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  • the revisionist’s journey: creating light from the dark

    Posted at 2:43 pm , on February 18, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Posted in new york eats | 8 Comments | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
  • prepare yourself for the giant…

    Posted at 4:37 pm , on February 16, 2013

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    Do you know who I am? I’m alive you understand, the life, the life, the life…Are you prepared for the atom bomb, are you prepared for my aching arms? Are you prepared, are you prepared? Are you prepared for serenity, are you prepared to disagree? Are you prepared, are you prepared for meThe Bird and the Bee’s “Preparedness”

    We were a family of lottery players. We sharpened our pencils, selected numbers at random, and stood on a line that snaked the length of a city block, because we believed that all we needed was a dollar and a dream. Come nightfall we’d sit on the stoop, still wet from the johnny pump and the spray of Colt 45 that matted our hair to the backs of our necks, listening to the elders trade stories of what they’d do if they hit it big. Sadie said she was going to buy me a house where all the white people lived. Promising us that she’d stand on her lawn, defiant, knowing that they couldn’t get rid of me, even if they tried. Some mused about giant boats settling sail in a blue ocean. No one had ever seen waves swell, seen the beauty of them rise up and warble like a long note held. No one bore witness to the descent, to the waves crashing onto the shoreline. Back then the only water we’d seen poured out of spigots and sprayed out of pumps on the street.

    Others hatched plans about taking a trip around the world although they secretly knew that the whole of their world would always be Brooklyn. Their prison was a ten-block radius, yet once a week they’d shuffle to the market with their dollar in tow, plotting escape.

    Back then we were naive to believe that money bought you freedom. Back then we wanted the life we saw on our black and white television sets; we raged war with the wire rabbit ears to bring this life into focus. Back then we wanted the giant.

    Recently, someone upbraided me for my decision to abandon a comfortable life. Think of all the money. Think about what you’re walking away from, she warned. Shaking my head I sighed and said that what I was running toward was infinitely richer. It was the ticking that was the bomb. Granted, I’m being smart about things. I’m squirreling away as much money as I can. I’m buying only what I need. I’m ridding myself of the unnecessary, the things that only bring me anxiety rather than sustenance. I’m making my preparations for the day when I’ll walk away from security to something other. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t worry about it, fret over my decision, a little. I’m pragmatic, cautious, but then I recall a conversation I had with my friend Kate a few years back. I considered renting a more expensive apartment than the one in which I’d lived, but worried that I wouldn’t have the money to pay for it in the long run. Kate told me that I should always bet on myself. I was my biggest investment and that I should nurture myself. The rent line would be stable and my potential could only grow — all things being equal, of course.

    Ever since then I try to remind myself to bet on myself. To believe in myself. To know that I am the ticking that is the bomb. To know that money is actually the prison, not the thing that sets you free. To believe that I can break from third person and rush to first. That I can be the giant.

    All this while having lunch at Campo de Fiori.

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    Posted in new york eats | 6 Comments | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
  • a big announcement + finding the love of your life…

    Posted at 1:57 pm , on February 9, 2013

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    Over the past three years I’ve been in a committed relationship. From late nights when we’re so tired we whisper ourselves to sleep, to jaunts across the country at dawn, to emails feverishly exchanged, to grand, sweeping proclamations of our mutual respect and affection— this has all the makings (or trappings) of a great love. Only the object of my affection doesn’t have a name and it’s not a person, rather I’ve handed over my still-beating heart to a company, and my home has become an office whose lights burn way too far into the gloaming. My love, once passionate and resolute, has fallen to blight. My lover looks pale, run down, like a lady’s lipstick kissed off one too many times, and a house once illuminated — the place to which I gained keycard access three years ago — now flickers dim. Suddenly it’s cold, demanding and heartless because all of the lights have blown, the fire has gone out and we’re scrambling for warmth and shelter.

    I’m afraid of low-flying planes. Giant machines suspended in midair frighten me. No amount of physics, soften-spoken flight attendants or brochures depicting calm figures enduring a catastrophe, can comfort me. Every time I set foot on a plane I wonder if this will be the flight that will break sky and plunge into the ocean.

    I travel often for my job, so much so that I’ve achieved a certain kind of status, which affords me the luxury of boarding an aircraft early so I have time to quietly panic. A few weeks ago I found myself at LaGuardia Airport, watching the wind rattle the windows. Storm warnings along the East seaboard had been announced, but I had to take this trip. There’s no other way. Our miniature plane appeared frail, you could almost almost imagine the wings folding sheepishly into themselves, but I boarded nonetheless. By rote, I clipped my seatbelt, tucked in my magazines and answered the emails tumbling in from the night before. I’m always working. I’m always connected. I’m always tired.

    Then the violence. The sky was dark, ominous, and our small plane began to shake. The pilots were determined to find a pocket of smooth air and we experienced severe drops. A man wearing a suit and spectacles suppressed a shout, while another man in the back screamed. The plane dipped sideways and my body went numb. I shook my hands; I couldn’t feel them. TSA regulations prevent crowding around the lavatories and in the aisles, the flight attendant crooned. Passengers laughed through their tears because getting up was the last thing anyone could do.

    And all the while, I thought, why am I doing this?

    When we landed in Washington, D.C., I told myself that I was done. Great love, we need to say our farewells, see other people.

    I want to fall in love again. A deep, all-consuming love that will not alter. A love that won’t break from the enormity of it. I see a man who tells me that I’m using the wrong vernacular, that I’m not seeking a life/work balance, but I crave a life/life balance. This put my heart on pause. I suddenly woke up. Here I was trying to compartmentalize all of the things that make me, me: my predilection for business and social marketing, my affection for unearthing hot cakes from an oven, and making sense of my life through prose. I tried to give each of these passions my undivided attention, while the other two were tossed aside, treated like changelings, and every few years I found myself back to where I started. Frustrated that the supposed love of my life didn’t give me everything I needed. Then I realized that I need to design a life that gives each one of my loves the devotion and attention it deserves. Equal time on the playing field, if you will.

    I make lists. This is how I think. I create a map for myself of all the people who have inspired, challenged or mentored me and I dissect their character. I’m hoping for commonalities. I diagram all of the jobs I’ve had and the characteristics about each one of them that excite and torment me. I’m hoping for commonalities. Finally, I jot down the core values that I hold close to my heart — I think I only have three or four, but as it turns out I’ve well over 50. Integrity, creativity, empowerment, collaboration, risk, fearlessness, sense of humor, hunger, are but a few of the traits that I’ve committed to paper. And then I start drawing arrows and lines, trying to find commonalities. Sifting through the noise and discovering what’s next…

    Originally published + featured on Medium.

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    Because everyone song has a coda: When I wrote this post yesterday, two months before I’m set to depart my current job, I have to confess I was a bit nervous to how people, namely my boss (who is my mentor), would respond. I wondered if he wouldn’t be able to see it for it was — a heartfelt goodbye. We had our time and now is the time for us to bloom, break ranks, and celebrate our mutual successes. And I couldn’t be more than moved when I serendipitously ran into him today, on my way to Morandi for brunch, and he hugged me and told me that my piece in Medium was beautiful. I was worried what you would think, I said. To which he responded, smiling, It was philosophical .

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    Posted in lovely living | 12 Comments | Tagged , , , , , , , ,
  • the gathering kind {part 4}: the nobility of living a quiet life

    Posted at 8:53 pm , on January 18, 2013

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    It must be very beautiful to be finished. When the train rushes into the station, to let the wind blow into your face. Suppose your whole life surges back to you. I try to believe that Harris summoned all the beauty of his life. — Sarah Manguso, The Guardians: An Elegy

    Over a telephone line my father tells me about his life. It’s been five years since the day I dropped another line and sprinted twenty blocks to a train to a taxi to a farm where my father nearly lay dying. I remember his face the color of a bruise and the gash still raw from where he smacked his head on the pavement. Standing in his home painted yellow, where swords and feathers festooned the walls, I shook a bottle of pills in my hand. Why didn’t you take them? What do you mean, you forgot? Who wakes up after thirty years and forgets to take their pills? In a small voice, I said You’re killing me. Furious, he told me he didn’t need them anymore, that he had a new plan. He was drinking wheatgrass every day, you see. He was a fit fellow even though everyone around him was dying. And hadn’t he collected me from the train station in Locust Valley — when the sky was a blanket of black and the squirrels ravaged through the trees — and put me into the car when I couldn’t stand from all the drink? Didn’t he put up with the wine lips all those years? My mother, me, difficult women on the road to ruin — he shouldered all of this. A year sober, I leaned against the wall as if it had the ability to buoy me up and I wondered if this was the very definition of retribution.

    Sorrow never hides, it just lies dormant. It festers, metastasizes and spreads like sickness. We’ve been here all along, it torments. Here’s our card; we’re in the business of reunion. That night I dreamt of a woman with moths for eyes.

    This was the year his boss’ heart stopped and all the horses were sold, when my father was forced out of the home he’d known for ten years. In that moment, when his face was all swollen and his apartment barren, I felt the shackles clasp tight around my ankles. And my body went cold, as if all the power had gone out. There goes the moths fluttering out of your hair. Rewind the tape and I was back to where I’d started: parenting a parent. Mothering without a map. Having to clean up the blood and pack the bags in the car. I needed to say goodbye to all that, so in a restaurant in Long Island I told my father that I was done being a parent. And we didn’t speak for five years. Until now.

    It occurs to me that my mother and I had abandoned our cats. Funny the things that linger.

    We start by exchanging words between our telephones, not picking up from the place we’d left off but going somewhere new. We both have new jobs and we talk about my mother, how she has a new family now. How she’s a mother to a daughter who has the name I was meant to have. We don’t tread in the waters that were those lost years; we text in present tense.

    When we finally gather, it’s like old times. We take comfort in the stories that used to make us laugh. He takes new pills now, blood thinners, and they make his legs hurt. After a few moments I wonder aloud if he should be taking them. We laugh cautiously and press the sentences on. He tells me about his new life, a home beautifully made on a new farm with a family who adores him. When I tell him about Paris, he proudly talks about the aftershave his boss wrapped in tissue. Smiling, I nod into the phone and ask him if he’s happy. My father’s life is uncomplicated and quiet, and this pleases him. And part of me wonders if he aches for the world and everything in it, or if this, this life, is all he ever wanted. Whether he’s content being a man who works on a horse farm, lives in a warm home and takes wheatgrass in the mornings.

    When I hung up I realized that there’s nobility in living a quiet, dignified life. My father is possibly the most honest man I know. He is the embodiment of good, and sometimes I feel small against all that goodness. That I was always the ambitious one — I was the savage who wanted the world and every single thing in it. And maybe I judged him for serving as a mirror to a flaw in my character. Maybe this is why we lost all those years. Maybe he and I will talk about it one day.

    What I do know is this. When he asked me about my writing, my baking, my life, when he asked me if I was happy, I remember not answering the question. I remember changing the subject. The hand that shook the bottle now shakes the head no.

    Remember the photo that your mother took? The one of you with the whisk? Remember that? my father asked once. You looked really happy. When I hang up the phone I whisper to my pop that I’m getting there.

    Last week, after French class, I was exhilarated. Practically levitated all the way to Smith Canteen. Ordered a pile of delicious (delicious!) food that I knew I couldn’t eat because it was SO. MUCH. But it felt like home to me. The flaky crust that caved into the sweet pumpkin, the sage mayonnaise on the turkey sandwich and the peppery bite of the sausage biscuit gave me shelter during a time when I’m starting to climb my way out of the betweens.

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    Posted in new york eats, the gathering kind | 10 Comments | Tagged , , , , , , , ,
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