April 9, 2015
This is a begging letter, as my mother would have called it. I am begging anyone who thinks they might have the slightest interest in coming to the next Writing Matters event on Saturday evening, June 20th, featuring the absolutely delightful children's book writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal to buy their ticket right now.
That way, I know how much food and how many flowers and how many boxes of crayola crayons to buy. That way I'll know if I can continue to produce this series which means to much to me and to the many who come.
There's a photo I prize above all others of my mom and me. I'm about five, and she's reading to me, and the look on both of our faces is identical: we are happily lost to the story. All these years later, one of my favorite things to do is to get lost in a story, in words and cadence and message. As for my mom, she listened to books on tape in her hospice room up until her last hours. Reading is important for so many reasons. So is writing. Supporting authors who deserve more attention than they get is important. As far as I know, we are the ONLY organization that focuses on those authors who deserve better, and the rewards are so great: the audience gets to hear someone terrific they might not have heard of otherwise. The author gets a great crowd. The kids at Hephzibah get to go to The Magic Tree Bookshop and pick out whatever book they want to read and take it home--it's theirs. I get the great pleasure of watching your faces as you watch the author.
If we can keep going, I can keep offering you authors I love whom I believe you will love, too. I have in mind inviting poet laureate Charles Simic for September; he has a new book of poems and essays out. Have you heard of him? No? Good! Keep Writing Matters alive and you'll get to enjoy him, as well as all the other things we provide at every event: a beautiful venue, food, flowers, fantastic camaraderie and always a surprise or two. And listen to this: A man and a woman who came solo met at a Writing Matters event, and they're getting married. That's a lie. But it COULD happen!
At the bottom of this posting I'll give you the link to buy tickets. And Amy Krosuse's website. You will love her. She's one of those fantastic upbeat people who makes you happy too. And her books! I always say that a good children's book can be equally enjoyed by an adult as well as a kid. In fact, I belonged to a children's book club before I had children. Before I even got married! That's because I find them so charming. I think you'll find Amy and her books charming. And at the event you can buy an autographed book for a child, a niece or nephew, a grandchild and/or yourself. You can also find out what it is that makes a writer of children's books. What draws them to it? What unique talents must a children's book writer have? I don't know if you've EVER met anyone who wrote a great book about an exclamation mark. But if you come to Writing Matters on June 20th, you'll meet the woman who did. Wear something whimsical and prepare to have fun. Eat the kid food I'll provide. This time, instead of a kid essay reader, we're having someone at the other end of spectrum: an 80+ year old individual will talk about how to stay young at heart. All this for a $10 ticket. (Plus slightly over $1 handling fee, a portion of which is given to charity.) What a deal!! Please, please, please consider buying your ticket now. Bring your friends. Bring your relatives. It would help us so much and then you'd be able to say you're booked for a date in June already! Popular!
October 5, 2012
Oh, I know. I know it's been a really long time since I wrote anything on here. A REALLY long time. I suppose that almost anyone reading this knows that I've been "talking" on Facebook rather than here. It seems I can't really do both. So for those of you who enjoy my comments or essayettes, please look for them on my Facebook page.
This website will be useful for biographical information and news about books and events and recipes, though, so I hope you're come over and visit sometimes. And thank you for your interest and support.
December 20, 2011
I have gotten lots of wonderful Christmas presents in my life. I suppose I'm typical in remembering most strongly the gifs of childhood: the time I got what seemed like a bazillion outfits for my Ginny doll, the time I got a black velvet purse festooned with pearls, and a matching hat, which I wore with great pride to midnight mass. Also the time I got the teddy bear I called Hope, whom I still have. But the other day I got another wonderful gift.
I awakened in the morning to the adoring gaze of my golden, Homer, who'd gotten up on the bed during the night and was stretched out alongside me with his head on a pillow., and yes, when I opened my eyes, there his were. It made me laugh out loud, which made him thump his tail.
I came downstairs and got a cup of coffee, then went into my study to work, and it started to snow. It was the kind of snow that looked like someone had torn up lace, and it drifted down slowly and so beautifully for hours.
After I finished working, I went to our little downtown to get some shopping done, and coming down the street was a sleigh being pulled by a team of horses wearing jingle bells. The sleigh had wheels, which was a good thing, given that the snow hadn't stuck. Outside one store was a group of carolers wearing old fashioned clothes: hoop skirts and bonnets for the women, top hat and tails for the men, singing "Fa la la la la." And then when I emerged from another store, there was Santa, wishing me a Merry Christmas. "Merry Christmas, " I said back, shyly, and in that moment I still kind of believed in him. (I have to tell you I devastated when I learned there was no Santa. Shattered. I remember sitting out on the curb knee to knee with my best friend Cathy, saying, "Well, maybe there's no Santa Claus, but there is definitely an Easter Bunny. No one would make that up!" And she set her mouth defiantly and said, "Yeah!")
That night I went to a concert that featured singing by a choir, several sing-alongs of popular Christmas songs, and ballet dancing by young girls wearing white tutus, a kind of personification of innocence. Even if they girls would deny being innocent, even if they would resent being called innocent, that is how they looked. There was also, wonderfully, a reading of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. This concert was a fundraiser, and in the lobby there were gingerbread cookies lying on a paper plate, ginger men and ginger ladies, so many it looked like a small nation, and they were only five dollars. What a deal! I bought them before the concert started and brought them in with me so they could hear too. I sat behind some teenage girls, and one was fooling around with the another's hair the whole time, carefully laying this strand over that and the effect was really very relaxing. It reminded me of my friend Phyllis, who used to pay her neices a quarter to mess around with her hair--gently!
After the concert I went to a holiday party where I knew almost no one, but enjoyed a freindly chat and some wonderful food and an excellent martini which I drank from a plastic glass featuring a holly and berry design.
When I went to bed, I realized I'd had a perfect day. Joy lay on my chest like a cat. Good thing it wasn't a real cat, because it would have gotten in the way of Homer repeating his lie-on-the bed move, which he did happily that night.
Merry Christmas to all who don't mind hearing it. May the new year bring up hope, happiness and a measure of sanity to our inglorious Congress.
November 22, 2011
In the spirit of the season, I offer the following recipe:
LEFT OVERS SANDWICH
1. Pull beleaguered turkey from refrigerator. Also pull out all the other leftovers. And the big jar of mayo.
2. Get out the icky white bread, the kind so soft it folds over in your hand before you've even done anything to it.Wonder bread is best, but take care not to get any of that vile enriched or WW stuff.
3. Spread both sides of the bread with a lot of mayonnaise. A lot. The goal here is to have mayonnaise squishing out of the sandwich every time you take a bite.
4. Pile on some turkey. Salt it.
5. Pile on some stuffing.
6. Pile on some cranberry sauce.
7. Pile on some potato chips. That's right. You don't want your chips on the side because you will get too nervous about getting the right potato chip/ sandwich ratio.
8. Pile on some gravy and also some green bean bake.
9, Enlist the service of the resident strong person to help you get your masterpiece onto a plate. Keep telling that person that this is YOUR sandwich, no, they cannot have a bite, if they want one, make their own.
10. Put sandwich on the table and go and get one of those cokes in the little blue/green glass bottle. Only the little one. The little ones are best because they fit properly in the hand and they have the right amout of syrup and also they remind you of Santa Claus whom you like even if you don't believe in him because he's s such a good guy and because old as he is--and jeez, think how OLD he is!--he still has a nice smile and a well-groomed beard and from all accounts, he treats his wife and animals very well.
11. Photograph your sandwich from a few different angles. You will use one of these photos to have a t-shirt made to sleep in and to remind you that next year you can have another sandwich just like this. Not before, or your doctor and Michele Obama will get you.
12. Take a huge bite. Chew until it's all gooshy. Then call your little grandchildren over by using a series of grunts and gestures. Lean down close to them, point to your mouth, then open it wide, When they say, EWWWWWW!, smile. Say, "War a bi?" When they say NOOOO, smile again.
13. When you have finished eating the sandwich, go to the kitchen and get out the left over pie. You know what to do.
October 16, 2011
On my last day in Positano, I went with my friend Lauren and her husband Rino to Tramonti, in the hills of Amalfi, to vist a vineyard. Lauren had gotten a call that today was the day: the grapes were going to be cut. The ride up into the hills was so beautiful: look left, it's gorgeous, look right, same thing. I sat in the back seat trying to take it all in, but it's impossible; at some point, I simply turned off my mind and just watched. A videographer who works with Lauren was waiting for us so that he could lead us to the place where the cutters were working (these grapes are cut by hand, not machine). I was struck by the pride and apparent joy of the cutters, who held bunches of green grapes up like a trophy, the sun illuminating the fruit in a way that was living art. Add to that the quite literally indescribable beauty of the hills in which the vineyard lay, and you'll have some idea of what a sensory explosion it was. I was moved to tears, which kept on falling even as I was smiling, then laughing. After the vineyard we visited Amalfi, and Lauren and I went to the Cathedral of Amalfi, down into the Cloister of Paradise, which is a jewel box of a place: dark, cool, rich with frescos and paintings and history. Then we had lunch at a seaside restaurant: fried zuchinni blossoms, seafood pasta, fish in lemon sauce, and profiteroles limone. The food was so good there were no words: all I could do was roll my eyes and shake my head. We ended up at Lauren's house and talked for a long time and then, for perhaps the third time, I said I really should go. I shouldered my purse and moved out onto the balcony facing the Tyrrhenian Sea and the hills of Positano, where, in the gathering darkness, the lights were beginning to come on; here, there, over there. From the house, Lauren called out: "Rino wants to have a toast, you want to have a toast?" I took my purse off my shoulder and sat down at the outdoor table and said, "Yes!" which is really the only answer to have in Italy. Rino selected the wine, a lovely rose, then uncorked it. He set out beautiful glasses which shone even in the darkness. Then he set about to light candles. The ones Lauren had put out were not to his satisfaction; he had to find prettier ones. This he did, and we sat in the candlelight drinking wine and talking, talking, talking, saying a long farewell, which is the only farewell Italians seem to know how to do. I had a sense of being there fully in the moment, but also of being in a dream. It is both, there in Positano, all the time.
I will be going back to Italy to teach another writing workshop, perhaps next time in Venice, or up in a small hill town, for I found that I really love inspiring people to write. This was a happy surprise for me. I will also be doing the same workshop I did in Positano in the states, probably in the cities of Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston and San Francisco. I will post details here and on my facebook page once I have them. It will take a little while; I want to get all the details worked out first.
Meanwhile, I'm going to dream again about the apartment I saw for rent in Positano. It was beautiful: the tiles, the high ceilings, the balconies. And it had a fantastic view. I walked in, looked around, and turned to the landlord to say, "Uh oh." So, you know. We'll see.
October 3, 2011
This Friday, I go to Positano, Italy, where I'll be teaching a writing workshop and taking a cooking class, along with the rest of the participants. (See it at cooking-vacations.com) Cooking and writing and Italy: who could ask for more? Not me. But last night I woke up at 3AM, worried about what to pack and all the other bump-in-the-night things associated with traveling: Missing the flight. Or catching the flight, but the flight is doomed: somewhere over the black, endlessly deep ocean, the captain says, "Bad news from the flight deck. Apparently our wings have fallen off. Feel free to take along our complimentary in-flight magzine when you exit the aircraft." Or: I fall asleep and start drooling and awaken to see my seatmate watching me with ill-disguised disgust. And then it turns out that my seatmate is in my writing class. Or: I miss my connection. Or: I get no sleep on the plane and arrive at my destination sobbing because when I don't get enough sleep I get verklempt (or however you spell that) over everything. Or: I lose my passport. Or: I get sick and have to be hospitalized. Or: my dogs get sick and have to be hospitalized.
I tried meditation. I tried my version of prayer, which is basically, "Okay, game on. Respect. Could you please help me?"
Finally, I turned on the light and Homer, who had been sleeping beside me, raised his head as if to say, "Are you kidding me?" then let if flop back down and went on dreaming his dog dreams. (What do they dream about? What is it that makes them whine and twitch their paws that way?)
I read for a while, Stuart O'Nan's Wish You Were Here and also Julie Otsuka's luminous The Buddha in the Attic. And my anxiety was dispelled, just like that.
I am grateful for books for many reasons, but this is perhaps their greatest triumph: they can lift you out of fear, despair, self-absorption and ignorance and put you in a place of wonder and peace. I'll be bringing six books with me to Italy. Thank God it's an international flight and I can check luggage for free. I'm so cheap. I really am. I wash out straws.
September 19, 2011
A gray day here. Summer is still in the air like the faint scent of perfume after the wearer has just left the room. Fall is on the way and I can't help but be excited, even though I hate being cold and complain about being cold more than anyone I know. But you know how it goes: here come the store displays of cozy, autumn-colored sweaters and here come the school supplies and the yellow buses trundling down streets where fallen leaves are already starting to collect at the curb. (If vehicles talked, surely school buses would be the friendliest. And garbage trucks the funniest. And fancy cars the crabbiest.) Recipes for stews and soups and roasts and muffins abound, and classes are offered in practically anything you would want. The serious books come out. As do the afghans that you can lie under while you read them.
I am working on a novel where part of the "research" involves going to the library for children's story hour, and I submit to you that the way to save the world might be for everyone to go to such a thing on a regular basis. What hope is contained there, what innocence, what sly humor, what openness, what exuberance! And something else, too. Last time I went, the librarian offered a hug from a stuffed animal--a brown bear, as it happened--and I think just about every kid leaped up to get one. They waited in line--courteously, expectantly, and seemed to give their whole heart over to the bear that they believed was real. No matter what mood I'm in when I come into that room where stories and songs and love are offered to little kids, I always come out happy.
I had planned to go to a writer's colony this week, but failed to find a dog sitter, so am arranging for same in my own home. I hired a dog walker to come two times a day, I am not answering the phone or doorbell in the mornings, and I am enjoying the pleasure of writing in my pajamas again. I write better in my pajamas. It might be because it keeps me near the sleep state, where one's mind is open and vulnerable in a way that's close to those kids in story hour. It might be because one is simply more comfortable in pajamas--must ask Hugh Hefner about that.
Downstairs, the clock has stuck eight. Time's a-wasting. I hope you find a shiny penny today to bring you luck. Sometimes I plant shiny pennies for the finding and once I saw a little kid come upon one. He acted like he'd found the moon hidden behind the parking meter.
August 2, 2011
The other day, I asked a friend of mine if she would like a cookbook--I had a bag of them I had moved from a house I recently sold, and had not yet stored them on my cookbook shelf. "Nah," she said, with nary a glance into the bag. "Why not?" I asked. "They're not necessary," she said, and I was literally struck dumb.
Oh, I know the allure, the joy, really, of finding new recipes on line, the ease with which you can compare and contrast one version of chicken enchiladas against another, or find a healthier version of a high cal, high fat recipe you love that actually tastes good, too. I know it feels good to save on paper and reduce clutter. But no cookbooks?
I visited my parents the other day and for some reason my 90-year-old father and I were talking about cookbooks. I said, "Hey Dad, do you remember you gave me my very first cookbook?"
"Did I?" he said.
"Yup," I said. "I was ten years old and we were living in Fort Hood, Texas. I was in the PX looking at a junior cookbook, and you came in the store and saw me. You asked if I wanted that cookbook. Did I! I only went and looked at it with lust in my heart nearly every day! But you bought it for me and I started cooking right away from it for you and Mom, remember?"
He shook his head, smiling. I guess he probably doesn't remember anymore. But I do. I remember lying on my bed and reading recipes for spagahetti and meatballs, for French toast, for jam-filled muffins. And every recipe began with the same first instruction: "Wash your hands." Good advice for me, a kid who loved being outside, the closer to dirt the better. That cookbook also showed you how to set a nice table, how to fold a napkin beside a fork, so that you communicated the fact that your guest was not only welcome but esteeemed at your table.
I got "The Joy of Cooking" for a Christmas present from my ex-husband when he was just my boyfriend and we were living in a dump of an apartment. We never had any money; I was a nurse's aide and he drove a cab and once we had a screaming knock-down over what to spend a single dollar bill on--it was all we had left until payday, and payday was a long way away. But. I found the recipe for Brownies Cockaigne in that cookbook and I bought the best ingredients I could find and I made the brownies and I was absolutely astounded at how good they were. And the smell! Reader, I put them in my car and drove around with them so I could continue to smell them as I ran errands.
As a young mother, I checked out The New York Times Regional Cookbook and Dinah Shore's cookbook and copied recipes out onto index cards. When I joined Weight Watchers, I bought armloads of cookbooks in an effort to not feel deprived. I still use many of those recipes even when I'm not dieting.
The best thing about cookbooks is the accidental discoveries you make: running across a recipe you've never made or maybe even heard of and thinking, hmmmmmm..... And then you might make it and voila: a new favorite. I found chicken al'alba that way, a wonderful dish for company, as they say. I found burgundy berry pie and caramel apple pie. I love the Caesar salad recipe I stumbled across in the Joy of Cooking; it's still the only one I use.
I even like the splatters and spills you find on the pages of cookbooks. Want to know what recipes a cook really likes? Look for those splatters. If you look in the margins of my cookbooks, you'll also find phone numbers and reminders for things to do that day. Also, a letter grade will be written by recipes I've tried. A few recipes have this grade: A++++++++. Occasionally, you see this for a "grade": NO.
People's preferences in cookbooks can let you know who they are. You've got your Betty Crocker fans and your Moosewood fans and your Ina Garten and Silver Palate and Ricky Bayless and America's Test Kitchen fans, to name but a few.
You get a sense of who the author really is when you use a cookbook. The gold standard is Ann Hodgman, who offers laugh-out-loud commentary in all her fabulous cookbooks. But even the little individual comments in church cookbooks put together by groups of people for fundraisers are little windows to people's personalities: I particularly like the ones that sound like parts of letters from your Aunt Myrtle: Made this for my daughter's birthday, and holy smokes, was it good.
I don't know. Call me old fashioned. I am old fashioned. I always like the feel of a real book in my hand. And cookbooks are no exception. When you've had a hard day and can't face another challenge to your brain, can't even face reading from a novel you are loving because you're too out of gas, pick up a cookbook. Look at the lovely photos and read the descriptions. Eat with your eyes. Smell with your imagination. You'll go to sleep happy, and if you're lucky, popovers will show up in your dreams.
July 25, 2011
I want to thank all those who come to Flavour Cooking School in Forest Park last night. I know there were a lot of you on the waiting list who didn't get in, and I hope next time we can find a way to accommodate more people. We had a great time. We drank sangria, ate mini meatloaves and macarioni and cheese and mini apple pies. I read "How to Make an Apple Pie" from THE DAY I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED in my Flo costume (vintage apron and glasses), and Denise, the owner of the store, demonstrated how to make mini apple pies in a muffin tin, using puff pastry. I was so happy to meet so many wonderful women (and two men), some of whom came from as far away as Indianapolis. And then I worried about you who had chosen this weekend to visit Chicago when, in the middle of the night, we experienced a terrible thunderstorm. The lightning just wouldn't stop--you could practically read by it. Today's weather isn't going to be a whole lot better, so I hope those of you who are visiting will have a good time indoors--at the Art Institute, say, or at Manny's Deli.
This was the kind of event that I wish could happen everywhere, because it was good for the author, good for the bookseller (THANK YOU, BOOK CELLER!!!), good for the cooking store, and good for the guests. I wish all my readings could be in cooking schools!
Today I'm going to get sized for a ring that Augusten Burroughs is making for me. I can't stand it. He is the coolest friend: so honest, so talented (and not just in writing--have you ever seen his photography?), and so generous. I should be making him a ring for all the things he's done for me. Only he wouldn't want to wear a ring I made. Nor would I. Then again, he probably wouldn't have to, because it would fall off due to poor construction. But next time he's in town, I'll make him a mini apple pie. Or twelve.
I've just begun reading Jennifer Haigh's FAITH. Here is a writer that picks you right up by your lapels, the kind of writer who gets you very excited about reading. Full report on completion, but for right now, the idea of stretching out with that book and a glass of lemonade is so compelling I think it's all I'll do today.
Oh, that and walk the dogs ten thousand times in blistering heat. Good thing I love dogs.
July 7, 2011
Recently, I went to Boston to see my granchildren, ages 5, 3 and 19 months. I squirted them with the hose, played monster and Mother May I? and tag and school. I got to be the teacher when we played school, and I was so relieved. May my grandchildren always honor my need to control.
I read lots of books to them too, and even the youngest is so appreciative of them. When you finish one, he points to his stack of books on the dresser and says, "Xisutsleyx?" which is toddler for "How about another? If you would be so kind, I'd love to hear the one about when cake invites ice cream to her party."
When I got home, Bill, who had watched the pets for me, told me that my puppy had chewed up a very expensive pillow. At first, I was all upset. Then, two things happened. One is that I found out she only chewed the edge, so the crime was not so great--rather like someone biting just the very edge off your chocolate chip cookie--still plenty left for you. Then I decided that rather than getting the pillow repaired, I'd keep it as a reminder of when Gabby was a puppy.
There is a dog pictured on this website, a golden who was named Toby and was the best dog in the world. I know you think your dog is the best dog in the world and I'm sure he or she is a close second, but in fact Toby was the best dog in the world. And will be evermore. Even my friend Phyllis, who hates dogs (which begs the question how she can possibly be my friend but we'll get to that on another occasion) loved Toby.
Anyway, when Toby was a puppy, he chewed up one leg of my fancy French pedestal table. And I was furious. I thought, Now I have to get it repaired and that will cost a bundle and I won't have a table for as long as it takes and I'll have to eat off a tv tray which is no longer fun plus who knows if they can really fix it. I needed the table for the next night for a dinner party and then I just kind of never got around to fixing it. My sister saw the chew marks not long ago and said, "What happened here?"
Gabby chewing the pillow was a lesson in priorities. But Gabby, if you're reading this, I cannot emphasize strongly enough: once is enough. Chew one of your bazillion toys, not my pillows, okay?
June 29. 2011
Last night I called a good friend and asked what she was doing. "Looking in the mirror," she said mournfully, "and God, I'm getting so OLD." Then she launched into a description of all the things she had seen--"I mean, I'm getting jowls!"--and then I started adding things to the litany of horrors, things I see when I look in the mirror and then we decided we shouldn't look in the mirror anymore, and we moved on to recipes. Soon we were having a wonderful time. She told me she'd grilled a peach the other day, topped it with a dab of non-fat Greek yogurt and agave nectar and almonds and it was as good as a custard peach pie. "No," I said, and she said "Yes!" So now I'm going to have to try it tonight. I was so grateful for the change in psychic weather and I said to her, "Boy, what would we do without food?"
"Die," she said.
I sat on my front porch the other night, realizing that I hardly ever do that, even though it's such a wonderful summer thing to do. It came to me that it's as important to "schedule" things like this as anything else. Read an hour a day. Sit on the porch on any nice summer's eve for at least half an hour.
When I sat out on the porch, I saw three teenaged girls walk by in cut-off jeans and t-shirts and flip-flops, engaged in intense conversation. For one moment, I felt again what that was like, being a teenage girl in the summer. I remembered the feel of soft cotton shorts and t-shirts, and the delicious urgency of sharing everything with my best friends. I saw an older man fly by on what looked like a new bicycle, and it made me want to get a new bike, too. Nothing like a buying a bike to make you feel like a kid again. I heard voices from near by houses floating out the screen windows, and I heard the pounding of sneakers on pavement and the short, fast exhalations of the runners. The dogs lay with their front paws hooked over the top step, panting, their ears up in the high alert position. And then the fireflies came out. And I thought, ah, who cares what you see in them mirror? Look out at the summer night, and the coming and goings of your species, and the enchanting sight of the fireflies blinking on and off, on and off. I never think of them as insects. I think of them as Tinkerbell, which is why I will never be a responsible adult. If I could hire someone to be the adult in the house, I would. "Manage the books, will you?" I'd say. "I'm going out to play."
June 3, 2011
Spring is like living inside a poem: The lilacs really ARE wet with rain, and the air really IS perfumed, and it really is mudilicious. I love walking around the neighborhood at this time of year, looking at all the gardens. Today I saw a rosebush on a boulevard, not planted where anyone who lived in the house it was by could see it. It was an act of such generosity, to put a rosebush where only passersby could see it. I stood there getting all verklempt (spelling? anyone? anyone?) and then Homer took a whiz on the bush. So much for the poetry in the soul of a dog.
I am torn, these days, between wanting to get work done and wanting to be outside watching everything grow, watching kids play, watching people go in and out of shops and restaurants. Today I decided to take the day off and catch up on things I need to do around the house, but also to sit on the porch and read. I'm reading two TERRIFIC novels. One is Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner. It's charming and utterly refreshing, about two Russian children and the immigrant experience, and, in the way of all good books, it has universal appeal. Read the first two pages; you won't be able to steop. Also I'm reading Stuart O'Nan's Emily, Alone about an older woman described as a contemporary Mrs. Bridge. It, too, draws you in with the first brilliant sentence. Books like these give me hope in humanity.They're the kind of books you want to keep forever. On your shelf, not in your kindle, I rush to add. Gotta have books like these on your shelf because they're kind of alive and they keep you company like dogs only you never have to let them out or feed them--they feed you.
This weekend is Printer's Row Book Fair in downtown Chicago. I'll be being interviewed tomorrow at noon on Center Stage. Please come if you can--you may have questions the interviewer doesn't get to, such as, "In that recipe for pulled pork that's on your website...." Or, "Is it true you got your first kiss through glass?" There will be a lot of other authors there, too, all kinds of things going on both days. It's always fun to come to Chicago. Just think, you might catch sight of our new mayor!
May 27, 2011
Finally finished with my tour, and I'm easing back into my regular routine. Yesterday, I worked on the two things I'm writing now: one, a memoir, the other a novel. I walked the dogs in the pouring rain. Then, since I felt sorry for myself for walking the dogs in the pouring rain (plus it was really cold), I quick made a pineapple upside down cake and had two (2) pieces of it. I used a recipe I found on cookinglight.com and it was prettty dang good. (Also not SO very light.) I just tried to provide a link, which failed, so I'll just direct you to the webiste. But! I have a computer success story, too, which is that I AM NOW ON FACEBOOK. Yes, it's true. I, who for years have decried the use of such social networking sites, am now on one. A necessary evil, I suppose, but when I saw a lot of dear friends popping up asking to "friend" me, well, I felt like I was in seventh grade and the most popular boy had asked me to dance. I did get to dance with the most popular boy in seventh grade, but only because I asked him. His name was Binks Franklin. I still remember how gracious he was, when ladies' choice was called and I made a beeline for him. I wonder what ever happpened to old Binks.
Memorial Day weekend is coming up, and I really want to go to a family picnic and eat burnt hot dogs and burnt marshmallows. When I was a kid, I used to go to our family's annual fourth of July picnic. I ran around in a towel and bathing suit and jumped in and out of the pool and in addition to the hot dogs and marshmallows, ate plenty of other delicious things that my aunts had brought: macaroni and potato salads, my mom's oatmeal cake, with boiled brown sugar frosting, ham and turkey and baked beans. That was a time when you really felt a whole day, start to finish. You'd get to the park early so as to secure a good spot; and you'd leave late at night, after the fireworks were done, happily worn out, your nose and shoulders burned by the sun, your hair smelling of chlorine. I used to like to watch the division of labor: my dad and my uncles manning the grill, my mom and my aunts supervising the kids and dishing out paper plates and cups and plastic utensils. My grandparents enjoyed what seeemed to me to be a kind of royal status: they sat in lawn chairs and did nothing except occasionally move their chairs so that they could stay in the shade. My grandfather also listened to his pocket-sized transistor radio.There were so many of us, then! Now many of those aunts and uncles have died, and the tradition of that Independence Day picnic has all but gone. I miss it. I had a thought to put an ad in the paper, asking any family having a Memorial Day picnic to invite me, particularly if burned hot dogs cooked on a stick and homemade potato salad would be featured, but I think instead I'll ask my daughter who lives here in Chicago if she and her boyfriend will have a teeny tiny picnic with me. And we'll see where it goes from there. Maybe next year the three of us will have grown to 30. (Don't ask me how.) If she can't do it, I'll grill a hot dog for myself, load it up with mustard, and sit on the porch to eat it.
In other news, my new puppy is figuring things out. She's housetrained, knows the commands come, sit, shake and lie down but doesn't always see the need to honor the request. She likes to dig in the garden, much to my dismay. She grows about ninety inches an hour. She'll eat anything: sticks, paper cups, paper clips, and food from my plate when I get up to get something. Homer and she play well together, and they play often. The other day, a friend asked, "What's all over Homer's coat?" "Spit," I said. "Gabby spit. And Homer spit is on her."
Tuesday, the paperback of THE DAY I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED comes out in paperback. With a new story, called "P.S." which I like a lot. It's the character Flo again, she of "How to Make an Apple Pie," and a dog figures predominately in it. How can you go wrong with dogs and apple pie? I suppose you could go wrong if the dog ate the apple pie. But you would have to admire his taste in desserts.
Off to buy cascading petunias for my deck planters, and tomatoes and basil for the back yard. I'm late, but that's okay. I like picking tomatoes in December.
April 27, 2011
The tour is alllllmost over, but until it is, there are a million things to attend to. One is letting you know that I have added a writing workshop for an intimate group in Positano, Italy on October 8-13. That's a good time to fly there; air fares are lower. And it's still warm and beautiful in Italy. The class will offer personal guidance in writing from me, and cooking classes from the wonderful people who inspired my (award-winning!) article on Positano for National Geographic Traveler. Please go to cooking-vacations.com for more details, or call Lauren or Melody at 1.800.916.1152.
As for now, I need to go to the cleaners, walk the dogs, pack for a 5:30 am pickup to go to the airport....I'll probably be one of those people on the plane sleeping with my mouth hanging open. Or, worse, one of the over-caffeinated chatterboxes who keeps showing the lovely pink clouds out the airplane window to my seatmate, who only wants to sleep with his or her mouth hanging open.
Tomorrow I'll be on "Showcase Minnesota" on MN NBC KARE-TV somewhere between 11:10 and noon. I'll be doing two readings in Minneapolis--check the "Appearances" part of this website.
Thanks to all of you who have come to my readings and said such swell things to me....your words lift me up. And sustain me.
April 4, 2011
So yesterday, I showed my friend Karen my 8-week old puppy, a golden/spaniel mix named Gabby. "I must be out of my mind," I told her, referring to the fact that I got a puppy just as book tour is starting (tomorrow!) and as Karen well knows, book tour is a very hectic time. "Out of my mind," I said, and Karen said, "Yeah, that's what I was thinking."
It's not only book tour I'm busy with; there are a number of other family and business and real estate and dental issues that are going at 100 miles an hour right now. So why did I get a puppy NOW? Well, I saw her online (I look at petfinders.com all the time; it's my porn) and I knew that was my dog.
Homer is not so enamored of her, but he's already come around from doing the equivalent of smacking his doggie forehead when I walked in with her to demonstrating a resigned tolerance of her. Plus my guilt is making me give him a lot of dog treats.
I've hired a pet sitter to live in for the days I'm out of town, and yesterday we had a looooong conversation about her care. So.
So I must be out of my mind.
Hey! This review just in from Library Journal:
Berg is a prolific writer, but some might say her last few novels have veered toward lighter fare. Her new book leaves that designation in the dust, tackling varied meaty topics with grace, and a pacing that makes it hard to put down. John and Irene are messily divorced, but their shared love for their teenage daughter, Sadie, is a bond that cannot be broken. When Sadie goes missing, they are reunited, like it or not. John's new girlfriend and Irene's serial online dating all fall to the wayside as the exes hunker down to try to find Sadie. Will the forced closeness cause a natural reconciliation? As Sadie's disappearance brings new issues for the couple to deal with, for the first time they examine their past marriage and what it meant to them. Verdict: This addictive read shows anew what a wonderful writing talent Berg is: strong characters illuminate a tender story about what makes a marriage work (or not), and how a family binds itself together despite things that pull it apart.
So nice to get a review like that before I enter the wilds of touring.
I hope I'll see some of you on the road. Right now, I've got to check on the new baby.
March 25, 2011
What a day at the post office! I stopped by to pick up my mail before I took myself out to dinner and was gifted with these letters:
C.H. from Rocksville, MD, wrote to say how much she enjoyed Home Safe and said that my novels offered her inspiratiion, delight, soul-searching, and comfort. Thank you!
P.O., from Savanna, MO, said she read my book on writing (Escaping into the Open) last summer. She heeded the last instruction in the book that says to polish something you've written and send it out. She sent out an essay to a magazine, "then got mad because I didn't hear from them. Then I did. They bought my essay for actual money. The aftermath of emails, Face Book messges and even phone calls has been astounding." Maybe the best news of all was that her article was one of the most popular in the magazine and was reprinted in yet another magazine. Congratulations!! Now write more!
A. from Norfolk, VA wrote to say "Thanks for expressing a deep level of understanding of so many of my thoughts and feelings. It is as cathartic to read your books as it is to share coffee and converstation with my friend. We love you!" Thanks, A, and thanks too for the more confidential information you shared.
A woman from Bayville NY, sent a most extraordinary letter. She and her partner were trying to have a baby with the help of a sperm bank. The woman was reading Open House when she discovered she was ovulating--time to call the sperm bank. In Open House, the main character, Samantha. ends up falling in love with a guy named King who's overweight and does odd jobs like walking dogs. But he only does that so he has time to take in and enjoy life--Samantha learns he's an astrophysicist who went to MIT.
So the woman who wants to conceive learns that the only donor available that day is someone she and her partner had previously rejected for bing too heavy and too tall. But this time, she decides to use him and then learns that he is a very sweet man (just like King), everyone at the clinc loves him, and he an astrophysicist! The couple now has a beautiful boy, aged seven. I LOVE this story!
The last letter came from P.T., who is at Howard Community College in Columbia, MD.. She was writing on behalf of her friend and colleague, Sue, who was a breast cancer survivor but recently died from another kind of cancer. Sue who was an award-winning professor who taught general biology, genetics and microbiology, and P. said she appreciated all my books, but especially Talk Before Sleep. P. was requesting a signed copy to auction off as part of a benefit to fund an endowment for a program her friend created where students could attend a seminar without registartion or added tuition fees. Done. With pleasure.
I told an author friend today that sometimes I despair of the publication merry-go-round, the anxiety over reviews, the worry that you won't sell enough, the constant grinding need to feel you must always top yourself. It's so far from the innocence and pleasure I got when I was a nine-year-old girl, sitting at a card table and writing poems that I crafted for the joy of creation alone. Now my writing, which is to say my heart and soul, is so intertwined with business, and art and business are oil and water. Not that I'm not gratful for my success, I am so extremely grateful. But....
But when you go to the mail box and you find letters like this, well...... That makes it all worth while. Thank you again to all those who bother to write to me. I so appreciate your words. And your stationery. And your penmanship, a rare thing to see these days, but such a pleasure when you do see it.
March 22, 2011
Another cloudy day here in the city that might as well be renamed Gray. But! I saw a circle of robins over on the playground, and the air is warmer, and there is the smell of dirt in the air, which is the scent of spring. Snowdrops and crocus are up, and soon earthbound bouquets of tulips will be standing tall and colorful as a box of crayons. Buds are on the otherwise bare branches, poised to make a most welcome appearance.
I am just back from having moved my parents into an independent living facility. They were in their house for 45 years, so the move was... complex, let's say. The good news is that this is a wonderful place, kind of like a dorm for older people--all kinds of things going on. On the day of the move, I took my dad over to the new place to await the delivery of furniture and belongings. The only thing in the place was a TV tray holding the parakeets, Freida and Fritzi. I came upon my dad standing before them, his jacket still on , his hat in his hand, and he was bent over his beloved budgies, saying, "So do you think you're going to like it here? Do you?... Fritzi? ...Frieda?" I hope both the birds and my parents do. I intend to visit often, because for one thing, they have ice cream socials every week.
I have added more events under "Appearances," and with the exception of a few details under one event, the tour is now complete. I would like touring a lot more if I didn't have to pack a suitcase, if I could show up wherever I'm staying and there would be clothes to wear, books to read, music to listen to. AND a dog. This is my next business idea: a service to provide just that. Imagine: you fly to Italy with your purse, and there in your hotel room is a wardrobe. Makeup you've requested be there. Even shower gel. Pets. Reading material. Snacks you want around. Cameras. No shoving bags into the overhead or dragging them around airports or worrying that you'll be arrested if you leave your bags "unattended" while you search out a coffee or a magazine or a bathroom. If you're a venture capitalist and you're reading this, call me right away. We'll discuss this new enterprise which I think I'll call "Here, There." Also we can talk about my excellent idea for Dog Airlines, where your dog flies in a comfortable kennel built into the space right next to you. And my other excellent idea: large print newspapers.
March 11, 2011
I have nearly completed listing events for the new novel under Appearances. I hope if I'm coming to a venue near you, you'll come to a reading. They tend to be fun, and a lot of times people make friends or form writing groups. I'm still waiting for romance to happen--you know, "I met my husband at an Elizabeth Berg reading" --but so far no dice.
I am recovering from the flu that ate Cleveland. I feel like one of those cartoon characters with asterisks floating around his head. The only good thing I can say about this illness is that I've been confined to bed so much I've vacummed up lots and lots of books. Most recently, I read Blood, Bones and Butter, which was fabulous. That woman can cook, we know, but she can also WRITE.
February 28, 2011
Ah, the last day of February. I'm going to call March 1st, spring. I know it's not, but I'm going to call it that, anyway.
This morning, when I went out to get the newspapers, I found a plastic bag looped around my door knob, holding the Girl Scout cookies I ordered. The girl who left them and I never had any contact: she left a note asking if I'd like to order cookies--if not for myself, then perhaps for the troops? I could place an order, she said, through "my mom's email." So I ordered a bunch of boxes for the troops and two boxes of Thin Mints for myself.
When I took the cookies from the bag, I saw that they had been tied with ribbon featuring--what else?--cookies, and that there was a printed note attached: "Thank you for supporting my troop and me." And then, in careful cursive, the girl had signed her name.
You hear all the time about the decivilization of people: we no longer care how we dress, we speak so rudely to each other, if we bother to speak at all; there is such a dispiriting escalation of violence everywhere. I confess I complain plenty about all this. I confess also that I am part of the problem, what with the way I walk my dog in pajamas (under my coat, though; under my coat!), the times I bypass reason and head straight to rage, etc. etc. (sigh) etc. But! When you open your door to find that, first of all, a young woman has kept her word and delivered what you ordered, but also has done it with a such charming extras, well, then your day has had a quite wonderful start. And you feel happily compelled to pay it forward. Which I intend to do. It will be a pleasure to think about how.
February 25, 2011
I read a quote today by Judith Butler that says, "Let's face it. We're undone by each other. And if we're not, we're missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it's only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact."
I have been feeling not quite intact lately, because of...oh, a lot a of reasons, and it will not surprise you to learn that as a writer, my way of dealing with it is write about it. Since I was a child, I have found consolation in writing; more importantly, I have found truth.
Yesterday, I got a call from a very good friend who, knowing I'm going through a poignant time after a death in the family among other things, suggested I write something happy.
Not my style. I told my friend that when I was diagnosed with cancer (no worries; I'm fine now), I kept waking up in the night. My doctor wanted me to take a pill to help me sleep, but I wanted to keep waking up in the night. I wanted to respect the process I was going through, to learn what I needed to learn and pass out the other side. I think that to deny your feelings about something is only to make them stronger. To deny your feelings takes a terrible toll on you, and often on those whom you love and who love you.
But when you are going through a sad time, you are doing other things, too. Thus it is that I made a good dinner last night and ate it while I watched American Idol and I said to my dog, who also seems to enjoy the show, "Did YOU think he should have been cut?"
"Hell, no," said Homer, and returned to his squeaky toy.
Tonight I am going to a Taize service, which I love for its candlelight and music and lack of somebody trying to tell you WHAT IT IS. Because nobody knows what it is. I like to sit amongst people who recognize the mystery and celebrate the fact that it is a mystery. Then I'm going to have dinner with a girlfriend and I know that we will spend a lot of time laughing. Life is nothing if not a mix, and I want always to acknowledge all sides of it, I want always to admit to it.
There is a jacket for the new book coming out April 5, called Once Upon A Time, There Was You, and I'm going to be putting it up on this site soon. If you're curious to see it before I get it on here (as many of you know ever so well, computer skills are not my forte) you can see it on amazon.com. It's a very different jacket. It looks like somebody threw something out and tried to rescue it ("It looks like somebody shoved it into his pocket wanting to save it, without even knowing why," said my friend Phyllis), which is exactly the right sentiment for this book. Because this is a novel about the moth-to-flame aspect of love. And about other aspects of love, too, including self-acceptance. I'll say more about it under the books section on this site as soon as I think of something smart and alluring that will make you want to rush out and buy it. The tour is being put together now; I'll list where I'll be under "Appearances." I hope you'll come to a reading near you.
For now, I'm going down to have peach cobbler for breakfast and think about how spring isn't that far away. It never is, really.
February 9, 2011
I feel a bit like Mark Twain when he said "Accounts of my death have been greatly exaggerated." I have just heard that there is information on someone's facebook page that I am married. I am not married. I repeat, I am not married. I was married, from 1974 until 1996, but I have not married anyone since, nor do I intend to. I live alone, happily.
This concludes my public service announcement.
January 27, 2011
I just added a new recipe under, well, recipes, of course. It's low guilt mac 'n cheese and you might as well make it tonight. You will not be sorry. For one thing, if there's any left over, it's heavenly for lunch. And if you let your dog lick the pan, he'll appreciate it.
Events are starting to be booked for the new novel, Once Upon A Time, There Was You. I'll put a description of the book and a quote from it on the website once we have a jacket--we still don't have a jacket. It comes out April 5th.
Today is one of those drab winter days with little flakes of snow chasing themselves around, first slanting to the right, then to the left, then just kind of hanging in the air like they're at a bad party. The best thing would be for me to go for a brisk walk. So what do I do? Eat two (2) pieces of Boston Cream pie. Which was delicious. If my doctor is reading this, I'm just kidding. I really ate a spinach salad with no dressing. And some.....what? Brewer's yeast.
I got to be in conversation with Lynda Barry on stage at Unity Temple on Tuesday. She has a new book out called "Picture This" which is ostensibly about drawing, but to my mind says a lot about creativity in general. She urges people to "trust the back of your mind." Reading this book frees you up inside, no matter who you are or what you do. In addition to that, Lynda Barry is the queen of the evocative phrase. Garrison Keillor once said, "All you have to do is say rhubarb pie and the reader does the rest." When Lynda's talking about summer, she uses these phrases: standing on the back porch in your underwear, crossing hot asphalt with bare feet, talking into a fan. When you're next in the bookstore, take her book into a corner and start at the beginning and see if you don't get charmed pretty quickly. Then buy it.
And now, its time for MAILBAG!!
T. B. from Boise, Idaho, is a 56-year old nurse who writes: "Thanks for giving voice to many thoughts and feelings inside this woman's heart. We don't know each other, but I feel that we are friends. Your books are friends to me." This was her first time writing to an author. If only I were Oprah, I would send her a Cadillac convertible for that.
A. R. from Anderson, S.C. sent a really thoughtful letter about the longing she has to be writer. She also talks about how many of my female characters feel stifled in traditional roles, and asks if I ever felt that overwhelming desire to run away. Oh, honey, don't we all? I think all of us, men and women, have days when the open road holds particular allure. I used to find it so odd that sometimes when I was feeling really terrible, I would go to the mall and buy a new book or some red lipstick and feel so much better. It seemed to illegtimize my feelings. But the truth is, sometimes it just doesn't take very much to bring us out of our despair. (Sometimes it does, but that's another story.)
S. K. from Ona, W. Virginia writes, interestingly, "I'm given to jumping in the car and taking spontaneous mini-trips." She should go on over to S.C. and pick up A Ragan. Isn't that a good idea?
A. W. sent a beautiful letter about our shared appreciation for Paris and Pablo Neruda and Erik Satie. And with testimonoy about continuing to love people close to us when the going gets tough.
J. R. just read The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted, and she sent a letter praising the short story form. Yes! Tell all your friends! Short stories are great!
I wanted to share more letters, but Homer just came up and put his nose on my knee, and looked up at me. Which is his way of saying, "Man, are you STILL at the computer?"
To which I say, "Yes, yes, just a minute, I'll take you out in a minute." To which he says, "That's what you always say and then you just sit there and sit there and sit there and type type type. What's so great about typing? There are SQUIRRELS outside! Rabbits1 Mailmen! Pieces of I-don't-know-what gross stuff stuck to the ground for me to quick gobble up before you can yell at me or jerk me away!Let's go, man! Let's go! Come on!" "In a minute," I say, and he lies down and sighs out his nose and and just gives up and now I feel terrible so I'm taking Homer for a walk. Then I'm going downtown to the great city of Chicago to see a play and have dinner with a girlfriend. This is even better than red lipstick.
January 17, 2011
I am just back from Key West, where I had a much better time than I thought I would. This was in part because the literary festival was full of such first class writers and poets and audience members. I sat in a darkened auditorium and listened to Jane Hirshfield and Billy Collins, for example, and thought, well, here's a peak experience. I also enjoyed the chickens that run all over old town, and in fact witnessed a chicken domestic squabble--a hen was running down the sidewalk making pissed off clucking sounds: buk-buk-buk-buk-BUK-buk buk, and here came the rooster running after her, saying Baby don't go! Baby don't go!
Buk buk BUK! she said and he said I know, but I'll be better, I will, I will, I promise I will! Or so it seemed.
Calvin Trillin was there, and Roy Blount Jr, so you can just imagine. And Molly O'Neil, who wrote one of my favorite cookbooks and has a new gorgeous one out and I so want her to come to Flavour Cooking School for a reading/tasting. Maybe we can arrange that.
I realized today that I forgot to put something really exciting on my website, which is a combination cooking/writing class that will be given in Positano, Italy June 11-18. I will be doing a writer's workshop at the same place where I went to cooking school. I had such a fantastic time and then wrote about it for National Geographic Traveler. You can see the article online. And if you go to:
you will find a description of the program. (So sorry; I still don't know how to add a link) The 6 night program will provide you with my writing workshop focusing on character, place, and dialogue, and the way to liven up prose by adding interesting details. There will be cooking classes with meals, and accommodations at the villa style hotel featured in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. There will be a writer's walk focusing on Oscar Wilde and Rainer Rilke and Gore Vidal, among others. Oh and more, more, more. Read all about it, and if you have any interest, let Lauren know right away--there are only about 7 places. This is a perfect opportunity to write something you've put off, to have guidance and feedback from me in an intimate group, and to have a wonderful time in Italy at the same time. You can call Lauren at 1-800-916-1152, or at 617-247-4112 and talk to her about it. Maybe you and your best friend could come together, or maybe you can come alone, as I did, and see what there is to discover about yourself. I love cooking-vacations.com because they take care of all the details: all you have to do is get yourself to Naples. It is no exaggeration to say that my solo trip to Italy changed my life; I can't wait to go back.
As for now, I can't wait to make a sandwich and eat it. Then, as it is nearly 2pm, maybe I'll get dressed. You know what's best about being a writer? Staying in your pajamas until 2 pm, that's what. Coming nex to the blog: thoughts on Valentine's Day. And the very popular Mailbag.
"Make just ONE New Year's resolution," my wise daughter, Julie, told me. "That way, you have a chance at honoring it." Good advice. So here's my resolution: Make everything better.
The rain has washed almost all the snow away, and there is an eeriness about the day, which always happens when the weather is not what it's "supposed" to be. Later, I'll take Homer for a long walk, and we'll both come home muddy. I used to love to get muddy, but that was in the good old days when I bore no responsibility whatsoever for the mess it created. When you have to clean up your mud, well, that's like baking your own birthday cake.
There's a short story collection by Stephanie Vaughn called SWEET TALK, which was published in 1978. It's one of my very favorite books. In it is a story called "Dog Heaven," and I won't ruin it for you by sharing the last line, because that line will resonate for you in an entirely different way if you read the story. And I hope you will read the story as well as the rest of the book. ANYWAY. The last line is, "It waa a good day, it was a good day, it was a good day." That's the way I feel about yesterday.
I got up and had an excellent breakfast while I listened to jazz. All you need to know about breakfast is that maple bacon was involved, which is why it was an excellent breakfast. Then I read The Chicago Tribune, including the business section, which I almost never read. But yesterday in the business section there was a really well written article by Monica Phillips about a store called "Art Gecko" in the Harrison Art District of Oak Park. (artgeckoltd.com) (The article was reprinted from The Buzz Cafe newsletter.) After I read about the place, I had to go and see it. On her website, artist Lisa Nordstrom says, "I am convinced that our lives are shaped not only by the few cataclysmic events that inevitably occur during a lifetime, but quite profoundly by the collective moments of our everyday, even mundane, life experiences. It is over the course of time that we gather the memories and pieces: the moments of comfort, pleasure, pain, loss, love, longing, sorrow and joy that truly make up our existence. It is in the spirit of gathering these separate pieces and bringing them together to form a whole that I create my art." She makes journals, jewelry, wall hangings that remind you of Cornell's boxes. She makes Christmas tree ornaments and lamps and purses. I stayed a long time, looking at everything, and came away with a number of treasures, some of which I'll use as gifts.
Then I came home home and read from THE CHERRY PIT, Donald Harington's novel, which is so rich and deeply intelligent and which I am enjoying so much. I found out about this author because of another article I read in the newspaper describing Harington as a vastly under-appreciated writer. I had to see what all the fuss was about. Now I know what all the fuss was about.
A third thing I found in the paper was a review of the play "Bus Stop" which is playing in a new theater space called "The Den," at 1333 N. Milwaukee in Chicago. I had to go, and I invited my pal Bill to come along. I would get the tickets: he was responsible for dinner.
Bill did a little research and we ended up eating at a place called Mana, at 1742 W. Division. (manafoodbar.com). It was small, with a very interesting vegetarian menu, and man, was it good. Everything was so different, which I really appreciate when I go out to eat. I had a spinach and pear salad with a sweet mustard vinaigrette and musroom saute over polenta and a white wine from France called La Craie. Everything was exceptionally good. Everything. Including the service and the bathrooms.
The day STAYED GOOD, because the play was fantastic. A woman behind me who reviews plays on her theater blog said afteward, "It was so....humanistic." There's everything you could ask for in this play:it makes you laugh hard, it moves you, it engages you completely from the first moment to the last. And it takes place in a diner. I'd see anything that takes place in a diner.
Here is what I would like to do today: repeat yesterday. Maybe I will.
The moral of this story is: read a real newspaper, because that's how you can accidentally come across things that can make you have a good day, a good day, a good day.
December 14, 2010
Okay. I just want to say one thing to you. Go to this website: www.advancedrecreationhawaii.com. See that flying machine manned by a guy and his dog? The guy is my brother, and he took me up in that machine. At first, I was so scared, I couldn't unclench my jaw. I kept trying to think that in a worst case scenario, this was actually a very good way to die. But then I relaxed and oh boy, was it fun. If you ever go to the Big Island of Hawaii, call my brother. He'll give you a ride you'll never forget. Ever. AND you can have a picture made of you up there that you can show all your friends and they'll admire you for your courage.
I was just in Hawaii for a week, and I'm going to write about it for National Geographic Traveler. Those of you who liked my piece on Positano, Italy will probably enjoy this as much or more.
It's 6:25 pm and I'm going to bed. Jet lag. But HAPPY jet lag, I'll tell you. Oh, one more website for you to visit: www.halekukui.com. That's where the photographer for the piece stayed, which is right across the street from my brother's house, where I stayed. And MY accommodations were even better. Read the article to see why. Not sure when it's coming out yet, but I'll let you know.
Now it's book and bed time. If I make it through a whole chapter, it'll be a miracle. I'm reading Bruce Machart's THE WAKE OF FORGIVENESS. Next on tap is Fannie Flagg's I STILL DREAM OF YOU. Then Cynthia Ozick's FOREIGN BODIES. What happiness when there's a zero degree wind chill and you have cocoa and a pile of books. On December 23, my youngest grandchild turns one. I expect he'll have a lot of wisdom to impart to me when I hold him on my lap and we eat cake together. Aloha. (Which, as it happess, is a very rich and complex word.)
November 23, 2010
Today the paperback of THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU is released. You'll find it in bookstores, all shy and new-guyish, trying to make friends with the books it's placed between. Please say hello to it, and compliment it on its cover, which is adorable. Let me know if it doesn't say thank you. I hate to be all gross and commercial, but Christmas is coming.....In the Chicago area, I'll go to selected stores to sign stock, but if you have a book you want signed, you can always send it to me--note the new address under "contact directly."
Speaking of contacting directly, today I had a collison of the practical and the spiritual. I was driving around doing errands, thinking that soon I would need to go to California to record the new novel, ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS YOU. And all of a sudden I had a rush of insecurity, and heard that familiar and awful voice that sometimes comes into my head, saying, "Oh, going out to record are you? Who do you think you are, Meryl Streep? Why don't you let an actor record?" "Because I want the characters to sound like I want them to sound," I started to say, but the voice interrupted. "Silence!" it said. And then, again, "Why don't you just stick to writing and your homey little recipes?" Just after this visit from the devil, I had to go into the post office to mail some things, and I chanced to check my box for mail. Inside was the most exquisite affirmation for my reading my own books. A man in Australia named Michael sent a letter written in what looked like black fountain pen ink on gray paper. Beautiful combination, and his penmanship was very artistic. He told me he likes to listen to my books on tape. He says, in part, "My current audiobook is "Home Safe," but I've found the same experience with all the other audiobooks of yours that I've heard. This feeling is very much a combination of both the book content and your reading style. I guess because you know the characters so well, you can voice them so much better than any actor." TRUE STORY.
Now, I ask you. Doesn't this make you think that maybe we all do have guardian angels? Right when the dip stick put into the self esteem container comes up dry, voila!
I have to go now and make pies to bring to my parents' house for Thanksgiving. But first: a letter back to Michael, on my finest stationery, diabusing him of the thought that my fan mail is not read by me. I read every letter, often times twice. And am grateful for every one, even the crabby ones. Usually.
I wish everyone the happiest of holidays. I told my friend Phyllis the other day that I love Thanksgiving, that I have never had a bad Thanksgiving. Being the natural optimist and sunny personality that she is, Phyllis said, "You've got to have had at least one bad one. THINK!"
November 18, 2010
In half an hour, I'm due to go to the airport . It's time for a hit of grandkids. Outside is a gray sky, and it feels a lot colder, maybe even cold enough to snow. But someone is out with their leaf-blower, acting like there's no such threat at all.
I got a letter from a girl who's doing a school project about me. She had just a few questions. Number one was: What makes you tick?
Also from the mailbag: Esther from Malvern, PA, writes to say that she agrees that dogs' feet smell like Fritos, and she's so glad to have someone else say so.
Cindy, from Ottowa, Canada, was sitting out on her deck thinking about how she always means to write authors whose books move her, and today was the day. She had just spent two hours in her garden, cleaning up hostas and day lillies and gathering leaves. She was also watching two chipmunks, a pair of bluejays, and a woodpecker., and she said she found the moment so perfect she wondered why she ever longed for or envied anyone else's life.
Holly, from Mesa, Arizona, writes complaining that I used the F word in The Year of Pleasures, so she had to immediately stop reading it.
Uh oh, my ride to the airport is here. More letters later. Now it's time for my favorite activity: the airport security line!! Soon we'll all be passing through naked but for a TSA towel.
This year when I go on book tour, I want to travel by donkey.
October 15, 2010
Oh, hello there. I'm Elizabeth Berg, the person who's been missing from this blog for ....oh, about ten thousand years. That's because I was doing revisions to my next novel. Guess what? I'M STILL DOING REVISIONS TO MY NEXT NOVEL. But I thought I'd drop into my own website for a visit.
It's a beautiful fall day, the leaves turned their show-stopping colors, the air mild, the flowers in the garden making their last glorious stand. I hate being cold and in that respect dread the coming of winter, but what better sight is there than snow falling when you're warm in your kitchen and making butternut squash soup?
A long time ago, I promised to share with you some of the letters I get, and then I never much did anything about it. It's like when I lay blouses on the ironing board, you know what I mean? But I got a handful of letters the other day, and they were so swell, I'm going to share with you now.
Mary ("Sam") from Irvington, Virginia, wrote that I "had her" at saying on my website that I wanted a chicken. She said that when she was a kid, she had a bantam hen that would let her put dresses on her, and that she loved riding in the doll buggy. That image made my day. Can't you see it? The ruffled sleeve over the wing? The imperious look in the chicken's eyes as she rolled past her yardmates who scratched for bugs in the dirt? At the end of the letter, Sam said, "I would love to meet you in person one day if you are ever in Virginia for a book signing or to purchase chickens or something." Listen, Sam, if I ever come to Irving, Virginia, you and I are going to have a martini and then dress up a chicken!
Nellie from Collingswood, N.J. wrote to say she'd had foot surgery and while recovering read sixteen books, HOME SAFE among them. She wrote to say that a specific passage in the book talking about what joy books bring to our lives propelled her to write to me and say thank you. She began her letter by doing that, saying thank you for HOME SAFE, then said, "I wanted to start out with a grander statement than that...." I find it a very grand statement indeed and I thank you.
Eleanor from Ridgefield, WA, thanked me for THE YEAR OF PLEASURES, saying that it really rang true for her, and she shared with me this quote from singer Matt Kearney: "We are all just one phone call away from our knees." And after that line, which appears near the bottom of the smallish card she sent, she writes, "Now see, I knew this card did not have enough space for someone like me writing to someone like you...." This woman is one of those people I meet on the road sometimes and one thing they say makes me feel that we strangers are friends.
Well, it's early morning, I'm wearing my ragtag pajamas, NPR is on softly in the background, Homer the dog and Gracie the cat are fed. I need to pack for the trip I'm taking today to New Hampsire this afternoon. Nashua chose WE ARE ALL WELCOME here for their one city, one book, and I couldn't be more honored. A bonus is I'll get to see my grandchildren briefly before I come home to FINISH THE REVISIONS ON MY NOVEL. (I swear, I have never worked so hard on a novel in my life. When it comes out, please buy seven copies. )
I have to end by telling you one thing about my four- year- old grandson, Matthew; I don't think his parents will mind. Matthew is the most sensitive and caring child, he feels things so deeply. Sometimes I worry about how he'll get along in this world. But the other day he said something that made me think, Well there are many sides to old Matthew: he'll be fine.
The situation is that the family has a brand new kitten. Julie, my daughter and Matt's mother, was worrying aloud about whether the cat and their dog would get along. Said Matthew, "Well, if you're so worried about that, you shouldn't have gotten the friggin' dog and you shouldn't have gotten the friggin' cat." So Matthew, the inadvertent poet and dreamer who constantly worries about other people's feelings and who recently presented himself to his mother wearing a feather boa and cha cha shoes and many, many necklaces, turns out to be practical and a little tough, too. Whew!
September 10, 2010
Whoa! It's been so long since I made an entry here, I almost forget how to do it.
I have been buried, BURIED, I tell you, finishing my next novel, called Once Upon a Time, There Was You, which is due out in early April. The manuscript is in the hands of my very capable editor and agent, and now the last step will be the tweaks before the galley gets sent around for reviews. This one is about a long-divorced couple in their fifties who have an 18 year old daughter to whom something pretty awful happens. The couple come together again around this, and ....Well, what happens when they're together again is what the book is about. There's humor here, gotta have humor, and there's a couple times where you might cry, and as you know crying is good for you, as stress hormones are released in tears. I think this is the longest book I've done, and I like it a lot. I hope you will, too.
It's a beautiful day today, slight hint of fall in the air, the leaves offering sneak previews of what will be their full glory. I took a long walk with Homer and we stopped in the bookstore to pick up a few things. I bought Room, a novel, several children's books. and some bath mitts for my grandchildren.
On the way home, I walked past the playground for the elementary school near me. It was recess time, and the shouts of the chidren playing were high and pure and timeless. There was a line of about six little boys tearing around single file, the boy at the front the obvious leader. (note to self: explore, sometime, how it is that a kid becomes a leader. What accounts for that particular kind of popularity, which manifests iself so very early on in the school year? It's not attractiveness, although leaders are often attractive. It's something else. It's charisma, I suppose.) Anyway, there was this line of boys racing along the fence of the playground, yelling "I'm a shark!" and "I'm a dog!" etc etc, running as fast as they could, some with their arms out from their sides to feel the breeze through their fingers. The little boy who was last in line tripped over something and fell, tumbled over and over himself. He wasn't hurt at all, apparently, being a rubberboned kid, but by the time he got to his feet, he was far behind the others. He watched them for a second, and I felt kind of sorry for him, but then he saw Homer and I saw it in his face, he got another idea. Possibly a better idea, having to do, I guess, with dogs. His face changed; he was no longer disappointed, but inspired. He went on his way directly opposite the direction he had been going in, and he was fine, he was more than fine, he was fired up again. This is a leasson in creativity: trust your accidents. They might not be accidents at all.
Books to love: Joyce Maynard's new novel called THE GOOD DAUGHTERS.
The new Ann Hodgman cookbook which will be out soon. Ann Hodgman is my go-to person for all things edible, her recipes are always fabulous, AND her cookbooks are so funny!
Finally, I must again sing the praises of THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE by Julie Orringer. Again and again I must sing the praises of that beautiful and most accomplished of novels, one that is worth buying in hardback and should be displayed proudly on your bookshelf.
Also I must sing the praises of fresh figs. I bought some yesterday as a dessert and was really sulky about it because what I really wanted was cake, pie or a cookie. Or ALL of these. But no, I got figs and man alive, are they good.
July 24, 2010
Thursday morning, I looked out my window and saw that the little girls across the street had set up a lemonade stand. Oh, boy, I thought. I'm going to buy some, later. I'm going to buy two glasses of it--or two paper cups, more likely. They had a little white table, and they sat professionally behind it on two little white chairs. Being stationed in the middle of the block and without benefit of any advertising I could see (signs at the corner of each end of the block, saying FRESH COLD LEMONADE ONLY STEPS AWAY!, and then an arrow drawn to direct an aimless wanderer in the right direction, perhaps?) business was not exactly brisk. I watched them for a while, sitting there waiting, perhaps dreaming about what they'd do with the fortune they expected to make; and then I went to work. By the time I looked up, many hours had gone by, it was early evening, and it was time to take the dog for a walk. And after that, I needed to do a million other things. So it was was with some haste that I snapped Homer's leash on him and started off down the block. "WANT TO BUY SOME LEMONADE?" one of the tow-headed entrepreneurs called out from across the street. I did want to. I had promised myself I would. But now there was the beating of that drum in my head: hurry up, hurry up, hurry up. "Sorry, not right now," I called back. "Okay," the girl said, "Well, have an nice day." "Thank you," I called back, feeling like the old lady who yells at kids who get balls on her lawn. "Are you going to be there tomorrow?" I asked. "YES!" she said, jumping up and down up a little. "Okay!" I said and I thought, Okay, tomorrow I will definitely buy some lemonade.
The next day was so hot the heat index was something like 113 degreees. But when I looked out my window, there was the little table, all set up on the sidewalk again. There was a pink construction paper sign in the shape of a heart taped to the table, fluttering in the breeze, but I couldn't read the message on it. I saw that the proprietors were up on the porch in the shade, where they could see customers without subjecting themselves to the brutal heat, and I figured the sign said something like if you were interested in lemonade, approach the girls on the porch and they would happily serve you. Serious inquires only, it might say.
When it was time to walk Homer, I looked in my wallet. All I had was a ten, and I thought to give it them and if they couldn't make change, well, I'd tell them to keep it. Then I decided ten dollars was too much, it might make them uncomfortable. Five, okay. But ten? A little weird. So I found four quarters and put them in my pocket and I headed across the street. When I got to the little table, I was happy to see that lemonade was 50 cents. Perfect! But there was no sign of the girls. A new construction paper sign, this one in yellow, said, CLOSED. But below that, it said, "We'll be right back." But they never came back. And I felt disproportionately sad. Why? Because there was such hope in that little girl's voice when she asked if I'd like to buy some lemonade. Because the girls' signs were homemade, from colorful construction paper, and I was pretty sure they'd had quite a conference about what color the signs should be, what shape. Because every day those kids grow older and soon the coltish, messy haired little girls that they are now will have morphed into teenaged girls who wouldn't be caught dead selling lemonade, who would understand instantly that the gain would never equal the effort. But for every single one of us adults who walked or drove by or, best of all, stopped by that lemonade stand, the gain was immeasurable. Easily worth ten bucks, for the way it brought back memories, or demonstrated that kids are still kids in the Andy Griffith way some of us remember; they aren't all glued to video games or being chauffered to dance class or sports practice or play dates or French class. It's worth ten bucks to see a kid with a purple plastic headband pour you a drink from a plastic pitcher so heavy for her it wobbles dangerously when she pours, the same kid who entertains herself by turning cartwheels between customers. Some kids are using their imaginations and getting good ideas and turning them into reality. I've learned my lesson; I'm ready to do my part.
It won't be today. Today is going to be more severe thundershowers, as there were last night. I woke up this morning to a flooded basement, and I called my friend Bill to see if he would come and help bail me out and bless his heart, he came right over. "YOU'RE GOING TO GET SUCH A GOOD DINNER FOR THIS!" I told him, over the roar of the shop vac. And he will get a good dinner. When Bill first arrived, I was standing by the garage where I'd gone to get the shop vac. I was ankle deep in water and the yard was a virtual lake. It was pretty grim. But the first deep blue morning glory had opened up on the vine I planted to grow up the garage. "Hey, Bill," I said, pointing to the blossom. "Life, huh?" I said. And he nodded appreciatively and then squared his jaw for work, and so did I.
June 28, 2010
Busted. I got a call from my insurance company saying I cannot rent out my Wisconsin place, so I'm going to have to take down all the information on the website. So sorry.
Meanwhile, the sky is cloudless and that impossible blue, the kind you wish you could wrap up and save in a box under your bed. Or send to someone who lives in a rainy climate. The humidity level is way down, the birds are full of gossip, and there is the scent of cut grass in the air. If I were a ten-year- old again, I'd have on my clip-on roller skates, the key for tightening them on a string around my neck, and I'd be bumping along the sidewalk, my hands in front of me like Frankenstein in order to break my inevitable falls. I'd be looking for adventure, which would be sure to show up in one form or another, if only in successfully capturing some minnows I would later release from their Mason jar jail. Kids would be all around the neighborhood, doing different things. One memorable summer day in Texas, I came outside to find a group of kids gathered around a big bush. "What's going on?" I asked. "There's a dead baby in there," a boy said. "Somebody killed it and stuffed it in the bushes." Horrified, I came in for a closer view. But when I parted the branches, I saw that the baby was just some dumb doll. With catsup on it. "That's just a doll!" I said. The group of kids stood silent for a moment, and then went on their way to find the next great thing to do. I watched them go, and thought about taking the doll out of the bushes and giving her a little sponge bath. But no. I left her there, where later she might have scared someone half to death, and the kids who put her there, the installers of this imprompu avant -garde art exhibit, wouldn't even see it. Ah, well. I am not a kid anymore exccept in spirit and probably in temperament, and I need to get to work. I'll open my window to hear the birds better, though. And at lunch time, I'll sit on the wooden porch steps to eat. Each season offers its gifts and it's in taking them that I realize my greatest wealth.
June 9, 2010
It's a lovely summer day, and I'm off to do one of my favorite things, which is go out for breakfast. I'm walking, so I can do my usual inspection of the gardens in the neighborhood. I feel so lucky to live among people who put on the dog when it comes to their gardens.
Isn't breakfast the most hopeful of things? The whole day before you, nothing wrecked or badly done yet. The only danger is the stories in the newspaper, which can take a good mood and wipe it right out. Yesterday, in the newspaper, I read a letter from a reader who complained about how many negative stories there were and how few positive. I couldn't agree more. I want to know the news, it's my responsibility to know the news, but I need a little RELIEF. For years, I've wanted to write a Pollyanna column, to offer a place where people can go and read something knowing it will be only good news. Maybe after I retire onto my chicken farm. Speaking of chickens, a woman at a reading gave me a toy egg to hatch. I shared it with my grandaughter who LOVED the chick that came out, carried it around everywhere like a Judith Leiber purse, and alas, lost it. If that woman reads this blog, can you please tell me where you got that thing? If I can give Katelyn another one, I'll win the Best Grandma award.
For those of you asking, I'm finally back at work on the next novel which is still in the chrysalis stage, but about which I am plenty excited. Working title is Once Upon A Time There Was You. It's about a long-divorced couple who come together again because of something that happens to their daughter.
In other news, I'm pleased to say that I FINALLY have photos of my Wisconsin retreat house up on the web--interior and exterior. If you're interested in renting, please contact the person whose name appears with the other information under the "Berg Retreats" part of this website.
Okay, off for an egg white omelette, spinach and feta cheese. I hope whoever sits near me is having an interesting conversation so I can eavesdrop, which is in my job description. Some people are licensed to carry a gun; I am licensed to eavesdrop. Also to stare into space for long periods of time and call it working.
Oh! Wait! Book recommendation! Tinkers, by Paul Harding. So lovely, so rich, so complex, such a rewarding read and begs to be read twice. Or thrice. War, by Sebastian Junger. Gripping and unsettling, and it made me understand things I never had before. Please do read today. Your soul will be better for it. Also authors will be better for it.
May 11, 2010
Whew! I'm about ready to drop, yet at the same time am so exhilarated at some of the wonderful stories and comments I'm hearing out on tour. I'm so happy that people are having FUN with this book! Today a reporter asked me, "Why IS it that high school never quite leaves us?" Indeed! No time to share stories now, but soon, I promise, I'll tell you about the woebegone guy who told me about never having worked up the nerve to kiss the woman he's wanted to kiss for 45 years, even at the reunion he finally attended without his wife; the man who went to his reunion and finally didn't feel like an outsider (wait till you find out WHY), the woman who confessed that she DID make out in a car at a reunion just like my character, Dorothy, wants to. (And she is so not alone.) I'm in the midst of packing to go to Houston tomorrow, but wanted to give you a quick heads up on the retreat space in Wisconsin. There is now an email address for you to use to make inquiries or reservations. You'll see it under "Berg Retreats"--it's email@example.com. I still haven't taken photos of my place there but hope to get to that as soon as I've finished traveling sometime in June.
A rainy day, the sky the softest of grays, the air rich with the scent of green grass, drops of water dripping off the leaves in that lovely slow motion way. The Miss Kim lilacs are pushing open a little bit more each day. My whole garden had a face lift courtesy of the incomparable Claire Painter (she of Painted Gardens) and to stand in my yard and look at what she's done is to be overcome with gratitude and wonder. Wait till the bumble bees see THIS!
A final note: last night I was talking to my friend Phyllis on the phone and she reminded me that not everyone knows about turkey pepperoni. What!? said I. So here: If you like pepperoni but don't like all the fat and calories, try turkey pepperoni. It tastes the same or even better. I make individual pizzas on the small-size whole wheat boboli with red, yellow, and green peppers and red onion sauteed lightly in a little olive oil, and top it with turkey pepperoni and it's so good. I use tomato paste mixed with fresh oregano and garlic for pizza sauce, and light mozzerella both under and on top of the toppings. Dang. Now I want one and I don't have the ingredients. When I want something and I don't have the ingredients, I get to have one piece of See's chocolates, in compensation. So here I go to select a caramel one.
April 10, 2010
This may be the last entry I'm able to make for a while, as next week the tour really gets going. I'm having fun so far, and am gratifed at the number of people who have seen that The Last Time I Saw You is a lot more than a story of five people coming together for a high school reunion.
Today is one of those almost frustratingly beautiful spring days--you can't quite hold all the loveliness around you, but you WANT to. The dogs being walked down the sidewalk past my house all have their tails in the high alert position, and my cat is sitting transfixed before the window, her own tail flicking with excitement, watching the birds take off and land in the back yard bushes. I'm going to work in the garden a little (always a wonderful thing to get dirt under the fingernails) and then take Homer for a well-deserved long walk. The buds are still tight on some trees and they remind me of lipsticks rolled up partway, like they show lipsticks in magazine ads. I saw a magenta colored "lipstick" and the contrast was beautiful next to its light green "case."
Tonight I'm going to the 16th Street theater, my favorite theater, to see "Our Lady of the Underpass." I'd go and see it based on that title alone. Then tomorrow, I'm going with a friend to see a kind of Project Runway--students at Dominican University have made original designs and are displaying them in a fashion show. I love seeing evidence of creativity, whether it's the loopy scrawls my grandson makes on a piece of white paper, or a black floor-length gown festooned with feathers at the bodice. I am devastated when they cut art programs from public schools, because it seems as-- if not more-- important than academics. Art instructs the soul, and teaches the worth of quiet observation. Just wait till I'm president. I'm going to "shove down the throats of Americans" the idea that art saves us.
As for now, I'm going out on the porch to finish my coffee and read the paper. I'm wearing my red robe and black sneakers and glasses that once again are spattered with something, why do glasses always get spattered? What IS that stuff?? I suppose I should get dressed first, but I'm too eager to go outside. (It's like the time I was nine and went out to ice skate wearing my nightgown under my coat. I didn't even get cold because I was too excited.) I'm very close to becoming eccentric, I suppose. But here's my view; if people want to stare at a woman sitting on her front porch in her jammies and black walking shoes, her hair uncombed, if they'd rather pay attention to that rather than those lipstick buds, well, let them. I'll give them a wave. Maybe a muffin, too.
April 6, 2010
Well, it's the birthday of my new book. The Last Time I Saw You is in the bookstores as of today. Please pay a visit to my stack of books in your local store and pat them and murmur reassuringly.
I did a radio interview for the book yesterday, and one on TV today. I almost went to an electric company rather than the TV station, but otherwise things went well. The best thing that happened in the TV station is that the woman who is the news director's assistant came in the green room and told me she read my book in an afternoon. Then she said, "You know what always happens when I read your books? I want to be a better person." I said, "I want to be a better person, too, but I never am." "Me either!" she said happily. After the interview I went to court to try to get out of a ticket I'd been given for backing into a parking place in a municipal lot. "How do you plead?" the judge asked. "Liable or not liable?" "Not liable," I said. And I told her how when I pulled in there was a car directly across from me that had also backed in and that the sign that said not to do that was obscured. She said, "I agree with you. I've been to that lot and the sign is ohscured." Well, with that, I was kind of feeling like we were new BFF, and I said, "Can I just ask, on behalf of others, that you make that sign easier to see?" Then she got mad and told me she had nothing to do with that and if I wanted to tell someone else, fine, but all she was responsible for was forgiving my fine. So I slunk out of court, twenty dollars richer and feeling ever so vindicated but also shamed for apparently overstepping my bounds. That judge is no longer invited to my book's birthday party, which is tonight at my first reading. I hope there are little cupcakes there.
A lot of people are writing to me wanting to do the same cooking vacation in Italy that I did (I wrote about my trip to Positano in April's National Geographic Traveler--it's the cover story. If you want to read it, you can buy the magazine or read it on line). To contact the people I worked with (and adored) email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 24, 2010
Here's my morning routine: I wake up and have little one-sided conversations with my dog and my cat. I notice I say everything twice to my dog, as most people do (eg. "Good MORNING, boo-boo! Good MORNING! Are you a good boy? Huh? Are you a good boy? Yes, you are!") but not to my cat. I wonder why that is. I guess cats' personalities demand that you not display yourself in so vulgar a manner. They prefer that you say, "Good morning, your highness. May I offer you kippers for breakfast?"
Anyway, I greet my animals and then I come downstairs, go into my office and turn on my computer. Then I continue downstairs and press the button to start the coffee, let Homer out in the back yard, and go onto the front proch for the newspapers. Then I stand at the back door waiting for Homer to finish up with his business, which usually takes a few mintues. Today, a cardinal whistled loudly two, three times, and Homer thought it was me calling him in and came flying across the yard without having done much of anything. He'll need his walk sooner than usual.
Today I have my first radio interview for THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU. And then, on April 6, the book lands. Here's a final quote from the book.
Everyone is at the reunion, everyone is pretty well lubricated, and Pam Pottsman, the organizer, has come up with a plan.
She tells Dorothy, "I thought we would get a whole bunch of people to sit around the table and really open up. I'll ask certain questions, and they'll answer really honestly what their lives have been like since we last saw each other."
"Nobody's going to do that," Dorothy says.
"Oh?" Pam says. "Well, I already asked four people, they said yes and they're going to get more people. They're all coming back here. A whole bunch of them. And Betty and I were just coming up with some questions and we've got some good ones."
"Nobody's going to sit in a circle and answer questions," Dorothy says.
"Your friends are," Pam says. "Linda and Judy."
"Who else?" Dorothy asks.
"Tom Gunderson, he's getting another drink and then he's coming. President of the Student Council, in case you forogt. Lettered in four sports, in case you forgot. Really good-looking, stiill, in case you hadn't noticed. And available."
"I don't care about that," Dorothy says, but Pam has her number. Dorothy pulls her chair closer to the table. She's in. "What are the questions?" she asks.
"That's for me to know and you to find out," Pam says. "But if I were you, I'd get another drink."
Now it's time to go to the dentist. I wish they'd give you toys for suffering through an appointment. You know, a car or something.
March 19, 2010
Many thanks to Lori Elmer, who reminded me that it is now 2010, not 2009. Good grief. Thanks, too, Lori, for what you said about my work.
I have gotten some letters about an article I did for National Geographic Traveler about a cooking class I took on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. ( It's on the news stand now, or you can read it online.) One person wanted to know how to do exactly what I did. If you're interested--and I can't recommend this class highly enough--you can contact the woman who runs the cooking school directly. She can tailor the class to meet your needs. Here's her email address: Lauren@cooking-vacations.com. She's a wonderful person, kind and really competent, and she'll take care of you.
My publisher and I are planning the tour in earnest now for The Last Time I Saw You. I'm trying to keep up with posting all the events--you can find them under "Appearances." But as I seem to have difficulty recalling what YEAR it is, you might want to double check with hosts about time and place, whether it's a ticketed event or not, etc.
I just finished reading, in one gulp, Roger Rosenblatt's Making Toast. Heartbreaking, but ever so beautiful. This is a book that I'll keep in my library forever. Life is so odd, sometimes, so simultaneously beautiful and painful, so mysterious--nowhere has that point more eloquently been made than on these pages.
Yesterday, I flew home from North Carolina, where I did an event at Catawba College. (Wonderful people; wonderful place. I ate bbq twice. AND I ate a deep-fried pickle, which was surprisingly delicious.) At airport security in Charlotte, the guy checking drivers licenses was telling a joke to his co-worker and hardly looking at licenses at all. And here's the thing: it wasn't even a good joke. You could see the punch line coming a mile away. I wanted to pull the guy aside and say, "Hey, bud. If you're going to ignore your kind of important job, at least tell a a good joke." And then I was going to tell him my joke about the parrot in the freezer. If you'd like to hear it, remind me at a reading to tell it. I seem to be able to remember only one joke at a time. This is the one I've been telling for...oh...about ten years, now.
March 15-16, 2010
Today I ran into a bookseller who will be sponsoring one of my events: Jason, from The Book Table in Oak Park. He is one of the many booksellers whose customers are being invited to participate in a writing contest. Here's the deal: you write a short piece (no more than two typewritten pages) about a high school reunion and submit it to a bookstore that is both hosting me for a reading and participating in this contest. The winner of the contest (chosen by the bookseller and announced the night of my event) will receive a gift of champagne and, in many cases, more than that (Jason will be giving a box of chocolate as well as champagne, and other booksellers are giving gift certificates, for example.) The winner will also have their story read aloud by me to the audience on the night of my appearance. I hope you'll consider doing this if you're coming to a reading and have an interest in writing. The story can be fiction or non-fiction, poignant or funny or supernatural or anything else, and could be a really good way to get all you wanna-be writers into action.
Today I also got my first glimpse of snow drops, those lovely little white flowers that look as if they're staring at their shoes, and are among the first harbingers of spring. Seems like everybody gets excited about them as well as all the new green shoots thrusting themselves up through black earth that is finally not covered with snow. I saw a bird high up in a tree today just singing his heart out. Wouldn't stop. A man who was walking toward me and I just stood there and watched for a while, then smiled at each other and kept walking. It was a nice moment. All hope is here. That's what spring always feels like to me.
Okay, now it's the next morning. I am in happy (early) receipt of Sue Miller's new novel, The Lake Shore Limited. I started it last night, and oh my goodness, it's really good. She is one of the most elegant and engaging and emotionally honest writers out there. I also got Mary Gaitskill's collection of stories, Don't Cry--she's a writer I've long admired, very strong. I also want to recommend--again--Jill McCorkle's Going Away Shoes. I'm always so far behind on what I want to read, but last night I re-read one of the stories in that collection and was completely knocked out. She is alone in her class. If you've not read this book, please have a look. She's funny, and so insightful. And as long as we're talking about new and/or upcoming books, let me offer another quote from my own, THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU, due out in 21 days. Not that I'm counting.
This is the character Candy Sullivan, who was the class beauty and now is enduring a marriage that is far from ideal, that is, in fact, full of various cruelties from a husband who has clearly lost interest in her. Here, she is thinking about going to the doctor this morning, where she's pretty sure she'll be given bad news--she's been called in to get the results of some tests:
After the appointment, no matter what the news is, she'll tell Cooper that she's going to her high school reunion. When she got the invitation and asked if he'd like to accompany her, he'd said, "God God, no. Clear Springs? No. Thank you." She'd waited a day or two, then called the airline, and then called Pam Pottsman [the organizer] to say she'd be coming alone except for her bulldog and Pam was so excited. "Are you still unbelievably gorgeous?" Pam said, and Candy said, "No, Pam, I am not." Pam said, "Oh, yes you are!" and they both laughed. And it was fun, that moment on the phone. It lifted her heart to hear Pam's voice and to be suddenly enriched by a rush of memories. She saw the wide steps of the high school, smelled that janitorial waxy smell you always noticed when you first came into the building, saw the lit trophy case out in the hall. She saw the crowds of students, the teachers standing at the fronts of their classrooms. She saw the gymnasium at night, decorated for a dance, felt the pressure of a crown being put on her head as she sat on a plywood throne. She's going to that reunion tomorrow, no matter what. Befere, she just kind of wanted to. Now, she needs to. Now, she would go in jeans and a sweatshirt and a shower cap and no makeup, just to sit at a table and be surrounded by people she used to know, just to be near someone familiar in the old way, someone from before.
And now, since the sky is so blue and the sun is so warm, I think I'll have breakfast on the porch. This weekend, I'll be going to Wisconsin to take photos of the house I'm offering as a retreat space for women. Look for them to be posted soon--right after I've called my website people and begged them to help me once again. I live in fear that they argue who has to take my call.
March 7, 2010
A word about reviews. I just got a nice one in Booklist Magazine for THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU. It reads, in part, "As [Berg's characters] consider returning to Clear Springs for their fortieth high school reunion, each contemplates the chance for redemption and revenge, renewal and retribution. Ultimately, they are then surprised to discover how much they have yet to learn about human nature and their own capacity for joy and forgiveness. Luckily, the zestfully wise Berg is the perfect teacher for such tender lessons of the heart, and her sublimely authentic and winsome characters are apt students. Book groups are clamoring for upbeat yet signiificant works that are entertaining as well as enlightening: Berg's latest satisfies and succeeds on both counts." I am so pleased to have this review, as surely there will be some negative ones, too. You really can't please everyone, and ultimately that's a good thing: diversity is what makes the world interesting. And a "good" bad review is actually useful; you can learn from it. But lately I've seen some amateur reviews of my own and others' work that have really given me pause. These are the kind of reviews that are self-serving and meant, I suppose, to make people think that the writer is an awfully clever person, but do little to elucidate an author's work. Not long ago, I read this pithy analysis of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE: "This book sucks." On Amazon, I read a scathing comment about a brilliant novel because the reviewer took exception to a character who "wasn't very nice." But I found a new low on goodreads.com, where someone who didn't like THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU said, "Suck it, Berg. Do better next time, or I'll kick you in the ovaries." That one had me looking out the window for a long time.
I hesitated over writing about the problem of reviews like that. It's ill advised. It calls attention to people who should be ignored. It makes it seem like I'm whining, that I can't take the heat. But in the end I decided to call this particular review out, because we need good writers and we need good readers and this kind of stupidity does nothing for either.
(Update on 3/22: That review has been removed from goodreads.com)
On a more pleasant note, I continue to receive so many lovely letters, and am doing my best to respond to as many as I can. Please know that all your letters are read and valued, and prove that a lot of people understand the joy of a handwritten envelope mixed in with the bills in the mailbox. To the woman who sent me a CD of herself and her daughter singing: thank you. To the man who found me in the library and sent an elegant note on heavy cream-colored stationery: thank you. To the librarian in the small town who sent a letter on stationery with a picture of a train on it: I want to come and visit you!
As for now, Homer the dog is lying on the floor bedside me, sighing loudly out his nose, having given up on my taking him for a walk, even though the sun is out and the birds are having a little convention in my front yard and there are a million different scents out there awaiting his dogly analysis. But as soon as I offer up a quote from the new book, we're going out to meet those birds.
Okay, so here is Pete Decker, former heartthrob and jock, who just cheated on his mistress with his wife, and now he's watching his wife make him breakfast.
This woman knows how to scramble eggs, as opposed to Sandy, the woman he's been living with for the last three and a half months. That one makes scrambled eggs that come out like hard little yellow balls. He dropped Sandy off at the day spa this morning so that she could have her stress relieved. Though what she has to be stressed about, he has no idea. All she does is read magazines and natter on to her girlfriends and watch The Housewives this and The Housewives that and shop. On his dime. What a terrible mistake he has made.
Nora puts the eggs down in front of him, perfect fluffy eggs accompanied by the kind of bread that's good for you, but tastes good anyway, and a little bowl of fresh fruit all cut up nice. "Thanks,'" he says. "Sandy mostly gives me Pop-Tarts."
"Well," Nora says. "Her cooking is not why you moved in with her. And you know, you could try cooking yourself sometimes."
It frustrates Pete, the way Nora defends Sandy, frustrates and mystifies him. He supposes it's really a way of getting back at him, a way of saying, You made your bed. But still, shouldn't a wife be bitter and outraged about a mistress? Nothing's working out the way he thought it would!
Tomorrow I fly to Florida for four days. By the time I come back, I'll bet all the snow will be gone. Yesterday, I saw two people wearing shorts. I certainly admired their spirit, but their lips were blue.
February 26, 2010
Or, as I like to call it, Almost March And Therefore Almost Spring.
So the other night I made these little bbq lemon turkey meatloaves and they were so good I had to put the recipe on the website. And they're so easy to make, too! If you add mashed potaotes and green beans and apple crisp, well, then you get a gold star.
I have been inspired by my daughter, Julie, to do a little spring cleaning--she's doing it with a vengeance. Inspired by her and something else, I should say: the fact that I could NOT find my angel food cake pan this morning and tried a creative alternative that means I will be scraping stinky black stuff from my oven for some time. When I was searching for the pan, I found some tiny pie tins that I had fogotten all about and now will use the next time I make dinner for friends: I'll make individual blueberry pies. I also found a whole bunch of tupperware I'd forgotten about too, else why JUST YESTERDAY would I have bought a whole bunch of tupperware? Well, it wasn't tupperware. Where can you get tupperware anymore? And I really like tupperware, too. I like that there used to be tupperware parties where a saleswoman in a tweed suit pretended to be your new best friend. You'd have girl food and then come home with, oh, lettuce keepers and popsicle makers and something to tote cakes to picnics in.
But this got me going, this discovery of the left-over containers and the tiny pie plates. So I started rummaging around here and there and in my bedroom I found photos of my grandchildren that I've been meaning to place in scrapbooks for years, literally. A huge pile of photos. I found books I want to read: Half of a Yellow Sun, Cutting for Stone, Lonesome Dove, Swann's Way, What is the What. A biography of Louisa May Alcott. The Letters of James Wright. Poems by Katha Pollitt.
There are things to discover and appreciate anew in every room in my house: cool rubber stamps and ink pads in funky colors that I bought to use on envelopes, lovely barrettes that were shoved out of sight in the back of a bathroom vanity drawer, letters I've saved to read again, exotic spices. And as I continued walking through my house, I saw things I have not seen for a long time, even though I walk past them every day: the Parisian gaming table I HAD to have and as soon as I got, ignored. The orchid I was so delighted by that I got up early to say hello to it the morning after I bought it, then completely ignored. (Though I hasten to add that it is alive, don't worry!) The painting I bought by a man who was also a poet: an evocative image of a path between trees that I told myself I'd meditate in front of. Right.
So I looked some more. Really looked. Even good old Homer benefitted from this: on our walk this morning, I stayed out longer than usual, and saw the sparkle in the snow, the pale blue of the sky, the birds on the wires, the pleasant symmetry of the architercture of the houses on my street, the red berries that cling to the bare black branches. After I got home, I took my time changing the sheets on my bed, bamboo sheets from my favorite store, The Careful Peach (type that name into google and visit her utterly delightful website) I'll tell you, once you sleep on bamboo sheets there's no going back--I actually carry a bamboo pillowcase with me when I travel and I stay in NICE hotels). I listened to a Melody Gardot CD, then a Johnny Mercer one, then a collection of Doo-Wop that my wonderful pal Marianne made for me. You know, we complain all the time that kids just end up ignoring the fancy toys we buy them. But we ignore our toys, too. So this afternoon, I'm planning to sit at the dining room table with a cup of tea, piles of photos, and the time to look at each image before I place it. Time does slip away, and I guess the value of photos is that it brings it back to us.
One more thing before I go. You may know that I have a new book coming out April 7th, called The Last Time I Saw You. Someone asked me the other day what it was about, and I told them it was about a 40th high school reunion, told from five points of view. But then I thought about how the way I like to evaluate a book is to flip through it. Therefore I offer you my brand new service: random quotes at random times. I'll offer something from the new book until it becomes available for you to look at yourself. Consider this my aggressive marketing and publicity campaign.
Okay, quote of the day. Here it is. This is Mary Alice, who was a big nerd in high school, who will be going to the 40th reunion in the hope of being seen a different way, among other things. Here, she's reflecting back on her life in high school, where she was occasionally tortured, but mostly ignored:
Sometimes she sat outside her older sister's bedroom door listening to her gab on the phone and wondering if anyone would ever call her and inspire her to talk in that excited, girlfriendy way, full of gasps and exclamations; or in that low, seductive voice Sarah Jane used when she talked to boys. As it happened, no one did call her. "Well, why don't you call someone?" her mother used to ask, and Mary Alice couldn't explain why not. It was ....It was that something had to happen before you called, and that something had simply never happened to Mary Alice. So she learned--and came to like, really--a certain self-reliance. She had been lucky to have a friend in her ninth grade English teacher, a gay man, she realizes now, who told her that high school was good for getting a ticket into college, and that was all. Unless you counted the macaroni and cheese this school served twice a month. That was good, too. Otherwise, put everything in perspective, he'd told her. Life is long; you'll be fine, he said, and she was.
You can read the character Dorothy's voice in the section under "Books" on this website. In the coming days, I'll give you a sample of all five characters' voices. I'm sort of excited about this. I hope you are, too. As for now, it's back to seeing what ELSE I can find as I spring clean. (I have to admit, by the way, my idea of spring cleaning is not so much cleaning as treasure hunting. But hey.)
February 15, 2010
I am walking around with a fried face. This is because I have fair skin and got sunburned so many times growing up, I have a lot of skin cancer, or the potential for it. So I just underwent a treatment that means I will be housebound for a week, and my face will be swollen, red and painful. But it also means that I should be free of those troublesome little areas for a while. So here's my advice: WEAR SUNSCREEN. And for Pete's sake, DON'T LIE IN THE SUN. Are you listening to me, Karen P., who lives next door and lies in the sun all the time? She used to lie out with her iguana, but he died. See?
Telling you not to lie in the sun that reminds me of a patient I took care of when I was a nurse. He was dying from emphysema, and I remember a particularly poignant day when one of his relatives brought him a new bathrobe. He looked splendid in it, it matched his blue, blue eyes, but he told me he knew he wouldn't be able to wear it for long, and he was right. The bathrobe went home with his relatives after he died, draped over the arm of a grieving niece, and I remember thinking, I hope she wears it. I hope she puts it on and thinks of him. I liked this man a lot, and I used to sit beside his bed and talk to him whenever I could. Those were the days when nurses actually had time to talk to patients, which is one of the most important and therapeutic things you can do, but there is hardly ever time for that now. But don't let's go there today. Let's go there another day, when I talk about how nurses used to give back rubs every night, which was also important. And how I used to make gold stars to tape above the beds of the patients after they passed gas after surgery (important indicator of a patent system! Very important!) Anyway, one day this patient who was dying from a cigarette-related illiness asked me to make a promise to him. He asked me to tell every person I saw smoking to stop. He said, "Tell them what happened to me. Tell them they don't believe that smoking will hurt them, but it most likely will." Shortly after he died, I came upon a group of teenage girls smoking. And I gathered up my courage and went over to them and said, "Excuse me. I'm doing a favor for a friend." And then I told them about the guy, and they exchanged glances with each other and refrained from telling me to stick it. But that's what they were thinking, I could see it in their eyes. And if someone had come up to me when I was a teenaged girl and told me to stop something I was doing, I would have had the same reaction. I never told anyone else this guy's story; I never suggested anyone else stop smoking on his behalf. But every time I see someone smoking, I think about him. It's been over twenty-five years, now, but I always think of him, sitting there in a blue robe he would wear for far too short a time, asking me to ask others to honor his request. Ah well. That's the nature of human beings. You can't usually stop them from doing something they want to do, even if it hurts them. Witness me and the love of my life, carbohydrates. I actually remember lying on my bed as a little kid, wondering about the nature of free will. Wondering if it was such a good idea or if it was a major design flaw. Speaking of design, when I was about five, I thought that people drew themselves in heaven, thus creating the faces and bodies they would end up with on earth. I was never a great artist and I thought that's probably why I had a bump on my nose--who could draw a good nose? I also believed there were tiny little cast iron pots in my stomach, one for each food I ate. I was eating applesauce one day, which I liked quite a bit, and I was worried that soon the applesauce pot would get too full, and overflow, and kill me. I suppose I thought a lot of things could kill me. But no problem. Back to heaven, where I'd again be ordered to draw myself. Only, armed with the knowlege I now had from my first time around, this time I'd make myself a blue-eyed blonde. Boy.
Uh oh. Homer is once again trying to kill the mailman. Gotta go.
February 10, 2010
Last night I took a walk into town buy Louise Erdrich's new book and to get out of the house. It had been snowing all day (and right now there's a lot on the ground--two feet?) But last night I walked past a guy blowing snow and we exchanged greetings and rolled eyes. It is a pain, the snow, but I have to say it was beautiful last night, too. It was the kind of fine snow that falls almost like rain., alternating with the kind that looks like it's in a snow globe--suspended that way. I walked in the middle of the street, where it was a little easier to make progress, and I looked into the lit windows of the houses I passed by. Everything looked so cozy, and I had to remind myself that maybe it was cozy in there and maybe not: maybe someone was throwing a platter at someone else's head, you never know. On the way home, the wind had shifted so that the snow was blowing directly in my face, and when I passed by the snowblower again, we exchanged grettings again, but he was a little out of breath this time and I was a walking snowwoman. When I came in the door, my dog wasn't so sure I wasn't an intruder. So last night I was Lara in Dr. Zhivago; today I'll be Connie Francis in Where the Boys Are because I'm on the way to Florida. I'll take these little miracles where I find them, thank you very much.
February 4, 2010
I have just entered nearly all the information about the upcoming tour under "appearances." You can check that site to see if I'm coming to read anywhere near you. If so, please come out to a reading: there could be champagne in it for you, if I get my way. Well, if I REALLY get my way, there'll be champagne and chocolate. Maybe pony rides, too, who knows. It's so gray out today (AGAIN), my friend Karen and I are going out to dinner and to a movie to get our minds off the weather. Sushi and "Crazy Horse" sounds like a winning combination to me.
February 3, 2010
I am just back from several days in LA, where I recorded THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU, then stayed with friends for a few days. Heaven. Really, it felt like heaven to open the shade in the morning and see the Hollywood Hills and all that green, all those gorgeous flowers and beautiful trees. I took long walks and had some great conversations and ironed out a few wrinkles in the old soul.
When I came home, there was the usual mountain of mail, including several more pieces of writing sent to me by people who are hopeful I will find them an agent, get them published, or just weigh in on their writing. I've gotten really a lot of that, lately. I wish could help, but I can't: I can't even read your pages. The main reason is legal: suppose I'm working on a novel about an octopus that turns human. And lo and behold, you send me some pages about an octopus turning human. You might think I stole your idea. So please: Don't send me your manuscripts or ideas for books--I am obliged to throw them away, unread. Believe me when I tell you I know how strong the longing can be to be published, but for that you need an agent and/or a publisher, and I am neither. I did do a book on writing, called Escaping into the Open, which has everything I know and believe about writing, and the reason I did that book was to offer all I can about the process and business of writing, including lots of exercises to prime the pump. If you're interested, you can get it out of the library or buy it at a bookstore. But please don't send me unpublished material; it makes me feel bad that I can't help you, and it probably makes you feel bad to hear that. Please do keep on writing, though, and remember that the best thing about it is doing the work itself. Honestly. I've published a lot of books, but nothing matches the experience of having the vague but strong feelings inside me transform themselves into words upon the page, so that I can understand what I'm feeling. I'm thrilled and lucky that I get to make my living as a writer, but honestly, the best part has nothing to to do with being published; it has only to do with, well, escaping into the open. That phrase, incidentally, comes from a quote by my favorite author, E.B. White: "All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation--it is the Self escaping into the open."
I have to pay ten thousand bills now. Here's how I pay bills: I put Johnny Mercer on Pandora and listen to all those great old songs while I write out checks. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!
January 12, 2010
I have met my third grandchild and I am nuts about him. Daniel Jordan is his name, and he was born December 23, in about five minutes. All babies are good babies, if you ask me, even if they're screaming their heads off, but this baby is a little Buddha. He has the wisdom of the ages in his eyes, which are big as saucers. I'll relearn how to put photos on this website, and post a picture of him soon. I am always having to relearn things on the comptuter, and the knowledge never sticks. The only thing I do with any confidence on the computer is write, and even then sometimes I make something happen, or it does my favorite thing--"suddenly quits" which is not my fault at all-- and I throw my hands up in the air and scream. Or swear. Or both. I am going to time-travel back to the fifties so I can wear aprons all the time and I will volunteer to be a Brownie leader and that will be the most challenging thing I do. My husband will come home with his briefcase and take off his fedora and I'll say, "Martini, darling?" and he'll say, "YOU BET!"
I have the first reservation for renting my retreat space and another request. (See Jan. 1 blog). If you're interested even into spring and summer, please give me specific dates so there won't be any disappointment. I will not be able to drop in during the spring because of book tour (dates for that are going to be posted soon under "Appearances.") Someone asked if I would do a mini-workshop at the retreat space and I am open to that, but it would require an extra charge and be dependent on my schedule.
I am now the proud renter of a basement room in my daughter's house. I bought a shower curtain in French blue and yellow, and a blue bathroom rug. I bought two lovely lamps. I bought a coffee maker and instant oatmeal. I'll bring quilts next time I visit, and lots of books to put on the shelves. Matthew, my three-year-old grandson, surveyed the room after I'd fixed it up a little and decided what I really needed was some green Mardi Gras beads in the shape of stars, which he generously contributed. Also he jumped on the bed ten thousand times, breaking it in for me. Also we sat in a big chair in my apartment-ette and read together under the light of my swell new floor lamp, and I felt as content as my dog after he's eaten a big meal and lies sighing out his nose.
As for now, I must journey downtown to see my doctor. Here's what I'm going to say, "As charming as you are, I hate coming here." At least it's not snowing. I'm a bad enough driver when it's clear out there. I don't pay attention, which I understand is something you're supposed to do.
January 1, 2010
HOW I CHANGED FROM SELLING A HOUSE TO OFFERING A RETREAT SPACE
by Elizabeth Berg
So the other day, I'm driving up to Wisconsin to meet with the realtor, Chris, in order to list my house to sell it. As I get closer and closer to the place, I get sadder and sadder because it's so beautiful there, and peace sneaks into your soul simply because of the lay of the land and the openness of the sky. Chris arrives, we sit at the kitchen table, and I start talking about how maybe I don't want to sell the house, how maybe I want to offer it as a retreat space for women, especially women writers. I've always wanted to provide a beautiful place for women to gather and have the time for themselves that they deserve and rarely get. I ask her if she'd be willing to be the keeper of the keys, and the maker of the reservations. "Hmmmmm," she says. "I'd like to come to a writers' retreat." Well, I say, you can! After a lengthy discussion, we agree that the best thing for me to do is first send out a feeler, which is what this is. If you think you'd like to rent my house to write or just be with friends and relax, please write to me at the address listed under "Contact" on this website, letting me know what dates you would like to come. The house has two twin beds and two queen sized beds, so it sleeps 4-6, depending on how cozy you want to be with your co-renters. The cost would be $250 a night or $1,000 a week. Plus a damage deposit of one day's rent that would be returned to you the day you leave, provided you haven't, well, damaged the place. There could be groceries waiting for you if you don't mind paying a charge for someone to do the shopping for you. (Maybe $25??) Chris knows a masseuse who will come to the house to give massages. And manicures and pedicures. There is a deep soaking tub, too. There is downhill and cross country skiing nearby, and, as mentioned earlier, there are wonderful walking trails at Pike Lake State Park, one mile away. In the house are a whole bunch of great movies you can watch as well as Mary Tyler Moore and Curb Your Enthsiams and The Dick Van Dyke Show DVDs. There are TONS of books. We will provide a list of restaurants and shops you might want to try, and directions for getting to them and to the grocery store.
I mentioned this idea to my next door neighbor last night, and she said, "Hmmmmm. I'd like to go on a women's retreat!" "Well," I said, "you can!"
For those interrested in writing retreats, please be advised that you can use your computers to write there, but there is no online service in the house. You'd have to use that on your phones.
So if you're interested, let me know. There will be fresh flowers upon your arrival, and a million wishes for you to enjoy the peace and pleasure and fun you'll find there. Depending on my schedule, I may occasionally be able to drop by and offer a morning's workshop.
Think about whether this is something you might like. And Happy New Year!
December 28, 2009
First of all, I have a new grandson, born December 23, and I couldn't be happier about it. His name is Daniel Jordan and he's already well integrated into the family, as his 2-year old sister offered him her best stuffed animal (and in the same amiable way offered to hit him), and his 3-year old brother asked his Mommy to delay bringing the baby to his room until he cleaned up a bit. And got his pink feather boa. (I know. Don't ask me.) I have reached critical mass for my need to be closer to them, and so have decided to buy a little condo back east. This probably means I'm going to have to sell my beautiful house in Wisconsin. It's in the Kettle Moraine area half an hour from Milwaukee, and one looks out onto either farmland or woods. There's a big woodburning fireplace and 3 bathrooms and 3 bedrooms and a full basement, it's on over an acre of land, and the place is full of beautiful birds and the occasional deer. There's a state park one mile away with great swimming and boating and hiking trails. It's a great get-away (and a wonderful place to write). It can come completely furnished, down to the dishes and silverwear. If you think you might be interested in such a place, contact me at the address given under "contact" and I'll tell you how to reach the realtor who will be handling the sale. The price will be around $400,000.
I spent Christmas in Minnesota and winter weather made for some interesting times. Winter weather said, "You humans think you're so brainy and capable? Allow me to remind you of your vulnerabilities." I was out shoveling a few times and actually kind of enjoyed it, as shoveling brings with it a great sense of virtue. Now I'm home and buried with work, including unpacking suitcases. I would travel a lot more if I didn't have to pack and unpack. The paper gowns they give you in doctor's offices are going to be my new wardrobe when I travel. Rhinestones will be key here.
My new novel, THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU, will be released April 20, and the tour is just about set. There are a lot of places I'll be visiting and I'll post them all soon. But just to offer a sneak peek, here are some of the cities I'll be going to: Chicago (duh), Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Oconomowac, Long Grove, Il, Wichita, Kansas City, Houston, Tucson, Madison, Wisconsin, Raleigh and Durham N.C., Atlanta, Louisville, Boston. More details to come under "Apperances." I'm going to love touring with this book because it combines two of my favorite things: humor and nostalgia.
For now, there's an idea for the next novel to play around with, laundry to do, and soup to make. I love to make soup when it's snowing. And man, is it snowing. Later this afternoon, I'll read and then do my other favorite thing: take a nap with the cat and the dog nearby like ladies in waiting only one of them is a male.
December 2, 2009
Last weekend, I visited three churches. I was raised Catholic, converted to Judaism, and now consider myself a Pantheist. My places of worship can range from the local coffee shop to a playground where kids tear around or stand solemnly contemplating something, or simply to a state of mind: the elevation caused by seeing great art, for example, or reading poetry so powerful it's like a sock in the stomach, or witnessing a tender exchange between people that makes you believe we are not such savages after all. But I have begun feeling the need for ritual in my life, something beyond soaking every baked potato I eat with half a pound of butter. So I went to see what I might see.
On Saturday evening, I visited a Catholic church that still offers its masses in Latin. I sat in the back, hearing those familar sounds, watching the priest in his white vestments with the gold trim, remembering how, as a little girl, I used to envy priests their wardrobes and how it always seemed so strange to see their black and clunky men's shoes poking out from under their chasuble--shouldn't it be something a little more formal? White satin wingtips, perhaps?
I looked around at the little crowd of people who had come to this mass, maybe 20 souls spread out in the pews, and I saw that the women all had something over their heads: a lace mantilla in one case that looked very beautiful. I had nothing on my head and felt a little ashamed of myself. I remembered when women who had forgotten hats used to bobbypin kleenex on top of their heads, but I couldn't bring myself to do that, even though I always carry a lovely hankie in my purse and COULD have used that. But no, I sat there with no hat and with jeans on beneath my coat. Black jeans, though, that could have passed for pants.
There was no sermon, which was an unexpected bonus. Not that there can't be inspirational sermons, but there was something nice about sitting in a beautiful place, all wood and stained glass, hearing only the lovely cadences of an ancient language, the words echoing over a sparse but mostly devout audience--judging by the bowed heads, and the way you could practically feel the intensity of some of those people in prayer. Dominus vobiscum, the priest said, and I remembered sitting next to my father in church, regarding his large hands, wondering what he was thinking, because I had a suspicion he was not paying so very much attention to the service.
Nor was I, obviously.
Communion was given the old way, with people kneeling at the altar and NOT TOUCHING anything, but instead tilting their heads back to receive the host upon their tongue, while the altar boy held a gold platter beneath their chin, lest something fall. And I remembered when one used to have to fast before one took communion; nothing could be in one's stomach when one received the host (how vile the notion of eggs and bacon sloshing around inside one's stomach when God himself arrived!). Once someone in my church fainted. It happened up in the balcony of the church, remember when churches used to be so crowded, even up in the balconies? There was the loud noise of her falling over and then a lot of high and feminine expressions of alarm and concern. The fainter was a large woman, overweight, I suppose you would have to say, but she was very beautiful: black hair, red lips, all very Liz Taylorish, in my opinion. And she just conked out, and I thought it was very dramatic and wonderful, once I realized she was all right and just hungry. She wore all black that day, I remember, and her black velvet hat had a gorgeous veil.
Anyway. I went out into the night after that mass and I felt lighter in spirit, and an indentifiable peace had taken up residence at my center that lasted, oh, a good couple of hours.
The next day, Sunday, I went to a Quaker service that was held at an arts center. There were several folding chairs set up in a room that seemed to be a store: various things made by artists were being offered for sale: things painted or knitted or cast in metal. I had to work hard at not looking at those things and concentrating on what value sitting in silence can bring. For that is of course mostly what happens at a Quaker service, is that you sit in silence. So I stared at my lap and then I closed my eyes, and I felt the richness of a shared silence, which is very different from silence you experience alone. There is hope in it. Someone would sniff or cough now and then, or shift their weight in their chair, but these sounds just seemed to pass though, and were not distracting. One is allowed to speak at a Quaker service, should the spirit move one, but 45 minutes passed before anyone offered any words and all, and the time just flew by. It was like bathing in peace. When a man spoke, I opened my eyes to listen, and I noticed the expressions on people's faces. One woman looked like a toddler who woke up a little out of sorts, and I fantasized that she had been truly deep into her own personal meditation, and resented being pulled from it. After the man spoke, it was time for the service to be over and for everyone to share, but I had to go because I was on the way to the next church, which, as opposed to the other services I attended, was very well attended. It was in a big fancy church, well appointed, a huge bouquet of flowers at the altar. I sat in the back, which is a popular place for parents with babies to sit, and so I was well entertained by the wide eyes of this baby resting against his mother's shoulder or that toddler crawling on the red carpet, playing with his blue car and his blocks. There were candles lit on the altar, including one for Advent, and the sight was lovely to behold. But I could not respond to the sermon, because it felt to me like too much of a performance. As though the person delivering it was thinking the whole time, Man, I'm good. I know, I know, there's my awful judgement getting in the way of my life again. But it did feel like that. Plus it was kind of boring. I thought to myself: You just sit right there. Don't you move. You listen to the end, because you might miss the whole point here and you might be entierely wrong about this being boring. Don't you move a muscle. So I sat there until the end and it really didn't get much better so I flirted with the toddler and after the sermon I listenened to the choir sing one song and then I started thinking about how the Pancake House had pigs in a blanket and then I just shot out of there and went to the Pancake House where I had....guess what? And they were good.
So what I learned is that I like shared spirituality to be kind of quiet. I haven't finished looking around yet. I have a new church to try this Sunday and I want to go to a temple, too. I have a hope that I'll find a spiritual home, but I suppose it's most likely I'll go back to nature and casual gatherings of humanity to find the God with whom I feel most comfortable. Still. I understand the need for some sort of formalized ritual, and the Pancake House has definitely made the cut.
Today is my 61st birthday. It makes no sense to me, the number. I think people's age should be described in terms of mood. Or human seasons. And that they should be able to change daily, because one does change daily. Today I am pretty calm and I would say I am in the season of searching.
In the outside world, it could snow tomorrow. Perfect, because I'll be baking Christmas cookies. Whenever I make Christmas cookies, the first thing I do is soften the butter. Then I put on the Nutcracker Suite and listen to it the whole time I'm baking. I go to the Nutcracker every year, too; I buy two tickets and find someone to go with me who also loves ballet and little kids all dressed up in velvet and fake fur. I took ballet lessons when I was very little, around 4 or 5. I was AWFUL and I used to hide under the bed on lesson days so I woulnd't have to go to class. I still can't dance at all. But boy am I a good watcher.
November 1, 2009
Yesterday, I went to work. In Austin, Texas. I got up at 6a.m., fed the dog and the cat, drank coffee, and packed: a little make-up, and some books to read on the 8:30 a.m. flight. One of the books was Jill McCorkle's SUPERB short story collection called Going Away Shoes, and if you've not read it, I beg you to. These stories are so smart, so true, so affecting, so lively, so satisfying. And if you ever get the chance, go and listen to Jill read in her deadpan style, with her wonderful Southern accent that makes you wish with all your heart that you were Southern, too. The other book was The Good Thief, a novel by Hannah Tinti, which I also beg you to read. Whole other ball of wax, but the story immediately draws you in and has you just racing through the pages. The book reminds you of a Dickens novel, in a way, and some have compared it with Robert Louis Stevenson, but you can tell a woman wrote this book. Oh, I had such a good time reading on the plane, I didn't even mind sitting in a seat the size of a laptop computer. I used to love flying but now it has become like riding Greyhound bus without the possibility of weird but wondrous adventures. One good thing that happened on the airplane is that on the first leg on the trip home, I got to sit in front of a bunch of boys who were on an Indianapolis high school's swim and diving team. There were boys and girls on the team, there were a whole bunch of them all dressed up in their red-and-white team sweats, and I noticed that the boys and the girls were NOT MIXING AT ALL. I thought, how can that be? How can there be a group of adolescent boys and girls who are not flirting like crazy, if not stealing off to shadowy corners for some serious making out? I decided it was their coach, who, in advance of them traveling together, had said LISTEN. THE SPORT COMES FIRST. JUST FORGET THAT YOU HAVE HORMONES. IF YOU REMEMBER THAT YOU HAVE HORMONES--AND I THINK YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN--IF YOU REMEMBER THAT YOU HAVE HORMONES AND YOU ACT ACCORDINGLY, I WILL TRACK YOU DOWN AND HURT YOU BAD. I AM SERIOUS. YOU THINK I'M JUST BEING COACHY, BUT I'M BEING SERIOUS. These kids were also amazingly polite. We all had to change planes in Dallas/Ft. Worth, which is a HUGE airport, and we stood together waiting for the train--the "Skylink," don't you love that name, you just feel like you're in Disneyland --to take us to another terminal. Just before the train arrived, this auto-voice (a female auto-voice, one of those sterilized voices stripped of all personality whatsoever, when, if they want people to listen, they should use someone like Louis Armstrong or Tom Waits or Sarah Vowell) came on, suggesting that passengers waiting for the train not get in the way of those disembarking. Well. The train arrived, the doors opened, and one of the Indianapolis swim team girls immediately started to get in the train. And one of the Indianapolis swim team boys said, "Jesssica! Are you serious???" "What?" said Jessica, and she stopped in her tracks, all embarrassed. "Did you not hear the announcement?" said the boy. Oh, it was so sweet and rare and that is why this aftenoon I'm going to move to Indianapolis, land of incredibly well-behaved and, gosh, really good- looking kids. I thought of turning around and telling the boys who sat behind me on the airplane-- all of whom were sort of ridiculously handsome-- that when I was their age I was afraid of boys, especially cute ones, and never knew how to behave around them and what do boys want, anyway? It seeems to me that Freud was a dope. It's easy to understand what women want from men. Strength and vulnerablility, duh. But what do boys want from girls? Besides the obvious. Or IS it only the obvious? So I gathered my courage and turned around but then all I asked is, "Did you guys compete in Austin?" Yeah, they said. "How'd you do?" I asked. And they started nodding their heads and they said, Good, we did good. And I smiled and said, "Good for you." Then I eavesdropped on them all the way home. Here is what they talked about: how big dogs are better than little dogs, and how Golden Retrievers are especially awesome. College, in general and also in particular because they were worried about the choice a friend of theirs was making. A YouTube thing on the snugly (sp?) which this parody had renamed the "What the f#$% blanket." (I watched it today. It wasn't nearly as funny as advertised.) How far sports stadiums are from city centers, how that distance varies, city to city. When the flight attendant came around with the drink cart, they said both "please" and "thank you." Kudos to their parents. And their gorilla-like coach.
But ANYWAY. I went to Austin to participate in the Austin Book Festival, and it was swell for lots of reasons. I met Amanda Eyre Ward, whose work I really like. I was on a panel with her and I thought the discussion was really interesting. I got to meet Sarah Bird, who's a terrific writer. I got to see some men wearing cowboy hats. I get to eat some TexMex, even if it was only at the airport. I got to hear some good music, Texas is rich with good music, as you know. After I finished with signing books, I had to go back to the airport. I got home around ten o'clock, and I kept thinking, That was so weird to go to Texas and come home on the same day. And I have to admit that I was grateful for the disease incubators, aka airplanes, that let me do that. Because if there's one thing I like, it's sleeping in my own bed. I have bamboo sheets and the exact right combination of pillows, which it took me years to figure out.
You know, as as girl, I used to wonder about writers sometimes. I thought they were mostly men with English accents who wore corduroy and wandered around being very smart and sensitive and intensely interested in lots of things that they would use in their lofty novels which were torture for them to write, but pleasant and artful torture. I NEVER thought writers would go from Chicago to Austin to work for a day at a book festival where they would be given a recipe book gift-wrapped in chocloate brown paper and tied up with a red ribbon and a YELLOW ROSE, which is what a self-described "big fan" gave me. I have now had a chance to read those recipes and I owe you even more thanks than I gave you.
Despite the fun I had yesterday, I woke up today feeling fragile and sad. Feeling awful, really. But I drank coffee, which helped. I changed all the clocks, which made me feel like I was master of my little universe. I repaired a quilt I'd made for my friend Judy, which helped some. (Judy, if you mess up this quilt again, you are on your own. My eyes are too bad for this anymore. Do you hear me? You must be careful with this quilt, it is not a Linus blanket.) I took a walk around town with Homer the awesome Golden Retriever and saw a little boy on his father's shoulders holding a gold/yellow autumn leaf the size of his head and his cheeks were pinkened by the cool air and his eyes were clear and happy and not casting cynical glances here and there. Naturally, this helped a LOT. Then I came home and started yaking to you and now I'm fine. Plus tonight I'm going with Bill and another couple to Tom's Steak house, which is an old fashioned steak house where they offer their famous Carousel of Salad Dressings and where you feel compelled to get old fashioned drinks like, well, like Old Fashioneds. Which I am going to do, unless that voice comes into my head saying, NO NO GET A MARTINI, YOU KNOW YOU'RE ALWAYS SORRY IF YOU DONT GET A MARTINI. In which case, I'll get a martini with an Old Fashioned on the side. Or maybe a martini with a Sidecar on the side. Wouldn't that be fun to order?
I got a letter from a reader who told me it's very dangerous to let cats play with rubber bands, so I took away Grace's favorite toy. Thank you! (That's not what Gracie says, though.)
September 22, 2009
It's a cloudy day, humidity thick in the air, and it's almost foggy. Good vampire weather, if they didn't sleep during the day. When do they ever get to the post office, is my question? Wet leaves are pasted to the sidewalk, and from my office window I can see changes on my service berry tree: orange touches here and there, as though it has been to the beauty parlor to be highlighted. Kids are back in school, and one of my favorite things to do when I walk Homer past the elementary school at the end of my block is peek in the windows so I can see what all the kids are up to, to see how the teachers have decorated their classrooms. I have a fantasy of going to school all over again in a month: to start with nursery school and proceed right through college. To observe and participate. There's not a doubt in my mind that I would like the ends of the spectrum the best: nursery school and graduate school. I really want to take a ride down to the University of Chicago and sneak into a classroom and just listen. Note to self: DO IT! I also want to volunteer at a day care center and a nursing home. Note to self: DO THAT, TOO! I did manage to take a class so that I can be a volunteer for literacy. What I want to do is help people practice learning English at the Conversation Cafe. All I had to hear was that they served donuts and coffee and my hand was waving in the air.
I am the stunned owner of a new kitten. I must be out of my mind to get a kitten so close to tour time. But I have a trusted caregiver and I could not resist. This kitten is named Grace, although she ought to be called Kowabunga, or Mighty Cat, or Hillary Clinton, because she's afraid of NOTHING. I got her from a farm family and she is currently living in my office until she's old enough to negotiate the stairs. Her favorite toy is a rubber band. So much for the adorable little toys I bought her. "Look at this fancy pants ball!" I say. And she says, "No thank you. I like the rubber band. Also paper clips and your feet."
The paperback version of Home Safe is coming out on Tuesday the 29th, and I have a favor to ask, because I am conducting an experiment. If you have any plans to buy the book, will you please try to do it on that day or as close to it as possible? I'll tell you why next time.
And now to my new favorite feature: Mailbag:
to Mary in New Holstein Wisconsin: I was struck by your comment about your daughter telling you to put away a book that was making you cry. Naturally, she was doing this out of love for you, to protect you. But if I've learned anything in my life, it's that the way out of grief is through it. I have also learned that stress hormones are released in tears. A good cry really is good for you. That said, more than anything, I wish you peace.
To Polly in Highlands Ranch, Colorado: WHAT???? WE WENT TO SAME HIGH SCHOOL IN LUDWIGSBURG, GERMANY??? I can't wait to see you at the reading at the Tattered Cover, even though you were a cheerleader. Please do not wear your uniform or your megaphone necklace or talk about dating jocks.
To Lynn, who sent a lovely card featuring tulips and apples (and what else do you need in the world, besides kittens and a good dog?) just to tell me that she loved Home Safe: thank you. So often we don't tell someone who has pleased us or moved us. And when I get letters like yours, I'm inspired to send one to someone else.
Today, I'm having lunch with the artistic director of the 16th Street Theater, where the play version of The Pull of the Moon was mounted. We're going to talk about doing another play, centered around a holiday theme. I can't wait to talk to her, because I'd love to do another play.
As for now, I have to get showered and dressed. Dang it.
September 8, 2009
I am just back from Mill Valley, California where I had a swell time with my girlfriends. We went to see "August: Osage County." I worried that, at three and a half hours, it would be too long, but I could have watched it all day long. All WEEK long. We went to an Al Green concert and swayed in our chairs and sang along. We went to the DeYoung museum and stood in nearly open-mouthed admiration before so many inspiring and beautiful works of art. "Wait," you think, about so many things. "Wait, I think I can do something like this!" But then you never do.
We took long walks and sat around in a hot tub. We went out to restaurants and also cooked together and I ate my brains out, it goes without saying. I watched a session of QiGong and vowed to start doing it myself (though, regretfully, it will not be in a redwood grove under a blue sky with the temperature perfect and with lots of dogs running around, as it was in Mill Valley). I laughed really hard, and when we watched a video of Lenonard Cohen's live concert in London I wept a little. Now I am home and faced with a pile of bills and a million miscellaneous tasks to attend to.
I got a letter from someone suggesting I get on Facebook. Oh, honey. No. No, this is enough. This is too much. I spend way too much time in front of a computer and I don't like it. Yesterday, I heard on NPR about a program to help people addicted to the internet, and I thought, well, yes. It was inevitable. I think what they did is take his computer away and throw him outdoors. Remember the sky? Remember the land and the trees and face-to-face conversation and the musings of your own imagination?
My grandaughter is turning two on Thursday. All the things I bought her for her birthday, I want to play with, too. Especially the dress up clothes. I remember putting my mother's high heels on over my socks and wobbling around, deperate for the day I could really wear heels. I still like heels as works of art. But on my feet? No. I have come to adore flats. And bare feet. Though the time for bare feet is coming to an end. The leaves are just beginning to turn here and there, in a kind of sneaky way.
And though I love making soup and watching the snow fall, I am dreading walking the dog when it's so cold out. I don't see why dogs can't use the toilet. They're so talented in so many other ways. Can't they just use the toilet? I would so reward my dog if only he would use the toilet. I bribed my childen with M&Ms to get them potty trained. I'd give Homer sirloin tips.
Does anyone want to rent me their house in Mill Valley for the winter?
I try to answer many letters with a handwritten note. But I can't respond to them all. And so now, a new feature: MAILBAG:
To Kimberly, from Monticello, Arkansas: Thank you so much for your very sweet letter. The only thing I didn't love about it is that you like the Cubs and not the White Sox.
To Mickey of NY, NY: I do not advocate buying puppies from a store. And you'll be happy to know that in the new novel there is mention made of adopting puppies from a shelter. Thanks for loving dogs as much as you do. As I once overheard, "Aren't dogs such good people?"
To Colleen of Eden Praire: you say Home Safe made you cry. Your letter nearly made me do the same. Thank you.
To Irene of Redmond, Washington: I am so honored to be the "inagural inhabitant" of your permanent library. May your collection grow and grow.
To Sarah of Leesberg, Va: Your purple greeting card and purple ink were fantastico. As was your personal card, which described you as "adventurer, believer, can collector, good samaritan, reader" and about a million other things.
Okay, kids. The bell has rung. Recess is over. Back to work.
August 18, 2009
This morning, I let Homer out in the back yard. He is supposed to dash into the mini yard beside the garage, where he is meant to relieve himself and then come dashing back to the house for a treat because he was a GOOD BOY and went to the GARAGE to relieve himself. No. Today, he took a huge dump right in the middle of the lawn. So I went out in my pajamas and hair rollers (which my 3-year old grandson calls "roller coasters") and cleaned up the poop and went over to put the poop in the little poop garbage can, only to find that it was full. OVER FULL, because I forgot to put it out with the trash last night. So I stood there in my rollers with the poop bag in my hand thinking, hmmm. Then I stood thinking hmmmmm some more. I hadn't had any coffee yet, you see, and it seemed like a big problem what to do with the poop. Eventually, I shoved it in with the other poop which was so not an aesthetically pleasing experience. Then I saw the gas grill on my deck and realized I've not used it once this year because (so embarrassing to admit) I don't know how to use it plus I'm afraid of it. Oh, I know, a lot of you are rolling your eyes, but if you only knew what happened to my friend Phyllis who is a very experienced griller. If you only knew. Well, I'll tell you: she nearly burned all the hair off her head. Because her grill sort of BLEW UP. See? And then I saw that two porch lights need replacing, which requires using a ladder and a screwdriver which, for someone like me, is akin to making repairs on space stations. Then I came into my study and saw that I had a mountain of paperwork to do plus the final edits on my novel plus some event I agreed to do is all messed up. Plus I yanked the Lexar out of my computer without ejecting it which I was warned against doing, so now I'm scared to put it back because what if that makes everything worse? I can't call Apple because it's impossible to call almost any business anymore and get a HUMAN BEING. So I sat feeling sorry for myself at the kitchen table and I was thinking, Why do you feel so sad? These are not big problems! Then I realized what the REAL problem was. The real problem is that I miss my grandchildren, with whom I had such a swell time. They are 2 and 3 and they are charming and funny and lovely to look at with their curly hair and dewy skin and shiny eyes and their little little clothes and little little shoes. Even when they're exasperating they're still funny. Even when Katelyn puts her foot in her plate and Matthew will not stop pulling down his britches and running around like a crazy person, they are still those little people with hands like tiny starfish and absolute trust in you because you are the adult and they have NO IDEA what a wreck of contradictions and insecurities you are. I was with them day and night for four days and now I am without them entirely and I have the missing the grandchildren blues and THAT is why the gas grill and the computer and the porch lights and the paperwork are such a big deal.
The human mind is very interesting.
I'm going to stop feeling sorry for myself now and get to work. But first I need to tell you three things:
1. You can get Beat This now at the sane price.
2. I'm reading a terrific novel: The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer. My daughter Jenny told me about it, and I got a copy for my daughter Julie and me. Now we can have our own mother-daughter book group. If you like gorgeous literary fiction, you'll love this. I'm not going to tell you what it's "about," because it's about everything, as good literature always is.
3. Matthew and I made apple cinnamon muffins after we went apple picking, and they were wonderful. I left the recipe with Julie, but you can find it if you put apple cinnamon muffins in google. I think it was the first one to pop up. They have a struesel topping.
Wait. Four things.
4. I got a letter yesterday from a woman who told me she'd read Escaping into the Open and wondered if I had any advice to offer her about writing. Class! Class! That book IS my advice about writing!
Summer is almost over and I have not yet had peach ice cream. Today's the day for me to get some. You?
A LITTLE UPDATE: Computer problem fixed. Then I had another eensy weensy question about the computer and when I asked it, the computer guy burst out laughing because it was so stupid. He tried to hide it but I could hear him snuffling behind his hand so I said, It's okay, you can laugh. It's funny! And I laughed too. Then I felt better. And THEN I found four ripe tomatoes in my garden, and this did wonders. It really is always the little things. It looks like corn and tomatoes for dinner. And meatloaf. I just told someone I put brown sugar in my meatloaf (in the catsup and mustard and brown sugar topping) and he said, "Does this mean I should be putting meatloaf on my cereal?"
August 11, 2009
I just wrote a long piece to go under this date, and then did something that made it all disappear. I am admiring of all its fancy tricks, but I have to tell you: I hate computers. I really do. I despair of everything we've lost in order to gain the conveniences. I used to send my editor finished manuscripts tied with beautiful ribbons and now when I submit a mss I just hit a stupid button. Letters are all but dead despite all the swell stationery available and I am as guilty as the next guy because I hardly ever write letters any more, not even to my mother who LOVES letters but the thing is I always feel like she already knows everything and my letters to her would just say, "Well, as you know...." (I do get many many letters from readers and I have sung their praises before and will again later in this entry.) People are spending way too much time in front of screens, myself included. I'll tell you, I am ready for a rocker to put on the front porch, where I can sit and bitch all day about how I hate and fear modern times in general and technology in particular. The only thing I like is that we don't have to dial nines and zeros anymore; I do approve of touch-tone. I am ready to start my new town: Ludditeville With Touch Tone. If you would like to join, please hitch up your horse to your wagon and come on over. We will have lots of chickens, which I also saw in Wisconsin. I saw a bunch of chickens and the rooster sounded just like a person trying to sound just like him, if you know what I mean. Er-er-er-er-ERRR! And the lady chickens all walking around muttering under their breaths making those comforting cluck-cluck-cluck sounds, those maiden aunt, now, now-don't-you-worry-about-a-thing sounds. Those lady chickens really need aprons tied around their waists, not the bib ones of course, just ones that tie around their waists. Such as they are. Those lady chickens really seem like the cozy relatives who invite you over for roast chicken on a Sunday, but HOW WEIRD WOULD THAT BE?
Before I was so RUDELY INTERRUPTED by my computer error, I was telling about a walk I took in Wisconsin the other night, the rolling acres of dark fields full of fireflies. It was like a firefly convention. Well, more to the point, considering what that flashing signifies, it was like a firefly Woodstock, all that endless, wanton availability. And before the fireflies came out the sky got colored a deep red, then pink, then the lightest of pinks. And before that the sky had been that blue of picture books and the land the greenest of greens. I really like green and blue together. I see that I have a lot of it in my house. Also I have a lot of butter, for which I am sure to now be vindicated on account of the movie Julie and Julia which I am going to see today. I'm not eating popcorn in there. No. I'm thinking beef burgundy and pommes frites.
I got a letter from a reader named Jim, who told me about how he had started painting again after he read Home Safe. He sent a card featuring a lovely watercolor called "White Lillies with Hens and Chickens "(not chicken- chickens, although imagine how thrilled I was at the very possibility. No he painted hens and chickens, the plants). The other watercolor was called " Purple Globe Thistle with Lillies." Just to say those titles puts me in a good mood: the world is generous with beauty, even if it is polluted with computers. Another letter from a woman named Alison said she read The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and she was "lying on my bed alternately laughing and weeping all afternoon."
I just turned in the next novel and I suppose I'm throwing caution to the wind when I tell you I love this book. I really do. I loved writing it because I loved being with the characters. It's about a 40th high school reunion, and it's from five points of view. It's called THE LAST TIME I SAW YOU. Lots of humor in this one. Well, there'd have to be. A bunch of old farts back out on the dance floor, feeling eighteen again.
I fear I have now forgotten how to put recipes on my site (I really need to rent a room to a kid who knows how to do all this stuff and says "Ugkay" in that breezy way young people do) but I'm going to try anyway. My daughter Julie had a party and her husband's Aunt Cheryl (who is a fabulous cook) brought brownies that practically made my head spin around like in The Exorcist. These are just incredible, I'm not kidding. Even my sister who doesn't even like brownies loved these. Please make them. Make sure there are others about because you cannot stop eating them. I'm not kidding.
Finally, speaking of food, you may be aware that I did an essay on NPR for "You Must Read This." I talked about my favorite cookbook, "Beat This." If you missed it, you can see it online. On your damn computer. Just put "Ann Hodgman, Elizabeth Berg" in google. Do this because I don't know how to provide a link, surprise. (And if you do read it and like it, please hit the "recommend" button, that would make the producer so so so happy. And me.) But anyway, the response was so great they sold out and people were selling copies for over $200. DO NOT BUY THESE COOKBOOKS AT INFLATED PRICES. The publisher is going to reprint "Beat This" (a new and revised edition, I can't wait) and I think you can still get "Beat That" for regular prices.
Okay, breakfast time. Then Homer gets a walk. Then I need to work. Then I'm going to the movie. Thursday I'm going to babysit my grandchildren for three days. I can hardly wait to make them like me best. Bribing is so not beneath me.
June 24, 2009
Just back from an evening walk around the neighborhood. It was about ten thousand degrees today, with about 400% humidity, and at 8pm, dogs' tongues were still hanging out far enough to be streetsweepers. People were sitting at outdoor restaurant tables drinking wine and patting their foreheads with dinner napkins. Children were listlessly standing around on the playgrounds. As I walked past houses, I was engaging in my favorite practice of looking into people's windows and I got CAUGHT, and it was very embarrassing. I was going past a place where people in a second floor condo had used fabric on their ceiling, they'd gathered it tightly together in a very beautiful and interesting and harem-ish way and I was staring and staring up at it and then all of a sudden I noticed a man in another window of the room staring back at me. His hands were on his hips and he did not appear to be smiling. Or waving. Or friendly. Well. What would you do in a situation like that? Turn and walk away? That would be the sensible thing to do. Not me. I kept staring, but I shifted my gaze just SLIGHTLY to the right, so he would possibly think I was looking at something else. The outside brickwork on his condo, perhaps. Someone who lived next to him. Or, you know, maybe an airplane. THEN I walked away.
Oh, those fireflies tonight, flitting around the gardens. I wish I were a together and technically competent person who carried a camera at all times, one that could take pictures at night, and I would have taken so many lovely photos and posted them on my website so that you too could be magically transported. But I had no camera. And also I forgot how to put photos on here, but I'm going to learn again because I have to put up a photo of my dog, Homer. People think the dog on my website with the halo over his head is Homer, but it is not, that dog is Toby, best dog in the world, who died, hence the halo, you see.
I am reading a galley of Lorrie Moore's new novel and mama mia, is it good. It is GOOD. And she makes you laugh out loud, so she gets even more points. Next up is Suite Francaise, which I STILL haven't read but now I have to because Elizabeth Strout, who wrote Olive Kitteridge told me she loved it and I love Olive Kitteridge so what can I do?
I'm thinking a fragrant, lukewarm bath is in order. Summer pajamas. Then the books. I wish I could read by fireflies, like I did as a little girl one summer night when I was nine. I loved it. The fireflies did not, I think. I let them all go the next morning and not a one of them looked back and said, "Hey, thanks for the hospitality. Loved the holes you punched in the jar lid."
Also, I wish we could have fireflies in winter. Wouldn't THAT be pretty? Those little lanterns against the snow? Someone once said to me, "Boy. You sure wish for things a lot." And I said, "SO?????" I should have said, "I wish it wouldn't bother you so much."
June 8, 2009
June already! My friend Cindy called today saying just that, and we cackled like old women and talked about how as we age the time goes faster and faster. "Remember when you used to say, I'm five AND A HALF!"? she said. I do remember. And I remember thinking, boy, I'm eleven years old now. That's getting up there. That's more or less a teenager. I couldn't wait to be a teenager and drink cherry Coke at the drugstore and have a boyfriend with a ducktail and a fast car and a key chain with a funky fob. I thought cool would automatically descend upon me.
I'm, uh, still waiting on that one.
"Hey," he said back. Well, no, he didn't but he MIGHT have THOUGHT it.
"What are you doing here?" I asked. "Did you fall out of the nest?" Not a move. And then I thought, Wait, is this a statue? A little figurine? I moved toward him and then he did move. He got a little nervous and said, "Hey, hey; watch out now, watch out!" (Well, no, he didn't, but [see above]) and he hopped a little ways away. (Whoever made up the word "insouciant" must have been watching a bird hop, don' t you think?) But anyway, he hopped (insouciantly) just a LITTLE ways away. I thought, Oh boy, a gift from heaven, someone sent me a bird and he's beautiful, he's like nothing I've ever seen, he is all kind of mossy green gray with wonderful round eyes and thread feet, and I'm keeping him. And I will always tell the story of how I found him and everyone will think it was a miracle, which it was. And then I thought, but wait, what does he eat, does he eat worms? And I got very unhappy because I am afraid of worms and centipededes. (And of my house, as those of you who read my blog regularly know.) But anyway, I thought, well, maybe I can feed him raw hamburger which I think of as only "hamburger," a synthesized (somehow) product and not, you know, cow. I can compartmentalize when I need to. And then I thought of how I'd probably have to keep him in a cage if for no other reason than protection: I might step on him and the cat or dog might eat him just for fun. And how if he was in a cage he wouldn't see the clouds move across the sky and the raindrops hanging from the leaves and the stars at night and the rabbits who hold so very still when a dog goes by. And so, reluctantly, I tossed a little towel over him and put him in the garden in the middle of some lovely purple flowers that grow under the weeping cherry and he hopped farther away. I hope he's okay. I like to think he's still my pet, but with a VERY large cage, namely the wide, wide world. His name is Serendipity Free.
I'm going out on the porch with three books, now. Nearby, someone is mowing their lawn and the scent of green grass hangs in the air. And the feeling of it, and the feeling of cut green grass is that of concrete beneath bare feet and lemonade in a tall glass and drive-in movies with that crunchy gravel and the pre-movie ads for TANG-y hot pizza from the refreshment stand. A little boy is right outside my house learning to ride a bike, his father standing nervously behind him with his hands on his hips (and his heart in his throat, no doubt). I'm going to enjoy the free, multi-sensory entertainment and read (Alice Hoffman's THE STORY SISTERS) and drink a vodka martini with seven olives in it. Hey, it's past five, I've been touring hard, and I deserve it. Plus I'm old enough. I'm sixty and a half. Cheers.
May 16, 2009
If you look at the New York Times Bestseller List tomorrow, you will see that HOME SAFE is number 14. It was, as they say, an "instant New York Times bestseller," meaning it came on the list as soon as it came out. It was number one on the Heartland Bestseller List! Thank you so much to every single one of you who bought the book and who in so many other ways support my work and me.
It's a lovely spring day, and Bill is out working with John Sanford. We're all going to meet up for lunch later on. I called my parents to see if they'd like a book because I thought I remembered that they were John Sanford fans. Here's how the conversation went:
Me: Hi, Dad, it's me.
Dad: Oh, hi.
Me: How you doin'?
Dad: Eh! Okay.
Me: Listen, I called because Bill's working with John Sanford today. Do you like him?
Me: Do you like John Sanford?
Me: The AUTHOR. John SANFORD.
Me: John Sanford, the author. Do you like him?
Dad:...Hold on. I'm going to put your mother on.
Me: Hi, Mom. I called because I wanted to know if you or Dad like John Sanford. Bill's going to be working with him today, and if you like him, I'll get you a signed book.
Mom: Oh, my goodness, we both just love him. He's marvelous.
Me: Okay, so I'll get a tape for Dad and a book for you.
Jeez. I wonder if I'm starting to lose my hearing, too. Last night, I was a speaker at a dinner and was having trouble hearing my tablemates. I didn't want to keep saying, "WHAT?" so I put on my sort of blank/anything goes face as people talked, hoping they weren't telling a gruesome tale or a hilarious one. But usually when people tell a hilarious tale, they laugh themselves telling it, so you can do the Oh yes, ha ha ha response. If I do have hearing loss, it must be from those years in the rock band when, after gigs, I would feel like my head was full of cotton.
I'm off to Boston on Monday, and I can't wait. For one thing, I get to do a benefit with Alice Hoffman, whom I adore, and with a lot of other authors I admire (see details under "Appearances" on this website). The next day, I get to see my grandchildren and have dinner with my daughter, alone. I think it's been years since I had a meal alone with Julie. And the last time, things were not so very perfect in her life. But NOW! Now she is a a very happy and fulfilled woman, doing exactly what she wants to do, which is stay at home and witness the growth of her children. I think some of the most beautiful and rewarding moments in my life came when I was caring for my own small children. When I watched them sleeping. When I stood outside their doors when they were playing alone and making their stuffed animals talk. When they lay in bed at night before sleep and we talked about what they had done that day and they asked so many wonderful questions, many of which I was actually able to answer. Ah, well. I can see my maternal instincts are being stirred up. Maybe I'll get a puppy. Or plant some basil. Which I will then eat. What kind of mother is that?
May 6, 2009
People often ask me where I get my ideas. This question befuddles me, because it seems to me that ideas are everywhere; the trick (or the pleasure) is finding the story in them. But sometimes things happen that are stories complete in themselves. Here's an example:
When I take my dog on his usual walk, there are two little dogs who always bark ferociously at him and occasionally break out of their fenced yard and attack him. They're small guys, very annoying, but don't usually pose much of a threat to my much larger Golden. The other day, though, the dogs were loose on the front yard and they came after Homer, and a lengthy dogfight ensued. The owner of the little dogs was asking if I could pull my (leashed) dog away, which I was trying to do, and I was thinking, I should pull my dog away? You should keep your dogs contained! But no harm seeemed to be done, and I walked away, only to have the little dogs run up and attack my dog yet again. This time the owner and I separated the dogs pretty quickly, but I felt compelled to say, "You know, this is the third or fourth time your dogs have attacked mine." I wanted her to apologize and to assure me that she would take steps to prevent this from happening again. But what she said was, "Yeah, you know, they get along fine with most dogs, but some dogs they just don't like." I fumed for a while and then kind of forgot about it.
In the next couple of days, Homer began licking at a certain spot and it turned out he had a wound on his back leg. Then the wound got worse. On Sunday, it was looking awful and on Monday morning I brought him to the vet where he was shaved, cleaned up, given a cortisone shot and antibiotics and one of those lampshade things to wear around his neck. On the way home from the vet, I told Bill, "I want to stop at that woman's house and give her the bill. I think she should pay it." Bill agreed. When we got to the woman's house, I rang the bell, reminded her of the incident, and told her I thought she should pay the bill. "Okay," she said, and then asked me to wait while she made a copy of the bill. She was gone for a long time, and I was thinking, I'll bet she's calling her husband to see if he agrees that she should tell me to take a flying leap. But when she came back to the door, she said she was going to be in mediation for her divorce all morning, but she'd take care of this. Then I felt terrible. I said, "I'm sorry. I just really wanted you to keep your dogs contained." She sort of said yeah, yeah, and closed the door. I told Bill, "Well, that's that. She won't pay the bill and I don't really care. I think she got the message. Now I just feel bad for her." But I felt bad for Homer, too, who lay on the kitchen floor looking miserable, and wouldn't eat. Later that afternoon, the doorbell rang and the woman was there with an envelope for me with a check in it. "Better cash this fast," she said, and then added something about what had happened at her mediation. "You know what?" I said. "I don't want the money. I just want your dogs to stop trying to kill my dog." I invited her in, and she saw Homer's lampshade and awful wound and began petting and sympathizing with him. She said there were two dogs on my block who always attack her dogs. So we kind of laughingly agreed to stay off each others' blocks. Then we started talking about how terrible you feel when you're getting a divorce, and I said, "I'll bet when this is all over, your life will be much better." "That's what everybody tells me," she said, but she looked doubtful. "I'm putting my Mom in a nursing home this week, too," she said, and then I REALLY felt bad for her. We talked a little more and then she tried to give me the money again and I said no, keep it. When the woman was going out the door, she said, "Nice to meet you, though I'm sorry we had to meet under these circumstances." I said, "Nice to meet you, too."
Later, I told Bill this story, and he said, "What was her name?" And I laughed and said, "I don't know. I never asked." But I do know her name. It's my name and your name. Because everybody can have something bad happen that doesn't really represent them, and it's not always that we get a chance to have someone see the bigger picture. I'm glad the woman and I got to see each other. Oh, and Homer is fine. He's eating and playing ball as well as he can with a lampshade on his head. This morning, he chased a squirrel and clanged into the fence without any ill effect.
In other news, I'm going to start a new feature called "Mailbag." I get such wonderful letters, but the other day I got one from a woman telling me to take her off the mailing list because she was disappointed with something I told her about her "dream of writing." I'm not sure, but it might have been someone who sent me a manuscript or wanted to send me a manuscript and the problem is, I can't look at unsolicited manuscripts for legal reasons. Or it might have been one of the people who wrote to ask me to edit their manuscript or write their story. Whatever happened, I'm sorry her feelings were hurt, but maybe I can make something good out of this by reminding people that I am not an editor or an agent. I wish every single person who's trying to get published the best of luck, but you'll need to go through the usual steps to make that happen. If it's any consolation or inspiration, I began being published without any help at all and I really do believe that a talented writer can still get published. All the other letters were swell, and I'm going to answer one that was particularly delightful today. The woman told me a story about a old lady in a nursing home who grabbed this woman's nose in a vice-like grip between her two fingers when the woman was only trying to encourage the old lady to eat her lunch. "I saw stars!" the writer said, and I laughed out loud.
Home Safe is doing so well! Thanks to every one of you who bought it and thanks too to the people who have taken the time to tell me how much they liked it, even my younger daughter, who is, as many of you know, served as inspiration for the daughter in the book who keeps saying, "Mom. Mom. Mom."
The lilacs are out, and there's a new pack of bacon in my frig. Heaven.
April 20, 2009
A rainy day, the worms are out, and the robins are in heaven. My dog Homer was out on the back porch just now when the heavens opened up, and when I went flying downstairs to let him in, he was lying peacefully beneath the porch overhang, keeping dry, and couldn't imagine what all the fuss was about. But he did come in, because you never know, he might get food. Alas, he did not as the vet said he has love handles and needs to lose weight. I notice the vet was very careful not to look at me when he said that. Or, more to the point, he avoided looking at MY love handles. Or my love chest of drawers or davenport, which would be more accurate. I actually see a lot of fat dogs around, especially bull dogs. I don't know, I think dogs look kind of cute when they're fat. Especially bulldogs. A skinny bulldog is like a skinny gangster: they just lose all their credibility.
When I recently redecorated my house, I put a beautiful desk up in my bedroom that I wanted to use to write letters back to some of the people who write me. I couldn't WAIT to get that desk. When it arrived, I went out and bought beautiful stationery and whimsical stationery and funny cards and I even bought fun things for embellishing those cards. I thought, this will be so lovely. I'll sit up here at this pretty desk in this pretty blue chair and I'll respond in some small way to those people whose letters have so moved or gratified me. You can guess what happened, right? Know how many times I've sat at that desk since it got here? Zero times, that's how many times. Why??? I ask myself.
And here's how I answer myself: I can't pick the letter to answer! If I answer this one, I should answer that one. And that one and that one and that one. I have a huge stack of letters I'd like to answer, and so I get discouraged and give up. BUT: No more! My Springtime resolution is to randomly pick one from the pile each day--just one!--and give it the response it deserves. One of those letters is a year old, I'm ashamed to say. But tomorrow's the day I start.
Big news. Elizabeth Strout, one of my favorite authors, has won the Pulitzer Prize! I am so happy for her and for all of us readers. It makes me believe in goodness winning out over evil. Please, if you're not read Olive Kitteridge, run out and get it. You won't be sorry. I'm going to read it again, starting tonight.
As for now, the rain has stopped, it's close enough to dinner time to start thinking about what would be good. Bill and I are going to walk to town for dinner. I'm thinking Indian. No, susuhi. No, Italian. No, French. No, Mexican. What a lovely argument to have.
My new novel, Home Safe, comes out in only eight more days. Imagine how nervous it must be, checking its lipstick in the mirror every five minutes, asking another book if it has breath mints, lifting its book jacket flaps to check for...what else? Book odor.
March 19, 2009
When I am working well, the manuscript acts like a jealous lover. If I stop to eat, to take a walk, to meet a friend for lunch or go to some event or another, the pages sulk. And they send out a particular siren song that only stops when I come back and pay attention to them. For the most part, I actually like this.
Last night, though, I did go out to hear Bill and some other people (Rick Kogan, Donna Seaman, Alex Kotlowitz) talk about Studs Terkel. It was one of the offerings from Columbia College's Story Week. I heard Bill's humorous, intelligent and engaging stories about the legend that was Studs, and I heard him eloquently summarize his life: "He was an imperfect man who, when you consider the sum of his endeavors, attained perfection." Even Rick Kogan had to stop short at that and say, "Well put!" [Bill should have a radio show about books and authors. If anyone would like to help with this, please write to him. Only if you're serious about helping, even if it's to offer ideas about whom and what you would like to see on such a show. He would be so good at it, and we need more shows like this! Write to Bill Young c/o Elizabeth Berg, 7115 W. North Ave., #181, Oak Park, IL 60302 if you'd like to comment in any way about this.]
But back to Studs: Bill also talked about how this man of the people, this champion of the underdog who was blacklisted for being a commie, was also quite a capitalist. He liked to speculate on the number of books he sold at a signing, upping the estimate every now and then as Bill drove him home from this appearance or that. Donna Seaman, who has a radio show and reviews books, spoke movingly and really beautifully about Studs, and said he was not interested in the superficial: he was all about depth.
This segues neatly into my adventure of the day. I was sitting in my pajamas early this afternoon, writing madly away, when I got an email from my accountant saying they needed blah blah blah and so I emailed back that I would go to the post office and mail everything today. Then I got all crabby that I had to stop working (see opening lines of this entry) but I dutifully went and mailed the blah blah. Then, as the day is fine, a bit cold but very sunny, I decided to go to the library to see what I might see. I wanted to look at Mary Gaitskill's new collection of stories, which has not quite come out, and I wanted to look at a book called Every Last Cuckoo because the author's work has been compared to mine and in fact her cover looked suspiciously like ones done for my books. I was prepared to be a little bitchy about all this but in fact the book looks wonderful and I am going to buy it. Kate Maloy is the author. Near her book, another caught my atttention: who knows why. It was by Naguib Mahfouz, who died in August, 2006 and it was a big fat paperback called The Cairo Trilogy. I started reading it and the language was compelling: "A wish that had taken root in her awoke her. ...As she opened the door, faint rays of light filtered in from a lamp set on a bracketed shelf in the sitting room. She went to fetch it, and the glass projected onto the ceiling a trembling circle of pale light hemmed in by the darkness. " That kind of writing is what I LOVE to read. I checked the book out, and I also intend to buy it. We need to support art and especially the artitsts who make it, even when they're dead. Though if one thinks about it, one might compromise by saying: Check out the books of dead authors from the library; buy the books of the living. If you can possibly afford it, I hasten to add, in these challenging times. But we will be even more poor if we do not support the arts, because the arts soothe and inspire us and make us rich in spirit.
It was good to be outside, to breathe in fresh air and hear conversation about me. I like the group of homeless people who gather in the lobby of the library. With rare excecption, they always seem to be such a good moods. On the way home, I walked for a while behind a woman with a little baby and a little girl. The mother said to the little girl, "And now we are very lucky, because we get to go to the grocery store." And I thought, that's a good mother. And I ALMOST asked if I could come, too.
Too often, these days, we live our lives in silence or in what I think of as in false intimacy (I'm speaking here of Facebook, My Space, twittering, and so on) It is good to spend time in a real-time hands- on world, and to accidentally find two books I can hardly wait to read. To find, in that way, the depth.
But before I read, I have to get back to my manuscript. It heard typing, realized that it was not on its own pages, and now it's really mad.
p.s. I am so happy to say that HOME SAFE has gotten three reviews. all good (how's this: "Berg is an accomplished master of women's fiction.") I'm waiting for the inevitable spoiler(s), but in the meantime I am enjoying these. I have the recipe all ready to go into the newsletter I'll soon send around in advance of my tour. (See the readings I'll be doing so far on under the event section of this website.) Man oh man is that recipe good. My neighbor Suzie gave it to me and she knows how to cook. It's a main dish that's really good for you. It's easy to make, too; you can even make it if you've had a martini. I speak because I know, okay? I made it for my best friend, Phyllis, when she was here visiting, and then she ran right home to California and made it for her husband.
February 26, 2009
Attention, attention! Tonight on "Wheel of Fortune" you can see my son-in-law, Josh Krintzman, play the game, and I happen to know that something really really good happens. Really good. Plus you can read his comments on the Wheel of Fortune blog, where he talks about how Vanna White kind of goes for him. Not only that, his mom, B.J. Krintzman, was on the show a few weeks ago and she did well, too. I really appreciate their talent at this sort of thing. They are killer Scrabble players (I once sort of screamed at Josh when we were playing a game that "cakey" was NOT a word. Guess what? It was. We checked the dictionary) and they can do crossword puzzles in their sleep. I can never do crossword puzzles and when Josh tried ever so patiently to teach me tricks for doing Sudoko, he kept running up against my saying (or thinking), "But what is the POINT???? What is the POINT?"
Well, it's a cloudy day here and there are red roses on my desk killing me with their beauty and I just finished my 2010 novel and sent it to my agent. After she and my editor read it, I'll do the final rewrite. It's always a strange, mixed feeling for me to finish a novel. A great exhuberance, but also a kind of sorrow, because it's hard to lose the thing that has been so much a part of you for so long, something you've often thought of last thing at night and first thing in the morning and at various points in the day, especially when you're supposed to be listening to your soulmate or paying attention to the road you're driving on. To finish a novel feels like you've fallen off a moving train. You stand there blinking in the sunlight, hearing the loud noise of sudden quiet, wondering where to go now. Well, I'm going to the gym which is another name for place-where-I-watch-cooking-shows and then I'm going to get office supplies, which I love--I can stand in the pen aisle for an hour. And now they have folders with birds and other things on them, so forget it, I'll be there all afternoon. Then I'm going to try to talk my daughter into coming over to have dinner and watch Josh on tv with me. I'm going to tell her I'll lower her rent if she comes here. She is my tenant; isn't that cute? Actually, my daughter would probably say it's awful to have your mother be your landlord because every time your mother comes over she looks to see if you've been using the stainless steel cleaner the right way. For more on mother-daughter issues, read my novel coming out at the end of April. Incidentally, I just got my first review of HOME SAFE, which said, "Not only is this an insightful, graceful, and romantic novel of one charmingly contradictory woman's path through grief, it is also a paean to the profound pleasures and revelations of reading and the adventure and catharsis of writing. Books, Berg affirms in her magical way, are a unifying force for good in the cosmos."
I had to share that. You understand.
February 19, 2009
I have just entered the events scheduled for HOME SAFE, thus far. You'll find all my appearances under "Appearances," isn't that clever? Please consider coming to an event. You'll have a good time, I promise and I will be so happy you came. I'm thinking that, given the nature of the book, I'll give out a writing assigment for anyone who's interested. However, I'll be expecting my cut if anyone sells anything based on it. My cut will be a pineapple upside down cake, which I just need to go and make right now.
I got a new refrigerator delivered today and I swear, even though it's MASSIVE, it has LESS room than my old one! Why does that happen? My old refrigerator leaked from its water line and wrecked my basement ceiling. I wish I knew how to fix ceilings. Maybe I can fix it! Oh boy, I can put on old clothes and work with my hands and then go to Burger King for lunch and get a whopper!! Anybody who works with their hands gets to eat fast food, is my theory. I'm going to the hardware store and ask them how to fix my ceiling, even though every time I ask them how to do anything, they put their hands on their hips (in a very manly way, I hasten to add) and and give me that look. You know the one. It means, "Yeah. Like you're really going to do that."
I have an essay in the March issue of Good Housekeeping called "How I Got to be Queen of England." It's from a book of essays called "Eye of My Heart: The Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother" edited by Barbara Graham, and will be available April 7th.
And here's another book recommendation, a little novel called "The Spare Room" by Helen Garner. This is an account of a woman caring for a friend with a terminal illness and very unrealistic expectations about what the treatments she's undergoing while staying in her friend's spare room might do for her. It's based on a true story and is searingly honest, wonderfully well written, and lordy lord, it will make you think.
I talked on the phone last night to my two best friends. Therefore today my heart is gladdened. I can't WAIT to watch the Oscars. I'm having champagne and Caesar salad while I do, as well as that damn Ina Gartner's brownie pudding, which uses TWO sticks of butter.
My grandson' s birthday (3) is coming up and I was trying to decide between a fire truck and an Easy Bake Oven. I elected to get the truck because, really, I only wanted to give him the Easy Bake oven because I wanted it. As a child, I wanted it desperately and now I just want it because I never got it. Anyway, before I paid for it, I decided to check with my daughter about what to get him. I told her I thought he'd prefer the truck. She said, "Welllllll....." So last night she was talking to Matt about what he might want for his birthday and he said, "Well, I haven't had an oven yet." SCORE!
Valentine's Day, 2009
Okay, remember those shoe boxes you used to decorate for Valentine's Day in elementary school? I could never wait to open my box. A romantic even then, I always wanted to take the Valentines the boys sent seriously, but who could, when you saw their careless scrawl on the back?
I am just back from Los Angeles, where I recorded HOME SAFE. At one point the director said, sniffling, "You always make me cry!" We agreeed that that was probably a very good thing.
I had a wonderful time being warm and being outside without gloves. Now I'm back to bare branches and an absence of green, but spring isn't THAT far away.
I got an email from a friend today who said she was sorry to see that there are no readings scheduled for HOME SAFE. Not true; we just haven't finalized the calendar, and so I haven't posted them. But there will indeed be multiple readings, including one in Wellesley, Massachusetts that will be an interview on stage, with Augusten Burroughs asking me....Well, I don't know what he'll ask me. THAT will be fun. I hope he brings a dog, which will relax us both.
I'm making fish tacos tonight, which I've never made. I went to a restaurant in LA that said it had the best fish tacos on the planet and so I thought, hmmm, that would be good. So I go in and sit down and when the waiter comes, I say, "I'll have the Califronia wrap, please." I DIDN'T GET THE FISH TACOS! I GOT THE TURKEY AND AVACADO WRAP! WHY?????? I swear to God, I don't know. I think I had a restaurant panic attack and just ordered something familiar. And then I was so resentful when I ate it. So mad! So mad that when I left the restaurant I went immediately to another restaurant and got a slice of key lime pie, which I really did want. There!
I have to go and get some lunch. It's almost 2 and I'm starving. Also I need to get dressed. Yes, that's right; I'm in my pajamas. I just finished the first draft of the next novel. Which, just to be circular about everything, made me cry. The ending did; not the whole thing. And I hasten to add that it made me cry in the good way.
Another thank you is due to the kind and generous people who have sent me letters lately. I read them; I read them aloud to Bill, and then I put them in their special little house, where they are free to mingle and chat with other letters. They all get along really well.
January 15, 2009
Eeeyikes, it's COLD. My heat is set at 70 downstairs, and the actual temperature is 62. Frost on the windows so you can't see out. Drafts coming in from here, there and everywhere. My dog, Homer, is lying right in front of the back door, where it's really drafty. "Are you nuts?" I asked him this morning, when I came downstairs and found him there. He looked up at me and in his eyes was this response, "Are you going to give me half of your bagel?"
The other day, when it wasn't much warmer, Bill, my neighbor Bob and I had an impromptu meeting in the driveway. "Are you ready to move yet?" I asked Bob, who had just finished snowblowing both his and my driveway. (BLESS YOU, SAINT BOB!) "Why do we live here?" Bob asked. "Okay, so....California?" I said. "Nah," he said. "Earthquakes and fire." "Florida?" I said. "Too humid," said Bob. "How about Oregon?" "Too rainy." "Well, where then?" I asked, and he said, "I don't know, Oklahoma?" "Oklahoma!" I said. "What do you know about Oklahoma?" "Isn't it warm there?" he asked. "Well, I lived there," I said, with great authority, but then I kind of ran out of things to say. The truth is that all I remember about Oklahoma (I was nine when I lived in Lawton) is red dirt and a teacher named Miss Hamburger and that we ate our lunch in our classroom and that I had a crush on a boy named Wayne whom I kissed through a glass door. The original safe sex. Also, wait, I remember making turquoise pedal pushers for my Ginny doll which turned out really really bad in part because I didn't know you put the seam on the INSIDE. Also I remember that I believed in Santa when I lived there, and used to put my initial on everything I wanted in the Sears catalogue. I believe I wanted everything except men's stuff. Oh, I also remember that one time when my parents were out, I had a fight with my four- year- old brother who punched me in the stomach (and I can tell you unambivalently that I deserved it even if I can't remember exactly what the fight was about) but I was greatly offended and I left a note for my parents leaning against the rabbit ears on the television set that said, "Jeff punched me in STOMACH. I wish I was DEAD." I am so happy I never had a kid like me.
It being January and all, I have been going to the gym. The only thing I do is the treadmill, which kills me, but at least I get to watch cooking shows. That Paula Dean is going to drop dead from a heart attack any day. "Add ONE tablespoon of butter, y'all," she says, adding three. Ina Garten, same deal: "And you can't have apple pie without vanilla ice cream." But I so want to go to their houses for dinner. They don't even have to be there.
Yesterday, I got yet another terrific letter from a reader. I want all of you who write to me know know how much I appreciate your taking the time. I can't respond to all the letters, but I do mangage to get back to some of you. One of my new pieces of furniture will be a writing desk in my bedroom that will be stocked with beautiful stationery, the better to inspire me to respond more often.
All right. To work. (Speaking of work, I got notice from Random House yesterday that they're designing a website called readberg.com, which is for people to offer comments about The Year of Pleasures. If you respond, they'll send you another book, free.
December 16, 2008
I was listening to The Kathy and Judy Show on WGN this morning and I heard them ask their listeners if they could remember a single Christmas gift they got last year. And almost nobody could. The Christmas gift I remember most, I got when I was about 8 years old. It was a huge stack of little square boxes, all holding doll clothes for my red-haired Ginny doll. I opened one cool little outfit after the other. I was beside myself. As soon as I could steal away, I changed my doll's clothes from her pajamas to her jumper to her blue jeans and red knit top to her beribboned party dress, changed her over and over so many times I partially disloged her doll wig from her head and forever after she looked like she had shaved her forehead.
I know the implied lesson of The Kathy and Judy question was: Don't worry about buying so many gifts,when no one even remembers them! Well. I made a vow that this year I would not buy too many gifts, that in fact I would buy very few gifts, and now I am buying way too many gifts and I couldn't be happier. Whoever first said it's better to give than receive knew what they were talking about. Of course, that old saying ignores completely the fact that so many of us buy gifts with such hope and joy and excitement that are then received with such... dismay. What to do? Well, maybe realize that the real gift is never what's in the box but is instead the fact that someone cares enough about you to try to please you. After that, there's always the return desk.
I had a dinner party the other night and was a nervous wreck beforehand. I decided to make food I was COMPLETELY COMFORTABLE with, because, you know, food is like a horse; if it senses you're nervous, it will misbehave. "It's reto night!" I gaily told the guests, and I made butternut squash soup, little individual bbq-lemon meatloaves, mashed potatoes, green beans, and an apple pie. When the pie was baking, I went down to check on it and saw the top crust separating from the bottom and juice running out all over the place. I thought, What the.....???and then realized I'd forgotten to put in the flour as a thickener. I called my best friend Phyllis (whom I'd already called in a panic about how much cheese to buy for appetizers and how to long to wait to serve dinner after the guests arrive and why do people have dinner parties anyway when it makes you such a nervous wreck) and she answered by saying, "Now what?" I told her that I'd screwed up the pie and that also I didn't have a big enough tablecloth and so had covered the table with a bunch of en pointe vintage tablecloths. "That sounds great," she said. "Really?" I said. And she said "YEAH!" "Can you come over?" I said in my little voice that I use when I'm feeling sorry for myself. "I wish I could," she said, in her soothing, motherly voice that she uses when she wants to sound soothing and motherly. I said I'd been going to make another pie but damn it, I didn't WANT to, so I decided that I would just admit to my guests that I'd made a mistake and we'd have to eat the pie with spoons. Or, I said, I would tell them it was a fancy FRENCH version of an apple pie, MEANT to be very very juicy and eaten with spoons, Apple Pie de Plus Plus Juice Napoleon. "Oh, don't lie," Phyllis said. "They might know you're lying." I said, "Oh, they'll definitely know I'm lying, but see, that will be part of the entertaiment portion of the evening." Then I said, "Well, maybe when I serve the pie, I'll say, 'You know, there's a tradition in quilting where you always leave a mistake in the quilt, because life isn't perfect. But it's still good. And there's a mistake in this pie, but I'm going to serve it anyway, because you all are my friends and I feel safe with you.'" "YEAH!" Phyllis said, and again I asked her to come over and again she said no (she does live in California, after all) and then we hung up. Well, when it was time to serve the pie, I said my little speech and then guess what? THE PIE WAS FINE. I don't know how that happened and I choose to think it was a Christmas miracle. I choose to think that God said, "Oh, enough with war and disease and mayhem and corrupt politicians. Let me turn my attention to Elizabeth's pie." And then he reached his finger down, you know, like in the Sistene Chapel, and Zap! my pie was cured. And he said, "Well, THAT was easy" and it was just such a relief for Him that he could FIX something.
Well, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, filled with gifts of the tangible and intangible variety. It occurs to me that not only are the intangible ones better, you might even remember them next year.
November 30, 2008
A gray day, rain falling, sometimes changing over to snow; we're expected to get maybe six inches tonight. Naturally this prompted a run to the grocery store. I always find myself getting very excited when a snowstorm is coming, feeling like I'm going to have to hunker down and somehow survive, when in fact I can walk to a grocery store or anything else, and people here are so savvy about snow it's never much of a problem even when we get a blizzard. Yet I must make it a bit of an emergency; I simply must. I taught Chicken Little, okay? I like to believe that in a past life I rode in a covered wagon and despite the hardships, said over and over, "Keep going! Never mind the hardships; we can do it! Westward HO!" But the truth is that if I had ridden in a wagon train, I would have been lying in the back by the salt pork (did they have salt pork? it seems like they ought to have had salt pork. What is salt pork?) bitching the whole time, saying, "Let's go back East, come on, turn back, why'd we ever think this was a good idea, it wasn't a good idea, come on, let's go back, I hate this."
I just spoke to my Mom, who told me she's still eating the mince pie I brought to Thanksgiving dinner. Mince pie is like the girl no one ever asks to dance, but she just keeps showing up at the prom anyway. I added apple, butter, and lemon to the mincemeat, made a cute little crust with a little sugar sprinkled on top to make it sparkle, but no, everybody went running over to the pumpkin, pecan and caramel apple, including me. My favorite thing to eat on Thanksgiving is gravy, and the best taste explosion I had this year was on Friday, when we sat around eating left overs and I finally stopped faring airs and simply drank gravy from the pitcher, straight up. Nothing can compare.
I recently finished reading Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, which I loved and greatly admired. I told Bill he might like it, too. Bill decided to have a look at it yesterday and the next time he looked up he'd read 100 pages. It's the most psychologically astute thing I've ever read, and reminds me in many ways of the television show "Mad Men," which I also really like. Now I'm reading Words in Air, the letters of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell--heaven, and it makes you feel ever so clever to read them. Kind of like being the silent member of a really classy rat pack.
I'm a little sick today, but it's a pleasant kind of sickness, if you know what I mean. It's like a part time job kind of sickness, the remnants of a bad cold, nothing requiring your full attention. Low energy offers a built-in excuse to linger on the sofa staring into space to imagine stories or revisit memories or read the paper and doze. An occasional cough solicits sympathy enough that you don't have to go and fetch your own seltzer from the frig. Bill and I will watch the Sunday political shows later and zip through the commercials. I almost feel sorry for commercials these days--all that money, all that creative energy, all those actors who are all excited because they get to be the product pusher, and then--zip!-- gone. I can just see the scene, the phone call from LA to Chippewa Falls: "Mom! Mom! I got the part! I'm the wife on the Mighty Meatball commerical!" "Oh, sweetheart, really?" "Yes! Yes!" "Oh, my goodness, wait till I tell your Uncle Ralph; he always said you should be an actress. He always believed in you. " "Well, you just tell him I'll never forget him."
Ah, well. Why do so many people want to be famous when the people the famous are desperate to please are the un-famous?
The decorating goes on. Things that are going to come in here are so nice they scare me. Yesterday I told Bill about a scene in a book where the mother is having a party and she and all her friends are all dressed up and the house is spic and span and her son's dog gets hit by a car and they all stand paralyzed, afraid to stain their clothes or the rug with blood. But one woman goes and picks the dog up, the hell with the blood. I told Bill, "And see? I want to be the dog woman!" "Elizabeth," he said tenderly, "you are the dog woman." This is the first time I've been called a dog and have had it felt so good.
I'll be sixty years old on Tuesday. I feel like I've been out in the gulley where I used to play as a little girl and I came in the house for a drink of water and my mom said, "Oh, hi. You're sixty."
Remember the old Mary Tyler Moore show where Mr. Grant has Rhoda redecorate his house? They send him away, he comes back into a fantastic new abode and stands there with Mary and Rhoda saying, "Oh, I looooove it. I lovvve it!" Then he gets Mary alone and says to her, "I haaaaate it!" It seems we may understand that our house isn't up to certain arbitrary standards of beauty or taste, but when we endeavor to change it, we run into roadblocks we ourselves put up.
When I lived in Natick, Massachusetts, I had a little cape house that I decorated and was immensely pleased with. Everything felt right, everything had its place. Now I am in a bigger American four-square in a Frank Lloyd Wright historic neighborhood and my decorating here has never come together. I finally decided to hire someone for help. I had walked past her storefront many times, and always loved everything I saw in her window. Now I am in the midst of a redecorating project. The positive side is that my deocorator, Gail Prauss, has exquisite taste not only in furnishings, but in color. She has helped me select things --sofa and chairs and tables, fabrics for curtains and bedlinens, lighting and paint--that are going to make my house look fantastic. It's pricey, but it's worth it. I feel like what I'm choosing is of real quality and will last forever, which is a good thing, because I don't ever want to do this again. Not that Gail isn't great to work with--she really is. And because she does all the coordinating of all the different people who come thorough here (she hires people who really know what they're doing and, more importantly, really care about what they're doing) all I have to do is open the door like Loretta Young to the painters and wallpaperers and carpet installers and cabinet builders and stonemasons and so on. Often I offer them something to eat. Yesterday I made carrot ginger soup (which I'll put in the recipe section--it was so good!) and tried all day to get the painter to have some, but he refused me (!!!!!). Now the challenge is on. I might have to make chocolate chip cookies to see if I can break his code.
ANYWAY, I am having all this great stuff done and I look at the pictures of all the things I have coming and I feel the fabric swatches and dream about how swell the place is going to look. I very much look forward to having everything done.
So why am I so sad?
Last night I lay on the white shabby chic sofa I've had for twenty years and nearly wept, thinking about how I'm going to miss it. Thank God my daughter is taking it so I can visit it. It won't work in the new plan, the new sofa is much more talilored and really beautiful and also comfortable, but.....I am in mourning, thinking of how my old house is going to die, even though I'm the one murdering it.
I think it's because of the history of my things, even when they're silly things that I REALLY don't want anymore: the footstool I got from a bargain bin in a grocery store. An outdoor chair that is ever so clearly outdoor, but is sitting smack dab in my living room. The huge Ethan Allen armchairs I used to be so proud of but now are headed for who knows where. But the upcoming loss of my sofa is what's really getting to me. I really don't want it anymore, but I'm going to feel awful when it goes. It's where I slept when I had a detached retina and had to sleep a certain way, and it's where I nap sometimes in the afternoon and it's where women in my writing group have snuggled in to read their pages and it's where I caught my beloved golden Toby (now in heaven where he is adored, I'm sure, by everyone else in heaven) curled up and sleeping on more than one occasion. Studs Terkel sat there. Edna O'Brien has sat there. Amy Bloom has sat there. My daughters and my parents and my brother (whom I almost never see) have sat there. A friend of mine who died recently sat there. My new things are pretty, but they don't have the feeling of me yet. I can't wait for them to feel less like a facelift and more like something real, if you know what I mean.
I'm going to type in the recipe for the soup and then I'm going to go sit on my sofa and read HOME (Marilynne Robinson). Seems apt, doesn't it?
October 5, 2008
I can't believe it's been so long since I wrote anything here. I can hardly remember HOW to write anything here.
So, okay, I've been writing a lot, trying to finish my next novel, which I have just done. It's called HOME SAFE, and is tentatively scheduled to be out in May. What's it about? you may be thinking--people always want to know what a book's about, but when it comes to my own books, I'm always hard pressed to say. It's about a lot of things: a writer who has encountered writer's block in the wake of her husband's death, and who also has found out that her husband withdrew a huge sum of money from their retirement account before he died and she doesn't know why, or where that money went. It's about a controlling mother who won't let up on her daughter and needs to just BACK OFF. Naturally, this required a ton of research, oh, just a ton, since I'm not that way at ALL. Ahem.
It's about understanding that 60 years old is late to grow up, but hey. It's about how the most loving relationships can be crippling ones. It's about how sometimes you have to stop trying so hard to find what you need most, and relearn trust. It's about female friendship, of course it is; it's a book I wrote. It about considering love again in your later years, wondering how effective dim lighting is, if you know what I mean. There's a lot in the book about the writing life and the creative process. And I think you'll really like the ending.
It's a grayish day here today, the sky one solid color of no color at all. I'm going to make an Indian dinner: chicken biryani, saag paneer, and samosas. Then I'm going to read sitting in a chair rather than in bed so I don't fall asleep. I can't think of anything much better than smelling those complex spices used in making Indian food and reading. I 'm finishing AMERICAN WIFE and LOST ON PLANET CHINA. Next on tap is Marilynne Robinson's HOME and man oh man I can't wait for that one. What lush prose; it makes you practically levitate. I loved THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY and so did my daughter Jenny and so did my mother.
It's official: my grandson is a genius. He's only two, but he speaks so well. He calls and leaves me messages sometimes: "Hi!" [to his Mom, Julie: "She's not dere!" Offscreen, so to speak, Julie says, "Okay, well, tell her who it is."] "Okay. Hi, Grandma Lizzy. It's me. I'm dust calling and I'm having a great day. ...I'm dust hoading the phone. ...BYE!" Sometimes he tells me about how he had to put his stuffed animal frog, named, inexplicably, "Froggie," in the naughty corner. Sometimes he has to reprimand his chocolate labrador, Wrigley, when he's on the phone. (I would just like to point out that Wrigley was there way before Matthew. Way before. Also I would like to point out that when I come to visit next week I am once again going to sneak Wrigley MANY table scraps. Not that I love the dog more than my grandchildren. No, of course not. I love them JUST THE SAME.) But Matt never just admonishes Wrigley, he tells the dog WHY he's getting in trouble. He's very fair that way. In fact, once when Matt fell down and bumped his head on the floor, he explained to the floor through his tears why he was crying so as not to hold his pain and resentment inside, and so that such things might be prevented in the future. A great negotiatior and clearly a future president. Matt loves his sister, who loves him right back. His one-year-old sister is vying for a position on a football team--she is STRONG and can plow through anything. I know she's my granddaughter because she LOVES FOOD, especially avocados. Julie sends a montly update on her children and this was in the latest: "The other weekend, we took Matt and Katy for a long walk. When we were on the way back to the car, Matt stopped walking and said, 'I gotta tell you, I love my family.'"
Bill would want me to say this: GO WHITE SOX.
August 19, 2008
A few thank-yous are in order. Thanks to the wonderful actors who perfomed so well in the play. They had very little time to rehearse, and they really pulled it off. I like hanging around with actors. They feel everything. When they laugh, they LAUGH. Thanks to Ann Filmer and the 16th street theater for taking a chance on me. Thanks to Bill who was at almost every single perfomance, and who also acted a couple of nights as the bookseller and general rah-rah man. Thanks to my friend Judy Markey for having me on her show to talk about the play and for coming with Tom to see it, and to my friend Julie Bolton who drove from Minnesota with her husband to see it. Thanks to Veronica and Michele, from my writers group who also came. Thanks to all of you who came, thanks so much. What a treat, what a thrill, to sit in the dark to hear you react to the first play I've ever done, not counting the one I wrote in junior high. It won't surprise you to learn that that long-ago play was about relationships. It was also quite long. I read it on the phone to one of my friends, and at one point I made an aside, and said, "You know?" Silence. "Barbara?" I said. Silence. She had gone to make a sandwich and then sat down to eat it while I prattled on. Poor girl. It's a wonder she didn't flat out hang up on me.
Thanks to the reviewers who said kind things about the play. And finally thanks to those women who stood before me frankly crying on the last night, overwhelmed for private reasons of their own and saying they were so sad the play was over because they had people they wanted to tell about it who would also like to see it. That's a swell way to end a run. I look forward to THE PULL OF THE MOON being shown other places, and I'd really like to write more plays.
Last night I woke up sick, and it is only now passing. So I did no work at all today. And now it's too late in the day to get going, so I'm going to sit on the porch and read LOST ON PLANET CHINA, which I'm really enjoying. There's so much in the world to learn about, and I feel I've had my head down, lost in navel-gazing, for most of my adult life. I just sent an email to a friend saying I want to go out into the world more, and write not fiction, but about all the things to see.
Last night I lay on the wicker sofa on my front porch listening to the little girls across the street crying over and over, "WATer! Twenty-five CENts!" At one point one of the girls said, "WAter! Twenty-nine CENts!" and her business partner admonished her, saying, "It's twenty-FIVE!" and the girl laughed and said Oh, yeah. Total sales during the time I was out there? Zero. But the water supply company occupied itself with cartwheels and speculation as to what else they might add to their inventory. One idea they had? Caviar.
August 9, 2008
Well, it seemed like a good idea, a fun extra, a way to give back, this idea of serving pink champagne at the play. But it turns out there are problems with serving alcohol at this venue, so we have to stop. I doubt that the extras were the reason anyone was coming to the play, but this is an announcement that we will now be without them. (Except for chocolate, my drug of choice, given out during intermission.)
A cloudy day, and rain seems imminent. From the time I was a little girl, I have looked upon rainy days as being the best ones to give over to reading. I like the darkness necessitating a reading lamp, the sound of the raindrops against the windows and the roof, the puddles on the sidewalk creating bathtubs for the birds. Today, thanks to an essay by Christopher Borrelli in the Chicago Tribune, I intend to revisit Joseph Mitchell, who, along with E.B.White, wrote the best essays I've ever read. In a review of his collection UP IN THE OLD HOTEL, Verlyn Klinkenborg in The New York Times Book Review wrote:
"Mr. Mitchell always mediates the sadness such subjects bring--the loss of time, the life slipping by, the way the old manners fail to hang on--and he lets the readers feel only the pleasure that comes from his own very personal discoveries. He himself remains, in this prose at least, a melancholy man, wandering with a sandwich in his pocket among the wildflowers in abandoned cemeteries, seeking the company of solitary men who are gregarious only in the company of other isolates, sniffing out the odors of the Fulton Fish Market and its old hotels. And in such moments the reader gets a glimpse of Mr. Mitchell himself, even as he seems to disappear into the scene he describes."
As a writer, people often ask me who my influences are, and I always say nobody, that I just like to do my own work in my own corner of the sandbox. But I have to say that I am greatly inspired by writers like these who believe, as I do, that there is nothing at all ordinary about ordinary life. It seems to me that the lessons I need to keep learning are how to to bring true and ongoing compassion to myself and others; and how to really see everything nature (and in that I include human nature) offers. And then to celebrate that. If I have a mission as a writer, that's it.
August 6, 2008
A hot summer morning, and I just spent a long time cleaning the front porch off with a broom and then a hose. I asked the guys who were working in my garden if they wanted a little squirt and they laughed and shook their heads no. I don't speak Spanish and they don't speak English. The thing I like about people not knowing each other's languages is that there's a lot of compensatory smiling that goes on.
A junk fax just came into my office. This makes me so irrationally angry!! You can call and say, "Don't send me any more faxes, okay? I never wanted THIS ONE, duh!" but that takes time I don't want to waste on them. I feel like we're so bombarded with ads and intrusions and things that add more STUFF to lives that are already too full of stuff....Oh jeez, stop me now, I do have a hair appointment at noon. Let me just say, I am so SO READY to SIMPLIFY.
The first night of the play is sold out and another night is very close to being sold out as well and more ticket orders are coming in every day. I'm so happy about that. If you want to come, get your tickets very soon. I'm afraid I got a little overly enthusiastic about offering things for sale. I thought it would be a nice touch to offer beautiful journals and pens, aprons and soaps, books, jewelry--you know, just fun things. But I learned yesterday that the intermission will be only 10 minutes, so here's my advice: Make SURE you see the handmade "altered book" journal (which is not for sale, but the woman offers classes and you can make your own--her information will be there), and then if you're interested in buying something run right over and do so. You might have time before the show starts. The things I am bringing are things I just liked and would buy myself and they are being offered for exactly what I paid for them. Just think of me as your personal shopper.
I am just back from seeing those grandkids. Stupidly, I took no pictures of the kids' bath time, which is my favorite time, next to Josh telling Matthew The Three Little Pigs story just before bed, because I like how he does the wolf voice and I myself like to do the pig voice saying, "Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin." (Actually, now that I'm post menopausal, that phrase rings a little too true.) Ah well, being post-menopausal also means being a little more relaxed about certain things: standing barefoot on your front porch with the hose running on your feet, your stomach hanging out, your mind involved with the swallowtail on the butterfly bush and the clouds looking like cotton candy against a light blue sky. I had lunch with a friend in Boston who used to have a lot of trouble with depression and she is so clearly happy now. We talked about how that transition occurred and it was actually kind of easy, she intimated. She changed her habits. That's it. There is something kind of wonderful about that. And profound. Just flip the rock and stare at THAT side.
Okay, I have to go get my hair done. Oh, I love sitting around in beauty parlors. I watched a little girl at the airport playing with her mother's hair for a long time. She created a very interesting do. It looked like the sign for infinity on top of a head. I think I'll ask for that today.
July 28, 2008
Today I was in town doing some errands and I saw an older woman walking slowly along the sidewalk, holding onto her caretaker's hand. The older woman said brightly, "Do you know what day it is? It's July 28th!" "Yes," her caretaker said, "I know." "Well yes." the woman said, "but it's July 28, 2008." "Yes," her caretaker said. "I know." Well, I didn't know! I mean I kind of knew it was July 28th; certainly I knew it was getting to the end of July, but I knew it only abstractly because my head is always so full of this and that and my mind is always chattering away about not much. But when I heard the woman say that, I was kind of shocked. The 28th of July! Suddenly so far into the summer! And I've only seen the ice cream truck three or four times, driving around playing those tinkley songs! (I read a column recently where the writer suggested those ice cream trucks drive way too fast, and I shared that with Bill last night and he said, yeah, when the ice cream truck used to come through his neighborhood, it just crawled along. That way all the kids could run in and beg money from their parents so they could get a Nutty Buddy. And then they could get all sticky so they'd have a worthwhile project in the bathtub later on.) But anyway, that woman's comment about what day it was probably contributed to what I decided to do tonight, which was to wander slowly and aimlessly about, because it's summer and I can be outside and not be in pain, and I really need to take advantage of that.
So after I ate a dinner of leftovers, I set out. (I don't know why some people don't like leftovers. Whenever I eat leftovers, I feel like I'm getting away with something, and I really like feeling like I'm getting away with something. Plus the food often tastes even better than it did the first time around.) I walked past gardens and it was the time of night when the white flowers just glowed. I went past the library and all the lights were on and looked so welcoming, so what could I do, I went in to have a look around. I wandered around the fiction stacks, and went to visit my own books. ("Get out of here!" they said. "Don't embarrass us!") Then I found Henry Miller's The Portrait of a Lady and sat and read it for a while and it was really fine. I thought, I need to read only classics in the summer. I wanted to check the book out but I didn't have my library card, so maybe I'll go and get it tomorrow. It had a great size print and the pages felt soft and butterly like they'd been turned by hundreds of hands. I like reading library books because they're all broken in for you.
Then I walked some more, past people wheeling little kids in strollers, past couples eating ice cream, past joggers, past groups of teenagers looking cool and tough, past the interior design studio with all the intriguing stuff in the window, past the park where little kids and big kids were swinging in the dark, past the coffee shop with people sitting at the little round tables earnestly talking. When I came home, the fireflies were in my garden and I watched them for a while. Then I came in and had this great sense of ....luck. You know what I mean? I thought that older lady I saw earlier today might already be in bed and asleep, but I kind of hoped she wasn't. I kind of hoped she was sitting out in a lawn chair watching fireflies herself, and pointing toward them with a steady hand, so her caretaker could see them, too.
July 26, 2008
Off to the first rehearsal for "The Pull of the Moon," and I'm so excited. I heard a read-through last week that let me know that this new version will be every bit as good as the last if not better. AND, when I was in the shower this morning, where I do my best thinking (and really ought to bring my computer in with me to write--are they waterproof yet?) I got this idea to have journals for sale at intermission--beautiful, rare art journals that I find here and there. And then I thought, oh, but there should be pens, too. And there I thought, well, there should be all kinds of things that Nan loves, from jewelry to exquiste tablewear to food to antique quilts to...who knows? Whatever I have, I want to have only one of it. THEN it occured to me that what I was creating was a mix of MOON and THE YEAR OF PLEASURES, in which there was a store called "What A Woman Wants." Here's my chance to have a miniature version of that store. So! If you come to the play, in addition to getting chocolate and champagne, you'll get to shop Nan/Betta. One of the pieces of jewelry I want to offer is one I have: a necklace with peas in a pod, in honor of Eugenie in MOON. The peas are pearls, and they're beautiful. Tickets are moving, but there are still seats available. But if you think you want to go, you probably should get yourself in. Again, go to 16thstreettheater.com, or call them at 708-795-6704 or 800-838-3006. I'll be there every night and will be so glad to see you.
The next novel, tentatively called HOME SAFE is now at a bit over 200 pages. It's contemporary, and is about a writer. I know. Hmmmmm. We're planning a spring or summer release. Life, she's good--and busy! Yesterday, I watched bees in my garden and thought, you and me, pals.
July 14, 2008
Last night Bill and I took a walk in the dark and I was looking at all the fireflies and telling him how much I love them. "What are they, though?" he asked (Oh, I love it when he treats me like Mr. Wizard) and I said they were actually rather ugly insects (beetles, as it happens) which is kind of disappointing when you want them to look like Tinkerbell, as I do. But no, there they are with their mulitple legs and antennae, no short little Tina Turnersque dress and blonde pontail and adorable flats. One similarity is that they are both trying to atttact love objects, but the fireflies have the wisdom to go after someone their own size. Fireflies are one of the best things about summer. Fireflies and Peterson's peach ice cream and baseball which I really only like because Bill loves it so much and has the patience to answer my dopey questions about the game. Usually my questions go something like this:
Me: What did he do that for?
Me: (vaguely pointing, with my mouth full) THAT guy.
Bill: (miraculously understanding) [LONG EXPLANTION ]
Ten or so minutes pass.
Me: What did he do that for? (about same move)
Bill:[ IDENTICAL EXPLANATION.]
I know I've told you about my play, "The Pull of the Moon," which will be running at the 16th Street theater in Berwyn August 7-16 (for tickets, which are $16.00, go to 16thstreettheater.org or call 708-795-6704. Group rates available). Some recent news is that the ending has been changed to be like the book's ending, and some other modifications in the script have been made as well. There are new actors, and a new director, too, so the performance will be a bit different for me and for those of you who saw the show that ran at the Circle and are planning to come to this one as well. I'm thinking I should gave away a fancy journal or pen at each performance. Some other news about MOON is that it's probably going to be shown in Hawaii and in Canada, too!
I want to tell you about the play I just saw at 16th street, called AIMING FOR SAINTHOOD. This is based on a memoir by a hearing woman who was raised with deaf parents, and it focuses on the time her mother gets cancer and the daughter comes home to help care for her. It is such a rich piece, focusing on so many compelling issues: how, when a family really needs to come together, it can often fall apart, how going home can be a poignant and frustrating (and illuminating!) experience, how it's so easy to slip into old roles. It's a one woman play, so I know it was just Arlene Malinowski up there playing all the different parts, but in my memory I SEE her jokey father, her kind-hearted and earnest mother, her sexy sister blowing cigarette smoke out their old bedroom window so their parents won't smell it, just like when they were growing up together. I SEE her Aunt Jane saying, "Ah well, sweet pea, what are you going do about it, HAH?" The play has you laughing one minute (in the midst of discussing what to do about their hospitalized mother, Arlene asks her sister "Hey! What happened to my Kiss poster? It was signed!") and tearing up the next (the final words of the play still make me cry) and sometimes you cry and laugh at the same time. (Isn't that the BEST?) If there's any way you can see this play, DO. And the signing Arlene does as she speaks! It's a ballet of hands, so lovely to watch, and a language quite apart from the spoken version--one of the interesting things I learned is that signing is not a literal translation, but a kind of poetic representation of the language the hearing use. Arlene is a formidable talent, and her subject matter is the kind of thing that makes you want to run out and talk with whomever you saw the play with as soon as it's over. Here's a suggestion: Do that! Go to the nearby Wishbone for dinner, see the play and then go the Avenue Ale House for a martini (and great wings, if you're hungry again). Oh. And appoint a designated driver. Who gets two desserts on account of not being able to drink.
Okay, back to work. I really need to finish a novel and that's why I haven't been here so much. But I carry you all in my heart. It's getting kind of crowded in there.
July 10, 2008
Alert alert! A few photos of Italy under "Photos." More to come.
June 29, 2008
No doubt many of you who listened to me whine about going to Italy are wondering what happened. I have been silent because I am in the middle of writing an article about the experience. I am overwhelmed with other work as well and so cannot spend much time here right now. But oh my goodness. I had a glorious time. Every single part of the trip was just fine. Was wonderful. I learned a lot about travel, about Italians, about myself, about HOW TO LIVE. And I cannot wait to go back. But more later.
I hope you are enjoying summer and are planning to lie in the grass under some fireworks soon. I wish they wouldn't do the cannon part, as it reverberates in my chest and scares me to death. Memo to self: send out memo to the cannon people.
No! I didn't make chicken tikka masala! I made oven-fried chicken instead! AND just added the recipe to this website. As so often happens, I messed up trying to add the recipe and had to call the wonderful Lauren at epage city and she helped me get the recipe on there right and then said, "Hmmmm. I just bought some chicken breasts and didn't know what to do with them. I think I'll make this."
See? All people need is recipes and to love and be loved. Also dogs.
June 7, 2008
Yesterday I received a letter from a woman who called herself Amy, and she was writing to lambaste me about an interview she heard on the radio. By her own admission, she tuned in mid-interview and I think she must have thought that THE DAY I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED was non-fiction. What she heard, apparently, was part of the first, title story. The last paragaph of her letter said "I hope my letter will stir you to become more educated, less disparaging of an organization you apparently know very little about, and a little more sensitive. And I hope you demonstrate these changes within yourself by adjusting accordingly the things you say in your interviews." I got out my best looking stationery this morning to write her a note explaining that if I were any more sensitive, I would be found hanging by a rope in my bedroom closet, and that my book was fiction, but there was no return address. So just in case she reads this blog: Amy, please know that the things said in the story were to serve the story, and it was a character talking. I have great respect for Weight Watchers (I attended many meetings myself and they helped me lose 20 pounds) and I also have great respect for those who struggle with weight (despite the fact that you say you "find it difficult to believe" that I myself struggle, I do, of course I do). I know that blind people must also watch their weight. I know that Weight Watchers does not encourage anorexia. Amy, I appreciate the passion you feel for this organization and the time you took to write. Next time you write to someone, though, you might want to include your address, so that they can have an opportunity to respond directly to you rather than mope around in their pajamas, feeling misunderstood.
IN OTHER NEWS, the peonies in my garden are ridiculously plentiful and I have brought great bouquets into the house. I am so knocked out by their color, their structure, their scent. And there are a million other things to look at outside these days that make your heart sing. Every time I walk Homer, I pay tribute to all the other gardens I see. And to the welcome presence of people OUT again, after this very long winter we suffered through. Kids ride bikes down the sidewalks and turn cartwheels on their lawns and wear bathing suits all day long (remember that?? And remember the feel of soft cotton pajamas against sunburned shoulders and the scent of Noxema and the crunch of gravel at drive-in movies? ). Dogs trot along happily, their tails straight up, young parents push babies in strollers, couples walk holding hands and eating ice cream cones. I'm telling you, if Norman Rockwell were still alive, he could just stand at the corner of my block with his easel up. And his spirits.
I attended a meeting yesterday with various people who will be involved with the next production of THE PULL OF THE MOON which, as many of you know, will be up and running this August 7th. (Go to 16thstreettheater.org for tickets and/or details). I met the new director, who was wonderful--so passionate about his ideas for making this a really great and also interactive performance. He had just auditioned a "Nan," and will be auditioning a few more candidates before making a decision. I've seen the play so many times, but I can't wait to see it again. I love almost any play. There's something about sitting in the dark, taking in the words and watching the actors' expressions that I find so deeply satisfying. I want to write an original play someday....maybe after I finish the next novel.
I've been exchanging emails with a few other authors about life on the road, comparing tour blues. We all agree that it's our readers who make it worthwhile, but man oh man you can certainly get tired. I know I'm off my feed, as they say. I'm quick to cry these days, am pretty much wiped out by 4 in the afternoon, and at 6 this morning sat in my chair in my office full of despair because I don't want to go to Italy. (I know, don't say it.) I am just a big chicken, afraid to travel, and I understand the need to GET OVER IT which is why I planned this trip in the first place. I blubbered a bit to Bill when he got up and you know how it is, you always feel better when you blubber to someone and so now I do want to go. I looked at pictures of Positano on the web and oh my goodness, it is glorious. I do know how lucky I am to be going there. I really do.
So today I'm going to make some Chicken Tikka Masala and attend to other domestic chores and visit my favorite store, The Careful Peach (check out the website, carefulpeach.com,), to select some gifts I need to send to my publicists. And I'm going to yank out that novel I'm working on and get it ready to be worked on again. If the chicken is good, guess where you'll find the recipe?
May 18, 2008
Today is my brother Jeffrey's birthday. I can't believe how mean I was to him when we were growing up. He was such a cute little guy, too, so full of heart and sensitivity and gentleness. Plus he loved (and continues to love) dogs as well as every other animal on earth. How could I have been so terrible to him? I told him once to eat a hot pepper because a prize was in there. Oh, the list of crimes is endless. Happy Birthday, Jeff. I'm so sorry. And if only you'll come to Chicago I'll make it all up to you. Well, probably not, actually, but I'll take you out to a fancy dinner and we'll go look at dogs afterwards.
The tour goes on. And on. But in a good way, honestly. Yesterday I spoke with so many really warm people who believe strongly in the importance of books and reading. This was at the Jackson (Michigan) public library's Word Wise event. When you see that kind of commitment to the arts (not only to literature but to music and painting and dance) it just makes you feel good. It's a slap in the face to mindless surfing on the net, to the self-imposed isolation of people who really do best when they abandon their screens and interact with others. Okay, off my soapbox.
After the event, Bill and I took the back roads home. Driving those roads restores a girl's spirits. The little towns with their churches and drug stores, a kid playing in a yard here, an old man sitting on a porch there. Outside the towns, the dark earth plowed in orderly rows, the endless acres of green green fields sometimes populated by cows or horses or goats or sheep.Those animals usually look as if they're staring contentedly into middle space (often times chewing something in that square way) unless they're grouped together, and then it looks like they're gossiping. ("Did you see her mane? What was she thinking????) We found a wonderful restaurant for dinner in Three Rivers, right by the water, Fisher Lake Inn, it was called. At the table next to us, someone was celebrating his 94th birthday. At another table, a group of six friends aged about 60 or 70 laughed and laughed--I think they all must have been friends for years, it was that kind of laughter. At another table young women dressed in flow-y summer dresses drank dacquiris topped with whipped cream. After dinner, we drove for a while and then we went to Oink's in New Buffalo which was ice cream heaven. Just when you decided on a flavor, there would be ANOTHER one you wanted. I got a cup of yellow cake (mixed with frosting and ice cream) and Bill got chocolate chip and mint chocolate chip in a waffle cone. We sat on a bench and ate our ice cream and watched little kids sitting on their bench eating their ice cream and swinging their legs. Then one of them, about five years old, I'd guess, leaped up to yell, "AFTER THIS, CAN WE GO TO THE BEACH AND WATCH THE SUN SET?" They were wearing shorts and t-shirts. Even though summer isn't really here, it was in that instant. I liked watching the guys scooping out ice cream, those muscular young men with soul patches who I imagine act so cool everywhere else but who in their jobs at Oink's have to reduce themselves a bit in stature to ask over and over again, "Would you like sprinkles on that?"
I wish I could always, always, always take the back roads, but sometimes you just have to take the freeway. As we head out again tomorrow for a week on the road, this is where my stack of magazines will come in handy, plus my Mary Lawson novel which I adore (THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BRIDGE) plus my collection of Carol Shields stories plus my propensity for asking Bill oddly personal questions to which I demand an immediate answer and asking him to play rock paper scissors with me every time we come to a stop. "Come on," I say. "Six out of ten, okay? Come on." Bill is so destined for sainthood. As for me, on account of the way I treated my brother, I'll be asking Satan to play rock paper scissors before I hit the rotisserie.
THE DAY I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED is already in its fourth printing. THANK YOU.
May 5, 2008
Alert! The other night at a reading someone was AGAIN singing the praises of the recipe for BBQ pork tenderloin with mop sauce that I sent out in newsletter a few years ago. I just added it to the recipes along with a chicken piccata one I really like. These are both Weight Watcher reipes. The pork serves 6 and has 4 points. It's from the WW cookboook called "The Best of WW Magazine," and the chicken piccata is from "take-out tonight!" (exclamation mark theirs) And now, before I go to do another reading, I must go into my laundry room and confront the inevitable. Then I must take a walk because spring is busting out all over. The tulips are nearly obscene and you can smell the lilacs in the air. And all the dogs are walking around with their tails straight up. I suppose people's vestigial tails are all up, too. Maybe I'll check someone to see. It should be easy to check those guys who walk around with their pants practically to their knees, a girl would just have to take a little gander. That walking around with your pants to your knees takes a talent I'll never have. Although today I saw a guy's pants fall DOWN. Excellent sighting. Right on Augusta Avenue.
May 4, 2008
Very big news, here. I have GIVEN THE CODE to get into my website to my wonderful best friends Phyllis and Marianne with the hope that they will contribute on the girlfriends page or wherever they want. Except here. I forgot to tell you guys that. Stay off my blog.
They are both such talented women, I thought you should get a chance to share their offerings. Phyllis's essays are already here, and one of Marianne's photographs. I hope that soon you'll see more, more, more.
The tour goes on, but this week I get to work from home. Which means I get to catch up on things like planting the pots on my back deck. I can't believe how excited I get about this. It's like going to see Santa as a kid, visiting a nursery, picking things out. I hope I show SOME restraint, but suspect I won't. After I plant the things, I show them to everyone, including the long-suffering Homer, and then I sit and stare and stare at them and exult in their beauty and then I let them die. Accidentally.
May 1, 2008
I can't believe it's May. Mainly because I'm freezing. I'm on my last day in a hotel where my room smells like B.O. I noticed the scent upon check-in, but figured I wouldn't ask for a new room because the hotel was so full and naturally one wants the hotel staff to like one, so one doesn't complain unless absolutely necessary. You know. But man, this is a persistent B.O. I have gone from being completely annoyed by it--spraying the last of my perfume around the room, muttering under my breath, struggling to try to open a window which looks like it ought to open, but so does not--to finding it rather interesting. Who had this B.O. ? How old was he? Why did he (it's got to be a he, I'm sorry) have it? (Dangerous waters, here, I think you'll agree.) Who does he live with? What was he doing here at this hotel? Well, a picture has emerged of a light blue-eyed 40-something year old guy with thinning blond hair, mildly out of shape, here for business having to do with softwear. He lives with his wife and two young children (one whom he fears might need braces pretty soon) and he is not particularly concerned about what anyone else thinks of him (hence the B.O.) He has an unkempt lawn and likes Sam Adams beer. Listen, a girl has to keep herself entertained on the road.
Last night I had a driver who had very long gray hair and a beard and naturally I thought he was an old hippie and I couldn't wait to talk to him. Rememer Janis and Jimmy? Remember peace, love, dove? Remember communes in Colorado? Brown rice and vegetables? Turned out he was an ultra-conservative whose choice for President, if HE could pick, would be Newt Gingrich. !!!!!! We had a very interesting discussion on the way home from the bookstore. This driver was on a diet, and so naturally he really liked the title of my book. He was going to go out to a fancy restaurant for dinner while I did my reading, he told me, but then when I got back in the car he told me he'd gotten a grip on himself and had eaten the diet lunch he'd packed in a "lunchbox" that looked pretty much to me like a suitcase.
I am dismayed at the way Obama is being attacked for his minister's politics. For me, that's like blaming the parents of children abused by priests for being in the parish. Or blaming Hillary for certain antics enjoyed by her husband. We have three good candidates running. Can't the media focus on the issues that affect us all and stop acting like all we care about is gossip and sensationalism, bowling scores and whiskey shots?
I got Louise Erdrich's new book last night, a gift from the fabulous R.J. Julia Bookshop. I think I'll hunker down and read. What a luxury.
When I get home tonight, I'm going to kiss my dog on the lips. And pat Bill on the head. Get ready, Bill. And Homer.
April 18, 2008
Janis Joplin is on the stereo singing about "one good man," there is a ton of laundry waiting for me to do, I need to unpack and pack again, pay bills, return calls and emails, but the first thing I did today was to visit my garden, which is just waking up after a LOOOOOOONG winter's nap. The lilacs are very close to blooming and it breaks my heart to think I might miss them. I like to fill my house with lilacs when they come out. The scent practically assaults you when you walk in the door, but it's a good assault.
I loved being in Boston (where I just was) for lots of reasons, but the top one is that I got to spend time with my daughter, Julie, and her family. She and I took a walk one lovely afternoon with 2 -year- old Matthew, 7- month- old Katelyn, and 7 (?)- year old Wrigley, the chocolate lab, who can't believe how these dang kids have ruined his life, but he is very nice to them anyway. Matthew refers to the stroller he and his sister ride in as "Strolee" and was very concerned that it would be wet, as the last time he rode in it, it rained. He has not yet learned about condensation, or how things change. I remember the pleasant heartbreak and loveliness of seeing a child's perspective when my own children were young, their vulnerability and innocence. (One of my favorite memories is of Julie as a toddler about Matthew's age standing at the window watching the sun set and saying, with great wonder and appreciation, "The sky's coming down." ) I also appreciate little children's infinite wisdom. Matthew was so full of joy at the simple sight of the out -of- doors, at being able to walk ALL BY HIMSELF down the sidewalk. What a view, the sight of a toddler ambling along, that side-to-side, lurching movement, like a cute Frankenstein. Whenever his Mom or Dad pull up into their driveway, him in his carseat in the back, he says with out- and- out joy, "We HOME!!"
The tour is going fine, and what a pleasure to meet the readers I have. Two women in line became self-described "insti-friends" in Boston--I love when that happens. The reception for the book has been really great--I love when THAT happens, too. It keeps me in green olives, which I have to buy today because I'm making that green olive chicken dish for dinner AGAIN.
April 12, 2008
I think it's April 12.
I'm out on tour, in a hotel in West Orange, New Jersey. Just had fattening pasta AND bread and butter AND a beet salad and now am going to go for a little walk even though there's not really anywhere to walk here. Such a pleasure to be in warm weather, I'd walk in the middle of the freeway.
I am so used to being in my study, alone, that I am feeling pleasantly bombarded by sights, sounds, and little episodes of daily life that inspire in one way or another: Delancey Street in downtown Philadelphia, where I was enchanted by the rowhouses and the windowboxes; a tableful of older gentlemen eating bagels and drinking coffee and solving the world's problems with gusto at the Bagel Barrel in Doylestown, PA; a restaurant manager telling me with great earnestness that (widely gesturing at the dining room) "This is my life, you know? And I love it"; a store window with polka dotted mixing bowls that I really wanted but actually refrained from buying; a kid in a pink coat singing and holding onto her mother's hand; the beautiful hills and horse farms in Bucks Country; the great stories my New Jersey born- and- bred driver told me on the way to this hotel. His answer to any request? No PROBlem!
This hotel room comes with a gigantic bathtub and the management has the wisdom to provide a little yellow ducky along with sumptuous bath products. My night is cut out for me. If only I could find an old Bette Davis movie.
I am not traveling with a computer, so I'd better relinquish the hotel one. More later.
March 28, 2008
A couple of days ago, I emailed a friend, "The sun is out! The birds are singing! Winter's over!" Yesterday, I stared out the window and watched snow come down. Thickly. Heavily. Which is exactly the way my soul felt. I think many of us who have endured a terrible winter this year are feeling at our wits' end. People threw down their shovels weeks ago--That's enough! Let my sidewalks be dangerous! I don't care, I tell you, I just don't care! Slip! Sue! I DON'T CARE!!!!!
What to do? Well, I took off to Mill Valley, California last week to visit my best girlfriends. I ate crab salad and sourdough bread, took a few long walks in SUNSHINE and had some great talks. Also, in typical fashion, I found a house I want to buy. Just a little tiny place to have for the winter, one half of me tells my other (screaming and holding onto the sides of her head) half. "You buy houses like jewelry," my friend Marianne said. Not true! I buy less jewelry! Seriously, I won't buy the house because I can't afford the house and I don't need the house. I don't think I will. Maybe I will. Oh, stay tuned.
The tour is cranking up, and soon I'll be on the road for quite some time. And when I come back, I'm going to do something that will really challenge me, which is to take a trip alone to Italy. I am doing this because I'm scared to death to do it and I have to stop being such a wuss and if I don't do it now, I'll be a bitter old woman saying, "Jeez. I should have gone to Italy that time." I have actually been losing sleep over this because I'm so nervous about it, but I got the tickets a couple of days ago (Bill had to lend a whole lot of moral support which he uncomplainingly did, even though he'll be stuck with Homer the dog and Cosette the cat and house duty the whole time I'm gone) and I made the reservations for the cooking school I'm going to and that actually helped. Done. No more discussion. I keep having this fantasy that I'll go to the little town of Positano and apply for a job in a bakery for a week so I can see what the locals are like. After all, I'm almost fluent in Italian, having learned two words: fare niente, which means "do nothing," which I was very wisely advised to do. But I don't want to do nothing. I want to work in a bakery for a week and watch the customers come in. See them? The man in the suit with the newpaper under his arm, a tiny little cut from shaving on his chin? The woman in the wrap dress holding the toddler's hand? People probably won't be wearing suits at all. There may be no toddlers. In which case, I'm cancelling this trip.
Wednesday I went for another lesson on computers and came back knowing not much. I am such a bad student. I just can't concentrate at the Apple store. It's like a gigantic frat party in that place. Speaking of computers, I need to get to work, not sit her and jaw all day. But before I go, I have to tell you about this thing I learned about from my friend in California. You may already know, because I'm the LAST to know things like this. But! If you go to Pandora.com and put in a musical artist or a song that you like, they'll play not only that artist, but others like him or her. For free! So yesterday, when I paid my bills, an odious task that I try to make fun (I use weird penmanship writing out the checks, for one thing) I listened to Nicole Atkins and Mozart and Diana Krall and lots of other people who sound a little like them. If you don't know about this website, try it. It's like a kid being turned loose in a candy store. Although kids today probably wouldn't be that thrilled to be in a candy store. They'd probably want to be turned loose in an Apple store. Or in a sushi restaurant. I hope you have a lovely day, full of robins who aren't shivering and complaining to their husbands that they came back north WAY too soon.
March 4, 2008
I am back from attending my grandson's second birthday party, and I have seen the light. I, who have always lived in fear of parties, now have a blueprint. If you want to have a terrific party, follow these rules:
1. Decorate the party space using a jungle theme, and include a monkey hanging from the chandelier and a lion stuck up on the ceiling.
2. Provide guests with big people food (baked brie with fig jam) and kid food (pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza and AWESOME jungle cake in the flavors of both chocolate and vanilla).
3. Invite one guest. One. Do not worry when he sits in the booster seat beside you looking awfully vague.
4. For entertainment, run around and around the house strumming your guitar and singing "Happy Birthday to Me." Alternate this with running around and around and around the house pushing your bubble-making lawn mower. Occasionally stop and point to the bottom of the thing and explain to any guest nearby, "Bubbles come out."
5. When guests sing Happy Birthday to you, inform them that your birthday is "coming up," thus ensuring that you have not actually aged at all.
6. After partying on for a fair length of time, tell your guests you're going to take a nap. Then, without further ceremony, do precisely that.
My next birthday, I'm doing this same thing.
In other news, which pales in comparison, I'm beginning to add dates of readings for THE DAY I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED onto this website. I've had three reviews, which have been terrific, and I have read each of them ten thousand times. Here's my favorite quote, from Booklist: "Her stories are deliciously piquant and deceptively blithe, just as the respectable appearances of her women characters conceal fierce inner lives. Berg zeros in on the routine unfairness women face, and the anguish and irony of age and family relationships, as her bawdy, scheming, outspoken and loyal women persevere, often finding the humorous side of difficult predicaments." And from Kirkus: "This collection focuses on quiet, intensely personal discoveries, many of which center on weight or food." Okay, enough shameless promoting. For now.
This morning I opened the door to let the cat out and guess what? IT WASN'T FREEZING. Therefore I am in a deliriously happy mood, even though I'm going first thing this morning to the dentist. (I actually love my dentist. He gives me jazz CDs to listen to while he works away. Dr. Aneszko at Water Tower Dentists on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Plus last time I went his receptionist wore an outfit designed by one of the contestants on Project Runway.)
February 16, 2008
I'll bet you think I'm still sitting around, sulking, with a paper bag over my head. Wrong! Because a million (well, three) people have said, "Oh, it's not THAT BAD." Which felt roughly equivalent to them saying, "I am awestruck by the genius of that haircut."
So. Back to real life. Which is: a sunny day, the kind of winter day I adore, where the brightness of the snow makes you squint, where the presence of the many birds on the feeder makes it seem like spring even if it's not. Those birds have so much to say to each other! Every day it's like a big birdie Tupperware party out there.
Spring is actually not that far off, and neither is the book tour for THE DAY I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED, which begins mid-April. There are a lot of readings on the tour, which I will soon transcribe onto the website under "Appearances." If I'm coming to a city near you, I hope you'll come to a reading. It's a good thing to support bookstores and the gentle art of reading, to say nothing of authors, and besides that, I'm bringing chocolate. And the story I'm going to read will make you laugh, which, if you're like me, you desperately need to do. Once again, I sat down this morning to a newspaper with headlines that devastated me. Another school shooting. It feels to me like we need to have such a BIG neighborhood meeting. A world neighborhood meeting, which would begin with someone standing at a BIG podium and pounding a BIG gavel and saying, "Okay. Attention, attention. ATTENTION. We are all NEIGHBORS here, all we people on earth We are NEIGHBORS, okay? So let's...I don't know, lend each other sugar instead of killing each other, would that be okay with everyone?"
Oh wait, here come the guys who are fixing the hole in my ceiling. Which came about as a result of a leak in a furnace. Here they come, their heads full of things I don't understand. I really envy them. They get to wear slobby cothes every day for a good reason, and they get to charge ten million dollars an hour.
In my next life, I'm going to be a man who knows how to fix EVERYTHING. Last Christmas in one of those rare, Come on, you can do it!! moods, I asked for a drill and some tools, because I thought that just having them would make me confident and competent, and turn me into someone who can figure percentages in my head and do that kind of whistle where you stick two fingers into your mouth. My sister gave me a book called, "Chicks Can Fix." I envisioned myself saying to my sweetie, Bill, "Okay, I've got a few spare hours. How about we put in some built-in bookcases? And oh yeah, let's add on to the kitchen. " Chicks Can Fix, huh? Ah, well. Not this chick. I'm thinking of using the drill for a planter or maybe a lamp. A door stop? A paper weight?
I am continuing to receive wonderful letters from all over the country, even the world. Yesterday I got a letter from a woman in Paris asking me to recommend a book on writing that was a little more "human" than most. Well, I have to recommend my own book on writing, called ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN, because in it is everything I know and believe about writing. It's a cheerleader disguised as a book. Otherwise, I think the best thing to do is go to a bookstore and/or library look at some of the many books on writing: one is bound to feel right for you. But the REALLY best thing to do when it comes to writing is to worry about the writing first and foremost, not the agent and the selling and the money and the book tours and the movie rights. The real joy in writing comes from writing. Honestly. Nothing matches that feeling of geting what's in there, out. And what I've found is that the best writing is fiercely original, having nothing to do with what any book says. I think the most important thing to learn about writing is the need to trust yourself.
And as long as I'm recommending books, pick up Elizabeth Crane's YOU MUST BE THIS HAPPY TO ENTER. It's short stories that are wonderfully original and fun to read. And the books has a GREAT jacket. And an author photo unlike any you have ever seen before.
February 8, 2008
I am in a really bad mood because I got a haircut yesterday that makes me look like Shemp of the Three Stooges. I am almost sixty years old and I still get in a funk when I hate a haircut, which lasts a good day or two. So to balance the bad with some good, I just added a new receipe. Check it out.
Meanwhile, I'm going to go read the newspaper so I can put a stupid bad haircut in perspective.
February 4, 2008
Okay, NOW I'm back from L.A., and, looking out the window, I'm a little sorry I'm not still there. But there is something pretty beautiful about a wintery scene, at least when one doesn't have to go anywhere. The only place I went today was to pick up the pets: Homer spun in his usual circles of delirious joy when I picked him up, and now is lounging around looking as debonair as Cary Grant. Cosette, our cat, is pretty mad at me. "Why can't you be like Homer?"I asked her. "Is he sulking? NO! He's happy to be home!" She turned her back on me. I translated this to mean: Don't even TRY to explain why you left me in a CAGE. I'm calling the ASPCA.
I was in LA for business and pleasure. On the business front, I recorded THE DAY I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED (which I'm really getting excited about, but more on that later), I met with one of the producers who's trying to get "We Are All Welcome Here" made into a feature film, I met with my LA book-to-film agent, and had dinner with with my NYC book agent, and I had dinner with the man who was the producer for the movie version of "Open House." I'll tell you something; you can say all you want to about how shallow LA is, but I really love it there. Bill came out after I had finished recording,and we had a really great time: drinks on the beach at Shutters, dinner at the wonderful Pacific Dining Car, miles of walking around San Diego. We rode the bus, which I love to do, and there were some VERY interesting people on it. Once, a guy was carrying on pretty loudly in the back, and all the women moved up to the front of the bus to get away from him. The guy lay on the floor of the bus for a while and yelled about how this is NOT a rational society. Hear, hear.
Bill and I took in a few sights downtown; we wanted to see the architecture. When we were admiring the train station, a train was just leaving for San Diego, so we got on--went and had lunch there, and came back for dinner in LA. It was wonderful to be out of the cold for a while, and what an exciting landing--right into a snowstorm. I really am never afraid, flying, but I've got to tell you, when they announced, "If an emergency landing is necessary, leave all carry-ons behind," I sure did put down my newspaper. (And thought to myself, okay, I'll leave the briefcase, but I'm stuffing my purse under my coat; I just bought a lipstick I really like that I can't get elsewhere.)
Things are looking really good for the new book: offers for things have come in that have not happened with other books, and thus far people seem to really love the stories. I can't tell you how happy that makes me. Whenever a new book is about to come out, it's a very nervous time, and all this positive feedback helps a lot. The tour is growing and is almost complete. Once it's all set, I'll post the events on the website. I want to provide treats at every reading, and I'm thinking the exquite combination of salt and chocolate will be good. I'd better bring my expando-pants on this tour.
As for now, though, it's back to work, including the mundane chore of paying bills. I read that Alexandra Stoddard makes a whole thing out of this: scented candles and beautiful pens and all. As for me, I practice new penmanship techniques while listening to music. Today will be Morganna King and Bonnie Raitt. Kind of like chocolate and salt. xoxoxoxo
January 16, 2008
I am back from Minnesota, where my sister and her husband, Bill and I, and my mother's sisters and my father's brother celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. It's hard for me to conceive of. 65 years! Imagine the changes they've seen together. We had dinner out, and there were all these people I've known all my life, and I realized I was seeing them through a lens similar to that which you employ when you look at your children: they may be thirty-five, but they're also five. Two. An infant. Fourteen. I watched my parents and thought that they, too, saw each other in many of those old ways through the now: there was my mother's dimpled smile, essentially the same as it was the day they met. There was my father's affection and interest, still. It seemed to me that there was more than one time during dinner when they out and out flirted,and it was a fine sight to see.
I am happy to report that we've decided on a design for the cover of the new book, THE DAY I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED. You can see it on amazon.com. We may change the colors, but the design will stay the same. I like it very much. It will hit the stands on April 15th, and pretty soon I'll be adding the details of the tour to this website, as well as details of the book. I have to say I really love these stories, and I hope you will. I guarantee that you will laugh a bit. Also, in the usual fashion, some of the stories are poignant. You might cry. But then you have an opportunity to use a hankie, very satisfying.
As for now, I'm going downtown to meet a friend for lunch. I'm all dressed up in adult clothes and have even combed my hair. I can't wait to get home and change into my dog pajamas. When the weather is cold like this, it's the only thing to do. Wear pajamas, read good books, and eat chocolate. I just finished Sue Miller's The Senator's Wife. Compulsively readable, and I was glad to be in her company again, if only on the page.
I am soliciting stories about first kisses. If you have one you want to share (the more details the better) please send it to me at my contact address. Warning: it may be USED.
January 10, 2008
As I wait for CPR on my "fabulous" new computer, I want to share something with you. Last Saturday, an essay that I wrote appeared in the Chicago Tribune Book Section on reading. It seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people, and many have told me they've passed it on. With the help of my very patient web site manager, I've put the link to the article here, in case you'd like to read it.
In other news, my publicist and I are starting to talk a lot about the tour in April for THE DAY I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED. This year, I'm going to a lot of places I haven't been to at all or haven't been to in a long while. So far, we're talking about Boston, Milwaukee, Omaha, Indianapolis, Aberdeen, S.D., Albuquerque (spell that three times fast) , Columbus, Ohio, Lincoln NE, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Once the tour is complete, I'll post it on this website.
Meanwhile, I'm working on a new novel--or would like to, if I can learn how to operate this new computer. You know those people who can't wear a wristwatch because it dies? I'm like that with computers. They see me coming. They see me coming and they narrow their eyes and start to chuckle. "Oh boy, " they say. "Fun with Elizabeth." I might have to get in the time transport box and go back to the days of the typewriter and the three-martini lunches.
Eyikes, it's time for Computer Superman. I've got to go,but I'll be back. As they say.
January 2, 2008
Did you watch the ball drop? I always have to watch the ball drop, and I have to watch the ball drop in NYC because that's the real New Year. I have to see if Dick Clark is still there, because somehow I need him to be. And then I have to watch the countdown in Chicago. And both times, at that moment when the old year ends and the new one begins, I feel this tremendous poignancy, for all the hopes and dreams that will be cast forth at this moment of change-over. No matter how dippy or unrealistic it may be, I think a lot of people hope to make positive changes in the new year, and for a moment, when the year is brand new, it feels as if all things are possible. Then comes 12:05.
Okay, I am doing something wrong on my new computer. As I write this, a pop up keeps coming on saying "slow script" and then I have to hit "continue" to continue. In the time it has taken to type this, it has come up about twenty times. Please excuse me while I move to a grass hut on an island with my only modern convenience being grocery delivery. And of course I need an nice kitchen. And a library. Oh, and movies. Well, basically I want everything except my new computer. I will come back after I've figured out this slow script problem. We haven't even begun to talk about all I want to talk about. In the meantime, I wish you a very happy new year, full of technological competence.
December 8, 2007
Eeeyikes, it's been a long time since I made an entry here. To those of you who tell me you check in regularly, I offer my apologies.
'Tis the season, huh? To talk about the negative aspects of Christmas time is like shooting fish in a barrel. I'd like to offer a toast to some of the good parts of it. Namely:
-The decorations everywhere. Whether you're at the dentist, getting your hair done, having dinner out, shopping or just driving down a city street, there are so many beautiful things to look at. It sets this time of year apart; it makes these dark December days full of light.
-The permission to indulge. And indulge. And indulge.
-The Christmas carols on the radio, which I sing along with robustly when I'm alone. Or with Homer, who always wrinkles up his dog eyebrows and looks at me with great concern and oftentimes licks me, compassionately, when I sing. The other day I heard the song that goes, "Love and joy unto you... " and I was singing along and thinking, what a wonderful sentiment. What a good thing to say to someone.
-The ongoing hope for peace which seems to present (so to speak) itself more vividly at this time of year.
-The way that gift-giving is, at its heart, a good and generous thing. Despite the crass materialism of this time of year, for me there is something pretty swell about people running around trying to please someone else. It reminds me of kids coming home bursting with pride and offering their parents a round of clay holding their handprint, a ribbon attached for hanging.
I'm afraid I'm going to have to make a Christmas scarf for my dog to wear today; I've run out of corny things to put all over my house. (The first decoration out this year was a frog all dressed in red and green and holding little gifts on her lap.)This afternoon, I'm going to make Christmas cookies while I listen to The Nutcracker, a tradition. Next week, I'll mail off presents, hoping that the recipents will open their gifts and hear me say I love them. I suppose you could say it's a shame that we have to rely on a holiday to make us say, in one way or another, things we should say all year and without prompting. But I say it's a blessing.
Love and joy unto you; and God bless you and bring you a happy new year.
November 15, 2007
Okay, recipe alert. I've just added a new one. You know how sometimes you try a new dish and it's so good you want to eat ALL the servings? That happened tonight. I made a pasta and spinach recipe and it was fast, healthy, and really good. Bill gave it an A+, very unusual. So naturally I had to share it with all of you. To look at it, go to the top listing in the recipe section.
I finally broke down and got a new computer--a Mac--and am learning how to use it. I've had Mr. Computer Genius over here twice--once to help me get set up and once to install Word and to show me some fancy pants things on it. Today I got a little slap happy with the mouse and appeared to lose a document, namely the story/possible novel I'm working on. I called the computer guy thinking I'd ruined everything, but he helped me over the phone and in about two minutes everything was all right again. Don't you wish there was a guy like that for EVERYTHING? I mean, this guy is just Marcus Welby to me. Remember Marcus Welby?
I got two letters from readers today, one a charming 81-year old man in Michigan, one a reader in Australia. Both of them read this blog and I want them to know that their kind words turned a gray day sunny. Theirs were the kind of letters you want to make T-shirts out of so you can sleep in them. Hey, maybe I will do that. Or maybe my new computer can do it for me. Frankly, it wouldn't surprise me. (me: Mr. Computer Genius? Can this Mac silk screen a letter onto a t-shirt? Mr. C.G: Why yes it can. See that little t-shirt icon? Okay, click on it......)
November 14, 2007
Back from visiting my grandchildren and a near-miss at buying a condo in Boston. I really can't afford it, but boy did I want it. I just like the idea of having a place there, but in the end it didn't make sense. More than one friend said, "Ahem. Elizabeth? You know, for what you'd pay for a condo, you could stay in a really nice hotel....." It reminded me of one time when Bill and I went to LA and we looked "for fun" at a condo in Santa Monica which I of course wanted to buy because I want to buy any piece of real estate I ever see. I mean it. If there was a turned over refrigerator box at the side of a river and no one was in it, I'd make an offer on it. But anyway Bill and I looked at this condo and I was getting all excited about buying it even if we are hardly ever there (plus I could NOT afford it). Bill said, "For what you would pay for that condo, you know how long we could stay at the Fairmont Hotel? TWELVE YEARS." Hm. That sort of put things in perspective, all right.
When I visited, I got to see little 20-month old Matthew's breakfast routine: he and his Dad go into Matthew's bedroom where he sits at his play table. While Josh drinks coffee, Matthew eats from his cute kid plate and drinks from his cute sippy cup but he doesn't exactly stay sitting down. In between bites, he runs around his room, dances, spins in circles, gives exhuberant hugs, chats with his stuffed animals, and crawls under his crib on his belly like he's playing army man. I think he should make an exercise video tape.
It is so hard to leave whenever I go to see them. I kind of blubber on the plane all the way home. Last time, I was in a middle seat, and it was murder. I kept seeing Matthew, then little Katelyn and her one-dimpled smile and then I would have to blink back tears and try to distract myself with Hemispheres magazine. Which actually is not a bad magazine.
I have this great idea. How about if like-minded people establish a town and we all live together in ONE PLACE? Say, Santa Monica. It could be like a commune, updated, with a little socialism in that each would contribute his or her own unique talents.I think more and more of us are starting to wish for such a thing, especially all of us boomers who have realized that we're not going backwards and in fact are starting to ....AGE. I want a variation on assisted living places. One main house for us to congregate if we want, and then individual houses for each of us, and all our kids nearby.
Yesterday I paid a guy to set up my new comptuer. I am now Mac woman. I suppose it's a nice system, but I have to tell you, I long for the days of pencil and paper. At heart I am a Luddite. And yet look, here I am, writing a note on my WEBSITE. Never let it be said that I'm not a hypocrite.
I can't believe it's Thanksgiving next week. Bill and I are taking the train to my parents' house in Minnesota. It's a nice long ride, alongside the Mississippi for much of it. Once, in summer, I took that train ride and at sunset I saw large birds--cranes? herons?-- lifting up as though on cue from the water and wheeling obliquely against a smoky red sky. It was so pretty it made my throat hurt. We've booked one of those cozy roomettes and I'm going to bring a novel or six and a bottle of wine and many cheeses and some to-die-for bread and some chocolates and some fruit which will be largely ignored because who wants to eat fruit when you have chocolate and cheese? I hope you have a wonderful holiday. I hope you get to have one moment when thankfulness really does make its unadorned way into your heart. In this troubled world. we still have so much to be grateful for.
November 1, 2007
Okay, it's happened. I am officially a crabby old lady. Yesterday was Halloween. I always used to like Halloween. I liked it especially when I was a kid, of course. I wore a homemade costume, stayed out until I couldn't carry my overloaded candy bag anymore, came home and ate myself blind, then stuffed the left-over candy under my mattress and ate one piece a night in the dark after I'd gone to bed, very satisfying. And very cavity-inducing, but hey. And as an adult, I used to like to open the door with my golden, Toby, dressed as a clown and I would hand out candy while I admired the get-ups. But yesterday I was in a bad mood and thinking thoughts like this: Oh, nobody makes costumes anymore, they're all store bought. Too many parents come along with the kids, so that when you open the door, it's like a PTA meeting. Big kids (like age 17) come and hulk on the porch wearing no costume at all, just demanding candy in their silent, sulking way. And my new dog, Homer,-- I am very sorry to report this, but it's true--my new dog cannot be trusted not to bite little kids and he gets very excited every time the doorbell rings and barks in his sissy high-pitched way which is much more annoying than a real-man dog bark. All things considered, I decided to pass on Halloween. I put out all the candy with a note that said, "Please do not ring the doorbell. And please take only one and leave some for the others. Happy Halloween!" What a dumb note. What it really said is, "Here. Take the damn candy and get lost. I hate Halloween."
After I put the candy out, I sat the kitchen table, hiding. Here's how I know I was hiding: I was doing the crossword puzzle, and I HATE crossword puzzles, because I can never figure out what theyr'e TALKING about and anyway when you're all done and all the little blanks are filled in, WHO CARES? (Hmm. I think I might be a little crabby today, too.) But anyway, there I was hiding and I heard footsteps on the porch and then I heard a high little voice reading my dumb sign aloud and I wanted to go and see her costume but it seemed like it was too late. But it wasn't! I should have run out onto the porch and ripped up the sign, saying, Ha, ha, ha, only kidding, wasn't that a stupid joke, only kidding, let me see your costume, turn around so I can see the back and the sides, too, oh, hooray, hooray, great costume, Happy Halloween, take another candy, take two more, take a whole bunch! But I did not do that and then it really did seem that it was too late, I had sealed my own fate and I sat at the kitchen table and then I hid in my bedroom and read the beautiful poetry of Marie Howe and looked out the window onto the street below at all the little kids, wildly excited and running from house to house. Though after a while they did not run to mine, because just to complete my awfulness, I also had not turned the porch light on. I stood and watched those kids go by and I thought to myself what a terrible terrible person I am and I decided that next year I am wearing a costume and so is Homer (his costume will be devil horns and a muzzle) and I will answer the door with gusto and hand out FULL SIZE SNICKERS. That is my resolution. And the above is my confesssion.
Now I am going to an oral surgeon with my daughter because she has to have at least one infected wisdom tooth pulled. I HATE when something hurts my kids, but I'll bring her home with me and make her soup and then we'll both feel better. Plus maybe we'll watch some good movies. Just nothing about, um, Halloween.
If you have leftover candy, I hope you're enjoying it.
October 25, 2007
A sad day today, for my Aunt Cathy died last night. She was one of the six sisters with whom my mother was raised. Her life was not easy but I think maybe the truest thing that can be said about her is what my mother told me last night, "For her, the glass was always half full." Aunt Cathy was deeply intelligent, had a terrific sense of humor and an enthusiam for life and learning that was truly inspiring. If there's a heaven, she's there, organizing a book club.
I am fifty-eight years old and lucky to have both parents alive. So many of my contemporaries have lost their parents, or are losing them now. It's a real frustration that we come so late to appreciate so much about our parents. I suppose that's the way it has to be--otherwise, we'd none of us ever leave the nest--we'd be walking in the door with our lunchboxes and yelling "What's for dinner?" to our exhausted 85-year old mothers, asking our 85-year old fathers for permission to stay out late and to fix things.
When I talked to my Mom last night, it was hard to hear her crying but even harder, in a way, to hear her graceful acceptance of the loss of her sister. Yet another thing to admire about my parents' generation. I am not graceful about death. I want to beat it up.
I was in Boston recently, smelling the head of my newest grandchild, now six weeks old. This is a very intelligent baby, I'll tell you. "Gosh, you're really alert," I told her. "I think you are going to be a very bright girl." "Going to be?" she said. In her way. As for her darling brother, 17 month old Matthew, he is in love with a candle. He refers to her as "Candie." Julie, his mother, celebrated her birthday when I was there, and some of her gifts were candles. We put one of the candles in Matthew's room and he was instantly smitten--could not tear his eyes away from that wavering flame. He wanted to touch it but of course we dutifully told him, "Hot! Hot!" and he dutifully repeated same in his breathy little toddler voice. He used to be in love with bubbles, but now his affections have turned from water to fire. What's next--earth? Air?
I am in my big fat fluffy blue robe and I'm going into my study to work and I'm not getting dressed until I'm done. If I ever have to really work for a living, I don't know what I'll do.
October 12, 2007
Another beautiful day, which makes it very hard to stay in and work. I stood on the back porch in my dog pajamas for some time this morning, debating whether or not to take the day off and decided that I'd better not--I'm getting interested in the novel I'm writing; it's beginning to breathe on its own and I need to stay attentive to it. However, I did not get right to work, as is the usual way. Instead, I read my email and there was a message from an old friend in Boston named Jessica Treadway, who wrote an essay on the power of sisterhood, which was in last week's Chicago Triburne's Sunday Magazine. She was looking for an extra copy so that she could give it to her sister. She was almost apologetic about asking me to send her one, and it reminded me of how often people, myself included, are reluctant to ask for something, neglecting the fact that it feels good to do a favor for a friend--or a stranger. I don't know, maybe it's the nurse in me, but I always feel like helping someone else is at its heart a selfish act--you so often get back far more than you give. And to ask a favor is to make yourself vulnerable, which is not a bad thing to do. I know it can be hard to do; it can be VERY hard to do.
I have a friend who's very successful in business. To look at her, to spend time with her, is to think that she's a rock. I always admired very much her business style, her command of things in general, and what seemed to be a really optimistic outlook. Then one day she called me and she was anything but optimistic. She was feeling very much alone and sad and confided to me that day that she often feels that way. And we talked about it; we went out and ate too much and drank a little and now in addition to admiring her, I like her more and trust her more, too.
I don't know that any friendship can sustain constant whining and stories of feeling depressed. But I do know that to show all sides of you is to move closer to an honest and therefore more fulfulling relationship. When my friend called me that day, it was because her therapist suggested the challenge to her: When you're in need, ask someone for help. And then let them help you. I pose that same challenge to you, today.
This ends the psychobabble portion of my program. Let me now confess that after having a most excellent diet day yesterday, I sat last night reading Haven Kimmel's The Used World (terrific novel, you need to STAY WITH IT) and then I decided I really needed some butterscotch pudding because it was a little cold outside, I heard the wind, you know, and then I needed some potato chips because of the salt/sugar thing and then since I'd wrecked everything anyway I got into that damn Halloween candy. Here's some advice: NEVER buy Halloween candy that you like. My problem? What Halloweeen candy don't I like? Oh yeah, Milk Duds. I used to like them, but now they're too hard and fake tasting. If anyone is reading this who has anything to do with Milk Duds, can you fix this problem, please?
I can't wait for my next book to come out, the short stories called THE DAY I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED. Because I am having potato chips and chocolate at every reading I do. I'm just giving you fair warning.
October 3, 2007
This morning I was all sad because the play is over (boy, was it fun!) and then I was happy because I got a call and it looks like it's going to be a full production in the fall. I was so heartened by the presence of so many friends, so glad to see people who come to my readings all the time, like the wonderful Rose, whose last name I don't even know. There were strangers, too, and there were even some men. Incredible. But one of the things about "The Pull of the Moon" is that it makes women want to share it with their men. And one of the men who came spoke quite eloquently about how much he liked the play.
This morning, I finished the copy edits on my next book and sent it off. Now I must get started on the next novel, but first I'm going outside because it's a miracle of a day. There may be ice cream involved once I get out there. I think that if on your errand list, there are more than three things to do, you get ice cream. Or, you know, if you wake up alive.
Thanks again to everyone who made the play such a success.
P.S. You know how I told you in the last posting about how good my dog is when I walk him now? Never mind. I won't elaborate, but let's just say his grade point average has slipped to a C. Minus.
September 28, 2007
I looked at the calendar today and saw the date and thought, WHAT??? I'm only up to July in my head. Astonishing that it's almost October. The way time seems to pass so quickly now is probably yet another function of aging.. Also drooling, though I'm happy to report that that hardly EVER happens. Once it did on an airplane, though. I woke up and was completely humiliated even though no one was next to me. Do you like it when guys snore on a plane? I do. I think it's cute. Unless I'm trying to sleep.
Last night I took one of the classes at Flavour cooking school. It was food and flowers, and we were treated to a food demonstration, a flower-arranging demonstration which ended with all of us making our own bouquets to bring home, and then we ate a dinner of Parmesan-crusted chicken breasts served on a salad of greens, basil, cherry tomaotes and little balls of mozzaralla, drizzled with outstanding balsamic called soba, and olive oil. I brought that bouquet home feeling like I used to when I brought home elementary school projects like Santa Claus with a cotton ball beard--just all excited and full of pride. I think the best thing was that each of us secretly felt OUR bouquet was the best. And we were all right! I came home and watched "Mad Men" on TV. I hardly ever watch TV anymore, but I think that show is brilliant. Then my daughter Jenny called and invited me to dinner with her next week. Then Bill came home and we were both exhausted but we shared a few pleasant exchanges before we crashed. Just before I fell alseep, I thought of my granchildren asleep in their cribs and I wished for a better better better world for them and for us.
Today I'll finish writing a speech I'll deliver tonight at the Great Lakes Booksellers convention. It's a celebration of authors and booksellers, and the piece focuses on the necessity of taking time to read. Then I'll work on the copyedits for the next book, which I've told you is a collecion of short stories called, "The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted." Then I'll take old Homer out for a walk on this most beautiful of days. Every time I walk him now, I sit him down and give him a little speech first. I say, "Now listen. Mommy's arm and neck still hurt, so you can't pull on the leash. You have to go easy on me. If you see another dog, or a squirrel, just LOOK AWAY. Okay?" And here's the killer thing: he does!! He doesn't chase the squirrel! He doesn't try to to go over and sniff the dog's butt! The only thing he won't give up is stopping to look at cars he likes. Honestly, this is really true, my dog likes cars. Not all cars, just certain ones. Trucks are a big favorite, trucks belonging to contractors. He stands there and looks at them, and if guys are loading equipment into or off of them, his happiness is complete. He has shown remarkable restraint in not going after joggers; he would kind of like to bite them, but then, so would I.
This weekend is the staged reading of "The Pull of the Moon." (See events) I'm so excited. Some people got all mixed up and thought it was just me on a stage reading from the book, but no, it's step one of a play with a script and wonderful actors and a great director. I think the audience will really like it--they certainly seemed to when it was done in Indianapolis. If you live nearby and want to come, call and see if there are tickets left. Because remember: chocolate and champagne will be served!!!
Haven Kimmel was over here the other night. Have you read her new book, "The Used World"?She's a brilliant writer and a friend, yet I nearly killed her. I served her a gin martini when she's a vodka girl.
Peace to you today. Joy. And something(s) with butter.
September 21, 2007
Arrrgh! I'm STILL dealing with neck and shoulder problems. Today I'm going on ebay to look for a new upper left quadrant.
In happier news, I flew to Boston and saw my beautiful granddaughter. A friend of mine in the grips of cynicism brought about by problems with her grown children recently said, "I'm so over the miracle of chldbirth." What she needs is a grandchild. so that she can be reminded that she's probably not over it at all.
My daughter, Julie, is such a sweet, gentle, patient, balanced, generous mother. I told her that I so admired her parenting skills, and I wondered if she wouldn't mind raising me.
My grandson, Matthew, is 18 months and seems thrilled with his sister. He drags his little stepstool over to Katelyn's daybed so that he can stand on it and stare at her. He pats the top of her head, very gently, like she is his very own puppy. He calls her "Keekee." Julie told me that he saw her kissing Katelyn and he simply froze and stared, as though he were thinking, "Huh????" She said he didn't seem hurt, or angry, just sort of puzzled that someone else would get the kind of affection and attention that he gets. But she said it broke her heart. I know what she means. I remember after my second was born, I was sitting weeeping in my hospital bed because I just didn't see how I could love TWO children. I told the nurse that my mind kept boinging back and forth between the two girls; I couldn't focus on one without feeling bad about the other. The nurse said, "Oh, honey, soon you'll just think of them as 'the kids.'" I told Julie this story, and I told her she'd find that her love was not divided, but doubled. "I know," she said. "It's like you grow a second heart."
Now I'm going to beg my webmaster to post pictures of the baby, because I still don't know how.
September 10, 2007
As of 9:29 this morning, a new citizen on planet Earth, courtesy of my daughter, Julie, and her husband Josh: Katelyn Rose, 7 pounds, 10, ounces, 19 1/2 inches long, a nearly perfect Apgar score. I was so excited I said, "That's a big baby! That's a big baby!" and it's not even a big baby. I said, "What does she LOOK like?" and Josh said, "Well,...she looks like a baby." "Her eyes!" I said, "what do her eyes look like?" He said well he thought they were dark. "A little JULIE!!!!!" said I, because my daughter has brown eyes and brown hair. Give me one detail, I'll fill in the rest: Katelyn will dark haired and dark-eyed, like Julie. be delicate in bone structure, like Julie. She will be neat and tidy, favor ultra-feminine things, excel in perception and sensitivity and articulation and kindness and decency. She will love dogs. She will line up all the little shoes that belong to her dolls, she will sit on her step-up stool to "teach" her stuffed animals all lined up against the hall wall. She will really, really, really like noodles. Won't she? I'm delighted to say I'll be happy if I'm right and happy if I'm wrong. I'm going to see her on Saturday and I'm going to relinquish her only when she has to eat. These might be the only words I speak when I'm there: "Give me that baby."
Say. I've been getting the most wonderful--and meaningful--letters from many of you. I'm trying to answer as many as I can, but I want to say again here how much I appreciate your taking the time. So fun to see everyone's handwriting, and their stationery chocies. I got some lovely handmade cards from one woman. If she's in the business of selling them, I'll give you her information so you can order some.
New recipe: I tried a recipe for lowfat, lowcal chocolate mint brownies, and they're actually GOOD. I'll put in the recipe so you can try them too. For those who may be on Weight Watchers, they're only 3 points. Which is fantastic if you only eat one. Or two. Not so fantastic if you mow through them like I did yesterday.
September 6, 2007
Some time ago, I promised a woman who wrote to me that I would explain on my blog why I wrote the ending to DREAM WHEN YOU'RE FEELING BLUE the way I did. For those of you who haven't read the book and want to, please know that the rest of this posting will be a spoiler. There will be nothing else in this posting but that explanation, so you won't miss any jokes or recipes or gossip or rants or raves. Wait. There is one thing. Just read the very last 2 lines of this posting.
Okay. The book was meant all along to be an anti-war statement, and I wanted the ending to reflect what someone might feel if they lost someone to war: anger, confusion, sorrow, frustration. I guess people felt that, all right--but many people were very much disappointed by the ending, even my Mom (of the Easter Potatoes fame). She said, pointedly looking away from me, that she didn't care for the ending. So maybe if I explain my perspective on it, it mght help. (As for those who said they wanted to hurl the book across the room, well, go ahead, I actually did do that with a book once, and it felt great.) I knew from the start that I wanted one of the sisters to "give" her man to another sister. I knew it would be Kitty who gave her man to Louise, but I thought it was going to be Julian she gave away. I saw Kitty as an immature and rather selfish young woman who really grew up in the book--she became very much aware of the need for sacrifice, too much aware, really. She was inordinately close to her sisters, to Louise in particular, and she was really worried about what would happen to her after Michael died. Kitty was also ambivalent about giving up her newfound independence--despite their great love for each other, after Hank came home, she and he were beginning to unravel around the edges. Hank was very clear that he wanted a stay-at-home wife and mother, and he wanted to get started having a family right away. Kitty wasn't so sure. She wondered about whether she really did want that life over a career--remember, in those days, it was rare that you could do both. I met a woman at a reading who told me she loved the ending, and that as far as she was concerned, it made perfect sense: "Kitty promised Michael to take care of Louise," she said, and that's true.
I also think that Kitty might have felt that in time she might find another man--after all, things didn't work out with Julian and she found a man better suited for her. But then,as it happened, she didn't find another man, and she ended up loving Hank all her life--and he her. Some people found that tragic--vexing, too. But I'm not so sure Kitty and Hank didn't achieve a better happiness for themselves without letting go of each other completely. Would Kitty really have been happy if she'd felt she had to sacrifice so much to her marriage? Would Hank have been happy knowing he kept Kitty from working, from doing something she was good at and that she loved? As the years went by, is it possible that their love would have turned to bitterness? As it happened, Kitty got to have a family by having nieces and nephews. She also got to have a career, which she very much enjoyed. Louise would have preferred to marry Michael, but she cared deeply for Hank. Hank at first wanted to marry Kitty, but he ended up with someone whom he also cared deeply about ,and, more importantly, someone who shared his values. I'm not convinced that shades of this don't occur all the time in relationships. Does anybody ever get the whole enchilada? Or are we happiest when we get the things that matter most in the long run?
People have also asked about why I chose to show Kitty, Hank and Louise all those years later. Part of the reason is to show that their love endured; just not in the way one might have expected. Another reason is that I think so often we look at older people and look through them, disregarding their rich personal history, failing to see them as complete people who used to be our age, and younger.
Writing this ending was taking a risk, but I had to do it. I had to let the book go where it wanted to go. I would do the same thing over again. That said, I am sorry for the frustration and disappointment it caused. To those readers, I would say: thanks for reading the book anyway. Many of you said you enjoyed it except for the ending, so I guess it wasn't a total loss. I would say too that I think you'll be very happy with the next book--it's short stories, and it's (if I may say this about myself) Vintage Berg--contemporary women dealing with contemporary issues. The usual mix of humor and pathos and FOOD.
I hope this has helped those who wanted to hear about the why of the now infamous ending. Now I 'm going to look for flights so that I can go to Boston to celebrate the birth of grandchild number two, a girl, due September 10th!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh, I hope she'll like to play paper dolls, I love to play paperdolls.
September 4, 2007
Attention, attention. I wonder if we might for a moment turn our attention away from the wars and the murders and the deraganged mothers killing their children and the health reports that tell you that whatever you're doing is bad for you and focus instead on an incredibly exciting development: I HAVE FOUND A LOW FAT VERSION OF MY MOM'S EASTER POTATOES!Now, for those of you who don't know, my Mom's Easter potates are fabulous--hash brown casserole with lots and lots of cheese and lots and lots of cream and lots and lots of butter and you need to put your defibrillator right beside you when you eat them. But you do eat them. Because they are MY MOM'S EASTER POTATOES. However, I see that Cooking Light has a recipe in their September issue for a low fat verison, and strictly as an unselfish public service, I am trying the recipe out. I have it in the oven right now. They have to cook for an hour and I was really looking forward to getting to smell them for that long, but there is a troublesome smell of gas in the oven. I'm baking them anyway. If my house doesn't explode, I'll report back soon on how they taste. If the house does explode I'd like to apologize to my dog and cat who will die and did not participate in the decision-making process. And to Bill, who will undoubtedly lose his baseball signed by Studs Terkel and those funky shirts we got him in Memphis. And to my neighbors, whose houses may be hit with flying debis. If the house doesn't explode I'll call the gas company and ask them to send someone out. I like when they send a woman because then I don't feel inhibited about asking questions. Plus I just like women who know what they hell they're doing. My friend Marianne is like that. She can fix toilets in a single bound.
In other news, this morning when I looked out my window I saw the first yellow leaves fluttering down from the oak tree up the block. Or maybe it's an elm. Or some other kind of tree. (Oh, I hate that I don't know how to tell what kind of tree a tree is and I have deep and abiding respect for those who do know.) I also saw the girls across the street going to school: backpacks in place, hair all shiny and clean, and what looked like new shoes. What says back- to- school more than sharpened pencils and new shoes? I wondered what was in their heads. I wondered what was in their lunch. They seemed happy, excited. Then I saw one of my neighbor's teeenaged sons walking to school and he did not seem happy and excited. He seemed like he had a hangover. I rush to say I'M SURE HE DIDN'T; it only looked like he did. You know, slow gait, head hanging down. I'll bet he was thinking, Dang, I wish I'd gotten a different teacher. Okay, so wait for the potato report.....wait for it....
Oh, and take a look at September's O at Home magazine. I have the back page essay talking about my kitchen but the best thing in there is the beautiful essay by my friend Barbara Ascher on making a new life--and home--after the death of her beloved husband. I wish I could visit Barbie in that new place today. If you've never read Barbara Ascher, boy are you in for a treat. Pick up any of her books and have a look. She makes you swoon. I love having her for a friend for many reasons, and one of the reasons is that I can buy those teeny tiny vintage beaded sweaters for her because she's a size negative ten thousand.
The potato report: Bummer. Not that good and still fattening. On the positive side, my house did not blow up. Imagine my happiness.
August 30, 2007
In the oven are peach/blueberry/bran muffins, and I'm about to go to my kitchen classroom to look at a book about writing plays. In my usual backward way, I've adapted a novel to play form (THE PULL OF THE MOON) and now I'm going to learn how to do it. This play has been workshopped and, as some of you know, performed in Indianapolis in conjunction with a humanities fest. I can't tell you how gratifying it was to sit in the audience and see people laughing AND reaching for their hankies during the more moving parts. Now the play is going for a staged reading to The Circle Theatre, a little theater I really love. (7300 West Madison, Forest Park, Il. 708-771-0700). The performance dates are Saturday and Sunday September 29 and 30 and Monday, October 1, at 7:30. Tickets are $10.00. I'll be there all three nights pouring champagne. Call for reservations if you'd like to come, and if you do come, consider going to dinner first at one of the three really great Italian restaurants right on Madison (La Piazza, Cafe de Luca, or Francesca). If you want a real dessert treat, go to the Brown Cow Ice Cream Palace. And of course my friend Denise's store Flavour is on Madison too--if you've not been there and you like to cook, make sure you go to see her beautiful things. Madison Avenue also has lots of antiques stores with things like fabulous vintage clothes, cat-eye and rhinestone glasses (just got a pair myself), quilts, great dishes, funky funiture, jewelry, old buttons and postcards, etc etc. (I like Krenek's Antiques the best.) A tacky friend suggested you wear silver to the play, and I love the idea because I'm tacky, too. A silver blouse is what I'm going to find.
Movie news: still working out terms of the deal for DREAM WHEN YOU'RE FEELING BLUE for television; and WE ARE ALL WELCOME HERE has a completed script being sent out to four A- list actresses for feature film. I'll let you know when I know...
Progress is slow, but the good side of slowing down altogether is that today I stood for a full minute watching the sun light up the petals of the red roses. AND: Bill made pizza from scratch last night, EVEN THE CRUST!!!!! I'll give you the recipe later. It's low fat and really really good.
August 24, 2007
Ow. Ow. Ow. This is mostly what I say lately. And yesterday I had a little weepfest which was highly therapeutic. But I am getting better. I want a statue of my physical therapist cast in gold to keep my by bedside--boy is she great. And as long as I'm handing out props, many thanks go to:
Bill, who is grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and running miscelleous errands. I am wracked with guilt about all he's doing and yesterday I said, "I'll pay you back someday." He said, "You already have, in myriad ways." Now, I ask you. Is this not a reason for his stock to rise? Oh yes, I think so.
My neighbor Kam sat me on her front porch and gave me lemonade and sympathized, and she knows how to, because she had this problem, too! Yay! Well, not yay, but what a relief to talk to someone who really understands and can make practical suggstions. She sent me home with tomatoes from her garden which I used to make eggplant parm last night.
My friend Cindy Kline also had this problem (pretty commom, I guess) and was just a wealth of information and was so incredibly generous with answers to questions. She reminded me that the time will come when it will not hurt and I can drink a martini.
My friend Marianne checks in all the time and comforts me and makes me laugh and tells me about how the sky looks from her house--she's high up in the hills in Mill Valley.
My friend Phyllis I can call no matter how blue I am and she'll raise the old spirits.
My friend Denise, who's a chef (and owns Flavour Cooking School), is coming over to make me lunch ("Shall we have something Asian?" she said, and I said, "We can have WHATEVER YOU WANT."
My friend Karen who own that fabulous boutique (The Careful Peach) is brining over a pearl chandelier I admired in her store so I can have it hung in my bathroom. And she walkes Homer for me when Bill can't. AND cleeans up after him. Now, that's a friend.
My sister calls, my mom and dad call, my daughters call. I heard my grandson Matthew say "Hi," for the first time on the phone the other day and I started crying. Happy crying.
I've gotten wonderful letters from fans, all so unique. There's more. And that's why instead of saying "Ow," I should be giving thanks. And I am.
There may be errors in here--I apologize. The brain is a bit fuzzy and also I can't spend too long on the computer proofreading. But I wanted to check in and let you know what's happening here today, apart from the massive rainstorms that have flooded our basement. "Don't help; don't help!" Bill said, moving furnitiure and pulling up carpeting while I stood wringing my hands. I told him I wanted to help and he said, "Fine. Cook for me." So I will.
August 13, 2007
Okay, some progress, but not enough that I can type as much as I want or need to. But here's some exciting news to share: DREAM WHEN YOU'RE FEELING BLUE has an option for film. I'll be talking to my agent today and will fill you in as I learn details.
It's odd how goodness can be mixed in with trials. Because I can't work, I have felt for the first time in a long time that I am really IN summer. I take slow walks through my garden (those tomatoes are now nicknamed Arnold Schwarzenegger), I watch the birds come to the feeder, I watch the bees buzzing around the balm plant. I watch the girls across the street lie in the grass and talk on their cell phones, regretting the fact that they're no longer doing cartwheels across the lawn and going in and out of businesses at warp speed: weed-pulling, dog walking, homemade greeting card-making, lemonade stands. Now they are mindful of the boys in the neighborhood and of their own bodies. It's a new phase that this nosy neighbor will be interested in watching unfold. At least there's a younger sister who still skips--I saw her skipping up the sidewalk to her house only yesterday and it made me feel good to watch her.
I got up so early the other day the paper hadn't even come and I sat on the porch in the cool , still -dark morning to wait for it to thud onto the front steps. Very satisfying.
Bill has been great about helping out.. He's even cooking. He made a mango pudding that was so fantastic. He saw the recipe in the paper and just got right to it. I love to watch a 6'3" inch guy standing at the kitchen island, chopping away. Even better, he found that he liked it too.
You can see what he made under the recipe section.
Okay. Till next time. Eat some rhubarb crisp and wish on a star tonight.
August 8, 2007
Woe is I. Got a pinched nerve and have had to lay off typing because it hurts Can't really work, can't ride in a car, can't walk the dog, can't cook or clean house. (So, as you see, not all bad.) Can: read paperback books, taste how good the raspberries are, talk to my girlfriends on the phone, watch old movies (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest last night, American Graffiti tonight) sit on the porch and watch the people walk by. I expect to recover relatively soon. Really, I insist upon it. Until then. xoxox
Just back from St. Paul, Minnesota where I saw my parents and sister. Isn't it amazing how you see your parents at so many ages all at once? And that when you're home, you're a kid again, no matter your age? If either of my parents had yelled upstairs (where I'd gone to bed and was reading), "Turn out that light and go to sleep!" you can bet I would have. The only bad part of the trip was flying. Airports have become increasingly challenging for all of us. The secruity people sometimes seem to relish giving people a hard time--"Yes, your liquids are in a plastic bag, but it's not the right size plastic bag.".I'm going to open a kiosk that sells THE RIGHT SIZE plastic bags. And flights rarely take off on time. I really think we need movies out there, beauty parlors, rooms for book club meetings, nap rooms, circus acts. My flight was delayed (what a surprise!) so I ended up overeating and reading, overeating and reading. I should have organized a sing-along. An impromptu talent show. A call for all people traveling with pets to let them out and let us play with them.
I have pictures I'd love to post on this website, but I still haven't learned how. (Talk about challenges) But I promise, they're coming soon.
Today is so humid you feel you need assistance breathing. There's nothing for it but to do a little desk work and then go to the movies. Ice cream may figure into this day, too.
I have learned that DREAM WHEN YOU'RE FEELING BLUE is a finalist for the Great Lakes Booksellers Award, and I couldn't be more pleased.
July 24, 2007
I have always maintained that I must live somewhere where there are seasons. If you don't endure the howling winds of winter, how can you fully take in a pleasant summer day? This weekend, I sat out on my front porch reading CONSEQUENCES by Penelope Lively (really really really good, best book I've read in a long time) and enjoying the little breeze that came up every now and then and prevented it from being too hot. I ate one white chocolate truffle, then two, damn it. I watched people go by: joggers, women friends walking together, tourists who come here to look at the Frank Lloyd architecture in the neighborhood. I saw three little girls riding bikes and they were playing some kind of game where the lead rider was saying, "The King! The King!" and the other two were pedaling quickly behind her, one saying "He's coming! He's coming!" in an English accent whereupon the third little girl said, "Wait. Are you French?" It reminded me of summer days of my own, where everything you pretended was so real. I remember playing horse (well, stallion, if you must know, and you should bear in mind also that I wanted to be a priest not a nun and also every time my friend and I played house I got to be the man who slogged off to work every day with his lunchbox and that lunchbox of course is why I wanted to be the man)anyway I remember playing horse and I really felt as though I were one. And here I am, 57 years old and still pretending, every time I write a story, still loving it.
But I was talking about the seasons, and I just want to say that I have been so deeply appreciative of summer these last few days. Last night I went out onto my back deck to call the cat in and saw many, many fireflies in the garden, like traveling miniature Japanese lanterns. And I just stood stock still in my pajamas and watched. My VW beetle was parked in the driveway, and the little red security light was flashing on and off and a firefly kept circling around before it, in love, I thought, with that racy red firefly. I thought, why don't I just sleep out here? But if I slept, I wouldn't see the fireflies and besides, the mosquitoes were coming out.
Speaking of gratitude, my 7-months pregnant daughter Julie called yesterday. I get to have another grandchild! (Due date is 9/11, and if the baby is on time what a pleasure it will be to have a happy association to that sad, sad, date). I told Julie I wish she would move to the house for sale across the street. I wish I could make her do it, like when I used to make her clean up her room. Althought I hardly ever had to do that. She was a very tidy kid. Still is.I told her I'd watch her dog and babysit all the time if she moved there. I think I must come up with a more significant bribe, however.
I get to have dinner tonight with my other daughter, Jenny, who lives in Chicago and is thriving in her new job. We go to plays together all the time, we are both enraptured by theatre and music. And by FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS.
Okay, off to work. What a commute. Seven or eight steps from here to my office. After my long journey, I might need a white chocolate truffle when I get there.
July 12, 2007
Yesterday, I encountered a woman who briefly assisted me in doing some research for the last book. I had liked her instantly when I first met her, and liked her again when we spoke yesterday. She seems to be a very gentle, intelligent and markedly observant personality. I had forgotten her name, and I was too shy to ask her again what it was. And you know, that's the kind of thing you have to do right away in the conversation because the longer you wait....It was a Larry David moment, where I was chat-chat-chatting away but thinking What's your name? What's your name? What's your name? But anyway, as we spoke, I watched the expressions on her face, how her eyes were warm and kind and, how shall I say this....ready to be in on the joke. I thought, this is the kind of a woman I'd like to have for a friend. But we concluded our brief conversation, and she walked away, and that was that. I had a thought to say, "Hey, wait up. Want to be girlfriends?" But of course I didn't do that. I passed her when I left the building where we'd run into each other, we waved, and all the way home I thought, Why didn't I act on a good impulse? Why didn't I say, Um, would you like to meet for lunch sometime? Because I DIDN'T KNOW HER NAME, that's why. And I just couldn't ask. I felt like a weird person with her mismatched socks falling down into her shoes, peering around corners at the normal folks. If there is one thing I've learned in life, it's that we should take these chances. Well. Presumably, the woman lived through another day, as did I. And so I have resolved to (1) find out her name and (2) ask her, "Um, would you like to meet for lunch sometime?" I wish we could fast-forward friendships and get through the awkwardness. I always want to eliminate the part that feels like tight shoes and move immediately into sharing wildy intimate secrets. Sometimes I do. But I need a person's name first.
Plus. Not long ago I met another woman who just was a very cool spirit. Same thing. How do you do. Goodbye. And yet I KNEW we could be friends, because she had just gone through a painful divorce so she bought herself a motorcycle and learned how to ride it. AND she had a Portuguese water dog. Here is my challenge to you for the day: Act on a good impulse! Then report back to me. If it works out for you, maybe I'll unshy myself.
July 9, 2007
Today it's going to be ten thousand degrees, so what am I doing? Baking a birthday cake for my honey, Bill, who is 57 today, that's what. I really hoped he would request a scoop of lemon sorbet for his "cake," but nope, it's German Chocolate cake. (If it's good, I'll share the recipe under the recipe section.) I asked Bill how he felt about being 57 and he said, "I'm fine with it. I wouldn't change it." I said, "Hmm. I would. I'd go back to....25." Only I'm not sure I would. Each age has its own glories and trials. Bill got cigars and scotch for his birthday. I came into the kitchen this morning and began singing loudly, "Happy BIRTHday TO you," and he sang robustly along, changing "you" to "me," of course. This is a man with a healthy self-esteem and a great love of life that does not quit. Every morning it's like he's in first place at the Indy 500 for life appreciation. Sometimes I look over at him as he's quietly reading a novel and he's smiling. And it's not even a funny book, he's just happy. Where does he get that????
Tomorrow my daughter is 27. One of my her gifts is a money tree plant hung with silver charms, all of which reflect some aspect of her personality. I added a little blank book made of handmade paper in which she is meant to write one wish a day, the more outrageous the better. It seems like a good idea to make outrageous wishes. What would yours be?
I want to thank all of you who have written to me. Lately I've heard from people who lived through the war years, commenting on DREAM WHEN YOU'RE FEELING BLUE. I've gotten letters from people who are monitoring long distance the progress of my little tomato plants (big as a jumbo jaw-breaker now), letters from people sharing recipes and sharing, too, little parts of their lives. In a world growing ever more abstract and coldly technological, these letters are are wonderful counterpoint.
I've finished the last of the stories for the new book, out next May 1 and called THE DAY I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED. It's a sad story, called "Rain," that has haunted me for many days. I asked my friend Phyllis who is an exceptionally gifted --and HONEST--editor for her opinion. The first thing she said was, "This story is so full of longing." "Well," I said, "Yes. Welcome to my world. " Longing does seem to be a ever-present theme in my work. That and the need to have humor to balance the pathos. And speaking of work, here I go, dressed in pajamas, to my office. I'm telling you, I really think the world would be a better place if everyone worked in their jammies. Or perhaps costumes. Not creepy ones.
July 3, 2007
The other day, Bill and I were in Wisconsin, where I have a second home, and we were walking alongside a corn field, and I asked Bill what day it was. (Such an improvement over the times I ask what YEAR it is.) July 1st, he said. I stopped walking. "What?" I said. "What?! How can THAT be?" I think we need to apply to someone to make winter shorter and summer longer.
We went out to dinner that night and when I'd finished my quite delicious fish, I told Bill that I really really wanted a little bit of a dessert made with peaches and blueberries. So when the waitress came, I said, "Do you have a dessert made with peaches and blueberries?" "No," she said. See? This is why I write fiction. Then I get to make the waitress say, "Well, hon, of course we do. What kind of a restaurant would we be if we didn't have a dessert with peaches and blueberries in the summer? I'll bring you some right out."
I'm getting my hair cut today. Why oh why am I 58 years old and still afraid of my hairdresser? I make chit chat like I'm totally relaxed but beneath the plastic cape my hands are clenched and I'm watching those scissors like a hawk. And why? What am I going to say if it appears the cut is going all wrong? Nothing, that's what. And what does it matter in the grand scheme of things? When I think of bad haircuts, or potentially bad haircuts, I'm always reminded of a neighbor I had in San Francisco when I was 25 years old. She got a really bad haircut one day and she came to my apartment and she was practically howling she was crying so hard. Then she stopped crying and said, "Gosh. I'm so glad I'm already married!"
June 26, 2007
Okay, now the Greek oregano and rosemary are in the garden. That rosemary is WILD, I'll tell you, all long and reaching out in all directions. I was putting the plants in and the guy next door came across the yard and leaned over the fence and we talked for a while. I said, "It's hotter than hell out here," and he said, "Yeah, come on up on the roof with me!" He's repairing gutters up there. "Sure, I'll be there in a minute," I said, and we laughed. Then I came into my air-conditioned house where I put away the groceries I'd just bought, groceries of summer: red, yellow and green peppers, hummus and baba ganoosh, pineapple and cheese and sliced chicken breast and spinach and lettuce and a big bouquet of all white flowers for my study, where I should be working right now. But all I want to do is go outside and climb that tall, tall ladder in the heat and humidity and learn how to put up gutters and wear red suspenders and a white straw hat like Buddy is wearing. He knows how to fix/build/design EVERYTHING. I just so admire that. I told him we should have martinis on the porch come sundown and then I remembered that I'm having dinner with girlfriends tonight and he remembered he has to repair some kitchen cabinets for friends whose dogs ate off the corners. Another time, we agreed. Oh, but I am itching to climb that ladder and sweat hard like he is. What is summer for? I might go and buy a kiddie pool and then climb that ladder and get all hot and then invite Buddy into the kiddie pool for strawberry lemonade. Say, this would make a good story. Maybe I'll work for a while and then buy the kiddie pool. Or maybe I'll just stay in my air conditioned house and every now and then look out the window at Buddy on the ladder and sigh.
June 21, 2007
I finally got my tomatoes in yesterday. Two plants. And a basil plant and a green pepper plant. You would think I had created heaven and earth. I woke up this morning dying to go outside and see the plants, as though something spectacular might have happened overnight. I guess I think it's spectacular that there they are, alive and growing, and soon will produce something I can eat.
I used to have a friend who lived in a house he built with his own hands. He had a lot of land, and he had a lot of animals, and he had a magnificent garden. When the peas first came out, he used to write me a letter and I would drive from Boston to New Hampshire to visit him, so we could squat in the garden and eat those peas right off the vine. Sometimes his cocker spaniel would have had puppies, and after we ate peas, we could go and play with the puppies. Tell me how you might possibly have a better time than that.
I'm back at work, though I feel a bit like I'm sticking my toe into an ice cold swimming pool. It seems so long since I've been able to sit in my writing chair and dream on paper. That's because is HAS been a long time. But yesterday I wrote an essay, and today I'll begin one of the two more stories I want to add to the collection that will be the next book. But first, a look at those tomatoes.
June 14, 2007
Yesterday, my friend Phyllis called and said, "So I guess if I want to know what you're up to these days, I have to go to your website." I said, "That's right, girly girl." And she said that she wanted to know how the Oprah at Home Magazine photo shoot went, and that she thought people who went to this site would want to know, too. So I'll tell you: It was GREAT. When you get to be my age, you're pretty happy to have hair and make-up done for a photo, especially if the make-up artist is a friendly woman with an English accent who believes in a natural look. AND she loves dogs, so she took care of my Golden, Homer. She was like the dog whisperer: Homer was getting in the way of everything, so this woman said, "Homer, Mommy has to work now. She'll play with you later," and Homer went under the table and lay down! There was a photographer and her assistant, a stylist, and the make-up person. The stylist came bearing vegetables, flowers and vases, all of which I got to keep. I felt like Queen for a Day. And everyone worked very well together, no tension, just a nice time.
My friend Marianne called yesterday too and left a message from her brother's farm in Nebraska, where she is staying before she attends her high school's 40th reunion. Good grief. 40 years. She left her usual, wandering message (always so much fun to listen to her messages) and in the background was the sound of birds singing. She said she wished I was there. I wished I was too, except I need to be home for a while. Marianne lives in Mill Valley, California now, and sometimes I wish I did too so I could see her more often. She is the most generous person I know--gives 100%, 100% of the time. When I stay with her, she brings me coffee in bed. Can you imagine? We were nurses together when I lived in San Francisco in 1974. She has continued the ethic of caring for others first. I admire her so much. Plus she can do everything from make art quilts to fixing toilets. Whatta goil.
June 13, 2007
Learning how to manage my own website today, which is a challenge. I long for the days of the pony express. Stay tuned...... Okay. Here it is several minutes later. I THINK I know how to do this. So: It's a beautiful day, I'm so far behind in my work it's terrible. So what I'm going to do is this: edit one story. Go to a movie with my honey, Bill, who hardly ever has time for a movie. Eat out. Come home. Work on stories some more. I can't tell you how good it feels to be back writing. I've often said it's my drug of choice. Put most succinctly, writing for me is home.
June 1, 2007
Back on the road today. I'm going to Boston, where I'll have 24 hours of babysitting for my 15-month old grandson, Matthew, while his parents, my daughter Julie (31 years old) and her husband, Josh, go for an overnight to a college reunion. Matthew's walking now, and keeps his back so straight and has a kind of marching stride. My daughter Jenny (26 years old) said, "He walks like Borat." She's absolutely right!
I'm honored and nervous. I'm going to take the baby for a ride on the T, and we'll go out to lunch at Johnny's luncheonette. I'm going to stack blocks that he'll knock down. I'm going to read to him. His favorite seems to be "Daddy Loves Me." Also "War and Peace."
May 31, 2007
I've been on book tour for a long time now--since the end of April. Today I was home for a bit and I stood in my back yard and looked at a now-empty nest, where I'd seen a robin sit on her eggs-- then on her babies! Now the babies are gone. I wish I'd seen them take flight. There is something so thrilling about new life, whether it's your grandchild or a baby bird or the opening of blossoms on the lilac bush. I always think spring is my favorite season. But then summer comes. And then fall. As for winter, well....