Monday, July 23, 2018

A home in ourselves

My niece, Arrianne, took that wonderful photo of a place called Woodhaven in Jamaica. Everything about this picture slipped inside me with a familiarity deeper than memory. It's enough to make me homesick for a land where I have not lived for going on forty-three years. Sometimes, when the news gets especially cacophonous, I imagine moving back there. But then I remember my children are born here. This northern place is their home and so it is my home, too. Home might be a land somewhere, but home is also the people you love best, and wherever they are planted, so you are, too.

I had so much contact with my kids at the beginning of last week, I found myself pining for them at the end of the week. And yet I knew I had to let them be, release them yet again to live their lives, without trying to hold on, as I often wish I could do. Everything is so alive for them, the world such a playground, their friends so joyfully present, it makes me nostalgic for my own youth sometimes. I think they have embraced their twenties with more conscious exuberance than I ever allowed mine. What do they know that I didn't? Is it because they grew up in this city and know it like a native, while I was making home in a new country at their age? In any case, watching them from a wholesome distance, I feel sometimes that I squandered my youth, and why didn't I appreciate all that I had, worrying instead about what might be?

Things turned out pretty well, really, so all my brooding was time wasted, a thief of what was. I am trying these days to simply be present for what is, and when the day feels lonely, accept that too, knowing it is never the absolute or lasting truth.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Three special events

It's been a rather social week. My son and his girlfriend had us and his sister and cousin and their loves over for brunch on Sunday, and it was wonderful. His dad and I got there early to watch the World Cup Soccer final match with them, and the others came later. We all ate much too much of the baked french toast with salted frosted flakes topping and the hash with sausage gravy, eggs and bacon. My niece's fiancé had a birthday, so there was cake, too, as well as mimosas and lots of lounging about chatting and laughing and bemoaning the "itis" (inside joke). I love this photo of my husband walking by my son and instinctively cradling his head in a palm much as he used to do when our boy was a baby. Love habits never die.

The next night we turned out en masse for my daughter's fundraiser, a dinner series held at Cadillac House in SoHo, with three nights of five course meals by noted chefs and their mentors. My daughter is the special events coordinator for a non profit that aims to feed New York's hungry. To achieve that goal, they stage very fancy fundraisers with various celebrated chefs donating their talents throughout the year. The Cadillac dinner series is probably the only one we can actually afford. On Monday night we were treated to creations by Angie Mar of the Beatrice Inn and her mentor Pat LaFrieda, served family style at two long and elegantly appointed tables, with each course paired with a different, exquisite champagne. My favorite plates were the bing cherry tart with beef suet crust, braised veal shank, and for dessert Mar's now famous bone marrow creme brulee. There was also a signature cocktail that involved smoked whiskey, that my husband seemed to enjoy.

We ended up being seated next the night's sponsors, four VIPs whom my daughter's special events team wanted to ensure had a good time. Last year they apparently sat next to a couple who spent the night complaining about how much they hate gay people; the sponsors did not appreciate that one bit. This year, my daughter's boss decided her family would be a safe bet to seat next to the sponsors, and so there we were, schmoozing and clinking champagne glasses with them over every course. It was big fun, and our girl felt happy she could count on her crew to come through for her socially. She didn't sit with us this year. She was on her feet the whole night, making sure everything was happening according to plan. But she came by often, leaning over our shoulders to taste the dishes and sip the parade of champagnes.

My daughter's boyfriend, who's at the center of the photo above, captioned this picture "Fifth wheel: When you take 'when you're dating me you're dating my family' literally"—which made my husband and me chortle. Later in the evening, one of the executives of the nonprofit came up to us saying how much they love our daughter, and did we know she recently got a promotion. Maybe it was the champagne, but like a giddy mother I put a hand to my heart and gushed, "Oh, thank you!" and he rushed to say, "Oh no! She deserves it! She's wonderful!" My daughter laughed till tears came when I related my rather embarrassing response. This is her job after all, not kindergarten.

Then last night, my husband and I attended a play, He & She, written by our friend James Sappho. It's about a couple coming to terms with the past on the third anniversary of their daughter's accidental death. It was beautifully written and sensitively acted, and the sadness of the subject matter was ameliorated by the presence of a dancer on stage at all times, who portrayed the daughter, a spirit unseen by her parents but continually offering them comfort. It reminded me of the film classic, Wings of Desire, which I have always loved. I loved James's play too, and felt so privileged to be watching its premiere.

Afterward, eight of us went out to dinner with the playwright himself, who was feeling very vulnerable right then because a woman had just come up to him and critiqued his story, opining that the daughter shouldn't had died in a road accident but should have put a gun to her head, that would have been more dramatic. I was appalled. How dare this woman? Besides, she was completely wrong. The couple in the play would have been inconsolable, and the dancing joyful spirit that was there helping them find their way back to each other would not have rung true. We all tried to reassure him and let him know how moved we were by what he had written. That women clearly has no idea that when you write a play and put in on stage, you're putting your very soul out there for people to love or to trample. It's terrifying.

Speaking of the small terrors of writing, my editor likes the new first chapter I wrote so now I can finally forge ahead with the rest of the book, which is what I am doing today.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Painting the house

I finally had the house painted yesterday. I cannot tell you how long I have wanted to do that, and finally I got organized enough to get it done. This house has not been painted (except for my kids' bedrooms) since we moved here in 2001. And now I have a painter I can call whenever I need him, who did a nice job, was pleasant throughout, and gave me an estimate somewhat cheaper than all the others I've gotten over the years.

He and two other workers did everything in one day. I just had them paint everything white again, because it was too much decision stress to start choosing colors, and it would have significantly boosted the price as well. And I didn't include my bedroom, because I needed a corner of sanity amid the upheaval. Before the men left at around six last night, they put all the big furniture back in its approximate place, but advised me to wait till today to rehang pictures and push any pieces flush against the walls. So now my house looks like this.

Of course everything I pick up has to be dusted and wiped down or washed before being put back in its place. I'm throwing out some things, otherwise it'll be years before they rotate to the forefront of my attention again. I've been at it since early this morning and decided to take a break for some breakfast—and coffee. Then I'll get back to work and try to make my labor a pleasant, meditative endeavor.

Next up, the kitchen: replacing cabinet hinges that have always been wonky, and maybe the cabinets themselves, changing out the dated hardware, replacing the broken microwave and the ancient stove, replacing the counter with some sort of stone, overhauling the defunct under counter lighting, and refinishing the butcher block peninsula. After that: refinish wood floors throughout the house, and maybe pick up the carpet in the bedrooms and put down hardwood. God, just typing that made me tired. I hope it won't be another few years.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Books and flowers

I don't recall where I ran across this photo. On Instagram, I think, but I can't find it again now. I love the delicate shades of pink, the freshness of the white cabinet, the farmhouse sink and subway tiles, the books lined up above. Books and flowers, what could be better? I'm holding on to this gentle vision of our world today, as the 45th president constitutes his denaturalization task force to strip citizens "who should never have been naturalized" of their rights. I wonder who they'll find most undeserving and come for first? Rhetorical question. But aren't those flowers pretty?

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Down draft

That's my cousin (who is really my sister) and me at a Simon & Garfunkel concert in Central Park in the eighties. If I recall, I'd recently graduated with my masters in journalism and had just begun working as a reporter at LIFE magazine. My cousin, four years younger, was still in college. Today she's a government lawyer representing students with special needs, while I sit here, alone in my house, wrestling with getting down a new opening chapter for the book I'm writing for a woman with her fist perpetually in the air, a woman we need more than ever right now. I'm having a crisis of confidence. I don't know if what I'm writing is any good. I just can't tell. 

Today, I'm falling back on advice from Anne Lamott's writing manifesto Bird by Bird, in which she offers guidance like this:

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it's loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy."

Our July Fourth was quiet this year. We entertained my 94-year-old aunt and her daughter, not blood relatives, but still family. Our kids had lively engagements all over the map, but we just took it slow. My aunt was my mother's best friend, one of them, and she reflected that all her contemporaries are gone now. She is in marvelous shape, mind crystal clear, walks every day, looks wonderful. She walks more strongly than I do if you want to know the truth. And my husband thinks she's one of the most elegant women he's ever seen. She won the genetic jackpot, but she's lonely. I'm glad we spent the day with her and into the evening, watching fireworks together on TV. She calls me her other daughter.