Monday, September 29, 2014

Peace & Love


My friend Janice and I had such fun visiting with our college girls. Janice was my daughter's art teacher from pre-K through eighth grade, and our two daughters, classmates all those years, are as bonded as siblings at this point. Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon was the perfect span of time, just long enough for them to be happy to see us but not so long as for them to start chafing to get back to their lives. There was a sorority-frat mixer in their house Saturday evening, and we mothers stayed upstairs in our daughter's rooms sipping good red wine and chatting. Sunday morning when my girl and I went out for brunch, there were people asleep all over the living room. The house is very large for a student house, with great nooks and carved wooden details, a stained glass window in the dining room, a porch swing, shady trees and a fire pit in the back yard. You hear every step a person makes because it is also incredibly creaky. My daughter's room is large and airy with three big windows, and the quality of light in there is very tranquil, especially in the morning. She has posted photos everywhere and  says all the memories contained in them make her happy. Her childhood friend S's room is in the attic. It has eaves and angles and is a more expansive space than any of the other rooms. The drawback was that it needed work. Janice and S are artists and so they'e made that space wonderfully bohemian and creative, a hidden kingdom atop the house. In between lunch and dinner and errands with all of us together, we had a lovely time just hanging with our girls in their respective spaces. On the way back home yesterday afternoon, the fall foliage was on full display and the clouds were doing an opera in the sky, at one point forming an expansive white dove above our heads. Hello, Monday.








Friday, September 26, 2014

Waking to the Dream


I heard a 76-year-old man say the other day that he had stared into a photo of himself at age 23, and he could not find a single cell that was still part of him today. I know just what he means; our youth can feel like another life entirely, and yet I can still remember the day the photograph here was taken. I was a junior in college, an English and Geography major, with concentrations in writing and cartography. The other women in the photo were all in college, too. From left they are one of my closest cousins growing up, now a fiber optics engineer in Maryland; my college buddy, now an ob-gyn in Florida; my best friend who lived a few doors down the street on Paddington Terrace, and who became my brother's first wife, now a nuclear chemist living in Germany. And me, of course, a writer and editor living in New York City. On a charmed afternoon one summer in Jamaica, we stood together for a picture, hardly imagining where our lives would take us.

One of the classes my daughter is taking this semester has her all lit up. She called me yesterday, brimming with questions, her brain buzzing from the usual rousing class discussion. I think I've mentioned the class here before, Modeling Race and Gender. It has inspired my girl to minor in Africana studies and women's studies in addition to her hospitality management major. Yesterday, the discussion in class centered around the question of when does one feel one has become a woman, or a man, and is it the same thing as becoming an adult. She wanted to mine deep philosophical underpinnings to the question, and we had a wonderful discussion about it. I learned she later quizzed her brother and her boyfriend  in a similar manner, and had asked many of her girl friends about it, too. She wants to write a paper on the question, interviewing lots of people, finding the threads that weave through.

She was handpicked for an amazing opportunity the other day, an invitation to apply for an internship in Milan next summer. I think I'm supposed to keep this vague. She is torn. She feels completely honored and excited, but the internship is three months long, and she might have to miss the fall semester of her senior year to take advantage of it. She thinks she'll also need to learn Italian, and has set herself the task of sitting down with the Rosetta Stone course over her month-long winter break. She reminds me that she hasn't got the job; she has merely been invited to apply, but truly even that is an honor as only four students have been so chosen.

My son, meanwhile, is waiting for the FDNY-EMT application period to close today, so that he can get a sense of where he falls on the recruitment list. He so wants this, and therefore I want it for him too. I look back at that photo above, and I realize we are the ages my own children are now, 20 and 22, all of us dreaming of where the future would lead. The photo brings home to me the vast possibilities still ahead of my children. Everything is before them. They've only just begun.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Road Trip

My friend and I are driving upstate this weekend to see our daughters. I can hardly wait.

My cousins have extended their stay through next week. I will leave them here with my husband and son, who will ferry them back and forth to the hospital. The vigil continues.

The doctor says Gary has weeks. We think she means days. His wife and her sister are meeting with the social worker today to make hospice decisions.

Hard to post anything right now. Everything feels inappropriate in the light of a family member who is actively dying.

And yet life continues. It must.





Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sitting 2


My two cousins are here from Boston and San Francisco, staying with us through the week. They are the sisters of the cousin whose husband in dying. The sisters switch off each night so that one sleeps here in our home and the other overnights in the hospital with her sister and brother in law. Gary is less agitated than he was on the weekend. I think they are managing his pain better. He has had a stream of visitors from the church he joined even though he is a Buddhist, the same little church where my husband is the senior warden. I have never seen such patient sitting. Gary's friends from church come and sit for hours with his wife and sisters. They bring fruit and music. The ones who have cars leave their phone number in case any one needs a lift anywhere. They talk sometimes and sometimes they just sit, a grounding presence for my cousin, who feels in danger of floating into the ether.

There is Kym, Gary's best friend, the church handyman, blind in one eye, with a pronounced limp, who is undergoing radiation treatment himself at the moment. In every way these two men are physical opposites: Gary is short, Kym is tall; Gary is blond and pale, Kym is dark-skinned and bald; Gary has a puckish energy; Kym has a laid back mien that says he's got you covered, and he does. They have built many things together at the church, painted offices, cleaned out undercrofts. When they met, they bonded instantly.

There is Jim, a lawyer who works with the mentally ill, with his full white beard and kind blue eyes, the unlikely radical. Jim is the pun master; they come to him unbidden, and he can't resist them, so that some of the other vestry members put a limit on him of three puns per meeting. His eyes dance and he whispers the rest to my husband anyway. My husband always did love a good pun. Jim manages the church's discretionary fund and many weeks, he chooses not to dip into it, giving instead to the people whose lights have been turned off, whose children need school supplies, out of his own pocket. My husband admonishes him that there is a fund for that. Jim only smiles.

There is Lysander, whose passion is homeless outreach, who convinced the rest of the vestry to let undocumented men who fall through the social services cracks, sleep in the undercroft come evening. She is one of the people who sleeps in the hall with them, even though some other people were afraid of them at first. Lysander calls these men "our guests," and now they help out around the church in any way they can, sweeping fallen leaves in the garden, helping to set up for events, mopping up the undercroft when a hard rain comes and it gets flooded. Lysander has come a few times to see Gary. Last night she sat with him till near midnight so that my cousin could go home and shower. My cousin felt guilty that she was taking so long to get back to the hospital and she called to release Lysander. Lysander said mildly, "Don't worry, I'm fine. Gary and I are having a conversation."

There is Gary's buddy Shirelle, raised as a Jehovah's Witness, who was taught that God didn't want gay people to marry, but who has challenged herself to reexamine her beliefs, given the many gay people she has come to know and love through the church. I admire that she had the courage to express herself as the church moved toward hiring a gay minister. She pointed to certain scriptures. Jim gently gave her other scriptures to read, and talked to her at length, encouraging her to look inside herself for what felt most loving and right. She, too, came and sat with Gary.

There is my husband, of course, who everyone thinks of as Gary's cousin. When Gary's family connection first became known at the church, he and my husband used to stand side by side, my big tall brown man next to Gary's shorter, slighter blond self, and they'd say wryly, "Of course we're cousins. What? Don't you see the resemblance?"

I could go on. So many others continue to come and share the sitting with my cousins. I have known that this church is a very special place, with all its big personalities and its thicket of daily challenges and its cadre of people faithfully tackling the endless array of social issues and personal needs, one moment at a time. But I told my husband this morning that while I had always known this about the people who make up the soul cluster of that church, I had never seen it in action before. I am not much of a church goer. I had too much church in my childhood, and I was bored to tears in those services (and afterward the church ladies always, always told me how fat I was). But this gang, who my cousin refers to as Gary's church family—I am in awe.

My cousin who stayed over last night, the older of the sisters, shared over breakfast this morning that she has been asking herself why Gary? Why should such a thing happen to one who was still so young and strong? And then she said it came to her that as hard as it was to watch her brother in law sinking beneath the waves, Gary was teaching us something with every breath. He was allowing us all the grace of being there.



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Something


"The informality of family life is a blessed condition that allows us to become our best while looking our worst."

—Marge Kennedy


Monday, September 22, 2014

Sitting

Yesterday ended on a completely different note than it began. The husband of one of my cousins has cancer. This weekend, he took a precipitous turn for the worse, the cancer apparently having been chased by chemo to the spine and brain, finding sanctuary on the other side of the blood-brain barrier, which apparently the chemo cannot cross. That might not be completely scientific. In any case he is now back in Sloan Kettering and his oncologist told my cousin yesterday that he is not expected to go home. On hearing that news, I went to the hospital.

It took forever because I was at a conference on the far side of town from where the hospital was, and traffic in the city was snarled and roads were closed because of the unprecedented size of the climate march. More than 300,000 people marched for a myriad of environmental and social justice causes. It was thrilling out there on the streets. But in a dark corner room on a high floor of the cancer hospital, my cousin was contemplating women who throw themselves on the funeral pyre with their husbands and wishing she lived in such a culture.

Her husband Gary is dying, and very likely soon. It didn't look this way a week ago. He seemed to be responding to the chemo; his tumors had shrunk by more than half. He and my cousin spent the summer going to museums, hiking in nature, roaming around Chinatown, doing all the things he loved to do, just because he could. But cancer was cunning. Now his brain is swollen and his bones ache in places too deep to touch and he is moaning and writhing and he doesn't recognize anyone who comes.

My cousin sent out an email asking anyone who wanted to see him alive to come now. My cousin's sisters are coming in from Boston and San Francisco to be with her. And people from our little church, which Gary joined back in the days when he used to take my mother to Sunday services, also started visiting. No one had realized he was so closed to the end. Gary is a Buddhist but he joined that little Episcopal church in Harlem because he found such kindred souls there. He helped build the ramp that my mother's pushed her rolling walker up and into the church every Sunday when she was here. He felt enfolded, welcomed.

 My husband and son also came to the hospital. I said to another cousin later that I was in awe of them, their ability to just sit or stand at Gary's bedside and be present and calm for hours. I am not so good at that. The hospital room closes in on me. I find myself wanting to flee. My cousin (not Gary's wife, the other one) suggested we all have different ways of serving. I did try to make myself useful. I called my cousin's colleague and asked that they cancel her classes for the week (she is a professor). My cousin also hadn't eaten anything so I took her downstairs to the cafeteria while my husband and son stayed with Gary. She was grateful for that. She hadn't wanted to leave the room because she didn't want Gary to die when no one was there.

Later, my son and I drove her home so she could shower. Gary is a musician and she also wanted to download the music he had been writing, his legacy album, she called it, so she could play it for him My husband waited at the hospital. My cousin completely broke down in the car, screaming that she had nothing left to live for, weeping that she wished she had been a better wife, that all her husband ever wanted was family around him and to be loved. Her husband is white and his brothers disowned him when he married a black woman. His family had been pretty fractured before that, though. He often expressed appreciation for the closeness of our family, even with our squabbles, and he became central to us. I'm trying not to think about his made-from-scratch cranberry sauce missing from our Thanksgiving table. I am thinking there is still time for miracles.

I remember when my Uncle Charlie was dying years ago, how Gary came and cleaned out his room and rearranged the furniture so that the hospice people could bring in a hospital bed and all the palliative care equipment my uncle needed. I remember how Gary visited daily and sat in the room with my uncle for hours. Now it is our turn. We don't know what comes next, how long he might have. All we can do now is be there with him, whether he is aware of us or not.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Namaste

The People's Climate March in New York City today is going to be huge. People from every corner of my life are converging and the surge of energy in the city this morning is unmistakable.


I won't be there, though. I'm at a conference this weekend that I find both startling and exhilarating. This is powerful planet and soul healing stuff.





Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stolen lunch

My husband stayed home from work. We stole away for lunch and these tall tropical numbers were part of the experience. The restaurant was almost empty and felt hidden away and I pretended we were on a secret afternoon assignation. It's kind of romantic to steal time with your man when everyone expects you to be somewhere else living your usual responsible life.




Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Selling Apartment 18F


We have a buyer. We're on the final rounds of clearing out Aunt Winnie's apartment though the closing won't be for another two months. My husband and son and I went there yesterday for one last look for things we might keep. There weren't many. There is a perfectly good couch that will go to an emergency apartment for people who get burned or flooded out of their homes. There is a Rolls Royce of a wheelchair that no senior center will take because it is pre-used. There is the rolling walker which the retirement center will take. They'll also take the boxes of unopened adult diapers and bed liners. There is a hospital bed that will go in the dumpster, and a dresser that has stood in its spot for 40 plus years. I toyed with taking the mirror from that dresser and hanging it on my wall. And then I decided I didn't want to be in my home and feel as if I was back in Aunt Winnie's sick room. I want things that remind me of her at her most buoyant, though I didn't ultimately take that chandelier lamp she loved and that we all joked about saving.


My husband took two sets of sherry glasses that would have gone to the thrift shop otherwise, and three silver trays in dire need of a cleaning. My son asked for the antique clock in his uncle's room. We left the very good recliner as we have no space for any more furniture. Maybe they will go in the emergency apartment, too. My mother's winter and fall clothes were also stored in the apartment. My cousin took some of those for her 95 year old mother, with whatever doesn't fit going to her church.


A very nice family with two newly adopted sons, one with special needs, will be buying the place, and they plan a gut renovation, which is good. The space has all sorts of potential and great light, and it could definitely use a refresh. The woman's mother lives in the apartment immediately below Aunt Winnie's, so on a winter morning her daughter won't even have to leave the building to take her sons to their grandmother. The mother is a lovely woman, who was always very nice to my aunt and uncle and to my own mother, so I am glad this is the family who will take over this space that is so emblematic of our family's history.


On Facebook yesterday I reflected that Apartment 18F has held the dreams of our whole extended family for more than 50 years. Aunt Winnie and Uncle Charlie were the gateway, the launch pad, the sanctuary for all of us who moved to America, and this three bedroom apartment in Morningside Heights was always our second, and at times our first, home. It is so difficult to contemplate now releasing the space where so much of this family's energy was spent. But Aunt Winnie and Uncle Charlie were there for us when we needed it, they showed us the meaning of commitment, of devotion to family, of humor and generosity and love. That will live on in each of us even when Apt 18F is ours no more. How lucky we are to have shared in all that transpired within these walls.


Two of my cousins called me crying when they read news of the sale because relinquishing this apartment we all grew up visiting, and in which so many of us lived for a season, is harder than any words can convey.

Monday, September 15, 2014

True work is true play


I feel some excitement about getting back to work on the book this morning, though I confess I don't really know yet if I'm doing it right. I do think I am lucky in this life in that I stumbled into a field of endeavor that I love. I heartily wish this for my children. I rediscovered that photo of my son and niece recently, and it made me so nostalgic for those days. I think they were 10 and 12 in that photo, which was taken during one of their St. Lucia summers with grandma. They're 22 and 24 now and both trying to put in place their ideal work lives, my son as an EMT-paramedic-firefighter and my niece as a dentist. My daughter, now in her junior year of college, has a little breathing space yet, which is good because she knows less now what she wants to do with her life than when she entered college. She still gets all jazzed up by the business of hospitality, though, and she's planning a lot of major events and conferences as the logistics chair for the women of color coalition on campus. I remember when she was just born, a psychic told me she would pursue and champion causes. It's been true so far, yet she keeps a lightness of spirit around her social justice passions, she doesn't take them in as personal affronts, she manages commitment and acceptance—I can learn from her. Here's a photo from when she was little one at her school's farm. My sweet children.





Sunday, September 14, 2014

Out to the ballgame

I went to a 60th birthday party today at Citifield, where the New York Mets play. Our friends Andy and Nancy planned a pre-game brunch in the sky lounge there, with 45 people: lots of family members; people from the camp they run in Maine for children with life threatening illnesses and their families; and a few friends from the progressive school our children attended together back in the day. It was great to be out in the fresh air on a cool fall day with old friends. We women took lots of selfies because, why not? It was only my second live baseball game ever, and the Mets lost, but the company was congenial, and I think Andy was pretty happy even though he hates to be the center of attention. He likes to make fierce faces in photos, but we caught him smiling quite a bit at the proceedings.

A gorgeous day for a game

The birthday boy and the party girl

Love these women

They couldn't quite do a straight face.

Whispering sweet naughty nothings

The marine biologist and the herpetologist
 
Ballgame selfies

Windows with a view



Saturday, September 13, 2014

Don't Make Me Say Goodbye


Our dear friend here, Mary Moon, has recently published an ebook of two wonderful short stories about married life. She's a fantastic writer, our Ms. Moon, but we already knew that from her blog. In Don't Make Me Say Goodbye, Mary turns her close observation of human nature to the task of evoking the inner lives of two richly realized women married to their spouses for what feels to them like aeons. Though the stories are very different, in both I found myself pulled along by suspense and rooting for the wife-and-mother protagonist. You're bound to be surprised by how each tale unfolds and you'll be deeply moved by the endings.

Here's the publisher's description: "Mary Moon explores the landscape of long-married life—the hidden hurts and disappointments that lead women to consider leaving, and the tender weight of shared history that prompts them to stay. In “Into the Light,” a wife and mother finds the idea that she might legally choose the moment of her death comforting, but how will she balance the finality of that choice against the little joys and inevitable tragedies of living? And in “Missing the Boat,” a couple on a cruise vacation share very different ideas of how to spend their days, with unforeseen results."

Just click here or here and for $2.99 you can download the stories to your Kindle, iPad, smartphone, Nook or computer. You will be absolutely riveted by these fictional tales, but then you already know that, because you already know and love Mary's writing and her irreverent, bighearted, witty and plainspoken take on all things. You probably also know that as deserving as Mary Moon is, she won't toot her own horn, so let's all get out there and toot it for her!


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Beaming Light



The two photos above are by my husband. In honor of his dad, he posted on IG in black and white only for a month. I found his images to be absolutely stunning. They seem particularly appropriate for this day.

I am finally starting to peel back the layers of the childhood of the person whose book I am ghostwriting. It took me several hours of interviews to get to the fact that he was bullied as a child, which he only happened to mention in passing. There is so much more but I have stop right there for the sake of everyone's privacy. My subject speaks in a fairly oblique way. He doesn't enjoy delving into anger or sorrow or emotional negativity and will start to get vague on the details. But it's the details I need to craft any kind of a story and so he is willing to be led there. He says that his mother will also be happy to talk to me. I know she'll have pieces of the puzzle he's not shared. I feel as if I am back in school, or maybe just on a crazy steep learning curve. But this person's fundamental kindness makes me want to do his story justice, so I press on.

My son has had friends staying here all week, two English boys who are camped out in my living room at this moment and will be with us until Saturday when they both fly back to London. My son goes to work every day and leaves them set up in front of the TV. One of them goes out to see his girlfriend but the other mostly stays home so a few times a day I leave my desk where I am trying valiantly to get the book going, and I wander into the living room and say, "Hungry yet?" He seldom is.

His name is Mikey and he's is a guitarist in a band back home, and I think Ms. Moon would be fond of him. He's skinny and tattooed, his blond hair in an outgrown mohawk and something about him makes me think of Keith Richards. I imagine he is much like the boys who became the Rolling Stones were before we ever knew their names. Almost incongruously, his face beams light; his eyes are generous and happy, his demeanor easy and open. He and I were here just the two of us for two days this week, as everyone else went out into the world to do whatever called them, and he sat and watched episode after episode of The Office as I wrote and did phone interviews at my desk. I thought he must be so bored, but when I asked him he said, "Oh no, I am blissfully happy to just sit here after the hectic summer I've had."

He worked as a unit director at camp this summer, and then traveled to Philly for a concert with my son and a whole big consort of camp people, then to New Orleans with a smaller group that was to have included my son, except he bowed out after his grandfather died and he realized that he'd be away in Antigua for a week and wouldn't be able to work enough hours to swing it. The summer long camp party is winding down this weekend with a final Friday night reunion that is the 21st birthday of one of my daughter's best camp friends. She may travel down from school to attend, except she'll sleep in her brother's room as her room is currently occupied and she's decided she'll get more enjoyment from kicking her brother out of his room than asking those boys to vacate hers.

In other news, the new rector of our church has been hired. Her activist and social justice roots run deep. She's and her partner, also a reverend, have been together for 27 years, and they have two sons, one of whom, it turns out, went to our daughter's progressive middle school. They're a multiracial family, and I think both women are going to be amazing for that little church. The new rector asked my husband how come I wasn't more involved. He told her I'd said I was too OCD for our chaotic heart-on-its-sleeve church and that I'd drive them crazy and they'd drive me crazy, and everyone laughed. Speaking of social activism, my daughter is utterly enjoying a class she is taking this semester called "Modeling Race and Gender" and she called me today to say, "Mom, I just want to thank you for sending me to such a progressive school and for letting me choose clothes out of the boy department at Old Navy and not pushing any gender norms on me." She called her dad later and told him the same thing.

She also told me about a rally for Ferguson that she attended yesterday; a housemate horror story involving a clogged toilet; and that she's off to try out for a step team on campus but was worried about making a fool of herself. "Everyone should feel free to make a fool of themselves on occasion," I suggested. And then I told her about auditioning for the choir I joined. "You had to sing by yourself in front of people?" she asked incredulously, because she has heard my singing voice. "Yes," I told her, "and I did it. And they didn't send me packing." "Well then I can certainly try out for step," she decided. Our whole conversation left me beaming light of my own.






"The storm catcher" (Repost)


The photo, by Pete Souza, is of our president at the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon this morning. In remembrance of that terrible day, I'm reposting this post from 2011. 

*

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.




Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Starting fresh

I've just finished a project I've been working on since June and it turned out really well. I am trying to remember that at the start of that project, I had no idea how to proceed, or even, truly, what was required but somehow I figured it out. I am trying to remember this because yesterday I started on a new project, and I am once again staring at the blank white screen wondering how I will ever get this done. Today, I wrote exactly four lines. I once again feel as if I am in over my head, but the truth is, this is how I have felt on every project I have undertaken since separating from my cushy (in terms of a regular paycheck) magazine staff job a year ago this week.

I remember as I freaked out over the first huge assignment I managed to get as a freelancer last winter, my cousin who is a life coach counseled me to write on a post-it, I don't know how I will, but I know I will, and post it in a prominent place where my eyes would fall on it several times a day. And that is how I feel right now. I have no idea how I will climb this new mountain, I only know that I've placed my feet, and by the due date I will be standing on the top of it, hollering with relief and elation at being done!


Monday, September 8, 2014

New Paradigms

I've been struggling with whether to leave up that post from yesterday about the recent fuss between my son and me. I worry it fixes him in a bad light, when in fact he is a good son, loyal and true. Oh, his energy can be spiky, but so can mine, and I suppose for that reason it won't be the last time we clash. But things are back to normal, and this morning we had a good open hearted exchange, the way we can when we are both feeling accepting and free of any need to control each other.

My boy was talking about himself and his friends, and the big dreams they all have, and how some of them, one to two years out of college, are starting to become frustrated. He said, "At least I'm in the process of trying to make my dream happen, but it can be frustrating, not knowing if or when." And then he said he'd had a small epiphany the other day. A friend had asked him how he was doing, and as he went to answer he suddenly realized that he had been feeling somewhat depressed. In the same moment, he understood why: "All my life," he said, "September has meant starting new. New class, new teachers, new teammates, new possibilities. Even last year, though I had graduated, felt new. The job hunt was new. My EMT classes were new. Being back in the city with all my friends was new. But one year later, I'm just doing the same thing I've been doing all year, and I guess I have to realize that this is just my life right now." He said that once he understood what he had been feeling, the depression started to lift, replaced by a spirit of acceptance that he is at a new stage with new parameters.

I was quietly blown away by his insight, and his willingness to shift from the old paradigm to the new. And then he started catching me up on everything he hadn't shared in the week when we weren't talking, a job he might possibly be up for at the sports club, his plan to do the Emergency Vehicle Operation Course and Hazmat training to increase his point score for FDNY-EMT recruitment. "I told Daddy all this," he said, looking at me quizzically. "Didn't he tell you?" I was tickled by his assumption that because he'd told his dad, I'd automatically be in the know. But my husband doesn't get as taken up with all the details as I do, and besides, he was manning his own unfolding all-consuming scenario—the final suspenseful stages of hiring a new rector at church. As senior warden, he has the primary responsibility for carrying this ball across the finish line.

"Well, anyway," my son said, "that's what's up with me. Now you, did I hear you say you're joining a choir??"

So now we're all caught up and back to being comrades in the occasionally fractious way we manage it. Which means the fist around my heart has released its grip and I am breathing free.

(And yes, I am joining a choir. The first meeting is tonight.)


Sunday, September 7, 2014

This moment



Sign outside of bar: 

"Free Beer Tomorrow."

The joke of course is that today, this moment, is all that is ever real. I'm practicing living in the moment, not letting it get hijacked by difficult memories or future-based fears. Today, in this moment, I have a slight summer cold, but really, all is well.





La di dah


She seems happy right now, which makes me happy.


There's lots going on and yet I seem to have no will to blog at the moment. This happens occasionally. Lord knows I don't always post about the hard stuff. I certainly didn't detail the falling out I had with my son, when he didn't talk to me or even look at me for an entire week because of well, this thing I chose not to blog about, but to tell you the truth, I couldn't reconstruct it now if I tried because I can't for the life of me recall what set us off. Everything I can recall doesn't seem sufficient to explain how the whole thing blew up, a whole week of not talking—on his part, not mine; I was over it within the day, but he nursed it like a great injustice and I confess it got to me. He's so prickly sometimes, and we are also more alike than not, and I get on his nerves in a way his father does not, because his dad is able to just leave him be when he's in a mood, and I suppose his dad also understands the man side of things and third, his dad also is more self-possessed than either my son or me, he can hold on to himself better, not let his words fly, wait out the moment and let it pass, a grace he passed on to our daughter. They are alike and my son and I are alike, and that means he and I clash sometimes, neither of us backing down. I guess what I'm realizing at this moment is that I haven't been blogging because this falling out was central and I chose not to write about it, so everything else felt like a lie. My heart ached as my son came and went with only a cursory "Bye, going to work" or  "Not here right now" grunted in my direction as if the effort would just about unravel him. My husband said, "Don't chase him," which was good advice, but I wasn't able most of the time to heed it. Our boy was leaving for the weekend to go to a concert in Philly with friends, and I didn't want him to leave mad. The good news is we're okay again, he didn't leave mad, but these things leave traces. I am mostly giving him his space, because I don't really want another conflict. When someone you love withdraws their speech and regard for an entire week, it feels like they don't love you back, and when it's one of your core people on this earth, well, it feels central, and writing about la di dah on your blog when all that is happening feels like a big fat lie. I think my son is tired. Maybe even exhausted. He works every day and next week his gig coaching high school track and field starts up again and I wonder if he just feels as if he's on the wheel. He super responsible work wise, but he also burns the candle at the other end, hanging out with friends till all hours. He's extremely social, this boy, and maybe it's all just taking a toll. Something has to give.


We probably should have got this boy a dog.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What she sees


That's my mother's view come evening from the window of her room upstairs at my brother's home in Kingston, Jamaica. I am really missing her today.

Her big sister Winnie's birthday is coming up in a few days, and all the years of gathering to celebrate her are at an end, my aunt having closed her eyes for good last March 22. I remember all the dates when the old ones died, a ticker tape in my head. My dad. My mother in law and father in law. Aunt Maisy. All the aunts and uncles. But Aunt Winnie's absence in particular feels like a void, her apartment just across the courtyard moving steadily towards being sold. We have a buyer, a young family with two recently adopted sons. Soon, the last evidence of my aunt's decades of life in the city will be gone. The apartment is being cleared out as we speak, with some very good items going I know not where, because I simply couldn't find anyone able to take them. No one has space for an iota of extra stuff in the city, and those who could use, say, the sofa bed I bought for my aunt not even two years ago, do not have the means to transport it. Oh well. It will end up somewhere.

And now, with my mom, I feel another kind of void opening up, because she can't talk on the phone very well any more, and I miss with a fierce ache the days when I would chat to her about everything, the long distance phone bill astronomical because I called literally every day of the week, discussing my life, wanting her input on all of it, simply enjoying just talking to her and hearing her wisdom and humor and kindness and intelligence, sharing  news of her bridge group and her grandchildren, knowing her joy in hearing about them was infinite. I try for wholesome acceptance of what is and appreciation of the fact that she is still with us. I try not to get lost in regret. And so I call and have our increasingly one-sided conversations. I tell her things, knowing she's not grasping all of it. Sometimes she asks when I'm coming by, and I remind her I'm in New York, and it confuses her. I wonder if she thinks I'm in Kingston somewhere and just haven't been to see her. I hope not. She says, again and again, "We have been so blessed," and indeed we have been. Indeed I have been.


Portrait of the Artist


That's my friend Janice, who is an extraordinary ceramic artist and painter. I love this photo of her that I took some time ago and recently ran across again. She is in her garden. Here is some of her work.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Secret Sandbox



"I'm convinced most people do not grow up. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. We carry the accumulation of years in our bodies, and our on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias."  —Maya Angelou


I am often struck by how little changed I am inside from the child I was, the 11-year-old in that picture up top, the 25-year-old who panicked at the realization that people would now think I was a grown up; the 29-year-old standing at the altar with a secret sense that the world was a vast sandbox, and how lucky I was to have a play buddy; the 34-year-old becoming a mother for the first time, incredulous that the people at the hospital actually planned to send this delicate newborn home with me, as if I had any clue at all about what I was doing. I still feel, even now, as if I'm just stumbling along. I'm keenly aware of my financial responsibilities, and I manage somehow to slip under the wire every time. I got paid for an editing job last week. Our co-op maintenance was due, and so was rent for our daughter's college housing. I paid both with that check, and when I was done I had $1.98 left. I will probably get another check next week. It will be the exact amount, to the dollar, that I have to send to the college for my daughter's health insurance. My husband also takes care of his bills and commitments, usually with nothing left over. And yet we keep on keeping on. We are either very charmed or skating on the proverbial edge. I'm going with charmed. Play buddies in the sandbox inventing the game as we go.


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