The Bottom Before the Top

March 5, 2015

The bad news is, making time for one thing mean something else has to be left behind or forgotten completely. This may be news to you, but there are only so many hours in the day. And one can only do so many things in the too few 24 hours we are given. When I first started writing this, I thought it was going to turn in to a zen-like think-piece on how we all just need to slow down and appreciate shit. But for real, I can only do so much whilst staying insane. That wasn’t a typo.
I’m not saying being crazy is a life goal or anything. Being less stressed is something I definitely aspire to, but I don’t mind the idea of being somewhat…off. If I wanted to be normal I could be. I think I’ve made enough decisions to indicate I steer away from normal and gravitate toward something else. Insert gif of Seinfeld shouting, “not that there’s anything wrong with that!” That being normal.
Being normal has its appeal. It seems easy. Is it? I don’t know. Perhaps more stable, predictable. Those things I like. Fluctuation and the unknown aren’t my favorite, so I can see why people would choose a lifestyle that helps decrease both. I can’t seem to do that for some reason. Writing is perhaps the poster-child of stepping into the unsure. There are no guarantees. You can work for years and no one may ever read, let alone pay for, your work. Yoga is similar. You can be passionate, capable, and amazing. None of that means you can make a living on teaching. These are careers—that doesn’t seem like the right word, way of life maybe?—that require something else. And I’m not talking about the freedom to decide your schedule and having to file 1099s. That is just an added bonus.
No. What I’m talking about is the oft heard phrase, “I really couldn’t see myself doing anything else.” I mean if I had to, sure. But I’m fortunate at this stage that I get to try to do things. I get frustrated with both at times for their ROI. I admit it. And I don’t even get paid for writing. (I know, right?)
This brings me back to my initial point, and something I’ve mentioned before. I don’t have a ton of free time. I’ve decided to put more of an emphasis on writing. I want to take it more seriously. That means other things fall to the wayside. This is a sad truth that cannot be avoided. Before, I would chide and berate myself for not doing more, more, more. As if raising a kid and everyone making through they day unscathed wasn’t enough. But I don’t want to do that anymore. It would just add another thing to my to-do list. And frankly, I’m all tapped out. I don’t really like to half-ass things, but that’s what I tend to do when I attempt to cram everything in. Or I just quit.
But enough whining. I went to my writing group on Monday and brought a section from my novel. My dear, dear novel I refuse to let die. Most of the remarks and comments were positive, which inflates my ego and adds to my delusions. I think I feed off of both. But there was also that look in their collective eye of wondering where it was all going to lead. “I loved your first chapter,” they said, “but in this one, the story seems to fall a little flat.” GOD DAMNIT.
Since writing the darn thing in November of 2013, I keep telling myself that the story, the STORY, is my main character. Without her, there is nothing. Without her, there is no hope. Now is when this post is going to turn into a navel-gazing, new-agey reflection. I don’t have a story. I mean I do, everyone does. But I don’t know how to string all of my life experiences, failures, successes, and deviations into a fluid and consistent narrative. It all feels so segregated. Which is silly because I have most certainly been there front and center for each and every joyful moment and each and every heart-wrenching blow. Yet there is disconnect. So how can I expect to create something cohesive for someone else when I can’t even do that for myself? Even if I am making it all up? It’s almost harder this way. So I just have to keep writing. That’s they only way it will happen.

Questions

March 2, 2015

Journaling is awesome. And hard. My mother has a dresser drawer full of her old journals and her mother has entire bookcase dedicated to them. I kept diaries when I was little. They said things like “OHMYGOD Jordan totally kicked me at the playground. He’s so mean. Hopefully we’ll hold hands later.” Or “I like juice.” That’s real life, y’all.
Several years ago I was introduced to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In it, she recommends a few things to help break down internal barriers to get in touch with your inner artist. The one I most closely associated with was the morning pages. This is where you sit down, ideally right after waking, and vomit in your diary. This is a gross simplification but that’s basically what you do. Whatever comes into your brain, you put on the page. She recommends three pages, about thirty minutes of writing. Hopefully your inner demons and critics come out and you rid yourself of them to make room for creation. Three-page-days are rare for me. I mostly stick to two. I won’t say that they’ve cured me of anything. I won’t even say I’ve sufficiently broken down any barriers. Since beginning “serious” journaling almost six years ago, I haven’t even been able to stick to it regularly. I’m only on my third journal in my adult life! The journal from my 19th year on this blessed Earth was so outrageously sad that I threw it away. I regret that now.
But in the past few months, during this period of deep reflection, I’ve been writing nearly everyday. It has to happen with a few minutes of getting out of bed or it won’t happen at all. And I have to have started drinking coffee or nothing would happen ever. I admit, writing my thoughts, observations, questionable decisions down have helped keep me sane. My inner bitch stays somewhat rational and a few interesting ideas have cropped up.
When I started developing the idea for this project I wasn’t sure what it was going to be. I’m not even sure what I was expecting. Miracles maybe? I think I’ve made it clear that I like it best when things are easy. The thought of combining my morning pages and writing seriously every day contributed to my delusion that greatness was around the corner. That I haven’t broken through and written a stunningly compelling novel in the last few days, while disappointing, shouldn’t be surprising. But I am surprised. What’s up with that? Why is it so hard for me to keep my expectations in check? OK, maybe I didn’t expect to pen (type) the next Great American Novel. But I was hoping for a little more insight.
I read an interview with a successful agent that got me thinking. In it, he talks of a client who spent ten years writing his novel. I think Donna Tartt spent at least that writing The Goldfinch, for which she won the Pulitzer. There have sadly been zero indications that I have innate genius bubbling beneath the surface, begging to be released. I guess that’s fine. And also perhaps the point. One of my greatest challenges is that I have trouble committing to almost everything. It’s more of a revelation when I see something through. Wow, I’ll think, I finished something! (See The Goldfinch.)
I didn’t even get past the first part of Julia Cameron’s book. I got to the end of the morning pages section and was like, finally! A cure for what ails me.
My husband on the other hand has an uncanny dedication to things. A little over a month ago he started this diet that requires complete elimination of dairy, refined carbs, and joy. If you like eating protein and vegetables at every meal then this is the diet for you. If you think butter takes away from the integrity of broccoli and green beans or does nothing for steak, this diet is for you. And finally, if you like home cooking every. single. meal. This diet is for you. Apparently, my husband doesn’t mind all of this. He has stuck to it, rigorously. Most times, I watch in stunned silence. It’s fascinating! He decided on his own to do something hard and is doing it. Other times I grumble at my healthy plate of food that I didn’t have to cook.
So, yeah. This project has no definition, rather very loose and vague intentions. I intend to write every day and see what happens. Maybe by committing to the act of putting words on paper, hopefully words that make sense when grouped together, I can start to define a more intentional path.
I have my writing group tonight and I’m trying to figure out what piece I will bring for their critiquing. Will it be part of my novel I am trying to keep alive? Or something else? So far all I have prepared are blank sheets of paper and a stapler. Last time I used no binding agent for my five sheets of paper. The pages weren’t numbered either so I spent a lot of time shuffling the pages around and putting them back in order for people to read. It didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in my abilities.
I’ve said before that process isn’t something that comes naturally to me. For a lot of things in life, there is a dedicated order one must follow to even have a chance. I think this is where I went wrong with my book. I thought I had already done the hard part. The actual writing of the book, in my mind, should have been the most difficult step of creating a publishable work. That there were many, perhaps years of, more steps involved triggered my fear button. I made the cross with my fingers and backed away slowly. For me, historically, the process has been mangled and garbled. For years I thought that was just how I did things. I tried to revel in my chaos and label it as part of my way of doing and being. It never quite worked.
Today I ask you for help. What are things you have done that work for you? Experiences you have learned from? Is this a break down, break through situation?

Aw, Yeah.

March 1, 2015

When I first started writing, I pictured myself turning into Carrie Bradshaw from the critically acclaimed and always awesome Sex and the City. Couture and all. In one episode of SATC, she said she decided she wanted to be a writer and then made herself a writer. I’m paraphrasing of course, but you get the idea. I guess I thought that’s what I was going to do, too. That by deciding it, it would be so. Granted, I was very young and knew little of how the real world worked.
For instance, I hadn’t heard of the 10,000 hour rule. In case you are unfamiliar like I was it’s the thought that to really master something, you must put in upwards of 10,000 hours. It was talked about four decades ago, specifically pertaining to chess, and Malcolm Gladwell discussed in his book Outliers. There has to be some innate talent and then you have put in a significant amount of time to achieve anything great, he claims. This idea both terrifies and relives me, to be honest. In real talk, I have about 2-3 hours a day of real free time. I use the qualifier real because the kiddo naps for 1.5-2 hours and after she goes to bed there is about 3 hours before I go to bed. So sure, cumulatively that is upwards of five hours, but that would mean ALL of my free time would be spent devoted to writing. I know myself well enough to know that I would burn out if I used every millisecond toward any one thing. It would be a huge sacrifice. No yoga, no vegging in front of the TV, no reading. .
There are only so many hours in the day. And Sadie doesn’t like it when I’m on my computer. I digress again. The point is, let’s say I spend two hours per day writing. In order to get that magic number of 10,000 hours it would take me, like, upwards of 13 years! Did I blow your mind just now? Because I certainly blew mine when I did that calculation. I’m also not great at math, so if a correction (in my favor only) is needed, let me know. Surely I’ve already clocked in close to a couple thousand. But that means I’m only 20% of the way there. That’s a daunting thought. So why continue? Where is all of this going? I’m not really sure to be honest. And that’s the point. It’s a fusion of tests and questions that I am hoping to flesh out into something I care about and am proud of. That’s the scary part.
The relieving part is that by that logic, it can’t be easy for anyone. We are all working our asses off with the vain hope that one day we will produce something with a even just a modicum of of merit.
But back to Sex and the City for a minute. There was and is a lot about that show I find appealing. The clothes, the girls’ attitudes, and the notion that four women could have careers they loved that empowered them. Among other things. I’ve already stated that I’m an Law & Order fan, so Chris Noth helped, too. I can’t say for certain that Carrie Bradshaw is who inspired me to be a writer. She’s a fictional character after all and wrote about sex. Something I could never do out of fear of shaming my parents’. They’re ministers and it just doesn’t feel OK. Not that anyone is banging down my door to ask about my sex life.
When I was in grade school, I wrote a lot of stories. Oddly, the main character was often named Carrie. I reread some of these a couple of months ago. Some of them are pretty dark. Suicide, self-mutilation, and bullying were a common theme. It’s a wonder I wasn’t shipped off to some sort of institution. Maybe after watching SATC, I began to narrow the focus. Same with reading Maureen Dowd’s columns in the New York Times. I liked that they, more or less, got to write about whatever they felt like. I don’t often feel comfortable sharing my opinions with people, unless I’m drunk then watch out, but maybe have too many opinions and wish to put them out there.
I started practicing yoga and writing more seriously around the same time. Coincidental? Maybe, maybe not. Each provide me with something inexplicable. Yoga changed my life. It is one of the first things—I hate using such an informal word to describe it—that I stuck with for any considerable amount of time. I’ve touched on how I quit or tire of things quickly before. When I started practicing yoga, quite by accident by the way, it never dawned on me to ever stop. It became a constant in my life that has helped ground me and encouraged me to think in a less linear way. I’ll talk more about that later.
Writing has done something similar. Though I admit to sometimes thinking about stopping writing because I fear I’m terrible at it and no one wants to hear my musings. But truth be told, that’s also part of the fun. The push and pull. The risk. At times, it’s almost passive aggressive. Like, I can say whatever the fuck I want and put it out there. To the public. (*Very small public*)It may or may not get read, but that’s beside the point. I want to think that writing has helped me become more confidant. But I wonder if the opposite is true. I’m not certain of this, as I mentioned I’m very far from the ideal 10,000 hours, but perhaps writing makes me more vulnerable. A conscious choice since I’m the one creating these pieces and publishing them on the Internet. But I’m certainly opening up myself to dialogue and criticism. I guess that’s growth, which I won’t discount.
At this point, you may be wondering if this whole project is going to be thousands of words of me thinking about myself and commenting on my mind’s meanderings. Fair question. I’ll get back to you.

Day Two

February 27, 2015

I’ve been practicing yoga for nearly eight years. What does this have to do with writing you ask? Let me tell you! A lot of the principles that apply to a successful yoga practice are also imperative for writers.
1. Body on Mat for Practice
2. Butt in Chair for Writing
Also with both, it is helpful to have a special-to-you place. When I prepare for class, I put on comfortable clothes, I bring my own mat, and I try to arrive 15-20 minutes early to imbue myself with yoga studio ambiance. When writing, I go to one of two places in my house. I don’t have a dedicated work space, yet, so it’s either the couch or the kitchen table. Both of which I really like. I need silence to concentrate, some sort of beverage, and a window.
One of my favorite teachers said something striking that applies to this project, and my yoga practice, that I have yet to be able to incorporate into my writing. Or completely understand, to be honest. What she said was this “our normal tendencies seem to appear when we get on our mat. If we are inclined to hurry and be thoughtless to what we are doing, that will show in the practice”. She advised us to try to do the opposite of whatever felt natural.
How the fuck am I supposed to do that? I thought in the most yogic way possible. In my practice, my tendencies are to push and work as hard as I can. That is not my tendency when writing. Maybe it’s due to the window or something, but a lot of my dedicated writing time is spent staring off into space rolling the same thought over in my head. Maybe what I’m saying is, well I’m not sure. I was about to write that yoga feels natural. But often times at the beginning of class when we are sitting or moving slowly, I feel resistant to getting up and moving more vigorously. I like being still and stretching and feeling calm. But once I get into the flow, I totally go with it. I start to crave the sweat, the edge, the challenge to keep my breath even and full.
When I wrote my novel, it spilled out of me. There wasn’t a ton of plotting or outlining. The words were there. Though as you may recall, not the story. It was easy. I think that’s why I truly and completely believed it would get published and I would become a NYT bestselling author. I didn’t build from the ground up. Meaning, there was no foundation, i.e. no story. When it came time to edit, I did try to wait the recommended minimum of six weeks but only lasted four. I stared at the 67,000 words I’d written and had no clue where to start. I couldn’t even tell which parts worked and which parts didn’t. This was partly due to my attachment to something I had spent hundreds of hours on, but also inexperience. I started with the easy parts. Typos, misused or misspelled words, run-on sentences and the like. So while the book wasn’t polished, it was definitely cleaner. I printed it out, as I had been instructed via On Writing by Stephen King, and went through with my red pen looking for plot holes and inconsistencies. I cleared up the glaring errors, dusted it off and declared it ready for beta readers.
More inexperience crept in here. This is by no means a dis or a criticism of the gracious volunteers who read my work and took the time to make comments. They were all great. In fact, so many of them said they loved it, my delusions of grandeur blew up and I fired off several queries to prospective agents. What I needed was someone to tell me this “this is a good start, but it needs a ton of work.” One person did tell me that, but I chose not to pay too much attention. So many others had praised it, why listen to criticism? I admit, it was a deliberate choice. She was my one writer friend, so she knew what she was talking about. But my natural inclination was to go with what was easy. And that was deciding to be finished. It didn’t work out the way I wanted. That’s on me.
Now that I’m choosing to do the work, I have to figure out what the antithesis looks like. It may seem obvious to you, but it’s not to me and that’s why I’m here. How do I get into the flow and crave the sweat, the edge, the challenge? How do I train myself not to be afraid of the process?
As Vizzini said, you have to go back to the beginning. So I have. Well, sort of.
I enrolled in an online essay writing class. I joined a writing group. I found a critique partner. I think my hope is that if I can put my work out there and have other writers help me see where I go wrong, I can learn to craft my story and find my flow.
Have I chosen the wrong genre? Being an avid and near obsessive fan of Law & Order doesn’t mean I have to write crime fiction. My novel is a mystery, btw. At the time I wrote, it felt natural. And in a way it was. As I said, I wrote a “story” in two months. It was one of those things you hear successful writers say. That it has to come from somewhere as if you can’t help but write the story. And dammit, that book did. I digress.
As I’ve written this out, a little thought keeps bubbling up. Process has never really been my thing. I’m one of those annoying people who buy put-it-together-yourself furniture and doesn’t like to read the instructions. Mostly, I start trying to figure it out myself. This has merits, but if the damn instructions are RIGHT THERE, why wouldn’t I follow them? So maybe my natural tendency is to lean toward instinct and intuition, tools that work for me in many ways, but not here.
Crap.

Just a Little Somethin

February 27, 2015

I want to be Tina Fey. Wait, wanting to be someone that is not you is creepy. Let me correct myself. I want to write funny, biting, thoughtful pieces that are seen or read by millions. I’ve already got brown hair and glasses, so I’m at least 20% of the way there.
This is probably not a surprise to anyone. Not because you know me and are familiar with my inner-most desires of being a successful comedic writer and creator. In fact, you’re probably scratching your head and trying to think of the last funny thing I said. No. It’s unsurprising because who wouldn’t want or aspire to walk in her footsteps?
This isn’t an homage to Tina Fey’s many, and there are many, accomplishments. This is an exploration in to what it would take to write something I’m proud of and have people read it. And since I haven’t made you laugh yet, I’m reducing my advancement to 10%. So where to begin?
The natural place to start would be writing. Duh. How else can you be a writer if you don’t write? Google advice on how to “become a writer” and you will find multiple variations of the tip “to be a writer, one must read a lot and write a lot”. Also, “write what you know”. But this has recently been disputed. Unless you have first hand knowledge of or experience in sword fighting, nefarious love triangles with people who turn out to be your third cousin, or the new best way to make a PB&J (I would read that), maybe write about something exciting that you made up. Or better yet, stole from someone else. (See? Jokes!)
Being inspired is the best and easiest part for me. I create lists, make loose plans, then sit back and reward myself with a glass of sparkling wine. The next day I’ll check my progress and see that I stopped working before I did any actual work. I like wine, what can I say? What I find difficult is pinpointing the best place to start, going to said place, and starting. I hem and I haw. I ponder and daydream, then my kid is awake from her nap and it’s too late.
Eight years ago I decided to I wanted to be a writer. So I did what any burgeoning writer would do. I began my first novel. It was going to be a book loosely based on my experience as a hairdresser. I got about 5,000 words in before I realized I didn’t know what the actual story was. I had content, sure, but there was no story. No compelling character arc to carry the reader through. This unfortunate metaphor would crop up often for me.
I stopped writing that book and started a blog. Of course I started a blog in the aughts, who didn’t? It was…ok. Throwing together 300-600 word “think pieces” or, more realistically, “here is some shit I feel like saying” made me feel like I was closer to my goal. Though to be honest, I still hadn’t exactly formulated a solid goal. More like a blurred vision with money and accolades waiting for me at the finish line.
It may not surprise you that I stopped doing that, too. Sometimes when I feel like seeing how far I’ve come—AKA OMG who wrote this horse shit—I’ll read back over some of those entries.
Then I moved back to Chicago from the Bay Area and started writing personal essays. Or, longer and more thoughtful versions of the earlier iteration of my blog. Though I’ve added to it over the years, from its inception in 2009, there are only 25 posts. A sad average. While I learned that I liked sharing my thoughts and experiences with people—from afar of course, I’m scared to death of actual people—for some reason, this blog too felt intimidating. And rather than work through things slowly and at my own pace, I stopped writing all together. I don’t know if this is a familiar tale. Person wants to do something, thing scares person, so person ignores it. Person feels guilty, incomplete.
Then I moved to New York City. Wow! That’s where Tina Fey lives! I never met her. But I did write a novel. Yeah, the person who couldn’t even write the occasional blog post wrote a whole freaking novel. It was OK, not great, but a good first attempt. This was just over a year ago. There were a lot of good elements in my book as well as various places for improvement. I did a decent first round of edits, considered it finished, and assumed those aforementioned accolades and piles of cash were soon to come. Sadly, and most expectedly, I was mistaken. I could write all the most popular platitudes like, the market is so saturated, you have to write several novels before you have a publishable one, and people are blind to my novel’s brilliance. Most of those are true. But what I found to be the harshest reality is I don’t know shit about writing long form. I received notes back from prospective agents that while my writing and voice were very good, the story wasn’t there. Dammit. The dreaded non-story again.
Instead of trying to fix the story and create intrigue where there was none, I again ignored it. I thought if I stepped back, read a ton of books and tried to enjoy life, some sort of epiphany would come and my problem would be solved. Four months later, no such epiphany. I can say my writing continues to improve, but where I’m in trouble is story telling. A most essential tool to a good book.
Much contemplation and expensive therapy appointments later, I’ve started to wonder if my inability to tell a decent story is a direct reflection on me. What is my story? I don’t know. So that’s what this is. This being my attempt to formulate a goal, a real and attainable goal, make the list, plot the steps, and then take them. One by one. And tell you all about it. This is my story.

I do appreciate you being ’round

August 12, 2014

As someone who has struggled with both mild and severe depression, Robin Williams’ suicide has affected me deeply. I’m always saddened when a person dies from what feels like a preventable circumstance. But when a person reaches their absolute worst and the only way out is to die, my heart aches for them and their family.

I’ve been there. I’ve felt all was lost and believed I would be better off dead. When one feels suicidal there are complex emotions and feelings involved. It isn’t transient: I don’t feel like eating soup today or I’m bummed that there’s a hole in my second favorite shirt. It isn’t even a feeling really. Depression that severe, that desperate, that powerful becomes you. There is nothing else. Can you imagine what it must be like to be certain that your life isn’t worth living, and that you are also unworthy of love or help? That the people in your life might actually be relieved to be rid of you?

Words are thrown around when suicide is a headline. Words like waste, shame, selfish. None of these touch the reality of a person living a suicidal life. When I was overwhelmed with wanting to die it seemed the opposite of selfish. I thought if I died, it would be selfLESS. Then no one I loved would have to suffer my shitty existence any longer. When life got too hard for me, it wasn’t because I was tired of doing dishes and balancing bank accounts. It was because every single thing I did every single day felt like Sisyphus straining into the boulder. I felt trapped in my own grief and sadness and what sounded like a never ending voice in my head whispering “there is a way out, you know…” It’s excruciating. It’s physical, it’s mental, it’s physiological. Everything in your body is working against you.

This may surprise people who know me. I exhausted myself in public pretending everything was normal. Over my near thirty years of life, I have worked to perfect the perky smile, the little jokes, and small talk it required to be around other people. I would return home or put my daughter to bed then cave in on myself. It all became too much. Maybe that’s why depression has such a stigma. Instead of sitting in a corner at a party and crying my eyes out I faked it. Instead of being honest with people, I pretended I was as normal as they. But what if they also were faking? What if they too would rather join me in the corner?

Tempted as I was, and there were days I came close to making the plan, I was able to say loudly enough for someone to hear “I’m reaching the end of my rope and if something doesn’t happen soon, I will die.” I started therapy the next week. I’ve been going ever since. It wasn’t laziness or weakness that kept me from asking for help sooner, it was because I didn’t know if a) I could be helped or b) people would even want to help me. I hope I never get back there again. But I may and hopefully I can find it inside myself, amidst all the pain and evil whispers, to reach out as often as it takes.

Hi. My name is Beka and I suffer from depression. If you or someone you know needs help, don’t wait, drop everything, get help. In the meantime, hug the people you love and tell them you’re grateful they are in your life.

Frittata and More

April 23, 2014

Sunday I got the bright idea to make an Easter brunch. It would only have to feed my husband, two year old daughter, and me so nothing over the top required. I decided to make something I hadn’t cooked before. Not because it’s a difficult or complicated dish, but why would anyone want a quiche with no crust? That’s basically what a frittata is. But seeing as how we had two cartons of eggs and no flour…

The recipe seemed simple enough. Whisk eggs with cream, and sprinkle in salt and pepper. I added a cup of grated cheddar, undoubtedly more than the recipe called for, then slowly poured the mixture over my butter-sautéed onions and spinach. As an after thought I threw in some garlic because garlic/onion/spinach go hand in hand. Right?

I followed the directions in my Cooks Illustrated cookbook, gently drawing my silicon spatula through the eggs, until large curds started to form. I waited “patiently” while the crust formed on the bottom of the pan before shoving it under the broiler. Two observations: first, don’t cook a new dish when you are blindingly hungry and second, read the instructions more than once. How did I read 5 to 7 minutes when it clearly says 3 to 4? That’s a big difference.

The frittata sat under the fire for just 90 seconds too long. When I pulled it out, instead of a lightly browned and bubbly top, it was crisp and unmoving. When I cut into my hastily prepared Easter brunch for my family, instead of fluffy and moist, the eggs were rubbery and dry. I sliced it up anyway and brought out our plates with the frittata and a freshly made fruit salad. My daughter yelled “pizza” upon spying the triangular shaped concoction. Sadly, it was not.

As I bit into my crustless quiche, I was immediately met with an overwhelming garlic taste. For years I have claimed that there is no such thing as too much garlic. I stand here today, head in hands as I admit I was wrong. My quick toss morphed into nothing short of eating a clove of raw garlic encased by burnt egg and cheese. Needless to say, my good intentions also fell a bit flat.

The moral of this story is making a new dish is comparable to writing a first draft. Often times it’s going to be terrible, perhaps even unrecognizable. Perhaps you toss in random things you have lying around in hopes of creating something special, innovative. When you offer it up your inner voices may try to convince you writing (or cooking) should be left to people with innate talent, good looks, and most importantly, not you.

But I tell you now, I will make more frittatas (and more quiche because crust) and I will write more stories. First attempts are meant to work out kinks and find a good balance of ingredients. Keep cooking and keep writing. Garlic blobs or bad dialogue be damned.

Piano Lessons

April 11, 2014

Everyone in my family has some sort of musical talent. And I mean everyone. Both my dad and my step father play the guitar and sing. My mother can still play the flute and sings. My step mom is the church choir director and plays sax. My middle sister Sarah has a beautiful voice and has won state singing competitions. And my oldest sister Lis always got the lead in her high school plays: Oklahoma, Prelude to a Kiss, and some play where they were on a boat. And then there’s me. Sure I can hum and sing along to a song, but only if my slightly nasal voice is masked by a group or I am in the privacy of my home. But no one ever heard me sing and thought, I should try to develop that. 

I’m sure many people can relate to parents cajoling you in to one form of creative musical expression or another. Mine was piano. I wasn’t asked if I wanted to learn the piano, my parents informed me they had signed me up for the lesson slot following my sister Sarah. Sarah could already play pieces that required both hands at the same time. Though I hadn’t asked for it, there I would sit in the back room at Carolyn’s hippie house. Her lesson room was carpeted in old beige shag. Plants and Tibetan tapestries covered every square inch that wasn’t used by the upright piano or Carolyn’s chair, where she would watch and correct. 

“No, no, no,” she would say. “You have to have more of a delicate arch, your fingers should want to move on their own. Your body wants to play the piano.”

Instead of the dainty arches Carolyn wanted, my fingers more closely resembled hands that had gone into rigor mortis. But despite my body’s protest against the piano, every Wednesday afternoon I thumped out Row Row Row Your Boat while her cat judged at me. 

After my half hour of brain-searing torture was over, I would hand her a check one of my parents had written and wait out on the concrete stoop. She welcomed me to wait in her house, but I felt thirty minutes was enough. Plus I ran the risk of breaking things. 

Once I had waited inside—my parents were always late—and I was inspecting all of her books and ornamental figurines. She had been in the restroom when I accidentally dropped a glass Buddha statue and it chipped. Horrified I set it back where I had found it, put the broken chip in my pocket and stood stick-straight by the glass door until my father rolled up in his blue Dodge. From then on I decided it was better if I just waited outside. 

Carolyn instructed me to practice everyday but it was hard to find time. Between school and not wanting to practice the piano, I really couldn’t fit it in. The one time I did choose to practice outside of my weekly lessons it was 7am on a Sunday morning. This was around Christmas time and I was wearing a matching teal sweat suit with a polar bear on the front and pink and grey striped gloves. My mother and step-father liked to keep the house Arctic cold. 

Given I didn’t often rehearse, my repertoire was limited and somewhat plunky. Our piano sat in the living room off the hallway that led to my sisters’ and my bedrooms. Keeping with the season, I decided to try to play some of the Christmas hymns out of our Hymnal. 

I must have been giving it all of I had because my oldest sister, who had ten years on me, stormed out of her room in her nightgown. Her hair was all over the place and she had made her hands into fists that were held in close to her hips, her arms locked.  

“What are you doing at this ungodly hour?” she wailed at me, her face red with rage.

I thought better of reminding her that it was Sunday, and therefore all hours were Godly. I shrugged and continued hammering away at my rendition of  “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. 

“Stop playing right now, Rebekah.” She used my full name to try to get under my skin.

 I wouldn’t so she took one of her fists and punched me across the face. I was stunned. She hadn’t really hurt me. I mean I was only seven, how much force could she really have used? 

“I’m sleeping. Why are you trying to ruin my life?” She stomped down the hallway, not missing the two by four metal air grate that graced the floor in our hallway and screamed one final time. 

 After she slammed her door, I started to cry. Me and the door, victims before 8am.

My mother’s feet barely grazed the sky-blue shag carpeting on the stairs as she descended down on me. 

“What is going on down here? Are you making all that noise?” she said.

“Lis punched me.” I said.

“What? Why on Earth would she punch you?” she said.

“Because I’m playing the piano at an ungodly hour even though it is Sunday.” Of all people I thought my mother, a Methodist minister, would understand.

“Rebekah, 7am is too early to play the piano on any day. Go to your room and apologize to your sister when she gets up.”

I couldn’t believe it. The one day I had gone out of my way to practice the piano, no one gave a shit about it and I was being sent to my room. 

“Well, I’m never going back to piano if my hard work is going to be met with violence,” I said.

“Rebekah, you don’t want to quit do you?” She said quit with such malice I didn’t argue. I guess I didn’t want to be a quitter.

Lis must have felt guilty for punching a seven-year-old across the face. For the next year, she bribed me into going to my piano lessons with clear Pepsi, Cheetos Puffs, and an on-time pick up. The arrangement satisfied me for a while. But eventually after months of Carolyn’s cat and I scowling at each other, I realized I couldn’t play one more stinking note of sheet music.

I decided to bring this up with my mother on the way to school one day. My mother was driving and nodding along to a story on NPR about recycling and composting. Lightly running my fingers over the peeling window tint, I kept my gaze safe from hers.

“Mom, you know how I hate piano?” I started. 

I felt her eyes on me. “Hate? Hate is a very strong word. Are you sure you hate piano? Don’t you think it would be better to reserve such a strong word for things that merit hate? Like Nazis?” she said.

I dropped the subject, because what could I counter with when Nazis were brought up? But she didn’t make me go the following week. Or the week after that. Or the week after that.

What’s for dinner?

April 9, 2014

It seems so simple. The ingredients can vary. You can choose whatever you like. There are probably one million options to make the perfect burger. You could almost say having a good burger directly correlates to your quality of life.

I take a good meat, cheese, lettuce, pickle, onion, bun concoction as seriously as the next gal. I prefer a toasted bun with mustard but that’s me. I’m simple that way. When I was younger my dad like to grill burgers. They were pretty good. My mom preferred to drive us through McDonald’s or Whataburger. I thought they were pretty good too.

When I was fifteen, I went to Paris on a modeling audition. I had been invited to go after an agency had viewed my portfolio. I know what you’re thinking. Burgers and modeling? Hardly the grilled meat and cheese combo.

Before arriving in Paris I was super excited about being cultured. That’s what I would think as I stood in front of my full-length mirror, donning my most American outfits-smoky eye included-and tell myself. I’m just going to be so cultured and sophisticated. One thing I hadn’t really considered was that I wasn’t what one would consider an adventurous eater. More blatantly put, I was not cultured in the art of fine food. Now, you might be sitting there thinking what’s so adventurous about French food? It’s basically a pound of butter and myriad ingredients. Am I right?

However, it all looked different once having arrived in Paris. I mean, you order a plate of french fries and they bring you a fork and a gravy-boat sized serving of mayo. So after my mom would indulge herself in delicious and authentic French cuisine we would run to the local McDonald’s and get me a cheeseburger. BigMacs were too weird. They have this sauce that isn’t pink but isn’t red. But it’s definitely not food whatever it is.

After I had enough of trying to be a cultured French model my mother and I were having our farewell to Paris dinner at a tiny cafe. My mom was pleased that I was going to try to eat at the same time as her and I was excited because they had burgers on the menu. No, reader, it didn’t matter that I had eaten McDonald’s everyday, at least once, for the previous 11 days.

My mother was busy people watching and smiling and I was busy missing cheerleading when the waiter brought our dinner. My mother’s plate held a perfectly grilled white fish with buttered (of course) green beans. My “burger” was a steak with a fried egg on top. The “fries” roasted potatoes. I burst into tears at the table declaring France the anti-Christ when it came to food. You might be wondering if I ate it. Oddly, I ate the egg and potatoes, deciding it was breakfast.

Looking back now, I laugh at myself. Who wouldn’t want a steak, cooked perfectly with crispy and buttery potatoes? Me. The girl who loves fast food and hates steak. Also, feta. Really hated feta as a young person. Now, I think I could subsist on feta and steak for quite some time.

Once back home in the States, I was able to leave that scary French burger impersonator behind and get back to normal food. You know, bun, meat, cheese, pickle, lettuce, mustard. And fries. Always fries. As time does, one hopes, my tastes matured as I grew older and I began to appreciate what you might say was cultured and fine food. I started eating peppers, eggs, and greens other than iceberg lettuce.

This was fortunate because when I turned 21, I moved to Chicago with my sister who had little tolerance for my unique eating habits. I lived in Chicago for eight years. Chicago felt most like home. I had family, routine, stability, and fun. Everything a girl could want. Except a great fucking burger. Over all of those eight years, I never found the perfect burger. I had tons of perfectly good burgers, some even considered gourmet. Most though were a far cry from a place I would consider going to 11 days in a row.

Now I live in New York City. A city that I should love, by all intents and purposes. This is a place where one can never be out of place. It should be perfect for me. There are more than one type of every single human. Hippie, angry, goth, douche, bro, model, normal, boring, loves food, hates food. Then there’s me. I don’t know what type of category I fall in to so, after being here for 14 months, I still haven’t found where I fit. Sometimes I worry that I’m an alien or a French person. Then I remember how much I love cheeseburgers and sigh happily that I’m just an average American. Self-absorbed, convinced I’m one of a kind, and constantly seeking perfection.

However, in this concrete jungle, I have found the most delicious burger. Maybe one of the best I’ve ever had. My husband and I wandered in to this East Village eatery after being refused from another haughty East Village establishment. “We take reservations, you know,” the 19 year old spat at us from behind the hostess stand.

Anyhoo, they fill my burger with pimento cheese, top it with briny pickles, and grill it to a perfect medium heat. The pimento cheese steams just so that it melts as you bite into it, but not so melty it runs down your chin. It’s fucking perfect.

What does all of this have to do with anything you might be wondering. Well, gentle reader I’ll tell you. Nothing. I love a good fucking burger and don’t care where I get it. I suppose I could also be saying that food is important and has significance in your life. Home is where the perfect burger is or something. For some it’s an aromatic mushroom, others a crumbly gorgonzola, perhaps butter pickles. Me? A pimento cheese filled burger in New York City, a griddled and slathered with tangy mustard burger in Austin, and my husband’s homemade burger salads. Sacrilege, I know.

Don’t Mess With Texas

June 26, 2013

Here I sit in my Upper West Side apartment on my sofa with dog, my husband, a cup of hot coffee, and no one threatening my rights or privacy. I was not up until after midnight last night praying, Tweeting, posting, rallying, or protesting. My senate was not working to pass legislation that affects me and not them. I didn’t have to worry that should I ever face the impossible decision of whether to carry a pregnancy to term, I would have to find clandestine, dangerous, illegal, and possibly life threatening alternatives to the safe clinics in existence.

Last night I closed my computer after fussing over an inconvenient iTunes problem and went to bed at 10:30, safe and sound with no worry of my fellow New York women’s reproductive rights or privacy being at stake.

A different story played out at the Capitol in Austin, TX. In my home state- a state that I love for its beauty, food, kindness, and family- women were fearful that they were not considered humans worthy of making a very personal, a very private, and a very hard decision. Women were fearful their rights were being stripped from them. My sister, my mother, my friends. These women, and some men, prayed, Tweeted, posted, rallied, and protested well into the night to protect their rights and their fellow Texan women’s right to a safe and legal abortion.

No one denies that abortion is a controversial topic. It pulls at our heartstrings, wrestles with our moral fiber, and makes us question when life begins. What is unfathomable to me is another person, man or woman, encroaching on a family’s decisions and personal life. That a pro-life defender believes that a woman can get “cleaned out” in an ER is just plain bonkers. (See quote from Rep. Jodie Laubenberg regarding rape kits.)

What has our great country and my great state come to when our elected officials are allowed to write legislation without fact, reason, or logic? In haste to appeal to future voters and conservative Christians the real issue is being ignored. Instead of inhibiting and drastically limiting a woman’s choice and her options, why aren’t we educating our youth (and elected officials) on sexual education and forcing stricter punishments upon sexual predators? Why are women being denied a choice?

The bill that one fearless women, Wendy Davis, stood on her feet for thirteen hours to filibuster doesn’t make special allowances for women in cases of rape or incest.  It is estimated that 1 in 6 women will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime and over half of rapes aren’t reported out of fear and humiliation. Is no one willing to stand up for these victims? Is no one willing to read biology books to learn about reproduction?

I’m glad of the outcome from last night. I’m glad that, for now, women are protected. But I am saddened by the circumstances in which our voices had to be heard. There are countless women and families faced with the option of late term abortion due to fetal abnormalities so severe, some medical professionals would call it cruel to carry them to term. What about those families? Shouldn’t they be allowed to make their choices in private? What hell that must be for those mothers and fathers. How dare anyone in this society inject their opinions and vitriolic hyperbole into these people’s lives and pain.

Some questions and answers are better left to those whom are faced with these difficult realities. That law does more than close clinics and eliminate late term abortion, it denies women validity. My body, my choice.

I stand with Texas women and I stand with Texas parents.


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