27

Ever felt like something just doesn’t belong? The world can occasionally make us feel out of place in our own lives, but sometimes being the odd one out brings more joy than you may think.

When I told my mother I was leaving my pretty Brooklyn apartment to go live in a tent as a farming apprentice in Santa Cruz, I can’t say she was surprised. I was her black sheep daughter after all: the feisty, opinionated youngest of three girls, the adventurer, the wanderer, the one with good stories instead of a mortgage, books instead of babies. Her address book was full of my constantly changing whereabouts—San Francisco, Italy, New York—scratched out in ink, scribbled in pencil, then finally jotted on Post-it notes stuck between the pages.


The East Coast suburbanites I grew up with would rather go to their beloved ballet naked than forgo a firm mattress and a decent thread count. So my willingness to do so for a six-month stretch must have provided much mirth to the whole extended clan. In their defense, this was seven years ago when “farm to table” hadn’t caught on yet, and only a handful of people outside of Bolivia knew how to correctly pronounce quinoa, much less eat it for breakfast.

Then again, this kind of disruption and amusement is what families depend on their resident black sheep to provide. And why not?

This unpredictable life, while sometimes precarious, is never boring. Hurtling down the road that others pass up, living out the vicarious fantasies of the stay-at-homes, we find joy in the sheer velocity, in the novelty of the unknown, sending back our stories scrawled on postcards, in letters with exotic stamps and emails tapped out over connections that flicker in and out as monsoon rains pound down.

“Do what you love!” they told me, and so I did, because I quickly discovered that I was next to useless at doing anything else. When I first became a restaurant critic, I could boast of nothing but a byline and the most minimal of paychecks. Only the blessing of a tiny rent-controlled apartment allowed me to live and work, yet investment bankers and corporate headhunters sat next to me at dinner parties and told me how much they wished for my job. “The crème brûlée reviewer… that’s what I’d like to be,” said one woman dreamily, her spoon forgotten halfway to her mouth. To them, my job was all sugary delight, far removed from their spreadsheets and mortgage payments, tedious meetings and office politics. And why ruin their fantasy? My currency was resourcefulness rather than cash. When one job ended, word passed through the grapevine about another. Rents were shared, clothes were secondhand, and as long as someone was having a gallery opening, wine was free. We looked out for each other, because outside of our outsiders’ tribe, who else would watch over us?