Posted on July 9, 2015
I believe, if you wear the Balinese clothes, you will be very beautiful. Because you have the good skin, the white skin, my guide says, pointing to the masses of women in the street preparing offerings for Galungan, the most sacred of Balinese Hindu holidays. The women wear folds of silk and satin in vermillion, sanguine red and yellow while they weave together blooms and wave incense. Some wear blue the color of certain skies as they prepare jaja, a Balinese fried rice cake. I’m quiet for a moment because I realize the deception my skin bears, and the privilege it affords me. I tell him the women are beautiful just as they are, and I’d hope that I would be the same not because my skin is the color of parchment, but because my heart is one where the good parts of me (dharma) smother the darker parts (adharma).
My guide, whose name translates to swastika in the Sanskrit, apologizes often. He offers regret over the enormous step I have to take when coming out of the car or if there’s traffic in the one road that snakes through much of Ubud. At one point I tell him that he’s nothing to be sorry for, he’s done nothing wrong, and he looks both startled and relieved. We spend most of our day winding around the Northeast part of Bali, visiting Mount Batur and feasting on sweet oranges from the groves that crowd the mountain while men sell adorable furry dogs locked in cages and chidren hock local fruit. We visit the Gunung Lebah Temple where I watch scores of tourists cleanse themselves in the purification waterfalls while the Balinese in traditional garb smoke cigarettes and attach themselves to their phones, texting, game-playing, Facebooking. I hike the grass covered Tegalalang Rice Terrace steps and weave in and out of dozens of shops known for intricate wood carvings, stained glass and iridescent shell art.
Often, my guide asks me questions about my work, life and travel. He can’t fathom a life like mine where a woman manages everything on her own. Often he calls me strong, and his words are tinged with a kind of respect that borders on envy, and I tell him it’s less about bravery than about choice. I’ve no choice to support myself. I choose to travel alone. And if given the choice, I would have a partner but we would be equals because I would never, ever, be with a man simply for means, simply to be taken care of.
I think about how my guide and others must see me–a prosperous white American woman on her own. No husband to command her time and attention. Enough means to demand it on her own. I am all of the things but none of things, and it’s midday and I’m tired.
Sometimes I try not to think of class division even though I know it exists. We sit in the back of cars when we pay someone else to drive them. We are polite, if not downright deferential, when we pay others to take our food away after we’ve eaten it. In no way would I ever be foolish enough to believe that my privilege affords me a better sense of self simply because I’m in the position of sitting in the back seat. I am of no better character because of it, despite of it, although I’m certain there are many who believe they are better than simply because of the weight of their wallet.
Often I consider the burden of it. The cruelty, or adharma, money can cause.
I had an odd day, the kind of day I wouldn’t have had four years ago (I wouldn’t have been present or healthy enough to see the subtle signs), but over the course of the day my guide’s despair become palpable. He revealed that his wife is away on a contract hotel job in Turkey for two years while he raises their five-year-old son. He repeats, this is her last contract, and I vacillate between wondering if this is a good thing (she comes home) or a bad thing (financial uncertainty). When he plays me the song he played the last day he spent with her before she left for an inn named after Snow White, I realize that her return is auspicious and desired. I feel this ache, his longing.
Although he lives with his mother, whom he loves, he’s lonely and doesn’t much like his job (we compared stories about working for sociopathic, dishonest people), and sometimes feels he doesn’t like his life. Even now, as I type this, as I try to decipher his halting English, I wonder if he told me that he contemplated taking his life. I acutely know the comfort in confiding to strangers, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he did mean this, but it pains me nonetheless. I remember his nervous laughter when he tells me that his life is so hard. I know that laughter because I’ve used it when saying things too painful to say in the company of others (I’m fine, everything’s fine–my constant, cold refrain). Part of me always wants to correct, to save, but over time I’ve learned that sometimes people don’t want to be taken care of, they just want someone’s kindness. They only wish to be heard.
So I did just that. I listened without waiting for my turn to speak. And I tried to be kind as I know how.
I invited my guide to have lunch with me at a fancy restaurant, and he refused for some time. He’s never been in a restaurant where he takes his tourists, much less enjoyed a meal served by the people with whom he would share a lunch (don’t worry, there’s free food for me in the back). I felt my privilege so deeply it almost made me feel ashamed of it. Of how he felt odd sharing a meal with me until I made him realize that we’re people who like watching animal videos on the Internet (we referenced a particular camel video we saw and we collapsed into ugly guffaws). We’re two people who love food.
I talked a lot about my father, how much I’ll miss him when I move to California. My guide shows me photographs of his sweet son (very fat, but very, very happy). We speak of karma and how we both try to be good people even if we don’t always do the right thing.
On the drive back I grew sleepy as he played songs off his phone–rock songs that are riffs off American music (Skynyrd, Zeppelin) and songs about leaving. We pass some words on leaving, on time, and how we fear both of these things yet have to consistently face them.
I would be silly or arrogant to think I made any impact. And it’s not about the meal I can afford. It felt more like I was able to listen and give someone else the compassion and kindness they needed–to not make this day about me. I think sharing a meal, albeit briefly, is an intimacy, a deep kindness, toward myself and for this great man who’s suffering perhaps more than I know.
Posted on July 8, 2015
Today I signed a lease and booked a one-way ticket to my new home in California. I feel frightened, uncertain. To be honest, none of this felt truly real until yesterday, until I called my landlord from Asia and gave him notice that I was leaving my apartment building of five years. It didn’t feel real until I emailed a friend of a friend who’d expressed interest in taking over my apartment, writing, you’ll like it here. It didn’t feel real until I text’d my pop that I was leaving in a month’s time and I responded to his succinct cool reply with, so when can I see you?
And it didn’t feel real until I spent an hour on the phone with Jetblue negotiating a flight with my pet. When the agent asked when I wanted to book my return, I responded, I’m not coming back.
My best friend, a woman who I’ve known for half my life, writes, I can’t believe it’s really happening.
People move all the time. People leave their home for colleges across the country. People study abroad. People are itinerant. I’ve been none of those people. I’ve done none of those things. I went to college and graduate school here. And while I’ve traveled through much of the world I always flew home to JFK and felt the word home.
Until I didn’t. Until there came a time when I replaced the word home with here. Oh, I’m here.
I can handle logistics. I’m Type A; I’m surgical when it comes to details. I’m able to negotiate between various moving companies from a hotel in Singapore with ease but the one thing that I find difficult to do is sit with the unease that comes with the knowledge that I’m about to walk into the familiar, eyes open, heart first. Logically I know this is what I want. I know I need to move, however, that doesn’t make this experience any less frightening. It doesn’t make the questions go away: Will I find work while in California? When will I have to get a car? Can I parallel park? Will I find love? How will I adjust being away from everything that is familiar, everyone whom I love?
I’m feeling the questions hard right now.
Posted on July 7, 2015
Maomao tells me that she’s glad her husband’s dead because she’s had thirteen years of freedom. You know, I liked him. I didn’t want him to die, but it’s as if the gods heard me. I’m 69 now. Can you imagine coming home to a man? It’s a second job. I would have to eat with him, pay attention to only him. My whole life would be him. Pointing to her license (all tour guides have to wear their badge prominently), I wonder aloud about the fact that she knows English and Italian. Why Italian? The dead husband, she says. I nod. The dead husband. We continue our half-day food tour around the Chinese wet market in the Chinatown Complex, weaving our way through hawker stores as she explains the difference between Haiwanese and Cantonese cuisine. Wrinkling her nose she says, Cantonese, all fried, very spicy, too much chili. Very yang. Gesturing to the cool blues of the Haiwanese placard she says, Steamed, boiled, healthy. Yin.
I offer Maomao back the pastry she purchased for me at the start of our tour. I tell her I have to chill with the gluten, that I spent a year with a nutritionist and doctor trying to repair my insides, and while I can occasionally indulge in wheat-based products, I got to take it easy. After an Odyssean of polite refusals, she accepts the croissant-like dough. Tearing into the flaky, hot sweet, she remarks that she’s no self control. I lost 30kg last year because I stopped eating and started walking. I tell her that’s a little extreme–a life sustained on salads and fruit. Maomao shrugs, pulls a bottle of water out of her bag, taps it proudly and says, It’s filtered. Then she proceeds to share her recipe for tortellini and meat sauce, a dish she’s making for her family this evening. Normally, they would never have pasta at night because there’s no time to expend the energy, but she’s mindful of a food’s expiration and tells me that she finds it strange that Americans store food for so long. How we allow time to steal all the nutritional value from what we eat. She only purchased the fresh pasta over the weekend and she’s concerned that time for her tortellini is running out.
Some might think this odd but I get it. I too am forever thinking about a ticking clock; I understand what it’s like to fear the one thing for which one has no control: time.
It occurs to me now, as I write this, that my tour guide’s name translates to cat in the English. The fact that the other person who was supposed to accompany us on the guided food tour of Chinatown dropped out at the last moment. Clearly Maomao and I were meant to meet.
We’ve only know one another for a few hours but I love Maomao’s candor, how she calls me a “new-style” woman because I’m unmarried, childless, and traveling on my own. At first she regards me with caution, curiosity. You’re very brave. And quiet. I laugh and say, I’ve only just met you. We start our tour and I do that thing I do when I’m around much older women–I become deferential, calm. My curiosity takes the form of quiet study while she’s inquisitive. Maomao has all the questions. How old are you? What do you do for work? If you are not owned by a company why do you pay taxes? Are you lonely when you travel on your own?
I think of a line Robert DeNiro said in Heat: I’m alone; I’m not lonely.
Over dessert at Tong Heng, where she presents me with a cool, syrupy-sweet bowl of cheng tng, Maomao tells me that shse has six children whom she loves but she says, emphatically and often during the tour, how much she hates frogs, pork, and turtles. You’re so lucky to live in New York, she marvels over the cakes, cookies, and pastries she devoured in the city while I pause over her non-sequitur. Maomao says she envies the fact that I have choices.
We talk a lot about alternative medicine. Maomao confides that when her son was six and he had asthma, she stepped a dried gekko in hot water, and he hasn’t had a problem with asthmas since. Shaking her head she says in a small voice that she could never tell her son this because he’d never forgive her. He’s a vegetarian. We talk about using lemongrass as a natural mosquito repellent and Maomao points to all of my blistering bites and tells me that toxins are desperate to leave my system. She tells me to drink frog or turtle broth (not the meat! never the meat!) as those are natural detoxifiers. We pass by a spa where we see a photograph of a woman’s feet seemingly steeped in sewage. The photograph suggests that bathing our feet in this way will expel all of the toxins from our body. I shake my head and laugh at the clever marketing and Maomao agrees. While she believes in the power of old medicine and natural herbs and the healing power of animals and plants–technology she doesn’t buy.
We agree that the marketing is clever and the people who buy into this are desperate, possibly stupid. I become fond of Maomao.
After, she takes me to a famous shop for mooncakes, Chop Tai Chong Kok, and by habit I purchase a bag of buttery savory cookies knowing that I can’t eat them so I instead attempt to pawn them off on Maomao and she reminds me of her willpower. Give her an hour and they’ll only be crumbs left in her bag. I procure bags of dried herbs from Anthony the Spice Maker after getting a whiff of his famous curry blend and Maomao’s assurance that if I spread the powder on a piece of chicken, your family will lick their fingers.
Maomao reminds me that she loathes frogs, pork and turtles and I confess my hatred of fish and the mushroom. There is a moment when Maomao looks at me as if I were insane. I’m not going to regale you with the details, but let’s just say we had a long discussion in a dining hall where Maomao tried to make me a mushroom convert and I adamantly refused.
Before we part ways, before I take another terrific lunch at The Noodle Man (the fried dumpings and tofu are REAL, people. REAL), Maomao embraces me. She tells me that it’s so hard to be a woman, we’ve so much to manage and bear that I should focus on making time.
Make the time for your life, she says. Before you are old and there is no more time.
Posted on July 5, 2015
Their life is mysterious, it is like a forest; from far off it seems a unity, it can be comprehended, described, but closer it begins to separate, to break into light and shadow, the density blinds one. Within there is no form, only prodigious detail that reaches everywhere: exotic sounds, spills of sunlight, foliage, fallen trees, small beasts that flee at the sound of a twig-snap, insects, silence, flowers. And all of this, dependent, closely woven, all of it is deceiving. There are really two kinds of life. There is, as Viri says, the one people believe you are living, and there is the other. It is this other which causes the trouble, this other we long to see. ― James Salter, Light Years
There’s a woman I recognize in Chinatown. She’s seated a few tables in front of me on the thoroughfare of Smith Street and I wonder if the day has gotten the better of me, if the heat has ushered in a mirage of a face from my past–a face at first slightly familiar (it’s been a while), and then it reveals itself in degrees. Then the full of her, our history coming into focus. She fills the frame and I lift my camera and pause; I want to take her picture. We look at each other and look away, doing that thing we’ve all instinctively learned to do–we pretend we don’t exist, that the moment of awkward familiarity rewound and erased itself, and I’m left facing her, refusing to move because this is the only place in the restaurant in which I’m seated where I can get good light.
I know you. We were friends for years until someone I loved excised me from her life and you followed suit. My calls were unreturned, emails unanswered. It was as if you’d vanished although I’d see photographs in you in Sunset Park. You in Berlin. A woman cloaked in shadow followed by a poem from an obscure Chinese poet–I remember you liked your photographs marred, imperfect and your verse vague and neat.
I know you.
Part of me now wishes I would’ve done what I wanted to do: get up from my table and walk over to yours and say hello. It would’ve been a polite hello, a salutation that would’ve been mature, although for a moment I imagine tensions would reverberate. I didn’t want to be that woman who stared at you in the middle of Chinatown, in the middle of Singapore (what are the odds, really?!?!) and pretend I didn’t know you. But that’s exactly what I did, what we did, and I remember asking for my dumplings to go because inhabiting this shared space was unbearable.
The exertions have taken their toll. We feel the surface trembling. Or are we underwater, knocking at the waves overhead, asking for trespass to breathe?
It’s dawn now and I feel the burn in the mouth from my impatience, for feasting on xiao long bao, soup dumplings with a lightly flavored pork broth, from Jing Hua Xiao Chi and pan-fried potstickers at Lan Zhou La Mian. But at the same time I feel the coldness of you. How you glanced at me while talking to your friends who seemed oblivious to our transaction. And I think: this is who you are? Still?
It’s strange to see a place before it unfurls and then be in the middle of its frenzy. I’ve been waking early (if the jetlag won’t be the end of me, these mosquito bites surely will be), and I spent the better part of yesterday morning exploring Singapore by foot. I made my way to Chinatown, which is a direct, 30 minute walk from my hotel, to see tarp-covered stalls, plates piled high and tourists assembling for bad coffee. I took a second breakfast at Tak Po HK, ordering scores of tiny plates ranging in price from $1-$4, and inadvertantly ingesting seafood. I loathe seafood nearly as much as The Vile and Wretched Mushroom, however, the char siew pies were flaky and fresh, and the yam tart tender and spicy. Later, I had durian out of plastic bag, and remembered the delicious fruit and its unpalatable stench.
I began my day with a Chinatown markedly different from how I left it come evening. Funny how time sorts things.
In Little India I was transported back to the markets of Delhi and Jaipur and feeling outnumbered. Always wondering: where are the women? Why are the streets crowded with hulking, chain-smoking men? While my camera captured the few women weaving through the food stalls as they bargained for herbs and purchased jasmine wreaths, but the feeling of being surrounded by men was palpable. Men passing a smoke over a meal in the open eating area. Men forming a line for Western Union that snaked around the block. Men sitting on crates in front of the plentiful jewelry shops that lined the streets. Men saying pardon as they bumped into me. Men politely starring. While I’m speaking not in the pejorative, I should say that I felt my gender. I felt very much a woman amongst men.
I remember feeling faint from only having eaten a bag of almonds for lunch because I wanted to prepare myself for the dumpling binge that would ensue. This was an hour before Chinatown, before a saw you, and I wondered how my day would have played out if I spent another night shocked to get a $12 bill for a small bottle of Perrier (are you kidding me?) at my hotel. But in that moment I was exhausted from walking 12 miles in heat that felt in excess of 100 degrees, and all I wanted were the dumplings.
You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; / They called me the hyacinth girl. / —Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden, / Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not / Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither / Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, / Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
I want to tell you about your face. How hollow it is. How it assumes the shape of laughter but you are neither laughing or a contortionist. You are miming life. I want to tell you about your eyes. How cold they are in this heat–the heat that smokes the insides of rubber bins and cut fish. I want to tell you about the chill I felt when you looked into my eyes, look through them, as if you were desperate to grasp all that lie behind me. In that moment I saw you vacant, a robber-baron (barren) of fertile land.
There was an orchid in The National Orchid Garden that was practically translucent. After photographing it, I had to do a double-take because the flower was luminescent, it glowed cool under the midday sun.
Do you know in Hinduism there are 33 million gods. Straight face. Google it (I did). There is a god for everything, my guide says outside of Thian Hock Keng, Singapore’s oldest Hokkien temple. It’s strange, you know, being in a kind of Utopia. Over five million people (60% are indigenous) live in a city where there crime scarcely exists (I’ve yet to see a police officer), a place, where, after three years you are guaranteed affordable and princely government housing. Where the wait time in a government hospital is 45 minutes and you are guaranteed healthcare. Where Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, and 95 other faiths cohabit peacefully. Where a mosque is constructed every 3K out of respect for Muslims who need to pray five times a day. Where people only need to worry about providing food for their family because shelter is a non-issue. Where a 4% supercedes the American 1% (36 billionaires and 174K millionaires reside in Singapore). Where everyone is kind and hospitable even if navigating the streets resembles a game of Tetris.
It occurs to me that I’m a tourist in a city that is unusually pristine and oddly near-perfect. And this puts me to thinking about faith and the impossibility of perfection (of which I learned acutely in Spain while admiring the imperfect perfection of Muslim architecture). A trembling always exist, even below a seemingly calm and idyllic surface, and if someone would’ve walked by me in that restaurant in Chinatown, they would’ve thought, Now there’s a woman enjoying her dumplings. There’s a woman smiling. There’s a woman photographing her dumplings. There’s a woman about to take a picture. There’s a woman staring (reverberation). There’s a woman in thought. There’s another woman laughing, all tra la la less. There’s the first woman’s face, falling.
The shift might very well be imperceptible to you had you walked by because what it had occurred took place in a span of five or ten minutes. Yet it marred a seemingly perfect day, albeit for a little while. I couldn’t get her, and my inability (or fear) to walk over to her table, out of my mind until this morning when I realized that feeling that discomfort, that ache and pain for someone I once loved, is me breaking in all the right places.
She didn’t break; she was impenetrable. I broke; I was a river.
Women don’t break. Women break.
Posted on July 4, 2015
I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. ― Beryl Markham, West with the Night
Jaffa tells me his name means orange–very easy to remember. His face is tawny and weathered with age, yet he has an verve that dwarves mine. He’s talkative, Jaffa, because of years spent being a limousine driver, where he made his living by making his home a story he’d tell to tourists of means and interest. Now he’s a taxi driver, a transition of which he’s slowly and painfully, become accustomed. His is a vocation that requires speed, dexterity, and silence. People want only to move between points on a map, and Jaffa affectionately pats his GPS, his girlfriend, who speaks to him when no one else will.
Later I’ll read that Jaffa’s name has roots in Israel and Palestine, and is more recently known as a seedless fruit with tough skin, perfect for export. Leaving. But I don’t know this yet and I spend my first hour in Singapore trying to stay awake from two days of travel, while trying to fill his quiet spaces with the only gift I know of: words.
Jaffa comes from a small village outside of Singapore, and there was a time when he could’ve afforded a home for $15,000. Now he points to the condominiums clouding the sky and whistles. One, two, three million. He tells me that it’s a different time. I ask him a few perfunctory questions, but what he really wants to talk about a fine he’s been issued. Last week he stopped in an intersection to pick up an elderly woman. If you’ve ever been to Singapore you’ll know that taxis don’t halt in the middle of city streets, rather people have to queue up in designated stands. Yet Jaffa breaks this law because he tells me that the woman was frail and aren’t you supposed to help someone when they’re in need? Tell me, he says, wasn’t stopping the right thing to do?
Of course it was. However, the law disagrees. A CCTV camera caught Jaffa and he’s been fined $150 (a princely sum for him) and three points on his licence (24 points revokes a license). His only recourse is to appeal to his minister (think of a minister as a supervisor) who will plead Jaffa’s case on his behalf.
Sometimes I get frustrated, Jaffa confides. Sometimes I want to leave.
I know the feeling. Yes, but not really. But almost.
I wanted to start over completely, to begin again as new people with nothing of the past left over. I wanted to run away from who we had been seen to be, who we had been… It’s the first thing I think of when trouble comes — the geographic solution. Change your name, leave town, disappear, make yourself over. What hides behind that impulse is the conviction that the life you have lived, the person you are, is valueless, better off abandoned, that running away is easier than trying to change things, that change itself is not possible. ― Dorothy Allison, Skin: Talking about Sex, Class and Literature
There was a time when I thought the definition of love was a house once brightly lit and warm falling to blight. All the lights extinguished, the fire gone out, and you’re left with the cold, empty spaces you once so joyfully inhabited. There was a time when I used the words love and leave interchangeably. Because people always leave. Because lights invariably burn bright, flicker, and fade out. Never did I think that leaving bears its own light, that the passage from one place to another isn’t an end but a continuation. A cloud shifting. A movement of light. Never did I believe that every exit being an entrance somewhere else. And the places and people you once desired become memories you rewind and play like old movies.
I think about Jaffa’s name, its origin, and it means both exit and entry. This is how my trip begins–the realization that I’m oscillating between two states. I haven’t quite settled and my days have come to feel like a nervous reverberation. I’m here, but not really, and you know how it is.
And it only occurred to me, only today, that I’m in a place that’s been known as a crossroads.
I started my second day in Singapore with an extensive education of the Peranakan. In Malay, “Peranakan” means “child of” or “born of” and is used to refer to people of mixed ethnic origins. Peranakans in Singapore are Chinese, Indian, Arab, and Eurasian. This is a world of color, of travel, of being itinerant and finally laying down one’s roots.
We started our tour at The Spice Gardens at Fort Canning Park, home to hundreds of spices and plants–used for local cuisine as well as medicinal purposes (DYK mixing a tablespoon of cinnamon and tumeric in a glass of water is good for joint pain, or that lemongrass is a natural mosquito repellant?). The rain came down in sheets today so the plants were fragrant (the vanilla, thai basil, mint, lemongrass were especially heady) and we learned of the origins of Peranakan cooking.
The sky cleared and we made our way to Kim Choo Kueh Chang, home to the Nonya rice dumplings packed with sweet meats and tender rice, sweet glutinous desserts (I never thought I’d be into sweets fashioned from rice, but I stand corrected because I feasted on palm sugar dusted with coconut and rainbow cakes made of rice and natural dyes). Aside from the tubs of homemade cookies and tins of cakes, Kim Choo Kueh is also home to rooms adorned in the Peranakan style so we not only got to view a traditional kitchen, but finery a bride would adorn–from the vibrant reds and hot fuschias to her bejeweled shoes.
After, we spent an hour in the Peranakan Museum, where we encountered a fascinating display of Peranakan costume, embroidery, beadwork, jewelry, porcelin, furniture, and craftwork–providing insight and lore into a captivating culture. To be candid, I entered the museum with trepidation–either I’d be fascinated or bored to tears, but the museum was cultivated so simply, richly and beautifully and made for a great story. Upon entry, we were given a piece of paper, “Auspicious Symbols”, of which we’d insert in various handstamps as we made passage through the rooms. Many of the bowls were painted with insects to symbolize an abundance of food just as insects fill a garden in good weather. Butterflies festooned wedding beds–a symbol of fertility. We saw phoenixs everywhere, and our guide, Foo, told us that whenever a phoenix appears, good news will follow. I think about this as I admire blue and white porcelain bowls and Foo jokes that I cleave to things of the dead. While pink porcelain celebrates birthdays and color toasts abundance, the color blue depicts mourning, loss. You see it in the gowns women wear and how they have to replace their gold jewelry with silver. You see it in the bowls covering dark wood tables.
I spent the morning with a rich, itinerant people and their cycle of life.
By midday it was hot (the weather here averages in the 90s and is mostly humid, but oddly a lot more temperate than New York), and I broke from my group to wander around Singapore on my own. While researching great places to chow in Singapore, I discovered Seth Lui’s blog and City Nomads Singapore, and so far both sites are on point.
While I’m no longer able to eat ALL OF THE PASTRIES (these are woeful, gluten-cautious times, people), I made it a point to stop by Artisan Boulangerie Co. (flaky almond croissants like whoa) and Freshly Baked by Le Bijoux (you need to buy all the butter cakes and I’m serious about this–I’m presently noshing on a lemon cake in my hotel room as I type this with greasy fingers and I have no regrets as Edith Piaf so sagely sang) on Killiney Road. I also stumbled upon Real Food, a 4,000sq foot space dedicated to organic, local fare. It’s a bookstore, a market, a restaurant, a coffee shop and it is GOOD.
Candidly, all of this greatness was a salve for the epic disappointment that was Din Thai Fung, a Michelin-starred Taiwanese dumpling chain. I’ve been to Taiwan and the dumplings at Din Thai Fung don’t even come close to the greatness I experienced on the streets of Taipei and Taichung. Don’t get me wrong, the wrapping was tender, the soup flavorful, but these dumplings were lightweight compared to their Taiwanese counterparts. This joint came highly recommended but friends whom I love and respect, so know that I was a tad disappointed. If anyone has recommendations for great dim sum (I’m hitting up Seth’s recommended spots and Chinatown tomorrow)
I spent the rest of the day wandering Orchard Road and Victoria and Bugis Junction. For hours I was trying to find an equivalent for Singapore and the only city that comes close is Melbourne, possibly Barcelona. You have vast newness and wealth juxtaposed with the old. Thoroughfares and quays. I wandered around, watching people eat ice cream on white bread (!!!), saw numerous signs of cows in parks and learned that New York may be the only place where people naturally jaywalk.
After nearly ten hours of exploring the city by foot (and losing an umbrella in the process), I came home and collapsed into bed. I think about home and leaving it. I think about the lease that’s taking forever to make its way to my inbox. I think about a home laid out to bear and not yet assembled and packed. I think about being in a city known for both entries and exists. I think about how it feels to occupy the in-betweens in a new way, in a different light.
Light moves. Clouds shift. View adjusts.
Follow my exploits on Instagram, if you’re inclined. And yes, that’s me in the photo up top–me and my wiry greys.
Posted on June 30, 2015
After months of seven-day workweeks, hectic days, and planning for a cross-country move, know that I can’t wait to board a plane tomorrow (I ran out of Xanax, so my coping with potential turbulence during an 18-hour flight should make for good comedy). I’ll be in Singapore and Bali for two weeks in an effort to get centered, find calm, and eat copious amounts of food. While I’ve been to Bali, Singapore is completely new terrain. All I know about the city is that it’s hot and the street food game is strong.
If you’ve been to Singapore and have recommendations on what to do, see and eat, please drop me a note in the comments or tweet at me, @felsull.
Be prepared for two weeks of snaps from my holiday with some freelancing tips and move updates in between!
Posted on June 28, 2015
It seems to me then as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time. ―W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
You feel what follows you. Lately I’ve been thinking about an old friend. Let’s call her K. We met at Columbia, at one of those forced gatherings where everyone was fresh-faced and feckless. Where everyone traded stories about their high hours at Bowdoin and Swarthmore, or talked about the new Rick Moody and the old Joan Didion. They were mostly white and hailed from New England or some other tony town they were intent on fleeing. Towns that would forever haunt their fiction, even though they didn’t know it, even though they were equally desperate not to show it. I thought I had this game racked having graduated from Fordham, where affluence was ubiquitous, where my friends rowed crew or played lacrosse. College was the first place I learned that people could summer and winter. But this was a whole other level of wealth–my classmates had the kind of money that afforded them the ease of worrying about how to fill the hours, while I was calculating the time from now until I had to return to work so I could afford all the books and supplies necessary to learn how to write.
I remember sitting on the grass eyeing the exits, wondering if it would be rude to run. What was I doing here–a failed banker turned dot-comer–with my stack of sloppy, overwrought stories about my mother? I’d spent much of life writing my way to her as if she were an undertow from which I wanted escape and absolution. While these strangers had their two-floor homes and childhood rebellions, I had a specter with hair that was a forest I’d spent my childhood wanting to get lost in and the feeling that I would never fit in. These strangers would soon read my stories (and butcher them) and I was frightened of being second rate, of being found out.
I thought again about running. There was still time to withdraw. I could cancel the loans, get back my deposit and go on with my life. I wonder now how my life would have been different if I left. I think about that a lot sometimes, although I try hard not to because there’s no sense in revisiting a past that’s impossible to rewrite.
Then someone suggested an icebreaker: let’s all name our favorite authors. I thought I was well-read until I heard my classmates speak. When it came my turn I talked about Salinger, Cheever and Bret Easton Ellis. I’d read American Psycho in college and I was obsessed with Pat Bateman’s pathology and the nihilism in Ellis’ work. This guy was dark and I was having all of it. And although it was a dark that was foreign to me–wealth, beauty, privilege–Ellis’ rage, anger and rawness was palpable. These were pretty people doing ugly things and not giving a fuck about it, and when I was 24 that was all I wanted to talk about.
Judging from the uncomfortable silence I was the only one in the group who wanted to talk about Bret Eason Ellis. Until K. Until a beautiful blond from California–specifically, Newport Beach–leaned into me and confessed that she loved Bret Easton Ellis. We became fast friends because I suppose we felt like outcasts. She took a workshop with Ben Marcus and everyone skewered her stories set in Los Angeles and Vegas. They judged her striking beauty and her predilection for tight clothes. And I, well, I was strange, insecure.
Back then I was the kind of woman who’d already be drowning before I set foot in the water. You’ll drown before the water lets you in. The trick, what I’d mastered, was how to breathe while treading water.
K had a sister, and their story played out like Less Than Zero. K was the good daughter, although her family thought it silly that she’d fought hard to go graduate school (To write? On the East Coast?) because she’d only come home to marry a real estate developer and bear his children in their McMansion. But they allowed her this diversion, this temporary $100,000 vacation while her sister liked her party favors more than she should.
Looking back, I think K and I became close because we were alone, lonely.
After my first semester I dropped out of the writing program because I too liked my party favors more than I should, while K pressed on, writing her stories. We were friends for the two years she remained in New York, and I remember following her out to Los Angeles for a week-long vacation. It was the second time since I’d been to California (the first was a Greyhound I took to meet a pen pal when I was 17), and I climbed into her SUV at LAX and she laughed at my-all black outfit and told me I had to change. We spent that week drinking in yacht clubs and doing far too many drugs. And for a long time that’s how I regarded Los Angeles–a city where one could so easily drown. A prettified place where one comes undone. I boarded a plane back to New York and I felt strange. I felt a clock ticking, our friendship expiring. It would be another year until she’d tell me that she wanted to go back home, she had to because California was home.
Where does everyone go when they say they have to go?
This would be a year before we sat on the shoreline in a beach in Miami watching the sky paint the waves black. This would be a year before she’d order ceviche and we’d sneak out of our cheap motel with scratchy blankets for dinner at the Delano. This would be a year before she’d tell me that we’d always be friends. This would be two years before I learned that we wouldn’t always be friends.
You feel what follows you.
It’s been over a decade since K and I have spoken. She’s married with a beautiful child, living in a home with a man I never liked. And it occurs to me that this is the coda to the two stories of friends I’ve lost (I’ll meet S a few years later after K), the refrain of look at her get married, look at her have children, look at her go… It occurs to me that S and K are from Los Angeles. We share a broken familial lineage, a history of drugs, and intense loneliness.
It’s only until this week did I take responsibility for two great loves falling out of my life. Granted, they’re not without fault, but while they climbed their way out of the dark I was still content on burrowing my way in. I wore my sorrow proud, and felt defined by my history. For years I hated Los Angeles–I used all the storied stereotypes, talked about how I was team Biggee, went on about how could one live in a city filled with so many cars–because the place of their origin was a reminder of their limits. Maybe there came a point when they decided it wasn’t worth it to follow me into the dark. Perhaps they realized before me that pain wasn’t beautiful, cathartic or romantic–it was just pain and they were tired of feeling it. It would take me years to climb out and I did it mostly alone.
I’m this close to signing the lease on my new home in Los Angeles. Come September I’ll be in a new home, and I’m relieved that I no longer conflate an entire state with my broken friendships.
This weekend I found myself cleaning, sorting, packing, and I came across photographs of me and K from that weekend we took in Miami. I think about her now, I wonder about the terrific stories she wrote that she never published, and I hope she’s happy. I hope they’re both happy.
You feel what follows you.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, slightly modified.
For the crust
3 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup toasted almonds, divided
1/4 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
For the filling
1 pound strawberries, stemmed and cut in half
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp maple syrup, divided
3/4 cup + 1 tbsp apple juice, divided
3/4 tsp powdered gelatin (the original recipe called for agar flakes, but I couldn’t even find these in the specialty store)
1 tsp arrowroot (you can also use cornstarch)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups fresh raspberries
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line the bottom of a 9inch springform pan with parchment paper, and lightly oil the sides.
Grind 1/3 cup almonds, oats and salt in a food processor until coarsely ground, about twenty seconds. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the flour. Hand chop the remaining 1/3 cup of almonds and add to the mixture. Drizzle in the olive oil, and mix with a fork until all the flour is moistened. Add maple syrup, vanilla, and almond extract. Mix well until evenly incorporated. Wash and dry your hands and then press crust evenly into the prepared pan until you’re a 1/2 inch up on the sides. Prick bottom several times with a fork and bake for 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Raise the oven temperature to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Add strawberries and drizzle with olive oil and 1 tbsp of maple syrup. Toss until coated and roast for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Combine 3/4 cup apple juice and gelatin in a small heavy-bottomed pot and bring to boil over a high heat. Whisk, cover the coat, bring the temp down to low and allow it to simmer for five minutes. In a small bowl dissolve the arrowroot in 1 tbsp of apple juice and slowly drizzle into the hot gelatin mixture, whisking vigorously. Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining tablespoon of maple syrup and vanilla. Set aside, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
Place roasted strawberries in a bowl and pour in the warm gelatin mixture. Stir gently with a rubber spatula. Add raspberries, and toss until evenly distributed. Working quickly, transfer the mixture to the baked tart shell and carefully spread out the filling in an even layer. Refrigerate for 25-30 minutes until filling is completely set.
Posted on June 26, 2015
When I was younger, my father and I would go on drives. We lived in a home where the air couldn’t get in. The windows were whitewashed shut and the shades drawn, and even on the brightest of days it was normal for us to feel as if we were cloaked in darkness. After school I’d wait for him to return from Brookville, where he worked breaking thoroughbred horses, and we drove around the five towns surrounding the place where we lived–windows down, radio on blast. When I was 10, I was in a car accident that shattered my collarbone, and, as a result, one of my arms is demonstrably longer than the other. It’s only noticeable when I point it out or in yoga, when I have to use props to balance myself out. So cars always felt like these monstrous machines intent on hurting people. I was unfortunate to be in four car accidents since, so you can imagine my fear of getting into a car.
The measure of my love and trust is my ability to sleep while someone drives.
I loved watching my pop drive, his hand forever steady on the wheel. For years, I looked forward to our ritual drives–we never had a destination in mind; we simply liked feeling movement beneath our feet. We had hope climbing out of the dark into the light. Sometimes we’d make a game of how many fast food restaurants we could visit in one day (Roy Rogers, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, etc), and other times we visited pristine, ice-chilled malls, browsing for finery we could hardly afford. Our friendship was deep, true and honest, and filled with memories we’d trade like playing cards. Even now, even after all this time, I only need to mention that one time you drove the wrong way on Merrick Road, and we’d be instantly transported back to former versions of ourselves, watching the cars come at us. The stories never feel old regardless of how many times we tell them. I suppose we need these stories as markers of time passing, as reasons to live, and I can’t imagine a life without my pop. I can’t imagine not sitting next to him while he drives. I can’t imagine not seeing the profile of his face, tan, with lines burrowing their way in. The way he used to dye his hair black and now he’s content to allow time to have its way, proudly acknowledging his dignified grey.
The last time I saw him we were in a car parked for two hours outside of a Starbucks, talking. I can never get over it, he said. You were once a child. You were small. We acknowledged our twenty-seven year friendship, and I told him quietly that I can’t imagine the kind of woman I’d be if he weren’t in my life.
And now you’re taking off, he said. I nodded. So there’s that.
My pop loves sweets. He loves pies, tarts, cookies (which he affectionately calls ‘biscuits’), so I woke early today and make this crisp with him in mind. My still-beating heart, hand-delivered to him.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, quite honestly one of my favorite cookbooks of the year. I do not regret this purchase! I modified the recipe a tad.
1 3/4 pounds hulled strawberries, cut into halves and quarters (I used a mix of strawberries and raspberries)
1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp unrefined light brown sugar (or coconut palm sugar)*
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup almond flour
1 cup gluten-free oats
1 tbsp black sesame seeds
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed orange
7 tbsp coconut oil
*Since my palate has been used to a diet reduced in sugar I found the crisp a tad sugary for my taste–especially since the fruit was ripe and sweet. In future versions, I’ll bring the 1/2 cup down to a 1/4 cup + 3 tbsp.
Preheat oven to 400F.
Place the strawberries in an ovenproof dish (I used a 9inch glass pie dish) with the 3 tablespoons of sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla extract. In a separate medium bowl, mix the almond flour, oats, sesame seeds, and the rest of the sugar. Add the orange zest.
Break the oil (I used softened coconut instead of melting it) into little chunks and add it to the bowl and then use your fingers to rub the mixture together, lifting them out of the bowl to get some air into the crisp topping. Once the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs and there are no big lumps of coconut, you’re good to go.
Pile the mixture on top of the strawberries and bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes, until the top is golden and the strawberries have shrunk and started to caramelize around the edges.
Allow to rest on a rack for 15 minutes before serving.
Posted on June 24, 2015
I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were. ― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem
By this time next week I’ll be somewhere in the Middle East, en route to Singapore. At first I thought planning a trip smack in the middle of summer, a short month before I pick up my life and move out west, was insane. However, as the days near I’m grateful for the time and introspection. I’m humbled to return to Bali, a magical place I visited four years ago when I was admittedly a broken woman. Normally, I don’t do travel repeats because there’s so much of the world left to see, but this trip feels auspicious. I’m seeing a place from a different vantage point, and in a way I’m revisiting the woman I used to be and being present enough to see the journey from one version of myself to another.
Last week I had lunch with two dear friends. I’ve known them for nearly fifteen years and we talked about what it’s like to reach the middle of our life. They’re planning a family and I’m embarking on some major changes, and we consider our once-frenzied states, and how now our lives pretty much demand introspection and calm.
I go into next week having juggled three clients for months and I’ll leave Asia in two weeks time readying for the maelstrom that will ensue. So know that I’ll be enjoying this private space between the two, gathering strength, being quiet.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook, modified slightly
For the meatballs:
1 cup lentils, preferably French le puy lentils
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup goat milk ricotta
¼ cup grated pecorino romano
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
⅔ cup gluten-free breadcrumbs (you can also use almond meal)
For the lemon pesto sauce:
1 clove garlic
¼ cup pistachios
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt + pepper
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp water
Place the lentils in a pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, uncovered, until lentils are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool
Once cool enough to handle, place in a large bowl and mash lightly with a potato masher. It should be half mashed, half whole lentils. Add eggs, olive oil, cheeses, garlic, fennel, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper and breadcrumbs. Stir to combine and set aside for 15 minutes so the flavors blend.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Cover a cooking sheet with parchment paper.
Meanwhile, place garlic, pistachios and lemon in a blender and blend until smooth. Add lemon juice, basil, olive oil, and water. Blend until smooth. If you like a thinner consistency, add a couple tablespoons of water.
Form 1-inch “meatballs” using the lentil mixture. If it’s too wet and not holding together, add a couple extra tablespoons of breadcrumbs. If it’s too dry, add a couple tablespoons of water. Place each meatball evenly on the baking sheet. Once you’ve made all the breadcrumbs, spray lightly with olive oil. Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes, turning halfway.
Posted on June 23, 2015
Years ago, I worshipped at the altar of Seamless Web. Back then I was an equity partner in an agency, working 12-16 hour days, and I’d spend most days in airless conference rooms, on a plane, or tethered to my desk. Weeks would go by and I wouldn’t see daylight, and it had become commonplace to order all of my meals online. When you’re in the midst of frenzy, the last thing you’re thinking about is nutrition. All you want is the comfort you’re not finding in your life. So I’d order an egg sandwich or pancakes for breakfast, pasta for lunch and noodles for dinner and there came a point when my doctor confronted me and told me that I was on the road to diabetes. My insulin levels were that high. My dentist was apoplectic–How did you get seven cavities in one year? WHAT ARE YOU EATING? I was forever exhausted, depleted and sluggish. Over the course of three years I’d gained 40 pounds, and it was only when I could no longer endure retching stomach pain, when I got fed up with my clothes tearing apart at the seams, and my doctors expressed true alarm over my health, did I make a change.
It’s been nearly a year since I first met with Dana James, who sincerely changed (and saved) my life. Words can’t express the magnitude of my gratitude, how she’s empowered me to see the connection between what I put in my body and how I feel physically, emotionally. I’d spent the greater part of my life at war with my body, starving it, hating it, shoveling garbage into it, and over the course of our work I started to recognize that health isn’t a size or a number on a scale. Health is about making conscious choices on how you manage your life. I’m a pragmatist so I realize the pile of cliches I’m feeding you, but it took me months to realize that my weight gain and sickness were a direct result of my inability to manage stress in my job and an overall dissatisfaction with my life. Take that, and add in a predilection for addiction (give me time and I’ll get hooked on ANYTHING), and there goes my health and wellbeing, crumbling before me.
Believe me when I say that I like my anaesthetics. I’m wired such that I deal with stressful situations by turning to things that dull and numb them. This has been my practice for most of my life (insert alcohol and drug addictions), and I had no idea that I’d replaced booze and blow with carbs and cheese. I’d seamlessly moved from one addiction to another without even recognizing it.
I’m grateful to Dana, who’s also a behavioral psychologist and addiction specialist, for teaching me how to rewire my behavior. Instead of reaching for that which soothes the pain, I now confront the source of the pain and make steps to avoid it, where possible. I draft contracts and take on clients in a way that works for me and my need to have complete solitude. I need that time for regeneration or I’ll get panicked and enter a stress cycle. I make sure that I stock my fridge and cabinets with healthy foods and that I skimp on other areas of my life to focus on healthy eating.
For most of the week, I prepare my meals at home, but there are a few days a week when I am in all-day meetings and conference calls. Come nightfall, I’m catatonic, and the only thing I want to do is watch a movie, play with my cat or scroll Twitter. No way do I want to be in the kitchen washing and chopping greens.
Way back when I read a post on Hitha’s blog on Munchery, an affordable, healthy meal delivery service in New York. At the time, Munchery* didn’t service Brooklyn, so I signed up for availability notifications. Recently, they sent me a note, offered me a free meal for signing up for their mailing list, and I’ve since purchased (and enjoyed!) two meals.
Each meal is prepared by a resident chef, and the ingredients are fresh, delicious and locally sourced. What I love about Munchery is the price (meals range from $9.99-$15), transparent nutritional information (each meal has a complete breakdown of ingredients, nutritional and allergen info), the convenience (I order for same-day delivery and I even get texts to let me know my meals are on their way), and the taste (my meals were flavorful, perfectly cooked and plated beautifully).
Part of me wishes I can smuggle this service to California because I can’t get over the quality of the food for the price. What a find!!
*As you know I don’t collaborate with brands for any reason, at any time. This blog is my hobby, not my business, and I only write about things I love and have paid for with my hard-earned money. The link above is part of their referral program (kind of like Gilt), where I get $ towards future meal purchases when people sign up. If that’s not your bag, simply go to Munchery.com and live your healthy life. :)
Posted on June 20, 2015
There are some people who seem tickled to take on your sad history as their own. It’s an object to cuddle and sculpt to their floating aspirations. They see a chance, in you, to be their best selves. You can be the prettying gleam they turn their profile toward. –From Darin Strauss’ Half a Life
People have opinions, and they’ll do anything to share them short of buying a megaphone and shouting from the rafters. Their point-of-view resembles a three-piece luggage set they’re desperate to unpack. Everyone wants to warn me about Los Angeles, a vapid wasteland suffering from a drought of intellect. I don’t understand why you’re not moving to Santa Cruz, some says, to which I respond, it’s not for you to understand. I read endless articles where long-term tourists anthropomorphize New York, throw glitter on a city and call it their unrequited lover, while I sit mute, incapable of reply because New York is my home, not some romanticized idol from one’s misspent youth.
Some want to spend time talking about my move through the lens of their life. They use it as a filter to validate (or question) their life choices. Should I move too? Should I be making a major change? Am I okay? There are those whose sole responses are nothing more than plentiful and positive platitudes. This will be a needed change for you! Let in all the light!, etc–reductive, airless words that don’t invite dissent. My fear feels like an intrusion in this pretty space, and I’m left to express thanks and move on. Others have spent the past six months asking me detailed logistical questions about a move I’ve only started to plan–they want the story neat, packaged, and digestible so they have an aperitif worth passing along to others come brunchtime. Everyone likes the status update about me finding my dream apartment but no one wants to hear about the paralyzing fear and uncertainty of leaving the only home I’ve ever known. Give me a picture painted in sepia without the details.
I’m baffled and exhausted. I’m moving across the country–I’m leaving my home, friends, everything that is comfortable, convenient and known–yet I’m shouldering the weight of the collective self-analysis, the burden of opinions. I’m moving. I, first-person singular nominative case personal pronoun. My move is not about you or your life choices. Over the past few months I’ve felt subsumed by the noise that comes with people telling me how I’ll feel, where, when and how I should move, however, I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve asked, quite simply:
How you holding up?
No one’s asked me how I’m doing. Are you okay?
Instead, every encounter is an hour where I get it up for someone else. I present a tidy story that can be repackaged and sold elsewhere. Sometimes I watch the discomfort when I talk about being afraid of making my rent, my fear of driving and not being able to buy a car. I think: what if I can’t start my new book? What if I fail? (Though I know failure is a good thing, but it doesn’t make the sting of it any less cruel). I watch people wave the fear away, change topics, tell me that everything will be okay because I’m like a cockroach in the apocalypse. In the end, my fear feels small, not worthy of casual conversation, and I go home and collapse into bed and wonder if I can tape record the story of my move and press play so as to avoid all the good things people want to hear.
Don’t get me wrong–I just closed on an apartment and I’m thrilled beyond measure. The idea of biking along the beach and hiking in the mountains makes me quiver. The notion of navigating a new place and creating familiarity amidst the foreign is a challenge I welcome. I’ve friends in L.A. I haven’t seen in years and reuniting with them excites me. But still. I’m afraid, and this fear isn’t simple or neat–it’s raw and ugly and is like a suitcase overturned and the contents strewn all over the place. I want to feel this mess, the whole of it, and perhaps this is why I’m not seeing a lot of people. Perhaps this is why I’m withdrawing. Because I don’t want a broom just yet. I don’t want to spend my time making you feel okay about my major life change. Right now I need to be selfish. Right now I need to go through this.
Right now I need to surround myself with people who will hold my hand through the way–just as I’ve always held their hand during their moments of disquiet.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, modified slightly.
12oz gluten-free penne
1 head of radicchio (about 7oz), shredded
For the pesto
1/3 cup shelled walnuts
1 small garlic clove, peeled
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch of fresh marjoram, leaves picked
1 bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of one lemon
In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, stir to separate and cook to al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, toast the walnuts in a dry pan for 2-3 minutes. Remove the walnuts and blitz with the garlic in a food processor until it’s a thick paste. Add the herbs and blitz. Add the oil and lemon juice and blitz. Season with salt and pepper.
When the pasta is done, take 1/4 cup pasta water and drain the rest. Mix the pesto, pasta water, pasta until completely combined. Add in the shredded radicchio and mix. Serve hot!
Posted on June 18, 2015
I submitted my first application for an apartment in Los Angeles and the realization of this has me anxious. I’m a bit of a control freak so I tend to react to uncertainty by managing the certainty. Moving doesn’t feel real until you commit to an application process, background, credit, and reference checks, and it occurs to me that I’ll be moving in nearly two months. I’m excited but frightened all at once, so I spent the whole of this morning in organization mode. I made lists, organized links and wrote this post because the unknown feels a lot less daunting when you can break it down into small, manageable tasks.
While I don’t have my new address as of yet (I mean, I haven’t even been approved!), I’m putting planning into motion, and I’ll share my journey and mishaps along the way. It’s taken me a month to thoroughly research apartments and management companies from the other side of the country, and while it’s been a challenging, frustrating process (how much stock should one place on Yelp reviews?! Eternal questions), it’s been an auspicious one.
Today I’m sharing some of my preliminary thoughts and ideas, but I’ll pop in over the course of the next three months with details, mini breakdowns (I’m certain they’re imminent), and lessons learned.
Apartment Search: Without a doubt, the best investment I made was a six-month membership ($120) to Westside Rentals, which is basically an organized, vetted Craigslist. Their database of broker-free available properties is exhaustive, and you can set-up and save different searches based on price, amenities, location, etc. For me, WSR was a launch pad to extensively research and compare properties and management companies. I’m also using Hotpads (cool interactive map + visuals), Apartments.com, Zillow, Apartment List, and Trulia. As you might have guessed, I like options.
However, what’s been most interesting to me over the course of my research is defining the kind of home I want and my non-negotiables. Living in New York my whole life, I’ve always felt bound to what I could afford because space and location come at such a premium. Never did I conceive of living in a apartment that had a washer/dryer or ample closet space. (I realize saying this demonstrates my privilege, and I’m grateful for choice.) I’ve only once lived in a doorman building and that was because I was splitting rent with my then significant other. Browsing WSR’s options (bungalows, guest homes, homes, apartment complexes, lofts), I initially started with an open-ended search and a month later winnowed down to a few properties based on my desired requirements: elevator building, in-unit washer/dryer, dishwasher, ample kitchen space/cabinets, underground parking, and concierge for packages. Since I’m able to deduct a third of my rent for purposes of a home office, I’m considering properties that might have previously been out of my price range. I’m home for most of the day, space, solitude and convenience are important to me.
Also, if you’re moving with a pet, check the pet policies. I’ve been noticing pet rents and pet deposits on a lot of buildings, so read the fine print and ask questions before signing a lease.
Bottom line: Determine your needs based on your lifestyle and income. Be realistic about what you can afford and speak with your accountant about your monthly net income, expenses, any possible deductions, and your budget.
Moving/Movers: Believe me when I say that I’ve spent most of my life in New York as a nomad. There was a time when I moved apartments every year, and I’ve hired everyone from drunk men who broke my furniture to professional movers who ripped me off and held my belongings hostage. Most recently, I’ve used Flat Rate and Schleppers, and have been extremely pleased with the care they exhibit with my furniture and the speed and professionalism of the experience. Many of my friends who’ve moved cross-country have recommended Flat Rate, Charles Wood & Son Moving, and Oz Moving & Storage. I’m also looking into PODS. I’ve yet to make a decision since I haven’t closed on apartment and I need to inventory my apartment, but I’ll let you know who I pick and the cost. Many of my bookish friends have recommended that it’s cheaper to ship my books via Fedex since most companies charge by pound–I’ll look into that, as well.
I’ve learned that it’s smart to book my company a month in advance of my move and know that there might be chance I’ll be without furniture for two weeks. Know that I’ll be shipping my air mattress to Los Angeles as a precaution.
Bottom Line: Move only that which you need (because who wants to pay to move anything that doesn’t bring you joy?), do your research on moving companies, and book in advance. Also, check in with your new home/management company regarding any regulations with regard to movers.
Moving my Special Guy: As you can imagine, I get apoplectic when it comes to Felix. I LOVE HIM SO MUCH. As such, I’m admittedly melodramatic on the level of telenovela. I might have mentioned this, but during the first year of Felix’s life he was abandoned three times. As a result, he gets really upset when I leave for long periods of time or if I get him into a carrier. When I moved apartments a year ago, you can’t even fathom his level of hysteria. Knowing that taking him across the country will be an ordeal, I plan on booking my vet appointment a month before I move while securing calming meds (which I’ll test prior so as to ensure he doesn’t get anxious). I’ve purchased this TSA-approved carrier and I plan on purchasing a one-way, first class ticket on Virgin America, THE pet-friendly airline.
Everyone tells me that at a certain altitude, Felix will konk out, and his body will be in fight/flight mode so he won’t eat or go to the bathroom for the duration of our travel experience. I just know that the trip to and from the airport–especially navigating airport security, for which I’m purchasing a harness should they want him out of the carrier–will be a fucking nightmare. Friends have also suggested that in the few weeks before departure I leave out the carrier and take him for short trips around the block so he gets used to being transported.
Bottom Line: If you’re like me and treat your pet as if it were your child, talk to your vet about all the ways in which you can transport your pet. From stress-reducing pheromone sprays to outfitting your pet with a calming collar to doping yourself and your pet (kidding, well, maybe), do the research and plan so your travel experience is as calming as it could possibly be.
Change of Address: Luckily, you can change your address online and it’s super simple. Since I pay most of my bills online, updating magazine subscriptions, credit cards, Netflix (yes, I still get DVDs–I’m 39), debit cards, student loans, cell phone, and frequently-patroned retailers (for me, Amazon) is a cinch and takes me an hour once I’m in a groove. I’ve made a list of every vendor requiring an update, along with their site link/phone number.
Speak to your accountant to forms you’ll need to complete re: your move (example). I’ll also be completing change of residence forms with the DMV. If you have health insurance, you’re able to change your plan should you move out of state. I’ve Oxford, and I’ll be completing this form to un-enroll due to a life change and will select new providers/plan under California’s insurance exchange. This seems complicated, but I’ll let you know how it goes come September.
Bottom Line: Make a detailed list of every vendor that sends you mail or notices via email. Secure your username/passwords, and spend an afternoon making all of the address changes in one shot. I also plan on sending my closest friends an email with my new contact information.
Miscellaneous Logistics: Know that I’ve made an exhaustive list of all the little things I have to take care of before I leave New York, which includes: ordering a year’s supply of contact lenses, finalizing all of my dental work, getting my annual physical, GYN and mammogram before I have to switch carriers, cancel my safety deposit box membership, purchase new furniture (I’m getting this new couch and rug), repair any furniture that requires attention before my move, comb through all my paper documents and shred anything I don’t need, take another sweep of my books, clothes and posessions to see if there’s anything left to donate/give away, update my W9 forms with ongoing clients, give notice on my existing apartment come July, close out my NY-related utility bills and connect with my leasing office on utility/internet activation.
I’m sure there are dozens of things I’m probably missing, however, I have a notebook where I’ve been tracking anything that comes to mind, noting the kinds of mail I’ve been receiving (as I typed this I saw a Netflix DVD and took that down as a COA!)
Bottom Line: Plan as early as possible and know that nothing is too small in terms of logistics. Map what you need to do along with dates and any milestones you’ll need in order to get you where you need to go.