Thursday, July 12, 2018

Domesticity

What a wonderful month I’ve had since I last posted here! Annabelle graduated from 8th grade, Sam left for London to continue THE DIANA TAPES, the inaugural residency of the Newport MFA was a rollicking success, and my favorite people gathered joined Sam in London in a sprawling Soho flat with a roof deck and room for big dinners, late night games, so much laughter and love that I returned refreshed and happy just in time for Annabelle to drive to Truro for one of our favorite yearly trips—a week at Castle Hill where I teach, we watch movies and eat berries and read and visit with friends. Sadly we leave here tomorrow and I will spend most of the next week or so with my most wonderful husband in NYC for lots of art and theatre and good food, before Annabelle and I fly to Paris and then on to Dingle Ireland to meet Sam and enjoy one of our favorite places in the world. That’s a quick recap of summer so far here.

But what’s been on my mind these past few days is the wonderful female British and Irish writers I’ve been reading the past few months—Maggie O’Farrell, Anne Enright, Anita Brookner, Tessa Hadley, and Jane Gardham. I’ve just been devouring all of their books non-stop, and realized slowly how respected and appreciated they are for exploring the same topics US women writers are often ignored for writing—family dynamics, love, parenting, friendship, home, children, siblings. What is described with derision as “domestic” here. (Though these writers are well regarded here; it’s American female writers who aren’t typically). The plots are often more emotionally tense than plot oriented, though there is always a plot: should we sell the house? Should we stay together? Should I go home? This has been some of the happiest reading I’ve done in a long time, book after book of the human heart explored with intelligence and curiosity and gorgeous prose. I’m inspired as a reader, a writer, and a woman by their words and stories. Please read every book these women have written.

As for me, I’m on my new novel’s fourth revision and it’s a huge one. I think I’ve figured out so much in this go round. I’m excited to get to work every morning, and hope to have it finished before I leave for Paris. Of course, I’m always ready for still more critiques from my agent and then my editor but I think I’m very close, at last.

I’m immersed in knitting a Churchmouse Yarns tunic but it’s too bulky for traveling so I’m also knitting slouchy hats for Christmas gifts. Though the needles are small so perhaps I shouldn’t use the plural?

So sad that Donald Hall died last week. My husband and I are such fans of his and Jane Kenyon’s and their love story. This morning at Michael’s recommendation I listened to the Fresh Air podcast tribute to them. If you’ve the time, spend an hour in their good company.

I hope your summer is sunny and bright. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Stuck in O’Hare

When your first flight cancels and they tell you they will put you on a 5:45 PM flight TOMORROW, so you spend too much money to rebook and then that airplane has a flat tire after the longest TSA Pre-check line in maybe the whole world, it would be so easy to be in a foul mood. But I’m not because after the sad news about Anthony Bourdain (dear friend to my husband, who is devastated and stunned) I have been awash in gratitude. I am stuck in O’Hare with the funniest, smartest fourteen year old maybe in the whole world (aka Annabelle) after a weekend in which:
We stayed in a lovely apartment in Lincoln Park. With a hot tub. On the roof. With a view of the Chicago skyline. (Thank you cousin Matt)
We had breakfast with the wonderful Nick who got us reservations for lunch at Rostier.
We had that lunch, and it was remarkable and memorable in every way.
Annabelle and I went on a cruise to celebrate my dear friends’ daughter’s graduation from DePaul, and it was joyful and full of lovely people.
My husband, fresh from Anderson Cooper, was waiting for us on the dock and We had deep dish pizza delivered after our Uber driver ordered us his favorite one, “with butter crust.”
We had lunch on Saturday with Annabelle’s former beloved English teacher at The Gage and then we walked a few blocks and saw Hamilton (again) and I cried during the entire second act.
We met Michael’s friend chef Brian and his delightful family at Duck, Duck, Goat and then went into the hot tub and an played the Hamilton soundtrack loud while the lights of Chicago twinkled at us.
Annabelle and I got to watch Michael and Brian break down a hog.
My 25 year old son still calls me every day and shares his life with me.
Our cancelled flight sent us back to the apartment and Annabelle and I got to lie on the sofa and read until Michael rushed back in time to tell us goodbye and send us off.
Life is so hard. And so sad. And so glorious. Hug the people you love. Read books. Knit. Love hard. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Globetrotting

Well, not really. But kind of. Annabelle left for two weeks in Spain and to ease the missing for her I set off on my own adventures. First, Michael and I visited friends in Santa Fe, and had great food, great conversation, and great fun in that unique lovely spiritual place. I was so happy we tookMichael to Chimayo, where back in 1996 I traveled to with my then three month old baby daughter Grace and my dear friend Matt for a miracle cure for my father. Dad had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer so a miracle was our only hope. I wrote about the experience in my first memoir, DO NOT GO GENTLE, which is available now as an ebook at https://openroadmedia.com/ebook/Do-Not-Go-Gentle/9781480466876.

From Santa Fe we flew to Oaxaca Mexico where we stayed at the most romantic inn, Casa Oaxaca, and ate the yummiest food, drank the best mezcal, walked our feet off, and simply loved being there and in love. We hated to leave, except that we needed to get to NYC for the opening of Sam’s play Off Broadway at the HERE Theatre. Michael's wonderful mom and her husband flew in too, and I was so proud I just about burst. If you are in NYC—or London, where it goes next—please go to see THE DIANA TAPES! All the info you need is on the website thedianatapes.com. Michael and I are hosting a show and reception for twenty people on Thursday night, and then taking Annabelle and two cousins to see it in London in July. When your three year old looks at you and tells you he’s just gotta sing and dance and then grows up to really be living his dream...well, it makes a mom pretty happy.

This week we are nesting in our NYC apartment, which we have completely done over with lots of color and art we’ve bought together on our travels. It’s so lovely to just be here together enjoying it and the city we love.

Also this week I’m finishing a round of revisions on my new novel, which will go back to my agent and if she gives a thumbs up on to my editor. Then of course more revisions!

I read Anita Brookner novels on vacation and if you haven’t read her yet please start now. My favorite is THE HOTEL DU LAC but none will disappoint you.

I have one knitting disaster to report: Aero Mexico took my needles! I had to pull off all my knitting! And they were plastic circular ones, size 3. Unbelievable!

It’s hot as Hades in the city today, so I am going to put on a summer frock and walk down to Penguin to sign copies of SHE LOVES YOU YEAH YEAH YEAH. Pub date June 26 and I am so excited!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thoughts on home

I have been unable to go back into the red house with the blue door where I lived for so long and where I raised my children. It is still too painful. The idea of “moving on” is a strange one, I think. After all, Annabelle and I made a new home that I love (in many ways even more than that red house). It’s full of openness and light and love. Michael and I are redoing his apartment so that it reflects us—more color, art from our travels, crafts our friends made, pieces of our still brief but wondrous life together (even as I write this he is in nyc installing lights and painting one wall Caribbean blue and hanging art). So haven’t I “moved on”? That phrase implies leaving the past behind, something I think we should never do. We should work on forgiveness, knowing that forgiveness sometimes takes a lifetime. We should not let regret cripple us, but we should learn from that regret to make better choices. We should embrace our failures, but not become failures. We should savor our past successes, but not rely on them forever. In other words, we should keep taking risks, fail better,build on our successes. We should keep moving, but not move on; rather, we move forward with all of these complicated emotions and life events. There is another house I can’t go into. It sits on top of a hill. It’s white with a red door. It’s been in my family since 1884. The last time I was inside was Valentine’s Day, when I raced in to grab something of my mother’s before the ambulance took her away. She was born in that house, and lived there for most of her 86 years. I grew up there, returned to it at times when I felt beaten up by life or to introduce a new love or to sit with her over endless cups of coffee to figure out next steps in this messy glorious life. If I did step inside, perhaps I would still be able these three months later to catch a whiff of cigarette smoke and the remains of meatballs frying. I could open any drawer and know what I’d find there. And it’s these memories, so sharp and raw, that keep me away. When Grace died, well meaning people told me it was imperative to clean out her room. To “move on”. But my wise grief counselor told me I should not even step in that room until I was ready, and only I would know when that was. One summer morning, over a year later, I woke up and knew I could do it. Yes, I trembled as I walked down that hall, but once inside I was grateful I had waited. On that day, I could laugh when I found carefully hidden candy wrappers from sneaked chocolates. I could inhale her smell without falling apart. I could choose what to keep and what to let go of. I hadn’t “moved on”. I’d lived well. I was still angry at medicine and God because such grief and anger shouldn’t go away in a year. Or even ten years. Or ever. It should morph and change and not destroy you. But you should never stop feeling. Good God, isn’t that why we are here? To feel everything in profound ways? Grief and anger and joy and love? I do not ever need to go in the red house again. And a wise friend told me I don’t even need to go in the white house again. “You have people who love you enough to do it for you,” she said. The idea comforted me, though I know one day I will wake up and get in my car and drive that road I’ve been driving since I was sixteen, straight past the Dunkin Donuts, left after the bridge, right up the hill, left at the garage. I will be ready to pull in the driveway and see the image of my father smiling on the back porch, my mother at the stove frying those meatballs, my brother at the kitchen table solving problems on a slide ruler, my own young self playing jacks on the kitchen floor, reading a fat book in the rocking chair, talking on the phone with girlfriends, running out the door on the arm of a boy ready to grab everything life held out to me. I’ll be able to do that not because I moved on, but because I didn’t. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Mother's Day

Here it comes. The first Mother's Day without Gogo. How different this pain is from the first Mother's Day without Grace. There is something about losing a child, something about losing your beloved mother at 86 and your beloved daughter at five. Such different but profound griefs. As my dear friend Amy said recently about losing her mother: There's just something not right. Yesterday I went to buy Mother's Day cards for my dear aunt and for my mother in law. How clever I was avoiding the entire section that said: For Mom, and lingered in the section for everyone else. This year I will spend Mother's Day in NYC with my own kids and my marvelous husband. We will go to a play and out to dinner and there will be joy and laughter and love. And Gogo will be there with us in all of our hearts.

It seems like every day I have a new form to sign or something new to get notarized or a decision to make. I've decided to do just one sad thing a day, even if that means things are getting done slowly. Although this mostly has to do with Gogo, I've extended this policy to unpleasant people I have to deal with as well. And it helps. I don't get that avalanche of grief or anger that comes with total immersion. I highly recommend this.

And now to happy news: I've finished the first draft of my new novel! Yay! But of course this means the beginning of revisions, which I'm starting on today. Stay tuned for end of this revision and beginning of next one. Beginning writers are always surprised at how many rounds of revision I do. Even this first draft has actually been revised twice already--once when I reached page 75, and then again after Michael read most of it and offered comments. So we might start the count at three already.

I am making great progress on my Turkish bed slippers:
https://www.churchmouseyarns.com/products/turkish-bed-socks-pattern
The color is the most lovely jewel blue and they are just complicated enough to make me pause and think. On the train yesterday Michael saw me staring at my little slipper hard and puzzled and was quite amused!

Things to be excited about:

SHE LOVES YOU YEAH YEAH YEAH, my new YA book is available for pre-order here or at your favorite indie bookstore:
https://www.amazon.com/She-Loves-You-Yeah/dp/1524785113
It tells the story of Trudy Mixer, the biggest Beatles fan in her school, who--along with three oddballs--sets out to meet Paul McCartney after the Beatles 1966 concert in Boston. I was happy every minute that I spent writing this book.

THE DIANA TAPES, a play by What Will the Neighbors Say, my son Sam's theatre company, is opening Off Broadway on May 27!
You can get tickets here:
http://here.org/shows/detail/1969/
After this run, they go to London!

Michael and I are taking four lovely trips in the next month. To santa Fe to visit my friends Mary and Andy. To Oaxaca to eat and walk and be romantic. To Chicago with Annabelle where Michael will work, we will all go to see HAMILTON (again for AB and me), and we will eat at Girl and the Goat, one of my favorite restaurants. And to Michael's hometown of Cleveland so that he can show Annabelle around--at her request (how happy I am that my kiddos love this man almost as much as I do), which means the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an Indians game, hopefully dinner at the Greenhouse, and all sorts of wonderful Cleveland things.

Now it's time to begin those revisions. And yes, I'm excited about that too!


Friday, May 4, 2018

History

As e e cummings wrote:

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

And for me right now that root of the root, bud of the bud is that I am faced with the challenge of emptying and selling the house that has been in my family since 1884. My dreams have been filled with me trying to move history books too large to hold, of lifting ancient tablets, of losing seashells in the surf. 

Today I had to talk about getting rid of furniture and giving away clothes and what can be thrown out. But every day I walked into that house and that furniture, those clothes, those superficial things, brought me comfort. I can’t even walk in there. 

Ah grief. 

I carry your heart, Gogo. I carry it in my heart. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The tricky thumb gusset

One of My favorite knitting projects this year has been the ferryman mitts from churchmouse Yarn and tea on Bainbridge Island, Washington. This pattern is tricky and simple, beautiful and challenging, and a perfect carry on the airplane project. When sam saw the mitts I had knit for Annabelle he asked for an identical pair in the same yarn. So why, after successfully knitting this pattern three times did my fourth thumb gusset fail? I just can’t get it right! This is what is on my mind today, those things we succeed at over and over and then somehow manage to fail at for no particular reason. As you all know, knitting is a perfect metaphor for life. Well, my latest “thumb gusset” is a new novel I have just finished. Of course, typing the end really just means the end of that draft, and time to let the revisions begin! There is such a feeling of satisfaction and dare I say even enjoy when I finish a draft of a novel. If you are lucky like I am, then your husband eagerly reads that draft and gives you the most brilliant notes and suggestions for revision. He tells you that you have written something wonderful. But like those pesky thumb gussets you can’t help but wonder if you can really pull it off again.

On Amtrak today from Providence to New York City I did not even look up once so engaged was I in my revision process. I just had the most wonderful lunch with an old friend and now I will meet with my fabulous thesis students before dinner with my friend and editor. And then at 10 the key will turn in the lock and my fabulous husband will walk in, and we will tell each other about the thumb gussets that worked out and those that didn’t today. Tomorrow I will turn again to my revision, and to that fourth mitt.

When I walked from the subway today, all of the tulips in Abingdon Square were in bloom, a riot of red like they were at my wedding last year. I hope you see something as glorious today, that your knitting reminds you of our challenges and our victories.