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Monday, January 30, 2012

Brava!



These beautiful young women call themselves Noir Nine, and they performed at Dance Concert 2012 last Thursday through Saturday. Dance Concert is a (for me, breathtaking) annual event at my daughter's high school. As soon as photos from the show are posted I will share them here. The group above were the dancers my daughter choreographed to the soundtrack of "Heavy in Your Arms" by Florence + The Machine. It was a haunting and poetic piece of motion, a rather dark exploration that my daughter says was about wrestling with heartbreak. If you knew my child, if you regularly experienced her usually sunny disposition, you would be intrigued by her subject matter. But then she is a rather deep thinker on our human condition, her heart wide open. She was a real little mother to her dancers too. Most of them are freshmen and sophomores and several of them play on the soccer team with her. She came to adore every one of these girls, and they her. (You should see the spa basket she lugged home on the train today, a big box of goodies they picked out for her as a thank you.) While some of the choreographers from the advanced dance class fielded conflict with their dancers, Noir Nine was fairly smooth sailing. I must say, they did mama proud!

The second photo is of the group that performed one of the numbers my daughter danced in. This was one of my favorites of the whole show, a flowy dreamlike piece that I watched with my mouth hanging open, unable to believe that graceful, precise, possessed creature leaping and twirling on stage was my child. She has come such a long way since her first Dance Concert. You can no longer tell the difference between how she moves on stage and how those dancers who have been training their whole lives move. She always was a quick and determined study. Watching her on stage this year, I couldn't help but recall the first day of pre K when she was four years old and saw a girl swing effortlessly, hand over hand across a long high row of monkey bar loops. I saw my daughter's intake of breath at the sight, her eyes like saucers, and then every day after that she would ask her dad or me to take her to the playground where she would practice and practice on those monkey bars, falling from what was then a great height again and again, then jumping up and climbing back up and trying again. Over and over, day after day, never discouraged, never deterred, until she was able to swing herself across those chain loops as effortlessly as she had seen her classmate do. That was when I understood that this girl will do anything she sets her mind to. She's not afraid to work at a thing until she masters it. That's what she has done—is continuing to do—with dance.

Below are some more backstage moments: My girl with her dance crew; with some of the other members of the advanced dance class; lying on the ground writing in a card for her teacher; and the last photo is of all the choreographers and their teacher, Katie, wearing her well-deserved crown.






Friday, January 27, 2012

A Chance in the World

A woman I once worked with talked about indestructible children. She said they were children who faced horrific situations and somehow survived, damaged and hurt, but with their humanity and sense of possibility preserved, their sense of purpose intact. More than intact. Activated. Surely this must be what she was talking about—this successful man whose small gestures betray the vulnerable boy inside him still. Steve J. Pemberton, once a foster child searching for home, grew up to become a corporate VP, and a husband and father of three. It you have 4 minutes, this is his story.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Two Worlds


Suddenly mouth is dumb; eyes
hurt, surprised it is we
who have changed...

                 To travel
is to return
to strangers.


—From Exile 
by Dennis Scott


I was glad to go home and 
I am glad to be home and 
I am glad I found no strangers. 


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sanctuary

My mom is 90 years old today. Today is her actual birthday although we celebrated last Saturday evening. These are some photos of older vintage that capture moments that mattered as she looked back on her nine decades of life. In a word, family. Oh, and my dad being knighted—she never pretends that wasn't a highlight, too. These photos, and many others of family and friends through the years, ran in a continuous loop on a screen during my mom's birthday dinner in a sumptuously decorated candlelit room with gold taffeta-tied chairs and red raw silk tablecloths and sixty invited guests, one hundred percent of whom showed up to toast the birthday girl. 

My cousin Maureen circled the room with a mic after dinner, after my brother spoke, and after I read a thank you speech my mother had dictated to me that morning, and everyone shared memories of my mother, and my father too, whom my mother had earlier declared to be present and smiling down on us, and of our Paddington Terrace days. More than a few spoke the sentence, "Those Paddington Terrace days were the best of our lives," that exact same sentence, and the street where we lived before I moved to New York became a metaphor for the gathering, a potent memory of our own personal Camelot. 

No wonder, I thought, no wonder when it came time to choose a name for this blog, I conjured the house on that street, because in that place, my parents created a sanctuary where everyone felt welcomed, young and old, the neighbor kids who ran in and out of each others homes barefoot, the grown ups who were a part of my parents circle, the aunts and uncles and cousins and friends, the young ones who moved in with us for months or years at a stretch while their parents worked through hard patches, or completed assignments abroad, or healed from illnesses, and the school friends who roamed through, and everyone was there, everyone, my mother and my father made it so. 

My mother preferred us to bring our friends home, and she made it very appealing for us to do so. She ran her own real estate business with her brother, my uncle, and worked long hours showing houses for rent and for sale. And yet she somehow managed to be there to make sandwiches and stir up pitchers of lemonade when our friends came over, which made them often choose our home when there was a question of where to gather. I took it so for granted then. Now I know better.

The memory that encapsulates that time for me, was the day a new family moved in across the street from us, and there were so many people on our front verandah, and so many children of all ages and descriptions playing soccer on the front lawn, and I noticed a girl at the gate across the street, watching us, and I went to the fence and asked if she had just moved into that house, and she said yes, and she looked over at our yard and asked, "Is that a boarding house?" I was 14 and she was 12, and she would soon become my friend, but that day I recognized in her a kind of yearning because she could see, even at 12, that every person in the place she thought was a boarding house knew what it felt like to be a part of something. My mother and my father made it so. 









Saturday, January 21, 2012

Today, we celebrate her


My mom, above at age 56, will turn 90 on Tuesday, but the big party is today.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Home

I had forgotten.

The blue green hills. The warm damp air, not humid exactly, but rather soft and enfolding, making joints supple, hearts light.

The schoolchildren in the early morning, crisp in their school uniforms, khakis and ties for the boys, tunics and white blouses for the girls, waiting at bus stops along the main roads for the day to start.

The smell of the place. Salty. Green. The houses I remember, the ones I dreamed in, the shops with shutters in bright colors, hand painted signs.

The sea sounds along the airport road, the cars careening, never colliding, the new mall where the supermarket used to be, my old school building.

My mother, peering down the hallway excitedly, a tiny stooped figure with guileless anticipation, waiting for the first glimpse of me.

My niece and nephew, 10 and 8, faces fresh as the day, in bright green shirts and blue shorts, sitting straight backed at the breakfast table, greeting me politely, even formally, yet the smile in my nephew's eyes says he's ready to play.

My brother stirring condensed milk into bold black coffee. Ackee and saltfish warming. My mother's thin arms reaching up to surround me.

The place where one is made will always be home.

How could I have forgotten?



Monday, January 16, 2012

Fished


“It is necessary to find one's own way in New York. New York City is not hospitable. She has no heart. She is not charming. She is not sympathetic. She is rushed and noisy and unkempt, a hard, ambitious, irresolute place. When she glitters she is very, very bright, and when she does not glitter she is dirty. New York does nothing for those of us who are inclined to love her except implant in our hearts a homesickness that baffles us until we go away from her, and then we realize why we are restless. At home or away, we are homesick for New York not because New York used to be better and not because she used to be worse but because the city holds us and we don't know why.” ―Maeve Brennan

I am going back to Jamaica for a few days. My mom will be turning 90 and I am going home. But I am leaving another real home to do it, this bricked over city where I have sunk roots with a good man and raised our children. I knew when I was 5 years old and my family was visiting my aunt and her family in New York City on vacation, that as soon as I was old enough I would move to the city. I don't know why I knew it, what made me decide it so early on. Maybe it was the way I felt as we walked the sidewalks, plugged in, buzzed, more free to be who I truly was, more fully alive. Somehow I knew it was my place. So I applied and went to college here, and then I stayed. And all these years I have been waiting for the call of another place, another way of life. I wonder sometimes if I have grown deaf or numb, because New York is an unforgiving city to live in, and yet here I remain. Some days the walls close in and I miss the wide blue sea. But a cure is always at hand. Just walk beyond your door and the city infuses you with something, an energy, the electric current of humanity flowing all around you, and even in your anonymity—maybe because of it—you feel absolved, released, not so odd or haunted or alone.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Little Hurricanes


And there he goes. Our son swept in from London bearing gifts from his girlfriend, and some from him too, jars of spa goodies and a polished stone with mystic properties for me, English chocolates and a recipe journal for his sister, and a Union Jack apron and Arsenal scarf for his dad, who donned them immediately and then walked around the house wearing them all night. Love that man. Then our boy wanted to show his dad an amazing play he'd seen by Arsenal striker Thierry Henry (did I mention they are Arsenal soccer fans?). There they are You Tubing the play, with my daughter, who had settled down to homework because she has midterms this week, peering around. As the evening went on our intrepid traveler told us about attending a performance of Robin Hood at the renovated Globe theater in Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare's town, and how the stage sloped up toward the back till it was almost vertical, and how there was a real pond in the middle of the set, and everything else fantastic and fond about his trip. 


Our boy swept out again at 7 a.m. this morning to catch the 8 a.m. bus back to his college so he can make his 4 p.m. track practice. I hugged him and hugged my husband who had offered to drive him to the bus station and hugged my girl who left at the same time for school. Then I came back into my room in the quiet house and sat on my bed looking at the photo of my children that is framed on my side table. They were 8 and 5, and my son was reading the Andrew Salkey book Hurricane to his sister and I swear it was just yesterday.

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

Here's what else happened yesterday. This is such a New York story, one that could have had many endings. My daughter got off the subway at her stop last night and was walking along the platform to the exit when she saw two small children, she thought they were about 4 and 5, banging on the closing door of the train and screaming "Open the door!" At the window was an Indian woman in a bright sari, her face a mask of horror as she banged on the glass from inside the train. The train pulled away, leaving the two children running alongside it on the platform, the little girl howling, the little boy in frantic silence. My daughter went over to them and guided them from the edge of the platform and asked them what was wrong. Apparently they were traveling with their mother who had not managed to get off the train before the doors closed.

My daughter says she knew what she had to do because she remembered me telling her when she was small that if this ever happened to her, she should find an older lady who would stay with her until I came back to find her. She said to the children, "Don't worry, your mom will come back for you. I'll stay with you till she gets here." The girl sobbed and sobbed and the boy stared at her in terror and didn't utter a word. A man came up and asked if he could help. My daughter said everything was okay and he walked away. An older woman came up and told the children sternly that all this crying was not necessary. My daughter looked at her in disbelief. "Really?" she said, telling me the story, her voice full of 17-year-old attitude and conviction. "Did that women really think tears were not a completely appropriate reaction for a 5 year-old-girl who was lost in a subway at night?" The woman walked away.

Another woman, thirtyish, came over. She said she had children the same age and offered to stay with my daughter and the two lost children until their mother returned. Then the subway booth agent, alerted by the little girl's screaming sobs, appeared. When the situation was explained, he went back to the booth and called the conductor of the train that had just left the station. He then told my daughter and the woman that the children's mother was waiting for them at the next stop, to put the children on the train and she would meet them. My daughter said, "I'll go with them." The woman said, "I'll go too."

So they took the two children to the next stop where their mother fell on them with tears and hugs as soon as the subway doors opened. My daughter and the woman quietly walked away. They had to exit the station and cross the street and pay another fare to get to the train that would take them back downtown. The children's mother did not even see them. Perhaps she thought the children arrived alone. It doesn't matter. She may not have thanked my daughter and the woman, but I know, and my daughter knows, that they were there for those lost children last night. They helped this New York story have a happily-ever-after ending.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Where I Sat


I sat looking at this wall of water and contemplating my son's arrival back in the States from visiting his girlfriend in England. His dad is at the airport collecting him as I write this, and tomorrow he will be on a bus back to school, and the next day competing in a track meet. Ah, the endurance of youth. The water sounds soothed my noisy brain as water sounds always do. Can't wait to see my boy and his laundry tonight!

Antidote


That old insecurity. I'm leaving for a few days next week to attend my mom's 90th birthday celebration in Jamaica. At my job, there's a certain chill in the air, as if this means I don't take the work seriously, that I'm a gallivanter, a shirker. I wish. Not everyone is projecting this, but one person in particular acts miffed that I will be gone for four days. I will miss the issue planning meetings, which is not ideal, but you know what, all the meetings in the world will not make me miss my mother's 90th birthday celebration. I hate feeling so unsafe at a workplace I have been at for years. I have a lump in my throat that I recognize as fear. The antidote is to conjure the worst case scenario, which in this case would be, I lose my job and the college tuition bills come due. And you know what? We would get through it. I would find something, God knows I would. We would figure something out. So now I have to let it go—that feeling of being in jeopardy, made all the worse because I don't even know if I'm correctly reading the signs. I can only control what I can control. Now watch my dust as I hit the road jack. Oh, right, not leaving for a week yet. Slow down, quit creating catastrophes, breathe.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Stop the Deportations

This is the story of a family I have come to love and feel moved to champion. They are a same sex married binational couple who have been together for 22 years and who are the legal parents of four beautiful children, ages six to eleven. But while the law recognizes their rights as adoptive parents, it will not allow Mark, who is American, to sponsor Fred, who is French and threatened with deportation. Though the law gave them their four children, it would blindly split their family apart. Today, Mark and Fred are taking a stand. This morning they will appear before an immigration official for a green card interview, thus becoming the face of the fight against the Defense of Marriage Act for 38,000 LGBT families currently facing deportation because federal law does not recognize their union. I find their situation wrenching and their courage thrilling. Please read their story and stay tuned. For more on the DOMA Project, go here.






From Stopthedeportations.com: 
As they await a decision on whether 2012 will be the year their family is torn apart they have decided to take the fight to their elected officials and to the President, himself a son of a binational couple. At best, the administrative agency could choose to do what Mark and Fred consider “the right thing” and place their case into abeyance until litigation concerning the constitutionality of DOMA makes its way to the Supreme Court. At worst, Fred may be placed into deportation proceedings, their nightmare scenario. Meanwhile, the family is in a state of limbo, and it pains them as parents when they can’t answer their children with certainty about the future. They can only prepare themselves, mentally and emotionally, to fight for full equality under the law.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rorschach


My daughter discovered this image when she developed the film from the fortune cookie camera she got for her birthday. Every time I look into this, I see new stories. I told her she had unwittingly made a photographic Rorschach. She said, "Do you see the face?"


He liked to dance

Life is happening. And death too. My friend Jackie, who is part of my Maryland-DC-Virginia crew of family and friends, woke up on Tuesday morning to find her husband of three decades not in her bed. She called out to him, then went to find him when he didn't answer. Michael was on the bathroom floor, many hours dead. He'd suffered a heart attack. Just like that. Gone.

When last I saw him at my niece's sweet sixteen four months ago, he was dancing. I heard he had joyfully danced in the New Year, too. At his funeral on Saturday, his friend remembered how much he liked to dance and the whole church shook with appreciative laughter. His friend, eulogizing him, remembered his dancing moves as "one part calisthenics, one part gymnastics, with a touch of grand mal seizure thrown in." He went on: "Everyone would move out of the way, either to watch or for personal safety, and then we'd dry him off with a towel and send him back in like a prizefighter. How we all loved his exuberance."

I didn't know if I would go to the funeral. Friday was a late closing night at the magazine, but then I said, dear God, Michael didn't wake up on Tuesday morning. All that day the calls came into his emergency line, and his older daughter answered robotically, "The doctor won't be handling any emergencies today." Michael employed several people in his practice who woke up that morning and discovered they no longer had jobs. And there I was, considering missing his send-off on the altar of my job. I cut out of work by eight, my husband drove me to catch the 10 o'clock bus to DC and my cousin met me at Union Station at 2:15 a.m. It was simple in the end.

Michael's two daughters were in a daze, his wife alternated between crying and catatonic, going through the motions of greeting the mourners who crowded into church. People packed the aisles and spilled into an overflow room. After the service, the line of cars headed to the graveyard ran for miles. I looked back and couldn't see the end of it along the highway, just a train of vehicles, hazard lights blinking, moving at a solemn pace, orange cards with the word "funeral" hanging from rear view mirrors like flags of salute as far as the eye could see. I imagined Michael looking down, a humble man surprised by all the attention, and I was humbled to be there too.

At the repast in the church hall, people went up to the mic and shared their memories. An older man, who had been Michael's professor in medical school, offered a remembrance that left the room aching and sad, until another friend, a woman I don't know, went up to the mic and said, "Come on, people! Michael would not have wanted us to sit here brooding like this! He would want us to dance!" And somewhere in the room a sound system cranked up the Bob Marley tunes, and led by Jackie and her daughters, everyone moved to the dance floor. It was a dance party after that.

I got to spend time with family members I wish I saw more often, caught up with cherished friends, hugged my nephews, and reggaed with my 87-year-old aunt, who is battling cancer and the same heart condition that took Michael. I marvel at the young ones dying before the old ones, my mother and her five sisters, one of them bedridden, another cancer riddled, the others crippled by arthritis or faulty hearts, but hanging on. Yesterday, I was glad to be with family and friends, grooving to Bob Marley and saying a prayer for Michael as I imagined his carrot-top doing an energetic jig in heaven.

Dance on, my friend.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Broken

Can we talk about Homeland, the Showtime series about a prisoner of war's return home, and the secretly bipolar CIA agent who suspects he has been "turned." Their chemistry really dials up the suspense in a series that refuses to apportion blame in the usual broad strokes. Everyone is flawed, lives skewered by the global machinery of politics and religion. Claire Danes is riveting as the agent, Carrie, a tough profane piece of work whose face can also betray a heart wrenching march of emotions. She has hidden her mental illness for years, knowing it would disqualify her from being a security analyst, but as a New York Times reviewer noted, "Her mental illness, an ability to spot connections invisible to others, is also her gift."

As Brody, the POW returned home to his wife and family, a manufactured war hero who may or may not be a terrorist, Damian Lewis is tightly controlled. His demons, like Carrie's, threaten at any moment to incinerate and overwhelm. Their woundedness makes them irresistible to each other—a slow-burning fuse. I couldn't resist them either. Since Monday, I've been compulsively immersed in the series late into the night and came home early yesterday to watch the finale in an empty house; I knew it was going the intense. "The ending was always going to be emotionally violent," Damian Lewis told a reporter. "Brody's been systematically brutalized; he doesn't make his decisions from a rational, stable place."

Mandy Patinkin, as Carrie's older Jewish CIA mentor, whose Muslim wife has just left him to return home to India, is also superlative. In a subtle turn, he is a man snared by his job, deeply humane but never sentimental, except perhaps when it comes to his wife. He is quietly shattered by her departure. If I really think about it, perhaps what so compels me about the series is the way these three people who've been broken by life's randomness, ruggedly press on, risking heart and sinew to construct lives that matter. I am already dug in, counting the days to the next season.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Leap Year


"All growth is a leap in the dark, 
a spontaneous unpremeditated act 
without benefit of experience."

—Henry Miller


I think I am cocooning, getting set up for the year. A leap year, by the way. And indeed, this will be the year my youngest leaps into her future. College! All the applications are out the door, all the financial forms have been dutifully filled out and submitted, and now the waiting. Please pray for her wildest dreams to be realized. She so deserves it. She's worked hard.

Lots of thoughts and insights swirling in my head and heart. Some regret. Shoulders braced with resignation at the new shape of some things. But the people I love best, those closest in my heart, they're all doing fine in the ways that matter. Challenges everywhere, but nothing that will destroy us. Onward! I will write more when I can think more clearly. 

I do want to say thank you for the kind comments and wishes on my last post, all you dear souls who live in this wondrous place with me, who come here and tap away at the keys, peering into the internets knowing that many who love you are peering back, glad of your arrival, hearts filling at each new sharing of our lives. What is geography compared to this small intimate place where we meet unadorned. Where souls rise up and say, hey, there you are. How I've missed you, friend. How goes your day?

Gosh, I'm glad to be here with you. And now I'm signing off and heading home from another day in the office, excited to see my lovely man and my sweet quirky girl.


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