Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Day after Christmas

I've had a whirlwind of cookie baking, gift wrapping, Polar Express rehearsals and shows (Annabelle's ballet), visiting and hosting, eating and eating and eating, and lots of love and friends and family. As usually happens on Christmas, we went to bed by eight last night, full and happy  and ready to watch a movie with a wee dram of single malt. Last night's was PITCH PERFECT, a pitch perfect choice for tired middle aged elves. Annabelle was too busy reading HOW THINGS WORK to watch, and Sam had gone off to see DJANGO UNCHAINED. Elf Husband went to sleep straight away, and I stayed up until midnight reading. Then a dream-less sleep until this morning.

Today devoted to packing for our amazing trip to Norway (leaving tomorrow night). That means laundry and packing for two weeks, most of that on a ship to the Arctic Circle and beyond. Lots of books and games and a jigsaw puzzle, the travel coffee pot and two pounds of Pete's, peanut butter and Nutella for when smoked fish grows dull, long underwear and fleece everything. Two days in Bergen on the front end, two days in Oslo on the back end. I've been to Sweden and Denmark, both long ago, so I'm looking forward to adding this Scandinavian country to my travel experiences. I remember learning the word fjord in third grade and vowing to see one some day. Will see plenty next week! Also excited to visit the world's biggest gingerbread village in Bergen, and Munch and Ibsen museums in Oslo. Hopefully New Year's Eve will bring us a bright show of the Northern Lights as well as dog sledding!

Thank you all for the enormous response to last week's Washington Post essay. Below is a link to yesterday's New York Times editorial:

Happy 2013!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

what is on my mind

Please take the time to read my Opinion piece in today's Washington Post:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gray skies

From my bed--yes, I'm still in bed at almost 2:30 in the afternoon--all I can see are gray skies and drizzle. Fitting for the tragedy on Friday, as if the world is weeping. As it should.

It has been very hard to post Facebook updates or write anything here when my heart is so heavy. Thinking of those parents and the difficult grief journey ahead of them just breaks my heart.

Although I needed to finish reading many many student papers and handing in grades (all done online these days, in a never ending cycle of expired passwords and waiting on hold for IT help), and I like to read in bed, I admit I am finding it hard today to get up and get moving. My heart is just too heavy.

But I spoke to my mom a little while ago, and we had a good cry together. Then she told me to get up and go take a walk. She's right. It will make me feel better.

I am wishing us all peace and strength.

Monday, December 10, 2012

If it's Monday and raining, this must be New York City

Seriously. If I was the kind of person who knew how to track down statistics for things like this, I feel confident I could prove that it rains almost every Monday in New York City! But at least it's a lovely warm rain with lots of swirling fog.

First off, I'm a nervous wreck. Lots going on that I can't share, but I'm all jittery and weepy and on edge. Needless to say, I am doing a lot of knitting.

On the good news front, I'm happy to report that I'll have an Op-Ed in the New York Times on Christmas Day. I'll post the link, but please look for it there after you open your presents!

Also on the good news front: this semester is finally winding down. I've never had such a truncated, interrupted semester and it's difficult! But this is the last batch of double classes. Next week I finish with one normal class, and then done! To celebrate, I have my eye on the pop up Zona store in Tribeca. This is where I bought furniture, pottery, candleholders, Christmas presents--all sorts of beautiful things--back in the 80s and 90s in the Soho store. Then one day I went there and it was gone! After something like a dozen years, they are back with this pop up store. That will be my reward for this hard semester. And also going to see the musical of GIANT at the Public Theater! If I feel really decadent, I'm going to see a second play on Sunday...Thinking TRIBES.

I must also report what a wonderful birthday weekend I had. Spent Saturday with friends watching movies and eating Italian food, then on Sunday--the day--hmmm...kind of did the same thing! But ended by seeing Natalie McMasters in concert, a Cape Breton fiddler who fiddled and clogged for three hours! Just felt all warm and fuzzy as I drifted off to sleep last night.

Off now to Magnolia Bakery to buy cupcakes for class.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Waking up to the sound of delivery trucks

I did not sleep without a light on until I was twenty five years old unless someone else was in the room with me. That's how much of a scaredy cat I was. Afraid of ghosts, bad guys, the dark, my own imagination...In hotels on layovers when I was a flight attendant, I slept with not only lights on but also the television turned up full volume. (No wonder I had trouble sleeping!) Then I moved to NYC. I got into my bed--really a door on risers with a piece o foam over it. The lights and sounds from Sullivan Street filled my room just enough to comfort rather than frighten me.I closed my eyes, and New York City lulled me to sleep. Some people find it funny that a place that many find frightening or dangerous makes me feel safe. But I love knowing that right out my window there is an entire world, awake and alive beside me. So this morning when I woke up to the sound of delivery trucks at D'Agostino's across the street, I smiled.

It is warm enough here this week for me to have the windows open, and even as I write this I hear passers by, out early, talking as they move past my window. A car radio played too loud. Car horns in the distance. Mild traffic. The world right there, singing to me.

Yesterday I walked and walked and walked in the beautiful spring like weather. I met a friend for lunch midtown, and then decided to walk up Fifth Avenue, forgetting it was Christmas time. What a delight to stand in front of the windows at Saks and gaze at their Christmas display. I had to go over to Rockefeller Center then to see the tree, and the beautiful angels that line the path to it. I stopped in St. Patrick's Cathedral before heading back home. And then in my neighborhood, street corners filled with Christmas trees for sale greeted me as I emerged from the subway. I know how people grumble about the commercialization of Christmas. I too don't think we should leave our Thanksgiving tables to go and shop at Target. But surely Christmas, like everything in life, is what we make of it. I love the ritual, the smell of Christmas trees, the world lit with tiny white lights, the baby dressed in a Santa onesie, Annabelle still young enough to believe in Santa (and wanting to sew him an apron), our own ornaments, my study filled with gifts I bought with thought and love...Yes, I am a sucker for all of it.

Still catching up on make up classes due to the hurricane. So my hours are spent reading student stories and in class time. So many of my own stories that I want to get back to, but it won't happen for another week or two.

Remember when I was going to knit a blanket for each kid? Well, I have almost finished the first one. Typical knitting problem. Big ideas, too little time to accomplish them. But if I can finish Sam's this week, I might get a third of Annabelle's done before Christmas. She knows about the project, so I can probably get away with wrapping what I have for her.

I'm also getting very excited about the three trips I have on the horizon. (I actually have more than three, but I'm focused on the first bunch!) We leave on December 27 for Norway, and a trip by boat up to the Arctic Circle in search of the Northern Lights. Just a few weeks after we return, Lorne and I are going for a long weekend to Cartagena, Colombia. And then in June Cousin Gina is joining Annabelle and me in Alaska. All three new places to me, so I am full of excitement and dreaming about them.

My January workshop is nice and full. That will be a lovely weekend, I know.

Now, off to meet with a student, then lunch with an old friend, and some Christmas shopping as I make my way back from lunch to here.

Happy knitting to all you knitters! I hope you are making more progress than I am!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

They're here!

Yes! This afternoon I turned the corner and that beautiful smell of Christmas trees greeted me! It was raining here in NYC today, a cold snowy rain. But I paused and watched the guy unbundle some trees and shake off the rain and let their branches open. I love Christmas in New York!

Monday, November 26, 2012


I always feel so corny when I say how much I love Thanksgiving, how grateful I am for so much, how wonderful it was to fill our house with 25 people and have our tables groan with food and laughter. But there you have it. A lovely lovely day.

Of course I think Sam's time at home was too short, even though it was a week! And I didn't get a day to just stay in my pjs and work on my Last Supper jigsaw puzzle the way I imagined. But, I did have a long cold walk on my favorite beach. Turkey pot pie. Sam and Annabelle time aplenty. Top Chef. Knitting. Lots of turkey sandwiches. Lots of love all around.

Now I'm in a frenzy of making up class time lost due to Hurricane Sandy. So I feel like I will never catch up, though of course I will, I always do, we all always do. Still. I'm making myself notes, losing the notes, making more notes, trying to stay on top of all these papers...!!!

But. My birthday is coming, and I do love my birthday. I love this time of year. Every time I emerge from Penn Station and begin my walk down Eighth Avenue, i hope this is the day the Christmas tree guy will be set up and that the smell of Christmas trees and cold air will greet me. Not yet. But I bet next time. My study is already bursting with presents for my loved ones. And we are all getting excited for our trip to Norway. We leave December 27, and Santa is bringing lots of long underwear, hand warmers, and mittens!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, that you found gratitude and felt loved. I hope you ate too much, and smiled too much, and got PJ time. Sometimes it is so hard to feel these things. Sometimes it is impossible. But I hope you got a reprieve from heartache, if just for a little while.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cold, redux

Just when I thought my cold was really really gone, it came back! Ugh. Sam had me use a netty pot and boy, was that weird. I'm not sure it helped, or maybe my cold just is getting worse...

But I had a nice relaxing afternoon on my little NYC bed, a dog on my feet and a cup of tea by my side. It's pretty chilly here, so I was glad to kind of hunker down and do basic tasks like bill paying and record keeping. Ah! the exciting life of a writer!

For writers who might be reading here, I'm happy to announce that my Writing in Tuscany workshop will be held August 23-30, 2013. For details, email me at The wonderful writer Jane Hamilton will be on the faculty, along with return teacher Anne LeClaire. It's a memorable experience. You can check out the farm where it is held at

Off for Chinese food now, which always makes me feel better!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Hudson

What a breathtaking train ride I just took from Albany to Manhattan! We hugged the glorious Hudson the entire way, and I had to stop what I was doing just to gaze out the window. Rain has made the river quite high, and the sunlight today made it shimmer, silvery and fast moving. Sometimes a bridge loomed above. Sometimes trees bent toward it. The time went so quickly that I arrived in NYC surprised to be there.

In another whirlwind of travel, but cannot complain about the weekend spent in Ithaca. The six hour drive with Annabelle early Saturday morning was more fun than I can describe. Fueled by Dunkin' Donuts glazed doughnuts and a big to go coffee for me, we chatted about prehistoric times, cave paintings, and the planets before settling in to listening to the first Boxcar Children Mystery. I bought four on CD, and their old fashioned charm won us both over. When we pulled into Ithaca at lunch time, after listening to the Chocolate Sundae Mystery, I drove directly to Purity Ice Cream where we had ice cream cones for lunch. Got to the college just in time for the matinee of LEGALLY BLOND and a glimpse of Sam who was subterranean while he rehearsed for his opening the next day. The play was fantastic, once again leaving me so impressed by the talent there. After we dropped off a cooler full of meatballs and sauce (from GoGo) and enchiladas (from me), Annabelle and I drove to meet Cousin Gina. The three of us went to the Fine Line Bistro (thank you, Stewart!) for a really yummy dinner.

Next morning I snuck out to Starbucks for lots of coffee and the Sunday Times until Sam woke up and we could go and get him for breakfast at Hal's, the Ithaca diner of legend. Lorne flew in from Portland, OR and landed just as we finished breakfast, so we got him at the airport and then went to hang out at Sam's apartment with his roommates and their parents. We went back to our room for wine and cheese--decided to eat it outside because it was so warm--before hitting the 5:00 DREAM OF THE BURNING BOY. What can I say about watching your child, your son, now a man, performing such an emotional play with such integrity? I was speechless when it ended, and teary eyed.

From there we went to the Commons and met Sam's roomie's parents for happy hour before we all went to the 8:00 show. Then dinner at Maxie's, the boys all aglow from their performances, the parents all aglow from pride. Shrimp and grits and andouille sausage...maybe that's why I didn't sleep very well? But up and out, coffee at Gimme and then the three hour ride to Albany and the train ride above.

I am now off to Uniqlo (quite a walk, which I need after riding all day) to buy a coat I almost bought in London last year and have regretted passing up ever since. Dinner at Otto with my darling friend, teaching at the New School until 10:30, then back here where this time I have a roomie, my good pal who I share this NYC pied a terre with. We are hardly ever here at the same time, so are excited that tonight we are! Slumber party!

Off tomorrow to Charlotte for a talk (and dinner with so many NC friends, cannot wait), then home on Wednesday. But immediately onward to Boston and Grub Streets's gala.

No wonder I am kind of tired today, though feeling very warm and fuzzy, basking in Sam's performance and in this warm weather and the promised of so much good girl friend time over the next few days.

My goal: finish Sam's blanket by end of the week.

Oh! You must read the Patrick Melrose novels. The first four come in one volume, and I cannot stop reading them. Droopy eyed and head bobbing, I have to keep reading every night!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


I actually had to go and but a sweater yesterday when I got to NYC! It's in the low 30s, and gray as winter out there. (Actually, I am not complaining about a new sweater, especially a long ribbed purple one...) And I am going to wear that sweater again today when I venture outside. But meanwhile it is nice to stay under the covers and watch them unloading a truck in front of D'Agostino's across the street. I'm sipping my coffee and actually getting writing done, trying to motivate myself to walk to the corner for breakfast...

Thank you to everyone who emailed me asking if we were hit hard by hurricane Sandy. Last year, Irene knocked our power out for days and days. But we were luckier this time and just had the rain and winds. Not so the beautiful Rhode Island beaches, which have suffered damage and erosion. And NYC's damage just breaks my heart. Rockaway and Breezy Point and Staten Island, as well as Long island and Jersey shore...they are still suffering out there, and I am--like all of us--sending my prayers and hopes their way. I was in the East Village yesterday (read: aforementioned new sweater and a new pair of glasses after I sat on mine) and didn't see any damage, though I know they lost power for a long time and had flooding. As I took my usual walk from Penn Station, through Chelsea to the West Village, I thought the streets seemed quieter, emptier. Maybe that's due to the power and heat problems? Or maybe just due to the cold weather...

Thank you too to everyone who sent me kind thoughts yesterday commemorating my brother's birthday. Hard to believe he would have been 61, had he not died in a stupid accident thirty years ago. To read about him, go to this link to a piece I wrote in the NYT:

For those who have asked about my February workshop, JUMPSTART YOUR NOVEL: yes, if you are writing a full length memoir, this workshop would work for you too. I'm really excited to teach this, and excited that it is almost full! I can fit 2-4 more people, so if you are interested, please let me know ASAP. Details are on my last blog. And once we are full I will send further details to everyone.

Don't forget to vote! On election day, I always get very emotional. How lucky I am to be an American, to have this privilege...

Just a quick note about what I am reading and what I am knitting.

Started the first book of the Patrick Melrose novels last night and immediately fell in love. Lucky for me, I bought all four in one volume! I didn't even realize that. But boy am I glad that when I finish one I can go right to the next one!

Also read THE VANISHING ACT, and if you want to be completely charmed, read this book. Loved it!

Happily, I returned to my Friday noon knitting circle and resumed work on my socks. Have no idea what I am doing, but having fun doing it! And one and a half skeins from finishing Sam's blanket, which gives me no time to knit the next two before Christmas. Still, I will keep at it! If you want to see a great collection of knitting pictures, LIKE the Facebook page: il club dei ricordi. My Italian publisher set it up and it rocks!

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Any writers out there who are interested in attending my weekend workshop, JUMPSTART YOUR NOVEL, should email me here.

The workshop will be held at the end of February here in Rhode Island. It will get you ready to write by helping you answer the questions that you need to ask before you begin writing your novel. You will leave on Sunday with a concrete plan and inspiration to begin.

Arrival is on Friday, February 22, in time for dinner. That night we will talk about your idea for the novel you want to write. Saturday morning I will teach you how I begin my novels, taking you through the steps I put myself through before I begin. After lunch, you will go off and prepare those steps for your novel. Sunday morning we'll share what we've done and I'll give the comments you need to have your plan ready to put into action. When you leave after lunch on the 24th, you will be ready to write your novel!

There will be s'mores, opportunities to hike, reflect, meet other writers.

Space is limited!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


After four days with Hurricane Sandy in Miami--lots of wind and rain--I was worried that I wouldn't get home before it hit the northeast. The day before I left (Saturday) was perfect weather: sunny and cool and breezy in beautiful Miami. But the weather reports had me itching to get on a flight home. Took a 6:45 one to Newark, rumors swirling that EWR was closing at noon. My connecting flight to Providence left at 11:51 and I made it! Kept thinking about getting stuck without Annabelle in NYC, and for how long that might be. Grateful to be at home as the storm hit, playing Connect Four and doing jigsaw puzzles. Hosted a couple of hurricane dinners. One, chicken with grapes, couscous, green beans, apple crisp. The other, spaghetti carbonara, garlic bread, olive oil grape cake (which I just finished off for breakfast). Tonight we'll eat sandwiches with all the fixings I bought in case we lost electricity.

Now that I've sighed with relief, I have to say how upset I've been watching the destruction in my beautiful NYC. New Yorkers are the strongest, most resilient people around, and they will be fine. But it breaks my heart to see so much underwater or ruined.

Here in RI, one of my favorite spots, The Coast Guard House, is destroyed. Brings back memories of nights spent on its deck, drinking beers and watching the ocean. I hope they too can rebuild.

It is nice however to be at home non-stop, get work done, play with Annabelle, cook and read and enjoy family, friends, and home...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Haven't stopped moving yet

I know, I know, I know. I haven't caught up on emails yet. I'm behind on just about everything. When I said Yes! to everything this fall, I knew that some time, probably mid-October, I would short circuit and  the time is now. Add jet lag to the mix and you've got stressed out me!

But I am heading to beautiful Miami on Wednesday, and though it is work, I always de-stress there. Warm weather. Palm trees. Good food. Good friends. And I am hoping to steal some time to get my proposal for a new novel in shape, which would make me feel oh so happy.

In NYC now and had the great pleasure of coming down with Annabelle. She is such a good traveling companion, and is off to watch the debate and eat ravioli with Cousin Chip while I teach. She got to go to the Book Room at Penguin and scored a LOT of books. She's already read two and is lugging her bag o' books across Greenwich Village now.

Sam's visit home was a whirlwind, if whirlwinds can be too short. No sooner did he land then we were talking about his ride back. But we managed to squeeze in some good dinners (spaghetti and meatballs at Gogo's, big fat steaks at home, slow cooker pulled pork) and even a Name Game before I dropped him off in Hartford and cried my way back home.

I am looking forward to a more peaceful state of mind, more time at home and some overdue nesting.

Lots of traveling means lots of time to read, and I have to recommend STONER, THE YELLOW BIRDS, and THE VANISHING ACT. All novels so good I wish I had written them.

Still knitting Sam's blanket, and started a new thank you dishcloth. My new knitting room has proven to be the refuge I had hoped for, and even in this hectic time I have managed to find a few moments there to cast on and knit a few rows...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Home from Italy

What a week! What a wonderful week. Highlights, in no particular order:

Porcini. Raw in salad. Cooked in risotto. On top of steak. On top of pizza. Roasted with potatoes.

The Last Supper. Breathtaking.

Drinking wine in the garden in Milan.

Having interviews with Italian media and an interpreter.

Drinking prosecco with myItalian team.

La Scala.

Florence. Everything about it.

Our suite in the palazzo.

Our rooftop dinner and the 360 view of Florence at night.

The pontes at sunset.

Gelato. Lemon for me. Strawberry for Gogo. Coconut for Annabelle.

My event at the bookstore next to the Duomo.

Talking with all the Italian knitters.

Drunken spaghetti.

Volpe wine bar.

The David.

Sipping cappuccino at a sidewalk cafe.

Florentine steak.

My new suede coat.

Watching Annabelle fall in love with Florence.


Wine tasting and lunch at the winery.

The fog over the hills in Piemonte.

Church bells.

Zucchini blossoms fried. And stuffed in ravioli.

Steak tartare.

Drinking wine with Cousin Gina every evening.

Room service.

Apricot tart and fresh figs.


A week with Gogo and Annabelle and Cousin Gina.

And then:

getting pink roses at Logan.

Sipping the single malt from London Duty Free in my own bed.

Waking up at home. Missing Italy. Loving being back...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Sore arms from lugging too many bags, sore throat from talking too much! Still on the road, waking up in my NYC apartment with my mind already listing everything that I have to get done before we leave for Italy on Sunday. My favorite and best sleep is my jet lag sleep, so I am already looking forward to falling into that bed in the hotel in Milan and sleeping hard! But that isn't until Monday, which makes it easy to invoke Robert Frost and say I have miles to go before I sleep...

I have almost finished another dish rag, this one all yellow and pink and purple. I'm knitting these for all the wonderful generous writers who are sending blurbs for THE OBITUARY WRITER. I'm knitting thank you into every stitch.

Making progress too on Sam's Wave blanket. Only two more skeins to go before it's finished and I start Annabelle's. Will I get all three done by Christmas????

On the reading front, I started THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY last night and fell immediately in love with it. The first sentence: "The letter that changed everything arrived on Tuesday." Yes! How hard it is for me to convince beginning writers that the event that puts the story into motion shouldn't be obscured. They worry about being too clear, an instinct I understand. But this simple opening completely captivated me, as did every sentence that followed. My only complaint is that I was too sleepy to read more than a dozen pages last night. The author is Rachel Joyce. Read this one!

Well, I am off now to get a haircut. My hair has gotten ridiculously long since my last haircut in Florence in November! So Nissan will have quite a job this morning! There's nothing like a haircut to lift a girl's spirits and start her day off with some excitement.

And then I am home tonight, giving Annabelle the silly little presents I bought her in Baltimore--a stencil of hieroglyphics and a pink bendy eraser--and a million hugs. Off to NC first thing in the morning, and then Friday home again.

Time to pack up my little pink suitcase and head off into the NYC morning. I hope you are getting more rest than I am!

Friday, September 28, 2012


I am really collecting Amtrak miles this week! Did my usual trip to NYC on Monday and then home Tuesday. Digression: Before I left on Monday, I put a flank steak in a Ziplock bag with a marinade and threw in some sliced portabella mushrooms. Got home Tuesday at 7, threw that flank steak on the grill, and had the most yummy dinner in no time!

Anyway. Thursday took a train back to NYC, connected to the Long Island Railroad, and did a really terrific event at the Northport Library. Doris there is an amazing librarian, and her kids' book club was such fun! The trek back to Manhattan got me to bed after 11, and I overslept this morning, waking to that gorgeous sound of rain. Loved lying in bed and gazing out the window at the rainy street. And the rain did not keep my buddy from meeting me for breakfast before I went back to Penn Station and boarded yet another train to DC this time.

I'm always impressed anew when I step into Union Station here. What a gorgeous building! And then out to the street with the statues and all the marble. Just beautiful. Unfortunately I got right in a car and was taken to the oxymoronic Crystal City. Climbed into bed at the Hyatt and am about to take a cat nap before my talk tonight.

In the morning: another train! To Baltimore and the Baltimore Book Festival. Hoping to get to the Museum of Visionary Arts in the afternoon, then dinner with an old friend.

My panel with Susan Straight is on Sunday at 3, followed by my good friend Laura Lippman's, and onward to dinner with them.

Monday: the train back to NYC! I am getting a lot of knitting done, folks!

Tuesday: the train back home!

Then I am off--by plane--to Wilmington, NC for a few days at UNC there.

I will have just a couple of days to be home, do laundry and pack for a week in Italy. I've got miles to go before I sleep, but that trip is nearing and I'm just starting to get excited...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Day After

Well, yesterday was simply one of the saddest days I've had in years. Was it because it would have been Grace's sixteenth birthday, that milestone in every kid's life? Was it because I had to spend the day alone here in NYC to teach? Oh, it's pointless I suppose to try to understand why some days just slay you. This one did.

Then the oddest thing happened. Those of you who read this blog regularly might remember that just last week I thought about contacting someone who has been out of my life for some time. I didn't do it. Last night, feeling so melancholy, I walked back from The New School after class, lost in my thoughts. It was in so many ways a perfect fall evening: chilly and clear and all good NYC things. But sad me just wanted to crawl into bed with a glass of single malt and a good book, go to sleep and wake up to the day after. I turned onto Bethune Street, and was right in front of my building when seemingly out of nowhere that very person appeared. I was so startled that I called his name, and he was so startled to see me there.

We stood beneath the lamplight talking for quite some time. Laughing. Catching up. In many ways it was as if no time had passed. He remembered that it was Grace's birthday, and that remembering and acknowledging it reminded me why I had loved this guy so much in the first place.

So much is lost in life. People we love. Friendships gone awry. Misunderstandings and mistakes. Somehow seeing him this way was just what I needed. We hugged goodbye, a good hard hug. Part of me wanted to stand on that street all night. Part of me wanted to make a plan to see each other again. What can be repaired? What can be regained? I really feel that this serendipitous meeting was some kind of divine intervention.

I came inside and got in bed. And it was after midnight. The day after had arrived, and I was grateful.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

All these places had their moments With lovers and friends I still can recall Some are dead and some are living In my life I've loved them all...

One of my all time favorite songs, and sums up how I am feeling today. September brings such bittersweetness with it. As Grace'a birthday approaches, I can't help but relive the wonderful days leading up to it. Sam had just started pre-school at Gordon, and my midwife thought the baby was coming earlier than expected (my due date was October 1), so I explained to his teacher that I might disappear soon to have my baby girl. Her eyes popped. "You're pregnant?!" she said. "Nine months," I told her. Grace was only 6 pounds, three ounces. Such a calm and beautiful baby.

We went to a fundraiser at Slater Mill and I sipped my first glass of wine in months, with midwife's blessing. I remember the blousey black dress I wore, the cool September air, how happy I was. Grace was just days away.

The night before I went into labor, I ate pasta with pesto because my midwife said pesto helped bring on labor. I woke early with the first signs. Lorne was off to a meeting in Boston, so Sam and I stayed in bed together talking about his new baby sister coming, me with one eye on the clock as I timed my pains. Soon enough, I called my father who came and brought Sam to school, then took me for a midwife visit. She told me the baby would be born that night and I should go home and eat to build up my strength. My father made me my favorite beef stew and I ate it up. Lorne arrived back home and the pains were coming fast and furious. While he loaded the car, I lay on the floor of our foyer, which is where our new nanny found me. She'd been with us about three days! We got to the hospital around 4, and Grace was born at 6:40 PM.

There have been moments these past few days when I miss her with such intensity that I actually double over.

My family has had such a big loss this year with the death of Auntie Dora in a car accident. And then my mother's best friend died just a few weeks ago. Maybe this is why this year feels especially sad, and makes me think of other people I've lost, like my friends Barbara and Karla.

But also people I've lost over misunderstandings or bad behavior. This morning I almost emailed an old friend who is the only person who would enjoy a funny thing that happened to me. A few years ago we had a falling out and although I hear about him from time to time, and have even glimpsed him, I stay away. Today I thought: why not? and looked up his email address. But I chickened out. And I reminded myself WHY we're not friends anymore. Do I really want to open that door? Yet I am in such a sentimental weepy mood, that I want to reconnect with everyone I've loved, let bygones be bygones, and have them back in my life.

Maybe we should all email an old friend we've lost today...

As I often do when sadness takes hold of me, I read poetry. Today I found comfort in Ruth Stone and Yeats, and this by Emily Dickinson:

I measure every Grief I meet (561)

by Emily Dickinson

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes – 
I wonder if It weighs like Mine – 
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long – 
Or did it just begin – 
I could not tell the Date of Mine – 
It feels so old a pain – 

I wonder if it hurts to live – 
And if They have to try – 
And whether – could They choose between – 
It would not be – to die – 

I note that Some – gone patient long – 
At length, renew their smile –  
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil – 

I wonder if when Years have piled –  
Some Thousands – on the Harm –  
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –  

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve – 
Enlightened to a larger Pain –  
In Contrast with the Love –  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Autumn in New York

Stepped out of Penn Station into the most perfect autumn weather here in NYC. As I walked down 8th Avenue to my little sublet on Bethune Street, I had a smile on my face. How I love the fall here. The crisp cool air and blue sky, the thrum of the city streets. And today I woke up to another perfect autumn day. Watching big white puffy clouds in that blue sky out my window.

Lots of teaching this semester to prepare for none next semester when i hit the road for THE OBITUARY WRITER publicity.

I'm already teasing out a new idea for a new novel, which is always exciting. I love the time when the characters and the story live only in my head almost as much as I love when I start to write that story. There is something so private and exhilerating about carrying a story around with me that no one knows yet. I like rewriting sentences in my mind, changing characters' names and playing with the structure, with HOW to tell the story, all while walking down the street or sipping my coffee. Just me and my story. This phase can last quite a while, so the timing is good--teaching a lot takes away writing time. But I don't need the writing time at the computer yet.

So my story and me are off into this beautiful autumn day...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

First Day of School

Oh, September! Such a mixed bag of emotions for me. The new pencil chalk dust memories. The pictures of each of my kids standing in front of school with backpacks bigger than them. And 1996, nine months pregnant with Grace, Sam off to pre-school, and women who would become my friends for life still new faces. September. Always a symbol of hope for me. Of promise. Grace born on September 24. The most beautiful baby I ever laid eyes on. F. Scott Fitzgerald's 100th birthday. Surely a fortuitous day. A promise for a bright future. And so when September comes now, after losing my Gracie too soon, I find myself both hopeful and sad; eager to pack lunches and sharpen pencils and bake cookies; and paralyzed by grief.

But let me count my blessings: Gogo turned 81 yesterday. Annabelle went off to third grade with a gap toothed smile. Sam got the lead in a play at school. I'm teaching and writing, knitting and reading. In a month I'll be in Italy, even as I plan trips to Norway and Alaska over the next year.

And oh! I had that beautiful funny smart little girl for five years! A blessing that.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Goofing Off

Well...not exactly. But after a spring spent mostly revising my new novel, and a summer spent mostly teaching, I find myself unmotivated this week. Lots of puttering around the house, lots of cooking, lots of just being.

We are in the midst of rearranging some rooms, a project that has been ongoing since we bought the house in 1999 and which in spurts goes full speed ahead. What used to be my knitting room is now Annabelle's studio for her art and homework and playing. What used to be the guest room is soon to be my new knitting room. Just got a daybed with pretty duvets and a big armoire for it. The couch from my old knitting room is now in the TV room. The club chair from the old puzzle room is also up in the TV room now. The love seat in the fancy living room has been recovered in red flowers and stripes, and two new red chairs have been brought in. The reds look dazzling against the dark green walls! Love it! And the puzzle room has been transformed by the re-covering of our faded old green wingback into a bright blue and white pattern with an ottoman in a different blue and white. Plus my new puzzle table and my pink Cadillac lamp. Also: got rid of the old dining room chairs (yay!) and have the red leather ones with the seats done in a red, white and gold pattern at the table. Everything looks so fresh and pretty and colorful! Who knows, someday we may actually get the kitchen re-done (a girl can only hope!)

I have been making tomato pies in batches of twos, and they are getting eaten as fast as I make them! I have been making it since the recipe first appeared in Gourmet about a thousand years ago, and I only make it when tomatoes are fresh--like now! It is one of those recipes you simply can't ruin. It calls for either scallions or basil, though I almost always use fresh basil from my garden, last night I used both and it was terrific! Any good melting cheese works. The biscuit crust makes up in the food processor. Delicious no matter what. Here's a link to it:

Last night I also made Curried Chicken salad with cashews. Yummy! Two nights before I made Chinese Chicken Salad. Ditto with the yumminess.

I went out for dinner a couple of nights ago at Cafe Zelda in Newport. It was such a perfect night there. Steak au poivre delish. Even though when I left and slid gracefully across the banquette I dragged the corner of the tablecloth with me, and pulled off everything on the table--wineglasses, plates, water glasses, everything! And yes, it all broke. Still had a good dinner...

I am getting my usual back to school blues, but trying to treat myself kindly and take each day slowly. This is probably also why I am very unmotivated this week.

However, Annabelle has had a dazzling array of play dates, sewing classes, and trips to fun spots, like the Aquarium and Staples for supplies :)

We are throwing a dinner for several friends who are dropping their kids off at Brown on Saturday. I'll be making: figs stuffed with gorgonzola, wrapped with prosciutto, and baked; over roasted tomatoes with feta; (Olga's) cornmeal crust pizza; pork tenderloin with roasted garlic, herbs and bacon; corn salad; pasta with pesto and peas. A cornucopia of summer!

Sunday it's off to the Cape with friends. I intend to bring  book and my knitting, to sit by the water, to drink some nice cocktails, and say goodbye to summer...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Last day at Bread Loaf

Always a sad time when Bread Loaf comes to an end. I first came here as a contributor in 1984 and it changed my life. Bread Loaf made me realize I was a writer, and I left here that long ago summer day a different person than I was when I arrived.

So many new friends made, so much time spent with old friends.

Last workshop this afternoon. Last readings this evening. Then a dance and packing and rising early for the drive home.

I am looking forward to next week and spending every day with Annabelle--horseback riding and sewing lessons, a trip to the Bronx Zoo and the New Bedford Aquarium. Time to buy school supplies, pencils and notebooks and markers.

After all this time, the beginning of the school year still feels like the beginning of something new to me. Some people make resolutions at New Year's. I find that I make them now, as the afternoon light changes and children wear new shoes and backpacks.

This fall I am going to put myself on a schedule, partially because I have so much work and partially for comfort. Back to Pilates and yoga. Back to a work schedule. And even an attempt at a housekeeping schedule ("Your house," someone said standing in my kitchen and looking around, "looks like people live here." I think that's a good thing?), or at least at getting my knitting room finally finished...

Half done with my second Wave blanket, the purples a beautiful combo.

More knitting this fall. More reading.

Fresh starts are always a good thing, yes?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bread Loaf light

The most perfect weather here on the mountain. Cool and sunny by day, downright chilly at night. In the afternoon, the light turns everything golden. Not unlike Tuscany, someone commented to me yesterday. And I have to agree. By my guess, I've heard over 60 readings at this point. Some will certainly resonate long after I leave here and return home to the end of summer, to Labor Day dinner parties and then Gogo's 81st birthday dinner. Sam will already be back at college when I get home on Saturday. But Gogo and I are driving up to Ithaca the weekend after Labor Day to bring him supplies, and of course to just have some Sam time.

As the conference here wanes, only two more workshops, one more lawn party, my thoughts of course turn toward fall, with a heavy schedule of teaching and more conferences ahead. My thoughts turn too, to September, Grace's birthday, the grief already rising in me. A birthday, a day that held such hope. Now it holds such sadness over all that's been lost. Last night I dreamed of her grown, a teenager flitting through our ordinary family days, a smile so dazzling that I woke with a broken heart...

Readers here know that travel has always provided escape and comfort. So my thoughts turn also alight on our winter Nordic trip, another week in Jackson Hole in December, and beyond to Alaska next summer. Already my night table is groaning beneath the weight of guidebooks, my imagination has taken hold of moose and glaciers, of fjords and the hope of a glimpse of the Northern lights...

Friday, August 17, 2012

Atop Bread Loaf Mountain

Here I sit in my lovely cabin at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, watching rain approach, the maple and birch leaves rustling on the trees. I first came here as a student in 1984 (or was it 1985?), then returned as a Fellow in 1987 with my first novel SOMEWHERE OFF THE COAST OF MAINE. Since then, I've come back to teach, and this summer I have a really terrific non-fiction writing workshop. In so many ways, being here feels like coming home. Lots of work. Lots of wine. Lots of ideas and readings, lectures and late nights talking about things both heady and silly.

This time made even better because I have Annabelle and a nanny with me! Makes a huge difference to have her here. Sam got home last night, and I am just dying to see him. BUt--big sigh--must wait until he comes to Vermont on Sunday.

For the next two hours, I get a break after a day and a half of pretty steady work. So I/m going to make this brief, read the NYT, take a cat nap, and then go to the 4:14 reading.

For you writers out there, I am teaching my online Personal Essay class through 24 Pearl Street, September 17-October 12. Go to to sign up!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Best Newport Memories

I can't think of too many things greater than sitting in the bookstore of the astounding, jaw dropping Breakers mansion in Newport, surrounded by young readers and the four books of THE TREASURE CHEST. But that's how I spent yesterday afternoon, and it was such a wonderful day that I couldn't help but think of other wonderful times in Newport.

As I battled street clogging traffic (why do people drive SUVs there on those narrow streets? Maddening!) that included bicyclists, pedestrians, and even a skateboarder or two darting in and out of side streets and parked cars, I thought I might have a nervous breakdown. And my mind took me back to Newport before all the renovation and touristy stuff, when I was a youngun' and my father was based there. I think we even used to take a ferry to get to Newport! For me then, it was sailors in there dress whites and ships and ice cream; eating at the base and begging my parents for toys from the Exchange; our grocery carts bulging down the aisles of the Commissary.

In college we used to go to a restaurant/bar called Yesterdays. The wharf area had a few places, but it wasn't as crowded, and a gang of girls could have a lot of fun! And we did!

I remember too the first time the Tall Ships came to Newport and a guy took me in a Boston Whaler to see them. Fog descended and we traveled in circles for a long time, finding it funny instead of scary. How impressive those ships were to me! I went back several times to see them, loving the different uniforms the sailors from all over the world wore. In my memory, we drank and ate at the Black Pearl...but that could be a trick of time.

This year we couldn't get tickets to the Newport Folk Festival (sold out in March!) but I remember my cousin and me taking Sam, age four months and dressed in a tie dyed onesie. Joan Baez singing Diamonds and Rust as the day drew to a close. And then all the folk festivals heard from our sailboat, Obsession (and later, Rogue), full of friends and food and wine and music. Of course, there was the year that the hubby got us a spot and then went off in the dinghy back to land to attend a funeral. We opened the wine and listened to the music and ate, as the boat drifted and smacked right into another boat. Ok. That isn't in the best memory category...

But last year we went with friends (by land) and got to hear Emmylou Harris and Pete Seeger close the festival. I stood there singing Where Have All the Flowers Gone with everyone, crying like crazy.

Ah! Newport! Land of traffic and tourists, music and sailors, mansions and sailboats, warm and lovely memories...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Planning a big dinner party

I won't go into detail again about how these new storm windows don't allow an air conditioner to fit. Instead, I will just announce that I went to Sears yesterday and bought an AC unit on wheels that sits right on the floor and blasts me with cold air. I can think clearly again!

And with that clarity, I turn my attention to my big dinner party Thursday night. Just finished planning the menu and making the shopping list.

Matunuck oysters
stuffed quahogs
pie (baked by my guest of honor! note to self: always invite a guest who bakes pies)

Today I bought pint Mason jars to serve the gazpacho
Tomorrow I will make that gazpacho, using the Pioneer Woman's recipe, and keep it chilled
Shop for the paella and put out all my tableware (husband is conveniently out of town but did retrieve the long folding table from the basement and put it in the yard before he left)
Buy lots of rioja
Day of party, pick up oysters (already shucked!) and stuffies (autocorrect wants these to be stuffs, but here in RI they are stuffies)
Make paella that afternoon; bake the stuffies
Set beautiful table outdoors (maybe do dance to keep rain away?)
That's it!

I am trying to figure out where I can get cute little forks for those stuffies...and maybe some twinkly lights...and I think I'm going to set Pandora with The Girl From Ipanema--I know it's not Spanish! But I was at a brunch in Beautiful Portland, OR and that's what the brilliant host had on and it was just perfect music.

Sigh. I love dinner parties...

Too hot to knit. But I will take my new Wave blanket along to Bread Loaf next week, where hopefully there will be some knitting weather.

If you are in Newport on Saturday, come to the Breakers on Bellevue Avenue and see me between 1 and 4!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Didn't Hemingway write standing up?

Maybe he was also sweltering and needed to stand in front of a fan--like me right now. We got new storm windows back in the fall and they open out instead of up, so our air conditioner can't sit in the window. I am about to melt. I keep reminding myself that i am not as hot as when we were in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. That's my bar for hot. I've had about six glasses of water with lemon and cucumber slices, and I'm still parched. Ugh.

Dinner tonight: cantaloupe and prosciutto; tomato mozzarella salad with pesto; Gogo's spaghetti and meatballs. Note this requires me to NOT cook. Boil water. Slice melon. Drizzle pesto.

Back to NYC early tomorrow with GJ and Annabelle. We have tickets to NEWSIES on Saturday and a musical of Skippyjon Jones on Sunday. If you have kids and you haven't discovered the Skippyjon Jones books yet, stop reading this and go and buy them. We also have them on CD to listen in the car, and they never fail to make me laugh.

Last week's trip was such fun. Seeing INTO THE WOODS in Central Park was a real experience. The next day I took Annabelle and her buddy Ella to two bookstores and it made my heart sing to atch them sit and read until I had to force them out so I could get to the radio station to tape my later installment for NPR's The Story. Link to it below!

ONCE was sold out, so we saw ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS instead and boy, did I love that play! I highly recommend it. We spent the next morning at the Central Park Zoo where we got to see some really good polar bear action. Then on to my event at the NYPL with kids before getting the train home.

I am happy to drive tomorrow though--my car has very good AC!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Eloise, Sondheim, the Library with the lions out front, and all things NYC

Oh! To wake up to a day with no humidity! Bliss! I suffered enough with humidity and no air conditioning last week that when my house turned into a kiln, I checked into the Hope Club up the street for two chilly nights. Felling very Eloise. The Olympics, a good chardonnay, forays out to nearby restaurants, the AC turned on as cold as it could go...Then: rain and a break in the weather and I returned home.

Doubly happy for the cooler weather because Annabelle and I are headed to NYC for a few days, and the thought of traipsing around with an 8 year old in humid 90+ degree heat did not appeal to me. Instead, we are getting perfect made to order weather. Yay!

Also excited to use my Amtrak reward points for free first class tickets on the Acela roundtrip. That means we will get fed and watered and have nice cushy seats for games of Uno and lots of reading.

After we drop our stuff at the apartment in the West Village, we'll hit a playground with my friend and his daughter. Tonight Annabelle will sleep at her friend's in Chelsea while I meet up with two buddies for dinner at Ouest, followed by INTO THE WOODS in Central Park. I saw the original with an old, long time beau and remember being dazzled by Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters (and the beau!)

On Tuesday we are heading back to Central Park, this time to the zoo there, which is Annabelle's favorite zoo. I'm taping an episode for Dick Gordon's The Story on NPR (about crushes) and then we'll  try our luck at TKTS, the half price ticket line. I am hoping for ONCE or HARVEY.

Wednesday Annabelle will come with me to my event at the New York Public Library at 1PM for THE TREASURE CHEST. Beforehand, we are going to a store that sells kids' books in French so she can finish her summer reading. Then back on the train and home again...until Saturday when she and I return to NYC.

That's right. We have tickets to see NEWSIES on Saturday with cousin GJ. And GJ just called to tell us that she also got tickets to Skippyjon Jones on stage at the Lucille Lortel Theater on Sunday. If your kids haven't discovered the Skippyjon books, the time has come. He is a cat who thinks he's a chihuahua, and the are hilarious. We even have two of them on tape that play non stop in the car, with Annabelle reading along from the books.

If I wasn't racing to pack for NYC trip 1, I would paste in pictures here of Eloise and Skippyjon and maybe even Bernadette Peters. But I need to get moving, so please imagine those photos right here:

And speaking of kids' books: The Treasure Chest, Book Four, Prince of Air is about to appear in your local bookstore! It is my favorite one so far and I hope you and yours like it too!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Home sweet home

Why is it that every time I return from a trip away from my family my flights are delayed? Two weeks ago it was US Air in PHL. Last night Southwest in BWI. Two hours late, and all I wanted was to be at home. Ate an awful airport crab cake and had a couple glasses of pinot noir, which combined with the fabulous book I'm reading made the wait less dreadful.

That book, by the way, is THE RETURN OF JOHN EMMETT by Elizabeth Speller. Read it! I have a weird theory that everyone has empathy for a particular war, (I know we have it for all wars, but somehow we tend to especially connect with movies and books about a certain war) and mine is WW I. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is one of my favorite books and movies, as is GRAND ILLUSION. Maybe it's because I love the literature and history that followed that war? Anyway, this novel takes place right after WW I, and is just wonderful.

I recommend too the short story by Tessa Hadley called "An Abduction" from the New Yorker. It blew me away.

So I finally made it home by midnight, and am having one of those catch up days: cleaned out the fridge, gathered laundry, paid bills, grocery shopped, etc etc. All done happily because I'm happy to be here!

The Conference is always emotionally tough. But helping Karen Holmes to teach over thirty bereaved parents to knit made it all worthwhile. I feel like I really gave them something that can bring them comfort when they get back home.

Now I am working on two dinner parties, one small and one big. For both, I want to smoke my own salmon, so I've been comparing recipes this afternoon. Then, for small party: cold melon soup, beer can chicken, corn on the cob, and watermelon/feta salad. Dessert maybe grilled peaches...For big party: gazpacho, roasted garlic pork tenderloins wrapped in bacon, piles of garlicky greens, and maybe smoky beans. Dessert? My buddy is making three pies!

In a few minutes I have to go outside (it is hot and steamy out there) and check the condition of the smoker. It probably needs some elbow grease. But I have to get that salmon smoking tomorrow for party #1, which is Wednesday.

Was not at all glad to find mice have moved in to the kitchen. Ugh. I have scrubbed everything and wiped up mouse droppings--gross! Apparently we are catching two a night. Maybe last night's catch was the final one...

Bright striped dish cloth is finished. First Wave blanket is also finished. I'm starting a second dish rag and a second blanket!

Dinner with Gogo and Annabelle tonight. Then Annabelle and I will hit the library and come home and read. Bliss!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn't hurt the untroubled spirit, either."

That is a quote from the brilliant uber knitter Elizabeth Zimmerman, and so suits my day today. I am still here in Costa Mesa, CA at the Compassionate Friends National Conference. Yesterday I gave my presentation, Lessons from the Knitting Circle, which always brings a nice crowd (we had over 50!) and which, I hope, helps grieving parents to find an unexpected place of comfort. Today, the amazing Karen Holmes, owner of Fresh Purls in Providence, is teaching a beginners knitting class. She flew across the country, toting thirty knitting bags of yarn and needles, to give this gift to people who need it. I am humbled by her generosity and her spirit. Looking forward to this afternoon, when we will run the workshop. Hopefully, I will not have to actually teach any knitting...

I finished my Waves blanket this week, and am about to begin a second one (the plan being to knit one for each kiddo by Christmas) today. Also finished my first of the bright striped dishcloth ( made with Lion Brand kitchen vintage yarn. I have been slow to post pictures, but I need to show these babies off:

Image of Bright Stripes Dishcloths

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

at the Compassionate friends National Conference

This is a rough one to write about. But I know that so many of you who read this are bereaved parents, and so I wanted to write about my day here today for all of you. Ten years ago, after Grace died, we learned about the Compassionate Friends, an organization for families who have lost children. Unfortunately, in 2002, our local chapter met at Hasbro Children's Hospital, where Grace--and many of the children whose parents attending those meetings--had died. And I just could not walk through those doors. In fact, driving past the hospital on Route 95, I had that strange counterintuitive impulse--to look, and to look away. But my husband went immediately to a meeting, and perhaps because he's a better group person than I am (I am a terrible group person! I was kicked out of the Girl Scouts!), or who knows why, he found comfort there. One night, he was out of town and I went into a kind of panic, as I did often those days, and decided to go to a CF meeting, dragging along my stalwart friend Sarah. And it was just as awful as I had feared to walk through those doors, and like I always do in groups I said too much, or the wrong thing, or whatever. So it was a colossal failure all around. I bought Sarah a lot of drinks afterward to thank her for coming with me. Did I go back another time? I don't remember (those months were such a blur) but somehow, between Lorne attending and me having been, we found these other couples who agreed we needed to meet more than once a month, and so we did. In our living room, with wine and sweets, all of our children having died very close together and all suddenly. I cannot tell you what we spoke about those nights, or how we knew somehow when we were all strong enough to stop meeting (much much later). All I know is that these people became a lifeline to us. And that, in a way, is what Compassionate Friends does. It offers a lifeline. A lifeline when you are drowning in grief.

I began to give talks, and was a keynote speaker once, at the National Conferences. I remember the first one I went to in Oklahoma City, so hot and humid, me alone, the crowds of grieving parents, many of them wearing buttons with pictures of their dead children on them, and it seemed both relentless and necessary. I remember going to the memorial for the bombing there, and sitting by it and sobbing under that strong sun. I remember sitting alone and eating barbecue, and trying to make sense of not just my loss but of all those children smiling out at me from those buttons. I thought  that I would never do that again. Yet I did. Year after year. And always I felt the same mixture of emotions.

When I was elected to the board, I thought I could give back to all the people who were my lifelines after Grace died. A small thing to do to pay tribute to them, to Grace, to--pardon my hyperbole--to lifelines. So here I am in Costa Mesa, CA. All day: board meeting on topics big and (seemingly) small. A Restaurant Impossible marathon on tv, a double shot of single malt whiskey at my side. Because those emotions are all on the surface.I met wonderful women from Australia at the BBQ tonight. I met grieving parents in the elevator and the hallway, and again I have those mixed emotions. I have cried a lot today (and knit a lot). But I have been struck too by the will of all these people, and the heartbreak, and the optimism, and the grief, and and and...

For me, these days are hard and wonderful and necessary. In many ways, all I want to do is go home. In many ways, all I need to do is be here.

So many other things to share, but I think I will wait till next time. For now, I just need to be here...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Last Day in Portland

What a week! The Tin House Writers Workshop and Portland, Oregon have both been great. My workshop is a group of twelve terrific people and I have loved reading their work and getting to know them all. Last night, my amazing student Sara had us over for dinner at her house. Her backyard is just beautiful, and we sat at a long table eating salmon in parchment, salad from her garden, quiche, and then salty caramel gelato with berries. My friend Heather has had me over to her beautiful backyard too, for salmon that her husband smoked himself, and then again for a smorgasbord of salumi and cheese and olives. I just posted some pretty pictures on Facebook, if you're so inclined.

So I have been well fed, and stimulated by the readings and lectures of so many terrific writers, like Aimee Bender, Steve Almond, Tony Doerr, Jonathan Dee, Dana Spiotta, Elissa Schappell, Dorothy Allison, and even more if you can believe it.

But, despite all the berries and salmon here, I'm ready to go home and see my darlings. It is a quick stop back in RI before I head to a conference in LA for a few days. Home long ago to do some laundry, have some good family time, and get to hear one of my favorite writers, Stewart O'Nan, read on Monday night. If you are in RI, please join us at the Marian J. Mohr Library, 1 Memorial Drive in beautiful Johnston, RI at 6PM.

And now...time to start packing up...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Smoked salmon, Stumptown coffee and tayeberries

Ah! Portland, city of great food, great coffee, great wine, great scenery, great people...If I had to move tomorrow I would pack up and come here, where all the things I live in life live so happily together. Ok, it's God awful hot. Near 90, and I couldn't get the AC in my room to work (thank you, Mr. Fix it Guy who came and saved me from melting!). Now it's downright cold in my little dorm room. I even added an extra blanket to my tiny twin bed last night. Thanks to my buddy Heather for taking me shopping on Sunday morning to stock up on all things Portland, plus a bouquet of bright orange zinnias to make my room pretty. And to Heather and her hubby for a morning spent on their roof deck sipping grapefruit mimosas and nibbling smoked salmon on cucumbers (he smoked it, inspiring me to fire up my smoker when I get home--he put marmalade on it and it was yummy!)

Last night the Tin House Writers Conference opened in its usual style--a cocktail party and then readings by Chris Beha, Karen Karbo and Wells Tower in the amphitheater. I am still operating on East Coast time, so crashed early. (And now up early, but this will change just in time for me to go back east).

Had a hard time on Saturday, watching my family disperse. Friday night when I went to bed I said: "I have been so happy having us all together, and now I'm getting so blue." Had a good cry at the Buffalo airport after watching Sam and Gogo walk down the jetway.

But settling in here, settling down, getting ready to start teaching. I have a good group of memoir writers in my class, and can't wait to start talking about all things writing. We have workshops every morning from 10-noon. Panels and craft talks and readings sprinkled throughout the rest of the day, into the evening. Busy but always inspiring and fun here...

Now, back to my delicious cup of Stumptown coffee. In my cooler (thanks, Heather!) I have 6 Stumptown cold brew iced coffees to get me through the days. A brilliant idea!

I hope you are staying cool this hot July!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July

Every 4th of July morning for forty+ years, I woke up to the sounds of John Phillip Sousa playing at highest volume on the record player. I knew before I even emerged from my bed that I would find my father with a beer already in his hand, preparing the food for the dozens of people who would come to our house to celebrate his 4th of July birthday. No one loved his birthday more than my father, and 4th of July has never been the same since he died in 1997. How I miss that man! He was my soulmate, my cheerleader, my drinking buddy, my favorite storyteller, my guiding light. And so I woke up this morning, early, here in Chautauqua, to a deafening silence. I lay in bed, remembering all those 4th of Julys now past. The runaway Roman candle. The clambakes on the beach. The WWII veterans marching up our street with pots on their heads and broomsticks at their shoulders. And always John Phillip Sousa booming.

Last night, the Chautauqua Symphony played an incredible concert, and I felt as I watched it that it was tailor made to honor my dad. Lots of Sousa. Anchors Aweigh. God Bless America...

Wherever you are today, raise a beer to my dad.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Perfect summer day at Chautauqua

I am in our cozy apartment in Chautauqua, gazing out the window, across the sunlit balcony, to the lovely green trees beyond. Such joy to wake up this morning to the sounds of Sam and Gogo making coffee, and Annabelle grinning at me to show her latest lost tooth (last night!); to sit around drinking that coffee and hearing stories of Sam's NCT tour, Annabelle singing and dancing around us. Chautauqua is always like going back in time. Kids ride their bikes everywhere. Music plays in the distance. Newsboys and girls hawk newspapers on the town green. Tonight--a big spaghetti supper catered by Gogo. But first, I teach my class and then go to my bridge class with Sam and Gogo. Annabelle is at camp. And for these brief, too fleeting moments, everyone is together and happy.

I am wishing you a summer day like this today too.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Gin and Tonics at Ida Lewis Yacht Club

As many of you know, Newport is hosting the America's Cup match races this week, and I've been lucky enough to watch those beautiful boats out on the water. Reason to love Rhode Island: sailboats under a sunny blustery sky, dancing across the beautiful blue Bay. Spent yesterday at the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, sipping gin and tonics and nibbling shrimp, gazing out at that gorgeous view. Sigh...

A nice cap to a week of low key work, reading manuscripts for my upcoming teaching at Tin House in Portland, OR; xeroxing for that workshop and next week's in Chautauqua; working on short stories in various stages of completion; and resting and eating lots of steak and kale to battle the anemia (it's working! iron levels are up up up!)

Today is all about packing for those two weeks away teaching. Annabelle, Gogo and I shuffle off to Buffalo tomorrow and get us settled in at our apartments in Chautauqua. The rest of the crew arrives at various intervals on Sunday night. Gogo has made enough meatballs and sauce to feed us all week, I think. But I'm thinking of making a batch of gazpacho for lunches, maybe even packing up the slow cooker for some BBQ pork...

I just love our weeks there, which began ten years ago. That summer was a tough one, right on the heels of losing Grace. I remember having to cancel the Reading class she'd signed up for, and her swimming lessons. Remember too how hard I cried on this shot July nights, as little girls spun around on the grass, happy and alive. But that summer I met a man who changed my life. Dan Moseley gave the morning sermons that summer, and as serendipity or divine intervention would have it, his topic was grief. I sat every morning, grasping the wisdom he so freely gave, and finally managed to talk to him privately. Dan became a lifeline for me over the next few years, always there for my existential and grief crises. He taught me too, indirectly, how to help others. When I get emails from grieving parents, I  think of Dan and how he knew exactly what to say and do, and I take my lead from him.

We returned to Chautauqua every other year ever since, and have made lifelong friends there. I love the sight of one of my kids riding off on a bike, arriving wet from swimming in the lake, sitting beside me at concerts and dance performances. And so we are off again tomorrow for another week of old fashioned bliss.

Straight from there, I fly off to PDX again for a week at Tin House, another ritual I treasure. The writers, the students, the food and drink, the intellectual stimulation, the nearness of my buddies Heather and Hillary, Portland coffee and Oregon wine and marionberries...

So today is all about packing for these two weeks. And finishing my reading and Xeroxing.

For those of you who might be looking for a writers conference, I want to share the details of the FIU one in Coral Gables, Florida this October 25-27. Held at the historic Biltmore Hotel, the faculty includes Scott Spencer, John Dufresne, Ellen Sussman, Les Standiford, Steven Raichlen, Denise Duhamel, Julie Wade, Lynne Barrett, Debra Dean, and yours truly. Plus my own beloved editor Jill Bialosky and literary agent Richard Pine. If you enroll by August 1, tuition is ONLY $400! That is a deal! Hope to see some of you there!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rain! And more rain!

Left rainy Portland, Oregon and arrived just in time for a week of rain here in Rhode Island. Funny thing is, I actually love the rain (which is one more reason why I think living in Portland would be just swell) so it is okay with me. Especially when my day consists of laundry and cleaning up (I've been gone ten days and somehow the laundry I did the day I left is still sitting in the laundry basket, waiting for me to come home and fold it) and signing Annabelle up for swimming (my other kids took to the water like, well, fish. But Annabelle still can't swim, despite years of lessons. Maybe this time?) and getting her to theater camp,preparing classes for my upcoming two teaching gigs,  and then meeting Gogo for dinner. Steak for me as I work on getting my iron levels up. All of these things are done well, maybe even done best, while it's raining. I like knitting when it rains. Reading. Doing a jigsaw puzzle (on my new jigsaw puzzle table! Thank you, Steve!). And I admit I have had some pretty romantic times while it rained. So all in all, I am happy to be home, happy to have it raining nice and hard, happy to wake up with a pigtailed Annabelle smiling down at me.

My Waves blanket is so beautiful that I ordered yarn to knit three more, one for each kiddo (Christmas presents?). And my bright striped dishcloths with kitchen cotton yarn from Lion Brand are so snazzy that I'm ordering up more of that yarn too. Here is the link:
I think next time I am going to try the graphic dishcloths, using the same bright yarn.

Now I need to also share my new favorite writer, Gillian Flynn. I'm probably the last one on the block to read her, but I first read her new one, GONE GIRL and was so blown away by her use of point of view and her insights into marriage, all wrapped up in a mystery, that I immediately bought the one just before, DARK PLACES, and read it all the way from Philadelphia to Providence yesterday without looking up once until landing. She has another one too, which I'm sure to read next, even though I'm reading them backwards!

Other reasons that I am excited:
I am starting my research this week for Book Seven of THE TREASURE CHEST

I have almost all the fabulous essays for the knitting anthology I'm editing. What a line up of writers! You will all love it, I know. (Think Anita Shreve, Sue Grafton, Elizabeth Berg, Andre Dubus III, Jane Smiley--to name just a few of my wonderful contributors. I have read each one gobsmacked. I laugh. I cry. I shriek with joy!)

And in just a week, Sam will be joining us at Chautauqua. He is having quite a summer touring with the Missoula Children's Theater, and I have loved hearing his stories about his experiences. But boy am I glad he'll be with us that week...

Thursday, June 21, 2012


I admit it. I am completely addicted to Damages, the show starring Glenn Close and Rose Byrne and an an ever changing cast of terrific actors (Ted Danson! William Hurt!) Thank you to everybody who checked in with me on my fainting the other night. It turns out I am anemic (!!!!) and have been ordered to eat steak and kale for starters, probably take iron pills and/or B12 when I see my doctor at home next week. Meanwhile, in between readings and classes and panels, I get in bed and OD on Damages...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Much to my horror, I fainted last night! Pretty scary business. I wasn't hot, drunk, thirsty, sick, scared, upset, or any of the other reasons I can think of to faint. I walked out of a reading and felt confused about how to get back to my dorm room. Then I got the classic weird vision thing and ringing ears, made my way to a low wall and boom! Luckily, writer friends were on the scene and helped me out. They reported I was pretty pale at the time. Still feeling kind of wobbly, so I'm taking it easy. I did do my panel on long form narrative with Frank Gaspara and Craig Lesley, and I must say we rocked. Dorianne Laux brought me Gatorade, which I think helped (maybe my electrolytes went haywire?) But I was happy to get back in bed with Gillian Flynn's terrific novel Gone Girl. I have a meeting in a half an hour, but I think it's back to bed after that. I hate to miss the readings tonight, and the Silk Road party after, but I'm pretty sure I won't be up to it.

But feast your eyes on this! The gorgeous cover of the Italian edition of THE KNITTING CIRCLE!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Miles to go before I sleep

I love wifi on airplanes, yes I do! En route to Portland, OR from Chicago, writing this at 35000 feet. The hum of a plane is one of my favorite sounds, like music to me. What a week of traveling around! And actually it's the start of a busy month of travel. Tuesday, as soon as Annabelle's last day of second grade party ended, GJ and I loaded her in to the car and headed back to Woodstock. (It is so hard not to write here: We are stardust, we are golden...) The fabulous Martha Frankel put us up for the night, and fed us the yummiest salmon dinner with kale salad, and invited good friends to join us. The next morning we went to her husband Steve's store Fabulous Furniture where I picked up the table he designed and built for me--it fits 1000 word jigsaw puzzles! I will post a picture of it when I get around to transferring photos from my phone to the computer. Also, the lamp with the pink Cadillac sticking out of it, which now stands over the aforementioned table in my playroom back home. The fact that Steve fit these items in my Mini Cooper is kind of mind boggling. But he did! Stopped at the excellent bookstore there after breakfast at Bread Alone and signed books, then drove home where, for one hour, I ran around like a crazy person, doing laundry and packing for my flight to Chicago the next day (more in a minute), and loading up on groceries, all before I hopped on Amtrak to New London where my darling buddy met me at the train station and took me out to dinner. The food: awful. The night: lovely. Back on Amtrak to Providence, arriving at 11:30. Home to bed for only a few hours sleep before it was time to get up and make one of those awful 6AM flights. But we were all excited to get to Chicago for Ariane's graduation from Northwestern (missed Sam who couldn't come because he was busy putting on Cinderella in Westminster, CO). Got to Baltimore and our flight was delayed...for 5 hours! Ugh. Somehow the time passed, and eventually we were driving north from Chicago to Evanston and all sorts of graduation fun. I had to leave a day early to get to Oregon and the Pacific University low res MFA program. Connecting in SFO very soon. Then it will be the stocking up on supplies for the week (Oregon wine and fruit and if I'm lucky Stumptown coffee), moving in to my groovy pad in Forest Grove, and hopefully having some Copper River salmon for dinner tonight. Teaching begins tomorrow, first thing, so tonight will be me preparing for class...A crazy week!

I have brought my Waves blanket, which I just might finish as I listen to all the great readings and lectures this week. Then it's on to striped dish rags with Lion Brand's new kitchen vintage yarn, The colors are so yummy!

Just finished reading Sophie Hannah's Truth Teller's Lies. If you haven't read her yet and you like psychological thrillers, you will love hers. Great women characters, messed up detectives, Great Britain...what's not to love? On to Gone Girl next...

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer day, summer day, summer day

I think that's a quote from Henry James, and it sure fits today here in Providence. Warm and pretty, birds chirping away, flowers in bloom, sun coming through the leaves on the trees outside my window. And the first day in a very long time that I do not have a deadline hanging over me. At least for today I can do whatever I like.

In the daily life of a writer, I find that my rhythm is idle time alternating with too much to do. There isn't really ever idle time because I always have stories developing in my mind. Those days--like today--when I am free to just think my thoughts are valuable to my writing process. It's a difficult part of writing to explain to non-writers or beginning writers: seemingly doing nothing is actually vital to stories taking shape.

Today I might take a walk to the library or the RISD Museum. I will definitely defrost my freezer. I might watch a few episodes of Damages (I am addicted to it!) I might knit. Likely, hours will pass with me just thinking...

The week ahead will not be as decadently free. Tomorrow GJ, Annabelle and I are going back to Woodstock. I'll sign some books, hang with friends, and bring home my new table and lamp. The lamp has a model pink 1959 Cadillac on it; the table was designed to fit a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle on it (no more doing my puzzles on the floor or dining room table!) Both were designed by Steve at Fabulous Furniture. You can see what Steve's work at: 

Also tomorrow (ok, I'm now writing in green and can't switch back!): Annabelle's last day of second grade! Yikes! 

Wednesday night I'm meeting my old pal in New London, CT for dinner. Then up way to early Thursday for one of those dreadful crack of dawn flights, this one to Chicago for Ariane's graduation from Northwestern. Two fabulous days in Chicago before I head to Oregon and the low res MFA program at Pacific University. 

My niece's wedding at the Athenaeum library on Saturday night was amazing! We roamed the stacks and drank great wine and nibbled on yummy snacks and celebrated Love. Ah! The wedding came in between Annabelle's school play (Viva the French revolution!), Auntie Junie's 78th birthday party (Viva Caserta's Pizza!) and Annabelle's ballet recital (Viva the tutu!). Capped off with a dinner party at our dear friend Bruce's--smoked salmon on johnny cakes followed by grilled lamb chops. Need I say more?

By the way, I am loving this new format for my blog. And I've received lots of positive feedback too.One of the features I really like is that I can access statistics about the blog--how many views it gets a day, where the people reading it are located, the gender of my readers. Lots of surprises! 

THE OBITUARY WRITER has come through copy editing and is on its way to becoming a real book that we can hold in our hands. 

And my Waves blanket is half done. It's gorgeous! The pattern calls for each color to appear only once. But I have enough yarn to repeat my waves and make it a bigger blanket. I will definitely make more of these--the pattern is so easy and it's a great project to take on my travels. I also ordered Lion Brand's new kitchen vintage yarn--the colors are so vivid! I'll take that with me too to knit up some striped dishrags this summer. 

Enjoy this summer day!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Transit of Venus

As a lover of rain, I am enjoying this lovely rainy weather we've been having all week. But I hope it clears up in time for the transit of venus tonight.As you probably know, this is very rare--in fact, it's only been recorded six times, ever. I love this from today's NYT: "This week, people on Earth can see with their own eyes the beauty spot--as beautiful as Marilyn Monroe's--bestowed by Venus on the Sun."Isn't that beautiful?

I have a little romantic story about this too. When I was a teenager, a boy I liked took my to Providence for the afternoon--a very big deal for me.He walked me up and down the neighborhood where I now live, and told me odd and whimsical historical facts. The whole time he spoke, I wished he would hold my hand, although if he did I might have fainted. I remember standing on Benefit Street, peering down Planet Street as he explained about the transit of Venus, and how the street names Planet and Transit came from it. Even back then I was a romantic, and believed that all this talk of Venus must be a sign of a great love developing. But as these things go, eventually my feelings for that blue eyes boy changed. I fell in love again and again, but always remember that summer afternoon with him.

I hope we all fall in love a little bit today, in honor of that beauty spot bestowed by Venus on the Sun...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Both Sides Now

Woke up to the most beautiful sounds in the world: NYC waking up outside my window. Greenwich Village in particular makes the sounds I most love. Add to these this morning rain falling gently onto Greenwich Street and I have the perfect background music for a morning of working. Today's goal is to finish revising Book Six in The Treasure Chest series, in which my time traveling twins meet the last Queen of Hawaii. I took a risk with this one, and introduced a lot of new ideas. All of which failed (according to wise powers that be). So it's a total revamp, and one that is going slowly.

But it makes me pause to think about the importance--no, the necessity--of revising. Too many new writers resist it, and their work suffers as a result. So far for me, 2012 has been all about revision. More so than writing. I spent months on revising THE OBITUARY WRITER. And truly, folks. The book sings now. I am so eager for everyone to read it.

The novel deals with themes of grief and loss, but also explores questions of love and marriage, infidelity and women's changing roles over time. I am going to post random sentences from the novel here starting next week as a kind of fun way to introduce it to you. 

Last night, I went to hear Judy Collins at Town Hall here in Manhattan. I don't go to lots of concerts. In fact, as I was walking there--along the High Line, which you must do when you're next in NYC--I realized I go to about one a year. Last year Aaron Neville, the year before John Prine and Iris Diment. Of course, I always try to go to at least one day of the Newport Folk Festival, which last year meant Emmylou Harris and Pete Seeger. And I admit to being a Parrot Head too. So you get some insight into my musical taste here. I am dying to get to a Zac Brown concert, but so far haven't been able to make that happen. But I digress...

Stopped at 23rd. Street and descended the High Line for dinner at The Half King, Sebastian Junger's pub. This is a fun place to grab a burger if you are in the neighborhood. I opted for a soft shell crab po boy instead, because the window for eating soft shell crabs is so narrow that I have to have them constantly. Unfortunately, this one was mostly coating and iceberg lettuce. But it didn't really matter. Drinking beer and sitting outside and dipping my fried into a chipotle mayo more than made up for it. Plus, I made fast work of a giant bowl of mussels to start, and they were fabulous. Cooked in a rich garlicky marinara. Eating them made me decide I should make mussels more at home. Easy and yummy.

Back on the High Line and onward to 43rd. Street. Madeleine Peyroux opened the concert. I love her first CD, and when she sings Leonard Cohen or Edith Piaf, you just want to weep. But everyone had come for Judy, and after intermission (mine spent in an interminable line to the bathroom) she took the stage in black sequins, knee high boots, that gorgeous mane of gray hair (note to self: when I am 73 I too will have a gorgeous mane of gray hair. And knee high black boots.) and sang her heart out. Both Sides Now. Helplessly Hoping. Send in the Clowns. Mr. Tambourine Man. Her encore song: Somewhere Over the Rainbow. And her in between song banter was almost as mesmerizing as she reminisced about the Village in the early 60s and the folk scene there. My heart be still. I kind of floated back home, and sat with a cold glass of chardonnay grinning until bedtime.

Today, I'm getting a surprise visit from an old friend. I'm thinking we might hit MOMA and the Cindy Sherman retrospective. Unless the rain sends us into a movie theater instead. Tickets tonight to the play Peter and the Star Catcher with another old pal. Cannot wait to see it! We are having an early dinner pre show, probably at his favorite place. I don't know the name, and there is no sign on the door. You just have to know which brownstone door to open. I always see someone famous there. Last time it was the guy who played Sal on Mad Men. 

But of course I am still fresh from our trip out west to deliver Sam safely into the arms of the Missoula Children's Theater. Above, one of the little red trucks that travel the country all summer, delivering theater to kids. Sam will be in truck #38, visiting Colorado, NM, Kansas, and Nebraska.

But before we hit Missoula, we spent an interesting day in Salt Lake City (which is where we flew into because there is nothing like a road trip out west!). From there the next morning we drove through Idaho to Yellowstone, and spent the night at the great Old Faithful Inn. Lots of bison spotting, and some huge mule deer. And lots of snow! And of course, Old Faithful. I watched it erupt about five times because it is just one of those things that gives me the chills to see, like the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge in the fog. Day three found us in Bozeman, MT and there I discovered the Country Bookshelf, one of those indie bookstores that you can lose yourself in for a very long time. I did! Final stop with Sam still in town: Missoula. I cried, yes I did. A lot. Happy for him, sad over a Sam-less summer in RI. When we left Missoula, we got fortification at Liquid Planet where I think I had one of the best cups of coffee ever. Back to SLC, and a night in a gorgeous B and B near the state house. A bottle of cabernet on the porch, watching evening settle over the city.

I had photos to share, but it is almost 10 o'clock and I have a book to revise! So I will post them soon.

One final thing: knitters, you must knit this blanket in the Waves pattern. has it on their website. It is easy, with just one challenging row out of every four. I will post a picture of mine when I finish, which will be soon!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Westward ho!

Tomorrow we head west to deliver Sam into the loving arms of the Missoula (MT) Children's theater. He'll be training in Missoula for a week or two before he heads off in his little red truck to bring theater to kids in four western states. I am so proud of him! But have had a lot of crying jags over him being gone all summer. These past couple of weeks with him home have been so good. The sound of his big feet coming up the stairs. Sitting around watching Tony Bourdain's No Reservations marathons. Hitting the meat truck for lunch. Sharing music. Just being with him. I have done a pretty good job of keeping my tears to myself. But oh dear.

Still, I am excited for us to take this trip, all of us together driving through Utah, Wyoming and Montana. I love the west, and I'm thrilled to share it with Annabelle. I was lucky to snag a room at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone, and a dinner reservation there that night. She so loves the natural world that I can't wait to see her reaction to Yellowstone. I'm hoping we get to spot a moose or bear, which I have done on past trips, just for Annabelle.

And I can't let today pass without saying Happy Birthday to two of my favorite proper nouns.

Raymond Carver's writing helped make me a writer. I will never forget the thrill I felt when I discovered his stories in The New Yorker long ago, and how his unique style opened up my imagination and helped hone my own style. Celebrate him today! Maybe read one of his short stories, like "Cathedral" or "What we Talk About When we Talk About Love."

And Happy Birthday to the Brooklyn Bridge! One of my best things to do on a beautiful autumn day in NYC is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and marvel at it, and at the two boroughs it connects. If you're in NYC, take a moment to gaze at it. or better yet, take that gorgeous walk!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Greetings from the land of sneezing, coughing, and nose blowing. Yes, I have been taken down by a very bad cold. If ever there could be a good time to have a bad cold, this week is it. Annabelle is on a class trip to Quebec and my sweetheart is on a work trip to Singapore. This means that I have been free to moan and complain, wake up at 3AM miserable and listen to podcasts without headphones on, stay in my jammies all day--mostly in bed--and read (SHIRLEY JACKSON: A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE) and write (working on not one but two secret projects!) and watch TV (GIRLS, CHOPPED, and a spur of the moment rental of THE BREAKFAST CLUB) and knit (the second fingerless mitt for my sweetheart, a finished hat with alpaca and a pattern from Yarnia in Nacogdoches TX, and a puzzling how to video for the pattern a month from Mason-Dixon Knitting).

I have soft scrambled eggs (some people call these French eggs) in a double boiler with butter and cream and fried up bacon and made toast; cooked up my favorite comfort food, which is doctored packaged ramen from a NYT recipe (you poach an egg in it, add butter and two slices of American cheese, scallions or sesame seeds if you have them on hand--I didn't); reheated fried rice leftover from a dinner party we had in which sweetheart made sous vide short ribs with char sui sauce, I made the fried rice and dry fried Szechuan string beans, and we bought a whole chopped duck in garlic sauce from the duck place two doors down from me. Last night I finally dragged myself to the supermarket and got the fixings for the pot of black bean soup I've been dreaming of all week.

Here is the revelation I had while I sat in bed coughing and sneezing and nose blowing, my two cats--Hermia and Gertrude--nestled beside me, my computer on my lap: there is great joy for me in being a writer. In writing. In not talking to anyone all day (well, except my mom who is very sympathetic to my misery and Sam who calls in reports of his life as an actor in NYC and my sweetheart in Singapore who has the same bad cold but is eating giant crab legs and shrimp that are still wiggling on the plate and who patiently tells my what time it is across the world). Mostly, I am just living in my head, in my imagined worlds, which is what writers do. Happily.

Yesterday I remembered with great fondness having a similar bad cold thirty years ago when I was writing SOMEWHERE OFF THE COAST OF MAINE and living on Bleecker Street. Every day for a week I called my local Chinese restaurant and got cold sesame noodles and fried pork dumplings delivered. Every day. I stayed in my jammies and wrote my book, typing on an electric typewriter, living in the imagined world of those three friends who had gone to college together in the 60s and of their teenaged children. My two cats, Lewis and Daphne, nestled against me then. I read Anne Tyler's DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT and I ate those dumplings and noodles and I was happy.

So often, writers have to do the opposite of this cocooning. We have to go to libraries and bookstores and fundraising luncheons and book clubs and talk to people. We have to get up at 4AM for a 6:30 flight, and sleep alone in hotels, and eat airport food, and not write. This, my friends, is not a complaint. I am the luckiest person in the world. When I was four years old I read my first book and had one thought: I want to live in a book. And that's what I do. I love the great pleasure of meeting people that my books have touched. I love all the independent bookstores that hand sell my books. I love sharing the story of how I got from that four year old girl to the woman who wrote these books. But in the excitement and busy-ness of promoting our books, writers can lose the simple joy that comes from writing. That's what I rediscovered this week. The joy of moving your story along to an unexpected new place; of understanding something new about your character; of keeping the real world at bay so that you can be in your imagined one.

Tonight I will meet the bus bringing Annabelle and her classmates home. Tonight my sweetheart begins his long journey across the Pacific back to me. Tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 I will give a talk at the Athenaeum Library here in Providence. And I am grateful for all of these blessings. But I am grateful too for the blessing of this bad cold that kept me inside and in the world of my imagination, the place a writer needs to dwell.

On this, my last day of seclusion, I will write for hours. I will dip into Shirley Jackson's life. I will watch that damn video again and hope I understand what I'm supposed to knit. I will roll some yarn and make my black bean soup. And I will return to the real world of teaching and parenting and loving rejuvenated, inspired, writing.