Because You Are Awesome And I Miss You.

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I am so grateful and tickled and touched by all of your love and support and kindness. The amount of people who have reached out to say hello and congratulations and all sorts of nice things is incredibly moving. Wonderful people from so many times and places in my life have popped up to say a good word or throw down a Facebook like, and it just reminds me how lucky I am to know such fine folks. It’s encouraging to be bringing a new life into a community, spread out as we all may be, of caring people.

I admit though, it is pretty irksome at times that modern technology allows us to feel as though all the amazing folks we have ever known are right at our fingertips, but at the same time, the rhythm of life and the rules of the time-space continuum prevent us from actually keeping up with all the good people. I mean, I Facebook stalk you all when I can, and I totally rejoice in your awesome adventure photos, hilarious work anecdotes, tasty food pictures, and various other tidbits that give me a sense of where you are and what matters in your life. But it’s so not the same as just hanging out. I wish to pieces I could sit down for coffee (no, tea, no, juice, maybe, water…in my current prego state), or go on a hike, or make dinner for each and every one of you.

I am curious to know where your life has taken you. What are you doing; where you do you live; who do you love? What’s your current obsession, your next big plan? Is life an up, a down, a sideways, lately? Nothing would make me happier than to get word of you. If you leave a comment or send a message with a bit of news on life, I promise to write back. The time-space continuum can go kick rocks—I promise.

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Cameras And Death

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Do I start by saying…I bought a camera? Ahem, with a lot of help from my mother, I bought a camera. A real one—an awesome but not too scary my-first-DSLR kind of camera—a Nikon D3300. If all goes well you will be more consistently overwhelmed with pictorial support for these ramblings. I’m just starting out, thinking about things like aperture and shutter speed in practice for the first time, instead of just wondering how much more precisely I might be able to capture the world around me if I had some power over such things.

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I guess I’ve effectively started with the camera, so now I just have to figure out how to segue into the rest. It’s strange, looking at these pictures. I like them. I’m still working out the whole lighting and composition thing and will be for a while I imagine, but on the whole they’re okay. Pretty snapshots that remind me of my childhood, details from the house I grew up in, flora and scenery that strike me as particularly Californian, plus a couple pensive travel shots from the road home (back to France, I don’t know where the hell home is anymore. I suppose I have more than one and that’s a blessing more than anything).

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The pictures are a little nostalgic, maybe even a tad brooding, but largely comforting. I hope there’s a hint of unease sifting through it all…the sneaky whiff of impermanence permeating all the pretty things. But it’s a far cry from the distinctly unsubtle reminder of impermanence that’s in the foreground today.

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A 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal yesterday morning. The Bodhanath Stupa cracked right through its eyes, from top to toe. The minaret next to Swayambhu Stupa exists only in the form of a pile of rocks. Nearly two thousand deaths have been counted in Kathmandu and surrounding villages have not yet been accounted for. Most of the monasteries are okay, but not all, and the master teachers are calling for prayers and joining in their support for the deceased, wounded, and disenfranchised.

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How strange that this place where I walked less than a year ago should now be so dramatically redesigned by a shudder of the earth. How strange that catastrophes like this happen so frequently and we can do so little beyond join our hands and send a few bucks or even fly halfway around the world to collect the rubble and try to find and feed those that remain. How strange that death is present like a drop of rain hovering over us ready to fall at any moment and we so rarely feel its impending arrival. How strange that devastation washes over this earth regularly and suffering permeates the planet in both visible and invisible ways at every moment and we are so adept at sidestepping its implications.

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How easy it is to be lost in the urgency of what needs to be done without remembering why. How easy it is to adopt a rhetoric of care for others while nurturing frustration and malcontent. How easy it is to speak of focus and deliberation while engaging in distraction and agitation. How busy I manage to keep myself to avoid facing death. Death.

Death.

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It’s coming for me. Every moment is an ending. One that I ignore, clinging to the next moment’s beginning. Every moment could be the ending of the life and self I know. And I’m not ready. I’m trying to be ready, to get ready, to learn to face impermanence and give up the illusion that all I see and know has truth and existence to its nature. To appreciate that what I perceive is as weightless as a dream and as ever changing. And that this is neither good nor bad, but simply freeing.

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But um, I don’t. Not yet. And if I had to bet, I’d bet a lot of the people that lost their lives or their homes in Kathmandu hadn’t quite got that one down yet either. So pray them for them.

And pray for us all, that we learn how to live with our dying, with the ending in every moment. And if you don’t pray, write a poem; sing a song; hug a friend; climb a mountain; do a thing that reminds you how fleeting we are and that the business of learning how to live with impermanence is a shared one.

Love and good luck.

The Cold Season And A Black Sesame Caramel Tart

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The frost is on the leaves, the leaves are on the ground, and bare branches begin to pierce the clear, cold sky. I saw my first French chickadee this morning. They’re fatter than the chickadees I have known in Arizona mountains and New England woodlands. It must be all the cheese. 😉

Oh wait, it’s just me that dosing on delicious French dairy these days. If you live near a decent cheese shop, go ask for roquefort, morbier, and tomme catalan straightaway. Eat the roquefort with golden delicious apples, the morbier with grilled mushrooms, and the tomme catalan with quince jelly and toasted almonds.

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I’m a bit giddy and heady these days. Happy Thanksgiving and Chanukah, by the way, to all the other Americans and Jews out there. In lieu of celebrating proper Thanksgiving today, I’m commemorating my own favorite version of the holiday this weekend: Friendsgiving! It’s Thanksgiving with your friends, when you want, how you want, in whatever country you want, and one step further removed from the massacre of America’s indigenous people that Thanksgiving so handily sweeps under the rug. Hehe.

And then I am heading into a week of retreat at Kundreul Ling, the monastic sister center of the Buddhist center where I live. And then I’m heading to Bordeaux to get my visa properly validated. And then to Paris to visit my French family, the incredible people who put up with me when I was a headstrong, naive teenager (now I’m a headstrong, moderately-less naive young adult…it makes all the difference). And then to Cal-i-for-nigh-ay to visit my actual family.

For all my heartache and sadness and frustration, I am very, very happy to get to see my family. My faaaamily. My fambly. The folks who hold my heart close to their own, who have done so as long as I’ve been present in this world. The folks who know what I like to eat on Christmas morning, what the feel of sand under my toes does for me on blue days, what color shoes to get (and not to get) me for Christmas. Who know to look for good museum shows when I’m in town, to plan our schedules around the restaurants we want to try, and to not hesitate to invite me to this year’s super cheesy, hilarious kids Christmas movie (but only if it’s animated).

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When the weather gets cold and the air smells like ice, I start to think of things like hearth fires and the scent of cinnamon. These things are awesome, but they are also mostly cultural proxies drilled into me by American holiday culture. What all that actually stands for is the comfort of home, wherever that may be.

I am lucky to have and have known many loving homes in this life. Home is the invisible ties to the people who color my life. It is profound love expressed through the everyday. Cinnamon is cozy and I’m as much a sucker for that as every other American, but actually, the taste of black sesame renders me much more nostalgic. Not homesick but home-well, heart-happy, for memories of basement Chinese restaurants, my mom’s favorite brittle candy, sharing chocolate halvah with my dad, and not wanting to say the word “furikake” (my favorite condiment on earth; comprised of salt, sugar, seaweed, and sesame) at four years old because it sounded too much like “kaka.” Oh yes, I was refined as a toddler.

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Enough years in the woods has worn down my modesty for bodily-functions, but I try to keep my culinary tastes at least a little refined. Though I can’t deny having a serious weakness for snack food; in France we have these peanut flavored corn puffs that are basically like peanut-butter flavored Cheetos, which sounds weird, but is actually delicious and addictive. Ahem, anyway, all that to say that, unlike my strange ramblings today, the recipe that follows is reliable, sophisticated, and complex. It’s a bit of East-meets-West, which I guess I am too, with Oriental flavors of black sesame and orange flower meeting classic French caramel and flaky pastry crust. While the feeling of home this tart brings about may be particular to me, its deliciousness expresses love under any roof.

Recipe follows…

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Hello, Goodbye, Home

IMG_1465These are the pictures tacked to the wall of my caravan in the Dordogne. I will not see them for six weeks. It’s not a long time, but there’s something aching about departure.

IMG_1471When you leave a place you love, when you know you never get the first time a second time. When you wonder what life will be like when it’s really your life, after you’ve left and come back. And also there’s the simple ache of being elsewhere. Ailleurs. I love this word, in English and in French. It captures all of the wistfulness and the hope of displacement.

IMG_1478The week before I left, I felt blown by the wind. Listing a little in the currents that will carry me, whether I want them to or not.

IMG_1549Before they took me home, those currents carried me out of my green woods and into the mountains. The Pyrenees, where the earth beneath your feet looks paint-splattered on account of the flowers tucked into the landscape.

IMG_1631And when you look up, you lose your breath from the glory. Mountains somehow manage to feel eternal and minute all at the same time. They seem sturdy, but I know they are not. Formed by the heaving of hot minerals, worn into shape by wind and water, dressed in the ever-changing costume of ecology, of plants and critters and rocks and snow. That elements so small can create something so epic…this is the magic of life. Not that it lasts, but that it exists at all.

IMG_1660Despite all my wonder and grandiosity, I manage to feel my own personal sadness as well. To be leaving. To go elsewhere. It is strange to travel from one home to another, to feel bereft and cradled all of a piece.

I will miss the ancientness of France. The whispers of the woods, the different kind of birdsong. I will miss the language: the pause in my brain before I speak; the discovery of the world and myself through new words; the history and personality of those words.

IMG_1727And yet, it is not as though I am adrift where I am now. This is home. I know this place, and it knows me. The palm trees talk to me; the sunshine feels familiar; the smell of salt and sound of sea lions reminds me of the many lives that I have lived in this place. This is the place that I come back to, between all other lives. I suppose that’s where I am now, a bit between two lives, preparing for a future that doesn’t yet exist.

What to do but profit from the sunshine and pass time with those who love me? Oh, a few official things–the consulate will see me soon–but not much besides that, and not much complaining will be heard. 🙂

Pictures from the Past

Carla con cactus: an anomalous heart-shaped prickly pear!

Carla con cactus: an anomalous heart-shaped prickly pear!

I just spent half an hour going through my iPhoto library. I’m not much of a picture taker, so it’s rather an arbitrary journey. Seminal times of life go completely undocumented, while random instances my camera was left on the table get recorded. And yet, there’s something really wonderful in having moments of life that you might not otherwise remember thrown back at you. Like night I processed a bunch of prickly pear cactus fruit with my college friends, one of them in his underwear, because…that’s his style. Mostly naked near danger (sorry, those aren’t going on the internet). Gotta love it. Also the episode that involves numerous people wearing a watermelon rind carved into a shark. It had been filled with fruit salad for Sunday brunch. We’re real grown-ups; we make brunch…about sharks.

Me...laughing hysterically, wearing a shark watermelon and a really terrible shirt, which later got cut into headbands for my cook uniform, phew.

Me…laughing hysterically, wearing a shark watermelon and a really terrible shirt, which later got cut into headbands for my cook uniform, phew.

There are also early food photography experiments and snapshots of nature and still lifes from sudden bursts of pictographic fervor. Some of them are pretty decent. Some are even beautiful. Some are not that great but kind of funny. It’s nice to realize that when I take the trouble to use a camera, I’m actually not terrible with it. I have so many photographer friends who know about manual focus and light setting and things involving numbers by other numbers that I don’t understand – I’ve taken to identifying as not-a-photographer.

My very first batch of macarons, in terrible light, but somehow so hipster that it works. Thank you, Superman.

My very first batch of macarons, in terrible light, but somehow so ironic and hipster that it works. Thank you, Superman.

When I started blogging, I made an effort to post pictures that I wasn’t embarrassed by. At the same time, taking photos has felt like more of a chore than any other part of the blogging process. But perhaps that’s because I doubt myself, not because I don’t enjoy it and not because I’m not capable of it. Anyone can take a good photograph with reasonable lighting and a basic sense of composition.

As I’ve gotten into this thing, I’ve even come to enjoy taking pictures. I still fret over the quality, but these days I just post ‘em anyway. Right now I’m working solely with an old iPhone 3, and while it’s much better than the original picture phones, it’s not quite up to the level of “real” camera that the iPhone 4 and beyond reached. Light capture is pretty mediocre and graininess poses serious problems. But I’m still clicking away, and it even takes some of the pressure off me to be able to say, “the camera’s not great; I did what I could.”

An actual nice photo! Anyone can take good flower photos; there's so many great flowers! These are tatsoi.

An actual nice photo! Anyone can take good flower photos; there’s so many great flowers! These are tatsoi.

Aside from my own little personal journey through photography, one reason I’m sharing this is that I took a bunch of photos today to share with you. These are special photos. Monday is the Tibetan New Year and this week at the center, we are celebrating the end of the year by doing a practice called Mahakala. It is old and powerful, ceremonial and beautiful, and I want to do it justice. Unfortunately, the light in the temple is more-or-less atrocious and well…my camera quality could be better. But I did my best, and I’ll do my best to describe to you what’s happening here, so that you can feel the strength of it too. Keep any eye out, should appear tomorrow or the weekend. Thanks for listening. Thanks for looking.

Guavas and Nostalgia

I am supposed to be doing prostrations right now. In fact, I usually do prostrations before dinner, but my stomach hurt and I wanted to go for a walk and buy guavas and plantain chips in the late afternoon sunlight. So I did.

Guava and Opinel, Ink on Paper, 9" x 12"

Guava and Opinel, Ink on Paper, 9″ x 12″

And then I came home and ate guavas and plantain chips instead of dinner, which, surprisingly didn’t make my stomach feel any worse and maybe even helped? I washed the guavas in my sink, dried them thoroughly, sat on the floor, and peeled them with my trusty Opinel knife that comes with me everywhere. Guavas here are round and rich and the size of an apple. They are custardy and sweet inside with spirals of little crunchy seeds. I ate two, in halves, savoring the creamy flesh and daydreaming over pages of food blogs.

I spent today aching and dreaming. Aching because my stomach is not used to being fed rich meals three times a day and anyway, I seem to process change and uncertainty in my belly as much or more than I do in my thoughts. Dreaming because my mind has been full of nostalgia, pastel colors, and the feeling of running your fingers over lace spread out on a table.

It’s a funny thing, seeking. Everywhere I go, my questions come with me. I spent today dreaming about time spent inside of kitchens and outside of cities. These are the places I go looking for comfort, wherever I am. Lately I have spent my days listening to texts written centuries ago, lists of descriptions of how the world is and how the world is not. I feel I have hardly had moments to be in the world to feel how it is and how it is not. Of course, this isn’t true. Short of deep, deep sleep or a sharp blow to the head, there is no moment when we are not in the world.

But this is the nature of nostalgia. It is longing for what we do not have now. Often, I find myself believing that I long for something I had once or would have elsewhere. But I have been in a kitchen making pastry, while dreaming of being where I am now, and look how that works out. I have even been in a kitchen making pastry while dreaming of being in a kitchen making pastry–another time, another place, another way to feel.

Like always, nostalgia comes accompanied by the wondering of what will happen to me. To France; to retreat; to home; to learn Tibetan; to some other unimagined fate? It is a dream of the future as much as the past. Yearning and questioning come on the heels of uncertainty, the coattails of doubt. I am young and untamed and my mind is wild with such things, though I know they do me no good.

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Perhaps I will long for a kitchen until I am in a kitchen, where I will l long for the place I am now. But tonight I will take my longing and lay it down before Buddha and ask for example in how to let go of what hangs on but does not help. This is the path. May it guide me.

Places to Leave and Return To

This is the single, solitary photograph that I took in Montreal. I liked the play of light on the glasses, and the juxtaposition of vertical lines with repeated circles.  Though only the most token glimpse of late lunch at the well-known Olive et Gourmando, it tells you what you need to know: bounty, satisfaction. If you ever find yourself in Montreal, go there. If you can, also track down the bakery Au Kouign Amann in the hipster neighborhood called Plateau Mont-Royal (I felt at home here, hehe). Finally, visit the Jardins Botaniques.

 I borrowed this ridiculous, teeny picture from their website. It doesn’t do the place justice – you should go and find out for yourself.

That was Montreal, plus old stone streets and poutine and maple everything and the minor exercise of my vastly diminished French. I don’t think four days is sufficient time to really bond with a city, but anyway, I admit, I was distracted.

A Cube I Used to Know, Astor Place, Manhattan

My four days in Montreal followed a week in New York City. And frankly, I was ghosted. I moved to Manhattan when I was seventeen, with newly minted independence, an education paid for by my family, and all of adult life before me, yet still far enough way that I felt no responsibility for it. I lived in late night and early morning cafes, cheap restaurants, yoga studios, and indie rock venues. I went to class and I learned book things, but I breathed the streets and people. But somewhere along the way, I choked on that air. I withered for want of plants and soil. Once, I tore from my dorm room and practically ran the thirty-odd blocks to Battery Park to sit under a tree and mourn for how far the sky felt and how sorry the ocean seemed, its waves unmade against a concrete wall.

The View from My Former Life, Third Avenue North Tower, looking maybe East…

So I left. I found my way back west to mountains and desert and the pinyon-juniper belt. I remembered the city as a place I lived once, filled with both opportunity and human crush – entrancing but no home for the me I knew myself to be. I never looked back.

Then, two Thursdays past, I found myself headed to a Korean diner in Midtown at 3 a.m. Somewhere between the stop lights and taxi lights, the smell of laundry and the smell of piss, I remembered: There is a part of me that lives in New York City and nowhere else.

She wants the whole damn world. She also wants to share. She walks quickly and vacillates between cursing the slow and and reveling in the game of navigating a packed sidewalk without bumping or bothering a single soul. This girl; I remember her.

I remember the feeling of books and art and ambition, everyone’s, all around me. I remember the length between avenues and the brevity between streets, how to navigate by color and the height of buildings. I remember the sound of myriad languages played together like a musical chord. I remember the sound of a city so vast, you can sing while you walk and no one will hear you. I sang so much more when I lived in Manhattan. I remember loving this city, and feeling loved back.

For Future Homes. at ABC Carpet

And now I feel the city inside me, calling me back to a home I thought was no longer mine. It makes sense, I guess. A curator friend once told me, “You can’t guarantee that your work will matter to contemporary art, but you can swim out to where contemporary art is happening and at least stand a chance that it might.” And then he said, “Which is Brooklyn, right now.” I scoffed and said that Los Angeles is practically established art ground these days and anyway, I’d left that other metropolis behind. Apparently not. I’m not booking a flight or anything; I have business yet with these mountains and the tides of art in my current home. But New York City remains, like an itch in the back of my mind. I can’t help but wonder what futures may unfold from the planting of this seed.

That to Which We Defer

A fuzzy sketch of Gemmy watching TV.

My grandmother’s visiting. Her presence leaves a trail of TIME magazines, pistachio shells, and the sound of game shows. In the evening, though, when the game shows have mostly gone off to bed, she finds other entertainment. She used to watch A & E Biography, but I think now, as her memory weakens, she looks for shows with shorter plot arcs and punchier narration.

Tonight she was watching The Church Channel. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen it. In this house we mostly watch HBO, sports, and crime dramas. But tonight when I came in to bring her pills, I sat on the edge of the bed and listened. And I heard this,

“Who’re you?”

“A child of the most-high God.”

And you know what? I get that. Religion, history, politics; those are other stories. This story is in me.

Neuron Norms, 22″ x 16″, ink, chalk pastel, and acrylic on unprimed canvas and loose-weave cotton, 2010

Whatever we trust most in this world, this universe, this frame of reference…we are that. That which we defer to, that within which we place our own faith. We are nothing less than the progeny of our own inspiration.

Even when I’m grumpy, even when I’m frustrated and failing, I am what I take comfort in.

Krumholz Lodgepole, Spooning Boulder by Carla Roybal, 2012

Lodgepole pines twisting in the krumholz of the High Sierra. The smell of sage in my own mountainsides. The slow seeping of ink into unprimed canvas. The memory of every artist that ever came before me, those concurrent to me, and those who will follow after. The feeling of my family and the ones I have found along the way to add to that collection. My butt on the cushion in meditation while each little neuron explodes in madness and wisdom.

I am a child of the most-high God.

Things to Draw: Sculpture

My grandmother gave me this prompt, after some protest. She wanted more specific instructions than “anything.” When I unfolded the paper with the word sculpture written on it, I had no idea what to do. Of course…my grandmother–innocuous, old, affectionate–would saddle me with a conundrum: something simultaneously concrete and abstract, which manages to be both an idea and an object.

I often think of my grandmother as somewhat absent. She is losing her memory, and it is easier sometimes to relate to questions repeated to the point of absurdity as the whimsy of a “crazy old lady” than to admit that entropy is stealing from me some one I have known all my life. This prompt is a reminder that the quick and clever lady who used to tickle me when I wasn’t looking and tease me when I was grumpy (“Better be careful…if you make that face you’re gonna get stuck that way!”) is still my grandmother, even if these days she mostly asks where my cousins are or what day of the week it is.

In the end, I chose to draw a sculpture that belongs to Gemmy, that she bought with my grandfather when they were a young and glamorous couple in the world of design, running a successful architecture firm and filling their house with strange and beautiful art objects. I have no idea who made this sculpture. It is cast bronze, and for most of my life I thought it was abstract, but I discovered today when I was looking at it more closely that it is actually an open-mouthed face seen from above. Still, I chose to draw it how I remember looking at it when I was little, staying overnight for an adventure with my worldly and exciting grandparents. It was mysterious and slightly monstrous, but friendly, a part of my family, as art has a tendency to become.

The Taste of Nostalgia: Homemade Peppermint Patties

It’s a trait of the women in my family that we have food phases. During one of my most fondly remembered childhood food phases, my mom cooked homemade pizza at least twice a week for five weeks straight. For years my sister only ate Inari sushi, California rolls, and teriyaki chicken at Japanese restaurants. She never strayed. I myself had a phase that lasted from probably age nine to thirteen: the chocolate and peppermint candy phase. While other people dabbled in Skittles and Snickers and everything in between, I invariably ate either York Peppermint Patties or Junior Mints. Sure, on Halloween, I took whatever came my way gladly (with the exception of Bottle Caps, which I consider an affront to the concept of candy), but if we stopped for snacks on a road trip or got a treat at the movies, I always, always chose chocolate and peppermint.

The weird thing about food phases is that they end, and often the food which you once so loved sort of just falls off your radar. You hit your limit, or OD, or something like that. I don’t think I’ve eaten a Junior Mint or a Peppermint Patty in, I dunno, maybe five years and I stopped being impassioned about them long before that.

Then, when my sister and I were at See’s Candy a couple weeks ago, she ordered a peppermint patty, and some faded memory whispered to me. The next time I was at a candy shop, I got one myself, and it was like being hit over the head with my childhood, in the nicest way. A long forgotten source of pleasure resurfaced, like a friend you run into unexpectedly after years of absence. And as with that friend, you feel sort of bad that you’ve been out of touch for so long. Why did I let this loveliness go unappreciated for so long?

But hey, there’s a way to make up for the oversight: by creating a scrumptious ode to the altar of chocolate and peppermint with my own two hands. So I did. And you can too. Recipe after the jump…

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