Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dreaming peace


I came home from choir rehearsal last night to discover my husband watching breaking news of a suicide bomber at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. Twenty-two dead, fifty injured, so many of them children. Heartbreak upon heartbreak.

Last Saturday was a nonstop day: My daughter's boyfriend graduated from Cornell Tech with his MEng in the morning, we attended a reception afterward with his family, then I went off to perform one of our spring choir concerts at an assisted living home. In the evening, I again met up with the graduate and his family for dinner. Everyone was in a celebratory mood, so proud of our graduate's success.

But in between all that, as I was getting out of the cab at home after our choir concert, and heading to my apartment to change for dinner, I ran into my heart son, E, who lives one building over. Tall, slender, chocolate-skinned and classically handsome, this young man has no idea how beautiful and cherished he is, because he is dark-skinned in a culture that does not prize that, and he is Muslim in a world that assumes him to be a terrorist. He is profiled twice over.

On Saturday, he was wearing a kufi, which was new. He hugged me and then came upstairs to visit with my husband and me, his parent surrogates. My son calls this young man brother, as they have been friends since babyhood, and he grew up a good portion of the time in our home. We sat in the living room and talked about his choice to begin wearing a kufi, to publicly claim his faith, as hard as it was, because he knows how people will look at him, the things they will assume about him, despite the fact that my son calls him, "the most peaceful cat I know."

He, a kindergarten teacher studying for a masters in education, laughed at the notion that people might assume him violent. "They should see my in my classroom," he remarked ruefully. And then he said something that stopped me cold. "I just want to be able to walk through the world as a black man and as a Muslim and feel safe," he said. "If I can do that, and my future children can do that, then we will have achieved something."

Our poor battered world.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Triage

Yesterday, as hundreds of pedestrians milled and lounged at tables in hot, busy Times Square, a car plowed into the crowd, injuring 22 people and killing one, a young woman, 18, who was visiting the city from Michigan. The driver was drunk, high on PCP, and is in custody. That poor teenager's 13-year-old sister was among the injured. These two girls were just walking along one day and hell rained down.

As soon as I heard what was happening, I knew my son would be on the scene, one of the FDNY first responders attending to the wounded, even before it was clear whether this was an ongoing terrorist attack or a lone ranger lunatic. Bomb squads swept the area as my son and his fellow EMTs and paramedics performed triage and ferried victims to nearby hospitals. I texted my son: "Call me when you can." A couple of hours later he did call. "I'm safe," he told me, "and most of the injured are stable now." "That's what I wanted to know," I said, to which he replied, "I figured."

I am still getting used to the fact that whenever anything like this happens in the city, my son will be rushing toward it, lights flashing and sirens blaring, and I will be just another citizen mother watching the news channels, praying.

In the midst of the chaos, I had to travel to midtown myself to meet with my editor on the book I'm co-writing. My son said, "You better reschedule your meeting. There's no way you can get in here. All the roads are blocked off." I decided to try anyway, because until I could sit down with the editor and go over the proposed chapter outline, I was stuck, unable to begin. I did manage to make it past all the yellow police tape to the publisher's office, which was a hushed, air-conditioned world completely removed from the pandemonium and gridlock on the street outside.

It was a good meeting. I really like my editor. She says she's tough, but I welcome tough. I finally have clarity on how to move forward. One slight wrinkle is that a project I thought had fallen through has come back around, so I'm juggling again. This is a good problem to have, though I confess I was looking forward to diving into writing the book, my focus undivided. On the other hand, it's always better when I'm super busy. My brain chatter goes a little haywire when I have time on my hands. Who am I kidding? A lot haywire. Of course, these are small problems compared to those facing a family from Michigan today.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Life as usual

We had so much fun being together this weekend just past, and now it's back to the grind for all of us, including my niece, the new doctor, who will be moving to New York City next week to start her year-long residency in general dentistry. 

I'm in a lull right now. One project that seemed promising has so far not panned out, and the other, which could absorb my attention for most of the rest of the year, is in standby mode, thoughts percolating about how to approach the story, random notes jotted down, but until I meet with the editor this week, I feel kind of stuck, not sure how to begin. The beginning is everything. Once I get started, the process gathers momentum, and carries me through till the work is done. It's the good side of my obsessive nature. But right now, I'm in that place of not knowing how I will pull this off, wondering if I am in over my head, knowing only that I'm committed now, and so I have no option but to find my way through. I'm scared, if you want to know the truth. I'm standing before a mountain, seeking the first foothold. 

It's shaping up to be a busy month. In addition to last weekend's festivities, our choir has its three spring concerts coming up, and my daughter's boyfriend will graduate with his masters in engineering this weekend. There are other things going on, too: My cousin finished her last round of chemo and is on the mend in her cute blue beanie hat. She expected to bounce right up after treatment was done and is discovering that now she has to take some time to get her energy back. "When your hair grows back into a sweet little fro, then you'll be ready to resume life as usual," we decided based on no scientific evidence whatsoever. "In the meantime, take things slow." 

I am so proud of her, the way she marched through this, never losing her ringing laugh, even though she was in the midst of moving from DC to Orlando when she was diagnosed last summer, in the midst of selling one house, and finding a new one for her family to live in, getting used to a new city, sending her two girls to college, and getting her husband settled in a new business (for which she does the books) all while undergoing surgery and chemo. She is my hero. Every time I think about her, I want to cry from sheer love and awe. She humbles me. 


Monday, May 15, 2017

Doctor in the house

We're back from Washington, DC, and I am exhausted, but content. My niece's graduation from Howard University School of Dentistry went off beautifully, with my two kids doing the organizing and the executing, and my brother and me doing the paying. At the grad party on Saturday night, my brother told the twenty-six of us gathered that it makes a parent so proud when their children get to the point of being able to make their way in the world, and more importantly, he added, "It means they're finally off my payroll." From the penny section, someone shouted, "The Bank of Daddy is now closed!" It was a festive time, with dancing and laughing and flowing pitchers of margaritas and a fab Spotify playlist, and everyone present felt invested in our graduate's success, and that investment was simply love.

The weekend was chock full: There was the dental school graduation on Friday, a rousing mimosa brunch with family and friends on Saturday morning, the white coat ceremony on Saturday afternoon, and then the party on Saturday night. Thinking about the weekend, I had a revelation, which is that everything came off so well because my niece told people how she wanted to celebrate, and she didn't just tell anyone, she told people who love her and are motivated to make her happy. Leading the charge were her cousins, her best friend, her boyfriend, her dad and mom, and my husband and me, with the older folk in advisory roles and the younger folk running the show. It was a dream to observe these children, now adults, so fully capable at every turn, including the clean up after the party, everything bagged and put out, the area rugs, the floors swept, surfaces wiped down, everything back to pristine, just the way we found it. My husband, my brother and I just watched, smiling. Once that was us. Who knew our kids were taking notes?

Anyway, my revelation: When you want something to unfold in a certain way, don't just leave people to read your mind and hope they get it right, and then get upset when they don't, because, duh, very few of us on the planet can actually read minds. Instead: 1) figure out what you want, and 2) let the right people know. That's what my niece did. As I told my daughter, in our family there are generals who instinctively step up to direct the action, and my niece is one of the generals of her generation, for sure.

Here is a photo album from the weekend. A lot of these pics were also posted on Instagram, so if you've seen them, bear with me. This is my record for posterity.






















Monday, May 8, 2017

She did it!


Take note of the girl in the middle, her hands gently restraining her 3-year-old cousin, who as I recall, was completely sugared up and racing through the house when someone made them pose for a photo. My kids and their cousin were attending their uncle's wedding in Orlando. None of us had any idea that 20 years hence, my niece (the responsible girl in the middle) would be graduating from dental school in Washington, DC and moving to New York City this summer for her residency.


And there she is, looking bright and hopeful on her very first day of dental school. Was that four years ago already? She always wanted to be a doctor like her daddy, until she got braces and decided that she liked the puzzle of teeth better. We're on our way to D.C. this week to celebrate her success. We've rented a house and plan to have a dinner party with all the relatives, who are flying in from Jamaica and Florida, driving down from New York, or traveling locally from Virginia and Maryland. We have been planning this party since February, and now it's finally here. The fantastic thing is, I am a consultant in this endeavor. My daughter and niece are executing all the details, which means that when a problem arises, I can sit back and watch these capable young women solve it. They are pitch perfect. 


We are all so very proud of you, my heart child. I, for one, remember when.



Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday Night


It was a very mixed week, but I have decided that on balance, it was more good than not. It rained hard this morning and I stayed in bed late, because I finished a job editing a manuscript yesterday, and in the afternoon today I had an editorial conference call with the team for the book I'm writing this summer, which meant that for a few hours this morning I was free as a jaybird, nothing calling me, and so I lay in bed and thought: In this moment, you are okay. Your beloveds are busy and healthy. You are not in danger of not paying your bills this month. You have the great luxury of lying in bed and listening to the rain, knowing there is work on the horizon. Pause to appreciate this moment. Don't let it pass unnoticed. Sometimes, it's useful to pull the world in around you, and make it simple, and make it small.


Pre-existing conditions

There is no end to the conditions that insurance companies can opt out of covering, according the health care bill passed by House Republicans yesterday. That is just some of them; the actual list goes on for pages. It appears that insurance companies are obliged to cover only those who are in perfect health, who never need to make a serious claim, because as soon as a patient needs to collect on payments made to an insurance company, he or she can be summarily kicked off of the plan. That's if the insurance company accepts them into the plan in the first place. This criminal act committed by House Republicans yesterday would kick at least 24 million people off the insurance rolls, and would strip away some $900 billion in funding for Medicaid coverage. Apparently the sick, the poor, the disabled are not deemed worthy of healthcare coverage—and all so that the wealthiest Americans can get a big fat tax break. The obscenely wealthy one-percent of Americans clearly have the House Republicans on a string, and they are pulling hard to ensure that the two-percent tax Obama levied against them to fund Obamacare, will be returned to their coffers, and everyone else be damned. This bill will likely never pass the Senate in its current form, which means there are several more steps that will have to be taken before an actual repeal of Obamacare. And all because insurance companies don't want to insure people. They merely want to line their pockets with kickbacks from the outrageous cost of health care in this country, costs that they drove through the stratospheres and on which they collect without conscience. Apart from calling our Congress people, what can we do to change this state of affairs? It's not a rhetorical question. I'm sincerely trying to figure out how we turn back this blood-red tide.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

"The Republican health-care bill is an act of monstrous cruelty. It should stain those who supported it to the end of their days."

This piece by Washington Post writer Paul Waldman sums up what we are facing from the most vile group of politicians we have ever seen.

Cake and love




"Another belief of mine: 
that everyone my age is an adult, 
whereas I am merely in disguise"

—Margaret Atwood

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Just another school day


This is how I looked on May 3, 2017, a milestone birthday. It's an intentionally soft photo, of course, as detail poor as I could make it. It's still me, perplexed that I have arrived here in such a short span of time, grateful too, for all the blessings that have arrived here with me. The chief blessing is my family, my husband and children, and my wide ranging extended family, the great gift my parents gave me. I am thinking about my parents a lot today, realizing how young I was when my father died, I was still in my thirties, and how unprepared I was when my mother died, even though she had lived to ninety-three. I was awake in the wee hours of this morning, sitting in the dark living room alone, thinking how strange it was to turn this age in the absence of the ones who gave me life. I remember them turning this age. I was grown and aware. It seemed so far in my own future. I look at my children now, so vibrantly twenty something, their whole lives stretching out before them, and I know they have no idea how fast this ride goes. This is as it should be. They and their honeys will be coming over for cake and pizza tonight. My husband would have cooked us any meal I desired, but I wanted to keep it as simple as a four-year-old's birthday party. We will also do our now-traditional tequila shots, this time with the really expensive tequila my daughter brought home from last week's fancy gala event that she helped plan for her job. And then all the kids will hug and kiss us and go to their own homes, because it's a school night, and they have work tomorrow. Outside, it is a glorious spring day, the air soft and blue, the trees newly leafed. Dapples of sunlight play on my face as I write this, my laptop set on a picnic table in the courtyard, cobblestones under my flip flops. I came outside to feel the sky above my head in the cool of the morning, to step purposefully into this day.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Reasons


Thank you, lovely friends, for your supportive comments on my last post. Blogging has its cycles, doesn't it? And not just personal cycles, but the zeitgeist of the blog world itself has evolved, and it often feels as if only a handful of us are left around the fire. For this soulful communion with you hardy few, I am grateful. You are the reason I keep coming around. I would miss you too much if I stopped.

My weekend was good, with all the kids and their sweethearts over on Saturday, including my niece who was in town from DC, and who will graduate from dental school in two short weeks. She passed her boards, so call her doctor!

Later that night I went to a fundraising gala where a writer I admire was presented with a "Living the Dream" award. The man sitting across from me at my table was the son of an educator whose book I once edited. The book was called Begin With a Dream. Its author, a lifelong crusader for equal rights, is now close to 90, and suffering from dementia and a terminal illness. His son, when he realized our connection, moved to the seat next to me and asked me penetrating questions about the experience of working with his dad. He wanted every story I could call up about his father back then. I could tell he was feeling very emotional, that he missed his dad. He apologized for getting choked up, and I told him there was no need for apology, and how rare and wonderful it was to have a father such as his had been. My husband said much the same thing later, that it is a gift to have a father worth missing.

I thought I had gone to the gala that evening because the writer who was getting the award had given a quote for a book proposal I recently collaborated on. I appreciated his endorsement, and I suspect it helped us secure a publisher. Now I think that the real reason I was supposed to be in that room Saturday night was to talk to a son about his father.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

The trouble with noisy brains


I don't know how to post here anymore. I don't want to wallow in negativity, or hurt anyone's feelings, or blow up anyone else's privacy or personal business. I can't explore this in any depth right now as I have to meet my kids for the closing on their grandmother's apartment. End of an era, baby. Start of the new.

That's the taxicab selfie that I can't decide whether to post here or not, another symptom of my constant second guessing myself, which I suppose is another way of judging myself as harshly as I expect to be judged, when no judgment is truly required or even forthcoming, and no one is thinking that deeply about me anyway.

I'm not going away, but I'm trying to figure this out.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Pretty darn


Someone said the other day, sort of in passing, that I had a pretty darn perfect life. It stopped me in my tracks. It felt weirdly invalidating. I wanted, in that moment, to list all the ways in which my life is not perfect, the broken places in my physical body, the broken places in my house (but not my home), the anxiety that stalks me, the mind that won't stop anticipating catastrophe at every turn, the if only I had and the what could have been.

But I don't like to complain. I do it sometimes, but to my mind, what I am really doing is trying to process a torrent of emotions I might be dealing with, as a way to cope, to marshal my courage and my wits, to put worry and fear outside of myself, to remind myself that there is no choice, really, but to survive what comes down the pike. Yet it always feels a bit like I am whining, not appreciating my concurrent good fortune, the people in my every day. But no, my life is not pretty darn perfect at all. It's just my life, messy, unpredictable, heart stopping, painful, anxious, lucky, good.

I am trying to understand why that comment made me so defensive, though. Why it made me feel so not okay. It felt like I needed to apologize for something I didn't fully understand.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Freestyling

It's been an eventful couple of weeks. So much water has flowed under the bridge and I've been busy freestyling in the rapids, swallowing lots of river foam but mostly staying afloat. I mean that both in terms of my emotional life and my work life, which is a bit in high gear. I had meetings with editors and their teams this week. I was in a supportive role. The star of the show was the woman whose book I've been contracted to write, and she was charismatic and passionate. I think she sold it, except she wasn't actually selling; she was being fully authentic, and it came through. The other good news is, the proposal we wrote garnered some strong interest, and the agent believes we might get a book deal. We'll know for sure next week, when the bids are supposed to come in. It was fascinating the degree to which every room we were in had a different tone and temperature. Every editorial team focused on different aspects of the story, so it's hard to know who will be motivated to close the deal.

In any case, if the magic works, I will be working on writing this book for most of the rest of the year. The woman who is my subject is very emotionally open, and we have built trust during the process of crafting the proposal, so I'm going to have faith that all will be well. And the fact that I'm nervous right now about whether I can actually pull this off, well, that's just part of it. I like to imagine that in some parallel universe this book has already been written, and I just need to lean into it, channel it, listen to my subject, hear her heart, and do my best. It's exciting stuff—we're splashing in the big river now. I hope I'm not jinxing anygthing by prematurely reporting this here. Please send good thoughts.

In other news, my daughter is all moved in to her new apartment, all painting and plastering work completed. She and her boyfriend, my son and his girlfriend, and I spent last Saturday at Ikea, giving our opinions on items to outfit her space. She bought a rug, curtains, bathroom stuff, kitchen stuff, and it was all so much fun hanging with that crew. Then on Sunday, which was Easter, we gathered again. They all came over to our house, along with my friend Leslie, for my husband's smoked brisket and my corn-and-cheese casserole, followed by a pitcher of margaritas made from scratch by my husband and daughter. We watched a movie together, and hung out just chilling and talking late into the night, and then my children and their significant others went home, and I got to experience how sweet it can be to have them in my house, and then hug them goodnight and settle into a peaceful night with my husband. It helps that they're both connected to lovely people, who I got to know well and become very fond of while my kids were still living at home. All in all, a very emotionally grounding Easter for this new empty nester.

My friend Leslie brought me those flowers, which are called ranunculus. All week I've been reveling in their delicate shade of pink, and their layers like saucy crinolines.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Where I'm From





“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.” 

—Beryl Markham in West With the Night


I'm thinking about the fact that I am from a beautiful place with turquoise seas, and now I live in a concrete city, and call it home. For the first time in the decades since I left my birth country at age 18, to attend college in New York City, I have begun to wonder what my life might have been like had I never left that sparkling blue place, or if I had returned. It is too late now. This is the place where I made a life with the man I love. Our children were born in our adopted land and this is where their yesteryears are buried deep. To "go home" now would be to leave them behind, and I have no desire to do that. Perhaps, in the end, home is not a place at all, but rather, it is the people you love best, and with whom you choose to share your days. Still, look at that clear blue water. It helps to remember that no matter how far away from it I travel, by birth, I can still call it mine.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pinterest Dreams

I'm so not zen.

I want to be so much more zen than I am. Take my daughter's apartment, for example. The bathroom walls need to be scraped, plastered, primed, painted, a big job ensuing from the damage that occurred when the people upstairs were renovating their apartment, and doing a messy job of it. When they removed the bathtub, water poured down the walls and caused the paint to crack and peel in an unsightly way. The management company says they will fix it, but I've been trying to arrange this for three weeks now, and the stops and starts, promises not kept, contractors who don't show, are making me want to scream. Today, finally, the job is supposed to be done, yet I waited in the apartment after my daughter left for work, and at two hours past the appointed time, no workers had yet shown themselves.

This is not life and death. I recognize this. So why does it unsettle me so to have these tasks outstanding, and to have no control over how and when they will ultimately get done? Why can't I just breathe and know that if today passes and the job is still not done, we will simply have to reschedule. What's so crazy-making, so jarring to my soul, about that? I mean, some people have real problems.

I think, deep down, I am trying to unlearn the muscle memory of being responsible for that space, of being charged with making it a home that my elderly mother could settle into, and find comfort, visual harmony, peace. My mother is no longer even on this earth, and yet I am still so emotional about that space. Perhaps because I oversaw the original renovation of the apartment, transforming it from a dark, dingy hole into an airy, clean, light-filled studio; and perhaps because I labored to keep it pristine for my mother, every corner swept, every surface dusted, every handprint on the wall wiped clean; perhaps because I know every inch of that space, I have to force myself to let go of the imperative to care for it that was once so ingrained, because now that space will be inhabited by my daughter.

She is young and strong and creative. She will make the space hers. She will sell or put out any pieces of furniture or items of living that she does not want, regardless of my opinions about how useful to her they might yet be. My mother's beloved oriental rug, which she had to be encouraged to splurge on, because she loved it so—that's going out. It looks old to my children's eye, and I get that. The Queen Anne style coffee table with its dark polished wood and curved legs, that's going out too. Again, it's grandma's style—old. In it's place is a crisp, rectangular, iron and wood coffee table, which looks great, and yes, young. And that is just the beginning. The couch, the armchair, still perfectly good pieces, they'll need to find new homes, because images of a Pinterest gray couch dance in my daughter's imagination.

I'm writing this here to root out the lingering attachment and yes, ownership, I feel toward that sweet studio among the trees. My mother loved it, and I loved that I was able to create it for her. But now she is gone, and we who are still here are in a new phase of life, and we must—I must—embrace it and move forward.

I thought for a moment that I would rescue the items my daughter chooses not to keep and bring them into my own apartment, but as my girl said, "Mom, you can't absorb a whole apartment worth of stuff into your already fully furnished home." She was right. I began to understand how it is that old people's houses get so crowded with stuff. People they love die and they try to salvage the once-cherished pieces, now orphaned. I totally get it now, but I'm not going to do that. Instead, once my girl is fully ensconced in her new place, and our little nest is truly empty, I'm plotting with my husband to give our apartment a makeover, a room-by-room refresh, so that our space can feel light and Pinterest airy too.


Photo from Decorist


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Letting go

After all my contractor angst, my daughter has decided to paint the apartment herself and has taken the day off from work to do so.

"But I wanted to turn the apartment over to you as a pristine jewel of a place," I told her.

"You will be giving me an even greater gift if you allow me to learn how to do it myself and enjoy the process of making it mine."

How could I argue with that? She manages me, that one.

The painters and I met for breakfast at the diner across the street from the home improvement store, then went and bought the paint and brushes and spackle and scrapers and paint pans.

"Oohhhh, this is just like icing a cake," my daughter said later as she smoothed spackle over picture hook holes in the wall.





Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Life from both sides

Today is just one of those days when I feel miserable and out of sorts in my body. Nothing feels effortless, everything feels like an arduous uphill climb. Even so, I will have to show up for not one, but three different meetings. One is a lunch appointment with a sociology professor my agent wants me to meet. She has an idea for a book that my agent thinks is promising but she needs help organizing and structuring it. My agent is interested in her ideas and wants me to help her whip them into shape. But my brain feels dull, my emotions are blah, and I'm just not in the mood to be insightful and smart about anyone's project right now. I will do my best, of course. I will show up.

The other two meetings are with contractors. My mother's apartment is being transferred to her grandchildren and I want to get it spruced up and ready for occupancy. This home repair imperative feels so overwhelming, not to mention expensive. I am seeking a contractor who will assess the job and say, Okay, I understand exactly what needs to happen here, I will provide all the necessary materials, and I will come in and complete the job in a day or two. This week. For a price that won't make you gag. I already had one contractor meeting this morning. That is definitely not what happened.

I'm heading out to my lunch meeting how. I hope it will be an encounter that leaves me feeling energized and thrilled to be in association with someone who has a passion for something. Because at the moment, I am sorely lacking in passion. I am as gray as this day.

*

As it turns out, the woman I had lunch with today was fabulous and woke, and she has hired me to help her write her book proposal. So yes, the best happened, her passion flowed right into me, and I drank it up like a thirsty soul. And now I have another project, one that I can already see will have much to teach me, and life can be so darned good and right, even when you're struggling to put one foot ahead of the other. I keep forgetting that the trick is to not give in to the lie—to hold out for the possibility of better. The day has definitely improved. Our teachers are everywhere around us, and I believe I just had lunch with one of mine.

As for the contractors, the second one was quiet and meticulous and clearly knew what he was about. I was on the verge of hiring him, but then my cousin called me to say that, didn't I remember, one of our other cousins is a contractor, this is what he does for a living, and why didn't I call him and see if he might know someone who might give me a better price, or even do the job himself. And so now my cousin the contractor is going to paint the apartment and do all the plaster repair that's needed, and when I emphasized I'd pay him what the job is worth, he said, "You, my dear, get the family discount." Little by little we chip away at these problems that can seem like such mountains until we look, and look again.

Today has been educational in so many ways. Mostly, I need to stop hyperventilating and look for the solutions that are already there and waiting to be discovered. Or something like that.





Saturday, April 1, 2017

Supreme


She accepted a 10-day gig watching over a rascally little French bulldog, who must think she's in heaven, so much attention and play does she get from my girl, and her boyfriend too. Maybe it's the two of them that are in heaven with this dog. You'd think she was their child. The dog sitting is actually happening at her boyfriend's house, where there are three roommates to take turns with the walking, feeding, playing and other dog related tasks, but they brought little Supreme (that's her name) over to visit the other night, and she was so excited she promptly peed in our house. My husband cocked one eyebrow and said under his breath, "Let's see how long this takes to go from being a novelty to being a job." With those three, the novelty doesn't seem to be in any danger of wearing off, however. In the midst of this, my girl will be officially moving out this week, so things are really changing around here. At this moment, my husband is alone in the living room laughing heartily at something on the TV. I love to hear him laughing like that, with no audience but himself.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sock Puppets


Is anyone watching Homeland this season? I think they made a smart choice in pivoting from stereotypes of Middle Eastern terrorists to a more nuanced exploration of global intelligence networks. I suppose, given the times, no one will be particularly surprised that in the current storyline, American agents are deeply complicit in the espionage, and may even be behind the terrorist act at the center of the season—and that's not really giving anything away.  Carrie (Clare Danes) has left the CIA, now works for a legal nonprofit, and is raising her daughter in Brooklyn, and Peter Quinn (played by the fantastic Rupert Friend) is back in action, though badly injured in brain and body during the finale of last season. I think his performance this season is Emmy worthy.

But this is not a review. What I really want to talk about is the ninth episode titled "Sock Puppets," in which one of Carrie's associates discovers a huge clandestine operation of hundreds of tech professionals, each one creating and deploying scores of fake online identities, known as sock puppets, which then flood social media feeds with misinformation and propaganda talking points given out each day. In this way they create a loud false narrative about how the American public feels about issues in the news, and hijack the national conversation with ginned up outrage.

I watched the episode with my mouth hanging open, finally understanding all the obviously fraudulent twitter accounts of black women praising Donald Trump. Black women is a demographic I know well, and I could always tell which accounts were inauthentic, yet they had whole histories behind them, years of tweets, and now I understand how they are created, and how so much of the noise out there is manufactured trolling, well paid tech people spinning alt-right fictions in secret to push an ugly political agenda.

Trump and company are known for using sock puppets, but I didn't really grasp how that worked until I saw that episode. Yes, the Homeland series is itself fiction, but that episode was based on something real, and was intended, I believe, to offer us a glimpse inside how all this fake messaging works. All that to say, we are living in murky times. Look for the gold.





Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Happy birthday to the girl who is our heart

Happy birthday to our beautiful and beloved daughter, who came to us 23 years ago today, and made our lives brighter, sweeter, richer, and filled with laughs! We love you so much, my darling girl. Blessings on your head, always.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Catching up


I have been sick. In bed sick. Can't lift my head from the pillow sick. This has not happened to me in years.

I am on the mend, as you can see by the fact that I'm writing here. I can hold my head up again without feeling as if I'm going to pass out.

The wedding was lovely, a long, long day (I was already getting sick I think), but festive and full of joy. It was strange to be among so many people I was meeting for the first time and have them all saying, "We love your son!" The groom was the brother of our son's girlfriend, who was one of the nine bridesmaids. Her family is clearly as fond of our son as we are of her. He also seems well plugged in to her circle of friends. He always was very social, that boy of ours.

I was going to give you details, like the bride and groom's adorable ten month old son rolling down the aisle in a silver painted toy car bedecked with tulle and bows, and the beautiful rainbow of humans who made up the bridal party, and the rousing DJ at the reception, who had guests of all ages out on the floor doing the electric slide. Even me, with my wonky hip and my feverish brain. It was all big fun, but I am suddenly too tired to be descriptive. I did note that our son seemed so happy to have us there. He seemed proud and pleased to show off his family, and even to dance the electric slide with his mama, which touched my heart.

Another thing that touched my heart: On Sunday, after I had been in bed and eating nothing most of Saturday, my husband awoke and said, "I'm going to nourish you today. They say we're in this together in sickness and in health, so I guess this is the sickness." And he did feed me, an omelet for breakfast, ackee and saltfish (my absolute favorite) for lunch, and poached salmon in rosemary for dinner. I felt a lot better by the end of the day, and this morning, I even did some work. But I still knew I was going to miss choir tonight. I think I might climb back into bed now.







Friday, March 24, 2017

Going to the chapel and I'm...


Well, no, not me.

My son's girlfriend's brother is getting married, and we've all been invited, so we're getting all dressed up and going to a wedding an hour away in New Jersey this afternoon. It's always a privilege to witness as two young people take their vows and commit their lives to one another. Maybe I'll get a family photo of the four of us looking presentable. There are precious few of those.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kind eyes

For Mary and Barbara, who wanted to see a picture of the dog with kind eyes, here he is, along with another snap of my girl on a donut raft. I just love the picture.




Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hair and other stories

She's over Canada right now, according to Flight Stat. She's been on planes since yesterday, and will certainly be exhausted when we pick her up from the airport tonight, while I will be elated to have her home. She seems to have had a fantastic time during her ten days in Shanghai, Bangkok and Krabi. I hope her jet lag won't last too long because in ten days she'll be packing up and moving into her own place. My babies are all grown up! After all the trial runs of college and summer camps and trips abroad, the nest will soon truly be empty. I'll let you know how that goes.

It's later now.

She walked out of customs wearing loose batik pants bought for $5 on a beach in Krabi, and a smile like the sun, even though it was already midnight. Her boyfriend rode with us to the airport to surprise her, except she knew he'd be there, and didn't believe him when he texted her while she was inside waiting for her bag, and said he couldn't make it. They burst out laughing and hugged and rocked when they saw each other. They're sweet together.

Her Senegalese twists held up well; in fact she said she might never again travel without them, they were so easy to manage. Her hairstyle was the source of great curiosity in both China and Thailand, with people asking to take pictures with her, and some women actually touching her braids while chattering at her in the language she couldn't understand. She assumed they were asking permission. My daughter didn't get offended. She found the whole thing amusing, even when, on a bus from the plane to the terminal in Shanghai, a group of older women surrounded her, asking her questions and examining her twists. One woman even began to unravel the stands of one braid until my girl smiled and removed the braid from her hands and said simply, "No."

In Thailand she and Gabby did everything, including taking a boat out to the eight islands, spires of rock rising out of the blue green water, which  always look so majestic and serene in photographs, but when you actually go there, our girl said, "It's Disneyland." Lots and lots of tourists. But everyone very considerately steps out of the way of other people's photographs, so the pictures shown back home perpetuate the impression of isolated serenity. Then there was the dog she made friends with on the morning she and Gabs woke before dawn to go down to the beach and watch the sunrise. The dog seemed to be waiting for them, and followed them down to the shore. His eyes were "kind and magical" my daughter said as she scrolled to a photo of the dog and herself with noses almost touching, gazing into each other's eyes. She promised me she didn't kiss the strange dog, though they definitely bonded. There were many more stories before she turned in at past 2 am. She has work in the morning.



Friday, March 17, 2017

Derek Walcott, who knows me by heart


I just heard that Derek Walcott has died. When anyone asked me to name my favorite poet, his was the only name that came to mind. He was a Caribbean person, like me, a St. Lucian who became a Nobel Laureate, while living just down the road from the house where my mother spent her final years. He wasn't by any means a perfect human, but he inspired me. I saw the world I knew in his lines of verse, but it was the way he strung words together that mesmerized me. In 1962, he wrote:

I seek,
As climate seeks its style, to write
Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight,
Cold as the curled wave, ordinary
As a tumbler of island water

Because of him, I knew I could aspire to be a writer, despite being from a small place. I wrote my senior thesis in college about how his Caribbean identity informed his art, which over the course of his 87 years included not just his often operatic poems but also plays, essays, stories and watercolors. And throughout my life, whenever I have felt stuck on a piece of writing, it is his books I pull down from my shelf, as fuel, as instruction, as reason. Now, he has gone to wherever it is we go next, and he has left us holding such treasure. Here is one of his best known poems. It is also one of my favorites. I've posted it here before.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott


What universe?


I wake up each morning and wonder: Is this real life? Because the unthinkable is playing out before our eyes. We have a bigoted, narcissistic toddler running the country, one with not the slightest whiff of empathy, and he is the puppet of a white supremacist alcoholic anarchist who has stated to all who will listen his intention to destroy the structures of government and restore privilege and power to "true" Americans, by which he means white people. What he fails to clarify is that he really means white people with pots and pots of money, whose privilege and power are very much intact. The rest of Trump's supporters are supposed to content themselves with the notion that they are still higher on the white nationalist totem pole than their black and brown neighbors who might be struggling right alongside them. For some Trump voters, it will be enough. But others just might wake up and see that they, too, are among the disposable citizens. Maybe they'll help the rest of us hold the line, before our frailest elders are no longer able to count on daily nourishment from Meals on Wheels. Someone I know and love said that when she worked for Meals on Wheels, some of the people she brought food to each day actually cried when she walked in the door. For so many of them, she was their only human contact that day. And school lunches are also slated to be cut in the Trump/Bannon budget, because the children who need it, aren't doing better in school because of it. Honest to God: That is the reasoning. I don't know who measured their performance before and after, I haven't seen any studies or facts and figures, but is that really how we measure the need for the school lunch program? Let Johnny and Jane go hungry dammit because they aren't going to grow up to be rocket scientists anyway (although if the HUD secretary is any indication, they just might manage to become neurosurgeons).



Thursday, March 16, 2017

Reflection



She is the picture of joy, laughing on a beach in Thailand. She inspires me.

*

This morning I tweeted these words: 

The moment when you realize there are some people from your past you may never see again in life. And it's ok.

Without going into reasons, I felt the need to write those words down, to acknowledge their truth, and to move the melancholy that came with them outside of myself. 

Later in the morning, I logged back into my Twitter feed to delete those words, as they had served their purpose. I was stunned to see how many times this single tweet had been liked and retweeted. What? I'd thought it was an oblique sentiment, meaningful only to me, but I was wrong. I didn't delete the tweet after all as it seemed to have some resonance. It is a sad thing to come to terms with the fact that some relationships are unlikely ever to be what they once were. Too much has come between you. It is an odd comfort to know that the realization, and the regretful resignation it brings, are simply a part of life, experienced in some form by many.

The sweetest thing, though, was this note in my inbox from someone I haven't seen in a decade, a woman who now lives in L.A., who was only six years old and wearing a frilly yellow dress when I first met her: "This reminds me to remind you that I love and miss you very much," she wrote. And there was more, which I won't encroach on her privacy to share, but thanks to her, my mood was transformed from sadness and melancholy to love and gratitude—for all of it. For what is forever gone, and what is still to come.


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