Sunday, December 17, 2017

Another goodbye

On a sad note, my Aunt Fay died at 5:56 am yesterday morning. She had been very ill for a long time, and had been in and out of the hospital for the past few years. She went in again ten days ago, and told her children that she didn't think she was going to pull out of it this time. Her daughter confessed that at the moment her mom stopped breathing, she felt was a flood of relief that she wasn't in pain anymore. "She was so trapped in her body," she said, "and now she is free."

And now, of the original nine siblings in my mother's family, there is only Aunt Grace left. Indeed, she is the only person still alive from the family photo below. Fay is the little one seated on the rock. She was 4 years old. Grace is the one in the middle with her face turned to the side and her hands on her brother's shoulders. She lives in Toronto now, but was thankfully in Jamaica with her daughter when she got the news about Fay. I have often written here of the lifelong closeness of the nine siblings, especially the six sisters. It was extraordinary to behold.

In the photo up top, that's my mother Gloria on the right. Aunt Fay is seated on the left, and Aunt Beulah, who died four months ago, is wearing blue and has her arm around Fay. Aunt Grace is in the middle, and Aunt Maisy is to her right, next to my mom. They had gathered to celebrate their oldest sister Winnie's 92nd birthday. Aunt Winnie is the one with the white hair, my mother's hand on her arm. She was our matriarch in New York City. The joke in our family is that if the U.S. government had known how many of us would follow Winnie from Jamaica to America, they would never have let her immigrate back in 1949. Fay and her husband and three young children were among the first to migrate after her. They moved to Florida, and later, to New Jersey where, at age 86, Aunt Fay died yesterday, her children and grandchildren around her.

Aunt Grace said yesterday that she knew Fay would not last long after Beulah died. They were the two youngest, and as bonded as twins. "This world is so lonely without all my sisters and brothers," Aunt Grace said. "I can just imagine the party they are having on the other side."

Choir concert

We had our main choir concert yesterday in an atmospheric old church on 57th Street. The acoustics were good and the audience of family and friends was enthusiastic. I don't have any good recordings unfortunately, but there is this snap that my friend Leslie took. We have one more concert to go on Monday evening, and then we're done for the season. I was reflecting the other day that choir is the least anxiety producing activity in my life. I do not get nervous before concerts, I do not worry about impressing anyone in the group, I enjoy every single person there and am entertained by their quirks, and no matter how sharp tongued our choir director gets when her stress level ramps up as the concerts approach, I take none of it personally. It's a fascinating lab for how it's possible to feel when I lay off the catastrophic thinking and overdeveloped sense of personal accountability for literally every eventuality and am able to keep a good perspective. I'm remembering some of the sweetness from yesterday's rehearsal before the concert: A French woman who joined this term came over to me and said in her musically accented voice, "Every time you smile at me I want to hug you." And we laughed and then hugged. For me, choir is purely for enjoyment, community and a change of pace from the usual. I love this low stakes life.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Reflections in the aftermath

I saw that woman on Alica Keys' instagram feed. I don't know who she is, but she's stunning. I'm posting her here because I've been thinking a lot about the fact that so many people in the country of my children's birth cannot see her beauty. 

I'm thinking that the 66 percent of white voters in Alabama who cast their lot with the child predator Roy Moore—the candidate who believes our nation would be better off if we simply eliminated all the constitutional amendments that came after the tenth, including the 13th which prohibits slavery; the 14th which grants all people equal rights under the  law; the 15th which gives African Americans the right to vote; and the 19th which gives women the right to vote; and who believes all LGBTQ people are an abomination, and that America was only truly great during slavery days—well, maybe all those people who voted to send this man to the United States senate can't see what is luminous in the woman whose photograph is posted here. 

To all those women who voted for the child predator despite his belief that they shouldn't even be allowed to vote, and to all those men who supported him based on little more than his Republican party affiliation, which has become a blaring trumpet for the supremacy of whiteness, I'd like to point out that it was women and men with skin the same rich blackness as the woman in that photograph who helped eke out a win for the Democrat, Doug Jones. Black folks showed up at the polls in numbers that exceeded even their turnout for Obama, because they knew just how dangerous a Roy Moore/Steve Bannon/Donald Trump win would be. And they helped Doug Jones secure the victory. They made sure that the candidate who is that increasingly rare breed, a true public servant, would win the Alabama senate seat. That made me almost as happy as I was a decade ago when Obama won the Iowa primary on a freezing cold January day, and I realized that he had a real shot at the presidency. 

It is the memory of that win, and of that fundamentally decent president's eight years in office that helps me to believe now that despite what went down in Alabama these last few weeks, and what has gone down in the White House and the Republican-led Congress this past year, America is not lost. This is still the same country that voted for a man named Barack Obama—twice. Maybe we're now just experiencing a necessary convulsion, lancing the diseased abscess of hatred and evil, getting all the muck out, getting ready for the courageous and the neighborly and the good. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Inclement weather

It snowed in the city yesterday, the flakes swirling gently to earth until well into the night. It snowed exactly like this the day after my mother died. 

My son and his girlfriend slept over here on Friday night, and they stayed with us all yesterday, cozy inside, looking out at the snowfall. I was loath to leave them, but our first choir concert of the season was happening way out in Forest Hills, Queens, at the Library for the Blind. It feels far away for spoiled Manhattanites, but two of my choir friends and I shared a car there, and split the cost, so the trek through inclement weather was made easy. Despite the snow, everyone showed up. It's always a great crowd there, including a lot of quite elderly people who are happy to have a reason to leave their homes. We wondered if they'd make it there over slippery sidewalks, but they did. We were rewarded by the usual faces, smiling at us as we sang. 

When I got back home the kids were still here, and my daughter's boyfriend also came over to use the printer, and to pick up a Christmas gift for our daughter that he'd asked to have shipped to our house. My daughter was out somewhere in the city with her cousin, while back at our house the rest of us chatted and laughed as we do, and enjoyed just being together. Eventually my son and his girlfriend left to go back to Astoria, and my daughter's boyfriend left to go and take care of the dog he and my daughter are dog sitting, and my husband put on his big ski jacket and headed to the store to pick up dinner for us. I didn't go with him. The icy, slushy ground is always a challenge for me to navigate, since one leg doesn't swivel or support as it's meant to do. I love the snow, but can't really revel in it the way I used to.

As for today, I have nothing really to report. I feel as dull and wavery as smoke this Sunday morning. 

Friday, December 8, 2017


Al Franken had no choice but to resign, but damn, that one hurt. Meanwhile we have a sexual abuser in the White House and unrepentant swamp candidates like Roy Moore, who in addition to molesting underage girls, actually said that the last time America was truly great was during slavery. Sure we had slavery, he said, but our families were strong and our country had a direction. We all knew this is what "Make America Great Again" truly meant, but Roy Moore had the gall to say it. And the Republican Party has endorsed him for the senate. I guess they're just like fuck it, we'll be the party of racists and pedophiles. Come on out of the woodwork y'all. Let's not even pretend. Alabama, please. Don't wallow in the swamp with these men who don't care about you. Don't let this bigoted child molester win. Then again, Roy Moore said the other day that he has a kinship with Putin, which made me wonder what connection the cowboy costume wearing swamp dweller might have with the Russian strongman. It could be that Putin has already deployed his hackers to program Alabama's election machines. Maybe the vote is moot.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

This life

Things happening in my world:

1. My husband has begun the last phase of his medical treatment, which will likely last several months. My heart will not rest until this is completed. He appears nonplussed. I don't think he truly realizes how badly he scared us.

2. My daughter came over last night and told us that the mother of one of her friends has been placed on hospice care. The daughter is having a wedding dress party with her friends and her mom so she can pick out the dress she will wear on a day in the future when her mother won't be here. This just about broke me. There is more to this story that I wish I could share for its aching beauty, but I won't. The family deserves their privacy.

3. Having sent the full draft manuscript to my subject, I am twisting with anxiety to hear how it has landed for her, whether she feels I got her voice, did justice to her story. She's traveling this week and doing her advocacy work, and I likely won't hear anything for weeks. It's always a hard wait.

4. On the good side, I woke up this morning eager to get to my next project, a book proposal for a rather dynamic woman, who I interviewed at length this past Tuesday. She's a storyteller this one, a model of resilience and optimism despite so many hard passages in her life. My brain has finally made the shift to her project. I know because I dreamed about it in the hours before waking, and by the time I opened my eyes I was full of new ideas. The time frame on this project is a little crunched, as I lost a lot of time when my love was ill, but we will make it work. I really like this woman. When my husband was just home from the hospital, she emailed me and said I should not stress about her project, because "we must be human first." I so appreciated that. At the same time, she has a period of visibility coming up during which her agent needs to be doing the rounds with her book proposal, trying to make a sale. So I need to not mess that up.

5. My son called me on Monday afternoon after his big midterm for the intensive nine-month paramedic course. He'd been studying for it for weeks and scored a 92, the second highest score in the class. The highest score was a 93. He called to tell me because he knew I would share in his happiness. If you knew what school used to be like for this child of mine, you would understand how gratifying it is for him to finally understand that he is smart and capable academically. He's finally realizing what his dad and I knew all along: that he is a creative and original thinker, and when he masters a set of factual relationships, he will know them forever. It's how his mind works. He notices everything all the time and traps it in memory. But he continually takes in so much information, it took him till well into college to know how to filter through it all to perform on tests. Now's he's found his niche in the world, and he's working hard and doing well. I'm so very proud of him.

6. Bob Muller for the win. But can we please get there a little faster?

7. Our tree is up. It's perfect.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Oh, Christmas tree

I've been working so continuously to meet my book deadline, that today, after Fedexing the manuscript to my subject last night, I have no idea what to do with myself. I have another assignment, but it's Sunday, and I've worked weekends for months, so today, I just want to vegetate. But I'm bored. I'm restless. I'm tired. I don't have a clue how to occupy myself. This is one of the realities of my empty nest. Don't get me wrong: The man and I are discovering some excellent aspects of having the house all to ourselves again, but on a day like today, I miss those baby birds.

My husband is watching football, as he usually does on a Sunday. In the past, I would have been engaged somehow with one of my children, perhaps facilitating their social activities. But they live on their own now. Their social media feeds this weekend are filled with pictures of them and their sweethearts bringing home Christmas trees, decorating Christmas trees, showing off their twinkly, glittery finished Christmas trees. It reminds me of when my husband and I were their age, getting and decorating our own tree, doing the first Christmas together. Now it's their turn, my son, my daughter, and my niece. They all moved in with their loves this year. In the photos they are laughing with their housemates. They look happy.

I told my husband that now that it's just us again, we need to do what they are doing, what we used to do before those babies were a glint in our eyes. And so later today, or maybe tomorrow, he and I will walk hand in hand to pick out a tree and bring it home. We'll sip egg nog or mulled wine while we decorate it. We'll put on Christmas music. Revel in the romance of being together. That's a picture of my lovely man from the first holiday season after we were married. Our first Christmas tree after setting up house together. Ah, hormones.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


I love the golden light from that tree outside my son's bedroom window in the week after Thanksgiving. In another few days, every leaf will have fallen from that tree but today, it is glowing. It is like this every year: When everyone leaves after the weeklong festivities, I suddenly notice this tree, spilling its radiant color into the newly quiet air. It is always so peaceful in that room when the tree looks like that, a whisper of nature gentling me.

While my cousins were here for Thanksgiving week, we recreated a photo we took 35 years ago, in my storied railroad apartment on West 120th Street. There's absolutely no need to clarify which is the older photo and which the new. We are as close today as we were when the original photo was taken, and that is one of my life's great gifts. These women are my heart sisters.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Thanksgiving week

Cousins, nieces, nephews, friends all crowded into our three bedroom apartment, along with our son and daughter, for a weekend of non-stop communion, stories and laughter. My husband was happy. I did not spin anxiously. It was all so good.

And now, the hoards are scattering again. My niece went back to college yesterday. My cousin and her other daughter head back to Orlando tonight. One nephew took the bus home to Virginia yesterday while the other, the guitar player, is on his way to Israel tonight for study abroad. His mom is on her way to the airport with him at this moment, and she will travel back to Virginia tonight. Our last house guest, my cousin who lives in Trinidad, leaves in the morning. My son, my daughter, my niece, and their respective loves, are back at work today, prosaic routine reasserting itself.

We took just one, blurry family picture, but there we are, all together and healthy. I feel lucky and blessed.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving eve and morning

The sweetest thing: My son, daughter, and niece, who live in their own apartments now, all elected to sleep over at our house so they could awaken to the festivities, the cooking and blanket lounging and Thanksgiving Day parade watching this morning.

Last night, there were ten of us in the house, all the beds occupied, and the couches, too. We take over the kitchen in shifts. My husband made the mac and cheese last night, and my daughter made two scrumptious looking apple pies, then she and her dad seasoned the turkey, prepped the ham, and made a wicked sangria. I woke up and made the corn and cheese soufflé this morning, so that it could be out of the oven by 11 am, when the turkey needs to go in. My cousin is now in the kitchen making potato salad, after which my son will make my mother's sweet potato casserole topped with oven charred marshmallows, and then my husband will make broccoli in garlic and oil and a raft of roasted garden vegetables. The wine fridge is stocked, and even though dinner is not until 5 pm, some of the younger crew will arrive earlier than that, because being part of the pre-dinner preparation and Annual Dog Show watching chaos is part of the fun. 

I once read somewhere that the secret to a good party is a space that is too small for the people gathered, so that everyone is pretty much shoulder to shoulder, with no choice but to engage. I always remember that at Thanksgiving, when our three bedroom apartment seems to magically expand to accommodate the hoards. We have so much to be grateful for this year: My husband's steady recovery from open heart surgery in September—who would have guessed he'd be in the kitchen cooking the feast as usual? My daughter is at his side, trying to make sure he doesn't ignore doctors orders and lift anything too heavy. We're grateful, too, for my cousin now being cancer free, with pristine six month scans a week ago. It's been a tough year in some respects, but we've come through it, and now we're almost on the other side. Today, we will dare to exhale.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my lovely peeps out there in blog land. Being in this place together, writing our lives, the generous sharing of hearts, it helps keep me sane. On this day and all days, I am thankful for you, too.

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