Monday, April 30, 2018

Full flower

I just finished my 1,000 words for today, 1,246 to be exact. I am closing in on 4,000 words in the new book project. The first chapter and an outline are due at the end of May.

On Saturday, all my grown-up babies came over. It was all very impromptu, and I loved it. My husband had promised to teach my daughter's boyfriend how to make smoked brisket. He had been asking for a lesson ever since he tasted my husband's brisket a year ago. We had given him a stovetop smoker for his birthday last year, and the first time he made smoked shrimp, he and my daughter brought over two plates for my husband and me to sample. It was delicious. But brisket was his main quarry, and he wanted to know how to make it exactly as my husband does. This thrilled my man no end, and Saturday was the appointed day of the lesson.

My son and his girlfriend also came over, because his girlfriend is doing a photo project and had planned a session with my niece, and they were supposed to meet at our house. Which meant my niece and her boyfriend showed up soon after. The young women, along with my daughter, left to wander around the neighborhood in search of good backdrops for portrait photography, while the guys hung out at home with my man and me. Presently the girls came back and started on a jigsaw puzzle while the brisket making game in the kitchen was going strong. It was the loveliest, easiest, most companionable time, and after everyone went home at around 10 PM that night, my husband and I looked at each other and agreed that it had indeed been a wonderful day.

On Sunday the man and I took our own stroll around the hood, to see how the trees and plants were blossoming. Spring has arrived in the city. By the end of the week, everything will be in full flower.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Lin-Manuel Miranda is a radiant soul

In the universe of Twitter, where people rage and howl in vain efforts to cut through the toxicity of present discourse, Lin-Manuel leaves these jewels, gentling us down each evening and putting some mojo in our strut come morning. I admire his ability to stay above the fray. I'm taking notes. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The shape of shores

I found a poem I don't remember ever seeing by one of my favorite Jamaican poets, Dennis Scott. His most famous poem, "Uncle Time," was a staple on every school curriculum when I was growing up, although it possessed layers of meaning that did not reveal itself to schoolchildren. One year I was chosen to perform it from the stage on prize giving night. In those days I thought I was going to be an artist, and perhaps my teachers encouraged this, because every year, I received a prize for my art. But perhaps they also knew I wrote in secret. I was too shy to show anyone my stories, but maybe my teachers wanted to encourage the writing, too, because that year, the book I was given was not about a famous artist as it usually was (Durer, DaVinci, Modigliani). That year, it was a thin chapbook of Dennis Scott's poems, in which he had secreted worlds. But this poem, "Marrysong," wasn't in it. Or if it was, it utterly escaped me then. 


He never learned her, quite. Year after year
that territory, without seasons, shifted
under his eye. An hour he could be lost
in the walled anger of her quarried hurt
or turning, see cool water laughing where
the day before there were stones in her voice.
He charted. She made wilderness again.
Roads disappeared. The map was never true.
Wind brought him rain sometimes, tasting of sea –
and suddenly she would change the shape of shores
faultlessly calm. All, all was each day new:
the shadows of her love shortened or grew
like trees seen from an unexpected hill,
new country at each jaunty, helpless journey.
So he accepted that geography, constantly strange.
Wondered. Stayed home increasingly to find
his way among the landscapes of her mind.

—Dennis Scott

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


My daughter was part of the four-person special events team that pulled off this fantastic 35th anniversary fundraising gala of City Harvest, a nonprofit that feeds New York's hungry. Last night, a very pregnant Chrissy Tiegen was presented with the Heart of the City award by her husband John Legend, who also serenaded her and the audience with a surprise performance. The couple had underwritten an auction item of a meal for 20 prepared by master chef Eric Ripert, with Chrissy and John as guests, and John playing piano during the evening. The whole experience was bought by two different deep-pocketed donors for a total of $2.2 million dollars—enough for 8.8 million meals for people in need. 

I remember just after my girl graduated from college in the summer of 2016, she was on her way to the beach at Coney Island with two friends when she saw this job listed. She made her friends wait as she sat at our kitchen counter in her bathing suit furiously tapping out a cover letter. "It's my perfect job, Mom," she said with all her idealistic fervor. "Food and beverage, special events, and top chefs, but in a meaningful nonprofit setting that aims to create food security by rescuing food for the hungry." She got the call for an interview while we were at the airport about to board the plane for our week-long family reunion in Jamaica that August. The human resources woman, who serendipitously also went to Cornell, told her that she couldn't schedule her for when she returned because all interviews were to be conducted during the week she was away. They wanted to hire quickly. My daughter offered to phone in from Jamaica for her interview, but the woman said she had to be there in person. But just before she hung up she suggested my daughter give her a call when she got back anyway, in case things hadn't yet been settled.

My daughter was beside herself. We had a wonderful time in beautiful Ocho Rios with the extended family, but she still shed tears more than once that week over missing out on a chance at her dream job. The morning we returned to New York, bleary eyed from traveling all night, her phone rang. It was the human resources person, asking her to come in after all, because none of the other candidates had been quite right. A week later, my girl had the job, and she's been on a steep learning curve ever since. She now manages two of the five largest signature fundraising events each year, soup to nuts, and has a lot more on her plate than her original job description. She's discovering what my father always told me, that the reward for good work is more work. Fortunately, neither of my kids is afraid of working hard. Their grandfather must whisper to them, too.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Meanwhile in America

This happened last weekend in Georgia.

Meanwhile in Nashville, a  29-year-old white man walked into a Waffle House with an AR-15 and murdered four people, all black. A 29-year-old patron, also black, disarmed him when he stopped to reload. The shooter ran off, and a police manhunt ensued. The next day the mass shooter was caught in the woods with a loaded weapon and a backpack full of ammo. He was apprehended alive and unhurt.

Meanwhile in Sacramento, an unarmed black 23-year-old father talking on his cellphone in his grandparents' back yard was shot to death in a hail of police bullets with no warning. It was a case of mistaken identity. Someone reported a man breaking car windows and police went into this man’s back yard and shot him dead. No attempt to verify who he was or take him alive. His name was Stephon Clark. And he was only one of a mind-bending number of such stories. There seems to be a new one every single day.

Meanwhile, the mass shooter in Nashville revealed himself to be a member of a white supremacist extremist group targeting people of color in an act of domestic terrorism. He is being held on $2-million dollars bail, which means a benefactor only has the come up with $200K and he walks free tomorrow. Never mind that you’ve never heard of a mass shooting suspect being offered bail. Never mind that he is a known flight risk. Never mind that he was previously arrested by the Secret Service for infiltrating White House grounds and his guns were ordered taken away. They did take his guns but they merely turned them over to his father, who promptly gave them back to his son when the authorities drove away.

The Nashville shooter was in a Publix grocery store last week shouting racial slurs and threatening to murder black people, to wipe them from the face of America. No one called the police like they did for those two black men minding their own business in a Philly Starbucks right around the same time. Two days ago, the shooter made good on his promise in a Nashville Waffle House. And now a judge is allowing him to walk free.

The Nashville shooter must be well connected to some powerful people behind the scenes.

Or is it that he only shot black people?

When does it become too much?


UPDATE: Due to generalized outrage, the bond set for mass shooting suspect Travis Reinking has been revoked. I guess enough people expressed themselves. Meanwhile, James Shaw, Jr., the man who disarmed the shooter and prevented more bloodshed and loss of life, has raised through crowdfunding $184,000 for the families of the four people who died. He is an American hero.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

This girl

She's taking care of a new pup, a frisky ADHD animal named Leo. When he came at 8 AM on Friday morning she wanted nothing more than to stay home from work and play with him. I went walking with her and Leo around the gardens last evening, and he does indeed have a joyful, irrepressible spirit. I do love these twilight walks with my daughter and whatever dog is in her care. She's always so happy when dog sitting. She almost applied to a job once, for no other reason than it advertised itself as a "dog friendly loft space office." But she didn't. At the job she does have she's pretty busy right now, as one of the fanciest big-donor fundraising events of the year is coming up. She is part of a special events team changed with staging it all. She's fallen back in love with her job lately. She's in her element, good at what she does. Then again, that girl would need only to smile at me once and I'd empty my pockets for her cause.

Orchid show with my love

The man and I went to the annual orchid show at New York Botanical Gardens yesterday, and then we strolled around the grounds, enjoying the brand new green of the lawns, the tree branches laden with white cottony blossoms, the sun gentle on our faces, the people watching spectacular. I didn't take many pictures of people, though. For my husband and me, this annual date is all about the orchids, which we both adore. I didn't notice that kid's head in the frame of my photo when I took it, but when I saw it later, I loved that he was there. To my eye, he makes the photo. It turns out to be my favorite image from our outing. Here are a few more.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Happy 21st to my beautiful goddaughter!

It's just like you to be spending your 21st birthday on the other side of the world in Australia! You grab life with both hands, analyze it fiercely and with heart, then write about it brilliantly, bravely, always from a place of love. I know you're having a blast Down Under, and we'll celebrate you again when you return stateside this summer. And come Thanksgiving, I guess you'll be at the margarita table! You have no idea how deeply gratifying it is to know the next generation of cousins is coming of age with the same close bonds your mothers have always shared. Keep living the adventure, Dani. You make us all so proud.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Black Bodies

"To be black in America is to never be able to have your presence be benign, and to always be in danger, of unease, humiliation or even arrest—or death by arrest—because of it." —Joy Reid

So I'm going to have to write about what happened in Starbucks, even though I don't want to. Even though I am exhausted by the accumulation of such incidents, and have been tweeting about the latest one all weekend. When I first saw that two black men who were doing nothing more than waiting for a friend in a Philadelphia Starbucks had been arrested, it was 2 in the morning. Unable to sleep, I was scrolling through Twitter in the dark. I happened upon a video of the two men being perp-walked out of Starbucks in handcuffs on Saturday afternoon by eight cops, all because the shift manager was uncomfortable with the men's black bodies in her space. One of the men asked to use the bathroom and was refused the code, ostensibly because he hadn't purchased anything. Yet moments later a white woman walked in and asked to use the bathroom and was given the code. She hadn't purchased anything either. Meanwhile, the two men, both realtors, sat talking quietly, minding their own business. Then cops swarmed the place. The thing that blew my mind? The men had been inside the shop for only two minutes when the shift manager called the police. 

The video of their arrest, posted by Melissa DePino, a white patron who refused to witness injustice and do nothing, had only a few hundred views and retweets when I first saw it. I was so outraged for the two men, and to be honest, hurt for them, too, that I started furiously retweeting the video and tweeting about the incident. I wanted to do my part to help it go viral. DePino, who saw the whole thing, was frustrated that her white friends kept asking her, "Are you sure they didn't do anything? There must have been something you didn't see." But no, there were just sitting there, waiting for their friend, also a realtor, a white man who showed up as the two black men were being led out of the shop in handcuffs. The shift manager said they were trespassing. DePino was even more perplexed by the friend who commented, "I didn't know this still happened in America in 2018."

Amid calls to #BoycottStarbucks, the CEO of the coffee chain apologized anemically, and then more robustly as Sunday wore on. To my mind, his statement was marred by his effort to excuse the shift manager, saying she did not intend for the men to be arrested. What the holy hell, Starbucks? Just about every black person and a whole lot of white people in America to know that when you call the cops on two black men who are not bothering anyone, you are putting their lives in jeopardy. This is not hyperbole: The men could have ended up dead. So please, people, police your imaginations. Just because a man is black does not mean he is about to rob you or do you harm.

The men were held for nine hours and then released with no charges. They have both retained attorneys. I hope they sue royally. The part that hurt me most as I watched the video was their absolute calm and resignation as they were handcuffed for doing nothing more than sitting while black. They knew that if they offered the slightest resistance, they might not survive the encounter. Some days, I am comforted that my family lives in New York City, a melting pot of humanity, which I tell myself should serve to keep my children relatively safe. And then something like this happens in Philadelphia, another melting pot of humanity, the place where the nation's laws were first encoded, although, one cannot forget that the U.S. Constitution at first legislated black bodies as "three-fifths of all other persons," not even a whole human in the eyes of the law.

Two hundred and thirty years later, not enough has changed.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Being Social, A Photo Diary

My friend, who is a wonderful ceramic artist, had another show of her work this week, and the gang was in attendance. That's Janice, my incredibly talented friend, in the photo below.

Also this week, the national gun violence prevention spokesperson for and Moms Demand Action, whose book I have just completed—and who is now running for Congress—was a featured panelist at Vanity Fair's Founders Fair. She and two other women were asked to speak about being first time candidates for public office and why they decided to run for office. Lucy was polished, warm, and authentic as she told of her 17-year-old son being shot and killed for playing music too loud on a car stereo in a Jacksonville, Florida gas station. Since then, Lucy has become a powerful advocate for gun law reform, and after Parkland, she decided now was the time to step into the ring as a candidate herself. I was so beaming proud of her, and felt privileged to be associated with her story. Afterward, in the green room, she took pictures with her agent and me, and introduced us to everyone as her "dream team." Indeed, it was a wonderful collaboration from start the finish. Her book is coming out from Simon & Schuster in August. Stay tuned. And if you're reading this in Georgia's 6th District, vote for Lucy McBath. She is the real true deal.

All of this made for a rather social week for me, which I enjoyed, but I am so happy this morning to be inside, looking out at the driving rain, not having to go anywhere until later this evening when I have choir rehearsal. It's like a monsoon out there right now, and I'm aware of how lucky I am to be able to meander in the peace and quiet of my house, working under my own steam.

On Sunday I made my Mercy Pie, with a quiche-like filling of spinach and sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese over a sweet potato crust. It looked great but I was too reticent with the salt, and at the last minute I discovered I didn't have fresh garlic. Oh well.

The last photo is of my daughter, who went bike riding with her boyfriend in the park on Saturday. With gale force winds outside my window today, it's hard to believe it was a sunny 75 degrees then. She posted this photo on Insta and I swiped it, because it makes me happy to see her joy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Rambling post

My son didn't go to class today. Instead he had to go down to court and get himself excused from jury duty till his paramedic training is done. He got through early, and so he's hanging out here for the rest of the day, as we're all going to see my wonderful accountant tonight, to sign off on our taxes. Lewis has done my taxes ever since I was a brand new working girl making hardly anything at Life magazine in the eighties. The first few years, Lewis didn't even charge me. Later, when I got married, he folded in my husband's taxes, and now he does my children's taxes as well, and this year, even my children's partner's taxes. He is such a gift in our lives as he demystifies this annual crazy-making ritual. Bless him.

My daughter and her boyfriend took care of an elderly French bulldog this past weekend, and that old guy kind of broke our hearts. His paws were all swollen and bent, his eyes were rheumy and watery and we think quite blind, he couldn't lie down without great effort and apparent pain, and there were bald pink patches on his skin. Those two cared for that dog in such a beautiful way. It moved me to see it. The dog's owner had dropped off a sleeping crate for him with no blankets, just a hard plastic floor. My girl and her guy made the coziest nest for the old Frenchie in there, and he seemed at peace in the presence of their tender care.

Later, I went walking with the them around the neighborhood, a Sunday evening twilight stroll, the air turning chilly, the wind whipping up, and I thought how lovely it is to live one building away from your grown child. I am very conscious not to drop in unannounced, or be too demanding simply because of proximity, because I want them to love living nearby, too. I adore when our girl or her guy drops by to borrow a certain pot, or to grocery shop in our pantry, or to introduce us to the latest dog they're sitting for, or to watch Survivor together on a Wednesday evening. There is truly nothing I enjoy more than being in the company of my husband and children (including my niece) and their loves. I can only imagine how much more expansive that feeling will be when grandchildren become part of the picture. Not rushing anything!

In other news, yesterday I had my first meeting with the subject of the new book I am ghostwriting, and it could not have gone better. We met in a diner in Brooklyn, and though the ambient noise made the recording of our conversation difficult to hear, we waded right into the deep places of her story. My hope, always, is to forge a bond of warmth and trust with my subject, and I believe we made a good start on that yesterday. Last night, in bed, the first chapter of her book started coming to me, and I began typing furiously into the notes app on my phone, excited to be writing so soon in the process. We are talking again by phone this afternoon. There is a kind of intimacy that can happen in phone conversations once you've made a connection in person. I hope this will be the case for us, as she's an incredibly busy woman, traveling all the time, and I want this process to feel easy for her, not disruptive. Today, I am exhaling in a major way. What I am feeling in this moment is abject relief. Hopeful optimism. And gratitude.

Isn't that a beautiful garden? The photo was taken in the front yard of my cousin's home in Jamaica. Aunt Grace is there, and last night we video chatted for a delightful hour. She's 91 years old and she was vibrant. I told her she looked tanned. She said she's been swimming daily in her daughter's pool, then shared that she hadn't been in the pool since she was last in it with my mom, her beloved sister, nine years ago. I still remember the photos they took back then. My mom, on the left in the pool picture, was still up and moving around, before Parkinson's robbed her of her mobility, and then her life. Aunt Grace, the only remaining one of her nine siblings, misses her sisters and brothers intensely. But she has wonderful children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I don't know if they are the source of her joyful spirit or if she is the source of theirs.

Apropos of nothing, I've been binge watching the legal drama Suits, which is pleasantly undemanding, starring the future princess Meghan Markle. Can you believe the House of Windsor is displaying such equanimity about the fact that one of the royals is marrying an African-American woman? It makes me think the world has evolved a bit, all evidence to the contrary. Now look at the photo of the prince and his bride to be. To me, they look exactly alike. Identically shaped nose. Similar beaming smile. Same joy.

Happy Tuesday, gentle friends. I am glad to be with you here. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Trickster Mercury

I start a new ghostwriting project next week; the first in-person meeting with my subject is on Monday. I feel utterly whipped by uncertainty. I'm trying to sit with it, to slip down through the layers of self-doubt to find clarity, courage, insight, love.

I read an old post last night, written just before I started working on Dr. Ellamae Simmons' book, and I had fear then, too. I didn't know if I was up to the task, and so I am trying to remind myself that I always feel this way. This time, though, feels particularly intense. I feel completely out of my depth, but I'm telling myself that in some parallel dimension of time, the book is already written, and I just need to let it come through me.

I had a disappointment today, a failure. A small enough thing and yet the vapors cling, making my heart feel burdened. I can't write about it here. And really, more things are going right in this moment than are going wrong. And yet it's one of those churning days, when currents crackle and bite inside me, and I feel as wrong in my skin as it is possible to feel.

Trickster Mercury is in retrograde till the fifteenth of this month. My back-in-the-day gig writing a horoscope column reminds me that what I'm feeling is straight from the Mercury retrograde playbook. Unfinished business. Miscommunication. Fearful energy. Loss of confidence. I am trying to remember that the antidote is to consciously and purposefully choose love.

That photo is of the beach in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, where my children and their cousins spent charmed summer days with their grandmother. Somewhere, in a parallel time dimension, it is happening still.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Lemon cake

Our lovely baker asked to make her own birthday cake and it was delicious. Her expression as we sang to her and she waited to blow out the candles, was the same as when she was little and contemplating the wonders of cake for the first time. This year, there were 24 candles. "Old enough to be a fire hazard," her cousin said.

I have been sick and am now much better. Thank you all for your well wishes. The most painful part was the burning sore throat, perhaps the worst I can remember. But maybe I just don't remember, because already the memory of my three days of misery is fading. I'm worried that my man might have caught my flu, though, which isn't good given his recent heart surgery. He needs to be careful of infections of any sort. This doesn't work well with his just-power-through personality. He went in to work today. I hope he's okay.

Easter was lovely. Our daughter and niece and their loves came over for dinner. We ate stuffed cornish hens and potatoes au gratin prepared by my husband. Our girl made a key lime pie for dessert, and come evening we gathered round to watch the John Legend production of Jesus Christ Superstar. My cousins were texting me from all over the country to make sure I was watching. They all remembered me listening to this Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera on repeat when I was a teenager. Indeed, despite the hoarseness of my voice, I could sing every word. 

Now, to work.