Saturday, May 31, 2014

Fast Boy Out

Ezra Caldwell died this week. The grace and creativity with which he lived, especially during those last six years after his diagnosis of cancer, inspired so many. He created some of his finest art, in photographs, in his Fast Boy custom-designed bikes, in simple gourmet meals, in beautifully finished metal and wooden artifacts in his workshop, all the while actively dying. And now he is gone, his life a testament to courage and self-creation and family and love. Always, when I read his words, I was reminded of what mattered, what endures. Thank you, Fast Boy, for everything you shared with us, for your great light. The news of his life and his leaving us is here. That self-portrait was apparently one of his most sought after.


When my kids were heading into adolescence and starting to travel around the city on their own, I had very different admonishments for my son and my daughter. My son I cautioned to carry himself in a certain way on the streets. I knew that some cops would look at my Black teenaged boy and see, not my precious child, but a possible criminal. Such is the media soup in which we all marinate, but that's a post I've already written.

My daughter on the other hand, I cautioned to be always aware of her surroundings, in particular of the men on the street and how they were behaving, how they were noticing her. I tried to give her an earlier curfew than my son, which she and my husband objected to, so I gave her a credit card and told her to take a cab home after 11 pm, rather than the subway (never mind that this would have been a useless instruction for my son, as cabs seldom stop for young Black men—again the soup).

I further instructed my daughter that as soon as she got into the cab, she was to text me the cab number and to call and tell me in the cab driver's hearing that she was on her way. Again, my husband objected. Why should our son be free to access public transportation at any hour while our daughter had to be cosseted in a cab? My husband and I debated this for weeks and then agreed to disagree. I could not make him understand that it was not sexist to be concerned about potential threats to our daughter from predatory men. Just because he was not such a man did not mean they were not out there. Our daughter, by the way, mostly ignores the cab instructions, taking the train at all hours, though I do believe she is very street aware.

This week, in the wake of the Santa Barbara shootings targeting women by a troubled young man who felt they had sexually ignored him and so should be made to pay, women across the country began tweeting their sexually objectified reality with the hashtag #YesAllWomen. I could barely read some of the tweets, so intensely did they reveal my own nearly constant sense of potential jeopardy, less for myself at the age I am now than for young women everywhere. I didn't want to invest that sense with more energy than it already possessed.

But watching Melissa Harris Perry this morning, my husband's eyes were opened by her discussion of how many of the mass shootings in recent history, including the Virginia Tech tragedy, actually targeted women in a twisted misogyny. Listening, my idealistic, feminist, egalitarian husband began to understand.

Yesterday, Vesuvius at Home wrote a provocative reflection of #YesAllWomen here, and Elizabeth Aquino linked an explanation of the hashtag here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shine on, dear Maya

Maya Angelou
April 4, 1928—May 28, 2014

Photograph by John Loengard

She was one of our brightest lights, a woman who despite her great stature was gracious enough to invite me to sit at her dining table in Winston-Salem one afternoon in July, engaging in a wide ranging conversation for the Preface to my book, Mending the World: Stories of Family by Contemporary Black Writers. When my editors and I first pitched the book, getting Maya to write the Preface was a reach-for-the-sun kind of dream, and yet it came to be.

Oh, Maya. I sat across from you that afternoon and was schooled by you, your voice reverberating with lessons about women and art, about writing, about family and racial bona fides and love—it always came back to love. You took me into your library, the walls lined floor to ceiling with beloved books, and you challenged me to be faithful to the lover I had chosen, literature. You sat with me in your garden, and laughed your deep rumbling drumbeat of a laugh, and I could hardly believe I should be so blessed as to be there with you in this familial way, you sharing your life with me as if I were a niece or younger cousin who mattered, for whom you felt a wry and gentle affection. That was your secret, though. We all mattered to you. You bathed us in compassion. You let us know our worth to you through your dancing eyes and waves of laughter, through your piercing, perfectly turned sentences, through the way you crashed all the boundaries life had set up to hold you, dragging us with you into the sun.

I feel such grief this morning at the news of your passing, but I feel such unbound gratitude, too, for all that you shared with us during your 86 years on this earth, for answering a letter written by a questing writer at the moment the Twin Towers fell. Yes, that is what I was doing on the morning of 9/11 as the news came across the airwaves that the world had forever changed. I was writing to Dr. Angelou to ask her to contribute to my book. And in her great and winning grace, she said yes.

Thank you for everything, Dr. Angelou. Shine on.

Maggie May Ethridge Love story & Shebooks Equal Writes Campaign

When I first started blogging five years ago now, one of the bloggers who most riveted me was Maggie May Ethridge at Flux Capacitor. It was Maggie May who first led me to Mary Moon and The Tearful Dishwasher, pillars of my whole blogging experience along with others of you here. And it was Maggie who brought home to me so forcefully how gorgeous and unflinching was some of the writing happening online. My God, this woman could write! But not only that, she wrote her truth deeply and close to the bone, insisting on love, the joy and anguish of marriage and motherhood right there on the screen. Maggie allowed us to inhabit her truth, because none of us is immune, we all suffer, we all feel this desolation sometimes, none of us escapes the hard parts, but oh, we are not alone, and if we're lucky the love weaving through can be sublime, as Maggie showed us.

Her "Scenes form A Marriage" posts in particular scorched and hollowed me out. She wrote the particulars of marriage to the love of her life, a man in the grip of bipolar 2, and the emotion she dared to excavate, the truths she laid bare, were intimate and unexpectedly familiar, and the only reason we hadn't understood our commonality before was because no one had expressed it quite like Maggie did.

Today, Maggie's book, Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes from a Marriage, is out from, which publishes short ebooks by women in the genres of literary memoir, fiction and journalism. I'm an editor for Shebooks; it's work I truly love, and I can tell you Maggie's book is a brilliant light in the wilderness of mental illness and married life, a love story for the ages, and Maggie writes it like no one else. For $2.99 you can get her book here. You'll be riveted, your heart will be broken, you'll be elevated, healed, provoked, enthralled. Because this is Maggie May Ethridge we're talking about. My God, this woman can write.


On a related note, Shebooks has just launched an exciting Kickstarter Equal Writes Campaign. Watch the video and be inspired. Consider giving a dollar, or ten. And please tell everyone.  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tuesday, Tuesday

I turned in my assignment this morning, on time, and although I have a fairly long list of other freelance commitments to turn to, I feel deliciously free. My daughter and I went to breakfast at a neighborhood diner, and then we got pedicures, and now I am back home contemplating getting back to work while she has gone off to hang out with friends. I do love working from home and being able to have these sorts of days. I go to bed at night mostly at peace, because I know I will wake the next morning and organize my hours according to my own preference and the commitments I have chosen to take on, and it is a wonderful freedom indeed.

There's my girl at breakfast this morning. I never tire of gazing at my children. My son had a friend over this morning, a kid he went to high school with and then they went to college in the same town and competed against each other in track and field. This morning they were going for a run along the river, the two of them impossibly fit. I stood in the hallway looking at them and marveling not quite consciously at how these two whom I have known since they were callow boys are now handsome full grown men. My daughter came out of her room and said, "Stop staring at them, Mom," and that's when I realized I'd been transfixed. The boys of course hadn't noticed and merely smiled when I said, "I can't help it. You're all a precious sight." At which my girl rolled her eyes and replied, "Oy vey."

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pie and Company

This is the strawberry rhubarb pie my daughter made to take to a pot luck we're going to tonight, one of those affairs where old and young mix happily around mismatched tables and chairs with unmatched tablecloths, and asymmetrical pottery dishes and cups and spoons and condiment bowls, all handmade by the artist who is our host this evening. The fact that none of her beautiful and utilitarian ceramic art looks or feels like it's trying too hard makes using it feel incredibly cool and creative. We're just waiting for the second pie, a blueberry peach cobbler, to come out the oven and then we're off to spend a familial Sunday evening with longtime friends and their children who are all straggling home from year two of college.

My Friend

“A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one's heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”

—George Eliot

You are the kindest of friends to me, to all of us.

(I am sorry this week is so hard for you every year.)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Freedom to fly, part 2

That's my son, prepping for his morning run yesterday. I took the picture just because.

Just because I love him. Just because it lifts my heart to rest my eyes on him.

For some reason this morning, I thought of this post from four years ago, and I had a small jolt of recognition that I had indeed escaped the steel and glass prison I perceived back then. I can see now that when my job was eliminated last fall, it was me who set myself free.

Here are the lyrics of El Gavilan, the Marianne Faithful song I was hearing in my head when I wrote that long ago post. Today, I think the words are for my children more than for me.

Gotta make your own rules, child.
Got to break your own chains.
The dreams that possess you
Can blossom and bless you
Or run you insane.

The moment is yours, child
To lay on the line.
The past just don't matter,
Tomorrow won't mind.

I don't deserve you.
I'm only human. 
But I swear I'll love you
Just as hard as I can.

Storm on the mountain
Stars in the sky
Running for glory
Freedom to fly.

Will you remember
Way down the road
Somebody loves you
More than you know.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Another year

Our girl was happy to see us. She'd walked out of her last final just a couple of hours before and wasn't yet used to having so much free time on her hands and free space in her brain. Most of her friends had already left campus, as their exams had ended earlier, but our girl had a final on the very last day. As she had to be out of the dorms by 2 pm the following day, she cheerfully put her parents to work helping her pack up year two.

Outside her dorm, that last trickle of students lined up for buses back to New York City. Our girl lived on West Campus, in one of the stately old gothic buildings, with a sweeping view of the Slope where all the fairs and concerts and fun activities took place. Her room was the size of a postage stamp, but she didn't mind. She loved having her own space.

Our girl and three friends rented a storage locker together to store their things for the summer. It works out to just $30 for each of them. We drove two of them from the dorm to the storage place to deposit their things. The storage place turned out to be in the next town, and on the way back, we developed car trouble that would require the services of a car repair shop to replace the power steering fluid pump for a tidy sum. All's well that ends well. I'm just glad my husband is such a skilled driver.

Our car fixed, we headed home, the rest of our daughter's things filling the back of the car. She put her head on the armchair pillow she dubbed her "husband pillow" and went to sleep for the duration of the four and a half hour drive back to the city. I cannot tell you how sweet it is to have both my children under my roof again, even for such a short period.

Okay, back to work. Freelancing is a double edged cookie. You're either swamped with work or worrying about when the next assignment will appear. Fortunately for me, the former is the case at the moment, but it leaves me not much time to meander. Bear with me if I am a little silent. I will come up for air very soon.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Going to get our girl

Heading north tomorrow to pack up our daughter from her sophomore year of college, store her belongings and drive her home. Despite my fairly intense work commitments this week, we have a season-long Survivor marathon planned for Thursday, the two of us on the couch in blankets. It's become our thing when she gets home from a semester. I can hardly wait. Her last exam is tomorrow, and then she will officially be a junior! Not to sound like a stuck record, but her college career is moving at warp speed. She'll be home for two-and-a-half weeks before she takes off for her summer internship in Chicago. Excited to see her!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

My son, the coach

The team my son coaches in track and field won their big championship meet last night! My son is the jumps coach—high jump, long jump, triple jump, hurdles—for Xavier High, the team that was his former high school's chief rival. When he was a hurdler and high jumper at Fordham Prep, his school always won this huge end-of-season meet, but now the guard has changed. When Xavier won last night, my son's former coach from Fordham came up to him and said, "You fucker," and then gave him a hug.

This is what my son wrote on under the photo he posted on social media (which I have unapolgetically swiped for this blog record): "Couldn't be more proud of my athletes today. Taking 1st and 2nd in the triple jump, 2nd and 4th in the high jump, and 1st and 4th in the long jump all to help bring home the CHSAA sectional championship! Today was a great day to be a coach. #blessed #champions"

Nothing but sky

That was the sunset last night as we had dinner with dear friends on their roof. Eventually spring asserted itself and we wrapped ourselves in jackets and scarves and kept talking, our friends' neighbors at the adjacent table folding into the group as we watched the sky do its dance of colors. Around 9 pm we went indoors for dessert and chatted some more, and I thought how lucky we are to have these souls who we have grown in proximity to for 16 years now, whose children are the same age as ours and with whom we can share memories, worries, laughs, hopes, and not just for our children, but for ourselves. At one point before the cold drove us inside, as the children from the building raced up and down playing, and a knot of girls pitched a blanket tent at the end of the roof terrace and crowded inside, we talked of when our own children were that age, and how head-spinningly quickly it went by, and how could they be finishing up their sophomore year in college already. Who knew, when our families met in our children's pre-K and kindergarten years that our children would leave home and we would still be getting together without them? That hippy dippy school with a farm and a cause where we first encountered one another really did gift us with more than a good education for our children. It allowed the meeting of hearts.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

When the hard part is the good part

I have been writing a story for a magazine, and the subjects I have had to interview are thrillingly complex, some with really tough childhoods and no hint of railing at the fates, just a tensile understanding of how their particular set of circumstances fueled them, put the steel in their backs and gifted them with the knowledge that they had seen the worst, and they survived, so bring it on.

I've been an editor for so long, I had resisted going back to the writing side. It's hard finding the right subjects for stories, and harder still to do them justice in the piddling few words that magazines have to offer. It's why any story I report ultimately serves me to a far greater degree than any reader who will hold the finished product. The stories I hear as a reporter are so much richer and more layered than can be contained in any one magazine story. I think this is leading me back to books, to writing them, to helping others birth them, and I must be on the right track because I find the thought somewhat exhilarating.

I spent the whole of the week just past scheduling interviews, conducting them, poring over the transcriptions of them, thinking them through and letting the connections happen. Now comes the writing, the hardest part, although in truth, the part of the story I'm currently engaged in is always the hardest part, and when I get through it, the most satisfying.

I plan to spend most of this day writing. I opened my eyes this morning eager to get to my computer to see how much I might get through before my husband and I have to get dressed for a rooftop dinner party with dear friends this evening. It feels like a delicious indulgence to spend the day in this way, which must mean I am doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

This freelance thing is going to work out. I have decided.

Happy Saturday, my lovely peeps. I'm still in the flow.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


This was a good day in all its parts. My interviews for the new article I'm working on just blew me away, left me strumming and inspired and how the hell will I boil it all down in the writing? That's the next problem, but I won't worry about it just yet. The woman I interviewed this afternoon was a veritable quote factory. I just let her talk, telling her life story. I didn't even try to steer the conversation because everything she said was just so incredibly colorfully or profanely stated and so fucking profound. When I got off the call with her, I just sat in my chair with my hands pressed to my temples thinking, Holy Shit, I have not lived.

Then my son arrived home with a friend who is visiting from England, part of the former camp crew, and they are all getting together tonight, but for now there are four young men in my living room talking and laughing and reminiscing about that Miami Beach trip they took at the end of camp last year, and I love the happy sounds floating in to me where I am ensconced in my peaceful bedroom, the door closed, me tapping away here.

Earlier, my darling husband made dinner, chicken sate and boiled green bananas and salad with cherry tomatoes and roasted corn and it was delicious and had to stretch to feed all my son's friends, but we made it work. The man and I chatted as he cut and chopped and stirred, and I thought how hot he is doing the simplest things, even after all these years.

Just now our daughter called to say she finally knows where she will be located for her hospitality internship this summer: She will be in Chicago and she is so excited she can hardly stand it, though I now know exactly how my parents felt when I moved into my own apartment in New York City at roughly her age. This is one of those times when I need to quell my imagination which has always been way too active. I'm thrilled for her because she is thrilled for herself. And I'm definitely going to go visit!

I have nothing much else to report except life continues on, and there are things I could worry about if I wanted to but for the moment I have decided why worry about any of it, especially when there is nothing I can do at this moment to change any part of it, so I'm just here, saying good night to you all and then I will snap my laptop closed and go back to reading a tale of love set in Paul and Jane Bowles' hot, sultry Tangiers.

I love this photo of my girl and one of her lifelong best friends. They have birthdays a week apart and both now attend the same college and so they celebrated together while apparently narrowly avoiding setting fire to the dorm.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

He took us to brunch

We went to our favorite neighborhood place, and when the bill came my son insisted on paying. He had worked an early shift at the sports club that morning, and had just gotten paid for the week. We graciously accepted his generosity.

It was a lovely, bantering company, and afterward the three of us and his friend who is visiting for the weekend strolled down to the river and sat for a while in the sun, listening to the water lapping against the pier.
Walking down Broadway we ran into dear friends also doing the brunch thing. We're back home now and movie watching is happening while I upload the photos my son allowed me to take to my heart's content, but of course, that was just for today.
And how brave am I, posting a full length photo of myself. I am standing next to my boy, so nobody's looking at me anyway. Happy mother's day to all you wonderful mothers out there, whether you gave birth from your own body or helped nurture an already birthed soul. I hope your day is as full of gentle and humorous moments as mine was.

Mother's Day

I don't have a lot of words today. That picture is one of my favorites. It was taken two short years ago. The way my mother has loved and guided her grandchildren and their love for her is perhaps the most sublime gift I have been given in a universe of sublime gifts that have been bestowed on me and mine by virtue of the lucky fact of my being born her daughter. I love you, Mom, today and always. Thank you.

Thank you too to my children's other grandmother, who also doted on them, and spoke true to them about life and who has been gone five years now, but who my husband spoke about in church this morning as he led the morning prayers (the ministry really is his path not taken, and he is good at it—sincere and heartfelt and not at all preachy). He said his father taught his children the rough and tumble of life, but all his mother ever really wanted for her children was peace, and for them to be able to listen inward and hear their own call. He made me cry when he said that, because it rang so true. That photo of his mom with my kids at 9 and 6 is another of my favorites. We have been blessed with such good mothers.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Different kinds of freedom

I suppose when one gets to this age, there begins to be a lot of sickness and dying, in addition to the exciting life expanding things that are happening to the young people in one's life. On Friday, my cousin Winsome and I were the sole family attendees at the interring of Aunt Winnie's ashes in the columbarium at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the world's largest unfinished cathedral. In the cavernous sanctuary was a massive phoenix fashioned from construction materials salvaged at the site. I couldn't get a photo that really did it justice, but here you go.

Aunt Winnie's daughter didn't show, and we had told other family members that it was okay if they didn't come, as the service was in the middle of the workday and would last only 15 minutes. I think my cousin and I just wanted to keep it simple. Aunt Winnie's granddaughter and her mom did come, but they had train trouble and arrived after everything was done. So it was just the lovely professor and me, the two who had been most responsible for our aunt's affairs, and the reverend who had performed her memorial service, and the Canon who said the words over the inurnment. Four women. We talked a bit about Aunt Winnie, how she was a feminist before the feminist movement, how when she was a teen it had been unseemly for girls to ride bicycles in town so she simply donned her older brothers clothes and cap and rode all over town, how she created opportunities for family members and what a trailblazer she was, though she remained pragmatic and unimpressed with her own achievements all through it. I wonder if she even recognized the pivotal role she played in our lives?

There were construction sounds outside the columbarium and the Canon kept apologizing. Aunt Winnie would not have cared an iota. It was all good. Still, I secretly felt a little sad that we were such a small group saying her final goodbye. But as her granddaughter said, "Grandma's not in that vault. Only her ashes are there. She is everywhere."

Another cousin's husband has recently been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. The crazy thing is he was completely asymptomatic until his diagnosis three weeks ago, but ever since they started with the tests and the putting in the medi port for chemo and the considering him for medical trials at Sloan Kettering (to qualify he had to have the especially virulent strain), he has plunged downhill at an alarming rate. There is now fluid around his lungs and heart and he has weakened to a frightening degree. This is probably very unhelpful but I often wonder if it is better to just not know. My cousin's status updates come by email and they are just the facts, ma'am, no sense of the emotional toll on the two of them. I have not been sufficiently present for her. I confess after burying Aunt Winnie and trying to shore up my Mom's spirits I've been tired, but now it's time to step up.

Today I crossed the 50 pound weight loss mark, and my Weight Watchers group cheered. Not that getting there was easy. Since February I have lost just 8 pounds and I've had to work for every one. Our leader, the wonderful and motivational and handsome Hal with his Louisiana drawl, asked me what had changed for me. I could not answer. I mean I stammered out something, but the truth was I didn't know what had changed. I still wake up with my whole body aching. My left hip and leg still hurt like hell when I simply walk, though I pretend like a champ and try my darndest to disguise it, with varying degrees of success on any given day. I suppose I did navigate the stairs in my brother's house a little better than before, and that was probably due to the fact that I was dragging less weight up and down them. And I am eating a lot better than before, the food more wholesome and without all the preservatives whose names I cannot pronounce (except for bacon. I do still eat bacon). This is one of the benefits of working from home. I have the time and energy to be intentional about meals, to make better choices, to eat slowly and enjoy it more. But other than that, I look and feel much the same, and still have a long way to go. I don't think about that though. I only think about the next five pounds.

My friend Leslie and I meet at Weight Watchers most Saturday afternoons and it's fun for us, because from there we get a meal together and then catch a movie or just wander. It's our excuse to get together once a week for sure, and we often also emotionally download the events of the week into each other's care.

Yesterday, we went by the American Museum of Natural History, where my husband and other natural scientists were holding court behind tables of specimens for ID Day, a kind of scientific antiques road show where people brings things they want identified and the scientists tell them what they have. Or else they just ask about the work of the particular department. My husband was the ichthyologist on hand, as he is every year. When our children were young, they would spend the day behind the table of shark jaws and cleared-and-stained fish and all manner of interesting specimens and people thought they were the cutest thing (they are). My son would hear his dad tell the story of each item so often that after a while, when people approached the table, if his dad was busy explaining things to other people, our son would just launch into his own scientific narrative, and he'd be completely accurate too. Our daughter on the other hand would usually curl up on a chair and read, mostly uninterested in the public oohing and ahhing over her.

That's my husband writing a love note to me on one of the certificates people get that say what they brought in and its official identification. It was at the end of the day when everyone was packing up. For the most part, they're such a congenial group, the natural scientists my husband works with, the mammologists, and paleontologists and so on. They're like the hipsters of science. They love acquiring knowledge of their fields just for the sake of it, and they'll never get rich from this work, but they will enjoy the discoveries they make and the new species they describe, and they find pleasure in knowing they are contributing to the greater glory of science. There was also a 3-D printer there yesterday making breathtaking exact scanned replicas of fossils by laying down thread-like strings of liquid plastic. The future is here, people. They are already making whole houses in the Netherlands and in Japan by 3-D printing the walls. It quietly blows my mind.

Then my husband and my friend and I went to dinner at a Thai place in the neighborhood, and after that went home. My son was finished his shift at the sports club and he and his friend who is visiting for the weekend were in the living room watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the two of them wrapped in blankets, a small tub of ice cream between them. I went into my room to read and promptly fell asleep, my husband dozing next to me. It was peaceful and simple, a day of pure unadulterated freedom.

Friday, May 9, 2014

This is more my speed today

But it's not gonna happen. I have to meet my cousins and attend the inurnment of Aunt Winnie's ashes in the columbarium at Cathedral of St. John The Divine in an hour, in a vault where her husband and son already await her, and where there is one more space for her daughter, the last one standing. I remember when my Uncle Charlie bought the four-person vault, he joked with my husband and me that we wouldn't have to travel too far to visit him.

One of my son's friends is here for the weekend. She wasn't sure if it was okay to come for Mother's Day, but I told her it was just fine. I'm very fond of this young lady. Her own mother succumbed to cancer while she was in college, so I'm doubly glad she won't be alone this weekend. She and my son have been buddies since freshman year, and she's now doing an internship an hour away in New Jersey. She knows my son so well. This morning, after he made them both omelets for breakfast, he showed her a handful of vitamins he was about to take and she said, "My God, you're taking more pills than an 80-year-old man! What on earth are they for?" So he went through them, milk thistle for his liver ("Oh, right, you need that," she said), cod liver oil and Garlicin (zinc and garlic and echinecea) for his immune system, B-vitamins for his hangovers (he joked) and a multivitamin to cover everything else.

I reminded her that she was visiting that Sunday in his sophomore year when he lectured me on the fact that Americans have the healthiest pee in the world and don't need vitamins. All through college he resisted my suggestion that he take vitamins to shore himself up, and now he is taking them by the handful. "Oh that's how he is," his friend told me. "He never does anything unless he thinks he came up with it himself." Yep, she's got him pegged.

Baby Woodstock

Yesterday was the end-of-classes extravaganza at my daughter's school, an annual event known as Slope Day. It's like a collegiate Woodstock wannabe at the end of every year, with students sprung from lecture halls and partying by the thousands on the grass, grooving along to concerts by some of the top artists of the day. In photos posted, my girl looks like she's having a good time, the gang all together and smiling. That's a photo with some good friends that she posted last night. She and another of her friend groups were all decked out in identical pink cropped tees, with Ludacris's image on the front (apparently he was one of the headliners). I gather it's a thing to do identical tees with friends on Slope Day, all part of the weeks of anticipation and planning.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Orange is the new black?

This is me in a cab on my way to an interview for a job I will probably not get. The interview was a lot of fun, though. I sat facing three lawyers who gave me the third degree. I learned a lot from them. I thrilled to the agility of their minds. Some questions absolutely stumped me but I fumbled through and did my best. It most likely was not enough. Onward.

This prospect was not in the field of journalism exactly; it was in a parallel arena, one in which the skills honed as a writer and editor for magazines could be transferred. I have to say it was absolutely refreshing to walk into an office building and be surrounded by "real" people, not X-ray thin women in haute couture and skinny heeled pointy toed suede boots, but people of all descriptions and sizes and hues, many of them wearing comfortable shoes (this is a thing, for me; I can't wear those spiky heels and always feel as if I am being judged for my lack of them). I felt, dare I say it, normal.

My daughter is back to herself, by the way. All is well, mostly because she shifted her perspective. Such magic, that.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

He was telling me a good story


Breakfast of ackee and festival, made by my lovely husband, who tracked down the national dish of Jamaica at a new gourmet market in Harlem. Ackee is outlawed in this country because until it ripens and opens it is poisonous, and I suppose the government doesn't want to take chances with people not knowing how to prepare it safely. My man knows how to cook it up, though, and as we ate we joked about our morning illegal activities. He also rustled up a plate of festival, another Jamaican favorite that is best explained as an island version of cornmeal biscuits or Johnny cakes.

Lazed most of the day, taking phone calls like a woman of leisure or reading, then showering and dressing up sometime in the afternoon. Dinner, also made by my husband, then cake and a shot each of good tequila, our new birthday tradition. A walk to the mailbox and then to the store. Now, we're back in the house, watching the basketball playoffs. A good slow day, no pressure to do anything at all other than what I felt like doing. Warm messages on Facebook and in my email and texts and Whatsapps made me feel remembered and cared about.

My children are both upstate, at school or visiting friends in Ithaca, but they checked in too, my daughter sending texts throughout the day. I colored my hair a different shade. Not sure what I think about it yet, but not really that concerned. I don't feel any older, especially after I realized last night that I have spent the last year thinking I am the age that I am turning today, so I basically missed an entire year. The number sounds so much older than I feel. I think, after age 25 or so, it is always thus. Happy birthday to me.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Well, this happened

We were asleep at 2 a.m. when our son called from upstate, where he had gone to spend the weekend with friends. I picked up the phone. "We're here at the house, safe and sound," he said, "but you might want to wake up a bit because I do have something to tell you."

My son and two friends had left for Ithaca at about 9 pm, after they all finished work. About 20 miles outside of town, on a dark rural road with a deep ditch on one side, a deer darted out of the woods and ran headfirst into the car, knocking it across the road into the oncoming traffic lane, which mercifully was empty. As my son tried to right the fishtailing vehicle he hit a signpost, skidded back and forth and then the car was up on two wheels on one side about to flip into the ditch when it suddenly righted itself and spun, coming to a stop horizontally across the two lanes. Thankfully, no one in the car was hurt. My son pulled off the road and parked and got out to survey the damage at which point a state police cruiser pulled up. The deer was dead, the skid marks told the story, and the cop filled out an incident report for the insurance company and sent the young men on their way.

As my son related all this I didn't panic, because there he was on the phone with me and he sounded fine, if a little shaken by what could have happened—but didn't. I told him to tell the story again to his dad so I wouldn't have to, and while they spoke I went to use the bathroom then to get a glass of water. By the time I came back, the two men had hung up but now I was more awake and I had questions. So I called him back. He said, "I expected you to call back. You were remarkably chill when I told you. I knew you weren't fully awake." At one point he said, "It was terrifying. You're driving along and suddenly some invisible thing slams into you and the car is careening and you don't even have time to think what the hell just happened?!"

It's the call you never want to get, unless of course some throng of guardian angels surrounded that car and righted it before true disaster could befall those boys. My cousin's husband, who is from Montana, always says city drivers don't know to look out for deer on rural roads, but I can tell you, from now on my son will be scanning for them. I can hardly wait till he's back in the fold on Sunday. Until then I'll be trusting that he has a good time with his friends this weekend regardless, and all the while I'll be silently praying him back home. Since I have no superpowers it is what I can do.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Back home

I'm back in New York City, my plane touching down at just past midnight. Though I'm going to miss waking up next to my mom and opening her window to that view first thing each morning, lots of good and potentially good things are percolating. For example: Last night as my plane landed in lashing wind and rain, an email from my editor pinged my phone, informing me that my memoir, Jamaica Dreams, has been made an Amazon editor's pick! I am so grateful to everyone here who downloaded the book, and thank you too for the kind comments some of you left on Amazon, or tweeted, or emailed to me. I confess I was as scared as any writer is when a book is coming out, scared it would be roundly drubbed, worried some relatives would take issue with some of its content (one does not put one's skeletons in the public square, unless of course you are a writer and reckless that way), but in fact the whole experience has been exhilarating, and judgment (my own and others') be damned!

I'm just happy to be writing and editing, and thrilled to be associated with Shebooks, whose subscription-site launch will be in a week. You can buy the books singly for just $2.99 each, but if you want to subscribe for a modest monthly fee you can read anything at all from its catalogue, whenever and at will, including the two new books that are published each week, and trust me, there is some astonishing writing happening on Shebooks, including from some of our very own blog family here. I'm looking at you Brittany, Elizabeth, Maggie, Mary, Denise—all of whom have book deals with Shebooks. Brittany Tuttle's taut and beautifully crafted fable Stone and Spring is already out (it was named a hot new release on Amazon!), and the rest are coming up soon, and I hope more after that! If you haven't already, check out this brand new publishing venture for women at Though it's a start up that published the first titles in mid December, Shebooks is already a player in the rapidly developing ebook market: According to HuffPo, last month Shebooks accounted for 22 percent of all ebooks sold! Exciting stuff.

In other news, while waiting at the gate in Jamaica for my flight, I fielded another email inviting me to do a new assignment for the magazine I just finished that monster project for, so I guess they were happy with the work I did. I also got a call from someone else to come in and talk about a position that might be opening up in a field of work that is not publishing, but I remain open to transitioning into other kinds of opportunities. I am trying to squelch the part of my brain that says I need to just keep freelancing, that when I show up in my not-standard-issue interviewing attire, it doesn't quite work out; I'm too old or too fat or don't fit the profile or something. It helps a lot to have freelance work on tap, so if the permanent gigs keep being elusive, I can still be productive doing work I love.

I'm feeling all around blessed this morning. Last night my husband and my son were at the airport to meet me, and as I exited customs my son grabbed my suitcase and my husband my carry-on while handing me my coat and telling me to put it on because it was storming out there. Gabbing with them and catching up on our week apart, I walked with my hands swinging free to the car, feeling so taken care of. I am one very lucky duck indeed.

One last thing: I'm so glad that Tearful Dishwasher is blogging again. His post yesterday was a revelation to me, a whole new way of seeing this enterprise in which we are all engaged. If I can just keep his insights in view, there will be a whole lot less angst in the game.