Archive for Uncategorized

August Book Group Launch

Happy Birthday to me!
I mean soon.
Not yet.
But you’ll know because I’m a LEO
and that’s how we roll.

I’m turning 44 in August. I like to spend some time leading up to my birthday thinking about the past year and seeing where I’ve been. Because I don’t keep a daily journal (I just never have for longer than a couple months at a time) I take a look back at photographs, I look through emails and I talk to my friends and family about what they’ve seen as well. Bearing witness is an enormous part of my life and I am truly grateful that I have trusted and beloved people I can look to who also do the same for me. Maybe it was growing up Jewish. I’m not sure exactly, but something about seeing and being seen is a lynchpin of my spiritual practice and ritual. I have come to believe that consciously witnessing and also letting myself be seen deepens my practice of true solitude.

So this year a ton happened for me, not the least of which was an enormous relocation geographically and also in terms of pace. I moved from San Francisco to a tiny town of 711 people in western Massachusetts. The next town over, you know like when you say, “I’m going into town”, has a population of 18,168. I changed major things in my personal movement practice. Plus there’s a garden out in the yard now that spits up salad like a champ. Thanks, Ginger!

One of the things I have loved getting back in touch with is reading a book. On paper. And I’ve been re-reading some heavy hitters that have absolutely changed the fabric of my life. For my birthday year, I decided to start a book group. Each month I’ll facilitate a small group of people and we have a virtual meet-up to discuss the book.

The book for August will be Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance. I love this book so much and return to it in pieces often. What I’m looking forward to is reading it again, cover to cover, in this hammock.

Because I really want to chew the fat on this thing, please be committed to spirited participation and discussion before claiming a spot. Also I am going to try and make each month’s group full of new people if there are a lot of people wanting to participate. These groups are my year long present to myself and they are free for all of us. I’m really looking forward to it. Thank you, in advance, for making my year.

 

I’m Done with CLEANSING

Cleanse.
It has never sounded right for my practice.
From the very start it struck me sideways on a few different levels:

1. It smacks of moral superiority. One must get rid of impurities: bad foods, bad habits, bad weight, a kind of soul scrubbing through a culturally sanctioned and nutritionally hip process that celebrated doctors and gurus have repurposed from traditional eating ideas practiced for generations. It’s the boutiqueing and upscaling of something that is at its core absolutely regular and daily. It becomes not about relating to one’s own body, the food the earth offers, and the ways we change as the great world spins. The term’s undercurrent of guilt and shame is diametrically opposed to what the experience is about and it’s been scraping at my brain this whole time.

That’s me in the pink bandana. See? Still not skinny.

2. The word brings up a reaction of deprivation in people. The vision of a “cleanse” often strikes readers as a lonely and painful three weeks of sucking cider vinegar and cayenne out of a cocktail napkin and peeing fire out one’s butthole as a kind of rite of passage to purity. The Cleanse experience is about doing without, enduring, will power and perseverance through punishment. That’s like cramming every bad feeling from high school into three weeks and snorting all the cocaine you can get your hands on just to fit into a prom dress.  I mean, can I get a “Fuck That” from the choir here?

3. “Cleansing” is a secret diet. Let me clear my throat. CLEANSING IS A SECRET DIET. And I don’t believe in diets. They don’t work in an inside job kind of way, which is what matters to me as a health coach. Diets are cruel, shaming, restricting reactions to a culture that would have people of all genders living under the confinement of a body that’s Just. Not. Good. Enough. Sure you can lose weight on a diet, but so what. The big thing that happens with diets, as we know, is that not only are you tasked with gaining the weight back, your are also tasked with carrying the true weight of shame, exhaustion, disappointment, and self-loathing as well. While carrying physical weight can have consequences, I have come to understand through this work that the physical weight is only a manifestation of ways in which we cannot show ourselves true care born of, well, true love. You can be anyone you want and still practice loving oneself. A punk, a goth queen, an anarchist or a pudgy middle aged lesbian Jewess Holistic Health Coach with a cute dog. The word “cleanse” has come to be about losing 21 pounds in 21 days. Whatever.

I know many people find toes creepy, and to you, I offer my apologies here.

For two years now I’ve been leading these seasonal journeys with groups so people can take stock of where they’re at nutritionally, creatively, physically, and hopefully have some transcendental insight after a group journey. Because the practices contained in this facilitated experience are culled from so many different places: from various traditional, science-based food studies, fitness expert’s advice, client feedback, creative practice and habit forming coaching experience, it’s been a challenge for me to settle on what to name these journeys. For the duration of the series, I’ve been calling them “Cleanses” while sustaining this pronounced but hard to grasp unease with the title. As time has marched on, the unease grew to a point where I had to find the words to do it differently.

The work has moved from being named for the seasons to incorporating a notion that feels central to both an experience and goal I have as a health coach and in life. It’s been big enough that the words were tattooed on my toes in 1997 in Olympia, Washington when I set out on an adventure called Sister Spit that fundamentally changed the course of my life as a creative person. The enormity of the gratitude I experienced, and have continued to experience around this path can, in many ways, be traced back to this lineage of writers that continues to evolve each year. That gratitude and creative writer impulse is at the root of how I came to be a Holistic Health Coach and it continues to guide my work with group experiences and individual clients.

Hence, Lucky Devil.

And here’s the new word I finally came to for these seasonal expeditions:
RESTORATION.

These experiences are designed to help people restore the conversations they have with their bodies, to bring back honesty, gratitude, FUN, and forgiveness.  They are designed to restore people’s confidence that they can get in the kitchen, that busy lives can also be lives that provide space for what truly feeds the bottom line of each individual life experience and they are designed to be about taste and pleasure. These experiences bring people together for support, laughs, creative practice and exercise. Together we gather to restore our senses that we are capable of caring for ourselves, we can enjoy it, and we are not sentenced to a life of tasteless lentil loaf and soul starving notions that a steady stream of diarrhea is a sign of success. These experiences are not about exorcizing demons, but rather rubbing elbows with them as we bring in new friendly companions of walking, of writing, of meandering through the halls of art museums and leaving our desks for lunch so we can remember to chew.

The next round is scheduled for July 11, The Lucky Devil Summer Restoration.

Fuck Cleansing.
You’re not impure and never have been,
You Lucky Devil, you.

 

Thrift Score Feelings: Sesame Creminis with Field Garlic

Ginger’s New Ride

I always want the expensive one. Especially if it’s a mushroom. I want the morel. I want the chanterelle. I want the porcini and the black trumpet. But sometimes, it’s really not in the budget to be blowing my wad on fungus. Let’s face it, sometimes there’s not even a wad to blow. And now is one of those times. And thankfully, instead of going into an infantile state of counting out all the scarcity smokescreens on my block, I find myself looking instead to the ways in which life isn’t about what I’m doing without, or the fungus I am daydreaming about, but rather what I have to work with. Now, as I wrap my head around a new set of living demands (for instance I’ve never had to budget for, say, a riding mower before), I’m also presented with a pile of new lenses through which to observe how my kitchen continues to be a perfect place to work it all out.

Enter the humble cremini mushroom (Agaricus bosporus), otherwise known as the Baby Bella. As a tender sweet young thing, this mushroom looks like a brown button mushroom. If left to its own devices, it will grow up to be a portobello mushroom, the vegetarian steak of fungus. Spring has been a slow time coming in these parts, teasing us in a calendar dotted with a couple seventy degree days and then a string of clouds and rain, with one staggering, and kind of bananas, Passover snowstorm. As such, my cravings for different foods has been a bit strange as the weather has changed and I’ve been easing off the Lucky Devil Spring reboot. While I am tending toward wanting lighter foods and smaller portions, my flavor cravings are still steadfastly earthy and umami.

Free from the wildNow, speaking of the mower, as the snow melted and life began popping up all over the yard, one thing I noticed was clumps of skinny green wispy things in gangs dotting the perimeter of the lawn. Holding court on the outskirts around the woods, I couldn’t help but investigate a hunch from working in a co-op for years. Sure enough, when I went and rolled one of those greens around in my fingers the scent pummeled me with joy: field garlic. My love of garlic pre-dates my love of vampires, although I do tend to like both in steady rotation. But this new life of finding it growing wild in my yard is really something special. After making sure there was plenty to harvest so I didn’t kill off the possibilities for years to come, I set out to incorporate the Little Darlings into my lunch with my modest mushrooms. I imagine that between the affordable mushrooms, the free garlic and the rice, this lunch would cost less than a dollar for anyone partaking, even including the exciting oils, seeds, and vinegar. Plus, it’s just divine tasting.

Sesame Crimini Mushrooms with Field Garlic

Handful of Field garlic
*If you don’t have that handy, substitute with Spring Garlic and greens OR 3 cloves diced garlic
3 crimini mushrooms, sliced thin
1t coconut aminos OR tamari
1t ume plum vinegar
2t olive oil
1t toasted sesame oil
black and white sesame seeds
1/2c cooked rice seasoned with rice vinegar

Make sure you have prepped rice ready to serve this one. I season a 1/2 cup with a drizzle of rice vinegar and sometimes and tiny bit of toasted sesame oil. Have it waiting in a bowl you really like.

Dice your garlic, whichever kind you are using for this. Then slice up your mushroom real skinny. You don’t need a ton of mushrooms because the little suckers pack a lot of flavor. Heat your olive oil in a skillet on medium/low and cook your mushrooms until they are floppy. Add your coconut aminos or tamari in here with the garlic. Continue to cook for another 3-5 minutes on low. Now turn off your heat and add the ume plum vinegar. Toss everything and serve over the rice with a sprinkle of sesame seeds on top.

When I sat myself down in front of the window and put this in my very favorite bowl, I got that same feeling I get when I get a perfect score at an estate sale or in a thrift store. I mean except it tastes better and is more nutritious. I really hope your enjoy it as much as I did.

On Creative Worth, Self-Respect, Scarcity and Deep Fear

I got a pretty nice letter this morning from a founder of a wellness website. She said she’d found my writing, liked my work and would love to have me guest post on their site. It’s pretty much like the other website I used to write for where wellness writers are crowd-sourced or they submit work with promises of having traffic driven to their personal business sites and getting more exposure. And, well, it’s true.

In that case, I wrote for a site that had close to a million likes at the time and on the days my articles appeared, lots of people throughout the globe clicked on them. I’d get a thrill, obsessively checking as the numbers grew and grew that day. But they were clicking on work that had been edited within an inch of its life, all of my personality, my love of the profane and my penchant for run on sentences: POOF, vanished. So when people came to find me, I wasn’t what they had looked for. Here was a woman less polished, less traditionally professional, and certainly without the coiffed headshot or yoga pose that goes with many wellness practitioners. WHICH IS GREAT if that’s how you actually are. But I’m just not. I’m pudgy, I still can’t do my hair right at 43 and my expression of femininity is decidedly tomboy for mainstream readers.

After maybe a little less than a year of sporadically sending articles to this site, I read this article in the New York Times about how many writers are being solicited to GIVE their work away in exchange for, well, Nothing.

Traffic. Likes. Exposure.

The writer, Tim Kreider, talks about how most of the people who ask him to write for free, besides The Huffington Post, aren’t the man but still, these people, these strangers, have the balls to just ask you for shit for free. A THOUSAND WORDS, and in this case, they want it copy-edited and with IMAGES to boot PLUS, they wanna OWN the shit. They won’t even let you post your own work on your own site once they have it. FOR FREE. So after I read his article I made a promise that I just wasn’t going to do it anymore except in ways that made true meaning for me either in my work, in my community/ies, or in my gut.

I wrote to the editor of the enormous site, rife with cash-generating ads and links, built on the backs of unpaid writers and expressed my concerns. The editor, once so chatty and friendly, never wrote me back. No thank-you. No conversation. Nothing. Over the next week, I felt overcome by fear, like his silence was a sentence. Like: How Am I Going to Get My Name Out There? I tossed the “free advertising” argument around in my head over and over, panicked and sweaty, but every time I felt ready to cave, or particularly mired in economic fears around my plans to move, or just awash in your garden variety self-doubt or loathing, I’d write an article and as I edited it to send in to the big fancy site and have my name up in lights next to famous featured practitioners, my heart would sink. I’d try to imagine someone calling up my contractor friend and just ask them to replace a window real quick for free. Or I’d think about the oncology nurse I’ve known since she was 19 and picture her leaving her family, getting child care and going to the hospital for a few hours with no compensation but the good feeling in her heart. Would she do it? You know, she might. But would anyone have the audacity to ask her to? No. This is why I pay for music. This is why work in trades with people that have meaning. This is why I sit in front of painters’ works and let my heart beat loud and fancy at witnessing those things I love and cannot accomplish.

Since then, I’ve gotten no less than 10 letters from web editors asking me for free content. All come with the promise of exposure and all come with the stranglehold that says once I do this work, FOR FREE, I give it to them and forfeit my rights to my own words. I feel thrilled to say I really have developed enough self-respect over the years to stick to this. And I bet you have to. 

Your creative work, no matter what medium, is sacred. You get to set the terms that work for you. And so when you get to that place as a sculptor or a tattooer or a dancer or a pianist that feels like you gotta get on your knees and be at the mercy of a big organism using your work in a way that feels shitty, just know that people believe in you. People out here believe that your skills are worth better than crappy editorial headlines pulled out of someone’s ass with an algorithm and a “success” formula. Be yourself, make deals that feel fair to you and don’t leave your chest tight when your head hits the pillow. Your creative voice is truly one of the only things you will ever own in a world that is past privacy and awash a viral culture. A culture that values a virus as something to strive for, when we all know that naturally occurring viruses are built to take their hosts down.

So here’s a template in case you feel like crafting a nice letter to the next editor who wants you to surrender your creative magic to their administrative skills.

“Hi Person…

Thanks so much for getting in contact. I appreciate your reaching out. I went to your site and read the guidelines you have posted for submissions. After doing many guest blogs for sites that feature unique content from wellness writers, I came to a place where I’ve decided not to do this kind of work anymore. One of the things I really have going for my work is that I’ve been a writer for years and I have a very distinct voice. I’ve found that when I send my work to people, it gets edited to fit the voice of that place and that doesn’t serve me in the long run.
In addition, the idea that a site would own my work and reserve it so I couldn’t even republish it on my own site with no fiscal compensation feels unfair to me. I support people making a living for their work and I generally pick and choose doing unpaid guest posts on sites that foster a sense of community or collaboration with other practitioners, artists, writers, or communities I have longstanding relationships with. The promise of “hopefully getting some traffic and more exposure” to my site is not enough for me to give away rights to my creative work.
I’m hoping that as holistic workers we can find ways to really participate in each others worlds more, rather than pointing and clicking, and that creative work that takes such care and time will be valued in a way that has true meaning and participation. So for me, if I am not being paid for being a long time professional writer, I look for a connection of exchange and true support that is about more than traffic and likes.
Again, I thank you so much for getting in touch and wish you well in your endeavor.
Warmly,
Sara”

 

**** UPDATE: After I sent this response yesterday and wrote this post about it, I actually got my very first letter back from an editor. It surprised me in the best possible way and left a door open for productive conversation.

Here’s a piece of it: “…after your feedback I completely agree with you a few of the guidelines are unfair. I have removed the line about re-publishing from the guidelines, authors need the right to re-publish their own work. As for editing, we never edit any of our pieces – in fact seeing as we don’t I have removed this stance from our guidelines also…. Thanks for the feedback, you have definitely opened my eyes ”

Here’s to speaking up. And I’m looking forward to sending her an article in which I own the work and we work together in the spirit of collaboration.

Hippie Dust: How We Fell In Love

Throw some hippie dust on that!

And so, with that direction bellowed over an enormous bowl of popcorn one fateful evening about 12 years ago, began my love affair with nutritional yeast. Actually, the love began as many affairs do, in a state of acrimony and denial with undercurrent of a tug pulling me toward something inexplicable. My first taste resulted in a somewhat crumply face of disgust as compared to a popcorn bowl full of delicious melted butter and salt with fresh ground pepper. But something about the nuttiness of the unexpected yeast pulled me back. And in no time at all, I was all in.

Nutritional yeast has an enormous benefit to many people over its cousins brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast. This yeast, grown mostly on beet sugar is an inactive yeast which means it can be incorporated into a nutritional arsenal of a system that is often challenged by other active yeasts. (Of course, ask your doctor or nutritionist their view on this for your health.) Hippie dust is a dynamo of benefits packed into a magic flourish over foods for a nutty, almost cheesy, flavor. Look here:

1. Vitamin B-12- This is a crucial nutrient for the body involved in the production of red blood cells and for producing and maintaining myelin, the protective insulation around your nerves. Most sources of Vitamin B-12 are animal based, so nutritional yeast is a major player in the nutritional well being of vegans and vegetarians. One tablespoon will provide an adult with a full day’s supply of B-12, if you can keep the tastiness to that!

2. Protein- 2 tablespoons of hippie dust contains 9 grams of protein. That’s more than in 1 cup of whole milk (8g), a large egg (6g), or one oz. of beef (7g). It’s a wonderful source of energy for your workout mornings.

3. Fiber- Fiber is one of my personal favorites in terms of gut health and functional digestion. It also helps our systems regulate blood sugar giving us a more sustainable even store of energy throughout our days and at higher levels. Nutritional yeast provides 3 grams of fiber per tiny serving.

4. Gluten Free- Not only a boon for the Vegans out there, but this treat is also gluten free providing all of this power with an anti-inflammatory ease.

5. Folic acid- Nutritional yeast is also a great source of folic acid. Especially important for women out there trying to get pregnant or carrying future citizens of the planet, folic acid is known to prevent spina bifida and other major birth defects. For those not planning to get pregnant, folic acid is still important for its role in cell maintenance and production.

Here’s one of the easiest recipes in the world and it’ll wow your dinner guests as well.

1 head cauliflower
1T olive oil
1t black sesame seeds
1/4c nutritional yeast
Sea Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350. Take all the ingredients and drop them in a mixing bowl. Toss it with your hands until all is coated. Spread on a cooking sheet with parchment paper or foil and cook for about 20-25 minutes. Cauliflower should be a golden light brown. THAT’S IT!

*Originally, I wrote this article for a wellness site here on the web that I’ve decided not to write for anymore. As it has grown to a pretty impressive size, the site continues to insist on not paying its writers for their work. (COMMON PRACTICE) Not even a dollar. Not with coupons or anything, just “Since we do not compensate contributors for posts, we’re more than happy to include a byline and your brief bio containing links to your website, Facebook, Twitter accounts, which we will promote when your post goes live.” I suppose I got lulled into this belief that I had to continue, after many years as a professional writer, to work for free to promote someone else’s content. In the agreement I found myself also letting my voice be compromised, which is actually my favorite part of writing. When I inquired to the editors about when they planned compensation, fiscal or otherwise, for the writers that wholly drive their content, I got no reply at all.  So I decided to simply write here on my own site and accept that I may stay small, but whatever. At least I’ll stay true. 
This text has been edited from its original form to be reprinted here.

Compare and Despair: Keeping Our Eyes on Our Own Papers

I went to five different high schools. With so much of my energy being shuttled to alleviation of social discomfort and trying to assimilate to puberty, cliques, smoking weed and soccer, I did my best to limit the time I spent studying so I could get away with the best possible grades for the least amount of work. That often meant straining my little eyeballs trying to see what Kevin Phillips came up with on his chemistry paper.

Which is to say, I cheated.

I’m not proud of it, but frankly, I don’t feel too bad about it either. I wish people would have told us all what I suspected, and WE ALL SUSPECTED, to be true: most of what we learn in high school, we will never use again. School is for training our brains, teaching them to stretch and think and bend and open. Unfortunately, some of the schooling I had also trained my mind to close but I suppose that’s a whole other post entirely. Have I ever, really, needed anything I learned in high school chemistry? Not really. And even though I was good at it, did memorizing all those state capitols help my life? No. No it did not. But the ACT of memorizing has helped me. The ideas behind chemistry, the cause and effect of things has really shaped me. The ways in which seeing that putting two things together in one way can be an act of genius and one small difference can blow shit up. Chemistry is ripe with metaphor and THAT has been a deep benefit for me. Chemistry has been the undercurrent of the alchemy that happens in the kitchen. What has happened over time with love, with age, with atrophy and stretching.

What about the cheating, though?
Well. I liked getting away with things. I liked the velocity of getting over, the feeling of rebelling and subverting authority. I liked the thrill of wondering what the outcome might be with what I could manage to get by on with my wits and what I’d have to explain away to my parents who were Very Busy doing everything they could to make my future solid while I listened to The Cure and tried to figure out how to keep my head above water in the many predominantly white suburban John Hughes high schools of my life. I picked up some cigarettes, Marlboro reds, and learned to pack them into 4 inch bullets. I picked up little metal pipes full of shitty weed and snuck out of school dances. I picked up the tool of a Malleable Truth and carried it in my backpack from school to school, sanding down my edges to fit in anyplace I could. And while all this happened, I missed out on the offer of learning in school. My brain could have been doing all kinds of gymnastics and honing itself to be a ninja in the universe of interesting information but instead,  I treated it like a stoner on a stinky couch outside a frat party in Santa Barbara.

The kicker is, I find myself doing it today in still more insidious ways that are much more costly. An old friend was talking about how she was going to stop looking at fashion magazines because it was making her feel so bad. The way advertising somehow manipulates us in comparing ourselves with images on a page. There’s a few ways to wrap our minds around how this NEVER serves anyone too well.

This photo was taken in 2011. I don’t really look like this. I didn’t look like this then, really, and I sure as hell don’t look like this now. Since this was taken life took a lot of difficult turns and I added some pounds, hacked off a foot of my hair and grew all the gray out, plus I shot it of myself from the most “flattering” angle above. And it has at least two different romantic filters on it. But I like this photograph so I use it in press and print. I’ll use a new one with the gray hair soon or I’ll mix it up.

1. The “I’ll Never Look Like That” Edition: Thankfully, this one can be pulled apart in all manner of directions. First of all, she/they/he doesn’t look like that either. We all look so many different ways at different times of day, in light, with digital manipulation, angles of a shot. We are people of full dimension, not just two, so the reality is, we don’t even look the way the image says. I know this because I am a photographer. So there’s that fiction. The second thing is, let’s say for argument’s sake that the model really DOES look like that all the time from every angle, no matter how much sleep they got or who recently broke their heart or whether or not they actually have the flu. If that person ALREADY looks like that, then you’re off the hook. Somebody already has the job of looking like that and you can get busy doing the job of looking how you already look. No one else is doing that important job. So we need you. Not even your identical twin looks like you exactly so get to the business of living in your face and your thighs and your ass just the way they are. This is the body you have. It’s fucking great no matter how it looks because it is the vessel of your life. Without it, you join the ether. Without it you do not get to write, to do a tarot reading for your best friend. You don’t get to roller skate or swim or watch your kids learn to read. No singing. No listening. No plump cherries to bite into and no getting laid. So this Edition of Compare and Despair isn’t going to work in your favor.

This is what I looked like yesterday. Size 8 billion overalls, hat on bad hair, no make-up, and I still kinda like it.

2. The “They Think I’m Fat/Crazy/Nerdy/A Loser/Fill in Your Nightmare” Edition: One time I went to a beginner’s hip-hop class in Brooklyn. I had just been through back to back breakups with not one, but TWO women who felt ambivalent about their feelings for me. What the fuck, right? (Side note, Don’t date people who don’t think you’re fantastic. Getting your self-worth from trying to convince an ambivalent lover that you’re the one is a sure way to misery. You are already the one for someone or several people who are wholeheartedly stoked to hang out with you.) So I’m already feeling less-than and I head to this class to have fun! To exercise! (Which at the time I did not do so trying something fun was key). To be with great women! I get there and it’s in this gorgeous old studio, vaulted ceilings and original red looking wood with swirly accents way up high and the front of the room entirely covered in mirrors. Before the music even started I could feel my throat tighten down looking at the room reflected back to me. Scads of easily stylish beauties greeting each other and limbering up like a Fame outtake. Me? Jesus. I’m the pudgy girl at the back, sweats and an ill-fitting t-shirt to go with my bruised ego. The music starts and I can’t get my body to do anything the other bodies in the mirror are doing. This is the warm up. I start to feel humiliated by what people must think of me, oozing my incompetence into their fun place. It barely takes any time at all. So little, in fact, it’s like a sad miracle of a thing how quickly the imagined judgment moves me to sobbing. I bolt from the class, a bad after school special moment in real life. God, it’s so horrible just to type this out. More judgement so many years later like, “Poor you and your luxury dance class problem. Inept Pudgy Lesbian is so sad and alone.”

BUT THAT’S HOW COMPARE AND DESPAIR WORKS! It’s actually none of my business what anyone thinks of me. Whether they think I’m pretty or ugly or loud or selfish or fake or funny or devious or dim. My business is to keep my eyes on my own paper and either learn the dance or don’t. This was about giving my body movement and treating my battered little heart to some levity. I cheated myself out of that and left with quite a little internal gash.

I am not a minimalist.

3. The “Why Don’t I have That Couch” Edition: There is nothing like an issue of Dwell Magazine to help this one hit home. In some ways this one is harder for me than the fashion magazine one. This one is all about What I Don’t Have. And there are a million versions of the ways I don’t have the things I don’t have. There are the modern boho versions of it featuring interesting globetrotters who select the perfect items to bring home and place Just So in their incredibly homey and chic living rooms with giant dangly light fixtures and bold patterns and colors you can sink into on oversized cushions and guzzle micro aged bourbon and talk about film together after the retractable screen disappears. There’s the sleek, minimal modern version of Things I Don’t Have because I have no fucking restraint and don’t know how to make minimal work no matter how many times I study it. I don’t understand negative space in writing, in paintings, in design or in conversation, really. But I love it and it defines what I am not. And in this case, what I cannot afford.

And isn’t it always the couch?
It is.

I have always wanted to buy a new couch for myself, somehow exclaiming my independence as a woman. A real, live, adult woman. All these people in the magazines with all their beautiful houses and their stuff and their COUCHES, they count, and so therefor I do not. Because I have never gotten myself a new couch. And that is how Compare and Despair works. I look at a photograph of a couch in an image and I let it define my life, if only for a moment, into nothing at all. Which really pisses the old dog off, who would like me to give him dinner now, thank you very much.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I can’t go back. I don’t believe in regret. I made the choices I made and so did you and here we are. But I think when I go to my new ceramics class next Monday, which I have always wanted to do, I will bring curiosity with me, wondering what it is I’ll learn to do. I’ll keep my eyes on my own paper and only look to the other clay in the room to admire it, wonder at all the possibilities, and watch myself be a beginner in a world that would only value a master. Maybe I should write Kevin Phillips and say something. But I don’t know what.

Anyhow, I hope I get super dirty in messy clay.

Goodbye San Francisco, Notes on Ex-Lovers, and Welcome Home with Chana Masala.

It’s been nearly three weeks since I got here to my new home across the country from my beloved San Francisco. It’s not that all its digital money boom entirely obscured its charms from me with the Google busses and the wall to wall boutique donuts. It would take more than that. I love that town. I will always love that town. The way in which I remember some of the women who have come and gone. I can always recall how that one smelled so good right behind the neck like pomade and a campfire, or the other one, how she read me Raymond Chandler while I soaked in the bath. There was the first real true love who I somehow convinced, in true lesbian fashion, to stay on as my favorite abiding and loyal friend and that one who I don’t remember much about except how good she looked in those work-worn Levi’s every time she left. I always remember her leaving, which, as it turns out, is probably how the memory should go. I Hate to See You Leaving, But I Love to Watch You Go. All of those connections, like the city, are still easy in these ways to love. And with San Francisco, my favorite metropolis so far in which to live, I look forward to seeing her again, I know the exact angle of the sun going down on the bay in the Spring when I walk myself to a day game on a Wednesday clad in black and orange. I know the way the light starts to shimmy like a gown at the Oscars and the remainders of the old wood docks jut up out of the water right through the sequins. I know the way North Beach smells and which blocks off of Market used the sparkly concrete on the sidewalks so when you run over it, it hurts a little bit less at 8 miles. I love that city. But I am no longer right for city life itself and it really wore me the fuck down.

We moved to a town with a population of 711. There is no post office. No traffic light. Not one state route passes through the whole dang thing. No store and, well, no baseball stadium. But in this town, you can watch the bats come out when the sun trades places with the moon at dusk, the sky turns pink, then violet, then lazes its way to navy and finally black. It’s so dark, you look up and it’s like somebody powdered the canopy of night with sugar. A car rolls by maybe every 45 minutes. Maybe. We take the trash to the dump because no one comes to get it and the old dog can lumber around the back with me and no leash. He seems mad we waited until he was 15 to tote him out to paradise, but when the Spring comes, he won’t be mad about anything at all.

Plus, Elizabeth Warren is my Senator.
FUCK, YES to that.

I unpacked like a marine. Up before five and I just kept going until it was done. I always feel weird if the boxes are around. Since I left my home at 17 for college, I have changed domiciles 19 times. I have some ideas about what works for me. And the thing I have always known, is the kitchen comes first. Even before I really gave a shit about how I ate, something about the kitchen had to settle first. It’s where I always feel closest to some kind of connection to my foremothers. I’m not exactly sure why because Gramma Eva I don’t remember cooking very much and Nanny Bert cooked, but never seemed to love it. She loved to smoke these Parliament lights at the breakfast table with the glass top over a bagel and coffee. By the time I was six and old enough to get shipped to Jewish Grandparent Utopia on the gulf coast of Florida, she mostly seemed like she was waiting for the sun to drop from the hot sky so she could pour the Sapphire gin into a rough tumbler, squeeze in a lime, splash out some tonic and listen to the ice clink around as if Bach was conducting.

I remember my mother as a wonderful cook, but she always says I’m wrong. Meh, she says. But no matter what, we all ate together. All five of us. Every night there was a feast on the table for 5 effing people. That seems like such a feat to me when I think about it today. Keeping a house for a family, stitching them all together with brisket and clean laundry and floors so spotless, you might as well eat off of them. I remember this insane shiny wallpaper we had in the kitchen in Pittsburgh with massive cartoony flowers all on it and my mom tan from tennis, pushing her hair back from her forehead with the back of her wrist while she diced things. Something about my mom in the kitchen is the crux of what makes me feel, well, powerful.

I know. I’m as surprised about it as you are.

But that’s how it turned out. Nothing makes me feel more kick ass than inviting over a handful of favorite people and fanning out a spread of divine tastes for everyone. The more food restrictions, the better. I love a puzzle. I’ll try anything new. I like to listen to Sam Cooke, Aretha, Ray Charles and Leonard Cohen. I like cello when I cook or the sounds of a Giants game with Jon Miller calling it. I like them better when we win, but, fuck it, I’ll take any of it. And I will cook my ass off.

Anyhow, all of that to tell you, we had our first handful of incredible people over last week. In honor of our vegetarian, there was a salad, a mujadara, and a chana masala based on the Gingered Chickpeas recipe from the wonderful book 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. I wanted something warming and cozy and this recipe was perfect. It also happens to be good for vegetarians, vegans, plus the wheat and gluten challenged. I served it over brown basmati rice. I’m sharing my variation with you here.

 

Welcome Home Chana Masala

1 Large tomato. (if you don’t have one, use a small can of diced)
1 small red onion, chopped
8 lengthwise slices of peeled ginger (each 2 in. long, 1 in. wide and
1/8 in. thick) Chop 4 of the pieces coarsely, and chop 4 into matchsticks.
1 dried serrano pepper, soaked in 3/4c water, liquid reserved
8 cloves of chopped garlic
1T coriander seeds
1T cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2T sunflower oil
2t hot paprika
1t turmeric
1/2c chopped fresh cilantro
3 cups cooked chickpeas (I cooked mine the day before with an onion)
1t garam masala
1t sea salt
1c vegetable broth
Juice of one lime. I like a big fat lime, myself.
First get your dried pepper in warm water to soak and get all puffy. While that happens, you can put your basmati rice on to cook. When the pepper is all puffy again, put it in a blender with its attending water, the tomato, onion, chopped ginger (not the matchsticks), half the garlic, coriander, cumin, salt and the cinnamon stick, busted up. Puree it all together and you should get a speckled dark red sauce.

After that, heat the sunflower oil in a pan and put in the ginger sticks. Let it sizzle for about 30 seconds and then add the rest of the garlic. Cook for another minute. Everything should turn light brown. When that happens, pour in the sauce from the blender. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the paprika, turmeric and 1/4c of the cilantro. Let the sauce come to a simmer again and sit for 5-10 minutes.

Now you get to add your chickpeas and a cup of vegetable broth (or water). Bring the whole shebang to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, covered, and go stir it once in a while. Cook for about a half hour. The sauce should thicken and the chickpeas will get good and soft.

Now stir in the garam masala and the lime juice. Serve over rice with the remaining fresh cilantro used to garnish each bowl.

Welcome home.

 

Why A Poem is Not Just a Poem.

Those line breaks aren’t just higgelty piggelty crap, yunno?

Poets are the sculptors of our verbal life. They make the mundane hunks of language we throw around shimmer and dance and halt and sit and stay. They arrange and they carve and revise and then start all over.

Poets stew.
They writhe and wrangle.
Poets mete it out and
They can sit in a
Slow, rolling boil
For a month at a time
And then a year.

The way poets paint a life, we can’t just bash through a paragraph or a page like it ain’t nothin’. It is. And so, at this time when the season brings us holiday mayhem, I’m honored to mull a cider, stud an orange with cloves and watch it bob around a cinnamon stick until the bubbles come. Then I leave the pot on the stove on a low-down blue flame whispering at a copper bottom. A hand carved wood ladle dips in and retrieves a glass of the cider for me. In my right hand I carry the mug and in the left fist I gather a throw blanket, an old one. I get situated and pluck a thin volume from the shelf. I turn off my phone.

I stop at all the line breaks.
I let my eyes spill down the page.
I remember to breathe.
Sometimes I read it all to the dog.

And on a good day,
It goes a little like this

On Being Asked ‘What Is Poetry?’
by Jill McDonough

I ask that a lot, ask a lot of students that. Whitman,
Dickinson, Dietz. There are hundreds of ways
to say you don’t know, most of them
pretty good. Anne Bradstreet, Anne Carson, Anne
Sexton, Annie Finch. Right now I teach Understanding
Literature
. They didn’t Understand
that people still write Literature, that it’s alive. Bishop,
Pinsky, Lowell. It took me three weeks to make them
stop saying they don’t like poetry. No to Baudelaire.
Ditto John Clare, Gwendolyn Brooks. What the hell
are you talking about?
 Don’t like poetry. Don’t like food.
Vessels, buildings, days. Don’t like lumber, time.
Poetry: whatever we say it is. We’re
in charge. Homer, Akhmatova, Frost. I don’t know
art, but I know what I like
. Here’s
what I like. Fresh chalk on my hands, marking stresses
on the board. a PLUM. a PURple FINCH: three
iambs. Hopkins, Herbert, Fred Marchant. Then reading
aloud from Alan Dugan who, I admit it, is dead. But not
much: the purple prick of that skunk cabbage is still
erect in its frost-thawing fart gas. Basho, Bronte, Keats.
Berryman, Ashbery, Yeats. Poetry means you get to say
whatever whatever you want. Your professor might close the class
with Dugan’s prick in her mouth. It’s poetry, so it’s
allowed. Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? Sure.
Also, They Fuck You Up, Your Mum and Dad. What is poetry?
What is poetry? I don’t know.

What if it wasn’t a problem?

That’s what I’ve been asking myself a whole bunch this past month. It’s a simple question I’ve been toting along in the spiritual back pocket of my Jordache jeans like we used to have those combs in the 80s. I can’t believe what a difference it has made for me.

Here, I’ll show you what I mean.

Me passing a reflection of myself on my way to the gym: “I can’t believe I work out this often and I still have days when I cringe at my own reflection.”
Pocket: “What if it wasn’t a problem?”
Me: “Oh. I can just be grateful that my body works. That I am loved. That I just got to move my body and feel exhilarated. Maybe how I look isn’t today’s big PROBLEM.”

Or how about this:

Me at the end of a long day of not feeling productive: “I sat at this desk for 8 hours, didn’t finish my article, left emails on my desktop, didn’t make soup, and now it’s far too blustery to go running.”
Pocket: “What if it wasn’t a problem?”
Me: “Holy crap. What if productivity wasn’t the yardstick I chose to judge myself with today. What if I coached five clients really well, I took some time to pet the dog, and I read a ton of articles that inform my life? What if I let that be enough today?”
Pocket: “What if you are enough?”
Me: “Now you’re testing me, Pocket.”
Pocket: “Let’s talk again tomorrow.”

It’s just a tiny question that can get us out of a malaise or a self-imposed despair that we are not required to carry. You can turn around in your own prison cell and just walk right the hell out. Try it. You got nothing to lose but some sorrow.

 

Easy and Divine Asian Slaw

I leave in the morning for a working vacation in the beautiful Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, and as is usual for me, I’m still rushing around getting ready to go. I like to just pack it all in leading up to a departure so when I get on the plane, I sleep right the hell through it all. I’ve got my client folders ready, my business book downloaded, and my friend Lucy Corin‘s new collection ready to revel in. Have you had a chance to read any of her incredibly beautiful, funny, whipsmart, complicated, and devastating work? Well, she’s one of my favorites. So I am wholly thrilled to have her new book along with me. Plus… I made this to eat on my journey. I though you might like it,  too.

I am a lover of salad, but I tend to follow a few tried and true versions all the time. For this venture, I got out of my regular zone and plucked a bunch of greens from the shelf I don’t normally go to at first and I gotta say, I’m loving this concoction.

 

For the Salad
1 cucumber
1 fennel bulb
1/2 head napa cabbage, cored
1/2 bunch bok choy
1 carrot
1 mango
2 plums or pluots to your liking
1T black sesame seeds
1T  white sesame seeds

For the Dressing
1T toasted sesame oil
1T olive oil
1T ume plum vinegar
1T rice vinegar
1t tamari or coconut aminos
1T fresh grated ginger

Dice your greens in long thin strips. Grate your carrot. Chop your cucumber, plums, and mango into small cubes. In a separate bowl, whisk all your dressing ingredients together. Pour the dressing into the salad and toss thoroughly. Add in your sesame seeds and toss again. Chill the salad for 20 minutes to let the flavor set.

Get your grub on.