Friday, December 1, 2023

Wrestling beautiful chaos

Our week of being thankful was topsy-turvy and wonderful, as was Baby Harper's baptism the Sunday before. She was curious about everything and everyone, didn't cry when the holy water was poured over her head (she does take infant swimming lessons with her mom in Dallas, so it probably wasn't a new sensation for her). And then our minister took her from her parents arms and said, "Now Harper is going to meet her people." As she walked with her around the church to be greeted and welcomed by everyone there, I swear you could almost see little Harper giving the royal wave, such was her demeanor and her beaming little face, our delightful little crowd pleaser, a natural born star. 

Harper was absolutely the highlight of the season for everyone. She adored being in the mix, went from arm to arm with no fuss, fixing each new person with her piercing curious stare before breaking into a smile that lit up all hearts. We had seventeen people on the feast day itself, eleven of them who were sleeping under our roof for the twelve days Harper was here with us. Several of my friends asked me to run down for them where everyone slept in our modest three-bedroom apartment. We explained that trundle beds and couches were pressed into use, with the back bedroom functioning much like a camp dorm. My daughter and her love left late each night to sleep in my mother's former studio across the courtyard, and they were back early each morning to rejoin the pile up of people and the chatter and the joy. I weathered my usual anxiety before the feast, but it started to abate once the food was on the table, and everyone was serving themselves a plate. After that, I did okay, dissipating my OCD by regularly cleaning up in the kitchen. More than once my niece looked up from nursing little Harper and said, "Are you wrestling chaos?" Yes, yes, I was.

My brother, here with us for the first time, was thrilled to have his four children and first grandchild all together under the same roof. He was the master of libations all week, our bar set-up more crowded with spirits than ever before. At one point my brother, who is high up in his lodge and veteran organizer of formal ceremonial events, advised my husband and me to come up with a checklist to make staging our annual feast a well-oiled affair. His oldest daughter, my niece Leisa, Harper's fiesty mama, backed him off at once. "Excuse me Daddy," she said, hand on hip, "but this is your first time here. Do you have any idea how many years Auntie Rosie and Uncle Rad have been doing this? They are not new to this, they are true to this, so put your advice back in your pocket." We all laughed heartily, including my brother, and I have to admit I loved Leisa rushing to defend us, and with such a poetic remark. I think my brother will be back next year, at least I hope so. He seemed to have a grand old time.

On Friday we binged watched all four of the Hunger Games movies in sequence, in between serving ourselves leftovers, in anticipation of our usual night en masse at the movies; this year the choice was the new Hunger Games prequel, The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes, which we all enjoyed. By Saturday our guests began leaving, starting with my nephew taking the bus back north to college, with the last four family members flying home to Dallas and Trinidad on Tuesday. The next day, the editor and the publisher on my current book project sent their editorial comments on the first draft manuscript. So I am once again immersed in the work. This stage always feels a little overwhelming to me, as I find I don't always agree with the margin notes, especially at first, but I know I have inflicted this anxious resistance on writers myself when I am wearing my editor hat, so I do settle myself down and weigh each and every comment in good faith, trying to see where the editor is coming from. Invariably, editors make a book better, and I know this. My work now is to do my part of the dance with faith in the process and a heart that remembers everyone on this project is operating from a place of love.

In no particular order, here is an album of my beloveds from the two weeks that were. Needless to say, magical Harper is heavily featured. 


Friday, November 17, 2023

Harper arrives today!

This little girl and her lovely parents are New York bound and she will be in my arms and sleep under my roof at the end of this day.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Candy colored morning on this side of the world

Candy colored trees outside my window greeted me this morning, the serenity of the scene so hard to reconcile with the children trembling with shock and unimaginable trauma on the other side of the world. Thanksgiving is around the corner. We will have houseguests, family members from Dallas, Trinidad, Jamaica, and upstate New York, who start arriving this Friday. Baby Harper will be baptized out of our home one week from today. My niece called her uncle a few months ago and asked if they could hold her baby girl’s naming ceremony at our little activist church. We’ll have a reception afterward in our apartment, a gathering of beloveds circling our precious new soul with love and communal protection and joy. It will be beautiful and I’ll finally get to hold that darling little girl. It occurs to me this is how all children should be treated—as the innocents they are, scared beings, the hope and promise of our world. 

Sunday, October 29, 2023


My husband is a pillar of St. Mary’s, a little activist Episcopal church in Harlem that yesterday kicked off its 200th anniversary celebration with a chamber music and choral concert at the world’s largest unfinished cathedral, St. John the Divine, in our very neighborhood. The musical selections featured our augmented choir performing original songs and traditional spirituals; the sound in that cavernous cathedral was beautiful and haunting. Next up were piano, harp, and violin pieces by two different women composers from the community; each had previously held the world premiere of her original composition at St. Mary’s. At the intermission, one of these composers was approached by a filmmaker wanting to hire her to score her newest film. That’s St.Mary’s for you, the little church that could. After the intermission we were treated to four exquisite pieces by the Harlem Chamber Ensemble, which again got its start at St.Mary’s. Our friends Lisa and Ozier joined us for the program, and they were blown away, both by the music and by St. Mary’s history of art and inclusive and intersectional social justice activism, as shared by those who performed. The program was billed as “200 Years of Praise and Protest: A Benefit Concert” and it was well attended and vastly enjoyed.

The thing that struck me so powerfully is that St. Mary’s has always been St. Mary’s. Right from the start it was about deeds, the practical work of securing a community, of giving people their dignity especially in times of need, of welcoming everyone regardless of faith, race, identity, or creed. St. Mary’s, which looks like a country church on a Harlem side street, was easy to underestimate, yet more than a century ago it became the first church in the city to stop charging worshipers pew fees, and fifty years ago it sponsored two of the three women from the New York diocese who were among the first women to be ordained as Episcopal priests. There’s a film about this that will be shown in the spring as part of the year long anniversary celebration, along with many other events. How many nights have I sat at our dining table working or doing a puzzle while my husband sat at the other end of the table on a Zoom call as chair of the 200th anniversary events committee. He's so low key, fostering team spirit almost effortlessly, because his ego isn't wrapped up in this at all. And this afternoon, my man and his little soul cluster at the church put on an amazing event, nothing ragtag about it at all. Afterward, he was deeply content. "That was a wonderful way to spend my birthday," he said, and it was.

Also at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine yesterday, there was a new art installation called Divine Pathways, created by fabric artist Anne Patterson. It consists of red, blue, and gold ribbons on which are written the thoughts, hopes, and dreams of hundreds of people from the surrounding neighborhood, each one offering a prayer reaching up to the Cathedral's vaulted ceiling. Prayers for peace. For community. Messages to mend the fabric of our world with ribbons upon ribbons of love.
The same filmmaker who wanted to hire one of the composers from yesterday's concert, approached me under those hanging prayer threads to ask me about my work. She said someone had told her I was a New York Times bestselling author (haha! that's actually true!) and she wanted to know if any of my books had ever been made into a film. None, I told her, and she then wanted to know was there was one story in particular that I thought was worthy of being told in film. And so I told her about Dr. Ellamae Simmons, the hidden figure who I've previously written about here, who made all kinds of history in her lifetime. When Ellamae was 97 years old, she hired me to write her memoir. It was a highlight experience of my life, and I wished the world could know her, too. The filmmaker was intrigued. She wanted my contact info, my website. She handed me her phone and asked me to type it in, but as I was doing that her husband tried to FaceTime her from Israel, where he is a journalist reporting on the tragedies unfolding in that part of our world. "I'll call him back," she said. "No, you should take it," I said, handing her back the phone. "You don't know what's going on." 

After she got off the call with him she came to find me again, and asked me to finish entering my contact info. She told me about her two nieces, who are in the Israeli army, who she says will soon be entering the tunnels in Gaza, and how worried she is for them. She said she feared that Israel's actions in Gaza will inflame antisemitism around the world. She told me one of her nieces had liberated a city, and her mother was so proud of her she sent their relatives in America a picture. "My niece was smiling," the woman said, "but I could see something different in her eyes, like a light had gone out, like she's seen things." 
I chose to just listen, aware that her family members were on the front lines, and how terrified I would be if that were my kin. I didn't try to tell her what I thought the government of Israel, and the government of the U.S. should be doing instead of carpet bombing Gaza. But after we took our leave of each other, I knew that filmmaker would never call me back, because she'd go to my website and see that I had written the memoir of a powerful and luminous Palestinian American warrior woman, and that would put me on the other side of the fence in her mind. Never mind that so many of us, maybe even most of us, actually want the same thing. Never mind that we're out here wearing out our shoe leather and posting on social media and calling our congresspeople and praying with our whole hearts for an end to genocide, for radical reconciliation, for sacred peace.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Love is a collective noun


We had another book team check in this morning, so there's a screenshot of me on Zoom, because it's tradition now that I record these meetings thus. Why do I want to record them? Because this has so far been one of the most creatively challenging and spiritually nourishing work experiences of my life, a true labor of love for all involved, despite the labor involved. So much more work to do on this project, all the steps to be accomplished, including the tedious ones, like formatting endnotes and checking facts and getting permissions for things, but when love infuses an endeavor, nothing feels quite as arduous as it otherwise might. Thank you God, or thank you Love—they’re one and the same to me. 

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Still somewhere

I made these garlic Parmesan cruffins—supposedly a cross between a croissant and a muffin. They were sinful and yummy. 

Today would have been my dad's one hundredth birthday. I am overwhelmed by that realization, which came to me just now as I did the math. I cannot speak to it at all, except to say he's been gone 27 years, and I miss him with my whole heart.

I spent another afternoon wedding dress shopping with my girl. What a joyful time that was. My beautiful daughter looked radiant in everything, but one garment in particular stole the show. 

Here is a poem a friend shared. I appreciate the people who post with fire in their bellies and searing truth in their words. They educate me. In this wrenching, fragile moment, we can’t look away.

Before I Was a Gazan

I was a boy
and my homework was missing,
paper with numbers on it,
stacked and lined,
I was looking for my piece of paper,
proud of this plus that, then multiplied,
not remembering if I had left it
on the table after showing to my uncle
or the shelf after combing my hair
but it was still somewhere
and I was going to find it and turn it in,
make my teacher happy,
make her say my name to the whole class,
before everything got subtracted
in a minute
even my uncle
even my teacher
even the best math student and his baby sister
who couldn't talk yet.
And now I would do anything
for a problem I could solve.

Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952 


Friday, October 20, 2023

Gold all around

Walking Eagle (aka my talented nephew Brett) dropped new music today, a single of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," and I'm absolutely loving his voice and guitar riffs. You can hear him on YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify, or wherever you stream music. I was listening to him on repeat all morning. I'm just so proud of this humble artistic soul I get to call family. He may not have got a chair turn on The Voice, but a lot of people noticed him and now all sorts of opportunities are coming his way.

Meanwhile, outside my window, the leaves turned gold overnight, making a bright glowing backdrop for the flowers that my thoughtful future son-in-law brought for me last week. As usual when I have flowers in the house, I keep photographing them in the changing light. Aren't they beautiful? I'm keeping what's good and lovely in sight right now, being very intentional about that, because alongside the beauty, the world is hard and people are sad.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

She’s ready!

This little one will never be scared of heights! Daddy (6’5”) is besotted but puppy Porter isn’t quite so sure. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Book fair

It almost feels obscene that life goes on on the other side of the world from where wars are raging. But it does, and this past weekend, three other women and I organized a book fair for our neighbors who are authors, which was very well attended. It was kind of a lark how it started, one of our neighbors announced the publication of his photo book on the LGBTQ community, which he he had been working on since the 1970s, and I said, we should do a book fair, and somebody else said, great idea, let's meet to organize it. It ended up being four of us who pulled it together, and before you knew it we had 23 authors signed up to display and discuss their books, fiction, memoir, photography, history, science fiction, children's books YA stories, graphic novels, religious iconography, cookbooks, honestly every kind of book and subject area you might imagine. And I thought, well we can talk to each other if no one comes, but the community streamed through all afternoon, and everyone loved getting that taste of culture and seeing the accomplished work of people we say hello to in elevators and laundry rooms and courtyards week in week out. That's the four women organizers, congratulating ourselves at the end of the event. Everyone's already asking about next year.  Here's my friend's book that started it all. He's a wonderful photographer, and this is a life's work.