Journal Buddies #13 : Where Would I Go In a Time Machine?

Scene from a busy restaurant in Russia in 1975. Whatever works. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

This is the 13th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

It’s Saturday night. The weather is perfect and you’re getting ready to go out to dinner.

There have been and will be nights in your life when you’d give anything to stay home and eat leftovers, but tonight is not one of those nights. No way. You’ve been looking forward to tonight all week. Maybe you’re meeting friends you haven’t seen in ages. Maybe your favorite cousin is in town. Maybe you’ve got a hot date — but like, a really hot one. Whoever it is you’ll be with at the restaurant about an hour from now, picturing their face(s) make you smile.

You get to choose who you’re meeting; this is as much your time machine as it is mine.

You feel gorgeous. You just do. When you look in the mirror, you like what you see. “Not bad,” you say to yourself, and you make a mental note to continue to drink more water because man, your skin looks good. You lean over the sink and do your eye makeup. Or maybe eye makeup isn’t your jam and you’re just rubbing out crusties. (Remember, these details are totally up to you.)

In the middle of doing whatever it is you’re doing there at the mirror, you remember the funny video someone sent you today, or that really good — omg so bad!! — joke your friend told you, or maybe you’re just caught up in how good you feel, but you laugh enough that you have to stop poking around your eye area for a moment. You eventually recover. All right, all right, you say; enough. No time for dilly-dallying. As you finish your maquillage, you think how for a second there you were like a kid giggling in class and also the teacher who told that kid to get back to work. This observation amuses you, and because it does, subconsciously your heart feels tender toward yourself, and this is how we ought to feel toward ourselves all the time but rarely do.

Before you leave the bathroom, you pause to appreciate your sink. It is sparkling clean. In fact, the whole house is clean. You’re clean, too, because you took a nice long shower. God, you love your soaps right now. The body wash and the shampoo and the conditioner, finally. One last check in the mirror confirms it: You are having a great hair day. Maybe the best hair day. Your hair looks amazing.

It isn’t until after you slip into your clothes that you realize you have just slipped into your clothes. Who does that, you think, but you do not question what has just occurred.

You walk to the closet to get your shoes. They are  right where they should be. Let me be clear: You do not have to dig for your shoes. You do not yet know that you will have the best filet mignon/lobster bisque/mushroom risotto/crispy duck/endive salad/chocolate soufflé/raspberry panna cotta/warm bowl of tiny cookies of your entire life tonight, so, between getting to lean back in your chair at the restaurant later to clasp your hand to your breast and groan with pleasure at what is happening in your mouth and not having to dig for your shoes, should nothing else go right tonight, the evening would stand as an unqualified success.

Your phone buzzes: Your Uber will be here in five minutes. Perfect.

Ladies, you have a new purse. It has all the right pockets in all the right places. This perfect purse is about to become your favorite purse. You will fully wear out this purse over the next year or two because it is perfect. When it finally dies, you will spend as long you had the purse lamenting that you cannot find a purse as good as the purse you had that one time. “That one time” is now, and you and your purse have only just begun life together. This purse is not scuffed or marred; there is no open tube of lipstick currently bouncing around in the bottom of it. There are no straw wrappers, either. You grab your jacket/wrap/topcoat/shawl and you go out the door. You get into your Uber and your driver is kindly fellow, so when he says that you look nice, it’s not creepy. It’s great.

The kindly driver drops you off at the restaurant and you go inside.

The place is packed. There’s a throng of people in the vestibule; everyone’s chatting and working their way up to the hostess station to check in or ask if there are tables available. No tables right now, the hostess says, and she apologizes that the wait is over an hour. This is no problem because you have a reservation and wasn’t that smart! You are smart. You notice that the people who don’t have a reservation seem strangely okay with this because they are having a great night, too. The mood is convivial; the mood is good. The lights are low and everyone looks great.

Everyone looks healthy.

Behind the bar, the bartenders are barely keeping up but they are keeping up; later, they’ll high five each other and whistle as they count their tips. They raked it in tonight, boy, so they all do a shot and they say it really is a great gig and everyone gets home safe after the manager finally locks up for the night. One waiter and one bartender finally admit they’re falling in love.

In a few minutes, your friends/cousin/hot date will arrive and the hostess will take you to your table. You’ll maneuver through the dining room as waiters whisk past with trays and busboys pour water from green glass bottles. You’ll see a sommelier presenting a wine list and a maitre’d putting a napkin in a lady’s lap. You and your dinner companion(s) are seated. The conversation, the food, the tone, the spark, the learning, the surprise, the pleasantness, the force, the humanity — you’ll all have it all within minutes.

But right now, you’re one in that throng of healthy people waiting for tables. There are dozens of different conversations and you hear bits of this one and that one. People are smiling and laughing. There are pats on the back; in a corner, a couple steals a kiss. Someone comes in from the bar, sees his friend and when they greet each other, they hug. There are light touches on shoulders as people lean in to hear each other better. No one notices this physical symphony; it’s no more and no less than life itself. It’s life on a Saturday night.

Months later, a plague comes and steals these kinds of nights. They are gone for a long time.

As you sit in your home now, there’s no need to find your shoes. There are no reservations. You are not so far from people, but everyone is separated. You can’t touch anyone and you can’t see anyone. You’d give anything to see them. If you could go anywhere in a time machine, you’d go back and get ready, just like you did, to go to that restaurant and be jostled among the dinner crowd, waiting for your table on a Saturday night.

Journal Buddies #12 : Write From The Perspective Of a Mouse Going Down a Hole

posted in: Day In The Life 7
The cat is dread and the mouse is me. Image: Illustration from the ‘Reading and Literature First Reader’ by Garuuette Taylor and Margaret Free, (1911).

 

 

This is the 12th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

The second time I went to the Las Vegas airport, I was escaping. (To read the first part of this story, click here.)

Rental car returned, I got a taxi back to my hotel at the Bellagio. The cabbie had the radio on and it brought bad news about the virus and the markets, and there was reporting about President Trump’s announcement the night before of an E.U. travel ban. My stomach was tight. The president wouldn’t just suddenly ground all domestic flights, I told myself; it would be disastrous to displace people under such circumstances. But what if the circumstance is a global pandemic and a stock market crash? What if, for reasons of contagion or economics, great chunks of domestic flights were about to be cancelled or significantly delayed? Forget Mexico: By the time we turned onto the Strip I was trying to calculate how to get the hell out of Las Vegas, and soon. Being in an unfamiliar city in the middle of the desert with two suitcases of dirty laundry and no husband? The back of my neck was clammy.

I called Eric. It went to voicemail.

Adding to the stress of all this was that my man had just spent some eight or nine days in the San Francisco/Oakland area. This was sub-optimal. The virus had been loose in the Bay Area for weeks, they said, and you may recall that when one of the first cruise ships full of infected people was finally allowed to come into port, it docked in San Francisco. Eric actually — albeit accidentally — saw the ship as it came in.

He picked up when I called back, but my relief was short-lived. It was time to cancel Mexico, I said. Too much had changed in the past 24 hours. To my astonishment, he vacillated. We’d be fine, he said, and if the situation was escalating, all the more reason complete our mission. You’re crazy, I said; did he really think leaving the country in an escalating situation was a good idea? We have time, he said. We do not, I said. Fine, he said. Fine, I said, but I didn’t appreciate his tone (always a great choice of words in an argument.) So … now what? He should come to Vegas so we could leave for Chicago, together, first thing in the morning. No, he should come to Vegas and we leave tonight. If there weren’t flights to Vegas tonight, maybe I ought to fly to San Francisco and we get a red-eye home. No, no, he should just fly to Chicago and I should fly … Wait, where the hell are we? Where are you? Where are you? 

I want to pause here for a moment and make it clear — especially to those who think my fears were irrational to begin with — that I was not having a panic attack. I have had two actual panic attacks in my day and I was as far from one of those as I was from my front door. I wasn’t panicking. I was simply enduring the mounting tension that was beginning to give the atmosphere a personality and I did not trust that personality. I wasn’t shaking, I didn’t feel like crying; it just felt like every moment counted. It felt like every move I made had to be smart if I was going to stay one step ahead of all this.

We decided Eric would fly directly to Chicago, and so would I. We had to get home before things changed again. I opened the Southwest app on my phone. There was a flight out of Vegas to Chicago at 4:20 p.m.

It was ten to three.

This gave me just 30 minutes to pack, check-out, and get back to the airport.

When the cab pulled up to the Bellagio and the valet opened my door, it was all I could do not to run straight into the hotel, and sprint through the din of the cavernous casino to the bank of elevators. But I didn’t run. I walked.

This wasn’t an amble, mind you. I didn’t have time for amble. But I forced myself to sort of … glide. Yes, the clock was ticking, but a grown woman running through a public place — especially a busy hotel — would attract attention and surely, surely, I thought, everyone else had been listening to the news and were as tense as I was. It takes one person to yell “Fire!” in a theater to cause a stampede for the door, and this was precisely what I was trying to avoid. I put a placid look on my face and smiled when I greeted the elevator attendant. The doors closed. The car went up. When the doors opened again and I saw no one waiting for the elevator, I shot out like someone had fired a starting gun and whipped down the long hallways to my room.

Folks, I’ve never packed so fast in my life. Normally, I am organized to the point of being neurotic when I pack a suitcase. There’s a place for everything and everything goes into its place. A well-organized suitcase makes for a well-organized mind which makes for a well-organized trip, that’s what I say — it’s practically science! But that afternoonI did my best Tasmanian Devil, flinging things in as quickly as I could: Panties, boots, loose toiletries (pure agony), sneakers, books, notepads, nightgowns — this kind of packing job would’ve been physically painful if I had time to think about it.

The heavy door to my room shut behind me and I headed back down to the lobby. With two suitcases, it was even more important that I remain calm as I made my way back to the taxi line. I marveled at all the people at the slot machines, the craps tables, the bars, the restaurants, drinking their double vodkas as dealers dealt poker hands. I had visions of announcements over the loudspeaker, of shouts and crowds rushing to get out the door. Was this what foresight felt like? Was I leaving just in time to escape pandemonium and take one of the last on-time flights out of Vegas?

However in free-fall the airline industry might be, even after all that’s happened and all that’s still to come, domestic flights still haven’t been grounded. There was plenty of time for me to get home from Vegas and plenty of time for Eric to get out of California. But that’s not what it felt like the second time I went to the airport 20 days ago. That afternoon, I felt like a mouse being chased by a cat, and in the nick of time, I had slipped through a hole to safety.

The hole is quarantine. And we’ve been here ever since.

Journal Buddies #11 : If I Could Be Anywhere In the Entire Universe, I’d Be …

posted in: Story 8
Portrait of the car radio as black box. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

This is the 11th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

On Thursday, March 12th, I went to the Las Vegas Airport — twice.

The first time, it was early afternoon. After a 10-day trip to Nevada, the time had come for the Quiltfolk girls to head home. One of them would fly to Denver, the other to Chicago.

Me, I wouldn’t leave till morning. Since Eric was in San Francisco at the time, we decided it made more sense for him to meet me in Vegas that evening and we’d fly to Mexico the next day. Though it would’ve been nice to swap out some of my travel clothes and get the mail, to go all the way back to Chicago only to turn around and head back west would only add more travel time. Plus, it was giving me a great deal of pleasure to practice saying the sentence, “Well, last week I was in Reno, then I flew to Vegas, then I flew to Cabo.” It sounded ridiculous and I suppose it still does.

So I’m driving to the airport that afternoon, and to describe the mood as “tense” doesn’t quite cover it. The team had gotten along great, we met extraordinary people, and we did solid work; the team was not the problem. The problem was that things in the world were starting to get very weird. Nevada is a large state, and as we drove across, up, and down it, we listened to the radio. We weren’t glued to it the whole time, but we were tuned in when the stock market lost 2,000 points in a matter of hours. We were tuned in when the NBA cancelled the season. We were listening when Italy went on total lockdown and we were among the first to learn that the WHO had officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

It was interesting to gauge the levels of alarm in the car: One of us was more or less unconcerned and felt everyone was getting too worked up; another of us was disturbed by the news but was taking a “let’s wait and see” approach, though she was becoming quieter by the hour.

As for me, I was gripping the steering wheel so hard my knuckles were white. I was trying to relax my jaw and trying not to make it worse by saying what was on my mind.

“This is not good,” I said, failing at that. “This is bad, you guys. This is very bad.”

When we spied a Wal-Mart just before getting on the interstate, I suggested we try one last time to find some hand-sanitizer. Without exception, every place we had stopped on our 10-day trip — and I mean every gas station, grocery store, convenience store, big box store like Target and Wal-Mart across the entire state of Nevada in towns big and small — that stuff was gone. Not one place had it in stock. It was unnerving, but now that the girls were headed into McCarran International Airport, into throngs of germy travelers from all corners of the world, going in without any tool of the bacteria-killing agent kind felt straight-up dangerous. But we found no hand-sanitizer at that last Wal-Mart, either. What we did find were entire shelves empty of cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, pasta, diapers, all of that stuff that by now, we’re all used to not seeing. But that Las Vegas Wal-Mart was the first place the three of us saw it, and I suspect our stomaches all dropped in sync. We headed back to the parking lot and got in the car.

I doubted the girls noticed that I was holding my breath the entire ride to the airport, but we all noticed after awhile that I had being driving the wrong direction for about 10 miles. We turned around — and then I missed my exit. I shook my head and forced myself to focus, but with the bad news streaming out of the radio, it took a great deal of effort. Something that had felt like it was slowly descending over the past week had officially pierced the ozone. Through no fault of their own, much of the information radio and TV news anchors announce is of marginal importance to most people; these last few days of our trip, there was an unmistakable edge to their voices that I hadn’t heard since 9/11. There’s no other way to say it: I was frightened. By the time we finally pulled up to the airport drop-off curb, no one was talking.

Now, at some point on the trip I had picked up a tube of Clorox wipes. “Let’s divvy these up,” I said, and we found a couple plastic bags. I pulled out the wet fabric and tore off portions for each of us. “Wipe down your seat,” I told them, “and your tray table and … Just wipe down everything, okay?” We all hugged goodbye and said “be safe” and “text when you get home” and “good luck”.

In the five or so minutes it took me to get to the rental car garage, three things became absolutely clear:

  1. I had to call Eric, because there was nowhere I’d rather be in the entire universe than with him at that moment.
  2. We were definitely not going to Mexico.
  3. People were going to die.

 

In the next installment, I’ll tell you about the second trip to the airport. Stay safe, everyone.

Journal Buddies #10 : My First Memory Is …

posted in: Story, Travel 3
This is now, but it wasn’t then — yet. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

This is the 10th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

Let’s get granular here: My first memory of all this, the moment when the coronavirus got real before the world became unrecognizable, was the day Eric and I booked two tickets to Mexico.

We had been reading about the outbreak in China. Week after week, more and more people were on a mandated lockdown and of course that seemed crazy. We saw the videos of quarantined people in Wuhan waving and singing to each other from their balconies, and though these types of videos have since been faked, those first videos were real. The videos, images, the trickle of news stories, and the firsthand reports were all evidence that yeah, it was crazy: There was a disease on the other side of the world that was so contagious and threatening to the way of life in China, the government wouldn’t let people go outside.

But that was still the beginning of it all, and it did seem far away. (And we figured the Chinese government was probably seizing the opportunity to surveil its citizens for other reasons, right?) Besides, our lives hadn’t been particularly affected by the H1N1, SARS, or Mad Cow outbreaks, so there was no need to get too worked up. Our ambivalence was a luxury; a lot of people died in those outbreaks. But who could blame us for more or less shrugging off the occasional, ultimately contained outbreak? There’s a baseline belief that America will always shield us from widespread contagion so we can go about our lives. Everyone has real worry — the mortgage is late, the kid is sick, the job is lost — but contracting deathly diseases from birds or pigs or rats or bats? Not here, and thank God.

The virus kept spreading, though, and quickly. A writer we like a lot who posts well-researched, thoughtful longreads on timely topics posted a piece about an encroaching problem due to the scale of this new virus. He was concerned about a disruption in the supply chain; specifically, the pharmaceutical one. As many of you have read (or knew already), much of the medicine we have in the U.S. is manufactured in China. Eric has chronic asthma and uses an inhaler regularly; I take several medications every morning to help out my guts and my brain. Everyone needs antibiotics at some point, and though its impossible to say the word “painkiller” without immediately being pegged as an opioid abuser, it is incontrovertibly true that there are times in our lives — hopefully very few — when we have blinding pain that Tylenol can’t touch. In other words, if these and other medicines we don’t (yet) need were not available, it would be bad.

Jokingly, Eric said, “Maybe we should go to Mexico and stock up on some of this stuff.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, right.”

But he brought it up again the next day and this time he seemed serious.

I looked at him like he had come into the room dressed as a flamingo. To begin with, it sounded just slightly illegal. It was surprising to me that Eric would suggest breaking the law; the only crime my husband has ever committed was stealing my heart — hey-o! I told him I did not particularly to go to federal prison for international drug trafficking, dear, and furthermore, taking medicine sourced from who-knows-where seemed unwise at best. Yes, if the article we read was right and the coronavirus would soon take down the manufacture and importation of critical pharmaceuticals from China, it would be wise to have a well-stocked medicine cabinet, and if it were legal and safe to go to Mexico and load up on reinforcements for ourselves and others who might need medicine in an emergency, I’d buy the tickets myself.

Several days later, we had Southwest confirmation numbers. In about two weeks, we would be on a flight from Las Vegas* to San Jose del Cabo.

What Eric already knew I learned through hours of research online. It is in fact legal for a person to purchase a three months’ supply of most (not all) prescription medications in Mexico. As long as it’s for “personal use” as legally defined, you are allowed to buy medicine and bring it home. Apparently, a whole lot of non-shady people do this on a regular basis. Certain drugs in the States that are astonishingly expensive can be purchased in other countries at a fraction of the cost and many of them are easier to get, anyway. Well, okay, I thought, but it still sounded like something out of Breaking Bad. How could a person be sure the medicine was safe?

On this topic, there were several things to consider. For one thing, my assumption that prescription drugs in Mexico weren’t safe was full-on prejudiced. Yeah, there are places in Mexico that are essentially lawless and should be avoided at all costs: Juarez, with its murderous gangs and pitch black market, is considered one of the most dangerous places in the entire world and a good deal of other border towns aren’t much nicer. But Mexico just happens to have other things going on, Mary Fons, as the good people of Oaxaca, Mexico City, and Cartagena, for example, will (icily) inform you. There are grocery stores, schools, theaters — and pharmacies — in Mexico, just there are here in good ol’ ‘Merica. Any boob that crosses into Tijuana at the end of a long night of partying and hits up the first farmacia they find to score Xanax (or whatever) is absolutely at risk of being fleeced for meds that are probably nothing more than sugar pills. But the vast majority of Mexicans are like the vast majority of Americans: People who need medicine when they’re sick. Frankly, I was ashamed that I had painted an entire country with such a broad brush; if nothing else came of all this, uncovering that gross bias was important.

So tickets were purchased. We’d be staying in San Jose del Cabo, a mid-sized city where people live and work. We wouldn’t be stepping a toe in Cabo San Lucas, aka Spring Break Cabo, where college kids guzzle buckets of rum from plastic cups and swim in STIs when they’re not swimming in the ocean. We’d be in the city three days and three nights, and I set about looking for a hotel. As I clicked through our options, my anxiety began to give way to excitement. There were really pretty hotels down there and it suddenly dwned on me that for the first time in my entire life, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with wildly exotic words like “lounge” and “poolside” and “deck chair” — in the middle of a Chicago winter. Beyond that, by the time the trip rolled around, I would be done with a three-month work marathon that included writing, editing, and going to press for Quiltfolk’s South Carolina issue (which ships to subscribers this week and is freakin’ gorgeous); debuting two new lectures at QuiltCon; planning Quiltfolk Nevada (!) and traveling for 11 days straight to get the content. No one is entitled to a vacation but … okay, I felt entitled to a damn vacation, even if it involved a mission that still made me feel like I might be called to the principal’s office.

But Eric and I never got to Cabo. A matter of hours before we were to leave, we aborted the trip. In the next installment, I’ll share the rather dramatic story of how that went down; we are all painfully aware of the reasons why it did.

 

*We’ll get to the Vegas part.

Journal Buddies #9 : I Can …

Living room inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin home in Spring Green, Wisconsin. A nice place to be, but your home is even better. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

This is the 9th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

I can stay home.

You can stay home, too, and you have to try the best you can to do that for as long as you can. We just have to stay home, all of us, today and for … we don’t know how long.

We must stay home because self-quarantining will slow the spread of the virus and that will give doctors and nurses more time to handle all the patients that are flooding into the hospitals, many of which are now setting up tents in parking garages. Please, please, please, PaperGirl readers and friends: Stay home.

My personal resolve to stay home for as long as I have to is made easier by my life circumstances. I have no illusions about that. Running water, functioning radiators, a fabric stash, and a wi-fi equipped laptop are extravagant luxuries compared to what many people within this city have to comfort them should they choose to self-quarantine. Millions of our fellow human beings in developing countries — humans every bit as susceptible to the virus as any of us — have far less still. Donating to the World Heath Organization and local food banks, which I did this morning and plan to do again, as much as I can, is one way I can help those less fortunate than I am, people for whom a decision to stay home for a long period of time is simply not possible.

There is so much I can’t do. I still can’t get my head around this. I can’t know what’s coming. I can’t beg our president to beg our nation to do what I’m begging of you: Stay home. I can’t make a vaccine or a test kit. Chicago was the first city in the country to close all bars and restaurants as of midnight last night, so I can’t go with my friends to go to a bar and listen to a piano player who might make us all feel better even for a few hours.

But the Journal Buddies prompt wasn’t “I can’t … ” It was “I can … ”

Well, I can stay home and sew. I can stay home and dance to the new Lady Gaga song on repeat, like I did yesterday, until I was a sweaty mess. I can stay home and vacuum (again.) I can stay home and kiss my husband* and tell him how grateful I am for him, how he is a hero, a genius, and a wonderful husband with whom I fall more in love with every single day. I can stay home with him a long time, that’s for sure.

I can stay home and try to work, though that is very difficult. I can stay home and have a video dinner party with some friends, something that is going to happen tonight, Sophie tells me. I can stay home and call my elderly neighbor and email her funny videos, which she is really enjoying since we can’t see each other in person right now.

I can stay home and write in my journal. I can stay home and do push-ups. I can stay home and stay informed. I can stay home and take a break from the news, too. I can stay home and put my hand over my heart and close my eyes and be still.

And I can stay home and write to you, from here. And I will. Promise.

For more information on why staying home is of utmost importance, this is an incredibly clear, readable, rational, vetted, and official message from Stay Home Save Lives organization. Please read it and share it with everyone on all your social media platforms, through email, or call someone who doesn’t use the internet and read it to them. They’ll be glad to hear from you, anyway.

Now go into that glorious fabric stash of yours. Start sewing. Go on social media and show and tell the world what quilt you’re going to start or what UFO you’re going to deal with. I mean, come on. We all know you’ve got them. We’ve all got them. And now we’ve got time to stay home and embrace them. There’s a hashtag growing you should use: #StayHomeAndSew. Personally, I love it. Those happen to be four of my favorite words in the English language: Stay, Home, And, Sew.

Hey, I know the others are a little sexier, but “And” is a very important word. It’s a workhorse. It gets around. Really, “And” is almost important as “Sew”. Not quite as important as “Stay” and “Home”, but it’s pretty good.

Let’s do this together as we stay apart at home.

Love,
Mary + Pendennis

 

*I did! I got married! The announcement post is drafted and now I’m fine-tuning it. I found the person who has the same shape heart as me, finally. I didn’t have faith he existed, but he does, and he’s sitting right over there, and we are together, at home.

Journal Buddies #8 : Describe Sundays At Your House

New York City elevator operator during Spanish Flu pandemic, October 1918. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

This is the 8th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

Because of my travel schedule, there’s no Sunday routine around here. No “sleep in ’till 10:00 a.m., blueberry pancakes at 11:00 a.m., then a sit-down with the Sunday paper until I’ve read it front to back” kind of deal. I get something going for a couple of weeks, but then I’m in Reno, or in San Jose, or I forget to grab the paper, or I can’t sleep in because I’ve never been able to sleep in.

Even still, if you aggregated all my Sundays over the past years and looked at them on a macro scale, we’d probably see a pattern of some kind, however unique my weekends might be.

You would definitely be able to say that there’s never been a Sunday like this one.

Today the atmosphere had a personality. The atmosphere should never have a personality, not on any day of the week. The air around us ought to be neutral, undetectable. The atmosphere should help facilitate our movements from day to day and that’s it. We should consider the atmosphere something that does not require much consideration.

But today we had no choice. I don’t know about you, but from the moment my eyes opened this morning after six hours of pointless sleep, I awoke to a different atmosphere. It was sitting on my chest, heavy and still. In the past days it has been drawing down, thick and bleak. I went to the kitchen to make tea and check what had happened overnight. I learned fellow Chicagoans were packed like lemmings into terminals at O’Hare, death rates in Italy are surging, and in Spain, citizens who leave the house must carry an official affidavit stating their business or face a penalty of fine or arrest.

I read and stirred my teaspoon around in my mug, and the atmosphere settled into a deep, wide chair to watch me as I became quieter and smaller. It’s watching us all right now as we do that. It has settled down on and around us all, watching us as we watch this.

It feels like the air does not have our best interests in mind. There’s too much weight to it, it’s not natural. The air is not moving the way it ought to. We’re stuck to our chairs, holding our breath.

Maybe it’s worse than that. Perhaps the atmosphere this Sunday was the way it’s supposed to be: neutral. But it’s too evil to be true. Neutrality or apathy in the face of calamity is the most terrifying thing of all.

Please, everyone, no matter what, as much as you can, I know it’s hard: Stay home. 

#7 : What Does Squishing Sand Through Your Toes Feel Like?

Sunbathers at Huntington Beach in California with oil platform offshore. Photo by Charles O’Rear, 1975, for the National Archives. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

This is the 7th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

The sea is good for seagulls. Sand is good for sandpipers. The beach is good for bunnies. But I am not a bunny, and I am not a bird. I am a human with mucous membranes, various cavities, and a pale, head-to-toe surface area that burns when subjected to prolonged daylight. I do not want sand squishing “between” anything, toes or otherwise.

In short, I do not like the beach.

But let’s not use this prompt to go on and on detailing why I have never understood or enjoyed something that a great majority of people love. Why ruin it for the rest of the otherwise perfectly sane, reasonable people who like to grease up their largest organ and sit half-buried the fine silt of ancient rocks, exposing themselves to the to the punishing light and heat coming from a ball of fire in the sky that in actuality is a dying star in the process of burning itself up, if that tells you anything —  no, no. Rather than do that, especially with summer right around the corner let’s eavesdrop on the thoughts of the people in the above picture. Come with me, left to right, as we see what the squishing sand hath wrought.

Note: The picture was taken in 1975.

 

WOMAN WITH HER LEG UP

This Crisco isn’t doing anything. Sharon looked terrific the other night and she said she’d been “out all day with Crisco”, but I just don’t see the bronzing, at least not on my calves. My thighs look great. (She pokes her thigh.) I’ll give it another five. Gosh, I wonder what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. I’d buy a newspaper but they’re 10 cents, now. What am I, made of money? (Beat.) I’m really hot. Like, really hot. I need to flip, but I just … this Crisco … it’s so sticky. Crisco, Crisco. Wait, was Sharon talking about being out all day with Francisco? (She squints out at the horizon.) Who put that big building out there? I need to put my leg down. Maybe I’ll just take a little nap after I take another sip this dehydrating wine cooler … So … So tired all of a sudden …

 

FACE-DOWN WOMAN

Oh my god, I hate this. I hate this. I’m dying. The sun is burning me up. I’m going to die here. I’m going to die here, on Huntington Beach. (Mirthless laugh.) This is unbelievable. I’m going to burn up. I’m turning into a pork rind. I’m a physics professor and I’m turning into a pork rind. What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I just say I was busy? The manuscript will be late. That’s real, now. I have less than three weeks, as of today. (She peers at MAN WITH HAT.) God, I hate that hat. It’s a child’s hat. It’s the hat of a small child. (Pause.) He should have asked me by now if I want to use it. Unbelievable.

 

MAN WITH HAT

Most offshore oil rigs are taller than the world’s biggest skyscrapers. Most people don’t know that. The first known offshore drilling occurred in Azerbaijan in the 19th century, and oil rigs are commonly referred to as “floating cities,” on account of all the workers living on them at any given time. Most people don’t know that, either. I’ll bet my date would love to hear everything I know about offshore drilling platforms. The sun is bright today. I’m so glad I brought my hat. I wonder what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.

 

FLAT WOMAN 1

(To FLAT WOMAN 2.) Karen? (No response.) Karen!

 

THE KID

The horizon yields a shape mo’st strange. What mighty metal camel strides across the great and churning sea? Might the beast be a fearsome elephant, trunk raised to bellow a warning for all to —

 

THE KID’S MOM (Out of frame, right.) 

Five minutes, Kevin. I won’t tell you again. We’re leaving in five minutes. 

 

[The End.]

#6 : Describe the Most Comfortable Spot You Can Find …

Tonight I’m in upper Nevada, but I like this picture of a hotel sign in Las Vegas; hotel built in 1972. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

 

This is the 6th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

 

Two weeks ago, I unironically said,

“I need a one-way ticket to Boise.”

This is a sentence I had never said before. I’d never heard anyone say it. Anytime a sentence starts with — “I need a one-way ticket to” —  perk up, because something interesting is about to happen. Usually, “one-way ticket to” sentences finish off with “Paris” or “Bahrain” or “Times Square!” (i.e.,  Hollywood places where Hollywood things happen.) But who cares! Everyone knows what happens when a person books a one-way ticket to Paris: They get lost in the rain trying to find the Eiffel Tower. Then they find it — just in time, of course. Then, the object of their affection just happens to be there, soaking wet, at the top of the thing. Then, One-Way-Ticket Person professes their love and they kiss as fake rain sprays their expensive eyebrows and roll credits.

But if a person is booking a one-way ticket that terminates in Boise, Idaho … I’m leaning in closer for that one. I have no idea how that one goes.

In my case, I needed a one-way ticket to Boise because I’m on the road for Quiltfolk magazine and the Boise airport was the closest airport to our first story location. Our first story location was barely over the Nevada state line, on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, where members of the Shoshone-Piaute Tribes live, work, and go to school. We rolled out at 6:30 a.m. and I drove us from Boise to the reservation, which took about 2.5 hours. Getting the (unsettling, unforgettable) story took about three hours. After we wrapped, we piled into the car and I drove 3.25 hours to the small town where I am right now, writing this. It’s a town about 2.5 hours from Reno … and we will roll out for Reno at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.

My point is: It was a long day. But wasn’t the prompt for this post asking me about the most comfortable spot I can find?

The most comfortable spot I can find is this one. The spot I’m in right now, with you.

I am horizontal on the bed in my hotel room. It’s not a fancy hotel room; in fact, it’s worn and shabby. It’s also clean and safe. I am wrapped up in my robe, which I always bring on these trips, and I am cozy under the cashmere throw that I always bring on these trips and you might say, “Oh-ho-ho! Well! Roughing it, are we? Cashmere on the road, Ms. Fons? Quelle horror!” but you must understand: I know what I’m doing. I have gigged for close to 20 years. I travel a lot, as many of you know, and there are simply a few things I need to keep the wheels on the bus. One of those things is my robe. Another one of those things is my cashmere blanket. I can’t remember the other things I need right now but none of them are as important — nor were they as expensive — as this luscious, raspberry beret-colored cashmere blanket.

It’s normal for me to want something I can’t have; it’s typical for me to wish something was different. Not now. I’m good. I’m grateful. Come on: I have a cashmere blanket and I got to say, “I need a one-way ticket to Boise”.

And I got on the plane.

#5 : Describe What Snow Feels Like …

“Tea house at Koishikawa. The morning after a snowfall” by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849). “Tea house” is No. 11 in a series called “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” (c. 1830). Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

This is the 5th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

I’m pretty sure writing prompts don’t exist to force a person to “answer for X”, so I’m not going to describe what snow feels like.

I’d rather tell you about how it felt to look out the window of this new, old apartment about a month ago to see that snow had fallen through the night. I’d rather tell you that when I saw the snow on the trees and the courtyard and the roofs and stones, it was the first snow I’d seen since moving to this place, a place where I want live more than any place in the whole world, and I knew that the moment I saw a picture of this apartment, this exact one, and I don’t suppose I’ll ever want to live anywhere else in the world more than I want to live here. We all say “never” and “always” and “for the rest of my life” and those words don’t always mean much, but I can tell you that I only said “for the rest of my life” twice last year and I meant it both times and one of the times I said it, I said it about this place. I said, “I want to live here forever” and worked and worked and fought to make it real, and that morning, standing in the kitchen in my pajamas in the Gold Coast, in a kitchen that hasn’t been updated since 1965, with Geneva cupboards that have to be taken to an auto body shop to get repainted, next to a Magic Chef stove from the Pleistocene era; that morning, I knew my name, my address, I knew that I had found real love, and I knew that Chicago got two inches. I did not want, nor did I need, any other information. The moment was complete, and all I had to do was walk into the kitchen.

I don’t want to write about what snow feels like as much as I want to tell you how snow made me feel.

#4 : The Joy of Today Is …

This West Point gym is empty because the cadets heard they might have to do a METCON3 class. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

This is the 4th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

 

The joy of today is that I went to the gym and survived something called METCON3.

Until this summer, I hadn’t had a gym membership for 12 years.* I didn’t want or need one, because at some point in my early thirties, I discovered the joy of working out at home. It all started because the evil blonde sprite that trained Madonna for awhile put out a series of exercise DVDs, and it turned out that if I did those ghastly exercises faithfully at least four times a week, they would slim my shoulders and raise my butt. I’m serious. There was my butt, minding its own business, hanging out at one level and then I’d do the DVDs for a couple weeks and my butt would be raised up to the next level. With those DVDs, I had a next-level butt — and I didn’t have to leave the house to get it. I didn’t have to pack a gym bag or share a locker room with clammy strangers. I didn’t have to smell rubber flooring and, after I got the DVDs, it was free.

But there were lots of changes in the past year and one of the changes is that I joined a gym. My DVDs were worn out and I was getting real tired of the evil sprite. Besides, the closest gym in our neighborhood is an Equinox, and this was tempting.

Gyms and health clubs are a lot like coffee. At the base level, you’ve got your Sankas, your Folgers. These are affordable, serviceable brands that will supply your caffeine … but that’s about it. Then you’ve got your Dunkin’ Donuts-level coffee, which costs more, but it tastes a lot better and the cup has a logo on it. After that, you’ve got your Starbucks, and we all know that at a Starbucks, you have options. You can ask for alternative milks and usually get them. There are seasonal flavors and ceramic mugs available for purchase. The baristas write your name on your cup. It’s great.

It’s great until you get coffee at a place like Intelligentsia here in Chicago, or at a La Columbe, from Philly, or at Vivace in Seattle. Once you get a flat white or an Americano at a place like that, where they’re roasting the beans in the back and the baristas don’t make coffee so much as tend to it, and your beverage is so good you finally understand those coffee jerks who go on and on about “acidity” and “balance” and “tone” in a cup of damn coffee.  Once you’ve tasted that kind of coffee from that sort of place — and paid a pretty penny for it, to be sure! — it’s kind of hard to go back to Sanka.

Equinox is the fancy kind of coffee. There are trainers there and they are all hot. There’s a sauna (also hot.) There are lots of fluffy towels and there is someone who folds them. To check in, you open the Equinox app on your phone and present the bar code to the person at the front desk. No big deal, except that above the bar code in big letters is your first name, so that when the (hot) front desk person scans you in, they’re able to say:

“Have a great workout, Mary!”

It’s weird but you’d like it, too. Equinox has a long list of desirable qualities, but what I like best are the classes. There are lots of classes you can take all throughout the week: spinning, barre, aquatics, yoga, and a variety of HIIT classes. “HITT” stands for “High Intensity Interval Training” and if you think any workout called “HITT” sounds like it would be aggressive and painful, you’d be right. Every class is different, but basically, you jump up and down, then you do push-ups, then you lift weights, then you want to cry, then you get back up and you jump up and down, then you lift weights, etc., etc., until you are released or literally dead.

METCON3 is a HIIT class. “MET” is short for “METABOLIC” and “CON” is short for “CONDITIONING” and — sorry for all that YELLING just now — the “3” is there because you do 10 different exercises (e.g., jumping up and down, lifting weights, crying, etc.) three times. Class is 50 minutes. Everyone has two fluffy towels at the start of class; at the end, we have sopping wet rags because of the sweat and the crying, which I think I mentioned.

METCON3 is as brutal — and effective — as it sounds. This week, I took that damned class three times. The joy of today is that I survived it. If there were a METCON4, my butt might just consider moving up to the next level.

* (That’s not counting yoga studios.)

#3 : My Most Embarrassing Moment Would Be …

“Coucher de soleil sur les salins” is the filename for this image. It means “Sunset over the salt flats” and it’s a much nicer picture (and filename) than other picture I considered for this particular post. You’ll see. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

This is the 3rd installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

 

I don’t feel embarrassed too often. I try to keep things in perspective, see, and you should too, if you want to live your life without experiencing “embarrassing” situations. The truth is, you can’t ever be truly, mortally embarrassed by something when being mortal is already humiliating.

So you had spinach between your front two teeth at the bar. You looked dumb and you totally blew it, no doubt about that. But an “Oh my God” moment is nothing in light of the fact that your taut, nubile body will eventually wither and sag and end up a tidy pile of brittle sticks. A ghastly prospect, indeed, and isn’t every man a prospector when he mines the mortal coil?

Perhaps you tooted at dinner.

You tooted at dinner and you were not alone; there were other people having dinner with you. That’s pretty embarrassing, but — and particularly in this case — you’ve got to consider the bigger picture, champ. You can’t be embarrassed by a toot when you consider the mortifying fact that the most special parts of our bodies, the bits that are used for procreation and recreation are located directly next to the part of our bodies that produces — I’m trying to put this delicately — toots. That proximity, that ridiculous … arrangement is ignominious, indeed. Who does that? Who thought that was a good idea? The best cure for embarrassment to accept how absurd everything is already. Recognize that, and you shall fear no sidewalk banana peel.

Speaking of sidewalks, I did something embarrassing the other day.

It was about 8:30 in the morning. I was walking down Michigan Avenue, headed to my office for a day of research, editing, and munching cashew nuts, which I enjoy, and which are better for me than potato chips, which I also enjoy.

It had rained the night before and then the temperature dropped, so the sidewalks were either wet or icy, depending on whether the building managers had salted. The sky was bright and I was feeling pretty good until I noticed something gross. Every 20 feet or so was a modest pile of salmon-colored rock salt dumped out on the sidewalk. The piles were about as large as what you could hold in your two hands cupped together, and they studded the sidewalk for several blocks.

The wet, pink rock salt smears looked exactly — and I do mean exactly — like city barf.

City barf is any barf you see in the city. You see a lot of it in Wrigleyville after a Cubs game. You see it at a lot of bus stops, unfortunately. Sometimes you see it on Michigan Avenue. No matter where it is, seeing city barf gives rise to mixed emotions, at least for me: total revulsion, pity, and an almost Proustian moment when you picture the barfer’s entire evening — nay, their entire life! — leading up to the moment when they barfed, right there on the ground, in front of God and everybody. Mind you, you do not dwell on any of this, it’s a lightning quick cycle: see the barf; have the emotions; never think of it again.

That morning, there was a man walking a few paces ahead of me. I knew he was thinking the same thing about the pink rock salt. I knew it. He was looking at it too, I was sure.

I sped up to pass him, and as I did, I remarked to him, confident that he would respond in the affirmative and the two of us would enjoy a fleeting sense of city kinship as we both walked to our offices — I said,

“It looks like barf, right?? Not a great choice!”

The man looked at me and he looked terrified. Forget kinship. He was confused, grossed out, and clearly alarmed that a seemingly normal-looking woman was loose in the city, conning strangers in broad daylight, throwing them off their game by saying the word “barf” in a sentence.

I gave a little, “Heh, heh, well … ” and just zoomed up the street. I even zipped through a very yellow light so that I wouldn’t get stuck at the crosswalk with him and we’d have to either acknowledge that I had said what I said — which was about vomit, let’s not forget — or we would not acknowledge it at all, which would be worse, at least for me.

Was I embarrassed? I guess. But isn’t it more embarrassing that we throw up in the first place?

#2 : How Do You Keep Your Teachers Happy?

posted in: Journal Buddy 8
The humble chalkboard eraser/kitchen sponge. Image: Wikipedia.

 

This is the 2nd installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

Just show up to class.

After many years of being a student in university settings, workshops, various training courses, etc., I really do think that getting your butt in the seat, week after week, is a fail-safe way to successfully get through any kind of schooling. Strive for straight A’s if you like; aim high and still just get B’s; do the bare minimum and land C’s, even D’s — it’s all the same in the end, at least in terms of passing the course. Just remember: “If you come to class, you will pass.” (I’m pretty sure I just made that up.)

Can you get F’s on all your papers and tests and still pass if you show up to class? Maybe. But the added benefit of attending every single class session is that you’ll probably learn enough to not get F’s in the first place.

I think the good attendance of a student is critical for teachers for a few reasons. Keep in mind that I have done my fair share of teaching, but I’ve been a student way, way more, so my thoughts here are speculative.

For one thing, coming to class is a show of respect. A student enrolls in a class. The student takes up a seat in that class, which means someone else cannot have that seat. And the underlying assumption is that the student will attend the class, sit in the seat, listen to the instructor, and participate, whatever that might look like for that particular course.

When a student blows off class (for a reason other than being sick or having an emergency) it sends a message that you, the teacher, aren’t that important, and that the class isn’t worth going to. This isn’t explicit, it’s implied. If it happens a fair amount, the teacher understandably has less patience with the absentee student when she is struggling with a lesson or asks for an extension on a paper, for example.

The other reason being absent from class is the fastest way to lose favor with your teacher is a purely practical one, from your teacher’s standpoint: When you’re gone, she has to work more.

She has to answer an email from you going over what you missed. She has to reply to your email back to her with a question about what you missed — and of course lots of people had questions about the same thing, but she went over it … in class. You might ask for more time to finish a take-home test, say, which means she has to grade all the tests for the people who were in class and then, a week later, she has to return to the task she thought she could be done with (grading the take-home tests) but there you are, handing over your peanut-butter smeared take-home test — come on, you know it’s got peanut butter on it — and now she has to find the answer key and lord knows where that thing went.

If you want to make your teachers happy, go to class. You can come to class in your pajamas. Don’t you dare be on your phone — I can’t deal with people who do that in an educational setting — but texting with your sister in class is better than texting with your sister not in class. And, though I know this sounds crazy, you can even come to class without your homework. You just have to show up.

Any questions?

 

 

#1 : If I Were In The Circus, I Would Be …

I know the feeling. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

Miserable.

I’d be utterly miserable if I were in the circus. I’d mope, I’d whine, I’d rail against the injustice of it all — because there are few circuses I would join willingly — and I’d end up taking it out on the other surely miserable creatures in my strange new circus family. This wouldn’t be helpful for me or fair to them, so then I’d feel guilty and feel more miserable but at that point, with all of us having to perform four shows a day, it might not matter.

Nevertheless, everyone would hear about it. That includes the new-in-town, understandably wary poodle trainer; the entire clown corps; the husband and wife acrobat team who works overtime every week knowing full well they absolutely should not do that given their line of work; the bendy girl; the other bendy girl who you pay extra to see (after dark, adults only); and Hugo, the old, old, old, old, old man who does all the costumes, including the tiny hats for the monkeys and my previously worn petticoat and velvet vest.

I’d fling myself into the shabby trailer Hugo uses for his workshop. “Hugo!” I’d cry. “It’s happening!”

Hugo has those wire spectacles with the thick, convex magnifying lenses that make his eyes so big he looks like a cartoon. He doesn’t look up from his sequins because it takes him a long time to move any part of his body. Besides, he’s heard this before.

“What’s the trouble, dear?”

I lie down on the floor for maximum effect. “Hugo, I’m not meant for this life. This classic vaudevillian, 1930s, Follies Bergère-style traveling circus life, I’m just not meant for it.”

“Sounds like you need a biscuit,” Hugo says.

I perk up but don’t show it and then moan again. “No, even a biscuit won’t help … I’m dying.”

“All right,” Hugo says, pulling out a spool of pink thread from a drawer. “I don’t think I have any left, anyway.”

Wait, what?! Hugo’s refreshments are legendary. No one knows where he gets the shiny blue tins of shortbread cookies, but he always seems to have them on hand when you really need one. And the tea he gives you on bad days is made with the same rationed teabags and powdered milk we all get from the circus commissary, but Hugo makes it taste creamier and gets his water hotter, somehow. No one can figure it out.

“Well, maybe it would help to have a bite of a biscuit. If you still have some.” I cough a couple times. “And … I think the sawdust is sticking in my throat. Do you have any, um, tea or anything?

Hugo smiles and gets up. He makes his creaky way over to the hot plate to boil water in a kettle as old as he is. “Yes, you ought to have tea right away. We can’t have you suffocating on sawdust; you go on at 6:30. And I think I do have a few biscuits left somewhere.”

I try to peek at which shelf he reaches into for the cookies but he looks back at me faster than I thought he was physically able to, so I squeeze my eyes shut and roll around like I’ve got a stomach ache even though I don’t. I hear the tin open and the rustle of crinkled cookie papers.

Hugo is bent over pretty far already so it’s easy for him to hand me a biscuit. “Sit up, darling. You don’t want to choke.”

“This circus is going to kill me,” I say, half the cookie in my mouth already. “Maybe today’s the day.”

The tea kettle boils and I get my mug of tea. It’s hot and creamy and tastes like my former life. Hugo, who dresses like Geppetto and smokes exactly two cigarillos every day, sits in his chair and I sit cross-legged on the trailer floor. I’ll have to have the Bearded Lady beat the dust from my skirts before my act. By the way, I’m with the lions on Thursdays and Fridays; Sunday through Tuesday I sell candy and peanuts and tell jokes, and on Wednesdays — my favorite day — I get to ride Trinket. (Trinket is our elephant.)

“Have you ever seen a performance of Cirque du Soliel?” Hugo asks me.

I shake my head. “No, actually. Are they any good?”

“No,” Hugo says. “They’re not real circus people, anyway. Oh, they’ll do some tricks. A few of them are double-jointed like Ricky. But their hearts just aren’t in it. There’s too much money in the thing, no doubt about it. You get too much money in a touring group like that, people don’t need each other. They go off after work and spend their money doing all kinds of who knows what. Here, it’s different. We don’t have much, but we get by. We help each other. And we have a good show.”

Puffs of smoke curl up into the costumes Hugo stores on hangers above his head. My vest and skirts came from that old stock. The cigarillo smell will never come out. I look over at Hugo, who has always been so kind to me. I hear Trinket bellow from across the grounds; it’s bath time.

This isn’t that bad, I think to myself. If I were in the circus, I guess I’d want it to be like this.

Hello, Darling: This Is a Job For Journal Buddies

She’s reading a list of writing prompts, I bet. Image: Wikipedia.

 

Oh, the things I can’t do.

I can’t be naturally blonde. I can’t change another person. I can go backwards on skates, but I can’t really skate backwards. I cannot meditate. I can’t change the past. I can’t build a balsa wood airplane (or a balsa wood anything) and I can’t keep honey from dripping down the side of the jar. I’ve never been able to wait.

There’s this one thing I do really well, though, and that’s content.

All my life, if there’s a project that requires words, themes, angles, description, rhyme, structure, information, or rhetoric at all, really, I immediately produce a surplus of ideas. Need content developed, designed, or otherwise structured, I will assess what type of content is needed and take pleasure as “it” instantly takes shape. Every time, I snap my fingers and go, “Ooh! I got it!” and I often do. Yes, when other kids in 8th grade English class were lamenting to the teacher that they didn’t know what to write about, my pencil was already halfway down the page.

Does it sound like I’m bragging? I sure am! We live in a brutal world. There are horrible balsa wood airplanes you might be asked to put together and you might love a person who you can’t change, and you might actually want to have your tea in the morning without getting honey on your knuckles, but if you can’t do any of those things, you’ve got to accentuate the positive, latch onto the affirmative, and in my case, that means make content and make it good.

Imagine my agony when I finally felt ready to pick up the ol’ PG some months ago and found something wrong with my fingers. I had just cracked the laptop and was about to begin writing when I realized they were just sort of … hovering over the keyboard. But they couldn’t do anything else without a strong signal from mission control and I’m mission control and I didn’t know what to write.

No, no, I thought to myself; I’m just out of practice. Hang on. I sat back. I cocked my head to the side. I chewed my lip. I bit too hard at one point but all this was normal. A few thoughts did alight on the bean, but nothing got my fingers to work for more than a few listless minutes here and there. The great filing cabinet in my mind remained firmly locked. Denying that this was happening, I’d close my laptop or — far worse — keep it open and watch something outrageous on YouTube.

But it kept happening and I spent several weeks low-key panicking. The mind was willing, but the flesh was weak and it was an uncomfortable and foreign experience. Then one day, I remembered what English teachers use when their students find their usually active, imaginative brains drawing blanks:

Writing prompts. And they work.

My eyebrows raised up into my bangs. I got the prickly heat. I started to breathe through my nostrils. Oh no you don’t, I thought, backing away from the computer, I do not need writing prompts. Writing prompts are for students. They’re for break-out sessions at corporate team-building retreats. Prompts are for people with “writer’s block” but “writer’s block” doesn’t actually exist if you’re … if you’re writing all the time.

And there it was. I’m out of practice with you, darling, because I haven’t been writing you for a good year, now. Maybe it’s just a Tin Man situation and I just need a little oil to get myself moving again.

Well, Dorothy has arrived with her oil can, and Dorothy is something called “Journal Buddies”.

Journal Buddies is a website with thousands of writing prompts for kids. It came up when I was googling around and though there are endless websites with endless writing prompts, for some reason I just liked Journal Buddies. The site was created and is currently maintained by a person named Jill Schoenberg. I liked the list of “51 Exciting Things To Write About In A Journal” on its own, but then I read Jill’s bio page and I have decided she’s better than Dorothy with an oil can. She’s an educator and a publisher and the vibes are good. This was meant to be.

And so, as I cut myself a generous slice of humble pie with a scoop of rum raisin ice cream, topped perhaps with some pecans or something crumbly, it is my sincere pleasure to announce this PaperGirl is present and accounted for. Present and accountable, you might say: I’m doing this list. I won’t commit to taking them in order, but I’m going to write a post for every one of these prompts until I’ve done them all. After that, if I’m not back in the swing of the ol’ PG, we’ve got bigger problems. I’d rather not think about it.

Thank you, Jill Schoenberg, for being my journal buddy. Thanks all of you for being so patient and beautiful. God, I love a list.

 

Journal Buddies 51 List

  • I am the one who …
  • My first memory is …
  • My wildest dream vacation is …
  • If I were in the circus I would be …
  • I believe …
  • Describe a person you admire.
  • I can …
  • Sunshine makes me feel …
  • The most amazing thing I’ve ever seen is …
  • I’m thankful for …
  • What do you want the most out of life?
  • What are the characteristics of a hero?
  • What do you think of people who use profanity in public?
  • If I were famous, I would …
  • I wish I were there when …
  • If I were a fish in the ocean …
  • My favorite places.
  • My least favorite places.
  • How a puppy feels.
  • My ideal day is …
  • Is it better to give or to receive?
  • If I had three wishes I would …
  • My most embarrassing moment is (or would be) …
  • Where would I go in a time machine?
  • Describe a rainstorm from above the storm clouds.
  • Write from the perspective of a mouse going down a hole.
  • Describe a rainbow to a blind person, and do it so that the blind person can say without a doubt that they have SEEN a rainbow!!!
  • What was your favorite meal?
  • What does snow feel like?
  • What does squishing sand through your toes feel like?
  • Write a letter to yourself 1, 3, 5, 10 or 20 years from now.
  • Write a letter to yourself as a child of ___ years old.
  • Write a thank you letter to your favorite teacher.
  • If I could be anything in this world, I’d be …
  • If I could be anywhere in the entire UNIVERSE, I’d be …
  • Write about the taste of peanut butter, how it smells, and how it looks.
  • How would you feel as a passenger in a space ship on the way to the Moon?
  • How can you make friends?
  • How do you keep your teachers happy?
  • Describe Sundays at your house.
  • Observe at least 5 things you see happen on your way home from school/work and write about them.
  • Describe a place from your past.
  • Describe your concept of luxury.
  • Describe a family member.
  • Describe sloppy.
  • Describe your ride home.
  • Nothing can be worse than …
  • Write about your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Describe the most comfortable spot you can find.
  • The problem is … And this is what I plan to do about it …
  • The joy of today is …

The Other Problem With Losing Your Voice

posted in: Day In The Life, Fashion 32
Corset, XIXth century Poland. Image: Wikipedia.

 

“Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion.” — John Berger, 1972

 

I have nothing to wear.

Last winter, when my life fell into a blast furnace, there were eight items of clothing I could put on my body from day to day that didn’t make me want to crawl out of my skin. Those items were:

Levi’s jeans
L.L. Bean wool sweater (red)
L.L. Bean wool sweater (black w/pattern)
Brown leather hiking boots with red laces
Nike Cortez tennis shoes
Double-breasted wool topcoat (camel)
Wool scarf (gray)
Knit cap (navy)

Anything else, and I was wearing a costume. This was a dissociative experience, and I was grappling with enough of those, thank you very much. Why couldn’t I wear any of my other sweaters? Or my white Oxford shirts? An Oxford shirt is about as neutral as an item of clothing can get, but when I put one on and buttoned it up, I felt like an idiot.

Strangest of all was that I couldn’t wear what has been my winter uniform for years: black pants and a black turtleneck. You’d think when a woman is experiencing major depression, black is the only thing that will do. Jeez, aren’t the depressed issued a black turtleneck and black pants at the door? But to me, black clothing does not communicate sorrow or a lack of vitality. To me, black clothes, aside from being chic (and slimming!) communicate a person in command of herself, someone who wants to be taken seriously.

What was happening to me was serious but I felt in command of nothing, and chic? Chic was a planet other people lived on. Whose clothes are these, I wondered, as I moved hangers back and forth in my closet. At some point I stopped opening my closet at all, ceased to wonder or worry about it and I simply put on the same thing day after day. I laundered my clothes often because I wore them daily. Processing laundry took great effort but it was a simple enough task and the smell of Woolite never lost its charm. I’m still grateful for that.

How I dreaded the coming warm weather. I’d be screwed. Dressing for spring and summer is awful for me every year, regardless of mental state; precious few of us on Team Black Turtleneck cross the line over to Team Tank Top, even if the Tank Toppers seem more comfortable than we are come Memorial Day. This year, I feared would be way worse.

The season changed. And by the time my hiking boots were inappropriate — early May, I think — my disposition had improved considerably. But I had not been wrong to worry about the clothes and in fact the situation was worse than I had anticipated. Not only had I not caught a ride on a rocket ship back to Planet Chic, I did not want to go. It was time to bring out my low-heeled suede pumps and my Marni blouse and my side-zip, slim-fit black Vince trousers, but when I went to get dressed in all that, you would’ve thought there was a tin of rotting tuna fish in my closet. I’d wince and shut the door and then just stand there with my head on the closet door, trying to envision any assemblage of apparel that would not make me feel like I was wearing a dead woman’s clothes. It was that bad.

Not everyone cares as much about clothes as I do, and there are those who care far more. My reasons for caring about what I wear (if you’ll allow me to psychoanalyze myself for a moment) are not hard to figure out. I want to control the narrative. Well-designed things make life easier and less ugly. Beautiful clothes make me feel beautiful. And I think it’s important to evolve as a person. Clothes, because there are so many directions one can take with them, are tools we can use to reflect — even spur or solidify — who we are right now.

And that, my peeps, is the heart of the matter: I don’t know what to wear because my current evolution is still in progress. It’s the same reason I can’t whip out a PaperGirl post like I used to: That person moved out, and it appears the other problem with losing your voice is losing your shoes. On a purely material level, it’s a drag to lose all those shoes — I have really great shoes — but on a psychic level, it super sucks. I can’t walk around barefoot. I can’t wear hiking boots every day. Crocs are never an option. But I’d pick any of those options before I’d wear the shoes of the woman who left all her stuff in my closet before she died. That’s creepy.

What’s my new look? As my friend Irena would say, “What’s the mood?”

Ten months later, and I still don’t know. It’s doubtful the mood will ever be what it was before. Perhaps that’s a start; that’s useful data. As the weather cools, I am eyeing my boots and my red sweater, but this may not be the solution. The new fear is that I’ll put those clothes on and they’ll feel dead, too.

But I’m alive. And I will live to shop another day.

The PaperGirl Persona

 

If you’re reading this, I’ll bet there are some books in your house. It doesn’t matter what kind, but I’ll bet there’s more than 20. I don’t have hard data on this, but I was at an event in Indiana a few weeks ago and met a number of PaperGirl readers who were clearly book-owning people. It was a vibe.

If you’re like me, the books you’ve kept for years in your living room or den or office you’ve kept for an obvious reason: They matter. I think the books we keep are meaningful because they reflect to us and everyone else who we are — and/or maybe who we’d like to be. Our bookshelves speak volumes (I know, I know!) because they’re essentially an exhibit we’ve curated. The books on a person’s shelf say, “I’m a hopeless romantic”, or “My political views are central to who I am”, or “I’m a Christian”, or “I’m an atheist”, or “I’m an actor” or “Science fiction helps me deal with reality.” What do your books say about you? Maybe there are so many books on your bookshelves, they’re groaning under the weight of all that paper. In that case, what your books say is: “I can’t throw books out.” That’s your answer: You’re a person who can’t bear to let go of books.

The books on my shelves cover a lot of ground. I’ve got anthologies of humor writing wedged in next to a pristine set of Quiltfolk magazines, the ones I refuse to mark up, make notes in, or review incessantly so that the next issue will be better than the last. On the other shelf, I’ve got everything Camille Paglia has ever published. Next to all that is (for example) a collection of Saul Bellow letters and two or three Nabokov novels … which butt up against a tiny portion of my quilt history library. (The rest is in my basement storage unit at the moment.) To an outside observer, this quilt history/cultural fireband/chuckle fest/Lolita mix is super weird, but to anyone who knows me, the books on my shelves makes perfect sense: My library, myself. And it’s the same with you.

However mishmashed the subcategories may be, there is one prevailing genre within my shelves: Nearly everything fits into the genre of personal narrative. Personal narrative is nonfiction that comprises memoir, autobiography, diary, personal essay, and certain longform journalism. As a writer and reader, this stuff is my jam. It’s been this way since I was in high school. I don’t check novels out from the library, I don’t buy them, and I don’t read the few I still have in my possession. Why?

The way I figure, it’s unfettered reality I want — the “straight tea”, as the kids say. I’m curious about people’s direct experience being a human and if a person writes about that experience as honestly and thoughtfully as they can, I want to read that. In fact, I’m desperate to read it. Everyone has way, way more to learn than they think they do, and I know I’ll learn from people if I can access their respective alternate realities. Of course I realize that novels offer alternate realities, too, and that novels can weave reality in a lovely, different way, but I don’t want a surrogate. I don’t want a (however well-wrought) fabrication standing in between me and the story. I’m too impatient, as usual, but I’m also unapologetic about this: I want my reality uncut. Mainline me.

There are giants of the personal narrative genre. These people are my heroes. Those giants include James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf, Susan Sontag, Michel de Montaigne, Zadie Smith, Christopher Hitchens, David Foster Wallace … and Vivian Gornick.

It’s that last name we’re going to spend the rest of our time with, because Vivian Gornick wrote a book I have kept on my shelf for many years and I shall always keep it on my shelf. It’s like an old, worn, freshly washed bathrobe. The other day, needing one of those, I pulled that book down and leafed through, for old times’ sake. The content I found did two things: 1) it caused me to think about the books we keep on our shelves and 2) it broke open why I can’t get a grip on this blinkin’ blog.

First things first: Vivian Gornick is a genius at writing. Her writing is efficient and elegant — think Einstein’s theory of relativity. Her sentences have zero fat. There is no ego, no flourish. She doesn’t stand for that crap. She observes everything and then she writes down the truth of it, however mundane. She writes books and essays and critical reviews and they will inspire you and also depress you if you’re a writer, because guess what? There’s only one Gornick, baby. If you want a place to start, read her memoir about her relationship with her mother, Fierce Attachments. 

Okay, okay, so Gornick wrote a book a few years ago called The Situation and The Story: The Art of Personal Narrative. When I was teaching writing at the University of Chicago, I used this book a lot, especially in the blogging class and the storytelling class. The book is one big revelation, but perhaps the biggest, baddest one is essentially this: to write about your life, you have to craft a persona, because a persona will give you the voice you need to write the story of your life. Here’s an excerpt from the book, and I know I’m just diving in here, but I looked hard for the right passage so I hope you’ll track with me on this:

“The writing we call personal narrative is written by people who, in essence, are imagining only themselves in relation to the subject in hand. … Out of the raw material of a writer’s own undisguised being a narrator is fashioned whose existence on the page is integral to the tale being told. This narrator becomes a persona. Its tone of voice, its angle of vision, the rhythm of its sentences, what it selects to observe and what to ignore are chosen to serve the subject; yet at the same time the way the narrator — or the persona — sees things is, to the largest degree, the thing being seen. 

To fashion a persona out of one’s own undisguised self is no easy thing … Yet the creation of such a persona is vital in an essay or a memoir. It is the instrument of illumination. Without it there is neither subject or story. To achieve it, the writer of memoir or essay undergoes an apprenticeship as soul-searching as any undergone by a novelist or poet: the twin struggle to know not only why one is speaking, but who is speaking.”

This blog has existed since 2005. For more than a decade, save for a few periods when I’ve gone dark — as I’ve been lately — I’ve shared my life here and I have told you the truth. I am vulnerable here. I don’t bullshit you. I respect you, I respect myself, and I tell the truth and because of that respect, I cannot write things that are fake. The times when the blog has evaporated for a spell, it’s evaporated precisely because I refuse to be inauthentic, and sometimes it’s impossible to be authentic without turfing out. Put another way: If what’s going on with me is deeply private, if it is not for public consumption, yet, if it would compromise other people, if it simply makes no discernible sense yet, or if I’m just plain too scared to tell you, I don’t know how to write PaperGirl. 

PaperGirl is fun. Yes, she’s vulnerable and open. We know that. I talk about sad stuff and bad stuff and gross stuff. But she bounces back. She’s a total dork, a complete spaz. She has perspective and she knows who she is. I love PaperGirl. She’s definitely real. She’s me. She’s a part of me, anyway, which means PaperGirl is … a persona. Absolutely authentic, no fake-out, no bullshit. But a specific voice from me who can take “the raw material of [her] own undisguised being” and tell you about it using a specific “tone of voice”, “angle of vision”, and with a certain rhythm to her sentences. I don’t want to get too writer-rabbit-hole-y on you — too late — but believe me: For years and years, when it was time to sit down and write PaperGirl, I mentally and involuntarily slipped on my PaperGirl shoes, cracked my knuckles, and voila: I could write about my life.

I’m afraid that persona has left the building.

Wait, wait! I don’t mean that in some dour, gloomy way. It’s weird and yes, it is sort of sad: I liked her. I liked that goofy, chummy, weird, sensitive, earnest PaperGirlI hung out with her a long time, and so did you, and I love you very much, and she loved you very much. But after everything that happened this past winter and everything that has happened since, I can’t get those shoes on my feets. They do not fit. I observe things constantly that I want to tell you about, every single day, but I can’t get it on the page/screen. For awhile, every time I saw something I would normally zip out to you, I’d think, “Yes. That’s it. Tonight I can blog. Yes, I have to write about that, I have to share that. I love that and they’ll love that.” But that night, I’d try to put the shoes on and … I couldn’t write in that PaperGirl voice anymore and that was hard, but even harder was that I didn’t know what voice would take its place. Or if one would. That is a very scary thing for a writer and for a person.

The good news is simply that I’ve figured all this out, and I send my regards to Vivian Gornick. And because I’ve figured it out — that it’s impossible for me to blog like I used to because I’ve outgrown the PaperGirl persona/narrator — this means I can let myself off the hook. I’m not a bad blogger, I’ve just got a concussion. I’ll always write about my life; I just have to figure out who’s doing the writing.

In conclusion: If I let myself off the hook for not being “PaperGirl”, I think I can blog. I think so. There’s an opening. Thank you for all the emails and the comments and everything. You people are amazing. I’m doing pretty good and oh man do I have so much to tell you, big things and little things. I’m bursting to tell you, but I just don’t know what the PaperGirl 2.0 voice is, yet. I’ll get her. I’ll catch her. I get back on my feet. I’ll practice.

This is me, practicing.

Whither the AirPods

posted in: Day In The Life 25
Ms. Florence Violet McKenzie sitting at a desk listening to an early radio in 1922. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

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.

 

*call me

One of My Favorite Actresses of All Time Is My Neighbor

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 25
Ya don’t need to live in Beverly Hills to see the stahs, kid! Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

So the new apartment is great. Like, great.

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!

Sub-optimal.

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:

  1. Famous Actress wears big, floppy straw hat while gardening
  2. Famous Actress wears t-shirt and flowy skirt and Birkenstocks; looks comfortable
  3. 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
  4. Famous Actress rolled out a yoga mat and laid down on it but did not appear to practice yoga
  5. 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.

It’s good to be home.

What is Literature or: Hello, Horse

posted in: Day In The Life 43
Illustration of horse, ca. 1650. Ink, opaque watercolour, and gold on paper. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

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.

H’yah!

 

*  *  *

 

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.

Exactly.

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.

The Nervous Breakdown, Part V: The End

posted in: Sicky 61
Edouard Hamman - Disillusion - WGA11202.jpg
Get this girl some friends and some meds — stat. (Disillusion by Edouard Hamman, ca. 1851.)

 

 

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.

Love,
Mary

Seattle Transmission

posted in: Day In The Life, Sicky 21
Seattle tower sunset.jpg
Sleeping in Seattle tonight. Image: Wikipedia.

 

Some nights are list nights.

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

 

  1. 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.)

 

  1. I ate fish and chips for dinner and my stomach is killing me.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. There’s a special person in Seattle and he’s right over there. With ice cream. And two spoons.

 

Love,
Mary

The Nervous Breakdown, Part IV: The Doctor

posted in: Confessions, Sicky 42
Oh, that’s terrific. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

Let’s recap.

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.

— Interlude — 

posted in: Day In The Life 18
Hey, buddy. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

Welcome to The PaperGirl Sunday Evening Post.

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.

The eBay Link to The Mary Fons Fabric Stash Auction Extravaganza!

posted in: Quilting 16
Fly, little birdies! Fly! Photo: Mary.

 

Hi, gang!

Yesterday, I announced a fun thing you can read about right here!

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.

Have fun and be good. See you in a bit!

Love,
Mary

Mary Fons is Selling Off Her Fabric Stash! (A Bunch of It, Anyway)

posted in: Quilting 65
The glory goes on and on, believe me. Photo: Jazzy.

 

 

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 way smaller 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.

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