Thursday, August 30, 2018

Life in public

I went down to my old magazine yesterday, which has moved to offices in Brooklyn with a much reduced staff from the days when I was on the masthead. They are now in a very cool looking former warehouse complex with polished concrete floors, exposed pipes and ductwork, and large banks of windows letting in lots of light. Very Brooklyn industrial chic, complete with a coffee bar and cafe right there on the work floor and a full time barista on staff. But as cool as it all looks, the staffers miss the days when people had offices and cubicles. The open concept design with unbroken rows of desks, everyone shoulder to shoulder or staring across at each other from behind their computer screens, affords no privacy for sensitive conversations, and it's noisy and distracting, too. But I did note that even though they are short staffed and overworked, folks did not seem oppressed, and that is an improvement, perhaps, from the days when the magazine was owned by Time Inc., and everyone did indeed feel anxious and burdened.

I was there to get software and fonts loaded onto my laptop and get a refresher in InCopy, which I actually remembered pretty darn well, like riding a bicycle really. I am editing for the magazine again, have been for the past couple of months, working remotely, which is perfect. But being back in the office among people with whom I once regularly burned the midnight oil stirred up feelings. I'll just say, those women give the best hugs, and they made me feel welcomed back to the team, even on an informal, open-ended basis. This could be good. I just have to make sure I am very organized, as there is also the book I'm working on, and I intend to do my darnest there, too.

I actually went from the magazine's office to an interview with my book subject and her parents yesterday. Her mother plied me with delicious meat and spinach pies, and sweet sage tea, as we pored over photo albums and they shared the stories behind each picture. It was fascinating to note that as intense as my subject is in the public sphere, her family of origin appears warm and funny and easygoing. I imagine they must provide a healing refuge for the organizing work their activist daughter does out in the world. I am really glad she has the security of her family, where she can sink into being unconditionally loved and a relaxed, bantering way.

Later, when I got home, my son and one of his friends showed up and the two full grown men dozed on my couches until evening, when they got themselves together and went out to meet friends who are in town from other states and from England for a wedding of one of their camp crew this weekend. They've been celebrating non-stop since the bachelor party in Nashville last weekend, and it will continue until bride and groom are hitched beside a lake in the Connecticut woods this Sunday.

I took that photo in the Juno car at 7:30 AM on the way to Brooklyn yesterday morning. It was already almost 100 degrees outside, but inside the car was air conditioned and the soft early morning light invited me to take a selfie before getting all bedraggled by the day. Despite the sweltering heat, it was a good, productive morning and afternoon, and very social. Today my plan is to do nothing else but sit at my desk looking out at the trees, and write.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Cost benefit

The girl and I went for pedicures last night. I love sitting up there in the high chair with our feet in warm blue water, catching up with my girl. She was telling me about a person she works with, who is a micro manager and constantly hovering to make sure tasks get done. Some people find this hard to deal with, but my daughter reflected, "I guess she doesn't bother me because I'm still at a stage in my work life where I have a lot to learn, and besides, I don't mind reassuring her that things are getting done." To which I said, "See, that's the benefit of having had to manage the mother you have." She was kind enough to laugh.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Jersey got adopted (update)

My daughter and her boyfriend got so attached to Jersey, but the more attached they got, they more they wanted her to be happily settled in her forever home. The hardest part was taking her to the required adoption fairs each weekend, Saturday and Sunday, and having her be passed over by people who wanted cute puppies, and small apartment-sized dogs. Jersey is five years old; she's big and active; and sometimes that's all people saw. They didn't pause long enough to see what a sweet old soul she is. But my daughter posted diligently on the foster agency website, photos of Jersey that showed her in an infinitely better light than the "dusty" photos of her that were there before ("dusty" was my daughter's word. Actually what she said was, "They really aren't doing Jersey any favors with these dusty ass photos"). And a woman from Long Island finally saw her. I think my daughter also played some heartstrings with her most recent post, which was captioned: "Jersey's excitement for this weekend's adoption fair? 💯"

The whole adoption saga tugged at my heartstrings anyway. The woman who took Jersey home with her lives in a house with a yard. Apparently Weimaraners are hunting dogs and need to be able to stretch out and run. The woman is also retiring soon so, as my daughter put it, "She'll be home in the days giving Jersey all the love she needs." She gave them her card and invited them to come visit Jersey Girl any time. They were sad to say goodbye to their housemate of two weeks, but over the moon that she had found a good home. 

And now they're already looking to make magic again. They pick up a new dog this Friday. This one is apparently a shy little guy who's been working with a trainer to help him be less skittish. They are asking his fosters to not indulge the dog's fears, including of the outdoors. My daughter is actually really balanced in that way. She's never mean but can be firm, because she believes dogs need outdoor running time. She's not a pushover, but her boyfriend, good luck with that.

Look at me. Getting all engaged with these dogs when I never gave in to my children's pleas to get them a dog when they were small. I grew up in Jamaica, with dogs and a yard where they could run and play. I didn't love the idea of confining them to a small apartment in the city, at the mercy of their humans' work schedules and whims. Nor did I love the idea of picking up poop. But of course, my girl grew up in the city, and this is the reality of being a dog lover in the city. I find I'm actually kind of loving this whole fostering adventure, too. I enjoy playing with and getting to know the dogs and hearing about their journey, while shouldering none of the responsibility. I guess you could consider me my daughter's supportive animal. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Good sich

My love and I celebrated 32 years of marriage yesterday. When we discovered that the restaurant we wanted to go to had recently closed down, our daughter decided to bring the dining experience to us, by acting as our own personal chef. She came over the night before to prep everything, and then last night we weren't allowed near the kitchen until dinner was served, and it was delicious and perfect. My pictures don't begin to do it justice. Our girl even printed out a menu ahead of time. And as she poured the wine for us, she said, "I wanted to do this for you. You are such good parents. It didn't have to go as well as it did for us. Growing up, I saw quite a few cases where it didn't go that well. But we have a good sich"—I gather "sich" is short for situation. Her lovely words nestled themselves in my heart.

Happy anniversary my love. Thank you for sharing this wonderful rollercoaster ride with me, for holding me down always, and being the man you are. Here's to the next 32!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Also, this

The first copy of the book I worked on all last year came in the mail today. Now it's real.


There've been so many things I've wanted to share, or to set down for my own record, but I've had houseguests every weekend this month, and sometimes into the week, and in addition to that I am a little underwater work wise, as I picked up a side gig editing for my old magazine, which has turned out to be more time consuming that I'd wagered, and of course, I have to get the book done, too. I'm working on it every free minute. Mostly, I give my guests a key and send them off into the city for various entertainments, and while they're gone I sit and my desk and work intently, I almost said furiously, but I'm not at all furious. I love this work, even though right now it feels really hard.

Here's one thing that went down:

My cousin and her son came in from Virginia last weekend, and they will be here again this coming one, along with my cousin's husband. Last weekend, they came to visit with the family of one of her high school friends from Jamaica, who this week will settle her daughter into college at Vasser. Since my cousin and I went to same high school, I remembered her friend well. I was older and a school prefect, a "big girl" to them. The friend and her husband starting "dating" one another when he was eleven and she was twelve. Their relationship lasted through his college stint in Miami and MBA degree and her medical school training and residencies in England. They are the loveliest, most blasé couple, so deeply comfortable with one another, and clearly still very much in love. With them was their son, who works in his's dad's business in Jamaica while pursuing his law degree, and his girlfriend, a Chinese Jamaican whose nationality confuses everyone at her college in upstate New York. And of course, the newly minted college freshman, who puts a shy light in my nephew's eyes. She's cute as could be, a dancer, who might be joining us for Thanksgiving this year. The invitation was extended. In any case, our apartment was home away from their hotel for the family visiting from Jamaica this week, and their company was delightful.

My nephew, a Jamaican American Assiniboine Sioux and an artist to his core, is very aware of his dual black and native heritage these days. While in New York, he saw the Spike Lee movie BlackkKlansman and was blown away, especially by the ending, which he thought drove home the point that everything that came before was not fiction. As we were discussing the movie, he told me about his family's visit to Toronto the week before. It was him, his parents, his brother, and his cousin, who grew up with them and has a Spanish last name. The rest of the family has an obviously Native American name. The two older boys are seniors in college at 23 and 22, and the youngest is a college freshman at 18. Driving back from Toronto, they decided to stop at Niagara Falls. They toured the Canadian side first, and then decided to see what the Falls looked like from the American side. My cousin didn't go with them. She decided to relax and window shop by herself on the Canadian side. The rest of them walked across a white line into a cage like customs area, and suddenly the border agents became snarly and rude, whereas the agents on the Canadian side had been warm and joking.

They showed their passports, and the official looked them over—my cousin in law who is Indian from Montana, but could also look Mexican, his sons with their curly Afros out to here, and my other nephew, Aunt Winnie's grandson with the Spanish last name. The customs official surveyed them all with narrowed eyes and then zeroed in on the Spanish last name. He asked my nephew his first name. "Joseph," he said. "Do you mean Jose?" the customs guy scowled. "No, Joseph," my nephew repeated. For a few minutes, it looked as if he was going to refuse these four American citizens entry into the land of their birth, but then he slammed the passports closed, shoved them at my cousin in law, and waved them on.

My nephew, the one who was relating all this, said that was the moment when he realized that the whole time he'd been in Canada, he'd felt carefree, and hadn't questioned his welcome anywhere. But now, a few steps into America, the vigilance was back, the constant bracing for the possibility of something unpleasant going down. His dad was aware of it, too. "Do you feel a kind of weight pressing down on you, being here?" he asked the boys. They all nodded. "Let's go back and find your mom," he suggested. And so they did. And as soon as they crossed the painted white line out of America, the weight lifted, the sense of freedom returned, and my nephew knew for sure then, that he hadn't been imagining the way things were.

That's my nephew in the photo here, a musician with a distinctly seventies vibe, sketching in my living room. This child is no threat to anyone. You'd be hard pressed to find a sweeter, more heartfelt soul.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Jersey Girl

My daughter and her boyfriend share a love of dogs. Like, they really love dogs. Their newest adventure is fostering dogs who for one reason or another have become homeless. This involves a pretty intense bathing and grooming session when they first pick up the dog, and taking the dog to adoption fairs every Saturday in the hope of finding him or her a good home. Their first foster dog is a five-year-old charcoal gray Weimaraner named Jersey Girl, whose personality is chilled out and unbothered. She has a kind of seen-it-all-so-why-get-worked-up demeanor that has won her foster people's hearts. She's become very attached to them as well, especially to my daughter, who I'm told she follows to the bathroom and sits serenely outside the door till she reemerges. To be a dog in that household is to be cared for, played with, and cuddled non stop, so I feel a little sorry for the dogs who may think they've landed in a good situation, only to have to move on again—hopefully to another good and loving household. The photo is of Jersey Girl on the day she arrived, when she was still taking stock of her new surroundings.


"I didn’t think my songs would become anthems for women. But I’m delighted. Women probably immediately feel compassion and relate to the lyrics. We can all learn a little something from each other, so whatever people can take and be inspired by where my music is concerned is great."—Aretha Franklin, March 25, 1942—August 16, 2018

Thank you for all the moments when your soaring, spine-tingling anthems framed the moments of my life. There will never be anyone like you, ever again. You were the truest diva, the reigning Queen of Soul for all time. Thank you for your life.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

In the pause

"The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color."―Natalie Babbitt

At this time a year ago, my husband was bedridden, in excruciating pain with unceasing back spasms, and not yet aware that the source of it all was a broken heart. His aortic valve was shredded, and the precipitating infection had traveled to his spine, but we were still two weeks away from figuring everything out. On this day a year ago, I got on the phone with the insurance company and begged them to approve a spinal MRI. I kept calling until I finally reached a sympathetic ear. This man listened as I described the pain my husband was in, then he said, "Okay, have the doctor call me right now at this number and I'll give the approval." The MRI showed osteomyelitis of two vertebrae of the lower spine, and when the doctor read it, he called and told my man to get to the hospital right away. He left that message on my husband's cell phone, and since he was sleeping when it came in, he didn't pick it up till eleven that night, at which point he tried to negotiate with us, his family, to let him wait until the next morning.

Our son wasn't having it. He was at work on his EMS shift at the time, and he told his dad, "Either you go in voluntarily now, or I'm coming up there with an ambulance to get you." I could tell his bossiness made his dad proud. And thank God we went in that night, because by the next morning the doctors had detected the source of everything and scheduled his open heart surgery for the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Had we gone in just a few hours later, he'd have had to wait for the surgery till the following week Wednesday, which would have been dicey, the doctors said. It was lucky that the infection went to his spine, they added, because the more usual route was to the brain, causing a stroke and worse. Of course, my husband would have been luckier never to have fallen ill at all, but all things considered, the whole ordeal could have been so much worse. And now, he is so much better.

I remember coming home late at night when he was in the hospital, and crying in our big bed alone, and thinking that he better get better and come back home, because I didn't want to keep sleeping in that big bed alone. And I remember how quiet the house was. I remember I was afraid.

So in the pause of this summer, which has been blessedly uneventful, I am feeling thankful for my husband's renewed health, and for the closeness of family all around. We're having houseguests every weekend this month, and in between I am keeping my head down, working with some urgency. My subject, a courageous social justice activist, has received several death threats this week—no joke. Really vile stuff. She's a strong and determined woman, but it gets to her sometimes. Yesterday, she said to me, "I'm thinking we need to hurry up and finish this book before they come for me." She was utterly serious. I got off the phone and wanted to weep. She is a good person, this woman, something you wouldn't necessarily know if you googled her name. The right wing disinformation machine is thick and remorseless. All she wants is what is just and fair for constituencies who don't have access to what is just and fair. And for this, the toxic hate comes at her.

Pray I do her story justice. It feels like a really important one to tell, so this is where I'll be for the rest of the summer, and into the fall, except for a weekend when my daughter and I are escaping to a place with a lazy river, as we did one spring break when she was in college. It will be fun. Life is such a mixed bag these days.

How has your summer been so far, dear friends, and what are you looking forward to in the fall?

Saturday, August 11, 2018

We carry on

My daughter's boyfriend's mother and sister are in town for the weekend. They're staying with us. It was his sister's birthday earlier in the week, so we did cake and candles and the happy birthday song. We stayed up late last night talking and laughing, until my girl and her guy, hardworking stiffs, feel asleep in our midst, and we two mothers looked over at them fondly, then looked at each other and smiled.

We have a plan to walk the High Line later, even though the forecast calls for rain. The High Line is an elevated park built along an old railway line that runs for more than twenty city blocks, with breathtaking views of the harbor. It's one of my favorite places in the city. Right at this moment, the sleeping beauties from last evening are bathing and settling in an old dog they are fostering. They picked her up this morning, and say she's serene and gentle. I think they've already fallen a little bit in love.

There is so much going on in the political universe I can't keep it all straight, but yesterday, I was particularly disturbed by news that notices of denaturalization proceedings have already started going out. Naturalized citizens who at any point availed themselves of public assistance of any sort, including Obamacare, could have their citizenship revoked and be deported. I guarantee you, the main targets of this task force will not be naturalized citizens that look like Melania's parents, who were sworn in as new Americans this week. So much for Republicans' loud disdain for family reunification, or, as the president calls it, chain migration.

Our family is one big long chain, starting with my Aunt Winnie in 1949. She sponsored all eight of her siblings and their children. Scores of us set down roots here. And now my children are American born, and my grandchildren will no doubt also be born here. Even though I don't recall ever needing to avail myself of public assistance of any kind (and aren't I one of the lucky ones), it seems that every week the denaturalization task force adds a new deportable offense designed to allow them to throw black and brown people out of the country. We all know this is the objective. If they could deport Native Americans, too, I'm quite sure they would.

I never thought that in my lifetime, I would know first hand what it's like to live under a fascist regime. I feel slightly schizophrenic that, in the midst of it all, we still laugh with houseguests, foster homeless dogs, and make plans to walk in the rain.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A million times this

I'm working hard and don't have much time to post right now, but post I must, because this child of mine, this beloved full grown man who is a paramedic for the Fire Department, a calling since he was ten years old, delivered a baby today!

Apparently, by the time his ambulance arrived at the home of the mother to be, the birth was too far along to chance transporting her to the hospital and so my son and his partner delivered the infant right there in her living room, attended by the baby's father and her grandmother. Mother and infant are doing just fine.

My son called his dad and me as he was driving home, sounding jubilant and exhausted. "Well," he said, "the call I was most terrified to get happened today, and I delivered a healthy baby girl." I thought my poor heart would burst from happiness and pride. My boy did that.

He answered this life-giving call on the birthday of one of my closest cousins, who grew up with me like a sister. That's her, below, enjoying the birds of paradise her family brought her on this blessed day, when her nephew and my son honored us all by bringing a new life into this world, his first time. There may be other deliveries, but I will never forget this baby girl.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Public space

I’m in a bookstore cafe writing today. A few feet away, a man is muttering to himself and intermittently yelling at his laptop and banging on his table. Everyone is now surreptitiously keeping him in view. He is a rather large man, neatly dressed in an olive green shirt and khaki slacks, and he smiled at me when I came in. I smiled back. The outbursts hadn't started then. Maybe he's doing a video chat because he's talking to that screen as if it's a person. And that person is making him mad.

I do love working in this light-filled place, sipping my skinny vanilla latte and people watching in between paragraphs. Every time I enter this store, the smell of books wafts over me like an aphrodisiac, putting me in the mood to write. There are two books on these shelves with my name on them, and in September there will be a third. 

Still, in such unsettled times, in public spaces one has to be aware. There's no telling who's completely harmless, who's quirky but kind, who's suffered trauma, who harbors a malign intent. We're all suffering from a kind of public PTSD. 

Did anyone see Rosie O'Donnell on The Beat With Ari Melber last night? Google it. She broke it down.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Beyonce in the rain

All my wordsmithing energy is going into the book lately. I got a bit behind during the approval process for that first chapter and I'm pressing to make up time. Please forgive my scarcity here. I'm just popping in now to post these pictures I don't want to lose track of. My daughter and her girl group, known since childhood as The Six, went to see Beyonce perform at the MetLife Arena in New Jersey last night. My daughter loves Bey. Unfortunately thunderstorms over the open arena caused a rain delay of hours, and at 2 a.m. my girl texted me that she was reluctantly leaving before the end of the concert to travel home. Our exchange made me smile.

Here are a couple more photos of those beauties for old times sake.

At a rest stop on the way to their school's farm.

Rehearsing for a first grade talent show.