Tuesday, October 6, 2015
I attended two conferences in the past week, and didn't blog at all during that time. It's unsettling how quickly I can fall out of the habit of blogging regularly. I'm starting to put some pieces in place for a new venture I am imagining, but it's a fragile bud of an idea right now, so I'm not ready to share. I'm excited when I think about the possibilities, but I'm also daunted, wondering whether I can actually make this happen, whether people would actually pay for this thing I want to offer, in the form I want to offer it. When I think about it sometimes, I get so overwhelmed I just want to climb under the covers and go back to sleep. I heard somebody say once that excitement feels just like fear in the body, so maybe this is excitement more than fear. The trick is, no matter what name it goes by, I have to weather this jittery feeling, not let it turn me aside, because I think I'm on to something here. I just have to jump, have faith in my idea and my ability to do this thing I dream. Sorry to be so oblique. I missed you all.
Photo: "Sundays in Jamaica" by Adrian McDonald
Monday, October 5, 2015
My son turned 24 yesterday. Twenty-four! We regaled his girlfriend with his birth story, and she sweetly indulged us as we all reveled in the way his intense curiosity about everything was evident even during birth. We had some laughs. His friends came over for most of the afternoon, and my husband made his favorite meal, ropa vieja, and then we sang and had cake, but we didn't do the now-traditional birthday tequila shots as he was kind of exhausted by the end of the day.
Happy birthday, beloved boy!
Thursday, September 24, 2015
My son is housebound as he recovers from knee surgery and he's going stir crazy. Poor kid. At least the pain is manageable. He'll be in that leg brace for a while, and doing physical therapy to get the leg strong again. He's been working from the couch, solving issues by phone. And now it turns out that he has been offered a promotion for when he goes back into the office, because he's a bit of a workaholic, that kid, and they rely on him. His girlfriend also works hard, putting in long hours as personal trainer. They're so diligent and responsible. She is trained in theater though. She loves that world. Meanwhile my son wants to save lives. He said to me yesterday, "Stress is working hard at something you don't love. Fulfillment is working hard at something you do love." I worry a little about these young people working so hard at jobs that are not their dream, leaving them no time to pursue their heart's desire. Still, change can be set in motion on any given day. We who love them have to trust they will find their true path.
I have one more chapter to write to complete a first draft of the memoir of an extraordinary 97-year-old African-American doctor, and I cannot seem to write the first word of it. Instead I have been going through all her papers, piece by piece, and making adjustments in previous chapters. It feels overwhelming to put the final punctuation mark on the narrative of such a life. I have come to adore this woman, who hired me to write her life's story, and paid me enough so that I could focus on it with a whole heart. I am well ahead of my due date, so I will have time to go over the entire thing again, to refine and make it better. She wants to self-publish. Even if the book gets picked up by a mainstream publisher, she still wants to be her own publisher. She has no intention of waiting till 2017 to see a bound book and I'm thrilled she's so self-directed. We've determined I will oversee that part of the process as well, so if any of you out there have self-publishing experience, I'd love to hear your advice! (Brittany? Steve?)
Life scrolls on, one day to the next. My bones ache something fierce. I'm trying not to be nervous about how I will make a living once the book I'm working on is complete. I frequently get approached to ghostwrite or edit books, but for less money than it takes to live in this city. Much less if you want to know the truth. I'm grateful people want to hire me, but a book is an all-consuming undertaking, and I give my whole self to it once I say yes. So I really need to figure out how to charge properly for this, and to be okay if people say, sorry, that's more than I had in mind, even if there is not yet another job waiting in the wings. I have to trust I am on my true path.
On a related note, here is a pic from homecoming weekend at my daughter's school. She looks like she's having a blast. How is it related you ask? Well, I imagine finding or being on one's true path can feel a lot like coming home to yourself. I made that up, but I think it might be true.
Saturday, September 19, 2015
We are a lonely outpost in the city, with no close family near by. At dusk on a Saturday, when I've been inside all day and the the ceiling begins pressing down on my head, there is no one I can call. No one I can visit without first making an arrangement. For so many years my aunt and uncle and in some seasons my mother were across the courtyard, with other cousins nearby. The elders are gone now and the cousins moved to another city. I have friends, and maybe some of them get lonely at dusk, too, but we don't think to call each other on the spur of the moment. Unless we've made a plan, we stay in our silos. And so, at dusk, I sit on a bench until night falls and the lamps come on and then I go back inside.
Sometimes I go to a movie.
Sometimes I bury myself in work.
Sometimes I eat the wrong thing.
Sometimes I play Candy Crush.
Sometimes I walk slowly among the trees.
Sometimes I sit on a bench and read.
Sometimes I feel sorry for myself.
Sometimes I feel grateful my children are okay, and remind myself that while it can feel as if my life has imploded to the size of a thimble, theirs is big and wide, and these are thoughts after all that can only be indulged if one's children are doing okay. My daughter is at homecoming this weekend and performing with her step team, and my son seems to be rallying after his surgery, the worst pain eased. He and his girlfriend and his dad are watching football. I am going outside with a book. See you on the other side.
He doesn't love school but he does love medicine. But what he's really interested in is trauma medicine, which is why he says being a paramedic-firefighter might be perfect. "As a paramedic you do everything doctors do in a crisis, but you do it while going 40 miles an hour in the back of an ambulance," he likes to say. He's also said that when everything is falling apart and the world is going to hell, he wants to be the one who can jump into the fray and help to fix things. His dad took the photo of him when he was just waking up after surgery, still a little loopy. I got permission to post it. I didn't worry about how the procedure would go, because my husband was there, and he's such a good man in a pinch. He has such a steady presence, he gives you the feeling that nothing can go too wrong while he's on the scene. Maybe that's what inspires our son to want to be the go-to man in a crisis.
The injury that led to this surgery might have felt like a disaster to me, but to our boy, I suspect it's an opportunity for first-hand research. And the pain is much less this morning. When he keeps the leg still, it's more like a throbbing ache now. Today, he'll be able to adjust the brace and bend the knee 30 degrees. He also ordered ergonomic crutches, which should arrive today—more anatomical research, with a bit of technology thrown in. This boy can tell us everything that is happening inside his knee, and he does. Like how when he gets us and walks on the crutches, the blood rushes to the area and brings nutrients, so that's good, but it also causes swelling and kills muscles, because apparently blood is toxic to the body. "Think about it," he said, "why do people die from internal bleeding? The thing that keeps us alive is also toxic to our insides." If some doctor reads this and it's not quite right, it's on me. I'm sure he said it right, and maybe I garbled it.
Friday, September 18, 2015
Trump's response: "We're going to be looking at that and a lot of different things."
All my life I have wondered how the Nazi regime happened. I have asked myself again and again, how did it come to power, did no one see what was coming? Watching Trump now, sensing the tenor of the times, I have a persistent feeling that it crept into the mainstream in much the same way.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Friday, September 11, 2015
On this day, so indelible in history, I'm remembering all the people grieving and displaced by events rippling out before and after that crystal blue morning in September fourteen years ago today.
My husband, who grew up on an island, asked with great sincerity, "Why would people climb with their children into a boat that is already overloaded? They know it's going to capsize. How desperate must they be that they can't wait for the next boat?" He was speaking of the Syrian refugees who perished at sea, who washed up on beaches, the perfect child face down on the sand, looking as if he was merely sleeping. Hundreds of thousands of those who made it across the open water are now pouring into Germany and Sweden and other countries that have opened their arms. It is a stunning display of humanity in the face of a stunning display of inhumanity.
Right after the man asked the question about boats, which was rhetorically really, I went to Sabine's blog Interim Arrangements, and she had posted an excerpt of this poem by the Kenyan-born poet Warsan Shire. It answered the boat question with heartrending precision. On this day, with the so-called Freedom Tower now complete, and with thanks to Sabine, I'm reprinting Warsan Shire's poem here.
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
or the insults are easier
than your child body
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
Warsan Shire is a writer, poet, editor and teacher. Born in Kenya in 1988 and raised in London to Somali parents, she has read her work extensively as an internationally touring poet. In 2014 she was appointed the first Young Poet Laureate for London. Her first book Teaching my Mother How to Give Birth was published by Flipped Eye in 2012. (From her website bio)
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
I wonder if the wind just wants to
sit still sometimes
and watch the world pass by
If smoke was born knowing how to rise
If rainbows get shy back stage
not sure if their colors match right
I promised I'd stop hiding out. And so, when my dear friends Elizabeth and Michael from our Life Magazine days called last week to say they were going to be in town from Austin, Texas and could we get together, I said yes. Elizabeth and I were reporters together, and her husband, Michael, was a photographer, and he and I were often paired on assignments. When I walked into the diner where we met for breakfast this morning, I had a flashback, seeing Michael sitting there, as if we were in some town in the middle of the country on assignment. Next to him was Elizabeth, one-third of our wild trio of reporters, who got up to all kinds of mischief back in the day.
It really felt as if no time had passed. We could have sat all day catching up, but they're in town for a memorial service this afternoon so we had to watch the time. I'm so glad they never gave up on me. Elizabeth has come to town and called me at least five times to try get together, and now we finally have, and of course, all the fear of judgment ("She got so fat") is unfounded, the years fall away, and it is only your friend you see.
We took a selfie to mark the occasion. What I particularly love about it is that you can see Michael's calculating eye as he sets up the picture. Here's a photo he took of me when we were on an assignment in Fort Wayne, Indiana when I was 26. We were in the airport coffee shop waiting for our flight back to New York. The sun came up and slipped through the blinds and Michael reached for his camera. Good times.