Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Another day in front of the window

This political book I'm doing seems to have no end, like the crazy surreal world it is attempting to capture. I feel guilty, because I had accepted another job editing someone's manuscript, and the author of that work has already waited a month for me to get started. With RBG dying last week, it is possible she may have to wait a month more. I am trying to craft an email to her explaining things. I know she is anxious to get her book done and sold, her family could use the money, but I simply can't abandon the first project until it is completed. This is why I've been a little scarce around here, working intensely all day and reading your posts on my phone when I fall into bed at night, but not commenting much. Please know my silence is not a lack of care.

My niece who has been living with us for the past year went home to her parents in Orlando for a while. She hadn't seen them since January, and decided she could work remotely just as well from there as she could from here. She doesn't go back into her office in New York City for at least another month, maybe more, so it's just the man and me again, puttering together, being outraged at the news together, moving around each other with gentle humor and untucked ease. 

I'm starting to reconnect with friends I haven't set eyes on in forever. I went for a walk and then sat on benches in the gardens where I live with two different women on Friday and Saturday last, chatting and soaking up the sun. And the week before, I sat with five other women under a tree in Central Park, our folding chairs in a socially distanced circle, catching up on our lives in quarantine. On the bench we wore masks. In the park circle, we took them off, trusting the wafting breezes to blow our invisible droplets away. New York continues to do well, with positive cases at less than one percent, and fewer than five covid deaths a day in the state, none of them in the city most days. But people are still dying from this thing. We are trying to figure how to live this masked life and love each other safely.

Up there in Cambridge, my girl and her guy continue to live a rather more social existence on campus, meeting up with their new friends almost daily. Last Sunday, her love's section group and their partners all went on an apple picking outing, organized by the school. It was outdoors and masked, ergo safe, though these young people have also begun to gather in each others homes. Most of their get togethers are still in rooftop bars or on lawns. But it's getting colder now. I wonder if the school created these section pods within the larger class so that new students might get to know one another, since classes are still all virtual. The students (but not the partners) still get tested twice a week, so if anyone comes up positive for covid, they can quickly trace contacts within the designated sections. Maybe they also intentionally placed my girl and her love in a section where almost all the students relocated with partners.

That's my girl with her puppy, Munch, with whom we have all fallen in love. Munch also has fans on campus, with human friends scheduling regular play dates with him. My daughter reported that one woman told her she had overheard her husband on the phone to his mom saying, "There's a dog here I  love so much. His name is Munch and he has such a joy for life." Munch is indeed scrappy and affectionate and energetic and sometimes hysterically bored. Did I mention they tested for his DNA? He is half English Bulldog, a quarter Beagle, an eighth miniature Schnauzer and an eighth mutt. His shaggy brindle coat probably comes from his Schnauzer ancestry.

Here's a blast from the past I ran across recently. The photo of my husband and me was taken during carnival in Antigua one summer. We weren't yet married. I was a year older than my daughter is now, and the man was two years younger than me. Honestly? I still wonder how I got so lucky that this tall handsome man with the dancing wit and steady heart chose me. Thirty four years later, I choose him still.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

She, too, was a great soul

June Omura Goldberg also died this week. I can’t bear to think of the world without her kind spirit, her dancing eyes. I first met June when I was a young, fresh out of J-school reporter at LIFE magazine. June was the chief of research and she was my rock, my center of calm, the person I could go to for anything, with anything, or just to share stories or a laugh. She talked about her family with such love and pride and let us share our families as well. She was at my wedding on her birthday, August 23, 1986, and every year I think of that, and feel that it’s a special blessing to have been married on June’s birthday. She took care of all us reporters, made each one of us feel that she was looking out especially for us—and I really believe she was at that. She had the hugest heart. A laugh like music. That giggle. She was my safe place in my first job in journalism. She made me feel as if I belonged in that rarified world and could do whatever I was called on to do. I have carried her belief in me ever since. The photo is from the last time I had lunch with her and two others from our LIFE magazine days. We dined in a cafe at Lincoln Center. June loved the ballet and the opera. She was a gift to us all. Rest now, dear June. You are so loved.


Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance, fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable
ignorance of
dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.


Saturday, September 19, 2020

May her memory be a revolution

I don't even know how to write about her. There's so much tumbling inside me that I would like to say, I can't be coherent. So I will dispense with coherence, or the expectation that I will do her giant legacy any sort of justice. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, leader of the progressive wing of the U.S. Supreme Court, died as the sun was setting last night. Someone on twitter wrote: Never have so many simultaneously typed the word "fuck." As the news spread, thousands spontaneously gathered outside the Supreme Court. The crowd, almost every person wearing masks, hauntingly sang "Amazing Grace," seeking a way to honor the Notorious RBG. I woke up this morning and the world felt infinitely more fragile, because this champion of equality and democracy and gender rights was no longer in it. Our condolences today go out not just to her family; they go out to all of America, because we have lost a woman who fought for us with her last breath—literally. In her final words, dictated to her granddaughter, she said, "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed." Battling cancer for many years, she tried to hang for a new administration, one that has not systematically demolished the rule of law, not to mention crushed any notion of human decency. But in the end she died at the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. In the Jewish tradition, a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness, which RBG surely was. They are the ones who God could not take until the last moment, because they were needed most. I think we should all now don the lace collars she wore with her robes, in appreciation of this warrior for justice, who should have been able to live her last years in peace, instead of fiercely holding together the fraying threads of our institutions and our laws. All over social media people are reposting a call to action: "May her memory be a revolution." May we be worthy as we carry her flame.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020


Naomi Osaka, the US Open tennis champion of 2020, wore different masks for every match, each one printed with the name of a victim of police violence. She later explained that she had to get to the final match so that she could wear all thirteen masks to honor the dead. This woman, who is Japanese and Haitian, and plays tennis for Japan, is the very definition of a goddess. She staged her one-woman Black Lives Matter protest with fierce talent and commitment, and she didn't speak a word until the trophy was won.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Meanwhile up north

My girl and her guy seem to be having a good time up there in Cambridge, Mass., where he is at business school and she's working remotely at her job ensuring food security. They've met lots of new people, seem to be making new friends, including other couples, even going on double dates, which in the time of covid means dinner from Chipotle while sitting on the grass. The school has a philosophy of students learning from each other, and forging bonds that might later lead to business partnerships, so it creates cohort groups, which meet up regularly outside of class. Partners are included in these gatherings. There seem to be many students who moved with their partners, most of them working remotely, like my daughter. "It's like the highly social college experience I never had, only without the classwork," my daughter texted me. Her love, like the rest of the students at the university, gets tested twice each week. Classes are also still virtual, people still mostly wear masks, but they're not exactly in a tiny bubble. "It's like a quarantine pod," is how my girl put it, "but a large one, with maybe forty people." Last night, she sent me these photos, with the text, "Date night." It feels sweet to post about this, as if the president and his crime syndicate aren't burning shit down.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Salt mines

"Eat, Your Highness."
"Everything tastes like doom," he whispered.
"Then add salt." 
—Leigh Bardugo, King of Scars

Sunday, August 30, 2020

I just love the picture

This evocative image was taken early in the morning before last Friday's March on Washington, fifty seven years after the first March on August 28, 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. told us about his dream. Folks are still out here fighting the good fight, six feet apart and masked now, but still dreaming about getting to that mountaintop, being judged by the content of our character, all of that. Photo by Omar Guinier

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Goodnight King

The losses pile up. Everyone I know was reeling last night at the news that Chadwick Boseman had died, and that he had been fighting colon cancer for the past four years. The painful press release put out by his family ricocheted around our electronic devices. We didn't know. We weren't prepared. He did amazing work between his surgeries and chemo appointments, portraying Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and the iconic Black Panther in that time. He also starred in 21 Bridges and Da5Bloods in those four years, creating a body of work most people never achieve with decades more of robust life. He understood that representation matters, and must have decided to live into his legacy in the time he had left. By all accounts, he was a kind and loving man, his smile like the sun. My cousin called him "that adorable chocolate drop of a king," and he visited children fighting cancer and brought them cheer till he couldn't anymore. He is a hero to me, as to so many who had never had a Black superhero to celebrate before. Parents of every color are sharing how their children lived in their Black Panther costumes for weeks on end, greeting everyone with "Wakanda Forever." I wrote about the resonance of Chadwick Boseman's performance in the film here and here; wrote about how at the end of a Marvel superhero movie, my husband and I sat with tears washing down our faces as the credits rolled. We felt deeply the power of that fictitious universe with Chadwick Boseman as our undisputed king. As Trevor Noah put it, "Yes, he was our king. Not because we served him or because he ruled. But because of how he served us in everything he did. He played a hero on screen and lived like one in real life. From South Carolina to South Africa, he made so many of us proud of who we are and for that, he will always be our king." Thank you for your life and your art, brother. Your legacy lives on.


Friday, August 28, 2020

Thoughts from the center of my Black self

People are clucking over how awful all the looting and rioting is, as if the looters and rioters aren't white supremacist militia members infiltrating peaceful protests to give the protests a bad name. Also, why aren't those people so disturbed by the looting and rioting equally as disturbed by police shooting and gassing and brutalizing innocent men and women?

I am trying with everything I am to hold on to love. I remember when my daughter was five years old and a girl on the school bus who had watched Mississippi Burning with her family the night before, told my girl about the KKK for the first time. My daughter came home from school that afternoon and stood in front of me, her sweet face serious. She urgently wanted me to know something. "Mommy," she said, "do you know there is a group of white people and they hate black people and they kill them? They're called the KKK. Chelsea told me." This was the face that looked up at me, except the dancing innocence was gone from her eyes.
Oh we had a conversation that day, even though I had naively thought I'd have more years before we had to have this particular talk. "Yes," I told her. "I know about the KKK." When I assured her that her dad and I would keep her and her brother safe, I quickly saw that her greater concern was whether we would be safe. Makes sense, right? How could we keep her safe if we couldn't keep ourselves safe? I said something like "We cannot allow other people's hate to stop us from living our lives. We simply have to be careful about who we choose to be around, and if it becomes clear that someone means you harm, get the hell away from them. But never let another person's hate cause you to be hateful, too, because hate is corrosive to the body." "What's corrosive?" she wanted to know. "Poison," I said. "Hate poisons the hater. Don't let other people do that to you. You hold on to your loving heart, even when you're fighting against hate." She nodded. "Okay, Mommy," she said. I was glad, then, to have sent her to a school that didn't shy away from social justice conversations, a school that was instead actively raising children who would grow up to change the world simply by the way they live their lives. 

A friend sent me this photo of the window of Shakespeare and Company at 68th Street and Broadway. There's the book I co-wrote with Linda Sarsour on the lower right. The mask is a nice touch. The book's title, a quote from Linda, is a whole mood. We Are Not Here to be Bystanders.

That's Linda in her Until Freedom shirt. She looks like a freakin super hero cause she is. She and her Until Freedom cohorts have moved from New York City to Louisville, Kentucky to fight for justice for Breonna Taylor. That's commitment. May she be safe.

By now you've heard about the 17-year-old baby Trumper who drove from Illinois to Kenosha with a long rifle and began shooting into the crowd of protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where unarmed Jacob Black was shot seven times in his back, in front of his three sons. People tried to tackle the teen with the assault rifle when he started shooting, but he ran. He tripped and fell and from the ground shot some more. He hit three people. Two are dead. Yet the murderer got up, walked away, waved at police as they rolled by and police waved back, offered him water, even though people were yelling "He's shooting people!" The shooter went home and slept the night in his bed before being arrested gently the next morning. His white privilege was a goddamned bullet proof shield. As Hannah Jones says, "No greater summary of America exists."

One of my friends posted this yesterday. It resonated so hard for me that tears spilled from my eyes. Rage and sadness. Anger and exhaustion. I imagine this is how LeBron James and Doc Rivers and all the other Black men in professional basketball were feeling when they walked out on Game Five of the playoffs on Wednesday night. Their white teammates stood in solidarity, and soon, so did the rest of the NBA, the WNBA, Major League baseball and the NFL. It was the fourth anniversary of the day Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem as the former 49ers quarterback, for which he was drummed out of football. Movement leaders are always ahead of their time, and are too often met with hostility and violence. We must protect them, mentally surround them with our love if that is all we can do. I pray the world is catching up to Colin and Linda and all the other warriors out here fighting for our very souls.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

American carnage

The man and I had an anniversary, 34 years. Our son and his love came over. The afternoon was lovely and low key. I thought I’d post pictures of us and write about the sweetness of that. But that Sunday night another unarmed black man was gratuitously shot by police. And I couldn’t form the words. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, Jacob Blake had just broken up an altercation between two women, was walking back to his car, where his three sons, ages 3, 5, and 8 were waiting for him. One of the boys had a birthday and their dad was taking them to celebrate. Someone apparently called the police about the two women fighting and when they arrived they followed Jacob to his car and shot him seven times in the back. How is an unarmed man walking away from you a threat? I think I need to take a break. I’m so inexpressibly tired of writing about black bodies being brutalized by police. It never ends. And yet I feel a responsibility to bear witness. Imagine the trauma of those three little boys? Jacob Blake lived, but the bullets severed his spine, paralyzing him. As long as I live I’ll never forget that the police bought that white boy who shot nine black worshippers in church in Charleston, South Carolina a meal from Burger King after arresting him without a scratch. Yet they pump seven bullets into the back of a father who tried to be a good citizen and break up a fight. Attempted murder in plain sight of his children. Also, the cops in Louisville, Kentucky who shot innocent unarmed EMT Breonna Taylor in her bed have still not been arrested. Fuck the police.