Monday, March 28, 2022

Happy golden birthday to our beloved daughter!


Apparently your golden birthday is when you turn the age of your birth date, which means our girl is celebrating her golden birthday today. She has a huge case study to present for work this morning. She worked on it through her birthday weekend, in between bunch with her girls on Saturday, a birthday party with friends on Saturday evening, after which they all went roller skating, then brunch with friends again on Sunday, followed by a basketball game in the evening. She still got the deck done for her presentation. I know because she FaceTimed me last night near 11 PM, exhausted, hoping I would consent to stay on the call with her as she worked through final details. She calls it body doubling. Her love was behind her on the couch, no doubt also worn out from so much extroverted activity all weekend. They're both introverts with extrovert tendencies, meaning they can party with the best of them, but they need to recharge away from the madding crowd afterward. At that moment, her love was also gaping in shock at the unfortunate Will Smith-Chris Rock spectacle being broadcast from the Academy Awards stage. But my girl couldn't focus on that yet. She needed to finish up her presentation deck and email it before midnight.

I'm brain dead and out of words, she moaned. But I need to write a little something about myself and why I'm interested in this case. 

Why did you leave it till so late, I asked her, trying to assess whether I was brain dead myself at that hour.

Not helpful Mom, she said ruefully.

Dig up some old cover letters for jobs, I suggested. See how you presented yourself in them, and crib from that. 

That seemed to spark a crack through which words could flow, and in no time she had composed three short paragraphs, which she then read to me out loud so she could hear and fix word repetitions and phrase echoes. I saw the final version of the deck she created. It was appealingly designed, beautifully OCD in the layout of each slide. Maybe my real calling is graphic design, she said when I complimented the appearance of the work. I'm sure the content was on point, too, but it had to do with  conclusions drawn from marketing profiles and data points and might as well have been written in Urdu.

I think you should put your head shot on the right because of the way you're leaning, I suggested for her required opening slide. 

I know, she said, but the next slide has a big graphic on the right, so the eye needs some relief before that. 

Can I tell you how much it thrills me that she takes such care not just with content, but also with how her work is visually presented? She got that from me, I told my husband with no false humility after I got off the call. With no pique whatsoever, he agreed.

But what makes me happiest right now is that she seems to be in a happy and connected period of life. She weathers her stresses, wades through her anxieties, but overall, things seem good for her in this moment. For this zest for life and sense of joy to always fuel her days is my primary wish for her on this, the golden birthday of our golden daughter. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Queen Ketanji


Talk about suffering fools, not gladly, but with mind-bending grace, patience, and poise. The SCOTUS confirmation hearings this week are enraging to listen to. I find myself just screaming at the TV before I come back to myself. But I did love the way Senator Mazie Hirono revealed Josh Hawley's diatribe to be the hollow thing it was. My favorite tweet on her brilliant dismantling of his arguments about nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson having handed down what he tried to characterize as the soft sentencing of a child predator was this: "Mazie Hirono just put Josh Hawley in the trunk and drove him to an undisclosed location." She did, too. And what is it with all these Republicans crowing about child predators when they did nothing about their emperor president and his pedophile friends, or about the child abusers sitting next to them on the GOP side of the congressional chamber. I guess they just want their out-of-context sound bites for Fox news and social media, to be swallowed whole by their Q-conspiracy base, no matter how absolutely idiotic they sound. Hello? Tom Cotton? I sat watching him with my mouth hanging open, wondering how this actual idiot managed to bumble his way into the Senate. I can only imagine the thoughts rolling through Ketanji Brown Jackson's brain at some of the Republican judiciary committee members' ridiculously irrelevant, spectacularly ignorant, yet breathtakingly entitled and aggressively racist questioning. On the other side of the room, Senator Cory Booker tried to balance the scale. His voice quavered as he told the nominee how proud she made him, how she was the dream of their ancestors, and a great American. Judge Jackson’s eyes welled and a  tear spilled over. I was so moved by Cory Booker's full-throated support of his sister in arms. But I also knew the emotion in that moment was born of trauma, the shared trauma of walking through America in black skin. Hang in there, Queen. You're so far above and beyond those vile little men who came at you with such shriveled souls. You know who you are. A supremely qualified soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice, that's who you are. I'm proud of you, too.


Monday, March 21, 2022

Monday at the office

I added some new art to that wall above the big comfy couch. Never mind the skewed camera perspective, the frames are straight and the lamp doesn't have a spout on one side. When I sent that picture to my daughter to get her opinion, she texted back, "Caribbean colors, looks like you, love it!"  Caribbean colors—I hadn't consciously decided to reflect that, but I suppose those are the colors in which I dream. As for the curtains, I have tried different ones in the past weeks, variations on white, linen, teal and blue, but none of them pleased me as much as the bold red that currently hangs at my windows, and so now, I'm pressing pause on the buying and returning of drapes and letting those red curtains be. Besides, I like a pop of red when I stumble out each morning to start my day.

I turned in my manuscript last Thursday. Now I wait. My subject started reading on Friday, and texted me within fifteen minutes, saying "Hey YOU! OMG! This is so good! You captured my voice so well!" I was immediately and joyfully filled with love for this woman, who took the time to let me know that her initial response at least, was positive. It was such a kindness. I texted her back and told her how much I appreciated her letting me know her early impression, how it's always nerve-wracking turning in a piece of writing. She texted back, "Girl, I get it. I'm a writer too. I felt so guilty not writing my own book, but I could have never turned in something like this." She is so busy all the time, jumping on planes almost every day of the week, yet she made time to be generous and affirming. I have no idea if her first impression will be sustained throughout her reading of this first draft, but she took me a bit out of my misery, bless her. I still have to wait to see how it lands for her agent and the book editor, but whatever revisions might be needed from here, the heaviest lift in this memoir writing process is done.

nd now it is Monday again. The man and I are at the table by the window, working away. Stories for the new issue of the magazine are hitting my queue, so I better get cracking on editing them. Thank God for work (she said with feeling).


Thursday, March 17, 2022


Imagine being from that beautiful place, Antigua, my husband's birth land, my children's birthright, my parents' late-in-life home. The photo is by Jervez Lee. 

Awash in nostalgia as vivid as the colors of that sunset, I ran across this quote from Katherine Anne Porter: "The past is never where you think you left it." 

Even so, my memories do not lie. The things I remember really did happen, even if they never will again.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

It finally got them

My girl and her love have the Covid. They were supposed to travel on Friday but instead are quarantined at home. He has no symptoms, but she was pretty sick with fever and body aches, sniffles and a dry cough, but she's on the mend now, enough to be suffering from cabin fever. "How did we do this for a whole year?" she wanted to know. Some of us did it for much longer, I told her. She walked her dog Munch in the rain yesterday, and is reading Harry Potter again to pass the time till she's sprung from isolation. Fortunately, the company inside is congenial.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Time it was

Last Saturday, I joined several of my former LIFE magazine colleagues for lunch, as many of them had traveled to the city from as far away as California and Bangkok to attend a memorial service for the venerable Dick Stolley, founder of People Magazine and former managing editor of LIFE, and the man who, as a young journalist had been the one to track down and secure the famous Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy's assassination, the one we've seen again and again on history reels, of Jackie Kennedy in her pink suit and pearls with her husband's bloody head staining everything red. 

I didn't go to the memorial, in part because even though Dick had been my boss and had been a legendary newsman, the Friday of his service fell on the seventh anniversary of my mother's death. Seven years already. Some anniversaries hit harder than others. This year, I just wanted to spend the day quietly. Both my children called me to make sure I was okay. I was fine, and so touched that they remembered their grandmother on that day. We all shared lovely reminiscences about her.

Anyway, on Saturday, there was a plan for some of the reporters who had worked for one particular editor, Mary Steinbauer, to get together with her at a restaurant near her home in the Village. There would be six of us, two of whom I hadn't seen since leaving LIFE when I was thirty-one, and the other three I had seen only twice in the intervening years, once at a reunion of the old staff in November 2013, and again when we got together for lunch with Mary and our beloved former Chief of Research, June Omura Goldberg, the following day. 

We reporters were a wild bunch back then. At lunch on Saturday, we remarked on the fact that we were not only work colleagues, but also each other's social group, which was to be expected since we worked till ten and eleven at night, or on closing nights, two or three in the morning, waiting for our stories to come through the editing rounds, and decamping to each other's homes to imbibe and smoke and be giddy with exhaustion and abandon afterward. My fellow reporters, two in particular, were my best friends during those years. We were each other's everything for a while, because if we weren't burning the midnight oil in the offices on the thirty-first floor of the Time Life Building, we would be traveling with an assigned photographer for weeks at a stretch to report stories and create photo essays for the magazine. We had so little time left over to develop outside friendships. I have never worked more intimately with another group of people since. 

All that to say, as socially anxious as I was to show up on Saturday, as soon as I arrived I was at ease. The conversation flowed, so many memories were dredged up, and we all gave Mary her flowers for the calm way she had guided us excitable young whippersnappers back then, when we would call from the road with unforeseen challenges to be solved or on-the-fly plans to be approved. She demurred in her usual gracious way and said, "I got so much credit for the stories we did, but I always told people, it was you reporters who made them happen. All I did was say, 'Go.'" She shared that she had turned over all her papers from her decades as a senior editor and then Assistant Managing Editor of LIFE to the New York Historical Society, so if we ever wanted to visit our stories and the voluminous files we created in service to each one, we could find them there. 

Mary was famous for taking us all out to long margarita-soaked lunches on the day after a big story or a special issue shipped, and we recreated that vibe on Saturday, toasting with round after round of margaritas. Having met up at noon, we were still sitting there at four that afternoon, calling back one riotous memory after another. I loved the way each person around the table had evolved to become even more fully themselves. Each of my lunch companions could have been the inspiration for a fascinating literary character in a Truman Capote or Joan Didion narrative. It was close to five when we finally roused ourselves and walked Mary back to her apartment building before the rest of us jumped in a cab and regrouped at another former staffer's home on the Upper West Side. It reminded me of the way we used to roam in clusters back in the day, going from one gathering place to the next, one person's house to another, loath to let the party end.

We are all older now, so the party on Saturday did end. I went home to my husband as darkness fell, all the memories we unearthed sticking to me, calling back the way I used to be, reckless and footloose, jumping on planes to far flung places at a moment's notice, anxious before every new adventure, but feeling the fear and wrestling each new story to the page anyway.

This photo was taken as the sun came up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where photographer Michael O'Brien and I were doing a series on "New Americans," recent immigrants who were making a go of life in their new country. In Fort Wayne, we reported on a large Ethiopian family who had opened a parachute factory, after a harrowing wartime escape from their homeland. Michael was my absolute favorite photographer; we worked so well together that our editors paired us on numerous stories, and his wife, also a reporter, was one of my closest friends. He liked the light coming in through the blinds that morning as we sipped coffee in the airport cafe while waiting for our early morning flight home. So he raised his camera and took this shot. 

As the years accrue, it hardly seems real anymore that I lived all those stories, that my young life was so enriched by the people I encountered from all walks. But on Saturday with my old LIFE crew, I touched again the young woman I was, reporting stories in almost every state in the union and navigating to places as far away as the Falkland Islands, now called the Malvinas, the southernmost inhabited land mass in the world, and yes, it was me who went all those places and met all those people and built enough trust with them that they allowed a young Black woman who grew up in Jamaica and came to New York as a college student to literally camp out in their lives. My God, I really did that. Memory is an elusive shimmery thing.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Pray for peace

We Lived Happily During The War

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we


but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was

in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

In the sixth month

of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,

our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.



I've seen that poem by Ukrainian poet Ilya Kaminsky posted everywhere, and it really does capture our armchair outrage at what is happening on the other side of the world. I find the Ukranian people's courage to be breathtaking, sons and daughters taking up arms, grandmothers mixing Molotov cocktails, the hero president rallying everyone. I weep, too, that racism takes no days off, and Black and Brown people are being turned back at the country's borders, watching White people cross to safety while they are forced to huddle in icebound fields with little hope of anyone coming to save them. No one is coming to save Ukraine from the Russian madman. We watch and wring our hands, grateful we are not them. We cringe as White news commentators declare this war more horrifying than the rest, because the Ukrainian people "look like us," with blond hair and blue eyes, they are not "other" like the Palestinians and the Afghans and the Africans. I wrestle with so many complicated emotions as I watch families camped in underground caverns with their children, waiting for the bombs to fall. We all die the same way, covering our children's bodies with our own. War anywhere, waged against anyone, is hell.



Painting: "Maria's Fig and Flock" by artist Erika Carter



I finished the first draft of my manuscript on Monday, and now I am editing the ninety-one thousand words I wrote and trying to make everything better.