brunch at sarabeth’s + cultivating a kula

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Today I had one of those days where nothing happened, yet everything happened. Forever petrified of “new” people, I spent the morning with a friend and her best friend, working out and eating all there was to eat at Sarabeth’s. When I left, I found myself staring at a woman at the crosswalk, and when I shouted, K? Is that you?, she glanced up and beamed and we embraced in the middle of the street. K and I have been friends since we met at the Columbia writing program in 2001, and she’s since moved to New Orleans to be with her boy and her writing, and she occasionally visits the office of the fancy magazine of which she’s employed. She’s also the only person with whom I’ve entrusted my novel in all its messiness and broken pieces.

After we hugged and gushed over the randomness of our encounter in Union Square, we made our way to the sidewalk where we shivered and caught up and spoke of the children we were harvesting — mine in the form of a novel, and hers in the form of a little girl who will see sky come August. When Sophie died, K told me that she cried in a hotel room in Sweden. She wept because she knows how I grieve, how I can so easily fall into a kind of private dark. I know how you love, but I also know how you grieve. Nodding, I confessed that I’d had a tough summer, the worst I’d known. I’d fallen down the stairs and come autumn I’d started to climb them again. I’m forever climbing.

Before we departed, before I promised K a home-cooked meal and proper nuzzling with Felix (so regal! she said) in February, she held me close and stared at my face in a way that would make most feel uncomfortable, but from her it was home, and she said, You’ve looked the best since I’ve known you. How do I get that glow? How do I get what you got?

I laughed, still rotten at taking compliments, still, and said, This is what happens when you go off the sauce and work out five days a week.

On the subway ride home, I thought of K, of a lesser version of myself all those years ago, and I felt humbled by my life now. While I’m still paying off thousands of dollars in graduate loan debt, while I’m still uncertain how I will be employed past May, while I don’t know where the day will take me, I know this: I’m the strongest I’ve ever been and I finally have a close group of friends on whom I can lean. No longer do I care about collecting acquaintances and strategic connections, about the people who are good to know, I care more the quality of the people I’m cultivating in my life and the time I’m committed in sustaining these friendships, knowing that there’s beauty in watching them bloom.

In yoga, there is a term kula, which loosely translates to community. In this community, there is balance and harmony and beauty and age, and right now I feel all of these things. I hear the sound of forks chinking at Sarabeth’s as we dive into one another’s plates and I squeal that the English muffins look like the ones in her cookbook! I feel the tight hug of a friend who doesn’t want to let go, a friend who tells me that I need to keep at this book, that it’s good, really good, and in return I tell her that I can’t wait wait wait until I lay eyes on her beautiful little girl.

It’s good to be on speaking terms with the people you used to be, but it’s even better to fall in love with the woman you’re becoming.

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pretty eats: abc kitchen, new york

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Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist, there are still those that lie beyond our capacity and our imagination. From time to time, when a piece of music no one has ever written or a painting no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict, fathom or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world. And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges and absorbs the impact. Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Sometimes you need to treat yourself like bowered finery. Come Sundays one used to wear crinoline and pinafores. One made it a habit to not walk, but glide, and although we’re far past the bygone era of rest, relaxation and observing rituals that bring out a sense of pride, every Sunday I’ve made it my private tradition to take myself out for breakfast. Lovely outfit and eatery to match. Quiet table for one. Just me, my meal and my thoughts. Trying to re-arrange the shape of things, break them apart, rebuild. This week was one of my favorites, ABC Kitchen — a swoon-worthy spot drenched in sunlight and a sumptuous menu that you just want to devour.

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potlikker in williamsburg, new york + lessons for spring…

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I saw my ex-husband in the street. I was sitting on the steps of the new library. Hello, my life, I said. We had once been married for twenty-seven years, so I felt justified. He said, What? What life? No life of mine. ― Grace Paley, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute: Stories

This morning I awoke, terrified. My hands were numb and I felt my body chill down to bone. Overcast and dark, no light came through my window and I was confused, shivering, wondering if the forecast called for thundersnow. Tossing aside the covers I paced my apartment, barefoot, waiting for the morning light to break sky. And in that small stretch of time before the night was relieved by the awakening of day, I doubted myself. Fear was that old friend who soft-knuckled the door that was my heart and I let it in and embraced it with my breath. Make no mistake, fear never really disappears, it hibernates, festers, waits for the moment when you are weak and shivering and slides in, pulls up a chair, wants to get to talking. Maybe, it whispers, you made a mistake. You do realize there’s no going back.

This put my heart on pause.

Here I was, so bold in my declarations I was practically bombastic. Telling everyone who would listen that March was the month before the first day of the rest of my life, and, imagine if I jettisoned off to Europe and never came back? Maybe once to cart off my kitty, but I’d hurry back to France, tumbling my way back to the country and the thicket of trees and orange groves and air. I rationalized that I was six years off the sauce {as of last week}, the most clarified I’ve ever been and everything felt right — so this was the right decision, right? To leave my job and run toward something other, right? But what if I was wrong? What if I was the wreckage?

And then the sun. I crept out on my deck, wrapped in a blanket, and for some reason I said, Hello, my life, and went back inside. And that was the end of it. I’m not kidding you. It was the strangest thing. I hopped in the shower, cut French class and went about my day.

Tipped off by a friend, I made the trek to Williamsburg to check out Potlikker, a place with its own story. Owner + chef, Liza Queen once ran a very eclectic spot in Greenpoint, lost her lease and took off for Vietnam to cook in a street shack. Two years later she returned, much like our Odysseus, and opened a place that’s an extension of her heart, her passion for flavor, and a menu that’s seasonal and filled with joie de vivre. Once inside I felt enveloped by warmth — from the staff to the open kitchen where you could hear the sizzle and snap of potatoes and sausage frying, to the serene green paint and wooden interior — and knew this was a place worth patroning.

And then there was the food. A flaky, buttery biscuit oozing with lemon curd and fresh berry compote, local eggs mixed with cheddar and served with applewood sausage and spicy potatoes, and the terrific, bottomless cup of coffee, I was DELIRIOUS. And while I was there, chowing away with aplomb, I thumbed through the latest issue of Kinkolk and found a photo essays, “Lessons for Spring,” a series of b+w images from another time and these simple instructions:

  • Leave the indoors behind
  • Choose a new hobby
  • Don’t be in such a hurry
  • Take matters into your own hands
  • Reawaken your youth
  • Sit in silence, alone
  • Draw close to those nearest and dearest
  • Don’t mind being eccentric
  • Fall in love with something new
  • Dive in deep

  • I tell myself to look for the signs. They may be minor, they may be innocuous, but just look for them. They’re my Northern Lights. Perhaps they can be yours, too.

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    the revisionist’s journey: creating light from the dark

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    It seems to me that an artist must be a spectator of life; a reverential, enthusiastic, emotional spectator, and then the great dramas of human nature will surge through his mind — George Bellows

    This is the end of comfort as we know it. This is the age of the unsettled, the era of the disquiet, and we will tremble, falter, fade, get lost, grow strong, and find ourselves all over again. In this way, we will become expert revisionists on this journey and the road will have variations. We will navigate without a compass or a map, feeling our way through the dark, which threatens to swallow us whole, and sometimes we think ourselves mad for even having gone down this path when there’s this other place that’s well-lit, familiar. Just down the road. The proprietor is an older version of us, with a monstrous gait and a face paled down to bone. This version of us is cruel when it takes us by the hair and whispers, Why risk it?

    But we pull away, walk away and do. Risk it, that is.

    Because the alternative is a slow, deliberate slouch to the grave, heart aching from the weight of all that we could have done had we had the strength to. Had we had the bravery. It’s funny to watch fear and uncertainty go at it, gloves off, punches below the belt as it were. Our own private opera played out in all its grandeur. It’s a fight we pay good money to see, although, for the most part, we know how the story ends. Fear almost always wins out and we go home, empty popcorn bag in hand, salt on our lips, and we settle into a life of safety. Because why risk it?

    But! But! There comes a day when the story ends differently. Uncertainty has got a bit of fight left in her and although she takes her fair share of hits, she’s victorious and the crowd thunders. Our hearts pause and the clocks stop ticking. Outside, snow tumbles from the black sky, and the whole of our world is illuminated. In that rare moment we see light in the context of our darkness. We see a glimpse of our life.

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    Last week I sat in a chair and told a man that I wanted to feel unsettled, to which he responded, I haven’t heard anyone say that in a long, long time.

    At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I wandered through the galleries and found this quote when entering the Matisse exhibit: For Matisse, the process of creation was not simply a means to an end but a dimension of his art that was as important as the finished work. On a wall, in script, a quote from George Bellows reads: Try everything that can be done. Be deliberate. Be spontaneous. Be thoughtful and painstaking. Be abandoned. Be impulsive. Learn your own possibilities.

    Over eggs, roasted tomatoes and Tuscan toast at Gemma, an old colleague turned friend and I talk about getting out of our comfort zone. We hatch plans involving our cameras, new friends and perspective.

    I can’t but help but think that all signs point to the light. Even when I’m surrounded by a Greek chorus of dark. The chorus pantomimes that I’m crazy, what am I thinking, what are you walking away from, what if you can’t get another job after you’ve resigned from this one, what if, what if, what if, tick, tic, ti, t,…

    Keep following the signs, I tell myself. They’re there. They’re small, innocuous, playing on a minor key, but they are a map of constellations that will lead me back to a better version of myself. To a life that is meant to be loved and lived and loved all over again.

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    the fat radish, new york city

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    Boys at the pool would tell me that I’d be beautiful, really beautiful — if only I had Violet’s face, her feathery hair, her silver rings on my fingers. And I closed my eyes and lived the rest of the summer like that, her head in mine, on mine.The Sky Isn’t Visible from Here, by yours truly.

    After weeks of contemplating a visit to The Fat Radish, I finally did it (Alice Gao’s vivid snaps had me swooning. So much so that I nixed my Sunday routine and made the trek into the city for brunch), and believe me when I say that I’ve no regrets. From the impeccable service to a dining space that you’d only dream of replicating in your home, to the flaky biscuits and farm-fresh eggs to the duck-fat fries and juicy burger, you will fall rapturously in love with the restaurant and proceed to HOOVER EVERYTHING ON THE MENU. And no one should stop you — it would be criminal to.

    But something else is gnawing at me. I witnessed a few comments on Alice’s site + read a few articles based on a very lovely foodie I’ve only started following — the strangeness of coveting someone else’s life. I’ll spare you the diatribe, but I’ll say this: a DSLR camera and a lithe figure are not worth making yourself blue. What people choose to publish online is only but a small fraction of their true selves — a representation of their life they feel comfortable sharing, but it’s not the whole of it. I’m sure these lovely ladies hurt like the rest of us, and instead of coveting a stranger’s life, let’s focus on finding the remarkable in our own. I have to repeat this to myself daily, as many of you probably think I live this very charmed existence and I definitely don’t.

    Find the remarkable in the ordinary. Ferret out the beauty in your life and celebrate it. Covet it.

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