Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Thanksgiving this year

It was hectic, exhausting and wonderful. The house was full to bursting, comforters, pillows and blankets were unearthed from every corner to cover trundles and couches and air mattresses, because the beds were all full. Twenty-four people shared our Thanksgiving dinner, and fourteen people (including my son and daughter) slept the weekend in our home, which seem unbelievable when you consider we live in an apartment, not a sprawling house.

Two of my nieces (one who lives in Boston, the other visiting us from Jamaica) were applying to college. One sat with her laptop amid a tangle of blankets and legs on the air mattress that spent most of Friday inflated in the middle of the living room. The other sat with her big sister at the kitchen island, which overlooks the living room, and everyone else milled around, warming up leftovers, animatedly chatting and binge watching Suits on Netflix. The soon-to-be-college students seem well prepared for the nonstop socializing that can be college life. They got their essays written amid the chaos, and they had many built in editors on hand, with me, my daughter, and my niece Dani, all of us veterans of this writing life. I think it made things easier for them to be able to talk through what each of their freakin' endless essays and supplements should be about, and then go off and write them. Actually they wrote them while sitting in the middle of everything. They didn't want to miss out on the fun.

My husband appreciated having some men around to keep him company—my son, my niece's fiancé, my cousin's husband, my daughter's boyfriend, who was spending Thanksgiving with us for the first time. "How did he manage?" I asked my girl later. "He was fine," she said, "but I think he was exhausted. He's used to going to dinner and then going home, not celebrating continuously from waking up until 2 a.m. the next morning."

The "kids" really stepped up this year, after my husband called our son and daughter into the kitchen and admitted his back was aching. He'd just pulled the turkey out the oven, and cooked almost everything else as well. All that bending. The good news is he no longer ignores what his body is telling him, after his brush with mortality last year. The kids sent us out of the kitchen and completely took over the warming up of previously made dishes, carving the turkey and the ham, and setting everything out on the table.

I'd cooked my corn and cheese dish the day before, and my girl cooked her apple pies alongside me, so that the kitchen would be free for my husband to do his thing on Thanksgiving Day. He is the main cook, the maker of the turkey and stuffing, the three cheese mac and cheese, the roasted vegetables and broccoli in garlic and oil, the glazed ham. My son makes the sweet potato casserole, my cousin makes the potato salad, one of our guests brings plantains, and others bring assorted pies for dessert. It's quite a feast. And my niece, aka my other daughter, is in charge of making margaritas from scratch after dinner, which kicks off the second part of the evening. We ended up playing a rousing margarita-infused game of charades; hilarity ensued. And at the end of the evening, the three wondrous sister cousins below (photographed at our diner breakfast on Thanksgiving eve) took over the clean up.

On Sunday, people began leaving. One by one the goodbyes were said. Our last guest, my cousin with whom I grew up like a sister, left to catch her flight back to Trinidad on Monday night. My husband and I drove her to the airport in wind and rain. And then it was just the two of us again, and a mountain of bed linens and towels to be laundered. "I love it when everyone comes," my husband said. "And I love when it's just you and me again." I know how he feels. The comfort. Gentle puttering. Deep ease.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Food and other drives

I was having the most pleasant dream. I was with my parents, my mother had fallen in love with a house somewhere in New Jersey, and bought it. It was nothing fancy, but she made it nice. She had that knack. I was there spending days with them as they arranged the place, and my daughter was with me. I slept in a room downstairs, which morphed somehow into a dorm room, and men came in to hang my pictures on the wall, but by the time they came I no longer wanted the pictures hung, as I'd drawn my own pictures on the walls. I was in this lovely reverie with my mom and dad and then the phone rang, startling me awake. It was to confirm a delivery for later today. I pressed the button for yes as the recording instructed and hung up, falling back onto the pillow. It was still dark. My heart was hammering. And then I remembered, my parents had already died. The call in the night that I had feared and dreaded had already come, twice. I settled my breathing down, and tried to catch back the dream. But it was gone. I comforted myself that they'd seemed happy puttering around together in that house.

And now we welcome the hordes for Thanksgiving. Today I'm going to move the furniture around in the living room for easier flow. And clean the house. My cousin Nicky gets here tonight. Tomorrow morning she and I and my daughter and my niece will go out for breakfast at our favorite Greek diner—Nicky craves diner pancakes on her first morning in New York. Then we'll come home and begin cooking as we wait for the rest of the party to arrive. My whole goal over these next few days is to take things as they come, to not get overly attached to an idea of how things should go, to let events simply unfold. Pray I manage it. As my friends here know well, it's not my natural state.

That's my girl working a Thanksgiving food drive outside her daddy's museum. People could either buy a bag of fresh produce to donate to soup kitchens and shelters or they could give money and my girl and her fellow volunteers would get the produce from the farmer's market themselves. This being New York, everyone gave money, because who has time. Our girl came home exhilarated from how much they raised to feed the city's hungry. Doing good makes her happy. I love how that works.

Okay, back to work until my niece wakes up and can help me move the furniture around. I'm grabbing every minute I can. I have to get the manuscript to my subject this coming Monday, and there's a house full of humans and a gauntlet of festivities between now and then. I find it so interesting that my husband and I did not grow up with this Thanksgiving tradition and now it is our family's favorite holiday. I wonder if that's because we got to invent our own way of doing it. Hmm.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Looking up

I've had my head down, writing. I did manage to complete a full draft of the book late last week, as my due date barrels toward me. I am now deep in the editing, always the more fun part of the process, even though I'm assailed by doubts about whether what I've produced is good. I dream fondly of the days when people spent five, ten years on a single book, but how did they make a living? I certainly can see how much richer a work of writing might be if one had the luxury of living with the story long enough to allow hidden connections to show themselves and unforced poetry to tiptoe in.

In other news, the subject of the book I co-wrote last year, Lucy McBath, won her race in Georgia! Against all odds, she is now a congresswoman, an eventuality that was not even a glimmer in her mind when we began our process. But after Parkland, she decided to run. The kids were the same age as her son when he was taken by gun violence, she said, and they were fighting the cause of gun reform so courageously. She wanted them to have backup in the chambers of law, and so she decided to run in Georgia's sixth district, where she lived. She was an African American Democrat running on a gun reform platform in a white Republican district in the deep gun-loving South. And she won! This woman inspires the heck out me. Her book is here.

As for the rest of the midterms, it turns out that despite disappointments in the Florida and Georgia gubernatorial races, and the Texas senate race, and despite successful GOP efforts to gerrymander districts and suppress the vote, there was indeed a big ole walloping blue wave, as more women and people of color than ever before were elected to political office. This piece by Joan Walsh in The Nation sums up how I feel about what happened. I won't rehash it here. Suffice it to say that in the days right after the election, I didn't know how to feel, but now I think the results were a fine repudiation of the party of Trump, and may the trend continue into 2020.

And now Thanksgiving is upon us. Family members have already started to arrive. My niece came from college last night, my cousin arrives from Trinidad on Tuesday, and my other cousin and niece arrive from Orlando on Wednesday. Another niece arrives bright and early from Jamaica on Thanksgiving morning—and those are just the ones who are staying with us. My daughter and her guy, my niece and her fiancé, and my son will also sleep over on the nights before and after Thanksgiving, because tripping over each other in our small apartment is just part of the fun.

Friday, November 2, 2018


I'm working at my dining table, next to my expansive window, outside of which the trees have turned to spun gold. Earlier, before I moved with my laptop from the desk in my bedroom, a moth flew in through my window, it's wings were gold glitter, so shimmery I thought at first it was a butterfly. I tried to shoo it back out the open window, but it dodged me and flew under my bed. I decided it was a blessing.

The TV is set to the news, turned down low, a hum in the background. Every so often something jumps out: The reporter saying that 45 viewed that slaughter in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue as "inconvenient," a distraction from the story of the caravan "invasion." They're talking now about his plan to send 5,000 troops to the border, and to open fire on the migrants if someone throws a stone, which I take to mean that someone will surely be planted in the crowd to throw a stone. Of course, this caravan of asylum seekers will not arrive at our border for two months yet. Imagine, if instead of troops, we were the kind of nation that would send lawyers, social workers, doctors and teachers to the border, to help those whose desperation has led them there. But the election is next week, and so 45 is trying to whip his base into a frenzy of xenophobic fear and outrage, and we saw the sorrow that brought to Pittsburgh a week ago.

And yet. All this gold in my morning, like a whisper of something good in the world, telling me my efforts, small as they might seem, are not in vain. Do what you do, it whispers. We all have a part to play in turning this national nightmare to spun gold.