Thursday, October 17, 2019

More than afternoon coffee

Sometimes I am just so humbled by my life. I met a woman for coffee this afternoon. She's an editor at that same publishing house whose publisher I met last year when I flirted with taking a full time job, but then a book project came through and I decided to do that instead. But I loved that publisher. Perhaps the good feeling was mutual because last month she suggested that her editor reach out to me. She said we should meet, that there is work we might yet do together down the road, and I absolutely loved the editor, too. We had such an instantaneous connection, our conversation freely roaming, quickly moving past work things to life things, an open sharing of souls. And to think this morning I was doing my usual hand-wringing, not wanting to show up, wondering if I could call and cancel, but I made myself get dressed and go, it took a lot of talking to myself to get me there, and now I think how sad it would have been if I had missed meeting this generous, deeply kind soul. Maybe we'll do work together, I don't know. But I feel as if I just encountered a person I've known for aeons, and we paused to check in with one another, and see how this adjacent incarnation we both chose is going. With some people, the feeling you have after being with them for a spell is an expansive, all-encompassing love. That is the feeling she inspired in me, a pure giant-hearted lovingness that extends to every person and every thing.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

My Outlander Jones

I finished watching all four seasons of Outlander and immediately went back to the beginning and started again. I think the way Jaime, played by Sam Heughan, loves Claire, played by Caitriona Balfe, is why the series has such a passionate fandom. The scorching chemistry between Jaime and Claire alone keeps you watching. Claire is no damsel in distress, a medicine woman who falls through time and meets her life's true love, a braw Scottish highlander with price on his head. She and Jaime grow together through all manner of trials, historical and personal. I can hardly wait for season 5, which is filming now and debuts next February 16. And no, I am not being paid for this endorsement. I'm just in the habit of recording my current preoccupations here, and Outlander definitely qualifies. Plus, you know, the lead players aren't too hard on the eyes.

Who else is watching, or should I say escaping?

Because yes, I am burying my head in binge watching this series for a spell.
The news, at home and abroad, is too much to bear.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Clearing the nests

She inherited my noisy, hyperactive thought cycles, with their constant manufacturing of catastrophic outcomes, and oh how I wish I could have spared her that. You will survive it, I tell her. I am Exhibit A—proof that we go on.

We smile and function in the world at large, few ever guessing at the brooding thoughts branching inside us, choking our breath sometimes, making us shake, yet somehow, the terrible things we are capable of imagining almost never come to be. (I went back and added the word "almost" in that sentence, wary of challenging the fates.)

I remember a woman saying years ago that you can't stop disquieting thoughts from showing up. Like birds they alight before our peripheral vision can detect their flight. But if we can't always prevent their arrival, this woman said, we can keep them from building nests in our heads.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Sourcing inspiration

Someone posted those paintings of women. There was no attribution, so forgive me for not giving credit where it is surely due. I'm posting these images here because I want to try this stylized, vibrantly colored approach with some paintings of my own, a series depicting woman of many different colors and ethnicities. The reason I didn't become an artist, even though I started out as a studio art major in college, is that I considered my inspiration to be too derivative of other people's vision, but now I wonder, is most inspiration derivative of another's brilliance, maybe something we saw in passing that imprinted on us, that we take in a new direction and make our own? Or do true genius artists pluck inspiration from some deep ancestral source, if not from the very air?

Friday, October 4, 2019

Our beloved boy is 28 today

And he and his girlfriend are coming over to spend the day here! There will be cake and candles later on. After work, his dad and sister will join us. So will his cousin who lives with us (she is out on a day date with a boy we've heard about but haven't yet met. He's in town for the weekend, and she certainly seemed excited). How beautifully our firstborn has grown. I remember when he was a baby, I wondered what kind of man he would become, what work he would do, how he would love. I am gratified to say my funny cranky boy is a wonderful and caring man, if a bit bossy like his mama. When we were in Toronto at the hotel last weekend, I came down to the dining room to order breakfast and he and his sister and cousins were already there. He got up from his table and came over to me at the counter and began pointing out various menu items I might like and suggesting I get the cold brewed coffee because it had a less bitter aftertaste. He towered over me, and had his arm around my shoulders as he stood there imparting information I might want to make my choice. I chuckled and looked up at him and said, "You are making me feel so taken care of right now." We saw ourselves and laughed. I feel like an incredibly lucky mother. Happy birthday, darling boy! We love you forever.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The feeling of belonging

I don't even know how to write about Aunt Grace's memorial service, except to say her send-off was far more joyful than sad, a true celebration of a woman whose driving force was always love, and that is what we brought to her memorial, love and more love. Lots of cousins came, the younger ones, the cousins in their twenties and early thirties, bonded in ways that made the older ones, the aunts and uncles in their fifties and sixties, smile deeply with satisfaction. After the day-long repast, which lasted into the evening with dinner at a Mandarin buffet, my own three (my son and daughter and niece, in the photo above) went out for drinks with their cousins from Vancouver. They all stayed up into the wee hours, and my daughter said after that it was easy and good, with many belly laughs, and a sense of being alike, of being related, a sense of belonging to one another. It's that sense of belonging that my family excels at, the feeling that we are a tribe, enfolded, and that word again, loved. I'm rambling. Here are pictures from the gathering last Saturday in Toronto, at which we bade the last of the nine, our incomparable Grace, aka Gaga, a grateful tear-and-laughter-filled goodbye.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Invisible essence

"We are each other's harvest; 
we are each other's business; we are 
each other's magnitude and bond."


That quote by poet and author Gwendolyn Brooks is the whole truth. 

So the impeachment inquiry has begun, and we all know how that will go. The president and his minions will refuse subpoenas to testify, and the Republican base will call it a witch hunt. I mean, none of Trump's other criminal and morally bankrupt actions have made a dent in his popularity among the Republican base, so why should his withholding hundreds of millions in aid from Ukraine in order to pressure them to deliver dirt on Vice President Biden be any different? It's illegal, yes, but so are any number of other acts that the president has committed in plain sight. With cameras rolling. Yet he slithers along, creating more chaos, causing more devastation to the country and the world.

Don't get me wrong. I think they should impeach the MF. I also think they need to throw anyone who refuses to testitfy or otherwise comply with the law in jail. I know this will only convince the Republican base that the president and his henchmen are being persecuted, because the doddering psychopathic dementia-addled narcissist who can barely find his way through a sentence on a teleprompter and who garbles his responses in every press interview, but who becomes a rabble rousing beacon of white supremacy when he stands before his base, is their cult hero, the man who hates who they hate, who they don't realize has nothing but contempt for them as well.

That being each other's harvest isn't working so well in practice, is it? Not for the good, anyway—at least not right now, or not that we can readily see. Let's hope something good is happening behind the curtain. We press on.

I'm traveling to DC tomorrow, and I feel sick today. In choir rehearsal on Monday, the woman behind me coughed non stop in my direction for two hours. My daughter also had the flu last week, though she tried very hard not to spread it to anyone. And last night, I had dinner with three family friends, and two of them were fighting colds. Now I feel weak and achy, my brain foggy. This kickoff meeting with my book subject, her communications director, her agent, and the acquiring editor on Friday is so critical. I simply can't be sick. I am swallowing Vitamin C, Zinc and Echinacea tablets by the handful (hyperbole). I just need to get through the weekend, then this flu can lay me down if it wants. Please just give me the weekend.

The photo is of street art posted in Freemans Alley, where new and overlapping expressions of human creativity and populist sentiment appear daily. It's a never ending art exhibit, an egalitarian public gallery, my new favorite place in the city.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Everything Matters

Wise woman Danielle Laporte offered this utterly fascinating deconstruction of the difference between depression and sadness.  

Depressed and Sad are two very powerful, similar, misappropriated words. Portal words. Sacred words. And if we look more closely at them, we can claim what's true for ourselves and set about transforming depression and sadness into their contrasting states.

Sadness hurts but it signals that you are very, very much alive.

Depression may be the cousin of sadness, sometimes the defended response to unyielding sadness, but it makes you feel anything but alive. It dulls, weighs, and messes with your memory of your true essential nature—which is that of joy...

When you're sad, you're feeling. Sometimes, more than you want to. You wish you could be despondent, but the sadness is sharp and it bleeds your attention from you.

Depression ... dulls one's feelings. Where sadness makes you feel raw and skinless, depression is like wearing a snow suit and mittens and wondering why you can't feel the caress of life. Sadness strips you. Sadness is so fucking cleansing. Depression is muddy and muffling and numbing.

"When you're depressed, nothing matters. When you're sad, everything does." —Gloria Steinem

This just rang so true for me, and I wanted to share.

Aunt Grace

Sybil Grace Douglas
August 7, 1926—September 15, 2019

Her daughters chose this photo taken earlier this year for the formal announcement of her passing. She stopped coloring her hair less than two years ago, with stunningly beautiful results. Have you ever seen a more radiant woman of 93? I have not. She always had more sparkle than anyone in her orbit. I picture her still smiling like that, wherever she is, sprinkling light. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Life and more life

As an update, my daughter's foot is healing well. Thanks to the tetanus shot and a prescribed antibiotic, there was no infection, although she did not at all heed the doctor's instruction not to get the foot wet. She put liquid plaster on the worst cuts, covered them with Tegaderm waterproof dressings, and went on her way. The wound was none the worse for its immersion in the ocean and in chlorinated pool at their Airbnb, which in terms of Instagrammability did not disappoint. By all verbal and social media reports, the bride and her eight-member bride squad had a wonderful time, though they were scammed pretty hard on the second day and after tense negotiations had to pay $300US for a towed car. They made up for it on a boat trip the next day, which by all accounts was sublime.

Some of the squad picked up a bug on the trip, most likely in an airport, and seven of the nine came down with the flu just hours after returning home. My daughter has been home with a fever, headaches and body aches all week, though she's on the mend now, and even worked from home the last two days. Luckily, she has a sympathetic boss. She loves her new boss, by the way. Among workplace blessings, that's a big one.

In other news, I'll be heading to DC next week for the big kickoff meeting on the book, at which I will meet the acquiring editor for the first time. I'm nervous of course. I wouldn't be me if I weren't. Then on Friday night my cousin and I will fly from DC to Toronto for Aunt Grace's memorial service. My husband and kids will meet us there, as will other cousins from New York, Boston, Vancouver and the Caymans. Aunt Grace will have two send-offs, one in Toronto for her friends and family up north, and one in Jamaica for friends and family there. It will be good to see everyone, the silver lining of family funerals. They're also family reunions. I'm very touched that both my children want to be there with their dad and me. Aunt Grace was special to us all.

This week, I also joined a year-long weight loss group—the same hospital-based one I embarked on in 2017 and lost 50 pounds. This is an alumni group, for people who already did Year One who still have more weight to lose and want to bottle the magic a second time. This new group is a bunch firecrackers! It's the first time the program is running an alumni group, and most of us have regained some of the weight, as happens. I, too, had begun creeping back up, having regained 12 pounds, but now I am turning that ship around, though I won't pretend I'm not struggling. But I'm excited, too, to get to know this group. The first meeting felt a little like the first day of middle school, everyone eager and hoping to be folded in, and since each person there was familiar with the fat person's sense of being a social outsider, we opened our hearts and welcomed each other in. It's hard to describe, but it felt like such a generous space. We all already know the nutritionist and the exercise physiologist, who is also the medical director, but the therapist is new, and she seems very emotionally aware. I think it's gonna be a good year!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Last of The Nine

This beautiful soul, our beloved Aunt Grace, gently laid down her mortal coil on Sunday morning. She was 93. She was still living in her apartment in Toronto, which she was to vacate next month and move to Jamaica to live with her daughter. On Friday night, she got up to go to the bathroom, and on her way back to bed collapsed. Her live-in caregiver heard the fall and came to help. She called the paramedics, who wanted to take her to the hospital, but Aunt Grace declined. She refused to be taken in on a stretcher.

Instead, she went back to bed, and in the morning, dressed herself nicely, drawing on her eyebrows and fixing her hair, then allowed one of her friends, her angels she calls them, to drive her to the hospital. She walked in serenely and was admitted. The tests showed she'd had a heart attack, which was why she'd fallen. Her enzymes were all out of whack. When she spoke to her daughter and granddaughter from her hospital bed on Saturday night, she sounded bright and cheerful, the usual sparkle was in her voice, and they believed she was on the mend.

On Sunday morning, one of her angels came to visit her in the hospital. Aunt Grace said to her, "My darling, I'm dying. I am in such pain." Her friend started to call for a nurse, but Aunt Grace stopped her. She said, "Just hold my hand." Her friend held Aunt Grace's hand in hers, and they just stayed like that for a bit until Aunt Grace took a deep breath, a moan hidden under it, and like that she departed.

This one hits particularly hard. Aunt Grace was the last of the nine Stiebel siblings, the one whose voice sounded so like my mother's that even their children couldn't tell them apart on the phone. She was perfectly named, graceful and gracious, with eyes that twinkled with a deep resilient knowledge that nothing in this life should be taken too seriously, at least not seriously enough to dampen the fuel of our existence, which she believed was joy.

Now the nine are all back together and she is reunited with her beloved Ken. I am trying to imagine them rejoicing on the other side and draw comfort from that. But the world seems so much the poorer now. One of our brightest lights has crossed the horizon and we ache from missing her. Fly with the angels dear Aunt Grace. You were that rarest of souls, a woman who knew how to make her own joy, no matter what might be happening around her. Others might have buckled at some of the challenges she faced. Instead she kept her attention on life's gifts, the greatest of which was her family, and of course, her angels. She delighted in those around her as she recited poems from her schoolgirl days, or offered a well-told joke, or simply held us in her clear green gaze, which to me seemed animated always by some ancient understanding of love. 

That's Grace on the far right. Her mother, my grandmother, is pregnant with the ninth child. Aunt Grace always joked that when she first saw this photo, she looked at herself and thought, "Oh Grace, you're going to have to learn to do your own hair." Her mother's hair was straight, and her older sister Winnie, charged with combing the younger girls' hair, had a curly rather than a tightly coiled hair texture, with the result that she gave them, as Grace described it, muffin heads. 

Aunt Grace indeed learned how to do her own hair, and when we were growing up, nothing made her nieces feel more special than when Aunt Grace had a turn with combing and styling our hair. She made us look positively radiant. But what I remember most is that she also made it fun. As we sat before her, our arms draped over her knees, she'd comb out our tangles while leading us in song rounds—Kookaburroa sits in the old gum tree/ Merry merry king of the bush is he—that song in particular, laughing when we got to the chorus—Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra/ Gay your life must be. Oh how we all loved her. She and the rest of my dearly departed are why I choose to believe in an afterlife, as the thought that I will see them again is how I'm getting through. 

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