Thursday, July 30, 2015


What a week I've had here in Dingle, Ireland! For a foodie like me, it's heaven: locally sourced everything, microbrews, oysters and mussels and cockles from right in front of me; for an ocean girl like me, it's heaven: think Big Sur, but with farms. For a writer: well, damn, it's Ireland! Here's where I read with the ever fabulous Richard Hoffman tonight:

If you haven't read his knockout memoir, Love and Fury, stop reading this and pick it up!
Big thank you to the also ever fabulous Suzanne Strempek Shea for inviting me here. And ditto above for her book, This Is Paradise. 
Below, gorgeous pictures of this gorgeous place. 

Plus yarn!
And oysters!

Saturday sadly I say goodbye to Dingle. But more adventures in Ireland coming...

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hope is the thing with feathers

Many of you recognize this quote from EmilyDickinson. As I sat here thinking of the poem that might capture what I wanted to express here, I thought of many others about loss, and sadness, and grief. But ultimately I chose the one that my friend Beth quoted to me last year when she was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. We shared a lot of early morning texts and FB messages this past year as she, with her trademark humor and honesty and giant heart, fought this terrible disease. We laughed together a lot. And shared stories of our almost the same age kids. And talked about Italy and wine and food and books. For a glorious brief time, Beth was cancer free. That hope soared for everyone who loved her. We do that, don't we? Believe in the impossible. Or the hardly possible. Hope is that thing with feathers. 

Most summers I end up in Maine for a week or so. This summer I didn't. By summer, Beth's cancer was back and she was fighting again. Oh that hope! I had it. I believe she had it too. Due to her grueling chemo, our communication was sometimes one way. 

And then the unthinkable. 

Less than a week ago Beth was told the cancer had spread and there was no more treatment. I was about to come to Ireland to teach with my friend Suzanne  Strempek Shea. Suzanne is Beth's friend too, and the three of us had a wonderful visit full of laughter not too long ago. 

Here we are during that visit:

I texted Beth when I received the news and we went back and forth briefly. My plan: to go to Maine to see her as soon as I returned. 

But what are plans? 

Beth died yesterday. 

She has the loveliest husband and son, and good good friends. And a beautiful novel. And she was extraordinary. 

So why, in the throes of grief, do I quote this Emily Dickinson poem?

Because hope is that thing with feathers. If we don't have it, what do we have? 

Today I was on the wild beautiful road along the Atlantic here. There were hurricane force winds. And rain. And in the middle of all that dark weather, the sun broke through. For an instant. And of course I thought of The Beatles Here Comes the Sun. And of hope. Which we hold on to, even when we don't think we will believe in it again. 

'Hope' is the thing with feathers— 
That perches in the soul— 
And sings the tune without the words— 
And never stops—at all— 

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard— 
And sore must be the storm— 
That could abash the little Bird 
That kept so many warm— 

I've heard it in the chillest land— 
And on the strangest Sea— 
Yet, never, in Extremity, 
It asked a crumb—of Me.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Revision Happy

My goal was to finish revisions on The Book That Matters Most before I go to Bread Loaf on August 11. I'm happy to report that yesterday I finished my pen to paper ones, which means I put lots of big X's everywhere, changed words, rewrote sentences, groaned a lot, smiled a lot, and reached THE END. Now I'm off to Ireland to teach with the fabulous Suzanne Strempek Shea and Richard Hoffman in Dingle, and when I return I will put those changes into the manuscript on my computer as well as insert some new scenes here and there. Then I hit SEND and go to Bread Loaf.

For the writers out there, this is my ninth revision. And my editor will send still more suggestions and line edits before we are done. Nine! (The Knitting Circle had 35, The Obituary Writer 17)

Nabokov said: "My pencils outlast my erasers."

And in his famous Paris Review interview from 1956, when the reporter asked Hemingway why he had to rewrite the last page of Farewell to Arms 39 times, he replied: "To get the words right."

That same year, in her Paris Review interview, Dorothy Parker said, "I can't write five words but that I change seven."

So here I am, along with all of you, wearing out my erasers; writing five words and changing seven; trying, trying, to get the words right.

Happy Revising!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I thought you might enjoy this

From Aspen Words 2015:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Summer Afternoon

This week I've thought a lot about a Henry Janes quote I love:
"Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language."

With weather like we've had--no humidity and low summer temperatures--these afternoons have been glorious. I've never been a lover of hot and muggy, and this 1792 house has no air conditioning. So open windows letting in summer breezes have had me smiling. 

Thursday I had an especially magical summer afternoon. Annabelle and our French visitor Julie drove north to NH for my reading with Deirdre Heekin in the beautifully restored Canaan Meeting House. But first we got to eat and drink and visit with the fabulous Phil Pachoda, father of fabulous writer Ivy Pachoda, at his home. Annabelle and Julie spent the whole time in the pond as the sunlight filtered through pine and birch, all of it like walking into a postcard of NH. (Please read Deirdre Heekin's book, An Unlikely Vineyard!) Deirdre and I read to a full house of avid readers later that evening. And the wonderful Norwich Bookstore was there with our books (thank you, Penny!) Yes, magical. 

We three spent a cozy night at The Lyme Inn before heading south the next day. And while the girls went off to see Minions, Taylor Polites and I had another gorgeous summer afternoon, this one in Mystic CT. Trade trees and mountains for ocean and sailboats, but keep the glorious temperature. At the always lovely Bank Square Books with Thomas Cobb and Pablo Rodriguez, we celebrated Providence Noir:

Now rumor has it the hot humid days are coming soon, and I'll be cursing Mr James: what's so beautiful about this?

So I'll just look forward to my upcoming weeks teaching in Dingle, Ireland and at Bread Loaf in VT. 

And I'll put my head down and go into revision mode on my new novel, which I hope to have done by the time I head to Bread Loaf (which means it's coming with me across the sea to Ireland). 

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon...

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Providence Noir play list

I love Large Hearted Boy, in which authors create a playlist for their books. I did it for The Red Thread a few years ago, and was delighted I got invited to do it for Providence Noir. Enjoy!

Two readings this week: NH and CT

I'm looking forward to two exciting events coming up. If you're near Canaan NH or Mystic CT please join me!

"The second  Canaan Meetinghouse Readings will be held on Thursday, July 16, with local author -- and restauranteur, farmer, vintner --  Deirdre Heekin  (reading from her new book  An Unlikely Vineyard, her amazing story of making wonderful wines in Vermont) and best-selling author, Ann Hood, (reading from her new novel, An Italian Wife. Readings start at 7:30."

Then on Friday Providence Noir rocks Mystic CT at Bank Square Books:
"Editor Ann Hood and contributors Taylor M. Polites, Pablo Rodriguez, Thomas Cobb and Robert Leuci will bring "Providence Noir" to Bank Square Books, 53 West Main St., Mystic, Conn., on Friday at 6 p.m."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Inside Out

In 2003, I watched a Japanese animated movie called Grave of the Fireflies. Directed by Isao Takahata, it's a Studio Ghibli film about two children left to live with an aunt when their mother dies as a result of the firebombing of Tokyo. This movie affected me so deeply that once when describing it to someone I actually forgot it was animated. It's brilliant, profound, and deeply moving. And it's about loss and grief (and war and compassion and survival); I watched it on a hot summer night not long after Grace died. I still remember how I couldn't stop crying during most of the movie, how it seemed to speak directly to me and what I was feeling. 

All of this is to say that Sunday night Annabelle and I went to the drive in here in Wellfleet to see Pixar's Inside Out. It was Annabelle's fourth time seeing the movie, and even though she had explained it to me I couldn't quite understand what to expect. You see the emotions inside a girl's head. Joy, anger, sadness, etc all personified. That day the NYT ran an Op Ed by a psychiatrist about how the movie accomplished so much, which I read with great interest. 

So off we go, just an hour after arriving at our little apartment in Truro, above a print studio and the room where I teach, all thanks to the marvelous Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill. We ate burgers at The Dairy Bar. One of us had an icy Cape Cod Red beer. 

Before the movie came a short called Lava, which also made me cry. But that's another story. As soon as Inside Out started, with the birth of the protagonist, Riley, and the beginning of her core memories, I became so moved and engaged that--in the way great books and movies can do--the world melted away. I laughed a lot as I watched. But I also, well, bawled. When it reached its magnificent ending, which even though I'm about to reveal something about it believe me it won't ruin it for you, I was not only sobbing but also was moved in a deep, profound way. In it, Joy and sadness realize they must coexist, that everything--memories, experiences, and life itself--must have both. 

I've oversimplified, of course. But this idea is the very one I've been striving toward since Grace died. I remember my first step in this realization: I was buckling Annabelle into her car seat not long after we'd brought her home from China. And she touched my face with both of her small hands and looked right into my eyes and grinned. I still remember how my heart swelled, almost a real physical feeling of it opening like a flower blooming. Yet I was simultaneously acutely aware of the sharp acute grief there as well, which did not feel like something growing but more like a hole punched into my heart. In that moment I saw how these seemingly opposing feelings can live together. How not only can they, but that they must. 

Like every dreamy, bookish girl who came of age in the 1960s, I read Rod McKuen and Kahil Gibran with equal passion. (Also Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson) After watching Inside Out, I sought Gibran's poem on sorrow. I remembered lines from it, but wanted to see if he also mentioned joy in it. To my surprise, his poem on sorrow is actually titled "On Joy and Sorrow". 

I've copied it for you here, and hope it helps you as you experience both. 

On Joy and Sorrow
 Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. 

Some of you say, "Joy is greater thar sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. 

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Friday, July 3, 2015

4th of July

I'm tossing and turning here, up with a weird eye infection (on Tuesday I used the bathroom at Penn Station for the first time and can't help but think there's a connection?) that throbs like mad. It's been a weird week, so that's now keeping me awake too. First there's been all the trips to doctors with Gogo after her fall. She's on the mend, but it's hard isn't it? More on that in a bit. Then there's my beloved cousin, more like a sister, who started chemo a week ago. There aren't enough Popsicles in the world that I can bring her to ease this, and that's scary and frustrating. 

Cousins are big to me. On June 30, 1982, I lost my brother, my only sibling. Now our father, the greatest guy who ever lived, was born on the 4th of July. And every year he threw himself a huge birthday party. When I was a kid, these were in the backyard, and I'd wake to John Philips Sousa marches playing loud outside and the smell of food on the grill. All day he cooked, and people came to eat and celebrate. Later, the parties were held at the beach, in rented beach houses. But in 1982, there was no party. Just stunned grief. 

My dad died way too young, of lung cancer, in 1997. That July 4th my mom and several cousins and I went to Mexico, where there are no fireworks or BBQs. And that seemed appropriate. In the almost twenty years since, I've tried my hardest to avoid this celebration, the day when my dad would always marvel at how the entire country threw a bash for his birthday. Many years I've worked at writers conferences over the 4th, a blessed relief. But sometimes, like this year, I find myself with no alternative but to go to a cookout and watch fireworks from someone's back porch. Not the fireworks of my childhood, dangerous things that went up in a colorful crooked path of smoke and sparks, but ones that light the night sky like giant electric chrysanthemums. 

First though, the cousins and I are bringing BBQ to Gogo's. We'll sit in that quiet yard and look for the fingerprints left behind on all those long ago 4th of Julys. Maybe we'll hear the faint beat of Stars and Stripes Forever. Maybe we'll catch a whiff of Italian sausages on the grill, a taste of Narragansett beer foamy from a keg. Maybe we'll hear all those voices we miss so much, celebrating. Maybe we'll glimpse a tall blond blue eyed guy, standing at the grill, a beer in his hand, smiling his crooked smile. At least I hope we will. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Goat Hill

Wonderful fellow RI writers Taylor Polites, Hester Kaplan and I have been plotting (sorry! Couldn't help myself!) for months now to establish Goat Hill for writing workshops, seminars and sociability. Today we had a fall planning session, and let me tell you, it's going to be a wild first season for us. 

If you live in Rhode Island, southern MA or north or northwest CT, check out our Facebook page for updates and announcements of all that's coming.

Everyone, no matter where you live, can like our page, where you'll also find daily inspirational writing quotes (my job!) and starting this fall daily writing prompts. 

And please follow us on Twitter @goathillwriters. It's Twitter! You never know what might show up there!

Founding Writers, Goat Hill!