Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's eve


The photo here is perhaps my favorite of all the photos I posted this year, my love and I, back when we were still brand new, posing for a selfie before we even knew the word.


And here we are now, the people I pray for first on opening my eyes each day. I am grateful for them, and also for you, each one of you who read here this year. May 2019 bless you with all the people and the experiences that make your heart soar.




Friday, December 28, 2018

Alien invasion explained


Last night, at just past nine, the sky over New York City suddenly bloomed a bright turquoise blue, the light pulsing in the clouds above Astoria, where my son and his girlfriend live, yet visible as far away as Brooklyn, Harlem and the Bronx.

My son was asleep on the couch. His girlfriend S. was sitting at the kitchen counter watching something on YouTube when she noticed an eerie blue glow at the window, followed by a rumble like thunder that lasted for minutes, and the house lights flickering off before coming back on. When she looked out the window she saw all her neighbors  at their windows peering out too, and people were gathered in the street, pointing.

"It looked exactly like an alien invasion," she told me this morning. "I was completely freaked out."

She woke my son to show him the sky, and he said, "Oh, it's probably an explosion on the electrical grid. There's a Con Ed station over that way. I bet something blew."

"But why is the whole sky that weird color," she asked him. "And why does it look like the explosion is happening in the clouds."

"Electric fires burn on a blue spectrum, and the color's reflecting off water droplets in the clouds," he said. He was so calm that S. relaxed, too, even though the whole scene had looked to her like something right out of the movie Independence Day.

As it happens, our son's theory was right. Indeed, the news soon reported an explosion at the Astoria Con Ed station. It looked like this.

We have a saying in our family: #RadFacts. My son's name, plus whatever arcane fact or explanation he comes up with, which is always, always correct. That's because my son has the kind of brain that catches and holds everything that enters his consciousness. He's like his dad, and namesake, that way, so really the hashtag works for them both.

As you can imagine, the tweets all night were crazy, with people posting photos and videos from all over the city, and everyone reflecting on the possibility that the Con Ed fire was a cover story for actual extraterrestrial contact. My favorite tweet of all was this one from MSNBC's Katy Tur:

"Folks on Twitter reacting without surprise to the prospect of an alien invasion in NYC is peak 2018."

It sure has been that kind of year.


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Write drunk, edit sober


I love that cup that my daughter gave me for Christmas. It was something she heard me say when I was struggling through difficult parts of the book I just finished writing. Sometimes I would be stuck, or I'd feel far behind where I needed to be to meet my deadline, and needed to keep working come evening. So I'd pour myself a glass of red wine and catch a second wind, my inner critic silenced for the moment by the wine, allowing me a few more hours, a couple thousand more words. But anything written under the influence had to be scrupulously edited while sober, I told my daughter, because while some of it could be surprising in a good way, some sentences would be overwrought and florid and simply had to go. Write drunk, edit sober, that's the rule, I'd joked, and she captured it on a cup she had made just for her mama.

Christmas was low key, with just my husband, my son and me. We opened gifts, we cooked, we dozed, we watched movies, we ate. It was lovely in its way. We missed our girl who was with her boyfriend upstate, having a rollicking time. He has a large family and they do Christmas the way we do Thanksgiving, only more so, with matching festive pajamas for everyone, and Christmas stockings with embroidered names hung over the fireplace, and family breakfast at one aunt's house followed by dinner for the large extended clan at his mom's. Truly, it's the kind of Christmas I always wished I could create for my kids, but almost all of our extended family lives elsewhere, plus I'm simply not made that way. But I'm glad my girl is getting to experience a version of the high octane family Christmases I knew growing up (though we didn't do matching pjs).

She felt a little guilty about not being with us, I could tell, so I kept assuring her that it was a fine and wonderful thing that she was sharing that kind of Christmas with her boyfriend's family, who lovingly folded her in. We were invited, too, but none of us wanted to spend hours on the highway traveling there and back, and my husband and my son both had work the day before and after Christmas and just wanted to chill at home. My son seemed exhausted and more somber than usual. The fire academy is no cakewalk. But neither was paramedic training, and yet even as he felt slammed with work for nine months, my boy loved it. "Who knew I preferred challenging my brain to challenging my body," he said last night. He's lost weight, seven pounds in two weeks, and he was coughing a lot from one of the smokehouse exercises they did on Christmas eve. "Don't make a blog post about it," he said, so I won't.

How do you blog when you're melancholy and worrying about some things, and you don't want to write about any of it? You're sick of your own nostalgia for a time long past, and there is really nothing to be done. You're sad, but don't want to inflict that on your loved ones, and there's not even work to distract you. What a delicious thing, really. The magazine is in the week between shipping one issue and starting to close the next. My manuscript is done and the editor is traveling, so no revisions yet on that, and my next project is still in the contract stages and might or might not happen. One never knows until the contract is fully executed, but I don't have to panic because for now I have the magazine freelance gig and another editing gig in the wings. I have the luxury of choosing any number of paths through this day, not to mention many inspired Christmas gifts expressly designed to amp up my enjoyment of this good lucky life.

My son and his girlfriend gave me an absolutely gorgeous table top easel and brushes, so I could actually finally paint something. I also have a puzzle going on the dining table, and I've been streaming the The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and could keep going with that. I could curl up under a blanket in this freezing cold house and read Just Kids, that Patti Smith memoir that my daughter's boyfriend gave me, along with a Stubs movie membership, the year all paid, so I could also use that and go to the movies. Or perhaps I should schedule the spa day my husband gave me, with a two and a half hour massage of my choice included—my God, I have so many choices.

Or I could call a friend. One is in much the same place as I am. She is Jewish and doesn't celebrate Christmas, but her daughter was with her boyfriend's family, joining in their festivities, and my friend was missing her girl and feeling somewhat adrift. "I am in a state of pining for the old days," she texted me. "Whenever I stop working I can't find myself." "I know just what you mean," I texted back. I'm not sure if misery loves company, that has always seemed an ungenerous notion to me, but misery is certainly lightened by empathy. Her text made me feel less alone.

I got no pictures of my husband and son, as neither one wanted to cooperate with my camera. But here's a picture my daughter's boyfriend's sister sent me of my girl opening her Christmas pjs, and another of her posing in full festive attire with her love and Nina the wonder dog—can you tell I'm kind of fascinated by the matching pjs concept? I secretly always feel as if I'm failing at Christmas because I don't even know how to create a scene like this. Yet I love seeing my girl happy in that tableau. And I am right now reminding myself that there is no wrong way to do the holidays. The only thing wrong with my low key Christmas is my propensity to judge it as lacking somehow. I'm just trying to tell the truth here, to not pretend sweetness and light when what I'm feeling is a lot more layered. And yet, in a world where so many are having an incredibly hard time, I am aware of being extravagantly blessed. That, too, is the gospel truth.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Room Where it Happens

Not only are tickets generally unavailable for the Broadway musical Hamilton in New York, when you can find seats they are generally well over a thousand dollars. At least in the orchestra section, which is where my daughter and I sat. For every show, forty-six lucky lottery winners are seated, and on Friday night my daughter and I were among them! We paid ten dollars for seats that on that night had gone for $1,500 apiece. The Lucky Seat winners were ushered to the front two rows, center section, which put my girl and me at the end of the front row with our knees inches from the stage. I get why the lottery winners are given the front two rows. The view is just a touch too close to get the full effect of some of the staging, but that didn't detract from our enjoyment one bit. We could see every single detail of the action, down to the stitches in each handsomely rendered costume and the beads of sweat on Alexander Hamilton's brow.

We were blown away. I confess I sat through the first half secretly thinking, this is really great, but how could it ever live up to the hype. I said nothing of that of course, because my daughter was beside me with an expression of pure wonder on her face; she was utterly transported, and that alone transported me. And then came the second half, the personal tragedies and public strife, the comic relief of the English king, the song "Quiet Uptown," with tears running down Hamilton's face, the famous final duel, and by the time it was over I had cried and laughed and was emotionally wrung out, and I totally got it, the hype, the reason I will go back as often as I can, and why as I left the theater, I began playing the lottery again immediately.

Some photos of the action, not taken by me:






I couldn't help wondering what it would have been like to have seen show creator Lin Manuel Miranda in the title role, and to hear Leslie Odom Jr. (above) play Aaron Burr, this beautiful man with the lyrical voice belting out the show's signature song, "The Room Where It Happens." In the end it didn't matter; the current cast, with Michael Luwoye as Hamilton and Daniel Breaker as Aaron Burr, was excellent. Frankly there wasn't a weak link anywhere, from the voices, to the principles, to the dancers and crowd scene players, they all brought it. What a night.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

I won the Hamilton lottery!


Omg! I have been entering the Hamilton lottery every day since Thanksgiving, determined to keep going until I could finally secure tickets for the Lin Manuel Miranda musical. And this morning, I got a notification that I won, and that I needed to purchase my two tickets by 4 PM. The cost was ten dollars per ticket through the lottery! I went ahead and paid for them at once, even before I knew if anyone was available to go with me. I mean, obviously someone would be convinced to go with me! Ten dollars for a ticket that cannot currently be had for less than one thousand dollars apiece in New York City? A no brainer! It turns out that my husband can't go, as he has an unavoidable commitment on that night, but my daughter is over the moon about accompanying me! We went on for several texts, sending emojis and bitmojis and GIFs to communicate our excitement. We're going to see Hamilton! Wooo hoooo!


I did promise my man that I'd keep entering the lottery daily even after I see the show, in a quest to get tickets for a night on which he can attend. But honestly, I think my girl is more stoked than he could possibly be to get the first chance to see this show that she's been singing the soundtrack to for months and months. Stay tuned!

A joyful noise


Our choir concerts are done for the season. It was a lot of fun as always, and our lovely quirky bunch of amateurs made a joyful noise, which is what my high school choir director used to ask of us. I'll just drop this video of my fave number here. It was captured by my daughter on her camera phone.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Mood

I saw that image somewhere and the flood of right brain color drew me right in. I have been collecting art supplies lately, but I have yet to do anything with them. My son called me yesterday to ask what I wanted for Christmas, saying he had everyone covered but me, because I hadn't given anyone any clue of what I might be wishing for. I wish for nothing but their presence, and that's the truth. But I didn't say that. I'm trying not to be the clingy mother, to breathe deep and let them live their lives. When he pressed me for an answer in his lovingly bossy way, all I could think of was art supplies. You want canvasses and an easel, he asked me. That sounds lovely, I said, thinking it might get me one step closer to actually doing something other than just looking at my growing collection of art supplies. 

I feel sad today. It's probably nothing more than the seasonal blues, and the fact that it's gray out, and raining. And I miss my kids. I've been so happy of late, puttering with my love in our empty nest, the two of us so at ease, and me in a state of wonder that I had actually arrived at this place, having come to terms with the fact of my children out in the world, away from my oversight, making all sorts of adult life changing decisions without my input. But today, I am missing them something fierce. My daughter will be away this Christmas, starting next weekend, upstate with her boyfriend's family, a rotation they decided on when he joined us for Thanksgiving this year. My son may still come over on Christmas eve and wake up under our roof on Christmas morning, but it will be the first year that it's not the four of us, and of course, it had to happen sometime. He will spend Christmas eve with his girlfriend's family in New Jersey and then come here, and quiet as it's kept, he's saving my Christmas by being here. 

I don't know how to do Christmas as an adult. They is no way to recreate the large extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins and revelry, all the generations, getting together at one house, then another then another all season long. Now we are a lonely outpost in New York City, and I just feel melancholy as Christmas approaches, even though I made a kind of peace with how different Christmas is for me now compared to how I was taught it should be during my growing up years. I chose acceptance of this a few years ago when my daughter put her hands on my shoulders and said, "Mom, this is how we do Christmas. Low key is our tradition, and I love it."

This year, it doesn't help that I am completely at a loss when it comes to gifts. I know the main gifts I'm getting my husband and kids, but I always like to wrap up other little things for them, so the base of the Christmas tree looks full, and the opening of gifts will last longer. My husband shakes his head at this. He is of the school of thought that one gift per person is enough. But I sense that even he is feeling a bit of melancholy this year. This morning he said, "We should have a standing holiday event that we invite all our friends, to." When he said it, I just felt overmatched, though I didn't let on.

We went to a tree trimming party at one of our neighbor's homes last night, a woman whose son went to school with our son from pre-K through high school. It was our fourth year going to this event, which started as a housewarming when she moved into our complex. A couple of families of the children who went to school with our children have lately moved into our complex. We meet and chat on the pathways and even sit on committees together, and the man and I always talk about inviting them over. But so far we haven't. I think I just don't have to entertaining gene that my mother so richly possessed. Oh well, enough poor me. If I started counting my blessings instead, the list would be plenty long.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Sunday bright and dark

People wrote hopeful messages on old CDs, and hung them on the fence of our little country church in the middle of Harlem. They flutter and catch the light like irridescent wind chimes. They're quite beautiful as you walk by.

This afternoon the man and I are going to see the Soweto Gospel Choir. The tickets are an early Christmas gift from my cousin. And yesterday afternoon, my own choir performed the first of our three Christmas concerts in Queens. It was a standing room only crowd, with familiar faces and an average age somewhere above seventy, despite the little kids on the front row who talked non stop throughout the performance, and fell asleep in the final medley of carols. I felt so tired afterward. My whole body ached, and I climbed into bed by seven with my Kindle and settled down to binge watch the second season of Ozark on Netflix.

That series is dark. It starts out like a cross between Breaking Bad and Weeds, but there is something unrelieved about it, which makes me realize that both Breaking Bad and Weeds gave us a little room to breathe, a few characters we could relax with, sympathize with, root for. Ozark, not so much. The actors are all first rate—Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Julia Garner, Skylar Gaertner—but everything just keeps happening to them, they're always reacting to horrific circumstances, and in the end it just feels like endlessly retreading a played out plot line, and no one, with the exception of the son, Jonah, truly evolves. The story is bleak and suspenseful, but somehow not bold. When I got to the last episode of season two, I felt relieved that it was over. I hear there will be a third season, but I might not watch.

*

The concert was fantastic. At one point the group did a tribute to Nelson Mandela, with haunting melodies and weaving harmonies, their voices soaring, and I looked over at my husband and saw the line of a tear glistening on his cheek and he smiled at me and squeezed my shoulder and I leaned my head back against his arm and thought how I will never take for granted the sheer joy and wonder of being able to share something so transcendent with my love.

The night was one wonderful arrangement after another, but my other favorite piece was their blow-the-roof-off rendition of "Amazing Grace." I can't even find the words to do it justice. The night was freezing cold, the walk to the concert hall across campus was long and winding, the house was packed and the man and I felt like sardines in seats a little too narrow for our girth, but it was all so worth it. Every person sang solo on one or more songs, and every single one of them could have been Aretha Franklin or Barry White if they'd been born in a different time and place. But they were born in Soweto, South Africa, and they came together for this magnificent chorus, and I was grateful to be in their audience, to feel vibrating through every cell their extraordinary sound.




Thursday, December 6, 2018

Construction


That was my view last week as I sat at my dining table every morning, editing the completed draft of my manuscript. I have now sent it off to my subject who is reading it and will then give me her changes. She says so far they are minor, which is a relief. And then on to the editor, and once she accepts what I've delivered, I can exhale. I have another project starting in the new year, a proposal followed by the book, assuming the proposal sells. And yesterday I learned that the magazine editing gig I picked up last summer has been extended to next summer. We have no formal arrangement. They hired me to edit one issue, asked if I could edit the next as well, and after that just continued sending me stories and paying me for the work. 

I held my breath hoping it would continue because it is a wonderful thing to have a regular paycheck, but knowing how short staffed and in transition magazines are right now, I didn't want to rock the boat by pushing for a contract. Instead I concentrated on making their lives easier through the work I do for them, and now they've extended the assignment. I hope all continues to go well, and that the assignment will be extended again next June. Editing magazine length pieces is the perfect complement to long form writing—a short burst sprint using completely different muscles from the marathon of crafting a book length work. Neither undermines the other. It's my dream set-up really. 

In other job front news, my son is now officially a New York City firefighter. He starts at the fire academy next week. He called two nights ago to announce that he had just completed his final shift as a paramedic. He has marched toward his ultimate calling like a solider, never taking his eye off the goal. And now he has fulfilled the dream he's held ever since he was nine years old, to be one of New York's Bravest. The journey isn't nearly over; there are still many challenges ahead, both physical and social, but I believe he will prevail through trials yet to come. He's anxious today, anticipating it all. This is how he's always been, anxious before the start, then a strong swimmer once he's actually in the water. Please pray for my boy. He's such a good and worthy soul. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Channeling joy



Just before I started blogging in 2008, I went to an acupuncturist who was also an intuitive. He told me that soon, I would be reuniting with my tribe of healers, and it would be of great comfort to us all. I have often wondered if he was talking about my community here, because I have encountered some of the most healing spirits right in this place. And some of you—Rebecca, Scott and Yolie, Susan, Gary, Glenn—I have even met in the non-virtual world, and now I can add to that list—drumroll please—Elizabeth and Oliver!

Elizabeth, mother of Sophie, Henry and Oliver, blogs at A Moon Worn As If It Were A Shell, and she and Oliver happened to be in New York City this past weekend for a family event. We met for breakfast at Sarabeth's on Tuesday morning. I was nervous, y'all. I even texted another of our blog friends here, who I knew would understand the angst about showing up. But of course, the moment Elizabeth and I wrapped each other in a bear hug on the sidewalk of Amsterdam Avenue, I realized I was meeting an old friend, one I knew under the skin, and already loved. It was amazing, the familiarity and ease between people meeting for the first time. And Oliver! What a great kid! I adored him. In truth, I already loved him, too—I've kind of known him since he was seven years old, after all—but he is every wonderful thing his mother writes about him and more.  We all talked and laughed and speared food from each other's plates, and it felt like drinking deep of a friendship that somehow feels older than we are.

We entreated Oliver to take pictures of us, and he so graciously did, but the one up top is my favorite, a moment he caught when we weren't posing, we were just channeling joy. Black and white or color, I couldn't decide, so I've posted both.

I know I haven't been around here much lately. I was going through a spell in which I was just so slammed with work, trying to finish the book (last week I did!), trying to stay on top of a new side gig I picked up, editing for a magazine (from home!), navigating hoards of much-loved company over Thanksgiving, and trying to restore my soul from the things that get reported nightly on the news. But after breakfasting with Elizabeth and Oliver, I wanted nothing more than to come back here, to this blogging community that sustains me, and for which I am ever grateful. Truly, you are my tribe.