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Friday, April 21, 2017

Freestyling

It's been an eventful couple of weeks. So much water has flowed under the bridge and I've been busy freestyling in the rapids, swallowing lots of river foam but mostly staying afloat. I mean that both in terms of my emotional life and my work life, which is a bit in high gear. I had meetings with editors and their teams this week. I was in a supportive role. The star of the show was the woman whose book I've been contracted to write, and she was charismatic and passionate. I think she sold it, except she wasn't actually selling; she was being fully authentic, and it came through. The other good news is, the proposal we wrote garnered some strong interest, and the agent believes we might get a book deal. We'll know for sure next week, when the bids are supposed to come in. It was fascinating the degree to which every room we were in had a different tone and temperature. Every editorial team focused on different aspects of the story, so it's hard to know who will be motivated to close the deal.

In any case, if the magic works, I will be working on writing this book for most of the rest of the year. The woman who is my subject is very emotionally open, and we have built trust during the process of crafting the proposal, so I'm going to have faith that all will be well. And the fact that I'm nervous right now about whether I can actually pull this off, well, that's just part of it. I like to imagine that in some parallel universe this book has already been written, and I just need to lean into it, channel it, listen to my subject, hear her heart, and do my best. It's exciting stuff—we're splashing in the big river now. I hope I'm not jinxing anything by prematurely reporting this here. Please send good thoughts.

In other news, my daughter is all moved in to her new apartment, all painting and plastering work completed. She and her boyfriend, my son and his girlfriend, and I spent last Saturday at Ikea, giving our opinions on items to outfit her space. She bought a rug, curtains, bathroom stuff, kitchen stuff, and it was all so much fun hanging with that crew. Then on Sunday, which was Easter, we gathered again. They all came over to our house, along with my friend Leslie, for my husband's smoked brisket and my corn-and-cheese casserole, followed by a pitcher of margaritas made from scratch by my husband and daughter. We watched a movie together, and hung out just chilling and talking late into the night, and then my children and their significant others went home, and I got to experience how sweet it can be to have them in my house, and then hug them goodnight and settle into a peaceful night with my husband. It helps that they're both connected to lovely people, who I got to know well and become very fond of while my kids were still living at home. All in all, a very emotionally grounding Easter for this new empty nester.

My sweet friend Leslie brought me those flowers, which are called ranunculus. All week I've been reveling in their delicate shade of pink, and their layers like saucy crinolines.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Where I'm From





“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.” 

—Beryl Markham in West With the Night


I'm thinking about the fact that I am from a beautiful place with turquoise seas, and now I live in a concrete city, and call it home. For the first time in the decades since I left my birth country at age 18, to attend college in New York City, I have begun to wonder what my life might have been like had I never left that sparkling blue place, or if I had returned. It is too late now. This is the place where I made a life with the man I love. Our children were born in our adopted land and this is where their yesteryears are buried deep. To "go home" now would be to leave them behind, and I have no desire to do that. Perhaps, in the end, home is not a place at all, but rather, it is the people you love best, and with whom you choose to share your days. Still, look at that clear blue water. It helps to remember that no matter how far away from it I travel, by birth, I can still call it mine.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pinterest Dreams

I'm so not zen.

I want to be so much more zen than I am. Take my daughter's apartment, for example. The bathroom walls need to be scraped, plastered, primed, painted, a big job ensuing from the damage that occurred when the people upstairs were renovating their apartment, and doing a messy job of it. When they removed the bathtub, water poured down the walls and caused the paint to crack and peel in an unsightly way. The management company says they will fix it, but I've been trying to arrange this for three weeks now, and the stops and starts, promises not kept, contractors who don't show, are making me want to scream. Today, finally, the job is supposed to be done, yet I waited in the apartment after my daughter left for work, and at two hours past the appointed time, no workers had yet shown themselves.

This is not life and death. I recognize this. So why does it unsettle me so to have these tasks outstanding, and to have no control over how and when they will ultimately get done? Why can't I just breathe and know that if today passes and the job is still not done, we will simply have to reschedule. What's so crazy-making, so jarring to my soul, about that? I mean, some people have real problems.

I think, deep down, I am trying to unlearn the muscle memory of being responsible for that space, of being charged with making it a home that my elderly mother could settle into, and find comfort, visual harmony, peace. My mother is no longer even on this earth, and yet I am still so emotional about that space. Perhaps because I oversaw the original renovation of the apartment, transforming it from a dark, dingy hole into an airy, clean, light-filled studio; and perhaps because I labored to keep it pristine for my mother, every corner swept, every surface dusted, every handprint on the wall wiped clean; perhaps because I know every inch of that space, I have to force myself to let go of the imperative to care for it that was once so ingrained, because now that space will be inhabited by my daughter.

She is young and strong and creative. She will make the space hers. She will sell or put out any pieces of furniture or items of living that she does not want, regardless of my opinions about how useful to her they might yet be. My mother's beloved oriental rug, which she had to be encouraged to splurge on, because she loved it so—that's going out. It looks old to my children's eye, and I get that. The Queen Anne style coffee table with its dark polished wood and curved legs, that's going out too. Again, it's grandma's style—old. In it's place is a crisp, rectangular, iron and wood coffee table, which looks great, and yes, young. And that is just the beginning. The couch, the armchair, still perfectly good pieces, they'll need to find new homes, because images of a Pinterest gray couch dance in my daughter's imagination.

I'm writing this here to root out the lingering attachment and yes, ownership, I feel toward that sweet studio among the trees. My mother loved it, and I loved that I was able to create it for her. But now she is gone, and we who are still here are in a new phase of life, and we must—I must—embrace it and move forward.

I thought for a moment that I would rescue the items my daughter chooses not to keep and bring them into my own apartment, but as my girl said, "Mom, you can't absorb a whole apartment worth of stuff into your already fully furnished home." She was right. I began to understand how it is that old people's houses get so crowded with stuff. People they love die and they try to salvage the once-cherished pieces, now orphaned. I totally get it now, but I'm not going to do that. Instead, once my girl is fully ensconced in her new place, and our little nest is truly empty, I'm plotting with my husband to give our apartment a makeover, a room-by-room refresh, so that our space can feel light and Pinterest airy too.


Photo from Decorist


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Letting go

After all my contractor angst, my daughter has decided to paint the apartment herself and has taken the day off from work to do so.

"But I wanted to turn the apartment over to you as a pristine jewel of a place," I told her.

"You will be giving me an even greater gift if you allow me to learn how to do it myself and enjoy the process of making it mine."

How could I argue with that? She manages me, that one.

The painters and I met for breakfast at the diner across the street from the home improvement store, then went and bought the paint and brushes and spackle and scrapers and paint pans.

"Oohhhh, this is just like icing a cake," my daughter said later as she smoothed spackle over picture hook holes in the wall.





Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Life from both sides

Today is just one of those days when I feel miserable and out of sorts in my body. Nothing feels effortless, everything feels like an arduous uphill climb. Even so, I will have to show up for not one, but three different meetings. One is a lunch appointment with a sociology professor my agent wants me to meet. She has an idea for a book that my agent thinks is promising but she needs help organizing and structuring it. My agent is interested in her ideas and wants me to help her whip them into shape. But my brain feels dull, my emotions are blah, and I'm just not in the mood to be insightful and smart about anyone's project right now. I will do my best, of course. I will show up.

The other two meetings are with contractors. My mother's apartment is being transferred to her grandchildren and I want to get it spruced up and ready for occupancy. This home repair imperative feels so overwhelming, not to mention expensive. I am seeking a contractor who will assess the job and say, Okay, I understand exactly what needs to happen here, I will provide all the necessary materials, and I will come in and complete the job in a day or two. This week. For a price that won't make you gag. I already had one contractor meeting this morning. That is definitely not what happened.

I'm heading out to my lunch meeting how. I hope it will be an encounter that leaves me feeling energized and thrilled to be in association with someone who has a passion for something. Because at the moment, I am sorely lacking in passion. I am as gray as this day.

*

As it turns out, the woman I had lunch with today was fabulous and woke, and she has hired me to help her write her book proposal. So yes, the best happened, her passion flowed right into me, and I drank it up like a thirsty soul. And now I have another project, one that I can already see will have much to teach me, and life can be so darned good and right, even when you're struggling to put one foot ahead of the other. I keep forgetting that the trick is to not give in to the lie—to hold out for the possibility of better. The day has definitely improved. Our teachers are everywhere around us, and I believe I just had lunch with one of mine.

As for the contractors, the second one was quiet and meticulous and clearly knew what he was about. I was on the verge of hiring him, but then my cousin called me to say that, didn't I remember, one of our other cousins is a contractor, this is what he does for a living, and why didn't I call him and see if he might know someone who might give me a better price, or even do the job himself. And so now my cousin the contractor is going to paint the apartment and do all the plaster repair that's needed, and when I emphasized I'd pay him what the job is worth, he said, "You, my dear, get the family discount." Little by little we chip away at these problems that can seem like such mountains until we look, and look again.

Today has been educational in so many ways. Mostly, I need to stop hyperventilating and look for the solutions that are already there and waiting to be discovered. Or something like that.





Saturday, April 1, 2017

Supreme


She accepted a 10-day gig watching over a rascally little French bulldog, who must think she's in heaven, so much attention and play does she get from my girl, and her boyfriend too. Maybe it's the two of them that are in heaven with this dog. You'd think she was their child. The dog sitting is actually happening at her boyfriend's house, where there are three roommates to take turns with the walking, feeding, playing and other dog related tasks, but they brought little Supreme (that's her name) over to visit the other night, and she was so excited she promptly peed in our house. My husband cocked one eyebrow and said under his breath, "Let's see how long this takes to go from being a novelty to being a job." With those three, the novelty doesn't seem to be in any danger of wearing off, however. In the midst of this, my girl will be officially moving out this week, so things are really changing around here. At this moment, my husband is alone in the living room laughing heartily at something on the TV. I love to hear him laughing like that, with no audience but himself.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sock Puppets


Is anyone watching Homeland this season? I think they made a smart choice in pivoting from stereotypes of Middle Eastern terrorists to a more nuanced exploration of global intelligence networks. I suppose, given the times, no one will be particularly surprised that in the current storyline, American agents are deeply complicit in the espionage, and may even be behind the terrorist act at the center of the season—and that's not really giving anything away.  Carrie (Clare Danes) has left the CIA, now works for a legal nonprofit, and is raising her daughter in Brooklyn, and Peter Quinn (played by the fantastic Rupert Friend) is back in action, though badly injured in brain and body during the finale of last season. I think his performance this season is Emmy worthy.

But this is not a review. What I really want to talk about is the ninth episode titled "Sock Puppets," in which one of Carrie's associates discovered a huge clandestine operation of hundreds of tech professionals, each one creating and deploying scores of fake online identities, known as sock puppets, which then flood social media feeds with misinformation and propaganda talking points given out each day. In this way they create a loud false narrative about how the American public feels about issues in the news, and hijack the national conversation with ginned up outrage.

I watched the episode with my mouth hanging open, finally understanding all the obviously fraudulent twitter accounts of black women praising Donald Trump. Black women is a demographic I know well, and I could always tell which accounts were inauthentic, yet they had whole histories behind them, years of tweets, and now I understand how they are created, and how so much of the noise out there is manufactured trolling, well paid tech people spinning alt-right fictions in secret to push an ugly political agenda.

Trump and company are known for using sock puppets, but I didn't really grasp how that worked until I saw that episode. Yes, the Homeland series is itself fiction, but that episode was based on something real, and was intended, I believe, to offer us a glimpse inside how all this fake messaging works. All that to say, we are living in murky times. Look for the gold.





Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Happy birthday to the girl who is our heart

Happy birthday to our beautiful and beloved daughter, who came to us 23 years ago today, and made our lives brighter, sweeter, richer, and filled with laughs! We love you so much, my darling girl. Blessings on your head, always.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Catching up


I have been sick. In bed sick. Can't lift my head from the pillow sick. This has not happened to me in years.

I am on the mend, as you can see by the fact that I'm writing here. I can hold my head up again without feeling as if I'm going to pass out.

The wedding was lovely, a long, long day (I was already getting sick I think), but festive and full of joy. It was strange to be among so many people I was meeting for the first time and have them all saying, "We love your son!" The groom was the brother of our son's girlfriend, who was one of the nine bridesmaids. Her family is clearly as fond of our son as we are of her. He also seems well plugged in to her circle of friends. He always was very social, that boy of ours.

I was going to give you details, like the bride and groom's adorable ten month old son rolling down the aisle in a silver painted toy car bedecked with tulle and bows, and the beautiful rainbow of humans who made up the bridal party, and the rousing DJ at the reception, who had guests of all ages out on the floor doing the electric slide. Even me, with my wonky hip and my feverish brain. It was all big fun, but I am suddenly too tired to be descriptive. I did note that our son seemed so happy to have us there. He seemed proud and pleased to show off his family, and even to dance the electric slide with his mama, which touched my heart.

Another thing that touched my heart: On Sunday, after I had been in bed and eating nothing most of Saturday, my husband awoke and said, "I'm going to nourish you today. They say we're in this together in sickness and in health, so I guess this is the sickness." And he did feed me, an omelet for breakfast, ackee and saltfish (my absolute favorite) for lunch, and poached salmon in rosemary for dinner. I felt a lot better by the end of the day, and this morning, I even did some work. But I still knew I was going to miss choir tonight. I think I might climb back into bed now.







Friday, March 24, 2017

Going to the chapel and I'm...


Well, no, not me.

My son's girlfriend's brother is getting married, and we've all been invited, so we're getting all dressed up and going to a wedding an hour away in New Jersey this afternoon. It's always a privilege to witness as two young people take their vows and commit their lives to one another. Maybe I'll get a family photo of the four of us looking presentable. There are precious few of those.


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