Posted on June 6, 2015
Funny how Facebook has a way of breathing new life into old wounds. Killing time, I stumbled upon news of a birth. Someone I used to know and love had a child, and normally I would be unfazed–I’d just keep scrolling, but this singular update, a life change, put my heart on pause. I was reminded of the cold excision of our friendship, a hurt from which I would need two years to recover. I spent most of today reliving that sadness, breathing through it, in hopes that it’ll pass as swiftly as it arrived. Today was supposed to be different. Today was supposed to be an extension of yesterday’s jubilance, of scrolling through potential homes in Los Angeles. Today wasn’t supposed to be this.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook
1 cup boiling water
2 tbsp tamarind (from a pliable block)*
3 tbsp Asian fish sauce, preferably naam pla
3 tbsp packed palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 (7 ounce) package dried flat rice noodles (1/8 inch wide)**
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (I nixed this)
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 small shallots, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound medium shrimp in shells (31-35 per pound), peeled deveined and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I nixed this)
1/2 pound plain ultra-firm tofu, rinsed, patted, dry and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
8 scallions, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1 inch pieces
4 tbsp crushed unsalted roasted peanuts
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Lime wedges are tasty
*The tamarind I purchased at my local market was fresh and already in liquid form so I nixed this whole process.
**I used brown rice noodles.
Pour boiling water into a bowl, add tamarind, and stir mashing gently, for 3 minutes to soften. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on solids; discard solids.
Combine fish sauce, tamarind mixture, palm sugar, granulated sugar and salt in a small saucepan and heat over moderate heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Soak noodles in 10 cups boiling water in a large bowl until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain well. Alternatively, you can cook your rice noodles to package directions. As long as you rinse the noodles in cold water, you’re fine.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok ( or large deep skillet) over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add eggs and cook, stirring, until scrambled and just cooked through, about 1 minute. Transfer eggs to a bowl and tear into small pieces.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in wok ( or skillet) over moderately high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add garlic and shallots and stir-fry until just beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add shrimp and stir-fry for 1 minute, then add tofu and stir-fry until shrimp is just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl with eggs.
Heat wok over moderately high heat until hot. Add tamarind sauce and bring to a boil. Add noodles and stir-fry until tender and excess sauce is absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg and shrimp mixture, 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts, scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and red pepper flakes and toss well.
Mound pad thai on a platter, top with remaining 1 cup bean sprouts, and sprinkle with remainging 2 tablespoons peanuts. Serve with lime wedges.
Posted on June 5, 2015
Years ago, a friend of mine, a lawyer working on a stop-and-frisk case, talked to me about privilege. He could be someone who walks the city streets carrying drugs, yet he’d never be stopped, never be given more than a passing glance, because he’s an attractive white male who doesn’t look the part. Doesn’t fit the profile. On paper he’s the poster boy of privilege–Swarthmore undergrad, Harvard Law, and skin as pale as parchment–until he holds his husband’s hand. Until they publicly embrace. Then he’s a fag, a homo, a queer, and it’s as if all the privilege he was able to enjoy before he touched another man’s hand vanished. On that day my friend reminded me to check my privilege and check it often. And while I have to endure the indignities that come with being a woman in America, I have to remember that I’m, by all appearances, a white, educated woman (even if I’m genetically nearly half black and Spanish), and I’m able to navigate spaces where many are denied trespass.
I think about this a lot, especially when I re-read old stories I’ve written where I talk about my hair as a “betrayal”, rather than a piece of my makeup worthy of pride and love. I think about this when I email friends listings of expensive apartments in Los Angeles of which I’m able to afford. Yes, I work hard for everything I have, but I have to remind myself, constantly, that it’s easier for me because for the whole of my adult life I’ve played the part of a white, Ivy-educated woman. I have to remember this when WOC speak cogently and brilliantly on the dangers of whitewashed feminism. And isn’t it tragic that we need a comic, albeit an eloquent one, to remind us of all that we take for granted–all the ways we need to make the world better for those who are unable to occupy our seats of privilege.
Over the past year I’ve been reading scores of articles that invite you to change your life. In this rarified life the word “impossible” is verboten because if they’ve achieved the unthinkable you can too. It’s smart marketing, really, the way in which these stories sell you on an idea, an alternative life you could be living if only you’d make the leap. If only you’d sell your possessions and hop on a plane. But that’s what marketing does–sells you something that’s actually not the thing you’re really buying.
What they’re selling, unbeknownst to them, is their privilege. Privilege has become the unspeakable, the ultimate taboo, because no one wants to hear that their journey to break ranks, regardless of how difficult it seemed to be, comes at lower cost than if someone else attempted the leap. No one wants to feel the guilt that comes with being born into a certain race or economic advantage because perhaps they think it reduces the brave choices they’ve made. It doesn’t, really, but the blindness that the currency built into these choices is a kind that can’t be bought by others, is dangerous.
You may weep into your yoghurt when you read this, but not everyone can wake up one morning, quit their job (and life), and travel the world. Not everyone can drape their tawny body on a beach or sit perched in front of a laptop in Phuket. If that were the case, everyone would do it. We don’t exist in binary states, and those major leaps can’t be copied by all but perhaps they’ll cause a ripple in someone’s life. Maybe those dramatic changes will inspire small, meaningful choices in others.
Two years ago I contemplated a move to Europe (I know, line forms to the left). In retrospect, this was the dumbest idea in which I’ve ever conceived, but back then I was unsettled, unhappy, and I was grasping for something big that could fill the emptiness I’d been feeling. Yet, so many people told me to just do it! I’ll figure it out! Don’t think! At first I was exuberant–why not just put the cat on a plane with a passport? And then I woke to the reality: I’ve six-figure student loan debt that has to be paid or the corporations that hold my debt will sic the dogs on me, and I’ve no doubt they’ve global bloodhounds in their arsenal. I’d no savings. The only language I knew was Spanish and Spain’s tanking economy was out of the question. I had no partner with whom to share my expenses and fears, and I owned a pet that would require nearly six months of paperwork and anxiety attacks to transport to another country. While I wanted to pursue this fantasy, real life logistical questions and concerns put me on pause, yet the whole of social media was intent on admonishing me for thinking logically. Apparently logic erodes delusional thinking.
All this empty talk reminded me of a piece Mark Manson wrote on the steaming pile of bullshit that is The Secret. He writes,
Other studies show that people who engage in “self-affirmations” and are then presented with information that threatens their affirmation (even healthy criticism or feedback) actually engage in more faulty reasoning than people who don’t use self-affirmations.10 In fact, people who indulge in delusional positive thinking ironically become downright angry when someone tries to contradict their wall of airy-fairy thoughts. The truth about their situation just becomes that much more painful to them.
Delusional positive thinking ironically generates greater closed-mindedness in people. They must always be vigilant and block out potentially negative feedback or criticism of their beliefs, even if that negative feedback is life-or-death important to their health and well-being.
I don’t have the privilege of parents who could finance my adventures or give me shelter should I falter from pursuing them. I don’t have the privilege of a debt-free existence because how was I going to scrounge up the $40K/year that was the cost of my Columbia education? Do I regret graduate school? Do I regret that I’ll likely pay loans until I’m steeped in earth? Sometimes. But what am I going to do other than deal with the hand I’ve dealt myself and take responsibility for my choices.
But still. These articles, for a time, made me feel guilty. Made me feel as if my life were lacking, that I wasn’t brave enough to make the choices these women had made. Honestly, that was my own shit. That was me realizing that I’m not these other people living their lives with the privileges they have. I’m me. This is my life. And while I can’t teach snorkeling in Borneo, I can make the leaps that feel right for me. The leaps that my privilege + my hard work can afford.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: don’t let these stories make you feel small. Don’t let my story make you feel small. You are the author of your own story. Write it. Live it. Share it with others. Try to help others with their story if you see them struggling, or if they don’t have the equipment or the means like you do.
Or at least acknowledge and feel grateful for what you have.
Posted on June 3, 2015
But I opened my eyes too suddenly, for no reason at all, and the beach at East Hampton has vanished, along with Bluebell and the cats, all of them dead for years now. The Turkish towel is in reality the white nubbly counterpane of the bed I am lying in, and the cool ocean breeze is being provided by the blessed air conditioner. It is ninety-three degrees outside — a terrible day in New York City. So much for my daydream of sand and sea and roses. The daydream was, after all, only a mild attack of homesickness. The reason it was a mild attack instead of a fierce one is that there are a number of places I am homesick for. East Hampton is only one of them. –From the Preface of Maeve Brennan’s The Rose Garden
I want to go. Now. My landlord asks me if I can send him my utility bill for a rebate. In response, I turn off my phone and bury it under a blanket. At home, where I’m lulled into an odd delusion of serenity, horns blare for five hours straight. Amidst all of this anger, all of this come on, now. All of this I have to be somewhere and why can’t the ant that is your car inch forward? Just drive. Why can’t you move your fucking–? Heel of the hand pumps hard. I’ll show them. I’ll beep this horn longer than they think I can. A woman shouts out her window, you’re a real big shot. You know that? And I don’t know if she’s talking about the dozens of ants in their cars honking or if she’s making small talk. There’s another woman who sometimes paces my block and she talks about how her face is peeling off. Her only salvation is Jesus Christ, so it’d be real good if you people could accept the Lord as your goddamn savior so my face can get back to what it was. I live in a neighborhood forever in repair. I live in a place where people move the curtains to one side, curious. Is her face really off? The woman bellows, can you hear me?
Oh, I can hear you. I think the only thing that can take off your skin is you smoking in the heat. Snakes like the desert; they prefer the heat.
Silence is a tree, I say once. In a forest, my pop says. Where no one’s there to hear it, I complete. I don’t buy that, my pop says. There’s always someone in the forest. A bird, an insect, a body covered in cool leaves–there’s always signs of life, my pop tells me. You can’t erase life out of a forest. One can’t unsound. And I say it’s not about the life which occupies the inside and perimeter, rather it’s our distance from it. So why a forest? Why not a boat in the ocean? A graveyard, he laughs. Ha ha. And I’m all straight when I say there’s probably more life among the dead than among the living. Look at the obsequious somnambulants–all of them–sleep-waking into their phones!
And so it goes.
Over the weekend I watch a funny movie about suicide. Trust me on this one. After the film, I keep thinking about the main character, Sophia, and how I have ashes of my Sophie on top of a bookcase and would it be cruel to put her away, somewhere quiet (but we’ve determined there is no quiet, no unsound, no fucking forest) because maybe it’s time? But this: I remember the rise and slump of her chest, how I held her–all four pounds of her–in my arms. I still own the sweater from the day when I last held her and I think about burning it. Would I keep those ashes in a tin nearby too? Is silence me in a bedroom crying into a chest where a heart no longer beats while a man with a needle and a woman with a towel wait patiently on the other side? Is silence the door that divides the two? Are we nothing if not the architects of our own forest, the makers of our own doors?
There’s a book on the floor, one I’ve been meaning to read–Half a Life. Tick toc, tick toc, toc.
I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life, a woman weeps. What is this, I think. I’ve become the sort of woman who cries over sentimental movies. I never used to be this way. I never used to cry. I used to go through my life not feeling much of anything.
I’m told that neural mirroring is a sign of empathy. Sit in front of a psychopath and yawn. For most, a yawn is contagious–people unconsciously mimic as a sign of compassion. Yet there are those who will sit across from you; they’ll engage in polite conversation and ask if you’re tired, and then you realize you’ve met someone who’s not interested in playing your yawning game. They’ve got their own forest. Their own locked doors. And then you wonder if rationality is standing behind your gossamer curtain, face up in flames. Because you’ve got the itch. Your skin is peeling if only you would just say the words. Give in to Augustine and Montaigne, into a book that foretells a white kingdom where only a privileged few are given trespass.
When I was younger I had a habit of chewing the ends of my hair. I quit it during college because eating one’s hair is the sort of thing that makes you stand out and the irony of college is that the training wheels have come off and being an adult becomes a precious exercise of blending in. Four years later I’m at a party in an apartment where the floor threatens to give way and Cate arrives with a white kingdom in a glassine bag and I’m still Christian. Back then, I still believe in a god but after that first line, after I twirl in a bathroom and maw at my ends, do I wonder if this vast white forest supersedes an old story in the oldest book.
I tell the story of silence like a knock-knock joke. I text my pop, what’s silence. We play this game. We’ve gotten good at it over the years. We rearrange the furniture, dust the curtains and put out a tray of stale cookies. Silence is the sound of holding your breath. Still looking for your forest, he says.
I suppose so. I suppose I will grow homesick for this forest when I make passage to another.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from A Modern Way to Eat (I’ve altered the recipe quite a bit)
3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 cup seeds (1/3 cup hemp seeds, 1/3 cup sesame seeds, 1/3 cup black sesame seeds)
1 tsp baking powder
3 medium bananas, mashed
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp coconut milk (full-fat)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat your oven to 400F. Spray a loaf tin with coconut oil and dust with coconut flour.
Mix all the dry ingredients (flours, sugar, seeds, salt and baking powder) in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
In a separate bowl mash the bananas, then stir in the olive oil, coconut milk, vanilla extract and eggs.
Gently mix together the wet and dry ingredients, just until there are no pockets of flour left. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, then bake a little lower down in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the loaf comes out clean.
When the loaf is cool enough, transfer to a cooling rack. This is pretty yummy still warm, but also good at room temperature or toasted and spread with either butter and a little honey or almond butter. You can also use this as French toast or in bread puddings.
Posted on May 31, 2015
Getting rid of books is a painful process. It’ll take me months, sometimes years, to let go of a book I rationally know I no longer desire or need. While I’m able to discard clothing and household items with ease, tossing books feels like bloodletting. So know that when I put out over 40 issues of Gourmet, Martha Stewart Living, Food & Wine and Bon Appetit, along with 22 cookbooks, I was exhausted. Know that as I watched passersby pilfer through the magazines and page through the books I wanted to run downstairs and snatch them all back. Even if I have no intention of making Ina’s salmon bisque in the near future.
When it comes to clothing I tend to rotate between 10 items in my wardrobe because it’s easy. Rarely do I have to think about what I’m wearing each day for longer than a minute. Sadly, I’m the same way when it comes to cooking. I have five cookbooks on my living room floor and I cycle through them until I buy another cookbook. Rarely do I find recipes online because I’ve been burned by so many blogs, and I’m old-school–I like the feel of pages clumped together from overuse, and the promise of a completed dish that only a glossy photo can offer.
However, I’ve forced myself to get surgical with regard to the items I have in my home because I have to pay to move them to California. Yesterday, I paged through every cookbook and magazine I owned and asked myself whether each still inspired. I wondered aloud if I’d still cook from this book given how much my life (and subsequent eating habits) have changed over the past year. Books I once adored suddenly felt like strangers. I’d lost interest in the old-school Food Network chefs I once revered, and my taste in desserts has shifted to the more virtuous. Sure, I’m down for a piece of rich pastry, but I’ve decided to only keep the decadence to a whisper. While I’m able to consume gluten sparingly, I don’t have the taste for it as I once had. And books that I’d purchased because I was drawn to the particular personality behind them, yet found the recipes uninviting to my palate (Rachel Khoo), found its way to the giveaway pile. Books that were beautiful but served no other purpose than offering me rich paper stock and gorgeous photos–they too became a member of the departed.
At my height, I owned upwards of 350 cookbooks. Now I own a lean 43.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to “shop my cookbooks”, which is to say that I’m dusting them off and determining whether I need to trim down even more. Some cookbooks haven’t been used in years and I plan on returning to Nigella, Martha, Thomas Keller, and some of my old favorites to see if they stand up in my current life.
Can I tell you how thrilled I was to start with Sophie Dahl? There is SO MUCH GOODNESS in this book, and I plan to cook up her Mexican eggs, and scores of healthy eats. But first, these lentils.
Over the past year I’ve fallen in love with lentils. They’re filling, versatile, and packed with protein. From salads to soups, I’ve cooked all sorts of varieties, and when properly dressed it stands up against its gluten counterparts (orzo, couscous and the like). The dressing gives the salad some bite and the feta is creamy and silky smooth. You will love this dish + it serves 4.
A brief aside–you may have notice that this week’s snaps are a little crisper and sharper. After a year of saving, I finally purchased the Canon 50mm 1.2 lens.
All I want to do is take pictures.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Sophie Dahl’s Very Fond of Food, modified slightly
For the salad
1 1/4 cups Puy (French) lentils
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
A handful of cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
A small handful of fresh mint, chopped
For the dressing
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard (my Dijon expired so I used stone ground dijon and it was fine)
1 shallot, finely minced
Salt + pepper to taste
Place lentils in a medium saucepan and add just enough water to cover (for me, it was 2 1/2 cups). Bring to a quick boil, reduce to low, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.
While the lentils are cooking, I did all the prep work (which took about 20 minutes). I also made the dressing by whisking together all of the ingredients.
Once the lentils were cooked, I drained them in a fine mesh strainer and tossed in a large bowl with the chopped tomatoes and celery, and feta. I dressed the salad and tossed all the ingredients until the lentils were completely coated and then I added the fresh mint. You can savor the salad warm and it’s also perfect at room temperature.
Posted on May 27, 2015
You can’t possibly know how much I struggled with posting this photograph on this space. I abhor having my photo taken because it feels like a physical distraction. We all make unconscious judgments and assumptions based on what we see; we assess the superficial: Is she pretty? Is she the “right” weight? And we speculate and place value judgments on the deeply superficial: Who makes that dress? How can she afford it? Suddenly, what we see becomes an extension of our mirrored selves, and we forget about the person behind the photograph. I’ve been guilty of this having stared at photographs of myself over the years and thinking, What was I thinking? I was too thin. How did I look like I was happy when I was far from fine? Is it possible for a lens to freeze-frame a lie? And so on.
For the great deal of my life my style was a mimicry of those who surrounded me. When I was a teeanger, I wore clothing several sizes too large and striped shirts from The Gap. In college, I wore tight shirts under flannels, Doc Martens and baseball hats. In my twenties, I was obsessed with Anthropologie, and anything that carried the stench of luxury. In my early thirties I still erroneously believed that expensive clothing gave you what you lacked. It wasn’t until I gained the most weight I’ve ever sustained on my frame did I have to sit back and think about fit, comfort, and more importantly, what I liked.
Believe me when I say that I’m the very definition of low maintenance. I don’t wear makeup, save for a swipe of lipstick or I’d otherwise be mistaken for the dead. I walk fast and find heels to be a cruel form of sartorial torture. No, I’m not interested in blisters, scabs, and bloodletting simply for the sake of appearing fashionable. For whom? For what? And more importantly, WHY??!!! If something looks complicated in assembly or wear, I run screaming in the other direction. I’m too old for drama; I don’t need my clothes to exhaust me.
Although I slowly lost the weight I’d gained, I learned to dress for my body. I’m a freelancer who’s no longer tethered to office attire. I’m petite. I will always have a sizeable chest (grr) and curves, and some cuts/looks, while beautiful in theory, are hazardous in practice.
I’m also moving to an anti sweater-weather state, so there’s that.
This year I donated and gifted bags of clothing, shoes, and accessories. I’ve pared down to only what I love and need. I’ve no multiples. I’ve discarded all of the clothes from my 20s when my size was a negative integer (I assure you those were not halcyon days) and I’d forsaken comfort for trendiness. Now, my uniform consists mostly of v-neck drapey tees with cardigans and fitted pants, or dresses that nip/dart at the waist. You’ll almost always find me in flats or sporty sneakers, and I care less about the label and more about the quality of the garment. I LOATHE shopping (reason: people) and clutter (reason: anxiety; I’ll have to pay to move all this crap) so the idea that I won’t have to enter a store or deal with an online return gives me an insurmountable amount of joy.
I want to feel comfortable and somewhat stylish but I don’t want to overthink it.
For the first time in forever I’m wearing white and color. I picked up this dress over the weekend and I’ve already worn it twice. Although I have to wear this with a slip (I got a Commando full-body slip on a recommendation, but I hate it because it rides up), this is probably the most comfortable and AIRY item of clothing I own.
It also doesn’t hurt that it’s California-ready!
Photo snapped by my sweet friend, Alyssa, before we had…ALL OF THIS!
Posted on May 25, 2015
When most people think about the future, they dream up ways they might live happier lives. But notice this phenomenon. When people remember the crucial events that formed them, they don’t usually talk about happiness. It is usually the ordeals that seem most significant. Most people shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering…When [suffering] is not connected to some larger purpose beyond itself, suffering shrinks or annihilates people. When it is not understood as a piece of a larger process, it leads to doubt, nihilism, and despair. –From David Brooks’ The Road to Character
This weekend I tried to go back to the wonder. When we’re small we believe in the infinite–we incant the word forever like sermon, like song, and we truly believe, as Edna St. Vincent Millay once wrote, that childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies. Remember that bike you rode with unsteady hands and how you drove it into a tree? You don’t remember the ride, you remember the fall–the sting of torn skin which will a scab you persistently pick, a wound that takes forever to heal. Remember that rain in August? How it came down like a victory and washed the streets clean and you got caught up in it, felt chilled to the bone amidst all the heat. You never conceived of being cold in August.
As you grow older you realize that your life is composed of a collection of firsts. Your world is complete and beautiful; you believe in fairies, magic, and old men who fly down chimneys. You stare up at the sky and wonder how planes can be suspended in midair, and in that moment you can’t fathom that one day you’ll be in a flying machine buoyed up by mathematics, science, and sky. You think people in China, India and Canada and wonder if they can see that plane too. For a time you are told that the ground is safe–it’s the one thing that doesn’t move–until you are in a place where the earth rumbles and shifts below your feet. A man points to a hole in the ground and says in a thousand years time this barren land will be filled with water–too bad we won’t be around to see it, haha!–and it occurs to you that there will be a great many things you won’t see, firsts for the unborn.
We are nothing but a clock inching us forever forward.
And then there comes a time when forever feels like a silly word to use because you’ve seen people lying in caskets, and how could forever exist when the people you love leave and never come back? You hear whispers of drunk men being paid $5/hr to don a red suit and bounce kids on their knees. Late one night you slip downstairs and see people you know pile presents under a tree. You feel a hand slide under a pillow leaving a quarter for a tooth. And then you begin to see that magic is about commerce and the moment we are born we grow to inevitably rot.
There go the adults storming the kingdom and bringing it to ruin. As time passes, knowledge, memory, and experience chip away at the wonder. And we absolve to preserve our children in the kingdom for as long as we possibly can, but we’re adults and we can’t help ourselves and the children become repeats of us with minor variations.
A man wakes at his desk and thinks: This is my life? All of it?
I have been happy. Is that success? –Advice on careers, finance, and life from Harvard Business School’s Class of 1963
I watch a movie where two grieving sisters come to believe that their dead mother will return. She said to wait, hold tight. But who’s going to record our heartbeat before God? I watch another movie where a pragmatist, a cynic, becomes undone when he sees what science and logic cannot prove. I read a book about character, which reaffirms what I already know–character is shaped and formed largely through how we breathe through and manage experience. How we breathe through the dark spaces and dig our way out of the darkness. Character becomes the hands that do the digging, and then the spaces between light and dark. Character becomes the breath between the tick of a metronome, how we manage the off-beat, the breath before the jump.
I’m thinking about wonder lately because I’m an adult who believes in the rational and pragmatic. I’m an adult who no longer believes in a god although so many people desperately want me to. Yet, I’m an adult who’s just realized that I haven’t had all my firsts. There are firsts left to be had! There are trees to crash into, knees to scalp and skin. There will be a new zip code that I will write on envelopes. There will be two hands that will clutch a wheel and propel a machine forward. There will be the heartache and break of farewell, the I will see you sometime soon. There is so much that is unknown and frightening and I know that I will be different somehow, once I emerge from the other side. Once I set foot into a new home thousands of miles away from what is safe, familiar.
There is a wonder that is not quite science and not quite god, but something beautiful that exists between the two.
Part of this has made want to turn inward, not share as much. It’s made me want to experience more. I’m finding that the more I talk about my move the more I allow people to ruin it with their constant questions and advice. The more I seek out wonder the more I feel subsumed by the noise of pragmatism. So I’ll be holding my hand close and you’ll know where I’ve landed when I’m there because right now I need to experience this first without having adults intrude.
I need the wonder.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, with modifications
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
4 cups of rolled gluten-free oats
1 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
2 1/2 cups dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
1/3 cup chopped dried figs
1 cup unsweetened dried cherries (or blueberries)
Pre-heat oven to 300F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Add the pumpkin + sunflower seeds to a medium bowl, cover it with water, swish the seeds around and drain it using a strainer over a running tap. Set the nuts aside.
In a large bowl (and I’m talking LARGE), toss the oats, pistachios, coconut flakes and cinnamon until combined. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat the syrups + salt until they bubble slightly. Remove from the heat, stir in the olive oil and vanilla extract, and set aside. Stir the drained seeds into the oat and nut mixture. Pour in the olive oil mixture and stir everything until completely combined.
Divide the granola between two baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, toss the granola, rotate the trays and bake for another 15 minutes. Then, toss the granola again and bake for another 10 minutes until the granola is brown.
Add the hot granola to a large bowl and toss in the dried fruit. Allow the mixture to cool completely before storing it in airtight containers.
Posted on May 20, 2015
What happened to listening and engaging with people? What happened to “how are you?” I remember when people used to complain about people tweeting what they had for breakfast. Perhaps they still do complain. That never bothered me though. At least their breakfast didn’t want something from me. —Annie of Ethical Thinker
I don’t want new friends. That may strike you as a bit cold, but it’s honest. I’ve spent the great deal of my life focused on personal velocity, acceleration, volume and quantity, and I’m at a place where I have what I need. I want for nothing more. Years ago I took a workshop taught by Nathan Englander, and during office hours he would sit with two copies of my short story. One version was clean and the other was a massacre of red ink. Over time he taught me to be economic with my writing–how to find one word that could do the work of three. Make the line work harder, he taught, and I’ve since applied this axiom to all aspects of my life. I’m surgical about the people who inhabit my life and I’ve no desire to pander or please the smart set, or be “famous” or “popular.” And while I realize that one can’t live in complete solitude (especially as I plan to move to the unfamiliar), I plan to befriend a few rather than entertain the masses. I don’t mind traveling or being alone; I prefer my own company. I’ve had all the fanfare and confetti in my 20s. Now, I crave the minimal and the quiet.
Some might find this intimidating while I view it as a means of keeping myself honest.
Over the past year I’ve started to feel the tension that comes with more people discovering your work. I wrote some pieces that garnered a modicum of attention and I started to feel noise occupying previously empty spaces. I received demands of friendship and attention from strangers. I received a deluge of requests: Can you read/edit/help me publish this? Can you help me with this? Can you link to this? Can you promote this? Can you do this? Can you meet me for this? Can you connect me to this? Socially, we’ve been conditioned to help, to give away pieces of ourselves in service to others at the expense of ourselves. If I say refuse, I’m the “bad guy”, but no one ever considers that the invasion of one’s life and time as inappropriate social behavior. I don’t exist to service strangers.
Putting myself out into the world has allowed me to meet some truly wonderful and courageous people. I’ve made great acquaintances around the globe, have found online spaces where I want to spend time, and I’ve exposed myself to cultures and ways of thinking I never would have otherwise encountered. I’m grateful for this. Yet I sometimes feel that the noise–the persistent clamour, the questions, the look at me!–subsumes the beauty I’ve accumulated. A handful of people have come here for insightful, passionate discussion while others leave links in hopes that people here will go elsewhere. People don’t read, they skim. People don’t connect at a visceral level, they self-promote. People tell me this writing intimidates them without having to do any of the work to move past their discomfort. People feel as if they are entitled to access to my life, time, and contacts, simply because I publish words on this space. People (even friends) feel as if they can give me unsolicited advice even when I haven’t asked for it or needed it. People often listen as a means for waiting for their turn to speak (or type, as it were). People add my email address to mailing and press lists even when I emphatically state that I do not want to be pitched or contacted for promotional/commercial purposes (I thought you might be interested in…you thought wrong). I want to forge real, meaningful friendships. Have honest conversations. Love, and be loved, deeply.
Within the next few months I have to make decisions. I’m uprooting my life (and cat) and moving west. I’m starting another book and editing a second one without any guarantee that anyone will read my work. I have to figure out a work structure that will help me pay the bills. I have to learn how to drive a car. I have to say goodbye to people whom I love. I’ve a lot to navigate and I need my world quiet.
I may not be making the right decision in shuttering comments here (temporarily) but I’m doing my best to quell the noise.
Posted on May 18, 2015
Once a week I’ll field an email from a recruiter or have a conversation with a friend where they’ll remind me that the freelance life bears an expiration date, and thus: when will you go back to full-time? To which I respond, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch. Over my twenty years in the workplace (from intern to middle management to executive to consultant) I’ve learned that chaining yourself to a desk in a company merely gives one the illusion of job security, however, the only secure fact is that for a period of time you will get paychecks every two weeks. I’ve been through enough corporate restructurings, failed dot.coms and agency right-sizing to know that people are disposable. No one is truly indispensable–one can be always be replaced. Because at the end of the day most companies are focused on profit rather than people. This is a cold truth, admittedly, but a real one. Many have failed to understand that when you place people over profit you incur more revenue and satisfaction. So when a recruiter (or friend) prattles on about the perfect job and compensation package, I ask three simple questions:
1. How do you practice flexible work schedules? (Notice how I didn’t phrase the question as “Do you…” because the latter gives employers an escape clause to prattle on about how employees can work from home one day a week but those employees tend to overwork out of guilt, and the only flexibility they truly have is the ability to wear sweatpants)
2. Do you create an environment where employees are encouraged to pursue side projects?
3. If so, tell me about the side hustles of your employees (junior to senior).
Radio silence. Crickets. Tumbleweeds, etc.
Until an employer can answer those questions to my satisfaction, I’ll play in this sandbox over here, pursuing my own projects and passions. Creating my own rules.
Two years ago I resigned from a job that was slowly killing me. I left a place where I no longer believed in the integrity of leadership for something other. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t what I’d left behind. But I was frightened, lost. My generation was taught to stick it out; we believed in the promise of a corporate ladder, even if the ladder was poorly assembled. I didn’t know how to price myself or get clients or build a pipeline. I only knew my value.
After I left to pursue consulting, my mentor gave me the best piece of advice I’d ever received: surround yourself with smart people. These people need not be in your industry, nor are they steps to get you to your next project–these are people who are inspired by what they do, can offer you information about their industry and adjacent industries, and surround you with good energy and light, because if you asked me two years ago what I would be doing today I would never have conceived that I would have had two large projects relating to organizational workflow and process design (a fancy way of saying I put my Type A organization + financial skills to use).
One thing I did notice is that people are funny about money. No one wants to talk about it. This baffles me because it isn’t as if we were working in the same company (although learning about disparity in previous roles has helped me negotiate aggressively come annual review) or bidding on the same project. In an age where people share the most intimate details of their personal life online (I used to know an executive who regaled the details of her sex life on Twitter), money is still taboo. What if I make more? What if I make less? These are the reasons people SHOULD talk about money. Talking about money has helped me create alternative pricing based on my skillsets (my strategy work rate differs from my copywriting rate), and has helped me determine my day rate vs. project rate and how to account for all the outliers in my contract.
Believe me when I say finding consultants who are open about their finances was akin to finding a thimble of water in the Sahara.
Luckily, there are resources that give clarity: rate calculators, generating alternative revenue streams, smart tips on project pricing, and overall survival guidelines. Frankly, this isn’t enough. We can read countless articles written by freelancers, but that can never replace speaking openly and honestly with our peers. I know of two women who have at least ten years experience in online marketing and they were pricing themselves out for under $100/hr in New York. Granted, the pay scale varies by industry, but that’s why it’s so important to supplement online research with real conversations. I’m transparent about all my rates (standard rate, day rate, agency rate, copywriting rate, discounted rate for non-profits, start-ups and passion brands) and I talk about the things that are not in standard calculators (is the client that sort that requires a lot of education and hand-holding, which amps up the billable hours–ruin if you’ve signed on for a project rate since you’ll likely burn through your allocated hours without the ability to tack on an hourly rate on top of your project fee if you’ve exceeded an hourly count OR building in all of this from the onset). I learn a lot about a client through the pitch phase–initial calls to communication preferences to proposal review–which helps me deliver project and hourly rates that ensure they get the best work while I make a profit.
See what I mean? All the online research doesn’t compare to real-life scenarios from people who have been there. When I determined my rates, I used a calculator, considered what will keep me sustained every month–but I also considered the market, industry size and sector, so I tend to customize my rate but I have a threshold below which I won’t fall and the client is satisfied.
This is not to say that I won’t get emails from people expecting that I will take on projects for $50/hr when I’ve nearly 20 years of work experience. This is not to say that people will ask me to work for free or relay that they can get my services cheaper from some kid down the block. And then I have to remind everyone that I don’t compete on price.
If I’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s this: be open. Talk to everyone–from seasoned executives to junior talent just starting out. Talk to smart people and hear what they have to say. Ask them questions about money and be willing to share your own experiences because in the end we all want fair compensation for the work we do.
Posted on May 17, 2015
Why do we fear failure? It’s quite often not failing itself that strikes fear into us, it’s the other negative outcomes that come along with failing like a lack of income or potential embarrassment. –From Ash Reed’s essay on conquering fear
I used to hate rain, now I welcome it. Especially when it come down in sheets through my window. It’s funny how we’re conditioned to fear rain–the inconvenience of it (my hair! my clothes! my shoes!), how it ruins and disappears things. But are we really afraid of water? Of papers getting soiled and hair coming undone?
When I got sober I composed a list of fears I wanted to overcome, things I wanted to do previously considered impossible. It was 2002 and I wanted to publish a book, see much of the world, and stand in the rain.
It took years but I remember a Thanksgiving when I found myself running around the park, getting drenched in a surprise thundershower. The sky darkened and the air turned cold. I stood still in the middle of it and thought, this feels good. This is what it feels like to no longer be afraid of that which is temporary and real.
It’s been a challenge to write lately because all I can think about is leaving. Originally I’d planned to wait until fall, until I had enough money saved and time to sort out the logistics. But really, I need to deal with four things: packing + moving, changing paperwork, finding a place in California and moving there. So many people make such a huge deal out of moving (the dramatics of which can be exhausting to read), but in its simplicity it’s just about moving a body and possessions from one place to another. It’s a week of phone calls and coordination and saying goodbyes.
Part of me wanted to be more productive this weekend–write more, work more, see more–but I ended up seeing a friend, binge-watching shows related to serial killers, making this chowder, and thinking.
Thinking maybe it won’t be so crazy to leave sooner.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Small Plates & Sweet Treats
4 ears of corn (you’ll need 3 cups of corn)
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (1 15oz can)
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
3 sprigs thyme
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium shallot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp chopped fresh chervil (optional)
Preheat the grill. Peel and rinse corn (removing all of the corn silk, I think that’s what those strands are called). Grill the corn over medium-high heat, charring the outside. It should take 8 to 10 minutes. If you don’t (and I certainly don’t), you can char these in the broiler for 15 minutes, turning every so often. Let the corn cool slightly and then cut off the kernels.
In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk, vegetable broth, thyme, and corn kernels. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Turn the heat off and let it steep for 15 minutes.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, onion, celery, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper, ground cumin, and ground coriander. Cook the vegetables over medium heat for 5 minutes or until soft but not brown. Add the coconut-corn mixture. Bring the soup to a low simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.
Add the cilantro (and chervil, if using) and stir. Then serve the soup warm.