some thoughts on the art of writing, because there’s a lot of garbage out there

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Learning how to be a good reader is what makes you a writer…Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation.’ You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle.’ All that matters is what you leave on the page. –Zadie Smith

I’m going to say something that’s a bit controversial: there’s a deluge of terrible writing on the internet. What I love about the online space and the advent of digital technology–the democratization of voices and the ease in which unknown greats can rise above the din and find shelter with a receptive audience–has also given way to the sense that everyone who has a piece of virtual real estate can call themselves a writer and live this carefully curated “writer’s life,” replete with a gleaming laptop, unsullied notebooks, and a weathered coffee mug. I never quite understood this notion of a romanticized writer’s life because when I attempted such a life it was rife with financial anxiety and the paralyzing fear that I wasn’t any good–I always thought I was second-rate. While there are so many resources devoted to the art of making one a better writer by refining some of the technical aspects of the craft, for me the art of writing is simple: you’re either an artisan of language or you’re not.

There’s a scene in Good Will Hunting when Matt Damon’s character tries to explain his enormous gift:

Will: Beethoven, okay. He looked at a piano, and it just made sense to him. He could just play.
Skylar: So what are you saying? You play the piano?
Will: No, not a lick. I mean, I look at a piano, I see a bunch of keys, three pedals, and a box of wood. But Beethoven, Mozart, they saw it, they could just play. I couldn’t paint you a picture, I probably can’t hit the ball out of Fenway, and I can’t play the piano.
Skylar: But you can do my o-chem paper in under an hour.
Will: Right. Well, I mean when it came to stuff like that… I could always just play.

Writers can dissect the process of how they architect and develop characters, scene and story, but ask them how they’re able to create music with a strange combination of words and they go mute. How do you explain that you’re able to see the world and translate it in a way that moves people? That there’s beauty in the arrangement of words, how a writer’s able to describe an object or emotion that puts someone else’s heart on pause. Writers are downright surgical about how and what they write, and every one of them will tell you that they write from a compulsive place, from a desire to tell a particular story. They don’t write because they want to, it’s because they have to. And while a writer can study craft and technique, at the end of the day you either can play or you can’t.

Last year I was in a slump. I witnessed mediocrity get rewarded with microfame and book deals. I watched brilliantly-crafted novels go unnoticed in favor of poor fiction with its grating, overwritten prose and characters void of complexity. I read a lot of lists and scrolled through what seemed like a labyrinth of quizzes, wondering, does anyone feel anything? Are we simply a character in a sitcom? Are we reduced to a top-ten list that’s meant to define the whole of us? Are we happy with this? Are we content with art that is compressed, regurgitated and made to go “viral” with a string of keywords and a nonsensical image? (I harbor a desire to torch anyone who doesn’t use this word sardonically). I read scores of blogs written by people who care only to publish a book because it would bolster their “brand,” as opposed to having a fervent desire to create art, to tell a story that will leave its indelible mark.

Basically, I read a lot of shit on the internet. A towering inferno of it.

And yes, mediocrity has always existed and has always been rewarded (I would argue not as handsomely). And yes, life is cruel and unfair. And yes, great writing will always, inevitably, find its place in the world. But it’s hard, as someone who writes tough, dark books and reads them as passionately as I write them, to know that this democratization has also opened the floodgates of shit, and it’s upon the reader to sift through the rubble to find what’s meaningful. To see that which is good. Also, I wonder whether we’ve been exposed to so much shit that what we think is good is no longer? I don’t know how to answer any of this–I just wonder.

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Illustration Credit: John Alcorn, via

Last year I purchased and read a lot of books. Many of which were remarkable. Many of which were shit. I’d nearly given up hope (call it end-of-year dramatics, and I acknowledge my proclivity toward it) and then I started the year off reading a succession of good fucking books that made me feel the way books should–they gave me hope.

Likeable characters bore the fuck out of me. If I want a shiny, happy life I only need to scroll through popular Instagram feeds rather than spend 300 pages cuddled up next to it. I read to get uncomfortable, to learn, to gain perspective and be transformed in some way. And reading has made me a better writer, not simply for the techniques learned from authors I admire, but for how good books drive me to go deeper with my scalpel until there’s nowhere else to go. If given the chance to write from the perspective of a nice girl who gets her heart broken and perseveres or from one of a sociopath, know that I would choose the latter. I’m fascinated by people who harbor a degree of darkness, characters who are flawed and complex. These are people who have been through war and are still dressing their wounds. I sometimes like novels that are unresolved or bleak because sometimes this is life, and the reading of this gives one wisdom, makes them see the world differently.

After I read Sonya Hartnett’s What the Birds See, I joked to a friend that I should move to Australia because they would be receptive to the kinds of books I want to write. I’m fascinated by children, how they’re untouched and innocent, and I’m even more fascinated when I see them interact with adults, because adults always find ways to ruin the worlds children have built, brick by brick, intentional or unintentional. There is no Santa Claus, that overheard argument, the parents who fall out of love as quickly as they took up lovemaking like cross stitch–Hartnett writes about the vulnerability and breakability of children. I set down her book and nodded my head and said, these are the kind of books I always seek to write: dark, elegant, fragile and visceral.

I followed Harnett’s novel with My Brilliant Friend–the first in a tetralogy of Neopolitan novels about a lifelong friendship–and consumed it so voraciously that I immediately ordered the second two books. Next up is Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women–more tales about eccentric, beguiling and flawed, yet beautiful, women (notice a pattern?).

Terrible writing will always frustrate me, but I’m trying to train myself to sift through and discover the voices that seek to shout above the din of listicles and storytelling that solely serves as a traffic-driving authenticity device. But this is often my flaw–I’ll fixate on the shit at the expense of what’s really good and pure.

Work in progress, people. Work in progress.

spiced pear and coconut muffins (gluten-free)

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In between immersing myself in forty documents for a wonderful new brand project I’ve acquired and baking these perfectly fluffy muffins, I’ve been eyeing the street. It feels like Christmas in these parts, as I’ve been waiting for my new camera lens. Some people get excited by finery, but I love food, books and cameras. Recently, I purchased a 16-35mm f/2.8L ii lens so that I’d be able to shoot landscapes and skies. From the terrain in Montana to Joshua Tree to an upcoming trip to Nicaragua, I’m excited to break in my lens and take the sort of pictures of which I’ve only dreamed.

Now if UPS would only just show up while I shove these muffins in my mouth!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Small Plates, Sweet Treats, with modifications.
10 tbsp coconut oil
1 cup superfine brown rice flour
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1 tbsp tapioca starch
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup dark amber maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut cane sugar
1 tsp almond extract (you can also use vanilla, per the original recipe)
2 medium-sized Anjou pears (I used Anjou and drained the pears after I grated them)
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, cook the oil until completely melted. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the oil to a clean bowl to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and coconut oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined. While I used a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, you can do all of this by hand.

Grate the pears using a box grater, skin and all. Since I used a juicier pear, I drained the excess juice before I added the pears to the batter. Fold the grated pears into the batter.

Line a muffin pan with paper liners and, using an ice cream scoop, fill the liners with the batter about three-quarters of the way full. Sprinkle the tops with chopped pistachios.

Bake the muffins for 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack and let them cool completely.

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on this imminent nomad life: you can roam if you want to

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If it’s darkness we’re having, let it be extravagant. –from Jane Kenyon’s “Taking Down the Tree”

Remember “Roam”? If I go back to 1989, I’ll find a girl obsessed with Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, Winona Ryder and Nine Stories. I prefered books written by alcoholics (Hemingway, Cheever), social deviants (Dostoevsky) and the compulsively mad (Sexton, Plath). Routinely, I was summoned to the guidance counselor’s office because I penned stories about small girls hanging from ropes tied to trees–is there something wrong at home? the counselor timidly inquired, to which I’d respond, no, there’s nothing wrong and think, of course there’s something wrong. Why else would I spend a childhood, a life, living in my own head? A girl called Jody use to steal lines from poems I’d written and claimed them as her own, even though she didn’t understand what she’d copied. Back then nobody wanted to know. We lived for the pinprick of anesthesia. Blindness was a constant state.

My worldview was pessimistic, bleak–why else would R.E.M. foretell our doom? It’s the end of the world as we know of it, and the like. I remember assembling a presentation (it was probably for English class, where I practiced most of my teenage dramatics) and blasting the close to “King of Birds”: Everybody hit the ground, everybody hit the ground, because everything around me teetered on ruin.

Naturally, I was sent to the guidance counselor’s office. Again.

I was forever in the guidance counselor’s office. The same woman who cajoled me would later encourage me to only apply to local colleges and state schools, and was visibly shocked when I received scholarships from U Penn, NYU, and Boston University. I hated my high school so much that when I received my ten year reunion notice (a meetup at a fucking pancake house?!), I wanted to torch the computer where the email resided.

In 1989, I cowered in corners, mute, scribbling into notebooks or in the margins of the novels I read. While girls rode in cars with their glossed lips and Liz Claiborne bags during the day, and snuck beers and drove drunk around Grant Park in the evening, I consulted maps and real estate listings. I was in the business of migration. For as long as I could remember, our family was itinerant. Home was a place where mail was simply forwarded. Whether we were dodging loan sharks, eviction notices or months of unpaid rent, we’d pack the whole of our lives in cardboard boxes and had hope that this new town, this new home, would deliver us a better life. We staked our hearts on that deliverance. Sometimes, hope can be a fever, a sickness, because we’d invariably unpack the same old darkness. Hang the same sadness in our freshly-painted closets. After school, my pop and I would drive all over Long Island just to pass the time, just to drive. And if there is one memory from my teenage years worth preserving, worth pulling out of a fire, it’s me and my pop in a car, driving.

Even now, he’ll pick me up from the train station and ask if I want to go for a drive.

In 1989 I was 14, and I regarded the B-52s with their hallucinogenic outfits and towering bouffants with a mixture of curiosity and disdain. Who had money to roam around the world when Con Edison routinely pinched the gas and shuttered all the lights? How does one roam the world without wings (planes?) without wheels (cars)? Were we supposed to pull on our Reeboks and hoof it? And why was everyone in the video happy and clapping? How could anyone be happy in 1989, I thought.

Last weekend, I take slow steps with my pop. I visit him a few times a week at his rehab center in Long Island, and I bring him food, make him laugh and applaud his progress in physical therapy. I tell him that every step forward without pain is a victory. He holds my hand, squeezes it, and tells me that he loves me so much. Sometimes it scares me how much I love him. I tell him about Montana, New Mexico, California and Washington. I tell him about my plan to move four points west, and he laughs at the idea of me surrounded by ranchers. He can picture it but he can’t. He tells me I need to do this, I need to go.

I make him promise me that we’ll run as fast as our legs can carry us before I leave. I want to see you run, I say. He laughs and tells me that he wants to see me run too.

I’ve decided that my first stop will be Montana, late summer. Part of me is thrilled, part of me is frightened, and I know whenever I’m scared I take comfort in reading. Over the past few weeks, I’ve read dozens of articles, essays and short stories about the business of leaving. About roaming. About yanking up roots and re-planting. About the beauty in the harvest. A few of my favorites are below–I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

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  • Chelsea of Frolic! on her year-long European odyssey: “Seeing the world enlightens me. This trip was about facing the nagging wanderlust that had been bugging me for years and getting back to gardening, hence the farm stays. I have a blurry picture of what it is I want to do at the end of this and am figuring it out along the way. I’ve told myself it’s ok not to be overly ambitious right now. I keep busy with work, creative projects, and soaking up my environment but it’s definitely a slower pace than I lived at home and I think that’s ok for me right now.”
  • Laura Jane of Superlatively Rude on picking up and moving to Bali: “The best thing that happened to me in 2014 was being let go from my job. That job held so many excuses for me. I couldn’t work on my book, because where was the time? I couldn’t travel, because I only got three weeks a year. Hell! I couldn’t even take a sick day without my pay being docked. I spent ten hours a week commuting on the central line – FORTY HOURS A MONTH! A WHOLE WEEK’S WORTH OF WORK! – spending my cash on £8.95 salads at lunch because “I deserved it”. It was inferred daily that my work had limited value. To not have an opinion. To not make a fuss.”
  • The esteemed Pico Iyer (I just love his essays) on foreignness: “This is the point of the foreign. We don’t travel halfway across the world to find the same things we could have seen at home. Those who undertake long and dangerous journeys have every incentive in stressing their discovery of a world far better than the one they left behind.”
  • Russell V. J. Ward on how living abroad changes everything: “Things that were once important no longer matter. Things that didn’t seem important before now matter more. The value of friendship is paramount. Familiarity is a forgotten concept and you don’t take anything for granted. The act of moving abroad made you realize that “things” don’t equal happiness. In fact, you start to redefine your original idea of success.”
  • Clemantine Wamariya on traveling to 10 countries in 1 year: “I began this nine-month journey with an open mind and a grand hunger to learn. What I came to realize is that the world is a very small town. We are all neighbors. Be kind. Be gentle. And — always — eat.”
  • Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo, text graphic my own.

    sprouted chickpea + sundried tomato hummus

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    During last week’s session, my nutritionist offered me a cooking challenge: sprouted hummus. I’ve made hummus countless times and it’s probably the most simple, yet satisfying dish one could make, but after she went on about how the flavor profile of sprouted versus non-sprouted–well, there is no comparison–my interest was sufficiently piqued. Enough to read up on the benefits of sprouting your own beans (less abrasive on your digestion system, easier absorpotion of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc!) and all the delicious recipes one could make with said sprouts.

    Honestly, this process does require a lot of patience. Consider this an occasion hummus because sprouting beans is time consuming. First, you have sort your beans to remove any grit or shells before soaking them in a bowl of water overnight. After, you rinse the beans and throw them in a large pot of water to cook for 90 minutes. Then there is the shell removal, which is Odyssean. Shell removal is crucial in yielding that creamy texture of which I spoke, and PEOPLE, IT’S WORTH IT.

    FOR THE LOVE OF ORANGE KITTENS WITH SMALL EARS.

    This was simply the best hummus I’ve ever had. The texture is feather-light, with an almost mousse-like quality and the taste is unbelievable. None of the grit from traditional hummus, and it was so glorious I stood at my counter eating this right out of the bowl with a spoon. No accoutrement needed, except for a spoon and a PUFFS PLUS for your sweet tears.

    INGREDIENTS
    1/2 cup dried chickpeas (will make about 1 cup + 1/4 of chickpeas, when sprouted): I purchased mine from Jansal Valley
    2 heaping tbsp of tahini
    6-7 tbsp of olive oil
    1/4 cup sundried tomatoes in olive oil, packed
    1 tsp minced garlic
    1 tsp sea salt
    1/2 tsp coarse black pepper

    DIRECTIONS
    Sprout your beans per the package directions, or use the method I’ve outlined above.

    Once the beans are softened and the shells removed (I drained the beans and rinsed them in cold water so I wouldn’t get asbestos hands removing said shells), add them to a food processor along with the other ingredients and blitz until smooth and creamy.

    Eat and weep, friends.

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    my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: hitting the six-month mark

    via @frametastic

    Do you know what it’s like to regard the once object of your affection with utter repulsion? Yesterday I was in an elevator with a man who carried a bag of MELT grilled cheese sandwiches, and I seriously thought I was going to be sick. He carried the most glorious of cheeses, gruyere, and I could practically taste the butter staining the wax paper. I felt waves of nostalgia and sickness and I had to cover my face with my hat so I could stop smelling that goddamn cheese smell.

    Welcome to a life six months free of gluten and dairy.

    We can talk about the incredible changes–30 pounds lost (and counting), muscle mass gained, nights of fitful sleep achieved, a fitness challenge victoriously completed, a host of new foods and tastes discovered–but we should also consider the losses. While I’m now able to incorporate certain foods back into my diet (blueberries, sweet potatoes, turkey, cranberries etc), many of the foods for which I once longed have become terrifying strangers. Since my reaction to gluten was so severe, when I’m able to resume a diet of gluten and dairy, I’m only able to have either of those foods ONCE EVERY TWO WEEKS, and I need to start with dairy, which is less perilous to my system. However, with the exception of cheese, halloumi and gruyere in particular, I don’t much care for dairy or miss it. And after yesterday’s bout of nausea, I wonder if I can enjoy the foods I once loved without feeling repulsed by them.

    Did I tell you that when I have sugary desserts, the sugar tastes like acid? It actually burns. I’ve made several incredible desserts with the highest quality sugar I could find, but that first bite is brutal. Successive bites are less so, but it puts me to thinking about the first time I had Diet Coke after years of not consuming it and having to spit it out in the street. It was that unpleasant. And while I don’t think I’ll have that severe of a reaction to an almond croissant, I know something in me has changed.

    I’m now that sort of woman who gets excited about seasoned chickpeas in a kale salad. Exhibit A, below. Try telling me that salad doesn’t look downright GLORIOUS.

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    I’m the sort of person who marvels over the fact I sort of like nori. NORI? From a fervent fish-hater? Who knew? Over the past six months, I’ve discovered scores of tastes and flavors I’ve slowly come to love, and I feel as if the journey has only just begun. I’ve also been listening to my body, really listening, and I’ve noticed how sluggish it becomes when I binge on carbs (hello, gluten-free pasta with vegan cream sauce three days in a row, followed by cake) and how my performance during workouts suffer.

    Speaking of which, since I’m forever a month early for everything, I spent some time before a recent Brooklyn BodyBurn class chatting up one of the instructors. This instructor has an enviable figure (it’s hard not to notice), and her classes have been one of the hardest I’ve taken, but I was surprised to hear that, up until two years ago, she barely thought of eating to nourish and exercising for strength. Food was an endless foe that had to be conquered, with exercise being one of the many weapons in her arsenal. She juice-cleansed, starved, binged, couched, and it wasn’t until she got into the rhythm of listening to her body and tuning in to what it needed, did she find herself in the best shape of her life.

    We’ve heard these stories before, I read them every month in fitness magazines, but it’s good to be reminded that your body is a house worth preserving, not one worth burning to the ground.

    I’ve got eight more pounds to lose (my nutritionist would say 13, but in this we disagree), the last stubborn reserves, and I’ve made some slight modifications to my diet (swapping my almond milk cappuccinos for almond milk cortados, eliminating nuts/nut butters for a month) to get rid of the pounds before I go back to maintenance eating, which is still heavily plant-based, but is freeing in the sense that I can increase the carbs and fat since I’m not trying to lose when I hit my goal. Truth be told, I’m taking this all in stride. I feel good and I’m not in a race with the scale. The weight will come off when it needs to and I just need to focus on being present at every meal. And look at the snap above? Does healthy eating look like torture? HARDLY.

    Finally, I’ve achieved the unthinkable: I finished my 30-day, self-imposed Brooklyn BodyBurn challenge without dying. Remember how nervous I was when I started? I was sure that I would give up midway through the month, or fall and crack my head open when it snowed this week, but taking pictures of myself at BBB made me oddly accountable to myself. Before every workout, I’d say to myself that I’m going to do the best I can do, and the fact that I showed up matters. The rest, well, is golden.

    I did show up for a month, and I got stronger. And while working out on the megaformer will never get easier, it feels good to show up. It feels good to do the thing you never thought you could do. It feels good to crave healthy foods. It feels good to love chickpeas.

    It feels good to be golden.

    blogs worth reading: because most of them, quite frankly, blow

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    Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo. Text my own.

    Those who know me well know I’ve strong opinions about bloggers. I started blogging in 2000, back when people had just recovered from the detritus otherwise known as Geocities and wanted a clean space to tell great stories. I had a blogspot address (the name of which now escapes me) and I wrote about everything from the food I craved to the alcohol I really wanted to stop craving. Forever skirting the edges of things, I found my home in the online space because it was filled with people like me: zine-lovers, book-readers, misfits and people who had something to say. Nobody really paid attention to the motley lot who shared very personal aspects of their lives so publicly. For a time, we were largely left alone.

    As the years passed I would also sit on the business side of the screen, and I was someone who once pitched bloggers in 2005 to someone who lead teams that pitched bloggers to someone who didn’t want to read another blog ever again. The stories gave way to inclusive communities, stylized websites and people who placed a premium on building their brand and optimizing their “content” (I’m fucking shuddering here as I type this) over offering a piece of themselves, wholly and authentically, to others. Suddenly, authenticity went from being a noun to a buzzword, and many bloggers who had done well for themselves penned lengthy posts on being authentic for your audience, but this often gets lost, or conflicts with, advice on how to style your Instagram photos and ensuring Photoshop and Reward Style are your best friends. Present your life, authentically, but be pretty about it. Because no one is going to like a grainy photo of your happiness when they can fawn over a stark image of a gleaming laptop, a monogrammed coffee mug (marred by a dot of berry lip color, because you do sip, of course) and freshly-manicured blooms.

    As if one lives this way. As if these artifacts of a life represent a life. Please. I have a watch; I know what time it is.

    I’ve written about the need for bloggers to act right, to fuck “content” writing, and to stop the proliferation of the bullshit aesthetic (it’s a fucking disease, I tell you), so I won’t bore you with another rant. I will tell you that I don’t read many blogs anymore, simply for the fact that they’re affiliate farms under the guise of the girl who’s your best friend. I don’t read them because scrolling through sponsored post after sponsored post is akin to getting my teeth extracted with a butter knife. I don’t read them because the act of storytelling becomes a highlighted post of the week instead of the norm. And I don’t read them because scores of people with no real business experience are trying to play the role of marketers (making my job as an executive consultant harder) without actually understanding that marketing is a real discipline and building a global brand goes far beyond pitching other bloggers.

    That having been said, there are a pile of people in the online space who are knocking the socks right off my feet. Inspired by Hitha’s post, I’m listing a few bloggers who are worth reading. By the by, Hitha’s blog is worth bookmarking.

  • Mark Manson: Whenever I get the urge to get off my rocker and yell about kids today, I remember there are people like Mark Manson who are sharing real truth and insight that makes you really think about your life. Through storytelling, cultural references and a bit of humor thrown in for good measure, Manson manages to distill many of life’s tough questions into life learnings. I know that may sound trite, but I always come away from reading Mark’s articles wanting to BE BETTER. You read the “Art of Not Giving a Fuck” (that kitten, though) and try arguing with me.
  • Stripes and Sequins, soon to be The Stripe: While so many bloggers are getting it wrong, Grace is RIGHT. I met Grace through mutual friends on Twitter, and I loved her blog because I always had this feeling of discovery when I visited her space. From beauty products to workouts to travel destinations I need to hit, Grace has an unassuming way about herself and the infectious way in which she shares the things she loves. It’s rare that I’ll visit a site and feel as if I’m always discovering something new, and Grace has balanced the line of blog and business with integrity.
  • Jenny Purr: I need to send an orange kitten to the person who introduced me to Jenny Purr, because her blog is the BUSINESS. Built for bloggers and creatives, Jenny offers smart, thoughtful advice on being your best self online. While so many other bloggers have penned articles about finding their voice, growing their space, and making the most out of what they’ve created, Jenny manages to dole out advice that is fresh and free of jargon.
  • Girl Lost in the City: Truth be told, I found Emma because she found me. However, I’m glad to have stumbled onto her space because her writing is razor sharp and witty. Not only is she a tireless evangelist of people she loves, I’ve discovered so many resources and voices that have made my daily life richer. My favorite posts so far have been, “How Much of Our Success is Down to Luck” and “Why You Should Write Even if You Feel Uninspired”.
  • The Fielding Report: I just love Emily’s blog, I really do. It’s such a delight to click over and learn about all the articles she’s reading, progress on her journey to mindful living and health, and tune into her impeccable taste in home decor (I mean, her favorite color is BLUE, and in BLUE we trust). I don’t often comment on her space because, for me, it feels intrusive. I love settling into her blog and quietly enjoying it, simply for the fact that she puts so much care into what she publishes.
  • Talulaah: I dare you to read Petra’s blog because you will get sucked into a void for hours. Hers is a rabbit hole down which I want to tumble. Her images tell the most powerful stories, and her introspective, honest and lean prose style really keeps me paging through. I’ve long envied and admired her travel adventures, but I’m mostly drawn to how she sees the world, and that, I think, is the mark of a great writer.
  • I also frequently update my blogroll, so click over for a laundry list of my daily reads.

    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