Friday, July 31, 2020

Barnburner

My husband and I watched President Obama's eulogy to John Lewis yesterday with tears in our eyes, and such a heavy yearning for this man's goodness, intelligence, empathy, and decency on our hearts. At a certain point as he spoke, Obama caught fire, and laid out exactly where our country needs to go from here. Here's a piece that captures much of what I felt as I watched him, as I don't have much time to sort through and set down my own sentiments this morning. I'm off to the salt mines. I have stories to edit for the magazine, which ships today, and I also have to write a new chapter for the paperback version of Lucy McBath's book. When we first wrote it she hadn't yet decided to run for Congress, or been elected, or served in that chamber with all her heart. Here's her new cover. She might be the only politician ever to have her co-writer's name right there on the cover with her own. I love her so much. And I love Obama and John Lewis, too. I'm overflowing with love this morning for the people who fight for our better angels, and somehow never become bitter while doing so.



Thursday, July 30, 2020

Inner child


I'm so sad this morning, for reasons I can't go into. These reasons have nothing to do with my family, so really, the important things in my world are intact, and so I'm just here venting, trying to sit with my feelings, to acknowledge them and hopefully process the bejesus out of them, so I can get on with my life.

I woke up with a mountain of bitterness sitting in the middle of my chest, because of a phone call yesterday. I think I didn't let myself feel the impact of the news I received on that call, the emotional toll, the sense of betrayal, I pushed it away, but as I slept last night, unguarded, it slipped down into the place of truth, and I woke up with a raging sadness, and now I'm just stuck, all the tender places in which I have felt not valued in my life, suddenly sore again, and the sadness and its glinting armor, anger, won't leak away and allow me to breathe again unless I accept and even embrace what I am feeling, even in this cryptic way.

I wrote an angry-sad email, which I won't send. All part of the processing. It is helpful to remember that in the scheme of things, with people dying alone in hospitals, or under someone's knee on a public street, this is nothing.

This is nothing.
This is nothing.
Say it three times, love, and soon it will be true.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Story

 


The man and I are coming up on thirty-seven years together this summer, thirty four of them as married folk, proof that I was born lucky. That was us, back then.

This morning, he put two eggs in a pot to boil for his breakfast. I noticed that one of them was the cracked egg that I had put back in the carton yesterday, when I was choosing an egg to cook for myself.

"You took the cracked egg," I said.

"Yes, so?"

"So that's why I love you, because you give yourself the cracked egg from a box in which all the other eggs are whole, rather than leave it for someone else."

He looked at me quizzically.

"I avoided that egg yesterday," I explained, "because I'm not as selfless as you."

"No," he said, "it only means you make up stories."


Friday, July 24, 2020

The natural


It's 6 a.m and I am already at my desk. Rain drums against my window, hypnotic, soothing. The chapter I'm working on is called "Zombie Land." I'm sorry to be so silent on your blogs. I'm slightly underwater work wise. But if you need something to cheer for in this era of political zombies, please watch New York congresswoman Alexandrio Ocasio-Cortez's wonderful defense of women and girls here. She was speaking on the House floor yesterday in response to Florida Republican Ted Yoho having called her "a fucking bitch" on the steps of the Capitol because she had linked poverty to crime. Members of the press overheard him and reported his words. He then denied he had said such a thing because after all, he has a wife and daughters. "Having a daughter does not make a man decent," AOC countered. "Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man." As writer Rebbeca Traister observed, "watching a truly natural political talent at the start of her career is extremely exhilarating."

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

15 days later

My cousin texted me this morning—this is the cousin who woke up with a fever and headache and sore throat and, worried she had covid, did the responsible thing and got herself tested. That was more than two weeks ago. She felt better two days later but still didn't know her results. Her text:

"Day 15 breaking news: I am negative for Covid. The doctor I spoke with said they have a rapid test that can give results in 15 mins but you have to pay $80 no insurance coverage. But accuracy is only 70 percent. They have people who test positive on nasal swabs but the rapid test says they are negative. Isn’t the rapid test what the President does??"

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Stage four


Apparently New York is now entering stage four of its reopening, although I don't honestly know what that means, as I still mostly stay inside. The other day the man and I drove around the city to see what we could see, and we noticed that sidewalks are full of outdoor diners. Since no indoor dining is allowed, restaurants have moved their entire dining rooms onto the pavements, and even into the street, demarcating tables from traffic with makeshift barriers. While I might meet some women friends in the park for a socially distanced get together with masks, I'm not ready yet to sit at a small table opposite anyone I don't live with, talking and eating, maskless (obviously), even if we are outdoors. And yet, the man and I are going to help our daughter and her guy move to Boston in a few weeks, which will require a one or two night stay in a hotel, I'm going to choose a nice one, but still, it feels risky. Any ideas from you travelers out there on how to stay safe on this adventure?

My niece and her husband, who live in Dallas, are spending a week at a resort in Cabo, Mexico. I salivate over the photos of glistening blue pools that they are posting on social media. The resort looks very empty, as if they have the place to themselves, and they are having a marvelous time. "Does it feel safe being there?" I messaged her. "Safer than Texas," she messaged back. "Everyone is masked up, and before you enter any establishment you stand in a tray of sanitizer and they take your temperature and offer you hand sanitizer." She is a dentist, so she is inside people's most fertile covid cavity daily. She wears a mask and face shield and protective glasses and gloves, and takes all other necessary precautions. I suppose they know what they're doing in Cabo. I'm so jealous it's almost incandescent. I admire their bold spirit.

Here’s a reading list. I'm putting this here so I can get back to it easily myself, as I don't have time right now to dig into what's there. I'm on deadline, due to deliver the second draft of my manuscript at the end of the week, while also editing a deluge stories for the magazine, the current issue of which ships this week.

In the category of things that matter not at all in the grand scheme of things, I had my first viral tweet ever. I have no idea why this one blew up, but more than a week later it is still getting liked and retweeted all through the day. There is no way I can possibly read everyone's comments, which makes me think that maybe I prefer when it's just my little group of fellow tweeters, Rebecca and Brittany and Allison and Candice and a few others, having a little like-fest on the sidelines. Still, I thought I should note that for no rhyme of reason, this happened.




Sunday, July 19, 2020

Heroes


Thank you for your life, John Lewis. You ran the race for all of us, magnificent to the end. I heard someone say yesterday, in paying tribute to you, that your most subversive act was growing old. I didn’t agree. I believe your greatest genius was your humility, your stubborn belief in the best of us, and the way it made you bold. Rise in power, Good Sir. You used your life to make the world better for those who follow. You earned this rest. Walk into the next world like the king you are. On this side, we will hold you in love and gratitude and carry on in your name. 
♥️

Friday, July 17, 2020

Is this America?

Are you seeing the news that men in combat fatigues are snatching people off the streets of Portland and bundling them into unmarked black cars? They aren't police, they bear no military insignia, and they don't identify who they are or why they are detaining people. There is film footage of this. Some reports say they are border agents, whom Trump has deployed as his secret police, sent to quell the peaceful protests in Portland. We have secret police now?? And where are they taking the people who’ve been arrested without cause? Is this really what we’ve come to in America? State officials in Oregon have asked the federal government to remove the paramilitary force from their streets, and the government has refused. A new worry is that white supremacist militias and Proud Boys will don fatigues and impersonate Trump's secret police to kidnap and do harm to people. That Trump can deploy a secret paramilitary force to kidnap people exercising their first amendment right to protest should terrify everyone. In November, vote blue no matter who down the line. We have to not only remove the Putin puppet in the White House, we need to flip the Senate too.



Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Life in no particular order

People in New York City are really depressed about what's happening in the rest of the country with covid. Things were so bad here, we thought that we would take the hit for everyone else, and they would learn from what we went through, they would wear masks and social distance and self-quarantine so they wouldn't have to feel the same pain. Instead, numbers in Florida have surpassed New York on its worst day, and Arizona and Texas aren't far behind. And still people are going out without masks, and acting like covid is one big joke, something akin to the flu. For anyone who gets it, I pray that's all it is, because the alternative is horrifying—long lasting symptoms that include ravaged lungs, hearts and kidneys, exhaustion, body aches, breathing and neurological problems. Even though these souls are counted as survivors, life is changed for them.

Oh, here's a piece of good news. Our daughter got approved to continue working remotely for her job when she moves to Boston next month! I'm so happy for her. She's to come to the city once a month to go in to the office, but her boss told her not to worry about that for now, as she didn't think anyone would be going back into the office until next year March or April. I am so glad that she will not have to job hunt in a new city in a covid economy. Her partner will be in graduate school, and they are choosing their apartment by lottery as we speak. Most programs at that university will be virtual in the fall, even the medical school, but his program is going to be a hybrid of virtual and in person classes, so they decided to go ahead and move.

My husband also went to his work this morning for the first time since March. The museum is constructing a new wing, so the ichthyology collection is in temporary quarters for now, with the staff is making do in spacious trailers outside the main building—easier to social distance. His income has been cut by a fifth, however, as all science specialists agreed to move to a four-day work week so as to save seven of their number from being terminated.

We're just back from picking up our taxes, which we got in just under the wire. My tax guy has been doing my taxes since I was 23, a relationship of many decades. A good tax guy is one of life's true blessings. The picture up top is what I see when I look up from working. My man's newest hobby is nurturing orchids inside terrariums. Outside, it's a beautiful blue sky day.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Man who loves fishes

As part working remotely, my husband has been doing these Scientists At Home online presentations for the Department of Ichthyology at his museum. He has to put together slides that show the collection, and the curators and scientists at work, and so he's been scouring his photo archives for images he's taken or acquired of specimens and field expeditions over the years. He did a particularly memorable biodiversity expedition in Vietnam over the course of four summers, spending a month in the field with teams of scientists from many different disciplines each time. He slept in tents and hammocks strung from trees, filtered his drinking water from streams, cast fish nets in mountain rivers, and was the biggest human and only black man most of the people in the mountain villages they passed through had ever seen.

The villagers would dress themselves and their children in their Sunday best and bring them out to pose with the big, black, bearded giant who came through. My husband was good humored about it all. One night, his hiking boots, left out beside his tent, disappeared. Fortunately he had a pair of Tevas with him as well. He surmises that people in that remote part of the country simply didn't believe a man's feet could be quite so big and took his footwear as proof. There is also a harrowing story of a local village leader insisting that the scientists drink three-snake wine as part of a welcome ritual. My husband thinks he was messing with them, that there was no such tradition, and he was merely trying to get them shitfaced so he and his friends could have a good laugh at their antics. If so, he succeeded. My man slipped out of the tent after a couple of rounds, but remembers the world swirling at him that night, in that place where only the stars gave light.

When my man was in the field, my mother usually came to stay with me to help out with the kids while I went to work. She prayed assiduously morning and night for his safety in a place where the unexploded munitions of war still pocked the landscape. I was still young and foolish then, my mother's dark sense of the dangers that could befall one's children not yet fully developed, so believe it or not, it never occurred to me to worry about his safety. Let me tell you, that mother worry muscle is a champion now.

Our son was four the first year of the project, and our daughter was two. Many years later our son said, "Daddy, remember that time when you spent a year in Vietnam?" Oh yes, he was missed. Recently, his explorations turned up the photo above. That's my husband, the ichthyologist, aka "fish man," and one of the curators, with some of the department's specimens. The photo was taken some twenty years ago now, around the time he was doing that biodiversity study, during a month that in our child's mind lasted a year.

 He brought back conical palm leaf hats for the kids, including our niece from Jamaica, who usually spent the summer with us in New York. The kids are eight, six, and four here.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Harlem afternoon

I passed that mural in Harlem. My daughter and I gaped at the particular color of blue. In this concrete city, it reminds me of the Caribbean Sea.

This book I'm writing is a bear. I am now at 108,000 words and still going. As I had predicted, my subject remembered lots of additional stories and details when she read the first draft, and I've added those, and now my editor wants me to go deeper into some of the legislative stuff, which I fear could be deadly boring but I am endeavoring with all I am to make it not so. I'm so immersed. I get up every morning with a drive to get to my laptop, thinking maybe this will be the day that I make it to the end, or at least, get everything worked in so that I will have left is to revise the last two chapters in light of the crazy continually unfolding in our world.

I took a break yesterday to go plant shopping with my husband, daughter and niece at this really cool plant outlet under the elevated train tracks at Park Avenue and 116th Street in Harlem. Who knew that outdoor plant corridor went so many streets deep and had such and abundance of gorgeously thriving plants? It made me want to fill my home with greenery, but of course, first I need to declutter and refurbish, and then I could add the plants tastefully, as decorative finishes, you know, like they do on HGTV. We do not live in an HGTV apartment. Can I tell you how worn our house is now, with all three of us home every day since March 16, and how cluttered the place gets now that I'm not sweeping through every morning like a dervish after everyone leaves for work and tidying and straightening and picking up and putting away. Also, dust. I'll say no more about that.

But I digress. It was fun plant shopping and being out in the world with my loves, through it was a hot and humid day and my mask felt hot and humid, too. I kept it on till I got back in the house, though. This is the mandate in my city, though people are starting to get a little lax, which troubles me. Did you see Trump finally wore a mask yesterday while visiting a hospital? Only because they said he wouldn't be allowed inside if he didn't wear it, and now the magats (which is what I shall call his cult members from now on) are crowing about how he looked like a badass and where can they get a mask like that too. Thing is, the idiot president missed an opportunity here: Imagine if he had issued magat masks at the outset? All his cultists would have been wearing them.

My boy has been transferred to a new firehouse for a year, as all new firefighters must rotate through both engine (water hoses) and ladder (climb and rescue) houses. His home house is an engine house, and he has come to really enjoy it there. They have a workshop with power tools, where he had been building a bicycle from scratch using the frame of his dad's old bike, and a gym where he worked out daily, and his fellow firefighters have become his cohorts and friends. Now he's having to start over with a whole new crew in the time of covid and while he's philosophical about it, my mother's heart wishes it weren't so. He's trained in brownstones, store fronts and high rises, and now he will be training for single family homes, shopping malls and beach fronts, as his new house is in Queens. May he be safe. May he be healthy. May he make this firehouse, too, a welcoming place.

This is so stream of consciousness. Back to plant shopping. My niece wanted to get two plants for her room. She is in what used to be my son's room, and when he came over two weeks ago (two weeks already!) he looked into her room and said, "Why does your room still look like my room? You need to make it your own." I think she felt he gave her permission to go to town in there, and now she has begun, with two lush babies that she picked out from the plant outlet. I need to go out and do things like that a little more often, because the most delicious part of going out is how much I love being inside my house once I get back home.






Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Another day


I'm sitting at my dining table in front of the big window, about to continue revising my manuscript for another day. This part of the work is so much less painful than trying to get that complete first draft down. The good news is the editor loved it, though of course, she had comments which I am now endeavoring to address. My subject has already conveyed all her changes to me, as well as some new stories prompted by what she read, but she's a good sport, engaging with my further questions cheerfully. We still need to figure out the book's ending. My subject is in public life, where as we all know, everything unfolds daily at warp speed. We have no time or space to reflect on the horrors of this presidency, before new assaults on our norms and freedoms barrel toward us. Right now, I'm ignoring that last chapter, getting the rest of the book in shape and hoping that inspiration will happen unforced in the background as I work.

My husband is next to me at the table, perusing the news on his laptop before he starts his workday. He chuckles from time to time and shares a tidbit, usually more absurd than funny, like the Trump supporter on a Jacksonville, Florida beach who opined that Joe and Hunter Biden went to China and brought back covid to infect the rest of us. I had seen that one. The man who received this news, himself a curious figure in his grim reaper costume to protest the non-mask wearing crowds, tweeted, "If there's one thing MAGA has achieved it's making the rest of us look smarter, healthier, and better looking." Okay, that's kind of mean, but then, all those Trump zealots are ugly mean, too.

Now my man is showing me a picture of world-record-breaking Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt's adorable infant daughter, and telling me that her parents have named her Olympia Lightening Bolt. I imagine with such a name, she may be poised for superhero things.

My cousin called me from Virginia last night, said she woke up feeling unwell and had gone to take a covid test earlier in the day. Her husband, who has a heart condition, is sleeping in the living room until she gets her results, and they and their sons are all wearing masks inside the house. She has a fever, and has lost all interest in food—"a dead giveaway" she joked. And she's just exhausted. I don't know whether to wish for a mild case for her and no symptoms in her beloveds, or to hope this dreadful unpredictable disease never touches their door.

I would get tested myself, but I still have no faith in the accuracy of the tests. We did break our quarantine bubble last week when our son and his love came over. We had a wonderful time, with our boy taking down shot glasses and pouring everyone tequila almost as soon as he came through the door. "Let's all kill the covid!" he declared, and we laughed and obediently downed our medicine. We had such fun, chatting and catching up with each other all afternoon, and I hugged them close both when they came in and when they left. They had seen her parents, too, earlier in the week, though they had all sat in the backyard and kept masks on the entire time. The next day, my son and his fiancee drove up to camp for a socially distanced weekend in the woods with their friends. The wife of the couple whose house they stayed in is pregnant, so precautions were definitely observed.

Further smashing our bubble, my girl and her guy spent the week upstate with his family, and as far as I can tell from pictures, relatives have been in and out of his mother's house, with not much social distancing, and, at the fourth of July barbecue to celebrate his birthday, I noted lots of masks doing double duty as chin straps. I only hope that because New York aggressively sheltered in place from March through May, with 50,000 daily covid tests now showing less than one percent positive results, no one has been exposed. Apparently, in other parts of the country, daily positive test results are running as high as 70 percent. I remember when that was our reality, too. I'm still not over the PTSD.

My girl and her love are moving to Boston next month, as he will be doing his MBA there. She is hoping to continue working remotely for her current job, as it's been an effective arrangement since March, and no one is heading back into their offices until October. I pray she is able to work this out, as I worry about her job hunting prospects in a new city during the time of covid. I remind myself that they are young, and whatever happens, they will manage it somehow. I mostly pray that they, and all of us everywhere, will be safe.

On July fourth, this blew my mind.

The photo of colored stones on a Jamaican beach is by my niece @visionarri


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A story on the news

In Connecticut, a father watched footage from the security camera he'd installed outside his home. His son, a black boy, nine years old, was shooting hoops into the basketball rim standing in their driveway. Out the corner of his eye, the boy noticed a police cruiser turn onto their street. He held the ball to his side and moved out of sight behind his dad’s car until the police cruiser drove past. He watched until it was gone, then went back to dribbling the ball and shooting baskets, went back to being a kid again. Nine years old. Broke his father’s heart.


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Catching up

My husband rises long before me each morning, and by the time I shamble out to the kitchen to make my coffee, he's already in his chair at the dining table beside the window, maps of far flung places lighting up his laptop screen. Beside him on the window sill are his growing retinue of orchids, some in humid terrariums mimicking greenhouses, new buds opening to him daily.

Memory is arbitrary and whimsical. I was stirring milk into my coffee this morning and suddenly the sound of the metal spoon clinking against the ceramic cup took me back to sitting next to my mother on her back porch in St. Lucia, the sun slanting under salmon colored awnings as she delicately stirred sugar into her tea, always in a dainty teacup with a handle bowed like a dancer's skirt, maybe a piece from her Wedgwood china collection, such elegance gave her joy. The sense of her with me was so strong. The sun slanted in through the kitchen window and I felt my mother there.

A few things I had wanted to write about when I was feeling frozen:

1) Three more days until the release of Hamilton, the entire stage production filmed with its original cast. It was to be released in theaters in October 2021, but when the pandemic hit, and all the Broadway shows went dark, the musical's creator Lin-Manuel Miranda decided to release the film this year instead, and beam it into everyone's homes, those with a Disney Plus streaming subscription that is, which if we didn't have, I would certainly get for this. My girl is counting down the days, but we wont be watching it together, as she's spending a week upstate with her in laws, who she and her love have not seen since before New York went into quarantine in March. We've pledged to live text as we watch this Friday. I can't wait to sing along to the songs.

2) You may recall my daughter and her boyfriend had tried to adopt a dog a few months back, but in what was for my girl a shattering turn of events they had to give the dog back to its foster as he bit my daughter several times, drawing blood and leaving bruises. He tried to bite her boyfriend, too, except he managed to keep a firmer hold on him. He also went after a child on the street when they were walking him; they held him back, but it terrified them both. An Australian terrier, the dog clearly needed space to run, and was not well suited to a city apartment. My daughter cried for days after surrendering him. She felt they had failed him, but to be completely honest, I was immensely relieved when they finally came to the decision to let him go. I didn't write about it here, because it was so painful for them, but I secretly thought, how is this going to work with a baby? Yes, I'm looking forward to grandchildren, and my kids know it. Anyway, after fostering several more dogs in the interim, ("Penance," my girl said), they have now adopted a scrappy little pup. He's an English bulldog and schnauzer or terrier mix, a shaggy brindled three month old, and they are in love. As my daughter's boyfriend said when they picked him up last week, "When I saw him, my heart just exploded." Meet Munch.


2) On the corona virus front, New York is steadily emerging, with less than ten deaths from covid yesterday, down from a high of 800 per day at the peak in April, and hospitalizations from covid were down to less than nine hundred yesterday, down from some 18,000 a day at the height of the pandemic in April. My husband's museum re-opens today for essential staff, though not to the public. Most scientific departments are continuing to work from home until further notice, however, and when he does return, he will be able to drive and park for free in their once very expensive public garage, thus avoiding the subway. He has several underlying conditions, so must continue to be very careful.

3) Sadly, due to the idiocy and ineptitude of the narcissist in the White House, parts of the country are now dealing with the nightmare that overtook New York City in April and May. While I can't imagine anything will ever be quite as bad as we had it here in our crowded cacophony of a city, I understand that in some places hospitals are already overrun. And in Austin, a 46-year-old quadriplegic man, Michael Hickson, father of five, was refused treatment for covid by a doctor who told his wife that he had "no quality of life." His wife went to court to fight for her husband's right to care, but the court appointed a third party as the man's guardian instead of his wife, and that third party organization ratified the hospital's decision to deny treatment. Michael Hickson died on June 11 because a doctor decided that someone's beloved wasn't worth making every effort to save. I was so gripped by rage, which was really crushing sorrow, that I could barely read the story through the flares popping behind my eyes.

4) The one bright spot in public life recently was the Supreme Court handing down some unexpectedly progressive decisions. With Chief Justice John Roberts surprising everyone by siding with the four liberal justices, the court ruled that workplaces were not allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ people; upheld the rights of DACA recipients to live and work in the country; and struck down an extreme abortion law in Louisiana that would have removed women's ability to obtain safe and legal procedures. Granted, the rulings in each these cases did not completely close the door against conservatives bringing new challenges, but for now, I'll take the wins.

5) Perhaps equally as significant as the cases decided were the cases the Supreme Court refused to weigh in on, including a Second Amendment case to extend the open carry rights of gun owners, and a case to compel state lawmakers to turn over undocumented people to federal authorities, which would have done away with sanctuary cities like New York and Los Angeles. While I'm happy SCOTUS let the lower court decisions stand in these two instances, I do wish the justices had taken a case against qualified immunity for police officers who use excessive force against citizens. Oh well. You win some, you lose some, you fight another day.

6) Finally, in the week's most exciting news, my son and his love are coming over to spend the day with us tomorrow. My boy has been working with covid patients almost every day for months, so he's stayed away from us since March. But he's been on vacation from the firehouse for two weeks, and continues to have no symptoms, so we've decided to risk social contact as we're all missing each other mightily. "I long to see that boy," my husband said as we lay reading in bed a few night ago. Tomorrow we will see him, and his lovely fiancee, too, and I will definitely hug them as soon as they walk through the door.