Monday, November 30, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving was epic. We fell over each other in too small a space and loved it. There were 23 of us in all on the day itself, and 10 of us who slept overnight for the long weekend. Couch sleeping and floor space were involved. We went to see The Hunger Games en masse at one point, and the younger folks went Black Friday shopping and we also started a 2000 piece puzzle on Friday afternoon that aggressively challenged us, but with a combination of stubbornness and indignation and sheer gut level commitment we finished it by the time everyone left to go home on Sunday. My husband and son noticed that I had altogether less anxiety about everything this year. One clue was the fact that when my husband sliced the ham and piled it artlessly onto the serving plate and then put it directly on the table, I looked at it and contemplated taking it back to the kitchen to arrange the slices in an pleasing whorl, garnished with cherries, but decided to leave it be. I had rearranged the living room furniture for better flow before everyone got up, and tidied the house, and then I made my one dish, corn and cheese soufflé, and my son made his one dish, candied yams, and my cousin made the potato salad, and my darling husband made everything else, turkey, ham, mac and cheese, broccoli, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, and our neighbors brought sweet plantain and the rest of our guests brought wine and spirits and pie and other yummy desserts, and it was all highly entertaining with just the right mix of energies, which I think is why Thanksgiving is my family's favorite holiday. Everybody is just super chill. But now it's Monday and I have lots to get to, so I'm going to put up a photo album of Thanksgiving 2015 and just leave it at that. I hope your weekend was mostly good and mostly soul-restoring, as mine was, and may the rest of the season unfold for us all in much the same way.

My niece and her best friend from childhood (who has become a Thanksgiving regular), were the last to leave on Sunday, and they refused to make the five-hour drive back to D.C., where they both now live, until that puzzle was completed. I observed to my husband that they have the ornery streak that is present in most of us born and raised in Jamaica. They refused to let that puzzle beat them. And that, I believe, is the mark of a Jamaican education, that can-do spirit, which is less can do than will do, Goddammit! It serves us well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My girl is home

My girl arrived last night, bringing a friend from school. Oh, it was good to hug my girl. She has such a calming, bright energy. I marvel at it every time I experience it anew.

Her friend, a girl dear to my daughter since the very first day of freshman orientation (they are now seniors), has this cool hipster vibe that has everyone asking her if she's from Brooklyn. If fact, she's from Phoenix, Arizona, by way of Chicago, Kansas and California. She's as easy and chill as a houseguest can be.

Meanwhile my cousin and her two daughters are at this very moment on the road from Maryland, and they arrive this afternoon, while my niece and a friend of hers from Jamaica will get here tonight. We're hosting 23 people for Thanksgiving this year, though not all of them are staying over. There will be a mere 10 of us resting our heads here come evening. The whole swirl of people shoulder to shoulder and flurry of cooking makes this my husband and children's favorite holiday. Let the party begin!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Roughing Up Free Speech

I woke up to the news that white supremacists had gunned down five protestors at a Black Lives Matter rally in Minneapolis last night.

The three shooters had apparently done surveillance on the planned protest for days, then showed up at the event and fired into the crowd of peaceful demonstrators before fleeing.

This is terrorism, y'all. Call it what it is.

Christians in America mow down people, too. It's not just "those brown people" who practice "that other religion" who come from "over there."

The wounded are all in stable condition, thank God.

But this is what you get when you have Donald Trump, the leading GOP candidate, endorsing supporters who punched, beat, kicked and choked a black man at one of his events,. The man was shouting "Black Lives Matter" from the back of the hall when several white men surrounded him and punched and kicked him and continued punching and kicking him after he fell to the ground. Trump called from the podium, "Get that man out of here!" As hands closed around the demonstrator's neck a woman on the video could be heard screaming, "Don't choke him! Don't choke him!" When asked by news media afterward what he thought of the violent actions of his supporters toward the demonstrator, Trump said mildly, "Maybe he should have been roughed up."

This from the candidate for president who has proposed a national database to track all Muslims and the closing of mosques nationwide.

This from the candidate who claimed at a rally that thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheered when the towers came down on 9/11. That simply isn't true.

This from the candidate who tweeted a fake graphic that blacks are responsible for most killings of whites. Again, simply not true. The bogus graphic, it turns out, was originally put out as propaganda by Neo Nazis.

Has Trump read no history or does he just not care that America was founded on the principle of religious freedom?

Does he really intend to sound like he's advocating the policies of Nazi Germany?

He must, because he keeps doing it.

It's an unwritten rule in journalism to not compare anything to Nazism. Too inflammatory. But what do you do when no other comparison matches as exactly?

Trump is a dangerous dude.

This isn't a carnival sideshow anymore. This is a hate fest, conducted by the irresponsible posturing blowhard who is the leading Republican candidate for president

Photo from StreetArtGlobe (formerly Banksy)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Happening now

Turned in the full draft of the book I ghostwrote for the 97 year old doctor, whose name is Ellamae.

Hired a copyeditor slash fact checker who is also going to format my endnotes.

Hired a cover designer. Got clear on a cover direction.

Wrote the jacket copy, front cover, back cover, inside flaps.

Rewrote the jacket copy based on my writer friend urging me to put on a marketing hat and use some over the top superlative adjectives, like "riveting" and "an extraordinary life."

Decided on a publisher.

Dreamed last night about Ellamae. She was holding the finished book in her hands.

Still much to do but it's happening.

In some other dimension, it's already happened.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Kenyan-born Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, who was recently named London's Young Poet Laureate, is writing verse about the state of the world that captures what I cannot find words to say. This poem of hers has been making the rounds on Facebook, shared and shared again, no doubt because it scalds us with its truth. Thank God for the artists like Warsan because most of the politicians "popping off" right now sound hateful and crazy and devoid of all sense and humanity.

what they did yesterday afternoon

They set my aunt's house on fire
I cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
I called the boy who used to love me
tried to 'okay' my voice
I said hello
he said Warsan, what's wrong, what's happened?

I've been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like:
dear god
I come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
I held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A gentle corner

Last night, amid the terrible news coming out of Paris, I attended my friend's art showing. The artist is Janice Movson. Her ceramic sculptures are beautiful and haunting, the figures seeming to hold the ache of the world. Everyone was shelled shocked by what was happening overseas, but for a couple of hours we allowed ourselves to be enveloped in a communal art space, a gentle corner away from the horrors unfolding elsewhere.

The two young women are lifelong friends of my daughter, girls I love dearly, who went to school with my girl from childhood on. The artist whose work was being shown was our children's art teacher for 10 years. The young women were there taking coats and bags for Janice, because the bonds formed at that sweet little school have endured. I love that all these connections have lasted. I'm sentimental. I hold on.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Learning as we go

My friend, the artist Janice Movson, is having a show and sale of her work this week and next. Check out her Facebook page for more of her exquisite sculptures. She also makes wonderful bowls, plates and clay utensils. It's fascinating to see her living room being transformed into a breathtaking art space. She's building the display shelves herself and figuring it all out as she goes.

I've been swamped with meeting my own creative imperatives. It's always nice to have work. I also came back from California last weekend with a sense of urgency to get Dr. Simmons' manuscript edited, published and bound. Her health has slipped quite a bit since the summer, which I suppose can happen when you're high up in your nineties, but I want to make sure she can enjoy the culmination of her lifelong dream to write her story. The manuscript is now being copyedited and I have hired a wonderful designer to do the dust jacket for the hardcover. I have written the jacket copy and now need to wade through the good doctor's photographs to choose 20 that represent her life to be included in the book. I do wish we had time to shop the work to a mainstream publisher, who could write more scintillating cover copy, edit the work more deeply, the whole nine, but there is no time anymore to think like that. Dr. Simmons needs to hold her book in her hands, and I'm the one she asked to help her do it.

I'm dithering about which self-publishing outfit to use, as they all have both good and scathing reviews online. There is not a single self-publishing company I have come across that gets the gold star every time. I'm contemplating going with Bookbaby, as they have a very short turnaround time and a reputation for a handsome, professional looking product. And their intake person was excellent on the phone. I've seen reviews online that say their print books work out better than their e-books, which might be okay for me, as the doctor wants a printed book and couldn't care less about an e-book. Some reviewers also complained about their back end reporting of sales, so I need to investigate that more. They also only do the interior design and printing; I have to find my own editorial services but I do know lots of editors. Bookbaby will do covers, but I'm going with the tried and true designer who did the cover of my very first book project. He won a design award for that cover. Can't wait to see what he comes up with this time. 

Anyone out there have any experience with Bookbaby? Or perhaps you might have another self-publishing company to suggest?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A certain age

It is disconcerting to look in the hotel room mirror in the mornings, before eyeliner, and see my father's face, see my brother's face, and know that face is mine.

My dear Ellamae, the sweet warrior spirit I have been writing about, is not as robust as she was in the summer. Not nearly. Then we sat at her dining room table, next to the window, the sunlight pouring over her Shona sculptures on the terrace beside us. She was always smartly dressed, with large interesting pieces of jewelry at her neck, around her capable looking wrists. Now she stays in bed, propped on pillows, wearing lovely pinstriped pajamas with lace piping. Her body is giving out. She can no longer ride the exercise bike or do yoga in the afternoons. She is thinner. When she goes to the bathroom, she moves much as I remember my mother moving in the time before the end, her legs uncertain, the caregiver coaching her on. "Come on, Doctor, next foot now, next foot."

I sit at her bedside and read her life story to her, and sometimes she catches my hand and brings it to her cheek, her way of saying thank you.

She will be 98 in March.

I have grown to love her so.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Rhyme and Reason

I'm traveling again this week, to Oakland this time, to read the second half of her manuscript to the 97-year-old doyenne of medicine who hired me as her ghostwriter. I'm always full of happy anticipation when I know I'm going to see her. I also have two other editing projects to finish this week, so in between spending time with the good doctor at her retirement home I'm going to be working fiercely in my hotel room. I wish everything hadn't arrived on my plate at the same time, but that's just the way it worked out. How can I complain?

Here are photos of where we stayed last week, that too-cool-for-school bed and breakfast we love, Argos Inn, co-created by the son of the lovely Susan Landry, our blogger pal here. There's the chandelier in the blue air, and the King Slate room with its skylight, through which the full moon found us in the deep of night. Here also are photos from the gorge and waterfall we visited, the selfie we took, and some swipes of beloveds from Halloween weekend, too. No real rhyme or reason for any of it. Just pictures. Put here for the memories. For the love.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Saints

My dear brother-in-law sent me this photograph this morning. It's of his father, whose eighty-sixth birthday would have been today. The little boy in the photo is my husband, the little girl is his sister, and his brother was not yet born. Their father was the manliest of men, athletic, stoic, charismatic, all the more so because he was a devoted husband and father. His family was his life. Given the date on the photo, the picture-taker, his wife, was already carrying their youngest child. I will be forever grateful that this is the man who showed my husband how to be a man. And a husband. And a dad.