Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stolen lunches

My husband stayed home from work. We stole away for lunch and these tall tropical numbers were part of the experience. The restaurant was almost empty and felt hidden away and I pretended we were on a secret afternoon assignation. It's kind of romantic to steal time with your man when everyone expects you to be somewhere else living your usual responsible life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Selling Apartment 18F

We have a buyer. We're on the final rounds of clearing out Aunt Winnie's apartment though the closing won't be for another two months. My husband and son and I went there yesterday for one last look for things we might keep. There weren't many. There is a perfectly good couch that will go to an emergency apartment for people who get burned or flooded out of their homes. There is a Rolls Royce of a wheelchair that no senior center will take because it is pre-used. There is the rolling walker which the retirement center will take. They'll also take the boxes of unopened adult diapers and bed liners. There is a hospital bed that will go in the dumpster, and a dresser that has stood in its spot for 40 plus years. I toyed with taking the mirror from that dresser and hanging it on my wall. And then I decided I didn't want to be in my home and feel as if I was back in Aunt Winnie's sick room. I want things that remind me of her at her most buoyant, though I didn't ultimately take that chandelier lamp she loved and that we all joked about saving.

My husband took two sets of sherry glasses that would have gone to the thrift shop otherwise, and three silver trays in dire need of a cleaning. My son asked for the antique clock in his uncle's room. We left the very good recliner as we have no space for any more furniture. Maybe they will go in the emergency apartment, too. My mother's winter and fall clothes were also stored in the apartment. My cousin took some of those for her 95 year old mother, with whatever doesn't fit going to her church.

A very nice family with two newly adopted sons, one with special needs, will be buying the place, and they plan a gut renovation, which is good. The space has all sorts of potential and great light, and it could definitely use a refresh. The woman's mother lives in the apartment immediately below Aunt Winnie's, so on a winter morning her daughter won't even have to leave the building to take her sons to their grandmother. The mother is a lovely woman, who was always very nice to my aunt and uncle and to my own mother, so I am glad this is the family who will take over this space that is so emblematic of our family's history.

On Facebook yesterday I reflected that Apartment 18F has held the dreams of our whole extended family for more than 50 years. Aunt Winnie and Uncle Charlie were the gateway, the launch pad, the sanctuary for all of us who moved to America, and this three bedroom apartment in Morningside Heights was always our second, and at times our first, home. It is so difficult to contemplate now releasing the space where so much of this family's energy was spent. But Aunt Winnie and Uncle Charlie were there for us when we needed it, they showed us the meaning of commitment, of devotion to family, of humor and generosity and love. That will live on in each of us even when Apt 18F is ours no more. How lucky we are to have shared in all that transpired within these walls.

Two of my cousins called me crying when they read news of the sale because relinquishing this apartment we all grew up visiting, and in which so many of us lived for a season, is harder than any words can convey.

Monday, September 15, 2014

True work is true play

I feel some excitement about getting back to work on the book this morning, though I confess I don't really know yet if I'm doing it right. I do think I am lucky in this life in that I stumbled into a field of endeavor that I love. I heartily wish this for my children. I rediscovered that photo of my son and niece recently, and it made me so nostalgic for those days. I think they were 10 and 12 in that photo, which was taken during one of their St. Lucia summers with grandma. They're 22 and 24 now and both trying to put in place their ideal work lives, my son as an EMT-paramedic-firefighter and my niece as a dentist. My daughter, now in her junior year of college, has a little breathing space yet, which is good because she knows less now what she wants to do with her life than when she entered college. She still gets all jazzed up by the business of hospitality, though, and she's planning a lot of major events and conferences as the logistics chair for the women of color coalition on campus. I remember when she was just born, a psychic told me she would pursue and champion causes. It's been true so far, yet she keeps a lightness of spirit around her social justice passions, she doesn't take them in as personal affronts, she manages commitment and acceptance—I can learn from her. Here's a photo from when she was little one at her school's farm. My sweet children.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Out to the ballgame

I went to a 60th birthday party today at Citifield, where the New York Mets play. Our friends Andy and Nancy planned a pre-game brunch in the sky lounge there, with 45 people from all the different corners of their lives: lots of family members; people from the camp they run in Maine for children with life threatening illnesses and their families; and a few friends from the progressive school our children attended together back in the day. It was great to be out in the fresh air on a cool fall day with old friends. We women took lots of selfies because, why not? It was only my second live baseball game ever, and the Mets lost, but the company was congenial, and I think Andy was pretty happy even though he hates to be the center of attention. He likes to make fierce faces in photos, but we caught him smiling quite a bit at the proceedings.

A gorgeous day for a game

The birthday boy and the party girl

Love these women

They couldn't quite do a straight face.

Whispering sweet naughty nothings

The marine biologist and the herpetologist
Ballgame selfies

Windows with a view

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Don't Make Me Say Goodbye

Our dear friend here, Mary Moon, has recently published an ebook of two wonderful short stories about married life. She's a fantastic writer, our Ms. Moon, but we already knew that from her blog. In Don't Make Me Say Goodbye, Mary turns her close observation of human nature to the task of evoking the inner lives of two richly realized women married to their spouses for what feels to them like aeons. Though the stories are very different, in both I found myself pulled along by suspense and rooting for the wife-and-mother protagonist. You're bound to be surprised by how each tale unfolds and you'll be deeply moved by the endings.

Here's the publisher's description: "Mary Moon explores the landscape of long-married life—the hidden hurts and disappointments that lead women to consider leaving, and the tender weight of shared history that prompts them to stay. In “Into the Light,” a wife and mother finds the idea that she might legally choose the moment of her death comforting, but how will she balance the finality of that choice against the little joys and inevitable tragedies of living? And in “Missing the Boat,” a couple on a cruise vacation share very different ideas of how to spend their days, with unforeseen results."

Just click here or here and for $2.99 you can download the stories to your Kindle, iPad, smartphone, Nook or computer. You will be absolutely riveted by these fictional tales, but then you already know that, because you already know and love Mary's writing and her irreverent, bighearted, witty and plainspoken take on all things. You probably also know that as deserving as Mary Moon is, she won't toot her own horn, so let's all get out there and toot it for her!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Beaming Light

The two photos above are by my husband. In honor of his dad, he posted on IG in black and white only for a month. I found his images to be absolutely stunning. They seem particularly appropriate for this day.

I am finally starting to peel back the layers of the childhood of the person whose book I am ghostwriting. It took me several hours of interviews to get to the fact that he was bullied as a child, which he only happened to mention in passing. There is so much more but I have stop right there for the sake of everyone's privacy. My subject speaks in a fairly oblique way. He doesn't enjoy delving into anger or sorrow or emotional negativity and will start to get vague on the details. But it's the details I need to craft any kind of a story and so he is willing to be led there. He says that his mother will also be happy to talk to me. I know she'll have pieces of the puzzle he's not shared. I feel as if I am back in school, or maybe just on a crazy steep learning curve. But this person's fundamental kindness makes me want to do his story justice, so I press on.

My son has had friends staying here all week, two English boys who are camped out in my living room at this moment and will be with us until Saturday when they both fly back to London. My son goes to work every day and leaves them set up in front of the TV. One of them goes out to see his girlfriend but the other mostly stays home so a few times a day I leave my desk where I am trying valiantly to get the book going, and I wander into the living room and say, "Hungry yet?" He seldom is.

His name is Mikey and he's is a guitarist in a band back home, and I think Ms. Moon would be fond of him. He's skinny and tattooed, his blond hair in an outgrown mohawk and something about him makes me think of Keith Richards. I imagine he is much like the boys who became the Rolling Stones were before we ever knew their names. Almost incongruously, his face beams light; his eyes are generous and happy, his demeanor easy and open. He and I were here just the two of us for two days this week, as everyone else went out into the world to do whatever called them, and he sat and watched episode after episode of The Office as I wrote and did phone interviews at my desk. I thought he must be so bored, but when I asked him he said, "Oh no, I am blissfully happy to just sit here after the hectic summer I've had."

He worked as a unit director at camp this summer, and then traveled to Philly for a concert with a whole big consort of camp people, then to New Orleans with a smaller group that was to have included my son, except he bowed out after his grandfather died and he realized that he'd be away in Antigua for a week and wouldn't be able to work enough hours to swing it. The summer long camp party is winding down this weekend with a final Friday night reunion that is the 21st birthday of one of my daughter's best camp friends. She may travel down from school to attend, except she'll sleep in her brother's room as her room is currently occupied and she's decided she'll get more enjoyment from kicking her brother out of his room than asking those boys to vacate hers.

In other news, the new rector of our church has been hired. Her activist and social justice roots run deep. She's and her partner, also a reverend, have been together for 27 years, and they have two sons, one of whom, it turns out, went to our daughter's progressive middle school. They're a multiracial family, and I think both women are going to be amazing for that little church. The new rector asked my husband how come I wasn't more involved. He told her I'd said I was too OCD for our chaotic heart-on-its-sleeve church and that I'd drive them crazy and they'd drive me crazy, and everyone laughed. Speaking of social activism, my daughter is utterly enjoying a class she is taking this semester called "Modeling Race and Gender" and she called me today to say, "Mom, I just want to thank you for sending me to such a progressive school and for letting me choose clothes out of the boy department at Old Navy and not pushing any gender norms on me." She called her dad later and told him the same thing.

She also told me about a rally for Ferguson that she attended yesterday; a housemate horror story involving a clogged toilet; and that she's off to try out for a step team on campus but was worried about making a fool of herself. "Everyone should feel free to make a fool of themselves on occasion," I suggested. And then I told her about auditioning for the choir I joined. "You had to sing by yourself in front of people?" she asked incredulously, because she has heard my singing voice. "Yes," I told her, "and I did it. And they didn't send me packing." "Well then I can certainly try out for step," she decided. Our whole conversation left me beaming light of my own.

"The storm catcher" (Repost)

The photo, by Pete Souza, is of our president at the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon this morning. In remembrance of that terrible day, I'm reposting this post from 2011. 


When my daughter was in kindergarten in 2000, their teacher often took them on fields trips to the farmer's market in Union Square; she was teaching them about sustainability in preparation for their first farm trip in second grade. One of my daughter's classmates lived a block from the farmer's market, and the class often went to his house for lunch after their outing. His family's apartment had a roof deck from which the World Trade Towers looked close enough to touch, with nothing obstructing the view. The kids were also studying the city that year, so after lunch they would go up on the roof and choose a view to render in a drawing, which would become part of their city portfolio.

My daughter and many of the kids were captivated by the view of those towers. They drew picture after picture, with the weather and the light around the towers changing according to the day. As my daughter later put it in an essay she wrote in seventh grade, "Those two secure structures had to remain in the sky forever, they were glued to the sky. Without them, the sky would be lonesome, even with hundreds of other skyscrapers." All that to say, the Twin Towers were very much a part of her consciousness when, more than a year before September 11, 2001 on an otherwise unremarkable Saturday morning, she sat on her bedroom floor in a fit of 5-year-old intensity and made this drawing.

The story she wrote to accompany it went like this: "There were storms everywhere in the whole wide world even in China and New York even in heaven and in outer space. The twin towers were going to fall down but the storm catcher catched all of the storms even from China and New York and then the world was safe for all the people and the animals."

Every year on 9/11, I think about the people who lost loved ones in the fires and the ash and the rubble, and I wonder how it is for them now. I think about the woman my daughter and I had lunch with last May, whom we met on a college tour, who shared that her husband had died in the towers. It is a fact of her life now, and I felt she graced us by sharing who he had been and what he meant to her. Still, I will never truly know how life changed for her, and what it must be like to relive her private grief so publicly on this day every year. I do know, though, that in definable ways we were all changed. I am thinking this year about the looks on my children's faces in the aftermath, their confusion and disbelief, the dawning sense of not being secure.

My son, too, was deeply affected by 9/11, although he didn't make the connections at first. He was 9 at the time, and he sat beside me morning and night as I devoured every scrap of news from our TV screen. People said it was unhealthy to let children watch the coverage, but I could see my son was seeking answers to internal questions he began asking himself that day. His thirst for details reminded me of my own, and I let him watch.

What moved him most of all were the firefighters. I remember him coming to me at one point that evening and saying solemnly, "A lot of heroes died today." He kept trying to fathom the kind of bravery, the sheer heart it took to run into a burning tower to save people you did not know. From that day on, he has wanted to be a first responder. Initially, his goal was to become a firefighter, an ambition that lasted until he got to college. He has now changed his major to pre med. He collects every first responder certification he can and plans to train as an emergency medical technician this year. He has finally articulated his goal of being able to perform at the forefront of any emergency, saving lives.

Sadly, the fear we live with now has made us watchful and narrow-eyed. Politicians use that fear as a weapon, inflaming us, moving us further along a continuum of hate. It is why every year on this day I think about that drawing my daughter made and the story she told. I think my child sensed a potential future, it came to her from who knows where, and she held out for a more hopeful outcome. As our world seeks to heal from the events of that day and all the days after, may my son never need to run into a burning building, and may the storm catcher my 5-year-old invoked catch all our present and future storms.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Starting fresh

I've just finished a project I've been working on since June and it turned out really well. I am trying to remember that at the start of that project, I had no idea how to proceed, or even, truly, what was required but somehow I figured it out. I am trying to remember this because yesterday I started on a new project, and I am once again staring at the blank white screen wondering how I will ever get this done. Today, I wrote exactly four lines. I once again feel as if I am in over my head, but the truth is, this is how I have felt on every project I have undertaken since separating from my cushy (in terms of a regular paycheck) magazine staff job a year ago this week.

I remember as I freaked out over the first huge assignment I managed to get as a freelancer last winter, my cousin who is a life coach counseled me to write on a post-it, I don't know how I will, but I know I will, and post it in a prominent place where my eyes would fall on it several times a day. And that is how I feel right now. I have no idea how I will climb this new mountain, I only know that I've placed my feet, and by the due date I will be standing on the top of it, hollering with relief and elation at being done!

Monday, September 8, 2014

New Paradigms

I've been struggling with whether to leave up that post from yesterday about the recent fuss between my son and me. I worry it fixes him in a bad light, when in fact he is a good son, loyal and true. Oh, his energy can be spiky, but so can mine, and I suppose for that reason it won't be the last time we clash. But things are back to normal, and this morning we had a good open hearted exchange, the way we can when we are both feeling accepting and free of any need to control each other.

My boy was talking about himself and his friends, and the big dreams they all have, and how some of them, one to two years out of college, are starting to become frustrated. He said, "At least I'm in the process of trying to make my dream happen, but it can be frustrating, not knowing if or when." And then he said he'd had a small epiphany the other day. A friend had asked him how he was doing, and as he went to answer he suddenly realized that he had been feeling somewhat depressed. In the same moment, he understood why: "All my life," he said, "September has meant starting new. New class, new teachers, new teammates, new possibilities. Even last year, though I had graduated, felt new. The job hunt was new. My EMT classes were new. Being back in the city with all my friends was new. But one year later, I'm just doing the same thing I've been doing all year, and I guess I have to realize that this is just my life right now." He said that once he understood what he had been feeling, the depression started to lift, replaced by a spirit of acceptance that he is at a new stage with new parameters.

I was quietly blown away by his insight, and his willingness to shift from the old paradigm to the new. And then he started catching me up on everything he hadn't shared in the week when we weren't talking, a job he might possibly be up for at the sports club, his plan to do the Emergency Vehicle Operation Course and Hazmat training to increase his point score for FDNY-EMT recruitment. "I told Daddy all this," he said, looking at me quizzically. "Didn't he tell you?" I was tickled by his assumption that because he'd told his dad, I'd automatically be in the know. But my husband doesn't get as taken up with all the details as I do, and besides, he was manning his own unfolding all-consuming scenario—the final suspenseful stages of hiring a new rector at church. As senior warden, he has the primary responsibility for carrying this ball across the finish line.

"Well, anyway," my son said, "that's what's up with me. Now you, did I hear you say you're joining a choir??"

So now we're all caught up and back to being comrades in the occasionally fractious way we manage it. Which means the fist around my heart has released its grip and I am breathing free.

(And yes, I am joining a choir. The first meeting is tonight.)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

This moment

Sign outside of bar: 

"Free Beer Tomorrow."

The joke of course is that today, this moment, is all that is ever real. I'm practicing living in the moment, not letting it get hijacked by difficult memories or future-based fears. Today, in this moment, I have a slight summer cold, but really, all is well.

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