When you live in a big city, it’s possible to witness significant cultural shifts happen in real time.
You have a healthy sample size, for one thing. There are a lot of people to observe. And cities — not always, but most of the time — birth Next Big Things or adopt them early. So if you walk down the street in a big city and notice that lots and lots of people are engaging with a particular thing at the same time, or talking about the same thing, that thing is probably going to have a broader impact before very long.
Which brings us to wireless headphones. Specifically, the Apple AirPods. EarPods? iBuds. I realize that my inability to get the name of those damn things right makes me 1,000 years old, and calling them “those damn things” isn’t helping.
You’ve seen those damn things, right? Many of you may own a pair. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the next time you’re out someplace being 1,000 old* look for people walking around with white plastic sticks in their ears. Since humans are not (yet) made of bright white plastic, people using these newfangled headphones will hard to miss. Look for people who can’t hear you when you ask them a question because they have thin white sticks coming out of both ears that hang down past their earlobe. These people are wearing wireless headphones, i.e., headphones that connect to their phone without a cord that attaches the two. I don’t know how it works, but it does work.
More than a year ago, when Apple first released those damn things, a friend at the school newspaper immediately purchased a pair. He sashayed into the office wearing them and announced that his life had changed forever, that he was a new man with these wireless headphones. He looked strange to the rest of us, those bright white tubes hanging off both sides of his head. I thought he resembled a tagged deer. Nevertheless, he swore by them. We all nodded and went back to work.
Some months later, I saw more of these deer walking around. I don’t begrudge anyone their thing; we should all do our thing. But I must confess to feeling the tiniest bit smug when I’d pass someone wearing the white sticks. “Ha!” I’d think to myself, “You fell for it! Apple puts out a new product and you line up. New iPhone. Apple Watch. Filth! Stand up for yourself! Resist the tyranny of Apple!” I thought the deer were suckers, frankly, and conspicuous ones, too, which is the worst sort of sucker to be. I’m a sucker for lots of stuff, but it doesn’t show up on my ears.
Then everything flipped.
Just like in autumn when you look around one and realize all the leaves changed overnight; just like in spring when all of a sudden everything is green and flowers are having a lot of sex with each other (that’s how come there’s flowers, people, let’s face it), so it was with these wireless headphones. Suddenly, everyone was wearing them. Not everyone everyone, but many. Instead of seeing one tagged deer for every 300 people I’d pass while walking up Michigan Avenue, there were one or two in every 50 people, maybe more. I don’t have to count to see what’s happening: Wireless headphones are now The Thing. They are not a trend; they represent a major shift. You’re either tagged now or you’ll be tagged later. Now when I walk up or down the street, the people who stand out are the sad sacks with headphone cords. The plebes! Sad!
I got a pair of the damn things as a gift. I was most grateful for the gift, but to me, the accessory was just okay. It was cool to put the phone at one end of my apartment while I was on a work call and slowly walk away from it without having to shout. And I very much liked not having to untangle my headphone cord every time I took it out of my purse. As for wearing the wireless headphones in public, I felt very with it. I felt very tech savvy. I felt very au courant.
Well, I hate feeling all of those things. I don’t want to be a tagged deer! Trying to stay on top of the times is a tricky proposition: A gal must allow herself to be carried at least some distance on the winds of change; living under a rock is lonely and dark and then you’re living under a rock, so that’s not going to be very comfortable. But to pay too much attention to whatever culture is demanding of you this week is to be used up real quick by forces you can’t control. That’s not very comfortable, either.
Better to watch and wait a little while and see what sticks — or sticks out. Incidentally, I managed to lose my headphones in an Uber in New Orleans. I am 95 percent sure this was an accident.
It’ll take months to get rid of all the dust. The linoleum in the kitchen is from the Pleistocene era. The paint is an inch thick in every room and is cracking so deep in certain places it looks like Chicago must have experienced a small earthquake at some point in the 1970s. I’ll remedy these things eventually; until then, I love my new home too much to care.
And, um, I live next door to a famous actress.
It’s so exciting! I’ve never lived next to a famous actress before. I couldn’t wait to tell you, but there’s good and bad news.
Bad news first: I can’t tell you the actress’s name. Peeps, I just can’t. It would be extremely uncool to move into this neighborhood and, in my public fan-girling of this epic, brilliant, hilariously funny, iconic actress, effectively share her address with the internet. Believe me, I desperately want to tell you. I wondered if I could just give you obvious hints so you could figure it out yourself, but then you’d guess right and her name would be all over the comments — which gives us the same problem. Any cluster or burst of internet activity about Famous Actress is going to alert Famous Actress’s team. They’ll check it out and see that there was all this chatter about her on some quilter-person’s blog and oh! Guess what, Famous Actress? Your neighbor is a creepy quilter-person and she telling a whole bunch of other creepy quilter-people where you live!
The good news is that this actress is every bit as cool and awesome in real life as you want her to be. That has to be enough for now. Mind you, I haven’t talked to her, but my third-floor bedroom window looks out over the gorgeous courtyard patio at the back of her house and I have obtained data by peering through the trees and catching glimpses of her here and there. The data I have gathered proves her awesomeness and no, peering through the trees to spy on people is not creepy at all. Here are a few of my observations of Famous Actress:
Famous Actress wears big, floppy straw hat while gardening
Famous Actress wears t-shirt and flowy skirt and Birkenstocks; looks comfortable
Famous Actress played the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House” twice this afternoon in the courtyard while she and her husband (?) were power-washing the patio and she was really rockin’ out
Famous Actress rolled out a yoga mat and laid down on it but did not appear to practice yoga
Famous Actress has a hummingbird feeder and tending to it makes her smile
I promise you I will try to meet this woman for real and become her best friend. Once we become best friends, then I can ask her if I can blog about her and she’ll say yes, of course, Mary, you can do anything you please because I love you so much and you’re such a good writer and and please write a movie for me to star in and please come over for breakfast lunch and dinner we’re all gathering in the courtyard patio and don’t you even think about bringing anything you silly girl but oh take this jacket I wore in that movie from the 1980s that you know by heart and also please take all of my old diamonds.
Hey, horse. Nice saddle. I used to sit up there. Oh, this n’ that. I had to go sleep in a barn for awhile. Could I get back on you? Like, in the saddle? Thanks. Yeah, this feels good.
* * *
What makes a piece of writing a work of literature? Have you ever thought about that? (I’m speaking to you, now, not the horse, but she’s still here.)
What makes an essay, or a novel, or a memoir — even a blog post — more than just words on a page? Even if they’re really good words on a page? I’ve been wanting a solid answer to this question for years. When trying to differentiate between a “literary” work or a non-“literary” work, folks sorta cock their heads and offer something vague and impossible to prove, like, “Um … Well, literature is just generally better than other writing? I guess? It’s got something to do with being good.”
That isn’t enough for me. But to be fair, let’s look at a situation where you’ve got writing that’s obviously “better” than other writing to see if it’s a passable definition.
Consider James Baldwin. Consider basically anything he ever wrote. Here you have a writer of staggering talent, a man who spent his entire life toiling endlessly at his desk to make good sentences, a man whose grocery list would surely make us weep for its clarity of conviction. Baldwin once said a writer should write a sentence “as clean as a bone.” James Baldwin’s writing is “better” than 95 percent of all other writing ever produced, ever, so it’s gotta be literature, right? Now, you might not dig his writing, you might be ambivalent. But regardless of whether or not you like James Baldwin, it’s clear from the first sentence of any of his essays or novels or poems that when you read the man’s work, you’re reading literature. Another way to look at it is to lay a copy of Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time between an airport crime novel and a plucky beach read. Now point to the literary work.
Baldwin is obviously the literary writer but why? It’s not length. The beach read could be 500 pages and the Baldwin text just an excerpt; nothing changes. Does a literary work contain fancy words? Is that what makes it literary? Ugh, let’s hope not. As complex as his ideas are, Baldwin’s language isn’t florid or showy — one of the many reasons he’s so great. Is a work literary because it contains Deep Thoughts? Profound Themes? That’s not fair. A good trade paperback by a popular author can deal with topics like death, aging, or heartbreak, too, but that doesn’t make it literature. The criteria for distinguishing between literature and not-literature has always felt as elitist as it is subjective. Other people may have a crystal clear understanding of the difference, but not this nerd.
Then, just when I was not looking for it, the answer appeared. I found it in an article in Harper’s magazine a couple issues back. The article was entitled Like This or Die: The fate of the book review in the age of the algorithm and was written by Christian Lorentzen. Check this out:
“Literary writing is any writing that rewards critical attention. It’s writing that you want to read and to read about. It’s something different from entertainment. It involves aesthetic and political judgments and it’s not easily quantifiable.”
I was sitting in my black chair and had to set down my tea to pump my arms in the air and whoop. That was it! Yes! Literary writing is writing you can go to battle with! Literature gives as good as it gets! It’s not about long words or length; it’s about substance and resilience — and craft is kind of de facto at that point. Literature is a steak. Not-literature is a smoothie and hey: Maybe it’s a very good smoothie. There’s nothing wrong with a smoothie! Smoothies are a nice break from steak. But make no mistake: You can’t make literature in a blender and add wheat germ for texture. If you want to read — or write — literature, you’re gonna have to chew.
What does all this have to do with that horse?
Oh, I don’t know. It’s got something to do with how writing is hard. It’s got something to do with expectations I place on myself, probably. The first five months of this year have forced me to form a new relationship with expectations. It’s strange and not entirely comfortable for its newness. I used to either claw my way up to meet expectations or cry over them when they were dashed. I’m not even sure what they are these days.
PaperGirl is not literature. Never has been, never will be. Believe me, it’s a relief. If I had to figure out how cook and eat a steak sitting atop a horse, I’d fall off and never get back on. I’m good with my smoothie. I’ve even got a cup-holder.
I’m here tonight to share the final stage of the nervous breakdown I experienced early this year. The month-long illness was diagnosed by two medical doctors as a textbook “major depressive episode” and this major depressive episode was the worst thing that has ever happened to me, not the least because it adversely affected other people, too. But, as I can (and should) only speak for myself, I can only share my side of the story. That’s what this is.
This entry is so awfully long but I had to go the distance. We have to reach the bluer skies. I’m ready for those, aren’t you? Yeah.
So tonight, let’s close down the how and the why of the breakdown as best we can on a blog on a Sunday night. It’s as good a place and time as any: Who can totally explain why a black hole opens up in the psyche? How can we say for sure when these mental wounds begin and how long they’ll suppurate before they burst and run and require serious medical attention? It’ll take me a long time to understand all of this, but these installments of the PaperGirl Sunday Evening Post are an attempt. The 300+ pages of diary entries I’ve written in the past four months are attempt. Talking to my shrink is an attempt. Talking to my friends is an attempt.
That’s where I want to start tonight — I want to start with my friends.
In the depression, the days were short and dark. Nights were endless. Hope and vitality trickled out of me by the minute and it was so frightening to feel this and to see it, I was finally scared into asking for help. That’s how hard it is for me to ask for help: I have to be disintegrating before I’ll ask. (Yes, I have learned this is not okay and has to change.) Once I realized I was in fact disintegrating, I texted friends or called friends to come over. I wasn’t going to hurt myself, but I was afraid to be alone. In the deepest valleys of the depression, being alone was the most terrifying thing imaginable because to be alone was to disintegrate for sure; having another human in the room meant I might not go away completely, or as fast. When I asked my friends to come over, even though I was crying over the phone, I tried to make light of things, offering to get pizza and wine or suggesting we go see a movie. Here are a few of the things my friends said to me:
“I’ll be there in an hour.” “Absolutely.” “Laura and I are comin’ over, Mar!”
“I love you.”
“Want to join me and Julia at the Field Museum?”
“I’ll head over right after work! I love you! Luke is coming over right now!!”
There was pizza and wine a couple times, but the moment any of these angels arrived in my living room, it was obvious these would not be social calls. The situation was not normal. My friends could see right away this wasn’t hanging out with Mary; this was sitting shiva.
Because no one had ever seen me like this. I had never seen me like this. My friends are otherworldly creatures made of dopeness and love, so when they observed me, they were kind and brilliant in their approach to care for me. These women and men did everything right. They brought me flowers, sewed with me, sent me jokes, talked to me on the phone, watched my favorite movie (Tootsie, duh), brought over — for example — a bag of white cheddar Pirate’s Booty and a six-pack, read to me, stroked my hair as I lay my head on their respective laps. They were brilliant, full of compassion and love for me; they were creative in their tending to me and relentless in their desire to help. But it was very hard to know what to do. Would I know what to do if a close friend literally could not stop crying for weeks? Two of my friends spent the night, sleepover style, during the final, awful week. They were with me when the worst of the panic attacks (I lost count how many), sank its needle teeth into my head and began to eat and pin-pricked every nerve in my body until I shorted out. That afternoon … that afternoon was terrifying for all three of us.
I felt guilty for those panic attacks, for shorting out. I felt guilty I could not entertain my friends, or be there for them. Their lives didn’t stop because mine was falling apart. But at that time there was nothing I could give them. I could only cling to them and beg them to stay just a little longer, which they always did, and without reservation. This neediness added to my sorrow, too, because depression is a sonofabitch. Nothing is safe. It eats everything it can, including good intentions and one’s ability to communicate love.
Remember how I told you there were five things that took me down? I was so busy getting on with the bitter end, I forgot to finish that list. Let’s do that now.
The other two blows to my life were money related.
My business is PaperGirl, LLC. In order to keep my expenses and tax stuff at least a little organized, I have a credit card for PaperGirl, LLC. I have a high credit limit on this card. I pay it off faithfully every month. (I think I’ve missed one payment in four years.) It’s got kind of a high balance right now — but not more than four digits — and it’s this is because I’m waiting on several reimbursement checks. I hate having a big balance on the thing, so I pay it off in big chunks if I can.
This credit card is my only credit card. It has my name on it and my business name on it. Outside of that, I have two debit cards. I have one store credit card. That’s it. Pretty tight, right? Pretty buttoned up?
Fun fact: If you have a credit card for your business, it does not count toward your personal credit score. Did you know that?
I didn’t know that. But I learned it when I applied for a mortgage to get a loan to buy a condo that would let me have my dog. The credit people were like, “Uh … so, you don’t have credit.” And I was like, “Uh … yeah, I do.” When I looked at my credit score, though, my credit card was not factored in. Because it’s a business card, it doesn’t count toward my credit. Even though my name is on the card. Even though my business is me and I am my business.
Without a personal credit card, one that just says “Mary K Fons” on it, not “Mary K Fons PaperGirl LLC, guess who got denied for a mortgage? Upon getting this news, I knew I was trapped for probably an entire year. A whole year more before I could have a puppy, a whole year more in the same space, in the building that broke my heart. It would be a year because I’d have to get a dumb (and “high-risk”??) credit card and “build up good credit for a year” like I’m a freakin’ 20-year-old undergraduate. I felt sick. I felt like a fool. I felt like total and complete idiot. And I wasn’t goin’ nowhere.
Dog. Breakup. Doctor. Money. Mom.
Details about that last thing, that fifth thing, that Mom thing, are absolutely nothing I’ll be going into. All I can tell you is that Mom and I had a fight. We never fight. Ever. We have never, ever had a fight. And then we did. And that was the last thing that happened that sent me down.
For two weeks — whether or not my friends were with me — I could not stop crying. I’m telling you: I was physically unable to stop crying. The tears would recede for a little while but then I’d shake my head and put my hand to my forehead and cry, and cry, and cry. Sometimes I could talk. A lot of times I couldn’t. There were periods during the breakdown when I just stared into space with tears rolling down my cheeks. One of the scariest things is that after a while, none of the circumstances that had brought me so low were front of mind. After awhile, I wasn’t crying about Philip Larkin, or the doctor, or the money. I was crying because … oh, my god. Oh, god, it was all just so sad. All of it.
The bottomless sadness of being alive. The death that waits for each of us. The despair in despair itself wasted me. Joy was something that existed on a distant planet. Sadness made me sad. Being sad about the sadness made me sad. And so I went down, and down, and down, and then, when I did not think I could go down more, I would remember that I was trapped, because of the money thing, and I would go further down. Or I would think of the fight and I would go further down. And I would think, “If Philip was here and I could pet him, I would be okay.”
The sadness monster was eating me alive. I have never felt anything more painful than that.
Next week: How I’m doing now — so good!! — and what medication I’m taking.
Tonight is a list night, not a narrative night. The list is the list of reasons why this is the case. And so, rather than disappear; rather than put something substandard into the multiverse; rather than not write a list I feel ought to be written, the list.
Why The Latest Installment of The Story of the Breakdown
Cannot Be Posted At This Time
I’m in Seattle and it’s 10:43 p.m. This means it’s after midnight in Chicago, aka PaperGirl basecamp. The PaperGirl Sunday Evening Post has a deadline of midnight on Sunday, Central Standard Time (CST). Being in Seattle at half-past 10:00, Pacific Standard Time (PST) means my deadline is all mucked up, now. I blame Earth and its orbit around the sun. The point is that time is not on anyone’s side right now, unless you live in Seattle. (See rest of list.)
I ate fish and chips for dinner and my stomach is killing me.
The next installment — the installment this post is replacing — was scrapped. The reason for abandoning my work was that this particular chapter involves the people in my life who are the most close and dear to me and no matter how I massaged or clipped or edited the content in order to protect their privacy and respect their lives, it felt wrong to invoke their names in this story without permission. Even though what I was writing was laudatory and even worshipful of these people — my friends — there was a voice inside me that told me to ask first. I didn’t anticipate this happening because again: Everything I was writing was praise. But if you don’t want to have your life “out there” on the interwebs, it doesn’t matter if you’re being lambasted or praise; it’s all transgression. So I have to make some calls, first.
A few months back, Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims invited me to be on The Quilt Show. I taped my segments on Thursday. The moment my second segment finished, I zipped to the airport to come directly here. When I go home Tuesday, I’ll have a few days in Chicago before heading to New Orleans to be part of a conference at Tulane. With all this location hopping, it’s almost like I’m living in 2018, and that scares me a little. Exhaustion played a big part in the breaking down. In the months since, I have been wary of “pushing it”. I’m pushing it. In other words, I should go to bed.
There’s a special person in Seattle and he’s right over there. With ice cream. And two spoons.
In telling the story of my nervous breakdown at age 39, I’ve so far detailed in two separate posts the death of my dog and the breakup of my relationship. There are three more disasters to share with you because there were three more blows coming for me before the major depression reached its most gruesome stage.
Tonight, the third disaster, but a heads-up for next week: I’ll combine the other two into one last post about the wind-up. I want to get to the climax and the denouement and then I want to go back to writing about dryer lint. Those were the good old days.
All right, let’s do this. Let’s talk about my guts.
Some people get colonoscopies. People with colon disease get them a lot, maybe every couple of years. Every two years, I have to get a pouchoscopy because I don’t have a colon. Instead of a colon, I have a medically fashioned thing called a j-pouch, and if you’re interested in reading the story of my chronic illness, click the “Sicky” category and you can enjoy all that wacky content.
My insurance was canceled in 2017 (a post about that is to be found in the “Sicky” category, in fact) and the cancellation meant I could no longer see my doctors and surgeons. Because of grad school and work, it took me a long time to getting around to finding new doctors. Dragging my feet on this was bad … since I was due for a pouchoscopy. The pouchoscopy is done frequently with gimps like me because we’re at a higher risk for various bowel cancers than other folks. It’s also seriously important to check for inflammation inside my funky new body parts because inflammation could be a sign of pouchitis, which is basically Ulcerative Colitis (UC) of the j-pouch. Which would suck.
And then there’s this other thing that a pouchoscopy can reveal. A pouchoscopy can tell the doctor if you — in this case, me — might be exhibiting signs of Crohn’s Disease.
Let’s see how quick I can do this: If you have UC, it means your large intestine is eating itself alive but your small intestine is fine. With UC, you can have your entire colon removed, get an ostomy, and get a j-pouch and everything blows and it’s awful forever, but whatever. You’ve still got your small intestine and that’s something, at least.
If you have Crohn’s Disease, your large and small intestine are eating themselves alive. Crohn’s peeps undergo (often over and over and over) surgeries called “resectionings”. A resection is where a surgeon takes out a too-inflamed, too-ulcerated-to-save piece of your guts. There’s no total colectomy with Crohn’s like there is with UC, because Crohn’s folks need all the entrails they can get. Any piece could fail at any time, you know?
If a person like me, a person with zero large intestine (aka, colon) is diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, this is bad. This is the worst thing. This is the hell thing. This is the thing that wakes me up at night, the thing that makes me bite my cuticles till they bleed. If I am diagnosed with Crohn’s — whether it manifested after all my other surgeries or if I was misdiagnosed 10 years ago, doesn’t matter — then I will eventually have to undergo resectionings.
If you take away enough small intestine because you have no large intestine to take from you will eventually run out of intestine. If you run out of intestine, you can still live. But you can’t eat. You’re fed intravenously. Forever. And because you no longer sh*t, they sew up your butt. It sounds sort of funny except that it isn’t funny.
When I walk into a hospital or a GI doctor’s office, I experience PTSD from all the needles and bags and accidents and procedures and trauma and despair that I’ve known in the last decade — and that’s just when I walk in. If I’m in the doctor’s office and my doctor looks concerned about lab results or looks concerned about what I’m telling her about how I’ve been feeling, I tremble and shake. I also begin to stutter? When I’m in the GI doc’s office and things get out of hand, it’s true: I can’t get my mouth to say words. It’s weird. It’s frightening. When I have to get a pouchoscopy scheduled, I just … I don’t want to exist in my head. That’s how bad it feels. Basically, going to see my GI doctor is one of the most awful things that can happen to me, even when I get a clean (for me) bill of health.
Guess when I had an appointment to see my GI doctor? Sometime in early January, maybe? Yeah, after my dog and my boyfriend disappeared, and right before I got denied for a home loan and right before a huge fight with my family. It was sorta right in the middle of all that. And remember: This appointment to see my GI doctor was an appointment to see a new GI doctor, because I lost my insurance. New smells. New hospitals. New travel times.
The new doctor needed me to go through my medical history there in her office. From the first words, I could feel the stutter was gonna happen. My eyes started pouring hot water. Trying to “get it together” made it worse. The doctor was patient, but she needed the info in order to help me. By the time I got to the end of the story, which concluded with weird symptoms I told her I’d been having for several months, I was … not good.
“I’m concerned, with what you’re telling me about your symptoms,” she said, after clackity-clacking on her keyboard some more. She looked grave. “We need to do the pouchoscopy you should’ve had six months ago. I’m concerned about Crohn’s Disease, from what you’ve been telling — ”
And I don’t remember what came after that. Wait, I do remember: The doctor told me to go upstairs to get my blood drawn at the lab and she’d follow up with me about scheduling the pouchoscopy “as soon as possible.” I nodded and shook her hand. With a kind of fuzzy, hysterical static sound in my brain and behind my eyes, I took the paper. I went up to the lab. I got to the door. My legs didn’t work. I turned around. I left the hospital. I nearly threw up in the Uber.
All I could think of as I slumped against the car door was feeding tubes.
When I got to my house, I went up to my apartment. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t leave for a while.
One of the best parts of the roaring fabric auction going on right now — click here for info on that if you need it — is that you and I have been able to hang out more. Doing a once-weekly post is what makes sense for me right now, but merchandise waits for no blogger.
My sincere thanks to all of you for the hip-hip-hoorays regarding the condo purchase. It’s thrilling, indeed, and I feel like you’ve come with me through this whole thing. The auction looks like a success, which is terrific. The bread from the boxes will be put into good use; I foresee those uses including but not being limited to: paying for the cleaning of my apartment before the tenants move in; paying the movers; doing the internet set-up, gas, electric, etc.; tipping the pizza delivery guy, probably several times over the course of the next couple weeks. Thank you. (Remember: On April 1st, thirteen (13) more boxes will go live to bid on, as well as quilts … and who knows what else! I’m kind of digging this eBay thing.)
In other news, I’m in Kentucky.
And though I am eager to get to the next chapter of the story of my major depression, it’s 10:15 p.m. and I haven’t the pep at the moment. I’m on location for Quiltfolk magazine and it has been a long-but-rewarding day. To begin the story’s next gnarly installment would be to steal from my already too-short night’s sleep and to write poorly for you. Do we like the sound of this? We do not. But when you hear from me next you’ll hear about the final blows, the knockout punches that took down our heroine. I’ll try my best to wrap up in that post the reasons why the breakdown occurred, to the best of my knowledge. Then I can get onto the how, the what, and the aftermath of the terribleness.
About an hour ago, in a desperate attempt to push through my tiredness and indeed write the third post in the series, I ate three handmade Kentucky bourbon marshmallows because that’s something you can buy in Kentucky. There was no booze in them, by the way (not that it would’ve mattered one way or the other.) I popped them into my mouth, bing-bing-bing, sure they would shock some energy into my brain. It didn’t work. And if three Kentucky bourbon marshmallows consumed in quick succession in a Hampton Inn in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky, can’t give a gal the fortitude to write about a nervous breakdown … she should probably go to bed.
If you know about the fabric stash + book sale already, you’ll be more interested in this link that will take you to the Mary Fons eBay auction — and this red text is that link! If the auction is live already, it’s because eBay is complicated and strange, at least from the seller side of things. If it’s NOT live, yet, be patient, because it absolutely will be. Everyone will have time to play in the fields of a fabric auction, don’t worry. The auction will be up for five days!
NOTE: Many will notice that there are only 50 boxes for sale instead of 63, which is the count I gave yesterday. Have no fear! There are 63 boxes on offer, but eBay won’t allow me to post more than 50 items a month. (I told you: eBay, man.) I will post the rest of the boxes on April 1st, so look for that if you don’t get a box this time around.
Agh! It’s like throwing a party and hoping people will come, you know? However this goes down, I want to thank you most of all for the well wishes about the new place. It’s a new day. I feel like I’m breaking out of jail, I really do.
There comes a time in any blog’s serialized tale of woe that it must break the bonds of the narrative to announce a big, fat, juicy fabric stash sale. I’ll give you alllll the details in just a sec. First, let me tell you why I’m about to sell off a huge chunk of my personal fabric stash because many of you may be thinking that either I’m giving up quilting or I have been hit on the head by a coconut. Neither are even remotely true!
I am selling off a large portion of my personal fabric stash … because I moving to a pet-friendly apartment! Yes! It’s the best thing ever! The only downside is that the space I’m moving to is waysmaller than where I’m at now. Stuff’s about to get real, y’all. So …
Beginning Friday, March 22, 2019, at 12:00 p.m. (CST), I will be auctioning off a significant chunk of my personal fabric stash on eBay.
The auction will be live for five days, ending at midnight, March 27th.
***If you don’t want to read the reason/story behind why I’m doing this and just want to know how to get the fabric, skip ahead to “How This Will Work”!***
Announcing the fabric sale means speeding ahead in the story of my recent major depression, but honestly, it’s kind of a relief to take a break. It may be interesting, but by its very nature, it’s a real drag. So like, can we all just roll around in fabric for a while? Great!
The good news is that the breakdown story concludes with multiple happy endings, and this new dog-friendly living space is one of them for sure.
After the veto of Philip Larkin, so many of you encouraged me to find a new place to live — and you were right. I started looking at condos a couple months ago and found a perfect unit in a 10-floor building a few blocks north of downtown. It was love at first click. This condo checked all my boxes: puppy approved, in a vintage building in a safe neighborhood, with generally good vibes — everything I was looking for. The listing said the seller was “very motivated”, which made sense because the unit had been on the market for half a year. There’s nothing deeply flawed about it; it’s just that with no parking space, a narrow kitchen, and in need of a serious paint job, it makes it a hard sell for a lot of people. But the place was out of my price range by a lot. It was going to take a whole lot of “motivation” to get that number down enough for me to even think about making an offer.
But then one day, I got an alert that the price dropped. Cool, but it was still too expensive for me to seriously consider it. Then, about a month later, the price dropped again. Woah. We were entering the realm of possibility, now. Could this actually happen?? I contacted the realtor my family has worked with in the past and asked her if she had time for a chat. She did, and chatting commenced.
The process was agonizingly slow for weeks and then everything began moving fast. I scraped together all my savings and my IRA monies for a downpayment. After considerable drama, I applied for and got a decent mortgage loan. I crunched the numbers over and over. By renting the place I’m in now, I can pay my mortgage and my HOA fees at the new place. My realtor and I made our offer. The seller countered. We countered back. And then the answer came: Our offer was accepted. At this news, there was much squeaking and hand-flapping and I may have done several laps around my current apartment. Inspections were ordered. Appraisals, too. Checks were handed over. And just yesterday, the closing date is confirmed: March 29th, 2019. That would be next Friday, and I’m not freaking out at all.
Now that you know what’s going on, it’s time to talk about this fabric. You’ve waited so patiently.
The new, totally fabulous place is a one-bedroom. My current place is a two-bedroom. This single-woman-in-a-two-bedroom setup has been a great luxury for me as a quilter, since that back bedroom could serve as my lil’ fabric stockroom. My stash has grown over the years because duh, but also because with so much room back there, I could just keep filling it. Every yard, every fat quarter I purchased was brought in with love and excitement and I am fond of every bit of it. Suddenly, though, I’ve got serious problems. I do not have room for this stash. The only way I could keep all this would be to store a lot of it in my new kitchen cupboards and that would be crazy. Please tell me that would be crazy. (Thank you.)
What, then, are my options for significantly reducing a fabric stash? The way I figure, there are three: get a storage unit, give it away, or sell off a bunch of it.
A storage unit is out of the question. Fabric belongs in quilts, not in grimy storage units. Besides, it’s gross to keep a horde of fabric like that all to myself just because I bought it and love it. Other quilters might love it, too, and they could put it to good use. Donating sounds good, but it’s not as easy as you think to donate fabric. The Goodwill isn’t excited about getting boxes of raw yardage, and so few schools do sewing projects anymore, I haven’t found a single school that will take fabric donations. I have several boxes to send to a local guild for use in charity quilts, but as I thought about sending it all away, I thought, “Well, wait a second, Fons. You purchased this fabric. You have taken good care of it. You have a new, scary mortgage. It’s okay to sell things. It’s not evil.” This is an important note for me and for us all, maybe? Consciously or subconsciously, there exists a certain uncomfortability about making money on a quilt or selling one’s supplies when one could give every last scrap to charity. Quilts and money have a complicated relationship, but a fabric garage sale does not make me or anyone else a bad person. Some may disagree and that’s okay. I know how much a crosstown move costs in the city of Chicago and also I would like to eat food.
How This Will Work
My lovely assistant Jazzy came over last week and we hauled out all my fabric. It was pretty crazy in here. We brought in dozens of Medium-Sized USPS Flat-Rate boxes and filled each of them with a lovely variety of fabrics from my stash. Some cuts were excruciating to part with, but I was firm in my resolve. Each box was able to hold a lot of fabric. There’s Kaffe, Tula, Moda, Art Gallery; there are prints, solids … everything. Each box is a grab bag, but don’t worry: My fabrics are awesome. Some of the boxes are filled with smaller cuts, mostly fat quarters; other boxes are filled with large cuts of serious yardage, somewhere around four yards in some cases. It’s impressive or depressing, depending on how you look at it.
But there’s more than fabric in these boxes.
My book, Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts For the 21st Century, is now out of print. There won’t be any more in all of existence once my inventory is gone. I now have five boxes of books left, and two of them have to be saved for a couple gigs later this year. When my books are gone, they gone. But I don’t have room in the new place for these boxes, either, so I autographed a whole bunch of books and Jazzy and I put one inside each box.
“Mary!” you cry, “I must have one of these boxes! I love fabric and I want your book and I want to help you live! How much??”
Each box starts at $50.00, including shipping. I’d like to explain how I got that number:
As you probably know, USPS Flat-Rate Boxes (FRBs) are prepaid. FRBs were the only way to go, otherwise Jazzy and I would be at the post office for one fafillion years and everyone in line would be murdering us — with good reason. The boxes ain’t cheap, though: A medium-sized box is around $15 bucks. But we could pack a ton heavy fabric in each box and the poundage was irrelevant. The price of the boxes also accounts for the signed book, which retails for $22. A yard of quilt shop-quality fabric hovers around $12/yard. If you pick up a medium-sized FRB, you’ll get an idea of how much yardage each box is going to contain. Once we added all that up, we decided $50 bucks looked pretty fair. All the pre-washed fabric comes directly from my smoke-free, pet-free (!) home. Oh, and I put a fun certificate of authenticity in there, too, just to be cheeky.
There are 63 boxes that will be listed on eBay tomorrow. DO NOT JUDGE ME. If folks want the boxes, just put in the bid. If no one else bids higher, the box is yours when the auction ends. If the boxes don’t sell at all, I will weep and then I will donate everything, but I have to try this first.
If you’re interested in having a fun with this, be on the lookout here in my blog and on my Facebook page tomorrow morning when I post the link to the eBay page. I’ll do it early so you can get it all loaded up if you want to bid. The eBay page will give you all the above info and more. You are welcome to ask questions in the comments and either Jazzy or I will do our best to answer. As soon as the auction is over, the boxes ship out because heaven knows I need to get them out of here before the move happens on Monday. I’m still not freaking out at all. Do you happen to have any Tums?
And if this garage sale table excites you, just wait: I’m going to be selling a few quilts, too. More on that later.
Welcome to The PaperGirl Sunday Evening Post. This is the third installment of a series examining the causes and effects of the major depressive episode I experienced in mid-January.
If you haven’t read the first and second posts in the series already, you should, since in this story, the chain of events is the point. After all, a breakdown is a breaking down of something — and things don’t tend to break down all at once. It’s a domino thing, a Rube Goldberg thing, but with sobbing and extended panic attacks.
After I got the news about Philip, the relationship I had been in for about a year ended, this time for good.
There had been a couple times over the course of the year when N. and I had decided to let it go. There were communication problems. Mistakes were made. But we were genuinely fond of each other. There was sweetness there, no question, and you may have heard that breakups are the literal worst. So, both times we called it quits we didn’t stay quit for long. After a month or so, we’d end up back at my place, ordering takeout and (re)watching episodes of Rick and Morty. It was not a perfect relationship, but it was tender enough. Pathetic, perhaps, that “tender enough” was enough at all, but we do what we do in the world.
It is unethical to divulge on this blog personal details about anyone else’s life but my own. This has always been my policy, so when I sat down today to write about the breakup, I approached it with characteristic caution. My first try was awful. I labored over several too-long, intentionally vague paragraphs that made no sense because I was avoiding saying what actually happened. I deleted all that, then spent another hour writing out exactly what happened in a “Just the facts, ma’am” kind of way. Not only was it sharing personal details about N.’s life, it was exceedingly boring. He said she said? Hell no.
Then it hit me: I don’t need to tell you anything about how it happened. You already know how it happened because we all know how breakups happen. There was terrible pain. People were hurt and then made the other person hurt. There was confusion. Anger. Irritation. Fear. Harsh words. Tears. Do the details really matter?
I don’t think so. Not here, maybe, and not now.
What matters now is that one bitterly cold, windy Tuesday in early December, I was trudging past the post office in the Loop, wincing as the ice hit my cheeks, but warmed by the fact that I had a cute boyfriend and a dream dog on the way. I couldn’t know that within a matter of days, I’d have no boyfriend and my dog was already dead.
Yeah, well, Chicago winter didn’t care about any of that. Heck, the polar vortex was still a month away. Shocked and aching that two major figures in my world had been excised most cruelly, I still had to keep trudging. I still had to go to the post office, the grocery store, and home to my empty apartment, even as the tears I cried into my scarf froze on my face. That actually happened.
It was bad. But at least I had my health. I did have my health, right? Tell me I still had my health.
But first: It was staggering to see the amount of love shown to me and the identification so many readers had with the first installment of the story. Many PaperGirl readers have experienced a major depressive episode, themselves. Many more have loved ones or friends who have. Nearly everyone is acquainted with depression somehow. How, exactly, can there still be a stigma around getting therapy or getting on (the right) meds to treat mental illness? Help me understand.
There were five events that combined to cause my nervous breakdown. The only way to illustrate the full misery is to illustrate the full misery piece by piece. When you’re having a nervous breakdown, time makes no sense — but let’s go chronologically, anyway.
It started with Philip.
If you don’t know about a little dog named Philip Larkin, click the “Philip Larkin” category tab over on the right hand side and you’ll see all the posts I’ve written about him. The story of Philip is long and it is about to get longer.
About nine months ago, a PaperGirl reader put me in contact with a Maltipoo breeder in Arkansas. This breeder was kind, certified, transparent, and above all, ethical. Filling out my Puppy Application took at least an hour to complete. I detailed the dog of my dreams, signed an agreement to be a good dog owner, and sent all that off with a not-insignificant deposit check. I was approved and put on the waiting list. The breeder said that two of her mama dogs whelp particularly small dogs, so this meant Philip’s mom would be either Ginger or Elsa.
“I think Ginger will probably have puppies toward the end of summer,” the breeder said. “You’ll be the first to know!”
But neither dog gave birth; the summer was too hot, the breeder said. No problem, I told her: I can wait. I had waited this long, hadn’t I? Besides, so much had been put in motion. Finding the breeder, getting on the waitlist, sending the deposit … Philip Larkin was getting more real every day. Soon, I wouldn’t feel so alone all the time. Soon, he would wriggle and roll and pounce on me and lick my nose with his tiny pink tongue … I’m comin’, Philip, I thought. We got this.
In November, the breeder emailed me that Ginger had given birth. There were five puppies in the litter: four girls … and one boy. This was it. That was Philip. I got the email while on a Quiltfolk trip and when I read about Ginger and the puppies to the girls in the car, we all screamed and freaked out and I flapped my hands and cried. Everyone hugged. Philip wasn’t just my dog at that point; we all wanted him.
When the breeder asked me if I’d like to see pictures of Philip as he grew, I told her that I would like that very much. It would be around eight weeks before he could come home, and this was the perfect amount of time to get things in order. I immediately began all the legwork for my petition. It hadn’t made sense to do all the stuff it before that, since a) I didn’t know if there would be a dog with this breeder; b) what if the dog wasn’t the right one, etc.; and c) I had looked at Illinois law and knew all the pieces I needed to proceed to get my companion pet in a no-dog building. I was ready for this paperwork.
The breeder sent pictures of Philip at about six weeks. He was exquisite. Downy and sweet. His dark eyes had that new puppy, sleepy, bleary look; he still had so much growing to do! His belly was pink and I liked to think I saw a lil’ milk gut.
Toward the end of November, I handed my building manager my 26-page petition, asking for permission to obtain Philip. This petition did not have to be 26 pages but like I was going to screw this up? Hell no. That slipcovered binder had a table of contents, a cover letter, letters from my doctors, a packet of resources (e.g., vets in the area, boarding outfits, etc.), information about the breed, information from the breeder, and all the blog posts I had written about my future pet, printed off. I wanted to make sure that my condo board understood this was not an impulse thing, that getting my small, hypo-allergenic dog was something I had been longing for and planning for for at least two years. I was following the rules. I was doing the work. I was going above and beyond.
On Black Friday, I bought a dog bed. On Cyber Monday, I bought a treat jar. At night, I actually fell asleep thinking of my dog. I had been feeling so poorly over the past couple months with bathroom stuff and it was a happy place I went to in my head.
On December 6th, I got a certified, one-page letter from my building’s attorneys retained by my building that under no circumstances would I be allowed to obtain a dog for the purposes of emotional support. Unless I had a service animal license, the answer was no. Adding to the shock, the lawyer wrote that the blog posts I included in my packet showed that I had tried to get my blog readers to give me tips on how to game the system. I am still not sure what blog posts she was reading, but I guess lawyers are real busy and stuff. She just got mixed up.
My heart got shot.
That’s how it felt. Someone pulled out heavy gun, placed the barrel flush to my breast, and shot me through my heart. For a few moments, I sat there at my table. I guess it was like in the movies when a gangster is playing cards or something, and he gets shot, right there at the table, and he’s still for a moment before he topples over. I looked down at the letter in my hands. I read it again. Then I put the letter on the table. And I began to cry.
That’s how the breakdown began. It began when my dog died.
This year of 2019 is pretty young, yet, but she’s old for her age.
Of the 11 or so weeks the year’s been alive, there were three or four in which I was fully out of commission. I’ve hinted around in the past few posts that something bad happened. I wrote about “the worst day of my life” a couple weeks back. Several times in several places I’ve mentioned pain in passing only to say “I’ll tell you later”, skipping stones on the surface of a deep, dark lake.
You could tell. You could tell because you know me, because you’re smart, and because I am a terrible liar. So it’s time to stop dodging; I’m not fooling you and besides, there’s only one thing I want to tell you. What I want to tell you is that I had a nervous breakdown. I’m way, way better now. But I caught a case, boy.
These days, we’re to call it a “major depressive episode” and there’s no doubt it was that. But when I put a name to the ungodly thing, I prefer to use the old-fashioned term “nervous breakdown”. When a gal is twisted up in agony of the emotional kind, lost to an extended panic, unreachable even to her most faithful friends, there’s something distantly (very distantly) comforting in claiming what’s happening is a nervous breakdown. It could even be glamorous, she tries to tell herself, all smelling salts and fainting couches, powders and slaps across the face. All this thinking really does, though, is suggest that because those thoughts exist, you must not be the only person in history who has gone through it. You have sisters in the emotional failure business, in other words. Congratulations.
Part of my hesitation in telling you until now is that it’s such a long, long story. Be patient with me as I roll it out. I may not go in order, and that bothers me but there’s nothing to be done, as one of the effects of a nervous breakdown — whether encroaching, actively having its way with you, or leaving its slime trail — is a lack of focus. I have found it extraordinary difficult to focus these months and getting things straight has taken herculean efforts. Losing focus is just one of the symptoms I’ve had; no two nervous breakdowns are the same. We’re all built differently, so when our buildings collapse, they can fall any which way: One person can get off the couch but her focus is dynamited while another stays mentally present but her body might as well be dissolving in lye.
Where was I?
The first phase of the breakdown hit in early December, but as I’ve looked at everything, it’s clear(ish) to me that I was headed straight for it, or it was headed for me, all year. Or maybe it’s been five years coming, or ten. Maybe it’s in my blood. (My father could tell you that it is.) In the next post, I’ll tell you how it all went down. It’s too much for me at the moment and I’m thinking of you, too.
Tonight, I’ll close with this:
We all get sad. Some of us get very sad and stay that way. You may be low because you’re dealing with brutal life stuff. Perhaps you are generally blue. Perhaps you are sad because it’s winter and the sky is flinty and the wind has teeth. You may be someone who lives with mild depression; you may take medication for it. However or whatever depressed state you may be in, it sucks. It really, really sucks to live in a long, grey cloud. You might wonder, on bad days, “Maybe I’m having a nervous breakdown”. I’ve wondered this in the past, on bad days.
It turns out, the difference between the grey cloud and a nervous breakdown is the difference between a sneeze and metastasized lung cancer. You do not need to ever wonder if you’re having a nervous breakdown. If you are having one, you will know. You will feel as though you are being eaten alive by a sadness monster, and the color will drain out of the world — except the grey, though it crusts over into something darker. The upside, however, to being eaten alive by a sadness monster is that at least it’s a monster. Depression is an all-over ache; a nervous breakdown is getting punched in the face.
Did any of that make sense?
Some might think writing publicly about a mental disorder shows I have neither shame nor sense. You’re right, but for the wrong reason. Sharing this is not scary for me. I don’t feel nervous, or worried — or brave, for that matter. This is my life and you are my peeps. Of course I’m going to tell you about the time I had a nervous breakdown.
Remember last week, when I told you about 1001 Afternoons in Chicago?
I’m still reading it, meting out the remaining entries in Ben Hecht’s book so that the miracle will last as long as possible.
Last week, I shared an excerpt, and for tonight’s Sunday Evening Post, I’m going to share a full entry from the book. The piece is called Confessions. It’s one of the best things I have ever read, I think. The humanity, the specificity, the simplicity — it’s remarkable, at least to me. So I typed up the piece, just for you. I like to type up or write out longhand passages of writing written by far better writers than myself. Like a painting student copies a masterwork in order to learn how to paint, copying down other people’s writing is one small thing I do as a writer. It’s an interesting exercise because guess what? Great writers also have to actually write the word “the” in lots of places. They also have to decide, finally, how a piece should end. And begin. We’re all faced with the blank page. We’re all using the same words. We’re all human — right, Ben?
Maybe you think sharing another Hecht excerpt this week is a bit lazy. “This again?!” some of you might say, though I don’t think any of you will say that because you’re not the type. The thing is, it’s been a good but super intense weekend, I’m deep in preparation for QuiltCon (!), and I’m not feeling well. And so, I can either rest on the shoulders of giants and make us all happy, or paste together something mediocre for you and make us all sad. Not a tough call, really. I’m pretty sure I’ll post again this week; my sea legs are feeling stronger.
Confessions, by Ben Hecht, from 1001 Afternoons in Chicago, 1921.
The rain mutters in the night and the pavements like dark mirrors are alive with impressionistic cartoons of the city. The little, silent street with its darkened store windows and rain-veiled arc lamps is as lonely as a far-away train whistle.
Over the darkened stores are stone and wooden flat buildings. Here, too, the lights have gone out. People sleep. The rain falls. The gleaming pavements amuse themselves with reflections.
I have an hour to wait. From the musty smelling hallway where I stand the scene is like an old print — an old London print — that I have always meant to buy and put in a frame but have never found.
Writing about people when one is alone under an electric lamp, and thinking about people when one stands watching the rain in the dark streets, are two different diversions. When one writes under an electric lamp one pompously marshals ideas; one remembers the things people say and do and believe in, and slowly these things replace people in one’s mind. One thinks (in the calm of one’s study): “So-and-so is a Puritan … he is viciously afraid of anything which will disturb the idealized version of himself in which he believes — and wants other people to believe … “ Yes,m one thinks So-and-so is this and So-and-so is that. And it all seems very simple. People focus into clearly outlined ideas — definitions. And one can sit back and belabor them, hamstring them, pull their noses, expose their absurdities and derive a deal of satisfaction from the process. Iconoclasm is easy and warming under an electric light in one’s study.
But in the rain at night, in the dark street staring at darkened windows, watching the curious reflections in the pavements — it is different in the rain. The night mutters and whispers.
“People,” one thinks, “tired, silent people sleeping in the dark.”
Ideas do not come so easily or so clearly. The ennobling angers which are the emotion of superiority in the iconoclast do not rise so spontaneously. And one does not say “People are this and people are that … “ No, one pauses and stares at the dark chatter of the rain and a curious silence saddens one’s mind.
Life is apart from ideas. And the things that people say and believe in and for which they die and in behalf of which they invent laws and codes — these have nothing to do with the insides of people. Puritan, hypocrite, criminal, dolt — these are paper-thin masks. It is diverting to rip them in the calm of one’s study.
Life that warms the trees into green in the summer, that sends birds circling through the air, that spreads a tender, passionate glow over even the most barren wastes — people are but one of its almost too many children. The dark, the rain, the lights, people asleep in bed, the wind, the snow that will fall tomorrow, the ice, flowers, sunlight, country roads, pavements and stars — all these are the same. Through all of them life sends its intimate and sacred breath.
One becomes aware of such curious facts in the rain at night and one’s iconoclasm, like a broken umbrella, hangs useless from one’s hand. Tomorrow these people who are now asleep will be stirring, giving vent to outrageous ideas, championing incredulous banalitiies, prostrating themselves before imbecile superstitions. Tomorrow they will rise and begin forthwith to lie, quibble, cheat, steal, four flush and kill, each and all inspired by the solacing monomania that every one of their words and gestures is a credible variant of perfection. Yes, tomorrow they will be as they were yesterday.
But in this rain at night they rest from their perfections, they lay aside for a few hours they rest from their perfections, they lay aside for a few hours their paper masks. And one can contemplate them with a curious absence of indignation or criticism. There is something warm and intimate about the vision of many people sleeping in the beds above the darkened store fronts of this little street. Their bodies have been in the world so long — almost as long as the stones out of which their houses are made. So many things have happened to them, so many debacles and monsters and horrors have swept them off their feet … and always they have kept on — persisting through floods, volcanic eruptions, plagues and wars.
Heroic and incredible people. Endlessly belaboring themselves with ideas, gods, taboos, and philosophies. Yet here they are, still in this silent little street. The world has grown old. Trees have decayed and races died out. But here above the darkened store fronts lies the perpetual miracle … People in whom life streams as naive and intimate as ever.
Yes, it is to life and not people one makes one’s obeisance. Toward life no iconoclasm is possible, for even that which is in opposition to its beauty and horror must of necessity be a part of them.
It rains. The arc lamps gleam through the monotonous downporu. One can only stand and dream … how charming people are since they are alive … how caring the rain is and the night … And how foolish arguments are … how ban al are these cerebral monsters who pose as iconoclasts and devote themselves grandiloquently and inanely to disturbing the paper masks …
I walk away from the must smelling hallway. A dog steps tranquilly out of the shadows nearby. He surveys the street and the rain with a proprietary calm.
It would be amusing to walk in the rain with a strange dong. I whistle softly and reassuringly to him. He pauses and turns his head towardme, surveying me with an air of vague discomfort. What do I want with him? … he thinks … who am I? … have I any authority? … what will happen to him if he doesn’t obey the whistle?
Thus he stands hesitating. Perhaps, too, I will give him shelter, a kindness never to be despised. A moment ago, before I whistled, this dog was tranquil and happy in the rain. Now he has changed. He turns fully around and approaches me, a slight cringe in his walk. The tranquility has left him. At the sound of my whistle he has grown suddenly tired and lonely and the night and rain no longer lure him. He has found another companionship.
And so together we walk for a distance, this dog and I, wondering about each other …
Today, a book interfered with all the work I was supposed to do. I’ll have to get up very early in the morning to catch up, but I don’t care. There was nothing I could do. Today, there could be nothing in the world — thank God — but this book, the delicate snowfall, and the pub where I sat, in the window, reading for two hours. The barstool I selected was inside Miller’s Pub, est. 1935, a Chicago institution, shielded and admired by the el at Wabash and Madison.
The book, A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago, started as a column in the Chicago Daily News 1920s. The author, Ben Hecht, is a name some of you might recognize, but if you do, I’ll bet it’s because Hecht achieved screenwriting stardom in Hollywood in the 1940s, writing or doctoring scripts a whole bunch of classic films. But before he decamped for Hollywood, Hecht was a dyed-in-the-wool Chicago newspaperman. He started writing for the dailies here when he was just 15, and he was good at what he did. What he did was write well about stuff that happened in the city he dearly loved.
Some years before the column began, Hecht left the News to work in publicity. He wanted to make more money and get away from the grind of reporting round the clock, so he went for it. He hated the publicity business, though, and was quickly miserable. His editor wanted him back and had an idea of how to get Hecht and keep him interested. He asked Hecht if he’d like to write a different sort of column for the News, one that explored the people of the city, but this time with a decidedly narrative tone. Hecht could interview people as he usually would, but then, rather than file a Q&A or a “This happened and this happened” piece of reportage, he’d have license to make the vignettes almost … poetic.
For years. In the preface to the 1922 book containing dozens of these “afternoon” characters — this is the book I couldn’t put down this afternoon — I learned that Hecht loved writing this new column so much, he’d do it when he was sick, tired, traveling, depressed, etc. He called the column “A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago” (a Scherezade riff, obviously) and he filed a column every day.
The humanity in these pieces is almost agonizing. Page after page of poignant, funny, achingly true portraits await you as the author tells Chicago through its people: prostitutes, auctioneers, homeless people, businessmen, shop girls, tattoo artists — this is all in the early 1920s, remember, but every single word is as true today as it ever was. People lose jobs and lose their families, they hope and dream, they forgive — sometimes they die, too. I was crying at the bar, trying to hide my face from the nice couple sitting to my left who were in Chicago for a nice weekend. I’m glad they didn’t ask me what I was reading; I would’ve rhapsodised and scared them away.
The book is funny and beautiful and I want to share an excerpt with you.
If you know me, you know I love Michigan Avenue. I walk up that grand boulevard and walk it all the way back down as much as I can and much more lately, since some days I just don’t know what to do with myself. On those days or any day besides, Michigan Avenue, from 9th Street to Delaware is my spinal column and it keeps me upright. So, imagine my rapture when I turned the page of Afternoons to find Hecht vignette about my street that was so right, so brilliant, so true, big, fat tears plopped onto the page as I read. There is no comfort like the comfort that comes when you see that you are known by someone who knew you before you were born.
Here is an excerpt from the “Michigan Avenue” piece from A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago, by Ben Hecht, 1921.
I have squandered an afternoon seduced from labors by this Pied Piper of a street. And not only I but everybody I ever knew or heard of was in this street, strutting up and down as if there were no vital projects demanding their attention, as if life were not a stern and productive routine.
[There] was no sign, no billboard to inspire me with a sense of duty. So we strutted—the long procession of us—a masquerade of leisure and complacency. Here was a street in which a shave and a haircut, a shine and a clean collar exhilarated a man with a feeling of power and virtue. As if there were nothing else to the day than to decorate himself for the amusement of others.
I begin to notice something. An expression in our faces as we drift by the fastidious ballyhoos of the shop windows. We are waiting for something—actors walking up and down in the wings waiting for the their cues to go on. This is intelligible. This magician of a street has created the illusion in our heads that there are adventure and romance around us.
There are two lives that people lead. One is the real life of business, mating, plans, bankruptcies and gas bills. The other is an unreal life—a life of secret grandeurs which compensate for the monotony of the days. Sitting at our desks, hanging on to straps in the street cars, waiting for the dentist, eating in silence in our homes—we give ourselves to these secret grandeurs. Day-dreams in which we figure as heroes and Napoleons and Don Juans, in which we triumph sensationally our the stupidities and arrogances of our enemies—we think them out detail by detail. Sometimes we like to be alone because we have a particularly thrilling incident to tell ourselves, and when our friends say good-by we sigh with relief and wrap ourselves with a shiver of delight in the mantles of imagination. And we live a charming hour through a fascinating fiction in which things are as they should be and we startle the world with our superiorities.
This street, I begin to understand, is consecrated to the unrealities so precious to us. We come here and for a little while allow our dreams to peer timorously at life. In the streets west of here we are what we are—browbeaten, weary-eyed, terribly optimistic units of the boobilariat. Our secret characterizations we hide desperately from the frowns of window and the squeal of “L” trains.
But here in this Circe of streets the sun warms us, the sky and the spaces of shining air lure us and we step furtively out of ourselves. And give us ten minutes. Observe—a street of heroes and heroines …
The high buildings waver like gray and golden ferns in the sun. The sky stretches itself in a holiday awning over our heads. A breeze comingfrom the lake brings an odorous spice into our noses. Adventure and romance! Yes—and observe how unnecessary are plots. Here in the Circe of streets are all the plots. All the great triumphs, assassinations, amorous conquests of history unravel themselves within a distance of five blocks. The great moments of the world live themselves over again in a silent make-believe.
The afternoon wanes. Our procession turns toward home. For a few minutes the elation of our make-believe in the Avenue lingers. But the “L” trains crowd up, the street cars crowed up. It is difficult to remain a Caesar or a Don Quixote. So we withdraw and our faces become alike as turtle backs.
That’s saying something. I’ve lost people close to me. I’ve had organs removed, with complications. I went through a divorce. But this particular day was bad in a new way. That fresh hell was nowhere I wanted to be. When I can manage it, I’ll share with you as much as I can the series of events that lead up to the worst day of my life; for now, I’ll dump you right into the action, because the story I want to tell tonight begins there.
The worst day of my life culminated in a phone call. After that phone call, everything around me entirely drained of its color. Did you know the whole world is just a paint-by-numbers coloring book? On the worst day of my life, my pencil case, crayons, plastic sharpener, eraser — all of that was raptured, I guess. I was sitting in a white world with black lines and my body was shaking so hard I couldn’t have held a crayon if I wanted to.
The only thing I knew is that I had to leave the house, but I couldn’t like, be a person. I couldn’t manage carrying a purse, or charting a course, or having a plan. I always carry a purse. I always have a plan. I chart. But not on the evening of the worst day of my life. There in the endless, blank coloring book, I somehow got together my I.D. and the cash I had in my wallet. I put those things in the breast pocket of my brown wool coat, grabbed my phone and my keys, and left the building.
You know I love the Loop. “My endless Loop”, I call it, and it’s never let me down, so I went into the Loop and that’s where I walked. I don’t remember anything. Wait: I remember buying cigarettes. I know, I know. But don’t worry: I’m not smoking now. But on the worst day of my life, I definitely did. I walked and smoked in the Loop until I realized it was very cold and that I should go home, though I wasn’t sure why. What was there? Why not stay out?
When I turned south on Dearborn, the twinkly lights at the end of the street showed me the way. There. A plan. I was going to walk to those lights and have a drink at that nice-looking local pub that I had never gone into because … Well, I don’t know why I hadn’t ever been there. I just hadn’t. But I was going there now, alone, to drink something you need an I.D. to buy (check). That was the entire plan. It was unusual, which meant it fit with everything else that day, except this seemed like something I was choosing.
The pub was lively but not crowded. I took a seat at the bar. I ordered a shot of tequila and a beer.* Thus served, I did the salt-drink-suck thing (if you have to ask, you’ll never know) and just kind of stared at the television above the bar. My life didn’t feel real. My heart was wet concrete, dripping into my slush-soaked boots. There are times when you’re so happy, you “don’t have a care in the world.” But you can have the same feeling on the worst day of your life. You don’t have a care in the world because … who cares?
The man sitting next to me was alone, too. He was doing a crossword puzzle on his phone. He was wearing a stocking cap. He had a beard. He could’ve had a peacock nest on the top of his head and a clown suit on and I still would have done what I did because I didn’t have a care in the world, and what I did was turn to this person and say:
“Would you like to talk?”
He looked up at me.
“I’m not hitting on you. I’m not a weirdo. I just … You’re sitting alone and I’m sitting alone and we could have a conversation, you know, instead of doing the screen thing.”
He smiled. “I’d love to talk.”
So we did. We talked so well, in fact, that when we parted ways after about an hour and a half, we agreed that we should keep talking. And we have, which is pretty cool. And all I can say is that when you have the worst day of your life, you should definitely leave the house. Don’t take a purse. Don’t have a plan. Smoke cigarettes if you have to, but no matter what, tell the truth.
Tell the truth, and start from the beginning.
*Pro tip: If you’re ever buying me a shot, it’s tequila. Funny, since I’m a pasty Scots-Irish-Norwegian, but maybe my soul comes from someplace warmer. Also, Nick and I broke up over the holidays, in case you were wondering.
I recently attended an unconventional conference — an “unconference”, as they call it.
The event was like nothing I had ever experienced and fostered both intellectual bliss and psychological discomfort. Thankfully, the bliss eclipsed the agony — but it was a close call there for a minute. Would you like to hear more? Excellent, because I have prepared more.
The conference was hosted by Google and some other very Google-y companies with which I am intimately familiar, but solely as a consumer. Before the conference, such companies were essentially faceless to me. I don’t have a cousin that works at Facebook, for example. I didn’t go to kindergarten with Elon Musk — and thank goodness, because I know he would’ve eaten my paste!
This year marked the 11th year of this thing. The 350 people who attended hopped on planes and trains and came from all over the country to get to Google’s Chicago headquarters. But those 350 people weren’t just any 350 people, oh ho! No, no: We were all on the list. Oh, yes. There was a list. Because whatever you want to call it — conference, unconference, think tank, nerd camp, slumber party for geeks — is by invitation only. First, you have to be nominated by someone who has attended in the past, then you have to apply, then you have to be selected. If all that works out, you can get your groovy nametag and it’s on like Donkey Kong.
Speaking of Donkey Kong: I think I met the guy who invented Donkey Kong.
It’s possible. Because that’s the kind of person who goes to this thing. The whole place was swarming with top brass in the fields of gaming; government digital operations; linguistics; neuroscience; the internet … There was a guy who owns and operates a yo-yo empire. I met a woman who makes the Chicago Botanical Garden the Chicago Botanical Garden. I was in a discussion group with the host of a very, very, very popular network reality television show. I attended a talk given by the UK’s leading war correspondent. I went to an “Ask Me Anything” session about the Chicago transit system hosted by the guy who is literally in charge of Chicago’s transit system. In the mix were scholars. Writers. Thinkers. Artists. Doctors. Comedians. Lawyers.
And one … whatever I am.
There were numerous occasions when I had to swallow hard and try not to cry. And I know, I know: You’ll say that I was in the room because I qualified to be in the room! Logically, I knew that. But emotionally I couldn’t get there. No matter how you slice it — and though every single smartypants person was so friendly and awesome — these people were intimidating. Many of them are also exceedingly wealthy, so there was that inadequacy going on, too. I wasn’t in my comfort zone, sister. I was in my “uncomfort” zone which does seem appropriate.
In a few different sessions, I said things that just didn’t come out right. Afterward, I would tell myself, “Fons, don’t talk anymore, just listen in the next one” but then I’d go to the next session and get so excited about the topic that I’d raise my hand and say something and that sounded stupid, too. The session I lead went okay, but okay wasn’t enough: I wanted it to be amazing. At lunch or in the hallways between sessions, I was nervous. Surely there was lipstick on my teeth. Surely I had toilet paper sticking to my shoe. I bit my cuticles so bad I drew blood — twice. I had to put a band-aid on, which made me feel like a gross weirdo with a band-aid on.
In my defense, it was a lot of stimulation and sensory overload. The conference is objectively stressful and the organizers warned all the first-timers that it would be. When I shared with my “homeroom” leader that I was freaking out, she couldn’t have been nicer and confessed that the first year she came, she left after the first day! However fancy-pants it may be, being thrown into a room with 350 strangers is a lot for anyone, she said, especially if you work from home or with a small team. I told her how I was in a pretty fragile state, too, from some life stuff, and that maybe that was affecting me. She gave me a hug and grabbed my hand and we went and got schmancy coffee from the coffee bar. Things got way better after that. I learned more in three days than I thought was possible.
And the stress is a distant memory, now. I’m eager to volunteer to host the monthly salons local attendees put together between conferences, and, if I get to go again next year, I’ll be the first on the list to volunteer to help out newcomers. As soon as I get my nametag on, I’ll wing my way through the crowd, eagle-eyed, looking for any girl with a fresh band-aid.
I’ve been wanting to ask you something for a long time, so it’s exciting to finally get the opportunity. It’s a three-part question:
Have you been quilting or otherwise engaged in the quilt world for more than 30 years?
Did you take pictures?
Will you show me?
Show me the rounded-edge Kodak prints, the polaroids, the slides — I love it all. If it’s got your personal quilt history in it, I’m interested, and I want you to tell me about the pictures, too: Who are the people? Where were you? What year was it? And what was she thinking with that haircut? Things like that.
Here’s an important note: While I’m interested in quilt history from the big bang right on up to five minutes ago, I’m specifically looking for quilt-related photographs of people with their quilts taken from roughly 1940-1990.
That 50-year span is where I’m spending major research time for a number of projects. I can comb through this or that archive, and I frequently find things in databases and so forth, but asking you to share pictures is way better because you’re a real-life person who can, you know, talk to me. A citation can’t talk. Besides, I think this is going to be super fun.
I’m trying to think of things you’ll ask so that I can answer you ahead of time. Let’s see how I do:
I have pictures of all the quilts I ever made! When do I start?? Wait, wait! I love that you documented all the quilts you made but I am not looking for pictures of quilts by themselves.I am looking for pictures of people with their quilts. Making them, showing them, sleeping under them, presenting them, hiding under them, waving them like flags, cuddling up in them, helping sew them, using them for oil rags in the garage — all of that, any of that and more. Picture of you and the quilts in your life. That’s what I’m after. The photo up top is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Does this make sense?
Got it. Now, reassure me what you’re doing with these. These photos are my property. I want to look at these photos for my own edification and research. If there comes a time when I say, “This photo is incredible and I would like to use it for [insert project here]”, then I will contact you and we will both enjoy filling out many forms. Consider these words our very public, very binding contract: Whatever photos you share with me go no further unless we go further together. Look, it’s possible a hacker could get into my computer and start flinging pictures of you sewing in ’72 with Jan and Marla at the old house on Sycamore Street, but this would be out of my control. I do not think anyone will do this.
I’m so excited! I’ve been waiting for years for someone to ask to see my “Krazy Kwiltin’ Daze” photo albums. I have scanned a lot of my photos already. Where do I send the pictures?
If there’s a tidal wave of photos (!) there will need to be another system, but for now, scan your pics and email me at mary @ maryfons . com. Attach as many as you like. You can put “Photos” in the subject line. Alternately, you may put in the subject line the kind of ice cream you like best. I’d like to look at an email box full of ice cream flavors, wouldn’t you? I encourage you to use this option.
But, but … I don’t have a scanner. Or maybe I do, but I don’t know how to use it. I have so many photos! I hate technology. Now what?
I was afraid you’d ask this. I hate technology, too. I think you have to ask someone at a Walgreen’s or a FedEx-Kinko’s to help you? I suppose it would work to take a picture of a picture and email it to me from your phone. But this might be a miserable task, since I’m asking for information along with the picture. Speaking of information …
What kind of information do you want? I forgot to put the milk away last night, so I hope you don’t expect me to remember names and exact dates on a lot of these pictures. I left the milk out, too. Just do your best. Try to identify the people in the picture. Tell me where the photo was taken. If anything, do try to remember the year, even if it’s a rough guess. But don’t sweat this: I’m not doing genealogical research; this isn’t forensics. Just gimmie the gist.
The idea of this makes me happy, but I fear that I will feel sad while I’m doing it. It makes me not want to do it. I know. It’s hard to go through old photos, sometimes. People have passed away. Everyone 25 years ago was 25 years younger. Yes, nostalgia may have its way with you. It always has its way with me. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Stick those photos back in the drawer if it’s too weird. I’ll survive!
What else? I have this fantasy of sitting and looking at humble photo after humble photo of people and their quilts during this timespan. I’m hoping I’ll see a picture of kids in the ’80s making a quilt fort; I’m prepared to drool over a photo of a sew-in at a college dorm; I’d love a black and white shot of a protest quilt of some kind; I’d just die and go to heaven if one of you sends me a picture with someone smoking while quilting, but this would surely be too good to be true.
Whatever you send, whatever you remember, thanks for being there.
But on Sunday, I had to go to the hospital. You guys, I’m so sorry. I left in the early evening, right when I had planned to sit down with you for a nice fireside chat. I was so looking forward to it. All day, I was. Proof is in this very moment: I’ve just walked in the door to my home after so many days and what am I doing? Even before taking out the garbage, even before putting in a load of laundry. Even — prepare for astonishment — before making tea … I’m here. Right here.
I’m still here.
The Sunday Evening Post was late, but it was always coming.
Say you’ve been living in the same city for over a decade and then decide to move away.
Before you leave, you’ll probably enjoy some intentional farewell-ing. If you’re an extrovert with a robust social life, you might get a going-away party. The party might be a big deal or a small deal, but either way a send-off would be a gathering of people who will miss you when you’re gone. At the very least, someone will want to grab lunch with you before you dip and they might pick up the check. For luck, you know?
Now, a couple years later, let’s say you move back.
You don’t slink back. You don’t return in shame under cover of darkness, but your return could not be considered triumphant. I mean, it’s not like you slayed a dragon or rescued a village of maidens — or even one maiden. And while (most of) the people you used to know are happy to see you back, it would be unwise to expect a fête with kazoos and signage. Seriously, don’t wait for that. People are living their lives. Your comings and goings are not as significant to them as they are for you, and that’s okay. The truth is, it’s “out of sight, out of mind” for most of us, squirt.
What I’m getting at is that it would be a mistake for me to burst into the room, as it were, and proclaim my return to PaperGirl, waving my best Queen of England wave, batting my eyelashes while wondering how many virtual roses may soon come sailing to my feet. I know many of you have missed me — and thanks for making me cry, dweebs — you’re busy. You’ve been living your life. You’ve got concerns that do not concern a blog or absence thereof. And believe me, I know that some of you may have missed me for awhile but missing turned to annoyance because let’s face it: I ghosted. For a minute. And we have a … thing.
If you’ll have me, you can have me. I’m home.
And if there are any of you out there who might make a fuss; I appreciate it. A lot. But I don’t really have a choice. When I drifted away and put my head in the sand, I had no idea how drying all that sand was. I’m going through a lot of moisturizer — and I like the fancy stuff. It’s not sustainable. Besides, stuck in all this sand, I can’t hear or see anything, which means I can’t see you.
My idea is to write The Sunday Evening Post* every week. We have to set reachable goals. We have to ease into things. If I get too excited, I’ll spill my bowl of soup and then feel defeated and stick my head back in the sand.
I cannot express how good it feels right now to mix metaphors for you.
At this point, I think it’s best that I make a list.
A list of the reasons why this PaperGirl has been so absentee. A list of reasons why she’s struggling. Why she is internet-skulking around, looking guilty, trying not to wake anyone up when she gets home, slinking through the back door with the stealth of a teenage ninja with something to hide. Perhaps it’s time to make a list of the reasons why the woman feels as though there is something to hide. Like a grocery list, except with guilt and creeping dread. And shame! Don’t forget the shame.
And now, the reasons why I am not checking in as much these days …
I refuse to be a blogger who posts apology posts about how “it’s been so long” since she posted .. and yet, that is precisely what’s starting to happen.
I used to have myself to manage. Just the one person, and that one person was someone I’ve known for 39 years. These days I’m in charge of a staff of four, roughly. That’s four (not at all roughly but perfectly) incredible, beautiful, talented, brilliant people who count on me to steer a pretty large ship. Two ships, actually: Quiltfolk and the Big Project.
The Big Project is a 10-12 part documentary series on the history of quilting in America. The project has been greenlighted. But I’m not supposed to tell you that. But that’s what it is. If you’re a reader of this blog, you have now read this. I might even delete what you’re reading right now because I shouldn’t say this. This is a leak you’re reading. I cannot and will not mention it again until it’s okay to talk about it, but I’m telling you now because I love you and miss you and it’s the least I can do. I’m working on this film. It’s real. It’s going to be huge. Think Netflix huge, Amazon Prime huge. (*I’ve decided this message will self-destruct in 48-hours. So tell your friends and share away. Because by Monday, it’s gone. It’s real. And it’s gone.)
Between the documentary series and Quiltfolk, there is zero wiggle room. For anything. Less than zero. I keep trying to make that not true.
I feel different, guys.
My politics are starting to show and this is complicated. Part of what I have long cherished about my blog is that my readership is bipartisan. I have so seldom gone on record about political feelings because I need PaperGirl to be a place where humans with different ideas are friends and, because of that friendship, can listen to each other and find peace. (When you really listen to someone’s life story, it is impossible to hate them.) But I fear my beloved country is slouching toward tyranny and Stage IV bigotry. How can I be a good citizen and not speak of this when I have a public forum and thousands of friends who — were we all to move as friends to change the course of history for good — how can I be a good citizen and not do this? My fear is doing it poorly, carelessly. PaperGirl is not a Facebook post, dashed off after dinner, after a glass of wine, after watching the local news. No. This is PaperGirl, and you’re better than that. But I am no politician. My citizenry is secure. But my political engagement as a citizen is keeping me up at night.
When I have 30 minutes in front of the laptop and I’m not doing work, I want to email Nick. Or read something. Or watch something idiotic.
I have never done anything halfway. If I can’t do this right now, I will not insult you with half measures. “All or nothing” is a terrible binary, unless you’re me. If you’re me, it makes almost mathematically-sound sense. (I wish it didn’t.)
I plan to delete Facebook. I refuse to be a part of that business. They are watching us. They are profiting off our data. They don’t care about me, they don’t care about you. I’m concerned they don’t particularly care about our democracy. This is not conspiracy theory. The Facebook app on most mobile devices is set to collect audio. When you speak, what you say is being harvested. Ever talked about something with a friend and then saw an ad about it on Facebook? They’re literally listening to us. I’m not okay with that. So I’m not “hiding” Facebook. I’m not taking it off my browser. I’m not just deleting the app on my phone. (I haven’t had that app in two years.) I’m deleting Facebook. I’m gone, my darlings. There was a time when we were human beings without Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room-inspired internet project. I want to be that kind of human. If it means I suddenly cease to exist, I’ll let you know. By mail.
When I miss something terribly, it is better to just not look. This is my approach to places where I used to live. Pictures of people who I used to love or who are dead, now. I’m afraid to look at what I miss. So I didn’t log on for a week.
To look at me from where you are, it seems possible I am an adult person. I pay my taxes. I arrive on time, most of the time, to the places where I am expected, and I can reach things on most shelves. I brush teeth, buy a round, shake hands. Sure. All of that.
I moved into my condo seven years ago and the entire time, while I could have afforded to buy one many times over and though the space is equipped with the proper hookup valves, I have chosen not to install a washer-dryer in my unit. This is after longing and pining and wishing I had one pretty much the entire time.
The pumpkin spice latte you’ve been enjoying stalls halfway to your lips. You blink. “Mary … What are you talking about? You don’t have an in-unit washer-dryer and you want one and you could ostensibly get one? Really?” You lean in. “Mary … Tell me the truth. Are you afraid of washer-dryers?”
I roll my eyes and tell you no I’m not afraid of washer-dryers, Karen. But my eye roll is hiding my shame. The truth is that I am afraid that getting a washer-dryer will prove to me that my kitchen remodel was flawed. When I had the kitchen remodeled years ago, I asked for all open shelving. I have a galley kitchen, which means that it’s long and narrow. Even while small-ish and narrow-ish, I love it — and I knew I’d love it more if the gross, boxy cupboards were gone and replaced by fabulous open shelves running from one side of the subway tiled wall to the other. I knew it would open the space and it absolutely did. Besides, I love the dishes I have, I love my teapot, I love the beautiful wine glasses I keep polished and nice. The kitchen looks great.
But it meant that pantry items were to be put somewhere else, unless I wanted cracker boxes and spice jars and rubber-banded bags of rice out in front of God and everybody. Open shelves have a certain display quality to them and the objects I have are display worthy; the bags of pumpkin seeds, not as much. So I put all that pantry stuff in the small (small) pantry room, on a big (big) steel shelf … which covers the washer-dryer hookups. Because I thought I was fine using the building laundry room. Because I like laundry rooms. Because it’s good exercise going up four flights of stairs every time I need to do the wash. Because where am I going to put these cans of black beans??
Well, I’ll have to figure it out, because I ordered a washer-dryer combo thing. Nick helped me get just the right one. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the cracker boxes and the rice bags. But I am so, so excited about the prospect of padding over to my washing machine, opening my washer lid, and throwing in my clothes for to clean them. The unit will be delivered late this month and to celebrate its arrival I think I’m going to wash everything in sight. Besides, I like clean items!
My fear of getting a washing machine also had something to do with having a fear of being an adult. I don’t know if there’s a single sentence in the universe more adult-sounding than, “I can’t do it then, sorry — my new washer-dryer unit is being installed that afternoon.”
If I’m an adult, that means I’m closer to all of this ending, and that’s the last thing I want.
So I did the laundry in the laundry room for seven years.
First of all, I’m okay. Thanks for checking on me. You’re kind and dear, and if I had the juice to go on about your kindness and dearness, it would be a juice cafe around here. Think ginger-kale-apple-lime-parsley or something equally piquant and healthful. That’s you. You’re piquant and healthful and if I had a juice cafe, I’d serve you.
Second of all, I’m traveling across a very large state for Quiltfolk’s ninth issue and I’m the editor and I’m the driver, so when I’m not on location, setting up shots and directing this and that, I’m driving to the next location. So it’s hard to do a blinking thing when I drop into another hotel room at night if that isn’t face planting into the bed.
Third of all, that picture up there doesn’t mean anything. After being away for a spell and then posting a picture of a woman with a baby, it’s possible that you might glance at the photo and see a baby think, even for a split second, “Mary Fons is pregnant!”
She is not.
But she is a baby. And she’s fussy. And she’s hungry. And she loves you.
I had a fight last night with Nick. Nick and I had a fight last night. We fought.
So I got back from Wisconsin and had 30 hours at home before I had to leave to fly to Nashville for Quiltfolk. I saw my beautiful friend Bets Ramsey down there and a fine time was had by the Quiltfolk crew working on the pattern project. The location shoot was all well and good — but I was about to find out that my otherwise fabulous Saturday would be an Airport Appreciation Day.
That’s what we say in my family when you experience what I experienced trying to get home: a delayed flight; a long while of just sitting on the tarmac; luggage that literally took 45 minutes to appear on the carousel in Chicago. The result? I got back to the far south side of Chicago too late to go to Sophie’s surprise bachelorette party on the far north side. That’s bad. I feel so rotten about it, I am now scared of Sophie. She will not be mad. She will understand; I couldn’t help it. But it was her bachelorette party. And we love each other. And I’m always out of town. And she’s getting married. So it’s like, “Yo, Fons. Where you at?”
Physically, I was in transit. Mentally, I was in anguish. Because of the party — and because of the fight.
I don’t like fighting. I don’t like the person I am in a fight. I wouldn’t say that I “fight dirty.” But I can get downright ferocious. I yell. Loudly. I also say bad words. That’s crazy to me, that I yell and curse like a sailor, but I do. In a fight, I’ll find myself YELLING at the PERSON for doing THE THING that made/makes me SO MAD, [INSERT EPITHET] — and I’ll think to myself, “Since when did you start yelling and cussin’??”
I think it was with Yuri. That was some yellin’, cussin’ love.
Anyway, I was yellin’ and cussin’ and then I hung up on him and then I was stabbing text messages in ALL CAPS, and that’s worse than YELLING but at least it’s quieter. Wow, but I was hurt. Nick hurt me. He didn’t mean to, but he didn’t … Oh, I won’t go into it here. But yes, I lashed out at him because I was hurt, I was tired, I was definitely going to miss Sophie’s party and then, because the fight was distracting me and I was crying, I actually got off on the wrong stop. It was the pits. It was all just the pits.
I don’t like to fight because I don’t like myself as a fighter.
Is that a good reason to not fight or a terrible reason?
On my last day of vacation, I helped Mom and Mark weed the big, circular raised bed at the front of the driveway. It took about an hour with the three of us going on it. We kids can often be found helping out with that chore when we’re at the cottage; it’s the least we can do. Mom and Mark feed us lasagna and take us for ice cream, they encourage book reading and napping, and there’s a moped up there. We weed.
It was hot the other day and there’s no shade out there. My stepdad was working pretty quickly because he hates weeds. “Filth!” Mark bellowed, throwing a particularly gnarly one into the big bucket. “These damn weeds! I went over this entire thing not but six weeks ago, Marianne!”
Mark and Mom are master gardeners, which I think means they have a certificate and field questions when anyone decides to plant a shrub. Being a master gardener does not make a person automatically organized and awesome when they go about their gardening, but Mom and Mark just naturally are. Case in point: Mark had divided the bed into “zones” and we each had our own zone to weed.
“There’s your zone and there’s your zone,” he said. “And Marianne, there’s your kit, and there’s your kit, Maru,” Mark said as we walked over to our worksite. The “kit” he made included a bucket, gardening gloves, a trowel, and a mat or towel to kneel upon. I love my stepdad so much. A weed kit? In a delineated zone? Who does that?? Mark. Mark — otherwise known as The Cap’n — does that. He’s also great because he says things like “Filth!” when pulling pesky weeds.
“Hey, guys,” I said, wiping sweat from my brow, “I have a great idea for a horror movie. It would be called The Gardener or The Weed Killer. I mean, look at these implements. They’re so scary!” I held up a tool Mark had put out in case we needed it, some sort of terrifying small rake-claw.
“This one would work, too,” Mark said, showing me a truly frightening-looking blade. “I call it my scalper. You could do some damage with this.” He stabbed the knife into the dirt and cursed at whatever green bit he vanquished.
Mom brought out some cups of water. A butterfly flew by. I was happy.
I have been a little relaxed about letting you all know when there’s a new Quilt Scout column up. But why?!
After all, this Scout continues to keep the home fires burning over there at Quilts, Inc., opining about all sorts of quilt-specific items twice a month. Besides, she’s been filing rather sparkling content of late, darnit. Most of the time, when I turn in my work to the (rakish) Bob G. and (steadfast) Rhianna G., I say, “This is my favorite column, yet, you guys!!” but lately, I’ve meant it even more.
If you go to the Quilts, Inc. Scout page, I guarantee you’ll find several pieces worth your time. What will likely show up first is my piece examining the similarity between music “zines” of the 1990s and the early publications of the late-20th-century American quilt revival. Fascinating stuff. The column I turned in last week might be up by the time you click, though, which is just as groovy: I offer tips for taking great quilt style photography. Trade secrets!? You bet.
Regardless of what comes up on the homepage, all my columns, most-recent first, are linked on the left of the page. These pieces shall surely provoke and entertain. Now, I mean “provoke” in a good way, as in “provoke thought” or “provoke reflection”, though I have been informed that several of my columns — presumably the post critiquing feminism/quilting and the one about the Smithsonian article — elicited angry letters! Yes! Several people were miffed and let their miffs be known in emails (okay, two) to my bosses. Well, I like that very much. Writing and/or reading about quilting shall never be dull because the quilt is alive and well and complicated. Let the discourse live!
See you at the Scout. And you know, speaking of feedback … If you like what you read and want the Scout to keep scouting — forever in service to you — let Quilts, Inc. know. We all need a little encouragement, even a fearless scout.