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…

    the obligatory holy shit, I’m almost 40 post (another long post)

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    I haven’t been 39 for a day and already I’m realizing that next year I’ll turn 40. And before you lay into me about 40 being the new 30, you’re only as young as you feel, and all that jazz, I ask that you please slow your roll because 40 is a big fucking deal. Although I spent much of my childhood wearing the mask of an adult, I remember reacting to the thought of being thirty. That’s old, I said. When you’re small you can’t imagine counting an age beyond your ten fingers. And then something in you changes, the shift is nearly imperceptible, and you suddenly find yourself attaching fractions to your age. You pine for sixteen, eighteen and twenty-one. Perhaps you think the world will reveal itself to you in degrees, because why else would you be so desperate to shed being one of the innocent?

    I spent the day alone with my best friend’s daughter once. There was an emergency one Christmas morning–my friend’s son woke vomiting blood, the walls were a massacre of red–and I played with a small girl who was baffled over the fact that I abhor pink (god, what a heinous color!). While I wasn’t a girly girl, I was creative, and I made for a suitable playmate when she wanted to build imaginary sets for the plays we’d co-written. I marveled over her curiosity, and while we watched episodes of Strawberry Shortcake in what felt like an endless loop, I remember smoothing her hair, wanting for her to be young for as long as she possibly could, because children architect these magical worlds that adults find ways to ruin.

    Everything for children is a first, whereas adults know too much. We’ve seen things that make us want to press our eyes shut and rewind the tape. Take us back before 21, 18, 16. We want it all back. We want our world small, simple, with only our friends and family in it. I had to write a scene last night about a woman who’s taken up permanent residence in a dark country and she struggles to remember what pure, unadulterated happiness was like. That first spring. The rain of leaves. The light that broke through the trees. Bare feet swaying on a car dashboard. Witnessing a stranger kneel down and pray for the first time. I had a really hard time writing this scene because those moments felt too simplistic, ridiculous and I’ve tainted them with everything that comes after. I can’t only keep the beauty in the frame without ushering in the ugliness, the cruelty, hate, violence and fear that we’ve come to know, in degrees, as the years stumble over one another. Feeling like a sophist I let the page cool, and I hope I can return to the story with something different. Who knows. Maybe I’ll play Strawberry Shortcake episodes to get me in the mood.

    From where I sit now, the world is different. I read an article about how little one can change after they’ve turned 30, and contrary to what the author posits, I can’t even conceive how much I’ve changed in a span of 10 years. Or perhaps I’ve shed layers of skin to reveal what was always there–I can’t decide which. In ten years, I got sober, fell out of faith with a god I once worshipped (I’m spiritual, but no longer believe in a god or the binary confines of heaven and hell), discarded the need for materialistic trappings and unguided ambition, fell in love with my body after struggling with it since childhood (and realizing, much like many women my age, that I was beautiful then–why couldn’t I have seen me then as I see me now?), focused on quality over quantity in all aspects of my life, took comfort in the fact that while I don’t want to be a mother in the traditional sense of the word, I find I can be maternal in other ways, softened my view of my mother, which went from a deep, voracious hate to a sorrow, a certain kind of sadness. A few other things I’ve learned (ack! I’m entering the list terrority, something I’ve long admonished, but whatever, I’m riding on a sugar high from eating copious amounts of homemade fruit bars):

    1. You start to remember everything you’ve read: When I was at Columbia getting my Master’s, I took a class, “Poets on Poets,” and I can’t tell you how intimidating it was to hear professors and guest lecturers quote other writers and their works as if it were nothing, as if the knowledge were simply stored in this imaginary memory bank set loose onto the world when deemed necessary. My feelings of awe soon shifted to annoyance over what I thought to be pretension. Rolling my eyes I thought, if someone quotes Susan Sontag one more fucking time, until I became the person who reads and quotes from Susan Sontag and Joan Didion. I’ve read countless books, but as I grow older I realize that some of them have lingered, left their indelible mark, and I find myself quietly returning to them to ferret out new meaning. It’s sort of like going back to the familiar and taking comfort that this is a place you’ve navigated before. And I’ve got just the Susan Sontag quote for this, people!!!

    In all of this, I am assuming a certain idea of literature, of a very exalted kind. I’m using the word “writer” to mean someone who creates, or tries to create, literature. And by “literature” I mean — again, very crude definition — books that will really last, books that will be read a hundred years from now.

    2. Not everyone will love or like you, and this is okay: Years back, a slew of catty book bloggers wrote some very unkind words about me online and I was DEVASTATED. This was before the advent of GOMI and other forums where people talk smack about other people–this was 2006 and I remember my face getting hot and how I cried about people who were so fucking mean. I wanted so desperately to be popular, to be liked, and the fact that there were people in this world who think I’m shit was hard to deal with. Now I don’t care. Admittedly, I’m a hard person to know and I’m flawed, but what matters to me are how I, and those whom I respect and love, feel about me. Everything else is superfluous, peripheral noise that I tune out.

    That’s not to say that I don’t listen to criticism or constructive feedback. One has to in order to grow as a person and artist, and if someone cares enough to give me feedback in a way that’s meant to take me to a better place, I think, why not listen? It’s always worth listening to, and identifying what part (s) of, feedback resonate. I had a mentor, whom I adore, who would always pull me into his office to give me feedback on how I was managing staff. He once told me that I wore my emotions on my sleeve entirely too much, and a good leader has to be like a parent–almost always calm, always in solutions mode–and this shit was hard to hear. I was defensive and kind of bitchy, but then I realized that this person didn’t have to take the time out of his day to make me a better leader. And when I refined certain aspects of my character did I find that he was right. Sometimes you need to hear hard truths in order to become better, smarter, stronger.

    3. I don’t have FOMO because I’d almost always rather be at home: This coming from someone who was once known as the “mayor”! I threw grand parties, attended them, was always double-booked, and grew miserable as a result. I didn’t realize I was an introvert living an extrovert lifestyle, and I’d often get wasted just to get through making the rounds at a party or I existed in a perpetual state of exhaustion. As I grew older I realized I didn’t need to be everywhere and do everything. I needed to have quality moments with people I admire, respect and love. Which leads me to…

    4. I have a circle of ten and that’s about it: Chalk it up to unpopularity all throughout high school, but I used to be consumed with having SO.MANY.FRIENDS. Now I don’t have the time or energy for volume. I have a solid crew of less than ten friends for whom I’d lay down my life. These are a mix of women I’ve known for the greater part of my adult life–friends who saw me through addiction and relapse and knew me when I was a lesser person but stuck around because they saw the potential for me to change–and women with whom I’ve gotten incredibly close in the past few years. And while I may not see most of them as often as I’d like (some are mothers, one lives in Connecticut), when I do see them it’s as if we’ve picked up the conversation exactly where we’d left off.

    My friends are strong, brilliant, beautiful, remarkable, tough, and don’t necessarily hold my social, economic and political views. Over the years I’ve learned about the importance of being taught by others. I’ve a close friend who’s a staunch Republican, and while it’s challenging to know that we don’t share the same opinions on how we want this country run, I’ve learned a great deal from her: how it’s important to understand your opponent and not simply ignore them, how we have to find some common ground if we want change. That there is some truth to what we both believe in, and it’s about how we can meld those truths into the greater good.

    What I’ve also learned? I’ve become suspicious of women who don’t have long-term close girlfriends. I’ve also learned that it’s okay to have quarterly friends–people whom I like and admire, but I don’t have to see them every day.

    5. I’ve been more socially active than I’ve ever been in my life: In college, we were told that we were the apathetic generation. Gen X didn’t care about anything. We were a-political, fatalistic. And for many years I didn’t care about geopolitics and didn’t advocate as loudly as I could have for the things I believe in. Now, all of it matters more than it ever did. Now, I can’t shut up about feminism, gay rights, racism, the fact that the U.S. isn’t morally superior because we apparently have no qualms about raping and murdering our own citizens. Now, I can’t stop reading about the politics in other countries. I can’t stop finding new sources to read. After Ferguson, I realized how “white” my news was, and I made it a point to find different sources. I made a point to be uncomfortably comfortable, which leads me to…

    6. Travel is a huge part of my life: There are people who have the means to travel but don’t even have a passport and I don’t understand it. It’s as if the U.S. is enough. And it’s not, at all. It was only through traveling the world did I begin to see it differently. I’d been exposed to cultures I read about through the veil of an Anglo-Saxon or Americanized point of view. I’ve traveled to countries that aren’t necessarily “safe.” I’ve stood in streets watching anti-American rallies. You learn through context, and I feel as if I have a more complex view of America from having traveled outside of it. This year I went to Korea, Thailand, India, Spain, Ireland, and I have so much to see, so many places to go.

    7. I let shit go: This is hard for a type-A control freak, but there are just some people, situations and events I’ll never be able to change and I have to accept that. I have to make a certain kind of peace with so much that exists beyond my reach. But this has taken an extraordinary amount of time and self-reflection. It’s only until recently that I’ve let go of the fact that I spent nearly four years of my life working for a man I didn’t like much less respect. Now, I try to learn from the things I can’t control. That, I think, is the greatest change I’ve seen in my life–that it’s imperative that I not stop learning. That I not be complacent. That I not simply exist to be constantly comfortable. That I not be changeless. That I not be open to change. That I not be receptive to criticism.

    It never is what you want it to be, and that’s okay. It can be something else entirely.

    +++

    This is the thing I hate about lists–they never fully encapsulate the whole of everything, or any one thing. However, if I look at the woman I was at 16, 18, 21, and now, I can say that I’m calmer, quieter, kinder, and less insecure. The threadline through all of the years, I realized yesterday, is my writing. I’ve spent the greater part of this year wondering what it is I plan on doing with my life, and then it occurred to me that I only want to write. The writing can take different shape and form, but it’s the only thing that gives me shelter. It’s the one thing to which I can return and it never fails to challenge or excite me.

    So maybe that’s what I’ve learned at 39, the year before I turn 40? I want to write, always.

    on turning 39 next week, on loss, love and all of it

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    What cracks had he left in their hearts? Did they love less now and settle for less in return, as they held onto parts of themselves they did not want to give and lose again? Or–and he wished this–did they love more fully because they had survived pain, so no longer feared it? ― Andre Dubus, Dancing After Hours

    There was a moment last week when I looked away from my reflection in the mirror and wondered if I should get Botox. Me, an anti-botulism crusader, getting garbage injected into my face? Suffice it to say, it was a low moment and one that passed as swiftly as it arrived.

    our last day I stroke a child’s hair. The blondness of it, the fineness of it, the mess of it, disturbs me, and I ask myself as I’ve asked myself countless times before, do I want this? Would it be possible to go at it alone? The child’s head is small, fragile in my hands, and I tacitly acknowledge that this isn’t what I want. I can’t imagine a life other than my own taking shelter inside this body. And I think about the time when I lost Sophie, when my grief was as large as an ocean, and everyone not understanding the depth of my loss and how I nearly drowned from the undertow. They said, I’m so sorry for your loss in the same breath as asking me for a favor. Can I connect them with someone in my network? Could they pick my brain with their scalpel and surgical tools? Imagine if you lost your seven-year-old child? Imagine if your child died in your hands? Their last breath lumbering out as you wondered whether you had been kind, whether you had done everything that there was to do. You think this is why you can’t have children because you’d find ways to kill them. You can’t remember a time when you were a child, when your job wasn’t to parent, to mother, to carry a woman down six flights of stairs to an awaiting taxi, to recite the address of Maimonides Hospital because you knew it by heart, because you made this trip countless times before. You completed the forms because your mother’s hands couldn’t stop shaking and watched The Late Show on the television that hung overhead while people bled, slept and moaned in the waiting room. You wondered if they’d ever get around to painting the walls. You wondered how long this time. Could she do this for you? Would she? You calculated the time from now until you’d have to carry her again, and as an adult you’d read about The Ouroboros and wondered if this myth was simply a retelling of your childhood with a serpent thrown in for good measure. Replace the snake with a child and you’ll see what happens when a child is forced to an extreme–to feed itself, care for itself, endure itself, waste itself, consume itself in order to inch through another day.

    No, no children for me.

    Let’s talk about a cat who was breathing and a cat who stopped breathing, and how you now exist in the silences after that loss? You now exist in the space after the body has been wrapped like a little package and delivered to an incinerator. Your father, not your real one, once tells you that when he dies he wants to be burned. None of this below the ground business with worms in his eyes. Spread me out in the water, he urges, and you nod and take note of a time when you’ll have to endure another burning. Let me ask you this: wouldn’t you take me by the neck–just so that I can feel what it’s like to watch a final rise and fall of a small chest–if I mapped out an appropriate timetable for your grief? I spend time and money on weddings and baby showers I’ve no interest in attending, and not one of these people helped shoulder my grief or sent a card or a gift when a new cat, my child, entered my home.

    When you get older, you start to see people as they really are and this sometimes breaks your heart.

    Parsnips, beets, zucchini, kale, greens, cabbage, carrots–I write these words down in the middle of a day that rains to remind myself of what I’ve eaten because I tend to forget things if they aren’t written down. But I never forget cat food, toys or vet visits. I tell myself that this time with Felix I’ll be good. I won’t slip. I’ll do everything I can to avoid a sky burial. I’ll do everything I can to not sit in another hospital where I have to deliberate my options, where I have to sign here, here and also, there.

    Can I pause and tell you that having lost Sophie still breaks my fucking heart? Makes me cry on cue even now, even after all this time?

    motherOccasionally someone will inquire, with a mixture of fear and curiosity, whether I want children. I’ve still got time, they think. I respond that I wasn’t built for bearing. I’ve already raised a child who gave birth to another child, a half-sister, and I never received a card or a word of thanks for sacrificing my childhood for her adulthood. Funny how time sorts things.

    In December it rains constantly and I fear that I’ve become the kind of writer who’s good at blog posts and corporate narratives and little else. I worry that what I’ll leave behind is a book about The Ouroboros that was my life, a story I can’t even read without wincing. A story, I realize now, I wrote too young. Had I written that story now, it would have been a landscape painted grey, solemn and quiet. I would’ve been careful with my words; I would’ve laid down a blanket over my rage.

    You had a friend once and she drank as much as you did and then some. She wrote beautiful, dark stories–the kind you always wish you could write, stories published in The New Yorker and then by Knopf. The stories are delicate and breakable, and this puts you to thinking that you’re only able to write about people who do the breaking, people who are broken. You can never write about that space between the two–not yet broken but not whole, complete–when the characters are simple, tragic and beautiful.

    But when you were both drunk, going one for one until you both saw black, you don’t think about the stories you could or could not write. You’re the story and you’re tragic and simple and perhaps beautiful, but you’ll never know this. You’ll only realize it when someone else writes about it, and you read a story with a hint of nostalgia, the this person sounds familiar, until you realize that person is you and you’re a character in a story rather than a real person who didn’t have a beautiful life. This is your life. You’re some drunk girl in someone else’s story. They didn’t even get your lines right. And then it occurs to you that the someone who wrote this story was you and you wish that the story hadn’t been written in the first place. But that’s your book, your story, and you deal with it.

    Years later, that friend who writes The New Yorker stories will accept your Facebook invitation for friendship even though you were once friends, but this relationship is different, safe, relegated to computer screens instead of bars and men flickering the lights shouting last call. You don’t dare see one another because you can’t bear to be with someone who reminds you that you were the kind of person you want to forget. Remember that time when we were supposed to go to that reading in that famous bar downtown? We met for a bite close to the bar and we ended up splitting two bottles of wine. We left our food cold. Remember when we walked into the bar and it was quiet and we giggled and guffawed and spoke in octaves? Remember when your best friend at the time practically pressed her hand over your mouth because that famous writer was reading, the room was attentive, silent, and couldn’t you see that? No, not really. We left and talked about how the famous writer’s stories weren’t as good as they used to be.

    When she accepts your invitation for friendship you’re both sober. She’s on the verge of marriage. You’re not. She’s on the verge of publishing her collection of stories with Knopf. You’re not. Even though her work is good, really good, you wonder this: why didn’t this happen to me? The marriage, the stories, the Knopf, all of it.

    When you get older, you sometimes wonder whether this is your life. All of it. You realize it’s nearly impossible to reconcile the woman you used to be and her wants with the person you are with her needs. You selfishly wonder if what you have, who you are, is ever enough.

    I read a lot of lists. Apparently it’s the vogue thing to do to compile lists of things you’ve learned in your 20s once you turn 30. As if a number has the propensity to shift your life beyond measure. As if a number has that much power. I try not to be an asshole about it and realize that people need lists to sort out where they are in their lives–they need a demarcation of then and now and what’s happened in the space in between. Their lists are binary in nature, and I can’t argue this too much because I wrote a book that colored in the lines, a story that worshipped at the altar of black and white, and it’s not until I’ve had a few more years did I realize that there’s all this grey I’d been missing. That the delineations are no longer finite. There is no cutoff of what I’ve learned from 30 to 39, rather there’s what I’ve learned from being a kid until now. I need the kid to stay in the picture to understand the adult typing this now.

    The lessons in these lists people write, share and nod along with, are no longer definitive and finite, instead they become somewhat obtuse: the loses are palpable; the relationships richer and smaller; the love is deeper and beautiful and dark and all of that; the hellos and goodbyes aren’t what they used to be; the work isn’t what we thought it would be, and sometimes we can’t define what it is that we want but we know exactly what it is that we don’t want; we’re urgent about the things we never considered and calmer about the things that used to make us rage; sometimes we listen to songs we used to love because they temporarily take us back to a place (remember that place!), and then we don’t listen to those songs for long stretches of time because they remind of us of that same place (remember that place…); we scan the updates and holiday cards from people we know or who we’ve come to know and realize that the people we once knew are so different they’re nearly unrecognizable while others continue to surprise us.

    at the zoo barTwenty years ago I sat in a cold dorm room and played REM, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I wore flannels over tight black shirts, and baseball hats. I’d only just started drinking and I liked it. A lot. Maybe too much, but not yet, not yet, give it a decade in time. My mother waitressed in a diner and she was what I came home to for the holidays. I considered iceberg lettuce a vegetable. I ate a lot of pasta. I told everyone who would listen that I wanted to be an investment banker like Gordon Gekko without the prison record. I read American Psycho for the first time and said, I want to write books like that. My best friend and I wandered into the cafeteria drunk during the day while everyone was sober and watching and curious and we didn’t care. We wore flannels and baseball hats and talked about the guys who were in crew. We stirred white spaghetti around on our plates. We dumped the trays on the floor. We didn’t pick them up. I started to create a life that I found in a J.Crew catalog. I left Brooklyn behind. I came home drunk one night and scrawled in black marker on a metal door a note to a girl who left me in a bar in the city. I wrote over and over, how could you leave? I wrote a story that I secretly submitted to the college literary journal and the editor stopped me on the way to the cafeteria and asked me if I’d written this. He had my story folded in his hands. He said, I know you. You take finance classes. The story was about my mother. The magazine was called Ampersand, I think. I wrote it, every word, is it any good? It’s good. He held the paper tight in his hands and shook it, as if the words on the page could possibly explain to him the space between the girl who wanted to be a banker and drank five dollars worth of fifty-cent drafts and the girl who had no idea how to be a woman. He looked at me and then down at the paper trying to reconcile the two, and I remember saying, they’re both me. Back then I didn’t know what I was saying but I do now.

    But what do I know? I know more about some things and less about others. I know what it’s like to live a life without anesthesia, without plotting from one drink to the next and I try to share that with others who privately struggle. I know what it’s like to fall in love with your body at 38 and wish you’d had that affection at 24. I know what it’s like to be risky in your life and your writing and how it sometimes hurts to see the words you put down on the page. Yet, there’s so much I don’t know. I don’t know what it’s like to love someone beyond measure. I don’t know if what I’m doing is good enough or just good for right now. I’m not as fluent in Spanish as I used to be. I still play oldsongs but stop them midway. I write blog posts like these that are complete in some ways and incomplete in others.

    Maybe this is what I’ve learned: once I think I have the answers, I start asking new questions.

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    why I will never shop at j.crew again (or a lesson in brand loyalty) — a rant

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    Let me tell you a story about a lifelong love affair…with a brand. We met in the most unlikely of places–a college mailroom, where the object of my affection was shoved into hundreds of mailboxes, eager to find me amidst the lunchtime rush. This was a time when people still wrote letters, affixed stamps onto envelopes (there was no fancy adhesive so we just did the thing that others who had come before us did, we licked), and pored over catalogs. We’d been dating for over a year, and much like a faithful, long-distance girlfriend, I wore his barn coat ($98), wool rollneck sweater in oatmeal ($48; this was before the advent of more fanciful colors like puce and heather river) and wool henleys in an act of devotion. I’d fallen in love with someone who possibly lived in the Ozarks or Colorado or somewhere in the bucolic U.S.. During lunch, I scanned the pages, painted scenery of weather-beaten rocks and cabin homes lodged beyond a great, vast forest.

    This was a time when people began to use summer and winter as verbs. One could arguably say that these were the best of times and the worst, because how could we know the future that lay ahead of us with our gadgets that serve as extensions of our limbs and a small box of a machine that would become our Wonderland. Just call us Alice and watch us tumble into the deep. But not yet, not yet. Right now few people used email (DOS, anyone?) much less understood it, and we purchased our clothing from department stores, boutiques or mail-order catalogs.

    Can I tell you that the object of my affection was different from the rest? Sure, I had affairs with L.L. Bean (their snow/rain boots are! the! best!) and Victoria’s Secret (back when we thought it cool to order bras from catalogs, the irony of which you’ll read about soon enough), but I was committed to J.Crew. J.Crew, know that Sinead O’Connor crooned “Nothing Compares to You” after she slipped on your barn coat in burgundy and wool sweater in charcoal grey.

    I don’t talk about my work on this space simply because I don’t want to. I spend much of my days playing the role of a professional, and there are some spaces where the introduction of this costume would serve as a cruel intrusion–namely, this space. However, last week I found myself so enraged, so disappointed, that I have to talk about it. The intersection of how I think and what I love came to bear. For the past 17 years, I’ve been working in one capacity or another in marketing. For most of my career, I worked in consumer marketing–a role that required me to know how to sell products or ideas to consumers, how to tell stories. However, in the past two years, I’ve focused on brand marketing. The brand side has become challenging in a way that consumer marketing, and its social and digital antecedents, have begun to bore me. How do you architect a brand? What are its pillars? How do you position it? How do you craft benefit language for the consumer in a way that’s compelling? What’s their “Reason to Believe”? For the past two years, I’ve been taking the discipline of branding and brand definition and using it in brand building and transformation projects. How do you change perception? How do establish yourself and your identity in a sea of competitors who clamour for consumer dollars? The work is heady, more strategic than the consumer marketing tactics I’d deployed previously, but it felt like how an advanced yoga student would return to a basics class to relearn the poses and become reaquainted with the foundation.

    Before I could market products to customers, I had to deeply understand, for each of my projects, why a consumer would love a particular brand’s product and how they, in turn, would fall in love with the brand. I’m not going to get into the details of this because I can tell you that I’m already bored writing about it, but I was reminded of my 18+ year commitment to J.Crew, and how, in one year, the brand fucked it all up.

    First, let’s talk about the quality of the goods, shall we? If you think J.Crew has exceptional cashmere, you have never owned exceptional cashmere. I’m going to pull a “remember when” and you’re just going to have to deal with it. REMEMBER WHEN J. Crew sold thick, double-ply cashmere that didn’t pill after a single use and get ratty after a year, making you regret the MILLION DOLLARS YOU SPENT ON THAT VIOLET SWEATER THAT WASN’T CALLED VIOLET, BUT LABELED SOME OBSCURE HUE? Remember when J. Crew sold wool that wasn’t cut with cheap acrylic? Remember when they didn’t hock acrylic sweaters for $118 a pop? I DO. You can give me the song and dance marketing story, replete with elevated fonts and pictures of Italian factories and fields, but nothing can replace sense memory. My clothes used to last longer, feel better, and no amount of bullshit marketing tactics, gleeful Jenna-loving bloggers and resplendent photoshoots are going to change that.

    J.Crew, your clothes have gone to the crazies, and I know, deep in your heart, you know this. And don’t even get me started on Madewell, your insouciant younger sister, because the acrylic sweaters I once purchased on sale? I wear them AROUND THE HOUSE.

    As a result of the poor quality, and some questionable designs, I haven’t shopped at J.Crew for nearly two years (save the Minnie pant and the Tippi sweater, both purchases put me to thinking that I’ve been trapped in some 1960s film where everything has shrunk and every woman’s name ends in an “i”). I turned to Madewell, to only realize that their clothes are the antithesis of their name (a cruel tease when expensive clothes fall apart after a single season).

    Can I interrupt here? Can I tell you that I loved (and patroned) J. Crew for three reasons:
    1. I hate shopping. I hate stores. I hate fitting rooms. I hate people. And J. Crew made my life simple. They sold quality classics online and in catalogs, both from which I could order from the privacy of my own home.

    2. I aspired to their simplified, whitewashed version of a life. For years, before the fashionable Jenna-inspired “edits” and cool girls looking drunk in catalogs, the J.Crew lifestyle was simple, cozy, aspirational, yet accessible, and all I wanted to do come winter was swathe myself in one of their sweater-blankets, light a faux-fire and sip cocoa with organic, non-GMO puffed marshmallows. While my life, and racial identity, was this constant specter that hovered, J. Crew offered escapism and free shipping.

    3. I naively thought that J.Crew was a brand that loved their customers. Oh friends, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Setting aside the questionable quality for the insane prices (I was patient though; I would wait for Crew’s triumphant autumn return), let’s dive a little into brand love, which sent this whole rage blackout on its course.

    You should know that I don’t share my personal identifiable information with just anyone. I have Inbox Zero. I don’t subscribe to many newsletters. I’ve gone to great lengths to have my name and address removed from scores of mailing lists. I had a rage blackout when the TREE THAT WAS THE RESTORATION HARDWARE CATALOG landed on my doorstep. You’ll often find me on the phone with some customer service representative telling them that no, I do not want their catalog, and no, I would never shop at Fingerhut. I don’t want a complicated life, and because of this, I buy clothes from a handful of brands I trust.

    AND THEN I RECEIVED THE VICTORIA’S SECRET CATALOG. I have a long, contentious history with VS, which I won’t document here, but suffice it to say I am not their customer. I do not want to be on any of their lists, etc, etc. So when I received their catalog for the third time, I decided to deploy a friendly inquisition. After speaking with multiple customer service representatives and two supervisors, I learned that Victoria’s Secret purchased my information from J.Crew.

    You may think my reaction was dramatic, but who cares? I felt BETRAYED. I immediately called J.Crew and launched into a tirade about how I was “disappointed,” how I checked off that I never wanted my information to be shared, sold or communicated to any other company–I don’t even give my email at checkout! I was assured by my rather flummoxed and just-as-shocked-as-you representative that it’s against J.Crew’s policy to share/sell customer information. The representative promised to look into the matter and call me back.

    No one ever called me back.

    Perhaps because she was made aware of the fact that J.Crew does share customer information. I learned this because after speaking to a few more ill-informed representatives (did anyone get a CSR manual from J. Crew on their policies and procedures, because the clue phone has been ringing off the hook and no one is picking up on their end) and sending emails to their 24/7 email line, I received this note as part of a longer email thread:

    While we do occasionally share addresses with third party companies, those companies are only allowed to send one piece of mail and are unable to add the customer to their mailing list. We are able to turn this sharing “off” upon request which the associate you spoke with should have been aware of and offered to you.

    Interesting. So when I opted to not have my information shared, my information was shared anyway. In marketing, we like to call this erosion of brand trust. Or, a violation of CAN-SPAM if you want to get legal about it. Another call to their customer service line, a request to have my information removed from their database, was met with this terse reply: If you can’t tell me your phone number or email, how can I possibly remove you from our database? To which I calmly responded, I don’t know. My address? My catalog ID #? She put me on hold for ten minutes and then I got disconnected. Classy.

    This post has gotten so long that I’m not going to even go into J.Crew’s lack of floor service in their Flatiron and Soho locations. When I’m routinely asked, Did someone assist you with your purchase today? I’m often left to respond, no, no one helped me with my purchase today.

    A lot of rookie marketers will conceive of grand campaigns to lure customers from one consideration set to another. They will transform their site and social channels into “content machines” where your feed is flooded with “information you can use” delivered by a “human voice.” Self-appointed gurus will prattle on about how content is king, but let me break it down real slow:

    CONSUMERS DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT YOUR CONTENT IF YOU’RE FAILING THEM AS A BRAND.

    Do I give a shit about J.Crew’s newsletters and 24/7 stylists when half their customer service staff doesn’t even understand their policies on how a customer’s information can be shared/marketed? Do I give a shit about their Cyber Monday sale when I’m spending more money than I used to for a subpar product? Marketers, me being one of them, are used to dousing glitter over shit and calling it glitter, but customers aren’t stupid. If a brand can’t get the basics right: product, product value and proposition, and service, they will never care about the glitter. Stupid people care about glitter. Informed, discerning customers, who value their money and service, care about a good product and a brand that’s honest.

    When I wrote J.Crew a long, heartfelt letter telling them why they lost me as a customer, much of their response was: “We’ll forward your information to the appropriate department.”

    Yeah. I think it’s about time we see other people. Cuyuna, Everlane, Banana Republic with your comeback cashmere and sweaters, Rag & Bone–meet your new customer.

    In case you’re wondering, I’m wearing a few new favorites: Banana Republic lovely cashmere open cardi, wool crew sweater and the softest wool coat.
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    what happened to the years, all of them?

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    What happened to the years? All of them? You go to sleep one evening at 29 and wake, restless, a decade later. You wonder about time, how you managed to lose it as if it were some loose change that escaped through a hole in your pocket. When you were 29 you prayed to a god you now no longer believe in. You drank red wine until the curtain call, until the room, and everyone in it, faded to black. You never noticed the barnacles but now they’re everywhere. You had a great love once. You remember that one trip to Utah and the red wool hat you wore–a hat, a piece of fabric that you now find difficult to throw away–and how the two of you were this terrific photograph until the film got developed and you drank to drown out the sound of the other’s voice. Right now, as I type this, I can’t recall where I’ve kept the red hat or whether I still have it. Did I throw it out last year when I was thick in the business of minimalism?

    I’ll look later.

    Now you wonder about that kind of love, whether it’s possible. A love so great it threatens to complete. And we read our love stories and wonder what came first: the real or the fiction. Talk instead of a love that sustains. But first let me tell you story, about a man who held a woman’s quaking hands and promised her that there would be no ocean he would not swim through. He traced the lines of her palms with his fingers, which put her heart on pause, and told her he would follow her into the dark because he knew she had built a home, a life, there. He promised her new homes, new lives, and she was 29 and believed this. She wanted to believe in the maths not the history. In a few months time, they would abandon their love because they were selfish people (they admitted this truth, albeit in voices that crept above a whisper). He chose a false sun and she chose the real dark, and they stood in their respective corners, safe.

    At 38, I wrote a whole book about love. Through a cast of characters I tried to find the ones who would climb into the heart of someone else’s darkness, and it turns out that I couldn’t reconcile the maths and I was writing textbook history. That’s not really true, though. I made the mentally ill the brave. A baker, who hears voices and plays the role of marionette with her play puppets, is ultimately the one who bears sacrifice. She is the one who loves but it’s not the love the peanut-crunching masses like. I used to read those fairy tales and love stories when I was small and I didn’t believe them then. And if I couldn’t believe when I was one of the innocent, how can you expect me to believe now?

    Last year, a friend drove me around in her car. I was broken, exhausted, hungover. Rarely, if ever, do I ask anyone for help, but that morning I called her and said I needed her. That I was breaking, broken, the pieces are all over the damn house–can you come over with a broom and sweep me up? She came and we got in her car and she drove around Brooklyn, and it reminded me of when I was a teenager and my pop would drive us around Long Island whenever my mother decided to go to the crazies. We didn’t have any specific location in mind, we just drove until the gas ran out. I told my friend this. And then we got to talking about love, and she heard me for a time, going on about how love was always a mopping down, a sweeping up, and in a small voice she told me that I was wrong. That love actually wasn’t hard. Everything after it was. Love isn’t the same thing as loss, she said, to which I was responded that I didn’t know of any other way. Because I always lost the people I loved. I could tell she wanted to be delicate with her words because I was fragile, in a state of disrepair (basement flooded, wood rotting, bulbs sizzling in the dark, and the like), so she spoke about the inevitability of loss, how people come in and out of our lives, and that’s simply life, rather than the byproduct of love. I’d gotten the equations all mixed up because I cleaved to the history.

    I read sincere blog posts written by women on the verge of turning 30. They write about being “old,” “not feeling their age,” “how things change,” and I wonder if we ever really feel our years. Do we wake up one day and think, I feel 38 today! Why do we ascribe so much weight to two digits, because they’ll inevitably bend and fold from our summations, our constant leaning? When I was 29 I was an alcoholic who couldn’t bear the weight of that label. So I kept drinking. When I was 29 I was in love with someone who was incapable of love. When I was 29 I was writing a book about my mother that at 38 I wish I could have rewritten. When I was 29 I had no idea what I wanted from the rest of my life but I know it wasn’t this. Looking around, I said back then, let it not be this.

    At 38, on the verge of 39 (!!!), all I can say is that I know more but I’m hopelessly nostalgic and somewhat romantic (where did this come from? The chart shows no history of the romantics), and when I read this bit from Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable, I found myself nodding along,

    Now that I’m almost never the youngest person in any room I realize what I miss most about those times is the very thing that drove me so mad back when I was living in them. What I miss is the feeling that nothing has started yet, that the future towers over the past, that the present is merely a planning phase for the gleaming architecture that will make up the skyline of the rest of my life. But what I forget is the loneliness of all that. If everything is ahead nothing is behind. You have no ballast. You have no tailwinds either. You hardly know what to do because you’ve hardly done anything. I guess this is why wisdom is the consolation prize of aging. It’s supposed to give us better things to do than stand around and watch in disbelief as the past casts long shadows over the future.

    She continues to write what I think–that knowing more isn’t the true prize for having endured the years. Often we’ll stand in between our former and present selves and watch as the chasm between the two widens. We can’t bear the loss of time, the years, all of it, because the very thought of it puts our hearts on pause just as the anticipation for what was to come quickens it. So our heart beats for what will and what was, but all the while I wonder am I beating for what is.

    I try to think of this in simple terms. At 29, I was too frightened of the world alcoholic and couldn’t imagine a world without wine in it. At 38, I miss being 29 but no longer feel the weight of the sum of those fears because alcoholic is one of the hundreds of words that compose me. I am not defined by one noun. As you can see there’s a lot that occupies the space between those 9 years and 11 months, but what I think about, right now, at 38, is that I’ve quietly helped dozens of friends who struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. I’m able to be present for them and share not wisdom, but experience. I don’t give them knowledge, but rather compassion and empathy. At 29, I hated my mother. At 38 I wish I could go back and paint a canvas of a life that has the perspective that comes from deciphering the grey from all the black, however, right now I’m sometimes sad that I don’t have what others take for granted even if my life is richer, saner and healthier without her in it.

    Next month I turn 39, and while I don’t feel 39, I don’t fears the years either. Instead, I want my heart to quicken again. I want it to suddenly pause and stop. Not just for love, but for life, for the here and the now. I want the what was, what will be to be what is. Imagine a heart beating so fast it threatens to complete.

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    mediocrity is the new black

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    When I was small, I sat down with a piece of paper and wrote and rewrote a single word fifteen times. I wrote the word, crossed it out and wrote it again. I was eight, and the assignment was to write a haiku about our family, someone we loved. I had one of those black notebooks where the cover was stiff and the pages inside were lined, thick. I had the word voice, because when I was small my mother’s voice was the loudest sound. It was the only sound. But it wasn’t enough to simply say that it was loud, no, there was something else. Something nefarious, ominous. It took me some time but I ended up writing a haiku–three lines, 5/7/5–that likened my mother’s voice to thunder. That was the word I’d been looking for. Thunder.

    I was 8.

    My grade school published an annual, which amounted to stapled sheets of colored paper filled with our poems, stories and meager hand-drawings. The cover was pale yellow and the interior blue, and the teachers had published all of my poems. When my mother thumbed through it I remember her saying the word thunder out loud and smiling. I’m not sure if she was proud of the word I’d chosen or if she was happy to have been written about. She was pleased with the attention, and that, for much of my life she would be my singular subject. I suspect, in one way or another, she’ll always find her way into my work.

    In the movie Wall Street, financier Gordon Gekko tells a young Bud Fox, The most valuable commodity I know of is information. While Gekko was referring to insider information, the innards of a company not published in an annual report but rather strung up in the insides of gleaming offices, that quote, among others, remained with me. I always believed the most valuable asset one could have was knowledge. The journey was in its acquisition, so I spent much of my childhood and life in constant study. I read voraciously, I listened assiduously, and I saw worlds unfamiliar to me–India, the assault of color and shape–all in an effort to see, to know. I translate that world, or at the very least, make sense of it, through prose. I work it out on paper, on screen, and in the end what I’ve learned changes shape and form and becomes something new altogether. This is high art to me, and I hadn’t known of any other world where knowledge, information, was then used and transformed into art. The beauty of it was individuality. The way a child hears the timbre of her mother’s voice and how she may think of wind chimes (you can practically feel the softness, the lyrical quality of it, right?), while another writes, emphatically, thunder (the dark, the sharp, the edge of night like knives cutting into things).

    When I was in graduate school, I wrote a lot of pretty stories about angry people. The stories were long, filled with what word technicians would call exposition: a pile of pretty sentences that don’t amount to much. All of my life I hunted and gathered for words, but the problem now was I had too many of them. And I remember sitting in Nathan Englander’s office (he was my teacher for a time), and he printed out two copies of a short story I’d written and one page was filled, FILLED, with red (a bloodletting!) and the other was a clean copy where he’d written some notes on the margins. It took everything in me to not burst into the tears when I saw the butchery, but he taught me about the value of economy. That the most powerful way to show people the world was through the simplest of words. But those words had to work. They had to be a nesting doll, a possessor and deliverer of multiple meanings, and after, I spent years performing surgery on my work. I asked myself, how can I understand and then, how can I show? So that you can see. So that you can learn. So that you can create. And so that others can create. This mutation, it’s a site to see. And so on.

    But now something’s changed. The most value commodity I know of is attention. I think about the movie Boogie Nights, where a young Mark Wahlberg loosely portrays the 70s porn king, John Holmes (Johnny Wad, if you must). In one scene, Wahlberg bounces up and down on the bed in his childhood room in his parent’s house. He’d just made love to a woman and he says, Everyone has one thing, you think? I mean, everyone’s given one special thing, right? That’s right. Everyone’s blessed with one special thing. I want you to know I plan on being a star. A big, bright shining star. That’s what I want.

    It’s 2014 and everyone wants to be a big, bright shining star.

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    I think about this in the car when I’m with two friends and we’re driving from the airport in Bangkok to the hotel from which I’m writing this now. I think about this when I’m in this car and I see a sign that reads, Service staff are not polite. My friend next to me points at the sign, we read it aloud and laugh, and then I pause because there’s something that threads between our hunger for attention, see me, see me, and the very cold honest nature of the words printed and displayed when one is welcomed into a new city. It’s there, I just can’t see it yet.

    Later on that day we visit a mall where each floor is designed to represent a famous city: Rome, San Francisco, Paris, etc. We eat Thai food in a restaurant and nearly everyone is photographing something. Two girls fastidiously arrange their hair, their face, for a series of photos, selfies, they take in front of their food which has gone cold. There’s me taking a picture of the food on my plate. There’s a couple buried in the bowels of their phone. Everyone is participating in the world through a filter, a lens, and I set down my camera and realize how this bothers me. There’s art in that for sure, but if there is this omnipresent interruption, are we then not able to see? Not able to get this information, create this art? I’m not sure.

    I go to bed early and wake at 4:30am to read this interview:

    Into this culture of resistance that New York has always personified has come this incredible middle class thinking. Which is all about consensus. It isn’t diversity. The individual is not empowered anymore in our culture. The overriding value is to fit in—not make waves. You can’t network if you’re too individual, and there is an incredible taste for mediocrity in the world.

    We all feel superior to bad work. Makes us feel good. But the truth is, that doesn’t give you anything. When you see really good work, when you experience excellence, it makes you question yourself in very harsh ways. But you’re uplifted by the excellence of good work. But we’re living in a time where mediocrity is the new black.

    I close my laptop and try to sleep but I can’t. The interview puts me to thinking about a conversation I’d just had where I talked about being frightened of the whitewashing, the homogeneity of the work online and the composition of a superstar blogger. The Photocopy Culture. Certainly, there is individuality, democratized art, and those who break ranks. I read Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Essays and it makes me question my work. It makes me want to take a scalpel in order to get deeper, to see if there’s something else I could say. Excellence pushes me, challenges me, makes me work harder to learn, see, create and share, but the thing is I’m seeing a lot less excellence and a lot more mediocrity.

    I realize this is a lot to unpack, and I don’t even know if I can do it justice in a single blog post, but there’s something that’s slowly burrowing under my skin and pricking it. A murmur, something just about to break the surface (the ticking is the bomb), and I found myself enraged when I see that the desire to be liked, favorited, shared, noticed, trafficked, coveted–those base emotions now override the desire for knowledge. Look at me versus let me look inside. Get under the hood, fiddle around, as it were. And that quest to be noticed, to have your voice rise above the din (as referenced by the hundreds of articles that give you tips on getting noticed!) somehow, for me, removes the beauty that once proliferated the online space. A time when people weren’t preened to dishabille perfection, didn’t arrange their totems of worship to then filter and photograph them, waiting for the inevitable “likes.” Perhaps this is why I challenge and question my own work and how I represent it on this space. Perhaps I started to feel this rage a year ago when I wrote a review of the Kinfolk cookbook, which was more of a lashing out on this kind of imperfect perfection culture and its inherent deceptiveness and danger to those who seek to emulate it. I wrote,

    There is no real visceral connection between image and type. Rather, the cookbook tells us the story of people who project the lives you wish you could live, and the recipes are merely an antecedent to that lovely fiction.

    Point blank, the book was a pile of fuck. Mediocrity at its finest. Sure, the artwork was beautiful, the images bucolic and austere, but there was something wrong with the book. Aside from fact that the writing was an assault to the English language and the recipes went untested, I was sickened to the core about the physicality of the book and its perceived meaning. This book was meant to suggest excellence in its marriage between design, type and image, but it was instead the Trojan horse of art. It was pretty but devoid of actual meaning. Simply put, it was mediocrity dressed up in Sunday-best finery.

    That’s what I’m seeing these days and I think that’s what drove my rage when I was having lunch with friends yesterday. A lot of what I’ve been seeing online is really pretty but it’s soulless, lifeless–it’s a replica of a bland original. It makes you desire to covet and acquire rather than hunger to learn and create. And The Photocopy Culture, the peanut-crunching lot, are being rewarded handsomely for their terrific fiction. And so more people see this and say, I want that shiny thing too, and on it goes.

    It used to be that the most valuable commodity was information, now it’s adulation, attention. Please, please let me get what I want, Morrissey pleads.

    An artist friend tells me that this, what’s been happening, all of it, doesn’t relate to my art. She says, you do you. She says, you keep creating great work amidst the ruin. She says, you ignore and slog through. She says, it’s not about you. She says, keep sifting through the rubble. And I do just that for a time. I get my equipment. I excavate. I ferret out work that challenges and inspires me. I try to ignore the growing fervor (fever, really?). I try to say that the blogger who can barely string a sentence together has a two-book contract is not about me. I try to keep creating, but I wonder this: will I drown from the clamor above me? From the voices, the thunder, of those who want to be seen versus those who love and produce! cackles the upper consciousness, as D.H. Lawrence would have it.

    Do I just love and produce when I see so many destroy! destroy!?

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    on whiteness, on blackness, on sitting in the inbetweens

    mother and daughter

    When I was small my friends told me not to worry, that I could pass. Their assurances were accompanied by a dramatic fingering of my hair, which was a mess of coarse curls, the kind of hair my mother labored over in the bathroom, tried to tame it with baby oil and Vaseline. It made no difference that I grew up in Borough Park, steps away from the elevated train on New Utrecht. It didn’t matter that we purchased the same chicken legs wrapped in brown paper from the bodega or swam in the same pool in Sunset Park or pinched loosies (single cigarettes) when we could–what mattered was my hair. Because where I came from being white was a liability. Being white got you jumped. Being white made you an outsider. You were lesser than because if you had the privilege of that skin, and you lived where you lived, you were considered a joke. It was as if you had a lottery ticket you were too dumb to cash in. But my mother wore Pumas, was ferocious, waitressed at a diner, played her soul records and knew all the right people. So mostly, they left us alone.

    Years later I would walk into a junior high school and be ridiculed for my hair, the very thing that had saved me in my childhood, because it betrayed an otherness. White people didn’t have this hair. White people didn’t speak with a Spanish lilt to their voice. White people didn’t grow up on soul when there was rock and roll (which, by the way, my mother listened to, too). And I remember a group of Spanish girls in my junior high school who took me in, asked where I was from, and the next day no one made comments about my hair. The cheerleaders in their green pleated skirts, the girls named Lea, Ryan and Michelle, didn’t say anything at all. They were frightened and in that fear came the silences. I shook my head, and wanted to say that my last name was Sullivan! That I was Italian and Irish! But while I thought all of these things were truths, I knew they were also somehow untrue. Because I didn’t see anything wrong with being black or Spanish, but that wasn’t the point. The point was I didn’t feel white but I didn’t feel black, either. How do you explain to thirteen-year-olds who live on binary terms that you are possibly grey? When you’re small you don’t understand the gradations of color, the in-betweens. When you are that young, you still believe you have to color in the lines. To the Leas and Ryans of my small world, black men were ball-players, rappers, men who robbed your house. Wait, what? I couldn’t see any of that. Sure, men in my old neighborhood tossed rhymes on stoops, drank 40s out of brown paper bags, but they were also kind, always had your back, and worked from dark to dark. Rhyming, drinking and dreaming were some of the things they did to pass the time, to make their lives easier to bear.

    I have a memory, but it comes and goes in fragments, like swallows, and I just remember the glare of a television in a dark bedroom and I’m lying on the floor watching it. I am small and my mother is in bed with a man named Keith. He is black, striking in his beauty, his man-ness, and they are talking in the way that couples do after they’ve just been intimate. They exist in the space of the after, when conversations are easy, slow, and you talk about the things you wouldn’t normally discuss in the morning. That’s all I’m able to remember, and now I think: was that him? Was that man my biological father?

    Another memory: Another man, another state. We are in Pennsylvania and my mother (a mistress now) travels with her abusive boyfriend to visit his ex-wife and children. I never understood why we traveled to a place where we were not welcome, but we made the trip and the children, sisters, made snide comments about from where we’d come, about how I wasn’t one of them, white. The mother’s name was Virginia and I never saw my mother so afraid when she was in that house.

    Years later I receive a long message on Facebook. It’s from one of the sisters in Pennsylvania. She’d read my memoir, found god, and couldn’t I possibly forgive Father for all that he had done as she had? Reading the note I paled down to bone, and I remember being in an office and someone coming over to my desk and asking me about a plan we were supposed to write. And I glanced at the message on Facebook and nodded at my direct report, and felt paralyzed in the space between the two. Although I will do everything possible in my adult life to not be my mother’s daughter, some of her will always remain. Why I have a hard time letting people in, crying in front of others, or being vulnerable–these are aspects of her that have left their indelible mark on me, parts of me I’m desperate to lose.

    I think back to those girls in junior high school, and my nearly all-white high school, and how everyone believed that black men were to be feared. But no. I shook my head no, because in my experience white men weren’t to be trusted. They hid behind the privilege of their skin. And then I got all confused because had I become one of those people coloring in the lines? Not understanding that the content of one’s character isn’t married to the pigment of their skin?

    The summer before college, I worked at Pizza Hut and I started dating one of my coworkers who drove a nice car and lived in Queens. We bonded over our affection for A Tribe Called Quest, and I remember over the course of our date how he kept playing “The Low End Theory” in this car. He came to my door and met my family, and I remember how my father, Gus, shook his hand and smiled because Gus is the kind of man who will shake your hand and mean it, but my mother, my mother, cowered in the background and scowled. She took me aside and told me she hadn’t known that my date was black, and didn’t I know that his color would cause trouble? Because we were no longer in Brooklyn. And I shook away from her because I knew that I was going to college and college meant freedom, and who was she to talk to me about blackness when there was Keith and all the men who had come before? And, oh by the way, I didn’t choose my date because he was black, I chose to go out with him because he was cool. I said as much and walked out of the house. In the car my date made a comment about my mother being something and I said, she sure is. Something.

    That was our only date. While we spent the rest of the summer making personal pan pizzas, something was off, wasn’t the same. We were still friends. We still joked but we were changed, and I can’t help but think it had to do with the fact that I was white (but not really) and he wasn’t, and I was angry because it didn’t matter when someone loves “The Low End Theory” just as much as you do. When someone can turn the task of dumping frozen pepperoni on a pizza into a game, into something fun.

    I set out today to write something different, to make something and share it with you, but then I read this. At 6:30 in the morning I cried in my apartment. I’m 30% black and have I been hiding behind the privilege of my skin, technology that has the ability to make my hair smooth?

    A few weeks ago I’m on the phone with my best friend of nearly 20 years, and she’s the only person with whom I’ve spoken about my DNA results. She asks me how I feel and I tell her I don’t know what I feel. No, that’s not true. I feel relief to have knowledge, facts, the maths, even if it is 38 years too late. I tell her that I’ve felt that all this time I’ve been passing…for white. I tell her that I don’t feel white or black but something in the middle, and I blurt out all the appropriate and inappropriate questions. Do I have the right to say I’m part black at 38 (yes, I do, logically, but…)? Can I own blackness? Do I have the right to? Do I keep on as I’ve been living? What changes? Does anything change? Do I owe a debt? To whom?

    I don’t yet have answers to any of these questions, and I imagine it will take some time and introspection, but my friend told me that it’s okay to be in the in-betweens. That I should be proud of whatever I am, that I’m not defined by my chemistry.