pasta bolognese

pasta bolognese

This might not be the kind of meal you want to photograph, but it’s one certainly worth eating. I’ll tell you something that may sound pretty gross, but it’s one of the few fond memories from my childhood.

Growing up, I ate pasta. A lot. Lasagne, spaghetti and meatballs–the whole lot. And while the meal itself was exceptional, we always waited for the leftovers. We’d grease a pan with butter and add the cold pasta and fry it up. Nothing compared to the taste of a little butter in a meat sauce, how the noodles got slick and tender, and how we’d pile cheese on top. Nothing compared to pan-fried pasta, and even to this day, I still savor leftovers.

I’ve been in my new home since Wednesday and I couldn’t be happier. I hosted a guest on Friday and I made my four-hour bolognese, and my guest and I devoured two bowls.

And this weekend I had all. the. leftovers. Pan-fried, et all.

INGREDIENTS
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb ground sirloin
1/2 lb ground pork
1 yellow onion, rough chop
4 cloves garlic, rough chop
2 carrots, rough chop
2 ribs of celery hearts, rough chop
1 28-ounce can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can organic tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 cups red wine (I tend to use a full-bodied Cabernet, but if you’re not down with white, simply sub in some beef stock)
6 sprigs fresh oregano, chopped
3-4 tbsp of sugar, to taste (adjust based on the acidity of your tomatoes)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (you can opt to use vegan butter)
1 1/2 lb penne

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot (I used my Le Creuset dutch oven), heat olive oil. Make sure you have enough to thinly coat the pan, and that your pan is searing hot. There’s nothing more criminal than boiling beef, so use a large pot and ensure that it’s scorching hot. Once you have the heat of Hades, toss in your meats, flavor with salt and pepper and stir gently with a wooden spoon to break apart the meat.

While your meat is browning (5-7 minutes), blitz your mirepoix — onion, carrots, celery — and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. It’s important that all of your veggies are roughly the same size because no one wants a huge chunk of carrot or onion in their pasta bowl. NO ONE.

After your meat has browned on all sides, deglaze the pan with the wine and add your veggie mix. Cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, and oregano. Bring all the ingredients to a simmer and taste. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Simmer covered for about 2-4 hours. The longer, the better, and I tend to stir the sauce every hour. When the sauce is done, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a hefty pinch of salt to the water then add your pasta. Stir and cook until al dente. Add the pasta to the sauce; be sure to save some pasta water in case you need some. If the sauce is too thick, add the water until the desired consistency.

Remove from heat. Add the butter. Drizzle each serving with some extra olive oil. DIG IN.

simple coconut cake

coconut cake

It’s been a while since I’ve made a cake.

Yesterday, I spoke with my agent about a new book I’ve been working on. It’s the story of a middle-aged woman who becomes obsessed with a suicidal teenager and travels across the country to witness the girl take her own life. But that wasn’t always the story. I gave my agent a collection of stories about women in various states of unraveling–women in cults, women who have been raped, and women who have the arcane ability to speak from the grave. I started the book last year when I first moved to California and I was surprised how quickly I finished a draft. I sent it to my agent and I could practically feel the trepidation in his response. Unbeknownst to me, I was rapidly unraveling and documenting that decent in a new book. I’d soon fall into a depression–a dark country to which I’m frightened to ever return–and my agent told me to take a break, think about the book and come back to him with something other.

It took nearly nine months for me to look at my work and cringe. What I’d been writing was relentlessly dark, I couldn’t bear to read it. I actually had to physically put the manuscript away and breathe. For years, it was easy for me to access that place, to sit in pain and discomfort, to know there would likely be an escape from it. How do you write about light? How do you write happy endings when darkness is the one thing you know. The only thing that’s never abandoned you.

Yesterday my agent wondered aloud about me as a writer before meds and after meds. Am I different, he wondered. Is it harder to write? I said meds gave me perspective, that not being on them made it dangerously easy to access the darker recesses of myself. But reading all of that now, I’m not sure I even want that imbued in my work. I told Matthew that I wanted to write a book that ended with hope. He laughed. Well, that’s a switch.

I’ve got a gut renovation ahead of me, but I’m excited to write my first book with a clearer head.

But back to the cake.

If you’ve been following me along on Instagram, you’ve seen that I moved apartments this week. I left the beach and the apartment that felt like the in-betweens, a place that held some of my most painful memories, and I’m in a home that finally feels like home. I’ve never lived in a space this big. I’ve never had a home office (I’m typing this in my new office!). Counter space was always precarious, something of which I had to artfully negotiate.

I have a new friend coming over tonight and I’m making her a 4-hour bolognese sauce. But this morning I woke and had the urge to bake a cake. I don’t know if it’s the desire for meditation because this week has been painful and stressful beyond measure. I won’t bother talking about the election on this space because I’m too angry to articulate how and what I feel. Baking worked. I pulled together this simple cake and it is INSANELY moist. I will say that since I don’t have a lot of sugar in my diet the frosting was A LOT. I had to scrape it all off to enjoy the cake. But if you love your sugar rush, this piece of heaven will not disappoint.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Molly on the Range
For the cake
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour (I used gluten-free)
1/2 cup cake flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 large egg
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract (I used almond as that’s what I had on hand)
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted but not hot

For the frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
1 cup powdered sugar
1 pinch of kosher salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp full-fat coconut milk

For assembly
4 oz unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
fresh berries, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
This cake is insanely simple. Pre-heat the oven to 350 and grease/line an 8-inch cake pan. Add the first 6 dry ingredients to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. In a medium bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Add the wet to the dry with the mix speed on medium. Add the batter to the pan and bake for 25-28 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn the cake onto a rack and cool completely.

Now on to the frosting. Clean out that stand mixer and beat the butter on medium until creamy (you’re using the paddle attachment, fyi). Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the sugar and beat until combined. Slowly, because you don’t want to get sugar all over your face. Beat in the salt, vanilla, and coconut milk. Frost the cake like a rock star and add that shredded coconut like it’s the last time you’ll ever eat a coconut.

odds & ends

I’ve taken a hiatus from political news and election coverage, because even though I voted early I’m experiencing fatigue. Apparently, we’re all stressed and our connection to the truth is precarious, at best. We’re overwhelmed by the rage, anger and blind hate in this country. We’re tired of turning on our televisions to wonder what will shock us today. What new horror does the day bring? I’m also admittedly tired of being called a cunt on Twitter because I’m a feminist, because I’ve exercised my right to vote, and my choice (Clinton) makes strangers upset enough to spew vitriol in my mentions. As someone who rabidly consumes both liberal and conservative media (one of my oldest friends is a Republican, will likely vote for Trump much to my chagrin, but she did impress upon me the importance of understanding the other side because one can’t make an argument for one’s beliefs in their own bias vacuum), it’s been hard not to react to the headlines on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. It’s been hard to switch away from MSNBC, BBC America, Al Jazeera, and all the other news outlets I consume on a daily basis. But I’m doing it because I want to preserve my sanity as much as possible. We’ll see what happens when we wake the morning of the 9th. I only hope, regardless of the outcome, that our country will move in a direction of healing. I try to have hope.

So, instead, I’m:

Watching: If you loved Stranger Things and Black Mirror, you will love Glitch. Filmed in Australia, the first season centers on six people who have miraculously risen from the dead and the practical and philosophical consequences that ensue. No, this isn’t zombie fare and it’s free of horror, which makes the show that much more powerful. What happens when your wife’s body, ravaged with cancer, gives up to then return two years later to find your husband married to your pregnant best friend? What happens when you were murdered at 19, and the man who everyone thought killed you, didn’t? What happens when someone has to explain television because you never made it to the 20th century. After the disappointing third season of The Fall (Jamie Dornan makes for an excellent serial killer), The Glitch satisfied my escapist craving.

I’m endlessly fascinated by cults. I once read over 30 books on them (and mind control), and it’s hard to find a nuanced cult film without it being camp. The Invitation is that film. It’s so quiet and deeply sinister that I was gripped the entire time–rare these days.

Reading: A few years ago, I asked friends if they knew of great stories told solely from a child’s point-of-view (one of the most difficult things a writer can do, really), and many pointed me to Emma Donoghue’s Room, which I finished in one day.  Her most recent novel, The Wonder, transports us to a different time (19th century, rural Ireland), but the slow-burn horror, as experienced by an eleven-year-old girl, is equally as remarkable. A practical English nurse, trained by the famed Florence Nightengale, travels to a small village to bear witness to a girl who hasn’t eaten in four months yet remains alive. Is the child a miracle? Or is there something more nefarious at play? I can usually spot a plot twist early on, but this ending I didn’t anticipate and it truly satisfies. I also devoured my friend Liza Monroy’s hilarious, sardonic essay collection, Seeing As Your Shoes Are Soon to Be on Fire. Liza has such a gift for storytelling and while I normally shy away from essays that take readers on a relationship-related journey, Liza writes with such honesty and humility, that the essays always rise above the din. If you want a little levity in the darkness, I recommend Liza’s book, wholly.

Speaking of writing, a practical and excellent guide by Benjamin Franklin. And while I normally eschew the ubiquitous “what I’ve learned” lists, Brain Picking’s 10 learnings from 10 years is so on point and remarkable. If you read anything this week, let it be that. This was an elegant, potent read on body, size, and mind. And when a man writes a book with the word girl in the title, you can probably assume she’s dead or close to it. Grace Paley’s “Wants” is one of my all-time favorite stories, and I stumbled upon it again last week while I was packing boxes and it chills me twenty years after I first read it. It also occurred to me that my favorite song is “Gimme Shelter” for reasons I won’t describe.

Finally, Mila Kunis: bad-ass. And speaking of awesome women, my friend Hitha is doing great things. Support.

And yes, this is currently my life. Exhibit A:

moving

 

the first hurt

photo-1473637634738-0bded2eac096

Back in the day there wasn’t a cigarette we wouldn’t smoke or a chicken skin we didn’t wrench from its bone. We put the television on blast because hearing Archie Bunker yell at Edith was better than the thumping from above and below. Heads got smacked into walls, babies were crying in every direction, and there go Luz smashing Bacardi bottles on the floor as her man made a run for the door. I mean, wouldn’t you want earmuffs? One time, the boys were roof jumping, trying to impress the girls with the slim hips. Girls who maybe got the bleed but compensated by slashing red on their lips. On the block, red lipstick meant you were a woman but one borough over it just meant you were Puerto Rican. Everyone was trying to be grown, even when they knew that right now–the gum they smacked and the loosies they smoked–was as good as it’ll ever get. Anyway.

So the boys were posturing, practicing their look at me when a girl jumped out of a window. Marlon was on the roof while Ricky was in midair and one of the girls screamed and Ricky lost his concentration, tumbled down, and wasn’t he lucky that the girl who jumped broke his fall. They covered the girl with a sheet because who knew when the ambulance would come. On the way to Maimonides, Ricky kept screaming in the back of the Chevelle that he couldn’t feel his legs. Are they there, man? Are they fucking there? Because I can’t feel them. Back on the stoop, mothers wrapped their daughter’s hair while they took sips from bottles in brown paper bags, talking about Marlon’s birthday at Sizzler. All the garlic bread you can eat. When word got back that Ricky was paralyzed from the waist down, the mothers held their grand pieta complete with head-shaking and teeth-sucking, and thank god he ain’t mine. One said: that’s one less casserole we have to make. That’s cold, said another. Nobody talked about the body gone blue in the alleyway because that’s how it was back then–trash got picked up faster than the bodies.

That was the summer they put bars on the windows and deadbolted roof doors. Nobody asked why a ten-year-old girl jumped out of a window but everyone understood why Ricky wheeled himself out to the street. Smack in front of an oncoming bus.

*

A woman falls asleep and wakes next to a man who’s killed more than a hundred women. Andy is a neurosurgeon who owns a tabby cat called Edith. For a time, Andy was a therapist who worked in a clinic that took patients on a sliding scale, when he met the woman who would become his wife. She walked into his office with a box of razor blades she ordered off the internet. I need you to take this, she said, handing Andy the box of blades. I need some distance from this. She wasn’t suicidal, he determined, she was more like one of those cry-for-help types, yet he found her gesticulations curious and her non-sequiturs endearing, albeit mildly tourretic. I have so much pain and I don’t know where to put it, she said. Do I put it in a box? If so, how big of a box? What are its dimensions? Do I take this box filled with my wants and my sadness to the beach? Should I ease it into the water and wait for the space between the box floating and the box being subsumed by the water? Do I mourn the box’s passing, the inevitable swallowing? To which Andy responded, fuck the box. Lay down your pain. Right here. The woman grew quiet and finally she said, do I get visitation rights? Can I come back for my pain once in a while?

Andy laughed, shook his head and said, you’re not a circus and this isn’t the zoo. Later that night, he drafted a paper on the structure and function of a psychopath’s brain. He wrote about the reduced structural integrity in the white matter fibers connecting the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. How the two disparate parts of the brain–the former controlling empathy and impulse control and the latter controlling fear–failed to communicate. It’s like two men on the range drawing their guns at dawn, only, in this case, no man is left standing. Sometimes, he thought about his parent’s boat, engulfed in flames, sailing in the distant horizon. Sometimes he remembered a book of matches of his hand, but mostly he thought about the fact that over the years he’s refined. He’s better at his work.

But he never tells his wife this because hers is possibly the one heart he can’t bear to break. His wife is clean, unlike the others. The others are gruesome, sullied, and deserving of the bleach that paled them down to bone.

There was a moment, though, when he thought about closing his hands around her neck. He even went as so far as to follow her home from one of their sessions. Andy watched her pause in front of her door. He watched her close her eyes and part her mouth and he could see that she attempted a scream but no sound came out. And as if nothing had happened, she then opened her eyes, slipped her key into the door, and made her way in. Andy witnessed her hurt, the whole of it, and realized his therapy failed to make a difference. He wondered, briefly, if her pain exceeded his. For weeks, he followed her home and saw her repeat the ritual. Home wasn’t safe, it wasn’t a refuge, rather it was a temporary container for her hurt. Once, he approached her door and leaned against it, hoping to hear her breathing from the other side.

Nights, he studied his brain scans and saw a small glimmer of a connection between polar states. It occurred only when he thought of her.

On their honeymoon, she tossed and turned at night. Her body was volcanic. Andy held her when she woke up screaming. She told him the story of a distant cousin jumping out of a window, her body left covered by a sheet for three days until the men came and took her away. In a span of a newscast from her home in Long Island, she learned that a part of her family died. Her aunt of a heroin overdose, her cousin who couldn’t bear child services and chose to jump instead. She remembered her mother snatching the remote out of her hand and changing the channel to All in the Family. Her mother said, that’s not our family. That’s not our kind. Years later, she would discover that her mother was her aunt, a woman who couldn’t bear children and relieved her sister of her burden instead. The woman on the television screen, the aunt who died of a heroin overdose and the mother she barely knew, was, in fact, her kind.

Andy asked why she never brought this up. Somber, his wife said, we fell in love and I had to find a new therapist. Remember?

Come morning, they learned that a woman in their hotel had been strangled in her room. The wife was scared, drew Andy closer. Should we leave? Andy shook his head, smoothed her hair like did his Edith and kissed the red lipstick off her mouth when he said, I’d never hurt you. I’d never let anyone hurt you.

*

 

Hers was the kind of grave you couldn’t wait to dance on. It’s callous to say that, I know, I know, respect the dead, but we so rarely get the opportunity to say what we really think. What would you say if your mother’s been dead for a decade and bill collectors are still calling you in hopes of reclaiming her debts? Why should I be responsible for her ransacking the Fingerhut catalog? No one told her to buy seven of those QVC toasters. When it comes to my mother, I don’t have Hallmark feelings. When it comes to my mother, I don’t feel anything at all.

Did you see that TV special about the rich doctor on death row? That man killed 200 women and he only got caught when his wife discovered his lockup with four of the bodies. You didn’t see it? The special about Doctor Death? This is why I hate hospitals.

*

Kitty Katherine Knox once said dead people are always so messy. Look at them, blood splashing around. They don’t even look like people anymore. Before the good doctor, Andy Knox was executed by lethal injection in the State of California, he looked at the faces belonging to the families of the victims and said, I like you. I’m going to come back for you and all you love. Mark my words.  The morning of the execution his wife’s hand was shaking as she applied red lipstick.

 

*

Marlon was the miracle child, a stone that held its weight. Eve was set to have her tubes tied because what did she need with another girl in the family when she already birthed three of them? Children were a chorus of puckered mouths clamoring for the teat. Smacking their lips with that wet sound they make. The years had cradled her in sorrow. Kids she knew hopped off roofs and fell out of windows. The junk-sick lay, arms outstretched, their eyes and the tips of their fingers jaundiced. And although the police finally arrived three hours later from the time you called them, they still managed to toss lit matches into burning buildings. There they go covering the bodies with soiled sheets because they ran out of tarp. You could still see a row of toes, a patch of unblemished skin peeking out. Cancer and tumors emerged as the new breath-robbers because who could afford to go to the hospital and wait the night it took you to see a doctor who would only tell you that the swarm advanced, your body was a contagion of growths, and here are a few things left for you to consider. Have you thought about your final days? We thought about the dolls we used to have and how we hid coins, marbles and baby teeth in the trap doors that were their insides. Flip open our flap of fabric and there goes death multiplying. Did we think about our last days? Sure we did. Hand me my smokes, do my hair good, dress me in my Sunday best, and leave me out with the rest of the trash because no way can we scrape together the bills needed for a funeral. Slow-sing over the heap of us, will you? Sing me Nina Simone, as loud as you can.

People laughed during episodes of Good Times that played on televisions suspended from the ceiling, although we knew that times were far from good. Somewhere, in the distance a phone rang. The forecast called for thundersnow. A woman studied a piece of paper, a form she was supposed to complete. I can’t read. We have these forms in Spanish, the receptionist said with a kindness that made the woman who held her frayed purse close grip it tighter. The woman shook her head and stared at the floor. Come here, mamí, the receptionist said. Let me read it to you.

The night Marlon was born Eve threw her 8-tracks out the car window on the way to the hospital. Eve drove with one hand at the wheel, breaking lights. Her water broke twelve weeks early and she knew this couldn’t be good. Her body hurt like Riker’s, and Eve wondered if this what happened when you were a mother to a child making a prison break from the womb. In the emergency room Eve sprawled across two plastic chairs and pushed out a small mess of a child that weighed three pounds while the girls behind the desk were snapping their fingers to Rose Royce, and will you bitches get out here because there’s blood on the floor, blood everywhere, this black boy is fucking blue, and will someone call a doctor? Will someone cut the cord?

Marlon was a black boy gone blue, but he kept on breathing.

 

Image Credit: Mike Wilson

thai sweet potato + carrot soup

thai sweet potato and carrot soup

It occurs to me that I never complete the “in case of emergency” line on most forms. Sometimes, a receptionist will tell me it’s mandatory, that they have to have a person with whom they could contact in the event of… In response, I make a joke. I say, my friends will know what’s up if I stopped tweeting for a few days or I fail to respond to their texts. I tell receptionists that I don’t need to write down a name and a phone number because my Twitter account is my proof of life photo. Last week, a man behind the counter pushed a clipboard in front of me. I was another form to process, another insurance card and state ID to photocopy. I was the 3:30 and appointments don’t have a sense of humor much less proof of life photos. So I scroll through my phone and scribble down the name and number of a friend who lives in New York.

I don’t mind this. I prefer not to belong to people. There is a certain kind of freedom being without kin. It also occurs to me that the words kin, kind, and child are related from an etymological standpoint.

A few days ago, I told a friend that I loved the holidays. We were styling and photographing a shoot for a client, and I spent the better part of Wednesday shopping for all things Christmas and Hanukkah. I was uncharacteristically giddy, thinking about snow, morning coffee, and presents under a tree and then I remember that most of my holidays were cleaning up pine needles from trees knocked over and long stretches of silence. It was only until my college best friend welcomed me into her home did I feel what most people take for granted: trees festooned with family ornaments wrapped in tissue awaiting their unveiling, a home teeming with life, leftovers packed in Tupperware.

There was a time when I’d spend my holidays with my pop, but lately, our silences have become palpable. We haven’t spoken since February. I just can’t let it go that internet strangers exhibited more compassion in my darkest hours than the man I’d known for the greater part of 30 years. He was the last vestige of what I considered a family, and while I feel the chasm between us widen with the passing of each day, I can’t let it go.

There existed people whom I considered family who were demonstrably silent during that time, including my pop, and it’ll take me a long time to move past it if I’m able to forgive at all. And those memories of which I spoke, halcyon holiday moments, belong to another family, and I sometimes feel as if I’m a child whose face is pressed up against a glass peering in–the only proof of life is the breath that fogs the window.

The holidays are approaching–another Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday, and while there are so many things for which I’m grateful I feel the uncomfortable comfort of being rootless, without kind kin, still feeling like a child pressing her eyes shut and if she’s good she’ll get all her wants tucked neatly under a tree.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from the Oh She Glows Every Day cookbook

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 cups chopped yellow (sweet) onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, plus more if needed
  • ¼ cup raw almond butter or peanut butter
  • 3 cups diced peeled carrots
  • 3 cups diced peeled sweet potatoes
  • ½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Up to ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, if you like spice)
Toppings
  • Minced fresh cilantro
  • Fresh lime juice

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DIRECTIONS

In a large pot, melt the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the curry paste. In a small bowl, whisk together some of the broth with the almond butter until smooth. Add the mixture to the pot, along with the carrots, sweet potatoes, salt, and remaining vegetable broth. Stir until combined.

Bring the soup to a low boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes and carrots are fork-tender. Ladle the soup carefully into a blender. You will likely have to do this in a couple of batches, depending on the size of your blender. With the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape, blend on low and slowly increase the speed until the soup is completely smooth. (Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender and blend the soup directly in the pot.)

Taste, and season with salt and black pepper. If you’d like more spice, add a pinch or full ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, and blend again. Transfer the soup back to the pot and reheat if necessary. If desired, you can thin the soup out with a bit more broth if it’s too thick for your preference. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with minced cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, and optional tamari almonds. This soup will keep in the fridge for up to a week, and freezes well for 1 to 2 months.

hello, home

There was a time when I believed that home was simply a place where my mail was forwarded, and the only thing I loved about a house was leaving it. It’s depressing when you think about it–the feeling of not belonging to any one place, of closing a door and still not feeling relief, safe. I used to take pictures of the front doors of my apartment buildings and I’d rattle off a seemingly endless list of addresses. Sometimes I’d confuse the zip codes. Other times I strained to remember what the insides looked like. Did we have carpet? Was there a window in my room? What was the view? In some spaces, I didn’t have a bedroom door, while in others, I didn’t have a bedroom at all. And although I knew being rootless and uncommitted to a zip code was odd, the discomfort I experienced, the feeling of being displaced, is what felt normal. What kept me going was hope, the possibility that this new place could be a home. That I could erase all that had come before.

Yesterday, I asked my leasing agent: Are there trust-funders in this building? People who haven’t worked for what they have?

For most of my twenties, I moved. I lived in Riverdale, the Upper West Side, Little Italy, Battery Park, Chelsea, and two apartments in Park Slope. I shared a one-bedroom apartment with an actor turned psychologist and lived briefly with a man whom I once thought I’d marry. One of my movers was drunk and missing two fingers from his left hand and another broke my bed in four places. A move of 20 blocks in Brooklyn cost me nearly a thousand dollars, to which I responded, are you fucking kidding me? 

Rarely do I host housewarming parties because my homes have always felt so cold, where the possibility of warmth existed if they were torched and burned to the ground.

In earnest, I tried to make a home. I committed to a building in Park Slope for the better part of five years. In this building, I rented an apartment with a spacious deck I rarely used and endured a winter where I wore a coat indoors and used space heaters because the boiler kept breaking. Through all of this, I joked that you’d have to carry me out in a body bag I’d never leave. Who knew I’d swallow my words when a kind doctor swathed my Sophie in two towels and carried her lifeless body down three flights of stairs. The emptiness I felt in what I thought was my home was palpable. I felt the specter of her death and how I contributed to it in every room. I wrapped myself in blankets one night in August and slept on my deck with a bottle of wine because I couldn’t bear the insides. That winter I moved to another apartment one flight down with a new cat and the hope of a new life.

But…I felt unease, a disquiet that loomed larger than the space I’d been occupying. I grew irritated on the subway. I felt smothered in midtown. My home of 39 years had increasingly become a stranger. I no longer felt New York was home. But…keep moving.

It took another mammoth loss to make me realize I wanted something demonstrably different and new. Although I knew it was false comfort, I became tethered to the idea of a new place as a salve–much like what I believed in my childhood. It took moving across the country and away from my comfortable discomfort for me to wake up. The silence was deafening. The noise and maelstrom of New York were no longer a convenient distraction. And after 39 years of perpetual velocity, I collapsed in that quiet. I dealt with old losses and new. I confronted aspects of my character that made me wince. I took a lot of my life offline, reclaiming it. I did the daily work that was sometimes hard and more often rewarding.

I live in a place where I once contemplated taking my own life. I live in a place where my furniture took nearly two months to arrive. I live in a place where I never felt rooted. Ever since I moved in I felt in the betweens. It took me 40 years to realize that I have to be at home with myself before I stretch outward.

But I wanted to move, still. My apartment is highway robbery and it’s not conducive to a home office environment (I sometimes work for seven hours straight and typing on my couch is becoming a problem). Also, there’s too much memory. I wanted a place that reflected where I’m at in my life, not a constant reminder of that which I’ve endured. So I started looking at apartments. I toured a building where it became apparent that someone was shooting an adult film (the Yelp reviews confirmed this). I visited another where it felt I’d have to send out proof of life photos I was so far from life.

Then I found my home in an area of which I’m not familiar–Hancock Park. I looked at four apartments, and while the property was GORGEOUS and perfect, I felt meh about the spaces I’d seen. But before I left, my leasing agent became aware of an available space he hadn’t shown me. We rode the elevator to the top floor and we walked into the space that next month will be my new home.

I fell in love. The apartment is perfect for a true home office. It’s at the corner end of the building so it’s extremely quiet (a necessity for me since I’ve lived in buildings where people mistook an apartment complex for a drug-fueled rave). There are spaces I can use as a defacto office or lounge, and the location was walking distance (1/4 mile) to supermarkets, drug stores, dry cleaners and all the necessities.

I went through a lot this year, more than I wanted to bear. This wasn’t what I expected from turning 40. This wasn’t what I expected when I moved to Los Angeles. But for the first time in a long time, I feel at home with myself, flaws and all. Someone asked me recently what being on anti-depressants was like, and I said, it’s the difference between waking up and thinking this is all too much to waking up and thinking, okay, this is tough but it’s manageable. It’s the difference between succumbing and conquering. Most importantly, it’s the difference between hopelessness and hope, the feeling that your body is no longer a home you want to torch and burn to the ground.

People use the phrase of wanting to match their insides to their outsides, and I understand this now to an extent. I look at myself and that new space and realize both need work, but at least we’re starting from common, hopeful ground.

a phoebe + kate update // on playing small

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Everyone wants to be big. Everyone wants that McMansion life. A friend introduces me to someone and says, Felicia started an agency. I recoil in response. I joke about how I’m allergic to certain words: marriage, guru, agency. Another friend asks me about my plans for this non-agency. Do I want to be big? Do I want to go global? And then it occurs to me that I’m allergic to a whole lexicon. I spent two years recovering from working for a sociopath; I’m not booking a return ticket to that life in the near future. I don’t want to be on a magazine’s list. I don’t want photos of my staff in quirky outfits splashed across some fashion blog. I do not want to be big. Big means beholden. Big implies choices I’m not interested in making.

Big ruins everything. Focusing on the size and weight of things was nearly my ruin. It’s important to learn from one’s mistakes.

Months ago, I sat across from my psychiatrist. It hadn’t even been three months since I existed in another space, one in which I wanted to quietly end my life. The medication he prescribed, Wellbutrin, altered me overnight. I went from thinking this is all too much to this is manageable. I can work with this. I borrowed money from friends to continue my therapy until I was able to balance on two feet, and three months in, I found myself talking to him about purpose. 

I remember saying, just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean I like doing it. Although I admired and respected the people with whom I worked, I didn’t feel challenged. Days felt rote. In response, my therapist asked me when was the last time I felt joy in my work. It need not be a huge project or a major accomplishment–just tell me this, when were you last challenged? I thought about that, a lot, and I laughed. You’re going to think this is ridiculous… I remember fidgeting on his couch, crossing one leg over the other, uncrossing, and crossing again. I recounted a day I’d spent with a former colleague turned friend turned partner on a project, and we were on my patio styling and taking pictures of beauty products. It was fun because my friend made me laugh the entire day, and part of me knew that what we’re doing was kind of good, but not yet great. Meaning, I had a lot to learn. It’s a feeling of standing in the middle of your life with the recognition that part of you was excited about starting over. And that feeling of wonder, of abandoning a cap and gown and navigating all the firsts (apartment, rent check, job, performance review, etc) was about finding joy in the mystery.   

Can you make something out of that? my therapist asked. I shook my head. I didn’t know.   

The walk from my therapist’s office to my home is about a mile and a half. I like the walk, it’s necessary as it allows me to process the past hour I spent being honest and vulnerable in ways I’m still not accustomed. Even recently, my therapist asked me if I perform in therapy. If I like to put on a show. To which I responded, yes, for the first 15 minutes–I need to warm up. I can’t just walk in here and lay it all out to bear. I need those 15 minutes because it allows me to manage the difficult 45.    

So, I’m walking home and with the passing of each block, I got excited. I’ve built businesses before. I started thinking about value proposition, and offering, and I thought about a company where I would partner with people smarter than me to create and tell stories about the brands we love.     

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Then I thought about all the capability decks I’d created for my previous agency and subsequent clients. I thought about the words I used and how I rolled my eyes while typing them. I didn’t want that bullshit. I didn’t want to be like the rest. I met with a few friends and tried a few different ways of explaining what I wanted to do, and people got excited. But still. I didn’t want the stress of a P&L, of overhead dictating creative decisions. I wanted the fluidity of project work, of having the flexibility in picking my collaborators and partners, without being beholden to a retainer. I didn’t want to work with anyone crazy. I didn’t want to become crazy. And I wanted to work with people smarter, older, and younger than me. 

So I looked at my new novel and I remembered the first novel I really loved, and Phoebe & Kate was born.  

My problem (well, one of many) is that I tire of things quickly. I get hot about something then I lose interest. So I deliberately created a business model that gave me a Houdini-esque escape clause should I want to move on. At first, it was as if I made all the obvious mistakes I spent years undoing. I hired an incompetent bookkeeper, whom I quickly fired. I lamented over LLC vs. S-Corp since the latter has greater tax advantages, yet comes with paperwork that could possibly drive you crazy. A wise friend told me to stick with an LLC for now, and sent me this handy comparison, which made my decision that much more palatable. Even though I just got hit with a California small business tax bill (WTF is it with California and TAXES?! For the love.) And although I told everyone I knew I was doing this non-agency thing, I didn’t put on my Willie Loman suit and pack a briefcase of decks to pitch the world. I wrote an article on Medium, sent a few emails, and hid under my desk.

For a time, I wondered what people would think. I worried about public failure knowing that there are people in this world who wish this for me, or take satisfaction in my undoing. And then I stopped giving a fuck because a few months ago I wanted to end my life and finally, here I was, fighting to create a new one. Fuck everyone, I thought. If this fails, it fails. At least I tried.

Over the past couple of months, I hired a new bookkeeper (Brittany is fucking awesome, please hire her) who is making me realize that although I might have worked in investment banking I know nothing about money. She’s helping me get my financial house in order. I’ve made investments in this business, and I’m still working out processes with freelancers who operate on different schedules or have varying ways in which they work and communicate. 

Then I landed two awesome clients and I fist-pumped the air and thought, holy shit, this might work. 

Last week, I spent two days with a friend, Joanna, who I knew from blogging (we met once or twice IRL, but kept up with one another via text and our blogs), a friend who is an exceptional stylist and thoughtful creative. A friend who has become a trusted collaborator. One who isn’t afraid to impart wisdom while at the same time letting me know when I need to stay in my lane. We took a room in a fancy-pants hotel in Santa Monica, Palihouse, since it resembled a home, complete with airy rooms and a pristine kitchen. I shuttled over thousands of dollars worth of espresso machines, props, and all the photography equipment I’d accumulated and Joanna rolled up with a suitcase of props and her vision. From her, I learned how a real photo shoot was supposed to roll.  

The experience was exhausting and exhilarating. We worked from morning to evening and I wanted to collapse into my bed and have someone fork-feed me pasta. This shoot, which took a dizzying 3 weeks to pull together (from content strategy to brainstorming to shot list creation to prop purchases, styling, shooting, editing, and delivery of selects to the client), but in that brief amount of time I felt I’d learned more than I had in the past three years. I spent months taking online photography classes, downloading tutorials, and although I’ll never be as adept as someone who’s a professional, that’s not what I’m going after. We’re not shooting national ad campaigns–we’re having fun with food and coffee. I don’t need to do more because I’m content with what I have and I’m privileged to have the ability to live out a second act.    

There’s so much I need to learn. How to balance schedules. How to make processes easier and fluid, especially for people living in different states and time zones. How to budget and project revenue and costs. How to get a good working margin. How to know when to grow.

All of this is happening while the specter that is my insane amount of debt looms. I’m focused on paying that down aggressively, which means I have to work longer hours than I should. I take on more than what I’m sometimes able to manage–all with the knowledge that this is temporary. That in a couple of months I’ll be able to hire an assistant who will be able to help me streamline the jobs that come in.

But I’m happy. I haven’t been able to say that in a long, long time. I have a book coming out next year, I’ve got my health (mental and otherwise) back on track, I’m starting to make friends and build a life in Los Angeles, and I’m dealing with my debt, head-on.

So this is 40.   

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have you ever visited a psychic?

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I should preface this by saying that I’m a skeptic. I’m pragmatic, tethered to that which is scientific and logical. I grew up an agnostic, became a Christian, and then abandoned my faith because I stopped believing. Now, I’m an atheist who tries to find wonder in the world. And while I’m in awe of this life and know that the world is greater than me, that so much goes unexplained, I’m not quite ready to go back to believing the heaven // hell binary. I should also say that I’m frightened of death, so much so that over the course of the past twenty years I’ve experienced random anxiety attacks, knowing that one day I will cease to exist. One morning I won’t wake and plant both feet on the ground. Eight months ago, I felt subsumed by darkness, and all I wanted was to curl up in a ball on my bathroom floor and fall into permanent sleep. The irony of this state (and my real fear of ever returning to it) is palpable, and I’m grateful for the fact that I’m no longer a resident of this country. I’ve worked hard to return to a place of normalcy–you know, routine anxiety attacks over my fear of dying.

Perhaps I’ve gone full-L.A., or I’m aching for answers that I went to a psychic. Me being me, I researched extensively, scoured and read hundreds of reviews, and finally chose a psychic that didn’t seem like your ubiquitous $5 for a palm reading situation. Even though I prepared my questions in advance of the reading, I was skeptical. I considered this experience hopeful entertainment. However, after an hour-long conversation, after meeting with someone who knew information that couldn’t be found anywhere but my person, I was unnerved. I felt off-kilter. I immediately went into full analysis mode. Some of what she said can certainly be found in the pages of my first book or by reading any of the very personal essays I’ve written here or on Medium. But yet.

There were things she knew about me and my life that only I, or a very select number of people, know. How could she know about a specific song I play that reminds me of my mother? No one knows this. How could she know details about my views on marriage and my previous partners when my romantic attachments are one of the few things I’ll never write about on this or any space? How could she describe, in excruciating detail, the last few days of mother’s life with a certainty that was chilling? How could she know about a specific dream I had, one which I’ve only recounted to one person?

How could she know?

After a half hour of her “reading” me, she invited me to ask her questions, and I felt relatively satisfied with her responses. What gave me comfort was her reminder that everything she told me can be altered through free will. I asked her the question that few people want to ask, one that made her feel uncomfortable. When would I die? How would I die? What would I die in the same matter my mother had (no, you take better care of your body)? After a few moments, I learned that I will face an illness in my early 60s, something akin to cancer, and there will be a moment where I will have to decide if I want to go. This put me on pause because why wouldn’t I? Why would someone, who wakes washed in sweat over the fear of waking to nothingness, choose to die? (Of course conveniently forgetting that most recent period in February) She shook her head and said she didn’t know. She just said that if I choose to go on, I’ll live into my late 70s, early 80s.

Why wouldn’t I choose to go on?

Again, she didn’t know. Will I be alone? No. Will I be married? No. I nodded because while I long for a partner, I’m allergic to the idea of marriage. I love children but I do not want any of my own. But I don’t want to be alone. I want abundance. I want a life well-lived. And she said that the choice will have to do with the fact that have I done everything I set out to do? The choice will center on that need to do or not do more.

I don’t know what to make of this. Part of me laughs it off because seriously? I met with a psychic? How L.A. But another part of me wonders, how could she know with such clarity and specificity? How?

 

Image Credit: Pexels

chocolate swirl coffee cake (vegan/gluten-free)

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It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. —Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark

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In March, I wrote about the desire to focus on hope rather than blind positivity. We’re constantly told to swallow our voice. We could practically hear the shouts of Be happy! Be positive! drowning the reality of our waking hours. We’re admonished for feeling blue–sorrow is a demonstrable sign of weakness, of laziness, not to pick ourselves up and shake off our sadness even when it feels as if we’re choking on sunshine. When you’re told to be a binary, it’s not realistic or helpful, rather, it’s a temporary salve that gives others comfort because we live in a culture that is repelled by discomfort. And then you feel even more paralyzed because now you’re not only carrying the burden of your own sorrow, you’re now responsible for what others carry. While everyone scrambles to fulfill a social contract of being fake, no one actually feels better.

We’ll do anything possible not to feel uncomfortable because who wants to sit in sadness when we can snap filtered photos of ourselves living our best lives, right?

Wrong.

Blind optimism and pessimism are binaries that don’t require action, whereas hope gives you the power and possibility to alter an end result. Everything may not be okay, but at least you’re in the proverbial driver’s seat instead of closing your eyes while someone else drives. Hope is realistic. Hope gets you through the day. In March, my psychiatrist asked me how I felt after a month on meds and intensive therapy and I said, hopeful, which is a hell of a lot better than helpless.

In the midst of my depression, I remember someone telling me that I wasn’t being positive enough. Be happy, someone wrote on my Facebook wall, to which I shouted, what the fuck does that even mean? How does “be happy” solve the real problems in my life instead of throwing a convenient blanket over them?

I’m thinking about this today not only because I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s slim, yet extraordinary, book of essays on hope, but I have a lot of uncertain days ahead. I don’t know if I’ll find the right partner, or how my book will be perceived, or how my life in Los Angeles will pan out. But I do have hope and at least that gives me a path to action, possibility.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Maya Sozer’s Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches
For the dry ingredients
2 cups gluten-free flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder

For the wet ingredients
2 bananas, mashed
3/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used coconut nectar)
2 tbsp almond butter (or any nut butter)
1 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. This recipe couldn’t get any simpler. Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl except for the cocoa. Mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl. Pour 2/3 of the batter into a small loaf pan (5×7). Mix the cocoa into the remaining third of the batter and add it to the loaf pan. Using a fork, create a marbling effect by swirling the fork between the two layers. Bake for 45-50 minutes, but start checking after 40 minutes.

Allow the loaf to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack. Allow to cool for an hour before diving in. I didn’t obviously, because who can wait an hour?

odds & ends

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“Can’t you just be like the rest of us, normal and sad and fucked up and alive and remorseful?” ― Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows

I haven’t loved a book so hard since Lauren Groff’s Fates & Furies. I never thought a relentlessly dark tale of a prodigy pianist, who so desperately wants to end her life, could be funny. It’s easier to write binary and it’s downright difficult to create balance, and Toews manages to achieve this on a level that is awe-inspiring. The novel centers around sisters, one of whom is a gifted, yet tortured, musician (think: the poet in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway or Percival in The Waves), and the other the prodigal fuck-up, and how their private, unbinding love is challenged by suicide. In one scene you’re reading about Elf and her latest attempt to take her own life by slashing her wrists and downing bleach, and then you’re somehow laughing at the dark comedy that is this large, disruptive family plagued by a history of depression. As a writer, I often read books on two levels–one for pure enjoyment, entertainment or education and another as a devoted student. I deconstruct structure; I diagram character and tone. I’ll ask, how does he/she achieve what I’m trying to do, and how could I learn from them? While I’m tethered to the darker side of things, I’m feeling the need, especially now, to imbue my work with needed light.

If you don’t mind a book that’s a little heavy (balanced by light), I can’t recommend Toews’s novel enough. Buy it. Now.

I love science fiction. My favorite show of all time is The Twilight Zone, and I think Rod Serling a genius for the stories he imagined and brought to the small screen–most of which were provocative in the late 1950s conservative culture. I loved Stranger Things for the imaginative plot, as well as a feeling of nostalgia for the 1980s, and after I visited Guillermo Del Toro’s very magical and horrifying LACMA exhibit, I found The Strain and I’m addicted. The story is less sci-fi than apocalyptical and biblical — the world we know plagued by a virus, which we soon learn to be a sophisticated strain of vampirism. This isn’t your staid fangs and capes, rather, Del Toro’s modern day monsters are painstakingly conceived from an evolutionary and biological perspective. And while the story is smart and forward (the catastrophic battle between humans and monsters), the characters grapple with real issues of love and loss.

It’s also occurred to me that I’ve become enamored by artists who straddle and redefine form. The Leftovers isn’t just a cable drama about a day when millions of people suddenly disappeared–it’s drama, sci-fi, poetry, all meditating on all the ways in which we define and experience loss. This is why I admire writers like Maggie Nelson, Kelly Link, Lydia Millet and others of their ilk who refused to be confined in a box. A few weeks ago, I shared my new novel’s jacket copy with someone whom I was potentially interested in hiring as a freelance publicist but was disappointed when this person wrote back, oh, this is genre fiction. Let me pause and I say that this argument isn’t about whether I like or don’t like genre fiction (I do, and think genre fiction is hard to pull off, thus warranting so much respect–I wish I had the commitment to pacing and patience that a brilliant mystery novel requires), it’s about having myopic vision. I set out to toy with form–I wanted to write a story rooted in literary fiction (my comfort zone) but have elements of psychological thriller and suspense. I look to Maggie Nelson’s Jane: A Murder as a perfect example of collapsing form. If you read her book jacket, you would say, oh, this is just true crime. While there’s nothing wrong with true crime (Ann Rule’s memoir of her working with Ted Bundy is one of my all-time favorites), that reductionist thinking would’ve ignored what Nelson set out achieve. Her slim book is parts true crime, memoir, poetry, and a private letter between her and her aunt, who died in the hands of a serial killer.

I get that we want to give everything an elevator, fit everything into a neat and tidy box because it’s quick, efficient and easy. However, I admire artists who break tradition, who say, this book, show, or song need not be only this. It could be this and that.

A brief aside: have you noticed that shows have literally gone dark? I already wear glasses. Please don’t make me reach for the flashlight.

In the vein of nodding to people who inspire you, I loved this take on success being defined as how you elevate others. Years ago, I read The Art of War, and now I find it a pile of shit. I’m not interested in Darwinian workplace warfare, rather, I know I win by how I treat others and how I help them rock out in whatever they’re doing. Another way in which you can view success is by how you redefine size. We naturally think that bigger and more is better, a sign of achievement. I have X amount of followers, thus I’m an “influencer”. My home is Y square footage, so that means I’ve “made it”. I don’t subscribe to a McMansion view of life, rather, I’m in step with Mike Birbiglia’s call to play small.

And if you’re not reading Bianca Bass’s wonderful blog, you’re not living your best life. She writes about success and creative work from the millennial perspective–namely, you don’t have to hustle 24/7, rest is a virtue, and her musings call for more meaningful connection beyond fan counts. I’ve grown really tired of being sold to ALL. THE. TIME., so it’s a respite to discover someone’s blog and their writing and not feel trapped by an affiliate link. There are people who still tell stories just to tell them.

Finally, one of the things I’ve learned this year is the need to nurture relationships and be patient. I admired this mother’s lament on how the challenges in her life prevent her from being the kind of friend she knows she can be. I’ve been there (with an unhealthy relationship to my work replacing children), and if there’s anything that I’ve learned over the past year, it’s this: Be kind. Be patient. Be thoughtful. Lean on your friends and help when you can.