Monday, May 29, 2023

The Daily

I'm not sure I've ever felt as much work pressure as I feel in this moment, a situation amped up by the fact that I can't focus fully on the writing right now, as I'm also trying to make sure that my niece Leah can get settled in her new life in the city, safe and okay. She and her roommate got approved for a place, but they both have nothing to outfit her apartment. She has only her clothes, and bedding, but no bed, no crockery, cookware, or cutlery, no desk or living room furniture, no curtains to hang at the floor to ceiling windows that make the apartment so airy and light. The apartment, coincidentally, is right above the apartment that my other niece, Dani, has lived in for the past two years, but Dani is moving out the day before Leah and her roommate get the keys next month, because Dani's roommate is moving to Seattle, and Dani plans to live with her former college roommate starting in September. She's moving back to her parents' house in Orlando for the summer, as her former roommate's lease isn't up until August. More than you ever needed to know.

Anyway, my niece who is fresh out of college seems a bit overwhelmed, and maybe also lonely and uncertain as she faces the unknown. I've observed again and again that this summer after college is a hard one, as these newly sprung young people try to figure out the shape of their future. And this niece, despite already having landed a good job that will allow her to pay her way, has a fairly anxious personality. She's a bit like me, really. She also seems to know few people in the city beyond her cousins, who are busy meeting the demands of their own lives, so I find I am worrying about her, and getting her settled, more than I did with some of the others. Complicating things, she has a hard time asking for and accepting help. She has this idea that she needs to do it all on her own, and she can be sharp in her push back against offers of assistance, so the whole getting her launched endeavor isn't quite there yet.

I guess I'm just trying to process my own anxiety that my work is going slower than I need it to go, because I'm not fully in my head as I'm doing it. I'm also realizing anew how much I appreciate my husband's ability to be here yet allow me to be fully inside my writing bubble, even as he moves around me, interacting with me, telling me things, making me feel less isolated and alone. The stresses of this moment aside, I really am a lucky one. One can feel lucky and blessed while also churning inside, I guess. Because holy mother, I am churning. I think that's because there's an unsettled energy in the house right now, and whatever emotion exists in a room, I can't seem to help just drinking it in. 

The puzzle on the dining table is of an artwork called "Some Refused to Work in the Fields" by Ronald Jackson. Made by Apostrophe puzzles, it was a hard one and the image is quite surreal. It took my niece and me a whole week to complete it, which we appreciated. We do both love the hard puzzles, what does that say about us?

Friday, May 26, 2023

Harper is here!

Harper Angella Reid was born in Dallas at 3:02 a.m this morning. She was 8 lbs and 20.5 inches, she’s tall like her daddy. She arrived after her mom had been pushing for only 16 minutes. Babygirl was ready to be born! Everyone here is over the moon. And me? I am in love. “I’m just here chillin with my new broke bestie,” my niece texted the family chat. Mother and baby are doing well. That is what I prayed for.  

Wednesday, May 24, 2023


We had another Zoom check in with the book team this morning. I so love those three women and one man. They say we should always go where the love is, and this might be the most free floating love I've ever felt on a work project. May the words I write be worthy!

So real talk. I am suddenly aging at warp speed, which is apparently a side effect of the weight loss medication my doctor put me on. I am so conflicted. The meds have turned the food noise in my brain all the way down, so that for the first time I feel like a normal person, no longer fighting the insulin floods that have swamped my body for my entire life, which is like a monster with its open maw constantly feening for more, more, more. The cravings, dear God. The battle not to eat was constant, pitched, brutal. I don't think I ever felt full, certainly never satisfied, and I now I have proof it wasn't a moral issue of no willpower, of gluttony, it was a chemical issue, genetically bestowed. 

Now, I eat when I'm hungry and stop when I'm full, and a bag of cookies can last in my pantry for weeks on end, instead of being devoured in a day or two. It was revelatory, really, the feeling of this is what people with normal body chemistry feel like all the time! But, there is no free lunch, terrible pun, because I barely recognize myself in the mirror. Everything sags at the jawline, around the mouth, the wrinkles are coming in deeper around the eyes, and I'm like, my face or my ass, people, which one do I choose? I don't know. I no longer think it's vanity exactly. Maybe just another life lesson of some sort, one yet to be learned.

That picture up top is me on today's Zoom call. Zoom touches up your appearance a bit, but even so, the wrinkles, the chest crepe, the wattled chin, the sagging neck are starting to be visible on the screen. I don't know why I'm sharing all this. It's just that this space is where I process things that are hard, and this suddenly accelerated aging is hard, y'all. Not gonna lie. Not unrelated, I've decided to let my gray grow in. I'm just one big mess of competing motivations right now, kicking and fighting and reaching for acceptance of my own little self. I wish I didn't want to hide out so much. I wish I didn't feel so shallow.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

She graduated!

Congrats to my niece, my brother's middle daughter, who graduated from Macalester College in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Saturday. I'm just so proud of this girl. She is now here with us in our apartment in New York, with all her college bangarangs in boxes and suitcases lined up in the hallway, while she looks for a place in, you guessed it, hipster Brooklyn! All the Gen Z kids are moving there. She's an anxious little bird this morning, because even though she and her two prospective roommates have all already landed jobs, all of them in the tech and finance industry, one of three just had her start date pushed back to next January, and so will not be able to afford to move with them after all. So now they've switched to looking for a two bedroom instead. My niece and her mom will be going to look at a place this afternoon. Crossing my heart and fingers and everything else it works out for them, otherwise my niece will have to move in with her aunt and uncle in Harlem till she can figure things out, not a cool start to post college life at all. Seems like only yesterday our girl was sitting at our kitchen counter in the midst of the throngs at Thanksgiving, writing her college essays and supplements. Life comes at you fast—don't blink! So now we have a houseful again, my brother's ex (with whom I have a lovely congenial friendship) and their two kids, with my brother having left to fly home to Jamaica this morning. The rest of us will endeavor to get our baby bird launched. Pray for lift off!

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Staying in the microcosm


We went to the seventh birthday party for the little guy on my son's shoulders. He's the nephew of my son and his wife, which meant we spent the afternoon in New Jersey hanging out with our in laws and their other in laws, all of us having a grand time. There was a couple we were meeting for the first time, who it was whispered were Trump supporters, yet we enjoyed interacting with them as much as everyone else, though of course we didn't venture near politics. Everyone else there was unabashedly liberal, as we are, so the Trump supporters were doing due diligence too, I expect. The wife of the couple mentioned in conversation that their older son had died of an accidental overdose eight years ago, and how do you have anything but an open heart for someone living with that kind of trauma. Their other son, grown and married with two adorable kids of his own, was lovely, too. He and my son are both medics, and get on well. We were a multiracial gathering of chosen family, Jamaican, Antiguan, Irish, Polish, Filipino, and Puerto Rican, and everybody also just American—society as it could be and some people's nightmare, all at the same time. Sometimes, it's okay to block out the larger world and just stay in the possibility of the microcosm.


Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Drink the wild air


Yesterday, I was stuck. I felt lonely and locked away in my house. I knew where I wanted to go in the writing, but my bed kept calling me. I felt so inexpressibly tired, yet I knew it was a condition of mind, not of body. I climbed under the covers anyway, feeling sorry for myself. And then another part of my brain whispered, Go outside. I threw back the covers, got dressed, tucked my laptop under my arm, and obeyed. The sun on my forehead, the trees before me, the blue air brushing my skin made all the difference. My fingers on the keyboard took on a life of their own, and in two hours, I had completed the chapter, blowing past my daily quota of one thousand words. "Drink the wild air," Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote. It helped, indeed it saved my life to remember: As humans, we need the sky.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Queen Charlotte

With the exception of one truly cringe bit of casting, I was mostly compelled by Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, Shonda Rimes' newest offering on Netflix (but then I did cut my eyeteeth on Mills & Boons). The series loosely portrays the love story between King George III, who may have been schizophrenic, and his wife Queen Charlotte, who was biracial (like Meghan) and the grandmother of Queen Victoria, which means Charlotte is an ancestor of today’s British royal family, whether they like to be reminded of their Black ancestry or not. Shonda Rimes releasing the six-episode miniseries just before coronation day was inspired, really. The actors who played George and Charlotte, newcomers Corey Mylchreest and India Amarteifio, were mesmerizing to watch, their chemistry beautiful and heartbreaking. The costumes and the sets were gorgeous, but the glimpse into psychiatric methods of the time was harrowing. I find I keep thinking about Charlotte and George, these people who breathed centuries ago, and aching for them. It’s a credit, I think, to the young actors. That’s them, above. 

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Outside is open again

I had a really good birthday in the end. Lunch with the long ago middle school moms was a lot of fun. As soon as I walked into the restaurant they yelled "Happy Birthday!" How did they know?? Facebook, they replied, handing me the lovely tulip plant they had brought me. So it turned out to be a surprise birthday lunch for me, an excellent easygoing kickoff to my birthday. Afterward I went and got myself a pedicure, been needing that, and then I came home and my friend Lisa came by with an orchid plant for me, and then my man arrived home from work with a cake, and soon the kids were walking through the door, two of them bearing a cool new Nespresso coffee machine for me, because they'd clocked me rhapsodizing over my niece's own when we were in Dallas a month ago. "We're always listening," my future son-in-law said with a wink. I am now enjoying a perfect frothy cup of joe made from said machine. 

Later, when we went to sing and cut the cake, we realized we had no candles, but who needs to be blowing out candles in this post covid world anyway? Instead, we poured each person a shot of tequila and after everyone sang the birthday song we all downed our shot and cheered. Hmmm, could be a new tradition. I loved having everyone around, and puppy Munch, too, weaving in and out of the activity, but I was also a bit in my head, worrying about things, unable to release the obsessions of the night before that I didn't actually share in my last post. Oh this noisy brain. What's the use of worrying about that over which we have no control. And yet we can't reason our way out of worry. If only it worked that way.

The pictures here are of the new wing of the natural history museum where my husband is an ichthyologist. They are busy moving the department's collection back into the spanking new building that took five years to construct. It officially opened to the public at 2 pm today. Man, that was fast. Five years ago, right after my husband underwent emergency open heart surgery, in the very month that he returned to work, they moved the collection out of the old space and the staff offices into trailers in anticipation of the old building's demolition. It seemed like science fiction, both the design for the new building ("Part Dr. Suess and part Jurassic Park," one columnist opined) and its projected completion date—2023 sounded really far away back in 2017. 

And now it is done, and my husband and his colleagues have spacious new offices overlooking the airy organic curves of the research atrium. The architecture of the whole building seems futuristic and prehistoric at the same time. I actually love the way it turned out, even though the builders are still working out all sorts of kinks. Having gone through recent tiny renovations, in which the details seemed absolutely endless, I can only imagine what a punch list for such a mammoth project must be like.

Setting up the ichthyology department anew is requiring all hands back on deck, and may take as long as six months before everything is completed. No more three days a week in the office, two from home for my man. I miss him being home on a Monday and Friday. I'm realizing I feel very grounded as I work when he's moving around in my orbit. But New Yorkers are creeping back up to five-day-a-week office schedules now, and remote work gets lonely sometimes. I anticipate taking my computer and working in public spaces again, as I often used to do before covid shut the world down.

Above is an immersive exhibit of some sort, I'm not sure what it shows, but it looks like synapses in a brain. And below are some jars from the ichthyology collection on display in the newly opened public area. These fish specimens have been treated with specific chemicals that render the flesh gel clear, leaving the bones red, and the cartilage blue, allowing an unobstructed view of those aspects of their anatomy. A while back, Steve wanted to see what these cleared-and-stained specimens looked like. Here you go, Steve. Maybe you will also recognize the scientist pictured with them, though he doesn't recognize himself. "Not a gray hair in sight," he muttered, shaking his white-bearded head.

Here's what his quote in that red bubble next to his picture says: "One time, my son was visiting and asked, 'Have you ever seen something no one here has seen before?' A scientist who had just returned from Africa laid out six fish in my son's palm. He said, 'This one we know about. The rest are new to science.'"


Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Born day

“The longer I live, the more deeply I learn that love—whether we call it friendship or family or romance—is the work of mirroring and magnifying each other’s light.” —James Baldwin

Birthdays are moody bitches, aren’t they? Every year, the same haunted melancholy. Why is that? 

Maybe it’s only that I’m awake in the dark at 2 a.m. on my birthday. I’m tapping this out on my phone, my man snoring softly beside me. I’m going to lunch later with four moms I know from my son’s middle school years. We’ve reconnected more intentionally recently, women of a certain age and stage, finding comfort in friends who knew us when. When they hatched the lunch plan I said yes and didn’t mention it was my birthday. It occurs to me that the moms I’m close to from my girl’s middle school years all know it’s my birthday and will be texting me with many emojis later. Yet we’re all so busy doing our separate lives these days, with new grandchildren, or increasingly frail elders, one still isolating because of Covid, another immersed in her art, and me in the tunnel channeling stories beside the big window. Just a difference in timing and maybe also school cultures perhaps. My son’s middle school was uniformed and traditionally structured, while my daughter’s was progressive and artsy-activist. Maybe one culture attracts planners and the other tends more to spontaneous pot lucks in the park in the rain. I appreciate both ways of being in community, though I miss seeing some of my friends. The Covid years seemed to pull the women I met through my son’s school closer together and spin the women from my daughter’s school further apart. Relationships go through cycles, I suppose, but love stays. You only miss the people you love. 

Then in the evening my kids are all coming over for cake and the now traditional birthday tequila shots. I’ll be better by then. 

Thoughts on waking: Never ruminate out loud in the depths of night. You will only embarrass yourself with navel gazing. Good morning! One more year. 

Monday, May 1, 2023

Spring concert

Our choir performed its spring concert yesterday, while outside a monsoon was pouring from the sky. The show was nevertheless well attended. I supposed when you have a 50 person choir if everyone invites just one or two people, you're golden. I had four people in attendance, including my husband and my daughter and her love. My neighbor and friend Jane also came, but had left by the time we got it together afterward to take this picture. 

The three of us on the right are in the choir, you'll see us in the alto section on the right in the class photo up top. We sang with masks all year, and that photo was the first time many of us were seeing each other's full faces. It was quite a moment, especially as we had become good friends with many masked faces, and now were having to get acquainted anew. Starting in the fall term, the mask mandate will be lifted and we'll sing unencumbered again. We still sounded quite good, and the musical selections, including "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "I See the Light" from the movie Tangled, and my favorite, a haunting love song titled "My Very Own," were all well received.

This is a different choir from the one I used to sing in. It's conveniently close to home and meets at 1:30 PM on a Wednesday, which I find I prefer to evening rehearsals. It’s a nice social interlude in the middle of my work day, which is relentlessly solitary now that my man is back at work five days. I also like that my two friends and I who joined the choral group together helped bring some color to the room. It wasn't a big deal. Everyone is lovely, and I think they were happy to have a bit more diversity too. I do miss the quirky bunch from my old choir, but I also really enjoy this group as well. Most of them are retired, which is why they can be at rehearsals in the middle of a weekday. Fortunately, I work remotely and can set my own schedule. 

And now, it's back to the salt mines for me. Apologies for these random snippets of posts. There's so much I want to share about what's happening in our world (like, a man on trial for rape is running for president on the Republican ticket), but I need to keep my head down right now. My friend who also does this collaborative writing work calls it being "in the tunnel." That's where you'll find me these days. But I see a glowing pinprick of daylight ahead.