roasted cauliflower with dates + pistachios and a meditation on resolving vs. doing

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I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it. –Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

He was the kind of man who had been through war but dressed his wounds years after the fact. He was a heart worth beating for, a man who buried his face in my hair and let it rest there. We were in a restaurant in Utah and I rushed to the table and whispered, Britney Spears is in the bathroom! Back then, I wore a red wool hat the size of a small child. I don’t know what your plans are, but mine don’t include children. On our first date we took a good meal in a bad restaurant. When he asked, do you always drink like this?, gesturing to a wine glass that was never empty, I laughed and said, do you know of any other way? That night we fell asleep to the sound of a woman singing Chinese arias in the courtyard. Back then I lived in an apartment above a restaurant where tourists paid Italian men of a certain age and breed to play The Godfather on a weathered violin. When the halls smelled of bleach and the carousel of lights flickered and faded to dark, a woman would sing, always, as if her sad song could eclipse all the ones that had come before. You have to know that it was tragic to fall asleep to The Godfather night after night. Because there’s heartbreak in repetition, in a heart that never quickens, but only slumbers its way home. Part of me wondered about a man who fell in love with a woman who was intent to remain at war with herself, who felt shelter only by picking at healing wounds. Just to see if she could still bleed. Just because she could. Just because she knew of no other way.

We spent the holidays in Boston with a family that measured your self-worth by the accumulation of degrees. I’d pass muster because, you know, Columbia. I’d never lived in a house with two floors, much less a mudroom (What’s a mud room? I whispered as we removed our coats. A room before the others, he said), so when we arrived that night I crept up and down the stairs. Up and down. Up and down, again. I did find it strange that one needed a room to ready oneself for the rest of the house.

Over the next two days there was a fire, a brawl, a father who thought it funny to call me felatio, a battle waged against a sister who got rhinoplasty and changed her name because she was so tired of being Jewish, thickened mashed potatoes and tears (mostly his, some of my own), and I understood that a mudroom was a way out. Back then I slept on top of the sheets, never between them, with one leg off the bed, ready to run. Who knew that a room would be a leg, an escape clause, a get out of dodge kind of plan? I never thought I’d say this but your family is more fucked up than mine, I said. Let’s just leave, he said. He had this habit of removing his glasses and cleaning them, even after they were clean. He’d remove, wipe, wear, and remove, wipe and wear all over again. They’re clean, I snapped once, to which he replied, that’s not the point.

I realized then that I was dating a man whose last name meant screamer in German.

Who gives away their slow-beating heart? Who does this? Who lets someone in, all the way? I was nothing if not a collection of bones broken in all the wrong places, and as one year eclipsed another, as people stood beneath a storm of snow-mixed confetti–reports warned of thundersnow–as couples hastily and sloppily kissed, as children wore cone-shaped hats and raised valiant fists in the air, I removed my lips from his and said, this year I don’t want this. I couldn’t love another version of me. Back then I was impenetrable, incapable of love because I’d equated it to bloodletting, and who knew then that he knew this all along. That he made a game of seeing if he could break me because he was the gambling kind.

A month later I discovered that although my heart wasn’t capable of complete love, it was completely breaking. Men took me and my things to a small apartment in Chelsea where a man blasted jazz into the gloaming.

I thought about of this when I spent New Year’s Eve with a dear friend, and we talked about how we started each year, if we had been alone, if that meant something. Four years of thirty-nine I’d spent it with a significant other, and it occurred to me, a day later, that those others weren’t significant, I was alone, and all of it did mean something. Until now I hadn’t been the gambling kind. I hadn’t flung open the doors to the light just beyond the dark (had you been there, all this time? Just beyond my reach? Or had I been busy dressing all those open wounds?); I hadn’t run all the way out and in. I was running in circles, exhausted from chasing all the wrong things, and I was tired. So tired.

Because I don’t want to live in a house with a mudroom. Because I’m finally able to rest between the sheets. Because I’d rather be alone for the right reasons than with someone for the wrong ones. Because being anesthetized isn’t a way to live, rather it’s a way to affix bandages over a dam about to break, it’s a way to slowly and cowardly die. Because writing one-line axioms in a book isn’t really the same thing as living a life. Because there is a difference between being uncomfortably comfortable in the familiar versus feeling disquiet in the unknown. Because I’m 39, and I no longer want to feel the tic of a list but rather the rush of a life.

I don’t believe in resolutions. I don’t believe in resolving to do something instead of actually doing it. I don’t believe in being inspired by someone and letting that light, that whisper to do, fall to blight. Every year until now has felt like a photocopy of a bland original, but I woke yesterday thinking about all the possibility. I’m going to write without fear of not being published. I’m going to move to four states. I’m going to stop hiding behind my graduate loan debt, using that as an excuse to live in a house of no. I’m going to create. I’m going to break ranks. I’m going to sit in discomfort and disquiet because I know there’s a better place. And I’ve already booked my first AirBNB for my move to New Mexico.

And I know all of this will lead me back to a greater self, a self made whole, and then, possibly then, I will find something that resembles love.

Because this year I don’t want this.

Recipe for Balsamic Roasted Cauliflower and Dates, because this is what you eat after three slices of vegan coffee cake on New Year’s Eve.

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live the questions now (long read)

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Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. ― Rainer Maria Rilke

It was a Saturday night, which had become a blurred photocopy of every other evening, and a taxi barrelled down the FDR Drive. Back then we liked it fast. We preferred to live dangerously; we were on the road to ruin–and the knowledge of this, of all it, comforted us. I took a leave from a writing program, and found myself holding a bottle of wine, a cigarette half-smoked because I wasn’t the smoking kind, and a Nokia phone, as I shouted for my friend to get in already. It was rare to catch a taxi uptown back then. I remember the car and us bending our heads as if we were supplicants called to prayer; we stole quick bumps, thinking we were all slick and discrete when we were, in fact, the opposite. The driver didn’t care about any of it, except for the fear that we might spill wine in his cab. Hunched over we did blow and then we blew smoke out of windows.

By the time we reached the Lower East Side, I couldn’t breathe. Over the past few months a habit that had once been a weekend thing, soon morphed into a weeknight thing (because there was always a dinner, a reading, a reason for party favors), and soon I fell asleep and woke to cocaine. No one really knew the depths of my fall because I was functioning, sort of. I was all broken capillaries, nosebleeds at my desk, and eyes that regarded daylight as a form of barbaric, medieval torture. But I white-knuckled my way through meetings, typed all my emails and didn’t care that my body felt like a costume I’d worn too many times. Back then I told myself I had this under control, that I would never be like her, my mother, my aunt, all junk-sick and spinning out of control, but then go the lines. Sometimes my heart would beat so fast I couldn’t stop it, so I’d drink some wine, have a little smoke, or swallow pills. I was in pursuit of the middle of nothing.

That taxi ride was the second time I felt death creep under my skin and make a home. The first time I was in Mexico and nearly drowned in an ocean. When we reached shore my body was volcanic. I couldn’t breathe; I needed my mother. I was 20, saying her name as if incanting it would conjure a version of her back to me, before the cocaine and her undoing, when it was just two girls, holding hands. Laughing. The second time all I could think about was my mother, my first hurt, and how I’d do anything to smother all the love I’d given her and how much of my childhood she’d stolen in return. I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all, Elliot wrote.

Back then I would do anything to feel nothing. In this body there is a heart that refuses to beat. Darkness becomes a homecoming–it pulls up a chair in your own home, offers you a drink, and asks, are you happy? Are you comfortable? How long do you want me to stay? Should I unpack? Should I forward the mail? And for a time, I let the dark into my heart because although I knew so many people I’d never felt so lonely. Cocaine was there all along, holding my hand, whispering into my hair that it would never leave. You have to know where’s comfort in that–a constant companion, a tender lover–and then you realize the object of your affection has grown tired of your devotion and wants more. Isn’t it always this way? The thing that you consume craves more than what you’re willing to give, and then you wake and realize the darkness wants to be all of you. It won’t just settle for a drawer in your bedroom.

That night in the cab was a preview of what would happen if I became all that I consumed. Addicts trade war stories–they talk about shame, humiliation, regret and anger, that one night, that every night–but many of us agree that there was a brief time when it was wonderful…until it wasn’t. And we’d spend so much time crawling our way back to the wonder, that first feeling of you being here but not really, and you know how it is. While the story of the day I stopped doing coke twelve years ago isn’t remotely memorable, losing the wonder continues to haunt me, still.

My dad was the first to pick up on the bigger problem–alcohol. The drink is like setting fire to a house after you’ve dead bolted the doors and locked yourself in it. The dark is always in your periphery yet you cease to care because the idea of feeling the weight of loss, sorrow and hurt is entirely too much to bear. When you have all this pain, you wonder, where do you put it? Is there a container? Will I need to request a certain size (small, medium, large? tall, grande, venti?)? What if all the pain doesn’t fit? What then? What of my heart then?

I managed to shield him from cocaine, managed to make it a story like every other story I told, and he never worried because the woman before him was the woman he’d always known–funny, strange, a picky eater, who sometimes drank too much. It’s rare that I let anyone into the depth of dark I’m able to endure, but my father knew. I suppose he’d always known. He was confused that night I fell asleep drunk on a train, somehow ending up in Ronkonkoma with my wallet missing. I woke him in the dead of night for cab fare, and I remember him asking why I wasn’t able to stand straight. I was 23, I think. I suppose he knew when he told me that if I could do him one favor, one small thing, which was for me to shield him from my drunkenness, and then I came home, weeks later, black-out drunk, knocking over things. Always with the hangover. Always with the damn wine lips, he said. I suspected he feared that I would become a version of my mother, a difficult woman. You make it impossible for me to love you, I told her twice. Even last year, even after my relapse, I mentioned my two-month binge to my father in passing. Another story. Another, I’m fine now so you don’t need to worry. Because this is what happens when you lose people–you drink until you black. You drink until you can no longer see. I’m forever shielding my father from worry. In his eyes, I’m always strong, impenetrable.

My pop asked me once about the blow and the drink. Setting aside the obvious, you saw what that shit did to your mother, there was the very clear question in front of him, which was: you’re so frightened of death, why would you do this to yourself? How to explain. Where to begin. Do you end? My father has always accepted death, understood that you one day returned to the place from which you’d come. That valiant, small fist punching its way out of the womb becomes a shuddering breath, a hand that feels like cashmere, feeling its way back home. That small, balled fist. That weathered, frail hand. We exist for most of our lives in the space between the two, and while I can accept that, I’m so frightened of the after. I no longer believe in a heaven with its blinding lights and touch of gold, or a hell that engulfs you in flames. Rather, I believe in a body settling into the earth, allowing for new life to eclipse it. We pass so others can live–this is the order of things. And the only way you continue to exist is in memory. I accept all of this as fact, but it doesn’t make it easier to bear.

In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande writes, the story of aging is the story of our parts.

But in truth no single disease leads to the end; the culprit is just the accumulated crumbling of one’s bodily systems while medicine carries out its maintenance measures and patch jobs.

Our life, as we know it, becomes a slow fade. Death is all the lights in the house, lights that once burned brightly now flicker and fade out. I’m reading a book about the science of mortality and what matters in the end because there was a time in my life when the one final act I’m trying desperately to evade was in my home, eating my food, lying beside me in my bed. People never understand when I talk about getting older, of the terror that exists in counting the years. They think it’s about vanity–you don’t even look 39–and it takes everything in me to smother rage, because age isn’t about skin and hair pigments and body size, it’s about the clocks. Every inch forward cannot be reclaimed. There is no going back. There is only the slow, steady march into the dark. But what happens when no one follows you? What happens when there is only you?

I read another article about our hunger for fame and how it’s bound to the notion of immortality. In memory, life is constant. You continue to exist when someone speaks your name. The author writes,

A fundamental belief of the Greeks: that acts of heroism or epic poems are not only nobler than mere sprogs, but also considerably more durable. Where living things fall like leaves in autumn, our cultural objects can endure. Kingdoms, titles and honour survive to be passed from one generation to the next; stories persist to be told by new generations of bards; bronze statues do not fall sick. Unlike human children, cultural offspring promise to be ‘everlasting’.

On our way to Ireland
On our way to Ireland
I think about all of this because I have no real family. Yes, I have a host of friends whom I love but they are tethered to their kin. They have families of their own, and I am not part of their legacy. This isn’t me being woeful, it’s me being honest. In an act of self-preservation, I refuse to have a relationship with my mother and her new family. And my pop, who isn’t my biological father, but has served as a father figure since I was 12, well, I don’t know sometimes. Over the past five years our relationship has shifted, and although there’s still memory and love and nostalgia, we no longer cleave to each other like we used to. When we were in Ireland, I felt the love that comes with familial history, of being bound to a name. But my last name’s Sullivan, and I’m not even Irish. I feel rootless. I feel part of a family by invitation. I’m a third African but how do I claim it? I do not want children. I am the last of my kind. There is only the dark and you alone in it.

I think about this a lot. Perhaps this is why I’m compelled to write more now that I’ve ever wanted to before. Perhaps I need to get this down, on paper, so people will know that I was once here. That long after my body has settled into the earth with gravel and rock, a part of how I loved, thought, lived, might endure. We tell ourselves stories in order to live, Joan Didion once wrote. I wonder if they serve to preserve us after our final breath shudders out. Our stories deliver us onward, maybe they tell us we mean something. That we don’t solely exist to breed and sustain new life.

Buddha says, The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment. And in that moment there are questions. I do wonder if living in punctuation will give me freedom. Will allow me to see.

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the price of being able to see

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On the side of a hill a sprinkling of leaves./Washes the grave with silvery tears./A soldier cleans and polishes a gun./Sleeps unaware of the clarion call. –Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair / Canticle”

When I was five my mother took me to the theater to see The Shining. All I could remember was the blood that was a river and a child screaming REDRUM. When I was eight I pumped on the swings with a girl called Tangerine, and later that night I asked my mother about something I’d seen. Earlier in the day the police cleared the park because of a woman on the ground. Men covered her body with a sheet and took her away. I wanted to know about the woman, about the cold body that lie on the ground. She was probably a junkie, my mother said through a faceful of smoke. When I was ten I crept at the foot of my mother’s door because I’d heard her wailing; I’d heard her head bang against a wall. I thought it was Danny all over again–another man beating a woman because he could–but when I opened the door to her bedroom a crack, a hair, I could see her and my stepfather curled up in a cocoon. Later I asked about what she’d done and she snapped, did I want to get pregnant like all the other degenerates up and down the block? Sex was a death sentence–it would ruin all that she had planned for me. And she had plans. I wasn’t like the others, she’d said. I wouldn’t grow into a woman drinking out of brown paper bags, a woman who said ain’t instead of aren’t.

For as long as I could remember I was able to write and read. I suppose I owe her that–her knowledge that books were a way in and writing was a way out. Even now, even after all this time, I need prose in order to see.

When I was small my mother would tell me stories about knives and black magic. She’d play her records, a mix of rock and roll and soul, and I’d lay down next to her, curl up close. I remember burying my face into the thicket that was her hair. My mother was a forest I wanted to get lost in. She told me she grew up in a home and she had to protect herself. However, as I grew older, I realized that my mother had an abusive relationship with the truth–you never knew which stories were true and which were of her own invention. A born revisionist, she recounted stories altered with each retelling, and all the stories came with some sort of truth. Never cry, never be vulnerable, always hurt before you are wounded–her axioms lingered, and I would spend much of my adult life unlearning what I had been taught. Even now I struggle with being vulnerable. When I relapsed last year, I didn’t call my closest friend–I sent her a g-chat because the thought of getting on the phone with her seemed like a line I couldn’t yet cross. The idea of breaking down into tears was unimaginable. I’m getting better at letting people all the way in, but it’s been a tough journey.

One of my mother’s favorite songs was “Scarborough Fair,” a song whose origins were rooted in the belief that love is impossible, that one had to go through extreme lengths to prove their devotion. She’d play the song, lifting the needle of the record player and setting it down again, and I’d close my eyes, drift into sleep as my mother told me that all of this was important. That it was imperative that I see the world for what it is. You can’t afford to be blind, she said once. I couldn’t afford to be a child.

By the time I was twelve I’d seen people die, overdose, fuck, pummel, beat, drink, smoke joints, shoot up. I saw countless films about the cruelty of men and bore witness to the cold revenge my mother inflicted when you crossed her. I stood guard while she stole money from a delicatessen safe, right after they let her go. I watched her jealousy of me. When I bought Lisa Frank stickers with my allowance money, she’d buy bigger books and stickers for her own collection. They were always perfectly arranged, and I’d spend weekends trying to mimic her precision. I watched her envy my youth, education (she never set foot on my college campus), and my writing. She told me that she was a writer too, but I never saw anything she’d written. But I saw her steal my journals and handwritten stories and read them. I saw her quietly watch me win awards and accolades for stories I wrote about the life we’d lived, stories that sometimes made her look like a monster.

Over a telephone line, a few years after my book had been published, I told my mother she’d stolen my childhood from me. She spent the better part of every conversation asking if she could see me, if I would meet her teenaged daughter. She spoke of our mutual drug addictions as if they were badges of honor instead of crosses to bear, and she didn’t understand why I didn’t love her because the past was past, and couldn’t I simply forgive her? You stole my childhood from me.

I have to tell you that I had hope. I did. I’d hope that all the years had changed her, that I could undo everything I’d felt about her in my first book, but she only became a barnacle from which I wanted to be excised. I spent so many years doing the work, repairing the damage I had done to myself and those whom I loved, and she remained changeless. She had a man and a new daughter and she sometimes worked in a local school. She will forever be my first and only true hurt.

Sometimes I wonder what all of this sight cost me. I read an article once that relayed that some of the finest writers (not all, but most) are broken people trying to knit themselves back together again. Childhood trauma, loss, pain occurs before they’re able to put words to it, logically process it, and this damage alters them somehow. This damage, which may have been resolved by faith, therapy, love or medication, imbues their work with a sight just beyond their reach. And the work is writing our way to, around, above, under and through that place.

I turn 39 this week and I have this gift and this loss, and they weigh on my hands. So I find myself staring from one to the other. One to the other. Always, one to the other.

The photo above is one of the last ones I took of my mother. It occurs to me now that I somehow predicted her leaving by photographing it, because some time after this photo was taken she would later leave my father and I in this car, wearing this jacket. Her face, always obscured. A figure just beyond my reach.

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on writing, mediocrity, and feeling blue

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When I was small, I remember taking a series of tests. I remember sitting next to my mother as the results were read aloud. My math scores were unparalleled; I exhibited deftness in understanding numbers and how to manipulate them. As a child, I’d managed to ferret out the logic within stories that depicted scenarios involving distance and time. On the other hand, my reading comprehension and writing scores were unremarkable. This baffled us because I’d been reading and writing for as long as I’d been alive, and if you asked me now to calculate the tip on a bill divided three ways, I’d reach for my calculator. No one considered the binary nature of these exams, tests that were designed to measure one’s aptitude and predicted the sort of career for which a child might be suited. For years I endured advanced math classes and much of my days amounted to playing with protractors and scientific calculators, while the spaces in between were dominated by books and short stories I’d written on loose-leaf paper.

No one thought to understand that my relationship to words was mathematical. No one imagined that I’d solved these riddles not because I had an affinity for math, but because I was so drawn into the narrative. Out of all the things I could do in this world, writing is the one thing that gives me assurance. I know I’m good at it, and the question is always one of maths. How do I get better? How do I manage the distance between this word here and the better word over there? Because the mark of a good writer is in how they navigate the subtleties, how one could find the combination of words that make others see. How can I make this sentence leaner (subtraction)? How can I make this dialogue operate like a nesting doll, working on multiple levels (multiplication). How can I write about loss in a way that puts your heart on pause (division). And how do I get to all of this in the most efficient way possible (Pythagorean theorem, a2 + b2 = c2, Euclidean geometry).

Writing, for me, has always existed as a combination of exhausting surgery and constant maths. Often I think of an image of a nesting doll because whatever I intend is never what is, and a story of mine always operates on a multitude of planes (multiplication). There exists a difference between writing simply and being simple, and the work, for me, is about how to achieve the cleanest line possible while maintaining this whole textbook of equations.

Last week I read a post on Twitter where someone wrote that there is no good or bad when it comes to writing–there is only the best you can do.

I call bullshit on that.

Not everyone can be a writer, nor should they be. And I’m not talking about the person who pens posts about their outfits or their day, rather I’m speaking about those who don’t have it but fake it and call themselves a writer because it’s the vogue thing to do. Ironically enough, writers have never felt trendy because we’re always the fringe, we’re always told that nothing we ever write sells. People don’t want dark. People don’t want complicated. People spend their whole days dicking around on the internet to avoid thinking at work and when they come home the last thing they want to do is…think. People read cereal boxes and lists and they want their words fed to them. People don’t want advanced maths (hmm, this is middle/high school math of which I’ve written), they want their reconciliations–they want what they are missing.

Hmm, so they want addition?

I don’t care if people call my writing remarkable, incredible, amazing, or any such adjective. Ego strokes and pats on the head don’t interest me. I’m 38. I know I’m good–the question is how do I get to that next place, that next line, that new story. You’re good but you’re too smart, too dark, too obtuse. You make people do all this work.

Fuck you and your dumbed-down version of a life.

Maybe I’m feeling blue because I see so many people who call themselves writers rewarded for mediocrity. The motley lot laud these “writers” for their “brand-building” (look at all her Instagram followers! Imagine all the books she’ll sell!) as opposed to observing the architecture of what’s on their page (or screen, if you’ll have it). I see people who run a blog where they prattle on about just! how! hard! it! is! to photograph their outfits every day and suddenly they put on the hat of marketer, consulting “big brands” on how they can build their brand. I read a post on Facebook where a friend of mine bemoans the fact that her not-so-smart but ambitious assistant is now a Vice President of a company. I scroll Twitter and land on a full-time role as a Director of a Health + Wellness Brand, the first in two years that piques my interest, and then I read the requirements and apparently to be a director you only need four years of experience.

People say, ignore all that! You do you! Keep pushing along! Keep smiling, keep shining, to which I want to respond, Please. Shut. Up. I’m exhausted by all the mediocrity being rewarded when the necessary failures are what have pushed me to achieve. If I was always told that I was great, would have I ever read more, tried harder, revised more? Or would have I been complacent for having achieved a first draft?

I turn 39 this month and I look around and wonder what I’ve really achieved, and whether all of it matters. Does it matter that I’ve written the greatest book I can write to date when people who can’t string together a sentence get multiple book deals? Does it matter that I am offered projects to clean up rookie mistakes made by those who call themselves marketers but don’t have the experience? Does excelling matter when the great lights and applause shine brightest on the feeblest of attempts.

I don’t know. The only solace I have this week are books written by women from whom I can still learn. Women who are artisans with the English language. The blacksmiths of literature, a dying breed.

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great friends, great life, but should I be busier?

my friends are kind of awesome.
my friends are kind of awesome.

Sometimes I think about my life and wonder if I’m doing it all wrong. I read articles about how people are so busy!, how their email is a specter that haunts their waking hours. Many wonder if they have can keep up and sustain this hamster wheel of a life. But still they lament over the frantic state that is their calendar (I’m so booked!), and they move through their days much like a somnambulant. Keep moving, keep going, live life in hour increments. Sometimes they check their pulse, look for signs of life, but mostly they’re programmed to say yes; they read articles about how they should network, how their circle should be as wide and deep as an ocean, and I wonder if they ever get lost in all of it, the lack of quiet they’ve been taught to cultivate.

Even though I once played the role of an extrovert in an introvert’s body, even though I used to wince whenever I opened my email at a job that took me four years to hate, sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me for not being so busy (Should I be? Am I not popular, wonders the thirty-eight-year-old), for not being one of the legions who pray for this mythical world where inbox zero exists. I know this world and even when you’re in it you wonder if you should be on the other side.

Years ago I practiced extrovertism as if it were a religion. I published a prestigious literary magazine, I had an enviable job, and my days were filled with get-togethers, where people introduced me to other people who were “good to know.” People who are good to know apparently have the ability to get you to that next place, even if you don’t know what that place is or have its address. But it was important to have those drinks, and all the meals were a blur–so much so that I wanted to bring a pre-recorded tape to dinner and press play for the first twenty minutes until the appetizers arrived. Dinners became LinkedIn excavations with cocktails, where both parties sniffed one another out in an effort to determine the usefulness of the connection. When I was a teenager, my friends and I would make a joke about walking down Sutphin Boulevard in Queens because everyone would scan every inch of you, dissect you with their eyes, in hopes that you had something they wanted, something they could steal. These meals were no different. Always I’d come home drained, yet I’d wake to paste another smile on my face, email more people, and hope that someone, anyone, would invariably get me to that next place. Is that next place on a map? I often wonder.

Back then, drinking was a terrific anaesthetic. It made living a full/empty life easier to bear. I was there, but not really, and you know how it is.

I remember being upset once, about what I can’t quite recall, and I scanned the hundreds of numbers in my phone–all the people whom I was told were good to know–but I couldn’t call any of them. In my darkest hours, I was the owner of a pregnant inbox, was known as a mayor, a connector, but I had no one whom I could call for a good cry. I had everyone but I had no one, and this realization hurt more than you know. I had designed a life focused on the accumulation of the right people, yet I neglected to examine what I had defined as right. Because in the end most of my “friends” couldn’t be bothered to shoulder my hurt–they had their own lives, their own hurt, and more than likely their own friends with whom they could share said hurt. I remember thinking that I had so much pain and I didn’t know where to put it. Where do you put it? In a box? In a container? What size? What happens when the pain spills over? Another box, another container, more tears, more scanning through hundreds of numbers you can’t imagine calling? What then?

It might have been that time, all those years ago, when I took off my mask (I’m not perfect! I have a drinking problem! I hurt too!) and winnowed down my life. I took a scalpel, excised the barnacles and got lean. I sought out the kind of people with whom I could share an uncomfortable silence. I stopped seeing people who made me feel as if I’d undergone surgery for a temporal lobotomy. I removed those who wheedled, were catty and cruel (nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, Felicia). No one would make me feel small. You are what you accept, I’d come to realize, and if I wanted a life that was honest and true, I’d have to make that objective my harvest.

I was reminded of this recently when my dear friend Amber shared this post with me while we were on holiday talking about friendship:

Remember, it’s your job to look for something cool in everyone you meet; it’s not their job to show you. This is life, not a fucking sales convention. Learning to appreciate people you meet is a skill you cultivate. So get on it. This doesn’t mean you have to fall in love with everyone who breathes in your direction. It just means you need to take responsibility for your ability to connect with the people you are meeting.

My world is small, deliberately so. For over a decade, I’ve made it my practice to cultivate a kula (“community” in Sanskrit) of people who nourish and challenge me. These are the people with whom I can be my most unkempt self. These are people who check in on me when I write about being blue. These are people who will sit on my living room floor and talk about everything or nothing. These are the people I’ve come to define as good to know because they’re good for me, my soul. And in that work and devotion, I started to have less time for the superfluous. I no longer tolerated people who reduced me to a link to someone else, who wanted mentoring without giving anything in return, who didn’t value my friendship as something they wished to nurture and cultivate. I was just another obligation, someone good to know, a coffee date ticked off their laundry list, and I began to bow out of anything that exhausted me. If I left a coffee or meal depleted rather than energized I never made plans with that particular person again. If I can’t pass a meal with you, I don’t want to know you. If we don’t walk away mutually inspired, I want no part of the deal. My threshold for bullshit emails is low.

So here I am. I have this rich life, these great group of friends that I’d worked so diligently to cultivate and why do I bemoan an inbox the size of a sonnet? Why do I feel that I should network even if I don’t want to? Part of it is a selfish, base need to be liked–I guess we all have this flaw even when we realize that being universally liked is an impossible, if not strange, pursuit–but part of me feels like an other–a space I’ve occupied for most of my life, someone who skirts the edges of things–but for some reason the quality of my life feels at odds with the velocity of quantity that subsumes me. And while I know it’s okay to not do anything, sometimes I wonder, should I be doing something? Should I schedule that lunch? Should I be out there more? Should I be busy? Should I have more email? Would having more make projects easier to acquire and a book everyone wants to buy? Logically, I know the answer to all of this is no, of course not, but then there’s this quietly beating heart, this small, sometimes insecure, voice, that wonders if what I have is enough?

Why is it that we insist on picking at a wound just as it’s about to heal?

to be back there again.
to be back there again.
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changing the channel: I'm a bit done with this "curated life" bullshit

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I’m an addict. If I fall in love with something or someone long enough, I tend to become obsessive to the point where the object of my affection becomes my inevitable ruin. That avocado once craved rots, and the passion I once had for someone becomes a tick, a drone, a dull sustained murmur I’m desperate to snuff out. Over the years I’ve gotten remarkably better at being present and self-aware, in spotting a burgeoning addiction as it starts to harvest and breed, and finding ways to lay my pitchfork down, stop, and change course. It sometimes feels like stopping a hurricane with a paperweight, but it’s in this diligence, this constant observance, that allows me to enjoy small things like chickpeas without becoming fixated on them. (I had to issue a chickpea fatwa, and get off the stuff for two weeks to re-learn how to consume it in moderation, and on it goes).

Some addictions can’t be controlled, and I’ve learned to live a life without certain things (alcohol, drugs), but what I’ve witnessed is this: what I’ve gained from leaving those two afflictions behind is so much greater than the cold comfort I experienced in succumbing to them. Perhaps it’s the difference in understanding that it’s okay to rip off the bandaid and feel that tear, that very immediate hurt, versus inching off the tape. We take a sip of this or a snort of that to ease the pain of the ripping, but it’s only a delay, because in the end there will always be the hurt. It’s just a matter of understanding our timeline of when we’re ready to experience it. Do you want to face or prolong it? These days I take my pain as it comes and breathe through it to get beyond it. I’m ripping all the bandaids off, even on the days when I really, really don’t want to deal with the pain.

There’s a point to all of this, I promise.

Lately, I’ve been feeling adrift in all aspects of my life. I’ve completed a creative project that’s out in the world and I haven’t started something new. I move from business project to business project, and then go through the motions of pitching again. I find recipes to post on this space and then glance at the blog a week later and cringe at it. I feel stuck in a lot of ways, and it occurred to me the other night that this space isn’t exactly what I want it to be. Because, for a while, I became addicted to a thing called traffic. I don’t even know where this came from, but I remember being in Spain, spending hours taking and editing these beautiful photos, finding a way to marry image and type that was purposeful to me, to have people unfollow me on Instagram and scores of people not knocking on this virtual door as often. I was puzzled. I gave so much of myself into something I created and 1. I was basing that worth and art on how many people read it–no bueno 2. Some people really just care more about recipes, and that’s cool.

So much as I’d read articles on growing your reader base and followers (part of my other life is to read such articles), I couldn’t help but feel the advice was pat, mechanical, cold. Someone I clearly wasn’t or couldn’t be. If I see one more carefully composed image of a suggestion of a life (requisite sunglasses, macbook air and monogrammed mug–honestly, is this how you live because my living room table right now is a fucking mess. Exhibit A, below)–I might just torch the joint (kidding).

Yes, I like floss (new addiction in the works). Yes, those are birth control pills (how else am I going to remember to take them if they’re not in front of me?). And yes, that was my morning smoothie. That is my real life, and I’ve come to realize I want to share more of this rather than something cultivated.

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I don’t want to optimize my blog post titles for search. I don’t want to leave comments on other people’s sites simply for the sake that they’ll come to my space; I leave comments because I have something thoughtful to say, although most times I’ll tweet out a post I like or share it on Facebook. I asked myself this: If I never plan on making this space commercial, if I’ll never accept ads or sponsored posts or any of that jazz, why do I care about how many people come to this space? Right? I should care that what I create will resonate with a certain kind of reader and the rest will find other sites to suit their tastes and needs. All of this happened this morning (as that’s when I tend to do a lot of my thinking, or obsessing) after reading this piece. Completely unrelated to the topic at hand, but this remained with me:

But Carol doesn’t dig much for money anymore. Now she is an organizer at the community development institute she helped establish in an old schoolhouse down the road, working to reconnect people in her community, especially young ones, with their place. It’s what she calls the task of “merging people and landscape back together.” She says that central Appalachia has suffered “erosion—the slow leakage of its people,” and wants to find ways for people to reinhabit the mountains. Root digging is one of them. “Where people are trying to live with the land, there’s always a need of interaction with it. Root digging’s a way to train and educate people to quest, ask questions, be aware of their environment, find empowerment.”

I realize my writing doesn’t only color outside of the lines, it’s a whole other fucking coloring book. I’ve never really been popular. I prefer a small, quiet life instead of a large one. I get anxious over compliments, but I’m getting better at accepting them. It took me years to publish my email address on my site, and I still think about deleting it. I guess what I’m saying is that I write and think about the things people sometimes don’t want to talk about, out loud. I wrote a book that can be construed as too dark, which makes me shake my head because my book is about children desperately trying to climb out of the darkness, but the need for us to skirt the dark remains. I write long, sometimes dramatic, posts here because the only way I’m able to make sense of anything in my life is to write about it, sometimes here, mostly privately. There is a need for me to get things down, commit things to paper as it were, and I’m finding that we live in world of TL;DR.

People don’t have time, nor do they often care about reading something long or winded. They don’t want to excavate the mess of a middle; they prefer their posts neat and packaged and pretty.

Well, I’m not pretty. Maybe not in the conventional sense of the word and much like how I had to quit the chickpea nonsense, I’ve stopped being consumed with this need for traffic, of weighing the value of what I create against the volume of people who choose to read it.

Going forward, I’m going to try my best to be Carol, that root-digger, to find ways in which I can merge my life, what I love, and art in a more complicated and interesting way. Practically, this means that I won’t have a recipe and pretty photograph every day — I plan to dial the recipes down to 2 times a week and make them SPECIAL. Other times, you’ll find longer posts here. A merger of type, photographs, and handwritten words related to what’s going on in my life right now. In this way, I’m trying to be braver, bolder, more honest with myself, while challenging myself in my work.

Because I want to be 80 and seeing something new every single day. I want to create until the clock stops ticking. I don’t want to post a pretty picture just for the sake of posting. I want this space to be a record of another kind of art I want to create.

And I hope you’ll stick around for the journey along the way…

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spinning with soul: soul cycle, new york

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Do you know what at acolyte is? It’s a beginner. Someone who wants to be like someone. Follow in their footsteps. By definition, it’s an amateur.Acolyte

It’s true that I spent months loathing Soul Cycle and plotting its demise. I made it my business to tell everyone in a five-mile radius that dancing whilst on a spin bike was SIMPLY NOT RIGHT. In fact, it was downright criminal. Who can remember to shimmy and shake when one is panting just to keep up with the frenetic pace? When it comes to working out I’m not a multi-tasker, so the instructor’s frequent requests to “tap it back” and “bump it” made me seethe, and I left class feeling like the time in college when I was kicked out of step class because I couldn’t keep up with the beat — small. Thus the world would know that Soul Cycle was the center of my discontent. I abhorred its cult-speak (party ride! ride with SOUL!), exorbitant prices and the fact that I have to pay to rent spin shoes as if I’m in some subterranean bowling alley in Times Square.

And then I realized that I was recoiling from Soul Cycle because being in another studio setting, albeit a different one, reminded me of a yoga studio in which I used to practice. For years I followed this one teacher as she studied vinyasa at Movement Salon to setting up her own studio as a practitioner of anusara (when it was less shameful to speak of John Friend and the principles of alignment). I purchased all the eponymous t-shirts and expensive be present pants, I recruited hoards of people to patron the studio and I forked over hundreds of dollars to attend yoga retreats where I was guaranteed a week of idyll. And after five years I started to see cracks in the proverbial pavement. The constant “come here, be here, as you are” was mostly about getting people into class packs. Handstand demos were now done by famous models who were friends of the owner or the new acolytes who fawned over this charismatic studio teacher’s practice.

Suddenly I could see clearly and I wanted out. A nearly advanced yoga practitioner with seven years under my belt, I left the practice because I didn’t like the kula I was keeping. People who wished one another goodwill gossiped behind one another’s back. And everything was about money. Always the money. Who had more of it. Who could keep up. What it could buy you.

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Perhaps I brought all of this baggage to Soul Cycle. I didn’t want to be a part of something; I just wanted my own practice. A space of time with myself working through it, under it, above it, around it, beyond it. But I loved spinning — there’s no denying that.

So I went back. Quietly. With a work colleague I trusted. I sat in the back and found my own private rhythm, enjoying the fact that the room was steamy (reminding me of the tapas in yoga) and it felt good to use weights while spinning. In other classes I used overhead bands as resistance training while I cycled uphill, and believe me when I say that my arms and back felt it FOR DAYS. I found a few teachers (Marvin, Jenny, Christine) whose energy is infectious; their classes are less about the wild dance party and more about cultivating a deeper relationship with oneself by riding through the tough terrain and breathing through it. After a while I found a sense of quiet in the dark room, amidst the noise, music and click-click of the bike, and I knew I’d latched on to something.

See, the thing is this. The thing that annoys you, gnaws at you, annoys you as much as you let it. Picking at a wound never allows it to heal, only makes it fester and hurt. Separating yourself from the the noise allows trespass to clarity. So if I ignore the tap backs and focus on the fact that I’ve found a few teachers that help me bring me closer to myself, well, this is worth celebrating. You alone determine the kind of energy which inhabits your life, so if I walk into class skeptical and negative I’ve only ruined the experience. However, if I walk in and forget all those yoga studio years and yellow Soul gear, there’s just me, on my bike, by myself, on the road. And while I’m not a Soul Cycle zealot, I’m now a proud fan and I’ll keep going back. The classes, and what they give me, are worth it.

Time with yourself working through the ugly bits? That’s worth getting out of bed for.

journey to buff Uncategorized