on my bookshelf: reading the dead

books

I’ll let you in on a secret: when I first started the master’s program at Columbia, I felt small. I felt stupid. Here I was surrounded by people who’d attended the finest private schools and the most prestigious of Ivy’s, who were as well-versed in contemporary fiction as in obscure 14th Century poets, and I was a reformed banker who read Bret Easton Ellis and the dead. I felt like an imposter in workshop–how did I get in here?–for the form and structure, the basic architecture of writing, was lost on me. My approach to books and story writing was raw, unfinished, and I was overwhelmed by the gleaming, the seemingly poised and polished.

At 24, I felt behind. I was desperate to catch up.

Over a period of a few years (punctuated by a time when I took leave from the program because my life had spiraled beyond my control), I devoured books at a rate that would only be described as astonishing. W.G. Sebald, Joan Didion, Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, Oliver Sacks, Borges, Rick Moody, Raymond Carver, Amy Hempel, Ian McEwan, Marquez, Nathan Englander, Lorrie Moore, Michael Cunningham–the confluence of the living, and the long and respected dead, overwhelmed me, and for the decade of my 20s I read not because I enjoyed books but because I wanted to appear as learned as my peers. I wanted to fit, blend in. And while I discovered authors who would forever alter the way I view fiction and my approach to writing it (hello, Joan Didion, Kazuo Ishiguro, Gary Lutz), my desires were more from a state of urgency than self-investment.

Giving zero fucks is liberating.

I don’t roll with the “smart set”. I’ve few friends from my time at Columbia and even fewer from my stint in publishing. Now I surround myself with wonderful, strange people who challenge and support me. I no longer want the Knopf deal and the requisite story in The New Yorker (although I wouldn’t kick either out of bed); I’m okay with publishing only a second book in my lifetime while writing on this space. After years of hungering for the world and everything in it, I’m finally content with playing small, yet significant.

I’ve finally returned to the voracious joy of reading books like I’d had when I was younger. I read what pleases me rather than follow the trend of reading the right books, which speaks more to privilege than anything else. Lately, I’ve had to balance planning a major move and life change with a great deal of client work and scheduling all the doctor appointments I’d been ignoring for the past two years, all of which leaves little time for rest. When stress mounts and I have to schedule “me” time, I’m finding that spending time with the dead is comforting.

Over the past few weeks I’ve read Maeve Brennan’s The Rose Garden (I discovered Maeve’s work after reading Spinster, and this remarkable collection reminds me of Cheever and does not disappoint), Beryl Markham’s memoir West with the Night (I hope to live 10% of her magnificent life), and I’m knee-deep into Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge (I found this novel on the street and I love, love, LOVE it). I’m bringing George Eliot with me when I travel to Asia next month, and if I need a break I’ll read a contemporary story that touches on the dead.

blueberry mango coconut smoothie

Blueberry mango coconut smoothie

What a weekend. Actually, I’m glad it’s over, and I never thought I’d say those words aloud. On Sunday, I discovered this print via an online friend and I bought it, immediately. If I could mark these words along my body, I would, because sometimes I need to be reminded of the obvious. Ignore the expletives, which only serve as shock value (although in this day and age fuck seems less profane and more commonplace), for the advice is spare and honest.

This weekend, I learned that an old friend ushered in a new life, and while I’m happy for her this happiness is imbued with a certain kind of sadness. The kind of sadness where you’re nostalgic about the friendship you used to have, the people you used to be, even if you realize both have no a place in the life you’re living now. Sometimes you think of this friendship as if it were a postcard and it hurts to remember all the strained, uncomfortable silences that punctuated between the lines. You know the friendship ran its course, was good for what it was while you had it, but still.

It also occurred to me that I’m leaving, really leaving. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on joining the legions of long-term tourists and their cringeworthy odes to Joan Didion’s seminal essay because there’s no romance in my leaving, it’s just something I need to do. I’ll spare you the diatribe, but I will say this: one day I woke up and my home became a stranger. One day I was a sophomore in college and everyone I knew had the same points of reference–most of us grew up here, lived our lives here, but time took it all, whitewashed our references, and while others strayed, I remained and struggled to preserve what it was like to be a city kid. And then came a moment when I thought it would be nice to stop struggling. It would be nice to have a new point of entry, frame of reference, and the decision to leave came as swiftly as the sorrow that preceded it.

But I’m rotten at goodbyes–I prefer hellos. So there’s that, and all the logistics (financial and otherwise) that I’ve got to manage within two months. It’s…a lot.

When I read the aforementioned print, a line lingered: The problem contains the fucking solution. Pacing my home, I kept saying that line, over and over. I wrote down each worry, every consideration and dissected it to find the solution. With regard to my former friend, I was sad that I’ll only have the kind of closure I’ve created for myself, and I have to let it all go. And on it goes. On to the next. Committing to paper all the problems and ferreting out the solutions.

Is it no longer that I couldn’t make anything other than what can be tossed into a blender?

Thank pony it’s Monday.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup of almond (or coconut) milk
1/2 cup fresh mango, diced
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
2 tbsp of your favorite protein powder
1 tbsp coconut flakes
1 cup spinach
ice

DIRECTIONS
For smoothies, I tend to start with the base of liquid, fruit, powder, and then I’ll add my vegetables. I’ll blitz this in my Vitamix (you could use a high-powered blender) and then I’ll add the ice so the smoothies doesn’t get watery and all the ingredients cohere. Drink immediately!

blueberry mango coconut smoothie

homemade pad thai

pad thai

Funny how Facebook has a way of breathing new life into old wounds. Killing time, I stumbled upon news of a birth. Someone I used to know and love had a child, and normally I would be unfazed–I’d just keep scrolling, but this singular update, a life change, put my heart on pause. I was reminded of the cold excision of our friendship, a hurt from which I would need two years to recover. I spent most of today reliving that sadness, breathing through it, in hopes that it’ll pass as swiftly as it arrived. Today was supposed to be different. Today was supposed to be an extension of yesterday’s jubilance, of scrolling through potential homes in Los Angeles. Today wasn’t supposed to be this.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook
1 cup boiling water
2 tbsp tamarind (from a pliable block)*
3 tbsp Asian fish sauce, preferably naam pla
3 tbsp packed palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 (7 ounce) package dried flat rice noodles (1/8 inch wide)**
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (I nixed this)
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 small shallots, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound medium shrimp in shells (31-35 per pound), peeled deveined and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I nixed this)
1/2 pound plain ultra-firm tofu, rinsed, patted, dry and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
8 scallions, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1 inch pieces
4 tbsp crushed unsalted roasted peanuts
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Lime wedges are tasty

*The tamarind I purchased at my local market was fresh and already in liquid form so I nixed this whole process.
**I used brown rice noodles.

DIRECTIONS
Pour boiling water into a bowl, add tamarind, and stir mashing gently, for 3 minutes to soften. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on solids; discard solids.

Combine fish sauce, tamarind mixture, palm sugar, granulated sugar and salt in a small saucepan and heat over moderate heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Soak noodles in 10 cups boiling water in a large bowl until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain well. Alternatively, you can cook your rice noodles to package directions. As long as you rinse the noodles in cold water, you’re fine.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok ( or large deep skillet) over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add eggs and cook, stirring, until scrambled and just cooked through, about 1 minute. Transfer eggs to a bowl and tear into small pieces.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in wok ( or skillet) over moderately high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add garlic and shallots and stir-fry until just beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add shrimp and stir-fry for 1 minute, then add tofu and stir-fry until shrimp is just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl with eggs.

Heat wok over moderately high heat until hot. Add tamarind sauce and bring to a boil. Add noodles and stir-fry until tender and excess sauce is absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg and shrimp mixture, 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts, scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and red pepper flakes and toss well.

Mound pad thai on a platter, top with remaining 1 cup bean sprouts, and sprinkle with remainging 2 tablespoons peanuts. Serve with lime wedges.

pad thai

the beauty + blindness that come with privilege

Photo Credit: Thomas Brault, Upslash

Photo Credit: Thomas Brault, Upslash

Years ago, a friend of mine, a lawyer working on a stop-and-frisk case, talked to me about privilege. He could be someone who walks the city streets carrying drugs, yet he’d never be stopped, never be given more than a passing glance, because he’s an attractive white male who doesn’t look the part. Doesn’t fit the profile. On paper he’s the poster boy of privilege–Swarthmore undergrad, Harvard Law, and skin as pale as parchment–until he holds his husband’s hand. Until they publicly embrace. Then he’s a fag, a homo, a queer, and it’s as if all the privilege he was able to enjoy before he touched another man’s hand vanished. On that day my friend reminded me to check my privilege and check it often. And while I have to endure the indignities that come with being a woman in America, I have to remember that I’m, by all appearances, a white, educated woman (even if I’m genetically nearly half black and Spanish), and I’m able to navigate spaces where many are denied trespass.

I think about this a lot, especially when I re-read old stories I’ve written where I talk about my hair as a “betrayal”, rather than a piece of my makeup worthy of pride and love. I think about this when I email friends listings of expensive apartments in Los Angeles of which I’m able to afford. Yes, I work hard for everything I have, but I have to remind myself, constantly, that it’s easier for me because for the whole of my adult life I’ve played the part of a white, Ivy-educated woman. I have to remember this when WOC speak cogently and brilliantly on the dangers of whitewashed feminism. And isn’t it tragic that we need a comic, albeit an eloquent one, to remind us of all that we take for granted–all the ways we need to make the world better for those who are unable to occupy our seats of privilege.

Over the past year I’ve been reading scores of articles that invite you to change your life. In this rarified life the word “impossible” is verboten because if they’ve achieved the unthinkable you can too. It’s smart marketing, really, the way in which these stories sell you on an idea, an alternative life you could be living if only you’d make the leap. If only you’d sell your possessions and hop on a plane. But that’s what marketing does–sells you something that’s actually not the thing you’re really buying.

What they’re selling, unbeknownst to them, is their privilege. Privilege has become the unspeakable, the ultimate taboo, because no one wants to hear that their journey to break ranks, regardless of how difficult it seemed to be, comes at lower cost than if someone else attempted the leap. No one wants to feel the guilt that comes with being born into a certain race or economic advantage because perhaps they think it reduces the brave choices they’ve made. It doesn’t, really, but the blindness that the currency built into these choices is a kind that can’t be bought by others, is dangerous.

You may weep into your yoghurt when you read this, but not everyone can wake up one morning, quit their job (and life), and travel the world. Not everyone can drape their tawny body on a beach or sit perched in front of a laptop in Phuket. If that were the case, everyone would do it. We don’t exist in binary states, and those major leaps can’t be copied by all but perhaps they’ll cause a ripple in someone’s life. Maybe those dramatic changes will inspire small, meaningful choices in others.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Photo Credit: Pexels

Two years ago I contemplated a move to Europe (I know, line forms to the left). In retrospect, this was the dumbest idea in which I’ve ever conceived, but back then I was unsettled, unhappy, and I was grasping for something big that could fill the emptiness I’d been feeling. Yet, so many people told me to just do it! I’ll figure it out! Don’t think! At first I was exuberant–why not just put the cat on a plane with a passport? And then I woke to the reality: I’ve six-figure student loan debt that has to be paid or the corporations that hold my debt will sic the dogs on me, and I’ve no doubt they’ve global bloodhounds in their arsenal. I’d no savings. The only language I knew was Spanish and Spain’s tanking economy was out of the question. I had no partner with whom to share my expenses and fears, and I owned a pet that would require nearly six months of paperwork and anxiety attacks to transport to another country. While I wanted to pursue this fantasy, real life logistical questions and concerns put me on pause, yet the whole of social media was intent on admonishing me for thinking logically. Apparently logic erodes delusional thinking.

All this empty talk reminded me of a piece Mark Manson wrote on the steaming pile of bullshit that is The Secret. He writes,

Other studies show that people who engage in “self-affirmations” and are then presented with information that threatens their affirmation (even healthy criticism or feedback) actually engage in more faulty reasoning than people who don’t use self-affirmations.10 In fact, people who indulge in delusional positive thinking ironically become downright angry when someone tries to contradict their wall of airy-fairy thoughts. The truth about their situation just becomes that much more painful to them.

Delusional positive thinking ironically generates greater closed-mindedness in people. They must always be vigilant and block out potentially negative feedback or criticism of their beliefs, even if that negative feedback is life-or-death important to their health and well-being.

I don’t have the privilege of parents who could finance my adventures or give me shelter should I falter from pursuing them. I don’t have the privilege of a debt-free existence because how was I going to scrounge up the $40K/year that was the cost of my Columbia education? Do I regret graduate school? Do I regret that I’ll likely pay loans until I’m steeped in earth? Sometimes. But what am I going to do other than deal with the hand I’ve dealt myself and take responsibility for my choices.

But still. These articles, for a time, made me feel guilty. Made me feel as if my life were lacking, that I wasn’t brave enough to make the choices these women had made. Honestly, that was my own shit. That was me realizing that I’m not these other people living their lives with the privileges they have. I’m me. This is my life. And while I can’t teach snorkeling in Borneo, I can make the leaps that feel right for me. The leaps that my privilege + my hard work can afford.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: don’t let these stories make you feel small. Don’t let my story make you feel small. You are the author of your own story. Write it. Live it. Share it with others. Try to help others with their story if you see them struggling, or if they don’t have the equipment or the means like you do.

Or at least acknowledge and feel grateful for what you have.

a virtuous banana bread

seeded banana bread

But I opened my eyes too suddenly, for no reason at all, and the beach at East Hampton has vanished, along with Bluebell and the cats, all of them dead for years now. The Turkish towel is in reality the white nubbly counterpane of the bed I am lying in, and the cool ocean breeze is being provided by the blessed air conditioner. It is ninety-three degrees outside — a terrible day in New York City. So much for my daydream of sand and sea and roses. The daydream was, after all, only a mild attack of homesickness. The reason it was a mild attack instead of a fierce one is that there are a number of places I am homesick for. East Hampton is only one of them. –From the Preface of Maeve Brennan’s The Rose Garden

I want to go. Now. My landlord asks me if I can send him my utility bill for a rebate. In response, I turn off my phone and bury it under a blanket. At home, where I’m lulled into an odd delusion of serenity, horns blare for five hours straight. Amidst all of this anger, all of this come on, now. All of this I have to be somewhere and why can’t the ant that is your car inch forward? Just drive. Why can’t you move your fucking–? Heel of the hand pumps hard. I’ll show them. I’ll beep this horn longer than they think I can. A woman shouts out her window, you’re a real big shot. You know that? And I don’t know if she’s talking about the dozens of ants in their cars honking or if she’s making small talk. There’s another woman who sometimes paces my block and she talks about how her face is peeling off. Her only salvation is Jesus Christ, so it’d be real good if you people could accept the Lord as your goddamn savior so my face can get back to what it was. I live in a neighborhood forever in repair. I live in a place where people move the curtains to one side, curious. Is her face really off? The woman bellows, can you hear me?

Oh, I can hear you. I think the only thing that can take off your skin is you smoking in the heat. Snakes like the desert; they prefer the heat.

Silence is a tree, I say once. In a forest, my pop says. Where no one’s there to hear it, I complete. I don’t buy that, my pop says. There’s always someone in the forest. A bird, an insect, a body covered in cool leaves–there’s always signs of life, my pop tells me. You can’t erase life out of a forest. One can’t unsound. And I say it’s not about the life which occupies the inside and perimeter, rather it’s our distance from it. So why a forest? Why not a boat in the ocean? A graveyard, he laughs. Ha ha. And I’m all straight when I say there’s probably more life among the dead than among the living. Look at the obsequious somnambulants–all of them–sleep-waking into their phones!

And so it goes.

Over the weekend I watch a funny movie about suicide. Trust me on this one. After the film, I keep thinking about the main character, Sophia, and how I have ashes of my Sophie on top of a bookcase and would it be cruel to put her away, somewhere quiet (but we’ve determined there is no quiet, no unsound, no fucking forest) because maybe it’s time? But this: I remember the rise and slump of her chest, how I held her–all four pounds of her–in my arms. I still own the sweater from the day when I last held her and I think about burning it. Would I keep those ashes in a tin nearby too? Is silence me in a bedroom crying into a chest where a heart no longer beats while a man with a needle and a woman with a towel wait patiently on the other side? Is silence the door that divides the two? Are we nothing if not the architects of our own forest, the makers of our own doors?

There’s a book on the floor, one I’ve been meaning to read–Half a Life. Tick toc, tick toc, toc.

I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life, a woman weeps. What is this, I think. I’ve become the sort of woman who cries over sentimental movies. I never used to be this way. I never used to cry. I used to go through my life not feeling much of anything.

I’m told that neural mirroring is a sign of empathy. Sit in front of a psychopath and yawn. For most, a yawn is contagious–people unconsciously mimic as a sign of compassion. Yet there are those who will sit across from you; they’ll engage in polite conversation and ask if you’re tired, and then you realize you’ve met someone who’s not interested in playing your yawning game. They’ve got their own forest. Their own locked doors. And then you wonder if rationality is standing behind your gossamer curtain, face up in flames. Because you’ve got the itch. Your skin is peeling if only you would just say the words. Give in to Augustine and Montaigne, into a book that foretells a white kingdom where only a privileged few are given trespass.

When I was younger I had a habit of chewing the ends of my hair. I quit it during college because eating one’s hair is the sort of thing that makes you stand out and the irony of college is that the training wheels have come off and being an adult becomes a precious exercise of blending in. Four years later I’m at a party in an apartment where the floor threatens to give way and Cate arrives with a white kingdom in a glassine bag and I’m still Christian. Back then, I still believe in a god but after that first line, after I twirl in a bathroom and maw at my ends, do I wonder if this vast white forest supersedes an old story in the oldest book.

I tell the story of silence like a knock-knock joke. I text my pop, what’s silence. We play this game. We’ve gotten good at it over the years. We rearrange the furniture, dust the curtains and put out a tray of stale cookies. Silence is the sound of holding your breath. Still looking for your forest, he says.

I suppose so. I suppose I will grow homesick for this forest when I make passage to another.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from A Modern Way to Eat (I’ve altered the recipe quite a bit)
3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 cup seeds (1/3 cup hemp seeds, 1/3 cup sesame seeds, 1/3 cup black sesame seeds)
1 tsp baking powder
3 medium bananas, mashed
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp coconut milk (full-fat)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten

DIRECTIONS
Preheat your oven to 400F. Spray a loaf tin with coconut oil and dust with coconut flour.

Mix all the dry ingredients (flours, sugar, seeds, salt and baking powder) in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.

In a separate bowl mash the bananas, then stir in the olive oil, coconut milk, vanilla extract and eggs.

Gently mix together the wet and dry ingredients, just until there are no pockets of flour left. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, then bake a little lower down in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the loaf comes out clean.

When the loaf is cool enough, transfer to a cooling rack. This is pretty yummy still warm, but also good at room temperature or toasted and spread with either butter and a little honey or almond butter. You can also use this as French toast or in bread puddings.

seeded banana bread

seeded banana bread

lentil salad with mustard dressing + shopping my cookbooks

lentil salad with mustard dressing

Getting rid of books is a painful process. It’ll take me months, sometimes years, to let go of a book I rationally know I no longer desire or need. While I’m able to discard clothing and household items with ease, tossing books feels like bloodletting. So know that when I put out over 40 issues of Gourmet, Martha Stewart Living, Food & Wine and Bon Appetit, along with 22 cookbooks, I was exhausted. Know that as I watched passersby pilfer through the magazines and page through the books I wanted to run downstairs and snatch them all back. Even if I have no intention of making Ina’s salmon bisque in the near future.

When it comes to clothing I tend to rotate between 10 items in my wardrobe because it’s easy. Rarely do I have to think about what I’m wearing each day for longer than a minute. Sadly, I’m the same way when it comes to cooking. I have five cookbooks on my living room floor and I cycle through them until I buy another cookbook. Rarely do I find recipes online because I’ve been burned by so many blogs, and I’m old-school–I like the feel of pages clumped together from overuse, and the promise of a completed dish that only a glossy photo can offer.

However, I’ve forced myself to get surgical with regard to the items I have in my home because I have to pay to move them to California. Yesterday, I paged through every cookbook and magazine I owned and asked myself whether each still inspired. I wondered aloud if I’d still cook from this book given how much my life (and subsequent eating habits) have changed over the past year. Books I once adored suddenly felt like strangers. I’d lost interest in the old-school Food Network chefs I once revered, and my taste in desserts has shifted to the more virtuous. Sure, I’m down for a piece of rich pastry, but I’ve decided to only keep the decadence to a whisper. While I’m able to consume gluten sparingly, I don’t have the taste for it as I once had. And books that I’d purchased because I was drawn to the particular personality behind them, yet found the recipes uninviting to my palate (Rachel Khoo), found its way to the giveaway pile. Books that were beautiful but served no other purpose than offering me rich paper stock and gorgeous photos–they too became a member of the departed.

At my height, I owned upwards of 350 cookbooks. Now I own a lean 43.

all of my cookbooks

Over the next few weeks I’m going to “shop my cookbooks”, which is to say that I’m dusting them off and determining whether I need to trim down even more. Some cookbooks haven’t been used in years and I plan on returning to Nigella, Martha, Thomas Keller, and some of my old favorites to see if they stand up in my current life.

Can I tell you how thrilled I was to start with Sophie Dahl? There is SO MUCH GOODNESS in this book, and I plan to cook up her Mexican eggs, and scores of healthy eats. But first, these lentils.

Over the past year I’ve fallen in love with lentils. They’re filling, versatile, and packed with protein. From salads to soups, I’ve cooked all sorts of varieties, and when properly dressed it stands up against its gluten counterparts (orzo, couscous and the like). The dressing gives the salad some bite and the feta is creamy and silky smooth. You will love this dish + it serves 4.

A brief aside–you may have notice that this week’s snaps are a little crisper and sharper. After a year of saving, I finally purchased the Canon 50mm 1.2 lens.

WHOA.

All I want to do is take pictures.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Sophie Dahl’s Very Fond of Food, modified slightly
For the salad
1 1/4 cups Puy (French) lentils
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
A handful of cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
A small handful of fresh mint, chopped

For the dressing
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard (my Dijon expired so I used stone ground dijon and it was fine)
1 shallot, finely minced
Salt + pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Place lentils in a medium saucepan and add just enough water to cover (for me, it was 2 1/2 cups). Bring to a quick boil, reduce to low, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, I did all the prep work (which took about 20 minutes). I also made the dressing by whisking together all of the ingredients.

Once the lentils were cooked, I drained them in a fine mesh strainer and tossed in a large bowl with the chopped tomatoes and celery, and feta. I dressed the salad and tossed all the ingredients until the lentils were completely coated and then I added the fresh mint. You can savor the salad warm and it’s also perfect at room temperature.

lentil salad with mustard dressing

lentil salad with mustard dressing

plum millet muffins

Plum millet muffins

After two months of working seven days a week non-stop, of churning out brand voice guides and strategies, of working with graphic and web designers, and Skyping with a new client in Tuscany–I was wiped out. Every Sunday I re-enacted study hall with one of my closest friends, and we’d sit on her couch, side by side, taping away in silence. We’d work for hours and sometimes I’d read something aloud to her, something that wasn’t quite working, and it felt comforting to be able to bounce ideas off someone, to feel foolish in front of a friend–better that than your client, right? And we’d lament over the constant stream of emails, conference calls and deliverables, and then we’d feel grateful to have these problems. Because better a storm than a drought. Better to pay your rent than put your rent on your credit card.

To say that I’m far from financially solvent would be an understatement. I’m still paying off six-figure graduate loan debt; I’ve the burden on monthly IRS payments and credit card debt from a time when I cared about such things as designer footwear. And although I buy everything in cash and try to be smart about spending, I’m nervous that I haven’t put anything away from retirement. No safety net exists to catch my inevitable fall.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, about getting my shit together as my accountant has begged me to do, but up until yesterday I’ve been plagued with an irrational fear of no work, no money, and all these bills to pay. So instead of paying down my debt, I sit on savings. Believe me when I say that I know this isn’t smart or rational. I’ve read all the books, watched the shows and once worked with an advisor. My relationship to money has always been fraught, deeply emotional, and I’ve only just become to untangle myself from many unhealthy habits.

For two months of significant labor, I’m collecting a check and I’ve decided to pay off two of my credit cards, bringing down my debt to the level it was TEN YEARS AGO.

Because I’m nearly 40 and I’m really fucking tired of carrying credit card debt.

An old friend reminded me that I have to consistently invest in myself, know that I am the greatest hand I can play and I will get work. I will be able to travel and live simply.

There will come a day when I will no longer shoulder the burden of mistakes made in previous lives.

Until then, cheers to small steps in paying down debt and celebrating with muffins.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, with modifications
1/4 cup millet
1/2 cup water
Pinch of salt
1 cup gluten-free flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or melted coconut oil
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 medium red plums, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/4 tsp cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Soak the millet in a bowl with 1 cup of water for at least 12 hours. Rinse the millet in a fine mesh strainer and transfer to a small pot. Add 1/2 cup water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, covered. Remove from heat and allow the pot to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes, then remove the lid and fluff the cooked millet with a fork. You should have about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cooked millet.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.

Mix the flour and baking powder into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, combine the orange zest, lemon zest, orange juice, maple syrup, olive oil (or coconut), almond milk, and vanilla extract. Whisk until the ingredients emulsify.

In another bowl, toss the plums in one tablespoon of flour. This will help keep the fruit from sinking in the muffin pan. Gently stir the flour mixture into the liquid mixture. Fold in the plums and 1 cup of cooked millet.

Divide the batter between 10-11 muffin cups, filling almost to the top. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and the remaining 2 tablespoons of millet. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven and cool for 5 minutes prior to transferring to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

plum millet muffins
plum millet muffins

on playing small

Photo Credit: Pexels

Photo Credit: Pexels

What we are is a set of walking contradictions. Our inner lives are not partitioned like day and night, with pure light on one side of us and total darkness on the other. Mostly, our souls are shadowed places; we live at the border where dark sides block our light and throw a shadow over our interior places…We cannot always tell where our light ends and our shadow begins or where our shadow ends and our darkness begins. –From Lewis Smedes’ Shame and Grace

We always want more–even if we don’t want it, even if we never needed it. When we are children our eyes rove over the things we see–the pink light that filters in through trees (dusk), machines that race down streets (cars), furry things that lick their paws (cats, dogs–this could get complicated). Everything’s a puzzle, mostly; images and words play Lego for the whole of our lives. We are forever in reconstruction, and we lean on others for definition, interpretation, and perspective. Over time we consider everything in the diminutive as an unfinished state, not yet realized and far from its potential. That cute wobbly puppy grows into a dog that can run. That infant who once smelled of clean cotton sheets grows into someone who builds houses, flies planes, cures diseases. Our memory of the miniature plays out in sepia, it’s hazy and often romanticized–we only fixate on what we become, leaving our previous states aside.

I’ve been thinking about children lately. Not having them, but observing them. I’ve also been thinking about death (although this article would try to convince me that thinking of these things will help alleviate my fear of them. Nice try), and I’m making connections between the two. In death, we return from that which we’ve come–our mode of transportation varies depending upon what you believe–but I wonder if the place to which we’ll go vaguely resembles the one from which we’ve come, and the space we’ve been occupying between the two, our holding pen, has been spent trying to make sense of our journey from one to the other.

Or maybe that’s my life.

We cry coming out and we weep slouching our way home. Because isn’t that what death is, really? Our final stop, a story, a home that cannot be torched or torn down? Our tears come from fear of the unknown, of what’s to come. I assume babies scream-cry because they consider everything an assault. What are these shapes, colors, and lights? Who are you? What is this, what am I, and so on. Over time, the answers are revealed in degrees, and for a brief while we are comforted by these certainties. Life becomes a slow conquering of sorts, a means to ferret out truth from the unknown, and our death is a surrender. We lay down our armaments because we’ve no idea which tools we’ll need for the next battle. In our twilight years I suppose we weep because we’ve left a life where most riddles have been resolved, loves have been felt, truths have been revealed–to what? To nothing? To a fugue state that morphs into the eternal black? To azure skies and golden gates or fiery bowels–as some books would have it? Or do feel sorrow because we spent our lives trying to know when there is so much we’ll never know. Have we wasted time in this single, temporary waking life?

I greatly fear my hidden parts–From Augustine’s Confessions

It occurs to me that these moments, life and death, are monumental, yet we’re small when confronting them. We’re small in the beginning (literally), and in the end we become small in ways that are more complicated. In both states we don’t consider the notion of wanting more; we can’t even comprehend acquisition, and isn’t it funny that we face our two greatest moments being valiant and great in our smallness, in our need for nothing?

Lately I’ve been feeling, for lack of a better term, colonized. Colonized in terms of defining a home, colonized in reference to how I live my life. We all have a reference point. I came from a home that had nothing and spent the great deal of my 20s and early 30s in the business of hyper-accumulation in hopes that it would satiate a need that could never be truly filled by the things bought in tender. I hailed from a generation that believed in the beauty of size. We measured our self worth in width, height, and weight, and our homes made us feel like dwarves, our Italian leather handbags threatened to swallow us whole. We became bound to this title, to those letters after our name, as if ascension equated to human greatness.

Me & My Pop at My Book Party

I think about my dad. For a time I couldn’t comprehend why he didn’t want more from life–why he didn’t demand the world and everything in it just I had. His home and closets are spare — he has only what he needs. He cleaves to his rituals: coffee in the morning, coffee as a means to connect, and long drives to clear his head. He holds few photographs. Luckily, I’m in one of them. He doesn’t speak about the past often, but what he remembers are the moments I sometimes struggle to recall: they’re small, but we explode into laughter when he recounts them. The day he drove down a one-way street. The day we made a point to eat one meal from every fast food joint in a five-mile radius (I don’t recommend this). He has the ability to say one string of words and we’re immediately transported back and I can feel everything. He has a way of making the world simple, clean and neat–even when he’s engulfed in sadness, loss, heartbreak.

I admire him this, his quiet nobility. I admire a man who’s lived a great, small life–who loves every minute of it. You feel everything so hard, he once joked.

Recently I ask, are you afraid of death? To which he responds swiftly, fearless, no. I ask him how that’s possible. I ask all the questions. And he shrugs and says that it’s silly to waste your life thinking about something you’ll never understand or could explain. He has an acceptance, a calm reserve that at this moment I find unimaginable, although I hope that will change as time passes.

Yet when I look at him, when I think of children, I’m reminded of the beauty in playing small. Of not needing to puff up your chest, resume, byline or biography. Life is still worth loving even if I don’t win prizes, or reach financial, professional heights. Yesterday I finished reading David Brooks’ magnificent book, The Road to Character, and the final chapter closed on the dangers of a society solely focused on meritocracy, on the accumulation of desires and the constant cult of me. He writes,

The meritocratic system wants you to be big about yourself–to puff yourself, to be completely sure of yourself, to believe that you deserve a lot and to get what you think you deserve (so long as it’s good). The meritocracy wants you to assert and advertise yourself. It wants you to display and exaggerate your achievements. The achievement machine rewards you if you can demonstrate superiority–if with a thousand gestures, conversational types, and styles of dress you can demonstrate that you are a bit smarter, hipper, more accomplished, sophisticated, famous, plugged-in, and fashion-forward that the people around you. It encourages narrowing. It encourages you to become a shrewd animal.

By coveting the largess of life, we end up being silly and small. But what if we revered the reverse? What if we came from a place of curiosity, humility, self-acceptance, honesty. What if we formed our character based on how we loved, what we built as an extension of that love versus what we boast, promote and share. I think about this tension a lot, especially when I read that I have to make a ruckus in order to break ranks. What if I ceased wanting all the things (I’m close, not completely there, to be honest)? What if I burned the measuring tape and scales, and stopped equating large and more with joy and greatness? Fewer, better. Quality reigns over quantity. I’ve done this in nearly all aspects of my life, but not my life in its entirety. But then I wonder if that’s even possible. I’m not sure that it is, so perhaps that’s part of the journey, too.

What if I spent my life playing small? Because I’ll need that nobility, that calm and reserve, for the next home, the final place to which I’ll be traveling.

+++++++++++++++

Currently listening to this.
Currently reading this, because, you know, smart, dead people.

the evolution of an address

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You can’t possibly know how much I struggled with posting this photograph on this space. I abhor having my photo taken because it feels like a physical distraction. We all make unconscious judgments and assumptions based on what we see; we assess the superficial: Is she pretty? Is she the “right” weight? And we speculate and place value judgments on the deeply superficial: Who makes that dress? How can she afford it? Suddenly, what we see becomes an extension of our mirrored selves, and we forget about the person behind the photograph. I’ve been guilty of this having stared at photographs of myself over the years and thinking, What was I thinking? I was too thin. How did I look like I was happy when I was far from fine? Is it possible for a lens to freeze-frame a lie? And so on.

For the great deal of my life my style was a mimicry of those who surrounded me. When I was a teeanger, I wore clothing several sizes too large and striped shirts from The Gap. In college, I wore tight shirts under flannels, Doc Martens and baseball hats. In my twenties, I was obsessed with Anthropologie, and anything that carried the stench of luxury. In my early thirties I still erroneously believed that expensive clothing gave you what you lacked. It wasn’t until I gained the most weight I’ve ever sustained on my frame did I have to sit back and think about fit, comfort, and more importantly, what I liked.

Believe me when I say that I’m the very definition of low maintenance. I don’t wear makeup, save for a swipe of lipstick or I’d otherwise be mistaken for the dead. I walk fast and find heels to be a cruel form of sartorial torture. No, I’m not interested in blisters, scabs, and bloodletting simply for the sake of appearing fashionable. For whom? For what? And more importantly, WHY??!!! If something looks complicated in assembly or wear, I run screaming in the other direction. I’m too old for drama; I don’t need my clothes to exhaust me.

Although I slowly lost the weight I’d gained, I learned to dress for my body. I’m a freelancer who’s no longer tethered to office attire. I’m petite. I will always have a sizeable chest (grr) and curves, and some cuts/looks, while beautiful in theory, are hazardous in practice.

I’m also moving to an anti sweater-weather state, so there’s that.

This year I donated and gifted bags of clothing, shoes, and accessories. I’ve pared down to only what I love and need. I’ve no multiples. I’ve discarded all of the clothes from my 20s when my size was a negative integer (I assure you those were not halcyon days) and I’d forsaken comfort for trendiness. Now, my uniform consists mostly of v-neck drapey tees with cardigans and fitted pants, or dresses that nip/dart at the waist. You’ll almost always find me in flats or sporty sneakers, and I care less about the label and more about the quality of the garment. I LOATHE shopping (reason: people) and clutter (reason: anxiety; I’ll have to pay to move all this crap) so the idea that I won’t have to enter a store or deal with an online return gives me an insurmountable amount of joy.

I want to feel comfortable and somewhat stylish but I don’t want to overthink it.

For the first time in forever I’m wearing white and color. I picked up this dress over the weekend and I’ve already worn it twice. Although I have to wear this with a slip (I got a Commando full-body slip on a recommendation, but I hate it because it rides up), this is probably the most comfortable and AIRY item of clothing I own.

It also doesn’t hurt that it’s California-ready!

Photo snapped by my sweet friend, Alyssa, before we had…ALL OF THIS!

cheeseburger at Upland, NYC
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cherry coconut granola + a journey back to the wonder

cherry coconut granola
When most people think about the future, they dream up ways they might live happier lives. But notice this phenomenon. When people remember the crucial events that formed them, they don’t usually talk about happiness. It is usually the ordeals that seem most significant. Most people shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering…When [suffering] is not connected to some larger purpose beyond itself, suffering shrinks or annihilates people. When it is not understood as a piece of a larger process, it leads to doubt, nihilism, and despair. –From David Brooks’ The Road to Character

This weekend I tried to go back to the wonder. When we’re small we believe in the infinite–we incant the word forever like sermon, like song, and we truly believe, as Edna St. Vincent Millay once wrote, that childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies. Remember that bike you rode with unsteady hands and how you drove it into a tree? You don’t remember the ride, you remember the fall–the sting of torn skin which will a scab you persistently pick, a wound that takes forever to heal. Remember that rain in August? How it came down like a victory and washed the streets clean and you got caught up in it, felt chilled to the bone amidst all the heat. You never conceived of being cold in August.

As you grow older you realize that your life is composed of a collection of firsts. Your world is complete and beautiful; you believe in fairies, magic, and old men who fly down chimneys. You stare up at the sky and wonder how planes can be suspended in midair, and in that moment you can’t fathom that one day you’ll be in a flying machine buoyed up by mathematics, science, and sky. You think people in China, India and Canada and wonder if they can see that plane too. For a time you are told that the ground is safe–it’s the one thing that doesn’t move–until you are in a place where the earth rumbles and shifts below your feet. A man points to a hole in the ground and says in a thousand years time this barren land will be filled with water–too bad we won’t be around to see it, haha!–and it occurs to you that there will be a great many things you won’t see, firsts for the unborn.

We are nothing but a clock inching us forever forward.

And then there comes a time when forever feels like a silly word to use because you’ve seen people lying in caskets, and how could forever exist when the people you love leave and never come back? You hear whispers of drunk men being paid $5/hr to don a red suit and bounce kids on their knees. Late one night you slip downstairs and see people you know pile presents under a tree. You feel a hand slide under a pillow leaving a quarter for a tooth. And then you begin to see that magic is about commerce and the moment we are born we grow to inevitably rot.

There go the adults storming the kingdom and bringing it to ruin. As time passes, knowledge, memory, and experience chip away at the wonder. And we absolve to preserve our children in the kingdom for as long as we possibly can, but we’re adults and we can’t help ourselves and the children become repeats of us with minor variations.

A man wakes at his desk and thinks: This is my life? All of it?

I have been happy. Is that success? –Advice on careers, finance, and life from Harvard Business School’s Class of 1963

I watch a movie where two grieving sisters come to believe that their dead mother will return. She said to wait, hold tight. But who’s going to record our heartbeat before God? I watch another movie where a pragmatist, a cynic, becomes undone when he sees what science and logic cannot prove. I read a book about character, which reaffirms what I already know–character is shaped and formed largely through how we breathe through and manage experience. How we breathe through the dark spaces and dig our way out of the darkness. Character becomes the hands that do the digging, and then the spaces between light and dark. Character becomes the breath between the tick of a metronome, how we manage the off-beat, the breath before the jump.

I’m thinking about wonder lately because I’m an adult who believes in the rational and pragmatic. I’m an adult who no longer believes in a god although so many people desperately want me to. Yet, I’m an adult who’s just realized that I haven’t had all my firsts. There are firsts left to be had! There are trees to crash into, knees to scalp and skin. There will be a new zip code that I will write on envelopes. There will be two hands that will clutch a wheel and propel a machine forward. There will be the heartache and break of farewell, the I will see you sometime soon. There is so much that is unknown and frightening and I know that I will be different somehow, once I emerge from the other side. Once I set foot into a new home thousands of miles away from what is safe, familiar.

There is a wonder that is not quite science and not quite god, but something beautiful that exists between the two.

Part of this has made want to turn inward, not share as much. It’s made me want to experience more. I’m finding that the more I talk about my move the more I allow people to ruin it with their constant questions and advice. The more I seek out wonder the more I feel subsumed by the noise of pragmatism. So I’ll be holding my hand close and you’ll know where I’ve landed when I’m there because right now I need to experience this first without having adults intrude.

I need the wonder.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, with modifications
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
4 cups of rolled gluten-free oats
1 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
2 1/2 cups dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
1/3 cup chopped dried figs
1 cup unsweetened dried cherries (or blueberries)

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat oven to 300F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Add the pumpkin + sunflower seeds to a medium bowl, cover it with water, swish the seeds around and drain it using a strainer over a running tap. Set the nuts aside.

In a large bowl (and I’m talking LARGE), toss the oats, pistachios, coconut flakes and cinnamon until combined. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the syrups + salt until they bubble slightly. Remove from the heat, stir in the olive oil and vanilla extract, and set aside. Stir the drained seeds into the oat and nut mixture. Pour in the olive oil mixture and stir everything until completely combined.

Divide the granola between two baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, toss the granola, rotate the trays and bake for another 15 minutes. Then, toss the granola again and bake for another 10 minutes until the granola is brown.

Add the hot granola to a large bowl and toss in the dried fruit. Allow the mixture to cool completely before storing it in airtight containers.

cherry coconut granola

coconut apricot bars + some thoughts on transparency as an aesthetic

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Your limitations are important because you must eventually come to the realization that your time on this planet is limited and you should therefore spend it on things that matter most. That means realizing that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. That means realizing that just because you like certain people doesn’t mean you should be with them. That means realizing that there are opportunity costs to everything and that you can’t have it all.Mark Manson

This week I learned that the appearance of integrity has become one of the many masks people wear. Integrity is borrowed finery, it requires you to be humble and honest even when it proves impossible to be anything but. Invariably, the weight of the mask becomes too much to bear and one sheds it, revealing their truest self, which was never honest to begin with. Between the acts, between the outfit changes and the curtain fall, our faces are scrubbed clean and our hair come undone, and when the mask has been discarded just as swiftly as it was worn, we see people for who they really are. I wonder though, if they’re able to see past their duplicity.

I spent much of my adult life swallowing voice. I was amiable, rarely did I break waves or raise my voice in dissent. My rebellions were minor emotional thievery, but in the end I wanted to be part of the hive, to blend in. Even if I knew the people who occupied my world were catty, cruel and conniving. Even during junior year in college when all my homophobic friends said cruel things about my roommates whom everyone suspected as gay. Know that I’m ashamed of this, still. Even when I sat in a meeting and watched my boss lie to people. Never did I raise my voice, and it took me a long time to see that my silence was deafening, my complicity was worse because I knew what was right and I smothered myself. It took a long time for me to find my voice, my place, and it’s heartbreaking that the moment when I’m finally loud becomes a time when so many want to silence me.

Wow, you’re really intimidating, someone tells me. You’re, like, really aggressive on Twitter, someone tells me. You’re very vocal, someone tells me. Why are you so angry? someone tells me. How do I react?

Shall I curtsy? Affix a muzzle over my mouth? Would my silence make you more comfortable?

I live in a world where black men are assassinated in daylight simply because they are black. I live in a world where women are routinely raped, harassed, demeaned, admonished, silenced and disrespected. I live in a world where illiterate bloggers preen for the camera and architect an artificial world for the peanut-crunching lot and they make $5,000 for a fauxto, meanwhile I spend weeks building value, creating meaning, and I make less. I live in a world where feminists tweet lines from The Bachelor and get annoyed when I complain about it. I live in a world where I tell bloggers that it’s unacceptable to act like they’re celebrities because no one person is better than another. I live in a world where I don’t know how to play nice amongst people who make it their life’s work to be on an even keel. I live in a country where most are ignorant about what happens outside of our borders because it doesn’t affect us, doesn’t impact our noon SoulCycle sign-ups. I live in a world where stupid people get book deals and they’re lauded because they have so many followers. I live in a world that values quantity over quality, noise over quiet, the guise of humility over exposing yourself raw. I live in a world where people play the integrity game but only as far as it elevates their personal brand–gets them that deal, that job, that extra zero at the end of a check.

I live in a world where women constantly tell me that I’m too loud, too vocal, too aggressive, too opinionated, and I wonder if they would say all of this if I were a man. If the words I say don’t cause them discomfort, because god forbid people graze a moment of darkness. God forbid people acknowledge their ignorance and privilege. God forbid people examine themselves just as I’ve spent two decades confronting the most unkind aspects of my character. God forbid people do the work.

Now it’s time to make your dent in the world. –Mark Manson

I don’t trust people. I see people I care about getting taken advantage of because they’re kind in a way most people aren’t. I see people try to align with my integrity, all the hard work I’ve had to do, because by association perhaps they’ve made the difficult choices I’ve had to make. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes I’m bristly, I recoil often, and people have said my viewpoints are polarizing, but at least I’m honest. What you see is always you get because I’ve worn masks for the whole of my life and my god have I grown tired of playing the part of so many other people.

I read somewhere that the true test of whether you’re an artist is to ask yourself how you would feel if someone told you that you couldn’t do the thing that you loved for the rest of your life. Straightjacket my arms, cut off my hands, eliminate any trace of paper and pen. What would be the limit of your sacrifice? Is there a limit? Can you go without a lifetime of committing words to paper (or screen, as it were). For me, not writing a waking death. Intellectual suicide. I couldn’t live in this world without writing through, and about, it, and everything in me has come to calm when I finally decided that all I want to do is write.

All I want to do is write more, shout louder, and be with the people who are like Vivian Gornick, people who are unafraid and unapologetic. People who can give a fuck about an even keel or playing nice. People who don’t wrap themselves up in their personal brand or transparency because it’s the fashionable dress they need to wear. The real and the true are few and far between, and I hope to hold on to my tribe here in New York and find my people out west.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well, modified
For the crust
1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 cup gluten-free oats
1/4 tsp aluminium-free baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I prefer Cup4Cup)
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling
1/3 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
1/2 cup unsweetened apricot jam

For the topping
1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/3 cup raw cashews
1/4 tsp aluminium baking powder
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp of olive oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of one lemon
1 cup dried, unsweetened, coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line a 13 x 9-inch pan with parchment paper; set aside.

For the filling place the thinly sliced apricots in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to softened for 5 minutes while you make the crust.

To make the crust place the coconut, oats, baking powder, and salt in a food processor; blend until fine, about 45 seconds. Add to a medium bowl and mix with the almond meal and gluten-free flour. In a medium bowl, place the oil, maple syrup and vanilla, whisk until combined. Add the coconut and oat mixture, and mix with a fork until combined. Dough should be moist but not sticky. With your hands press the dough thinly and evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Prick crust with a fork, and bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside; keep the oven on.

While waiting for the crust to bake, drain the apricot slices and set aside to drain well.

To make the topping place the maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and lemon zest in the medium bowl. (Use the same bowl used for making the crust – no need to clean). Whisk to combine and set aside. In the food processor place the shredded coconut, cashews, and baking powder, and blend until ground and moist, about 45 seconds; transfer to the bowl with the wet ingredients. Stir to combine. Mix in the flaked coconut.

When the crust is ready, spread the apricot preserve over the crust and sprinkle over the apricots. Crumble the topping over the apricot crust, leaving some filling showing.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes or until golden on top. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool completely before cutting into bars.

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why I closed shop on comments on this space

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

What happened to listening and engaging with people? What happened to “how are you?” I remember when people used to complain about people tweeting what they had for breakfast. Perhaps they still do complain. That never bothered me though. At least their breakfast didn’t want something from me.Annie of Ethical Thinker

I don’t want new friends. That may strike you as a bit cold, but it’s honest. I’ve spent the great deal of my life focused on personal velocity, acceleration, volume and quantity, and I’m at a place where I have what I need. I want for nothing more. Years ago I took a workshop taught by Nathan Englander, and during office hours he would sit with two copies of my short story. One version was clean and the other was a massacre of red ink. Over time he taught me to be economic with my writing–how to find one word that could do the work of three. Make the line work harder, he taught, and I’ve since applied this axiom to all aspects of my life. I’m surgical about the people who inhabit my life and I’ve no desire to pander or please the smart set, or be “famous” or “popular.” And while I realize that one can’t live in complete solitude (especially as I plan to move to the unfamiliar), I plan to befriend a few rather than entertain the masses. I don’t mind traveling or being alone; I prefer my own company. I’ve had all the fanfare and confetti in my 20s. Now, I crave the minimal and the quiet.

Some might find this intimidating while I view it as a means of keeping myself honest.

Over the past year I’ve started to feel the tension that comes with more people discovering your work. I wrote some pieces that garnered a modicum of attention and I started to feel noise occupying previously empty spaces. I received demands of friendship and attention from strangers. I received a deluge of requests: Can you read/edit/help me publish this? Can you help me with this? Can you link to this? Can you promote this? Can you do this? Can you meet me for this? Can you connect me to this? Socially, we’ve been conditioned to help, to give away pieces of ourselves in service to others at the expense of ourselves. If I say refuse, I’m the “bad guy”, but no one ever considers that the invasion of one’s life and time as inappropriate social behavior. I don’t exist to service strangers.

Putting myself out into the world has allowed me to meet some truly wonderful and courageous people. I’ve made great acquaintances around the globe, have found online spaces where I want to spend time, and I’ve exposed myself to cultures and ways of thinking I never would have otherwise encountered. I’m grateful for this. Yet I sometimes feel that the noise–the persistent clamour, the questions, the look at me!–subsumes the beauty I’ve accumulated. A handful of people have come here for insightful, passionate discussion while others leave links in hopes that people here will go elsewhere. People don’t read, they skim. People don’t connect at a visceral level, they self-promote. People tell me this writing intimidates them without having to do any of the work to move past their discomfort. People feel as if they are entitled to access to my life, time, and contacts, simply because I publish words on this space. People (even friends) feel as if they can give me unsolicited advice even when I haven’t asked for it or needed it. People often listen as a means for waiting for their turn to speak (or type, as it were). People add my email address to mailing and press lists even when I emphatically state that I do not want to be pitched or contacted for promotional/commercial purposes (I thought you might be interested in…you thought wrong). I want to forge real, meaningful friendships. Have honest conversations. Love, and be loved, deeply.

Within the next few months I have to make decisions. I’m uprooting my life (and cat) and moving west. I’m starting another book and editing a second one without any guarantee that anyone will read my work. I have to figure out a work structure that will help me pay the bills. I have to learn how to drive a car. I have to say goodbye to people whom I love. I’ve a lot to navigate and I need my world quiet.

I may not be making the right decision in shuttering comments here (temporarily) but I’m doing my best to quell the noise.

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