My Father Was a Wonderful Mother

My father loved to plant things and watch them grow. He planted roses that twined on a split-rail fence, French strawberries tiny as gumdrops, and pears that ripened like big-bottomed ladies. He nurtured his garden, just as he did his children.

The Virtues of a Single-Sex School (or Not)

The email from my classmate asked when I had realized the benefits of attending a women's college. "Never," I replied. I escaped to Madrid and London for Junior Year Abroad and flourished in the co-ed existence.

The Cheese and Chocolate Diet

When a French shop keeper tells you that cheese and chocolate are good for your health, you pay attention.

Being, Not Doing, is a Tough Assignment

My physical therapist gave me a challenging assignment: stop doing so much, lie on a heating pad and breathe deeply. Did she also mean I should stop checking my email, stop going to the Farmers Market, and stop watching Law and Order reruns?

Digging Deep Can Make You Happy

Studies by psychologists show what we writers always knew: writing can have a positive effect our health and happiness. In writing we dig deeper for the truth. We are curious about people and events, we explore without a destination. We may recast our experience, see regrets in a new light, see what we thought were failures as necessary steps on our path.

Easing Into 2015

The holidays were sweet this year. No cross-country flights from mobbed airports to the frigid East Coast. Instead I spent Thanksgiving in the Bay Area with my second cousins--family, just far enough removed to eliminate long-term angst. Christmas and New Year with friends. And reading good books. One of my favorites was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

What's Fashionable in Writing

The fashions of writing shift with the times. Sir Walter Scott was revered in his day; now many would scoff at his style. Donna Tartt won a Pulitzer in 2014 for her best-seller, The Goldfinch, and this has triggered a debate about what makes a good novel.

Letting Go of Regret

My desire to live without making choices I’d regret made decision-making difficult. So, designing and rebuilding my home after it burned down, was ripe with opportunities for remorse.

How Light Affects Mood

The quality of light adds emotional content to a scene. Think how it feels to be in a cold, damp, dark home or one where a warm breeze drifts from room to room. When you write, remember to include light, temperature and humidity. They help the reader feel they're in the scene.

Getting in Touch with Your "Inner Bitch"

When I bemoaned a conflict in my life, reluctant to stand up for myself, a therapist friend suggested I get in touch with my "inner bitch." I’m from New York. I used to be a lawyer. You’d think I’d be good at this.

Are You a "Hot" Authority?

I’ve never been one to jump on “the next hot thing,” so I simmered when I saw the first question on the application for the writers’ residency. Wisdom is cool, not hot or trendy.

Checking In With a Friend After 50 Years

She still spoke slowly, carefully, but though we lived 3,000 miles apart, we were still connected. We would go back for our high school reunion, we agreed, if we could get together privately. I had only talked to her one or two times in the past 50 years. But when we exchanged lists of our favorite books, we lined up on three out of four.

Fighting Over the Inheritance

When my mother died, the siblings were torn over dividing her property. At the time, for me, sentimentality trumped monetary value. I took three pairs of worn socks, the plastic clips she used to close bags of bread, a copper pot that she’d bought sixty years earlier for just five dollars.

Shortcuts to Enlightenment

I had climbed the ladder of success, but when I got to the top I looked down and discovered I was on the wrong ladder. Good schools, good grades, good jobs hadn't brought me what I really wanted. But they'd never taught me what I need to know in school.
The Stench in California

The Stench in California

Life is a soup of smells and we’d live in a misshapen world if we ignored baby’s diapers and the stairwells in public garages. This other side of lovely can catapult us into scenes we relate to, even if we’ve never been there.
My Shocking Discovery After Googling an Ex

My Shocking Discovery After Googling an Ex

As a rule, I don’t Google the men of my past. Dealing with the present is challenging enough. But at my college reunion, one of my classmates Googled every unmarried man mentioned in conversation. After Googling one man, she exclaimed, “His ex-wife was a sculptor. I took a pottery class. We’d be perfect!” So I Googled an ex and was shocked by what I discovered.

Incapacitated, I Had to Let Go

I don't rely on anyone for anything. But when I had major surgery ten days ago, I had no choice. Unable to walk or drive, I discovered the pleasures of receiving help and doing nothing. Business was on hold, and, much to my surprise, life moved forward without my efforts. An Rx for rest and recovery should permanently be on my To Do list.

Are You a Winner or a Loser?

I wondered if I was really a winner. I hadn’t won a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize, hadn’t even had an article in the New York Times magazine. I wasn’t thin, rich, or young enough. But one day I told friend I felt lucky, and I realized what good fortunate means.
The Silent Treatment

The Silent Treatment

On a silent retreat at a monastery overlooking Big Sur, it was a relief to be free of small talk. No “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” No labels based on credentials. Silence helped clear mental chatter and open me up to inspiration.
What Musical Instrument Are You?

What Musical Instrument Are You?

Instruments can be a wonderful metaphor for how we see ourselves physically and psychologically. Do we feel large or small, airy or grounded? Brassy and shrill or sweet? Thinking about what instrument we are helps us think of the sounds we make in the world—high and staccato or low and rumbling. The image of a particular instrument can be full of meaning and resonance.
One Race to Go: The America's Cup Boosts Mental Health

One Race to Go: The America's Cup Boosts Mental Health

It's down to one race at the America's Cup. The U.S. has miraculously come from behind. Sailing is not my thing. In high school I crewed for friends who had boats, but I served mainly as ballast. Nevertheless, I know that being a sports fan could be good for psychological health. Standing in the drizzle and fog on San Francisco Bay, I began to have my doubts.

In Our "Tell All" Age, How Much Should You Reveal?

Write early drafts of your life story without censoring yourself. But when it comes to putting your work out into the world, balance juicy self-exposure with discretion, and honor your comfort level.
Creativity and the Importance of "In-Between" Times

Creativity and the Importance of "In-Between" Times

The fields at Green Gulch Farm had been lush with rainbow chard and dinosaur kale, but now I saw nothing more than neatly plowed rows of earth. What a perfect metaphor for writing, I thought. Just because you're feeling stuck, doesn't mean you have writer's block. Here's what I do in those fallow times.
Siblings' Psychic Connections

Siblings' Psychic Connections

My sister and I are like twins separated at birth. Six years and 2,000 miles apart, we have a spooky psychic connection, most evident in matters of retail. Make that wholesale.
Are You Climbing the Right Ladder to Success?

Are You Climbing the Right Ladder to Success?

I didn’t want my epitaph to read: “She wrote the best law firm brochures in America.” But when I looked down from the top of my ladder to success, I thought, "Whoops, I’m on the wrong ladder."
How Rude Can You Be in the Dark?

How Rude Can You Be in the Dark?

Perhaps I was wrong to expect civility at a Broadway show. But when the couple next to me refused to stop checking email during the performance and then unzipped their cooler bag of food filed with the snap, crackle and pop of plastic containers, a hissing skirmish broke out between us.

Healing From Grief, One Word at a Time

When a loved one is dying, you are in the experience as a participant and outside it, as a witness and observer. During such difficult times, specific images and details, lines of dialogue, and feelings form the basis of a useful therapeutic tool.

Chocolate Cravings Confidential

My friend Bob used to dream of a freezer that doubled as a coffee table, where we could store our frozen Milky Ways. But that was many years ago. I have weaned myself from chocolate — be it gourmet chocolate or the junk food of my past.

The Best Place to Live if You're a Hothouse Flower

Growing up in New York, I never questioned the weather. Stinging cheeks in February; clothes plastered to my body in August. I accepted bitter, cold winters and hot, humid summers. What else did I know? But then I discovered the perfect place for a hothouse flower like me.

Beating the Winter Blues

I felt lonely and bored and gloomy. How could this be? I was traveling in Tuscany, where ochre villas rise along winding roads lined with cypress trees. Dreamy countryside, friendly people, delicious food. But I was affected by the weather. Day after day of overcast skies had brought me down. I needed a plan to lift my mood. And I came up with one that worked.