Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Sometimes


“Sometimes,” said the horse.

“Sometimes what?” asked the boy.

“Sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent.”

 *

—Charlie Mackesy, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse 

 

 

 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Still thinking about Van Gogh


It's not that I think he outshone his contemporaries, though I do think his was an original vision, that he had his own way of experiencing art. I also think his tortured artist story makes his work tragically poignant, and I find I am grateful that he managed to make art despite his demons, that his human soul found an oasis of comfort upon those roiling seas.

Friday, June 25, 2021

The social dance


For Father's Day last weekend, our son came over and our daughter and her love brought their dog Munch as well as three kinds of frozen desserts that they had made from scratch: key lime pie ice cream, banana caramel ice cream, and raspberry Campari sorbet. So delicious. We just hung out all day, starting with breakfast of scrambled eggs (made the way my dad used to do it) and maple bacon, then ordering in burgers for lunch from Harlem Shake, and then ate little scoops of ice cream all afternoon, relishing the tastes and the company until my son had to leave for his shift at his firehouse, and the other two left to meet up with some Boston friends who had come to the city for the weekend. But for the firefighter who had to work that evening, there was some day drinking involved.



Next there was our lovely gathering on Monday night, followed on Tuesday morning bright and early by my first in person interview with my book subject. Crazily, the entire proposal I wrote for her was developed from phone conversations, and now, with the proposal sold and the two of us fully vaccinated, we were finally meeting in the flesh to start work on the book. I chose a restaurant in my neighborhood that I knew would be quiet at that hour. We know the owner by now, an always warmly welcoming man, and I had spoken to him beforehand to make sure conditions would be conducive to potentially intimate sharing. 

My subject arrived on time, in a festive pink floral summer dress, and I noticed at once that she is far more beautiful in person than the photos she posts of herself on social media. She has no vanity; I love that about her. She's on TV, and in person she looks much the same as she does when she's all dolled up by the studio stylists. 

Incredibly beautiful people often make me feel awkward and self-conscious, but I felt perfectly comfortable with her. I suspect she might not even know how attractive she is. She was a fat child till she was 13, and we both agreed that the image you have of yourself at 13 is often the one that stays with you for life. Our conversation roamed all over the place. For the book, I needed to drill down deeper at so many points, but I let the conversation skip around, as I didn't want our first in person meeting to feel too heavy, I wanted her to enjoy the encounter, and besides, she seemed to be in a very lighthearted mood. She was worried about whether we'd get the book done in time. I laughed and said, "Oh don't worry, we will. We have contracts!" So now I need to sit myself in the chair and start writing in earnest.

On Wednesday morning, I met my daughter in Battery Park to go and see the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit, which was spectacular. The paintings are shown in darkened rooms, with spots of light illuminating the art installations and the descriptive panels of text. As you walk through the galleries, meditative music fills the space, with a man's voice speaking quotes from the artist's writings and conversations during his lifetime. 

But the piéce de rèsistance was the final gallery, a cavernous room with chairs and benches and carpet on which people sat in the darkness and watched a visual presentation of the artist's life and work and death sliding across all four walls, the dancing light playing across the audience, too, so that we became part of the show, which was accompanied by a heart-lifting sound track that spanned Japanese traditional music to Beethoven, with narration by the same man's voice, I think it was Jeremy Irons. We could have stayed in that room for hours, but we left at around noon, as my girl had a work conference call she had to be on. We found a bench next to the water and she took her call, while I watched the lovely dappled light under the trees, and enjoyed the breezy unhumid day. After her call, we headed to Seamore's for lunch and watermelon margaritas, and just had the best time sitting on the patio and talking about everything. It was in all respects a perfect and soul-nourishing day.




The social dance continues. My daughter's in laws (as we call her partner's family, even though she and he are not married) will be in town for the weekend and staying with us. My girl and her guy will join us for dinner tonight, and tomorrow, they'll take his mom and sister sightseeing around Brooklyn, and the man and I will join them later for a dinner of soy-glazed salmon steaks grilled on their roof deck. Somewhere in there, I will also find time to watch the greatest gymnast of all time Simone Biles and the rest of the Americans as they compete for a spot on the U.S. team in the gymnastics Olympic trials to be held this weekend. I absolutely and unironically love the Olympics, especially gymnastics (because, hello, Simone Biles) and track and field, in which my little island of Jamaica has long dominated.

New York is experiencing a very low incidence of covid at the moment, with a less than one percent positivity rate in the city. Even though I'm still wearing masks, I do feel my guard coming down, which isn't always a good thing. My girl just called and reported that she's come down with a cold. "It just came on hard and fast yesterday, "she said. Definitely not covid, she assured me, but my poor girl is under the weather, and with her in laws coming into town, too. 

To end on a sweet note, yesterday marked one year since adorable Munch joined our family. Our girl posted pics to mark the occasion, which she referred to as "Happy Gotcha Day." Munch's mantra, or rather my daughter's mantra for him is "Stay weird, little dude." He doesn't have to try.

 


Thursday, June 24, 2021

That night

I almost don't know how to write here, so much has been happening. Nothing earth shaking in the world, but my own little self has been personally rocked by a rather assertively social couple of weeks. It included a wonderful gathering of souls this past Monday night, when the man and I dined with the Armenian writer whose book I have been editing. She and I first became aware of each other at a book launch a year ago in March, an event we each almost didn't attend. A week later, covid-19 shut down the world. 

While I sheltered in place in the city, she rode out the first five months of quarantine in Jamaica, having been marooned there when borders closed in the middle of her family's spring break vacation. It was a gift, because she finished writing her book there. Her adopted son, 17, is Jamaican-born, and so is her husband, whom she met after she was already a mother. In addition to the gentle spirit who is their son, they are now also parents to a brilliant spark of a nine-year-old daughter, who likes to point out that she is the only member of their family who isn't an immigrant. The mother is an extraordinarily gifted writer, and the way we found each other felt somehow ordained, our connection infused with a shared sense that we had known each other through many lifetimes before this one. 

Long story short, after reading some of her work last year, I sent her first chapter to an agent friend who loved what she saw and wanted to represent the book. But the manuscript wasn't ready. It was too long by almost half, the final narrative still needing to be excavated from what was already an exquisite piece of writing. The book's author has now completed that arduous revise, cutting boldly and without remorse. The result is a work that is very special indeed. When it went back to her agent, she pronounced it magical, and the agent's daughter, who also read the manuscript through several rounds, declared, "I love this book so much I can't even stand it!"

And so we were celebrating. The agent and her wife of 32 years, and my husband and me, all traveled to Queens to dine with the author and her beautiful family. The author is the size of a child, with the aura of a much larger person, and we hugged each other for a long time in greeting. "Are you both really just meeting each other?" our agent friend said, because we've been in constant communication now for more than a year, and it was a little shocking, even to us, to realize we hadn't yet met in the flesh. 

Everybody got on with everybody from the get. And my God, the meal. The counter was laden with authentic Armenian and Jamaican dishes, from ackee and saltfish (Jamaica's national dish) to dolma (an Armenian staple of grape leaves stuffed with chick peas or meat), plus two deserts, Armenian bird's milk pastries and a walnut tangerine cake that the author's mother used to make. Their family has dubbed their exhilarating mix of cooking styles as Jahrmenian cuisine. Honestly, the man and I have been dreaming about that fantastic spread ever since. They sent us all home with containers of food, and I wished I had been less shy and taken more, because I was still tasting the deliciousness of every dish the next morning.

Yet as out of this world as the food was, the company was even more divine. We huddled shoulder to shoulder around the coffee table and talked and shared in an easy stream of consciousness, every one of of us falling in love with everyone else. The next day, I missed each person there in a sweet aching way, and was thrilled when our hosts texted us to say that we really must do this again. I was so inside the experience that I didn't take a single photo all evening. How did that happen? I wondered, and my Armenian compatriot wondered the very same thing. "How is possible that this night goes unrecorded?" she said after. For me there was something delicate and precious about the evening, like a moment out of time, and I think I just didn't want to disturb its unfolding. 

The photos here are from our hosts' Jahrmenian Feast catering website. Their deviled eggs are the most delicious I ever tasted, with crushed walnuts mixed in with the yokes, and pomegranate seeds the perfect garnish. These pictures don't begin to do justice to the spread our hosts put before us. I can't fully do justice in the telling of that evening, either. In a room full of people of so many different origins, it felt like a wondrous communion of kindred spirits. Oh, it was a night. 


 


Friday, June 18, 2021

While coaxing the muse


I framed the puzzle and hung it in my daughter's former bedroom, where guests now sleep. It was a good distraction from what I really needed to be doing, which was working. I'm doing a lot of thinking rather than writing on the new book right now. I've drafted a first chapter and hit a wall on the second. I've written words, maybe a thousand of them, but they feel unanchored to any purpose. Story for story's sake, rather than story for the sake of advancing the reader's understanding. The muse is being elusive. All I've managed of work today is banging out in all caps at the top of the chapter: "What is the point here? What do you want the reader to know about your subject at the end of this chapter? What do you want readers to feel as they read?" I've decided it's enough to simply mull these questions for now, and hope for epiphanies.

 

I've had a fairly challenging week socially. It included lunch with my thin and impossibly elegant agent to celebrate the past year's work, an engagement I had to make myself not cancel, feeling ungainly as I do. I wore my favorite mask, the deep satiny red of it making me bold. Lunch was fine, we were fine, we laughed and caught up and now I've shown up and I don't have to angstily breathe deeply and anticipate it any more. My name does seem to be more out there lately, as I've been fielding fairly regular inquiries from agents looking for a collaborative writer for a client. It's the bane of freelancing, the worry that these inquiries will dry up when I actually have time to take on new work once more.

The kids are coming over tomorrow. My daughter and her love proposed an ice cream party for Father's Day, as they have an ice cream maker and have become rather innovative in creating new flavors. We're doing it on Saturday because our son has to work on Sunday, but planned to spend Saturday with us for some pre-Father's Day quality time. Neither my husband nor I need ice cream, as we're both working the Noom program right now (lucky me, having that man cook all the healthy yet yummy recipes), but one has to also enjoy one's life, and an ice cream party with one's children is a rather lovely interlude.

In the midst of this post, my friend Leslie sent me this text. I posted it on my Insta story, in tears. Can I just pause to say a heartfelt thank you to each of you who read Mazie's book. I am proud of it. But I have also felt what Leslie so generously expresses in her text, that it's an important book, because it documents what actually happened in these fraught times.



Sunday, June 13, 2021

Moon Dance

I finally found a puzzle that I want to hang on my wall. It's called "Moon Dance," put out by a company called eeBoo, from their Piece & Love line of puzzles, which are wonderfully inclusive of all the colors of humanity who share our planet. I don't know if you've ever noticed, but people who look like me and my family do not appear in the vast majority of jigsaw puzzles, and so I was enchanted by eeBoo's diverse offerings. I particularly love this painting of women celebrating together in a moonlit garden. It speaks to me of feminine communion and joy. I ordered a frame for the finished puzzle, and am waiting eagerly for its delivery.

I also want to make a record here of those two ceramic plates on my dining table, the blue and the green, which arrived by mail in a box marked fragile, sent to me by the senator whose book I helped write. Clayed and glazed and decorated by her own hands, they are part of her series of "envelope plates," and one of them, the green one, bears the initials of her beloved mother as a design motif. Having worked with the senator on her book published earlier this year, I know what her ceramic art means to her, how deeply claying restores her for the fight for right, and so I know what an inestimable gift it is to receive a pair of these one-of-a-kind works or art. "Please use them," Mazie told me with her usual pragmatic sincerity, and so, with love and appreciation for her heart of fire, I shall.





Friday, June 11, 2021

Transformations


My daughter texted yesterday that she had the day off today, and did I want to hang out. This, as you well know, puts me in my happy place, a spontaneous wander around the city with my girl. She texted me again an hour later and said "I did a good thing at my job!” She then shared that a corporate partner whom she's been cultivating since before the pandemic began had just committed to a very generous sponsorship package to feed New York's hungry. My girl is loving her job right now, even though her millennial brain tells her she's been too many years at one place. Many of her friends have skipped from job to job since graduating college, some have returned to grad school, but she's doing work that helps to secure people in need, has moved up steadily through the ranks, and has a super supportive and fair minded boss, a gift indeed. Not only that, her nonprofit agreed to let her work remotely from another city while her love is in grad school. And when she does come back to New York in a year, she'll only need to go into the office two days a week, and work from home the other three—this is the new protocol at her company. 

My son's fiancee also learned this week that the entire staff of her company will continue working remotely, so now she and my son are figuring out where they can set up office space for her in their one-bedroom apartment. One can't work from the kitchen counter or the couch and coffee table indefinitely. Meanwhile, my husband learned that everyone at the museum who took a one fifth cut in pay during quarantine by going to a four day work week, will be reinstated to five days as of July 1. All scientific staff will return to the building full time soon after. As for the magazine for which I edit, they have now put out more than a year's worth of issues with everyone working remotely, so I can't imagine they'll want to keep paying massive amounts of rent for their Brooklyn open concept office space, industrial cool and airy as it is. 

The city is being transformed in more ways than how people work. Restaurants have spilled onto sidewalks and out into the street, and the change looks to be permanent. Here's a picture of a Mexican restaurant on our block that is now mostly street side dining. The second picture is the view from where the man and I sat inside our favorite neighborhood place when we escaped our dining table co-working situation for a midday lunch earlier this week.

 
 

The kettle's whistling, and I've just run out of steam on this post. I need to go get ready to meet my girl anyway. Here's one last photo, taken by my daughter, of a woman going grey. My husband likes the silvering, and jokes that he's responsible for each and every one of those strands. I like that he likes the gray, but sometimes, I tire of it and color over it with perfect assurance that the change is only temporary, the silver always returns.


Thursday, June 3, 2021

Beautiful things


My man planted those roses on a trellis in the churchyard last year and they are flourishing. Yesterday, when he stopped by the church to sign some checks (he's the finance committee guy), his babies looked like this as they posed exuberantly for his camera. This is a man who, growing up, imagined marriage as being able to mow his own lawn and prune his own rose bushes. Little did he know he would end up with a city slicker and make life in an apartment in a city of eight million souls, so it's a gift that he has not just our windowsill but also that churchyard on a Harlem side street where he can answer the yen to grow beautiful things.

What a lovely time we had last night. Our daughter and her love are back in the city as of Tuesday, and will reside for the summer in an airy sublet in Brooklyn, a building with amenities I didn't know folks like us could aspire to in the city, perks like a garage beneath the building with rows of gleaming Audis that can be rented on a whim by residents at twenty percent less than anywhere else, and an expansive and beautifully appointed roof deck, with barbecue grills, fire pits, and overhead fairy lights on a wooden pergola, plus a huge screen on one wall for weekly movie nights courtesy of the management. 

A nice surprise for all was that both the residents and staff of the building are very diverse, all the united colors of Benetton (always loved that ad campaign), including mid-career professionals and millennial families, along with young hipster couples and transplants from other places who're new to the city for work or school. "We're experimenting with the bougie lifestyle this summer," my girl joked, and invited us to enjoy it with them. And last night we did. My son was working, but our niece who used to live with us and recently moved to Brooklyn joined us, and we all ate dinner up on the roof around a fire pit with the twilight sky arched above. For me, the feeling was of being able to truly exhale.

I didn't get many photos but there will be other chances, though the summer couple's dance card is already full, what with the city reopened and practically everyone we know now vaccinated. Plus most of their friends live in Brooklyn, and many of their business school cohorts are also in the city for summer internships, and they are a very social group if the past year in Boston is any indication. One year of grad school down already. One more year to go and then my girl and her guy will return to the city for good. At least I hope so. They are so happy to be home, they say. They were practically levitating with joy, even though they will both still have to do their day jobs. Oh to be young and tilting into the wind. The city has a certain electrical charge, and they plugged right back in. Even Munch seems excited to be back in town.