changing the channel: I’m a bit done with this “curated life” bullshit

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I’m an addict. If I fall in love with something or someone long enough, I tend to become obsessive to the point where the object of my affection becomes my inevitable ruin. That avocado once craved rots, and the passion I once had for someone becomes a tick, a drone, a dull sustained murmur I’m desperate to snuff out. Over the years I’ve gotten remarkably better at being present and self-aware, in spotting a burgeoning addiction as it starts to harvest and breed, and finding ways to lay my pitchfork down, stop, and change course. It sometimes feels like stopping a hurricane with a paperweight, but it’s in this diligence, this constant observance, that allows me to enjoy small things like chickpeas without becoming fixated on them. (I had to issue a chickpea fatwa, and get off the stuff for two weeks to re-learn how to consume it in moderation, and on it goes).

Some addictions can’t be controlled, and I’ve learned to live a life without certain things (alcohol, drugs), but what I’ve witnessed is this: what I’ve gained from leaving those two afflictions behind is so much greater than the cold comfort I experienced in succumbing to them. Perhaps it’s the difference in understanding that it’s okay to rip off the bandaid and feel that tear, that very immediate hurt, versus inching off the tape. We take a sip of this or a snort of that to ease the pain of the ripping, but it’s only a delay, because in the end there will always be the hurt. It’s just a matter of understanding our timeline of when we’re ready to experience it. Do you want to face or prolong it? These days I take my pain as it comes and breathe through it to get beyond it. I’m ripping all the bandaids off, even on the days when I really, really don’t want to deal with the pain.

There’s a point to all of this, I promise.

Lately, I’ve been feeling adrift in all aspects of my life. I’ve completed a creative project that’s out in the world and I haven’t started something new. I move from business project to business project, and then go through the motions of pitching again. I find recipes to post on this space and then glance at the blog a week later and cringe at it. I feel stuck in a lot of ways, and it occurred to me the other night that this space isn’t exactly what I want it to be. Because, for a while, I became addicted to a thing called traffic. I don’t even know where this came from, but I remember being in Spain, spending hours taking and editing these beautiful photos, finding a way to marry image and type that was purposeful to me, to have people unfollow me on Instagram and scores of people not knocking on this virtual door as often. I was puzzled. I gave so much of myself into something I created and 1. I was basing that worth and art on how many people read it–no bueno 2. Some people really just care more about recipes, and that’s cool.

So much as I’d read articles on growing your reader base and followers (part of my other life is to read such articles), I couldn’t help but feel the advice was pat, mechanical, cold. Someone I clearly wasn’t or couldn’t be. If I see one more carefully composed image of a suggestion of a life (requisite sunglasses, macbook air and monogrammed mug–honestly, is this how you live because my living room table right now is a fucking mess. Exhibit A, below)–I might just torch the joint (kidding).

Yes, I like floss (new addiction in the works). Yes, those are birth control pills (how else am I going to remember to take them if they’re not in front of me?). And yes, that was my morning smoothie. That is my real life, and I’ve come to realize I want to share more of this rather than something cultivated.

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I don’t want to optimize my blog post titles for search. I don’t want to leave comments on other people’s sites simply for the sake that they’ll come to my space; I leave comments because I have something thoughtful to say, although most times I’ll tweet out a post I like or share it on Facebook. I asked myself this: If I never plan on making this space commercial, if I’ll never accept ads or sponsored posts or any of that jazz, why do I care about how many people come to this space? Right? I should care that what I create will resonate with a certain kind of reader and the rest will find other sites to suit their tastes and needs. All of this happened this morning (as that’s when I tend to do a lot of my thinking, or obsessing) after reading this piece. Completely unrelated to the topic at hand, but this remained with me:

But Carol doesn’t dig much for money anymore. Now she is an organizer at the community development institute she helped establish in an old schoolhouse down the road, working to reconnect people in her community, especially young ones, with their place. It’s what she calls the task of “merging people and landscape back together.” She says that central Appalachia has suffered “erosion—the slow leakage of its people,” and wants to find ways for people to reinhabit the mountains. Root digging is one of them. “Where people are trying to live with the land, there’s always a need of interaction with it. Root digging’s a way to train and educate people to quest, ask questions, be aware of their environment, find empowerment.”

I realize my writing doesn’t only color outside of the lines, it’s a whole other fucking coloring book. I’ve never really been popular. I prefer a small, quiet life instead of a large one. I get anxious over compliments, but I’m getting better at accepting them. It took me years to publish my email address on my site, and I still think about deleting it. I guess what I’m saying is that I write and think about the things people sometimes don’t want to talk about, out loud. I wrote a book that can be construed as too dark, which makes me shake my head because my book is about children desperately trying to climb out of the darkness, but the need for us to skirt the dark remains. I write long, sometimes dramatic, posts here because the only way I’m able to make sense of anything in my life is to write about it, sometimes here, mostly privately. There is a need for me to get things down, commit things to paper as it were, and I’m finding that we live in world of TL;DR.

People don’t have time, nor do they often care about reading something long or winded. They don’t want to excavate the mess of a middle; they prefer their posts neat and packaged and pretty.

Well, I’m not pretty. Maybe not in the conventional sense of the word and much like how I had to quit the chickpea nonsense, I’ve stopped being consumed with this need for traffic, of weighing the value of what I create against the volume of people who choose to read it.

Going forward, I’m going to try my best to be Carol, that root-digger, to find ways in which I can merge my life, what I love, and art in a more complicated and interesting way. Practically, this means that I won’t have a recipe and pretty photograph every day — I plan to dial the recipes down to 2 times a week and make them SPECIAL. Other times, you’ll find longer posts here. A merger of type, photographs, and handwritten words related to what’s going on in my life right now. In this way, I’m trying to be braver, bolder, more honest with myself, while challenging myself in my work.

Because I want to be 80 and seeing something new every single day. I want to create until the clock stops ticking. I don’t want to post a pretty picture just for the sake of posting. I want this space to be a record of another kind of art I want to create.

And I hope you’ll stick around for the journey along the way…

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knowledge talks, wisdom listens

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Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. – Samuel Beckett

Yesterday, I fell. On the way to the train station I was fixated on reading an article on my phone and then suddenly I could see it–the trip, tumble and collapse–but I could do nothing to stop it. I tumbled a few feet and landed on the ground in the rain. I skinned my palms, my knee ached from the impact and a man helped me up and asked me if I was okay. I laughed and said, that hurt more than I thought it would.

Later on that day I read an article calling food sensitivities a myth, a product of our own psychosomatic invention, and I was angry not because the opinion was blatantly wrong, it was the fact that pretty, popular girls can publish un-researched, un-informed fiction under the guise of journalism and the masses will swarm at their manicured feet. I was angry, still, when a comment I’d posted–something I rarely do, comment on websites–calling into question the lack of research from both sides of the argument, the lack of interviews with trained medical professionals and those who actually struggle with food issues (because should we assume that since our food has been chemically and genetically modified more so in the past 40 years than the past 400 that our bodies would have a reaction of which science has yet to understand, much less concretely diagnose?), was deleted. I was angered over the ignorance and then the silencing. But the world presses on and they sell more branded gloss.

That night during my yoga class, in the dark, I kept thinking about night driving in California. How I hated being in cars at night because you couldn’t see the road ahead of you. But in California I didn’t mind not knowing, instead allowing the road to unravel ahead of me in degrees. I thought about a trip I took to Tacoma, Washington and being in car with a man who’d been drinking, and then drinking wine coolers in Manhasset, and I’m mixing it all up. All the memories are shards I can’t piece together and I’m angry that I can’t remember everything. That part of my life is gone and I won’t again feel what it’s like to be 24 in a car, sleeping while someone drives.

We tell stories in order to live, Joan Didion writes. What if the stories are all mixed up, silenced, deleted, not read, not told?

I met with my nutritionist yesterday and the weight loss slowed because I’d been, knowingly, adding more fat back into my diet. Bacon and candied pecans on salads, extra slices of sausage. I was worried, I said. About time. And I knew Dana wouldn’t understand what I was talking about, I didn’t, because I was acting like every meal was my last when another was three hours away. We tell stories in order to live, but what if time runs out? How could I explain that I worried about the time between now and then? How do I tell that story?

I met with an old friend and we talk about the business of books and I tell him I’m done with all of those people, all of that, and he shakes his head. Those people don’t matter. That history doesn’t matter. This thing about your introversion, he starts, and I talk over him, a thing I now rarely do, about how I was telling real stories on this space, on all the spaces I occupy, and he alluded to the fact that my letting people in isn’t a singular event. I have to to continue to leave the door open, even if it’s a crack. I have to keep telling stories, honest ones. I added my email to my About page, and you may think it’s not much but it’s huge, HUGE, for me. That’s the door opening, a little.

There are a lot of stories and I want to tell them but I don’t know. About how I don’t know what’s next and that’s okay but not okay. About how I have this book that I love this much but what if no one buys it, and I know I’m not supposed to wrap up my worth in the business of books but knowing something and feeling something are two different things. About how hard it is to be present because when you’re not present you fall on the ground. About letting my anger go when I see silly articles written or just how many men hate women in this world for no reason. About being young and not loving it then when I was in it and making it all pretty and romantic now when I’ve traveled oceans away from it. About hearing people who are 30 complain about being old when all I want to do is stop the clocks and go back and get a do-over because maybe I would have done things differently.

We tell stories in order to live, and I realize I write and eat and sometimes live like time is running out.

I take this picture of me in yoga class and I immediately dissect everything that is wrong anatomically with the pose. I think about the ten pounds I’ve left to lose. I show this photograph to my yoga teacher and he smiles and doesn’t see everything I do. He says, you look strong.

I think about being awake in the car. I think about driving it.

massive moment of pride: my new novel (we’re getting ready for submission!)

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This is how I write. I write in my home on my couch with feet up on this table, with the doors locked and a single song on repeat. The song is deliberately chosen–it gets me in a headspace to move (right now, I’m listening to this as I type this post). I read dialogue out loud as I write because I need to hear the words to see if they’re right. The cadence of the prose needs to follow the rhythm and logic I’ve defined for it. I need to know my characters, bury myself all the way in. If I’m skipping paragraphs that means I need to delete them. Every line has to work on multiple levels.

Someone asked me the other day about the kind of man I’m looking for, to which I responded, I want someone who’s been through war, still has some of the bruises, but isn’t still changing the bandages. Dressing the wound. And then I thought about my work, and this logic fits there, too. I write about broken people dressing their own wounds and people who pretend the wounds that are blistering and raw, pain the rest of us can so easily see, don’t exist. I’m best in the dark.

After I published my first book, I was exhausted. Writers tend to write out their obsessions, the things that seize them when they wake, and for years my mother was my singular subject. So after the book was published I knew I couldn’t go back to that dark country. I’d made sense of our history (or so I thought), and I needed something new in which to fixate.

I started stories that I deleted. I read 23 books about Jim Jones and typed one chapter I hated. I took a job that would occupy me for nearly four years. And soon I stopped writing. However, my friend Sarah will tell me that just because you’re not typing doesn’t mean you’re not writing. Who knew that after those four years I will sit in a hotel room in Biarritz and write. The story felt like it had come from nowhere, but it came like a torrent. The story swiftly took shape with a command of language and structure that frankly surprised me. I’d always had the problem of filling a white page with type, now the issue was: what do I do with 80 pages of insanity? It was good madness, the stuff one keeps, but it was madness nonetheless.

I mean, my first chapter is about a woman who sets her father’s mistress’s hair on fire. That should tell you everything.

A year and a half later, multiple drafts, early and late readers, and my novel, FOLLOW ME INTO THE DARK, is finally ready for submission to publishers. In retrospect, I didn’t love my memoir. I wish I would have waited until I was older. While some of the chapters are quite good, I cringe at others. It’s weird being in the present tense and reading what you’ve written when you were another version of yourself. I guess it’s like re-reading your childhood diaries as an adult. CRINGE! MAKE IT STOP!

But I love this book. Every page of it. And I’ve also learned to love the version of myself (an extremely flawed woman waging her own private war against addiction) who wrote that first book.

My agent asked me to write a paragraph on what my book is about, and naturally, I’m struggling. I could say that the story is about two adults, step-siblings, who are bearing the weight of their families’ mental illness and cruelty, and how broken children keep breaking even when they desperately try to dress their wounds and stitch themselves up again. It’s about trying to understand the pathology of sociopaths, and finding the humanness in a person even after they’ve committed inhuman acts. I’ve three main characters: Kate, an obsessive-compulsive baker, who we think has a psychotic break after her mother dies and she seeks revenge against her step-father’s mistress by setting her hair on fire, although we’ll learn that her pathology is infinitely more savage. There’s Gillian, the oversexed, hyperintellectual woman who’s engaging in an affair with Kate’s father. Finally, there’s Jonah, Gillian’s sociopathic, yet loving, brother who is actually ‘The Doll Collector’, a hunted serial killer who’s committed gruesome acts against women across the country. Jonah is the key link between the two characters and how the story unfolds. We learn about these three characters by understanding their familial history–2 generations of emotional and sexual abuse–and how the weight of their history bears on the choices they make now.

In all candor, it was initially challenging to show that one’s actions don’t define one’s character. We have a tendency to ascribe mistakes people make, or, in this case, the horrific acts that one does, to one’s person. We’re binary in our reactions: The person who commits murder is pure evil! The person who attacks someone else is crazy! And I’m trying to detangle act from person, and somehow show the complexity of mental illness. There’s this wall we put up when we hear that someone is ill, an “otherness” is created, and do we ever make a true attempt to understand those who are ill. Do we see the complexity in them, their ability to love amidst their propensity to hate?

So, we’re ready for prime-time, I guess. And I’m glad that this time around I don’t have the same ego and ambition as I did with my first book. My novel need not be hardcover. I don’t need the fanfare and confetti and bananas advance, I just want to be able to share this story with people–regardless of form.

If you’re interested in checking out my first chapter, click here.

Wish us luck!

on reading as a writer + my towering babel stack of new books

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a lot of yellow here, right?

Since I was a child, I believed in the power of books; they had the propensity to save, to whisk me away from the world in which I lived and plant me temporarily somewhere else. Immersed in a stack of books, I could fall deliriously in, imagine myself in different lives, countries, and taking on the shape and voices of different people. While that sounds slightly schizophrenic, it was magical for a child who also found that she understood the world through writing about it. Through reading and living there was the writing. Always the writing. I grew up reading poems, Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew when I was a small, and then when I was 11/12, I started mixing those books with Salinger and Cheever, more sophisticated poems (Frost, Browning–even though I didn’t know what they meant, I loved the melodic rhythm of the words). When I was a teenager, I carried a bookbag of extra books to school–I wasn’t popular, at all–and I spent the days between classes and lonely lunches, reading. Often I was bored by my AP English reading lists because I’d read those books already, and sometimes didn’t agree with my teacher’s interpretation. I liked Cheever’s Bullet Park when everyone else called it a failure, and ever since then, I read only literary fiction.

All other books were like gnats, annoying distractions. I mean, I ran a very prestigious non-fiction series at KGB Bar years ago, and I struggled, even then, finding the books, save the memoirs, interesting.

Until a few years ago when I realized I’d been missing out on SO MUCH. My myopic view toward books started to work against me as a writer. I only exposed myself to the books I wanted to write, rather than challenging myself by reading authors who had stories to tell but didn’t always rely on language as a device to tell them. I started reading more non-fiction (I tend to like biographies, industry exposes, and anything with a story as opposed to books that center around the theoretical), YA fiction (OMG, YA HAS BEEN SO AMAZING OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS!), graphic novels (I tended to drift to ones relating to food), and food/travel essays. All of these books, styles and approaches started to infuse my fiction with a lot more light. The challenge with writers (as opposed to general readers) is that we’re covert sleuths. We look at books from two perspectives: the enjoyment we get from reading a good story, and then the vivisection, the how did he/she do this? We break apart, we dissect, we analyze. I actually ripped apart a book and started moving the pages around to understand how a non-fiction author structured her book in hopes that it could help my own experimental fiction novel. Crazy, right?

When I went to Spain I carted four books with me, two of which I left behind because I didn’t enjoy them at all. Ironically, I left the literary/experimental fiction behind, and found myself comforted by reading Peter Chapman’s Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World. The book isn’t new, and I found it on someone’s stoop, but while I found the history of United Fruit, and its social, political and economic effects on Central America, and America, powerful. The company was often called “the octopus,” and that image was palpable as a writer. Thinking about how one entity can find its way into so many lives and change them, damage them. Oddly, reading this and going back to editing my novel felt natural, whereas picking up two of the lit books I brought felt distracting, annoying, filled with language tricks. If anything, it made me go back and see if I was annoying readers with too many tricks.

Other books I’m LOVING right now:

Darcey Steinke’s Sister Golden Hair (OMG. I have been waiting for a new novel from Steinke, author of Jesus Saves, for ages) | Eliza Robertson’s Wallflowers (Stories) | Janie Hoffman’s The Chia Cookbook (who knew?) | Hemsley + Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well

Any great recos? Books you’ve loved? Let me know!

vanilla-cream filled doughnuts

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My writing was like a grown up child suddenly taking up residence in all sorts of strange places and sending back photos.Leslie Jamison

I’m sorry, I’m distracted. Correction, I’ve been distracted, occupied by the sort of paralysis that happens when you sent your book out into the world. Right now, my novel is in the hands of four different people around the country and they’re reading it, not reading it, picking it up or placing the manuscript gently down. Honestly, this is the part about writing I hate–taking the small, private thing you’ve harvested and setting it free. I imagine this is what a mother would feel when she nudges her child on to a school bus for the first time and watches the doors close behind her child. The thing that I once held so close has been temporarily taken from me and I worry (worry!) that people won’t be able to see what I’m trying to do, or simply, they won’t like it.

And yes, it’s so easy to say that I shouldn’t care what others think, however, this is precisely why an artist creates. The only way I can make sense of the world is through writing about it, and as a result of that process there’s a hope that others will feel something, anything, as a result of it. The hope is that they can hear the way my heart beat when I wrote about hurt, and they would somehow understand why I had to linger in that hurt. Set up shop, played house in it. I worry that the structure of my novel will turn hurt into a maze, forcing readers to work to find my beating heart in an age where people don’t want to put in the work when it comes to art. Some want art to explain and tell rather than probe and ask.

I guess I’m also worried because this book represents some of the most confessional writing I’ve ever committed to paper–more so than my first book. It’s easy to use fiction as a curtain, and as a result I was able to imbue a great deal of myself across a few of my characters; I was able to be vulnerable on the page when I have a hard time being vulnerable off it. A great deal of me is in this story–perhaps in ways you might not so easily identify–but not all of it. Perhaps the worry is the very frightening question the book poses, really, will you follow me into the dark? Are you brave enough to go there? Will you take the time to linger there? And I brave enough to have you occupy this space with me? From this solitary act comes an invitation, of which the author prays the reader accepts.

I know this all sounds a bit looney, but this is what it’s like for me right now. For four years in my head and one year in front of a computer or stray pieces of manuscript, this book was MINE. ONLY MINE. Now, in its rawest state, it’s less mine, and I just have to breathe and deal with that.

THANK GOD FOR VANILLA CREAM DOUGHNUTS, especially on those Friday nights when the novel is the ONLY thing I can think about. Will they get it? Will they like it? Will they understand how and why I built this world? Will the world and words linger? Will they hold up over the passage of time? Was me being this vulnerable in fiction truly worth the risk at all {emphatic yes}?

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour
For the doughnuts
1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast or 2/3 ounce (18 grams) fresh cake yeast
2/3 cup (160 grams) milk, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups (490 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups (270 grams) sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
3 eggs
7 tbsp (3/4 stick/100 grams) butter, at room temperature, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
Canola oil, for frying

For the vanilla cream filling
6 tablespoons (90 grams) heavy cream
Pastry Cream, chilled

DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast and milk. Stir together briefly, then let sit for about 1 minute to dissolve the yeast. Add the flour, 1/3 cup (70 grams) of the sugar, the salt, and the eggs and mix on low speed for about 1 minute, or until the dough comes together. Then, still on low speed, mix for another 2 to 3 minutes to develop the dough further. Now, begin to add the butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to mix for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is soft and cohesive.

Remove the dough from the bowl, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 15 hours.

Lightly flour a baking sheet. On a well-floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch square about 1/2 inch thick. Using a 3 1/2- to 4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out 9 doughnuts. Arrange them on the prepared baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot to proof for 2 to 3 hours, or until they are about doubled in height and feel poufy and pillowy.

When ready to fry, line a tray or baking sheet large enough to hold the doughnuts with paper towels. Pour oil to a depth of about 3 inches into a large, heavy saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until hot. To test the oil, throw in a pinch of flour. If it sizzles on contact, the oil is ready. (It should be 350 degrees if you are using a thermometer.) Working in batches, place the doughnuts in the hot oil, being careful not to crowd them. Fry on the first side for 2 to 3 minutes, or until brown. Then gently flip them and fry for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until brown on the second side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the doughnuts to the prepared tray and let cool for a few minutes, or until cool enough to handle.

Place the remaining 1 cup (200 grams) sugar in a small bowl. One at a time, toss the warm doughnuts in the sugar to coat evenly. As each doughnut is coated, return it to the tray to cool completely. This will take 30 to 40 minutes.

To make the vanilla cream filling: While the doughnuts are cooking, whip the heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold it into the pastry cream . You should have about 3 cups.

When doughnuts are completely cooled, poke a hole in the side of each doughnut, spacing it equidistant between the top and bottom. Fit a pastry bag with a small round tip and fill the bag with the filling. Squirt about 1/3 cup filling into each doughnut. Serve immediately.

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cinnamon buns + a novel update {so close!}

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Things have been quiet around here simply for the fact that except for workouts and the sole writing date, I’ve spent the past four days holed up in my apartment working on my novel. I’d been stuck on Part III, unsure of how to find closure with my characters and this story, which ended up being exactly what I never thought it would be. Suddenly, the story came like a torrent. So much so that I stayed up until two in the morning last night, writing.

Know that I normally go to bed at 10 and wake up at 5. Let’s just say that getting up this morning was ROUGH.

But I’m close, so close I can see the end in sight, and it’s terrifying and exciting. Last year, when I left my old life behind in pursuit of something other, I took a trip to Europe to get some quiet. And the week before I was schedule to fly home, I started writing. I hadn’t written anything in four years, and it came and I didn’t question it, think about or analyze it–I just wrote in front of the ocean. In sleepy Biarritz, I started writing a story about a woman who set another woman’s hair on fire. A year later and nearly 240 pages, I’ve fallen in love with these people–some of whom I’ve known since the story collection I was writing during my Columbia days–and I’m a little sad to see this story come to a close.

Yesterday, I took a much needed break and baked up these cinnamon rolls. I love baking yeast breads because it requires you to linger, to be conscious of time, and so I scheduled writing bursts between the multiple proofs, and come nightfall I savored a bun with some coffee, typing into the night.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of The Food Network.
For the dough:
1/2 cup whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1/4-ounce package)
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the bowl
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

For the filling:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, very soft, plus more for coating the pan
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

For the glaze:
2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
For the dough: Combine the milk and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan and warm over low heat until it is about 100 degrees F (but no more than 110 degrees). Remove from the heat and sprinkle the yeast over the surface over the liquid. Sprinkle a pinch of the granulated sugar over the top and set aside without stirring, until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Whisk the butter, vanilla and egg yolk into the yeast mixture.

Whisk the flour, remaining granulated sugar, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and stir in the yeast mixture with a wooden spoon to make a thick and slightly sticky dough. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead until soft and elastic, about 6 minutes. Shape into a ball.

Brush the inside of a large bowl with butter. Put the dough in the buttered bowl, turning to coat lightly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, trace a circle the size of the dough on the plastic and note the time. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead briefly to release excess air; reform into a ball and return to the bowl. Lightly butter a large piece of plastic wrap and lay it on the dough. Cover the entire bowl tightly with the plastic and proof in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.

To fill and form the rolls: Butter a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Whisk the granulated sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Turn the prepared dough onto a floured work surface and press flat. Then roll into a 10- by 18-inch rectangle, with a long edge facing you. Spread the softened butter evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving about an inch border on the side opposite you. Evenly scatter the cinnamon-sugar over the butter. Starting from the long side facing you, roll the dough up into a tight cylinder. Lightly brush the clean edge of the dough with water. Press the open long edge to the dough to seal the cylinder.

Slip a long taut piece of string or unflavored dental floss under the roll, about 1 1/2 inches from the end. Lift and cross the string ends over the roll, and then pull the ends tightly in opposite directions to cut a single roll. Repeat, cutting every 1 1/2 inches, to make 12 rolls. Place the rolls cut-side-down in the prepared pan, leaving 1 inch of space between them. Cover the rolls loosely with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until rolls double in size, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Bake the buns until golden brown and the tops of the buns spring back when pressed lightly, about 30 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes.

For the glaze: Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the condensed milk, butter and lemon juice to make a smooth, slightly loose icing. Add the vanilla and cinnamon. Drizzle the icing over the warm buns. Serve.

Note: These buns are best eaten on the day they’re baked, but they’ll keep, covered, for 1 day. For a make-ahead option, refrigerate or freeze the buns after forming. If refrigerated, allow the buns to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes, then let rise fully until doubled in size before baking, about 2 hours. If frozen, allow the buns to come to room temperature, about 1 hour, and let rise fully until doubled in size before baking, about 2 hours.

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the road ahead was supposed to be clear + filled with light {long read}

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In the midway of this our mortal life,/I found me in a gloomy wood, astray/Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell,/It were no easy task, how savage wild/That forest, how robust and rough its growth,/Which to remember only, my dismay/Renews, in bitterness not far from death. ― Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

We find ourselves in a tangled, savage forest. The sky is obscured by a copse of trees, and the ground below is cold and damp, like a grave. We cry out for our Virgil because we’ve lost our way. We’ve traveled from uncertain shores and our eyes our heavy and our knees ache for the cold quiet and rest. We consider all that we’ve abandoned and all that lay before us, the weight of it, the mess of it, and we feel trapped in the space between the two. We are our indecision. And because of this, we are here, but we’re not here, and you know how it is.

We were children born out of the wreckage of war and subterfuge, the looming spectre of a great bomb hanging invisible over the dark night, and a belief that every moment was the eve before the end — I had not thought death had undone so many, wrote Eliot, said me — and we felt the aftershocks of this constant fear: the foiled-wrapped salisbury steaks, television shows where the husband and wife slept in twin beds, and a life spread out over the pages of photo albums. We were the children born to a generation who clung to their photographed youth.

We were told that we needed to be smarter, better than what had come before. Our parents played cards with the deeds to their houses in their hands. {It occurs to me now that actors in silent movies — a kind of like life — were called players.} The script we were handed was a repeat of an old theme with minor variations: go to college, work hard, marry, create a life, build a home, believe in a god, and die knowing you did everything you were supposed to. From the womb, we were preached from this guidebook, it left its indelible mark — and we took these words, this outline for a life, as sermon.

Until we grew up and realized that our mothers slipped coins under our beds in exchange for our rotting teeth, and we asked, out loud, How is it possible for Santa to visit every house, slip down every chimney? Until we regarded this outline for a life to be an incomplete story, a narrative in parts, designed by parents who tethered themselves to disquiet. How did we think they knew any better? Because they were older? Because they felt the horror of loss and the banality of life? Or did we, as dutiful children, want to play out their hand?

Once we begin to feel our years, once we get a glimpse of the next generation scratching at our feet, do we realize this: the road isn’t linear. A great life isn’t assured. The maps we were given were drawn by parents who were lost. And we watch this new generation {millennial, Y} subvert every rule we had been taught, and we spit out words such as: entitlement, lazy, impatient, and part of us envies their perceived sense of freedom. They’re writing their own story while we’re fleshing out the outline of our parent’s story. Of course they’re impatient! We only have this one life.

I have a friend who did everything by the script. He went to Harvard + Harvard Law. He worked his way up in a prestigious firm and made this great money, had this great partner, lived this great life, but there was an ache, an emptiness that needed filling for he craved purpose. He craved a life that intermingled his love of law and his passion for writing. I tell him that there is little difference between us since lawyers and writers are consumed by the dissection of a paragraph, a vivisection of the written word. Last year he made the very difficult decision to be a defender of human rights {less money, an uncertain career path}. Now he advocates on behalf of people who don’t have a voice, and he’s nearly done with a novel that was a five-year Odyssey. Now he has time. He wakes with purpose in his heart.

I have another friend, Summer, who’s a prolific artist. I met her twelve years ago when she was strumming a guitar and writing her own songs and bits of poetry. Over a decade I watched her oscillate from story writing, illustrating, painting, and singing — but still the one pure purpose hadn’t revealed itself to her until this past year. A confluence of events, starting with her incredible book being pulled out of print, allowed her to explore what it is she’s meant to do rather than what it is that she should be doing. Did I also mention she’s an incredible mother, devoted wife and extraordinary baker of pies?

It took me 38 years to realize that just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean I’m meant to do that something. I refuse to inherit the previous generation’s disquiet. I refuse to make fear-based decisions that are only pragmatic and devoid of wonder.

Summer has combined two art forms to create comics filled with difficult stories. The visual nature of comics is accessible, and the fact that she can overlay painful prose is pretty brilliant. When I last saw Summer, I felt the glow of her and told her that she, as Woolf once wrote, has found her vision. Summer will be 41.

Right now, many of us are in that black forest, that trembling wood, and we are lost. For most of our lives we followed that outline and realized that script allowed for only one path — no deviation, no veer in the wood — and much like our Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy, it took us this long to realize that what the script was missing was life. That we may wake one day and realize our jobs are killing us and we no longer want to be anesthetized. We may wake and look over at our lover and wonder: Could anyone else love me more? We may wake and realize that this life isn’t what we wanted.

What then? We’re in our 30s and suddenly we’re authors and architects, designing a life on the fly. But we don’t have the tools, and is there a store that we can go to buy this life? A book that will tell us what tools we need to use and how to use them? We were instructed to not deviate, but we’ve deviated and what then? Many of us talk about how we can’t fathom the idea of relaxing because we have to work. We were born to.

Over the past year I’ve been playing the hand as it lays — terrifying for someone who is methodical and lives her life so deliberately. I like knowing what’s behind Curtain #2. I prefer the familiar command of the stage and the circus that is the daily workplace performance. I’ve experienced heartache, and professional setbacks that left me confused and questioning my purpose {reading this and this gave me some solace} — until it struck me that I was playing out the very definition of insanity. I was searching for that one, linear path {because for 38 years that’s all I knew}, that constant, the ah! that’s the answer!, when what’s clearly in front of me is non-linear.

One of the many reasons I left my job last year was that I wanted a life where marketing, writing, and food were given equal time on the proverbial playing field — that none of them were to be relegated to the status of changeling. The portfolio career? Possibly. And for the past year I’ve pursued all of these in a very binary fashion. I have my marketing friends, my artist friends, my food friends, and it was only until I saw what Summer did with her life did it make me realize that maybe there is a fusion between these three roles I play that creates a title role, and the rest are merely supporting cast.

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Ask yourself? What is it that you really love? What do you want to spend your days doing? Don’t think about money {as that tends to change the answer into what we should be doing}. For me, it’s writing. It’s writing in different forms. I love novel writing, I love merging image and type in this space through the lens, for the most part, of food. I look at the marketing work I do very simply: How do I tell better stories?

And then I think about prioritization against pragmatic need because I’ve rent, monthly obligations, and credit card/student loan debt. I know that marketing pays my rent and allows me to write and travel, so that gets 40% of my time {I structure most of my major consulting projects where I work 25 hours/week, and take on smaller projects that ensure I don’t mess with this overall mix, but still pay my bills}. Novel writing is a passion (I’m nearly done with my second book) and that gets 30% of my time. And the remaining 30% goes to the ephemeral — all sorts of projects and experiments {travel, food, interviews with people like myself who’ve made a leap over a meal we cook together} that help me constantly hone in on my art but allowing me to be agile enough to keep refining my title role and supporting cast. Because maybe that remaining 30% will allow for something beautiful and magical and unforseen to emerge.

Amidst this forest, having strayed from the path to find my way into dark, I’ve created a structured, unstructured life that allows me to find my way out of the dark by creating my own light.

on my bookshelf

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I’ve a confession to make: for most of my twenties I was a book snob. If a book wasn’t “highbrow” literary fiction, it wasn’t worth reading. I mocked beach reads and turned up my nose at commercial fiction. Part of my snobbery can be attributed to attending an MFA program where highly-educated students read obscure 14th Century poets on the regular, and a great deal of it can be attributed to the fact that I was kind of an asshole.

Instead of battling the genres, I now look at writing very plainly: books that inspire me and books that don’t.

My first love is fiction; I’ll always have a taste for it, an abiding affection for it, but now in my late 30s I’ve suddenly fallen in love with so many genres and forms. I read that which inspires me to create, whether it be a food memoir, an exquisitely-wrought YA novel, or a novel that breaks ranks with content and form {Karen Russell comes to mind, who is a writer I deeply respect and admire}. Working on my novel has me reading a great deal of poetry, and I never thought I’d fall in love with verse, a form based on the economy of language, something to which I strive for in my own writing. How can a line be spliced such that it operates on several levels in conveying mood, character, scene? How can a single word be revelatory? Is there a plainer, more powerful way of saying something? How much can I create whitespace?

Someone once asked me what I do to get into the headspace of writing, how I get my “in” as it were. It’s a difficult question to answer since the impetus depends on the scene or character I’m trying to create. However, inspiration doesn’t come in one form or style or genre — in fact, I often find it hard to read contemporary literary fiction while I’m writing as I don’t want to get too influenced by a style I admire.

Right now, my bookshelf is stacked with some really great reads. Naturally, I’m starting with Michael Cunningham. Well, okay, I’m breaking my reading fiction while writing fiction rule. I’m blaming jet lag for everything.

Currently on my bookshelf: Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger {fiction} | Molly Wizenberg’s Delancey {memoir} | Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen {fiction} | Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park {YA. Of note, I purchased this book after reading a single line posted on Twitter} | Summer Pierre’s Great Gals: Inspired Ideas for Living a Kick-Ass Life {illustration, creative}

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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real talk: bloggers, quit complaining, get a thicker skin + choose your words wisely

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Over the years a woman has grown tired. Her life has shifted, and along the way she loses her verve and she knows it. Her blog has devolved into an orchid she has to tend to because it’s her sole source of income and she needs this money. How did she get to this place, she thinks. She takes on partnerships — some of which leave her readers shaking their heads and doing a double take — because the money’s good and she’s got the traffic, and one day her readers start to leave comments about this shift, about a voice that has fallen to a whisper, and a blog that no longer inspires. Long-time readers leave lengthy comments lamenting the fall of a blog that was once so great, and then something else happens — a slew of other women attack the detractors, call them haters (Ignore the haters! You’re awesome! I <3 you! Read my blog! Your hair's so shiny! Where did you get that shirt?) and bullies (Stop being a mean girl!). Those who cared enough to leave a thoughtful comment recede; the curtain quietly falls and the motley lot remove the blog from their Google readers. The blogger responds in a series of exclamation points that she’s trying! her! best! OK!

A sister duo pen epic posts defending their expensive finery. So much so that these posts, their heated defenses and endless rationales, become a weekly occurrence, and readers start to express their exasperation. They call out the shameless shills and posts, which feel forced by the hand of a marketer’s enviable budget. Readers remember what the blog used to be — creative, fun, a place where one could find the unfindable — and are heartbroken that the energy that once drew them to this space has dovetailed to SEO tactics and ad banners. The comments section is the equivalent of a high school cafeteria where a host of women shout, “girl on girl crime” as if they have Tourette’s. Apparently, any form of feedback or dissension is immediately dismissed as unfounded hate and cruelty, detracting from a “positive, supportive community.” The bloggers get upset, stomp their well-heeled feet. No one understands what they’re trying to do!

PLEASE STOP THIS BULLSHIT RIGHT NOW. RIGHT THIS SECOND.

Bully. Hate. Girl on Girl Crime. These words and phrases are potent; they have the power to hurt and maim. They’re weapons that should be examined with care. “Slut shaming,” posting nude photos or images that disparage a woman’s character or body, rallying a group of people for the sole purpose of humiliation and torture, stalking through social media, threats, consistent, systematic abuse — these are but a few actions that fall under the auspice of bullying, hate, and girl on girl crime. Leaving constructive feedback about the evolution (or devolution) of someone’s blog, unequivocally, does not. Telling a blogger that her site has become a haven for shills is not girl on girl crime, it’s real truth.

Three years ago I started collaborating with the president of the agency in which I worked. Although I technically didn’t report to him (as a partner, I reported into the CEO, who was not a deft manager), the president stepped in and assumed the role of mentor. For three years, he consistently pulled me into his office and gave me feedback. He called me out on my bad behavior and bullshit, and then showed me how I could have handled the situation in a different way. He gave alternatives, suggestions, and solutions. At first I was annoyed. Even though I endured nearly fourteen years of performance reviews, I felt offended and singled out. In the heat of the moment I mentioned as such — I stomped my little feet and did the offline equivalent of calling him a hater, who didn’t understand the CLEAR GENIUS THAT WAS FELICIA SULLIVAN, to which he responded: I’m investing in you. This is my time, my asset, and I’m using it to help you be a better leader. Would you rather I not invest in you? Is your ego that great? Because I can take my time and use it on someone else.

You guys. That was some real truth.

You better believe I shut the fuck up. Since that conversation, I proactively asked him how I could have handled every meeting, conference call and pitch, better. During performance reviews, I nodded my head impatiently through the praise and asked, How can I do better? It was only when I took a measured stepped back and objectively evaluated my actions, it was only when I set aside my ego and fear, did I become receptive to constructive criticism and feedback. I sought it out and used what made sense for me in order to be a better leader. In three years I grew a thicker skin than I had cultivated in fourteen. Now, this man is my dear friend and mentor, even after we both resigned from our respective positions.

A few weeks ago I listened to Grace Bonney’s podcast on “Choosing Your Words Wisely,” and it reminded me of our immediate, visceral tendency to defend ourselves when confronted with words that challenge or call out our actions. Instead of listening to what others have to say, we wait for our turn to speak. We immediately negate, dismiss, eliminate, instead of taking a breath and trying to understand someone else’s perspective. This weekend I read my friend Alex’s post, on a bunch of men who left negative reviews of an establishment (“In what can only be described as a coordinated attack on a small business, a group of 15 primarily white privileged males left a number of negative reviews citing discrimination on the basis of Google Glass. I’m forced to assume they have little actual understanding of the word, discrimination”). Alex also wrote about another community that labeled a loving father who took nude, playful photos of his child, a pornographer. Pornographer, discriminator — these words are real, powerful and bear consequences. Think about the words you say and how you use them.

Time is a precious commodity, and if someone uses their time to help make you a better blogger, professional, or business owner, consider their feedback the equivalent of a performance review, an investment in you, and don’t you owe it to them, to yourself, to pay attention? Hearing less than complimentary things about oneself is hard, but does that mean we close our eyes to it? Does it mean that we only let in the light and flee the dark? Does it mean we misuse the harshest words to silence our best critics?

Words are powerful, don’t abuse them. If your readers, consumers, bosses, peers, and prospects take the time and effort to give you constructive feedback, listen to it. REALLY LISTEN TO IT. Examine yourself objectively. Ask yourself how their words can help you be a better person or deliver a better product, and discard what is useless and irrelevant.

Constant light is beautiful at first, but its glare is deceptive and ultimately blinding. Think about that. Think about the permeance of blindness, of living a life of imbalance.

the artist as a lifestyle aesthetic: on trying on artist for size {long read}

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Diptyque candle holding a lone peonie {check}, aviators {check}, an Etsy mug filled with coffee + an expensive lens that’s able to capture the rising steam {check}, the gleaming MacBook Air and accompanying iPhone with a glittery case {check}, glasses perched on a head {check} and a lady preened to dishabille perfection {checkmate} — do these images seem familiar to you? Perhaps because you’ve seen it, or a variation of it, on countless blogs, Instagram feeds and on photoshoots profiling small business owners and artists. This look was a magazine photograph we once pored over, a page we ripped from from its binding and posted on our vision-cum-Pinterest boards. We wanted our room of one’s own (as instructed by Virginia Woolf), and we thought if our room was beautiful, the words and magic would invariably come.

We’ve seen this whitewashing of an artist’s life proliferating the online space, so much so that it feels practiced, carefully composed, and overtly stylized — yet devoid of any actual, substantive meaning. I’ve endured countless blog posts featuring bloggers turned authors who dress up, apply lipstick to puckered lips, and don Warby Parker glasses, as if intellectualism was an outfit that they wanted to try on for size. Perhaps they think, this is how an artist at work should look to my readers, and this puts me to thinking of an excellent piece I just read, which speaks of the dual masks we wear — our practiced online personas versus the real lives we lead. Rarely are these masks reconciled, rarely do we see the innards of one’s life, only the representation of parts of it. Never do we bear witness to the whole until we meet this person “in real life” {ever think about that term, “in real life”? As opposed to what? Our “fake ones”?} and then, after a time, we think, Wow, this is you. We curate this enviable life, down to the suns settling into the dark water and our tawny, lithe legs crossed at the ankles during a day at the beach.

Perhaps part of us regresses, thinks, I’m projecting a version of me that’s slightly better than you.

I remember a blogger I used to revere a decade ago. She was blonde, European, artistically inclined and seemed to live this magical life, jettisoning to castles turned hotels and living a life out of an Anthropologie catalog. My god, did I want this life. I wanted out of my sterile cubicle with its foam grey walls and a computer that required constant coddling from an IT specialist. I wanted my organic teas and ginger-encrusted chocolates, and I sought out her friendship because, frankly, I idealized her life and I was a wannabe. We became fast friends, but our friendship soon became a mirror that shattered into pieces, with each broken shard revealing a more nefarious aspect of her personality. She lived, breathed, and believed her own fiction, and I stepped away from that friendship realizing that what I was missing was the beauty in my own life, which I had so assiduously attempted to fill with hers.

We want, we covet, we desire, we need — this is our nature as humans, but sometimes the desire for another’s life becomes a burden that is too overwhelming to bear, and it ultimately threatens the one thing that is real: our life, as we live it.

Last night, my dear friend, Summer and I had a slumber party, and we both woke at 5:30 this morning and spoke for hours about art, words, and the lack of authenticity in the online space. I revealed the reasoning behind changing the title of my novel to Follow Me into the Dark because it’s the most powerful kind of love I could imagine, yet hardly know. A love that puts your heart on pause, and when the object of your affection is threatened, you don’t hesitate, flinch or think about sacrificing the one thing that is truly yours: your life. This is what I imagine most mothers feel for their children. You will follow your beloved into the dark, and attempt to sacrifice yourself as a means of rescue. This is real love, and I hope to one day be privileged to know it.

I offer up this fragment of our conversation because it elucidates something larger — most people are terrified of the dark. So much so that they tether themselves to anything that resembles light, figuratively and literally. Sadness, loss, ugliness, fear — these are countries most don’t want, or know how, to navigate. They’re myopic in terms of the media they consume, and talk about how desperately they need their reality television shows and fluffy books because they need to escape. But I think about this, and if they close their eyes to the dark so wholly, so completely, what is it then that they’re escaping from? Last year I suffered a tremendous loss, my Sophie, and I was SO MOTHERFUCKING ENRAGED by people’s responses to her passing {and the platitudes they’d throw out like wrapped sweets} that it drove me to write about it. Because that was a time when the two masks were reconciled.

My cat died, I relapsed, and things got really fucked up. And many people in my life {online and off} couldn’t handle it.

This is a circuitous way of saying that this practiced life, this projection of light and beauty, can be dangerous. If the online space is a means for us to connect with others, why is it that we create this severe delineation of self? Naturally, there are lines I don’t cross — I don’t speak of my love life, or the lives of my friends and family without their expressed permission — but as an artist I find it impossible to not communicate the light and the dark because we need both to live a real life. As a writer, I NEED both to create. There’s no other way.

Above is a picture of my writing space. It’s cleaner than usual because I had a guest over, but know that it’s normally an atrocity composed of paper, books, magazines and random plates of half-eaten cake. My writing space is messy, unattractive, and you might notice my uncapped bottle of allergy meds, but I don’t think about styling my space to create — I just think about the act of creating in and of itself. Of course there are things I need — a comfortable seat {my sofa}, liquid {so I don’t pass out after hours confined to a single seated position}, and a remote {for those moments when I need to see The Twilight Zone because I can’t write ANOTHER GODDAMN LINE} — but I’m not attractive when I write, and when I’m in the thick of a story the outside world recedes. There is no other world other than the one I’m creating, and that’s the magic. Not the composition of what is perceived to be magic.

Someone once told me that my blog will never be “big” because I wasn’t mass market. I don’t appeal to a wide audience of people because I don’t constantly present pretty and my writing is sticky, messy, dark and strange. At first, I wanted to punch her in the face, but then I realized that she paid me the greatest compliment. I don’t want to be like everyone else. I don’t want the staged photos snapped with a Canon 5D Mark II camera.

I just want my work.

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