Friday, April 30, 2021

Savoring the moment

I had my first business lunch in a year, sitting on the newly built sidewalk deck of my favorite neighborhood place, with all the music of New York City around us (as in trains, sirens, car horns, pedestrian chatter). Gosh, it felt good to be outside, and to be somewhat social with a very congenial lunch companion, who I was meeting for the first time in person, and who wanted to discuss ideas.

I heard yesterday that I didn't get that other book, and though I was disappointed to be the pageant runner up and not the one crowned, last night I slept like a baby, whereas if I'd got the book I would have been spinning in my head all night, knowing that I'd have to bang out another proposal on an incredibly short timeline. Things happen as they are meant, or at least, it's pretty to think so.

Dare I say it, I feel free. Free to explore random opportunities, to see friends without any deadlines making my breath shallow, to take the train two hours north on a weekday to have lunch with an older woman I love, to meet up with my old boss from when I worked in a publishing house two decades ago, who emailed me out of the blue this morning, and now we're getting together next week. 

It's liberating, knowing I have enough work lined up to get through the year (kiss it up to God that nothing falls through, now there's a throwback saying from childhood), but for the next few days at least, I don't have to engage with any of it, as everything has moved to the stage of being in someone else's court. The man and I are meeting some friends at a jazz concert tonight, Covid protocols strictly enforced, and said friends have all been vaccinated. Slowly, slowly, life is opening up again. 

Here's something joyful, my daughter and her five best friends since kindergarten, aka "The Six," all got themselves tested and/or vaccinated then spent the weekend together at an Airbnb in the Boston area, a house with a back yard that overlooked a lake. They had a wonderful time I heard, and this was a picture they sent to the mothers, who are all so moved at the way our girls' friendship evolves and deepens through the years. They are so different, each one, but they get each other, they are each others touchstone. An interesting note: the same orthodontist, visited back in middle school, was responsible for every toothy smile in this picture.



Tuesday, April 27, 2021

We carry on


I met up two dear friends in Central Park's conservatory gardens on Sunday. It was so good to be with them outside. The park was crowded, as it was seventy degrees out and spring blossoms are starting to laden their branches. One of my friends had come from a psychology conference that morning on "whiteness" and she very much wanted to talk about it. She said she was frustrated at the ways in which white people fail to interrogate assumptions that their perspective is the only one. Even good white people, she said, often seem more intent on trying to prove they aren't racist instead of exploring the ways in which they might be. She is white herself, and she argued that white people need to acknowledge their privilege and sit with their shame. A discussion followed as to whether the recognition of white privilege must be accompanied by shame. I told her I'd settle for inquisitive awareness.

In other news, I had a second Zoom call for a possible new project yesterday, so I dressed all the way up again. Here's another picture of me Zooming. It is interesting to me, after a naked faced year, how different one looks with foundation and lipstick on. I have decided that I very much would like to be chosen for this work, though I will be at peace either way. I've shown up to the best of my ability, even if I've been thinking since our Zoom call of all the things I could have, should have said. Now the waiting.

When I was a child, my mother, seeing me become anxious in advance of social occasions, said to me in a voice like dappled light, "Dress yourself nicely my darling, and then just forget about yourself!" I still hear her in my head, and it's the reason why, as stressed as I get beforehand, once the engagement starts, I do forget about myself, it's showtime. Bless my dear mother for the gift she gave me, simple as her words might seem. 

Meanwhile Black people continue to be killed by police, new deaths every day. I hear the names of the dead on the news and wonder if the case if an old one or brand new. I can't keep up. It is as if a mandate has gone out to police to execute Black people every chance they get, and they'll receive paid leave in return. It's no wonder I seem to have fallen into a social justice writing niche. It seems an important subject to engage in this moment. Honestly, the blatancy of racism in this country, from voting rights travesties to health and wealth gaps to police brutality, has become absurdly surreal. 

Good morning, friends. We carry on.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

At the end of a city block


“Optimism skipped out on the rent a while back, but the cynic in the penthouse won't leave until led out by marshals.” Colson Whitehead, The Colossus of New York

*

Spring is here, nevertheless.  

Good that I don't live in a penthouse. 

I get to be among the tulips.



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Guilty on all counts


Ex-Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd yesterday afternoon, convicted on all three counts. When the guilty verdict was read, I suddenly found myself sobbing, which I had not expected, even though I had been wound tight, fearing that this case too, would end in acquittal, dismissal, and tacit approval of cops snuffing out Black life. But George Floyd's execution was just so egregious, and caught on tape for the world to see. For three weeks the prosecution mounted an airtight case, arguing for George Floyd's humanity, and Derek Chauvin's inhumanity, while the defense tried to conjure up stereotypes of the scary Black bogeyman who might rise up and be dangerous even as he's calling out for his Mama in the afterlife, ever after he's stopped breathing, long after he's dead.

So many people cried along with me, which in retrospect should not have surprised me. I called my daughter in Boston twenty minutes after the verdict was read and she was still sobbing, as if her poor heart was in shreds. What does it mean to you? I asked her. What is making you cry so hard? 

I think I just let it in, she said. I think I had held a part of myself numb for over a year because I thought I would need that numb place to deal with the courts once again not valuing Black life. I was afraid they would let that cop go, like they do every time, like they did with Breonna Taylor. But they didn't. This time they said, enough, too much. And now it's all flooding in, the tragedy and violence of what happened to George Floyd, that sweet, good man who so many people loved, who had his problems, who struggled with addiction, who missed his mama, but who did not deserve to die.

I got it. They found Chauvin guilty, but George Floyd is still dead. And to get a conviction, the entire world had to bear witness, because everyone knew that if that video recorded by a brave, heartbroken teenager had not existed, Chauvin would have walked, too. That's why so many people cried. Release and sorrow, a painful brew. And then, within the same hour came the news of a 15-year-old Black girl in Columbus, Ohio, who called the cops because someone was trying to stab her, and when the cops showed up, they shot the girl dead. I don't know the details yet, but I really can't bring myself to believe that they can arrest white men armed to the teeth with assault weapons, even ones who murder Black worshipers in church, all without putting a scratch on them, but they can't deescalate a knife fight without shooting a 15-year-old foster child dead.

Modern police forces evolved from southern slave patrols and northern night watches charged with subjugating and brutalizing people of color to uphold the ideology and practice of white supremacy. The police may have changed their uniforms, but not how they see Black and Brown folks. You can't reform this. The rot is soaked through. You have to tear it down to the studs and start again.



Monday, April 19, 2021

My favorite co-worker

 
The man and I sit at that table every morning and he catches me up on the news while I'm trying to get started working, and then he tends to his plants on the windowsill and reports on their progress, and also the progress of the workmen repaving the path under our window. It's all very delightful, even when I say, Okay babe, I'm in my head trying to find my way through a sentence, and he waves a hand and says, yeah, yeah, ignore me, before getting up from our work table and going to make his breakfast. Also here's a photo of our daughter's dog Munch in profile, because a while back Allison asked for it. Our girl keeps trying to get us to say Munch is our first grandchild, but we say not a chance, he's our grand pup and we're still waiting for his human sibling. But we all do adore Munch.

 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Valisia

I had a big Zoom meeting on Friday, in which I was being interviewed for a possible project. I hate how I look on Zoom, I look gray and washed out, no light is quite right, and I also worry about the clutter in my house showing up behind me. I'm sure no one really cares, but I still judge my personal presentation quite harshly. Who am I kidding? If the meeting had been in person I'd have been just as stressed. Anyway, I did try to prepare, not just by reading up on the subject but I also purchased a video cam attachment as the built in camera on my laptop is blurry and dark, very unprofessional. And I ordered a laptop stand so I could position the screen level with my face instead of having the people on the call looking at me from the neck up (dear God, the neck, and let me tell you, weight loss has not helped that situation, how cruel that is). Then I experimented with the lighting in different places in my house and I looked uniformly bad everywhere so I decided I'd just set up at the dining table in front of the window where I could at least be comfortable. 

I was relieved when Friday finally arrived, because at least the anxiety would soon be over. I tidied the living room and placed a vase of flowers strategically in the background (Maryam, it was the flowers you sent me, still showing off their blooms beautifully). I then showered and dressed and put on a full face of make-up, including painting on lipstick for the first time in more than a year. When I sat in front of the screen I did look somewhat better because now the eye makeup and lipstick grabbed more attention, so now I know that for work related Zoom calls I shall simply have to wear that bold pink shade of lipstick, Valisia it's called, to distract the eye. Ha! That's me Zooming in the picture. No idea if I made any sense in the interview, but my lipstick game was on point.



Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Stop fucking killing us


I need a break. I can't keep writing about brutalized Black bodies, dead Black men, cut down while going about their everyday lives by men and women sworn to protect and serve. The latest tragedy occurred ten miles down the road from the courthouse where We The People are spending millions to stage a month long trial to decide if a White cop who we all witnessed choking the life out of an unarmed, handcuffed Black man on a Minneapolis street should be answerable for committing murder.

And now, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was on his way to the car wash, his girlfriend in the car beside him. The cops said they pulled him over because of a deodorizer hanging from his rear view mirror. I remember a year ago when my own nephew was pulled over for a dream catcher hanging from his rear view mirror, his heart hammering as he placed his hands on the steering wheel where the cops could see them. My nephew drives with his license and papers on the dashboard so he wont have to reach for them if a cop pulls him over. This sweet faced kid was terrified, wondering if he would survive the encounter, as I imagine Daunte Wright might also have worried when he called his mom to say he was being pulled over. Now his one-year-old son will have to grow up without his father.

The cops devised other reasons for detaining Daunte after the fact, none of them warranting this young man's death. An accident, the cops are saying. The cop meant to fire her taser, not her gun. Fuck that. I can't. I watched the video of Daunte's mother and father being interviewed on ABC this morning as tears washed down my face. The pain in his parents' eyes. It's too much. 

And just one night before in Virginia, a Black army lieutenant in uniform, was signaled by cops to pull over for, as it turned out, no reason. He clicked on his hazard lights and kept driving till he could pull over in a well lit area. This apparently enraged the cop, who shouted that the army man was fixing to “ride the lightening” as he pepper sprayed his face, despite his hands being in the air. That well lit gas station with video cam possibly saved the army man's life. After being dragged out his car, battered and abused, he was sent on his way with no charges. I'm worn out by it all. The Black men I love are in random danger from law enforcement every time they walk out the door. I can't say enough prayers for their safety. I'm just done.


 



Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Breath after breath

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensional life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Wendell Berry 

*

This writing is a hedge against the anxiety that is making it so hard for me to breathe right now. What is anxiety but fear, but of what? That I will fail? That I won't be chosen? That I will be chosen and might disappoint? That I will prove unequal to what is asked of me? None of it is fatal, or even final, and yet I forget to breathe sometimes. Today I'm concentrating on breathing into all the sacred places, consecrating them with my breath, endeavoring, as the lovely Pema Chodron says, "to stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feelings of hopelessness," because "learning not to panic, that is the spiritual path."



Monday, April 5, 2021

A word, a quote, and some vicarious living


Ringlorn, adjective: 

The wish that the modern world felt as epic as the one depicted in old stories and folktales—a place of tragedy and transcendence, of oaths and omens and fates, where everyday life felt like a quest for glory, a mythic bond with an ancient past, or a battle for survival against a clear enemy, rather than an open-ended parlor game where all the rules are made up and the points don’t matter.

Found on The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows 

*

"An honorable human relationship—that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love”—is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other. It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation. It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity. It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us."

Adrienne Rich

*

Channeling honorable human relationships and a bit of joy, here are some photos from the week just past of my daughter and my niece, who met up from Boston and Dallas for a beach destination getaway. My niece, a dentist, is fully vaccinated and my girl was tested before and during, was double-masked and face shielded while traveling, and spent time almost entirely outdoors, so don't judge her, as I did. I tried to get her not to go just yet, but she told me her body could not abide another week without immersion in a salty turquoise sea, and so there you go, the imperatives of the young. The truth? I had more than half a mind to join them, but work did not permit. They got back home last night, and now my daughter will quarantine and get two covid tests to ensure she didn't pick up anything, and then, hallelujah, after that she can get vaccinated because Boston expands it's eligibility criteria to include everyone on April 16.