Monday, February 26, 2018

The inevitability of change

Who am I kidding? Do I want to leave home at 7:30 every morning to navigate my way to the other end of the city for a full time office gig? Boy, am I spoiled. I have become so used to waking up without an alarm, cleaning up the kitchen and washing last night's dishes like a morning meditation, making my coffee, and then sitting down at the computer with a sense of purpose and even excitement for the work ahead. Some days, I don't get out of sleep clothes till the early afternoon.

On the other hand, I felt so bright and light in that place. The woman who interviewed me was a ball of joy. We shall see.

I got comments back from my editor on the manuscript I turned in in January. The subject matter is gun violence, so I need to add some narrative about those piercingly brilliant teenagers in Parkland. These kids with their broken hearts and burning eyes want the Valentine's Day's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High to be the last school shooting in this country. They want background check laws strengthened and automatic weapons banned. They want to end the whole sorry charade in Congress come the midterm elections in November. They want teenagers not to be able to buy guns and American corporations to stop doing business with the NRA. I love that they have hope enough to draw these lines in the sand—and believe in the inevitability of change. They are fierce and uncompromising, angry and ignited. God, we need their fervor now.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Happy problems

I noticed that woman, sitting alone under that picture, as if untouched by the clamor of the world around her, nourishing herself in a deeply meditative way.

The universe is abundant. You ask and it gives. I asked for new work after I submitted the three projects whose deadlines consumed the month of January, and the universe has encircled me with answers. Or not answers exactly, but possibilities. There is work on the horizon, as well as the revision round for the book I turned in (it's about gun violence, so you can imagine there is more to add given recent events) and I also have to rethink the target audience for a proposal. The thing is, my path forward is not clear.

Some things are a given: Yesterday an author I adore hired me to edit her two new books, and I will absolutely do that. On the other hand, a former boss of mine offered me a writing and editing gig for a website, and I'm not sure if I should take that on. Websites are hungry beasts. They demand to be fed 24/7, and they don't pay very well either. And yet, if there were nothing else on the horizon, how grateful I would be that this former boss of mine thinks well enough of my work to want me on her new team. I mean, I am grateful, but I'm confused, too, because the impulse is always to say yes to work, but if I do it will complicate other projects that are being dangled before me, which I am interested in taking on, but which may or may not work out.

And then there is the woman I met with this morning, who is looking for a full time acquisitions editor to work on the kinds of books I would absolutely love to shepherd into the world. I have no idea if I will actually be offered this job, but in this instance, I feel very clear: If she offers it to me, I will say yes. Even though it is full time and my time would no longer be my own. Even though I would have to pass on some intriguing ghostwriting projects that may or may not come to me, and even though I would have to figure out how to accomplish three book-editing jobs to which I have already said yes.

I also have no idea what the position pays, and the office (bright, light-filled, and loft like) is at the other end of the city from where I live so with my cab habit, the commute could be expensive. But it is also my dream job, one that presented itself out of the blue, because a woman I'd done some work with three years ago took it upon herself to tell the woman I met with this morning about me. So tell me dear universe: Having dropped this tantalizing possibility in my lap, how do I seal the deal? Could this be the work I'm supposed to do next?

Arrrgh! I'm so excited my breath is ragged. This is one of those moments when I absolutely understand the statement that sometimes excitement feels like fear. Except this isn't fear. It's anticipation. This is me, daring to hope, and that's terrifying, so yes, there's some fear I suppose. But at the very center of this churned up feeling is a kernel of peace: Truthfully, I just located it as I wrote these words. And what that peaceful place tells me is that if I'm supposed to do this job, join that publishing team, then it will happen. And if it doesn't, that will be fine, too. The key is to let go of excessive attachment to any one outcome, to let everything unfold.

Thanks for letting me share.

Monday, February 19, 2018

This time, it feels different

This is where my husband and I lingered as we discussed the state of our world and what we all need to do next. We marveled at the young people in Parkland, Florida, who are speaking such truth to power about guns, advocating for a ban on AK-15 semiautomatic rifles, the weapon of choice for mass shooters in America. In between attending funerals for their 17 schoolmates cut down in a hail of gunfire on Valentine's Day, these kids have an answer for all the usual gun lobby tropes. These students with their broken hearts and burning eyes have vowed to take the lead on bringing to an end the soulless reign of all NRA-funded politicians. "If you can't get elected without taking money from child murderers," student David Hogg asked, "why are you running?" Meanwhile on Insta, one friend posted this: 

All weekend Donald Trump was at Mar-a-lago an hour away from the site of the latest school shooting and he didn't have the courage to face the survivors. Instead he holed up at his golf course and spewed one hateful tweet after another as the Parkland students continued to call him out. New protest marches are being planned, as well as a nation wide 17-minute school walkout. Stayed tuned.

The weight of armor

Without giving anything away, there is a moment in the movie, Black Panther, when a little African American boy in inner city Oakland approaches King T'Challa of the fictitious African nation of Wakanda, who is also the Black Panther in civilian garb. "Who are you?" the little boy breathes. Tears sprang to my eyes, and when I looked to my side, my husband was wiping his eyes, too. We went to lunch and tried to understand why we had become so filled with emotion and why, even as we dissected the movie afterward, our throats filled again with tears. The closest we came to why this film set in a comic book universe ended up being so affecting was the sudden wonder in the little boy's eyes, which revealed the sentiment underlying his question: Who could I be?

We reflected that when black people in America walk out the door each day, we reflexively brace for the possibility of a negative racial interaction, a potential so ever present we aren't even aware of the weight of our armor. But this movie allowed us, for a moment, to take off that armor, to see ourselves not as America sees us, but as we might be if our ancestors had never been colonized and suffered all that ensued from that original trauma. In a sense, the film's epic battle was between two versions of black history as embodied by the characters of T'Challa, played to perfection by Chadwick Boseman, and the movie's villain, Killmonger, in a complex role that Michael B. Jordan absolutely slayed. And then there was the portrayal of women—powerful warriors, technological geniuses, humanitarian change makers.

Even so, we felt as if we had not quite articulated the effect the film had on us, and so when, the next morning, I found this review in the New Yorker by historian Jelani Cobb, I rejoiced, because someone had put into words everything I didn't know how to express. If you're wondering why this film is resonating so deeply for some folks, read the New Yorker piece. It's a brilliant piece of writing, and the richest cultural contextualizing of the film I've seen to date.

That said, I've had conversations with several white friends this weekend, some of whom loved the film and some of whom really didn't like it. One friend found some of the portrayals of Africans to be stereotypical, which I didn't find at all. She had hesitated to mention it, because she didn't want to sound racist. I love that we delved into it anyway. "It's hard for me to talk about," she said. "If millions of African Americans are blown away by it, what am I missing?" Ultimately we agreed that one could love or not love the film while acknowledging that others received it differently. Art is subjective. No doubt, when I sat down to watch the movie, I gave director Ryan Coogler my trust. And for me, he delivered. I reveled in the experience of seeing so many beautiful black people own their power and possibility on screen. I'm not naive enough to think this film is going to resonate for everyone, but it resonated for me.

Friday, February 16, 2018


There were pictures I wanted to post, and I never got around to them. Here are a few from the week just past, which included birthdays of three of my heart daughters, and Valentine's Day, and of course the tragedy that filled the airwaves come evening. This post is not about that.

My niece, the one in white wearing sunglasses, turned 40. I remember when she was born clear as if it happened just yesterday. I have arrived at the stage in life where I say things like that, and mean them deeply. Her grandmother is my Aunt Grace, my mother's sister, the only one of the nine siblings still living. She's 91 now, and doesn't she look fantastic in sunglasses of her own, surrounded by her daughter, two of her granddaughters and one of her eight great grandchildren. These women reinforce each others' glory. Their beauty and joyfulness dazzle me.

Last Saturday, one of my daughter's beloved lifelong friends (front and center) celebrated her 25th birthday at a place in Soho. The Six were all there, a soul group back together after scattering for college, all of them beautiful young women now, radiant as ever, loving each other for two decades already—and counting. They are more than good friends at this point. They are family. That's my girl in the jean jacket, second from right. She said the evening was magic.

Another of my heart daughters had a birthday last weekend. She turned 24. My daughter took those photos of her at her birthday brunch on Sunday. The two of them shared a room in our home in the summers after seventh and eighth grades, when they attended a scholars program together and got punch drunk from too much homework, giggling and choreographing dance moves till the wee hours. And a year ago they explored China and Thailand together. She is a force of nature, this one, fierce, stylish, unbound. 

I posted this picture of my husband and me as newlyweds on Instagram, and people went a little wild, wondering if that was really us. It is, just with a lot more hair. Thirty-one years later, my Valentine gave me a leather wrist cuff with a single word engraved on it. Loved.

The artist and creator of these original, one of a kind wrist cuffs is The Black Snapper. You can find her at blacksnapperdesign on Etsy. She is, herself, beloved.

Vote Them Out

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Some thoughts on Michelle's portrait

Apparently a lot of people don't like the Michelle Obama portrait. They say it seems flattened, that it doesn't reflect her vibrancy, that it looks more like her younger daughter Sasha than it looks like her. They argue with the proportion of her arm, the grey tones of her skin, and other choices that the commissioned artist Amy Sherald made. I confess when I first saw the painting on my TV screen, I, too, was underwhelmed, though I immediately loved the flow of her garment, and its subtle sartorial nod to the quilts once hung on Southern clotheslines as secret messages to guide blacks fleeing slavery via the Underground Railroad.

I was in my kitchen making coffee with the TV on when I looked up and there were Barack and Michelle, such a welcome sight, lightly humorous and warm as they introduced the artists they'd chosen to immortalize them in the National Portrait Gallery. My husband was home from work for Lincoln's birthday—it's only now occurred to me that they chose this date to unveil the paintings. When I saw the black cloth fall from Michelle's portrait, I said, "Doesn't look like her." Then the camera zoomed in on her face. "Okay, I see her now," I said.

The more I looked at the painting, the more I began to appreciate it for itself, one artist's vision, and then to love it. Michelle is obviously very happy with it, and that counts with me. She very clearly enjoyed the collaboration with the artist, and her signature painting style. Sherald apparently paints skin in shades of gray as a rejection of the idea of race as a social construct. After interviewing several artists, this is who the First Lady chose to commemorate her time in office. And I'm okay with that. Most of all, I love that she introduced America to an artist we might otherwise never know, a woman who is extraordinarily talented and deeply passionate. Here are some of her other pieces. I love them, too.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Once upon a time

President Obama and Mrs. Obama had their National Portrait Gallery paintings unveiled today. His was by the artist Kehinde Wiley and hers by the artist Amy Sherald, both African American, the first of their race to be commissioned by the Smithsonian to paint the official portraits of a President and First Lady.

I love how bold and unconventional these likenesses are, how thoughtful their subjects, how substantial and dignified. Good Lord, I miss these two.

Truly, we did not deserve them, but they served the nation with courage and integrity anyway. 'Cause that's just who they are. And now, they wear the minutes more lightly, and they earned that. They can't save us anymore. We have to save ourselves.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Rowing our boat

There is a stirring in the universe that whispers new work is on the way, that my rustling of the bushes this week might yet bear fruit. One possible project has moved to the next stage, with the editor putting me in touch with the agent, whom I am to talk to on Monday before connecting with her client on Wednesday. Nothing is sure of course. Her client needs to feel chemistry with me, needs to decide that I will be the one to delve into her story, all the difficult places, and write her book. And then there are a host of other considerations after that, but at least things are moving forward.

Also, I had lunch with an old friend today, and we drank wine in the middle of the afternoon, and talked about our lives now, and laughed a lot. Her son and mine went to middle school together, and who knew that I would develop such a cadre of lifelong friends from among the parents of my children's middle school cohorts.

Last night, my husband came home with bags of groceries and set about cooking dinner, a quinoa jambalaya with shrimp and vegetables, “I’m trying something,” he said. At one point I looked over at him, chopping and slicing, it was just the two of us in the house, and the moment suddenly seemed full of unspoken intimacy. I think he was unaware of it, but I thought, my God, what a journey we embark on when we decide to marry a person, and have children with them, and then come together again after those children are grown, just the two of you, the way you started out.

I thought how lucky we were to have found each other, to have a partner in the boat on this great big sea, with whom the talk flows and the silences rest easy. Watching him cook for us both, the feeling of being accompanied washed over me. I felt grateful, and I marveled at how brave and hopeful we were all those years ago when we climbed into the boat together, our promises like a flare in the dark, a spark of something that caught and bloomed into this glimmering light that encircles us now with such secret tenderness and love.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


I never quite remember that when I am finished with a big, intense push on a book project, or three, and then I am faced with a string of days stretching out before me and nothing I have to do, I crash. I wake up slow and realize the world is a dull gray and I wonder what I am doing with my life. I think about finding a job with a regular paycheck and mind-occupying demands, and then with a sense of defeat I face the reality that in my industry, no one is hiring anyone past fifty for anything full time. We cost too much. Our health insurance costs more, and heaven forbid we should retire on their dime. I drag myself to my desk and send out a few emails, rustling the freelance bushes diligently. It's not my nature or my comfort zone, but I make myself do it. My friend calls to tell me about the fantastic new book project she just got tapped to do, and I try to sound excited, because I am happy for her, I really am, but I put down the phone feeling hollow, wishing I could make a living wage working in a flower shop or maybe a movie theater painted a royal shade of red.

I lay in bed googling "career change ideas" on my phone. Outside, the snow was swirling down lightly, the ground already white, and I remembered, as I always do in this hushed kind of snow that it looked just like this on the morning after my mother died. I miss her most when I am not working, when my mind is a yawning space, and rude intruders can march on through.

How is it that I have so little imagination about what to do with my freedom? Isn't this the life people dream of? Instead, I clutch, worrying that the lack of work will stretch on indefinitely. I do have payments due for all three of the projects I just completed, not enough to see me through the year, but enough to carry me till the weather turns warm. I don't know when I will see those payments, though. They could be delayed for months, which is another lovely feature of the book business. It's hard to describe how I'm feeling exactly. My throat feels tight with what might be fear, insecurity, loneliness, loss. My eyes water for no reason. I feel like a failure in ways that count, unable to push myself out of the miasma and engage with all the other possibilities of this day.

Maybe I should volunteer with an immigrants rights group or something. There's a thought. Something useful.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Current mood

Thank you everyone for your supportive comments on my anxiety-ridden morning in the last post. We are certainly a tribe.

I've been binge watching The Crown, season two, ever since sending in the last of my three big work assignments this past Monday. The Netflix series follows Britain's monarchy starting with the childhood of the future queen, Elizabeth II. I gather that it will keep going right up to the present day. The second season is utterly absorbing, even better than season one, and I stop every few minutes to google the real history of people and events, going down one rabbit hole after another. All those romantic stories of a king giving up the throne for love that my mother told me when I was growing up are scarcely the case. The truth is much darker.

I'm not being entirely escapist. Every day I send out two or three emails connected to getting more work, and I am trying to trust that something on the way. The editor at the publishing house seems very happy with the book so far, she's halfway through, and she emailed me to say she has me in mind for another project and that when she finds people she likes working with they can't get rid of her. I told her that her email made me very happy and that I had no desire to get rid of her.

Of course, the timing of these things can be very drawn out. The book I just completed took about six months to come fully online, then two months to write the proposal, then another month to sell it, then six months to interview the subject to get her story and write the actual book, then a month for the subject to read and make changes while a fact checker also did her thing, all before the manuscript was in final form. Now that it has been submitted to the editor there will be copyediting rounds, which means it will probably take another few months before my "on acceptance" payment arrives. So you see, I don't have the luxury of focusing on just one project at a time. From beginning to end, a book is easily more than a year of my life.

All that to say I am back in the space of needing to trust in the future. In the meantime, I am trying to bask in the present moment, and maybe make myself a project for a while, which means going to the gym a bit more, and going to the movies a bit more, and maybe learning to play bridge, and just basically doing things just for the enjoyment of them. In the midst of my intense three-deadline month, someone said, "That's a lot of stress. So what do you do for you?" I was flummoxed. I didn't know how to answer. It's why I love working. It distracts me from needing to find answers to such questions.