Posted on September 9, 2015
I’ll never again take lying in a bed for granted. We slept the sleep of children last night–me curled up next to Felix. I love Santa Monica because the skies are perennially pink come nightfall, and the air is cool and crisp. I’m near the ocean and I sleep with my windows open, which is a luxury, really, because not too long ago I was enduring relentless heat and humidity. I lived in a home where false cold air blew in.
My furniture finally arrived yesterday (it’s been a month in the making), and I spent five hours cutting up boxes and unpacking. 39 of the 49 boxes contained books, and I’m still sore from moving them around my apartment, trying to make room for all that I’ve collected over the years. A friend sent me a note last night, asked if I’d seen the sky. She was driving home from Marina Del Rey and caught sight of it. I paused and walked downstairs and saw the sun settle into the horizon, and there was a kind of purple haze to it, a cool fire, and I felt the word home.
I fell into bed around 8:30pm, aching, exhausted–hands all cut up and bleeding–but happy that everything I love occupies this space. I don’t have my couch yet, but you can sort of tell from the mess below it’s coming together. Slowly, but surely.
I’ve been on work calls since seven this morning, and I finally had some time this afternoon to bake. I bought three pints of fresh strawberries for $7 and couldn’t wait to make a crisp.
Odd thing is, I wasn’t excited about photographing this. I brought the plates, napkins, and marble slab out onto the deck and it felt…false. I can’t explain it. I brought everything back in and set the dishes on the counter and took photos with my phone. I guess it felt more real to me–a first home-cooked meal in a new house. It felt like, okay, this is it.
I live in California.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, with modifications
1 pound hulled strawberries, cut into halves and quarters
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic cane sugar sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup almond flour
1 cup gluten-free steel-cut oats
5 tablespoons cold salted butter, cut into cubes (I found goat butter in my local market and it is INSANELY good)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Put the strawberries into an ovenproof dish (a pie pan is a good size) with the 2 tablespoons of sugar, orange zest and almond extract.
Mix the almond flour, oats, and the rest of the sugar in a bowl.
Break the butter into little chunks and add it to the bowl or pour in the coconut oil and then use your fingers to rub the mixture together, lifting them out of the bowl to get some air into the crisp topping. Once the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs and there are no big lumps of butter, you’re golden. I used an old fashioned pastry cutter.
Pile the mixture on top of the strawberries and bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes, until the top is golden and the strawberries have shrunk and started to caramelize around the edges.
Posted on September 6, 2015
I’m buying a few peach tops–I thought I should warn you, I text one of my closest friends. This is huge because I mostly wear black and blue, the color of bruises. I’m grateful for technology since it has a way of bringing people whom I love, people who are thousands of miles away, into my home. Even though much of my professional life revolves around digital marketing, I’ve shied away from the tools. Rarely do I Skype or Facetime–I’m old school: I like to see you in front of my face or behind a chat screen. But living in Los Angeles has made that tricky. I can no longer board a subway into Manhattan. I can no longer ride the elevator up. I can no longer collapse onto my friend’s couch and sigh, you don’t even know the fucking day I had. You take that for granted–the small space you occupy with the ones you love. This week I thought about my friends’ homes, how they’ve arranged their furniture, the pictures they’ve placed in frames, the perfume they wear. I think about their hair and how they’ve curled it, or piled it in a bun, or I can’t even be bothered, you know what I mean? I play back the last month of goodbyes–all the tight hugs and faces buried into hair–and I hurt.
It’s been hard coming to this space because I don’t know what to say. I’ve lived a month without furniture and my neck aches from sleeping on an air mattress. A small part of me likes the sparseness of my home and I dread cutting up 49 boxes when my furniture finally arrives this week. Part of me wants to keep the books and toss the rest. It’s hard because I’m shocked by how much I don’t miss New York, but I ache for my father (who, as of late, has been sending me pictures from when we were young), my friends. I’m adjusting to the fact that I can’t find my favorite seltzer in stores, the water tastes tinny, and sometimes girls walk around in bikinis even though we live by the beach but are not on the beach, and I guess it’s cool but it takes getting used to. I’m growing accustomed to making small talk that is less perfunctory and more genuine. I go on a slew of first friend dates, which gives me mild terror (what if I’m too weird? what if they don’t like me?), but I know I have to do this. This is part of the work. This is part of letting people in. This is what it means to build a tribe.
In the midst of all of this, I’ve started a consuming month-long work project, which happened to land the day I received my book contract. So there’s me moving from marketing to murderers over a course of a weekend. At least I’ve a cute, furry editor. Personal pizzas the size of two palms (why is all the yummy food made in miniature?!) can be an effective salve–especially on a day when you have to do So. Much. Work. and your attention gets diverted by some fat-shaming Youtuber, who forgot the laws of basic human decency: don’t humiliate people (marginalized or otherwise) for sport. One can be funny without having to kick someone in the face a few hundred times (also: watch this because we’re all human and let’s try to remember that) /digression
Whenever I feel in the middle of things, I come back to the mat. I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for over thirteen years. I’ve practiced hung over, high, depressed, heartbroken, jubilant, excited, proud and strong. I started practicing when I was an alcoholic trying to get over a coke problem. I continued practicing when I fell in love and brought the man I loved on the mat and our love became the distance between our two bodies. I continued the first few weeks of sobriety when it felt as if the volume on everything got turned all the way up and everything hurt. I continued through love, loss and everything in between. I’ve done hatha, kundalini, vinyasa, ashtanga, anusara (when it wasn’t a dirty word), and Iyengar. I practiced when I was a negative integer and when I was forty pounds overweight, body riddled with burning hives. I fell in love with a practice that acknowledged and celebrated everything that anatomically wrong with me (my uneven arms, which render some poses impossible, while others require the use of a block to balance me out).
The only way to get around pain is to go through it. You have to breathe through discomfort, the dark spaces.
When I first landed in Santa Monica, I walked around with a map on my phone. If I could get a sense of coordinates, if I could the work the angles, I wouldn’t feel so unsettled. But more than that, I wanted to practice. It’d been months since I’ve been on the mat because I’d become obsessed with spinning and the megaformer in the last few months I lived in New York. So I had to accept that I needed to be patient–my body wasn’t going to immediately assume all of its former shapes.
I’m still working my way through the yoga studios in Santa Monica; I’ve enrolled in ClassPass for a month so I can scour the Westside with little risk. I’m still trying to find my studio, my energy, my tribe, and that’s hard. Some studios are great but they’re not so focused on alignment. Other studios aren’t my vibe, reminding me of gyms. I’m about to hit up some spots in Venice next week, but I found one place that surprised me.
If you asked me a year ago if I’d roll up to a hot yoga class I would’ve countered, are you high? I’d often (and erroneously) confuse hot yoga with the cult of Bikram, and all the unseemly, and downright disturbing, associations. However, the reviews of Sweat Yoga were formidable, and I signed up for a class, downed a gallon of water, didn’t eat for two hours before class (okay, that was really hard), and hoped for the best. I already planned to lay my mat next to the door in the event I needed to run.
Luckily, I did not die. I even went back for seconds.
What you notice about Sweat when you enter the studio is the energy. The front desk staff are genuinely helpful and effusive (I practiced at a few other studios this week where people didn’t even look up from the computer screen as they handed me a clipboard with a waiver). The space is drenched in light and smells of lavender. The bathrooms are impeccable and stocked with organic products. More importantly, the teachers are the real deal. I recommend coming early to class so you can meet the instructor, share your yoga history and any injuries, and get used to the heat. It took me a good ten minutes to adjust to the 102 temp in the room, but then it felt like a normal packed yoga class in New York. However, in the few classes I’ve taken at Sweat, the classes aren’t packed and there’s a fair amount of space between mats. Over the course of an hour, the teachers take you through a series of poses, focusing both on alignment and the need for everyone to go at your own pace. Modifications are routinely given to dial up and down poses, and for the first few classes I had to come down and rest just to get adjusted to the heat. I also loved the music and how it’s used as a vehicle for those who want to explore the depths of their practice.
Based on some of the reviews I can see how the structure of the class might not be for everyone–especially for newbies or those who want a rigorous, coordinated flow. Will Sweat be my main jam? Probably not. However, it’s a nice respite for those like me who are Type A and sometimes need a break. The space is a sweet juxtaposition to the more formalized yoga classes I crave, and while it may seem minor to you, taking this class was HUGE for me because I’m slowly doing things that are far out of my comfort zone.
It’s okay if I meet new people and we don’t hit it off. Odds are, we will. It’s okay if I walk into a studio and I don’t like the vibe (at least I tried it). It’s okay to miss my friends (we’ll always have Facetime). And it’s perfectly fine to fall in love with Los Angeles, even if I was born in New York.
Posted on September 2, 2015
Was it only a dream that Literature was once dangerous, that it had the power to awaken and change us? —Joy Williams
You’ll meet the thirsty assholes soon enough, someone tells me. Everyone’s in the business of producing, yet few have an idea of what it is that’s actually being produced. But they’re busy, and they’ll remind you of this by referencing their multiple calendars. They’re booked solid for the first half of September, but maybe we can squeeze in a coffee on the 24th between 10:30 and 11:45am? Thirsty, like the Sahara. Like, give this girl a thimble of water to drink. At least in New York they say a proper fuck you to your face (Hmm, not necessarily true. Cue social kisses and g-chat trash talk). But here, here, they got that knife in you, and they’re taking photos for their Instagram as they’re driving it all the way in. I pause and consider filters. I imagine a car. I imagine driving it. A small vehicle, something low to the ground so I can see the road ahead of me.
In California, I have cable television but regard it as white noise, a distraction. Mostly I watch movies on my laptop while black boxes collect dust. I wake and think, I live here. Although it feels natural to be here, at the same time it feels unnatural not to be there, and I sit in the discomfort known as the betweens. Later this month I may have to take a work trip to New York, and it feels strange to dread going home, because it’s no longer home, and you know how it is. Can’t I just sit still, even for a little while? I stayed in a hotel in New York once. We were ten teenagers renting a room in a hotel in midtown because we wanted to be fancy. I remember riding the elevators and roaming the halls. All the televisions were tuned to a different channel, and all I could hear were voices announcing a murder in the Park, a man screaming Edith! from his chair, a newscaster reading from sheets of paper: if we could just get to the root of the problem–all of which became a different kind of white noise. Hotels were, for me, a collection of voices that didn’t belong to the people inhabiting the rooms. I pictured vacant rooms with only the televisions turned up, if only to give the impression that people occupied these small spaces.
I pass a sign on the street, a bit of graffiti scratched on a wall: In case of earthquake, remain calm. My building rolls with the top down, which is to say that in the center of this structure is a man-made courtyard leading up to the sky. This morning I wonder what if it rained? What if the rain came down in sheets and flooded the halls, the railings spilling water over to the hallway carpets. What then?
Girl, you live in California now. There’s no more rain.
This morning a man shouts to an owner of a shop that sells expensive pastry: What are you doing for the white man, white man? A friend writes to ask me what riding the bus eight miles to West Hollywood was like. Someone emails to schedule a meeting. Why don’t we do it 1pm, your time? As if three hours were something I could claim, as if time was something I could own.
In California, I eat salads for lunch and order personal pan pizzas the size of two palms for dinner. I take pictures of fruit and think: This is pretty, this is bullshit. This is pretty bullshit. But in the end I can’t find an image that explains to you just how I feel.
My kitchen isn’t here yet, I tell someone. It’s somewhere between New York and Los Angeles. That’s why I keep calling for delivery, or maybe it’s for the joy of a stranger knowing my number, my name. Maybe it’s to fill the space that furniture has yet to occupy. Maybe your things don’t want to leave. LOL, a friend texts.
Over the weekend I walk along pavement that separates a ticker tape of houses from sand. For some reason I think of Beverly Hills 90210 and Kelly, David, and Donna living by the beach. I remember this! This all feels familiar, until I realize that that was a show and this is real and what’s familiar is an image of how one could live by the beach. I don’t know why this thought embarasses me, but it does. I buy tacos that are cooked medium and I’m too ashamed to send them back so I sit next to a man and offer him my food and we talk about the weather. He asks me where I live and I say, here. He points to the ground, and laughs, Yeah, me too. I stutter out an apology, feeling like an asshole, feeling my privilege. In response, he laughs again, says, What are you apologizing for? You gave me these tacos, some talk. That’s more than most. After a half hour I leave for home.
My kitchen isn’t here yet.
At night I work because the East is quiet. I wonder whether I should be doing something. Going out more. Seeing more. I wonder if I’ll grow lonely. I read this and it puts my heart on pause. I order pizza again, say my hellos and goodbyes to Pete, and work on this:
She’d outlived her best-by date. She accepted that she would never scramble eggs. She would always burn or break bread. She would only kneel in bed. Her skin would itch and blister after a man touched it. There would always be marks and stained sheets. She would never understand the nuances of dinner parties, where conversations required constant costume changes. She would never maw down to the bone. She was cautious of birds. She would live in a series of homes and never see the deed, never bear witness to the bill of sale. She pinned butterflies to the walls of her room to replace the mirrors that had been removed. The days would continue to leave their scars. She would never take her own life because she couldn’t bear the thought of writing the note. Instead, she’d leave behind other marks. She opens the bible and reads the book without understanding the story. It didn’t matter. In the end, the men will save. This is what she was told. What she needed to know was this: her role was to own the books and believe. Men would do the work.
built by women: chatting that agency life, instagram stars, pink cats, and integrity with alex dickerson
Posted on August 29, 2015
What do I miss most about New York? My friends. When I got sober, it took me years to rebuild all the friendships I’d broken. Some remained as they were–in a state of disrepair–while others found themselves mended and transformed into something healthier, new. You leave your dead behind (you may even have to kill them yourself) in order to move on. I’m grateful for the women in my life because they challenge, support, and inspire me. They make me laugh that ugly laugh, the kind that finds you choked up in tears.
I regret that I haven’t met Alex sooner. While I was waving everyone away, muttering no new friends, my friend Grace rolled her eyes, ignored my nonsense, and set me up with Alex because I suspected she knew that we’d become fast friends.
I mean, Alex is the owner of a pink cat. That really should tell you everything.
Alex is one of the great ones. She’s smart, sharp, acerbic, and honest. There’s no hey, girl! (kiss kiss), followed by a turn of a head, a whisper of something unkind. Alex is real, plays it as it lays, and if I can find a way to smother her and her pink panther out west, know that I would do it.
On a professional note, Alex received her MBA in Spain, speaks flawless Spanish, and is the founder of a boutique communications agency in New York, focusing on jewelry and accessories designers. Her business philosophy is in-step with how she lives her private life: surround yourself with good people and help them make magic happen.
While I supposed to publish this next week, I couldn’t wait to share this with you. In this chat between two friends, Alex brings the truth and I’m here for all of it. –FS
We’ve talked about this often—our allergy to the traditional agency structure. And while it’s a fit for some, it sends people like us fleeing for cover. Can you tell us about how Le Brain came to be, how you’ve distinctly set it apart from the boutique agency pack, and what you envision as its future?
Alex Dickerson: I worked in an array of agencies of all sizes for almost 10 years and ultimately I realized I wanted to be master of my own destiny, choose my own clients, and create a portfolio of brands that inspired me and “made sense” as a group. I’d seen that agencies could be a place for mediocre people to hide, or ascend up the ranks without deserving it. I’d also seen that agency leaders could be money-hungry and willing take on anyone able to pay a bloated monthly retainer, despite the client not fitting with the employees’ skill sets. I was tired of watching the owners cash a fat check each month while I struggled with accounts that didn’t fit my profile (i.e. the utility bag brand that was sold at Office Depot, while I was the Luxury Jewelry director…say what?)
And so, Le Brain was born.
We are different because we are strategic, honest and thoughtful – I won’t take on a client that isn’t right because they have a big bank account. I mean, if we are talking 6-figures a month, maybe I’ll sing a sell-out tune, but I really try to only work with designers that do something that inspires me and my team, and at their heart, are decent people. We aren’t a place where I go out and pitch and promise the world to prospective clients and then dump it on an intern’s lap and say, “Deliver this with a full page in ELLE Fashion News next month, thanks, bye.” We are a place that challenges ideas (we aren’t “yes girls”) because if it doesn’t make sense, why are we doing it? Good work starts by knowing your market and managing expectations.
We really try to work as a team and each support our clients and projects with the unique skills that we all have. The future? Fewer clients, more money, more attention—thanks, Jerry McGuire. No seriously, I like what we are doing and how we continually evolve – we aren’t just a PR firm, and I hope as we grow that becomes less and less of a descriptor of our work. I want to help clients build their brands from the bottom up…product shots, lifestyle images, web development, collaborations, editorial, influencers, and financial success. I really enjoy being able to be a partner to our clients.
It amazes me how the lines between marketing disciplines have blurred in the past ten years. It used to be that you had siloed departments, budgets and roles, and every department worked (or seemingly so) independent of one another. However, with everyone being online that way of business changed overnight, flattened it. Turned the model inside out and punched it in the face a couple of times. Now, the most successful businesses work when disciplines collaborate since the consumer is in control. What’s it like juggling brand work, traditional PR and social?
AD: Welcome to the juggle, Axl Rose. What’s it like? Mind-blowingly frustrating and creative and stressful and fast-paced. A land filled with possibility and limitless options – which is awesome but really challenging when you’re trying to stay in front of the trends and advise clients on what’s best for them.
I love that all of these areas are fused because it means that we have the chance to create the collateral materials that we know will work, and then when we do get results we can post it to our own audience that we have built. It is powerful. At the same time, it is awful because now many brands expect all of those aspects to be housed under the general term of “PR” but they don’t acknowledge the different skill sets it requires and the need to compensate us for the enlarged scope of work we are doing. That, and the fact that a client attention span is so much shorter, and just when you’ve got one thing properly in place they want you to do a Periscope campaign, without having tested the first thing they thought about trying.
One of the things we often talk about, at length, is the shifting influencer climate (see how I made that professional?). I think we both agree that people who do good and honest work should be compensated appropriately. What challenges have you faced as someone who has to negotiate with influencers (or their agents), but at the same time has to appease clients?
AD: The influencer climate is a scene out of Mean Girls. My new catch phrase when I assess influencers with clients is: “Let’s just make sure the juice is worth the squeeze.” This whole market is very much a bubble – and I truly think/hope it is going to burst soon. Are there talented voices out there? ABSOLUTELY – there are fantastic digital influencers with original content, researched opinions and a genuine point of view. And there are a lot of women who are doing absolutely nothing and getting paid for it, and they’re are ruining it for the rest of us. People that have bought followers early, before people could catch on, and then somehow made a following out of it with some sweet photoshopping skillz. People who charge a fortune and somehow get big brands with thoughtless budgets to pay, but really have no credibility or taste.
Challenges I’ve faced in this arena – the biggest one is that this market really hasn’t been around long enough to truly measure the return. Yes we can talk about unique page views and engagement (these are both so vague and malleable) but what does that really mean? Does it matter that your picture of your hot dog legs at the beach got 15k likes and you tagged a bikini company in the photo? Did the bikini company really get anything out of that? Doubtful.
When it comes to dealing with the agencies…man that one is tough. I get it, they serve a purpose. But it feels like there’s a monopoly system happening and a few big players just acquire all this “talent” without really vetting them, and suddenly the price tags skyrocket with nothing really behind it. Then the smaller brands are screwed and are forced to compete in the same space as a brand that has a huge budget and is willing to shell out $10k for an Instagram post for a crappy handbag. It can feel insurmountable to the emerging designer.
Am I bitter I didn’t start a blog years ago and now make a fortune off of talking about the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale? You bet I am.
Talk to me about getting your MBA in Spain. Have you ever thought about picking up and leaving the U.S.?
AD: Every. Single. Day. Living in Barcelona and studying there were the happiest years of my life. What a unique opportunity to step out of the traditional adult track to interact with a group of super smart individuals from all over the world. The MBA really taught me to think on my feet and also to have confidence that if I don’t know something I can either fake it, ask the right questions or just learn how to do it. I was definitely the Elle Woods acceptance, btw. Me, fashion PR girl, sitting front row in Corporate Finance.
I would love to live abroad again. The culture and mindset are so different in other locations – they don’t give you a gold star for unnecessarily logging insane hours and working over the weekend. They don’t give you a trophy just for showing up. I find that their system is built more on merit and they reward those that get it done, that work smart (not just hard) and perform.
Have you endured any challenges running a company and building a business specific to being a woman?
AD: I find that people don’t take women as seriously as they take men. Men don’t take women as seriously, women don’t take women as seriously. I went in to talk to a financial planner about the future of the business and he couldn’t have been more condescending. He lead with a smirk, saying, “So you know what a P&L is?” I almost threw my folder full of excel sheets showing my sensitivity analysis in his face. I politely informed him that just because I work in fashion and get my period that I shockingly could do math. Then I left. I’m sure he probably turned around to his colleague and said, “That raging b*tch clearly has PMS.” The moral of the story, as a woman you have to navigate around people’s misconceptions of what you know and what you can endure – you have to play their game and your own, and that is tough.Ellen Chisa wrote a terrific piece about what she learned in her first year at HBS. One of the leadership lessons challenges you to understand your worst self. I imagine that this is appropriate for all leaders, even more so for entrepreneurs since new ventures can be so all encompassing. When it comes to being a leader, what is your worst self and when does it come out? And what do you do to combat it?
AD: My worst self is a defensive, stubborn, nagger that is focused on pleasing everyone to get over crushing self-doubt. Wow, I suck. This worst self comes out when I know what I have said or done is right but someone disagrees with me – if a client comes back and criticizes a campaign we did or isn’t satisfied with what I think is a fantastic result. To combat it, I try to address it head on and say “listen, I realize that I am having a big reaction to this and I might nag/be stubborn/be defensive about it, but that is because…” In my experience if you tell people what you feel, in no uncertain terms, they will be more willing to level with you. My team appreciates it when I stop myself in a tirade and say, “Yes, I’m nagging you and it is because I am nervous about something.” It is ok to be human – people can forget that in the work place.
What has surprised you most about launching Le Brain? What didn’t you expect? More importantly, what were you (or not) prepared for?
AD: The thing I expected the least is that I still feel like I’m working for someone else – I often take my freedom for granted and find myself limited. Felicia, you recommended a wonderful book that helps me get unblocked in those particularly dark times – The Crossroads of Should and Must. When I sat down and really thought about it, I came to conclusion that it is very possible that I am already doing my “must” but I have built up a bunch of internal mental barriers that somehow make it feel like my “should.” Sorry for those that haven’t read the book as this probably sounds like garbage – do yourself a favor and go out and read it.
Who has inspired you along the way and why?
AD: I am very lucky to have an amazing group of friends that are all kicking ass and taking names, and these people inspire me daily. From designers to bloggers to buyers to writers to entrepreneurs, women with limitless energy and smarts surround me. When I’m feeling down or less-than I can talk to one of them and draw some power from one of their successes and feel that I’m back on track. Natalie, Grace, Karen, Jen, Tara, Felicia, you guys are at the top of my speed dial list.
My very first mentor in fashion was a man named Adrian, who has sadly since passed away. He taught me that you should always try to love what you’re doing, no matter what, and to find a way to be irreplaceable wherever you are. He was the first one that really showed me how to fake it ‘til I made it and he brought such glamour and passion to everything he touched. It didn’t matter that I was an intern and he was a VP, he treated me with respect and really took time to teach me. I’ll never forget him.
What are the three things that people who are interested in launching their own company (agency or otherwise)?
AD: My three pieces of advice or observations from having my own company are:
• Fake it ‘til you make it – whatever you say with confidence instantly becomes fact
• Don’t be afraid to say no to projects and to turn business down – don’t sell out, ever – it WILL come back to bite you
• Don’t be shocked when you find out that you’re the last one to get paid…your employees and clients secretly own you, haha
What are the three essential tools (or resources) you rely upon to get through your day? I was going to say Oscar, your pink cat, but I’ll let you take this one. ☺
AD: I couldn’t get through the day without:
• Talking to friends and laughing about the absurdity of what crosses our desks – sarcasm is key to diffuse some of the stress.
• My perfect pink kitten…seriously, he’s a blue Abyssinian and such a distinguished gentleman with delicate pink ears and a pink belly. I come home and instantly forget about what was bothering me when he snuggles up. Crazy cat lady? Maybe.
• Reading short digests of news and gossip because in my business we trade in knowing just a shred of information. Nothing like an US Weekly email headline to get me through an awkward conversation with an editor or client – hey, did you hear that Bethenny has a new boyfriend? What’s that all about! AND SCENE.
All images courtesy of Alex Dickerson + Home Polish.
Posted on August 28, 2015
I’m writing to you from the floor. My first week in California has been exhilarating and extraordinary, even if I’m taking conference calls from the carpet and using aluminum foil as a dinner plate. As of right now my furniture is still in a warehouse in New York, and I’m trying this new thing where I don’t flip out when things don’t go according to plan because it takes more energy to be a screaming asshole than it is to resolve situations with grace and calm. I spent the morning talking to the very kind and helpful head of sales at Shlepper’s and I’m hopeful that my furniture will arrive within the next week. But given how beautiful my apartment is, I’m thinking my situation is more like glamping with an added benefit of Some Assembly Required. I’m thankful for Taskrabbit since assembling furniture is a skill that eludes me. Part of me is strangely happy to be living so minimally and save my books, I kind of dread the 49 boxes that will soon find their way home.
“I was never a fan of people who don’t leave home…It just seems part of your duty in life.” –Joan Didion
Someone recently asked me what it’s like living in California, to which I responded, I don’t know, really. It’s only been a week. All I have are vague, strong impressions–kind of like skywriting–that I’m sure will fade and morph into something tangible, real. Perhaps I’ll have a better answer in six month’s time. But right now I know that the light here is clean, that I’ve been starved for common courtesy and decency–characteristics that are the stock and trade of most Californians, or at least the ones I’ve encountered so far. I know I’ll have to get a car at some point, but it’s been nice walking the four miles to Brentwood. I finally know what it’s like to have a good avocado and a ripe white peach. What it’s like to eat healthy–all. the. time. I know what it’s like to sit next to a group of people and have them fold you into their conversation so soon your two tables become one. I know what it’s like to wake to quiet; I live by the beach and it feels good to be close to water. I wrote someone this week, I’m never coming back.
This week I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been and the most frightened I’ve ever been. By definition, everything is new to me, and all the things I’ve taken for granted–close friends, a strong professional network, and my family, all close by–I realize I have to, in some way, rebuild. I’m painfully shy but I’ve thrown myself into Facebook groups, scheduled “friend dates” with friends of friends (vetted strangers, really), and reconnected with people from a former life–people I used to know. There’s a lit scene here and I’m nervous about navigating it (although I’m admittedly curious). It’s hard making friends when you’re over a certain age since people are settled, but I hope to find my way here. Build my tribe.
I wake to a pile of email from the East Coast, which alters the shape of my days. But mostly I wake, shell-shocked. I live in California. At one point I’ll have to get a license and drive a car (not sure how I’ll afford one, but I’ll cross that bridge…) I wonder if I’ll be lonely. I wonder if I’ll find project work. I wonder what I’ll write on this space. I wonder when my furniture will arrive so I’ll no longer have to take my meals and calls from the floor.
Everything: I’m working on it.
Posted on August 23, 2015
Cannot the labourers understand that by over-working themselves they exhaust their own strength and that of their progeny, that they are used up and long before their time come to be incapable of any work at all, that absorbed and brutalized by this single vice they are no longer men but pieces of men, that they kill within themselves all beautiful faculties, to leave nothing alive and flourishing except the furious madness for work. –Paul Lafargue, The Right to Be Lazy (1883)
We live in an age where being busy is lauded. Popular thinkers craft lists on how you can cram more into a single day. Others publish books on how to get shit done–how to use technology as a means of saving time because the cruelest crime we could commit would be to squander it. A New Yorker cartoon shows two children negotiating thirty minutes of playtime. Consulting their crammed calendars, they resolve to reshuffle, re-jigger until they can secure a slot two weeks from that day when they can actually breathe. This puts me to thinking of my friends, how we always bemoan that we’re overbooked, double-booked, and maybe I can see you next month for a coffee?
There was a time when I worked sixteen-hour days. When weeks would pass and my only glimpse of the light was during a midday coffee break, when I’d race down the street to refuel to only sit at my desk and stare at a computer screen. I worked to have my food delivered, my groceries that invariably spoiled, delivered, to have books that went unread, delivered. Over the course of four years I gained 40 pounds and became a lesser version of myself. I was always tired, forever tethered to my phone–I was the one who missed the great moments in my friend’s lives–but you can understand, right? It’s work. I’ve so much to do. Over the past few years I’ve been trying to regard time differently–to balance fast and slow. That spending hours making a meal instead of having it delivered, or going for a walk when I could easily take the subway, meant something. So when a friend recommended Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slowness–a book published in 2004 but is completely valid now, I set aside the stack and devoted time to understand the danger of mindless speed.
From Slow food and workouts to alternative medicine and guided meditation, to meeting people who huddle across the globe as a means of learning how to sit in a place of calm amidst a storm, Honoré doesn’t rally for a device-free era or for us to pick up and create our own version of Walden, rather he espouses ways in which we can manage pieces of our life in a slower way as a means of deeper connection and a more meaningful quality of life. He was inspired to research the art of Slow when he read an article about one-minute bedtime stories. For a moment he was excited because he could read his son stories and get back to work fairly quickly, and then he paused and realized he was completely insane for valuing saving time to get away from his child. The book is not an exploration of time but a personal journey for the author to chill out. I think all of us could relate, because who isn’t shocked/not-shocked by Amazon’s Darwinian work culture? Who hasn’t realized that cramming more in has the opposite effect, that at one point we suffer the law of diminishing returns? We’re spent, feeling as if our breath, and everything along with it, has been stolen from our body.
Sometimes I feel weird for living a slower-paced life because everyone around me is about now. Respond to that email now. Put out that client fire now. But it was only when I took a trip with the objective of doing absolutely nothing did I start a novel that two years later would find a publisher. It was only when I put my phone away during time spent with dear friends did I mend broken friendships. And it was only when I sat in a new home, thousands of miles from the place I’ve always called home, did I have the idea of a new story–something strange and dystopian, kind of like “Black Mirror”.
Because I don’t believe anything exists after we pass on. So why not live the best way we know how? I’m done with putting off my happiness for a later date as a means of sacrificing it now because what if there is no later date? A week ago I found out through Facebook that someone I know slightly died. Suddenly, at 35. It’s not fair, I thought. Wrong, I felt. A few days ago I met up with a close friend who shows me a tattoo she had done in remembrance of a friend who died suddenly this summer of a brain aneurysm. A man who was taken too soon from his wife and two children.
My friend’s tattoo reads: There is no time. So I try to follow Paul Jarvis’s advice and stop doing shit I don’t like. Operative word being try.
This summer I discovered so many wonderful books. Lydia Millet’s Mermaids in Paradise is a hilarious story about a couple who honeymoons in paradise to soon discover the waters are teeming with mermaids. Millet is a hero of mine because she’s able to draw wry, acerbic women as easily as she is in creating a canvas filled with broken people. From the moment I read My Happy Life, I was hooked, and what makes her latest book remarkable is the fact that it’s so absurd it’s almost real. Imagine what would happen if you were celebrating the start of a new life with someone amidst greed, television crew, marine biologists, and Japanese web celebrities–all over a few measly mermaids?
I picked up Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper while waiting for my friend Summer. Another marriage, another trip–a story of two odd people who trek across Northern Europe examining love, fidelity, friendship, desire–all while transforming into unlikely eco-terrorists. The writing is sharp, crisp and funny. Often times you never get to truly glimpse the innards of a marriage–you believe the life your friends represent–but rarely do we hear about the work. Rarely do you hear the whisper of: maybe you’re not enough. Maybe we’re together because we’re terrified of being alone.
“We are never as kind as we want to be, but nothing outrages us more than people being unkind to us.” — Adam Phillip’s On Kindness
While Adam Phillip’s philosophical and historical examination of the history of kindness is slim, it took me nearly a month to complete. Phillips analyzes kindness through the lens of faith, folklore, psychology and literature. Why are we kind? Are we kind merely as a means of serving our own self interests? What is true selflessness and altruism? And what happens to a child when they experience their first hurt, what if our parents aren’t as kind as we think they should be, what then? It hurts when someone is unkind to you but in the same measure we’re able to rationalize our unkindness. On Kindness serves up more questions than it delivers answers, and I walked away from it wondering how I could be kinder in my everyday life. Can I stop myself from making snap judgments of people? Am I able to pause and meet someone’s anger with calm and kindness as a means of quelling someone else’s rage.
It occurs to me that this summer I spent a lot of time dissecting marriage of all kinds–from the familial to the friendship (as I believe we are, in a way, bound to those whom we care about even if not in the legal sense). I think about kindness, honesty and kin, and when my friend Molly sent me this article about a woman who discovered, as an adult, that she was half-black, it put me to thinking about how I’m able to reconcile discovering, last year, that I’m part black. While watching “Little White Lie,” I empathized with Lacey’s story, and admired her bravery in bringing out the truth. That’s my hair, I thought. And like Lacey, I often wonder where I fit. How I identify myself. How I define blackness for myself when I’ve always self-identified as white and possibly something other? I’m privileged in the sense that I have so many wonderful friends who have embraced me and offered up advice on how they define blackness for themselves, and how I can find my own way to it. I’m also acutely aware of my white privilege and how that affords me trespass to places where others can’t go. How I can use that to be an ally. More on this soon.
Now that I’m in my new home, I can finally wade my way through the stack. Up next is Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation, Nick Flynn’s My Feelings (Poems) because he’s a surgeon with the English language, Lauren Holmes’s Barbara The Slut and Other People (Stories) because her first lines slay, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me because it should be required reading, Tracy Daugherty’s The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion because Joan Didion, and the final book in Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series.
What are you reading? Do you have any recommendations for what I can add to the stack?
Posted on July 17, 2015
Just a brief note to share that I’m taking a break from the blog to focus on work, a new writing project, and spending time with my friends and father before I leave for California. I’ll be back in a month with recipes, book recommendations, freelance roundtables and bits from my new life out west. All my love, f.
Posted on July 16, 2015
I’ve never been the sort of person who drops their bags and collapses into bed. I’ve never left dirty dishes in the sink and it normally takes me at most three hours to unpack from a move. So when I came home late last night, depleted from 20 hours of travel across multiple time zones, the first thing I did was unpack. And clean. And play with my cat into the wee hours of the morning. Because I can’t bear the smell of suitcase clothes and books slightly marred from a journey–I need to go to bed knowing everything has been set to rights. I acknowledge my Type A-tendencies and I’ve accepted that I’ll likely always be this way.
This morning I woke at dawn, disoriented, forgetting that I was in New York and it was only my cat sleeping soundly beside me that made me realize that I am here. I am in this temporary home. My head’s not quite right yet, and I’ve accepted that over the next week I’ll endure the special kind of torture that only jetlag from Asia can bring.
What gave me joy this morning was poring over my newly-acquired books. There was a time when I used to hoard up on souvenirs–knick knacks and the like from my travels. However, over the past five years I’ve stopped buying, started experiencing, and now the only treasures I bring home are of the book variety. I tend to pick up books from local authors or titles that remind me of my journey.
While in Singapore, my friend Denise pointed me to Books Actually, now my favorite independent bookstore in the WORLD. Although I missed the resident felines (insert emphatic wail), I spent a few hours in this small shop marveling over the titles. Denise shared that Asian publishers place a premium on a book’s presentation and design–even for the most literary of titles. As I thumbed through photography books on loneliness and poetry anthologies, I stumbled on a host of titles from the bookstore’s resident imprint, Math Paper Press.
Believe me when I say the poems are GOOD.
Whenever I’m in-between projects or in need of inspiration, I turn to music and good poetry–both of which place weight on the economy of words. Words are workhorses in both disciplines, and I’ll often get story ideas, titles or images from a single line of poetry. My purchases did not disappoint. I purchased Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light (my favorite, by far), Occupational Hazards, We Were Always Eating Expired Things (the title, alone. I MEAN), and Objects of Affection.
You should know I considered buying this book. I’ll likely pull the trigger now that I don’t have to worry about baggage weight.
While in Singapore, I watched a lot of NatGeo Asia, and I fell in love with this quirky couple. When they weren’t bickering, they were making sumptuous food and I’ve since ordered their cookbook. I also secured my friend Denise’s extraordinary cookbook cum food narratives, Kitchen Stories, and scored the latest Rachel Khoo. Know that I’ll be making great food from these books in the coming weeks!
Now excuse me while I pass out in front of my computer.
Posted on July 12, 2015
Ever since I was small I was aware of my body, of the weight of it. You’re healthy, my mother would say every time I complained of being fat, grabbing folds of skin and offering it up as evidence. I was the opposite of healthy, feasting on cans of Chef Boyardee, fried cutlets and buttery potatoes, Little Debbie cakes and bags of cheese doodles–but this was Brooklyn in the 1980s where one didn’t contemplate salads and farm-to-table fare. We ate what we could afford. We ate what was put in front of us and we didn’t complain about it. Back then it was normal to have hot dogs from the vendor in Sunset Park for lunch and plantain chips as a snack. It would normal to consume plastic bottles of grape juice because they only cost a quarter. I abhorred vegetables: slimy string beans steeped in metal cans, iceberg lettuce reminiscent of wet paper. If given the choice I would prefer my chicken fried, pizza greasy, and my chocolate mini-cakes sealed in industrial-strength plastic bags.
Pair my penchant for eating anything in a 5-block radius with a body intent on an early bloom, and I soon discovered there would come days when I didn’t want to leave the house. Days when I’d cover my chest with my arms while boys in the pool beckoned me to come closer. I wasn’t pretty like the other girls, but that body. That body could take you places. That body was an invitation for the swarm to advance. That body scored you free loosies and tickets inside an air conditioned movie theater.
Back then, I was the body who read books. Part of me wondered where had that skinny child gone off to? The girl who chewed at the ends of her hair when she was scared? The girl who was all sharp edges and congruent angles. When would she return? Would she recognize the girl standing in front of her, all swelled breasts and expansive hips? Would the body make the child run?
Sometimes I look at those photos and think: take me back. Take me back before the body, before cocaine, before the drink, before a heart forever cloaked in black and mourning. When I didn’t fear everything that followed in my wake.
How is it that we only know now how wonderful it was then?
The summer before junior high school I spent my days swimming from one end of the 16-ft pool in Sunset Park to the other. For hours. Rarely did I eat, and before long I ignored the hunger pangs in favor of a body that had whittled down to bone. Because the business of body was a distraction (why bother listening to what I said or the words I wrote when soft, swelling skin was infinitely more appealing?), and I would do anything to winnow it down, to disappear. Don’t raise your voice; don’t make a sound, I urged any part of me that had threatened to be fertile, to grow.
Over the next decade I waged at outright war on my body. I toyed with purging for years but couldn’t get it right because I feared getting caught. More importantly, I feared choking. Even then I feared time, knew that there would be a moment when I’d slumber back to the dark country from which I’d come, and no way did I want to toy with the clock.
Not eating had its drawbacks too–I couldn’t concentrate and I didn’t have the discipline to ignore the heaping piles of iced cinnamon buns or Otis Spunkmeyer cookies fresh out of the microwave oven. So I was left to binge and feel a kind of hatred toward myself that I can’t put into words. It’s the kind of hate where you feel you deserve nothing. You close your eyes when the boys hurl crumbled paper over your head and taunt you in the hallway because your hair betrays your skin. You’re white, but not really, and this sets everyone’s teeth on edge. They hate you because you’re smarter, different. They hate you because there’s still a remnant of the Spanish lilt to your voice that you can’t quite shake–even though your Brooklyn friends shake their heads and pronounce you white. You are forever white and not white, and you think possibly this is your penance. Maybe petty cruelty is what you deserve for being a thick girl caught in the betweens.
College is kind of like training wheels for real life, and in real life everyone wants to be a thin bride. Sure, we’ll earn our advanced degrees and have our careers, but really we want to be desired. Really, we want to be thin. So I spent the greater part of college dressing to attract men who either respected me too much to sleep with me or didn’t want to play the boyfriend game because I hadn’t yet slept with anyone (I realize now how lucky I was to have been surrounded by men who sincerely didn’t want to take advantage of me). These were men in my study groups; these were men with whom I competed for internships at prestigious investment banks. These were men who’d hookup with women who were uncomplicated. In response, I’d drink until I saw black, wondering if I were thin would this be an issue?
When I graduated college, I was alone. My best friend decided to study law back in Connecticut, and everyone who I cared about either moved out of New York or busied themselves with their new, post-collegiate lives. I took a fancy job at a prestigious bank and it would take me three years to leave an industry I so fervently despised. During that time I became a kind of thin that bordered on uncomfortable. Every day I ran 7-10 miles in the sand or on the treadmill and subsisted on Lean Cuisine meals, Starbucks and bottles of red wine. I was that asshole who complained about lack of integer sizing in the dressing room. I was that woman who loathed being photographed, who couldn’t stand to look at herself in the mirror even though the motley lot chorused, you’re beautiful! you’re so thin! It would take me a decade to detangle health and beauty from a pant size. It would take me fifteen years to understand that my worth was not tethered to a scale. It would take me 18 years to look back at that frail woman and want to seize her, shake her, and say, you were wrong. About all of it.
You deserve the world and everything in it. You deserve nothing less than extraordinary.
Four years ago I came to Bali depleted. I was working for a man I didn’t respect, much less like, and I allowed my work to devour me whole. My mentor had to buy me a plane ticket and remove access to my email because my behavior scared him. I was irrational, insecure and unhinged and while my boss only cared about the money I brought into the company my mentor said, on your deathbed, are you going to regret the days you didn’t spend in the office or the days you lost to it because you weren’t with the ones you love? I understood him enough to board a plane but it wouldn’t truly internalize until last year. Until I made several conscious decisions to choose me over a paycheck.
I spent much of my adult life uncomfortably thin, obsessive over my weight, and two years into the job that would slowly undo me, I ballooned. While in Bali I started to confront the fact that nothing fit; I was squirming in my own skin, violently uncomfortable with my chest size. I remember writing about this, my anguish, and although I can’t find the post I know that I wanted all the wrong things. I wanted to be thin again. I wanted the body to edge out of the frame, to disappear.
Who knew it would take precisely two years from that trip to realize that I was living a life that was slowly killing me? That I was no longer driven by greed? That I wanted to live a life of my own design? That year was one of the worst I’ll know because in the span of a few months I left my job, my beloved Sophie grew sick and died, and I relapsed. Who knew that this journey into the dark, the deep, deep dark, would deliver me into light?
Over the past year I’ve detailed, at length, my journey back to health. This journey isn’t about gluten or weight loss or Sakara Life, it’s about regarding my body as a house I’m no longer interested in torching. The past year has been about ripping off the bandaids and dealing with anxiety head-on and not using food as I once abused alcohol and drugs–as an anesthetic. This year has been about shifting my mindset to healthy and strong rather than thin, small. And while there’s nothing wrong with being thin, that’s no longer my endgame. Small is no longer an end state, a reward.
The past year has been about me rewording sentences. About me complimenting someone and not immediately following with, did you lose weight? You lost weight! This year has been about me being more comfortable in my own skin.
I’m turning 40 this year and it’s strange. I don’t feel the weight of my years although I am starting to see signs of age on my face, hands, and body. Yesterday, while searching for the image I posted during my previous trip to Bali, I got lost in a Flickr rabbit hole and I discovered photos from my 20s, a time when I was beautiful and didn’t know it. Couldn’t see past my own self-loathing. Back then I could only see a body from which I sought escape–all I wanted was the glass of wine in arm’s reach. The sorrow I felt during those hours was deep, raw and real. Look at the time I squandered pillaging myself. Look at all those years lost not seeing the complete beauty that inhabited me, a beauty that inhabits everyone.
Anyone who knows me and knows me well knows that I hate being photographed. It’s also rare you’ll find me in a bathing suit, exhibiting skin. So know that I agonized posting this photo of me in a swimsuit for hours. DAYS. Because it’s less about me being in the actual suit but rather me seeing me in said suit and being okay with it. That I can look at a photograph of myself without immediately dissecting it. Without feeling the need to delete it, delete me.
Half a life ago I drunkenly asked a man to write what I thought was chaos on my body. Yes, I’ve a tattoo and I oddly don’t regret it. Although I’ve learned that the symbol doesn’t mean chaos, I think about what it means to write on your own body. To leave indelible marks. And while I don’t regret the act of getting a tattoo, I regret the intention I laid out for myself. Perhaps I should have written: you will become old and your body will thicken and soften and that is okay because this is your one life and you deserve it, all of it.
Posted on July 11, 2015
Sometimes these questions arise most urgently only because you are the one instigating the move. If some employer or relative or force of nature compelled you to move, then you’d just do it and get it done. Sometimes it helps to adapt as if one has no choice other than to adapt. It’s a way of snipping ties and burning bridges quickly, without dragging that big bag of Looking Back behind you. That said, I remember the time it was finally real that I was moving out of Michigan, and I felt like I was seeing my hometown for the first time. It felt like preemptive nostalgia. I think this is also the nature of sensitive creative types. We just feel everything too damn much. So keep writing about it so you can keep perspective. Obstacles are smaller when you dream bigger. —my always wise, always thoughtful friend, David, in response to me writing about my fear of leaving.
I held off signing my lease for days because committing myself to a new home for the next fifteen months became all too real. I got surgical with the contract, posed endless questions, and this morning I woke to the last of my seemingly endless inquiries met with cheerful, patient responses, and I signed a 42-page electronic document that would put me on a plane to Los Angeles in less than a month.
This is the part in the story when I become terrified. When I feel like the call is coming from inside the house (to quote my friend Amber). When it seems as if I’m the star of my own horror movie. This is the moment in the story where fear registers high, and even though I’m 8,615 miles from Los Angeles and 10,125 miles from New York, I want to crawl under my covers and scream into pillows.
However, I refrain, fearful that my fancy Balinese hotel would charge extra for the outcry.
The year before I left for college, I took a cross-country trip to meet a pen-pal, Leilani. We exchanged letters where we wrote at length about our affection for hip hop, and how we felt as if we were tourists in our own skin. She was Hawaiian, forever perceived as a chola; I attended a predominately all-white high school where I was an outcast, considered an other because of the disconnect between my unruly, kinky hair and my pale skin. I was white but not really, and in a high school where my classmates thought black people were ball players, rappers or criminals, I was often met with confusion, fear and disgust. Leilani and I issued countdowns for our respective escapes (she was 19 and finally had enough money saved to move out, while I was college-bound) and we decided to spend a week together celebrating in Los Angeles.
Boarding a plane at 17–at a time when I considered Long Island another continent in comparison to Brooklyn, where I’d grown up–was inconceivable. I didn’t even know how to buy a plane ticket and I refused to hand over my life to a giant flying machine suspended in midair. Flying was out of the question–who had all this money for a ticket that was the equivalent of riding the Cyclone, but elevated thousands of feet from the ground?–so I took a series of trains into the city to purchase a Greyhound ticket.
The trip took three days. Until then I’d never left the city perimeter, so I was in awe of the accents I’d only seen played out on television. Mouths made the strangest sounds. People said pop instead of soda, and regarded New York as a place where people got maimed and murdered. A man boarded the bus in Wisconsin smelling of sweat and coconut oil, and regaled me with his tales of being a male escort. I changed seats. In Montana, a woman boarded and cried for two hours, occasionally banging her head softly against the window–but not too loud as I suspected she’d get kicked off the bus for bringing crazy. I clutched my bookbag to my chest. The rest stops stenched of bleach blended with urine and air conditioning, and I’d enter diners, bleary-eyed and exhausted, and feast on cinnamon buns or charred, buttered toast–whatever my meager pocket money afforded me. By the time I arrived in Los Angeles, all I wanted was a shower in silence.
Back then the only word I could use to describe my initial reaction to Los Angeles was sprawling. The roads were winding and seemingly endless. Numbered streets didn’t exist–there was no rhyme or reason for intersections and thoroughfares. Where were all the people? Why were the streets wiped clean of them? Had my post-apocalyptic fears come to pass? People don’t walk, they drive, Leilani offered in response. In Los Angeles, we were forever in a car, always on a freeway. In New York we wouldn’t think twice about walking miles to a movie theater or a pool, however, in California you turned on the engine to move a few feet.
Yesterday I’m reminded of this when my guide takes me to the temple at Batukaru. Built on the slope of Mount Batukaru to ward off evil spirits, the climb up is windy, arduous, and my guide tells me that during sacred holidays cars are verboten. Everyone must make the journey up by foot! His voice registers a quiet kind of horror. I regard our differing perspectives: how he shivers in the 70 degree chill and considers a trek uphill as a form of torture while I’m willing to take the mountain air and hill like sacrament. Several times during our walk along the lush terraces of The Jatiluwih Rice Fields, my attentive guide inquires whether I’d like to pause, if it’s all too much. I want to say it’s not too much, it’s never enough, but he wouldn’t understand because what I can and cannot endure at this moment has little to do with rice paddies. Instead I tell him that I’m fine, everything’s okay. Let’s keep moving.
This is my life, I think. Forever fine. Forever moving.
I watch monkeys and how swiftly they move. How the mother carries her young as she flees into the trees, deep into the green. I watch fathers sift through hair and skin to ferret out burrowed ticks and bugs. Everyone is in the business of care and protection. And then I see a lone monkey (first image, above). He’s small, agile and resistant of the slightest gesture of affection. When other monkeys approach (and you can tell it’s with trepidation), this one scurries away, climbs up a tree. Watching from above. When he’s assured that danger in the form of attention no longer exists, he climbs down and watches the other monkeys playing, as if a self-made partition exists between them. My local guide dismisses this monkey, calls him antisocial, and I disagree.
I think he’s scared. I think he has a great deal to protect. Why else would he build a fortress around his heart?
My friend David serves as my occasional moral compass. Years ago, he called me out for expressing anger over the ingratitude of others I’ve mentored. With calm and clarity he told me that my intentions weren’t whole and honest because I’d delivered kindness with the expectation of something in return. Instead, we should give kindness simply to give it without any desire for reciprocation. Karma will care for us in the end, he said, and I fervently believe this. While we haven’t seen one another in years, whenever he writes me I pause, read and reflect. I treat his words with care because they come from a place of complete selflessness. Somehow he always manages to inspire clarity and calm whenever I’m flailing. I deeply admire him this–his propensity for reflection and honesty. A few days ago I posted a flippant comment (half-joking, half-serious because this is how I manage discomfort–I swathe it in forced gaiety) about being terrified of leaving. I had all the questions. I’m signing a lease for an expensive apartment–will I be able to pay for it for 15 months? I’m thousands of miles away from my closest friends–will I sustain those relationships while cultivating new ones, even as an introvert? Will I get over my fear of driving and get in a car? Will I become one of those people who complain about walking a mile? (oh dear god, I hope not) Will I finally be in a place where I can fall deliriously in love? Will my cat survive the plane ride? (yes, of course, of course, but I’m panicking nonetheless. I imagine Cesar Millan wouldn’t be pleased) How will I pay for the insane $3K+ it costs to move my stuff from one home to another (do you believe it’s this expensive!)? And on it goes.
Hours later, I scan Facebook and pause when I see David’s comment:
Sometimes these questions arise most urgently only because you are the one instigating the move. If some employer or relative or force of nature compelled you to move, then you’d just do it and get it done. Sometimes it helps to adapt as if one has no choice other than to adapt. It’s a way of snipping ties and burning bridges quickly, without dragging that big bag of Looking Back behind you.
Somehow this puts me to thinking of my relationship to alcohol. There was a time when my significant relationship was with a bottle of red wine because it was my one constant, the one thing that would never leave. I needed this permanence and the way alcohol blurred the edges of things. I spent most of my adult life numb until I woke up one day, fed up, aching to actually FEEL something. Quitting the drink felt like bandaids ripping off. The pain was that real and acute but I dealt with it. With the passing of each day, I rationed, it had to get easier. The once-throbbing pain would dull and I would only suffer the occasional pang. As it turns out, I was right, and looking back on my life I’ve so much regret that I spent it anaesthetized. I’d much rather have endured the hurt–all of it–because it’s temporary and the light always rises up to meet you once you’ve crossed over to the other side of sorrow.
So I imagine moving from my home, all that is familiar, is much like this. A burn, a sting that will invariably heal.
Right now I have $0 in my bank account because I’ve paid off much of my debt and I’ve checks to deposit (thank god). Right now I’ve booked a one-way ticket, have given notice to my current landlord, and will spend tomorrow comparing rates from various moving companies while perched in front of The Indian Ocean. I will push through this and feel the bandaids ripping off, one by one. I will feel it. I will write about it. I will get through it. I have to believe there’s something just right beyond my reach, on the other side.
We just feel everything too damn much. So keep writing about it so you can keep perspective.