Archive for August, 2015

Resilience defined

Sunday, August 30th, 2015

Definition of resilience – the thing that hurts you can heal you



Change Expert

Saturday, August 29th, 2015

There is a popular business dictum that says it takes ten years to become an expert in any field. So here we are 10 years after the 2005 Federal Flood and it’s a full moon.

I know only this as I sit in my garden having my morning tea.

I am a change expert.
Steeped in the knowledge of uncertainty.
A practitioner of faith walks.
A teacher of love.
I follow no plan, only my spirit.

A Beat and A Breath

Thursday, August 27th, 2015


Ten years ago, after the collective trauma of a marriage falling apart with love slipping through my heart like barbed wire, loss of child (read: too many to count), not to mention loss of place after a return to the home that haunts me only to watch it sink under a toxic stew, and then a slow progression into madness,

I picked myself up.

can during

Even though I had built my marriage over much compromise, love, joy, and years, I turned and dove in to the house construction of the remodel designed by my then architect-husband and the nightly house terrors to make the LaLa a home on the bayou — my sweet dream finally seeing the dawn.


Eight years of white knuckling and kit glove maintenance on a structure that had way too much emotional and spiritual baggage, I sold it. It no longer served me. Yet, I had built that too.


I worked for nearly 18 years until my dream job sucked, and bosses sucked, and I sucked, and I felt the same warmth that comes over a person when they have to pee so bad and they’ve been holding that pee for so long in a jostling car (cruising down a New Orleans potholed street) and then you finally pee and there is this pain and warmth and release much the same as when I was finally let go from the suck ass job where they suck and I sucked and it had sucked the life out of me and I had been sucking on its teat for way too long because I couldn’t walk away since I had built that too.

I built myself up.

I met my son who I waited half a century, a whole lifetime, to meet, to be his mom and guess what? On Tin’s entrance into 1st grade this year, six years later and also the 10th anniversary of the 2005 Federal Flood, his teacher asked me to describe my son, and here’s what I said:

Tin is creative, independent, energetic with incredible spatial and musical talent. He is stubborn and perceptive. He is able to grasp large concepts such as spirituality, relationships, society, and the duality of human nature. He is willful and loving.

Her response? “Yes, I can tell he is a deep thinker.”


I have found mothering at 50 to be sort of like a spoonful of sugar and then vinegar, you are gagging sometimes and other times spitting and hacking or backwashing then smacking your lips with the sweetness oozing all over. The honest truth is I never say I wish I hadn’t of … . I’m raising a Black son in New Orleans where Black boys are churned under a chronic mix at an alarming rate and yet, I do not know where else to raise Tin but in this Chocolate City, where I have met some of the most beautiful souls.

Every day I keep my heart open.


I lost my hair, what had defined my beauty because I had so damn much hair and it was thick and long and gorgeous and I had started coloring it red in my thirties and it suited me and it was a flame that announced the type of woman you were dealing with right off the bat. It all fell out. From top to bottom, I became hairless overnight (albeit it did take weeks to completely shed). Then I learned it would never grow back. Never. Ever. No hair = no woman, I imagined. I was different without hair. I would walk by the mirror and look at my reflection at first with anger then with hatred then with utter disgust until slowly, so painfully slow it seemed, though it was only actually six months, I came to see me again.

I got over it.


On this day, 10 years after the day the federal government failed us all, I have a hard time reading about August 29, 2005. Everyone is talking about the city – how is SHE doing?

I’m sorry, but I’m gonna spend this moment on self reflection. How am I doing? I am not sure if I love New Orleans as much as I did on August 30 or September 4 or October 10, 2005 or in 2006, 2007 and possibly 2010 at our five year celebration on the bayou, when we were living, as my friend said, “in the most interesting place in the world.” When my friend Dina was living right there beside me.


People here are dying from cancer, from guns, from despair.

I’ve lost so many who tied me to this place, my mother, my grandmother, my first love, my friend Dina, and more friends and also dogs. I’m not trying to figure out how New Orleans is doing right now ten years later. New Orleans near and far is haunted by the remains of my ancestors who were on the move for centuries and now my mother’s and my father’s bones are buried under this waterlogged ground. My grandmother and grandfather are buried near here. My friends are buried here. My dogs’ ashes are scattered in this land. My past mistakes and miracles are buried under the layers, how could I walk away with no ashes, no urns, no gold medal of having survived to carry away with me to some land unknown, some place not steeped in my own history?

In one decade, I have spun round and round the spiral of life, revisiting the familiar and the absolutely astonishing, encountering best and worst case scenarios – yet, I have kept my heart open – at times prying it with archaic tools, or lighting a fire deep inside of it, and sometimes just bathing my heart in a wash of warm tears. I tell myself “I love you, Rachel” often, especially when I haven’t heard someone tell it to me out loud.

In the depth of Winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible Summer. ~ Camus

So no, I’m not thinking about New Orleans, the city, on this decade milestone anniversary, I’m thinking about Rachel and I’m commemorating thriving, not just surviving. Each time the whirly gig of the spiral goes into a full tilt boogie, I take a beat and a breath. I have now come to rely on all of my senses to guide me – have I been here before? We enter hurricane season each year on June 1st and not until October do we stop clenching our teeth. The truth is that I have looked at hurricanes from both sides now, from near and far, having experienced them most of my life, from Betsy to Gustav, and the anticipation of the as yet unannounced one.

The 2005 Federal Flood brought a serious question to the minds of every person who had to leave this city – where will we live? Every time I come around the spiral, I have less layers to peel back to find my center of joy. The spiral continues to bring questions, most of these questions are the same but are met under the guise of something new. Have I met this person before? Will this pain change who I am? Does it matter?

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
~ Aeschylus

The question of the day at this juncture is not where to live, who to love, how to be but Where might I contribute the most of who I am to the most of who we are?


I have more questions than I had a decade ago, but I am no longer afraid of the answers.

The End

More will be revealed

The Bookends of Catastrophe

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

Ten years ago, I had a cataclysmic undoing, part was the neglect of others, and a major part was the federal government. Today, my friend in the midst of a divorce over a margarita confessed, “I was not a good steward of my marriage.”

Ten years later, my family suffered an assault, again the neglect of others, and I indict the government again for willful neglect in its glacial prosecution.

Everyone is writing about Katrina – I don’t know her. I don’t know her at all. Don’t talk to me about Katrina.

I do know this, Fortuna’s wheel spins and many times you land where you least expect. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down, but don’t get comfortable in either place because one thing we know for sure, everything spins.


Too Much Salad

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

I left for Spain having lost six pounds the hard way (running, weight lifting, watching what I eat) and managed to gain eight while there. How’s that possible? I now believe it comes down to too much salad. A slim friend in Spain told me that she doesn’t do a lick of exercise, but only controls everything that goes into her mouth. When I told her a typical day’s meal at home in New Orleans, she noted that I was eating too much salad.

I’ve come home after several weeks of basking in the beach life of Andalusia. This was my sixth year in Zahara de los Atunes and it’s nothing short of marvelous to be there and to watch Tin grow, develop, thrive and be. He’s quite amazing by the sea. The experience of sitting on a pristine beach and looking across the Mediterranean to Africa’s hills rising is in itself mesmerizing.

Six years of watching the sun set at almost 10 PM and watching friends there bend, grow, step sideways, and fall in and out of love in just the short span. The changes and the certainty of these individuals are something to behold.

In the mirror of the last decade, I’ve watched myself swell, shrink, and go bouncing along a continuum that has been high and low and never dull. A friend in Spain asked how this year’s work has been, knowing that the past few years have been fraught with me trying to build a business. I said this year I made less money than any year in the last six, but that I had accomplished a whole lot more of my projects than any other year. Seven chapters of my book workshopped through the Walker Percy center at Loyola University. As well, I’ve made more connections with networking around my core work on parenting and race. Time with Tin. It’s been a very productive year, despite what my bank account says.

The career I left behind versus the one I’m working to build have nothing in common, but I preminisced no return of the salad days of big fat paychecks, huge mortgages and Prada shoes – not because it is not doable, it is simply not desirable.

Yesterday, I cooked collard greens with ginger and cumin seeds, then lentil curry and plain brown rice. It’s such a joy to be home again, in my own kitchen, sleeping in my own bed, using American bathrooms, and organizing around daily routines. I think my Spanish friend was right. I have a tendency to go too far in one direction trying to do what I think I should – in this respect, I am purely American. I didn’t start off chasing the brass ring, but I did fall into it in a big way and found myself running in step with the whole pursuit of success that brought money and no time, items that were overpriced and underused, and then there were the shoes – instead of contemplating sunsets, holding a child in my lap, or simply being.

Now here I sit at my table to enjoy a delicious meal in a sanctuary I call home.

My friend’s right. I have been eating too much salad.


From the Mothership

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

Stargate: Madrid, July 29, 2015
Inma and David came for a visit and to go with us to China Mandarina for dinner. Inma brought three presents for Tin: 1) a nerf hoop game, 2) an abstract puzzle with magnets, 3) a dinosaur sticker and coloring book. And lagniappe was a pencil with a shark on top and a wooden T to hang on his door at home. Inma had a lot of questions for Tin, tiring quickly of the interrogation; Tin looked at her and said, “Let’s not worry about the questions right now.”

Stargate: Madrid, July 30, 2015
Miss Sushi with Luis and Alex and Tin and Tanja. Luis, Alex, and Tin play a game of unrelenting torture and poking. It’s hard to tell who is enjoying it more. Tanja asks, “It’s crazy how much Tin loves to play with them.” I say, “Because they are boys; boys never really grow up.” At that moment, Uptown Funk comes on in the restaurant and the Spaniards who know not one word of English mouth the lyrics to Bruno Mars, singing with excitement, “Too hot! Call a police and fireman.”

Stargate: Madrid, July 31, 2015
Alex’s apartment on the 4th floor, designed by an architect complete with river rock walls, is over an organic grocery. I made us lunch composed of carrot pasta with spinach, leeks, mushrooms, onions and ginger, which is sumptuously good after three days of “on the road” food. Avishai Cohen’s From Darkness is playing on the Bose boom box. A lovely bottle of Ribera del Duero taste like Spain as it should. Afterwards, I flop on the couch with first book cracked this vacation – The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert – I’ve been catching up on a few journals before plunging into my summer reading. I then drift into a well-deserved nap.

Stargate: Madrid, July 31, 2015
Sitting in El Secuestrador de Besos having a cup of rooibos in the early evening. The name has caught my attention every time I walk by on the way to Plaza Santa Ana. The Kidnapper of Kisses. Surely hetero men must find it hard to come in here for a copa? Hard to say. The man behind the counter is a big bear of a guy with a disarming smile. He’s the one who suggested the rooibos since yesterday’s red pu-ehr kept me up all night.

Stargate: Madrid, July 31, 2015
I vowed celibacy from devices this entire trip. I’ve cheated. I checked to make sure a gift I sent to Flower arrived (it didn’t); made sure my work invoices were received (they were); looked to see if one payment had arrived (it hadn’t). Honestly, it does take a moment to wean you off the teat of the social beast. I wonder what has made Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and Instagram so ubiquitous for many – I know why I gravitate to it. I work in isolation and so when I step out – virtually – I enjoy strolling – scrolling – through my friend’s posted lives no matter how contrived I know them to be, it does feel like a connection. But I confess that just like fast food fails to satisfy after the first flush of salty goodness, social friendships have a way of leaving me longing for more tangible connections – touch, voice, sight, proximity, breaking bread, sharing a bottle of wine, scent, body language, facial ticks and laughter.

Stargate: Madrid, July 31, 2015
I left behind so many movies to see – Trainwreck (forever now tainted by the foolish bloodshed by a maniac), The End of the Tour, and Amy. But I came with so many books to read! I finished Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me before leaving, started Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, then moved onto Edith Pearlman’s Honeydew, Juan Felipe Herrera’s Loteria Cards and Fortune Poems, Coates’ The Beautiful Struggle, and Lydia Millet’s Mermaids in Paradise.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 1, 2015
The gloaming descends as we walk down the stretch of beach that extends to Barbate. It is 9:23, a time that would signal dark skies in another land. Across the silver water rises the black hills of Africa. In front of us is smooth lavender sand gently washed away by foamy waves of grey, silver, rose and purple. I do think I am in a sensory bath of sound, sight and smell. Oh, lucky me.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 2, 2015
Of all the constants even here on the beach are the changes. Two anchors, two women we wait all year to see, are taking excursions away from here while we visit. What you don’t expect when you are counting your days, making your plans, and generally looking forward to is that whom you seek is seeking something else. “I’m in love,” one friend says as if to excuse her absence.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 2, 2015
Levante is here – the wind from the east that lifts the sands and pelts your near naked body till it is intolerable to be anywhere near the beach, but it is heavy and hot anywhere not near the beach. Caught in a trap of weather related delirium.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 3, 2015
I treated the Spaniards to a Monday night dinner of red beans and rice and collard greens. We passed a good time.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 4, 2015
I’m not much for plunging into cold water and the water here is sometimes cold. Last year, I swam a handful of times because it never was hot enough to endure the cold. Today, the sun was out; it was hot; levanter was gone; I went swimming. I enjoyed it so much; I went again except this time I stepped on a pez araña – spider fish [its name is The Greater Weever, which is a weever fish of the family Trachinidae. This venomous fish is found in the northeast Atlantic, the Mediterranean and Black Sea] – it shot its venom into my second toe and made me hobble back to my towel, where I learned I needed to go to the clinic. Fast. At the clinic, the nurse soaked my foot in boiling water to reduce the spread of the venom. Cold amplifies it. These treacherous creatures come to the shore seeking heat to mate and bury themselves in the sand.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 4, 2015
This afternoon the over pur-ehr rojo conversation was about infidelity and men. Can a man be faithful? The answer does not seem so promising after reflection on the men we collectively know. A few yes, most no. This is a sad state of affairs that belies any logic. Surely, the risk never seems great enough to not cheat. Is this too facile a conclusion? Perhaps. An overgeneralization based on the experience at hand. And a none too welcomed one, I might add.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 5, 2015
I took a nice long walk down the beach towards Barbate this morning and noticed just how many people have descended on this village. Usually, our side of the beach is relatively unpopulated, but now there are people already out with umbrellas and chairs all the way down the usually deserted beach. What I notice most are young Spaniards with waist length hair taking photos by the water. Each time they re-pose, they flip their hair back and forth. Even though I still have moments where I flinch before leaving for a walk because I am not in the mood to withstand the stares of young children and other women because I’m bald, I think of the drape of hair that I used to tangle with most every morning and feel incredibly lucky to be free of it. I’m truly a card-carrying Super Alopecian.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 6, 2015
I’m having a reading crisis. I started with The Signature of All Things and now nothing is working. The short stories by Elizabeth Pearlman don’t stick – they go down like cold water and don’t quench my thirst. I picked up instead Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Beautiful Struggle and I struggle with its unrelenting poetic pace. So I’ve defaulted to the New York Times and an occasional blog post – so not what I was expecting since I usually use my time on the beach to devour a library.

Stargate: Caña del Meca, August 7, 2015
A walk up to the lighthouse to look out at the sunset. When you have a six-year-old child, standing on the rocky mote around the lighthouse looking down at the cliffs and rocky surf, makes moments like this memorable only in the fact that you kept your child from plunging to his death. Later, we head to relax under the giant Moroccan tent, only by now everyone is sauced at the place and the music is louder than your mind thinks is possible and the beach, although within site, is so far away in sentiment it is anathema.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 8, 2015
Hang around here long enough and you will be talking about the wind. Is it poñente, is it levante, does it come from Africa, does it come from the north. This conversation is endless because the wind is everything in this small village – it will determine your mood endlessly as well.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 8, 2015
We made the greatest find here – Tin Tin made out of wood, with Snowy in his arms. The beauty is that Tin Tin is brown – a glorious shade of brown – because he is carved from one piece of wood! I could not be more thrilled. So brown Tin Tin is coming home with us. It’s a beautiful thing when all of the Tins come together – Tin Tin and Tin.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 8, 2015
Paula wants to take a bath with Tin. No. They play incessantly up and down the stairs from her grandmother’s house to our apartment. Although no guns have been allowed in Tin’s arsenal, he has taken the nerf goals that made up a game Inma bought him in Madrid and now he and Paula both have satisfactory rifles. We go to have a tinto de verano at El Corral and there are kids playing with the equivalent of AK47 water guns. He pleads for one and so we talk about the Second Amendment, the fact that two people were killed holding toy guns, the gun violence in America, how guns killed people. Tin just look with longing at the little boys his age who are holding AK47s that shoot streams of water and are able to knock over the glass bottles they have lined up as targets. They are Spaniards, it’s different here, is the explanation Tin refuses to hear.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 9, 2015
We went to a dance last night – part of the Feria that is happening in the village this weekend. There was a three-piece band playing unfamiliar Spanish pop and although many people were dancing, I could not find my way into the unfamiliar songs and rhythm. Then it was the endless parade to find a bar to have a nightcap that wasn’t packed with tourists (read: they are all packed with tourists). By 2AM, I’m already exhausted from the hunt, but my group heads for churros – fried bread dipped in hot chocolate. I head home. After all, levante has come and I’m feeling under pressure.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 12, 2015
Tin says that he saw Paula, Toñi and Umbrella. I stare at him puzzled as he continues to mouth the word “umbrella” uncomfortably – something is wrong with the word yet right with the word in his mind. He tosses it out again. I stare back with a question mark. Then I figure it out. Abuela. Paula’s abuela.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 12, 2015
The menu of manchego, farm tomatoes, olive oil, fresh fish and Garum wine – later figs and peaches – is divine.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 12, 2015
The ocean has been divine on these hottish days. The sea is so translucent you see the floor with algae and schools of fish. You can taste the salt as if it was skimming the top. Beach days like none other.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 13, 2015
Took Tin to a music class being sponsored by the symphony – he was shy, he was misbehaving, he was not interested, he even turned at the beginning and said, “Oh, they don’t even food!” but when he got the opportunity to play the devil, he went for it hook, sinker, line.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 14, 2015
The penultimate day for Zahara and everyone is sad. We are leaving easy breezy mornings, late nights, swimming and sand castles, and friends for home. Home where dogs are desperate to see us, school is starting, and routine awaits us.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 14, 2015
For Spaniards, who are not allowed to carry firearms, there is no repercussion from having this law. I asked, “What about Franco?” I tried to explain to my Spaniard friends that the fear of government and the militia guides each American every day to reconfirm the 2nd Amendment. I don’t think anyone means to banish it so much as make this more doable – assault rifles? Please. Mental health history. Um, no. Could we just not focus on the black and white and instead seek middle ground. NO ONE HERE IN SPAIN IS SCARED OF BEING SHOT DEAD.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 14, 2015
There is a very long leash that children are on here in Zahara. Everyone is a parent, everyone has a kid, and all know who you are. There is tribe like a Spanish tribe. Why don’t the children move away – because Spaniards are tribal.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 14, 2015
The beach here is beautiful, beyond words beautiful, but it is completely unpredictable – what is one day calm, transparent, and cool, can be wild, freezing and opaque. Spaniards here talk about the direction of the wind incessantly, but for me, it’s two things – is the sand blowing? And is the water cold? That’s all you need to know.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 13, 2015
This entire village is Tin’s friend. It’s crazy. We always say that our friends here are cousins with everyone here. But the truth is Tin is a friend to all. The woman at the Parafarmacia loves to grab him when he walks by. Buja who used to own El Vapor is always seeking some dap. Chippi is Tin’s true friend at Ramon Pipi, although Piné is a definitely a contender. Chippi’s mother is always waiting for Tin to cook for him personally a platter of French fries or Pasta – whatever he wants. And then of course, there is his family – Ana, Felipe, Sonia and Gonzalo, Chari and Manolo, Pablo and Alberto, Toñi and Jesus, Irene and Carmen, Toñi and Paula and abuela.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 14, 2015
The poniente is here – meaning it’s cooler. Some are saying this will last the rest of August, but I will give you a million dollars if anyone here were able to predict the weather. We had our goodbye party last night at Sonia’s – our group is large now – about 15 of us around the patio table eating too much food, drinking too much wine, and eating chocolate covered figs. Our bounty runneth over. If there is anything more to life than eating and drinking and laughing with friends, I don’t know what that is.

Stargate: Zahara de los Atunes, August 15, 2015
The end is here. Our sixth year in Zahara de los Atunes. Tin’s Spanish improved greatly from having Paula as his constant companion. I will miss easy mornings with Tin in my lap. I will miss the sound of the waves and the infinite sea. But back we go – more will be revealed.