Thursday, September 28, 2023

Blue necklace

Had another Zoom check with the book team in this morning. My subject and I got gold stars for our progress. I continue to adore every member of this team. The Fab Four we called ourselves today, the editor, the agent, my subject, and me. Also, Zoom has figured out something since those early days of the pandemic when we recoiled from having to see ourselves on those interminable video calls that took the place of human contact for the better part of two years. Zoom brushes out all our wrinkles now, flattens everything without our even asking. I'd say that makes perfect sense as a business strategy. Not like the new iPhone cameras that record every crease, blemish, and pore, plus more that the eye doesn't even register in real life. Here's a screenshot from my meeting this morning, because, well, I put on makeup and wore a blue necklace today.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Best laid plans

My daughter took that pic of her cousin and brand new niece when she was in Dallas a month ago.
My niece and her husband were bringing Baby Harper to visit us in New York for the week. They were to arrive tonight. But my niece called on Monday with the news that she is down with Covid, so they can’t travel after all. So now, unless I get myself on a plane to Dallas in the next month or so, I won’t hold that precious little girl until Thanksgiving. I hope my niece feels better soon. Her husband is still testing negative, and the little one shows no signs of distress. There will be no room reveal for them this week, however, so here are some pictures of the reno'ed bedroom, a project envisioned and driven by my daughter. "I'm the project manager, you're the client," she told me at one point. "So just give me a budget and then sit back and let me handle the details." She consulted with me on all purchases, since its my house after all, and she was using my card, but the vision for the room is mainly hers. The grungy old carpet is gone, the vinyl flooring is new, the walls are painted fresh (I couldn't decide on an accent wall color, so white it is), and all the modular Scandinavian furniture has been assembled (there are the beautiful builders, in a picture taken before). 
Not everything has been moved back in as yet, the shelves will eventually become much more full, as this room is also my husband's work studio, the place where he will make his stained glass boxes and icons, beaded Anglican rosaries, model sailing ships, design his floral arrangements, play his guitar, study Portuguese, and do whatever other creative pursuits catch his fancy. The room smells wonderfully like sawdust, with everything bright and clean and new. In contrast, our bedroom now feels like a dark pit, with way too much stuff in there, and a carpet twenty years old and crying out to be released from service. 
I'm determined to get to my room too in my refresh chronicles. I feel almost light, thinking of all the material possessions I will get to divest myself of. But first, I have to turn this book in to the editor. I have a full first draft, and am working on addressing my subject's notes for the revision. In other words, we're quite far along. Best of all, she is very happy with what we've done. The heaviest lift (getting down a complete draft) is done. The painful part is over. And with one who is as personally generous and as nuanced a thinker as my current subject is, this part of the process is actually feeling like (dare I say it?) fun. Even so, the grind continues. There are many more stages of this book journey to go yet. Please know, dear friends, I'm reading your posts. I just don't always have enough free mental space to formulate a coherent comment.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Tiny catch up

My whole body ached. It hurt so much everywhere I couldn’t sleep so I rose and took painkillers. Now I’m sitting in after midnight darkness in the living room, waiting for the three little blue pills to take effect as I tap out this post on my phone. We were building furniture all day, my daughter, my two nieces and me, while the man made us hearty chicken and corn chowder and a delicious mango coconut bread. I was rather enjoying the flipped gender roles, though I don’t think anyone else noticed. There was a hard driving rain outside. Inside, the house felt active and happy. In the recently cleared out, newly painted, de-carpeted room, we assembled two bookshelves and a desk from those head-scratching Scandinavian instructions that are all pictures, no words, and then the man came in to help us build the bed. It was complicated, my daughter and nieces are champion builders, but there were some parts of the job that required strength of the sort my husband brought, and finesse won from long experience with the use of power tools. Between us we got the job done. Baby Harper, your room awaits. No pictures yet. We want to surprise Harper’s mom and dad with the reveal when they arrive from Dallas in four days. Instead here are pictures from when we had dinner with some of my husband’s relatives in New Jersey a couple Saturdays ago. In our cousins Bobby and Sophia’s beautiful home, among visiting relatives we’d so recently seen in Antigua, we cheered tennis phenom Coco Gauff to her incredible New York Open win. The woman in purple is my husband’s first cousin Barbara. I adore her. My children’s season of reconnecting with the Antiguan side of their family is continuing. 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Another morning


I feel fragile lately. The ground feels unstable beneath my feet, so that I want to micromanage everything, lest it spin wildly into catastrophe. This is highly annoying to other people. I know this hyper vigilance was bred into me in a childhood in which my father was an alcoholic. He wasn't a mean drunk, lucky us, just tediously sentimental about growing up roaming hills in the country and his schoolboy days at a boarding school in town and meeting my mom as a young man. He was also highly functional; he didn't begin drinking till all his cases were studied, all his opinions written, his work put to bed. But my mom hated his drinking, and so he tried to hide it, which he couldn't of course. I knew all the places where his bottles of gin were stashed, and we all knew when he crossed over into being drunk. I'll never forget the night he made me stand there and listen to him sing every verse of his high school anthem, tears rolling down his face. I only wish I could throw my arms around him now, remembering.

But still. Growing up with an alcoholic parent makes you watchful. It attunes you to the shifting molecules of air in the room, the careful way my dad placed his steps when he was drunk, my mom's lips pressed together in disapproval when she realized he'd been drinking again, the dangerous silences in the house. Then morning would come and my dad would be up before everyone, putting in a load of laundry, juicing oranges for breakfast, making the cup of tea that he brought in to me when he woke me up for school. He was a good dad. He just drank too much. It almost killed him when I was fourteen or fifteen, when he was sick with something and mixed the medicine he had been prescribed with gin. He quit drinking after that. He promised us all from his hospital bed, on the day after his heart stopped beating and the doctors brought him back, that he wouldn't touch another drop. And for the rest of his life, till the cancer ravaging his body took him at the young age of seventy-two, he never did.

I wrote a typo there. At first I wrote he never died. I went back and fixed it, but it strikes me this morning that the typo is what I want to be true. He has been so alive for me these past weeks, in the wake of my brother in law's death, and also, in this continuing brutal summer, the passing of one of my cousins, Diane. She died in West Palm Beach, Florida, last Friday. She had been rushed to the hospital with double pneumonia the very night Bruce died. We got the call about Bruce near midnight and then I picked up my phone and there was a text from my cousin Joy, Diane's sister, letting me know what was going on. 

Joy had been sending me and the rest of the family daily updates, and it sounded like Diane was improving. Then last Tuesday she texted that they had removed the intubation tube and her oxygen was low. She was reminding her to take deep breaths. On Wednesday, the day we said goodbye to Bruce in the majestic and historic Cathedral of St. John's that he had lovingly helped to restore, there was no text from Joy, but we were so caught up by the pressing moment, I failed to notice. Thursday, we went to help clear out Bruce's apartment, as the landlord wanted to show it the next day. There was no text from Joy that day either. Life hurries on. 

Friday was a beautiful family day. We had promised ourselves one day at the beach, and we honored that. We started the morning with breakfast as a family at a lovely little place near Blue Waters, where my parents used to live during the years they lived in Antigua; they stayed in the island just long enough for me to meet my husband in 1983. A year later, my dad got promoted to Chief Justice of the region and they moved on to St. Lucia, the central court of the Eastern Caribbean judiciary. My son and daughter spent time with their grandparents in two different islands as children. 

After breakfast we drove all over the island, my husband revisiting places that held special meaning for him, our kids revisiting their own childhood memories made on visits to their dad's birth place, all of us realizing we'd been away too long, nine years, and now we were all reclaiming the land as our own. That was the best part of the whole trip, really, our children realizing that Antigua was still theirs, even though their grandparents, aunt, and uncle were gone. They still had cousins, and other uncles and aunts, and the island had welcomed them home.

We went to the beach at Longwood. Walking into the water I kept exclaiming how clear it was, like liquid blue glass refracting the light, every grain of sand visible beneath my feet. As if I had not grown up in Jamaica with this same sea. We got there at noon, and swam and tread water for hours, talking, laughing, being. At three in the afternoon we packed up to head to another beach, this one at Ffryes, just down the road from Valley Church, where my husband picked lilies for me one night in the rain before we were married, and in whose country graveyard two days before, we had buried his brother. 

My son had been one of the pallbearers for his uncle, who like my husband was a big guy. "One last workout with Uncle Bruce," he grunted as, along with the other pallbearers, he helped lower the casket into the open earth. My daughter's heart was in her throat the whole time, as dirt slid beneath her brother's dress shoes at the grave's edge, his white shirt transparent with sweat from his effort to maintain tension on the rope, men shouting directions back and forth, it was a scene. But they managed the task without falling in. And then a back hoe filled in the hole as mourners found what little shade we could under trees and warbled hymns around Bruce's grave.

We had a plan to meet up with some cousins and an older aunt at Ffryes Beach at four thirty on Friday afternoon, when the baking heat would ease a bit. It was on the way there from Longwood that the text came in. "Diane passed away this afternoon." It felt like a gut punch. And then, honestly, I felt numb. We met up with our relatives, we swam in the healing water. The day continued to be a connected and joyful family outing, even though shadowed by my news. It had been hot as blazes all week. Yet now I felt cold. 

I'm back in the city now, back to work by the window, trying to craft the book's final chapter. My man is back at museum. My niece who lived with us during the month of August while she looked for a new apartment, has now found a place and moved there on Labor Day with her former college roommate and best friend. I am alone in the days, and sometimes, I climb under the covers and just cry. I wont be able to go to my cousin's funeral. We are pretty much broke from burying our brother, and from a bedroom renovation that is underway in anticipation of my niece and her husband bringing baby Harper to visit us at the end of the month. I have to deliver the last chapters of the book right before they arrive, and then start at the beginning again to address the notes my subject has already made and returned to me on Chapters 1 though 17. And so I push back the covers and go back to the window and try to lose myself in channeling someone else's magnificent life. It does help.

Good morning, dear friends. I'm still standing.

Sunday, August 27, 2023


That’s a photo of where I'm from, the land of my birth, Jamaica. This week, as we journey south to lay my husband’s brother to rest a few islands over in Antigua, I’ll be able to once again immerse myself in those blue waters, and that will be a balm. But in the meantime, traveling anxieties are in full flower. Why am this way? What, really, is the source of this disquiet, this heart pounding worriment when, weaving through the angst, I am also relishing the idea of spending a week with my husband and children, the original four of us, the silver lining of time together away from our busy lives, our brother and uncle's parting gift to our little tribe.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

He was loved


Tributes and remembrances are pouring in from everywhere for our brother. It makes me very sad that he died without really understanding just how well regarded he was, how widely loved. He certainly would not have expected an official statement of condolences from the Prime Minister of Antigua. Only dignitaries receive such commendations, and he did not know that he was one. His morning radio talk show on current events had a devoted following on the island, and in Caribbean communities abroad, and truly, he was born for that format. He was a wonderful conversationalist, excellent writer, loved his family and relished a lively good-natured debate. He was always so interested in the progress of his nieces and nephews, and I am realizing how fondly I held his regard for my children, his brother, me. There was a warmth that covered us from his love for us, and now that place from which it came feels empty and cold. I never thought I would not see him again in this life. I hope I will see him in the next, but not for a while yet. My only comfort is that he is now beyond the reach of the emotional storms that sometimes assailed him. With him, I understand as deeply as I ever have the words, rest in peace.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Goodnight, dear brother

It's been a cruel summer. Just before midnight last night, my husband's younger brother took his last breath. There are the brothers on swings as youngsters in Antigua so many moons ago. Bruce, now 59, suffered a massive stroke last week Wednesday and was rushed to the hospital. His oldest brother and several cousins took turns sitting at his bedside, but he never regained consciousness. He was here in full one day, and the next he was not. My husband has now lost two siblings within the course of a single year. He is very submerged today, which is how he deals with sorrow. He has to disconnect for a bit to survive it. I know this about him, but it does leave me feeling a bit adrift with my own grief. 

One of the cousins wrote this morning in the Arrindell family chat, in which our brother was always a very lively participant, that "We know Bruce is at peace and deep in conversation with our ancestors." Bruce had a morning radio talk show in Antigua in which he took on social and political issues at home and abroad. I imagine he is indeed continuing the commentary. At least, it is a comfort to me to think so. My children are gutted, my son a bit submerged like his dad, my daughter's tears flowing freely, more like her mom. Families, man. We all revert to our fundamental coping mechanisms. Whatever we might think of them, we are all just trying to find our way through.

Tomorrow my husband and I will have been married for 37 years, and will have been together for 40 years. We have been with each other twice as long now as those first two decades of our lives growing up on different islands. Here is a picture of our two families of origin taken on our wedding day. I'm not sure if I'll be back to post more tomorrow, because this anniversary is a somber one. All but three people in the photo are now gone from us, at least in body, though never in memory. On his side, my husband now stands alone. Bruce, our brother who crossed the veil last night, was our best man, the one who looks so much like my husband. Here is a post I wrote about what may well have been Bruce's defining work in this life. May the tumult of the world now release him, and may he know the lightness of being that often escaped him, that escapes most of us, in this earth school where the lessons can be so hard. Rest now, dear brother. Rise in joy. 


Thursday, August 17, 2023

Men of Courage

Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, Tennessee State Legislators, gun reform activists, men of courage and conviction. Photo by Mario Sorrenti. Their story is here. Also, I love the picture. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

"Never catch yourself in untrained mirrors"—my friend Isabella

Mirror in the back garden of a restaurant in Williamsburg 
(Photo by Leslie Gartrell)

I didn’t know I would rail against aging in this unseemly way. When I was young, I didn’t understand why people didn’t gracefully embrace growing older, and the faces and bodies that came with that. My husband and I, as newlyweds, romanticized growing old together. Well, now we are doing it. Although it’s fair to say, growing old with this man is perhaps the best part of growing old. Romantic even. He is so calm about it all, so nonplussed by the changes in us, so wryly humorous about the aches and pains and slowing down, so accepting of where we find ourselves. For all his exasperating ways (not going to the doctor, not following through on anything involving official documents—thank God he has me), he’s easy to live with. I got lucky that way. And he did finally go for a medical check up this week. His heart and bloodwork are doing fine.  

So. Indictment number four for the orange ectoplasm. Ruth Marcus, a legal thinker I respect, is of the opinion that the Georgia case—based on conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election—might be one indictment too many. I do not agree. Not by a mile. If Trump or any other Republican (except maybe Liz Cheney) wins the White House in 2024, Trump will be pardoned, and every federal case against him will go away. Georgia, being a state matter, is the only case that he cannot be pardoned for, the only one a Republican chief executive can’t just wipe off the books. So I don’t see this fourth indictment as piling on at all. He did everything they say he did. We saw him do it. Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law is the standard. Well, apply the standard to Donny boy too. Throw the whole damn book of charges at him. Looks like Fani Willis did just that. I am in awe of her courage. Of Jack Smith’s too. Of all the people putting their very lives on the line to uphold the rule of law. We all know, this is going to be dangerous and ugly. Everything involving Trump is dangerous and ugly. But we dare not shrink from what needs to be done. Bring it all the way on, I say.

Here is a picture my daughter sent me a while back. Her brother and his love were visiting. These beautiful beings make me happy. Along with my girl and her love, they make my life in microcosm sweet indeed. The trick I suppose is the keep the lens small, and pointed at the happy.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Sunday again

It's really an unbearable feeling to be sick of yourself but to be unable to get away from yourself. I lose myself in work, not sure if I'm hitting the mark, but trying, and trying again. I imagine hiding myself away to avoid imposing myself on the world. I feel as if my very being is an affront. I know this is crazy talk. Believe me, I know. There is still a part of my brain that stands aside and sees clearly that no one is thinking about me that deeply, no one really cares how I move through the world, many are too busy wondering what the world is thinking about them. Oh, the absurd tragedy of this mortal coil. And yet, in this body, I still get to hold my children close and breathe in the intoxicating belovedness of them, and that makes being in this broken shell I inhabit worth enduring.

We went out to a soul food dinner in Harlem with my daughter and her love, and his mother and sister, to celebrate his sister's birthday last night. In the restaurant, Melba's, there was a brand new oil painting in the dining room, of our newest Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. I love our pride in her, the joy we take in her achievement, and how stellar she truly is. And dinner was big fun, with the entire dining room pausing to surprise our guest of honor with a rousing round of Happy Birthday, the African American version, as the waiters processed in with a slice of red velvet cake with a lit candle on top of it. My daughter's sister to be, a kind soul, beamed with surprise. It was a moment. Afterwards, though, I got up from the table and could hardly walk. My left leg hurt something fierce, the entire length of it, and I hobbled out of there in what I thought was a most ungainly fashion, though I must have played it off somehow as no one really noticed. Or maybe they just refrained from commenting.

This morning, despite eating lightly yesterday, the scale has added two pounds, and my head feels like it's stuffed with cotton (there were margaritas involved last night), and its muggy and hot in my house because the cherry on top, the AC conked out last night, or rather, it kept working but water was pouring from it onto our bedroom floor. Whine, whine, whine. I'm going to stop here and go make myself a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and try to reset this day. This earth school we share is not for faint hearts, aching bodies, or obsessive, catastrophic minds. But look at this beautiful crew.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Of loss and love

It's been a difficult month for our family. Two of our children, the generation of nieces and nephews, have died this summer. My generation calls ourselves "The 28," because that's how many first cousins we are, born of the original nine Stiebel siblings, all of them gone now, the last of them, Aunt Grace, departing only months before Covid shut everything down. The 28 first cousins refer to all our offspring as our nieces and nephews, though technically they are cousins, too. I wrote about my niece and goddaughter Christine who died in a car accident on the way home to Yellowknife in the far north of Canada at the end of June. She was only 33, her radiant being snuffed out by a drunk driver. 

Sadly, toward the end of July, we lost another of her generation, my nephew Jamal, Aunt Winnie's grandson, who contacted Covid at the start of the pandemic and whose lungs just never fully recovered. He had Down Syndrome, his lungs compromised since he was a baby. I recall so many visits to the hospital back when I was in college, and we feared we would lose him. But his mom Angie moved the very heavens to stabilize him, and he far outlived the life expectancy doctors tried to place on his head. Then Covid snared him, ravaging his weakened lungs irrevocably. For the past two years he landed in the hospital every couple of months, and on his last visit, he left us. He would have turned 49 this coming Saturday. 

Yesterday, we gathered in Brooklyn to celebrate his life. My cousins from Virginia traveled to the city, and stayed over with me the last two nights. In addition to all the family members who assembled in person, many more of us watched the service on video, which is the way things are post-pandemic. We all shared memories of our cherished son, brother, nephew, cousin, and uncle, who in life couldn't express what he was feeling in words, yet spoke eloquently of his displeasure and joy nevertheless. My own most moving memory of Jamal is the way he simply and graciously allowed others to express love for him unconditionally, through taking care of him, though sharing a bowl of his favorite vanilla ice cream, through the rocking hugs he gave, through shooting basketball hoops with him in the driveway for hours, even in winter. 

It seemed to me that one of Jamal’s most selfless purposes on this earth was helping others to grow in love by being of service. Even those of us who did not serve him as directly as his mom Angie did, as his sister and grandparents and others did, were able to learn from what we observed. Jamal showed us the meaning of service, he taught us to seek and foster his joy, and he showed us that joy and service just might be the very definition of love. Yesterday there were tears, but there was also much laughter as we told stories of Jamal, and relished being with loved ones who hadn't gathered in this way since my son's wedding last fall. These are our reunions now, weddings and funerals, reminding me always of the great gift that is our family. 

The photo here is of my son and me with Aunt Winnie's other grandson, a soldier who has just returned from a year in Iraq, where he earned military decorations for alerting the base to an incoming attack one morning, thereby saving many lives. We've lost so many, but our stories continue.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Happy birthday President Obama

 He shows us what’s possible, what’s right, and what’s true. 
Also, let's face it, Michelle's husband is fine.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Work and play


My favorite public place to go to and work when I was feeling distracted, lonely, or uninspired at home was the cafe at the Barnes and Noble in my hood. But the bookstore just underwent a major renovation, and they moved the cafe to the second floor, away from the enormous arched windows of the mezzanine that used to imbue the space with a sense of poetry. Now the cafe is just a boring square space with square windows and square tables, and nothing inspiring about it at all. Plus it's out of the way behind the young adult section, accessible only through a maze of bookshelves, where before you could look down over the mezzanine railing and take in the sweep of books and customers browsing on the ground floor. So now I've adopted a new public coworking space, this one at my husband's museum. The great part is, at the end of his workday, he just swings by the newly opened reading room to get me, and I drive home with him. The con is there's no coffee bar always at the ready, and the ebb and flow of people isn't quite as busy or as interestingly eccentric as it was at the cafe. But hey, my man's nearby, and the window is plenty poetic. Imagine me here sometimes, working away, because that's mostly what I do these days as I trundle toward my deadline.


I did see Oppenheimer with my husband, our daughter-in-law, and one of my nieces. We were all mostly riveted, though my three companions found the film about thirty minutes too long. I was less bothered by the length, as the characters were so well drawn and beautifully acted, especially Emily Blunt as Robert Oppenheimer's strong-minded and emotionally complicated wife Kitty. The film definitely glossed over all sorts of salient and devastating details, like the Mexican-American and Indigenous communities that lived downwind from the Trinity bomb test whose families have been riddled with terminal cancers for generations since. Despite such indefensible omissions, as a piece of art and an imperfect representation of history, it was worth seeing, at least for me. 

I also ran off in the middle of the day and saw Barbie with my friend Lisa yesterday, the two of us deciding to see the movie on a whim, because we wanted to understand the whole conversation happening about it. Plus we wanted to support director Greta Gerwig. I enjoyed it but didn't truly love it. I found the character of Ken to be a mess, and the message about the patriarchy and how we deal with it head-scratchingly inconsistent. Still, Margo Robbie was great as Barbie, and after she confesses at one point that she feels inadequate, America Ferrera in the character Gloria delivers a monologue about women's role in society that was definitely a cultural moment. Maybe the movie was worth seeing for that alone, because I feel moved to record her lines here. Don't read any further if you plan to see the movie and don't want spoilers. 


Gloria's monologue in Barbie:

It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.

You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining.

You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood. But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.

I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Morning at my window

 Thank you, friends. So many of you get it. 
I wish you didn't, yet it's a comfort that you do. 

Friday, July 28, 2023


I'm in a dark place this evening. Slammed into a negative thought loop, spiraling down, unable to interrupt the things my brain is telling me about myself, unable to breathe a full breath, unable to climb out of the hole, to find my way back to the sun. It was such a small thing that sent me spinning, such a tiny thing, a moment, yet it cut me to the quick, rocked me back on my heels, and now I'm spinning, spiraling, trying to write my way out of the murkiness, trying to grasp that all of it is just story anyway, hell none of this might even be real, all the same anyone who says you can choose your thoughts is propagating a damn lie, because why on earth would I choose this this this.


Thursday, July 27, 2023

Nothing compared


Sinéad O'Connor


Life was hard for her this time around, but she was bold, unapologetic, heart on her sleeve, a fighter to the end. She offered up her gifts to help leaven the pain, hers and ours. She made her time count.


Monday, July 24, 2023

The crew

Arsenal played Man City in an exhibition game at the Meadowlands this weekend, and of course, my family full of Arsenal fans was in the stands, all of them decked out in Arsenal gear. If you doubt their passion, peep the matching Arsenal cannon tattoos sported by my son and one of his best buds. I didn't go. I loved imagining my loves together at a stateside premier league soccer game, enjoying themselves, but for me, the trains, the stairs, the heat, the crowds, it sounded a bit like one of the circles of hell. Mitigated by the fact that I would have been with beloveds, of course. Still, I was very happy to have a peaceful day at home writing. I took a break to sit in the gardens for an hour with my friend Jane, who is struggling with vertigo right now. It's hanging on way long. We commiserated on body betrayals before moving on to more cheerful things. Then I went back home and finished the hardest chapter of the book so far. 

My kids and their loves sent me lots of photos, knowing it was my absolute preferred way to take in that game. My husband forgot his phone at home, and got separated from the kids twice among the 80,000 people in attendance. The first time was at the train station. Fortuitously, he ran into our nephew Matthew, who had traveled down from Toronto with friends to see the game. It was so random, he had no idea Matthew would be there. Luckily Matt has our son's number in his contacts, because my husband doesn't know it by heart, he only uses speed dial. I later observed (very unhelpfully) that this is why I never use speed dial, so I'll remember everyone's number in a pinch. 

The second time my beloved got separated was in the concession area soon after the group arrived at the stadium. My man bought himself and our daughter yet another Arsenal jersey each, then looked up and realized he could see no one he knew. They hadn't gone to their seats yet, so he had no idea where to go, as my son had all the tickets. My son finally found him, and scolded him, "Pops, you can't keep wandering off! Remember, you don't have your phone." The man and I were in stitches when he recounted this story to me later. Oh, how the wheel has turned. 

They all had a wonderful time. I did, too. I snapped the picture of our garden's back yard as I was walking home from where Jane and I had sat in the courtyard in front of her building. Everything is in full flower and a little bit wild. And now it's the end of July already, and the orange one may well be indicted for his insurrection activities this week. As a woman I know likes say, "It's a good day to have a good day." May that be true for us all.

Monday, July 17, 2023

"Breakfast is the canvas on which you paint your day" —Unknown

Virtuous breakfast

 Not so virtuous breakfast


I'm just spitballing here, because the truth is, I have no time to post thoughtfully right now, yet if I stay away I miss you all, and want to get back in community. Life gets busy sometimes, and I'm grateful for it. Less time to brood on my own dark thoughts when I just have to get cracking doing. In this reality, however, breakfast can be a crap shoot. I'd love any ideas you might have for quick, labor light, nutritious canvas on which to paint my day.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, an Opera

"What you touch, you change. What you change, changes you." 

Those lyrics are by Toshi Reagon, from the extraordinary opera she wrote and composed with her mother Bernice Johnson Reagon, adapting Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower
My friend Maryam Dilakian, a gifted Armenian-American writer whose work I can't wait for you all to read, invited me to see the show with her on the final evening of its New York premiere. I'm so grateful to have been in that sold-out auditorium at Lincoln Center last night. Maryam posted about the performance on Instagram this morning, so perfectly capturing its shattering beauty and power to transform. With her permission, I am sharing her full post below. 


Maryam Dilakian: @toshireagon did this, y'all. Toshi did it again, y'all. When I saw The Gospel of James Baldwin a few years ago, I thought, "Wow, this an opus magnum." But then she gave us The Parable of the Sower.

Toshi shifts culture. Toshi takes us down South, then throws us forward into the future. Toshi is the future. Her voice, like her mama's voice, is the sound of America's longing. Her message is clear and unwavering. Her humanity is the definition of hypersensitivity and compassion. Toshi is a cultural icon.

Every voice and instrument that entered the stage was absolute gold. The writing, acting, and score were phenomenal. When it was funny, it was funny af. It was heartbreaking. It was earthshaking and soul bending. It was fierce and joyful, prophetic and cautionary. It was a stunning showcase of talent. It felt like a family on stage. It was blues, rock, pop, ballads. It was opera and protest.

Toshi JAN, I bow before you. I felt that shit in my whole body. My whole body, sis. I'm so thankful God made you. I'm so thankful to be alive and in this country to witness you. I'm so humbled by your call.

I'm ready to activate.

I'm thankful for my mama—for giving me an eye and an ear for art, for teaching me to recognize the power of art to shift, shake, and remold US.

I'm thankful for Octavia Butler's genius, for her sentences, for insisting that we embrace that God is change.

I'm thankful to have shared this evening with @rosemarierobotham, and for my pastor @revjacquilewis being in the house.

Toshi made magic.

Put this opera on Broadway. As it is—in all its overwhelmingly excellent glory.


Saturday, July 15, 2023

While gazing out at my front yard on Saturday morning

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.“ —T.H. White, The Book of Merlin


Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Pressing on

We had another book team check-in this morning. Zoom meetings are now completely normalized and even seemingly preferred. No one considers assembling in person anymore, and we are the poorer for it, I think. Don't get me wrong. I still appreciate rolling out of bed and getting decent from the waist up in order to meet. And I continue to be in love with every single person who is a part of this team. Book writing is hard, especially in the first rounds, but I don't think I've ever enjoyed a collaborative experience more, or felt quite as purposeful. May we all go from strength to strength on this project, and in every other corner of our lives. This is a prayer.

There's a lot going on, including my cousin who lives in Boston staying with us for the past week. She is the primary caregiver for her 96-year-old dad, my uncle Quintin, the very last of our parents' generation. When I started writing here fifteen years ago this summer, all but two of my mom's nine siblings were still alive, and all their spouses, too. Now they are all gone, but Uncle Quintin speaks with them regularly in the course of his days. He hallucinates, a feature of the particular kind of dementia with which he has been diagnosed, and my cousin just rolls with it, whatever he's seeing, wherever he happens to be in his mind, whoever is visiting from the other realm that afternoon.

My uncle is a lucky one, the second of his three daughters lovingly caring from him as bit by bit, he prepares to take his leave. "Why am I still here?" he sometimes asks her. She tells him he is allowing her to be of service to him, and that is reason enough. But she desperately needed a break, so her sister flew from San Francisco to relieve her for the week, and she came to stay here. She knew I had to work, but all she really wanted was a place to be where there was no one to take care of but herself. She goes for walks, visits with friends from her college years who live in the city, and some days she doesn't get out of her pajamas. It turns out her energy is easy, I can focus completely on the writing while she is across the dining table from me, meditatively working on a jigsaw puzzle. 

Once I grasped what her days and nights have been like, I just wanted to pamper her, help her unplug and get restored. We've be watching Younger together (rewatching for me), which a lovely, cotton candy rom com series in which a divorced mom named Liza Miller pretends to be 26 to get a job in publishing. There is the young hot tattoo artist in love with her, and the older hot publisher who's aghast that he's falling for a 26 year old assistant, and wonderful and hilarious characters around the central love triangle, including Debi Mazar as Liza's lesbian best friend who she moves in with in Brooklyn after her marriage crumbles, and who has the bright idea for Liza to just pretend she's younger when she can't get a job as a 40 year old. 

The binge watch experience with my cousin has been delightful, with lots of belly laughs. And because I have already seen the series (a few times in you want to know the truth), I can even keep working while it runs in the background.

I thought I might try to catch up here on everything that's happened in the past couple of weeks, but I wont, after all. It's too much. I'll just move forward from here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

It's been a week

First, there was the frightening news last Tuesday that one of my daughter's friends since they were four had collapsed while riding his bike and the hospital, unable to revive him, had to put him in an induced coma and on a ventilator. All the kids and their parents gathered and prayed, even the agnostics and atheists among us. We prayed that when our boy woke up, his brain would be undamaged despite the length of time it had been without oxygen. And we prayed for his parents, our friends, unable to imagine what they were going through. Two days later, when the doctors stopped administering the coma medicine, our boy did wake up, and though he could not recall what had happened, he was otherwise completely himself. God, we exhaled. He will now need a device implanted in his chest to regulate the beating of his heart, as that was the cause of the terror. He will also have to undergo weeks of physical therapy, but he's going to fine.

Just as I was breathing normally again, on Sunday came the news that my niece and goddaughter who lives in Yellowknife in the far north of Canada, had died in a car accident overnight. Drunk driver with no license. She had been traveling home from spending a few joyful days with family in Halifax and Vancouver, driving through Alberta on the way back to Yellowknife with her partner of 14 years. They’d been together since she was 19. She had just earned her masters in social work, they'd just bought a house, everything was in a good place. Her love was driving, their dog between them. The impact came on the passenger side. My niece sustained massive trauma and died at the scene. Her love suffered a broken arm and a shattered life. My niece's mom and sisters and his parents flew to him in Edmonton, where he had been transported so that a well-equipped hospital could perform needed surgery. I have no idea what comes next for a family that is now so broken. "It doesn't seem real," her sister told me. "Everybody else lived. Why didn't Christine live, too?"

Is it obscene to also celebrate what's happy? This week my daughter and her love texted the family chat that they'd picked a wedding date in July 2024 and settled on their dream venue, so now everything on that front is becoming real. I imagine the news of the week made them decide not to waste time, to embrace the good and give their loved ones some joy to look forward to, reasons to dance.

The image here is a digital piece by artist Nettie Beatrice, posted for no reason other than I love the colors. Everyone here is reeling. Hold your loved ones close.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

The continuing chronicles of going gray

I finally got my hair cut. Finally trimmed off all those "light golden brown" L'Oreal Color ends. The dye had made my hair weirdly straight and wispy as it grew, rendering it more difficult to style. You couldn't tell, because I would pat it down with conditioning mousse, and whatever wayward spirals refused to comply, I'd just snip them off with a scissors. My hair is back to its natural self once again, curling and waving against my scalp as it used to and happy to breathe without color. When I did that post a while back confessing my distress at the visible signs of aging, I was grateful for your openhearted comments, especially the ones that advised that I would embrace this new transition soon, and be at peace. That made me feel hopeful. Let's see how long I'm at peace with the incoming gray. Pro tip: Makeup definitely lifts the look.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Harper's first photoshoot

One of her aunts asked her parents, "How does it feel to have the most perfect baby on earth?" Lord, but my grand-niece is adorable. Be still my heart.