Sunday, September 30, 2018

The persistence of joy

Last week was a devastating one for this country. Next week promises to be no less so. This was what it looked like in my house as we watched the judiciary committee vote on Kavanaugh on Friday afternoon when, in a surprise development, Senator Jeff Flake called for an FBI investigation into the supreme court nominee's past, after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford courageously and credibly testified that, back in high school, Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her. Like so many women, I'd cried watching her testimony. The White House has since placed limits on what and who the FBI is allowed to investigate, so I predict more sham proceedings in this matter.

These lovelies were at my house waiting for my daughter and her boyfriend to get home from work. My kids, my niece, and their loves were all heading to Ithaca for the weekend to attend Apple Fest with their cousin, my other niece Dani, who is a senior at Ithaca College and will graduate in May. My son and my niece also went to Ithaca College, and my daughter and her boyfriend went to Cornell University in the same town, so it was old home week for all of them. My son's girlfriend and my niece's fiancé called themselves "the Ithaca virgins."

From the pictures they sent me yesterday (because they know me and know how much I love glimpses of them living their grown up lives), I don't think there are any virgins left in the group. That's Dani and her roommate and bestie in the middle of the group selfie. They were paired in a double in freshman year and have lived together every year since. I love when that happens.

I post these pictures to remind myself that joy can be persistent, even as we fight for our country, even as we call our senators and march in the streets and have conversations outside of our silos and write.

And yesterday, more intentional acts of joy: The man and I, and our friend Leslie, went to see the exhibit of Georgia O'Keefe's Hawaii paintings at the New York Botanical Gardens. After viewing the vibrant canvasses and marveling that I was looking at works touched by the master herself, we spent a wonderful afternoon wandering through nature, strolling and riding the tram through the woodlands and around the extensive gardens, and reveling in our fresh air exhaustion come evening.

I'm going to try and copy one or more of the paintings in the exhibit. I'm pretty sure they won't look anything like the originals, but maybe I'll have a derivative work that served to calm my jangled news junkie mind as I was creating it, that will teach me something about the delicacy of brush strokes and the blending of color, and that will please me to look upon afterward.

Friday, September 28, 2018

I can't stop looking at this

Photo by Kisha Bari

These three girls were with their mothers at a rally in Washington, DC to protest the appointment of an accused sexual predator to the highest court in the land. They were disturbed and confounded and wept as some of their heroes got arrested for expressing their First Amendment rights in the rain, while inside the halls of Congress, a man of profoundly unfit temperament excoriated his critics in a sullen, entitled rage. One of my friends, the father of a beloved daughter, asked me, "Why would their mothers put them through that?" Because they want their girls to know that we have to stand up for what we believe, I responded, with more equanimity than I felt. This photograph just gutted me when I saw it. For these beautiful girls, the fight has just begun. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Is this hell?

This morning brings yet a third woman accusing the would be supreme court nominee of groping and sexually abusing women since high school, of being part of a prep school party culture of drugging girls and "bringing them to a side room where they could be gang raped by a train of boys."

Some Fox news acolytes argue the man shouldn't be held accountable, because he was only 17 at the time, just a teenager, and boys will be boys, yet Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice were also teens when, despite their being unarmed, they were shot and killed, and those same Fox news acolytes hold them accountable for their own deaths, because different rules apply when your skin is not white. Indeed, there is a woman on TV at this moment saying of the accusations against the supreme court nominee: "Groping a woman, that’s not a big deal. It doesn't affect his character or him being able to do what he needs to do as a supreme court nominee. If he was pro-abortion they wouldn’t be fighting this hard." I swear she said that, and with her two daughters listening

Which brings up the undocumented immigrant girl, age 15, who had been raped and wanted an abortion, and the supreme court nominee, whose name I cannot stomach writing here, blocked a previous judge's consent, saying in effect she was old enough to be accountable for her actions, because again, different rules also apply when your skin is not white, and your gender is not male, never mind that you also come from one of those so-called sh*thole countries.

Every night I watch the news I feel as if I'm twisting on a spit. I can't truly take in how insane everything has become. I am out of practice writing my outrage, because I can no longer sort through it to make reasonable arguments—there is nothing remotely reasonable about what is going on with our so-called public servants. Who serve no one and nothing but their own greedy appetites. I'm worn out. White male privilege and entitlement and contempt are on full and appalling display, and that's still not enough to cause anything to change.

As for the midterms, I fear that they will be hijacked—why else was cowardly Paul Ryan in Russia for ten days but to run down for the hackers which races to target? Is this hell? I'm starting to think we're in the bad place. Speaking of which, I am oddly absorbed by The Good Place. When I can't bear the news anymore, can't bear the way women's deep sexual traumas are being trivialized and cast aside by career rapists and abusers and their allies in congress who have escaped consequences their whole lives long, I watch an episode. It's become my nightly escape.

I don't mean to say there aren't glimmers of hope on this parched landscape: Anyone following Texas's Beto O'Rourke?

Sunday, September 23, 2018

SeaGlass Carousel

Our beloved poet Ms. Radish King wrote that she wanted to do a reading at the SeaGlass Carousel in Battery Park, Manhattan, and it reminded me of a dreamy sequence in the current season of the TV series Younger (which I watch) and I remembered that when I saw the sequence I thought: Where is that place, and why haven't I been there? Rebecca brought that thought to the surface again and so last night my daughter and my niece and I went out for dinner at a waterside restaurant in Battery Park, which is the part of the city where my niece lives, but for only two more weeks, and then she and her love are moving upstate as she has accepted a job at a dental practice that recruited her and made the deal very sweet for a couple saving up for their wedding. After dinner, at which we consumed a bottle of good Malbec, my girls and I strolled through the park in the direction of the SeaGlass Carousel because we all agreed the night would make the dance of light on the translucent sea creatures more ethereal. As we strolled my daughter sighed contentedly and said, "Ah, New York," and right then a bit fat rat came out of the shrubs, stared at us, and then darted out of sight, and my adrenaline surged because I am rodent phobic and my daughter clucked and said, wryly this time, "Ah, New York." The SeaGlass Carousel did not disappoint, however. Here we are, my fellow dreamscapers and me.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Bench therapy

My daughter and I went to vote in the evening a week ago, and then we walked around the gardens and sat on a bench, chatting with neighbors who stopped to talk before continuing on. And then my girl said she needed some bench therapy, and she told me about a situation at work, where she made a mistake and told her boss about it, despite the fact that no one might ever have known. It worked out well for her, and I applauded her integrity, even though she was still feeling shaky over the whole thing. 

And then there was a situation with a friend, a girl she has loved dearly since they were four years old. As she told me her concern, it had the whiff of an anxious mind making up stories. I know intimately how that works, so I suggested she just text her friend and say she misses her and could they get together soon. She did, sure the friend would not respond because she was angry at her. But in fact, her friend responded within a minute, said she missed her, too, and yes let's make a plan. My daughter said, Oh, maybe, she was just busy because she started a new job this week. You think? I said. Do you feel better now? I said. No, my daughter grumbled with a mischievous side eye, because it means you were right. I'm always right, I said, and we both laughed, as we do. And then I apologized for passing on to her that overactive, endlessly spinning, storymaking mind.

That's my girl with her most recent foster dog, Wally. He got adopted in the first week. This is what she wrote for him on the adoption website. That's marketing copy, I told her. That's Wally boy, she replied. I love his big round anime eyes.

Monday, September 17, 2018


There is so much I want to write about, so much going on in the news (that young black man who got shot in his own home by a cop who came to his door, the creepy, mean as fuck supreme court wannabe, so much more), in my personal life (houseguests, a farewell barbecue for a beloved uncle, pub week for my last project), and I just don't have the time to unpack it all here. I'll leave you with this photo. Imagine this happening at dusk some evenings, behind this screen. A glass of Malbec is actually perfect to silence the yammering of my inner critic and keep me going for another couple of hours, while my husband sits in his wing chair and catches up on the day's news. I'm learning so much on this project. I think it's why I love my work, even when it is hard. A friend of mine who does the same ghostwriting work I do, moved from one apartment to another one across town last week. Despite having a major project and looming deadline, she took the week to unpack everything and set up her new space completely. "I can't have chaos around me," she said, "because writing is chaos. I can only deal with one kind of chaos at a time." Her words reverberated like a gong. Writing is chaos. Oh Lordy, yes. And with all the internal chaos I've got going right now, I sometimes have to shut down really engaging with the chaos of the news, I have to let it wash over me for a spell, without taking too much of it in, because it just. never. ends.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Old photos

The man and I dressed in black tie for the fiftieth anniversary gala for LIFE magazine. Here we are with the great Zemog, one of my fellow reporters at the magazine. In this photo, I am a newlywed, only two months married.

In my mom's final year, my son elected to spend spring break with his grandmother. Here, he was helping her do her morning exercise of walking to the end of the hall and back. How the roles had changed. He was so good with her, and she with him. 

I ran across this oldie again, me at age eighteen, the year I left Jamaica to attend college in New York City, where I would henceforth live, part of the chain of relatives sponsored by my Aunt Winnie, who was the first to migrate to America in the 1947. She, and our family, are the Orange Man's nightmare.

Aunt Winnie, the year she left Jamaica and settled in New York City. She was twenty-nine years old, an adventurer.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


An extraordinary new mural by Brazilian artist Edward Kobra was unveiled in New York City today, on the seventeenth anniversary of 9/11. I am now the mother of an FDNY paramedic, who found his calling in the ashes of that awful day, and who will enter the fire academy to be further trained as a firefighter this year. That number on the kneeling firefighter's helmet, 343, is how many of his comrades died at Ground Zero. I remember my son, then nine years old, stood before me as dusk fell and said, "Mommy, a lot of heroes died today." I hugged him to me, with no idea that he was already trying to puzzle out the kind of courage it took for a person to run into a burning building to save strangers. Could he grow into a man with that kind of courage, he wondered. It would become the central question of his life, and would fuel his desire to be the person equipped to save lives when the world went to hell. In college, while he dreamed of joining the FDNY upon graduation, my son acquired a raft of first responder and water rescue certifications. My husband and I joked that he never met a certification he didn't want to collect. And indeed, as soon as he graduated, he began training as an EMT. His class began on September 11 five years ago, a fitting echo for a young man who never wavered in his dream. My son doesn't know that his sister used to cry herself to sleep at the thought of her brother wanting to be a firefighter. She understood, even if I didn't then, that it was a calling he would not outgrow. At last, I had to accept that this was his path. He humbles me. He makes me proud. May he be safe and protected always.

My babies, 2001

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Against the ruthless furnace

"He didn’t so much teach them how to write poetry, they said, but why: because of delight. Because of stubborn gladness. He told them they must live their most creative lives as a means of fighting back against the ruthless furnace of this world."

The writer Elizabeth Gilbert was describing her namesake, the poet Jack Gilbert, and his approach to his students. I found these words on Brain Pickings, where I have lingered for hours already this morning, drinking in philosophies of creativity from people who make me think so hard on their ideas that my brain hurts. There were so many different quotes I wanted to share with you as I went deeper and deeper into the well, including this one, because of the times, and because of the idea of "stubborn gladness." So often, we ask what can we do in the face of what is unfolding in our politics, on our social landscape. This is one answer, and it's not easy, and it's not small.

As I return to my own not-small effort to resist the ruthless furnace, here is some more of the treasure I found:

Big Magic: Elizabeth Gilbert on Creative Courage and the Art of Living in a State of Uninterrupted Marvel:
"The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.'

"Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them."

And this one, which my dear friend Brittany posted, and which sent me on the Brain Pickings hunt to begin with:

Martha Graham on the Life-Force of Creativity and the Divine Dissatisfaction of Being an Artist:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open...No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Monday, September 3, 2018

Men who cook

On this weekend a year ago I was sitting in a hospital room in the intensive care unit watching little numbers on monitors whose wires were attached to my husband. He'd had his chest cracked open for heart surgery on the Friday before Labor Day weekend, and he was just starting on the long road back to health. And he made it. He's doing well these days, better than before.

He made smoked brisket this weekend, a three-day affair, and this afternoon our girl and her guy are coming by to partake of it. They're the cutest. Yesterday my daughter's boyfriend made spare ribs in the stove-top smoker we gave him for his birthday a year ago, and they popped over at close to ten last night to bring us a sample. Hands down, they were the best ribs I ever tasted. The man and I were seriously impressed. Today, my husband returns the favor with his brisket, which my daughter's boyfriend declares is the best brisket he's ever tasted.

Other than these culinary forays, it's been a low-key weekend. I've been writing every spare moment, as I set myself a goal of 35K words by the end of today. I'm closing in on 34K at the moment, and that might be as good as it gets for today. In the book I wrote last year, which was on the same schedule, I was about ten thousand words further along at this time, even with the break I took when my husband got sick and had to have a leaky heart valve replaced. I'm trying to get in as much work time as possible, as my daughter and I are heading out of town soon for some down time on our favorite lazy river. It's to celebrate her promotion, and just for a quick mama-daughter getaway. I can't wait.

I've been seeing this sentiment around on social media, and I like it. I told my husband I'll keep choosing him every day.