on this imminent nomad life: you can roam if you want to

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If it’s darkness we’re having, let it be extravagant. –from Jane Kenyon’s “Taking Down the Tree”

Remember “Roam”? If I go back to 1989, I’ll find a girl obsessed with Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, Winona Ryder and Nine Stories. I prefered books written by alcoholics (Hemingway, Cheever), social deviants (Dostoevsky) and the compulsively mad (Sexton, Plath). Routinely, I was summoned to the guidance counselor’s office because I penned stories about small girls hanging from ropes tied to trees–is there something wrong at home? the counselor timidly inquired, to which I’d respond, no, there’s nothing wrong and think, of course there’s something wrong. Why else would I spend a childhood, a life, living in my own head? A girl called Jody use to steal lines from poems I’d written and claimed them as her own, even though she didn’t understand what she’d copied. Back then nobody wanted to know. We lived for the pinprick of anesthesia. Blindness was a constant state.

My worldview was pessimistic, bleak–why else would R.E.M. foretell our doom? It’s the end of the world as we know of it, and the like. I remember assembling a presentation (it was probably for English class, where I practiced most of my teenage dramatics) and blasting the close to “King of Birds”: Everybody hit the ground, everybody hit the ground, because everything around me teetered on ruin.

Naturally, I was sent to the guidance counselor’s office. Again.

I was forever in the guidance counselor’s office. The same woman who cajoled me would later encourage me to only apply to local colleges and state schools, and was visibly shocked when I received scholarships from U Penn, NYU, and Boston University. I hated my high school so much that when I received my ten year reunion notice (a meetup at a fucking pancake house?!), I wanted to torch the computer where the email resided.

In 1989, I cowered in corners, mute, scribbling into notebooks or in the margins of the novels I read. While girls rode in cars with their glossed lips and Liz Claiborne bags during the day, and snuck beers and drove drunk around Grant Park in the evening, I consulted maps and real estate listings. I was in the business of migration. For as long as I could remember, our family was itinerant. Home was a place where mail was simply forwarded. Whether we were dodging loan sharks, eviction notices or months of unpaid rent, we’d pack the whole of our lives in cardboard boxes and had hope that this new town, this new home, would deliver us a better life. We staked our hearts on that deliverance. Sometimes, hope can be a fever, a sickness, because we’d invariably unpack the same old darkness. Hang the same sadness in our freshly-painted closets. After school, my pop and I would drive all over Long Island just to pass the time, just to drive. And if there is one memory from my teenage years worth preserving, worth pulling out of a fire, it’s me and my pop in a car, driving.

Even now, he’ll pick me up from the train station and ask if I want to go for a drive.

In 1989 I was 14, and I regarded the B-52s with their hallucinogenic outfits and towering bouffants with a mixture of curiosity and disdain. Who had money to roam around the world when Con Edison routinely pinched the gas and shuttered all the lights? How does one roam the world without wings (planes?) without wheels (cars)? Were we supposed to pull on our Reeboks and hoof it? And why was everyone in the video happy and clapping? How could anyone be happy in 1989, I thought.

Last weekend, I take slow steps with my pop. I visit him a few times a week at his rehab center in Long Island, and I bring him food, make him laugh and applaud his progress in physical therapy. I tell him that every step forward without pain is a victory. He holds my hand, squeezes it, and tells me that he loves me so much. Sometimes it scares me how much I love him. I tell him about Montana, New Mexico, California and Washington. I tell him about my plan to move four points west, and he laughs at the idea of me surrounded by ranchers. He can picture it but he can’t. He tells me I need to do this, I need to go.

I make him promise me that we’ll run as fast as our legs can carry us before I leave. I want to see you run, I say. He laughs and tells me that he wants to see me run too.

I’ve decided that my first stop will be Montana, late summer. Part of me is thrilled, part of me is frightened, and I know whenever I’m scared I take comfort in reading. Over the past few weeks, I’ve read dozens of articles, essays and short stories about the business of leaving. About roaming. About yanking up roots and re-planting. About the beauty in the harvest. A few of my favorites are below–I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

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  • Chelsea of Frolic! on her year-long European odyssey: “Seeing the world enlightens me. This trip was about facing the nagging wanderlust that had been bugging me for years and getting back to gardening, hence the farm stays. I have a blurry picture of what it is I want to do at the end of this and am figuring it out along the way. I’ve told myself it’s ok not to be overly ambitious right now. I keep busy with work, creative projects, and soaking up my environment but it’s definitely a slower pace than I lived at home and I think that’s ok for me right now.”
  • Laura Jane of Superlatively Rude on picking up and moving to Bali: “The best thing that happened to me in 2014 was being let go from my job. That job held so many excuses for me. I couldn’t work on my book, because where was the time? I couldn’t travel, because I only got three weeks a year. Hell! I couldn’t even take a sick day without my pay being docked. I spent ten hours a week commuting on the central line – FORTY HOURS A MONTH! A WHOLE WEEK’S WORTH OF WORK! – spending my cash on £8.95 salads at lunch because “I deserved it”. It was inferred daily that my work had limited value. To not have an opinion. To not make a fuss.”
  • The esteemed Pico Iyer (I just love his essays) on foreignness: “This is the point of the foreign. We don’t travel halfway across the world to find the same things we could have seen at home. Those who undertake long and dangerous journeys have every incentive in stressing their discovery of a world far better than the one they left behind.”
  • Russell V. J. Ward on how living abroad changes everything: “Things that were once important no longer matter. Things that didn’t seem important before now matter more. The value of friendship is paramount. Familiarity is a forgotten concept and you don’t take anything for granted. The act of moving abroad made you realize that “things” don’t equal happiness. In fact, you start to redefine your original idea of success.”
  • Clemantine Wamariya on traveling to 10 countries in 1 year: “I began this nine-month journey with an open mind and a grand hunger to learn. What I came to realize is that the world is a very small town. We are all neighbors. Be kind. Be gentle. And — always — eat.”
  • Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo, text graphic my own.

    no new friends, as drake so sagely rhymes: on age and keeping your circle tight

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    Growing up involves opening outward. We search out new experiences, wider social connections, and ways of putting our stamp on the world. When people reach the latter half of adult hood, however, their priorities change markedly. Most reduce the amount of time and effort they spend pursuing achievement and social networks…They focus on being rather than doing and on the present more than the future…If we shift as we age toward appreciating everyday pleasures and relationships rather than toward achieving, having, and getting, and if we find this more fulfilling, then why do we take so long to do it? Why do we wait until we’re old? The common view was that these lessons are hard to learn. Living is a kind of skill. The calm and wisdom of old age are achieved over time.Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal

    It’s funny how a book about death can teach one so much about life–how to hold it close to your heart, how to take its pulse and how to quicken it. We start out by wrapping our arms around the world and everything in it simply because we want to feel, know and taste everything. We are nothing if not an accumulation of our senses with the volume turned up, and when we’re young we measure our life in terms of the things we hold in our hands, progress we can see. We become box-tickers, ladder climbers, deft players of checkers and chess. Because what if we miss it? What if we refused to open ourselves up to all the possibilities? What then? When we’re young, I can’t think of a more frightening word than limits.

    Because why shouldn’t we desire the world and want everything in it? Believe me when I say the natural order of things is to oscillate wildly. There is beauty in the unknown, of feeling your way around the dark, of scraping your knees and feeling the sting of rubbing alcohol and the rip and tear of bandages. Much of youth orbits around uncertainty, and it’s perfectly normal to feel as if you are a bridge on the verge of collapse, that one errant footfall could turn you into driftwood.

    I’m starting to think of growing older as a certain kind of quiet. We once measured our worth in direct correlation to our personal velocity, of how fast and far we managed to hurtle ourselves to as many shores as we could navigate. We achieved all that our parents had designed for us, and then what? What then?

    Last year I took a meal with a woman in her twenties. Perhaps I was someone whose career she admired, or possibly I could offer her some knowledge she’d yet to acquire, but over the course of our meal I could tell that she was uncomfortable that I didn’t have all the answers. That at 38 my career was still elusive, I’d yet to marry or bear children. I wanted to tell her that the difference between us was that I was calm in the midst of the unknown. I had the armor and tools she’d yet to acquire. Although I didn’t know precisely what I wanted to do with the rest of the year, much less my life, I knew what I didn’t want, and I knew that if I kept moving toward the projects and people that make me want to bolt out of bed in the morning, I was headed in the right direction. How do you explain that age hones your GPS, or perhaps it allows you to manage the sharp turns and how to find your way back after you’ve been lost all this time?

    I left the meal exhausted, and I suppose she left flummoxed over the fact that I hadn’t “figured it all out.”

    FullSizeRenderI’ve written at length about cultivating real relationships and my violent aversion toward networking and how I’ve managed to block the barnacles. When given the choice between working a room or working my couch, clearly my heart is with the latter. Because I’ve spent the better part of fifteen years accumulating the people who matter in my life. I’ve defined for myself the traits and values that my friends should embody, and I never, ever, befriend anyone simply because they’re a connector, they’re good to know. Frankly, if I can’t share a meal with you, I don’t want to know you. In this way, I’m polarizing. I’m 39, not 25. I don’t need new people; I have my people.

    And my people are busy. I’m at the age when coordinating a lunch is the equivalent of a CIA operative. There are multiple texts, chats, calendar consultations because now we have to consider children, work, AA meetings, therapy, after-work engagements, and all the other weight we carry as the years advance. Time with my close friends, my beloveds, is so precious that when I’m with them, I’m completely present. We don’t use our phones (unless there’s an emergency) and we spend our time close, connected, because as we grow older the distance between this meal and our next grows wider. Even with my closest friends. Even with the people whom are my family.

    Over the past few years I’ve made some very clear and definitive choices about my life. I will only surround myself with people who challenge and comfort me. Our relationships are symbiotic, reciprocal, and I never leave a dinner drained–I’m always invigorated. I always want to create, build, be. I will only take on projects with people whom I respect, people who have integrity and challenge me. I don’t create “content”, I tell stories, and I’ll never write simply for the sake of churning out something for screen or paper. I will only cleave to that which nurtures me. And with all of that decisiveness comes difficult choices and awkward conversations.

    After a recent stressful holiday, my friend Amber said, in the sage words of Drake, no new friends. And I have to agree. Frankly, I don’t want piles of new friends. I’m not at the place in my life where I need to hoard and accumulate, rather it’s about a winnowing down. I want to spend my time nurturing existing relationships and rekindling old ones. I want to focus on mentoring the extraordinary women who used to work for me. That’s not to say that I haven’t met some wonderful people in the past two years (my friends Grace and Joanna immediately come to mind), however, I only seek to cultivate friendships with people where we both walk away inspired and excited. In short, while I have acquaintances and professional relationships, I make very few friends.

    Because I can’t give all of me to everyone.

    The online space is extraordinary and strange. This virtual home allows me to connect and share aspects of my life, and how I think, in a truly personal way. Writing has always helped me make sense of the world, and writers would have to be mad to not want their work to affect others. You want people to read. You want them to feel something based on what you’ve written. You want them to not only be inspired, but you hope they act, move, live their best life. Yet the flipside to that coin is that people feel as if they know the innards of you. They’ve knocked on your door and you’ve allowed them trespass to your home and somehow this makes you kin. I struggle with this, honestly. I read a lot of blogs and I rarely comment because my relationship with the blogger is one-dimensional. They serve a very selfish purpose and I’m okay with a relationship that is confined to a screen. I’m satisfied with my Twitter relationships because most are about the exchange of ideas and information. I don’t desire to meet everyone I follow because I’ve come to know a representation of that life and that’s all I need.

    I guess this is what happens when you grow older, perhaps Atul Gawande is right. Because all I want is to focus on what’s in my life, right now. And if I happen to come across someone new and extraordinary, awesome, but I’m not running toward it. There is no hurtling, there is instead a settling.

    roasted cauliflower with dates + pistachios and a meditation on resolving vs. doing

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    I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it. –Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

    He was the kind of man who had been through war but dressed his wounds years after the fact. He was a heart worth beating for, a man who buried his face in my hair and let it rest there. We were in a restaurant in Utah and I rushed to the table and whispered, Britney Spears is in the bathroom! Back then, I wore a red wool hat the size of a small child. I don’t know what your plans are, but mine don’t include children. On our first date we took a good meal in a bad restaurant. When he asked, do you always drink like this?, gesturing to a wine glass that was never empty, I laughed and said, do you know of any other way? That night we fell asleep to the sound of a woman singing Chinese arias in the courtyard. Back then I lived in an apartment above a restaurant where tourists paid Italian men of a certain age and breed to play The Godfather on a weathered violin. When the halls smelled of bleach and the carousel of lights flickered and faded to dark, a woman would sing, always, as if her sad song could eclipse all the ones that had come before. You have to know that it was tragic to fall asleep to The Godfather night after night. Because there’s heartbreak in repetition, in a heart that never quickens, but only slumbers its way home. Part of me wondered about a man who fell in love with a woman who was intent to remain at war with herself, who felt shelter only by picking at healing wounds. Just to see if she could still bleed. Just because she could. Just because she knew of no other way.

    We spent the holidays in Boston with a family that measured your self-worth by the accumulation of degrees. I’d pass muster because, you know, Columbia. I’d never lived in a house with two floors, much less a mudroom (What’s a mud room? I whispered as we removed our coats. A room before the others, he said), so when we arrived that night I crept up and down the stairs. Up and down. Up and down, again. I did find it strange that one needed a room to ready oneself for the rest of the house.

    Over the next two days there was a fire, a brawl, a father who thought it funny to call me felatio, a battle waged against a sister who got rhinoplasty and changed her name because she was so tired of being Jewish, thickened mashed potatoes and tears (mostly his, some of my own), and I understood that a mudroom was a way out. Back then I slept on top of the sheets, never between them, with one leg off the bed, ready to run. Who knew that a room would be a leg, an escape clause, a get out of dodge kind of plan? I never thought I’d say this but your family is more fucked up than mine, I said. Let’s just leave, he said. He had this habit of removing his glasses and cleaning them, even after they were clean. He’d remove, wipe, wear, and remove, wipe and wear all over again. They’re clean, I snapped once, to which he replied, that’s not the point.

    I realized then that I was dating a man whose last name meant screamer in German.

    Who gives away their slow-beating heart? Who does this? Who lets someone in, all the way? I was nothing if not a collection of bones broken in all the wrong places, and as one year eclipsed another, as people stood beneath a storm of snow-mixed confetti–reports warned of thundersnow–as couples hastily and sloppily kissed, as children wore cone-shaped hats and raised valiant fists in the air, I removed my lips from his and said, this year I don’t want this. I couldn’t love another version of me. Back then I was impenetrable, incapable of love because I’d equated it to bloodletting, and who knew then that he knew this all along. That he made a game of seeing if he could break me because he was the gambling kind.

    A month later I discovered that although my heart wasn’t capable of complete love, it was completely breaking. Men took me and my things to a small apartment in Chelsea where a man blasted jazz into the gloaming.

    I thought about of this when I spent New Year’s Eve with a dear friend, and we talked about how we started each year, if we had been alone, if that meant something. Four years of thirty-nine I’d spent it with a significant other, and it occurred to me, a day later, that those others weren’t significant, I was alone, and all of it did mean something. Until now I hadn’t been the gambling kind. I hadn’t flung open the doors to the light just beyond the dark (had you been there, all this time? Just beyond my reach? Or had I been busy dressing all those open wounds?); I hadn’t run all the way out and in. I was running in circles, exhausted from chasing all the wrong things, and I was tired. So tired.

    Because I don’t want to live in a house with a mudroom. Because I’m finally able to rest between the sheets. Because I’d rather be alone for the right reasons than with someone for the wrong ones. Because being anesthetized isn’t a way to live, rather it’s a way to affix bandages over a dam about to break, it’s a way to slowly and cowardly die. Because writing one-line axioms in a book isn’t really the same thing as living a life. Because there is a difference between being uncomfortably comfortable in the familiar versus feeling disquiet in the unknown. Because I’m 39, and I no longer want to feel the tic of a list but rather the rush of a life.

    I don’t believe in resolutions. I don’t believe in resolving to do something instead of actually doing it. I don’t believe in being inspired by someone and letting that light, that whisper to do, fall to blight. Every year until now has felt like a photocopy of a bland original, but I woke yesterday thinking about all the possibility. I’m going to write without fear of not being published. I’m going to move to four states. I’m going to stop hiding behind my graduate loan debt, using that as an excuse to live in a house of no. I’m going to create. I’m going to break ranks. I’m going to sit in discomfort and disquiet because I know there’s a better place. And I’ve already booked my first AirBNB for my move to New Mexico.

    And I know all of this will lead me back to a greater self, a self made whole, and then, possibly then, I will find something that resembles love.

    Because this year I don’t want this.

    Recipe for Balsamic Roasted Cauliflower and Dates, because this is what you eat after three slices of vegan coffee cake on New Year’s Eve.

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    live the questions now (long read)

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    Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. ― Rainer Maria Rilke

    It was a Saturday night, which had become a blurred photocopy of every other evening, and a taxi barrelled down the FDR Drive. Back then we liked it fast. We preferred to live dangerously; we were on the road to ruin–and the knowledge of this, of all it, comforted us. I took a leave from a writing program, and found myself holding a bottle of wine, a cigarette half-smoked because I wasn’t the smoking kind, and a Nokia phone, as I shouted for my friend to get in already. It was rare to catch a taxi uptown back then. I remember the car and us bending our heads as if we were supplicants called to prayer; we stole quick bumps, thinking we were all slick and discrete when we were, in fact, the opposite. The driver didn’t care about any of it, except for the fear that we might spill wine in his cab. Hunched over we did blow and then we blew smoke out of windows.

    By the time we reached the Lower East Side, I couldn’t breathe. Over the past few months a habit that had once been a weekend thing, soon morphed into a weeknight thing (because there was always a dinner, a reading, a reason for party favors), and soon I fell asleep and woke to cocaine. No one really knew the depths of my fall because I was functioning, sort of. I was all broken capillaries, nosebleeds at my desk, and eyes that regarded daylight as a form of barbaric, medieval torture. But I white-knuckled my way through meetings, typed all my emails and didn’t care that my body felt like a costume I’d worn too many times. Back then I told myself I had this under control, that I would never be like her, my mother, my aunt, all junk-sick and spinning out of control, but then go the lines. Sometimes my heart would beat so fast I couldn’t stop it, so I’d drink some wine, have a little smoke, or swallow pills. I was in pursuit of the middle of nothing.

    That taxi ride was the second time I felt death creep under my skin and make a home. The first time I was in Mexico and nearly drowned in an ocean. When we reached shore my body was volcanic. I couldn’t breathe; I needed my mother. I was 20, saying her name as if incanting it would conjure a version of her back to me, before the cocaine and her undoing, when it was just two girls, holding hands. Laughing. The second time all I could think about was my mother, my first hurt, and how I’d do anything to smother all the love I’d given her and how much of my childhood she’d stolen in return. I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all, Elliot wrote.

    Back then I would do anything to feel nothing. In this body there is a heart that refuses to beat. Darkness becomes a homecoming–it pulls up a chair in your own home, offers you a drink, and asks, are you happy? Are you comfortable? How long do you want me to stay? Should I unpack? Should I forward the mail? And for a time, I let the dark into my heart because although I knew so many people I’d never felt so lonely. Cocaine was there all along, holding my hand, whispering into my hair that it would never leave. You have to know where’s comfort in that–a constant companion, a tender lover–and then you realize the object of your affection has grown tired of your devotion and wants more. Isn’t it always this way? The thing that you consume craves more than what you’re willing to give, and then you wake and realize the darkness wants to be all of you. It won’t just settle for a drawer in your bedroom.

    That night in the cab was a preview of what would happen if I became all that I consumed. Addicts trade war stories–they talk about shame, humiliation, regret and anger, that one night, that every night–but many of us agree that there was a brief time when it was wonderful…until it wasn’t. And we’d spend so much time crawling our way back to the wonder, that first feeling of you being here but not really, and you know how it is. While the story of the day I stopped doing coke twelve years ago isn’t remotely memorable, losing the wonder continues to haunt me, still.

    My dad was the first to pick up on the bigger problem–alcohol. The drink is like setting fire to a house after you’ve dead bolted the doors and locked yourself in it. The dark is always in your periphery yet you cease to care because the idea of feeling the weight of loss, sorrow and hurt is entirely too much to bear. When you have all this pain, you wonder, where do you put it? Is there a container? Will I need to request a certain size (small, medium, large? tall, grande, venti?)? What if all the pain doesn’t fit? What then? What of my heart then?

    I managed to shield him from cocaine, managed to make it a story like every other story I told, and he never worried because the woman before him was the woman he’d always known–funny, strange, a picky eater, who sometimes drank too much. It’s rare that I let anyone into the depth of dark I’m able to endure, but my father knew. I suppose he’d always known. He was confused that night I fell asleep drunk on a train, somehow ending up in Ronkonkoma with my wallet missing. I woke him in the dead of night for cab fare, and I remember him asking why I wasn’t able to stand straight. I was 23, I think. I suppose he knew when he told me that if I could do him one favor, one small thing, which was for me to shield him from my drunkenness, and then I came home, weeks later, black-out drunk, knocking over things. Always with the hangover. Always with the damn wine lips, he said. I suspected he feared that I would become a version of my mother, a difficult woman. You make it impossible for me to love you, I told her twice. Even last year, even after my relapse, I mentioned my two-month binge to my father in passing. Another story. Another, I’m fine now so you don’t need to worry. Because this is what happens when you lose people–you drink until you black. You drink until you can no longer see. I’m forever shielding my father from worry. In his eyes, I’m always strong, impenetrable.

    My pop asked me once about the blow and the drink. Setting aside the obvious, you saw what that shit did to your mother, there was the very clear question in front of him, which was: you’re so frightened of death, why would you do this to yourself? How to explain. Where to begin. Do you end? My father has always accepted death, understood that you one day returned to the place from which you’d come. That valiant, small fist punching its way out of the womb becomes a shuddering breath, a hand that feels like cashmere, feeling its way back home. That small, balled fist. That weathered, frail hand. We exist for most of our lives in the space between the two, and while I can accept that, I’m so frightened of the after. I no longer believe in a heaven with its blinding lights and touch of gold, or a hell that engulfs you in flames. Rather, I believe in a body settling into the earth, allowing for new life to eclipse it. We pass so others can live–this is the order of things. And the only way you continue to exist is in memory. I accept all of this as fact, but it doesn’t make it easier to bear.

    In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande writes, the story of aging is the story of our parts.

    But in truth no single disease leads to the end; the culprit is just the accumulated crumbling of one’s bodily systems while medicine carries out its maintenance measures and patch jobs.

    Our life, as we know it, becomes a slow fade. Death is all the lights in the house, lights that once burned brightly now flicker and fade out. I’m reading a book about the science of mortality and what matters in the end because there was a time in my life when the one final act I’m trying desperately to evade was in my home, eating my food, lying beside me in my bed. People never understand when I talk about getting older, of the terror that exists in counting the years. They think it’s about vanity–you don’t even look 39–and it takes everything in me to smother rage, because age isn’t about skin and hair pigments and body size, it’s about the clocks. Every inch forward cannot be reclaimed. There is no going back. There is only the slow, steady march into the dark. But what happens when no one follows you? What happens when there is only you?

    I read another article about our hunger for fame and how it’s bound to the notion of immortality. In memory, life is constant. You continue to exist when someone speaks your name. The author writes,

    A fundamental belief of the Greeks: that acts of heroism or epic poems are not only nobler than mere sprogs, but also considerably more durable. Where living things fall like leaves in autumn, our cultural objects can endure. Kingdoms, titles and honour survive to be passed from one generation to the next; stories persist to be told by new generations of bards; bronze statues do not fall sick. Unlike human children, cultural offspring promise to be ‘everlasting’.

    On our way to Ireland
    On our way to Ireland
    I think about all of this because I have no real family. Yes, I have a host of friends whom I love but they are tethered to their kin. They have families of their own, and I am not part of their legacy. This isn’t me being woeful, it’s me being honest. In an act of self-preservation, I refuse to have a relationship with my mother and her new family. And my pop, who isn’t my biological father, but has served as a father figure since I was 12, well, I don’t know sometimes. Over the past five years our relationship has shifted, and although there’s still memory and love and nostalgia, we no longer cleave to each other like we used to. When we were in Ireland, I felt the love that comes with familial history, of being bound to a name. But my last name’s Sullivan, and I’m not even Irish. I feel rootless. I feel part of a family by invitation. I’m a third African but how do I claim it? I do not want children. I am the last of my kind. There is only the dark and you alone in it.

    I think about this a lot. Perhaps this is why I’m compelled to write more now that I’ve ever wanted to before. Perhaps I need to get this down, on paper, so people will know that I was once here. That long after my body has settled into the earth with gravel and rock, a part of how I loved, thought, lived, might endure. We tell ourselves stories in order to live, Joan Didion once wrote. I wonder if they serve to preserve us after our final breath shudders out. Our stories deliver us onward, maybe they tell us we mean something. That we don’t solely exist to breed and sustain new life.

    Buddha says, The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment. And in that moment there are questions. I do wonder if living in punctuation will give me freedom. Will allow me to see.

    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-written. 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 my 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 were 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 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.