living with only that which you love + need

books on my bookshelf
I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. ― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Someone once asked me about the kind of man I’m looking for, to which I responded, I want someone who’s been through war and has some of the bruises, but doesn’t make changing bandages his life’s work. Give me a man with scars on his back and I’ll deliver you my still-beating heart. Tell me you’ve carried the weight of the world on your back and you’ve somehow survived, in-tact and victorious.

Over the past few years I feel as if living in New York has become a wound that never closes; it festers and aches with the passing of each day, and I spend most of my time searching for thicker bandages, new ways to dress an injury that will never heal. I quit my job (ambulance, CPR); I made it my goal to see much of the world (ointment, cloth, and bandage); I came home in pursuit of a life of intention (dressing, redressing)–but still I bleed. Still the phantom ache.

During a trip to Nicaragua, a man asked me if I could move anywhere in the states where would I live. Don’t think, he said. California, I said. As soon as the words left my mouth I found myself surprised over the fact that I’d uttered them. I’m from New York–it’s in our DNA to eschew all things west coast. I spent a good deal of my life on the Biggie side of the Tupac/Biggie war (although technically Tupac grew up in East Harlem), preached about the pernicious disease that was California with its tomb of lithe bodies, Less Than Zero nihilism, and monosyllabic vocabulary.

And then I got wise to the fact that I based my opinions on stereotype. How could I believe that a small fraction of people were emblematic of an entire state? Also, how could I ignore all the pinpricks that had transformed the place I’ve known for the whole of my life into a stranger? Imagine waking one morning to find the streets you once loved erased and the friends with whom you’ve shared your most intimate secrets suddenly packing up shop and scattering about the globe. A certain kind of sadness sets in when you realize your house is less like a home and more like the place to which your mail is being forwarded.

Now I wake to the thrill of saying, I’m leaving. It hasn’t quite hit me that I’m leaving New York this year. Maybe it’s because bills continue to be stuffed into my mailbox, my books remain in bookcases, and lilacs stand stalwart in vases. The reality of my move out west feels like a whisper rather than a shout because I haven’t done anything other than to confirm the location of my new home. There are items to pack, mail to be forwarded, dozens of phone calls and lease negotiations to be made. I’m biding my time on this, waiting another month to launch the blitzkrieg.

Until then I’m slowly, deliberately removing items from my home.

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. ― William Morris

We won’t talk about the fact that I still own a Ayn Rand book. We’re just going to shuffle along; keep it moving, nothing to see. Know by the time I hit the “Publish” button, Night of January 16th will bask in a Brooklyn stoop sun.

Many of my friends are Kondo’ing their life. Don’t think I haven’t acknowledged that we’re at a place in our culture where the name of a Japanese decluttering consultant morphs into a verb. I’ve even circulated this humourous take on Kondo tackling Anthropologie (a refuge that straddles the spectrum of joy and clutter). Nearly all my friends have tried to press this book into my hands, and in response I shake my head because I don’t need to Kondo–owning what I love and need has been my practice for some time.

Over the past three years I’ve hemorrhaged books, cookbooks, clothes, shoes, accessories, cooking utensils, and anything that takes up unwanted space in my home. However, until this year my wardrobe and book collection have felt like clown cars–there was always more that could be discarded, and it took time to realize that living mindfully isn’t simply about discarding what is longer necessary, it’s about the connection you make with things before you purchase them. Do I really need this? What purpose or function does it serve? Do I really love this? Why does it bring me joy? Am I only filling a void with an object whose value will only depreciate and whose sheen will inevitably dull? I grew up poor, and for a time I was fixated on the accumulation of things because I felt it said something about me. You know what it said? I owned a lot of shit.

Because there’s a difference between owning things and things owning you. Did you ever consider how much time and energy you exhaust managing your things? The things need to be dry-cleaned. The things need to be dusted. The things need to be sorted and managed. The things need a lot of upkeep, don’t you think?

Years ago, I bought a gorgeous navy Jil Sander dress. It was classic yet architectural and I loved how I felt when I wore it. I considered it my “power dress” or whatever that means. Then stress consumed my waking hours, pasta became the sole food group and the dress remained unworn in my closet for three years. Recently, I zipped it up expecting to feel what I’d felt all those years before…but nothing. I stood in front of my mirror and fidgeted. The dress no longer brought me joy, in fact it was a scab-picker, a cruel reminder of my life all those years ago. And for a time I clung to it because it was beautiful and classic and Jil Sander.

When I met my dearest friend Persia last week for a long lunch it occurred to me that SHE would look so beautiful in the dress. I remember describing it to her, telling her that I sometimes still cleave to things for all the wrong reasons. She listened, her face was awash in light. So this morning I wrapped the dress in tissue and sent it to her home. Because bringing joy to my friends feels like a wound closing up. Love feels like a set of bandages discarded. Leaving feels like a wound healing.

There will come a time when my wardrobe won’t be the kind that covers wounds. There will come a time when I will trace my body with my hands and feel scars, not wounds. Let all the light in. Soon, soon.

cleaning out my closet

spaghetti squash chicken fritters (paleo/gluten-free)

chicken and spaghetti squash fritters

It’s rare that you’ll find me buying cut flowers. While they’re lovely in all their hue and plumage, I consider it a waste of money to have something in your home that will expire in a week. I’ve a long history of killing plants–I was notoriously responsible for the Cacti Famines of 2004 and 2007, respectively, and while I long to have life in my apartment the only thing I can manage is a cat. Felix is vocal about his wants and he always has something to say. I can’t get the kid to shut it!

So it was odd that after a long walk this afternoon I bought a bushel of lilacs. Lilacs are my favorite flower–I fell in love with them when I was 19 and reading “The Wasteland.” I remember the long walk to my college dorm and how it was eclipsed by a lilac bush; I practically buried my face in it I was consumed by its fragrance. There’s something beautiful about limits, memory, and desire, and when I came home I realized that my time in New York is limited and beautiful, too.

Would you believe I’ve lived here my whole life and there’s so much I haven’t seen, still? I haven’t been to The Four Seasons. I haven’t visited every independent bookstore. There are so many nooks and crannies left to explore, and I remember a reader who commented a few years ago, suggesting that I look at my home with fresh eyes–photograph it like I was a tourist (thanks, Barb!).

Over the next few months I plan to do just that. I’ve pared down my social commitments considerably to only spend time with my beloveds. And on the days reserved for me (my introvert time), I plan on having my last looks. I plan to look and then not look back.

You can’t know how excited I am to be leaving.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen, modified slightly.
1 small spaghetti squash, approximately 2 lbs., 2 cups of squash strands
2 cups finely chopped, leftover rotisserie chicken
1 fat shallot, minced
1 cup almond flour
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Pinch of coarse sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
2-3 tbsp coconut oil for frying

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and place it cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until soft to the touch. Remove from the oven and let rest until cool enough to handle, then use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds. Use a fork to remove the spaghetti squash strands. Measure out 2 cups of the strands and place them in a large bowl.

To the squash, add the chicken, shallot, almond flour, eggs, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Mix well and form 8 patties, similar in shape to burger patties.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add 2 to 3 patties, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Cook on both sides for a total of 4-5 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the patties, adding more oil to the pan as needed, until all the patties have been cooked.

I’m going to drop some truth right now: THESE ARE THE BEST FRITTERS I’VE EVER MADE. I can’t stop eating these. Like, really. I can’t stop. Promise me you’ll make these and share all the sordid details.

chicken and spaghetti squash fritters

freelancer tip: sometimes you shouldn’t fake it (until you make it)

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

In my line of work I deal with a lot of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. They have an iPhone, a blog, and Warby Parker eyewear, and suddenly they’re a “strategist.” Suddenly they’re parroting a thought-leader’s latest blog post–a geyser of words that, when assembled, means nothing. However, the words sound smart enough to alienate those who are not in the know, so for a time people get by riding the wave of jargon–a language that requires a compass, two dictionaries, and a mime to translate. They ration that they’re a consumer, they have a Facebook account, and they’ve seen brand campaigns online, and magically, poof!, they’re brand architects and social media marketers. Because, as you know, marketing is easy.

You can’t possibly begin to understand how much this frustrates me, and how incompetence not only hurts me but the industry as a whole. I’ve run into a lot of clients who’ve been burned and now they’re skeptical. I’ve come across freelancers who are quick to quote the latest social media stat or blurb from Gary Vaynerchuk, but when when their logic or pedagogical approach are challenged (what’s your methodology? rationale?), they go mute. I’ve seen consultants steal decks and someone else’s work only to manipulate it to a point where the ideas are garbled, the methodology flawed and confusing. I’ve spoken to a host of experienced peers who feel they have to compete on price because the cool kid down the block (shiny object syndrome) can undercut them. Easy.

There are times when it’s appropriate to “fake it”–when you have an existing foundation of real (and by real I don’t mean reading Mashable) experience, and you’re challenging yourself by taking it to the next level through self-education, mentorship (direct/indirect), and learning through experience based on the guardrails and guidance provided by your mentors + team. Sometimes you have to dive into the deep end to see if you can make it out to the other side.

When it’s not appropriate to fake it: you have zero experience in the industry, or you inflate/invent your experience. Let me break this down real slow: there’s a difference between confidence and competence.

Last week, my peers delivered sound advice on breaking into freelance. There are so many ways in which you can make your dream happen without deceiving your clients or using them as a means to pay for your sentimental education. Side hustle during your main hustle. Volunteer. Apprentice with someone who knows what they’re doing–or barter your services so you can learn the fundamentals of your industry while providing a service for someone who needs it. Take classes, online and off. Offer to help out on a project in another department in your place of employment. Take a job in a company and listen and learn and leave when you’re ready to move on. Be humble about what you don’t know, listen and learn.

Because having an active Facebook page does not a strategist make.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my career–it’s this: have the confidence to admit that which you don’t know. It’s not about you not knowing, rather it’s about how you go about getting the answers. It’s about how you learn the fundamentals and discipline to make what you’ve learned your own.

on marriage, children and wearing a blue dress

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo


I will send you a note later about the specific difference between those writers who possess the natural confidence that is their birthright, and those fewer writers who are driven by the unnatural courage that comes from no alternative. It is something like this–some walk on a tightrope, and some continue on the tightrope, or continue to walk, even after they find out it is not there. — Maeve Brennan, in a letter to William Maxwell (via).

A few weeks ago my best friend’s nine-year-old daughter and I were playing. Our play consists of her sometimes weaving pink ribbons through my hair or me helping her assemble an imaginary set for a show she’s intent on producing (she’s creative, this one). That day, after I affixed one of the many glittery crowns she owned on her head, she asked, Are you ever going to have children, Felicia? I admired her moxie, the way in which she’s able to navigate terrain that one could consider a minefield. Adults exercise politeness and discretion in a way that can sometimes be numbing, and it was such an odd relief to hear a child ask something so plainly–just because I’m the only woman she knows who doesn’t have a child of her own. My best friend and I exchanged a look, and I replied, No, C. I don’t plan on having children. She appeared pensive, and after a few moments she nodded her head, said, okay, and we continued on with our play.

I did love, once. Yet it was love that was easily altered, one that had slowly come apart at the seams. But for a time we lived a terrific photograph, and spoke of glinting diamonds, me swanning about in a white dress and children winding around my calves. This life, while part of a defined plan I had for myself, felt distant, foreign–an uninhabited country for which I needed a visa and complicated paperwork for entry. I never took to the idea of being owned by someone else; I never considered changing my name. I never imagined myself in a white dress (I prefer blue), and I’ve never truly felt the maternal ache and tug as many of my dear friends who are mothers, describe. Back then I viewed marriage as less of a partnership and more of a prison, but I imagine that had much to do with the man in my life. Back then I slept on top sheets rather than between them, and I was forever poised for flight. Back then I didn’t want children because I was certain I wouldn’t be any good at it considering my history.

After a couple of years of playing house, this great love and I experienced a drift and while he went on to marry and have a family of his own, I never once thought I’d missed out on my chance, rather, I was relieved. I treasure my solitude, my freedom. I didn’t want to be harvested. Back then I had so much work ahead of me, work on my self, my character, that I knew I wouldn’t be much good to anyone else. I knew I had to make myself whole and complete before I gave even a sliver of myself to someone else.

“I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one’s center of life inside of one’s self.” —Edith Wharton

Kate Bolick's SpinsterI came across Kate Bolick’s Spinster not from her widely-read Atlantic essay (I miss out on everything), but serendipitously through a Times book review. I nodded along with Bolick, and found her to be an “awakener” (a riff off Kate Chopin’s The Awakening), much like the ones she describes in her book. Over the past few years I’ve been so consumed with cultivating a good life, in living through the questions, in being a sponge when it comes to knowledge and culture, that I hadn’t stopped, not even for a moment, to consider the fact that I’m in my late 30s and am still not married. I’ve witnessed scores of my friends fall in love, marry, bear children, and I feel joy for them, rather than envy. And I’m also privy to the unseemly side of coupling–of people who talk about being incomplete without having a partner, people who feel like a failure because they haven’t fulfilled a role ascribed to them, and my heart breaks because no one person will ever complete you. It doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to come into the game, whole; you’ve got to hold your own cards, be willing to play your own hand.

It doesn’t make sense to come to the table with a few cards rather than a deck.

Nearly all my friends my age are married–most, happily so. Acquaintances congratulate engagements and pregnancy announcements with a welcome to the club message, as if these points in time gain you access to some sort of privileged society, which rings odd and exclusionary, at best. I don’t view marriage, or the decision to have children, as checks in a box or private clubs where one is finally granted trespass, rather I think of them as individual choices we make. We meet a great love and decide to marry, or not. We meet a great love and decide to have children, or not. We never meet a great love and the world as we know has yet to collapse. Or, perhaps, we don’t make love a vocation. Maybe we just live our best lives and play out the hand.

She was the only one of the lot of them who hadn’t gone off and got married. She had never wanted to assert herself like that, never needed to. —Maeve Brennan

It occurs to me that I’m not certain I’ll ever get married, and I’m okay with that. While I like the idea of a partner, a companion, someone with whom I’m besotted, somehow the vision of me in a dress surrounded by people applauding me down an aisle makes me cringe. The idea of me trading one man’s name for another feels false (I’ll keep Sullivan, thank you). And I’ve come to realize that I’m a better friend, sister, and lover because I choose not to have children.

All I want to do right now is create, to see everything that hasn’t been seen. To know what I don’t know. And if in that journey I meet someone, cool. However, if I don’t, that’s cool too.

caramelized banana and coconut ice cream

caramelized banana and coconut ice cream

I had such a wonderful weekend! I’ve a dear friend (and client), who launched a successful marketing communications collaborative, and it’s been a joy and privilege to work with her. It’s the kind of work where you don’t mind late-night emails or weekend brainstorm sessions, because the work is interesting and the clients, reasonable. We spent the day talking about a big client idea as well as bigger ideas for her business. After a snuggle session with Felix, she left and I spent the rest of the day blissfully alone.

I can’t tell you how much I need and value solitude. I’m reading Kate Bolick’s Spinster, and I feel her a mix of literary sister and kindred spirit because the idea of marriage gives me vertigo, while the notion of complete and unabashed freedom gives me shelter. Solitude allows me to recharge, to plan, and think, and I often tell people I’m booked for the weekend even though I only have a handful of social or work obligations on the calendar. I explained to my friend that I am booked because my time is spent nourishing me, and what better gift can I give a friend than my undivided attention, most present and refreshed self?

The rest of the weekend I oscillated between reading and watching movies and managing all the details of my upcoming Singapore/Bali holiday. I had a minor heart attack over how much I’m spending on this vacation, but I’m trying to remind myself that this is my one life and I’m spending it seeing as much of the world as I can before my final breath slouches out.

On Sunday, I attempted to take an archery class but was so irked by the energy in the space (spoiled, privileged children and the parents who attended to their every whine and whim) that I left before class started and had lunch at one of my favorite spots and spent the day planning and making this divine ice cream.

Fist pump for the week ahead and fingers crossed in hopes that I score another project to pay for this epic holiday. GULP.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat
3 medium ripe bananas
drizzle of honey
1 15oz can of coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat oven to 350F. Slice the bananas into 1/2inch-3/4inch pieces and toss them with the honey in a baking tray lined with parchment paper. I made this recipe twice and the first time going without parchment made clean-up a NIGHTMARE. Heed my advice and don’t add any unnecessary stress to your life. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring once during baking, until the bananas are browned and cooked through. Scrape the bananas and any syrup into a Vitamix or food processor. Add the coconut milk (contents of the entire can), vanilla, lemon juice and salt, and puree until smooth.

Chill the mixture in the fridge until cold (about an hour). The original recipe notes that you can freeze this in the freezer sans ice-cream maker, but the texture was off and a bit too icy for my taste (and yes, I stirred this consistently). I’d recommend placing the mixture in an ice-cream maker and follow your maker’s directions. I did this on the second go-around and the ice cream came out like a dream, velvety, sweet and a little salty.

caramelized banana and coconut ice cream

mind the signs

The Monkey Forest, Bali

It’s a moral logic, not an economic one. You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself. –from David Brooks’s The Road to Character (via)

The first time I traveled to Bali, I was in a constant state of disquiet. Much of the holiday I don’t remember because I was consumed with everything that had come before. You see, my mentor forced me to go on vacation. He purchased the ticket, put me on a plane, and removed access to my email–all because he had become concerned for my health. Because when you’re on your deathbed, you’re not going to regret having not taken that call, not sat in on that meeting. He sensed my unraveling and thought ten days out of the country will set me to rights. Unbeknownst to him, this trip was so much more than a relief from a job that had begun to slowly draw every last breath out of my mouth–it was the start of a love affair with Asia.

On the plane I watched a bad movie and fell in love with a beautiful song. The song was a kind of adult nursery rhyme, and I played it on repeat for the remainder of the trip. I stayed in a villa facing the Indian Ocean, a temporary home that was entirely too posh for someone who sought out hotels for their affordability and safety. It was off-season and I remember watching the rain come down in sheets–I’m alive, you understand, alive–and the whole of the beach blanketed in darkness because it was a holiday that required the extinguishing of all lights. It was an evening where everyone shut down. I didn’t realize the irony of all of this until right now–that I’d come from a place where anxiety was a constant state to rest in a place that revered an inner calm. A place considered rest noble.

It would take me two years from that time in Bali to recognize the quiet nobility in slowing down.

lunch in Bali

Every year I make a point to travel to Asia. Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, India, UAE–these are just a few places I’ve been since 2011, and ever since last year’s Thai holiday, I’ve been aching to return. However, taxes got the better of me (hello, five-figure payment) and time got away from me, and all of a sudden it’s May and I move to California in September and where has all the time gone?

A few weeks ago, I flipped through the latest issue of Anthology and settled on a profile of an Italian designer who decided to make a home in Southeast Asia. I pored over the photos of Bali–the lush scenery, fauna, fragrant frangipani and flora the color of jewels–and I considered a repeat holiday. I shook my head, put the magazine away, because there was so much more of the world I want to see.

And then this weekend, when I decided to book a trip to Cape Town, discovered I’d be traveling during winter, realized I’ve become allergic to cold weather, and instead instantly, as if not thinking, booked a holiday to Singapore and Bali.

At first I upbraided myself. Repeat, repeat. And then I realized that this is a full-circle. This is the woman I am now returning to the woman I once was and being kind to her, telling her that the stress wasn’t worth it. It’s never worth it.

Because there is nobility in living a quiet, mindful life.

From Anthology Magazine

From Anthology Magazine

zucchini, spinach + goat cheese fritters

vegetable fritters

I’ve never been good at keeping things under wraps–my excitement always gets the better of me. And I haven’t been this excited in quite some time. This feeling of eyes widen open, of awe, has happened in only a few key moments of my life: writing my new book, publishing my old one, leaving my job and finding a new one, launching a literary magazine that would go on to feature talented, burgeoning writers and great minds, and that one day, in 1999, when I decided to shift from an ebay powerseller in favor of launching a website (so new at the time!) where I sold designer clothing and accessories at a discount.

These moments are rare and as I grow older I realize the importance of holding on to them.

A few days ago I hinted at a new direction, and so many thoughts and ideas have consumed me since. It’s become such that I’ve become distracted because all I can do think about is the thing I can’t yet tell you about.

But it’s happening.

In the interim, I’m seeing friends who always have a way of inspiring me. And I’m cooking and baking up a storm. Here’s to hatching great plans. Here’s to living the questions and following a life of musts.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Anna Jones’s A Modern Way to Eat
9 ounces grated zucchini
2 handfuls (about 3 ounces) spinach or collard greens, finely chopped
4 tbsp soft crumbly cheese, such as feta or goat cheese (I used goat cheese)
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (I nixed this)
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
A few sprigs dill or basil, finely chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
5 eggs (the original recipe calls for 5, but I would use 4 for a crisper fritter)
Olive oil for cooking

DIRECTIONS
Toss all the greens into a bowl. Crumble in the cheeses, garlic and zest with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Toss to mix. Crack in the eggs and mix well.

Place a large frying pan over medium heat and add a good glug of olive oil – you want to be generous with the oil here. Once the oil is hot, carefully lower generous tablespoons of the mixture and flatten to form little patties. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, then carefully flip and fry on the other side for a final 2 minutes, until the egg is completely cooked.

Place on a plate in a low oven to keep warm until you are ready to eat.

zucchini and spinach fritters

want to get into the freelancing game? our roundtable has all the answers!

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Can I tell you I’m privileged to have such good people in my life? If you would’ve known me 10, 15 years ago, you would’ve met a paled-down version of me–a woman who was anxious, defiant, focused on quantity over quality. But I guess that’s what happens with age, you come into your own so beautifully and acutely, that people have a tendency to cleave to that which is calm and good.

To that end, imagine my joy to discover that so many of my friends and peers were so generous with their knowledge and time in helping readers of this space get the answers they need should they want to pursue a freelance life. I’m humbled by their generosity, the fact that the time it took to read and respond to your great questions took them away from billable work. So I’m grateful for that, and I think part of being a successful freelancer is to know when you should give your time and to whom.

So thank you, dear readers, for your questions. As I was preparing to chime in with responses, I realized that my peers were so eloquent and so helpful, that I would only be parroting versions of their words. I hope you find value here, or at least inspiration to give of your time and pursue that which you hold dear and love. –FS

Question #1: This is going to be the newbie-est of newbie questions and rather embarrassing to ask, but…how does one start freelancing? In particular, how does one break into freelance copy editing, especially if one does not have many, many years of solid experience in the field? Honestly, I have no idea how to start! My background is mostly in academia, but I am in a situation in which I need to look for employment elsewhere, and I am thinking about freelancing as I navigate my way through the rough seas of job hunting and relocating. Well, thank you, Felicia and everyone else, for offering this great service! –RINE

Lindsey Tramuta: Great question! I would first start small and see if anyone in your immediate network could use copy editing services. If you can seek little projects on the side initially, you’ll build up your portfolio and get more comfortable applying for freelance gigs or connecting with potential employers once you have the experience under your belt. For me, I had an idea that I thought would fit in nicely with a magazine so I asked a friend who had previously written for the magazine if she would be kind enough to share her editor’s email (she was no longer writing for the outlet and didn’t cover the same beat) and she did. That doesn’t work every time but in this case, she opened the door for me, I reached out to the editor and I’ve been writing for them ever since. Also, if you’re looking to actively veer your career in a new direction, make sure you update your close friends and contacts with personalized emails (or phone calls!) so that they know to keep an eye and ear out for opportunities that would fit with your interests.

Amber Katz: My advice is to network beyond belief. Find some people doing what you’d like to do, in this case, freelance copy editing, and email them and ask them if you can take them to coffee for a 20-minute meeting. In the email, ask if a phone call would work if they’re not able to meet up and come to the meeting/call with three questions you’d like answered. Another thing I’d recommend is simply emailing your network and let them know you’re taking on freelance copy editing work if anyone has any leads. You may have to offer your services for a small fee (never for FREE, unless you really don’t have any related experience, in which case you may need to do a project or two gratis) so you can put together a portfolio. Good luck!

Leah Singer: I would suggest doing a few things. First, if you have experience doing copy editing (or any of the freelance skills you want to do) in your current job, make sure you highlight that on your resume and on your LinkedIn profile. Even if your job in academe is not a copyeditor, if you’re performing that work as part of your job, it’s relevant and should be promoted.

Second, start finding organizations that will use your talent in a volunteer capacity. For example, see if your church, synagogue or kid’s school or club needs a copyeditor for their newsletter, and volunteer to do the work. When you’re well established, I don’t always advocate giving away your time and service for free. However when you’re starting out, you need to get the clients and experiences to build your business. And remember, nobody knows the work you’re doing is volunteer or paid!

Third, harness the power of social media! Find a few friends or post something on Facebook that you’re starting this service and want to do some copyediting for people’s blogs, articles, etc. Then make sure to get testimonials for your LinkedIn profile and future website!

Matthew Sharpe: I’m a freelance editor and writing coach and I started freelancing somewhat by accident. I taught creative writing in the evening at a local university. Some of my students were grown-ups working on novels, and they got in touch after the course was over to see if I’d continue helping them with their novels. Same thing happened after I attended a few writers’ conference over the years. I confess I’m not great at advertising and marketing my own services, so most of my work has come to me via word of mouth.

As for copy editing: okay, so you don’t have many, many years of experience. Do you have any? That will certainly help. I’d get in touch with the copy departments of all the major book publishers and magazines and let them know you’re available, and what your experience is. If they have an opening, they’ll give you a test. If you do well on the test, they’ll start giving you some work. If you do well on the work, they’ll give you more. Etcetera.

Cariwyl Herbert: No need to feel embarrassed at all! We all must start somewhere, and most endeavors begin with asking questions. If you are ready to take clients, put the word out to your network. Email your friends and family to let them know what you are offering. They’ll gladly hire you when they need copywriting, and they will tell their friends as well. You can also post your services on sites like elance.com and odesk.com; both are portals catering to freelancers.

Alexandra Ostrow: Good for you, Rine! Depending on your role in academia, you likely have more related experience than you’re giving yourself credit for. Take a look at the projects you’ve worked on, and make a list of the times when copyediting played a role. This list is the beginning of your portfolio. Also, let your network (colleagues, friends, family) know that you’re beginning to work as a freelance copyeditor and are looking to take on new clients. If you’re open to it, offer discounted services to new clients for a limited time period. This will help grow your portfolio. Bottom line, if you’re gravitating towards freelance copyediting, this is either a passion or an innate skill of yours. Believe in yourself and go for it. The hardest part is often just putting yourself out there.

Kim Brittingham: Years ago I worked as a legal assistant and I used to wonder the same thing. How do these freelancers get work to begin with, so they can eventually work only for themselves? And I’m still not sure I have the answer! I have friends who write full-time, and they get non-stop work just pitching ideas directly to publications. But I think that requires a lot of persistence, and you have to be good at coming up with a lot of different ideas all the time (enough that you can afford to have the majority of them shot down). I also suspect it takes time to establish relationships with editors who will look forward to your pitches and respond to you quickly, or even reach out to you and offer an assignment.

I also know of some writers who get work through eLance.com, Guru.com and oDesk.com, but I personally haven’t used those sites because I think most people who go there seeking writers and also looking for a bargain, so you wind up making really insulting money.

My path to becoming a full-time freelance writer was a little unconventional. It started in the ‘90s when I published a ‘zine called Café Eighties. I did a lot of interviews with entertainers, and after a while, people came to know me as a writer. Eventually, someone from a local publication reached out to me and said, hey, would you be interested in writing something for us? Then when the Internet came about, I was completely fascinated. I wanted to tinker and figure out what I could do with this thing. I had a really early website, I was on message boards, et cetera. I remember posting an ad on Craig’s List, offering to write what we call “web content” today, although I don’t think that term was being widely used back then. I got some responses. I wrote articles about personal safety in the context of dating for a telephone forwarding service; I wrote about novel ways to propose marriage for a diamond company. One thing led to another. Eventually I sold a book to Random House, in part because I had built a following with my personal blog and stuff I posted on social media. I was extremely lucky in that I didn’t have to work hard to get a literary agent to notice me; my agent approached me first.

Then I had some more skills in my pocket, like the social media, blogging, et cetera. I had even more to offer as a freelancer. Then one day I got a call from a guy I’d taken a class with at Media Bistro. He asked if I’d be willing to ghostwrite a book for him. I signed a contract that made it possible for me to quit my job as a legal assistant. Since then, I’ve taken some part-time jobs here or there to get by while doing the freelance writing thing, but I’m happy to say I haven’t had to do that in the last three years. Most of the work I get today is repeat business and referrals. People also find me on LinkedIn. For example, I occasionally publish a blog post to their content platform “Pulse”, and people have reached out to me with work after liking what they read. I think it also helps that I’ve carved out a niche for myself, working with executive coaches, management consultants and thought leaders. When you specialize in something, you have a better shot at winning business than if you try to be everything to everyone, in which case you disappear into a vast sea of other Jacks- and Jills-of-all-trades. I do still take outsourced work from marketing agencies, though, because I enjoy the variety. One day you’re writing blog posts for an insurance company that caters to teachers, the next you’re creating mildly crass Facebook memes aimed at 20-something heterosexual men who gamble. It’s fun!

Question #2: Thank you for offering us the chance to ask questions! I’ve been working as a freelance editor part-time along with my normal day job in academia. I’m currently looking to grow my business. I’ve been wondering about keeping regular clients happy, yet still being able to take a week or two off throughout the year. –EGEORGIAN

Amber Katz: There’s no reason you can’t enjoy a week or two off throughout the year. It’s all about sending your freelance clients an email 2 weeks before your vacation and letting them know you’ll be off the grid for a couple weeks and could they please submit any requests for work by X date so you have time to finish up before you leave. Then, use an Out Of Office notification to let people know you’re away and not checking email until X date and to contact you in case of an emergency using a special email subject line.

Cariwyl Herbert: Everyone is entitled to time off—even freelancers! It isn’t difficult to take a day off here and there; put an out-of-office alert on your email if you’re worried. For a longer vacation, simply give clients a couple weeks notice so they know what to expect.

Leah Singer: For me personally, it’s been hard to take chunks of time off and not do any work (although I know people who do it well). I usually always check email or have client work that needs to be done in some way. However, it can be done and it just requires a lot of planning and working in advance. If I know I need to take a few days off, I schedule time on my calendar to do work ahead of time. I also let my clients know I won’t be working on those days. Also, some seasons are slower than others. December always seems to be less chaotic, which is great since my daughter has the last two week of the month off of school. I also take advantage of holiday weekends since the rest of the world tends to slow down during these times.

Matthew Sharpe: I think just give them a lot of advance notice about your time off. If feasible, offer to do extra work in advance of your vacation so they won’t be stranded. Everyone needs time off. People generally accept this, in my experience.

Kim Brittingham: One thing that helps me is flat-out refusing to work with unreasonable and/or demanding people (FS note: Hallelujah!). I have a pretty good instinct about people, and usually after just one conversation, I can sense whether or not they’re going to be a giant pain in the rear. Life’s too short for that. Just say no. BACK AWAY FROM THE NUTJOB. That’s why I never have issues with clients calling me at odd hours or expecting me to be available 24/7 to discuss things that are in no way urgent. Also, I think it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page from the start. Tell your client how many hours you have available to them, when you take calls and when you don’t, when and how often you will meet via Skype or conference call, et cetera. Put it in writing.

The work I take allows for a lot of flexibility. For example, I have clients to whom I provide the same amount of content every month. I know when my deadlines are, so if I want to go away for a week, I just work extra-hard to get everything done early. But I do make sure I’m available by e-mail while I’m gone. If that’s not possible, I let all of my clients know in advance when I will be out-of-reach. I also accept longer-term projects, like ghostwriting books, but when I accept those projects, I also accept that I won’t be doing any extensive traveling until the gig is over.

Alexandra Ostrow: It’s all about setting expectations. Just like you, your clients are likely looking to take a vacation (or three), and should understand you need some time away. It’s unlikely to be an issue as long as you let them know ahead of time about your plans, and then work out an arrangement where either a) you complete all deliverables prior to takeoff or b) you have a trusted colleague cover your role while you’re away. If it is still an issue, I would personally question whether that particular client is worth sacrificing work-life balance.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo


Continue reading

I must write: when a woman finally finds her vision

Illustration Credit: Summer Pierre

Illustration Credit: Summer Pierre


Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world. –Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

When I was small I used to watch my mother knit; her thin fingers mastered the tango between two needles as they warred to create a scarf, shawl or blanket. For years I took up mimicry like a kind of cross-stitch, but I failed because the complexity of patterns and needlework subsumed me; the chink of cool metal forever eluded me. Here I was, a child composing haikus likening my mother’s voice to thunder, yet I couldn’t thread a needle. My thread always grazed the eye but never dared plunge through it. And I worried about this. A lot. If I couldn’t conjoin cheap yarn how could I possibly tell stories? How could I step into a world and inhabit it so completely? Words belong to one another, and a writer’s job is to sit amongst spools of thread and weave. Their work lies in creating tapestry, silent symphonies.

I think about the movie, Heat, specifically the “face-to-face” scene between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

These are two men who are what they go after. Two men who don’t know any other work than the work in which they do; their life is their work, no going back. And although the work is risky–it’s like risk versus reward, baby–the action is the juice. The work, the life, is the reward. Even in moments that feel like plague, when the ground gives way and the fall seems infinite, bottomless, we press on. We carry the weight of the dark on our backs in the journey into the light because all of it, the depth of it, the darkness of it, is worth the stretch.

We try to see in the dark; we toss up our questions and they catch in the trees. —Anne Dillard

A WRITER? Why do you want to be a writer? Writers don’t make any money, said a woman to me once. I remember the way she said writer, as if it were tinged, sullied, a word not worthy of the letters that comprise it. Maybe she thought herself as someone who could wash the stink off me, scrape away at the plaque that had begun to harvest its way into my heart. Because finance will make you clean again. This woman was a managing director at Morgan Stanley and I sat in her office discussing my resignation. I’d just been awarded admission to a fancy writing program and I was jubilant. My work until then had become a blanket intent on smothering me, and all I wanted to do was fucking breathe. For a time I relegated writing to a hobby state while I managed the serious work, my vocation, off to the side. Because I was an adult now. I had student loans now. I had an apartment now. I had a bone-crushing subway commute now. I had my mid-day Starbucks run now. I had happy hour now where everyone was on the road to ruin, night drinking until they saw black, now. I had to wake up now. I had to Monday moan now. I had to do this all over again now. I had to measure my own grave now.

The days had become repeats of themselves with minor variations.

I go through this a lot–trying to deny writing as something serious and true in favor of the work over there. And I always, invariably, come up short. I always end up working myself into a place of despair because while I’m good at what I do–marketing, projections, budgets, brand positioning and planning–it’s not the only thing I’m meant to do.

What I’m meant to do is write. Plain and simple. Although, in reality, not so plain and definitely not so simple, but give me a minute with this.

Illustration Credit: Elle Luna

Illustration Credit: Elle Luna

Over the weekend I read a book in one sitting, an exposition off of a widely-read essay, “The Crossroads of Should and Must”. I remember reading the essay with a considerable amount of interest and passing it along to my friends. I remember being inspired by Elle Luna’s words but untouched. Perhaps I wasn’t primed for confrontation because I was still sorting out the nuances of this freelance life, but now, right now, I’m ready to drive my car off the road.

I’m good at compartmentalizing things, brilliant even. When I resigned from my last job I talked a lot about having room for all my children to play in the proverbial sandbox, that none of them would be considered changelings. That I could practice my writing in one space, my affection for food in another, and finally, the marketing–the bill-paying stuff–in another silo, far over there. Never once did I consider how I could merge the three. How I could seamlessly move from one state of play to another and even imbue my life with play! IMAGINE THAT! Never did I think that three simple children could morph into one complex child.

Never did I realize that I’m now in the midst of my own needlework.

Over the past few months I’ve been thinking about my life. That might sound dramatic and it probably is, but when you’re inching your way toward 40 and you’re still in student loan and credit card debt maybe it’s a good idea to take a step back and take stock. I did the 8,760 hour mind map. I read a slew of books. I got angry all over again about shit blogger books getting published while I’m told my strange, beautiful writing will never find a large home (fuck this and the horse you rode in on). I thought about my move to California and the role a foreign place would have in the grand scheme of things (more alone time, more space and less distractions). And after all this noise and mess and thinking (all that yarn!) I asked myself a really simple question:

What brings me joy?

I started to look at everything I did over the course of the day and I realized that my joy lies in writing. Whether I’m working on a brand voice guide or a blog post or a short story, the art of weaving words together challenges and excites me. The art of reading and constantly absorbing information so that I can keep the knife sharp as it were, feels like home.

Writing is home to me.

It’s taken me 39 years of denial to admit that I have to put writing front and center. I have to design a career, a life, around my ability to take up wordsmithing like cross stitch. And I’ve finally landed on an idea that I’ve been sharing with friends over the past few weeks–a consultancy focused on storytelling.

Now, this isn’t about creating content or some other bullshit reductive term that looks fancy on LinkedIN or gets you penning articles for trade publications–as you know I don’t care about exposure or popularity. By default, I’m unpopular and far from mass market. What I’m talking about is the ability to hire me (and down the road, others) to help you create a world or tell stories. From product naming to brand architecture to helping you write your book, I want to be able to practice what I love, what I must do, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Will I fail? Probably. Will I get to connect with talented artists? Absolutely. Will I get better at what I do? You better believe it. Will it take the sting and weight off of having difficulty publishing my own experimental fiction? For the love of god, yes. Will I freak out? Probably once a day, on a good day.

But it’s like risk versus reward, baby.

Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigues, I have had my vision. ― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

I’ll unveil the official name + all the fireworks in the coming weeks, but for now know that I’ve set down my brush, as Lily Briscoe once did.

Know that I’ve found my vision.

the one lesson you need to know in business + in life: be good to people

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

In a serendipitous turn of events, I’ve been reunited with a former colleague on a project. Although I don’t have many fond memories from my time spent at an agency, I’ve been privileged to know and mentor an exceptional group of women–women who have gone on to build companies, build brands, and break ranks. It’s been a joy to witness their bloom, and I feel humbled to have played a smart role in their career. Often I’ll circulate project and job leads to former members of my team because I can vouch for their work, and more importantly, the strength of their work ethic and character.

Recently, a dear of mine (and now client) was on the hunt for a temporary social media lead for some of her clients, and I recommended an old colleague of mine. Not only is she a perfect cultural fit, but she’s managed to get up to speed in a manner in which I can only describe as lightning. And then my friend asked me to step in and play a larger role in strategy, and what do you know, reunited and it feels so good.

So…here’s the punchline. Remember the story I shared about how I snapped at a direct report during a meeting? And this direct report confronted me privately (and rightly so) to let me know that my behavior was not okay? And remember how I spoke of humility, how it was important to admit when you’re wrong, to accept, and act upon, constructive feedback even when the words feel like wounds that will never close?

Fast forward a few years and now this former colleague and I have been reunited on a project. Now we’re older, wiser, demonstrably different than the two women facing one another, shifting uncomfortably in our seats, in an airless conference room. We write one another in hashtags, #reunitedanditfeelssogood, and trade stories about our former selves. And all of this put me to thinking of a lesson learned:

ALWAYS BE GOOD TO PEOPLE. NO MATTER WHAT.

My mentor once told me that karma has our direct dial–we can’t escape it, so why not be kind to those who inhabit our world, regardless of title, rank and file. Of course we’re human, prone to outbursts, minor connivery, and indiscretion. We may snap and misstep, but it’s important to breathe, take a walk around the block (or five), and return to a place where you’re able to view a situation a little more objectively, with a bit more clarity. It’s important to right wrongs and treat people with the kindness that you yourself would expect from others.

Now this is not to say that this works for everyone in your life. Some people will be unkind; there are those who will be undeserving of your love and friendship. Admittedly, it’s been my work to let go of my anger towards certain people who have been cruel, conniving, and petty–people who have tried to make me feel small. But while I work on that (work in progress, work in progress), I keep reminding myself that the world is smaller than we think. That people have an uncanny ability to weave in and out of our lives when we least expect it, and wouldn’t it be easier if we were simply good to people because it was the decent thing to do?

Because we can be two women on a new project laughing off that time we spent in the conference room, angry. Could barely remember that time having existed.

currently reading: new books on the shelf

new books on my bookshelf

Sometimes I read the books I’m unable to write because they inspire the kind of stories and books I can. The other night my friend tells me that she wants to write a book. She looks at me, pauses, and says, Well, not like you. Not the kind of book you’re able to write. We tell stories in order to live, Didion once said, and I remind my friend that this would be a dull world if we all had the capacity to tell our stories in the same way. Years ago I sat in a Columbia writing workshop and someone regarded one of my short stories with disdain, spat out, Family stories are over, Felicia. After I cried into my sleeve in the hallway, I realized her comment was ridiculous.

Every story has been told. The beauty is in its retelling. The magic lies in all the ways in which artists can interpret love, loss, heartbreak, joy, anger, rage, despair. Therein lies the art.

I don’t know how a lot of writers do it. I don’t know how they have the ability to consistently conjure new characters, architect new worlds, so swiftly. Before I sat down to write my latest novel (you know, the brilliant, dark thing that publishers love but are frightened of publishing), I’d already been thinking about these characters for years. While they didn’t have the same names, shapes or features, I was slowly coming to know them much like how I’d know real people, so when the time came to write about them (Kate, Jonah, Gillian, etc), their world came at me like a torrent, fully-realized. I love these characters because they feel like old friends, and I’m struggling to fashion a new world so quickly as all these articles on writing would have me do.

While we try to sell that dark thing over there, my agent tells me to write something new. I thought I had something but it’s nothing substantial, nothing worth occupying my time, so I read and write these small things here wondering if and when something will spark.

I read the spectrum. From Sarah Manguso’s thin but potent meditation on the art of journaling to Katherine Heiney’s razor-sharp and fully-drawn stories about young women tangeled up in love and betrayal, I oscillate between extremes in form and style. I read Bardur Oskarsson’s The Flat Rabbit (a children’s book that tackles death so beautifully) because I want to remember that the power of a good story lies in the and then what. It also reminds of economy, how writers need to be deliberate, downright surgical with the words they choose. When I was working on my novel I would spend DAYS on a single page, reworking sentences, because every scene, every line, had to be like a koan; everything I write has to be a container filled with multiple meanings.

“I don’t know anything.” It might seem counterintuitive but I try to tell myself this every day when I wake up. It’s quickly becoming my daily mantra. Now, this isn’t some exercise in self deprecation. I simply want to remind myself as soon as I wake up to see the world with clear eyes. —Jory MacKay

And I read Elle Luna’s magical book because I have to remember that I must write, always. I must gather experiences up in my hands so I’m able to write about them because I’m only able to make sense of this life through writing about it. There’s no other way.

And the rest? They’re meant to awaken, inspire me to what’s next. What’s down the road, just beyond my reach.

fig + millet muffins (protein-packed + gluten-free)

fig and millet muffins (gluten-free)

Last night I watched a woman pick up a shovel and hurl it at her door. On the other side of the door her husband stood mute. The woman’s voice was the loudest sound, and in the corner I could hear her small dog whimpering. My friend Alex urged me to call 911, call the fucking police and there was a moment between hearing my friend’s voice and me looking down at my phone and dialing three numbers. I can’t explain the moment other to say that it was a quiet ache, something old ghosted, lingered, and the whole of my building smelled feral, old. Something I desperately needed to leave behind.

Let me back up a few paces.

my sweet friend and my special guy.

my sweet friend and my special guy.

Let me tell you about my friend Alex. I was a partner in an agency and she was lead on a few key accounts. And while we always sat a few feet away from one another, our interactions were minimal, at best, and part of me is glad she never reported to me. We never had to endure the awkwardness that occurs when you leave a company and then start defining and re-defining your relationships. You look at people who inhabited your life for so long and wonder where they fit. Do they fit? Is there a place in your life for a person who used to go in on your Seamless orders (who’s getting Thai from that place with the good spring rolls?), a person who occupied the same space at the holiday parties you had to mime your way through to endure (you’d exchanged perfunctory pleasantries in passing and made your way to opposite sides of the room to be with your respective tribes), a person who would wait patiently for the conference room you occupied (we have this room. how long are you going to be?), and you’d deliver a look that was meant to convey apologies for a call that had gone over. Because you had become a person who would always be late. You were forever occupying rooms. You were wreckage, spillage.

Fast forward to a summer where Alex and I met for pancakes and coffee while everyone crammed themselves into subway cars. We didn’t know many freelancers so we cleaved to one another, scared, exhilarated. We were excited for what lie ahead even if we didn’t know what it was. I was no longer a partner, she no longer a lead on accounts–we were just two women eating pancakes. One morning I remember telling her that something was wrong with my cat. I’d been up all night with my Sophie, who wretched like I’d never seen. I remember telling Alex that something didn’t feel right. I think she’s really sick, I said in a voice that barely registered above a whisper.

Over the course of that summer my Sophie became sick, really sick, and Alex was no longer the woman who was the lead on accounts, she became my friend who asked the tough questions when I cried into Sophie’s whittled frame. Alex was the one who followed me home and showed me how to give Sophie her meds. Alex was the one who never judged when I relapsed and got drunk, really drunk, all the time. After Sophie died, after my puffer felt small and airless in my hands, after she was wrapped in a blanket and carted out of my home and down three flights of stairs, I text’d Alex. Words were impossible to harness and I think Alex respected that–how I couldn’t possibly talk. How the idea of a new sound that would eclipse Sophie’s final breath was unfathomable.

Alex became the friend with whom I could feel vulnerable, unafraid. I could be my most unmasked self.

Fast forward to last night. We sat on my floor, eating chips and guacamole, feasting on kale salad with pomegranates, and thick, creamy soup. We spoke of the cruel winter and I shared that these past few months have almost been more than I could bear. I wonder aloud about moving to Santa Monica instead of Santa Cruz because the former is a city I know well, could navigate, could be the bridge between the familiar and the foreign, and I was so relieved that she didn’t interrupt with what she thought I should do–like everyone who hears about my move is prone to do–and instead asked me what I wanted. While so many want to solve, make broken whole, Alex is content to breathe amongst the pieces. I don’t have to have everything figured out; I just had to be thinking, feeling.

And then I make an off-handed comment about how it’s never loud in my building. I’m responded to a thumping, a murmur of voices that ascends to a shout. Alex suggests that it’s probably the kids in my building, and then we pause because what we hear are not the voices or words of children. All we know is that my downstairs neighbor is screaming and trying to break down her door. We rush downstairs and we exchange a few words with my other neighbor who I’m sure had to tell her children to stay inside, don’t open the door, everything’s okay.

It occurs to me now that amidst the violence and the screaming, the three of us–Alex, myself and the other neighbor–are extremely calm. Alex manages the woman’s dog, who’s terrified and bounds up the stairs and flees into my apartment frightening Felix. I manage the woman who sits on my floor, obsessively apologizing (you don’t have to apologize). I tell her to breathe. I tell her I’ve called the police (this does not please her) because I don’t know what’s going on but couples don’t fight like that. She tells me, I’ll manage it, and takes her dog and leaves. She tells me I have a nice apartment, that it’s larger than hers. Beautiful, she says. And this unnerves me. Out of everything that’s transpired over the course of an hour, her comparing my apartment to hers feels…unsettling. I don’t know what to say other than to say thank you. Although now, thinking about it, those words feel misplaced too.

I think about all of this. I think about the woman and wonder if looking in on her would be a disruption. I know her mother came by. At one point the police and ambulance came and went. I know all of this information but wonder if I should do anything with it. And then I realize I’m a stranger. I also realize this: I, once the calmest of children amidst violence in Brooklyn, grew up to become a woman who calmly manages a domestic disturbance in Brooklyn, and I’m tired. I’m tired of familiar.

Bring me the foreign. All of it. I tell Alex that I’m moving to Santa Cruz because it’s time.

It’s time to wake up to my life. It’s time I let Brooklyn go.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good
2 cups gluten-free flour (I used Cup4Cup so I don’t have to deal with xanthan gum)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your flour already includes it)
1/2 cup raw millet
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
Big pinch fine sea salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/3 cup ground flaxseed
2/3 cup maple syrup (I used Grade B)
2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped dried figs (I used dried calimyrna figs)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, millet, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, and ground flaxseed. In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, almond milk, and olive oil. In a small bowl, toss the chopped dried figs with a spoonful of the dry ingredients (this keep the figs from sinking down to the bottom of the muffins, and keeps the figs from sticking together). Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined, then fold in the figs.

Divide the batter into the muffin cups and bake until browned and a toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Mine got this brown at 22 minutes, so I’d suggest you start checking at 18 minutes.

fig and millet muffins
fig and millet muffins