little prince + a meditation on what’s next

I’m constantly aware of lost opportunities. I used to think such lost opportunities were beautiful towns flashing by my train windows, but now I imagine they are lanterns from the past, casting light on what’s ahead.Chris Huntington

Some time ago I thought I’d lost four years of my life. I kept running to stand still, but there was no stillness, only noise — so much of it that it threatened to crowd and smother. As a result, I lived on autopilot; I became a person who was what I was going after. Having grown up in New York, I used to feed off the frenzy, thrive on my own personal velocity, but it wasn’t until the past few years that I’ve craved quiet. I’m desperate for the minimal and the beautiful. So I rid myself of my finery — pretty handbags and expensive shoes — because I never wore those trappings of supposed success. They merely served as bandaids for my misery. I rid myself of barnacles, unhealthy attachments in the form of people and things, to be present with people who inspire and challenge me. Finally, I rid myself of a job that made me sick, and although I’m humbled to have had such an auspicious professional opportunity, the losses I experienced were incalculable: I stopped reading and writing and living my life as I once did, mindfully.

I spent this year getting reacquainted with Felicia Sullivan. I read books, all kinds. I started a novel. I baked boxes of delicious sweets. I took on consulting projects with companies and people whom I admire and respect. I suffered a grave loss and gained a new love. I spent time rebuilding friendships, making up for the weddings I missed and minor triumphs celebrated in my absence. In essence, I became present in my life, all of it, even the dark parts. But still. Even with the compasses calibrated, a focused mind, and a voice that is softer and slower, I can’t yet find my way.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve lost time or opportunities until I read that quote above, and realized that I am where I’m meant to be, as this is the place that will take me to what’s next.

After a week catching up with some of my closest friends, I spent an afternoon at Little Prince, a serene French bistro in Soho, with a new friend. We knew one another as client and consultant, and now that my project is over, we’re delighted to find one another now as friends. We spoke about work and travel and love, and it occurs to me that over a year ago I spoke of working outside of the U.S., in some capacity, and that gnawing feeling hasn’t abated. It just got lost in my exhaustion over visa requirements, paperwork, and the bureaucracy that surrounds living in a country that is unfamiliar. I also indulged in flights of fancy (Paris) when my French is subpar, instead of focusing on markets that would make sense for my skillset.

Honestly, I don’t know what 2014 brings, but I plan to say YES. I plan to think about Singapore, China, Australia, and other parts of the world I’d dare to live. I plan to finish my book and bake many more loaves and spend time with many more friends.

Until then, I can revel in the fact that I’ve discovered one of the best burgers New York has to offer, and a brunch spot that doesn’t feel as if I need a megaphone for a conversation. Until then, I can continue to be present and enjoy this life.


dispatches from firenze: the finest chicken you’ll ever eat in your life

We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience. ― Joan Didion, The White Album

Last night I slept on pavement, a sliver of concrete that is a terrace that overlooks the Ponte Vecchio. My journey started one way and ended in another. I tossed. I turned. I fluffed and punched pillows. I read Susan Faludi’s searing profile of the radical feminist, Shulamith Firestone, a woman who sought an unimpeded love but would never find it. I tongued pills and spit them out again. Until finally, I made a makeshift bed on my postage stamp of a terrace and fell asleep.

This is what happens when you allow things to consume you. All this anxiety over two bags making their way, albeit at a snail’s pace, to my hotel in Florence. All the while I convinced myself I was fine, just fine, and I’d prove it by going manic on social media. The equivalent of throwing a blanket over a fire, who knew my thumping heart would be composed of kindling? Who knew I’d burn from the inside out? Who knew the whole of the past two months would plague me, like swallows, and I’d drown in the swarm. Water. Fire. One tends to oscillate between the extremes.

But. But. I refuse to let this happen when I’ve made this brave decision to leave a job that was killing me, when I finally pried open my eyes and mouth, and let all the moth balls flutter out. Then I let all the right people in. No way will I be my own ruin. So I did what I know best to do and took some time, and will continue taking it. We often want to create tremendous noise — a holocaust of sound — all because we’re frightened to hear our own voice. We’re terrified of the words we might say, thoughts that give shape and form to our singular experience. When we say it out loud it suddenly becomes real, and can we bear it out? Can we endure the hours after?

So this is what I tried to do. I spent the early morning hours in the Uffizi, wandering the galleries. What a joy it was to ghost the rooms of a near-empty museum, a place free of phones, cameras and the hoards of chattering groups. It was just me, my own footfalls, and a considerable amount of Botticellis.

Later, tipped off by Lauren, I checked out Trattoria Sostanza (read Elizabeth Minchilli’s astute review). Tucked away on a side street, the eatery is nondescript, homely even, but the word-of-mouth on the pollo al burro was too formidable to dismiss.


Two breasts are charred while butter browns. The meat is dredged in egg and flour and cooks in cast-iron pan in a pool of sweet butter. The result are tender breasts steeped in butter and thawing the iceberg that is my heart. One would think that the dish would be heavy, fatty, but this is not the case. The technique locks in the flavor, and the chicken is neither greasy or heavy, but rather tender and yielding. OBVIOUSLY I DIPPED EACH PIECE OF MEAT INTO BUTTER. OBVIOUSLY.

And can we talk about the butter lettuce salad? Normally, I’m all blase about an appetizer, but the leaves were so fresh and the oil so perfect I nearly cried eating my salad.

The seating is communal, so I queried folks around me and everyone was thick in the business of cleaning their plate. From thick slabs of beef steak to stuffed tortellini to rich soups, everyone was lapping it up with the fresh ciabatta.

I left, satiated and calmer than I was the following evening. The rest of the day was spent napping, walking, climbing 436 steps to the Duomo cupola and reading Joan Didion.


when the heart suddenly stops

Would your fear be any less and would you see that you had been chosen to help the sun rise? ― Nick Bantock, Alexandria: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Unfolds

It occurs to me that every time I feel as if I’ve lost my way, I return to children’s books. I like to finger the thick, glossy paper stock, pour over the illustrations, and tumble, head-first, into a world, a life, that is simple and complete. As someone who fancies herself a writer, I remind myself that children’s books are perhaps the most difficult genre one could write for its success is predicated on the quickening of a child’s heart. As the three acts swiftly unfold, the child becomes petulant, impatient, grabbing at pages two, three at a time, because they want to know what’s next.

How does the story end?

Possibly I return to children’s books again and again to remind myself that there’s still magic in the world. That in every end there is a beginning. Our lives are something of a metronome, a mimicked heartbeat, a series of stops and starts, and in between the acts, between the breaths, there blooms something magical and new. As the years press on, our once wide eyes press shut and it’s easy to ignore the magic. We accept blindness as a current state, we slouch our way through our days, and the world morphs into a bleached-white version of what it once was.

Hold on, hold on tightly
Hold on, hold on tightly
Rise up, rise up
With wings like eagles
You run, you run
You run and not grow weary
-U2’s “Drowning Man”

Every day I wake and tell myself that there is color. That the world is worth seeing. That life is worth fighting for, even when your heart suddenly stops and shatters from the inside. Cutting everything in its wake. Because don’t we deserve to leap, lurch, race, fly? Don’t we deserve to preserve something in those books we once read? Replace the heartbreak with that quickening we use to love?

What’s next? What’s next? For the past three months this question is a spectre at every shared meal, email, text message. Recently, I spent two hours at Delicatessen (home of my beloved cheeseburger spring rolls, truffle fries and kale salad) pontificating on this very question with an old friend, but finding no real answers. After a heartbreaking, tumultuous exit from a job I once believed I loved, I’m too busy surveying the wreckage and assessing the damage to figure out what’s next.

Instead, I plan to spend this month knee-deep in introspection. I’m off to Europe next week and I’m taking my books, camera and heart, and I hope to return stronger. I hope to return seeing the magic once again.

I hope to return to a fast-beating heart.


the smallest disturbance alters the pattern of normal


This morning I woke, and everything was illuminated. It’s incredible what the luxury of time affords: clarity, perspective, humility. To realize your instinct is almost always right, and that the ties that bind will always be the sweetest salve. Last weekend, I spent an afternoon with my two favorite Kates at Rubirosa, and our meal was very much the kind of picture you want to keep taking. From love and work to food and art, and back again, I know in my heart that regardless of what happens, my girls will always buoy me up. Always have my back. Always be by my side. Always carry my home.

potlikker in williamsburg, new york + lessons for spring…

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I saw my ex-husband in the street. I was sitting on the steps of the new library. Hello, my life, I said. We had once been married for twenty-seven years, so I felt justified. He said, What? What life? No life of mine. ― Grace Paley, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute: Stories

This morning I awoke, terrified. My hands were numb and I felt my body chill down to bone. Overcast and dark, no light came through my window and I was confused, shivering, wondering if the forecast called for thundersnow. Tossing aside the covers I paced my apartment, barefoot, waiting for the morning light to break sky. And in that small stretch of time before the night was relieved by the awakening of day, I doubted myself. Fear was that old friend who soft-knuckled the door that was my heart and I let it in and embraced it with my breath. Make no mistake, fear never really disappears, it hibernates, festers, waits for the moment when you are weak and shivering and slides in, pulls up a chair, wants to get to talking. Maybe, it whispers, you made a mistake. You do realize there’s no going back.

This put my heart on pause.

Here I was, so bold in my declarations I was practically bombastic. Telling everyone who would listen that March was the month before the first day of the rest of my life, and, imagine if I jettisoned off to Europe and never came back? Maybe once to cart off my kitty, but I’d hurry back to France, tumbling my way back to the country and the thicket of trees and orange groves and air. I rationalized that I was six years off the sauce {as of last week}, the most clarified I’ve ever been and everything felt right — so this was the right decision, right? To leave my job and run toward something other, right? But what if I was wrong? What if I was the wreckage?

And then the sun. I crept out on my deck, wrapped in a blanket, and for some reason I said, Hello, my life, and went back inside. And that was the end of it. I’m not kidding you. It was the strangest thing. I hopped in the shower, cut French class and went about my day.

Tipped off by a friend, I made the trek to Williamsburg to check out Potlikker, a place with its own story. Owner + chef, Liza Queen once ran a very eclectic spot in Greenpoint, lost her lease and took off for Vietnam to cook in a street shack. Two years later she returned, much like our Odysseus, and opened a place that’s an extension of her heart, her passion for flavor, and a menu that’s seasonal and filled with joie de vivre. Once inside I felt enveloped by warmth — from the staff to the open kitchen where you could hear the sizzle and snap of potatoes and sausage frying, to the serene green paint and wooden interior — and knew this was a place worth patroning.

And then there was the food. A flaky, buttery biscuit oozing with lemon curd and fresh berry compote, local eggs mixed with cheddar and served with applewood sausage and spicy potatoes, and the terrific, bottomless cup of coffee, I was DELIRIOUS. And while I was there, chowing away with aplomb, I thumbed through the latest issue of Kinkolk and found a photo essays, “Lessons for Spring,” a series of b+w images from another time and these simple instructions:

  • Leave the indoors behind
  • Choose a new hobby
  • Don’t be in such a hurry
  • Take matters into your own hands
  • Reawaken your youth
  • Sit in silence, alone
  • Draw close to those nearest and dearest
  • Don’t mind being eccentric
  • Fall in love with something new
  • Dive in deep

  • I tell myself to look for the signs. They may be minor, they may be innocuous, but just look for them. They’re my Northern Lights. Perhaps they can be yours, too.


    the revisionist’s journey: creating light from the dark

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


    prepare yourself for the giant…

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

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

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

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

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

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

    All this while having lunch at Campo de Fiori.