Wednesday, January 29, 2020

On stoicism and being kind

I attend a hospital based weight management group on Wednesday nights. I have not done very well on the scale. I'm mainly dancing up and down in the same ten pound range, and my sole goal right now is to get into and stay in the ten pound range below the one I am in. But being in the group is good, in that I haven't regained the fifty pounds I lost the first time around. Better still, I get to spend a couple of hours each week with a very bright and thoughtful roomful of people who are intimately acquainted with the shame of walking through the world as a fat person. My experience has always been that if you get a group of fat people together, you will have some of the kindest and most perceptive humans on earth. Walking through a fat shaming world in a heavy body makes one hyper attuned to the shifting air in a room. It's the imperative of self-protection, to notice how people are responding to you. But it's a prison, too. You're comfortable no where in public, except perhaps in that room full of fat people, who allow you the space to just be, because they know what it feels like to be judged ignorant, slovenly, and a moral failure simply because you came into the world with a particular genetic map. They would never inflict that judgment on anyone else, because they know how it hurts, they know the harsh self-talk it fosters, and they want no part of that.

We have a group chat among members, and this morning a woman whose father has just died, posted a reflection on stoicism on the board. With her permission, I am re-posting it here, because I want to put it where I put things I don't want to lose track of, and I want to think deeply on it for a long time.

From Ryan Holiday in The Daily Stoic:

There’s no question that much of what we talk about in this philosophy is hard. Specifically, it’s hard on the person practicing it. Stoicism asks you to challenge yourself. It doesn’t tolerate sloppy thinking or half measures. It wants you to undergo deprivation, it asks you to look in the mirror and examine your flaws.

But it’s important that we don’t mistake all this with self-flagellation and a lack of self-esteem. The early Stoic Cleanthes once overheard a philosopher speaking unkindly to himself when he thought no one was listening. Cleanthes stopped him and reminded him: “You aren’t talking to a bad man.” One of the most beautiful passages in Seneca’s letters is the one where he talks to Lucilius about how he was learning to be his own friend. He wrote that as a very old man. He was still working, even then, on being kinder to himself. The same man who was so hard on himself—practicing poverty and diving into freezing rivers—wanted to make sure that he was also loving himself like a good friend.

The point of this philosophy we are writing and talking about is not self-punishment, it’s self-improvement. Nobody improves for a teacher that loathes them. No one trusts someone that is out to hurt them.

Forget cutting yourself a break today. Instead, just be kind. Be your own friend. Catalog some of your strengths. Smile at all the progress you’ve made. Tell yourself, “good job.” And then promise that you’re going to keep going and keep working because you know you’re worth it.

Photo of stones by Arrianne Williams

Thursday, January 23, 2020

And so I am

The last book I collaborated on comes out on March 3, 2020. My name isn't on this one, though by contract I'm free to tell people I ghostwrote it. The book is getting amazing reviews everywhere, which is thrilling, and pre-orders have been so strong that the editor at the publishing house emailed us last week to say they were going to a second printing even before the book is officially published. She wrote, "Rosemarie, I hope you take a bow." And so I am—this is my bow. Here's the cover and a link.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Two nights of Harry Potter

On Thursday and Friday evenings, my girl and I attended the two-night performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. For Part 1 on Thursday evening, we were uncomfortably full from dinner at The Lambs Club, a rather fancy establishment run by chef Geoffrey Zakarian, located a block from the play. The food was delicious but far too rich to be followed by an evening at the theater. That heavy feeling affected our experience of the first night, I think. The performance was entertaining, but in an intellectual rather than an emotionally engaging way. The scene shifts were happening too fast, and felt confusing. We were in the very last row of the rear mezzanine, which was what my girl could afford for my Christmas present. "We'll be in the room where it happens," she had warned me, "but in shitty seats." In fact, our seats were perfect. Having our backs to the rear mezz wall was actually very cozy, especially since our seats were on the center aisle at the end of the row, so no claustrophobia. It helps that there are no bad sight lines in the Lyric Theater.

Part 2 on Friday night was more enjoyable. For dinner beforehand, we went back to Seamore's, the fish place my daughter loves, and knew to eat lightly. We also wore comfy clothes, sneakers and soft fabrics, forgoing any notion of dressing up for a night at the theater. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea. We were a far less spiffy crew than on the first night. An unexpected bonus: It was pleasant the way theater-goers in surrounding seats greeted us and each another, as if having shared the evening before, we were now bonded.

The action on night two was also far easier to follow, I supposed because the contextual groundwork had already been laid, and character and story could take center stage. We loved it. The sets were fantastic on both nights, the scene changes magical, and the story of the sons of arch rivals Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, poignant. The boys become best friends, both of them outsiders bullied by their Hogwarts peers and overshadowed by their powerful fathers. They nevertheless find the courage to travel back in time and save the world. My daughter judged the live performance better than the book, a screenplay on which J.K. Rowling consulted, but did not write. I would love to see this story in novel form, by her hand. It would also make for an engrossing movie.

Can I just say how much I cherish this tradition my girl and I have started, of giving each other theater tickets for Christmas. It's a superb opportunity to spend a charmed evening or two in the deep-freeze of January, basking in my daughter's fine company.

Friday, January 17, 2020

It's been a week

I sat at my dining table trying to write and listen to the unfolding impeachment drama at the same time. I held my breath during Rachel Maddow's interviews with Lev Parnas, the Guiliani henchman who implicated VP Pence, AG Barr, Nunes and the whole sordid lot of conscience-free Republican enablers. If there has ever been a more corrupt administration than the current one, I am not aware of it. As history was made with the articles of impeachment being handed over to the U.S. Senate this week, I felt some appreciation of the fact that, even if Senate Republicans succeed in holding a sham trial and continue to make disgraceful excuses for the president's actions, we will still have recorded for posterity the criminality of this administration.

Closer to home, my daughter and I will be in theater audiences on Broadway three times this week, as we redeem her Christmas present to me and mine to her. We always go out to dinner beforehand, and she is really the most delightful dinner and theater companion. Our talk can get very deep, though we also laugh a lot, and for me, there is absolutely no showing up or appearance anxiety. That's my girl on Tuesday evening. We met at her favorite seafood place then went to see Slave Play. It completely blew our minds. We sat there at first wondering what on earth we were watching—antebellum sexual fantasies, it turns out, followed by an intense therapeutic debriefing session among the four different interracial couples, that was gist of the play. We came away frankly confused about what the takeaway was supposed to be. It certainly provoked some thoughtful discussions on the cab ride home. Perhaps I will report in on last night's and tonight's theater experiences later.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Conversations I have now

"Hi son."

"Hey, ma."

"Were you at that fire on the East Side last night."

"I sure was."

"Where were you?"


"Where the fire was?'


"What time did the call come in."

"2 A.M."

"It's always 2 A.M."

"Is it?"

"How long did it take to put the flames out?"

"An hour. A little more."

"I saw on the news that a lot of people got injured."

"Yeah, I dragged two bodies out. They're both going to be okay though."

"How are you?"

"I'm good, just tired. It's not like I got much sleep last night. I'm leaving work now."

"Want to come here and sleep?"

"No, I want to go home and sleep."

"Okay, son, talk later. Love you."

"Love you, too."


Here is the information posted online about last night's fire: "At 1:54 a.m. today, FDNY was called to 515 East 72 Street in Manhattan for report of a fire on the 24th floor of a 41-story apartment building. The door from the fire apartment to the public hallway was left open; allowing the fire to spread beyond the apartment. Calls to 911 reported smoke on all 17 floors above the fire, which escalated to a 2nd alarm, bringing more than 100 Firefighters, EMTs, and Paramedics to the scene. The fire was brought under control at 3:42 a.m. There were 22 injuries at this fire; 2 critical injuries, 2 serious injuries, 14 non-life threatening injuries, and 4 injured Firefighters."


My son was with other people at the firehouse when I called him earlier, hence his monosyllabic responses. He just called me back to explain that. "Okay, you can ask me anything now," he said, and then he went on. "The main thing to know is if there is ever a fire, close the door. These people left the apartment door open after they ran out, which meant us having to crawl through a smoke and fire filled hallway we knew nothing about, unable to see anything as we tried to connect hoses and find the right apartment. It also meant people in surrounding apartments suffered deadly smoke inhalation. The two people we dragged out were technically dead from it, but fortunately the medics got back a pulse in both of them. Closing the door is really the most important thing. It's the difference between me walking down a clear hallway to your door and being able to be in control of the fire as we put it out, and dangerous, blind chaos."

He confirmed that a couple of firefighters were burned—"It's a fire, Ma, you get burned," he deadpanned when I sucked in a breath—and the outer covering of someone's helmet melted. But the burns were minor and everyone is basically okay. Honestly, every time I ask about his job, I discover something else I didn't know to worry about. Helmet covers can melt?!? In any case, now we know. ALWAYS close the door behind you. This concludes our public service announcement for today.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Courage, dear heart

I hear these words in my mother's voice. She said them to me many times, softly.  


To those who've asked if the tattoo is real, it is, but is it inked into my skin? No, it's a temporary tat from @sugarbooandco. I saw these words and they fanned such an aching fond memory in me, so I ordered a few tabs to remind me of a woman who was always sure I could do what was needed.

Battered Doves

The news I read first each morning is The Washington Post, because it's right there on my Kindle, which is usually on my bedside table because I was reading before sleep the night before. This morning the headline was "Hunting Black Men to Start a Race War." A headline designed to chill a Black mother's heart. I clicked.

The story delved into the making of a hate killer, a young white man who stabbed an older black man to death on March 5, 2017 right here in my own city. Street cameras caught the altercation, with the older man fighting back and the younger man stabbing him with a long-bladed Roman sword so violently that his weapon went clean through the victim's body and broke on the pavement. Afterward, the killer roamed Times Square, looking for interracial couples to kill, but according to the story, "he saw so many he became overwhelmed." By then the police were searching for him. A while later, he walked up to them and turned himself in.

This young man was raised in a liberal family in Baltimore. Outwardly, he could have been any one of the young white men my son and daughter went to school with, given the way his lived experience was described. He was dyslexic, and attended a middle school for bright children who learn differently. He later disclosed that he was sexually abused there. He told no one at the time, and did not receive help. Poor kid. His parents sent him to a Quaker high school, where he had friends of all races and even dated an Asian girl. He enlisted and served in Afghanistan after flunking out of college in his first year. Throughout this time he was suicidal, but hadn't the courage to carry it through, or so he wrote in a 7,000 word manifesto found on his computer.

After his discharge from the military, he failed to find a job. His parents eventually cut off his $1,000 a month allowance in the hope that it would motivate him to take responsibility for himself. Instead he moved in with his brother, and spent his nights into the morning on Nazi and white supremacist websites, and obsessing over porn sites showing black men with white women, all while presenting a face of normalcy to the world. Hitler and Charleston, South Carolina church shooter Dylann Roof became his heroes.

He hid the hatred taking him over from his family as a murderous plan formed in him. He bought two knives and the two-foot-long Roman sword on Amazon and told his family he had reenlisted and was going back to Germany, going so far as to show them forged papers. While pretending to text his parents from Germany, he took a bus to New York City, a media capital he thought would amplify the actions he proposed to take. The fact that he lost the heart to keep going after one murder makes me think this young man might have been saved if anyone at all had known what was blooming inside him. But I could be wrong. He told the cops that his only regret was that he didn't kill a younger and more prosperous black man in a suit, which would have made the press pay more attention.

This whole story has been like a shard of ice to my heart this morning. I lay this at the feet of Trump and all the enabling Republicans who have helped to whip the hate that simmered just below the surface of this nation, into a raging flame. This murder also bloodies the hands of those who don't consider themselves racist, but who plan to vote for Trump anyway because they like how their stock portfolios are rising, and they think they don't having anything to fear because they're white. I'm also looking at people of supposed conscience who don't particularly like Trump, but who say they can't bring themselves to vote for a Democrat. They have the luxury of such a stance only because an accident of birth protects them, and they think the true violence of another Trump presidency will not fall on them.

I confess that initially, when I saw the Post's clickbait news lead this morning, I wondered where this young man had carried out his murderous screed, thinking if my own son gave that place a wide berth, he would be safe. Instead, this killer so twisted with hate was in my own city, roaming Times Square, at a time when my son was stationed there as an EMT, sitting in his ambulance between calls, studying for his paramedic exams.

May we all be saved.

Friday, January 10, 2020

I'm a hopeless romantic

Can I just admit I'm obsessed? The new season of Outlander comes out on February 16, and I can hardly wait. I've re-watched my favorite episodes from the previous four seasons multiple times, and while I'd be the first to admit that season one was the best of them, and the whole series can be uneven, still, I am completely in love with the lovers at the center of the narrative, so much so that my husband gave me the books on which the Starz series is based for Christmas.

How did I not know about these books, the first of which was published in 1991 (no doubt I was distracted by the birth of my son that year). People complain that some of the books run too long, that the author, Diana Gabaldon, could have used an editor. It the same complaint given to some of the later books in the Harry Potter series, another literary universe I love. I suppose, by the time the later books came along, both series were such runaway successes that the editors didn't want to mess with the authors' formulas. That's a mistake, I think. All writing benefits from the pencil of a sensitive editor. Still, I'm enjoying the forward momentum of Gabaldon's storytelling, and the opportunity to stay engaged with Claire and Jamie's sublime, time-traveling love story till the new season arrives.

Here is a still from the upcoming season. The actors Caitriona Balfe and Sam Hueghan play the lovers. I don't exactly understand why I've become so obsessed. Now I even want to go back to Scottish Highlands (I visited once in my early twenties), where the story originates. I wonder what ancient memory the Outlander canon has dredged up in me. Perhaps it is simply that incandescent love is a primordial yearning, and there is power it witnessing it unconditionally expressed across centuries, even in a fictional universe. Or maybe Jaime and Claire's on-screen chemistry as just too steamy for words. Mayhaps all of the above.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Bringing in the new year in Jamaica

I'm missing this view. It was where we took breakfast every morning at Chillin, near Ocho Rios. The entire wedding party and assorted relatives stayed in the villas there, we took over the whole place, and it made me fantasize about our extended family living together permanently on such a compound. Everyone had their own house, but interaction was easy and casual as we gathered in one villa for an impromptu karoke night, or met and chatted in passing on the lawn, or swam and played dominoes by the pool, or went from house to house at mealtimes, sampling each other's fare, or engaged in raucous rum and tequila fueled kalooki tournaments in the groomsmen's quarters come evening.

In our four-bedroom villa, there was the man and me, our two grown children, and their loves. My cousin from Trinidad and our niece Dani took the fourth room. A housekeeper prepared delicious meals. The first morning, my cousin, my husband and son went with her to the market to shop for provisions. My son loved it, picking out fresh fruits and vegetables from baskets on blankets at the open air stalls, with the breadfruit seller who told him she didn't have any breadfruit today because "the tree get too tall" and she could no longer climb it.

"I waited 28 years for this authentic Jamaica experience," he said when he got home. "If I lived here, I would be at that market every week."

His fiancée had a tummy bug the first day, but my brother the doctor prescribed her something, and she rallied and made it to the wedding. The day after the nuptials everyone who was staying at Chillin, plus some family members and friends who drove up from Kingston, had a beach day. This was the bride and groom's wish, to just relax and decompress with everyone in the turquoise waters. We drove into Kingston the next day, where we checked into a hotel, as there were too many of us to descend on anyone's home. At first, it felt strange and wrong, to be in the place where I grew up yet staying in a hotel. But it turned out to be a very cool vibe, having various adventures during the day, then coming back together for dinner as a massive group, some sixteen of us, pushing three tables together poolside.

We brought in the new year together in a luxurious presidential suite that my cousin who lives in Trinidad rented, with balconies overlooking the fireworks in the harbor. My cousin travels for work, and often stays at that hotel, so she "knew a guy," who upgraded her to that penthouse suite for the same price she'd have paid for two rooms. It had a kitchen, an elegant dining room, comfortable living room, and two bedrooms. Our niece Dani and a friend of hers from college, who'd flown in from New York on the day after the wedding, stayed in the second room.

We dispersed soon after midnight as the younger folks, plus my brother and my Trini cousin, planned to head out at 6 A.M. for the annual New Years Day breakfast party, while the rest of us were heading to lunch up at Strawberry Hill in the Blue Mountains, one of my favorite places on earth. My son's fiancée still had an iffy tummy, so a daybreak party with blaring music and street food and crowds of revelers drinking alcohol in the hot sun didn't sound like the thing. So she came with us to Strawberry Hill, which she loved.

I didn't read the news at all while I was away. But my man did. "Australia is burning," he told me one morning as I ate ackee and saltfish and coconut-milk soaked bammies. "We're on the brink of war with Iran," he told me the next morning, as I sipped Blue Mountain coffee made with condensed milk the Jamaican way by my son. It seemed as if the tragedy and mayhem were happening in another universe. But now, I'm back in New York. Everything unfolding is all too real. Outside, it just started snowing.

The photos above are lifted from my daughter's Instagram story. They were all having a fine time at the breakfast party. The photos below were taken at Strawberry Hill, where we had a far more peaceful time, eating a sumptuous lunch, wandering the grounds, nourished by spectacular Blue Mountain views.



Happy 2020 my dear friends who read here. May this be the year we start turning everything back around to the good. And may we gently embrace all the insights that come to us as we do.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Wedding

So many months, indeed years, in the planning and now they are married. And it was beautiful. The day was blue and cloudlessly perfect, the setting overlooking the beach at Laughing Waters was spectacular, and the bride and groom were wonderful, completely and wholly themselves. Their vows were the most tenderly moving I have ever heard. "I choose you" they each said. I wasn't the only one swiping away tears.

The bride, my darling niece, wept as she walked down the grassy aisle between her parents, her groom having walked that same path moments before. He offered his bride a handkerchief as she stepped onto the platform, and everyone laughed. She used it, then handed it back and reached up to straighten his bow tie. We all chuckled again. My daughter was the maid of honor, something the cousins had agreed on as teenagers, and the other bridesmaids were the bride's two sisters and her three best friends from her high school days at Immaculate Conception in Jamaica. The grooms "men" included a grooms woman, one of the groom's best friends from his college days at Macalester in St. Paul, Minnesota. The other groomsmen were the groom's dad, my son, and other friends from college; the entire wedding squad had traveled alongside the happy couple from the start. After the vows were spoken, they all danced back up the aisle. The whole proceeding was bathed in so much love.

And the setting. Oh my. The dance floor was packed until well past midnight, even though the nuptials had begun at 4:30 in the afternoon. The drinks, provided by my brother, the father of the bride, flowed non stop at an open bar, and everyone was in a festive mood. The groom's father, looking on at the rollicking party, said, "Surely they're going to get tired at some point," but the guests on the dance floor never did.

I could go on and on about that marvelous evening. I could tell you that my parents were most certainly with us in spirit, that the driver who transported the wedding party to Laughing Waters was named Lascelles like my father, the bride's grandfather, that my niece has never looked more strikingly like my mother Gloria, her grandmother, whose garnet ring she wore, her something old, her something borrowed. I could wax on about the deep comfort of seeing family members I hadn't held close in too long, about the joy that enveloped everything, about how right it all felt, how inevitable even, but perhaps the pictures can better tell the story. Indulge me. It was hard to choose these few.



Our entire week in Jamaica was chock full of parties, family visits and social engagements. Our immediate family, plus my son's fiancee and my daughter's love, began the week in a villa on the north coast, and ended it in Kingston, where relatives of both bride and groom raised a glass and brought in the new year together in a penthouse suite with a view of the fireworks over the harbor. My cousin from Trinidad had booked it for just that occasion. On Thursday, the day before our family was to fly back to New York City, a large group of us headed out to Hellshire Beach for its famous lobster bake, fried fish and festival. My younger niece, currently a freshman at the groom's alma mater, mused that she was suffering from sensory overload, and we agreed it explained the exhaustion we all felt. Yet we just kept rolling in spite of it, because it was a satisfying kind of tiredness, threaded with the sweet sense of showing up for one another. There are pictures of those other events, too, but that's an album for another day.