Tomorrow, the doctor. Until then, enjoy the above picture from the National Archives of one Miss Elizabeth L. Gardner, WASP (Women’s Airforce Service Pilot) pilot of Rockford, IL, as she “takes a look around before sending her plane streaking down the runway at the air base” at Harlingen Army Air Field, Texas. Photo taken sometime around 1943. Isn’t she something?
And for those who want more, more, more, how about this quote from Rebecca West, which I had tacked up on my bulletin board in Chicago for the better part of two years after ripping it out of my planner from the year that came before that. I think there was one period of time I heeded West’s inferred point (that a life lived pleasurably, even hedonistically, is a solid choice) but I don’t recall people around me liking it very much.
“I take it as a prime cause of the present confusion of society that it is too sickly and too doubtful to use pleasure frankly as a test of value.”
Sometimes, I think I must be out of my mind to do what I do for work these days. I’m on camera a lot and I find it painful to be on camera. Why? Because:
– Whatever you’re wearing, however you style your hair, that version of you is out of date by the time the show airs and forever afterward. You’re like the new car that’s just been driven off the lot — and no one likes a depreciating car.
– I’m not sure the camera adds the proverbial 10lbs or not, but there is most certainly a widening that takes place; an unfortunate spread of oneself onscreen. Is it the worst thing to look a bit more zaftig than you are in person? No. Does it feel unfair when you’ve been working hard to keep fit precisely because you know you’ll be on camera in the near future? Yeah, it does. [Note to self: First time using ‘zaftig’ in blog, possibly first time using it anywhere. Mark in planner.]
– You think you sound one way, but you don’t. You sound that way.
– Editing can delete a multitude of sins, but you can’t edit down to nothing. Thus, the horsey laugh, the bad habit of interrupting, the weird thing you said weirdly — it’s all on tape. Forever.
If you find yourself having to be on camera anytime soon, don’t despair. I have come up with five ways to help you cope with the trauma. Here now:
Mary’s Top 5 Survival Tips For Watching Yourself On Camera
1. Enjoy several alcoholic beverages before you begin. Everyone looks better after a couple drinks, right? This applies to you watching you. If you can get to the point where you start hitting on yourself through the screen, you’re in a great place.
2. Have a friend watch with you. This needs to be a friend who loves you so much she/he can withstand two of you for the duration of the video. Put them in your will if they agree to this.
3. Worried about your hair or clothing choice? Those potential blunders fade quickly when you realize you were younger then than you are now. Instantly wistful and desirous of that outfit, now, aren’t you? Mm-hmmm.
4. Oh, come on. You must’ve said something humorous or intelligent. Find that instance and play it multiple times. Then let the video continue while you go to the bathroom or get more snacks/vodka.
5. Go watch a bunch of Beyonce videos. Isn’t Beyonce amazing? There you go, much better.
Living in New York City, it’s required by law that you have a gig one night a week. It can be anything. Smack fish on your head to Metal Machine Music outside La Mama; present a tinikling showcase in Tompkins Square Park; host a series of one-woman one-act plays on the subway — sky’s the limit. And fear not:if what you do is poorly attended, all the better, as this means you must really want it.
I’m kidding about starting a band or a duo act with Yuri — kinda. I’ve made up songs all my life but, never being formally trained to play an instrument, all songs I’ve “composed” either stayed in my head or died immediately on the mental/vocal vine. My love of writing poems is a result of my love of writing little songs — or the other way around. I like words, so I like to play with them in all kinds of ways. When words have different tones (a.k.a. become songs) well, that’s terrific.
The other night, Yuri and I went to go see a singer at Joe’s Pub. She was wonderful. Floanne was her name; she is French. We went because Yuri was having trouble getting a bike out of the Citibike docking station the day before the show, when a pretty lady approached him and helped him out because that is what happens in New York City constantly, as I have discovered.** The pretty lady was Floanne. She gave him a flyer after helping him with the bike. “Eets a good show for a date,” Floanne said with a wink. Yuri brought the flyer home and said, “Baby, I’ma take you out tomorrow night!” And sure enough, he did. Boy, did we have fun. And there was a big screen onstage for live tweeting during Floanne’s show and I tweeted that we were there because of the bike assistance incident. Floanne is now following me on Twitter.
Where was I?
Oh, right: Yuri and my plot to become the next Carly Simon/James Taylor musical power couple.
The first song on the album is going to be my song about Shipshewana. When I was there last month for the big quilt festival, I drove in from Chicago. As I got deeper and deeper into Amish country, I got more and more inspired. The fields were verdant! The sky was blue. And I had been told by someone that the county is a dry one, which means you can’t buy or sell alcohol. Like, maybe at all? I’ll have to check on that one. It didn’t bother me much: I didn’t have plans to do any drinkin’, but I started singing this song about Shipshewana, a kind of ode, but real Judy Garland-y, and it went like this:
“The cows are lowing/the traffic is slowing,
The buggies are all on the shoulder!
There’s lemonade to be had/and that ain’t so bad
But it’s Saturday night/alright, alright,
And whatchoo gonna do?
So.. Whatcha’wanna do/Shipshewana, you
Whatcha’wanna do, tonight?
Caaaaaaaan’t even dance
So whatcha’wanna do…tonight.”
It’s a real sweet-sounding song, so please don’t read those lyrics and think I’m dogging on Shipshewana. I love it there. It’s just a song about not doing all the things that most of the rest of the state of Indiana is probably doing on a Saturday night. It’s really fun to say the word “Shipshewana” and it’s even more fun to sing it and rhyme it with “whatcha’wanna.”
Now if only we had enough money to buy Yuri a baby grand and a whole other apartment to put it in.
**It’s not that pretty French singers constantly come to your aid in New York — it’s people in general who do. You’ll have to go to Paris for more pretty singers per block…maybe.
The webinar series I have begun is proving to be as educational and groovy as I thought it might be. The next installment is next week, Wednesday, July 24th. The time of the show changed from the afternoon slot we had last time to accommodate those who wanted an evening time slot this time. At 8pm EST tomorrow night, it’s showtime. (Is that prime time?? I think it is! Very exciting.) As always, you don’t have to watch the thing live; you can download it whenever you please and watch it whenever you please.
Next week in the Color Me Quilter webinar series, I will examine pink in American quilts and help you use pink in your own quilts. We’ll talk about cool toned pinks (“bubblegum” pinks popular in the early 20th century) vs. warmer toned ones (“double pink,” a.k.a. “cinnamon pink” all the rage during the Civil War) and we’ll look at the pink stars of the quilt shows — think Rose of Sharon quilts, charm quilts, and countless baby quilts, of course. Goo-goo, ga-ga.
As for me, well, I adore pink. Slavishly devoted. If stopped on the street and asked what my favorite color is, I would have to say red, “in small doses.” But doesn’t that mean pink is, by default, second in command? And if I prefer red, meted out, might I accept pink in waves? Why, yes. Yes, I would. Do. Give it to me.
The calmness of pink. Its wink. The quiet power of pink and its allies — for you don’t put garish bright yellow with pink, or a crazy Kelly green, not if you’re wise. Pink needs gentleness around it; all goofiness must go. So pink attracts like minds. And I like pink’s mind.
Join me for Color Me Quilter. Wednesday next week. Let’s spend time together and geek out about our quilts. Let’s get inspired by the color cool enough to not even want to be red.
Though I’ve had to take a wee break, I am still working toward my Master’s degree. My advisors have informed me that Columbia is the place to continue the MLA I began at the University of Chicago; if I can get in, stay put for long enough to do the work and not get sick for any length of time, why, I might just be able to get that ol’ girl done. I have a ways to go but I also will probably not die anytime soon. I’m saying there’s time.
I’m not wasting precious reading hours while I get my ducks lined up, though; there’s thesis research to be done and I’m doing it. I know what I want my thesis to be about after taking several workshops about putting together a thesis: I want write about diarists. Being one, and being a fan of them and (by and large) the diaries they write, I suspect I’ll be endlessly fascinated. As I think more and more about tackling a thesis in my life and as I read more and more, the actual intent and focus of the thesis will be revealed and who knows? Maybe I’ll actually discover or contribute something to a body of study that is pretty robust already. For now, I’m just reading diaries and biographies of diarists and books about the diary’s role in Western literature and that’s my school right now.
And in my para-research (doesn’t that sound fancy) I have discovered a wonderful poet that I hadn’t known about before: William Soutar. English majors may groan and shake their heads that this person was unknown to me, but cut me some slack: I studied theater in undergrad. Can you quote a line from Major Barbara? Ah-ha! Didn’t think so. (Note to self: Look up pithy line from Major Barbara.)
William Soutar was a Scottish poet and writer who had a rather tragic life. Born in 1898, he contracted a virus when he was in his twenties and this went untreated. By the time he was thirty-two, he was bedridden, quite ill, and essentially paralyzed. He spent fourteen years in bed and died when he was just forty-five.
But he was an incredible poet and writer and refused to let his ill-health take his brain or his passion as his body lay so feeble. He read and read and wrote and wrote and had all kinds of things published. It was said that his bedroom was one of the centers of the 20th Century Scottish Literary Renaissance, due to all his work and all the heavyweight writers that came to hang out with him.
He wrote wonderful poems for children (“the bairnrhymes”) but is maybe best known over here in America for his Diaries of a Dying Man. The diaries he kept for so many years are all in a book that you can buy (because the world is amazing) and just this very morning I wept reading a certain entry. It is such beautiful writing. Soutar was human and he has his moments of despair and frustration and angst, but by and large, he’s just crazy lion-hearted and awesome and so freaking smart that you ache for his situation while you marvel at his talent. Yes, I am slightly in love with William Soutar (no, Yuri does not feel terribly threatened.)
Here, to whet your appetite, two passages from Diaries of a Dying Man, by William Soutar. The first one is the one that made me cry a little this morning over my tea. The second is a favorite so far.
“I wonder if fit mortals realise that infirmity makes the most ordinary actions wonderful. A person, like myself, set aside from the thoroughfare of life can often look on life’s manifestation with a detachment denied the protagonist in the market-place. Common acts become isolated from particular times and places and grow, by recollection, into moments of beauty loved in themselves without desire or regret. Thus everyday phrases can bring to such a watcher a rounded image of loveliness mysteriously coloured by the consciousness that he himself can no longer enact them; phrases such as ‘he lifted a stone’, ‘he stood by the sea’, ‘he walked into the wood’.”
“For some weeks past I have found myself, from time to time, putting out an imaginary hand as if to touch the earth in a comprehensive gesture of love — but I do not deceive myself by these vague stirrings of affection : it is so easy to love a ‘thing’ : one must learn to love people first.”
The toughest thing about being in a new place is the lack of perspective.
I live in New York City and I have no perspective on this experience yet and won’t have it for some time, because that’s how perspective works.
I look back on my twelve-plus years in Chicago, I see eras. There were the First Years, the rough ones, with their questionable choices and misbehaviors (all with the best of intentions, of course.) Those years contained the Poetry Years, thank goodness, or I might not’ve survived at all. That era, with all its earnest youthful disregard gave way to a better time: the Affianced Years. That was pleasant. I had found someone I cared for deeply and was enough of an adult to pair up in a real way. My foolish choices were slashed down to (almost) nil. And I wasn’t a waitress anymore. Right before the Affianced Years began, I began to be able to make my living as a full-time writer-performer and I clung desperately to that fact. The proclamation was (and has remained) a cornerstone of my entire identity. It probably matters too much, but for me, I can’t do it any other way.
The Marriage Years immediately followed the Affianced ones (they’ll do that) and they overlapped entirely with the era known as When I Was Sick. (I was diagnosed less than a month after I walked down the aisle; surgery was a month later — to the day? — of my wedding.) But inside those years were the Best Theater Years I ever had, making art with the Neo-Futurists.
And then The Divorce. And then Downtown Me. And then I left.
Anyway, all this is to paint — mostly for myself, I have to admit — the picture of what happened back in Illinois. Broad strokes, yes, but it’s chronologically correct.
I’m in the First Years again.
And it’s great here, and I’m not the twenty-one-year-old girl (good grief!) that I was when I had my first round of First Years, but I know full well that I have a whole lot of perspective to make. I will get lost a dozen times. I will be mistaken about the character of this or that person. I will embarrass myself. I will not find my favorite shops for at least 6-12 months. There’s no way I can learn the shortcuts: I don’t even know the longcuts.
I’m not exactly bummed, but tonight, I know too much about not knowing anything at all.
Add some fabric, some friends, and some patterns to work with, and that’s a lil’ picture of heaven, muchachos.
Next week, I’ll be leading a “Patchworkshop” at NYC’s fabulous, adorable, info-rich Sewing Studio. I’m kinda pinching myself, honestly. Teaching people to quilt in New York City?? Whose life is this?! I feel very grateful. I’m working on all my packets of info, I’ve got a friend at Dear Stella who is making some goodie bags. I’ve got quilts to share. I can’t wait to meet my students.
There are still a couple slots left in the July week-long class; same for the August class but you should not tarry. Here are the deets:
Master Series: “Patchworkshop” with Mary Fons July 21st-25th (Monday to Friday), 6:30pm-9:00pm; or August 18th-22nd (Monday to Friday), 6:30-9:00pm
“No matter how cool our gadgets are, no matter how fast we can pin images and send files, human beings still want and need handmade quilts. If you’ve ever wanted to make one, this class is for you. Primarily, we’ll focus on what comes first in any quilt: making the patchwork top (you will get some quilting instruction.) You’ll learn “the patchwork quartet” (cutting, sewing, pressing, and ripping); you’ll learn how to properly rotary cut fabric; you’ll get tons of pointers on fabric selection; you’ll construct blocks to either finish or get a beautiful, running start to your very first quilt. (You’ll get lots of quilt history, too, and tons of tips from the pros.) Come learn how to make patchwork — and probably change your life while you’re at it.”
About the instructor: Mary Fons, aside from being an avid quilter, national teacher, on-camera host, author, and magazine editor, is a self-proclaimed “beginner quilter’s BFF” and will never make you feel foolish for not knowing how. Mary is a celebrated quilter and TV host, and the founder of Quilty, a weekly online program for the beginner quilter. For more about Mary, visit MaryFons.com.
Course outline: Full course details will be posted the week of July 14.
Class limit: 10 students Cost per student: $650 Materials: Bring basic sewing supplies plus a selection of fat quarters: 4-6 light, 4-6 medium, and 4-6 dark. (Bring more if you want!)
It all begins at about 6am. It’s gone this way for years, now, with few variations.
1. Wake. Blink. Consider previous day: Was exercise executed? Were healthful comestibles consumed in sane quantities? Was enough work done to avoid panic immediately upon the opening of the eyes? If the answer is “yes” to at least 2 out of 3 of these status questions, optimism is available.
2. Look left. Consider sleeping man. Kiss sleeping man’s shoulder. Sigh with contentment.
3. Rise. Pad into kitchen. Fill kettle. Put kettle on stove. Activate burner.
4. Enter bathroom. Perform noncommittal morning ablutions. Mostly just look in mirror and make faces. Consider birthday next month.
5. Cross back through kitchen. Eye kettle. Prepare tea tray with honey, milk, spoon, mug Rebecca made for me in her pottery class that I love more than life itself, cloth napkin, French press with tea in it. Consider a) cutting back on the tea; b) loving the mug slightly less because it’s a mug for heaven’s sake.
6. Feel generally anxious about day.
7. While waiting for water to boil, flop on couch and pick up something to read. Read a little bit of it before the kettle whistles.
8. Bolt up, leap in three bounds to the kettle to flip the lid so it doesn’t wake Yuri. Pour water into French press. Take tea tray into living room. Set on coffee table. Consider the hurt feelings of the tea tray: coffee gets a whole table.
9. Drink tea and write or read for a good hour. Toward the end of the hour, feel more anxious about day but internally struggle with need to have a few more minutes. Consider taking a short, post-tea nap with sleeping man.
A poet friend of mine in Chicago used to do a piece about his heritage. Rather than examine his family tree, he focused on behaviors he had picked up over the years and memes that had stuck. His “heritage” was more about the people he knew or had known, rather than dead people he had never met. A certain expression he used came from his dad, for example, and years back he had consciously adopted specific laugh from a kid in school he thought was really cool.
I always liked that piece because it hit on something so true: we are the people we know. We know the things we know and care about the things we care about because of what we pick up from others that we feel looks good on us or works well. It can be a laugh or a political view. A gait. A preference. An entire life path.
There is perhaps no faster meme generator than The New Relationship. Yuri and I are swapping behaviors and ideas and memes right and left. I see it, I feel it; he sees it, he feels it. It’s great fun. (Think of the inside jokes you have with a loved one. That’s meme-swapping.)
Here’s a great example of what I mean by all this:
Yuri has shown me that I never need to buy deodorant ever again.
Yuri smells good. And so do I. Neither he nor I are advocating going au natural, here. What he has shown me is that baking soda — pure, straight up sodium bicarbonate — is the best deodorant money can buy. After your shower, you put a little in your paw, maybe with a little water so’s that it’ll stick, and you apply it in those cute armpits of yours and you will not smell. You will stay dry and fresh and you will not have purchased a cake of deodorant at the store that a) smells weird and b) costs a lot and c) has plastic all over it and maybe aluminum or weird stuff inside of it. I’m telling you: baking soda works. It works better than any deodorant I’ve ever tried. I’ve been using it for months, now, and it has not failed me.
The natural deodorants you buy at the store that use baking soda? Pffft! Skip ’em. Not only do those very expensive “all-natural” deodorants not work, they’re just puttin’ lipstick on a pig! (I don’t know if that’s exactly what they’re doing but I have been wanting to use that expression for several days.) Listen to me: you do not need to buy any of these products ever again.
Put. Baking soda. In. Your armpits. Put it in your armpits!!
I’m all worked up. But it’s just that wonderful. Think about the money a person could save over the course of a lifetime because of this tip! If you switch to baking soda, why, together we could save millions! At least a few thousand. That could go to a lot better things, that dough. I don’t know what.
And so it happened that I became a woman who has baking soda in her medicine cabinet. If anyone ever asks me about it, I will say, “Oh, yeah. It’s the best deodorant you can use. Just plain baking soda. I learned that from Yuri.”
Is Hollywood destroying humanity or am I just no fun?
A couple months ago, my internal struggle was refreshed with the blood of Godzilla, which remains the last movie I saw, in the theater or otherwise.
Yuri and I had a night off, and I was actually the one who suggested we go. I’ve been to the movie theater maybe five times in two years. I completely get that many folks love movies — my sister and her fiance work in the industry and I have tremendous respect for them, their art, and their specific path — but feature films just aren’t my jam. I don’t see a lot of movies like I don’t read a lot of fiction. I’m a documentary-lovin’, non-fiction readin’ real-time junkie. I feel manipulated by film, I guess, and not in a good way. Still, every once in awhile, there’s a film that looks like such pure spectacle, such pure, 21st century American entertainment, I gotta do it. It’s like eating a Cinnabon or a Auntie Anne’s pretzel once every couple of years: indulging feels very wrong/momentarily good. The 2014 remake of Godzilla looked cool from the previews my sister Nan played for me; the monster was so big! The cities were so small!
“Yuri, let’s go see Godzilla.”
We got our tickets and sat down with cups of tea and smuggled chocolate, fully prepared to be entertained. I had an open mind. I really wanted to have fun.
But I didn’t have fun. Because Hollywood sucks. Hollywood creates a facsimile of life for scores of people whose general well-being I care about. Hollywood cheapens the human experience. At its best, Hollywood inspires great floods of emotion that can be cathartic. But at its worst, Hollywood movies are irreverent, disrespectful, and hypnotic. And false. And confusing. And they are all expensive.
My main trouble wasn’t with Godzilla. It was not a great movie, but that’s okay. I was more troubled by the previews, the first one for a Scarlett Johannsen film coming out soon called Lucy. In the preview, we see a clip of Johannsen enduring forced abdominal surgery. The bad guys open her belly and insert something inside of her that she must transport against her will, the thing now being inside her and all. I’ve had multiple abdominal surgeries that might as well have been forced — if I didn’t have them, I’d have died so the choice was nil — and take it from me: There is nothing entertaining about being filleted. The reality of that sucks so much. I realize I have personal experience that most folks do not regarding this plot development in Lucy and clearly, I am going to be more sensitive to seeing such an experience portrayed fictionally, but like…can’t you pretend about something else? There’s so much to choose from.
Like…war. After Lucy, there were several previews for war movies where people were getting creamed right and left. Legs were getting blown off. Men were screaming, men were crying. After that, a preview for Non-Stop, which is about an airplane hijacking. Jet black guns, exploding pieces of airplane, crying women with hysterical, terrorized babies, a rugged Liam Neeson flinging himself backward down the aisle, shooting multiple rounds.
Am I missing something? Why is this entertaining? I’m not being rhetorical. I don’t understand. Surgical procedures, wars, gunfire, terrorist plots on planes, and death are things that create suffering. They are realities of life that require seas of compassion and support to endure and process. It’s not funny to see someone get shot to death on a plane flying at 35,000 feet. It’s terrifying. It should be terrifying. I beg someone to explain to me why people spend millions of dollars to create fictional suffering to last on film forever for people to watch in theaters while they sit eating snacks. Escapism? But how?
Maybe I’m just no fun.
That’s entirely possible! I do feel like I have blind spot, that there’s a “Kick Me” sign on my back and I’m just being snippy and snobby and old and lame. Everyone goes to the movies, right? Folks have preferences, too, and discernment. I shouldn’t say “Hollywood is this” because Hollywood is a lot of things and people and there’s good art that comes out of the place, I realize. But just when I was thinking, “Mary, chill. There is more to the movies than the crassness of Non-Stop,” the last preview presented itself. It was for a movie called The Other Woman, in which three hot blondes are real ornery about a man and exact their revenge on him for his misdeeds. There were boobs everywhere. And toilet humor, which is always better/grosser when there are girls involved, I suppose.
It’s just all so hostile. To be sure, there is great cinema in the world, but this is the stuff the general public is eating, the movies that are “in theaters everywhere starting Friday.” Mere blocks from where I sit, there are art house cinemas and legendary film centers that show incredible stories put to film. But people go see the Godzillas and The Other Womanses in Des Moines because that’s what’s playing there. I grew up not far from Des Moines, so I know. If you don’t have options, how can you discern?
No one should be stopped from making whatever sort of movie they want to make. Advocating for censorship will never be on my list of things to do, as much as I dislike these kinds of movies. I’ll just stay home.
(On my list of things to do, “Take on Hollywood” was also not there. Oh well.)
Whatever you’ve heard about New Yorkers not being nice, or that they are flat out rude, that is not correct information. Let me share three things that happened in the course of a single day here in the Great Big City:
1. The Scruffy Kids at the Resale Shop Welcomed Me To the Neighborhood
After fully unpacking and settling in, there were a few items of clothing that would not fit in this small apartment’s closets. We actually have kind of a lot of closet space, which is nothing short of luxurious, I know. Still, that weird, never-worn, neon-jacquard-leopard print blazer that sorta fit but not that well? That had to go, along with a couple pairs of shorts and a few dresses that never really worked too well. Off I went to a nearby resale shop, and I engaged with the scruffy kids behind the counter. Well! We had a blast! There was this crazy rapport right off the bat for some reason: I said something funny, they said something funny, and I’m selling my clothes and we’re talking about NYC vs. Chicago and it was just this delightful experience. When I left, we were all on a first-name basis. As I went out the door, the guy with the lip ring said, “Hey, welcome to the ‘hood!” And I was like, “Rock on!!”
2. The Lady Who Held the Door For Me When I Had a Big Box There was a box. I had to go pick it up. It was huge and heavy — very huge and very heavy. There is a gate to our building. It is a heavy gate with a weird button lock that never works except on the third try. So there I am, balancing this big box, trying to get the code right and I finally do, but then I have real problems. Because I have to hold the box and open the door and get down the stairs. Well! Along comes this older lady and just comes right up and puts her friendly hand on the door to hold it for me and like we’d known each other for years, she goes, “There better be something prreeeeeetty good in that big heavy box!” and I’m like, “It’s quilts!” and she goes, “Well, that’s pretty good!” and I’m like, “Yeah!!” And that was that. (Well, then I took it up three flights of stairs and then that was that.)
3. The Fashion Designer Who Is Giving Me Fabric Okay, so there’s this fashion designer. I met her when I was in NYC in 2008 for a month, doing the show here with the Neo-Futurists. I was at yoga, and this glamorous girl comes into the studio wearing this stunning cloak. I’m like, “That is a stunning cloak!” and she says, “I made it.” And she told me her name and I went to her website and she was a small operation but her cloak was still too much money for me to buy one. Well! Over the years, do you know what happened? That fashion designer has really gotten to be a big deal! I have seen her name in fashion magazines — big ones, like Elle and stuff! So the other day, I’m walking around the Lower East Side, slightly lost, and I see that this designer has her own storefront. I go in. She’s there. I’m like, “You do NOT remember me, no way, no possibility, but I did meet you and this was years ago and I just wanted to tell you congrats because I’ve seen you sorta rise through the thing, and I am a big fan!” We get to talking and do you know what happened next? She says, “It’s so cool you’re a quilter,” because I told her I’m a quilter, “And I wonder if you’d like these Pendleton wool scraps we have in the back. We were going to make makeup cases from them but it didn’t work out and I wonder if you’d want them.” So I signed a copy of my book and I’m going to take it over there tomorrow and pick up these big bags of wool — Pendletonwool — scraps!
I’m all up in my Bikram yoga now that I’m mostly settled, practicing with regularity at the small-but-mighty Bikram studio on the Lower East Side. What this means is that numerous times a week — every day if I have my way — I am packed like a sardine in a can of sardines, if sardines were naked and sweaty and practicing yoga on the Lower East Side. You know, sardines could aptly be described as both naked and sweaty; alas, being dead fish, they do not practice yoga, so my little simile must only go some of the distance for us.
When I say I’m naked and sweaty and Sardinian (?), I’m talking about my state post yoga class. During the yoga, we students wear clothes* in the hot room. (For the uninitiated: Bikram yoga is a 90-minute yoga series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises practiced in a room heated to 105-degrees. And yes, you pay for this on purpose.) After class, when the very will to live has been nearly wrung out of us and we drag our taut, glowy, and utterly eviscerated carcasses out of there, that’s when it gets real.
There is no space in Manhattan. None to spare. The women’s locker/shower/changing room in the yoga studio is maybe…500 feet square? It’s small. You’ve got a bank of lockers, two shower stalls, one bathroom, and a lot of sweaty, naked women attempting to change out of sopping wet yoga togs into normal street clothes, which is tough because a) there is nowhere to bend over to get your wet leg into your jeans and b) getting a wet leg into jeans in any room is like trying to give a sick cat ear infection medicine: extremely, extremely difficult and exasperating. You want someone else to do it for you really, really bad. But no one ever will. It’s your cat. It’s your leg.
I have bumped a bare bottom with my own bare bottom. Oh, it’s true! I’ve turned my head just as a gal was exiting the shower stall and whammo! the lass’s entire self, just hey-how-are-ya, right there in my letterbox. I’m pretty cool with bodies, so none of this exactly bothers me unless I think about the fact that we are all animals, because then I think about chicken coops and pig pens and cattle shoots and that’s bad. All those animals are naked, too, so I’ll be trying to pull denim up over a wet booty (mine) and suddenly I’m having the sixth existential crisis of the day — and I usually take the noon class!
The worst, though, is when there’s zydeco music playing.
The studio is great in the way they just hit “play” on some endless music mix in the sky/on the web and you never know what you’ll get. Sometimes, you’re headed into the hot room to the dulcet tones of jock rock; sometimes you get wailing house divas. Sometimes it’s all spa music in the changing room; other times you get hip-hop. I love the variety. But once, when the class that had just been tortured was changing to leave and the next class was arriving to go into the heat, when everyone was hopping around on one foot, boobies out, sweat flinging this way and that, effing zydecomusic came through the speakers and I thought I might die of shame. Surely, someone, somewhere (God?) was laughing hysterically at all this. It would be impossible to come up with a soundtrack less becoming to a roomful of naked, hopping women.
That day, I ran.
*”Clothes” is mostly right. You wears small slingshots of fabric to cover the bits and that goes for the men and the women alike. This state of underdress makes for excellent scenery or not-so-excellent scenery, depending on where you’re standing and what you’re into.
I bought some Breyer’s over the weekend, thinking I was buying ice cream. If you have considered yourself a fan of Breyer’s ice cream but haven’t had any in the past year, I hope you’re sitting down:
Breyer’s ice cream is extremely dead. Long live Breyer’s ice cream.
I don’t get too worked up when a consumer product I like goes away. It’s a product, after all, and there are so many of those. A lipstick shade, a floor wax, a car’s make or model — “nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.”* One must always look on the bright side: you might discover the new shade, the new wax, the new version of the old car is way better. Consider the postage stamp. The sticker-version replaced the older, wetter, “lick me” kind and I think we can all agree life is much better, now
This is not the case with the “new” Breyer’s. A little over a year ago, so I’ve learned, they changed their recipe. The milk, cream, fruit, salt, and dash of guar gum (or whatever) that used to make up their delicious ice cream is long gone. In the place of those sugary and fattening — but recognizable — ingredients, on the back of the Butter Pecan container I found the ingredients to be:
Whatever those ingredients in those amount make, it was inedible. I opened the little pint and started to dig in but something was way wrong. Why did it taste…whipped? What was the weird foam-like quality? I looked at the container and spied the truth: I had purchased a “frozen dairy dessert.” Breyer’s is no longer ice cream and I have no qualms about advising you to avoid this brand like the plague. I actually threw it away and I really, really like frozen things that have sugar in them, so that’s saying something. Besides, “Palmitate” sounds like “palpate” and I don’t want that word near my dessert, whatever it’s made of.
At my friend Sarah’s house growing up, there was a candy drawer. And an entire, unlocked drawer that was perpetually stocked with candy was the most astonishing and marvelous thing I had ever considered. There were SweetTarts in there, mini-Hershey’s, Bazooka Joe, lollipops; this was no elderly auntie’s candy dish that might contain a half-pack of Trident or a handful of ancient fireballs. This was a good drawer. Incredibly enough, the kids in that house never really cared that much about it (at least, not as much as I did) precisely because it wasn’t that big of a deal. “Oh, right,” they’d reply, bored in response to my excited inquiries every time I was over, “the candy drawer. Let’s go outside.”
In my family, our treat was ice cream and we usually had some in-house. Maybe Sarah and her siblings were as impressed/enthralled by our freezer as I was about their candy store, I’m not sure. But even if we didn’t view ice cream as being like, a huge wow, there was a hierarchy, an A-list, B-list, and C-list of ice creams and we knew what was what: Blue Bunny was standard, not that great, but better than nothing. Orange Sherbet? Meh, but I’ll have some. We’d dish it up out of a big plastic bucket and eat it while watching Tiny Toons. Then there was the better stuff, which was probably a gallon of Mint Chip or Peppermint Stick — Anderson Erickson, most likely, a Midwest dairy brand.
But Breyer’s, man! Breyer’s was like, Mom’s favorite. It was more expensive. The carton was fancy. It had black on the packaging! How cool was that?? And the vanilla bean flecks? It was from another planet, that ice cream, and it tasted so amazing. I’d go so far as to say that I first understood vanilla, like as a concept and flavor, when I had a spoonful of Breyer’s Real Vanilla Ice Cream in my mouth the first time.
I’m reading Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat: How The Food Giants Hooked Us, which won the Pulitzer and is sickening. The big companies that own the big brands, they will do anything to make a product cheaper, faster, and more efficient for them in terms of ingredients and resources. It’s bad. It’s bad like “frozen dairy dessert” bad. It’s inedible.
This summer, I’m going to buy ice cream that is made locally. There are a lot of places I can do that in New York City. It’s just something on my list.
*Why, yes that is a Kansas reference to “Dust In The Wind.”
In observance of Independence Day, I will share a poem written by Benjamin Franklin. Of all the founding fathers, I know the least about him. I did know he wrote poems, though, and so I found and read a few of them today.
Epitaph In Bookish Style
by Benjamin Franklin
The Body of Benjamin Franklin (Printer) (Like the cover of an old book Its contents torn out And stript of its lettering and gilding) Lies here, food for worms. But the work shall not be lost For it will (as he believed) appear once more In a new and more elegant edition Revised and corrected by The Author.
Happy Birthday, America. Please, please do not blow your — or anyone else’s — face off with a firecracker.
I love planes so much, I’d marry them. I’d marry planes and have plane babies. And those babieswould play with toy planes on planes. And they would be very well behaved, my children.
I like airports too, quite a lot. As a rule, I arrive at least two hours early to any flight I take just so that I can walk through the terminal a bit then find my gate and plop down to work. I get more done in airports than anywhere else. I’d wager there’s 15% increase in my overall productivity and a 10% spike in creativity. If I knew how to merge those numbers to yield some kind of work-probability number I could stick into a P&L, well, I wouldn’t be a content creator, I’d be doing something else and probably be flying first-class.*
People move through space in airports with a plan and a purpose and that is a comfort to me. I like the scale of airports, even the small ones. I like that I can buy stamps, newspapers, and hot coffee every fifteen feet; I like how airports are basically vast, continuous newsstands where planes drop down and scoop you up and deposit you someplace else.
It’s lucky I feel this kind of way, since I seem to be traveling by plane every other week right now. Maybe it’s because I fly so much that I’ve come to love planes and airports like I do; maybe it’s just the familiarity. After all, I have my rituals, like anyone else who travels all the time for work; everyone loves their rituals, travel or otherwise. (A few of mine: if I’m on a flight out of Midway before 10am I go see my friend Sam at Potbelly’s, who never charges me for extra cheese; I always bring my journal, a book, and and eyemask; I know where the secret bathroom is at LaGuardia; I visit the USO and donate money wherever there’s a USO and I have enough time. Stuff like that.)
I hear air travel used to be sort of glamorous, but I don’t know anything about that. I book my own flights. I schlep my own stuff. From time to (glorious) time there will be a car service waiting to pick me up and my name will be one of the names on signs when I come down the escalator, but that’s atypical. Usually, it’s a solo walk to a taxi line. Indeed, loving airports is loving them alone most of the time and in spite of the hiccups and the headaches that will forever occur.
But we can fly. And that’s the real reason I’ll always love being there.
Human beings can fly through the air. Airplanes, and the airports that facilitate their operation, are human ingenuity and effort, materialized. There were so many failures. It took so long. The Wright brothers were just one part of a really, really long process of creating viable air transportation — a process that has probably only begun, in the grand scheme of things. And to coordinate the hundreds of thousands of people who fly every day, to get their bodies and their belongings safely from one end of the earth to the other — it can’t possibly ever work. Of course it fails, sometimes, but more often, the system does not fail. And I love humans for that. I love what we make and that we know we need to make it better, now, so that air travel is gentler on the earth. (I don’t have a car, by the way, or a kid, or a TV, so I feel like I kind of offset my footprint in those ways.)
I love planes and airports so much, I would tattoo a plane on my body. Hypothetically.
*I am A-List on Southwest at this point! Glamour for days!!
I had lunch with a born-and-raised, lifelong New Yorker yesterday. He asked me how I was getting along.
“You seem a little ambivalent in your blog,” he said. “I can’t tell if you’re warming to the city or not.”
We were eating sushi in a restaurant only a local would know about, one of the best sushi bars in Manhattan, as it turns out, tucked away deep in Soho. There might have been a sign on the heavy wooden door, but I didn’t see one when I pushed it open.
“Oh, I’m great! It’s great!” I chirped. “I love it here!” That’s the truth, too. In no way has my New York City life truly begun yet, but the hunk of molded clay has at least been dropped onto the wheel. It will begin to take shape, if you’ll tolerate me extending that lame clay metaphor.
But then my lunch date spooked me a little.
“But how are you doing really?” he asked, eyeing me as I put more edamame into my face. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe me when I said I was doing well, he just knew he was asking a serious question that deserved a thoughtful response.
“The pace of this place,” he said, “is not for everyone.”
Correct. I’ve known New York City to stomp, chomp, and otherwise flatten people. It does happen, absolutely, every day I’m sure, and even though there are plenty of folks who lament the glossification of New York, who say the city is a soulless shell of what it used to be, all Carrie Bradshaw and no Joe Strummer, those people probably didn’t grow up in rural Iowa like I did. Please. New York is still a killer whale. Have some imagination.
I chewed. I considered. Okay, how am I really doing? Because there are a thousand thoughts a day that pass through my brain and right now, directly related to moving here or not, all those thoughts are tagged “New York City.”
“There are moments when I feel overwhelmed,” I said, and a mini-monologue suddenly poured out, because one had been waiting, apparently.
“It’s like… So you’re on a street corner here, waiting for the light. And you look over and you see the most beautiful girl you have ever seen in your life. Right there, a supermodel, maybe the supermodel of the moment that you just saw on the cover of a magazine. And then the light changes and you’re crossing the street and you see the craziest person you have ever seen in your life. Like, in a wig, with a parakeet or something, screaming into a transistor radio. Then, an old Chinese man zips past on a bike and you smell his tobacco and it’s this wild smell, totally from another world. Then a black, mirrored car snakes through the street and you wonder, who’s in there? Jay-Z? A congressman? The Shah of Iran? Maybe all of them?
And in those moments, you realize the layers of existence here. It’s like shale. And all these people, they all have their own realities, they all have their own days, their own New York City. And the truth of that can feel like a comfort, because everyone is just like you, or you can lose your mind, because that’s too much input, too much to think about and still remember to blink.”
This answer seemed to satisfy my lunch date. That I could identify the complexity and consider it, that is maybe proof that I’m keeping my head above water. And maybe proof that I have a chance to thrive, too. We’ll see.
It wasn’t many moons ago, but like, a handful of moons ago, that a person said to me, “Oh, sure, Mary, you have time to blog but not time to [ACTION.]” He wanted something from me, see, and felt my lack of attention to the matter was inexcusable in light of the fact that I had posted blog entries throughout the week. If I had time to write about meeting Tim Gunn, well, clearly I had loads of time.
This person happened to be miserable that day for reasons that had nothing to do with me, so I coughed loudly and made the conversation stop in as loving a manner as I could. When I lay down at the end of the night, though, my jaw was still clenched.
I don’t get furious often. I’m not saying it never happens — if you care about stuff, you’re bound to holler at some point — but I know the Wrathful Buddha is not a good look for me. Besides, most of the time I’m too bewildered by everything to be angry. I’ve been wrong so many times in my life, even as it’s happening, furious feels like something I’m going to regret later. I’ve also spent time around a few perpetually angry people over the years. Those people are not good role models. Don’t get mad, get perspective.
Fury became me, though, when the thought was floated that my blog should take dead last in the race to Get Everything Done And Done Well. When it has to, and sometimes it has to, PaperGirl warms the bench. Contracts are contracts, contracts have deadlines that must be at least broadly observed, and I need to eat. (At present, PaperGirl does not put food on the table; strange, as it is arguably my most valuable asset.) But having a meaningful life means more than being a good soldier.
This frustrating conversation from several months ago came up again because I felt the same sentiment was dangerously close to being on the lips of someone else the other day. The “Well, you have time to blog” argument was almost launched. When it wasn’t, I was relieved. I didn’t feel like getting furious; I had just combed my hair.
I will always prioritize writing. Always. If I’m not writing here, I’m in my journals. If I’m not in my journals, I’m reading, the other half of writing. There’s time every day for one part of this endless, bizarre, oft-fruitless, occasionally ecstatic process of mine and I refuse to be told there isn’t. I can’t help it. I actually can’t. Without the writing thing in my life, I feel nothing short of impoverished. And when I feel like that, well, no one gets anything at all — not on time, not late, not anything.
Do I sound defensive? I am. I am defending myself. I’m like, at the castle, shooting arrows from the parapet. The big cauldrons of treacle come next. Stand back or be liquified.
Every so often, my eyeballs pop open when my head is on the pillow: am I missing everything good? Did I wind up in the circus when I’m supposed to be on the farm? Is there still time to chuck everything and sink the rest of my days into writing, just writing? But what a question. Who do I think I am? Am I a victim of circumstance? Which set of circumstances? Both my parents are aspiring novelists, you know: my beloved mother is actively writing her commercially-viable first novel; my estranged father is likely writing his totally non-commercially viable nineteenth. I don’t want to write a novel; I want to write whatever PaperGirl is when she turns into a book. I want time to figure out what that looks like, which will be the first arduous part of making it all come true.
When I’m in bed, thinking all this, my eyeballs start darting around like crazy. The only thing to do at midnight when troubling conversations linger or I fear the level of hubris that must be in place to consider whether one’s life is being misspent, is to snuggle closer to Yuri and stick my face between his shoulderblades if he’s sleeping on his side. We have designated that part of his body “the face place” because my face fits perfectly there, thank goodness.
In Shipshewana this past week, I had classrooms full of students. Before the lecture or session would begin, I would chat up the ladies in the audience. It’s nice to get to know people and breaks the ice a little bit.
I would say “Hi!” and they would say, “Hi! I watch you every week!” and I would say, “Yes, and I watch you every week,” because it’s funny to tell people that I can see them from inside the television. Then I would say, “What’s new?” and they would say what’s new and then they would ask, “What’s new with you?” and I would tell them that I moved to New York City. Then they would say, “Wow! Cool!” and then, invariably, “How come?”
“For love!” I would declare brazenly. Now, even though most people light up when you say you’ve done something for love, they still want to know you haven’t lost your mind. So I usually say I moved mostly for love but also for work reasons, and then I add the fact my older sister has lived in the East Village for over fifteen years and that I know New York City pretty well. Everyone feels a little relieved that I have family here and that there are reasons other than young Russian love for me to uproot my life and move to a city perpetually threatened by natural disaster, contagion, and terrorism.
This post is about going to watch my sister Nan practice capoeira on Friday night.
Nan used to be an experienced Brazilian jiu-jitsu star, but now she’s a fledgling Brazilian capoeira star. Jiu-jitsu was starting to take its toll on her body and she was a little burnt out, honestly, though I’m not sure she’d say so. But she is a talented combat-sport athlete, so when she left the body-slamming sparring sessions of jiu-jitsu, she didn’t go eat bonbons. No, she alighted to the New York Capoeira Center on the Lower East Side and proceeded to fall in love with the sport/game/dance/meditation that is capoeira. Yuri and I went to watch her and her class and it was extraordinary.
Capoeira has a fascinating, if spotty, history in the world; spotty because the art of capoeira has been concealed out of necessity and therefore not a lot has been written down about it from decade to decade, century to century. The bones of the story are this: millions of African slaves were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese beginning in the 1500s. From the motherland (the exact regions of Africa are speculated about but non-verifiable) slaves brought music and dance that then mixed with the people already living there.
The practice is part dance, part aerobic exercise, and part game, with people kicking, sweeping legs, and moving arms and feet in a perpetual, languid motion while repetitive music is played (think gourds and tambourine.) But capoeira is also part martial art, and that’s the incredible part. Those African slaves in Brazil were steadily developing a rather deadly form of self-defense disguised as this dance/game, practicing those pretty leg sweeps and languid moving arms with a secret purpose: to kick serious a** when necessary. People who saw the slaves practicing capoeira called it “the zebra dance” (the capoeiristas who really know what they’re doing absolutely look like zebras, back-kicking and going up on two legs and fiercely prancing around, defying gravity) and onlookers thought it was really beautiful and weird-looking — until they were knocked out, literally, by a zebra kick to the solar plexus. I read one thing that said a village defended itself for centuries against attackers using capoeira and left the enemies dazed, confused, and extremely injured or dead.
There is so much to say about capoeira. I can’t possibly give you a real history on it in a single blog post. But I can tell you that my sister Nan is so good at it and watching that room full of people dance, sweep, kick, go low, jump high, and sway, sway, sway to that tribal-sounding music (played live by a group of three people, one of them being the instructor) was beautiful. Yuri and I both were transfixed, sitting there on the bench, and we both had a profound New York moment: they do capoeira in a lot of places in the world, but the diverse group of people we were watching Friday night could only be zebra dancing together, here, like that, right then.
By the way: in 1889, Princess Isabel signed “The Golden Law,” that marked the official end of slavery in Brazil. We should be happy that there was a Princess Isabel, that her law was so gorgeously named “The Golden Law.” We should be horrified that that didn’t happen until 1889.
As some readers know, I have an ongoing, personal project that is a collection of poems about fruit. It’s not that I have a thing for fruit exactly, but I most certainly have a big thing (ew) for light verse. Fruits are fruitful for this, it turns out. Nothing makes me happier than to break away from all the tasks at hand and work on a new fruit poem. Does it help me meet deadlines at work? No, but life is more than deadlines.
Each fruit is gets a unique poetic style; e.g., the pomegranate poem follows precisely the meter of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky because the syllables match exactly; the cantaloupe poem is written for a chorus; the as-yet-unfinished pineapple poem is a Victorian odyssey in A-A-B-C-C-B rhyme-scheme, etc. I hope to publish them all one day — if you know anyone who’s in the business of publishing entertaining poetry about fruit, do let me know. Taken together, they do have a certain charm, I think, and there are drawings I’ve done with them, too.
If you click on the “Poetry” tag here on the blog page, you’ll find the other poems in the collection that I’ve posted on PaperGirl. For now, let’s direct our attention to the newest of the bunch (hey-o!) and enjoy “The Divine Miss L.B., Solo Banana.” I chose a limerick for the banana poem because bananas are funny objects, a bit lewd, too — just like most limerick. I didn’t set out to write something bawdy, but what I ended up with is totally not what I expected. Isn’t writing poetry wonderful??
NOTE: It is crucial to the poem that you recite it aloud — yes, right now — in a syrupy, thick Southern accent. I’m entirely serious. It doesn’t work otherwise. Channel your best Blanche du Bois.
The Divine Miss L.B., Solo Banana
by Mary Fons (c) 2014
Said Divine Miss Lady Banana,
(Born and raised in deepest Savannah) —
“Hon, I’m all real,
With born snack a-peel —
Ah can’t help if you love me, now can’ah?”
Suitors came far and wide just to meet ‘huh,
They was John, there was James, there was Peet’uh;
But none of them fit,
So Banana split,
Waved “Bye!” an’ lit out like a cheetah.
“Solo life, it suits me just fine,”
Said Mademoiselle la B. Devine —
“Why be beholden?
My life is golden,”
And she turned to face the sunshine.
On Monday, something unique and (hopefully) extremely awesome is happening from 1-2pm, EST: the first live, online webinar in the Color Me Quilter series is taking place. Let me tell you what this is.
I understand that you may be slightly skeeved or grumpy about the word “webinar.” I was both skeeved and grumpy when I first came into contact with it because it seemed trendy — goofy, even. But I was wrong to sniff at the webinar because as it turns out, webinars are great. I’ve taken a bunch of them and I love them.
A webinar is a seminar on the web. (You probably figured that out.) But what you may not know is that the seminars of days past, the ones you saw in college or at “a function,” they were rather dry and you had to sit in a darkened classroom or lecture hall try to not fall asleep. The Internet has changed all that. Now, seminars — webinars! — can be viewed by you in your fuzzy slippers at home, the best of them are bright and fast-moving, full of juicy content, and they are interactive. That’s right: you can ask the person leading the seminar (in this case, me) questions and stuff, while it’s all happening.
Quilters ask me again and again, “How do I choose fabric?” and that question is first answered in regard to color. The color value and its level of contrast in regard to other fabrics, the scale of the print — this is fundamental stuff when you’re making a quilt and you know what? I can help you. I know this stuff.
One Color Me Quilter webinar is one hour. There will be one each month for the next year. (You don’t have to buy them all or anything, don’t worry.) Each month, I focus on a different color — I thought it would be fun to set it up like that and so far, it’s so engaging and interesting, other work has taken a backseat to my work on the show — do not tell my publisher this. The color that will kick off the whole series on Monday and part of the reason I’m geeking out? It’s my favorite color: red. I go through the dyeing process, red’s placement on the color wheel, how to “audition” different reds. You get quilt history. There are patterns to download. There are pitfalls examined and advice is given on how to avoid such things. Visually, it’s a feast. Informationally, it’s Thanksgiving dinner. Let me feed you red.
Do you want to join me? I hope so. It’s $19.99. NOTE: For me to earn my living, it is extremely important that you go to this link first to buy the webinar! You’ll see the list of “Mary Fons Presents” links there, which will take you to the purchase page at Fons & Porter. Being self-employed means any traffic I drive through my own website returns me more pennies on the dollar. Is it sexy to mention it? No. Is it me, lookin’ out for my pennies? Yes! (Remember, I have to buy groceries in Manhattan now. Do you have any idea how much butter costs in the East Village?? It’s not pretty.)