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.