Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Abbe and Notta

A little history on the names: Abbe's full name is Abbe Normal and Notta's is Notta Normal, and I even got into the act as Mama P, for Para, the full name being Para Normal. We are the Normal women. Who gave us these names? Our beloved husband, father, uncle, with great affection as he watched our shenanigans, shaking his bewildered head. We have become rather fond of our monikers, and sometimes, when we're not paying attention and being our true unfettered selves, they fit us more than we like to admit. We now have a saying: "Well, that was a Normal moment." Meaning exactly the opposite, of course.


Saturday, November 26, 2011


On my virtual travels this morning, I found a list of words that are particularly difficult to translate into the English language. I was struck by how many of them I am feeling all at once, with the peculiar heart-heaviness that comes from catching someone's passing mood, denied but there all the same, its presence evident in the way it has invaded me and now lives in the area of my chest, locking my throat and making these words whisper through me, vague tendrils of sadness leaving an aura, toska, or maybe saudade, I can't tell exactly, I only know that many of these words offer as good an explanation as any for the mood that has claimed me, though to be fair I started the whole mist rolling by letting some other words jump from my lips when I should kept them trapped under a bucket. Marylinn Kelly once wrote, "Trap nasty things under a bucket and ask questions later." I should have sat down on that bucket and let the nasty thing fear kick itself out. I know you don't know what I'm talking about and that's okay. The words below say everything I cannot manage at this moment. Enjoy.

Russian – “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness.”

Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) – “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.”

Indonesian – “A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.”

Inuit – “To go outside to check if anyone is coming.”

Czech – Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, remarked that “As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.” The closest definition is a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.

Japanese – “A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement.”

Scottish – The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.

Tshiluba (Southwest Congo) – A word famous for its untranslatability, most professional translators pinpoint it as the stature of a person “who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.”

Czech – This word means to call a mobile phone and let it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money. In Spanish, the phrase for this is “Dar un toque,” or, “To give a touch.”

Brazilian Portuguese – “The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.”

German – Quite famous for its meaning that somehow other languages neglected to recognize, this refers to the feeling of pleasure derived by seeing another’s misfortune. I guess “America’s Funniest Moments of Schadenfreude” just didn’t have the same ring to it.

German – Translated literally, this word means “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.” (

Japanese – Much has been written on this Japanese concept, but in a sentence, one might be able to understand it as “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.” (

French – The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country.

Pascuense (Easter Island) – Hopefully this isn’t a word you’d need often: “the act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them.”

Danish – Its “literal” translation into English gives connotations of a warm, friendly, cozy demeanor, but it’s unlikely that these words truly capture the essence of a hyggelig; it’s likely something that must be experienced to be known—good friends, cold beer, and a warm fire.

L’appel du vide
French – “The call of the void” is this French expression’s literal translation, but more significantly it’s used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places.

Arabic – Both morbid and beautiful at once, this incantatory word means “You bury me,” a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

Spanish – While originally used to describe a mythical, spritelike entity that possesses humans and creates the feeling of awe of one’s surroundings in nature, its meaning has transitioned into referring to “the mysterious power that a work of art has to deeply move a person.” 

Portuguese – One of the most beautiful of all words, translatable or not, this word “refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.” Fado music, a type of mournful singing, relates to saudade.

Found at Consumed by Wanderlust

Friday, November 25, 2011

There Was Grace

So here's the best part. My kids told me that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday, that they look forward to it every year, that the folks who come to Thanksgiving dinner are a very cool laid-back crew and there I was thinking I was making them endure this day every year with all their old aunties and uncles and grands, although none of the grands were here this year, and this year there were as many people under 25 as there were over it, but indeed it was a laid-back, easy going, laugh fest, with me the only one a strumming nerve, cleaning up, trying to create order in the midst of enforced chaos, and then finally sitting there, watching everyone, letting it be. Dinner got onto the table as always, the food was enjoyed, and later we trooped next door to take dinner for and visit with my 93-year-old aunt and the woman who takes care of her, and then it was back home to more merriment, and even when I disappeared into my bedroom late in the night, completely overstimulated and jangled, I still loved hearing the weaving conversations and bursts and trills of laughter from the living room, the happy sound of it, the young lovers, the folks in their middle years looking on fondly and remembering back when, and the stories, everyone a storyteller, and the laughs, most of all the laughs. I fell asleep with the music of it dancing round my head. It was a good day, and my husband did the clean up, the broad strokes of it, and I awoke this morning and did the rest, the sweeping and the squaring and the ordering, and my daughter and my three nieces and the boyfriend of one had all left the house at 6 a.m. on a serious Black Friday shopping mission, and my husband went to work, and back at the ranch my three cousins and my son and I puttered and made breakfast and watched the Gray's Anatomy episode on our DVR, and I loved my son hanging with his mom and three aunts, his ease and comfort and charm and jumping to his feet to get this and that for them, and it was a calm and peaceful morning after a very hectic but sweetly memorable feast day. And now, I should get dressed as the shoppers just texted they are on their way back home. They merry-go-round is about get cranked up again.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Don't mess with Siri

I'm not so sure about the personal assistant on the newest incarnation of the iPhone, a female voice that can answer your every question or concern, including the wacky and irreverent ones 20 year old college boys can dream up. She has a personality, this Siri. She gets snarky when you provoke her. My mind is already creating the movie in which Siri becomes sentient and takes over the brain of a user, and of course, at the end of the movie we find out the user is stark staring mad, but we don't know if he started out that way or Siri drove him there. That's my son with his new phone. When he's bored, he tests Siri, and I don't think she likes it much. "Siri do you love me?" he asks. "I hardly know you," she responds archly. "What's the meaning of life, Siri?" She says,"I can't answer that now, but give me time to write a very long play in which nothing happens." "Siri, you're sexy," he teases. "I know that," Siri snaps. "Siri, I'm lonely." "There are several escort services within a ten mile radius of you. Would you like me to sort them by rating?" Really, Siri. That's my son you're talking to. In Siri, my husband and son see programming at its finest and I see all the robot movies in which machines take over and we have to fight wars to take back our world. Maybe the machines got sick of the humans poking them just to see what they could do. Siri likes to give different answers to the same question, which makes her endlessly entertaining. I wonder if she would be as entertaining if she were voiced by a man. But she's not. She's a brainy snappish woman. Don't mess with her.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Full House on Sunday

That is my husband, faithful paternal spirit to our brood, up before the rest of the house stirs, cleaning up last night's chaos and repairing the hinge of the cupboard door that came loose and planning ahead for the day. These full grown children seem content to wrap themselves in blankets and gaze at screens, phone, computer and TV screens, with a couple books thrown in there for good measure. Everyone breaks out into storytelling from time to time, laughing at the memories, leaving me laughing too, but struck by how differently we all remember the same events. My daughter is the only one who felt a little stir crazy today, so she captured a couple of the others and went on a supermarket excursion. She has to bake for cooking club tomorrow at her school. She is the club president this year, and she's increased the membership from five souls last year to 15 dedicated cooks this year. Monday cooking club meetings are serious business. You can tell by the Sunday night mixing and stirring that happens without fail. While she cooks, my niece and her sweetheart are keeping her company, everyone chatting happily at the kitchen counter, with the two of them pausing every so often to gaze into each others eyes and playfully nuzzle and tease each other and giggle in their delight. My son and his girlfriend are pretzeled on the couch, doing much the same thing. My husband and I look over their heads at each other and smile. We were them, once. It's nice to remember.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Everybody's home

They're all here for Thanksgiving week, my son and my niece home from college, his girlfriend here from England, her boyfriend here from Jamaica, and my cousin and her two daughters, and two more cousins, arriving from Maryland and Boston and Trinidad on Wednesday, all sleeping under this little roof of ours. I exhale when all my babies are home and content. And my, they all seem very content, especially the love birds.

My girl got her first quarter grades on Thursday, and they were stellar. This should help the college endeavor. Those are her boots, kicked off in the kitchen. She wrote one of her college essays about those boots, something about going places. I believe it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

ReOccupying Wall Street

Photo by Todd Heisler, New York Times

At 1 a.m on Tuesday morning, under cover of darkness, New York City cops woke the sleeping masses with foghorns and bright flashing lights and told them they had to clear out of Zuccotti Park, the birthplace two months ago of the Occupy Wall Street movement. They told the tent city of protestors that the park had to be cleaned and anything they did not take with them would be discarded. They told them that when the cleaning was done, they could come back to the park, but only during daylight hours and with no tents or shelter from the cold.

Officials had hoped the cold would have broken up the protests. They hadn't bargained on tents. And this week, they didn't bargain on the occupiers ability to adapt. "I feel like this is a beautiful moment to take back our streets, especially after the eviction," said a 27 year-old woman from Brooklyn. "We need to prove we can exist anywhere. It's gone beyond a single neighborhood. It's really an idea."

It's an idea that has taken root in the places where we hurt. By Tuesday night, occupiers were pouring back into the park. There was drumming and singing and chanting and choruses of "We Shall Overcome." Today, the protestors are holding a Day of Action, with plans to occupy, among other sites, selected subway stations. The movement is not going away. In fact, it's growing every day. 

I was talking with a woman at work yesterday, and she complained that she didn't "get" the protests. What were they trying to achieve? How would they measure success? I suggested that they had already had some success, that their overarching goal was to change the national conversation, to force the media to cover the way 99 percent of us are really living, jobless, homes foreclosed on, inadequate health care, wages insufficient to cover our human needs, our political and health care systems hijacked by the deep pockets of investment companies and insurance giants. 

She observed that the 1 percent are running businesses, and how can we expect them not to try to maximize profits? Yes, I argued, but they should pay their fair share of taxes on those profits, and underwrite health care that is conscionable at the very least. We agreed that the movement would probably continue to grow so long as the ranks of the unemployed continue to balloon in numbers. My friend said, but how do they expect to have any effect, it's so diffuse?

What about last week's elections, I asked her, in which the far right agenda took a drubbing? In Ohio, the effort to strip unions of their collective bargaining rights was defeated. Mississippi upheld a woman's right to choose. In Arizona, the senator who decided people who looked Latino could be stopped at will and asked for their legal papers, was voted out of office. And every morning on the news, I see coverage of an increasingly vibrant Occupy movement. This morning, in fact, the crowds have swelled by some 750 souls. The protestors are forcing a reckoning in the media and at the polls. And yes, I find it thrilling.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Saturday night we went to a friend's 50th birthday party and did the social thing. My husband looked very handsome in his navy blue button down with the cuffs rolled up and his forearms dark and strong, but I didn't get a picture. We enjoyed bumping into each other in the crowded room; it felt like coming back to base periodically. That's the thing when you're cruising with a partner and the two of you are good. No matter what the scene, you can have a great time just locking eyes across the room.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I saw this photo in my travels around these internets and I couldn't resist it because this was exactly the kind of typewriter I learned to type on, and went through journalism school with, a heavy iron manual from my grandparents era, whose keys you had to pound with intention. I got really fast on that thing. And the camera looked like my first one, too, the one my uncle gave me, a viewfinder model that at the time seemed ancient, but it worked. It used film that I could unspool and spend hours developing in the makeshift darkroom that doubled as a wash room under the back stairs of our house. And the lamp, even the lamp. It is identical to the one that sat on my grandfather's desk, which became my desk after he died, because he had declared I should have it. My grandfather didn't merely speak. He declared. I had been the child to sit daydreaming at his desk when we visited my grandparents in Mandeville and he had noticed. I felt so chosen to be given that desk. No, the desk in this picture looks nothing like his desk, which was a grand ship of timber, all dark polished wood, scuffed and beautifully dented, with deep and mysterious drawers. Nor does the window look like the one I gazed out of from my bedroom, sitting at that desk and watching the tall tropical grass in the field next door sway in the laconic breeze. It's not the window, not the desk, but everything else here, the threadbare books, the quality of light, the tools of creation just sitting there waiting, it all yanked me back to another time and another place, where my daydreams, it turns out, had the force of inevitability. Because here I am now, remembering.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Notes from the Weekend

Saturday, two of my daughter's friends spent the day in our home. One is a Dutch boy who joined our daughter's class in seventh grade. He used to be scared to death of my husband, who noted wryly that the boy was scared only because he knew the dad could see his thoughts. The young man did pretty well on Saturday though. I guess he's growing up.

The other friend is a young lady who lived two summers with us, my daughter and her sharing a room from which could be heard squeals of laughter and singing and dancing at all hours of the day and night when rumor had it there was academic work to be done. The girls are part of the same scholar program, but she lived too far away to get to the classes during the summers after seventh and eighth grade, so she moved in temporarily with us. We adore this girl. She is dryly ironic in a way that I absolutely love, and you heard it here first, she will go very far.

This young lady had told the young man he was mistaken about my husband, that really he was a very humorous and easygoing man. The young man decided to test her perception by visiting our daughter at home for the first time in all the years he has known her. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the kid when he accepted a glass of pomegranate juice that my husband offered and then felt that he had to finish it although he clearly hated the taste. My husband told him he could have something else, but he shook his head and swallowed that purple juice like a stalwart. The girls were rolling with laughter because they knew just what was going on. "Poor kid," my husband said to me under his breath. But the kid did okay. I loved hearing the three of them together. There was much laughing and excited teenage chatter all afternoon.

Today, my girl had her first college interview, which she said went fine and could I please stop questioning her about it because after all, it was done. After, we went to lunch at Tom's, the diner featured on Sienfeld, and then we walked across the Columbia campus because the leaves were changing and called us in. We sat on the sundial and just chatted and soaked in the crisp clear color of the day. We took a couple of what my daughter calls "selfies," pictures you take of yourself holding the camera at arms length. I must be feeling pretty good today because I'm actually posting a photo of myself. I'm just charmed to be with my beautiful daughter.

Our lovely baker is at this moment making raspberry lemon squares for cooking club tomorrow. Sunday night is baking night in our house. I'm really going to miss this. I said to her, "I really going to miss you when you go to college." She looked at me for a beat or two and then she said, "Well, that's depressing." And then we both burst out laughing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Paid-Out Ropes

Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in

Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
In their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat. And no let-up

Until he's strapped on tight, made tiltable
And raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those ones who had known him all along.

—From Human Chain 
by Seamus Heaney

Elizabeth posted this poem today, and it just sliced right through me. It made me think of Aunt Winnie, not about what others do for her now that she can no longer do for herself, but about what she did for us, the way she carried us, her brothers and her sisters and the succeeding generations of us, across oceans, down through the years, her shoulders aching with no let-up as she waited for a healing, and she's waiting still. 

All she wants now is for us to care for her last remaining child, a woman adrift in a fog of substances, who's out there somewhere, no longer being carried on her mother's now stooped shoulders. My aunt seems not quite sad about her son's passing. She seems to feel a kind of peace at the idea that she will see him soon on the other side. She won't have to leave him here, undefended. But her daughter, that's another story. 

I wish we could repay her for everything by snatching her woman child back from the pit of addiction, brushing her off and standing her up, shiny and new at her mother's bedside. I wish I could do this for my aunt before she dies. It is the only desire she has left, to know that her last living child will be saved.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"I ain't Denzel and this ain't Glory"

I opened my eyes this morning and realized that for the first time in four straight days I was free of pain. No throbbing jaw, migraine head, all over aching weakness. The sun poured in through the bedroom window and it seemed more golden than before, tangible enough to take hold of, and I swung out of bed feeling myself again, free of the dark thoughts I never whisper aloud of what might be happening inside my body. Today, I am good again.

Now, I have to get to the office, after being home for the past two days. Yesterday, the writer for the current issue's cover story was on the phone with me, with just a single day to churn out her piece, and she was overwhelmed, she was in tears, her voice shuddering, and I was flat on my bed, my jaw throbbing, trying to talk her through it, trying to help her find the arc of the story, so she could throw off all the pent up unfairness of it all, and start to write. She filed the story at 2 a.m. this morning, and I have been up since 7 a.m. doing my edit, since the piece is due to ship. The layout isn't even done yet. It's crazy the schedule we're keeping. It's no wonder we get sick. It's no wonder we cry.

But today, I feel healthy and strong. I feel like singing in a shower of sunshine. I proclaim this day newly glorious. As for the title of this post, I don't know why I wrote that and I don't know why I didn't change it given that Denzel's role in the movie Glory has only a glancing connection to this post, something to do with feeling the glory of this day combined with the way we're all being driven at work right now. Something to do with my internal Oh hell no! which I might add is a sign of a right perspective on things. It's not that deep, though. Not at this moment. I feel quite light, in fact. Let's go ship some stories.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Time it was

Had a dental extraction this morning, way in the back where no one can see. Now I'm under the covers and I can't get warm. My teeth are chattering. The girl just brought me soup and the man brought home painkillers and creamy yogurt and cooked me soft pasta. Now I am warmer. Now I am listening to Simon and Garfunkel, I saw them years and years ago in Central Park, when they were young and I was young, and I am crying a very good cry. Here are some light paintings by my daughter, taken with the Hipstamatic app that is our new diversion. That's my mom at the age my daughter is now in the second picture. The colors and texture remind me of those long ago photos. My daughter and I were wondering: Why do we crave the impressionistic in photographs? Maybe it's the way they mimic our memories.

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was 
A time of innocence, a time of confidences 
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph 
Preserve your memories

—Simon and Garfunkel

After the Marathon

Some of the gang got together to watch the New York marathon on Sunday, and the parents were there, too, because after all, we have our own gang. It's quite lovely when the two gangs, young and old, hang out together, which made Sunday a rather charmed day. Here is the young crew at dinner. I forgot to take my camera, and then winced at all the wonderful shots I was missing, so my friend Isabella took this with her iPhone and emailed it to me. Aren't our babies so grown? And yet, when they get together, these lovely teens who have been together since age 5, they revert to their usual playful puppy-like behavior, which makes their parents' gaze at them and then look at each other happily and breathe an inward Ahhhh.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Friday, November 4, 2011


Sinking under the waves, overly sensitive to imagined slights, raw and naked and hiding from the light.

I have been reading but not commenting. I hope you'll bear with me. The words are stuck, as if frozen into a solid block, refusing to arrange themselves in coherent thoughts.

A woman is on the television screen talking about corporate greed. She marched with the rest of the Occupy Wall Street protesters to Goldman Sachs yesterday. Also yesterday, the corporation I work for released third quarter earnings that were through the roof of their expectations. And yet we have not rehired a single soul since the six successive layoffs of the past five years. We are beyond cut to the bone. We are a chair with two sawed off legs, manic and hopping, about to tumble. This cannot be sustained.

Forgive the wildly mixed metaphors. And the hopping chair.

We are all on the mend from that nasty flu that blew through our house. That's something.

Here's something else. Our daughter's soccer team played their hearts out at the championship finals in the slicing cold Monday night. The two highest scoring teams in the league completely locked each other out of scoring. They took the game into double overtime, then a heart-stopping sudden death round, and still no score! God, they played hard. My daughter was fighting the flu and yet she was on the field almost the entire game, clearing that ball with her powerful defensive kick, racing to the ball, refusing any quarter. Finally, they lined up for penalty kicks. One of our kicks missed, and that was the game.

Our girls were heartbroken, but the girl who missed the kick has nothing to be ashamed of. Her game was awesomely powerful! With great admiration, my daughter calls her The Wall.

This photo was in the New York Daily News. That's my baby on the right. They saved this goal, but the photo gives you an idea of how hard each team pressed and how constantly our hearts were in our throats.

After the game, some of our daughter's teammates ran over to my husband and me and instructed us to keep her home tomorrow because she was really sick. I know she was, but she refused to not play. She refused to let her team down, and she didn't.

I did keep her home the next day. I stayed home with her and we had a wonderful cozy hidden-from-the-world day. That was definitely more than something.