I want to tell you about our Christmas

 

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My mom, with stockings

When I was a kid, my family always did Christmas the same way.

The setting was the house my dad built—a Lincoln-log cabin deep in the Vermont woods. Christmas Eve, we’d go to bed too excited to sleep. In the morning, the three of us—my brother and sister and I—would thunder down the stairs to see a tree piled high with presents; stockings hanging from nails on the chimney, stuffed to overflowing. We’d tackle the stockings first, make tea for our parents and then fall on the presents like hungry animals. And at night, we’d feast.

When we were kids, it was magical. When we were adults, we kept the tradition going. My mom would hunt down most of the stocking stuffers—funny gag gifts from Newbury Comics; little gourmet mustards and hot chocolate packets; useful kitchen implements from Board and Basket, where she kept a seasonal job just for the discounts. Some of the few happy memories of her childhood involved giant piles of gifts under the tree, so she’d always buy massive stacks of presents.

She’d also take the lead in cooking Christmas dinner. As adults, my brother and sister and I would contribute appetizers and side dishes and desserts, each of us fighting for kitchen space. My mom was the ringleader. She’d hover over us with cooking tips and admonitions to dry off the knives and put them in the rack and don’t put that in the dishwasher.

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My sister’s gift-wrapping masterpieces

 

Over the years, we added to the traditions. My sister and dad started a Christmas village, which grew more elaborate as the years went on. While the rest of us were haphazard present-wrappers, my sister would wrap hers with artistry and precision. My brother had his memorable cheese ball recipe and I brought my dark chocolate pie back every year. There was boozy Mad Libs, moonlit sledding runs, and spiked Egg Nog during the Lord of the Rings marathon. My dad would make popcorn in a giant bowl, perfectly balancing the salt and the butter; stirring it all with his hands.

Every so often, one of us would come home trailing a Christmas orphan; a sweetheart or friend who didn’t have anywhere else to go, or who’d lost the fight over whose family to spend Christmas with. My mom welcomed them all with open arms, buying them presents and making them their own stockings.

These were our traditions. And every year, no matter how far we traveled, they brought us back together.

I never would have thought before my mom died that our Christmas would die with her. I believed it was all of us keeping it going; not just one person. But I’ve learned that when you have a loss like this, there are only two things you can do: reproduce the traditions in exacting detail, or run away.

This year, we’re all scattered. My brother lives in Washington DC with three kids and a demanding new job. My sister’s in Boulder—too far to get back easily. They’re staying put this year. And I can’t stand the idea of Christmas without my mom, so I’m running away. It’s my first Christmas away from home, and I went as far as I could go.

One of my fears is that as the years go on, it will be harder and harder for all of us to find our way back to that cabin in the woods. I hope that isn’t how this goes. But in the meantime—for the first time—I’m replacing snow with sand. Spiked hot chocolate with lime in my beer. I plan to sit by a beach and pretend Christmas isn’t happening; to forget about presents and see if a human being can survive a whole week on tacos alone.

I’m not promising anything, but I may even make this a tradition.

 

 

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.

A Eulogy for My Mom

One cold day last year, I stood in the parking lot of my parents’ lawyer’s office. I was the executor of their will, and we’d just spent a bracing afternoon talking about nursing homes and do-not-resuscitate orders and how we’d divide up my parents’ accumulated detritus after their deaths. We were joking around–I remember saying something like “Don’t either of you dare get dementia; anything but that”–it was stupid. I barely remember what we said.

But I do remember my mom got this serious expression on her face. I think I was asking her if she wanted to be buried or cremated. She said something like “I just want you to eulogize me.” We’d been laughing and joking about this, but in this moment, my mom was not joking. She seemed suddenly very sad.

I said the only thing you can say to that. “I will, mom.” It felt like a promise. That wasn’t very long ago, and I thought we had so much time.

My mom died of cancer on May 30, 2017. She was feeling under the weather for months before I even knew; her stomach was upset and she couldn’t eat. For a large part of that, I didn’t even know she was sick–when I mentioned her in my post about dyeing my hair purple in February, she was feeling the cancer and I didn’t know.

Finally a gastroenterologist admitted her into the hospital, where she was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. It had metastasized to her liver, lungs, stomach lining, abdominal wall–it was everywhere. She lasted a month and ten days.

I’ll have more to write about this later. For now, I want to share the eulogy I promised my mom. (I also wrote her obituary, which I called her eulogy in a Facebook post; I’ve since realized that a eulogy and an obituary are not the same thing).

So here you go, Mom. Just like you asked.

There’s a lot of lore in my family about my mom. There’s the story of how she used to run ten miles every day, even when she was pregnant, right up until the day she had me. There’s the one about how she rappelled down El Capitan when she was young—the truth of that one is disputed, though my brother and I both remember that story. There’s the one about how she rode her horse into her dorm in college, and cooked a turducken to impress her mother-in-law. Yes: a turducken. But the one that’s always felt the closest to me—that’s lived in me, always, is this one. When I was born, my mother knew me.

She said I came out as babies do, red-faced and loud and probably ugly (I am not a baby person) and I opened my eyes. And her first thought was, “Oh. It’s you.”

Sometimes she’d tell that story like a joke, with a sarcastic tone. Other times she’d tell it like she was trying to say I was my own person, even then, with my own personality. But I always believed that what she really meant was that she recognized me. That we’d known each other always, down endless lifetimes, and this was just our latest meeting. I’m not religious and neither was she. But this was always the meaning I took from it.

My mom was my best and closest friend. She was the first person I told about all my successes; all my heartbreaks. She used to joke that I’d probably need to see a therapist to talk about all the damage she caused, but not till I was 40. But I was lucky. My mom loved me, and I always felt that love. She didn’t try to hurt or control me with it. Somehow, through some herculean feat of excellence, she managed not to damage me. (My siblings are another story. I’ll let them speak for themselves.)

Herculean feats of excellence were my mother’s baseline normal. But she wasn’t obnoxious about it. It was just how she did things. When I was young, my mom had a garden—it was just behind you, by the trees. The vegetables that came out of that garden tasted like real vegetables. Like summer and sunshine. I took this completely for granted as a kid, but as an adult, I’ve come to realize this is why I find supermarket vegetables vaguely depressing: because I remember what they’re supposed to taste like.

My mom made pickles, and they became legendary—especially the dill beans. My aunt Laurie told me that my mom read about how to de-bone an entire turkey once, in a magazine—and then proceeded to do it flawlessly, with no rips, so that the bird deflated like an old balloon. Like she’d done it a thousand times. This, if you’ve never done it before, is hard. Everything she did, my mom did well.

Eventually, my mom drifted out of domestic goddesshood and into other interests: horses and the law. Horses were actually an old interest. My mom had a beloved horse when she was young named Jack Flash. She took him to college and boarded him in a farmer’s field, fed him corn husks and rode him in the dorm and loved him as hard as she possibly could; as hard as a troubled teen can love her lifeline. When I was eleven I got my own horse, also named Jack Flash. Pure coincidence. Our lives were full of weird parallels like that.

My mom and I would gallop over the back roads and trails of Hartland and Brownsville and Woodstock, me often hanging on for dear life. I was a Pony Club kid; a trail-riding, three-day-eventing, muck-out-the-stalls-in-the-backyard-stable kid. My Jack frequently ran away with me, sent me sailing into arena walls and fences and water hazards. I didn’t care because True Love, and my mom never, ever suggested we sell him and get an easier horse. When I fell off, she didn’t coddle me. She told me to get back on.

My mom with Mel.

My mom went from an opinionated quarterhorse mare to an opinionated thoroughbred mare until finally she swore off mares and found Mel, a Percheron-thoroughbred gelding. She then began a fifteen-year relationship I can only describe as a love story. My mom and Mel adored each other. She put him in dressage training, and his trainers took him all the way up to Prix St. Georges. Mel performing at that level was a sight to behold—all arch-necked, glossy bay, muscles popping out everywhere, brimming over with joy and power. He won nearly every show he entered in. My mom was so proud.

She saw the extraordinary in Mel before anyone else did, and she saw the strength in me until I could see it in myself. She taught me excellence as a baseline normal; taught me by example and not through pressure. Taught me to always get back on the horse. The only thing she couldn’t teach me was how to live without her.

I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in organized religion, or anyone else’s idea of an afterlife. But I believe my mom knew me the moment our eyes first met. I believe we knew each other before, and we will know each other again. I believe she isn’t gone. I believe she isn’t gone like I believe in the ground beneath my feet.

My mother saw me into this world, and it was my great honor and privilege to see her out.

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.

In the World and Not In the World

I don’t even know where to start talking about where I am these days.

This is me, in the world, at the Women’s March in DC.

The other day, my sister and I talked on the phone and she asked what I was up to. That’s kind of a weird question for me. Basically, I told her, I am a person who spends a lot of time in a room by myself, writing.

That all I’m doing, but it feels bigger than that. I’m writing a romance novel set during the fall of ancient Rome. Learning to map the boundaries between imagination and history; wrestling with acceptance that I am not a historian and I will get everything wrong. Trying to get the important parts right: the emotional truth of an event so remote from me that nothing in my life resembles it. “Write what you know,” an English teacher told me once. Great advice. I both live it and ignore it every day.

I’m also mapping my own interior. My life has gone through several seismic shifts in the past few years—things having to do with my relationships and my work—and the dust hasn’t quite settled. Much of the work of settling the dust involves writing poetry. Something that I’m hoping will become my next chapbook.

I’m keeping the lights on, too. I’m writing copy for clients—as well and as often as I can—and I’m happy and grateful that my business continues to thrive and support me. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worked extremely hard.

And I’m angry. I am so, so angry at the direction our country is turning in.

Since November, I’ve been walking around in an enraged haze. At the millions of people who voted for Donald Trump. The millions who shrugged off blatant sexual assault, racial profiling, and horrific bigotry on every level to elect this man president. People who don’t want to own that bigotry; don’t want to be called racists or sexists. I’ve written about this already and if you’ve read that, you know how I feel.

My rights are directly in jeopardy, and so are those of many people I care about. There’s a part of me screaming that if I’m writing, it should be to call out the new administration and demand it be held accountable for the human cost of its policies. If I’m not writing, I should be marching. I should be calling my senators and joining the resistance in a real, concrete way that puts me back in the world.

And that’s the problem.

I’ve never been so focused and committed to a book I’ve been writing before. I’ve written four books, but this one is different. It’s better. I’m better. But that comes at a cost—it requires absolute dedication and focus, and a certain turning away from the world so I can really be in this story. It’s hard for me to engage on social media right now, for instance, or think about promotion for my other work. It’s not so much that I can’t find the time; it’s more a question of focusing inward rather than outward. It feels like I can do one or the other well, but not both.

It’s easy to say I have the privilege of being able to consider this as a choice—whether to throw myself into resistance or into my book. I’m white and able-bodied and cis-gender and an American citizen, putting me far ahead of many people directly targeted by this administration. But the truth is, I’m in the crosshairs too. I’ve never felt so threatened about my rights over my own bodily autonomy. I just got healthcare last year after more than a decade of being uncovered, and that’s likely to go as well. And we all live on this planet, which Donald Trump seems hell-bent on setting on fire.

I could just decide to turn off social media, not engage for six months or so, and give myself the mental time and space to finish this book the way I want. But I’m legitimately afraid the country won’t be here in six months—not in a form I recognize.

Like a lot of people, I have strong opinions but not a strong history of activism. I want that to change. I don’t want that to change. I don’t feel like there’s a choice. I’m hoping that in the next four years I can figure out what my activism looks like, and I can write this book and then the next one and the next, well and quickly and the way I want, and that these two drives won’t compete with each other. I have a lot of hopes. Maybe that’s a good enough place to start.

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.

#BlackDressPoetry Wrap-Up: One Month Later

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a month since my book launch. Planning this party was an extremely rewarding experience, and I couldn’t have done it without Britt Canty, my publicist partner-in-crime. Her energy, know-how, and creative ideas really made this event special, and I can’t wait for our next opportunity to collaborate.

The folks at Hell Phone Speakeasy were extremely welcoming, and even made me custom drinks to go with the cocktail names we came up with–thanks to Britt and Jordana Frankel,  who came up with some of my favorites.

The music, by Master Michael Quinn and Jeff Allyn Szwast, was the perfect mix of moody and sultry–if you ever get a chance to see this duo perform, seize it with both hands. They will simultaneously break your heart and make you feel redeemed.

The readings were a special pleasure. I was lucky enough to get Nancy Hightower, cohost of the Liar’s League literary series and author of The Acolyte, and Natalie Eilbert, author of Swan Feast, to read for me; both are poets whose work I love and look up to. If you haven’t read their work, drop what you’re doing right now and look them up. Buy their books. You won’t regret it.

The fallout from this event was especially exciting–I’m now reading at several more events in coming months in New York City; I’ll tell you all about them on my Events page soon.

Most of all, I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone who gave to my Kickstarter campaign. None of this would be possible without your support.

Going All-In: What it Means to Me

I used to have a lot of irons in the fire.

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I’m not sure how this relates except this is me, going all in on a tiny pie. I regret nothing.

I was an actress and a model; I worked a lot, and I went on auditions and go-sees four to six times a week most weeks. I traveled; I had a boyfriend who would whisk me off to Europe periodically. I wrote poems and novels and I trained for marathons and I had a lot of friends in the city and I was always going out, dancing and dating and drinking. I had a very busy life and I loved every single second of it.

Then the headache happened. I realize I keep coming back to that in these posts, but I’m still processing how this health crisis changed my life—in bad ways, but also, surprisingly, in good ways.

I gave up a lot of things. Around last winter, when I was dealing with some of the worst of it, some of my closest friends moved out of the city and I scaled my social life back (I tend to go full hermit in the winter anyway). I stopped dating. After struggling to hold on, I put the auditions on hold and stopped running, too. All I could do was sit on my couch and binge-watch 1990s anime and wonder when my life was going to come back.

But as I started to recover—slowly—something started to happen. I threw myself into my novel with renewed dedication, completely falling in love with this story I’d been working on for over a year—and my writing was better than it had ever been. Suddenly I had a clear vision where things had been muddy before. I felt these characters deep in my bones where before I was always questioning. I knew exactly what they would do in each situation. They spoke to me.

I’d been writing novels for about ten years. It was always a struggle. I learned how to sit down and have a regular writing practice; I learned how not to ever get writers’ block. I learned how to plot. But it never, ever came easy. My stories didn’t sing.

All of a sudden, this one was singing. And all I had to do for that was get rid of everything else in my life.

I did a lot of thinking in the past few months about what I want for my future, and the answers have surprised me. I always knew I’d be ready to give up acting, someday in the future, and focus on my writing. That time is now. I built my acting business up from nothing and did very well in the most competitive city in the world. But in the past few months I stopped auditioning and dyed my hair red and no longer look anything like my headshots, and I have no desire to. I don’t miss the auditions. Work still occasionally comes into my life, but I’m not fighting for it like I was. Up until this year, I was devoting a lot of time and energy to auditions that didn’t lead to work. Now I can spend that time writing.

With the copywriting, I’m also at a crossroads. During the headache months, some of my regular clients scaled back. When I got better I went through a rebrand and have landed some work through that, but to really step up my income I’m going to have to throw myself into it and work on promoting myself much harder. And the only thing I want to do right now is write this book.

Suddenly I see a future for myself. That future is writing novels. It’s writing fantasy YA and paranormal romances and high fantasy with a romance component and the occasional historical. It’s deciding whether to go self-published or try for the traditional route, learning how to promote myself, and using all my copywriting skills to build myself a business. I think about that and I’m so excited I can’t sit still, and I’m ready. I am all in.

I never wanted to be the type of person who only did one thing. For a long time, I thought I needed to act as well as write—that acting got me out of the house and being creative among others. Acting taught me so much about writing and my own creative process, and it toughened me up to rejection like nothing else. But right now, what I need to do is scale down. I need to pick something and go all in.

I’ve picked that thing. Or, it’s picked me. It’s showed up in my life and told me that this is the only way. I’m doing what it says, and I’ve never been this excited about the future.

#BlackDressPoetry and Party Planning!

13900150_739345482874590_536517557273602932_n.jpgBig news is afoot, you guys. The plans for my poetry chapbook launch party are finally coming together!

I dunno if you’ve been to a book launch party before. I’ve been to a few; the normal format is usually as follows: takes place in a bookstore; there is a cheese plate and maybe some wine; there are books for sale and maybe a few intro readers and maybe a musical act (or not); there’s some mingling afterward and maybe a Q&A. I’m not saying this is a bad format–it can be really lovely, and I love how intimate it can feel.

I wanted to do something different, though.

This is my first published book, and I wanted to introduce it in a way that felt very “me.” I didn’t want to follow a prescribed pattern. I wanted to feature some people I know who are extremely talented, and I wanted it to go with the breakup / heartbreak theme–but in a fabulous, sultry, sophisticated way. This is, in other words, going to be Not Your Usual Book Launch Party.

So here’s what you can expect:

  1. Music by the appropriately poetic Master Michael Quinn and Jeff Allyn Szwast; you can check out their tunes here.
  2. I was lucky enough to get both Nancy Hightower and Natalie Eilbert–two poets I really admire–to read with me, and I cannot WAIT to hear them both.
  3. Burlesque with Galatea Stone, one of my favorite New York City performers. She impressively manages to pull off badass-athletic, otherworldly, and funny at the same time, and sometimes in the same act. (If you wanna catch her perform before my book launch, she produces a regular burlesque event and the next one’s coming up August 10).
  4. Signature cocktails! And I’m letting you pick the names. Look out for our poll on Facebook!
  5. A bar napkin poetry contest. Guests write poetry on bar napkins; I pick my favorites and the winners get prizes! I may also publish some of my faves in mini-zine format after the event.

This party is a collaboration between me and poetry publicist extraordinaire Britt Canty, who I could not have done this without. Her endless creativity and ideas have just been astounding, and working with her has been an absolute blast.

I’ll be posting regularly on Twitter with news as the plans come together–follow it using the hashtag #BlackDressPoetry! (Oh, and this is my Twitter handle.) For details on the party, this is the event page–if you’re in town, I’d love to see you there!

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.