cinnamon + cacao granola (paleo/gluten-free)

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When I was in Nicaragua I fell asleep at nine and woke at five. It’s been my habit to wear ear plugs when I sleep since the slightest sound could wake me, however, in Nicaragua I was distracted by the fact that there were no sounds from which I could escape. I took a place in the mountains and all one could hear come nightfall were birds flittering through trees and nocturnal animals calling. In the morning were different birds, different animals but the same trees, and it felt as if the trees never resumed their former shape because of all the velocity, the shaking. It took me two days to become accustomed to the quiet and then I welcomed it. It felt natural to sleep and rise in concert with the dark and light, and since I’ve been back I’ve exhausted.

I still sleep, yet there’s so much noise around me. I wear my ear plugs again to quiet the footfalls of men rushing up and down the stairs at all hours, the blare of horns and music as cars race down my street. At dawn I wake to shovels scraping the sidewalk and a host of other tools meant to break ice. I listen to music on my morning commute because everything is just too much, and I even shy away from friends who write that they are so! busy! because it’s as if I can hear the sounds of their disquiet, of rapid movement.

I’m wondering if, like the trees, I’ll ever be able to resume my shape.

People (friends, colleagues, acquaintances) have been asking the perfunctory questions related to a move: have I found a place in California (no, because I only decided less than a week ago that this would be the place to which I would move this year)? What about my health insurance (I’ll have to complete forms)? What about driving (I’ll figure that out when I get there)? What about money (don’t you think that I don’t think about money when I’m not thinking about money)? What about your apartment (I’m leaving, I’m leaving)? What about your book (don’t ask)? What about movers (making inquiries)? What about friends (working on it)?

I’ve been back less than a week, having barely adjusted from moving to one environ to another, and I’m getting killed with questions.

Lately I’ve found the act of multitasking hard, impossible even. I can no longer read and listen to music. I can no longer deal with programming a new phone and reviewing a quarterly analytics report. I’m finding that I work best when I focus on one task at a time, perform it to its measure, and then move on to the next. Right now I’m focused on making enough money to pay my taxes, dental surgeries (will marry for dental insurance!), and enough to get me settled for three months in California. Then I’ll worry about logistics. Then I’ll worry about everything else.

Right now I’m gathering as much information as I can while letting a lot of my possessions go. Right now I need people to help me with information and work and take my things.

Right now I need to hole up in my home and rest while I devour all of this chocolately granola.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe via The Whole Pantry app* (best $2.99 I’ve spent in months see note, below)
2 cups coconut flakes
½ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
½ cup poppy or sesame seeds (I used slivered almonds)
½ cup chia seeds
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
⅓ cup rice malt syrup, honey or coconut nectar
¼ cup melted coconut oil
½ tsp sea salt flakes
2 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cacao powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 125°c / 255°F. Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and use hands (or a spatula) to coat evenly. Line a tray with baking paper and spray lightly. Spread mixture evenly onto tray. Bake for 30 minutes, turning once. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. At this point, you can add in additional dried fruit (I love dried cherries and ginger), and store in airtight container or glass jar for up to a week.

*Note: As you guys know I’m pretty obsessive about researching products before I try them, but admittedly I got seduced by this app while in the Apple store waiting a month to get my iPhone6. I hadn’t learned about the apparent shadiness behind the app and its founder until a reader brought it to my attention a few days ago on Twitter, and a kind reader (thanks, Emi!) posted a comment today. I did some digging and I’m so unnerved (to put it mildly) that someone would lie about surviving cancer and defraud people out of thousands of dollars for her own financial gain. I want to apologize to you guys for not doing my due diligence, and I’m glad you’ve brought this to my attention. I’ll be extra vigilant, moving forward. As always, thank you! For more information about the story, click here and here.

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smoky black bean soup + the art of being beholden to people

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We’re in the business of transaction. Every day we do the maths, scheme, calculate, negotiate until the object of our desire is bought and paid for. We covet what we see and we scrimp and save until it’s mine, all mine, and then we want something else. The ocean of want is seemingly bottomless, endless, and after a while we come to believe that everything has an assigned value. Everything can be bought or sold. Money suddenly becomes the end game. We’ll save this much until we have that glinting object on the shelf. We work 10, 12, 15 hour days because we pay our dues, because one day we will make more than we make now. And if we make more we can buy more, and shouldn’t that entitle us to our happiness? Shouldn’t the sheer accumulation of our objects equate to the amount of abundance in our hearts?

When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I said happy. Everyone had a good chuckle and they proceeded to tell me that what I wanted to be implied a vocation. What was it that I was going to do to make money? Somehow this felt false to me, equating what one is to what one does, and even when I was small I knew that just because you waited tables or delivered mail or plunged your hand and fixed a slow-beating heart–all of that couldn’t encompass the whole of a person. What you did could barely make a dent in all that was you, your innards, how you thought and loved.

When I was in banking, someone asked me what I wanted to do. Did I want to trade derivatives? Did I want to try to break into the old boys’ club and go into investment banking I said, quietly, that I wanted to write, and this person laughed (the timbre of which put me thinking to my childhood) and said, didn’t I know that writers don’t make any money?

“She could have wept. It was bad, it was bad, it was infinitely bad! She could have done it differently of course; the colour could have been thinned and faded; the shapes etherealised; that was how Paunceforte would have seen it. But then she did not see it like that. She saw the colour burning on a framework of steel; the light of a butterfly’s wing lying upon the arches of a cathedral. Of all that only a few random marks scrawled upon the canvas remained. And it would never be seen; never be hung even, and there was Mr Tansley whispering in her ear, “Women can’t paint, women can’t write …” –Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse

A month later I was accepted in the Columbia writing program and when I explained to my Managing Director at the time that MFA meant Master’s in Fine Arts, and there was the expectant pause and look of sheer terror and confusion–pity, maybe?–and I immediately followed with, I know I’ll probably always be in debt; I don’t care for money. I only want to write.

For a time I was guilty of falling in love with money and the things it could buy. I thought I could define my worth by what I had amassed. I thought the whole of me was composed of the contents of my closet. Money meant: I have this and you don’t. Money was a mask I was intent on wearing. And then I woke, as if roused from a deep sleep–the sleep of children–and I took inventory of my closet and drawers, all the petty finery, and I wanted of it. Slowly, over time, I gave it all away. It’s no coincidence that during that period of my life I read less, I wrote little.

But really I wrote nothing at all.

If you ask me what gives me joy it’s creating. Writing. And I need a way to balance creation and commerce, whimsy and pragmatism. Because while it’s nice to board a plane, see the world and write about it, there’s the here and the now of student loan payments, credit card bills and this small consideration of food and shelter. So, I compromise. Part of my life I write for work. Companies large and small invite me to think of compelling ways to tell their story. I work on branding projects, consumer marketing projects, digital strategy. I do a lot of writing.

And then there’s the writing, the longer, literary stuff (for lack of a better term) that’s personal. It affords me to explore the world through character and story. That doesn’t really pay. The kind of stories that interest me barely pay for a cup of coffee. And then there’s this space–my virtual scrapbook. A home for ideas, food, photographs. A place that wholly mine. A place that doesn’t require me to clock in at a certain time or adhere to a set of contracted deliverables.

Over the past year, I’ve seen a lot more people come to this space, which pleases me. People may feel I inspire them with the words I write or they may get hungry based on what I’m cooking on a particular day–but, for some reason, more people are here. And when there are people there is this question of money. People inquire whether I’ll monetize this space (no). People ask if I’ll do “sponsored posts” (please stop asking me this). People ask if I’ll ask for donations or find some sort of way to make money off of the fact that more people come by every day (affiliate links?), to which I respond, emphatically, immediately, FUCK NO.

Most of my life is about making money to live, travel and support my cat in the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. Why would I make this space about work? That would mean I would take the thing that I love to do–create, simply for the sake of creating, simply for the joy in doing it and the inspiration it brings–and somehow reduce it. And then I’m accountable to strangers. It’s as if my blog is suddenly a stock and all the shareholders are clamouring for their say. When money enters the picture it has a way of clouding things, and slowly, over time, what is mine becomes less mine. It becomes yours, and said with love, I don’t want that. I want to be beholden to no one.

Creating something without the goal of transacting isn’t a failure. It isn’t a missed opportunity or wasted time. Not everyone or thing can be placed for bidding on the open market. Sometimes one becomes rich when creating something from nothing, expecting nothing.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Extra Virgin Kitchen
2-3 cups chopped leaks
1 garlic clove, sliced (not crushed)
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 (400g/15oz) tins black beans, drained and rinsed
1 400g tin cherry red tomatoes
5 cups of vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
1-2 tsp honey
splash of tamari
Salt to taste
Chopped parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS
In a large saucepan over low heat, add the olive oil, leeks and garlic and saute for 8 minutes until everything is soft. Add in the paprika and cumin and stir for 1 minute. Toss in the rest of the ingredients and turn up the heat until the soup begins to boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. While the recipe calls for serving the soup as is, I prefer a puree. So I blitzed this in the Vitamix (a blender will do) and added salt and chopped parsley as a finish.

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how not to be a terrible manager (part 1)

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There was a moment, years ago, when I had begun to unravel. You’d find me storming around the office, disheveled, multiple gadgets in tow, prattling on about how a specific client was going to be my ruin. If I could take a pen and write along my body, it would be one word, repeated, and that word would be stress. My team watched as I roamed the office, listened to my voice as it climbed several octaves, and read my emails written at dawn. My stress was palpable. It was as if my emotional state was a piece of clothing I had not only wanted to shed, but was willing to drape across rows of computers and young women who bore the brunt of my frustration.

At one point, my mentor forced me to take a vacation and even changed my email password so I could take a step back and realize how I was my own ruin. That was the year I went to Bali. When I returned, I realized that the way you manage yourself directly impacts how others perceive you. That was the year when I finally understood that being a good manager, a good leader, is about being a parent: you never show fear and you always have a solution. I also learned that while I should be serious about my work I shouldn’t take myself, and the work, too seriously. I mean, I was advising makeup brands how to sell more makeup in the social space. It wasn’t as if I were changing and saving lives. No one would actually die if I responded to an email after I’d consumed a meal.

It’s okay to breathe it out. Seriously, let’s all breathe it out.

The last decade of my career I’ve been a manager who turned into a leader. I was someone who went from managing interns to growing and leading cross-functional teams. I’ve read dozens of articles on management and leadership (this HBR piece is a particular favorite, one of which I share often), have taken classes and worked with a personal coach, and I’m excited to share my thoughts on what I’ve learned over the years. Because I’ve made ALL the mistakes; I’ve fallen on my face, have endured some tough 360 feedback and emerged from it a better, compassionate, and capable leader.

1. Realize that delegation or micromanagement doesn’t mean management: Management is about motivation, about letting your team shine as you stand behind, basking in the glow. It’s about how you can leave a room, take a vacation, or space out and your team can thrive in your absence because you’ve empowered them, guided them at all the critical points, and provided them all the tools they need in order to be the best in their role. Management isn’t really about you, it’s about your team. I’ve often said that I can do any task you put in front of me, but managing, well, it’s HARD. Even after all this time it continues to challenge me because management is about people and everyone comes with a certain skillset, quirks, emotional and professional baggage, and one has to consider how to manage them individually AND in the context of a team. For me, managing teams reminds me of an orchestra. Collectively, we make beautiful music but it’s a result of everyone playing their heart out in their individual parts. A great manager manages individually and leads collectively.

Management is not about controlling every task, every part of the process, checking out or delegation. Doling out projects isn’t management, rather it’s you just ticking off a box. Controlling everyone says more about you than your team. Notice how micromanagers never really grow professionally because when do they have time to learn how to do their boss’s job when they’re too busy doing the work of their direct reports? I want my direct report to be hungry, to want my job. I hire people who are starved because the more we consume, the more we listen, the more we sit still in ourselves–the more we’ll grow. So consider yourself your team’s guide. Share what you know, be open to reciprocal mentorship, give your team the tools they individually need to grow in their roles (from both an acumen and professional growth perspective), and then shepherd them with feedback along the way. And more importantly, let them shine when it’s their time.

2. Let them fumble and fall forward: I used to work with someone who was a controlling, abrasive perfectionist. She was a micromanager who would bark at her team if they faltered, and god forbid they fumble–they had to endure her wrath and public rages. Her team walked on perpetual tiptoe, and quite frankly, didn’t grow. We all learn by fumbling our way through a first-time of doing something and realizing that it wasn’t as terrible as we thought it would be. We learn by falling forward, and seeing a challenge to its completion and feeling powerful that we made it out of the wreckage to the other side. Your staff will get stronger because of their fumble and your feedback.

This comes to the fore during presentations. If presenting is new to a team member, I’ll start with internal presentations so the team member gets practice. We’ll start with something simple–a new technology, an article that piqued their interest. They have time to prepare a presentation that will be shared in a “safe” environment (i.e. a staff meeting). Once they have a few internal hours under their proverbial belt, I’ll coach them through a client presentation (with slide creation, notes, mock presentations) and they know that I’m there if they miss a beat.

However, I’ll never immediately jump in to save. I’ll save when they’re in quicksand. I’ll save when I don’t see bubbles lining the surface. Trust me, the hardest thing for a manager is watching a team member fumbling when you know you can take over and correct, but DON’T DO IT. Let them find their way in their own way. Give them a few beats before you jump in. And then give them feedback when the meeting is hot. Start with all the amazing work they did, how brave they were, and then talk about how they can make the next presentation rock out that much harder next time. Position feedback not as what your team member did wrong, but how they can shine brighter.

But let them fall. Let them bruise. All cuts and scrapes will heal in time.

3. Your way may not be their way, and that’s okay: Fact: your way is not the only way, and it may not be the best way. Ego has a tricky way of clouding vision and just because you have more years under your belt doesn’t mean you’re always right and doesn’t entitle you to minions. This isn’t Gossip Girl, this is real life. Show your team your approach and the rationale for your approach but let them bastardize it. Let them question it, pick it apart and put it together again.

Allow them to interpret what you do. Encourage them to talk to managers in different departments to understand varying approaches, because how would you find innovation or play better music when everyone plays the same way all the time? Establish intellectual freedom amidst boundaries. Give your team guardrails, a roadmap and allow them to navigate their way from A to B, and then give them feedback on how they’ve adopted an approach, and then challenge them in their approach.

The idea here is that everyone learns differently. Some team members are visual learners, while others are more analytical and need facts, figures, charts and details. Some are inspired by The Bright Shiny Object while others are drawn to richer, potent storytelling. Being an effective manager is uncovering what makes your employee excited, what motivates them and how they prefer to produce. How are they motivated? How do they learn? Do they need time alone to create or do they thrive in a team? In my follow-up post, I’ll talk a bit about profiling, and while this term bears the weight of the pejorative, this is more about tailoring your style in order to get people motivated and working. Personally? I like lean presentations with few words and bold images because I’m drawn more to the power and eloquence of the presenter rather than a pile of slides. However, if someone on your team needs charts, needs words–there’s a way you can create an effective presentation by balancing styles. Because your path to B may not be the same as your employee’s, but who cares? They got to B. Your role is about getting every team member to B in their own style, on their own terms, in their own way. Your role is their guide and giver of tools, experience and knowledge.

5. Don’t scream at people. Never, ever. Don’t throw objects at people. Don’t get violent unless you’re acting in self-defense or someone kicks your cat (very valid reason to drop-kick a direct report, and I dare anyone in HR to disagree. KIDDING) because there’s never a need for rage. There’s never a need to haul your three-piece luggage set of issues into the workplace. There’s a place for that–it’s called therapy. While I’ll talk about this a bit in next week’s installment on professional modeling, it should go without saying that you treat people in the manner in which you want to be treated. You extend as much grace and kindness as you can muster even amidst the disgraceful. We’re not in the age of Sun Tzu–the office is not the place for mortal combat and warfare.

In the next installment, I’ll share some thoughts on:
6. Setting an example. Your team models behavior off of you, so act right.
7. Knowing that managing up is just as critical as managing down. Sometimes you’re not acting right and you need to let your team know that, publicly. Be open to feedback and change.
8. Toeing the line. Be compassionate. Mentor, but don’t be a best friend or get wasted with your direct report.
9. Managing conflict. How not to punch yourself in the face, or punch your team members.
10. Profile right. How to make sure you understand how people work so you can manage them effectively.

And…some of my favorite articles on management:
-Managing two people who hate each other (been there, done that)
-Managing your energy to manage your time
-Managing boomerang talent strategically and with grace
-How to motivate a team on a sinking ship with purpose (really loved the honesty in this)
-Employee retention is not about pizza parties and lunches (eh-hem, all agencies take note)
-Smart piece on managing millennials (I’m in GenX and have had the privilege of working with some smart young people. Be open to reciprocal mentorship as a means of staying fresh and being a better human)
-Mentoring or Managing: Does it have to be one or the other?
-Effectively managing conflict is one of the hardest tasks a manager faces

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

points of entry: when the map unfurls + all signs point to california

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I don’t say there isn’t much work to do, for there is. And some tracks lead to excruciating darkness, where a person can tumble from the sky on a clear September morning. Yet is the world not whole? Is it not beautiful? For now, let’s consider well-being a choice, something you can try on and wear. When we put on the hat and coat of well-being we incline towards joy without special occasion. –Jean-Pierre Weill’s The Well of Being (via)

The past week I’ve been thinking about living with immediacy. Even writing the word immediacy puts me to thinking of some of its negative connotations, the sense of urgency or the feeling that one might rush through our waking life. However, after watching Atul Gawande’s extraordinary PBS documentary (an adaptation of his book, Being Mortal), I’m reminded of this: we may never have as much time as we think, so why not live life as fully and richly as we possibly can? Instead of sleeping through our waking days or collecting five (It’s Friday!) in anticipation of the remaining two (Oh no, it’s Sunday!), why not treat every moment as one worth savoring, one worth living.

As you know I’ve been struggling with some pretty heady questions, and I’ve accepted that I’m temporarily living in the in-betweens, a home painted grey, with air thick and weighted by clouds, and it’s sometimes hard to see what’s in front of you. There are roads ahead, cartographers have made the appropriate measurements and maps, and your life has become a game of maths, a calculation of probability and weighted risk. Probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned from being an addict is this: you don’t erase pain by numbing your way around it, rather you have to rip off the bandaids, one by one, and breathe through it. True, you’ll spend some part of your life dressing and re-dressing your wounds but the drug to which you’re tethered to only delays the inevitable.

At some point the bandaids will have to be removed. It’s just a matter of how much time you’re willing to squander to the point where you’re ready to start ripping. Yesterday, I came across this quote from Elliot Roberts while reading an oral history of Laurel Canyon in the 60s and 70s:

The scene broke up because you became adults. We were all in our early 20s when there was that scene—all kids in their early 20s have a scene. All of a sudden you have a girlfriend or you’re getting married. By 30, 35, the scene is gone. You have families, kids, jobs. You buy a house. You want to get guitar lessons for your kid and a Bar Mitzvah. When you’re 20, it’s O.K. for eight people to crash in a living room, six on a floor. At 35 you’re not crashing anymore—your back hurts.

Reading Roberts’ words didn’t feel somber or nostalgic, it felt honest. At one point you have to accept what your life has become. Last night I spent hours with a couple from California and I told them stories from my 20s, a drug-induced time where California was simply a place where you got good coke and you could sleep while someone drove. Some of the stories are a bit colorful and wild and for people who have known me for less than a week they can see the sharp contrast of the woman I spoke of then and the woman telling them stories now. I tell them stories about a time and a woman I don’t miss because I’m so infatuated with the life I have now.

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At one point the husband, in response to my talking about my moving dilemma, says, Five seconds. Don’t think. If you could move to any state now, where would it be? No, really. Don’t think. I laugh and say, California. If you asked me this question a year ago I would’ve laughed, I would’ve made some allusion to Biggie and Tupac and how born and raised New Yorkers don’t just move to the least coast. But then I realize that California is not Los Angeles or San Francisco, two cities that aren’t my vibe, that it’s a whole landscape of beauty and warmth–a place worth exploring.

I tell them, however, that I’m not ready for California just yet. What does your gut tell you? Are you listening to it? Genevieve asks. I tell her that I want to spend a month in Portugal or a Spanish-speaking country, but the…cat, I say. Felix, I say. I realize I’m speaking to two cat-lovers, a couple who bought a cat hammock for their lovely home in Santa Barbara, and both of them say, quite plainly, that a month isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of my life. If Felix can come, great. However, if he could stay with my father or a trusted friend, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I would return.

Because do I want to live with regret? I’ve already chosen not to have children because I’m not built for it; I don’t want roadblocks. I need personal freedom. I need myself whole. And I feel part of the journey this year, part of the story I want to tell, is this: the leaving and the return.

We organize our circumstances into stories, stories we pick up along the way and carry with us. Stories that declare, I’m lacking. Why me? stories. I’m alone, stories. What will I amount to? stories. Stories about who we should be. Or think we are. They are interior maps whose familiar roads we travel. Over and over. Yet when we apprehend these maps, these stories, these patterns … we awaken and rise, as it were, to a new perspective, to new possibilities. –Jean-Pierre Weill

We’ll see. Here’s me inching out of the house, making my last payments, packing my bags. Closer.

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when you don’t know where it is you need to go

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Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life. –John Hodge, from Trainspotting

I don’t know where to go. There, I said it. I had the best laid plans–I’d spend three months in three states and decide where it is I’d make my home–and then life happened, I flew down to Nicaragua and all my plans fell asunder. I’m leaving in a few days and the only thing I know, in my heart, is that I need to leave New York within the next four months. I need to leave a place where people feel their handbags are a testament to their success and character, where instead of owning their possessions they are owned by them. I need to leave a place where people believe enlightenment can be found in the confines of a spin class. I need to leave a place where I’m crammed into a subway car and people are jostling; they live their lives traveling to jobs they hate, but the jobs pay for their finery, boutique fitness classes, and the $10 juices that serve as an acceptable form of starvation. I need to leave a place where the weather is a constant conversation piece. I need to leave a place that no longer feels like my home.

But I don’t know where to go.

Part of me entertains flights of fancy–I’d be some sort of digital nomad or travel the world for a year with only $20K to my name. But then I remember I own a cat and I have $1000 in student loan payments a month–real responsibilities–and I can’t just abandon rationality and real life because this isn’t The Secret; I don’t live my life in a petal pink delusion. In real life, I have monthly bills to pay regardless of where I go and I can’t just dump my cat in a friend’s lap–Felix is family and I love him that much.

But I want to go. Somewhere.

Ultimately, I know that I want to end up west but I can’t see myself there yet. Not in June. Possibly the end of the year. Until then I want to be somewhere else outside of the U.S. for 3-5 months even though I just signed up for pricey health insurance (there goes that pragmatic thinking again) and I have the logistics of pet passports and travel to consider. Part of me wants to explore Spanish speaking countries because I’ve an urge to be fluent and the question of quarantine is a non-issue.

I was supposed to come on this trip to figure out the details, draw an outline, but I’m back to where I started. Drawing circles in the sand and walking around what I’ve traced. Balancing memory, need, desire and reality. I was supposed to walk a straight line, write myself from here to there, and even though I always know that what you intend never is what you want it to be, I’m surprised (or maybe not), yet again, that I’m at the middle of my life and I haven’t figured anything out. I only know what I don’t want.

I don’t want leisure wear, matching luggage and a starter home. I don’t want a life treadmill. I don’t want 7-10pm and scrolling through my email during the four weeks of vacation I fought to have and everyone makes me feel guilty for taking. I don’t want a recruiter selling me on a company that lacks imagination and integrity, but don’t worry because the money is great. I don’t want unidentifiable food delivered to me. I don’t want to write blog posts like these and have people try to sew up my life for me–what I need right now is not a bandaid or an anesthetic, so please don’t. I don’t want to order a taxi with my phone and not care that the men who run the company hate women. But convenience, Felicia. Convenience. I don’t want to spend an entire day on the internet talking about a fucking dress. I don’t want to debate SoulCycle v. Flywheel. I don’t want to regard my book, this magical thing I’ve created, with bitterness because publishing is an industry crawling with sheep. I don’t want this: Why bother talking about ISIS because it’s not like my one voice can make a difference. So instead, I talk about two llamas and debate the color of a dress. I don’t want to wake up every morning and think: I don’t want this.

I don’t want what I can bear.

I stand in the middle of a forest, between two boulders and think, I want this. I close my eyes and fall asleep in the middle of a river, surrounded by 365 islands, and think, I want this. I look at my blog, this wonderful space I’ve created for myself, and wonder about a collection of essays I could write. I look at my bank account, about to be depleted come April, and wonder, how can I do any of this?

To be continued…

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sky burial: a town, a life, a heart drowning in ashes

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On the way to the Masaya Volcano, Ricardo tells me a story about an eruption not too long along that covered a small town in ashes. Some foretold a tale of a death that rained, a harbinger of doom, while others clucked their tongues and spoke of the inconvenience, the cost of cleaning up a town covered in grey. Some look at a place drowning in ashes and think of endings, while others, like me, are hopeful–we are in constant want of rebirth, of beginnings.

Nicaragua has 17 active volcanos that dot along the Pacific Coast. Some are massive leaving miles of scorched earth in its wake, while others are dormant, home to vegetation and minor life. Some are lakes that can erupt from below the surface while others spout rocks the size of boulders or small homes. Regardless, the Spanish call them bocadillos del infierno (mouths from hell), and Ricardo tells me about preachers who’ve affixed crucifixes near the crevices and Argentians who sacrificed children and women in hopes that the innocents will sate the evil within. But really they are natural wonders, massive in size and depth with lava the color of wine bearing temperatures upwards of 2200F. I’ve never seen a volcano before and as I stood next the crater, inhaling a cloud of fumes, I pointed above and asked if we’d climb to the volcano, to which Ricardo replied, laughing, you’re standing next to it!

The sky was clear, a wash of cotton white and deep blue, and Ricardo tells me that we are lucky as he hasn’t been able to see so far across and down since December. He tells me that Masaya is actually a volcano within a volcano, and do you see the parakeets dotting in and out of the crevices along the rocks? They lay their eggs there. They live there amidst the smoke and the noxious fumes. I watch the birds get lost in the smoke to then fly up into the sky. I can barely manage a few minutes next to the volcano as the fumes make me nauseous, dizzy, but the birds have adapted, thrived in what some would deem a ruin.

After, we visit another inactive volcano that’s home to greenery, a hole in an earth that in a few thousand years will be a river, like Apoyo, Ricardo tells me, filled with salt, minerals–a water so blue it’s nearly purple. Too bad, I say, we won’t be here to see it. In the car, in the dry heat, Ricardo tells me that he never tires of visiting the volcanos because it reminds him that we are insignificant, small. I nod because this is precisely the journey which I’ve embarked–a trip from the cynical and tired to the awake and wonder. In Spanish I tell him that I want to go back to the wonder and he nods and I think we understands me.

We spend much of the day talking. We talk about politics. He tells me about the government corruption, a president who changed the constitution and sold out his people to the Chinese who will build a canal that will be the country’s ecological ruin. The Chinese will bring their own workers and act as robber barons, scorching earth and sea for profit. All for money, Ricardo tells me. His face flushes and I can tell he’s angry. He points to signs all over Masaya, government propaganda. They throw parties for the young, give them t-shirts and free drinks–but it’s all brainwashing, Ricardo shakes his head. All to divert attention away from what greed continues to do to this country. Nicaraguans survive on tourism, many make $2000 a year while government officials make upwards of $70,000 at the expense of the people. I pluck a nerve when I try to compare this to the corruption in the United States. Ricardo tells me that this is nothing like the U.S. There is no constitution, the opposition works for the party in power, and the people only wait for the president’s death in hopes of change.

In this way, I agree and acknowledge my ignorance and privilege.

Over lunch, I tell him about an America that is deeply divided. I talk about states that might as well be another country and politicians who care more about self-preservation than basic human decency. And for what? To buy more things, build bigger houses, hold fistfulls of bills as if the act of acquisition is a mark of great character, human frailty? Give me honesty, vulnerability, compassion over the appearance of strength and unity any day of the week. I talk about an America that is, in some ways, a terrorist. How we kill black men on the streets and send our young into unnecessary wars. We have ashes covering our country and we’ve blinded ourselves so that we don’t see it. We medicate ourselves on social media, finery, food, drugs, alcohol, sex, our ego, petty entertainment–all so that do not have to see the ashes covering our homes, finding their way down our throats and into our hearts. I tell Ricardo that I live in a country where many people are quick to label anyone a terrorist but recoil in horror when we turn the mirror on our own. I tell Ricardo that I used to love my country so wholly and completely like a child who lays at the feet of its mother to then grow old and realize that our parents are fallible, human, prone to cruelty and violence. I still love my country but I question it, constantly.

We talk about September 11, and how I stood on the corner of 23rd Street and saw a sky covered in smoke. People had taken on the shape of somnambulants and it felt like a horror film being played out on the most serene of days. I had not thought death had undone so many, writes Eliot. I tell Ricardo that my walk to my apartment on Mulberry Street was something out of a dream. Ashes covered the streets. Police officers asked about passport. Passport? What passport? Who carries their passport to work? How I traveled uptown to Spanish Harlem and smoked a little, drank a lot, fiddled with a Nokia phone that didn’t work (busy, busy), and wondered, What the fuck just happened down at World Trade? Who flies planes into buildings? Who does this? Manhattan was a wasteland, the stuff of great fiction because until then I couldn’t have conceived of the magnitude of such a horror or the fact that people exist in constant terror every day. I didn’t realize how many people in the world have hate in their hearts.

Do we live in a kind of walking mortuary? Are we nothing other than an abattoir of ashes? A mausoleum of our own greed and undoing? How is that we’ve done more destruction that large holes in the center of the earth? How is our movement more violent than tectonic plates shifting? How is it that we’ve lost the wonder?

Here’s me, trying to crawl my way back. Inch by inch.

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this is what happens when you listen to the sound of your own breath

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JC holds curled rinds of pork to my mouth and invites me to try, to taste, this is so good you will not believe. At first I recoil having remembered salty chicharrones from my childhood, and how I’d need to hose down my mouth with grape soda to extinguish the taste of fried pork. However, we’re in a market–a stopover because the crew has to pick up fresh tortillas, blood sausage and beef for the carne asadas–and I’m feeling frisky. I break off a small piece, just in case, just to be polite, and I’m shocked by how quickly I become addicted to the flavor. I purchase eight bags of rinds for myself and the crew and we make our way to Apoya. In halting Spanish I ask if anyone wants a bag because I’m copping. They laugh and a woman half my age hands me a warm tortilla and tells me that pork rinds always taste better wrapped in corn. I imagine infants swathed in baby blankets but I don’t say any of this out loud because it’s kind of weird and I forgot the Spanish for blanket.

It’s manta.

New people frighten me. I don’t do well in crowds and I tend to recede in group situations. If given the choice I’d always prefer smaller groups, conversations with one other person, and last night I ate dinner with ten new people and I can’t even begin to explain the level of anxiety I experienced. But I was hungry, starving, since American Airlines doesn’t comprehend gluten-free, and I pushed food around my plate for about an hour while drunk Americans prattled on about how this thing here is unlike the thing they know back home. Always sizing up. Always comparing. Always believing that the thing we know, that which is familiar, is always, inherently, better. After a time I left and spent the better part of the evening chatting with JC, the owner of Hacienda del Puerto de Cielo, and we talk about travel, food, solitude and he understood everything. He told me that the whole of the hacienda will be free of tourists the following day and would I like to accompany him and his staff for a day trip to Apoya? Aside from the water, which has taken on a hue of blueish purple from volcanic eruptions–the color of certain bruises–I could kayak, swim, read, eat and be alone if I wanted to. Or not. Whichever you prefer, he says. I acquiesce, humbled and honored that he would invite a guest into such a private space.

In Nicaragua you can live in a grand house for $8,000. Driver’s licenses (licencias para conducir) cost $100 and a considerable amount of time to obtain, and when you’re working full-time to support your family how is it possible to take off work to learn how to drive? Fresh food is inexpensive and plentiful and to say that people here don’t work hard would be an understatement. JC tells me that the law mandates that employees who work for 12 months must be paid for 14, and after three months of nonstop bookings he thought it smart to treat his team for an outing.

JC is an architect, specifically of yachts for the elite. There are only 50 people in the world who do what he does, and often he competes for lucrative contracts. His work takes him to China, where business is good but not great, and forget Russia because the money isn’t what it used to be. And thank god the Americans have recovered and resume the task of spending their money again. He balances this heady work (he interrupts me while I’m writing this post to tell me that he is traveling to Granada tonight for his favorite pizza covered in chili oil before he leaves on Friday for a three-week rush job that would normally take two months, and do I want to come for pizza? I tell him no, the temptation is too great. I’ve barely survived breakfast without their luscious pancakes) with managing this hacienda, which, quite honestly, is one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever visited.

For a while, in front of lake painted azure, we talk about work. I tell him about a job that made me sick from the inside out, yet it taught me that there’s no nobility in putting a price on one’s integrity. There is no value in making money simply to show it off (please look at the finery I’m sharing on social media because it tacitly tells you that I’m somehow better off than you because of what I acquire rather than how much of my heart I’m willing to give). There is no meaning in squandering time for someone else’s dream when you can work for your own. Did you know there’s a new term going around? Brown-out? And apparently it’s so much worse than the bulbs in your body flickering and then firing out. I tell him about a man from whom I learned so much (the good and the horrific), and how American companies have devolved into the equivalent of a puppy mill. Let’s churn out these purebreds until they can no longer walk. Until they limp home from the latest show.

JC nods, solemnly, and talks about the importance of rest and rejuvenation. He nurses a beer and I try not to tackle the bag of pork rinds I’ve got hidden under a collection of Chekhov’s early stories. This is what today is about, he offers. Taking care of the people who take care of you. I say that I admire him, wish more people valued respite as much as he did, saw that it only increased productivity, creativity, and loyalty.

As I sit here typing, I listen to young men trade stories. Rested men, men who only a few hours ago sang along to Spanish songs on the radio and traded chips like baseball cards. Men who practice their English while I respond in halting Spanish.

On the ride home, I tell JC about a dish I learned how to make when I was in Granada, Spain. Fried eggplant smothered in molasses (or honey, if you have it), and he invites me into his kitchen to show the very incredible women, women who have made the kind of tostones that would bring you to your knees, how to make this dish. I slice eggplant (berenjena in the Spanish) while Taylor Dayne’s “Tell it to My Heart” blasts on the radio, and, in exchange, the women teach me the words for flour (harina) and onions (cebellas)–all the while showing me how to make salsa. One of the women, the younger of the two, holds up fresh cilantro for me to smell. We agree that this, everything, is beautiful.

On the way back to my casita I looked up and noticed stars blanketing the sky. I paused, turned round and round. I haven’t seen stars in a long time.

This is what happens when you breathe, when you listen to the sound of your own breath.

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can we all just be still for a moment?

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With machines coming to seem part of our nervous systems, while increasing their speed every season, we’ve lost our Sundays, our weekends, our nights off–our holy days, as some would have it; our bosses, junk mailers, our parents can find us wherever we are, at any time of day or night. More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk. –Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness

At some point, we stop breathing; we forget to recognize the sound of our own breath. It’s rhythm and pantomime become lost upon us, and the heart that was once a steady metronome, a slow-beating tick of a clock, now beats so fast, so furious, that all we want to do is flee ourselves. Our desire to crawl out of our skin, which is merely paint on a wall covering a house that is crumbling, is real. We live our days tethered to a color-coded calendar while our ankles are chained to a desk. While we talk about how the desk might be in ensconced in an office or in a workspace cum playground for which we pay vast sums of money to occupy–in the end, it’s all the same, really. We’re all chained to something. We have become masters of routine; we live to a repetition that carries its own symphony. We endure noise and stress simply becomes we’ve become accustomed to it, it’s common.

Notice how the days become photocopies of themselves with minor variations? Notice how we rush so fast through this waking life? And to what or whom are we running? Death? Because that’s the last stop. No chargebacks, no refunds, no going back.

For most of my twenties and early thirties, I was consumed by my own personal velocity. I had to get there, regardless of whether I knew the destination of my location, and I had to get there now. Or preferably yesterday. I overscheduled, I thrived on efficiency, became obsessed with technology, and I lived my life, as my friend Amber would say, in ten-minute increments. There was no time. There was never enough of it. And that’s when I found myself, at 37, worn out, depleted, sick, cynical, angry, and dark.

It’s taken me two years to get myself right again. I think about Humpty Dumpty, the nursery rhyme we knew as children, and I wondered what happens when you fall and you try so desperately to put yourself back together again. What if you’re left with cuts from the shells? You’re broken and you wonder how it is you got here, and how you can stop the breaking. How do you stop what you’ve already started? I took a trip to Europe where I convulsed for the first half of the trip, and it was only when I arrived in Biarritz, a sleepy seaside city in France (during off-season), did I come together again. I spent days by the water, doing nothing. I fixated on the barnacles that covered the undersides of fishing boats and giant rocks. Come evening I read up on the crustaceans and their unhealthy attachments. When the storms came out from the sea painting the waves black, I watched surfers tread further out and I photographed a beach so naked and cold that it awakened something in me. Later, I sat in a hotel room and began what would be my second book, a novel about three generations of a family bent on ruin.

Since, I’ve never read as deeply or as completely. I’ve never enjoyed so fully the space of my own company and the silence surrounding it. I traveled to India, Ireland, Fiji, Australia, Korea, Thailand, Spain, most of France and Italy and felt everything. I spent days in New York completely alone and loved it. It was as if I’d been sleeping through my waking life and I just felt the sting, the jolt, of waking up. This is what life is when you live through it rather than ahead of it. This is the depth of sorrow, pain, joy, love, heartache, and pride.

Going nowhere, as Leonard Cohen would later emphasize for me, isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so you can see the world more clearly and see it more completely –Pico Iyer

I’ve finished Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness, and I’m still in awe over how a tiny book could have so much impact. From war veterans suffering from PTSD to Leonard Cohen and Buddhist monks, Iyer’s book is a meditation, a sermon that preaches mindfulness and quiet. We are our own cathedral and rarely, if ever, do we pay reverence to ourselves. We don’t allow for slumber or rest–we consider it weak or wasteful to squander time when really we’re just living it, loving it, savoring it.

Over the past few months I’ve started to walk slower; I’ve noticed the shape and space of my own solitude. I’ve slowed down in every way I possibly can. My pauses are pregnant and I’ve turned off my phone to listen to the sounds of my commute.

On my way down to Nicaragua, I boarded two flights. On both, I remained completely still. I didn’t fiddle with a magazine or obsessively check email–I just sat still and stared out at the clouds. You can’t even imagine how difficult this was for me. I like to move, fidget, and read as much as possible. And after five hours of self-imposed stillness, I not only became acutely aware of my own exhaustion from the past few weeks, but I started to have ideas. I had ideas for short stories, projects for this space and places I want to go. I ignored all the pragmatic constraints that plague me constantly (money, money, money) and just listened to the sound of my breath and how much my heart ache to create.

And then I found myself at the ecological reserve–a place quite literally in the middle of nowhere, facing a volcano. There’s no WIFI or television in my room. Very few people are on the property and all I can hear are birds. While much of my week in Central America will be about visiting villages, volcanos and natural beauty, my evenings will be spent in solitude. Reading, thinking, being still.

In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than standing still –Pico Iyer

Imagine if you sat still in your bedroom for 15 or 30 minutes. Imagine if you slowed down your walk. Picture an evening spent with someone you love and exchanging fewer words than you normally would. Think about what it would be like to shut off everything, just for one hour, a night. Imagine looking up at the sky without feeling a need to photograph it. Imagine hearing someone speak without a need to quote them in a tweet. Imagine asking yourself, how do I feel right now, right this very moment? Imagine what it would be like to feel joy.

I’m really thrilled for where all of this will take me.

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glitzy chocolate pudding (gluten/dairy-free)

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At the height of my hoarding, I owned 300 cookbooks. I stacked them wherever there was room, wherever I could find space, until last year when I started letting them go, one by one, and I now I’m down to 50. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to no longer be consumed by the things you own, to not be tethered to clutter. Now when think about acquiring something new, I ask myself: Do I need this? Do I love this? Can I live without this? Would I be willing to pay to move this? Life suddenly holds a considerable amount of clarity and my home a lot more space.

Over the past year, I’ve been cooking from a fixed amount of books because I’ve had to relearn how to eat without gluten or dairy. I couldn’t be tempted by the pages of pasta recipes or dishes smothered in cheese, rather I had to force myself to explore new flavors and foods. As a result, I’ve realized that abundance exists when you live within constraints. I’ve lived seven months without gluten and dairy, and with the exception of an occasional pizza and bread basket craving, I’ve managed to do the unthinkable–live without pasta.

Yet, I miss some of my old mainstays. While going through another book edit, I found myself poring over the tomes I used to cook from and love, and I discovered this incredible chocolate pudding recipe from Nigella Lawson. With a few simple adjustments, I managed to make this work for my diet, and I cannot tell you how much you won’t even miss the butter and white flour. I made this dessert for a dear friend last night and it was a success! She didn’t even notice I used vegan butter!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Nigella Express, modified.
For the pudding:
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
½ cup soft vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup gluten-free flour
¼ tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

For the glaze:
5 oz bittersweet chocolate
3 tbsp vegan butter
2 2.1-oz Butterfinger bars, broken shards (I nixed this)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Break up the chocolate and melt it with the butter in a bowl in the microwave or over a double boiler. Once it’s melted, sit the bowl on a cold surface so that the chocolate cools.

Preferably in a freestanding mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale and moussey, then gently fold in the flour, baking soda, and pinch of salt.

Fold in the slightly cooled chocolate and butter mixture and then divide among 8 ramekins or custard cups. Put in the oven to bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, get on with the glaze by melting the chocolate and butter in a microwave (or double boiler), then whisk to form a smooth glossy mixture and spoon this over the cooked puddings.

Decorate with Butterfinger rubble: you can just put the bars in a freezer bag, set to with a rolling pin, and strew over the top. I nixed this as I don’t eat processed candy bars, but rock it out if this is your bag. However, you can top this with candied ginger or honeycomb–that would be divine juxtaposed with the bitter chocolate.

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some thoughts on professional etiquette because some of you really need it (part 2).

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I’m just, tryin to stay above water y’know/Just stay busy, stay workin/Puff told me like, the key to this joint/The key to staying, on top of things/is treat everything like it’s your first project, knahmsayin?/Like it’s your first day like back/when you was an intern/Like, that’s how you try to treat things like, just stay hungry — Jay Z’s “The First Song”

Truth be told, I’m still shocked over how many people read, loved, and shared my initial rant on social etiquette. For years, I wrote about clocks. Clocks under floorboards, ticking. Our heart, thumping its way to our last breath. Time has always hovered, been this great specter in my life, and sometimes I feel anxious because I know one more moment lived is a moment moving towards a life no longer lived, and I try, as much as I can, to be present in each moment. To view time as something that should be revered. I’ve lost so many years to the things and people that were not essential to my happiness, so I guess my original post was born out of a need to talk about time and how we can truly connect with other people in a way that has meaning. In a way that makes us feel whole about how we spend our moments here because we’re all on a clock. We’re all walking with expiration dates invisibly imprinted. Morbid, maybe, but I read this extraordinary Oliver Sacks piece, which put me thinking of our collective fragility. And when have you ever known me to follow a straight line? Fuck coloring in the lines; I’ve got my own coloring book over here.

Onward!

6. You’re a Month Late or You Reschedule Our Meeting 35 Times: If I can find a post that lists 300 free resources for entrepreneurs and startups, you can learn how to master Google Calendar. Hypothetical scenario: you send a succinct, specific email to someone you admire, inviting them out for a coffee or a light bite. You arrange the time, you send a calendar invite, and you even pick the meeting point and time (1pm!). The person whom you admire shows up on time, finds a spot and scans the room. Then the text or email arrives, and it reads: So sorry! I’m running 15 minutes late (which means 30 because we always underestimate our arrival time)! My subway stalled! Traffic was horrible (insert additional excuses blaming a third-party).

So let me get this straight. You email me at the time we’re supposed to meet, telling me you’re going to be late. At any point before said time, did you maybe suspect you were going to be late? And yes, subways do stall and sometimes traffic is truly an abomination, but those instances are rare if you plan right.

If you are someone who is chronically late for everything, understand that you’re not simply meeting up with a forgiving friend, who accepts that your lateness is your only flaw because you are, as a whole, this amazing human being. You’re meeting up with someone who knows you, only slightly, and your first meeting will likely form a pivotal first impression. So get right with your life and leave earlier than you normally would. If you start to see traffic en route, text immediately. I’d rather know that there is a chance you might be late than wait around hoping you might arrive before the coffee shop closes.

This may sound crazy, but in real life I’ve few professional pet peeves (although these two posts might likely suggest otherwise) and lateness is one of them. In the twenty years that I’ve been working, I’ve been late a handful of times because I realize that time is valuable commodity and if I’m asking of someone else’s time, time that would take them away from their life, family, friends and paying work, I better make sure I respect that time as much as I possibly can. If anything, I always arrive early for a meeting and will busy myself with emails or window shop nearby. Because someone who is late and chronically late, tells me that you don’t know how to organize your day and you really don’t value my time.

Same with the person who schedules a meeting and reschedules it 35 times. I’ve been guilty of this so I know this is HARD. We are busy, double and triple-booked, bombs explode in our lap at the very last minute, and every meeting carries an opportunity cost. Every moment, we’re making a cost-benefit analysis (value of meeting A vs. meeting B) and we might not even realize we’re doing it. But realize someone rearranged their schedule or took time away from the aforementioned priorities to meet with you. I’ve now employed a 3-strikes rescheduling rule: if you reschedule three times, you no longer get a meeting. I’ll do an email or Skype session or call. If I’m the culprit, I’ll offer to travel to someone’s office or a place that is conveniently located for them with dinner, or I’ll gift them something lovely as an apology.

We’re all human and busy, but try to remember that it’s not just the hour that is allocated to help you, but it’s the commute time, it’s the time that will take them to get back to what they were doing. Sometimes, that’s 2-3 hours of someone’s day just to help you, so respect that as much as you can.

Great resources for organizing your life: Meg Biram’s GSD column (although I wish the profiles were a bit more diverse); Frankie’s Post on Freelancing; Lifehacker; Anything with a Janet Choi byline (thanks, Staci!), Popforms; Laura Vanderkam (thanks, Janet!)

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7. You’ve Developed Amnesia About Your Failures and/or Some Other Random Illness That Prevents You from Remembering Who Helped You Get to Where You Are: Years ago, I published a literary magazine, Small Spiral Notebook. It was a time before online journals were ubiquitous, and after six years of publication and some minor fame, I folded the journal in pursuit of other projects. I was humbled to have published great writers, many of whom went on to publish stories and books and win prizes. I edited and published their first stories–stories before they had found their voice–and I was reminded about grace when Leigh Stein tweeted, with jubilation, that I’d published her when she was 19. Leigh is an acclaimed writer and feminist whom I admire, and I smiled reading that tweet because it told me that she appreciated the whole trajectory of her career, not simply from the time when she had “made it” and onward. Every publication, rejection, feedback, interaction brought her to where she was now, and she understood the power of the big picture and how it shaped her writing and career. Maybe I’m projecting, maybe she wasn’t thinking any of these things, but I see so many people hide or discredit their failures or people they used to know who may not be in the fancy set they run with now.

I read an article a while back about how failure is a must for people to succeed. Failure implies that we stood on the precipice of something other and made the decision to leap. Yet people all too often equate falling with failure, and failure is something to rub out, hide. Often, I talk about my failures (and trust me, there are many of them) and how they’ve lead me to where I am today. For example, I was under so much stress at my last job that I ended up becoming, for a brief time, the leader I would never want to be. I was abrasive, noxious, and I remember how my words brought a team member to tears. I remembered that two years later when I wrote her a note of apology for my failure as a manager and a leader. But I used that failure to step back and evaluate the quality of the life I’d been leading and the example I’d been setting for others. I’m vocal about my failures and proud of all the people I’ve known who have gotten me to this great place where I can write posts like these. Don’t set aside or ignore your old mentors and peers in favor of The Shiny Object Syndrome. Level the playing field, continue to practice kindness, because again, you never know when people you used to know may come back in your life in a different capacity.

Be cognizant, honest, and humble about how you got where you are–it’s that easy.

8. You Got Fancy and Forgot What it Was Like to Be Small: From business to publishing to blogging, I’ve seen all of the places in which I’ve played plagued with the sickness that is arrogance. At one point, you begin to notice an invisible line between the echelon and the plebeians. These stars (whether self-appointed or cultivated by their community) were, at one point in time, small. They didn’t have much traffic, readers or experience, and they worked (or didn’t) to get to a point where they can stand behind an invisible rope and wave to all those clamouring for entry. I’ve seen many cling desperately to their minor fame, becoming suspicious or resentful of anyone that has the potential to threaten that fame. What they fail to see is that we win by allowing others to shine. We’re successful if we’ve played a selfless role in someone else’s success. There’s no nobility in hoarding your success.

Perhaps this is the flipside of the “pick your brain” point-of-view, but I think it’s important that once you’ve achieved some semblance of success, you pay it forward. This can take on a myriad of forms: mentorship (1:1 or broad-based with Twitter chats, site Q&As and videos that answer questions on a broader scale while saving you time), donation of your time or services for pro-bono passion projects, participation in conferences, gratis, where you’re able to give advice to those whom are starting out in their career, or create content that is selfless in nature. I mentor a great deal of people in varying stages of their career, have read manuscripts in nascent stages and have donated hours to give free advice on passion projects.

You may not have all the time at your disposal, but make a point to allocate some of it to those coming up in the ranks, much as like how someone helped you get to where you are today.

9. You Make Excuses Instead of Apologies: There is a certain breed of people who just can’t apologize–even when they know, deep down, they’re wrong. They’ll displace blame, they’ll talk about how they’re sorry you were offended or hurt. Apologizing isn’t a sign of weakness or frailty–rather, I see as a remarkable sign of strength. Years ago, I snapped at a direct report in a meeting and she approached me after and told me that they way I’d treated her was wrong, that I shouldn’t have been cross with her so publicly. Without hesitation I said she was right, and not only did I apologize, in our next team meeting I apologized to the team for how I’d mistreated that direct report. I relayed that my behavior was not an example that should be followed.

Today I read an incredibly succinct and smart post on why talented employees may be jumping ship. Staci makes many salient points, but at the core of her piece is the concept of responsibility and accountability. How management owns up to how they treat their employees and, quite frankly, themselves. If we were more honest, humble, apologetic when the time calls for it, we’d go further, farther.

First Image Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

tell them stories

Death the Stock Photo
You can copy me, make a portrait as precise as an artist, but my shit will always remain mine, and yours will be yours. Ah, Lenu, what happens to us all, we’re like pipes when the water freezes, what a terrible thing a dissatisfied mind is. You remember what we did with my wedding picture? I want to continue on that path. The day will come when I reduce myself to a diagram. I’ll become a perforated tape and you won’t find me anymore. –From Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

You’ll hear sort of a strange sound, the dentist tells me. He says not to worry (I worry), this is what you hear when metal breaks metal. We’re here to excavate, to break things in your mouth and put them back to together again. He shines a white light over my molars and this puts me to thinking of fireflies and I imagine a colony of them fluttering out of my mouth and out the window. This is where my mind goes when two faces are an inch from mine, and the only words exchanged are the names of the various tools entering and leaving my gaped mouth. The word suction is used a lot and I think about how much I loathe the mollusk. After, the dentist starts to talk about the strategy for my teeth because there’s so much decay. Part of the strategy centers around containment. We will drill and plunge metal into the open spaces in your mouth until your jaw shakes because once the decay hits the nerve, we’ve got a whole new strategy, a host of new words and technical procedures to deploy. While I work in marketing and often use words like “strategy” and “tactics,” for some reason, hearing them in the dentist’s office disturbs me.

Half of my face is numb, and beyond the costly nature of these procedures, I keep thinking that my mouth is an abattoir, which could either mean that I’m one who harbors the remains of things (there is constant death in this house. Do you smell it? Do you feel it rise up around you?) or one who’s about to face a series of endings (the house where we extinguish all the lights; last call! last call!).

Smoke came out of my mouth. And bits of metal. The numbness recedes and there is only this dull, persistent ache. The drugs don’t work, I don’t know why I keep taking them–habit, I guess. I nap, send emails, and laugh over the fact that nearly 30,000 people read a post that took me thirty minutes to write but I can’t sell a novel that took two years of my life because it’s too dark, too hard, and didn’t you know, kid, we’re in the business of easy. We’re in the business of from manuscript to bookshelf. We like our corners neat, characters that color in and around the lines.

No one likes sociopaths, characters that create new coloring books instead of dancing for show in the old ones. Readers are puppeteers, they need to pull all the strings and they want their redemption stories. They want to close their books or shut their screens knowing that the story they’ve just read came to its natural conclusion; we’re done with that dirty business now. We can set the story aside knowing that the world has been magically set to rights. Even when we know that people are far from neat–they are untidy, sometimes melancholy or shamelessly cruel–and endings are rarely, if ever, clean and natural.

May I point out something? You always use true and truthfully, when you speak and when you write. Or you say: unexpectedly. But when do people ever speak truthfully and when do things ever happen unexpectedly? You know better than I that it’s all a fraud and that one thing follows another and then another. I don’t do anything truthfully anymore, Lenu. And I’ve learned to pay attention to things. Only idiots believe that they happen unexpectedly. –Lila, in Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Two years ago I started a novel about broken children, a brother and sister come undone as a result of two generations of parents who weren’t adept at familial love. I wrote about a complicated relationship between a mother and daughter, one more artfully conceived that the one I portrayed in my non-fiction, because while time takes it all away it also gives you depth and perspective. At the opening of the novel, we learn that the mother dies of terminal cancer, and the daughter flees herself and her surroundings. There are many journeys west because everyone knows that the east has fallen to blight, it’s its own self-contained ruin.

How could I know that fiction would breed fact, and I would learn that my mother is indeed dying in the same space in time where I’ve planned a move out west? How could I have known that I’d write my way here? I will never say or write more than the two lines I’ve just written–I’m choosing to deal with this privately, but right now, right this moment I feel empty.

As the dentist is about to drill I say that I’m a compulsive flosser, and he tells me that there is a hole in my tooth and there are some things I can’t get to. Places that are hollow and empty. And now, I feel the weight of that emptiness, wondering if it’s possible to feel so the burden of loss yet feel nothing all at once? I often return to Joan Didion and her line, we tell stories in order to live, and I believe that, wholly, but what if we don’t yet know the shape of our own story. What if we wrote our way to one place and all we want to do is write our way to another? I wrote a novel I loved, completely, and now I can’t even bear to read it. My agent forwards me long emails from editors quoting lines from my book, talking about the “brilliance of the prose” and whatever, and all I could do is stand in the middle of the street, cold, and say that I want to write another book. Maybe I’ll go to Europe instead of out west. How do I tell him that I feel nothing?

When I was small I had a teacher, Dr. Wasserman, who read all the stories I wrote on sheets of loose-leaf paper and urged me to read them aloud. Tell them stories. Make them listen. Everything they want to hear. Give them animal, mineral, wood, brick and lye. Here is my life. You own it all, it’s yours. And the days climb over one another, clobbering and competing, and memory is ephemeral, fleeting. You remember how a certain wine tasted or how it felt when he laid his chin on your shoulder and left it there. You remember a day spent with a dear friend and two forks diving into a single plate. And you fight hard to keep these images in the frame because soon they’ll be eclipsed by things you don’t want to see, voices you don’t want to hear, words you don’t want to read. How did you keep the light in the picture?

All my friends want to meet for coffee or dinner and want me to tell them my story of moving out west or whatever it is I plan to do. All these editors, who won’t bid on the dark, write they can’t wait for new stories from me, all! that! light!

I don’t know where I’ll go. I’m writing my way around myself, talking in circles, about what will instead of what is. Because right now things are messy, untidy, and dark and people squirm around in that. There is an expiration date for how much disquiet one could write, or this is this expectation that we can exchange grief: here is my sad story and now I’ll hear yours because it’s fair that way. So I give them and everyone what they want to hear, speaking in exclamation points, and use this space, and private spaces, for myself. To tell the stories that are really happening. Stories that are incomplete, of a life not foretold.

I do know this. I’m in the business of leaving, and although I have no idea how I will sort out all the logistics, part of me can’t wait to board a plane to who knows where to do who knows what. I’ll tell those stories then, when they happen. When I’m ready.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

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Truth be told, I gave these cookies a bad rap because nothing compares to a cookie made with creamed salty butter and thickened white flour. Try as you might to convince me otherwise, but as someone whose baked for years, I know nothing beats the original. Over the weekend, I adapted a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks and was a tad disappointed with results as soon as the cookies cooled. They resembled changelings, a deformed flattened disk of sugar, and it wasn’t until I waited a few hours did I really appreciate the simplicity of this gluten-and dairy-free chocolate chip cookie. While the original recipe calls for letting these cool in the fridge for at least an hour, I had these cooling for over 4 hours since I didn’t want them to melt completely into the parchment paper.

If anyone has a stand-out gluten and dairy free cookie recipe, give this woman a shout!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table Cookbook, modified. Makes about 3 dozen cookies
1 stick unsalted vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
1 stick salted vegan butter
1 cup coconut palm sugar, packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 16-ounce package dark chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS
Soften the butter in the microwave (or on the stovetop) until nearly melted, about 1 minute. Since I don’t have a microwave, I melted the butters on the stovetop on medium heat. Let cool slightly. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars on high, until blended, 2-3 minutes. The mixture will be pale brown and creamy. Add the egg and the yolk, and mix to combine. Add the vanilla and and mix to combine. In a separate small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat on low until no flour streaks remain. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Cover the dough with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Drop tablespoonfuls of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet (about 2 inches apart) and place in the oven. Bake for 11 minutes for soft cookies or 13 for crisp ones. The cookies should be slightly brown and puffy. Let the cookies sit on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes to cool before removing to a cooling rack or a plate.