01 Jan 2016

there’s beauty in the attempt (and honesty)

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I have a friend coming over for brunch today and I’m pulling out all the stops: homemade blueberry waffles topped with fresh compote, maple bacon, fruit salad and brewed coffee. It’s been a while since I’ve had someone over–possibly because my home is my refuge, and I couldn’t imagine anyone in it because I viewed the slightest intrusion as a pillage on my sanctuary. Although I’ve been in California only a brief time (five months), it feels like home because it’s not yet blemished by all the history. Even though I moved apartments in the Brooklyn brownstone I once lived, I felt haunted by Sophie’s passing (among other things), and I could feel the weight of having grown up in Brooklyn and seeing it changed. And while the city has been remodeled to the point where it’s barely recognizable, I still have the memory of it. I still remember being a teenager, riding the subway, my feet on the seats.

In Los Angeles, there are no subways, and the streets are clean and expansive. People drive and I walk, and sometimes I’ll walk the eight miles from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica simply to feel space.

Last week, WordPress emailed my end-of-year report, which is kind of like an annual report for your blog, and I normally try not to look at these things, to concern myself with the business of numbers because numbers have a way of doing things to you, altering what and how your create. And it’s no surprise that this space had demonstrably more traffic when I was happy, and people seemed to fall out of the frame when I got sad. And then this put me to thinking about social media and how it can be brutally suffocating with everyone demanding that you be positive, happy and in a constant state of growth and repair. People want to read about your dark times only in the past tense, only when you’ve made it out to the other side and you are gleaming and dressing your wounds. There is so much talk, so much desire for that which is real and authentic, yet we see time and time again how people are rewarded for their artful representation of a coveted life. People want their darkness in manageable doses (that one book everyone reads/movie everyone sees) because possibly they have so much (or little) going on in their lives that they don’t want the burden of someone else’s grief. Rather, they reach out to light so religiously they don’t realize when they’ve been burned and blinded by it.

When I was a teenager, I kept losing PTA-sponsored writing contests because people always died in my stories. Parents can’t reward something that disturbing, a teacher once confided to me. Later, when I was at Columbia, a teacher asked me in my first year why people in my stories died and I was confused and said because that’s what happens. My father once told me that I hold on to darkness too hard. In response, I said no, it was more like I didn’t like letting it go. There’s a difference, even though at the time I didn’t know what that difference was.

 

I’m going to ignore what’s popular and inherently desired because I think that our work allows us to weed out that which does not serve us. I’m in this kind of purgatory where I’m not as low as I was a few months ago, but I’m not out of the woods yet and I feel this tension between the need to get better and the ache of giving up. Being in Los Angeles has given me so many things already–a new book, space, and the want of rebuilding a tribe when the old one didn’t serve me well. It’s hard, really fucking hard, to see the constant stream of posts that speak to how everyone’s life is so! fucking! awesome! when my life is anything but, but their life isn’t my life and there’s no joy in comparing myself to others and what they chose to edit and project out into the world, so all I can do is keep attempting, keep doing, keep working, and keep being my most honest self–even if it’s not as attractive as the world would want it to be.

I woke this morning and thought: well, at least it’s no longer 2015.

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21 Comments

  1. I bet people are much more receptive to stories where characters die after the popularity of George R. R. Martin’s works. Happy new year 🙂

    Posted on 1.1.16 · Reply to comment
  2. I like your honest writing. Happy New Year.
    On a side note-Have you ridden the metro rail in LA yet. It’s there, it’s just hiding and not nearly what other cities have

    Posted on 1.1.16 · Reply to comment
    • I haven’t, just yet. Ironically enough, the first time I saw the inside of the train was when I watched the movie Tangerine!

      Posted on 1.2.16 · Reply to comment
  3. ghetran wrote:

    I love ur writing! Going through a tough phase myself, so I know what you mean. The readers love muffin recipes and traveling tips. :-/

    Posted on 1.1.16 · Reply to comment
  4. I appreciate your authenticity and honesty.

    Posted on 1.1.16 · Reply to comment
  5. Ya know what? I consider you brave, because I can relate to almost everything you are saying! I had a pretty messed up life and I held on to alot of things but i made it through. You are who you are and i think honesty makes a person more meaningful! Have a fantastic New Year, and Enjoy your new Home! 🙂

    Posted on 1.1.16 · Reply to comment
  6. i love the way you write..when i was a kid who used to write stories,it was always sad and somebody dies. i never knew why. i honestly can relate to a;most everything you say..happy new year!

    Posted on 1.2.16 · Reply to comment
  7. chetpr00 wrote:

    I can totally relate to your writing, nobody wants to read about the sad, lonely emotions that one experiences. Everyone wants their next dose of the happy pill…Happy New Year

    Posted on 1.2.16 · Reply to comment
  8. glenda1203 wrote:

    You writing is real and raw! Keep writing! Keep being you! Those that enjoy the realness will stick around. My fav quote: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind” ~ Dr. Seuss ~ Happy 2016 to you! May it be filled with much peace, strength and healing!

    Posted on 1.2.16 · Reply to comment
    • I love that you’ve mentioned Dr. Seuss. I’ve been reading children’s books and lots of Oliver Sacks essays lately. 🙂

      Posted on 1.3.16 · Reply to comment
  9. Your beautiful writing evokes a range of emotions and feelings in me. I read Sophie’s passing with tears in my eyes. I think your writing is so moving because it expresses the human condition – something that isn’t always sugar plums and rainbows! Keep telling your story. Happy New Year! Sandra

    Posted on 1.2.16 · Reply to comment
    • Sandra,

      Thank you so much for your warm words. I still read that piece about Sophie and get choked up–even after all this time. Thank you for reading.

      Warmly, Felicia

      Posted on 1.3.16 · Reply to comment
  10. The waffles look so yummy! I love how beautiful your writing is and I will pray tonight that God gives you the strength to become happier:)

    Posted on 1.3.16 · Reply to comment
  11. Fit Hippy wrote:

    I love how you got me thinking about waffles! I’m making some tomorrow.
    YUM!

    Posted on 1.5.16 · Reply to comment
  12. deemallon wrote:

    I really love what u said about there being a difference between holding on to darkness and not wanting to let it go. That will stay with me for a while, I can tell.

    Posted on 1.11.16 · Reply to comment
  13. YOu said ” I kept losing PTA-sponsored writing contests because people always died in my stories.” but i think that you really are good at writing. Dreams are only dreams if you will give up.

    Posted on 1.19.16 · Reply to comment
  14. I used to be all about the food blogs – I loved everything about it, how food molds us and how we in turn manipulate food and memories in an unending cycle, how it was a window into someone else’s life, how inspiring and warm and cozy and lovely it was.
    And then one day I quit the whole thing cold-turkey because all of the silken cheer was suffocating. I didn’t have a wonderful husband or a precious baby and my dreams scattered in tatters around my broken feet.
    I simply couldn’t do it, couldn’t pretend not be both completely disbelievingly envious and ashamed that just as I couldn’t do puff pastry from scratch, nor could I shape my life into something as adorable and photogenic as those macaron-lives they turned out by the dozen. Even their trials seemed like distant fairytale obstacles, just a plot device certain to be overcome by the deserving, even though I’m sure they didn’t seem that way for them.
    It’s been years and I’m only now thinking that I might be able to go back to cooking and the joy I found there instead of thinking about emotional labor and broken hearts.

    Posted on 2.26.16 · Reply to comment

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Characters are delicious. When I was small, I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with books and my imagination. It’s a strange, magical thing to live your life inside your head, but this is what I did. Long, sultry summers formed a backdrop for one of the many worlds I’d created, complete with a cast of characters who felt so real you could touch them. This was more than inventing an imaginary friend or anthropomorphizing a stuffed bear; my characters were fully-formed people who had their own personalities, a particular way of talk, and facial features I’d cobbled together from television shows and magazines. They clasped pearls around their thin necks and wore sweaters and shoes made of silk and dyed blue. They were carriers of credit cards, plastic rectangular shapes I’d only seen on TV — a far cry from the crumpled bills and pennies we hoarded. My characters were breathing Frankensteins, only far less frightening. What made them real was they refused to follow a script — they rarely behaved the way I wanted them to.
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Denis Johnson once said that dialogue isn’t about what characters are saying, but what’s left unsaid. The leaner the dialogue, the bigger the bite. Darkness fell. The summer in 2005 was unseasonably chilly, and we wrapped ourselves in light jackets and thin cotton sweaters, watching the author of Jesus’ Sonchain-smoke and dole out advice with humor and humility. We were at a writer’s conference where we workshopped our stories during the day and mingled with boldfaced names in the evening. This would be the summer before I sold my first book and I was floored that my teacher at the time, Nick Flynn, found something honest and worthy in my essays that would become my memoir, The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here. Back then, I was painfully shy and prone to giving violently awkward first impressions, so instead of the cocktails and conversation, I chose to sit on the wet grass and listen to writers whom I admired. One evening, Denis Johnson gave a talk on dialogue.
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Dialogue is difficult. I often think of it as the power-lifter of novel writing because it has to operate successfully on several different levels. Not only does it have to move the story forward, convey information quickly, and grant narrative breathing space (because who wants to plow through pages without an exhale), but it also has to reveal core character truths. Dialogue delivers what narrative can’t — a voyeuristic, in-depth look into the minds of characters through what they say, and more importantly, what they chose not to disclose. Characters come to life when they speak. We visualize them as living, breathing people who have a particular way of talk, a specific view of the world and their place in it. While the author has dominion over the narrative, serving as your tour guide through the story, the dialogue serves as the wild card, the wrench that could usurp everything you’ve just read and what you’re about to read.
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