Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Spirit Tribe

Scott, who blogs at The Dishwasher's Tears, and Yolie, who blogs at Planting Along the Verge, are in town this week. Last night they were meeting up with Yolie's son Pete and his new wife Pam, and their friend The Monk at Streetbird, which is a restaurant in my hood. Scott texted me:"Get down here and join us, girl! We would LOVE that!" Now you know, I'm not really spontaneous that way. I'm a little bit shy. And yet somehow, as soon as I saw the text, I knew I was going to meet up with them. I mean, Scott and Yolie. How could you not? They are as wonderful as you might imagine, and more. Warm, easygoing, they take you just as they find you, and they give the most soul-enveloping hugs. I loved meeting the others, too, even though Pete wasn't feeling so well and seemed to be coming down with the flu. (Feel better, Pete!) Scott and Yolie and I held hands like little kids on a playground, so thrilled to actually be looking into each other's faces. There was no awkwardness, just love. Just laughs. Just some deep spiritual talk, which was not heavy at all, but like breath, like pure sweet air. And then, to make everything even more perfect, when I came home and logged onto Instagram to post that picture up top, what should I see but a follow request from our long lost Deirdre! I have missed her so much since she stopped blogging, and now we are in touch again. The spirit tribe was out in force last night. The connections were popping. I am so filled up with love right now I can't even describe it. But yeah, that happened.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Reactive Christmas

I was very aware when I opened my eyes on Christmas morning that it might well be the last one on which both my children will wake up in our home. Next year, they will both be in their own apartments, quite possibly with significant others, and who knows what the shape of Christmas morning will be then. This one was our usual, which I love, waking up slow, the kids wrapping gifts last minute, and then all of us in sleep clothes, opening presents, festive Christmas paper, bows and Amazon boxes strewn all around.

Our refrigerator conked out on Christmas eve, and we'd spent the night before throwing out everything. Juice from once-frozen strawberries had leaked everywhere, making our kitchen look like a crime scene. In the midst of the clean-up, our son came home from celebrating with his girlfriend's family, and he couldn't resist reminding us that he had tried to get us to replace our twenty-plus year old refrigerator before Thanksgiving. "You have to be proactive, not reactive," he walked around the house saying, but cheerfully, like a court jester, and ruefully, I laughed.

Well, that meant on Christmas morning we had few choices for breakfast, so our son whipped us up some grilled cheese sandwiches while our daughter ordered in huevos rancheros from a Mexican place on Seamless. The kitchen was a mess, the living room was a mess, and everything was perfect. I wished the entire day could have continued in that vein, but we had people coming over for dinner, so at a certain point my husband and son went to the store to shop for what we would cook, and I went into social anxiety mode, cleaning up the house. That's because one of our guests was unfamiliar to me, the mother of a friend of my children. Although her son very often hangs out in my home, I'd met her only once before.

I don't know how it came to be so deeply rooted in me, this idea that one must "make a good impression." I became a whirling dervish, making everyone miserable as I tried to impose order on the chaos, and when I went to shower I found myself crying from frustration. But a little while later, my son came to find me. Before he could say anything, I apologized for stressing everyone out, and I teared up again, and he put his arms around me and gave me a big lovely hug. "It's okay," he said. "We know how you are." I apologized to my husband and daughter too, but they just laughed because they'd both already moved on. My son is the one who is most like me, and the one who will get cranky right back at me. The other two, they shrug it off. Besides, they were busy cooking the feast with their fancy real deal chef knives.

Dinner was absolutely fine of course. I went to bed at midnight and left a circle of twenty-somethings chatting and laughing in the living room. I meant to take a family picture because we all looked so nice, but I forgot, so the pictures of my children in their pjs enjoying their gifts will have to tell the story. My daughter, by the way, is holding a tote featuring art by my niece Arrianne, whose creations can be found at VisionArri.com. Her stated aim is to "find the pretty in the gritty."

I hope you had the day you needed, that you managed to find the pretty in the gritty, and that your heart is at peace.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

To save a life

A wise man with whom I once worked shared this with me:

Early on, I had the sense of being at the mercy of the ills of the world. It was as if I sucked in all the negative energy expended by other people and mistook it for my own.

In his bestselling book A New Earth, spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle refers to this psychic shadow as our “pain-body,” which he describes as “an accumulation of old emotional pain.” As Tolle writes, “The remnants of pain left behind by every strong negative emotion that is not fully faced, accepted, and then let go of, join together to form an energy field that lives in the very cells of your body.” But this pain is not just an individual experience; it includes the collective pain of humankind sown throughout our history of warfare, tribalism, enslavement, torture and all other expressions of violence. “The pain still lives in the collective psyche of humanity and is being added to on a daily basis, as you can verify when you watch the news tonight or the drama in people’s relationships,” Tolle explains. 

My pain-body is active today. I picked a fight with my son, over something that, given the state of our world, is quite insignificant. Now I am realizing I was trapped in my own pain-body and looking for an escape. All I accomplished was to incite a flare up of his pain-body. I'm sorry, son. If only I had gone back and considered this bit of advice from the same wise soul before I acted:

It sounds so simple, and yet it is the most revolutionary act we can undertake, to live each day in a loving way, to look for ways to be of service, to have compassion for everyone we encounter. It is the only path to the Truth that says the forces of ill cannot harm us unless we ourselves believe they can. Unfortunately, most of us on the planet are terrified of what might befall us at every turn, and that keeps our vibration low, feeding our sorrow, aggression and despair, and keeping our pain bodies active. 

The man I referred to above, who studied as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, also shared this:

It is important to understand that pain is different from suffering. Pain is a physical sensation of the body whereas suffering is an emotional state that arises based on your ideas about what is happening. Pain is function of the physical body while suffering is a function of the emotional/mental/spiritual body. The good news is pain and suffering are not without their gifts—they can inspire you to enlightenment as you seek to transcend them. For many, myself included, pain can also be a catalyst to understanding that I am not my body and I am not my emotion. This is just an experience I’m having in this human body and in this consciousness.

And this:

Only when we are able to love ourselves and others unconditionally can we begin to raise our vibration and transcend emotional pain. We have to learn to fill ourselves with this loving energy because the fate of our world depends on it. The equation is straightforward: If I fill my cup, then I’m just constantly giving and radiating abundance because I don’t need anything from anyone. I’m happy with myself, the way I look, the way I am, what I have, I’m just content with myself. But if my cup is empty, then I’m taking from others. When we are emotionally depleted, we deplete others. We can only take from them because we have nothing of our own to give. We are needy and hungry for spiritual sustenance. That’s why it’s so important for us to believe in our intrinsic worth and rightness. When we understand that we are divinely protected and unconditionally loved, we cannot help but overflow with compassion for others, filling their cup as well as our own and raising the vibration of the entire planet.

It is with my friend's permission that I share these excerpts. He has not yet published the wisdom he shared with me. He isn't sure he will ever publish it. He says if I am the only person who ever derives some benefit from it, then his purpose will be richly served.

He is saving my life today.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Twas the week before Christmas

My mother and aunts used to say, if you have nothing positive to say, then remain silent.

And they also used to say that anything you say should fulfill a minimum of two of three conditions: Is it nice? Is it true? Is it necessary?

You'd never believe they actually tried to pass these ideas off on us, these six sisters who couldn't remain silent about their opinions if their very lives depended on it. They argued often, and with gusto, almost as much as they laughed, which they also did with great gusto.

Of course, my Aunt Grace also liked to say that differences should never be feared or avoided, because where there are no differences, there is only indifference.

I'm remembering all this today because I don't have anything positive or necessary to say about the state of our world. Everything I could think to say has been said, and I cannot imagine any solutions to the bitterness and violence that plague us. Bombs dropped on children in Aleppo. An ambassador assassinated in Turkey. Christmas shoppers mowed down by a truck in Berlin. And in the midst of all that, Trump was officially installed as the new president elect by sheep electors yesterday.

I am not indifferent. But I don't have a clue how to make any of it better. I have nothing positive to say.

So I'm remaining somewhat silent behind this screen, head down, doing my work, circling in my small space. I think we are all discombobulated. As long as I live I will never stop seeing the silent thousand yard stare of the dust covered, blood spattered children of Aleppo. As one reporter noted, Aleppo is a place where the children no longer cry.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Gorgeous women

That's my Aunt Grace with her daughters this weekend just past, in Kingston, Jamaica, on the occasion of the fortieth wedding anniversary of my cousin Maureen (in blue), the sixty-fifth birthday of my cousin Sharon (in yellow), and the baptism of Grace's seventh great grandchild Liam. Aunt Grace, you will recall, is my mom's baby sister who turned ninety in August. She is the only one of the remaining three sisters still in robust health. After the church, where this picture was taken, everyone went back to Maureen's house for a grand celebration under tents on the front lawn. I wish I could have been there. These women are my family and I grew up with them, but sometimes, I see them with new eyes and their beauty takes my breath away.

Sunday, December 18, 2016


My house is filled with young people on this gray Sunday. They are sprawled all over the living room watching Giants football, looking somewhat hung over. My daughter is away for the weekend, baking Christmas cookies with her boyfriend's family, but my son has a college friend from Prague who overnighted with us, and my son's girlfriend is also here, and there is also another family friend, a lovely young man who is stranded in the city till he flies back to Chicago tonight. His aunt called at 7 a.m. this morning and asked if he could hang with us for the day. I have fed them pizza and now I have decided to leave the young people to their own devices rather than take on the responsibility of entertaining them, or at least entertaining the nephew of my dear friend, the woman who introduced me to my husband. 

I feel as gray at this day. Every time I read anything at all about Trump, or Aleppo, or Russian hacks, or really any news at all, I have to fight the feeling of being sorely overmatched. I keep trying to make sense of it all, but then I hear Obama speak in such unreasonably reasonable tones, and I realize how profound are the gaps in what is publicly known. I am convinced that if we knew the whole, or even the half, we might crumble into dust. I'm speaking figuratively but maybe also literally. Oh hell, I have nothing vaguely coherent to say on the subject, so let me just leave you with this.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Prayer pose

As an antidote to all the fear and hate swirling out there, I'm posting this image of love and hope. It's the camp crew, children who grew up together by a lake in the Connecticut woods each summer, who have become family to one another, who are all now adults working in and around the city, who get together on weekends to just be with each other. They are all colors; they are gay, straight, queer; they see one another simply as people they love, and the rest is just a delicious part of that. There they were on an all day jaunt from brunch to park sitting to street frolicking to bar hopping in Brooklyn a couple of Saturdays ago. In the photo above, my girl (back row, center) has her hands in a prayer pose. My son wasn't there on this day, because he was working. But I hear he stopped by the brunch place where they all were, a hole in the wall that sold beer and chicken wings, and everyone went crazy cheering for him. And then he was gone again. I love these kids, and the way they love each other. I've said it before: They will save us all.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Stay woke

"What is the precise moment, in the life of a country, when tyranny takes hold? It rarely happens in an instant; it arrives like twilight, and at first, the eyes adjust." 


That line, from a recent New Yorker piece by Evan Osnos, just blew me away. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. It haunts me to think that our eyes may already be adjusting, and we might not even catch it happening.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Good juju

In searching for that photo of my brother and me in the last post, I ran across some other snaps I hadn't seen in a while. I know the news is horrific today, with Aleppo burning, and in a figurative way, America, too. It's more than I can bear to go into here, as I have no answers, so in lieu of despair, I'll put up a few photos that made me smile.

My two cousins and me in the storied apartment on 120th Street, in our twenties.

The same two cousins during Thanksgiving weekend this year. They are my sisters.

The man as a newlywed. Those eyes. 

Their dad/uncle brought back those hats from a biodiversity research trip to Vietnam. 

My boy was riding his dad's shoulders and taking in the world from a new height.

My niece and daughter two years ago. I always meant to post this. Today's the day.

My darling man on the first Christmas after we were married, in front of our first tree together. We called it our Woolworth tree for the cheap and shiny baubles.

The man and me, thirty Christmas seasons later. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


My brother and I are fine. We navigated the choppy waters, didn't drown, and are back in the boat, rowing along. Thanks for your supportive comments last week, I took every one to heart, and appreciated being able to process out loud here. As public as this space is, it felt like a safe place. One way or another, it's going to be fine.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Winter's lace

The man and I drove up the Hudson yesterday, just because. It was an aimless and companionable afternoon, and he wore that black polo with his jeans, a look I cannot resist. The trees were devoid of leaves already, and the river had a stark beauty about it. It reminded me that finding beauty, finding good, is so often about how we choose to see a thing. Today, I am mindfully choosing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Broke and not

I really dislike living in a broken house. I hate my kitchen with its cabinet doors forever coming off the hinges; for as long as we have lived here it has been this way. One never feels quite so trapped by one's circumstances as when one is facing a huge upcoming expense and can't figure out how to meet it. So I dream of more expense, redoing my kitchen, refinishing my scuffed wood floors, painting the house, replacing the broken down living and dining room furniture, lifting up the carpets in the bedrooms and laying wood floors instead, redoing the bathrooms, yes, all of it.

This is what I'm thinking about this morning instead of contemplating how I will find a rather large sum needed for an essential thing related to my mother's estate. I don't want to fight with my brother about it. I feel us teetering on the edge of the kind of family conflicts so familiar after a parent dies. I have seen it close up again and again, the bitter rifts, and I swore that I would not let that happen with my brother and me. So even though I wish he would help me with this, maybe he simply can't, and I will have to figure it out myself. I love my brother. He has been good to me and good to our mother. I am writing this here because I want to call myself out for the resentment I am feeling over having to take this on all on my own. It's just money. Although it's never just money when you don't have it, is it?

Perhaps it is time to wade back into the waters of debt, from which I so carefully extricated myself some years ago. I'm not at the age when one should be taking on new debt. God, I feel anxious. This whole situation is making me so anxious I want to cry from sheer frustration. And yet I will walk through this. I will put one foot in front of the other and meet this. I will try to dissipate my resentment over the lack of support I am feeling in this moment from (almost) all quarters. I will try to see this differently. Here's something: My brother did take on the lion's share of expenses for our mother's care in her waning days and I was grateful to him for it. So I will do what is necessary now to puzzle out the situation and carry out my mother's wishes. And then I will move on.

On a much brighter note, last night my daughter strung the lights on our very fat Christmas tree. Her dad and her boyfriend helped her at certain points, but she was the driver of that train for sure. She refused to be overmatched by the size of the tree the men in our family happily chose. That thing takes up so much room I'm thinking of charging it rent. Here's the Snapchat she sent out. It doesn't really capture the tree's spreading width. Our darling girl is definitely the chief holiday ambassador in this household. What would we do without her? ❤️

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Both of my children plan on getting their own places in the new year. There is talk of moving in with their significant others, although that may be down the road. Next year too, my niece who is like my third child finishes dental school and will move to the city to do her residency. She also plans to share an apartment with her significant other, who is a New Yorker born and raised. I suppose, with rents in the city so high, sharing a one bedroom is more cost effective that renting a two or three bedroom apartment with roommates. I think this explains the growing trend of twenty somethings moving in with the people they are seriously dating. They may not be quite ready for the whole nine yards, but they are comfortable with the residential commitment.

I do wonder, in a strictly anthropological way, how these joint living arrangements among young adults who are romantically involved will affect the decision of whether and when to marry. When I was in my twenties, most dating couples in the city had our own apartments, and we moved back and forth between them, but rents were more affordable then. As I recall, I paid $325 a month for my one bedroom in a very desirable part of town, right next to the university. Today, young people are gentrifying neighborhoods at monthly rents of two thousand dollars or more. So I get it. I also get that living with your significant other must feel fairly liberating after being roomies with your parents and having to let them know when you aren't coming home till the next day so your mother doesn't freak out because she at least knows you're alive.

But, you know, in my mind, my kids still look like this:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Trust, again

The New York Times had an article this morning headlined "How to Hide $400 Million." I didn't read it. I don't have such problems. If I did, I might be lounging in the shade of that patio in the picture, breathing in the salty blue air.

I do have work, though, and it just kicked into high gear because the book contract I've been anticipating for months came through yesterday. At this moment, I'm in the middle of editing a manuscript that has been going very slowly, and now I need to press hard to finish it so I can give my full attention to the book proposal. I am also meeting with an inspirational author to discuss the possibility of doing some editing for her. I hope it works out. I like her message a lot. Every freelancer's dilemma is figuring out how much to take on at a time, so that all assignments can be properly completed. It's a fine balance, because the temptation is to say yes to everything, given the need to cover one's share of the monthly expenses in a city that is spectacularly expensive to live in.

Can I just admit (as I have admitted before) that I flat out envy (and also admire) the ones who are able to regularly snag the big book collaboration deals. It's no accident that they are so sought after; they commit themselves to preparing the way; they actively network and pursue the work; they embody the maxim that luck favors the prepared. In contrast, my freelancing life feels very catch as catch can, as if I need to say yes to everything because I don't know when the next opportunity will show up. I am trying to balance it all, because more than anything, if I say yes to a job, I mean to do it well. It all comes back to trust. Trust in myself. Trust that it's worked out so far, and will continue to do so. Just because I can't see down the road doesn't mean the road isn't there.

Outside my window, the leaves are a brilliant backlit gold swaying languidly after two full days of driving rain. The rain made the house feel cozy and hidden away. The last of my Thanksgiving houseguests left yesterday. Now I am alone again, my husband, son and daughter all gone to their workplaces. I need to remember how lucky I am that this place, right here, with that golden light in front of me, is mine.