Monday, August 31, 2015

So long


"If you change the way you look at things, 
the things you look at change."

—Wayne Dyer


I sat in his audience once, listening to him riff about life and the great joke of it—how seriously we take it, how malleable it is, if we only knew. I was there to do research for a writing project, but I quickly saw that the research was a ruse; I needed to be there for me. I'd been looking forward to hearing him again at a conference this November, but it is not to be. The great man died last night in Maui. Thank you, Wayne Dyer, for your life. I hope you're having a grand homecoming celebration, kicking up your heels with those other great teachers, Oliver Sacks and our dear Alice, on the other side.


Breakfast of champions (not)

I clearly chose a weight challenge for myself in this life, I have no idea why or what lessons I hoped for my soul to internalize, but every day in this body I have to be conscious of every morsel I put into my mouth, because I have only to look at food, really any kind of food with the exception of vegetables, which I don't love, and the pounds fly on as if magnetized.

Some days I don't feel like being conscious. Some days I want to start the morning with blue mountain coffee with condensed milk in it, the way we made it in Jamaica when I was growing up, and if there are no eggs left for me to make a one egg omelet with onions and one ounce of cheddar for an all-protein breakfast (for the initiated, 5 points), well, I just might have that little circle of marscapone cheesecake, sprinkled with blueberries and raspberries and garnished with bright red slices of strawberry (11 points plus 4 for the condensed milk for a total of 15). But it's not just the points; it's the sugar, which sets me up for a day of craving things that don't mean me well. So now I'm sipping the creamy coffee as I type this, and all that is left of the dish of cheesecake is a sprig of mint and the red stain of raspberry compote. Oh? Did I not mention the sauce?

They say confession is good for the soul. But sometimes, looking our self-defeating behaviors square in the face can be depressing as hell. Oh well. It's Monday. The deed is done. Time to begin anew. (One thing I do remember about addiction: It's always easier to begin anew after you've had your fix. Denial is a b**ch.) Good morning.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Yesterday, Today


After two weeks of a full house, including my husband at home on vacation and my daughter back from New Orleans in her last week before school, and my son and friends over and my cousin from Trinidad here for her niece's freshman installation (we make it a big event in our family), I am home alone today, and I relish it. I loved having everyone around, and who knows why it feels lonely when they leave sometimes and at other times it feels peaceful, but today, it's the latter. Maybe it has something to do with talking to my daughter by phone first thing this morning. She sounded, in a word, happy.

My cousin, who I grew up with more like a sister, left for the airport early this morning. We had a lovely time roaming the city together yesterday. We went down to see the reflecting pools at Ground Zero, then ate mussels and crab cakes at a restaurant that used to be a parking garage and now boasts an indoor park, and then we walked a bit of the High Line, a park in the sky built on an old elevated railway line. It was crowded as usual, and my head was spinning a bit from the two glasses of Malbec I'd had with lunch, so we came home after a while and I took a nap. I am not a very good day drinker! I loved having my cousin here for the week though, and we talked deeply over lunch yesterday, sharing never before shared heart things without judgment, and that felt freeing.

The house is quiet now. I have just cleaned up the hurricane that hit the kitchen in which my husband cooked jambalaya last night, and tidied up my daughter's room where she and my cousin stayed. The living room still needs my attention; cushions are tossed everywhere, but I'll do that later. I have just made myself breakfast of a cheddar and onion omelet and matcha green tea, and I'm about to get back to work on my book project, which feels deliciously like spending time with a very grand lady of 97 years, the good doctor, my subject. I do have a concurrent assignment, but I am waiting for two stories to come in for that, so today is all mine to spend with the good doctor.

In other news, since March when my mom died, I have gained back half of the weight I lost. This depresses me no end, but I am climbing back onto the wagon now, trying to turn it around. It's a clear blue day out there, not a touch of humidity in the air. I hope you are all doing well with the inevitable transitions that come at this time of year.



Monday, August 24, 2015

Yet another move in day



This weekend we attended yet another college move in day, this time for my niece, who is starting her freshman year at the school on the hill across town from my daughter's school. She's going to the same college from which two of her older cousins graduated, one of them my son. My girl is excited beyond belief to have her "little cousin" so close by. They'll overlap for only one year, as my daughter starts her senior year this week. We also delivered my girl back to her school, although it didn't entail the usual fanfare of getting her stuff out of storage as she is living in the same house she lived in last year, and most of the summer just past. She has two new roommates and the atmosphere seems lovely. We did take her shopping for groceries and supplies to help set her up for the semester. My niece's parents did the same shopping run. 

There were so many of us in my niece's dorm room helping her get set up. Her dad and her uncle, once they had delivered the suitcases and trunks and bins, elected to wait outside, so it she had her mother, two aunts, a sister and a cousin, all offering suggestions on where to put what. I must say my niece was remarkably composed and in charge, allowing us all to help her unpack but being very clear on how she wanted to set up the room. I was impressed. Her room looks fabulous, with a purple, pink and blue color scheme—girls are so different from boys when it comes to these things. Or rather, the girls in my family are much different from my son, who pretty much just deposited his things in the dresser and closet, made the bed, and was good to go. There was no sense of decorating the space at all.

We had lots of laughs, and my other niece, who had wanted to make the trip but couldn't in the end, texted us to please stop having fun without her. In response my nieces and daughter sent her even more videos and snapchats of the fun. My daughter, husband and I then left to get brunch with my daughter's bf's family, and then we all went back to her house to meet up with our cousins, so everybody could meet everybody. It was very festive and happy. At last we all hugged the college kids and told them to have a good year and to take care of one another, and then we got into our respective cars and hit the road back to the city, leaving them to enjoy what we fondly remember as perhaps the most carefree time of our lives.

I wonder if the college kids know how relatively unencumbered they are right now? I don't think so. Which is as it should be. Everything in its turn. Here are some random pics from the weekend just past.








This weekend was also the 29th wedding anniversary for my husband and me. We've gotten very accommodated to delivering children to college on our anniversary and spending the night in a hotel room. Unlike last year, this hotel room was the bare minimum, but my husband gave me the most wonderful gift, a pair of teardrop shaped gold earnings with an amethyst stone, my mother's birthstone. He said, "It's your first anniversary without your mom and I thought you would like having earrings with her birthstone." They are perfect. Even though I sobbed when I saw them, wearing them makes me smile. 


Friday, August 21, 2015

Distraction. Love.


We're driving our girl and one of her friends back to school tomorrow. Packing is in full swing. We had lots as laughs as she spent a good hour in front of the bathroom mirror taming that mass of hair. I was the brush and flat iron holder and giver, and our conversation roamed everywhere. At one point she thanked me for not being a Jamaican version of a Tiger Mom. "I'm not?" I asked her, thinking of the high school scholar program I made her apply to in 7th grade, and how she threw herself across the bed crying and wailing that I was ruining her life. "No, you're reasonable," she said. "I think you would be upset if we didn't have good moral character and if we were irresponsible and lazy. But other than that, you let us choose our lives." I'll take that. And trust it will all work out. Now we're heading across the street to get tiny pots of gelato which we will eat outside under the trees as night falls.

See? Distraction. Love. And going outdoors. Thank you everyone for your absolutely wonderful suggestions on my last post. I will go back to that comment stream again and again. It's so rich. So wise.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Knee jerk

What do you do when you brain is spinning in an obsessive thought loop and you can't make it stop? Instead the thought just gets bigger and bigger and more elaborate, and you're walking around looking normal but you're quietly hyperventilating and wondering if you'll survive this thing you might have conjured but are having physical and emotional reactions to as if it were real.

It is my nature to brace for the worst, but this is no way to live.

Thoughts? Advice? Tricks?


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Into the breach (once more)


The house is full again, my daughter is back from her trip to New Orleans (she brought us beignet and hurricane mixes), my cousin is here from Trinidad, and this weekend we're all heading north to Ithaca to bring my daughter back to school for her senior year, and to help install my niece in her freshman year of college. My niece lives in Maryland and we'll meet up with her and her parents and sister in Ithaca. My husband and I will celebrate our 29th anniversary while we're there, or rather, we'll be doing the five hour drive back to the city at some point on that day.

Who knew when we were picking a date to get married that we would spend a stretch of years moving kids back into college on our anniversary. We don't mind, really. Next year, the thirtieth, both our kids will be finished with college. We might do a big trip to somewhere, just the man and me, to mark the milestone. Hopefully we'll have the disposable income once college tuition is no longer in the mix, though I am still a freelancer, so fingers crossed the work keeps coming.

We've told our kids they're on their own financially for grad school (we'll help here and there if we can). My daughter has spied a master's program that has her imagination going, and my son, after declaring with force upon graduating from college that he had no intention of going to grad school, actually asked us the other day how it was that we hadn't encouraged him to go to grad school. We reminded him of his declaration, and while he didn't remember it, he had to admit it sounded like him. He's not so absolute on the matter anymore.

He has to have surgery for his torn ACL in September. He put it off so he could do all his trips and adventures that were already planned for the summer, including hiking up a mountain in Colorado. With his torn ACL, he still rides his bike to work every day; the knee doesn't seem to be slowing him down. He explained that he could run a 100 meter dash on that knee, but if he had to stop suddenly or swivel in any direction, it would give way. He says a person can live with a torn ACL, but he's an athlete, and wants to be a firefighter-paramedic, so he cannot. I have heard that the recovery from the surgery is painful, and it will be a full year of rehab before he is completely back to normal.

The pictures are my kids and my niece at 3, 5 and 7 and then sixteen years later at 19, 21, and 23. Both photos were taken at family events in Orlando. You know how much I enjoy these then and now juxtapositions. I think what I love most about the top picture, apart from the great effort my always active son is making to stand still for the camera, is how protective my niece is of her little cousin even then. The sister bond was already strong.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Hunger Games


That's Amandla Stenberg, who played Rue in The Hunger Games. She's all grown up, and such as badass.

*

The houseful has run its course. Everyone is gone again, but for my husband and me. My daughter and her BF went to explore New Orleans for a few days, my son is off with friends by the lake, my niece returns to D.C. for the new school year in the morning, and I'm here, my husband at work, me at home, alone again.

Lonely is a state of mind, something within you that is not being touched, not being fed. It has nothing to do with who is around or not around. It has to do with how you look out at the world, the sense you make of it, the empty place inside you that you neglect to fill, because maybe you don't know how.

*

I really need to get out more. Pour into myself. Feed my own soul.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The daily


Cousins. 
Sisters. 
The ease of years.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Chef


These were some of the photos of the Cook & Dine event last night, posted on social media. The director of Aurora Behavioral Health, a therapeutic yoga-based program for the treatment of eating disorders, texted me at the end of the evening: "Your beautiful daughter pulled off another amazing event for us! You should be so proud. We love her and are never giving her up!" She is the older sister of one of my daughter's lifelong friends, which is how she knew to tap my girl for this mindful eating project. She gave permission for me to repost these photos.


I am so proud. My girl is really enjoying herself and the clients she's leading through the preparing of nourishing and delicious meals with wholesome, satisfying ingredients. She's thinking now that she loved working with old people last summer, and now this, another therapeutic setting, and maybe she's supposed to be involved with food in a healing way. Who knows where all this will lead her? Best of all, she's learning as she teaches, and isn't that always the best way to learn? It's like the old koan: Whatever you need, give that. I'm learning, too.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Merry-go-round


There's a whirlwind of activity in my house at the moment, with my daughter home and my niece staying the summer with us, my cousins from D.C. in town with the kids from the rez in Montana, and my other cousin from Trinidad arriving for a visit next week. Plus assorted friends and significant others coming and going, and in between all of it I'm trying to stay on top of my work. Life is suddenly very busy and I'm hanging on for the ride. I know that I'll look around in a little while and the kids will all be out with friends, our visitors returned home, and our little apartment will be quiet again, just the man and me. I enjoy that, but I enjoy this merry-go-round, too.

I sat in Times Square with my cousin last night as the kids from her husband's reservation in Montana, six of whom she and her husband host every summer, took in the shopping and the sights in that video billboard and neon lit part of town. My cousin and I sat with all their packages while they wandered in a world far different from anything they'd seen on the rez. Two young women in lacy thongs and heels and nothing else, other than body paint of the American flag approximating clothing, took $40 from one of the teenagers in exchange for posing for a picture with him, with his phone. The kid was confused after he handed over the $40, not quite sure if he had been conned. He had been. He had a good time anyway. When we left there at close to midnight, hoards of humanity were sitting out on the plaza, taking in the costumed characters and the sights. It was nice catching up with my cousin. We always laugh a lot.


My girl has another one of her chef gigs tonight. This time the menu inspiration is an Italian family dinner. She did her shopping and prepping this morning and she's there working now in an industrial kitchen in Midtown. She'll be exhausted when she gets home, but relieved and happy if it goes well, and then we'll catch up on our shows from last week, So You Think You Can Dance and Project Runway. She was out with three of her "lifer" friends last night, all of them now 21 and finally able to do the bar scene. One of the young women slept over. I love when my daughter is home from school, because I get to see these beloved children whom I've known since they were four. As one of the other mothers texted me when she knew our children were getting together, "A night of peace." These kids are so familiar with one another, and love each other so completely that we never worry about anything bad happening when they are together. We know they will look out for one another. They always have.


Friday, August 7, 2015

The summer before I left


We posed for a photo before heading off for the day to San San Beach, near Blue Hole on the southeastern shore of Jamaica. We were assorted siblings and cousins and neighbors and school friends of my brother and me, then 19 and 18 respectively. That's me with the 'fro in the middle, and my brother sitting in front. His first wife-to-be, my dear friend and still my sister Hilary, is on my left in the picture, arm linked in mine. She lived four houses away down the street. In the white tank top on my right is my cousin Nicky, who will arrive from Trinidad for a visit next week (Amazon packages in her name are already piling up in our hallway in anticipation). Another pair in this photo would later marry, and then divorce, but back in the summer of 1975, just weeks before I left home to attend college in New York City, and never returned, we gathered in the driveway of our house at 37 Paddington Terrace, not a care in the wind.

My darling Hilary just emailed me this photo because it brought back memories. "Don't we just look confident, ready for the world, and full of mischief?" she wrote from where she now lives in Germany. After she and my brother divorced, she married the love of her life, a German scientist she met at a nuclear engineering conference. That mischievous little person in the picture is a nuclear biochemist herself, a braniac, who is also a wonderful artist. And dancer. Today, in a small town in Germany she teaches dance and crafts to local women and schoolchildren and solves a few equations on the side. I'm being just a bit facetious. What I mean to say is who knew where life would take us? Who know I would leave Jamaica and never again live there, and that she would marry my brother, divorce  him and then find her true love in the form of a German physicist? She and my brother are still the best of friends. She is even the godmother of his firstborn. We all grew up together after all, and in the most charmed of places, on that magical street.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Professional

Last night, after evening visitors departed and everyone else was asleep, my husband and son and niece, and one significant other dreaming in the far reaches of the house, I stayed up alone in the living room, watching The Professional until well past 3 a.m.

It's a Luc Besson crime thriller about 12-year old Mathilda, whose family is murdered by corrupt DEA agents in a drug deal gone wrong. Leon, a professional hit man who lives down the hall takes her in, and at her insistence begins teaching her the assassin's trade. Until they become a small dysfunctional family, he's an illiterate, unsocialized loner and she's fighting to keep the shards of her life together. In one early scene in the hallway of their building, Mathilda asks Leon, "Is life always this hard or only when you're a kid?" Leon considers for a long moment. At last he says, "Always this hard."

They grow to depend on each other in the midst of crisis. The man's awkward discomfort at the girl's hero worship doesn't keep him from being fiercely, even violently protective of her. She is like a daughter, teaching him to read and write, anchoring him to human connection. She gives him something to live for, someone to die for, and will they avenge her family's murder and walk into the sunset at the end? I'm not telling.

The relationship between man and pubescent girl manages to steer clear of creepy, despite the child's declaration that she's falling in love. "How do you know it's love if you never been in love before?" the hit man scoffs in his heavily accented English. "I feel it," Mathilda says. "In my stomach. I always had a knot there and now it is gone." She doesn't understand that what she feels for the first time in her young life, is protected, cared for, safe. Leon only responds, "So you don't have a stomach ache anymore. I don't think it means anything. I'm late for work."

Natalie Portman plays the 12-year-old survivor, in her screen debut. She has a captivating face and expressive eyes. She's brilliant. French actor Jean Reno plays the hit man, gruff, his face pocked marked and almost ugly, except it too is a compelling face, tormented, struggling with the unruliness of human emotion that he had so resolutely locked away.

I've always loved this film, though I've never seen the longer international version, which includes scenes of the girl's first hit, and her precocious attempts to seduce the man who saved her life. Mercifully he does not take the bait. Apparently those scenes didn't play well with an American audience back in 1994 when the film was first released, but now I'm curious to see them, as they also explain more of the hit man's past, and how he came to America from Italy, and fell into his current profession. I hope I'll like the film as much when I finally see the long version, which is titled simply, Leon, and which I just might watch today.

*

I woke up this morning feeling okay, feeling grateful even. I realized on opening my eyes that I have dreamed my whole life of living this way, of sleeping until I wake naturally and then spending the day writing, my loved ones arriving home come evening. So I am not writing my own books these days; I am writing someone else's, but to me that is equally as satisfying, because it is what I choose now. The moral of the story: Your most insistent dreams and fantasies might be already coming true. Don't abandon them or think they are impossible. Do the opposite. Dream harder. I might be talking to myself here, about those other still to be manifested dreams.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Figments and such

The out of sorts feeling continues, but I am keeping it as under wraps as I can, sometimes less successfully than at other times. Does anyone else ever get this dull weariness of self, this longing to tweak reality by turning up the color and intensity the way you can do in a photograph? What about smoothing out the rough edges of human interaction in the day to day? I don't understand why I feel so deeply sad at my core, tender to the touch, gray and glued together, but poorly. Anything can feel like a sling or arrow, even when not meant as such.

Why can't I let the hard moments just roll over and off me like the figments of interpretation I suspect they are. It is me, after all, who decides what is difficult, and what to let go. Is it grief from the death of my mother just surfacing? That's odd, because what I am aware of is an experience of peace when I think of her now. I feel relief that she is no longer suffering. I imagine her laughing with beloveds on the other side, and I am grateful that I had her for as long as I did. But now the tears are flowing so I must be on to something.

Summer has begun to feel long and drawn out. At the beginning, I was glad to have no plans after traveling back and forth to the Caribbean six times last year to be with my mom and attend to her business, but now, I just want to escape my life for a bit. I fantasize about jetting off to Paris on a dime, setting myself up in a charming Airbnb studio and writing my book while taking in the view, going out only at dusk to sit in a sidewalk cafe, and maybe pick up a few things for the next morning.

My husband, sensing my mood, walked with me around the gardens where we live over the weekend. We sat on a bench and chatted, then strolled and took pictures. I held his hand over the uneven ground where my bone-on-bone hip joint doesn't swivel as needed, and we laughed remembering when we were engaged but not yet married, seeing an old couple holding hands at the airport in Antigua. We were upstairs on the waving gallery with family and friends to see someone off. In those days, you still gathered up there and waved at the plane until it was out of sight. And this old couple was also on the waving gallery, walking slowly and holding hands, and my love and I remarked on how sweet they were.

"I hope we're holding hands like that at their age," I said out loud, to which our Uncle Al, the godfather of our relationship, guffawed. He was in his early sixties then; he is in his high eighties now. He patted us both on the shoulder and he said, "Trust me, you will be holding hands. You will need to hold each other up!" So yeah, we held hands as we walked. Don't take this sadness inside me as the whole truth.

Here are some of the photos I took of our wild and overgrown garden. I posted them on Insta but I like to see them writ large here. How lucky we are to be able to stroll among plants and trees while living in this cacophonous city.









Saturday, August 1, 2015

Snap poll

All is generally well over here, but I'm not really in the mood for a detailed report. Maybe the article I just read on parents blowing up their kids privacy on social media has something to do with it. Truly, my kids don't seem to care. They have actually told me they don't care, and that they even kind of like reading my thoughts, especially about them, but I'm mulling over the boundaries this morning.

In the meantime, here's a quick poll: What are your favorite three movies of any genre and time. Quick! Don't think too hard. What comes to mind? For me its The Fisher King, Love Actually and The Shawshank Redemption. For my man it's Amadeus, Down Periscope and Love Actually. With the caveat that tomorrow we might all make a different list, what are your three faves?
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