All posts filed under: Stories

Grown-Ass Lady Storytelling ™️

When You Lose Your Mother

I can’t tell you exactly why I photographed each of my parents dead in their beds. It seemed important not to let such a moment go undocumented. What if you wanted it back. What if you wanted to see your mother slurp soup one last time, like she did that last day, when she was barely alive? As soon as I saw her, I knew she was dying. Her hands were swollen to twice their usual size — their long elegance replaced by swollen fruits. Her mouth was open, her eyes closed, and she made a sort of low moaning sound that reminded me of a sound I’d make if I were trying to manage great pain, or a great process, like labor. A doctor came and took her pulse. It was so low that protocol required that she be transported from the nursing home to the hospital. I begged mercy. My mother needed to be done. Done with hospitals, with nursing homes, done with the long process of dying. It had already been years. …

Silly Things People Have Said to Me When I Tell Them I’m Not Having Kids

There will be no children in my future. Ever. Yes, I am married. Yes, my husband knows that I do not want children. Yes, we both realize we’re extremely fortunate to be able to elect to live childfree. He doesn’t want kids either. It’s part of the reason I married him. (That, and he has excellent hair.) He married me knowing that and also because I always clean the litter box. I probably brought up the topic of kids on the second date — it would have been a deal breaker. My husband would make the world’s greatest father. But that alone isn’t reason enough for me to become the mother I’ve never wanted to be, to take on a crushing financial burden or to add more to my already too-full plate. I love my friends’ children. Because I don’t have to take care of them. Their cuteness is there to fulfill my need to see cute things. I don’t expect them to behave for me, and they don’t expect 18 years of dinner from …

The Real Cost of Caregiving

The Real Cost of Caregiving

When I was recently in Pittsburgh, giving my sister a much-needed break from taking care of our mother, I heard a sharp cracking sound, followed by something hitting the floor. I was sitting in the kitchen at the time and raced down the stairs to find my mother on the floor, beside the desk, in the den. The keyboard shelf was lying next to her, with the keyboard dangling slightly above, still attached to the computer by a cord. “Are you okay?” I asked, helping her up and into the chair. She didn’t seem to be injured. “I’m okay,” she said. “What happened?”  “I fell,” she said. “What happened to the desk?” I asked, though I already knew the answer. She must have used the keyboard shelf to help herself up from the desk chair, and it couldn’t support her weight. “I don’t know,” she said, with a sense of surprise. “Really?” “How’d that happen?” she asked. “Did Ollie do that?” I asked, referring to my 14-pound Westie, who had spent the morning downstairs with …

Grandma’s: A House Manual in the Age of COVID

Welcome to Grandma’s house. We understand this was not your first choice for a week away from the toxic San Francisco air, especially when the air down here in Central California is even worse. We are aware that this week-long vacation puts both you and Grandma at risk, COVID-wise. We appreciate your business. Because this is not a standard vacation rental, we hope you will spend some time reading these warnings and suggestions so that your stay will be comfortable, or at least tolerable. Volume and noises Grandma is deaf as hell and refuses to get a hearing aid. When you enter the house, make sure to slam the door hard enough to make the whole house rattle. Shout her name as loud as you possibly can. Several times. You will get no response, and you will dread what you will find in the TV room where she spends most of her time. The TV, of course, will be at maximum volume, and you will see her sitting upright, eyes closed, motionless. You will wonder …

Come Sleep with Me: Caretaking Mom

When I turned 50, I rediscovered the splendid stretch of my own bed. Marriage-free after 25 years, children grown and gone, no pets with their whiny demands, I could haunt the night without fear of rousing man, child, or beast.   There are those who long for the late-night solace of someone else’s arms. But solitude cracked the night open for me, and my bed became my sanctuary, my spa, my office, my library, my snack bar. On my nightstand, Alexa played Esperanza Spalding when I was writing, or read me Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed as a bedtime story. Next to Alexa was a lavender-scented candle, and usually a glass of red wine or a cup of strong, black coffee. The marriage bed, the birthing bed, the family bed, was finally the ark of my own joy.  Then in the summer of 2016, I abandoned my Detroit home of thirty years, put my belongings in storage and moved to coastal Virginia to live with my parents. They were in their 80s, their minds fading much faster …

Taking Care of the Strongest Man I Ever Knew

  My father asked me, “How long does it take?” I felt all the sound, light, air — everything — leave the room; only the weight of those words remained. I was standing at the side of his bed, lightly stroking his forehead. Mom was exhausted, slumped in a chair in a dark corner. He was dying and wanted to know when it would be over. He had seen so much life and death on the farm — animal life and death — for 40 years, he knew when death was near and he was ready for it. But for him to ask me… that took me a minute. I was the youngest and a girl. You didn’t reveal this kind of vulnerability to your youngest daughter. Four months earlier, I’d come home for a visit and it had been clear to me: Dad was not going to make it. It was upsetting to see him so much thinner and weaker than just a month ago. It was before the dialysis. Before the hospitalization. That January afternoon, he …

a sleeping woman

I’m An Insomniac. And I’m Sleeping Like a Baby During the Pandemic

“You know, don’t you, that Cleo chewed on your hair while you were sleeping last night.” Kent, my beloved, is speaking to me from across the kitchen counter about the irascible pandemic Bernedoodle puppy we adopted together six months ago.  And no, I didn’t know that. “Yeah,” he continues. “I took her out to pee because she was barking frantically at 2 a.m. and when we got back to the bedroom, she jumped up on the bed and went straight for you.” I never heard the barks. I never felt the chews. I am a 56-year-old menopausal woman and I was sleeping as if I were dead. It wasn’t always this way. For as long as I can remember, I have been an incurable insomniac. As an anxious 23 year old who felt inadequate to the task of grownup life, in lieu of sleep, I’d stand by the stove late at night cooking the only thing I knew how to make —  — tapioca pudding  — and eating it warm right out of the pot, …

Sleeping in My Clothes: Holding Tight to Impetuous Youth

I woke up this morning in my hotel room wearing a bra and beautiful purple flowered Rachel Roy dress, one that always makes me feel beautiful and yields compliments. It’s the dress I’ve worn recently to an important business meeting and am gearing up to wear at a talk at a library. It’s made of polyester (in China, of course), but feels elegant and classy. It is not the kind of dress one should sleep in, but the kind that should be treated with the utmost care so that it lasts as long as possible. It’s a dress I’d be sad to have disappear from my wardrobe, and yet…I still didn’t take the time to remove it from my body and hang it up, or at the very least, drape it from a chair. But alas, that is part of my vice: sleeping in my clothes, alongside sleeping in my glasses (or having them fall haphazardly onto the floor), sleeping with the lights on, not brushing my teeth or using moisturizer before bed, and generally …

a yellow telephone from the 1970s/80s

Making Prank Calls: Finding Retribution as a Kid in the 80s

Growing up, I was a good kid. Forever on honor roll, obedient, well-mannered, and respectful. The kind of kid teachers in the late 70s and early 80s left in charge of the classroom when they had to step out for a moment. The kid who wielded that piece of chalk like a weapon and wouldn’t hesitate to write your name on the board if you made a sound or got out of your seat, in the teacher’s absence. So I guess it would be more accurate to say I was a full-fledged goodie two shoes back then. Rules were meant to be followed. And I learned early on in elementary school that following the rules and getting good grades was an easy way to stay in the teachers’ good graces. And staying in teachers’ good graces was important to me — until sixth grade when I had a teacher who had disdain for the kids who got good grades. Some of us overheard Mrs. K* tell another teacher that she didn’t like the weekly gifted-and-talented …

Black Like Lauryn: How I Went from Baltimore Beauty to Diaspora Darling

My last year in college, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was everywhere. All we listened to, all we sang. The strains of it wafted on the wind across campus. As a Black girl from the hoods of Baltimore, I played Miseducation as much as anyone else. So much, that now, more than 20 years later, I can still sing/rap every note, every word. Lauryn’s epic 1998 LP was groundbreaking, but the woman herself wasn’t new to me. I’d watched her on As the World Turns and in Sister Act II. I’d head-nodded along with her flow when she was a member of the Fugees. But there was something about Lauryn singing and being on her own that spoke to my young heart. Slender, dark, loc’d, full-lipped, rocking her Northern accent and what felt to me like matching aggression. Something about her beautiful Blackness that looked nothing like mine.  College is the time when kids go away just Black and come home BLACK. Before college, my concept of Blackness was home. West Baltimore. Relaxed hair teased …

Summer Book and Amazon Gift Card Giveaway!

We’re giving one lucky winner a $100 Amazon gift card and two “literary fans” book packages that feature three titles from Penguin Random House: Mary Gaitskill’s This is Pleasure, Edwidge Danticat’s Everything Inside and Nazanine Hozar’s Aria.  Contestants must be over 18 and from the United States. To enter, you must log into the Sweepwidget module below, and sign up, visit, follow or share before the contest closes on July 30, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Update: This giveaway is now over and the winner has been notified.

My Search for the “Oh Yes!” When Sex Was a No-No

Sexual education in my conservative, southern, Christian upbringing was strictly on a need-to-know basis: I needed to know what I should avoid. An entire sexual revolution swirled around me, giving not thought at all to my existence, yet it was I, I, who madly sought it. My curriculum was carefully curated so that I might be informed, but still avoid the rising tide of desire. Too much information would no doubt trigger the awakening of the wanton sexual temptress hell bent on besmirching my family name with gonorrhea and out-of-wedlock children that ignorance had allowed to lay dormant. I dubbed my sexual curiosity my white whale — an obsession that consumed every waking moment I spent away from the Bible or Knight Rider, sure to lead to my undoing. I had to use context clues for everything else. I asked my parents where babies came from when I was six. They gave me a splendidly clinical “a-man’s-sperm-meets-a-woman’s-egg” spiel. “How? They rub stomachs or something? Does he feed it to her?” It wasn’t until a year …

Black woman in a barren darkened room, looking out of a window

A Freedom Song for Black Women

Black women are like flowers in a field of kudzu. Beautiful, bright and colorful, we fight our way to the light so we are not overcome by society’s demands that climb and shade, smother and constrict our true selves. There are so many ways to be Black and so many ways to be a woman.  Oh, to throw our arms wide and embrace the expansiveness of Black womanhood!  Hundreds of years of misogynoir* — misogyny directed at Black women — have made that harder than it should be, though. Slavers insisted our foremothers were bestial, fractious and over-sexed natural-born servants. They said so in order to commodify our gifts and shame the ones who loved us.  Good White America told Black women we are emancipated, yet still believes what the men and women, who once held our chains, said about us: Too hard. Too mad. Too untameable. Too loose. Too ugly. Too far from fine womanhood. Too contrary to whiteness. After years of terror and trauma and brainwashing, Good Black America believes some of these …

Lift Every Voice And Sing: A Q&A with Activist and Singer Abby Dobson

In this January 31, 2017 interview,  shortly after the Women’s March, journalist Angela Bronner Helm spoke with activist and singer Abby Dobson about protest, the persistent disconnect between women of different races and backgrounds, and the importance of amplifying Black women’s voices. In Abby’s words, we find powerful insights and calls to action that are relevant and necessary right now. The night before Donald Trump’s inauguration, two black feminist icons — Alice Walker and Angela Davis — spoke at the annual Peace Ball in Washington, D.C. offering two key messages about the intersection of art and activism. Walker revealed that the creation of art was one of her five tools of resistance. Davis noted that right now, “We need art, we need music, we need poetry.” Davis and Walker both understand the healing power of art, especially for women who feel under assault under the current administration. Jamaican-born Abby Dobson is a vocalist who carries with her both the activism of Angela and the art of Alice in her song. Dobson says she uses her gifts …

Two Old Friends on Growing Up Black and White in Lincoln, Nebraska

(Photo courtesy of Sara Gilliam) A few weeks before the 2016 election, we shared a conversation about race between Sara, a white woman, and Eric, a Black man, who had grown up as neighbors in Lincoln, Nebraska. In light of the many race-related horrors that have transpired since the election, including the present moment, we reached out to Sara and Eric to find out what’s on their minds. Their original conversation follows this update. What’s changed for me since we worked on this interview is that I no longer question my role in the movement. Years ago, I remember asking Eric, “Should I be posting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on social media?” I was afraid of co-opting the fight. I wanted to be respectful of the movement and acknowledge my privilege. I’ve learned a lot in the last few years. I recognize that to deal with the cranked-up racism and xenophobia perpetuated by the Trump presidency (but certainly by no means limited to rhetoric from the White House), we all have a significant role to play …

Depression in the Time of COVID-19 and a Lifetime Before

I’m afraid of my bed. When I landed in a major depressive episode at the end of last October, bed wasn’t exactly a choice. My legs suddenly grew heavy. Bed called as if I were being suctioned toward it. Although there was nowhere in particular I wanted to be, just anywhere else, I felt scared there. Bed was a place my chronically depressed father had always favored. Because I didn’t want to be majorly, chronically depressed like him, bed became a Rubicon. And I crossed it. From bed, I listened to the sounds of life being lived out of bed, beyond my room. Cars, the early morning train at six, runners, kids parading to and from school buses, and sometimes the cacophony my household made while I couldn’t connect with it during those weeks. The autumn air grew thinner and the leaves fell and were swept away. Far outside earshot, I understood people were busy. They were getting book contracts, getting new jobs, going to classes, going to work. I wasn’t. I could barely crawl …

Baldwin & Baguettes: A Mother’s Burden at a Distance

The worn cotton fibers of Emmanuel’s hoodie rubbed gently against my cheek when he went in for a final hug. “I love you, Mom”. “I love you too, Boo. I’m so glad I got to see you.” I marveled at the immensity of his shoulders and chest as he enveloped me in his arms. My baby boy had grown so big. Those moments —  his tender little arms wrapped around my neck and later, my legs — were long behind us. After a flurry of goodbyes between me and Emmanuel’s father, Raliegh, I stepped out into the brisk San Francisco air. This was my first official visit to their cozy little home, back in February, and I left with the reassurance that all was okay.  A year and a half prior, I had officially handed Emmanuel off to Raliegh. We decided it was his turn to do the heavy lifting of parenting while I made a life for myself in Paris — a move I made from Brooklyn. It was a major transition for all …

Self Care Tips When You Are Utterly Devastated

Watch Karrie’s video below. Shortly after the 2016 election, astrologer and wellness guide Karrie Myers Taylor penned this essay to address our collective post-election blues. And here we are, not four years later, utterly devastated again by the manifestations of white supremacy that are woven into the fabric of this country. We’re thankful for Karrie’s tips, but sure as hell wish we didn’t need them. Practice forgiving… yourself: Trump did not become President because you didn’t know enough or didn’t do enough about the presidential campaign.  Learn how to forgive yourself and move on.  Here’s a great book to get you started: How To Forgive Ourselves Totally: Begin Again by Breaking Free from Past Mistakes Turn off negative media: Choose two media sites that you trust and only read those.  Quietly stop following the Facebook feeds of friends and family who are sharing inciting media on their pages. Medicinal baths & body brushes: Take 30 minutes a week to soak in a steaming hot bath to get some clarity.  Add some magnesium flakes and essential oil, and be sure to …

Roller Boogie: My Pandemic Security Blanket

One of my earliest pandemic projects was to clean out my desk alcove, which I often refer to as “the Dorian Gray of my apartment,” because it’s where I stash anything and everything I don’t want to see. The depth of that mess is no exaggeration or hyperbole, as evidenced by me finding – while cleaning and organizing – a DVD that I failed to return to the rental place at least 15 years ago (I’d been juggling a full-time day job and part-time graduate night school and apparently couldn’t be bothered).  It was the 1979 movie, Roller Boogie.  My first reaction to that discovery was a mildly upset and anxious, “Ooops.” Which was quickly followed by my second reaction: “Oh, HELL yes.” That night, I popped the DVD into my old laptop, and, like something out of an Olivia Newton-John song from a different roller-skating movie, it was pure magic. Because despite being here, now, in the ominous gloom of 2020, sheltering-in-place alone in my Brooklyn apartment while the global Coronavirus pandemic grimly ravaged …

Wenderella: A Gen-X Fairytale of Viruses and Princesses

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful middle-aged woman named Wendi. Or Wenderella, as she called herself one night after she took a lot of cold medicine and watched RuPaul’s Drag Race. Wenderella lived in a far-off, foreign land called TEXAS in a big, big castle. More specifically, a single-story house in a cul-de-sac that was a little too tame for her liking, but whatever, the school district’s good. Not everybody needs to be Carrie Bradshaw. Wenderella ruled her queendom along with her dashing husband and two strong teenage sons. There were also a couple cats and a white dog you may have seen on Instagram. But they were a happy family because they didn’t see each other very often. They frequently did something called “going places.” All was well. All was good. Until one day when everything changed.  “Hear ye, hear ye! There’s an evil disease afoot!” Wenderella’s husband proclaimed to the family. “We must stay inside our castle, or we shall perish!” Why did she order so many rice cakes on Instacart? …

I’m Willing to Dye for Normalcy

I haven’t worn makeup in 34 days. Or pants, for that matter. Since my family and I decamped from our New York City apartment to our upstate home, I wake up every day and slip on one of the two pairs of black leggings I have with me, and one of two stretched-out sports bras. Apparently, when packing for a pandemic, it’s smarter to bring an assortment of workout clothes than it is to bring cute sweaters. Those sweaters, along with a couple of pairs of jeans, remain folded in my duffel bag, next to the flat iron I thought I might use.  Use for what? To make my rooty hair look better as I trudge between my kitchen and garbage shed for the hundredth time? Or sit across a silent breakfast table from my shell-shocked family who could care less how I, or they, look? I was never much one for elaborate beauty routines but my regimen has now been reduced to face splashing and teeth brushing. Last night I tweezed my eyebrows for …

What Our Country Has Lost With Corona We’ve Lost Before

I wrote this poem in 2001, just days after 9/11, when I was 25 years old and living in Brooklyn. Reading it now, at 43, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am experiencing similar feelings of grief, anger, suspicion, confusion about what this means for our civil rights, and yes, fear of going to war once the dust settles (because let’s be honest, the U.S. cannot let ineptitude go unpunished, even when its our own). The reason I want to share this poem now is because I know that fear and turning a blind eye to injustice increased exponentially in the decade following 9/11, and I’m hoping that doesn’t happen this time around.  “A Matter of Gray” Questions have come to visit mea life led carelessly is hard to organizeprioritize, re-schedule, pencil inagain. I spent those first days looking for clues, conducting my own “investigation”unraveling global maps gone dusty to find the jagged, colored section with which to drop my rageI placed a push-pin there like people dowhen they have visited a place… or hope toas if …

Child hugs Mom during downward dog

Finding Equilibrium: When You Both Need Care

My jaw clenches as he yells at me from less than two feet away about a video game character’s ability to perform some amazing feat I immediately tune out, despite the loudness of the words being drilled into my head. He’s woken up far earlier than usual, and the things I needed to do to make sure that I am taking care of myself before he gets up are forcefully blown into the wind, like someone else’s heartfelt desires against dandelion seeds. “Please lower your voice. I’m standing right here.” “I’M NOT YELLING.”  He says this genuinely; without guile or sarcasm. “I know you don’t think you’re yelling, but trust me when I tell you, it sounds way louder out here than it does in there. And you have to remember that there are other people in this house; we’re not home alone anymore. Please lower your volume.” He scowls, takes in a breath, and then proceeds to say the exact same thing at the exact same volume, except now in a deeply exasperated tone. …

That Time Simon LeBon Worked in My Office

Like many 13-year-old girls in 1984, I often dreamed that Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon would one day randomly show up at my door. Unlike most of those girls, however, that actually ended up happening to me. And the story is nuts. In the early ‘00s, I worked at Rykodisc, an independent record label. If you are “of a certain age,” you may remember Ryko for its David Bowie, Elvis Costello, and Frank Zappa CD reissues and/or its trademark green CD cases. The Business Affairs office, where I worked, was located outside of Philadelphia in Main Line suburban Bryn Mawr, PA, in a nondescript compound: Ryko had the building in the front (an old 1920s-era stone mansion), while RuffNation’s successor company occupied the two brick stable buildings in the back, which they had renovated and converted into offices and a state-of-the-art recording studio. One day, our office manager (we’ll call him Eric) brought some payment approvals or something upstairs to my office for signature. Eric was about 6 years younger than me, in a pop …

Moo Sexy: Getting Out of My Comfort Zone for Love

Ten years ago, my boyfriend, Greg, and I are lying in bed on a lazy Sunday afternoon when he says he needs to talk to me about something. My mind instantly goes into overdrive. OMG. He’s cheating on me. He has an STD. He’s breaking up with me. Maybe all three! Thankfully, it’s none of these things, but it’s the last thing I expect to hear. “You don’t make me feel special,” he says. Whaaaaaat?! I think. As the shock takes over, my heart breaks. Over the past year, I’ve done all kinds of things to make him feel special. I’ve written him love notes that I hide in his dresser and in his bathroom (not under the toilet seat). I’ve cooked him dinner when he’s the far better cook. On his birthday, I gave him specific hard-to-find gifts that he’d casually mentioned months earlier in conversation. I’ve even folded his laundry despite the fact that he possesses the one quality I find sexiest in a man: He can fold a fitted sheet. I’m truly …

Corona Parenting: Do My Kids Need to See Me Cry?

Photo of Ericka by Sarah Sido I was lying next to my seven-year-old son at bedtime. He doesn’t ask for this often because he knows I always say no. One week ago, I had two backpacks to unload, two lunch containers to scrub peanut butter off the sides of, a dishwasher to fill and run, as well as make sure their basketball outfits were cleaned for the after-school game, and sweep all the rice, Legos, sand off the floor before finally settling down to get to my work, which was memorizing lines for an audition or sitting down to edit photos for a deadline. 8pm was my time, my alone time, my work time. But now there is no work. And none in sight. There are no bento box containers to clean, no backpacks to unload. There is little to organize or prepare for. The sports gear is already shoved away deep in the closet. So I laid with my oldest son. Because I had no excuse and really, why not? We are all anxious …

Horses run free in Mexico

Fear and Fresh Air: How Two Trips to Mexico Set Me Free

My lifelong bad habit of not reading the fine print has been rivaled only by my bad habit of ignoring relationship red flags. Ignoring the fine print landed my acrophobic ass on a pissed-off horse on the edge of a cliff in Mexico. Ignoring red flags landed me in a second marriage that should not have been a second date. I survived both situations. But only now, nearly four years after that trip to Mexico and nearly three years after I left that marriage, do I realize how the former set the stage for the latter. To be honest, the fine print wasn’t really fine. All the pertinent text was the same font size on the horseback riding adventure company’s website. I just didn’t give much thought to what “exciting and rugged” and “our horseback rides are definitely not nose-to-tail, unless you choose so,” might actually mean. And I failed to register just how high “150-foot cliffs” are. I just booked a reservation for three, my daughters and me, and looked forward to riding a …

Jenny in the Sarconic Islands

Get Lost: The Awesome, Scary, Wonder of My Midlife Travel

One early afternoon about 12 years ago I took three left turns and two right turns along the dense streets of Hanoi, Vietnam — and promptly found myself unutterably lost. I’d arrived for my first-ever visit to the city after a 24-hour journey from my home in Brooklyn late the night before — and as elegant women wearing conical straw hats pedaled past me on bicycles weighted down by flowers and produce, I stood on a street corner there possessed of no phone, no shared language, no context, no map, no prior understanding, no deep wisdom of the culture I’d found myself in, nothing to fall back on. Who knew what might happen next? I was at once a little scared and a whole lot delighted. Now, at 56, “a little scared and a whole lot delighted” is a disposition I’ve developed an unexpected propensity for in these ripe middle years of my life. This propensity is pretty much the dead opposite of what I imagined wanting for my grownup self when I was young …

Embarking on My Own Year of Yes

I’ll allow Shonda Rhimes to take credit for inventing the year of yes (YOY). This TV titan did make it famous, but let the record show that I invented the concept before Rhimes’ book with the same name became an instant bestseller.  In 2014, I could be found lounging on a tan leather couch in my comfort zone. I had a cool gig as the executive editor of Juicy, a celeb life, hair and beauty magazine, which I co-founded with my soul friend Paula. At Juicy, the riskiest thing I did was subject my skin, hair and nails to all the free goodies beauty brands tossed at us by the boatload. Picture me as an eager test dummy for every BB Cream for mocha skin, matte red lipstick and neon nail lacquer ever invented. I interviewed celebrities, twirled on red carpets and on the rare occasion, appeared on reality TV.  And while all of this was crazy, sexy, cool in that TLC kinda way, I never forgot that one of my purposes in life was …