Thursday, May 23, 2019

Up, Up and Away!

I'm delighted to announce that I am working on a new book about my days as a flight attendant, back when flying was still glamorous. It’s been such fun researching the origins and development of that job over time, and to relive my own days in the sky. Michael and I were lucky enough to go to the opening of the new TWA Hotel, made right from TWA terminal 5 at JFK, my own place of departure for trips to Cairo, Athens, Rome, Paris, London, Madrid, and more. As soon as we walked in to that gorgeous building, designed by Eero Saarinen and opened in @1962, memories washed over me. The indescribable feeling of walking through the Jetson-like tunnel to my gate as part of a TWA 747 crew, all of us dressed in our Ralph Lauren uniforms and pulling our roller bags along. No one but flight attendants had those wheelie suitcases back then!  And standing under the departure board as it click click clicked. I admit I got teary a few times! There’s an old spiffed up Constellation parked there and used as a bar, where we sipped champagne. Jean-George Vongerichten has opened The Paris Cafe there, awash in pale pinks and oranges and the sunlight or airport lights that spill through the gorgeous windows and he gave us a tour, adding tidbits on the building’s history and on TWA and the renovation.

I can’t wait to return and actually stay in the hotel! And I can’t wait to write this book and share this story with all of you. For those of you who have asked where my next novel is, it’s coming along too. The title is THE MUSUEM OF TEARS.

Happy long weekend, though I know it’s a solemn one too. We are heading to Indiana yo eat lots and lots of fried chicken. You’ll read all about that in Michael’s New York Times piece about it, and my own piece in Food and Wine. May yours be filled with comfort food too.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Fourteen years ago today...

...we adopted Annabelle! Last night  I found myself remembering where I was on that night 14 years ago. In Hunan China. In a hotel with 10 other families, all of us waiting for morning when a bus would pull up and we would climb in and go to a government building and get our babies. How did I even sleep that night? I remember looking at the crib in the hotel room, empty, as if waiting for a baby to fill it. I remember arranging stuffed animals in it, folding and refolding the baby blanket knit together square by square by loving friends. I remember laying out the baby clothes, the diapers and bottles, the tiny shoes. We are spicy food with bad Great Wall if China wine. How did I even sleep that night?

Most of the people I loved supported the decision to add to our family after Grace died. But a very few worried it wasn’t the right thing to do. Me? I knew in my bones that it was exactly right, and I never once thought otherwise. This morning I realized that Grace had been dead almost exactly three years when we boarded that plane to Beijing, and the pain of losing her was still searing hot and ever present. But suddenly something else was moving in: joy.

At 10:00 the bus arrived and in no time we were being rushed into a room in that government building. Orphanage workers with babies ran down the corridor outside the room and before our guide closed the door I saw Annabelle, scared and confused, race past. If they hadn’t called us to come out I might have run after her. In no time our name was called and Annabelle was in our arms. I knew immediately that I would kill for her if I had to. The love I felt was that instantaneous. She was mine.

Somehow fourteen years have passed. Unbelievably, that baby in the purple footy pajamas is a freshman in high school, fluent in French, voracious reader, math whiz, card shark, loyal friend, fierce defender of what is right, hardworking student, musical theatre lover, loyal sister, teasing companion to my husband, cat owner, purple haired, curious traveler, my sidekick in all things, my daughter. My love and gratitude for her and for the mystery of this glorious mess called life knows no bounds. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Spring!

I’m wearing my sandals! I don’t care if it’s only 40 degrees, I see sunshine and feel air tinged with warmth rather than chill. Last summer in Greece I noticed women wearing white Birkenstock’s and I fell in love with the look. As soon as I got back to NYC, I got a pair and wore them until my toes got numb. I’m so happy to have them on again.

More important news to share than my footwear is that I’ve started a new book project that has me dizzy with excitement: a memoir about my years as a flight attendant! No COFFEE, TEA OR ME (though I did reread that as research last week), it will not only share my own dreams and experiences but also cast a light on the evolution of the job and aviation. Tuesday I had lunch with one of my favorite people, Kate, a TWA flight attendant (hostess) in the late 1940s, and loved listening to her stories of flying. I’ve got a summer of visiting friends, searching archives, reading up on the topic—all so exciting I’m walking on air! 🤣

I’m also preparing for a lot of travel through spring and into summer, from teaching in Iceland to a romantic getaway in Portugal, a week in California driving down that gorgeous coast, a week in Truro with Annabelle, and then at the end of summer a month in Ireland and France and Italy with my wonderful husband and kids. The travel is a good mixture of teaching and just plain old fun. If you have the travel bug yourself, check out the writing workshop in Dingle Ireland where I’m teaching and my own Spannocchia Writers Workshop. It would be fun to see you there!

Speaking of where I’m teaching, if you’ve dreamed of someday writing that novel or memoir, and want to make that dream come true, I hope you’ll consider applying to the low residency MFA program I founded. It’s kind of a dream of mine to have built The Newport MFA, where students come to campus for a week in June and January for workshops, craft talks, readings, and time with our community of writers; the rest of the time is spent working one on one virtually with a faculty mentor. So you can write your book without disrupting your life! I’d love to have you join us if you’re ready!

I have been knitting like crazy. Have you? That usually signals not just the need for a new hat or a baby gift but something more going on for me emotionally. So no coincidence that my mom’s house goes on the market today after being in my family for over a hundred years. I cannot go there and see it empty. For some, that would be a necessary step in the grief process. But it would slay me. At night I find myself closing my eyes and touching things in the house: the stamps kept under the ashtray, the coffee mugs on a metal tree, the extra pillow behind the family room door should the need for a nap strike. I want to keep everything in its place in my mind, reminding me once again that grief is personal. There’s no rule book. No right way. We each find our own messy path through it. Be kind to yourself if you’re grieving, and gentle with others in grief.

So a ZickZack scarf, a skirt, a baby hat—all flying off my needles.

Please please read Barbara Trapido. I’ve just discovered her and am in love!

Now to pack for our late night flight to San Juan to visit Sam, whose theatre company What Will the Neighbors Say is in residency developing a play. In our future is a trip to the interior for roasted pork, a pool party, a lunch in Old San Juan, a hotel with an infinity food, and lots of time with each other. So precious, this.




Thursday, December 6, 2018

Holidays

This week I have been blessed with some of the best reviews of my career for my new book, Kitchen Yarns: Notes in Love, Life and Food. It has been picked as People Magazine Book of the Week, Amazon Best December Book in both memoir and cookbooks, Washington Post top ten, Real Simple December Book, and even more! Just shows how food—eating it, cooking it, writing about it—is love and comfort. I hope you like the book, and that the recipes make you and your loved ones happy.

But with all this joy comes a sadness over missing my mom. I’ve been plowing ahead all year, getting done all the things that need to get done, working hard to keep grief in check. But the holidays always kind of keep us from sticking to that plan, don’t they? So it’s lots of pj time, knitting, reading, and keeping people I love close for me these days. Gobbling up Jane Gardham novels. Knitting hats like crazy. And binge watching The Great British Baking Show. Whatever brings comfort, right? I hope you are all doing the same, taking care of yourself during this happy sad time of year.

To celebrate my birthday my husband, kids, and cousins are spending the weekend in NYC: To Kill A Movkingbird, King Kong, Andy Warhol at the Whitney, Sam’s play Sources of Light Other Than the Sun, dinner at The Beatrice Inn and brunch at Untitled, birthday cake and lots of love. 💕 Even when sadness strikes, I remind myself I’m one lucky girl.

Tonight I’m making Gogo’s sauce and meatballs for dinner. Food. It keeps us close. Cook something that makes you smile. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Gracie Belle Books

I am so proud of Gracie Belle Books, my new imprint at Akashic Books dedicated to publishing beautifully written, unflinchingly honest books about grief. Our debut book is NOW YOU SEE THE SKY by Catharine Murray, a memoir about the life and death of her young son. But really, like all good memoirs, it’s about so much more: love, family, faith, hope, and the power of the human spirit. Tonight I will be with Catharine at Books on the Square in Providence at 7PM. I hope if you are nearby that you’ll join us there. You can buy NOW YOU SEE THE SKY at your favorite independent bookstore or Barnes and Noble, or order it here:
https://www.amazon.com/Now-You-See-Catharine-Murray/dp/1617756660/ref=nodl_

For many years writing students have Come to me for help with their memoirs about grief over the loss of their child, spouse, parents, sibling, or friends.  I have nurtured and read so many gorgeous stories that explore this part of the human condition: the loss of someone precious to you. In so many ways these stories are everyone’s story, as inevitably we all experience deep grief. However I found that even those Raiders who got an agent or put the manuscript in and editor’s hands, were told there was no market for books like this; or that people wouldn’t read them because the story was too sad; or there were already enough grief books out there.  I know, as you probably know, that there could never be enough books about this enormous human emotion. Every year – – no! Every day! Dash – There are more people beginning their own grief journey. And the more books that we can put in their hands the more we come together to help each other navigate grief.

 Catharine had been a student of mine long ago at a writers conference in Maine. Even then I was struck by the beauty of her writing and the depth and breath of her sorrow. It took Catharine years to finally turn the pages that I first read into the gorgeous memoir that became now you see the sky. I was so honored when she asked me to read the manuscript as an outside reader for her MFA thesis.  When I finish the book I put it down, moved and impressed but also frustrated because I knew that this beautiful book would most likely not find a home. I was so tired of having gifted writer is unable to place they’re beautiful books.

And so I took a risk. I emailed Johnny Temple at a Akashic books and basically told him what I’ve written here. Would he consider an imprint that published these important, necessary books? I know Johnny and I know that he has a generous heart and an open mind. I hit SEND and held my breath. To my utter delight, Johnny immediately said yes. And Gracie Belle Books was born.

 As many of you know, I lost my own five-year-old daughter Grace in 2002. I resisted writing my own memoir about my grief but as time passed I began to write essays that explored an illuminated my own journey. Eventually those essays were knit together to become my book comfort: a journey through grief. My own brave publisher, WW Norton, and my wonderful editor Jill Bialosky took a risk on that book and on me. Now I have the opportunity to do the same, giving voice to writers who can articulate this most human emotion and leave the reader spellbound, wiser, empathetic, and hopeful.

The imprint is named for my Gracie. The logo is a drawing of little wire rimmed glasses like she wore. I’m so happy to honor her in this way, by bringing more stories into the world that will help us all on this path called life. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Amtrak musings

I’m on my weekly trip on Amtrak from Penn Station in NYC to Providence. It’s always more fun when my fabulous husband is with me, but alas this week he is off to San Diego for a conference. I’ve had the great joy these past few years of enjoying the company and the love of a wonderful guy. When we travel together we play cards, read to each other and read separately, even enjoy eating and drinking similar things. On Amtrak that’s Dunkin Donuts dark roast and bagels that we complain about for being under toasted. Alone like today, I always work until New Haven and then put on the Slate Culture Gabfest podcast and listen while I knit. It’s a quiet few hours with just me and my thoughts.

My brain and heart have been working overtime these few weeks. I finally have all the photo albums from my 25 years of marriage and family life, and have begun the heartbreaking and laborious process of scanning them and sending them to the cloud, wherever that is. Yes, many of these make me smile. I’ve had fun texting pictures to cousins and friends when they appear, holding Sam or Grace or celebrating some holiday. But seeing my beautiful Grace—her steady gaze, her sly smile, her joy—slays me. As do the pictures of my parents, vibrant and alive,doting on my kids and on me. The pictures of the year and a half when it was just Sam and me reminded me of the wonderful family I have and all the people I can still call friends. They reminded me too of how the bond was formed between him and me in those days. So many pictures of us asleep together, traveling together, laughing together. I’ve been struck by how the pictures taken in Grace’s first year fill me with an unexpected sadness. Here is my young family, having fun and celebrating together. I peer at those faces, at my own happy face, at the draft Victorian  we called home. I was so happy in that life then, and it shows. Yet much of it was an illusion; this has been a difficult part of moving on. I’m only in 1997 still—so many pictures, so many years—and I know there are more unexpected feelings to come as I turn these dry discolored pages and send my loved ones and my past to that cloud.

But today I turn my attention to my present. This slouchy hat I’m knitting with sock yarn. This book I’m reading to blurb. The student papers to read and comment on. The manuscripts to consider for Gracie Belle Books (and oh! What a successful launch for NOW YOU SEE THE SKY by Catharine Murray, our debut book!). My own novel and the research that it requires (I’m still that girl who loves a library). The books I’m reading and almost finished—the new Tana French and Jane Gardham’s FLIGHT OF THE MAIDENS—and wondering which to read next. Thanksgiving planning: menus, shopping lists, writing names on the seashells I collected on Sanibel Island. Tonight’s dinner for Annabelle and me: roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, green veggie. I’ll roast the carcass overnight with leeks and carrots and wake to a rich stock for tomorrow’s tortellini soup (Michael taught me this trick for stock, and the recipe is in KITCHEN YARNS: NOTES ON LOVE, LIFE, AND FOOD, my new book coming December 5).

Almost at New Haven. Time to pick up my needles. I hope you are knitting something lovely and reading something you can’t put down. I hope you can look forward to thanksgiving with love and joy. I hope that if you are or were lonely, devalued, emotionally mistreated, ignored or betrayed, you can find the strength to believe in yourself, to look back with some happiness at what was good. I hope you find the love of a good person, who adores you and treasures you; and that you find the great pleasure of doing the same. Oh! This life can be hard! But remind yourself how absolutely wonderful it can be too. For that, I’m grateful. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Stuff

And I mean stuff. The things we surround ourselves with. The small statues of a man and a woman from Uzbekistan and Sicily and Peru (yes, I’m obsessed with these renditions of couples), the yarn (guilty), the oddly heart shaped stone or bit of blue sea glass; the photos; the letters and birthday cards. And so much more.

This week I am clearing out my mother’s house. I can’t tell you how many personal essays by students I’ve read about this very thing over the years. It’s a place most of us ultimately go. A heart wrenching sad horrible place.

I hate doing it. But I think once you’ve had to look through your daughter’s stuff after she died, and decide what to keep and what to give away, you are almost numb to this task, because nothing can be worse than looking through her kindergarten papers and odd drawings and hidden candy.

To add to this emotional gumbo, I’m also finally able to copy photos from my family photo albums—the 25 years of having and raising my children, traveling with them from Japan to Peru to Cambodia and beyond, first days of school and Halloween’s, and so much more. For reasons too ugly to write about here, these have been kept from me. I made these albums with such love and care that the condition they’re in—dry, faded, stuck forever to the page—shocked me. But despite the fact they’ve been kept from me, seeing these photos again reminded me how happy I was with my little family, how I loved watching Sam and Grace play with a garden hose (so much so that it takes up three pages of an album) and dressing up for Halloween and walking on Rhode Island’s beautiful beaches. And so much more.

I will say that the pain of divorce can make you forget how once you felt so blessed.

I will say that the pain of losing my mother only reminds me how blessed I was for my own parents.

Someday my kids will be doing what I’m doing this week. They will look at my little Uzbek couple and think how weird I was. They will probably give them away. But I hope as they do they also remember what a fearless traveler I was, how I took them by their little hands and brought them around the world, how I played games and cooked and listened to them. This is what matters more than stuff. And as I look at all of Gogo’s things, I remember her, my mom, wise and honest and vulnerable and big hearted and funny and a great card player. Not one thing I’ve had to decide whether to keep or discard is as important as that.

Some of you are reading this and you are going through the same thing. Hold fast to the memories. The stuff isn’t as important.