The Rules of Magic

October 9, 2017 Musings

Remember driving to your favorite bookstore and arriving at midnight? All the little Hermiones with wands, and Harrys with lightening shaped scars, up past their bedtimes, giddy with excitement as we bought the latest Harry Potter release?

I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to my daughter but then she matured and slipped away to read subsequent books in the privacy of her room.

“Be quick about it,” I would say, secretly yearning for the days when we’d snuggle into bed and read together. “I’ve been waiting all year for this.”

I’ve been waiting for Alice Hoffman’s new novel, The Rules of Magic since turning the final page of Practical Magic back in 1995. Every now and then I pick up my copy of Practical Magic and re-read evocative, exquisite passages:

Gillian’s favorite thing in the world to do was lie on the velvet-cushioned window seat, up on the landing, where the drapes were made of damask and a portrait of Maria Owens, who had built the house so long ago, collected dust in a corner. That’s where she could be found on summer afternoons, so relaxed and languid that moths would land on her, mistaking her for a cushion, and proceed to make tiny holes in her T-shirts and jeans.

Oh, dear. Now that I’ve begun I might just transcribe the entire book…anyway, I’ve been longing to revisit the Owens women.

Contemplating the release of Rules of Magic brought back memories of every Harry Potter release. Why not celebrate one of my favorite books prior to its prequel’s release?

So I donned my witchiest regalia and set off at midnight for one of Savannah’s finest bookstores, E. Shaver, Booksellers. People were out, and because it’s Savannah, no one gave me a second glance.

As you can see, I brought my cauldron and broom.

And worked a few spells.

But the best I could conjure was that E. Shaver, Booksellers is holding a copy for me.

So I will be out front when they open tomorrow, October 10th, the official release date. Afterwards, I will retire to my velvet cushioned window seat, with my treasured copy of Rules of Magic, so relaxed and languid that moths might land on me.

 

“I want to live in a book” — Ann Hood

September 11, 2017 Musings

I shook raindrops from my umbrella on the steps of Historic Trinity United Methodist Church. I was there for the 7th Ursrey Memorial Lecture:  An  Evening With Ann Hood. One of our frequent Southern summer thunder storms had blown in and we were wondering whether it would keep people from coming downtown to attend the event presented by the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home.

A substantial crowd defied the weather, bought books, and lined the pews. I’m a new Ann Hood reader, and an enthusiastic one. After favorite author Alice Hoffman recommended Ann’s anthology Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting, I read it. The essays of writers driven to cast-on compelled me to upload The Knitting Circle to my Kindle. The novel addresses loss, grief, love, and the human condition against the backdrop of a group of knitters. As in life, each character has their own sorrow.

Ann Hood’s writing touched me. I was reading her when friend and fellow writer, Beverly Willett, texted that Ann was coming to Savannah. I embrace these synchronistic gifts.

Sara (L) Beverly (R)

Ann’s presentation transfixed us and thunder and lightening were forgotten.

Brimming with life, smart, funny, and barely contained behind the pulpit, Ann Hood explained, “I write a story so I could understand the world where I lived.”

Her love affair with books, which she writes about in her latest book, Morningstar: Growing Up with Books, often mirrors my own. I was eight when I read my mother’s copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

Ann explained that from the first page, the four sister’s personalities were revealed, and that if you wanted to be a writer (and I did) you were Jo. True, but for the sake of full disclosure, I secretly feared I was Amy.

These childhood loves and influences run deep. My main character in All Things Unusual is called Lulu but her given name is Louisa May.

I, too, like Ann, read Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk. When I cleaned out my parent’s and brother’s home after their deaths, I searched their bookshelves and was crushed to discover that somewhere along their journey it must have disappeared at a yard sale.

These are Ann Hood’s latest books and they’ve moved to my nightstand.

Beverly Willett gave Ann a beautiful introduction and blogged about it here.

 

 

*With apologies to author Chris Kraus and the entire Chabon family

August 27, 2017 Musings

 

I turned the page of Michael Chabon’s Moonglow.

“Listen to this beautifully evocative sentence,” I say to Frank. I have read it to myself at least five times employing a slightly different French accent each time.

“You should read this,” I say. “You’d like it. Parts of it would remind you of your father.”

Frank says something that I take to be affirmative, yet when I later think back on the conversation, I cannot remember him actually speaking.

While I finish Moonglow I lend my copy of Wonder Boys to Frank.

“Has he always been such a handsome fellow?” Frank asks. I glance at the photograph he studies of Michael on the cover of Wonder Boys.

“Yes, only now he’s turning gray.”

I tell Frank about the time I saw Michael at Book Passage. “He looked just like that,” I say, nodding at the photo. “For a brief moment, our eyes may have met. I think we made a connection.”

That night, Frank and I cannot sleep. We stay up for hours discussing this possible connection and what it might mean. I also tell him that once I saw Michael’s wife, Ayelet Waldman, at Book Passage. Her presence left me ambivalent.

For two months, Frank takes Wonder Boys into my parlor to read. He never gets past page seven and often must start from the beginning because he’s forgotten what he’s read.

I have long since finished Moonglow and remind him he must read it. He brings Wonder Boys on our trip to Maine where we stay in a depressingly picturesque cottage overlooking a cove that evokes halcyon days of summer camp and childhood.

As Frank grills bluefish and imitates owl calls, I scroll through my Instagram account. I have been following Michael for months and now I see that he and the Chabon family are ensconced just down the road from us. Google maps posts the location of where Michael took the photograph I am admiring. His captions are wry and witty. Depending on my mood I either enjoy them or feel an existential loneliness that cannot be evaded.

The next day Frank and I sit at the end of the dock below our cottage drinking wine. He gazes at the sun vanishing over the water. I obsessively scroll through hours of Instagram posts of sunsets and lakes.

“Look!” I say. “The Chabon family is eating at Bagaduce,” the James Beard award winning restaurant situated just around the curve in the cove from us. It is so close we can hear the high school girl calling out takeout numbers from where we sit.

“Calling Michael Chabon! Pick-up! Have you considered editing page 117?” Frank, an editor, repeats this several times, growing louder and more amused with himself after each incantation.

I can only imagine Ayelet Waldman’s consternation; it seems to float across the water to us and I mention it, hoping Frank will subside. While he shouts it out yet again I craft an apology to Ayelet.

Dear Ayelet:

There really is no excuse for our boorish behavior. Well, perhaps it was that fourth glass of pinot noir.

I eye the bottle, stashed between our Adirondack chairs and realize I have not written a satisfactory apology. But as I am ambivalent toward Ayelet, so am I ambivalent toward the apology.

“Apologies are for the bourgeoisie,” I announce, although the feeling that we have overstepped a boundary lingers throughout the evening. We talk about it for hours until falling asleep on the cottage floor amid bottles of pinot noir and pages of unsent letters. I wake up with one of those letters stuck to my face.

We set our confusing relationship with Michael aside as we meander through Blue Hill Books, an independent bookstore in Blue Hill, Maine.

While Frank studies the shelves I search for Michael’s section. Then a poster advertising a Richard Russo reading taking place that night catches my eye. We have no intention of actually attending the reading but as we drive away I speculate as to whether Pulitzer Prize winning novelists hang out together and pretend to like one another. Perhaps Michael will drop by the reading. As we approach Searsport we imagine possible conversations between Michael and Richard Russo.

Frank says,

Tell me Michael, have you ever considered re-visiting Wonder Boys and editing it?

Pretending to be Michael, I say,

I’ve heard other people have read Empire Falls.

The next day Michael posts a photograph of Queen Anne’s Lace on Instagram. I take it as a special sign meant for me, as I have always been partial to roadside weeds. Perhaps communicating via Instagram is the way to go.

I spend hours scrolling through my photographs but since he does not follow me, ultimately it seems pointless and, I abandon this course.

As we eat our fifth lobster roll in as many days, Frank shouts, “Michael Chabon, page 16, paragraph 3! Michael Chabon, page 16, paragraph 3! Words we don’t know!”

Then we enter into our lengthiest conversation with Michael to-date. It hinges around the idea of Google Maps and actually running into him. And if we do, should I approach him for a photograph? This is a topic with artistic ramifications that must be explored in-depth – and so we do – for several days. As I am setting the table and Frank is grilling, I come across a folded piece of paper tucked between pages 8 and 9 of Wonder Boys. I read:

Dear Ayelet:

Has Michael ever considered revisiting Wonder Boys?

Fondly,

Frank

P.S. I am curious; how do you feel about our relationship with Michael?

His post script is brilliant and I am surprised it has not occurred to me. As I carry a tray and bottle of wine out to the grill my feet have barely touched the grass before I begin discussing whether Ayelet should be included in our photograph. This is an important artistic construct with issues that cannot be overlooked. At times I am all for asking her to join us. Then again, perhaps Frank could distract her while I get my photograph with Michael.

Ultimately, ennui sets in and I remain ambivalent.

 

*This post has been edited down from 98,000 words.

…and if you’re interested in the real thing, here’s my favorite article on I Love Dick becoming a television series, written by Chloe Schildhause.

 

Knitting Faerie Tales with Alice and Lisa Hoffman

August 20, 2017 Musings

 

The Queen surveyed the castle. Once filled with voices and love, rooms and hallways were now silent and empty. The desk that had always invited her no longer beckoned, and when she sat there she noticed thick, thorny vines covered the windows, blocking the sun.

Each day she practiced yoga, but one day, she stepped off her yoga mat to gaze into a magic mirror:

“I need to heal,” she said.

There was no lead-up to the declaration; it seemed to come from nowhere. People of the kingdom understood it as part of the natural course of grieving but the Queen took it as an epiphany. Yet when she invoked those words she had no idea what healing might entail. The mirror did not respond, yet it worked in mysterious ways and since that day, seemingly random experiences began happening, each one bringing unexpected gifts:

During meditation the Queen felt gratitude for her life and for the years she had shared with those who had gone before her. For a time, her busy, unhappy mind quieted.

A Chinese healer took her pulse and vowed to help unlock the Queen’s constricted heart and this brought her a newfound measure of peace, solace, and hope.

These unforeseen revelations made the Queen long to escape the dark, lonely castle, but thorns blocked her exit.

I did not question the decision to purchase airline tickets to travel to East Nassau, New York for the Ethelridge Road Knitting Salon 2017 Summer Retreat. It seemed reasonable, and seeing author Alice Hoffman’s name — A Knitting and Literary Journey with Lisa Hoffman and Alice Hoffman — clinched it. It was a spontaneous act but I figured it was one aspect of opening my heart. One adventure within my healing Odyssey.

Of course, there was that little part about not knowing how to knit. Then again, I’m not Odysseus and there was no Cyclops. How hard could knitting be?

The night before the retreat my eyes were fatigued yet I nervously made a slip-knot and practiced casting-on. What if I had not learned enough since registering for the retreat? What if attending was a mistake? My insecurities had caught up with me. Still, when I had unexpectedly run into Laurie Kimmelstiel, and Alice and Lisa Hoffman, they had welcomed me in a warm, open, grounded kind of way. Common sense won out over insecurities.

Both days of the retreat were marked by sunny, blue skies.  Warm summer days meant to be spent outside.  And so we did. 

Without question, my favorite part of the retreat was sitting on the porch listening to Alice Hoffman read to us from her soon to be released prequel to Practical Magic, entitled, The Rules of Magic. The spell her words cast made me long to hear more.

Alice also spoke of faerie tales and read one she had written. Then she encouraged us to write one. Lisa Hoffman showed us beautiful knit pieces she had designed to coincide with the faerie tales Alice wrote. They’re turning the knit designs and faerie tales into an enchanting book to be published by Simon and Schuster in the Fall of 2018.

Alice mentioned that sometimes the obstacle found within the faerie tale is overcome, sometimes not. I recalled the tales of my childhood, and although there were magical elements, there was often also an underlying sorrow. I was in the right place.

Becoming entranced by Alice Hoffman’s writing is nothing new. What was surprising? How thoroughly I enjoyed the knitting! Although I had already discovered the pleasure of knitting, Lisa Hoffman’s design for the blue heron shawl was way beyond my beginner’s skill level. It didn’t matter. The other attendees were generous, accepting, patient and kind. Every time I messed up on a yarn-over Louise or Mary helped me correct it.  As did Lisa, who encouraged and helped me correct mistakes with a matter-of-fact, patient, approach. Her lovely pattern slowly began to make sense to me.

The best part of knitting above my skill level was learning new things, surrounded by women who had traveled the path before me and succeeded at mastering the skills. If I kept at it, I could improve. I was grateful to be in the company of good women who intuitively understood what it meant to have open hearts that accept newcomers into their fold. I had seen it back in Savannah at The Frayed Knot and now I was experiencing it at the Ethelridge Road Knitting Salon.

One day, as the Queen gazed from the tallest turret, she saw that thorns had not yet covered its stones. As she descended the winding staircase she discovered skeins of yarn; 50% alpaca, 30% merino wool, and 20% silk. She could not resist their lofty touch! Through dark nights and long days she knitted a sparkling golden net with knit and purl stitches fine and strong. With each stitch, a feeling of peacefulness settled over her. When the net was complete, by the light of a full moon, she threw it over the tallest turret and used it to escape.

Filled with hope, she traveled the kingdom until she found a room filled with women, quietly knitting and murmuring encouraging words. They were not unlike her, and she sat between two of them, and pulled out her needles.

There are no magic elixirs for grief and healing is a process unique to each of us. But a key had turned in the lock and the Queen felt her heart expand more than a little. For there was potent enchantment in a room full of knitters and the Queen had scaled walls covered with thorns to find it.

 

End of the Road with Writer Alice Hoffman

August 2, 2017 Musings

It’s Saturday and I have just traveled to East Nassau, NY through lush green rolling hills teeming with deer, woods, lakes and ponds. Queen Anne’s Lace embellishes the edges of two-lane roads. I’m experiencing that free, stepped outside my day-to-day life, good to be alive, wonder what it must be like to live here, feeling as I navigate beneath perfect blue skies.

I’m registered to attend The Ethelridge Road Knitting Salon 2017 Summer Retreat.  It’s billed as a knitting and literary journey with cousins Lisa and Alice Hoffman. Compulsive punctuality compels me to locate the knitting salon prior to checking into an inn for the night.

I’ve been using GPS since leaving Albany Airport and so far there’ve been no wrong turns.

And yet, I’ve reached those Private Property signs and this unpaved road. I’ve passed the Keep Out signs, but they are clearly posted, too. I begin questioning the GPS. What if I drive down that gravel road only to discover a Ted Nugent devotee with a personal cache of rifles and rocket launchers?

On the other hand, I’ve traveled all the way from Savannah, GA to attend the retreat with Great American Novelist Alice Hoffman. If you read my last post you know I took up knitting for that sole purpose.

Rifles and rocket launchers be damned! I know how to cast-on, knit and purl. Don’t mess with me.

I start down the road. It turns into a path with two tracks for tires. There is no turning back. No, that’s not an overused metaphor. Literally, there is no turning back. The narrow path is hemmed-in by trees and a drop on both sides. I can only drive the tiny KIA rental car forward. My anxiety grows; I’m here for the knitting/writing retreat  won’t hold sway with a certain type and I begin rehearsing, I’m here to join the militia.

Suddenly there’s a clearing and a big, black dog with a gray muzzle comes running up to chase my car. Her tail is wagging and she seems playful. Up ahead there’s a well-tended house and a small knot of people. I exhale. There’s no sign of rifles but I’m not sure this is a knitting salon, either. I roll down my window.

A woman walks over, introduces herself, smiles, and reassures me she would have come looking for the salon, too. She’s Laurie Kimmelstiel, owner of the Ethelridge Road Knitting Salon.

And then, a woman with clear, arresting eyes whose face I’ve contemplated on book covers that barely contain the magic within their pages, leans in, and says, “Hello, I’m Alice Hoffman,” and shakes my hand.

And so it begins.