Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Things Fall Apart

It is perhaps strange to be quoting this line from Yeats on Valentine's Day, a day when we celebrate coming together. But I find myself thinking about love, of course, and all the loves that come and go in our lifetime.

My parents fell in love the night they met, at a dance in 1949. That night, my father asked my mother to marry him, and a year later she did. This is a high bar for love. I grew up thinking the right one would come my way, lightning would strike, and then happily ever after would follow. Instead I find that love is a series of highs and lows, missed opportunities and mistakes, a coming together yes, but also a falling apart. This is not meant to be pessimistic. I love love. I love being in love, I love the idea of love, I love coupling and leaping and canoodling. But when one lives an unorthodox, off beat life, things don't take a straight path.

From the outside, we look at couples--at people too--and think we understand their relationships. But alas, we don't. No one knows the real joys and disappointments, betrayals and broken promises, precious moments and triumphs of anyone else's life. Things fall apart.

This Valentine's Day I find myself happily in love. Almost thirty years ago this man called out to me on a summer afternoon in Vermont and I did not listen. Instead, I went this way and that. I fell in and out of love. I made smart choices and bad ones. I had three incredible children and wrote more books than I ever dreamed. Things fell apart. And I kept trying to glue them back together. We do that, we romantics. We keep trying, even when no sensible person would.

And then, I listened. As a young girl I would play my Simon and Garfunkel albums over and over, crying (romantic, foolish me). Would I ever meet someone who would "read his Emily Dickinson, and I my Robert Frost"?

Yeats goes on to tell us the center does not hold.

That is so true. Too true. Yet sometimes after things fall apart, someone calls to us and we look up and everything--everything--changes. For the good. Love appears after all. And we open our arms and we jump.

Ah! We jump!

Happy Valentine's Day to all of you who are standing in a life that has fallen apart: there's a new one out there waiting for you. I believe it. I know it. To all of you who have found that true love: celebrate it and treat it with care like the precious thing it is. Let's all of us have some champagne tonight and toast this glorious mess called life.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Rested and Ready To Go!

Happy February everyone!

As promised, I took the month of January off to read and write and knit and cook and just be. I feel rested and ready to embark on 2017 after a crazy 2016--getting divorced, moving from my home of seventeen years, moving into my fabulous new loft with Annabelle, losing my beloved dog Zuzu (fifteen years old, but still), gaining two cats--Hermia and Gertrude, doing a BIG book tour, visiting 77 book clubs, and finishing a memoir (coming out in August! Morningstar: Growing Up Reading). Oh. And starting a new novel, publishing a "Modern Love" in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/fashion/modern-love-whats-love-dont-ask-the-answer-couple.html?_r=0), and teaching!

After my birthday on December 9, I stayed home. Happily. My kids were with me. Family and friends came for dinner. My sweetheart was with me. We all cooked and drank and ate and played cards and danced to my vinyl records on the turntable. The New Year arrived filled with love and more food and wine and family and dancing.

I've taught in St. petersburg FL and gave a reading in Miami. But mostly I've written, every day. And made yummy food. And read. And knit.

What I've read so far this year:
The Trespasser by Tana French
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso
Hourglass by Dani Shapiro
and almost finished with Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

Also, I am reading a story a week from the Best 100 Stories of the Century, edited by Lorrie Moore. This week I read the first one in the book, by Edna Ferber. It slayed me!

I had the great good fortune of going to the Pulpwood Queen's Girlfriend's Weekend in Nacogdoches Texas, and the added benefit of finding my new favorite yarn store there, Yarnia. They dye their own alpaca yarn and it is heavenly. I quick knit up a blue slouchy hat for my sweetheart and am waiting for a delivery of three more skeins. Meanwhile, I'm working on the Station Wagon Blanket from Mason-Dixon Knitting's book, "Stripes". It is a fun knitting project!!!

Ok. I have a kid eyeballing me to start making dinner: steak and broccoli stir fry with a side of Trader Joe's dumplings. It's Chinese New Year! The Year of the Rat, my Gracie's sign.

It's good to be back here talking to you all!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Happy Birthday to me!

And what a year!  The Simon and Garfunkel lyrics come to me: "Time it was and what a time it was..." In fact, take three minutes and listen to that song, Old Friends:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sovVYInjHjw

Ok. Back to the blog post!

As many of you know, I got divorced this year. And had a new book come out. And visited 75 book clubs since August. And moved. One of those years, in other words. And I am grateful for all of it. Who gets such opportunities at sixty? Some of it has been tough. Some of it heartwrenching. Some of it exhausting. Some of it fun. But all of it has been inspiring and life changing and dizzying and yes, profound.

The Book That Matters Most and I are winding down our whirlwind tour that started on August 9. We will be at the Barrington Library tonight at 7, the Waban in Newton MA tomorrow December 14 at 7, and at Dueling Pianos in Providence (thanks most fabulous Reading with Robin, Robin Kall!) on December 20 at 7. Then, dear ones, I am taking a much needed break until the end of January when I'll be in Miami for a reading at FSU.

Until then, I'm going to read a lot, knit a lot, cook a lot, eat a lot, finish my new book about cooking and start my make progress on my new novel THE MUSEUM OF TEARS, drink good wine, nest in my groovy loft, hug the people I love, play cards with my kids and do jigsaw puzzles and...and just revel in December, my favorite month of the year.

Check me on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram (both @annhood56) where I will be posting pictures of Hermia and Gertrude (my new kittens) and probably OF Sam and Annabelle, and definitely of food. Also some new and exciting surprises will show up soon.

This birthday, I am grateful. For all of you who stop here from time to time to see how and where I am. I know you are knitters and readers and grieving moms and old pals and devoted fans. (Ok, I know that some of you are a little nosy too--I don't want to get all Hallmark here!). Thanks for caring enough to click the button that gets you here. See you in January!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving

There are so many years when being thankful comes easy. I remember the year Sam was born and I hosted Thanksgiving with my cousin in my small apartment on Transit Street here in Providence. I'd just moved from NYC seven months earlier (and Sam came along just two weeks later, early) and was homesick. In the past, each of our families held their own Thanksgiving dinner and then visited later in the day. But this year was different: there was a baby. And I tell you we were all giddy with gratitude. Enough gratitude to change a longstanding tradition and combine our Thanksgivings. I had to buy a table and chairs for the occasion, a white farmhouse table with blue and white chairs. We made everyone do a Thanksgiving craft--making turkeys out of their traced hands. I still remember my father drew his watch onto his turkey,  a funny memento that I saved for years. That day a tradition was born: GJ and I have hosted Thansgiving ever since. Today will be our 23rd.

Gratitude was easy to find the year Thanksgiving was held in our big drafty Victorian on Prospect Street. We couldn't afford to furnish the place, so we used folding tables covered in French tablecloths along with that white farmhouse table. That year we had over thirty people--tables in the dining room, the hallway, and one of the double parlors. Sam was three by then, and Grace a two month old in a Snugglie strapped to my chest while I cooked. Just a few weeks earlier, my father had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, and I was leaving for Chimayo NM with Grace and my friend Matt to find him a miracle cure in a few days. (Matt was at this Thanksgiving too, beginning the tradition of flying east from LA and making Thanksgiving cocktails) (my memoir, DO NOT GO GENTLE: MY SEARCH FOR MIRACLES IN A CYNICAL TIME, documents that journey to New Mexico). Even with that prognosis hanging over all of us, that Thanksgiving remains one of the best: people dancing in our empty parlor, my father's glazed carrots, Sam helping to cook for the first time, Grace nestled against me, the guest who danced the tango alone, Matt's Manhattans, my aunt and uncle sweeping the kitchen together, my handsome husband smiling at me across that white farmhouse table, bounty.

Other years, it was hard if not impossible, to be thankful. The year Grace died I had to run out of dinner in my 1792 red Colonial house and into the street, mad with grief. I pulled at my hair and screamed at the sky, comforted by my mother who wrapped me in her arms and gently led me back inside.

There was the Thanksgiving eight or nine years ago when just days earlier I realized this thing I treasured most, my family, was in danger of splitting apart and rather than gratitude at that table I felt sadness and fear and fragility.

This year could be one of those Thanksgivings. But it is perhaps a sign of maturity or age or years of living and losing and loving that instead I wake up this morning, this Thanksgiving, filled with gratitude. A divorce doesn't have to destroy a family, not when there is so much love still. Leaving that home i I made for my family has only led me here, to a new home, already filled with kids and friends and kittens and food and sunshine. I am grateful that my 85 year old mom is coming with the mashed potatoes and her mother's stuffing. Grateful that I've earned my living myself, as a writer! The thing I dreamed of being since I was a little girl. That I bought this loft and this food and wine--and this table, made by hand from NY state trees by my friend Steve of Fabulous Furniture in Woodstock, with my stories. And friends! Such gratitude for the friends who lifted me into their arms after Grace died, who set up my kitchen here and traveled across many states to flatten my boxes and eat take out and sleep beside me on a small bed as I awaited my furniture. Friends who cook me dinner in Miami and listen to me as I unravel and then mend my broken heart. Friends who find me in Maine and Vermont, NYC and California, MA and anywhere I land, who laugh and cry with me as years tumble by and life keeps getting more and more interesting. Gratitude for the person who called my name at Breadloaf long long ago, and kept calling it until I finally listened. Gratitude for finding happiness despite this year's hardness. For picking myself up again and letting that sun shine in every morning when I open my shades to the big beautiful messy world.

And gratitude too for my beloved father for whom even a daughter's love could not find a miracle. For my daughter Grace, here for only five short years and gone now for over fourteen. When I close my eyes I can still hear her throaty voice, still feel her sticky hands and tangled blond hair. Oh! I can still taste my father's glazed carrots!  So sweet, they were. So beautifully sweet.

Sending love and gratitude this thanksgiving to all of you from my cherry and metal table in my loft to all of your tables and hearts. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Grace Happens

Do you remember when there were bumper stickers and mugs and things that said:Grace Happens? Someone gave me one of those stickers when Grace was three or four and I used to have it propped up on my desk. After she died, like so many things, it was too painful to look at every day so I put it away. When I moved last summer I found it again, and now it makes me smile. It's back on my desk where I can see it every day.

I thought about that saying--Grace happens--a lot this week. I did one library talk, three Bookstore readings, and eight+ book club visits from NJ to Sarasota to St. Pete to Tallahassee to Brooklyn to Queens. Lots of miles. Lots of talking. Lots and lots of hugs. And bracketed by two experiences that reminded me that grace does indeed happen.

At the Bernardsville Library in NJ I met a woman who lost her daughter too. She found me here,  and we have been emailing each other for ten years,  finding and giving strength to each other on our daughters birthdays, anniversaries, and the dark hours when grief grabs you and won't let go. But over time we've shared joyful things too. Laughed about our insomnia. Smiled about our other kids as they grow up. To hug her, finally, was grace happening.

Then Friday, exhausted, I made my way to a house in Flushing Queens to visit a book club. I have visited over 60 since August, and met so many lovely people (more grace happening). This book club touched me so deeply that I have to tell you all about it. They were a family--sisters and sister in laws and a wonderful matriarch (85 years young). The warmth and love in that house felt like a giant hug. A hug I still feel. This big happy family had suffered two big losses. A husband/brother  dead too fast and too young; a beloved son lost suddenly. How do we do it? How do we manage to sit together and smile and love even as our hearts are broken? When that mother whose son died four years ago told me that my book COMFORT mattered most to her after losing her son, my heart grew and yes, I felt grace happen.

I've been reminded anew this week that writing and reading and loving hard and big matter most. That grace happens, every day. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Book That Matters Most goes to Florida part 2

If you read my last post you are perhaps wondering: what about Florida? Yes, I am headed there on Sunday after my event at the Bernardsville Library in NJ at 2. Then on to Sarasota and Bookstore One on Tuesday at 10 and the Hermitage at 6:30 that evening on the beach. Finishing up in Tallahassee the next evening at 6:30. Then on to NYC. All details are on my website under EVENTS. 

The Book That Matters Most heads to Florida

It has been pretty divine staying (mostly) in one place these past couple of weeks. Though I had a great time at The Boston Book Festival and the Detroit Book and Author's Luncheon, where I got to share the stage with Richard Russo (BBF), Marisa Silver, Stacey Schiff, and more fabulous writers. And I had a great return visit to a book club (#57!) in Birmingham Michigan after my visit with them almost ten years ago for The Knitting Circle!

But my biggest news is that Annabelle and I brought home two kittens a couple of weeks ago! I always had cats, until my beloved Lewis died in 1994 and his mom Daphne a couple of years later. Living in a household with cat allergies, I happily got our beloved (non allergenic) Bichon Zuzu in 2002, just a couple months before Gracie died. She was so happy to get a dog and ZuZu' was the perfect one for her and Sam--small and fluffy.

Welcome Hermia and Gertrude to the new loft! They are the most lovable kittens I've had the pleasure to know. I will post pictures separately!

Second biggest news: all of my boxes are unpacked! My desk is set up and waiting for me to sit at it and write my new novel, The Museum of Tears. More on that as time goes by. And my dining room table, being built even as I write this, by my pal Steve Heller of Fabulous Furniture in Woodstock NY.   Almost all of my art is hung. And my tunnel (yes, I now own a tunnel) has been painted and leveled.

My first party, with cats and a dining room table and a renovated tunnel, is November 6. With a pre party November 5. When you cook for people, you know you have a home.