Friday, August 27, 2021

Beautiful Serendipity

The art opening fed my soul. The artist, who is in her eighties, was not there, as she suffered a stroke a week ago and is still hospitalized. The good news is, she is recovering well and will return home to her family this week. This assurance came from her son, the youngest of her eight children, who represented his mother wonderfully last night, and told very moving stories of growing up watching her do her art, even as the family struggled financially in the rural South. 

The book agent was there with her daughter, a lovely young woman who is a Barnard graduate, and she and I bonded over our shared alma mater. The agent had apparently told the artist's son about me, and when she introduced me to him by name, he said, "I am so happy to meet you at last!" He acted as if my being attached to the book project was a done deal, and the agent acted that way too, as if all that remains is to work out terms and scheduling. She assured me again that they'd work around my current commitments, and so I am allowing myself to be cautiously excited. 

I have worked with this woman before, first when I was in my early thirties and she hired me as an editor at a publishing house. Later, after we both left that job she tapped me to work on a book she was packaging. It became the first book I ever had published. If this sounds familiar, it's because I posted about it back in May, when after two decades of no contact, she and I met for lunch, and the art book first became a whisper in my ear. 

Last night, I told her daughter that her mother had always been a rock star, at which point her mother shuddered and confessed, "I'm a little embarrassed by some of my behavior back then." I assured her she was fine, at least from where I stood. She was demanding as a boss, but I appreciated her clarity and perfectionism. I always knew just what she wanted, which made producing it easier. I don't have any trepidation about working with her again, though the parameters of the project do seem a little loose right now. I'm not particularly good at living with the unresolved but something tells me I need to just let what's happening here unfold.

The photo is a scene I snapped from the car window on my way home from last night's show. I didn't take any photos at the gallery. I was busy talking with interesting people. We all kept our masks on, though, so I wonder if I'd recognize any of them again. Probably only the artist's son, whose Southern drawl was distinctive, and whose eyes when he talked about his mother's work finally gaining the recognition it has long deserved, were alive with wonder and joy.

Of course, last night's event burned off all my socializing fuel so I'm grateful to have nothing on tap for today. I'll be able to recharge with just my husband, and my son who's coming by later, while keeping a pleasant distance from the world. I've also this morning completed editing a book proposal that took me all month. The proposal is longer and denser than many books, but it's beautifully written and frames a truly important work. The agent who asked me to do the edit said she wanted to leave no doubt that this is "a big book"—in the field of art scholarship of all things. 

It turns out that engaging with this proposal gave me a rich education in an aspect of American art that will serve me well in the next project, assuming it happens. Life can be so serendipitous and good. And now, I finally feel ready to turn back to the collaborative project that's already on my desk. I think I really needed a summer of reading exquisite writers to reclaim my writing self, if that makes any sense. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Stopping, starting

This erasure poem by Mary Ruefle pierces the present moment for me. I feel a bit like I'm in a post-apocalypse sci-fi movie, in danger every time I venture outside. I hear of people who have caught breakthrough covid cases just from standing next to someone outdoors for less than five minutes. And my son, who is spending the day with me, just told me about the family member of a friend, a man in his fifties who had been fully vaccinated, yet got a breakthrough infection and died. He had underlying conditions, my son said, but still. How do we protect ourselves? We wear masks, but how can we stop living our lives? We can't. And so we go about our business and pray the odds are on our side. 

Last night I had dinner with a friend of almost three decades, a woman with whom I can share my crazy mother worries without fear of judgment, because she shares many of the same fears. She's a therapist by profession, and will sometimes break down the theoretical source of our worries, allowing us to laugh at ourselves. Our concerns these days are mostly born of the awareness that we must let our girls go, we have no control anymore over anything related to our children. 

Her daughter has just become engaged. Both our girls have been friends since starting out in Pre-K, and we tenderly recalled sitting in the living room of that school located in a brownstone on East 96th Street, reflecting that our shy little ones were much the same. 

My friend wasn't feeling so well at dinner, and had no appetite. "I promise it's not covid," she assured me. But of course, I came home and immediately imagined symptoms. Was that scratchy throat the start of something more? What about the fatigue and sleepiness? Did it only signal my bedtime? This is exactly how I've been all year, whenever I watch the news about covid. Suddenly, I have all the symptoms.

I might have another book in the wings, this one very different from any I have done recently. It's an art book rather than a memoir, but they don't want a boring history recitation. They want the art brought to life through the makers, so the writer will have to find the human stories that give birth to the work. I hope the project happens. I'm a little burned out on crafting memoirs right now, and have spent the summer doing very pleasant editing jobs for truly gifted writers instead. But book editing, though time-consuming, doesn't really pay enough to live on. Book collaboration is better for paying the bills, but it can be dispiriting to immerse yourself in writing someone's story for a year or more, helping to excavate and frame their emotional and psychological truths, and get no cover credit in the end. I've decided I don't like the feeling much, even if I did agree to terms at the outset. 

I do currently have a book on contract, and will return to crafting that narrative come the end of summer. Cover credit is guaranteed, and this feels important. The agent on the art book said her clients know I have other projects going and are willing to work around my schedule. I am to attend an art opening tomorrow night to meet one of the artists, who is based in the South but is having a solo show in the city.  

Previously, I had joked to my friend, who does this same book collaboration work, that I seemed to be suffering from the twisties, leading me to pass on being considered for a couple of memoir projects that came my way this summer. It was a reference to gymnast Simone Biles suddenly losing air awareness at the Olympics and feeling unable to do the high-flying twists she has executed for years. In my case, I lost heart awareness, and felt exhausted at merely contemplating memoir work. Yesterday I called my friend and told her I finally found a new project that excites me. 

"The high-stakes twists might be on pause," I said, "but I can still do the flips."

"Oh," she said, "changed your dismount, have you?"

So now, I'm busy practicing the new dismount and getting back into the writing groove, daring to hope the nascent possibility becomes concrete, and that I can work out the timing and perform the exact right dismount for both the memoir and the art book, impeccably.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Blessings all around

The man and I have been married thirty-five years today, and what a great gift it is to know that if I had it to do all over again, with full knowledge of all that comes after, I would take his hand again in a heartbeat. That's us in what passes as our official wedding photo, taken on the evening we said our I do's. 

I'm out of practice writing here. I've been busy enjoying August with our daughter, who left to drive back to Boston with her love this morning. He arrived last week to join her here, as they had that wedding to attend on Friday, for which my girl was a bridesmaid.

On the afternoon of the wedding, my girl sent me snaps of the bride and her squad getting their hair and makeup professionally done. The young women each gained a thick sweep of eyelashes that my daughter said made her eyes feel sleepy all night.

The man and I marveled at how different things were when we got married, when I did my own hair and makeup, and trusted every curl and brush of color to behave all night. In truth, I felt as right with myself on that day as I've ever felt, as I had not a doubt in the world that this man was The One. 

Everyone looked absolutely beautiful at Friday's wedding, even the men. The bride and groom met fresh out of law school, when they took the bar exam on the same date at the same test center. Two years later, the groom appeared enraptured as he watched his bride walk down the aisle, as if he still couldn't quite believe his good fortune. We had been sent a link so we could watch the ceremony online, and his clear joy in marrying that gorgeous and powerful woman who is such a good friend to my girl, touched my heart. Here are a couple of snaps of our daughter and her love that I swiped from her Instagram story. They both went to college with the bride.

Then on Saturday, despite significant post-bridal party exhaustion, our girl and her guy made my husband and me a delicious dinner to celebrate our anniversary early. The plan was for them to drive back to Boston on Sunday. We had a lovely time Saturday night, joined by our son's fiancee, who had braved the rain to come over and celebrate with us. Our son had to work, what with Hurricane Henri barreling toward the East Coast. Dire weather forecasts convinced our daughter and her love to put off driving north until Monday, yet when Sunday dawned, the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm, and all we could see out our window was a gray day of intermittent rain, and not even much wind. 

My daughter and her love are now on the road back home, and the man and I are cozy inside the house, basking in this rainy day light, remembering how on our wedding day, it also rained, and the aunties assured us it only meant we were being showered with blessings. Those aunties had it exactly right. 

Next up are my son and his love, who have set a date, booked a venue, and asked us to make a guest list. And then who knows with the other two? One of my daughter's best friends in the world, the oldest member of The Six, got engaged this weekend. We're all so thrilled for her. The other five members of their little soul cluster appear to be in no rush. Still, we've arrived at that stage of life when there seem to be lots of celebrations already in the hopper. May they all be as blessed as the man and I feel, today and always.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Summer places and things

Is that not an extraordinary image? It was taken by photographer Jervez Lee, dusk on the island of Antigua, where my husband is from. If that’s the beach I think it is, we made some good memories there.

My daughter arrived home tonight, sated from her adventures and ready for a quiet week of recharging her batteries before a new whirl of festivities at the wedding of her friend next weekend. How happy I am to have this sweet girl back under our roof. She’s had a good summer overall, she says, lots of varied activities and time spent with people she loves. On the way home today, she and her friend visited a lavender farm, and brought us lavender infused chocolate and lavender wine. 

My girl and I plan to curl up on couches tomorrow and stream some binge worthy distraction on TV. Shades of her teenage years when every so often I’d let her miss school and we’d go to the movies or else spend the day wrapped in blankets absorbed in some angsty series like Friday Night Lights or a corny rom com. She’s fun to recharge one’s batteries with, that one.   

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Last night's dispatch from the road

They seem happy and well, don't they? They were in Memphis last night, after driving from Oklahoma City, stopping to see sights along the way, including the controversial Land Run monument, one of the world's largest outdoor sculptural installations, site of continued protests over the fact that, as my daughter texted, the monument "represents the land grab that happened here after Native Americans were removed from their ancestral lands through genocide and forced relocation." It is a painful history this country has bequeathed to its children. 

I'm having to relearn that two things can be true at once, and we can hold them both within us without erasing the veracity and importance of either one: We can embrace and enjoy our lives while also acknowledging and working to change the parts of our reality that need to be transformed. Just because America is a hot mess right now—let's be real, has always been a racially antagonistic nightmare of tribal hostilities—doesn't mean we don't get to laugh and embark upon adventures with our friends. Still, I might be praying harder for my child's safety out there in Trump America than her college roommate's parents are praying for hers. Or not. To be a parent is to petition constantly for the well being of our children. In a world where woman are perpetually endangered by the mere fact of their gender, and men of any description can be attacked for having and daring to act on a moral compass, a parent's prayers have no color.

But let's keep the good thought, shall we? May my daughter and her friend continue to have a grand adventure as they travel cross country, even as they are provoked to think deeply about their country's history, and the present moment, and to be the needed change. And yes, may they be protected wherever they lay their heads each night, and when they open their eyes each morning, may they always be able to laugh. Amen. 

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Painting the town

My niece who lives in Orlando is in town visiting her sister in Brooklyn, and my nephew from Virginia decided to take the bus north for the weekend to join them in painting the town. These three grew up together in the D.C. area, before my nieces' family moved south to Orlando a few years ago. I didn't assume they would come and visit their aunt and uncle in Harlem, because Brooklyn can feel like the other side of the world when you're on those teeming streets living the hipster life, but they made the trip to see us anyway, and it was wonderful to be able to hug them all. 

They had been to a farmers' market and a thrift store in the morning, then lunch on a Vietnam era warship now docked on the Hudson River, its decks converted to an open air restaurant. In the photo of my nephew, he's showing me some African bead bracelets he bought from a street vendor, and I thought again this gifted musician is so much a seventies soul. When they left us a couple of hours later, they were on their way to Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to be followed that evening by a group hang out at a Brooklyn bar called Cellar Dog, featuring live jazz and pool tables. These adventurous young people make me realize I've forgotten how to wander the city and explore! Hard to believe I was them, once.

Meanwhile my girl is in Miami Beach with the bride squad painting that town, too. Here's a photo she texted me. The bride-to-be is in white, and the others will be her attendants in their champagne colored gowns on her special day. My daughter's PCR covid test was negative by the way, and so was her sweetheart's, so all summer plans are proceeding apace. Every time I or her boyfriend's mother or one of her aunts cautions her to be safe while traveling cross country next week, she says to me under her breath, "Why do you all think I'm an idiot and that I want to die?" I trust therefore that she and her friend will take all precautions and continue to be covid free.

I did hear news of the son of a friend in Florida who was fully vaccinated, who in July came down with a knarly case of covid, chills, fever, body aches, the whole nine. "I am so glad I got the vaccine," he told his mother, "because I can't imagine this being any worse." My cousin in Orlando also told me of some friends of hers, whose kids went to camp for the summer and returned home hale and hearty, only to have their mother and grandmother, both vaccinated, come down with cases of covid that were like a bad flu, and their father and his sister, both unvaccinated, get absolutely slammed with the disease. The father is now recovering but the aunt is still in the hospital in a bad way. The father has become resolved that as soon as he can he will get the vaccine, and everyone is praying for his sister. When the two camp kids were tested, both turned out to be positive for covid though the boy, 6, had only had a mild cold and the girl, 8, hadn't been sick for a day. Yet unknowingly, they spread it to everyone else in the household. 

I fear we are heading back into the void, and that so-called breakthrough infections are being sorely undercounted, as none of the vaccinated people mentioned here who became ill reported their cases to any authority. Imagine the uncounted more breakthrough infections whose hosts experience little more than a case of the sniffles, but who can nevertheless spread the virus. The man and I have already cancelled possible trips to Europe and Jamaica this fall, and we may yet have to cancel the bookings we made for a beach vacation in Belize in December. We had a month or two post vaccinations of feeling as if we were emerging from the era of covid but in fact, we are still in the thick of it, and that brief respite was nothing more than the eye of a still swirling storm. 

I didn't hang that framed puzzle over the couch after all. I have this aversion to making holes in walls, and I couldn't figure out how to safely hang the weight of the picture without using a hammer and nails. So for now it's propped up in our bedroom, next to my desk, and I rather like walking in and seeing it there.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Work and other forms of art

I am sitting in front of the big window doing my work, while listening to my daughter at the end of the table, talking to her coworkers and bosses on an external relations video conferencing call, updating them on the million-dollars in sponsorships she has brought in since their last meeting. She impresses the heck out of me! Who is this accomplished hardworking woman, rattling off fundraising successes while also making sure to thank colleagues who helped make introductions or who otherwise facilitated her wins? I can see why they promoted her from assistant to coordinator to manager in less than three years, and agreed to let her work remotely from Boston while her love is in grad school there. I'd want to keep this one on my team too.

As you've probably gathered, our girl is with us now, our coworker for the week. Her guy and their sweet puppy Munch also spent the weekend here, mostly watching Olympics and vociferously cheering with us. We all have our favorite athletes and events. The twenty somethings packed up their summer apartment on Saturday and my husband helped them cart all their things here, one of their way stations for the month of August before they both head back to Boston for the fall. The photo is of Munch and his paw-rents posing with his doggy school graduation certificate. Apparently, when treats were involved, he crushed his Saturday morning puppy training classes in the park. As his other grandmother said when she saw the picture, "Munch's parents are button-poppin' proud." 

My daughter's sweetheart is now upstate with his mom for a spell, along with one half of their summer belongings, and puppy Munch, too, as my girl will be traveling soon—if her PCR test for covid comes back negative that is. She was lying on the couch watching track and field on Sunday eve when a text came in from a friend she'd had dinner with ten days ago. The friend, though fully vaccinated, had just tested positive for Covid. She had no symptoms, but was doing the responsible thing and contract tracing everyone, after being contact traced herself. My daughter left the house at once to go to City MD for both a rapid test and a PCR test. The line of people waiting to do the same on a Sunday night was around the block—strong first-hand evidence of the Delta variant making itself known. 

Our girl's rapid test was negative, so was her boyfriend's. But we are all now quarantined inside waiting for the results of the more reliable second test. I trust it too will be negative, but if it isn't, our girl will have to miss the bachelorette party in Miami this weekend and the cross country trip with her former college roommate next week. As ambivalent as I have professed to be about these plans, I don't want her to have to miss out on these passages with friends.

Okay, back to work. I’m editing a fantastic proposal about a seminal American artist whose name was somehow not well known. Not unrelated, one of my daughter's high school friends is now living and painting in Spain, and she is a huge talent. That’s a piece she's currently working on, that my girl was rhapsodizing over on Instagram. The artist is Tuere Lawton. I want to do my part to ensure that the world knows her name, because I honestly believe she will be a seminal American artist too.

This morning, she posted on IG that since she needed to eat this month, she was having a studio sale, I jumped at the chance to buy one of her art pieces. I would have bought one of her paintings, but those went as soon as she posted them. So I bought this beautiful graphite study she did of a man on a horse. She's flying to New York City next week to see her mom, and will deliver the framed drawing to me then. I hope it’s the first of many of her works I will buy in years to come. Artists need sponsors, which makes me wish I were fabulously wealthy and could be a silent benefactor of many of them. I think of two of my cousins, the walls of whose homes are covered with vibrant original canvasses and breathtaking one-of-a-kind pieces. Like that.

Last thing: Simone Biles won broze in the beam event final this morning. I was up at 4:50 AM, watching it live. She looked steady, and most of all joyful. She did a beautiful routine, though it's degree of difficultly was downgraded when she switched out her usual crazy-hard double twisting double tuck dismount—known as "the Biles," one of four skills named after her, that only she has ever done in competition—in favor of a simpler double pike dismount, which requires flips instead of twists. The two Chinese gymnasts therefore ended up with higher degree of difficulty routines, and they performed beautifully, too, taking gold and silver. But every member of the American women's artistic gymnastics team is going home with a medal, or two, or three. This Olympic team is one for the history books. I can't wait for the feel-good movie about how it went down.