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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Creation

Sunday morning, my daughter cooked up Eggs in a Basket.
I photographed her as she photographed her efforts.



This is my daughter's photo. Trust me when I tell you the
egg toasts were utterly delicious and hearty. Recipe is here.



Meanwhile, this is what the morning sky was doing,
so I turned my faithful little red camera on that too.


Stay Inside

I dreamed I was walking along a high wide wall and when I got to the end and turned around to go back, the wall had narrowed to a sliver, and I was frozen with panic, I didn't know how to place my steps to find my way back.

I dreamed I fell into a highway and a truck rolled over me, and I caught and held the chassis as it moved, wedging my feet against an exhaust pipe, and then I was stuck there underneath the metal body, breathing the poisonous fumes, unable to fall and roll to safety on the blur of road rushing past.

What does it all mean?

I called in sick today. This was wise. I am so very raw and weary, running on fumes, tears right at the brim, and maybe someone might have dropped a straw onto my shoulder today and I would have just snapped. Yesterday, a freelance designer pitched a fit because she was asked to redesign a page, and she told me in the most scathing tone, as if I were a transgressing five year old, that she did not like to do things twice and we editors needed to get our act together and communicate from the start the layout needs of a story.

I looked at her with a quizzical smile on my face, not quite believing she was speaking to me in this way. I told her the that the piece had been in its final form for days, and all she needed to do was check out the file and she would have been able to design from live copy. She spat out something about how someone should have told her that and when she was done I said to her, my voice determinedly calm, I hear what you are saying, I get your frustration, but we are all working very hard here and there is a certain civility with which we should address each other, and your tone is entirely uncalled for.

She looked at me, a baleful glare. You think I was uncivil in my tone? she challenged. Maybe she thought she would scare me. Yes, I said, holding her stare. Your tone was completely unnecessary and extremely rude. She glared at me for a beat or two longer and then she said, Well then, I apologize. I said thank you and walked away.

Here's the thing. I wanted to yell and scream at her, how fucking dare you? I wouldn't, of course. My parents were extremely diligent about the tapes they laid down in my consciousness about how one conducts oneself in a conflict. You never resort to swearing, my mother always emphasized. The minute you curse you have lost the argument. You can use much richer language than curse words.

Yesterday, I thanked God for those tapes.

Ten minutes later one of the art directors was at my door. I heard about your exchange, he said. How did you hear, I asked him. Is she over there talking about it? As far as I was concerned, I had said my piece, she had apologized and it was over. The art director explained that another designer had overheard us and had come to him, and now he wanted to brainstorm with me because he had been trying all day to figure out how to tell this freelancer to tone down her attitude. Really, he just wanted to vent with someone he thought would be sympathetic to his frustration. I was happy to let him vent because how do you go into someone's place of employment as a freelancer and act this way? Not cool.

All the same, I appreciated that she was completely frontal in her attack, because that allowed me to be as direct in responding to it. All day another person we work with had been engaged in his usual passive aggressive attempts to dominate and control, and I do not fancy people trying to dominate and control me, especially when I think what they are proposing is just plain wrong. It took so much energy to address his arguments in said civil manner,  and maybe that's why I was so furious with the freelancer, because if I was killing myself to be civil with this idiot, by God she needed to reach for a little civility with me, too. (Yes, I realize I have equated myself with the idiot and undermined my own argument.)

Ugh.

Anyway, staying inside today is completely necessary and called for. I am going to hide out in my house and try to recharge, because if I walk out there today, so raw and skinless and exposed, I might lose sight of my larger purpose, all the reasons I keep on.



Tuesday, September 27, 2011

12th Grader



From Finding Nemo:

Marlin: How do you know if they're ready?
Crush: Well, you never really know, but when they know, you know, y'know?

*With thanks to Steph(anie) at Unsweet Mama, who quoted this apt bit of movie dialogue on her blog yesterday, prompting me to realize my girl is ready. 

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Family Dinner

The three of them, friends since age 5, at just past ten on a Sunday evening, on the wide sidewalk in front of a row of brownstones, romping and playing as they always have, outlined by the streetlamps, the three of them laughing, laughing.

The gathering was last minute and spontaneous. Dinner had been had around a table clothed in vintage fabrics that made me think of a French country kitchen. The crockery was homemade by our host, a ceramic artist of great gifts, the meal simple and earthy and abundant, brown rice and beans, with feta and peppers and broccoli and seasoned sour cream all wrapped up in rotis, followed by a dessert of perfect green grapes and sweet cold pineapple. I didn't drink wine, just water with ice, and my daughter whimsically dropped grapes into the bottom of the glass. I ate them happily, talking with my friends, basking in the sight of our children, effortlessly close all these years later.

"This is a family dinner," our host said. And she was right. We were coming back together after a far-flung summer. We shared our adventures, sojourns in South Africa, New Orleans, college road trips, summer camp, the drummer boy and his rock band making their first CD. After the table was cleared, the 17-year-olds retreated to the bedroom, the mood in there set with holiday lights strung across the ceiling and snapshots clothespinned like miniature laundry to the cords. The star drummer played his CD for the girls, a very fine sound. He will be playing at a festival for unsigned bands next month, and his band might get signed. They are really that good. We will all be there, whooping.

The grownups meanwhile repaired to the living room, the conversation roaming. We shared college search anxiety and wisdom, comforting and assuring each other but mostly bearing witness. Mostly reminding ourselves that we are accompanied on this ride.

And then it was time to leave. The teenagers still had homework to complete. As we all walked to the car, the boy put his arms around the girls and pulled them to his sides and he rocked them back and forth and said, "These girls are my childhood friends." Just that. But it felt like a moment. His father was gone, his loss four short months ago unexpected and shattering. But this. This was his family, too, enduring and constant.

I want to remember.


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Saturday, September 24, 2011

The colors and the sounds


Haven't felt much like writing lately. Or I do feel like writing, but during the hours when I might do that, I am usually making and having a meal with my mom, or watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune with her and calling out answers, and then running her bath and helping her get ready for bed, and get set up for the next morning, and by the time I'm done, poof! whatever I was thinking about writing has just vanished, which I don't fight because I got to spend that time with my mom. But today, I ran across this photograph of beads, and I remembered Elizabeth's post about her daughter loving beads, with those photos of Sophie wearing her beads, and also reaching for them with a delicacy and grace that I found so beautiful, and I could almost hear the sound they made, a cross between a soft swish and a crisp rustle, it sounded like music, and so I wanted to put this picture up and imagine the wind rustling these many colored beads, a dance for lovely Sophie.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hakuna Matata

He never wears shirts unless for warmth or social decorum, he has to. I think it is the Caribbean beach child inside his soul. He's been calling home more this year. My heart feels aching happy when I hear his voice.

He called last night. He sounded good and steady, and had already completed the night's assignments, well before 8 p.m. "What is this?" he joked. "Could I possibly be growing up?" I miss my college boy.

Not in vain

I've just learned that arrests have been made in the case of the overdose death of Henry Granju, the Knoxville, Tennessee teen whose mother, blogger Katie Granju, tirelessly pursued justice on behalf of her son. Today's development is stunning news. For Katie, it means a promise that she made to her beautiful boy has been fulfilled. It means, too, that three fewer dealers are on the streets, ensnaring the most vulnerable of our children. I confess that as I signed petitions and blogged about the case, I sometimes despaired of Katie's ever finding justice. Today I say, never doubt a mother's resolve.

Go here for more.

Paris Topiary


Heading out to work, dreaming of escape. The daily. That is all. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nicole Getting Married


My niece got married this weekend to her high school sweetheart. Strictly speaking, she's really some definition of cousin but in our family we call all the children of our first cousins our nieces and nephews, so yes, my niece got married. She is adorable, this one. She can fly a plane and put together a wedding on a shoestring, and make it exquisite and unforgettable. I grabbed this picture of Nicole with some of her friends from her Facebook page. I think she is so very awesome. I hope she and her beloved will be very happy together. I have no doubt they will be.


She's Back!


If you have a moment, clink the link above
and give my sweet girl some love!


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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Winning


You may recall that a year ago, my daughter reflected at dinner one night that it would be nice to know what it felt like to be on a winning soccer team. And then her team did what had until that moment seemed unthinkable: They won the next game. And then they won all the games after that, and went to the championship finals for the first time in my girl's soccer playing career. They lost the final in a hard-fought game, but oh, it was exciting.

Well, my girl's soccer team has started the year with an unbeaten record, tying the first game and winning the next five. It looks like they're angling for a championship rematch, the way they are playing now. My girl is a starter, she plays midfield or stopper, and she's also the backup goalie (she hates being in goal but she's awfully good at it). They have a new trainer this year who is pushing the girls harder than they ever have been pushed. They came back from soccer preseason camp complaining bitterly about him. One of the girls even said, "He acts like he's coaching boys!" which made us all laugh.

But on Friday, our girls won their hardest game yet, 4-2 against the team they met in the finals, with our team scoring two of the goals in the final ten minutes. Animatedly, my girl praised all the hard, hard workouts they had been forced to do; she explained that at the end of the game both teams are tired and it's the better conditioned team that can keep it together and take advantage of that—as they did. She was thrilled! All lit up with winning, which is a very nice place to be at the start of her senior year of high school.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Society

My aunt perked up a bit after her birthday party, with all her sisters and other family members arriving to celebrate her ninety-third year of life. I think there is nothing in this world like the company of other people, especially those whose love you never have to question. But if you can't have that, the society of strangers is helpful too. I remember when I was in my twenties before I was married, and the gnawing loneliness sometimes. It felt like deep sadness, and when it descended, I would take my notebook and go and sit in a sidewalk cafe, and spend the whole afternoon there, writing and watching the people come and go. After, I would feel that I had been in the company of others, and it would be easier to go back to my empty apartment and spend the evening alone. Sometimes, I would go to a movie by myself, and it really did give me the sense of being connected to some form of society, just sitting next to strangers, mutually absorbed in the flickering action on screen. It would be easier to be with myself after that. I had assured myself that I was not alone on the planet. It is one of the reasons I love living in New York. You can just walk out your door and feel connected to the surge of humanity, even if you are wandering through it essentially alone. I am both a recluse and social creature. I am glad at this stage to have family around me. I am sure I chose this big extended family of mine in this incarnation so that I would not float off into oblivion, with no threads to bind me. This family I was born into and the one I helped create, they saved me. I believe they really did. 


Photo (c) Anastas Michos

What Dylan Said



"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

—Dylan Thomas


I studied this poem in school. They were only words, then. I was a child. What did I know of getting older? It means something else entirely to me now. I had no clue that life itself, stretching out like an indolent teenager ahead of me, would suddenly begin to gallop. It is sobering to realize that my 93-year-old aunt was only four years older than the age I am now, when I came to New York to attend college. And it feels as if I came to New York only yesterday. Oh, it is all a bad cliche. 

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Good Romance


These were the flowers that my husband brought me on our anniversary. He explained to the florist what he wanted, lilies and orchids and roses that would echo the flowers I carried on the day we were married. The florist asked, "So how many years is this for you?"and my husband replied,  "Twenty-five years ago, you did the flowers." Yes, he went back to the same florist. His eyes were dancing as he related the exchange. He is romantic like that. And the blooms were perfect.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

"The storm catcher catched all the storms"


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.





Friday, September 9, 2011

Rise and Shine



"Fall down seven times, stand up eight."

Japanese proverb,
first told to me by the inimitable Hal

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Too Much

It's all so hard. How cruel to no longer be able to help yourself. And yet, the Buddhists would say they are serving their purpose on this earth still, giving me an opportunity to do for them as they have done for me. When I am alone in a room, tears wash down my face. When they call because they need something, a hand in the bath, tea or warm milk to take their tablets with, help lifting their feet, company, I dry my face quickly and I go. I am late to work every morning, because I cannot leave them, I cannot leave home until they are dressed and breakfasted, because they might fall trying to get these things done for themselves, and I wonder can people lose their jobs because of the seeming irresponsibility of tardiness when in fact they are trying to discharge an even greater responsibility elsewhere. I have this feeling that layoffs are in the offing again at my job. I always think that this time, my name will be on the list, even though work is the one place these days where I have time to sit, to hear myself think, to be. The task of editing stories feels like a meditation compared to the rest of it.  It's all so much. Too much. I feel so guilty saying that. And of course, I will do what I can. I will love them. Because that is what is being asked. Love in action. That is all.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I can see clearly now

This is the back to school post I never managed to put up. It was the weekend of Hurricane Irene and, well, there was a lot going on. My son went back to school on the bus the day before we drove  up. He had some pressing business or something, but really I think he was just eager to see all his friends. On his way out the door, as usual, I made him pose.


And then I said, wait, I want one with your new glasses. Yes, my son is now a wearer of prescription eyewear for the first time. He was feeling quite indulgent of his mother because he went into his knapsack and pulled out the two-day-old glasses so I could get a picture. He looks pretty cool in them, I think.

Of course, when we arrived on campus with most of his belongings the next day, he was already very scarce. He came with us to shop for supplies, he had a couple of quick meals with us over the two-day weekend, but mostly, he had already disappeared back into college world. My niece and our daughter happily hung out with us, however. There were laughs galore with them in Abbe and Notta land.

Everyone assumed our niece was our daughter and while I know her mother would have liked to be there, it was a thrill anyway, counting her as my own. I was going to put up the conspicuous consumption pictures, the shopping to equip our two apartment dwellers, but I think I'll stop here. It's their faces that enthrall me. Who cares about shopping carts obscenely overflowing with mops and detergent and microwaves and plastic drawers? So yes. This counts as the back to school post. It will have to do.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Her Party

The first wave. Many more came later. We had to order more food. 

Lipstick. Earrings. Pearls. Her sisters were definitely in the house.

My cousin, the highly organized professor,  brought beautiful roses, which the sisters admired.

I am under water.

Glug.


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The birthday girl is 93 today


She was telling us a very juicy story. We couldn't quite get the words, because she now speaks another language entirely, but we got that what she was relating made her want to laugh, and so we listened raptly, laughing ourselves, enjoying the light in her bottle green eyes.

Happy birthday, dear Aunt Winnie. We are all here. Every single one of us is who we are today because you have been a part of our family. It is such a privilege to be able to live our lives alongside yours, to learn from you, laugh with you, be pushed to grow by you, to love you more than our hearts can even hold. I can't wait to eat cake with you and all the aunts and cousins later today. You are the true original, our matriarch, the one who didn't just point the way, but led us there. We have charted the course of our lives by your star, and that is not an overstatement. It's just truth. You never left us in darkness. You are so powerful. And thank you.


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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

This is the now


My daughter starts twelfth grade tomorrow. Her final year of high school. I remember her in first grade, her scrubbed little face above a rainbow striped mock turtleneck, her hair in two braids caught by blue plastic bubbles with butterfly clips at the ends. It's all going by much too fast. My son is well into his junior year of college already. All this to explain the need for cushions. I want to go somewhere breezy and tropical and rest my head on cerulean blue and rose and orange pillows and daydream all the moments I was too busy making happen to pay attention to. This is my lesson for this year. Don't lose the moments amid the college application rush and anxiety. She will go to a good college, probably even one we have heard of. The main thing is, she is still here with us. This is the now.



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Monday, September 5, 2011

Cousins on Tour







We stayed with cousins in Virginia this weekend, visiting colleges nearby. Two of the cousins, the ones already in high school, tagged along on the tours. Another one, the young man in the orange polo shirt above, has just started his freshman year at a university in Washington D.C., and in between classes and his afternoon water polo practice, he joined us for lunch and showed us his dorm room and gave us the unofficial tour. He is an international student from Jamaica, and he's loving the college choice he made. He lobbied for our daughter to seriously consider the school so they can continue the (unplanned) family tradition of cousins attending college together.

As it turns out, after the information session and official tour, my daughter decided she did like the school. She liked the energy and diversity she saw and felt a kind of passion in the students there. She also said, "It's the only school I've visited where I heard a different language being spoken around me." But there are three other schools she likes at least as much, so we shall see where she gets in and what the financial aid packages will be, as that will definitely be a factor.

Then, later in the evening, we drove to Maryland to attend another cousin's sweet sixteen celebration. That's the birthday girl in the blue shirt, in case you can't tell. It was a glow party, and young and old, we decked ourselves out in glowing necklaces and ate and danced. The kids taught us older folk to do the Dougie and the Wobble, and we were quite a sight, let me tell you.

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All of it


Last night, we returned home from the college tours, and all the aunts had arrived in New York, all of them flying in for Aunt Winnie's birthday on Wednesday, she will be 93, all the aunts and my mother sitting around their oldest sister's hospital bed, deeply aware of the imminent goodbye. Aunt Winnie barely acknowledges them now, as if the effort is too great. Mostly she screws her eyes shut and sleeps furiously, curling closer and closer into herself, her knees bent almost to her chest, her arms crossed tightly, shutting out all the commotion, braced against her pain. When I walk in, though, and she hears my voice, she opens her eyes and stares at me, just stares steadily, a kind of waiting in the clear green depths of her pupils that makes me ache something fierce. I am the one she knows best now, me and my cousin, the poli sci professor who is her other power of attorney and health proxy. We have been the constants in her life these last few years, the ones she trusted to do for her. She trusts us still. She feels safe when either one of us is there. I feel both gratified and guilty about that. I told my husband, "I have been there for her, but I could have done better." And now the chance to do better at so many things is lost.

I stroke her hair, which she likes, and her eyelids flutter back closed and she drifts back to the internal landscape she mostly inhabits now, but she is less coiled, her limbs loosening slightly. The home attendant adjusts her dress, the pillows under her head, the large sponge booties on her feet. I feel such a rush of love for her, for the way she has cared for my aunt, for the way she cares for my mother when she is in my aunt's home, as she was this weekend while we walked around college campuses in another town.

My cousin, the poli sci professor, brought Aunt Winnie's daughter Pearl (not her real name) to visit last week. We asked her brother to allow her to come to the apartment despite the restraining order he has against her, with good cause. We didn't think we could live with ourselves if we didn't facilitate Pearl seeing her mother at least one more time before she dies. Pearl was well groomed that evening but still a little bit high, not enough to be slurring and stumbling, just enough to be loud and grandiose. She seemed not to notice her mother's recent precipitous decline, or rather, she didn't remark on it. Her mother did perk up in her presence, she snatched back some of her alertness it seemed, her eyes following Pearl's every movement, a habit of many decades of living with her unpredictable and addicted daughter, or maybe it was a mother's unquenchable love. 

Last night, there was so much need. After Aunt Winnie slept off again, the needs of the other old folks asserted themselves, bags to be unpacked, beds to be made and turned down, meals to be prepared and laid out, dishes to wash and put away, baths to be had. My mother is 89, and the other two aunts who are in town for the week are also in their high eighties. They are frail, all of them, though greatly strengthened by one another. Still, when I was done with all the feeding and bathing and helping them get ready for bed, I fled to my own home, about to explode with tiredness. I walked into my bedroom where my husband was, and I sank into the chair and began to cry. "I am so tired," I whispered, and he said, "I know," which was the exact best thing for him to say, and right then, my daughter jumped up in the living room, calling, "Mama, you're home! I need a hug!" And I said, "Oh, baby, I need one, too," and she ran into my arms and we hugged each other tight, laughing and rocking from side to side, and I thought how blessed I am by all of it, surely I am the luckiest woman on earth. 


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dare Everything


"For strange effects and 
extraordinary combinations 
we must go to life itself, which is 
always far more daring than 
any effort of the imagination." 

—Arthur Conan Doyle 

We're heading out with our daughter to visit some colleges in the Washington, D.C. and Virginia this weekend. The whole applying to college thing is real for her now, and she's getting a little anxious, wondering where she will get in. Some fairly competitive schools have caught her imagination already, but she is hesitant to invest her hopes. I tell her to dare everything. Dream as big as she can. The exact right place will find her. I believe that, because this child of mine is gifted and wonderful and healing and a connector of souls, and as subjective and adoring as I am, I know this to be entirely true.

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