Category Archives: Uncategorized

Living without my mom

While my mom was dying, my biggest question was how I was supposed to live without her.

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My mom and me, on one of our last days together.

I came back to New York in August for two weeks, before coming back more recently for good. On my first return, everything felt surreal. I felt like I no longer belonged in my old life. There’s still a little of that feeling, but I’ve gotten a chance to reconnect with my friends—so many of whom have lost loved ones of their own. I’ve gotten to see how they go through their days, laugh and smile and love, while always keeping a part of themselves in honor of those loved ones. I’ve seen that I can do the same.

Sometimes I’m just going about my day, grocery shopping or working or walking somewhere, and it’ll just hit me. This happened to her. It happened. Then I cry, no matter where I am. I’ve cried in cafés; in the subway and on the street. In the soda aisle of the grocery store. What I love about New Yorkers is they mostly leave you alone when you’re on a public crying jag.

I have projects coming up that I’m excited about. A podcast, a music video, a party to plan, a few photo shoots; a new writing adventure and the same one I’ve been in love with since the beginning. And readings.

I was having a conversation with a friend earlier, and just had the thought: what if this is how I live without her? What if life just goes on, and it’s friends, and projects, and work, and occasional crying jags, on and on through time? What if the other shoe doesn’t drop? What if I never wake up crippled by grief? What if living without her isn’t something I need to know how to do—it’s just something I do?

My mom was the closest person in the world to me. She is never coming back. If I’m not crippled by grief, it doesn’t mean I didn’t love her and that I’m not devastated by this. It means we are all built to survive profound loss, and grief does not ruin us.

I’ve been back in New York for three weeks, and what these weeks are teaching me is that life goes on, whether you want it to or not. I don’t want to live without my mom, but I don’t get the choice. There is no “how.” The question is meaningless. You just live.

Why Purple Hair is Necessary

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Purple hair and red lipstick. BAM.

Last week I dyed my hair purple.

This would be a big change for a lot of people, but it was especially big for me.

I’ve been a commercial model and actress in New York for seven years. And I’ve been pretty successful at it. You won’t recognize me on the street, but I’ve landed modeling jobs worth many thousands of dollars. I’ve worked with a number of household-name brands. My friends periodically text me pictures of my ads that they see on Facebook and in other places.

Dyeing my hair purple basically torpedoed that. In fact, my agent emailed me fairly late the night before my hair appointment to tell me a big fashion brand wanted me to model their shoes. (Shoe modeling is a pretty huge market for petite models, which is one of my categories). I turned the job down so I could dye my hair.

It was an agonizing decision, but walking to the hair salon, I felt happy and weightless and full of light. I haven’t felt that way in a long time.

I called my mom after the appointment, raving about my hair. My mom was happy and supportive—but she also said she didn’t see why all this was necessary. I get why people would ask that. Purple hair is expensive, it’s a lot of work to maintain, it’s completely impractical—and my mom is an extremely practical person. My decision might seem incomprehensible, even self-destructive, to a lot of people.

This post is an attempt to explain.

I’ve been building up my professional acting career since I graduated from college—about sixteen years ago. First I moved to Philadelphia, and I occasionally booked work, but things didn’t really take off until I moved to New York. For about three years, work was very slow—if it happened at all. Then I got new headshots and got better about branding and suddenly I was getting a lot of auditions. And every so often I booked.

I loved the work. The down side was that I wasn’t doing plays and fun Indie movies like I originally envisioned. I was doing commercials. Not as creatively fulfilling, but still a lot of fun—and these paid. Instead of letting my artistic drive lead my acting career, I followed the money. In a lot of ways, I’m my mom’s daughter—practical to the core.

The audition process could be grueling, though. In a busy month I might go to six or more auditions in a week, sometimes three or more a day—spending all day running around the city. I would book maybe once every few months. And the auditions would often come in short-notice, making my life and schedule unpredictable.

I also had to maintain a certain look. I paid thousands of dollars for professional headshots, modeling shots for a portfolio, and a video reel. My hair had to look exactly the same in all of these, and match precisely what was on my head. If I wanted to change my hair, I had to change all my marketing materials—a huge investment, plus a rethink in terms of what acting and modeling jobs I was most competitive for, and an overhaul of my entire branding strategy.

So I had the same hair—a marketable brown, feathery and chin-length—for seven or eight years. It represented a compromise: I could style it bland enough to appeal to mainstream brands, but also edgy enough to feel like me when I wasn’t auditioning.

I kept this up for a number of years. And then last August I came down with a single, persistent, debilitating headache—and neck pain—that lasted for about eight months. I kept the grueling audition schedule up as long as I could, but eventually I had to scale back a lot. And coming out of it, hermiting in the midst of New York’s punishing winter months, I completely fell in love with a book I’m writing.

Coming out of the headache, I knew two things for sure: first, I wanted to write this book. And second, I never wanted to go to another audition as long as I lived.

An audition is an exercise in trying to gain another’s approval. You go in hoping you’ll be the chosen one. The one picked, out of all the other talented people, as the most worthy. I was deeply, deeply sick and tired of trying so hard to get picked. I was done.

This feeling didn’t occur to me right away. It grew, over the months I spent recovering from the headache and falling deeper into my story. I’ve always been a writer as much as an actress. I always knew I’d give up acting to focus on writing someday—and that I’d know when I was ready. I was starting to know, and my hair became a representation of that. I was tired of keeping it a certain way for other people. I wanted my hair to be for me.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the hairstyle I was most attracted to was as far from commercially marketable as I could get. Long purple unicorn hair. Hair that looks nothing like the people I usually played in ads: up-and-coming businesswomen and crunchy yoga enthusiasts and suburban moms, or at least a big corporate brand’s idea of those.

I let the idea sit in my head for a long time, to see if I’d stop wanting it. But I didn’t. I pinned pictures of people with gorgeous ombre purple hair. Rich violets and lavenders. Silvery highlights. I wanted all of it, and I didn’t care how much it cost. I got obsessed.

The day I dyed my hair purple, I felt like I always did on the last day of school or the day I quit a job. Like I’ve been carrying a weight around my ankle for a really long time, and suddenly the line’s been cut and I’m free. It feels right. It feels like a declaration to the world.

My hair is not for a market or an agent or a panel of directors and producers whose approval I’m auditioning for. It is for me. I’m a writer—a romance and fantasy novelist and a poet and a copywriter—and I am both deeply practical and wildly impractical, often in the same sentence. I am a human exercise in contradictions with bright purple hair, and I am exactly where and who I want to be. There is nothing about this I regret.

Things I am Tired of Hearing About Post-Election

It’s been a bad couple of weeks. Like a lot of people, I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to cope with the election results. I veer between never wanting to leave my apartment again and wanting to run out into the street and pick fights with people in Trump hats. I regularly promise myself I’ll stay off social media so as not to feed the anger and anxiety I feel on a regular basis—but a lot of the time I can’t stay away. And there are a lot of things I am already deeply sick of hearing.

Some of these things come from the other side—but others are from people who I know are progressives, and who probably mean well. Here are the ones that bother the most (right at this minute).

People who voted for Trump aren’t all bigots. I’ve had some conversations with people in my life who voted for Trump, where they defend themselves by insisting they’re not bigots themselves. They just like Donald Trump’s take-no-prisoners style or, um, his “economic policy ideas,” or they really hate Hillary. To which I say: no. I’m sorry. You don’t get to claim you’re not a bigot if you voted for Trump.

Being a bigot doesn’t just mean you’re painting swastikas on sidewalks and grabbing people’s pussies. It also means that you’re willing to look past actions like those for any reasons at all, including your own (perceived) economic wellbeing.

If things like bragging about sexually assaulting women and insisting we “register” all Muslim immigrants doesn’t have you screaming and running for cover and voting for literally anything else, no matter how “flawed,” including a piece of toast with Justin Bieber’s face on it, then I’m sorry. You just aren’t bothered enough by bigotry to claim you’re not one yourself.

You might not be literally joining lynch mobs or harassing women with headscarves, but you let it happen. You’re complicit. And bigotry needs that wider complicity, that willingness to close your eyes to other people’s suffering, in order to really do its damage.

Liberals didn’t listen enough to the racists. One emerging storyline about why we lost goes something like this: the liberal elite isn’t in touch enough with the white working class. And the white working class is tired of being called racist for thinking there are too many black people on public assistance. It is tired of being called sexist for that gut feeling they have about uppity ambitious women who just rub them the wrong way. It is tired of being called homophobic for not wanting to bake cakes for gay weddings.

We should listen to these people more. We should coddle and stroke them. We should allow their (racist, sexist, homophobic) ideas an equal place at the table. We should not, for any reason, call them out for being what they are (which is racist, sexist, and homophobic). It hurts their feelings.

One of the things I’m noticing is that many conservatives of this bent roll their eyes at the idea of “safe spaces.” That is, safe spaces for gay and trans kids; safe spaces for women and feminism, et cetera. But this discomfort sounds to me like the bigots are upset that the country is no longer a “safe space” for bigotry. They are asking us to make one for them.

Let’s not. OK?

We should “love everybody.” Calls to “love everybody” send me into fits of muttering rage.

I am extremely tired of being told that I should love the bigots. That divisiveness is bad and that intolerance happens on both sides. I reject that. I reject the idea that we should be tolerant of intolerance. I reject that we should be warm and fuzzy to people who think sexual assault isn’t a good enough reason not to give someone the keys to the country. I refuse to smile and make nice to those who think two big root causes of our country’s problems are brown people and “the gays.”

This is not a case of two equal and opposing viewpoints, where people on both sides deserve respect. This is a case of bigots vs. not bigots. It really is that simple.

Yeah, it sucks that Trump was elected, but now that it’s happened, we should all unite behind him. No, we shouldn’t. Now that he’s president, I believe that not one of us in good conscience should “unite behind” Trump’s bigoted, xenophobic, and harmful agenda. Including rolling back the Affordable Care Act, building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and cancelling billions in payments to climate change action initiatives.

The world is watching, and these things will be done in our name. I feel it’s my job to be as vocal as possible in my dissent, and it’s the job of every elected member of Congress with a conscience to do everything possible to stand against him.

Hillary was a flawed candidate. I hear this from conservatives and moderates, but I also hear it from liberals, many of whom think Bernie would have won against Trump. Some people have their panties in a wad about corruption and emails and, I dunno, Benghazi or something. Others say Hillary had “too much baggage” and questionable connections to Wall Street.

I get the liberal perspective on this. I do. I was a huge Bernie supporter; he’s from my home state and I voted for him in the primaries. But we got Hillary. And I don’t see how anyone can say Hillary is too “flawed” to vote for when the alternative is Donald Trump. An avowed racist, sexist and xenophobe whose idea of “Making America Great Again” seems to equal making America white again. A man who thinks it’s okay to grab women “by the pussy” and kiss them without their consent. A man who has sixteen people accusing him of doing all the things he bragged about in that tape and more, including raping a thirteen-year-old. And Hillary is too flawed to vote for? Come ON.

Liberal fear is an overreaction. Since the election I’ve had several female friends tell me they’ve been grabbed, shouted at, and harassed by men wearing Trump hats on the New York City subways. One man came up behind a friend of mine and said “you better watch your pussy, bitch.”

And it’s not just happening here. Here’s a story about middle schoolers chanting “Build A Wall” in a school cafeteria. Here’s a story about a man beating up a black guy and a Muslim student while shouting “Trump! Trump! Trump!” Here’s a map of hate crimes across the United States that have occurred post-election.

Another thing I’m sick of hearing is that yeah, hate crimes are horrible, but these things happened before Trump too—it’s not because of him. To which I say: there’s documented evidence that hate crimes are on the rise since Trump’s election because bigots feel emboldened.

Here’s a story about the Ku Klux Klan holding a victory parade to celebrate Trump’s election. Here’s another one about how white nationalists feel emboldened and empowered by this election. Some quotes in this article that I personally find chilling:

“Intellectual leaders of the movement argue that they are merely trying to realize their desire for a white “ethno-state” where they can be left alone. Mr. Trump, with his divisive language about immigrants and Muslims, has given them hope that these dreams can come true.”

“I never thought we would get to this point, any point close to mainstream acceptance or political influence,” said Matt Forney, 28, of Chicago. “The culture is moving more in my direction.”

“Emboldened by Mr. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party, Mr. Forney said he expected people openly associated with the white nationalist movement to run as candidates in the 2018 midterm elections. The rise of populism and the decline of political correctness, he said, present a rare opportunity.”

For those who feel that liberals have been too “politically correct” and that’s been turning off more conservative voters, this is evidence that political correctness stands between us and movements like these.

And we shouldn’t just be scared because of the rise in hate crimes and the white nationalist movement. We should be scared because of policy. Donald Trump has said women should be “punished” for having abortions, has promised to overturn Roe V. Wade, and the House and Senate are in Republican hands.

They could easily do more to chip away at reproductive rights, which are already embattled throughout the country—not to mention appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court who could roll back reproductive rights for all of us. I’m considering getting an IUD before Trump takes office so I can at least have some say over what goes on in my womb before male politicians who will literally never have to face this problem themselves strip me of that right.

Not to mention Donald Trump’s promises to take away the Affordable Care Act—and coverage for millions of people, some with life-threatening illnesses who could literally die without that coverage—and deport millions of immigrants, splitting up families and sending many back to countries that want them dead.

The bottom line is this: unless you’re a white man in a position of power, you should be scared. We should all be scared.

Liberal fear is not unfounded; bad things are already happening, and there’s more to come. We should not just wait and see what he’ll do, and we should not let our country become a safe space for bigots. We should fight, all of us, in every way we know how. The future of our country–the diverse, inclusive country America could be–depends on it.

De-Friend Your Ex After a Breakup

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SOs come and go, but me and Yankee Candle are forever.

I wrote Collection of Flaws about my last big breakup and it occurred to me that I actually don’t write a lot about breakups here. The reason for that is because I’m generally over it. Heartbreak isn’t really where my heart is these days; I’m busy being deliriously happy (I’m finding being single agrees with me to a scary degree). But I thought I’d write a little about my breakups in general and my process for getting past them.

I’ve heard a lot of people say things like “never trust someone who isn’t friends with their exes” like this is some kind of pearl of wisdom. People, I am not friends with either one of my serious exes. A few more casual relationships, sure; but not anyone who meant anything big to me. It is just not how I’m built. It doesn’t make me an untrustworthy person. It’s okay if you’re not friends with your ex.

And actually, I think that there’s a certain amount of pressure to be friends with your ex that can be harmful. I’ve definitely felt before like choosing not to be friends is equated to a big public statement about how much you hate that person, or maybe how vitriolic the breakup was (whether that’s true or not). It leaves you open to judgment.

But sometimes no one was abusive or cheated or ran over anyone’s dog or stole anyone’s bank account and moved to Mexico. Sometimes nobody was A Terrible Person and the breakup wasn’t particularly angry. Sometimes the reason you can’t be friends is because it just hurts too much–until it doesn’t hurt anymore, but you’ve grown so far apart that you wouldn’t really want to be friends anyway.

I’ve had two really big, serious relationships (so far). The details were different, but the way the breakups unfolded were weirdly similar. They went like this:

  1. Ex and I decide to be amicable. We swear we’ll stay friends. We talk wistfully about getting back together someday.
  2. We keep talking for a while; maybe we try getting back together. Drama ensues.
  3. My ex stops talking to me at some point. It sucks but I give him his space.
  4. I find out through Facebook that he met someone else.
  5. I defriend, unfollow, delete his phone number from my phone, delete pictures and love letters from my computer, throw out everything he ever gave me or that reminds me of him, and go full scorched-earth.
  6. We never talk again in any meaningful way.

The moral of the story…I guess there are a lot of morals. But a big one for me is that maybe it’s crucial for me to despise this person so I can stop loving them. And the only way that happens is seeing they’re dating someone else.

I’m not really ready to let go–I don’t actually believe it’s over–until that happens.

I don’t like being prescriptive in my advice to friends. What’s right for me isn’t necessarily what’s right for you blah de blah blah. I’ve done my fair share of backsliding, I completely understand it and I never judge a friend for doing it with an ex. The pull is strong.

But I’ve also seen what happens when my friends backslide; it’s happened to me too. And it does. Not. Work. I’ve realized that the best way I can be on my own side in this process is by believing it’s over when it’s over, and behaving accordingly.

There are things I miss about my exes, but I don’t miss those relationships. I’m realizing slowly how incredibly happy I am on my own. One thing I’m realizing is that in both my serious relationships, the people I was with didn’t want to talk about the future too much with me because they didn’t want to get married. They weren’t all-in. I guess I wasn’t either, if I’m being totally honest with myself. Talking about serious future plans was scary for everyone, because we’d have to be truthful about whether we were going to be IN those futures with each other.

In the two years since I left my last serious relationship, I’ve had a lot of space and time to think of my future–the one that could include a significant other, but doesn’t rely on one. I don’t know if I’ll wind up in another relationship, but I’m all in on my own life plans in a way no boyfriend has ever been before with me. It’s really exciting.

The thing about breaking off all contact with an ex is that nobody will do this until they are ready, and when they are, nothing will stop them. But my opinion is, go scorched-earth. It’s the only way. Maybe you’ll get over this person while still texting them funny emoji poems and stalking their Instagram and being Totally Platonic Friends with them while secretly crying every time they hint they might be dating someone else. But it will take a long time and it’ll only hurt you. This is no way to live. Just rip off the band-aid.

At this point, I could probably hang with my least recent ex and get a beer. I actually wouldn’t mind catching up. I don’t feel that way about the most recent one yet, but I imagine I might someday. I think being friends is a thing that happens naturally, only when the previous relationship is completely dead, and it can’t be forced.

The great thing about breakups is that you realize you don’t have to put up with that person’s sh*t anymore. You’re free to think about what you want for your future–without anyone else’s plans or limits getting in the way. And you’re free to learn how to make yourself happy. It’s the best, most freeing thing–especially if you’ve been in and out of relationships since your teen years, like I was.

Breakups suck, but it’s better on the other side. Trust me.

My Relationship With Running

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Me after running my first marathon.

My relationship with running used to revolve around my relationships with men.

When I was in my early 20s, I had a boyfriend who wanted me to run with him. I was not a runner. I had sports I loved—skiing and horseback riding, hiking and swimming—but I wasn’t into team sports or anything really physically grueling. Or maybe the sports I loved were physically grueling, but I didn’t see them that way because I loved them. But running just felt like pure misery, and I had no interest in making myself miserable.

He didn’t just want me to run with him–he wanted me to be the one pushing him. I thought he wanted to be dating someone much more athletic than I was at the time–maybe someone who was the top scorer in field hockey and the fastest freestyler on the swim team and ruled at gym volleyball. None of those things were me. I don’t hate people who were good at team sports, of course, but at the time I hated the person I thought he wanted me to be, because I felt so much pressure to be that.   And when we went running I hated every step.

Later, I had a different boyfriend. We’d been dating a while when he suggested going on a run together. At the time I’d been going to the gym for about a year, taking yoga and pilates and spin and martial arts, trying to settle on a sport that would sustain me. I wanted to be more active. I wanted to keep my jean size. I told him I’d run with him, but not to pressure me—I’d probably be slow, and I didn’t like to be pushed. I said he should just go ahead of me and we’d meet up at the end.

It was beautiful, that run. We were on a beach, and the sky and the sea were just endless. I turned on my music and started running and breathing in time with the ocean waves and just lost myself. By the time I looked up—miles later—I’d left him far behind.

I left that boyfriend behind for real a few years later, but I kept running. In the several years since I started, I’ve run two half-marathons, one marathon, and countless 5K’s. Running is my moving meditation. It’s the place where I feel most powerful and most at peace.  I love the toned, sculpted legs it gives me and the way I feel like I’m on springs just walking down the street. I love how my endurance makes other sports almost effortless—like rock climbing or horseback riding. I never get tired.

Last year, though, I got a headache. It lasted for four months continuously, and later became debilitating neck pain. It’s too much to get into here, but you can find the start of that series here. It was hell. I don’t know exactly what caused it still, but as I recover, it becomes more and more clear to me that running has something to do with it. These days, when my neck hurts, it’s usually because I went running the day before.

I know what I have to do. Stop running. Not forever—but for longer than I want to. I need to let my neck heal, do a lot of yoga, and build up my strength. I’m almost all the way better but still delicate, and yoga is what brought me through that particular health crisis. I know it’s what my body needs.

But letting go of running is so hard. While I was visiting my parents in Gettysburg, I had the most beautiful run. I went down a country road, discovered an old pre-Civil War graveyard, and daydreamed about novels I have in the works. I went past fields full of cows and old stone farmhouses and roads lined with daylilies. I wanted to go for hours.

I don’t want to break up with running. Stopping for a length of time brings up all my fears. That my endurance will die, and I won’t want to pick it back up again. That I’ll gain weight (yeah, I know it should all be about health, but for me it isn’t). I’ve let go of so many things in the past few months, mainly to heal my neck and devote myself to my novels. This was the one thing I wanted to hang onto.

But the stakes to this are high. The headache absolutely ruined my life. I would do anything to keep that from happening to me again. Now my body is asking me to give up running, and I hate it. But I have to do it.

This week, all I’ve done is yoga. So far so good on the neck. I miss running right down to my bones. But last night I took a two-hour walk to the Williamsburg Bridge and back. I listened to my running music and daydreamed about my plot. I didn’t get the high I get when I run—but for now, it will do.

Summer Shenanigans

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Obligatory cannon ride.

I’m from Vermont originally, and I think that’s why I love summer so much. Our summers are generally mild, and those 98-degree, sticking-to-your-seat, God-I’ll-die-if-I-can’t-go-swimming-right-now days are few and far between. They are precious. They are to be enjoyed.

In New York, summers are hot. I don’t know if it’s the pavement or something about convection or what. But I love it. Where most New Yorkers are complaining about the sweaty subways and diving into any store that has air conditioning, I am scantily clad and happy. I love the heat. I even love the humidity. Bring it on.

So what have I been up to, besides sweating all over the place? First, I’ve been throwing myself into my romance novel with renewed abandon. I’m writing a historical (ish?) romance set at the end of the Roman Empire. I’m obsessed with it in a way I haven’t been in a long time, and I’m going nuts with all the thoughts I have lately about writing romance and what works and what doesn’t. I’ll be writing more about that here.

I’ve been getting my poetry chapbook ready for publication and planning my launch party. In addition, I’ve been writing poetry in little pieces. A second chapbook is starting to look possible.

Finally, I’ve been traveling. I went to see my parents at Gettysburg for a long weekend around the first of July, and then almost immediately went to Florida with a friend to pick up a 1981 Westfalia. Seeing as how I know how to drive stick and all (I consider this one of my superpowers, along with scary grammar skills and making a perfectly balanced dipping sauce for Vietnamese summer rolls).

My hero in the romance I’m writing is Alaric I, the famous Visigothic general. I’ve been thinking a lot about how you see a landscape differently if you have to use that landscape to stay alive—and keep your soldiers alive. High ground is important. Stay away from narrow ravines. You’ve got nothing if you don’t have a baggage train. Gettysburg was a great canvas on which to paint a battle; it really had a lot of clear examples of terrain used to best and worst advantage.

(For example, in Pickett’s Charge, the terrain the rebels ran up was very slightly uphill, culminating in a stone wall right under the cannons that funneled the troops into a deadly point. Looking at the terrain—and with the benefit of hindsight—it’s easy to see why it was so disastrous).

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Me and the Wheelness.

Florida was beautiful after that. There was so much amazing seafood—the oysters abounded. I spent time by the pool and the beach. I wrote my romance novel and taught my friend to drive stick. We lay awake at night and traded secrets and dreams. I even got some poolside yoga in.

Now I’m back in Bushwick, trying to get back into a rhythm. I’ve got another trip planned for the beginning of August, and it already feels too close. I’m trying to take things one day at a time and not feel overwhelmed. There’s always too much to do and it’s a lie that summer days are long. They’re never long enough.