Journal Buddies #15 : I Am The One Who …

Ancient history. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

This is the 15th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

I’m going to take a pause from Babs and tell you about Eric. And virtual reality.

Eric, by the way, is my husband.

Yes, I did get married, as many of you have either figured out, suspected, or been told by a trusted source. Eric and I celebrated our one-year anniversary one week ago.

The story of this occurrence is so lovely, true, and massive, I’ve struggled to write about how it happened, how it’s been, and how it is. I haven’t written about it explicitly until this very moment. I’ve begun many times and stalled, because there have been events in my 40 years life that are hard to write about, not for lack of wanting to write about them, but because writing is hard, but writing well is much, much harder, and when a sublime and massive event arrives, a writer who cares wants to write about that event not just well, but sublimely. She wants to write the story so that the text itself feels as lovely as the experience was, as true as it’s been, and as massive as it continues to be.

This is tall order for her brain and the poor English language, who will quickly wonder how it got into this mess. And, because the writer who cares knows it’s possible to make the English language tell the truth about sublime and massive things — the books on her shelf prove it — it makes it easy to stall. In fact, stalling is the easiest thing to do when a person wants to put into words a sublime, massive situation because the hardest thing to do is to get it right.

I should probably just tell you what happened, event by event. I could just aim for “simple” and forget “sublime”, just build small words, one by one, and let massive take care of itself. I’ll keep at it, I promise. I can’t help but try; there are two true joys in my life and they are writing and Eric. It would be lovely to marry them well.

I cannot believe I’ve shared this news in a post that features an image of a floppy disk of Frogger from 1984.

Typical.

Okay, let’s talk about this quarantine business because it’s what’s on my mind. Is it on yours? Eric and I began our official, strict, shelter-in-place, safer-at-home experience on Friday, March 13th. That day, we took a Sharpie and wrote on the old, peeling wallpaper in the hallway: “Mary + Eric’s Covid Quarantine 2020” because it was amusing to us, like we were cartoons on a cartoon desert island, carving the days on a coconut tree. And that first week, we dutifully added a hashmark on the wallpaper each day. Perhaps we stopped because it did seem sort of silly, sort of fun, but there’s nothing silly about this.

Incidentally, I’ve always believed that aside from first-responders and ethical journalists, the people that deserve protection and respect in any society are the great standup comedians. That might seem strange to some of you, but the maestros — Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, George Carlin, Louis C.K., Patton Oswalt, and Michelle Wolf come to mind — witness and artfully tell the truth about human nature. When they do, we’re given access to a measure of relief, since laughing at ourselves is often the only way to get any. But not even the greats can help right now, so who are Eric and I to ironically mark days in the hall? It stopped being amusing so we stopped marking the days and now they all run together.

Anyway, about Frogger. A few months back, Eric purchased a VR headset for his PlayStation. “VR” stands for “Virtual Reality” and that thing looked ridiculous. I married Eric at City Hall four months after we met, and never once, not a single time — even through some real gnarly days in the past year — have I wondered if I made the right decision. I love the man more every day. But I do confess that when this 42-year-old person, this brilliant man, this funny Valentine of mine put that plastic contraption on his head and started swinging these two blinking wands into thin air, I stopped what I was doing and thought, “Well, you knew he was a nerd when you married him, Fons.”

When he handed the VR thing to me, I flatly refused it.

“Absolutely not,” I said. “I’m sure it’s very cool, but I am a serious person. I cannot put a plastic headset on my head and look around at things that do not exist. I support your fun, but I prefer to stay in regular reality, thank you very much.”

Headset or not, I am not a video game person, anyway. The last time I “gamed” was in 6th grade, probably, bored enough on a hot summer day in Iowa to pick up a controller on our old Nintendo. I was pretty sure I’d never “game” again. Pointless!

But because he was so into it and wanted to share the experience with me, he finally wore me down.

“Just for a second,” Eric said. “Just put it on for a second to see what it looks like. There’s a field of bunnies! You can walk around and look at everything! And there’s bunnies!”

I took the headset from him, holding it like a bag of old bananas. I put it on my head. Lo and behold, there was a navigable, digital field of shimmering bunnies that looked so real that I became dizzy and terrified and clawed it off of me.

Then came the pandemic. And around Week 2 of quarantine, after braving the long line at Trader Joe’s and seeing pictures semi trailers full of bodies parked behind New York hospitals, slipping into a different reality started to look attractive.

On top of that, Eric somehow managed to score an Oculus Quest. The Oculus Quest is one of the newest, most advanced VR contraptions on the market and it is a world away from the one he originally purchased (the one with the bunnies.) The Oculus Quest is sold out absolutely everywhere, but he just kept checking the website, I guess, and one day he got lucky. The old VR thing had a cord that had to connect to the TV and those derpy wands; the Oculus Quest is wireless and the derpy wands have been replaced with sleek controllers you hold in both hands. The headset is light and …

Y’all, I spend at least two hours a day on that thing. At least. I love it. I’m obsessed! When I finish this post, I’m going to go into the living room and put it on and play Beat Saber until I’m positively dripping with sweat.

Beat Saber is consistently ranked as the best game made so far in the VR genre. You put on the headset and suddenly you are basically in Tron. It’s not Tron, but it is this digital world — a very beautiful one, with moving set pieces and gradually changing colors and pretty, glowy things far up over your head. And suddenly you have a light saber in each hand — a light saber! — and then the music starts and it’s dancey music that (mostly) isn’t lame, and then these glowing blocks fly at you and you have to hit them before they hit you!

I’m telling you, it really, really feels like you have light sabers, because the VR thing works visually but it’s haptic, too, so when you cross your light sabers over your head, the real-life controllers in your hands actually buzz and give resistance, like you’re crossing the streams of two light sabers! I don’t know what that would actually feel like because light sabers are not real, but they feel so real in the game and it’s just amazing. It’s really amazing.

I am getting very, very good at Beat Saber. In the past month and a half, I have moved up the ranks. I went from playing games at the “Easy” level to the “Normal” level. Then I mastered all the “Hard” levels. Now I’m crushing the “Expert” levels. The final level is “Expert+” and I’ve got my work cut out for me. The higher the levels, the faster the glowing blocks fly at your head and in Expert+, they go fast enough to make me laugh. It looks impossible. But when my faith flags, I like to think of Serena Williams and how she practices every day and she perseveres and she’s one of the best tennis players to ever play the game. And I pick up my sabers and I hit glowing bricks. Hard.

Thank you for reading about how I got married and also about how I play video games, now. “I am the one who” never thought I’d do either of those things again, ever, but here we are.

And it’s sublime.

Journal Buddies # 15: Describe A Person You Admire …

This photo, taken in 1972 and featuring no one I know, as far as I know, seems like a scene from Babs’s life; just an easy summer night in Chicago — with a touch of gossip in the air. Photo by Victor Albert Grigas (1919-2017) via Wikipedia.

 

 

This is the 15th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

There are legions of people I admire — frontline healthcare workers come to mind — but I think we could all use a little more Babs right now, am I right? Much to my delight (though not at all to my surprise), the lady has been awfully popular around here.

However much her personality has chafed certain people over the years, I suspect Babs has been popular her whole life. I say this because of the pictures of her I’ve seen from her young adulthood looking achingly pretty in expensive dressed, and also something that happened at the building Christmas party.

First, you need to know that Babs has a great laugh, partly because she doesn’t laugh very often, not outright. Hers is a dry, acerbic sense of humor, so she’s generally the one making the joke, or the one pointing out the obvious. Babs is droll. She does not chortle; she would die before she’d ever guffaw. She’s more likely to simply acknowledge when something is objectively amusing. When she does laugh, however, out comes this surprising glissando laugh: “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” It’s musical. It goes up and down the scale. It’s the sound of pure mirth.

I discovered this laugh when I was over at her place one evening, obviously drinking wine. Babs was in an elegant pantsuit, freshly manicured, dishing about the condo board. She was trying to remember the name of the person who had most recently annoyed her.

“Oh, oh, wait,” I said, “is it the lady who always looks like this?” I squinted my eyes, furrowed my brow, and wrinkled my nose like I was smelling smelly garbage and said in a nasal voice, “Oh, hi Mary. How arrrre you?”

Babs opened her mouth and out came that laugh. She didn’t throw her head back, she didn’t lean forward. She just pushed play on that “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” music. She was delighted at my impression and I detected she was also impressed at my ability as a mimic. It felt a bit mean, poking fun at our neighbor, but I confess that I basked, just a tiny bit, in Babs’s approval.

Back to the Christmas party:

That night, I was feeling puffy. You know how you just feel puffy, sometimes? I put on a black dress that usually works, but I was just so puffy and my cheeks were blotchy and I had a blemish. I also have agonizing social anxiety, but it’s extra bad when I’m in large groups of people with whom I wish to make a good impression. But there was no getting around it: Making an appearance at this function — especially as the building’s newest resident – was essentially mandatory. I groaned and took my puffy self up to the seventh floor dragging Eric, who is even less enthused about these sorts of things than I am. He could stay 10 minutes and dip, I said; I’ll take one for the team and make the rounds.

In the host’s apartment on the seventh floor (a three-settee living room), people were milling about. There was a shrimp platter and finger sandwiches; there was focaccia; there were pinots blanc and noir and a basket of chocolate-dipped snacks. I took a deep breath and introduced myself to this and that person as I made my way from room to room, checking my teeth a zillion times for kiwi seeds and/or lipstick as I told people that I work in the quilt industry, yes, that’s right, yes, quilting, like quilts, for the bed, but there are other kinds also, and I’m the editor of the bestselling quilt magazine, yes, there is more than one quilt magazine, the quilt industry, yes there’s a quilt industry, is valued around 3.5 billion and you know, online dating is worth just 3 billion … I was getting more exhausted by the minute because being obsessed with the state of one’s teeth and explaining what I do takes effort when I’m meeting a new person, but it takes true endurance to meet so many new people I have to explain it six or seven times in two hours.

Finally, I spied Babs. She was perched on a settee (!) in the living room, holding court. When she saw me, she lit up and waved me over.

“Mary, I have to talk to you,” she said. I sat down, thrilled to be off-duty. It was this conversation that led me to concur that Babs has doubtless always been one of the popular girls and, though I cringe to say so, probably one of the mean girls from time to time. It was how she put a hand on my shoulder and turned us just slightly away from the crowd to basically whisper gossip in my ear. I was instantly uncomfortable with this, party because I have been present at parties where I was the one being whispered about and it’s such an awful experience, but — far more critically — I did not want to be cast as a scuttlebutt at this, my building debut.

Then Babs pulled me in. It was like Babs a tractor beam. She mentioned the neighbor I had done the impression of a few weeks back and again couldn’t remember her name. Before I knew it, I wrinkled my nose and said under my breath, “Oh hi, Mary” and out it came: “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” The laugh of the most popular — and potentially most resented — girl at the party rose above the sounds of the crowd and there I was, in cahoots with Babs.

I do adore her. I do admire her, but I don’t like to be in cahoots with anyone. I’m not a cahooter.

Oh, my dearlings! These blog entries keep getting longer and longer. I’ll finish up with Babs next time. I’m afraid that if I keep writing novels here in PaperGirl 2.0 I’ll lose folks, not because the content is bad (I’m enjoying writing to you more than ever, which I hope comes through) but because we are on the internet and when we’re in the strange, wide saddle of the internet, attention tends to slide off. It happens to us all, even Babs, who I know does a little online shopping from time to time.

The pandemic has brought its gifts, however ruinous and deadly it continues to be: Babs and I have become closer than ever in the past month. There’s no cahooting, either; just aid, affection … and phone conversations about Governor Cuomo:

“Oh, that Cuomo is just divine,” Babs said. “I wouldn’t mind snuggling up to him on a cold night.”

Journal Buddies #14 : Observe At Least 5 Things You See Happen On Your Way Home From School/Work … (Babs, Part I)

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Story 23
That’s Lana Turner, which seems close enough. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

This is the 14th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

Since schools are closed, and I belong to the extremely fortunate demographic who doesn’t have to go “to” or “from” work right now, if I don’t take things in a different direction with this particular prompt, I won’t have much to say and we’ll all just be sitting around looking at each other until one of us starts crying or we start another card game, or we both start crying because we’re starting yet another card game.

I can’t let that happen, so I’m going to tell you about my favorite neighbor, Babs.*

Since Babs is the grandest of all the dames; since Babs is a force of nature; since Babs is the walking embodiment of a Babs in all the ways a Babs could possibly be, I can’t just drop Babs on you. I can’t just launch into Babs. One must be ready for a person like this; one must be prepared. Thus, I shall provide a bit of context, first.

One year ago this month, I collected all my belongings and moved them 2.5 miles to the north. I left Chicago’s scrappy, youthful, grimy-in-a-good-way South Loop for her crusty, gorgeous, fusty-in-a-good-way Gold Coast. It took fortitude; there were sacrifices. I went from having 1500 square feet of space down to 900; in the South Loop, I paid a wince-inducing HOA monthly assessment, but the assessment for this place is almost nauseating, especially with the mortgage on top of that; and if you asked me how much paint was peeling off the walls in my previous apartment, I would have said “none”, but if you ask me how much paint is peeling off the walls in this one, I will say “so much.”

So what. The place is half the size and needs significant work. But when you’ve got crown molding, parquet wood floors, bookshelves built right into the walls, and the original 1920 elevator with Art Deco brass details, you almost feel like keeping those paint chips in a pretty box on the mantle. (There’s a mantle.) And hey, when I scribble my signature on my check to pay the bills each month, I get to see my name on that check with my new address on it, and that helps me stop weeping long enough to tear the check off the pad and get it into the envelope.

In July, Eric moved here from Seattle. One day we decided to go for a walk.

“Most of the people in this building seem like they’re … older,” Eric said.

We stepped aside for Gordon (day doorman extraordinaire) to let in Mr. and Mrs. Ackerman, which took awhile. Outside, a man in a sweater vest with his socks pulled up was poking at a flower bed with his cane. He waved.

We waved back and Eric, who is 42, said, “Are we the youngest people in this building?”

It’s true: Most of the people who live in our vintage building might also be described as “vintage.” I won’t put my foot in my mouth and suggest a median age, but I will say that when there’s a notice on the desk in the lobby about a board meeting or a maintenance issue, the font is very large. This, to me, is an ideal living situation. People of a certain age rarely feel like putting on heavy boots and running back and forth on the floor above me; neither do they tend to listen to music loudly. If they do decide to listen to music loudly, it’s only every five years or so, and in this building you’re going to get Duke Ellington or Connie Francis or Beethoven if the person is brooding. Could be worse, right?

Eric wasn’t quite right about us being the youngest people who live here, though; down the hall on our same floor there’s a thirty-something couple and they are the youngest people here. Caitlin is literally a professional brain surgeon, which I think we can all agree is the best kind of brain surgeon. Her slightly younger French husband, Jean Luc, is a professional brain scientist, so these two are a good match. They got married in October. We had a little wine and cheese party up on the room last summer and Caitlin and I had more wine than cheese and it was fun because they are very nice people.

There are four apartments on each floor, and Lorraine and Alan live in the one directly across from us. Alan has been a university professor for absolute ages, and Lorraine bakes when she’s stressed.

“Mary, I’ve been stress-baking.”

We were chatting on the phone the first week of the official shelter-in-place order here in Chicago, which was somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago.

“Tell me about it,” I said, scraping cookie batter off the sides of a mixing bowl.

Lorraine sighed and said the least she could do was leave some goodies at our front door. I told her she didn’t have to do that and she said oh it’s no problem, and I said stay safe and she said you too, Mary, and say hi to Eric. When I opened the door, I was super happy to find two fat banana-walnut muffins, which Lorraine stress-bakes in mini-bundt cake pans. They are so moist you have to eat them right away or they’ll go bad. The muffins were, as always, tucked inside a small gift bag with ribbon handles. It’s safe to say Lorraine has a big box of small gift bags with ribbon handles in the hall closet at all times, because you never know.

Well, I guess that’s it for my neighbors. An interesting group, right? I’m so grateful we landed on such a good floor with —

Sorry, what’s that? Oh, did I say there are four apartments on each floor of our building? Huh, that’s funny … who am I leaving out? Who could be — ohhh. That’s right. How could I forget …  Babs.

The first thing to know about Babs is that I adore her. The second thing to know is that she is infamous around here on account of her rather mercurial personality. One doesn’t “meet” Babs as much as experience her, and lots of residents have had the Babs Experience because she has lived in this building for more than 30 years.

Babs is probably in her seventies, but it’s hard to say. For one thing, a lady never tells her age; for another thing, I have heard from several sources that she is heir to a kitty litter fortune and as such, has long been able to afford all manner of expensive creams, salves, and tinctures, so the woman could be a very well-preserved 90 for all I know. She wears French perfume and I’ve never seen her without lipstick.

The woman probably weighs 90 pounds soaking wet, but Babs would hate being soaking wet: It would ruin her hair! Her hair is a shimmery shade of light blonde appropriate for her age but let’s not ignore the fact that she is maintaining blonde and of course it’s always perfectly set, combed, and coiffed. Babs wears big, round dark sunglasses when she goes out and sometimes when she goes in: She waltzed into a condo board meeting once — fashionably late, of course — and kept her sunglasses on the whole time. She did remove her fur stole, however. I don’t know what animal sacrificed itself for Bab’s stole, but whatever it was, it was very soft and shiny. Babs didn’t say a thing the entire meeting and still managed to hold court; I could tell she was glowering at a couple people across the room who had somehow annoyed her. Believe me: It’s a rotating cast.

Babs has lived in Chicago all her life. When she was 16, she had a real-life coming out party. I’ve seen the pictures. She was a vision in silk gloves and the prettiest dress you’ve ever seen. Later, she ran her own boutique on Michigan Avenue. She’s buried two husbands and has lived alone for a lot of years at this point. I can’t recall just how long. A long time.

Babs is a voracious and extremely selective drinker of white wine. Sometimes she has to call our building’s maintenance man to help her get a cork out. This call occasionally comes around two or three in the afternoon.

Babs is a voracious and extremely selective reader, too. Her library is wall to wall books, all neatly lined up on the wide shelves. It perhaps needs not be said that Babs’s apartment — larger than our fixer upper by a factor of two at least — perhaps led to the very creation of the term “tastefully appointed”. At this point I’m betting you can guess with great accuracy what Babs’s place looks like, right? Right: damask drapes with silk tie-back cords; crystal candy dishes; lacquered wood furniture; still life paintings large and small; striped wallpaper; various platters. There is no dust anywhere, on anything because Babs has a maid that comes every week. There’s a sitting room and a dining room and — oh, you get the idea. The difference between the apartment Eric and I are quarantined in and the one just down the hall is the difference between The Little Match Girl and the Queen of England; extra matches, extra pearls.

Since this post is plenty long enough and there are card games we all have to get to, I’ll tell you more about Babs in the next post. But I cannot resist sharing one of many Babs gems before I go:

Five or six months ago, Babs invited me over for a glass of wine. It had become a kind of a regular thing at that point and I knew to drink slowly because every time I had ever said, “Oh, Babs, I think I’ve had enough for tonight,” she’d pooh-pooh me and take my glass into the kitchen for “just a little splash.”

That night, I was doing what I often do when I hang out with Babs, which is ask her a million questions about her life. Wouldn’t you? She’s as fascinating a person as I’ve ever met, and she also happens to be hilarious.

“Babs,” I said, knowing that at this point I can ask her anything, “Tell me about your husbands. Were you happily married?”

Babs gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “Oh, they were lovely men. I loved them, sure. But sweetie, I was terrible at being married.”

“Why?”

“I was always screwing around!”

 

[Babs and I will be back soon. Stay safe, everyone.]

 

*All names in this post have been changed, but none are as perfectly suited to the person described as “Babs”.

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone looks healthy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

I called Eric. It went to voicemail.

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

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

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

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

It was ten to three.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journal Buddies #9 : I Can …

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

 

 

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

 

I can stay home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Mary + Pendennis

 

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

Journal Buddies #8 : Describe Sundays At Your House

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

In short, I do not like the beach.

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

Note: The picture was taken in 1975.

 

WOMAN WITH HER LEG UP

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

 

FACE-DOWN WOMAN

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

 

MAN WITH HAT

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

 

FLAT WOMAN 1

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

 

THE KID

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

 

THE KID’S MOM (Out of frame, right.) 

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

 

[The End.]

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

Two weeks ago, I unironically said,

“I need a one-way ticket to Boise.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I got on the plane.

#5 : Describe What Snow Feels Like …

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

#4 : The Joy of Today Is …

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have a great workout, Mary!”

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

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

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

* (That’s not counting yoga studios.)

#3 : My Most Embarrassing Moment Would Be …

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

Perhaps you tooted at dinner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know the feeling. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

Miserable.

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

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

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

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

“What’s the trouble, dear?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello, Darling: This Is a Job For Journal Buddies

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

 

Oh, the things I can’t do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing prompts. And they work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Journal Buddies 51 List

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

The Other Problem With Losing Your Voice

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

 

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

 

I have nothing to wear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The PaperGirl Persona

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m afraid that persona has left the building.

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

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

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

This is me, practicing.

Whither the AirPods

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

 

 

When you live in a big city, it’s possible to witness significant cultural shifts happen in real time.

You have a healthy sample size, for one thing. There are a lot of people to observe. And cities — not always, but most of the time — birth Next Big Things or adopt them early. So if you walk down the street in a big city and notice that lots and lots of people are engaging with a particular thing at the same time, or talking about the same thing, that thing is probably going to have a broader impact before very long.

Which brings us to wireless headphones. Specifically, the Apple AirPods. EarPods? iBuds. I realize that my inability to get the name of those damn things right makes me 1,000 years old, and calling them “those damn things” isn’t helping.

You’ve seen those damn things, right? Many of you may own a pair. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the next time you’re out someplace being 1,000 old* look for people walking around with white plastic sticks in their ears. Since humans are not (yet) made of bright white plastic, people using these newfangled headphones will hard to miss. Look for people who can’t hear you when you ask them a question because they have thin white sticks coming out of both ears that hang down past their earlobe. These people are wearing wireless headphones, i.e., headphones that connect to their phone without a cord that attaches the two. I don’t know how it works, but it does work.

More than a year ago, when Apple first released those damn things, a friend at the school newspaper immediately purchased a pair. He sashayed into the office wearing them and announced that his life had changed forever, that he was a new man with these wireless headphones. He looked strange to the rest of us, those bright white tubes hanging off both sides of his head. I thought he resembled a tagged deer. Nevertheless, he swore by them. We all nodded and went back to work.

Some months later, I saw more of these deer walking around. I don’t begrudge anyone their thing; we should all do our thing. But I must confess to feeling the tiniest bit smug when I’d pass someone wearing the white sticks. “Ha!” I’d think to myself, “You fell for it! Apple puts out a new product and you line up. New iPhone. Apple Watch. Filth! Stand up for yourself! Resist the tyranny of Apple!” I thought the deer were suckers, frankly, and conspicuous ones, too, which is the worst sort of sucker to be. I’m a sucker for lots of stuff, but it doesn’t show up on my ears.

Then everything flipped.

Just like in autumn when you look around one and realize all the leaves changed overnight; just like in spring when all of a sudden everything is green and flowers are having a lot of sex with each other (that’s how come there’s flowers, people, let’s face it), so it was with these wireless headphones. Suddenly, everyone was wearing them. Not everyone everyone, but many. Instead of seeing one tagged deer for every 300 people I’d pass while walking up Michigan Avenue, there were one or two in every 50 people, maybe more. I don’t have to count to see what’s happening: Wireless headphones are now The Thing. They are not a trend; they represent a major shift. You’re either tagged now or you’ll be tagged later. Now when I walk up or down the street, the people who stand out are the sad sacks with headphone cords. The plebes! Sad!

I got a pair of the damn things as a gift. I was most grateful for the gift, but to me, the accessory was just okay. It was cool to put the phone at one end of my apartment while I was on a work call and slowly walk away from it without having to shout. And I very much liked not having to untangle my headphone cord every time I took it out of my purse. As for wearing the wireless headphones in public, I felt very with it. I felt very tech savvy. I felt very au courant.

Well, I hate feeling all of those things. I don’t want to be a tagged deer! Trying to stay on top of the times is a tricky proposition: A gal must allow herself to be carried at least some distance on the winds of change; living under a rock is lonely and dark and then you’re living under a rock, so that’s not going to be very comfortable. But to pay too much attention to whatever culture is demanding of you this week is to be used up real quick by forces you can’t control. That’s not very comfortable, either.

Better to watch and wait a little while and see what sticks — or sticks out. Incidentally, I managed to lose my headphones in an Uber in New Orleans. I am 95 percent sure this was an accident.

 

*call me

One of My Favorite Actresses of All Time Is My Neighbor

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

 

 

So the new apartment is great. Like, great.

It’ll take months to get rid of all the dust. The linoleum in the kitchen is from the Pleistocene era. The paint is an inch thick in every room and is cracking so deep in certain places it looks like Chicago must have experienced a small earthquake at some point in the 1970s. I’ll remedy these things eventually; until then, I love my new home too much to care.

And, um, I live next door to a famous actress.

It’s so exciting! I’ve never lived next to a famous actress before. I couldn’t wait to tell you, but there’s good and bad news.

Bad news first: I can’t tell you the actress’s name. Peeps, I just can’t. It would be extremely uncool to move into this neighborhood and, in my public fan-girling of this epic, brilliant, hilariously funny, iconic actress, effectively share her address with the internet. Believe me, I desperately want to tell you. I wondered if I could just give you obvious hints so you could figure it out yourself, but then you’d guess right and her name would be all over the comments — which gives us the same problem. Any cluster or burst of internet activity about Famous Actress is going to alert Famous Actress’s team. They’ll check it out and see that there was all this chatter about her on some quilter-person’s blog and oh! Guess what, Famous Actress? Your neighbor is a creepy quilter-person and she telling a whole bunch of other creepy quilter-people where you live!

Sub-optimal.

The good news is that this actress is every bit as cool and awesome in real life as you want her to be. That has to be enough for now. Mind you, I haven’t talked to her, but my third-floor bedroom window looks out over the gorgeous courtyard patio at the back of her house and I have obtained data by peering through the trees and catching glimpses of her here and there. The data I have gathered proves her awesomeness and no, peering through the trees to spy on people is not creepy at all. Here are a few of my observations of Famous Actress:

  1. Famous Actress wears big, floppy straw hat while gardening
  2. Famous Actress wears t-shirt and flowy skirt and Birkenstocks; looks comfortable
  3. Famous Actress played the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House” twice this afternoon in the courtyard while she and her husband (?) were power-washing the patio and she was really rockin’ out
  4. Famous Actress rolled out a yoga mat and laid down on it but did not appear to practice yoga
  5. Famous Actress has a hummingbird feeder and tending to it makes her smile

I promise you I will try to meet this woman for real and become her best friend. Once we become best friends, then I can ask her if I can blog about her and she’ll say yes, of course, Mary, you can do anything you please because I love you so much and you’re such a good writer and and please write a movie for me to star in and please come over for breakfast lunch and dinner we’re all gathering in the courtyard patio and don’t you even think about bringing anything you silly girl but oh take this jacket I wore in that movie from the 1980s that you know by heart and also please take all of my old diamonds.

It’s good to be home.

What is Literature or: Hello, Horse

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

 

 

Hey, horse. Nice saddle. I used to sit up there. Oh, this n’ that. I had to go sleep in a barn for awhile. Could I get back on you? Like, in the saddle? Thanks. Yeah, this feels good.

H’yah!

 

*  *  *

 

What makes a piece of writing a work of literature? Have you ever thought about that? (I’m speaking to you, now, not the horse, but she’s still here.)

What makes an essay, or a novel, or a memoir — even a blog post — more than just words on a page? Even if they’re really good words on a page? I’ve been wanting a solid answer to this question for years. When trying to differentiate between a “literary” work or a non-“literary” work, folks sorta cock their heads and offer something vague and impossible to prove, like, “Um … Well, literature is just generally better than other writing? I guess? It’s got something to do with being good.”

That isn’t enough for me. But to be fair, let’s look at a situation where you’ve got writing that’s obviously “better” than other writing to see if it’s a passable definition.

Consider James Baldwin. Consider basically anything he ever wrote. Here you have a writer of staggering talent, a man who spent his entire life toiling endlessly at his desk to make good sentences, a man whose grocery list would surely make us weep for its clarity of conviction. Baldwin once said a writer should write a sentence “as clean as a bone.” James Baldwin’s writing is “better” than 95 percent of all other writing ever produced, ever, so it’s gotta be literature, right? Now, you might not dig his writing, you might be ambivalent. But regardless of whether or not you like James Baldwin, it’s clear from the first sentence of any of his essays or novels or poems that when you read the man’s work, you’re reading literature. Another way to look at it is to lay a copy of Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time between an airport crime novel and a plucky beach read. Now point to the literary work.

Exactly.

Baldwin is obviously the literary writer but why? It’s not length. The beach read could be 500 pages and the Baldwin text just an excerpt; nothing changes. Does a literary work contain fancy words? Is that what makes it literary? Ugh, let’s hope not. As complex as his ideas are, Baldwin’s language isn’t florid or showy — one of the many reasons he’s so great. Is a work literary because it contains Deep Thoughts? Profound Themes? That’s not fair. A good trade paperback by a popular author can deal with topics like death, aging, or heartbreak, too, but that doesn’t make it literature. The criteria for distinguishing between literature and not-literature has always felt as elitist as it is subjective. Other people may have a crystal clear understanding of the difference, but not this nerd.

Then, just when I was not looking for it, the answer appeared. I found it in an article in Harper’s magazine a couple issues back. The article was entitled Like This or Die: The fate of the book review in the age of the algorithm and was written by Christian Lorentzen. Check this out:

 

“Literary writing is any writing that rewards critical attention. It’s writing that you want to read and to read about. It’s something different from entertainment. It involves aesthetic and political judgments and it’s not easily quantifiable.”

 

I was sitting in my black chair and had to set down my tea to pump my arms in the air and whoop. That was it! Yes! Literary writing is writing you can go to battle with! Literature gives as good as it gets! It’s not about long words or length; it’s about substance and resilience — and craft is kind of de facto at that point. Literature is a steak. Not-literature is a smoothie and hey: Maybe it’s a very good smoothie. There’s nothing wrong with a smoothie! Smoothies are a nice break from steak. But make no mistake: You can’t make literature in a blender and add wheat germ for texture. If you want to read — or write — literature, you’re gonna have to chew.

What does all this have to do with that horse?

Oh, I don’t know. It’s got something to do with how writing is hard. It’s got something to do with expectations I place on myself, probably. The first five months of this year have forced me to form a new relationship with expectations. It’s strange and not entirely comfortable for its newness. I used to either claw my way up to meet expectations or cry over them when they were dashed. I’m not even sure what they are these days.

PaperGirl is not literature. Never has been, never will be. Believe me, it’s a relief. If I had to figure out how cook and eat a steak sitting atop a horse, I’d fall off and never get back on. I’m good with my smoothie. I’ve even got a cup-holder.

Seattle Transmission

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

 

Some nights are list nights.

Tonight is a list night, not a narrative night. The list is the list of reasons why this is the case. And so, rather than disappear; rather than put something substandard into the multiverse; rather than not write a list I feel ought to be written, the list.

 

Why The Latest Installment of The Story of the Breakdown
Cannot Be Posted At This Time

 

  1. I’m in Seattle and it’s 10:43 p.m. This means it’s after midnight in Chicago, aka PaperGirl basecamp. The PaperGirl Sunday Evening Post has a deadline of midnight on Sunday, Central Standard Time (CST). Being in Seattle at half-past 10:00, Pacific Standard Time (PST) means my deadline is all mucked up, now. I blame Earth and its orbit around the sun. The point is that time is not on anyone’s side right now, unless you live in Seattle. (See rest of list.)

 

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

 

  1. The next installment — the installment this post is replacing — was scrapped. The reason for abandoning my work was that this particular chapter involves the people in my life who are the most close and dear to me and no matter how I massaged or clipped or edited the content in order to protect their privacy and respect their lives, it felt wrong to invoke their names in this story without permission. Even though what I was writing was laudatory and even worshipful of these people — my friends —  there was a voice inside me that told me to ask first. I didn’t anticipate this happening because again: Everything I was writing was praise. But if you don’t want to have your life “out there” on the interwebs, it doesn’t matter if you’re being lambasted or praise; it’s all transgression. So I have to make some calls, first.

 

  1. A few months back, Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims invited me to be on The Quilt Show. I taped my segments on Thursday. The moment my second segment finished, I zipped to the airport to come directly here. When I go home Tuesday, I’ll have a few days in Chicago before heading to New Orleans to be part of a conference at Tulane. With all this location hopping, it’s almost like I’m living in 2018, and that scares me a little. Exhaustion played a big part in the breaking down. In the months since, I have been wary of “pushing it”. I’m pushing it. In other words, I should go to bed.

 

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

 

Love,
Mary

— Interlude — 

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

 

 

Welcome to The PaperGirl Sunday Evening Post.

One of the best parts of the roaring fabric auction going on right now — click here for info on that if you need it — is that you and I have been able to hang out more. Doing a once-weekly post is what makes sense for me right now, but merchandise waits for no blogger.

My sincere thanks to all of you for the hip-hip-hoorays regarding the condo purchase. It’s thrilling, indeed, and I feel like you’ve come with me through this whole thing. The auction looks like a success, which is terrific. The bread from the boxes will be put into good use; I foresee those uses including but not being limited to: paying for the cleaning of my apartment before the tenants move in; paying the movers; doing the internet set-up, gas, electric, etc.; tipping the pizza delivery guy, probably several times over the course of the next couple weeks. Thank you. (Remember: On April 1st, thirteen (13) more boxes will go live to bid on, as well as quilts … and who knows what else! I’m kind of digging this eBay thing.)

In other news, I’m in Kentucky.

And though I am eager to get to the next chapter of the story of my major depression, it’s 10:15 p.m. and I haven’t the pep at the moment. I’m on location for Quiltfolk magazine and it has been a long-but-rewarding day. To begin the story’s next gnarly installment would be to steal from my already too-short night’s sleep and to write poorly for you. Do we like the sound of this? We do not. But when you hear from me next you’ll hear about the final blows, the knockout punches that took down our heroine. I’ll try my best to wrap up in that post the reasons why the breakdown occurred, to the best of my knowledge. Then I can get onto the how, the what, and the aftermath of the terribleness.

About an hour ago, in a desperate attempt to push through my tiredness and indeed write the third post in the series, I ate three handmade Kentucky bourbon marshmallows because that’s something you can buy in Kentucky. There was no booze in them, by the way (not that it would’ve mattered one way or the other.) I popped them into my mouth, bing-bing-bing, sure they would shock some energy into my brain. It didn’t work. And if three Kentucky bourbon marshmallows consumed in quick succession in a Hampton Inn in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky, can’t give a gal the fortitude to write about a nervous breakdown … she should probably go to bed.

‘Do You Want To Talk?’

posted in: Day In The Life 58
This is a pub in Britain. This is not where I went that night, nor were there flowers atop the bar I visited. It felt like there were! Image: Wikipedia.

 

I recently experienced the worst day of my life.

That’s saying something. I’ve lost people close to me. I’ve had organs removed, with complications. I went through a divorce. But this particular day was bad in a new way. That fresh hell was nowhere I wanted to be. When I can manage it, I’ll share with you as much as I can the series of events that lead up to the worst day of my life; for now, I’ll dump you right into the action, because the story I want to tell tonight begins there.

The worst day of my life culminated in a phone call. After that phone call, everything around me entirely drained of its color. Did you know the whole world is just a paint-by-numbers coloring book? On the worst day of my life, my pencil case, crayons, plastic sharpener, eraser — all of that was raptured, I guess. I was sitting in a white world with black lines and my body was shaking so hard I couldn’t have held a crayon if I wanted to.

The only thing I knew is that I had to leave the house, but I couldn’t like, be a person. I couldn’t manage carrying a purse, or charting a course, or having a plan. I always carry a purse. I always have a plan. I chart. But not on the evening of the worst day of my life. There in the endless, blank coloring book, I somehow got together my I.D. and the cash I had in my wallet. I put those things in the breast pocket of my brown wool coat, grabbed my phone and my keys, and left the building.

You know I love the Loop. “My endless Loop”, I call it, and it’s never let me down, so I went into the Loop and that’s where I walked. I don’t remember anything. Wait: I remember buying cigarettes. I know, I know. But don’t worry: I’m not smoking now. But on the worst day of my life, I definitely did. I walked and smoked in the Loop until I realized it was very cold and that I should go home, though I wasn’t sure why. What was there? Why not stay out?

When I turned south on Dearborn, the twinkly lights at the end of the street showed me the way. There. A plan. I was going to walk to those lights and have a drink at that nice-looking local pub that I had never gone into because … Well, I don’t know why I hadn’t ever been there. I just hadn’t. But I was going there now, alone, to drink something you need an I.D. to buy (check). That was the entire plan. It was unusual, which meant it fit with everything else that day, except this seemed like something I was choosing.

The pub was lively but not crowded. I took a seat at the bar. I ordered a shot of tequila and a beer.* Thus served, I did the salt-drink-suck thing (if you have to ask, you’ll never know) and just kind of stared at the television above the bar. My life didn’t feel real. My heart was wet concrete, dripping into my slush-soaked boots. There are times when you’re so happy, you “don’t have a care in the world.” But you can have the same feeling on the worst day of your life. You don’t have a care in the world because … who cares?

The man sitting next to me was alone, too. He was doing a crossword puzzle on his phone. He was wearing a stocking cap. He had a beard. He could’ve had a peacock nest on the top of his head and a clown suit on and I still would have done what I did because I didn’t have a care in the world, and what I did was turn to this person and say:

“Would you like to talk?”

He looked up at me.

“I’m not hitting on you. I’m not a weirdo. I just … You’re sitting alone and I’m sitting alone and we could have a conversation, you know, instead of doing the screen thing.”

He smiled. “I’d love to talk.”

So we did. We talked so well, in fact, that when we parted ways after about an hour and a half, we agreed that we should keep talking. And we have, which is pretty cool. And all I can say is that when you have the worst day of your life, you should definitely leave the house. Don’t take a purse. Don’t have a plan. Smoke cigarettes if you have to, but no matter what, tell the truth.

Tell the truth, and start from the beginning.

 

*Pro tip: If you’re ever buying me a shot, it’s tequila. Funny, since I’m a pasty Scots-Irish-Norwegian, but maybe my soul comes from someplace warmer. Also, Nick and I broke up over the holidays, in case you were wondering.

Wanna Sit By Me At Lunch? An ‘UnConference’ Report

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 17
Kids at daycare.jpg
These kids don’t have enough agency to decide things about lunch. But they will. Image: Wikipedia.

 

I recently attended an unconventional conference — an “unconference”, as they call it.

The event was like nothing I had ever experienced and fostered both intellectual bliss and psychological discomfort. Thankfully, the bliss eclipsed the agony — but it was a close call there for a minute. Would you like to hear more? Excellent, because I have prepared more.

The conference was hosted by Google and some other very Google-y companies with which I am intimately familiar, but solely as a consumer. Before the conference, such companies were essentially faceless to me. I don’t have a cousin that works at Facebook, for example. I didn’t go to kindergarten with Elon Musk — and thank goodness, because I know he would’ve eaten my paste!

This year marked the 11th year of this thing. The 350 people who attended hopped on planes and trains and came from all over the country to get to Google’s Chicago headquarters. But those 350 people weren’t just any 350 people, oh ho! No, no: We were all on the list. Oh, yes. There was a list. Because whatever you want to call it — conference, unconference, think tank, nerd camp, slumber party for geeks — is by invitation only. First, you have to be nominated by someone who has attended in the past, then you have to apply, then you have to be selected. If all that works out, you can get your groovy nametag and it’s on like Donkey Kong.

Speaking of Donkey Kong: I think I met the guy who invented Donkey Kong.

It’s possible. Because that’s the kind of person who goes to this thing. The whole place was swarming with top brass in the fields of gaming; government digital operations; linguistics; neuroscience; the internet … There was a guy who owns and operates a yo-yo empire. I met a woman who makes the Chicago Botanical Garden the Chicago Botanical Garden. I was in a discussion group with the host of a very, very, very popular network reality television show. I attended a talk given by the UK’s leading war correspondent. I went to an “Ask Me Anything” session about the Chicago transit system hosted by the guy who is literally in charge of Chicago’s transit system. In the mix were scholars. Writers. Thinkers. Artists. Doctors. Comedians. Lawyers.

And one … whatever I am.

There were numerous occasions when I had to swallow hard and try not to cry. And I know, I know: You’ll say that I was in the room because I qualified to be in the room! Logically, I knew that. But emotionally I couldn’t get there. No matter how you slice it — and though every single smartypants person was so friendly and awesome — these people were intimidating. Many of them are also exceedingly wealthy, so there was that inadequacy going on, too. I wasn’t in my comfort zone, sister. I was in my “uncomfort” zone which does seem appropriate.

In a few different sessions, I said things that just didn’t come out right. Afterward, I would tell myself, “Fons, don’t talk anymore, just listen in the next one” but then I’d go to the next session and get so excited about the topic that I’d raise my hand and say something and that sounded stupid, too. The session I lead went okay, but okay wasn’t enough: I wanted it to be amazing. At lunch or in the hallways between sessions, I was nervous. Surely there was lipstick on my teeth. Surely I had toilet paper sticking to my shoe. I bit my cuticles so bad I drew blood — twice. I had to put a band-aid on, which made me feel like a gross weirdo with a band-aid on.

In my defense, it was a lot of stimulation and sensory overload. The conference is objectively stressful and the organizers warned all the first-timers that it would be. When I shared with my “homeroom” leader that I was freaking out, she couldn’t have been nicer and confessed that the first year she came, she left after the first day! However fancy-pants it may be, being thrown into a room with 350 strangers is a lot for anyone, she said, especially if you work from home or with a small team. I told her how I was in a pretty fragile state, too, from some life stuff, and that maybe that was affecting me. She gave me a hug and grabbed my hand and we went and got schmancy coffee from the coffee bar. Things got way better after that. I learned more in three days than I thought was possible. 

And the stress is a distant memory, now. I’m eager to volunteer to host the monthly salons local attendees put together between conferences, and, if I get to go again next year, I’ll be the first on the list to volunteer to help out newcomers. As soon as I get my nametag on, I’ll wing my way through the crowd, eagle-eyed, looking for any girl with a fresh band-aid.

The Sunday Evening Post : You Look Good

posted in: Day In The Life 193
A fête to end all fêtes? You bet. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

Say you’ve been living in the same city for over a decade and then decide to move away.

Before you leave, you’ll probably enjoy some intentional farewell-ing. If you’re an extrovert with a robust social life, you might get a going-away party. The party might be a big deal or a small deal, but either way a send-off would be a gathering of people who will miss you when you’re gone. At the very least, someone will want to grab lunch with you before you dip and they might pick up the check. For luck, you know?

Now, a couple years later, let’s say you move back.

You don’t slink back. You don’t return in shame under cover of darkness, but your return could not be considered triumphant. I mean, it’s not like you slayed a dragon or rescued a village of maidens — or even one maiden. And while (most of) the people you used to know are happy to see you back, it would be unwise to expect a fête with kazoos and signage. Seriously, don’t wait for that. People are living their lives. Your comings and goings are not as significant to them as they are for you, and that’s okay. The truth is, it’s “out of sight, out of mind” for most of us, squirt.

What I’m getting at is that it would be a mistake for me to burst into the room, as it were, and proclaim my return to PaperGirl, waving my best Queen of England wave, batting my eyelashes while wondering how many virtual roses may soon come sailing to my feet. I know many of you have missed me — and thanks for making me cry, dweebs — you’re busy. You’ve been living your life. You’ve got concerns that do not concern a blog or absence thereof.  And believe me, I know that some of you may have missed me for awhile but missing turned to annoyance because let’s face it: I ghosted. For a minute. And we have a … thing.

I’m sorry.

If you’ll have me, you can have me. I’m home.

And if there are any of you out there who might make a fuss; I appreciate it. A lot. But I don’t really have a choice. When I drifted away and put my head in the sand, I had no idea how drying all that sand was. I’m going through a lot of moisturizer — and I like the fancy stuff. It’s not sustainable. Besides, stuck in all this sand, I can’t hear or see anything, which means I can’t see you.

My idea is to write The Sunday Evening Post* every week. We have to set reachable goals. We have to ease into things. If I get too excited, I’ll spill my bowl of soup and then feel defeated and stick my head back in the sand.

I cannot express how good it feels right now to mix metaphors for you.

*We reserve the right to bend time and space.

The List

Women grocery shopping in 1989, according to Wikipedia. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

At this point, I think it’s best that I make a list.

A list of the reasons why this PaperGirl has been so absentee. A list of reasons why she’s struggling. Why she is internet-skulking around, looking guilty, trying not to wake anyone up when she gets home, slinking through the back door with the stealth of a teenage ninja with something to hide. Perhaps it’s time to make a list of the reasons why the woman feels as though there is something to hide. Like a grocery list, except with guilt and creeping dread. And shame! Don’t forget the shame.

And now, the reasons why I am not checking in as much these days …

  1. I refuse to be a blogger who posts apology posts about how “it’s been so long” since she posted .. and yet, that is precisely what’s starting to happen.
  2. I used to have myself to manage. Just the one person, and that one person was someone I’ve known for 39 years. These days I’m in charge of a staff of four, roughly. That’s four (not at all roughly but perfectly) incredible, beautiful, talented, brilliant people who count on me to steer a pretty large ship. Two ships, actually: Quiltfolk and the Big Project.
  3. The Big Project is a 10-12 part documentary series on the history of quilting in America. The project has been greenlighted. But I’m not supposed to tell you that. But that’s what it is. If you’re a reader of this blog, you have now read this. I might even delete what you’re reading right now because I shouldn’t say this. This is a leak you’re reading. I cannot and will not mention it again until it’s okay to talk about it, but I’m telling you now because I love you and miss you and it’s the least I can do. I’m working on this film. It’s real. It’s going to be huge. Think Netflix huge, Amazon Prime huge. (*I’ve decided this message will self-destruct in 48-hours. So tell your friends and share away. Because by Monday, it’s gone. It’s real. And it’s gone.)
  4. Between the documentary series and Quiltfolk, there is zero wiggle room. For anything. Less than zero. I keep trying to make that not true.
  5. I feel different, guys.
  6. My politics are starting to show and this is complicated. Part of what I have long cherished about my blog is that my readership is bipartisan. I have so seldom gone on record about political feelings because I need PaperGirl to be a place where humans with different ideas are friends and, because of that friendship, can listen to each other and find peace. (When you really listen to someone’s life story, it is impossible to hate them.) But I fear my beloved country is slouching toward tyranny and Stage IV bigotry. How can I be a good citizen and not speak of this when I have a public forum and thousands of friends who — were we all to move as friends to change the course of history for good — how can I be a good citizen and not do this? My fear is doing it poorly, carelessly. PaperGirl is not a Facebook post, dashed off after dinner, after a glass of wine, after watching the local news. No. This is PaperGirl, and you’re better than that. But I am no politician. My citizenry is secure. But my political engagement as a citizen is keeping me up at night.
  7. When I have 30 minutes in front of the laptop and I’m not doing work, I want to email Nick. Or read something. Or watch something idiotic.
  8. I have never done anything halfway. If I can’t do this right now, I will not insult you with half measures. “All or nothing” is a terrible binary, unless you’re me. If you’re me, it makes almost mathematically-sound sense. (I wish it didn’t.)
  9. I plan to delete Facebook. I refuse to be a part of that business. They are watching us. They are profiting off our data. They don’t care about me, they don’t care about you. I’m concerned they don’t particularly care about our democracy. This is not conspiracy theory. The Facebook app on most mobile devices is set to collect audio. When you speak, what you say is being harvested. Ever talked about something with a friend and then saw an ad about it on Facebook? They’re literally listening to us. I’m not okay with that. So I’m not “hiding” Facebook. I’m not taking it off my browser. I’m not just deleting the app on my phone. (I haven’t had that app in two years.) I’m deleting Facebook. I’m gone, my darlings. There was a time when we were human beings without Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room-inspired internet project. I want to be that kind of human. If it means I suddenly cease to exist, I’ll let you know. By mail.
  10. When I miss something terribly, it is better to just not look. This is my approach to places where I used to live. Pictures of people who I used to love or who are dead, now. I’m afraid to look at what I miss. So I didn’t log on for a week.

Love,
Mary

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