Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mindfulness


Picture me at my kitchen table, the sun pouring in, settling on my head, warm around my shoulders, the sounds of little children playing downstairs wafting in. Their voices are like the soft tinkle of wind chimes, gently stirring the air. I am alone in the apartment, my husband and son both gone to work, my daughter away sitting a college midterm, and the silence in my house feels holy, like a sun-filled chapel. There is a manuscript open in front of me, a pen in my hand, and I am reading and editing, but mostly reading, my sense of engagement utter and absolute, my joy almost childlike in its glee, its sense of recognition that yes, this is how it is, and at that moment the thought crawls through my head, I am so ridiculously happy right now. I just want to hold this moment, set it down, remember.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Happy birthday, my love


You are such a good man, such a fine husband, an incredibly constant and devoted father, a witty and generous companion, my heart. Your children, even though grown, still curl up against your side, just as they did when they were small, because it feels so safe and protected there, wrapped in your aura, knowing that there is nothing in the world you would not do for them, for us. I love you sweet, delicious man. Happy birthday! Now you're just two years younger. Ha! (inside joke). Below is one of my favorite pictures of you and our baby birds. See how they fold into you? They still do that, even now. On this day and all days, we bask in your being, so glad we get to share this life with you.




Sunday, October 27, 2013

I do miss these girls...


...but I do still have this guy, lounging in his nest,
watching Giants football on this fine Sunday.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Banksy!


The British artist Banksy has stormed New York City with a month-long outdoor art show that he's titled "Better Out Than In." Each day this month, somewhere in the city, a new art piece appears, a stencil on the wall outside an Upper West Side shoe store, a pair of apocalyptic paintings hung under the High Line, an apparently crushed suitor on the gates of the Hustler triple X club, the Twin Towers with the indelible blooming flame an orange flower, a boy spray painting a burned-out South Bronx building while a suited butler holds a tray of spray paint cans. There are three-dimensional installations as well, like the slaughterhouse truck with the heads of stuffed animals wedged between its slats, called Sirens of the Lambs, which has been driving the streets since mid-month. And the paintings hung under the High Line include a bench for viewing. The determinedly anonymous artist even set up a booth next to Central Park one day, with an elderly man hawking signed Banksy originals—which sell for hundreds of thousands in museums and at auctions—for $60 a pop. Hardly anyone noticed the booth among a line of stalls all catering to tourists. Only three people made purchases and one woman bargained the seller down to $30.

The mayor condemns the art as defacing the city; the police are on the hunt for the elusive artist; some of the insanely valuable paintings have been painted over like so much graffiti, a broken-concrete sculpture of the Sphinx dismantled. Other pieces have been lovingly preserved: The shoe store piece now has a sheet of plexi-glass protecting it. All over the city, pedestrians stop and pose with the pieces, a few cover the smaller stencils with cardboard and try to charge for viewing, shoppers and diners run to storefronts pointing at the slaughterhouse truck going by and asking each other excitedly, "Isn't that...?" while others walk by entirely blasé, they've seen it all before. Me? I absolutely love the in-your-face democracy of it, art for everyone, and if you can't travel to view the pieces in person, well, the revolution will be Instagrammed (@banksynyc). You can also view the daily installations here.



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Birds of Paradise


I had a three-hour long conversation with one of my cousins this afternoon, and even though she was supposed to be coaching me, it ended up becoming a deep family unburdening, a sharing of truths that were hidden by appearances while we were growing up, a peeling back the layers of long held hurts and resentments, not toward one another, but poured into each other's arms with no judgment, only a deep and healing recognition of pain felt, misunderstandings harbored, bruises inflicted below the surface, old wounds that could now be aired, understood, forgiven, released.

How freeing it was for both of us to be able to declare this is how it was for me even though I never spoke of it. And to know that these things need no longer ambush us. My cousin told me that she had been a very angry child, growing up in a house of secrets, an intuitive soul told that what she knew to be true was not in fact the case. Imagine her confusion. Still, I marveled that she had felt such anger. All the family saw was her quick laugh, her eyes that danced, which we mistook to mean she was merry, when in fact the was roiling inside. She's done the work on herself, though, and these days, she is a much lighter being, and yes, now the sun bursts from her face, and it is not a lie.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Happy Birthday Daddy



Above, Daddy in May of 1945, the year he met my mother. I found this old driver's license photo in the pages of my mom's Bible, which is where she keeps all papers of exceptional value to her. Daddy was 22 years old in that picture, the age my son is now. My dad has been gone 17 years and yet he guides me still. Below, that's him with my son, his first grandson and second grandchild, 20 years ago. They were such pals.




Monday, October 21, 2013

Mr. Duckett and Dr. Jones



This man, Mr. Duckett, Lewis as I know him, has been my life saver ever since I was a newly employed 23-year-old making a pitiful $14,000 a year with not a clue about filing taxes. A mutual friend introduced me to Lewis, an accountant with a wicked wit and a heart of gold. He wouldn't even let me pay him for doing my taxes in those early years. "You can pay me when you start making a real income," he would joke. He has stood by me through all the stages of my life, never guilt tripping me when I showed up in September to file my taxes for the previous year. He'd just boot up his computer and see what obtained. He was my stalwart when I got audited those two years running, a calm force of good, a font of humor, a man of faith and peace who forged a pleasant connection with the tax auditor, and coached me on how to present my case to best effect. Even so, he accompanied me to every meeting, sitting in the chair next to me and nodding like an approving parent or big brother as I pleaded my case, stepping in deftly if a little banter or shop talk was needed.

Lewis knew me before I met my husband, before I had children, and I knew him before he and Billy adopted their son at three weeks old. And now Mr. Duckett, aka Lewis, has married the love of his life, Dr. Jones, aka Billy, his partner of 46 years, with whom he is now reveling in grandparenthood. When I go to Lewis's house to do my taxes these days, or to complete forms I have to file with my children's schools, or during the marathon culling and curating of records that was my tax audit, he regales us with photos of his granddaughter, and of his son and daughter-in-law, who were able to marry before he and Billy did, because the laws hadn't yet caught up to love.

I was standing in Lewis's kitchen the night in January 2008 when we looked up at the television set and saw that Barack Obama had won the Iowa caucus. "He's going to win it all," Lewis said calmly. "Watch it happen." It was the moment I began to believe that the country might actually be ready for a Black president, and now, look how far we've come since that night. Lewis and Billy are married! Legally, in the eyes of the law, even though they were married by heart so long ago. They chose each other 46 years ago and have never looked back. We might suffer government shutdowns based on hostility toward our Black president by certain factions determined to see him fail, and yet, and yet, in the midst of the vitriol, we are making progress, slowly and surely and beautifully. Today New Jersey became the newest state to recognize gay marriage. And in New York City, Mr. Duckett and Dr. Jones stood up before their community and said their I do's. Keep your eyes on that.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Coming home


That street above, it's Paddington Terrace, taken from the gate of number 37, where I lived in the last few years before I left my home in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to another country for good. I didn't know when I was leaving to attend college in New York City that I would never again live in Jamaica. I didn't know that just a few years hence, my parents would relocate to the Eastern Caribbean and the house I think of as my childhood home would be razed so that a developer could put up townhouses. I didn't realize I would never again walk barefoot on that broken asphalt road from my house to my best friend Hilary's house, just around the curve you see there, but perhaps I did already know that all of the memories we made on that street would fuel me for the rest of my life.

I'm thinking this morning about the way certain experiences can dominate whole swaths of a life, and then suddenly, usually without warning, an era ends and a new one begins, and we have no choice but to make peace with what's past. If we're wise we will find a way to open ourselves to its gifts, even the ones that come rudely wrapped in sandpaper, as my cousin Helen, a life coach and intuitive, likes to say.

I ended an era last night. After 19 years at a women's magazine, I have crossed the threshold to a new stage. The company and I have come to terms, and last night, several of my former colleagues feted me at a venue reserved expressly for that purpose. I realized, as I was getting ready, that other than my wedding and baby showers, I couldn't recall ever preparing to attend an event held just for me. I know I had birthday parties when I was small, but as an adult, I have seldom been the focus of a celebration, and it was deeply uncomfortable to anticipate.

The experience itself was humbling. All the people I loved best at my former job were there, and as I walked into the elegantly appointed room they had reserved, I was enveloped in hugs and laughs and tears. Huge baskets of presents were on the center table, and everyone seemed genuinely happy to see me. I realized suddenly that I had not allowed them, or myself, closure. After being told my job had been eliminated, at the end of the day on Friday the thirteenth, I went straight from my editor-in-chief's office to meet with the HR person, and then I went home. I went back to the office two days later, with my son on a Sunday when no one else was there, packed up my things and left. Apparently the news had spread slowly the following Monday, and last night several people told me the reaction had been very much like grief. Some people were angry. Some were sad. Some were confused. And they had nowhere to put those feelings because I had not said goodbye.

I did send the usual so-long-and-see-you-around-it's-been-swell email on my last official day of employment, and I did communicate with some people by phone and email in the days following. The writer I so enjoyed working with, the one with whom I won many awards, still calls me every day, so our relationship has not been interrupted. And already there is a new opportunity for us to work together, so she and I will continue. But for the others with whom I had worked so closely for so long, there was no neat ending. I did not realize until last night how much it mattered. I had always assumed you get laid off, you leave the building, and the water closes over your head. But last night my friends and former coworkers went around the room and told me, one by one, what I had meant to them, how much they had learned from me, the times they said I talked them off the ledge, the conversations about children and schools, the personal sharing we did that had nothing to do with work, and I was so moved by it all. The writer sat beside me and kept shushing me when I tried to answer what people were saying. "No," she said, "you don't get to respond. You just need to sit there and take this in." And, throat full, I did.

Afterward, they put me in a cab with all my gifts, too many for me to carry, and I called home and asked my husband to send our son down to meet my cab. When I arrived, he was there at the curb with two of his friends who were visiting. These three strapping young men reached in and gathered up the baskets of gifts and I walked into the apartment building in their midst, my arms blissfully free, and I thought how ridiculously blessed I am in all directions.

And now, just like that, a new era begins. I think this one will be, in part, about integration of my long-fractured self, about bringing hidden identities into the light, owning them, about learning to live inside the body I have for so long tried to disassociate from, the self I have harshly judged and found wanting my entire life. This new era will be about stepping into a room and saying this is who I am, this is all of me, my abundant body, my years in the soft contours of my face, the uneven features that have never pleased me, but which are the only ones I have, the turbulent inner life I couldn't help but reveal, but only and always under an alias. It's about walking into a room and not fearing the flicker that passes across another's face as they take in my girth—as if the other person is even thinking about me at all!

It's time—it's past time. I am coming home to myself. I am like a disembodied soul seeking reentry to the body that has waited patiently and faithfully all these years for me to love it, and love me.

Yesterday, in a stunning post she called "Sing Your Body, Vesuvius at Home explored a similar idea far more eloquently than I could ever express. Read it here.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Setting the Table


Four mothers and four daughters plus one friend from college got together for an impromptu dinner last weekend when some of our girls were home for fall break. These are the girls who have been a tight soul cluster since kindergarten and first grade, and their mothers who may have met through our children but have since forged our own independent friendships. The meal was nothing very fancy, we just ordered in Chinese food and our host poured good wine for the moms and the over 21-year-olds. But as simple as the gathering was, I was still mind-blown when we went around the table asking each of the young women their favorite classes of the semester and why. The answers: Playwriting, Adolescent Development, Finance, Soil Science, Inequality in American Education. And the discussion that attended each of these answers made my friend and fellow mom Susan, who was sitting next to me, lean in and whisper, "My God, when did our girls become such socially conscious intellectuals?" Predictably, all of the moms took lots of pictures with our iPhones as our girls ignored us, but for some reason, I particularly love this picture of my friend Janice setting the table. It's strikes me as a good metaphor for where we all are at this juncture in our lives, or perhaps at every juncture.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What I know now


That's my son above, with his two grand-aunts, Grace and Winnie, a couple of weeks ago. I did not fully comprehend how much I would enjoy having my son back home. Our prickly relationship all through his college years certainly didn't lead me to believe his return would be what it has been—a chance for me to take a deep loving breath of recognition and gratitude for all that he is, how he has grown, all that he brings. He is a stalwart, unfailingly patient with his elder aunts—if not always with me, but then nor am I unfailingly patient with him! But we get each other. We finally know how to take a step back and start again. And there he is this morning, doing his homework for his EMT class. I remember the days back in middle school and even in high school when I was tearing my hair and couldn't imagine that he would ever sit down to homework willingly, when the tenor of my nights was completely dictated by what he had been assigned and how much reading and writing it entailed. I can recall the evenings my husband would stand at his elbow as he did math homework, repeating like a mantra, Okay next problem, Okay now the next one, to help him keep going. I never pictured this: My boy rising and sitting down with his textbooks motivated by nothing but his own desire. I don't know if I can fully explain it, but it is a grace beyond anything I knew to expect, which I see now was a colossal failure of imagination on my part. He impresses me every day.





Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Conflict resolution

That thing I was not talking about? It's resolved—and solved. And now I can exhale and truly lean in to the new shape of things.

My daughter and my niece both left this morning to return to their separate cities and schools. My heart felt shredded watching them get ready, such women of the world, their independence shrugged back on like a familiar coat, all business and looking ahead. And then they were gone through the door, me watching them down the hall until they disappeared into the elevator, but then I looked around and my son was still here and it was a comfort to see his long lean body sprawled on the couch, and later to hear his music pounding from his room as he got himself ready for work. When I got the news that fairness had prevailed, I hugged him happily and we twirled around and he said, "See, that is why you fight."

Here's something fun. In our recent clearing out of stuff, I happened across some forms my husband and I had filled out in our premarital counseling sessions (yes, we did that). One prompt was, "My favorite way of avoiding conflict is:_______________."

Here's what I wrote:


And here is what my beloved answered:


We wrote those truths and then instantaneously forget them. Or more accurately, utterly failed to take note that our approach to conflict was diametrically opposed. It's promising, I think, that we both had a good laugh over this 27 years and many unavoided conflicts later.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Breakfast at Tiffany's




And now you know her plan for All Hallows Eve.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Abbe and Notta


My daughter is wearing a jean jacket that used to belong to one of her friends in second grade. Another of their friends filched it and has had it for years. Then, this fall, my daughter swapped a sweater of hers with that friend so that she is now the owner of this storied jean jacket from second grade. My niece, meanwhile looks about 12 years old but is holding it down in dental school. She said the intensive masters degree in biomedical sciences that she took last year was "the best forty thousand I will ever have to pay back," because it utterly prepped her for the intensity of dental school. My daughter calls her cousin "my studying guru." I feel such gratitude today for the closeness of the cousins, and the decades of shared history that binds us all.


Simplicity

The girls are home, my daughter from college, my niece from dental school for fall break. The two of them together again. Last night as I drifted off to sleep the girls were warbling some tune in the living room, and I thought of all the nights lately that I drift off to sleep listening to my son in the next room cracking up with laughter at some late night sitcom, and I thought, Yes, this is simple and good. 


My husband is at the kitchen counter arranging flowers for church tomorrow in honor of his late mother's birthday, which would have fallen on Monday. He left the house early to go down to the flower district to choose his stems. Saturday morning soccer, such a familiar sound, is on the television, turned low. His work is patient and meditative. The girls are at the hair salon and soon they will tumble through the front door in a rush of talk and laughter and the air will shift again.


Outside the sky is blue and the trees are swaying in a brisk fall breeze and I have been occupied with editing stories that I love, by writers who are passionate about their craft, and this is a gift, an inlay of gold in the brass of my recent circumstances. I have money concerns, it is true. But my cousin Helen, a life coach and empathetic healer, has been talking to me about staying in the present moment, trusting my life will unfold for good. Already there have been small miracles, even in the midst of the thing I really should not talk about so I won't.


My son left yesterday to travel north so he can help celebrate his heart brother's 21st birthday in grand style. He's been enjoying his EMT course, and finding that he's really good at it, having already studied much of the material in college. On Thursday night after my niece arrived, the two of them were talking animatedly about medical-training things, with enough details to make me utterly squeamish and convince me that I would not have lasted a minute in that field.


My boy has started his job too. He's coaching track for a high school here in the city. Once he's EMT certified, he'll try to get on with the Fire Department or an ambulance corps, though he has not given up on the idea of spending next year abroad, traveling the world with one of his buddies. I hope he does whatever his heart dictates. I love having him home for this spell, though. And having them all here—which I will for two whole days after our son returns home on Sunday—is just cake.




Monday, October 7, 2013

Falling in Love

We are engaged in a massive decluttering effort in our house, and the great gift of this intense labor is finding all manner of gems we had forgotten existed. Like these two Polaroids of my husband and me as untried twenty-somethings, taken in 1986, the month after we were married. And that photo of my husband holding our two children, taken in Antigua during Christmas 1995. I am so taken with these now vintage images. I peer into them, trying to remember who and how we were. It is a tender undertaking, like falling in love with the two of us, and the four of us, all over again.




Saturday, October 5, 2013

Escape from the funhouse

So I'm going in another direction from Elizabeth: Rather than posting the high school photo of me at my nadir, I'm posting a photo of me from 1995, found in a marathon weeding out of stuff in our apartment. The photo was taken to run with a story I wrote. I don't have the negatives, only the contact sheets, and this photo, which was not the one chosen, was my my favorite. Based on the other photos on the contact sheet, I didn't really look like this then. In every other frame, the proportion of my face looks distorted as if seen in a subtle funhouse mirror. Except it wasn't really distorted. That was—is—my face. This one frame, though, captured something of how I wanted to see myself, eyes soft, face in balance. This post is in lieu of my talking about the great unresolved question still casting its shadow over here, the resolution to which will determine what comes next. Let's just say I'm looking back while looking forward. The exercise is nothing if not instructive.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Happy birthday to my beloved son

My firstborn is 22 years old today. It is such a blessing and a privilege to be his mother. He makes me proud every day. He has grown into such a fine and responsible man, yet still goofy and playful as ever. Story of the day: Last weekend he sat at our kitchen counter with my cell phone bill, convinced I was paying too much. He patiently circled items on the cryptic, pages-long, tiny-print billing statement and then called the cell phone company, going through his questions one by one and getting explanations, while having a good humored conversation with the customer service representative along the way. When he put down the phone he had shaved—wait for it—more than one hundred dollars a month from our family plan. This is usually the kind of thing I do for our family, but I've been too overwhelmed to pay close enough attention. I cannot tell you the relief I felt, and how taken care of our son made me feel.


Happy birthday to you my most beloved son. I am forever grateful you chose to be ours.




Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Flummoxed


The GOP shuts down the government over the Affordable Care Act, which will launch today no matter how much they beat their chests? The House Republicans hold the nation hostage over a health care policy that is the law of the land? I hope Obama stands firm and refuses to blink. One should never negotiate with hostage takers. Especially those who continue to get paid while those they take hostage have their paychecks frozen.

The world is tilted all wrong.

There's still a lot of breath-holding happening over here.



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