Monday, February 29, 2016

Girls Weekend

There are happy happenings in my world. A couple of weeks ago my daughter and my niece texted me in our group inbox and said, "We're thinking it's time for a girls weekend. You in?" Like Flynn, I texted back, cliches be damned. This past weekend, both girls traveled to the city from their respective schools, meeting up here on Friday afternoon. We had such a wonderful time, doing little more than eating out at places we've been wanting to try, getting mani pedis, binge watching Shondaland shows and Survivor, and hanging out with my husband and son, my son's girlfriend and niece's boyfriend, all of us sipping red wine (Saturday night) and chatting and laughing riotously while my baker child made pineapple upside down cupcakes as a treat because she knows her grandmother's pineapple upside down cake was my favorite thing she used to bake (closely followed by her banana bread). Apparently, I drink socially with my children now. I didn't know I'd be that mother, but it seems okay. They seem okay.

At one point my kids and my niece had a deep conversation about gender role messages they absorbed from their parents. My husband and I were stunned to discover that my son had internalized the idea that the man should always pay. Whaat? How, I asked him. "Because when we take cabs you always give Daddy the money to pay, even when it's your money." He thought this meant I wanted the appearance of the man paying my way. Oh Lord. I then explained to him that the only reason I gave his dad the money was because I didn't feel like fooling with tipping and making change. It was sheer laziness, I explained, and his dad simply indulged me. Fortunately for my son, his girlfriend refuses to indulge his well-meaning chauvinism.

My niece laughingly shared that growing up, whenever she asked her dad for money to go out with friends, he joked by asking why were her friends so broke. I told her don't believe her dad's jokes, because my brother, like my dad, always counseled me to pay my own way. My daughter then asked her dad whether he thought that when she went on a date the man should pay for her. "No," her father told her. "Always offer to pay your own way. You don't want people feeling you're beholden because they've done all the paying."

At the same time, we all admitted to the double standard that the man should at least offer to pay the bill, especially when the relationship is new. Picking up the tab, we decided, could be an important clue as to whether a prospective partner was generous or a cheapskate. While we recognized this dynamic plays out differently in same gender dating, we confessed that when it came to straight couples, we didn't feel nearly as strongly about the woman offering the pay the whole bill, though we agreed it was fine for her to also sometimes pick up the tab once she knew who she was dealing with. This whole exchange made me really aware of how hard it is to thread the gender role needle exactly. It also made me wonder what other messages I might have unwittingly passed on to my kids, the ones I don't even know about and so cannot address.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Rain, rain

It's a gray moody day. I do love listening to the rain on the metal housing of the air conditioning unit outside my window. It sounds like soft rhythmic drumming on an old tin roof—a poetic sound, but lonely.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Boy I Love

My beautiful bald-headed boy was fighting off an achy flu. This meant we had a pleasant weekend of him just lying on the couch, sleeping intermittently, watching TV and chatting with his parents amiably. On Sunday he felt better, and he and his girlfriend announced they were making us dinner—steak tacos and quinoa mixed with brown rice and sweet potato. The taco fixings included avocados, chopped onions, shredded cheese, sour cream and salsa. My husband and I gave each other secret smiles. This is a lovely pass we have come to in our life as parents. And our son's gf is a sweetheart.

The world she fought for

Ellamae Simmons, age 9

That was her school picture, taken in 1927. A version of that photograph is being used on the cover of her book, Overcome: My Life in Pursuit of A Dream, which will be published in just a few more weeks. I love this photo of Dr. Ellamae Simmons as a schoolgirl. She looks so confident and open to the world. Her best friend in tiny Mount Vernon, Ohio hadn't yet told her that she couldn't play with her anymore because her mother didn't want her playing with coloreds. That was still two years in her future.

The thing I love most about Ellamae, now on the verge of 98 years old, is she didn't ever become bitter. Or lost. Or defeated. She refused to curl up in a corner, licking her wounds, no matter how justified she might have been. After graduating her mostly white high school with a 96 percent average, she was expected to become a domestic in a white family's home. That was the horizon for black girls in her time and place. But Ellamae yearned to study medicine, and she set about creating a world that would enable her—and others like her—to do just that. Her life wasn't easy. But she refused to believe she wasn't worth the fullness of her talents and her dreams. And somehow, there was always that dancing light in her eyes. Everyone I interviewed to write her life story spoke of it. She humbles and inspires me.


In other news, Donald Trump is starting to seem unstoppable, taking all the delegates in the South Carolina primary on Saturday. I saw the movie Race this weekend, about Jesse Owens' triumph at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Jesse Owens, by the way, has a cameo in Dr. Simmons' story). I was chilled by the scenes with the Nazis, the malevolence and hate, and the stadium-wide straight-armed salute. Interestingly, the photo that many news organizations ran with the story of Trump's South Carolina win was of him at the podium apparently giving the same straight-armed salute. Maybe the camera just caught him mid-wave, and the news outlets decided the image went quite well with his rhetoric.

An op ed in The Washington Post this morning captured my feelings about this moment almost entirely. Titled We Must Stop Trump, it argues that we are at a crossroads, and we cannot afford inertia. Trump is a buffoon and a clown, yes, but he's also dangerous. I swear, he makes Jeb Bush look like a statesman. I think Jeb, who was the first to take on Trump, understood that they need to reduce the field, stop splitting votes. Don't get me wrong: I'm not a fan of any of the Bushes, but there was a decency about Jeb, especially juxtaposed with Trump, Cruz and Rubio. I'm actually sorry to see him go. 

They say what you focus on multiplies, so I'm going to focus on the courage and resilience of citizens like Dr. Ellamae Simmons, and I'm going to focus on Trump's appeal to the forces of hate shriveling in the glare of a nation willing to shake off the stupor, willing to stop laughing ruefully at the reality star who smears Mexicans, Muslims, black people, brown people, everyone who is not physically like him, with the broad brush of hatred and contempt. Hell, there's even a verb for it now—to otherize.

You can read The Washington Post piece by Danielle Allen here.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Days at sea

There is work on the horizon, but at the moment I'm in this pause, finishing up one project but with time on my hands. I should go out and roam the city, see movies every day, catch up on museums, and next week, I just might do that, but this week I'm doing loads of laundry and binge watching The Good Wife from the beginning, interchanging that with Mozart in the Jungle, which I've just begun and am somewhat captivated by. Let's see: I've also recently binge watched the first season of Grace and Frankie and the second season of Broadchurch, both absorbing in different ways. The reading I'm doing is mostly research for my next project, which I'll get started on sometime in March if all goes as planned. I'm nervous about this one for reasons I won't specify. I spend a lot of time figuring out how to make money that has nothing to do with art. A character in Mozart in the Jungle, an oboist, says exactly that and it rang like a gong in my brain. How am I made that I can't just enjoy this down time guilt free? A more interesting question: What are you reading and/or binge watching these days?

Me on my honeymoon in Jamaica
Photo taken by my groom

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


"The cornerstone of optimism 
is the willingness to believe 
that the inevitable is desirable."

—Andrew Solomon

I saw that quote this morning in a New York Times review of five recently published books on death and dying. The author of the review, Andrew Solomon, found the books to be more uplifting than not. I was struck by the sentiment, in this season in which both my parents passed away, my father twenty years ago this week, and my mother a year ago next month. The quote feels hopeful, even as I weather the stiff winds of memory. Unfortunately, I have no idea where I found that photograph. If you read here and that stunning lonely resilient tree is yours, please enlighten me, and I will happily give credit where it is due. I'm always so taken by that particular burnt red in photographs.

Getting there

I don't know why I'm so shy to show you the cover of the book I spent the last year working on. The color here is not quite true, and there are some cover elements still missing (price, ISBN and bar code, publisher's logo) but we're almost there. Soon, we will have a book, and Dr. Simmons will hold it in her hands and her eyes will dance. I keep visualizing that.

Monday, February 15, 2016


So Justice Scalia died. One of his last big decisions from the Supreme Court bench opined that black students should go to less competitive colleges because they just aren't equipped to handle the competitive ones. My daughter is set to graduate from her Ivy League college in May. This should give you some idea about how I felt about Scalia's tenure on the bench. I am glad I will not have to endure any more of his opinions, though of course, I understand that his family is grieving. Oddly, one of the most liberal justices on the bench, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was best friends with Scalia. She wrote the most beautiful tribute to him, just gorgeously expressed, which I took to be more a reflection of her excellence than his. But it humanized him somewhat that this woman I do admire, was so close to Scalia. It helped me keep the uncharitable thoughts to a minimum. As my mother used to say, don't speak ill of the dead.

Which doesn't mean we can't speak the truth about the fact that a lot of Scalia's decisions were devastating for people's basic human rights. And now the Republicans are vowing to filibuster any nominee Obama sends to Congress for confirmation. Of course they are. Lots of memes popping up online about that, but my favorite one might be this:

He'd make a fine Supreme Court justice, the very best.

It's snowing again outside. The street lamps just coming on are making serene pools of the light on the untouched snow.  My husband, my son and his girlfriend are all ensconced in this cozy apartment on President's day. I feel restless and peaceful. Both.

We're going to watch the movie Bridge of Spies. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The present politics

My son and I watched the New Hampshire primary returns together last night. He's the one who got comfy on the couch, grabbed the remote and said, "Okay! Let's see how things are playing out in the world of politics."

As anyone who's been here for a while knows, I tend to get fairly passionate about presidential politics. This time around, I'm just flummoxed. I watch with disbelief as, on the GOP side, the vulgarian Donald Trump appeals to the lowest common denominator with his sexist, xenophobic and downright fascist speeches, while Marco Rubio repeats his line about Obamacare destroying the country ad nauseum, and Ben Carson stands around looking clueless, and Chris Christie bloviates, and Ted Cruz, the worst of them all, smiles his sinister demon smile and utters all manner of nefarious lies that his constituents swallow like manna. Yeah, I don't care that my Ted Cruz language is particularly inflammatory. The man makes my skin crawl.

On the other hand, I think John Kasich could probably run the country competently. And while I'd hate another Bush administration lining the pockets of the rich and governing for the greater glory of oil, at least Jeb would have the intelligence and experience to make reasoned decisions when the shit hit the White House. I can't even believe I'm saying that.

As for the Democrats, I want to vote for Hillary Clinton. I want to be behind her with all my heart, but for some reason, I just can't muster it. She's definitely the brightest student in class who didn't get all the kudos the boys did, but she just keeps plugging along, determined and full of steel. I admire her, I actually really do, but she has so much political baggage and every word she speaks is so calculating it's hard to get really jazzed about her candidacy.

Meanwhile, my children are really into Bernie Sanders, and his idealism about the role of government, and of course his promise to lift the burden of student loans. Young people are lining up behind Bernie, and they're talking with enthusiasm to their parents about him. I don't know if he'd be able to withstand the right-wing onslaught of meanness and propaganda if he became the Democratic nominee, but you know, he might. He's authentic and unapologetic in his message, so that helps. And this election cycle sure isn't like any we've seen before. We have the fascist Trump at one end of the spectrum, and the socialist Sanders at the other. My son said, "I just worry about whether Bernie can actually deliver on the things he promises, but maybe I'd be willing to see him try."

Meanwhile, even right-wing pundits who made Barack Obama's life so miserable in office, are already missing his grace, intellect, integrity and class. I confess I smirked all the way through this piece by David Brooks, even though I agreed with all his points. "...[O]ver the course of this campaign it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board," Brooks wrote. "Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply."

And isn't this an amazing photo by Doug Mills of the New York Times.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The hours

At 5 pm I climbed back under the covers, having not set foot outside my front door all day. I have work to do, but it is intermittent. I realize I really like when I'm staring down the barrel of deadlines and chained to the blue screen. I'm not forced to decide how else to spend the hours. Today, after sending back 20 revision notes on the galley of my book, there was nothing else pressing to do. I ended up wasting the entire day, watching the latest episode of Top Chef, surfing New Hampshire primary returns, laconically adding a few pieces to the half-done jigsaw puzzle on the dining table. Then, under the covers. I lay there trying to decide if I was depressed. I decided that I wasn't, that my bed was simply the warmest and coziest place in the house. There's snow on the ground outside, and a draft at the windows, and my thoughts have too much space to roam. My man just came home from work. I greeted him unapologetically from under the comforter, Kindle in my hand. It's Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. On this night, they do a pancake dinner in the church hall. The men do the cooking. I thought I might go with him and mingle. But the bed cradled me.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Girl I Love

I love the red of this, the crop, the soft focus, her.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Outside my window at this moment

“I'll be safe and happy 
when I'm no longer afraid 
of my own mind.” 

― Marissa Meyer, Winter

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Melissa Harris Perry in Iowa

While MSNBC news anchor and Wake Forest University professor Melissa Harris Perry was in Iowa earlier this week, reporting on the Iowa Caucus and mentoring a class of journalism students who were there for the real world instruction, an unsettling thing happened. As she was standing in the lobby of her Des Moines hotel, watching the returns, a man came up to her, pressing so close she could feel his breath.

How did you get credentialed to be here, he wanted to know. His tone was ugly.

She didn't know if he was there to kill her, but she felt his malevolence, and knew at once it was a possibility. She says things became a blur, a response to being violated that she'd learned in high school when an adult neighbor held her down and raped her. Now, in that hotel lobby in Iowa, she heard the man say the words "Nazi Germany" and she heard him say, "I just want you to know why I'm doing this." She knew whatever this was, it wouldn't be good, but she stood there, frozen in that helpless stupor that had overtaken her as a young teen.

It was only the sight of her students some feet away that rocked her back to the moment, that made her think that whatever this man intended, she didn't want her students to witness it, and so she jumped away from him, moved to the other side of the table at the same moment that her friend, who was almost surely white, stepped between her and the man. Now everyone's attention was on the man, who turned and ran out of the hotel, got into a waiting car, and drove off.

What the holy fuck.

That man was basically saying that as a black woman, she had no right to be there, in his part of the country, doing her job.

Some people tweeted that Melissa Harris Perry is just being dramatic, that this was no attack. Those people are tripping. I don't have a hair of doubt that she knew the true nature of what was going down. But why on earth should this hardworking journalist not be as free as her white peers to go where the news is happening and report on it? Why should she be more in jeopardy simply because her skin is a darker hue?

I blame Trump. I blame Cruz. I blame the hate speech of every right wing Tea Party or GOP candidate who's been out there, encouraging bigots to victimize and do violence to others based on nothing more than their difference from them.

Someone told me this morning that Clinton was just a Trump or a Cruz in disguise. Well, even if she is, at least she's not out there telling people it's okay to give in to their basest instincts. She's not out there stirring up the forces of hate. There are no perfect candidates in this presidential race, but some are intensely more dangerous than others.

Melissa Harris Perry wrote about the incident here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dr. Ellamae Simmons at 97

"I am almost one hundred years old now. With the passage of years I have developed a hard-won peace and a deep sense of gratitude for the great gifts that have been bestowed on me in this life. I now want nothing more than to share the bounty of my experiences as evidence that no matter how bleak the moment we are living through, we can overcome. We will overcome. But we may need the help of another person who believes in our vision as strongly as we do. I have come to appreciate that in medicine and in life, our greatest human need is for the hand that reaches out to touch another; the hand that closes around another’s and pulls that person forward in a supportive embrace." 


Stay tuned for the publication of her memoir 
Overcome: My Life in Pursuit of a Dream