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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Anthropology

Both of my children plan on getting their own places in the new year. There is talk of moving in with their significant others, although that may be down the road. Next year too, my niece who is like my third child finishes dental school and will move to the city to do her residency. She also plans to share an apartment with her significant other, who is a New Yorker born and raised. I suppose, with rents in the city so high, sharing a one bedroom is more cost effective that renting a two or three bedroom apartment with roommates. I think this explains the growing trend of twenty somethings moving in with the people they are seriously dating. They may not be quite ready for the whole nine yards, but they are comfortable with the residential commitment.

I do wonder, in a strictly anthropological way, how these joint living arrangements among young adults who are romantically involved will affect the decision of whether and when to marry. When I was in my twenties, most dating couples in the city had our own apartments, and we moved back and forth between them, but rents were more affordable then. As I recall, I paid $325 a month for my one bedroom in a very desirable part of town, right next to the university. Today, young people are gentrifying neighborhoods at monthly rents of two thousand dollars or more. So I get it. I also get that living with your significant other must feel fairly liberating after being roomies with your parents and having to let them know when you aren't coming home till the next day so your mother doesn't freak out because she at least knows you're alive.

But, you know, in my mind, my kids still look like this:






Thursday, December 1, 2016

Trust, again

The New York Times had an article this morning headlined "How to Hide $400 Million." I didn't read it. I don't have such problems. If I did, I might be lounging in the shade of that patio in the picture, breathing in the salty blue air.

I do have work, though, and it just kicked into high gear because the book contract I've been anticipating for months came through yesterday. At this moment, I'm in the middle of editing a manuscript that has been going very slowly, and now I need to press hard to finish it so I can give my full attention to the book proposal. I am also meeting with an inspirational author to discuss the possibility of doing some editing for her. I hope it works out. I like her message a lot. Every freelancer's dilemma is figuring out how much to take on at a time, so that all assignments can be properly completed. It's a fine balance, because the temptation is to say yes to everything, given the need to cover one's share of the monthly expenses in a city that is spectacularly expensive to live in.

Can I just admit (as I have admitted before) that I flat out envy (and also admire) the ones who are able to regularly snag the big book collaboration deals. It's no accident that they are so sought after; they commit themselves to preparing the way; they actively network and pursue the work; they embody the maxim that luck favors the prepared. In contrast, my freelancing life feels very catch as catch can, as if I need to say yes to everything because I don't know when the next opportunity will show up. I am trying to balance it all, because more than anything, if I say yes to a job, I mean to do it well. It all comes back to trust. Trust in myself. Trust that it's worked out so far, and will continue to do so. Just because I can't see down the road doesn't mean the road isn't there.

Outside my window, the leaves are a brilliant backlit gold swaying languidly after two full days of driving rain. The rain made the house feel cozy and hidden away. The last of my Thanksgiving houseguests left yesterday. Now I am alone again, my husband, son and daughter all gone to their workplaces. I need to remember how lucky I am that this place, right here, with that golden light in front of me, is mine.







Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thanksgiving week 2016

All week, family members were arriving—from Trinidad, Orlando, and Washington DC. By Wednesday evening, the house was festive, with cousins sprawled everywhere, voices rising, laughter ringing, as everyone caught up with one another amid preparations for the next day's feast.


On Thanksgiving, we crowded into our three-bedroom apartment, thirty-three of us in all. My husband borrowed chairs from the church. "Where will you put them?" I asked, wondering why he bothered. But he had the foresight. He wheeled the two bikes from the hallway into our bedroom, and lined up black metal chairs along the bookshelves, creating a cozy annex to the main gathering area. We were a convivial row with dinner plates balanced on our laps and stockinged feet up on the wall. In the living room, people picked their way over one another's legs, finding seats where they could, the little ones cross-legged on the floor around the coffee table. The old ones had the best seats, Aunt Beulah and Uncle Quintin, 87 and 89, on the long couch, Aunt Megan, 93, in the armchair at the center of the action. We brought  their plates of food to them, and gave them real china and silverware, on trays. Everyone else made do with disposable plates and plastic cutlery, and no one complained.

The food, mostly prepared by my husband, was delicious as always. This year, there were no leftovers to feast on the next day. Almost every dish was picked clean at the end of the evening, such was the crowd. It was too much, really. At one point, a quartet of our guests began debating politics and black lives matter versus LGBTQ rights in increasingly strident tones. I was elsewhere at the time, in the back bedroom with another group. One by one everyone from the living room found their way to us. "Too loud out there," someone said. "I can't deal," someone else said. And then the little kids came in. "That's a grown up conversation out there," the 9-year-old announced. "Too grown up for us," the 6-year-old added. And so they began to play in out midst, their older cousins indulging them happily, my niece reminding them occasionally, "Inside voices please."

By then, it was almost 10 p.m. and the crowd hadn't thinned one bit. Instead refugees from the living room discussion crowded into the back bedroom, leaving only the debaters out front. "Let's take back the kitchen with a margarita after party!" one of my cousins said, and everyone marched out to start making margaritas with the top shelf tequila my niece had brought. We'd been waiting for the younger kids to be taken home before we started the margarita round, but now it had become more important to bring back the convivial mood. I walked into the living room to hear one of my relatives preaching to my Muslim guests about Jesus and the devil at a feverish decibel. I had no idea of the point she was making, because her tone was such that you want to close your ears, not open them. I reached out and squeezed her arm. She looked up at me mid-sentence. "Should I stop?" she said. "Yes," I nodded, ready at that moment to cause offense, but my relative did not seem offended. "Okay," she said cheerfully and everyone else changed the subject.

Once the margaritas were passed around, the mother of the three youngest boys said, "Oh, I see the after party is starting. Time to take my little ones home." The boys cried as they were putting on their coats. They had enjoyed being with their cousins and didn't want to leave. That made me happy. This was the first time their family had come to our Thanksgiving gathering, and it seemed they all enjoyed themselves, except for that interlude where politics and God interrupted the easy laughter. My husband had said earlier that he'd thought about banning any discussion of politics, but then he decided everyone would just sit awkwardly censoring themselves, rather than saying what they wanted and moving on. I think he was right; I just didn't anticipate this one relative getting so worked up and proselytizing. I heard later that my 87 year old aunt, who sat through the whole thing, kept muttering to her daughter, "Just agree to disagree." I think she just wanted the noise to stop. It was lovely again when it did, and the rest of the evening was the way it usually unfolds, with riotous laughter and storytelling, and everyone just enjoying the company of everyone else. 

We still have houseguests here, three nieces and a college friend of my daughter's, and my two cousins who feel like sisters to me, all people with whom I am supremely comfortable. The teens and twenty-somethings went Black Friday shopping yesterday and today everyone is wrapped in blankets, refusing to set a foot outside the house. My husband and daughter and niece are in the kitchen making sun-dried tomato and spinach ravioli with cheese from scratch, which will be our dinner. The rest of us are about to continue binge watching Quantico, which we started the evening before Thanksgiving. We're on the verge of discovering whodunit, so I'll wrap up with a few more photos from our evening with family and friends. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with loved ones, and that your weekend so far has been peaceful. Most of all, I wish you a serene corner away from the chaos, a moment in which you can truly rest. I love you, my dear friends here. I am so thankful for you.









Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Arriving

People seem to be posting a lot less here in blogland. My guess is we don't truly know if what we're feeling can be trusted. Reality seems to be playing games with us. At least, that's how I've been feeling.

It's Thanksgiving week already. We are having quite a crowd this year, more than thirty people will be sharing the feast in our not-large New York City apartment. Six family members and one friend will also be staying with us through the weekend. Couches and floor space will definitely become sleeping options.

In bed yesterday morning, my husband tapped me gently awake. "It's time to get excited," he whispered into the predawn darkness. "Loved ones have begun arriving. One came last night, tomorrow another, and the next day two more. I'm starting to feel the spirit of Thanksgiving. No more worrying about the numbers and how everyone will fit. That time is past. Now, we get excited."

I love him so much for those words.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Nothing normal

Everyone keeps saying don't allow this situation with Trump as the president elect to become normalized. But how do we live with our breath caught, our fists balled, our hearts in a vise. I've been trying to move forward, to not allow myself to be so stuck on one note. And yet, each new cabinet appointment is a fresh reminder of just how dire things are:

A man deemed too racist to be appointed a judge might now become the U.S. attorney general. This man reportedly once joked that his only issue with the KKK was their drug use. A general who called Islam "a cancer" and defended Trump's call for a Muslim ban, will now be the national security advisor. A member of the Benghazi committee witch hunt is up for the top CIA post. The dark prince of the white supremacy crusade will be Trump's senior advisor and counselor. And so it goes. Let's not even talk about Pence, who might be ever scarier than Trump. Whereas Trump is a hollow narcissist with no ideas of his own, Pence is a true ideologue with some really scary beliefs. Suffice it to say he signed a law allowing businesses and health care providers to refuse to serve members of the LGBTQ community based on their personal beliefs about "the lifestyle." Pence believes being queer is a perversion and that gay people need to undergo conversion therapy. And these are the men who are whispering in the empty vessel Trump's ear.

The problem is, all this is becoming our new normal. How exactly do we fight the pervasiveness of this—the forces of hate and self-interest that are standing in the daylight and taking over our federal government? Which thread do we pull on first? Where will our efforts do the most good? It scares me that I don't know, that I am just getting swept along, watching it all happen with a persistent sense of the surreal, feeling powerless to effect even the smallest change.

This morning, I remembered something a Tibetan Buddhist monk I interviewed once told me. "Our sense of being helpless to create change runs deep," he said. "That’s why our world is in such trouble, because we don’t understand that to change the world, we have only to change ourselves. We don’t have to go out and fight wars or march and carry placards and take on world powers. We merely have to live our lives where we are with as much love and generosity and faith as we can muster."

Could it be that simple? Maybe it's a good place to begin.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Zadie Smith riffs


I happened upon a wonderful interview with author Zadie Smith, in which, at one point, she reflects on the degree of self-revelation required for novel writing as compared to book criticism. I love the way her personal experience of both kinds of writing informs her response.
__________

Interviewer: [Y]ou talked about the “essential hubris of criticism” and how protected a position the critic is in compared with novel writing. Do you still feel that way?

Zadie Smith: Yeah, but I don’t mind that. I think it’s just different stages of life, like the kind of angry young man criticism that you write when you’re straight out of college and a young man. [Laughs.] It’s good that that stuff happens. Somebody has to walk in and say, “This is absolute shit.” Separating wheat from chaff with that kind of venom is completely appropriate for the young boy with a pen who wants to make a name for himself. I guess as I’ve got older, and with the more novels I write, I’ve gone soft from that boy’s opinion because I know what it takes to write a novel. There are plenty of novels I absolutely hate, but it’s no longer of interest to me to publicly destroy them. I know how much it hurts, and I just can’t do it.

I still think of criticism as a beautiful and intelligent way of describing the lay of the land. When I write criticism now, I do tend to write about things I love just because I’m more motivated by that. Hate is not enough for me anymore. It doesn’t give me the requisite energy to write 5,000 words. It really has to be adoration, I guess. But I do feel when I am writing criticism that I am much more defended, sure. I can be cool in criticism, and I can be right, which is a great joy, whereas in fiction you can only be variously vulnerable. There’s no such thing as a perfect novel, and you’ll always look the fool in some proportion, and also you’ll always reveal yourself in a way that is kind of horrifying. I can tell from somebody’s sentence the type of person they are and that’s the risk with a novel. With criticism it’s all much more disguised.

__________

Thank you, Zadie Smith, because I really needed a 
non-political post with a center of love as an antidote
to the madness swirling in the news, in my circles,
and in my head. Plus, Zadie Smith looks like my best
friend growing up so there's a touch of nostalgia in this
post, too—a dream from a simpler, less  fraught time. 



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Drumpfs in training

Well, so much for staying silent. Who was I kidding? I feel duty bound to share to what is going on around me, on my very campus. I attended both college and grad school here. On the steps of the main library, I shared my first kiss with the man I would later marry in the campus chapel. I raised my children here, cared for my aging mother here and buried my much loved aunt here. I have now lived in various apartments around this neighborhood for going on forty years.

Our current apartment is within the radius of Columbia University. There are campus buildings all around us, and students coming and going on the street outside my house at all hours of the day and night. I know this school, both from the inside—as an undergrad at Barnard and then as a grad student at the Journalism School—and from the outside—as a neighbor whose children played on College Walk when they were young, and whose daughter, now that she is grown, often walks to the campus and sits on the steps by the fountain, reading or just thinking.

This has always been a very progressive and racially diverse neighborhood. I never thought twice about being a woman of color as I moved around it, and indeed as I moved around all of New York City. I have taken for granted that I live in a socially conscious community. Columbia students took part in Civil Rights and Vietnam marches in the sixties, apartheid rallies in the seventies, and Black Lives Matter protests now. It's why the whole time I was growing up in Jamaica, I was angling myself toward this city, and this school. I wanted to be where movements of change were actually happening. I wanted to be a journalist.

And now this, reported on the Columbia University student news website Bwog:

Bwog recently received screenshots of a Class of 2017 Wrestling Team GroupMe. The... men in the group message mock women’s appearances, make jokes about rape, use homophobic and racist slurs, and engage in other distasteful interactions...

The messages show a lack of respect for women—even those with whom they interact regularly. In the screenshots we received, the wrestlers sent each other numerous photos of female Columbia students and mocked their appearances. One of the men said a female student looked like “a dude in a wig.” Another woman was referred to as “fish pussy.” The wrestlers in the GroupMe also mocked female students as a whole. In one message, a wrestler refers to female Columbia students as “ugly socially awkward cunts” who feel “entitled.” Just messages before, another member of the team expressed frustration over how their team would “run the town of any state school” where “every girl begs for the cock so hard.” It appears these team members don’t realize the irony in referring to women as “entitled” for wanting to control their own bodies.


Among the misogynistic messages is a shocking proliferation of racism and racist comments. Their comments about black women come across as especially distasteful and cruel. The wrestlers’ usage of the n-word is flippant, too, and they use it to refer to women with whom they’ve hooked up, workers at businesses around Columbia, and protesters in Ferguson, MO.


Here are some of their messages:




Columbia has suspended the wrestling team's season pending an investigation. Of course, the students'  names have been redacted from all reports to protect their futures as Masters of the Universe who might one day run for president of the United States of America—and win.



Monday, November 14, 2016

"When they buried us, they did not know that we were seeds"

This election. Everything is just so surreal. I feel numb one minute, hopeful the next, despairing the next, outraged after that. And then I just go back to numb. My frame of mind changes moment to moment, and I'm noticing that as soon as I declare something, I'm no longer sure I believe it, or if it was ever true. So perhaps I need to just be silent now. Because I don't know what to think on the other side of an election outcome so devastating I couldn't imagine it even as it was happening. Are we fucked? Maybe. Will it get worse from here? Already has. Is there hope? Always.

Are you reading those Joe Biden memes? They're everywhere. I think they've struck a chord because they're rooted in the love and bro-loyalty that flourished between Biden and Obama, two men from different generations and racial backgrounds, who proved that study bridges are possible when there is an atmosphere of basic human decency. Along with the messages on post-it notes being left by the thousands on subway walls in New York City, it's a form of therapy, much like that exuberant photo of my girl reroutes my disordered brain. These are troubled times. We find comfort where we can.




Friday, November 11, 2016

Some thoughts in the wake of 11/9


Everything in me came to a standstill in the two days after the election. I couldn't write anything coherent. I couldn't work. I could barely find words to express how I was feeling to my loved ones. I lay in my bed, swaddled by the covers, reading Night by Elie Wiesel, because I wanted to remember just how that dark chapter in history unfolded, how it was that an authoritarian state was allowed to round up some of its citizens and send them off to be murdered in gas chambers. I felt a little crazy, as if no one else was truly seeing the parallels between that evil, and the hateful sloganeering of the candidate the nation had just elected to be the next president. With steely mother fierceness, I resolved that no one better come knocking on my door and trying to cart my loved ones away. They'd find out fast just who they were dealing with. That's how dire the aftermath of Tuesday's election felt to me; I was actually having such thoughts.

More likely, the deaths we experience over the next four years will be by inches, sometimes barely discernible until after the fact, like the stripping away of health care provisions that those with disabilities or chronic illnesses rely on. Other deaths may be more violent, committed by those emboldened in the belief that some lives simply don't matter. I do, in fact, know that not everyone who voted for the narcissistic demagogue is a racist with a length of rope in the garage, a gun rack on their pick up, and a confederate flag in their window. Nor is everyone who voted red an unredeemable sexist, homophobe or apologist for sexual assault and misogyny. But I also know that only those who felt safe in their skin and in their castles could have dared to vote for this conscience-free bigot and his alt-right cohorts. And no matter how reasonable their arguments when considered in the light of their own interests, they didn't care one whit about those who have legitimate reason to fear what comes next. Sadly, they failed to understand that what destroys their neighbor, by inches or in one fell swoop, will eventually also arrive at their door.

I feel sick, still. I am trying to accept what is, as my husband says. But accepting what is cannot mean going to sleep for four years. The times are way too dangerous. And to all those who say, calm the fuck down, America will survive, it survived slavery and the civil war and 9/11, I would like to point out that a whole lot of people didn't survive all that. And the rest of us are still dealing with its toxic fallout.

Time to get to work.




Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The day after

I wrote a post about waiting for the sea of red to turn blue last night, and how it never happened, and instead Trump's glowering face proliferated, winning state after state. I wrote about the grief and dismay and bewilderment I feel this morning, and the sense of being endangered. I wrote about reading Elie Wiesel's book Night, and looking for clues. Best to be prepared should resistance become necessary. But then my computer froze and I lost the whole post and I don't have the internal resources left to recreate it. I will only say for the record, Hillary Clinton's concession speech this morning was composed, gracious and classy. She would have made a remarkable Commander-in-chief. But that will never be. Someone wrote on Facebook: "Barack Obama is still president today." I thought: Focus on that. Only that. It will get you through this day.
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