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Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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Well, that was a week-long blog vacation I didn’t intend on taking, and the first absence I’ve had when I wasn’t swooning around on vacation. It’s funny, I never knew how much I needed this blog until I suddenly…didn’t. For four years, this blog was my creative outlet, a respite from the grinding unhappiness of a day job that left me unfulfilled. I needed it, because I needed a balance, and at the peak of my blogging I was posting five times a week (!! five! What on earth did I write about??). Then it went down to three. And in the three months since I left my job, I’m lucky if I can manage to crank out one measly post a week. Isn’t it strange that now that I have more time on my hands, I somehow have less time to blog? My days are filled with writing, and food-styling, and studying for my real estate license (and exercising my domesticity/ perfecting my housewife status). When I am happy in my day-to-day, I turn less and less to the internet, this blog, my Pinterest boards, and other aspirational escapes. I haven’t been tending to my blog because I haven’t needed it to stay afloat, to keep my head above water. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still owe this space (and you guys!) some attention, because of course I do. I just need to find a different balance than what I had for so long, and I promise I’ll do that without abandoning it for days at a time. Pinky promise, kiddos!
Here’s a little update of what’s been going on behind the scenes:
I miss you guys! How the hell are you?
October 5, 2015 / life / dog /
This past Sunday, Jamal and I celebrated one year of marriage. Besides not being able to truly believe an entire year had passed since September 13, 2014 (where did the time go? Can anyone remember what happened in March? Wasn’t it just June?) the day was a delight. We treated ourselves to a super indulgent brunch overlooking Rittenhouse Square, with a mimosa for me and a bloody mary for him, and way, way too much food, and then we went home and put on sweatpants and lazed about in a food coma for the rest of the afternoon. Marriage! The traditional first anniversary present is paper, so I got Jamal Rick Steves’ Spain 2016 guidebook, which he flipped through that day, every so often stopping to say, “Happy anniversary! I’m so full!” My mommom made a sweet point: going out to dinner is routine, but going out to breakfast is rare and special. (It’s even more special when there is a chocolate fountain involved.)
So, to reflect on these past 12 months: We went to Athens and Santorini for our honeymoon! We went to Italy and Paris this spring! I left my job of the last four and a half years for something that would finally make me happy. Jamal continued to travel like a maniac, darting and zig-zagging across the country nearly every week. It was a big first year, with the requisite ups and downs. I wouldn’t say that marriage is hard, or that our first year of marriage was hard, because really, when you’ve been dating for four years and living together for three, what else is there to adjust to once you put a ring on it? But it wasn’t always smooth going; Jamal and I each had a hard year (for reasons that were independent of each other), which caused some strain. We figured out late in the game that rather than turning on each other, we should turn towards each other for support. And nearly all of that strain was eliminated the day I changed jobs. I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made in my mental (and marital) health.
And now, to look forward: We have a trip to Spain scheduled for next April-May! I’m turning the big 3-0! Jamal has some big career wins in the foreseeable future (which, bien sûr, comes with more travel). Other than that, the 2nd year is our oyster. What’s not on the agenda? A baby. Seriously, guys, what is with people asking when you’re going to start having a kids? It’s like the moment our officiant pronounced us husband & wife, the badgering started. Jamal and I have always agreed that, if we’re going to have one at all, it is going to be just the one. Une. Uno. But right now, we don’t know if even une bébé is in the cards; it’s certainly not on the table in the next few years. A few months ago, apropos of nothing, Jamal said to me, “You know, if we didn’t have a kid, we would have so much more money and time to travel.” But when people ask us (and seriously, we get asked this all the time), “When will you have a baby??”, “Are you guys going to have a baby soon??” and we say, “Not anytime soon, and maybe not at all,” (or, as Jamal responded when his best friend asked a few weeks ago, “Nah, we’re going to go on vacation instead.” <3 <3 <3) it's invariably met with a smug, "Oh, you'll change your mind." Maybe we will, and maybe we won't. Frankly, Fitz is enough of a handful to deter us from voluntarily saddling ourselves with a human baby. We each have too many personal goals we want to achieve (I need to finish this novel!) and countries we want to visit (we’re already planning for 2017. Japan? Scandinavia? Scotland?) still. So our second year will be filled with many exciting things, but a baby ain’t one of ’em. (Apologies to our parents.)
Happy first anniversary, Jamal! I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Last week, my mom and I went to afternoon tea at the Sofitel. For $35 per person, you get a mimosa or bellini, a pot of loose leaf tea, finger sandwiches, scones, and an assortment of mini desserts. All the trappings of traditional afternoon tea, but with a slightly French flair (macarons!), as the hotel itself is French (everyone greets you with a delighted, “Bonjour!”). My mom had purchased one of those half-off deals, so we only paid $35 total, which I admit was still a splurge for a Wednesday afternoon but the perfect excuse for a little indulgence. I turned my mom onto Rooibos tea, and we downed a full pot each (and our bellinis) in record time. We had the perfect unspoken arrangement when it came to eating, too: she ate all the sandwiches, and I got all the desserts. Hooray for being an only child!
We have been playing with the idea for months now of taking a girl’s trip to Paris next March; next year marks 15 years (!!) since my first (and her only) trip to the City of Light, and also a milestone birthday for her (I won’t say how old she is, in deference to her vanity, but let’s just say she was 35 when she had me and I’ll be 30 next year, ahem. I’ve been stalking flights and itineraries for a while, and over tea we decided to just pull the trigger on a $900 ticket that had a layover in London, either on the way there or the way back, I can’t remember. It was going to be my birthday present to her (and a selfish present for myself. Paris! Again!) but more than I was entirely comfortable spending, given I’m only working part-time and will have just been to Paris in November and am going to Spain in April. But, Paris! Maman’s
I came home from tea and went to book the flight, only to find that somehow, for some reason, as if imbued by the magic of tea and macarons, fares had dropped substantially in the last day. I wouldn’t have to pay $900! There wouldn’t even be a layover! A roundtrip, direct flight from Philly to Paris next March cost me –are you ready for this?– a whopping $1. ONE. DOLLAR.
Sure, taxes and fees added another $640, but are you kidding me? I’ve never seen fares that low. I had to book flights. (In another post I’ll tell you all my tips and tricks to booking flights, if you’d like. Stalking airline and travel websites has become a part time job for me.)
We’re going to Paris! Again!
It seems as though yesterday was National Dog Day, and I missed it. Fitz, I’m so sorry! He has no idea, frankly, because he believes that every day is National Dog Day, and relegating it to just one day per year seems preposterous to him. He’s got a point, especially when I think of how big a personality he has in his flopsy, silly little body, and realize there’s no way you can contain celebrating him to a single day. Every day is a celebration when you have a dog, am I right?
This has been a big year for Fitzwater the Wonder Puppy, as we’ve finally gotten rid of his crate and have started leaving him free range in the house by himself when we leave. It sounds like we’re begging for disaster, I know, given his track record when we tried this a few years ago (we ended up at Penn Vet Hospital too many times to count, because he ate all the things, including two rugs and two week’s worth of aspirin and fish oil pills Jamal’s parents had, as well as the plastic pill containers they came in —that vet bill was bananas). But at four and a half years old (stop growing up!) he has matured to the point where he will happily sleep on the sofa and not touch anything even without supervision, and I think he’s really grateful for the freedom and the show of trust, and is trying not to screw it up. Oh, buddy. I love you so!
August 27, 2015 / life / dog /
To celebrate our upcoming one year wedding anniversary in early September (pause here: OMG HOW HAS IT ALMOST BEEN A YEAR ALREADY WE STILL HAVE THANK YOU CARDS TO SEND) Jamal and I bought a new mattress. We decided that being married for a year makes us Grown-Ups, and it was time to have a grown-up mattress, too (we do not have matching silverware, but that will probably come for anniversary #2). After our honeymoon, we splurged on buying pillows from the hotel we stayed at on our last night in Athens, ultra luxurious, plush feather down, that were over $100 a piece (!!) and a fancy, 300-thread count sheet set which cost less than one single pillow (thanks, Martha Stewart for Macy’s!). But our mattress situation still left something to be desired; it was one of those all spring coil, blue floral numbers, which was fine, but nothing special. So, off to Macy’s we went during one of their huge blowout sales two weeks ago, and out we walked with a new mattress (not literally, that thing is enormous and we had it delivered this past weekend). And thanks to the sale, we got it for less than half of what it retails for normally! The full specifications are: Sealy Beautyrest Recharge Vanderbilt Collection Allie Firm Pillowtop, but you can just refer to it as “HEAVEN OMG” because OMG it is HEAVEN. It is the most comfortable thing I’ve ever laid on, and while I was worried it might be too firm, the pillowtop makes it like sleeping on a plush, supportive cloud. Even Jamal (who was lukewarm about the whole idea, and who claimed he couldn’t tell the difference between any of the mattresses we tried because he sleeps in so many hotels and all beds end up feeling the same to him) crawled into it the first night and could barely articulate, “Oh, okay, this is amazing,” before immediately conking like he had been drugged.
I am in love with this mattress, and I think I finally understand why all of Charlie’s grandparents lived in one bed in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
August 11, 2015 / life / dog /
I had a dream a few days ago, where I was walking with a group of people I didn’t recognize, on a street that looked similar to the windy, cobbled street along the northern side of the Arno in Florence, when through the crowd I saw my dad approaching, only he looked different –shorter, with wider eyes and different glasses. He was wearing a navy blue peacoat with some sort of crest on the lapel. I pushed through the group and ran towards him yelling, “Daddy! Daddy!”
In the morning I felt, briefly –before the sadness came rushing in– that I had gotten to see him, and it felt so good after so long without him. This happens every so often, and always in the dream I think, “Oh, there you are! I’d wondered where you’d gone!”
My dad died nine years ago today, and it seems as impossible to have been this long as it did last year, and the year before, and every year before it, up to the day it happened. How can a literal half of your entire world disappear? I still don’t understand it, and while some days I’m fine and happy and functioning, and the realization that I lost him is in the background like a dull headache, there are more days than not where it feels like the grief is going to strangle the life out of me, that I’m just going through the motions because it would break his heart if I don’t.
He would tell me to stop being so dramatic, smooth out his mustache and place the palm of his hand at the top of my head. And then he’d probably offer to buy me a lip gloss to cheer me up.
I don’t know when Paris became synonymous with my dad for me, but I can’t untangle the two now. At some point, being in Paris, thinking about Paris, reading about Paris, writing about Paris, became a way of feeling close to him. The more obsessed I grew (grow) with that city, I somehow feel like I’m holding on more strongly to his memory. I don’t have any of the heartbreaking associations of him in Paris that I do here in Philadelphia; I can’t look up at his old apartment window when I walk back from Trader Joe’s without crying, and almost every corner in the city holds a “My dad and I…” connection. The museum, Fairmount Park, his many office buildings, seeing his old car, randomly meeting an old friend of his in French class last year. In Paris, I can picture him how he might have been if we’d gone together, how he’d looked when he went, sitting with his legs crossed at an outdoor café table, nursing an espresso with a sketchbook and a small paint set on the table next to him. There aren’t streets in Paris I avoid because it’s where a certain hospital is. The ease and rightness I feel there has a lot to do with how detached it is from the specific reality of my dad not being here anymore.
So I booked a flight to Paris this morning. I’ve been eyeing flights for weeks, watching the prices dip and attempting to justify the spoiled sense of entitlement at taking two trips to Paris in the same year. This morning I woke up, burst into tears, and sent a quick text to Jamal (who’s traveling on his second trip in three days) that read: “Can you live without me for a week?” And then I came upstairs, made myself a mug of Mariage Frères Paris Breakfast tea, put on my dad’s favorite classical music station, and booked it. I leave the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Did I use today (my dad, my sadness) as an excuse? Probably, but I don’t think my dad would’ve cared. I think he would just be happy I’m going back to Paris.
I miss you, daddy. More than I’ll ever be able to articulate. I miss you like a phantom limb. I can’t wait to tell you all about Paris in the winter.
August 6, 2015 / life / dog /
I keep a red moleskin notebook for all of my scribblings and novel ideas (literally and figuratively). It’s half-full of half-sentences or half-finished thoughts. It’s all over the place, but creatively, I have better luck physically handwriting (or rewriting) things before sitting down at my computer, so that I have a store of pages to use as a jumping-off point.
I’ve written before about my frustrating in attempting to decipher unfinished thoughts, so imagine my reaction when I discovered, while flipping back a few pages in my notebook, an entire page dedicated to a character I can’t even remember. I read and reread it, and while I like this passage, I cannot for the life of me figure out who the fuck Harry is or why I started writing about him. What role was he going to play? Was he going to be important? I have no idea!
Here, let’s see if you guys can make sense of this for me:
Auctions are spectator sports as much as they are flagrant shows of wealth, both masked by a facade of indifference. The more important bidders sent representatives or bid by phone, while the audience quietly surveyed one another under the guise of polite interest, when in truth they were speculating as to the presence of Mrs. So-and-so, quickly calculating which painting or buyer a particular person signified. Sylvie knew that the attendance of, say, someone like Harry deJong, an impressively slight wisp of a man who could be counted on for a bold ascot and who had a shrill, tinkling laughing, meant that the former –or even, perhaps, the current– First Lady had her eye on a lot in the sale. But that was only if he sat in the first few rows; if he chose a seat along the side, or nearer the back, or even more telling, seemed subdued, his interests that particular evening were more international. That was a blanket term for any buyer with oil money to spend, rich sheiks with expensive Parisian penthouses, or American diplomats with more money than taste. Harry could be seen at nearly every evening sale at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s, and his bidding pattern was so perfectly honed and subtle it was impossible to really tell what he was after. It drove the dealers at both houses crazy.
“Oh, it’s been too long,” Sylvie said to Harry, taking him lightly by the shouldrs and kissing him on both cheeks. She had to bend slightly to reach him, but for his part Harry seemed not at all embarrassed. Tonight, he wore a shocking swath of purple silk around his neck, coordinated with–
And then it just ends! Like I had a stroke mid-sentence. I can attribute my cluelessness about Harry and this passage to the fact that I took an eight month break from writing; of course my brain is a little fuzzy on the details, I haven’t touched this notebook in almost a year (I am so ashamed). Let this be a lesson, self! Writing is like any other habit. If you don’t practice, you end up confusing the shit out of yourself when you try to pick it back up.
July 20, 2015 / life / dog /
Today is my last day at a job I’ve held for four and a half years. There have been (many) times throughout those years where I’ve thought about this day, times where I’ve wanted to up and quit out of frustration and depression and even a sense of entitlement to be paid to do something I love, something entirely fulfilling, something apparently common among my generation. I’m glad I held out, because I’m leaving today without any burnt bridges, professional or otherwise, and with a group of friends so wonderful I’ll never stop feeling grateful to this company for bringing into my life. (The only friends I invited to my wedding who weren’t in my bridal party were three people I’d met and fell madly in love with at this job.)
A few months ago, I complained about being at the end of my rope. Buoyed by your comments and years of therapy, I decided to adopt a Grow Where You’re Planted mentality around my stagnation. This company hired me all those years ago, and have kept me employed despite my best efforts to the contrary (Me, one year ago: “Hey, I’m going to Paris for two months, bye!” My godsend of a manager: “But you’re coming back here afterwards, right?”). I needed to start appreciating that I was employed at all in this still-recovering economy, and paid well to do something that sure, wasn’t what I went to school for, but was something I could leave at the office and never have to worry about after 5pm or on weekends. Jamal, who takes work calls at 11:30 at night and frequently works weekends and travels nonstop, got good and tired of my bitching about how I was unfulfilled and told me, gently, to suck it up and enjoy the paycheck. Grow where you’re planted! I am planted here, I will thrive here.
But I’ll still keep one eye on job postings, and never really give up on my dream of being paid to write while still having time to work on my novel.
And a week after I decided to make peace with this job, I got a new one.
I’m not saying I believe in “The Secret,” that hippy dippy new-age idea that whatever you put out into the universe, the universe will deliver back to you like a karmic boomerang. That would discredit my own hard work at finding my new job, or my skills at landing it. But I do think there is something to be said about hollering into the universe, “HELP ME, I’M DROWNING” and a week later being offered a paid writing position for a staple in the Philly food scene. It started as just 10 hours per week, working from home, writing copy for things like artisanal pickles, and nutella, and tea-based cocktail mixers. And at the end of June, they offered me a more permanent role, still mostly writing from home, but also a two day per week in-office food styling photography position. !!!
You guys. I had to take it. It’s not full-time, but I will have time to finish writing my novel now. You know, my novel. That thing I haven’t touched in months. My schedule will now allow me to write during the week, and I am taking this very seriously, already scheduling blocks of time for next week and delighting at the thought.
I start this new position on Friday, which means I only have one day off between jobs, which frankly I’m okay with. What I’m surprisingly not okay with is leaving all my friends here. My WBFF (that’s Work BFF, duh) Herbie gave me a card this morning that brought me to tears, and while I know there’s no way he’s getting rid of me just because we aren’t working in the same office anymore, it still feels bittersweet.
Here’s to new adventures!
July 15, 2015 / life / dog /
I have a litmus test with most everything I publish online, a way to keep me (and my mouth) in check, something seemingly easy to lose hold over in this digital era when instant communication to broadcast even the most mundane of thoughts is right at our fingertips. Before I post anything, I ask myself, “Is this something I’d be okay with Jamal’s mom reading?” If I’m even a little bit in doubt, I don’t post it. (I’ve saved myself from some pretty curse-laden, reactionary tweets about everything from The Real Housewives franchises to people on my morning commute this way.) My own mother’s favorite piece of advice has always been, “When in doubt, don’t.” And while it applies to all manner of things –the suggestion to not do anything until you’re confident in your decision has served me well in relationships, work, finances, etc.– it’s equally as relevant to resisting the urge to post absolutely every unfiltered thought.
This has been a helpful self-imposed rule for my blog/twitter feed/various social media accounts, but the same standard, when applied to writing my book (though with a different relative) has been somewhat…restrictive? I’ll back up a bit. There are two characters in my novel for whom a romantic involvement is an ineluctable outcome. It seems weird to suggest that I have no control over fictional people I’ve created, I know, but I’ve written and re-written different plotlines countless times, reworked things in my head, and the end result is always the same: these two characters have to have a dalliance. You’ve read a bit about them before, about these two walking up the stairs to her apartment, his hand on her shoulder, the door closing behind them. I’ve been on the other side of that door for months, unable to write about what goes on when they stumble into her bed. Because…because what if my brother reads it? My older brother! (That’s obviously not the only thing keeping from writing about sex in my novel, but it doesn’t help the cause any, either.)
So I did some digging, and it turns out, plenty of authors struggle with writing sex into their novels. It’s hard! (That is not a euphemism.) How do you articulate it adequately? What words do you use? Does it seem gratuitous to include it, or a cheap cop-out to have a ‘fade to black’ moment? Here are a bunch of authors on writing about sex:
Lorin Stein, in The Paris Review:
Not all writing about sex is meant to titillate. There are other reasons to describe what people do in bed…It strikes me that fiction and poetry are especially good at dealing with sex—are in some ways designed for handling subjects that are private or shameful or deeply subjective—and that sex is inherently interesting (maybe especially to readers of fiction?)
Alexander Chee, also in The Paris Review:
Too much writing about sex tries to either make it prettier or more serious, sexier or funnier or shocking, or anything, really, except what it is. On its own terms, sex is information…When my teacher told me to read James Salter, what she meant was that this kind of sex writing…describes sex so that it tells you something about the story and the characters and yourself, all at once.
Sex is such a confusing situation that your ability to communicate what you’re thinking and feeling in the moment is severely hampered. If you try to articulate your thoughts and feelings in words, you’re reduced to saying the quickest and easiest epithets you can come up with—porn language, essentially…That’s why, when writers attempt to describe sex accurately, the scenes all tend to sound the same, no matter what the writers’ individual styles may be. I think most writers just want their sex scenes to be realistically sexy.
Adam Thirwell, in an interview in Salon with author Gary Shteyngart:
I think for me it’s always interesting to write about extreme experience, or experience that’s not really meant to be written about, that’s on the edge of the linguistic: where it merges with, I don’t know, brute noise.
Steve Almond, in the Utne Reader, lays out 13 guidelines for writing about sex, and they are wildly funny and insightful. Number 12 is my favorite:
If you don’t feel comfortable writing about sex, then don’t. By this, I mean writing about sex as it actually exists, in the real world, as an ecstatic, terrifying, and, above all, deeply emotional process. Real sex is compelling to read about because the participants are so utterly vulnerable. We are all, when the time comes to get naked, terribly excited and frightened and hopeful and doubtful, usually at the same time. You mustn’t abandon your lovers in their time of need. You mustn’t make of them naked playthings with rubbery parts. You must love them, wholly and without shame, as they go about their human business. Because we’ve already got a name for sex without the emotional content: It’s called pornography.
And finally, author Rachel Kushner, in an interview with the NY Times, being very smug about the whole thing:
I don’t think of sex as any more difficult to write about than any other human behavior. Writers fail or soar at anything. Everyone thinks about sex, engages in it. It’s the secret we all share. Just acknowledging its constant presence in people’s thoughts is a good direction for a novelist.
Fellow fiction writers and readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
A few weeks ago, our wonderful wedding photographer, Inna, reached out to me asking if a local wedding website, Delancey & Penn, could feature our wedding. I said yes without hesitation, and sent her a little write up about the day, which was fun to revisit from the perspective of six+ months out. Their post went live this week, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share some more photos with you from the day that I hadn’t yet. You can read all about it, and see even more photos, here.
Thank you, Delancey & Penn, for featuring us, and thank you Inna, seriously, for being the best photographer we ever could’ve asked for.