Saturday, December 7, 2019

Filtering life

Here is a picture of me I can stand, helped by Instagram filters, of course. After I posted that photo on Insta, it reminded me of another image—one of my mother, taken on a Sunday morning many years ago, when she'd just returned from church. I suppose it was the red scarf that made me think of it, and maybe the similar shapes of our faces. This photo made me wish I could have this day back, though I know to be happy that we had it at all.

I'm off to Queens this morning, where our choir will perform the first of three concerts for the season. I've enjoyed the music this term, and yet another of my friends has now joined the group, bringing the number of people I have brought to our choir to three. It's lovely to see my friends every week and make music together. I actually have four dear friends in the group, as it was my closest ghostwriting cohort who first invited me there. One of my neighbors then joined, followed a year later by a woman I grew up with, who lived with our family when we were in high school (her father was my dad's best friend, and he and his wife were working overseas at the time), and with whom I shared a bedroom for several years. As you can imagine, we know each other like sisters. 

Then last Spring, another friend of mine joined, a woman I met on the first day of college orientation, my very first friend in New York. We were standing next to each other in a line to register for courses; she was a Math major who was nervous about our freshman English requirement, and I was an English major who was nervous about Math, so we pledged to help each other and have been best buds ever since. All my friends in choir have wonderful voices, far better than mine, but I know when to just mouth a note that's too high and would come out as a squeak, and my ear for pitch is fine, so all is well. 

My husband, who knows my solo singing voice, shakes his head at my brazenness in actually joining a choir. But he shows up for our concerts anyway. He and our children and their loves are all planning to attend the family and friends concert later this week. My daughter and her boyfriend, bless them, attend every time. So does my friend Leslie. Choir is, for me, a completely stress-free activity. It's a performance, and yet I don't get nervous at all. Perhaps it's so outside my sphere of talent that I just embrace the experience. Plus I really enjoy our choir director and my fellow choir members, a lot of them delightfully quirky souls, including, I dare say, my four angel-voiced friends.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Thanksgiving album 2019

This year we had a larger crowd than usual, twenty-seven people all told, and my left leg had decided to ache something awful, so picking my way among all the bodies and legs made me appear even more hobbled than usual. A lovely time was had in the end, even though someone turned off the oven by accident halfway through the cooking of the turkey on Thanksgiving morning, so dinner was an hour late, and the din of voices was at such a pitch that at one point I fled to the back room and just sat on a bed. My cousin Nicky noticed me disappearing down the hall and followed me. She sat with me chuckling and telling me to breathe, because she knows her cousin like the sisters we truly are. Meanwhile my niece Leisa—who is temperamentally somewhat like me and was also feeling overwhelmed—decided to just keep plying people with wine. She kept opening bottles and giving people refills, which made the mood even more festive but with a manic edge. Finally the food was served. It was all delicious, and everybody's energy settled to a murmur, and it was smooth and joyful sailing from there. At the end of the evening, we counted bottles and realized we had consumed fourteen bottles of wine, some from our own stock as well as bottles people brought to the feast.

People who weren't sleeping over left at around midnight, and the twelve people who were sleeping under our roof, plus my daughter and her boyfriend who ultimately slept in their own home, chatted and laughed and debriefed on the evening for two hours more. At some point my daughter and my four nieces began the clean-up, all of them refusing to let me into the kitchen to help. My son was fast asleep on the couch by then, as he'd worked the night before and all that day, arriving at 7 PM to join us from his 24-hour shift at the firehouse. As new man on the totem pole, not yet a year in the job, he will likely be working on Christmas day as well.

My niece Dani invited a young man she's been seeing to the gathering, and we all thought him very brave to agree to meeting the hoards at once. Dani's whole family was here from Orlando, as well her her aunt from Trinidad and many assorted other aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her young man, though a bit shy, held his own. When he left, Dani walked him out, and when she came back into the house we all started chanting "Dani has a boyfriend! Dani has a boyfriend!" like we were in grade school, just to balance our scrupulous effort to avoid making things awkward while her young man was there. She collapsed onto the couch laughing and covering her face. At that moment, my youngest niece, the one who was here last year applying to college, and who is now in her first semester in St. Paul, Minnesota, announced, "I am never bringing a plus one to Thanksgiving!"

The festivities continued until last evening, when we delivered the last of our house guests to the airport. Things are back to normal today, meaning it's time to get back to work—and to a more mindful eating plan. As anxious as I get before Thanksgiving every year, wondering how we will pull everything together in our small New York City apartment, I'm always happy afterward to have spent such intensive bonding time with my loved ones.

For my own record more than anyone else, here are some photos from another epic Thanksgiving celebration in the books.

That last one is my house this morning. Everything was so quiet after our week of revelry, a hush made deeper by snow on the ground outside. I'll be around to catch up with everyone soon, but right now I have to do a phone interview with a woman who was the high school best friend of my book subject. I have done absolutely no work since a week ago. It was a good break, but slightly nerve wracking as I'm feeling somewhat behind my chapter schedule.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A year of my life

Linda Sarsour's memoir, We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders, challenges every stereotype about Muslim women, uncovers dangerous bias against Muslim Americans, and teaches readers how to organize for justice and kindness in our own lives. This is a rare book that leaps off the page and into our hearts."—Gloria Steinem

"Linda Sarsour's moving memoir is a testament to the power of love in action -- a fierce, courageous, joyous love for all people of all religions, genders, races and backgrounds that reaches across all borders and boundaries. If you're wondering what kind of activism holds the potential to free us all, this book offers an answer." —Michelle Alexander

Candid and poignant, this book offers an intimate portrait of a committed activist while emphasizing the need for more Americans to work against the deep-seated inequalities that still haunt the country. A powerful memoir from a dedicated fighter for social justice.”Kirkus Reviews

"Sarsour’s passionate memoir powerfully captures a unifying moment of social protest." —Publisher's Weekly

Coming March 3, 2020. 

I spent most of the last year working with this extraordinarily committed activist, courageous mother, and deeply kind woman on her book. She's controversial. Believe only the good. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Random youth

This turned up, a photo of me at 18. And then a couple of days later, another photo showed up, this one of my man when he was 18. I wonder what it means, this twin blast from the past, our innocence almost painful. You can see our dream of the future, right there at the surface. And now here we are.

A man we know, who we saw recently at our friend's art show, was saying how we all wish we were young again, but really, our twenties were the most miserable decade, we had no idea what we would do with our lives, whether anyone would love us, or how we should feel about anything. In truth, my twenties were desperately lonely, less so after I met that string bean of a man who opened his heart to mine.

I'm sorry I've been scarce in these parts. I'm trying to write the book. It's hard going right now. But as someone here once said (Denise, it was you) you just have to sit yourself in the chair ready to write each morning so the muse can find you.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

She looks happy

Here's my darling girl with Beau, a dog she sits for regularly, one of her very favorite canine pals. I love her joy in this picture, and that's reason enough for this post.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Bleak season

That's what the trees in Central Park look like now. We've had rain and a cold snap this week. Winter is here. As I sit at my dining table working, the impeachment hearings are on, but I find that I cannot stomach the deceit of the Republicans trying to create soundbites for Trump's cult of followers who won't look any deeper into the proceedings. These Republicans literally make me nauseous. I finally muted the sound.

What a barren time we're in politically. History will record Trump's America as very much akin to Hitler's Germany. People used to insist that was an extreme view. Not anymore. And if you think those children in for profit concentration camps and cages on the Southern border aren't being trafficked, think again. It helps, doesn't it, that border agents have kept such poor records of names and actual numbers of those who have been officially kidnapped, never to be heard from again.

Update on November 20: Ambassador Gordon Sondland is singing to congress like a canary who very much enjoys the sound of his own voice. And who has nothing left to lose. There's a twinkle in his eye as he burns the White House down. As I told a friend, I suspect he's imagining the impeachment movie, in which he will appear as the star witness. "Everyone was in the loop," he said, and then he named all the names. This doesn't mean the Republicans in the Senate will impeach. I'm not that naive.

Something light

Thanksgiving is around the corner, and the kids, by which I mean the two I birthed and assorted nieces, were pressed. Our microwave hasn't worked predictably for over going on two years. Sometimes it warms the food, and sometimes it doesn't, with no discernible pattern. The man and I made do. We'd received our first microwave as a wedding gift from my Uncle Charlie, along with a can opener—a broad joke that if my husband hoped to be fed then we'd better have a microwave so I could warm up canned soup. We laughed along with my uncle, who wasn't a chauvinist but had been raised in an era when women cooked for their men. He didn't know that in our home, the chief cook would be my husband, so much so that my children grew up thinking that in families, men were the traditional preparers of food.

As my man typically prepares food using the stove and oven, we limped along with the finicky microwave. But after Thanksgiving last year, the warming up of leftovers proved a challenge. Sorely overworked, the microwave simply quit for hours at a time, frustrating everyone. In the week after, it began working again, often enough for us anyway. Again, the man and I went along. There's a vague plan to renovate out kitchen at some undefined point in the future, so I think we both figured  we'd get a new microwave then. All of that is background.

A couple weeks ago, my daughter texted me: "You have to get a new microwave for Thanksgiving this year. We want to melt marshmallows." I think I texted back a thumbs up and promptly forgot about it. Then on Sunday, our niece Dani, who's been living with us since she graduated college last summer, came into the living room, plopped down in a chair, and said, "I'd like to read to you from our group text." "Who's in the group?" my man asked. The group included her and our daughter in New York City and three of our nieces who are Thanksgiving regulars: Leisa in Dallas; Leah, who lives in Jamaica but now attends college in St. Paul, Minneapolis; and Dani's sister Alexis in Orlando. "Okay!" my husband said. "We're listening." It went thus:

Everyone was crying we were laughing so hard. My husband went out to the big box appliance store and bought a microwave that very afternoon. Dani went with him, and took a video of him paying for the new microwave and sent it to the group. The GIFs that poured in were hilarious. I wont share them here but trust me, laughs ricocheted from New York to Dallas to Orlando to St. Paul. A new round of hilarity ensued when the man took a picture of the shiny new appliance installed on our counter and texted it to the group.

Turns out the melted marshmallow tradition is a powerful incentive for mob activation, which in this case yielded an immediate desired result. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Vivaldi by candlelight

On a site called Secret NYC, I found out about these classical concerts by candlelight being performed inside beautiful churches around the city. Most were taking place in the West Village, but one featuring Vivaldi's Four Seasons, headlined by the Highline String Quartet, was happening right in our neighborhood, so I snagged a pair of tickets as a birthday gift for the man. Just in time, it turned out, because every candlelit concert stretching into January was sold out an hour later. I knew he would love the program, because we used to play Vivaldi's Four Seasons at a rousing volume in our car on road trips as young marrieds, before our kids were born and before CD players in cars became defunct. We'd hum along with the music, filled with heart-opening joy at this experience we got to share. I figured it would be fun to call back that feeling. And it was. The performance was thrilling, so emotively played and utterly immersive. It's always wondrous to me how four instruments can create such a robustly layered sound, now soaring, now dancing, now whispering only to us two. It felt like the most romantic of dates, both of us harking back to the sense we had when everything was brand new and we felt so incredibly lucky to have found each other.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Fire sky

Here are some shots of the sky last night as I sat working at my dining table next to the window. The spun gold leaves are gone, and the sky is bringing its fire. I'm trying to hold on to the fact of such blazing beauty in this painfully galling moment. I'm watching the impeachment hearings. I have goosebumps to tell you the truth, because really, this feels momentous. And yet it is unlikely that the president will be impeached in the end, because the majority of Republicans in Congress have no moral center. In fact, it appears that their strategy this morning is to muddy the waters by interrupting committee chair Adam Schiff with all manner of ridiculous questions and comments that are either misleading or outright falsehoods. I feel so riled up right now. Sociopaths are setting fire to America in full view, and no one on the political right seems to care. I'm trying to maintain perspective, but it's hard. Acting U.S. Ambassador Bill Taylor, a 50-year career diplomat, is giving his opening statement now. He is the soul of credibility, reasonable, principled and clear, and he's calming me down somewhat. His testimony will surely be followed by Republican lies and obfuscation. Here is what the sky did when the fire burned itself out, and night began to fall. There's a metaphor in there somewhere, but I can't quite suss it out.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Resistance and its opposite

Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cotez, now known by her initials AOC, gets so much hate from the right that I feel a need to balance the scales a bit and send her some love. This brilliant and brave young woman is out there fighting for us on so many fronts, not the least of which is her signature issue, climate change. If we're smart and deserving (and right now we're anything but), she could be president one day. She'd be a damn sight better than the current occupant of that office, that's for damn sure. 

On the home front it's been a busy week, unusual in the sense that I've been out of my house and running around the city every day—choir rehearsal on Monday evening; a long interview with my book subject on Tuesday, which was also election day; my annual physical on Wednesday followed by my Wednesday evening wellness group; and yesterday morning, the funeral of the grandmother of my niece's new husband. My daughter took the day off from work and she and I attended the service in Brooklyn even though we had never met the grandmother. When I asked my niece, who flew in from Dallas, if she thought we should attend, she said, "It would be nice. It would blend our two families more." Indeed, our families are becoming ever more connected, with the parents of my niece's husband now part of our Thanksgiving gathering as of last year. Our children have brought so many lovely people into the ever expanding fold.

The rather excellent part of yesterday was that after the service, my daughter and I got to hang out together, wrapped in blankets and chatting and watching the latest episode of Survivor and then Crazy Rich Asians for the umpteenth time. The temperature had fallen precipitously, going from the low fifties into the thirties, making our living room seem like the coziest place on earth. Watching the movie, my girl dozed off, and I busied myself tidying the kitchen and generally straightening up with a feeling of supreme peace imparted by the simple fact of my daughter sleeping serenely under my roof.

Meanwhile, I miss my friends. We've all been so busy with our lives, and I suppose the political news exhausts us all, so that when the workday is done, we hunker down inside our homes, trying to hold on to sanity, hoping the votes we cast will actually count in the face of so much chaos and corruption. There's a plan to for some of us women to get together for coffee on Sunday afternoon. I hope we can make it happen.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The season of gold

The publishing contract for the book I'm collaborating on was signed yesterday, and now it's official. In theory, I'm not supposed to start writing until my first payment is received, but my subject is the soul of integrity, so I have been writing ever since our kickoff meeting at the end of September. It's hard finding my way in. I have to somehow break open the chapter summaries I crafted for the proposal, set most of it aside, and rethink each chapter more spaciously. In the entire month of October, I managed a single chapter, the second one, since chapter one was already written for the proposal. I drafted the introduction as well, though I'm not sure it will survive in its current form, but for now it's there, holding space. Chapter two was hard to figure out, as my subject's memory from that period is sketchy, and secondary sources are only partially accurate. But now, I have 5,524 words of a chapter, and in editing what I'd written yesterday, I happened upon the perfect sentence to open it, a sentence that was originally halfway down the first page, and when I got to it, it shimmered and said choose me.  I love when that alchemy happens. I'm still editing, as the chapter is pretty rough yet, but I will start on the third chapter next week. I'll begin by doing a fresh interview with my subject to get new stories for it, or new takes on old stories, and I've already made a list of areas to pursue that will take me beyond the lockjaw of the three page summary in the proposal. Writing is hard, y'all. I'm not yet at the stage of hearing celestial choruses because I love the work I do. In fact, right now I think I just imagined that there ever comes such a stage.

It's been a rather special couple of weeks in my family, and I have a raft of pictures I've not yet shared. Here are some.

Last Saturday, our two families celebrated our children's engagement to be married. There was so much laughter and shared joy. My son's fiancée has felt like a daughter to me right from the beginning, so I couldn't be happier that she and my son will be making it official. 

Here's my son's lovely fiancée with her sister-in-law (her brother's wife) on the right and her sister-in-law to be (my daughter) on her left. One of the realities of young people hitching their lives together is the linking of families. When it's congenial, it's a gift indeed.

The newly engaged couple posed with her grandmother, who I'm told adores my son.

These two got teased all day with suggestions that they would be "next up to bat." 

I brought home tulips for the man on his birthday.

 My daughter and her boyfriend are fostering a hyperactive six-month-old pup named Sarah. We all fell in love with her, especially my niece and my son.

We are a family that tells stories, especially the men named Radford.

 Definitely not an HGTV kitchen, but there was something about the light. Heck, I was even feeling some affection for the well-trod look of the scuffed floor.

And now back to work. No such thing as weekends when you work for yourself. I love writing at the dining table when the trees are so boastfully spilling their light. In a week those branches will be bare. I'm relishing nature's extravagance while I can.
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