Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New year's eve morning

I wanted photos of my son. I get so few good ones because he turns away from my camera. "Be in the moment," he tells me. "Don't separate yourself by looking through a piece of glass." But this is who I am. Apparently this is who I have always been, ever since my Uncle Ken gave me my first camera, a second-hand Nikkormat FTN built like a truck (I still have it) when I was 10. My friends from high school all tell stories of the camera constantly being at my eye. And though I also love to write, this blog is as much a photo album of my life as it is a narrative of what happens. So yes, I wanted photos of my son on the last morning of the year, and even though I didn't get the ones I wanted (that would have required his cooperation) I still got some in which he wasn't actually grimacing at my attempts to capture his beloved shaved head in pixels. Here he is making breakfast, and then getting himself off to work, a change of clothes in tow as he plans to attend a black tie event and stay over with friends this evening. He kissed my forehead as he left, calling over his shoulder, "See you all next year!" Meanwhile on the living room couch, my daughter slept through the action in her Survivor buff. She likes to fall asleep in the glow of Christmas tree lights. The second to last photo is from last evening, a couple of footloose kids sprung from final exams, heading out on the town. The last photo is one my niece posted of the New Year's eve morning they are having in Jamaica. Talk about a parallel universe.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The professor and the brothers

Love his reading glasses. Something about a man lost in a book...

Though unrelated by blood, these boys are definitely twin souls.

Monday, December 29, 2014

I just like the picture

I'm intrigued by how much detail this photo lost in the transfer from Instagram to this post, but I'm not complaining. Curiously, a vein in my forehead that I have never noticed before stood out conspicuously in all the photos my daughter and I took in Napa. It's less noticeable here, but I wonder what caused its appearance? In any case, I love this photo of my girl and me. The reds of our scarves. The happiness.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Paparazzi, Unabashed

A friend who is the mother of one of the boys who started pre-K at that wonderful little school with in my daughter all those years ago, had a holiday gathering last night with a few other parents and their kids from that same class. I'm not sure how this particular crew began gathering—I think it was our artist friend who first invited us over for pot luck soon after our kids decamped to high different schools, and we had such an easy congenial time we just began doing it again and again.

One of the fathers there last night, whose daughter has just returned from a semester abroad in South Africa, sat back after dinner and mused, "I don't know why but I like gathering with this crew so much. I think it's because when I'm with you all I can just be." There was assent all around and our host, whose son has just returned from a semester abroad in Turkey, said that when she told some of her other friends about the gathering she was planning, they said with incredulity, "You still get together with your grammar school crew?"

It really is something special that our children still adore each other and remain as connected as they became during those long ago weeks at the school farm. But we don't require our children's presence to get together ourselves. We sent our kids to a radical progressive little activist school with a farm, and maybe there was something in the mindset of the families who chose that school that made us simpatico for the long haul. Even so, I think our class had a special chemistry. Whatever it is, I am grateful for these cohorts and our intergenerational gatherings of 17 years and counting.  Our friend A said it just right: With these people, I can just be.

Of course, we parents were less interested in taking pictures of ourselves than of our children. They are so used to these photo op moments now, they simply indulge us. But here are a couple of photos of the mamas taking fond photos and the papas in a focused confab about how best to cut the cake.

I have been told by one who knows that cutting cake is a very manly job. And taking photos of one's children? Well, I'm still laughing at that photo of us that our host took, our paparazzi expressions.

Saturday, December 27, 2014


A week ago today, my daughter and I were just finishing up a charmed lunch on a balcony overlooking the vineyards of Napa Valley when the news came across the wire that two police officers had been shot execution style in New York City. My daughter and I had excused ourselves at the end of the meal to use the restroom. While waiting for me my daughter checked her phone. "Oh no," she said as I was rubbing divine-smelling lotion luxuriously set out onto my just-washed hands. "Two cops assassinated in Brooklyn while sitting in their squad car." My heart sank. This is a war, I remember thinking, whether or not it was the right response to have. I was saddened beyond belief, and sickened at the news that was being delivered to these two men's families that day. "The shooter was mentally ill," my daughter went on, reading from her phone. "He shot his girlfriend in Baltimore earlier in the day and posted threats to kill cops on social media. And after he shot the cops he killed himself." So fucking senseless, I thought. My daughter and I just looked at each other and went to rejoin our lunch companions.

In New York at the same hour, my son's friend O, who is Black, called him on his cell. My son was at a track meet watching his athletes compete. O told him what had happened and then said, "You and I had best move to another country, my friend, because it's a fucking war out here." My son told me this later, on Christmas eve when he was driving me around to get last minute gifts. He also told me that he had made a conscious decision not to march, not to get snared by the anger and sorrow over the grand jury decision not to indict the cop who choked the life out of a Black Staten Island man last July. "I just can't walk around angry," he said. "I just need to live my life." I don't fault him. We do what works. I don't want him marinating in anger either.

Today, one of the officers is being laid to rest and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is there, despite NYPD officers blasting him for contributing to the atmosphere of distrust of cops by admitting that he had counseled his Black son on how to conduct himself in interactions with cops. The cops said de Blasio had those two dead cops' blood on his hands. When the mayor walked into the room to give a press conference the night after the shooting, the cops present turned their backs on him. My son has chosen not to dance with anger and I admire him for it, but the photo of that Klingon-like repudiation of a White father trying to protect his Black son enraged me. Of course Di Blasio counseled his son. The numbers of unarmed Black men killed by White police officers don't lie. Even Black police officers in New York City admit they fear for their lives when out of uniform. Black cops give their sons "The Talk" too. 

In a Reuters news interview, 25 African-American cops, some active, some retired, revealed that all but one of them had been racially profiled by White cops when out of uniform, most of them multiple times. It often made no difference that they immediately identified themselves as police officers when stopped, the cops told them the badge was fake, that they were lying or in some cases, said they didn't care who the fuck they were. The Black cops had their faces slammed into cars and concrete sidewalks, were kicked and punched, despite the fact that they all knew better than to "resist arrest." One Black cop who took his complaint to Internal Affairs, eventually left the department, disillusioned when no action was taken against the White cops who assaulted him. He had been doing nothing more than walking to his car in a parking lot at night. Another off duty Black cop was jogging when accosted. "What's suspicious about a jogger? In jogging clothes?" he asked rhetorically. Two-thirds of the Black cops interviewed said they never bothered to report or pursue justice in connection with the incidents, aware that they would be harassed and worse if they did. 

I worry for de Blasio. If the cops are against him, who is going to protect him and his family? I know his wife, who is Black, is losing sleep at night. 

My cousin in San Francisco, a social worker, had an interesting take on the whole harrowing interaction between White cops and Black citizens, especially those in poor and disenfranchised neighborhoods. She said that you take the cops, who have a tough and dangerous job, who have seen true horrors in the line of duty, and who are probably suffering from PTSD. Then you take Black men from neighborhoods fractured by poverty, who are most likely also suffering from PTSD and who have an ingrained distrust of cops based on a violent history. Then you add the overlay of conscious and unconscious racism, the fact of the proliferation of guns, and the relative powerlessness of Blacks in general in the society, and you have an incendiary mix. Some White cops have been reported to joke that if they kill a Black man in dubious circumstances, they'll likely get an unscheduled paid vacation, and that's not so bad. They have also admitted that they avoid the same overreaching behavior with White suspects, because too much heat rains down on them. 

So where do we start in healing this ongoing nightmare? There are so many threads to pick apart I have no clue. Never wonder why I pray.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas loves

Merry Christmas to all my beloveds in the blog kingdom. Thank you for all your support and friendship in the year that was. Over here we are having what I have finally accepted is our usual Christmas, low key and slow, the gifts opened, everyone drowsing through the morning, my son playing video games, my daughter gone back to sleep in her Santa hat, my husband reading instruction booklets—I always try for at least one gift that has instruction booklets. He dives right into them. I have just finished my morning phone calls. I have spoken to my mother, all the aunts, and a few cousins, and have received salutations as well.

My mother sounded clearer the longer we spoke, and by the time I put her on the phone with her grandchildren she was all here. But she is confused these days, my brother says, or at least that is the word we apply to it, because we cannot see what she sees. The other day when my Aunt Grace was visiting her, she asked if that was their brother Terrence sitting on the couch beside Grace. Aunt Grace said, "Terrence died. He isn't here," to which my mother replied archly, "How is it that I am blind in one eye and I can see him and you can't?" She lives almost continuously in this alternate reality, seeing and imagining all manner of things. Yesterday she told my brother that she had "sent in the application" and needed to "discuss a few things" with him. She also told my Aunt Grace that she wanted to have a luncheon or a tea party for her 100th birthday in January. She will be 93 in January, but for some weeks now she cannot be convinced of this. She is quite sure that it is her 100th birthday coming up and she means to celebrate it. She told me on the phone to be sure to arrange cake and ice cream for the day, and apparently she has told my brother and his wife the same thing. My husband and I are planning to fly down for a quick visit to celebrate with her because if she thinks she's turning 100 how to explain that her daughter is not there for that?

I did manage this morning to get a photo of my son in the red onesie that his sister gave him for Christmas. It's a perfect sibling gift, I think, and it brings out the goofball in him. The men will head to the supermarket soon for the makings of Christmas dinner while my daughter and I clean up the house for round two. My cousin is coming to have dinner with us. This is her first Christmas without her husband Gary, who died in October. It is our first Christmas without my husband's dad, too, and our first without Aunt Winnie. The dominoes fall. We keep on playing. Two of my son's friends will also be here with us tonight. We are a small outpost in the city. Aunt Winnie and Uncle Charlie are no longer across the way, and most cousins who once lived here or went to school here are now relocated to other cities. Larger groupings of family are gathering in Maryland and in Florida, as well as in Jamaica, but here, we will make Christmas with friends who are like family, and I feel no pressure this year. I feel okay.

Monday, December 22, 2014

It rained continuously and flights were delayed but that is not a complaint

My girl and I have been to California and back, to Oakland and San Francisco and the Napa Valley, and I worked on the first day while she explored and got lost on the trains and found her way to Fisherman's Wharf and  strolled through Chinatown and shopped on Powell Street where she located the perfect pair of black boots, and even though there was not a patch of blue sky the whole time we were there, she said, "I could easily move here tomorrow."

My cousin and her partner took us wine tasting in Napa, and we had a delicious lunch at a place called Rutherford's, on a rustic wooden deck with wrought iron railings that looked out over a rolling landscape of vineyards, and we four women had a fine time together, talking and tasting and laughing our way through the afternoon and into the evening. My cousin and her wife have one of the warmest, most harmonious and gently humorous marriages I've seen, and it was lovely just being around them, and also sharing that time with my girl.

My work project also started out well. I was nervous at first, as I always am when I am to meet new people, but my daughter was an excellent traveling companion and her lightness of spirit helped ground me, her laugh like music, nothing bothering her too much, just taking everything as it came. This project will take me back to Oakland a few times over the next few months. I relish the chance to discover and grow familiar with a new place, where there is that touch of the tropics mixed in with the temperate, and people have a laid-back hipstery vibe, so different from the rush and hustle of New York City, which I love anyway, and am always happy to come back to.

And now we are home. My husband, son and daughter went out and got the tree last night. It is perfectly sized and shaped for its spot next to the window, where it now stands, waiting for its lights and baubles. I think I might have to now turn my attention to Christmas. I cannot pretend any longer that it's not happening. Here are some random pictures from our our trip.




Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Soon the band will be back together"

Finals are done, one year anniversaries have been celebrated, and now she's on the bus bound for home! By tonight she and I will be ensconced on the couch watching the Survivor season finale! My husband just sent me an animated emoji of a smiley face in a Santa hat ringing a bell. The text said, "Soon the band will be back together." He appears so matter-of-fact about our children's comings and goings, but in truth, he's as excited as I am to have them back home! And then tomorrow bright and early the girl and I will fly off to San Francisco for a few days. My cousin and her wife are planning a day trip to Napa Valley with us so the Wines course that my daughter took this semester should come in handy. Just contemplating her arrival in a couple of hours is making me ridiculously happy. This girl.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Woman at the Met

My friend Janice took that photo of a woman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last week. She sent me the photo, knowing I might want to post it here. Janice is Jewish and an artist, the the roughness of the cloth, safety-pinned to the back of the woman's coat, and the words "Black Lives Matter," took her breath away. It flashed her back to another time in history, when a group of people were forced to wear cloth armbands with the Star of David in the context of a mass genocide. Janice was very affected by that sign on the back of the woman's coat. She found the quiet statement powerful and suggested we should all wear such signs, this time as a testament to life. 

This again

Someone said to me this week, "Pain is a fact. Suffering is a choice."

It doesn't feel like a choice. I feel swamped. Overrun.

I haven't been in quite this place for some time now. I dared to think I might have moved beyond it, maybe even cracked the code of inner peace. Hubris.

I feel so alone.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Chemical Sunday

There is so much happening at once, in so many different veins, I don't know what to post. Should I post about our choral group's holiday concert yesterday, for family and friends? It was a lot of fun and well attended, and my friend Leslie said she couldn't tell when I was faking the high notes, which I didn't do much, only when it counted! And I have a distinct memory this morning of how happy I felt to look out into the audience and see my husband sitting there, singing along, nodding his head and smiling.

Should I write about the Black Lives Matter Millions March in New York City yesterday? It was huge! I wish I'd been there to add my voice and my presence, but I was singing happy holiday songs while it was happening, which I suppose is as good a use of one's voice as any. But really the march was spectacular, and everyone was there, all descriptions of humans. The diverse surge of people stretched for more than a mile and lasted late into the night as people bonded with one another and affirmed our common humanity. Many of my friends attended. Their photos on Instagram this morning are deeply moving.

Should I write about how disgruntled I am feeling this morning, for reasons not quite clear to me. Maybe it's the mess in the kitchen and the fact that no one else seems to feel the need to clear the dishwasher. I think I might just leave that mess there for a while. I don't feel like cleaning up the kitchen in a mood of poisonous resentment. I need to get back to not really caring first. In the scheme of things, this is petty, I know.

Oh wait. My husband is doing the clean up. I think he might have sensed my mood when I walked into the kitchen just now. God, I do love him. He doesn't deserve this crabbiness.

But why this mood? Maybe it's the fact that after losing 50 pounds and keeping it off for many months (though I have been stalled and not losing any more for all those months), I have been creeping back up ever since my trip to Jamaica, and I am now up 8 pounds and I feel somewhat desolate about it. I am committing right here, right now to get back on track, which I am resolved will have to include regular gym visits. The gym is in the basement of my apartment building, for heaven's sake. I don't even need to brave the elements to get there.

I also saw video from the concert yesterday, including the side view of me walking onto the stage, and ooooh boy! I might have lost 50 pounds (now 42) but I sure have a loooooong way to go! Man, that was a depressing image.

Plus my head hurts and my shoulders and all my joints ache this morning. What the fuck is up with me? Life is good. It really is. So why do I feel like crying?

My daughter comes home in two days. And then she and I are traveling to San Francisco together for a work jaunt. She plans to explore the city on her own on the Friday when I am working. She loves exploring new cities on her own. And then we'll stay until Sunday and have some fun together. I am really looking forward to this trip with her even though I first have to get through the dreaded packing and getting myself to the airport.

(Repeat three times. Life is good.)

Photo: Cori Murray

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Son I Love

I'm working at my laptop which is inside my armoire in the living room while my son watches the series finale of Sons of Anarchy on the couch next to me. He doesn't go in to work until the afternoons on Thursdays. I love having this time with him, both of us engaged in our individual pursuits, and yet keeping each other company, just me and this boy who made me a mother, now a man, whom I adore.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

15 Minutes

This was the "Black Lives Matter" demonstration that took place in the engineering building on my daughter's college campus early this afternoon. The lie-in (I just can't bring myself to call it a "die-in") lasted 15 minutes—one minute for each of the 11 times Eric Garner said, "I can't breathe" to the Staten Island cops who choked the life out of him, and one minute for each hour that Michael Brown's body lay in the street in Ferguson. The students are in the midst of final exams, but my daughter felt it important to be there to help make a statement. I picked her out in this photo immediately. I'm grateful for the idealism of so many of this generation now taking the stage.

The Racism Beat

This piece on tells what it's like to write about race again and again. And why folks get tired.

Here are excerpts:

Maybe it was the realization that writing anything would be to listlessly participate in the carousel ride: an inciting incident, 1,000 angry thinkpieces, 1,000 tweeted links, and back to where we started, until next time. Perhaps it was a feeling that writing anything would finally be too redundant to bear, a pursuit of too many sad and obvious words to heap onto so many other nearly identical words written down before, by me, by thousands of others....

Imagine an editor asking a writer to passionately articulate why a drunk driver hitting and killing a boy on a bicycle is wrong and sad. That would never happen, because a drunk driver killing a boy on a bike is a self-evident tragedy. Asking a writer to exert lots of effort to explain why would be a disservice to the dead, as if his right to life were ever in question, as if our moral obligation to not snuff out our fellow citizens via recklessness were something in need of an eloquent plea.

When another unarmed black teenager is gunned down, there is something that hurts about having to put fingers to keyboard in an attempt to illuminate why another black life taken is a catastrophe, even if that murdered person had a criminal record or a history of smoking marijuana, even if that murdered person wasn’t a millionaire or college student. There is something that hurts when thinking about the possibility of being “accidentally” shot on some darkened corner, leaving a writer who never met you the task of asking the world to acknowledge your value posthumously, as it didn’t during your life. 

The photo, sent by my daughter, shows spray-painted activism at Cornell. My girl says people at her school are galvanized. "Everybody's talking about Black Lives Matter," she texted me. "Differing views of course, but lots of dialogue." Yes, I know that all lives matter, but right now among cops, that doesn't seem to be in question for anyone but Black folks. So I am glad of all the protests across the country. I'm glad a diverse cross-section of people seem to be birthing a movement. I'm glad we are marching, even if we are tired.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday in love

The sunlight pouring into my house this Sunday noon feels holy, cleansing, like a message to release the burdens of the past week that have been weighing so heavily on my heart, and to look at the larger truth instead, which is love.

I'm feeling such love for everyone, for my husband and mother and family and friends, for all of you here, and especially for my children, a love so huge my heart feels like it's going to burst from trying to hold it, and tears spill because the feeling has to find a way out. Can one have a transformational experience alone at home on an ordinary Sunday? I feel as if I've pierced a veil, as if I'm floating, as if I'm high, almost, on love. I might sound a little touched, but I don't mind this feeling that has invaded me this bright and quiet Sunday. Not one bit.

Alone at home, I watched a movie called I, Origins this morning. My husband was out in the cold doing a loving service, handing out hot soup and sandwiches to the homeless people who live in the park. My son was at work, and I was deliciously and guiltlessly on my own, going inward, restoring my own spirit. I had started to watch the news but quickly changed the channel. And then I found this movie with no stars I recognized (except Archie Panjabi), about a molecular biologist pursuing evidence of past lives through the distinctive patterns of human irises. To me the story was really about the persistence of love, and the idea that we never truly lose those we have loved. There were some plot points I could have taken issue with, but mostly I gave myself over to the story. And when it was done, I looked around in my home and noticed the light, and all the heaviness of the past week just lifted, and I had the rare awareness of being wholly in the moment, and it encompassed everything. And right then my daughter texted me a silly funny video, which of course was as perfect as it gets.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sibling protection

At my daughter's college upstate, the students are engaged in conversations about the recent cases of young unarmed Black men shot to death by White cops in circumstances that did not warrant the use of deadly force. It's definitely on her mind. This morning she sent us in our family message inbox a link to an article that suggested that those stopped by cops should invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions. The article suggested Black men especially should carry a business card with the legal language of the Fifth Amendment so they can read it accurately to the police officer.

After the link, my daughter wrote:

But still dont take the card out without your id cause theyll probably think youre reaching for a gun. Or you know, maybe a pill bottle, anything works these days.

Followed by:

Stay safe.

I started to answer with the comment that this Fifth Amendment deal might not work for Black men, especially if no one is around to witness the interaction, because a White cop would probably just get pissed off and could make up a story about what happened and even plant evidence if necessary to support his claim (let's be real, we're mostly not talking about women cops here). I wrote that note, and then deleted it, deciding it wasn't helpful, it would only fuel the sense of jeopardy the Black men I love already live with, and besides, they already know all this. I sat for a moment, slightly heartbroken that my dreamy girl who all her life has floated above the ugliness, is now having such an education in the harsher realities of this world.

And then my phone pinged again. It was my son sending through this message:

Jesus, I thought that was from mommy at first! smh

To which I responded:

Your sister loves you.

The photo up top is of my kids. My daughter was 5 and my son 8. They've got this.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The truth about White privilege

Elizabeth just put up a powerful post connecting the Ferguson and New York cases with the widespread discrimination faced by those in our culture who are disabled. The post ended with the link #CrimingWhileWhite, a hashtag that has apparently exploded on Twitter this morning. Reading those tweets about how differently Whites and Blacks are treated in encounters with law enforcement, the tears came. It is good to be reminded that we are not imagining the disparities and that some people are finally acknowledging the fact of White privilege. Thank you, Elizabeth, for your righteous anger and sense of justice while mine had gone missing.