Candidly Reading #4: How Could She, Lauren Mechling

Candidly Reading #4: How Could She, Lauren Mechling

What makes a friendship? And to further that question: what makes a friendship last? What gives it that stickiness, that emotional glue to keep two (or three) people invested in each other’s welfare beyond the tit-for-tat of initial contact? Is there an inevitable and inherent expiration date to these bonds? Or do we have the free will to stand up and choose that relationship again, much like we are expected to do in our romantic ties? What is to say that our friendships aren’t our great love affairs?

Of course, none of these questions are novel. In fact, they are wildly, exquisitely clichĂ©d. I, for one, have faulted to posting quotes celebrating female friendship from Sex and The City, Bride Wars, and — ever on brand — The Bold Type under Instagram posts about the closest in my “tribe.” And rarely will you meet a woman in her twenties who hasn’t endured the brutal reality of losing a girlfriend over unfortunate circumstances, minor or major causes aside. But to take these lingering questions on in an engaging way that does not shy away from that fourth question (i.e. is there an inevitable and inherent expiration) is what Lauren Mechling’s How Could She sets out to explore.

I won’t lie and say it was the most thought provoking book I’ve ever read. Following Orringer’s The Flight Portfolio and battling my desire to reread Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch before the September 13th launch of the film, I found myself frustrated with the characters’ continually selfish behavior. The story alternates third person focused omniscient narration chapters on friends Geraldine, Sunny, and Rachel as they all navigate their late thirties and their respective career, social, and romantic arenas. Geraldine at the start is floundering with no real roots and pining after a life that has passed her by, but by the end has a successful career in podcasts and has left behind her good-for-nothing ex-fiancĂ©. Sunny transforms from the top of her career and from having a stable (yet loveless) marriage to…well, not. And Rachel, well, Rachel just kind of floats. As for the prose, it was purposeful but not striking. I saved maybe four sentences from it, a shockingly low amount for me as a typically overly complimentary reader.

Perhaps it was the way that these women eviscerated each other at a dinner, years of betrayals and alienations being brought to the forefront of conversation, but it make me starkly aware of how my relationships now could transform into those relationships by the mid-to-late thirties without proper care and precaution.

I hope I never reach the point of disdain for those I hold dearest that Geraldine, Sunny, and Rachel reached. That paradox of holding onto someone with white knuckles while also holding that person at arms’ length so they can’t inflict any damage on you. Walking that tightrope sounds — quite frankly — exhausting.

If not a lyrical masterpiece or a philosophical wonder, How Could She serves as a cautionary tale to keep your friends closest. Without a doubt, they are the ones who will love you but you must act out of love towards them too.

Candidly Careering #2: Returning To My Passion

Candidly Careering #2: Returning To My Passion

I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.

Roald Dahl

In recent weeks, I have been incredibly vocal to those in my life about my distaste for my current career. And while I could list the various aspects that drive me to pull the magnifying mirror to the center of my desk and stress pluck errant hairs from my face with my thumb and forefinger, that ultimately serves no purpose. The end result is the same: I feel the lack of upward mobility and what is available in the longer term is lackluster to me.

Before accepting my job, I sobbed. I bent over my knees on my small available floorspace and actively grieved the fact that I was putting my dreams and aspirations of the greater part of a decade on hold. All that work, all that fantasy, evaporated before my very eyes. And yet I still accepted to role, mostly at the pure want of my bank account.

I truly do enjoy aspects of recruitment — but what I enjoy is precisely what I would have done within the literary agency arena: screen resumes (review manuscripts), contact candidates (interact with authors), negotiate terms of contracts (negotiate terms of contracts). I find myself incredibly lucky to have the overlap of skills so vibrantly apparent.

But it isn’t enough.

Interacting with the literary community was an essential part of my identity construction; it lent an opportunity for belonging, something psychologists widely agree is a human social need. And with barely the energy to read after work, I was stripped of even the opportunity to attend book clubs.

So when the opportunity appeared to apply to a well-established literary agency for an assistant/support role, I jumped. I took a leap of faith and I sprung from that cliff into the foggy below without the faintest clue of whether I would find myself at the bottom or not.

Reader: I landed not only alive but on two feet.

In the weeks of interviewing, I delved back into the contemporary literary marketplace to have recent reads to discuss, lighting my mind once more with words and phrases and thoughts that had once run quiet. I performed a sample manuscript review and reader report, typing up two comprehensive pages on marketability and textual strengths and weaknesses to consider before making a decision on whether to sign the author. And finally, I was able to accept a role that promises to not only take me back into the community that I withdrew from in the interim since London but to launch me on an upward trajectory that is anything but lackluster.

The change in anticipation of the career switch is palpable. I carry a novel with me wherever I go again, and I’m attending a book club next Wednesday. I took a pleasure trip to the Strand bookstore — my first of what will be many. I bought two — two! — bookshelves for my apartment. Roald Dahl was absolutely, unequivocally correct: it is far better to be an enthusiast. It lights a fire under you and within you, and that fire will sustain you as long as you feed it. The good news is, pages burn.

All my love x

Candidly Reading #3: The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

Candidly Reading #3: The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

“Why do you persist, then? Why do you care so very much about the fate of your organization, and so little about your own welfare, when the people you’re assisting — Jews, anti-Nazis, degenerate Negroid artists like Wifredo Lam, sexual inverts like Konstantinov — are the basest forms of human kind? Look at you. You’re a thinking man, a Christian man, educated at the best American institutions. Why are you imperiling yourself for the sake of that filth? How do you justify it?”

“Is this official business, Captain?”

“I’m asking merely from personal curiosity. Tell me why.”

“Those people are my people,” Varian said. “If I don’t help them, no one will.”

The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

In an interview on CNN just the other day, Stephen Miller made the assertion that — as a Jew — he was outraged by the accusations by left-wing politicians like AOC that the detainment centers on the border were comparable to those desolate and fatal camps of the Holocaust. And yet, stories emerge every day of the lack of care given not just to children, but to men and women alike in their wait for sentencing, of freedom or — more likely — deportation.

Around the world, the issue of gay marriage and the rights that come along with its recognition is one that is still widely debated. You don’t have to dig into Google News far to find stories of brutalization of homosexual individuals, or the long-awaited and damn-near-time legalization of same-sex marriage. In Northern Ireland, it wasn’t until this past January that lesbian couples were both allowed to assert parentage on the birth certificate of their children — something that previously would have separated families upon the death of the listed mother.

And, of course, still we face racism in its most potent form in the United States, particularly with the rise of White Supremacist marches and the vibrancy of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Enter The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer, a plot placed so clearly and factually in the turn of the 1940s but with the bite of the present at the heels of the reader’s every page. Loosely based on the life of Varian Fry, an activist in Nazi-occupied France who smuggled thousands of refugees out of the annexed territory who also happened to be a discreetly practicing homosexual, the story follows his work as leader of the Emergency Rescue Committee, the lives of the team he assembles, the rescues of the refugees, and — in a progressive shift — his passionate love affair with Grant, a passing half-black academic from his college days. The scene set, Orringer is able to write parallelisms to contemporary debates on refugee acceptance, homosexuality, and race in one swift read that pulls at the heartstrings while also provoking the synapses to work at all cylinders.

While I found it a slow and prodding read, I did thoroughly enjoy The Flight Portfolio (the first of my Book of the Month Club subscription deliveries) as it prompted many thorough trips down the rabbit hole on The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and Medium alike. I became actively curious not only of the past but also about our current domestic and global climate and the future that was most likely to result from our present choices. The Flight Portfolio may not have pushed into the most scandalous and heart-pounding depths of my library, but it did prove to be one of the most educating and engaging reads — a read that made me a more determined citizen.

I will say that the one disappointment at the end was the revelation in the Author’s Note that most of the characters, interactions, and plot were fictionalized for the purpose of creating a world that could prove parallel. And though I admire Orringer’s originality and ability to build from bare bones of history, I did wish that Grant was real and that he and Varian had lived their lives in coupled bliss after the four-hundred pages of will-they-won’t-they.


Of course, I am always susceptible to a love story. And so, I have to end this post with what I think has to be one of the most impressionable quotes about love — true love, regardless of its form — that I have ever come across. I would save it for a post for my Candidly Dating column, but who knows when I will finally meet someone who makes me feel this way. It’s better to share than to withhold, for maybe you need this in your life, dear Reader.

But that was how we recognized love, he thought: It made the exception. It was the case that broke the paradigm, the burning anomaly. In its light we failed at first to recognize ourselves, then saw ourselves clearly for the first time. It revealed our boundaries to be mutable; it forced us to shout yes when we’d spent our lives say no

The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

All my love x

Candidly Dating #2: Recognizing the Red Flags

Candidly Dating #2: Recognizing the Red Flags

According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.

The Symposium, Plato

A running joke among my friends — and, admittedly, in my own head — is that the more red flags a guy has the more deeply attracted to him I inevitably end up being. I have bent over backwards for guys who have displayed anger issues, who have blatantly declared themselves non-monogamous , and who have even shown complete disinterest in me. This last one more than once.

Last week, Rebecca came over to christen my new apartment with a wine and Chinese take-out night, and as we sat on the hardwood floor of my unfurnished living room the conversation turned to the men we were currently talking to. I mentioned the one who had currently been pursuing me — and I mean this non-conceitedly — quite aggressively. My reaction to this interest was complete disinterest in him, to which Rebecca stared me down and said pointedly, “Rose. Let’s be real. You like the chase.” As always, Rebecca knows me better than I do. I do love to be the pursuer. She urged me to this once let myself enjoy being courted.

I let the conversation continue for over a week, and despite my best efforts — or perhaps on behalf of them — I started to see distinct red flags. First it was the question of “Would you date a Muslim?” He was not Muslim so there was no reason that this would be asked unless he had a distinct impression one way or another on whether this was a test of character.* Then there was the assertion of Trump being a better president than Obama when it came to foreign diplomacy. Third, he was adamant than “non-obedient” dogs retained more personality, and therefore were more likable, than their docile counterparts. Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back, was the staunch opinion that female comedians did not become as successful as males because they relied too heavily on sexual content, something that is apparently “not funny.” **

I should note that during all of this I would have been fine with differing opinions, if he hadn’t talked down to me as if I was distinctly wrong and baseless in my own opinion. The condescension was stifling.

I have been in this place before. Previously, I had limited my voice and adopted new viewpoints to appease my partner in the hopes of that fairy-tale ending. This time, however, I found myself growing disgusted rather than repentant. I didn’t want to back down. I didn’t want to fight — it was too soon to be worth the effort — but I didn’t want to invest in something that was doomed to make me question my own intelligence.

That was the red flag, waving loud and proud from the tail-end of a blimp in Times Square. There was no avoiding it. It wasn’t just one red flag, but a million little red flags from years of dating unsuccessfully — and without a voice — that had been sewn together to make me distinctly capable of seeing this one when it was so visibly affronting.

For the first time in my adult life, I broke it off.

He was very receptive to it, something I can’t say I have always been. I think we both knew we were too opposite, especially since I held my ground in the conversations. But it felt good to say, “No, this isn’t what I want and I deserve to find my complement.” Holding out hope feels good.

I’m not signing off my chance at love for a while, but I am going to hold onto the hope that there is a shared half that belongs to me. A pairing, a complement. And while it’s nice to be pursued, and fun to be the pursuer (some habits never die), it’s even more rewarding to stick to your convictions and believe in your worth.

All my love x


*I said that I would, of course, date a Muslim just like I would date a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, an Atheist, an Agnostic. A human is a human. Their faith is just a facet in the whole composition of who they are. (This he said was “Interesting…”)

**I told him that while sexual humor is definitely touted by the comedienne population, it is not something exclusively heard from female mouths and to condemn women for exercising humor that men have been experimenting with and celebrated for for decades is completely sexist. Women, also, deserve the chance to tell stories in a setting that inverts the taboo — essentially what comedy does — and these stories liberate and resonate with female audiences in ways that have previously been unavailable. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

Living Candidly #7: On the woman I want to be

Living Candidly #7: On the woman I want to be

Varian could see what she’d bequeathed, genetically speaking, to Clotilde; they had a spirit his father would have called hell-beckoning.

The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

Every morning I take two diet pills aspirationally titled “lean queen” in the hopes that it will curb my appetite to satiate me with an iced coffee breakfast, pastry lunch, and $10 portion take-out dinner for the sake of losing weight without exercise. It does not work, and I lay in my bed at night resisting the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream tub stuck under my roommate’s frozen vegetables in the third drawer of the freezer.

I spend my free time at work online shopping, ordering clothes in sizes I’m embarrassed to admit and will unquestionably lie about if prompted. I pinch at my stomach and thighs and triceps when I look in a reflective surface and sometimes just when I look at myself in my cubicle.

I get blowouts to turn the curly, voluminous locks that once defined my look into sleek and sophisticated tresses that mirror the styles of the models that grace the covers of the magazines I so avariciously consume or even the friends, family and associates that fancy themselves models in the snapshots on my Instagram feed.

And then I make like them and post my own shot with the aim of appearing as effortlessly pulled together and collected as they do to me. A picture just like the one above.

But I am not.

I am tired. And I am frustrated. And I am lonely. And I am at the verge of screaming at subways because that’s as close as a city girl can get to screaming into the abyss.

I’ve recently been wondering what exactly has led me to this point of surface-level success but deep dissatisfaction. And the result is that who I am is not who I want to be.

The woman I want to be follows her passions with gusto and without hesitation. She sets her sights on her goals and makes meaningful steps towards them, even in the most minute ways, until they are within her grasp. She does not boast upon their completion. She lets the work speak for itself.

The woman I want to be is more than her job. She has a balance in her life — a separation of Church and State, if you will — that offers her the chance to find fulfillment in multiple planes until there is cohesiveness.

The woman I want to be knows her worth. She does not need a man’s approval, or another woman’s, and isn’t afraid to speak up and say no when boundaries are crossed.

The woman I want to be cherishes her friends and lets them know it. She places their happiness and well-being as a top priority but also invests in those friendships that offer mutual care, not in those that only drain and take. She forms her tribe, her family.

The woman I want to be is hell-beckoning, a force of nature. She appears strong and beautiful in pictures because she is strong and beautiful, not because of a diet pill, or a new dress, or a blowout. It is her essence, not her expenditure.

Today marks day one on this journey from turning that She into an I.

All my love x

Living Candidly #6: On brighter days and better friends

Living Candidly #6: On brighter days and better friends

Wednesday 3:40 PM: My eyes felt hot as I read the text message from my psychiatrist: “use Xanax liberally today and text me tomorrow morning with how you’re doing.”

It had been twenty hours since my complete decomposition on the sidewalk outside my apartment. In the midst of a disagreement with one of my roommates about a bill payment, the thought of stepping inside my home was the final trigger to a build-up of anxiety. I had immediately called Rebecca — my lifeline in the overcrowded city that somehow makes me feel wildly lonesome — and she had showed up in what might as well had been a winged chariot: swooping me into a hug and then ushering me onto my bed while she cleaned the rubble of my room and bathroom that had fallen into detritus over the preceding weeks. While I had ignored the problem of cleanliness, it became wildly apparent that my lack of housekeeping was a major indicator that this breakdown was an inevitability rather than a freakish whim of my biological nature.

Rebecca sat with me while we chowed down on half-decent microwave meals from a local deli and tried to pin down exactly what had started the downward spiral that had begun this morning. As it turned out, I was still battling demons from years prior that I had thought were long vanquished: friends lost, guilt repented, shame accepted. Instead of letting me sit in that pit of despair, she assured me that I was not solely responsible for those pains that sat with me nearly four years later. In fact, she sat before me as living proof — the epitome of a friend who had seen me in my darkest and most destructive — that true friends stand by you through the thickest black and love you for the person that evolves from those trials. They encourage you to pick yourself back up and to grow, and when you can’t do it alone, they bring down that very winged chariot and scoop you onboard until you can command the reins yourself.


It’s now been about forty-eight hours. My Xanax supply is still within reach but it is not in white-knuckle grip. Instead, it’s the people around me who make me feel like me. It’s the way Rebecca — a social worker by profession — exceeded the bounds of normal friendship to make sure that I was secure before exiting my apartment on Tuesday night. It’s the way Jasmine stayed on the phone last night laughing with me about how tragic our lives are, in sync nearly four thousand miles apart, and how we will support each other as we seek out local clinical and therapeutic help (my trusted psychiatrist — as helpful as he is and regardless of the fact he has legitimately saved my life on two accounts — can only do so much from two states away). It’s the way Justine understands when I request an extra half hour for lunch in order to commute to attend that very therapeutic appointment.

When I was hospitalized, I had the incredibly fortunate encounter of meeting a seventy-eight year old patient committed for suicidal tendencies. And, in our discussion, she told me that what she had learned in her several hospitalizations consistently was that life is always worth fighting for. Feeling more like myself today, I can say that I know she’s right. There is always a light.

Thursday 9:39 AM: “I feel great today.”

All my love x

Living Candidly #5: On constructing the narrative

I’ve had nothing to do but think these past few weeks about our bloody history. About the mistakes we’ve made. What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.

Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 6

These are tumultuous times. I scroll through my Twitter feed and it’s a cacophony of outrage, covering everything in venom from the Alabama abortion ban to the Georgia LGBTQ+ adoption ban to the series finale of Game of Thrones to my very own disgust at my taxi driver hocking a rather large loogie out the window of his vehicle. Occasionally, and very occasionally, there is a ray of sunshine. But all too commonly there is wonder at the downward spiral we seem too set in motion.

And while it could be incredibly deafening to have all these voices speaking out in digital megaphones, the effect is quite opposite in my opinion. It offers us a unique opportunity. We are given the chance to take what is otherwise a void and in its place construct a narrative of our own design — solo or in collaboration — that best reflects the world we would like to see. And yes, some can get lost in the din, but some are offered the chance to break through and make a difference in a way that they otherwise might not have been able to in years before.

About seventeen months ago, I released my first blog post on a public scale about mental health. I shared it on my personal Facebook account and left out no details — profiling the exact lows I sunk to and the medical measures that had to be taken in order to save my life from my own threats. I felt that an explanation on a major platform for the lifestyle changes that had occurred would not only exonerate me from residual guilt but also act as a catharsis. I did not, however, expect the outpouring of similar stories. I received several private messages from childhood and college acquaintances, sharing their own personal experiences with mental illness and their identification with my own encounters. I constructed my narrative publicly and, in turn, it allowed others to construct their own. Tyrion was right: stories unite people.

Today’s post is short, mostly a-political, and to the point: I want to encourage every person out there with a voice — and especially those who feel voiceless — to exercise their right to speak up. Construct your narrative. Make your story. There’s nothing more powerful. It can move an audience — the world — like no other. It has been proven to since before there was recorded history. Stories outdate every other invention, and they stand the test of time.

The magic is as wide as a smile and as narrow as a wink, loud as laughter and quiet as a tear, tall as a tale and deep as emotion. So strong, it can lift the spirit. So gentle, it can touch the heart.

I found the above quote almost a decade ago, and while I have long lost the source material now, I find it remains inspirational on the beneficent power behind true, authentic storytelling.

I hope some of what I’ve written today resonates with people to use their voices. I cannot wait to hear what you have to say, and I will defend your right to utilize your voice until my last breath.

All my love x