Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Liner notes

My beautiful nephew. He's a fine musician and a gentle soul. That's what a Jamaican-American-Sioux looks like. All that's really missing here are the liner notes.

Here's a video interview he did a while back. You can sense his sweet spirit and hear him riffing on guitar. Someone wrote in comments that "he's the next Hendrix and not just because of the hair."

As my daughter would say, "Lit."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

"They growed up pretty darn good"

Guess where these young people are this weekend? At the farm they grew up on. They were classmates from Pre-K through eighth grade at a school that had a working farm upstate. Starting in second grade, three times a year, they spent a week at the farm with their class, rotating through barn chores and kitchen duty and planting fields and tapping maple syrup and pressing apple cider and all the other tasks that come with running a fully functioning farm.

My daughter happened to land in a rather special class, even for that very special school, but I do think those farm trips have a lot to do with why these kids who met at age four are as connected as family today. And now that they've all graduated from college and are back in the city, they planned a weekend farm trip to celebrate. The Snapchat stories from my daughter tell of hay jumping and tree swinging and bonfires and remaking the acquaintance of cows and chickens and pigs they once cared for. I'm pretty sure there was a manhunt game played barefoot in the pitch black night as well.

Some of the parents of the kids in the class are also very bonded. How well we remember gathering in the school's courtyard to wave that yellow school bus off on its way to the Catskills three times a year. And for those of us whose kids did farm camp in the summer, we packed them off with sleeping bags and rubber boots then, too. When they got home, those cruddy boots did not even enter the house. They were scrubbed with industrial grade soap in the utility room and set out to dry.

In the courtyard of the school was a red fire escape with mesh walls on the higher floors. In fifth grade, during the infamous girl wars, their homeroom teacher Aimee used to send the girls out of the classroom to sit on the fire escape and talk through their issues. This lesson in conflict resolution probably stood them in better stead than anything they missed in class.

The school was housed in a charming five story townhouse on the East 96th Street near Central Park. Founded by Augustus and Marty Trowbridge, the school took as its mission the creation of "a beloved community" of equals that MLK preached. "Differences are to be celebrated, not feared," Gus Trowbridge often said. The idea behind that farm was, no matter what their social, cultural or economic circumstances were in the city, all the kids were equally out of their element in the country at first, and they had no choice but to pull together to become a community.

Another highlight of that school: Every year on MLK day, the school's students, staff and families march for justice in a peace rally led by the eighth graders, who each deliver a speech they've written about the civil rights issue their class has chosen for that year. There are several stops along the route of the march, again, mapped out by the eighth graders. In my daughter's eighth grade year, the topic of choice was marriage equality, and my daughter delivered her speech standing in front of the Stonewall Inn in the Village, Ground Zero for the gay rights movement. She's personally proud this week that Obama chose to designate Stonewall a national monument to LGBT rights. She feels her class did their small part to help move the nation forward.

Some of these kids went back to the school last week to attend the end-of-year assembly. It would be the last one in the building they grew up in. The school has grown so much it has to move to a larger building. Come the fall, it will open its doors in a former music school on the Upper West Side where new generations of students will hopefully make memories and connections as enduring and precious as these kids hold.

In the photo up top, the genial face wearing glasses in the middle of the huddle was our kids' second grade teacher, Jay. They were attending their second day with him when 9/11 happened, which makes him an indelible part of that memory. On Facebook last week, Jay wrote: Taught these "kids" when they were in 2nd grade. They just graduated from college. They growed up pretty darn good. Big love!

Postscript: I don't know enough about Brexit to write in an informed way, but I'm reeling with the rest of the world at the implications. I'm trying, however, to keep my eyes on what is good. Watching these dear children come of age, is good. They give me hope for our future.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Commune

In our little apartment last night there was the man and me, my son and his girlfriend, and my daughter and her boyfriend. The six of us watched action flicks with names like Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen. Cheesey stuff, but they starred my former crush, Gerard Butler, of Phantom of the Opera fame. I'm over him now, but my family still teases me about the time I swooned. My kids said, "Sorry Dad, you might need to leave the room."

If you saw Gerard in Dear Frankie or the excellent BBC miniseries The Jury, you might have some insight into why I was watching cities being blown to smithereens on TV last night, while old Gerard saved the day.

This afternoon, my son and his girlfriend flew to Orlando. Someone my son used to work with offered them the use of his time share for a few days.

Meanwhile my daughter just left to meet some of her lifer friends, because they're having a going away party for one of their own in Brooklyn tonight, after which her friend will return to Oberlin, from which she has just graduated, and take up a job as a curatorial assistant at a very fine art museum. It's a job she couldn't get in New York City, but when she returns at the end of a year, she will have this fine qualification under her belt, and she'll be set. My daughter's young man will find his own way to the party after work. My daughter is slowly introducing him to her New York life. I wonder what he'll think of Brooklyn's hipsterland?

As for me, my darling husband and I will be meeting with the other members of the cookbook committee from church, at an Ethiopian restaurant in Harlem. We will be discussing cookbook templates and self-publishing strategies, which is why they let me, who they seldom see in the pews on Sunday, onto their committee.

One of my former English professors from college, a Quaker who is now is her 80s, is also on the committee. Her husband, a former sea captain, recently died. He and my husband were cohorts. Both were always in church on Sundays, and active on committees, while their wives would see each other only when we showed up to support our men at fundraising events. I adore this woman. Her repartee is witty and razor sharp. And twinkling eyes is not a cliche when applied to her.

Continuing this later:

It's almost midnight. My husband is snoring softly and my daughter and her bf are in the living room laughing over Zootopia. He got lost in Brooklyn tonight, which makes him more a New Yorker today than he was yesterday. Did I mention he's from upstate and is moving to the city for grad school? He's also working in the city this summer, and learning its labyrinths. Getting lost on the subways is definitely a rite of passage. Once you find your way home from that, you'll have your markers, and you'll never be lost again.

Dinner with the cookbook committee was vegetarian and delicious—red lentils and chick pea stew and cabbage and collards, all eaten by hand with injera, a spongy sourdough flatbed that replaces utensils in Eithiopian cuisine. I always love seeing my husband with the church women. They adore him and he adores them. He was his usual charming and lovely self with them, while playing footsies under the table like a teenager with me!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Rocking, roaming

“There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up, holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smooths and contains the rocker. It’s an inside kind—wrapped tight like skin. Then there is the loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive. On its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one’s own feet going seem to come from a far-off place.”

—Toni Morrison in Beloved

I'm not actually feeling lonely in this moment, but I ran across that quote and I identified with it almost on a cellular level, as I certainly have felt everything it describes. I'm just putting it here where I can find it again, should I ever need to see my internal reality externally reflected, in a quest to feel understood. 

And there it is—the reason I write here, because somehow, the simple act of doing so frequently leads me to what is true for me in that moment. I am not feeling lonely today but I am feeling sorely misunderstood. And therefore a little sorry for myself. I guess I'll just leave it at that.

In other news, did anyone see Trump's campaign speech this morning? I cringed anew at the reality of this dangerous, infantile blowhard as a serious candidate for president. I feel as if we are on the verge of actual catastrophe. Or maybe we're there already. I don't know. 

There is so much hate in the world right now, it's almost a cliche. And the 24/7 news cycle is toxic. Sometimes, I look away for a while, but sadly, when I eventually look back, nothing has changed. I am doing my best in this moment to keep my focus on love, because as the wise ones always say, that which we focus on multiplies. 

May love multiply. Amen.

Friday, June 17, 2016

On making rain

There was a book industry event last night that I was invited to, one of those shindigs where a lot of big names are in the room. And I didn't go. I heard that several people asked for me, and there were also a couple of players there who I really needed to make a connection with for reasons I won't go into. But I didn't go. It was an anniversary party for a publishing imprint, and when the editorial director spoke, she cited the first book the imprint ever published, and then she introduced a current author who read from her just published book—and I had edited both those books. And yet I didn't go.

I am such a recluse. I wish now I had made myself show up. I am filled with morning after regrets, but yesterday the last thing I wanted to do was figure out what to wear and how to show up. I had a lot of good friends there. Really, it would have been fine. And I would have been visible, which is always important when it comes to getting work. So what is it with me? Why did I self sabotage? Shouldn't I have grown out of this by now?

On a more positive note, a global social entrepreneurship nonprofit just put me on retainer as an editor and writer. Not a huge amount, but every little bit matters, especially the bits you can count on. Best of all, I will be once again working with a woman I worked with years ago, before she quit to travel the world and live for a while in Bali and Argentina, and founded a nonprofit to promote global enterprises run by women and girls. She is a giant of a soul, walking this earth, and I'm thrilled to be able to engage with her again in work that feels meaningful. (Update: this gig fell through. Budget cuts. Hiring freeze. Sigh.)

I do very much enjoy the work I do, but I don't enjoy the socializing one must do to ensure projects flow your way. I frustrate myself by not putting myself out there in the manner that will bring me more work. I have a friend who does an amazing job of networking. She has three New York Times bestsellers under her belt, and every week she has a series of lunches or drinks with editors and agents. The work just flows to her, mostly because she is crazy talented and smart, but also because she's makes sure she's always top of mind when editors and agents are looking for a writer. She makes her own luck. She's a rainmaker. I look on with awe, respect, (envy), admiration, love.

The plain truth is, I can't do what she does. I'm not made the same way. I don't want to do what she does, no matter how much I should. Okay, I needed to write all that, to get it out of my system, to interrupt all the self-flagellation and woe is me (haha, I typed wow is me at first!), so I can go back to the book I'm working on, a deep ghost project that might actually sell very well, might even be a bestseller, but it will not bear my name. No one will know I wrote it. Well, I'll know. I'm learning so much. My mind is most at peace when I am writing. This is how I am made.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

I love having them home

There are more important things in life than a tidy house. Both my babies are back home for a sweet minute, and I'm going to cherish this moment with all that I am.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


This morning, my son completed the last requirement of the incredibly complicated multi-step process to join the FDNY. And now it's all over but the waiting. He said, "Unless I find out that I'm actually crazy, this should be it." We joked that he shouldn't have quit his other job before getting the results of the psych test, but I'm sure he'll be fine. His intake investigator had no doubts about him. Assuming all goes well, he'll enter the academy as an EMT in July. Soon he'll be one of those uniformed medics out on the streets in the big rig, saving life and limb. This has been his driving ambition since 9/11, when he was an idealistic, impressionable 9-year-old who couldn't believe the bravery of those firefighters. He called them heroes. I thought he would outgrow wanting to be a firefighter/medic, but he never did. He just kept taking the next step toward his dream. And now, he's on the threshold. Fingers crossed. Prayers sent. I'm so proud of him.

Meanwhile, my husband and daughter drove to Ithaca last night to pack up the last of my daughter's possessions from four years of college. My man texted me that photo before they hit the road this morning. My daughter and her housemates lucked out with housing. Most off campus student houses were neither as large nor as well located right on College Ave, with the bus outside their door. I am sure my girl will have dreams about that creaky old house for the rest of her life. But now it's on to the next stage, which includes a childhood friend's graduation barbecue in the city this evening. Onward.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Morning in the city

Good morning. Thanks for the wisdom and support yesterday. The day got immeasurably better as the sun came up and melted the brooding thoughts. Still, as someone observed in comments, it's very different living with your grown children after they've lived away than it is living with them as they're growing up. It's a more complicated dance, as I discover every day. But with rents in New York City so crazy high, our kids returning from college have all moved back in with their parents. Our situation is not unique. I think the college grads chafe at this arrangement at first, because they've had four years of pseudo independence, and now, if they want true independence they have to create it from scratch. In this economy, it takes a minute.

Three years after graduating college, my son's goal of becoming a firefighter/medic is finally coming to be. He's worked two jobs simultaneously while pursuing this goal, which is not an easy one to achieve. He will continue to  coach track and field at a high school in the city, but he gave notice at his corporate job two weeks ago. His last day was yesterday. He was set to move out on his own on June 1. He and one of his former college housemates had been approved for a nicely renovated two-bedroom in East Harlem, a gentrifying part of town. But then the whole FDNY process suddenly starting moving fast, and he realized he'd need to quit his main job. He decided to wait until he could see the new shape of things financially before committing himself to steep New York City rents. Living at home chafes him far less than it chafes my daughter. My particular theory on that is he is better at backing his mother off when she becomes too intrusive in his affairs. He also hates living alone while my daughter relishes it.

I avoided this post-grad transitional dance by moving to another country for college and going straight to graduate school after it. And rents were more affordable then. I rented my first apartment, a one-bedroom in Morningside Heights, for just $325. The apartment my son almost moved into with his friend would have cost him $1200 a month just for his half of the rent—$2400 overall. And grad school's not a given anymore. Unless you're sure of what you want to pursue it's a prohibitively expensive path. Yesterday I listened to my daughter and one of her friends, and my son's girlfriend talking about how hard it is to find your footing in the city, and how so many people end up in jobs that have nothing to do with what they studied, just to pay the bills. It was really a conversation about preserving your dreams, and pursuing them, and figuring out when and how much you bow to pragmatism.

My heart goes out to these kids. I think I had it much easier. But I do believe if we can get past the wanting everything all at once (guilty as charged) we can create lives that are personally meaningful. It's happening now for my son. It will also happen for my girl. I keep reminding her that she graduated not even two weeks ago. So breathe. She and I agreed last night that it's time for another purge, a massive throwing out and giving away of things. Still, as much as I complain about being overrun by things, I'm happy my children have a place they can come home to, a net under them as the plan the next stage.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Paper tigers

I'm too overwhelmed to write here. I'm overwhelmed by a house overflowing with stuff that has nowhere to be put away. All the put away spaces are already jam packed. I'm overwhelmed by a looming work deadline, and by legal clusterfuckery with my mother's estate that my brother, currently visiting, is working with me to untangle. I'm overwhelmed by grown children navigating for autonomy in a tiny apartment with too many things inside it, and too many feelings colliding, swirling the weather inside me. I'm overwhelmed by overflowing laundry and a refrigerator so full I open it and close it again, not wanting to unpack everything to find what I want. I am overwhelmed by paper tigers ("The fears are paper tigers" Amelia Earhart said), by chaos, by the need to make travel arrangements for a reunion in Jamaica in July, by housecleaning and trying to marshal everyone's chores, by the effort to lose weight again, by summer, by the chronically unresolved. I'm overwhelmed by moods, mine and everyone else's, and by the silly desire for those I love to be happy all the time. I feel as my little world is teetering out of control, and I'm the only one who notices, the only one trying to keep the wagon upright. What am I saying? It's the hour before daybreak and I'm lying awake in the grey room, my thoughts churning. I'm roiling with uncertainties, my heart burdened inside my chest, my breaths tight and small. I turn slowly on the spit of my anxieties, unable to make the world predictable, watching those paper tigers catch fire, feeling them burn.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


The house might be a hot mess since our college grad came home, but we're seeing some definite improvements in cuisine around here. Tuesday night's meal, for example, included things like kale and quinoa, and my meals yesterday lacked nothing in nutrition and taste.

Breakfast: plain yogurt sprinkled with granola and raisins and drizzled with honey.
Lunch: kale, chick pea and avocado salad with honey mustard vinaigrette.
Dinner: poached salmon with dill, mashed sweet potato, quinoa.

And this morning, as I tapped away at my computer keyboard, my darling girl brought me a yummy smoothie bowl she'd made for our breakfast. It's a frozen strawberry smoothie with a little almond butter and plain yogurt mixed in, topped with granola and bright fresh fruit. I must say, eating a smoothie with a spoon from a bowl is an inspired idea. It feels more like a full fledged meal than when you drink it from a glass. It lasts longer so you get to truly savor it.

Apart from this lovely new whole food cuisine, one of the things I love about my kids being home is I get to see their friends more, kids I've known since they were young, and who have a special place in my heart. Yesterday two of my daughter's friends came over and they hung out here for a good while, laughing and talking before finally getting it together and heading off to the beach and the amusement park at Coney Island.

This afternoon our girl went on a bike ride and now she is gone again, meeting up with friends for a backyard barbecue in the city. They've all been away for four years and now, all at once, they are all back in the same town. I remember this phase from when my son first moved back to the city after college. The socializing options are endless it seems. But one day soon they'll all have jobs and the weekday socializing will taper off in favor of sleep before work.

Savor this.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Our girl graduated

Our daughter graduated from Cornell this weekend, a glorious, physically exhausting and emotionally fraught three days. It was blinding hot in Ithaca, and there were three, count them, three separate graduation ceremonies—convocation outdoors on Saturday with speaker James Franco (I confess I thought him a lightweight choice at first, but he was actually very good and spoke for the perfect length of time), the whole school commencement on Sunday morning, again outdoors, and finally the calling of names and handshake on stage with the dean right after, this ceremony moved mercifully indoors.

I cried more than once. At certain moments I could barely contain the utter beauty and perfection of everything. At others, I wished deeply for a do-over. Our girl was radiant with her high beam smile, she and her friends fresh from a week of nonstop celebrating, with white water rafting and wine tours and messy nights at their usual late night haunts. Her final report card in the bank, she posted all As, she was determined to make the most of these last days with friends before the melancholy of packing up and saying goodbyes to a charmed moment in time that will never again be.

Her cheering section consisted of her dad and me, her brother and cousin, and two of our heart children. We didn't invite anyone else, because the hotel situation in town was impossible, and price gouging was in full effect. As we sweltered in the hundred degree day in the bleachers of the football arena, I was glad it was just us. My friend Leslie, whose son was graduating from Bard College the same day, texted me that his grandmother fainted and had to be rushed to the hospital and an aunt was suffering from heat stroke. It was crazy hot like that where we were too, with EMTs walking through the crowd handing out water bottles. I could only imagine how the poor graduates in their black robes over business formal wear must have been feeling. Everyone prayed for the ominous looking clouds in the distance to roll over the sun, and bring some relief.

Then, in the middle of the ceremony the sky opened up, and rain poured down. And this wasn't some dainty little sprinkle, it was deluge, the kind you just surrender to and allow yourself to be soaked.

I did get some lovely photos of my girl marching into the stadium with her class, before the rain, her and her three main hotelie cohorts (she was a student at Cornell's Hotel School). I call them the hotelie dream team, there for each other from day one. I loved seeing them march in together, ending as they began.

And later, there were photo ops with our girl and her boyfriend, who also graduated this past weekend, he from the engineering school, a brainiac with a gentle heart, who looks out for my girl, as she looks out for him. There was something very sweet about them going through this rite of passage together, as their families looked on, beaming, proud.

My daughter and her housemates hosted a graduation barbecue on Saturday, which went of well, thanks in part to the DJ, who had promised two nights before, when they were all at a bar, to spin for free, and who remembered nothing of his promise a day later, but agreed to be bound by it anyway, so of course, they paid him, and he was worth it. All day Friday the parents of the housemates ran errands around Ithaca, transporting tables and chairs, getting barbecue supplies, and some of the mothers (not me) cooked, and instead of cooking we supplied drinks and ice and coolers and desserts, and picked up an enormous cake with a long list of names of graduates in red icing, and somehow it all came together.

Then on Sunday night after the rain-soaked commencement, our family and our daughter's boyfriend's family went to dinner at Taverna Banfi, the fine dining Tuscan restaurant where my girl worked as student chef freshman year, and decided that she didn't, after all, want to do restaurant work, though she still loves food and beverage as a creative endeavor. There were thirteen of us at the table, and the food was excellent, and then the young folks went off on their own to check out some of the Collegetown bars one last time. They were rather deserted, I heard later, as most graduates were off somewhere with their families, or packing, or already gone.

Monday morning, the troops were joined by a couple of my daughter's friends, and we went for breakfast at Collegetown Bagels, which is an Ithaca institution. After, we went back to our girl's house and began packing in earnest. It was all very bittersweet, and then it was back to the city, back home, to begin the next chapter called "real life."

My house is now a mess of course. College paraphernalia is everywhere, but on the good side my son and daughter, along with a friend of my daughter's who just arrived home from college at Oberlin, are in the kitchen right this moment cooking quinoa, cajun shrimp and a kale and avocado salad for dinner, and then my daughter and her friend are heading out into the night to meet up with all their other friends who are newly home from college, and so here we are. Another ending. A new beginning.

I realize this is a lot of detail that probably only matters to me, so if you made it to this point, thanks for that act of friendship. I guess I'll just end the record here. Except to say, I am so very proud of our girl.