Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sock Puppets

Is anyone watching Homeland this season? I think they made a smart choice in pivoting from stereotypes of Middle Eastern terrorists to a more nuanced exploration of global intelligence networks. I suppose, given the times, no one will be particularly surprised that in the current storyline, American agents are deeply complicit in the espionage, and may even be behind the terrorist act at the center of the season—and that's not really giving anything away.  Carrie (Clare Danes) has left the CIA, now works for a legal nonprofit, and is raising her daughter in Brooklyn, and Peter Quinn (played by the fantastic Rupert Friend) is back in action, though badly injured in brain and body during the finale of last season. I think his performance this season is Emmy worthy.

But this is not a review. What I really want to talk about is the ninth episode titled "Sock Puppets," in which one of Carrie's associates discovers a huge clandestine operation of hundreds of tech professionals, each one creating and deploying scores of fake online identities, known as sock puppets, which then flood social media feeds with misinformation and propaganda talking points given out each day. In this way they create a loud false narrative about how the American public feels about issues in the news, and hijack the national conversation with ginned up outrage.

I watched the episode with my mouth hanging open, finally understanding all the obviously fraudulent twitter accounts of Black women praising Donald Trump. Black women are a demographic I know well, and I could always tell which accounts were inauthentic, yet they had whole histories behind them, years of tweets, and now I understand how they are created, and how so much of the noise out there is manufactured trolling, well paid tech people spinning alt-right fictions in secret to push an ugly political agenda.

Trump and company are known for using sock puppets, but I didn't really grasp how that worked until I saw that episode. Yes, the Homeland series is itself fiction, but that episode was based on something real, and was intended, I believe, to offer us a glimpse inside how all this fake messaging works. All that to say, we are living in murky times, my friends. Dig for the gold.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Happy birthday to the girl who is our heart

Happy birthday to our beautiful and beloved daughter, who came to us 23 years ago today, and made our lives brighter, sweeter, richer, and filled with laughs! We love you so much, my darling girl. Blessings on your head, always.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Catching up

I have been sick. In bed sick. Can't lift my head from the pillow sick. This has not happened to me in years.

I am on the mend, as you can see by the fact that I'm writing here. I can hold my head up again without feeling as if I'm going to pass out.

The wedding was lovely, a long, long day (I was already getting sick I think), but festive and full of joy. It was strange to be among so many people I was meeting for the first time and have them all saying, "We love your son!" The groom was the brother of our son's girlfriend, who was one of the nine bridesmaids. Her family is clearly as fond of our son as we are of her. He also seems well plugged in to her circle of friends. He always was very social, that boy of ours.

I was going to give you details, like the bride and groom's adorable ten month old son rolling down the aisle in a silver painted toy car bedecked with tulle and bows, and the beautiful rainbow of humans who made up the bridal party, and the rousing DJ at the reception, who had guests of all ages out on the floor doing the electric slide. Even me, with my wonky hip and my feverish brain. It was all big fun, but I am suddenly too tired to be descriptive. I did note that our son seemed so happy to have us there. He seemed proud and pleased to show off his family, and even to dance the electric slide with his mama, which touched my heart.

Another thing that touched my heart: On Sunday, after I had been in bed and eating nothing most of Saturday, my husband awoke and said, "I'm going to nourish you today. They say we're in this together in sickness and in health, so I guess this is the sickness." And he did feed me, an omelet for breakfast, ackee and saltfish (my absolute favorite) for lunch, and poached salmon in rosemary for dinner. I felt a lot better by the end of the day, and this morning, I even did some work. But I still knew I was going to miss choir tonight. I think I might climb back into bed now. That's my son and his girl, who made a beautiful bridesmaid.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Going to the chapel and I'm...

Well, no, not me.

My son's girlfriend's brother is getting married, and we've all been invited, so we're getting all dressed up and going to a wedding an hour away in New Jersey this afternoon. It's always a privilege to witness as two young people take their vows and commit their lives to one another. Maybe I'll get a family photo of the four of us looking presentable. There are precious few of those.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kind eyes

For Mary and Barbara, who wanted to see a picture of the dog with kind eyes, here he is, along with another snap of my girl on a donut raft. I just love the picture.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hair and other stories

She's over Canada right now, according to Flight Stat. She's been on planes since yesterday, and will certainly be exhausted when we pick her up from the airport tonight, while I will be elated to have her home. She seems to have had a fantastic time during her ten days in Shanghai, Bangkok and Krabi. I hope her jet lag won't last too long because in ten days she'll be packing up and moving into her own place. My babies are all grown up! After all the trial runs of college and summer camps and trips abroad, the nest will soon truly be empty. I'll let you know how that goes.

It's later now.

She walked out of customs wearing loose batik pants bought for $5 on a beach in Krabi, and a smile like the sun, even though it was already midnight. Her boyfriend rode with us to the airport to surprise her, except she knew he'd be there, and didn't believe him when he texted her while she was inside waiting for her bag, and said he couldn't make it. They burst out laughing and hugged and rocked when they saw each other. They're sweet together.

Her Senegalese twists held up well; in fact she said she might never again travel without them, they were so easy to manage. Her hairstyle was the source of great curiosity in both China and Thailand, with people asking to take pictures with her, and some women actually touching her braids while chattering at her in the language she couldn't understand. She assumed they were asking permission. My daughter didn't get offended. She found the whole thing amusing, even when, on a bus from the plane to the terminal in Shanghai, a group of older women surrounded her, asking her questions and examining her twists. One woman even began to unravel the stands of one braid until my girl smiled and removed the braid from her hands and said simply, "No."

In Thailand she and Gabby did everything, including taking a boat out to the eight islands, spires of rock rising out of the blue green water, which  always look so majestic and serene in photographs, but when you actually go there, our girl said, "It's Disneyland." Lots and lots of tourists. But everyone very considerately steps out of the way of other people's photographs, so the pictures shown back home perpetuate the impression of isolated serenity. Then there was the dog she made friends with on the morning she and Gabs woke before dawn to go down to the beach and watch the sunrise. The dog seemed to be waiting for them, and followed them down to the shore. His eyes were "kind and magical" my daughter said as she scrolled to a photo of the dog and herself with noses almost touching, gazing into each other's eyes. She promised me she didn't kiss the strange dog, though they definitely bonded. There were many more stories before she turned in at past 2 am. She has work in the morning.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Derek Walcott, who knows me by heart

I just heard that Derek Walcott has died. When anyone asked me to name my favorite poet, his was the only name that came to mind. He was a Caribbean person, like me, a St. Lucian who became a Nobel Laureate, while living just down the road from the house where my mother spent her final years. He wasn't by any means a perfect human, but he inspired me. I saw the world I knew in his lines of verse, but it was the way he strung words together that mesmerized me. In 1962, he wrote:

I seek,
As climate seeks its style, to write
Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight,
Cold as the curled wave, ordinary
As a tumbler of island water

Because of him, I knew I could aspire to be a writer, despite being from a small place. I wrote my senior thesis in college about how his Caribbean identity informed his art, which over the course of his 87 years included not just his often operatic poems but also plays, essays, stories and watercolors. And throughout my life, whenever I have felt stuck on a piece of writing, it is his books I pull down from my shelf, as fuel, as instruction, as reason. Now, he has gone to wherever it is we go next, and he has left us holding such treasure. Here is one of his best known poems. It is also one of my favorites. I've posted it here before.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

What universe?

I wake up each morning and wonder: Is this real life? Because the unthinkable is playing out before our eyes. We have a bigoted, narcissistic toddler running the country, one with not the slightest whiff of empathy, and he is the puppet of a white supremacist alcoholic anarchist who has stated to all who will listen his intention to destroy the structures of government and restore privilege and power to "true" Americans, by which he means white people. What he fails to clarify is that he really means white people with pots and pots of money, whose privilege and power are very much intact. The rest of Trump's supporters are supposed to content themselves with the notion that they are still higher on the white nationalist totem pole than their black and brown neighbors who might be struggling right alongside them. For some Trump voters, it will be enough. But others just might wake up and see that they, too, are among the disposable citizens. Maybe they'll help the rest of us hold the line, before our frailest elders are no longer able to count on daily nourishment from Meals on Wheels. Someone I know and love said that when she worked for Meals on Wheels, some of the people she brought food to each day actually cried when she walked in the door. For so many of them, she was their only human contact that day. And school lunches are also slated to be cut in the Trump/Bannon budget, because the children who need it, aren't doing better in school because of it. Honest to God: That is the reasoning. I don't know who measured their performance before and after, I haven't seen any studies or facts and figures, but is that really how we measure the need for the school lunch program? Let Johnny and Jane go hungry dammit because they aren't going to grow up to be rocket scientists anyway (although if the HUD secretary is any indication, they just might manage to become neurosurgeons).

Thursday, March 16, 2017


She is the picture of joy, laughing on a beach in Thailand. She inspires me.


This morning I tweeted these words: 

The moment when you realize there are some people from your past you may never see again in life. And it's ok.

Without going into reasons, I felt the need to write those words down, to acknowledge their truth, and to move the melancholy that came with them outside of myself. 

Later in the morning, I logged back into my Twitter feed to delete those words, as they had served their purpose. I was stunned to see how many times this single tweet had been liked and retweeted. What? I'd thought it was an oblique sentiment, meaningful only to me, but I was wrong. I didn't delete the tweet after all as it seemed to have some resonance. It is a sad thing to come to terms with the fact that some relationships are unlikely ever to be what they once were. Too much has come between you. It is an odd comfort to know that the realization, and the regretful resignation it brings, are simply a part of life, experienced in some form by many.

The sweetest thing, though, was this note in my inbox from someone I haven't seen in a decade, a woman who now lives in L.A., who was only six years old and wearing a frilly yellow dress when I first met her: "This reminds me to remind you that I love and miss you very much," she wrote. And there was more, which I won't encroach on her privacy to share, but thanks to her, my mood was transformed from sadness and melancholy to love and gratitude—for all of it. For what is forever gone, and what is still to come.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Off to Choir

I'm off to my Monday evening choir rehearsal, along with my friend Lisa, who lives two buildings over, and my friend Michelle, who I used to work with, and my friend Alison, who I grew up with in Jamaica and who now also lives in New York. We are four of a choral group of 28 voices, a beautifully diverse group in terms of age and ethnicity, and best of all, they are a quirky bunch. I love quirks in people. I love it when people can't help but express exactly who they are, and so Monday nights are a pleasant, stress-free respite from the daily grind. This term, one of our selections is Ave Verum, in Latin, which Alison and I sang eons ago, when we were in high school and part of the Queens Girls Choir. We first learned the song during our two-week summer workshop in the country, at a girls boarding school in Malvern. I am taken right back there every time we pull out that piece of music. It's pretty amazing how the words all came back to me, as if they had been waiting, all these decades, in a gentle groove in my brain. Oh, cab's here. Gotta go!


I was this young, once, but definitely never this cool. These are two of the snaps my girl sent me yesterday. Her social media posting has fallen off because it's apparently censored for visitors and you have to get a code to bypass the censorship. She used her friend's student code the first day, but it used too much data, so now she's just texting occasional photos. She looks happy, which makes me happy.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Making memories

My angst has abated now that my girl has landed safe and sound in Shanghai, and is exploring with her friend of 16 years. Thanks for all your positive comments on my last post. I believe all that lovely energy spirals out into the world, surrounding our intrepid travelers. Our girls are making new memories together, and I am loving following their Instagram and Snap stories. That's a still I pulled from a Boomerang video they posted. My daughter texted me yesterday to say the 16-hour flight over was "smooth and comfortable" and the Airbnb they're staying in is "VERY cute!" They move on to Thailand mid-week.

Meanwhile my darling niece is here, spending her college spring break with us in the city. She went to church with her uncle this morning, and we're all heading out to the movies soon. A huge nor'easter is headed our way in a couple of days, with predictions of snow accumulations of up to 18 inches. I told my niece to start planning her binge watching menu for that day, because I plan to wait out the blizzard mostly from inside. Oh, I might venture out my front door just to experience it, to turn my face upward into the snowflakes as my daughter and I usually do, but beyond that, my warm cozy apartment is where I'll be.

I am doing the final line edit of a manuscript, which is back in my hands after a couple of conceptual editing rounds between the author and me. This reading is an absolute pleasure. The book sings. I am swept along. Her storytelling is riveting, brutal, humane. I hope she gets a book deal after this, and perhaps she will, as my agent is the one who sent her to me, which I take to mean she already believes in her story. I will feel very proud to have been one of the doulas for this book. I love my work.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Traveling mercies

My sweet girl is bustling around, cleaning up her room, scrubbing the bathtub, doing last minute laundry. She's getting ready to leave for her big adventure. It's snowing outside. I am concentrating on breathing.

One of my nieces arrives tonight to spend her college spring break with us, so she'll be staying in my daughter's room. They won't see each other as my girl will arrive home on the day after her cousin returns to school. A few days after that will be our daughter's 23rd birthday even though I still see her as that little girl with the butterfly painted on her darling face.

My daughter's boyfriend gave her all sorts of "stay safe" precautions, as did his family. "Unless your father has a skill set we don't know about," his mother said, "bear in mind the movie Taken." But why do we worry so? I think it is movies and TV shows not to mention the nightly news that sell us the idea that the world is so dangerous. In fact, the vast majority of the world is benevolent, and my daughter's spirit is so kind and loving I choose to believe that she will attract only those energies to her.

She is meeting one of her lifelong friends in China, the inimitable Gabby, who is attending grad school in Shanghai, and together they will travel to Thailand. I am so happy for them, so gratified by their friendship, which began in second grade. Oh, to be young and footloose and called by the big wide world. My two have always been adventurers. They and their cousin traveled all over with their grandma at a very young age, my mother in her wheelchair, the three little ones around her like happy chicks, and they haven't stopped looking outward since.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

More Adventure Girl

My mother used to say, "Don't rush you life." The fact is, I am constantly rushing my life, thinking, Oh I will be so happy when this thing I am worrying about is behind me. 

Right now, I will be happy when March 20 arrives, and my daughter will have traveled to China and Thailand, and will have returned. I hope she has a fantastic time, and that above all, she is safe. I am thinking of my friend who calmly told me her daughter was going to Israel on a birthright trip, then traveling around Europe by herself for a few weeks with a possible side jaunt to Turkey. I hyperventilated for her.