21st Century Woman

Tabula Rasa

2018 was a weird year, and really the only efficacious way to see it out the door was to start with a tabula rasa, or blank slate. I cleaned out all the tabs on my phone and on my computer and I present the best of them here for you.

Politics and Culture

Embrace the Christmas Miracle That Is Mannheim Steamroller (The New Yorker)

The Best Damn Stories About The South (The Bitter Southerner)

Snowing in Greenwich Village (The New Yorker)

A Tour of Lady Liberty’s Torch (New York Times)

Letter of Recommendation: Recently Returned Booked (New York Times)

The Lie of Little Women (The Atlantic)

Love City: 24 Hours of Romance, Lust and Heartache in New York (New York Times)

They’re just looking for a chance to live safely. (The Nib)

Self Improvement

On Taking a “Depth Year” (Raptitude)

Be Gracious. (Esquire)

15 Minute Bodyweight Workout (Outside)

My Church is Crossfit. (Vox)

The Science of Sleep (National Geographic)

The Best Glutes Exercises (Outside)

Life and Death

The First Time I Saw a Dead Body (The Nib)

Dear Baby Witch (R.KV.R.Y Quarterly)

Aging Ghosts in the Skincare Machine (Unruly Bodies, Medium)

The Woman Who Cared for Hundreds of Abandoned Gay Men Dying of AIDS (Arkansas Times)

I’ll Miss Coffee When I Die (Electric Lit)

Trigger Warning: This article looks closely at cadavers—specifically that of Susan Potter, who donated her body to a unique scientific project –> Visible Human: Susan Potter (National Geographic)

Green Burials: Thinking Outside the Coffin (New York Times)


How Breadmaking Got Me Through My Divorce (Catapult)

19 Veg-Friendly Party Snacks (Naturally Ella)

Roasted Apple & Fennel Salad With Toasted Hazelnuts & Goat Cheese (Food 52)

Thomas Keller’s Bread Pudding (Food 52)

Roasted Delicata Squash with Honey Butter and Pistachios (Naturally Ella)

Charlie Bird’s Farro Salad (New York Times)

Extra Crispy Roasted Potatoes (Serious Eats)

Persian Jeweled Rice (New York Times)

30-Minute Aromatic Poached Cod (Cooking Light)

Peanut Butter Cheerio Bars (Half Baked Harvest)

6 ingredient vegan chocolate chia mousse (Half Baked Harvest)

Peanut Sesame Slaw with Soba Noodles (Cookie and Kate)

Green Bean Salad with Fried Almonds (Smitten Kitchen)

21st Century Woman

This is 34.

I don’t know how to love things at a chill level and I have no interest in learning. Give me enthusiasm or give me death.

– Rosianna Rojos

One morning I sat on a crowded subway car next to a man who was sweating profusely. He looked around nervously and kept touching the handles of the bag between his feet.

I’ve lived in urban areas long enough not to panic, but to simply observe. I silently pondered whether this was something or nothing, and with it, the consequences of it being something or nothing.

If this is it, I thought, if this is the moment of truth, what would it mean to leave this all behind?

At 34, by all accounts, I am well-lived.

I have a loving family, a centered relationship, good friends.

I have traveled to far-off places. I have studied big ideas. I live in what many would call the greatest city, in the greatest country, in the world.

I am privileged beyond words.

If this were the end, no one could doubt I had a full life.

At 34, though, I feel undone, still unfinished in the ways that matter to me.

If this were the end, I would doubt I had led an effective life.

The train came to a stop. The man got off. The question remained.

At 34, I am trying to come to terms with those contradictions. To have ticked the boxes of our collective standards, but to feel so unaccomplished by my own.

I have no aspirations for fame or immortality. I only desire to approach the world with curiosity and reckless enthusiasm; to be firm in my resolve, and just in my action.

At 34, I am delirious with gratitude.

I eat peaches with abandon.

I am finally learning the capitals of all 195 countries.

I see movies that fill me with deep joy and read books that make me uncomfortable.

I marvel and groan at the way my aging body shape-shifts under me.

I cuddle babies and breathe in their pretty smells.

At 34, I constantly observe other people in the middle of their lives, and I find that I love them so much I think my heart will burst.

At 34, I find am still filled with self-doubt and anxious insecurities.

At 34, I still wear my heart on my sleeve. An unkind word is seared into my memory, sharp and unforgiving forever.

At 34, I am painfully shedding expectations—and people and plans—and holding the things left behind all the tighter.

At 34, I acknowledge the courageousness it took to make the choices—tough, sometimes unconventional choices—that led me here.

At 34, I fall more in love with my partner, with the perfect crinkles around his eyes, and the way he makes himself laugh.

At 34, I mourn the things lost by living so far away from the people I love—the Sunday dinners, the unplanned coffee, the catfish fries. I celebrate the independence and self-reliance it has given me instead.

At 34, I wake up and remind myself to try something new today—with curiosity and reckless enthusiasm.

This is 33.

This is 32.

This is 31.

21st Century Woman

One Perfect Day

You open your eyes—but just barely.

After days and days of rain, there is a perfect sunrise outside your window, so you hit snooze and just bathe in it for awhile.

You get up and dress for how you feel, which is righteous and made of steel, and even though you have already walked out the front door, you double back and change shoes, because you don’t deserve to be anything but comfortable today.

On your way to the subway you realize the summertime-in-New-York-City garbage smell is there…but only faintly…and gosh, is this what regular air smells like?

Your train ride feels like it’s over in a moment because you’re deep in thought, and even though there is that guy acting suspicious (although what does suspicious even mean in New York anyway?) you decide to let it go, because if this is going to be the day you depart this Earth, it seems like a pretty good one.

The sunshine has sated your appetite and for the first time in your life you don’t start your morning with a carb or even a coffee–it begins with a glass of water. And the funny thing is, even though you’ve hated water your whole life, you don’t mind it today.

You open your inbox and it’s rainbows and good news.

That partner said yes.

The project is a go.

The script you co-wrote slayed.

You look up from your computer at your colleagues who are busy making beautiful, wonderful things, and you marvel at how fucking talented they are.

And then you email some other people expecting they will have forgotten about this thing that is due, but they haven’t, and here it is, and it’s so damn good.

It’s lunch time, so you walk around SoHo, beautiful, cinematic SoHo, and you decide to try a new place, but the salad is lackluster, and the soup is sour. Honestly though, it doesn’t even matter, because there is a pack of peanut M&M’s waiting at your desk anyway. You have another water.

Later, you go to that meeting with a lot of senior people, including those women you admire. At one point they turn to you to ask how the delivery of the project is going, and you realize you are the one with the answers, and though the imposter syndrome (#patriarchy) will never go away, for today, it has been vanquished.

Your phone blinks and it’s a friend sending you a poem that made her think of you, and how lucky are you to have friends who read poetry? And how lucky are you to be remembered?

Then, before you know it, it’s the end of the day and you’re shrugging off your introverted tendencies to meet a new person who might also become a future friend. Who knows?  Today anything is possible.

And then it’s getting late and even though you’re 57 blocks from home, you decide, fuck it, why waste this beautiful night underground? So you grab a bike and ride along Riverside Drive as the sun is setting and turning into twilight.

And your legs are pumping, working to shed their winter lethargy.

And the blinking light on your bike is keeping synced with your heartbeat.

And the motion of the waves is hypnotic.

And the light on the water is so perfect you think your heart will break into a thousand pieces.

And you pass the people who are out for a night stroll.

And you pass the people in love on their picnic blankets.

And you pass the people sitting so close to the water they seem to hope it will rise and just carry them away.

And then it’s dark and you haven’t seen anyone on the trail for a little while, which is a little scary, but also thrilling.

And then the wind catches your dress and it flies up around your waist, and you laugh, because, thankfully, no one is there to see your underwear selection.

Your neighborhood comes into view—it’s the one with blinking signs and unsightly billboards—but you don’t mind because it’s yours.

You park your bike, and you climb up the hill, and you smile at everyone, this lone white woman with wild and shining eyes.

You turn the corner onto your street and people have brought folding chairs out onto the sidewalk, and they have an old boombox playing music you can’t understand.

And you realize that this is a perfect day.

And you realize that this is the start of summer in New York.

21st Century Woman

Six Years

I said:

I promise to dream big with you forever. (We have.)
I promise to initiate adventures. (I do, with proper planning of course.)
I promise to look more like Michele Obama instead of Laura Bush (Still working on that.)
I promise to always protect you from Muppets, particularly Kermit the Frog (Always.)

He said:

I promise you a life full of exploration. (Check.)
I promise you a life rich in experiences. (Gratitude.)
I promise that my love will always be unconditional. (Always.)
And I promise your cold toes will always have a place under my legs. (They do.)

6 years of everything and it’s just the start. Love you.

21st Century Woman

A Change of Address


“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” – Tom Wolfe

On Christmas Day, David and I packed up a U-Haul and moved to New York.

There was little public fanfare around the decision or the act, partially because timing, and partially because I felt a little numb.

I had lived in Washington, DC for almost a decade and my geography had in many ways shaped my identity. As I walked along familiar streets in our neighborhood and indulged in “last times” at favorite spots, I still couldn’t fully imagine extracting myself from this place.

Yet, like it had for many people, the year had taken its toll on me. The fraught political climate had made me tense and angry. I was emotionally bankrupt from working at a job I despised. My best friend was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.

Remember that scene in Neverending Story? Yeah, my year had been like that—dark as hell.

And so, we called it. We packed up our things, hugged our landlords/surrogate parents goodbye, and headed north.

Now, I find myself rediscovering what it means to be a local again.

We found an incredible apartment in Harlem; one entire side is made up of sunny windows that look down on a park. We marvel at the quantity of bodegas around us. We hunt for new coffeeshops. We sign up for library cards. We ponder how long it will take us to learn enough Spanish so that we can speak with our neighbors, or maybe not speak, but to at least listen, which seems like the more New Yorker thing to do anyway.

On New Years Eve, we stood on a frigid roof deck watching fireworks blossom around the Empire State Building some 5 miles away, and we fell a little in love.

I don’t ask the city to be a magical balm, but even in this season of intense cold, I feel a little bit of the numbness melting away. And for now, that will do.

21st Century Woman

Watermelon and Ryan

I was at the grocery store on Saturday and looked hard at the watermelons that seemed so out of place on an otherwise fall evening. Still—the melons were the right color and the thunk was proper, so I grabbed one and put it in my cart anyway.

Later that night, I opened Facebook just as messages started to appear saying that a high school classmate of mine had passed away suddenly. It caught my breath. Not because it was a death, but because it was his death. He was bright and funny and kind and lovely. I didn’t even know him that well, but I knew all of those things to be true.

The next day, I found myself alone in the kitchen, quietly cutting up the watermelon. I would methodically make a slice, then will the melon to release from the rind. Meanwhile, I thought of Ryan.

There is only one vivid memory of the few I have of him: We were sitting on a stage, waiting for rehearsal to begin, and as I turned in his direction, I caught him looking longingly at a classmate. He caught me catch him. We paused, and then we laughed and looked away, embarrased.

I finished cutting the melon and put the pieces into containers in the fridge to cool. I took the rinds, now empty and somehow sacred, and placed them carefully in a bag. They were strangely beautiful even when they had been cleared of their color. Later that night I took the watermelon out of the fridge and I ate the cold pieces one by one over the sink, thinking of him.

21st Century Woman

This is 33.

I’ve had a lot of great birthdays, but this was not one of them. A few weeks into 32, I could feel a drip, drip of dread for 33. I’ve taken birthdays as they’ve come, never giving in too much to the weight carried by certain ages and milestones, yet, somehow, the idea of 33 felt uncomfortable to me.

I remember 23 so starkly because it felt like the beginning of everything. I had just finished graduate school and had moved to the city that would become my home for the next decade. That birthday would relaunch the friendship that would eventually become a marriage. I lived in the same neighborhood as my best friend, and I started a job that made me realize it was possible to be a do-gooder and get paid for it.

In those 10 years, I’ve done a lot of things I’m proud of, and experienced more adventures than I ever thought possible. I’ve gotten to watch my friends grow and change, and pursue their dreams, and have families, and find confidence in their contributions. And best of all, I wake up every day beside the smartest person I know.

Which makes it hard to pinpoint exactly why 33 is so unsettling.

This weekend we had planned to getaway to Asheville and I hoped it would be a welcome distraction from my discomfort. Instead, Hurricane Harvey happened, and David volunteered to go assist. The weekend was cut short, and I suddenly found myself with a 10-hour drive back home, alone with my thoughts.

I filled the first few hours with podcasts and music (the rental car radio seemed to only broadcast Christian evangelists) and a steady meditation of the changing landscape, but deep into my trip I started to lose focus. About 2 hours from home—a part of the trip I know well—I found that I was more than 30 miles past a critical turn. I suddenly felt disoriented, and realized I had been traveling in a fog for the past hour. How had I missed this turn? Where was I now?

With full darkness upon me, and nary a cellphone signal in my now rural surroundings, I tried to quell the rising panic. I turned off the radio and I focused on the road ahead, searching for a literal sign. In the quiet, I could no longer ignore my internal unease.

What’s next? What’s next? What’s next? I pondered.

I had spent my whole life working towards a future I had already achieved, then I had gone on autopilot. I had stopped learning new things. I had stopped thinking ten steps ahead. I yearned for nothing because my yearning had been fulfilled. It suddenly felt as if my dreams had been too small.

I started thinking about all the things that lived far beyond the life I had imagined for myself (things too big and audacious to name) and wondered if it would be possible to reset the finish line. What would that look like? Was I ready for the inevitable steps backwards and sideways? The hurt of rejection? The hours and sweat it would require?

I wondered.

A few minutes later, I regained the scantest signal and a text message from my friend arrived eager to know if I had found my way back to the main road yet. A sign for my missed turn came into view, and I made a left towards home.

This morning I woke up to feelings that are still complicated, but somehow also attached to purpose.

So, what happens next?

To be honest, I’m not sure. And for that, I’m glad.

21st Century Woman

Checking In

Hey Friend,

Just checking in on you.

You doing okay?

It’s been a tough week. You probably feel enraged, shocked, totally unsure about what to do next. You were probably thinking about how shitty work is and then suddenly the whole world is one big garbage pile and the world is mess. You can’t believe people lack basic empathy, basic decency, basic human fucking kindness, but here we are.

I know, I know, me too.

But we persist, because we must and because we can.

Mind if I share a few thoughts on where we go from here? Okay. Deep breath.

Take care of you.
We need you in shipshape. Take a bath. See your therapist. Go ahead and have the fucking cookie. Give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling.

Take care of others.
There are probably a lot of people you know feeling this way too. Reach out. Offer a hug or just an ear (because sometimes people don’t like hugs). If they want to get angry, get angry with them. Make a plan.

Take care of business.
Yeah, I know it’s a lot easier to sit behind your keyboard, but that’s not enough, friend. Once you’ve done the other two things, make a donation. Call up your Representatives if you’re lucky enough to have them. Attend a rally or other peaceful demonstration. Show up. Oh and while you’re at it—call out racism when you see it. Misogyny* and xenophobia too. Be brave. You can do this.

Okay, so that’s all I’ve got for now. I just wanted you to know that you’re on my mind. That I’m looking out for you. That I’m here if you need to talk.

Here is a picture of Barack Obama and his beautiful family. And also one of Idris Elba. You’re welcome.



PS: This week I was in New York. I was walking in front of Penn Station and I watched not one, not two, but three different men leer at a young Muslim woman of 23, 24, dressed in a head scarf and long sleeves. She kept her head down and her body physically bent to avoid their gaze and their hot breath as she walked past them. One was homeless, one was a construction worker, one was a business man. It was a veritable Village People of leering. I didn’t say anything to them, but I should have, and now I have to carry that in-action with me.

21st Century Woman

Imposter Syndrome

Helping Hand

Image via Giphy


Today, imposter syndrome left me feeling paralyzed.

A woman friend I like and admire had made an introduction for me.

And after I thanked her, I sat at my desk feeling totally paralyzed by the implications:

Someone else had put their good name on the line for me.

What if it was revealed that I was imperfect?

What if I reflected badly on them?

Should I ask them to withdraw their support?

I realize—now more than ever—the extra energy it takes to get ahead as a woman. All I could do was imagine was that their trust in me was a misstep that would bring my friend spiraling back down.


I’ve been very fortunate to be buoyed many times in my career by other women.

Women who helped me get my foot in the door for a job, offered practical advice about a professional decision, or sometimes just perspective.

It is no small thing when women unlock the secrets of success for one another.

Once, during an annual review, my boss asked me where I sat on a scale of one to four, and I suggested a three. She looked at me silently for a moment and pointedly told me to write four.

The four would net me my first serious raise.

Another openly shared her salary with me, helping me negotiate for her position after she left. It’s a practice I’ve followed for the women behind me ever since.

The greatest gift we women can give to each other is to celebrate and champion our successes, and make them remarkable.


It takes a certain kind of woman to turn away from her fellow women, but I’ve seen plenty of those too. Women who crawl on the backs of other women to get ahead. Women who sabotage and scheme. Women who strive to get into the boy’s club and then shut the door firmly behind them.

You are not welcome here.



A few weeks ago we hired a young contractor to join our team. At 25, she’s bright and talented. She does thoughtful work, but when she completes her day, she exits the office to rejoin her life. She doesn’t read my emails late into the night, she goes to concerts with her friends. It’s an enviable position, and a good reminder to reset my own priorities.

She came to me this morning to tell me she’s leaving her contractor role for a new permanent position. I’m happy for her, she’ll be an asset to the team she joins.

She thanks me for my mentorship, for my edits. She thinks it’s made her a stronger writer. She tells me that she hopes someday in the future she can work for me again.

I tell her that I will always be there to open a door for her where I can. I will always put in a good word.

And so it goes.


I worked all day to calm that inner voice. I re-read my resume. I power posed in front of the mirror. I listened to Justin Bieber on repeat. I flexed my new independent audio producer cred. I wrote something and had it accepted to a favorite publication.

And then I sat down to write a letter to a young woman, to remind her—when she needs it—that she is talented. and capable, and more than enough.

More than Enough

Image via Giphy

21st Century Woman, Intention



A few days after my sixteenth birthday, I traveled down to see my older brother, Jesse, with my mom and grandmother. Stepping into his adult apartment felt like entering another dimension. Neither my little brother nor I had been allowed to spend much time there.

After years of knowing our brother’s teenage room so intimately—playing with his TI-computer, marveling at his massive Lego city, smelling his Colours cologne, and breathing in the garlic scent of his Pizza Hut apron—this place seemed otherworldly.

My mom and my grandmother shuffled awkwardly around the space. My brother scurried around the room nervously making small talk. It seemed they were all stalling, waiting for something to begin.

I’m not stingy with love, but I love my older brother best. With an 11-year age gap between us, there is no reason that we should be so close, and yet here we are. When I was very young, he became a surrogate parent, rocking me to sleep. In childhood, I had full advantage of his big imagination. As a teenager, he was the protective, insightful, older brother. Today, he is my friend.

With Jesse around, a simple swing set became the most expedient way to catapult oneself over a dangerous lava pit below. A dormant beehive became a scientific expedition. The tall, scary hill covered in snow suddenly became the most excellent sledding adventure.

When you are a kid and you have an older brother with a ‘75 Mustang, you will most certainly experience the joy of a reckless 55 miles an hour (!) drive down a rural back road.

In my childhood, I found my brother intensely curious and fearless. He still is.

We are so close that I was much older before I could fully comprehend that he was my half-brother or what that even meant. He was just Jesse, my Bub.

Sometime around age nine, we stopped seeing as much of my brother. When he did come home, his visits were short, and his hugs were awkward and stilted.

My little brother and I were wrecked by his absence. When he did visit, we wrapped ourselves around him—literally. We would crawl into his lap, hug him needlessly, endlessly. Even though we could see tension between him and my parents, we were undeterred in our mission for his full attention.

One day, after a particularly sharp comment from my mom, my brother snapped at us to get off of him. It was the first time we had ever heard an unfriendly word from him. We slunk away, astonished and hurt.

What followed were a series of years where it felt like Jesse wasn’t welcome at home anymore. My little brother and I were heartbroken and confused.

We often asked mom why Jesse didn’t come to visit anymore and she would tell us he had his own life to lead, that college was a lot of work. We must have asked so frequently that one day she snapped at us, “It’s because you hang on to him too much. He hates that.”

The next time my brother visited, we kept our distance, afraid that the love bursting from our little bodies would push him further away.

Sometime in my early adolescence, we went to visit Jesse in the town where he lived (Christiansburg, maybe?). He was happy to see us, but nervous too. He told us that today we were going to meet his roommate.

As we assembled at Macado’s (!), a tall, lanky guy walks up to join us.

“This is my friend, Keith,” Jesse said glowingly, proudly.


Keith has an outsized presence in my memories. My brother loved him and so I loved him too. He had glasses, which was really all it took for me fall for him (see: Kellie Martin). Jesse’s roommate came to our birthday parties and was always there when we went to see our brother.

And then, one day, Jesse told us we wouldn’t be seeing Keith anymore. Like a child of divorce, we pleaded for answers. Had we done something wrong? How can we bring him back? I remember crying real tears at the loss.

Time passed and we met more a few more of Jesse’s friends, but by then I had learned not to give my heart away so easily.

As I passed into full teenager, we entered another period where we didn’t see as much of my brother.

My mom and I spent a fair amount of time on the road together, driving to Girl Scout events, and once in the quiet car on the way back home, she asked me an unusual question.

“Why do you think we don’t see as much of your brother anymore?”

“I don’t know. I figure he’s busy. And you and dad are not very nice to him.”

“What would you say if I told you that your brother was different? What if I told you he was…gay?”

“Is that why he doesn’t come to visit anymore?”

“I didn’t say that. I’m just asking how you would feel about him if that were true.”

I remember pausing to think. This seemed important. There seemed to be a right answer. I could tell this was hard for my mom.

“I would still love him just the same. He’s my brother.” I shrugged.

I wish I remember what my mom said after that. I only recall her trying to hide tears. Was she trying to tell me my brother was gay? Or was she testing out the concept of “gay” using someone I unconditionally loved? It didn’t matter—for me the answer was the same.

It’s a few days after my 16th birthday and we’re standing in my brother’s apartment.

After some awkwardness, my brother tells me to come sit at a spot in the center of the room. My grandma, my mom, and my brother surround me like an intervention.

I start to feel nervous, so my brother knowingly reaches out and puts my hands in his to steady us both. He clears his throat, and then:

Sis, there is something I want to tell you.

I’m gay.

Do you understand what that means?

I nod.

Mom and dad asked that I wait until your sixteenth birthday to tell you, to make sure you were old enough to understand.

I want you to know that I’ve been careful. I’m HIV negative.

His voice cracked.

I hope you know this doesn’t change anything between us. I’m still your brother. I love you very much, and I will always be here for you. Okay?

There is a long pause.

Is that all?

Yes. That’s all.

Okay, well…I knew that already. And I love you too. Always. Now, let’s go eat.


I didn’t know then, but it was a big deal. My brother had a long, hard road of coming out to my parents. There was a period of time where he wasn’t welcome, where he had been distanced…nearly disowned.

Through those years, we all turned inward. My brother, struggling to come to terms with an identity he had been told was wrong, dangerous. My mother, trying to understand what it means for her relationship with her son. My dad, fighting long held beliefs about right and wrong. My little brother and I, just longing for our Bub.

In a different time and place, we would have shared these feelings with each other. Leaned on the family unit for support and understanding.

But I didn’t grow up in that time or that place.

It would be another decade before anyone in our family dared to stop referring to his boyfriends as “roommates.” Some of my extended family has still refused to acknowledge this fact about my brother. We’re still working on getting my dad not to refer to my brother’s interests as “that gay stuff.”

I would keep the promise to my parents and wait another year and a half for my older brother to come out…again…this time, to my little brother.

After it was over, the adults breathed a sigh of relief and my little brother walked over to me standing in the kitchen.

“So that’s it?” he asked.


“Huh. I mean, he’s still my brother. I still love him.”


It was a weird secret to have kept, mostly because it seemed so benign to us. The telltale signs had been there all along for anyone who cared to look. My brother’s inner battle had manifested itself in the form of complicated mixtapes: Bette Midler and Dolly Parton, next to Amy Grant and Steven Curtis Chapman, with the occasional Madonna, for good measure.

I know that Pride month it not meant for me. It is for the millions of men and women who are brave enough to be their truest selves in the face of a small-minded world.

And yet, here I am. I feel immense pride to be my brother’s sister.