two years ago I started a novel about broken children, a brother and sister come undone as a result of two generations of parents who weren’t adept at familial love. I wrote about a complicated relationship between a mother and daughter, one more artfully conceived that the one I portrayed in my non-fiction, because while time takes it all away it also gives you depth and perspective. At the opening of the novel, we learn that the mother dies of terminal cancer, and the daughter flees herself and her surroundings. There are many journeys west because everyone knows that the east has fallen to blight, it’s its own self-contained ruin.

How could I know that fiction would breed fact, and I would learn that my mother is indeed dying in the same space in time where I’ve planned a move out west? How could I have known that I’d write my way here? I will never say or write more than the two lines I’ve just written–I’m choosing to deal with this privately, but right now, right this moment I feel empty.

As the dentist is about to drill I say that I’m a compulsive flosser, and he tells me that there is a hole in my tooth and there are some things I can’t get to. Places that are hollow and empty. And now, I feel the weight of that emptiness, wondering if it’s possible to feel so the burden of loss yet feel nothing all at once? I often return to Joan Didion and her line, we tell stories in order to live, and I believe that, wholly, but what if we don’t yet know the shape of our own story. What if we wrote our way to one place and all we want to do is write our way to another? I wrote a novel I loved, completely, and now I can’t even bear to read it. My agent forwards me long emails from editors quoting lines from my book, talking about the “brilliance of the prose” and whatever, and all I could do is stand in the middle of the street, cold, and say that I want to write another book. Maybe I’ll go to Europe instead of out west. How do I tell him that I feel nothing?

When I was small I had a teacher, Dr. Wasserman, who read all the stories I wrote on sheets of loose-leaf paper and urged me to read them aloud. Tell them stories. Make them listen. Everything they want to hear. Give them animal, mineral, wood, brick and lye. Here is my life. You own it all, it’s yours. And the days climb over one another, clobbering and competing, and memory is ephemeral, fleeting. You remember how a certain wine tasted or how it felt when he laid his chin on your shoulder and left it there. You remember a day spent with a dear friend and two forks diving into a single plate. And you fight hard to keep these images in the frame because soon they’ll be eclipsed by things you don’t want to see, voices you don’t want to hear, words you don’t want to read. How did you keep the light in the picture?

All my friends want to meet for coffee or dinner and want me to tell them my story of moving out west or whatever it is I plan to do. All these editors, who won’t bid on the dark, write they can’t wait for new stories from me, all! that! light!

I don’t know where I’ll go. I’m writing my way around myself, talking in circles, about what will instead of what is. Because right now things are messy, untidy, and dark and people squirm around in that. There is an expiration date for how much disquiet one could write, or this is this expectation that we can exchange grief: here is my sad story and now I’ll hear yours because it’s fair that way. So I give them and everyone what they want to hear, speaking in exclamation points, and use this space, and private spaces, for myself. To tell the stories that are really happening. Stories that are incomplete, of a life not foretold.

I do know this. I’m in the business of leaving, and although I have no idea how I will sort out all the logistics, part of me can’t wait to board a plane to who knows where to do who knows what. I’ll tell those stories then, when they happen. When I’m ready.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

the business of leaving

DeathtoStock8
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

I don’t know how to tell my father I’m leaving. Up until this week I didn’t know how to tell myself. But wait, let me back up.

The week was a blur of meetings, minor politicking and emails left unanswered. I met my friend and mentor for Korean, and we talk about the things we always talk about: we trade updates on our respective careers and people we used to work with and know. This person took this job at this place, did you hear? This person landed here and she seems really happy, last we spoke. We talk about heady things–data and marketing attribution models–and the personal. He tells me about his novia and plans to move out west. He asks about this trip I’m taking, the one he’s been reading about on Facebook. It’s a normal, perfunctory conversation, the kind of which I’ve grown accustomed. I have the speech prepared where I talk about the three states, my jubilation, and how nothing pleases me more than living in a town with a population of 6,000. Our food arrives and we tuck in, and he jokes about the fact that I like my beef well done. Shoe leather, we laugh.

My mentor is a kind of father, but not completely, yet enough where I let my guard down as I’m a watchman when it comes to my heart.

We pass vegetables between our plates and I talk about snow boots. How I’ve ignored the need to purchase them. How I’ve lasted the previous winter without them. And then, this week, I broke down and bought a pair and already I feel regret. Why, he asks. Boots are pragmatic, something I need, and I’ve always been the practical kind. Because this is my last year in New York, I say, flippantly. He pauses, allows the words to settle because he’s ahead of me. What I’ve said doesn’t register on my face just yet. I’m still moving food about my plate, talking about kimchi and kale. And then it happens–the words catch up and linger. Something in me seizes, quietly, and he says that I’ll always need boots because he knows I’ll temporarily return. How could I not return to the place I’ve called home? I think about Odysseus, nymphs, and an awaiting shore, but I don’t tell him any of this because it’s kind of strange to be bringing up the Greeks over barbequed beef–you know what I mean?

I want to tell him that this conversations reminds me of the one we had two years prior. I was in his office, head in my hands, talking about fear. He’d asked me if I was happy. Are you happy? I said, no. I already knew I had to resign from a job that had slowly begun to kill me; I had to stop working for a man I didn’t respect or trust. I had to stop becoming the woman I never wanted to be–bitter, stressed, angry, someone who practiced moral relativism like breathing. But what if I quit? What then? This life isn’t the one I want, but I know it. I can navigate it with eyes open. And if my friend (then colleague) hadn’t made me imagine what was on the other side of fear, I wouldn’t be writing this post. So I think about that conversation and how we don’t need to have it again, and that’s the silence that passes between us–the tacit understanding that this decision is familiar, and all I need to do is see out onto the horizon.

You’ll visit, he says. I nod. I’ll visit. What if I don’t secure freelance work? I’ll visit. What if I’m lonely? I’ll visit. What if I lose my apartment? I’ll visit. You know you’re giving up your apartment for good, right? What if New York is it? I’ll visit.

Now to only tell my father I’ll visit.