Monday, December 11, 2017

Happy New Year!

 No, I am not confused on the date! To me the new year always begins with my birthday. After all, a year has ended for me personally and a new one is starting. As many of you know who follow me on Facebook etc. my birthday was Saturday and so here I am two days into next year.  I have never really minded getting older. For me each birthday reminds me of all the things I have learned and all the places I have gone and all of the bumps enjoys that I have experienced.   A few years ago I had one of the worst birthdays I've ever had. Certainly the saddest birthdays are the ones that happen in the years you've lost someone you love who can't be there to celebrate with you. I did not mean to imply that this was a year like that, although it did  Harold a death of sorts. My marriage had been in a tailspin for longer than I wanted to admit, but somehow on my birthday I was always left feeling hopeful about its future and my future. So  when I was asked to return from New York City back home for a special secret celebration of my birthday my natural optimism kicked in. At home I was told to dress fancy and I put on the black and silver dress I bought in Paris,  filled with that kind of excitement surprises bring to us. You can imagine my disappointment when the fancy party was a work function filled with men in suits drinking martinis and talking about business. I tried to hide my disappointment and sequestered myself away into a little room where I sat and played words with friends  alone. When it was finally time to leave I was working hard to hide the tears that were about to fall. But then another surprise was announced! We were going home to put on casual clothes, pick up my cousin and Annabelle and go out for a surprise dinner.  There is nothing I like more the discovering a new restaurant, especially one off the beaten track which this one certainly was since we were going far from the city into a part of the state not known for Good restaurants.  Or any restaurants at all for that matter. But instead of that hidden gem of a restaurant, one more shock and disappointment – – a fluorescent lit all-you-can-eat Korean restaurant that did not even have a wine list. In fact the one they served with Gallo,  by the glass. Of course looking back on this now I see this was actually an insult not poor judgment. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love good food and good wine especially shared with people I love. Anyone I know knows that I seek out the best local restaurants wherever I go. Everyone at the table felt uncomfortable. The message was so clear. After a silent ride home, there was no card or gift for me, and within 30 minutes I was sitting alone while a tv blared in the next room.  It wasn't until the next morning that I could swallow my hurt and tears to express what such a terrible birthday night meant to me. In some ways I suppose that marked the beginning of the end. But of course there's never one thing that marks the beginning of the end, the end Come slowly and stealthily.  Lest you think this is a poor me story, please know that last year I had one of the happiest birthdays of my life. I woke up to the man I love staring at me with all the love and wonder all of us deserve. And then he was on his knee and offering me  A box with the perfect ring inside, and he was asking me to marry him. And I was crying and saying yes because as wrong as everything was in that birthday that came a few years before, everything was now right. As most of you know, we were married in April of this year and in many ways it has felt like a new year, a birthday of sorts, every day since.  And this year we spent my birthday doing everything both of us love to do: we lounged around reading all morning, we walked through a beautiful snow across town in our beloved Manhattan to watch a movie, and then we walked back through the snow.  I spent a few hours knitting and he spent a few hours writing and then it was time to put on our fancy clothes and get in the taxi and go uptown in the beautiful first snow of winter to have dinner at per se, but is far from an all-you-can-eat fluorescent lip Korean restaurant as a person can get.  Every detail of that dinner, every morsel of food and drop of wine, was magnificent. But nothing could top that this birthday I was with the right person in the right place finally.  There are so many of you out there at the end of something, feeling when I described above here. Please know there's a birthday around the corner, a beginning again. And now I step forward into this new year of mine.  I step forward with such love and joy in my heart. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Thankful

I've returned from two weeks teaching in Italy, at a beautiful farm that I return to with students each year. Check it out at www.spannocchia.com. A slice of heaven in Tuscany.

From there we flew directly to the Miami Book Fair, a favorite event of mine. I always see writers I adore and admire, fans, and old friends who gather for food and drink every year.

Our return landed us squarely in Thanksgiving prep. 25 friends and family graced my home, including Sam and his friends, Michael's son, Annabelle and Gogo...so much to be thankful for this year. We ate and drank for four days, playing games into the night and eating turkey in every possible iteration: confit, sandwiches, tetrazzini, and of course as the Thanksgiving bird.

I love Thanksgiving, more than Christmas or any other holiday because it brings family together with the single purpose of eating and sharing. It never disappoints.

This year has brought great joy in my life--the continued bond and love of my kids, Gogo at 86, good friends and family, and of course marrying Michael and all the wonderful joy we have shared every single day.

My purpose in writing here is never to vent politically or to air my dirty laundry. It's to share recipes and knitting, books and writing, happiness and the lifelong struggle with grief. But this year has also proven to have some surprising and hurtful personal challenges, and though I resist detailing them I will say that I've been unpleasantly surprised and deeply hurt. Every day has presented the challenge of me rising above some pretty terrible stuff, and I think I'm mostly able to do that. Thanksgiving this year has inspired me to look past old hurts and despicable behavior and focus on this new phase of my life, which is richer and fuller and happier. That's much more than a holiday should have to deliver, but this one did, and I am even more grateful.

I hope your Thanksgiving gave you love and warmth and too much turkey and that the empty seats at your table brought good memories rather than aching.

That other holiday looms, and I'm busily hiding gifts already and trying to decide what kind of tree I can get that won't tempt Hermia and Gertrude to knock it over. I'm busily knitting too--dishrags and mitts--and busily writing and teaching. And loving. Lots and lots of that.

Monday, October 30, 2017

More on knitting

I have been knitting a lot lately, which I always do when I am trying to figure something out--be it literary or life related. A cowl for Annabelle using hellical stripes (I'm addicted to this striping technique!". Mitts from a Churchmouse Yarn pattern. Finishing that airplane shawl (also Churchmouse Yarns). And contemplating what to knit with the gorgeous yarn I bought in McKinney, inspired by the colors of Texas, like bluebonnets and--the color I bought--denim and boots. I can't even begin to tally the obstacles knitting has seen me through, from the enormous loss of Grace to insomnia and the falling apart of my marriage to all the birthdays and anniversaries of Grace's death that I had to get through somehow. One stitch at a time.

This past Saturday I had the great honor to speak in Arlington Virginia through Project Knitwell, an organization:

founded in 2010 by Carol Caparosa, a DC-area mom, as a result of her experience with knitting as a tool for coping with stress when her daughter was a pediatric patient at MGUH many years before. 

Volunteers go to hospitals to teach patients and families of patients how to knit, as well as teaching at risk kids and others who need the transformative power of knitting to get through every day. Please check out their website  www.projectknitwell.org.  and if you are a knitter in the DC area they can always use another pair of hands, or many other skills to help them accomplish their goal. Even if you're not in the DC area, I think you'll like what you see there.

It is cold and blustery here today, after a big rainstorm last night. Finally, autumn. My thoughts have turned to yarn and knitting. What are you making? 




Monday, October 23, 2017

McKinney Texas, Breadloaf, and other wonderful things

I am on my last gasp of this book tour for the paperback of The Book That Matters Most and Morningstar: Growing Up With Books. Both of these books, one a novel and the other a memoir, celebrate reading and the way literature can shape us, inspire us, guide us, and even save us. I have so loved talking to so many fellow readers about my own favorite books and writing and reading in general!

Last week I had the great fortune to visit McKinney Texas where The Book That Matters Most was chosen as the Read Across McKinney selection. As anyone who follows me here or on social media knows, I spend a lot of time on the road, and I have many many wonderful adventures and meet many many wonderful people. My visits to Savannah and Minneapolis are two recent examples of such memorable experiences with unforgettable people.

Now let me gush about McKinney Texas. I have not spent a lot of time in Texas, except visits to my niece in Houston over the years and a crazy Pulpwood Queen Weekend in Nacadochies last year. So when I flew into Dallas' Love Field I didn't know what to expect. I was met by Gail and Jo, two of the most fun women I've had the pleasure to spend a few days with. We drove through old leafy neighborhoods until the highway was clear, Gail and Jo telling me how they ended up here and pointing out the sites along the way. The best site was historic McKinney itself, with a restores town square built around the courthouse and lined with unique shops and restaurants. (they told me to get a sandwich at patina Green before I left, and the ham and cheese with peach jelly on jalapeno bread was the envy of everyone on my flight home!) I stayed at the historic Grand Hotel, with its dark wood and cowboy paintings. Rick's Chophouse in the hotel served up the best fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and pepper gravy I've had in a long while. I had the spinach salad both nights it was so good--warm bacon dressing? yes, please!

But it was the people who made this trip so special. Jo and Gail, Karen and JoAnn, Chris and everyone else who fed me, drove me, made me laugh, introduced me to new books, and made me fall in love with McKinney. It might look easy from the outside, all of this traveling around and talking to people. But writers are introverts at heart, and sometimes it is downright exhausting. Sometimes it feels like I cannot think of one more thing of any importance to say. Sometimes I wish I were home with my cats and Annabelle and my husband, playing cards and cooking dinner. But then I go to someplace like McKinney, with people like these people, and I am simply glad for my good fortune in getting to travel around and see a bit of the world and the wonderful people in it who love books.

Fitting that I go straight from McKinney to Breadloaf, the place that changed my life so long ago, that let me know that I was indeed a writer. My husband picked me up at Logan and we drove the 3+ hours to Vermont, listening to John Updike's Maples stories on tape and discussing each one as it finished. We arrived too late to see anyone else, so happily settled into my favorite room there, Birch 104, and had whiskeys and breathed in the autumn Vermont air. The weekend was a send off to my dear friend Michael Collier, retiring after many years as director and changing the heart and soul of this esteemed place. There is nothing quite like walking across its green grass and seeing all the yellow houses and Adirondack chairs, catching bits of conversation about the writing life as you pass other writers. We ate and drank and talked into the night and the next morning, where we made pots of coffee for old friends and drank them on rocking chairs on the porch, with scones and such good cheer. I look forward to the next phase in Breadloaf's life, a place that is part of me.

From Breadloaf we had lunch in Ripton with old friends Rick and Molly Hawley. Soup and chicken salad sandwiches after Bloody Mary's on their back porch, watching ladybugs and listening to the river moving over rocks. Then on to Burlington where I am giving a luncheon talk to the New England Library Association today. A bumpy entry yesterday afternoon because we waited almost two hours for our room at the Sheraton here. But we drank Manahttans and played cards and my husband helped ease my crankiness. So did watching two episodes of American Vandal and laughing hard, then meeting friends for the most delicious middle eastern food at Honey Land downtown.

I admit to being tired from being on the road, but tonight we will be back in NYC, and Wednesday I will be back at the loft happily with Annabelle and the girls after this longish stretch away. Annabelle and I are going to DC this weekend for a knitting event. And we are just a week away from our yearly trip to Tuscany, where writers will come for workshops and wine, food and conversation, and to breathe in all that makes that place so magical. There I will get some restorative time, and am so excited that Sam is joining us too. Family, food, and literature. In Italy. Sounds pretty divine.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Imagine

Hapoy birthday, John Lennon. As a kid I memorized Beatles facts, like their birthdays. And I never forgot them. When my editor at Penguin asked if I had an idea for a YA book for their new imprint, Penguin Workshop, I asked myself what was the thing I wanted when I was 10 that I couldn't have. My answer came fast: to meet Paul McCartney. And in that moment my character Trudy Mixer was born. I hope you will love Trudy and SHE LOVES YOU (YEAH YEAH YEAH) when it comes out next June. I loved writing this novel, loved returning to 1966 and a girl who loves The Beatles more than anything.

Imagine is a good title for this post--well, it's always a good thing!--because I've been doing a lot of imagining lately. I finished my food memoir, writing essays and recipes with wild abandon. I write a 39 page (gasp!) short story.

My husband and I are imagining how our NYC apartment will look when our renovations are done. Yet another wild coincidence about our lives is that for years he had an apt in NYC on W 12th St and I had one on Bethune St, literally around the corner from each other. Now I do miss my funky bright sublet with its Italian tiles, subterranean bedroom, and Glenwood stove. But we are working on bringing light and color into W 12th St, as well as reconfiguring the space so we can entertain, which we both miss sorely. In the Providence loft we do it all the time, but we are eager to cook for our NYC friends too. Hopefully after Christmas the apartment will be done and we can have our first NYC dinner party. Imagine!

Annabelle and I had a fantastic weekend together in Mallorca. I had never been before, but I will certainly return. Gorgeous, rugged scenery. Great food and wine. And we stayed at the most wonderful hotel, La Residencia, that you have to stay in if you go.

Then I flew to Toronto to see Sam and What Will The Neighbors Say perform both The Untitled Shape Show and The Diana Tapes. Talk about imagine! These creative, intelligent, hardworking young people are creating theater around the world. Making their dreams come true. I admit I cry whenever I see their plays--from Edinburgh Fringe Festival to off Broadway and now in Toronto. Proud mama, yes. But also as one artist to other artists.

And I'm honored and delighted to tell you that my essay, "Imagine" was selected as one of the top 100 essays of 2016. It's part of my true crime column for The Normal School (you may remember my essay on "Abington Square" for them was chosen in2015).

So thank you John Lennon for reminding us all to Imagine. We are. We will.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Newport MFA

I could not be more tickled and honored to be launching the low residency Newport MFA program at Salve Regina university! Many years ago I was asked to come on board to help develop this wonderful program, and now it is a reality. It is so fulfilling to see something take shape from a small but vibrant seed and grow into a real MFA program.

We have rounded up an incredible faculty in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and young adult. And we have lined up guest writers that will dazzle all of our students and of course the public, who will be invited to all of our events.

 If you have ever dreamed of finishing your novel or starting your memoir or just becoming a better writer, maybe it is time to take the next step? I am attaching the link here for more information, if you are interested. But you can always send me a face book message  to let me know you are interested. I do hope you will join us next year. Our first residency is in June 2018. How exciting to be part of the very first class of the Newport MFA!

salve.edu/mfa

Thursday, September 7, 2017

MORNINGSTAR: GROWING UP WITH BOOKS events

I'm so delighted that my little memoir celebrating books and reading and the magic of literature is out in the world! It covers my high school years when I read books--from Dr. Zhivago to The Bell Jar, Love Story to The Grapes of Wrath, and of course Marjorie Morningstar--to figure out to live the life I dreamed of living. The reception has been so loving and warm, and it's lovely to be out on the road sharing it with people across the country.

Today I'm writing to you from Excelsior, Minnesota on the banks of Lake Minnetonka where I'm honored to be a part of a dynamite group of writers appearing at Literature Lovers Night Out (here last night, in Stillwater tonight). Gabrielle Zevin, JT Ellison, Eleanor Brown and I are talking to a few hundred people about the writing life and our books. We had a great time last night, and I'm looking forward to another terrific night tonight.

After a weekend in Cleveland with my darling husband, I take the stage 6:00 at the Contemporary Theatre on Main Street in my old stomping grounds of Wakefield RI. September 13 finds me on beautiful Block Island at the library at 7PM, then on to one of my favorite bookstores, Gibson's in Concord NH at 7PM on the 14th.

I'm thrilled that Michael and I were both invited to appear at The Provincetown Literary Festival on Saturday September 16. Is there anything as beautiful as Provincetown in September?

On Sunday September 17 I'm at my beloved Newtonville Books at 2.

A brief break before appearing at An Unlikely Story, the fantastic bookstore in Plainville MA (minutes from us in RI) at 7PM, and then also with Michael a anniversary celebration for another favorite bookstore, Titcomb's, at the Daniel Webster Inn in Sandwich at noon on September 27.

I must share my experience in Savannah as the speaker for the author's series through the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home. This honor included a private tour of the house by the fabulous Cody, who had Annabelle as riveted as we were. Like so many writers, Flannery O'Connor has had a huge impact on me and my writing. Her stories, of course, but also her letters and essays collected in The Habit of Being and Mysteries and Manners. What an honor it was to do this talk! And we loved walking around beautiful Savannah and eating dinner at The Grey, a restaurant in the old Greyhound bus station. Read about why its so important in this NYT piece: www.nytimes.com/2015/07/29/dining/the-grey-savannah-history-takes-another-turn.html

We got up early to hightail it to Milledgeville and Andalusia Farms where O'Connor lived out her too short life, only to find it not only closed, but surrounded by barbed wire to keep out people like us who would have jumped the gate just to see it. We did find her grave and I was moved to see that people leave pens there. After some pretty good BBQ, we went to the Decatur Literary Festival, a favorite of mine, for three panels and a great dinner with Joyce Maynard at The Kimball House. Actually, we had lots of great meals, including at my favorite The Iberian Pig (bacon infused bourbon? yes, please!)

Thank you for reading Morningstar: Growing Up With Books, and for coming to any events in your area.

For my knitters out there, I am closing in on my Airplane Shawl, ever so slowly! It takes a lot of knitting! But it is just gorgeous, and I can't wait to wrap myself in it soonish. I ordered a pattern and yarn from Churchmouse Yarns on Bainbridge Island as my reward for finishing. The pattern for Soft washed Herringbone Mitts (fulled rather feted) in Isager's Spinni Wool 1. I got it in Dusty teal.

Just got addicted to Ann Cleeves Shetland mysteries. Wow! I guess I'm on a Scottish writer kick because I just loved Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Two words: Read it!

Time to turn my attention to the copy edits of my new YA novel, She Loves You (Yeah Yeah Yeah), Coming out from Penguin next June!

Happy knitting! Happy Reading! Happy September!