Not the whole thing. It’s the righthand side. The righthand side of my tongue hurts a lot.
The reason it hurts is because there is a sharp, thin wire in my mouth that has broken away from where it ought to be and every time my soft, wet tongue moves in my mouth, it scrapes against this sharp, tiny wire. Over and over and over, when I say words, or eat, or just swallow, this wire stabs or scrapes my tongue. This started on Friday afternoon and now it is Sunday night.
Well, I got half-braces. I got brackets/braces on my bottom front teeth because a) it was what I could afford and b) … Well, I’ll tell you later because it’s a good story. Anyway, I got six brackets and a wire on the inside of my bottom row of teeth and this situation is called “sublingual” braces.
I’m trying to be a trooper, but so far, my sublingual braces have not been fun.
This is the fourth time I have had a crisis (relatively speaking) with my sublingual braces. Twice, a bracket has popped off my tooth and I’ve had to go in and get it repaired. And twice now, the resin they melt onto the end wire (so that the wire can’t poke my tongue) has broken off, which is bad. I’m really, really hoping this is just the way it is with sublingual braces and that I don’t have a terrible orthodontist. I also hope I’m not the reason this is happening, but I don’t think so. I’ve been eating soft foods and being careful to take care of my sublingual situation. My caramel popcorn and hard pretzel days are over, if you will, and have been over since I got the dang things installed.
This pain in my mouth … It’s tyrannical. I can hardly think. The whole world is my mouth. My tongue specifically.
And there are people — Buddhists?? — who would say, “Mary, the pain in your mouth is an opportunity. This torture you feel, the way the whole world has shrunk and you can think of nothing but the pain in your mouth, this is a chance to really experience the moment; you can really be present because your focus is so focused on this sensation.”
What are you, nuts?!
You can have your enlightenment. I wouldn’t wish this “sensation” on anyone. My tongue is swollen. It’s been stabbed for two days, traumatized and raw. What’s more, I’m in Portland till tomorrow night, so I can’t see my ortho till Tuesday at noon. I’ve tried to stick wax on it (which has worked in the past) but the wire that broke and is poking is too close to the gum line and the wax won’t stick. I actually cried earlier tonight when, after the fifth time trying to coat the wire so that it wouldn’t poke my tongue, it slid immediately off. Again. I put my tongue down and the wire burrowed into my tongue once more. It’s starting to drive me a little bananas
We’ve all had bigger problems. But mouth pain is tough — and I am no Buddhist. Here’s hoping your tongue goes un-persecuted this night!
I’m not sure why it happened, but it happened: I am a person who wears a sleep mask.
Not all the time — just when I sleep. And after about a year or so of sleeping with a sleep mask on, I find it almost impossible to sleep without wearing one. I need it to be dark when I sleep. I need to check out, go away, be in the state of sleep, not in the state of waking. I need darkness.
When I was a kid, sleep masks were so weird. Well, they were either weird or glamorous. You’d see them in movies, sometimes; Audrey in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, probably a lot of Bette Davis movies, etc., and that was glamourous. But there were other cultural cues that sleep masks were weird. I can’t think of any right now, but for a kid, it’s like, “Why are you putting on a blindfold at naptime??”
Oh, kid. If you only knew how badly adults need naptime and how much we want to be unavailable for comment while naptime is taking place. Blindfolds are good at communicating “I am unavailable for comment.” The sleep mask is that blindfold play — and I’m hooked.
I have a lot of eye masks/sleep masks/blindfolds. I’m becoming a connoisseur, you could say. Some are foamy. Some are silky. Some are cheaply made and don’t work very well; others are expensive but can’t work that much better than a regular old blindfold, can they?
All I know is that if I don’t “put on my eyes,” as Nick* puts it, I can’t get — or stay — asleep. Lucky for me, a sleep mask is pretty easy to get and maintain as part of my sleep hygiene.
It could be worse.
What if I needed to put on a chicken costume to fall asleep? How weird would that be? I’d have to travel with it! I’d have to get it cleaned and repaired. Every night. A chicken costume! A sleep mask doesn’t seem like a big deal, you know? When you put it that way.
Tonight was Sample Spree at Quilt Market. If you’ve never been to Sample Spree, allow me to offer a syllogism:
Sample Spree is to Quilt Market … as Black Friday is to Christmas.
It’s a shopping orgy-stampede, is what I’m saying.
At Sample Spree, vendors set up tables and sell special and sometimes limited-edition or otherwise promotional-only merch — at low, low prices — to Quilt Market attendees. Sample Spree is a big deal. It’s like a garage sale, except the people who are doing the garage sale are fancy and everything must go … except that it’s not old stuff, but new stuff. Let me put it this way: Sample Spree usually starts at 7 p.m. and the line starts a little after 4 p.m., every time.
Quiltfolkhad a table. We brought hundreds of copies of the magazine to sell cheap. We had our little credit card thing. We had our elevator speech. We were ready when the stampede began. And we sold out of everything in about an hour.
Of course, there are a few folks at Sample Spree that sell out in less than an hour; there are always a couple folks (ahem, Cotton + Steel) who have nothing to do 30 minutes after the doors open. But most folks sell for the full two hours and have to pack up what doesn’t sell. We were well stocked, though, and were still one of the first vendors to pack out of the convention hall with our empty boxes.
I’m telling you this for two reasons.
For one thing, it felt good to see that the project that I love so much is working. People get it. More people get it all the time. The world doesn’t need more ads, more noise. It needs more stories. That’s what I get to do with Quiltfolk. That’s pretty groovy.
The second reason I want to talk about Sample Spree is because you should’ve seen me and Mike and Bree, the company’s communications and customer service whiz. We were such a great team and I missed being part of a team! Certainly, I was part of a team at the paper; I loved that team. And I’m part of a team every time I go on location for the magazine. But there was something very … staff about tonight, very corporate in the best possible way. Me and Mike and Bree were doing the Quiltfolk thing together: pressing the flesh, autographing copies, making change for a $20, and so on. We had each others’ back.
The realization I’m done with school keeps coming over me in waves. I’m this person, now. I’m this working person. I’m part of a team. I’m working.
Years ago, I got a tattoo of an airplane on my wrist. It wasn’t an impulsive decision; I had wanted this tattoo for years. One day I did it.
Explaining a tattoo is tricky. If your explanation goes no deeper than “I was drunk in the Bahamas!” or “Somebody dared me,” it’s perhaps best not to explain.
But if the opposite is true, if your tattoo holds deep literal or symbolic meaning in your life/psyche, you’re also in a tough position. How do you explain in passing the varied, layered, complicated feelings that go into the desire to permanently mark something on your body? And why try? For people who don’t have tattoos — certainly those who are actively anti-tattoo — no explanation will be enough, however compelling.
Here’s what I’ll say about my airplane.
Something happens to me when I’m in an airplane. Something good. I sit still, for one thing. I’m stuck, so it’s easy to focus. Whatever I’m writing, at 35,000 feet, it tends to go well. But my love for airplanes isn’t just because I’m extra productive in my sky office; I’m romanced by the very existence of an airplane. Call me country, but the fact of flying amazes and delights me, every time, still. We’re flying? Like … like birds? No, no, it’s not possible.
But of course it is possible and I do it a lot.
I’m on a plane right now, in fact. I’m headed to Portland, headed to Quiltfolk.There’s a lot to do: Spring Quilt Market starts tomorrow, but being at the big show is just the beginning of the next five days. Mike and I are making serious moves at Quiltfolk; now that I’m done with school, prepare to watch more things move even faster.
So why am I on about the tattoo? That tattoo, by the way, that I regretted almost immediately and am now getting removed?
Well, I’m flying for this work trip and I’m on this plane, and I’m writing, and it’s the same. I feel happy, focused, right with the world, somehow. Except that this plane ride is totally different. I’m not flying to a gig. I don’t have quilts with me, I don’t have syllabi to hand out or patchwork to demonstrate once I get to where I’m going. I’ve gone to Market for years, but this is my first time with Quiltfolk, and that means I’m not pitching companies to buy ads for a web series or a magazine, like I did with Quilty, because Quiltfolk, like PaperGirl, doesn’t do ads. And I’m not in grad school anymore. I’m not a student anymore. I’m a … person?
The airplanes don’t really change. The tattoos don’t change. We change.
MARY is on the couch in her stocking feet. Her hair is wild. She’s crying and throwing things. Not breakable things, and she’s not throwing them hard; she’s just flinging notebook paper, a neck pillow — whatever she can grab that’s handy. PENDENNIS is typing on a laptop.
MARY: Pendennis! (MARY throws a flip-flop.) Pendennis, are you seeing me??Pendennis!
(PENDENNIS says nothing.)
MARY: Pendennis! I’m throwing things! I’m throwing things because I’m upset! Pendennis, I’m upset!
MARY: Pendennis, people are so nice! (MARY bursts into tears.) People are nice and I love them. What do I do, Pendennis?? What do I do with my feelings? How am I supposed to live?? Are you even listening to me?? (MARY throws grapes. PENDENNIS says nothing. MARY throws one grape at PENDENNIS and it bounces off his hat. MARY gasps, horrified. She sits up.) Pendennis! Are you okay?
(PENDENNIS gently tips to the right about an inch.)
MARY: I feel the same way. I feel crushed by the weight of love. It’s so crazy, this life, this blog. I’m going to write a personal note to the people who donated money to the blog. I don’t care how much. Anything. I’m going to write them a hand-written note if they have an address; an email if that’s all I have.
(PENDENNIS slips a little bit.)
MARY: Now that I don’t have grad school to do, I can make time for that, don’t worry. But what do I even say?? (MARY picks up a book and squeezes it. Then she wrestles it. Then she just throws it down.) It’s just … I guess you’ll just need to help me, okay? Just help me. (Beat. MARY looks up at the monkey.) That’s it! You have to write the notes! You’ll help! Yes, you have to help. Because I don’t know what to say.
(PENDENNIS says nothing.)
MARY: Okay, fine. Sure. No more throwing things, no more yelling. I suppose you want me to comb my hair. (Pause.) I’ll do it. I’ll put on my socks and stop throwing things and I’ll comb my hair and I’ll get the list of people who donated and said nice things. And then we’ll get some nice cards and we’ll write the thank-you notes.
(MARY gets off the couch and picks up the books, the notebook paper, the neck pillow, the grapes. She picks up the flip-flop, then she picks up the monkey. They pad across the carpet, and they get into bed, and they go to sleep.)
I had a whole thing I was going to write. I was going to list all the reasons why a donation to PaperGirl would be helpful — I have loans to pay, I work at a startup, I’m setting up for my doggie to come some day, my health insurance nightmare, etc., etc. Then I was going to link to popular posts or posts I thought were sort of worthy of a second look, like, “See? It’s a good blog!”
I was going to relay a conversation I had with a friend where she assured me it would be okay to ask for donations and I said, “But what if they hate me!” and she said, “They won’t hate you,” and I said, “But!” and she said, “Mary? You should’ve done it a long time ago.”
You can see it all got complicated — and long — and no matter what I did, it sounded like I was nervous about asking for a donation. Which I am. Asking for things is hard. It’s maybe the hardest thing for me.
If you like this blog, I’d be grateful if you would donate a few dollars to it.* A few people did that the other day and when they did, I realized how much it helped. (I’ll be writing thank-you notes this week.)
There are just three quick things:
I could make money selling ads on this blog. I get offers all the time. But I will never run ads. Ever. I hate them. I hate them for me, I hate them for you, I hate them because they are ugly. I won’t let “them” use our relationship to sell dumb things and steal our attention away. Not here. This blog really is free. Always has been. You’ll never see an ad. I will end the blog before you see an ad next to that monkey.
I work hard on PaperGirl — and I’m not going anywhere.
If you don’t want to donate money, I have a book wish list on Amazon. That would be really fun! Getting all the books I want. A book won’t pay the electric bill, but if I can’t read good books, who needs electricity?? Some of them are cheap, some aren’t — but it’s a wish list, not a shopping cart. I mean, that Gee’s Bend book? Sheesh.
Thank you, and I’ll keep writing even if you don’t give a cent.
*The donate button is PayPal. But if you want to use the mailbox, that address is here.
After the time away and the big announcements about graduation and Ken Burns (!), I’m feeling a desire for a good, old-fashioned PaperGirl post about something small but remarkable.
Do you feel me on this? I don’t want to do the pledge drive yet, I don’t want to make any grand proclamations, even though I have several to make. No, I just want to type up a standard-issue PaperGirl-Out-In-The-World observation, fold it into a digital paper airplane and sail it your way. Does that sound all right?
Let’s see, what have I got — ah, yes!
A couple weeks ago, flying home from Nebraska, I rubbed my eyes and pulled out my laptop. I was tired, but I had to read about Navajo blanket weaving for class. No sooner had I read the introduction did the most heavenly smell on the planet come wafting by my nose.
Fresh chocolate cake.
The sugary, buttery, cocoa-rich smell of a moist chocolate cake, thick with creamy frosting, was suddenly filling the air. The smell was definitely fresh chocolate cake and it was pungent, I’m telling you: This wasn’t some passenger’s cup of airplane hot chocolate I was smelling. The wholeplane suddenly smelled like a magic chocolate cake bakery. But where? Why??
I sat up in my chair and craned my neck around to find the source. It was dim in the cabin, so I couldn’t see very well. I continued to followed my nose until I saw her.
There, in the seat kitty-corner from me, a lady was happily — okay, blissfully — eating forkfuls of chocolate cake from the plastic to-go container plunked on her tray table.
I loved her for eating this cake. The wedge was huge. The frosting was so thick I could see it pulling on the cake as she lifted big bites to her mouth. She was talking to someone next to her but I don’t know they were tag-teaming this cake. I think this was her deal. I think she and her friend (brother? husband? complete stranger?) were at a restaurant in Omaha and they looked at the time and it was like, “Nope, we don’t have time for dessert; gotta get to the airport.” And she was like, “Well, in that case, I’d like your biggest slice of chocolate cake to go.”
I watched the woman for a minute or too and it was great. But better than watching her was watching everyone else watch her. Let me tell you what brings people together: the smell of chocolate cake. All the people in our immediate vicinity had the same reaction that I had when they smelled that lady’s fabulous plane snack. They sat up. They inhaled deeply. They looked around like prarie dogs. They identified the cake person. And they watched her with a little envy but mostly happiness.
A person going to town on a gorgeous piece of chocolate cake?
Something pretty cool happened last week: I got to talk to Ken Burns about his quilt collection.
If you got to talk to Ken Burns about his quilt collection, what would you ask him? After you asked him, would you hang up the phone and fall over on the floor and replay every second of the conversation in your mind to recall moments when you sounded like a dork or loser? Upon discovering that you probably did sound dorky at least at one point, did you console yourself that at least you interviewed Ken Burns??
That’s how it went for me.
Last weekend, Team Quiltfolk went to the Ken Burns quilt exhibit in Lincoln, Nebraska and we have worked tirelessly for the past 7-8 days (yes, I worked on it while working on my thesis) to bring you this free — FREE! — Quiltfolk Exclusive. It’s a 28-page, online-only PDF that you can by clicking this link and friends, it is very, very good. It’s been making the rounds on social media, but if you don’t use it much (like me), I hope this blog post gets to you.
Ken Burns was so nice. And the quilts are so beautiful. And Quiltfolk is so cool. I want this kind of wonderful experience all the time, this kind of blissful story to cover, but I know better. Some days, you just like, eat toast and you have to work on less-fun stuff.
It feels like I need to say “Hi!” again after being away. You look so good to me!! Hi!
First off, I want to say that I see the comments about the font needing to be a bigger and a darker, and I shall make it so. With the server migration, things got a little funky and I agree there are tweaks needed. Julie and I will work on it, I promise. Until then, you can always go up to “View” and click “Zoom” and you can make your screen bigger. Thank you for your patience.
As promised yesterday, I’m going to paste in the painstakingly crafted foreword to the thesis I worked on for so long. Before you read it, you should know what I’m foreword-ing, no?
My 1,512-page thesis was a compendium. It was everything I have published or otherwise officially submitted in two years of in graduate school.
I included all my essays, F Newsmagazine articles, Quiltfolk articles, Quilt Scout columns, other freelance writing, research projects, three lectures, one poem, the materials for the exhibit at the Chicago Design Museum next year, and … every blog post. That’s right: The past two years of PaperGirl is in my thesis. The whole way, May. And what’s really cool is that if you get a master’s at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, your thesis is bound and kept in the library of the Art Institute. We’re in there, guys. You and me. We’re in one of the best museums in the entire world.
It literally took three 18-hour days to make the two copies of my thesis, partly because each section had its own introduction and title page and also because I hand-stamped every page (of both copies) with a page number using one of those cool auto-advance number-stamper things I think they use in law offices? It was fun, but I still have a bruise on my hand. (Seriously.)
If you’re new to the blog, I promise, promise, promise: Entires are never this long. But most days I’m not writing to you in the week I finish my master’s degree. And to make sure you know I care about the eyes of my readers, I’m going to boldface the whole thing.
F O R E W O R D
Christmas Day, Chicago, 2015. Half-past two in the afternoon.
I was standing at the kitchen counter at my sister’s house, wearing a sweater, jeans, and busted-up fuzzy slippers. Like everyone else in the room, I was drinking prosecco. My younger sister and her husband were both absorbed in something online. My mom and stepdad were playing Scrabble at the big table, picking at pie. Hannah, my older sister, was scrolling through Instagram on her phone.
“So I have news,” I announced to the room, then paused for effect. “I have applied to graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.”
My sister Rebecca looked up at me. “Why?”
Hannah stayed glued to her phone but shifted in her seat and from where I stood I could see the rise of one penciled-in eyebrow. Mark tapped out the score on the calculator he and Mom keep in the Travel Scrabble box. Jack bumped the power cord on his laptop then clicked it back into place.
“I want to study writing,” I said.
It was as if I had announced I was going to the store for a gallon of milk. Except there was hostility in the air, too, like I had announced I was going to the store for a gallon of milk and I had a history of stealing groceries. There goes Mary with her same old dairy-aisle kleptomaniac crap — and on Christmas!
“Well, I think it’s fantastic,” my mom said, and took a sip from her champagne flute. “You’ll be so happy you did it, honey.” My stepfather raised his glass but didn’t actually cheers anything.
“Thank you, Mother,” I said. Then, curtly, to the room: “Am I missing something? Is there something wrong with me pursuing a master’s degree in writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago?”
I was the only one in my family without a postgraduate education, so the bad vibes were not based in any anti-school sentiment. Something else was going on that made me sad and I felt the ruthless sensation of being alone among my own people.
My throat closed up, but I pressed the issue: Why was me going to grad school not a happy occasion?
It came out that no one had faith in an MFA program for writers. They were a waste of time, Hannah said, and besides, I had been making a good deal of my living as a freelancer for some time. My blog had thousands of subscribers. Why spend all that time and money for a piece of paper?
Rebecca agreed. She pointed out that SAIC is one of the most expensive schools in the country and when she worked in the Loop, she’d have to dodge throngs of SAIC kids every day at lunch. “It’s obviously a good school, but there are a lot of stocking hats and sad paintings over there,” she said. “I don’t think you’d like it.”
For the few brief minutes we discussed it, it was clear that no one was impressed with my announcement because they weren’t impressed with the plan and also because my family was used to this particular family member (me) making splashy life changes every few years. My decision to go to grad school wasn’t earth-shattering; it was simply the latest solution to the problem of Mary getting bored. The tears that stung my eyes were the result of knowing they were half-right, but there was anger, too: The half they were wrong about they were really wrong about. To study writing for real was something I had wanted pretty much my whole life.
Christmas Day three years ago was the first time I would have to defend why I wanted a master’s degree; why I wanted to get that degree in writing; why I wanted to go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and why I wanted to do all of this now.
Katherine Hepburn said, “Never complain, never explain,” but Katherine Hepburn never went to grad school. Explaining the reasons why I chose all this was something I would have a good deal of practice with over the next two years.
You could say I’m explaining right now.
* * *
I went to high school in the mid-90s in a small Midwestern town. College prep courses may have been a thing on the East Coast by then, but in Winterset, Iowa, “advanced placement” classes were a novelty. The first one they ever offered, AP English, was offered my senior year. For the first time in high school, I was not dogged by my homework but exhilarated by it.
The teacher taught from one book: the fifth edition of a college-level composition textbook called The Bedford Reader. I loved its tissue-thin pages, how they felt like pages of a Bible or the Shakespeare anthology Mom had on the bookshelf at home. I devoured the readings Mrs. Chase assigned and as I did, I put myself in a kind of conversation with the book, scribbling notes in the margins, drawing goofy doodles and inside jokes for my friends on the front and back covers.
After 20 years of moves, boyfriends, a marriage and divorce, and countless cleaning purges that dispensed with plenty of other books, I’ve still got that Bedford Reader. Flipping through its pages now, seeing all those proclamations and exclamations, is an exercise in facial expressions: I see myself and my brow furrows; my eyes get wide; I wince. The sheer spunkiness of me at sixteen is excruciating. “I love Matthew McConaughey!!!” I write, and when I like something, I draw a happy face saying “YES!!!” When I don’t, there in green ink is, “What does the author MEAN??? Don’t KNOW don’t CARE!!!”
Two years ago, just before grad school began, I purchased a thick, black Leuchtturm notebook. A German-designed notebook of consequence, it was big enough to last through two years of note-taking in writing department classes, workshops, seminars, and advising sessions. I thumbed through it the other day, not long after I had pulled out my Bedford Reader, to reference the bibliography.
Then came the shock: The content of my notes and doodles in my grad school notebook are virtually the same today as they were 20 years ago. It was all right there. The exclamations and proclamations with the same liberal use of exclamation points, the same rhetorical questions to myself, the same conversations with an audience of one … The only difference, really, is a subtle weariness creeping in; as a 38-year-old, I write, now in black ink: “What does the author mean? Don’t know. Don’t care.”
Shocking as it was to see myself so plainly after all this time, there exists a sense of satisfaction in the continuity from one book to the other. I might be an enthusiastic idiot, but I’ve always had a strong sense of self.
But the apparently indelible blueprint brings with it a terrible weight, too. Can a person change? Can she learn? Can she become a better writer or is it predetermined how good she’ll get? We know that women are born with a set number of eggs; is a woman’s portion of writing ability also set at birth? Does studying it allow only for cosmetic changes and nothing deeper? Why, indeed, sisters, did I pursue a master’s degree in writing if, from notebook to notebook, year to year, I’m still holding my pen the same way?
* * *
Oh, please. Two years in a MFAW program has made me way better at writing.
You can’t really chart it. You can’t quantify it. You, the reader, or I may or may not be able to read from one end of this manuscript to the other and see that from August 2016 to May 2018 my sentences get tighter, my references more nuanced, my verbs more precise. You may or may not perceive how I got better at editing my own writing and the writing of others. You’ll see a lot of published work that didn’t exist before, but there’s no way to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that in grad school, the Mary Fons motherboard was rewired and has become vastly more complex (and definitely more expensive.)
Then again, I’m also two years older. That counts for something. This 1,500-page thesis may not be a lot of things, but it’s undeniable proof a girl’s been practicing.
Most of my cohort came seeking an MFAW because they want to teach. Many hoped to assemble an agent-ready manuscript. Some succeeded, and those novels and poetry collections will serve as their thesis, pages polished to gleaming (or gleaming enough) in advising meeting after advising meeting, over two years of workshops and critiques. I, too, took work through that laundering process. When I arrived, I thought that writing and polishing the essays included here was the point of all this. My colleague’s goals were the same as mine.
But as I rode my bike up the street to MacClean in the heat of September; as icy water mixed with street salt seeped through my shoes through two long winters, what I was getting from graduate school and what I’d been seeking changed. I started out making a quilt with someone else’s fabric, you could say, and then I remembered I had this huge basket of my own gorgeous scraps.
More than mastering a single essay — or a dozen of them — I discovered that my task was to understand the kind of writer I am, not the kind of writer I wish I was. My sisters were correct: Grad school can’t teach you how to write. But I learned that grad school can offer the chance to discover how you write. And if you care enough, work ceaselessly, and accept the way you hold your pen, then you can improve. Maybe you can improve a lot. That’s the real — and somewhat hidden — lesson. It was certainly the knowledge I came for, and after I learned it, it was the reason I stayed.
* * *
My family has heartily congratulated me on my accomplishment. Getting a master’s degree — even in writing — is way harder than stealing a gallon of milk. They’re proud of me.
My thesis doesn’t just double as a doorstop: It’s proof of concept. I am this person. I am this writer. If you’re interested in getting to know her, I suggest you get comfortable. You’re gonna be here awhile.
Have you ever physically felt like you came through something?
I think we all come through things without realizing it.
If we’re lucky, sometimes old emotional pain slips away. You hold onto something for a long time but then, all of a sudden, you find yourself being calm about something you used to be agitated about. Something that used to trigger bad feeling or angst stirs no major reaction from you and you go, “How about that. I’m okay, now.” Do you know what I’m talking about? How you can come through things without realizing it? Emotions, man. Wild stuff.
There are other times, though, when you come through something or you enter a new space and you know you’re different. You know because you feel physically changed and it’s a light-switch moment.
I turned in my thesis yesterday. I have one class left to attend. There’s a reading and a paper to hand in but I say to you this night that the graduate school clock is ticking to a stop and I literally feel like a different person. (That’s “literally” as in “literally” and not just as in “totally.”) I feel like a new woman. I feel like I want to cry. New people cry, you know. Ask a baby.
I have been away for two weeks due to my job, the ending of school (see: thesis) and the website server migration, which is now complete.* The last time I saw you, I hadn’t spent three days and hundreds of dollars making two copies of my 1,512-page thesis. I’ll tell you more about the thesis later; for now, I just have to reconnect and tell you that I missed you and that I am not the same Mary.
Except, of course, that I am. And the foreword to my thesis, which I will post tomorrow, discusses this exact topic.
I missed you all very much. The PaperGirl break scared me. It really did. This blog is such a huge part of my life, a place I devote hours and hours and hours to every week, day after day, week after week, year after year. If I didn’t maintain it, what else would I be able to do?
Maybe a 1,512 page book? But you wouldn’t be there, so what’s the point?
I’ll tell you more about the thesis tomorrow and I’ll post the foreword, too. Fair warning: In the next week or so, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: I’m going to do a Pendennis / PaperGirl Pledge Drive. My student loans are coming due, I’m working at a startup, the server migration was not free, and … well, I asked a few friends if I should do it and they grabbed me and said, “YES, MARY.” If you want to get ahead of the curve, there’s a “Donate” button up there that should work beautifully, thanks to Julie.
Tonight, I cried in my kitchen. I asked myself if I should start up the ol’ PG again or not. And I wept to think I wouldn’t.
*I’m working with Julie to tweak and revamp the website. Now that school is 97 percent done, this is actually possible. I know it needs help — and I’m interested in working on the blog’s formatting for readability and aesthetic. So please standby and be patient. I’m going to make it very nice, I promise!!
**IMPORTANT: My blog used to weirdly, horribly, be a different URL than my website. Don’t ask because I HAVE NO IDEA WHY. Anyway, if you have a bookmark or a subscription, please, please, please change your whatchamacallit to this: www.maryfons.com/papergirl … Pendennis thanks you and so do I.
a) revenge, served cold
b) that library fine
c) website maintenance
d) all of the above e) B and C, but not A
2. IF one of the things Mary has put off includes website maintenance, why might she have put it off?
c) confusing, scary
d) while it happens, she can’t blog
e) the mob is involved f) A, B, C, and D, but not E
3. What’s so interesting about mobsters in the 1920s? Why is that still a thing?
b) cigars, hats
c) cool cars
d) funny voices
e) spangles f) all of the above
4. True or False: Mary really does have to do maintenance on her (old, poo-ey) website because there have been horrifying email problems and extra charges and it’s just been a big ball of awful for too long.
5. True or False: Mary really won’t be able to blog while the maintenance happens. It’ll take about a week. The whole website will be down, not just the blog. It’s the only way!
6. Short Answer: If Mary is driving in Louisiana going 54 miles an hour in a 45 mph zone and she sees lights flashing behind her, will she get a speeding ticket and will she miss you and the ol’ PG while the website maintenance is being done this week?
Well, that’s not surprising: You got 100 percent! I’ll see you in a week, gang. The website is going to look broken, but it’ll only be down for maintenance for a minute. It’s high time and probably good timing: My thesis is due in 2.5 weeks. I’ll stay in touch on Facebook, though, so look for me over there while Julie Feirer does her magic. Thank you, Julie.
So there’s a lot of construction in the South Loop. More all the time. Buildings being built to the south of me on State; buildings to the north of me on Wabash.
So far, none of what I like about my view is being adversely affected, so I just get to watch the coolest TV show out my window on the 16th floor all the time. I love the enormous cranes. I love the mini-elevators as they go up and down the sides of the steel beam skeleton. I love to watch the projects as they go up because I love that it’s even possible to build these things. I can’t even manage a gingerbread house. I imagine all kinds of things as I watch the people working on the buildings. Most of the time, there’s action. Seven days a week, from really early morning until the sun goes down. But some days, and it could be a Monday or a Thursday or a Saturday — there’s nothing. Not a soul on any of the still-raw floors of the 20 or 25 story mid-rise.
This change in the TV show never fails to stir my imagination.
And now, the second-ever fictional story I have ever written, composed right here, for you, this morning. I hardly need point out that I know exactly nothing about construction sites, how buildings are made, or the pecking order of the men and women who build them. If it were a real story, I’d look all that up, I promise. But I don’t write fiction, so it’s okay. My favorite bluff is the one about “strut work,” by the way. Strut work!? I kill me.
Out of Site — Chapter One
“Jimmy!” the supervisor roared through the tiny window and pounded the top of her makeshift desk. “Jimmy, get your Red Sox-south-side-hot-dog-eatin’ butt in here in the next four seconds or I’ll tell that concrete truck to let ‘er rip in your front yard!”
Jimmy threw down his cigarette and scrambled up the ramp. The double-wide trailer that served as the site office was so tight, he would be literally face-to-face with Nancy. He sucked air in through his teeth and pushed the door open.
Nancy’s hard hats were tossed around the room amongst Connie’s Pizza boxes and balled-up lunch bags from Petterino’s and Five Guys. She brandished her notepad at Jimmy then flung it him. “Why do I have the lead developer’s boss calling me and telling me to tell the guys not to come in today? Why might that be, Jimmy? Why might that voicemail be on my phone? I hate voicemail, Jimmy. I really, really hate voicemail.” Nancy’s face was red and a vein was pulsing in her neck. It was pretty gross.
“Nance,” Jimmy started —
“Oh, it’s Malinowski to you today, buster. Mrs. Malinowski.” Jimmy started to stammer out an apology but she cut him off with one of her classic contradictory Nancy orders: “Shut up! Talk!”
“Mrs. Malinowski, Super told me yesterday it might happen but to wait to let you know until we heard from Stan. He was supposed to find you before you left yesterday but I guess —”
“You’re good at guessing, Jimbo,” Nancy said, and she grabbed a toothpick from a box on her desk and bit down on it so hard she winced. She quit smoking a year ago and so far no relapse; on this job, she was hanging by a thread. “You wanna ‘guess’ what this means? Why don’t you ‘guess’ what 14 hours of lost work on this hunk of metal and concrete is gonna cost?”
Jimmy’s eyes got big. “Mrs. Malinowski, please, I can’t lose this job. I’ve got —”
Nancy laughed so hard her toothpick flew out of her mouth. “Who’s getting fired? I’m not firing you, Jimmy. Geez, get a grip.” Nancy rubbed forehead and jabbed another toothpick into her mouth. “It’s gonna set us back a week.”
“A week?” Jimmy asked. “Why a whole week? Stan’s got other guys.”
“Stan’s a dead man, for one thing,” Nancy said, “so I’d advise you to not say his name to me right now. We weren’t gonna get the scaffolding repaired until tomorrow and tomorrow’s Friday. Anderson Electric doesn’t work weekends and we’ve got strut work through Thursday, so I can’t get Stan and the boys back till the last week of the month. What an absolute clusterf —” Nancy stopped. She was trying to quit cursing, too. Her two-year-old was picking up everything these days and her mother-in-law would not appreciate construction-site vocabulary imprinting itself on her adorable granddaughter.
“Jimmy, just get ahold of John and you two start making calls, okay? Tell the guys not to come in. Tell ’em to drink a couple beers, take their wife on a date for God’s sakes. Lord knows the girls are missing the sons-of—”
“I’ll get John,” Jimmy said, cutting Nance off mid-curse so that she didn’t have to do it herself. She was a really good boss, as overworked as everyone else. As he turned to leave, he had a thought.
“Nance — um, Mrs. Malinowski? If we move strut work to Wednesday and work 5:30 to sundown, we could shift scaffolding to Saturday. Sundown is later than it was a month ago and the weather’ll be out of the thirties next week. We could grab some of the guys from Acme. I know the Indiana crews aren’t your favorite but they work pretty fast.” Jimmy paused, calculating. “It could work.”
Nance stared hard at the contractor in front of her, fidgeting with a buckle on his oil-stained Carhartts. This was the longest Jimmy had held down a site gig. But he was busting his you-know-what and she had come to rely on the kid, precisely because of moments like this. He was smart and he cared. Nance didn’t take that for granted.
After doing a little calculating of her own, she nodded. “Maybe. Yeah, maybe that would work.” She pulled her phone out of her jacket pocket. “Okay. I’ll call Acme, see what they say. But still get John and tell the guys it’s their lucky day. Tell ’em to enjoy it while they’ve got it. Next week’s gonna be a long one.”
Jimmy nodded and went out the door. As he headed down the ramp, Nance yelled out the window: “Tell ’em to take their wives on a damn date!”
Grinning, Jimmy shouted back: “Yo, Nance! Don’t you mean a ‘darn’ date?”
As a single, thirty-something woman with no children, living in downtown Chicago as I do, I am careful about the stories I tell about myself and the stories I tell to myself.
There’s a tired narrative about my demographic that really makes the rounds. This socially-constructed, media-fabricated archetype of women “like me” shows up a lot in TV shows, movies, advertisements, and general popular culture. The narrative tells us that the typical single, thirty-something, childless (some prefer “child-free”) city gal is sad about her (obviously sad) situation. Sure, she’s got a nice handbag, but she’s lonely. She’s got a cute haircut, but she’s hapless. She’s a woman in a perpetual state of longing and dissatisfaction. This is the trope of the single woman. She gets gum in her hair; her boss is a jerk; she and her girlfriends talk about men, pinot grigio, and the Bahamas; she and her friends go to the Bahamas to drink pinot grigio and meet men; she makes terrible choices with every man she meets, in the Bahamas or otherwise; her life is one long string of bad dates and pizza delivery, etc., etc., etc.
The problem with this character sketch is that parts of it are true. And when they are — bad dates, gum in hair, etc. — a person can start to believe that all of the narrative is true. This is dangerous. Stereotypes are pretty much always unhelpful stories people tell about other people because we’re all trying to understand and navigate the complicated world and stereotype are simple and fast. But 2-d stories flatten our experience and cheat everyone out of connection. People are always more complicated than a stereotype. People are more fascinating and more worthy of consideration than stereotypes, even if there are truths somewhere in there.
But that’s not even the worst thing about these prevailing narratives. The really dangerous thing is when stereotypes become stories we tell ourselves, e.g., “I’m single, so I’m lonely and sad.” Or, “I’m from the bad part of town, so I’m a bad kid.” Or, “I’ve been divorced twice and my business went bankrupt, so I’m a total disaster of a human being.”
Once you start internalizing such things, it feels terrible and you start to act not like yourself but like the stereotype! And the shift can be really sneaky. You can start to “be” something you really aren’t, simply because that’s the story other people keep telling about you, as if they know.
So with me and being single, I have to be careful to not do this. Yes, I have gone on bad dates — but so what? It’s not because the world is hopeless and all men are scum. Because of the stereotype that I can fall into, it would be acceptable were I to have that attitude, but it’s not true for me. The exasperated-single-gal narrative is not the narrative I want to own. I just went on a bad date. And as for making bad choices with men, I reject that, too. I’m proud of my fearlessness in love and life and just because I’m single after having a number of great relationships isn’t because I’m crazy, my past loves were idiots, I’m unlovable, or because dating is a nightmare. Dating is really hard. But it’s also fun.
Do you see what I’m saying? Is this making sense? That whoever you are — mom, teenager, writer, lawyer, senior citizen, ex-convict, prodigal son, etc. — you have to fight against absorbing those brutal narratives?
And now are you ready for the kicker?
This whole misty-eyed cri de coeur is a set up. Something so totally, stereotypically single-gal-in-the-city, so stereotypically rom-com-sitcom-thirty-something-lonely-chick pathetic happened, I became depressed enough to open a bottle of pinot grigio and watch “When Harry Met Sally” three times in a row. Basically.
I signed up a food box delivery thing. Not a Blue Apron meal-making kit, though. (Like I have time to sauteé pre-chopped broccoli florets?) No, I did a thing that delivers fresh food on a weekly basis, ready to eat. Why, for a busy gal like me, that sounded great: organic, interesting food, delivered right to my door! I did the subscription form online, selected things like the Southwestern Veggie Bowl and the Garden Penne.
I got my meals. And I knew they were frozen dinners? But I didn’t understand that they would be frozen dinners? I mean, I orderedfrozen dinners. But I didn’t process how the “frozen dinner” part of all this would make me feel. Think Schwann Man. Think Cold War. Think poke the plastic in two places, pop it in the microwave, and take it out three minutes later and have a plastic dish of (unevenly-heated) food. Organic or not, nutrient-rich or no, this is some frozen food, honey. And I’m eatin’ alone.
What’s worse is that I signed up for this thing a couple weeks ago and swear I was on the every-other-week plan, but nope. I got another delivery today and I haven’t gotten through last week’s meals, yet, because it feels kinda sad to make and eat these things. So my freezer is jammed up with frozen meals and I am trying very hard to not succumb to feeling like a block of frozen peas.
Mom and I filmed three (excellent) episodes of the PBS show today. It felt great to be back on the set as a guest. What can I say? My mother and I work really well together and I miss working with her so closely.
I also miss Gramma, my mom’s mom. The house where I’m sleeping tonight is across the street from the apartment building where my gramma, Dorothy, lived for some years before she passed away. When she died at 92, she was of sound mind and was in relative good health: A case of pneumonia took her to the hospital and she didn’t come back. I had just graduated college when she died and it was sad because I loved Gramma and I love my mom. And it was said when my sisters’ and my gramma passed but it was also sad because my mom lost her mom.
But this is a happy post!
Because I keep thinking about Gramma and all the wonderful things she used to say. Dorothy was born in Mississippi and she had a lovely, if subtle, southern accent. She kept Fun-Size Snickers bars in her pantry. She played Go Fish with us for hours. She started the paper in the small town in Iowa where she lived. She loved us. She told the same stories over and over again but a) she earned the right to for Lord’s sake and b) repeating stories runs in the family, so.
Did I ever tell you how my gramma told the same stories over and over again? Oh. Okay, well how about a short list of some of the great things she used to say. I’d like to think on those.
THINGS GRAMMA SAID
When me and my sisters were squabbling (or worse): “Don’t talk ugly to your sister.”
When my hair was a mess, which was always: “Mary Katherine … Let me give your hair a lick.”
When she was surprised or alarmed, usually by something innocuous: “Oh, me!”
When she was telling us a story about being mad at someone (male): “I’d like to jerk a knot in him!”
When I was a teeny kid and we would be reading on the couch together and we’d both get sleepy, Gramma would turn to me and say, “Let’s just conk out.”
Whenever I or my sisters wanted a quarter, or a peppermint, or a stick of Dentyne gum: “Go get me my purse.”
Though there’s a lot of reading I have to do for school — particularly for my Contemporary Histories In Fiber course, holy weft — I do at least attempt to pick up and read other things. I wish I could sit down and sew, but when most of what you do is pick up paper or scroll over a screen and reading what’s printed on it, this is what you tend to keep doing.
So tonight, I thought I’d share a list of books/magazines surrounding me. And I mean that literally. My home is one big book nook. Many of these books and periodicals hang out on the floor next to my black leather recliner until they cycle back out; other texts are stacked high on the glass coffee table (where I also put my feet sometimes, let’s be honest); some books are perpetually falling off my bedside table. My home is tidy, but until I get a proper library, this is how things are. (I looked online at a condo on Michigan Avenue that had a library. The condo cost $2.2 million … but they allow dogs. Insert laughing/weeping here.)
Anyway, here’s a list of what I’m dipping in and out of. I’m forcing myself to write just one or two lines of description for each title because I have to get up super early in the morning: I’m flying to Des Moines to tape the PBS show on Monday! I’m taping three episodes with Mom and I’m so excited. I miss TV, sometimes.
What I’m Reading Lately (Non-Fiction)
Empire of Cotton, Sven Beckert
This book is the history of the world. And the history of the world is told in cotton. And it takes just about 700 pages to go through it all.
Craeft: How Traditional Crafts Are About More Than Just Making, Alex Langlands
I bought this book about artisanal work (in weaving, haymaking, etc.) because it was in the window of Sandmeyer’s Bookstore in my neighborhood and was so beautiful it lured me in. I judged the book by its cover and so far … Yeah, it’s worth it. I think.
The Age of Homespun, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
If you love American history, textiles, and LIFE ITSELF, get this book and read it. It was at my mom’s house and I started reading it. Hi, Mom! (I’ll bring it to you when we sew this summer, I promise.)
The American Bystander Magazine
Humor. There are misses, but it’s mostly hits. (And I need to laugh as much as I need my morning tea, so I’ve subscribed from the start.)
Lapham’s Quarterly: State of Mind
Every issue is a review, you could say, on a theme. An issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is a meal for the mind. Lapham’s gives me faith in humanity. I’m a subscriber.
Quiltfolk Magazine, Issue 06 : Arizona The magazine where I serve as editorial director is getting better and better and better and better. And my whole heart belongs to this project. And I re-read the whole issue on my way back from Baltimore. Issue 06 is our best yet — that is a fact.
The Dumb Internet
Sometimes, even, on my phone. Barf.
What I’m Reading Lately (Fiction)
Not a single novel. Not even a short story. I’m not knocking fiction. I just have enough trouble with reality to “get lost” in anything else. I keep waiting to slip into a new phase of my life when I read only fiction. It’s an interesting idea, being a Mary who says things like, “I’m re-reading Ulysses. It’s … Well, I suppose it’s as good the second time but since I know what happens … ” But this is unlikely to happen in the near future, as for the past 6-7 years, all I ever want to read is people who write with their actual voice, not via someone else’s. Is that weird?
This was three days ago, when I was connecting in St. Louis on my way to Baltimore. I know the St. Louis airport well, so I knew there was pizza to be had at the California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) but I also knew I couldn’t trust the St. Louis airport CPK to get me a pie before I had to get on the plane. Oh, they say they can make your pie in under 10 minutes, but they can’t. They are very nice people but they never, ever can ever do that.
I knew I’d have to grab a different snack, but I really needed something hot. You know how it is, how you get when you travel — or maybe when you don’t travel — and the thought of consuming a handful of dumb trail mix or a dumb bag of chips just makes you feel despondent and wan while the thought of a Hot Item Of Some Kind gives you the strength to go on. You know that feeling, right? That’s where I was the other day.
On my way to my gate, having resigned myself to eating trail mix and/or chips for dinner, I passed by a Starbucks. Because I am trained by Jeff Bezos* to want the things his company sells, I thought:
“Oh. That egg-white sandwich thing. That’s hot and not horrifying. I’ll get one of those.”
So I approached the counter and I ordered my egg-white sammy and waited for the gal to heat it up. When she wrapped up the sammy in the paper and handed it to me, I have to tell you: I felt happy. I felt a mini-frisson of energy, a zap of hope that I could take up arms against a sea of troubles — at least until I got to the east coast.
“Thank you,” I said to the nice girl at the register, probably too intensely. “Thank you … so much.”
And so I’m walking to my gate. And I’m adjusting my attaché and re-hitching my purse up on my shoulder, when … plop.
Egg-white sammy down.
Ah, yes: I had turned the paper bag the wrong way as I was adjusting my things and that Starbucks sammy just fell right out onto the airport floor and came completely apart. I didn’t know what had happened at first; a rounded egg disc made for a Starbucks breakfast-style sammy does not make sense out of context. I mean, I felt something drop as I was walking and as I looked down, I thought, “Okay, I think I dropped my sammy,” but I didn’t stop walking because I was not yet computing, so as I’m trying to compute, I kicked the egg disc. Not on purpose, of course; it’s that I was walking and adjusting and obviously dropping egg-white sammy components and before I could stop everything and avoid contact with the sammy pieces and/or regain my dignity (lol), I kicked my own food.
I bought a sammy and I dropped it in the airport and then I kicked it.
That was new. That was a new experience, traveling.
Oh, I muddled through. Within 45 minutes or so I was nestled in 6D, munching airplane peanuts and drinking white wine. I had a drink coupon from Southwest, you see, so I got the wine. Because I fly a lot. And that’s what I get. I get coupons for white wine and packets of peanuts and when you are the kind of person who accidentally kicks her “delicious” dinner down an airport terminal on a Tuesday night, these kinds of perks are real. Real good.
*Wait, wait. That’s not right. Jeff Bezos is the Amazon guy. The Starbucks guy is the other guy. Zuckerberg.
When I tell you that the past two weeks have been agonizing, don’t be alarmed. It was a certain kind of agonizing that was not many other kinds of agonizing, thank goodness.
I was not nightly persecuted by owls, for example. No anvils dropped out of the sky at regular (or irregular) intervals. My fridge did not say disapproving things to me as she witnessed my eating habits. Can you imagine??
No, life was tough because I was on location for Quiltfolk last week and most of the week before and I couldn’t tell you anything about it. I didn’t tell you I was traveling at all! I just kept quiet as a mouse and had to post less often, partly because I worked 16-18 hour days and partly because I couldn’t make a peep about where we were. We like to keep the location of the next issue of Quiltfolk a secret for at least a little while, so I couldn’t write to you about any of the things I was seeing, the people I was meeting, the quilts I saw … !
How painful it was to not be able to tell you about when [REDACTED] brought out all the quilts made by [REDACTED] that are so world-famous. How it pained me to not share about when the lady at the [REDACTED] showed us the legendary [REDACTED] and we actually met [REDACTED], who made us a [CHEESECAKE] for lunch!
I think I can say cheesecake, can’t I? Guess we’ll find out!
But seriously: Going to [REDACTED] for Issue 07 was one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had in my professional life. It was that good.
Issue 06 : Arizona is now on newsstands everywhere. It’s shipping to subscribers, available now. I’m so proud of the Arizona issue, so over-the-moon happy about the work we’re doing. Quiltfolk is oral history. It’s culture for quilters, for people. It’s getting stronger with every story because it must. The stakes are high, the time is now.
And when you see Issue 07 in a few months, you’ll see why I was in agony, trying to not let the [REDACTED] cat out of the bag.
Me, I remember both of those wardrobe selections. How could I forget? When I found those items I screamed with delight, fell on the floor, got back up, did furious/idiotic math in my head so to convince myself I could afford to buy such frivolous fripperies (!) and clicked “BUY” and dreamed about being fabulous in this specific, If-Anna Wintour-Were-A-Quilter kind of way.
And the items did arrive.
Both were carefully boxed by the merchant. Both the coat and the shoes arrived safely via UPS to my receiving room where I picked them up after school/work/school/work/school. I signed out my packages and carried both boxes up to my unit where they lasted exactly .02 seconds before I tore them open with the bad scissors* and tried on the contents. And I realized that I never told you what happened after that. And it’s time.
Both items were unqualified disasters.
Question: Do you ever eat something so good you laugh?
I had strawberry soup in Paris once and it was so remarkable, so stupidly fresh and pretty, the moment I put a spoonful into my mouth, I burst out laughing. This was years ago. I hadn’t ever eaten a dessert like that. The dish — fresh strawberries in simple syrup, with mint, in a shallow bowl — was so surprising in its deliciousness, I just dissolved into laughter. How could something be that good?
When I tried on the Isabel Marant velvet Log Cabin [description mine] coat, I burst out laughing in the same kind of way, but not because it was just that purely good; I laughed with total delight in that it was so very, very bad.
To begin with, the coat was not pieced in any way. The Log Cabin pattern was printed and it was printed on material which was basically luxe polar fleece? Sort of? I’m not sure about the voodoo they-do with digital printing these days with the laser beams and whatnot, but the designers somehow figured out how to print a patchwork-y pattern on foofy, minky-like material and make a coat out of it. This could be a great thing, but the coat that these particular folks made seemed to be inspired by a Hefty 20-gallon garbage bag. I have never tried on a Hefty 20-gallon garbage bag, but I don’t need to. Because I tried on that coat.
I looked like a sad, sad, deranged lady. I looked like someone who … I looked like someone who needed a friend. Badly. So I returned it.
As for the shoes … I have never clad my foot in a more horrifying shoe. I may have screamed when I looked in the mirror. Those horrifying monstrosities got sent back the day they arrived. Truly, I say unto thee there hath never been a more hideous piece of footwear in all the land.
I have a lot to learn. But I know bad fashion when I order it.
*the good scissors are for fabric/thread, OBVIOUSLY
It’s been awhile since I updated you on my future dog. If you don’t know about wee Philip Larkin (aka “Philip Barkin,” aka “Pipkin,” aka “Mary’s Heart’s Delight,” etc.), just click the category over there on the right-hand side of the blog that says “Philip Larkin” and you can see the posts about him.
The good news is that, thanks to all of your incredible internet sleuthing and helpful suggestions about where to get me a Philip, I believe I have found my source. Thank you, thank you to all for your input about breeders vs. shelters; your warnings about puppy mills; your care and concern for animals in this world and your care and concern for me. I am more convicted than ever: Once I am able to provide a stable home for my lil’ pup — after graduation, with a more routine travel schedule — I will put the wheels in motion.
Except that the bad news is something which has not changed since the last time we talked but is now weighing most heavily on my mind: I would have to petition my condo board and management to have Philip in my building. Because dogs are not allowed in this building … Unless.
Unless they are service animals.
Please, please read the rest of the post before commenting. Beware when/if emotions begin to take over, and use your brilliant mind to reason out your thoughts before typing anything. (I have come to expect the best from you.) And I need your help. This post is sort of like the nursing post: I’m really of two minds on all this as it applies to my own life and your input is valued. So bring your values as we look at this hot topic together. And sorry this post is so long, but splitting it into two would be chaos. I need to say the whole thing at once.
If you need filling in, the deal is this:
Service animals — often dogs, but not always — are animals trained to help their owner navigate the world due to that owner being disabled or differently-abled. Service animals can go pretty much anywhere with their owner — including places that usually don’t allow pets, like stores, airplanes, and condominiums — because their owner needs that animal to be in the world. For example, a person who is legally blind may use a seeing-eye dog; a person who needs help reaching things or retrieving things as a result of limited mobility may have a pet who can help with that. Everyone agrees these smart, loving service creatures are superheros.
Some service animals serve owners in a different, official-ish capacity as so-called “emotional support” animals. These service animals are understood to provide relief of the mental and emotional kind for those who care for them. Emotional support animals are needed less when crossing the street, more to quell anxiety attacks; less needed for alerting paramedics to an ostomy, more needed for the crushing depression and grinding loneliness that might come from a medical condition. For example.
And that’s not quack stuff or touchy-feely logic. Anyone who has a pet knows how much emotional support pets provide. And across the board, doctors, therapists, behavioral scientists, caretakers, casual observers, and certainly the owners of animals are all in agreement: Pets help people cope with hard stuff. Whether it’s cancer, HIV/AIDS, depression, PTSD, or the havoc of life, or the stubborn existential crisis, or any number of health disasters that can befall us at any time, having an animal around makes us feel better. A pet is a friend — and we all need a friend, especially when we’re facing hard stuff.
I live alone. I have friends, but I don’t have a partner. Most of the time I’m okay like that, but sometimes I am terribly lonesome. My forever GI situation and day-to-day management of my body is exhausting and if I think about it too long, I get sad, very sad, very sad. Until my insurance got canceled, I saw a therapist every 10 days because like millions of other Americans, I face depression. I can’t afford Dr. Herman right now, so I am not in therapy.
Every time I think even for a second about how happy my little Philip would make me, running toward me when I get home with his little tongue out, well, I just burst into tears. I’m literally crying right now, thinking of his funny face. It happens every time.
I could petition and do the “emotional support animal” thing and likely succeed. I write effective letters. But is it really fair to try and get special treatment to have my dog?
The reason there are no dogs allowed in my building is because dogs are hard on a building. I’m an owner in this condominium. I have agreed to the rules. I want others to play by those rules, too. What if everyone petitioned for a dog? I wouldn’t like that. I’d move, eventually, if the house was a big dog park. So, okay: Maybe if I want a dog so badly, I should be the one who moves to a dog-friendly building, not be the person who inconveniences my neighbors — neighbors who moved into the building possibly because there was a no-dog policy.
A lot of the controversy surrounding emotional support animals centers on people taking their emotional support animals into airports, grocery store lines, Starbucks cafes, into bathrooms — into places that are not for dogs. If the dog is wild, if the dog misbehaves, if the dog acts like a dog at all and not like a stuffed animal, people get understandably upset. And they get way more upset if the person with the wild dog is like, “I need this animal for emotional support” when really, they just didn’t want to board their dog or they really just think they don’t need to obey the rules. There are absolutely those people out there. I read about one man taking a peacock on a plane because he needed it for “emotional support.” Dude, really?
However. We can’t tell who has a disability or not. The woman at the movie theater with her dog on her lap — her dog who is wearing a “I’m an Emotional Support Animal” jacket purchased online for a few dollars — might very well be gaming the system. And she makes it harder for others who really do need emotional support and can find that in a pet that they need close as much as possible. But she also might be dealing with crippling anxiety and agoraphobia and her pup is helping her be in the world. We don’t know who has mental illness most of the time. We don’t know each other’s lives until we do. And when we do, it’s harder to be judgemental.
Two last things:
I’m afraid that if I would try for this special dispensation, I would be lumped in with the people who are gaming the system and that would be embarrassing and unfair. I’m afraid that I would be taking advantage of a system, that I don’t need Philip that badly, that if I got permission and it made people mad, it might make it harder for someone with terminal cancer to get a dog or cat that saves their life every day.
When I told my family that I would have to make Philip a service animal to get permission to have him, I told them about those fears I just mentioned. Mom, Hannah, and Rebecca, almost on cue, looked at me and said, “Um … Mar, you definitely need emotional support. Get … Get the dog.”
On the phone today, speaking with a nice lady about a gig I’m doing in Maryland next week, I had a twinge of sadness that I can’t take on any more road gigs for the foreseeable future. We were going over the lectures I’m doing for the Bayside Quilters in Easton next week, and the lady said:
“We’ve done a lot of publicity already, so we can’t switch the lectures we selected, but I did have someone ask if we could have the AIDS Quilt lecture … Maybe next time!”
When we made the date for my appearance, of course, many months ago, the AIDS Quilt lecture didn’t exist. Now it does, and I very much look forward to the time when I can give it again. I know that lecture will have a long run, but as to when the talk will be presented — and to whom — we shall have to wait and see.
For now, here is the second part of the two-part Quilt Scout column in which I share a bit of what I learned in researching the AIDS Quilt. Make sure you read the first part first and then go on to the second. I hope you’ll feel enriched by the material as I was.
Verily, I say unto thee: I will not go back and edit past entries of the ol’ PG. At all. Ever. Except for glaring typos. And at least not until a Major Publisher wants to publish The PaperGirl Compendium Criterion Collection with an Introduction By Virginia Woolf.
Yes, almost without exception*, PaperGirl readers (a handsomer, delightful readership there never was) do not want me to tinker with the past. And that’s nice to know, partly because there is no time to go back and mess with history, but also because this log has been, for many years, a record of myself. One record, anyway: My diary holds another record; my essays another. My Instagram another. My email “Sent” list another. We all leave records all over the place; I keep a few extra going, just in case.
In the spirit of not monkeying with the past, however painful it might be to read, here are three old entries that I am not even going to glance at before linking you over. I know there are new readers who haven’t gone back and read the entire blog (what, you have better things to do??) so here’s a taste for you:
So, tonight, a question for you: Should I go back and edit old blog posts?
Now — and this is important — should I go back and edit them not because I’m prepping them for publication or because whatever, but should I go back and edit/rewrite because I think they aren’t written as well as I could write them now? Or because they just are weird or there are typos or because the internet is Forever and I want to make myself sound funnier/smarter/wiser forever than I actually was at the time of writing the post?
This is a 21st century problem, y’all.
Because I was going to do a “Pendennis Picks Three” tonight on account of how I’m so tired. I was going to rest on my laurels because I’m on location for Quiltfolk (I can’t tell you where we are for Issue 07 but it’s going to blow your mind) and I need to rest. Badly. But when I pulled up some entries from 2015, 2016, etc., to post as a flashback and thereby not have to make new words, I read them over and was like, “Aggghh! No! I wrote such lame sentences in that post!”
And now here I am, more tired, and writing new content.
Should I just leave old blog entries as time-capsules?? Leave them to represent myself at that time of writing? Or should I do whatever I want with my blog and fix them up how I like them? Or like them now, as opposed to then.
When I am not in my fair city of Chicago and tell someone that I live in the fair city of Chicago, they always say one or more of the following things:
“I love Chicago!”
“Oh, no! But it’s so cold there!”
It’s interesting just how often folks will say the second thing. About the cold. I mean, Chicago is a city recognized for genius architecture, the best restaurants in the nation, a literary history so rich the streets are practically paved with books. But what do people reference?
Sometimes this is tiresome because it’s not that cold in Chicago. I mean, yeah, it’s cold in winter! It’s the Midwest! We’re not on the Equator! We have four, somewhat recognizable seasons! But are we any colder than any other place in the Midwest? I grew up in Iowa and I remember snow drifts that engulfed Mom and Dad’s old Volvo and, I was in junior high, an ice storm that coated the trees so heavily, my sisters and I cowered together in the living room and listened, horrified, as branches all over the neighborhood splintered off their trunks. That was something.
“But the lake!” a person will cry. “Doesn’t the lake make it colder?? And the wind??”
To some extent, yes. “Lake effect” weather is actually a thing: Due to the ocean-sized Lake Michigan that makes our entire eastern border, Chicago gets some funky, quick-change weather, sometimes. And … FACT FLASH! The “wind” in our “Windy City” nickname was not coined as a result of some constant weather condition; in fact, the “wind” referred to the hot air of Chicago politicians, as I understand it.
Anyway, we don’t have that windy a city, however we got the name. I was in downtown Minneapolis a few years ago in February and I remember saying very, very, very bad words into my scarf as I made my way from the parking lot to my hotel, battered by a truly malevolent icy wind.
The past few winters haven’t been that cold around here, so I have felt fussy at times with people who bring up the whole, “Chicago is so cold! It’s so cold in Chicago!” thing.
In the past week or so, it’s barely topped 35 degrees. Y’all, it’s so cold. I forgot my gloves the other day when I headed out to school and I said bad words into my scarf again. It’s cold. Winter is getting a little tiresome and I am feeling the need for a green shoot or bud, somewhere.
Did you miss my lectures at QuiltCon this year? Hey, it’s okay: I was so nervous before both of them, I almost forgot to put on pants.
The first lecture I gave in Pasadena was on the AIDS Quilt. If you did miss it, you’re in luck: I have written a condensed text version of it for Column #61 for the Quilt Scout, the column that I have written for Quilts, Inc. since 1999.
Psyche! I started writing the Scout in 2015. In 1999, I was a silly human sophomore at the University of Iowa, throwing (great) parties and scamming my way through Italian 2 homework while in rehearsal for the theater department’s Playwright’s Festival. Good times, people.
I take my work very seriously, especially when it comes to lectures. I spent hours and hours and hours and days and days in research for both lectures, which means that in the case of the talk I was scheduled to give on the AIDS Quilt, I spent a year reading about the AIDS crisis in America and beyond, the creation and life of the quilt itself, the backlash to the project, and everything else.
Measuring myself against all the other work I have done, I know my AIDS Quilt lecture tied for the Best Lecture I E’er Did Lect. It tied with the second lecture I gave at QuiltCon: “Modern Quilts: Roots + Frontiers.” (I’d ask you to inquire about hiring me to come speak to your group but I am off the road these days, what with all the things going on.)
Please head over to the Quilt Scout to read what I have prepared for you. Learning about the AIDS Quilt will enrich you as a quilter and as a citizen and as a human — and you think you know what you’re going to learn, but you’re not. You’re going to learn other things. Because that is exactly what happened to me. Yep. You and me. We’re the same. We are exactly the same.
Except … that these shoes are going to arrive at my building tomorrow and I think … I think I’m the only one on that one.
Remember this coat that I coveted MOST DEARLY? Well, high fashion is back with a slightly-ugly-but-also-totally-amazing PATCHWORK SHOE. People, it’s Pucci. Pucci! Not Gucci: Pucci. The famed 70s designer who made the flamboyant, wacky, swirly-print scarves and the disco pantsuits? That’s Pucci. Gucci is like, ladies who lunch in the Gold Coast and have three cell phones for reasons no one should probably ask about.
These shoes. I mean, it’s really hard on me, seeing these shoes. Let’s examine pros and cons. Cons first, in hopes I will convince myself not to buy them immediately.
Just … no. The term jolie-laide comes to mind. Jolie-laide is a French term which literally translates to “beautiful-ugly.” These shoes are beautiful-ugly, straight-up.
Even with a 30-percent off code — given to me because I haven’t shopped at the site lately because I am seriously not in a position to shop right now — they are going to cost a cool $240. Which isn’t as much as the velvet Log Cabin coat (on which I realize I need to do a final update.) But still. That’s some bread and even though I have a new job, it’s still part-time. Technically.**
I actually loathe the mule as a shoe style. In fact, I have an unofficial No-Mule Rule. My general position on “high” heels, which I wear almost exclusively, is that as long as the toe isn’t too narrow and the pitch isn’t too dramatic — by “the pitch,” I mean the slope of the shoe’s sole from heel to toe — heels aren’t uncomfortable. I’m not wearing stilettos; I’m wearing pumps, mostly. And these shoes make me feel good, as I mentioned yesterday. But the mule … Yuck. The mule’s pitch is usually very severe and what’s more, the heel is chunky by design. I have narrow ankles but wide, strong, Norwegian milkmaid calves, so a block heel is pretty bad for my stems, you dig? That these shoes are mules is a big con, here.
Oh, good God! There are quilt blocks on these shoes!
I just bought them. I JUST BOUGHT THEM!!! AAAGHHHH! MY ORDER NUMBER IS 2203ZO26F1801H!!!!
I am laughing and laughing right now … Oh, you guys. I clicked on the shoes again so I could describe them for you and meditate on the dumb things and what did it say? What did the little red dot say? “Just 1 Left!” Fie! Fie, you foul demons of online retail! Wretched algorithmic spawns of Satan! I wrend my garments! I wrend my high-fashion garments and I throw my stupid mule shoe at your screen! YOU GOT ME. YOU GOT ME AND MY CREDIT CARD YOU FIENDISH FASHION SUCCUBI! (Succubi? Hm. Spell-check didn’t flag it.)
These shoes are awful. And they’re so great. And there’s free shipping.