Thursday, December 28, 2017

Forms of light

I am plugging away at my proposal, winning ground every day. The time crunch is a problem, but the manuscript editing job that is backing into the proposal seems to be delayed, the writer not yet done with the composing. I am grateful for these few extra days of grace. 

I did another interview with my subject that yielded such treasure, and now I just have to figure out the book's chapter outline, since it's not a simple forward-leaning narrative. It's more like personal anecdotes leading to hard-won prescriptive wisdom. I'm not naturally prescriptive in my thought processes, so this is proving tricky to figure out. I concentrate on getting a little further along each day, like the high beams on a car picking out the road immediately ahead in a lake of night. Even though the driver can't see but a few feet of the journey at a time, eventually the car gets to its destination. 

Perhaps I will go and work in that cafe on my block where morning sun pours through the blue-framed doors and brightens the painted sunflowers. Maybe today I will try to navigate in daylight. I'm missing my house buddy, who's back at work. In the four months he was home recovering, his presence grounded me and made me content as I worked. Now it's just me, at the mercy of household distractions, not to mention careening thoughts. Yeah, maybe this is a get out into the world sort of day. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Happy birthday to my darling niece!

She's the radiant one in red.

Wishing a fantastic 2018 to our beloved "other daughter," who brings such happiness and opinionated goodness to our lives. As my brother, her dad, once said of her: "She doesn't take up a lot of space in this world, but she defends it fiercely." She defends those she loves just as fiercely. I am so grateful that my children got to grow up with her as their wise, responsible, no nonsense, yet riotously fun loving big sister. Her advice is always on point, pragmatic and unadorned, refusing to mince words yet always loving.

She and my son went to the same college, overlapping for three years. Once when I had been texting and texting my boy and he wasn't responding, I worriedly texted my niece. She got out of her bed in cold, snowy Ithaca and trudged across campus to find my boy. "Call your mother," she commanded. "She thinks you're dead.'' And he did. She is perhaps the only person in this world who can actually command my son. She is the general of her generation, as well as the ambassador of entertainments, the one who two years ago put together the 21st birthday celebration of my daughter's dreams, to my eternal relief.

We hope you have the most wonderful birthday! We love you madly and completely, always and forever. I am so glad you're ours.

A very easy Christmas

Could it be true that dogs, especially calm, undemanding, infallibly house-trained ones, gentle the atmosphere? Yesterday was certainly one of the most chilled out Christmas days I have ever experienced. I felt no stress in any direction, not even to get out of sleep clothes, which I didn't actually do until just before dinner, when my niece and her boyfriend were already here. Before that, my husband, son, daughter and I had awoken, opened gifts, ate a breakfast of waffles and strawberries that our daughter made for us, then everyone dozed or played with their gifts. Later we binge watched a bit of Weeds using the Roku set up our son gave us, cooked a meal with no time pressure, chatted and debated the merits of things, told jokes and laughed uproariously with one another, and through it all, from Christmas Eve night onward, Nina was there.

Nina is the dog that belongs to my upstairs neighbor. My daughter regularly takes care of her, whenever our neighbor, a recent empty nester, gets a notion to travel, which she does often. We have all fallen in love with Nina, and I do believe she contributed greatly to the very laid back atmosphere of our day. It was one of the best Christmases ever, I allowed it be just what it was, and somehow, when my daughter took Nina home at close to midnight, we all missed her big round eyes gazing into our souls. My daughter, who is virtually her co-carer at this point, and who Nina clearly adores, feels somewhat victorious that we all melted at Nina's charms. I know what that's about. My girl is looking for babysitting when she gets her own dog. "It will be your first grandchild," she tries to tell me.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

To be foolishly romantic

The man and I are going to church tonight to sing Christmas music with our friends there, and to deliver gifts to our minister and her wife and their sons, and to pray that 2018 will be the year that the madness that went down in 2017 gets righted. It was one hell of a year. I can't recall another one like it, where the toxicity of public life invaded everything. And yet there were corners of brightness, stories of resilience and healing, and moments of pure life-affirming grace.

Sabine posted this Howard Zinn quote on her blog, Interim Arrangements, and I can't stop thinking about it. With appreciation for the goodness and wisdom that allowed her to find and recognize the gold in this quote, I am sharing it here. We all need this as we head into the new year.

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."—Howard Zinn

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Home for the holidays

I'm in my happy place right now. My son arrived last night to spend the holiday weekend with us. His girlfriend will bring in Christmas with her parents in New Jersey, while our daughter's boyfriend will spend the holiday with his large extended clan upstate, so I know their families are happy too. Our daughter will come over on Christmas Eve and sleep in her old room and wake up with us on Christmas morning. She spent last weekend with her boyfriend's family at their annual cookie baking party. And my son will spend Christmas Eve with his girlfriend's family but return to us that evening. That means the four of us will awaken and open presents together on Christmas morning for another year. And there's a sweet bonus: My darling niece, who usually travels home to Jamaica at Christmas, will be in New York this year, as she's on call for her residency. She and her boyfriend will join us for Christmas dinner, after having Christmas breakfast with his family. These in law negotiations will only get trickier from here.

I spent all day yesterday wrapping gifts and now our dining table is covered with presents, a good portion of them for people who won't wake up here on Christmas morning. Deliveries will be made. I'm always surprised at how many presents end up under the tree, even though I try not to be extravagant. I confess that this year, I wanted to give my husband everything, even things he doesn't yet know he wants. I'm so deeply grateful he survived his medical crisis and is now probably healthier than he has been in years. He returned to work at the museum this week. The idea was for him to ease back into the routine over the holidays when things are slow. He'd worried that after being out for so long he'd no longer be needed, everyone would have already picked up the slack, but he discovered he's wrong. People are soooo grateful he's back—as I knew they would be.

He took traditional West Indian fruitcake miniatures for the two women in HR who so kindly took care of his disability and insurance paperwork while he was ill. He thanked them for making things so much easier on his wife, which made them laugh. I was the one who was in frequent contact with them, working through issues as they arose. These women were indeed wonderful.

My husband hit the gym early this morning, the first time outside of his cardiac rehab class, which he does two days a week. At rehab, he does all the cardio machines and then weights, but every member of the class wears a monitor, and a nurse sits at the main console following everyone's blood pressure and heart rate as they work out. My husband is a star pupil. He's competitive like that, but the therapists make sure he doesn't push himself too far. So this morning at the gym, accompanied by our son the EMT, he mimicked his workout at cardiac rehab, ten minutes on each of five cardio machines, then weights. "I didn't worry about anything," he said when he came back upstairs, "because my son was with me." Our son observed that his dad now seems fitter than before his surgery.

When not in the gym, or picking up poinsettias to help his dad decorate the church, or shopping for last minute gifts (so happy my shopping's done), our boy can be found in his usual position, shirtless on the couch, wrapped in the blanket his grandmother gave him when he was still in high school, catching up on sleep, watching football with his dad, or glued to his phone.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Lost my blog roll. Please help me recreate it

The craziest thing: I went to add a site to my blog roll just now and instead of clicking save I must have clicked remove because now my whole and entire blog roll, a list of virtual souls I adore, which has been many years in the making, is gone.

Please leave me a message in comments, dear friends, so I can more easily recreate my blog roll with you on it. I don't want to miss anyone, and if you haven't posted in a while, I might not remember how to find you from scratch.

This feels way more unsettling than I would have imagined.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Synonyms for Healing

Mary Moon wrote the other day that when you're sad or anxious, it always helps to let a few tears out. For some reason, these synonyms made me weep a bit. Maybe I was imagining how good and grounding each of these feelings would be. I do not fear my memories. I do tend to turn trauma into story. And some days, I walk toward possibility. But those are the only synonyms of healing I can claim. I ache to experience the rest.

I am, at the moment, supposed to be writing a proposal for someone, and I am lost. I don't know what I am doing. I only know I have to have the whole thing done by the end of next week, and I am a little panicked. A lot panicked. I wish I had been secure enough not to take on this project. It's making me just a bit more crazed than the mere fact of Christmas leaves me.

Still, I got online yesterday and bought presents for everyone in one fell swoop. They are all being delivered right to my door tomorrow. Maybe that's not quite the spirit of the season, but at least holiday gifting is no longer on my list of things to stress about. Not quite a synonym for healing, but today it's what I’ve got.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Another goodbye

On a sad note, my Aunt Fay died at 5:56 am yesterday morning. She had been very ill for a long time, and had been in and out of the hospital for the past few years. She went in again ten days ago, and told her children that she didn't think she was going to pull out of it this time. Her daughter confessed that at the moment Aunt Fay stopped breathing, what she felt was a flood of relief that her mom wasn't in pain anymore. "She was so trapped in her body," she said, "and now she is free." I have often written here of the lifelong closeness of my mother and her eight siblings, especially the six sisters in that photo above. It was extraordinary to witness.

And now, of the original nine siblings in my mother's family, there is only Aunt Grace left. She is the only person still alive from the black and white family photo from 1935. Fay, then 4, is the little one seated on the rock. Grace is the one in the middle with her face turned to the right. She lives in Toronto now, but was thankfully in Jamaica with her daughter when she got the news about Fay.

In the photo up top, that's my mother Gloria on the right. Aunt Fay is seated on the left, and Aunt Beulah, who died four months ago, is wearing blue and has her arm around Fay. Aunt Grace is in the middle, and Aunt Maisy is to her right, next to my mom. They had gathered to celebrate their oldest sister Winnie's 92nd birthday in September of 2010. Seven short years ago, they were all still here. Aunt Winnie is the one with the white hair, my mother's hand on her arm. She was our matriarch in New York City. The joke in our family is that if the U.S. government had known how many of us would follow Winnie from Jamaica to America, they would never have let her immigrate back in 1949. Fay and her husband and three young children were among the first to migrate after her. They moved to Florida, and later, to New Jersey where, at age 86, Aunt Fay died yesterday, her children and grandchildren around her.

Aunt Grace said yesterday that she knew Fay would not last long after Beulah died. They were the two youngest, and as bonded as twins. "This world is so lonely without all my sisters and brothers," Aunt Grace said. "I can just imagine the party they are having on the other side."

Choir concert

We had our main choir concert yesterday in an atmospheric old church on 57th Street. The acoustics were good and the audience of family and friends was enthusiastic. I don't have any good recordings unfortunately, but there is this snap that my friend Leslie took. We have one more concert to go on Monday evening, and then we're done for the season. I was reflecting the other day that choir is the least anxiety producing activity in my life. I do not get nervous before concerts, I do not worry about impressing anyone in the group, I enjoy every single person there and am entertained by their quirks, and no matter how sharp tongued our choir director gets when her stress level ramps up as the concerts approach, I take none of it personally. It's a fascinating lab for how it's possible to feel when I lay off the catastrophic thinking and overdeveloped sense of personal accountability for literally every eventuality and am able to keep a good perspective. I'm remembering some of the sweetness from yesterday's rehearsal before the concert: A French woman who joined this term came over to me and said in her musically accented voice, "Every time you smile at me I want to hug you." And we laughed and then hugged. For me, choir is purely for enjoyment, community and a change of pace from the usual. I love this low stakes life.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Reflections on the Alabama vote

I saw that woman on Alica Keys' instagram feed. I don't know who she is, but she's stunning. I'm posting her here because I've been thinking a lot about the fact that so many people in the country of my children's birth cannot see her beauty. 

I'm thinking that the 66 percent of white voters in Alabama who cast their lot with the child predator Roy Moore—the candidate who believes our nation would be better off if we simply eliminated all the constitutional amendments that came after the tenth, including the 13th which prohibits slavery; the 14th which grants all people equal rights under the  law; the 15th which gives African Americans the right to vote; and the 19th which gives women the right to vote; and who believes all LGBTQ people are an abomination, and that America was only truly great during slavery days—well, maybe all those people who voted to send this man to the United States senate can't see what is luminous in the woman whose photograph is posted here. 

To all those women who voted for the child predator despite his belief that they shouldn't even be allowed to vote, and to all those men who supported him based on little more than his Republican party affiliation, which has become a blaring trumpet for the supremacy of whiteness, I'd like to point out that it was women and men with skin the same rich blackness as the woman in that photograph who helped eke out a win for the Democrat, Doug Jones. Black folks showed up at the polls in numbers that exceeded even their turnout for Obama, because they knew just how dangerous a Roy Moore/Steve Bannon/Donald Trump win would be. And they helped Doug Jones secure the victory. They made sure that the candidate who is that increasingly rare breed, a true public servant, would win the Alabama senate seat. That made me almost as happy as I was a decade ago when Obama won the Iowa primary on a freezing cold January day, and I realized that he had a real shot at the presidency. 

It is the memory of that win, and of that fundamentally decent president's eight years in office that helps me to believe now that despite what went down in Alabama these last few weeks, and what has gone down in the White House and the Republican-led Congress this past year, America is not lost. This is still the same country that voted for a man named Barack Obama—twice. Maybe we're now just experiencing a necessary convulsion, lancing the diseased abscess of hatred and evil, getting all the muck out, getting ready for the courageous and the neighborly and the good. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Inclement weather

It snowed in the city yesterday, the flakes swirling gently to earth until well into the night. It snowed exactly like this the day after my mother died. 

My son and his girlfriend slept over here on Friday night, and they stayed with us all yesterday, cozy inside, looking out at the snowfall. I was loath to leave them, but our first choir concert of the season was happening way out in Forest Hills, Queens, at the Library for the Blind. It feels far away for spoiled Manhattanites, but two of my choir friends and I shared a car there, and split the cost, so the trek through inclement weather was made easy. Despite the snow, everyone showed up. It's always a great crowd there, including a lot of quite elderly people who are happy to have a reason to leave their homes. We wondered if they'd make it there over slippery sidewalks, but they did. We were rewarded by the usual faces, smiling at us as we sang. 

When I got back home the kids were still here, and my daughter's boyfriend also came over to use the printer, and to pick up a Christmas gift for our daughter that he'd asked to have shipped to our house. My daughter was out somewhere in the city with her cousin, while back at our house the rest of us chatted and laughed as we do, and enjoyed just being together. Eventually my son and his girlfriend left to go back to Astoria, and my daughter's boyfriend left to go and take care of the dog he and my daughter are dog sitting, and my husband put on his big ski jacket and headed to the store to pick up dinner for us. I didn't go with him. The icy, slushy ground is always a challenge for me to navigate, since one leg doesn't swivel or support as it's meant to do. I love the snow, but can't really revel in it the way I used to.

As for today, I have nothing really to report. I feel as dull and wavery as smoke this Sunday morning. 

Friday, December 8, 2017


Al Franken had no choice but to resign, but damn, that one hurt. Meanwhile we have a sexual abuser in the White House and unrepentant swamp candidates like Roy Moore, who in addition to molesting underage girls, actually said that the last time America was truly great was during slavery. Sure we had slavery, he said, but our families were strong and our country had a direction. We all knew this is what "Make America Great Again" truly meant, but Roy Moore had the gall to say it. And the Republican Party has endorsed him for the senate. I guess they're just like fuck it, we'll be the party of racists and pedophiles. Come on out of the woodwork y'all. Let's not even pretend. Alabama, please. Don't wallow in the swamp with these men who don't care about you. Don't let this bigoted child molester win. Then again, Roy Moore said the other day that he has a kinship with Putin, which made me wonder what connection the cowboy costume wearing swamp dweller might have with the Russian strongman. It could be that Putin has already deployed his hackers to program Alabama's election machines. Maybe the vote is moot.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

This life

Things happening in my world:

1. My husband has begun the last phase of his medical treatment, which will likely last several months. My heart will not rest until this is completed. He appears nonplussed. I don't think he truly realizes how badly he scared us.

2. My daughter came over last night and told us that the mother of one of her friends has been placed on hospice care. The daughter is having a wedding dress party with her friends and her mom so she can pick out the dress she will wear on a day in the future when her mother won't be here. This just about broke me. There is more to this story that I wish I could share for its aching beauty, but I won't. The family deserves their privacy.

3. Having sent the full draft manuscript to my subject, I am twisting with anxiety to hear how it has landed for her, whether she feels I got her voice, did justice to her story. She's traveling this week and doing her advocacy work, and I likely won't hear anything for weeks. It's always a hard wait.

4. On the good side, I woke up this morning eager to get to my next project, a book proposal for a rather dynamic woman, who I interviewed at length this past Tuesday. She's a storyteller this one, a model of resilience and optimism despite so many hard passages in her life. My brain has finally made the shift to her project. I know because I dreamed about it in the hours before waking, and by the time I opened my eyes I was full of new ideas. The time frame on this project is a little crunched, as I lost a lot of time when my love was ill, but we will make it work. I really like this woman. When my husband was just home from the hospital, she emailed me and said I should not stress about her project, because "we must be human first." I so appreciated that. At the same time, she has a period of visibility coming up during which her agent needs to be doing the rounds with her book proposal, trying to make a sale. So I need to not mess that up.

5. My son called me on Monday afternoon after his big midterm for the intensive nine-month paramedic course. He'd been studying for it for weeks and scored a 92, the second highest score in the class. The highest score was a 93. He called to tell me because he knew I would share in his happiness. If you knew what school used to be like for this child of mine, you would understand how gratifying it is for him to finally understand that he is smart and capable academically. He's finally realizing what his dad and I knew all along: that he is a creative and original thinker, and when he masters a set of factual relationships, he will know them forever. It's how his mind works. He notices everything all the time and traps it in memory. But he continually takes in so much information, it took him till well into college to know how to filter through it all to perform on tests. Now's he's found his niche in the world, and he's working hard and doing well. I'm so very proud of him.

6. Bob Muller for the win. But can we please get there a little faster?

7. Our tree is up. It's perfect.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Oh, Christmas tree

I've been working so continuously to meet my book deadline, that today, after Fedexing the manuscript to my subject last night, I have no idea what to do with myself. I have another assignment, but it's Sunday, and I've worked weekends for months, so today, I just want to vegetate. But I'm bored. I'm restless. I'm tired. I don't have a clue how to occupy myself. This is one of the realities of my empty nest. Don't get me wrong: The man and I are discovering some excellent aspects of having the house all to ourselves again, but on a day like today, I miss those baby birds.

My husband is watching football, as he usually does on a Sunday. In the past, I would have been engaged somehow with one of my children, perhaps facilitating their social activities. But they live on their own now. Their social media feeds this weekend are filled with pictures of them and their sweethearts bringing home Christmas trees, decorating Christmas trees, showing off their twinkly, glittery finished Christmas trees. It reminds me of when my husband and I were their age, getting and decorating our own tree, doing the first Christmas together. Now it's their turn, my son, my daughter, and my niece. They all moved in with their loves this year. In the photos they are laughing with their housemates. They look happy.

I told my husband that now that it's just us again, we need to do what they are doing, what we used to do before those babies were a glint in our eyes. And so later today, or maybe tomorrow, he and I will walk hand in hand to pick out a tree and bring it home. We'll sip egg nog or mulled wine while we decorate it. We'll put on Christmas music. Revel in the romance of being together. That's a picture of my lovely man from the first holiday season after we were married. Our first Christmas tree after setting up house together. Ah, hormones.