Thursday, September 28, 2023

Blue necklace

Had another Zoom check with the book team in this morning. My subject and I got gold stars for our progress. I continue to adore every member of this team. The Fab Four we called ourselves today, the editor, the agent, my subject, and me. Also, Zoom has figured out something since those early days of the pandemic when we recoiled from having to see ourselves on those interminable video calls that took the place of human contact for the better part of two years. Zoom brushes out all our wrinkles now, flattens everything without our even asking. I'd say that makes perfect sense as a business strategy. Not like the new iPhone cameras that record every crease, blemish, and pore, plus more that the eye doesn't even register in real life. Here's a screenshot from my meeting this morning, because, well, I put on makeup and wore a blue necklace today.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Best laid plans

My daughter took that pic of her cousin and brand new niece when she was in Dallas a month ago.
My niece and her husband were bringing Baby Harper to visit us in New York for the week. They were to arrive tonight. But my niece called on Monday with the news that she is down with Covid, so they can’t travel after all. So now, unless I get myself on a plane to Dallas in the next month or so, I won’t hold that precious little girl until Thanksgiving. I hope my niece feels better soon. Her husband is still testing negative, and the little one shows no signs of distress. There will be no room reveal for them this week, however, so here are some pictures of the reno'ed bedroom, a project envisioned and driven by my daughter. "I'm the project manager, you're the client," she told me at one point. "So just give me a budget and then sit back and let me handle the details." She consulted with me on all purchases, since its my house after all, and she was using my card, but the vision for the room is mainly hers. The grungy old carpet is gone, the vinyl flooring is new, the walls are painted fresh (I couldn't decide on an accent wall color, so white it is), and all the modular Scandinavian furniture has been assembled (there are the beautiful builders, in a picture taken before). 
Not everything has been moved back in as yet, the shelves will eventually become much more full, as this room is also my husband's work studio, the place where he will make his stained glass boxes and icons, beaded Anglican rosaries, model sailing ships, design his floral arrangements, play his guitar, study Portuguese, and do whatever other creative pursuits catch his fancy. The room smells wonderfully like sawdust, with everything bright and clean and new. In contrast, our bedroom now feels like a dark pit, with way too much stuff in there, and a carpet twenty years old and crying out to be released from service. 
I'm determined to get to my room too in my refresh chronicles. I feel almost light, thinking of all the material possessions I will get to divest myself of. But first, I have to turn this book in to the editor. I have a full first draft, and am working on addressing my subject's notes for the revision. In other words, we're quite far along. Best of all, she is very happy with what we've done. The heaviest lift (getting down a complete draft) is done. The painful part is over. And with one who is as personally generous and as nuanced a thinker as my current subject is, this part of the process is actually feeling like (dare I say it?) fun. Even so, the grind continues. There are many more stages of this book journey to go yet. Please know, dear friends, I'm reading your posts. I just don't always have enough free mental space to formulate a coherent comment.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Tiny catch up

My whole body ached. It hurt so much everywhere I couldn’t sleep so I rose and took painkillers. Now I’m sitting in after midnight darkness in the living room, waiting for the three little blue pills to take effect as I tap out this post on my phone. We were building furniture all day, my daughter, my two nieces and me, while the man made us hearty chicken and corn chowder and a delicious mango coconut bread. I was rather enjoying the flipped gender roles, though I don’t think anyone else noticed. There was a hard driving rain outside. Inside, the house felt active and happy. In the recently cleared out, newly painted, de-carpeted room, we assembled two bookshelves and a desk from those head-scratching Scandinavian instructions that are all pictures, no words, and then the man came in to help us build the bed. It was complicated, my daughter and nieces are champion builders, but there were some parts of the job that required strength of the sort my husband brought, and finesse won from long experience with the use of power tools. Between us we got the job done. Baby Harper, your room awaits. No pictures yet. We want to surprise Harper’s mom and dad with the reveal when they arrive from Dallas in four days. Instead here are pictures from when we had dinner with some of my husband’s relatives in New Jersey a couple Saturdays ago. In our cousins Bobby and Sophia’s beautiful home, among visiting relatives we’d so recently seen in Antigua, we cheered tennis phenom Coco Gauff to her incredible New York Open win. The woman in purple is my husband’s first cousin Barbara. I adore her. My children’s season of reconnecting with the Antiguan side of their family is continuing. 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Another morning


I feel fragile lately. The ground feels unstable beneath my feet, so that I want to micromanage everything, lest it spin wildly into catastrophe. This is highly annoying to other people. I know this hyper vigilance was bred into me in a childhood in which my father was an alcoholic. He wasn't a mean drunk, lucky us, just tediously sentimental about growing up roaming hills in the country and his schoolboy days at a boarding school in town and meeting my mom as a young man. He was also highly functional; he didn't begin drinking till all his cases were studied, all his opinions written, his work put to bed. But my mom hated his drinking, and so he tried to hide it, which he couldn't of course. I knew all the places where his bottles of gin were stashed, and we all knew when he crossed over into being drunk. I'll never forget the night he made me stand there and listen to him sing every verse of his high school anthem, tears rolling down his face. I only wish I could throw my arms around him now, remembering.

But still. Growing up with an alcoholic parent makes you watchful. It attunes you to the shifting molecules of air in the room, the careful way my dad placed his steps when he was drunk, my mom's lips pressed together in disapproval when she realized he'd been drinking again, the dangerous silences in the house. Then morning would come and my dad would be up before everyone, putting in a load of laundry, juicing oranges for breakfast, making the cup of tea that he brought in to me when he woke me up for school. He was a good dad. He just drank too much. It almost killed him when I was fourteen or fifteen, when he was sick with something and mixed the medicine he had been prescribed with gin. He quit drinking after that. He promised us all from his hospital bed, on the day after his heart stopped beating and the doctors brought him back, that he wouldn't touch another drop. And for the rest of his life, till the cancer ravaging his body took him at the young age of seventy-two, he never did.

I wrote a typo there. At first I wrote he never died. I went back and fixed it, but it strikes me this morning that the typo is what I want to be true. He has been so alive for me these past weeks, in the wake of my brother in law's death, and also, in this continuing brutal summer, the passing of one of my cousins, Diane. She died in West Palm Beach, Florida, last Friday. She had been rushed to the hospital with double pneumonia the very night Bruce died. We got the call about Bruce near midnight and then I picked up my phone and there was a text from my cousin Joy, Diane's sister, letting me know what was going on. 

Joy had been sending me and the rest of the family daily updates, and it sounded like Diane was improving. Then last Tuesday she texted that they had removed the intubation tube and her oxygen was low. She was reminding her to take deep breaths. On Wednesday, the day we said goodbye to Bruce in the majestic and historic Cathedral of St. John's that he had lovingly helped to restore, there was no text from Joy, but we were so caught up by the pressing moment, I failed to notice. Thursday, we went to help clear out Bruce's apartment, as the landlord wanted to show it the next day. There was no text from Joy that day either. Life hurries on. 

Friday was a beautiful family day. We had promised ourselves one day at the beach, and we honored that. We started the morning with breakfast as a family at a lovely little place near Blue Waters, where my parents used to live during the years they lived in Antigua; they stayed in the island just long enough for me to meet my husband in 1983. A year later, my dad got promoted to Chief Justice of the region and they moved on to St. Lucia, the central court of the Eastern Caribbean judiciary. My son and daughter spent time with their grandparents in two different islands as children. 

After breakfast we drove all over the island, my husband revisiting places that held special meaning for him, our kids revisiting their own childhood memories made on visits to their dad's birth place, all of us realizing we'd been away too long, nine years, and now we were all reclaiming the land as our own. That was the best part of the whole trip, really, our children realizing that Antigua was still theirs, even though their grandparents, aunt, and uncle were gone. They still had cousins, and other uncles and aunts, and the island had welcomed them home.

We went to the beach at Longwood. Walking into the water I kept exclaiming how clear it was, like liquid blue glass refracting the light, every grain of sand visible beneath my feet. As if I had not grown up in Jamaica with this same sea. We got there at noon, and swam and tread water for hours, talking, laughing, being. At three in the afternoon we packed up to head to another beach, this one at Ffryes, just down the road from Valley Church, where my husband picked lilies for me one night in the rain before we were married, and in whose country graveyard two days before, we had buried his brother. 

My son had been one of the pallbearers for his uncle, who like my husband was a big guy. "One last workout with Uncle Bruce," he grunted as, along with the other pallbearers, he helped lower the casket into the open earth. My daughter's heart was in her throat the whole time, as dirt slid beneath her brother's dress shoes at the grave's edge, his white shirt transparent with sweat from his effort to maintain tension on the rope, men shouting directions back and forth, it was a scene. But they managed the task without falling in. And then a back hoe filled in the hole as mourners found what little shade we could under trees and warbled hymns around Bruce's grave.

We had a plan to meet up with some cousins and an older aunt at Ffryes Beach at four thirty on Friday afternoon, when the baking heat would ease a bit. It was on the way there from Longwood that the text came in. "Diane passed away this afternoon." It felt like a gut punch. And then, honestly, I felt numb. We met up with our relatives, we swam in the healing water. The day continued to be a connected and joyful family outing, even though shadowed by my news. It had been hot as blazes all week. Yet now I felt cold. 

I'm back in the city now, back to work by the window, trying to craft the book's final chapter. My man is back at museum. My niece who lived with us during the month of August while she looked for a new apartment, has now found a place and moved there on Labor Day with her former college roommate and best friend. I am alone in the days, and sometimes, I climb under the covers and just cry. I wont be able to go to my cousin's funeral. We are pretty much broke from burying our brother, and from a bedroom renovation that is underway in anticipation of my niece and her husband bringing baby Harper to visit us at the end of the month. I have to deliver the last chapters of the book right before they arrive, and then start at the beginning again to address the notes my subject has already made and returned to me on Chapters 1 though 17. And so I push back the covers and go back to the window and try to lose myself in channeling someone else's magnificent life. It does help.

Good morning, dear friends. I'm still standing.

Sunday, August 27, 2023


That’s a photo of where I'm from, the land of my birth, Jamaica. This week, as we journey south to lay my husband’s brother to rest a few islands over in Antigua, I’ll be able to once again immerse myself in those blue waters, and that will be a balm. But in the meantime, traveling anxieties are in full flower. Why am this way? What, really, is the source of this disquiet, this heart pounding worriment when, weaving through the angst, I am also relishing the idea of spending a week with my husband and children, the original four of us, the silver lining of time together away from our busy lives, our brother and uncle's parting gift to our little tribe.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

He was loved


Tributes and remembrances are pouring in from everywhere for our brother. It makes me very sad that he died without really understanding just how well regarded he was, how widely loved. He certainly would not have expected an official statement of condolences from the Prime Minister of Antigua. Only dignitaries receive such commendations, and he did not know that he was one. His morning radio talk show on current events had a devoted following on the island, and in Caribbean communities abroad, and truly, he was born for that format. He was a wonderful conversationalist, excellent writer, loved his family and relished a lively good-natured debate. He was always so interested in the progress of his nieces and nephews, and I am realizing how fondly I held his regard for my children, his brother, me. There was a warmth that covered us from his love for us, and now that place from which it came feels empty and cold. I never thought I would not see him again in this life. I hope I will see him in the next, but not for a while yet. My only comfort is that he is now beyond the reach of the emotional storms that sometimes assailed him. With him, I understand as deeply as I ever have the words, rest in peace.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Goodnight, dear brother

It's been a cruel summer. Just before midnight last night, my husband's younger brother took his last breath. There are the brothers on swings as youngsters in Antigua so many moons ago. Bruce, now 59, suffered a massive stroke last week Wednesday and was rushed to the hospital. His oldest brother and several cousins took turns sitting at his bedside, but he never regained consciousness. He was here in full one day, and the next he was not. My husband has now lost two siblings within the course of a single year. He is very submerged today, which is how he deals with sorrow. He has to disconnect for a bit to survive it. I know this about him, but it does leave me feeling a bit adrift with my own grief. 

One of the cousins wrote this morning in the Arrindell family chat, in which our brother was always a very lively participant, that "We know Bruce is at peace and deep in conversation with our ancestors." Bruce had a morning radio talk show in Antigua in which he took on social and political issues at home and abroad. I imagine he is indeed continuing the commentary. At least, it is a comfort to me to think so. My children are gutted, my son a bit submerged like his dad, my daughter's tears flowing freely, more like her mom. Families, man. We all revert to our fundamental coping mechanisms. Whatever we might think of them, we are all just trying to find our way through.

Tomorrow my husband and I will have been married for 37 years, and will have been together for 40 years. We have been with each other twice as long now as those first two decades of our lives growing up on different islands. Here is a picture of our two families of origin taken on our wedding day. I'm not sure if I'll be back to post more tomorrow, because this anniversary is a somber one. All but three people in the photo are now gone from us, at least in body, though never in memory. On his side, my husband now stands alone. Bruce, our brother who crossed the veil last night, was our best man, the one who looks so much like my husband. Here is a post I wrote about what may well have been Bruce's defining work in this life. May the tumult of the world now release him, and may he know the lightness of being that often escaped him, that escapes most of us, in this earth school where the lessons can be so hard. Rest now, dear brother. Rise in joy. 


Thursday, August 17, 2023

Men of Courage

Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, Tennessee State Legislators, gun reform activists, men of courage and conviction. Photo by Mario Sorrenti. Their story is here. Also, I love the picture. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

"Never catch yourself in untrained mirrors"—my friend Isabella

Mirror in the back garden of a restaurant in Williamsburg 
(Photo by Leslie Gartrell)

I didn’t know I would rail against aging in this unseemly way. When I was young, I didn’t understand why people didn’t gracefully embrace growing older, and the faces and bodies that came with that. My husband and I, as newlyweds, romanticized growing old together. Well, now we are doing it. Although it’s fair to say, growing old with this man is perhaps the best part of growing old. Romantic even. He is so calm about it all, so nonplussed by the changes in us, so wryly humorous about the aches and pains and slowing down, so accepting of where we find ourselves. For all his exasperating ways (not going to the doctor, not following through on anything involving official documents—thank God he has me), he’s easy to live with. I got lucky that way. And he did finally go for a medical check up this week. His heart and bloodwork are doing fine.  

So. Indictment number four for the orange ectoplasm. Ruth Marcus, a legal thinker I respect, is of the opinion that the Georgia case—based on conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election—might be one indictment too many. I do not agree. Not by a mile. If Trump or any other Republican (except maybe Liz Cheney) wins the White House in 2024, Trump will be pardoned, and every federal case against him will go away. Georgia, being a state matter, is the only case that he cannot be pardoned for, the only one a Republican chief executive can’t just wipe off the books. So I don’t see this fourth indictment as piling on at all. He did everything they say he did. We saw him do it. Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law is the standard. Well, apply the standard to Donny boy too. Throw the whole damn book of charges at him. Looks like Fani Willis did just that. I am in awe of her courage. Of Jack Smith’s too. Of all the people putting their very lives on the line to uphold the rule of law. We all know, this is going to be dangerous and ugly. Everything involving Trump is dangerous and ugly. But we dare not shrink from what needs to be done. Bring it all the way on, I say.

Here is a picture my daughter sent me a while back. Her brother and his love were visiting. These beautiful beings make me happy. Along with my girl and her love, they make my life in microcosm sweet indeed. The trick I suppose is the keep the lens small, and pointed at the happy.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Sunday again

It's really an unbearable feeling to be sick of yourself but to be unable to get away from yourself. I lose myself in work, not sure if I'm hitting the mark, but trying, and trying again. I imagine hiding myself away to avoid imposing myself on the world. I feel as if my very being is an affront. I know this is crazy talk. Believe me, I know. There is still a part of my brain that stands aside and sees clearly that no one is thinking about me that deeply, no one really cares how I move through the world, many are too busy wondering what the world is thinking about them. Oh, the absurd tragedy of this mortal coil. And yet, in this body, I still get to hold my children close and breathe in the intoxicating belovedness of them, and that makes being in this broken shell I inhabit worth enduring.

We went out to a soul food dinner in Harlem with my daughter and her love, and his mother and sister, to celebrate his sister's birthday last night. In the restaurant, Melba's, there was a brand new oil painting in the dining room, of our newest Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. I love our pride in her, the joy we take in her achievement, and how stellar she truly is. And dinner was big fun, with the entire dining room pausing to surprise our guest of honor with a rousing round of Happy Birthday, the African American version, as the waiters processed in with a slice of red velvet cake with a lit candle on top of it. My daughter's sister to be, a kind soul, beamed with surprise. It was a moment. Afterwards, though, I got up from the table and could hardly walk. My left leg hurt something fierce, the entire length of it, and I hobbled out of there in what I thought was a most ungainly fashion, though I must have played it off somehow as no one really noticed. Or maybe they just refrained from commenting.

This morning, despite eating lightly yesterday, the scale has added two pounds, and my head feels like it's stuffed with cotton (there were margaritas involved last night), and its muggy and hot in my house because the cherry on top, the AC conked out last night, or rather, it kept working but water was pouring from it onto our bedroom floor. Whine, whine, whine. I'm going to stop here and go make myself a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and try to reset this day. This earth school we share is not for faint hearts, aching bodies, or obsessive, catastrophic minds. But look at this beautiful crew.