A Real Sin

When I turned 10 or 11, I developed this really deep-seated love of standing in the back. I’d been pretty Renaissance Man for a little girl–I’d paint, dance, sing or write you a story for a handshake–but then I clammed up. No more journals, no directing plays at recess. I wouldn’t raise my hand; I didn’t want the solo.

My father had some thoughts about this, and they were jarring, because we are not religious people. ”If you do not use a talent that God has given you,” he said, “if you don’t go out into the world and use it to make other people’s lives better…that’s sin. That’s a real sin.”

*     *     *     *     *

I’ve always done the responsible thing. Not because I’m some orderly saint, but because here’s the path and what’s outside it? Dead grass and fear. If you stay on the path, no one can tell you you’re selfish or unserious. I went to college and then I went to law school, and the whole time I clenched being good in my fist.

And then I got pretty incredibly sad. I was showing up every day at a manicured building in a pretty pencil skirt, and people took my floofy-haired self seriously. They gave me assignments in their giant windowed offices, and I nodded a lot, and when I got back to my own mahogany desk, I wondered if it was normal to want–continually–to scream. The basic operating principle–of proving a point not by logic or compassion, but by finding some case in which an old white man said he thought what you thought–seemed increasingly insane. I wasn’t making anything; there was no room for creation in the margins of the documents to be reviewed. Everyone was very kind, and they spoke seriously about “professional development.” I looked at the other young faces around the conference table, searching their expressions for signs of the same stomach-plummet I felt at the thought of doing more of this. They were mostly smiling.

So I pried open my fist and I couldn’t tell what that thing was, anymore. Being Good. Was it having a career you can explain in one word? Making a lot of money?

Was it refraining from “sin?”

*     *     *     *     *

My parents are artists. One of them actually makes art for a living, but the other might as well, given her sensibility. In our house, people have projects. I’ve organized a lot of photos of grizzled pioneer women for my dad’s documentaries, and I’ve yelled in a too-loud headphones-on voice over track after track my brother’s written and sung.  They create not because it’s precious, but because it’s an orifice they can’t really screw closed. And why would anyone try?

I’d emerged from law school having traded in my original wiring. Three years of being seeped in ivy and brick and almost vertiginous intelligence had reformatted how I viewed my prospects: if I closed the computer and walked out that door, where would I go? I had an amount of money in loans that sounded more like the haul from a bank robbery than the cost of learning the law. It would be selfish to say that I wanted a life that was radically different from the one I was currently pacing through. And selfish is my boogeyman; I’d rather be accused of almost any other fault. And so I stuck around, clicking through my days. Wasn’t I so honorable, to be holding up my end of the bargain?

But the truth is (oddly enough) no one wants you to fall on your sword. No one who loves you wants to watch you crawl up inside yourself and become irritable and resentful and confused. There are higher-order values than responsibility, and after you’ve spent enough time dancing around the edge and being scared, your crucial humans will sit you down and tell you what they are: a sense of worth and the small, integral fire of happiness that comes from being your actual self.

*     *     *     *     *

I quit. Today was my last day.

This is what I’m doing, now: figuring out what I’m doing now. I have enormous dreams spread across a few big buckets, and I’m going to dump them out on our tiny table and rummage around. I’m going to see what I can build that I can be proud of. I want something that I know is good without having to ask.

I don’t believe in sin, but I do know he was right. We are finite creatures. We don’t have to be stunningly happy all the time, but we have to try for north of neutral. Not to be pleasure seekers, but to hone in on what we’re really for. We were all born with the capacity to put something out into the universe that makes it a safer, saner place.

Here’s to figuring out what that contribution might be.


First Summer

On Saturday, I sat outside an Upper West Side place that serves deviled eggs and pickled beets to a crowd of coral shorts and sundresses. I was waiting for my husband. The sundresses were necessary–I was wearing one, too–because the city finally decided to break out the kind of light-drenched morning that makes you feel all-encompassing love. Physical joy, even. These days are shots of tequila, water-clear and yet a filter through which you can see the world two clicks better than it sometimes is.

Eventually, he walked up: smiling and well-rested and newly twenty-nine. We sat down and pickled our insides, trying to preserve the day.

20140610-153020-55820085.jpgWe’ve been buckling down, lately. He’s determined to succeed at this new job, and I’m walking methodically in a new direction. And while we work toward all the great things to come, I want to remember the equal greatness of these months. I want to record these sunny days, about which there isn’t much to say, except: thank you.

20140610-153019-55819378.jpgFor the openness of the people who’ve adopted us as their own. For pitchers of white sangria with an orchard of fermented fruit to be scraped out by the last drinker. For the ability to stand on a roof in the sun and not feel one single chill. For my mother, who will call me after reading this and remind me that palefaces better be wearing hats and I don’t see a hat in this picture, Julia.


No hats. Not even sunglasses, that day, because I unwittingly gave them to another friend on another rooftop, the night before: a problem which sums up the particular variety of summer we’ve just begun.

This calendar year has been a giant pendulum: we held the free end and climbed a few stories and rode the weight as it came crashing back. I have been elated and so hopeful and very, very scared. And I wanted to pause at this crest, not to work through any trouble but to flower-press these sensations. Something equally beautiful or worthy will come next, but for the first time, I am intentionally lowering my gaze. The horizon will still be there when this season has had its run.



I would just like to announce, first of all, that I claim full ownership and copyright control over the #darrenandlaurengetmauied tag that will mark this woman’s impending nuptials. My creative genius is a beast to be reckoned with, don’t pretend you’re not impressed.


I am. I’m impressed that we spent that many hours in a jacuzzi, played that many rounds of Heads Up, that we actually did our Cardio Barre in the back yard, holding onto a hammock for support and using wine bottles as weights. We slid bacon into the oven and refilled each other’s champagne. Bottomless mimosas are sweeter in your pajamas, with women whose morning hair you’ve seen for years. 

swimmers (1)

It’s that season. People have been paired up for ages, but now they’re slipping on rings and picking out tuxedos. We’re buying plane tickets to watch them walk into the horizon. But first we’re drinking a lot of wine and wandering around picturesque beach towns yelling call-and response songs from Team America: World Police. That’s one magic of weddings, this trump card you get to wave around: all my people in one place, I am the magnet. I went first, and felt so grateful. I wasn’t expecting how fun it would be to answer the call.

We sit in wine bars, texting the groom questions about his romantic life. This is real friendship: you barter appropriate boundaries for a good game of  ”When did you first know you were in love?”


And despite our closeness, sometimes we’re tempted to downplay the enormity. People get married all the time, this is all par for the course.

“He’ll probably say he doesn’t even remember.”


He remembers. He’ll text back immediately, with a specific date and a fleshed-out feeling he’s happy to describe, knowing full well it’s being relayed to seven women tipsy on Syrah and good feeling. That’s the other magic, getting to share in this part of the standard miracle: they found each other, they’re still happy.

Cheers to this stage, which we get to pass through only once: the ritual of trading your sister(s)’ rumpled cowlicks across the breakfast table for the morning mohawk of the man you marry. It’s never that sudden, and it’s never forever; we’ll still pour each others’ 11am champagne. But there is a difference. This was us coming together, our little friend family, to bless the new one she’s building. May it be everything you hoped for, LK. We all know it will.



District of Happiness

DC jumped up about five slots in my list last weekend. The city trumpeted Spring’s arrival by assaulting us with color riots and temperatures that yanked my mental health from prostrate to skipping. It was gorgeous. I had to turn to M in one random neighborhood and say, “I would pay through the nose for this, for the experience of walking down this street with you, in the sun, nowhere to go. I can’t believe it’s free.”


Here’s a weird thing: my life lately has felt like a string of blind dates. Hey, meet this new person at work! And here’s a friend of mine who lives in the city, you guys will love each other. And here’s M’s new friend’s wife, you guys will so get along. And I really have liked all of them, honestly. But it’s just a lot of fresh faces, and I like to invest, and so it gets a little… numb. Meeting Betsy was nothing like that. She was exactly who she’s been the whole time we’ve been building our friendship online: funny, irreverent, intelligent, interesting. Sitting in the sun with her, eating latkes and lox while we filled in between the lines of each other’s lives, wasn’t starting over again with someone new. It was cementing. Such a grounding feeling, something I’ve been missing.


I loved getting to introduce her to M; him meeting my “blogger friends” weirdly makes them feel more real to me? He dug her also, and was really into the fact that she let him walk Charlie after brunch. The poor guy is just whole-soul yearning for a dog to wrestle and snuggle. Someday.


After Betsy had to “go home” or whatever, we walked on (and on, and on) to Georgetown, so we could stop at Baked and Wired. There was an enormous gorgeous-day line, and my instinct on seeing it was to turn back, a little sad. M refused, and stood with me in the sunshine for an absurdly long time. He’s been like that, lately. Willing to wait, more attuned. I truly wanted a sweet thing, and instead I got two: a peanut-butter brownie, and a stretch of downtime with a man who normally can’t stand still.


Saturday night, we went to Renee and Chris’ apartment to grill on their deck. Or, the men grilled, and then we all curled around the fire pit and planned: upcoming weddings and lake weekends, the kind of things that even planning them makes you feel like you’re spreading out your blessings in your lap like a weighted blanket. They’re getting married soon, and even sooner, we’re all flying to a beautiful island to watch two more friends say “forever.” This summer is the fruition of many wishes for people I love. Cannot wait.

Eventually we ventured out of our cocoon, because they wanted to take us somewhere I’d feel really comfortable: The Star and Shamrock. I prefer to frequent  establishments that honor both sides of my heritage, you know? I’m a balance-seeker.


We’re also experimentors, and apparently “picklebacks” are a thing. As in, a shot of whiskey + a shot of pickle juice, and I have to say…not that bad. It probably helps to be the person who stood in front of the open refrigerator eating handfuls of  pickles out of the jar as a child, but everyone else managed theirs, too. By which I mean M and Chris actually shot their shots, and Renee and I sipped ours because we are ladies. Ladies who helped demolish the reuben-and-latke sandwich that subsequently arrived at our table, but M ordered it, so all the calories belong to him.


Sunday morning, we met Danielle at Busboys and Poets for brunch. Let me just inform you that this is a bookstore focused on social activism located inside a restaurant with sweet potato pancakes. It’s kind of mandatory.

Truthfully, I was a hermit in law school: doing the actual work and remaining pleasant enough that M wanted to stay married to me sapped all my emotional energy. I value human connection, and it’s strange to admit that I passed through that life period without accumulating many real friends. However. The people with whom I did weather hours-long Starbucks endurance sessions are wonderful and witty and to this day, I view them as the lifelines that got me through. I don’t see or talk to Danielle anywhere near enough, but it almost doesn’t matter? Which is a horrible thing to say, but she knows what I mean in the same way she could sit next to me in Constitutional silence and then know when to look up and start talking about The Bachelor. She’s balanced and brilliant and I like her kind of a lot.


So, Sláinte and L’chaim to all of it: Spring and old friends and the beauty of being out of yourself in a new place, even for just a day or two. Or like, four…we’re going back this weekend.


After a Breath

Things are better, now.

Everyone who murmured “baby steps” was right. And I’m taking mine, with an akimbo gait you can probably see from space. Just a colt, each shaky, awkward step skidding a micron closer to a run.

I’m starting to see the patterns; the city’s onslaught and undertow are starting to knit themselves into a balance. Take the subway: the running of the humans in this underground Pamplona is actually a dance. You lock your eyes on the middle distance and set your pace, and suddenly you’re a laser. The white beam of your trajectory crosses over and under the rainbow spectrum of your fellow travelers, and you just follow your line. The eyelash-breadth of personal space isn’t a rudeness. It’s a result of the many working as a whole. You take a stutter-step when necessary, but you keep your eyes forward, and learn to feel the graze of purses and overcoats as what they are: pieces of other people on their journeys.

Yesterday it was forty-five degrees and we wandered in the drizzle, pushing through the slippery beaded curtains of the rain. We sipped coffee and bought the fifth and sixth books of our month here, all from the same greybeard who’s starting to look happily askance at us every time we walk in. Every corporate, stuffy task in the world to accomplish but no real deadline to rein us in, we stumbled into bacon scrambles and brussel sprouts. We sat in a tea shop and figured out what it is, more or less, that I’m supposed to do with my life. We walked all over the lower part of the city, and then when it began to pelt, we retreated. Up the stairs, light a candle, bottle of wine.

One month, which is both forever and a second. I can do the subway with my eyes closed, and if I turn the wrong way on a sidestreet, I am totally at sea. I have a gym, a routine, an office, a closet, and when I turn my key in the door and walk inside, there is a secondary click of rightness in my stomach. I love small spaces. They focus you. There isn’t room for internal wandering; the force of your life pushes up against the walls so that you feel turned outward, made bigger, by necessity.

And once out: you are in everything. Isn’t it amazing, how the human mind can view the same intersection four times, five times, as a sonic boom of overwhelm, and then the sixth time you round the corner, the sick little lurch is just gone? And instead, it all looks like luck. What an incredible thing, this city. This place where any two blocks could support a perfectly serviceable little town, and yet the carpet of cookies and theaters and knishes unrolls before you so far and so long that you have to give up, charley-horsed, before you can grab its edges.

I’ve been trying to unravel this transition, to figure out how I could be so choked up and displaced and then…fine. It is time, but it’s more than time. It’s one over-the-edge experience after another, plus the smallish rituals of your life. A stranger on the street yells at you for smiling, and you walk inside and retrieve your mail. You wake up and drink coffee, and commute into a national landmark. You call your mother while looking out over the lights of Manhattan. The spikes and smooth corners of the days settle on top of each other until you look at the topography of your life and, at some second that makes no logical sense, it is familiar enough. You recognize it as your own.



I pass the cronut bakery every day on the way to the subway. Let’s start with that.

This is the part I can’t wrap my head around yet. I’m trying to latch onto something, to familiarize myself with a neighborhood, a drycleaner, the sound of my keys in the door. But then on every street, the blazing attractions of the city crop up and I am disoriented. Is this a commute or a destination? Am I on vacation or does this belong to me, now?

I haven’t really gone outside. The transition at work has been swift and heavy, and my after-work exploring has been of the backseats of yellow cabs. But even there, it creeps in, this city’s magic. I’ve been driven home each night by a Greek chorus of men with beautiful voices, from Jamaica and Puerto Rico and Charlotte and the Bronx. Every one laughs the same delighted way, when I reveal how recently I’ve come. “Well! Welcome,” they grin into the rearview mirror. “Cali-for-nia! What a change.”

*   *   *   *   *

We haven’t been seeing much of each other. I’ve been padding out in the mornings before he wakes up, to go shake off my confusion at the gym. Endorphins make you happy, and happy people don’t second-guess their monumental life changes when it’s too late. But when I click our door back open (second try: remember, it goes to the left!), he’s pulling on a sweater and giving a kiss and bounding off to drink from the fire hose again. I am proud of him, of his ambition and his work ethic, and his desire to stretch his brain in unprecedented directions. And I also would love to eat a meal with him, to hear how his parallel new life has been unfolding. This is completely uncharted territory. Always, before: we were together and I was a boundless well of empathy. I can hear the scrape at the bottom now, and it terrifies me.

*   *   *   *   *

The volume of the city is staggering. Not the decibels, but the sheer unfolding columns of people and their cubic output. The daily continuing is a regular-sized miracle: the piles of trash, enough on each street for a village, whisked off to oblivion by the beeping trucks that grind through our dreams. The crush of commuters piling into a subway car and leaving the platform bare, only to be replaced in a laughably short second by a doppelgänger crowd. None of it ever stops, or sleeps, or even thinks about taking a break. You take very deep breaths on the subway, and in your apartment, and you start thinking of a restaurant space more as temporary real estate than a table. This is mine, for right now.

I can sit here and take it in.



First Missive

So, it is very cold.

I was going to say, “let’s just get that out of the way,” but it is seventeen degrees here. There is no shuffling that off to the side, and no ignoring that I am once again the person who vehemently demanded to leave Boston and the cold that tried to scrape my face off. That person went home and lolled under a few palm trees and she got soft. Forgot all about how a three minute walk can make you forgo breathing, the frost slicing against your nose and challenging your need for oxygen. Forgot all about the taxi, a modern marvel. Not just the gears and transportation; it’s the shelter and the chance to collect yourself that are mind-blowing. They impart strength, in that that you are not freezing right now, and give you the grace to accept the fact that you will be, soon. That’s crucial, the ability to build up an internal well of well-being such that outside forces cannot immediately hit your core.

And yet, there is more to this NYC introduction than loss of core body temperature. Loss of dignity, for instance.

Professionally, this move was just a transfer; one office to another, one firm, no big deal. But I live inside my own head, which is one giant bubble of interpersonal trepidation, and walking in on my first day loomed pretty large.

I woke up feeling queasy at the thought of navigating the subway system for the first time during rush hour, so I hopped in a taxi. The driver deposited me in front of a concrete skyscraper, so I screwed up my courage, all “Three bucks! Two bags! One me!” Only, wait…this wasn’t the right address. So, I paced up and down the street, committing the ultimate tourist sin of looking up and meeting a lot of new friends via their passing shoulders. Back and forth. Is this it? No, now I’m on a completely different street, this can’t be right. Finally, I realized my mistake (a building tunnel connecting one street to another) and set off. Two steps in, my foot gave a little tell-tale dip; the whole heel of my left shoe had decided it wanted no part of this adventure and ripped almost completely off.

Obviously, you can’t start a new adventure without a pratfall or two. “Hi, nice to meet you, I’m the girl from LA who can’t make it in the city for 24 hours without literally falling over her own feet.” I spent the rest of the day on mock pointe, trying to be really fascinating so people wouldn’t notice what was transpiring at floor-level. Did it work? No. My next door neighbor took one look at my mangled heels and sighed, “Ah, rookie mistake.”

However. She then took me to sushi, and was kind and fortifying and told me all the office gossip. And my officemate is funny and normal and appears to not eat tuna fish sandwiches or any other unpardonable sin. And this is the view from our window. So, bring it on, New York. I can already jaywalk with the best of them, broken heels or none.



New Scents

If there ever were an experience to make you question every life choice you’ve recently made, attempting a cross country move would have to top the charts.

What are all these lurking objects in my closet, and why do I own a single one of them? What electronic device do these cords attach to, and why have they been allowed to breed into a pile of wiry, inseparable snakes? It’s a truly gross feeling, being overwhelmed by stuff. I don’t feel like a particularly indulgent consumer, but then…from whence comes this overpowering number of smallish things?

It’s my own fault. When we moved to Long Beach, I was adamant about needing a second bedroom. “For everyone to visit,” like it was this obvious and inalienable right. It hadn’t sunk in, apparently, that we were going home. When we saw our friends and our families, it would be at the drop of a hat, and when they were tired, they’d just…go back to their own apartments. In a car, not a plane.

But that second bedroom was also a terrible office. The room didn’t get a lot of light, and the IKEA coffee table we inserted as a chair wasn’t very ergonomic (since it was, in fact, just a block of wood). So, it ended up being just…space. Extra room for things to accumulate, because the closed door meant we didn’t have to deal right then. Some of that expanse I’m grateful for: all our coats and scarves from Boston could be bundled away, and there was room for a grown-up vaccuum cleaner. Some of it was less intelligently used: boxes and boxes of wedding memorabilia and poorly filed papers and oh Lord, I am drowning.

We are not good with nostalgia; we already plan where we’ll live in LA after we move back from New York. Keeping things around feels like a weight, and a frustrating one. Committing to this move, throwing ourselves across the country into a new adventure…it necessitates lightness. A spirit for adventure is weighted down by things; stumbling over errant Frisbees and ancient birthday cards scrapes the gleam off the new.

And I obviously see what I’m doing here–preparing myself to love a shoebox by demonizing California space we didn’t need. I don’t care. The movers have come and gone, and yesterday I cleaned up the packing tape rubble, left the keys inside and drove away. It was spitefully gorgeous outside, the ocean audibly crashing and the air heavy with salt. It’s alright. We’ll never get this apartment again, never stand on that deck and look out over an almost Morrocan rooftop jumble with palms shooting up in between. We’ll be standing on a fire escape instead. We’ll smell roasting chestnuts and the iron of bridges and the sweat and perfume of a thousand people who all decided to see what might happen. That tapestry is worth this trade. One hundred times over, I would give up what I’ve built so far to see how the new pieces might fit together.


Sweet Baby James

A few weeks ago, we drove up to Modesto to “see Slentz and Salpy” but actually to meet their new baby. How do new parents feel about this, I wonder? Are you delighted that I am so into your kid, or do you feel attention-deprived? I think the majority answer seems to be “sleep deprivation is blocking all my other sensors, here, hold this child while I go lie down for five hours.”


Obviously, he was amazing. This guy was the cuddliest human I have ever had the privilege of trying not to kill, which was not easy when he couldn’t hold up his own head but wanted to SPRAWL while napping. How do babies divide their own bodies into unaffiliated sections and then sleep that hard? It makes no sense and is terrifying. Put your leg in the same hemisphere as your other leg and let me hold you in peace.

Swanson lives nearby, so it was a slightly more testosterone-driven atmosphere than your average baby party, but James was clearly into it. (This picture is simultaneously cute and makes me want to grab him so that he isn’t sent to law school by osmosis. Though obviously me removing him helps not at all. And his mother is an attorney also. One of us needs to leave and open a bakery, Salpy.)


We’re now firmly in the life stage where some of our male friends are frequently sending us articles on the benefits of not having children, so as to keep Friendfest alive for several more years. First of all, Friendfest will survive until we are 80 million years old, because having children will (I assume) give us an even greater motivation to hole up together for a weekend. (Is this not the purpose of grandparents?) Secondly, I think you doth protest too much, Sir. I see you being all delighted .


 And one cannot blame him. We’ll be waiting on the whole “making humans” thing for a while, but I certainly appreciate those who have gone before me. It’s such a comfort to know that when we do decide to embark on this completely life-altering adventure, I can turn to women whom I love and trust. They don’t pretend any of it is easy, and that honesty makes the idea more approachable. If you go in with your eyes open, anticipating the litany of scary and sticky obstacles, I think you feel the joy even more. It’s not tempered, because it’s not forced to mix with the stressors you knew would be present. And I can only imagine what that joy must be like.


We Have a Home

There’s a great proverb (origin lost in my muddled mind) that goes: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

It’s always true. It’s ridiculous how always true it is. I didn’t plan to pull up my stakes and throw them across the country, and I sure didn’t plan to have them land in the West Village. But…they did.

After all the back and forth about the merits of mellow Brooklyn versus the rush of Chelsea, and the tramping upstairs to apartment after apartment after apartment….our broker was like, “Let’s go see this place in the Village, it came on the market yesterday.” And we looked askance at each other, because the West Village is like the most expensive place in the Universe but whatever, we were already almost there. And it was reallyverysmall, but charming. And…several hundred dollars cheaper than anything else we had seen. During the entire trip. Including everything in Brooklyn. Because of a hole in the space-time continuum? And we loved it.

I’ll write a longer post later about everything I’ve learned about apartment hunting in NYC this week (which probably isn’t all that much, but it sure seems like an awakening to me). For now, we’re just thrilled that we actually found something that we like. We signed the lease, the shoebox is ours, and I only have mild-to-moderate feelings of what am I doing Oh God this is real now.

I’m excited. The apartment is probably slightly smaller (square-footage-wise) than our place in Beacon Hill, but I think we can do it. We pushed through a lot in that tiny apartment: we studied for the Bar in the humid weight of summer with bags of frozen peas on our heads, and our friends slept on an air mattress that spanned the entire width of our living room. This place will be no different. Again, we’ll lug our groceries up four flights of stairs. (I think I’m understanding why the rent was such a deal, now.) I’ll frustrate myself, tripping over things that have no place, and then walk outside and do a the-hills-are-alive twirl at all the culture within stumbling distance.

This is the first time we’ll have normal relationship distance, not spending our days at the same school or office building. When we pick up our wine glasses at night and ask, “How was your day?” it won’t be a pleasantry. We actually won’t know the answer. And the branching out that we’re finally doing will make the tiny home seem right, I think. Go a little farther during the day, and you want to pull back even closer at night.

(Obviously, still feel free to send along any and all resources and tips on living in a mouse-sized apartment. Sans mice.)

(I hope. Oh God.)


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