February 23, 2010

Update on Blog-to-Be-Book

Dear Readers,

I have completed the final edit of Sex After Sixty and sent the manuscript to Kelly Abbott of 3ones, Inc. on Valentine’s Day—Yes, I am an incurable romantic. I want to let you, my readers, who have been a sea of belief for me, know what I have done to my memoir.

I re-read and edited from the beginning, what has been a journey of discovery, to ensure that the memoir reads as one organic whole. In essence, I rewrote the memoir and revised and added a brief new ending that closes with one last sentence—not here on the blog—that for me “says it all.” More photos will appear in the e-book, including two by the professional photographer Andy Duback and that appear with his permission. These changes will be in the book.

If you have been reading all along, I guess you could say I lifted the curtain of creation by writing a memoir “live.” You watched me live this story, uncover it in pieces and often in fear. But the story has come to a place where it has a narrative arc. The blog itself was not and at this moment even with much re-ordering, does not operate with that kind of narrative control that a writer eventually imposes on any story she tells. That has been my task since the last post, “Lost and Found.”

I am not going to go back and change the blog. It stands for now in its imperfection as the history of how this book came to be.

Once the book is ready, I will let you know. And I will update you here on related events, including interviews that are in the works.

In debt to all who have come here and may come, if I am lucky, as time goes by,


February 03, 2010

Update and News! Sex After Sixty will be a book!

Dear Readers,

I have news and you to thank for it! Sex After Sixty has been discovered by the e-book publisher 3ones. Kelly Abbott, 3ones CEO, says (honestly, I hope I’m not dreaming and as all of you know, I am prone to dreaming while awake.):

“Mary has written a memoir of the highest quality. Her experiences and the way she brings them to us remind us why we bother to read in the first place: empathy is better than callousness, trust more rewarding than cynicism, adventure food for the soul. We are proud to publish Mary’s book and can only hope to find other adventurous, trusting and empathetic souls to bring into the 3ones family.”

I am still editing the memoir that I am living but "Lost and Found" is the end of the book. That won’t stop me from blogging: I am so attached to you who have been on this difficult journey of discovery with me. It is you, dear readers, who made the book happen. It is you, dear readers, whom I hold in my heart.

I will write a formal acknowledgment page and do that soon, but for now, I want you to know that this blog—soon-to-be-book! Thank you, Kelly Abbott—would never have happened if, oddly enough, D. had not left me and sent me on my journey.

Sex After Sixty would never have happened if Sarah Hammerschlag, my daughter, the philosopher and professor at Williams College, whose book The Figural Jew will be published by University of Chicago Press in May 2010 (hurray! And it is brilliant.) and her husband, the philosopher and professor at University of Chicago, Ryan Coyne, had not suggested that I write about my journey while I lived it. They said, “Blog,” while I wept, and I did. They wrote the first line of the blog: The title! I am in their debt forevermore for this, but more, indeed, for their incomparable love.

I thank my son Ben Hammerschlag, who is the owner and CEO of Epicurean Wines (Here’s one rec: if you haven’t tried his personally designed wine Woop Woop, do so—a fabulous bottle of fine red wine for an unbelievably low price) and who spent many hours on the phone with me—as did my daughter and son-in-law—when the separation from D. happened, and who, as I write about in “Oz” in these pages, flew me to Australia where he owns a vineyard so that I could rest and recover and think about the state of my life. He is an incomparable man. I am blessed to know him.

From my heart, this thank you to my children, Sarah, Ben and Ryan comes.

A special thank you to my grandson Jericho. Jericho at age 15 gave me advice that I will talk about more at a later time. Jericho is wise beyond his years. He is the son of Chris who held my hand when his father left me—what an unbelievable man Chris is. His wife Jessica and her daughter Madisson have stood by me, have been steadfast and true. And, believe it or not, the whole clan in Iowa stood by me, with a special salute here to Retha and Macel, who wrote me when the going was so rough and I didn’t ever think I would recover.

I could never have written this memoir if I’d not gone to University of Missouri-Columbia as a visiting writer where I met the incredible writer and deeply empathic soul Marly Swick. Marly has been in my corner from the get-go. I made a friend for life and that alone is worth everything.

Sarah Krouse, whom I once taught fiction writing to at George Washington University, taught me everything I know about blogging. She is a brilliant mind, a soulful friend. She ought to be a literary agent—her advice has been invaluable, her friendship, a gift.

Jessica DeSoria Dalton, OpenSpaceDesign.com, designed my website, got the blog up and running for me, taught me how to post, but more important, how to live fully. We are now friends for life. Jessica and her husband Mark Dalton have been cheerleaders for my writing—I have leaned on their belief.

Zaara of kittenchops.com illustrated both my website and the blog and she did both with her heart after reading both my book The Woman Who Never Cooked and early writings of this memoir—she illustrated from understanding who I am and what I write. OpenSpaceDesign and Kittenchops.com are folks you need to know.

Amy Souza, whom I once taught—never underestimate what your students will teach you—asked me to participate in her project Spark while I was living and discovering this memoir by blogging. I did and told her and the painters, writers and photographers this: “I’m a softy recovering from a broken heart. Long story. But let’s just say that Amy’s project offers me some hope for fixin’ that heart through the work.” Thank you, Amy.

To Cynthia Stevens and Martha Dupêcher: Much more ought to be said. For now, know that the journey of discovery continues. Cynthia Stevens, you were my first teacher on this path and together we walked. Martha Dupêcher, you have walked with me in the intimacy and safety of your wisdom and your heart.

What I’ve learned while writing this has come from the discovery that taking the risk of writing gifts—and I use that word gifts literally. As Elizabeth Bishop so wisely advises,

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

But, dear readers, your comments, and keep them coming please, have informed these pages more than you know. I have read your comments and you have become part and parcel of this book. You have commented. I have rethought, been encouraged, forged ahead like a little boat on the sea of your belief.

Did I just say “book”? I did, and I can’t believe it, but it’s true.

My self-imposed deadline for delivery of the manuscript Sex After Sixty to Kelly Abbott and 3ones is Valentine’s Day. The e-book will be out soon after that in the spring.

This message comes from my heart to yours,


February 02, 2010

Lost and found

I scroll through the Rom-Coms on my shelf—I originally mistyped self—The unconscious mind has a mind of its own. In this memoir that I wrote “live,” meaning while I was living it, I’ve mulled over, written about, dreamed of: When Harry Met Sally, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Hitch, Something’s Gotta Give, Baby Boom, Holiday, A Man and a Woman, P.S. I love You, Juno, The Thomas Crown Affair—TCA as D. refers to that one because of the number of times I’ve watched it—French Kiss, Green Card, While You Were Sleeping, The Proposal. Have I got them all?

No: Charade. How do we know who is who?

Charade’s trailer features an aging Cary Grant in voice over speaking of Regina Lampert played by the young Audrey Hepburn. He oozes irony as he says, “Her life was one round of enjoyment, entertainment, enchantment?” And his voice rises with the sound a question mark makes as Audrey screams at the sight of the man, played viciously by George Kennedy, with a hook for a hand. “She was in serious trouble, but she still knew how to enjoy herself. You see, it all began when he fell off the train.” Regina’s husband Charles is quite dead. “Now there’s a relaxed husband,” opines Cary. “Police probably think I killed him,” Audrey says, quite seriously. “Instant divorce, you mean?” Cary replies.

When I began this memoir, I thought my writing might in some way disappear D. At least, I’d get divorced. I did get legally separated. The documents are signed. I could, if D. and I could resist making love for six months, simply walk into a D.C. courtroom with my attorney and get a divorce.

Instead, D. took me on a road trip. He told me to pack a bag with something to wear to dinner. I dressed in jeans, a sweater and wore the coat with the repaired hem. I do have a dress coat that flares at the hem and has a soft rim of fur on the collar and cuffs.

But who knew where we were going?

Not me and D. wasn’t telling. Instead, he says, “I have music,” as he connects his iPod to his car radio.

When we were together before the breakage, D. used to complain that I was always playing Leonard Cohen while I cooked in that chef’s kitchen in my old lady of a house. “What is all that droning?” he’d ask before he got to know Leonard during our separation. I remember going alone to the documentary Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man at the E Street theater not far from where my DC condo now sits. I remember meeting D. afterwards at Bistro D’Oc on 10th Street, NW. I just couldn’t sit there with him—this man who was selling the house.

The houses are all gone under the sea.

I walked out after I ate Bistro D’Oc’s lovely paté, took the metro to Dupont Circle, walked home to Adams Morgan, put the key for one of the last times into the lock of the old Victorian lady and went to bed alone. We were no longer sleeping in the same bed.

D. got to know Leonard well over the last four years of our separation. This, among a whole lot more, I have learned.

He makes his way down Constitution Avenue and before I know it we are on I-66 going towards Virginia: Leonard Cohen’s “Cheslea Hotel” and “Everybody Knows” sung by Rufus Wainwright plays. Then “Tonight Will Be Fine” and “The Future” sung by Teddy Thompson.

This road trip has a soundtrack.

When K.D. Lang begins to belt out “Helpless,” Neil Young’s heartbreaker of a song, the roadside looks familiar. I know where I am through eidetic memory. I recall a trip down this road when I was fifty and going off to grad school. D. took me away to celebrate my leap from corporate America to college, to write.

… though it may look like (Write it!) disaster.

I recall the framed photo D. gave me that he extracted from my father’s eight millimeter home movie of me at maybe six years old, wearing my Davy Crockett buckskin jacket, standing in front of the stoop at the rowhouse on Grantley Road. All my father’s movies were of the little girls, my sister and me, coming out of the front door in pea coats or new dresses. There I am with my arms out, ready to spin—the photo is fuzzy. D. said as he handed the photo to me: “Here’s the real Mary Tabor,” as if I were on To Tell the Truth: “Will the real Mary Tabor please stand up.”

In the car, I now know where we’re going or think I do. I say, “You better know what you’re doing.”

He says, “You think?”

As he turns into the Howard Johnsons Motel in Warrenton, Virginia, Perla Batalla is singing Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire,” and I begin to laugh and cry. This is not where we are going but it is a shared memory. Once D. and I went to Sarasota, Florida to visit his aunt and uncle with D.’s parents. D. wanted to save money and we stayed in an un-refurbished-fifties-maybe Howard Johnsons on a strip filled with decrepit buildings. We had a horror of a bathroom and bed. I wanted to sleep with my clothes on, wouldn’t take off my socks to walk on the dirty carpet and bathroom linoleum.

“I know where we’re going.”

“Do you now?” He backs up the car, makes the right turn toward Washington, Virginia, and we sing with Jarvis Crocker Leonard’s “If It Be Your Will.” We are on the way to The Inn at Little Washington.

When he turns into the parking space under the four flags, we are singing Leonard’s “Anthem,” my favorite Leonard Cohen song and it is snowing. We are singing with Julie Christensen and Martha Wainright.

I am struck dumb when I am greeted by name at the inn. My coat is taken. “I would have worn a better coat if I’d known we were coming here.”

The concierge and D. smile at one another. We are taken to tea. I finger the love bird ring on my right hand, an antique ring he gave me many, many years ago, and tell him, “This ring says it all.”

“Does it now?”

And then we are escorted to the Game Keeper’s Cottage.

I am not making this up.

I say to the concierge, “This is right out of D.H. Lawrence!” He and D. smile again.

His photo of the cottage here, taken the next morning when the snow had melted, is slightly crooked, but then so is the truth.

The fire is burning. And there are bags. A lot of sacks. And one great big one. He hands me the first gold sack: In it is an envelope and a book wrapped in gold paper.

I open the envelope.

D. has hand colored the dragonfly illustration—I use the dragonfly on my Mac to identify me in e-mail. What follows is typed and written on parchment like a poem. See the photo of it, but here are the words:

My Dearest Mary,

I once thought I didn’t believe in signs.
Or, at most, they are so exceedingly rare,
And even then, so easily explained by the rational crutch of coincidence.

But sometimes a sign is so powerful and perfectly timed as to leave one dumbstruck,
with no rational explanation, laughing derisively at the possibility of coincidence.

We were one year into the separation.
I was reading this copy of On Chesil Beach—a book that affected me deeply—on a flight returning to DC from Iowa. I had just read a particular passage that stuck in my mind, then I reached for my ticket stub to use as a bookmark.
As I put it in the page, I saw, stopped, stared. And knew.

I will lead your applause.

And then in his turquoise-ink print:

My love forever,

D. (see p. 152)

I unwrap and open Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, a book I read as soon as it was published and he knows I have read it. I turn to the page: The passage is framed in turquoise ink and refers to the time when Florence and Edward visited Wigmore Hall where Florence hoped some day she would play her violin and where Edward vowed that he would be there in seat 9C to lead the applause.

D.’s note says, “See p. 199.”

I am not making this up!

On page 199, I find in D.’s turquoise ink a framed passage that describes Edward many years later alone and the first violinist Florence who waits for the house lights to go up and looks to see who sits in seat 9C.

And there is D.’s note: “See next page.”

On it is the stub from his Midwest Airlines flight to Reagan National from Kansas City, where he’d gone to visit his son after visiting his parents in Iowa, and on the stub is his seat number: 9C.

What follows: More boxes. One great big one, and some five more inside, until I come to the little box that holds an antique diamond ring. And the man to whom I am still legally married proposes to me, “Will you, love of my life, marry me?”

We make love and then run into the open snowy field bundled in our coats, our history and our hope.

I fear ending this memoir. If D. could leave me when I write, I think irrationally, he could leave me when I stop. He has always been reading me.

Scheherazade wrote to save her life. The old tale is that the Persian king after his wife betrayed him, married a virgin every night and killed her in the morning—until Scheherazade entranced him with her stories.

I have written this memoir to find.

D. says, “I was lost. Now I’m found.”

I was not the answer. What he has told me is that he read twenty-two books of fiction the year I was in Missouri. D. is not a fiction reader, as a general rule.

But we are no longer about rules.

He said he read because he had much to learn about love.

I have been reading all my life, but I have learned that biblio-therapy goes only so far. I have been on a search and that search continues.

But I do know this: I have been found.

In the movie Charade, Audrey names at the end all the names that Cary has used in the movie. Whoever he is, she loves him.

I now know who D. is and I love him.

D.’s shrink P. said to him one day while he was still in therapy, “You’ve built the boat. You now want to learn how to sail it.”

Can we live in a boat when all the houses are gone under the sea?

I dream houses on the sea. But the sea is a circle of sand filled by sea water bordered by large houses, each different. D. and I rent one of the houses. It comes with the house in town we own: We don’t know how but we have it. It is like a memory of all the years we spent in Bethany Beach with the children, but it is not that place. It is not on any map. Two older women, sisters we guess, own the house nearby and we watch them wander together down to the sea. The air is warm. We go down to the sand and, where there were rocks, the tide has come in and pushed up soft sand all along the edges of the water. We go in, slide into sand and water, protected in the Caribbean bath-sea. There is ocean but no ocean. The sky above is terraced with lime green grass. We look up and see men and women, hair flowing, tanned legs astride thoroughbred horses. We have found protected sand and sea and sky—sheets of blue, kicked up by sea-blown wind.

And D. says to me, “You gotta build the house for the right reason.”