Sunday, May 31, 2020

Uncharted

Does everyone get it yet, why Colin Kaepernick blew up his whole NFL career to take a knee in protest of police officers killing black folks? Everything feels so heavy, and yet so surreal I could float clear away. This morning, as I was catching up on the news, my throat felt tight from the many stories of excessive use of police force against protesters across the country last night. My husband came into the kitchen, stood watching for a minute, then said, “You know, I wonder sometimes if we were right to bring children into this world.” I looked at him, and saw he was being serious, and then tears brimmed for both of us, because of course we would not want a life without our breathtakingly loved children, but what kind of world have we given them? Here are some thoughts from a few smart people I follow on Twitter, because really, I have no good words.







Saturday, May 30, 2020

Black Lives Matter




"A riot is the language of the unheard." Martin Luther King Jr. said that at Stanford University in 1967. It's been quoted repeatedly this week. If you're more appalled by the riots than by the murder of black men and women whose lives have been so callously destroyed, you might ask yourself: Why did police meet peaceful unarmed protestors with tear gas canisters and billy clubs, with rubber bullets and riot gear, when they managed to stand with such equanimity in the face of white supremacists waving Nazi flags and packing assault rifles when they stormed state houses not even a month ago? Why was a white cop in street clothes caught on camera methodically breaking the windows of Auto Zone, the first store to burn in Minneapolis, despite the efforts of locals to stop him? And why were white men with hammers and walkie talkies filmed breaking store windows and setting fires in Oakland last night, only to have the destruction blamed on Black Lives Matter demonstrators today? Why did white allies feel a need to form a line in front of black protestors, creating a wall between them and police mobs brandishing clubs and guns? Why were two black cops in uniform the only ones trying to de-escalate the fevered anger of the crowd in Brooklyn last night, as white plain clothes cops—identifiable to each other by the white armbands they wore—pulled weapons on protestors and knocked them to the ground? When have matching armbands of any color ever been a good omen, or brought peace? "When the looting starts, the shooting starts," Trump tweeted in the midst of the justifiable anguish and rage. It was a dog whistle to his base. As commentator Keith Boykin put it: "America is a tinderbox ... and Donald Trump is an arsonist carelessly flicking a lighter."

Photos from top: 
1. Carlos  Barria/ Reuters
2. Julio Cortez/ AP Photo 
3. John Minchillo/ AP Photo

Thursday, May 28, 2020

I can’t breathe

That white Minneapolis cop had his hand in his pocket, all casual, as he pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck and kept it there for nine minutes. George Floyd wasn’t resisting arrest. He was calling for his mama. The cop didn’t fear for his life. His damn hand was in his pocket, the cameras rolling as he and three other men wearing blue publicly lynched our brother.


#JusticeForGeorgeFloyd
#EndPoliceBrutality
#BlackLivesMatter

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Trying to Breathe

I will say that Minneapolis officials acted quickly to fire the four cops who pressed a black man's face into the asphalt while one of their number pressed a knee into his neck until he stopped breathing. They didn't care that people were filming them, catching on tape the chilling reprise in his repeated cry, "I can't breathe." The man, George Floyd, was suspected of passing a forged $20 bill. I don't even know if he was actually guilty of that, I haven't looked into it because I don't care. Suspected forgery does not warrant public execution by men in blue on an otherwise ordinary Monday. Now, we need those officers to be held accountable through legal prosecution. I am absolutely convinced there is truth in all those articles I've read about white supremacist groups infiltrating police departments across the country. I only wonder why it doesn't get more attention.

Meanwhile, in my own neck of the woods on Memorial Day, a white woman in a bird watching sanctuary of Central Park was so incensed when a black man politely asked that she leash her dog, as the park required in that area, that she called 911 to report that "an African American man is threatening my life." The man's sister was filming everything. The dog-owner was clearly in the wrong, and definitely not endangered in any way. Still, she repeatedly fake screeched her claim that an African American man was threatening her life to the 911 operator, demanding police be sent immediately. In effect, she was committing attempted murder by cop, because she knew full well that her fake tears, and her repeated emphasis on "African American man" would guarantee police showing up with guns blazing. Fortunately by the time the cops came, they found no one.

Monday night, when I first saw the video of this woman trying to call down a rain of police bullets on a black man who was merely out bird watching, I felt uneasy. The woman seemed emotionally unstable, which could only be exacerbated by the way Twitter and the rest of the internet piled on to identify her by name and her job as a VP for a financial firm and to (rightly) condemn her actions. Her company's website crashed because so many people were contacting them to demand they fire her, which they did the next day, and the dog rescue took back her dog, too. I just hoped she was realizing what she had done. I confess my heart hardened when I read her poorly crafted apology, in which she claimed that she has always considered the police a source of protection and had no idea that other communities did not feel the same way. Come on, Amy Cooper, do you watch the news? Though the man she victimized accepted her apology, it's perfectly clear from the video that she had fully intended to endanger his life. And hours later, on a Minneapolis street, we all got a deadly lesson on the consequences of her actions. This woman is a danger to my son, my husband, all the black men I know and love, all the black men you might know and love.

The night before all this, I had tried to recenter my consciousness on expressions of love, to be myself a channel of love in the world, with the idea that whatever you focus on expands. I was reading someone's theory that America is a deeply fearful country, and the collective expression of that fearfulness is what got us Trump. I was trying to remind myself that in my little corner I have been outrageously blessed, and I wanted to stay conscious of that, and to be intentionally thankful for it. But holy hell, this world. It crashed the boundaries of all that loving consciousness. And so this morning, I am over here, rebuilding.







Memorial Day


"Our soul purpose is to love and be loved. It’s as simple as that: finding any opportunity to give our love to others and to be open to receiving the love of others. That is what we are here to learn and embrace: Love for all things and all people. Kindness, tolerance, gratitude, compassion, and love are the most powerful tools we can use to navigate our soul experience here."

I was reading that reflection by a woman named Laura Lynn Jackson before I closed my eyes last evening. At the time, it seemed profound. Then I read it again today, in light of events that unfolded yesterday in New York's Central Park and on a street in Minneapolis. Now it seems trite. It’s neither and both. I am weary, uncomprehending, holding my cup of rage and sorrow.

And yet. On Memorial Day my girl went for a socially distanced bike ride and park outing with her cousin and a friend, while the man and I went for a drive upstate. We'd planned to stop at scenic lookouts on the Palisades, but it seemed everyone else in New York had the same idea. So we just drove, the sun roof open, the sky clear blue, the company sublime.

Then the whole fucking world exploded.


Friday, May 22, 2020

Unreal


Such dreams. Every morning when I open my eyes I have to come back to myself, to whisper that these apocalyptic visions aren't real. The nightmares, for me, are usually about being broken in body, bloodied and wracked with pain, the physical structure of me, not the spiritual, because despite the pain I am doggedly trying to get somewhere, always trying to reach some mysterious grail, the what and the where of it not so clear.

I rise and dress myself, or not, then make coffee and go straight to my laptop, ready to make edits to the manuscript based on comments sent on a tape to my Dropbox the night before. We're going chapter by chapter now, my subject and I, and today I will listen to the tape for chapter 6. I always brace myself for what I will hear, yet so far, the changes have been minimal, with doses of appreciation mixed in. I think she's making peace with self revelation. Yesterday, on tape, she said, "These chapters are so well done. I read them and cry." It was everything. Still, I know from the "overall reactions" tapes that later chapters, the ones covering her more recent past, might be more complicated. We shall see.

I want to write about the people who have died. I read in an article that 1 of every 2,000 black people in this country has already died. Could that really be true? I know that as soon as the president discovered that the new corona virus takes the poor and marginalized in greatest numbers, the people who fill the ranks of essential workers, the ones who can't afford to shelter at home at watch their paychecks hit their accounts every two weeks, he ceased to care. But 95,000 dead Americans should give us pause, no matter who's doing most of the dying. Our nation accounts for one third of the 333,000  counted dead in the world. How do you make sense of such numbers? I remember hearing someone say that when it comes to mass death, the bigger the number the less real it is.

In New York, the curve has been effectively flattened, though some 23,000 people died before that happened, and hundreds still die every day. Studies show that literally all the cases in New York can be traced to people arriving on planes from Europe in January and February, when some three million visitors from that continent flowed through our airports. The idiot president keeps calling it the Chinese virus. He shut down flights from China but didn't have the brain cells to realize that the invisible plague was already out in the world, and he should have sounded the warning back in December, when scientists tried to tell him what was coming.

My niece and her husband, who got married in Jamaica at the end of December, had their grand beautiful wedding just in time. My son and his fiancee have stopped looking at wedding venues; they've begun to think of something simpler. Three couples of their friends, whose wedding dates were set for this year, have postponed their ceremonies.

Meanwhile, I'm working by day and streaming by night, as I don't have much concentration for reading. I began watching Normal People on Hulu yesterday, a story of first love set in Ireland. I am enchanted, also haunted, by the lovers. 


Monday, May 18, 2020

Pop up testing and my forever president


Did anyone catch President Obama's commencement address to the high school class of 2020 on Saturday night? It made me yearn for such classy, compassionate, and intelligent leadership right now. My favorite part of what he said: "Be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us—sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed—and set the world on a different path."

I won't pretend that I didn't also relish the thought that my forever president's address to the nation's high school graduates, who will be new voters in November, would make the orange monster's head explode. So much for high mindedness.

I read a piece this morning bemoaning the fact that covid tests are now widely available yet not enough people are coming forward to get them The city is popping up testing sites in churches and parking lots, and even on streetcorners, to encourage more people to get tested either for the virus or its antibodies. Reading the report, I felt a little sheepish, as I have been banging the drum about the need for widespread testing for months now. So why haven't I availed myself of the chance to finally be tested?

Back when I had a cold in week two of the quarantine, I had made an appointment to get a covid test. This was after I realized that I'd likely been exposed by my choir mates sitting to the immediate left and right of me in rehersals. One of them later tested positive for covid, after being in bed with fevers and a cough and a blinding headache for weeks. The other tested negative, and decided that she'd simply had the flu. My own testing date was set for the following week, but a couple of days before they cancelled the appointment, saying they were no longer testing anyone except those who were being admitted to hospitals.

A couple weeks ago, the same testing outfit began emailing me and inviting me to make a new appointment. Why haven't I done so? For a few reasons, actually.

Since the pandemic began, I have personally known several people who without a doubt had the virus. One suffered with pneumonia and struggled for breath for weeks. She also had a searing pain that she said felt like fire inside her back and chest, which her doctor could not explain. She was admitted to the hospital but then was sent home after a day, with inhalers and antibiotics and flu medicine. Two months later she is still not right. She is fatigued just walking across the room. But slowly, she's improving. She can breathe more easily now, and no longer fears that when she goes to sleep at night, she wont wake up. Yet her covid test came back negative.

Another friend was hospitalized twice, in very critical respiratory distress, yet he tested negative twice in the hospital. After he recovered, he took the antibody test, and sure enough it was positive. In another family we know, the teenage daughter got sick with all the symptoms of covid. She recovered quite well, but her test, too, was negative. Her parents are convinced it was a false result.

All of this has undermined my confidence in the accuracy of the covid tests, which are said to have as high as a 30 percent false result. Another article I read suggested the antibody test can be a crap shoot, too. The article investigated 14 different antibody tests currently in use and found that only two of them gave accurate results 98 percent of the time.

Another consideration: Testing negative for covid today doesn't mean I won't be infected with it tomorrow, or even today, and even at the center where I might go to have the test performed. That's another reason I haven't rushed to get tested. Still, if I were to come down with symptoms, at least now I know I could get a test, even if the result had up to a 30 percent chance of being wrong.

So I'm not complaining about the absence of tests anymore, at least not in New York City. Now I'm arguing for better quality control, so that we can weed out the tests that are poor and settle on the ones with a greater degree of accuracy. I guess there's no pleasing me. Am I wrong to not get the test now that it's become more widely available? I'm totally open to arguments that will change my mind.

Friday, May 15, 2020

The daily


Spring has come to our gardens. My husband is in the living room, in the spot beside the big window that looks out at the newly budded trees. He's doing painstaking research across scientific databases and geo-tagging specimens from the museum's ichthyology collection. At the other end of the house, my niece is in her room video conferencing with her bosses and coworkers. I can hear their voices brainstorming stories for the travel website for which my niece is the digital editorial coordinator, at a time when no one is traveling.

I am in the middle of the apartment, at the desk in front of the window in my bedroom, taking a break from transcribing tapes my subject sent to my Dropbox. In them, she offers her overall reactions to the manuscript. Did I mention that I turned in the completed first draft on the day after my birthday? We will go through it chapter by chapter after this, and do line edits, as well as layering in anything she might want to add. My subject's agent said he "loved" the manuscript. I have on tape the call on which he used words like "enthralling," "emotionally impactful" and "a page turner,” which is good because I can't really take in that he spoke those words. My subject hasn't been anywhere near as affirming. I know her by now though. She’s a beautiful stoic. Why waste time talking about what's working? Let's get straight to the fixing. She’s efficient that way. Still, I’m trying to manage the doubt and insecurity that I’m wrestling with right now. I’m trying to remember that I understood from the start that she would find it disconcerting to confront her private self bared to the world. It takes a minute to process, to feel safe. I'm trying to locate the feeling of being safe, too.

At 7 o'clock each evening, we all pause in whatever we are doing and throw open the windows so we can hear the cacophony of air horns and banged pots and whistles and shouts and bicycle bells and car horns, making a nightly racket in celebration of the nurses and other health care workers changing shifts for the night. This has been going on since the end of March, and every night, the people at their windows, on their terraces, on the sidewalks, in their cars, hooting and cheering, the holy racket the entire city makes, brings me almost to tears. It just never gets old.


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

America is exhausting

I did nothing in quarantine last week but binge watch The Last Kingdom in between re-reading James's McBride's The Color of Water, doing a jigsaw puzzle, and spending time with my daughter on Mother's Day. We all continue to be healthy. I also caught up on a lot of magazine articles, including one by Adam Serwer in The Atlantic titled "America's Racial Contract Is Showing," It's a devastating exploration of America's often unacknowledged dual consciousness about race.

"One must assume that the two armed white men had a right to self-defense, and that the black man suddenly confronted by armed strangers did not," Serwer writes of a young black man's instinct to defend himself when chased by white men in a pick-up, their rifles pointed at him. All Ahmaud Arbery was doing was going for a jog, exercising while black in the wrong neighborhood in Georgia. This happened back in February. Not until the world saw Ahmaud being executed on video—a video the man who leaked it thought would exonerate the killers—did calls for the arrest of the shooters become too loud and too political to ignore. For going on three months, Ahmaud's murderers walked free. And let's face it, when the trial happens, a jury of their peers may yet find them justified in killing a young black man who dared to resist the efforts of two strangers to murder him.

My heart is shredded by the killing of Ahmaud Artbery, and also of Breonna Taylor, and all the others whose names we don't know. Who is Breonna Taylor? you ask. She was an EMT in Kentucky asleep in her bed when cops broke down her door looking for a suspect who it turns out was already in custody. Not only did they have the wrong house, they also pumped eight bullets into this young black women on the frontlines of the covid-19 epidemic as she slept.

I'm gutted by the continued brutalization and destruction of black bodies for no reason other than their blackness. I'm filled with out-of-proportion rage, which feels like bone-deep sorrow, at cops who arrest black people for not social distancing in parks in poor communities, but hand out masks to white people picnicking in parks in more privileged communities.

I hate that once Donald Trump and his henchmen realized that two thirds of those dying from covid were black or brown or immigrant or poor—because they are over represented among the essential workers who are out there every day, knitting this country together, and they are the ones with the worst health care, and so many other reasons—he ceased to care about the disease's deadly march. And now the sickness is in the White House, one more sickness to join all the others in that house.

"The underlying assumptions of white innocence and black guilt are all part of what the philosopher Charles Mills calls the racial contract,” Adam Serwer writes. "If the social contract is the implicit agreement among members of a society to follow the rules—for example, acting lawfully, adhering to the results of elections, and contesting the agreed-upon rules by nonviolent means—then the racial contract is a codicil rendered in invisible ink, one stating that the rules as written do not apply to nonwhite people in the same way. The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal; the racial contract limits this to white men with property. The law says murder is illegal; the racial contract says it’s fine for white people to chase and murder black people if they have decided that those black people scare them. 'The terms of the Racial Contract,' Mills wrote, 'mean that nonwhite subpersonhood is enshrined simultaneously with white personhood.'”

When I sat down to write here this morning, this isn't what I thought would find its way out. I realize now that I've been feeling numb all week, a defense against the other feelings simmering underneath. America is emotionally exhausting. 

I got out the house for a walk yesterday. I stood under blue sky. Meanwhile in Dallas, my niece, who is a dentist, went back to work. She posted that picture of herself in full protective regalia. May we all be safe, from covid, from hate, from ignorance, from inept, narcissistic, mean government. On a more escapist note: The Last Kingdom on Netflix is very, very good.








Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Good birthday

See that exquisite photograph? It's a Carl Jackson original, gifted to me for my birthday by the artist himself. How amazing is that?? How did he know those are the colors I grew up with, and still see in my dreams?

I had a beautiful birthday in every regard. My man made me a pair of sumptuous cheesecakes, one with a yummy blackberry topping and the other with a salted caramel topping, and both with divine graham cracker crusts. He said I was his muse. My daughter and her boyfriend came over, and he made his ridiculously delicious ribs for dinner, my husband made roasted vegetables and scalloped potatoes as accompaniments, and my niece made dangerously smooth margaritas for all.

One of the very best moments of the day was when our doorbell rang, and I opened it to find my son and his love standing in the hallway, six feet away, blowing me kisses and laughing with delight at my surprise. "Just came to put eyes on you and wish you happy birthday in person," my son said. I felt so insanely happy to see them, even though I couldn't hug them. I confess I was tempted. My thoughts unspooled something like: How could I catch anything from my beautiful children. It's against nature. And even if I did, I would accept it. But I didn't hug them, nor would my son have let me, so I contented myself with the fact that he drove all the way here on my birthday to give me his love in person, from six feet away. I got to put eyes on him.

At four in the afternoon, I joined a Zoom call with three of my friends, one of whom is sick with covid. So is her husband, and so is their son, who attended that progressive little farm school with my daughter. He's an oncology social worker now. His dad, who is a rheumatologist, has had the gnarliest case of the virus, but he seems to be on the mend. After he tested positive, he asked if his wife should get tested, too, since she was also showing symptoms. His doctor said, "No, just assume she has it." So much for accurate infection counts. Their son, who may have had it first, did manage to get tested and should have his results this week. My friend, his mother, looked worn and tired, after a week of continuous headaches, a sore throat, and low-grade fevers. She said the hardest to bear was the depth of fatigue. But she, too, is through the worst of it, for which I am thankful.

Someone on Twitter asked people to respond yes or no to the question of whether they knew someone personally who has had covid. Below a long string of people answering yes, this person then tweeted, "I don't believe any of you." Trump cultist? Russian bot? I tried not to become infuriated, to let it wash over me and flow away. I was busy having a good birthday.

My son has expressed the opinion that we're taking a risk consorting with our daughter, but then he said, "Whatever, you're all grown ups." I am at peace with the decision for our two households to be connected during this covid lock down, though I confess that every time our "quarantine five" gets together, which turns out to be most weekends, I monitor all our symptoms more closely the following week. So far we are all okay. May we all continue to be well—all of us here, all of you there. Love.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Wash day


Imagine people in face masks shuffling and reshuffling their positions in a laundry room that serves a twenty-one story apartment building, everyone endeavoring to maintain six feet of social distance. You'd be surprised at how unrecognizable your neighbors are when their faces are covered, and how hot those face coverings are. And since washer-dryer repair isn’t an essential service, seven weeks into New York City’s quarantine, a third of the washing machines and a third of the dryers aren't working, and no one has been called to fix them.

Eventually we might be washing our clothes in the sinks and tubs of our apartments, and feeling lucky that we have soap and running water to do so. Till then, people wait around for other people's wash cycles to finish, counting down the minutes, and then wait for their neighbors to show up and remove their clothes, and it feels as if we're living in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion, when just going outside your front door means risking your life, except it really does mean that. The minute you step outside your door, you're less safe from covid than you were before.

Each morning when I open my eyes, the first thing I do is survey myself for symptoms. I say a prayer of thanks when I find that I feel completely normal, that the sore throat I thought was coming on the night before has not in fact manifested itself.

My son tested negative for the antibodies. "It's weird to be disappointed you don't have them," he said. "Still, it means the protective measures we take are working." He said he didn't know when next he would see us. "It might not be till the fall," he said. "It might not be till next year." At least he is healthy. Tomorrow is my birthday. The only gift I want is for all of us to be healthy. Amen.