Monday, February 28, 2011

The Beautiful Baker


Cooking Club


My daughter baked tonight for her Monday cooking club meeting at school. The theme is Mexican anything, so she made tres leches cakes with dulce de leche buttercream frosting. And they were divine. I told her when she opens her bakery, this will be one of the offerings for which she will be known far and wide. She can add this one to her chocolate salted caramel cupcakes and her key lime coconut cupcakes and her rainbow swirl cupcakes. She already has a repertoire! And she's really starting to master that piping.


While the snow was falling

Two college students died this weekend, apparently after consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. The events were unrelated, except by the fact that they occurred within a day of one another in an upstate college town that was being blanketed by snow. One student was a sophomore at Cornell, a young man, 19,  from Brooklyn who was found "unresponsive" on the couch of his frat house on Friday morning. The other was a freshman at Ithaca College, a young lady, 17,  from Spencer, New York, who was found "unresponsive" lying on the snow outside an off campus house on Saturday afternoon. No foul play is suspected. It is surmised that in the students had had too much to drink and passed out, and no one noticed them quietly slipping away.

While these young people lay dying in the town where my son attends college, my boy was away competing in the pentathlon at States, equalling his personal record in three events (high jump, shot put and hurdles), smashing his previous record in the 1,000 meters by seven seconds (huge), and doing abysmally in long jump, his weakest event, which dropped him to seventh place, still not bad overall.

I wondered if he knew either of the students, as he has friends on both campuses. He said he did not, and in fact did not even know about the deaths until the track team returned to campus late last night. I am glad he is on the track team, because on weekends when there are meets, the team observes strict instructions not to consume any alcohol or otherwise compromise their conditioning. I pray that my son's desire to compete and improve in a physical endeavor will limit his involvement in drinking and such.

Do I even want to post about this? Not really. But it is all I have been able to think about. What those children's parents must be feeling tonight stalks and haunts me.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Love Letters

My daughter is doing one of those standardized practice tests and I am her timekeeper. She just finished the reading comprehension section with six minutes to spare and she said, "Mom, I just read a whole passage on the word good."

"Good!" I said.

"No," she said. "Not at all. The writing was unnecessarily convoluted and hard to understand. Too many extra words and phrases you could just simplify."

My beautiful child is a critic.

"Check your answers," I said. "You have six minutes."

There are so many things convoluting my brain and I have to simplify, so I can address them one by one, these things that demand that I push away the rest of the agita so that I can accomplish the real world tasks required of me, like the performance review narratives I have to finish writing for my direct reports at work before our sit down and here-is-your-raise conversation tomorrow, and the highlighting and cross-referencing of receipts and explanations for my follow up appointment with the tax auditor this week, and the fifty-mile-long parent questionnaire that I have to fill out about our daughter before our meeting with her college counselor next week.

And that whole paragraph was one sentence.

The beautiful critic would have something to say about that.

We had to fill out one of those parent questionnaires for my son, too. Parents are asked to give insight on their children's strengths and challenges and special natures, to help college counselors figure out how your child can best be packaged to make a compelling pitch to the schools of choice. It's all about selling their individual story and I am starting to realize that my son's experience as an Explorer Firefighter with the FDNY helped set him apart. How many applicants had search and rescue training, how many had the experience of putting out fires using the actual garb and gear? How many had studied the patterns of how flames spread, and could navigate through small spaces with bulky equipment, finding and hoisting heavy test dummies on their backs in blinding white storms of steam to simulate real smoke?

No wonder he got into all but one of the schools where he applied. I didn't really understand that others would grasp how special he is, that others would see what I see. I thought his mediocre SATs would be a roadblock, but in the end, he leveled all the obstacles. And now I am in the same place again, not trusting that others will see how wonderful and unique my daughter is, trying to figure out how to help her stand apart from the numbing sameness of all the college applications. I feel as if I am standing in at the foot of a mountain and trying to marshall the energy to climb it again, but with more faith this time. More faith.

Our son's high school guidance counselor made approaching the parent questionnaire easy when she said, "Think of it this way: You are writing a love letter about your child." So this is how I will think about the questionnaire for my daughter. It is a love letter I look forward to writing as soon as I can clear the significantly less appealing tasks off my list of must do now.

Maybe I won't even get dressed today. I'll just sit at the computer and work. That way, I won't be tempted to leave the house, to escape my obligations. Oh right. I have to get dressed. My aunt is in the hospital after falling again. I will need to go there and sit with her for a while. What happened at the hospital on Friday with her two children is the saddest story that touches my life. Sadder still, for my aunt. Later.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Life at Sea


"I long, as does every 
human being, to be at home 
wherever I find myself.

—Dr. Maya Angelou



Friday, February 25, 2011

Rain, Rain

It's raining in the city. The word that comes to mind is unremitting. The wet gray heavens remind me of something the poet Ghalib wrote—"For a raindrop, joy is in entering the river." I think this is why I have been dreaming of the sea where I grew up. It has been too long since I immersed myself in its waters. I have been in the cold concrete North for too many years at a stretch. I am missing the river of my childhood, my blue ocean, my joy.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Son in Flight


He's always flying. I wonder if he realizes that. We had a warm easy phone call this afternoon. He competes at States tomorrow in six track and field events. He was finishing up last minute work as the team travels tonight and will miss Friday's classes. He likes all his classes this semester, and all his professors too. I miss my boy.

Ancient Nature

Soul Portal

Embrace

Emerge

Ancient Nature

The Gate Keepers

The Other Side

These paintings and titles are by Nathan Jalani Taylor, a young man I used to work with back in the days when he still rocked a day job to pay the bills. Now he's doing his art, really doing it, and I'm so proud of him. Many of his paintings are like intricate stained-glass mosaics, vivid and afrocentric, often with a central figure that for me evokes the divine. There's something vaguely religious about these paintings, nothing overt, just a feeling that begins to touch you when you look at several pieces at once. And then there is the series above, so ethereal and otherworldly, elongated paint threads that make me think of a communion of souls, interconnected and arching towards the sky, the galaxy, the space dark sun. For me as a viewer, they are a supportive web of spirits, facilitating dreams, hearts of fire, complicated human sorrow, abiding love. I really do feel all that when I look at these paintings. Nate, my friend, I knew you when.


All history is in that skin


"The first thing you do as a Black poet is unzip the suit of your Black skin and walk away from it. The second thing you do as a poet is find that suit of yours and step right back into it. That suit paints behind your eyelids so you see it when you dream. That suit is osmotic: it lets out sweat, breathes for you and keeps out the elements. All history is in that skin. Poetry plays your skin like an instrument—listen, touch, taste, look, and sniff. Dream skin. Skin song. Human."

—Fred D'Aguiar, author of The Longest Memory and Continental Shelf


---------------------------

I first ran across Fred D'Aguiar's work when I was editing a collection of writing on the Black family. I fell in love with a short story he wrote about his parents' courtship in a small village in Guyana, and I wondered why I had never heard his name. British-born, he lived in Guyana then England during his formative years, then moved to America and now teaches Creative Writing at Virginia Tech. He's won numerous prestigious prizes for his novels and his poems.

But it is his face that intrigues me today, and not just because he resembles my family. I look at his picture and see a stillness in him, an acceptance of what is known and what is unknown, a surrender that is both power and peace. He trained as a psychiatric nurse before becoming a poet. This makes perfect sense to me.




Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Grasshopper

So, my girl is pretty darn amazing, I do think so, and thank you for all the warm and generous comments about her. Today, I shared them with her, and discovered that I need to give my husband some lemonade love, too, because he's the one who told our daughter, "Sweetheart, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade." He gave her this piece of wisdom while I was going from counter to counter in the airport on Saturday trying every way I could to get us on a flight. She was crestfallen and her dad gently coached her on handling disappointment, setting an example by keeping his own cool, serving up no blame at all for our circumstances. He knew how crushed I was and he quietly determined not to add to it. He set the tone in the most loving way, communicating wordlessly that even though we were disappointed, it wasn't the end of the world. It's one of the things I most love about him. He sees and hears and understands what is not immediately discernible. He is our calm and patient grasshopper.

In this photo from another trip we took some years ago, the wise daddy grasshopper is on the left. We were on a road trip to Virginia with the little grasshoppers in training. We had stopped at a rest stop in Maryland where my husband and the children with us—my son, my daughter and one of our nephews—chose $3 sunglasses from a vendor booth. Here, they are modeling their uber cool looks for me. How lucky are we to be sharing life with this man!



Monday, February 21, 2011

Lemonade


We were supposed to have a traveling weekend. We were supposed to be in Ft. Lauderdale by noon on Saturday to help celebrate the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary of two much-loved friends. One of them has just come through two arduous years of cancer treatment and we wanted so much to be there in person to cheer them making it through. We rose at five a.m. and made it to the airport by six-fifteen, checked in and were at our gate by six-thirty.

My husband settled down with our bags and his Kindle and my daughter and I went off to browse the shops and get coffee for me, orange juice for my husband and a bagel for her. We rambled around companionably until my husband texted us and said they should be calling our flight soon and we better start back. When we got there, it was seven-thirty. I saw a long line at our gate, but the board said New Orleans. I waited, wondering how they would clear that flight from the gate in time to board our flight and leave by eight. Finally, at about seven-forty-five I went up to the gate agent and asked whether our flight was still on time and did she know when it would board?

"Where are you going?" she asked. I told her.

"We don't have a flight to Ft. Lauderdale at eight," she said.

"Yes, you do," I insisted. "Look, here is my boarding pass."

She took the printed piece of paper and said, "Oh, eight p.m. This flight is at eight tonight."

I felt as if all the breath left me. I covered my face with my hands and moaned, unable to believe my stupidity. I had been so thrilled to find $200 round trip seats that I hadn't paid enough attention to the hour. I had booked online, requested morning flights in my search, and then assumed that all flights returned were morning flights. But, this being spring break for most of the city's schools, all morning flights were booked, or overbooked as I was soon to learn, and the computer brought up the only flight of the day that still had three seats left.

Our friends' formal banquet was at six to ten that evening, and we were supposed to fly back home at eight the next morning, so unless we could get on a flight that would get us there by six or even seven, it didn't make much sense to travel. The gate agent tried for us, she really did. We went from gate to gate hoping to get bumped up from stand by. We stood with mournful faces as the agent made call after call, trying to help us get to Florida on time. But there was nothing available. In fact, all morning we had been hearing those announcements inviting people to give up their seats for $300 and a first class seat on a flight the next day. One hundred percent of travelers were showing up and stand by was an impossibility. We looked into whether we could fly into another airport, rent a car and drive. But those flights were overbooked, too.

At last, I called our friends and told them we wouldn't be there. And I had to call my cousins too—the ones from Virgina who were also traveling to be there, and the ones in Ft. Lauderdale with whom we had planned to stay overnight. Their disappointment made me want to immediately book a flight for next weekend, which of course I couldn't since we now had to eat the cost of our three nonrefundable tickets. My Florida cousins had soup bubbling on the fire and hot Jamaican patties in the oven, and several other cousins were on their way from West Palm to visit with us for the afternoon. We would miss them all.

The oldest of my three nephews from Virginia is my daughter's age. They are very close. His mother told me he cried when he heard we weren't coming, and that made me cry, too.

My daughter, wise radiant soul, put her hand on my shoulder and said, "Mom, maybe we're just not supposed to fly today. Maybe we just need to find the lemonade"—a reference to what we're supposed to do when life hands us lemons, except in this case I was the one who had handed out the lemons. So we caught a cab home, emotionally spent and tired from rising before dawn and tromping from gate to gate all morning. We put down our bags and climbed under blankets and settled in for a quiet day, drowsy day.

On toward evening, when my daughter and I were lying side by side on my bed watching episodes of Ugly Betty on her laptop, she said, "It's kind of nice to be here with no obligations and no one is calling because no one knows we're here. It's so peaceful." I agreed with her and kissed her head. After another moment she said, "I think this is our lemonade."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Subway Shakespeare





"The friends thou hast, 
and their adoption tried, 
grapple them to thy soul 
with hoops of steel."


—William Shakespeare's Hamlet




Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Valentines


At seven-thirty, he called me at work to ask what time I would be coming home. I was distracted, trying to decipher notes on a layout, laboring to make the sentences effortless. The story was supposed to ship to the printer in the morning. Don't know, I said, not quite paying attention. Oh, he said. Well, call me when you're on your way. And then I remembered it was Valentine's Day. He cooks a special dinner for us on Valentine's Day. Oh, right, you're cooking, I said. I'll be out of here soon.

I left shortly after that and caught a cab. I asked the cab driver to stop at Whole Foods where I thought I might find some of those impossibly red tulips my daughter and I brought home last year. And maybe a cake. The cab driver started telling me about the mother of his children. He was Indian, she was Puerto Rican, and all his friends warned him she was crazy. But he wasn't prejudiced, he said. He had two children with her. And then she turned against him. I used to be rich, he said. I had a deli and drove a Mercedes, and she made me go to court so I could see my children. Seven years I paid lawyers so I could see my children. Seven years she fought me. At the end they said I could visit three days a week. And now we are both poor. She ruined my children's lives. Now I drive a cab all night and it is so cold tonight.

He was a small man, barely higher than the steering wheel. He listened when I called my daughter to check how far along in the dinner prep her dad was so I could gauge how much time I had. After I was done, the cab driver said, I'm going to call my daughter too. And he did. He said, It is cold tonight, baby. Stay inside. Your daddy loves you.

He waited for me while I went into Whole Foods. The tulips were a little less glorious than I remembered, but they were richly red all the same, and the cab was waiting so I bought them. And I chose a passion fruit mousse cake to go with them. Outside the wind whipped the night furiously. When I got back to the cab, the driver said, This is the night for lovers. You are a lucky woman. You have a man who is cooking for you. And I am out here driving a cab on a cold night. 

I wished him a happy Valentine's Day as I got out the cab and wondered if it was unkind to do so. His words were in my head as I opened the door to my apartment. My husband was in the kitchen making grilled swordfish steaks and baked potatoes and fresh mozzarella with tomato and basil in a dark vinaigrette. My daughter was at the table, brow scrunched over math problems, her Facebook page open on her laptop beside her.

I hugged them and kissed them and they felt warm and easy and happy and I held up the flowers and the passion fruit cake and when I went into the bedroom to put down my stuff there was a heart shaped box of chocolates on my pillow and I thought that the cab driver was right, at least in what he said about me.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The revolution has been televised

Children celebrate Egypt's new day. Two-thirds of the country's population is less than 30 years old.

Egyptian women and students were at the forefront of protests demanding an end to authoritarian rule.

Google executive Wael Ghonim helped coordinate the rallies through social media.

1. The Social Network

The revolution was mostly peaceful. The young and networked led the way, communicating over Facebook and Twitter and Google to get the word out about rallies. They called for an immediate end to thirty-one years of authoritarian rule that stripped citizens of rights and spawned untold cruelties. The most recently publicized was the beating death of a young internet activist last June. Google executive Wael Ghonim looked at a photograph of the dead man's face and felt a chill of connection. This man could be his brother. He took a leave of absence from his job and began to organize protests, setting up a page on Facebook and joining with others who felt similarly galvanized, using social networks to get the word out.

And the people came. More of them every time a rally was called. They would accept nothing less than the departure of the Egyptian president, the man who had instituted emergency rule three decades before and never lifted it. When the government shut down the internet as a way to thwart the lifeline of the protests, the people started spilling out to Tahrir Square in search of news. They found one another, they gathered numbers, they multiplied passions, and they refused to go home.

For eighteen days they stood their ground, through a hail or rocks thrown by hired government forces, surrounded by soldiers with submachine guns and tanks. Ghomin disappeared and was feared dead. It was learned later that he had been arrested and was being interrogated. On day ten they released him, bending to international pressure from Google and an American president. When they took off Wael Ghonim's blindfold, he kissed every soldier in the room, because he wanted them to know he was fighting for their freedom too.

In Tahrir Square, the numbers of protesters swelled daily. The people did not yield. But they were orderly. They protected one another. The soldiers circled the square and began to protect them too. In the mornings, the citizens swept the square with branches and picked up the garbage and in the afternoons they continued to call for freedom. On the eighteenth day their call was answered. The corrupt president would leave the country. An interim military government would oversee the transition. The people had won.

And now, the even harder work begins. I am always cautious in my hope when the military is in charge. But there is an exhilaration among the Egyptian people that can only serve them in the daunting task of creating themselves anew. We are witnessing living history. And with the internet in the hands of the people everyone gets to tell the story. The world changed this week and the shifts were seismic and now there is no going back.


2. We Are All

The Wall Street Journal described how a young activist's death caused the dominos to fall: "A young Egyptian businessman, Khaled Said, died after being beaten by the police. Witnesses described how Said was taken from an Internet café, had his head smashed into marble stairs, and was left dead on a street in Alexandria. Khaled Said had angered the police officers by copying video they had made of themselves divvying up confiscated marijuana, which later appeared on YouTube. Like the young Tunisian who set himself on fire after being harassed by a low-level government official, Said hoped to draw attention to official corruption.

"Mr. Ghonim created a Facebook page called 'We Are All Khaled Said.' It featured horrific photos, shot with a cellphone in the morgue, of Said's face. That visual evidence undermined the official explanations for his death. The Facebook page attracted some 500,000 members. After 30 years of emergency rule, abuses by police and state security officials are so common that the case was a ready rallying point for a diverse network of outraged Egyptians.

"Having attracted this large following, Mr. Ghonim and others used the Facebook page to track other accounts of police abuses. This focused attention on wrongful arrests, torture in detention and corrupt government. And then Facebook was used as a technical means to plan and organize protests. The authorities learned there was something even worse than foreign involvement: no foreign involvement. Spurred by decades of authoritarian rule, Egyptian netizens had organized themselves."

3. Catch a Fire

For weeks I have watched intently as Egyptian citizens rallied and called for Hosni Mubarak's departure, and I had insistent questions that I could never quite answer: How did it start? Why did it catch fire? What made the difference this time?

Last night I saw Wael Ghonim interviewed on 60 Minutes and finally I understood. Everything was in place. The decades of abuse and poverty and discontent. The means to communicate outside the state controlled media. A charismatic and fearless leader to sound the call. And then the spark was lit. Khaled Said died to be the spark. And the fire in the hearts of men and women suddenly bloomed.

The Egyptian government assisted the revolution in critical ways. They cut off the internet and forced people out into the streets for information. They arrested Wael Ghonim, turning him into a martyr when the people feared him dead, and into a potent symbol of the revolution when he finally returned. In the end, the fire burned until it had leveled the opposition, and although the protesters have gone home and Tahrir Square is quiet now, it is burning still.







Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday Afternoon

My husband was in the living room jumping up and down and waving his arms and yelling at the Arsenal soccer game while the girls were in the kitchen cooking and after a while I went out there and told him not unkindly that he had an obligation not to embarrass his children and he looked up from the game and said not unkindly go away. So then I went into the kitchen where the party preparations were in full swing and I hovered over a plate of breaded mozzarella sticks that the girls had been struggling to get to work earlier and then I saw those chocolate salted caramel cupcakes my girl makes and I reached for one and she said not unkindly mom please no, there are only twenty of them and none to spare. And I saw myself for a moment and I was definitely embarrassing and so I took my own advice and my husband's too and I went away. Now the girls are in the kitchen singing along to some song I don't know but which sounds as if you need to strut one hip and wave your arms in the air and I am off to my regular Saturday meeting which I definitely need today.

The Girls

My daughter and her five best friends since grade school are putting on a party tonight for one of their number, who turned 18 this week. They are all abuzz with plans for the festivities, and last night two of them were in our kitchen baking red velvet cake and cooking and crumbling chicken and wrapping them up in croissant dough to make little hors d'oeuvres and now the girls are sleeping in my daughter's room while the birthday girl takes the ACT this morning in the inexorable college quest.

Soon the kitchen will be humming again. I see ingredients laid out on the counter ready for round two. I have done my part by packing and running the dishwasher and wiping down and sweeping and putting out and putting away so that they girls will have a fresh canvas to work with when they finally stumble into the kitchen from their rumpled girl-dreams. They love the birthday girl so much. She is the oldest of the group so she gets to the milestones first, and they celebrate her as hard as they can because she is just an exquisitely beautiful and kind soul and even when they were going through the girl wars in fifth grade she was Switzerland all the time. I love her too. Happy birthday, dear sweet one. I hope you see this and know how much you inspire the rest of us and how very completely you are loved.

The photo above is from a third grade Halloween night. This week's birthday girl is in white and beside her my daughter appears to be rhapsodizing over a piece of candy. The girls were nine. The picture to the right is from the fiftieth birthday party of my friend Isabella, whose daughter is the one who just turned 18. The girls were in 10th grade when they mugged for this photo. I kind of love the attitude and the blur.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

She took to her bed




"Life is what happens 
when you can't get to sleep."

—Fran Liebowitz


More beds. Not hard to figure out what's going on here. These rooms are at Strawberry Hill in Jamaica, one of the most beautiful places on earth. The view is astonishing from that hillside, and yet all I can think about right now is a bed, deep and white and luxurious in a wood louvered sanctuary with filtered mountain light. I finally get what was meant in classical tales when it was said that someone, usually a woman distressed, "took to her bed." Oh, how I wish sometimes. Meanwhile, life keeps happening.



And I am grateful.



Out of Sorts

I don't know why it's so hard to leave my house every morning. Maybe it's just that out of sorts feeling that dogs the month of February, especially after successive weeks of snow. Maybe I'm obsessing about my follow up appointment with Uncle Sam next week, and the continued spinning of my wheels the audit will require. Maybe I'm plagued with guilt over the bills for my aunt that I have not yet submitted to her disability trust for the month of January, the first time I have not been on top of that, ever. I feel as if I'm sliding down a slippery slope of unmet obligations, trying to find a redeeming crevice where I can grab hold.

My daughter, too, seems out of sorts, crankier, broody, worried about whether she'll get into college and not really taking it in when I tell her that she has nothing at all to worry about. The eleventh graders at her school are feeling the pressure. She's decided she's not going to discuss with her classmates where she plans to apply because she doesn't want to have to deal with their opinions about her chances or their unspoken worry that she might take a spot they want at a particular school.

She actually told me that everyone at her school gets straight As except for her. I looked at her. "Really!" she said. I pointed out that this was not really possible. "Well all my friends get straight As," she insisted stubbornly, "and they don't even try that hard." I think she was feeling sorry for herself, and maybe she was feeling pressured by the day-in-day-out insistence of things, a feeling I know well. How can I explain to her so that she truly understands that there are good colleges that will want her? "You have to say that," she says when I try to assure her. "It's in the mom manual."

And the other night she said to me, "Remember Chris Chin?" He was the eleventh grade boy who jumped to his death during January of his junior year when my girl was a freshman and still new to high school. He had been in her Spanish class. "He was where I am now," my daughter noted. "What must he have been feeling?" I felt like an idiot, because I hadn't been paying attention enough to realize that Chris Chin would hover over this year for my girl and perhaps for her entire class. They were so wrecked when he jumped, so heartbroken. And now they are at the same pass, wondering if they have what it takes. If I could tell them anything, I would tell them that the story is never over, it is always unfolding, and a twist here or a disappointment there cannot turn aside its beautiful momentum, not if you believe that there is always more around the corner, more experiences to entertain, much more of life to break your heart and mend it back tenderly and feed your very soul.

My child is still passionate about things—cooking, photography, dance, writing, most of all her friends. She is out in the world every chance she gets. In just one month, she will be among ten students traveling to South Africa for spring break to teach art to under-served kids at two township schools. The students in my daughter's group have been meeting every week for months now to work out their curriculums. My girl has chosen photography and she's busy coming up with assignments and ideas for how to inspire the kids. She's such a good soul. She has a laugh that sprinkles happy dust over anyone who hears it. She's compassionate and deep thinking. She's quirky and enjoys the quirky in other people. She doesn't quit.

I am trying to let her be a little cranky, to not require sunny all the time, just because that is who she has been for most of her life. I am trying not to be worried about moody and broody. But I need to pay attention here. I need to push past my own blue mood and not infect my household with it. It helps sometimes to sit in the house after everyone leaves in the morning and have a good cleansing cry.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Bob



"Emancipate yourself 
from mental slavery.
None but ourselves 
can free our minds."

— Bob Marley


Bob Marley was a modern prophet of peace and right and revolution. And he was my countryman. I was drumming his beats on tuck shop tables at lunch time in junior school, getting on top of those tables sometimes to perform boisterous renditions of his songs with my friends. He was a dreaming country boy who came to the city and began to record that new reggae sound. Soon enough, it would explode onto the world stage, but that new beat and the languorous dance moves it inspired were mine as a Jamaican before they were everyone else's and so I feel a very personal connection to Mister Robert Nesta Marley.

He died on May 11, 1981, a few days after my birthday. He was 36. I cried when I heard he was gone and played his albums on repeat for months. In time it began to seem as if he was just away somewhere, living his life quietly, not really dead. His music is so alive in my house.



Sunday Blooms

My daughter is singing in the kitchen as she collects candles and sets them up on a white sheet with an arrangement of dead leaves and a bruised flower for her latest photo project. She has to compare the madness of Ophelia and Hamlet for an English assignment.

For Ophelia, she borrowed a waterproof camera housing from one of her friends and filled the bathtub with water. Earlier she went to the corner to buy exactly three blooms, a white Anastasia, a red rose and an orange flower. All afternoon she has been drowning the blooms in the bathtub and taking underwater pictures of them to approximate the river where Ophelia suffocated her unrequited love, or something like that. It's been a long time since I read Hamlet.

The prince's madness is more angry and destructive, she says, so she wants to use some sort of fire motif to represent that. Hence the gathering together of candles. She plans to make collages from the photos she is taking and then write something that explains how they represent the subjects at hand. I find her imagination and determination to create the pictures in her head so exciting to watch. I particularly love when she says Can you hold this for me? and What if I do it this way? and Hmmm that's not bad at all.

The images are moody, which I find so at odds with the winter sunlight streaming through our window today, and my daughter's cheerfulness as she works. But her subject is madness, loss, grief, destruction. Ophelia and Hamlet would understand the images.



In All Her Glory




I'm captivated by these dolls by Khamit Kinks. I find them beautiful. The one immediately above resembles my cousin Maureen, who is four years older than I am. As a child and young teen, I hero worshipped her with a force almost like a yearning. People said we looked alike, except she was the perfected version of who I would never be. Her father said as much to me one morning when I was a chubby, broken out thirteen—"See what you could have been?" His daughter had just passed through the room, laughing in a way that animated her sea-green eyes. My uncle didn't mean to be cruel. I was a pale version of his glorious daughter and he was simply stating the facts as he saw them. As everyone saw them. The curious thing was, I didn't begrudge his daughter her gifts. No, I adored her. I was slavishly loyal to her, at least until I turned fifteen and began to step out of her shadow and into the possibility of who I could be. Almost always, my cousin treated me with the easy affection of a big sister and it was enough. We are still close today. Age and weight gain have made us more alike than we were back then, except she will always know what it is to walk through the world magnetizing all eyes, while I remain a watcher. Who is to say who has the better view?


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Nights Like These

My daughter made Oreo cupcakes with cookies and cream frosting last night. I could smell the aroma of them as soon as I got off the elevator on our floor. When I opened the door, there she was, busy in the kitchen with her new stainless steel icing tool that her dad indulged her in getting last Sunday, after I put her cheap plastic one in the dishwasher and it melted.

"Mom, come help me choose which cupcakes to photograph," she said as I shrugged off my coat and snow boots. As I surveyed the candidates, I tried to pop one in my mouth but she tapped my hand. "Not yet," she scolded and hugged me. "First, pictures."

On the floor of the kitchen was the dismantled top half the standing lamp from her room, with electric cord attached. "Why is that here?" I asked. "It's my lighting system," my daughter explained, clearly pleased with her inventiveness. "I was waiting for you to come home so you could hold it for me."

We chose three cupcakes and she plated them and put them on a white cloth in need of ironing on a clear space on the floor. She handed me the light then lay on her stomach with her dad's Nikon digital SLR and started to take pictures. She directed me to hold the lamp this way and that, depending on the direction and length of the shadows she wanted. I was an obedient assistant. Every few frames she would show me the image and say, "What do you think?" and we would cheerfully discuss the merits of the picture.

But my favorite part was when she was done taking pictures, when she decided she was comfortable on the floor and just lay there, meditatively eating one of the cupcakes that had just posed for her. That's when I picked up the camera.



"Mmmm."


"Mom, are you really taking this picture?"


"Oh my God! You're really taking this picture!"





Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Winter

Photo by Andy Marcus

What is it when you feel you need another blog to say the things you don't feel you can say on the perfectly good blog that you have? Does that mean those things should remain unsaid, or that you should find another more appropriate forum to deal with them? Like therapy, maybe? I'm stuck. I'm feeling things I can't quite work out. I don't have the luxury of being self-destructive or escapist until I can figure them out. Mostly, I want to go somewhere and hide. It is such a tremendous effort to push myself out of bed and face the world every day. I know the obvious thought is that I am depressed. But that feels too simple. I am tired. Down to my bones. I am tired of the wheel I am on. I am tired of the body I am in. I am tired of doing the same job day after day. I am tired of working so hard and still being poor. I'm tired of feeling as if I have to hold some unknown looming disaster at bay. I want to be somewhere else, doing something else but I don't know what and I don't have the time or mind space to find out so I stay the course because I dare not jeopardize the paycheck. About the only thing I am not tired of is my family, most especially my husband and my two children. But I need a break. And not just a break where I stay in my house and commune with myself, though that has its virtues. I want to go to the other side of the world. I want to go there with my husband and also my children if they're not in school or spending summer in the woods and I want us to discover things. I want us to be able to afford to discover things. I want the love of my life to be less stressed out by his job, I want him to feel easy and carefree as he laughs with me and holds my hand as we explore the other side of the world. And I don't want to wonder any more about the new boss who will be announced one day soon who will sweep in and make over the magazine, hiring and firing as she goes. I don't want to worry if I'll fit the picture she has in her head of where we go from here. But this is ultimately pointless and leads nowhere and it's time to get back to work. Don't worry about me, beloveds. I just needed to vent.

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Snow in Bryant Park
So. I had decided not to put up this post which I wrote yesterday afternoon because, well, how do you post anything but lightness above those beautiful children and their heart-stopping dances. But it turns out this post showed up in Google reader anyway, so here it is. It was true in the moment that I wrote it, but as is the case when one releases pressurized steam, it was less true after. All the same, yesterday I thought about closing down my blog with the photos of those passionate young dancers the last thing people would see. It would have been so worthy. But I need this place. It keeps me sane. I know that sounds like an overstatement, but it is actually not. Today it is snowing again with an ice storm expected later. Tomorrow's forecast is for slushy rain. It is a relief, almost a comfort really, when the weather outside mirrors the weather within. And now, it's time to roll out and meet my day.
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