gluten-free blueberry cheesecake + a meditation on forgiveness

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Her father had killed her cat and buried it in the carrot patch, then laughed gleefully when the horrified child uncovered her dead pet…We live on a planet where harm happens all the time; to think that you should escape that is a mammoth overstatement of your own importance.Amy Westervelt’s “Letting Go”

When I got sober, I had to accept the possibility that people no longer wanted me in their life. Many of my friends had grown tired of playing parent, of shuttling me from bar to bed because they couldn’t bear the idea that I’d wouldn’t make it home or wouldn’t make it at all. In college, I would collapse into bed and feel the whole of the room orbit around me and I’d cry out to anyone who was listening, Stay with me a while, just until I fall asleep. Sometimes I’d yell that they didn’t know what it was like to be a child woken from sleep, to have to reach for the phone and call the taxi to the hospital and complete all the forms because my mother couldn’t breathe. Because maybe, this time, the coke would do her in. Do you know what it’s like to bear the weight of your mother in your arms, and realize, at ten, that your only hope was you? Sometimes I think my mother taught me how to read and write at such a young age because she needed an admin, someone who would tacitly accept her lies as fact and commit those lies to paper. My friends used to whinge about their parents because it was fashionable, and I’d snap, Did you ever have to mother them? Father them? No, so please shut the fuck up. Because you had a childhood. You had the privilege of having someone tuck the covers under your cold feet come nightfall.

This is a luxury, I think. Bare toes tucked under blankets.

All the years I swore I’d never become her, I became exactly her, thinking myself entitled to constant care. Unbeknownst to my friends, they were to assume the role of The Care and Feeding of Felicia Sullivan. I was the friend they loved so much but were desperate to let go. They were always checking in, always concerned, tip-lipped and tired. I was forever breaking someone’s heart. But when your body is an abbatoir, you don’t think of the carnage right in front of you; you never consider the damage you’ve done was greater than your own. It was only when I got sober was I able to see, and I can’t tell you how hard it was to sit across from so many friends, who clutched their coffee close to their chest, and beg for their forgiveness.

You’ve been saying you’re done for as long as I’ve known you, many said. Even though I was a year off the drink, few believed. Few thought I was biding time until the next great fall or loss, and then I’d find myself breathing underwater. A lone bottle of wine, my driftwood. Others believed but I had gone too far, done too much, and there was no going back. There were many well wishes, but please don’t call me again.

I had to accept that they may have forgiven me, they may have had closure with all the grief I’d cause them, but forgiveness and friendship were mutually exclusive. It’s an I love you, but I can’t know you. I can’t bear this again; I’m not physically built to endure it. It’s an I have children now. And then I think we’ve never been children, until I realize that was my weight. That’s my forgiveness.

There are only a handful of people in my life who have done damage past repair. There is no friendship, no love in my heart, but whether they know it or not, I’ve chosen to forgive them. While we may rage, storm, trick, and deceive, our forgiveness is always quiet, private. It may exist as words exchanged between two people, or mouthed alone in the confines of an apartment. I forgive you for all that you’ve done. But I have to believe that the mere existence of forgiveness relieves one of the burden of it, and we’re now able to replace that anger with equal measures of love and joy. Time takes it all, rubs it out, and brings you somewhere new. I’ve hope that the ones whom I’ve hurt, deeply hurt, have said those words aloud and that I can somehow feel it.

Just as I re-read my first book, painful as it was, and thought of my mother. Lover of cheesecakes (my god, she can eat cheesecake for days, and I made this thinking of her), cooker of chicken cutlets pounded paper thin, collector of soul records, wearer of coral, Noxzema and Chanel 5–a woman who had precise penmanship but rarely wrote outside the confines of a green waitress pad–and I felt a kind of forgiveness. While it forever breaks my heart that she’ll never be the woman or mother I want her to be, that I’ll never have a relationship with her while she’s alive, I do forgive her trespass, her thievery, her undying devotion of herself at the expense of myself. But still. I forgive. I don’t forget. I will not love or behold, but I forgive. And I have to believe that this is good. I have to believe that letting this anger go will make room for new love in my heart.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen Cookbook
For the crust
⅔ cup raw pecans
1 cup almond butter
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ cup softened Coconut Butter (see below)
2 tablespoons organic honey
pinch fine-grain sea salt

For the filling
2 cups raw cashews, soaked in water for 2+ hours and drained
½ cup melted coconut oil
½ cup organic honey
¼ cup full-fat coconut milk
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon joice
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping (optional)
2 cups fresh blueberries plus ¼ cup for garnish
⅓ cup maple syrup

DIRECTIONS
Make the crust: Place the pecans in a food processor and mix until they begin to form pecan butter. Add the almond butter, shredded coconut, coconut butter, honey, and salt and pulse until well combined.

Place the crust mixture in a springform pan, then press down and smooth it out so that the surface is even all around the pan/ Put in the freezer to harden for 2 to 3 hours.

When the crust is hard, make the filling: Add the soaked cashews to a food processor and process until they fully break down into a chunky paste. Add the rest of the filling ingredients to the food processor and process until smooth (it should resemble a thin nut butter).

Pour the filling onto the hardened crust and smooth out the top. Place in the freezer and let settle and firm up for another 2 hours.

When the filling has firmed up, make the topping (optional): In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 cups of blueberries and the maple syrup and cook for 15 minutes, or until most of the blueberries have burst. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes.

To serve, pour the warm blueberry topping on the top of the cheesecake and garnish individual slices with fresh blueberries. Serve immediately. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

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the best gluten-free meatballs you’ll ever make (no, seriously)

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Today I spent the afternoon with an old, sweet friend, chowing, catching up, and thumbing through stacks of books at BookCourt. You have to know that I tried to resist, I went on about the stacks of books towering ominously in my living room, however, I broke down and bought Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. Jenna has impeccable taste in books, and she’s one of the few friends whose recommendations will make me buy books sight unseen–her appreciation for language and story are that great.

Over lunch we talked about food, marveling over the thin, crispy latkes dipped in sundried tomato aioli we ordered and the power of shared meals. Eating is a primal act, and the idea that we can share our most base need with someone else means something. Jenna and I are the kind of people who will pen sonnets over the food that we’re eating as we’re eating it. So when I told her about the shift I made this year–from stone-cold carb addict to veggie lover, from someone who checked out while eating to someone who plates their food and savors every bite–she was intrigued. And while she completely understood my need for nourishment and self-care, she wondered aloud if I’d missed anything from the old days.

Sometimes, I said, I ache for bread. Oh, for the love of god, BREAD. I miss pressing my face up against the oven window and watching the dough crisp and rise. I miss tearing into a hot loaf with cold hands and watching the cream butter melt into the crevices. And while I no longer crave cheese, cream, pasta or anything gluten (and I make a point to not simply replace gluten with its non-gluten counterparts because that’s sort of not the point in getting healthy)–I’ll pause in front of a bakery and think about boules and baguettes.

Have I mentioned that gluten is in EVERYTHING? I can’t have meatballs out anymore because they’re normally mixed bread crumbs or panko. So I’m forced to make them at home. And while that may sound laborious and inconvenient, there’s something thrilling about discovery abundance within limitation. I love these meatballs, which are rendered tender and moist due to the inclusion of sundried tomatoes and eggs. I’m bringing a pot of these with some pasta to a friend’s house tonight, and I hope she (and the kids) love them just as much as I do.

And yes, the first time I’m allowed to have gluten again I will be having bread.

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 pounds of ground sirloin, room temperature
1/2 pound ground sausage, room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup of sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, minced
1 1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes (I use San Marzano)
1/2 28oz can of pureed tomatoes
1 lb of pasta (gluten-free or regular) pasta

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 400F. In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients (from beef to the black pepper) until just combined. Do not overmix. You can get 20-25 meatballs out of this mixture, depending upon how large you like your balls. Yeah, I realize I just typed that.

In a large roasting pan or two baking dishes, add the meatballs and the crushed tomato sauce + pureed tomatoes. Cook for 10-15 minutes.

While the meatballs are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente. Drain and set aside.

Add the pasta to the meatball + sauce mixture, and toss to coat. Serve immediately with fresh parsley!

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no new friends, as drake so sagely rhymes: on age and keeping your circle tight

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Growing up involves opening outward. We search out new experiences, wider social connections, and ways of putting our stamp on the world. When people reach the latter half of adult hood, however, their priorities change markedly. Most reduce the amount of time and effort they spend pursuing achievement and social networks…They focus on being rather than doing and on the present more than the future…If we shift as we age toward appreciating everyday pleasures and relationships rather than toward achieving, having, and getting, and if we find this more fulfilling, then why do we take so long to do it? Why do we wait until we’re old? The common view was that these lessons are hard to learn. Living is a kind of skill. The calm and wisdom of old age are achieved over time.Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal

It’s funny how a book about death can teach one so much about life–how to hold it close to your heart, how to take its pulse and how to quicken it. We start out by wrapping our arms around the world and everything in it simply because we want to feel, know and taste everything. We are nothing if not an accumulation of our senses with the volume turned up, and when we’re young we measure our life in terms of the things we hold in our hands, progress we can see. We become box-tickers, ladder climbers, deft players of checkers and chess. Because what if we miss it? What if we refused to open ourselves up to all the possibilities? What then? When we’re young, I can’t think of a more frightening word than limits.

Because why shouldn’t we desire the world and want everything in it? Believe me when I say the natural order of things is to oscillate wildly. There is beauty in the unknown, of feeling your way around the dark, of scraping your knees and feeling the sting of rubbing alcohol and the rip and tear of bandages. Much of youth orbits around uncertainty, and it’s perfectly normal to feel as if you are a bridge on the verge of collapse, that one errant footfall could turn you into driftwood.

I’m starting to think of growing older as a certain kind of quiet. We once measured our worth in direct correlation to our personal velocity, of how fast and far we managed to hurtle ourselves to as many shores as we could navigate. We achieved all that our parents had designed for us, and then what? What then?

Last year I took a meal with a woman in her twenties. Perhaps I was someone whose career she admired, or possibly I could offer her some knowledge she’d yet to acquire, but over the course of our meal I could tell that she was uncomfortable that I didn’t have all the answers. That at 38 my career was still elusive, I’d yet to marry or bear children. I wanted to tell her that the difference between us was that I was calm in the midst of the unknown. I had the armor and tools she’d yet to acquire. Although I didn’t know precisely what I wanted to do with the rest of the year, much less my life, I knew what I didn’t want, and I knew that if I kept moving toward the projects and people that make me want to bolt out of bed in the morning, I was headed in the right direction. How do you explain that age hones your GPS, or perhaps it allows you to manage the sharp turns and how to find your way back after you’ve been lost all this time?

I left the meal exhausted, and I suppose she left flummoxed over the fact that I hadn’t “figured it all out.”

FullSizeRenderI’ve written at length about cultivating real relationships and my violent aversion toward networking and how I’ve managed to block the barnacles. When given the choice between working a room or working my couch, clearly my heart is with the latter. Because I’ve spent the better part of fifteen years accumulating the people who matter in my life. I’ve defined for myself the traits and values that my friends should embody, and I never, ever, befriend anyone simply because they’re a connector, they’re good to know. Frankly, if I can’t share a meal with you, I don’t want to know you. In this way, I’m polarizing. I’m 39, not 25. I don’t need new people; I have my people.

And my people are busy. I’m at the age when coordinating a lunch is the equivalent of a CIA operative. There are multiple texts, chats, calendar consultations because now we have to consider children, work, AA meetings, therapy, after-work engagements, and all the other weight we carry as the years advance. Time with my close friends, my beloveds, is so precious that when I’m with them, I’m completely present. We don’t use our phones (unless there’s an emergency) and we spend our time close, connected, because as we grow older the distance between this meal and our next grows wider. Even with my closest friends. Even with the people whom are my family.

Over the past few years I’ve made some very clear and definitive choices about my life. I will only surround myself with people who challenge and comfort me. Our relationships are symbiotic, reciprocal, and I never leave a dinner drained–I’m always invigorated. I always want to create, build, be. I will only take on projects with people whom I respect, people who have integrity and challenge me. I don’t create “content”, I tell stories, and I’ll never write simply for the sake of churning out something for screen or paper. I will only cleave to that which nurtures me. And with all of that decisiveness comes difficult choices and awkward conversations.

After a recent stressful holiday, my friend Amber said, in the sage words of Drake, no new friends. And I have to agree. Frankly, I don’t want piles of new friends. I’m not at the place in my life where I need to hoard and accumulate, rather it’s about a winnowing down. I want to spend my time nurturing existing relationships and rekindling old ones. I want to focus on mentoring the extraordinary women who used to work for me. That’s not to say that I haven’t met some wonderful people in the past two years (my friends Grace and Joanna immediately come to mind), however, I only seek to cultivate friendships with people where we both walk away inspired and excited. In short, while I have acquaintances and professional relationships, I make very few friends.

Because I can’t give all of me to everyone.

The online space is extraordinary and strange. This virtual home allows me to connect and share aspects of my life, and how I think, in a truly personal way. Writing has always helped me make sense of the world, and writers would have to be mad to not want their work to affect others. You want people to read. You want them to feel something based on what you’ve written. You want them to not only be inspired, but you hope they act, move, live their best life. Yet the flipside to that coin is that people feel as if they know the innards of you. They’ve knocked on your door and you’ve allowed them trespass to your home and somehow this makes you kin. I struggle with this, honestly. I read a lot of blogs and I rarely comment because my relationship with the blogger is one-dimensional. They serve a very selfish purpose and I’m okay with a relationship that is confined to a screen. I’m satisfied with my Twitter relationships because most are about the exchange of ideas and information. I don’t desire to meet everyone I follow because I’ve come to know a representation of that life and that’s all I need.

I guess this is what happens when you grow older, perhaps Atul Gawande is right. Because all I want is to focus on what’s in my life, right now. And if I happen to come across someone new and extraordinary, awesome, but I’m not running toward it. There is no hurtling, there is instead a settling.

my brooklyn bodyburn challenge, week three: when you’ve moved beyond fear

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Today my pop wants to talk about karma. He can’t wrap his head around the fact that rods hold his hips together and every movement, every shift in his bed, brings about an insurmountable amount of pain. I’m a good man, he says, and I nod, because in this we agree. What did I do to get here? For a moment he’s sincere, solemn, and I lean in close, squeeze his hand as hard as I can and ask him if he’s okay, do you hurt? Squeeze my hand so I can feel how much it hurts, I tell him. His eyes well up and he turns away from me because I’m close, because we’re guarded, because our tears rarely exist amongst other people. I say, no, pop. This isn’t about karma, this is life. This is just what happens. If we want to talk about karma, let’s talk about the fact that you can stand up after surgery, that you will be able to walk up the stairs with your groceries. Let’s talk about the people who love you, who come to visit. Let’s talk about how much of this very expensive surgery has been paid for. That’s the karma, I tell him. There’s a quiet nobility in leading a good life, and having health given back to you, having loved ones to shoulder your hurt–this is the world giving you your due.

We talk for a time. I spend hours next to him trying not to cry. I’ll save my tears for the train ride home because he needs me strong. He needs me to tell him this: that you have to believe that this pain, this bed, this sadness to which you’re attached is temporary. That every day is another step forward, literally. Another day that you’ll experience less pain. You have to believe in all of it, otherwise fear will be the only thing you’re tethered to, and fear doesn’t desire the forward steps and climbs out of darkness. It wants you petrified, alone, standing right as you are, never moving forward, but always, always inching your way back. Fear cradles you, never wants to let its grip on you, go.

Don’t let fear in, pop. Don’t do it, I tell him. Because there’s something really fucking beautiful on the other side of it. You just got to get there.

On the train ride home I thought about fear. This post wasn’t what I’d intended. I’d planned a perfunctory story filled with funny anecdotes from my third week of burning, and then it occurred to me that there was a reason I don’t want to share inches lost, a before-and-after photo, and all that jazz. It somehow doesn’t feel right, it reduces what I’m doing to simple maths, a subtraction of inches, when this challenge is about something entirely different. I embarked on this journey because Brooklyn BodyBurn is intense. The machine induces fear–even amongst the fit and brave–and the method never gets easier, rather it’s a koan that reveals new aspects of itself just when you think you’ve mastered a shape. In this way, the method reminds me of yoga.

When I first started taking classes at Brooklyn BodyBurn last year I couldn’t have conceived of doing this more than once or twice a week. Why would I subject myself to such torture? When I invited friends to join me, they fled in opposite directions. We used words like intense, scared, afraid, we’re going to die on that machine, etc, and even as my body grew stronger, even as I made deliberate changes to my diet, I still thought, could I do this?

I took on this small journey because I didn’t think I could. Part of me was curious about the other side of this kind of fear, what it would look like, what shape and form would it take, and I’ve one week left and what I’ve learned is this: I’m stronger than I think I am. Our thoughts deliberately frame our actions, and I can use words like fear or scared, or I can simply say that today, I’m just going to do the best I can. I’m going to show up for myself and refuse to be owned by an emotion.

What’s the worse that can happen? I have to come down to my knees during an exercise? That I have to rest more between reps? Is this what we’re afraid of, our ego? Resting? Not powering through?

Whether it’s BodyBurn, my work, or me sitting next to a man I admire, respect and love, I have to keep asking myself, over and over again because it is a life practice, what are you afraid of?

What happens when you move past fear? What happens when you land on the other side? That’s the place I want to be in, always. The other side of fear.

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roasted cauliflower with dates + pistachios and a meditation on resolving vs. doing

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I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it. –Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

He was the kind of man who had been through war but dressed his wounds years after the fact. He was a heart worth beating for, a man who buried his face in my hair and let it rest there. We were in a restaurant in Utah and I rushed to the table and whispered, Britney Spears is in the bathroom! Back then, I wore a red wool hat the size of a small child. I don’t know what your plans are, but mine don’t include children. On our first date we took a good meal in a bad restaurant. When he asked, do you always drink like this?, gesturing to a wine glass that was never empty, I laughed and said, do you know of any other way? That night we fell asleep to the sound of a woman singing Chinese arias in the courtyard. Back then I lived in an apartment above a restaurant where tourists paid Italian men of a certain age and breed to play The Godfather on a weathered violin. When the halls smelled of bleach and the carousel of lights flickered and faded to dark, a woman would sing, always, as if her sad song could eclipse all the ones that had come before. You have to know that it was tragic to fall asleep to The Godfather night after night. Because there’s heartbreak in repetition, in a heart that never quickens, but only slumbers its way home. Part of me wondered about a man who fell in love with a woman who was intent to remain at war with herself, who felt shelter only by picking at healing wounds. Just to see if she could still bleed. Just because she could. Just because she knew of no other way.

We spent the holidays in Boston with a family that measured your self-worth by the accumulation of degrees. I’d pass muster because, you know, Columbia. I’d never lived in a house with two floors, much less a mudroom (What’s a mud room? I whispered as we removed our coats. A room before the others, he said), so when we arrived that night I crept up and down the stairs. Up and down. Up and down, again. I did find it strange that one needed a room to ready oneself for the rest of the house.

Over the next two days there was a fire, a brawl, a father who thought it funny to call me felatio, a battle waged against a sister who got rhinoplasty and changed her name because she was so tired of being Jewish, thickened mashed potatoes and tears (mostly his, some of my own), and I understood that a mudroom was a way out. Back then I slept on top of the sheets, never between them, with one leg off the bed, ready to run. Who knew that a room would be a leg, an escape clause, a get out of dodge kind of plan? I never thought I’d say this but your family is more fucked up than mine, I said. Let’s just leave, he said. He had this habit of removing his glasses and cleaning them, even after they were clean. He’d remove, wipe, wear, and remove, wipe and wear all over again. They’re clean, I snapped once, to which he replied, that’s not the point.

I realized then that I was dating a man whose last name meant screamer in German.

Who gives away their slow-beating heart? Who does this? Who lets someone in, all the way? I was nothing if not a collection of bones broken in all the wrong places, and as one year eclipsed another, as people stood beneath a storm of snow-mixed confetti–reports warned of thundersnow–as couples hastily and sloppily kissed, as children wore cone-shaped hats and raised valiant fists in the air, I removed my lips from his and said, this year I don’t want this. I couldn’t love another version of me. Back then I was impenetrable, incapable of love because I’d equated it to bloodletting, and who knew then that he knew this all along. That he made a game of seeing if he could break me because he was the gambling kind.

A month later I discovered that although my heart wasn’t capable of complete love, it was completely breaking. Men took me and my things to a small apartment in Chelsea where a man blasted jazz into the gloaming.

I thought about of this when I spent New Year’s Eve with a dear friend, and we talked about how we started each year, if we had been alone, if that meant something. Four years of thirty-nine I’d spent it with a significant other, and it occurred to me, a day later, that those others weren’t significant, I was alone, and all of it did mean something. Until now I hadn’t been the gambling kind. I hadn’t flung open the doors to the light just beyond the dark (had you been there, all this time? Just beyond my reach? Or had I been busy dressing all those open wounds?); I hadn’t run all the way out and in. I was running in circles, exhausted from chasing all the wrong things, and I was tired. So tired.

Because I don’t want to live in a house with a mudroom. Because I’m finally able to rest between the sheets. Because I’d rather be alone for the right reasons than with someone for the wrong ones. Because being anesthetized isn’t a way to live, rather it’s a way to affix bandages over a dam about to break, it’s a way to slowly and cowardly die. Because writing one-line axioms in a book isn’t really the same thing as living a life. Because there is a difference between being uncomfortably comfortable in the familiar versus feeling disquiet in the unknown. Because I’m 39, and I no longer want to feel the tic of a list but rather the rush of a life.

I don’t believe in resolutions. I don’t believe in resolving to do something instead of actually doing it. I don’t believe in being inspired by someone and letting that light, that whisper to do, fall to blight. Every year until now has felt like a photocopy of a bland original, but I woke yesterday thinking about all the possibility. I’m going to write without fear of not being published. I’m going to move to four states. I’m going to stop hiding behind my graduate loan debt, using that as an excuse to live in a house of no. I’m going to create. I’m going to break ranks. I’m going to sit in discomfort and disquiet because I know there’s a better place. And I’ve already booked my first AirBNB for my move to New Mexico.

And I know all of this will lead me back to a greater self, a self made whole, and then, possibly then, I will find something that resembles love.

Because this year I don’t want this.

Recipe for Balsamic Roasted Cauliflower and Dates, because this is what you eat after three slices of vegan coffee cake on New Year’s Eve.

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books worth reading: a year-end compilation

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Years ago, I used to keep a running list of books I’d read over the course of a year. The habit started in 2002 when I resolved to read 52 books in one year (I ended up reading 60), and it continued through the greater part of this decade, except the past few years when I was too busy trying to fix my life instead of tracking it. And while I loathe year-end round-ups of any variety, I do see the value in keeping a list of books I’ve read. In the same breath I can provide a smart book recommendation while seeing where my head was at over the course of the year. Looking back at all of these stories, it occurs to me that I was drawn to people who were lost and broken but set out on the road to self-repair.

Candidly, I purchased many more books than the 25 I read this year. Some were epic disappointments (I might be the only person on this planet who couldn’t get into Ben Lerner’s latest), some still remain on my to-read stack (Lydia Millet, Darcey Steinke–I’m coming for you come January), and others I couldn’t read because the prose style or story was too close to that of my own novel.

Paul H. Connolly’s On Essays: A Reader for Writers | Marilynne Robinson’s Lila | Peter Chapman’s Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World
Jessie Hartland’s Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child | Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn | Katie Crouch’s Abroad | Brando Skyhorse’s Take This Man | Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park | Molly Wizenberg’s Delancey | Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen | Celebrating You (and the beautiful person you are) | It’s Gonna Be Okay | Lydia Millet’s Magnificence | Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure | Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch | Yiyun Li’s Kinder Than Solitude | Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable | Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply | Susan Minot’s Thirty Girls | Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business | Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal | Alejandro Junger’s Clean Gut: The Breakthrough Plan for Eliminating the Root Cause of Disease and Revolutionizing Your Health | April Peveteaux’s Gluten is My Bitch | Nadya Andreeva’s Happy Belly

a minor fall, a major leap: a major announcement + life change

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Photo Credit: Alfredo Miguel Romero

Because I want to feel something again. Because I want to come down to my knees and feel the earth beneath my hands. Because I want to be itinerant. Because I saw Tiny and said, imagine that. Because I want to do something with my hands other than type. Because I’m tired of a city where death had undone so many. Also, I’m tired of cities. Because I seek an unadulterated sky. Because I wrote a novel about a family living in the West and who knew I’d write myself to where I plan to be? Because home isn’t a place, rather it’s the people to whom you return.

For now, let’s call my project Four Points West. Come September 2015, I will spend 3-4 months in Sante Fe, New Mexico; Helena, Montana; Seattle, WA and San Diego (or Santa Cruz, haven’t decided yet), California. I placed pins on a map and said, this is where you’ll fine me. This is where I’ll lay down my head to rest.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve never left the confines of New York. Sure, I’ve traveled to India, Ireland, Taiwan, Italy, UK, Prague, France, Spain, Russia, Mexico, China, Korea, Thailand, Australia, Fiji, Aruba, Bali, Denmark, Germany, Canada, Cambodia, Vietnam, but I’ve never made another place my home. Next year I will make four unexpected places my temporary home. I’ll stay in AirBNBs. I’ll retake the road test since my driver’s license expired years ago. I’ll take my cat with me. I’ll sublet my home in Brooklyn or let it go altogether. I’ll sit in a place of uncertainty, inconvenience and discomfort because it’s better than this recognizable disquiet.

I’ve a lot to plan between now and then, but I’m exhilarated. I plan on documenting the entire journey, treating each place as if it’s a new territory, a foreign country. And while I hope to continue consulting in brand and consumer marketing, I like the idea of also doing work that requires me to do something with my hands. I guess I want to feel something more than what exists right now. I want to see how far I can go.

Admittedly, I’m terrified. I’ve $150K in graduate loan debt. I’ve credit card debt. New York is easy in the sense that most of my work is here, even if I don’t have to venture into an office. I’m leaving the comfort of all I know in pursuit of something that may be a disaster, financial or otherwise.

But another part of me, a small voice that was once a whisper has grown to a shout, and it says, why not?

More to come…

roasted fig, kale + chickpea salad and cauliflower coconut curry + a silent call to leave home

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Truth be told, I rarely re-read what I write here. I write for the rush of it, the joy of it–the words come from a compulsion to make sense of a situation, find clarity, and once that clarity has been found I move on. However, amidst all this food, amidst a stove that resembled a bonfire, I kept re-reading this post. And one of the questions I keep asking myself is this: Why am I still here? This isn’t a Montaigne why-do-we-exist ontological argument, rather, it’s why am I still in New York? Before you talk about a hoard of writers who never grew up in New York yet pen dreamy essays about leaving old New York, my story is less about a place and more about a desperate need to sit in discomfort. A need to lay down my head somewhere else in the world for an extended period of time–beyond travel.

This place is my home. I went to Fordham when I could have gone to Boston University or Brown. I went to Columbia when I could have applied to Iowa. I watched so many people I love move away, start new lives in different states and countries and it’s only now that I have a sense of longing. A realization that my home has become my barnacle, a place to which I’ve been unhealthily attached. My mother still lives here. My pop lives here. All my memories are tethered to this place, and I want new memories, new places. I posted something on Facebook and one of my very sage friends wrote this, which put my heart on pause:

Come up with an eccentric plan and give yourself to it. For example, resolve to live on every continent for 3 months to a year (okay, not Antarctica). Or live in a different country for a year for 5 years in a row. Or live on an island for a year. I’ve found that it’s very, very hard to will a change out of the swirling lights of one’s soul, but it’s easy to react to a change you believe has already been made for you. We move in a week if our employer makes us, but if it’s up to us, we’ll linger for five years making excuses and riding the wave of inertia. So find some way to externalize the impetus for the change, and then don’t question it. Just get it done. Pretend an employer is forcing you to move. Pretend anything. Oh, you could live in four states, each of which abuts a corner or edge of the US: say, Traverse City, Michigan; Bangor, Maine; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Oregon. You get the idea. You could also plan a book and live along some route that you would create art/photos/writing about. I am not thinking about money here, of course, so the daydreaming is easy. But I’d say daydream hard first, and you’ll figure out the money.

Last night I vacillated between this comment and my post, and I realized I keep asking questions that go unanswered because I’m afraid. It’s easy to talk about New York and how much I hate it, how much it’s gone to blight, overflowing with long-term tourists who call themselves New Yorkers. I lament that so much of the danger, art and energy I loved as a child has been whitewashed, excised. Everything feels pedestrian, done by rote, and the discomfort I feel is more akin to waking up to someone whom you thought you knew for the whole of your life to realize they’re actually a stranger. The discomfort I want is the feel of the new, the unsettling that comes from uprooting yourself and planting yourself somewhere else. I want quiet. I want land. I want solitude. I want slow. I want simple.

My god, I’ve lived a complicated, often difficult, life in a place that’s frenetic. I want to slow down and breathe.

So I’m following my friend’s advice and using the next 12 months to put my exit strategy into action. More details to come.

Now, my questions are when and how?

INGREDIENTS + DIRECTIONS FOR THE CHICKPEA SALAD: Pre-heat an oven to 400F. To a large roasting pan, add figs, quartered; handfuls of curly kale; 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained; salt/pepper/olive oil. Toss the figs, kale and chickpeas so they’re evenly coated in olive oil. Roast for 30-40 minutes until the kale is crispy and the chickpeas are browned.

INGREDIENTS + DIRECTIONS FOR THE CAULIFLOWER CURRY*: 2 tbsp coconut oil; 2 cloves of garlic, minced; 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced; 1 large cauliflower head (1 lb) cut into florets; 2 tbsp curry powder; 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes; 1/4 tsp cinnamon; 1/8 tsp ground coriander; pinch of sea salt and coarse black pepper; 1 14oz can of full-fat coconut milk; 2 tbsp almond butter.

Place a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the coconut oil and garlic. Once the garlic is fragrant, add the bell pepper and cauliflower. Stir the vegetables to evenly coat them in garlic + oil.

Add all of the spices and toss to coat. Add the coconut milk and almond butter. Mix to incorporate.

Cover the pan and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the cauliflower is softened. Taste for seasoning + add more salt if needed.

*Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen.

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live the questions now (long read)

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Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. ― Rainer Maria Rilke

It was a Saturday night, which had become a blurred photocopy of every other evening, and a taxi barrelled down the FDR Drive. Back then we liked it fast. We preferred to live dangerously; we were on the road to ruin–and the knowledge of this, of all it, comforted us. I took a leave from a writing program, and found myself holding a bottle of wine, a cigarette half-smoked because I wasn’t the smoking kind, and a Nokia phone, as I shouted for my friend to get in already. It was rare to catch a taxi uptown back then. I remember the car and us bending our heads as if we were supplicants called to prayer; we stole quick bumps, thinking we were all slick and discrete when we were, in fact, the opposite. The driver didn’t care about any of it, except for the fear that we might spill wine in his cab. Hunched over we did blow and then we blew smoke out of windows.

By the time we reached the Lower East Side, I couldn’t breathe. Over the past few months a habit that had once been a weekend thing, soon morphed into a weeknight thing (because there was always a dinner, a reading, a reason for party favors), and soon I fell asleep and woke to cocaine. No one really knew the depths of my fall because I was functioning, sort of. I was all broken capillaries, nosebleeds at my desk, and eyes that regarded daylight as a form of barbaric, medieval torture. But I white-knuckled my way through meetings, typed all my emails and didn’t care that my body felt like a costume I’d worn too many times. Back then I told myself I had this under control, that I would never be like her, my mother, my aunt, all junk-sick and spinning out of control, but then go the lines. Sometimes my heart would beat so fast I couldn’t stop it, so I’d drink some wine, have a little smoke, or swallow pills. I was in pursuit of the middle of nothing.

That taxi ride was the second time I felt death creep under my skin and make a home. The first time I was in Mexico and nearly drowned in an ocean. When we reached shore my body was volcanic. I couldn’t breathe; I needed my mother. I was 20, saying her name as if incanting it would conjure a version of her back to me, before the cocaine and her undoing, when it was just two girls, holding hands. Laughing. The second time all I could think about was my mother, my first hurt, and how I’d do anything to smother all the love I’d given her and how much of my childhood she’d stolen in return. I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all, Elliot wrote.

Back then I would do anything to feel nothing. In this body there is a heart that refuses to beat. Darkness becomes a homecoming–it pulls up a chair in your own home, offers you a drink, and asks, are you happy? Are you comfortable? How long do you want me to stay? Should I unpack? Should I forward the mail? And for a time, I let the dark into my heart because although I knew so many people I’d never felt so lonely. Cocaine was there all along, holding my hand, whispering into my hair that it would never leave. You have to know where’s comfort in that–a constant companion, a tender lover–and then you realize the object of your affection has grown tired of your devotion and wants more. Isn’t it always this way? The thing that you consume craves more than what you’re willing to give, and then you wake and realize the darkness wants to be all of you. It won’t just settle for a drawer in your bedroom.

That night in the cab was a preview of what would happen if I became all that I consumed. Addicts trade war stories–they talk about shame, humiliation, regret and anger, that one night, that every night–but many of us agree that there was a brief time when it was wonderful…until it wasn’t. And we’d spend so much time crawling our way back to the wonder, that first feeling of you being here but not really, and you know how it is. While the story of the day I stopped doing coke twelve years ago isn’t remotely memorable, losing the wonder continues to haunt me, still.

My dad was the first to pick up on the bigger problem–alcohol. The drink is like setting fire to a house after you’ve dead bolted the doors and locked yourself in it. The dark is always in your periphery yet you cease to care because the idea of feeling the weight of loss, sorrow and hurt is entirely too much to bear. When you have all this pain, you wonder, where do you put it? Is there a container? Will I need to request a certain size (small, medium, large? tall, grande, venti?)? What if all the pain doesn’t fit? What then? What of my heart then?

I managed to shield him from cocaine, managed to make it a story like every other story I told, and he never worried because the woman before him was the woman he’d always known–funny, strange, a picky eater, who sometimes drank too much. It’s rare that I let anyone into the depth of dark I’m able to endure, but my father knew. I suppose he’d always known. He was confused that night I fell asleep drunk on a train, somehow ending up in Ronkonkoma with my wallet missing. I woke him in the dead of night for cab fare, and I remember him asking why I wasn’t able to stand straight. I was 23, I think. I suppose he knew when he told me that if I could do him one favor, one small thing, which was for me to shield him from my drunkenness, and then I came home, weeks later, black-out drunk, knocking over things. Always with the hangover. Always with the damn wine lips, he said. I suspected he feared that I would become a version of my mother, a difficult woman. You make it impossible for me to love you, I told her twice. Even last year, even after my relapse, I mentioned my two-month binge to my father in passing. Another story. Another, I’m fine now so you don’t need to worry. Because this is what happens when you lose people–you drink until you black. You drink until you can no longer see. I’m forever shielding my father from worry. In his eyes, I’m always strong, impenetrable.

My pop asked me once about the blow and the drink. Setting aside the obvious, you saw what that shit did to your mother, there was the very clear question in front of him, which was: you’re so frightened of death, why would you do this to yourself? How to explain. Where to begin. Do you end? My father has always accepted death, understood that you one day returned to the place from which you’d come. That valiant, small fist punching its way out of the womb becomes a shuddering breath, a hand that feels like cashmere, feeling its way back home. That small, balled fist. That weathered, frail hand. We exist for most of our lives in the space between the two, and while I can accept that, I’m so frightened of the after. I no longer believe in a heaven with its blinding lights and touch of gold, or a hell that engulfs you in flames. Rather, I believe in a body settling into the earth, allowing for new life to eclipse it. We pass so others can live–this is the order of things. And the only way you continue to exist is in memory. I accept all of this as fact, but it doesn’t make it easier to bear.

In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande writes, the story of aging is the story of our parts.

But in truth no single disease leads to the end; the culprit is just the accumulated crumbling of one’s bodily systems while medicine carries out its maintenance measures and patch jobs.

Our life, as we know it, becomes a slow fade. Death is all the lights in the house, lights that once burned brightly now flicker and fade out. I’m reading a book about the science of mortality and what matters in the end because there was a time in my life when the one final act I’m trying desperately to evade was in my home, eating my food, lying beside me in my bed. People never understand when I talk about getting older, of the terror that exists in counting the years. They think it’s about vanity–you don’t even look 39–and it takes everything in me to smother rage, because age isn’t about skin and hair pigments and body size, it’s about the clocks. Every inch forward cannot be reclaimed. There is no going back. There is only the slow, steady march into the dark. But what happens when no one follows you? What happens when there is only you?

I read another article about our hunger for fame and how it’s bound to the notion of immortality. In memory, life is constant. You continue to exist when someone speaks your name. The author writes,

A fundamental belief of the Greeks: that acts of heroism or epic poems are not only nobler than mere sprogs, but also considerably more durable. Where living things fall like leaves in autumn, our cultural objects can endure. Kingdoms, titles and honour survive to be passed from one generation to the next; stories persist to be told by new generations of bards; bronze statues do not fall sick. Unlike human children, cultural offspring promise to be ‘everlasting’.

On our way to Ireland
On our way to Ireland
I think about all of this because I have no real family. Yes, I have a host of friends whom I love but they are tethered to their kin. They have families of their own, and I am not part of their legacy. This isn’t me being woeful, it’s me being honest. In an act of self-preservation, I refuse to have a relationship with my mother and her new family. And my pop, who isn’t my biological father, but has served as a father figure since I was 12, well, I don’t know sometimes. Over the past five years our relationship has shifted, and although there’s still memory and love and nostalgia, we no longer cleave to each other like we used to. When we were in Ireland, I felt the love that comes with familial history, of being bound to a name. But my last name’s Sullivan, and I’m not even Irish. I feel rootless. I feel part of a family by invitation. I’m a third African but how do I claim it? I do not want children. I am the last of my kind. There is only the dark and you alone in it.

I think about this a lot. Perhaps this is why I’m compelled to write more now that I’ve ever wanted to before. Perhaps I need to get this down, on paper, so people will know that I was once here. That long after my body has settled into the earth with gravel and rock, a part of how I loved, thought, lived, might endure. We tell ourselves stories in order to live, Joan Didion once wrote. I wonder if they serve to preserve us after our final breath shudders out. Our stories deliver us onward, maybe they tell us we mean something. That we don’t solely exist to breed and sustain new life.

Buddha says, The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment. And in that moment there are questions. I do wonder if living in punctuation will give me freedom. Will allow me to see.

my brooklyn bodyburn challenge, week two: when your teachers deliver the necessary beatdowns

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There might have been a moment during class this week when one of my teachers removed a spring from the megaformer machine. As I leaned the whole of my body weight on a moving carriage, knowing that flying off the machine was a real possibility, the only thing I could say, smiling, was, Oh, fuck you so hard. Abby’s an incredible teacher who has no problem giving you a beatdown on a machine while cheering you on. My abs are still recovering. Another teacher invited me to move from my machine-against-the-wall position (because the idea of being surrounded by people is cruel and unusual punishment; you’ll always find me in the back of a room, against a wall, etc) to the center of the room. There were newbies in class, people who found the machine to be a bit like Chinese torture, and I was one of the few experienced students who could possibly show proper form.

Here’s the rub about a practice. Once you think you’ve mastered one aspect of a practice, it suddenly becomes slippery, elusive, changing shape and form until it’s almost unrecognizable. Until the shape you’ve been going after transforms into something else. And then there’s that work: the crippling fear, the uncertainty, the first few attempts, the practice, the pain, the movement and mastery. And again, and so on.

This week was hard, you guys. While last week was all about frolicking in the sun, all tra la la, this week marked the doldrums of a marriage–the passing of the salt, the division of labor, the quiet hum of a kiss rather than the passionate lovemaking: two bodies coming together like cross stitch. This week was about me realizing that my strong upper body compensates for a weak core. When I forced myself into discomfort by feeling the full shape of a pose rather than always, always starting on my knees.

This week also ushered in the realization that we’ve been sold into this myth that all of our gastronomic sins will be resolved if only we spend another hour on that treadmill, pedaling about like some rabid bunny. When in fact, diet, the quality and quantity of food that we put in our bodies, drives much of how we live our life. If I compare myself in BodyBurn (or even spin!) a year ago to now, I’d say that I have more confidence, strength and endurance. I view food as my strategy for warfare, as opposed to being the enemy so assiduously and cruelly hunted. I learned that my body needs fuel–lean proteins and lots of them, fats, legumes, good starches and fields of verdant green. I learned that my body is not a lone soldier going out on this on my own.

You are the sole source of your own limitation. You choose to say I can’t do that, I’m too scared, oh dear, that’s not for me. You choose the House of No. You choose to always be inspired by, yet that inspiration never plants its seeds, sows its harvest. That inspiration is but a meer stretch of words, a “like,” and nothing more. What I learned this week is that I don’t know if I can’t do something until I try it, if only once.

So if that means that I do one floor plank to pike before I collapse onto the machine, well, at least that’s better than none.

cranberry orange loaf (gluten-free)

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Merry Christmas! This morning I woke with a heart filled with joy, gratitude and love. I’m so humbled by all the wonderful people in my life, the great life I’m privileged to have, and an insouciant cat who believes that 3AM is a proper waking time. I’m spending the day with loved ones, feasting on this delicious loaf cake. Hope you’re spending the day with your beloveds. xoxo

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table Cookbook, with slight modifications.*
2 cups gluten-free flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 cup organic cane sugar
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp (5 tablespoons) coconut oil, softened
1 large egg
1 tbsp grated orange zest
3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (2 large oranges)

*The original recipe called for a streusel topping, however, I think there’s an error in the recipe because the streusel doesn’t include a binding agent (oil/butter), so my streusel melded into the bread (causing it to sink a little at the center) instead of maintaining its integrity. A bit of a bummer, but the loaf was delicious nonetheless. I also dialed down the amount of cranberries from 1 1/2 cups to 1, since it seemed to overwhelm the gluten-free flour.

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 8½” x 4½” x 2⅝” standard loaf pan with coconut oil and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Gently stir in the chopped cranberries.

In a standard mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar and coconut oil on high speed for 2-3 minutes. Add in the egg and beat until combined. Add the zest and juice, beating to combine. The mixture will look curdled–don’t freak out. All will be well in the end. You just have to believe, people. Dialing down the speed to low, gradually incorporate the dry ingredients to the wet mixture. I like to do this in 3-4 batches, ensuring that the dry ingredients are fully incorporated before adding in more of the flour mixture.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan with a rubber spatula. Bake on the center rack of the preheated oven for about 45-50 minutes (rotating the pans halfway through) or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes, then remove from the pans and continue cooling directly on the rack for about 30-45 minutes before you slice into the cake.

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literary gems: paul h. connolly’s essay collection: on essays

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Back in the days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar were the only ones just right, this lady moved on our block with nappy hair and proper speech and no makeup. And quite naturally we laughed at her, laughed the way we did at the junk man who went about his business like he was some big-time president and his sorry-ass horse his secretary. And we kinda hated her too, hated the way we did the winos who cluttered up our parks and pissed on our handball walls and stank up our hallways and stairs so you couldn’t halfway play hide-and-seek without a goddamn gas mask. Miss Moore was her name. –From Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson”

Sometimes a piece of writing will seize you, will put your heart on pause and make you come down to your knees because you feel just like that. Because the arrangement of words–and that’s what good writing is really, the delicate dance between rhythm and type–made you see the world for what it is, or perhaps it made you see something about yourself, or others, differently. For me, the power of prose is in the author’s ability to give me second sight. There’s a tree in the middle of a forest, but it’s not really a tree because it reminds you of a moment in your childhood when the forest was your house and the tree was your mother’s hair and all you wanted to do was climb up and in. A good writer arranges words in such a way that you just don’t see the tree, you see above, beyond, under, over and through it to something else, something other.

You are, if nothing else, a fakir.

I’ve been in a funk lately. I’ve dozens of books that I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t. And after completing an exhausting round of necessary revisions on my manuscript, the idea of committing to a whole new world felt unbearable. I’ve just returned from battle, and now you’re asking me to jump once more unto the breach, dear friends? COME NOW. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, I’m still waiting on finalized contracts for two projects and who knows if I’ll ever sell this dark novel. So I set aside all the novels in favor of an essay collection I picked up on the street a few weeks back. A man was moving out of his home and he put out, quite literally, hundreds of books onto the street. I’m talking first editions. I’m talking Cynthia Ozick, Amy Hempel, Janet Malcolm, and Philip Roth. I nearly had a seizure and I took as many books as I could carry (40) and rushed on home to pore over my loot.

Can I tell you that I spent the day with Paul H. Connolly’s On Essays: A Reader for Writers? This out-of-print collection is so obscure it was challenging to locate it online (Amazon doesn’t stock it, but your local library might). A pity, really, because the collection is so remarkable, and part me of me wanted to retitle the subtitle to: A Reader for Anyone Who Likes to Read. The 56 essays examine the symbiotic nature between character and style. The essays are relatively short, but potent, and what’s remarkable is that the essays are satisfying for any reader, however, for the writer, they provide an excellent blueprint for how many authors found their voice and style.

Virginia Woolf, my hero, who brought modernist, experimental fiction to the fore (DYK that Mrs. Dalloway influenced Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude? Fun fact, right?) displayed her elliptical relationship between time and the interior/exterior world in “Gas.” Sure, the essay is about tripping out on gas during a perfunctory visit to the dentist, however, you start to see how the interior (the mind) is able to move through time and space and worlds while one is confined to a chair in a state of semi-consciousness. You can see how she plays with the juxtaposition of time (the dentist visit is short but your travel and imagination makes it feel as you’ve endured years)–both devices were the foundation for her later works, notably, The Waves (one of my favorite books!!!) and Mrs. Dalloway. I also chuckled reading her rage blackout confrontation with E.M. Forrester in “A Writer’s Diary,” over women being passed over for literary prizes.

In Connolly’s collection, you’ll find essays from Joan Didion (her landmark essay, “On Keeping a Notebook,” is an obvious must-read. Then again, anything of Didion’s should be required reading), Calvin Trillin, George Orwell, E.B. White, Susan Sontag (my god, “A Woman’s Beauty: Put-down or Power Source?“), and finally Toni Cade Bambara!

There’s so much I love, and can learn from, Bambara. I’ve always been taught that if the style of what you’re trying to achieve subsumes the meaning, the style is a disservice. Writing shouldn’t call attention to itself, shouldn’t be hyper-stylized, rather the work should be speak as a whole, as a brilliant symphony of language, tone, depth and meaning. The brilliance is in the balance, and I love how Bambara’s style is visual, visceral and dramatic. Read “The Lesson,” and you’ll see what I mean. She’s telling you a story and you can hear and feel her on the page. Her language sometimes drifts from Standard English (Junot Diaz got this too, when he refused to translate from the Spanish in Drown). On a technical level, she’s a dream for me because I’m obsessed with cadence and rhythm. I read everything I write out loud, every time, just so I can hear if it’s right. It has to sound melodic, musical, potent, for me to commit to it. And like the accumulation of notes, every line has to work in conjunction with what preceded it and the line that’s about to be written. On a pure story level, her writing is smart, funny, sharp, honest, and it brings me back to old Brooklyn, when I was from around the way and boys would conversate.

I haven’t been inspired in so long, and finding Bambara was a gift. I’ve ordered all of her books and I can’t wait to dive in.