Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Body doubling

I am in love with that floor, and that sun porch, and the sand and seascape beyond. Other than that, I stopped by to report that as the world stands on the brink of war in Ukraine, I have reached my contracted 85,000 words for the book. I am over here trundling toward the finish line, with one, perhaps two chapters to go. It all gets a little easier once the first draft is done, because then we have the complete story arc, and my subject and I can engage to create a final draft that will feel emotionally true to her down to the smallest passing detail. I marvel that I have arrived here again. It always seems so impossible at the start. My agent wanted to know if she should resume putting my name forward for new projects. "Not yet," I said. I think might want—need—a moment to breathe, to reconnect with my non-writing life, a nerve-wracking desire to contemplate, much less indulge if you're a freelancer.

Sometimes, my daughter and I video chat to keep each other company while we work. She calls it "body doubling," which she explained is the term for when you need another working body in your field of view to help keep you focused. Yesterday, she had to conduct five interviews with candidates for a fundraising project position, her first time being the one who decides which applicants move on to round two in the hiring process. She FaceTimed me after the interviews to debrief with someone completely safe, her mama, before writing up her report. I screenshotted that photo of her when Munch clambered into her lap in response to commotion outside their window. Munch is a happy goofy boy but loud noises rattle him. My girl jokes she's the emotional support animal for her emotional support animal. She is entirely a dog person, and one hundred percent a Munch mom, so this might be her favorite role.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Living vicariously

I have no life these days. I can count on one hand the times I've seen my friends since the year began. When Omicron arrived in New York, we all retreated back into our family silos, and though we talk occasionally by phone, and text, we are once again out of the habit of gathering. We need to follow our young people's lead. Since getting themselves vaccinated, they have reengaged socially, not allowing themselves to grow comfortable in isolation. They go out to restaurants and clubs, attend small house parties, take trips, remember how it felt to enjoy the world beyond their door. My man at least goes to work three days a week, but I can stay sequestered inside my house for days at a time, doing little more than house chores, reading, streaming videos, and working. I've got to do better. Maybe as the weather warms up, it will get easier. For now, I live vicariously through my children. My girl and her love went to Charleston with friends for the long weekend. She sent me pictures. I asked permission to post and she said okay, so here's her weekend album. This is clearly the only way I will see Charleston this year. I hear it's beautiful.


Y'all are so beautiful living in your happy place.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

One of the brave

My son's fiancée sent me these photos of my boy. The fire department takes these portraits annually and posts them inside the member's home firehouse. The first was taken in 2019, when our son was a proby, newly assigned to his engine company. The second was taken last year, during his rotation with a ladder company. One of the things I learned when he became a firefighter, is that engine companies handle the water hoses and ladder companies scale high ladders to climb onto rooftops or clamber through windows to go inside the fire, performing search and rescue. No surprise, my son is more drawn to the work of ladder houses, despite the fact that his mother and his fiancée would much rather think of him pointing the stream of water from outside.

My son's love and I marveled at how innocent he looks in the first photo, and how much more world weary he appears two short years later. Maybe he was fresh to a new shift in the first photo, and was coming off an all nighter with lots of calls in the second, parched and sleep-deprived, and definitely a bit more grizzled. And yet, even in the second image, his eyes say he's where he wants to be, safeguarding life and property as one of New York's Bravest. May he always remain so certain of his calling, and may he and his fellow firefighters be safe always.


Thursday, February 17, 2022

Portrait of Munch

Vivian Swift, who did that wonderful portrait of Steve Reed's Olga, kindly consented to do a portrait of my daughter's pup Munch. I knew she'd got our little guy when she wrote that the trick to capturing his likeness would be getting his "happy goofy gaze" just right. And she did. You can visit her blog to see her process images, which I found to be fascinating in terms of the artistic decisions she makes along the way. Her engagement with Munch begins about a third of the way into this post, which is also filled with other treasures. Let's just say Vivian's politics and mine appear to be the same. Part two of her process appears in the post subsequent to the one linked above, and the finished portrait is here. I had planned to give this to my daughter for her birthday on March 28, but found I was too excited to wait till then to show it to her, so I gave it to her and her love on Valentine's Day, and they couldn't have been more thrilled to discover their little funnyface had received such loving treatment at Vivian's delicate watercolor hand. Thank you, Vivian, for consenting to paint our Munchball. You've made a few people in this neck of the woods very happy indeed. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Be my Valentine

There's our perfect little year-round Christmas tree, which I didn't even know was there until they cut down the much larger Honey Locust tree that used to be fill our window. I cannot look out at that little tree without imagining lights encircling it and a gold star on top, and that was even more true this weekend in the snow. Two friends came over to watch the Super Bowl with us. None of us tested beforehand, as no one was exhibiting any symptoms, and we didn't wear masks in the apartment. I think this is where we are now in the age of Covid. Our friends, who have been in and out of our home for three decades, were oohing and aahhing over my mom's coffee table as if it they'd never seen it before. "That table has been sitting right there since we moved into this apartment twenty years ago," I told them. They could hardly believe they'd never really noticed how beautiful it is, which I take to mean that its recent restoration was an unqualified success.

I hear it's Valentine's Day.  This was my excuse for giving my man a triple-tier box of artisan chocolates, in which each piece looks like a tiny exquisite work of art, with flavors like five spice praline, blueberry lime, pineapple fennel caramel, guava tamarind, and passion fruit. It came in a gold mesh drawstring pouch with a golden ribbon securing the top, and I was entirely seduced by the outer packaging, as well as by how pretty and unique each crafted piece was. I guess I'll wait till tomorrow to once again cut out sugar, much like the smoker who declared, "I know how to quit. I've done it a hundred times before." Happy Monday, dear friends. Let's all be each other's Valentines.

Friday, February 11, 2022

The Walking Eagle boys

These are my nephews, sons of a Jamaican-born Black immigrant mother (my sister-cousin) and a Montana-born Native American father, which makes them Jamaican-American-Assiniboine Sioux. Their wonderfully mixed heritage is interesting in itself, but what I find so fascinating is how different the brothers are. You can look at the photo and see the whole story, one an artist and musician with a throwback seventies vibe, who teaches guitar and piano when not playing gigs or recording original compositions, the other a button-down stock trading college boy who is studying to be a schoolteacher. I bet you can tell who's who. Both their parents met as teachers at the same high school in Virginia, before their mother went on to study law and become a government civil rights attorney, and their father went back to school and became an addiction services social worker. Now their boys are both pursuing teaching, too, along with their other passions. I wonder where their own roads will ultimately lead. Black and white or color? I couldn't decide which image to go with, so I chose both. I adore these young men.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Because my mother loved that table

I got my mother's coffee table refinished, and changed out the crackled and cloudy plexiglass top for a pristine pane of glass. It looks amazing. My mother used to sell real estate in Jamaica, and rescued this table from being discarded by a family whose house she was selling back when I was about twelve. It was already old when she brought it home. I don't think it ever looked this good, even when my mother cared for it. She would be pleased, I think. I learned that this table, which I had assumed to be a machined, mass-produced thing, albeit more than eighty years old, is actually quite valuable, according to the refinisher, who wanted to buy it off me for a couple thousand, as he'd sent a picture to an antique dealer he did business with in North Carolina, who would have bought it from him for that plus a bit more. Who knew? Needless to say, I would never sell. My kids were intrigued. "That table that we battered so hard is worth so much?" my daughter said, amazed. I guess my mom knew why she wanted me to have it so badly that she brought it for me on a commercial flight from St. Lucia, wrapped in blankets and cable cords and boxed with miles of packing tape. It was August 2003, the day of the citywide blackout in New York City, and my mom was bringing her grand kids home at the end of their usual summer vacation with her by the beach in Rodney Bay. Under dim emergency lighting powered by an airport generator, the coffee table rolled out on the baggage claim carousel along with all their suitcases. Two decades later, I finally did right by this cherished piece.

The living room is coming together slowly. I find I am now absolutely delighted by the fact that I don't have to walk out and see those raggedy broken-down old couches anymore. Nothing's very fancy in there but everything is whole and sturdy and useful, and I am starting to enjoy it all. I changed out the red cushions for some lighter ones that I found for a song. I like them. My husband also has no idea how much that blue plant pot he bought makes the room for me. Now, I just have to replace the curtains. The new media console can wait till my next flurry of home refresh activities, if indeed I even bother with it. What's there is a cheap thing, but inoffensive, so I think I might just turn my attention elsewhere.

The news, y'all. How do you stand it? I hate that I lose hope sometimes, and grow numb. Thank God for the change makers, the ones who never stop raging and fighting. I am in awe of them. I need to do more. But honestly, I have no idea what will actually make a difference. I fear they may all escape consequences—and we all know who "they" is.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Getting there

Things are in process over here. New floors are laid and—as I am realizing I tend to be when confronting the new—I was underwhelmed, because the patterns on the planks flowed so seamlessly together, the joined edges invisible, that it looks like one continuous floor, which was not at all what I imagined. Perhaps I should have done more research, and chosen a plank style that was more varied, but now it's done, and it's a visually clean look and easy to care for, so I shall accustom my eye in time. Both my children have tried to assure me that I am holding on to an old aesthetic, and this seamless look is the new style for floors. At least they're enthused.

Then last Friday the couches came, and that was a drama in itself. The longer couch could not fit in the elevator because of a tiny bar near the top from which the maintenance people hang the protective padding during furniture moves. The delivery guys then suggested carrying it up the stairwell, and they succeeded in getting it up to the fifth floor, where we live, even though they are not supposed to carry furniture up more than three floors. Alas, they could not get it from the stairwell into the corridor as the ceiling at that spot is low. Every time they tried slanting the couch through the doorway, no matter the angle, the leading end hit the ceiling before it could be stood straight up. And so the poor delivery guys had to carry the thing back down the five flights of stairs. 

Our best remaining option was to call an operation known as The Sofa Guy, which specializes in dismantling furniture that won't fit in New York City elevators, and putting said furniture back together once inside the apartments. The Sofa Guy crew arrived two hours later. While we waited for them, my husband was obliged to sit with the wrapped-up couch in the basement, where the first delivery crew had been forced to deposit it. The Sofa Guys definitely knew what they were about, because within a half an hour they had unbolted one arm of the couch, moved it into the elevator and brought it up, then reassembled the whole thing impeccably in our living room. We had to pay quite a bit extra for that service, and were also poorer from giving some consideration to the first delivery crew, who though unsuccessful in their endeavor, had tried mightily.

Once all that was behind us, I realized that I had misjudged the scale of the couches, not the length, but the depth. They take up a bit more space than I had anticipated, so now I am trying to figure out how to decorate around them to help balance their bulk. I will say they are handsome and exceedingly comfortable, so there is that. The picture here shows the current arrangement of our living room. I am making peace with the fact that while I know how to edit a manuscript and write a book, I am not a skilled or intuitive interior decorator, and I need to be okay with that. 

My husband bought that pretty new blue ceramic pot for the plant, the best evidence yet that he's engaged in this process. I plan to change out the old cushions with lighter colored, less red-toned ones, and the curtains for something in the ivory family. Since there is no way to center the TV in front of the window, a less dominant curtain color might be help the eye not focus too much on the lack of symmetry. I might also get a new TV console at some point, but I am trying not to hyperventilate about all that, and allow myself to take things a step at a time. After all, I still have work to do. In fact, I have decided not the move forward with the kitchen re-do until I have a completed first draft of the book. Apartment renovation is disruptive and loud, though so far, our contractor has been great.

I had another interview with my book subject on Sunday, and she begged me for a sneak peek of the manuscript. I agreed to send her Chapter 3. I actually added another scene to that chapter right after I sent it, which is why I never like to show anything till I have a full draft. I'm always going back and revising, layering, adding, streamlining, but the good news is she loved the chapter, which she told me in a text with many exclamation marks as she was running through an airport on her way to Cincinnati. She is always traveling somewhere, this one. She is in another city practically every couple of days. I watch her social media posts and feel dizzy. I'm going to hit seventy thousand words today. Fifteen thousand more to get to our contracted word count. We will definitely make it. Perhaps more.