Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Tell everyone I love them"

I finally allowed myself to read a news story about what exactly transpired on that Portland train last Friday. How a white man came on board and started hurling invectives at two young women of color, one wearing a hijab. How one man, and then a second, and then a third tried to calm the violence, tried to reason with the hateful passenger and even to form a human shield between him and the young women. How as the train pulled into the next station, the man, whose surname was Christian, and who declared himself a white supremacist, lunged at the three men and stabbed each one in the neck, before running off the train. The other passengers called the medics, they knelt beside the men, two of them dying. They talked to them and prayed with them and called them angels. They thanked them and told them they were not alone, these men who might have looked away, but who stepped into the fray to turn evil aside, and who died in the act of being loving.

We should all know their names: Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23. Rick Best, 52. Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21. One of the men who died was a military man, father of four. The other was a free spirit, long blond hair, joyful smiles in his photographs. The third was a student at Portland State. He lived. The young blond one was the same age as my daughter, a recent graduate of Reed College. An older black women knelt beside him, a single mother of five children on her way to classes at the community college. She took off her tank top and pressed it to the wound on his neck, whispering to him, "Stay with us. You are such a beautiful soul." As the medics arrived and placed him on a stretcher, he said to the woman, "Tell everyone on this train I love them." His last words.

I cannot stop weeping.

The story is here.

There was the very worst of humanity on that train, but there was the best of it, too. And despite those who died, the goodness and love were more powerful, more enduring than all the vile  hatred that spewed from the unrepentant killer. I cannot stop thinking about all the people from so many different walks, who collided in that one tragic moment last Friday. It is such a metaphor for the moment in which this nation finds itself, the murderous hate, countered by bravery and righteousness. Who will win the soul of the nation? I have to believe that good will win, otherwise I might just lay down and die.


I am having an angsty day. I miss my kids. They're off doing their lives and I haven't seen either one for days. I need to get used to this, as this is how it will be more and more, now that they no longer live under my roof. My daughter was cranky with me on the phone this morning, which upset me. I'm too pushy sometimes. My son wasn't cranky with me, but he was upset about another thing, about which I could do nothing to help, so that left me feeling crappy too. I am feeling as if I have very little in my life other than my work, which isn't exactly true, but that's how it feels at this moment—as if everyone is out living their super interesting and connected lives, and I'm in this room, sitting at this desk, alone. Don't get me wrong; I am grateful to have work. But sometimes in this city, people get so caught up in navigating their all-consuming imperatives, it can get very lonely. That's how it feels right now. I also have two loved ones waiting for a diagnosis that could go either way. Their worry certainly contributes to the world seeming gray. I pray they are okay. This is a weird age and stage. We get ailments, and sometimes they are serious. We feel lonely. I was talking to one of my other friends last week. She was telling me about her plan to spend some weeks in Berlin this summer, living in an Airbnb and making art in a studio she's rented. She is looking forward to it, but fears she will be lonely. We fantasized about me joining her in Berlin for a couple of weeks, renting an Airbnb near to hers, the two of us working on our projects during the day, and then getting together to sip wine in cafes come evening. It sounds divine. And really, one can write anywhere. I'm thinking about it. But can I really be the kind of person who, now that my children are raised, kisses her sweet prince of a husband goodbye and takes off to the continent to write? I'm thinking right now that it might be creatively inspiring to be lonely in a different place, even for a little while.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Gut-wrenching or deeply stilling

These notes on writing were made by Octavia Butler, author Kindred, Parable of the Sower and so many other utterly compelling fictional worlds. She was the first science fiction author to win the MacArthur Genius Award, and the first African-American woman to win widespread critical acclaim in that genre. Some of her papers are on display in an exhibition called "Octavia Butler: Telling My Stories" at The Huntington in San Marino, California, where the author's archives reside. These notes are sound advice for anyone endeavoring to tell a good story, anyone striving to shut out the clamor and surreality of the news and build a suspenseful, well-paced world within.

I have begun writing the book, but it is so very slow. I have accomplished a mere 953 new words in addition to the sample chapter I wrote for the proposal. I am picking my way through the thicket of facts and personal truths, looking for the right details, in the right proportion, with the requisite intensity, delivered in a way even those who might resist this particular story, can open their hearts to hear.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dreaming peace

I came home from choir rehearsal last night to find my husband watching breaking news of a suicide bomber at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. Twenty-two dead, fifty injured, so many of them children. Heartbreak upon heartbreak.

Last Saturday was a nonstop day: My daughter's boyfriend graduated from Cornell Tech with his MEng in the morning, we attended a reception afterward with his family, then I went off to perform one of our spring choir concerts at an assisted living home. In the evening, I again met up with the graduate and his family for dinner. Everyone was in a celebratory mood, so proud of our graduate's success.

But in between all that, as I was getting out of the cab at home after our choir concert, and heading to my apartment to change for dinner, I ran into my heart son, E, who lives one building over. Tall, slender, chocolate-skinned and classically handsome, this young man has no idea how beautiful and cherished he is, because he is dark-skinned in a culture that does not prize that, and he is Muslim in a world that assumes him to be a terrorist. He is profiled twice over.

On Saturday, he was wearing a kufi. This was new. He hugged me and then came upstairs to visit with my husband and me, his parent surrogates. My son calls this young man brother, as they have been friends since babyhood, and he grew up a good portion of the time in our home. We sat in the living room and talked about his choice to begin wearing a kufi, to publicly claim his faith, as hard as it was, because he knows how people will look at him, the things they will assume about him, despite the fact that my son calls him, "the most peaceful cat I know."

He, a kindergarten teacher studying for a masters in education, laughed at the notion that people might assume him violent. "They should see my in my classroom," he remarked ruefully. And then he said something that stopped me cold. "I just want to be able to walk through the world as a black man and as a Muslim and feel safe," he said. "If I can do that, and my future children can do that, then we will have achieved something."

Our poor battered world.

Friday, May 19, 2017


Yesterday, as hundreds of pedestrians milled and lounged at tables in hot, busy Times Square, a car plowed into the crowd, injuring 22 people and killing one, a young woman, 18, who was visiting the city from Michigan. The driver was drunk, high on PCP, and is in custody. That poor teenager's 13-year-old sister was among the injured. These two girls were just walking along one day and hell rained down.

As soon as I heard what was happening, I knew my son would be on the scene, one of the FDNY first responders attending to the wounded, even before it was clear whether this was an ongoing terrorist attack or a lone ranger lunatic. Bomb squads swept the area as my son and his fellow EMTs and paramedics performed triage and ferried victims to nearby hospitals. I texted my son: "Call me when you can." A couple of hours later he did call. "I'm safe," he told me, "and most of the injured are stable now." "That's what I wanted to know," I said, to which he replied, "I figured."

I am still getting used to the fact that whenever anything like this happens in the city, my son will be rushing toward it, lights flashing and sirens blaring, and I will be just another citizen mother watching the news channels, praying.

In the midst of the chaos, I had to travel to midtown myself to meet with my editor on the book I'm co-writing. My son said, "You better reschedule your meeting. There's no way you can get in here. All the roads are blocked off." I decided to try anyway, because until I could sit down with the editor and go over the proposed chapter outline, I was stuck, unable to begin. I did manage to make it past all the yellow police tape to the publisher's office, which was a hushed, air-conditioned world completely removed from the pandemonium and gridlock on the street outside.

It was a good meeting. I really like my editor. She says she's tough, but I welcome tough. I finally have clarity on how to move forward. One slight wrinkle is that a project I thought had fallen through has come back around, so I'm juggling again. This is a good problem to have, though I confess I was looking forward to diving into writing the book, my focus undivided. On the other hand, it's always better when I'm super busy. My brain chatter goes a little haywire when I have time on my hands. Who am I kidding? A lot haywire. Of course, these are small problems compared to those facing a family from Michigan today.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Life as usual

We had so much fun being together at my niece's dental school graduation this weekend just past, and now it's back to the grind for all of us, including my niece, the new doctor, who will be moving to New York City next week to start her year-long residency in general dentistry. 

I'm in a lull right now. One project that seemed promising has so far not panned out, and the other, which could absorb my attention for most of the rest of the year, is in standby mode, thoughts percolating about how to approach the story, random notes jotted down, but until I meet with the editor this week, I feel kind of stuck, not sure how to begin. The beginning is everything. Once I get started, the process gathers momentum, and carries me through till the work is done. It's the good side of my obsessive nature. But right now, I'm in that place of not knowing how I will pull this off, wondering if I am in over my head, knowing only that I'm committed now, and so I have no option but to find my way through. I'm scared, if you want to know the truth. I'm standing before a mountain, seeking the first foothold. 

It's shaping up to be a busy month. In addition to last weekend's festivities, our choir has its three spring concerts coming up, and my daughter's boyfriend will graduate with his masters in engineering this weekend. There are other things going on, too: My cousin finished her last round of chemo and is on the mend in her cute blue beanie hat. She expected to bounce right up after treatment was done and is discovering that now she has to take some time to get her energy back. "When your hair grows back into a sweet little fro, then you'll be ready to resume life as usual," we decided based on no scientific evidence whatsoever. "In the meantime, take things slow." 

I am so proud of her, the way she marched through this, never losing her ringing laugh, even though she was in the midst of moving from DC to Orlando when she was diagnosed last summer, in the midst of selling one house, and finding a new one for her family to live in, getting used to a new city, sending her two girls to college, and getting her husband settled in a new business (for which she does the books) all while undergoing surgery and chemo. She is my hero. Every time I think about her, I want to cry from sheer love and awe. She humbles me. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Doctor in the house

We're back from Washington, DC, and I am exhausted, but content. My niece's graduation from Howard University School of Dentistry went off beautifully, with my two kids doing the organizing and the executing, and my brother and me doing the paying. At the grad party on Saturday night, my brother told the twenty-six of us gathered that it makes a parent so proud when their children get to the point of being able to make their way in the world, and more importantly, he added, "It means they're finally off my payroll." From the penny section, someone shouted, "The Bank of Daddy is now closed!" It was a festive time, with dancing and laughing and flowing pitchers of margaritas and a fab Spotify playlist, and everyone present felt invested in our graduate's success, and that investment was simply love.

The weekend was chock full: There was the dental school graduation on Friday, a rousing mimosa brunch with family and friends on Saturday morning, the white coat ceremony on Saturday afternoon, and then the party on Saturday night. Thinking about the weekend, I had a revelation, which is that everything came off so well because my niece told people how she wanted to celebrate, and she didn't just tell anyone, she told people who love her and are motivated to make her happy. Leading the charge were her cousins, her best friend, her boyfriend, her dad and mom, and my husband and me, with the older folk in advisory roles and the younger folk running the show. It was a dream to observe these children, now adults, so fully capable at every turn, including the clean up after the party, everything bagged and put out, the area rugs vacuumed, the floors swept, surfaces wiped down, everything back to pristine, just the way we found it. My husband, my brother and I just watched, smiling. Once that was us. Who knew our kids were taking notes?

Anyway, my revelation: When you want something to unfold in a certain way, don't just leave people to read your mind and hope they get it right, and then get upset when they don't, because, duh, very few of us on the planet can actually read minds. Instead: 1) figure out what you want, and 2) let the right people know. That's what my niece did. As I told my daughter, in our family there are generals who instinctively step up to direct the action, and my niece is one of the generals of her generation, for sure.

Here is a photo album from the weekend. A lot of these pics were also posted on Instagram, so if you've seen them, bear with me. This is my record for posterity.

Monday, May 8, 2017

She did it!

Take note of the girl in the middle, her hands gently restraining her 3-year-old cousin, who as I recall, was completely sugared up and racing through the house when someone made them pose for a photo. My kids and their cousin were attending their uncle's wedding in Orlando. None of us had any idea that 20 years hence, my niece (the responsible girl in the middle) would be graduating from dental school in Washington, DC and moving to New York City this summer for her residency.

And there she is, looking bright and hopeful on her very first day of dental school. Was that four years ago already? She always wanted to be a doctor like her daddy, until she got braces and decided that she liked the puzzle of teeth better. We're on our way to D.C. this week to celebrate her success. We've rented a house and plan to have a dinner party with all the relatives, who are flying in from Jamaica and Florida, driving down from New York, or traveling locally from Virginia and Maryland. We have been planning this party since February, and now it's finally here. The fantastic thing is, I am a consultant in this endeavor. My daughter and niece are executing all the details, which means that when a problem arises, I can sit back and watch these capable young women solve it. They are pitch perfect. 

We are all so very proud of you, my heart child. I, for one, remember when.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday Night

It was a very mixed week, but I have decided that on balance, it was more good than not. It rained hard this morning and I stayed in bed late, because I finished a job editing a manuscript yesterday, and in the afternoon today I had an editorial conference call with the team for the book I'm writing this summer, which meant that for a few hours this morning I was free as a jaybird, nothing calling me, and so I lay in bed and thought: In this moment, you are okay. Your beloveds are busy and healthy. You are not in danger of not paying your bills this month. You have the great luxury of lying in bed and listening to the rain, knowing there is work on the horizon. Pause to appreciate this moment. Don't let it pass unnoticed. Sometimes, it's useful to pull the world in around you, and make it simple, and make it small.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

"The Republican health-care bill is an act of monstrous cruelty. It should stain those who supported it to the end of their days."

This piece by Washington Post writer Paul Waldman sums up what we are facing from the most vile group of politicians we have ever seen.

Cake and love

"Another belief of mine: 
that everyone my age is an adult, 
whereas I am merely in disguise"

—Margaret Atwood

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Just another school day

This is how I looked on May 3, 2017, a milestone birthday, perplexed that I have arrived here in such a short span of time, grateful too, for all the blessings that have arrived here with me. The chief blessing is my family, my husband and children, and my wide ranging extended family, the great gift my parents gave me.

I am thinking about my parents a lot today, realizing how young I was when my father died, I was still in my thirties, and how unprepared I was when my mother died, even though she had lived to ninety-three. I was awake in the wee hours of this morning, sitting in the dark living room alone, thinking how strange it was to turn this age in the absence of the ones who gave me life. I remember them turning this age. I was grown and aware. It seemed so far in my own future.

I look at my children now, so vibrantly twenty something, their whole lives stretching out before them, and I know they have no idea how fast this ride goes. This is as it should be. They and their honeys will be coming over for cake and pizza tonight. My husband would have cooked us any meal I desired, but I wanted to keep it as simple as a four-year-old's birthday party. We will also do our now-traditional tequila shots, this time with the really expensive tequila my daughter brought home from last week's fancy gala event that she helped plan for her job. And then all the kids will hug and kiss us and go to their own homes, because it's a school night, and they have work tomorrow.

Outside, it is a glorious spring day, the air soft and blue, the trees newly leafed. Dapples of sunlight play on my face as I write this, my laptop set on a picnic table in the courtyard, cobblestones under my flip flops. I came outside to feel the sky above my head in the cool of the morning, to step purposefully into this day.

Monday, May 1, 2017


Thank you, lovely friends, for your supportive comments on my last post. Blogging has its cycles, doesn't it? And not just personal cycles, but the zeitgeist of the blog world itself has evolved, and it often feels as if only a handful of us are left around the fire. For this soulful communion with you hardy few, I am grateful. You are the reason I keep coming around. I would miss you too much if I stopped.

My weekend was good, with all the kids and their sweethearts over on Saturday, including my niece who was in town from DC, and who will graduate from dental school in two short weeks. She passed her boards, so call her doctor!

Later that night I went to a fundraising gala where a writer I admire, Ta-Nehisi Coates, was presented with a "Living the Dream" award. The man sitting across from me at my table was the son of an educator whose book I once edited. The book was called Begin With a Dream. Its author, a lifelong crusader for equal rights, is now close to 90, and suffering from dementia and a terminal illness. His son, when he realized our connection, moved to the seat next to me and asked me penetrating questions about the experience of working with his dad. He wanted every story I could call up about his father back then. I could tell he was feeling very emotional, that he missed his dad. He apologized for getting choked up, and I told him there was no need for apology, and how rare and wonderful it was to have a father such as his had been. My husband said much the same thing later, that it is a gift to have a father worth missing.

I thought I had gone to the gala that evening because the writer who was getting the award had given a quote for a book proposal I recently collaborated on. I appreciated his endorsement, and I suspect it helped us secure a publisher. Now I think that the real reason I was supposed to be in that room Saturday night was to talk to a son about his father.