Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Paparazzi

Thank you, Janice, for making a space in your home for our children to reconnect after months apart, and for all this love and friendship and assurance of being loved to bloom. We took pictures of them, gazing upon the way they still cuddle like puppies, not much different from how they entwined themselves in kindergarten, where they first met, and where their mothers first became friends. And then they turned the tables and photographed us, trying to get us to do a sorority pose. It was a good evening of post-Thanksgiving pot luck and simple, uncomplicated friendship, fifteen years and two generations strong.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving This Year

Told you they clean up beautifully.

Thanksgiving this year felt a little different for me, a little lonely in the crowd, because my cousin who I so look forward to seeing each year could not come. I realize she makes me light amid the chaos of preparations, her laugh ready and infectious, her energy generous and happy. She's anything but happy at this moment, however, as one of her daughters is ill and in the hospital. They are running a lot of tests and have no answers yet. I think my heart was mostly in Maryland with my cousin and my niece. I think my other cousin, who came from Trinidad and is the sister of the one who couldn't make it, was feeling much the same way.

My husband cooked almost everything, the turkey and stuffing, the mac and cheese and ham, the broccoli with garlic, the potato salad and the gravy. My son did the candied yams and I did the corn and cheese soufflé, and my daughter and niece cleared successive runs of the dishwasher and watched TV. I chuckled when my daughter said to my niece, "You know, we should probably cook something next year," to which my niece responded, "Nah, I kind of like the way these gender roles are breaking down."

I took a few pictures but they're poorly exposed and mostly uninspired, except of these two, who were so luminous that no camera could fully capture their light. There is something about when they get together, their joy in each other, that actually amplifies their aura and makes them almost blindingly beautiful to me. That sister-cousin love they share, that is the way I feel about my cousin who couldn't be there, and all evening I felt a little off, though the gathering was absolutely lovely. The older folk and the younger folk were equally represented, and there were libations aplenty, as only my daughter is now underage. No one overdid it, but I did notice how the drinks table has changed over the years, with wines and stronger now in the mix of juices and seltzers, and my son mixing up a batch of margaritas that was widely enjoyed. The sounds were of people having a lot of fun at a party, and I loved being able to create that in my home, but I felt as if there was a bubble between me and everyone, I felt oddly apart. It was strange. 

There were eighteen of us, all told, family and might-as-well-be family and all the usual much-loved suspects who know they have a standing invitation come this time of year. One of my daughter's friends from ever since and his mom, who is one of my dearest friends, arrived later in the evening from a previous engagement. She seemed to get how I was feeling and that did help. And one of my son's friends from college, who has been teaching in Denmark, arrived from Copenhagen in the midst of dinner, jet-lagged but game. He managed to keep going till eleven-thirty, and then he crashed. I did the same around midnight. Most of our guests had left by then. It was just my son and daughter, my niece, and a couple of their friends in the kitchen with my husband, laughing and talking as they all helped cleaned up and put away the leftovers. I loved listening to them while I cocooned in my bed, my door closed, my room a sanctuary.

Here are a few more pictures of our evening. I didn't find many candids but there was a lot of here-we-are-together posing.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Before the Clean Up

This is what our morning looks like. The house and its occupants will clean up nicely by early afternoon but for now there is lounging and cooking and storytelling and laughing and watching the Thanksgiving day dog show which my daughter always tries to make us watch and this year she has succeeded.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Something true

A child I love, one of my nieces (not the one in dental school) is facing a storm none of us saw coming, and since I cannot write about it without compromising her privacy, and it is the thing that is absolutely central to my thoughts right now, I am unable to write anything that feels true.

Well, here is something true: My daughter arrives home tonight for Thanksgiving, and my niece (the one in dental school) arrives tomorrow by midday, and my cousin from Trinidad is already here, and another arrives from Boston tomorrow night, and my niece is bringing a friend and one of my son's friends from college will also be coming through so we have a full house for Thanksgiving, all except for my cousin from Maryland and her two daughters, who are usually here with us at this time and who I will miss with a fierce ache.

Pray for this child I love. Pray for the doctors who have to figure out what is wrong. Even those of you who don't believe in a particular religious dogma, please pray, because what is prayer but the force of so many good thoughts coming together to help shape our malleable universe? And to dear Brittany who told me last week that I should read Brain On Fire, thank you. It was a clue, telling us how and where to put our attention.

Here's a picture of my kids from Thanksgiving last year. My son is at his EMT class as I write this taking a midterm exam. He got his terrorism awareness first responder certification from the department of Homeland Security last week. I know because I saw the certificate with his name lying on his desk.

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22

On this day fifty years ago today, when JFK was shot in Dallas while riding in that motorcade, I was in Kingston, Jamaica inside our house on Edinburgh Avenue. A hurricane threatened the island. Our windows had been boarded up and the house was dark. The only light in the living room slanted in through a side door. I was not yet in kindergarten and our family was in the midst of packing up to travel to England, where we would live for an extended period. My mother was seated in the living room, suitcases open before her. As she repacked our bags, she monitored the hurricane reports on the radio, trying to gauge whether we would be able to fly in two days as planned. We were to stop in New York on the way to England, spending a week with my mother's sister Winnie and her family. When the news bulletin broke into the hurricane coverage, my father had just pulled into the driveway, the trunk of his Morris Minor full of plywood sheets to cover the sliding glass doors that led to the patio. I don't recall where my brother was. I think he was in his room lying across his bed, reading as he often was. I was on my stomach on the cool terrazzo tile floor, my chin in my palms, daydreaming about what it would be like to go to school in London. And then my mother screamed. I sat up. She sat frozen, staring at the radio, her hand over her mouth. My eyes ran to the door, where my father stood in silhouette, his face unreadable. I tuned in to the radio newscaster and heard him say the American president had been shot, and he had died. My mother began to cry quietly, her shoulders rocking. My father came and sat beside her. He put his arm around her and listened intently to the news report. I became aware that shattering events were occurring in some land I had never seen, where were were going in only two days. All that afternoon and evening, and then the next day, I stayed glued to the radio. The hurricane swerved away from us at the last minute, barreling through the strait between Jamaica and Hispaniola and striking Cuba instead. We unboarded our windows and flew to New York as planned, then traveled aboard the Queen Elizabeth to London. All through the trip, grown ups huddled and talked in sober tones about the unbelievable tragedy that was unfolding in America. I sat to the side and listened and tried to take it all in. So much was unexplained, so many questions swirled in me. By the time we got to London, I believe a journalist had been born. This is my first crystal clear memory. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Recovering the pieces of me

Sometimes I am so full of gratitude for my life I think I might burst. I had one of those days today, and I am so filled to the brim with the wonder of it I can't even really write about it coherently. I'll just mention that last night there was a big reunion of people who worked at the weekly and monthly LIFE magazine. We were all invited to a reception followed by a screening of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which was set at the magazine in the days when it had just been sold and the print version was closing down. People flew across the country to be there. The movie itself was uneven, but when it got to the final scene I understood exactly why we had been called together. I won't give it away, but for everyone there, it was a moment.

I saw so many people from another era of my life, and it felt as if the parts of me, so long fractured, were now becoming somehow more integrated, and I left the gathering a little more whole. Perhaps being with those people who seemed to still value me healed the wound of being so recently laid off, just a little bit. Ironically, the woman who laid me off was there. I had forgotten that she had worked at LIFE, too. She came there sometime after I had left, when the budgets were already shrinking. Last night she stopped in her tracks when she saw me, a deer-in-headlights look on her face, but I summoned my good home training and smiled and greeted her cordially and then I kept right on moving. Right then, what I felt more than anything was indifference, but there was also a kernel of sympathy for how hard it must be to do what she does, to cut people off from their livelihoods, to parcel out insecurity and fear. She didn't dampen my evening in the least. I was with my crew, the ones who had been reporters with me, having the time of our lives, the once young guns in scuffed, well-traveled shoes who were all now as soft of body as me.

And then today, one of the women who was a fellow reporter, who had flown in from Sacramento for the event (she and another reporter and I were especially close and got up to a lot of mischief in our rip-roaring twenties!), met for lunch with our former editor and the former chief of research, and we all talked for hours, veterans of a certain charmed time in the history of that magazine, when everything was still according to the original vision, and we reporters crossed the country and the globe to bring back stories, working with world-class photographers to capture the pictures, too. That was before the shrinking and the closing down and the core team moving on. Did it all really happen? It did indeed. And these three women were central to the experience. Today I understood just how grateful I am for all I shared with them, all I learned from them, and the part they have played in my being just who I am today.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Present Tense

"Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. 
The conditions are always impossible."

—Doris Lessing

Photograph: "Blue Light" by my daughter

Monday, November 18, 2013

Canary in a Coal Mine

I have, of late, been deeply compelled by the story of Jennifer Brea, a young woman who went to lunch with friends one day and when the check came, she found she couldn't form the letters to sign her name. Soon her muscles were so weak she could not get out of bed, and an array of neurological symptoms came on as well. Eventually, Brea was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), a devastating disease that too many doctors have never heard of. Initially patronized, dismissed and told that her symptoms were a form of "hysteria," she got to wondering how people without her education and privileges—Princeton undergrad, Harvard Ph.D. candidate in government, wife of social media whiz kid Omar Wasow—fared in the face of ME, all of them likely to be told their debilitating symptoms were all in their heads. Now Jennifer Brea is making a film about ME, to educate others about this little understood disease. She's raising money for her documentary, Canary in a Coal Mine, through Kickstarter, so go here and donate even a dollar if you can. 

One part of Jennifer Brea's story stopped me cold—her description of how as the disease progressed, her brain fell silent. There was no thought narrative running through, no stream of consciousness based in language, just images and blankness where her internal monologue had been.

I went in and out of periods where I would be totally lucid, I could understand everything anyone was saying to me, but became completely unable to think in any language. It was a little like being a dog. I could understand speech, and I could conceive of things in general impressions, and pictures, but there was no monologue in my head...

I think in some ways it was actually a blessing, because I could not be afraid of what was happening to me. Something I’ve learned is that in order to experience fear, you have to be able to project the future, and for that you need language. You need the future tense. You might even need the past tense. I was living in the present, and that was all that there was.

That insight that you need language to feel fear—more specifically, you need the future tense, and maybe also the past tense—is just so kick-in-the-gut powerful to me. I wonder if this understanding helps explain Brea's grit and determination to get up and do what many try to tell her is impossible? The very least I can do is help to spread the word.

You can read more about Jennifer Brea in her TED Fellow Q&A here. And you can learn more about her film by clicking on the trailer below.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Boy Wonder

My lovely, tender-hearted, uber talented nephew just received his first college acceptance! Woot! He'll major in guitar composition and performance. Should I bother to mention that his mother was beside herself worrying about his math grades? In the end they saw past all that to the fact that this kid is the real true deal. He cannot not make music. You visit his home and hear guitar strains emanating from the basement and you think it's a piece of music he downloaded and you wonder what it is because it's so beautiful and edgy and haunting and you want to download it too, but then you listen longer and you realize it's not a download, it's a new composition happening in real and wondrous time.

If you knew his mom, my cousin who is like my sister, you'd know she is the last woman on earth who would have expected to have given birth to a rocker jazz metal head musician. Okay, I'm not really clear on the genre. It could be any and all of those and more on any given day. When he plays with his band it does sound a bit like metal, but when he's composing on his own, it's gentler, almost elegiac. His mother couldn't be prouder, no matter what he plays. She's right there at his gigs in the front row tapping her foot these days.

And here's a picture of my nephew from back in the day with my son. I posted this picture of the cousins on Instagram yesterday for Throwback Thursday. None of us could have imagined that I was photographing a future medical first responder and a guitar-playing dreamer who (to my ear) is a cross between Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Eric Clapton with a little Simon & Garfunkel sweetness thrown in.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Mouth of Babes

Would you go to the bank for me this morning?

Okay, but why can't you go?

I'm multitasking, and you're helping me.

But the walk would do you good.

Things hurt.

I know they do, but that's why things hurt, because you send me to the bank instead of walking there yourself.


If I wasn't here to go to the bank for you would it even get done?

Of course it would. I do whatever has to get done. Like you do. You learned that from some place.

So why do you always send me to the bank?

Because you're here. (Facetiously.)

But you need to walk more.

Things hurt.


Okay. I'm going to the bank for you today even though I don't like enabling you, but I'm going to say this. The next time you think you don't want to walk somewhere, do it anyway. Do it slowly. Don't do it for me. Don't even do it for you. Do it for your grandchildren. Because one day your grandchildren are going to want you to take them to the park and you can sit on the bench once you get there and watch them play. But if you can't even walk to the park, that would suck for your grandchildren. Because I have very fond memories of Grandma taking me to the park.


Okay, son. I hear you.

So you'll walk more? And go with me to the gym?

I do solemnly swear.

My son and me, 12 years ago

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


"Deschooling is a process of getting used to learning as a family without the external control of a school system. Some call it a decompression time, or a vacation. Generally, it involves doing less schoolwork and more life work, less judging and more exploring, less have-tos and more want-tos. Deschooling is moving toward a life where everyone is happy and learning."

—From Deschooling Gently by Tammy Takahashi

Elizabeth is deschooling with her youngest child. The process sounds immensely healing. I think I might take that quote she posted on her blog yesterday, and apply it to myself, substituting corporate America for the school system and trusting that my taking time to decompress, my suspension of harsh self-talk, my patient exploring, will lead to "a life where everyone is happy and learning." A life in which I can rest in the silver lining of being job eliminated almost two months ago now—and believe me, I am resisting the voice in my head saying Two months! Why are you still lollygagging!—the silver being the sense that I once again own myself, I direct my own life, I can show up as entirely my own person. This sense brings a lightness of being even on those days when I give in to worry and the age-old conditioning instilled by my well-intentioned civil servant upbringing, a conditioning that says one must align oneself with what is established as opposed to striking out into the unknown. The unknown is dangerous, risky, unpredictable. Cleave to what is safe.

On the other hand, one could argue that everything precious on this earth has been wrought by souls daring to brave the unknown. Everything established was once uncreated and undreamed. I think Elizabeth is giving her son the most wonderful gift—the experience and the knowing that the established paths are not the only routes to a desired and desirable destination. One can lay down new paths across untrammeled fields, and discover answers to questions we don't even know to ask. All it takes (all!) is a willingness to look fear and convention in the face, to breathe deep and step into the possibilities.

I'm deschooling, y'all.

And thank you, Elizabeth, for giving me a frame. 

I'm not entirely beyond needing that. Yet.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tick Tock

I feel sad and emotionally weary today, especially when I contemplate the road ahead. I don't quite know where to place my feet. I know reinventing one's life takes time. Is it okay to just hide out today and let the minutes tick by without me trying to fill them with usefulness? The truth? I feel a little lost. I am very aware of trying to model for my children that you don't just fold when life throws curveballs. But today, I just want to sit out the inning and watch bad TV. Or read. Or simply stare at the wall. Better yet, the ceiling.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Study Skills

On this Veteran's Day morn, my son is sitting a few feet away from me doing his EMT homework, which today happens to be all about weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological, explosive and otherwise. How sobering this is for his mother, who must once again make peace with the fact that in any emergent crisis, no matter how threatening to life and limb, my son will be running toward.

He has been so diligent in his study. College was the best thing for this boy. I see how much he gained from it, how self-directed he is, how responsible to his commitments, and how much he also learned about his own style of study. If I could only describe how far he has come since middle school, when he felt as if his brain would explode with nightly homework, and the stress dynamic in our house centered completely around what he had been assigned that evening and getting him through it. Since then, he's learned he doesn't like to be isolated from company when he works, but would rather sit in the midst of the activity, his headphones in and playing piano music on Pandora, the wordless music and peripheral action siphoning off his excess attention, allowing him to focus.

Last night, as his dad watched football, at a certain point he set himself up at the kitchen counter and settled down to work. He's continuing his assignments now. He just muttered, "Now I have to take the exam, fuck!" and then groaned under is breath, "Ugh, sixty questions! Faaaaack!" But he's doing it. He's doing it beautifully.

Are we bad parents because we don't particularly care if our kids swear in our presence? My own mother would be appalled. Our kids know when to dial it back though. For instance, they would never use profanities in front of their grandmother.

I don't often get very good pictures of my son because he is not a willing subject. I have to sneak any pictures I do get, sometimes pretending that I am merely texting or browsing on my phone. The compromise is my son is very clear that I am unapologetic in this subterfuge.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Not a lot of words today. Just a photo of my friend S. in one of her favorite holiday ornament stores. I stood by the door and tried not to knock anything over. Every square inch of space was in use to display artistic and one-of-a-kind pieces, many of them glass. Some were breathtaking, some were downright strange. Yesterday was another good wander with women. And now I am refusing to get dressed in outdoor clothes and instead plan to dive into the 2012 presidential campaign recap Double Down and ignore the world outside my door. In the living room, my husband and son are ornamenting the couches in front of the TV, both of them perfectly happy watching Giants football. The sky has turned brooding after a brilliantly clear morning that my son caught at brunch with a friend. "He's meeting a female friend?" I asked my husband. "What do you think?" he said. "It's brunch." That comment might say more about my husband than it does about who my son might be meeting. I didn't pry. I am learning.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Where it happens

“It was about connection. It was about looking at another human being and seeing your own loneliness and neediness reflected back. It was recognising that together you had the power to temporarily banish that sense of isolation. It was about experiencing what it was to be human at the basest, most instinctive level. How could that be described as just anything?”

—Emily McGuire, Taming the Beast

The passage above is actually talking about sex, but I've decided it also works to describe the tensile connections that happen in this virtual place, where I have found so many kind and wild and kindred souls. That armoire, where my laptop sits, is my magic portal.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The ACA and the de Blasio family of New York

There are a couple of things I meant to write about yesterday, but the day got away from me, so here I am, a day late, because this blog is a record of sorts, a place to post the things I want to remember, or share with my children, and so better late than never.

1. What Elizabeth wrote on her blog yesterday is the clearest explanation of the Affordable Care Act that I have read anywhere, and she accomplishes this with such economy of words! Please go and read it here.

2. Democrat Bill De Balsio won a whopping 73 percent of the vote to become New York City's new mayor on Tuesday, and I'm so excited to welcome this real world family from Brooklyn and say goodbye to the wealthy blueblood businessman and his entitlement and patronage. The de Blasio family is different from any that has ever occupied Gracie Mansion, in that his wife is a beautiful dark-skinned black woman who was a lesbian before they met and fell in love, his 19-year-old daughter sports flowered headbands and piercings and his son, 15, has an afro out to here. All three were very visible in the campaign of this 6 foot 5 giant of a man raised by his Italian single mother after his troubled alcoholic father, a war veteran possibly suffering from PTSD, committed suicide. De Blasio has said his father taught him what not to do. What he did instead was create a loving and close-knit family in which the children clearly feel free to express who they are. How will he govern? I have high hopes based on his unabashedly liberal politics and history, and the fact that he and his family are everything New York purports to be about, but too seldom is. There's more on them here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Date Day

The man was off from work today for election day, and since I now work from home we decided to drive up the Palisades and see the fall colors along the banks of the Hudson while they're still ablaze. Now there's a perk of the freelance life! A mid week, middle of the day, fall foliage date with my guy. It felt like a date, too, the two of us heading out early waving see ya later to our son. And we took pictures. I played with some of mine on Instagram. My Instagram jones hasn't gone away. To my mind, the filters are a little like painting on my photographs, and of course the soft details can be very forgiving. Here are a few snaps from our date day.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Once, I romanticized the starving artist. No more.

"There’s something so romantic about being broke in New York. You gotta do it. You have to live there once without any money, and then you have to live there when you have money. Let me tell you, of the two, the latter is far better." —Amy Poehler

What joy looks like

She posted these photos on Instagram with the caption: "It was a very good weekend." I gather there was some glittery formal put on by one if the clubs she belongs to. She is my child but I am still sometimes blown away by her light. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Yesterday was a very good day in all its parts and particulars. I woke up slow, joked around with my husband and son over breakfast, came here and answered all the wise comments on my last post left by my dear friends in this place (I cannot even express how much your words mean to me), then got ready to meet my friend Leslie for a Saturday afternoon wander. We ate a nice organic lunch at the restaurant where my daughter worked as a hostess over the summer, then went to see the movie Kill Your Darlings at an art house theater in the city. I felt very cultured, ripe to be educated.

The movie is about the genesis of the Beat Generation of writers, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, all of whom were brought together as college students by Lucian Carr, a troubled 19-year-old apparently struggling with his sexuality, who was subsequently accused of murdering an older man (played creepily and pathetically by Michael C. Hall) who had been obsessed with Lucien since his early teens. The killing and its aftermath helped propel the early writings of Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac, although the book Burroughs and Kerouac wrote together about the murder—an uneven novel in which both men were still finding their voice—wasn't published till sixty years later in 2008. Titled And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, it was not the basis of the movie, directed by John Krokidas. Daniel Radcliffe, formerly of the Harry Potter franchise, plays Allen Ginsberg with a literary and sexual intensity that will make you forget that Potter kid. He willingly allows himself to get ensnared in the psychological manipulations of Lucien Carr, hauntingly portrayed by Dane DeHaan. At one point, Carr abandons a smitten Ginsberg by saying, "I gave you what you wanted. You were ordinary before you met me," or words to that effect.

Kill Your Darlings, in editing parlance, means get rid of those flourishes in your writing that you most love, as they are probably self-indulgent. As an editor, I have never entirely agreed with that, but the idea fits this coming-of-age tale of murder and poetry well, in that it's about young men rejecting the most revered literary and erotic canons of their time, daring to create their own vision of what the literary life might be.

After the movie Leslie and I walked to Lincoln Center Plaza and sat on the rim of the fountain there, in front of the Metropolitan Opera House, just chatting and watching people mill around the fountain's water dance in the cool night air. I felt very much in the moment of my life, not needing to be anywhere but where I was, doing anything other than what I was doing, and these moments, when I pause to notice them, are a gift.

In time we made our way home. I walked into my house to find my husband cleaning up the kitchen and ready to consider dinner. We decided to order Chinese, as he told me our son would soon be home, with company in tow, four of his friends who were planning to watch the Miami U. vs. Florida State game at our house. Soon there were six men with long limbs filling my living room, eating Chinese food and bonding over the game. My husband was happy to have the company to cheer along with him as his beloved alma mater, Miami U., took on their biggest rivals. And I was happy, after dinner, to retire to my bedroom, fully accompanied by the sounds issuing from the front of the house, yet serenely alone with my Kindle and my computer and comfortable bed and cosy comforter. I did a lot of googling of the real life characters from the movie, learning much I had not known despite having been a literature major at the same university these young men attended. As my daughter likes to say, "I've learned more from Google than I ever learned in school."

Here are a couple of random snaps from my very good day.

Lunchtime sky

Pineapple, grape and honey dew juice, nothing but

The dancing fountain

My fellow wanderer