My Town, My Twins

BLUEPRINT FOR DAYLIGHT, my award-winning memoir of infidelity, cancer, colicky twins, and the flood in my basement

has recently been excerpted. . . twice!

The print publication, Connecticut’s Emerging Writers:  an Anthology is available HERE

LARK BLOOM, a blogsite devoted to essays on disability, creativity, and family, is available HERE

I am extremely grateful to Z Publishing and Lark Bloom.

XO

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A Nook of One’s Own

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” So said Virginia Woolf in 1928.

Ninety years later, this quote from A Room of One’s Own, Woolf’s extended essay from which it famously derives, is as relevant as ever-especially to me.

I write non-fiction and poetry. But does that preclude me from having a room of my own to make a writerly mess in?

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Woolf is a hero of mine: my English Springer is named after her and I believe The Waves to be one of the greatest accomplishments in novel writing history. My devotion is unmovable. . .unlike my furniture. Which resided in a very messy bedroom writing nook of one’s own.

One being me.

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One in a house of six, five: one husband, seventeen year-old twins (our older son recently decamped to Rhode Island), and the previously mentioned Woolf namesake. Writing anywhere other than a designated spot was at best inconvenient (the dining room) and at worst impossible (on the living room sofa).

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The nook I settled on is at the far end of our bedroom. Yes, it has a staircase to the main entry right behind it, and yes, it’s above the laundry room (ding!) but, the staircase is the fastest way to the tea kettle and the sound of laundry running gives this “one” a sense that all is right with the world.

Here is how my nook looked before:

(see previous post HERE)

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It’s amazing how unaware I was of the space. Given my design background, I should have been mortified. But, the eye sees what the eye wants and I decided to turn a blind eye in favor of being left alone. It was almost too much to ask that my space look nice. I mean, I’ve still got two sons at home, one of whom has yellow flower-patterned wallpaper on his bedroom walls that I PROMISED to remove. Three years ago.

The problem was, once I noticed my nook’s shabbiness, I couldn’t un-notice it. I stopped writing in favor of moving piles of paper and furniture around. I became counter-productive. The tipping point in favor of a nook makeover was that the son with the flowered wallpaper only uses his bedroom to sleep in and with the lights off. Also, my nook remodel expense was minor: we did the whole room for less than $1,000, including the floor. Also, I’m the mother and I’m in charge.

Coinciding with the finishing of the nook of my own,  I’ve had two ideas for novels-and I wrote them down.

Thank you Virginia Woolf. . . I love you.

Have You Ever Seen the Rain?

 

Back in the summer of 1985 I was a ballet-studying, boyfriend-less high school junior living in Virginia. The last thing I wanted was rain. Even in Virginia, where it got so hot people don’t even say the word, it’s like a hex.

At sixteen, I wanted sun, sun, and more sun. I did the sun-dance. All the better to lie beneath while coating my extra-white legs with baby oil for that elusive tan that was never to be mine.

But I had hope.

New Englanders have a saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Well, I don’t know about the rest of New England, but here in Connecticut it’s been seven days of unrelenting sun. No longer a sixteen-year old after that sweet-spot of the almost-burn: skin that wouldn’t peel and settle into what we all thought of as the Base Tan, I’m older and wiser and discovered bronzer.

And I discovered the beauty of rain.

Finally, after our Connecticut all-sun heat-wave had me taking cold showers a couple times a day followed by drying myself in front of a fan. . . they say that rain is coming. And, oh, how I’ve missed it.

Even if the sweet peas taking over my mailbox don’t seem to miss it.

Or, the grapevines taking over the abandoned ladder don’t seem to miss it.

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They say rain is coming, but when I look up, all I see is sun.

Dude, You Won’t Want Your Lady to Read This. . .

Unless you want to up your game in the love department. But if you’re looking for some inspiration, by all means, you can both read on. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The romance bar has been raised. By this man:

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Meet Greg. Greg is my best friend of thirty years, husband of twenty-five years, and father to our three sons. Which is already super-star material. But he’s also the kind of guy who will buy me Tampax and chocolate at the pharmacy and has been by my side through one aggressive disease, four home remodels, three careers, and ten thousand cans of hairspray.

I know. Pretty f$cking amazing. But just wait.

Earlier this month I was headed here:

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I would be attending inspiring, one-of-a-kind Writer’s Hotel workshops, but I was also invited to serve as teaching assistant to the fantastic Marion Winik. I would be doing all sorts of cool and fun things like introduce Dana Isokawa of Poets & Writers Magazine and Carey Salerno of Alice James Books to attending poets on publishing and lead a Humor in Poetry workshop. Besides all that, along with the other 100 or so attendees, I would be reading at a famous NYC literary location.

2018 Red Room

When I found out, a couple weeks ahead of time, that I would be at this NYC landmark, I told Greg, “The Red Room is SO cool, too bad you can’t come.”  Greg was at our kitchen counter, watching me put flowers I’d cut from our farmhouse property in a vase. Greg works in Boston, we live in northeast Connecticut, and Manhattan is out of the way of both. “You’re going to miss me reading and I’m going to miss the peonies blooming.” Spring in the Quiet Corner had been cool- our lilacs peaked two weeks later than usual and the peonies, my favorite flower, would be in full bloom all over the yard while I was in New York.

Greg said nothing. I didn’t even know if he’d heard me.

I arrived in the city on a Wednesday and by Friday, the day of my reading, I’d been so busy with the conference I barely had enough time to run to my hotel room, change, and print out my reading. I threw open my hotel door and saw this:

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Those are peonies. They look like my peonies. From my yard. No. They couldn’t be. Hey- that’s my vase!

I called out into the tiny hotel room, “Greg? Are you here?!” Then I looked under the bed and in the shower. No one. I shrugged and got changed quick. Just before I headed out the door to catch a taxi, I tucked a blossom behind my ear and took a picture.

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I texted Greg from the cab, “Are you in NY?”

“No- What are you talking about?”

“Um, there’s a bouquet of peonies in my hotel room and they’re in my vase from home!”

“I’ve got friends in high places. Enjoy your reading tonight, wish I was there!”

I’ll admit, a peony behind my ear provided more than perfume. I felt magical. Everything started to take on a fuchsia cast.

I climbed out of the taxi, walked up the steep (kind of crooked) stairs at KGB Bar and guess who was there? You guessed it.

Greg drove down to my hotel with the peonies strapped in the passenger seat and convinced the clerk to deliver them to my room. Then he hauled down to the Village and waited for me to show up. (Of course I was late.)

What can I say? I’m a slave to fashion.

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All the ladies loved Greg’s surprise. Scott Wolven, fiction writer, co-organizer of the conference, and newly engaged, said, “Great. That’s a smooth move that’s gonna be hard to beat.”

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The next morning, I was still seeing with peony colored glasses.

From the dogs swimming in Central Park. . .

The rowboats outside the Loeb Boathouse. . .

The promenade. . .

So, get on the stick gentlemen. . .do something nice for your lady.

 

Memory Lane

 

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Farmington Canal Heading South from Cheshire

I like to think I have a pretty good memory. Beyond the silly pride in remembering which of my several Winnie-the-Pooh shirts I wore the first day of kindergarten or which shade my hair was (out of the many colors it has been), when I first met my husband,  a good memory is a professional requirement if you are a writer of memoir. Which I am.

There are times you might think it would be better not to have such a detail-oriented memory.

Like when bad sh*t goes down and your life falls apart. That would be a good time to suddenly forget.

For example:

In 2001, my husband and I were bringing our marriage back from a precipice when a late-term ultrasound revealed we were having twins. Three months later a needle biopsy revealed I also had an aggressive cancer. Meanwhile, our house, perched on top of a natural spring, kept flooding. On the same day, I delivered two six pound baby boys and a cancerous tumor the size of a golf ball. During treatment of chemo and radiation, my husband and I saved our marriage and the house’s water-logged foundation. We somehow also fed and clothed a pair of infants and a four-year old.

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The Mount Carmel bike path connector- Sleeping Giant’s head in the distance. 

To cope survive, I wrote about it all. I also rode my bike. Once treatment was over, the twins were walking, and we sold the house- you’d think I’d want to shut the door on the past and never peek in there again. But you’d be wrong.

The past is never dead. It isn’t even past. – William Faulkner

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Our First House

I loved Hamden, the town we lived in. I loved walking the boys in their stroller up and down the hilly, tree-lined streets. I loved the freedom I felt every time I got Big Bertha, my cheap Caldor’s mountain bike, out of the garage, attached a runner’s radio to my upper arm with Velcro, stuck the headband-style headphones in my ears and took off flying.

If I intentionally forgot the time I spent in treatment or the twins’ colicky episodes from hell, I’d also have to forget the lightness that came from riding, one that lifted me out of the hole of recurrence and death, a hole I sometimes lived in. 

And so I made myself remember-all of it. It’s been seventeen years since I was diagnosed. I’m healthy as a horse and I still ride my bike. Eleven years ago we moved an hour and fifteen minutes northeast to Connecticut’s Quiet Corner. The bike riding is phenomenal. I found a posse I hang with and together we pull each other up hills and roll off mile after mile in congenial company. My ride is fancier and a whole hell of a lot lighter since Big Bertha is in the giant recycling pile in the sky. And yet. . . this spring I felt, excuse the pun, a shift.

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The day before yesterday I was in my old neighborhood visiting my parents who are about to move thirty minutes south. It seemed urgent to ride my old route on the bike path from Mount Carmel to Cheshire, but first climb Dickerman Street, past our old house. I realized, as I huffed and puffed past the adorable house with the steep center gable I’d once called mine, I was ready to say goodbye. I realized with surprise, that while the past, as Faulkner wrote, is not past but still with me, I wanted to put some memories to rest.

For one thing, I no longer live in fear of cancer recurrence or death. I  didn’t realize what I’d done until my ride was over: I’d retraced my cycling steps and said goodbye to the younger me. Because she’s all grown up now, and she’s doing just fine.

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I Blame the Lilacs

It’s not my fault I did no housework this week- it’s the lilacs’.

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Yeah, OK, it’s MY fault I bought the house with the giant lilac bush that smells like heaven and it’s MY fault I placed my desk under the window that looks out over the giant lilac bush and MY fault that I opened the window. But it’s the lilacs’ fault that they magically opened in the warm spring sunshine causing me. . .

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to forget about writing and doing the laundry and cooking and shopping and instead. . .

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run outside and smell them.

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And because I was already outside, I got further distracted and took about fifty pictures of the planet sized flowering quince covered in bumblebees and hummingbirds. This caused me to be late picking up one of my sons from school.

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Afterwards, I walked around the yard like I’d just had lilac-infused alcohol. I was a lilac zombie with a camera and took this picture. . .

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and this one.

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And I went on a bike ride and all I saw was purple

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I’ve been outside all week. The wind is blowing the writing off my desk. The laundry is touching the ceiling.

It’s a relief that I have to shut the window. . .the forecast is calling for rain.

 

 

 

 

Pretend Paris

Paris Welcomes You! 

I’ve always wanted to go to Paris and just after we were married I proposed a trip to Europe. Greg proposed that we begin having children. We were twenty-four years old. I was ready for a traveling adventure. Greg was ready for adventure of another kind. “I don’t want to be an old dad.” (Remember, I said we were TWENTY-FOUR.) He also said, “Europe will still be there when the kids are grown.” It was hard to argue.  Today, our three sons are 22, 17, & 17. One has moved out and the other two will graduate high school next year. And lo and behold, Europe is still there. But with an old farmhouse wanting our attention, twins with college plans, and all three needing our resources, Europe will have to wait.

Friday afternoon Greg and I drove across the Connecticut border and the road sign that I pretended said, Paris Welcomes You!  actually read, Massachusetts Welcomes You! 

Greg surprised me for my birthday with an overnight stay in Boston- a city that could never be confused with Paris- or could it?

It rains in Boston, just like I’ve heard it does in Paris.

Boston has shrubbery shaped like gumdrops, just like Paris.

And Boston has bakeries.

You can sit at the window inside Tatte and watch people wrangling umbrellas while you sip a cup of Earl Grey. The owner designed her cafe to make if feel as if you were being hugged. I can think of nothing better than to be hugged by a cinnamon bun.

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How much for the entire platter, s’il vous plait?

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So, Paris has Jardin du Luxembourg. Boston has the Common.

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Does it get foggy in Paris?

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I know for damn sure that Paris doesn’t have our friend Sean, head chef of the Revere Hotel’s restaurant the Rebel’s Guild, who brought us plate after plate of deliciousness. (My present to you: order the Skillet Cornbread with Maple Butter.) My cocktail was the Midnight Ride. Thank you very much.

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They had kings in Paris, but we had a king-sized bed in Boston. Also, champagne.

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French women are skinny, but our Boston hotel had a skinny mirror. I’m really going to miss it.

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Saturday morning was beautiful, not a raindrop in sight. Perfect for walking. . .and walking. . .and walking. We walked all the way to the MFA.

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The Louvre doesn’t have Mark Rothko. (Or this dude with his Tatte bag, who kind of looks like he needs a hug.)

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Before Greg and I left the MFA, I headed to the bookshop and performed one of my new magic rituals. With my manuscript, Blueprint for Daylight, currently being pitched to publishers by my agent, I find the non-fiction section and create a space where it will-one-day-if-I-pray-to-the-publishing-gods be found. Weird? I am certainly weird. But if it works, you saw it here first, all you aspiring writers. Then I take a picture and sit with my phone for way too long drawing a book spine with my finger and typing the title.

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The only beer I like is a Corona Light on a 100 degree day after working all afternoon in the garden. But after walking seven miles we needed a pick-me up. And Greg says Corona isn’t beer. Whatever, Guinness Man.

This Blood Orange Wheat radler was SO GOOD.

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Do French women take pictures of their feet when the nail polish on their toes is chipped? Probably not. But after our trip to Boston, where I walked in the rain, drank champagne, enjoyed pastries, art, and came home with books-it felt like the best birthday getaway, no plane ticket necessary.

Europe will still be there after we save enough to finish remodeling our farmhouse and the twins graduate college. . . but until then, I’ve got Boston.

Five Steps to Crazy

This is my office. AKA: the Writer Containment Area. An area that is not allowed the isolation of Area 51 as it is in my bedroom. Sometimes, I have visitors.

I used to be considered a neat freak. I can hear you laughing and asking me what all that stuff, very important writing process stuff, is. Let me break it down in a precise clockwise fashion:

  1. writing on the floor
  2. writing on the desk
  3. books and journals I should have already read on the floor, the desk, and the sofa.
  4. Art I made four years ago (during creative crisis) and still have not hung
  5. The printer is on the floor because in yet another vain attempt at becoming a minimalist, I removed the printer’s table.

This is a super embarrassing great photo to further illustrate how far down the slob rabbit hole I’ve gone. The old me would have ripped out the awful wall to wall carpet the day we moved in. It’s been two and a half years.

I’ve even let people see this space. Some of whom were without shoes. Or socks. Since I have rose colored glasses and can only see the lovely view, I imagined my visitors did as I did and ignored the stained carpet and all the papers, books, and floor obstacles. I am kind of impressed how long I let this mess fester. Like going to the hairdresser and having her say, “Your hair feels really healthy,” and responding, “I haven’t washed it in a week!”

The move two and a half years ago coincided with the book I was writing and the graduate school education I jumped into. While I was there I developed a Second Brain. Second Brain cares nothing for neatness and wants only to write books,devour literary journals, and write things that could, with a Herculean amount of editing muscle and luck, be printed in one. All was going swimmingly.

Then two weeks ago I submitted my manuscript to an agent who is, as we speak,  pitching it to publishing houses. So obviously, I got a dumpster.

It’s like Oprah always says, “Clean out your Writer Containment Area if you want to get published.” No? Sure she does. She also says, “To make room in your life for unlimited prosperity you must remove your unattractive 1990s carpets.” Then she’ll send me the keys to a Mercedes and a lifetime of Sephora. While I wait for that, I give you Five Steps to Crazy:

Step One: Enlist husband to rip up old icky carpet and lay new floor. Buy beer and whisky. (Maybe buy the beer and whisky before enlisting husband.)

Step Two: Put all the stuff back and snap a “before” photo.

Step Three: a week, two sore backs, and many stubbed toes later, voila! A place for the dog to sleep.

 

Step Four: Realize how amazing the space looks (what to call it, Modern Shaker?) without most of your stuff- like minimalist nirvana was achievable. However, you must now write downstairs at the dining room table because the green upholstered Parsons chair is in the dumpster.  A hole was worn in the fabric from sitting and watching the new David Letterman series on Netflix writing.

Step Five: Because you don’t want to pester the agent (WHAT’S HAPPENING?!), buy more beer and whisky because the bathroom is next.

In Praise of Green Things

Officially, I live in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut. Unofficially, it’s the Arctic Circle.

I lay in bed checking the forecast in hopes of seeing a reassuringly normal 30, even 25 degrees.  The phone screen illuminates, “Feels like -17.” I’m wearing that many layers to stay warm and I haven’t even left the house. This is a perfect excuse to boot the teenagers out of my favorite room and take it over. The best descriptor for that small parlor is straight out of Rebecca, the classic novel by Daphne du Maurier. In my morning room, unlike the movie adaptation, there are no rhododendrons but the owner’s name is apt: Mrs. de Winter. Like the name morning room implies, ours faces east and being small, is the only room in the house that remains cozy in sub-zero temperatures.

No video games this morning, boys.

I sit here, all tucked in on the daybed with the sun streaming across my lap and dream about spring. Since anything resembling green grass or green leaves is months away here in Connecticut’s northeast corner, I’ll share my favorite collection of green things, recently gathered.

Right after Christmas, my husband and I went to Newport, Rhode Island where we escaped the snow, but not the frigid temps. That didn’t stop us from taking in the Winter Passport mansion tour where I indulged in all things ornate.

From extravagant passementerie to an exhibit from the private collection of Pierre Cardin, I warmed right up.

 

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