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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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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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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on feeling lost + writing your way back

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We are taught that when we’re young there is so much possibility. You spent your whole life wanting to be older, desperate to be legal, to be an adult, to get out, and when you finally get to the age you desire, you pause, turn every which way, and wonder if this is actually it. {The bills, cramped apartments, roommates and their nocturnal habits, visions of stapling things to employer’s heads, money and how there’s never enough of it, the bone-crushing commute — we wanted this?} If all the rushing to get out of your childhood, out of the house was worth this, shouldn’t we have enjoyed all the days that came before, more? Shouldn’t we have wanted to linger in bed a little longer, cling to the days a little harder?

Why is it always that the young race to press time forward to only find that we spend our whole adult life trying to rewind the clock back? I wonder about the age when we’re actually present, 25, 26? Does this age actually exist, or are we forever oscillating from one extreme to the other — the provenance that comes with being being older or the magic in climbing our way back to childhood?

If we set aside the talk of generation, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think of work, of a singular vocation that promised prosperity. Born in the halcyon 70s, raised in the greed-stricken 80s, our plan was written right out of the womb: college, job, marriage, kids, house, retirement — in that order. While girls were giggling about condoms in grade school, I clung to my books {yes, I lugged around a backpack of at least six library books} and even asked the janitor at my elementary school to let me in early so I could study. My “sex” talk consisted of my mother telling me that sex got you pregnant or “VD,” and pregnant women don’t go to college. In retrospect, I find it at turns amusing and sad that my first idea of sex, an act of pleasure and love, was inextricably tied to punishment. So I kept to myself, kept away from the boys, and worked.

When my childhood consisted of summers subsisting on a bag of potatoes and a stick of butter, it’s no wonder that I saw money as the salve to every ache and need. In college, I remember watching Wall Street, pointing to the screen and saying, I want that. I want Wall Street. For the whole of my life, I operated under two masks: a woman whose sole purpose was to procure a job that would pay vast sums of money, and a woman who wrote.

So I got my fancy job at a merchant bank {right when Glass-Steagall was being repealed}, got recruited by an even fancier investment bank, and I finally made this money, finally had the DSPP, ESPP, and every money-related acronym you could imagine, but I was miserable. I worked through school, endured countless accounting and finance classes in college when I could have been reading books, for THIS. FOR THIS. To wear suits that fell just below the knee and crunch numbers in a spreadsheet all day. To this day, I hate Microsoft Excel.

While employed, I applied to MFA programs because I was curious if this other half of me, this writer, was someone worth meeting. When I resigned, my managing directors were baffled. First, they thought MFA was a finance degree of some sort {these are the same people who penned my letters of recommendation} and more horrifying was this: writers don’t make money.

Felicia, writers don’t make money, they said. Continue reading

on kindness + life {fiji, day 1}

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Before I tell you about the lemon leaves and chili bushes and forests fragrant with frangipani, before I tell you about the snake that wound its way around my neck and a reptile that took refuge in the thicket that is my hair, before I tell you about white sand the texture of certain grains and markets teeming with enormous bananas (the length of a man’s arm!) and iridescent fish that eddy around your ankles, before I tell you all of this I want to tell you about Muhammad.

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It goes without saying that I’m acutely aware of my privilege — a woman who is able to have means to travel by herself to paradise, a woman who can hire a private tour guide who will ferry her about town and take her to all the food markets (it’s not scarves or carvings I’m after. I want to see the food. How locals prepare it!) — so I make a point to talk to my guides, asking them all the questions the fancy tour books won’t tell you.

Are there drugs in Fiji, and do people take them? Marijuana is popular here, but justice for possession and consumption is harsh and expedient, so folks mostly drink, although that’s expensive too. What do most people do for work? Tourism, and the upkeep of an idyllic paradise, is the livelihood for most Fijians (the population is split between Fijians, Indians and some Muslims– all of whom cohabitate peacefully and respectfully, and make a point of learning one another’s language), who make, on average, $80 a week. Hotel work is coveted, as most folks can make upwards of $3.50/hour. Everyone gets paid on Fridays, they shop for the week on Saturdays, and they lament on Sundays — when all of the island shutters its shops and everyone recovers from the binge that was Saturday. On the side of the road, you’ll see a tickertape of women selling juicy papaya and enormous pineapples; they hack through fat coconuts with large machetes, and you’ll see proud, smiling boys skinning fish and hocking crab — all a means of supplemental income.

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Muhammed tells me that they survive on very little, but they are very happy. All that pretty finery we Americans accumulate, Fijians acquire slowly, and it can be erased, vanquished by a cyclone that hit last December 12 and tore the roofs off houses and submerged electronics that took years of savings to buy. But still they are happy.

Muhammed says, let me tell you a story. We are now sitting on top of a very large mountain (Tavuni), a place where the Cannibals (before Christ) would come and behead their victims, drain their blood and deliver raw brains for the chief to eat (thought to build intelligence), and cut off their head on a stone so the town can skin the body and roast it on a spit, and Muhammed says, let me tell you about life.

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The story goes like this: A man contemplates suicide. Debt-ridden, slovenly, and unloved, he makes his way to a bridge in Fiji from where he will leap to his end. On the way a beggar stops him and asks for something to eat. The man confesses to the beggar that he’s en-route to his suicide, that he’s poor, but would he want any of his possessions to sell once he dies? Incredulous, the beggar says, Are you telling me the truth? You really want to die? The man nods, and the beggar makes but one request, Please, let me take you to the king. The beggar and the man walk and they present themselves to the king. The beggar shares the story he’s just learned, about this man’s plight, and says, I’ve parts of this man to sell to you. The king says to go on, and the beggar says, I will offer you each of these arms for $20,000. The king agrees. I will offer each of these legs for $100,000. The king agrees. I will offer you these eyes for $1,000,000 each. The king agrees and the man begins to shake. He tells the beggar to stop. I will offer you this heart. This heart in this man’s body for $20,000,000. The king agrees. The man shakes his head and apologizes, as he starts to see not only his value, but the fact that he is worth more than the sum of his parts. The cost of his suicide would be incalculable, and he apologizes to the beggar, says, I cannot do this. I am worth so much. The king laughs and the beggar nods, confessing that this is precisely the reason why he’s been brought here. Sometimes it takes another man to show you what you cannot yet see.

So Muhammad tells me that I shouldn’t focus on getting older, I should focus on my value, my life, right now. Right as I live it.

We climb down this mountain and we sit in the car and drink hot coffee in a day that is nearly 95 degrees.

Later, Muhammad tells me about finding love late in his life. Do you know love? he asks me. For a time I’m quiet and watch the trees move, something like scenery, before I say, no, but I’m hopeful. After grieving the abandonment of his wife twenty years ago (she left at the pressure of his parents because she is Hindu and he is a Muslim), it was at the prodding of his beloved son that he give his heart to another woman. It took years, but Muhammad is now dating a woman who works at the coffee shop we visited, but he only sees her once a month. This has gone on for three years and one child conceived between them. She is patient, she will wait for his heart to be laid down at her feet. They don’t see one another for this reason (although Muhammad has fallen in love when he thought it wasn’t possible), and for the fact that their work (14-16 hour days) keeps them logistically apart.

On my first day in Fiji, I invite Muhammad and his girlfriend for lunch in Sigatoka, and she glows. We sit for an hour while they speak in a language that is a mixture of Indian and Fijian, while I allow them this time, and eat the food shopkeepers and vendors eat. Good, real Indian food.

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Time. This is kindness. If I could give them time, a stolen hour in a day between their monthly visits, then I feel good. When we leave, she hugs me, thanks me for lunch, and I shake her off, shy, but she holds me close. Because she never sees her beloved, and they felt comfortable enough to steal time during a tour to simply talk.

So when I think about my first day, as I type this at 3:30 in the morning Fiji time (HELLO, JETLAG), I think about Muhammad. I think about kindness. I think about paradise not being an ocean of coral at our feet, but of a simple meal passed between two people so deeply in love.

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the six-hour pastry {and friends} that are worth it

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It’s only when you open your heart — even if it’s a crack of light from a door slightly parted, opened just a touch, a hair — that love, the rush of it, the thrust of it, will come hurtling through. Eventually, the weight of others and the enormity of their love, will rip the door from its hinges. At first you’ll feel something resembling assault, but you’ll give in. Acquiesce. You’ll surrender, because the risk you take in letting people in is worth more than bolting up your body and living, loveless, alone. Every few years I have to remind myself of this. There are times when I’ve wanted to soft-knuckle doors, wanted to press send, wanted to open my mouth and let all the moth balls flutter out. But pride and fear always intercede; they’re old lovers you can’t quite shake, and they’re selfish and cruel in the way they want you all for themselves. And the more you prepare your break-up speech and practice it in front of mirrors and incant it like song on the subway, the more you assure them that it’s not about them, it’s about you, their grip on you tightens, threatens to enervate. You can’t abandon us, they say. We’re the only ones who never leave you.

This is true. But some departures are necessary, while others are utterly heartbreaking.

This week I found myself sobbing in the street, wiping tears on subways — and those who know me well know that my emotions are carefully guarded, controlled. Rarely do I ask for help. Rarely do I well up. Rarely do I lay my heart down on the table, knowing it’s the greatest hand being played. I’m intensely private, enormously proud, forever afraid, and isn’t it, well, sad, that all the doors flung open because I’m frightened of my cat dying.

This week a former coworker became a beautiful friend. She checked in on me daily, sent texts, emails and called, even as I recoiled, even when I assured her I was fine, just fine, but she pressed on. And part of me secretly wanted her to. When I was at the vet’s office on Friday, she helped me with the tough questions and held my hand, made me laugh and held Sophie close, and I stared at my friend with a look that resembled awe.

We spent the day together, eating pastry very much like this one, and when she left I quietly thanked her and sent her this brief note: Thank you for being a beautiful friend.

I’m trying so very hard to open up my heart, to let all the magic in. Let’s hope it’s not at the expense of my beloved Sophie, because there’s room! I swear it! There’s room for you, too.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe for Kouign-Amann adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too. Read my review of her cookbook on Medium!
1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast, or .35oz/10g fresh cake yeast
2 3/4 cups/385g unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup/2 sticks/225g unsalted butter, at room temperature + 1 tbsp melted
1 1/2 cups/300g granulated sugar, plus more for rolling and coating
Stand mixer, 12-cup muffin tin

DIRECTIONS
Mix the dough: Combine the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Let stand for a few minutes to dissolve and get frothy. Add the flour, salt and the tablespoon of melted butter, and mix on low speed for 3-4 minutes, or until the dough comes together and is smooth. If the dough is too wet, add 2-3 tbsp of flour. If it’s too dry, add 2-3 tsp of water. The dough should be soft and supple and pull away from the side of the bowl when the mixer is on.

Proof the dough: to a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place for 1 hour to allow the dough to proof. Then transfer the dough to the fridge and leave it for another hour.

Roll the dough: Transfer the dough from the fridge to a generously floured workspace. Roll it into a rectangle about 16in/40.5cm wide and 10in/25cm from top to bottom. You better believe I broke out a tape measure several times during this process because the dough is never as long or as wide as you think it will be. With your fingers, spread the butter directly over the right half of the dough, spreading it in a thin, even layer to cover the entire right half. Fold the left half of the dough over the butter, and press down to seal the butter between the dough layers. Turn the dough 90 degrees clockwise so that the rectangle is about 10in/25cm wide and 8in/20cm top to bottom, and generously flour the underside and top of the dough.

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Turning the dough, part 1: Press the dough down evenly with the palms of your hands, flattening it out before you start to roll it out. Slowly begin rolling the dough from side to side into a rectangle about 24in/61cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. the dough might be a little sticky, so gain, be sure to flour the dough and work surface as needed to prevent the rolling pin from sticking. Using a knife, lightly score the rectangle vertically into thirds. Each third will be about 8in/20cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. Brush any loose flour off the dough. Life the right third of the dough and flip it over onto the middle third. Then lift the left third of the dough and flip it on top of the middle and the right thirds (life folding a letter). Your dough should now be about 8in/20cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom, and 1 1/2in/4cm thick. Rotate the dough clockwise 90 degrees; it will now be 12in/30cm wide and 8in/20cm from top to bottom with the folded seam on top. The process of folding in thirds and rotating is called turning the dough.

Turning the dough, part 2: Repeat the process once more, patiently and slowly roll the dough into a long rectangle, flipping it upside down as needed as you roll it back and forth, and then fold the dough in thirds. The dough will be a bit tougher to roll out and a bit more elastic. Welcome to the world of gluten forming.

The moment of glorious rest: Return the dough to the baking sheet and cover it completely with plastic wrap, tucking the plastic wrap under the dough as if you were tucking a little kitten into bed (SOPH is clearly on the brain as I re-type these epic instructions). Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, allowing it to rest and to be rolled out yet again. Don’t leave it in for LONGER than 30 minutes as the butter will harden and you won’t be able to roll it out properly and you will likely throw it against the wall.

Turning the dough, part 3: Remove the dough and place it on a well-floured work surface (still with me? I know, it’s epic, but it’s worth it) with a long side of the rectangle facing you and the seam on top. Again, roll the dough into a rectangle about 24in/61cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. Sprinkle 3/4 cup/150g of sugar over the dough, and use the rolling pin to press it in. Give the dough another fold into thirds and turn it again as previously instructed. The sugar will spill out. DON’T FREAK OUT. Just shove it back in.

Turning, rolling, resting, the epic journey: Once again roll the dough into a rectangle 24in/61cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup/150g of sugar over the dough and press it in using your rolling pin. Give the dough one last fold into thirds and turn. Return the dough to the baking sheet, cover again with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, liberally butter the cups of the muffin tin and set aside.

Another roll, you’re almost there: Remove the dough from the fridge. Sprinkle your work surface generously with sugar, place the dough on the sugar, and sprinkle the top with more sugar. Roll the dough into a long rectangle 24in/61cm wide and 8in/20cm from top to bottom. The sugar will make the dough gritty and sticky, but it will also make the dough easier to roll out. Using a chef’s knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise. You should have two strips of dough, each 12in/30.5cm wide and 4in/10cm from top to bottom. Cut each strip into six 4in/10cm squares.

Home stretch. You’re about to hit your last rise: STAY WITH ME. Working with one square at a time, fold the corners of the square into the center and press down so they stick in place. I didn’t do this correctly (click here for how they should ultimately look), but who cares because they were INSANELY DELICIOUS. Shape and cup the dough into a little circle, and press the bottom and the top into more sugar so that the entire pastry is coated with sugar. Place the dough circle, folded side up, into a cup of the prepared muffin tin. It will just barely fit. Repeat with all the remaining squares. Cover the tin with plastic wrap and let the cakes proof in a warm place (78-82F/25-27C is ideal) for one hour and 20 minutes, or until the dough has puffed up.

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Pre-heat the oven, kids: About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C and place a rack in the center of the oven. I would also recommend that you place a cookie sheet under your muffin tin when you’re ready to bake as there will be some spillage.

You’re hitting the oven!: When the dough is ready, place the muffin tin in the oven, reduce the heat to 325F/165C, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool until you can just handle them, then gently pry them out of the muffin tin onto a wire rack and leave them to cool upside down. They are extremely sticky and will stick to the muffin tin if you don’t pop them out while they are still warm. Let cool completely before serving.

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where the wild things are

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I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more…What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready. ― Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

I tell stories while my father drives. Even after all of these years, all this time, he navigates roads and we show off our scars and tell our war stories, binding ourselves to all the history — almost to a point where we’d sometimes smother ourselves with it. Open up old wounds and get lost in the wreckage. We’re runaways like that, one foot on the floor and one in the air, poised to run. All because of you, dear mother. All the years that we endured you. Call it a force of habit, because on the days when you’d thunder in and make a mess of the place — all plumes of smoke, ash and peach pie on the floor and beer cans under the bed — or the nights when you wouldn’t come home at all, my dad would collect the keys and we’d make a break for it.

From the strip of fast food joints on Merrick Road to the stalwart diners on Sunrise Highway that gleamed bright, we’d knit ourselves to fluorescent lights and the promise of a warm meal. For four years we lived in this magical world where we’d curtain ourselves off from the world and talk about my mother. Would she get better. Would she quit the coke. Would she be the magnificent woman we once remembered her to be. As I grew angrier at a woman who promised to change but never would, my father was eternally hopeful. He was a man who craved peace. He was a man looking for a great, sweeping love. And it broke my heart to leave him alone in that house with her, but he told me to shut it. Going to college was my way out. Come fall I left, and he chose to live among the remains of a woman he once thought he knew. Maybe he loved her or perhaps he was a martyr, I’m not sure he’ll ever tell.

The day I left for college, my father hugged me tight and said, run.

Years later he told me that I started to resemble my mother with the passing of each day. The black hair, pale skin and our affection for anesthetics. We’re a breed of difficult women and I could see how the possibility of my greatness was being ruined by the fact that I couldn’t escape the monstrous shadow that was her. Back then we told stories to fill the silences. We’d crank the gramophone that our mouths and kept going. At one point, I paused, tended to my hurt like a harvest, cultivating fields of damaged things that would never bloom. Meanwhile, my father kept on going.

Who could imagine that the tide would turn. That I’d come home all whitewashed, austere and gleaming clean, and he would be the walking wound? When you bottle the hurt of all the ones you love, it’s bound to puncture skin. He was bound to bleed. Me, my mother — we were the lesions, and he waited for her to leave and for me to get better, so it would be his time to hurt. And in my most selfish moment I abandoned him, and I was too damn proud to admit that I was a large part of the reason we spent four years not telling stories.

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In children’s stories, after the calm, the storm, there’s always the resolution: a world, a life, tied up neat with a bow. All the children clap, wide-eyed, thinking the world will always be like this, solved. But we have to allow them this fiction, even for a little while, because we can’t be responsible for taking away the magic. We don’t want to be the one who turns off all the lights and locks all the doors. I never thought that the story of my father and me would resemble such beautiful fiction, since much of my life is an unfinished, abandoned canvas. Yet, we found our way back to one another, all bandaged up, filled with forgiveness.

After four years, I visited my father in Long Island, and although we’re older and much has changed, we found ourselves in a car, driving, telling stories. At one point during the day I paused, pointed to a collection of boardwalk beams festooned with white, hard, and sometimes coral shells, and asked, Are those barnacles? To which my father replied, yes, and then he gestured to all the cockles that had scattered in the sand, and said, You don’t want any of of that. They live off of others. And I shook and I sputtered and got all manic and he didn’t understand because we’d lost all that time, and before he dismissed this as yet another dark thing that Felicia loves, I thanked him. I’d been writing about barnacles all this time but I’d never experienced them with him. I never got to tell him that I’ve been thinking about the concept of attachment — how we bind to grow stronger and how others cleave to weaken.

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You made this real for me, I said. And he smiled, laughed and walked to the car. I watched him in those moments, how he walked with a limp because his joints have started to stiffen, but he walked with such pride and dignity. All these years I was the wild, angry one, running off and creating and smashing worlds to bits, and he always the quiet one. And all this time I couldn’t see that he was noble. Noble to forgive me without saying a world. Noble to lean over a boardwalk and talk about barnacles. Noble to fold me into his heart all over again.

Whenever I was wild or lost, my father’s love was the thing that always brought me back.

And [he] sailed back over a year
and in and out of weeks
and through a day
and into the night of his very own room
where he found his supper waiting for him
and it was still hot

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in the company of our kind

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Long ago when they first invented the atomic bomb people used to worry about its going off and killing everybody, but they didn’t know that mankind has enough dynamite right in his guts to tear the fucking plant to pieces. ― John Cheever, Falconer

For fourteen years I endured you, my tremendous love, my devastating heartbreak. You came like swallows that year as I spun out like thread and wove through metal doors, into the girls’ rooms. A spray of lilac perfume, jeans wiggled into and then discarded on the floor, U2’s Achtung Baby on blast, windows open, owls burrowed in the trees, air still warm and fragrant but on the verge. Back then you were only a whisper, a finger of vodka in a chilled glass. I mixed you with cranberry juice because the girls told me you’d taste just like summer that way. The summer when it was all Coca Cola in a can and juice boxes with a straw. But it was a new year and I consumed you whole. I felt warm and numb — am I supposed to feel this way, I asked, numb? The girls laughed, clinked glasses filled with chipped ice and said, soon you won’t feel anything at all.

And so it goes. I realized that the girls were right. For fourteen years I felt cold, vacant. My heart, a condemned building on the verge of collapse.

Our group in college were overachievers, we graduated with honors and wore sashes and medals around our necks. But come nightfall we were marauders, we’d drink until we saw black. Sometimes I’d jolt up in terror, wondering if there would be a time when I wouldn’t come back from the darkness, when you were all that would be, but a blurred face, a mess of hair, a slur of speech would hold my shoulders and say, Felicia, you’re drunk. You’re fine, just fine. Everything will be fine in the morning.

She cried for herself, she cried because she was afraid that she herself might die in the night, because she was alone in the world, because her desperate and empty life was not an overture but an ending, and through it all she could see was the rough, brutal shape of a coffin. ― John Cheever

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Glass tips, falls, have another, you called. But I don’t feel fine. Come morning I’d pull down the shades, bury myself under my covers to find you. You’d been there all along, holding me close; a whisper that had morphed into a gentle, constant murmur said, I’ll never leave you. Then I’d bolt out bed, wave my hands in protest and say, Listen, this isn’t a serious thing. Let’s keep it casual; I’ll call you when I need you. Because I learned from an early age to never let anyone see me cry, that love was a transaction not a laying down of one’s beating heart. My mother taught me to never want, never need, never love. And that heart? Wrap that up in some newspaper and send it down a river. It’s the only way.

Who knew then that the inability for my mother to give trespass to her heart would be her ruin? Who knew that me letting the light in would be my salvation? But not yet, not yet, not yet. Why do you smell like apples?

Then one day my mother drove up in a blue car, stormed into the house, took all her records, ripped photos of herself — the good ones — out of the family photo album and sped into the gloaming. HURRY UP, PLEASE. IT’S TIME, Eliot wrote. My father called me and told me that my mother had left us for a man who promised her Disneyworld. I cried once, in my best friend’s arms, the day I told my mother that I no longer wanted her in my life. My first love, my first hurt, cut a phone line, but I was fine, just fine. There was me falling down some stairs. There was me graduating with honors. There was me blacking out. There was me securing a coveted position at a global bank. There was me making the boys nervous because I could drink them under the table, under a whole set of living room furniture, when they said, take it easy, Sully. Don’t worry, she’s Irish. She can hold her drink, I heard one say. In a quieter voice, another said, She drinks a lot. And then you appeared, placing pillows over their puckered mouths. By then I’d grown used to you, admired your commitment. You seemed completely and utterly devoted to me.

No one had ever loved me that much.

The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. ― Ernest Hemingway

So I gave you the keys, let you in the house and locked all the doors. Second bottle of wine in, you and me, kid. Grief is like an ocean, consuming you into the depths of it. And the constant memory of the people you carry are tidal waves, night thieves. But you promised me that you’d be the anesthetic of the century, a life-long blackout. I had all this pain and didn’t know where to put it. Where do you put so much pain? How many boxes does it fill? Is there a limit? You’d hush me, tell me that I’d feel none of it. In that moment that’s all I wanted to hear.

Sometimes I wonder if I drank all those years to stop time and find my way back to my mother, or if I just didn’t want to feel the weight of having lost her, the enormity of it, how it filled a room, muffled a scream, paused a heart.

From dorm room to the Bronx to Long Island to Manhattan, you made good on your promise. You were a lover that would lie down beside me at night — when the windows were open and all I could hear was a woman singing Chinese arias and the clang of knives from the restaurant down below — untangling my hair, getting lost in it. You had become something of a barnacle, and the more I let you in the less I saw of me.

Someone asked me once, Are you happy? Define happy, I replied, even though I knew the answer.

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Years later I let someone in. All the way. And you started to get pissed. You were an only child — or so you thought — and you didn’t like sharing. Over time, my new friend told me about your half-sister, heroin, and all the tawdry details of the breakup. To say it was a massacre was an understatement. She needed to put three thousand miles of distance to get herself straight. I tell my new friend that there isn’t a picture without you in it, and I laughed. But she didn’t. You’re drunk in every single picture that’s been taken of you? Are you serious?

The words “trial separation” needed to be said out loud. Huffy, you packed your things, but left the essentials because you knew you’d be back. Look at how much I’ve done for you. The time I put in. Fourteen years! you shouted. To which I responded, Look at what you made me give.

You know that notion of darkness? How one paints a pretty picture depicting its poetry? How one makes a romance out of it, makes you feel special for wading in it? Well, it’s all bullshit. Pain is pain. Dark is dark. And there’s no poetry in it. There’s only the silences. The silences of friends who won’t take your phone calls, of the loved ones who tried so hard to break through the fortress that was you. Of the memory of all the grief, still raw and new, that’s an apparition whenever you decide to take a smoke break.

Look at what I made myself give.

I remember our great row. It was a war of sorts. Tupac’s California blasted from a laptop and we all drank cheap red versions of you in an apartment uptown. There was a moment, a shift imperceptible to anyone but me, when I knew that I’d gone too far. Drank too much. That I had to stop. But I couldn’t. I just kept drinking. Next thing I know I’m in cab but I’ve no idea how I made it home.

The next day I call my friend, shaking, and told her, I think I drink too much. And she asked me why I didn’t stop. Why I had two more glasses of you, to which I responded, I can’t stop.

And then I did. Changed all the locks. Hid all the photos. Tossed you in a bin and for the first year without you every day was a new bandaid tearing at raw, bruised skin. I’ll always be here, you shouted from the street. After a few years the voice grew meek, hopeless. That bombastic lover was a washed-up old fellow with a limp.

There was me, running to the light. Finding it. Getting lost in it. Realizing that you weren’t of my kind. But there’s time! So much of it left to let all the right ones in.

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the gathering kind: getting surgical {part 3}

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She didn’t finish her sentence because Isabel was running through the cypress trees so fast and with such force the trees were shaking for minutes afterwards. Laura watched the momentary chaos of the trees. It was as if they had been pushed off balance and did not quite know how to find their former shape. — Swimming Home, Deborah Levy

This year we will be surgical. I tell you there’s no other way. Our greatest tool is the scalpel and we’ll need to it excise the unnecessary appendages because we live in a world of barnacles. People who will cleave to you in shallow waters, wrap themselves around you so tight that it becomes difficult to breathe. And by the time you open your eyes and do the maths, they’ve multiplied; they’ve got you boxed in and there’s no way out. The barnacles are tricky, sessile, set on feeding on anything in motion. Determined to drain every bit of you out of you. So there’s you trying to make a life for yourself and there’s them, trying to leech it away. Survival is now predicated on discipline — how we notice the drift, the cleave, the attachment and how we’re able to cut it off and push it away. Because if you don’t you will become lost in the forest that is them, and you’ll never find your former shape.

You may think this bit is about coming apart — antithetical to gathering! — but I promise you there’s more in play. Make no mistake, we live in a kingdom of animals and it’s Darwinian.

Lately I’ve been preaching this conceit of the barnacle and the scalpel to everyone who will listen. Especially those who, like myself, fall prey to unnecessary attachments. People consider us the court jester, prone to performances the peanut-crunching crowd always love (we’re such a sight to see!), or perhaps we’re the kind, compassionate creative who has something — a life, a mind, a heart — of which the barnacles secretly covet. And we book our calendars full of lunches and dinners. We participate in their endless interrogations, listen intently to their latest drama (which is always on the level of the Greek), and dole out advice like dolls. They come away in a fever while we lean against buildings for support. How is it so possible to feel so weak after a single meal? How is it possible that all you now want to do is curl under your covers and sleep?

If your friendships are such that you are consistently and relentlessly carving out pieces of yourself to give to others, then break out the scalpel because this barnacle|host relationship will end up killing you. Imagine yourself weighted down by attachments, unable to flee through the trees, unable to recognize the shape that is yourself because you’re always seeing the others. This clutter, this noise, this feverish motley lot prevent you from gathering with the ones who truly deserve your affection. {Haven’t you found yourself canceling plans with the ones you love because you’re exhausted from so many unnecessary engagements?}

I’m not a “popular” person; I’ve never been part of the “in crowd” {do we even use these terms anymore?}, and I never want to be. I used to be invited to dozens of parties and my calendar was always booked out for weeks, but now I have longer meals with the ones I love and the invitations are more about quality than quantity. From a mean girl where my every exhale was akin to walking on proverbial eggshells, to the married friend for whom my single status was her constant project, to the friend who was always telling the great story that was her life, a life where no one could get a word in edgewise in the midst of a two-hour dinner, to the other friend who grew frightened whenever I was quiet and measured, and only seemed to calm when I was my most boisterous “on” self — these are but a few of the extremities I excised.

As the years press on I find myself endlessly excising. Whittling down to my beloveds — those whose relationships are reciprocal in energy, where both of us leave inspired, refreshed and focused. Granted, this isn’t a call to cut the cord when friendships get difficult by any means — this is more of an examination of how much you’re bloodletting and how much you’re giving of yourself at the expense of yourself. Examining all that is superfluous to refine and carve and hone to all who are essential.

I thought of all this, actually composed this post in my head as I was taking a much-needed respite at Bottega Falai. Yesterday it was cold in the city and I was entirely too early for a date, which is another sort of gathering, I suppose, and I slipped into this small cafe cum retail concept and watched Italian men with their sons, teaching them manners. I watched tourists slip in and fawn over the crepe cakes and pastries and I listened intently to two friends engaging in that barnacle|host exchange. The host’s eyes glazed over and part of me wanted to lean in and tell her about scalpels, but it wasn’t the time and it wasn’t my place so I just listened and composed and thought about sharing this with the ones I love.

Prosciutto sandwich
Crepe cakes
Crepe cakes
bomboloni (donut)
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