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

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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.

on crippling fear + living your best life

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Of course Willie noticed it first, I now think: children major in the study of their mothers, and Willie has the elder child’s umbilical awareness of me. But how is it that I didn’t even question a weight loss striking enough for a child to speak up about? I was too happy enjoying this unexpected gift to question it even briefly: the American woman’s yearning for thinness is so deeply a part of me that it never crossed my mind that a weight loss could herald something other than good fortune. –from Marjorie Williams’s “A Matter of Life and Death”

To be honest, it’s been hard coming to this space over the past few days. Every post has been a series of stops and starts because I feel like the person who invited a few friends over for dinner and then opened her door to witness an entire village whispering at her feet. I don’t host parties; crowds give me vertigo, and I usually recede from waves of intensity. There’s the noise and chatter in my offline life–most of which I keep private and sacred–so this space has always served as my refuge. My source of calm and quiet amidst the noise that’s life. Is it strange to say that I write and think better when I think no one is reading or listening? When it’s just me in my home on these keys typing my way out of the dark?

I’ve been thinking about fear a lot. How it can be all-consuming, how it cradles you. How it tells you it’s the one lover who will never leave. At work yesterday, I talk to a colleague who views me as her mentor, and she confides to me about a series of fears that have to do with control. She can’t board a plane; she worries when people don’t immediately text her back–and as she makes her list I see in her face that these fears are real, crippling. Her shoulders cave inward, she becomes slightly undone. I spend an hour with her telling her that it never is as bad as we think it’ll be. Fear is a wall we’ve built to protect us from what’s unseen, from what our imagination conjures, from the unimaginable. But imagine the unimaginable. Play out the scene, and you’ll see that you can weather almost anything. The fear is always worse than what’s just beyond it, the elusive tragedy just beyond our reach. I spent the great deal of my life in fear of bandaids, of ripping the off, so I erected a wall and kept it standing through my excessive drinking.

The two times I quit the drink I ripped off the bandaids and while there was pain (there will always be immediate pain), the intensity of which began to fade over time and I took the days as they lay. I breathed through difficult spots because the ebb and flow of life, that paid which I’d conquered to bear witness to the light on the other side — all of this was greater than having not felt any of it at all. I’d rather endure sorrow and heartbreak rather than elude it, because we tend to forget that what we fear is temporary, and that states alter and transform. How we tether to fear is really a manipulation of time because we don’t want change. We don’t want the things we can’t control or see, so we tend to fear like it’s our private garden because it’s the one emotion whose state we think we can control.

Over the weekend, I read a remarkable essay that put my heart on pause. It was funny, acerbic, valiant, heartbreakingly honest, and downright beautiful. A writer is diagnosed with Stage IV liver cancer and delivered a death sentence of 3-6 months and manages to live out four years. Within that space of borrowed time, she doesn’t have time for fear because she knows what’s on the other side of it, so instead she uses what little time she has to live, love and laugh. She tries to live her best life. She calls out people and their pithy platitudes and breathes through each treatment, doctor visit and precious moments with her family. I read the essay twice and wept both times. It was a deep cry because I was overwhelmed by her strength, vulnerability and beauty. How she starts the story one way and ends in another place. How fear exists (how could it not?) but it’s a door she kicks down, a wall she breaks through, because why should she allow it to take her away from that which she loves?

Immediately after, I read another essay about a young man who traveled to Africa in the 1960s and began his odyssey on collecting oral history. He was told that oral storytelling was a dead art; he was told that traveling through Africa, post-apartheid, wasn’t the wisest idea. He knew that he couldn’t understand and translate the nuances of dialect and how one tells a story, but he did it anyway. He walked thousands of miles, knocked on doors, begged friends for fresh batteries, and came back to the U.S. changed.

I never had a car, I never had an interpreter or a translator, I simply started walking. –Harold Scheub

On the surface the two essays couldn’t be more different. Yet, both remained with me over the weekend and even through the first long day back at work (is it just me or did Monday feel like a month?). Both made me think about fear and the possibilities beyond it. The things I can’t see. It made me think of risk versus reward. It made me quietly reflect on my own fears.

As many of you know, I’m embarking on a trip out west this year. A year-long journey where I plan to live in four different cities, places antithetical to New York–all in pursuit of my return to wonder. I’m starting my journey in New Mexico and ending it in Seattle, and who knows what will happen during the year or the hours after. And while this is SO EXCITING, and all of my friends want to hear every detail and plan, I’m terrified. I’m afraid that I won’t secure enough freelance work to keep me afloat because so much of my life is bound to New York. I’m afraid of losing my apartment even though I realize how innane that sounds. I’m afraid of feeling lonely even though I mostly like to spend my time with very few people or alone. I’m afraid that I’ll fail in a way I can’t quite identify. I’m afraid that I won’t have enough money to keep paying off my mountain of debt. I’m afraid of the people I might lose even though I know in my heart that people can’t be lost. I’m afraid of getting into a car and driving it. I’m afraid of being in places unknown to me even though I travel extensively and, at turns, thrilled with the idea of living in the unfamiliar. I’m afraid of getting on a plane (always). I’m afraid of lots of things I’d rather not share on this space.

But then I re-read these essays, get inspired by people who lived bravely and valiantly. People who broke ranks by moving past fear. I think about that. A lot. And then I think about my trip and all that’s waiting for me on the other side.

apple sage walnut bread + some thoughts on the business of work

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Believe me when I say this isn’t a story about age–the start of one career and another in media res. Rather, this is a story about work and how beauty can’t be found while living in the extremes.

I bear quiet witness to two extremes. A young woman submits to an interview for a stylish blog, and over the course of a few questions we learn that the only job she’s known is one in front of her computer. A college hobby has morphed into a career, replete with sponsors, giveaways and outfits of the day. I read a post where a young woman doles out career advice as if they were miniature sweets wrapped in arsenic (or perhaps that’s my interpretation)–preparing the impressionable for the “real world,” where posts are artfully styled, emotions are choreographed and authenticity…well, you know my thoughts on that one–although I will say Emily gives a measured, refreshing take on the matter. On the either end of the spectrum, a friend tells me about a billion-dollar company that seeks to transform itself, and would I be willing to play a senior role in that transformation and sit tethered to a desk five days a week? Ah, so this is the life revisited, where I cram the whole of my errands in Saturday morning, spend a few precious hours on Saturday night resting, and prepare for the inevitable Monday come Sunday. A company seeks the sheen of the new and the brilliant and the creative, but would I be willing to chain myself to an office badge? Would I be content to make perfunctory conversation with someone while refilling my water bottle (knowing how I feel about small talk)? Could I bring brilliance to the table while ensconced under the glare of overhead fluorescent lights?

I attended a conference once where everyone was thick in the business of self-promotion. Many spoke of their online spaces and how popular they had become. Yet one wonders how does one harness such fame? How does one create more efficiency, tackle that ever elusive labyrinth that is their inbox? I felt a curtain come down over my face and I asked, in the biting way I sometimes do, what is it that you actually create? What do you do? More importantly, who are you? And they talk to me about content; they use terms like utility. Their hope is one of inspiration mixed with a healthy dose of practicality, and this whole performed puppetry reminds me of Lloyd Dobler’s garbled, yet endearing speech in Say Anything:

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.

And while there was nobility in the idealistic Dobler’s speech, what I get from others is a mouthful of stale air. It feels rehearsed, vaguely Stepford. I get: I want to be famous for being me. Honestly, I don’t understand the notion of the full-time blogger who doesn’t seek to create something which goes beyond the four walls of their home. I tell people it’s the difference between a lithe girl who posts a dozen photos of her in the same outfit in a slightly different pose versus, say, a design.sponge. Create something beyond your singular experience. It may not be large in the grand scheme of things but the lens can’t consistently gaze at one’s navel. Because there will always be other navels, other girls sporting expensive finery, but there are only few who break ranks, create something meaningful beyond the extent of their reach. Or, as Meghan Daum posits,

Obviously, everyone defines confessional in their own way. For me, being confessional would be just kind of revealing your secrets and not processing them in any way, just kind of presenting your diary, for instance. I really am not interested in sitting down to write something personal unless it’s going to transcend my own experience and talk about something larger. That, to me, is the difference between putting yourself out there and letting it all hang out. “Putting yourself out there,” to me, has to do with using my experiences as a lens through which to look at larger phenomena.

Although Daum is speaking specifically about memoir writing, I can’t help but apply this idea of one’s life as lens to nearly all aspects of one’s life. There is a shelf life for the thousands of hopefuls who post the tired, stylized photos and pen an awkward personal story to make a sponsorship post that much more relatable. And while I see blogging as an interim play between one venture to the next (a strategic side hustle, a means for creative testing and exploration), I struggle with people who start off their career this way and think they have the ability to counsel others (I shudder to imagine the performance review: Haters! All of them! Why do I keep getting all of these mean constructive comments?!), and I really struggle with those who act as if their blog is this echelon of greatness, when it’s really not. For many, it reads like a simple experiment in myopia. Every navel gaze invariably meets a dead end–the question then is: Who are you without your online presence? What are you creating? What are you cultivating?

Always the same. The deliberate consciousness of Americans so fair and smooth-spoken, and the under-consciousness so devilish. Destroy! destroy! destroy! hums the under-consciousness. Love and produce! Love and produce! cackles the upper consciousness. And the world hears only the Love and produce cackle. Refuses to hear the hum of destruction underneath. Until such time as it will have to hear. –D.H. Lawrence

I think of this quote often. Lawrence is critiquing Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and the American psyche. Without the balance of destruction and creation, there is no chrysalis, instead we slowly devour ourselves in our own demise (ah, The Ouroborus returns!). If we don’t reconcile and balance our internal division (or duality), we will never truly have knowledge, understanding and wisdom. We will never grown beyond ourselves.

You’re thinking: what the fuck does this have to do with bloggers who preen all day and get paid for it? GOOD QUESTION.

I think some bloggers are one example of the type of people who are content to dwell within their own dominion. They produce and produce and produce at the expense of themselves. Rarely do they seek to reconcile the real and the artifice within, and we only see one side of the face, a clever mask on display. The danger lies when one doesn’t create beyond oneself, or present both sides of that one face. This is true of bloggers, artists, and people who sit behind a desk, content to clockwatch. I see talented writers write themselves around their own self-imposed prisons. I’ve done this, I did it for years. I wrote what I knew because that’s what the books told me to do. That’s what my MFA program told me to. But it was only when I went beyond myself, beyond the story of me, did I find something powerful. My writing truly got better, ferocious. I was still me. I was still pulling the strings and breathing life into characters on a page, but these were people I’d never known and encountered and this new territory was thrilling. It doesn’t matter if my book will ever be published–I take solace in the fact that I sought out a larger truth beyond the one I’d always been pedaling. And this is the reward, the work.

Know that I’m just as critical, if not more so, of the other side.

Even though I’ve worked hard every single day of my life, even though everything I own has been bought and paid for with this hard work, there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t appreciate my privilege. For nearly 18 years I spent the bulk of my life in offices. Some were ramshackle, others sleek. Some were in office parks, others in fancy buildings and grand towers, but the feeling was always the same–I am a prisoner for 8+ hours a day. There go the shackles around my ankles. Let me carry them from conference room to conference room. I forged a working permit at 13 so I could work. I spent the bulk of my college years interning in investment banks. And I went from someone who filed folders (yes, paper) to building multi-million dollar companies and leading teams. I’ve been working in offices for 18 years and it’s only in the past two that I’ve grown beyond measure.

Because I haven’t been chained to a desk and computer for five days, 80 hours a week.

I take on projects that don’t require me to be in an office for an extended period of time (I’ve written in contracts that my days on-site won’t exceed X and my hours won’t exceed Y) and the deliverable remains the same. I prioritize my weeks where I do a lot of the execution, interviews and face time in an office and I do the “thinking” and creative work at home. And not only have my skills in brand marketing increased exponentially, I’ve managed to conceive of creative solutions for basic problems. I see the world differently. I come back from traveling and the work I do is imbued with a global perspective. I work from home and I do my best thinking when I’m baking or walking around the park. I break complex problems down to its simplest parts and then tackle those parts. I’m Socratic in the way I think and I’m constantly asking questions and tearing down walls when I hear, this is how it’s always been done. People who meet me now tell me how I’m cool and collected–calm and measured through crisis. Ask people who worked for me two years ago and I guarantee they’ll tell you a different story.

I’ve been a successful consultant for almost two years and it’s because of an imposed flexibility.

The response? Can you come join this company to do the thing that you’ve been doing without doing the thing you’ve been doing? Can you be creative and innovative without all that fluffy flexibility? Can you create something new using these tired old modes of living, of thinking? Can you work five days a week, take only four weeks vacation, and be accessible via every electronic device? Can you brainstorm in conference rooms named after pop stars (because we’re clever like that!)? Can you think outside of a box even though we’re trapping you in it? Because come on, everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be CMO. Everyone wants to lead global teams at a billion-dollar company. Because, Felicia, you have to settle down sometime.

To which I respond: are you fucking kidding me with this? Rewind the tape and play this shit back to yourself and you tell me if it’s not the very definition of insanity.

I made over $200,000 a year. I had a fancy title and nice handbags and the means to stay in fancy pants hotels. You know where that got me? Stressed out, exhausted, depleted, burned out, angry, bitter, and spending six months of a year chained to a doctor and nutritionist. I had big. I was bombastic. And I wasn’t the better for it.

I read articles where people can’t be bothered to care for the most primal of needs, but they’ll track their follower counts like a shuttle launch and want the fame without actually doing the work. I read about kids making $15K a month for posting photos of themselves on Instagram and their greed and vanity are what they wake to. And I read idyllic pieces about co-working spaces in exotic locales for that jetsetting freelancer.

I read a lot of articles about work, and I’m exhausted.

I keep coming back to this simple question: Who are you? Tell me about your character. Tell me what wakes you up in the morning and makes your race to sleep eager to wake the next day? Tell me what you live to do and how you live. Tell me how you’re building and destroying. Tell me how you’re sharing your face, all of it. Tell me about you love and how that imbues what you do and vice versa.

Because both of these examples: the preening blogger and the executive hungry for the shiny object create nothing of value to me. They recycle, regurgitate big words to make them feel safe; they throw glitter on shit and talk about its earthy beauty.

I want neither. Rather, I want to dive, head-first, into the betweens. I want to create for myself (privately) and for others (publicly). I want to read, live, laugh and love vicariously. I want to walk into an office when it’s necessary and leave when it’s not. I want to work from the inside of a shitbag motel or from a deserted island. I want to write and revise. I want to get better, always.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Vibrant Food, with slight modifications
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup gluten-free flour
1 cup lightly packed coconut cane sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup vanilla soy yoghurt
1/4 cup applesauce
2 small red apples, cored and diced
1/3 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 tbsp gluten-free flour
1/4 cup lightly packed coconut palm sugar
2 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted vegan butter (I use Earth Balance), cubed

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the brown rice and gluten-free flours, coconut sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg and whisk with a fork until blended.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, olive oil, yogurt, and applesauce. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. Gently mix in the diced apples. The batter will be quite thick, especially if you are using all-purpose flour.

To prepare the topping, in a bowl, mix together the oats, walnuts, flour, coconut sugar, sage, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Using your fingers, work in the butter until the mixture is well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the batter.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes before serving.

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you might not fall in love with me, but you might think me less strange (or maybe not?)

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Last weekend, like Hallie, I read a piece in the Times about falling in love. I found the article fascinating and strange, simply for the fact that love is elusive. While I love my friends and my father (and cat!) deeply, I’ve only fallen in love once, and, in retrospect, I didn’t love him in the way I see how others love. I let him in, but not all the way, and I wonder about my ability to take a hammer and chisel and break all that I’ve built. If anything, I’m in the best place for it, so we’ll see what happens.

I know this may sound strange, but I never participate in online group activities, memes, etc, not because I have any aversion toward it, I just find it hard to be part of a group activity with strangers/online acquaintances. I get vertigo leaving blog comments; I read online spaces I like to visit privately, because there’s something about this anonymity that comforts me, however, I was so intrigued by Hallie’s ingenious take on the Times article (turning it into a dialogue between people who set up shop with their online spaces and those who read them) I decided to take inspiration from her post and post answers to some of the questions here.

Hope you enjoy, and feel free to ask me any of the other questions from the article, which I haven’t answered. :)

Also, I’m recovering from food poisoning (don’t even ask), so I’m a little ravaged and delirious.

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Would you like to be famous? In what way? Absolutely not. Fame doesn’t interest me because fame is really about tending to an inflamed ego. While I do want people to read and care about what I create, I take pleasure in the fact that I will never be mass market; I will never have to wade through thousands of comments on this space. I get anxiety if I’ve more than 10 emails in my inbox, so I’d rather skirt the edges of things and find my tribe as it happens.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why? No. I just play it as it lays.

When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else? I sang R.E.M.’s “King of Birds” while I was writing a blog post this week (I had the video playing on loop as I type–I tend to write to music). I don’t sing in front of other people, and I think this might be the greatest gift I could give any of my friends.

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want? My body because I didn’t know, at 30, nearly as much as I do now. I’d rather have the perspective of age. However, the notion of running up a flight of stairs at 90 is thrilling. I want my body as a means to move, rather as a figment of vanity.

Name three things you and your readers appear to have in common. It’s hard because I know many folks don’t comment on some of the more personal aspects of my work, however, I will say that those who do also are on a journey of self-exploration. We’re all at different stages of it, but we’re all examining our lives and asking ourselves if we’re really living it. Which is awesome. In that way, writing these posts makes me feel less alone.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful? My friends who are my family. I don’t have any lineage to speak of–I am the last of my kind, so it feels good to be surrounded by people who truly feel that I’m their kin.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? To always see life through the eyes of a child, to never lose the sense of wonder, even as adults we’re busy chipping it away. I want to feel firsts; I want surprise; I want wide-eyes and cackling laughter.

If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know? When will I die, and how.

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it? I’ve always wanted to pick up and travel the world for a year. Truthfully, I make excuses for why I can’t do this (finances and debt burdens) and I also have a cat, and I’d be sad to leave him behind.

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life? Giving the greatest gift I could give to myself: my life back to myself, i.e., my sobriety.

What do you value most in a friendship? Loyalty, integrity, kindness, compassion.

What is your most treasured memory? Let me get back to you on this. This question actually stumped me because I don’t have one that stands apart from the rest. Oh wait, I’m answering these questions from the bottom up and it occurs to me that my sobriety stands out as a moment worth treasuring.

If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why? I’d probably leave New York the next day (sooner than my intended departure) because I want to feel what it’s like to uproot and planet anew.

What roles do love and affection play in your life? I often talk about one’s body as their home, house and refuge. I’m finally at place where I want to build and preserve this home rather than burn it to the ground. And I think, in that self-love, I’m at a place to love someone else. Candidly, my love life is one aspect of my life I’ll never share online. Maybe to let you know if I got married, but that’s pretty much it. Even my close friends consider me CIA when it comes to my love life, so there’s that.

Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your readers. Share a total of five items. You are so fucking smart, it blows my mind.

motherHow do you feel about your relationship with your mother? She was my first and only hurt. I don’t love her. I wrote about our life in my first book, and I have no interest in returning to that dark country.

If you were going to become a close friend with your readers, please share what would be important for him or her to know. I need my space and quiet. Sometimes I prefer that we not occupy every moment with chatter.

Tell your readers what you like about them; be very honest, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met. I love how many of you have brought your personal souls to bear on this space. You’ve shared intimate parts of yourself, and I know that isn’t easy and I truly am humbled by it. And while some just come here for the pictures and the recipes (and that’s fine), I love how others truly read and connect with some of the longer pieces I’ve written.

Share with your readers an embarrassing moment in your life. I was an alcoholic for the bulk of my 20s and early 30s so every weekend was pretty much an embarrassment.

When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself? I cried after I first saw my father struggling to shift in his bed after his double hip replacement surgery. I stood outside North Shore Hospital, waiting for my taxi, weeping. I don’t really cry in front of people that often, but I remember breaking down in front of my best friend when I relapsed after being sober for nearly seven years. That was a 18 months ago.

If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet? I wish I would’ve told my mother that I loved her once, but it breaks my heart that she’ll never be the mother or woman I want her to be. I’ve no interest in re-opening that door, so I’ll live with that regret and I’m fine with it.

Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? My computer. It holds all of my writing. I was initially going to say my passport, but all papers can be created anew.

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blogs worth reading: because most of them, quite frankly, blow

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Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo. Text my own.

Those who know me well know I’ve strong opinions about bloggers. I started blogging in 2000, back when people had just recovered from the detritus otherwise known as Geocities and wanted a clean space to tell great stories. I had a blogspot address (the name of which now escapes me) and I wrote about everything from the food I craved to the alcohol I really wanted to stop craving. Forever skirting the edges of things, I found my home in the online space because it was filled with people like me: zine-lovers, book-readers, misfits and people who had something to say. Nobody really paid attention to the motley lot who shared very personal aspects of their lives so publicly. For a time, we were largely left alone.

As the years passed I would also sit on the business side of the screen, and I was someone who once pitched bloggers in 2005 to someone who lead teams that pitched bloggers to someone who didn’t want to read another blog ever again. The stories gave way to inclusive communities, stylized websites and people who placed a premium on building their brand and optimizing their “content” (I’m fucking shuddering here as I type this) over offering a piece of themselves, wholly and authentically, to others. Suddenly, authenticity went from being a noun to a buzzword, and many bloggers who had done well for themselves penned lengthy posts on being authentic for your audience, but this often gets lost, or conflicts with, advice on how to style your Instagram photos and ensuring Photoshop and Reward Style are your best friends. Present your life, authentically, but be pretty about it. Because no one is going to like a grainy photo of your happiness when they can fawn over a stark image of a gleaming laptop, a monogrammed coffee mug (marred by a dot of berry lip color, because you do sip, of course) and freshly-manicured blooms.

As if one lives this way. As if these artifacts of a life represent a life. Please. I have a watch; I know what time it is.

I’ve written about the need for bloggers to act right, to fuck “content” writing, and to stop the proliferation of the bullshit aesthetic (it’s a fucking disease, I tell you), so I won’t bore you with another rant. I will tell you that I don’t read many blogs anymore, simply for the fact that they’re affiliate farms under the guise of the girl who’s your best friend. I don’t read them because scrolling through sponsored post after sponsored post is akin to getting my teeth extracted with a butter knife. I don’t read them because the act of storytelling becomes a highlighted post of the week instead of the norm. And I don’t read them because scores of people with no real business experience are trying to play the role of marketers (making my job as an executive consultant harder) without actually understanding that marketing is a real discipline and building a global brand goes far beyond pitching other bloggers.

That having been said, there are a pile of people in the online space who are knocking the socks right off my feet. Inspired by Hitha’s post, I’m listing a few bloggers who are worth reading. By the by, Hitha’s blog is worth bookmarking.

  • Mark Manson: Whenever I get the urge to get off my rocker and yell about kids today, I remember there are people like Mark Manson who are sharing real truth and insight that makes you really think about your life. Through storytelling, cultural references and a bit of humor thrown in for good measure, Manson manages to distill many of life’s tough questions into life learnings. I know that may sound trite, but I always come away from reading Mark’s articles wanting to BE BETTER. You read the “Art of Not Giving a Fuck” (that kitten, though) and try arguing with me.
  • Stripes and Sequins, soon to be The Stripe: While so many bloggers are getting it wrong, Grace is RIGHT. I met Grace through mutual friends on Twitter, and I loved her blog because I always had this feeling of discovery when I visited her space. From beauty products to workouts to travel destinations I need to hit, Grace has an unassuming way about herself and the infectious way in which she shares the things she loves. It’s rare that I’ll visit a site and feel as if I’m always discovering something new, and Grace has balanced the line of blog and business with integrity.
  • Jenny Purr: I need to send an orange kitten to the person who introduced me to Jenny Purr, because her blog is the BUSINESS. Built for bloggers and creatives, Jenny offers smart, thoughtful advice on being your best self online. While so many other bloggers have penned articles about finding their voice, growing their space, and making the most out of what they’ve created, Jenny manages to dole out advice that is fresh and free of jargon.
  • Girl Lost in the City: Truth be told, I found Emma because she found me. However, I’m glad to have stumbled onto her space because her writing is razor sharp and witty. Not only is she a tireless evangelist of people she loves, I’ve discovered so many resources and voices that have made my daily life richer. My favorite posts so far have been, “How Much of Our Success is Down to Luck” and “Why You Should Write Even if You Feel Uninspired”.
  • The Fielding Report: I just love Emily’s blog, I really do. It’s such a delight to click over and learn about all the articles she’s reading, progress on her journey to mindful living and health, and tune into her impeccable taste in home decor (I mean, her favorite color is BLUE, and in BLUE we trust). I don’t often comment on her space because, for me, it feels intrusive. I love settling into her blog and quietly enjoying it, simply for the fact that she puts so much care into what she publishes.
  • Talulaah: I dare you to read Petra’s blog because you will get sucked into a void for hours. Hers is a rabbit hole down which I want to tumble. Her images tell the most powerful stories, and her introspective, honest and lean prose style really keeps me paging through. I’ve long envied and admired her travel adventures, but I’m mostly drawn to how she sees the world, and that, I think, is the mark of a great writer.
  • I also frequently update my blogroll, so click over for a laundry list of my daily reads.

    no new friends, as drake so sagely rhymes: on age and keeping your circle tight

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    Growing up involves opening outward. We search out new experiences, wider social connections, and ways of putting our stamp on the world. When people reach the latter half of adult hood, however, their priorities change markedly. Most reduce the amount of time and effort they spend pursuing achievement and social networks…They focus on being rather than doing and on the present more than the future…If we shift as we age toward appreciating everyday pleasures and relationships rather than toward achieving, having, and getting, and if we find this more fulfilling, then why do we take so long to do it? Why do we wait until we’re old? The common view was that these lessons are hard to learn. Living is a kind of skill. The calm and wisdom of old age are achieved over time.Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal

    It’s funny how a book about death can teach one so much about life–how to hold it close to your heart, how to take its pulse and how to quicken it. We start out by wrapping our arms around the world and everything in it simply because we want to feel, know and taste everything. We are nothing if not an accumulation of our senses with the volume turned up, and when we’re young we measure our life in terms of the things we hold in our hands, progress we can see. We become box-tickers, ladder climbers, deft players of checkers and chess. Because what if we miss it? What if we refused to open ourselves up to all the possibilities? What then? When we’re young, I can’t think of a more frightening word than limits.

    Because why shouldn’t we desire the world and want everything in it? Believe me when I say the natural order of things is to oscillate wildly. There is beauty in the unknown, of feeling your way around the dark, of scraping your knees and feeling the sting of rubbing alcohol and the rip and tear of bandages. Much of youth orbits around uncertainty, and it’s perfectly normal to feel as if you are a bridge on the verge of collapse, that one errant footfall could turn you into driftwood.

    I’m starting to think of growing older as a certain kind of quiet. We once measured our worth in direct correlation to our personal velocity, of how fast and far we managed to hurtle ourselves to as many shores as we could navigate. We achieved all that our parents had designed for us, and then what? What then?

    Last year I took a meal with a woman in her twenties. Perhaps I was someone whose career she admired, or possibly I could offer her some knowledge she’d yet to acquire, but over the course of our meal I could tell that she was uncomfortable that I didn’t have all the answers. That at 38 my career was still elusive, I’d yet to marry or bear children. I wanted to tell her that the difference between us was that I was calm in the midst of the unknown. I had the armor and tools she’d yet to acquire. Although I didn’t know precisely what I wanted to do with the rest of the year, much less my life, I knew what I didn’t want, and I knew that if I kept moving toward the projects and people that make me want to bolt out of bed in the morning, I was headed in the right direction. How do you explain that age hones your GPS, or perhaps it allows you to manage the sharp turns and how to find your way back after you’ve been lost all this time?

    I left the meal exhausted, and I suppose she left flummoxed over the fact that I hadn’t “figured it all out.”

    FullSizeRenderI’ve written at length about cultivating real relationships and my violent aversion toward networking and how I’ve managed to block the barnacles. When given the choice between working a room or working my couch, clearly my heart is with the latter. Because I’ve spent the better part of fifteen years accumulating the people who matter in my life. I’ve defined for myself the traits and values that my friends should embody, and I never, ever, befriend anyone simply because they’re a connector, they’re good to know. Frankly, if I can’t share a meal with you, I don’t want to know you. In this way, I’m polarizing. I’m 39, not 25. I don’t need new people; I have my people.

    And my people are busy. I’m at the age when coordinating a lunch is the equivalent of a CIA operative. There are multiple texts, chats, calendar consultations because now we have to consider children, work, AA meetings, therapy, after-work engagements, and all the other weight we carry as the years advance. Time with my close friends, my beloveds, is so precious that when I’m with them, I’m completely present. We don’t use our phones (unless there’s an emergency) and we spend our time close, connected, because as we grow older the distance between this meal and our next grows wider. Even with my closest friends. Even with the people whom are my family.

    Over the past few years I’ve made some very clear and definitive choices about my life. I will only surround myself with people who challenge and comfort me. Our relationships are symbiotic, reciprocal, and I never leave a dinner drained–I’m always invigorated. I always want to create, build, be. I will only take on projects with people whom I respect, people who have integrity and challenge me. I don’t create “content”, I tell stories, and I’ll never write simply for the sake of churning out something for screen or paper. I will only cleave to that which nurtures me. And with all of that decisiveness comes difficult choices and awkward conversations.

    After a recent stressful holiday, my friend Amber said, in the sage words of Drake, no new friends. And I have to agree. Frankly, I don’t want piles of new friends. I’m not at the place in my life where I need to hoard and accumulate, rather it’s about a winnowing down. I want to spend my time nurturing existing relationships and rekindling old ones. I want to focus on mentoring the extraordinary women who used to work for me. That’s not to say that I haven’t met some wonderful people in the past two years (my friends Grace and Joanna immediately come to mind), however, I only seek to cultivate friendships with people where we both walk away inspired and excited. In short, while I have acquaintances and professional relationships, I make very few friends.

    Because I can’t give all of me to everyone.

    The online space is extraordinary and strange. This virtual home allows me to connect and share aspects of my life, and how I think, in a truly personal way. Writing has always helped me make sense of the world, and writers would have to be mad to not want their work to affect others. You want people to read. You want them to feel something based on what you’ve written. You want them to not only be inspired, but you hope they act, move, live their best life. Yet the flipside to that coin is that people feel as if they know the innards of you. They’ve knocked on your door and you’ve allowed them trespass to your home and somehow this makes you kin. I struggle with this, honestly. I read a lot of blogs and I rarely comment because my relationship with the blogger is one-dimensional. They serve a very selfish purpose and I’m okay with a relationship that is confined to a screen. I’m satisfied with my Twitter relationships because most are about the exchange of ideas and information. I don’t desire to meet everyone I follow because I’ve come to know a representation of that life and that’s all I need.

    I guess this is what happens when you grow older, perhaps Atul Gawande is right. Because all I want is to focus on what’s in my life, right now. And if I happen to come across someone new and extraordinary, awesome, but I’m not running toward it. There is no hurtling, there is instead a settling.

    a minor fall, a major leap: a major announcement + life change

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    Photo Credit: Alfredo Miguel Romero

    Because I want to feel something again. Because I want to come down to my knees and feel the earth beneath my hands. Because I want to be itinerant. Because I saw Tiny and said, imagine that. Because I want to do something with my hands other than type. Because I’m tired of a city where death had undone so many. Also, I’m tired of cities. Because I seek an unadulterated sky. Because I wrote a novel about a family living in the West and who knew I’d write myself to where I plan to be? Because home isn’t a place, rather it’s the people to whom you return.

    For now, let’s call my project Four Points West. Come September 2015, I will spend 3-4 months in Sante Fe, New Mexico; Helena, Montana; Seattle, WA and San Diego (or Santa Cruz, haven’t decided yet), California. I placed pins on a map and said, this is where you’ll fine me. This is where I’ll lay down my head to rest.

    As I’ve mentioned, I’ve never left the confines of New York. Sure, I’ve traveled to India, Ireland, Taiwan, Italy, UK, Prague, France, Spain, Russia, Mexico, China, Korea, Thailand, Australia, Fiji, Aruba, Bali, Denmark, Germany, Canada, Cambodia, Vietnam, but I’ve never made another place my home. Next year I will make four unexpected places my temporary home. I’ll stay in AirBNBs. I’ll retake the road test since my driver’s license expired years ago. I’ll take my cat with me. I’ll sublet my home in Brooklyn or let it go altogether. I’ll sit in a place of uncertainty, inconvenience and discomfort because it’s better than this recognizable disquiet.

    I’ve a lot to plan between now and then, but I’m exhilarated. I plan on documenting the entire journey, treating each place as if it’s a new territory, a foreign country. And while I hope to continue consulting in brand and consumer marketing, I like the idea of also doing work that requires me to do something with my hands. I guess I want to feel something more than what exists right now. I want to see how far I can go.

    Admittedly, I’m terrified. I’ve $150K in graduate loan debt. I’ve credit card debt. New York is easy in the sense that most of my work is here, even if I don’t have to venture into an office. I’m leaving the comfort of all I know in pursuit of something that may be a disaster, financial or otherwise.

    But another part of me, a small voice that was once a whisper has grown to a shout, and it says, why not?

    More to come…