Thursday, September 20, 2018

Bench therapy

My daughter and I went to vote in the evening a week ago, and then we walked around the gardens and sat on a bench, chatting with neighbors who stopped to talk before continuing on. And then my girl said she needed some bench therapy, and she told me about a situation at work, where she made a mistake and told her boss about it, despite the fact that no one might ever have known. It worked out well for her, and I applauded her integrity, even though she was still feeling shaky over the whole thing. 

And then there was a situation with a friend, a girl she has loved dearly since they were four years old. As she told me her concern, it had the whiff of an anxious mind making up stories. I know intimately how that works, so I suggested she just text her friend and say she misses her and could they get together soon. She did, sure the friend would not respond because she was angry at her. But in fact, her friend responded within a minute, said she missed her, too, and yes let's make a plan. My daughter said, Oh, maybe, she was just busy because she started a new job this week. You think? I said. Do you feel better now? I said. No, my daughter grumbled with a mischievous side eye, because it means you were right. I'm always right, I said, and we both laughed, as we do. And then I apologized for passing on to her that overactive, endlessly spinning, storymaking mind.

That's my girl with her most recent foster dog, Wally. He got adopted in the first week. This is what she wrote for him on the adoption website. That's marketing copy, I told her. That's Wally boy, she replied. I love his big round anime eyes.

Monday, September 17, 2018


There is so much I want to write about, so much going on in the news (that young black man who got shot in his own home by a cop who came to his door, the creepy, mean as fuck supreme court wannabe, so much more), in my personal life (houseguests, a farewell barbecue for a beloved uncle, pub week for my last project), and I just don't have the time to unpack it all here. I'll leave you with this photo. Imagine this happening at dusk ome evenings, behind this screen. A glass of Malbec is actually perfect to silence the yammering of my inner critic and keep me going for another couple of hours, while my husband sits in his wing chair and catches up on the day's news. I'm learning so much on this project. I think it's why I love my work, even when it is hard. A friend of mine who does the same ghostwriting work I do, moved from one apartment to another one across town last week. Despite having a major project and looming deadline, she took the week to unpack everything and set up her new space completely. "I can't have chaos around me," she said, "because writing is chaos. I can only deal with one kind of chaos at a time." Her words reverberated like a gong. Writing is chaos. Oh Lordy, yes. And with all the internal chaos I've got going right now, I sometimes have to shut down really engaging with the chaos of the news, I have to let it wash over me for a spell, without taking too much of it in, because it just. never. ends.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Old photos

The man and I dressed in black tie for the fiftieth anniversary gala for LIFE magazine. Here we are with the great Zemog, one of my fellow reporters at the magazine. In this photo, I am a newlywed, only two months married.

In my mom's final year, my son elected to spend spring break with his grandmother. Here, he was helping her do her morning exercise of walking to the end of the hall and back. How the roles had changed. He was so good with her, and she with him. 

I ran across this oldie again, me at age eighteen, the year I left Jamaica to attend college in New York City, where I would henceforth live, part of the chain of relatives sponsored by my Aunt Winnie, who was the first to migrate to America in the 1947. She, and our family, are the Orange Man's nightmare.

Aunt Winnie, the year she left Jamaica and settled in New York City. She was twenty-nine years old, an adventurer.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


An extraordinary new mural by Brazilian artist Edward Kobra was unveiled in New York City today, on the seventeenth anniversary of 9/11. I am now the mother of an FDNY paramedic, who found his calling in the ashes of that awful day, and who will enter the fire academy to be further trained as a firefighter this year. That number on the kneeling firefighter's helmet, 343, is how many of his comrades died at Ground Zero. I remember my son, then nine years old, stood before me as dusk fell and said, "Mommy, a lot of heroes died today." I hugged him to me, with no idea that he was already trying to puzzle out the kind of courage it took for a person to run into a burning building to save strangers. Could he grow into a man with that kind of courage, he wondered. It would become the central question of his life, and would fuel his desire to be the person equipped to save lives when the world went to hell. In college, while he dreamed of joining the FDNY upon graduation, my son acquired a raft of first responder and water rescue certifications. My husband and I joked that he never met a certification he didn't want to collect. And indeed, as soon as he graduated, he began training as an EMT. His class began on September 11 five years ago, a fitting echo for a young man who never wavered in his dream. My son doesn't know that his sister used to cry herself to sleep at the thought of her brother wanting to be a firefighter. She understood, even if I didn't then, that it was a calling he would not outgrow. At last, I had to accept that this was his path. He humbles me. He makes me proud. May he be safe and protected always.

My babies, 2001

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Against the ruthless furnace

"He didn’t so much teach them how to write poetry, they said, but why: because of delight. Because of stubborn gladness. He told them they must live their most creative lives as a means of fighting back against the ruthless furnace of this world."

The writer Elizabeth Gilbert was describing her namesake, the poet Jack Gilbert, and his approach to his students. I found these words on Brain Pickings, where I have lingered for hours already this morning, drinking in philosophies of creativity from people who make me think so hard on their ideas that my brain hurts. There were so many different quotes I wanted to share with you as I went deeper and deeper into the well, including this one, because of the times, and because of the idea of "stubborn gladness." So often, we ask what can we do in the face of what is unfolding in our politics, on our social landscape. This is one answer, and it's not easy, and it's not small.

As I return to my own not-small effort to resist the ruthless furnace, here is some more of the treasure I found:

Big Magic: Elizabeth Gilbert on Creative Courage and the Art of Living in a State of Uninterrupted Marvel:
"The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.'

"Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them."

And this one, which my dear friend Brittany posted, and which sent me on the Brain Pickings hunt to begin with:

Martha Graham on the Life-Force of Creativity and the Divine Dissatisfaction of Being an Artist:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open...No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Monday, September 3, 2018

Men who cook

On this weekend a year ago I was sitting in a hospital room in the intensive care unit watching little numbers on monitors whose wires were attached to my husband. He'd had his chest cracked open for heart surgery on the Friday before Labor Day weekend, and he was just starting on the long road back to health. And he made it. He's doing well these days, better than before.

He made smoked brisket this weekend, a three-day affair, and this afternoon our girl and her guy are coming by to partake of it. They're the cutest. Yesterday my daughter's boyfriend made spare ribs in the stove-top smoker we gave him for his birthday a year ago, and they popped over at close to ten last night to bring us a sample. Hands down, they were the best ribs I ever tasted. The man and I were seriously impressed. Today, my husband returns the favor with his brisket, which my daughter's boyfriend declares is the best brisket he's ever tasted.

Other than these culinary forays, it's been a low-key weekend. I've been writing every spare moment, as I set myself a goal of 35K words by the end of today. I'm closing in on 34K at the moment, and that might be as good as it gets for today. In the book I wrote last year, which was on the same schedule, I was about ten thousand words further along at this time, even with the break I took when my husband got sick and had to have a leaky heart valve replaced. I'm trying to get in as much work time as possible, as my daughter and I are heading out of town soon for some down time on our favorite lazy river. It's to celebrate her promotion, and just for a quick mama-daughter getaway. I can't wait.

I've been seeing this sentiment around on social media, and I like it. I told my husband I'll keep choosing him every day.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Life in public

I went down to my old magazine yesterday, which has moved to offices in Brooklyn with a much reduced staff from the days when I was on the masthead. They are now in a very cool looking former warehouse complex with polished concrete floors, exposed pipes and ductwork, and large banks of windows letting in lots of light. Very Brooklyn industrial chic, complete with a coffee bar and cafe right there on the work floor and a full time barista on staff. But as cool as it all looks, the staffers miss the days when people had offices and cubicles. The open concept design with unbroken rows of desks, everyone shoulder to shoulder or staring across at each other from behind their computer screens, affords no privacy for sensitive conversations, and it's noisy and distracting, too. But I did note that even though they are short staffed and overworked, folks did not seem oppressed, and that is an improvement, perhaps, from the days when the magazine was owned by Time Inc., and everyone did indeed feel anxious and burdened.

I was there to get software and fonts loaded onto my laptop and get a refresher in InCopy, which I actually remembered pretty darn well, like riding a bicycle really. I am editing for the magazine again, have been for the past couple of months, working remotely, which is perfect. But being back in the office among people with whom I once regularly burned the midnight oil stirred up feelings. I'll just say, those women give the best hugs, and they made me feel welcomed back to the team, even on an informal, open-ended basis. This could be good. I just have to make sure I am very organized, as there is also the book I'm working on, and I intend to do my darnest there, too.

I actually went from the magazine's office to an interview with my book subject and her parents yesterday. Her mother plied me with delicious meat and spinach pies, and sweet sage tea, as we pored over photo albums and they shared the stories behind each picture. It was fascinating to note that as intense as my subject is in the public sphere, her family of origin appears warm and funny and easygoing. I imagine they must provide a healing refuge for the organizing work their activist daughter does out in the world. I am really glad she has the security of her family, where she can sink into being unconditionally loved and a relaxed, bantering way.

Later, when I got home, my son and one of his friends showed up and the two full grown men dozed on my couches until evening, when they got themselves together and went out to meet friends who are in town from other states and from England for a wedding of one of their camp crew this weekend. They've been celebrating non-stop since the bachelor party in Nashville last weekend, and it will continue until bride and groom are hitched beside a lake in the Connecticut woods this Sunday.

I took that photo in the Juno car at 7:30 AM on the way to Brooklyn yesterday morning. It was already almost 100 degrees outside, but inside the car was air conditioned and the soft early morning light invited me to take a selfie before getting all bedraggled by the day. Despite the sweltering heat, it was a good, productive morning and afternoon, and very social. Today my plan is to do nothing else but sit at my desk looking out at the trees, and write.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

When you find good light

The girl and I went for pedicures last night. I love sitting up there in the high chair with our feet in warm blue water, catching up with my girl. She was telling me about a person she works with, who is a micro manager and constantly hovering to make sure tasks get done. Some people find this hard to deal with, but my daughter reflected, "I guess she doesn't bother me because I'm still at a stage in my work life where I have a lot to learn, and besides, I don't mind reassuring her that things are getting done." To which I said, "See, that's the benefit of having had to manage the mother you have." We laughed.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Jersey got adopted (update)

My daughter and her boyfriend got so attached to Jersey, but the more attached they got, they more they wanted her to be happily settled in her forever home. The hardest part was taking her to the required adoption fairs each weekend, Saturday and Sunday, and having her be passed over by people who wanted cute puppies, and small apartment-sized dogs. Jersey is five years old; she's big and active; and sometimes that's all people saw. They didn't pause long enough to see what a sweet old soul she is. But my daughter posted diligently on the foster agency website, photos of Jersey that showed her in an infinitely better light than the "dusty" photos of her that were there before ("dusty" was my daughter's word. Actually what she said was, "They really aren't doing Jersey any favors with these dusty ass photos"). And a woman from Long Island finally saw her. I think my daughter also played some heartstrings with her most recent post, which was captioned: "Jersey's excitement for this weekend's adoption fair? 💯"

The whole adoption saga tugged at my heartstrings anyway. The woman who took Jersey home with her lives in a house with a yard. Apparently Weimaraners are hunting dogs and need to be able to stretch out and run. The woman is also retiring soon so, as my daughter put it, "She'll be home in the days giving Jersey all the love she needs." She gave them her card and invited them to come visit Jersey Girl any time. They were sad to say goodbye to their housemate of two weeks, but over the moon that she had found a good home. 

And now they're already looking to make magic again. They pick up a new dog this Friday. This one is apparently a shy little guy who's been working with a trainer to help him be less skittish. They are asking his fosters to not indulge the dog's fears, including of the outdoors. My daughter is actually really balanced in that way. She's never mean but can be firm, because she believes dogs need outdoor running time. She's not a pushover, but her boyfriend, good luck with that.

Look at me. Getting all engaged with these dogs when I never gave in to my children's pleas to get them a dog when they were small. I grew up in Jamaica, with dogs and a yard where they could run and play. I didn't love the idea of confining them to a small apartment in the city, at the mercy of their humans' work schedules and whims. Nor did I love the idea of picking up poop. But of course, my girl grew up in the city, and this is the reality of being a dog lover in the city. I find I'm actually kind of loving this whole fostering adventure, too. I enjoy playing with and getting to know the dogs and hearing about their journey, while shouldering none of the responsibility. I guess you could consider me my daughter's supportive animal. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Good sich

My love and I celebrated 32 years of marriage yesterday. When we discovered that the restaurant we wanted to go to had recently closed down, our daughter decided to bring the dining experience to us, by acting as our own personal chef. She came over the night before to prep everything, and then last night we weren't allowed near the kitchen until dinner was served, and it was delicious and perfect. My pictures don't begin to do it justice. Our girl even printed out a menu ahead of time. And as she poured the wine for us, she said, "I wanted to do this for you. You are such good parents. It didn't have to go as well as it did for us. Growing up, I saw quite a few cases where it didn't go that well. But we have a good sich"—I gather "sich" is short for situation. Her lovely words nestled themselves in my heart.

Happy anniversary my love. Thank you for sharing this wonderful rollercoaster ride with me, for holding me down always, and being the man you are. Here's to the next 32!