because the cult of busy is probably killing you

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You can’t manage time. Time never changes. There will always and ever be 168 hours in a week. What you can manage are the activities you choose to do in time. And what busy and overwhelmed people need to realize…is that you will never be able to do everything you think you need, want, or should do. You will never clear your plate so you can get to the good stuff. So you have to decide. What do you want to accomplish in this life? What’s important to you right now? And realize that what’s important now may not be two years from now. It’s always changing. –From Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time

You can’t make a suggestion of sadness. You can no longer whisper or mutter your grief, rather you have to bludgeon your loved ones with it, and then you’ll realize you have their strictest attention. I have a hard time asking for help. Having had to assume the role of adult as soon as I left the womb, I never knew what it was like to be a child; I never had the luxury of screaming tears and being swathed in blankets because I was forever hushing, always wrapping people with the things that comforted them most. In my home vulnerability was considered a weakness, and I spent much of my life telling people I’m fine, even when it was abundantly clear that I was the very opposite of fine. But don’t worry, I’m taking care of it; I’ve got it under control, it’s handled, as the popular protagonist from a nighttime show would say–even when I stared down at my bare hands knowing that I didn’t have the tools for fine. Fine wasn’t a place cartographers had mapped, and I spent much of my adult life with the burden of my grief and sadness, bearing the weight of it. Alone.

Until a few years ago when after my beloved Sophie passed away and I’d left a job that was slowly killing me, and life was dark and uncertain. After seven years of clarity, I drank. A lot. And over the course of two months I’d begun to realize how this relapse was markedly different than all the ones that had become before because I had time. I had the weight of seven years of living a nearly-present life and I finally understand what was at stake, what I could lose. This time was different because I had the gift (or burden) of awareness, and in the midst of all the drinking I knew in my heart this wasn’t right, I had to stop but I couldn’t stop, and I called a friend shaking and said, Angie, can you help me?

Before that morning, that moment, I can’t tell you the last time I said those words out loud.

My friend didn’t flinch or hesitate. She dropped her kids off at school, drove to my home and got me out of the house. We drove around Brooklyn and talked all day, and over the next few weeks she made me adopt Felix. She saved my life. And I knew how busy she was–she had a full-time job as an executive and took care of a husband and two children–but she made time, and that time is something for which I’m forever thankful. Even after a year and seven months of not drinking, when I see her I sometimes remind her that she saved my life.

A few weeks ago I went through another period of darkness. I can’t describe these dark times other than to say that they’re like a storm that’s ferocious and brutal, yet passes swiftly. For a brief time the whole of my world was shrouded in grey and I had a hard time finding my way out, back into the light. Out of habit, I withdrew from friends, receded. Some of them asked what was wrong and in pained replies I said nothing. I said I was fine. But everyone was so goddamn busy, so consumed by the goings-on in their life, to notice the signs. I had become angry over the fact that the people closest to me knew something was wrong and apart from a perfunctory how are you and the answer they knew I’d give, they resumed their state of busy. In some cases, I actually told a few friends what was going on, asked if I could see them, and getting a date on their calendar rivaled admittance into the Pentagon.

Are you fucking kidding me with this, I thought.

It took a status update on Facebook (I’d pared down my friend list to those whom I know and love “in real life”) to remind my closest friends that I am someone who always goes above and beyond, who drops everything and inconveniences herself. Someone who ignores busy, who makes time for her friends when they need her. And wouldn’t it be nice for you to reciprocate? Do I always have to usher in the dramatics and a cry for help for you to make time? Must my needs always be so extreme for you to make time?

Suddenly, everyone magically had time. It no longer takes a gentle prodding to ask for someone’s time or help–it takes an enraged status update on a semi-public social media channel. I don’t begrudge my friends this because they are wonderful, devoted and kind, however, I do worry about the busyness that consumes them. Where mourning the loss of time has become common, a constant bewildered state.

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For a period of nearly four years, I was busy. I missed weddings, baby showers, important moments in friends’ lives–I missed everything. And for what? A title? A six-figure salary? The promise of ownership in a company that I’d become wedded to? Stress and busy wore me down, made me sick, exhausted, and tired, and it took a breakdown and a long conversation with my beloved mentor to convince me to resign. To take my life back because my mentor once told me that when I’m on my deathbed will I have regretted that email I didn’t send, the meeting I didn’t attend or the presentation that could have been tweaked? No, I’ll regret all the weddings and moments in my friends’ lives that I’d missed. I’d regret all the time that I’d squandered, all the people I’d abandoned. It’s been two years since I left that life behind and it’s taken me nearly that long to truly understand the cult of busy and how it can invariably ruin.

I read a lot of articles about the disease that is stress and being busy. As someone who once sent rapidfire emails at six in the morning, I’ve since learned that no one likes to wake to a flood of obligations in their inbox before they have time to wipe the sleep from their eyes. The amount of hours in a day will never change, the to-do list will never be completed to our satisfaction, we can never have all of it because all is nebulous, grey, and holds a different meaning depending upon who holds the weight of its obligation, so why not take control of our time and how we spend it? Contrary to popular belief, busy is a decision we make.

We choose busy. We choose to assume this word as a badge of honor rather than a sickness. We use this word as a measure of endurance–how much of the world could one bear and are we stronger than someone else simply for the fact that we can hold our breath for one more second underwater? Are we better than someone else because we’ve become adept at near-drowning?

For the past two weeks I’ve been immersed in Brigid Schulte’s book on the business of busy, after having read this smart interview. Although it’s primarily targeted to parents, specifically mothers, on how they can find time and balance, much of the book is applicable to everyone that feels the weight of their calendar and to-do list on their shoulders. Schulte’s shares the affects of stress on our brain, that living in a constant state of anxiety actually shrinks our pre-frontal cortex (our intellectual center, arguably the most important part of our brain) and enlarges our anxiety/depression center, all the while shooting cortisol through our bodies. Stress and busy are inextricably bound, and the physical and mental damage it can do will put you on pause. I felt the bulk of what Schulte’s research ascribes–I felt sick, gained weight, no longer felt creative. For a time, exhaustion and anxious were bedfellows.

Much of the book goes to places Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (a book I onced admired, now I question) failed to go. Schulte not only detangles the societal and social mores around women, feminism, work and what it means to be a capable parent in today’s society, she also examines (in stark comparison to other countries) how our society fails to support the family unit. And while I’m not a parent or have any plans to have children, this doesn’t mean I should be blind to how our system fails mothers and fathers–people I know and love–nor does it mean that the impact on the family wouldn’t have any adverse affect on women, particularly single women. We don’t live our lives in silo, and much of the success in other countries as it relates to the ability for people to have leisure time, to not be so tethered to their devices, has to do with a communal mindset. Taking care of yourself while keeping an eye out for your community.

Without time to reflect, to live fully present in the moment and face what is transcendent about our lives. [Leisure researcher] Ben Hunnicut says, we are doomed to live in a purposeless and banal busyness. “Then we starve the capacity we have to love,” he said. “It creates this ‘unquiet heart,’ as Saint Augustine said, that is ever desperate for fulfillment.” —Overwhelmed

Schulte also deconstructs our insatiable appetite for competition that essentially goes nowhere. We are, at best, productive for nearly six hours a day. And that’s it. At one point our overwork becomes a state of diminished returns and we start to make mistakes we wouldn’t normally make and spend (or waste) time in cleanup mode. While we’re one of the top productive nations, we’re productive when it comes to output, however, we fail at the time it takes to get to the output in comparison to other nations. It’s almost as if we’re afraid of spending time relaxing. We see leisure time as wasteful if it’s not productive (working out, organizing our closets, etc). We don’t understand the art of play and how stretches of time spent doing nothing can actually bring forth our best ideas, our greatest work.

Over the past two years I’ve been privileged in the sense that lots of companies want to hire me. They tell me about an impressive salary and benefits package, about the days of vacation I’ll be promised. The travel! The exposure! In response, I type the same two questions and wait for a response:

1. How many hours do people normally spend working and is flexible time (real flexible scheduling) empowered from the top?
2. Tell me about the hobbies or passions of two of your junior employees

Radio silence.

I made a pile of money (don’t know where that went), I had the exposure and travel and look where it got me: sick, exhausted, burnt-out. I make half as much money as I once did yet I’m richer in every sense of the word. I’ve shown a current client that in three days I can do the work of five because I’m focused. I’ve done some of the best branding and organizational design work for clients than I’ve ever done. I’ve written some of my best work since I’ve resigned from my job. I’ve traveled, discovered new foods, tastes and interests, and I’m present. Fully present for those who need me.

Photo Credits: Death to the Stock Photo. Second image, text is my own.

finding joy

on being assertive: tips + advice from two top agency executives

Working Desk

For most of my career my mentors and sponsors have been men. In 1997, I entered the workplace in an age where women were just starting to experience the taste of leadership, when they were told by various books and handsomely-paid speakers that they could “have it all” if they were ambitious enough. We had finally recovered from the cruel sartorial joke that were shoulder pads, yet most women still wore tights and sneakers on the subway. Having studied business with both men and women, have interned at some of the most prestigious investment banks alongside men, I didn’t yet understand that there was an invisible line between men and women. In the age of Bill Clinton and this burgeoning phenomenon called the Internet (we had one Internet terminal at Chase when I started and nearly all of us used Lotus Notes for email), I walked into the workplace blind. It was only when I noticed that I was one of few women in banking, it was only when I noticed the ascension of men to higher ranks with ease while women had to constantly prove their worth did I recognize that the divide, although in start contrast to years past, still existed.

It existed when I was #3 in an agency and I noticed that my aggressive, ambitious behavior was admonished while the same behavior from my male counterparts was praised and fostered. I felt that it was not only important that I be admired, but as a woman I must be liked; I must play nice. I must be the caretaker and nurturer while my male counterparts weren’t expected to assume the role of mother in the workplace. I must be assertive, but not too assertive, and after a while I started to get really frustrated.

Really frustrated.

That’s when I encountered my first extraordinary mentor, Anne Bologna. Anne is a bucket of awesome. She’s smart, passionate, assertive–all the things I want to be as a leader, but she doesn’t compromise. She refuses to play into a gendered role, and has given me confidence in my voice, my role, and more importantly, how to speak up for what I want and deserve. She was responsible for getting me involved with StraightUp, an informal organization that focuses on fostering women execs in the agency world. While I’m no longer interested in being part of the agency structure, the network and the advice are invaluable.

I’m really thrilled to share some tips and advice from a recent StraightUp discussion with Sarah Thompson (Global CEO of Droga5) + Emma Cookson (until recently Chairman of BBH New York). I was unable to make the event because I was stuck in a Miami airport, cursing out American Airlines (never again, people. NEVER AGAIN WITH THIS AIRLINE), but they were kind enough to share the notes from the meeting and they gave me permission to reprint them for you guys. Enjoy!

1. Being Assertive One-on-One (e.g. Negotiating a Raise/Promotion)

  • THINK OUTCOMES. Always decide beforehand what you want the outcome(s) to be. You’ll seem less in control if you go into a negotiation without that clarity, or if you go in thinking “I’ll see what (s)he suggests/offers after we’ve discussed everything”
  • SPELL IT OUT. Don’t assume they remember your track record or your merits. No one has time to care as much about you as you do. Remind them. Doing so is just confident and efficient. And it doesn’t have to come across as arrogant (make sure it doesn’t–you don’t need to be a d*!k) e.g. “When I look back over the last 6 months, what I feel most proud of is X, Y, Z”. “When we last talked you encouraged me to do X, Y, Z – which was really useful perspective and helped me achieve X, Y, Z”
  • GET THEM TO TALK FIRST. Typically, by asking questions upfront–even if just something like, “Before we start, can I be clear about what would you like to get out of this meeting?”/”How do you prefer to handle this sort of meeting”? etc. It is much easier to navigate a negotiation if you know the other person’s ingoing views and assumptions, and the tone they are going to adopt. So try to resist responding to questions that ask you to commit to your views before hearing a bit from the person you’re negotiating with PREP SOUNDBITES BUT NOT A SCRIPT. Have the (few – 5 or 6 ish) key points you want to make planned out in advance. In soundbites–so they are memorable and super-clear. Ready to use. It helps you feel relaxed and ready, and prevents you forgetting to cover a key point. But *don’t* plan a ‘speech’: if what you say is scripted, it will sound scripted–and sounding scripted sounds vulnerable.
  • PLANT SEEDS. Talk way ahead (months, years!) about your future ambitions–“one day I want to be head of dept”–so a path is carved out. A request is much easier to say yes to if it doesn’t come out of the blue. And a promotion/raise is much easier to give if you’ve known for months and years that the person seeking it is clearly ambitious.
  • 2. Being Assertive In Meetings

  • START SENTENCES RIGHT. Don’t start sentences with “I think”, just make the point. Same thing with ‘Do you think that….?”. And definitely avoid, “This might be stupid but…”: we all do it, but it means you’re immediately selling short what you’re about to say and making people question your self-confidence and competence. Really: it feels comfortable but it isn’t effective.
  • SPEAK EARLY. Try to find something to say early in a meeting–even if casual/trivial. Just hearing your voice aloud will make you feel more comfortable and will transmit that you are at ease/assured. And the longer you wait to say something, the more pressure that’s put on what you actually say eventually to feel impressive. REMEMBER YOUR CONTRIBUTION DOESN’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO BE BRILLIANT OR NEW IN ORDER TO IMPRESS. You can also confirm and/or question. e.g. Say out loud that you think what X just said was exactly right, for X reason. Or ask for something to be clarified. (Come to the meeting with questions prepared.)
  • PREPARE TO BE DIRECT IF OTHERS ARE AGGRESSIVE/DOMINEERING. Prepare specific phrases to deal with times when others are talking over you or taking over. And practise saying them out loud in advance so you know they’ll feel comfortable coming out of your mouth, e.g. “I don’t think this is a productive conversation.” Or “I haven’t finished ….”. Or, “Yes, I already said that.” IF NECESSARY, LET IT GO TO SHIT. If a meeting (or indeed a bigger situation) is just totally messy, rambling and/or out of control, don’t automatically jump in to try to help. Sometimes it’s better to let it go to shit. Don’t get involved if doing so risks you getting positioned as part of the mess/confusion. Stay quiet and aloof. Then intervene right at the end–or afterwards–with a concise observation and clear proposal to get to the right outcome. IF YOU ARE PRESENTING, TRY HAVING YOUR FIRST 2-3 SENTENCES MEMORIZED VERBATIM. That way, even if you are so nervous you lose all confidence and clarity when it gets to your section, you will still start off ok. And as soon as you hear yourself sounding OK–even just for a sentence or two–it will calm you and help you get into your stride
  • 3. Being Assertive Generally, Day-to-day:

  • BE YOURSELF. Although easy to say, hard to do–this one is vital. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. It just doesn’t work: you can always tell if someone is ‘adopting’ a style consciously–‘trying to be assertive’–and it just comes across as uncomfortable and unconfident, so it undermines your credibility. You can assert yourself in so many different successful ways, find your own: feisty and pushy? cool and unrufflable (often done successfully via strategic use of staying silent)? nonchalant and genial? You have to find your own personal style for being assertive/assured and it may not be at all aggressive.
  • DON’T CRY WOLF. In general, try to stay on even keel in your daily work so that when you really need to make a point/make something to happen, you can get loud and/or stroppy and it will be meaningful.
  • PRAISE YOUR TEAM. Publicly celebrating your team’s achievements (e.g. via an email to senior management) reflects well on you as well as them. It demonstrates personal confidence/leadership. And it is just the right thing to do….(In similar vein, a great way to be assertive in a meeting is to spot some other person who’s clearly trying to make a point but not getting heard – and make space for them: “I think Karen has something she’s been trying to say – Karen, what was it you wanted to add?”)
  • BE DISARMINGLY HONEST. This doesn’t work for everyone, but sometimes if you’re nervous or stressed it can help to just own it and be honest. There is a confidence in being able to admit your vulnerabilities without fear, no-one’s perfect, e.g. “I must admit I’ve been very apprehensive about this meeting…”, “As you can probably tell, I’m finding this situation very stressful…”
  • Photo Credits: First image via; Second image: Death to the Stock Photo.

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    flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

    flourless peanut butter cookies
    I know, you never intended to be in this world. But you’re in it all the same. So why not get started immediately. I mean, belonging to it. There is so much to admire, to weep over. And to write music or poems about…Do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going? Let me be as urgent as a knife, then, and remind you of Keats, so single of purpose and thinking, for a while, he had a lifetime. –From Mary Oliver’s “Blue Horses” (via)

    I’ve fallen in love with children’s books. Milk smeared above the lip, crumbly cookies by the bedside, a hand gliding across a page, and a small voice inquiring, and then what? We all want the promise of a beautiful life, a kingdom unfurling at our feet, and as children we architect these magical worlds that adults find ways to ruin.

    I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember but I recall few children’s books in my hands. There were no Seuss or cats staggering out of hats, rather I moved quickly to books without pictures. I remember wondering what if blue wasn’t the color of the sky? What if the kingdom we were promised ended up underwater? Possibly I got started too quickly, moved from wonder to skepticism; I was impatient and hungry and didn’t believe in magic. I only knew of a world where magic was at the bottom of a vial and money was the church in which we all worshipped.

    Lately I feel as if I’m living in reverse. I ache for permanence and firsts, but at the same time I want to crawl my way back to the wonder. Today I was supposed to see my pop and I made it all the way to the train station to then realize I left my wallet at home. By then I missed my train and spent the better part of an hour on the phone with my pop talking about moving to California because New York no longer feels like home. He’s solemn because we’re so close and the thought of thousands of miles between us is unfathomable. Then he tells me he wants nothing more than my happiness. Go, run! he says. And I laugh at the irony of the joke because after a grueling double-hip replacement surgery he’s able to run for the first time in nearly four years. I tell him that I can’t wait to come home next weekend just to see you run.

    And then in a few months time he’ll see me make my own passage. We talk about home a lot because I call my apartment home, his apartment home, and I tell him that the word home lacks permanence for me, that for years it was simply four walls and a door and a place where my mail had been forwarded. I realize that home is more than a place, it’s a feeling. Some of my closest friends are home to me. Liz, you’re home to me, even if you live so far away. Angie, you’re home to me, even if it takes you forever to text me back. Pop, you’re home to me, even though we bicker like old people.

    I tell him about this book I ordered. It’s a children’s book, “an imaginative taxonomy of houses and a celebration of the wildly different kinds of people who call them home.” A this is where we live, this is where we make our house.

    This is where we love. This is where we lay down our head to rest.

    I tell my pop that I’ve had a tough few months but I think this is part of the journey out of the dark into light. I think of Dante, of a post I wrote last year asking a pile of questions about my life:

    In the midway of this our mortal life,/I found me in a gloomy wood, astray/Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell,/It were no easy task, how savage wild/That forest, how robust and rough its growth,/Which to remember only, my dismay/Renews, in bitterness not far from death. ― Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

    My pop listens, his voice cuts in and out because I have AT&T, and he acknowledges that this is a rough time but, (he chuckles) isn’t life sometimes tough or always tough? Don’t we always make it out all right? Don’t we always, he says.

    I come home and watch this exquisite illustrated interview with the great illustrator and children’s book author, Maurice Sendak. I’m in love with this world, he cries out. His only lament is seeing his friends pass before him. He pantomimes live your life, live your life, live your life. I play the video over and over and I incant those words as if they were prayer, and I think about Jane Goodall, 81, dancing, living her finest life in the blue years, and I see their wonder. I see it completely. I see it beautifully. I see it quietly. And I can’t wait to break ranks, to join them in this journey in being so in love with this one life.

    INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Nicholas Strand’s (The Peanut Butter Boy) recipe in Go Gluten Free (Spring 2015)
    1 jar (16oz) of creamy peanut butter
    1/4 cup maple syrup
    1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/4 tsp sea salt
    2 large eggs
    3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

    DIRECTIONS
    Pre-heat the oven to 350F. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the peanut butter, maple syrup, coconut palm sugar, baking powder and salt until combined and the peanut butter has a “whipped” quality to it. Add the egg and mix until completely combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

    Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls (this recipe makes 48, but I got half that since I like my cookies quite big–but go with what works for you) and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. With the tines of your fork, press down gently to make an indentation and then press in the opposite direction. Don’t worry, the cookies won’t spread as you bake so you can crowd to your heart’s content. We’re not playing the flour game.

    Bake for 10-12 minutes. Don’t underbake because the cookies won’t hold their shape, and don’t overbake or they’ll burn on the bottoms.

    Cool on a rack for an hour before devouring. Namaste.

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    creamy avocado pasta + a healthy living update

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    I’m going to say something that’s rather shocking: I’m no longer in love with pasta. In fact, I’m glad we’ve been on a mini-break. I realize saying that is antithetical to sharing this recipe with you, but bear with me.

    I’ve spent the greater part of my adult life in a rapturous relationship with the noodle. If you count the number of recipes on this space over the years (and I have), pasta will far exceed any dish. I’ve made every kind of pesto imaginable; I was the McGyver of spaghetti–you give me a noodle and I’ll find a new way to cook it. I consumed pasta every day, sometimes twice a day (shudders), and when I first met my nutritionist and she asked me about my non-negotiables, what would be the one food I could not live without out, without hesitation I wrote: pasta. My doctor, after reviewing the startling results of a routine blood work, expressed concern about my insulin levels. What are you eating, he asked? Describe a typical day. To which I responded, oatmeal, kale smoothie, or bagel for breakfast, pasta for lunch and perhaps pasta for dinner, a light went off and I imagine he could picture all those refined carbohydrates turning into sugar.

    It’s been eight months since I started on this journey to living a mindful life, where I’ve abstained from gluten and dairy (and, for a time, a laundry list of other, unrelated foods), and really thought not only about the food I was consuming over the course of day, but also the composition of food on my plate. Setting the weight loss aside (which wasn’t the primary reason for seeking help, the impetus was related to the severe abdominal pain I’d been enduring for over a year, in addition to a host of other ailments), the journey has been both a difficult and auspicious one, and with a diet primarily comprised of vegetables, legumes, gluten-free grains, lean proteins, and good fats, keeping up my pasta addiction was impossible.

    Don’t get me wrong–I’ve found other cruel substitutes (the potato is quite extraordinary as is dark chocolate)–but I’ve gone weeks at a time without even having a gluten-free variation. Because although the new forms of gf pasta are pretty tasty, the best kinds are made with rice and corn, which are not necessarily rock stars in the nutrition department. Often, I’m left unsatiated, and I find myself eating nuts to quell my hunger. I never really noticed this before–the hit that eating a pesto pasta can give you, that momentary feeling of euphoria, before the crash and the desire to eat again all too soon.

    In the past month I’ve had small portions of cheese (in Nicaragua), and without realizing, a small bit of gluten (whole wheat flour in a mujadara I’ve been buying, the ingredients of which I only discovered yesterday), and while the flare-ups from this summer have abated I still feel off. I can’t explain it. Even with minor portions I feel bloated, tired and sluggish, and I’m remembering a conversation I had with my nutritionist when she explained that gluten and dairy, moving forward, should be considered treats, indulgences of which I can take part twice a month.

    That’s gluten OR dairy two times a month. For the rest of my life. I’m going to let that sink in.

    At first I was horrified because I always initially balk at change, but since I’ve had to go around the gluten and dairy business (and gluten-free substitutions for every dish kind of miss the point of being healthy and vegan cheese does not entice me in the least) I’ve discovered so many other foods and flavors that have rocked the casbah.

    I’m not even going to talk about the plantain and bean game in Nicaragua without weeping into tissues.

    Over the past eight months I’ve had the joy of reintroducing the AVOCADO back into my life. You guys don’t even understand. For nearly 15 years I couldn’t eat avocados because I spent a summer overdosing on them and, as a result, developed a severe allergic reaction whenever I consumed them (similar to how I used to feel eating copious amounts of gluten). This year I slowly incorporated them back into my life, and aside from the glory that is the GUACAMOLE, I’ve been surprised how often I use avocado as a creaming agent. I’ll throw 1/3 of an avocado in my morning smoothie to thicken it. I’ve made a chocolate mousse; that is so strong you won’t even miss the milk. I’ve added it to soups (squash and tomato are favorites) just as I’m about to blitz the mixture in the blender (a nice alternative to cashew cream and you’ll barely taste the avocado, yet reap all of its nutritional benefits), and yesterday I blitzed up a creamy basil pesto.

    My god this was GOOD.

    I added in twice as much basil from the original recipe and the juice of a whole lemon, which really made this sauce sing. The noodles have a light coating of cream and they’re absolute silk when you stir in some of the reserve pasta water.

    And while I LOVED this dish, I was a little hungry (not as ravenous because I had some good fat from the sauce, but still) a couple hours later and hoovered some nuts before I went to bed. But still, this dish is a lovely indulgence without the weight of cream in your system.

    INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook with slight modifications.
    9 ounces (255 g) uncooked pasta (use gluten-free, if desired)
    1 to 2 small cloves garlic, to taste
    1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving
    Juice from a medium lemon
    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    1 ripe medium avocado, pitted
    1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1 to 2 mL) fine-grain sea salt
    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    Lemon zest, for serving

    DIRECTIONS
    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.

    While the pasta cooks, make the sauce: In a food processor, combine the garlic and basil and pulse to mince.

    Add the lemon juice, oil, avocado flesh, and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. If the sauce is too thick, add another 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

    Drain the pasta, setting aside 1/4 cup of the pasta water, and place it back in the pot. Add the avocado sauce (and reserve pasta water) and stir until combined. You can gently rewarm the pasta if it has cooled slightly, or simply serve it at room temperature.

    Top with lemon zest, pepper, and fresh basil leaves, if desired.

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    climbing out of the dark + living the questions

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    Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms, or books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. –Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” (via)

    I’ve been having a dark time. Even as I type that I laugh because it’s silly to think that time is something you can hold in your hands; that it’s something you’re able to possess, own. I’ve been thinking about time a lot–I suppose this is the sort of thing one does when they’ve reached the midway point in their life. We think about the moment and all the ones that eclipsed it, and we wonder not about what we’ve gained, but rather what it is we’ve lost. Time takes it all, it’s true, but I wonder if it’s possible that it seized more because I feel like the decision I made to join, and subsequently become part owner of an agency, veered me radically off course. While I know that the woman who sits here typing this is changed, is resolute and centered, I mourn the before. The woman who had so much velocity, wonder and ambition. The woman who launched a dot.com luxury resale business when none existed simply because she was told that there would be no other kind of work than the kind she’d been doing. Banking and the like–creating nothing, owning nothing–merely a chess player of paper. The woman who published a literary journal because she never quite fit in with the smart set who hailed from learned homes and prestigious east coast schools (even though she attended two of them)–the set who mainly published their own. She created this online home, this book of paper, because she wanted to surround herself with misfits, the people who didn’t get internships at The New Yorker, the people who didn’t have ICM agents by the time they were 25. The woman who nearly launched a nonprofit to help disadvantaged women in Brooklyn because she wanted to give back. The woman who wrote and published a book. The woman who…

    You have to understand that sometimes I need third person. So bear with me.

    The difference between youth and maturity, Andrew Solomon writes in an award speech, is patience. We’re hungry when we’re young, ravenous even–we wanted things to have happened yesterday, whereas the mature has slowed down a bit, is content with the right now; they plan for what’s to come. Solomon writes:

    Youth is notoriously impatient, even though there is no need for impatience early on, when people have the time to be patient. In middle age, the wisdom of patience seems more straightforward, but there aren’t so many days left. But Rilke is correct that we must all write as though eternity lay before us. Enjoy the flexibility that span of eternity offers. The discourse between the young and the nostalgic retains some of its inherent poetry in the form of a longing intimacy. The freshness of younger people awakens memories in older ones—because though you, young writers, are yourselves at the brink of your own future, you evoke the past for those who came before you.

    I think about the woman who kept moving and the woman who has been put on pause, and I wonder about reconciling the two. Because right now I feel stuck in the in-betweens. I don’t have the speed I once possessed, but part of me doesn’t want all of it, just a little of it. I think about children, how, for a time, everything is a first. There is no sense of risk or loss–they are reckless, they weave down streets like spools of thread let loose upon the pavement, while adults walk a fixed line. We sometimes get frustrated when we have to walk around children because they’ve deviated off course. Or perhaps we’re just a little too fixed in our purpose; maybe we’ve drawn a line that’s too rigid.

    Solomon writes: As you ripen, you’ll notice that time is the weirdest thing in the world, that these surprises are relentless, and that getting older is not a stroll but an ambush.

    I feel ambushed, confused. I was on a clear course, a road that lie ahead of me, and now I’m all over the place. Nearly 40, I’m rootless, directionless. I read a post about an itinerant writer who’s fond of books. Frankie doesn’t necessarily fit the profile of the New York literary success story (and trust me, I’m paying Frankie the greatest of compliments writing this) but she writes and writes and doesn’t care if it’s published in the way we’ve traditionally conceived of publishing. She must know that others exist, others who publish with Knopf, those who are celebrated by a small circle of like-minded people who believe that there are so many small dark books getting published because they’re the representative sample! Their small, dark books are getting published! Yet, they fail to see the world at scale because it’s blissful to be amongst the familiar.

    I’m sure Frankie knows all of this, yet she doesn’t seem to care. And I admire her that–her lack of ego, her volition to write simply to create. Because, frankly, I do feel bruised. I wrote an extraordinary book, one whose prose and themes far surpass those of my first book, and while so many editors penned long paragraphs remarking on my skill, poise and prowess, my novel’s just too risky, too small, too difficult. Too many unrelatable characters (because, you know, great literature is filled with relatable people. /sarcasm). And this hurt for a time, especially when I’m surrounded by so many wonderful writers succeeding. While I want nothing more than their success, it doesn’t take the sting out of my rejection. I was almost willing to give up until my agent wrote me this extraordinary note telling me that no way in hell are we giving up on this book. That I should never judge my talent and worth by whether or not some editor chooses to publish what I write. The two, he’s often told me, are mutually exclusive.

    That we can create something new beyond traditional publishing. That there’s a way to share my work in the world. Because fuck Knopf. Fuck the smart set. Part of me needs to reach back to that woman who didn’t care about any of it and created anyway.

    I also thought about my career and part of me feels stalled because I haven’t yet undone 20 years of believing that one had to work a certain way. I admire millennials, I do, because they have this arcane way of seeing the world, rejecting it, and building anew. They shirked traditional office environment and launched start-ups and collaboratives. They redefined work while my generation scrambled to throw glitter on shit office environments and label what they’ve done as innovative. Millennials said fuck you and your definition of success. We’ll define it for ourselves, thank you very much. We have a watch; we know what time it is.

    I read an article today about the importance of playing small. Tad writes,

    Who’s to say that those reaching hundreds of thousands will have a bigger impact than those who only ever reach 100 but very deeply? No one. That’s who. Niching, the finding of our role in the community, will always and forever be the dance between width and depth. And they’re both equal and needed. We need people working broad and shallow. And we need people working narrow and deep. And everywhere in between. The only question worthy of being asked is, ‘What is it that you see missing that you want to give? And how do you want to give it?’ That’s it. There’s no right answer. And then how do you make it financially sustainable?

    For so long I’ve espoused this minimal life, owning only what you need and love, and never did I consider that ideology could flow into my creative and professional life. We’re taught to produce, to produce, to produce more, faster, better, smarter, and it just occurred to me that I actually don’t want a big life. I nearly had an anxiety attack when 30,000 people came to my site in a span of a few days. I can count on my two hands the number of close people in my life. I only survived hosting readings and attending fancy book parties because I was drunk 75% of the time. While I was a partner in an agency responsible for client acquisition, I often brought a hungry and savvy coworker who was all too happy to work the room on my behalf.

    It occurs to me that I’m not built for a big life so why do I think I need it? Why do I think I need the book deal, the big job, the everything?

    I don’t. I just realized that today and, after a few months of subsisting on my own sadness, did I finally see a small flicker of light. A flame, really, but light nonetheless.

    My friends have been telling me that I’m going to be all right. Out of everyone they know, I’m the one they never have to worry about. I guess that’s flattering, but I’m not sure I believe that I have this strange ability to always know when to flee a house just as it sparks, glows aflame. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m moving and I’m exhilarated and terrified, and I really wish people would stop asking me questions and insist I perform only the excited dance. What I do know is that I live to write and I have to keep doing it regardless if it finds a traditional home. What I do know is that parts of my life were big and I fled it with abandon, in favor of the small, and now I want something that lingers in between.

    We’ll see.

    Note: I’ve removed comments from this post because this is one of the hardest I’ve written and I need to get it out without advice, or people remarking that this goddess bowl looks delicious or the photography is pretty or that I’m going to make it. While I do love and respect all of that, right now I need quiet. I need to sort out my thoughts and find my way back to the light, and I need to do that without the sound of anyone’s voice or words written below this post. I hope you understand.

    INGREDIENTS: Protein Power Goddess Bowl recipe from the Oh She Glows Cookbook, with minor modifications
    For the dressing
    1/4 cup tahini
    2 garlic cloves minced.
    1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
    1/4 cup nutritional yeast or a bit more, to taste (I nixed this)
    2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, to taste
    1 tsp kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

    For the protein bowl
    1/2 cup black beluga lentils
    1/2 cup green lentils
    1 15oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
    1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, for sautéing
    1 small shallot, minced
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    1 red bell pepper, chopped
    1 large yellow tomato, chopped
    3 cups lacinato kale, roughly chopped
    1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
    kosher salt + black pepper, to taste

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    DIRECTIONS
    For the tahini dressing: Add all of the ingredients to a food processor (or blender). Blitz and set aside.

    For the protein bowl: Cook lentils according to package directions. Typically, lentils are 3:1, so I add 3 cups of water for every cup of lentils. After 25 minutes of simmering, I drained the lentils and set aside.

    In a large skillet over low-medium heat, add the olive oil and sauté the chopped onion and minced garlic for a few minutes, being careful not to burn. Turn the heat up to medium and add in the chopped red pepper and tomato and sauté for another 7-8 minutes, or until all of the water evaporates from the tomatoes. The last thing anyone wants is a watery protein bowl. No bueno.

    Stir in the chopped kale and sauté for another few minutes, just until tender. Stir in the full batch of tahini-Lemon dressing, the cooked & drained grains and lentils, the chickpeas, and simmer on low for another few minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the minced parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with lemon wedges and zest. Makes 6 cups.

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    how not to be a terrible manager (pt 2)

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    Let me tell you a story. There was a time, years ago, when I allowed stress to consume the whole of my life. I’d collapse, face first, into bed and wake the following morning to the same tedium, the same anxieties that had managed to bloom overnight. Although I do my best thinking early in the morning, I found myself staying up into the gloaming, drafting presentations and sending hundreds of emails. Come morning, I subsisted on multiple cups of coffee as I proceeded to send more emails, fine tune drafts, funnel requests and the whole time I hadn’t realized that I was driving my team bonkers. Over a period of a few months I watched perfectly normal, exceptionally bright women worn down by work. I watched as they stared at screens (multiple phones, desktops, laptops), and the rare moments they did glance away, I noticed a hollowness in their eyes. It took me a long time to realize that this all wrong–there’s a difference between working hard and paying one’s dues versus wearing people into the ground. People in their 20s, scratch that, no one should be forced to work this way. It took me an even longer time to understand that I was partly to blame. I earned the respect of 20+ direct reports and they assumed that the pace I’d kept was normal, that it was necessary to accelerate, succeed. And for a while, they might have been right–I gained clients, grew revenue, made partner–but at a cost of diminishing returns. There’s a fixed amount of time during the day and a fixed amount of energy we all carry, and at one point we’re just going to run on empty. We’re not machines–at one point, even the boldest of lights will flicker and flare out.

    Towards the end of my tenure, leading an agency of 150+ people, I couldn’t think straight. I no longer had creative ideas, instead I found ingenious ways to recycle and regurgitate mediocrity. Soon I started to see that the once bright shining lights followed suit or simply left for other departments, other jobs. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned as a manager, and subsequently as a leader, is that people, regardless of whether they’re conscious of it, will model their behavior off of you.

    6. Set an example. Your team models behavior off of you, so act right. I used to laugh during celebrity interviews. Picture the scenario if you will: celebrity gains massive fame during his/her childhood. They sing all the catchy songs, they deconstruct fashion trends, and their missteps are cute gaffs. Inevitably, these children grew into teenagers into adults and they’re desperate to shed their innocence as if it were an outdated piece of clothing they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. They wear less, and their gaffs become trending topics. They give interviews where they snap, saying they’re people just living their lives, that they never asked for the job of role model. While this may be true, while some may shirk the burden of having to shape the lives of strangers, the fact remains that when people admire you they see you as a role model. They’ll emulate you–they way you move and speak. You are who they follow.

    And the workplace is no exception. Whether you manage one intern or a team of 40, realize that most people will take cues from you. You’re constantly under surveillance whether you like it or not. They’ll observe how you interact not only with other team members, but with your boss. They’ll watch you speak to clients and manage conflict, and they’ll try to figure out ways to put their spin on what they see. It’s inevitable, and it’s a behavior that stems from childhood, our parents being our first models. As I’ve stated previously, managing others is probably the hardest part of your job. And it starts with managing yourself. From HBR’s “Are You a Good Boss–or a Great One?”:

    Management begins with you, because who you are as a person, what you think and feel, the beliefs and values that drive your actions, and especially how you connect with others all matter to the people you must influence. Every day those people examine every interaction with you, your every word and deed, to uncover your intentions. They ask themselves, “Can I trust this person?” How hard they work, their level of personal commitment, their willingness to accept your influence, will depend in large part on the qualities they see in you.

    Be the manager that you want your team members to admire, emulate and make their own. Listen and observe and take feedback on your style and effectiveness. Every quarter, I did an informal, honest assessment of my efficacy as a manager. I asked myself:

    a. Is my team helping me meet revenue and margin targets? How they are they doing this? At what cost? How could I make the path to our goals easier, more effective? Am I inviting their feedback? Am I acting on it?

    b. Do they seem fulfilled in their work? Am I checking in with them frequently, asking about their workload and bandwidth? If they’re struggling, am I giving them the tools they need to be successful? Are they referring employees (the best sign that people like where they work)? Do they have a life outside of work and do they talk about it? One of the most powerful job interview questions my friend Ellen mentioned to me over lunch was this: Tell me about your employees hobbies? Because if a manager doesn’t know if/how their team is enjoying their life, that’s a problem.

    c. Am I starting to see trends in aggregate? Are they working longer hours? Are they snapping at people in meetings? Then observe how I’ve managed myself in the same time frame? Luckily, I had a mentor who would give me feedback EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. about my management style. At first I was annoyed, but then I realized that his guidance was a gift–he was taking time out of his schedule to make me a better manager, build me into a capable leader, and now, in retrospect, I’m grateful for all the times he pulled me into his office to tell me how I could have handled a situation differently (translation: better).

    Perform this assessment and invite 360 feedback (formally or anonymously), and show that you respect their feedback and a plan for how you’ll be more effective in your role based on the feedback that is appropriate for you.

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    Which leads me to my next point. We’re human. We make mistakes. Sometimes we’re tired; we have to deal with people who drain the life right out of our bodies, and we allow that stress to impact how we treat others. Sometimes we don’t act right. And that’s okay. As long as you ACKNOWLEDGE, LEARN, MODIFY.

    7. Knowing that managing up is just as critical as managing down. Sometimes you’re not acting right and you need to let your team know that, publicly. Be open to feedback and change.: I was once in a meeting with a direct report who had a habit of shutting down other team member’s contributions when she felt they were wrong. Let’s call her Sarah. I remember a rather timid team member (let’s call her Cathy) who offered an opinion on a topic (I was so glad Cathy finally spoke up! my mentorship was working!), and then her contribution was cut short by Sarah, who didn’t have a problem letting her know that she was wrong. I was livid. In response, I used my authority to shoot down Sarah and the whole team fell silent. In the moment, I realized what I was doing was wrong and I suspect the team did as well.

    Within an hour, I approached Sarah in a conference room and apologized. She burst into tears and said that my lashing out was not okay, and I acknowledged and agreed that it wasn’t. I proceeded to explain that Cathy probably felt the same way, having experienced, on a smaller scale, what Sarah just experienced. We all deserve to be heard and respected, even if we’re “wrong”. We learned that we need to act from a place of grace in how we treat others, as a reflection of how we wish to be treated.

    Later, I apologized to the team in a follow-up meeting. I pointed out that my lashing out at Sarah wasn’t okay–that wasn’t an appropriate way to deal with frustration. After the meeting, Sarah approached me and shared that she had apologized privately to Cathy. Going forward, both of us modified our behavior by allowing team members to contribute without interruption, and we framed our feedback as a way to build upon, rather than erode, the contribution. That’s a terrific idea! Have you thought about how we can add X to Y?

    a. Acknowledge your misstep either through your own self-awareness, through performance reviews or on-the-spot feedback from your team (if you’ve built that trust). Don’t rush to get defensive, to erase the validity of someone else’s feelings. Acknowledge that what you’ve said or done has hurt, embarrassed, or bothered someone else.

    b. Learn how you could make the situation better. Sometimes it’s as simple as an apology or an invitation for how you could have handled the situation behavior.

    c. Modify your behavior as a result of the incident. Sometimes the biggest cliches ring the truest: actions speak louder than words. Show people that you are making an effort to change your behavior as a result of the incident. I should also say that apologizing or admitting fault IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS. Rather, it means you’re human, fallible, and you care deeply enough about those around you to adapt to constructive feedback. Don’t whitewash and downplay incidents or get defensive, because I guarantee that one incident will build into bad behavior. And you know who loses? YOU and YOUR TEAM. So set down your ego and listen and learn from your mistakes.

    In the final installment of my management tips, I’ll address the following:
    8. Toeing the line. Be compassionate. Mentor, but don’t be a best friend or get wasted with your direct report.
    9. Managing conflict. How not to punch yourself in the face, or punch your team members.
    10. Profile right. How to make sure you understand how people work so you can manage them effectively.

    Have you read part one of my management tips?

    Photo Credits: Death to the Stock Photo

    peanut butter brownies (grain-free)

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    If we are blinded by darkness, we are also blinded by light. When too much light falls on everything, a special terror results. –Anne Dillard (via)

    A few days ago I met an old friend for coffee. Lauren’s been someone whom I deeply admire, and have been longing to see for a while. Seeing her feels like an exhalation–I can explain it, but I always feel calm in her presence. She’s soft-spoken, introverted and insanely creative. We met years ago when we were online marketing managers at HarperCollins, and we’ve kept in contact over the years–perhaps out of sheer curiosity about where we’d inevitably land. I remember our first lunch after years of not having seen one another, and I shared how much I loved photographing food, and she smiled and shared that she had started freelancing as a professional photographer. At first I felt embarrassed around her because she was the real deal while I was someone with an expensive camera taking pictures of the food I’d made, but she was so generous with her time that I soon grew eager to ask her questions. She advised me about shooting light, Lightroom techniques for balancing out distortion as a result of using my 16-35mm, and general tips about lenses (she shoots with a Nikon while I’ve a Canon).

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    This week, in passing, she mentioned that some of my recent photos have been good, really good, and that I should consider submitting them to a few sites for stock photography. At first I balked, I waved her away–who was I to submit photos alongside people who could pontificate for hours about bokeh and light? It’s weird even writing this alongside a post where the food shots are passable at best (brown is hard to beautify, especially when you’re dealing with gluten-free desserts, which are sometimes challenging as keeping the integrity of the sweet becomes a nearly impossible proposition, and food styling gives me massive vertigo because I think the food should always be the star of the show), but when I look at some of my images from Nicaragua (I really enjoyed shooting with a wide-angle lens, and I feel really proud of this photo), Thailand, Fiji, and India, I get excited. They’re not half-bad. They’re decent, even. I also think the buns from this post are pretty foxy.

    So I submitted a portfolio of about 30 photos for consideration to one of the cool stock sites, where I can make a few hundred a month (for grocery + transportation $, not bad!). To be honest, I’m expecting to be rejected (I’m not fishing. Seriously, I’m not), but it’s nice to take an element of what I love about this space and finding a way to make a little extra money from it. I even thought about redesigning the space so I can have a section for my photos (the travel shots are the ones of which I’m most proud, since the food photos are simply okay) in hopes that I might sell some prints.

    What do you guys think? Am I crazy? It’d be nice to hear your thoughts.

    Like I said, ignore the brownies (although they were downright delicious) as an example of my work.

    INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Extra Virgin Kitchen
    4 tbsp chunky peanut butter
    125g dark chocolate
    100g vegan butter (7 tbsp)
    2 medium eggs
    125g coconut palm sugar
    75g almond flour (about 3/4 cup)
    1 tsp baking powder

    DIRECTIONS
    Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a small square baking tray (8×8) with parchment paper.

    Beat the peanut butter and maple syrup in a small bowl with a fork. Litter the tray with baby blobs. Set aside. In a double-boiler, melt the chocolate and butter, and set aside.

    In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until creamy (2-3 minutes). Beat in the almonds and baking powder. Fold in the chocolate and butter mixture. Pour over the peanut butter mixture and even out with a spatula. Bake for approximately 18 minutes.

    Cool on a rack for an hour. You can store this in the fridge in an airtight container for a week.

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    cinnamon + cacao granola (paleo/gluten-free)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But really I wrote nothing at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    how not to be a terrible manager (part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But I don’t know where to go.

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

    But I want to go. Somewhere.

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

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

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

    I don’t want what I can bear.

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

    To be continued…

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