Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Invisible essence

"We are each other's harvest; 
we are each other's business; we are 
each other's magnitude and bond."


That quote by poet and author Gwendolyn Brooks is the whole truth. 

So the impeachment inquiry has begun, and we all know how that will go. The president and his minions will refuse subpoenas to testify, and the Republican base will call it a witch hunt. I mean, none of Trump's other criminal and morally bankrupt actions have made a dent in his popularity among the Republican base, so why should his withholding hundreds of millions in aid from Ukraine in order to pressure them to deliver dirt on Vice President Biden be any different? It's illegal, yes, but so are any number of other acts that the president has committed in plain sight. With cameras rolling. Yet he slithers along, creating more chaos, causing more devastation to the country and the world.

Don't get me wrong. I think they should impeach the MF. I also think they need to throw anyone who refuses to testitfy or otherwise comply with the law in jail. I know this will only convince the Republican base that the president and his henchmen are being persecuted, because the doddering psychopathic dementia-addled narcissist who can barely find his way through a sentence on a teleprompter and who garbles his responses in every press interview, but who becomes a rabble rousing beacon of white supremacy when he stands before his base, is their cult hero, the man who hates who they hate, who they don't realize has nothing but contempt for them as well.

That being each other's harvest isn't working so well in practice, is it? Not for the good, anyway—at least not right now, or not that we can readily see. Let's hope something good is happening behind the curtain. We press on.

I'm traveling to DC tomorrow, and I feel sick today. In choir rehearsal on Monday, the woman behind me coughed non stop in my direction for two hours. My daughter also had the flu last week, though she tried very hard not to spread it to anyone. And last night, I had dinner with three family friends, and two of them were fighting colds. Now I feel weak and achy, my brain foggy. This kickoff meeting with my book subject, her communications director, her agent, and the acquiring editor on Friday is so critical. I simply can't be sick. I am swallowing Vitamin C, Zinc and Echinacea tablets by the handful (hyperbole). I just need to get through the weekend, then this flu can lay me down if it wants. Please just give me the weekend.

The photo is of street art posted in Freemans Alley, where new and overlapping expressions of human creativity and populist sentiment appear daily. It's a never ending art exhibit, an egalitarian public gallery, my new favorite place in the city.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Everything Matters

Wise woman Danielle Laporte offered this utterly fascinating deconstruction of the difference between depression and sadness.  

Depressed and Sad are two very powerful, similar, misappropriated words. Portal words. Sacred words. And if we look more closely at them, we can claim what's true for ourselves and set about transforming depression and sadness into their contrasting states.

Sadness hurts but it signals that you are very, very much alive.

Depression may be the cousin of sadness, sometimes the defended response to unyielding sadness, but it makes you feel anything but alive. It dulls, weighs, and messes with your memory of your true essential nature—which is that of joy...

When you're sad, you're feeling. Sometimes, more than you want to. You wish you could be despondent, but the sadness is sharp and it bleeds your attention from you.

Depression ... dulls one's feelings. Where sadness makes you feel raw and skinless, depression is like wearing a snow suit and mittens and wondering why you can't feel the caress of life. Sadness strips you. Sadness is so fucking cleansing. Depression is muddy and muffling and numbing.

"When you're depressed, nothing matters. When you're sad, everything does." —Gloria Steinem

This just rang so true for me, and I wanted to share.

Aunt Grace

Sybil Grace Douglas
August 7, 1926—September 15, 2019

Her daughters chose this photo taken earlier this year for the formal announcement of her passing. She stopped coloring her hair less than two years ago, with stunningly beautiful results. Have you ever seen a more radiant woman of 93? I have not. She always had more sparkle than anyone in her orbit. I picture her still smiling like that, wherever she is, scattering light. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Life and more life

As an update, my daughter's foot is healing well. Thanks to the tetanus shot and a prescribed antibiotic, there was no infection, although she did not at all heed the doctor's instruction not to get the foot wet. She put liquid plaster on the worst cuts, covered them with Tegaderm waterproof dressings, and went on her way. The wound was none the worse for its immersion in the ocean and in chlorinated pool at their Airbnb, which in terms of Instagrammability did not disappoint. By all verbal and social media reports, the bride and her eight-member bride squad had a wonderful time, though they were scammed pretty hard on the second day and after tense negotiations had to pay $300US for a towed car. They made up for it on a boat trip the next day, which by all accounts was sublime.

Some of the squad picked up a bug on the trip, most likely in an airport, and seven of the nine came down with the flu just hours after returning home. My daughter has been home with a fever, headaches and body aches all week, though she's on the mend now, and even worked from home the last two days. Luckily, she has a sympathetic boss. She loves her new boss, by the way. Among workplace blessings, that's a big one.

In other news, I'll be heading to DC next week for the big kickoff meeting on the book, at which I will meet the acquiring editor for the first time. I'm nervous of course. I wouldn't be me if I weren't. Then on Friday night my cousin and I will fly from DC to Toronto for Aunt Grace's memorial service. My husband and kids will meet us there, as will other cousins from New York, Boston, Vancouver and the Caymans. Aunt Grace will have two send-offs, one in Toronto for her friends and family up north, and one in Jamaica for friends and family there. It will be good to see everyone, the silver lining of family funerals. They're also family reunions. I'm very touched that both my children want to be there with their dad and me. Aunt Grace was special to us all.

This week, I also joined a year-long weight loss group—the same hospital-based one I embarked on in 2017 and lost 50 pounds. This is an alumni group, for people who already did Year One who still have more weight to lose and want to bottle the magic a second time. This new group is a bunch firecrackers! It's the first time the program is running an alumni group, and most of us have regained some of the weight, as happens. I, too, had begun creeping back up, having regained 12 pounds, but now I am turning that ship around, though I won't pretend I'm not struggling. But I'm excited, too, to get to know this group. The first meeting felt a little like the first day of middle school, everyone eager and hoping to be folded in, and since each person there was familiar with the fat person's sense of being a social outsider, we opened our hearts and welcomed each other in. It's hard to describe, but it felt like such a generous space. We all already know the nutritionist and the exercise physiologist, who is also the medical director, but the therapist is new, and she seems very emotionally aware. I think it's gonna be a good year!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Last of The Nine

This beautiful soul, our beloved Aunt Grace, gently laid down her mortal coil on Sunday morning. She was 93. She was still living in her apartment in Toronto, which she was to vacate next month and move to Jamaica to live with her daughter. On Friday night, she got up to go to the bathroom, and on her way back to bed collapsed. Her live-in caregiver heard the fall and came to help. She called the paramedics, who wanted to take her to the hospital, but Aunt Grace declined. She refused to be taken in on a stretcher.

Instead, she went back to bed, and in the morning, dressed herself nicely, drawing on her eyebrows and fixing her hair, then allowed one of her friends, her angels she calls them, to drive her to the hospital. She walked in serenely and was admitted. The tests showed she'd had a heart attack, which was why she'd fallen. Her enzymes were all out of whack. When she spoke to her daughter and granddaughter from her hospital bed on Saturday night, she sounded bright and cheerful, the usual sparkle was in her voice, and they believed she was on the mend.

On Sunday morning, one of her angels came to visit her in the hospital. Aunt Grace said to her, "My darling, I'm dying. I am in such pain." Her friend started to call for a nurse, but Aunt Grace stopped her. She said, "Just hold my hand." Her friend held Aunt Grace's hand in hers, and they just stayed like that for a bit until Aunt Grace took a deep breath, a moan hidden under it, and like that she departed.

This one hits particularly hard. Aunt Grace was the last of the nine Stiebel siblings, the one whose voice sounded so like my mother's that even their children couldn't tell them apart on the phone. She was perfectly named, graceful and gracious, with eyes that twinkled with a deep resilient knowledge that nothing in this life should be taken too seriously, at least not seriously enough to dampen the fuel of our existence, which she believed was joy.

Now the nine are all back together and she is reunited with her beloved Ken. I am trying to imagine them rejoicing on the other side and draw comfort from that. But the world seems so much the poorer now. One of our brightest lights has crossed the horizon and we ache from missing her. Fly with the angels dear Aunt Grace. You were that rarest of souls, a woman who knew how to make her own joy, no matter what might be happening around her. Others might have buckled at some of the challenges she faced. Instead she kept her attention on life's gifts, the greatest of which was her family, and of course, her angels. She delighted in those around her as she recited poems from her schoolgirl days, or offered a well-told joke, or simply held us in her clear green gaze, which to me seemed animated always by some ancient understanding of love. 

That's Grace on the far right. Her mother, my grandmother, is pregnant with the ninth child. Aunt Grace always joked that when she first saw this photo, she looked at herself and thought, "Oh Grace, you're going to have to learn to do your own hair." Her mother's hair was straight, and her older sister Winnie, charged with combing the younger girls' hair, had a curly rather than a tightly coiled hair texture, with the result that she gave them, as Grace described it, muffin heads. 

Aunt Grace indeed learned how to do her own hair, and when we were growing up, nothing made her nieces feel more special than when Aunt Grace had a turn with combing and styling our hair. She made us look positively radiant. But what I remember most is that she also made it fun. As we sat before her, our arms draped over her knees, she'd comb out our tangles while leading us in song rounds—Kookaburroa sits in the old gum tree/ Merry merry king of the bush is he—that song in particular, laughing when we got to the chorus—Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra/ Gay your life must be. Oh how we all loved her. She and the rest of my dearly departed are why I choose to believe in an afterlife, as the thought that I will see them again is how I'm getting through. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

I learn from millennials

She left home bright and early, posting boomerangs on her insta story, because every instant of millennial life must be recorded, either by themselves or, to be fair, reposted by a besotted baby boomer who blogs. I am in awe of her, the way she powers through. Her event went "so well," she said, with her walking on tiptoe in the one pair of work sandals that didn't press against her wounds.

After she got home last night, my niece Dani and I took her all the waterproof wound and bandage covering options we'd come up with for her, in consultation with a lovely bodhisattva pharmacist, the same one who offered me such solace back when my man was facing open heart surgery two years ago now. Last night, Dani offered to pack for her cousin. "I'm an excellent packer," she said. "I have methods." My daughter was on the couch with her foot elevated, working on an involved email for her job that had to be sent before she could travel. Next to her, Dani sat meditatively folding and packing Mari Kondo style all the clothes and bachelorette party items laid out on the carpet staging area—to my daughter's eternal gratitude. Cousins, man. My kids and I are so blessed with them.

Meanwhile in Cancun, my other niece, the bride, is already having fun with three early arriving members of the bridal party, her best friends from high school. They are posting pictures like these:

I think these millennials are on to something with their recently adopted tradition of kicking up their heels on celebratory pre-wedding getaways with their besties—if they have the resources, of course. Yet even when they don't, I've noticed they somehow know you have to seize life by the cojonas and make your joy where you can. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Can't slow her roll

This morning, it looked like a crime scene, my daughter's blood soaking into the concrete. In the lobby, where brown construction paper covered the floor, bloody footprints traced the path to the elevator, and stopped there, because we'd already mopped up the blood on the upper floor where my daughter and her boyfriend live. It happened like this: My girl had gone downstairs last night to meet a man delivering Thai food for our dinner. My niece and I were at my daughter's house, helping her paint names on gift bags, a DIY project for her cousin's bachelorette party. My girl is the maid of honor, and she and ten young women are meeting in Mexico at the end of the week for a celebratory fling before the upcoming wedding, to be held in Jamaica in December.

Last night, the food delivery man got lost. He went to the building next door, so my daughter said she'd just meet him downstairs in the lobby. She pushed open the door to the vestibule of the other building, noticing too late that it was broken, with jagged pieces of metal sticking out. The metal sliced my daughter's foot in several places. Most of the wounds were superficial, but two slashes were deep and bloody—two long parallel rips in the flesh below her right ankle that looked as if they were made by bear claws. My girl gets nauseous at the sight of blood, and there was a lot of it. By the time the delivery man got back to the lobby from an upper floor in the wrong building, my girl was huddled against the wall, whimpering. "That's my food, I'm just a little queasy," she squeaked in a small voice. The man stood there looking at her, confused and frightened.

I knew nothing of this yet. All I knew is that her boyfriend, who had been upstairs in the apartment with us, answered his phone, then grabbed his keys and rushed out. My daughter had called him and managed to get out, "I need help." He found her sitting on the ground of the vestibule in the next building, a pool of blood making her reef sandals slippery. He helped her up and outside, where she heaved and was sick into the bushes, the men on the basketball court across the way pausing their game and looking on, concerned.

It was about 8:30 PM. I was just about to go looking for them when I heard the elevator door open on their floor, and they came into the apartment, my daughter limping and trailing blood, looking rueful. Her boyfriend helped her into the bathtub and got water running over the slashes while my niece and I cleaned up the blood in the apartment and the public spaces. Then I sat with my girl, still in the tub, while her boyfriend ran out to get First Aid supplies, as they had none in the house, these invulnerable young people. He bought everything he could find in the wound care category at the dollar store, as the pharmacy was already closed, and the supermarket had nothing. He is a bit squeamish about blood, too, but he was definitely the MVP, clearly a good man in a pinch.

Meanwhile, we called my husband, who drove over with a First Aid kit and gauze pads from our house, and my son, the paramedic, who was at work, but advised his sister to go to Urgent Care and get a tetanus shot. It was 11:30 PM when we got to the late night Urgent Care place on the Upper West Side, and past midnight when our girl finally saw a doctor, who cleaned the wound professionally, sealed it with glue, dressed it, and wrapped the whole foot. My man dropped our girl and her guy back home in the wee hours.

My daughter has a big event at work today. It's "her" event, in that she is the one running it. We left her trying to figure out what shoes would accommodate her injury. She's at her event now, while I've just finished making calls to find a good waterproof cast cover that she can wear in the pool or the ocean in Mexico, as the doctor advised her not to get the wound wet. I'd worry less if she didn't have to travel so soon, but she leaves before daybreak tomorrow. She means to be the best maid of honor ever. Her cousin, the bride, is a doctor, and another one of the bridesmaids is a medical student. Come to think of it, two other members of the group are also doctors. I'm trying to let that calm my mother worries as I silently count the hours till she gets back home, safe and healing.

Oh, and this morning, the front door of that building has already been fixed. I'm sure they saw the blood and are now waiting for a phone call reporting the injury.

Monday, September 9, 2019

My two worlds

I am from both these places, the concrete city and the verdant hills, the stately temperate trees and the vibrant tropical colors, both live inside me, fuel me, though in different ways. I have been too long at a stretch in one place, and the other is calling to me. At year’s end, I will return there, the place where I was born. Until then, the hills and flowers in that photo posted by my cousin will have to sustain me. Being from two places at once means never fully belonging anywhere, not here, not there, a life in limbo, always yearning for the place where you're not, the electric energy of one, the deep nourishment of the other. I'm missing home, while being home. Weird.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Wherever I go, there I am

I took these photos a while back and couldn't decide which frame I liked better, the one with the woman's face hidden, or the one in which it is visible. In the first, the man looks as he might in a Norman Rockwell painting, the way he's bent over, his expression, but I like seeing the woman's face, too. We were at a rooftop bar downtown with a spectacular 360 degree view of the city. I thought I was shooting the skyline, but was struck by the different realities coexisting in the foreground of the picture, separated by a thin pane of glass. The couple outside seems lighthearted and touristy, engaged with each other and the world, while the man inside seems lost in dark thoughts, as if he carries a great weight on his polo-clad shoulders. He looks privileged, yet so unhappy. Such burdens we humans bear. Mine are perhaps less weighty in this moment, at least in the foreground (there's still a painful situation playing out in the background, at a distance, which doesn't help). It's Friday. I'm at loose ends. I don't start back working on the book till the end of the month, when the team is supposed to meet in DC to debrief on editors' responses to the proposal and come up with guiding principles for the narrative. Why can't I ever decide what to do with myself in these work lulls? I realize it's a gift to have a whole month to do with as I please, and what am I doing? Not much at all. I'm kind of sick of myself actually. I feel like the brooding man inside, privileged in my own way, yet unable to unwrap the gift. What I really need is to become like the couple outside, engaged, sunlit, free.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Awake and aware

This past weekend, she attended the wedding of the first of her friend group to get married. She was part of the "bride squad." She shines, this one. She's a bright light, resilient, but she's tender-hearted, too. The world wounds her sometimes. There is a situation in our extended family that is so painful right now, and there seems to be no good way forward. I wish I could shield her, but I can't.

My friend Scott wrote something on Instagram this morning that spoke to me hard. I'm putting it here, so I can always find it, and remind myself that sometimes we just need to sit with what is. To not feel as if we have to fix it. To accept sometimes that perhaps we cannot fix what is broken, and we might have to just let it play itself out, let it be.

From Scott, aka Tearful Dishwasher:

I spend a lot of time in the mindset of practice and in actual practice. Most of what I do is some form of action oriented to my path. I can fall prey to a kind of knee-jerk stance that when things in the outer and inner worlds of my experience are good, then practice is good, and that when those things arise in ways that are challenging or unpleasant then there's something lacking in my approach, in my practice, and I need to fix it. I need to do more. This is a klesha. It's aggression and grasping and aversion gathered together. It's not that I shouldn't do more practice, though. It's how to do it, it's what to do and what to stop doing. Practice should turn us towards the world. We should never use it to turn away from the world. Tenderness and appreciation for ourselves and our experience has to be our ground for any practice. I was up most of the night awash in a storm of worry and anxiety. I watched my mind spin itself into a state that took my body and my sleep and my joy and equanimity with it. It took all night, but near daybreak I was able to truly relate to my anxiety and to see the wisdom it was trying to show me. I saw how my lifetime pattern of running and hiding and numbing and repressing my anxiety was so unskillful and unwise. And my heart opened up to that part of myself that has always just been trying to help me. It's been trying to tell me something I refused to admit or acknowledge. And I hated it for what it was doing instead of just hearing it out. I'm still feeling anxious right now, but also joyful. Joyful because I am befriending and being befriended by myself. I'm listening to my own wisdom. I have a deep, hard pattern here. It's entrenched and powerful. But I see now. I see myself. I'm right here. And I am in the real world! Everything is possible here. Everything is workable. It doesn't mean that something terrible won't happen. It's not that I'm safe now in any way. But I am not going anywhere. I'm standing firm, on this Earth, awake and aware. So this is my reminder to myself. May it be of benefit to you. Namaste y'all!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019


The students are back. Classes have begun. The streets are packed again, everyone simmering with reason and discovery. It's weird to still live in the same neighborhood where I went to college and grad school. I know what everyone who's just arrived on the scene is feeling, a shivery excitement for what's new and next, a reality that is now so far in my past that it is almost painful to witness. What is this vague sadness I feel? This aching ennui. I have been inside my house for the two days straight, didn't even get dressed. Too distracted to read, I binge watched Outlander and Fleabag, both of which left me pining for ... something. I suppose Jamie and Hot Priest will do that (for those who get the reference). This morning, determined to take the day in hand, I got up bright and early, showered, dressed and left the house, had breakfast on Broadway, sitting on the sidewalk people watching, sipping bitter diner coffee until it was lukewarm, then went to the bank, walked for a bit, and then there was no reason for me to stay out, other than to go sit in the park, which I didn't feel like doing, so I came back home. At least I got dressed and got out the house for the day.