Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thanksgiving week 2016

All week, family members were arriving—from Trinidad, Orlando, and Washington DC. By Wednesday evening, the house was festive, with cousins sprawled everywhere, voices rising, laughter ringing, as everyone caught up with one another amid preparations for the next day's feast.

On Thanksgiving, we crowded into our three-bedroom apartment, thirty-three of us in all. My husband borrowed chairs from the church. "Where will you put them?" I asked, wondering why he bothered. But he had the foresight. He wheeled the two bikes from the hallway into our bedroom, and lined up black metal chairs along the bookshelves, creating a cozy annex to the main gathering area. We were a convivial row with dinner plates balanced on our laps and stockinged feet up on the wall. In the living room, people picked their way over one another's legs, finding seats where they could, the little ones cross-legged on the floor around the coffee table. The old ones had the best seats, Aunt Beulah and Uncle Quintin, 87 and 89, on the long couch, Aunt Megan, 93, in the armchair at the center of the action. We brought  their plates of food to them, and gave them real china and silverware, on trays. Everyone else made do with disposable plates and plastic cutlery, and no one complained.

The food, mostly prepared by my husband, was delicious as always. This year, there were no leftovers to feast on the next day. Almost every dish was picked clean at the end of the evening, such was the crowd. It was too much, really. At one point, a quartet of our guests began debating politics and black lives matter versus LGBTQ rights in increasingly strident tones. I was elsewhere at the time, in the back bedroom with another group. One by one everyone from the living room found their way to us. "Too loud out there," someone said. "I can't deal," someone else said. And then the little kids came in. "That's a grown up conversation out there," the 9-year-old announced. "Too grown up for us," the 6-year-old added. And so they began to play in out midst, their older cousins indulging them happily, my niece reminding them occasionally, "Inside voices please."

By then, it was almost 10 p.m. and the crowd hadn't thinned one bit. Instead refugees from the living room discussion crowded into the back bedroom, leaving only the debaters out front. "Let's take back the kitchen with a margarita after party!" one of my cousins said, and everyone marched out to start making margaritas with the top shelf tequila my niece had brought. We'd been waiting for the younger kids to be taken home before we started the margarita round, but now it had become more important to bring back the convivial mood. I walked into the living room to hear one of my relatives preaching to my Muslim guests about Jesus and the devil at a feverish decibel. I had no idea of the point she was making, because her tone was such that you want to close your ears, not open them. I reached out and squeezed her arm. She looked up at me mid-sentence. "Should I stop?" she said. "Yes," I nodded, ready at that moment to cause offense, but my relative did not seem offended. "Okay," she said cheerfully and everyone else changed the subject.

Once the margaritas were passed around, the mother of the three youngest boys said, "Oh, I see the after party is starting. Time to take my little ones home." The boys cried as they were putting on their coats. They had enjoyed being with their cousins and didn't want to leave. That made me happy. This was the first time their family had come to our Thanksgiving gathering, and it seemed they all enjoyed themselves, except for that interlude where politics and proselytizing interrupted the easy laughter. My husband had said earlier that he'd thought about banning any discussion of politics, but then he decided everyone would just sit awkwardly censoring themselves, rather than saying what they wanted and moving on. I think he was right; I just didn't anticipate this one relative getting so worked up. I heard later that my 87 year old aunt, who sat through the whole thing, kept muttering to her daughter, "Just agree to disagree." I think she just wanted the noise to stop. It was lovely again when it did, and the rest of the evening was the way it usually unfolds, with riotous laughter and storytelling, and everyone just enjoying the company of everyone else. 

We still have houseguests here, three nieces and a college friend of my daughter's, and my two cousins who feel like sisters to me, all people with whom I am supremely comfortable. The teens and twenty-somethings went Black Friday shopping yesterday and today everyone is wrapped in blankets, refusing to set a foot outside the house. My husband and daughter and niece are in the kitchen making sun-dried tomato and spinach ravioli with cheese from scratch, which will be our dinner. The rest of us are about to continue binge watching Quantico, which we started the evening before Thanksgiving. We're on the verge of discovering whodunit, so I'll wrap up with a few more photos from our evening with family and friends. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with loved ones, and that your weekend so far has been peaceful. Most of all, I wish you a serene corner away from the chaos, a moment in which you can truly rest. I love you, my dear friends here. I am so thankful for you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


People seem to be posting a lot less here in blogland. My guess is we don't truly know if what we're feeling can be trusted. Reality seems to be playing games with us. At least, that's how I've been feeling.

It's Thanksgiving week already. We are having quite a crowd this year, more than thirty people will be sharing the feast in our not-large New York City apartment. Six family members and one friend will also be staying with us through the weekend. Couches and floor space will definitely become sleeping options.

In bed yesterday morning, my husband tapped me gently awake. "It's time to get excited," he whispered into the predawn darkness. "Loved ones have begun arriving. One came last night, tomorrow another, and the next day two more. I'm starting to feel the spirit of Thanksgiving. No more worrying about the numbers and how everyone will fit. That time is past. Now, we get excited."

I love him so much for those words.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Nothing normal

Everyone keeps saying don't allow this situation with Trump as the president elect to become normalized. But how do we live with our breath caught, our fists balled, our hearts in a vise. I've been trying to move forward, to not allow myself to be so stuck on one note. And yet, each new cabinet appointment is a fresh reminder of just how dire things are:

A man deemed too racist to be appointed a judge might now become the U.S. attorney general. This man reportedly once joked that his only issue with the KKK was their drug use. A general who called Islam "a cancer" and defended Trump's call for a Muslim ban, will now be the national security advisor. A member of the Benghazi committee witch hunt is up for the top CIA post. The rheumy wizard of white supremacy will be Trump's senior advisor and counselor. And so it goes. Let's not even talk about Pence, who might be ever scarier than Trump. Whereas Trump is a hollow narcissist with no ideas of his own, Pence is a true ideologue with some really scary beliefs. Suffice it to say he signed a law allowing businesses and health care providers to refuse to serve members of the LGBTQ community based on their personal beliefs about "the lifestyle." Pence believes that gay people need to undergo conversion therapy. And these are the men who are whispering in the empty vessel's ear.

The problem is, all this is becoming our new normal. How exactly do we fight the pervasiveness of this—the forces of hate and self-interest that are standing in the daylight and taking over our federal government? Which thread do we pull on first? Where will our efforts do the most good? It scares me that I don't know, that I am just getting swept along, watching it all happen with a persistent sense of the surreal, feeling powerless to effect even the smallest change.

This morning, I remembered something a Tibetan Buddhist monk I interviewed once told me. "Our sense of being helpless to create change runs deep," he said. "That’s why our world is in such trouble, because we don’t understand that to change the world, we have only to change ourselves. We don’t have to go out and fight wars or march and carry placards and take on world powers. We merely have to live our lives where we are with as much love and generosity and faith as we can muster."

Could it be that simple? Maybe it's a good place to begin.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Zadie Smith riffs

I happened upon a wonderful interview with author Zadie Smith, in which, at one point, she reflects on the degree of self-revelation required for novel writing as compared to book criticism. I love the way her personal experience of both kinds of writing informs her response.

Interviewer: [Y]ou talked about the “essential hubris of criticism” and how protected a position the critic is in compared with novel writing. Do you still feel that way?

Zadie Smith: Yeah, but I don’t mind that. I think it’s just different stages of life, like the kind of angry young man criticism that you write when you’re straight out of college and a young man. [Laughs.] It’s good that that stuff happens. Somebody has to walk in and say, “This is absolute shit.” Separating wheat from chaff with that kind of venom is completely appropriate for the young boy with a pen who wants to make a name for himself. I guess as I’ve got older, and with the more novels I write, I’ve gone soft from that boy’s opinion because I know what it takes to write a novel. There are plenty of novels I absolutely hate, but it’s no longer of interest to me to publicly destroy them. I know how much it hurts, and I just can’t do it.

I still think of criticism as a beautiful and intelligent way of describing the lay of the land. When I write criticism now, I do tend to write about things I love just because I’m more motivated by that. Hate is not enough for me anymore. It doesn’t give me the requisite energy to write 5,000 words. It really has to be adoration, I guess. But I do feel when I am writing criticism that I am much more defended, sure. I can be cool in criticism, and I can be right, which is a great joy, whereas in fiction you can only be variously vulnerable. There’s no such thing as a perfect novel, and you’ll always look the fool in some proportion, and also you’ll always reveal yourself in a way that is kind of horrifying. I can tell from somebody’s sentence the type of person they are and that’s the risk with a novel. With criticism it’s all much more disguised.


Thank you, Zadie Smith, because I really needed a non-political post with a center of love as an antidote to the madness swirling in the news, in my circles, and in my head. Plus, Zadie Smith looks like my best friend growing up so there's a touch of nostalgia in this post, too—a dream from a simpler, less fraught time. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Drumpfs in training

Well, so much for staying silent. Who was I kidding? I feel duty bound to share to what is going on around me, on my very campus. I attended both college and grad school here. On the steps of the main library, I shared my first kiss with the man I would later marry in the campus chapel. I raised my children here, cared for my aging mother here and buried my much loved aunt here. I have now lived in various apartments around this neighborhood for going on forty years.

Our current apartment is within the radius of Columbia University. There are campus buildings all around us, and students coming and going on the street outside my house at all hours of the day and night. I know this school, both from the inside—as an undergrad at Barnard and then as a grad student at the Journalism School—and from the outside—as a neighbor whose children played on College Walk when they were young, and whose daughter, now that she is grown, often walks to the campus and sits on the steps by the fountain, reading or just thinking.

This has always been a very progressive and racially diverse neighborhood. I never thought twice about being a woman of color as I moved around it, and indeed as I moved around all of New York City. I have taken for granted that I live in a socially conscious community. Columbia students took part in Civil Rights and Vietnam marches in the sixties, apartheid rallies in the seventies, and Black Lives Matter protests now. It's why the whole time I was growing up in Jamaica, I was angling myself toward this city, and this school. I wanted to be where movements of change were actually happening. I wanted to be a journalist.

And now this, reported on the Columbia University student news website Bwog:

Bwog recently received screenshots of a Class of 2017 Wrestling Team GroupMe. The... men in the group message mock women’s appearances, make jokes about rape, use homophobic and racist slurs, and engage in other distasteful interactions...

The messages show a lack of respect for women—even those with whom they interact regularly. In the screenshots we received, the wrestlers sent each other numerous photos of female Columbia students and mocked their appearances. One of the men said a female student looked like “a dude in a wig.” Another woman was referred to as “fish pussy.” The wrestlers in the GroupMe also mocked female students as a whole. In one message, a wrestler refers to female Columbia students as “ugly socially awkward cunts” who feel “entitled.” Just messages before, another member of the team expressed frustration over how their team would “run the town of any state school” where “every girl begs for the cock so hard.” It appears these team members don’t realize the irony in referring to women as “entitled” for wanting to control their own bodies.

Among the misogynistic messages is a shocking proliferation of racism and racist comments. Their comments about black women come across as especially distasteful and cruel. The wrestlers’ usage of the n-word is flippant, too, and they use it to refer to women with whom they’ve hooked up, workers at businesses around Columbia, and protesters in Ferguson, MO.

Here are some of their messages:

Columbia has suspended the wrestling team's season pending an investigation. Of course, the students'  names have been redacted from all reports to protect their futures as Masters of the Universe who might one day run for president of the United States of America—and win.

Monday, November 14, 2016

"When they buried us, they did not know that we were seeds"

This election. Everything is just so surreal. I feel numb one minute, hopeful the next, despairing the next, outraged after that. And then I just go back to numb. My frame of mind changes moment to moment, and I'm noticing that as soon as I declare something, I'm no longer sure I believe it, or if it was ever true. So perhaps I need to just be silent now. Because I don't know what to think on the other side of an election outcome so devastating I couldn't imagine it even as it was happening. Are we fucked? Maybe. Will it get worse from here? Already has. Is there hope? Always.

Are you reading those Joe Biden memes? They're everywhere. I think they've struck a chord because they're rooted in the love and bro-loyalty that flourished between Biden and Obama, two men from different generations and racial backgrounds, who proved that sturdy bridges are possible when there is an atmosphere of basic human decency. Along with the messages on post-it notes being left by the thousands on subway walls in New York City, it's a form of therapy, much like that exuberant photo of my girl reroutes my disordered brain. These are troubled times. We find comfort where we can.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Some thoughts in the wake of 11/9

Everything in me came to a standstill in the two days after the election. I couldn't write anything coherent. I couldn't work. I could barely find words to express how I was feeling to my loved ones. I lay in my bed, swaddled by the covers, reading Night by Elie Wiesel, because I wanted to remember just how that dark chapter in history unfolded, how it was that an authoritarian state was allowed to round up some of its citizens and send them off to be murdered in gas chambers. I felt a little crazy, as if no one else was truly seeing the parallels between that evil, and the hateful sloganeering of the candidate the nation had just elected to be the next president. With steely mother fierceness, I resolved that no one better come knocking on my door and trying to cart my loved ones away. They'd find out fast just who they were dealing with. That's how dire the aftermath of Tuesday's election felt to me; I was actually having such thoughts.

More likely, the deaths we experience over the next four years will be by inches, sometimes barely discernible until after the fact, like the stripping away of health care provisions that those with disabilities or chronic illnesses rely on. Other deaths may be more violent, committed by those emboldened in the belief that some lives simply don't matter. I do, in fact, know that not everyone who voted for the narcissistic demagogue is a racist with a length of rope in the garage, a gun rack on their pick up, and a confederate flag in their window. Nor is everyone who voted red an unredeemable sexist, homophobe or apologist for sexual assault and misogyny. But I also know that only those who felt safe in their skin and in their castles could have dared to vote for this conscience-free bigot and his alt-right cohorts. And no matter how reasonable their arguments when considered in the light of their own interests, they didn't care one whit about those who have legitimate reason to fear what comes next. Sadly, they failed to understand that what destroys their neighbor, by inches or in one fell swoop, will eventually also arrive at their door.

I feel sick, still. I am trying to accept what is, as my husband says. But accepting what is cannot mean going to sleep for four years. The times are way too dangerous. And to all those who say, calm the fuck down, America will survive, it survived slavery and the civil war and 9/11, I would like to point out that a whole lot of people didn't survive all that. And the rest of us are still dealing with its toxic fallout.

Time to get to work.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The day after

I wrote a post about waiting for the sea of red to turn blue last night, and how it never happened, and instead Trump's glowering face proliferated, winning state after state. I wrote about the grief and dismay and bewilderment I feel this morning, and the sense of being endangered. I wrote about reading Elie Wiesel's book Night, and looking for clues. Best to be prepared should resistance become necessary. But then my computer froze and I lost the whole post and I don't have the internal resources left to recreate it. I will only say for the record, Hillary Clinton's concession speech this morning was composed, gracious and classy. She would have made a remarkable Commander-in-chief. But that will never be. Someone wrote on Facebook: "Barack Obama is still president today." I thought: Focus on that. Only that. It will get you through this day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

We voted

I went with my kids to the polls first thing this morning. My son has the day off and went to vote between loads of laundry, and my girl was on her way to work. I told them they are the change generation: In their short lifetime, they have been privileged to vote for the nation's first African American president, and now (we hope) the nation's first woman president. My daughter wore red, white, and blue. May her belief in the nation of her birth be rewarded today.

Election Day 2016 : I'm With Her

When she was a little girl, about the age she was in that picture, Hillary Clinton wrote to NASA to inquire how she could become an astronaut. They wrote her back and told her women could not become astronauts.

Today, I will vote for that little girl, now a mother and a grandmother, a former New York State Senator and Secretary of State, to become the first woman President of the United States. Today, I hope she will make history on the tide of our votes. Because women can be anything if they do the work. She did the work. Now it's our turn.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Daylight Saving

My son and my mother the year before she died

I have been thinking about my mother. Maybe it's because daylight savings time gives us an extra hour today. This was the time of year when my mom always turned her thoughts to "going home" to warmer climes, to St. Lucia, where she last lived with my dad, or to Jamaica, to my brother. The cold weather made her bones ache. The early darkness made her lonely.

I am remembering how every evening while she was here in the city with me, I would go over to her studio treehouse across the courtyard. I'd bring or fix her dinner, sit with her as she ate, wash up, watch some TV with her, or maybe we'd just sit around the dining table chatting, and then I'd help her bathe and get ready for bed. I'd tuck her in,  perch on the edge of the bed as she said her nightly prayers, and then I'd kiss her cool forehead and take my leave. I always felt guilty as I left. She looked small and helpless in the bed, and I imagined her needing someone in the night and finding no one there. 

She liked having her own place where she could set things out as she pleased. She was still able to move around by herself then, but slowly. She was already stooped and frail. I told myself that the phone was on the nightstand, within easy reach. And I was one building away. Still. I felt the weight of making sure she was okay, that she had everything she needed, including the woman who came in three mornings a week to clean and do laundry and give her lunch. Breakfast she made herself, the same thing every morning: Oatmeal with bran and a cut up banana, a slice of toast with the thinnest smear of butter, and ginger tea. Then, for most of the day, she'd sit in her recliner and wait for me to come home from work.

I confess that some nights I didn't want to go over. I'd come home exhausted and want to just climb into bed, but even then, I knew the day would come when I'd wish for just one more night of being able to take care of her, to feel her thin arms around my neck as I said good night, to bask for one moment more in her gaze of love. 


My son came home from work last night and flopped down on the couch. He wasn't very talkative and I made myself not ask how was his day. He was waiting for his girlfriend to arrive. The two of them were going out to dinner to celebrate their year and a half of being together. After she came in, and greetings were made all around, my son said, "I got in the middle of a fight today." We all gasped, which was the desired response I'm sure, and now we were ready to hang on his every word. He started telling us all about this one call they got for an EDP (emotionally disturbed person) who was hopped up on synthetic marijuana, also called K2, which is apparently a nightmarish high, and not fun for EMTs having to deal with a person crashing on it. The man was angry and violent when they arrived. He started a verbal altercation with a passerby, who was also high on something, and suddenly my son and his partner found themselves in the middle trying to calm things down. They radioed dispatch to send a cop car. 

By the time the cops arrived, the man's mood had transitioned and he was curled up on the ground, crying that he wanted his daddy. My son talked him into the ambulance at that point, and strapped him in for the ride to the ER. The cop asked if he should ride with them, which is apparently protocol on such calls. My son almost told him they'd be fine, he could go, because the patient seemed calm now, but something made him say, "Sure, hop in." He was happy he did because on the fifteen minute ride to the hospital the man rapid cycled through moods, bashing his head against the ambulance wall and kicking and flailing and yelling. The suddenly, he was weeping, and thanking the guys for helping him, then he was pissing himself, then angrily flailing at them again. My son was glad he had help in restraining him from injuring himself. 

I'm thinking I'll get way more information about my son's day if I happen to be in the room when he's telling his girlfriend about it. I'm also thinking about how that man was huddled on the street, high on K2 and crying for his daddy.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Blooming gold

Fall has arrived in the gardens, the trees outside my window blooming gold. Here are some photos from last week that I want to keep as a record here. They might not be particularly artful but each one captures a precious slice of life with my beloveds.

This was the official FDNY portrait of my son taken at his graduation as an EMT last Thursday. That's the city fire commissioner on the left and I'm not sure who the white shirt on the right is. On my boy's second  day of work, the morning after Halloween, he went in at 8 am, and at the end of his shift, as low man on the totem pole, he was mandated to a second shift and ended up working till 2 am the following morning. I was up watching Shameless when he got home at 3 am. I pretended not to be waiting up for him."How was it?" I asked. "Nine hours of overtime plus the night time ten percent bonus. I'll take it," he said. They don't get paid very much yet, so every little bit counts. The best part: He seems to really enjoy the work.

My husband and I, and our daughter, joined her bf's family at Red Rooster in Harlem to celebrate her bf's mother's birthday. His sister took this picture of us.

This one might be my favorite of all the pictures taken last week, a true little sister moment. Our girl took her brother's white dress gloves and began imitating him to comic effect. She was so proud. We all were. Are.