the obligatory holy shit, I’m almost 40 post (another long post)

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I haven’t been 39 for a day and already I’m realizing that next year I’ll turn 40. And before you lay into me about 40 being the new 30, you’re only as young as you feel, and all that jazz, I ask that you please slow your roll because 40 is a big fucking deal. Although I spent much of my childhood wearing the mask of an adult, I remember reacting to the thought of being thirty. That’s old, I said. When you’re small you can’t imagine counting an age beyond your ten fingers. And then something in you changes, the shift is nearly imperceptible, and you suddenly find yourself attaching fractions to your age. You pine for sixteen, eighteen and twenty-one. Perhaps you think the world will reveal itself to you in degrees, because why else would you be so desperate to shed being one of the innocent?

I spent the day alone with my best friend’s daughter once. There was an emergency one Christmas morning–my friend’s son woke vomiting blood, the walls were a massacre of red–and I played with a small girl who was baffled over the fact that I abhor pink (god, what a heinous color!). While I wasn’t a girly girl, I was creative, and I made for a suitable playmate when she wanted to build imaginary sets for the plays we’d co-write. I marveled over her curiosity, and while we watched episodes of Strawberry Shortcake in what felt like an endless loop, I remember smoothing her hair, wanting for her to be young for as long as she possibly could, because children architect these magical worlds that adults find ways to ruin.

Everything for children is a first, whereas adults know too much. We’ve seen things that make us want to press our eyes shut and rewind the tape. Take us back before 21, 18, 16. We want it all back. We want our world small, simple, with only our friends and family in it. I had to write a scene last night about a woman who’s taken up permanent residence in a dark country and she struggles to remember what pure, unadulterated happiness was like. That first spring. The rain of leaves. The light that broke through the trees. Bare feet swaying on a car dashboard. Witnessing a stranger kneel down and pray for the first time. I had a really hard time writing this scene because those moments felt too simplistic, ridiculous and I’ve tainted them with everything that comes after. I can’t only keep the beauty in the frame without ushering in the ugliness, the cruelty, hate, violence and fear that we’ve come to know, in degrees, as the years stumble over one another. Feeling like a sophist I let the page cool, and I hope I can return to the story with something different. Who knows. Maybe I’ll play Strawberry Shortcake episodes to get me in the mood.

From where I sit now, the world is different. I read an article about how little one can change after they’ve turned 30, and contrary to what the author posits, I can’t even conceive how much I’ve changed in a span of 10 years. Or perhaps I’ve shed layers of skin to reveal what was always there–I can’t decide which. In ten years, I got sober, fell out of faith with a god I once worshipped (I’m spiritual, but no longer believe in a god or the binary confines of heaven and hell), discarded the need for materialistic trappings and unguided ambition, fell in love with body after struggling with it since childhood (and realizing, much like many women my age, that I was beautiful then–why couldn’t I have seen me then as I see me now?), focused on quality over quantity in all aspects of my life, took comfort in the fact that while I don’t want to be a mother in the traditional sense of the word, I find I can be maternal in other ways, softened my view of my mother, which went from a deep, voracious hate to a sorrow, a certain kind of sadness. A few other things I’ve learned (ack! I’m entering the list terrority, something I’ve long admonished, but whatever, I’m riding on a sugar high from eating copious amounts of homemade fruit bars):

1. You start to remember everything you’ve read: When I was at Columbia getting my Master’s, I took a class, “Poets on Poets,” and I can’t tell you how intimidating it was to hear professors and guest lecturers quote other writers and their works as if it were nothing, as if the knowledge were simply stored in this imaginary memory bank set loose onto the world when deemed necessary. My feelings of awe soon shifted to annoyance over what I thought to be pretension. Rolling my eyes I thought, if someone quotes Susan Sontag one more fucking time, until I became the person who reads and quotes from Susan Sontag and Joan Didion. I’ve read countless books, but as I grow older I realize that some of them have lingered, left their indelible mark, and I find myself quietly returning to them to ferret out new meaning. It’s sort of like going back to the familiar and taking comfort that this is a place you’ve navigated before. And I’ve got just the Susan Sontag quote for this, people!!!

In all of this, I am assuming a certain idea of literature, of a very exalted kind. I’m using the word “writer” to mean someone who creates, or tries to create, literature. And by “literature” I mean — again, very crude definition — books that will really last, books that will be read a hundred years from now.

2. Not everyone will love or like you, and this is okay: Years back, a slew of catty book bloggers wrote some very unkind words about me online and I was DEVASTATED. This was before the advent of GOMI and other forums where people talk smack about other people–this was 2006 and I remember my face getting hot and how I cried about people who were so fucking mean. I wanted so desperately to be popular, to be liked, and the fact that there are people in this world who think I’m shit was hard to deal with. Now I don’t care. Admittedly, I’m a hard person to know and I’m flawed, but what matters to me are how I, and those whom I respect and love, feel about me. Everything else is superfluous, peripheral noise that I tune out.

That’s not to say that I don’t listen to criticism or constructive feedback. One has to in order to grow as a person and artist, and if someone cares enough to give me feedback in a way that’s meant to take me to a better place, I think, why not listen? It’s always worth listening to, and identifying what part (s) of, feedback that resonate. I had a mentor, whom I adore, who would always pull me into his office to give me feedback on how I was managing staff. He once told me that I wore my emotions on my sleeve entirely too much, and a good leader has to be like a parent–almost always calm, always in solutions mode–and this shit was hard to hear. I was defensive and kind of bitchy, but then I realized that this person didn’t have to take the time out of his day to make me a better leader. And when I refined certain aspects of my character did I find that he was right. Sometimes you need to hear hard truths in order to become better, smarter, stronger.

3. I don’t have FOMO because I’d almost always rather be at home: This coming from someone who was once known as the “mayor”! I threw grand parties, attended them, was always double-booked, and grew miserable as a result. I didn’t realize I was an introvert living an extrovert lifestyle, and I’d often get wasted just to get through making the rounds at a party or I existed in a perpetual state of exhaustion. As I grew older I realized I didn’t need to be everywhere and do everything. I needed to have quality moments with people I admire, respect and love. Which leads me to…

4. I have a circle of ten and that’s about it: Chalk it up to unpopularity all throughout high school, but I used to be consumed with having SO.MANY.FRIENDS. Now I don’t have the time or energy for volume. I have a solid crew of less than ten friends for whom I’d lay down my life. These are a mix of women I’ve known for the greater part of my adult life–friends who saw me through addiction and relapse and knew me when I was a lesser person but stuck around because they saw the potential for me to change–and women with whom I’ve gotten incredibly close in the past few years. And while I may not see most of them as often as I’d like (some are mothers, one lives in Connecticut), when I do see them it’s as if we’ve picked up the conversation exactly where we’d left off.

My friends are strong, brilliant, beautiful, remarkable, tough, and don’t necessarily hold my social, economic and political views. Over the years I’ve learned about the importance of being taught by others. I’ve a close friend who’s a staunch Republican, and while it’s challenging to know that we don’t share the same opinions on how we want this country run, I’ve learned a great deal from her: how it’s important to understand your opponent and not simply ignore them, how we have to find some common ground if we want change. That there is some truth to what we both believe in, and it’s about how we can meld those truths into the greater good.

What I’ve also learned? I’ve become suspicious of women who don’t have long-term close girlfriends. I’ve also learned that it’s okay to have quarterly friends–people whom I like and admire, but I don’t have to see them every day.

5. I’ve been more socially active than I’ve ever been in my life: In college, we were told that we were the apathetic generation. Gen X didn’t care about anything. We were a-political, fatalistic. And for many years I didn’t care about geopolitics and didn’t advocate as loudly as I could have for the things I believe in. Now, all of it matters more than it ever did. Now, I can’t shut up about feminism, gay rights, racism, the fact that the U.S. isn’t morally superior because we apparently have no qualms about raping and murdering our own citizens. Now, I can’t stop reading about the politics in other countries. I can’t stop finding new sources to read. After Ferguson, I realized how “white” my news was, and I made it a point to find different sources. I made a point to be uncomfortably comfortable, which leads me to…

6. Travel is a huge part of my life: There are people who have the means to travel but don’t even have a passport and I don’t understand it. It’s as if the U.S. is enough. And it’s not, at all. It was only through traveling the world did I begin to see it differently. I’d been exposed to cultures I read about through the veil of an Anglo-Saxon or Americanized point of view. I’ve traveled to countries that aren’t necessarily “safe.” I’ve stood in streets watching anti-American rallies. You learn through context, and I feel as if I have a more complex view of America from having traveled outside of it. This year I went to Korea, Thailand, India, Spain, Ireland, and I have so much to see, so many places to go.

7. I let shit go: This is hard for a type-A control freak, but there are just some people, situations and events I’ll never be able to change and I have to accept that. I have to make a certain kind of peace with so much that exists beyond my reach. But this has taken an extraordinary amount of time and self-reflection. It’s only until recently that I’ve let go of the fact that I spent nearly four years of my life working for a man I didn’t like much less respect. Now, I try to learn from the things I can’t control. That, I think, is the greatest change I’ve seen in my life–that it’s imperative that I not stop learning. That I not be complacent. That I not simply exist to be constantly comfortable. That I not be changeless. That I not be open to change. That I not be receptive to criticism.

It never is what you want it to be, and that’s okay. It can be something else entirely.

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This is the thing I hate about lists–they never fully encapsulate the whole of everything, or any one thing. However, if I look at the woman I was at 16, 18, 21, and now, I can say that I’m calmer, quieter, kinder, and less insecure. The threadline through all of the years, I realized yesterday, is my writing. I’ve spent the greater part of this year wondering what it is I plan on doing with my life, and then it occurred to me that I only want to write. The writing can take different shape and form, but it’s the only thing that gives me shelter. It’s the one thing to which I can return and it never fails to challenge or excite me.

So maybe that’s what I’ve learned at 39, the year before I turn 40? I want to write, always.

on turning 39 next week, on loss, love and all of it

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What cracks had he left in their hearts? Did they love less now and settle for less in return, as they held onto parts of themselves they did not want to give and lose again? Or–and he wished this–did they love more fully because they had survived pain, so no longer feared it? ― Andre Dubus, Dancing After Hours

There was a moment last week when I looked away from my reflection in the mirror and wondered if I should get Botox. Me, an anti-botulism crusader, getting garbage injected into my face? Suffice it to say, it was a low moment and one that passed as swiftly as it arrived.

our last day I stroke a child’s hair. The blondness of it, the fineness of it, the mess of it, disturbs me, and I ask myself as I’ve asked myself countless times before, do I want this? Would it be possible to go at it alone? The child’s head is small, fragile in my hands, and I tacitly acknowledge that this isn’t what I want. I can’t imagine a life other than my own taking shelter inside this body. And I think about the time when I lost Sophie, when my grief was as large as an ocean, and everyone not understanding the depth of my loss and how I nearly drowned from the undertow. They said, I’m so sorry for your loss in the same breath as asking me for a favor. Can I connect them with someone in my network? Could they pick my brain with their scalpel and surgical tools? Imagine if you lost your seven-year-old child? Imagine if your child died in your hands? Their last breath lumbering out as you wondered whether you had been kind, whether you had done everything that there was to do. You think this is why you can’t have children because you’d find ways to kill them. You can’t remember a time when you were a child, when your job wasn’t to parent, to mother, to carry a woman down six flights of stairs to an awaiting taxi, to recite the address of Maimonides Hospital because you knew it by heart, because you made this trip countless times before. You completed the forms because your mother’s hands couldn’t stop shaking and watched The Late Show on the television that hung overhead while people bled, slept and moaned in the waiting room. You wondered if they’d ever get around to painting the walls. You wondered how long this time. Could she do this for you? Would she? You calculated the time from now until you’d have to carry her again, and as an adult you’d read about The Ouroboros and wondered if this myth was simply a retelling of your childhood with a serpent thrown in for good measure. Replace the snake with a child and you’ll see what happens when a child is forced to an extreme–to feed itself, care for itself, endure itself, waste itself, consume itself in order to inch through another day.

No, no children for me.

Let’s talk about a cat who was breathing and a cat who stopped breathing, and how you now exist in the silences after that loss? You now exist in the space after the body has been wrapped like a little package and delivered to an incinerator. Your father, not your real one, once tells you that when he dies he wants to be burned. None of this below the ground business with worms in his eyes. Spread me out in the water, he urges, and you nod and take note of a time when you’ll have to endure another burning. Let me ask you this: wouldn’t you take me by the neck–just so that I can feel what it’s like to watch a final rise and fall of a small chest–if I mapped out an appropriate timetable for your grief? I spend time and money on weddings and baby showers I’ve no interest in attending, and not one of these people helped shoulder my grief or sent a card or a gift when a new cat, my child, entered my home.

When you get older, you start to see people as they really are and this sometimes breaks your heart.

Parsnips, beets, zucchini, kale, greens, cabbage, carrots–I write these words down in the middle of a day that rains to remind myself of what I’ve eaten because I tend to forget things if they aren’t written down. But I never forget cat food, toys or vet visits. I tell myself that this time with Felix I’ll be good. I won’t slip. I’ll do everything I can to avoid a sky burial. I’ll do everything I can to not sit in another hospital where I have to deliberate my options, where I have to sign here, here and also, there.

Can I pause and tell you that having lost Sophie still breaks my fucking heart? Makes me cry on cue even now, even after all this time?

motherOccasionally someone will inquire, with a mixture of fear and curiosity, whether I want children. I’ve still got time, they think. I respond that I wasn’t built for bearing. I’ve already raised a child who gave birth to another child, a half-sister, and I never received a card or a word of thanks for sacrificing my childhood for her adulthood. Funny how time sorts things.

In December it rains constantly and I fear that I’ve become the kind of writer who’s good at blog posts and corporate narratives and little else. I worry that what I’ll leave behind is a book about The Ouroboros that was my life, a story I can’t even read without wincing. A story, I realize now, I wrote too young. Had I written that story now, it would have been a landscape painted grey, solemn and quiet. I would’ve been careful with my words; I would’ve laid down a blanket over my rage.

You had a friend once and she drank as much as you did and then some. She wrote beautiful, dark stories–the kind you always wish you could write, stories published in The New Yorker and then by Knopf. The stories are delicate and breakable, and this puts you to thinking that you’re only able to write about people who do the breaking, people who are broken. You can never write about that space between the two–not yet broken but not whole, complete–when the characters are simple, tragic and beautiful.

But when you were both drunk, going one for one until you both saw black, you don’t think about the stories you could or could not write. You’re the story and you’re tragic and simple and perhaps beautiful, but you’ll never know this. You’ll only realize it when someone else writes about it, and you read a story with a hint of nostalgia, the this person sounds familiar, until you realize that person is you and you’re a character in a story rather than a real person who didn’t have a beautiful life. This is your life. You’re some drunk girl in someone else’s story. They didn’t even get your lines right. And then it occurs to you that the someone who wrote this story was you and you wish that the story hadn’t been written in the first place. But that’s your book, your story, and you deal with it.

Years later, that friend who writes The New Yorker stories will accept your Facebook invitation for friendship even though you were once friends, but this relationship is different, safe, relegated to computer screens instead of bars and men flickering the lights shouting last call. You don’t dare see one another because you can’t bear to be with someone who reminds you that you were the kind of person you want to forget. Remember that time when we were supposed to go to that reading in that famous bar downtown? We met for a bite close to the bar and we ended up splitting two bottles of wine. We left our food cold. Remember when we walked into the bar and it was quiet and we giggled and guffawed and spoke in octaves? Remember when your best friend at the time practically pressed her hand over your mouth because that famous writer was reading, the room was attentive, silent, and couldn’t you see that? No, not really. We left and talked about how the famous writer’s stories weren’t as good as they used to be.

When she accepts your invitation for friendship you’re both sober. She’s on the verge of marriage. You’re not. She’s on the verge of publishing her collection of stories with Knopf. You’re not. Even though her work is good, really good, you wonder this: why didn’t this happen to me? The marriage, the stories, the Knopf, all of it.

When you get older, you sometimes wonder whether this is your life. All of it. You realize it’s nearly impossible to reconcile the woman you used to be and her wants with the person you are with her needs. You selfishly wonder if what you have, who you are, is ever enough.

I read a lot of lists. Apparently it’s the vogue thing to do to compile lists of things you’ve learned in your 20s once you turn 30. As if a number has the propensity to shift your life beyond measure. As if a number has that much power. I try not to be an asshole about it and realize that people need lists to sort out where they are in their lives–they need a demarcation of then and now and what’s happened in the space in between. Their lists are binary in nature, and I can’t argue this too much because I wrote a book that colored in the lines, a story that worshipped at the altar of black and white, and it’s not until I’ve had a few more years did I realize that there’s all this grey I’d been missing. That the delineations are no longer finite. There is no cutoff of what I’ve learned from 30 to 39, rather there’s what I’ve learned from being a kid until now. I need the kid to stay in the picture to understand the adult typing this now.

The lessons in these lists people write, share and nod along with, are no longer definitive and finite, instead they become somewhat obtuse: the loses are palpable; the relationships richer and smaller; the love is deeper and beautiful and dark and all of that; the hellos and goodbyes aren’t what they used to be; the work isn’t what we thought it would be, and sometimes we can’t define what it is that we want but we know exactly what it is that we don’t want; we’re urgent about the things we never considered and calmer about the things that used to make us rage; sometimes we listen to songs we used to love because they temporarily take us back to a place (remember that place!), and then we don’t listen to those songs for long stretches of time because they remind of us of that same place (remember that place…); we scan the updates and holiday cards from people we know or who we’ve come to know and realize that the people we once knew are so different they’re nearly unrecognizable while others continue to surprise us.

at the zoo barTwenty years ago I sat in a cold dorm room and played REM, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I wore flannels over tight black shirts, and baseball hats. I’d only just started drinking and I liked it. A lot. Maybe too much, but not yet, not yet, give it a decade in time. My mother waitressed in a diner and she was what I came home to for the holidays. I considered iceberg lettuce a vegetable. I ate a lot of pasta. I told everyone who would listen that I wanted to be an investment banker like Gordon Gekko without the prison record. I read American Psycho for the first time and said, I want to write books like that. My best friend and I wandered into the cafeteria drunk during the day while everyone was sober and watching and curious and we didn’t care. We wore flannels and baseball hats and talked about the guys who were in crew. We stirred white spaghetti around on our plates. We dumped the trays on the floor. We didn’t pick them up. I started to create a life that I found in a J.Crew catalog. I left Brooklyn behind. I came home drunk one night and scrawled in black marker on a metal door a note to a girl who left me in a bar in the city. I wrote over and over, how could you leave? I wrote a story that I secretly submitted to the college literary journal and the editor stopped me on the way to the cafeteria and asked me if I’d written this. He had my story folded in his hands. He said, I know you. You take finance classes. The story was about my mother. The magazine was called Ampersand, I think. I wrote it, every word, is it any good? It’s good. He held the paper tight in his hands and shook it, as if the words on the page could possibly explain to him the space between the girl who wanted to be a banker and drank five dollars worth of fifty-cent drafts and the girl who had no idea how to be a woman. He looked at me and then down at the paper trying to reconcile the two, and I remember saying, they’re both me. Back then I didn’t know what I was saying but I do now.

But what do I know? I know more about some things and less about others. I know what it’s like to live a life without anesthesia, without plotting from one drink to the next and I try to share that with others who privately struggle. I know what it’s like to fall in love with your body at 38 and wish you’d had that affection at 24. I know what it’s like to be risky in your life and your writing and how it sometimes hurts to see the words you put down on the page. Yet, there’s so much I don’t know. I don’t know what it’s like to love someone beyond measure. I don’t know if what I’m doing is good enough or just good for right now. I’m not as fluent in Spanish as I used to be. I still play oldsongs but stop them midway. I write blog posts like these that are complete in some ways and incomplete in others.

Maybe this is what I’ve learned: once I think I have the answers, I start asking new questions.

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what happened to the years, all of them?

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What happened to the years? All of them? You go to sleep one evening at 29 and wake, restless, a decade later. You wonder about time, how you managed to lose it as if it were some loose change that escaped through a hole in your pocket. When you were 29 you prayed to a god you now no longer believe in. You drank red wine until the curtain call, until the room, and everyone in it, faded to black. You never noticed the barnacles but now they’re everywhere. You had a great love once. You remember that one trip to Utah and the red wool hat you wore–a hat, a piece of fabric that you now find difficult to throw away–and how the two of you were this terrific photograph until the film got developed and you drank to drown out the sound of the other’s voice. Right now, as I type this, I can’t recall where I’ve kept the red hat or whether I still have it. Did I throw it out last year when I was thick in the business of minimalism?

I’ll look later.

Now you wonder about that kind of love, whether it’s possible. A love so great it threatens to complete. And we read our love stories and wonder what came first: the real or the fiction. Talk instead of a love that sustains. But first let me tell you story, about a man who held a woman’s quaking hands and promised her that there would be no ocean he would not swim through. He traced the lines of her palms with his fingers, which put her heart on pause, and told her he would follow her into the dark because he knew she had built a home, a life, there. He promised her new homes, new lives, and she was 29 and believed this. She wanted to believe in the maths not the history. In a few months time, they would abandon their love because they were selfish people (they admitted this truth, albeit in voices that crept above a whisper). He chose a false sun and she chose the real dark, and they stood in their respective corners, safe.

At 38, I wrote a whole book about love. Through a cast of characters I tried to find the ones who would climb into the heart of someone else’s darkness, and it turns out that I couldn’t reconcile the maths and I was writing textbook history. That’s not really true, though. I made the mentally ill the brave. A baker, who hears voices and plays the role of marionette with her play puppets, is ultimately the one who bears sacrifice. She is the one who loves but it’s not the love the peanut-crunching masses like. I used to read those fairy tales and love stories when I was small and I didn’t believe them then. And if I couldn’t believe when I was one of the innocent, how can you expect me to believe now?

Last year, a friend drove me around in her car. I was broken, exhausted, hungover. Rarely, if ever, do I ask anyone for help, but that morning I called her and said I needed her. That I was breaking, broken, the pieces are all over the damn house–can you come over with a broom and sweep me up? She came and we got in her car and she drove around Brooklyn, and it reminded me of when I was a teenager and my pop would drive us around Long Island whenever my mother decided to go to the crazies. We didn’t have any specific location in mind, we just drove until the gas ran out. I told my friend this. And then we got to talking about love, and she heard me for a time, going on about how love was always a mopping down, a sweeping up, and in a small voice she told me that I was wrong. That love actually wasn’t hard. Everything after it was. Love isn’t the same thing as loss, she said, to which I was responded that I didn’t know of any other way. Because I always lost the people I loved. I could tell she wanted to be delicate with her words because I was fragile, in a state of disrepair (basement flooded, wood rotting, bulbs sizzling in the dark, and the like), so she spoke about the inevitability of loss, how people come in and out of our lives, and that’s simply life, rather than the byproduct of love. I’d gotten the equations all mixed up because I cleaved to the history.

I read sincere blog posts written by women on the verge of turning 30. They write about being “old,” “not feeling their age,” “how things change,” and I wonder if we ever really feel our years. Do we wake up one day and think, I feel 38 today! Why do we ascribe so much weight to two digits, because they’ll inevitably bend and fold from our summations, our constant leaning? When I was 29 I was an alcoholic who couldn’t bear the weight of that label. So I kept drinking. When I was 29 I was in love with someone who was incapable of love. When I was 29 I was writing a book about my mother that at 38 I wish I could have rewritten. When I was 29 I had no idea what I wanted from the rest of my life but I know it wasn’t this. Looking around, I said back then, let it not be this.

At 38, on the verge of 39 (!!!), all I can say is that I know more but I’m hopelessly nostalgic and somewhat romantic (where did this come from? The chart shows no history of the romantics), and when I read this bit from Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable, I found myself nodding along,

Now that I’m almost never the youngest person in any room I realize what I miss most about those times is the very thing that drove me so mad back when I was living in them. What I miss is the feeling that nothing has started yet, that the future towers over the past, that the present is merely a planning phase for the gleaming architecture that will make up the skyline of the rest of my life. But what I forget is the loneliness of all that. If everything is ahead nothing is behind. You have no ballast. You have no tailwinds either. You hardly know what to do because you’ve hardly done anything. I guess this is why wisdom is the consolation prize of aging. It’s supposed to give us better things to do than stand around and watch in disbelief as the past casts long shadows over the future.

She continues to write what I think–that knowing more isn’t the true prize for having endured the years. Often we’ll stand in between our former and present selves and watch as the chasm between the two widens. We can’t bear the loss of time, the years, all of it, because the very thought of it puts our hearts on pause just as the anticipation for what was to come quickens it. So our heart beats for what will and what was, but all the while I wonder am I beating for what is.

I try to think of this in simple terms. At 29, I was too frightened of the world alcoholic and couldn’t imagine a world without wine in it. At 38, I miss being 29 but no longer feel the weight of the sum of those fears because alcoholic is one of the hundreds of words that compose me. I am not defined by one noun. As you can see there’s a lot that occupies the space between those 9 years and 11 months, but what I think about, right now, at 38, is that I’ve quietly helped dozens of friends who struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. I’m able to be present for them and share not wisdom, but experience. I don’t give them knowledge, but rather compassion and empathy. At 29, I hated my mother. At 38 I wish I could go back and paint a canvas of a life that has the perspective that comes from deciphering the grey from all the black, however, right now I’m sometimes sad that I don’t have what others take for granted even if my life is richer, saner and healthier without her in it.

Next month I turn 39, and while I don’t feel 39, I don’t fears the years either. Instead, I want my heart to quicken again. I want it to suddenly pause and stop. Not just for love, but for life, for the here and the now. I want the what was, what will be to be what is. Imagine a heart beating so fast it threatens to complete.

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finding the magic in life

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The circle of life: to learn, to teach, to pass on, our guide tells us. He takes my hand and draws a circle with his forefinger and says, In Thailand we believe in magic. We learned of a man who saw darkness and death; he witnessed the suffering in the world and sought to go beyond it in to find enlightenment. Realizing that material delights were fleeting and temporary, Buddha found himself beneath a tree of knowledge and remained there, in study, until he could make sense of the world around him. Once he’d found this truth, he made it his life’s work to share it with others because he knew there would come a time when he would leave his body for another place, nirvana, the paradise of which all faiths speak. Our guide takes us around Bangkok to visit the Buddha in his various representations, seated in deep meditation, standing, reclining.

We could talk about the 24-carat priceless monument to a faith rooted in knowledge. We could talk about the grandeur of a small emerald figure seated upon a jeweled throne, or the music the chimes make when you run your fingers across a row of dull metal, or the architecture that borrows from India, China and Cambodia, but in light of where my head’s been, I’ve given a lot of thought to life, how we live it and what we do with it before we pass on.

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Time is my spectre. Ticking clocks, the movement of days into weeks and years frightens me. There was a time when I’d wake from a deep sleep to pace my apartment because there would come a day when I wouldn’t pace. When my feet wouldn’t feel the ground beneath, rather my body would become part of the earth from which I’d come, and I still can’t wrap my head around it. When it comes to death I have no peace or calm about it, and I know when that time comes I will want to hold on as long as I could rather than fall gracefully into the dark. For me, there is no beauty in that last breath shuddering out–there is only the uncertainty which follows. People have their faith, they cling to it and I get it, but I can’t imagine a binary afterlife where I ascend to a home of gleaming white or fall into a column of fire. I just don’t buy it.

Perhaps this is why I’m so fixated on what I do in this life. And while I admire the story of Buddha and his relentless pursuit of truth, I don’t believe enlightenment comes through a succession of time. We’re constantly learning and then the hope is that we teach and then relearn and then do it all over again. For me, the magic has always been a photo once blurred coming into focus. The magic is crawling your way out of the dark and knowing that there will always be dark, but there will always, always be light. And this truth is comforting amidst a temporary life that ends (at least for me) with the gravest discomfort. Of a sky or ground burial, a body burned, or a body carried down a body of water.

Joan Didion says, we tell stories to live, and I believe this in my heart but I also believe we secretly tell stories so that we can leave our mark. We tell stories to be remembered. Don’t you forget about me, and like that. I think about this and I think about how I don’t want to have children and I wonder if my passing will hurt, if people will remember me in some capacity. And this selfishness (let’s call a spade a spade, okay?) coupled with a compulsion to find truth, to know everything one could possible know in a life, is sometimes the thing that gets me out of bed.

I once knew a person who said she had an aversion to anything dark. She won’t watch sad or disturbing movies, she reads stories that always deliver that neat, idyllic end, and she presses her eyes shut to the world around her. Sure, she might read The Skimm to get the Cliff’s Notes version of the world delivered in a tone of wit, stories of which are digestible and tweetable, but she refuses to know, to see. At first I thought this was an anomaly until I started to discover that many people live this way. They rationalize the need for reality television (as an example) to escape the world. They need some levity in their day. But then they shut their eyes to the world, and if they don’t know the darkness of it, and they surrounded themselves only in false light, what is it that they’re escaping? Are they fleeing the hazy awareness that the world is sometimes bad and people do evil things?

Why is it that people run from the dark? It’s been my experience that despair, loss, heartbreak, rage–this is all temporary. There is much to be learned from settling into the dark, breathing through it to get to the other side. That side is true light because you’ve once felt the absence of it. Someone asked me the other day how I felt about not drinking for the rest of my life. Admittedly, that’s still a scary thought, one with which I occasionally wrestle. And I said that I try not to think in those terms–the vagueness of an indeterminable amount of years I’ll be here, rather I think I just won’t drink today. But more importantly, what I’ve gained from not drinking is so much greater than the fact that I’ve lost the ability to do it.

It’s about the maths, I say. Because it was only the fact that I spent so many years under anesthesia and some years without that I know the difference of a life lived within the two. And I know that I can’t go back. Why would I? Yet I only truly understood that by having traveled through a dark country and building a temporary house there.

I think all of this is part of knowledge, this circle of life as Buddhists would have it. And this is the kind of thing I like to share with others, but the struggle is many don’t want to hear it. They want the tra la la pretty shiny life. They want the periphery, the ah, yes, I’ve heard of ISIS, but I’m fuzzy on the details.

Sometimes I feel punished for what I write and my need to share it. I do. And this has consumed much of my vacation, regardless of all the fun I’m having and all the beauty I see.

I woke this morning and said, out loud, what the fuck is so wrong about the dark?

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sophie + felix

sophie is so over me
Yesterday morning it occurred to me that this month marks the anniversary of my Sophie’s passing. It’s been a year since my relapse, since the whole of my world was shrouded in darkness. I don’t deal with loss well, and I didn’t anticipate just how devastated I’d be when she died. I couldn’t find the right words to describe the enormity of my grief. When I held her as she was being put to sleep, I didn’t feel the rush of heartbreak that I would inevitably feel weeks and months after. On that rainy day in late July, I was numb, sick and bewildered. I felt nothing. Hmm, that’s not true. I felt the heaviness of her departure, this unbearable disquiet.

I loved Sophie. Really loved her. She was prickly, prone to paw swats and over-excited hisses, but she was mine. She curled up next to me while I read, and slept beside me when I was sick. Even now, even as I type this, and page through images of her, I start to cry. Hers is a loss that I’ve come to learn how to bear. My god, she was so fluffy! So insouciant! So RUBENESQUE at her 14-pound height. I mean, look at that diamond belly! Nothing compares to you, as Sinead O’Connor so sagely crooned.

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Yesterday morning I ran errands, fixed up my apartment, and while I was taking dishes out of the dishwasher Felix meowed. It’s rare to find him on the shelf where a photo of Sophie and I, and her remains, lie, but he was there. Crying. I set the dishes down and turned around and watched him touch the tin that holds her remains, and I broke down and sobbed. I didn’t tell him to get down, I didn’t advance. Rather I stood there and watched and realized that there is a possibility that he could feel a whisper of my grief. A grief that has gone cold and quiet, yet lingers.

I can never thank my dearest friend Angie enough for driving me to the shelter to pick up Felix. I was hungover, grief-stricken, and probably incoherent, yet she was calm, comforting, and moved me from cage to cage until I spotted my little man. The sweet boy who would make me realize that there is indeed space in my heart for more love.

Sometimes I find myself comparing Felix to Sophie, which I suppose is inevitable, however, they are nothing alike. He prefers his belly rubbed, and he follows me from room to room. I joke that he’s a dog in a cat outfit. We play and I spoil him rotten. I love him beyond measure, but it’s a different love than what I felt for Sophie, not a lesser than, but different. Felix is easy and Sophie was well-earned.

I don’t know what to say about all this other than I’m grateful for my life and all the beautiful people in it. I’m grateful to have had Sophie for those seven years, and I’m grateful for having fallen madly in love with Felix, my special guy.

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blueberry coconut crumble

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It feels good to be home. To lay down my head on a familiar bed and feel my Felix snake my ankles. It feels good to buy bunches of lilacs because the blooms put me thinking of T.S. Eliot and college, and me shoving my face into a lilac bush and breathing everything, everything, in. It’s been an exhausting time since I’ve been back, with having to adjust to my life in New York while still processing all that happened in India. There are fitness classes to book and take, friends with whom lunches should be planned, contracts to negotiate and small projects to complete. Yet there are vials of fragrant oils from India, and I try on luxury for size and dot jasmine on my new sheets.

There are lilacs in my house. I’m here but I’m not and you know how it is.

I haven’t baked in a few weeks and I woke this morning {at 3:30AM, mind you} craving blueberries. So here it is, something simple, sweet and vivid to usher me into the evening. I’m keeping my cards close as there is so much to process, so much to think about…

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INGREDIENTS
For the filling
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
5-6 cups fresh wild or regular blueberries (32 ounces) or 32 ounces frozen wild or regular blueberries (do not thaw) or 2 pints from your local market
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

For the crumble
3/4 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup dark rye flour
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 tsp cinnamon
big pinch of salt
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup plain Greek yoghurt

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 400F.

For the filling: Whisk 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar and cornstarch in heavy large saucepan to blend. Stir in blueberries and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until mixture bubbles and thickens, frequently stirring gently, about 13 minutes. Chill filling until cool, about 1 hour (I shoved this in the fridge and it cooled nicely in 1/2 hr).

For the crumble: Combine the oats, coconut flakes, flour, and sugar together in a medium bowl. Stir in the butter, and then the yogurt and mix until everything comes together in a dough-like texture. Add the blueberries to a 9-inch pie dish. Sprinkle the crumble evenly over the blueberry mixture.

Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust and topping are golden and filling bubbles thickly, about 20-25 minutes. Personally, I loved this chilled, in the morning, with coffee.

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amer fort: jaipur, india {the longest post, ever}

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Perhaps I was too ambitious. Maybe I thought the physicality of ticking off an item on a list was still a marker of achievement. I came to India with purpose — I would have the space, time, and clarity to bring my novel home {the physical} while at the same time finding out if I need to define what it is that I want to do with my life {the mental; line forms to the left}. And naturally, there would be time, oceans of it, to complete freelance projects, and make sense and shape of all that is India. I would navigate its streets, inhale its spices, feel its people.

I never conceived of that fact that India is both exhilarating and exhausting, and I’m again reminded that once you attempt to define something, that thing changes its form until it is something else altogether.

We’re closing out our trip in Jaipur, which is a city of three million people, but it might as well be thirty with its symphony of sound, color, taste and smell. Yesterday we wandered The Pink City, and I tried to ignore the way men looked at us, looked through and under our clothes. I tried not to feel unsettled by the fact that there were hundreds of women covered in black cloth with only a slit for their eyes to betray their identity. We wove in and out of a thoroughfare of chaos with the constant drone of a horn honking {this is the norm, it seems}, people shouting, women negotiating fruit and fabric, men calling — always the siren call of the sea nymphs turned land turned street turned petal pink — cows swaggering, camels sleeping, dogs nipping, cats calculating, and the seven of us wandering, making sure we were always, always together.

There was the hiss and spit of fire {The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf/Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind/Crosses the brown land, unheard./The nymphs are departed, writes Eliot}, the spark of turquoise and cobalt dyes, the men walking beside me, telling me, It costs nothing to look. Come look. Come over here. I do not follow because I think of the fire and charcoal and how it is possible that within eight short days I can bear witness to so many examples of following a loved one into the dark.

I was supposed to finish this book. I had a kind of idea of how I would end it. The novel is a triptych of sorts, a verse repeated three times — three generations of broken women — but finally broken {a new song sung, a new page being written} by a woman who starts off the story by setting a woman’s hair on fire, but ends up wanting the single thing she, and all of the women who had come before, had been missing — someone to follow her into the dark.

Believe me when I say that I see the pages. I see the words as I’m typing them, but all I can do is feel. All I can do is exist amongst these stories people whom I hardly know, tell, and I’m reminded of the fact that I am very much on the verge. I am on the precipice of something, and the idea of returning to New York to deal with all this shit is at turns thrilling and frightening.

I’m genuinely excited and frightened of a great many things, and this is okay to feel this. It’s okay to settle into the dark but not set up shop in it. To not lay your bricks down, but perhaps a little blanket that you can carry with you when you’re ready for the light.

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Today we spent a great deal of the deal at the Amer Fort in Jaipur. From the intricate fusion of Hindu and Muslim architecture and the iridescent embossed silver mirrors, walls and doors, to the cool pastels of the summer rooms and the the apartments of the 12 women the king kept, the Fort {Palace} is an extraordinary sight to see. One could wander the stairs and tunnels and complex irrigation systems all day. We also procured fragrant oils in cactus, lavender, jasmine, sandalwood, rose and grass, whose flowers were hand-pressed and melded with hands that come from three generations of fragrance manufacturing. We saw fakirs {!!!} and cobras and dogs on their backs, and monkeys, who, in one moment would eat from the palm of your hand and then attack it.

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All the while I think of an honest love letter a new friend of mine wrote to her childhood friend, who has slowly become more than that. I remember reading it over dinner and feeling the familiar ache of a woman who has the strength to risk plucking out her heart and laying it down to be received. I was struck by this love described so simply, so plainly, and it is the very thing in which I desire for myself and for my Kate, the center character in my novel.

I think of our tour guide, Raj, a kind man who regaled the story of he {a Brahmin} and “Sweetie” {his Sikh wife}. They were beloveds through high school and college, but they kept their love a secret to no one save the very fundamentalist family. So Raj would escort her on movie dates and drop her off around the corner of her house, and Sweetie would pursue three different degrees to defer the suite of arranged Sikh suitors her parents had dutifully selected. Sweetie went on her interviews, which were a constant play on what is said and unsaid, and after having told three families that no, she does not eat meat, and no, she does not cook, and no, she is not religious, Raj’s family met with Sweetie’s and told the story of two people very much in love.

In short, this meeting was a disaster. Raj’s family was escorted out before the chai had been laid down on the table, and the father blamed the mother for the catastrophe that was Sweetie’s digressions. Family members made the 10-hour journey from Punjab to discuss, for 15 days straight, the plight of Sweetie. There were tears, threats, anguish and despair, and finally Raj took a calculated risk and told the family that he and Sweetie had already signed papers to be married.

A family debacle is one thing. A legal one is quite another. Arrangements were made, concessions acquiesced to, and for seventeen years Raj and Sweetie made a wonderful home and life for themselves, and the families became whole with the birth of two very beautiful children.

I listen to this story on a moving bus, and parts of it are funny and other parts are heartbreaking, but the light, the love is palpable, and this was once a young man who would risk everything for the woman he loved.

I think: I have this. I have this story in my hands and what to do with it? I wait for the time when mind, heart and hand are ready to move. I’m excited for the velocity of this book. I’m frightened of my personal velocity {the life undefined, the financial insecurity that is real}, and I know right now that I can’t control any of it.

All I can do is breathe, be present, and hope that life and art intersect and the character gets her way and the woman gets her way, and everyone is followed into, and ushered out of, the dark.

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thinking about a life of intention + an invitation for feedback on this space

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When I read this quote on my friend Summer’s space, I was seized. My heart suddenly stopped, and I was met with a flood of ideas. One of them is so strange so not Felicia, and I keep talking myself out of it, so much so that it makes me think that this is an idea worth considering. For the past two years, I’ve served as a mentor to dozens of people, and the fact that people seek me out and really listen to me, is humbling. I actually like the fact that I play a small part in someone’s bloom and can help them find ways to find their passion simply. Part of me wonders if this is something I can do as a side project, professionally. Give one day sessions on how to find + start on a path of intention, using social media as one of your most valuable tools. I don’t know what form it would take, and I’m not blind to the fact that there are a million sites, books, and professionals who are actually trained as life coaches and the like, but…but…I still think about it. I don’t have the answers yet, but at least I’m thinking.

Speaking of listening…

On Monday, you might have noticed that I was tinkering with the design of this space because I felt bored. I temporarily changed the design to an all-visual format, and queried my friends on Facebook to gauge their thoughts. While some adored the clean layout, some of my friends gave me very constructive feedback, which made me revert back to the layout you see now. Some folks actually like the way I marry image + type. Some folks appreciate the austerity of this space. Who knew?

While I write a lot of what excites me, sometimes I feel as if I’m moving in the dark. Am I intimidating? I want to do so many things on this space {ideas of interviewing women who run small businesses, foodie and fitness profiles, and a lot more travel pieces}, but I wonder what’s clicking for you. If I judge it by my “likes per post” {terrible gauge, I know}, you guys love the food + recipes. But is there something I’m doing right or something I could be doing better? I really appreciate and respect your feedback, and since I have no plans to EVER monetize this space, the fact that this space is a virtual dialogue between me + you means that I value your voice in the conversation.

So tell me — what is it that you love about coming here? What do you wish you could see more of? If you’re shy about leaving a comment, feel free to leave it anonymously.

Image Courtesy of Summer Pierre. If you don’t visit her blog and buy her art, you’re bananas.

marble chocolate crumble cake

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When we were about to board a plane for Dublin, my father asks me, How is your life? It was a deceptively easy question, the sort of query that requires only a perfunctory response. I could have said, Great! Busy! Rich! Frightening! Unsettling! Confusing! I could have delivered the simplest of monosyllabic responses, but instead I said, I don’t know. My pop likes his meat medium rare so instead of explaining myself, I fixate on a pool of blood eddying at the corner of his plate. I wanted to say that while leaving a place that resembled comfort, or at least delivered a terrific illusion of it, was the bravest decision I’ve ever made, I’ve no idea what’s next. I don’t know what it is that I want; I just know what I don’t want, and winnowing up the options seems like an impossible proposition. So I chicken out and I don’t say any of these things, I just say, I don’t know. Dissatisfied, my pop says, That’s a load of bullshit, right there. You always know. You’ve always known. You,, he says, pointing his fork at me, always know.

But nothing is ever one thing is it? We are never one thing, are we? Just as we think we know what we are, we elude ourselves. We form our own chrysalis and a new self takes shape, and all the things that we’ve loved before have lost its luster. Are we then only what we what pursue?

Last week two people I admire offer me extraordinary full-time opportunities. I get a green pass to hop the line and one lunch can clinch the proverbial deal, and instead of leaping at the thought of not having to hustle and finally, finally, I could have normal health benefits, I pause. I retreat. I tell my pop about my hesitation and he says, Aren’t you going to get a job at some point? To which I quietly reply, I don’t know.

Fuck if I know.

This is what I do know: I love baking cakes during the day. I love waking early and working on a novel already a year in the making. I love staying up late and working on marketing plans and taking meetings with people I respect and admire in hopes that I can help them find their way. I love the rhythm of all this but it feels like stasis. It feels as if I’m in a purgatory of sorts, and nothing yet has emerged.

A few weeks ago someone told me that I intimidated them because it seems as if I’ve got it all figured out, to which I respond, Define it. Age doesn’t neatly tidy up the world, it only gives you the time to make sense of it. Age gives you the gift of perspective and need and want. But there is no pattern that knits it all together.

Today I read a blog post where the author writes: So, what’s stopping you from doing your best work and not that crappy stuff that’s filling up so many hours of your day? And I think that I’m not doing “crap” and I’m not doing my “best,” I’m rather somewhere in the betweens.

Always in the betweens, it seems.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Rachel Allen’s magnificent Cake
For the crumble topping
125g {1 cup} plain flour, sifted
75g {1/2 cup} caster {or cane} sugar
75g {3oz or 3/4 stick} unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
75g {3 oz} dark or milk chocolate, in chips or roughly chopped into pieces

For the cake
225g {2 sticks} butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
225g {1 cup} caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g (1 1/2 cups} plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
50 ml {1/3 cup} milk
25g {1/4 cup} cocoa powder
icing sugar, for dusting

DIRECTIONS
For the crumble topping: Using your fingertips, rub together the flour, sugar and butter in a large bowl until it resembles thick breadcrumbs, then mix in the chocolate pieces. Set aside in the fridge while you make the sponge.

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 180C/160 fan/gas 4. Butter the sides and the base of a 23cm cake tin – if you’re using a springform tin, make sure the base is upside down so there’s no lip and the cake can slide off easily when cooked.

Cream the butter until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and vanilla extract together in a small bowl for a few seconds or just until combined, then gradually add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar mixture, beating all the time.

Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in carefully, then add the milk and mix gently to combine. Tip half the cake mixture into another large bowl, then sift the cocoa powder into this bowl and fold it in.

Place the two different cake mixtures in the prepared tin by alternating heaped tablespoons of the vanilla batter with the chocolate one. Using a skewer or the handle of a spoon, gently draw swirls through the cake mixture to create the marble effect – try not to overmix or you won’t get that wonderful marbled effect.

Scatter the crumble mixture evenly over the top of the cake mixture and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the crumble is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then loosen around the edges using a small, sharp knife and remove the sides of the tin. Place the cake (sitting on the base of the tin) on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Use a palette knife or metal fish slice to loosen the bottom of the cake from the base of the tin, then slide the palette knife or fish slice under the cake and carefully ease it onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

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if this be a home, let it be filled with light

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By the time I’m nine I know the world is a dangerous place. I’ve heard whispers about razorblades in apples, about Charlie Manson and his family. But no one is offering any clear information. –Nick Flynn

I think about a painting I used to love. A desperate woman crawls up a field. In the distance there’s a little wooden house. It’s gray, fallen to blight, like a woman who wakes one morning and realizes the years that have passed, feels her skin crumble like tissue, but the house, like the woman, stands tall, proud with the knowledge that she was once beautiful. That her face was once a map that everyone wanted to navigate and conquer.

But back to the scene as it plays out. You get the sense from how she’s leaning forward, how her hair has come undone, how her belt binds her to the ground, that reaching this home, a future version of herself, is unimaginable. All she wants is to be a girl, playing house in older woman’s clothes. All she ever wanted is to get there, but then it occurs to her that she doesn’t really know what there is. She knows the shape of it — her life stretched before her like some messy tableaux — but she can’t make out the details. Nothing’s in focus.

I’ve visited this painting quite a bit, and wondered what it would’ve been like if the woman could create a string of miniature houses — like a set of tire tracks — leading her home. One house would be demonstrably larger and richer than the previous one, and she could fully inhabit the place, lean out the windowsill, trace the dust with her hands and lay her head down on the wooden floor. As the years press on, she could shed each house like a piece of clothing, and the house would remain like a photograph, an indelible mark of the person you once were rather than the person you don’t know how to be.

Sometimes I think about all of the homes I’ve lived in over the years and all I could see are numbers on doors: 77 black, 182 white with a screen, 1256 stone, and so on. But what doesn’t make it into the frame are the insides: the color of the carpet, the furniture in each of the rooms. I can see them in pieces, but not completely, and it dawns on me that all of my homes feel like a single version on repeat, and I struggle to move forward, to shed, because I don’t know what I’ve definitively left behind.

I’ve never built a house that was a home until now. 38 years. The years.

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In this house there are books everywhere. On the floor, under coffee tables, stacked against the walls and ensconced in bookcases. There is a considerable amount of blue, a few mirrors, cashmere, and linens piled a shelf high. There is a loft with a view down below. Home is a door that can be closed, allowing me to retreat, exhale, but it’s also a door that can be opened, letting the air rush in. Last week I told a dear friend that the apartment I was leaving was a form of chrysalis, a place that allowed me to change shape. I also said that this was the place where Sophie died and out of nowhere I was overcome by her loss, as if it had just happened, and I looked at Felix, my new love, and I had to remind myself my heart is large enough for both my boy and sweet girl to fill it. Friends came and helped me lug bags and books and boxes down a flight of stairs and Sarah said that this place will bring me something new. I nodded, didn’t say much, but thought that finally home is a place where I can lay to rest. A place that feels permanent.

As you can see, I’m still unpacking. I’m still waiting for bookcases to house the hundreds of books piled on the floor. i’m exercising patience because I’ve got a strict budget {ah, the freelance life!} and I can’t just run out and buy a dining table, chairs, floor rugs, chairs, lamps, and all the things my heart desires just yet. But what’s more important to me is what I create in this space, not the things I fill it with. I have to remind myself of that every day.

In this home, in the memory I’ll now have of it, is love, is food, is friendship like a cat’s cradle held into two hands. I know each room completely. From the paint on the walls to the moldings to the grooves in the carpet, to the B-list books hidden from view. I know this place. I know this kitchen. I know this love.

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home, sweet home

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Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places. ― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

A few nights ago I woke from a deep sleep to discover the heat went out again. Since November, men with tools and pipes and electronic gadgets filed in and out of my apartment. They adjusted nobs and grunted and talked about water pressure, how there was never enough of it, and I exercised a sort of patience of which I would never think capable. The heat would work for a week and then it didn’t, and so I’ve been spending this rather cold, dark winter hoping that my space heaters won’t set my apartment on fire. And just when the last of the men came, just when I thought I’d make it into March in a warm home…

MY GODDAMN HEAT WENT OUT AGAIN. GODDAM IT ALL TO HELL, I THOUGHT.

My landlord {and building owner} and I are old friends. He’s old New York, Brooklyn-raised, and the fact that we grew up not too far from one another sometimes brings out the nostalgic in us. He hugged me when my Sophie died, and played with Felix, and we text and chat about the boiler in my apartment like how one would talk about about building a jet engine. So when I texted, Charlie, it’s on the fritz again, and he responded with, Be there tomorrow. There’s an extra space heater in 2A, it didn’t initially occur to me that the apartment I’ve been wanting for three years is finally vacant.

Until I entered Apartment 2A and nearly screamed. Crown moldings, intricately carved doors, a 100-square foot loft space in addition to a bedroom — this is a home engulfed in effulgent light. This is a space worthy of a Calvino-type possession. In the dark, I texted my landlord and he offered me the space for 30% less than market rate. There was a moment when I hesitated, when it dawned on me that I’m moving into a home that carries a higher price tag, but I stood in that space and felt something.

That something being possibility. I saw a home office where I could write and work. I saw dinner parties where friends no longer have to eat on the carpet. I saw food photography. I saw space. I saw a new life.

In a span of an hour, I found myself with a new home. It’s as if I’m playing the hand as it lays. Working the cards as I see them, as it were.

Naturally, I’m gawking at tufted chairs and kitchen islands. While packing and making the thirty-odd change of address calls, I found myself obsessing about marble stones and home office decor. But then, you know, I got back to reality and focused on moving.

One day at a time. One card picked up. One discarded.

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mandarin, polenta + macadamia cake + the power of ten

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I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, the one great equalizer, because every moment forward is a reminder that we’ll never be able to reclaim the hours. While I’m nowhere near my twilight years, I’ve been pensive in a way that people become when they’ve allowed themselves some quiet in which to think, and I look back and sometimes lament about how much time I’ve lost. Minutes are slippery, and as your eyes close and open again, you wake to find a year has passed and what have you done? Have you invested in yourself? Living the best life you can possibly live? Did you create and feel, really allow the bandaids to be ripped off, one by one? Or did you slouch through your days, sleep through your waking life, only to find yourself a year older with the scars of thousands of emails sent and barbs traded to mark time passing.

For four years I felt like I was a mass-market version of myself. I was everywhere, did everything, saw everyone, and nights I’d come home, depleted. Falling asleep on my couch was a natural occurrence and online food delivery was a constant. I wasn’t present in my life, rather I was what I was going after. I was that next meeting, those two hours spent with someone who drained the life right out of my body.

A year ago I decided to get surgical. I said no so many times I lost count. I only spent time with ten core people in my life, really focused on nurturing relationships I’d lost during the four years I spent underwater. I read book after book after book. I took classes. I visited museums. I boarded planes to countries unknown. I scheduled my workouts with the same amount of importance and regularity as new business meetings, and when asked recently if I’d never return to an agency — even if the money was great and the work was easy — I said that I don’t want to waste time doing the things I don’t love. I no longer want to feel uncomfortably comfortable. Money is no longer a marker of a successful life, an open heart. The discomfort I crave is in the uncertainty of what’s next, but I have time, wonderful, beautiful time, to have the clarity to figure it out.

Because time is more valuable than a $5,000 status bag that will invariably gather dust in my closet. I now only see the people I truly love and respect, people who are going to add richness from my life rather than eek it away. And if anything threatens my private time, the space in which I need to refuel and rejuvenate, I retreat further. I cancel plans and reschedule, because I’ve learned that my time is my own to squander.

And in those moments of solitude, I draw outlines, and bake warm, delicious things.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Australian Women’s Weekly
4 small mandarins (400g), unpeeled
2 cups (280g) macadamias
250g butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
3 eggs
1 cup (170g) polenta
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon icing sugar

DIRECTIONS
Cover whole mandarins in medium saucepan with cold water; bring to a boil. Drain then repeat process two more times. Cool mandarins to room temperature.

Preheat oven to moderately slow (170°C/325°F). Grease deep 22cm-round cake pan; line base with baking paper.

Blend or process nuts until mixture forms a coarse meal. Halve mandarins; discard seeds. Blend or process mandarins until pulpy.

Beat butter, extract and caster sugar in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined between additions; transfer to large bowl. Stir in polenta, baking powder, nut meal and mandarin pulp.

Spread mixture into pan; bake about 1 hour. Stand cake 15 minutes; turn, top-side up, onto wire rack to cool. Serve cake dusted with sifted icing sugar.

NOTE: Native to Australia, buttery, rich macadamia nuts have a high fat content and should be kept, covered, in the refrigerator to prevent them becoming rancid. You can blend or process the same weight of other roasted nuts, such as pecans, almonds or walnuts, if you prefer, to use in place of the macadamias. Similarly, you can substitute the same weight of other citrus fruit — grapefruits, blood oranges, tangelos, etc — for the mandarins.

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