As a child, I had not known the world anthropology or that there was a thing called Ivy League. I had not known that you could spend your days on planes, moving through the world, studying death, your whole life before this life an unanswered question...finally answered. I had seen death in Indonesia and Korea. Death in Mauritania and Mongolia. I had watched the people of Madagascar exhume the muslin-wrapped bones of their ancestors, spray them with perfume, and ask those who had already passed to the next place for their stories, prayers, blessings. I had been home a month watching my father die. Death didn't frighten me. Not now. Not anymore. But Brooklyn felt like a stone in my throat.
At the day's end, a writer lives alone with her story, wrestling with characters and settings, and the way light filters into and out of a scene. The deeper messages often escape her.Sometimes I take for granted the journey through the telling. At other times I curse the muse's power. But through it all, I live each day in deep gratitude.
Creating a novel means moving into the past, the hoped for, the imagined. It is an emotional journey, fraught at times with characters who don't always do or say what a writer wishes.
For a long time, my mother's wasn't dead yet. Mine could have been a more tragic story. My father could have given in to the bottle or the needle or a woman and left my brother and me to care for ourselves - or worse, in the care of New York City Children's Services, where, my father said, there was seldom a happy ending. But this didn't happen. I know now that what is tragic isn't the moment. It is the memory.
For God so loved the world, their father would say, he gave his only begotten son. But what about his daughters, I wondered. What did God do with his daughters?
I do know that as the novel takes shape on the page, it's hard for characters' lives not to intersect with the writer's own life. As we unpack our characters' stories and actions, it's hard not to unpack our own history.
If we had had jazz, would we have survived differently? If we had known our story was a blues with a refrain running through it, would we have lifted our heads, said to each other, This is memory again and again until the living made sense? Where would we be now if we had known there was a melody to our madness? Because even though Sylvia, Angela, Gigi, and I came together like a jazz improv - half notes tentatively moving toward one another until the ensemble found its footing and the music felt like it had always been playing - we didn't have jazz to know this was who we were. We had the Top 40 music of the 1970s trying to tell our story. It never quite figured us out.
I knew I was lost inside the world, watching it and trying to understand why too often I felt like I was standing just beyond the frameof everything.
I know now that what is tragic isnt the moment. It is the memory.
I lifted my head to look up into the changing leaves, thinking how at some point, we were all headed home. At some point, all of this, everything and everyone, became memory.
In Tennessee, honeysuckle vines bloomed thick and full in our yard every summer. My brother and I ran out in the early hours, barefooted and still in pajamas to suck the sweetness from the bright flowers. It was never enough. That faint hint of honeysuckle on the tongue an almost broken promise of something better hidden somewhere deeper.
I was eleven, the idea of two identical digits in my age still new and spectacular and heartbreaking. The girls must have felt this. They must have known. Where had ten, nine, eight, and seven gone?
I watched my brother watch the world, his sharp, too-serious brow furrowing down in both angst and wonder. Everywhere we looked, we saw the people trying to dream themselves out. As though there was someplace other than this place. As though there was another Brooklyn.
know now that what is tragic isnt the moment. It is the memory.
Maybe this is how it happened first for everyone adults promising us their own failed future.
Maybe this is how it happened first for everyoneadults promising us their own failed futures.
My brother drove me to the subway, kissed my forehead, and hugged me hard. When had he become a man? For so long, he had been my little brother, sweet and solemn, his eyes open wide to the world. Now, behind small wire-rimmed glasses, he looked like a figure out of history. Malcolm maybe. Or Stokely.
My brother had the faith my father brought him to, and for a long time, I had Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, the four of us sharing the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn, as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves saying, Here. Help me carry this.
Orba (feminine), the Latin word for orphaned, parentless, childless, widowed. There was a time when I believed there was loss that could not be defined, that language had not caught up to death's enormity. But it has. Orbus, orba, orbum, orbi, orbae, orborum, orbo, orbis...
Somehow, my brother and I grew up motherless yet halfway whole. My brother had the faith my father brought him to, and for a long time, I had Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, the four of us sharing the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn, as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves saying, Here. Help me carry this.
The green of Tennessee faded quickly into the foreign world of Brooklyn, heat rising from cement. I thought of my mother often, lifting my hand to stroke my own cheek, imagining her beside me, explaining this newness, the fast pace of it, the impenetrable gray of it. When my brother cried, I shushed him, telling him not to worry. She's coming soon, I said, trying to echo her. She's coming tomorrow. And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
There was a time when I believed there was loss that could not be defined, that language had not caught up to death's enormity.
This earth is seventy percent water. Hard not to walk into it.
we looked, we saw the people trying to dream themselves out. As though there was someplace other than this place. As though there was another Brooklyn.
we looked, we saw the people trying to dream themselves out. As though there was someplace other than this place. As though there was another Brooklyn. August,
Who hasn't walked through a life of small tragedies?
Who hasn't walked through a life of small tragedies? 'Sister Sonja often asked me, as though to understand the depth and breadth of human suffering would be enough to pull me outside of my own.