Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hidden worlds

Isn't this a stunning photograph by Corey K. of Union Theological Seminary, with the spire of Riverside Church behind it? I live among such beautiful buildings in my neighborhood. This image probably speaks to me right now because I am having a quiet crisis of faith. I am not a particularly religious person. My favorite part of any church service is the singing because the way a congregation of voices weaves and vibrates feels like prayer to me. But I do believe in God and the human spirit. I do not say it out loud very often, because it sounds like blasphemy to some and I'm not interested in proselytizing or convincing people of anything, but I believe God is the spirit inside us, expressed in how we treat each other, most present when we are being loving. As for that heaven in the sky, I have no idea. I would like to think that what I learned in science class is so, that energy cannot be destroyed, and there is a realm where I will be reunited with my loved ones who have passed on, but who knows? Since I don't, I choose to think my father, who died seventeen years ago this month, is watching over me. And if it's all fantasy, I won't be any the wiser when I'm gone. But this isn't what my crisis of faith is about. The challenge I am having is in loving myself. My self-talk is so unforgivably harsh, I feel so wrong, and as a therapist noted in a story I was editing yesterday, "When you fail to accept yourself, you accept that others won't accept you too." I sometimes play with the idea that our universe is plastic, that it mirrors back to me whatever I send out, and arranges itself roughly according to what I believe to be true. If this is so, then I need to get busy changing my beliefs about myself right quick, because it feels as if the universe is kicking my proverbial behind. It's not really visible to other people. It's all happening in the world inside me, challenging me to confront myself, to be so much kinder to myself, to heal the places that hurt. All my life I have depended on the world to give me back a vision of myself I can live with, that I can embrace, and now it turns out that this is a trick I will have to master and perform for myself.

Monday, February 25, 2013

My Beautiful Girl

I am remembering that when my youngest was five, she drew me a Mother's Day card and on the front she wrote the words, "Mama you were a hard mom to get before I was born" and inside she wrote "but God let me have you." She had cut out a red paper heart and pasted it inside, sprung on accordion folded construction paper. I keep that card in the drawer next to my bed, right by where I rest my head each night. I looked at that card last evening, smiling over her childish scrawl, the stick figures of a woman and child on the front, the triangle skirts telling gender, hands joined with no beginning and end, me and my beautiful girl.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

States, Day Two

So, I'll cut to the chase.

Our son came out of the gate ready to compete on Saturday morning, buoyed by his performance in high jump the day before. Right out the blocks he blew past the field in the 60 meter hurdles, crossing the finish line first. Then in pole vault he set a new meet record, finishing second behind his teammate Alec, who is also his housemate, training partner and one of his closest friends. (People joke that they're like an old married couple at this point, they're so often together.)

With one event left to go in the meet—the heptathlon's 1,000 meter race—the standings overall were close, with our son's school just a few points behind in second place. His track team had not won states in a dozen years. Everyone was coming up to our son and telling him that the win depended on his performance in his final race. Alec was expected to place first in the 1,000 meter, but even that wouldn't put them over the top. Our son also had to place higher than a certain runner on the first place team, and with a time that was 4 seconds faster than he had ever posted in competition, and one second faster than he'd ever run that distance. His coach said, "All I want from you, son, is a 2 minute and 57 second race. Run a 2.57 and we win it all."

Our son dislikes the 1,000 meter race; he finds it excruciating after two days of non-stop competition in six other events. And now his team's victory depended on how he ran it. From the stands we had seen the huddle over by the locker rooms, and then watched as our son sprinted over to us. He said, "Well it all comes down to me, apparently. Talk about pressure." The funny thing was, he didn't seem stressed, he seemed resolved and even kind of exhilarated. He said, "Well, I know what I have to do. Less than three minutes of my life."

You can guess what happened. He ran a beautiful race, accelerating on the fifth and final lap to pass several other runners, crossing the finish line at 2:51. His teammate won first place, as was expected. The final tally was razor close but his school won victory by five points. Of course, the win was the result of everyone's efforts. Our son's points in that final race would have meant nothing if the rest of the team hadn't done what they needed to do over the course of the two-day meet.

Still, it was a moment. At first, when our son finished the race and collapsed on the track, we weren't sure if he'd posted the time he needed, but we did know he ran with his whole heart. Then we saw the coach pull him up from the ground and swing him in the air and all his teammates hugging him and cheering. And that's when he knew he'd done it. He said the coach said to him, "I only asked you for 2:57!" Apparently improving one's record by 7 whole seconds in a single race is a huge accomplishment! Our boy was pumped! In the photo below, taken just as he started to accelerate, he seems to be smiling, as if sure he's going to do what's necessary.

My husband later commented that the coach knows our son well. He knew to ask him to run a better race than he had ever run in his life for the benefit of the team, not for himself. He knew that doing it for the team would be more meaningful for our son. I was so glad that his father, mother and sister were all there to see him come through.

The senior trackies

States, Day One

It was a thrilling weekend! We drove north to see our son compete in heptathlon for the New York State Collegiate Track Conference Indoor Championship. The meet was conveniently held at his college's two-year-old super duper athletic facility, and the State swim championships were also being held there this weekend. Conveniently, both my children go to college in the same town, so we could spend time with both on this one visit.

As a heptathlete, my son competes in seven events: the 6o meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump on day one; and on day two, 60 meter hurdles, pole vault, and the final 1,000 meter race. Heptathletes generally have mastery in three or four events and stronger than average skills in (most of) the rest. They aim to turn in decent performances in their weaker events, with their strong events boosting their overall score. Our son's best events are hurdles, high jump and pole vault. While most of the team sits out most of the two-day meet, waiting for a single event or two, my son and the team's other heptathlete are on the field all the time, competing in one event after the other, with 30 minute breaks in between. So if you're there to watch them in particular, you're fully engaged the whole way through.

Our son had had that awful puking flu earlier in the week and wasn't even sure he would be able to compete. I didn't write about my anxiety over this earlier because this blog was just getting to be too much bad news, and after a day of puking his guts out, it was clear he was on the mend. But this meant he was still feeling weak and headachy as he began his events on Friday morning. He equaled his PR (personal record) in the 60 meter race, but was less than happy with his showing in long jump. We could see he was wound tight, and I knew he was over thinking things. He didn't equal or even come close to his PR.

Next was shot put. I had never before seen him perform in shot put, and I was mesmerized. The movements to set up the throw are like a precisely choreographed ballet spin, and he was so perfectly graceful, his form and motion exquisite to my eye. He threw decently enough, but not what he wanted, as he was now trying to make up for low scores in the previous event.

After shot put, he ran up into the stands to greet us for the first time since our arrival, sitting between us for a while, our arms around his back. He said, "I'm sorry you have to see me turn in such a crap performance." We told him it didn't matter, it was just great to be able to see him perform. I really meant that. I didn't care much what scores he posted, I loved just watching him. But of course, he wanted more, maybe especially because we were there.

The next event was high jump, which he has been doing since high school. He left us and went to the locker room to get ready, and when he emerged, he had his headphones on, and he was walking with a distinct loose limbed swagger, bouncing a little to the music, his head nodding, his shoulders dipping side to side with each step. His dad and I looked at each other and smiled. We saw at once that he was feeling altogether better about this event. He warmed up and did his practice jumps and sprints. Again I marveled at his grace, the way he runs on his toes, seeming never to touch the ground.

Once the event officially began, he came into the stands and sat with us for a while, as he wasn't due to start jumping until the bar reached a little under six-feet. By the time he started jumping, much of the field had already been eliminated. Clearly he was in the flow. He kept clearing the bar until he had equaled his PR and out jumped the entire field, which greatly boosted his overall score and put him in a much better place going into day two.

We bade him good night as he and his team as they were supposed to have a pasta dinner together and debrief on the day's events. The adrenaline rush of the high jump round had done at lot to bring him back from the land of the sick, but he wanted to conserve his energy for day two, which would begin bright and early on Saturday morning.

After leaving the athletic center, we drove to pick up our daughter who was in her dorm across town at the college on the other hill. She had had classes and then a job interview that afternoon with the head chef of the highly rated Tuscan restaurant that is attached to her school. She got the job, but didn't let us get too excited about it. She said, "Calm down, Ma. I got this job the day they admitted me to the school. They hardly ever say no to students who want to work there because the whole kitchen is staffed by students. They need hands." On the other hand, the chef decided to start her at a higher wage because she had that internship at the Italian restaurant in Soho last year, and because he was impressed that she had spent a summer immersed in slow food cooking in Italy. So yeah, I'm excited for her. She's had her eye on a culinary position since she got to the school (she worked in banquets last semester) and Banfi's is the top of the line there.

Overall, it was a wonderful day to be the parents of these two. Well, truthfully, every day is that, even the crazy making ones. But here's the thing. Day two was even better. We had our daughter with us for the entire day in the stands, and we were all there to witness an unexpected highlight in our son's athletic career.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


My cousin Helen called me this morning early, while I was still in bed, my mind roaming over the day, wondering how I would meet it. I never answer the phone to numbers I do not recognize, and I did not recognize her number right away, because we seldom speak by phone. And yet I picked up the receiver. She said, "There you are! I was doing my morning meditation and my spirit was yelling at me to call you. What's going on, woman? Why is your heart so heavy?" Her voice was like bells, or hundreds of flashbulbs popping in a sunny sky, altogether too bright and cheery for me at that early hour. But I stayed on the phone, because this was Helen, whom I love. I said drearily, "Oh, Helen, my brain won't shut up." She laughed. She laughed. Said, "I know, girl, that cognitive brain, it just spins stories incessently. But if you could see your light you would see the great joke of the stories you're telling yourself right now." Helen talks like this. The bells started to sound a little like distant music and I began to believe that she was calling to drag me out of the morass I have been in.

Helen, a life coach, is doing a retreat in Jamaica in two weeks, at a beautiful estate in the hills above Kingston and she says she has one spot left, and she knows it is mine. She didn't push or do the hard sell. She just reminded me that when I'd seen the call out on Facebook, I had responded at once, that it had spoken to my spirit. I told her that I couldn't go because of the extra work that had fallen onto my desk in the wake of layoffs at my job. And I said, if I go to Jamaica, I can't spend three days of six in the hills. I'd need to spend them with my mom. She said she understood, the choice was mine, but that I would be more present with my mom after the retreat, just saying. She left it that, told me to think about it. And I am. 

I think I will go. At the very least, I will go to Jamaica that week to see my mom. We'll see whether I can swing the cost of the retreat as well. I am going in to the office today to figure it out, to let them know we're going to have to make some other arrangement for that week, maybe close the big stories earlier. So while I am still adrift with a free-floating something, I am not hopeless. I am willing to entertain that this may just be the old chemistry I do battle with, my stuttering cognitive brain. That's Helen in all her glory. She was about to do a TV segment. She reminds me of something I read yesterday: "Women help each other belong to themselves." (Some men can perform that magic, too.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Photo by Leslie Gartrell

"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face...You must do the thing you think you cannot do." 

—Eleanor Roosevelt

The things I fear

I dare not say them though at this moment I feel raked through and utterly hollowed out by them. As if they are real.

The things I need. They are simple, really, but elusive. This is not life, necessarily, but this is my life.

I called my sometime therapist who moved one state away, thinking to take the bus out to see her tonight, but she is out of the office on a project this week.

So I sit in my house alone this morning, the tears coming down, almost a surprise.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Riding out the day

I am in that mood that sometimes claims me, lonely and abject and liable to start needling and provoking in a wrong headed bid for reassurance that I am not the wretched soul it feels to me that I am in this moment. This mood, the one that sits in my chest choking off my air, originates within me, not without, and so I alone am responsible for containing it, riding it out. I have let it run amok before, unleashed upon those in closest proximity, with disastrous results. So I am trying to stay conscious this time, to manage it, rock with it, let it leak away.

I called my friend. I told her just how I am feeling, how this mood has caused me problems in the past, problems that remained long after the mood, the abject miserable piteous self-loathing, had run its course, leaving in its wake new and concrete reasons for pain. She said, Well it's good that you recognize what you are feeling and maybe you should write it out to help you get beyond it sooner. So I am. I am writing it out.

Riding it out in that way.


It was a good weekend, sitting next to Aunt Maisy's bed, visiting with all her visitors, ten or more of us in the hospital room at a time, talking and laughing, the mood paradoxically sad and festive, taking turns holding her hand. Her son was in full military uniform as he was due to report for deployment on Saturday night, but got it put back by another day, so that he didn't leave until Sunday. Relatives had driven down from other cities to see her. Her nephew who attends college in Washington D.C. was there. I was there. She gazed at her daughter with a kind of radiance in her eyes and said, "Look at all the people who love me." And she kept saying, "It went very well." The phone calls from other places kept coming in, and again and again, Aunt Maisy told her callers in a raspy whisper, "Everything went well. Everything went so very well," and after a while, I realized she was talking about her life.

Sense Memory

On Valentines Day, my love made me lobster and many kinds of crunchy vegetables, there were also three kinds of caviar and lots of wine. I walked into our home after work, red tulips in my arms, and found him concentrating in our kitchen, a labor of love, for me. Then last night, when I arrived home in the deep of night, a frigid wind whipping the city, pedestrians scurrying to escape its sting, he was there, parked two cars in front of where the bus from D.C. came in, waiting. It had been a long day, emotionally wrought, and when I saw his so familiar silhouette in our old brown jeep, I was immediately lifted. I wanted to rush over and shower him with kisses. He had brought me rice crackers to tide me over till we got home. Sitting beside my aunt's hospital bed earlier I had forgotten to eat all day, and traveling back on the overheated bus I had begun to feel dizzy.

I wanted to save this letter John Steinbeck wrote to his son Thom about falling in love. I found it over at dkb's blog, and think she will forgive my copying it here. It speaks to romantic love, the way it feels at first blush, which in the best of all scenarios returns again and again as sense memory.


New York City
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Bus Ride

I am on a bus to Washington DC to see my Aunt Maisy who may be actively dying. My cousin was on the phone weeping last night so I said, "I'm coming." She said softly and simply, "Thank you," so I know it was the right thing. Knowing that my cousins may be losing their mother soon has me sad, of course it does, but the feeling that is most salient at this moment is the overwhelming privilege of having been able to know and love and be loved by such a soul as my Aunt Maisy. So you may not want to read this sadness today or some day not too long from now but this is what I need to write as I sit here on this bus today, grateful I will get to kiss her cheek a few more times.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


My son's body can do this.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pitching Popcorn

The West End is a burger and beer-soaked bar in my neighborhood. It is one of the few establishments that has lasted since my own college days until now. The drinking age was 18 when I went to college, so my friends and I spent a lot of time in this bar, not necessarily drinking but pitching kernels of popcorn into the bell-shaped sconces, at the time the usual sport. I was sometimes lonely at that age, my poor heart insufficiently protected, yet I often feel nostalgic for that time, and just the teeniest bit envious of my children, who are in the thick of it now, those lit-up days when—if you're lucky, and I was—your bills are mostly paid by someone else, and all you really have to do is feed requisite knowledge to your brain and choose from a raft of activities to involve yourself in, all within the context of a four-year sleepover with people who may one day be your life's most faithful friends. The twist? We never understand quite how remarkable are the days we're living at the time we're living them. The same holds true even now, because when I am tempted to think of the rapture and misery of those nakedly felt years as the best of times, I remember that I didn't yet know the man I would love, and I hadn't yet met our children, and I know that indeed, life held even greater riches in store.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My West Wing Jones

So I am now watching The West Wing, still in season one, and I think I missed my calling. I want to work in The White House! I would have been a crack speechwriter for President Bartlet. I looooove this show. I didn't watch it when it was on television, and when I first started streaming it on Netflix, its 1999 vintage was a little blurry to this eye that had become so used to high definition on my sweet little Kindle Fire (and, no, neither Netflix nor the makers of the Kindle Fire are paying me a dime in promotion fees, though by God, they should). But by three shows in, the action appeared as hi def as anything I've ever watched, either because the technology had caught up, or because I was already so hooked on the drama, the camaraderie, the moral conundrums, the characters. Most fascinating to me is how contemporary the issues are—gun control, stimulus packages, overreach of federal power, terrorism events, bickering congressmen, political threats and deal-making, super storms, all of it seemingly ripped from today's headlines, yet the show originally aired more than a decade ago! Were the writers so prescient or has so little changed? In any case, there are seven delicious seasons, almost two hundred shows in all. I have found my next curl-up-and-escape jones for sure.

Monday, February 11, 2013


"They laughed until they cried."

Swiped from Facebook

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Day by Day

Clockwise from left, Fay, Beulah, Grace, Maisy, Gloria and Winnie on September 7, 2010

Aunt Grace was taken to the hospital this afternoon. She has infected fluid around the lungs and heart and is resting, not particularly comfortably. But she is being treated with antibiotics and anti inflammatories and is being monitored by my sister-in-law, a cardiologist. I just spoke with her.

I called my mom and updated her, because no one else had told her anything more than that Aunt Grace has the flu. Yesterday she complained to me that her sisters were trying to minimize how serious everyone's illnesses are. She said, "I am not a child or an idiot who has to be protected from the truth. Of course I'm going to worry if someone is in the hospital and of course I am going to be sad if a loved one dies, but we are all in the departure lounge now, and we have had long and good lives, so this is how it is."

In Virginia, my cousins thought Aunt Maisy would die last night, so labored was her breathing. She, too, has a lung infection, which the nurses treated all afternoon and evening, while several of my cousins who live in the area, and many of their friends gathered in Aunt Maisy's hospital room, about a dozen souls in all, singing to her, reading her favorite verses, and laughing at family jokes and generally being festive around her. My cousin Karen said her mom would periodically open her eyes and see that someone else had joined them, and she would brighten for a moment and then drift off again.

My mom called them in the midst of this, and told Karen to instruct her mom that she was not allowed to "usurp" her position. My mom said, "Tell Maisy she is third in line and she is not allowed to go before Winnie or me. That is the rule." To which my other cousin Helen said, "But Aunt Gloria, of all the sisters, who is the one most likely to flaunt the rules?" They all had a good laugh over that, because Aunt Maisy has indeed always been the rebel rule-breaker.

Helen, who is an intuitive healer, leaned over Aunt Maisy at one point and said to her, "Aunt Maisy, you do whatever it is you want to do. If you want to stay here for a while longer, we will be so happy for the time with you, but if you want to go, you know that there are many others waiting to welcome you. So do what you want. We will be okay."

Around midnight, the breathing treatments seemed to be starting to work, and the loud wheezing that had punctuated the afternoon began to grow softer and Aunt Maisy's breaths easier. One by one the group took their leave, except Aunt Maisy's son, who stayed the night in the recliner next to her bed. This morning, Aunt Maisy looked much brighter. She opened her eyes and said to her son, "Well, what a party we had here last night!"

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Snow and Change

New Yorker quote of the morning: "Everyone was worried about this great big storm, remembering Sandy. This? This is nothing. Two years ago we had a lot worse than this on a weekly basis. Life goes on." It's true. The so-called monster storm that hit the city last night was just another snowfall, almost a foot worth of it, and now the sun is out, the sky is blue and the kids are starting to come out with their bright blue and green and red and orange plastic discs, sliding down snow-packed slopes. Just another snowfall. But pretty.

Meanwhile I've got some other things on my mind. One of them: The editor in chief of the magazine where I work was let go yesterday. Snow swirling outside, she called everyone into the conference room and said, "I have been asked to step down from my post and I won't fight it." I so respected that. No euphemistic talk of "leaving to pursue other opportunities." Instead she said it plain: I've been fired. Leaving here is not my choice. She got a little emotional and I teared up a little. I will miss her. Whether you agreed with her editorial decisions or not, she was unfailing good humored and kind. She treated everyone with a respect and humanity that has become increasingly rare in modern workplaces. And now, we will have an acting editor in chief for a while. Someone wondered aloud if the corporate "they" were trying to close down the magazine, so bone-thin are we at this point. It wont work if they are. The few of us left on staff know how to dig deep, and then deeper. Every one covers multiple roles now, and we will put out the magazine and keep updating the website because that's what we do. We've had several years practice at this, through successive layoffs and restructuring and leadership changes. Even so, the editor who is leaving made our work days quite a bit more pleasant by her demeanor.

There are other bigger troubles in my world.

Aunt Maisy, who is 88, is in the hospital and sinking daily. The chemo drugs finally caught up with her, thinning her blood and leaving her too weak to walk, eat, do much more than sleep. My cousin tells me that the Aunt Maisy we saw when we visited them in Virginia the week after Christmas was a vastly more vigorous soul. She says her mom's descent has been terrifyingly fast. Daily, she is trying to come to terms with the fact that her mother may be very close to the end. Her brother, a military man, was to leave the country today for a deployment overseas. Last night, after he visited his mother in the hospital, he postponed his flight. He is afraid that he won't see her again on this earth after he leaves.

All six of the sisters are slipping down now.

Aunt Fay, the baby of the family at 82, who lives in New Jersey, is just home from yet another stint in the hospital. She can barely walk, is allergic to most food, suffers night sweats and chills, and is cared for round the clock by her two daughters and son, and her three grandsons, all of them together in one home.

Aunt Beulah, 84, in Nassau, whose heart is so weak she must travel everywhere with her oxygen tank, slips in and out of her own personal memory fog, though her eyes are the most vibrant ageless blue against her glowing brown skin and her body is trim and strong and flexible from decades of playing tennis with my uncle, who is a doctor, the last living brother-in-law, who takes care of her in the most devoted and determinedly hopeful way.

Aunt Grace, 86, who lives in Toronto but is currently in Jamaica with her daughter, is battling a vicious flu, which is messing with the electrical systems of her heart. Aunt Grace, vigorous as she appears, her eyes forever dancing, has had open heart surgery, and foot surgery, and also a delicate surgery to scrape clear the carotid artery in her neck. She even had a heart attack in flight once, but she refuses to lie down and be a sick person, so she is the one visiting all her sisters, applying eyebrow pencil and lipstick and rouge to their faces, arguing with them over little things to remind them that they still care, laughing with them over their shared memories, keeping their spirits up.

Aunt Winnie, the oldest at 94, lies in her hospital bed in her apartment across the courtyard from me, cared for by home care aides, visited by her neices and her granddaughter's family, and no one else, because her friends are either dead already or too frail to travel, and besides, she can't speak words anymore. She can only stare with those still-clear eyes like brilliant green glass, steady and aware.

And my mom, 91, sitting in her chair in my brother's house in Jamaica, looking out with her one good eye at the blue-green hills. She, too, cannot move under her own steam, but has to wait for someone to come to help her out of bed, to the bathroom, to bring her meals. The physical therapist comes twice a week and walks with her down the hall, and sometimes down the stairs and back up. This is the highlight of her week, not counting, of course, when her grandchildren, ages 12 and 9, run in to her room in the mornings to greet her before leaving for school, and then again in the afternoons when they get home. Friends and family come to visit from time to time. My cousin Maureen washes her hair every week and styles it for her. My brother is very attentive. She is cared for. But still.

When I took the photograph of my mom above, on a trip to St. Lucia two years ago with my daughter, I was holding inside a deep sadness at her decline from the last time I had seen her. I look at this photograph now and remember that my mother could still move about her house with her rolling walker and conduct her business, and I realize how still vibrant she was then. Watching these six sisters age, each one releasing her grip on this world by inches and measuring her pace as she psychically shepherds the others, is the hardest thing. And yet in the way they are doing this together, calling one another each and every day, talking on the phone with Aunt Winnie even when all that comes back is her breathing, is also achingly beautiful, a sacred communion, enduring love.

Friday, February 8, 2013


“It is one of the secrets of Nature in its mood of mockery that fine weather lays a heavier weight on the mind and hearts of the tormented than does a really bad day with dark rain sniveling continuously and sympathetically from a dirty sky.”

—Muriel Spark

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Son's Lens

My son takes Instagram photos with the camera on his iPhone. His shots reveal to me his attention to the world around him, his ability to take in its natural beauty even as he rushes by, because this kid always seems to be moving fast, a coiled spring, sweeping in everything at once, so the fact that he can register such scenes, and pause to capture them, the composition of each shot so balanced and right, is reassuring to me, who wishes him peace amid the swirl of impressions and thoughts and anxieties that swoosh through him minutely, much as they do with his mother. 

Fat People

They're talking about New Jersey governor Chris Christie's weight on Morning Joe. The governor was on The Dave Letterman Show last night, joining in some supposedly good natured fun about his weight. Now, as the men on Morning Joe try to extend the joke, Mika Brzezinski is basically telling them to cut it out. She says she's interviewed Chris Christie. She quotes him as saying, "Do you really think my weight is a matter of discipline? Do you really think I want to look like this, to be mocked at every turn?" Mika points out that the man works out with a trainer four times a week and monitors his eating. The men around her look skeptical. One of them, the trim handsome ex politico Harold Ford Jr.,  offers that he just stays active all the time, and that's how he stays lean. In my mind, I'm talking back: Buddy, you never had a weight issue in your life. You hit the gene pool jackpot so the truth is, you don't know what you're talking about. You think your good looks are something you did, but really the fates decided to gift you so be a little fucking grateful. He really strikes a nerve.

Some, not all, people who've always been skinny tell fat people like me, "Just exercise a little discipline." My own mother, slender and elegant her whole life, used to do the same until the day I shot back, "If losing weight were so damn easy don't you think I'd have already done it? Why do you think I would choose to walk around like this?" To her credit, she changed her tack after that. She quit making me feel as if being fat was a moral failing and instead communicated her wish that I live a long and vigorous life. But most skinny people will never ever be able to imagine what it feels like to walk through he world as a fat person. If they did, they would no longer offer platitudes like, "It's just will power." "You just need to eat less." "You just need to exercise more." It is of course all those things, but it's never just anything. And another thing. Sleekly thin people enjoy vigorously moving their bodies. To them, exercise is a graceful and pleasurably activity. Their bodies do what is asked with no protest, no pain. For me, exercise is work, yo. It feels virtuous but it doesn't feel good. So I have to find other motivations, mantras like, I will see my children's children. 

I feel like crap today. Lonely. Fat. Lost.

Ironic update: Months ago, a thin, magnificently toned woman I work with who is evangelical about exercise and who seems to have decided I am her "project," gave me a book that she thought would help me break through my penchant for seeing exercise as something other people prescribe for me from a place of judgment. I took the book from her well-meaning hands, thanked her, and put it aside, face down on a pile of books on the shelf behind me. I forgot about it promptly.

This morning, everything stirred by that Chris Christie segment on Morning Joe, and by your comments here, I reached for the book and started reading. I was immediately transfixed. The book is The Unapologetic Fat Girl's Guide to Exercise And Other Incendiary Acts by Hanne Blank. The author has an irreverent, defiant, hand-on-hip voice that I find myself completely engaged by. So here's a more sincere thank you to my friend who handed me this book all those months ago and never asked me another question about it, though I did notice her eyes find it on top of the pile of books behind me on more than one occasion.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Track Season

We'll be heading north to watch our boy compete in heptathlon soon. He's having a great indoor season, full of personal bests. I think living in a house with five other track buddies this semester he's actually a little more settled. Now, when he's at the party, he's also at home and can bow out whenever he wants without feeling like he's missing anything. I'm remembering that he was small, this boy of mine would not go to sleep because he didn't want to miss anything that might happen. Not much has changed.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


You may recall that my daughter chose her high school based on the fact that its dining hall looked like something out of Harry Potter. Well, now she lives in a place with libraries, one in particular, that could have existed within the fictional Hogwarts Castle. It's sort of magical the way this girl creates her world.

Speaking of creating worlds, I was in a happy, silly mood yesterday. First, I could not stop laughing over this VW Super Bowl commercial, despite the debate among my coworkers about whether it was offensive or not. A whole article appeared on about how the ad makes a mockery of the Jamaican accent, and therefore Jamaicans. Meanwhile the Jamaican minister of tourism and entertainment says the ad is "a perfect illustration of Jamaica's global reach" and considers the commercial all in good fun. I am Jamaican born, and I am not in the least bit offended by the commercial. And furthermore, Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff is getting paid for his remake of the jingle "Come on, Get Happy," every time the ad runs. Lighten up, people. There is so much to get offended by in the world. This isn't it.

Then, browsing over to, I happened on a story about Thursday's senate confirmation hearings for Obama's Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel. The story was titled "Fluster Chuck." Yes, the hearing was full of grandstanding buffonery, and Hagel was somewhat flummoxed by some of what came at him, but my response had nothing to do with politics. The headline just struck my funny bone and once again, I couldn't stop laughing. Even when I came home and tried to tell my husband about it during our Friday night libations, I found myself dissolving into giggles before I could even get the story out, kind of like my Aunt Maisy would do. And sure enough, he was laughing before he even heard what I was trying to tell him, so far gone was I.

Maybe after the week that was, I'm finally learning how to operate my pressure release valve. May it ever function the way it did yesterday.