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Reading Joan Didion in California Restaurants

A love letter, with food

Sara Benincasa
Jul 4, 2018 · 45 min read
Portrait of Joan Didion. Photo by Neville Elder/Corbis/Getty

A Preface:

That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.

I spend a lot of time and too much money in restaurants. I go on dates to restaurants. I visit friends in restaurants. And because I am a writer, and because I am single, and because I work from home, and because home can be quite lonely when you’re a single working writer with a tiny home office in a small apartment in a great big city, I write in restaurants. I tried to explain this recently to an actor and he seemed confused, perhaps because his job typically involves being on sets and on stages surrounded by loads of people.

We were eating at Little Dom’s in Los Feliz because I always eat at Little Dom’s in Los Feliz. They’ve got a bang-up Monday night supper you really shouldn’t miss — three courses, $18. A recent Monday night supper menu read:

Grilled Treviso, Avocado & Calabrese Vinaigrette

Saba Pork Shoulder & Sweet Corn Puree

Polenta Shortcake with Cherries

And $18 bottles of Dago red or white wine

I remember when Monday night supper at Little Dom’s was three courses for $15, back when I was a part of a writer’s group that met at the home of someone with money. We haven’t done the writer’s group in years, which is fine, because some people got into dramatic dealings with one another and when the drama leaves the Final Draft file and travels into the real world, it’s rather counterproductive. But we used to meet on alternate Mondays, and beforehand I’d go to Little Dom’s to sit awhile and clear my head, or to cloud it with bourbon and big ice cubes. Anyway, years later this actor wanted to go on a date and so did I, so we went to Little Dom’s.

I’ve been ghosted often enough by middle-aged creative professionals to recognize that as fun as this evening was, it wasn’t going to lead to anything much. But we ate and it was good, and then we went to a bookshop because it was close and because bookshops are always a good place to wander.

Skylight Books has a tree growing through the center of the store. I have tried in vain to imagine something more appropriate for a California fairy tale than that. It is, in essence, a Francesca Lia Block book come to life.

We poked around the shop, and I purchased Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I bought it because it seemed like the kind of thing I should’ve done a long time ago, and because I’d heard it was good, and because it happened to be next to Things You Should Already Know, You Fucking Idiot by Laura Moses and Ben Schwartz, who are both extremely funny and distractingly attractive. If one is going to read a humorous guide to dating, its authors ought to be hot. I think Proust wrote that, and it’s true.

Later, we drank at my house. We did not have sex. The actor promptly absented himself from my life and then, oddly enough, reappeared several months later to praise an essay I wrote about suicide. A certain kind of man got very much into his feelings when Anthony Bourdain died, and I received a cavalcade of messages from a few who had previously decided to be out of touch for months or years. This also happens when I put up a photograph on the Internet in which my hair or tits look particularly good. Suicide and thirst traps: equally alluring to some men, it would seem. I miss Bourdain, who I never knew. I don’t necessarily miss these others, but it’s nice to hear they’re doing okay.

Anyway, back to the bookshop, back when Anthony Bourdain was still very much among the living and I was on a date that was going nowhere fast. I bought the book. Then I waited a week or so to begin reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem, as I was busy completing an article about testicular health. The story ran as “Your Balls And You: A Primer.” Again, Proustian levels of artistry and insight.

I brought Slouching Towards Bethlehem around with me to all the coffee shops and restaurants in which I usually write, but I had to get the finance column in, and the update to the nonprofit website, and of course the advice column couldn’t wait, and I had loads of emails to answer, and I needed to waste time on Twitter and Instagram. I didn’t get to crack the book open until one late night at Fred 62, a 24-hour diner with a couple of branches in town.

I like Fred 62 because it is always open, and I find that enormously comforting. They let you read or write or bury your sorrows in texting for a long while, so long as you order things with relative frequency. On Saturday nights it’s loud enough to provide the exact sort of background noise I need in order to focus.

I ordered the Poorboy Richgirl, which the menu describes as a “freshwich” with “chili shrimp, crispy golden chicken, lettuce, pickles, tomato, Cajun dipping sauce” and which I always order because it is crunchy and salty and not too heavy. I ate it quickly, got a pot of tea, and began to read Joan Didion.

I was reading her with a nearly-healed broken heart — not from the bookshop date, although I wouldn’t have gone out with that guy if I didn’t suspect he had the ability to disappoint me. This was about another middle-aged creative professional, and, if I’m honest, about his wife and kids. It was just an emotional affair, nothing physical, but it was terrible in the extreme. And I went on the date with the actor just a little too soon afterwards. I didn’t know what an emotional affair was before I had one, and I didn’t know it was a “real” relationship — or that it felt enough like one, such that there was a kind of grotesque refractory period during which one must go through the stages of mourning in order to be up for the task of dating again.

But at least the date with the vanishing thespian led me to Joan Didion, who, I would soon discover, has a way of showing you her wounds and, in the process, opening up your own. And if you read her in California and if you love California and if you are not yourself a native daughter of the Golden West, you will, inevitably, ask yourself why exactly you are here, and why you had ever been so foolish as to live anywhere less heartbreaking than this.

Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream

This is a story about love and death in the golden land, and begins in the country.

I always ask where someone wishes to sit when we go out to eat. Do they want their back against the wall? Do they even think about that? Do they care? I make a joke about how my family is Sicilian so it’s a whole thing. In truth, it has little to do with ethnicity and everything to do with a history of trauma or violence. People who sit with their backs to the walls prefer to scan the room. They want to see the entrance and exit. They want to judge, as best they can with their eyes and inner catalogue of past bad human behaviors, whether the other people in the room are a safe bet.

Addiction, beatings, mental illness, sexual abuse, rape, incest — my family has it all and more, if you go back through the generations. I count myself among the most fortunate of my clan, on both sides, for many reasons. Two reasons are my parents, who permitted and even actively encouraged education and therapy. Each wanted to break a certain cycle. They are usually okay with sitting anywhere at the table. I usually am, too. But I always ask, out of deference to others.

Once I was hanging out with a friend in the adult film industry and her girlfriend at the time, a veteran of war. We met up at a family Mexican restaurant in Highland Park with my friend, a guy I dated years ago, a veteran of that same war. Nobody was in uniform and I guess me and my gal friend forgot to explain that these two were military folks until it came time to sit down. They awkwardly and politely tried to negotiate who would have their back to the glass window. Me and my friend, who is a gifted writer and storyteller besides all the porn talent, figured out what was going on and explained. Everyone laughed. A friendly compromise was reached. Margaritas were ingested.

When you’ve been through a particular kind of thing and so has someone else, maybe you trust they’ll be a good lookout. Maybe you trust they’ll have your back. Sometimes it’s even true.

I think we were at Mando’s or maybe we were at La Fuente, but they’re both good. You should go to one or both, if you’re ever in the area.

John Wayne: A Love Song

Suddenly the room was suffused with the dream…

Joan Didion had a crush on John Wayne. Not necessarily in a romantic sense, though probably in a romantic sense. But he was cool, and steady, and handsome in his way. He embodied a sort of masculinity, male-ness, onscreen and, it seems, off. She got to interview him, hang out, have dinner. It seems she liked him, and it does not seem she liked most people about whom she wrote. She didn’t necessarily hate them, but disdain is present in a lot of her writing.

I don’t know any John Wayne types. Never did. I have a friend who likes to date men who look like Vikings: tall and strong and quite white. They often have visible abdominal muscles, including the kind that point down to their dick — that flying V seen mainly on water polo players and soccer stars. This is mysterious to me. The only tall guy I ever dated slapped me when I told him that I’d slept with someone else — we were not monogamous, so my act was not a crime or even a betrayal of our agreement. He was mad the guy wasn’t white.

I’m sure other tall white guys would be lovely about it. Probably the ones with visible abdominal muscles would be, anyway. I mean, things are going well for them overall.

As for my own height, I’m short. Short with hips and boobs and a belly that is not flat. It does, however, contain a functioning stomach as well as other organs. I don’t have much of an ass, but I have a healthy anus at the conclusion of my alimentary canal and I can shit and everything, so I guess things are going fine. My body works pretty well most of the time, and I’m grateful for that.

Recently, a man tried repeatedly to tell me I was zaftig. This is a Yiddish word typically deployed, in my modern experience, without malice but with a kind of passive-aggressive negging tone. “She’s a little zaftig, but what a pretty face!” There are sweeter, more grandmotherly ways to use it, but this was a straight man trying to flirt with me.

I told him that the term — while nuanced in its way, with various applications — is often disdainfully conflated with fatness a la “pleasantly plump” and I didn’t particularly want to be called it. I do not consider myself fat or pleasantly plump, but I’m sure some folks do, and whatever, that’s fine too, but I also have been informed by self-described fat activists that I am not fat enough to use the term fat, and thus I’d prefer to just avoid the issue altogether so no one gets upset, because I really don’t want to deal with the whiny emails.

The thing to do in this case was to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that at all. I meant ‘zaftig’ like [fill in the blank complimentary phrase.] But I totally hear you, my apologies.” Instead the man haughtily told me that I was wrong, and that no one uses zaftig that way, and that I simply didn’t understand the various applications of the word.

Oh. Okay. I’ve had it used that way about me, in my presence, to my face, but sure. My experience isn’t real.

There are indeed a few ways to look at the word. Merriam-Webster breaks it down as “slightly fat in an attractive way.” This is typical, and seems to reek of exactly the type of fetishization that irks me. If you’re looking down your nose at me and benevolently smiling but you have a boner, you’re still looking down your nose at me, bro.

It happens enough, this sort of thing with a man — I say the sky is blue, they say it’s green, I say it’s actually blue, and they tell me I’m wrong or imagining things — that I grew immediately fatigued and segued into a make-nice response, which is a “roll over and play dead” type of thing women can choose to employ.

I tried to be sweet and reach out a couple of times afterward, but he didn’t respond. Thank goodness. I shouldn’t have tried to be sweet, but it’s my training. I am working on deprogramming my required cultural education in the Niceness Industrial Complex. I like him well enough, and he’s a smart person. I don’t think he meant me any ill. Was I oversensitive? I doubt it. But texting leaves little room for nuance.

I am writing this, by the way, at one of the few Dunkin’ Donuts establishments in Los Angeles. I am eating an apple fritter. Purchasing Dunkin’ Donuts in Los Angeles always feels sort of precious and nostalgic when you’re an East Coast native, and I did get to eat one myself, so maybe it was worth it.

Try visiting the one in Atwater Village on Glendale. It’s real nice. Clean, in my experience. May it assist you on your journey to becoming whatever version of zaftig pleases you.

Where the Kissing Never Stops

Joan Baez was a personality before she was entirely a person, and, like anyone to whom that happens, she is in a sense the hapless victim of what others have seen in her, written about her, wanted her to be and not to be.

Joan Didion had contempt for just about everyone associated with Joan Baez, and perhaps a little bit of contempt for Joan Baez herself. I would chalk it up to the usual Joan-on-Joan crime — they’re a notoriously vicious lot, those Joans, prone to eating their own, and you’ve got to go down in a blaze of glory, Jeanne d’Arc-style, lest another Joan inevitably bite your head off — except that the Joan Baez described by Joan Didion sounds like a bit of an airhead, and her companions sound like idiots and charlatans.

However, I don’t think Didion despised Baez. In fact, I think Didion felt a little sorry for Baez and thought perhaps that she was being used by some other folks in her circle. I was saying to my friend Curtis the other day that when fame hits a young person, it hits them hard and, like a trauma, seems to freeze a piece of them at that age forever. I don’t know anyone for whom fame has been a mental health benefit. Certainly wealth can help someone achieve better health — less stress about how to keep the roof over one’s head or how to feed one’s kids, for example. And wealth equals access to better healthcare. But fame? Fame doesn’t seem to be good for anyone. At best, it has a neutral impact on a person’s psyche.

I’ve read that Baez’s school was used as the model for the school in the hit independent 1970s film Billy Jack, which Curtis loves with an undying passion. He’s got a beautiful framed movie poster up on his wall. Aided by bourbon, I may have been unnecessarily cruel about the film when I first saw it during a viewing party at his house. There’s an extended improv scene with Howard Hesseman that will haunt me forever, possibly more than the deeply upsetting rape scene with the director/star’s wife. I’m not particularly a fan of the film, but I understand its place in motion picture history, I understand its appeal, and I have respect for all the work that went into it. Besides, would we have “Head of the Class” without “Billy Jack”? I have no fucking clue, but I dug “Head of the Class” and Hesseman is a lovely actor, so hey.

I haven’t seen a lot of live folk music, but I did go to see a folk musician play at a little bar and grill out here. She invited me via Instagram, which was very sweet. I brought a girl friend and we sat and watched and drank soda and ate fries. If not for the high fructose corn syrup in the soda (and probably the fries), it would’ve been the loveliest and most wholesome evening. It was earnest.

I’ve spent a lot of time in comedy, marinating in irony and sarcasm and arch wit and eyerolling, and the truth is that my default setting is earnest and sincere. I liked the folk music. And if I’d been the one assigned to interview Joan Baez back then, I think I would’ve rather liked her, too.

I still would’ve clocked the men around her as garbage, and perhaps some of the women, too. But I think I would’ve liked Joan Baez. I imagine I still might, if ever I meet her.

Comrade Laski, C.P.U.S.A. (M.-L.)

He is in all ways an idealist.

Didion wrote an essay about a 26-year-old native Brooklynite who moved to Los Angeles and dropped out of UCLA to be a professional performative Communist and call everybody else bourgeois. I know this guy. He’s a type. He would’ve fulminated loudly for Bernie in 2016 and, like this heir I know a little, probably encouraged people to vote for Jill Stein or not at all. Then he would’ve taken no responsibility for his part in the outcome of the election, and gotten mired in the in-fighting of whatever group he chose to model in his own image.

I’ve met a lot of Comrade Laskis. It comes with being a liberal or progressive or left-of-center person in this country. You run into them. For some reason they greatly enjoy bicycles. Bicycles are fantastic, of course. One of humanity’s greatest inventions, in my opinion. There’s a bicycle café called Spoke in Frogtown and sometimes I get to overhear the conversations of various well-meaning comrades. They are usually, but not always, white men with a lot of ideas and sometimes they want to dismantle the state and capitalism, and they will explain how over an $11 grilled cheese sandwich.

Spoke has reliable wifi and it’s a lovely place to read or write outdoors. It has quite a lot of interesting customers, from various walks of life, it would seem. Sometimes a nice breeze comes through. You can get your bike fixed up there, too. You can have a sandwich on bread from Bub and Grandma’s, which does excellent work and I don’t just say that because my friend’s twin brother is one of their bakers.

At Spoke, you can buy many good things to eat. You can buy smashed blackberry and goat cheese on toast. You can buy your kid a kid-sized grilled cheese and fries for $7.00.

You can buy something without cheese, too. It’s still a free country, for now.

7000 Romaine, Los Angeles 38

He is the last private man, the dream we no longer admit.

Howard Hughes owned 7000 Romaine. It’s an Art Deco building kind of in West Hollywood, not far from Pink’s Hot Dogs, which everybody says is overrated. I haven’t had a hot dog at Pink’s or else I’d tell you if everybody is correct.

Today, 7000 Romaine houses, among other businesses, a climate-controlled tape and film storage center. The company website boasts that its logs are all computerized, and that its client list includes “Foto-Kem Industries, Lucille Ball Productions/Desilu Too, Danny Thomas/William Morris Agency, Jack La Lanne [sp] and Befit Enterprises, The Price is Right, LLC, and many others.”

My aunt and uncle, married 35 years, met at a Jack LaLanne Fitness Center. As a teen, Francois Henri Jack LaLanne had a near-religious conversion to the cause of fitness at a “Bragg Crusade,” hosted by entrepreneur Paul Bragg, whose son and one-time daughter-in-law started the company that makes Bragg Liquid Aminos and Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar, which were both enthusiastically recommended to me by the nutritionist I hired when I was depressed last year. I enjoy both items and use them frequently. I also drink a lot of water, something the nutritionist also recommended. I feel better and I look better. I give most of the credit to the water, but the apple cider vinegar is nice.

The nutritionist would not advocate the consumption of animal flesh, much less processed animal flesh taken from pigs, who are smarter than dogs and capable of great loyalty and displays of emotion. I know that. I will probably never eat a hot dog from Pink’s. I will probably never have cause to enter 7000 Romaine. I like knowing it’s there, though, big and full of temperature-modulated history.

California Dreaming

“Is there any evidence that living in a violent age encourages violence?” someone was asking at the big table.

“That’s hard to measure.”

“I think it’s the Westerns on television.”

California was a dream for those of us who wanted to come here, and for those of us who are here, it is a reality. For some, the dream is dead entirely, the place devoid of magic. Things can be tough here. It’s expensive. Homelessness grows in the cities and, I would think, in the countryside too. Rural homelessness is not something we discuss often in the national media, as it’s harder to spot. I have a friend back in North Carolina who works for a housing nonprofit and the rural homelessness is what keeps bedeviling them, as it has for a long time.

The dream is not dead for me, the magic is still here — but I’ve only been here (on and off) for six years, and I’ve been lucky. I’ve had help, from a boyfriend at one point, from parents at another. I have good work that I mostly enjoy. I have been handed many things, though I have worked hard for many others. For me to love California is easy. I’m in debt but I order delivery from Sqirl when I want to, precious fancy toast and jam and lacto-fermented hot sauce.

I should stop doing that. I will stop doing that. I can’t afford to keep it up. To spend like you’ve got it when you don’t have it is to lie to yourself. It’s not really about the artisanal this or the handcrafted hippie organic that. It’s about the untruth, the subterfuge, the concealing and the hiding. It took too much from me. I took too much from me.

This may seem like an overdramatic reaction to a predilection for ordering self-consciously hipster cuisine via DoorDash, and indeed it is. When you’re working on one particular thing in your life, everything can seem to be about that one thing, and it isn’t. I am working against excess. I am working for balance.

Sqirl is really, genuinely good. You’ll have to wait in a line outside unless you get there very early in the morning. Stay beside the doorway outside or in line for the counter inside, but leave a gap by the bus tray and the kitchen entrance, or a pissy waiter will piss off at you, pissily. They’ll put a shaved watermelon radish on anything, and you’ll like it.

Marrying Absurd

Another round of pink champagne, this time not on the house, and the bride began to cry.

What the fuck is a successful marriage, exactly?

I eat alone often, with my nose buried in a book or my hand swiftly moving, holding a pencil, scratching a page. Most couples pay me no mind, once they’re done with a brief curious glance at a woman alone in a crowded place. They talk to each other, they argue, they laugh, they make plans. Few of these couples seem in that moment to be having a really great time, especially when they’ve got kids with them.

At Gracie’s Pizza in East Hollywood, I saw a happy couple the other day, clearly more interested in each other than in their two young boys, but interested enough that the kids probably won’t grow up with a complex about it.

I was eating a slice of grandma pizza: fresh burrata, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, bread. I had just finished dropping a not inconsiderable amount of money on a red one-piece bathing suit and a red bra at Jenette Bras a few doors down. Jenette is an actress and a lingerie-monger with three stores and probably more to come. Her most widely beloved role was as Vasquez in Aliens, but she’s been in loads of other stuff. She does a lot for the community, including sending an army of bra fitters with free undergarments for an annual prom “shopping” event for foster youth. She’s a good presence.

I’m single and it’s not like I had anyone in particular to show the bra to, so I took a photo of myself in it (with underpants, thank you) and put it on Instagram.

The happy couple at Gracie’s did not know this, or care. They really enjoyed each other, you could tell. I texted my friend, “I think I’m actually watching a happily married couple.”

He was a good husband, or good enough. The bad husbands check me out without even paying mind to their wives noticing. Sometimes it’s so obvious that I look up and stare back at the men, and not in a nice way. When I do this, their wives never look mad at me. They look tired: He does this all the time. He does this to everyone. It’s not about you, or her, or her. It’s not even about me. It’s about him.

Sometimes I actively hope these women are cheating, that they have somebody, somewhere, making them feel beautiful. That’s not a nice thing to wish. I also hope they’ll leave this guy and find somebody better, or just enjoy being alone. That’s a nicer thing to wish.

The marriage I have most closely witnessed is that of my parents, who met as teenagers at the small town high school where my grandfather was principal. They never had much advice for me regarding dating because, well, they simply didn’t do much of it. They tell me that it’s better to be alone than with somebody who isn’t nice, and to find somebody who is good to me. I tell them I will try.

I found somebody who I thought was good. I didn’t mean to find him. He said he didn’t mean to find me. I don’t know if that’s true. The upshot is this: he was and is married, and not to me. We became friends. He said he loved me. I said I loved him. We did not make out, or have sex. No cuddling. Nothing of the sort. We only met in person perhaps eight times. Twice alone, drinking iced tea at my kitchen table. Six times in public places. The Internet can turn a stupid flirtation into The Age of Goddamn Innocence if you let it.

It is over, and has been for some time. Except. Except I’m writing about it still, because there’s something about it I haven’t exorcised. Guilt? Certainly. Anger? Yes. I spent so long being angry at myself that I forgot to be angry at him. That arrived, eventually. It’s here. It’s already fading, as everything does in time.

I am not a man-eater. I am not a husband-stealer. Or a wife-stealer, though that sounds more interesting. I don’t know what I am, but I am not those things, and I am not married. Maybe I never will be. It would be nice to be like the people at the pizza parlor, making each other laugh and benevolently ignoring the small people they made with their bodies. I don’t know how that happens. I don’t know what the fuck that is.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

All that seemed clear was that at some point we had aborted ourselves and butchered the job, and because nothing else seemed so relevant I decided to go to San Francisco.

San Francisco is a large upscale luxury shopping mall with Twitter HQ as its anchor store. Enraged homeless people wander its parking lot, kicking the Land Rovers and spitting on the Porsches. Mostly they don’t hurt anybody. Sometimes they stab each other, or people who have good parking spots. You can understand why.

I went on a few dates one weekend with a very nice multi-millionaire whose company pays for a $4000 a month studio apartment that I am told is approximately 400 square feet. We ate lunch in the Twitter building and worked side-by-side on our laptops in pleasant silence.

I had flown up to San Francisco because I had a free ticket with Virgin America (RIP) and I write better when I’m on the road, in airports and hotel rooms. It’s a lesson I learned from a successful guy who cheated on his girlfriend with my friend and then stopped talking to my friend and to me, I assume because he thought I knew. I didn’t, and simply believed he’d turned icy cold and rude, until the friend mentioned it years later. The man still looks tense and worried when he sees me at parties, which pleases me. Anyway, that guy writes better in hotel rooms, too.

I had to finish a screenplay because I thought the union might go on strike. I had to turn in my work before the strike deadline if I hoped to get paid. I wouldn’t be permitted to work on the script during the strike. If I did and handed it in, I’d get in some kind of trouble. So I needed to knock it out.

I shut down my social media during that time, and a few strangers grew alarmed and emailed my representatives. I couldn’t decide if that was a sign I use the site too damn much or a sign that those people were fucking bonkers. I decided it was both. They did seem very nice, though they’d invented a rather one-sided codependent relationship with the version of me they encounter on social media and in books. It was a creepy overreach, sure, but for some folks the people they see mainly online are more real than the people they see every day. I should know; I had an emotional affair that took place mostly online. I get it.

I got to SFO eight hours before my flight back to Los Angeles. I kept working out of a nondescript airport café with wall outlets. At some point I stupidly checked my inbox and read a frantic email from the guy with whom I had the emotional affair, freaking out that I’d temporarily shut down my social media, which I realize now was the main way he got a hit of his drug of choice. Same for me, really.

I dipped a semi-stale hunk of bread in my big paper cup of salty chicken noodle soup and wrote him a haughty reply. Then I put up some sort of a note across my sites about how I hadn’t killed myself and was, in fact, just busy working.

I kept working. I got it done. I flew to Burbank. Online, I say hi to the multi-millionaire sometimes. I don’t think we’ll date, but I like him and think of him fondly. He travels the globe, and he works very hard. I don’t know for sure, but I think he is a good person.

On Keeping a Notebook

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.

When I say I wrote a memoir that came out when I was 31, some people laugh. “What did you even have to write about?” is a not-uncommon question. Of course, it’s not really a question. It’s a comment. And while I certainly rode the wave of the One White Woman’s Journey™ autobiography that swept publishing for, oh, 15 years, I did have a few things to write about.

Not kids, as I didn’t have any. Not marriage, as I wasn’t in one. Not any sort of great oppression or nightmarish abuse. I don’t blame people for thinking I might not have much to write about, or to think I hadn’t earned that shot — as if any type of success in the arts is ever purely earned. For every talented hard worker who gets a big break, there’s a talented soul who works doubly hard and doesn’t. The truth is, a lot of this shit is luck.

I worked hard, yeah. I was talented, sure. But I wasn’t any kind of genius. I was a New Jersey-bred stand-up comedian and radio host in New York City with some online viral success. And then, seemingly magically, I had a memoir and an audiobook version of that memoir. I had a little book tour. I had a bunch of press interviews. I had a big book party, thrown by my publisher, at Housing Works Books in Lower Manhattan. Then I had a big book party, thrown by my own parents at a Hyatt in Jersey City, with a cake in the shape of my book. My mother cheerfully said something to the effect of, “Well we don’t know if we’ll ever have a wedding for you, so we may as well have a book party!” She said it in front of a few people who blanched. I didn’t. I grew up with it.

None of this really indicates that I had produced the next Bastard Out Of Carolina. And indeed, I hadn’t.

I wrote about mental illness. Agoraphobia, to be specific, so severe that for a time I was afraid to leave my living/sleeping room in my Boston studio apartment, even just to use my bathroom. I urinated in jars and in cereal bowls and let it fester until it smelled too acrid, and then I would get up and pour it out and go back to bed. Real Howard Hughes type shit, probably, though I’ve never learned enough about him to know if he pissed in receptacles other than the toilet. Some shrinks call this “inappropriate elimination,” just so you know.

The book was called Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom. I liked it then and I like it still. I’d do some things differently, some things better, but isn’t that true of life in general, not just the records we keep of the people we used to be?

My brother told me I became over-identified with agoraphobia and panic disorder, that it came to define who I was. It was my first book, and for a while you get pinned to whatever that theme is, whatever that story is. I’ve written other books since, in many restaurants — some in New York, some on the road, most in California. These days I travel a lot for work, and to see my brother’s son, who wasn’t born when any of my books came out. I have to make myself leave the house at least every other day, or I start to get odd again. Not pee-in-bowls odd, just a little off, like a wall-mounted picture frame ever so slightly askew after a tiny earthquake.

One day I sat in Sawyer, a very California, farm-to-table-ish, light and airy joint in Silverlake where I like to eat sometimes. I didn’t think of how I used to be afraid to go to restaurants because I knew I’d have to pee a lot and then I’d be embarrassed so maybe it was better just to stay home. What if I had a panic attack, after all? I had them all the time when I left the house, so it was best to just stay home. Eating was troublesome because when I ate I had energy. Better to eat less and sleep more. Better to stop eating if I could. Better to get smaller and smaller until I disappeared.

That desire, the one to disappear, had returned three weeks prior, but only for a few days. I got the help I needed. It had been years since I’d thought such things. But now my appetite was back.

At Sawyer, I ate grilled garlic shrimp and hush puppies. I drank too much iced coffee. I had a snickerdoodle and noticed the couple beside me staring longingly at my dessert, so I offered them my brownie and chocolate chip cookie. They sweetly declined and said they were saving their calories for more cocktails.

“That’s a good use of calories,” I said. I liked them right away. I could tell they liked each other, too, and that made me happy. The man was cute and the woman had bare arms, porcelain glowing in the late afternoon sun. I didn’t tell them I had twenty-one days sober. It wasn’t their problem, after all.

On Self-Respect

That kind of self-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.

I am working on self-respect. I am working on showing better respect to others. I do a lot of deep breathing by myself. Doesn’t sound particularly sexy. Isn’t particularly sexy. I thought for a long time that everything I did should be at least a little bit sexy, unless I was around blood relations or underage children. Or animals. Other than that, I should probably be slightly sexy all the time. At the gynecologist, ironically the least sexy medical experience possible, I always try to have my hair done nicely and my legs shaved. I wear makeup to the gynecologist. You never know where you’re going to meet the man of your dreams who will fix absolutely everything that’s wrong. He might just park next to you in the gynecology parking lot. He shouldn’t actually be your gynecologist, of course. That would be unethical.

My last medical visit was to the skin cancer doctor. The cancer center is named after the Disney family members who endowed it. My dermatologist is also a surgeon. He’s the head of a skin cancer program at one of the local world-renowned fabulous universities. He also does Botox, because why not.

I visit him twice a year for check-ups and usually twice more for excisions and then another couple of times for suture removal. I like him very much. Not in a romantic way. That would be unethical.

I had skin cancer when I was 17 — very mild, no big deal, outpatient treatment, almost not even worth calling “cancer,” really — and that’s unusual. For the past twenty years, I’ve gone on many visits to various dermatology offices. It’s a nice thing to enjoy saying hello to the person charged with slicing into your epidermis a few times a year.

The last time I was there, they had a pupusa truck outside, because the Valley is sometimes perfect and the V Chos Truck doles out Salvadoran savory stuff and then also plantains with cinnamon and cream.

Disney, cancer, parking validation, platanos. That’s about as Southern California an afternoon as you’re going to get. It was warm and sunny, like it usually is. I felt grateful.

I Can’t Get That Monster Out of my Mind

I think we would all agree that a novel is nothing if it is not the expression of an individual voice, of a single view of experience — and how many good or even interesting novels, of the thousands published, appear each year?

It is an interesting thing, to be a novelist in Los Angeles.

“And what do you do?” someone asks during polite chat at a party or during small talk in a Lyft or during a friendly exchange as they set down the overpriced appetizer you ordered at the nice restaurant you can’t really afford.

“I write books,” you say, and immediately wish you hadn’t said it.

“Ooh!” they say. “I’ve always wanted to write a book!” And then they pitch it to you, as if you have any way of helping, you with the credit card debt and the burgeoning carpal tunnel syndrome and the lapsed WGA health insurance, you who came out here to write for television and the movies because it pays better than novel-writing unless you’re one of exactly 32 lucky mega-bestselling novelists in these United States.

“Well, I also do copywriting,” you say. “Freelancing for magazines and websites. A couple of scripts. You kind of do whatever you can to get by so you can write the books, but it’s definitely not all interesting.”

“It sounds better than waiting tables,” they say, and you remember you’re a piece of shit because of course they’re right.

“But you do other things, too,” you say, because of course they do.

“I do,” they say, and then they tell you, and it’s infinitely more interesting than copywriting.

They are very beautiful, always, and usually young or youngish, and they are passionate about the thing that they love to do, and they’re creative. They are taking a class. They are doing a showcase. They are renting a warehouse space and they are presenting their art. They are co-producing an immersive dramatic installation in a strange church parking lot fenced in by a chain-link roofless shell, the walls of their theatrical sukkah overgrown with moss and vines, their shelter in the wilderness of Los Angeles, a city choked with everyone else’s dreams.

On Morality

You see I want to be quite obstinate about insisting that we have no way of knowing — beyond that fundamental loyalty to the social code — what is “right” and what is “wrong,” what is “good” and what “evil.”

I have slept with more than one married man, but only once in a married man’s home and without his wife’s permission. That seemed a fine enough reason to stop drinking, though I had others. I will add that snacks were neither offered nor served, which seemed rude. I was drunk, but not drunk enough not to notice.

Sometimes I say that I am bisexual because I like the idea that twice as many people can disappoint me. I never say that I like the chance to disappoint twice as many people. I don’t really like either of those things. It’s funnier onstage, when I say the first thing. It seems like I mean it. I don’t mean it.

I am not Saint Augustine. I cannot make my sins into ageless wisdom. I can say, though, that there’s no excuse for being rude. And it is the height of rudeness to enter someone’s home without her permission, and to invite her husband to enter you without her permission. It doesn’t matter how drunk you are. It never matters how drunk you are.

I am sorry, but sorry doesn’t matter. It’s what you do with sorry.

On Going Home

Sometimes I think that those of us who are now in our thirties were born into the last generation to carry the burden of “home,” to find in family life the source of all tension and drama.

I am always at LAX, always. They’ve got a Shake Shack there now, in the Delta terminal, because people from Los Angeles will never lose their hunger for things from New York, though New York is not a good place to live anymore unless you are a multi-millionaire. It can be a nice place to visit, though, and you may need to go through LAX to get there. LAX has a reasonable seafood place with good chowder, and I am aware it is unwise to consume seafood at an airport but I have yet to get sick and so I feel okay about it. There are many other places to eat, but I’m often half-awake when I’m there so I stick with what I know.

I am always at LAX because I go home to New Jersey often, because there’s a baby there and I like him a great deal. He was skinny and grumpy-looking at first, like a precious and judgmental ancient alien. Now he looks like a fat, happy, unwrinkled old man. He is nearly one year old, but not quite.

His arrival means a few things: one, that I face even less pressure than before to reproduce. In fact, I face less than zero pressure. I don’t know what that means, mathematically. Two, my parents laugh a lot more. Three, there is a lot of Elmo in my parents’ home, which now doubles as a shrine to their very pale, somewhat Italian first grandbaby.

I couldn’t remember recently the last time I’d had the kind of sex that can make you pregnant, as opposed to the kind of sex that happens in your mouth or some other non-fetus-producing area of the body. This was significant because I also couldn’t remember the last time I’d had my period. My friends Sabrina and Gia, who are sisters made in the same human body, instantly produced an itinerary from my last work trip, which enabled us to carbon-date the whole experience with alarming precision.

“I always remember dates,” my friend Sabrina said. “It’s the best way to catch someone in a lie.”

Since that blessed coital event, I had gotten sober and then immediately ill. I took a round of antibiotics. I figure any of it could’ve thrown my body chemistry off: the stress of the big life change plus the illness plus the strong medication.

I’m probably not pregnant, probably. If I am, I’ll have to give a single man who lives in a nicer home than I do a most unwelcome message. I don’t recall the address, but it’s unseemly to show up in person unannounced anyway. He’s probably old enough that a phone call wouldn’t be insult to injury. I suppose I can always send a text. How do you deliver that message, anyway, to someone you don’t love? To someone you don’t even know, really?

Once, when my nephew was four months old, we made a silly video. We made noises at each other and I said, “I love you.” He imitated the sound disturbingly well, so that some people watched the video and really thought he said “I love you” back to me. He didn’t, but it is a video I will happily watch on loop for upwards of three minutes.

He grabbed my nose immediately afterwards. It’s my nose or my tits with babies, usually. As these are my main protuberances and babies are even less schooled in the art of etiquette than I, I never take offense. You’ve got to hold onto something in this wild, shaky world.

Notes from a Native Daughter

It should be clear by now that the truth about the place is elusive, and must be tracked with caution.

I am a writer. I am a liar. I am not from California. I am from New Jersey. All of these things are true.

I don’t know why I keep telling you all these things, except that I feel there’s a good reason. I don’t know what the reason is. This is a gut feeling. We will see.

Letter from Paradise, 21 19’ N., 157 52’ W.

Perhaps because I grew up in California, Hawaii figured large in my fantasies.

There is a man I know who grew up in California and who goes to Hawaii as often as he can. He dates a redhead and whenever I ask how it’s going, he says they’re fighting. He has a nice car. We had coffee once at Paty’s in Toluca Lake, where, when last I checked, there was blessedly still no wifi. We worked in a booth, across from one another, on our laptops. I call this “benevolently ignoring each other” and it’s a nice writerly date.

Every six months or so, one of us will flirt with the other. Then we’ll feel bad and won’t talk for a little while.

This could be about anyone, really. Is it about you? Maybe it’s about me. Maybe I’m the man, or the redhead.

Change a few details, and the truth is still the truth.

The job of memoir is not vengeance, or the in-depth analysis of another person. It is self-revelation by the author, a vehicle through which the reader may discover some common humanity.

She’s not a redhead. She’s a blonde. It wasn’t Paty’s. It’s was Priscilla’s. It was Bob’s Big Boy. It was the Smokehouse. It was Commissary, not even in Toluca Lake. It was the Margaritaville franchise on the Vegas Strip, not even in California.

Details have been changed to protect those who are not innocent, but who might prove to be a pain in my ass if I didn’t.

Rock of Ages

I could tell you that I came back because I had promises to keep, but maybe it was because nobody asked me to stay.

I would probably move to Oslo. I would probably move to London. I would probably move to Toronto. I would probably move, probably. But I love Los Angeles. The thing is, I could love those places, too. I am not monogamous when it comes to fondness for cities.

In my life I have lived for a year or more in New Jersey, Boston, Asheville, New Mexico, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, I have lived in a 500-square-foot, one-bedroom back house in an enchanted garden in Highland Park; a 1000-square foot two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Toluca Lake with a boyfriend and a dog; and a 550-square-foot studio apartment in Silverlake with a basement that I never enter. It may have bodies in it, but if it does, they rotted to bones long ago or they’re well-preserved in cold storage, as I’ve yet to smell anything amiss.

Tonight I went to a very nice party at the home of a very new friend and a new-ish friend, where I made some other very new friends. I brought tarot cards in case we needed an activity, because I was raised by an early childhood education major who always had an activity for us at parties, always. I did not take the tarot cards out, but I did go to Garage Pizza in Silverlake at 1 in the morning to have a slice of the most Jersey Shore pizza I’ve yet found out here. It has a toasty, slightly blackened bottom and very hot melty cheese. I read my friend Melissa Cynova’s book Kitchen Table Tarot and I wondered if the guys next to me noticed and thought it was weird. I burned my mouth a little on the pizza, but not much, and it was worth it.

I walked home and I wasn’t raped or assaulted or even bothered, and the one peculiar winged creature on my block that sings loud at night sang loud at night, most likely in the direction of the big Scientology sign over on Sunset, which might look like the sun to a bird or someone else with a small brain.

The Seacoast of Despair

And, like the frontier, it was not much of a game for women.

I am a woman who has not, as yet, produced children or raised children. I may never produce children or raise children. I wrote about a miscarriage in one of my books, and a madwoman with a blog wrote that I should’ve put a “trigger warning” on the chapter about my “abortion.” In medical literature, a miscarriage is sometimes called a “spontaneous abortion,” but this person was about as familiar with medical literature as she was with the common dictionary. She didn’t actually read my book closely, but she pretended she did. One of the joys of sharing one’s art with the world is the inevitability that it will be discovered by a fucking idiot who knows how to type.

I wonder what will happen if I never produce someone full-term and viable who could reasonably be expected to care for me in old age. I wonder what will happen if I never earn enough money to fund my retirement and eventual medical needs. This assumes that I will reach old age. The tall palm tree near my home, partially denuded by the city, could fall over at any moment and crush me under it. What would my obituary say? “She died doing what she loved: napping whilst being squished by plant life.”

For someone who has thought so often about committing suicide — the preferred terminology among some is that a person “dies by suicide,” but I’m me, talking about the act, so I would be committing it, and presumably be rather committed to it in order to see it through — I’ve thought precious little about the other aspects of my death. Quite recently I promised a friend I’d never off myself unless it were some kind of assisted suicide due to long-term illness or terrible injury, and I’d tell everybody I loved first. She had brought it up herself, so I was honest. I love her.

Authors have to do their wills in a particular way so as to ensure that any monies earned by the sale of their intellectual property goes to their families. I want all of it to go to my brother and his heirs. And if it ever comes up, I would like my funeral to be in New Jersey, so as to be most convenient for my parents. I should be cremated, because coffins take up a stupid amount of space that could better be used for other things. Sprinkle my ashes wherever you want, Mom and Dad. I will have taken my hands off the wheel at that point.

I have some notes on the food, however.

If it’s going to be a memorial of my life, it should have food. Food is a good thing, typically. I’m pretty sure Canter’s Deli will ship matzoh ball soup to the East Coast, and I don’t give a fuck if you think Langer’s or whatever is better, or if you may as well just go into New York City and get something more easily — it’s my fucking funeral and there will be a vat of Canter’s matzoh ball soup on offer.

There should be rice pudding, and this can be from any Greek diner in New Jersey, although I’d be just as happy with Kozy Shack because that’s really good.

There will be California people in town for the event, most likely, though I don’t expect many to show up. They can bring Sees Candies with them, and good avocados.

Somebody should put a tray of lasagna out, because it’s New Jersey.

Honestly, it should probably be a potluck. No booze — not because I’m sober, but because I don’t want any douchebags getting wrecked and saying some weird shit to my brother. If people at my funeral want to get intoxicated, they should bring weed with them, like goddamn adults.

Ask the Californians. They’ll have some.

Guaymas, Sonora

The road shimmers.

I am due for a good road trip; overdue, in fact. There is something in me that needs to shake loose and be left by the side of the road. I need to shed.

“You are molting,” says my friend. She’s right.

My ex-boyfriend texts to see how I’m doing. He tells me he forgot how the first weeks and months of sobriety are manic, depressing, exhausting, all the rest. He says to keep going. I say I will.

I take days off from my day job but they are to travel to colleges to speak about mental health; to travel to distant cities to perform comedy; to travel to the home of my parents so that I can see the baby and work from New Jersey. I am fortunate to have a remote day job. I have not taken a day off just for fun in quite some time.

I am so fortunate to have work. I am so fortunate to have good work. I am so fortunate to have pretty decent health insurance. I am so fortunate to be here, at 3:30 in the morning on July the 4th, in red underwear and a red t-shirt from the musical “Hamilton,” typing at a distressed-on-purpose shabby chic table I bought years ago off Etsy, under a wall banner by the artist Rayo & Honey that reads “LET THE WORK SPEAK.”

It is so easy to ignore the work, or to simply not do the work at all. It is also easy to yell so loud that you distract people from the work because you are afraid they will not love the work.

I have so much — how many people in all the history of the world have had so much as this? And yet I want so much. I want to be someone’s favorite bestselling author. I want to be someone’s favorite TV show’s creator. I want to be someone’s favorite movie’s writer. I want to be someone’s favorite professor. I want to be someone’s wife. God, that’s embarrassing, but I do. Not just anyone’s, of course. Not any someone’s wife. I suppose if they’ve had other wives, I want to be their favorite wife. They won’t have other wives while I am their wife, although some people are into that — mainly weirdo hardcore religious freaks and weirdo hardcore polyamory enthusiasts. Both of these types will talk your ear off about it if you let them. Don’t let them. It’s really fucking boring.

Let’s try it again: I want to be someone awesome’s awesome (and only, while we are married to each other) wife. It would probably be an awesome dude, but it could be an awesome lady, or an awesome genderqueer person, which would make our “his ’n’ hers” towels “theirs ’n’ hers” or whatever, but that’s fine. I just want some nice fucking towels that represent a goddamn love that’s real. I will not use fabric softener on these or any towels. I refuse.

If that’s a dealbreaker, I understand.

I’m pretty happy single, oddly enough. It’s strange to want to be something else when you already like what you are.

These are the sorts of things I could work out, and then leave behind, on a road trip. Maybe I’ll go to Mexico. California used to be in Mexico. It’s not far at all.

Los Angeles Notebook

People talk to each other, tell each other about their first wives and last husbands.

I came home from a party and found a postcard in my mailbox. It was addressed to me and read: THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY CELEBRITY CENTRE INTERNATIONAL INVITES YOU TO OUR OPEN HOUSE DAILY 9 AM — 10 PM COME TOUR OUR INFORMATION DISPLAYS. The postcard bears the address of the “celebrity centre,” a giant old mansion on Franklin Avenue where somebody who used to be my best friend told me a man was once shot dead trying to run into the place with two samurai swords. The man was, as one might assume, a disgruntled ex-cult member. I don’t know if this is true, but enough outlandish horror is associated with this venomous, pernicious stain on my city that I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a real event.

The storyteller is a former best friend and not a present-day best friend — or, I suppose, really much of a friend at all — not for any dramatic reason other than that we grew far apart over the years. Maybe this will change someday. I texted her when I stopped drinking, something funny and nice and loving, and she didn’t respond. It hurt, but one feels the feelings and one moves on. I didn’t reach out again. We’re all on our own adventures here on this planet, after all.

A friendship breakup can be dramatic and sudden or it can be quiet and gradual. They are painful, these conclusions. We do not expect to lose friendships in the way that we expect to lose romantic relationships. But I am not today exactly who I was yesterday, and the you of now is likely rather different from the you of 20 years ago. Perhaps the you of 20 years ago adored a person who adored you back. And now, 20 years on, you two have not grown in the same direction. That’s alright. Nobody’s fault. It just is the truth, and to pretend it isn’t the truth is to waste time and energy.

You can still love somebody even if you realize you’re not supposed to be together any longer.

Please do not ever visit the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre, even if they offer you a free indoctrination brunch at some point. There are other places to eat nearby: Birds, if you want to see drunk Improv 101 students; Franklin & Company, which has pretty good soft pretzels; The Oaks Gourmet, which has $85 coffee probably; and plenty of other places too.

If I were with you, I’d take you up the street a bit near the freeway entrance and stop by the 101 Coffee Shop at the Best Western. The restaurant is owned by the same people who own Little Dom’s. The hotel owner has a huge collection of autographed celebrity memorabilia, and he uses the hotel to display a good deal of it. I once stayed in the Mel Gibson room (not on purpose) so, while few individuals on this planet can say they’ve slept under a sword from Braveheart, I can say it. And I do, frequently and loudly.

At the 101 Coffee Shop, everything is pretty decent. The food isn’t as good as it is at Little Dom’s, but it’s good enough. I like the waitresses and I like the shakes. It’s comforting, that place. It feels almost like home.

Goodbye to All That

It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.

I use tarot cards. I do not think they are imbued with any sacred magical powers unless you decide that they are. Philosophically speaking, I am half-Scully and half-Mulder. I think I also look like a less attractive version of what might’ve happened had Scully and Mulder mated. Sometimes I’ll refer to one as “Sculder” by mistake, a sort of Freudian celebrity nomenclature slip. Or maybe it’s just my inherent codependency getting the best of me. At any rate, I respect science far more than I respect pseudoscience, but I’ll admit the latter is interesting.

I think of the tarot the way I think of an inkblot test. I could show one person the King of Swords and she says, “Ugh, I hate guys who think they’re powerful.” I could show it to another, and she says, “I get a warm, paternal, kind of feeling from this card.” The images are archetypes and these archetypes prompt conversations. These conversations can lead us to a better understanding of life in general, and certain issues in particular.

I read cards, but don’t take money for it because I’m not particularly skilled and because I don’t want it to be my profession; that carries with it certain responsibilities and burdens that professional readers of great wit, wisdom, and kindness can handle with grace. Then there are the charlatans who promise to see the future, but fuck those people.

Since I retired from drinking, I have drawn the Temperance card a lot. The universe has a sense of humor. God is funny, I think. Of course, this isn’t the Carrie Nation definition of “temperance.” It’s balance, in a fashion. My friend Melissa Cynova wrote in her book, Kitchen Table Tarot, that “Temperance is similar to the balance found in Justice, but it’s more of a day-to-day kinda thing…a little of this and a little of that.” Later, she points out that this card comes after the Death card and before the Devil card in the Major Arcana: “Change, peace, chaos.”

Perhaps recovery is the healing place where we sit after we make the decision to change, before we are ready to entirely walk back into the chaos of what Zorba the Greek called “the full catastrophe.” This is not to say that recovery is without chaos, or that everyone gets to go off on some nice soothing retreat while they dry out.

I will say I have noticed that I go out less. Today I thought about going out to eat, but it’s pricey and I’m trying so hard to manage my money better. I took a small hunk of baker’s chocolate and dipped it in peanut butter and ate it, and that’s probably going to be my dinner. The former was sweetened with stevia; the latter was just organic peanuts and salt all mashed up together; none of it was intoxicating. I enjoyed it immensely.

I don’t mind being around alcohol. It was never what I craved. I’d still build you a nice cocktail if you wanted one. I just wouldn’t drink it.

I used cocktails as an excuse to do things unbecoming of a noble lady. This makes sense, since I am not a noble lady. But if I’m not a noble lady and I admit it, why do I need an excuse to do the unbecoming things?

I should have enough self-respect to own what I do, whether I deem it good, bad, neutral or something else entirely. Alcohol never made me do any of it. We provide a certain amount of social sanction for those who do wacky things when intoxicated. It was rare that I went a week with more than five drinks, and in fact some weeks I didn’t drink at all. But when I did, I was less than I want to be. I was less than I can be. And it wasn’t wacky or enchanting or funny or cute. It was shitty.

I am trying to be less shitty.

Last night I watched Hannah Gadsby’s brilliant comedy special, Nanette, on Netflix. It was very good. It was excellent. It was comedy and it was not comedy. It made me want to write.

I have been thinking of this essay for many months, and working on it here and there for a bit. I finished Gadsby’s special and I asked myself, and thus the tarot, if I ought to get up and lose sleep to write more. I knew I’d be grumpy the next day, less high functioning than usual — rather like when I used to be hungover, actually.

The card I pulled was The Sun. It’s a happy naked baby riding a beautiful white horse. I’m not sure why anyone in the courts of Renaissance Italy thought a naked baby would ever ride a horse, or that such a situation would be comfortable for anyone, but I’ve known too many Italians — the real kind and the American kind — to bother attempting to ascribe logic to much of what they do, say, draw, or cook. When it works, it works beautifully.

Besides the baby, there’s a lovely white wall. There’s a giant, calm-looking sun. I don’t think of the sun as chill — I think of it as fiery, busy, wild. But this sun is chill as fuck.

There are sunflowers. The baby has a crown of flowers, or little suns. Maybe the baby is an angel. It’s a happy, upbeat card.

It is also a card of revelation, of shining light into the dark corners to shrink the monsters who live there — or to reveal that they are wounded, and they are frightened, and they are trying in their primal, violent way to protect themselves, and you. That’s why they’ve been growling threats your entire life.

You can pick them up. They will bite. You will recover. It’s not just a flesh wound, but you’ll be fine. Hold them close. It’s alright. They have been waiting for you.

You may be surprised by the warmth and strength of their desperate, relieved embrace. You can love them, finally, if you want. I hope you do.

They need you. I said they have been waiting for you. So have we. I know it is hard.

Don’t go, yet.

Don’t go.

You can do this.

Sara Benincasa
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