Friday, May 31, 2019

Story of a table

The house is full again. It feels sort of festive. My husband says we need to get a calendar to keep track of everyone's comings and goings at what he calls the Arrindell Arms Bed and Breakfast. The good thing about even one other person being here is I get up and get myself dressed every morning. No more working all day in sleep clothes. I did this even when it was just my own kids still living at home. My darling man is the only one who routinely gets treated to pajama days. There are also a lot of puzzles happening in this house lately. My daughter, my two nieces, and I are all puzzlers. I notice also that whenever I'm working on a proposal, trying to figure out the story's narrative arc, I tend to have a puzzle going. It's a kind of meditation, and sometimes connections happen in the background of conscious thought.

That's a new dining table from Restoration Hardware by the way. It is a sturdy, well-built thing. My newlywed niece and her husband didn't want to take it with them when they moved to Dallas last week, and so they asked if we wanted it and delivered it to us gratis. It came with two grown up looking brown leather chairs that are incredibly comfortable. So now the rickety but persistent cherry wood Ikea table that my dad and my husband assembled while I held my newborn son in my arms 27 years ago, and which served us so well through many puzzles, manuscripts and magazine stories, not to mention homework, science fair experiments, art projects and Thanksgiving feasts, is no more.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

News of the day

I have to say I'm a little irritated with Robert Muller, who finally spoke on the record yesterday. I'm annoyed by his stiff-upper-lip decorum and nuance. Could he please come right out and say the president if guilty AF and needs to be removed? Because let's face it, his supporters don't do nuance. Last night, as I listened to Rachel Maddow and really took in anew how egregious the president's lies and wrongdoings are (because I do do nuance), I decided to switch over to Fox News just to see how they were reporting the bombshell of a news day. There they were, crowing about how Robert Muller has revealed himself to be a "partisan hack" and there is no obstruction, no collusion. Read the fucking report! You don't have to consume all 400 plus pages. Any part of it will reveal the truth. It lays out the obstruction case in the clearest possible terms, but as Muller took pains to explain yesterday, current laws prevent him from bringing charges against a sitting president so Congress will have to do it. Honestly, the dishonesty and fraudulence of Fox News is mind-bending. It doesn't report the news, it obfuscates it. It might as well be called Trump TV. Finally, when they ran a clip of Rush Limbaugh braying about Muller's lies, I clicked away. I had a sick, sinking feeling that our country will remain forever divided and riven with hate because we live is two completely different realities, and never the twain shall meet.

Also, why exactly isn't the president subject to the same laws governing criminal behavior that the rest of us are? Okay, done ranting. Back to worrying. I'm way behind in my work, y'all, or at least it feels that way. I don't have enough material to write the chapter summaries of the book yet, and my subject is a very busy woman, trying to save the world. That's actually not hyperbole. She also isn't really practiced in talking about herself. She instinctively resists the full spotlight being on her, and I have to really dig into her stories to get the visual and emotional details that will help me bring them to life on the page. It is always a mountain to climb, damned Everest in fact, to get enough material to sustain a manuscript of seventy-five thousand words. I have often found myself looking up the weather on some date from decades ago, so that I can say what kind of day it was, what the sky was doing, how the air might have felt against the face. I find I can't truly write a scene until I can visualize it like a movie in the mind's eye, and feel the emotions threading through it in my chest. I'm definitely not there yet with my current subject, and I'm trying not to panic. I don't only do nuance, I can also do panic quite readily.

But really, the most concerning thing yesterday was when my niece came to me and said that her heart was pounding fast, it felt like it was knocking against her spine. It had started the day before but she thought she was just nervous about the exploratory interview she had with a publisher the next morning, which by the way went stupendously well, and who knows, she may have an opportunity at the publishing house when she finishes her magazine internship in August. Anyway, after the interview, her heart started galloping again, so we went to Urgent Care where they did an EKG and asked her lots of questions and pronounced it "a benign heart blip" due to the cold medications she had been taking earlier in the week. They said if it continues for two more days she should see a cardiologist and they gave her a list of heart doctors who will take her insurance. 

When we got home my daughter called to ask if she'd been drinking a lot of caffeine. She said no, she's been drinking herbal teas with no caffeine. But then she went to check the tea and found that it was indeed caffeinated. My daughter said, "You might just be getting old, because one day I could drink coffee and the next my heart was exploding out of my chest, and I've never been able to drink caffeine since then." The racing heartbeat continued till evening, and my niece admitted that the night before she'd been afraid to go to bed in case she woke up dead (see what I did there?). Well, at 11 AM this morning her room door was still closed, so I finally knocked. No answer. I cracked the door and peeked in and she seemed to be sleeping peacefully, but just to be sure I walked over to check the rise and fall of her breath. She opened her eyes sleepily. "Just making sure you're alive," I said. She smiled and said the heart felt a bit better and I left her to continue sleeping like the brand new college graduate she is. She should enjoy sleeping in because next week, she starts her internship at a magazine. Adult life awaits.

Tonight my other niece and her husband who just moved to Dallas, will fly in for the weekend for a wedding. They'll be back again two weekends from now for another wedding, and another cousin's daughter will also be here for a week, overlapping with them, on her way back to Jamaica from Singapore. Her dad wants her to get to know her New York family better. She's a lovely, kind soul, who I met for the first and only time at our family reunion three years ago now. She is 19 and has just completed her first year of medical school. She has recently been through a very difficult experience, so I really want her to have a good and safe time with us.

My cousin from Virginia is also coming to attend a funeral in New York this weekend. Then at the end of the month, the daughter of one of her friends will stay with us for a week to attend a pre-college program at Fashion Institute of New York. I met mother and daughter when I was in DC two weeks ago for work. I was staying with my cousin and they came over to make my acquaintance, as I would soon be hosting the daughter. She is absolutely lovely. She is being raised in an evangelical Christian home, yet argued passionately with her mother about the cruelty of the abortion bans sweeping the country, and her mother, who is very pro-life, to her credit was completely open to her daughter's perspectives and did not try to convince her otherwise.

It's noon and my niece just emerged. She says her heartbeat seems to be settling back to normal. She's in the kitchen making herself breakfast, which will not include caffeinated anything.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

No human being is illegal

A Mural in Colorado

Most of us are no longer taking in the atrocities happening at the southern border. Our minds simply can't hold any more, they're so full of nightmares already, like the children who have died, the ones who have been abused by predator guards, and the little boy found alone and crying in the desert with his name and phone number written on his shoe. The truth is, most of us don't know what to do about it all, other than vote in the next election with all the hope our hearts can muster. In the meantime, here's a list of organizations helping migrant families at the border. If you ever feel as helpless as I do in this moment, choose a group and send even five dollars. It's something.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

For the Gram

That's my daughter earlier today. She looks happy! My niece who now lives with us hung out with my daughter and some of her friends today—they went to Storm King Art Center, which is a park with outdoor art installations and lots of trees and rolling green fields perfect for photos. All for the gram of course.

In the photo above my niece is on the left, my girl is second from the right, and next to her in the middle is one of my heart daughters, who spent two summers in our home and who's been one of my daughter's closest friends since second grade. They went to Thailand together a couple years ago. And here another image from Instagram of my girl against the vibrant red of an art piece. She gave me permission to post. Said they had a wonderful day.

Last week, on the night my niece Dani moved in, my daughter came over and we cleared out my son's chest of drawers and closet—completely. I was in awe of my daughter, who led the whole operation with dispatch. She made piles of clothes and other items and when everything was out and as my niece vacuumed the now empty closet, we Facetimed with my son. His sister held up one item after another and he said "Keep" or "Toss" and just like that it was done.

We put everything he said to keep in a bag to send home with him the next time he comes by, and then the my daughter and niece carried about ten garbage bags worth of stuff to the basement, camp tees, track shirts, sweatpants, hoodies, baseball gloves, lots of shoes, sports equipment past its prime, cans of paint, all manner of things. There were two good suits that don't fit my boy anymore, and a sky blue jacket I once ordered from a catalog that still had its tag attached, that I will never wear, plus three hipster looking fake leather jackets (designer knock offs that my son got ripped off buying back when he was in high school and then felt too embarrassed by his gullibility to ever wear), so we folded and bagged those and my daughter took them to Goodwill the next day. My niece is now ensconced in the room and there is a young person living in our house again. The adjustment feels like nothing at all. She's easy. My other niece and her husband also stayed over for two days this week before flying out to Dallas on Friday morning. They have now officially moved there. But they will be back this week because they have to attend at wedding of some friends, and then they'll be back again in another month for another wedding.

As long as I'm posting photos of beautiful young people, here is one of my nephew. We all went to the interment of the ashes of my Aunt Fay and Uncle Keith yesterday in New Jersey, and then gathered at our cousins' home after for lunch and family fellowship. It was lovely. My cousins are doing well. They are renovating a lovely Victorian in a gentrifying part of Newark, and they seem to have things well in hand, which wasn't always the case. They are two sisters and a brother and the three grown sons of the sisters who all live together, and the house is spacious and accommodates them all beautifully. It used to be a wreck. My cousin tried to give it to the bank but the bank waived the rest of the mortgage and gave it back to her. Even the bank didn't want the house, which had squatters living in it and was in terrible ruin. They tried to find another place to live, all six of them, after their parents died, but nothing came through, and finally my cousin said, well, we have this house free and clear, let's renovate it. She had the vision, and now the house is worth a large number with many zeros, and is only going to further increase in value as the neighborhood is becoming the new refuge for artists and others who can no longer afford New York City. I am so happy they landed like this. I had been worried about them and it was so good to see they will be okay. 

Anyway, our other cousins from Virginia drove up for the day to be at the internment of the ashes and the family luncheon, and my nephew showed up wearing that Rolling Stones t-shirt, which of course I had to post for Mary Moon! He's no longer sporting his huge curly Afro, but these days pulls his hair back into a ponytail tied with a scarf, because he's playing a lot of gigs now and doesn't want his hair in his eyes. He also pierced both ears and wears dangling earrings in homage to his Native American heritage on his dad's side. When he was growing up he looked like a regular Black kid, a beautiful bouncing child, but as he's grown into manhood his Native features have become more marked. He's such an interesting looking young man, and as gentle and goodhearted as they come. He recently got a job running open mic nights for a club. His music career is starting to happen, and he's getting paid, too. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Again, the beginning

There's so much going on, all the time, I've barely had a moment to come up for air. I've meant to respond to all your wonderful comments, but I've been pushing to meet a raft of deadlines that backed up on each other, trying for all I'm worth to do a good job on everything so I can move on to the year's big book project, which begins with, you guessed it, a proposal. Oooo, my fave (sarcasm). But I love my subject already, she is just simply a badass woman, and even though I have no idea right now how to do her life story justice, I finally know that I always feel this way, and that I will do my wholehearted best. I was in DC last week to interview my subject again, and now it's time to buckle down and start writing. The thing that helps quiet my anxiety at this stage is the idea that in some parallel dimension, this proposal and the book are already written. I just need to listen for the whisper of the muses and channel her story. I know it sounds crazy, but this is what gets me through that terrifying uncertainty of beginnings.

Speaking of beginnings, my niece and goddaughter graduated yesterday, and is coming to live with us starting tomorrow. She landed an internship at a great magazine in the city, and will be working on the very same block in midtown as my daughter! I am so proud of her. She's the only one of my nieces and nephews going into the same field as me, which is kind of exciting to me. She's the real deal, too, a journalist to her core. I predict her internship will lead to a job, because who wouldn't want this bright, joyful spark of a human on their team?

With my niece moving into my son's former room, I will have to tackle all the college paraphernalia that arrived home with our boy when he graduated from the same college as my niece six years ago! My daughter is coming over tomorrow night to help me Marie Kondo the room and toss everything that doesn't "spark joy." I can't wait. (And have you noticed Marie Kondo is a verb now?)

It's also choir concert season. We had the first of our three spring concerts on Saturday just past, and there's another one this Thursday eve. The photo is from the window of the dining room of the bed and breakfast where our choir practices. That's what spring looks like in New York City. Meanwhile my freelance magazine gig is continuing, even though the woman who hired me quit two weeks ago.  I'm just going to keep riding that train as long as I can and letting the weekly paychecks spark lots of joy.

To anyone here who wanted to keep reading when I made my blog private, please send me your preferred email (if you haven't already done so) at so I can add you to the list of readers in case I need to close my blog again for work reasons. In the field I'm in, it's sometimes better for me to become a blank canvas onto whom other people can project their stories. That said, I'm enjoying the blog being open again.

In a very different vein, I'm not going to talk about the cruel and immoral abortion bans sweeping the country, because I am so angry about it all, I can quite put the words together. The death penalty for abortion? Really? So a woman in Georgia who aborts a rapist's child gets a harsher sentence than the rapist? Honestly, I can't even.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Ellamae, you had a big life

I got the news on Friday morning that Dr. Ellamae Simmons had died, sleeping peacefully away in the night. She was 101 years old. I will write more soon, because this extraordinary woman, who I met and began working with on her book when she was 97, was certainly one of the most generous, brilliant, and courageous humans I have ever known, and it was my life's great privilege to be asked to write her story. The first black woman allergist and immunologist in the country, Ellamae also posted a raft of other firsts, including being one of eight army nurses to integrate the US armed forces during World War II. After attending medical school on the G.I. Bill after the war, she witnessed and helped usher in more than a century of social transformation, making history herself at every turn. I knew she would be leaving us soon. Her niece had called me two weeks ago to let me know. She asked if I would write her obituary when the time came. And so I shall. I keep having a strange a wondrous thought, that perhaps my mother and Ellamae are meeting now in heaven. Oh, how they would appreciate each other.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Knock Down the House

I urge you to watch the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House. My husband and I saw it this weekend and were so inspired we were in tears. It will give you hope for the future, and remind you that there are people among us working assiduously to turn the tide. It follows four women who ran for Congress in the 2018 midterm elections, focusing mainly on the improbable grassroots campaign and stunning victory over a a powerful twenty-year incumbent by the congresswoman from The Bronx, New York, Alexandria Osario-Cortez, aka AOC. She is that one in a million public servant who is the real true deal, equal parts grit, intelligence, charisma, commitment, and courage. I swear she will be president one day, or at least I hope so.

As AOC says, "For one of us to make it, a hundred of us have to try." And by "one of us," she means working class people like the women in the documentary, a new breed of politicians who are not in the image of rich, older, white men, public servants who understand first-hand the struggles of everyday Americans. AOC worked as a waitress and bartender herself while she ran for office. Since her win, opponents have tried to dis her working class roots, but she clapped right back: "I find it revealing when people mock where I come from, & say they’re going to ‘send me back to waitressing,’ as if that’s bad or shameful,” she tweeted. “It’s as though they think being a member of Congress makes you intrinsically ‘better’ than a waitress. But our job is to serve, not rule.”

Monday, May 6, 2019

Birthdays and such

This is the second year of having my beloveds take a group birthday photo with me. The photo is always a little imperfect, nobody's ever quite ready, and you can see my husband concentrating of triggering the remote for his camera phone using his Apple watch. But it's a joyful photo, which capped a birthday gathering during which we re-watched the Battle of Winterfell episode of Game of Thrones (turning off all the lights since the action on screen was so poorly lit and hard to see), and everyone, throners all, animatedly shared memes and theories about the episode, and identified clues as to who will ultimately sit on the iron throne. I like to imagine this group as the years pass, having each others back, making sure the cousins grow up close, and becoming, in time, the sturdy trunk of a flourishing new branch of the family tree. 

Speaking of flourishing new branches, we attended the baptism of my son's girlfriend's nephew yesterday, and it was lovely. My son had to work, and it was intriguing to my husband and me to note how missed he was by his girlfriend's extended family, including her famously, um, eccentric grandmother, for whom, I am told, he is a favorite. Her family clearly sees the union of these two as a done deal, and our son as their soon-to-be in-law. They speak freely as if that is the case, with my son's girlfriend's mom saving spots for my husband and me at "the family table." We mothers dared to muse that our children's children would be adorable, and my husband laughed and shook his head ruefully, because we try to spare our children these kinds of conversations, though to be honest, he and have them with each other all the time. Not to put too fine a point on it, we're ready to be grandparents y'all, and it's good to have collegial relationships with all the people with whom we might share this journey. Our niece is now married, and our son and daughter both appear to be in the pipeline. We shall see.

There's my son's love and her sweet nephew, the younger one. 

And here's her adorable older nephew, who celebrates his third birthday this week. We attended his parents' wedding two years ago now. Time does go rollicking by.

You know, I've been swinging from wondering if I should stop blogging altogether, to wanting to make my blog public again, to realizing that I post more regularly and freely in this private space. Hmm.

And here another picture that the family sent us. My husband has a magic shoulder when it comes to babies. I think they get up there and are fascinated by the way the world looks from that great height. Plus they sense his good energy.

Friday, May 3, 2019


Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, 1997

As I said to a dear friend this morning, there is no better birthday gift than to know your children are happy and thriving. My daughter got offered a promotion to manager at her job yesterday, which, if she takes it (and I'm guessing she will), means that she will have gone from assistant to coordinator to manager in the three years since graduating college. She's very excited, although she went in to HR this morning to negotiate compensation, the way any man in her position would not hesitate to do. You go, girl. Meanwhile my son, who is now installed in his assigned firehouse, called me yesterday to ask what time he should come over for cake and candles today. In our conversation, I asked how things were going. He exhaled in that way that holds within it a touch of awe, and he said. "Mom, I love my job. I truly believe this is what I am meant to do." And so in ways that matter, this is indeed a happy birthday.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The faces we wear

My girl and I took a selfie together at the orchid show this weekend. As far as photos of me go lately, it's one of the kinder ones. Still, this is me on the eve of three score and two. What I notice most is that aging is always very visible in the neck area. Also, I've always been the slightest bit cross-eyed. Aging sucks, y'all. And it turns out I am more vain than I like to admit. I try to only take pictures now from angles that obscure the chin and neck. I'm far more distressed by the visible signs of the accruing years than I thought I'd be back when I was my daughter's age and asking sanctimoniously, "Why would anyone ever do plastic surgery? We should be proud of the faces we wear." Well, I'm not off to do any nips and tucks, I'd be too scared of a messed up result, but let's just say I don't ask that question with the self righteousness of youth any more. And in a particularly cruel irony, waiting till the age I am to finally lose a bit of weight only results is more sags and bags. Just being honest with myself here, which is really my way of trying to be at peace with the face I wear.