I have read five books by Ruth Reichl, wonderful stories of travel and food and champagne and love. I have read all three of L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon books, which, as Natasha Lyonne avers, are better if grimmer than the Anne of Green Gable series: more honest, higher stakes. Also I have reread Eve Babitz’s Sex and Rage and Black Swans. And of course all of MFK Fisher.
Especially How to Cook a Wolf.
It does not escape me that all these books are by and about women writers who found love and literary success.
For the moment, both evade me. I say “for the moment” because I am relentlessly hopeful in my own way. Though my romances have conferred as much pain as pleasure, I still look forward to the next one.
And though I have yet to sell my book–yet to finish it, even–I see its cover before I go to sleep at night. Sometimes on someone else’s night table.
In the meantime I keep my scale very, very small. Frankly, I’m too broke to go out. I have no money to spend and though an affordable New York still lurks beneath the city’s Instagram ops and best-of lists, I find myself weary and wary when faced with the prospect of restaurants and bars. Friends invariably pick up the checks and it hurts to burden them. This is not how I like to live. This is not how I like to treat my people.
In my home I can take care of business. I rise early and write as long as my brain will let me, then go for a long walk, the neighborhood quiet in the mid-afternoon. I shop the grocery sales and cook slowly as the sun ripens in the horizon. I cook because it is cheaper than eating or ordering out but also because the rhythm of stirring, chopping, stirring–knife thumping, oil sizzling, sauce thickening– feels elegant and serene. The way I felt before the Legend smiled at me and I smiled back.
My complexion and eyes are clear and bright because all this home-cooked food and exercise agrees with me. So does all this peace.Sometimes while stews simmer on the stove, meats roast in the oven, I clean and reorganize. Arrange everything by color, polish surfaces until they gleam. My toes are painted purple with polish from my tenure at the fancy magazine. My skin is smooth from lotions bought when I was still making cash.
There is a glamour to this penury.
But out in the world I am vulnerable and everything is tenuous. Last week I saw the Legend on the street, and my heart lurched into my throat. This week I got stranded in Midtown and had to flirt with bankers to pay off my dinner.
I still have a lot of red lipstick, you see.
Everything costs money and I have so little right now. But my home is more than a safe space. Perched on the top floor of a building crowning a hill, it is an oasis. For what I do have is time, and so everything here is shining and scrubbed. Home-made meals line the freezer. Books by my bed because library is free. Bach, Aretha, a voluptuous silence fills the air because such music is mine. On Fridays I cook dinner for friends who have the good sense to bring wine. A glass of night as the city starts to glow.
In the very early spring breeze my laundry flutters on the line–cheaper than the dryer and so much sweeter. Linens soft from so much light.
This is the adulthood I craved as a child. A home of my own in a city glittering like a gem. Clean sheets, no strife. Time to read, time to write. Pretty clothes in the closet, food that doesn’t go to waste. A cat by my side and friends with whom I can laugh and cry. An economy I respect, not just admire.
Make no mistake, though. A wolf sits right outside my door, waiting to pounce. I lost my last job and scant savings are all that stand between me and that street I avoid like the plague.
In the circles I travel in as an intuitive–the world of witchery and prosperity spells and affirmations– we talk of abundance. But as a person who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in a more socialist than capitalist family, I’m more interested in Enough for Everyone–in holding at bay that wolf who preys upon those discarded as Other in Trump’s America.
There’s no shame in admitting to each other that we’re scared. Scared we can’t pay our bills. Scared we can’t survive if we pursue our dreams. Scared we can’t protect the ones we love.
So here it is. In two months I will not be able to pay rent if I don’t find my way out in the world.
And a future that must differ from the past, even if it requires I become that wolf.