Saturday, July 24, 2021

Inside my shell

I had a couple of choices of how I might spend this day. A friend who's visiting from out of town invited me to dinner with her daughter and a woman we both know. She made a reservation for four instead of three in case I decided to join them, which tells me she understands me. I ultimately decided against being quite that social, dining al fresco with people I haven't seen in more than a year. I'm having a hard time breaking out of my shell. Just contemplating it felt jarring. Another friend suggested we sit on her terrace and drink wine. I said no for today, thinking at first I was going to see my friend from out of town. We might yet sit on her terrace and drink wine tomorrow, depending on how we both feel. She, too, understands me. Friends who don't make you socially beholden are a gift. I've been feeling fragile somehow, count the reasons why.
 

I framed the last puzzle I did, the one that reminds me of rivers. I might hang it over my couch, and move those boats elsewhere. I'm already onto another puzzle now. In this latest one, called "Woman in Flowers," I finally see me. I've never seen myself in a jigsaw puzzle before. Two new companies with an inclusive view of the world—eeBoo Piece & Love and Journey of Something—have turned me into the kind of person who frames jigsaw puzzles. Who sees them as possible art. Nobody's paying me to say this. I just love that somebody sees more broadly than the usual puzzle makers with their English country cottages and Nordic lake scenes and vintage Americana, which never include people who look like me. Okay, I'm done grinding that axe. It's plenty sharp by now.

I've been watching the HBO Max series I May Destroy You, which is very unsettling and weirdly compelling. It's about a Black British writer who is late in delivering the manuscript for her second book, after making a big splash with her first. While avoiding her deadline in a club with friends, she is drugged and raped. Afterward, she tries to remember the details of that trauma as she pieces her life back together. The series is written by and stars Michaela Coel, whose face mesmerizes me. The story is messy, true to how life often happens, which I think is what makes it so unsettling. And yet, I can't turn away. I'm on the final episode, now, but it was episode eleven that really gobsmacked me. It explores the moment when the protagonist breaks through to finally understanding what her book is really about. It made me ache for a similar breakthrough.


I'm writing here while watching the Olympics while hunting down puzzle pieces. My favorite Olympic events are track and field, especially sprints and relays, which my little island of Jamaica has long dominated. I also love swimming and diving and of course women's gymnastics, with the women's team led by the greatest of all time, Simone Biles. She's so damn good she can sew a sequined GOAT on her leotard and everyone just nods in agreement. She does such hard skills she could fall on every routine and still walk away with the gold. She's out of this world.

Here's a photo of a courtyard where I've never been, just because. I've been dreaming of being in places other than where I live. Covid is surging in New York again, and everywhere. I had been planning a trip for the man and me to France and Germany this summer, to meet up with two dear friends who live an hour outside of Frankfurt. We four were going to tour around Brittany and then spend some days in the Loire Valley wine country and then drive back to Frankfurt. Sadly, I think we might all be indulging in wishful thinking and being a bit premature. If not this summer, then next year for sure.


 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The memories remain



The people who bought my Aunt Winnie apartment after she died in 2014 did a gut renovation of the place and now, six years later, the apartment is once again for sale. There are photos of its renovated interior on all the real estate websites that serve New York City, and my children, my cousins, and I are simply flabbergasted at how different the place appears. I look deeply into the photos and can find barely a trace of the shared family joys that were nurtured and spent in that space, nor of the ordinary tragedies that played out there. If you've been reading here for a while, you've definitely seen the before photos of this apartment—the first place I lived when I came to New York City for college in the late seventies. For our family's record, I'm posting the after photos here. "Why does looking at these pictures make me so sad?" I texted my cousin Karen. "It makes me sad too," she wrote back. "They erase the essence of Aunt Winnie and Uncle Charlie and every memory that was made within those walls. Now they only live on in our minds, and that too will not last forever." My daughter agreed. "So many memories there," she echoed. "It's so weird to know all the spots our life happened in these photos."





Here are some posts that show us in the apartment before.

Cooking with Grandma

Peace & Grands

Selling Apartment 18F

And here's a photo of some family members in the living room of the apartment after we laid Aunt Winnie to rest. It was the last time we would gather there as a family, and we all knew it. And so we sat in a circle and told stories of our lives in that place, with Aunt Winnie and Uncle Charlie, who paved the way for us all.







Monday, July 19, 2021

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Wildfire

 

The day I told my father I would not be returning home to Jamaica after I graduated college, he cried. I was on my winter break of senior year, and only one semester stood between me and a life chosen solely by me, in a place of my own dreaming. In truth, I'd first dreamed of moving to New York the summer our family visited my Aunt Winnie and Uncle Charlie there when I was five years old. More than dreaming it, I actively chose it that year, touring the steamy city in my navy blue jersey shorts and navy and white striped top, the unstructured material bunching and riding up on my chubby little body in ways that clothes never misbehaved on the slim graceful girls back home. 

But New York didn't care. It didn't judge me, or even notice me to be honest. It just folded me in with a weary sigh, another soul projecting onto its teeming streets her own wildfire dreams. At the time I wanted to be an artist. I imagined painting large canvasses in a drafty loft downtown. By the end of college, I had chosen writing instead. I intended to do a master's in journalism at Columbia and get myself a job at a magazine afterward. That did happen. I rushed headlong into my future without understanding my father's tears, his sense that the world he'd envisioned was not to be, that his raising of me was at an end. I broke his heart, but he never accused me. He only turned his head away and walked out the room blindly, bumping into my grandfather's ship of a desk on the way. I wish I could have that moment back, and be less selfish in it. I wish I hadn't defiantly declared myself, heading off any argument, but rather told him more gently and held his hand. I am a mother now, and there is so much more that I understand.

Now, after four decades of being a New Yorker, I do occasionally wonder why I wanted so badly to leave my birth land, the place where I found welcome on the other side of any door I entered. I recognize now that the attention people paid to me as a child, which I felt as censure and judgment, had everything to do with how I felt about myself, and not much to do with how they felt about me. I now see my mother's church-hatted friends clucking over me after Sunday services, remarking on how fat I was, as simply their way of enfolding me in community, of performing that I belonged. Belatedly, I recall that they praised my good grades in school and artistic talent, too, and hugged me vigorously to their bosoms and pinched my cheeks. But I was never anonymous there, and I wanted to be. I thought it would mean freedom.

I did find the reinvention I sought in New York City, and I also met my husband here. Perhaps I would have met him anyway, as my parents by then had moved from Jamaica to Antigua, the island where he was born. Still, I met him here when I was already working as a reporter for the monthly reincarnation of Life magazine. Our decision therefore was that rather than me giving up a job with some prospects to live on an island that didn't have a daily newspaper, his skills as a biologist were more transferable, and so he would move to New York. Who would our children be if they hadn't been born here, been raised by us here, encountered the particular people who shaped their lives here? It's hard to argue with what is, and yet lately, when I see photos of the spectacular beauty of my birthplace, I find myself as heartbroken as my father was the day I told him I would not be moving back home. And I wonder if I still belong.



Monday, July 12, 2021

Covid breakthrough


This week was going to be a blast from the past, with our niece and her husband, who live in Dallas, traveling to New York City for the week to celebrate his birthday with us all. There was supposed to be roof deck dining in Brooklyn on an evening when my son wasn't working, and then a birthday party at a Mexican restaurant in the East Village on Saturday, with his parents. But this morning, my niece woke up unable to smell anything, and then to taste anything, and she has now tested positive for Covid. She thought she had a sinus infection or a cold. It had happened the same way a month ago, but she had tested negative then, and put it down to allergies. She isn't incapacitated; she says she felt much worse after the second vaccine. She mentioned that the medical wisdom is to stay somewhat active so the congestion doesn't become pneumonia—good to know. She plans to mask up and walk their dog, as well as do light workouts on their Peloton during her fourteen day quarantine. She's a dentist, and won't be able to go back to work till the end of the month. Her husband, who appears to be asymptomatic, is right now getting tested, too. (Update: He tested negative). That's my niece on the left with my daughter in the photo above. I'd anticipated that the mood this week was going to be as festive as it is in that photo. At least her case is a relatively mild one, but these breakthrough infections are no joke, people. The variants are knocking at our door.


Thursday, July 8, 2021

Random streams


My husband is back at museum full time as of July 1, and I am once again alone at home during the days. This morning, I suddenly realized that my favorite spot at the dining table is once more mine to claim. It took me an entire week to grasp this, as I had begun to assume it was where my man would choose to sit during our year of working together from home. I never once said to him, you know, I prefer that spot beside the window, it's where I usually work when you're at the museum. Instead, when I came out to the living area the first morning and saw him sitting there, I simply took the other chair, the one facing the window, and so it has been since. I've never minded. The whole point of this digression is that the world as it used to be is continuing to reassert itself, in large ways and small, at least in the places where most people are willing to be vaccinated.

We celebrated July fourth very much as if the pandemic had never happened. The grilling and eating and social communing all happened outdoors. There was singing and dancing, the weather was perfect, the mood stayed festive, and the table was laden with delicious fare that was replenished into the night. There was also cake for two birthday boys (cousins born a year apart), rousing games of beer pong played by the twenty somethings on the back lawn, and spontaneous electric slide and soul train formations in the driveway. All in all, it was a wonderful day in Newburgh.

The next afternoon, I met up with Maryam, the woman whose manuscript I edited (the book is now being considered by a publisher) and her daughter. We sat at a sidewalk table outside the Hungarian Pastry Shop in my neighborhood. It's where Maryam found a job in the city just days after arriving here from Armenia at the age of sixteen, and where she continued to work all through high school, college, and grad school. The pastry shop became her second home, and her coworkers, immigrants all, became her extended family. It's all in her book, though fictionalized. I can't wait for you to read about it. We further nourished a deepening friendship and even played a couple rounds of corn hole, as the street outside the cafe had been closed to traffic, and the game was set up for any takers. 

Now it's back to work, or procrastinating on work, though I shall have to buckle down soon. My subject is currently traveling in Spain, which I only gathered from her Instagram posts. I have a feeling I won't be able to get going on that book in earnest till the fall. In the meantime, I'm doing some other edit work, escaping into new kinds of jigsaw puzzles that are more like fine art, like the one above by Australian Aboriginal artist Natalie Jade, and streaming the latest season of The Handmaid's Tale, which I had decided I wouldn't watch, but am watching after all because 1) I learned that my favorite character Nick, who I thought had been written out of the show last season, has returned, and 2) my daughter was very disturbed by the season and had tried to discuss it with me.

Honestly, I'm not enjoying the show at this point. It's trauma porn, and the main character June has become twisted and unsympathetic. I know she is suffering from extreme trauma, but now she is also inflicting it, and not always on those deserving of her wrath. I hate that she annoys me so much. I know I'm supposed to give her a pass, to imagine walking a mile in her shoes, but I just cringe at the cruelty of some of her choices. Then again, who would I be if I’d endured what her fictional character has? The things we do for our children, even when they don't ask us to. Reminds me of when I watched every season of Dexter, a show about a serial killer, because my then teenaged girl was watching it and I wanted to know just what she was putting in her head. 

Well, I'm rambling now, so I'll stop. Here are some photos from the past week, including of my son and his love, who attended a wedding in Wilmington, North Carolina this weekend, where one of my son's college track team buddies got married. America is such that I quietly worried about these two traveling south together, but they had a great time with friends. More news: the happy couple recently set a date and picked a lakeside venue for their own big day next year! Stay tuned.

Portrait of a whimsical girl and her devoted dad.

One of the two birthday boys with his sister and his love.

My very berry girl and me.

My son and his love.

 They sure do clean up nice.

Maryam and her brilliant and beautiful child.

One more: My nephew got hired to spin music the old school way at some events this weekend. I love that he's pursuing his passion, and isn't that a fantastic logo he made?


Saturday, July 3, 2021

Hot Vax Summer. Not.


It's Saturday afternoon, the minutes interminable. My man is watching a Netflix series on the history of the Japanese Samurai, and I'm lonely and bored. I've completely forgotten how to entertain myself in this city that is pulsing back to life. The evidence is everywhere, the streets no longer empty, restaurants and stores no longer looking like stage sets for a ghost town, the sidewalks full of pedestrians and al fresco diners. But many people I know are still mostly indoors, the social habit reasserting itself by degrees. Three of my women friends and I had a Zoom call on Thursday night, because we haven't been able to organize ourselves enough for an in person gathering.

One can only stream so many episodes of a show, read for so many hours at a time, do only so many puzzles. Work is a reliable distraction; indeed it got me through most of last year, but I'm in a slow cycle right now, nothing feeling very urgent, no pressing deadlines yet, and I was the student in college who couldn't make herself get started on a paper until the due dates was breathing down my neck. Panic is a dependable motivator when paired with a work ethic instilled by parents who planted deep the message that you don't shirk your commitments. 

It was a scorcher of a week in terms of heat and humidity, definitely an invitation to stay indoors, and though it's cooler today, it gray and rainy, as gloomy as I feel. It doesn't help that the complex where I live is once again under massive construction, all the walkways being redone, all the grounds being relandscaped, all the brick facades and balconies being repointed. Fences are everywhere, blocking free movement around the once lovely campus, so that we scurry in and out of our buildings through mesh wire tunnels under scaffolds. It makes me want to scream every time I walk out my front door.

Of course I could clean out my closet or rearrange my drawers or paint a picture but I'm not in the mood for any of that. I'm not in the mood for much really. The only thing that really appeals to me right now is sitting down with friends I haven't seen in months, and catching up on everything or talking about nothing of great consequence, just mingling with easy and well-loved auras, something we might all be starving to do.  

Thanks for letting me vent, here. It helps to set down my disgruntlement. I've used up a whole half an hour doing it, and now it's almost dinner time so I can wander out to the kitchen and consult with the man about what we should do for the evening meal. After that I'll climb back into bed and read some more (The Final Revivial of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton—loving it!) or maybe watch a few more episodes of Younger (I recommend it for mindless, good-natured entertainment), and hopefully I'll fall asleep early and easily, my mind not galloping everywhere. 

Tomorrow will be busier. We're going upstate to a July Fourth barbecue. It's the birthday of my daughter's boyfriend, and his large extended family has an all-out, everyone's-invited cook out every year. They even did it last year, everyone in masks, though from the photos I saw, most people wore the things as chin straps or ear danglers. At least they were outdoors. This year, the man and I will join them. And then on Monday afternoon, I'm supposed to get together in the neighborhood with a dear friend and her radiant daughter, just because. Yay! Look Ma, I'm socializing!


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Sometimes


“Sometimes,” said the horse.

“Sometimes what?” asked the boy.

“Sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent.”

 *

—Charlie Mackesy, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse 

 

 

 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Still thinking about Van Gogh


It's not that I think he outshone his contemporaries, though I do think his was an original vision, that he had his own way of experiencing art. I also think his tortured artist story makes his work tragically poignant, and I find I am grateful that he managed to make art despite his demons, that his human soul found an oasis of comfort upon those roiling seas.

Friday, June 25, 2021

The social dance


For Father's Day last weekend, our son came over and our daughter and her love brought their dog Munch as well as three kinds of frozen desserts that they had made from scratch: key lime pie ice cream, banana caramel ice cream, and raspberry Campari sorbet. So delicious. We just hung out all day, starting with breakfast of scrambled eggs (made the way my dad used to do it) and maple bacon, then ordering in burgers for lunch from Harlem Shake, and then ate little scoops of ice cream all afternoon, relishing the tastes and the company until my son had to leave for his shift at his firehouse, and the other two left to meet up with some Boston friends who had come to the city for the weekend. But for the firefighter who had to work that evening, there was some day drinking involved.



Next there was our lovely gathering on Monday night, followed on Tuesday morning bright and early by my first in person interview with my book subject. Crazily, the entire proposal I wrote for her was developed from phone conversations, and now, with the proposal sold and the two of us fully vaccinated, we were finally meeting in the flesh to start work on the book. I chose a restaurant in my neighborhood that I knew would be quiet at that hour. We know the owner by now, an always warmly welcoming man, and I had spoken to him beforehand to make sure conditions would be conducive to potentially intimate sharing. 

My subject arrived on time, in a festive pink floral summer dress, and I noticed at once that she is far more beautiful in person than the photos she posts of herself on social media. She has no vanity; I love that about her. She's on TV, and in person she looks much the same as she does when she's all dolled up by the studio stylists. 

Incredibly beautiful people often make me feel awkward and self-conscious, but I felt perfectly comfortable with her. I suspect she might not even know how attractive she is. She was a fat child till she was 13, and we both agreed that the image you have of yourself at 13 is often the one that stays with you for life. Our conversation roamed all over the place. For the book, I needed to drill down deeper at so many points, but I let the conversation skip around, as I didn't want our first in person meeting to feel too heavy, I wanted her to enjoy the encounter, and besides, she seemed to be in a very lighthearted mood. She was worried about whether we'd get the book done in time. I laughed and said, "Oh don't worry, we will. We have contracts!" So now I need to sit myself in the chair and start writing in earnest.

On Wednesday morning, I met my daughter in Battery Park to go and see the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit, which was spectacular. The paintings are shown in darkened rooms, with spots of light illuminating the art installations and the descriptive panels of text. As you walk through the galleries, meditative music fills the space, with a man's voice speaking quotes from the artist's writings and conversations during his lifetime. 

But the piéce de rèsistance was the final gallery, a cavernous room with chairs and benches and carpet on which people sat in the darkness and watched a visual presentation of the artist's life and work and death sliding across all four walls, the dancing light playing across the audience, too, so that we became part of the show, which was accompanied by a heart-lifting sound track that spanned Japanese traditional music to Beethoven, with narration by the same man's voice, I think it was Jeremy Irons. We could have stayed in that room for hours, but we left at around noon, as my girl had a work conference call she had to be on. We found a bench next to the water and she took her call, while I watched the lovely dappled light under the trees, and enjoyed the breezy unhumid day. After her call, we headed to Seamore's for lunch and watermelon margaritas, and just had the best time sitting on the patio and talking about everything. It was in all respects a perfect and soul-nourishing day.




The social dance continues. My daughter's in laws (as we call her partner's family, even though she and he are not married) will be in town for the weekend and staying with us. My girl and her guy will join us for dinner tonight, and tomorrow, they'll take his mom and sister sightseeing around Brooklyn, and the man and I will join them later for a dinner of soy-glazed salmon steaks grilled on their roof deck. Somewhere in there, I will also find time to watch the greatest gymnast of all time Simone Biles and the rest of the Americans as they compete for a spot on the U.S. team in the gymnastics Olympic trials to be held this weekend. I absolutely and unironically love the Olympics, especially gymnastics (because, hello, Simone Biles) and track and field, in which my little island of Jamaica has long dominated.

New York is experiencing a very low incidence of covid at the moment, with a less than one percent positivity rate in the city. Even though I'm still wearing masks, I do feel my guard coming down, which isn't always a good thing. My girl just called and reported that she's come down with a cold. "It just came on hard and fast yesterday, "she said. Definitely not covid, she assured me, but my poor girl is under the weather, and with her in laws coming into town, too. 

To end on a sweet note, yesterday marked one year since adorable Munch joined our family. Our girl posted pics to mark the occasion, which she referred to as "Happy Gotcha Day." Munch's mantra, or rather my daughter's mantra for him is "Stay weird, little dude." He doesn't have to try.