The Uber Car & Watergate Workday

Monday was one of those adrenaline-draining workdays that almost left me too worn out for evening kung fu.  Almost.

My commuter train was forty-five minutes late on a jam-packed taping day; so I was tense before I could even make it to my desk.  Within five minutes of being in the building, I was informed that the car sent to pick up my first guest of the day was stuck behind an accident, 20 miles from the author’s house.  And his house was 80 miles from the studio.

There are no Uber cars in Maryland farm country!  And driving himself was problematic because he was heading to the airport after taping the show.  In other words, I had a royal mess on my hands before 10 a.m., and I could feel the gray hairs multiplying.

While I was trying to get my guest in and around two metropolitan beltways, my crew was trying to reconnect the power supply to lights and cameras in the studio.  Somehow the weekend cleaning crew left studios A and B completely unplugged – and no one had a reason to notice until it was time to set up for my shows.  Thank God they had the presence of mind not to tell me about reconnection problems until after they were solved – and my guest was flying down Interstate 95 in his own car, with a passenger willing to drive it back to his house.

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For the second show both guests were inconveniently early, arriving as we tried to inhale lunch in between the two tapings.  But after the morning’s insanity, I was just glad they arrived without incident.  That show’s controversy was entirely on set, as two Washington legends debated the facts and fiction behind a forty-year-old presidential resignation.

John Dean

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In short, I earned my check today… and was more than ready to lace up the gloves and hit the bags from the moment I heard, “That’s a wrap.”


Robbers in the Bushes

Several months ago, a twelve-year-old was robbed of her cellphone at gun point by a fellow adolescent, in a neighborhood adjacent to mine.  It turns out she was a schoolmate of my six-year-old kung fu student.  A former schoolmate, that is.  My martial arts ingénue no longer goes to that school.

I learned this in a conversation that started with: “My friends think there are robbers in the bushes on my street.  I think so, too.”  I asked pointed questions in a curious and casual way as we did our cool-down stretches at the end of class.  She answered with several non-sequiturs and a tangent or two before telling me enough to remind me of the news story about the cell phone robbery that had so alarmed me in the spring.  Then she concluded with: “But I can just give them a karate chop!”

Is that why a six-year-old ballet dancer with piano lessons is also enrolled in kung fu? I wondered.  For self-defense, a sense of security, the ability to ward off the robbers she thinks are in the bushes?

In a six-week beginner course at the gym, there’s only so far we can get on that mission.  But if the bear hugs she keeps giving me on the way out the door are any indication, she seems confident I’m up for the task.  She certainly gave me a lot to think about as I practiced the newest moves of White Eyebrow.


The Right Right

The little guy can only keep his balance for about two seconds at a time.  That makes a snap kick hard to execute.  He, like most young children, can’t point his toes, which makes a snap kick potentially painful for him.  He doesn’t level out his thighs when he gets into a horse stance, and he has trouble remembering right from left.  Yet, he is an excellent student.

His eyes stay glued to my hands when we’re doing double straight punches, and I can see him mouthing the numbers I’m calling out to him, as the repetition count grows.  He emphatically announces, “I remember that!” for every technique reviewed from Sunday’s class and quickly demonstrates the accuracy of his recall.  He takes it upon himself to review his knowledge of left from right, sporadically checking with me on which is which: “This one is the right, right?”  Above all, he does every exercise I ask him to do without complaint.  That’s a first for a five-year-old student.

I’m fairly certain that, though he seems to like me just fine, he’s not all that interested in kung fu.  He’s in my class because his father wants to foster some kind of athletic interest in him.  He works hard regardless because he wants to make dad proud.

I can’t teach him the same way I do the ones who want to be there.  I have to switch gears and tactics to keep from losing his attention and his smile.  It’s a challenge I’ve never encountered before.  I wasn’t permitted to care at the guan whether students were having a good time – or, rather, I wasn’t permitted to show that I cared.  But now that the rules are my own, I have to do my best to meet this challenge.  An excellent student deserves no less.


Keeping Up & Staying Cool

Not much to say tonight.  Just feeling happy, joyous, free… and exhausted.

Kung fu this week has been high-flying, painful, satisfying and fun.  Keeping up with Siheng Brandon is an exercise in futility for my old bones, but it’s awfully fun to watch.

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Equally sweat producing was the beginning of the tours of college campuses that being the mother of an incoming senior brings.  As luck would have it, it was 100 in the shade as we pounded the pavement of Terp territory.  Here’s hoping next week in my beloved New England and New York will be cooler!

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Who Knows?

“You were right!”  If I had a dollar for every moment since moving into my freshman dorm that I had that thought about my mother, I could have a first-class vacation abroad every year.  It’s one of the more painful aspects of her not being around anymore: the inability to give her the satisfaction of hearing that from me.   And of course, what she was most correct about – countless times in any given week – was the simple assertion that I didn’t know everything.

I was very young when it became apparent that I was a pretty good student.  I couldn’t have been more than nine or ten the first time I heard Mom say, “You don’t know everything,” in the low voice that use to indicate her annoyance.  Several years later, in the middle of my frequently-exasperating teens, she flat out yelled it at me.  I remember thinking, I’m ashamed to say, I know more than you do.

Segregation left my mother and countless other African Americans under-educated.  And she didn’t go to college until after I’d gone to graduate school.  So in a purely academic sense, the stellar education she made available to me undoubtedly gave me more book learning, as my grandmother would say, than Mom had back when I graduated from high school.  But then, there was what she learned just by living — which I hadn’t really begun to do.  It didn’t occur to me at the time that her learning was at least as valuable as mine.

Twenty years ago, no one could have convinced me that the older, more experienced, more educated, more attentive and better read I became, the more I’d a) realize how little I actually know and b) find that fact thrilling.  But that is the current state of affairs.

My work with and around a lot of the country’s movers and shakers and my passion for a martial art steeped in a tradition of instructor infallibility often leave me feeling suffocated by the very attitude I’m so happy to have shed.  So today, as an often-exhausted parent and an excited teacher with a new class, I take a moment to celebrate the willingness to be taught, even by those who allegedly know less… and to acknowledge how unbelievably often my mother was right!


And So It Begins

“My hands are sweating!”

“That’s okay. That means you’re doing it right.” It’s one of my favorite things to tell young students when they tell me about something that’s making them uncomfortable.

“But I don’t want sweat on my hands,” said the barefooted five-year-old, looking up at me like I was weird.

“Let’s do five more kicks, then we’ll take a break and get a towel for your hands.”

“Five more?”

I had to turn my attention to the earnest little dancer next to him to keep from laughing. Her hands were also sweaty, but her smile was immovable. I could tell that even at six she was used to being good at the activities her mom enrolled her in – and kung fu was at least the third.

A class of two, so far: five and six, boy and girl, bored and focused. The girl was almost at the class door before running back to hug me goodbye; the boy ran back to the door, after leaving with his father, to wave goodbye a second time from the other side of it.

And so the new class begins.  I’m warm and fuzzy already….


It Talks, We Construe

Thursday afternoon, I’m anxious.  Then, he’s home.   He gets off the plane taller, more philosophical, more fluent in Spanish…

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and psyched to go to kung fu.

Friday afternoon, I’m frazzled.  I’m going to multiple stores for a slew of necessary shopping and a medical emergency.  Then, it’s time to go to work.  It’s the moment I’ve been waiting on since mid-April: the return to teaching.

Friday night, I’m dejected.  There’s only one sign-up for the Friday class and the 7-year-old is a no show.  I tell Aaron about the class that wasn’t when he gets home from work and ask absentmindedly while climbing the stairs, “You think the universe is trying to tell me something?”

“I think the universe is just speaking,” answers the president of the philosophy club.  “It just talks and we construe things however we want.”

“Well said.  I’m going to have to steal that.”

Long day, disappointing night, and one thought remains: I’m so glad he’s home.


The Box on My Desk

I own a crystal ball.  My better half gave it to me about ten years ago.  It was a gift that needed no explanation, a joke that I got right away.  Within the first two years of our relationship, she tired of me asking her to go find a magic wand to zap success over my larger life decisions, like returning to school and selling and buying houses, etc.  So she just gave me a crystal ball and effectively told me I was on my own with the magic.  I knew I had to keep her.

I always know that change is coming when my eyes regularly wander over to the box on my desk where my crystal ball lives.  The vast majority of the time, I put a healthy and honest amount of effort into working for what’s needed and wanted.  The brain only breaks for tea and biscuits, subconsciously peeking over at the fairytale item that should tell me if my work and choices will pay off, when I’ve multitasked my way into too much to do and too little sleep.  I only remember there’s a crystal ball when I need to collapse, need to do something different, and need to have a voice outside of my own tell me what that something is.

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I’ve had two good friends in two consecutive days tell me to get more sleep – even if I have to use vacation days to do it.  With my son returning home tomorrow, my kung fu instruction beginning on Friday, college visits with my boy next week and the week after, and substituting on the weekend shift for a colleague in mid-August, now would be a good time for more rest.  It’s also quite clearly a time of change.  No crystal ball really needed to see that.

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Staggering for Balance

I slithered out of the way just in time. A sixteen year old, who was a black sash before I even started kung fu, almost ran me into a mirror tonight by barreling against me with his head. But when the buzzer sounded two minutes later, he was the one staggering for balance to keep from hitting the floor.

My middle toe feels like I broke it on his elbow, and my ribs are grateful he was three inches too far from me when he began his sidekick. I felt the impact but withstood it with a flinch. The extra three inches would have put my stomach in my throat and my knees on the carpet.

This is one of those nights that I can’t believe I’m forty-five years old, severely arthritic and missing cartilage in both of my knees.  If only I could move as fast and feel as good with the half dozen other daily challenges that keep the adrenaline pumping!  But we really can’t have it all…. :-)

My son, on the other hand, can have it all, it seems.  While enjoying his Spanish immersion program in his month away from home, his martial arts skills got him adopted by the Chinese immersion folks.  Here he is, front and center, at their world expo in the final weekend of the program (the one on the right).  It’ll be good to have him back home and in Sanshou – though his sidekicks cause more than a flinch!

Aaron at MMLA Expo


The Wrap Around Gotham

My heart is happy when I’m in New York.  Neither I nor my employer can afford a decent hotel room in the city that’s big enough to accommodate kung fu practice – and I don’t care.  This is notable because I care very much about space to train with any other place I visit for work or pleasure.  That should say it all when it comes to my feelings about NYC, but I’m going to go on.

Manhattan has been special to me since the first time I stepped off the commuter train from Connecticut, holding my mother’s hand, to go visit Santa at Macy’s, then go slip on the ice at Rockefeller Center.  Later, I loved it because I was a middle school glee club member and stage rat who fell head over heels for Broadway and everything about the theater district.  Then came the crazy teen years and jumping on the train to hang out in Greenwich Village with my best friend and my fake ID.  That was followed by a first salaried job as a wardrobe supervisor for a suburban theater, where I was invited out on the island with the ladies and gents of the ensemble and introduced to several of the city’s great restaurants.

Winter traditions, Broadway, Bohemia, food – they all just scratch the surface of what makes me nuts about New York.  As I write, I realize that I’ve had goosebump-great moments there with each parent, both spouses, both children and three of the four people who were my closest friends before the age of twenty-five (and are still friends to this day).  That’s not true of any other place on the planet, including my hometown.

Anyway, here’s some of what I saw, did and enjoyed in this working, reunion weekend in Gotham.

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I finally got a meal at a seafood joint I’ve been wanting to get to since I first heard of it a year ago – and the food was as good as it looked.

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Work was crazy-making and exhausting, but there’s no denying it offered a rollicking good time to those around me, both outside the Schomburg Center…

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…and in.

 

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A brush with Mr. Mosley’s literary greatness didn’t hurt either.

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All in all, it was exactly what the doctor ordered at the end of a sad anniversary.  Funny how the universe provides what we need… though often in unexpected wrappers.


Remembrance

            I can’t believe it was only a month ago that she was standing tall, dressed in a navy blue pants ensemble with a cream-colored silk blouse, looking as elegant as always as she sent me off to the airport to return home.  “We’ll see each other again,” she told me, with her gold Nephritides necklace hanging from her neck, as it had most days of her life for more than a decade.

            Her matching navy blue sandals had a two-inch heel that restored her height to the stature I remembered her having when I was a child.  I wondered: had she begun shrinking through the normal aging process, or was it the illness that had shortened her?  Perhaps she was no shorter at all; she simply seemed that way to a daughter moving up the ladder of mortality.

            Her make-up was flawless, I remember, and conservative: a light application of base to even out the pecan complexion that was just slightly darker under her eyes, and a wine shaded lipstick that left its imprint on my cheek.  Her signature headwear completed the picture imprinted on my mind. 

            That day she chose a beret – cream-colored to match her blouse.  It was her favorite kind of hat, the one she wore most often if she could get away with it.  It was fitting that a beret was the last hat I saw her in. 

            There is no hat now.  There’s barely hair since Tony came in and cut off the soft, shiny, wavy curls of her mixed African- and Native-American heritage.   I miss the curls as I stare at her, remembering her look of dismay two weeks earlier when I said her hair looked good grown out.  It had been long and enviable throughout my life until the Florida heat inspired her to crop it close to her scalp. 

            I run my hand across the fresh-cut, hoping she can feel my touch.  My other hand is wrapped around her own, squeezing, willing her to open her eyes.


Stream of Too Much Consciousness

A Tuesday off from work to break up what would otherwise have been a seven-day work week.  More than eight hours of sleep for the first time in months; more work done with gym personnel for the upcoming kung fu class I’m teaching; more training on White Eyebrow with new moves added (finally!); more research on farmers’ markets and festivals where I can test the market for my baked goods.  A completely packed so-called day off!

…Taping a show tomorrow with the host flying in same day.  Worried about the weather interfering in her arrival and having to reschedule a show that was hard to book in the first place.

…Have to find hosts by Thursday for the double taping day at the end of the month with former and current politicos.  Another item that needs to be put to bed before work this weekend, or I’ll run out of time for the hosts to read the books.

…Looking forward to getting back to New York but not sure if I’m looking forward to the work.  Spending Friday and Saturday in Harlem producing the live coverage of a book fair that’s rumored to be a chaotic gig is sure to add a few grey hairs.  To top it off, neither I nor my director has worked this one before.  Right now it’s a touch of angst but it has the potential to become full-blown anxiety.  Gotta keep that under control and focus on organization.

…Have to get an answer before Harlem on whether I need to fly to Texas to do an interview with the August guest.  Just my luck he’ll say yes but only leave me two days to choose from.  A whirlwind trip will end up getting squeezed in around the time I get my son home from Vermont and start teaching the kung fu class – just because Murphy has that irritating little law.

Just one foot in front of the other, just one day at a time – the only way to live a life much fuller than I ever thought it could be. :-)


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