Friday, June 23, 2017


What's on my mind tonight, what been on my mind, and heavy on my heart, is Philando Castile's little girl sobbing and hugging her mother in the back of a police cruiser after seeing her father shot in front of her by a cop who pulled him over for a broken taillight. Castile had very politely made the cop aware that he had a liscensed firearm in the car. Not a minute later he was dead. By now you've heard the story so I won't rehash it here. But that video of his little girl, 4 years old, begging her mother to stop cursing and screaming, begging her to be quiet because "I don't want you to get shooted!" The panic in her voice. The two of them sobbing. And moments later, the little one putting her arms around her mother's neck and saying, "Don't cry, Mommy, I'm here with you," and "I can keep you safe." And then whimpering, "I wish this town was safer. I don't want it to be like this anymore."

I also watched the dash cam video of the actual shooting. It tore a piece of my soul, and I don't mean that as a metaphor. I mean to say I am not the same today as I was before I saw it. White people in America can carry licensed firearms all day long but make no mistake, if you're black, the law doesn't apply to you. You'll be pumped full of bullets before you can take a breath, with your little girl in the back seat and your fiancée beside you, and the NRA will be dead silent, because when they defend the right to bear arms they aren't talking about you.

After watching these videos released in the wake of Castile's killer being acquitted of manslaughter charges this week, Trevor Noah said, "This broke me."

This broke me.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Writing is such a consuming process, the way a scene builds, the way you're standing inside it and surveying what's happening, the details of a room, of character and gesture, the dialogue, the way the moment hits the five senses, and how, when you go over it the next time, you see something new, layer in more detail, trying to bring the scene to life on the cinematic reel spooling in your head.

Today is one of those days when I'm grateful for the work I do, lonely as it is. And yet I have spent a lot of time today clicking through photographs of other places, imagining taking myself there, because one can write (and be lonely) anywhere. I'm lucky in this. Now I have to make myself do more than dream about my lucky mobility. I have to conquer the fact that I don't actually like to travel, I especially don't like preparing to travel, I just want to be there. But imagine painting a scene on that verandah, which is located in Jamaica at Strawberry Hill, which might be the most beautiful place on earth.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Goings on

To mark her move to New York City, and on the eve of starting her residency, my niece cut her hair short last weekend. It was a nerve-wracking two-day odyssey, because the first stylist did an awful job, and my niece had to go back to the salon the next day to get the cut fixed by a second stylist. This one knew what she was doing, and the result is rather high glam. But until we arrived at this point, there was much texting back and forth between my niece, my daughter, and me, discussing how best to fix what felt to my niece like an unmitigated disaster. "Whoever said I am not my hair, lied!" she moaned. But it all worked out in the end, I'd say.

Meanwhile my son has been at camp for two weeks, training this year's lifeguards and hanging out with his friends in all that woodsy lakeside splendor where he spent most of his summers growing up. His girlfriend went up to join him for the weekend. She took lots of lovely pictures of the place, and a couple of my son that I've swiped from Facebook, because he's always more cooperative with her camera than he is with mine. 

In other news my daughter's boyfriend completed his masters in engineering, and he and my daughter went back to their old stomping ground at Cornell for the graduation ceremony. Joe Biden was the commencement speaker, and he was wonderful and inspiring, I heard. They sure liked him a lot better than James Franco, who was their undergrad commencement speaker. Was that only last year? 

Back in the city, we went out to dinner with the graduate and his family at Melba's in Harlem, where the collard greens and the catfish are to die for, and we all oohed and aahhed, not just over the meal, but at the accomplishments of our fine young man, who so fluently speaks that language of equations and data squiggles, and who I suspect must be incredibly smart, even though I couldn't begin to explain to you the work he does.

And one more picture that I've been meaning to post: My girl and her friends went to see Beyonce in concert a while back. It was something of a religious experience for my daughter, who loves her some Bey. I just love how happy she looks in this picture.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Evolution, revolution, gun control, the sound of soul*

My niece and her boyfriend spent the afternoon with me yesterday, and later my daughter and her boyfriend joined us, and we watched Property Brothers and the first round auditions of So You Think You Can Dance and lamented the dearth of anything good on television come summer. We ordered in Italian food for dinner, and the talk meandered everywhere, and I won't say it was just like old times, because these are definitely new times, a whole new frame on things, but these times together are as lovely as times past in their own evolving way.

Also yesterday, I was waiting for news of my friend, who was undergoing major surgery. She came through it all beautifully, and is now at home resting. Her son is there with her. He lives out of town but will be in the city until Saturday, at which point it will be my turn to be on call. She's groggy and in some pain, but considering she was terrified she would die, obsessing on that thought during the endless weeks leading up to yesterday, all is well. She gave me an orchid for my birthday at the beginning of May, and it's still blooming strong, and every day I took care of it and knew that it was telling me she would be just fine, despite her overactive imagination that so resembles mine.

In the evening, after the young people had left, ahnd before the man came home from his board meeting, I went downstairs with my laptop and set up at a table in the courtyard, in the dark, the night growing chilly, and I climbed into the glow of my computer screen and wrote 930 new words, not perfect words by any stretch, but it was an advance on the journey to 75,000 words, and today I can polish those imperfect words and make them better, and carry on.

It's gray and chilly outside. Some dear friends from Florida just texted me that they're in town for the weekend, and we made a plan for them to come over on Sunday. Their boys are with them, two handsome young men the same age as my children. I feel kind of melancholy that they might not see their age cohorts this time, and will have to put up with a boring visit with just their old aunt and uncle, and when did that become my story? I think I need to work on a new one.

*For some reason, this lyric from the 1971 Temptations song "Ball of Confusion" keeps playing in my head. Back in the day, I knew all the words.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

While working

Imagine my laptop on that dining table, the trees beyond the window thick with leaves, the sun slanting across my arms as I type. This is where I'm working today.

Behind me, the TV screen says Breaking News. I don't even notice it anymore, because it seems always to be there on the bottom left corner, announcing that our system of government has broken down. But this morning, reporters are talking about a man with a rifle taking aim at a baseball field on which Republican members of Congress were practicing for an upcoming charity game. One congressman and two Capitol police officers were among those shot. The shooter got off fifty or sixty rounds of gunfire, signaling an automatic weapon. The congressmen and their aides ran for cover. They could do that because they could hear where the gunfire was coming from. And yet today, House Republicans are scheduled to consider a bill to lift restrictions on gun silencers, which will make it easier for shooters to kill without being detected, and harder for law enforcement to track an active shooter.

In this case, only the gunman died. If the shooter had been using a silencer, this event might have been more deadly. And now the commentators are saying that the man may have been emotionally disturbed, with a record as a domestic abuser. If so, why was he able to acquire a military grade automatic weapon? He was white, by the way, so this will not be labeled as an act of terrorism, though I don't see that it differs.

A witness on TV just said: "I saw the gentleman shooting with an AK-47 from behind the wooden bleachers." The gentleman. Okay, I'd better stop now and get back to work.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

These early summer days

Last Saturday, two of our friends got married in Central Park, in what they called a Wedding Carnival. The groom dressed as a carnival barker and a kazoo band played in the bride as she walked to where he stood beside Bethesda Fountain. They said the first part of their vows at the fountain, and all the words they spoke were from the lyrics of rock songs. Next, they walked north to the Boathouse where some eighty guests got into row boats while the rest of the guests gathered on the boat bridge to cheer and sing, as the bride and groom said the second part of their vows on the water.

After that, the whole wedding party walked to the Carousel, where the actual "I dos" were said, followed by a picnic in Sheep's Meadow. My daughter, who works in special events planning, another friend, who wants to be a wedding planner, and the bride's daughter, consulted with the bride and groom for months, and pulled in volunteers to help run the day. The bride is the mother of one of "the six," my daughter's group of lifers whom I've written about here before. The whole thing went off without a hitch, which is quite a feat, given that the decision was made not to secure permits for use of four heavily trafficked park locations, and a kazoo band was involved. I applaud the bride and groom's imagination and gusto. Here's a picture of the six, relishing their togetherness as always.

There's been a heat wave in the city these last few days, with temperatures climbing into the nineties and the humidity pressing in. We did not take this into account when we made plans for a family brunch outdoors on Sunday. I was completely overwhelmed by our proximity to the live band, and the heat, but I had fun anyway, as I always do with this crew. Only my son was absent. He's away at camp, certifying lifeguards before the campers arrive. He might be no nonsense in the way he runs his certification course ("If my name is on their certificate," he says, "then they better know what they're doing"), but after hours he's having a blast with his camp circle, the kids he grew up with when he was a camper himself, who are now his closest friends, many of whom return to that lake in the woods every summer, because the memories. Anyway, we missed him at brunch, where mimosas were included. I think we will have to do regular gatherings like this, now that all my babies have flown and have set up house with their significant others. I love seeing them all together. I love that they enjoy one another's company.

Then, yesterday, I had lunch in the neighborhood with my friend, who is a wonderful painter and ceramic artist, and whose website is now live. I've posted images of her work before, and some of you asked how you could view more pieces and perhaps purchase them. Now you can. The photo of her was taken under the elevated train tracks, with the rails casting interesting shadows on the wall. My friend consented to having her picture taken against the pattern of light, despite the fact that she hates being photographed and doesn't realize how beautiful she is. The image below is of some of her figurative pieces, displayed in front of one of her large oil-painted canvasses.

After our lunch I treated myself to a pedicure at the swanky new salon that's opened up right on my block, and in the midst of my self-pampering another friend called and said she was having an anxious day and could we meet and talk—which we did. Later in the evening, the man and I went to see the movie Wonder Woman, which I enjoyed, even though I am usually bored stiff in action flicks. I think my daughter's review was spot on: "It was a great, and very feminist, but corny, too."

So you see, I've been getting out more. Today, however, I need to buckle down and get back into the routine of writing 1,000 words a day. It's another scorcher outside, so perhaps I will stay in my cool house and work at the table by the big window, looking out at the trees. I might not even get out of my sleep clothes, because if I dress for the day, the world outside my door will call to me, with errands and blue sky and such. Instead, I'm going to heed the advice of Denise, who blogs at Margaritaville: "If you park your ass in a chair and get ready to write, the muse will know where to find you." 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Girls Night

The scene last evening was Lolo's Seafood Shack with three of my daughters, the one I gave birth to, and two of my heart. A wonderful time was had, cracking crabs' legs, peeling shrimp, and laughing and talking while seated around rickety whitewashed tables and roughly made benches under a corrugated-tin-roof shelter draped with fairy lights. The restaurant's back yard had a distinctly Caribbean vibe, barely a hint of Harlem in that garden. And since two of us were Jamaican born (my niece and me) and two were first-generation American children of Jamaican-born immigrants (my daughter and her friend, Gabby, who is one of my heart daughters), the Caribbean beach vibe translated pretty exactly to a Hellshire beach experience. I've been dreaming a lot about escape recently, and I believe that for a few hours last night, I achieved lift-off.

Can I go there?

"To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see over-all patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology, or in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings. We may seek, too, a relaxing of inhibitions that makes it easier to bond with each other, or transports that make our consciousness of time and mortality easier to bear. We seek a holiday from our inner and outer restrictions, a more intense sense of the here and now, the beauty and value of the world we live in.” ―Oliver Sacks

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Son and baby (not his)

My son's girlfriend took these photos of him with her nephew, who turned one this month. I just love the pictures.

Friday, June 2, 2017

First Responder

The third man in the Portland train stabbings, the one who lived, posted a seriously woke video on his Facebook page yesterday. A student at Portland State University, and a poet, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher had this to say: “We in Portland have this weird tendency to continue patterns that we’ve done forever, and one of them is this same old, just to put it bluntly, white savior complex. Suffice to say, I think it’s immensely, immensely morally wrong and irresponsible how much money we have gotten as opposed to how much support, money, love, kindness, that has been given to that little girl.” I am not surprised that a young man who would come to the aid of that girl in the hijab, would take this view. I haven't watched the video but I read about it here.

Meanwhile, No. 45 withdrew from the Paris climate accord, as we all knew he would, probably because he was insulted that French President Emmanuel Macron was unintimidated by him and won their bizarre handshake war, and also because he intends to undo all the progress Obama made. Even his business cronies don't agree with this one, with PayPal founder Elon Musk resigning from his advisory board over the withdrawal. My God, this country is in the hands of an idiot. We have lost all moral standing. Now we know that the vaunted "checks and balances" of the U.S. Constitution are hollow promises when Congress is filled with people too immoral to act.

I don't want to be writing about any of this. I really don't.

I have been fantasizing about running away. Not forever. Just to breathe some different air for a while. At the same time, I am feeling straightjacketed by inertia. Summer is actually my least favorite season. I don't know what to do with all that cheery sunshine. Sit outside, I suppose. I guess I will take my laptop and work outside today. At the picnic table under the trees in the courtyard, or on a bench. It's actually a very beautiful day. The leaves on the tree outside my window are swaying ever so gently in a soft breeze. Get yourself together, woman. Go out and meet this day.

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