Alexa, Echo, Google Home — I don’t care which mega-conglomerate made it or how soothe-saying the device’s (female) personality sounds: They’re no damn good.
Do you have one of these? Have you, like Nick, welcomed an unblinking, all-seeing eyeball into your home that watches you and listens to you and records your data and sells it to [insert mega-conglomerate here]??
“Alexa,” Nick will say to the cylinder that lives and breathes in the corner of his room, “What’s the temperature?”
“The temperature is 80-degrees,” Alexa “says.”
It sounds so civilized. It even sounds helpful. Alexa may be, in certain cases. I understand there are arguments to be made for folks with limited mobility; I know certain tech gadgets can assist those differently abled. But for the majority of folks out there, these things are unnecessary. Just because we can have them does not mean we should! The whole thing is dastardly. Sick, even. These devices listen to and watch people in their homes, gathering data about citizens’ private lives for Lord knows what! “They” are watching our activity online already. Isn’t one mode of home surveillance enough?
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. After all, there is one home assistant I’m okay with. Have you heard of her? Her name is …
See, my mom and my stepdad and I were talking about this “home assistant” thing and got to joking around, shouting out questions to no one (and no device) in particular, asking things that couldn’t possibly be answered by Siri, Alexa, or anything without organically-grown brain matter.
“Verushka!” Mark yelled from the porch. “When did I learn to ride a bicycle?”
“Verushka!” Mom called. “What color of blue do I need in the quilt I’m working on?”
We started asking Verushka lots of questions — she didn’t answer a single one! — and while Mark and I were laughing about it, Mom, because she’s hilarious, actually fashioned a Verushka. A mini-monolith, an analog wonder, really just a cardboard box with a wifi signal drawn on with a Sharpie, Verushka is the best “home assistant” money can’t buy. She isn’t hooked up to the internet. She’s not collecting data. She’s free.
“She’s like a dog, except less expensive,” my mother said.
“She’s my new pet rock,” said Mark.
We ask Verushka all kinds of things. We ask her about the weather, but then we just look outside. We ask her if we have eggs and then, when she is silent as the grave, we ask the person closest to the fridge. We ask her about the meaning of life, obviously, but I happen to know the Siris and the Echos out there have a programmed answer for such “silly” questions. If you ask Siri, “What is the meaning of life?” she’ll say something like, “To think about questions like this” or “42.”
This is where Verushka pulls away from the pack. Because Verushka answers that question the only way a robot/invasive species should answer: She replies with silence. And in that silence, the people in the room can either talk to each other about it or, if, the woman is by herself, she can sit for awhile and think about it.
If you missed yesterday’s post, you’ll want to click here to get caught up. What follows is the second half of imaginary Rolling Stone’s interview with the legendary, the elusive, the deeply nerdy … Mary Fons. Ann Kotske reports. —Eds.
RS: You almost didn’t come back for the second half of this interview.
PG: That’s true.
I like to switch things up. I wondered if some people wouldn’t be into the Rolling Stone interview format they’d just skip today’s post because it would be the same thing as yesterday.
Very considerate. I’d like to think that sort of editorial concern has kept people reading me all these years.
You decided to go ahead with it, though. Why?
Continuity concerns me, too.
Let’s switch things up, then. We can leave behind heavy issues like —
— like life, sure, and — Death.
Okay. But aren’t life and death connected?
If one is off the table, the other one is, too, don’t you think?
Who are you?
Come on, let’s have some fun. How’s Nick?
Achingly good-looking. Sweet. And going into a year-long master’s program in a few weeks. I’m crazy about him. We’re still taking things slow-ish. I think.
Tell me about your outfit.
Didn’t we said yesterday I’m in my pajamas?
You can have changed.
Now there’s a sentece: “You can have changed.”
I think it’s grammatically correct in this case. Now, the clothes.
I’m becoming a person that wears one thing: a classic-fit, Oxford-style shirt from Brooks Brothers with tailored black or navy trousers. I’m not interested in wearing or shopping for anything else, which feels strange but also feels right. This ensemble is perfect for every occasion, whether I’m in the city, headed to my office, or on location in who-knows-where, executing some photo shoot. I feel polished and practical. Of course, beyond the shirt and trousers I need great shoes and a great coat and handbag. That’s where I have my fun. But the crisp, white or blue-striped Oxford and the black pants … I can’t think how to improve on that.
What’s your fascination with unboxing videos on YouTube? Watching people take foreign objects out of a box feels like Christmas. But there’s also a morbid fascination in it for me. Consumerism is eating the world alive, so watching unboxing videos is like partying on the Titanic.
How’s your mom? Hi, Mom! You’re reading this, of course, so answer in the comments. How are you?
How’s your dad? Haha. I don’t know. Dad, how are? Let me tell you: If my estranged father reads my blog and chooses to comment, any recent lull in blog posts will be more than made up for in the days to come. That will be interesting. So … Dad? Are you there? How are things?
I noticed you’re not blonde anymore. After two years of being blonde — and loving it, I’ll have you know — I had to stop. My salon is great, but blonde is tough on a gal after awhile. I’m only biding my time until my hair is healthy enough to destroy again.
What’s on tap for tomorrow? On tap?
Like, what’s on deck?
On … deck.
What are you going to writeabout tomorrow??
Whatever it is, it’ll be true.
For well over a decade, writer, editor, quilter, and erstwhile poet and performer Mary Fons has faithfully maintained her blog, PaperGirl. Though the number of posts each week fluctuates slightly from daily to thrice a week or so, Fons’s thousands of subscribers rely on Fons’s unwavering commitment to post “fresh observations.” Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes outright strange, Fons’s blog is, at the very least, a respite for weary internet travelers, revolted by the endless news cycle and social media inferno.
But lately, possibly due to her demanding job as editor in chief of Quiltfolk magazine, or the ramping up of a major, as-yet-unannounced media project, PaperGirl posts have been sporadic. Her fans are wondering: Where is our PaperGirl? When imaginary journalist Ann Kotske called on her, Fons was at the (very real) family lake house in Wisconsin, sipping tea and wearing blue gingham check pajamas at 10 a.m. What follows is the first part of Fons’s first (imaginary) interview for Rolling Stone.
RS: It’s beautiful here. How often are you able to come up to the cottage?
PG: Not often enough. The last time I was here was in November. I came up with friends from the school newspaper.
How has your life changed since you got your master’s?
It sounds terrible to say, but I didn’t think the master’s degree would matter as much as it has. Certainly, plenty of people think an MFA in Writing doesn’t matter, that a higher education in the fine arts is too nebulous to have substance. There might have even been a part of me that thought that. But having done the work, knowing how hard it was, knowing how I was then compared to how I am now, it’s just night and day.
In what way?
I’m smarter! (Laughs.) Seriously, I can actually feel my brain working differently than it used to. I read a text or I sit down to write something and it’s like, “Oh, right. I actually know what I’m doing.” I’m also just two years older; I’ve been through more experiences and all that. But there is a kind of critical thinking I do now that I was absolutely not doing before. It feels … powerful.
I talked to a few of your blog readers —
Wait. Really? You did?
Well, no. But many of them have been surprised there have been fewer PaperGirl entries lately. Now that you’re done with school, you should ostensibly have more time to blog. Is it something else? (Sighs.) Well, I’ve been trying to figure out why it’s been slow lately. It’s strange to me, too. With Quiltfolk and this other big project I’m working on, there’s definitely time constraints, but I didn’t have time in school, either, and I did pretty well. There are times when … (Long pause.) There are times when I think I ought to be working on essays, on longer pieces, and that my hours spent blogging should be spent working on those.
What are the essays about? My illness. Fashion. The DIY country craft home decor women I watch on YouTube. Chicago.
Have you thought about closing the blog? Even for awhile? Absolutely not. The number of posts may ebb now and then, but there is no threat of PaperGirl closing or drifting away.
Why? Because it’s not a brick wall. I’ve said it for years: Even though this blog is about my life, I do not write PaperGirl for myself. It’s always been for readers. It doesn’t matter if there’s a handful of them or an army of them. Look, I write my diary for myself. Those volumes are solipsistic and scandalous and inappropriate and navel-gazey and maudlin and there’s no spellcheck. PaperGirl is not my diary. It’s a conversation. That’s why it works. It’s a two-way thing. There is a living relationship between the writer (me) and the reader (you.) And it’s a long-term relationship — the longest relationship I’ve ever had, by the way. I close the blog, I close that relationship. It means too much to me, so no way.
You’re committed. Right. No break-up. No divorce. We’re staying married. (Laughs.)
You mentioned in your diary — Sweet living — you read my diary??
Just a few pages. It’s very good. You should think about publishing it. This is unbelievable. Where is my publicist? (Calling.) Publicist!
Sorry, sorry! I didn’t really read your diary! I’m an imaginary journalist! Can we continue? Only because you’re imaginary.
You seem to foster a kind of “woman of mystery” persona in the blog by being vague about various “big projects.” On Instagram, you redact locations. Even talking about your “scandalous” diary communicates that there’s the you we get here and the you we don’t get, a Mary that exists in other places and is doing different things. What’s that about? It’s so funny: In this world of public pages and social media, anytime you say you’re intentionally not mentioning something, you become a “woman of mystery.” But I know what you mean. On Instagram, I’ll redact the location if I’m on a Quiltfolk shoot, since we’re not yet announcing what state is next in the lineup. That will change, by the way.
Oh, Quiltfolk is going to start sharing where you’re going next?? Yup. We’re going to start “announcing the season”, if you will. I’ll talk about that more this week.
So you’ll be posting more this week. Every day I’m up here in Wisconsin. There’s a lot to talk about.
We can start anywhere you like. Good. Let’s start with the second half of this interview.
So often, it seems that something which used to be a given — because we live in a civilizedworld — we are told, “I’m sorry, we no longer offer that. ” Or perhaps it’s, “That is no longer included in the price of this thing. ” Or maybe it’s, “The cost of this arguably simple and sensible thing will now be added to your total bill.”
Luggage is often no longer included in the price of your airplane ticket. You have to pay more for your checking account, but there’s really no reason given as to why. There are “service taxes” for many, many things and, if you’re in Chicago or New York, I happen to know, grocery bags (or department store bags, or any bag) is not a given. It is literally not given. You pay 10 cents a bag, because … Because they say so.
But here at this Hampton Inn, on location for Quiltfolk magazine, I have reason to bring you the good news. We have cause to rejoice. Because there is a holdout in this world of “no longer included.” Oh, but she’s a small, small thing, but she grants great gifts, and in the spirit of gratitude, I praise, praise, praise! the soulless, corporate monolith that is the hotel chain industry for leaving her be. She is the one, the only, the ubiquitous:
There she blows.
In every bathroom. In every hotel but the seediest, scariest, no-tell motel in the nation, it seems. Sometimes, she is screwed to the wall and she is ear-splittingly loud and barely effective, but she is there. Sometimes, she is very small, almost a toy. Many times, though, she is wrapped lovingly in a drawstring bag, tucked under the sink or in a nook. She may live in that bag in the closet, but she is there. In extreme circumstances, you may have to ask for one at the front desk, but you shall have one. For now.
Thank you, hairdryer for still being there. I don’t want to pack my hairdryer when I go on a trip. I don’t have room, I don’t have patience, and I just need you to be there, okay? And you are. You are always there.
Powers That Be of the hotel chain industry, please, please do not remove the hairdryers. Let the hairdryers live! I know how you’d remove them: You’d say you were protecting the environment, cutting down on energy waste. That’s what you did with the linens, you know, and you didn’t fool anyone. “Linen changes are done by request only. We’re saving the environment, one sheet at a time!”
Malarky! You’re saving your bottom line. But it’s cool, it’s cool.
Or maybe totally normal, definitely not-hilarious things happen to me and because I’m a dweeb, I just find them hysterically funny. Does it matter, in the end? My life strikes me as funny when it’s not devastating — and that’s how I like it.
Today, after passing through the metal detector at the airport TSA screening area, I waited at the end of the scanner conveyor belt to retrieve my purse. There, sitting atop the conveyor belt at the end of the line, orphaned and forlorn and wrapped in plastic, for the third time in my life … I found a cookie!
So I took it.
And I ate it!!
I did, I did! I found a cookie at the TSA and took it and ate it! And I’ve done it before!
Listen, listen: I need you to listen!
Can we agree that there are cookies. Yes. Some cookies get wrapped in cellophane and packed into purses and bags when people go on airplane trips. Yes, well, sometimes these airplane trip cookies — I guess one time it was a brownie — get knocked out of those bags while inside the TSA conveyer belt scanner! The bag gets bumped! The cellophane-wrapped cookie falls out!
And the person who packed the cookie doesn’t realize it!
Who gets their purse off a conveyor belt and goes, “Wait, wait; let me make sure my cookie made it through.” No one does it! Only later, halfway across the country, will the person become dimly aware that a cellophane-wrapped baked good may have been lost on the journey … But when? How? Was there a cookie in her purse, the person wonders … No, it couldn’t have been …
Yes! Yes, you had a cookie! It was wrapped in cellophane and it was in your purse! It fell out in the conveyor belt! After it got bumped around in the dark for awhile, it came out! A TSA person put it on the top of the conveyor belt! It sat there for a long time, probably an hour!
And then I came through and found it! And I took it!
And then I ate it!
The thrill of this TSA cellophane-wrapped cookie is extreme. And because it keeps happening it’s a serious game for me, now, spotting and liberating a TSA treat. The liberation moment is intense because we all know there is not to be any kind of funny business in the airport. I get that; I respect that. But let’s use our heads, people. The treats I keep finding at the TSA screening area are fine. These cookies are not involved in a scheme. No one is “planting cookies” at the “airport,” and if they were, they wouldn’t be using the TSA “screening checkpoint” as their “base of operations.” The TSA cookie — or brownie, that one time — is innocent. And abandoned.
I think the cookie I got today was homemade. Seriously, I’m eating it right now. Somebody makes a good oatmeal raisin, let me tell you. Delicious! Wish I had a glass of mil —
“Mary!” you say in a sharp voice. You purse your lips and look disapprovingly at the crumbs on my blouse. “That cookie might belong to someone! You shouldn’t take something that doesn’t belong to you. You should let a TSA agent know. What if the person comes back for their cookie and it’s gone?”
I look down at the cookie in my paw and look back up at you. You see that I am confused. “But … Who would want a cookie that has been bumped around a TSA checkpoint for an hour and then placed on the top of the conveyor belt?”
You shake your head, but secretly, you want a bite.
I’m headed home from the long trip and I have a couple days before I go out again, but that’s okay, because I like it. If you stay at home, you have good days and bad days and stressful days and non-stressful days and birthdays and days that are not your birthday, right? Right. I have all those days but more planes in mine than other folks might. (And fewer than some others do!)
Today has been two parts fabulous and one part challenging. The two fabulous parts were that I woke up feeling vital — that’s fabulous! — and I saw my sister Hannah in New York City for lunch. Fabulous again! (Flight arrangements needed changing a few days ago and in the changing, a layover in NYC was created, thus, lunch with Hannah.)
The challenging part is that I’m not perfect and I’m in charge of people, now. I have only been in charge of myself, really, in this life. I’ve worked in ensembles a lot; I’ve been part of many teams. But like, I manage people. I ask people to do things. Worse yet, I tell them things that we willbe doing. Like, “We are traveling this date and this date, so … pack, baby!”
My brilliant friend Heather — who you know from this glorious scene two years ago and from my post about my deep love of her here — is a production goddess at Quiltfolk and she books a lot of travel for the location shoots. I answered a question for her incorrectly about dates. I gave her wildly wrong dates. She was like, “Ooookay … so … that’s … new ” and did what she was supposed to do, which was talk to the photographer and the writer going on the trip about their flights.
So I feel dumb, because wow, was I wrong. And people scrambled and freaked out like they had gotten something wrong but they hadn’t at all. It looked like I don’t have my schmoo together, even though I think I mostly do, considering just exactly what is happening in all of our lives right now. Certainly, I am getting good at surrounding myself with remarkable people who can help me manage it all.
Anyway, I had spaghetti at the airport! It was remarkably good for being airport spaghetti. And there’s still one more birthday gift to go: When I get home, Nick will be there. I told him all I wanted for my birthday was a clean kitchen.
A quilt-world friend with a sizable internet presence told me recently, “The project I’m working on is under wraps for now, so on social media I’m not saying where I am or what I’m doing and my mom said, ‘You’re as mysterious as Mary Fons!'”
I could understand the perception, though. I blog on the ol’ PG and am not always forthcoming about where I am and what I’m doing, not because I don’t want you to know; in fact, I desperately want you to know. I want you to know where I’m going for Quiltfolk magazine; I want you to know where the next Quiltfolk pattern is coming from; I want you to know about this other quilt-world project I have going that I can’t talk about, yet, but which is major.
But I can’t tell you everything because there is an order to things. I didn’t make the order. I make the content, the world makes the order. So, I tell you things as I can and hope you’ll stay until everything becomes clear.
Here’s what I can tell you:
I have come to upstate New York. I am near Syracuse. I have come here for a solid week to research and gather information from one of the most important living players in American quilt history. The reason we have set aside an entire a week is because a) I have a full-time job as editor in chief of a magazine and have many responsibilities from day to day which require my attention; b) it’s summer and everyone/everything is slow; and c) there’s so much to dive into with this person, we really need a year, not a week.
Here’s what else I can tell you:
I have been going through hundreds and hundreds of photographs, tin types, daguerrotypes, prints, and photos, all of which feature people and their quilts. That’s what this person has, among many other objects: He has photographs of people and quilts, starting in 1850, when photography became “a thing,” to around 1950. I’ve cried several times. I gasped, looking through the stacks, the boxes, the treasure. Put another way, I spent a day looking at humanity in photographs and stereoscope images and what I can tell you is that nothing has changed. We are the same. Humans are the same today as we ever were.
Sure, we have laptops now. We have polymers. We have the internet. We have blenders and vaccines but we also still have quilts. We still have families, cats, and dogs. Illness and death come to everyone and always has. Some of us have always mugged for the camera. There’s always been a person who blinked in a picture. We didn’t invent selfies in the 21st century; there are just more of them now and we can take them faster.
Being human is complicated, but today, I don’t think it’s so mysterious.
It won’t sound good, what I would like to state for the record. Even the record won’t like it. The record may resent my statement because the record enjoys outdoor music festivals and hot dogs, but here goes nothing:
I intensely dislike the summertime. A lot.
It’s a provocative thing to say; I know I am well in the minority on this. But I am trying to set myself free. While many folks — most, it seems — will walk a mile for a hot, sunny July day; while many are taken with things like ball games and tank tops; while most look forward to the break from X or Y the summer may afford them, I renounce all these things. I have ‘nounced them before, but today I officially I renounce them.
Why? What did summer do to me today?
It’s what summer keeps doing to me: Summer makes me sweaty. And I am so tired of fluffing my hair and doing my makeup and getting all ready for my extremely demanding day only to look totally and utterly fizzled by the time I get anywhere. I am a brisk walker (surprised?) and my gait doesn’t help matters: I exert and pay the price. Just for being efficient, I pay! After a brisk walk in October, I arrive to a place looking and feeling like a woman with a purpose; briskly walking to a place in summer means I arrive looking like a woman who needs a gym towel and a bottle of Gatorade.
I don’t like it!
It’s not just vanity, either. It’s uncomfortable and irritating in a psychic way, this summertime. So much shiny cement in the city makes me upset because the glare is oppressive. People wear fewer clothes in summer and while it’s nice to have bellies and breasts and muffin tops and … backs, I don’t want to be privy to all those bodies. Must I? Must you? So much flesh on display in the summertime. So very, very much flesh.
This summer distaste has been true for awhile but today I just about had it. Am I a bad person? I want fallen leaves! I want to wear my scarf! I want to put on socks and I want to walk down the city streets, arm in arm, you know, with someone, and sort of skooch together and feel good about that. There’s no skoochin’ together in August. In August, it’s like, “Literally do not touch my skin.”
I had a sconce. It needed installing. He installed the sconce. My toilet was running; he fixed it. I didn’t even ask.
I had two heavy, mirrored shelves and I asked him to hang them. He did. He did that today, in fact, so that while he went about his work, I could fling my body into my black leather recliner and read about quilts in America. I am always, always reading about quilts in America, and because I am always, always reading about quilts in America, I have not the time nor the patience to learn how to install a light or fix a toilet or hang two heavy, mirrored shelves. But I want these things done so badly and I know I don’t know the first thing about them, so it’s incredibly frustrating.
In order to keep my house from falling apart, I hired a handyman awhile back. It did not go well; a story for another time. But if you want to get wooshy about Nick, let me share a conversation we had awhile ago while eating pizza. (Note: Nick often helps his dad out with projects, but I didn’t realize how much.) This is pretty much verbatim:
M: (Chewing.) So your dad rents these couple apartment buildings.
N: (Also chewing.) Mm-hm.
M: Well, I need a few things done around here. Does he have a handyman I could call? To hire. Like, a fix-it guy?
N: (Grins.) We are the fix-it guys.
“We are the fix-it guys.” He might as well have said, “There’s a cab waiting to take you to Barney’s for a shopping spree; make sure to get something appropriate for the opera, Mary. Because I’m flying you to the Met for opening night of Tosca tonight. I love you, darling.”
The glory of having a man help me out has attendant pain: Should I value this so much? Is this joy, this gratitude, this almost sycophantic love I feel for a man who helps me with simple things just awful?? I could learn how to hang a light. I could learn how to fix the toilet for real instead of just jiggling the handle (which, by the way, sort of works.) I felt vulnerable and stupid when I gushed over Nick today, praising him up and down for helping me to hang those mirrors today. I wasgrateful in the extreme, but … is there something wrong with me that this is the pinnacle, the zenith of love? Completing a honey-do list?
Maybe it is. Or maybe helping each other is what it’s all about. I help Nick, too.
I will say this, though it’s silly to bring up such a large/sore subject and then get out: I didn’t have a father around, you know, growing up. But before Dad left and it all went to hell with the divorce and all, my dad was amazing at fixing things. He built stuff, he designed structures, he repaired cars. He was the fix-it guy. I’m really, really not comparing Nick to anyone, least of all my dad; I’m only looking for causes. Causes and roots and reasons why.
I’m in Knoxville with Merikay Waldvogel. There, I said it.
Yes, here to visit the legend herself for a research project I’ve got going. This blog post, in fact, is brought to you by the Wald, as I like to call her: I left my laptop at her house and she brought it to me at my hotel. While we can all appreciate the Wald for her tireless research and quilt scholarship, we can love her eternally because she is a woman willing to hop in her car at 8:30 p.m. and bring this girl her laptop. She is a pathetic creature without it. Thank you, Merikay.
While I was waiting for La Wald to deliver the package, I leafed through an issue of NeedleCraft Magazine. Merikay lent me a few issues to look at tonight before we meet back up tomorrow.
“Hm,” you say, “NeedleCraft. No, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of NeedleCraft. Sounds intriguing. Is it new?”
In fact, the magazine is quite old. The publication was founded almost 100 years ago and closed around the start of WWII. If Merikay was with me right now, she could tell us specifically, but I can tell you that NeedleCraft was (is) beautiful. It’s bigger than your standard tabloid (11” x 17”), for one thing; I don’t have a tape measure, but I think this sucker might be as big as 13” x 20”, which is pretty freakin’ big. The font style on the coated newsprint is delicate, exact. The printing is fine; all the illustrations clear and crisp. The cover is the best part: full-color, lavishly illustrated, on glossy paper. And of course the content is what you’d think it would be: items, articles, patterns, news, etc., all related to various needle arts, e.g., embroidery, crochet, crewel, beading, and quilts, naturally.
There are also ads, and one of them is just too, too great not to share verbatim. I can only share the copy, of course; you’ll have to get the September 1928 issue of NeedleCraft and turn to p. 18 to see the visuals for yourself. Just look for the Art Nouveau illustration of a woman putting face powder on herself in a mirror … that a man is holding, I think? It is very sexy and weird. For now, ladies, I ask you: Do you have … Magnétisme???
Now … she is gay, fascinating!
WOMEN marveled — men were intrigued. Overnight the pale calla-lily had turned flaming peony! Now she was gay, enchanting, magnétique!
She had discovered the allure of a fragrance. Now her talc, her toilet water, her sachet, her face powder, all breathed the parfum of love … of romance … of melting moods — Djer-Kiss the unforgettable fragrance — the parfum that adds to mere prettiness the charm and mystery of magnétisme??
Talking to Nick today over bagel sandwiches, I recalled something frightening that happened to me when I was in high school.
Two things before I tell the story: The first is that while the ending of this story is eerie, our heroine (me) ultimately emerges unharmed. The other thing is that this is a story about a grown man preying on a young girl. So it’s not light reading and it might not be anything you want to read at all for a host of reasons that make sense, so please feel free to skip this one if you need to.
So I’m about 15 years old. Sophomore at Winterset High School. And because I’m a weird, creative, more-than-slightly-awkward teen, I was excited to get out of town whenever I could. This mostly meant going to Java Joe’s coffeehouse in Des Moines with a friend who could drive. My friends and I went to Java Joe’s because there were poetry slams and open mics and, because they didn’t serve booze (see: coffeehouse), me and my friends could hang out there.
I loved Java Joes. I loved going up to the mic. I loved writing poems in study hall knowing I’d be delivering them the following Wednesday — and yeah, I still remember that the open mic at Java Joes was on Wednesdays because it was church. The place was cool, so we felt cool, and my friends and I needed to feel that way. The lights were low, there were neon signs on the walls. The place smelled amazing, like fresh roasted beans and clove cigarettes … not that I would know about that part.
The frightening thing that happened didn’t happen at Java Joe’s, though. You’d think so, right? “Funky” coffeehouse. Adults. Open-mic poetry nights. No, Java Joe’s was great. What happened happened at a brightly lit, parents-everywhere Barnes & Noble bookstore — which also held an open-mic poetry night. (You just never know, is my point.)
My friends and I heard about the new monthly event and of course we added it to our social calendar. More space to practice poems, more chances to get out of town, etc. One night, I got up and read a poem and it turned out the Des Moines Register was there, and they put my picture in the paper in the Metro section. I was really on my way.
The second or third time I was at the event, a man came up to me during the break. He was in his 50’s, I’d say. Tall. Barrel-chested, I recall, or maybe he was overweight. I recall that he was not handsome, but then, I was 15, so I’m not sure what … There’s a lot I don’t remember. What I do remember is that the man said to me:
“Well, my goodness. You are incredibly talented. Mary, I have a publishing company. I’d like to talk to you about your poetry.”
I was speechless. I was over the moon. I don’t know what I said, but I’m sure his words had the intended effect: I was a 15-year-old girl who wanted to be a famous poet more than anything in the world. Why, my needs and goals and hopes and wishes must have been obvious to everyone — or at least to him.
I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly how it transpired, but I know that we set up a meeting to talk about making me a famous writer, essentially. I knew enough to not go with him anywhere; I knew enough not to meet him somewhere random, so we agreed to meet at that same Barnes & Noble. But that this meeting would take place at all without my mother involved …?
We met at the bookstore. Was it a week later? Was it after the open-mic the following month? I forget that, but I will never forget what he said to me when we were sitting at that cafe table.
“Mary,” he said, a strange twinkle in his eye, “what would you say if I told you I have a boat. And I’d like to take you sailing around the world. What would you say to that? We could leave tomorrow.”
I heard once that when we die, we go to a movie theater and we watch the movie of our life from start to finish. If that happens, I’ll be very curious to see how I reacted to that man when he said that to me. I’m pretty sure I was flustered in the extreme and said something like, “I’d have to ask … my mom.” But what could I do? This publisher? A boat? Sailing around the world? High school was lame most of the time … But … No, no. I knew there was something wrong with the twinkle in his eye and I didn’t feel right. I told him I had to go, but he got my phone number — and then he called a couple times. One day there was message on the answering machine.
“Mary?” my mother asked. “Who was that? A person from the bookstore?”
I was terrified. My sisters and I could tell Mom anything. I hadn’t done anything wrong. Why was I terrified?
“I don’t know him,” I said. “You can erase it.”
The story ends in an eerie way — so eerie that even now, knowing what happened, having lived through it, I can only shiver and shake my head.
The fall play was about to open. (And close; school plays only ran one weekend.) I had mentioned to the man that I was in the play; I probably told the newspaper, too. The point is: He knew about me being in The Miracle Worker that weekend.
On Saturday night, the last night of the play, I was rehearsing my lines in the band rehearsal room located off the brand-new auditorium — the new auditorium, which featured new seats, new curtains, brand new light and sound boards. There was a monstrous rainstorm predicted that night; the thunderheads were closing in on Winterset by the hour; there was a green cast to the sky, the kind of heavy, still green that comes when Iowa thunderstorms are about to get real.
I looked out the window at the sky and then my eyes moved to the parking lot.
The man. He was there. He was getting out of his car and coming toward the high school. He had driven to Winterset from Des Moines, he had come to the play. He was going to be in the audience, watching me, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. My heart rose in my throat. No, I thought, no this isn’t —
And then, with a clap of thunder so loud I jumped a foot, the rain came. I ducked down under the window and listened to the thunder. The lightening flashed, the wind blew.
And the power went out.
There was a blackout. The storm took out the new, defective light and sound boards in the brand-new auditorium, and the play was cancelled. The fall play was never cancelled. That night, it was. My castmates, eager to do the big final show, were inconsolable, but they found strength in me, who was gushing with consolations. It’s going to be fine, I chirped; how could we have had a better show than last night?? Better to go out on a high note, guys! They cried and thanked me for being so optimistic; the rain lashed at the windows and I stole glances when I could, praying I’d see the man running with his umbrella back to his car. I never did.
I don’t remember if he called again. But I didn’t go back to the open-mic at Barnes & Noble. And I never saw or spoke to him again. I told my mom this story at one point, years later. No, he didn’t put his hands on me. But he put his brain on mine, and it stayed there.
Well, I’m back in Chicago tonight, but I’ve returned from Louisiana once again. You see, Quiltfolk’s Issue 07 features quilt culture in the exquisitely gorgeous Pelican State — now on newsstands and subscriber mailboxes everywhere! — and because we have successfully launched Quiltfolk Patterns concurrently with that issue I have visited Louisiana not once, not twice, not three, nor four times in the past few months, but five times. Five times! I’m practically looking at apartments.
Louisiana is a fine state full of fabulous people; I’m about to give you an example. But first I need to sit here a minute and dab (daub?) my forehead, which in a parallel universe is still dripping with sweat. In this (gross) parallel universe, I am literally wringing out my shirt. In a parallel universe, I am guzzling water, lemonade, iced coffee, and air conditioning condensation to rehydrate myself because the heat and humidity in Louisiana have taken my very soul and baked it and cooked it and braised it till there is nothing left. Nothing left!
What I’m trying to say is that it’s hot down in Loo’siana in the summertime. I talked to a local on Trip No. 219,920 about it.
“I don’t know, man,” I said. “I really like New Orleans, but this heat is killin’ me. I guess you guys must get used to it.”
The man just looked at me and swiped his forehead with a bandana. “No ma’am, you never get used to it. It’s just no damn good. Everyone pretty much tries to leave in the summer. What brings you to town?”
So on Tuesday, I was down there for a location shoot. I can tell you more about that later; suffice to say now, it was a very challenging day. It rained on and off. We were shooting at two different locations. The humidity was at 100 percent. I was with lovely people, but all of them were first-timers for Quiltfolk, so I was the usual mother hen, directing things and managing things, but I also was the only one on the shoot who had done this particular thing before. So it was a lot. Oh, and because flying into Shreveport costs about as much as flying to Paris, we all flew into Dallas and drove to Louisiana, which was a 4.5 hour drive that started at 6:00 a.m.
When we finally wrapped for the day, I left the girls at the car to begin check-in the 3-star hotel — which will go unnamed for reasons that will be evident — where we were staying that night before rolling out for Dallas in the wee hours (again.) When I came in the automatic doors, the girl behind the front desk did a double-take. I didn’t look disheveled: I looked like I had been swimming with alligators. All day. I tried to be chipper and perky but there was no chip, no perk. I handed over the credit card. I mumbled something about being out in the heat all day.
“Ooh!” she said. “That’s bad!”
“Well, it’s always nice to be in Louisiana,” I said, a last flicker of my humanity coming through. “Me and the crew are gonna go get some dinner and drink a couple beers. That should put us right.”
The girl stopped. “You need a beer.” Then, she called to the guy over in the breakfast nook. “Roger! You got some of those Budweisers in the fridge?”
Roger came over. “Yeah, I do. You want a couple? I got Bud and I got Bud Lite.”
I just looked at them. This was a hotel that rhymed with, you know, Smolliday Inn or Shmampton Schmin or Schmarriot Schmotel. You know? This was highly irregular — and righteously rad. I don’t even like Budweiser!
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I do want that beer. You people are angel people.”
And they sent me on my way with not one but two Buds. Which I gave to the girls. And they drank them.
On Tuesday night, I was down Louisiana way, drivin’ and talkin’ with three incredible women in a rented Nissan.
Just for fun, we thought we’d scan through the stations and check out the local radio scene. We didn’t get far, because the third station we hit on was broadcasting a call-in talk show about … bugs. All bugs. Just bugs. It was an hourlong call-in talk show for people who have pressing questions about bugs.
One of the incredible women in the car said, “Ha! This is great! They should call the show, What’s Buggin’ You?”
Almost as the words came out of her mouth, the host — who was great — said, “Well, time for our next caller. I’ve got Steve, here. Welcome to What’s Buggin’ You? What’s buggin’ you today, Steve in Lake Charles?”
All the incredible women and I clapped with glee and gladness. It was so cool that there was this show about bugs and people were so into it. Questions came in about ticks, beetles, ants … It turns out, people have all kinds of questions about bugs! The guest entomologist who answered these burning questions on the air was a woman with a very nice voice. Wow, did she ever know about bugs.
Because the questions were so varied — even though they were all about bugs — I thought about this woman’s schooling. I do this a lot: I think about the kinds of classes a professional person must have taken to get their degree. In this case, the lady would surely have classes like:
Grub Seminar II (Prerequisite: Sophomore Larvae Survey) Advanced Thorax Analysis Grasshoppers, Crickets, and Katydid: A New View
Right? Don’t you think about these things? What about a dentist?? I always wonder about their classes. I know they have to have classes just about the tongue, how to understand it and work around it and all that. And I think about people in beauty school who have units devoted to the chemical formula of bleach and how this or that molecule of color sticks to a hair folicile (or not.)
If anyone from What’s Buggin’ You? should come across this on a google alert or a search, I would like to thank you for your delightful program. If I hadn’t been driving while we were listening, I absolutely would have called in. I am terribly afraid of bugs — bugs and ferns — and I would have liked to call in and ask how to deal with that fear. Of course, that is really more a question for a shrink, I suppose. Good thing psychiatrists have classes like:
Phobias III 21st Century Exposure Therapies Workshop What’s Buggin’ You
I’m at the airport because I cannot stay put. Also, people are expecting me. Also, I love it.
Also, there is something wonderful happening here.
There is a child in this airport. This child is wearing squeaky shoes.
The child wearing squeaky shoes appears to be around 18 months old and his shoes are very, very squeaky. They’re not just squeaky because they’re made of rubber and he’s running up and down the terminal, wearing himself out, squeaking by association. Rather, both of this child’s shoes were specifically manufactured to contain a squeaking apparatus, one buried deep inside each shoe, a miniature plastic bladder designed — nay, engineered — to produce a remarkably loud, extremely adorable “squink” sound with every single footfall.
And you should know: This child is a born runner. Stand back XXX. Hang it up, XXX. This child with squeaky shoes is smoking you all right now, running for his life, up and down, up and down, up and down Chicago Midway Airport, his beleagured mother, having surrendered long ago, deaf to the squinkysquinkysquinkysquinkysquinkysquinkysquinky sounds produced by the fruit of her loins. You cannot believe how loud the squinking is and you cannot believe how much this kid loves the squinking. He is so happy.
As a result, everyone in this airport is happy on account of this child. Here at gate B23, we can hear the child coming all the way from B19, the squinking getting louder and louder as he approaches. We’re all grinning, waiting for him to show. And then we keep smiling and laughing into our hands and when he keeps on trucking past us, headed for B26, the squinking fading away as he goes.
It’s been a rough night, flight-wise. I tried to fly out earlier, couldn’t. My flight now is delayed 30 minutes. But the squink, man. The squink will save us all.
At some point I’m going to describe for you what a Quiltfolk magazine location shoot is like. My first experience on a Quiltfolk location trip was as a writer on Issue 04 : Tennessee, so I didn’t have anything to do with the planning or execution of the shoot. I was just a hired gun, getting my stories, and, as a result, I remember that trip being super fun and very chill.
Once I began planning and producing the shoots, however, first as a contributing editor and now as editor in chief, that changed. The trips are still super fun, but they are the opposite of chill. There’s too much to do! There’s too little time! We must make haste and get all the stories we possibly can and have incredible experiences and record them for the people!
As I said, I’ll write up a detailed look into how the shoots work; for now, just know that things are nonstop, wall-to-wall, bananas. Very organized and buttoned-up bananas, but definitely bananas.
And speaking of bananas, I’d like to talk about food. Specifically, my relationship to food and what this has to do with going on Quiltfolk location shoots. I’ll try to do this relatively quickly, since a) I’m sleepy and b) like most people, I’ve got some heavy baggage around food and I could probably write whole books on the topic and never get very far.
The thing is this: When I’m on the road with Quiltfolk, there is no time to think about food. And that’s been my problem for a long time: I think about food more than is probably healthy.
Now, it’s not that I’m thinking about eating all the time, plotting when my next snack or meal will be, though I’ve been there. It’s more that I’m thinking about what I ate. What I should’ve eaten. What I should be eating in general and what I should not be eating in general. I think about times in my life when I ate X and didn’t eat Y; I think about times in my life when I felt attractive or times when I felt unattractive and did my food have anything to do with that? Should I do no-carb again? Is it finally time to cut out dairy? I’ve been trying to eat more plants and doing well and feeling well with that, but even if I’m finally doing the “right” thing … I’m still often thinking about food. And I know that this is a luxury, even while it traps me in my head and really makes me feel awful, sometimes. There’s so much other stuff to do and think about and other people to think about and care for. I really, really get tired of worrying about whether or not I am a “clean eater” or what magical combo of foods is going to cure my gut problems and … so on.
The good news is that it’s gotten better as I’ve gotten older. I am a little more familiar with myself and my body and I’ve accepted a few things about how I look and how I will not ever look, no matter what foods I eat. So that’s an encouragement to all the gym-centric, yo-yo dieting, juice-cleansing twenty-somethings out there: It can, and often does, get better.
But the best solution I have ever found to releasing myself from all that noise in my head about food is to be so busy, so focused, so happy, so “in the zone,” so needed at every moment that thoughts of food are simply not present. Put it this way: How hungry are you when you’re being chased by a bear? My job is way more fun than being chased by a bear, but in terms of stress and how fast I’m moving? Pretty similar. I don’t have time to dwell at all on whether or not I should eat my burger with or without the bun. I’m being chased! By! A bear!
The other cool thing about being chased by a bear is that, provided you are able to escape with your life, you are veryhungry once you’re able to catch your breath. When it comes time for lunch, after I’ve been running the crew, styling shots, interviewing folks, looking ahead to our next story, driving the car hundreds of miles, calling this or that person about this or that production detail, I could eat … Well, a bear. But it’s more likely a hamburger. Or two hamburgers. Or a granola bar. And an ice cream cone. And my word, do I drink water. Water and coffee, water and coffee.
The point is that it is on these trips that I am the person that I want to be, vis a vis food: I eat when I’m hungry. I don’t when I’m not. Food is delicious fuel, full stop.
I’m a little scared to post this. Does this even make sense? I’m nervous, I guess, because I know so many of us have baggage around food — or we have loved ones who do — and I’m in no way advocating for a thing or suggesting a thing or saying I’ve got it figured out. I’m just telling you that in that picture up there, I am literally eating a slice of pecan pie from Zingerman’s Deli in [LOCATION REDACTED] while I’m driving and it was totally okay with me. I was ravenous. I love pecan pie. I had worked my tushie off from 5 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and eating that pie in that car with those women I was with was beautiful. I didn’t think for a second if it was “good for me,” and I didn’t consider my thighs.
After being on the road for almost six days making Quiltfolk’s eighth issue, I was so tired I left my hat in the rental car.
The Monte Cristo hat I purchased a year or so ago at Optimo, Chicago’s legendary hat shop. The hat which has come to mean a great deal to me for recently discovered emotional reasons related to my father, who has long had an affinity for a Stetson hat of similar style. My elegant, almost aerodynamic, white Panama hat with the black ribbon which has become an essential tool for me on Quiltfolk location shoots, as keeping the sun off my face and out of my eyes when styling photos outside is critical. That’s the hat I left under the driver’s seat of a Nissan Rogue in the Hertz parking garage on State and Kinzie yesterday afternoon.
And I realized it this morning.
I was writing in my journal about the trip and began to compose a sentence about my hat — and then I froze. My pen hovered over the page. I gasped. My head whipped to the left to look down the hall to my coat rack. No. No, it couldn’t … There was no hat hanging there. My mind raced, thinking back to yesterday and I realized the truth: I didn’t get it out from under my driver’s seat. I got everything out. All the bags, cords, papers, notes, all important objects — except my hat. And I knew it in that terrible moment.
I bolted out of my chair and ran to the computer. I googled the number for the Hertz office. I called and called; no answer, even though the location was supposed to be open. Finally, a harried voice came on the line and I tried to stay calm and explain that I left my heart in one of their vehicles.
“I got a line of customers right now,” she barked. “I’ll ask Jason when I can, but if we rented the car since you returned it, there’s nothing we can do. Try calling back in an hour.”
At that point, I was quietly whimpering. I tried to sit down. I looked at the clock. I’d call in an hour. It was there. It’s a hat, I told myself. Who would want someone else’s hat? Whoever cleaned the car surely found it and put it in the lost and found. It had to be there — and I had to go there.
The last time I got dressed and out the door so fast, I was late for the airport. When I burst out onto the street, I discovered that it was raining. There wouldn’t be cabs on 9th Street, no way. My best bet was to run over to the Hilton and get a cab there; that’s what I did. As we sped north, I hunched in the seat, brow furrowed, every muscle in my body tense and sad. I was so low. I felt so stupid. I loved that hat and I hate how bad I felt about losing it. It’s just a hat, I tried to tell myself, and then a tear would stream down my face like so many raindrops down the taxicab window.
When the girl at the front desk saw me, I blurted out, “Called … about the hat!?” After some discussion, her colleague agreed to take me to the garage to see if anything was still there. The car, it appeared, had not been rented since I returned it — but I didn’t dare hope. It had been 18 hours since my hat and I were parted; who knows how much traffic there had been in and out of that garage. Was there a “lost and found” at all?
We walked up to the man cleaning cars that day. Again, I blurted out words. “Oh, yeah,” the man said, and I noticed the huge gap between his two front teeth. “There was a — ”
“There it is!” the Hertz gal said, pointing to a dingy white ball cap on the top of a rolling cart which I now know is the rental facility’s lost and found department. The girl grabbed it and held it toward me, but I did not take it. I did not take it because it was not my hat. And I did not take it because my hat was on the cart, too.
If the absence of my hat on my coat rack was hideous, its presence on that dirty cleaning cart was magnificent. A light seemed to shine on the thing, that’s how bright and crisp it looked in that garage. I sort of scream-yelped and said, “That’s it! That’s my hat! That’s it! Oh, oh! Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
I threw myself on both of them, hugged them both so hard. I nearly kissed their cheeks but with my hat back on my head, it made it difficult and that was probably for the best. I gave the gap-toothed guy all the cash in my wallet, which was $8, and I hugged him again and told him that my hat was a very special hat, that it meant so much to me that he found it and kept it safe. And then I ran out of that garage. I didn’t need to run; I didn’t have anywhere to go but back home. I ran away, away, away from the fresh memory of pain, I guess.
I hopped on a bike-share bike and rode home in steady rain. I was not happy, exactly — I was too drained for that — but my senses were heightened. The smell of caramel corn at the Garrett’s on Dearborn was stronger. The sound of the el sounded bigger.
The rain felt wetter, too, but not on my face. My hat keeps the rain off my face.
I’m on the road for Quiltfolk’s eighth issue. It’s crazy because Issue 07 : Louisiana is shipping now and is on newsstands now, but I’m working on Issue 08.
The bad news is that I can’t tell you just yet what the next state in the Quiltfolk cycle will be, but the good news is that I will be able to tell you soon. Quiltfolk, in case you didn’t know, is a quarterly magazine that investigates quilt culture in America state by state. The magazine has had the policy of not letting the cat(s) out of the bag(s) about what state or region we’re focusing on next, but that is about to change. We’ve decided to “announce the season” ahead of time, an idea for which I strongly advocate.
But I don’t want to start letting cats out of bags before I huddle with my team, so for now, I can’t tell you where I am at this exact moment. No, all my cats are in bags. Some of these cats are in paper bags; others, shopping bags. One cat is happy inside a potato sack, which isn’t technically a bag, but when you have this many cats in bags, it’s really — okay, this is getting strange. And disturbing?? Who is putting these cats in these bags??
No cats were harmed, physically, spiritually, psychically, or metaphorically, in the making of this post.
Remember when I did that survey this winter for a big paper I had to write? It was about quilters and feminism.
The survey wasn’t out to get data to support a point I wished to make. I didn’t want to make any kind of point — I just had questions. Almost without exception, zero quilters I have in classes or meet out there on the road talk about feminism. How come? What’s the deal about quilts being inherently “feminist” objects? Is that true? And what is feminism, anyway? I don’t know how you feel about it, but I think the best thing ever is to realize you’re interested something and then going after knowledge on the topic. So that’s what I did.
Maybe someday I’ll share my big, honkin’ paper on the topic, but it is very big and honks very loudly, which means it has a long bibliography. For a distillation of it, though, you can read my most recent Quilt Scout column! See? I take care of you.
Indeed, I do hope you do click this link and go read it. I think you’ll be surprised to see what I’ve been thinking about Oh, and the results of my survey aren’t included in the column, but here’s how all that shook out:
Are you a feminist?
62% = yes
27% = no
11% = maybe
*Note: One of my two lectures at QuiltCon 2019 is a lecture on this topic! Wow! Bad idea, but let’s go for it!
Tragic things happen to me all the time. But I sally forth.
Take, for example, the time I dumped an entire pot of piping hot, black tea on my new-ish cream-colored carpet. Oh, yes, it really happened. My tea tray was set out nicely — or so I thought — on my sofa table, but in fact it was only halfway upon that table. When I went to prepare my first cup of tea, I took the honeypot off the tray and, floop! The entire operation went off the edge and the pot of hot, hot tea flipped through the air with the greatest of ease and sploosh! Tea everywhere.
But did I cry over spilt tea? Yes! Of course I did! This was a disaster.
But remember: I sally forth.
As I ran into the kitchen, howling in anguish, wailing “Why?? Why???!” I knew that I needed to do one very, very important thing: Right before I ran back out with the 3 rolls of paper towels I snatched from below the sink … I put the kettle back on. I had to! I need tea in the morning! Yes, there was a ruinous tea stain spreading ever-wider by the second into my new-ish carpet, but let’s not panic, here, Mary. Let’s not lose our very minds. In my pain, I still knew enough to think, “If you put the kettle on now, by the time you clean this up, you can have that cup of tea you tried to have 30 seconds ago.”
I’ll give you another example. This one happened this very morning.
There I am in the bathroom, tending to my morning ablutions* and I’m still a bit winky (i.e., tired.) I reach into my dopp kit for my moisturizer, which comes in a tube thing with a snap top. I squirt out a glob of it onto my hands and I’m really rubbing into the old mug when I think, “Hm … That smells different, almost like — aggghh!”
I had put hair styling creme on my face. All over my face!
This was a true disaster, one on the level of the tea on the carpet. I will be 39 years old a month from tomorrow, yet I deal with breakouts as much as I ever did in high school, it seems. Slathering my face with a hair product? Bad. Very bad. I might as well just taken a stick of butter out of the fridge and used that all over my face, except butter has fewer additives and weird polymers than hair goop.
But remember: I sally forth.
When I realized I had a thick layer of hair creme all over my face, I grabbed my face wash and a towel and was just about to remove the stuff when I thought: “Well, now hang on. That’s good hair product!” So I smeared some off my face and rubbed it into the ends of my hair, my eyes squinched shut tight so none of what was on my face would sting my eyeballs. After I felt like I had gotten some where it was supposed to go (hair), then I washed my face.
Bon courage, mon amis! Bon courage!
*a favorite word among PaperGirl readers, which is why I love PaperGirl readers
The funniest thing just happened. Well, it was funny to me, but I am surely in the minority on this.
So it’s Independence Day — a happy one to you all — and I’m home in Chicago. I live downtown, close enough to the lake so that I can hear the fireworks going on over ‘dere, as well as some firework action to the south and the west. I’ve lived here for the better part of six years, so I’m used to the sounds of the city on July 4th. One should settle in for many hours of whooshing and popping and banging. There will be the occasional ruckus at street level, mostly just woos! and shouts. This soundtrack is not something I’d like to deal with every night, but it’s festive once a year.
I wrapped up some work this evening and had a bite of dinner. The sun had all but set; it was close to 9 p.m. I could hear booms far off in the sky and I perceived ruckus-ing on the street below. Here we go, I thought, and after I ate some butter pecan ice cream that Nick brought over the other day, I made myself unpack the rest of my suitcase from my trip to … I couldn’t quite remember but I packed perfectly!
As I hung up a pair of pants I heard a terrific crash. Wow, I thought, they’re really cookin’ tonight. Another crash, and then a whoosh and a rumble. Something sounded weird, though. The booming wasn’t sharp like a fireworks boom. Could it be … rain?
To the window I ran, sure that I was wrong, that I would see explosions of red fire as I looked out toward Indiana or a geyser of white-gold showering over the planetarium, but alas, this was not the case. It was absolutely pouring rain. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. There were people running everywhere down on 9th Street as the thunderclaps broke and the rain splashed onto the pavement.
“Oh, no!” I cried, and I really felt terrible. All the preparations! The cute hair! The bratwurst! Oh, poo, poo, poo. Poor everyone. It was really a gully washer out there. Not too many people were going to see fireworks in Chicago tonight, between the rain and the wet everything. I hope it was fun for awhile and maybe even fun to run through the rain?
I left the window and finished unpacking. I did find it pretty amusing that for a good 10 minutes, I was listening to a wild thunderstorm and thinking it was 4th of July fireworks.
I’d like to finish the rest of that ice cream. Maybe it’ll turn out to be salad!
ATLANTA, Ga. — Choosing flowers is tough. There are many options for photography. But if you’re getting married in Atlanta in almost-July, the wedding party favor is easy: Give ’em paper fans.
At half-past four in the afternoon, with the temperature in the high 80s, around 100 stylish guests on wooden chairs fanned themselves, waiting for the backyard ceremony to begin. Then, as family and close friends snapped a few more pictures of the lavish chuppah constructed entirely from twigs woven together with ribbon and fresh flowers, the three-piece band quietly closed out their rendition of “Love Me Tender” and switched gears.
All eyes turned toward the upper patio. And the bride descended the stairs.
Resplendent in an elegantly tailored, bone-colored peplum gown, it was confirmed by several official science sources that the bride was actually “glowing from within.” Ruddy-cheeked and radiant, her mane of thick, dark hair was worn pinned back on one side and topped with a feathered fascinator. Several official fashion sources said that her look was “pitch perfect,” and “timeless, but with sass for days.”
The bride’s mother (ageless!) and father (peerless!) greeted their daughter there in the family backyard and helped move her toward the aisle. Tears were shed by all members of the family and every single person in the tent, including the author, was blubbing and sniffing and sticking to our chairs in that heat and it was magical and perfect.
The groom — an adorably rumpled, Swedish artist — wore a powder blue linen suit and looked in wonder as his flawless bride approached the altar. Several official relationship sources confirmed that he looked like he was definitely taking this seriously and that he was “a good one.” The rabbi leading the nuptials hit just the right note in those remarks he gave in English. (As the author does not speak Hebrew, all remarks given by the rabbi in Hebrew cannot be confirmed as hitting the right note, but an official religious source was overheard to be saying that everything went just fine.)
Once the vows were spoken and the ceremonial wineglass was stomped, the band played a jazzy rendition of Guns n’ Roses’s classic, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” as the newlyweds made their exit. As the wedding party sat for portraits off-site, guests were treated to glasses of champagne and small, nibbly things like chocolate-covered strawberries and fancy cheese on fancy toothpicks. It was confirmed by several gastronomically-inclined sources that “the canapé situation [was] excellent, just excellent.”
Then it was off to the country club for dinner and dancing. And the author had an allergy attack (or something??) and had to leave early. But everything was so perfect. And you got married, Bari. And you got married, Magnus. And I got to see that, and see all the people who love you.
While I wait for my various moisturizers and creams to do their work on my face and legs, I shall recline on this bed and, with my laptop balanced on my knees, tell you about my friend Bari, because Bari is getting married today and she’s all I can think about.
Come back with me to the turn of the 21st century, to the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Everything was leafy and exciting. I was a sophomore undergrad. I finally had a handle on the school and the city, a Big Ten college town with beer cans in the gutter — but also a vibrant arts ecosystem! (There was more overlap than you’d think.) I was 19 years old, studying theater, something I could hardly believe I had permission to do.
The Theater department produced a lot of plays in a year. Probably 25 or something. Because visiting artists and tenured faculty cast shows with both grads and undergrads, there was some cross-pollination at the Theater Building, but not much. Grads were mostly older than we were. They were usually cooler, simply because they had been more places, and they had definitely done more theater. Grads were in classes that sounded scary and hard, like “Suzuki Seminar IV”, while we undergrads were just happy to get a spot in Voice for the Actor.
Bari was a grad student. She was probably in her late twenties? I don’t know for sure, and I don’t recall the first time I saw her on campus, but I remember the first things I felt about her.
Bari was beautiful and glamorous. She had rosy cheeks and mounds of jet black, corkscrew curls that cascaded down past her shoulders. She would often pull it all into a topknot thing and it would bounce around when she laughed, which she did a lot; this throaty, full laugh. I liked to be within 10 feet of her when she laughed because of the hair bobbing around but also she had the whitest teeth I had ever seen inside the mouth of a person. I could see those white teeth from 25 feet back, which was about how far I allowed myself to get to this Bari person because she was amazing and I was lame.
Bari had the best clothes! They were usually black. Bari wore cool, black clothes. She was from Atlanta, I learned, but she studied theater in New York. She wore a Tiffany necklace around her neck and lots of pink lip gloss. Bari was not from my world. Bari was glamorous. She twinkled, but she was deep. Word on the street among the underlings — I mean undergrads — was that Bari was in plays, sure, but she really wanted to direct.
It didn’t happen often that an undergrad would get a good part in a mainstage show. But my junior year, I did. I remember the play: It was José Rivera’s Marisol, and I played a character named June. Bari played Marisol, and we became friends. I think she noticed me because I worked my tail off, which I did, simply to keep up with the rest of the cast and crew, all grad students.
We got so close, Bari and I lived together one summer there in Iowa City before she left to do life after graduation. I drove with her to St. Louis to take some of her stuff to her grandmother’s house. Bari told me about her life; I told her about mine. Life is beautiful and it’s hard and it’s complicated, so we had a lot to talk about.
I visited Bari’s family here in Atlanta, once; I had never seen a house with two staircases before. That’s where the wedding is in about an hour. I’m assuming the lady will come down the front stairs, but you never know: Bari is utterly enthralling in her glamorous way, but she also loves silliness for silliness’s sake. She might surprise us.
Bari did direct, by the way. She is a theater director. She has been working professionally, steadily, with honors and accolades, ever since she graduated. I am so proud to know her. I am so honored she invited me to her wedding today.
Bari, may your wedding dress be as white as your perfect teeth; may your happiness know no boundaries. Like that hair!
I like to have extraordinary days. Yes, extraordinary is the goal. Extraordinary in big ways, extraordinary in small ways — whatever the way, when it comes to how I spend my days, I want that “extra” in front of that “ordinary.” I would also like extra sprinkles.
The last seven days have been so extraordinary, though, we’re getting into a weird area. If stuff with work keeps being this cool, I’m going to pop. I was on two location shoots with Quiltfolk in a week, working in the marvelous mode of making editorial decisions minute by minute, running to catch planes, etc. I’ve been in two states, six locations, and … Look, it’s a pet peeve of mine when a blogger spends time apologizing for not writing sooner, or when she explains all the reasons why she couldn’t post a post before this one, etc., but I’m going to do it: I’m sorry I haven’t posted more in the past week but I’ve been reallyfar away from a computer, both physically and psychically.
Here’s a list of what’s happened since last week. All these things are true. In the past seven days, I:
flew in a tiny by-plane to a fairly remote island
met a legendary artist
saw a raw manuscript for a recently-published book
hung out with quilt world royalty
drank two tasty cocktails too fast because I was nervous
drove 20+ hours
was interviewed for a podcast
hung a quilt off a bridge
rode in the back of a pickup truck
ate bag of jalepeno potato chips (*over the course of 3 days)
saw an alpaca
took four ferry boats
ate coq au vain at a brasserie
yelled at someone (*not bad)
carted my dry cleaning across state lines
… the last one made sense at the time. I’ll tell you all more about all these things soon. For now, it’s time for bed. I got home tonight; I wake before dawn to head to Atlanta for a wedding. So I’ll see you in Georgia. That’s the one with the peaches, right?
Forgive me for being absent a few days, but there simply is no time to do anything whatsoever but repack my suitcase, answer emails, make rawther important phone calls, and smell Nick.
Yes, Nick, my PIO — that’s “Person of Interest” — smells so good, I need to smell him whenever possible. I’m glad most of my work requires me to go out of town, because if I had to work around Nick, smelling as good as he does, I would get nothing done. Have you ever tried to write a letter from the editor while sniffing the collar of someone’s t-shirt? Pointless!
Nick has always smelled great. He’s got that wonderful smell of a guy who cares about his laundry. He smells like a person who really scrubs the back of his neck when he takes a shower and he definitely reads the care labels on his clothes. Do you know what I mean? That sort of “this is just who I am” smell is enough to make me kind of woozy, but it’s worse, now, because Nick has become smitten with a certain cologne. This cologne smells great in the bottle but let me tell you: It’s downright criminal on Nick.
The fragrance: Neroli Portofino Acqua by Tom Ford.
It’s hard to describe the scent — scents are tough — but I’ll try. It’s got bergamot going on; it’s got a hint of lemon. It’s musky and dusky. It’s young but not frivolous. It’s smart but not stuffy. When I smell it, I think of a person who takes cool trips and does cool things and is kind to animals. Also, that person knows how to bake scones with currants and when you visit them in their country home for a week in the summer, they know you love them. It goes without saying that this mythical cologne person is rich. Because some colognes just smell expensive, you know? Neroli Portofino Acqua one smells like it has to cost a fortune, but it turns out that a small bottle isn’t terribly expensive at about $100 plus tax. The price surprised me and Nick, too, considering the fancy Tom Ford label and the way it smells like it has gold flecks in it or something.*
Nick and I have been talking a lot about fears and “what comes next” and we had a text message fight yesterday. I never have text message fights but it was a weak moment. We’re sort of at a point — and relationships have all kinds of different points all the time, it’s not just one — where we are either going to kick it up a notch … or not, I guess. The fear of failure, the fear of wasting time, the fear of “what if this” and “what if that” is terrible on thoughtful people. Text message fights may occur from time to time.
We patched it up. Yesterday, he brought me flowers. Today, I smelled his wrist. And you do the next thing.
*For another perfume-inspired reverie, you should definitely read this.
I just had to talk to you about this, face-to-sorta-face! Announcing Quiltfolk Patterns is very exciting and I hope you like what we’re making. You will be amazed at the price we’ve set. You will be amazed at who we got as our first Revival Quilt designer. I’m so excited for July 4th I can’t stand it. I fly to New Orleans tomorrow. I hope this video isn’t too long, but it’s my first time vlogging!
It was actually pretty fun and I didn’t have to type!