Thursday, June 30, 2022

History was made today by this Queen


At noon today, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the first Black woman Justice in the 233 year history of the U.S. Supreme Court. Alone in my apartment, I watched the brief ceremony with tears brimming, a great big lump in my throat, my heart full to overflowing. It's an unsettled time on the Roberts court, with many in our nation losing faith in what feels like a right wing stranglehold on the institution. But with the ascent of Justice Jackson to this highest tribunal in the land, I felt my faith in the future of the court being renewed. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," MLK famously said. I believe Justice Jackson will be a bender. She is a consensus builder, a woman of great intellect, impeccable credentials on the bench, and abiding humanity. "Hope is not a form of guarantee, it's a form of energy, and very frequently that energy is strongest in circumstances that are very dark," said the artist John Berger. Our political reality may seem very dark in this moment, but Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson brings the light. Long may she reign.


Friday, June 24, 2022

Friday, bright and dark


My daughter and her love flew in last night, and were gone again this morning, on their way to Atlanta to see their friends get hitched. They'll be back in the city permanently four days from now, moving into their new Brooklyn apartment, and I am so ready for that. And tonight, Arrindell Arms will throw open its doors to yet more company—the Jamaican cousins. it's turning out to be a fairly eventful socializing time for our family, and work is fairly intense, too.

In far grimmer news, the regressive Supreme Court this morning reversed Roe v. Wade, allowing states to deny women the right to make their own reproductive decisions, to govern their own bodies, to exercise sovereignty of self in their health care choices. Now, in some states, women can be criminally charged with murder if they abort, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or even ectopic or non-viable pregnancy, cases in which abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother. Women can be charged with a felony even if they are simply wearing an IUD for contraception, and if they accidentally miscarry, they may be forced to prove that the loss was an unintentional event. Doctors, too, can be jailed, as well as anyone who helps women access this form of health care, and all manner of other insane Handmaid's Tale-type scenarios are already being legislated. Significantly, the majority decision was based in part on the right to abortion not being encoded in the constitution, which means there are many more rights that the court can now take away by using this case as precedent, rights like same sex marriage and the use of contraception for starters.

It makes my head explode that the law is forcing women to give birth in a nation that does not support women in choosing to have an unplanned child; there is no universal health care, no universal child care, no paid family or medical leave; we have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the so-called developed world; and lawmakers have no interest in the life and welfare of the mother or the child once born. This is not about any religious belief and faith. This is about the subjugation and control of women, through the subjugation and control of their bodies. The only hope is for voters to install a sufficient Democratic majority in both houses of Congress in November so that some reparative action might be possible. If the Republicans gain control, they have pledged to pass a federal law banning reproductive choice everywhere  

I don’t even feel like leaving up this post. It all feels so enraging and mind bending right now. As my friend Maryam cried into the void—Where is our revolution?!

 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Women in the rain


My friend Janice, a wonderful ceramic artist who has taught at a progressive elementary school for thirty years, is retiring this week. Last night at 6PM, four of us gathered at our grassy tree-circled spot in Central Park to celebrate and toast her. Our children were in the same class as Janice's daughter. She was their art teacher through eighth grade, and during those years we became chosen family. Last evening, the sky was glowering and rain threatened, and eventually fell, but we gathered with our folding chairs anyway, sitting under the thick canopy of a Norway maple and holding umbrellas above our heads during the heaviest downpour. One of our number is still very covid cautious, and doesn't yet feel safe gathering indoors, hence our choice to gather in the park. We felt very adventurous and decidedly bohemian, sipping wine, noshing on French bread and soft cheeses, grapes and apples and peaches kissed by rain, and the most amazing quinoa, red cabbage, and corn salad one of us made (not me). Janice even brought flowers that she placed artfully in a Bustelo coffee can, capping off the mood. Heartfelt congratulations, dear Janice, on all your years of making a living while also obeying the imperative to make art. Now you can find that one-woman studio you've always dreamed of opening, and create your exquisite sculptures and ceramic pieces all day long.



Monday, June 20, 2022

Life's a whirl

My sweet girl is under a lot of pressure right now, her new job ramping up at the same time that she and her love are packing up their apartment of the last two years in Boston to move back to New York City next week. I'm so excited they'll soon be back in town. But somewhere in there they will also have to travel to Atlanta and back for a friend's wedding this weekend, passing through New York and staying with us overnight on Thursday, heading out before daybreak Friday morning. I get exhausted just thinking about what they have ahead of them, but they're young, they'll get through it. She said they're throwing out a mountain of stuff, which I think is an excellent idea as they set themselves up for the next stage of their lives. 

It will be nice to see them for a few hours on Thursday evening, though I will have my third choir rehearsal that night, and three days after that, on Sunday, June 26, we will give a community concert of ten songs, including selections in Latin, Hungarian, Spanish, and Ukranian, as well as good old English—after only three rehearsals! One of the women in the choir is so strong a singer and so fluent a sight reader of musical scores that the conductor moves her around to the different sections, from tenor to alto to soprano depending on which part he thinks needs bolstering in a particular song. 

This woman did me such a mitzvah last week. I had asked her about the progression of the alto part in one of the pieces, a lovely but confusing arrangement of "Shenandoah," and she offered to picked out the part on piano when she got home that evening and send it to me. I thanked her profusely. That night I received a text with the recording as promised, but she also sent recordings of the alto parts, each played in the proper noted rhythm, for every single song we're doing. She has no idea how she saved my life! Or maybe she heard me singing, and she does. Even so, her talent and generosity just slayed me. 

Our social spring and summer continues this weekend with my cousin Andrew and his son Izzy arriving on Friday, and staying through Sunday, leaving a few hours before our concert, which the conductor says he might characterize as "an open rehearsal" depending on how we sound in the run through this week. My son and his best friend who lives in Amsterdam but is here for a few weeks with his girlfriend, are also coming by tomorrow because he wants to see us while he's here. I was touched that he would take time out of his own social whirl to visit with the man and me, even though he used to periodically be a fixture in our home. I love these boys, and love that they have remained close. 

In other news, whispered with some trepidation, there may be another book in the offing, one I might be madly excited about, enough to push me back into the mire and make me forget that book writing is actually a very painful process. But sometimes, depending on the subject, it can be worth it. This person is worth it. If I get the book, of course. To hope for a thing is nerve wracking and hard. I'm trying to be patient and prepared and practice non-attachment to the outcome. Que sera sera.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Love notes from last weekend


Our daughter arrived on Thursday night, and on Friday we all worked from home during the day. One thing about these millennials and Gen Z remote workers, they're not goofing off. If anything the lack of immediate oversight has made them work even harder, and I wonder if there isn't something about the collegiality of office relationships, the familiarity born of casual across the desk chatter, that takes the edge of the intensity of work, helps us approach it with a greater sense of ease. Anyway, my girl worked hard all day, and then she closed her laptop and proposed we all go out to dinner at Community Food and Juice. Though it's our usual girls night out place, this time, we convinced her dad to join us. Over dinner we had one of those rollicking exchanges in which our girl shared mortifying events from her growing up years, like our well-intentioned convos about the birds and the bees when she was a teen, which made her want to shrink into the floor. It was hysterically funny in the retelling, and we laughed till our sides ached about the time I took her to buy condoms before college and stood in front of the public drugstore display encouraging her to choose the brand she wanted. She grabbed one hurriedly and croaked out, "Okay, let's go!" But it wasn't all cringy. "I always knew you were a safe space," she told us, "and that if I ever got in trouble, I wouldn't have to be afraid to come to you." I'll take those flowers.

The following day, Saturday, was the bridal shower of one of our girl's best friends since preschool, the reason she had come to town. Some of the moms from that class were also there, and it was wonderful to catch up with them in the back yard of a restaurant in gentrified Williamsburg. The trendy hipster vibe of the neighborhood was near overwhelming. Imagine having to project such cool every time you step out your door. Then again, some of the kids I saw roaming those streets come by it naturally. Inside the venue, rented for the day for the bridal shower, we had the best time. Alyssa and Jasper, bride and groom, are so beautifully suited, two of the kindest humans on this earth. Five of The Six were in attendance, that's them recreating one of their old poses above. The sixth member of our daughter's longtime friend group couldn't make it as she had just started grad school in social work at Smith College in Massachusetts. Come to think of it, the bride to be, her mom, and most of the moms present on Saturday are social workers, no surprise given the progressive school with its active social justice curriculum that we all have in common.

Our girl left early Sunday morning, and in the afternoon, my husband's niece came to visit with her newborn son Ethan, just five weeks old. My man had serious baby fever holding that baby. His magic shoulder still works. As soon as Ethan lay his head there he settled right down and went straight to sleep. My man, who habitually scowls at my camera, on this day let me take as many photos of him with the baby as I wanted, his eyes soft with the memory of his own kids asleep on his shoulder, and the hope that we won't have to wait too much longer to hold the babies of our own kids. Speaking of that hope, here is a photo someone posted that was taken at camp alumni weekend. That's my son and his love at the center, a tender moment captured by pure serendipity.

In related news, I think I've found something to wear to their wedding, a blue gray chiffon pantsuit thing with a blouse with an embroidered placket, and a soft flowing jacket with three-quarter sleeves that end in embroidered cuffs. It isn't awful, except I might swap out the pants for my dressy black ones, as the whole thing looked just a bit dowdy with all three pieces matching. Maybe I'll find something I like more, but if I don't, at least I now have a solid option. Continuing the theme of love, here’s another picture, just because. I snapped it outside the bridal shower venue and sent it to my husband.

We were supposed to have another very social weekend, with my cousin and her family arriving from Virginia tomorrow. It would have been our third weekend in a row hosting house guests, but my nephew (same one in the last post) tested positive for Covid on Tuesday, so they won't be driving north after all. Since we will also have house guests next weekend—another cousin and his twelve year old son from Jamaica, who are passing through on the way to Spain where the son will play in an international youth soccer tournament (he is apparently very gifted on the field)—the man and I plan to keep ourselves quiet this weekend.

But first, I have choir rehearsal tonight. While our usual choir is on hiatus, one friend and I joined another choir, this one very close to home, we meet in the building across the courtyard in fact. But oh my, this choir is much more advanced than my old one in terms of how fast the conductor moves, and how musically experienced and of exquisite voice the other choir members are. I just squeaked in, really. After my audition last week, the conductor told me in his very French accent, "You have a good voice but you don't know what to do with it, but I want to give you your chance." It's a good thing my ego is not in any way caught up in my musical ability, thin as it is. We will have just three practices in which to master ten rather complex songs, including one in Hungarian and one in Ukrainian, before putting on a community concert on June 26. Tonight is our second practice, and I hope I can make adequate progress, because so far I’m straight up faking it. It might be the responsible thing to step away, but I already know I probably won’t.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Your vote equals your voice (the poster says)



I love these photos of my nephew, doing his thing. Fully self taught, he plays, performs, and teaches piano and guitar. For me, something about these images captures his passion, commitment, immersion, love. He reminds me of the Kurt Vonnegut quote: “The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.” On this day, he was spinning old school LPs for a get-out-the-vote dee-jaying gig. We all need to vote like our lives depend on it in these upcoming midterms, because in the most literal sense possible, they do.



Monday, June 6, 2022

Dual consciousness

I lost my mojo here for a bit. I found I couldn't bring myself to do more than acknowledge the massacre of elders in Buffalo and children in Uvalde, and the willful refusal of our government officials to take any meaningful action in response. It was all I could do to bear witness, I was so angry, am still angry, but I'm also worn out from so much sorrow and outrage, and my writing words about actions every reasonable person knows must be taken, yet will not be, contributes nothing at all. And so I turned inward to take care of my own sore heart, and mostly stayed silent. We all know what we all know. The right will continue to whip up the forces of hate into a murderous frenzy, the slaughter will continue, and we will all pray that our beloveds never happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, knowing that it is inevitable that someone's beloveds will be. This is America.

Inside the small bubble of my life, I continue to engage my mundane challenges. The main challenge in this moment: The editor of the book I'm writing wants my subject to explore her pain more, to go more deeply into how her particular origin story wounded and broke her. The thing is, this woman isn't broken. I know human brokenness is irresistible on the page; its helps us readers feel less broken ourselves, more able to greet our demons, so believe me, I tried to capture the pain of her story. But what I also found is that, perhaps as a compensatory strategy, my subject learned early on to move fast through life and not linger on the pain. I saw it again and again as she told me her story: She's mastered skating on the surface of whatever threatens to pull her under. In a way, it's her superpower. So I shall have to figure out how to respond to our editor's queries in a way that removes his lingering questions, while staying true to my subject. Fortunately, my subject trusts me at this point, and has given me free rein to infer what might lie beneath, that she herself cannot quite articulate, and when she sees it on the page, we will refine it together so that it still feels like her authentic truth. I will begin this round in earnest as soon as I finish editing a rather amazing chapter by a woman who is writing an art memoir, whose agent hired me to edit her 

A third work challenge right now is that the deputy editor of the magazine for which I top edit stories, recently quit, and so I now have a new boss there, someone who must be convinced anew that my role is necessary. We had our Zoom one-on-one last week. It went okay on the face of it, and I hope this particular gig will continue. Even though it doesn't pay very much, it is regular, and in a world where installment payments for book writing can be six months to more than a year apart, a consistent paycheck is everything. Anyway, I am taking all my current work ripples one day at at time, focusing on doing the next needed thing and not worrying too much about tomorrow. Besides, in this good lucky life of mine, there is also such sweetness. 

__________

Here are three photo albums from the delightful events that have also been my reality in this land that is so brutal on the one hand, yet still manages to inspire dreamers. Truly, as emotionally drained as I have been feeling, I still count myself among them.

 

ALBUM ONE

My daughter's love graduated with his MBA last week, and along with his mother and sister, my husband and I were included in the festivities. Our daughter and her love planned a whole itinerary, including a meetup of the families of their cohort group at a brewery the first night, then graduation events the next day followed by dinner on hip and happening Newbury Street, then a yummy Southern brunch at Buttermilk and Burbon on Friday, followed by a visit to the Coop campus store on bustling Harvard Square so my man could pick up wine glasses with the HBS logo, as he collects wine glasses and blankets from all our bio kids' and heart kids' alma maters (don't ask). We chilled at tables on the lawn the rest of the afternoon, then come evening we ordered in Indian food and met up with the families of our kids closest friends from the last two years. Dining together in one of the campus lounges, we all had a good time watching playoff basketball and chatting about the state of America and hope for the future. It was beautiful to witness the warm connections our kids have made with friends who may well travel alongside them for life.









 

ALBUM TWO

This past weekend, my brother and nieces traveled to us from Jamaica and Dallas to attend the high school graduation of my brother's youngest daughter, who was born and raised by her mother in New York. My youngest niece is an amazing singer and actress, who I swear could be on Broadway this very moment, she's that talented. (She was cast in a bit part as a young violinist in season two of Mozart in the Jungle.) She will be a theater and voice major in college in the fall, and I have no doubt she will make her stage dreams come true. Meanwhile my second youngest niece will graduate from college with an IT degree next May, and though she grew up in Jamaica, she has decided that she wants to pursue her future in America, as her older sister has done. I was reminded yet again that this country is still, for so many, a beacon of opportunity. I guess our family is continuing the pattern of chain migration begun all the way back in the 1940s by my Aunt Winnie and her two bachelor uncles, the first of us to migrate to America. We joke that we are every white supremacist's nightmare.

After the graduation ceremony, at which my niece was chosen to sing the national anthem, we all went for a celebratory lunch at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian buffet where they keep bringing delicious offerings of meat until you turn your coaster card from the green side to the red side, letting them know you're done. On the table were sides like mashed potatoes and fried polenta and stewed banana, and afterwards they placed a selection of delectable desserts, and I ate way too much, even though I was the first one to turn my coaster to the red side. I'd never been to one of those places before, but I really enjoyed it. It was something to see my brother with all three of his daughters together, but I won't go into the story of that here. Only his son was missing, as he was still in the midst of exam season back in Jamaica. My husband and I hadn't seen my brother and older nieces since January of 2019, and being together in person again felt like being nourished and watered after a long drought. They all left to return home yesterday, but we can look forward to gathering once more in September, when my son gets married.



 

ALBUM THREE

As the man and I celebrated with my brother, our nieces, and our youngest niece's extended family on her mother's side, our own children were off having their own weekend adventures—my son found his way to an alumni reunion of his camp friends in the woods of Connecticut, while my daughter and her love and their closest friends of the past two years decamped to Martha's Vineyard for the weekend. I swiped evidence of their joy from social media and am posting it here, because I love catching my babies in the act of being happy. There's my boy, usually clean shaven for work but now sporting a full scruffy beard while on medical leave, kicking up his metal-braced leg with his friends. The one sitting next to him in the third photo will be his best man in September, and many of the others will be among his groomsmen. He hadn't seen his best man in three years, as he lives in Amsterdam and the pandemic has kept them apart. Not that they haven't been in touch, as these boyhood friends talk by phone several times each week. But now, we are all beginning to gather again, even as we antigen test ourselves for covid before and after, and roll the dice, because there is no other way but to move forward, and keep living our lives.




Alongside the tragedies and soulless rhetoric of our current socio-political landscape, occasions of celebration, loving connection, achievement, and joy are also unfolding in America. It helps my sanity to keep that in sight, too.