For Maureen

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

            I still cannot believe we will never have our two-hour phone conversations, or laugh and enjoy ourselves with her parents, my aunt and uncle, over delicious entrees at Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano. It had become our custom to get together days after Christmas, to continue our holiday cheer with our families.

            Maureen and I were first cousins. Her father was the youngest in a family of nine; my mother was the third eldest in that same family. My mother loved all of her brothers and sisters; we visited back and forth with eight of her siblings often, even when Maureen’s family moved to Germany with the Army for some years. Her father was a radiologist, and the military had funded his medical schooling at Indiana University. After his military medical service was up, he moved his family to Fort Wayne, about 75 miles from his hometown. The close proximity meant our families interacted frequently, especially when my grandparents were still alive.

            Some of my fondest recollections are of Maureen and me riding her horse up and down the hills of her family’s subdivision. To say the lovely horse left hoof prints up and down the grassy knolls of neighbors’ well-manicured lawns would be an understatement. While there was hell to pay later, Maureen and I whooped it up riding all over the forest-like area as we encouraged the horse to go faster. We screamed and laughed and felt as carefree as could be. Free from the yolk of adults, we were masters of our hours of freedom with the horse! The horse had too good a nature to throw us off, but I am sure he neighed sighs of relief when we returned him to the barn, brushed him down, fed him, and gave him cool water to drink, and left the stable.

            Aside from our questionable equestrian fun, Maureen and I shared a love of classical music. Her mother sang beautifully, so Maureen’s musical gifts were easy to track. In fact, her brothers and sisters were equally gifted in music, languages, humor, and all round good times. I loved the energy in their family home, the laughter, and the food; especially that Italian torte a patient of my uncle’s gifted them each year!

            I shall miss my conversations with Maureen about films, books, food, and art. She urged me to get back in saddle, so to speak, and finish writing my novels, to pursue my online business plan, and to get back to the Catholic Church. She was aware of my on again, off again relationship with Catholicism. Knowing how much she treasured her own renewed relationship with God and with Catholicism, I’m working my way back to it again. I swear she is still nudging me along, like the cheerleader she always has been for me. I take heart in knowing she loved my cheering her on with her eclectic paintings and writing gifts. 

            Perhaps Maureen isn’t that far away after all. Every time I think of her, I smile and feel better about life in general. We both despaired of the tragedy of the Syrian people, and of those detained at the Mexican border. We cried out for humanity to step up and overcome xenophobia and racism. Maureen and I both prayed hard for justice for the oppressed. We wanted to believe our prayers didn’t fall upon deaf ears.

            I will keep on praying and continue to offer up prayers for Maureen’s peace and that of my aunt, uncle, and cousins’. It’s the least I can do to carry on Maureen’s legacy of goodness and kindness and joy. My love for Maureen and those she left behind is boundless.

            Ciao for now.

            Mary Anna

Vonnegut in Indianapolis

 

This dice mug reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut's artwork. - tangledpasta.net
This dice mug reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s artwork. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Last week I traveled to the Indianapolis area. It felt liberating to spend time with family Monday through Friday during a non-holiday time. My dear sister-in-law and I zipped around having fine adventures. One place I had longed to visit was the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library in downtown Indianapolis. The Mayor of Indianapolis declared 2017 the Year of Vonnegut, in Vonnegut’s hometown. Each month events related to the writer and artist take place in various venues across town: http://www.vonnegutlibrary.org/year-of-vonnegut/.

We set out on Tuesday morning with high expectations, all of which were met.It is a wonderful museum, full of light to cheer visitors, and with a knowledgeable tour guide full of Vonnegut lore. We learned several facts about the Vonnegut family, too: Grandfather Bernard Vonnegut was an architect who designed several prominent buildings in Indianapolis: The Athenaeum, The Fletcher Trust, and the Indiana Memorial Union [IMU] on the campus of Indiana University [IU] Bloomington. I spent a lot of years on the IU Bloomington campus, unaware of Kurt Vonnegut’s family connection to the IMU. Kurt was a prisoner of war [POW] during World War II, held captive in Dresden, Germany during the bombing of Dresden. He survived by hiding in a meat locker in the slaughterhouse where he was held prisoner. When Kurt returned to the United States still a soldier, he went to his family home, on leave for Mother’s Day in 1944. He soon learned his mother had committed suicide the night before.

First editions of Vonnegut’s work such as Slaughterhouse-Five, based on his POW experiences in Dresden, Breakfast of Champions, and my personal favorite, Cat’s Cradle, are housed in the museum. Other works abound in the museum such as an impressive online resource of all Vonnegut’s work, created several years ago by a group of Ball State University students under the aegis of their professor. So It Goes is the annual Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. The typewriter on which Vonnegut wrote his books, plays, and poems is one of the more intriguing holdings; he never did compose his work on a computer. Equally enthralling were his original works of art on the museum’s walls. Two tickets also on display were to a speech he was to have given at Butler University several weeks after his 2007 death. While I had seen some of Vonnegut’s art, as well as letters of rejection at the IU Lilly Library on the Bloomington campus, the museum in Indianapolis proved a further treasure trove of Vonnegut’s work, of his family, and of the wonder that was Kurt Vonnegut. His messages of tolerance, acceptance, and peace ring true today.

Ciao for now.

A Clean Start

 

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The shores of Lake Michigan in winter, in Long Beach, IN stretch before me with endless possibilities ahead. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

While many made New Year’s resolutions to get their living space in tidy order, I labored to clear out my office. The one I vacated provided ample space and multiple bookshelves to hold my linguistic, literature, composition, and Montessori books. A large window overlooked a limestone building of little architectural interest, and took up most of the scenery. However, to the right, if I stood up, a partial view of trees could be seen. In business, the corner office is usually the coveted one, and that is the office I had up until last Friday. Lest one thinks I’m nostalgic for that space, rest assured, I am not, for at home I have several cozy areas where I write. I have had nice visits with colleagues ever since I gave notice of my leaving, and I enjoyed each and every one of them. Last Friday I sat down with a colleague whom I met 25+ years ago. We share a sense of history of the campus that few others do. Yet there are others I will remain in relatively close contact because of friendship.

I turned over the last of the keys to the office door, left the filing cabinet key and drawer keys in place. My friend and I hugged again, and then I left the building. Bidding adieu to her and others proved melancholy, even as I kept my eyes riveted on the future. The routine of these many years had embedded itself with a sort of comfort level during the best and the worst of times, which is a part of the landscape of a job. I’ve spoken about leaving a long time job for months with those who have either retired or resigned. Most informed me, “When it’s time to go, you’ll know.” Indeed, their sage counsel reverberated in my ears. My decision involved no drama. Instead, retiring simply felt right so that I could embark upon the next phase of my life.

As the New Year beckons me, I now lack excuses for not ridding my closets and drawers of clothing, papers, and miscellaneous pieces of the past. The time de-clutter my living space is now. The moment to reinvent my life invigorates me. My eyes are focused on the present. The possibilities of the future with writing seem boundless.

Ciao for now.

Restless

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

This weekend I had planned to hunker down and to read my new book before sending it off to the graphic artist. The book has been read for narrative structure and content by a journalist, read again by me applying the suggested corrections, and then turned over to a copy editor, whose ideas I incorporated into my book, and then I read it again. Today I had earmarked for another read-through.

Yet I find myself unable to focus. I have read comments regarding my blog post, Backlash, and I am trying to respond to those who commented on the various social media outlets. I thank you all, for as a writer laboring alone over her work, I often wonder if anyone cares. Over the past few days, the answer echoed a resounding “Yes”! I am grateful.

Last night on Saturday Night Live, affectionately called SNL, I listened to Kate McKinnon sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, and I watched Dave Chappelle’s monologue. The song that has reverberated in my head throughout the past week is David Bowie’s “Heroes”, a triumphant call to overcoming adversity. Bowie composed the song as he looked out from his recording studio at the Berlin Wall.

I Love Lucy, Leave It To Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, Father Knows Best, and Make Room For Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show (It changed names in 1961), to name a few, all constructed worlds where problems could be solved through family in a heart-warming manner. That’s what the Post-World War II and Korean War world wanted. After all, Americans had weathered the Stock Market Crash of 1929, The Great Depression of the 1930’s, followed by World War II in the 1940’s. People were exhausted, and their choice of television programs reflected the longed for tranquility. Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnez) in I Love Lucy. Desi Arnez was born and raised in Cuba. The character of Danny Thomas’ Uncle Tonoose (Hans Conried) in Make Room For Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show, was supposed to be Lebanese. In reality, Danny Thomas himself was Lebanese, not Hans Conried. I related to the language and cultural situations that arose throughout these programs due to the immigrants on both sides of my family.

During the Vietnam War, the Feminist Movement, and Civil Rights era, the 1970’s grew edgier, along with its television shows: MASH, Maude, All In The Family, and Sanford and Son, comedies tinged with pathos. Characters were vocal about their differences, and the humor could be biting in nature, but those reflected the zeitgeist of the times.

While I know full-well no candidate is perfect, and that, yes, there were missteps in Hillary Clinton’s campaign, I honestly thought voters would not cast their votes for a really big lying, pussy-grabbing lout, tax-avoiding sloth, xenophobic wretch, inarticulate bottom-feeder who even cheated students out of his failed university (for which he is soon to be prosecuted, unless he settles with the students for big bucks). Now his voters are demanding he save their jobs, note Carrier employees in Indianapolis, IN, and bring back companies that now are overseas. I wouldn’t count on his own tie company and his daughter’s clothing/shoe business returning Stateside anytime soon. How naïve can people be? Pretty damn naïve, I surmised.

Yes, I have been restless this week. I listened to California Senator-Elect Kamala Harris, who is both an African-American and an Indian-American. With her six years of experience as California’s Attorney General, she will be a force in the U.S. Senate. For now, I have sought comfort in her speech.

Ciao for now.

 

Type, Inc.

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How I wish I had my mother’s typewriter, like the one in the photograph.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Today would have been my mother’s birthday, if she were still alive. She died suddenly in 2002. It was downright lousy losing my mother in every way. Not only was hers a brilliant mind that sparkled, but her heart was full of love for her children and husband. My mother excelled at Bridge; she was a competitive card player. A voracious reader, she instilled in us a love of books from birth on. The woman was also a culinary goddess. She could make the best food, mostly Italian, but she also appreciated and tried cooking other cuisines.  A woman of eclectic tastes and interests, she dressed classy. She always told me when it came to make up and to jewelry that less was more.

Another area in which my mother excelled was that of typing. A trained bookkeeper, my mother worked for years at Remington Rand. One of her most prized possessions was her typewriter. It was in a large sturdy case all its own. I can still see the dark green typewriter keys in contrast with its gray body. Since my father owned his own business, Mama was the bookkeeper. She helped him compose business letters, send out correspondence of various kinds, and keep the shoe shop’s books. An avid collector of recipes from her sisters, outstanding cooks in their own right, both of them, the three of them mailed typewritten recipes back and forth for years. When I had to give a speech or a presentation in class, which was often because my Catholic parochial school had us stand up often to orate. Mama often typed up my handwritten work, for I had not yet learned how to type. She hovered over me whenever I hauled it out and attempted to type, for fear I might harm her typewriter.

In my first year of Catholic high school, my mother was adamant that I take a typing class.

“No way! I’m in the College Prep track and typing isn’t included. Typing is in the General Education track!” I protested.

“Don’t be such a snob. By learning a practical skill, you will be the one in college typing other students’ papers and charging them for the service. You will be able to type your own papers and never have to rely on anyone to do it for you,” she informed me.

Her order paid off for me, literally. I made money by typing papers for my fellow college students, slogging through their wretched handwriting to make sense of what they attempted to convey.

Whenever I watch the Nora Ephron movie, “You’ve Got Mail”, I think of my mother.  In that movie the character of Frank, played by Greg Kinnear, is a journalist who passionately collects typewriters.  My mother understood that character, although she herself never wanted an electric typewriter.

Over the years, my brother offered to buy Mama a computer. She thanked him kindly, but refused his offer. Her trusty typewriter suited her well enough, she told him. After our father’s death four years later, we had to dismantle our family home. The typewriter stood in the closet where she had left it. I kept staring at it, thinking I should take it. But I was heartbroken over the deaths of my parents. The typewriter stood in mute testament to all I had lost, making me cry all over again.

Now, 14 years down the road, I wish I had that typewriter of hers. I would give it a place of honor in my house, a shrine of sorts to my darling mother, a wise and loving woman who had won a State Typing contest that landed her a job in Washington, D.C. with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That, however, is another story to be told.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

Compositions in Winter

I love reading books and I love writing them. - tangledpasta.net
I love reading books and I love writing them. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

A kind friend made reference the other day to my lack of blog postings lately. When I shared the reason with her, she understood, but gently chided me about the need to post on my blog site. Taking her well-meant comment to heart, I will now share the reason for the paucity of blog postings lately:  Since early December I have been at work on writing a second novel.

What happened to the first novel? You may ask and I will tell you:  I’m still re-tooling that one.  In mid-November I was talking with my daughter and with a friend about a true episode in my life.  They were howling with laughter over it, well our friend was; my daughter was rather jarred by the story. Nonetheless, for days after our weekend talk fest, I could not shake the episode from my mind. Around the first of December, I sat down at my Mac and began by penning the outline of what would become a novel.  While I have deviated from aspects of the original outline, the basic story structure has remained essentially the same.

I work full-time.  After work I usually come home, feed Fellini and Coco Chanel, change into comfy clothes, and write.  On the weekends, I wedge myself out of the house to replenish groceries from Whole Foods [a most relaxing, uplifting environment with terrific samples of yummies], return home and write.  I am unable to shake this novel from my head.  It stays with me night and day.  While at work, I am focused on work, on my teaching, on making sure I do right by my students, of course, but in-between times, my book never stops swirling in my mind. It was the same as I wrote and re-wrote the first novel yet to be published.

What I have learned from my hundreds and hundreds of pages of written narrative is that when the writing muse beckons, I answer.  Those four snow days we had in January when the university shut down, I embraced them.  It was nothing short of luxurious to have that uninterrupted time to write and grapple with dialogue, characters, plot, and all the marvelous dimensions of writing that one does primarily for oneself because no book is a sure bet. Another writing opportunity arose in regard to Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary, which I found too good to pass up.  I penned an essay, re-worked it, submitted it, and just finished the edits on it for the editor. That too was a labor of love, for I adore Shakespeare and I am grateful for the opportunity to share my essay.

This has, in short, been the winter not of discontent, although this Midwest winter could certainly qualify as such, rather it has been the winter of inspiration and golden writing opportunities that I am compelled to seize and act upon, and I do so happily.

And so I charge you readers to stay warm, be of good health, and know that I shall post regularly henceforth.

Ciao for now.