Friday, March 30, 2018

Can barely lift my head

I’m so sick. This flu is no joke. I haven’t been laid this low in years.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Beloved Birthday Girl

"Crystal children started arriving on earth in the 1990s. They emanate a pure vibration of love. They are here to elevate humanity and pave the way for new compassion, community and ways of being that will uplift us all."

I read that on one of those new age sites I sometimes visit, when the world feels particularly murky. That description sounds like my kind hearted girl, who can lift the mood in a room just by walking into it. May the world always embrace her with kindness, laughter, and dancing energy in return.

We're blowing out candles with the siblings and their significant others tonight, but first the birthday girl wants to bake her own lemon cake with ombre cream cheese icing, and we'll film her as she goes, like we're creating a Martha Stewart how-to video. We'll see how that turns out.

Happy birthday to our darling girl! 
You are a bringer of light for sure.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The fire this time

The haunting sound of bagpipes crept down the hallway and into my bedroom, where I sat at my desk, working. In the living room, the TV was on, and I realized the funeral of firefighter Lt. Michael Davidson was being aired live. He died fighting an early morning blaze on the brownstone set of a Bruce Willis movie in Harlem last week. Out of respect, I left my desk to watch. My son is somewhere in that FDNY formation, standing at attention in full dress uniform, as the wife and four small children of his fallen comrade say goodbye to their beloved at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. My son will be at yet another funeral on Thursday. This is a tough week for the department. Three of their own made the supreme sacrifice this month, more than is usual in a year. Such pomp and ceremony attends each sendoff. Jet fighters overhead, wailing bagpipes, the low sirens, a sorrowing backdrop of sound. I sat in front of the TV, holding my worst fears at bay, and I prayed, please God, keep my son safe. Please keep all our sons and daughters safe. Being a firefighter has been my boy's calling since he was nine years old and the Twin Towers came down. And as much as I might wish that he would stay on the medical side of the FDNY, as a paramedic, he is likely to be promoted to fire this year. He already took and passed the written exam and the physical, and his two required years in EMS will be up in July. And so I pray. 

Party People

Our daughter takes care of that little dog when her owner is traveling, which happens quite regularly. We've all fallen in love with little Nina, who spent Christmas last with us. On Saturday, while I was in Oakland, my daughter and her boyfriend had her dad over for dinner. Our girl deposited Nina on her dad's lap, and then took the picture. My camera-resistant husband was fondly obliging. Only his daughter could have captured this photo, and I love it.

My daughter, here holding Nina, was having a birthday party at a trendy club in Soho (she will turn 24 tomorrow). Before the party, in addition to her dad, she invited her sibs (brother and cousin) and their loves, as well as a couple of other friends over for dinner and to pre-game—which basically means they do drinks before they go out, because drinks in New York clubs are hella expensive, and shallow pocketed twenty somethings try to nurse one, at most two, for the night. Here's the pre-game crew, complete with my husband. If I hadn't been out of town, I wonder if he would have gotten in on the pre-clubbing action? The kids would probably have left us old fogies to keep each other company across the way. As it was, my man had a happening evening without me, though they did try to soften my FOMO* by sending me these pictures.

*FOMO = fear of missing out

Monday, March 26, 2018

The children are a brilliant fire

A century on this earth

Dr. Ellamae Simmons was born March 26, 1918. That makes her 100 years old today. We celebrated her in Oakland, California, this weekend, at the retirement residence that is now her home. After the speeches and toasts, the photographer for the event asked Ellamae's niece, "Why didn't you tell me I was photographing this amazing woman. She's like, the first in everything." Indeed, she was. The first black woman allergist and immunologist in the country, and, before she went to medical school on the GI Bill, one of eight army nurses chosen to integrate the US armed forces during World War II. The first black woman to live in the dorms at Ohio State, the first black woman physician at Kaiser, the first, the first, the first. She never met a closed door she didn't think she could shoulder open, usually with a twinkle in her eye, and a knowing deep down that she was worthy. Ellamae always made a way.

Her great great grand niece and nephew were among the five generations of her family who were present on Saturday to celebrate her wonderful life.

Her four stepdaughters with her second husband, a Tuskeegee airman who made history himself, flew from across the country to be there. The tall gentleman in the back is the grandson of the physician-professor who confronted Ellamae in nursing school and told her she needed to get out of there and go to medical school. It was another ten years before Ellamae managed that, but she never got turned aside.

One hundred red roses, one for each year of her extraordinary life. At that table by the window, we sat for hours over many days as Ellamae told me her stories. Gratefully, I received them, and wrote them down. We were just in time, because a year later, Ellamae had a stroke and became less talkative. She suffered another one last December, and doesn't speak very clearly anymore. But she can still grasp your hand with unbelievable strength, her eyes alight as she says, "I love you so much," clear as day. I love you, too, dear Ellamae. What a gift you are in my life. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Dr. Ellamae Simmons is turning 100!

And I'll be there. I'm flying out to San Francisco today, staying in Oakland and attending the March for Our Lives in the morning, and Ellamae's festivities in the afternoon. I hear she's very quiet these days. She no longer talks on the phone. Our paths crossed just in time. She talked a lot when she was 97 and 98 and she told me all her stories. It was the privilege of a lifetime. I can't wait to see her again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Yesterday, I loved

Yesterday was pretty cool. I spent the afternoon at a glass conference table across from my editor, inputting her last round edits on my manuscript. Meanwhile, she sat at her desk in the swanky midtown office of her publishing house, fielding three book auctions by phone. In between the calls, we had bursts of conversation about everything from her son's high school choice (he just decided where he wants to go and it's around the corner from where my daughter went) to a new book she recommended me for (it appears it's going to happen) to the appallingly bad idea of Uber's driverless cars (one of them struck and killed a woman). Her edits were minimal except for the last chapter, where my addition of the Parkland kids (the book is the memoir of a gun violence survivor and activist) made the wrap up a bit disjointed.

The book is now on a crash schedule, coming out earlier than originally planned because of the newly adrenalized resistance to bad gun policies, and also, my subject has recently decided to run in the 2018 midterm elections—exciting stuff. That means the manuscript needed to be in production two months ago, so my editor asked if I would bring my laptop and work across from her, and if I had any questions we could just resolve it right there, so the book could move to copyediting that evening. Coming from magazines, I enjoy working in that communal way, and I was impressed by my editor's thoughtfulness about the book. She wanted me to move the paragraphs about the courage and activism of the Parkland students higher up, which required contorted transitions that had to be made to seem effortless. We also tweaked the book's title, which meant I had to write a couple of lines in the introduction to set it up. This is the work I love.

I left her office at around 5 PM and called a Juno car (like Uber, but cheaper) to take me to my Monday night choir practice. On the way I realized I hadn't eaten anything all day so I asked the driver if he would like some soup, my treat, if he would be kind enough to stop at Hale & Hearty, my favorite soup place, which we were passing at that moment. He asked if they had vegetarian options. They did, so I went in and got myself a chicken pot pie soup and him a ten-vegetable soup. It felt like a New York moment. This is the city I love.

I took that cab selfie in the Juno car. The other photos are from the window of the room where we hold our choir rehearsals. We moved this year from the beautiful modern church where we used to practice, to an old world German Catholic bed and breakfast that used to be a convent. We rehearse in the dining room. The cloth covered dining tables are moved aside each Monday evening to make space for us. The building looks like every Catholic school you ever saw, all wood paneling and scrolly antiques and carvings of saints. The rental fee is a lot cheaper than the sleek architectural wonder of our previous rehearsal space, and even though the set-up is a bit funky, the acoustics are good. Some of the regulars in the group sat out this term, including my two best friends there, and I miss them. But change is constant. Today, I'm rolling with it like a champ because the choir, too, I love.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunny and gray

I am far too susceptible to other people's moods. I drink them in almost without being aware, and then I'm slogging through gray, trying to figure out why everything feels so edgy and unsettled. The man had several months of serene emotional weather as he recovered from his surgery. The air in our house was as sweet as it's ever been. But lately, his brow has been knitting together more, the weather turning dark, and I think he's worrying about something, or not feeling as well as he was. It could be that the world is just wearing him down again, especially work, where one person is extremely difficult and emotionally draining. Then again, maybe it's me, worrying overmuch and hitching the flow. I suppose I am writing this here because acknowledging it helps me simply to sit with it, letting it swirl and eddy and, soon enough, pass on through. That's the idea anyway on this bright, cold, and distinctly chemical Sunday.

Photo: Louiza Babouryan

Friday, March 16, 2018

What they know

“All around you, people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely. But dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance, just don't tiptoe." So says a spiritual teacher named Shane Claiborne, who I only learned of when I ran across this quote. I never really told my children this, but they absorbed the message just the same. They are adventurers, all three of them—my son, my daughter, my niece—intrepid travelers, bringing the ones they love along with them on jaunts around the world. 

My son's girlfriend didn't have a passport when they met. For Christmas their first year he gave her the paperwork all filled out, every part of it done with the secret help of her mother. All she had to do was sign and send it in. As soon as the little blue book arrived, they booked their flights. My daughter, meanwhile, is right now on a beach with her boyfriend, apparently having a very fine time. And my niece is just back from climbing an active volcano with her love in Antigua, Guatemala; that's her on the yellow ATV, posing with the mountain.

These three somehow learned to look outward, embracing the world as their own. And yet you can find them running, skipping, hopping, dancing even when they are doing nothing more than the dailiness of work, school, living their lives in the place they call home. How did they get so wise? I think my mother had everything to do with it. She traveled with all three of them every summer from the time they were just little birds, guiding them through airports, even after she was in a wheelchair, showing them the grandness of adventure in the everyday.

This week, on the day that students across the country walked out of school in brave protest, we marked the third anniversary of the day we laid my mom to rest. My son noticed the date and called to see how I was doing. I was doing fine that day. My children's closeness to my mother—their skipping, dancing, wheelchair-twirling grandmother—made me smile through the ache of missing her. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Outside the U.S. Capitol yesterday, 7,000 pairs of shoes told the story of children killed by gun violence since Sandy Hook. All across America, children will walk out of their schools today for seventeen minutes, in observance of the seventeen souls who died in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine's Day. I don't underestimate the power of this act of protest, spreading in a wave across the land. Rather than passively receiving handed down, knee-jerk attitudes, a new generation is consciously choosing a position, taking a stand, and thereby helping to shape national attitudes about gun violence, the politics of self-interest, and corporate greed. I believe the children can lead us out of this long, bloody, NRA-fueled nightmare.

Watching on the news as students file out of their schools and stand in silence, I am sobbing. However things seem at this moment, we are not lost.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Tao of Yes

That's the view from the window next to my favorite table in the cafe where I go to write some days, away from the distractions of home. You can set up by that window and sit there for hours nursing one cup of coffee and no one cares. Today I'm ruminating. Feeling unsure. I have to decide whether to move forward with a project and I am in the weeds, making up stories that might be based on good and valid instincts, but which might just as likely be nothing more than nature abhorring a vacuum, and into that vacuum I habitually rush with all sorts of worst case scenarios. Do I just jump? Say yes with all my angst and not knowing? Is it enough to trust the very fact that I'm standing here? Maybe I should read that book Shonda Rhimes wrote, Year of Yes. What do you think? Would a hell yeah mindset make life simpler all around?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Twist-out Sunday with passion-fruit bellinis

“It was like how people find 
other people to be in love with, all 
random and accidental and lucky.”

― Jennifer Castle, The Beginning of After

Sunday, March 11, 2018

My crew

My son thinks that I will be miserable within a year if I go back into an office. He says that I have created a good life for myself as a self-employed writer and editor and that I should trust it, and myself. My daughter told me over dinner a week ago that she and her brother were talking about me and saying how much they admired the way I had put my independent work life together, and that I impressed "the heck out of" them with the fact that I was actually doing it, making a living as a writer. My son would probably never think to tell me about this conversation but he did sit me down to give me the hard loving truth as he saw it about my flirtation with an office job at a publishing house, and between the two of them, my heart is full to overflowing.

My son and daughter and niece and their respective significant others are coming over today for brunch. The man is in the kitchen cooking up ackee and saltfish, and making deviled eggs, and various other snacks on snacks on snacks, and I will make scrambled eggs and bacon for the ones who don't like ackee and saltfish, and I already made a batch of virtuous coconut macaroons, and my daughter says she'll make the Johnny cakes using my mother's delicious recipe (as published in a famous book of Caribbean cooking), and my man will also make passion fruit bellinis, and could the anticipation of this day be any more fun? I will try to take pictures—although I find these days that I often choose just to be in the moment.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Things unseen

Remember that statue? As you can see the red paint, simulating bloodshed, has been completely removed, the political statement erased. I passed it the other day on my way to meet the man for cocktails and a preview of a new exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, titled "Unseen Oceans."

My husband is an ichthyologist. One of his department's curators authored the show. My favorite part was watching creatures of the deep as though through the window of a submersible in the middle of the deepest ocean. I watched that squid for a very long time, marveling at how biological tissue can appear so robotic. I do enjoy these perks of my husband's job, and the fact that our kids got to grow up backstage at a museum about which books have been written and movies made. There is some magic in that.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

After midnight

I can’t sleep. Thoughts swirl. My throat feels tight, my chest feels like a weight sits in the middle of it. But why? I read news stories. The brother walking home from his dishwashing job after midnight in Asheville, and two cops stopped him to say he had crossed dark empty streets four times not at the crosswalk. And trespassed by cutting through a deserted parking lot, too. They wanted to arrest him or give him a ticket for jaywalking. He said do what you have to do, I’m tired. I’m just trying to get home. They moved to handcufff him at which point he ran. They tasered him. Pummeled his head with fists. Choked him. Slammed him on the ground. All of it caught on body cam video. At least he’s alive. Don’t cross empty streets after midnight except at the crosswalk if your skin is of a darker hue. Even if you’re tired from working hard and just trying to get home. Later, much later the lawyers looked at the video and dropped all charges. I watched the video with the sound turned down. I thought: it never fucking ends. I thought: why am I putting such hateful news into my brain after midnight? What you focus on multiplies so look for the love. Maybe it is loving to bear witness to the dishwasher’s ordeal. To root for him. To pray he will be okay. Besides, who can unsee the crazy happening everywhere? Can you imagine if Barack Obama had paid a porn star a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to keep quiet about their extramarital tryst? But with Trump it’s ho fucking hum. I got a new book project. Another heavy topic. Full ghost this time. No “with” byline on the cover. Maybe there will be inspiration. Hope in the broken spaces. As there was with the last book. I loved my last subject. It really helps to fall a little bit in love if you’re going to write someone’s story. God. This turbulence inside me. Why?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Liming with my girls

On Tuesday, I went with my daughter to the personal shopping session I gifted her with for Christmas, with the same lovely personal shopper that I won a session with last fall. We had a great time, bought a couple of on trend tops, and then went out to dinner after. Then, on Wednesday the new season of Survivor started, and my girl and her guy came over so we could watch together. My daughter and I have been watching this show since she was seven years old, the only season we missed was the first, and when she was in college, I'd save up all the episodes for us to binge watch together when she came home. It's our thing. We have a great time discussing human nature, social arrangements, character and personality as they are revealed through the voluntary deprivation and set challenges of that show. I think our long engagement with Survivor is one reason my girl is so emotionally intelligent today. Or maybe she just came here that way. Could be.

Continuing the lovely lime (which means "hanging out with no fixed intention other than fun" in West Indian parlance), yesterday my niece joined my daughter and me for brunch in the city, a Saturday morning girls lime complete with mango bellinis and a lot of laughs. We took pictures. I notice my daughter and niece have the exact same scarf, and that lipstick would greatly enhance (or be a welcome distraction from) the monochrome of my face.