Posted on October 27, 2015
I write my pop and I tell him I think I have depression. I check my mail for my insurance card so I can make an appointment with a doctor to find out what’s what. I can feel the sigh and sadness in my father’s words when he responds that he’s concerned. I know he’s probably thinking that I’ve turned all these corners, I’ve been sober for nine years (except for that one time, that one time two years ago), that I was so close to what I don’t know, but perhaps I was close to something that resembled fine. I should be a poster girl for joy, and I genuinely feel this on so most days but then there are other days. The days when you look at the internet and it tells you to be happy, can’t you just be happy, and you’re trying the best you can but you’re one person in an ocean and my god your arms are so tired of flailing. On those dark days you feel the ground give way and the fall feels bottomless. I don’t know if this is depression, a blue phase, or who knows what, but moving to Los Angeles scrubbed away all the noise and there is only the clarity of silence and all the good and horror it brings.
On airplanes I wait for the seatbelt sign to go off. That sign tells me I’m okay. I tell my pop that I’m waiting for a card which kind of feels like Waiting for Godot, but my dad doesn’t get the joke because he hasn’t read Beckett and I tell him that it’s going to be okay because I’m going to nip this thing in the bud. I actually use that phrase because I am nothing if not efficient. I need to know what this is because this, what I feel, the idea of leaving my home being unimaginable, is not normal. I don’t understand how I went from so unbelievably happy to so sad in a span of two weeks. But I’ve got a plan and that’s that.
Today, I come across an old interview with Mary Karr. I love how she boldly talks about booze, meds and how her writing is affected as a result of her relationship with the two. There’s no romancing sadness, she says. Rather, good work comes from your kind of balanced, Karr says:
Depression makes you half alive—how does that shape a better writer? People have different ideas of what natural is. Since the romantics we’ve all been big fans of the natural, as though natural equals good. Shitting in your pants is natural, wanting to boink the pizza-delivery kid is natural. Stabbing people who get in front of you at the cafeteria line—that’s probably a natural impulse. Where do you draw the line between what’s good natural and what’s bad natural?
While I wait for the card (the seatbelt sign to go off), I think about all the things that happen when you write a raw, vulnerable post about being blue.
1. The friend of ten years, the one who broke my heart, randomly likes one of my Instagram photos after 7 months of no contact. That gesture is a joke and we’re nearly 40, not 5, and this is not what I will accept. After ten years of friendship, I deserve more than a Like.
2. I think, fuck. This is something else I need to deal with. I think about insurance forms, meeting with therapists and hoping this isn’t what I think it is because I’m not a fan of pills, of taking them.
3. People write: “How’s your amazing, sunny L.A. life?” So I say, I’m fine, and they can go back to feeling like they did something and I can go back to wondering why they wrote in the first place. Please also give unsolicited advice when you never asked for it.
4. People tell me to “be happy”. Is that it? God, you’re a genius. I should have thought of that. I’ll just subscribe to all those positivity newsletters and read listicles about living in my truth. Problem solved. P.S. Don’t you think I’ve already been doing that?
5. Strangers offer a deeper kindness than the people who have been in my life for decades. It’s incredible how strangers can breed so much comfort. I’ve been crying a lot lately, too much, over what I can’t quite understand, but some of the comments, notes and emails puts my heart on pause, in a good way. This compassion braces me and makes me feel less alone.
6. Here’s a sad truth: social media demands the happy. They don’t respond to sad. No one wants the burden of your grief and people go on hiatus until you’re “back to normal”. My friend N writes today, and she agrees with this. As a result, she’s shied away from her online life. I think about this some more, and see complexity in it. I write, Social media is terrible. Actually, it’s terribly beautiful in the way that it can bring alternating joy and sadness. It’s bipolar in the sense in that you see what people cheer on and what they shy away from. The megaphones and silences are deafening.
During the day the sun is blinding. I’ve accepted that it doesn’t get cold here and the days are repeats of themselves with minor variations. I’m okay with this because when I’m balanced I’ve something beautiful to come back to. Though I do feel this tension because I’m conscious of time, how I’m wasting it hiding under blankets, holding books, and that’s the odd tension within myself. I have to get up and move but some days it’s nearly impossible. When I came back from Seattle, I didn’t leave my house for two days and I’ve made myself go out and do yoga, buy groceries and sit in cafes surrounded by people because I know doing these things are healthy.
What disturbs me a little is the pace at which I’ve been reading and producing work. In the past three weeks I’ve written nearly 100 pages of new work. Typically, I write a pile of first draft garbage, where only a small percent can be salvaged.
I’ve written 100+ solid pages.
I’ve been experimenting with how images can impact type, specifically photography and how and where it can take a story. Imagine writing a story to Holly Andres’s mercurial photographs? I’ve been downloading random images from Unsplash and using them as story prompts. When forced into a box you suddenly get crafty. You imagine all the things that could happen in that box instead of staring at a blank canvas. The picture is a something–it’s up to you to define what goes in, around, outside, under, over and below it. I wrote this latest piece in two hours and it’s strange and scary and I absolutely love it. I’ve been afraid of merging my affection for the macabre (horror) with fiction and language, and for a few hours each day I feel slightly euphoric. I’m allowing myself to go places I didn’t imagine going because there are no stakes. No wants story collections, few people read these pieces on Medium–so there’s little risk. There’s only the reward of having created something that gives you a momentary feeling of joy. And if that’s all I get, I’m okay with that.
While I was in Seattle, I bought many of the books in this pile, and I’ve already finished Sonya Lea’s remarkable memoir, Wondering Who You Are–by far one of the finest books I’ve read this year. Lea’s story is the very definition of love, commitment, and devotion. Today I tumbled into Stacey Levine’s The Girl with Brown Fur: Tales & Stories, and reading Levine is like reading Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, and Borges all over again. Stories that are wild and full of wonder. I discovered this magical piece via Twitter and yet another book is finding its way to my home. I’ve read 56 books so far this year and I show no signs of stopping.
Part of me feels an urgency to produce. If you’re producing, learning, at least you’re productive.
When I’m not reading, I’m listening to stories while I walk or hide under the covers. I’ve always been drawn to understanding neurological disorders (I do miss Oliver Sacks) and how minor injuries can have major impact on our brain, so this podcast was fascinating and I’m excited for the follow-up. That episode had me down a rabbit hole of Reply All podcasts and this one, combined with a photo, inspired a story where I fused my Medium essay with meeting a fictional teenager online.
Finally, I found this excellent profile of SNL star, Jan Hooks via Sandra Allen’s superb weekly newsletter. I admired Hooks, who managed her life and fame on her own terms and found herself the happiest in her solitude:
Although she kept a small apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, most of Jan’s final years were spent in Bearsville, New York, a tiny hamlet within the town of Woodstock, where she bought a shabby 130-year-old farmhouse on 66 acres in the late ’90s, and which became her refuge. There, she watched and rewatched terrible old films (the worse, the better — she loved, for instance, The Oscar, featuring Frank Sinatra), drank untold gallons of Robert Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc (nicknamed Bobby Mo), rode her albino horse (also named Bobby Mo), and puttered around the property as her dark green 1983 Jaguar sat rotting in the garage. Two German shepherds, Frank and Kitty, kept her company until they died. An unabashed smoker, she purchased boxes of her favorite brand, Merit, on the cheap in neighboring Pennsylvania. Friends say they never heard her talk of quitting or using a nicotine patch, both of which she considered laughable.
Some might find her solitude sad, but I find it to be really beautiful.
I apologize if this post is all over the place. I’m all over the place. So there’s that.
Posted on October 24, 2015
You’re tired of telling people, I’m fine because it’s what you know they want to hear. Everyone wants the triumph story, the happily ever after, the girl did good, but what if the girl did okay and life is a little bit better than what it was and the sun shines bright on your face but sometimes you go through days where the idea of getting out of bed is inconceivable and the only thing that makes you laugh is seeing a coffin emoji on your phone. You start to think about what it would be like if you weren’t here. You start to feel calm on a plane because maybe the drugs you took kicked in or maybe who cares. But you have to be okay because you have this blog and these social channels and people read them and then some take joy in your sadness, others call or text some perfunctory notes of concern of which they hope are solved by a string of random words on a screen, but most stop calling, and then you realize that sadness doesn’t get you project work or emails returned. Sadness is the ultimate repellent–it’s the one thing no one wants to be tethered to. What happens when the girl who solves all your problems has problems of her own? What if you know you’re privileged to have this life and some days are extraordinary, but then other days are so fucking dark that your fall feels bottomless, unrelenting and unending.
You write dark stories so easily because you know what it feels like to choke above water. You literally do not know how to write a happy ending because you can’t imagine what that must feel like.
An acquaintance writes you and tells you that she can tell from your pictures that you’re happy. I just wanted to say… she writes, and you don’t want to break her heart, you don’t want to ruin the image she has of your perfect life, so you reply while you’re boarding a plane. You say you’re so! happy! and then you cry in the bathroom. Through your tears you see that The Honest Company is providing all of the cleansing products on today’s flight!, and for some reason this makes you want to cry some more. A man sits two seats away from you and you both share an empty aisle seat. Win! At one point, he removes his headphones and you can feel him studying you, and he taps you on the arm, leans back, and asks if you’re okay. You don’t notice that you’ve been typing and crying at the same time and you wipe away a tear and say, yeah, I just can’t seem to get this story right. He looks uncomfortable and the only thing you know to do is laugh and say, No, really. I’m okay.
Felicia, how are you an introvert? You’re so chatty! This makes you want to break things.
When you are small, really small, a teacher pulls you aside because sometimes your eyes frighten her. You’re too young to know this kind of sadness, she says. You shrug your shoulders. Years later, you talk about your childhood in a way that makes one think you’ve flatlined and your voice is a kind of rigor mortis, and then your therapist cries and you ask her, laughing, why are you crying? Because this is all too much, this is all so sad, and you don’t look as if you can feel anything. Again, your shrug, because what is crying going to accomplish when you’ve got a job to go back to, $100K+ in student loans to pay off, a reading series to book, and everyone, everyone wants you achieved and happy.
You look up the symptoms of depression because you’re prone to self-diagnosis (how many times did you think you had cancer?) and you say that’s me to every question. But then you remember all those years with doctors, therapists and psychologists and no, you’re not depressed. You just have this problem with drinking. You just like it a little too much.
If we isolate the problem. If the problem were to be contained. If you were to abstain. If you were to take it one day at a time. If you were to say, today, I will not drink. If you were to create diversions. Happy! Things! Things that occupy your time and replace the hours that alcohol took away. You start to think you’re a walking epidemic.
This year your mother dies and it’s complicated (complicated), everyone loves your writing but they don’t want to publish it, you date but no one holds your interest and you don’t even tell your friends you went on dates because why bother? One of your closest friends, a woman who you’ve known for ten years, a woman you love and leaned on during those two months you relapsed, the first time you drank in nine years (she drove you to the animal shelter and helped you find Felix!), and she disappears when she learns you’re moving to California. She doesn’t respond to your emails, your calls, your voice messages, your texts. She doesn’t respond when you tell her that she is killing you, that her absence is breaking your heart.
You write: you are breaking my fucking heart. You thought she was the one person who wouldn’t pull this shit, but she does, and then you start to view your friendships through the lens of limited time only.
You have a friend and you like her, you’ve known her for years, but she sucks the air right out of you. You move to another state, across the country, and there is so much you’re dealing with, alone, and this friend sends you text messages using your grief, the grief with which you refuse to burden people, as a vehicle to talk about her life. You think, are you fucking kidding me? You are alone to deal with your sadness and then you have to shoulder the burden of others? Please stop. Please stop speaking.
You re-read the stories you just wrote and you hate them because you feel as if you’re holding something back from your writing, the that being this, what you write here now, and you know how to write around it, above and below it, but you’re not at the place where you can write through it because you’re in it and sometimes you feel you’re treading water in the middle of the ocean.
One year, you swam to one edge of a sixteen-foot pool to the other. You rose, triumphant. Now, you don’t swim at all. The ocean is inside you and on the plane, when they talk about life vests, you’re the only one in the aisle who burst out laughing. It takes you until today to realize that a piece of plastic won’t save you from the ocean.
And yes, for everyone who wants their discomfort assuaged after reading this, don’t worry, you’re going to “take care” of this. Never fear, Humpty Dumpty will be put back together again.
So you bake and keep nodding because people tell you that you need to occupy your hands, your head.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen
1 cup gluten-free flour
1 cup brown rice flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups pumpkin or squash puree (1 15oz can/package)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp almond or soy milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup large, unsweetened coconut flakes
Preheat the oven to 350′ and lightly oil a loaf pan, lining it with parchment for a cleaner removal.
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flours, salt, cinnamon, baking powder. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: pumpkin/squash puree, olive oil, almond milk, vanilla, egg and maple syrup. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and fold until just combined. Fold in the coconut flakes. Spread the batter evenly into the pan (it’ll be thick, so use a spatula to get it nice and even). Bake for 45-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before removing the loaf and allow to cool for another 15 minutes. Note that the loaf has less of a crumb (because of the lack of gluten), but it’s still delicious.
This is extraordinary served with warm butter or fresh preserves (I love preserves since the bread is not as sweet as what I might be used to and I’m cool with that).
Posted on October 23, 2015
For a man can lose neither the past nor the future; for how can one take from him that which is not his? So remember these two points: first, that each thing is of like form from everlasting and comes round again in its cycle, and that it signifies not whether a man shall look upon the same things for a hundred years or two hundred, or for an infinity of time; second, that the longest lived and the shortest lived man, when they come to die, lose one and the same thing…As for life, it is a battle and a sojourning in a strange land; but the fame that comes after is oblivion. –Marcus Aurelius
I’ve had the most extraordinary few days in Seattle. I spent time with old friends and bought a tower of new books written by new-to-me authors. I wore bulky sweaters; I feasted on sandwiches that had both bacon and prosciutto, and I cuddled with all the animals. Yet…I feel really sad. And old.
I came to Seattle to see Sarah Hepola read. Reading her book put my heart on pause because I felt as if she had described my life-long love affair with booze. Like Sarah, I thought it was perfectly normal to pre-game (economics!), drink hard and fast (I can keep up with the boys!), and lose time (because everyone has blackouts when they drink, right?) Drinking was fun until it was no longer fun and by then you’re finding excuses to remain in a committed abusive relationship rather than make plans for escape. I’ve spent nine years sober with one really bad two-month relapse, and not drinking has been the best gift I’ve given to myself. And although it doesn’t do me any good to think about regrets, to talk about what I’ve lost, I can’t help but feel as if I lost so much time, and I’m now racing to fill the gaps the drink edged away. I have to write because there were so many years I didn’t write. I have to create, produce. I have to…I have to…
And then I sit in a chair, by myself, before Sarah’s reading and a woman next to me makes small talk. She’s new to Seattle, new to books, and talks about all the people she needs to meet, all the people who are good to know. I nod and don’t say much, only that I live in Los Angeles and I was moved by Sarah’s story of addiction and recovery. The woman smiles and it occurs to me that she’s young, nearly half my age, and I spend most of the evening talking to friends, enjoying readings and parties, but all the while thinking–you are not young.
You’ve lost so much time.
Trust me, I know all of the antecedents. All the ways in which I could respond to those words: you’ve lost so much time. While others are frightened of aging, so much so they’ll slather cream on their faces and inject botulism in their body, I don’t mind my age–I only regret the time I lost. All the years I simply do not remember. All the mistakes I’ve made, people I’ve hurt, words and time I can’t get back.
Yesterday, I spent most of the day in my friend’s co-working space, working on a new story. I met a recent transplant from New York, and as it turns out we both worked at HarperCollins and we know many of the same people in book publishing. We talked about the business of books, but mostly books, rattling off authors we haven’t read and the many we’ve yet to read. Our refrain: There’s not enough time! In that room of three, I felt the most at home. I felt like when I was 24, right before I started the Columbia program, and I read books for the simple pleasure of enjoying them. I didn’t read them to social climb, to know the sometimes unseemly details behind the books–I read books because I felt less alone. So for a brief moment I tried to forget the fifteen years that span not knowing and knowing and it felt good to be suspended, trapped, in a kind of guileless wonder.
And while I spent an evening with really lovely people, heard a host of talented writers read–I felt…small. And alone. I listened to a young spoken word poet and I envied his fresh face and verve. His was a world filled with so much possibility, while I felt like the old woman in the back smoking a cigarette, coughing that deep guttural cough, telling the kids there’s no Santa Claus. No fairy comes down and swoops under your pillow. It’s your mother exchanging your teeth for spare change. New doesn’t exist anymore, and if it does it’s hard to find. New is what you need to create for yourself not what you so casually encounter. Because, by now, people have their opinions of me and my work, and much of that is hard to change or undo and depending on the person I don’t have the energy to do the work. To say, yeah, this was me ten years ago but I’m not that person now. I’m this person, who writes these things, and lives this life. And even though I met extraordinary people, part of me just wanted to crawl home and under the covers, clutching my pile of books.
And this image, my want for it, made me so fucking sad.
I read an article last week, about a man who died alone. A whole life reduced to mystery. I read the piece, heartbroken, and the first thing I said after was, ha, that’ll probably be me. There will exist a time when everything I write here will be erased, my small books will be out of print, the stories I write which few people read will be replaced by some other social network, and I will have no children because I’ve made a conscious decision to not have children. Because you don’t have children because you’re frightened that your life didn’t have meaning or won’t be remembered and passed on. You have children because you want to shepherd a new life into the world and hold their hand along the way.
My friends in their 50s and 60s still call me a kid even though I’m in the nascent stages of talking about purpose. Even though I lament about what I lost and how little time I have left to do what I need to do.
Do I wish I could be that young spoken word poet who has the privilege of having the world unfurl in front of him anew? You better fucking believe it. Do I wish I could have done so much over? Yes. Do I know the antecedent story of all! the! things! you! can! do! now! Yes, yes, yes. Of course. But it doesn’t make this sadness, this loss, any easier to bear.
I stayed up late last night curled up next to my friend’s cat (below–isn’t he ADORB) and felt a kind of peace.
And yes, I realize this post is self-absorbed, emo, and kind of sad, but that’s how I feel right now. Sad.
Posted on October 19, 2015
In the 90s, I was obsessed with Gregg Araki’s teen apocalypse trilogy. Back then there was no internet or reality television shows, and the biggest scandal was Brenda Walsh having to deal with a teenage pregnancy on national television. This was an age where teens were fresh-faced, feckless, and optimistic. But here was Araki and his dark ingénue, Rose McGowan, ushering out a bleak reality that made Bret Easton Ellis’ nihilistic vision of California downright precious. In Araki’s eyes, the world was falling to its knees and the goth in me was having all of it.
Fast forward nearly twenty years and I happened upon his atmospheric and magical, White Bird in a Blizzard, adapted from Laura Kasischke’s novel. Araki treads familiar ground–familial discord, sexual awakening and internal disquiet–but his work is quiet and all the rage simmers just below the surface. It’s sort of the difference between witnessing an outright war versus the one that plays out inside of us every day. I loved the movie so much that I ordered all of Laura Kasischke’s books, and I promise you that she does not disappoint.
Writers are always looking for others who share their strange view of the world. Most of us make sense of the world by writing about it. Writing, for us, is discovery, meditation and mystery, and we’re content to spend our lives playing detective and surgeon–all in an effort to ferret out life’s meaning. When I was small I would purchase maps and I started to write stories about the places I’d never been. Back then I’d never traveled beyond the gilded cage that was New York, and I imagined landscapes that I’d found in books, people who revealed themselves to me. The maps were initially about places and how I’d imagine them to be because I was a child who was often alone, lonely. But then the maps morphed into something different, they became a journey. Would it be possible from me to travel from A (alcoholic) to B (recovering), and how long would that trip take? What would I need to pack? Who would I meet along the week? And soon the maps became something that was interior.
Writers are always looking for beacons to shine light in the dark. I’ve private relationships with the writers whom I admire, living and dead, and I honestly fear meeting them because I don’t want the person who created the work to somehow cloud my relationship to their work. My affection is private, sacrosanct–this is mostly why I don’t attend many readings but I will purchase books and shout about them from the rafters.
Laura Kasischke is one of those lights, and I consumed Mind of Winter in one sitting. Her work is incredibly quiet, wholly terrifying, and her meditations on mother/daughter relationships mirror themes to which I find myself constantly revisiting. The novel spans fifteen years, but much like Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway or Cunningham’s The Hours, we observe the life of a woman, Holly, over the course of a single day, Christmas, as she prepares a feast. She wakes with the fear that something has followed them from Siberia–the place where she and her husband adopted their daughter thirteen years ago. Holly is a woman who can no longer write but wants to. Holly is a woman who comes from a lineage of women who are genetically disposed to an incurable cancer. Holly is a woman who is unusually fixated on her beautiful daughter, whose skin is so fair it’s nearly blue. We follow them over the course of a day that has everyone stranded by a blizzard, and as mother and daughter are trapped in a house, we begin to see Holly unravel.
I’ve been long fascinated by the line between the supernatural and one’s altered psychological state, and how confinement only serves to augment or amplify the tension skirting just beneath the surface. That, under the right circumstances, we can all go a little mad sometimes. I’ve been reading Daniel Olsen’s fascinating and microscopic examination of The Shining (Kubrick’s film adaption). A definitive tome filled with cast and crew interviews and fastidious research, the book makes Room 237 look like a compilation of crackpots who see Jesus in microwaved pot pies.
I fucking hated that poor excuse for a documentary. The only thing that prevented me from walking out of The Anjelika was the fact that I’d spent $ for this movie and I was seeing this shitshow through. Call me when the shuttle lands.
But I digress. Kubrick was notoriously known for deliberately excising parts of his script that would’ve given enormous clarity to his pictures (2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining are prime examples), and he often asked larger questions about the relationship between society and social structures and the recesses of one’s mind and personhood. People often wonder, was Jack Torrence crazy before he camped out at The Overlook, or did the shining bring out a side of him, which he fought so desperately to control. White-knuckle sobriety, teaching.
We all like to think we’re good, honest people, but what if? Do circumstance and society and history shine a light on who we are at the core. In On Kindness, Freud posits that we are kind to others out of selfishness rather than true altruism. Our kindness is a means of satisfying our desire to not deal with discomfort. In short, we are kind because we don’t want to deal with unkindness. While I’m not certain I agree with an argument so binary, I think people aren’t completely aware of certain aspects of their character until they’re placed in extreme or distant circumstances. We all have varying faces we present to the world, and my writing seeks to unpack that multiplicity. Recently, I came upon this excellent piece on authenticity, and it challenged a lot of what I’d previously believed about online perception vs. reality. And, ultimately, checked me on my perceptions of what should be considered authentic and my own bias. Deb Schulz writes:
But the real problem with valorizing authenticity is that, in the absence of actual information about the person in question, the perception of who they are is filled in by societal norms and biases. We see this is the gendered nature of authenticity described above—men are automatically more authentic than women…The failure mode is not just that we perceive a disconnect between the public persona and the individual; it’s that our perception of who they are is wrong. And it’s easy to see why this would disproportionately affect groups (women, visible minorities, LGBTQ people) that are less well-represented in the media, because our mental models of them are far more likely to be shaped by stereotypes than for cis straight white men.
A few weeks ago I saw an old friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. Jason knew me as a heavy drinker, a woman who published a literary journal and cruised the book party circuit (I’m wincing as I type this), but time has passed and we spent a couple of hours together talking about our new lives here. Who we were, what we used to value, and who we are now. I visited his office and after I told him that when I’m blocked I often read poetry or children’s stories for two reasons: 1. economy of language 2. story pacing. I find both the hardest kinds of books to write because you have to sustain interest while being downright surgical with the words you use. Jason shared with me this wonderful book, which I’ve purchased and have read daily since it arrived. Buy this book, even if you don’t have children, because it’ll make you see all the small things in the world you’re missing but need to pay attention to. This book challenges what we think we know, see and believe, and I got excited because I’d never read anything this sophisticated as a child. The book reminded me of one of the first scenes in The Shining when Jack is lying in bed and Wendy comes in with breakfast. We think we’re seeing a wife bring her husband breakfast, but really we’re encountering an inverted Jack, a man observed through a looking glass. All is not what it seems.
I’ve also been reading a lot of traditional genre fiction lately, and I’m floored by how other writers are so deft at story pacing. Ever since I arrived in California, I feel open, awake. I used to want to write the BIG BOOKS, tell the BIG STORIES, but what’s a big book anyway when our perception of size and worth is wholly subjective and often biased. What I’ve been ignoring is this specter, this voice inviting me to merge forms and create something new and different. I’ve come to the reality that I really love writing dark, introspective, strange stories. Stories that are the equivalent of Kill List, a film that refuses to turn the camera away from scenes which would normally be cut from all other films. You see everything because this is what is.
I want you uncomfortable.
Last week I wrote the strangest story and I want to keep writing them, and keep reading beacons who shine lights along my yellow brick road.
Posted on October 17, 2015
“Lay still,” Jack said. “Keep quiet.” He stood over his daughter’s bed with a ball-peen hammer in his hand. He didn’t see his Tasha rubbing the sleep out of her eyes or the way her mouth quivered, as she cried, Daddy, no. He didn’t know she still existed in the space between sleep and awakening; her night terror made real by the figure perched over her bed. He didn’t see her small, balled fists punch her arms and her small cries of Daddy. Wake up. Wake up. Tasha couldn’t wake. Jack only saw a piece of cool metal, a bit of handiwork he needed to perform. All the nails must be found. They must all be pounded into the floor. What if his Tasha stepped on them? She was ten, prone to infection. It was nearly dawn and the wind blew in cold through the open window. It was late, or early, depending on how you looked at it. Jack could hear the men at the door.
The men were in the house. They were coming up the stairs.
Jack had to protect Tasha, just as he did his wife, Ramona, who lay facedown in their bedroom, having drowned in her own blood.
“This is for you,” he said to Tasha before he struck her in the head. Before her face converged into itself, before it became a mess of cracked bones, ruptured skin, and black hair matted claret. Sleep, sweet girl. It was at that moment when his daughter no longer appeared to him as a thing relegated to toolboxes. It was when he saw her teeth gleaming white did he reach in his pocket for the syringe and the Nembutal. He had to be efficient and quick about ending his life. Before he fell into his final sleep, he bounced Tasha’s ball on his bed. Not on the floor, not in the house.
When they found the doctor, they pried a crumbled piece of paper out of his mouth—a note that read: evil is the proof of god. Inside a book of poems found by his bedside was a photograph of his family. On the back, scrawled in blood: three blind mice.
I spent the past week on this story. It started as a diversion because I got lost in the all the books about math and architecture. I felt overwhelmed and sickened by American history revisited. It started as a bridge–maybe I’ll occupy myself with this strange thing because the idea of writing a new novel felt like too much to bear. I wrote ten pages and deleted eight of them, and, one morning, I received an email with dozens of lush photos from Unsplash. I scrolled through them and made a game of it. I would pick a handful of photos that evoked a specific mood and I would use them as a base to write a scene. And here we go. A very raw, unedited draft of something strange.
I don’t know what this is or whether it’s any good, all I know is that I enjoyed writing it. And that’s all that matters.
Posted on October 12, 2015
Over the summer I made a mistake in trusting a blogger I didn’t know. I packed the whole of my life in 49 boxes–I would bring to California only the things I loved and needed–however, I found myself browsing blogs during a work trip to Arizona and I happened upon a blue floral skirt from a company called Chicwish. It was gorgeous, cheap, emphasis on cheap. And although I consider myself savvy–I know the awareness and affiliate game that happens between brands and bloggers–I fell in love with a piece of fabric that was more about what I envisioned for California than the California in reality. I was buying something because I was frightened of all the uncertainty that came with moving across the country. I wasn’t buying something I needed from someone I trusted.
To say the quality of the skirt I received was abhorrent would be an understatement. I’ve seen better quality at the $1 stores I used to patron when I was a kid in Brooklyn. I would be the girl in the flammable skirt living in the gold, citrus state. Tossing a bucket of salt into a gaping wound (even worse than believing bloggers who are routinely paid to lie on a daily basis because elevating that brand sure looks good on paper), was Chicwish’s return policy. I had to pay to ship and return my item, and after over a month wait, I reached out to the brand to query about my return to which I received an offer for store credit.
When I write your clothes are terrible quality as a reason for my return, I certainly DO NOT want store credit. Essentially, I spent $20+ of my hard-earned money on a crap skirt (initial shipping + return shipping), of which I’ve only myself to blame for buying something to fill a void. I could make this post about the influencer marketing racket (of which I’ve been privy on the agency/brand side), however, I’m trying on positivity for size.
I have a few close friends who are bloggers, friends whom I love and trust, and even then I’ll ask: would you buy this with your own money, or is this product good enough considering you got it for free? Because you could so easily make allowances for things that don’t deplete your bank account. You tend to overlook flaws and inconvenient return policies.
Before I moved to California, I went on an insane home shopping spree–an event of which I’m constantly reminded whenever I view my bank and credit card statements. I left much of my furniture in New York, and I found myself buying A LOT of new things (couch, bookshelves, rug, kitchen carts, etc), and the purchases added up. That, and the fact that my apartment is pretty expensive, has forced me on a strict budget. Luckily I work from home so I don’t have to worry about clothes, gas, and parking, and most of my disposable income is spent on books, food, and fitness.
Today I’m sharing some of my choice investments.
For the past seven weeks I’ve been struggling with heavy breakouts, and it wasn’t until visiting a dermatologist two weeks ago did I learn that I had a stubborn case of folliculitis (my prescribed topical regimen, below). Infected pimples covered the sides of my face and ran down my arms, shoulders, chest, and back. I was miserable. My doctor prescribed an oral and topical antibiotic and I’ve been washing my face with a cleanser that has 5% benzoyl peroxide. My condition has improved by 75%, but I’ve had to make massive adjustments to my skincare regimen. Lately, I’ve been using Simple skincare (I really like their exfoliating wipes and water-free cleansers), Dermalogica and Murad moisturizers. The holy grail of my purchases is Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion. This really works. Trust me on this one. I typically use this before I go to bed and blemishes vanish by morning. While the Drying Lotion didn’t solve my stubborn skin care problem, it helped before I saw a doctor, and made taking meetings outside of my home bearable.
I work out pretty often and much of what I wear during the week is athletic gear. I have a pretty big selection since I sweat heavily and need to cycle through my gear pretty often. So I look for clothing that will stand up to multiple washes, clothing that is sweat absorbent and has the flexibility to move how I move. I’ve hated Lululemon since 2009 because they simply do not make quality clothes for curvy women, and I always felt like I needed Crisco to pull on their tops and forget about their leggings.
To supplement leggings I’ve collected from Zella, Old Navy and Gap Body (Gap Body is good, not great, and I’ve found that my Old Navy gear lasts longer), I recently discovered Beyond Yoga via a 50% sale in my hot yoga studio. The pants are soft, roomy, completely absorbent and really stand up to the fact that I need to throw them in the wash every week. They’re on the pricey side, admittedly, so I have a few investment pieces and supplement with Old Navy and Zella (when I can get them on sale).
As I mentioned, I sweat. A LOT. So much that my mat, which is often promoted to those who take Bikram or hot yoga, isn’t stopping me from sliding. I purchased a yogitoes mat towel and I have absolutely no regrets. Since yoga is a huge part of my life (I practice 3-4x/week), buying a towel was essential, especially since I tend to be injury-prone.
Since I spend most of my time working in front of a computer, eating, working out or snapping photos of my cat, I don’t need fancy handbags whose cost are the equivalent of a month’s rent. Expensive finery used to be important to me but the desire was more about projecting a
life lie I was living rather than having people get to know me without all the accoutrements. I’m not knocking expensive things, live your life, but coveting the latest handbag is no longer part of my life. For the past year I’ve been toting around a canvas bag, and it was only until recently that I upgraded to a $150 (!!!) tote from Cuyana, specifically this one. I own a Celine bag and there is literally no difference in the quality and suppleness of the leather. The only difference being that I didn’t cry when I reviewed my credit card statement because I dropped a few grand on a few scraps of leather and an embossed label. I love this tote (I’ve posted another snap, along with a photo of a wallet I purchased, below) because I can fit my laptop, books, gym clothes, water bottle, you name it. I’ve already managed to stain it and I found the leather pretty easy to clean. Plus, it’s presentable for business meetings and client lunches. #WINNING
Something’s happened since I’ve moved to California–I’m less of a morning person. While I naturally wake at 6, the first hour is a struggle and I can’t face the world (or email) without being heavily caffeinated. Breakfast used to be a grand affair, but now the idea of going near the stove is unthinkable. As a result, I was downing copious amounts of cereal (not good, people) or AB&J sandwiches (again, not good). On a recent trip to the market, I discovered Love Grown Oatmeal, and it’s GLUTEN-FREE! As my friend Amber would say, GET INVOLVED. I add water (or almond milk) to the mixture, heat in the microwave for one minute, and top it with fresh fruit, and breakfast is done. I can then spend a good hour catatonic in front of the computer before I even contemplate a shower.
I also have an upcoming post about items I’ve purchased for my home and a MONSTER post on the 50+ books I’ve read this year, but if you have any questions about any of the above, or about folliculitis, drop me a note in the comments.
Posted on October 10, 2015
People are funny about money. You can get fired for asking about someone else’s compensation (although companies like Buffer thrive on transparency when others talk about mutinies and chaos should we speak openly about salaries), and often it’s considered rude or gauche to talk about money. Money is what you make but be secretive about it. Certainly don’t talk about. Especially if you’re a woman. Especially if you’re anything but white.
Employers use the guise of secrecy because they want to “protect” their employees, however, it’s more like they don’t want people bearing witness to grave inequality and they definitely don’t want an avalanche of comp increases as a result. Because what employers are really protecting is their P&L.
When I went freelance, I was surprised to find that this secrecy around salary, or how one makes a living, is as prevalent and pernicious as ever. I’ve known at least a dozen women who severely underpriced their services because they thought less is what they deserved. Or, they simply didn’t know how to price themselves because context didn’t exist. Sure, there are scores of articles about rate calculations, etc, but most of us really rely on people we know, people who occupy our space. And many people are still not talking, still.
I took on a project with a woman who was, at the time, one of my closest friends. I was interested in what she did, brand marketing and the creation of brand narratives and architecture, and I asked her how much she was being paid for her portion of the project. Not because I wanted to be rude, but I wanted to understand how my peer priced her deliverables and deliverables, and how I, should I want to go that route, can calculate accurate project and day rates.
My “friend” acted as if she were a CIA operative. I was confused. What did she think I was going to? Did she really believe I was coming from a nefarious place rather than one of curiosity? I needed help and it was only when I made my request plain, you wouldn’t help your friend, a woman, a peer trying to make a living, with information?
I’ve met with women (boutique agency execs) recently who didn’t know how to price their services. I’ve known bloggers who had no idea how to quote for sponsored posts. I know women who don’t have their day/project/hourly rates, and the ranges in which they operate based on client, scope, level of client craziness, etc. They didn’t know how to build in payment clauses (or non-payment) into their contracts.
I’m learning that when I get frustrated it’s more productive to share and connect than just bitch about something (and I do that too, don’t worry). So I’ve gathered up a few friends who are successful freelancers to answer YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT MONEY. From writers to consultants to small business owners, all of them have a range of experience and acumen, and I hope they can give you advice you need to feel empowered to promote yourself and your work in a fair way.
Leave your questions in the comments section of this post and we’ll rock out the answers within the next two weeks.
OUR ROUNDTABLE (and we’ve got more coming!):
Aly Walansky created A Little Aly-tude on SheKnows.com in 2006, as one of the first well-known beauty and style blogs on the Internet. Over time, it became a foremost source for advice, tips, reviews, and commentary across the lifestyle genre.
Her writing can be seen across the Internet as well as in several print publications. She contributes regularly to Beauty High, AskMen.com, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, The Daily Meal, xoJane, HowAboutWe, Life &Beauty, Latest Hairstyles, Celebuzz, DailyMakeover.com, The Fashion Spot, New Beauty Magazine, Bella NYC Magazine, and many more.
Aly’s roots exist — pun intended! — in the realm of beauty and style, and she is quoted in countless publications on a weekly basis, and has appeared as a beauty expert on the FOX network and various radio programming, but her focus is far wider. She’s a popular travel and food writer and has traveled across the globe in the name of culinary, historical, and spa journalism.
Aly currently resides in New York City. Contact Aly at firstname.lastname@example.org
With a background in textile design (Anthropologie, Nordstrom, & Blissliving Home) and an obsession for sharing (favorite products, favorite recipes, favorite dates-gone-wrong), in 2012 Joanna Hawley created Jojotastic as a lifestyle blog focused on runway-fresh fashion, inspiring modern-but-modest home interiors, and her addiction to donuts. (Her cat obsession mingles in there, too.)
A well-established style influencer on the interwebs, Joanna was one of the first Pinterest users (with 4 million followers to prove it). Known for her raw honesty — this isn’t just another blog with pretty photos and flawless stories — Joanna seeks to inspire readers to live their truest lives.
Joanna’s work has been featured in national outlets including Oh Joy!, Design for Mankind, Clementine Daily,Rugs Direct, and Anthology Magazine, where she was an online editor for three years. Recent Jojotastic brand collaborations include Gap, Ziploc, Pottery Barn, Urban Outfitters, and Airbnb.
Joanna’s passions include filling her passport, rock climbing, freestyle flower arranging, her cat Georgette, her dog Noodle, and questing for the perfect apple pie. Or cupcake. Or donut.
Joanna currently resides in Seattle. Other recent homes include San Francisco and Philadelphia, but her badass spirit is universal. And her spirit animal is chocolate.
Her desk plaque reads “You are doing a great f—ing job.” And that’s pretty much her motto.
Laurel Anderson is a freelance writer and social media and communications strategist. She provides digital marketing and communications consulting services to individuals, companies, brands and other organizations that need help telling their story. When not telling the stories of others, Laurel is usually hanging out on her front porch or the local coffee shop crafting her own. Her website is http://www.laureleanderson.com and includes her work, social links and Lola Speaks (her intermittent blog).
As a writer of more than twenty years, Laurel has covered everything from daily news stories, people profiles, entertainment, lifestyle, gossip, fashion, trends, movie reviews and more for both print and online publications. She has been known to tackle both serious issues and lighthearted topics during her column run with a local newspaper. Years of entertainment work allowed her to experience both sides of the industry while working on and writing about shows like Canadian Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Leah Singer helps businesses tell their story and connect with their ideal audience and clients through writing and marketing strategy. She teaches marketing and branding to college students, and works extensively with institutions of higher education and businesses within the law field. Leah is a perfect fit for businesses without marketing departments. She is also a freelance writer and has written for The Huffington Post, Club Mid at Scary Mommy, Red Tricycle (where she serves as San Diego editor), Edible San Diego, Millionaire Girls’ Movement; and other national blogs and websites. She also blogs personally at Leah’s Thoughts.
Leah left a lucrative career in higher education to become a full-time freelancer three years ago and hasn’t looked back since. She was a speechwriter and communications manager for two college presidents at San Diego’s largest public university, and oversaw communications for San Diego State University’s Enrollment Services Department. Before that, Leah worked in marketing and public relations at KPBS public broadcasting station.
Meghan Cleary is Contributing Editor, The Hollywood Reporter, Pret-a-Reporter, and author of two books on what your shoes say about you. She writes primarily about footwear, trends and cultural implications of shoes. She is also co-founder of MeghanSAYS shoes, debuting December 1 on Nordstrom.com. Her website and blog are located at shoeareyou.com
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Posted on October 9, 2015
I joked the other day that life is so good I’m forgetting to photograph it.
I drafted this post early today, and I’m returning to it after having spent the day with an incredible writer and new friend. We were supposed to meet at Joan’s on 3rd, but we didn’t realize that two existed so we ended up at different locations. After a series of hilarious email exchanges, we finally met up and I realized I’d found a kindred spirit. We both grew up in New York (me in Brooklyn, she in the Bronx) and migrated west. We’re writers who are passionate advocates for marginalized/WOC voices. Most of my close friends growing up were Puerto Rican and being with her, and talking about the New York we knew as teenagers (Unique–did you get a spray-painted jacket? YES!, Antique Boutique, Co-op City, 3rd Avenue in the Bronx), felt like home. I rarely feel an instant connection with someone, and I think of this as a gift–what happens when you open all the doors bolted shut and let people in.
I know I’ve said this, ad nauseum, but it’s REALLY hard for me to meet new people. I’m shy and the idea of reaching out and making plans with strangers gives me crippling anxiety. I tend to talk a lot to fill the empty spaces, and half the time I wonder if I come across as a lunatic. When people are shocked over the fact that I’m shy, I’m an introvert, I want to shake my head and say, no, no, you really do not understand. However, I’ve been forcing myself to do it, and this week my friend Alexis and I ventured to downtown L.A. for two events targeting women and freelancers, hosted by Maker City Los Angeles and Spark Los Angeles. I’ve also joined a host of private Facebook groups targeting women writers, freelancers and entrepreneurs, and have been setting up friend dates like it’s the end of days. It’s interesting how these perfunctory get-to-know yous are a bit like dating–everyone’s been wonderful but you sort of know when there’s a spark, when you lose track of time and get excited about making plans again. Selfishly, meeting new people also allows me to check out these chow spots. I’m a regular at Huckleberry, and the chorizo eggs at Cora’s Coffee Shop are next level.
If you’ve been around these parts for a while, you might have noticed that I’ve got a taste for the macabre, and I’ve been immersing myself in the darker aspects of L.A.’s history. From snapping up books on L.A.’s profane origins (and the torture and murder of Indians) to discovering the secrets of haunted houses perched on hills to booking Blood + Dumplings and Helter Skelter tours–I feel overwhelmed, in a good way. I’m setting my third book in a touched home in Los Feliz (I keep calling it The Shining in L.A.), and I’ve started the arduous research process. It’s funny–I never thought to learn about the place in which I grew up, I suppose I took it for granted, but all I want to do now is understand the city where the word “tourist” found its origins. While it’s true that the history of Los Angeles is really the story about water (I’m reading accounts of irrigation scandals and floods, forest fires, and droughts from the late 1800s to the 1940s, and the scenes playing out could’ve taken place today), it’s also the story about dreamers and people in search for an idyll, for something other.
Although I love living in 75 & Sunny (my nickname for L.A.), I find myself looking at the calendar and waiting for the rain, the crisp evenings I’ve known in New York. It’s so weird to say this but I miss rain. I miss the dark clouds and the sky opening up, and me at home, curled up on the couch with the cat, watching it pour. Now we look out and it’s…75 & Sunny. Everyone tells me that it’ll get cooler, and I’m oddly giddy about going to Lit Crawl in Seattle this month, simply to feel a bit of chill.
At lunch today I tell Lilliam that I’m anxious; there’s so much to see. I have to constantly remind myself that I know New York because I’ve lived there for the whole of my life, and it’ll take me years to feel even a fragment of comfort here, the feeling that I know this place and is vernacular and vocabulary. I have to allow myself time.
Speaking of which, something else has been gnawing at me. The constant refrain of “I’m so busy.” I hear and read this every day. I get emails from friends talking about how they’re slammed, drowning, killed. I’m greeted daily with these violent images and people who brag about thousands of emails in their inbox with a pride that is the antithesis of humility. I’ve been through busy and go through times that are hectic still, but if we are the privileged, we choose busy and how we react to it (always with the chaos vs. the calm). We choose how to frame our days, the people with whom to spend time. Being here has made me acutely aware of how fast I speak, how treat a sentence as if it’s a marathon I’m desperate to finish, and how I need to slow the fuck down. I’m not curing cancer. My writing isn’t changing the world and saving lives.
It’s going to be okay. The world won’t end if I slow down.
*I’m thinking of making this a semi-regular series where I share cool spots, books, and other experiences specific to Los Angeles. If you think there are places I should be visiting, let me know. I’m excited to navigate my new home!
Posted on October 7, 2015
While I’ve always loved food, I didn’t start cooking until I was in my mid-twenties. As a child in 1980s Brooklyn, I ate what was available, what my family could afford. We were inventive with $1 bodega chicken legs, bags of sprouting potatoes and cans of Chef Boyardee. And although there was a summer where we subsisted on bags of potatoes and food that was best suited for hot pot cooking, limitations gave way to creativity. I’ve always harbored a deep respect and appreciation for good food because for so long I wasn’t privileged to have it. I didn’t have a real salad until I was in college–back then salad felt frivolous because who would spend $10 for a plate of leaves when you could get a whole meal for that money? And I didn’t get serious about cooking and baking until recovering from a drug problem forced me to do something else to occupy my hands.
Back then I cycled through a handful of recipes I’d learned from my best friend’s mother (fettuccine alfredo, lasagne, Thanksgiving herbed stuffing), but it wasn’t until 2002 that I purchased my first cookbook, Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. Nights that were usually reserved from blackout drinking and drug use were now spent indoors, catatonic, watching The Food Network. Nigella made cooking accessible, fun, and my first experiment was a cheesecake where I used confectioner’s sugar instead of regular sugar (I rationed: was there really a difference. Answer: Indeed there is) and no one had a second bite. I purchased springform pans and sheet pans. I stocked a small cupboard in an apartment I shared with a friend with spices and flours. I baked chocolate cakes that splattered my walls. I made scones that resembled hockey pucks, and I managed to somehow screw up pasta.
For two years I failed miserably, but I kept on because there was something comforting about the alchemy of ingredients. And even though I made cakes that no one would dare eat or dinners that sometime resembled science experiments, the idea that I could possibly create something from nothing, that I could create instead of ruin, kept me going. I made a simple pound cake again and again until I got it right. All the money I’d spent on drugs and nights out were funnelled into shopping bags of food. Back then no one really photographed what they made, and I’m grateful since I made the kind of food that was hardly photogenic.
Over the years I always returned to the kitchen when I was lost, confused, heartbroken, and stressed. When I lost a great love and we divided one home into two, I stayed up late drinking vodka out of the bottle and making muffins. When I lived in an apartment building where an unhinged man played jazz until dawn, I made stuffed shells and coconut macaroons. When my then best friend came over my Brooklyn apartment (the one with the Pepto-pink bathroom), I made her pancakes and maple bacon, and when I lost her I kept thinking about her, and how she loved those cakes. I invited scores of people into my home for a clothing swap, which was really a vehicle to road-test these red velvet cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. The year I resigned from my job and lost Sophie, I’d spend days bound to an oven.
However, it wasn’t until last year that my relationship to food dramatically changed. In a course of four years I’d gained nearly 40 pounds and lost my taste for good food. I shoveled lunch at my desk while answering emails. I came home and collapsed onto my couch and then ordered pizza, thai food or pasta smothered in oil and cheese. I stopped reviewing my credit card bills because I was embarrassed by how much I ordered from Seamless Web.
And then I started to get sick. Really sick. Like stomach pain so bad it felt like my appendix would burst. I would lose my train of thought so often that it became noticeable. I was forever tired, sluggish, and sick. A visit with my doctor (who’s also a gut specialist) and a nutritionist revealed that not only was I on my way to diabetes, I had a leaky gut and I was literally beating up my insides because of my diet.
Because kale smoothies don’t count when you spend the rest of your day binging on paninis, bagels and pasta.
Sometimes I look back on my childhood and I can barely recognize it. There were months when my fridge was anemic and now, as an adult, it’s abundant. I’m humbled by my privilege and the fact that I can afford to shop at farmer’s markets and buy organic. What bookends these two versions of myself were constraints. Back then I was limited by income, now by what I couldn’t consume. For a year, I couldn’t eat gluten, dairy, and yeast. For 6-7 months the list of foods I couldn’t eat was so unbearable that I spent the holidays alone.
At first I was apoplectic, but then I got wise and creative. I forced myself to eat vegetables I’d never previously considered (cauliflower, brussels sprouts). I purchased vegan, paleo, Middle Eastern and Asian cookbooks, and over the course of a year my palate changed and my repertoire expanded. As a result, I’ve noticed that I now cleave toward salty/savory vs. sweet. I eat pasta and bread a couple of times a month instead of multiple times a DAY. And I focus more on the quality of the food I consume rather than its caloric content.
What once had been a hobby that busied my hands became the core of how I would cultivate relationships with people. When I stopped drinking, I’d have friends over for dinner instead of playing the role of detective with my receipts after a night out. Now we connect over our most primal of needs–food, instead of a bottle of wine that merely serves to rob us of memory. We are our most vulnerable selves when we eat, and my friendships are richer, deeper because of it.
When I moved to California I chose my apartment specifically because it’s an open space and I have a deck for outdoor entertaining. From where I’m writing this I face my kitchen and it feels normal to live in a space that combines art, words, work, food, and friendship.
Last night I had my friend Jamie over for dinner, and we spent hours on my deck, talking, eating, marveling over how almond meal renders chicken juicier. While we were talking, I thought about alcohol and other anaesthetic agents. People sometimes ask: do you miss it? Drinking. And I think about how much anesthesia rubs away–you always end up with less than what you started. And then I think about food, which, in my strange math, is always about addition and multiplication. Friendships are fertile. Love festers and grows.
APPLE PIE INGREDIENTS
For the filling
4 pounds apples, peeled, quartered, and cored (I do a mix of tart + sweet–whatever’s in season)
1 lemon, zested
Juice of the lemon you just zested
1/4 cup cane sugar, plus 1 tsp to sprinkle on top
1/4 cup gluten-free flour
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground allspice
For the pie crust
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) very cold salted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp cane sugar
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup very cold vegetable shortening (I use a non-hydrogenated kind I get from Whole Foods)
6 to 8 tbsp (about 1/2 cup) ice water
Preheat the oven to 375.
Chop each apple quarter in thirds crosswise and combine in a bowl with the zest, juice, sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Set aside. Don’t worry about the apples browning — the acid from the fruit will halt the oxidation process.
Now you’re ready for the pie crust. I can’t stress enough how COLD the ingredients need to be. Dice the butter in tablespoons, and store it in the fridge while you prepare the flour mixture. Add the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse a few times to mix. Introduce the cider vinegar, butter and shortening. Pulse 8 to 12 times, until the butter is the size of peas. With the machine running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse the machine until the dough begins to form a ball. Dump out on a floured board and roll into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. You can also make this by hand with a pastry blender or the two fork method. However, after the nonsense with the apples I sometimes want to take the path of least resistance.
Once the dough is cold, cut it in half. Roll each piece on a well-floured board into a circle, rolling from the center to the edge, turning and flouring the dough to make sure it doesn’t stick to the board. Fold the dough in half, place in a pie pan, and unfold to fit the pan. Repeat with the top crust.
Roll out half the pie dough and drape it over a 9-inch pie dish to extend about 1/2-inch over the rim. Don’t stretch the dough; if it’s too small, just put it back on the board and re-roll it.
Fill the pie with the apple mixture. Brush the edge of the bottom pie crust with the egg wash so the top crust will adhere. Top with the second crust and trim the edges to about 1-inch over the rim. Tuck the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and crimp the 2 together with your fingers or a fork. Brush the entire top crust with the egg wash, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar, and cut 4 or 5 slits.
Place the pie on a sheet pan and bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours (start checking after 45 minutes, and make sure you rotate your dish half-way through the cooking process so the pie will brown evenly), or until the crust is browned and the juices begin to bubble out. Serve warm.
FIG SALAD + CHICKEN CUTLET INGREDIENTS
For the salad
2 cups baby spinach
2 cups baby kale
8-10 figs, halved and quartered
olive oil/sea salt
For the chicken cutlets
2 tbsp olive oil + 1 tsp butter
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup almond meal
1 tbsp fresh minced thyme
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 lb chicken cutlets, pounded thin (this serves 4, but I cook the whole lot and store the leftovers for salads
Making the salad is as simple as it looks. One important note, though. I’d wait to dress/toss it in olive oil just when you’re about to serve the salad as you don’t want the leaves getting limp.
The chicken cutlets work like an old-school assembly line. Heat the butter/oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the salt. In another bowl, mix the almond meal, thyme and pepper. Dunk the cutlets in the egg mixture, then dredge in the flour mixture. Fry on both sides (4-5 minutes each) until slightly charred. I kept the cutlets warm in a 175F oven.
Posted on October 3, 2015
This morning I woke to watch Taiye Selasi talk about origin, specifically how to tackle that seemingly simple question: Where are you from? I’ve been thinking about origin a lot, how it’s not possible that we come from a concept or place, but rather we self-identify through our rituals and our beloveds. We cleave to that which feels like a home and allows us to be our truest selves. I’ve also been thinking about this because the place I used to consider my home feels foreign, and it may not necessarily be the place I would return to. If you do anything today, please watch Taiye’s brief talk as she has the ability in a brief time to truly make you think.
I had the chance to return to New York this month and I couldn’t do it. Even the thought of it give me anxiety. JFK, the cab line, the subways, the frenzy–all I would care about are the people. People whom I live and miss every day. I guess my home doesn’t resemble a home because it’s always in a state of constant repair. Over the years I’d find places I knew erased, and the flavor, the fucking verve, has been whitewashed. Right now it feels as if I’d be flying into a shopping mall–my friends’ familiar faces fighting to rise above the motley lot. Right now I don’t know if I’ll head home for the holidays because right now, Los Angeles feels right. Admittedly, I’m a tourist here. I don’t have a car and work, and the simple act of adjustment to a new surroundings and routines keeps me on the Westside with intermittent treats out east and north. I know I’ve time to navigate my new home, and I’ve no urgency to leave it because there’s so much to navigate. A new language to learn. This weekend I’m immersing myself in a stack of books–all in an effort to make sense of this place. All in an effort to shift my view from something vague and elusive to something tactile, real, visceral and specific. I watch harrowing documentaries. I talk to people more. I read the local paper. I want to get involved in my community in a way that’s meaningful and decidedly offline. I’m making plans to navigate this city with new friends and old. I ask everyone when it will get cold. Cold is relative, they respond. Come January everyone will be in boots and a winter coat and the temperature will hover around 45/50F, depending. I think about the desert. Often. I think about water. Always.
I feel here what I haven’t felt in decades. Curious. Energized. A need to take nothing I have or see for granted.
I guess you can see I’m tethered to a feeling of California. Of planting roots and settling. When people ask me where I’m from, I’ll consider the question, and the weight of it, more deeply. Because I’m connected to New York in the sense that it is part of my makeup; I’m connected to L.A. because of an awakening, and there are parts of the world where I feel my footprints because whenever I travel back there (Bali, Thailand, China, Spain) it feels familiar, like a home–our place of origin is in the periphery, it doesn’t define our identity.
I spent the morning working, working out, and at the farmer’s market. The spring onions were fat and enormous and I had to use 4 stalks instead of 8. Chorizo wasn’t available this week so I settled for a heady andouille. And the rosemary was soapy, spritely and fresh, and I spent time listening to music, cooking, all the while my Felix looked on.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook (I changed it from a stew to a rice topper + switched around a few ingredients based on what I had on hand),
1 tbsp olive oil
8 spring onions, finely sliced (whites separated from green)
1 tbsp rosemary, finely chopped
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
400 g/15oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 chorizo sausages in casings, cut into 1 inch rounds (I used andouille sausage, instead)
2 tbsp sherry vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
Salt/pepper for seasoning
1 cup basmati rice
1 3/4 cup vegetable stock or water
1 tsp chopped rosemary
In a large frying pan, heat the oil. Add the white part of the spring onions, rosemary, paprika and the chickpeas to the pan and fry for 2 minutes on a high heat.
Add the chorizo/andouille to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Add the vinegar. Cook gently, uncovered for a further 10 minutes stirring occasionally before.
While this is cooking, add your rice, rosemary, and water/stock to a small pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down to low, cover, and let cook for 10-15 minutes, checking over so often. When done, fluff with a fork, and all the rice to a large bowl. Top with the spiced chickpea + sausage mixture.
Add the green tops of the spring onions and serve.
Posted on October 1, 2015
Lately I feel like a child forever pointing at things, asking, what’s that? My agent replies to an email I’d sent him regarding my next project, saying something to the effect of, good to know you’re working on something cheerful! To which I respond, when have you ever known me to be attracted to the sweet story, the happy ending? When will I ever be attracted to something not in a state of disrepair? I tend to fall in love with things (and people) that are a perpetual state of dressing their wounds.
I believe that all ideas are in the ether waiting to be snatched up, obsessed over, developed. And once you arrive at the thing that puts your heart on pause, you start to notice all the nearly phosphorescent signs pointing to it.
Over the past few months, I’ve been reading a series of articles about touched houses. I’ve a predilection for the macabre; I’m the sort who will watch surgeries on television with considerable interest. I spend most of the early hours of the morning reading, and I paused on those two particular articles with more than a passing interest. I even thought–imagine if I wrote a novel about a house. A present day Shining. The Shining is the first movie I remember seeing as a child, and to say that it’s left an indelible mark would be an understatement. I’ve watched the film more times that I’d like to admit, and I’ll see a monsoon of blood spilling out of elevators, painting the walls claret. I’ll incant T.S. Eliot’s The Burial of the Dead from “The Wasteland” like prayer. I’ll see a man pretend to a boy bouncing a ball off the walls, feeling haunted by what’s come before, the massacre of American Indians who once inhabited the land.
A house is a home is a house, and this is a place to which one seeks refuge. But what if your home isn’t safe? What if your home is a man-made prison, a place where madness breeds? I’ve always been curious about that which is contained (or confined) within four walls and a roof.
I read those two articles, paused briefly, and moved on.
You write out your obsession, what takes hold of you, until you’ve exorcised the thing that threatens to put your heart on pause. I’m being dramatic for effect, but writers tend to be obsessed with the stories that find them, and it is through the act of writing, of transcribing experience to type, that one is free to part ways with that which has arrested them.
Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about writing as an act of continual failure. You have this brilliant idea–you can practically hear the music in your head–but when you sit down to translate it, what you have in your head never magically appears on paper. (I mean, unless you’re Nabokov) The work is in that realization and the perseverance that comes to revision, the hope that the idea that seized you will someday makes its way on paper as close to the way you’d seen it.
I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and loved it. I was dazed for days.
Living in Los Angeles forces you to learn an entirely new vocabulary. The tentacle arms of the cactus; mountain dandelions and lemon bottlebrush trees–species of flowers and trees previously unknown now an assault. The shape of houses and land feel unnavigable. I discovered that I’m interested in learning more about my adopted home. I bought a stack of books on Los Angeles architecture and history (including: Southern California: An Island on the Land, California: A History, Houses of Los Angeles, 1920-1935, Los Angeles Residential Architecture: Modernism Meets Eclecticism, Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective’s Scrapbook, among many others), and found myself drawn to novels where California is a character. I met up with an old friend, and he had a book about the making of The Shining on his desk. I gasped, and he was kind enough to lend me the book for as long as I need it. He told me about the You Must Remember This podcast, and then I found the No Sleep podcast.
I recognized this feeling, a seizing, an obsession mounting.
I found a new story. I wrote my first page, and then retreated.
Imagine two stories converging. A gruesome murder from the 1950s juxtaposed with the story of a man who specializes in appraising/selling disaster properties forced to live in one of the homes he tries to sell after having lost his job. He moves into this home and slowly begins to unravel. He becomes paranoid, irrational, convinced that he’s being spoken to. Instructed.
This idea excites me for a number of reasons:
1. A new landscape–I’ve a desire to learn as much as I can about Los Angeles (art, history, architecture) so I can cogently write about it. The feeling that Los Angeles is a terrain I’m obsessed to navigate.
2. Writing from the male point-of-view. Although I’ve a central male character in my second novel, women in my books tend to drive the story. However, writing as two disparate, brilliant mad men, thrills me.
3. Attempting to write a story that is fairly linear. Although I’ve dueling narratives (1959/Present), the novel will follow a linear time arc. And anyone who knows me or at least has had a conversation with me knows that it’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE for me to follow a straight line. It’s as if I’m not able to understand the natural progression of time. The structure will likely pose the greatest challenge–one I’m anxious to meet.
4. Writing a ghost story. What I love about The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and the like is the fact that the stories are extremely realistic in its rendering and the supernatural events could be construed as real or madness–one can never really tell. I like this ambiguity, a lot, and I love the idea of making people wonder if these events are truly rooted in the supernatural or in a man’s psychological unraveling.
Being here has thrown open all the windows and doors, and I can’t wait for what’s next.