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

Endings…Beginnings

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

On Friday, December 16, 2016, I retired out of my current job. Since I have been talking about it off and on for at least the past 18-24 months, I have to say that I wasn’t as shocked, as others in my workplace were. Let me set forth my rationale for pulling the hypothetical trigger on this move:  Egregious job dissatisfaction.

Therefore, I hit the Send key last Friday; I sent my letter of retirement to the appropriate personnel, following instructions from IU Bloomington’s HR personnel. Having never retired before, emotions bubbled to the surface, particularly the one akin to jumping off a cliff into an abyss. I dove in, but a strange thing happened: I surfaced in an instant! I felt buoyant, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders! I smiled non-stop throughout the rest of the workday. I felt serene.

Come what may, I have liberated myself from my perceived entrapment. My only regret is that I decided not to teach next semester, a course I dearly love, a history of English course. I need a breather, yet it will be odd: my life has been divided into teaching MW/TR blocks of time for years. Perhaps it will be again down the road.

I am eager to begin The Next Chapter of My Life. Already I feel reinvigorated. After all, I am not retiring from life, far from it. Ever since Friday night, for the first time in almost two years, I have been sleeping through the night. “All is calm/All is bright.”

Ciao for now.

 

The Snow Hath Cometh

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This morning we used our special snowman mugs filled with David’s 24 Days of Tea for December 11, Hot Chocolate, to celebrate the snowfall.-tangledpasta.net.

 By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

            If you say the title of this blog post fast enough, you nearly bite your tongue[th]. I realize the preceding sentence incorporates homonymy of the word ‘weather’, but ‘climactic conditions’ seemed pretentious for a snowy Sunday morn. This weekend, the meteorologist’s dire warnings proved true: As of last evening, we have had a steady snowfall. The sparkling, clean, white snow brightens up the dreary landscape. On Friday night, I powered through the grocery, and then picked up extra items early Saturday, purchased Christmas stamps at the Post Office, and then returned home to engage in online gift shopping.

I admit to being an avid subscriber of the New York Times Cooking, which appears in my e-mail three times a week. It includes ‘vintage’ recipes of James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Julia Child, Pierre Franey, and contemporary ones by Amanda Hesser, Julia Moskin, Sam Sifton, and Mark Bittman. I have hit Save on that page for so many recipes, I pray the page doesn’t crash! I also am fiendishly devoted to the Food Network’s Alton Brown’s Macaroni and Cheese recipe. Who knew a bay leaf and paprika could make such a delicious difference? Now, there’s a new kid on my cookbook block: The Barefoot Contessa’s Cooking for Jeffrey. Ina Garten’s Roasted Chicken with Lemons, and her Tuscan Roasted Potatoes offer a bit of heaven in every bite.

Admittedly, I am enamored with cooking. As a long-time foodie, I attribute this to growing up with a mother of Italian descent, who excelled in the culinary arts, along with her two sisters, equally accomplished, and an immigrant Italian father who served up delicious Italian food. Small wonder I honed my culinary skills. With today’s snow and cold, I have turned my attention to making a Julia Moskin recipe for chicken potpie. In lieu of a white sauce, she sauté sliced mushrooms and bacon in butter, adding floured, cut up chicken thighs, thyme, and other delectable ingredients, including chicken stock and Marsala wine. Carrots and minted peas are served on the side.

Thus, I embrace the frosty weather as I hunker down this December day, writing, and later cooking. This is my favorite way of spending a chilly, snowy day, a glass of vino included, with the dinner, naturally.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Spirited Constellations

Ponte Vecchio Bridge
Ponte Vecchio bridge across Arno River in the evening Florence Italy – One of my favorite places in la bella firenze! – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Several individuals have asked me how I manage to write, given that I work full-time. The answer I usually give is that I have no social life! This is only partially true, for I am neither hermit, nor social misfit by any means!

I derive great satisfaction out of writing. It provides a creative outlet of endless possibilities for me. After work, I may dine out with a friend about once every other week. Generally on the weekends, I may get together with friends for an evening. Somehow I manage to write around these gatherings. This weekend, for example, is devoted exclusively to writing. Friday after work, I filled up the gas tank at Costco, and then I stepped into the store itself ostensibly for one item, yet managed to emerge with fresh mozzarella, spicy avocado hummus, blueberries, mixed fresh fruit [mango, strawberries, melon], celery [to be stuffed with the hummus], pierogies –something I rarely eat [filled with kale, potato, and lemon], and cheese pizza. Noshing my way through Costco after work on Friday relaxes me, as did the glass of Pinot Grigio with a slice of pizza at home, which relaxed me further.

To write a novel demands uninterrupted time. I cannot focus with a barrage of e-mail, texts, phone calls, or the neighbor’s country music distracting my attention. I respond when I take a writing break. Figuring out characters, plots, dialogue, and the narrative itself require my full attention. When I know, or when I am able to spontaneously get together with friends, I plan my writing time around these events. This holds true for holidays, celebrations, and vacations [something I have not had in nearly two years].

The first book in the Spirited Constellations series came together fairly quickly – in about three months. A steady dose of winter blizzards helped enormously in this regard. I holed up at home and wrote and wrote and wrote over snow days from work, and on blessed weekends. Now I find myself longing for winters filled with inclement weather to keep me steady with writing. If I resided in Montana, I am sure I could write more than a book or two during those kinds of winters!

While I am writing the third book in the Spirited Constellations series, I have been developing another series quite different from my paranormal one. The first book in that series is completed, and the second one is nearly so. Another series is swirling around in my head, yet I have not put pen to paper. But I will soon enough. And then there is that memoir I in the works, too.

Throughout my life I have been comfortable working solo; I don’t require an entourage around me. I do not need to map out my week with social appointments. When I get together with friends, it means more because those moments are rare. Writing is a solitary activity, one that I embrace.

Ciao for now.

 

 

The IU Writers’ Conference

The second edition of my  first book, Spirited Constellations, will be published this week, as will my second book, Spirited Constellations: Travels. -tangledpasta.net
The second edition of my first book, Spirited Constellations, will be published this week, as will my second book in the series,  Spirited Constellations: Travels. -tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I’m back. Valentino the black cat is once again putting on a full Broadway production to hurry me into serving him his Fancy Feast Primavera breakfast. Chanel, the black and white cat, seconds his enthusiasm. I don’t mind returning to my cats; they’re cool. After nearly a week at the IU Writers’ Conference surrounded by writers and the accompanying intellectual stimuli, returning to the mundane dulls the brain, and I do not mean the cats.

At the Writers’ Conference, I struck up conversation well-published author Wesley Chu. He shared with me his satisfaction of writing full-time. His winning over 6,000 entrants in a British book contest, thereby landing him a book contract, made this possible. He did not relate this history to me in a superior sort of way; rather, he relayed it in a matter of fact manner. A prolific writer, he is living the dream most writers can only envision. I purchased one of his books, asking him for a suggestion about where to start reading in his author’s list. The book is very, very good.

I also spoke at length with another award-winning author, Salvatore Scibona. He and I spoke in Italian about food, recipes, and books, pretty much in that order. While he is not as prolific an author as Wesley Chu, Salvatore writes about one book on an average of every eight years. His invigorating class on language, mind, and words heightened my already orbiting awareness of the critical use of words in my writing.

However, unchartered territory awakened in me throughout Amelia Martens’ class on prose poetry, which sounded like a literary oxymoron. She led us to explore prose poetry’s “resilient, subversive fluidity.” The more prose poetry we read, including hers, the more intrigued I became. Inspired, I began working on an epistle form of prose poetry that first day of the conference. By the time open reading night loomed large, after agonizing over revisions throughout the conference, I read my prose poem to the crowd at the Serendipity in Bloomington. I am generally unfazed by public performances, but by putting my new work in an arena in which I had never written previously, terrified me. Yet I plucked up my courage, took deep breaths, and jumped in the foray. Once in front of the audience, I summoned up my performance know how. Afterwards, Amelia urged me to keep writing prose poetry since I have a talent for it! Who would have thought it? Not I.

One of the most invigorating things about a writers’ conference is the synergy, the exploration new ways and means that revitalize the imagination. Surrounded by talented writers awakens creative muses within me. The art of writing satisfies a need in me, much like my vocal studies and performance did. I cannot imagine doing anything else. As I gaze down the time tunnel, I see light at its end, not death, but a full-time writing life in my imminent future with Valentino and Chanel in tow.

Ciao for now.

Songs My Mother Taught Me

Here's to my mother, a protean woman of  strength!-www.tangledpasta.net
Here’s to my mother, a protean woman of strength!-www.tangledpasta.net

 

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli 

On this sunny Mother’s Day, I think of how much I miss my mother. She died in June 2002, yet not a day goes by that she is not somehow present in my thoughts. Had she had been one of those scary mothers one reads about in unnerving headlines, my memories would be troubling ones. However, she was a larger than life persona who imbued my character in valiant and courageous ways.

Her baptized name was Anna Catherine, but all who knew her called her by the childhood name her father bestowed upon her: Kitty. My parents had longed for children, but I did not arrive until they had been married for 13 years. Prior to my blessed birth, they delighted in their nieces and nephews, of which there were many since my mother had come from a family of nine children, and my father from a family of six. I remember relatives around me, lively and full of chatter. Dinners, though, were sacrosanct times with my parents, later with brother, and my maternal grandparents [my fraternal grandparents resided still in Italy].

What remains vivid in my mind is love, for my parents loved me dearly. They had waited so long for children, and when I was born, they were overjoyed, so the relatives and my parents told me. More than the homemade snacks that met me on the kitchen table as I came through the back door after school, more than her listening to the stories I penned, more than the travels we took together, more than the delicious home cooked meals, more than the Barbie doll clothes she stitched, more than the exquisite dolls cakes she made and decorated, more than the piano lessons from which she transported me to and fro, more than the pretty clothes she sewed for me, and more than the elegant formal gowns she created for me, my mother taught me the art of invention, the trajectory of reading for its own sake parlayed into writing. With wit and verve and boundless humor, my mother showed me a better way to cope with the travails and joys of life. Until I had my child, I do not think I fully realized the sheer magnitude of her greatness. She used to tell me, “I call them as I see them” and she was nobody’s fool, nor did she suffer them well. An intellectual, a kind and compassionate soul, a magnificent role model, a stylish woman, she was all of those, but most of all she was my Mama, my best friend, my confident, my role model my guide, and my mentor throughout this labyrinth of life.

The songs of life she taught me transcend even death. With love, I say, Happy Mother’s Day, Mama, in the celestial heaven, from your earthling dream-weaving daughter below!

Ciao for now.

Continuing Education

Even the serenity of a Lake Michigan beach inspires my continuing education - tangledpasta.net
Even the serenity of a Lake Michigan beach inspires my continuing education – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

My favorite professor when I was an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington was Susan Gubar. As an English major, I took as many literature courses as I could with her. My favorite of them was my Senior Seminar on The Brontes. I read everything, or nearly everything, Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Amy Bronte wrote. My only regret about the class was that I would be graduating; I wanted the course to go on and on, so intellectually provocative and rewarding was it. Throughout the years I have read most of Professor Gubar’s books, each unique, challenging, and fresh. Her literary criticism has taught me to think more spherically about literary works.

She continues to teach me now about matters of health. Her New York Times blog on its Well page takes readers through her enduring the highs and lows of ovarian cancer and experimental treatments. This morning I read her latest post dated September 17, 2015, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/09/17/living-with-cancer-teal-ribbons/.

“Living with Cancer: Teal Ribbons” informed me that September is Ovarian Cancer Month. I had no idea of this, for I have read nothing about it in the media, nor have I seen billboards commanding attention about such a vital awareness month. We are inundated with all sorts of Awareness Months, but not about Cancer-related ones. This begs the question, Why not? Perhaps because we do not wish to face the possibility of our own mortality, which cancer forces us to do.

Another of her blog posts that resonated with me was entitled “Living with Cancer: Alone and Ghosted” from August 6, 2015, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/06/living-with-cancer-alone-and-ghosted/.

In this post, she reveals the loneliness when her husband has to spend several weeks in a rehab facility recovering from knee surgery. Her husband was the one who takes her to myriad appointments, primarily medical ones. With his absence, she realizes too how friends have vanished as her cancer of some years still has increased her dependency on others. In reading this blog post, I was reminded of how, when I was married, it was like being in a club, The Married Club; however, when I was separated and later divorced, those who had welcomed us as a couple, then deserted me as a single woman. Did other married women find me a threat, even though I was not covetous of their spouses? Professor Gubar’s sense of isolation and dependency reminded me of my own vulnerability at one of the lowest points of my life. Of course, her ovarian cancer trials and tribulations are much different from my married and unmarried state, but the sense of isolation is a reality I understand.

Ovarian cancer has not dampened the voice of my dear Professor Gubar, though it challenges her no end. She remains an indomitable force through her Well blog writing. I am grateful to have her continue to educate me throughout these many years.

Ciao for now.