Thursday, January 31, 2013

Choice in the Matter

So many things are swirling around in my brain, I may not have any luck organizing them into coherence today. But in no particular order, here goes.

1) Layoffs happened yesterday. I was not laid off but the mood was somber all through the building, as the axe fell again and again on the unsuspecting. People huddled in offices, talking in hushed tones or they kept to themselves, heads down, working. Today we begin the task of figuring out how we go on.

2) Susan Landry on her blog Pie wrote about walking all over Cornwall, England alone, and all over the South of France on another walkabout, and it sounded like the most divine adventure to me. And then I thought, as a Black woman alone on the trails, in this place or that one, would I be safe? And how I hate having this thought at all, and the way it can stunt my dreams. Because of course, I can make another choice. I think sometimes I've been in New York for too long at a stretch, immersed in the reflex of big city security, and immersed too in this racially charged political climate, at the center of it as a journalist, and I forget that some years ago I went alone to the Falkland Islands at the southernmost reaches of the globe, where no Black person had ever been seen by the few hundred residents of British colonial descent, and I walked the moors, just me and the sheep and my notebook and camera, and along the coast I wandered over broken ships from the age of sail for two weeks, reporting a story on shipwrecks, and felt perfectly safe in my skin. I need to remember this.

3) Aunt Winnie is so very old and curled in on herself now, like a rail thin contraption, folded small. At 94, robbed of her faculties by Parkinson's and perhaps also by grief, all she can do is lie there, making unintelligible sounds, most of which sound like labored puffs of air. The home attendants turn her as often as they can manage, because her skin is like tissue that disintegrates so easily if any part of it comes in contact with any other surface for too long. Uncurling her contracted fist yesterday and holding it in my own, I felt so helpless in the face of her incapacitation, the way she is locked inside herself, and even though I tell myself she is giving us all an opportunity to serve her, affording us the privilege of doing for her, I still know that if she had any choice at all in this matter, she would not endure the prison of her hospital bed a moment longer. I am sad she does not have a choice.

This photo was taken just seven short years ago. How the world can change in seven years.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Takes the Cake

We're making strides, y'all. Obama's moving on immigration, including rights for same sex partners, and moving on gun control and mental health too. One of my friends posted this fabulous letter on Facebook. I want to think it really is getting better. All of it, even the jockeying yesterday between Republicans and Democrats over who was going to get the credit for immigration reform. I'll take that sort of jockeying, even for the wrong reasons, over the alternative any day.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I recently happened across that image on my son at age 10, caught in the act of becoming. His eyes are so soft here, his contours so smooth, my tender boy. And that is the same beloved face, ten years later, more chiseled, harder, a man's face, still with the same power over my heart. I am so fascinated by the way faces evolve over the course of a lifetime, most intensely so with the faces I have known from the moment they first squinted against the light. Bear with me. I am a fond mother who simply misses her babies.

1 Degree Fahrenheit

Our youngest returned to her freshman year of college a week ago. Yesterday, she and two of her suite mates put up on Facebook a whole bunch of photos of themselves frolicking in the snow. They made me happy to see, because the girls seem to be enjoying themselves. Here's one of the girl I love.

It's so odd to raise your children, to have them coming and going from under the roof of your shared home, to be able to sense what their days are like just by seeing them, and then suddenly they live somewhere else, and you have no idea of the shape of things. So I look for clues. Like the photos of my girl and her roomies.

I was also looking through her Instagram photos, I think as a way to peer into her life away from me.  This was what she woke up to on a 1 degree day this week. I think the photo is rather cool. (Pun intended?)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Art Show

My friend, the artist Janice Movson, had a show of her work last night. I wrote about her exquisite and haunting sculptural pieces before here. She's working with larger sculptures now, and they possess such majesty. The one in front, it's mine. It was wonderful being out with my handsome husband at an art showing, chatting with friends and acquaintances and complete strangers in an elegant apartment owned by the most lovely couple on a snowy Friday night in the city. It made me feel as if I actually have a social life.

Never apologize, never explain

Hey, talk show pundits, lay off Richard Blanco and his inauguration poem. Who are you to say it wasn't a poem, just a piece of prose with line breaks. It's his poem. It's not really on you to judge its form or content, or even whether it's a good poem or not. All that is really yours to do is to decide your response to it. Whether you liked it or not is of course entirely your prerogative. But that is all. Me? I enjoyed the poem, the ideas especially.

I'm thinking this morning about the poetry group that my daughter and her five best friends were part of for five years, lasting into high school. Their so called Writer's Workshop started as an after school class in sixth grade and evolved into a poetry group meeting in their teacher's artsy-boho apartment on the Upper West Side. The group published anthologies of their work at the end of each year, attended poetry readings en masse, and held readings of their own work in libraries and parks for parents and friends. Writing poems and workshopping them within the group gave them a space in which to explore not just image and metaphor, but also what felt dangerous and aching and sweet in their young lives.

My daughter explained that their teacher, the luminous Jocelyn Casey-Whiteman, her tiny frame punctuated by clunky Doc Martens and candy red hair, had told them that when it came to their poetry, "Never apologize, never explain." That simple agreement made it possible for them to write from deep within themselves, and we, their parents, were encouraged to simply accept the poems they shared, no matter how dark, finding clues to our daughters, but sharing in the agreement never to limit what they wished to explore and bring to light.

It helped that they had each other. We knew always that they had each other, a first line of defense against the sorrows of adolescence. They could say anything to one another, and they did. I believe now that being able to test drive their more troubling emotions with one another made them more willing to share their hearts with us, too. The photo is of the Writers Workshop group, sans one member, during a reading they held in Central Park the summer after seventh grade. My girl is in the Lily Allen tee shirt and purple-framed glasses. Oh, the memories.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

91 Today

Happy Birthday 

to my beautiful Mom

and their wonderful grandma

We love you so much.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What Obtains

Tomorrow is my mom's 91st birthday. And I am not there. I want to be with her, but I also seem to be straightjacketed by a kind of inertia, a mystifying inability to make the decision, book the flight, pack a weekend bag, go to the airport, get there. I get stopped by the money, even though I tell myself it's only money, and money can't compare to being in the company of your mother on her 91st birthday. But the truth is, I don't have the money. And then I think about the layoffs coming at my job, "the largest in memory" according to the newspaper article that reported on it a week ago, causing a flurry of forwarded emails in the office and nervous speculation in corners. I worry about being away from my post when the pink slips rain down. But really, would visiting my mother be the deal breaker, the thing that caused them to fire me? I'm either already on that list or I've escaped one more time. Taking time off the go see my mother has no bearing. And yet here I am, the day before her birthday, and clearly I won't be there. I will be here, feeling guilty and castigating myself for not moving the little anthills that needed moving in order for me to get there. And she will be in her chair, looking out at the hills and making excuses for me. And all of it just makes me want to put my head down on my desk and curse my inertia and lack of imagination and cry.

Let me say instead I loved President Obama's inauguration speech, especially his invoking Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, and all that signified about where he is putting his attention in his second term. We watched the pomp and ceremony from our living room with friends, over tea and three kinds of scones that my husband made: vanilla raisin, parmesan shallot, and cheddar jalapeno. I watched all day into the evening, even after our friends left and my husband had gone in to bed. I watched the Obamas dance and sing to each other, the First Lady resplendent in red, the President gallant and more comfortable in her arms than at any other point during that day, and then they exited stage left, their obligations discharged, finally able to go home and really celebrate with the family, and each other, before the new day dawned, and it was just business as usual, with the red-staters chiming no at every turn, and the second term president finally understanding that they will not work with him, they will never work with him, he will need to work around them. I like the new set of his jaw.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday morning

I sat on my bed this morning feeling the weight of all the sorrow people hold. Mary saying goodbye to her mother this week. Nancy setting down the memory of what was happening each day of this month in the year her daughter died. Kimberly missing her sister who left this earth so suddenly. Hearts breaking everywhere. What right do I have to feel so heart heavy at my daughter leaving again, at missing her and missing my son, who left weeks ago. Their lives are calling them to have experiences and challenges, to dream and grow, and this is a good thing. My sadness is not what you would call a proportional response. So I'm having trouble writing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Snow last night

After waking to that dusting of snow on the ground, I found it harder than ever to get out of my house and into the world today. It doesn't help that in three more days my daughter will be going back to school. I'd rather spend the day roaming with her as she looks for "chef shoes" and snow boots and industrial-sized cartons of ramen noodles and everything else she needs to set herself up for the new semester. That rather cool-looking iron teapot is my husband's. He takes the ritual of tea very seriously. I'm a coffee drinker myself, preferably Blue Mountain instant, with condensed milk stirred in. A hot coffee-flavored morning milkshake is what that really is.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

At least by us

Writing this sort of blog is such a dual experience, because I feel so healed when I find my own truth in other people's words, but I have to make sure that when the opposite occurs, when another's truth is not my own, that I don't abandon my truth, or feel as if I have no right to put it out there because it may offend, disappoint or leave others thinking less of me. Many of us here think so little of ourselves already, our membranes are so permeable, it's part of why we write, to find the edges, to color ourselves in. I think those of us engaged in this endeavor are writing ourselves into being in some sense, we are trying so hard to impose order within the tornado of emotion, the dark fearful thoughts and dangerous incandescent love that have their way with us daily. And we need to be careful, even as we pour our secret selves into the arms of the universe, that we allow our hard won truths to stand without being judged, at least by us. And perhaps also by each other.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Silver Linings

Yesterday my daughter and I did one of our city wanders, stopping in a cafe and talking for a long time over almond cappuccinos and apple tarte tartins, watching twilight become night on the Upper West Side, releasing the days upon days of being social into the undemanding comfort of each other's company, laughing, reflecting, being. Then we decided to go and see Silver Linings Playbook, but got to the multiplex early and slipped in to see the start of Zero Dark Thirty while we waited. They are two such different movies. They almost don't exist in the same universe. We had planned to go back and see the end of Zero Dark Thirty (a very dark tale), but were in such a good mood after Silver Linings Playbook (with its circle of misfits who find one another and the idea that there is someone out there who will love you just as you are) that we decided to save the extreme interrogation history lesson for another day. We left the movie theater around ten p.m. and stopped in at the gourmet market across the street, stocking up on berries and panini fixings and a couple of fancy items never seen in our neighborhood stores.

Back home, my husband had finished watching the NFL playoff games and was painstakingly unwinding the lights on the Christmas tree. He had made a hearty soup of lentils and leftovers, which we tucked into gratefully. Then my girl and I watched Downton Abbey, then the season two premiere of Girls, and finally continued with Prison Break, the Netflix series in which we are currently engrossed. By the end of the evening we had watched just about every film genre other than sci fi. Throughout we chatted about life things with my husband, who was busy packing up the Christmas tree lights and decorations for another year. It was an animated and free-ranging conversation, roaming from my husband recounting Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's observations about affirmative action shared on 60 Minutes that evening, to comparing our childhoods in the islands and first jobs, to laughing over the story of how we met, prodded for new details by our daughter, who has apparently grown up enough to find the story of her parents meeting to be quirky and interesting, no doubt because she now has a meet-cute story of her own. We did miss seeing the Golden Globes, which I gather were more entertaining than usual with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler spot-on as cohosts. I also gather that Homeland took home top honors in the TV drama and acting categories, despite the implausibilities that people grumbled about in the last few episodes of season two. I was glad for the cast, who really did act their hearts out all season long. The photo here isn't great, it's poorly exposed and grainy but who cares, because the girl is beloved and the day was enchanted.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Slow Motion

That stretch of sidewalk, right there. It's where I fell last night in the rain. It was past seven and my mind was preoccupied with a change to a story that had been asked for just before I left work, a change that didn't make sense to me, and I wasn't paying attention to how I placed my feet. My right clog twisted to the side as it came down, throwing me off balance. I tried to correct, stiffening and swiveling, but realized very quickly that to fight gravity would only cause greater injury, so I let go, loosened every muscle and let myself fall splat onto the wet sidewalk, it seemed like I was falling forever, rainwater soaking my clothes, my legs splayed out like a child in a sandbox.

People kept walking by under their umbrellas, which to me was a mercy, my dignity sorely bruised, my right knee and thigh too. As I sat there for a beat, contemplating the most graceful way to push myself up from that wet ground, a hand appeared, small and mapped with raised blue veins, and beyond it the kind face of an older woman, maybe in her seventies. "Are you okay?"she said worriedly. "Here, take my hand." I didn't dare. She was small and bird like and I would have pulled her down with me. "Thank you," I said, rushing now to stand and spare her any further concern. "I'm okay, I'm okay."

Another hand came into view, held out by a man, also elderly, somewhat older than the woman. These were the two Samaritans who noticed me sitting there on the sidewalk and came to my aid. His hand looked steadier, and I was halfway up by then, so I touched his fingers briefly to orient myself as I thanked him too. The older lady bent to pick up my purse, and handed it to me, peering into my face, her brow creased. I smiled bravely and assured them both I was fine, I really truly was, and I thanked them again, and watched them go off in separate directions, realizing they weren't a couple as I had assumed, just two older people who probably understood the ways in which the body can betray you in a moment when you're not paying enough attention.

I limped off into the rainy night, on the lookout for a cab home. Once inside, the meter ticking, I allowed myself to survey the damage, to tune in to the places that were sore. Not too bad, all things considered, but still I felt sorry for myself, just a bit. I texted my son, the one who knows how bones and muscles and tendons and nerves all travel together. I told his voice mail I had fallen and he called me back at once, and somehow, hearing him on the other end of the line, asking me measured diagnostic questions, instructing me what to look out for, lecturing me to go back to physical therapy, telling me he loves me, I knew I really was okay.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Run to the Roundhouse, Nellie

You'll find all the deliciousness Susan T. Landry and Melissa Shook have put together here.  It's an online literary journal of memoir. Lives examined. A short vignette of mine is in The Roundhouse too, writing to the prompt "Hometown." And here, you'll find an explanation of the concept or maybe it's really a call. There's so much to chew on, savor, delight in, learn. I'm thrilled to be in such company and can't wait to see what's ahead. Self portraits, such as this one by artist Alexa Grace, are also featured because surely the way we present ourselves visually is a rich memoir, too.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In this life together

"Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh?" he whispered. "Yes, Piglet?"
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand. "I just wanted to be sure of you.” 
―A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The Men

I love watching the relationship between my husband and my son. They have such an easy and loving camaraderie, at this point, a friendship, yet my son has great respect for his dad and my husband has great respect for his son. I am so glad my son had his dad growing up. I think if it had been just me parenting him, I might have gone all kinds of wrong, the two of us pushing each others buttons and jockeying to be right all day long. My husband had the ability to step in and say, "You two, cut it out." Just that, but it was enough. It helped us come back to ourselves. Sometimes in the teen years my husband would intervene to tell our son, "Don't speak to your mother in that tone." Other times he would take me aside and quietly explain how a thing looked from where our son stood. Last night, my husband and now grown son were side by side absorbed in reading on their Kindle Fires. I raised my phone and snapped a photo and they didn't even stir.

Monday, January 7, 2013


That was me, once. And in twenty more years, I will run a photo of myself taken today and I will say, That was me, once. Why does it take twenty years to appreciate the way we once were? Why can't we see ourselves with those future eyes, tender and forgiving, today? I look like my mother as a young woman in this photo. Now, when I look in the mirror the visage I see is my father's. Funny how we change through the years and how long it takes to grow comfortable with each new face we wear. Some of us manage better than others, I presume, or is this struggle fairly universal?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cubby's Emotional Bank

Many years ago a woman who was doing a communication workshop at a retreat held by the magazine I worked for, posed this question: "Ever notice how one coworker will mess something up and instead of getting upset or exasperated, you're calm and generous, helping them clean up the mess? But then another coworker will mess up in a similar way and suddenly you're extremely annoyed? What's going on?"

What's going on, she went on to explain, is that coworker number one has been making regular deposits into your emotional bank account and so when coworker number one has to make a withdrawal, there is already a cushion of goodwill to drawn on. Coworker number two, on the other hand, has made no deposits, she never steps up to help with anything, never talks companionably or offers a kindness, doesn't honor her commitments or appreciate your efforts or otherwise engage in a positive relationship with you. So when she draws down on your emotional bank account she's immediately overdrawn and you're pissed!

I never forgot this woman's analogy. It was based on the insights of Steven R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a book I have never actually read. This woman had dubbed her version of the bank "Cubby's Emotional Bank" to make it more idiosyncratic and relatable. It made so much sense to me. And even though she was giving us this little metaphor in a workplace context, I was struck by how well it applies in every sphere of human interaction. When my children were growing up, I consciously tried to teach them the concept of Cubby's Emotional Bank, to encourage them to always be looking for ways to make deposits in other people's accounts, acting with empathy and integrity in all their relationships. I tried to explain there will always be days when we need to make a withdrawal and we want to do our best day in day out to make sure we're not overdrawn. There is never any guarantee about the other person's response, of course, but the idea of emotional bank accounts is still a pretty good guide.

I was thinking about this last night when a cousin told me how ticked off she was to have to clean up after her son's girlfriend. She told me this right after telling me how little interaction she had with this young lady, how she could find no avenue to getting to know her better despite the fact that her son had been seeing her for some years. She was feeling as if this young woman had willfully shut her out. So when she complained about the mess this young woman had left in her kitchen, I reflected, "It wouldn't be such a big deal if she'd been making regular deposits into your emotional bank." My cousin, who is a therapist, knew at once what I meant. But it got me thinking.

Here in this place, this virtual table we sit companionably around, we are making deposits all the time, in comments, in posts, in reaching across the table simply to say, I'm here, or maybe even, I have walked this walk and I will bear witness with you. How powerful that is, to have a place where we can go and write our truth as closely as we can manage it and have a community of souls who do their best to understand. And when I need to make withdrawals, when I get too cranky or moody or opinionated, too busy or distracted or life-confused to post or comment, they mostly hold on till I can get it together and find my way back. No wonder I cannot stop coming here! So thank you, dear friends who read here. I have been thinking about each one of you today, and I am so very grateful you are here.

Winter Break

My son is away for the weekend. He comes back on Tuesday for an overnight turnaround, then drives up on Wednesday with two of his housemates for his final semester of college. My girl, who has spent the day re-reading Harry Potter and becoming one with the couch, will join a gathering of high school friends tomorrow evening, and the next day she will hang with her other crew, the soul cluster she started this whole peer-relationships journey with when she was four. Truthfully, I could sit and gaze at these two all day long. I never grow tired of it. These days, I just stalk them with my camera and watch them creepily while they're sleeping.

This was the sweet sibling goodbye yesterday.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Loose ends

Found that photo on Facebook. I don't know who drew the face or where, though it looks like the work of an artist in the island where I was born. Very clever, that artist. I am at loose ends today. There are so many things I need to do, so many more things I could do, and I am inspired to do none of them. The mistake was in getting dressed. I should have lounged in my sleep clothes all afternoon, with the effort of a shower between me and the outdoors, and then I would have been content to curl up and watch a movie or read, and let the day float aimlessly by. Instead I am now freshly laundered and itching to do something useful with my day before it turns to evening. What an extravagance, a whole afternoon all mine to do with as I please, and I cannot quite decide what pleases me. My son left this morning, all shaved and trimmed and GQ'ed, to spend the weekend in another town with a young woman. And her family. Talk about blowing up his privacy. As long as I am torpedoing people's privacy, my daughter and her boyfriend have built a tent out of old comforters in the middle of the living room. Giggling like four year olds they lined it with cushions and are now reclined within, watching a movie. Now that's a good use of a Saturday.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The not knowing

I am sad this morning. I know the feeling so intimately, it comes in cycles, rising to make itself felt, dipping away again, hiding out for a while. It is gray outside. A gray outside Friday morning, dark inside my house, my children still asleep, my husband already gone to work, and I sit here trying to touch the sadness, to hold it close and make it my friend. I am tired of fighting the sadness, tired of trying to make it a stranger who arrives uninvited. This sadness lives in me. It is mine to embrace when to rises into view, mine to welcome as a guest who comes to tell me that there are things that matter deeply, and of course you will be sad when you have to say goodbye to your children yet again. This is your life now. They come and then they go again. You wrap them in your arms while they are near and you wrap them in your petitions when they go. My son is here for one more day. He leaves tomorrow to spend the weekend with a friend. Then he is back for less than a day before he leaves again for his final semester of college. After that, who knows? We will see.

And that is another thing I will no longer do battle with: the not knowing. I am endeavoring to become comfortable with not knowing what comes next, with letting events unfold and trusting I will be able to manage, not fearing the blindside. Trusting my husband and my children to manage too. Trusting them not to be broken by sadness or made fearful by change or unmoored by joy, trusting myself and trusting them to hold nothing back and not resist the unforeseen. When in my life did I decide that the unforeseen was dangerous? Such goodness and possibility comes around that corner, too.

This year, no matter the rise and fall of the wheel, no matter the sad days and the welcome and unwelcome surprises and the incessant whir of my brain, I am going to dare to let down my guard, knowing that there is nothing one can fully prepare for ahead of time, you just do your best and keep on living. I am so exhausted from bracing all the time for the worst I can imagine. The worst never comes. Because whatever comes, we don't spend time evaluating whether this is the worst of it, or even whether this is the best of it. Instead, we square our feet and get busy living it. There is no other way.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Alicia the Beautiful

“There is no exquisite beauty…without 
some strangeness in the proportion.” 

—Edgar Allen Poe

Still Here

First day back at work. My defenses must be shot because the things I am usually fairly inured to are strumming my last nerve. Pet peeve:

Coworkers who complain about all they have to do when in fact almost everyone around them has as much to get done, and one who can't let go of how the writer of a story in the last issue acted like such a prima donna and wanted to re-edit the edit of her story and she's still so pissed about that and she's going to talk to someone up high about how that went down. I just want to scream get over it. Some writers are prima donnas. Some editors are too.

Well, don't I sound put upon today? Compounding matters is the fact that I am in denial that I am back at work on the second day of the year 2013 and how on earth did we get to 2013 already?

Had a nice little break though. And yesterday, twenty seven of us sat shoulder to shoulder around three tables joined end to end for a New Year's day meal. At one end were the young people, at the other end were the older folks, and it felt like a communion of souls, all of us happy to be welcomed at that table among generations of old and new friends.

Happy New Year, my friends. Or as Ms. Moon might say, Happy Wednesday.