Thursday, December 2, 2021

Back to the water


We'll be traveling this month for the first time in two years. In a couple of weeks or so, we'll arrive at this place. 

 
And stay in a garden cottage that looks something like this.

 
And sleep in a romantic mahogany bed like that one.

 
And possibly reserve one of those shoreline cabanas, lounging inside gauzy curtains and listening to the sea murmur beneath us. 


Then, come evening, we'll take in sunsets that set the senses aflame with color, which I think will be the capstone on a very fine plan. 

I have some trepidation, of course. I booked this stay for us back in June, when the world was newly hopeful that the pandemic might be on the wane, and hotels were enticing visitors to return by offering ridiculous deals to the vaccinated. I longed to once again dip my toes in the Caribbean, and feel the sand give softly under my feet. My cousin who lives in Virginia proposed the trip, convincing us to join a small group of people who want to recognize all the birthdays and joyous occasions we couldn't gather to celebrate during the previous year. Once there, she explained, we can choose to do activities be with the group or go off by ourselves, the best of both worlds. But then Covid surged again, this time calling itself Delta, vaccinations stalled, Omicron showed up, sounding like a new Marvel character, positivity rates climbed everywhere, some borders closed down, and travel was once again deemed ill advised. 

"We're still going," my husband whispered to me in the dark one night. "We'll wear our masks and be safe, but we're going." If you knew my husband, you'd know he isn't usually declarative like this except to heed the full desire of his heart and mind. I believe his Caribbean soul misses the sea as much as mine. And so we'll get our negative Covid tests and board that plane, and walk in the water once more.


Monday, November 29, 2021

The quiet after (plus an update)


We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours for ever—the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on belfry floor, a remembered voice, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the melancholy to pass. ” 


―J.L. Carr, A Month in the Country

__________

As you can see, we put down the new carpet for Thanksgiving. It lightened up the room somewhat. Everyone liked its neutral tones, about which I felt merely neutral. Still, it was good to have newness underfoot, and to not have broken the bank to achieve it. I'll be happy to switch out those tired old couches in another month or two. We’ll also probably let go of that way-past-its-prime brown armchair, and have one less piece of furniture in the space. But I may choose to keep the red curtains after all. A punch of color may be welcome. We'll see. 

Everyone but my cousin from Trinidad has now returned from whence they came, and we're all getting our covid tests, in Boston, in Minneapolis, in Dallas, here in New York City. Results in a day or two. Meanwhile, our son's PCR test came back negative, so all is well there. The New York Post broke a story about some municipal workers presenting fake vaccine ID cards to get around the city's vaccine mandate. I can't quite wrap my mind around this. Instead, I will continue to send up petitions that everyone remains healthy, and that those who do get infected will have only the mildest of symptoms. We keep on.

Update: All our Covid tests taken today have come back negative, five of us so far. Phew. I think we're gonna be okay.


Saturday, November 27, 2021

A day to give thanks


That photo, taken by my niece, was probably the only good photo I got from Thanksgiving, or as it is more appropriately called, Indigenous People's Day. I'll probably still use Thanksgiving as shorthand, meaning nothing to do with the story of Pilgrims welcoming Indigenous people to their table, if indeed they did deign to break bread with them, talk about historical gaslighting. As an immigrant, I didn't have that story fed to me at the knee, and so I choose to use the word Thanksgiving in its most literal sense, a day to give thanks. I did field my usual anxiety during the early rounds; it's always nerve wracking to get everything cooked in our small galley kitchen, and onto the table warm at the same time. But somehow we always manage it.

Guest List

We hosted a much smaller gathering than usual, just the seven folks staying in our home, plus my son and his fiancee. My girl and her guy and their pup, and my cousin from Trinidad have been here all week. And my niece who lived with us for almost two years post college, is staying over for the weekend, returning to Brooklyn on Sunday. My niece who is at college in Minneapolis flew in to join the festivities, as did her older sister and her husband, who live in Dallas. I sorely missed my other cousin and her husband and older daughter, who live in Orlando, and didn't make it this year. On the day itself, the parents of my niece's husband also joined us from Brooklyn. Everyone was fully vaccinated and most already boosted.  

The Menu

My man does almost all the cooking, but for the corn and cheese casserole that I contribute, and the dish my son makes, sweet potato casserole, using his grandma's recipe. The man makes the turkey and stuffing, the baked ham with honey mustard glaze, the broccoli in garlic and oil, the three-cheese mac and cheese, and jalapeno cornbread. This year he also made cheesecakes with three different toppings (blackberry, raspberry, and caramel), and our daughter made two yummy apple pies. A guest also brought a rich German chocolate cake. We didn't have potato salad or plantains this year, as the people who usually make those weren't here.

The Feast

I finally exhaled once the meal was on the table. We stood in a big circle holding hands as my husband gave thanks for our beloveds being able to gather and enjoy it. I always love that moment. Just like when I was a kid, I never close my eyes for the grace. Instead I look around at everyone's beautiful faces, and my daughter is always looking, too, and we smile and wink at each other conspiratorially. Wine flowed as the meal was consumed, and later, we made margaritas, which I suppose is now a tradition. We talked and laughed and told stories till late into the night as usual, with me periodically packing the dishwasher, and then my daughter moved everyone out of the kitchen so she could clean up and put away leftovers. Her cousins soon pitched in to help. I fell into bed at midnight with every joint and muscle aching, but I was relieved and happy to have pulled off the feast with all these people I love for yet another year.

The Day After

We lounged around in kaftans and sweats, eating leftovers and binge watching Ten Perfect Strangers on Hulu. It turned out to be quite a creepy show, even though it had some weird version of a happy ending. Afterward, we all needed lightness and air, so we turned on The Great British Baking Show and cheerfully watched all the good-humored, real seeming people creating marvelous baked showstoppers, while puppy Munch trotted among us giving his baleful stare that said well, aren't you going to get up and feed me? 

Uh-ohhh

My son called in the middle of the day on Friday to say seven guys at his fire house had tested positive for Covid the day before, all of them vaccinated. I don't believe any of them were very sick, if they showed any symptoms at all, but my son went off to get rapid tested himself after informing us we had all potentially been exposed. We were happy then that the gathering had been relatively small. We only had to make one contact tracing call, to my niece's husband's parents. There was some relief when my son's antigen test came back negative. He will still do the gold standard PCR test when he goes in to work this evening, as the Fire Dept. is concerned about the sudden cluster of breakthrough cases and will be testing personnel at the start of all tours for the next couple of weeks. 

Just Life, Really

We were all strangely calm when we got the news that we were being contact traced. I suppose this is just the way life is, now. My cousin will get tested on Monday, as she is traveling back to Trinidad on Wednesday and has to present a negative PCR test, and the man and I are supposed to be taking a jaunt to Belize in December, for which we will need to get tested and present negative Covid tests, too. Okay, I've run out of steam so here are some rather poor quality photos from my ancient phone camera. It might be time for a new one.


It's "no-shave November," but FDNY regulations say our boy isn't allowed to grow a beard as it would interfere with the proper seal of his protective mask, so he grew a mustache instead. He'll shave it off again on December 1, which none of us minds, as we're not used to him with a 'stache. There he is with his mama and one of his very favorite aunts.

Our son's fiancee joined us for the feast; she usually does this day with her family in New Jersey. We loved having her with us for once, it made the gathering feel more complete.

I read on an Instagram post called "Rules for Thanksgiving" that "nobody want's to see your food table." Well, there it is anyway.

Our children develop rituals with their loves. These two have decided that he comes to us for Thanksgiving, which we make a fuss about, and she goes to his family for Christmas, since they have extended family gatherings and we are always very low key. 

I'm pretty sure it never occurred to them when they decided to join us for the meal, that they'd be contact traced the next day. I pray everyone stays healthy and symptom free.

What can we all do, really, but keep on keeping on? And doesn't Munch look rather cozy snuggled in our midst? I hope you all had the day you wanted this year. As for me? I'm over here doing my best to take life one little moment, one breath at a time. 



Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Poggled

 
adj. shocked upon looking twice at something you see every day and catching an obvious detail you’d never noticed before—an old scar on your loved one’s knee, a wall in your house that’s apparently always been purple, or a prominent building that seemed to appear in your neighborhood overnight—which makes you wonder how much else of the world you might be missing, when you’re just barely there yourself.  

—John Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows


Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Mood



Thanksgiving week is here. My daughter didn't want me to post that last photo of her and her love at the Harvard-Yale football game, which it seemed the entire population of the northeast attended. "Too Harvard-y," she said, but they look so happy together, so I've convinced her it's okay. We're doing a small gathering this year, just the folks staying here with us, plus my Dallas niece's in laws, eleven of us in all. My son will be on shift at the firehouse Wednesday night but will be able to join us for the Thanksgiving itself, for which I'm grateful. You may recall we usually hosted twenty-five people or more, but the world has changed, and we must adapt, making peace with the fact that some of our beloveds aren't able to be with us this year. But others have already arrived, with four more to come tonight and tomorrow, all of us vaccinated. Last year it was just the man and me and our daughter and her love, and it was low-stress and lovely. Change is constant, but if we stay open enough, we might discover its gifts. This seems to be the theme of the week. Happy lead-up to Thanksgiving, dear friends, if you happen to celebrate it. Regardless, I hope you have exactly the kind of week you wish for.


Saturday, November 20, 2021

After the cut


They cut down the Honey Locust tree in front of our window yesterday. Something about the root system. I was bereft watching it go, this tree with its many colors, most especially its gold raiment, that kept me company through so many seasons as I sat by the window, writing, thinking, puzzling things out. Now there is only empty air where a mature tree stood, but now I can see other trees that were hidden before, and how strange to discover their patient beauty and to realize all is not lost, the cruel cut has been made, change happens without your consent, but inspiration can live in other branches, too.

Unrelated (or perhaps not), I won't be writing here about Kyle Rittenhouse being acquitted of the murder of two men at a Black Lives Matter rally last year, because we all know how the verdict would have gone down if he had been Black or Brown instead of White, so I'll be over here taking care of my mental health, because it's not as if any of us were one bit surprised. In fact, I was on the phone with my daughter yesterday when the not guilty verdict was rendered, and her only response was a quick sardonic burst of laughter at how absurdly wrong the whole things was. I have to laugh, she told me, or I'll never stop crying.



Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Great Sea


I don't think memoir subjects can really grasp how fully they are with you when you are attempting to channel a book-length work on their behalf. Every day for the better part of a year, you sit in front of a screen and try to conjure their reality, their words, how they might have experienced the events of their lives through their five senses, even beyond what they have yet been able to share. So much connective material must be inferred, and you hope that when they read what you give them, they will exhale and say, yes, you got it right, and if you didn't get it right, they will say, no, not quite, it was like this, because what you managed to put on the page has helped them call to the fore memories that had been in hiding before, and oh, it's an incredibly intimate dance, and the sustaining of it requires a kind of attention and devotion to both person and craft that is hard to describe. But I'm in it, now. I'm in the middle of the great sea and stroking through the water slowly, thoughtfully, intentionally—rowing faithfully for shore.


A dismaying yet absolutely predictable feature of this process is when you look at what you have written and it all sounds like drivel. Maybe you just need to sit in a different boat for a while, take in a slightly different view, because even in those moments, you must press on.

Arriving at forty thousand words this morning, I'm halfway to a completed first draft. After that, the process gets a little easier, as you now have a map you can pore over with your subject in the effort to discover where refinements must be made.



Saturday, November 13, 2021

Munch and other darlings

In one more week, this handsome guy will join us for Thanksgiving week, along with his humans. There they are below, all masked up for a team-bonding event with their grad school cohort group last weekend, and at the Charles River crewing regatta the weekend before. And there Munch is, helping his human dad with coursework yesterday. He's grown a lot, hasn't he? My daughter's love is getting his MBA, and I'm intrigued by how intentionally sewn into the social life of his program are partners, children, and even pets. I imagine the reasoning is that the students may well be in these same domestic arrangements as they pursue their subsequent careers, and why not fold them into the grad school experience in a relationship strengthening way. I'm grateful that my girl and her guy are able to go through it together, and even more grateful that she got to move to Boston with her job, working remotely for the two years of the program. To my mind, that allows my girl a requisite level of independence, something my father raised me to revere. The recent good news: My daughter's love has already lined up post grad school employment. The firm he did an internship with last summer offered him a full time job, and he has accepted. That means they'll definitely be moving back to New York City when he graduates next May. I could not be happier.



The last picture here is a throwback, taken in the early aughts when my girl was ten and my son was twelve. Look at the loving way we are all gazing at the photographer, who is of course their silly dad and my forever love.

The man and I actually had a bit of an argument yesterday, with raised voices and even some frustrated tears from me, and when we realized that we were both locked into our positions, and there would be no meeting in the middle, much less at either end, we both agreed to just let it be one of those things we would not agree on, and just move on. And we did, with no lingering resentment or vapor. It strikes me now that this is one of the great unsung joys of thirty five years of congenial partnership. You no longer have to be right every time. Or rather, you can sometimes both be wrong or both be right at the same time, and somehow, it's okay. 

 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Little Island reverie


I did indeed visit Little Island with my cousin yesterday. I loved it's layout and design, loved the warm color of the wood used for its amphitheater, loved the sparkle of the river showing off its diamonds under a clear blue sky, loved that you can get everywhere, even to the highest lookout points, without climbing a single stair. Instead, you can meander along perfectly graded upward paths, which curve through beautiful plantings of trees and flowers and grasses, the entire setting wonderfully designed to accommodate the mobility challenged, people like me whose structural impairments make stairs difficult, painful, slow, sometimes just not doable.

Most times, when faced with flights of stairs (assuming they are optional, because sometimes they are not), I’ll say to my companions, you go on ahead, I'll catch you on the way back down. I don’t want to hamper or hold them back. Yesterday, I didn't have to worry about that. I got to explore every corner of the park built on top of weird tulip-shaped silver pylons standing in the Hudson River. The curving paths upward beckoned me on, with gratitude for the makers who understood that people like me would want to take in the view from the highest points, too.


That's me at the top of the southwest lookout with my cousin in blue. In my youth, I did ballet. I was so flexible, my third and fifth position feet impeccably placed, my splits pure, my kicks higher than anyone else's when doing the Can-Can. I remember sprinting up stairs in my twenties, taking them two at a time, trusting my body to do my bidding without a thought. When did that change? It came on by degrees, my two legs different lengths since birth, the left hip slowly crumbling, both knees progressively shredded by falls through the years, so that now I walk as if broken, because that is the truth of it, parts of me are broken, but I can still climb to the top of Little Island along a beautifully engineered upward slope. It's crazy how happy it made me to be exploring that park with my cousin, navigating to every corner, included.


 
 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The season of gold is here again

And here we are, just another workday. Don't forget to vote. 



Sunday, October 31, 2021

Magicalness

On the afternoon of Halloween, we attended a birthday party in Riverside Park, a surprise celebration in Dinosaur Playground for a magical ten year old, daughter of the author whose book is now making the rounds at publishing houses, and pray with me, please, that it gets picked up, because her narrative is magnificent. That's mother and daughter above, as we all sang "Happy Birthday," with the birthday girl's two uncles in the background, one in leopard print the other in sartorial red, who took their niece on a shopping extravaganza, after doing her makeup, painting her nails lavender, and adorning her hair in gold filigree and rings. This was the ruse to keep her occupied while her parents set up the party in the park. I was meeting my brilliant writer friend's village for the first time, a mix of Armenians (which she is) and Jamaicans (which her husband is), with a few other lovely variations of humanity thrown in, authors and opera singers, musicians and costume designers, artists and teachers, a computer whiz and an ichthyologist, plus a beautiful teen and preteen gang of aspiring performers and filmmakers, all with light around them, all of them sparked by art. Maryam, Chris, Daniel, Imani, the afternoon was wonderful. Thank you for sharing your village. This time, we took pictures. 






Thursday, October 28, 2021

Happy birthday to my love


It’s always been you, young’un. 

❤️


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Little Island and other delights

 

Just taking a work break to post a pretty picture of the new waterfront park in Manhattan that opened last year. I haven't gone exploring there yet, but I will definitely go with my cousin Nicky next week after she arrives from Trinidad to spend the month of November with us! Nicky is like my little sister. When she was in college at Howard University in D.C., and I was a newly employed twenty something reporter for the reincarnated LIFE magazine, she caught the bus to New York City to hang with me almost every weekend. The two of us sat in sidewalk cafes happily chatting and people watching, and my friends all thought that Nicky went to college in New York, because they saw her all the time. Maybe we will do a lot al fresco dining on this visit, too. It will be nice to have a ready companion to go all the places in the city I've been meaning to go for more than a year now—especially on weekdays, when most folks are working. I plan to take a few days off while Nicky is here. I have a running list of things for us to do, like visit Little Island early in the day before the crowds hit, and catch the Night Market, a gourmet smorgasbord staged outdoors by the city's top restaurants, a kind of traveling food festival with music and crafts that pops up at different locations around  the city, until the weather turns cold. But first, we will do what Nicky always wants to do on the first morning after she lands in New York—order pancakes at our favorite Greek diner. For Nicky, nothing says I'm in New York City like sitting in a diner over a stack of pancakes swimming in maple syrup. Ooooo, I'm getting excited to see her. Packages for her are already arriving at our door, so you know the time is near.

Okay, back to work. I'm closing in on thirty thousand words.


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Absence is a house so vast

 
This week, on October 22, my father would have turned ninety-eight, had he not left this physical plane at the tender age of seventy two. In my father, a man as flawed as the rest of us, I witnessed goodness, devotion, and integrity up close. This is an unvarnished truth. I am not romanticizing it from a distance of years. 
 
Here's a quote from Pablo Neruda: "Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures on the air.” And here's another one, this one from Toni Morrison, possibly an antidote: "If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it." 
 
Happy birthday in the unseen, Daddy. Twenty-five without you feels like an eternity, yet it seems you were here just yesterday. Sometimes I imagine you are with me still, I just can't see you with these human eyes, and isn't it pretty to think so?
 
 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Sunday scaries

When you’re a freelancer working from home, Sunday is just another workday. I’m using work to keep brooding at bay today, to banish the self-flagellating thoughts that hijacked my pain body as I lay awake for the hour or so before daybreak. I am unable to make things happen that I wish I could achieve. I am unable to make my cousin who is an addict stay at the assisted living home where she has been recovering from injuries inflicted by her partner, who for 30 years now has been abusive. We found her a place to live where he wouldn’t be able to get to her, a place with green lawns and trees, but she wants to go back him and denies he’s ever hit her, as if we are not to believe the evidence of our eyes and the ER doctors’ reports. I feel powerless to make her stay where she is safe, where she is getting nourishing meals and medical care. I imagine my Aunt Winnie looking down and weeping that we still have not managed to secure her child. 

In more trivial news, I kind of love this chair. 




Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The daily

 
That photo of a Clinton Hill cafe was taken by my niece, also my goddaughter, who lived with us for her first year and a half out of college, riding out the pandemic lock down with her old aunt and uncle. She has a wonderful eye, and is crushing it as the digital editorial coordinator and social media manager of a travel and lifestyle website. Her job, but for the first two months, has been entirely conducted during the time of Covid, most of it remotely, but her bosses have seen enough of her creativity and diligence to have promoted her not once, but twice in that time. That's our former roomie in her no longer new Brooklyn apartment. I swiped the pics from her Insta. She doesn't mind.


In other news, our daughter flew in for a quick turnaround for a work event yesterday. She arrived just before midnight on Monday evening and left to catch her flight back to Boston at five thirty this morning. She went into her office in midtown after her client meeting yesterday, and was pleasantly surprised by how much she enjoyed seeing her co-workers in person, including a couple of new ones with whom she's so far only interacted remotely. How the world of work has changed. Our girl has been back home for hours already, putting in a regular workday.  

She and I had fun last night, ordering in dinner and catching up on Survivor and then binge watching Squid Game on Netflix while my husband read on his Kindle. My girl and I finished the whole series, the two of us going to bed at 2 AM. The story is brutal and horrifying, but also compelling and thought provoking, and once we made it to the second episode, we couldn't turn away. There were definitely characters to root for, social hierarchy questions to engage, and villains you were happy to see get their comeuppance. One scene in particular, between Lee Yoo-Mi and HoYeon Jung, the two young actresses pictured below, was the standout of the entire eight episodes, and moved me to tears.

Do I recommend the series, which in three weeks has become the most-watched show on Netflix ever? Yes, I do. It mostly stands up to the hype, especially if you go into it blind, as I did. I didn't love the final episode, however, and wished for a different outcome, though the ending they gave us is probably setting up a second season. And now it's back to work for me. I have written 24K words of a manuscript that is contracted to be 85K words in length. I still have a long way to go, and many more interviews to do, but I think the channel through which the story will flow is finally open.



Sunday, October 10, 2021

I still love


“The desire to go home is a desire to be whole ... to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.” ―Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise
 
__________

I listen to commentators on the news making dire predictions about where we are headed as a nation, the coming civil war, which they mean in a literal sense, nothing metaphorical about the racial animus provoking violence, and I contemplate the question, where is home? Why did I plant my children in a country that does not love them, that cannot see beyond their beautiful skin? What does it mean that the "you" in that neon installation photographed above, is locked in a cage? Maybe that is the metaphor, the gates that must be stormed if we are, any of us, to awaken from sleep, to find "the center of the world, that center called love."