Girl Down.

Image: National Archives and Records Administration.

Image: National Archives and Records Administration.

I am unwell.

Tomorrow, the doctor. Until then, enjoy the above picture from the National Archives of one Miss Elizabeth L. Gardner, WASP (Women’s Airforce Service Pilot) pilot of Rockford, IL, as she “takes a look around before sending her plane streaking down the runway at the air base” at Harlingen Army Air Field, Texas. Photo taken sometime around 1943. Isn’t she something?

And for those who want more, more, more, how about this quote from Rebecca West, which I had tacked up on my bulletin board in Chicago for the better part of two years after ripping it out of my planner from the year that came before that. I think there was one period of time I heeded West’s inferred point (that a life lived pleasurably, even hedonistically, is a solid choice) but I don’t recall people around me liking it very much.

“I take it as a prime cause of the present confusion of society that it is too sickly and too doubtful to use pleasure frankly as a test of value.”

And you, darling. How are you feeling?

How To Watch Yourself On Camera: 5 Easy Steps

Screenshot, Quilty. Season Three, maybe? My head is 10lbs more pointy in this picture than it is in real life. Also, I have 10lbs better posture in real life.

Screenshot, Quilty. Season Three, maybe? My head is 10lbs more pointy in this picture than it is in real life. Also, I have 10lbs better posture in real life.

Sometimes, I think I must be out of my mind to do what I do for work these days. I’m on camera a lot and I find it painful to be on camera. Why? Because:

- Whatever you’re wearing, however you style your hair, that version of you is out of date by the time the show airs and forever afterward. You’re like the new car that’s just been driven off the lot — and no one likes a depreciating car.

- I’m not sure the camera adds the proverbial 10lbs or not, but there is most certainly a widening that takes place; an unfortunate spread of oneself onscreen. Is it the worst thing to look a bit more zaftig than you are in person? No. Does it feel unfair when you’ve been working hard to keep fit precisely because you know you’ll be on camera in the near future? Yeah, it does. [Note to self: First time using 'zaftig' in blog, possibly first time using it anywhere. Mark in planner.]

- You think you sound one way, but you don’t. You sound that way.

- Editing can delete a multitude of sins, but you can’t edit down to nothing. Thus, the horsey laugh, the bad habit of interrupting, the weird thing you said weirdly — it’s all on tape. Forever.

If you find yourself having to be on camera anytime soon, don’t despair. I have come up with five ways to help you cope with the trauma. Here now:

Mary’s Top 5 Survival Tips For Watching Yourself On Camera

1. Enjoy several alcoholic beverages before you begin. Everyone looks better after a couple drinks, right? This applies to you watching you. If you can get to the point where you start hitting on yourself through the screen, you’re in a great place.

2. Have a friend watch with you. This needs to be a friend who loves you so much she/he can withstand two of you for the duration of the video. Put them in your will if they agree to this.

3. Worried about your hair or clothing choice? Those potential blunders fade quickly when you realize you were younger then than you are now. Instantly wistful and desirous of that outfit, now, aren’t you? Mm-hmmm.

4. Oh, come on. You must’ve said something humorous or intelligent. Find that instance and play it multiple times. Then let the video continue while you go to the bathroom or get more snacks/vodka.

5. Go watch a bunch of Beyonce videos. Isn’t Beyonce amazing? There you go, much better.

You Think I’m Kidding: Starting A Band With The Russian.

James Taylor and Carly Simon "at their Vineyard home." Photo, Peter Simon.

James Taylor and Carly Simon “at their Vineyard home.” Photo: Peter Simon.

Yuri plays the piano brilliantly.

I sing…passably.

We’re probably going to start a band.

Living in New York City, it’s required by law that you have a gig one night a week. It can be anything. Smack fish on your head to Metal Machine Music outside La Mama; present a tinikling showcase in Tompkins Square Park; host a series of one-woman one-act plays on the subway — sky’s the limit. And fear not: if what you do is poorly attended, all the better, as this means you must really want it. 

I’m kidding about starting a band or a duo act with Yuri — kinda. I’ve made up songs all my life but, never being formally trained to play an instrument, all songs I’ve “composed” either stayed in my head or died immediately on the mental/vocal vine. My love of writing poems is a result of my love of writing little songs — or the other way around. I like words, so I like to play with them in all kinds of ways. When words have different tones (a.k.a. become songs) well, that’s terrific.

The other night, Yuri and I went to go see a singer at Joe’s Pub. She was wonderful. Floanne was her name; she is French. We went because Yuri was having trouble getting a bike out of the Citibike docking station the day before the show, when a pretty lady approached him and helped him out because that is what happens in New York City constantly, as I have discovered.** The pretty lady was Floanne. She gave him a flyer after helping him with the bike. “Eets a good show for a date,” Floanne said with a wink. Yuri brought the flyer home and said, “Baby, I’ma take you out tomorrow night!” And sure enough, he did. Boy, did we have fun. And there was a big screen onstage for live tweeting during Floanne’s show and I tweeted that we were there because of the bike assistance incident. Floanne is now following me on Twitter.

Where was I?

Oh, right: Yuri and my plot to become the next Carly Simon/James Taylor musical power couple.

The first song on the album is going to be my song about Shipshewana. When I was there last month for the big quilt festival, I drove in from Chicago. As I got deeper and deeper into Amish country, I got more and more inspired. The fields were verdant! The sky was blue. And I had been told by someone that the county is a dry one, which means you can’t buy or sell alcohol. Like, maybe at all? I’ll have to check on that one. It didn’t bother me much: I didn’t have plans to do any drinkin’, but I started singing this song about Shipshewana, a kind of ode, but real Judy Garland-y, and it went like this:

“The cows are lowing/the traffic is slowing,
The buggies are all on the shoulder!
There’s lemonade to be had/and that ain’t so bad
But it’s Saturday night/alright, alright,
And whatchoo gonna do?

[CHORUS]
So.. Whatcha’wanna do/Shipshewana, you
Whatcha’wanna do, tonight?
Can’t drink
Can’t smoke
Caaaaaaaan’t even dance
So whatcha’wanna do…tonight.”

It’s a real sweet-sounding song, so please don’t read those lyrics and think I’m dogging on Shipshewana. I love it there. It’s just a song about not doing all the things that most of the rest of the state of Indiana is probably doing on a Saturday night. It’s really fun to say the word “Shipshewana” and it’s even more fun to sing it and rhyme it with “whatcha’wanna.”

Now if only we had enough money to buy Yuri a baby grand and a whole other apartment to put it in.

**It’s not that pretty French singers constantly come to your aid in New York — it’s people in general who do. You’ll have to go to Paris for more pretty singers per block…maybe.

Mmmpink.

The first book in the American Girl Doll series for Civil War-era girl, Addy. That would be double-pink she's rocking.

The first book in the American Girl Doll series for Civil War-era girl, Addy. That would be double-pink she’s rocking.

The webinar series I have begun is proving to be as educational and groovy as I thought it might be. The next installment is next week, Wednesday, July 24th. The time of the show changed from the afternoon slot we had last time to accommodate those who wanted an evening time slot this time. At 8pm EST tomorrow night, it’s showtime. (Is that prime time?? I think it is! Very exciting.) As always, you don’t have to watch the thing live; you can download it whenever you please and watch it whenever you please.

Next week in the Color Me Quilter webinar series, I will examine pink in American quilts and help you use pink in your own quilts. We’ll talk about cool toned pinks (“bubblegum” pinks popular in the early 20th century) vs. warmer toned ones (“double pink,” a.k.a. “cinnamon pink” all the rage during the Civil War) and we’ll look at the pink stars of the quilt shows — think Rose of Sharon quilts, charm quilts, and countless baby quilts, of course. Goo-goo, ga-ga.

As for me, well, I adore pink. Slavishly devoted. If stopped on the street and asked what my favorite color is, I would have to say red, “in small doses.” But doesn’t that mean pink is, by default, second in command? And if I prefer red, meted out, might I accept pink in waves? Why, yes. Yes, I would. Do. Give it to me.

The calmness of pink. Its wink. The quiet power of pink and its allies — for you don’t put garish bright yellow with pink, or a crazy Kelly green, not if you’re wise. Pink needs gentleness around it; all goofiness must go. So pink attracts like minds. And I like pink’s mind.

Join me for Color Me Quilter. Wednesday next week. Let’s spend time together and geek out about our quilts. Let’s get inspired by the color cool enough to not even want to be red.

You Should Know: William Soutar

Scone Palace, Scotland. (Guess what's for breakfast?? Wakka-wakka!)

Scone Palace, Scotland. (Guess what’s for breakfast?? Wakka-wakka!)

Though I’ve had to take a wee break, I am still working toward my Master’s degree. My advisors have informed me that Columbia is the place to continue the MLA I began at the University of Chicago; if I can get in, stay put for long enough to do the work and not get sick for any length of time, why, I might just be able to get that ol’ girl done. I have a ways to go but I also will probably not die anytime soon. I’m saying there’s time.

I’m not wasting precious reading hours while I get my ducks lined up, though; there’s thesis research to be done and I’m doing it. I know what I want my thesis to be about after taking several workshops about putting together a thesis: I want write about diarists. Being one, and being a fan of them and (by and large) the diaries they write, I suspect I’ll be endlessly fascinated. As I think more and more about tackling a thesis in my life and as I read more and more, the actual intent and focus of the thesis will be revealed and who knows? Maybe I’ll actually discover or contribute something to a body of study that is pretty robust already. For now, I’m just reading diaries and biographies of diarists and books about the diary’s role in Western literature and that’s my school right now.

And in my para-research (doesn’t that sound fancy) I have discovered a wonderful poet that I hadn’t known about before: William Soutar. English majors may groan and shake their heads that this person was unknown to me, but cut me some slack: I studied theater in undergrad. Can you quote a line from Major Barbara? Ah-ha! Didn’t think so. (Note to self: Look up pithy line from Major Barbara.)

William Soutar was a Scottish poet and writer who had a rather tragic life. Born in 1898, he contracted a virus when he was in his twenties and this went untreated. By the time he was thirty-two, he was bedridden, quite ill, and essentially paralyzed. He spent fourteen years in bed and died when he was just forty-five.

But he was an incredible poet and writer and refused to let his ill-health take his brain or his passion as his body lay so feeble. He read and read and wrote and wrote and had all kinds of things published. It was said that his bedroom was one of the centers of the 20th Century Scottish Literary Renaissance, due to all his work and all the heavyweight writers that came to hang out with him.

He wrote wonderful poems for children (“the bairnrhymes”) but is maybe best known over here in America for his Diaries of a Dying Man. The diaries he kept for so many years are all in a book that you can buy (because the world is amazing) and just this very morning I wept reading a certain entry. It is such beautiful writing. Soutar was human and he has his moments of despair and frustration and angst, but by and large, he’s just crazy lion-hearted and awesome and so freaking smart that you ache for his situation while you marvel at his talent. Yes, I am slightly in love with William Soutar (no, Yuri does not feel terribly threatened.)

Here, to whet your appetite, two passages from Diaries of a Dying Man, by William Soutar. The first one is the one that made me cry a little this morning over my tea. The second is a favorite so far.

“I wonder if fit mortals realise that infirmity makes the most ordinary actions wonderful. A person, like myself, set aside from the thoroughfare of life can often look on life’s manifestation with a detachment denied the protagonist in the market-place. Common acts become isolated from particular times and places and grow, by recollection, into moments of beauty loved in themselves without desire or regret. Thus everyday phrases can bring to such a watcher a rounded image of loveliness mysteriously coloured by the consciousness that he himself can no longer enact them; phrases such as ‘he lifted a stone’, ‘he stood by the sea’, ‘he walked into the wood’.”

“For some weeks past I have found myself, from time to time, putting out an imaginary hand as if to touch the earth in a comprehensive gesture of love — but I do not deceive myself by these vague stirrings of affection : it is so easy to love a ‘thing’ : one must learn to love people first.”

Perspective, Hard Won.

Public domain image from WikiCommons. Tulane cheerleaders, 2008.

Tulane cheerleaders, 2008. Image in the public domain.

The toughest thing about being in a new place is the lack of perspective.

I live in New York City and I have no perspective on this experience yet and won’t have it for some time, because that’s how perspective works.

I look back on my twelve-plus years in Chicago, I see eras. There were the First Years, the rough ones, with their questionable choices and misbehaviors (all with the best of intentions, of course.) Those years contained the Poetry Years, thank goodness, or I might not’ve survived at all. That era, with all its earnest youthful disregard gave way to a better time: the Affianced Years. That was pleasant. I had found someone I cared for deeply and was enough of an adult to pair up in a real way. My foolish choices were slashed down to (almost) nil. And I wasn’t a waitress anymore. Right before the Affianced Years began, I began to be able to make my living as a full-time writer-performer and I clung desperately to that fact. The proclamation was (and has remained) a cornerstone of my entire identity. It probably matters too much, but for me, I can’t do it any other way.

The Marriage Years immediately followed the Affianced ones (they’ll do that) and they overlapped entirely with the era known as When I Was Sick. (I was diagnosed less than a month after I walked down the aisle; surgery was a month later — to the day? — of my wedding.) But inside those years were the Best Theater Years I ever had, making art with the Neo-Futurists.

And then The Divorce. And then Downtown Me. And then I left.

Anyway, all this is to paint — mostly for myself, I have to admit — the picture of what happened back in Illinois. Broad strokes, yes, but it’s chronologically correct.

I’m in the First Years again.

And it’s great here, and I’m not the twenty-one-year-old girl (good grief!) that I was when I had my first round of First Years, but I know full well that I have a whole lot of perspective to make. I will get lost a dozen times. I will be mistaken about the character of this or that person. I will embarrass myself. I will not find my favorite shops for at least 6-12 months. There’s no way I can learn the shortcuts: I don’t even know the longcuts.

I’m not exactly bummed, but tonight, I know too much about not knowing anything at all.

Next Week: “Patchworkshop” at NYC’s Sewing Studio!

It's almost obscenely enticing, isn't it? Sewing Studio, 134 W 29th St, New York, NY 10001. Phone: (646) 961-4747

It’s almost obscenely enticing, isn’t it? Sewing Studio, 134 W 29th St, New York, NY 10001. Phone: (646) 961-4747

See that picture up there?

Add some fabric, some friends, and some patterns to work with, and that’s a lil’ picture of heaven, muchachos.

Next week, I’ll be leading a “Patchworkshop” at NYC’s fabulous, adorable, info-rich Sewing Studio. I’m kinda pinching myself, honestly. Teaching people to quilt in New York City?? Whose life is this?! I feel very grateful. I’m working on all my packets of info, I’ve got a friend at Dear Stella who is making some goodie bags. I’ve got quilts to share. I can’t wait to meet my students.

There are still a couple slots left in the July week-long class; same for the August class but you should not tarry. Here are the deets:

Master Series: “Patchworkshop” with Mary Fons
July 21st-25th (Monday to Friday), 6:30pm-9:00pm; or August 18th-22nd (Monday to Friday), 6:30-9:00pm

“No matter how cool our gadgets are, no matter how fast we can pin images and send files, human beings still want and need handmade quilts. If you’ve ever wanted to make one, this class is for you. Primarily, we’ll focus on what comes first in any quilt: making the patchwork top (you will get some quilting instruction.) You’ll learn “the patchwork quartet” (cutting, sewing, pressing, and ripping); you’ll learn how to properly rotary cut fabric; you’ll get tons of pointers on fabric selection; you’ll construct blocks to either finish or get a beautiful, running start to your very first quilt. (You’ll get lots of quilt history, too, and tons of tips from the pros.) Come learn how to make patchwork — and probably change your life while you’re at it.”

About the instructor: Mary Fons, aside from being an avid quilter, national teacher, on-camera host, author, and magazine editor, is a self-proclaimed “beginner quilter’s BFF” and will never make you feel foolish for not knowing how. Mary is a celebrated quilter and TV host, and the founder of Quilty, a weekly online program for the beginner quilter. For more about Mary, visit MaryFons.com.

Course outline: Full course details will be posted the week of July 14.

Class limit: 10 students
Cost per student: $650
Materials: Bring basic sewing supplies plus a selection of fat quarters: 4-6 light, 4-6 medium, and 4-6 dark. (Bring more if you want!)

The Mornings Are Like This: Home Edition

Suspense, by Charles Burton Barber, 1894.

Suspense, Charles Burton Barber, 1894.

It all begins at about 6am. It’s gone this way for years, now, with few variations.

1. Wake. Blink. Consider previous day: Was exercise executed? Were healthful comestibles consumed in sane quantities? Was enough work done to avoid panic immediately upon the opening of the eyes? If the answer is “yes” to at least 2 out of 3 of these status questions, optimism is available.

2. Look left. Consider sleeping man. Kiss sleeping man’s shoulder. Sigh with contentment.

3. Rise. Pad into kitchen. Fill kettle. Put kettle on stove. Activate burner.

4. Enter bathroom. Perform noncommittal morning ablutions. Mostly just look in mirror and make faces. Consider birthday next month.

5. Cross back through kitchen. Eye kettle. Prepare tea tray with honey, milk, spoon, mug Rebecca made for me in her pottery class that I love more than life itself, cloth napkin, French press with tea in it. Consider a) cutting back on the tea; b) loving the mug slightly less because it’s a mug for heaven’s sake.

6. Feel generally anxious about day.

7. While waiting for water to boil, flop on couch and pick up something to read. Read a little bit of it before the kettle whistles.

8. Bolt up, leap in three bounds to the kettle to flip the lid so it doesn’t wake Yuri. Pour water into French press. Take tea tray into living room. Set on coffee table. Consider the hurt feelings of the tea tray: coffee gets a whole table.

9. Drink tea and write or read for a good hour. Toward the end of the hour, feel more anxious about day but internally struggle with need to have a few more minutes. Consider taking a short, post-tea nap with sleeping man.

10. Say, “Alllllright” to no one. Get dressed.

11. Begin.

I’ll Be Darned: Baking Soda Wins!

That's some hot sodium bicarbonate.

That’s some hot sodium bicarbonate.

A poet friend of mine in Chicago used to do a piece about his heritage. Rather than examine his family tree, he focused on behaviors he had picked up over the years and memes that had stuck. His “heritage” was more about the people he knew or had known, rather than dead people he had never met. A certain expression he used came from his dad, for example, and years back he had consciously adopted specific laugh from a kid in school he thought was really cool.

I always liked that piece because it hit on something so true: we are the people we know. We know the things we know and care about the things we care about because of what we pick up from others that we feel looks good on us or works well. It can be a laugh or a political view. A gait. A preference. An entire life path.

There is perhaps no faster meme generator than The New Relationship. Yuri and I are swapping behaviors and ideas and memes right and left. I see it, I feel it; he sees it, he feels it. It’s great fun. (Think of the inside jokes you have with a loved one. That’s meme-swapping.)

Here’s a great example of what I mean by all this:

Yuri has shown me that I never need to buy deodorant ever again.

Wait.

Yuri smells good. And so do I. Neither he nor I are advocating going au natural, here. What he has shown me is that baking soda — pure, straight up sodium bicarbonate — is the best deodorant money can buy. After your shower, you put a little in your paw, maybe with a little water so’s that it’ll stick, and you apply it in those cute armpits of yours and you will not smell. You will stay dry and fresh and you will not have purchased a cake of deodorant at the store that a) smells weird and b) costs a lot and c) has plastic all over it and maybe aluminum or weird stuff inside of it. I’m telling you: baking soda works. It works better than any deodorant I’ve ever tried. I’ve been using it for months, now, and it has not failed me.

The natural deodorants you buy at the store that use baking soda? Pffft! Skip ‘em. Not only do those very expensive “all-natural” deodorants not work, they’re just puttin’ lipstick on a pig! (I don’t know if that’s exactly what they’re doing but I have been wanting to use that expression for several days.) Listen to me: you do not need to buy any of these products ever again.

Put. Baking soda. In. Your armpits. Put it in your armpits!!

I’m all worked up. But it’s just that wonderful. Think about the money a person could save over the course of a lifetime because of this tip! If you switch to baking soda, why, together we could save millions! At least a few thousand. That could go to a lot better things, that dough. I don’t know what.

And so it happened that I became a woman who has baking soda in her medicine cabinet. If anyone ever asks me about it, I will say, “Oh, yeah. It’s the best deodorant you can use. Just plain baking soda. I learned that from Yuri.”

And (maybe) you learned it from me.

On Hollywood.

This is a violent image.

Am I missing something?

For years, a conflict has raged within me:

Is Hollywood destroying humanity or am I just no fun? 

A couple months ago, my internal struggle was refreshed with the blood of Godzilla, which remains the last movie I saw, in the theater or otherwise.

Yuri and I had a night off, and I was actually the one who suggested we go. I’ve been to the movie theater maybe five times in two years. I completely get that many folks love movies — my sister and her fiance work in the industry and I have tremendous respect for them, their art, and their specific path — but feature films just aren’t my jam. I don’t see a lot of movies like I don’t read a lot of fiction. I’m a documentary-lovin’, non-fiction readin’ real-time junkie. I feel manipulated by film, I guess, and not in a good way. Still, every once in awhile, there’s a film that looks like such pure spectacle, such pure, 21st century American entertainment, I gotta do it. It’s like eating a Cinnabon or a Auntie Anne’s pretzel once every couple of years: indulging feels very wrong/momentarily good. The 2014 remake of Godzilla looked cool from the previews my sister Nan played for me; the monster was so big! The cities were so small!

“Yuri, let’s go see Godzilla.” 

“Seriously?”

We got our tickets and sat down with cups of tea and smuggled chocolate, fully prepared to be entertained. I had an open mind. I really wanted to have fun.

But I didn’t have fun. Because Hollywood sucks. Hollywood creates a facsimile of life for scores of people whose general well-being I care about. Hollywood cheapens the human experience. At its best, Hollywood inspires great floods of emotion that can be cathartic. But at its worst, Hollywood movies are irreverent, disrespectful, and hypnotic. And false. And confusing. And they are all expensive.

My main trouble wasn’t with Godzilla. It was not a great movie, but that’s okay. I was more troubled by the previews, the first one for a Scarlett Johannsen film coming out soon called Lucy. In the preview, we see a clip of Johannsen enduring forced abdominal surgery. The bad guys open her belly and insert something inside of her that she must transport against her will, the thing now being inside her and all. I’ve had multiple abdominal surgeries that might as well have been forced — if I didn’t have them, I’d have died so the choice was nil – and take it from me: There is nothing entertaining about being filleted. The reality of that sucks so much. I realize I have personal experience that most folks do not regarding this plot development in Lucy and clearly, I am going to be more sensitive to seeing such an experience portrayed fictionally, but like…can’t you pretend about something else? There’s so much to choose from.

Like…war. After Lucy, there were several previews for war movies where people were getting creamed right and left. Legs were getting blown off. Men were screaming, men were crying. After that, a preview for Non-Stop, which is about an airplane hijacking. Jet black guns, exploding pieces of airplane, crying women with hysterical, terrorized babies, a rugged Liam Neeson flinging himself backward down the aisle, shooting multiple rounds.

Am I missing something? Why is this entertaining? I’m not being rhetorical. I don’t understand. Surgical procedures, wars, gunfire, terrorist plots on planes, and death are things that create suffering. They are realities of life that require seas of compassion and support to endure and process. It’s not funny to see someone get shot to death on a plane flying at 35,000 feet. It’s terrifying. It should be terrifying. I beg someone to explain to me why people spend millions of dollars to create fictional suffering to last on film forever for people to watch in theaters while they sit eating snacks. Escapism? But how?

Maybe I’m just no fun.

That’s entirely possible! I do feel like I have blind spot, that there’s a “Kick Me” sign on my back and I’m just being snippy and snobby and old and lame. Everyone goes to the movies, right? Folks have preferences, too, and discernment. I shouldn’t say “Hollywood is this” because Hollywood is a lot of things and people and there’s good art that comes out of the place, I realize. But just when I was thinking, “Mary, chill. There is more to the movies than the crassness of Non-Stop,” the last preview presented itself. It was for a movie called The Other Woman, in which three hot blondes are real ornery about a man and exact their revenge on him for his misdeeds. There were boobs everywhere. And toilet humor, which is always better/grosser when there are girls involved, I suppose.

It’s just all so hostile. To be sure, there is great cinema in the world, but this is the stuff the general public is eating, the movies that are “in theaters everywhere starting Friday.” Mere blocks from where I sit, there are art house cinemas and legendary film centers that show incredible stories put to film. But people go see the Godzillas and The Other Womanses in Des Moines because that’s what’s playing there. I grew up not far from Des Moines, so I know. If you don’t have options, how can you discern?

No one should be stopped from making whatever sort of movie they want to make. Advocating for censorship will never be on my list of things to do, as much as I dislike these kinds of movies. I’ll just stay home.

(On my list of things to do, “Take on Hollywood” was also not there. Oh well.)