have you ever visited a psychic?

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I should preface this by saying that I’m a skeptic. I’m pragmatic, tethered to that which is scientific and logical. I grew up an agnostic, became a Christian, and then abandoned my faith because I stopped believing. Now, I’m an atheist who tries to find wonder in the world. And while I’m in awe of this life and know that the world is greater than me, that so much goes unexplained, I’m not quite ready to go back to believing the heaven // hell binary. I should also say that I’m frightened of death, so much so that over the course of the past twenty years I’ve experienced random anxiety attacks, knowing that one day I will cease to exist. One morning I won’t wake and plant both feet on the ground. Eight months ago, I felt subsumed by darkness, and all I wanted was to curl up in a ball on my bathroom floor and fall into permanent sleep. The irony of this state (and my real fear of ever returning to it) is palpable, and I’m grateful for the fact that I’m no longer a resident of this country. I’ve worked hard to return to a place of normalcy–you know, routine anxiety attacks over my fear of dying.

Perhaps I’ve gone full-L.A., or I’m aching for answers that I went to a psychic. Me being me, I researched extensively, scoured and read hundreds of reviews, and finally chose a psychic that didn’t seem like your ubiquitous $5 for a palm reading situation. Even though I prepared my questions in advance of the reading, I was skeptical. I considered this experience hopeful entertainment. However, after an hour-long conversation, after meeting with someone who knew information that couldn’t be found anywhere but my person, I was unnerved. I felt off-kilter. I immediately went into full analysis mode. Some of what she said can certainly be found in the pages of my first book or by reading any of the very personal essays I’ve written here or on Medium. But yet.

There were things she knew about me and my life that only I, or a very select number of people, know. How could she know about a specific song I play that reminds me of my mother? No one knows this. How could she know details about my views on marriage and my previous partners when my romantic attachments are one of the few things I’ll never write about on this or any space? How could she describe, in excruciating detail, the last few days of mother’s life with a certainty that was chilling? How could she know about a specific dream I had, one which I’ve only recounted to one person?

How could she know?

After a half hour of her “reading” me, she invited me to ask her questions, and I felt relatively satisfied with her responses. What gave me comfort was her reminder that everything she told me can be altered through free will. I asked her the question that few people want to ask, one that made her feel uncomfortable. When would I die? How would I die? What would I die in the same matter my mother had (no, you take better care of your body)? After a few moments, I learned that I will face an illness in my early 60s, something akin to cancer, and there will be a moment where I will have to decide if I want to go. This put me on pause because why wouldn’t I? Why would someone, who wakes washed in sweat over the fear of waking to nothingness, choose to die? (Of course conveniently forgetting that most recent period in February) She shook her head and said she didn’t know. She just said that if I choose to go on, I’ll live into my late 70s, early 80s.

Why wouldn’t I choose to go on?

Again, she didn’t know. Will I be alone? No. Will I be married? No. I nodded because while I long for a partner, I’m allergic to the idea of marriage. I love children but I do not want any of my own. But I don’t want to be alone. I want abundance. I want a life well-lived. And she said that the choice will have to do with the fact that have I done everything I set out to do? The choice will center on that need to do or not do more.

I don’t know what to make of this. Part of me laughs it off because seriously? I met with a psychic? How L.A. But another part of me wonders, how could she know with such clarity and specificity? How?

 

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california living

chocolate swirl coffee cake (vegan/gluten-free)

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It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. —Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark

In March, I wrote about the desire to focus on hope rather than blind positivity. We’re constantly told to swallow our voice. We could practically hear the shouts of Be happy! Be positive! drowning the reality of our waking hours. We’re admonished for feeling blue–sorrow is a demonstrable sign of weakness, of laziness, not to pick ourselves up and shake off our sadness even when it feels as if we’re choking on sunshine. When you’re told to be a binary, it’s not realistic or helpful, rather, it’s a temporary salve that gives others comfort because we live in a culture that is repelled by discomfort. And then you feel even more paralyzed because now you’re not only carrying the burden of your own sorrow, you’re now responsible for what others carry. While everyone scrambles to fulfill a social contract of being fake, no one actually feels better.

We’ll do anything possible not to feel uncomfortable because who wants to sit in sadness when we can snap filtered photos of ourselves living our best lives, right?

Wrong.

Blind optimism and pessimism are binaries that don’t require action, whereas hope gives you the power and possibility to alter an end result. Everything may not be okay, but at least you’re in the proverbial driver’s seat instead of closing your eyes while someone else drives. Hope is realistic. Hope gets you through the day. In March, my psychiatrist asked me how I felt after a month on meds and intensive therapy and I said, hopeful, which is a hell of a lot better than helpless.

In the midst of my depression, I remember someone telling me that I wasn’t being positive enough. Be happy, someone wrote on my Facebook wall, to which I shouted, what the fuck does that even mean? How does “be happy” solve the real problems in my life instead of throwing a convenient blanket over them?

I’m thinking about this today not only because I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s slim, yet extraordinary, book of essays on hope, but I have a lot of uncertain days ahead. I don’t know if I’ll find the right partner, or how my book will be perceived, or how my life in Los Angeles will pan out. But I do have hope and at least that gives me a path to action, possibility.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Maya Sozer’s Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches
For the dry ingredients
2 cups gluten-free flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder

For the wet ingredients
2 bananas, mashed
3/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used coconut nectar)
2 tbsp almond butter (or any nut butter)
1 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. This recipe couldn’t get any simpler. Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl except for the cocoa. Mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl. Pour 2/3 of the batter into a small loaf pan (5×7). Mix the cocoa into the remaining third of the batter and add it to the loaf pan. Using a fork, create a marbling effect by swirling the fork between the two layers. Bake for 45-50 minutes, but start checking after 40 minutes.

Allow the loaf to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack. Allow to cool for an hour before diving in. I didn’t obviously, because who can wait an hour?

cake + sweet loaf recipes gluten-free

odds & ends

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“Can’t you just be like the rest of us, normal and sad and fucked up and alive and remorseful?” ― Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows

I haven’t loved a book so hard since Lauren Groff’s Fates & Furies. I never thought a relentlessly dark tale of a prodigy pianist, who so desperately wants to end her life, could be funny. It’s easier to write binary and it’s downright difficult to create balance, and Toews manages to achieve this on a level that is awe-inspiring. The novel centers around sisters, one of whom is a gifted, yet tortured, musician (think: the poet in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway or Percival in The Waves), and the other the prodigal fuck-up, and how their private, unbinding love is challenged by suicide. In one scene you’re reading about Elf and her latest attempt to take her own life by slashing her wrists and downing bleach, and then you’re somehow laughing at the dark comedy that is this large, disruptive family plagued by a history of depression. As a writer, I often read books on two levels–one for pure enjoyment, entertainment or education and another as a devoted student. I deconstruct structure; I diagram character and tone. I’ll ask, how does he/she achieve what I’m trying to do, and how could I learn from them? While I’m tethered to the darker side of things, I’m feeling the need, especially now, to imbue my work with needed light.

If you don’t mind a book that’s a little heavy (balanced by light), I can’t recommend Toews’s novel enough. Buy it. Now.

I love science fiction. My favorite show of all time is The Twilight Zone, and I think Rod Serling a genius for the stories he imagined and brought to the small screen–most of which were provocative in the late 1950s conservative culture. I loved Stranger Things for the imaginative plot, as well as a feeling of nostalgia for the 1980s, and after I visited Guillermo Del Toro’s very magical and horrifying LACMA exhibit, I found The Strain and I’m addicted. The story is less sci-fi than apocalyptical and biblical — the world we know plagued by a virus, which we soon learn to be a sophisticated strain of vampirism. This isn’t your staid fangs and capes, rather, Del Toro’s modern day monsters are painstakingly conceived from an evolutionary and biological perspective. And while the story is smart and forward (the catastrophic battle between humans and monsters), the characters grapple with real issues of love and loss.

It’s also occurred to me that I’ve become enamored by artists who straddle and redefine form. The Leftovers isn’t just a cable drama about a day when millions of people suddenly disappeared–it’s drama, sci-fi, poetry, all meditating on all the ways in which we define and experience loss. This is why I admire writers like Maggie Nelson, Kelly Link, Lydia Millet and others of their ilk who refused to be confined in a box. A few weeks ago, I shared my new novel’s jacket copy with someone whom I was potentially interested in hiring as a freelance publicist but was disappointed when this person wrote back, oh, this is genre fiction. Let me pause and I say that this argument isn’t about whether I like or don’t like genre fiction (I do, and think genre fiction is hard to pull off, thus warranting so much respect–I wish I had the commitment to pacing and patience that a brilliant mystery novel requires), it’s about having myopic vision. I set out to toy with form–I wanted to write a story rooted in literary fiction (my comfort zone) but have elements of psychological thriller and suspense. I look to Maggie Nelson’s Jane: A Murder as a perfect example of collapsing form. If you read her book jacket, you would say, oh, this is just true crime. While there’s nothing wrong with true crime (Ann Rule’s memoir of her working with Ted Bundy is one of my all-time favorites), that reductionist thinking would’ve ignored what Nelson set out achieve. Her slim book is parts true crime, memoir, poetry, and a private letter between her and her aunt, who died in the hands of a serial killer.

I get that we want to give everything an elevator, fit everything into a neat and tidy box because it’s quick, efficient and easy. However, I admire artists who break tradition, who say, this book, show, or song need not be only this. It could be this and that.

A brief aside: have you noticed that shows have literally gone dark? I already wear glasses. Please don’t make me reach for the flashlight.

In the vein of nodding to people who inspire you, I loved this take on success being defined as how you elevate others. Years ago, I read The Art of War, and now I find it a pile of shit. I’m not interested in Darwinian workplace warfare, rather, I know I win by how I treat others and how I help them rock out in whatever they’re doing. Another way in which you can view success is by how you redefine size. We naturally think that bigger and more is better, a sign of achievement. I have X amount of followers, thus I’m an “influencer”. My home is Y square footage, so that means I’ve “made it”. I don’t subscribe to a McMansion view of life, rather, I’m in step with Mike Birbiglia’s call to play small.

And if you’re not reading Bianca Bass’s wonderful blog, you’re not living your best life. She writes about success and creative work from the millennial perspective–namely, you don’t have to hustle 24/7, rest is a virtue, and her musings call for more meaningful connection beyond fan counts. I’ve grown really tired of being sold to ALL. THE. TIME., so it’s a respite to discover someone’s blog and their writing and not feel trapped by an affiliate link. There are people who still tell stories just to tell them.

Finally, one of the things I’ve learned this year is the need to nurture relationships and be patient. I admired this mother’s lament on how the challenges in her life prevent her from being the kind of friend she knows she can be. I’ve been there (with an unhealthy relationship to my work replacing children), and if there’s anything that I’ve learned over the past year, it’s this: Be kind. Be patient. Be thoughtful. Lean on your friends and help when you can.

 

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butternut squash mac & cheese

butternut squash mac and cheese

To say that I’ve been in a food rut would be an understatement. Since I moved to California, my tastes, in general, have changed. I no longer want to resemble a bruise with all the black and blue I used to wear, so I’ve set aside the darkness in favor of the light–pale blues, creams, blush. Labels no longer interest me because I spend most of my days working in a coffee shop or a couch, and I rather pay down debt and book trips that hoard purses. I never thought I’d want anything mustard in my home, but now I’ve got gold and mustard all the joint.

And then there’s food. Before I left New York, I was disciplined. In the morning, I’d have a protein shake and there would always be some salad over the course of the day, and gluten and dairy were verboten. Now that I live in Los Angeles and have lost the ease in which I can move about a city when I eat out it’s planned around location and traffic, but mostly I cook at home or eat locally because it’s cheaper and I don’t have to worry about sitting on the 10 or 405 for an hour just to get across town. I’m lucky in the sense that eating healthier here is ubiquitous There’s no corner deli serving up bacon, egg, and cheese, and finding good bagels are challenging. Eggs, shakes, and acai bowls are the norm, and I’ve often had to roll my eyes at eateries that sport “bone broth” on the menu because they’ve basically gussied up chicken stock with some clever Kinfolk-esque re-branding.

I’m also lucky (and privileged) to live in a city where everything is in walking distance. I have two markets in a five-block radius of my home, and the Santa Monica Farmer’s market is worth a weekly visit.

But my tastes have changed. I can’t explain it. I’ve paged through the cookbooks that gave me joy in New York and I’m uninspired. I’m also tired of overcomplication.

A year and a half ago, I went at life so hard. Workouts weren’t worth it unless I felt like I was going to die. Cooking food wasn’t great unless I was hunting down ingredients. Work wasn’t purposeful unless I juggled a pile of projects. All this velocity became exhausting. Perhaps this is why I haven’t returned to the megaformer (I’m just not interested in pushing myself until I faint, vomit, or both, so now I spin or do pilates), stopped ordering ingredients off the internet, and have focused my energy on juggling 2-3 projects at a time.

So, this pasta. Last week, I was in Barnes & Noble and I found Maya Sozer’s book on the New Releases table and the burger on the cover gave me pause. I thumbed through the book and not only did I find the meals tasty and pretty easy to assemble, they were healthy. I’ve made dishes with squash as a “cheese” sauce, like this penne and chicken & this lasagna, but I’m trying to chill with my gluten and dairy intake (I normally have either once a week and I make sure it’s GOOD–like a baguette with butter, cacio e pepe, or a homemade grilled cheese sandwich). Enter this pasta.

I will say a few things. This sauce is a bit too much for a pound of pasta. I think you can dial this back by 1/2 cup and save it or add more pasta. And while this doesn’t taste like “cheese” (and it shouldn’t because that would be really lame), the nutritional yeast and cashews give a creamy, comforting texture, and the spice mixture gives the dish a pop. I fried up some sweet italian sausage and mixed that in, along with some diced sundried tomatoes and fresh parsley, and I hoovered two bowls and saved the rest for lunch tomorrow.

Easy peasy.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Maya Sozer’s Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches (I modified based on what I had on hand)
For the mac & cheese:
1/4 cup raw cashews (this is important–you can’t use salted, roasted or any of that other nonsense)
1-3/4 cups cooked butternut squash or 3/4 of a 15oz can of squash puree
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-3/4 cups almond milk (must be unsweetened, unflavored)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons sweet curry powder (I have regular curry powder and it worked fine)
1 to 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (I didn’t use this as I didn’t have ginger on hand and don’t much like it in cream sauces)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound penne rigate or rigatoni pasta

Optional garnish:
Fresh parsley (or thyme)
sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil

DIRECTIONS
Put all the ingredients, except the salt, black pepper and pasta, into a food processor or high-speed blender and mix until smooth. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Add the butternut squash sauce to the same pot after draining out the pasta water. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the pasta is dressed with the sauce and is piping hot.

Add your garnishes, if you’re feeling it.

dairy-free recipes gluten-free pasta recipes

I am a country of wants

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1. 

When I am nine (or maybe ten), a teacher in my school is reprimanded for showing Nazi camp films. If you ask me now, I can’t recall if she showed them to the entire class or only to me, but I can still see a pyre of bodies, skin barely draped over skeleton, the black and white of a television screen creating a filter, a sort of dissonance between me and the horrors flashed across the screen. At the time I didn’t understand what I was seeing — the unimaginable, conceived by a man who sought to extinguish an entire race of people. But in that moment I’m a child bearing witness to bodies that resemble the kind I’ve seen overdosed in parks and alongside dumpster bins in the backs of supermarkets. You compare that which you see to that which you know because in childhood there exists no context — the bodies in the film seem like the bodies on the street, only there are more of them. So much more. Years later I’ll come to understand that atrocity isn’t a game of rock-paper-scissors.

My teacher clasps a silver bracelet adorned with seashells around my wrist, and although I now consider her behavior unsettling, back then it felt good to be wanted. It felt good to be loved. I tell this story to one of my friends who has an infant daughter, and the way she arranges her face in response gives me pause. She can’t imagine her daughter being exposed to a body writhing and releasing under the elevated subway near the park. She can’t fathom having to explain the brutal and systematic annihilation of a people to a small child. My friend is less disturbed by my teacher’s behavior than my reaction to it. I shrug. When you witness death as often as I have, you become immune to its horror. Death’s like a house, you tell her, where all the lights flicker and flare out.

In high school, I learn that the teacher died of a heart attack, and she died alone.

2.

My high school principal orders me to see a therapist, weekly — a deal we come to after I get into some minor (okay, not so minor) trouble — and I think, I must be crazy now. Nobody I know is in therapy and if they are they wouldn’t dare talk about it. At the intake session, my mother does most of the talking about how she’s ashamed of having to be here, how this session inconveniences her, and with what money is she supposed to pay this therapist? And by the way, she doesn’t believe in therapy because people who can’t solve their problems are weak. Gus sits mute, shielding his eyes, while I shuffle uncomfortably in my seat. I’ve grown used to these rants but rarely do they play out publicly, and here we are, my mother paying $50 for an hour where she talks about herself and me wondering when the session will end. My mother storms out and I know she’s sitting in the car, smoking a cigarette down to the filter and then she’ll smoke another until she’s gone through the pack. In a small voice, the therapist asks me how I feel. How do I feel? Angry, I say. I’m angry. She asks me why, and I think, not why, who. I’m so angry with her. I gesture to the door as if it’s the woman in the car.

A few months later, I graduate high school and my deal with the principal is over. My therapist is concerned and wants me to stay on for the summer, possibly through the fall. I laugh at the possibility of therapy being something I’m not forced into. Besides, I’m going to college in the Bronx, practically a whole other country away from my mother. Trains and subway lines lay between us. I’m practically cured, I say. More importantly, I’m free.

Part of me wonders what would have happened if I’d stayed on. Who imagines the years stretching ahead of them, a childhood blanket unfurling under their feet leading the way back to a dark country that’s familiar (this reminds me of…) yet unnavigable? Instead, you think about being infinite. All you see is possibility and your desire to be smothered by it.

3.

You go to $5 drink-ups. You pound fifty-cent drafts. Zima is a big deal because it’s in a bottle and when you’re flush you ask for it infused with grenadine. Wine is a bottle of Boone’s Country you carry back from the bodega on Fordham Road — one that doesn’t card, one that doesn’t care to as long as you pay cash — and drink until the room goes black. You wiggle into too-tight jeans and leave the dorm during the winter wearing a thin long-sleeved shirt, but you’re warm from the pre-game, from the bottle of Absolut mixed with the Minute Maid you stole from the cafeteria. All your stories start with: that time when I was drunk…and even after you graduate you still tell those stories while your friends have moved away and tell new ones.

Every room in the dorm has a whiteboard the size of a notebook, a place where we’d leave notes for friends because there are no cell phones and we type our papers on Word processors. One night, my best friend at the time gets into a drunken argument with her boyfriend and leaves me stranded in Manhattan. I’m not sure how I get home but I remember my roommate shaking me awake in the morning, saying, holy shit, what did you write on her door? I cocoon myself with my comforter and see what I scrawled two doors down. A single line repeated in timid script: How could you leave me?

I attempt therapy again during my junior year in college. I wear the floral babydoll dresses everyone wears, layered over a tight white shirt. Possibly paired with a choker, but this isn’t 90210, this is me sitting in an old man’s office where he tells me about my drinking problem. I’m furious. I just met you, I say, and storm out because if I time it just right…if I change my clothes and pick up a slice in the caf, I could make it to $1 well drinks. I could feel the warmth of the first four drinks swathing me like soft blankets.

I never stop to think that if you replace my drink with a cigarette, I would be my mother shaking her knee in the car, thinking, you don’t know me. You don’t know me at all.

4.

My friend picks me up at a Metro North station Connecticut in her beat-up Saab. The road closes to clean and quiet as we make our way into a nearby town, and this is the kind of place where you don’t have cell reception. A genteel town cloaked in fireflies and deciduous trees, and I joke about getting murdered in the house in which I’m staying and the fact that it would take months before anyone would find me. My friend shakes her head and says, matter-of-factly, no, the maid would probably find you.

It’s summer and I’m spending the weekdays holed up in the guesthouse of what would be considered a compound. We drive over a wooden bridge and a maid materializes explaining that the sensors alerted her of our arrival. Before us is a mansion, and its presence frightens me more than any horror movie. We make our way to the guesthouse and my friend asks me about the woman who has generously lent me use of her summer home so I could finish my first book. You didn’t tell me she was old money rich, she says, to which I respond, how was I supposed to know? Everyone in New York carries a Prada bag.

The guesthouse is spare, outfitted in leather couches and chairs and the decor is nautical, masculine. The rooms smell of oak and the upstairs bathroom is the size of my first apartment. I run up and down the stairs a few times for the feel of it, because I’ve never lived in a home divided by two floors. The guesthouse is next to a pool, pool house and tennis court, and I spend most of my days reading by still water and nights watching Godard films. There’s no cable or internet, only an ocean of black night and quiet, and even though I’m in awe of a life that is moneyed, cultured and educated (I’ve never heard of Godard until that summer), the home feels cold, alienating and severe.

My friend, whose family owns the home, visits me for a weekend and she’s writing her own book about growing up wealthy and being shipped off to a conversion cult camp for the affluent — military school meets EST cult, but the way she describes it is like the Manson Family minus the murders. After dinner, she invites me into what I’ve called “The Big House”. I refuse. How do I explain that the guesthouse exceeds my limits, that the mansion would be too much? She shrugs and we turn in for the night.

Come morning, there is only what can be described as a typhoon. My friend’s mother has arrived along with her case of wine for the weekend. She drinks Sancerre, and I meet her in the kitchen of The Big House, watching her as she goes about her day holding an always-full glass. It’s not even eight in the morning, and my friend will tell me later that this is how she always remembers her mother — elegant, holding a glass. I feel strange in the house, as if at any moment I would be found out for some unspeakable crime I’d committed or electrocuted for touching the finery. I tell my friend I’m on a heater with this book and I’ll be in the guesthouse working through the weekend. My friend nods and I notice within a half hour her mother slurs her words.

When they leave on Sunday, I come out from my hiding place. I can finally breathe.

5.

I don’t know why I’m talking about this, I tell my psychiatrist this week. I tell him about a sticker collection I kept when I was small. I’d fill books with scratch & sniff, Lisa Frank and Mrs. Grossman, and they were a bright, glaring mess. It was the book made by a child who doesn’t understand order but desires only that which is beautiful. Then I tell him about the trips my mother would take with and without me to create books of her own. The arrangement of her pages was painstakingly precise, filled with negative space while mine was a crowded house, beer spilling onto the floor. Hers was always bigger, more, and soon I stopped collecting altogether and moved on to lanyard and friendship bracelets, a hobby she took up too.

I don’t know why I’m telling you this, I repeat.

I come home the summer before my sophomore year in college and I go through my things to see what can be kept and discarded. My friend comes by because we have plans for wine coolers at Jones Beach, and she sees the sticker books — mother’s and mine — spread out on the floor. While paging through the books, confusion washes her face.

Later, in the car, my friend starts to speak and reconsiders. That was weird, she says. Really weird.

We don’t talk about it again.

I don’t know why I told you all of this, I say to my psychiatrist before our time is up.

6.

My first image of a writer is Jack Nicholson in The Shining. A drunk burdened by history. I see the film in a theater when I am five and my first impression is: there’s so much red.

7.

Are you worried about being vulnerable, about how hard it will be to let someone in, my psychiatrist asks. Is this a hypothetical or real life? Are we talking about friendships or lovers? He says, real life. Both, either or. I oscillate between I think about it all the time and I try not to think about it at all.

8.

In 2013, I travel to Biarritz in the off-season and it rains most days and is cold on others. I spend most of my time staring at the barnacles that blanket all the rocks on the beach. A lone surfer comes in with the tide and come nightfall I run back to the small inn on the beach and I write a story that, in two year’s time would turn into a novel, about a woman who moves to California after her mother dies of cancer. True, the main character is Ted Bundy with a whisk, and sure, there’s a serial killer that may or not may the main character (or it could her 3o-year-old step-brother who talks to his imaginary friend, Lionel, as in Lionel Barrymore, the actor and also the name of a lighter their mother carried with her until her death), but it’s about a journey out west. The book is about familial loss.

9.

Last year your mother dies of cancer and it’s complicated. Her daughter makes it her mission to remind you of your duty because you are rotten, mythically evil. You’re quiet through all of this because this girl, this stranger, is your mother’s daughter, and she is still, for all intents and purposes, a child. She only knows the world her mother created for her, as you once knew the one she fictioned for you. All you wanted to do is say goodbye on your own terms, but no one allows you your grief — they only remind you of your duty, of everything you always and continuously have to give. Remember, your role in your mother’s death is not about grieving. It’s not about closure or quiet or last words exchanged between two complicated women, your role in all of this is to take care of a stranger, the do-over child, who’s the same age as you were when you left home. And you look at the list of people who harass you on her behalf, and you think she has multitudes. She has a version of your mother you would never know.

Why is it always your job to care for broken people? Can no one dress their own wounds? Must you always hold the bandages? Always you were reaching. Always you woke in the night and learned how to change the bandages in the places that were hard to reach. When, you think, will there be peace from all those who want you to tender, to save? When, you wonder, will someone grip your shoulder and say, don’t worry. I got this for you.

A month after she dies, you decide to move to California.

10.

I’ve spent my entire life fearing all the things that could possibly kill me. I panic on planes. I don’t drink, smoke or take drugs because that’s like flashing a Vacancy sign to the afterlife. Sometimes I bolt up from where I’m sitting and think: I’m going to die. I will no longer be here. Over the years, I’ve created a set of breathing exercises in preparation for the kind of terror that blows in like a hurricane, devastating everything in its wake. I’ve spent my life being aware of time, and here I am, a warm day in February, wanting nothing more than permanent sleep. My college best friend calls me from work, terrified over something I posted online and subsequently deleted. I bite my lip so hard it bleeds when I tell her I’m fine, just fine, and she sees right through me and begs me to get help. At first I don’t do it for me, I do it because the pain I would cause the people I love is entirely too much to bear.

I see my psychiatrist that week and tell him about wants. A room filled withso much red.

11.

Five months later, you watch a movie where the main character says, I want to be the girl playing the tambourine.

12.

I read a study that reveals that sociopaths have the capacity to feel empathy, they just choose not to. The author writes: “We believe that empathy is achoice that we make whether to extend ourselves to others. The “limits” to our empathy are merely apparent, and can change, sometimes drastically, depending on what we want to feel.”

I show this to my psychiatrist. I shake my phone at him. She had a fucking choice, I say.

13.

Are you afraid of letting someone all the way in?

I think about the teacher, the films, the shells, The Shining, the barnacles on the rocks, all that black, white and red, and I say that I don’t want to die, or die alone, or bear the weight of my history of darkness. No, I say. I want someone to come join me here. To crawl all the way in.

I am a country of wants. I want new stories.

the gathering kind

odds & ends

This Saturday it’ll be a year since I moved to California. I’ve lived in New York my whole life, never needed a car, failed the road test three times because I couldn’t parallel park and then my license expired because why bother? Now I think about all the places I can go if I got a car. I think about geography, a terrain not yet navigated and a year is nothing, a blip because there’s so much about being here left to explore.

I first thought of California when I considered transferring to USC for film/writing during my sophomore year, and for the next fifteen years, I flirted with the idea of moving here. I never did it until I did and my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.

I don’t think I could’ve gone through the necessary introspection and work had I still lived in Brooklyn because I grew uncomfortably comfortable. I don’t know if I would’ve written a book that finally ends with hope if I still lived in NY. I don’t know if I would’ve been a calmer, quieter, chill person if I still lived in NY. Who knows, right? This journey is far from over and it’s private, strange, wonderful and it requires constant work. There is no taking a day off or sleeping in because nothing frightens me more than going back to that dark country that occupied me in February.

It’s been a relief not documenting as much online as I used to, and although I know I have a book coming out and I have to market it, blah, blah, blah, I don’t believe in doing something unless it makes you bolt out of bed. The strained effort shows and people are smart and they know when you’re phoning it in. I used to be excited about sharing everything, but that edited version of your life comes with costs you hadn’t quite calculated.

What I will say is this. Things are good. Really good. I finally feel settled, at home in all the ways you can think of the word.

I’m on a tear lately when it comes to books, films, art and I’ve been voracious with media. I finally got a LACMA membership because I can’t wait to check out the Guillermo del Toro exhibit, which is so up my alley. After seeing a slew of terrible Netflix movies, I stumbled on a Norwegian tsunami film, The Wave, and it made me wonder why we can’t make films as equally smart and gripping. Why must everything be a remake? Formulaic? The story of a geologist, who aims to save his family from a 300-foot high tsunami that’s been triggered by a rockslide in the quiet village of Geiranger, is tender, smart, thrilling and I’m shocked that I felt transfixed for over 90 minutes without glancing at my phone. The film is that good. Watch it. In striking contrast, I watched the acclaimed documentary, We Come As Friends. Remember Darwin’s Nightmare? This is darker, a deft exploration of how colonialism, war, and business contribute to the exploitation of South Sudan. I also re-watched A Woman Under the Influence after catching a random interview with Gena Rowlands and remembering how much I love watching films about women coming undone.

When it comes to books & articles, I’m reading everything. This piece was an incisive take on the tie between vlogs & anxiety disorder. Speaking of bloggers, this might be the most egregious shill yet–vloggers roll up to a country with the most horrifying human rights violations and document their holiday in… North Korea. What’s next? A guided tour through Syrian refugee camps? It’s true that introverts get hangovers from too much socializing. There have been times when I’ve needed a whole day of solitude to recharge.

My third book features characters across age, race, gender identity and social class, and I’d be lying if I said it was easy to write. This terrific piece outlines the fundamentals of writing “the other”. The best quote was from Junot Diaz, whom I admire:

To write, we must listen. To listen, we must shut up. And this isn’t the simple kind of listening, where you’re waiting for them to finish what they can say so you can jump in real quick with your point. Really, have a seat, take a deep breath, and listen to what people around you are saying. Listen to yourself, your quiet self. To your doubts and fears, the things you don’t want to admit. Listen to the things folks say that make you uncomfortable. Sit with that discomfort.

Understand you suck. Then try to suck less and move forward.

And if we’re getting bookish, this author was a thrilling new find and T.S. Eliot was a total asshole. I read three great books in a row and you need to order them ASAP. Lara Vapnyar’s Still Here, Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk (not everyone will love this because it’s obtuse, but her writing is ferocious), and Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book. This, from Jansson’s book, remains with me:   

The worm probably knows that if it comes apart, both halves will start growing separately. Space. But we don’t know how much it hurts. And we don’t know, either, if the worm is afraid it’s going to hurt. But anyway, it does have a feeling that something sharp is getting closer and closer all the time. This is instinct. And I can tell you this much, it’s no fair to say it’s too little, or it only has a digestive canal, and so that’s why it doesn’t hurt. I am sure it does hurt, but maybe only for a second. Now take the smart worm that made itself long and came apart in the middle, that may have been like pulling a tooth, for example, except it didn’t hurt. When it had calmed its nerves, it could tell right away it was shorter, and then it saw the other half right beside it. Let me make this a little easier to understand by putting it this way: Both halves fell down to the ground, and the person with the hook went away. They couldn’t grow back together, because they were terribly upset, and then, of course, they didn’t stop to think, either. And they knew that by and by they’d grow out again, both of them. I think they looked at each other, and thought they looked awful, and then crawled away from each other as fast as they could. They they started to think. They realized that from now on life would be quite different, but they didn’t know how, that is, in what way.

Finally, I won’t get into politics here because I rant on Twitter enough, but this week’s New Yorker profile on Jared & Ivanka Kushner was fascinating.
book buff

odds & ends

los angeles

 

I’ve spent the past few weeks absorbed in domestic and international politics and it is exhausting. I’m genuinely frightened about the direction our country is headed, and I only hope that people vote en masse come November. I’ve made a point to try not to get too deep into politics over the weekend (I read/watch conservative & liberal publications/media, even though I am a staunch Democrat who will be voting for Hillary Clinton come November), because it only gives me anxiety. Let’s save that for the work week.

I’ve had a hard time coming to this space because I’m not sure what to make of it anymore. Everyone tells me that I have to be everywhere when my book comes out, and although I know this to be true logically, I really love living most of my private life offline. So we’ll see where this goes. I’m having some new friends over for dinner tonight so I’ll definitely share the healthy eats I’m making. Until then, this is what’s going on in my neck of the woods:

READING: For a while, I couldn’t read. I had trouble revising and finishing my third book–a link of connected short stories centered on women in various stages of unrest. The book is meant to be a very loose retelling of The Waves. I finished a draft of the book in two months, which is shocking because I usually have to fork over a pint of blood for every chapter I write. However, when I re-read it after a few months of being on anti-depressants and therapy, for the first time in my life I had to put what I wrote down because it was too dark. When editors told my agent that they love my work but it’s “relentlessly dark”, I laughed it off because I couldn’t see it for what it was without perspective. Dani Shapiro wisely wrote that the “self who finishes a book is not the same self who started it”, and this is true because the now self looks back at the former self and weeps for that version. Wants this version, this book, to be hopeful. I couldn’t read until I finished a new draft of the manuscript, and now that it’s sitting with my agent (fingers crossed), I’m on a tear. I loved, loved, loved, Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands, a story collection steeped in female friendships, self-discovery, infatuation, loss, and disillusionment. I also tore through Heather Havrilesky’s How to Be a Person in the World–a selection of unpublished Ask Polly columns. Heather’s writing is so whip-sharp, self-effacing, empathetic and downright funny. Although I couldn’t relate to some of the columns on mothering (a few I skipped over), I enjoyed how Heather invites us to self-reflect and take stock and accountability in the journey to being our better selves.

These two books were a lovely palate cleanser after I finished Emma Cline’s The Girls, which was good, but not great, and a book from I expected so much more. I was SO EXCITED for this book because I’ve studied cults extensively, read nearly everything on the Manson family (from which the story is very loosely based), and while the writing was stunning, the story fell flat. I’m in the minority on this one and I’m sure there are a million people who would disagree.

I just started Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk, and I can’t wait to finish it.

Also, reading Bianca Bass’s interview with me (subscribe to her newsletter!), what burnout really means, when anxiety hovers over success, darkening it, taking on social platforms that harbor trolls, and how a self-taught hacker escaped a cult (riveting).  

WATCHING: If you asked me about my favorite movie genre, I will immediately counter with horror and suspense. And I’m not talking about the digital special effects from slasher movies or the ubiquitous, over-the-top gore that’s replaced suspense and nuance, I’m talking about what Hitchcock referred to be as being afraid of the jump. My favorite era was the 1960s-70s where films were created as an antecedent to McCarthyism–a masked being crippling small town America, endangering its citizens and usurping its values (think: Michael Meyers). In recent years, I’ve loved Asian horror because it’s rooted in traditional, mythology and quiet nuance, unlike the slasher bloody gore that’s replaced individuality and intellectualism. Now, all we have is what’s after the jump because we’ve come to know what to expect.

However, I’ve discovered a few films and series that are smart, suspenseful and unsettling. Southbound is what Rod Serling would have conceived had he been alive. It’s a string of five connected vignettes depicting what happens when our most extreme fears play out on a long stretch of endless highway. It also reminds me of the very brilliant House of the Devil.

winona ryder stranger things

If you haven’t watched the Netflix hit, Stranger Things, you need to think about your life choices. Yes, it brings me great joy to see Winona Ryder reinvented (she plays an excellent hysterical mom in a tightly-wound and deftly conceived 8-part miniseries that takes place in the 1980s. Again, we’re transported back to small town America, but, in this case, the plot centers on Ryder’s missing son, who was abducted, we think, by forces from the other side. Is the government harboring secrets (shocker) and conducting experiments that will alter mankind? Who is Eleven, the strange girl who manages to move things with her mind? I love how the thrilling sci-fi aspect of this is balanced by the relationship between three pre-teen boys that reminded me of Stand By Me. The stakes are always raised and the writing is so first-rate that I’m HOPING this gets renewed. An old favorite, Wayward Pines, had a disappointing second season so I pray this doesn’t follow suit.

Not a horror film, but completely worth watching, is Girlfriends, made in 1978. It was one of the rare and bold films at the time that meditated on female friendships and the strain that marriage (and wants) can inflict. I caught this randomly on TCM last night and I stayed up late to watch it. I was born in New York, and I felt nostalgic for a version of the city that wasn’t whitewashed. It was the New York I remember as a child in the 80s–gritty, exciting, and slightly dangerous.

Btw, Black Mirror is coming back in October. Brace yourselves.

DOWNLOADING: If you’re Type A like me and love Instagram (or use it for work), Planoly is an excellent app (there’s a desktop version), which allows you to plan out your feed, schedule posts and analyze the success of them. I’m pretty fixated on photo-editing apps, and I have about 10 on my phone including Color Story, Afterlight, Snapseed, and VSCO.

BUYING: I’m SO over spending a $ on labels. I want quality items that will last forever, and I want them at an affordable cost. This is why I’m shopping at Cuyana, M.Gemi & Armadio.

PLANNING: I am SO excited for my debut novel, Follow Me Into the Dark, which is coming out next year. I CANNOT WAIT. If you want to interview me for your blog, drop me a line. I’m going to New Zealand come November. Where should I go? I’m primarily hitting the North Island, but I want to check out Queenstown.

book buff foodie finds

spaghetti with tomato and walnut pesto

Untitled

I made this dish for a friend who came over for brunch one Saturday. I greeted her, and a guy I’d hired off Task Rabbit to assemble a file cabinet (naturally they arrived at the same time), with a deafening smoke alarm from the tomatoes I’d been roasting in the oven. The three of us held up towels and magazines, trying to air out my apartment from all the smoke that had accumulated, and we ended up laughing because my cat nearly went airborne trying to flee the alarm. Good times. 

I just finished Heather Havrilesky’s excellent column collection, How to Be a Person in the World (buy it, read it, effective yesterday), and one of the Ask Polly columns resonated so deeply with me–a woman moved to a new city and struggled to make new friends. While I prefer to spend much of my time alone (I actually take solace in the quiet of my own company), I do miss the ease of my east coast friendships. The feeling that I could hop on a subway and see a friend in the middle of the day. Since I’m a consultant much of my time is spent at home, in seclusion, and while I have a set of good friends, I wouldn’t mind a slow and deliberate expansion of my circle. A loosening of a belt, if you will. And I loved how Heather talked about opening your heart in the sense that you’d be surprised how the people who remain and thrive are those whom you least suspect. It’s okay to connect with people who are not your vision of an ideal friend because we need people, and companionship, in any form, is a comfort. 

So I’m joining a few groups, took up membership at a really cool gym where the members actually socialize (who knew?) and talk to one another, and I can’t wait to have new friends over for dinner. 

DIRECTIONS: Recipe from Bon Appetit
⅔ cup walnuts
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons plus ⅓ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Kosher salt
6 oil-packed anchovies, coarsely chopped (I nixed this because fish)
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about ½ cup), plus more for serving
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces spaghetti (I used gluten-free fettucini)
½ cup (packed) basil leaves

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until slightly darkened, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.
Heat broiler. Toss tomatoes with 2 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt. Broil, tossing once, until tomatoes are blistered and have released some of their liquid, 5–7 minutes. Let cool.

Pulse anchovies, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and ½ oz. Parmesan in a food processor until finely ground. Add walnuts and half of tomatoes, then, with motor running, stream in ⅓ cup oil; process just until combined. Season with salt. Transfer pesto to a large bowl and stir in black pepper.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking liquid.

Transfer pasta to bowl with pesto and add a splash of pasta cooking liquid. Toss, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Add basil and remaining tomatoes.

Divide among bowls; top with more Parmesan and black pepper and drizzle with oil.
.

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Uncategorized

you are what you go after

launching a new company

Three years ago I wrote a story about a job that was slowly killing me. There were weeks during the summer when I’d rarely see daylight and I’d fork food into my mouth I couldn’t remember having eaten. Did I eat lunch ?— I can’t remember, but I must have eaten because my garbage was overflowing with take-out cartons and Seamless Web plastic bags. I’d scroll through pictures of myself taken with my phone and I had to turn away because all of them looked like proof of life photos. I was walking through my sleeping life and I became a version of myself that to this day I still apologize for. My generation was reared to believe that if you worked hard, paid your dues, climbed slowly up an invisible ladder, you’d be handsomely rewarded with a matching 401K, and you’d no longer fear the first of the month when rent was due. You didn’t quit; you kept moving even when you knew that as a woman your work would be harder. You kept working because you hadn’t yet come to the realization that the things you own end up owning you. But that comes later, much later, when you’re so tired you stop rubbing the sleep out of your eyes. You kept waking up in the middle of the night to scan your emails because no one ever slept. Sleep was for amateurs, people who weren’t thirsty. People who didn’t want to make partner.

I worked for a man who peddled his snake oil wrapped in Powerpoint presentations. He was the sort who believed that if you said all the right multisyllabic words, people would hand over their checkbook with a dazed look that resembled idolatry. A man so consumed by his greed that it ended up being his ruin. I’m reminded of what someone told me once — you are what you go after.

When I was made a partner of this company, all of the women stood and applauded and I was happy. It occurs to me now that I should’ve been angry over the fact that all of these brilliant ambitious women reported to a company run by men, men who reported to a holding company and a board filled with white men. And I was the lone woman who stood amongst the gleaming white.

When I was a freshman in college, I switched majors from psychology to finance. There were a lot of reasons for the move but none of them really matter now save for the fact that I grew up poor in Brooklyn and I watchedWall Street one too many times. I was eighteen and I believed that money corrected everything. Money gave you comfort. Money was your shelter. So I took all the required classes, interned at Merrill Lynch and other fancy banks at $15-$20/hour. I remember attending a party a few days before graduation where the man who would be valedictorian, a man who was a fixture in my study group, told me that competing with me made him work harder. He was drunk and so was I, and I couldn’t help but think he was congratulating me on my loss. It didn’t occur to me until years later that I would allow snake oil salesmen to use me to get ahead.

Two years out of college and sick of wearing skirt suits (this was 1999), I started a side business where I re-sold clothing and accessories I purchased from sample sales and outlet stores on eBay. This was a time of dial-up internet service and AOL buddy lists. Few business set up shop online, and women across the country were excited about this eBay business and how it allowed them trespass to the false feeling that you’re important, that you mean something, simply because you have a pair of $300 sandals strapped to your feet. I was 23 and filing LLC paperwork and doing my own accounting at night because I was tired of being told by recruiters, who scanned my paper resume printed on bond paper, that I could only get a job in banking because I’d only worked in banking.

I don’t like being told no.

This side business got big, big for me, and it attracted the attention of the wife of a man who would eventually be my boss, a man who worked for a $10 million dollar venture-back dot.com that aimed to sell Italian designer accessories over the internet. I resigned from my job, trashed my suits, and worked full-time at this company while I attended Columbia University’s MFA program in between work hours. Never did I conceive that owning my own business was something that one did, much less one that was built using the internet. We were taught to crave the creature comforts of big companies. Big companies meant stability.

That sound you hear? It’s the sound of one hand clapping.

There are many things in the span of a two-decade career for which I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the time I spent working for a man who gave me a much needed attitude adjustment and taught me most of what I know about marketing. He also taught me, by example, how to be kind and compassionate to the people who work for you. I’m grateful for another man, years later, who was my sponsor and champion when the snake oil salesman was content on wreaking havoc on my self-esteem if it meant keeping me in line while he continued to add zeros to his paycheck. If it meant cleaning up his mess after he’d lie to client after client, and set expectations he knew we couldn’t achieve. No matter. As long as the contracts were signed and the cash flowed in. No matter when people caught on to his game, and he hid in his office while I had to fire people who had mortgages and families. It’s a business decision. I’d choke out these words and cry in the bathroom later. Anyone who tells you firing someone gets easier the more you do it isn’t human. But I was deemed “emotional” because I cared about the wellbeing of people. Even if many of them will never know it.

For the three years after I resigned from this job, I thought I would be happier flying solo. No office to go into, no lives to turnover, and fewer hearts to break. I even left New York, my home of 39 years because I grew tired of the velocity, of watching my home devolve into a whitewashed H&M, of no longer wanting the things I thought were important. So I moved to Los Angeles, and for the first time in my life I had unmitigated quiet. So much so that I nearly drowned in it, and I spent the greater part of this year in a very dark and severe depression. A darkness I believed I couldn’t come back from until I did. And that’s another thing I’m grateful for — people online and off who bring you shelter when you least expect it. A kind of shelter that makes money laughable in contrast. A kind of compassion that makes you only want to work harder, be a better person.

I spent the bulk of my career hiding my gender and swallowing my voice. My decks couldn’t be too pretty lest they be deemed feminine. Perhaps we’ve conveniently forgotten study after study that tells us that having diversity and inclusion on boards and in companies is the very definition of a company’s success. I couldn’t be vulnerable when that could be construed as a sign of weakness when countless studies prove otherwise. That vulnerability means you’re human and people will admire you for that. Your humanity.

This month I returned to 1999, albeit changed and demonstrably older. (Hopefully wiser). I filed paperwork for an LLC; I opened a business banking account and created the credentials I wanted to read. I contracted nearly a dozen women who wanted to collaborate on projects that challenged and excited them. I sent emails, scheduled meetings and made plans. However, there was a moment — a full day of them — when I wondered if I would fail. If there weren’t a place for people who wanted to speak English, not jargon, for people who demanded mutual respect from their partners and people who understood that our best work could be achieved if weren’t tethered to our desks and chained to our chairs. I thought back to a younger version of myself who didn’t question failure because this change, regardless of the outcome, was what I needed to move forward.

So here I am, 40, moving toward what’s next. And I couldn’t be more excited. If you’re interested, here’s what I’m up to. I hope you’ll fist-pump me along. Drop me a follow on Instagram or Twitter if you’re feeling my vibe.


For those who are curious, I plan on taking this space in a markedly different direction. I’m keeping a great deal of my personal life offline, so this space will be filled with books, food, the ins & outs of running my own small business, travel and the like. I hope you’ll stick around. -f

freelance life + careers