The Other Problem With Losing Your Voice

posted in: Day In The Life, Fashion 23
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 57
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

Fight, Fight, Fight

Take that. And that. And this. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

I had a fight last night with Nick. Nick and I had a fight last night. We fought.

So I got back from Wisconsin and had 30 hours at home before I had to leave to fly to Nashville for Quiltfolk. I saw my beautiful friend Bets Ramsey down there and a fine time was had by the Quiltfolk crew working on the pattern project. The location shoot was all well and good — but I was about to find out that my otherwise fabulous Saturday would be an Airport Appreciation Day.

That’s what we say in my family when you experience what I experienced trying to get home: a delayed flight; a long while of just sitting on the tarmac; luggage that literally took 45 minutes to appear on the carousel in Chicago. The result? I got back to the far south side of Chicago too late to go to Sophie’s surprise bachelorette party on the far north side. That’s bad. I feel so rotten about it, I am now scared of Sophie. She will not be mad. She will understand; I couldn’t help it. But it was her bachelorette party. And we love each other. And I’m always out of town. And she’s getting married. So it’s like, “Yo, Fons. Where you at?”

Physically, I was in transit. Mentally, I was in anguish. Because of the party — and because of the fight.

I don’t like fighting. I don’t like the person I am in a fight. I wouldn’t say that I “fight dirty.” But I can get downright ferocious. I yell. Loudly. I also say bad words. That’s crazy to me, that I yell and curse like a sailor, but I do. In a fight, I’ll find myself YELLING at the PERSON for doing THE THING that made/makes me SO MAD, [INSERT EPITHET] — and I’ll think to myself, “Since when did you start yelling and cussin’??”

I think it was with Yuri. That was some yellin’, cussin’ love.

Anyway, I was yellin’ and cussin’ and then I hung up on him and then I was stabbing text messages in ALL CAPS, and that’s worse than YELLING but at least it’s quieter. Wow, but I was hurt. Nick hurt me. He didn’t mean to, but he didn’t … Oh, I won’t go into it here. But yes, I lashed out at him because I was hurt, I was tired, I was definitely going to miss Sophie’s party and then, because the fight was distracting me and I was crying, I actually got off on the wrong stop. It was the pits. It was all just the pits.

I don’t like to fight because I don’t like myself as a fighter.

Is that a good reason to not fight or a terrible reason?

The Last Day of Vacation: How To Weed

posted in: Day In The Life, Family 13
Not our tools, plants, or hat, but a fair representation of things. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

On my last day of vacation, I helped Mom and Mark weed the big, circular raised bed at the front of the driveway. It took about an hour with the three of us going on it. We kids can often be found helping out with that chore when we’re at the cottage; it’s the least we can do. Mom and Mark feed us lasagna and take us for ice cream, they encourage book reading and napping, and there’s a moped up there. We weed.  

It was hot the other day and there’s no shade out there. My stepdad was working pretty quickly because he hates weeds. “Filth!” Mark bellowed, throwing a particularly gnarly one into the big bucket. “These damn weeds! I went over this entire thing not but six weeks ago, Marianne!”

Mark and Mom are master gardeners, which I think means they have a certificate and field questions when anyone decides to plant a shrub. Being a master gardener does not make a person automatically organized and awesome when they go about their gardening, but Mom and Mark just naturally are. Case in point: Mark had divided the bed into “zones” and we each had our own zone to weed. 

“There’s your zone and there’s your zone,” he said. “And Marianne, there’s your kit, and there’s your kit, Maru,” Mark said as we walked over to our worksite. The “kit” he made included a bucket, gardening gloves, a trowel, and a mat or towel to kneel upon. I love my stepdad so much. A weed kit? In a delineated zone? Who does that?? Mark. Mark — otherwise known as The Cap’n — does that. He’s also great because he says things like “Filth!” when pulling pesky weeds.

“Hey, guys,” I said, wiping sweat from my brow, “I have a great idea for a horror movie. It would be called The Gardener or The Weed Killer. I mean, look at these implements. They’re so scary!” I held up a tool Mark had put out in case we needed it, some sort of terrifying small rake-claw.

“This one would work, too,” Mark said, showing me a truly frightening-looking blade. “I call it my scalper. You could do some damage with this.” He stabbed the knife into the dirt and cursed at whatever green bit he vanquished.

Mom brought out some cups of water. A butterfly flew by. I was happy.

Mary Fons : The Rolling Stone Interview Pt. 2

posted in: Day In The Life 9
Sure, this is Dan Dugan testing microphone mixers in San Francisco in 1980. But doesn’t this photo sort of invoke a Rolling Stone interview? Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

If you missed yesterday’s post, you’ll want to click here to get caught up. What follows is the second half of imaginary Rolling Stone’s interview with the legendary, the elusive, the deeply nerdy … Mary Fons. Ann Kotske reports. —Eds.

RS: You almost didn’t come back for the second half of this interview. 
PG: That’s true.

Why not? 
I like to switch things up. I wondered if some people wouldn’t be into the Rolling Stone interview format they’d just skip today’s post because it would be the same thing as yesterday.

Very considerate.
I’d like to think that sort of editorial concern has kept people reading me all these years.

You decided to go ahead with it, though. Why?
Continuity concerns me, too.

Let’s switch things up, then. We can leave behind heavy issues like — 
Like life.

— like life, sure, and — 
Death.

Okay. But aren’t life and death connected?  
Pardon?

If one is off the table, the other one is, too, don’t you think? 
Who are you?

Come on, let’s have some fun. How’s Nick?
Achingly good-looking. Sweet. And going into a year-long master’s program in a few weeks. I’m crazy about him. We’re still taking things slow-ish. I think.

Tell me about your outfit.
Didn’t we said yesterday I’m in my pajamas?

You can have changed. 
Now there’s a sentece: “You can have changed.”

I think it’s grammatically correct in this case. Now, the clothes.
I’m becoming a person that wears one thing: a classic-fit, Oxford-style shirt from Brooks Brothers with tailored black or navy trousers. I’m not interested in wearing or shopping for anything else, which feels strange but also feels right. This ensemble is perfect for every occasion, whether I’m in the city, headed to my office, or on location in who-knows-where, executing some photo shoot. I feel polished and practical. Of course, beyond the shirt and trousers I need great shoes and a great coat and handbag. That’s where I have my fun. But the crisp, white or blue-striped Oxford and the black pants … I can’t think how to improve on that.

What’s your fascination with unboxing videos on YouTube?
Watching people take foreign objects out of a box feels like Christmas. But there’s also a morbid fascination in it for me. Consumerism is eating the world alive, so watching unboxing videos is like partying on the Titanic.

How’s your mom?
Hi, Mom! You’re reading this, of course, so answer in the comments. How are you?

How’s your dad?
Haha. I don’t know. Dad, how are? Let me tell you: If my estranged father reads my blog and chooses to comment, any recent lull in blog posts will be more than made up for in the days to come. That will be interesting. So … Dad? Are you there? How are things?

I noticed you’re not blonde anymore.
After two years of being blonde — and loving it, I’ll have you know — I had to stop. My salon is great, but blonde is tough on a gal after awhile. I’m only biding my time until my hair is healthy enough to destroy again.

What’s on tap for tomorrow?
On tap?

Like, what’s on deck? 
On … deck.

What are you going to write about tomorrow?? 
Whatever it is, it’ll be true.

TSA Cookies: They’re Great!

It’s almost as if they’re exiting the scanner. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

Hilarious things happen to me.

Or maybe totally normal, definitely not-hilarious things happen to me and because I’m a dweeb, I just find them hysterically funny. Does it matter, in the end? My life strikes me as funny when it’s not devastating — and that’s how I like it.

Today, after passing through the metal detector at the airport TSA screening area, I waited at the end of the scanner conveyor belt to retrieve my purse. There, sitting atop the conveyor belt at the end of the line, orphaned and forlorn and wrapped in plastic, for the third time in my life … I found a cookie!

So I took it.

And I ate it!!

I did, I did! I found a cookie at the TSA and took it and ate it! And I’ve done it before!

Listen, listen: I need you to listen!

Can we agree that there are cookies. Yes. Some cookies get wrapped in cellophane and packed into purses and bags when people go on airplane trips. Yes, well, sometimes these airplane trip cookies — I guess one time it was a brownie — get knocked out of those bags while inside the TSA conveyer belt scanner! The bag gets bumped! The cellophane-wrapped cookie falls out!

And the person who packed the cookie doesn’t realize it!

Who gets their purse off a conveyor belt and goes, “Wait, wait; let me make sure my cookie made it through.” No one does it! Only later, halfway across the country, will the person become dimly aware that a cellophane-wrapped baked good may have been lost on the journey … But when? How? Was there a cookie in her purse, the person wonders … No, it couldn’t have been …

Yes! Yes, you had a cookie! It was wrapped in cellophane and it was in your purse! It fell out in the conveyor belt! After it got bumped around in the dark for awhile, it came out! A TSA person put it on the top of the conveyor belt! It sat there for a long time, probably an hour!

And then I came through and found it! And I took it!

And then I ate it!

The thrill of this TSA cellophane-wrapped cookie is extreme. And because it keeps happening it’s a serious game for me, now, spotting and liberating a TSA treat. The liberation moment is intense because we all know there is not to be any kind of funny business in the airport. I get that; I respect that. But let’s use our heads, people. The treats I keep finding at the TSA screening area are fine. These cookies are not involved in a scheme. No one is “planting cookies” at the “airport,” and if they were, they wouldn’t be using the TSA “screening checkpoint” as their “base of operations.” The TSA cookie — or brownie, that one time — is innocent. And abandoned.

I think the cookie I got today was homemade. Seriously, I’m eating it right now. Somebody makes a good oatmeal raisin, let me tell you. Delicious! Wish I had a glass of mil —

“Mary!” you say in a sharp voice. You purse your lips and look disapprovingly at the crumbs on my blouse. “That cookie might belong to someone! You shouldn’t take something that doesn’t belong to you. You should let a TSA agent know. What if the person comes back for their cookie and it’s gone?”

I look down at the cookie in my paw and look back up at you. You see that I am confused. “But … Who would want a cookie that has been bumped around a TSA checkpoint for an hour and then placed on the top of the conveyor belt?”

You shake your head, but secretly, you want a bite.

It’s My Birthday and I’ll Blog If I Want To — I Want To!

posted in: Day In The Life 38
That feels about right, actually. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

It’s my birthday!

I am on a plane!

I’m headed home from the long trip and I have a couple days before I go out again, but that’s okay, because I like it. If you stay at home, you have good days and bad days and stressful days and non-stressful days and birthdays and days that are not your birthday, right? Right. I have all those days but more planes in mine than other folks might. (And fewer than some others do!)

Today has been two parts fabulous and one part challenging. The two fabulous parts were that I woke up feeling vital — that’s fabulous! — and I saw my sister Hannah in New York City for lunch. Fabulous again! (Flight arrangements needed changing a few days ago and in the changing, a layover in NYC was created, thus, lunch with Hannah.)

The challenging part is that I’m not perfect and I’m in charge of people, now. I have only been in charge of myself, really, in this life. I’ve worked in ensembles a lot; I’ve been part of many teams. But like, I manage people. I ask people to do things. Worse yet, I tell them things that we will be doing. Like, “We are traveling this date and this date, so … pack, baby!”

My brilliant friend Heather — who you know from this glorious scene two years ago and from my post about my deep love of her here — is a production goddess at Quiltfolk and she books a lot of travel for the location shoots. I answered a question for her incorrectly about dates. I gave her wildly wrong dates. She was like, “Ooookay … so … that’s … new ” and did what she was supposed to do, which was talk to the photographer and the writer going on the trip about their flights.

Panic ensued.

So I feel dumb, because wow, was I wrong. And people scrambled and freaked out like they had gotten something wrong but they hadn’t at all. It looked like I don’t have my schmoo together, even though I think I mostly do, considering just exactly what is happening in all of our lives right now. Certainly, I am getting good at surrounding myself with remarkable people who can help me manage it all.

Anyway, I had spaghetti at the airport! It was remarkably good for being airport spaghetti. And there’s still one more birthday gift to go: When I get home, Nick will be there. I told him all I wanted for my birthday was a clean kitchen.

“I think I can manage that,” he said.

Bug Love

posted in: Day In The Life 6
The only kind I can even approach without flinching. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

On Tuesday night, I was down Louisiana way, drivin’ and talkin’ with three incredible women in a rented Nissan.

Just for fun, we thought we’d scan through the stations and check out the local radio scene. We didn’t get far, because the third station we hit on was broadcasting a call-in talk show about … bugs. All bugs. Just bugs. It was an hourlong call-in talk show for people who have pressing questions about bugs.

One of the incredible women in the car said, “Ha! This is great! They should call the show, What’s Buggin’ You?

Almost as the words came out of her mouth, the host — who was great — said, “Well, time for our next caller. I’ve got Steve, here. Welcome to What’s Buggin’ You? What’s buggin’ you today, Steve in Lake Charles?”

All the incredible women and I clapped with glee and gladness. It was so cool that there was this show about bugs and people were so into it. Questions came in about ticks, beetles, ants … It turns out, people have all kinds of questions about bugs! The guest entomologist who answered these burning questions on the air was a woman with a very nice voice. Wow, did she ever know about bugs.

Because the questions were so varied — even though they were all about bugs — I thought about this woman’s schooling. I do this a lot: I think about the kinds of classes a professional person must have taken to get their degree. In this case, the lady would surely have classes like:

Grub Seminar II (Prerequisite: Sophomore Larvae Survey)
Advanced Thorax Analysis
Grasshoppers, Crickets, and Katydid: A New View

Right? Don’t you think about these things? What about a dentist?? I always wonder about their classes. I know they have to have classes just about the tongue, how to understand it and work around it and all that. And I think about people in beauty school who have units devoted to the chemical formula of bleach and how this or that molecule of color sticks to a hair folicile (or not.)

If anyone from What’s Buggin’ You? should come across this on a google alert or a search, I would like to thank you for your delightful program. If I hadn’t been driving while we were listening, I absolutely would have called in. I am terribly afraid of bugs — bugs and ferns  — and I would have liked to call in and ask how to deal with that fear. Of course, that is really more a question for a shrink, I suppose. Good thing psychiatrists have classes like:

Phobias III
21st Century Exposure Therapies Workshop
What’s Buggin’ You

Love,
Mary

‘Squinky-Squinky-Squinky! Squink! Squink!’

posted in: Day In The Life, Travel 11
Probably not a squeaker, but oh-so-lovely. “Child’s shoe used [in China] by aristocratic families, with wooden sole and embroidered upper, ca. 2013.” Image: Wikipedia.

 

I’m at the airport because I cannot stay put. Also, people are expecting me. Also, I love it.

Also, there is something wonderful happening here.

There is a child in this airport. This child is wearing squeaky shoes.

The child wearing squeaky shoes appears to be around 18 months old and his shoes are very, very squeaky. They’re not just squeaky because they’re made of rubber and he’s running up and down the terminal, wearing himself out, squeaking by association. Rather, both of this child’s shoes were specifically manufactured to contain a squeaking apparatus, one buried deep inside each shoe, a miniature plastic bladder designed — nay, engineered — to produce a remarkably loud, extremely adorable “squink” sound with every single footfall.

And you should know: This child is a born runner. Stand back XXX. Hang it up, XXX. This child with squeaky shoes is smoking you all right now, running for his life, up and down, up and down, up and down Chicago Midway Airport, his beleagured mother, having surrendered long ago, deaf to the squinkysquinkysquinkysquinkysquinkysquinkysquinky sounds produced by the fruit of her loins. You cannot believe how loud the squinking is and you cannot believe how much this kid loves the squinking. He is so happy.

As a result, everyone in this airport is happy on account of this child. Here at gate B23, we can hear the child coming all the way from B19, the squinking getting louder and louder as he approaches. We’re all grinning, waiting for him to show. And then we keep smiling and laughing into our hands and when he keeps on trucking past us, headed for B26, the squinking fading away as he goes.

It’s been a rough night, flight-wise. I tried to fly out earlier, couldn’t. My flight now is delayed 30 minutes. But the squink, man. The squink will save us all.

The Hat and How to Lose It

posted in: Day In The Life 22
“A hat flying in the wind.” Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

After being on the road for almost six days making Quiltfolk’s eighth issue, I was so tired I left my hat in the rental car.

My hat.

The Monte Cristo hat I purchased a year or so ago at Optimo, Chicago’s legendary hat shop. The hat which has come to mean a great deal to me for recently discovered emotional reasons related to my father, who has long had an affinity for a Stetson hat of similar style. My elegant, almost aerodynamic, white Panama hat with the black ribbon which has become an essential tool for me on Quiltfolk location shoots, as keeping the sun off my face and out of my eyes when styling photos outside is critical. That’s the hat I left under the driver’s seat of a Nissan Rogue in the Hertz parking garage on State and Kinzie yesterday afternoon.

And I realized it this morning.

I was writing in my journal about the trip and began to compose a sentence about my hat — and then I froze. My pen hovered over the page. I gasped. My head whipped to the left to look down the hall to my coat rack. No. No, it couldn’t … There was no hat hanging there. My mind raced, thinking back to yesterday and I realized the truth: I didn’t get it out from under my driver’s seat. I got everything out. All the bags, cords, papers, notes, all important objects — except my hat. And I knew it in that terrible moment.

I bolted out of my chair and ran to the computer. I googled the number for the Hertz office. I called and called; no answer, even though the location was supposed to be open. Finally, a harried voice came on the line and I tried to stay calm and explain that I left my heart in one of their vehicles.

“I got a line of customers right now,” she barked. “I’ll ask Jason when I can, but if we rented the car since you returned it, there’s nothing we can do. Try calling back in an hour.”

At that point, I was quietly whimpering. I tried to sit down. I looked at the clock. I’d call in an hour. It was there. It’s a hat, I told myself. Who would want someone else’s hat? Whoever cleaned the car surely found it and put it in the lost and found. It had to be there — and I had to go there.

The last time I got dressed and out the door so fast, I was late for the airport. When I burst out onto the street, I discovered that it was raining. There wouldn’t be cabs on 9th Street, no way. My best bet was to run over to the Hilton and get a cab there; that’s what I did. As we sped north, I hunched in the seat, brow furrowed, every muscle in my body tense and sad. I was so low. I felt so stupid. I loved that hat and I hate how bad I felt about losing it. It’s just a hat, I tried to tell myself, and then a tear would stream down my face like so many raindrops down the taxicab window.

When the girl at the front desk saw me, I blurted out, “Called … about the hat!?” After some discussion, her colleague agreed to take me to the garage to see if anything was still there. The car, it appeared, had not been rented since I returned it — but I didn’t dare hope. It had been 18 hours since my hat and I were parted; who knows how much traffic there had been in and out of that garage. Was there a “lost and found” at all?

We walked up to the man cleaning cars that day. Again, I blurted out words. “Oh, yeah,” the man said, and I noticed the huge gap between his two front teeth. “There was a — ”

“There it is!” the Hertz gal said, pointing to a dingy white ball cap on the top of a rolling cart which I now know is the rental facility’s lost and found department. The girl grabbed it and held it toward me, but I did not take it. I did not take it because it was not my hat. And I did not take it because my hat was on the cart, too.

If the absence of my hat on my coat rack was hideous, its presence on that dirty cleaning cart was magnificent. A light seemed to shine on the thing, that’s how bright and crisp it looked in that garage. I sort of scream-yelped and said, “That’s it! That’s my hat! That’s it! Oh, oh! Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!”

I threw myself on both of them, hugged them both so hard. I nearly kissed their cheeks but with my hat back on my head, it made it difficult and that was probably for the best. I gave the gap-toothed guy all the cash in my wallet, which was $8, and I hugged him again and told him that my hat was a very special hat, that it meant so much to me that he found it and kept it safe. And then I ran out of that garage. I didn’t need to run; I didn’t have anywhere to go but back home. I ran away, away, away from the fresh memory of pain, I guess.

I hopped on a bike-share bike and rode home in steady rain. I was not happy, exactly — I was too drained for that — but my senses were heightened. The smell of caramel corn at the Garrett’s on Dearborn was stronger. The sound of the el sounded bigger.

The rain felt wetter, too, but not on my face. My hat keeps the rain off my face.

Two Times I Turned Tragedy Around

posted in: Day In The Life 14
Lemonade, anyone? A label from a lemonade brand ca. 1925. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

 

Tragic things happen to me all the time. But I sally forth.

Take, for example, the time I dumped an entire pot of piping hot, black tea on my new-ish cream-colored carpet. Oh, yes, it really happened. My tea tray was set out nicely — or so I thought — on my sofa table, but in fact it was only halfway upon that table. When I went to prepare my first cup of tea, I took the honeypot off the tray and, floop! The entire operation went off the edge and the pot of hot, hot tea flipped through the air with the greatest of ease and sploosh! Tea everywhere.

But did I cry over spilt tea? Yes! Of course I did! This was a disaster.

But remember: I sally forth.

As I ran into the kitchen, howling in anguish, wailing “Why?? Why???!” I knew that I needed to do one very, very important thing: Right before I ran back out with the 3 rolls of paper towels I snatched from below the sink … I put the kettle back on. I had to! I need tea in the morning! Yes, there was a ruinous tea stain spreading ever-wider by the second into my new-ish carpet, but let’s not panic, here, Mary. Let’s not lose our very minds. In my pain, I still knew enough to think, “If you put the kettle on now, by the time you clean this up, you can have that cup of tea you tried to have 30 seconds ago.”

I’ll give you another example. This one happened this very morning.

There I am in the bathroom, tending to my morning ablutions* and I’m still a bit winky (i.e., tired.) I reach into my dopp kit for my moisturizer, which comes in a tube thing with a snap top. I squirt out a glob of it onto my hands and I’m really rubbing into the old mug when I think, “Hm … That smells different, almost like — aggghh!”

I had put hair styling creme on my face. All over my face!

This was a true disaster, one on the level of the tea on the carpet. I will be 39 years old a month from tomorrow, yet I deal with breakouts as much as I ever did in high school, it seems. Slathering my face with a hair product? Bad. Very bad. I might as well just taken a stick of butter out of the fridge and used that all over my face, except butter has fewer additives and weird polymers than hair goop.

But remember: I sally forth.

When I realized I had a thick layer of hair creme all over my face, I grabbed my face wash and a towel and was just about to remove the stuff when I thought: “Well, now hang on. That’s good hair product!” So I smeared some off my face and rubbed it into the ends of my hair, my eyes squinched shut tight so none of what was on my face would sting my eyeballs. After I felt like I had gotten some where it was supposed to go (hair), then I washed my face.

Bon courage, mon amis! Bon courage!

 

*a favorite word among PaperGirl readers, which is why I love PaperGirl readers

PaperGirl Newswire: A Wedding Review

posted in: Day In The Life, Family, Luv 7
The bride and groom at the reception. Photo: Me.

 

 

ATLANTA, Ga. — Choosing flowers is tough. There are many options for photography. But if you’re getting married in Atlanta in almost-July, the wedding party favor is easy: Give ’em paper fans.

At half-past four in the afternoon, with the temperature in the high 80s, around 100 stylish guests on wooden chairs fanned themselves, waiting for the backyard ceremony to begin. Then, as family and close friends snapped a few more pictures of the lavish chuppah constructed entirely from twigs woven together with ribbon and fresh flowers, the three-piece band quietly closed out their rendition of “Love Me Tender” and switched gears.

All eyes turned toward the upper patio. And the bride descended the stairs. 

Resplendent in an elegantly tailored, bone-colored peplum gown, it was confirmed by several official science sources that the bride was actually “glowing from within.” Ruddy-cheeked and radiant, her mane of thick, dark hair was worn pinned back on one side and topped with a feathered fascinator. Several official fashion sources said that her look was “pitch perfect,” and “timeless, but with sass for days.”

The bride’s mother (ageless!) and father (peerless!) greeted their daughter there in the family backyard and helped move her toward the aisle. Tears were shed by all members of the family and every single person in the tent, including the author, was blubbing and sniffing and sticking to our chairs in that heat and it was magical and perfect. 

The groom — an adorably rumpled, Swedish artist — wore a powder blue linen suit and looked in wonder as his flawless bride approached the altar. Several official relationship sources confirmed that he looked like he was definitely taking this seriously and that he was “a good one.” The rabbi leading the nuptials hit just the right note in those remarks he gave in English. (As the author does not speak Hebrew, all remarks given by the rabbi in Hebrew cannot be confirmed as hitting the right note, but an official religious source was overheard to be saying that everything went just fine.)

Once the vows were spoken and the ceremonial wineglass was stomped, the band played a jazzy rendition of Guns n’ Roses’s classic, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” as the newlyweds made their exit. As the wedding party sat for portraits off-site, guests were treated to glasses of champagne and small, nibbly things like chocolate-covered strawberries and fancy cheese on fancy toothpicks. It was confirmed by several gastronomically-inclined sources that “the canapé situation [was] excellent, just excellent.”

Then it was off to the country club for dinner and dancing. And the author had an allergy attack (or something??) and had to leave early. But everything was so perfect. And you got married, Bari. And you got married, Magnus. And I got to see that, and see all the people who love you.

Congratulations.

Jump, Plunge, Run

posted in: Day In The Life 18
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, really, it’s a plane! Photo: Wikipedia.

 

 

I like to have extraordinary days. Yes, extraordinary is the goal. Extraordinary in big ways, extraordinary in small ways — whatever the way, when it comes to how I spend my days, I want that “extra” in front of that “ordinary.” I would also like extra sprinkles.

The last seven days have been so extraordinary, though, we’re getting into a weird area. If stuff with work keeps being this cool, I’m going to pop. I was on two location shoots with Quiltfolk in a week, working in the marvelous mode of making editorial decisions minute by minute, running to catch planes, etc. I’ve been in two states, six locations, and … Look, it’s a pet peeve of mine when a blogger spends time apologizing for not writing sooner, or when she explains all the reasons why she couldn’t post a post before this one, etc., but I’m going to do it: I’m sorry I haven’t posted more in the past week but I’ve been really far away from a computer, both physically and psychically.

Here’s a list of what’s happened since last week. All these things are true.  In the past seven days, I:

 

flew in a tiny by-plane to a fairly remote island
met a legendary artist
saw a raw manuscript for a recently-published book
hung out with quilt world royalty
drank two tasty cocktails too fast because I was nervous
drove 20+ hours
was interviewed for a podcast
hung a quilt off a bridge
rode in the back of a pickup truck
ate bag of jalepeno potato chips (*over the course of 3 days)
cried
saw an alpaca
took four ferry boats
ate coq au vain at a brasserie
yelled at someone (*not bad)
carted my dry cleaning across state lines

 

… the last one made sense at the time. I’ll tell you all more about all these things soon. For now, it’s time for bed. I got home tonight; I wake before dawn to head to Atlanta for a wedding. So I’ll see you in Georgia. That’s the one with the peaches, right?

Nick Smells Good

posted in: Day In The Life, Luv 14
Rather ominous photo of cologne in Milan, 1965. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

 

Forgive me for being absent a few days, but there simply is no time to do anything whatsoever but repack my suitcase, answer emails, make rawther important phone calls, and smell Nick.

Yes, Nick, my PIO — that’s “Person of Interest” — smells so good, I need to smell him whenever possible. I’m glad most of my work requires me to go out of town, because if I had to work around Nick, smelling as good as he does, I would get nothing done. Have you ever tried to write a letter from the editor while sniffing the collar of someone’s t-shirt? Pointless!

Nick has always smelled great. He’s got that wonderful smell of a guy who cares about his laundry. He smells like a person who really scrubs the back of his neck when he takes a shower and he definitely reads the care labels on his clothes. Do you know what I mean? That sort of “this is just who I am” smell is enough to make me kind of woozy, but it’s worse, now, because Nick has become smitten with a certain cologne. This cologne smells great in the bottle but let me tell you: It’s downright criminal on Nick.

The fragrance: Neroli Portofino Acqua by Tom Ford.

It’s hard to describe the scent — scents are tough —  but I’ll try. It’s got bergamot going on; it’s got a hint of lemon. It’s musky and dusky. It’s young but not frivolous. It’s smart but not stuffy. When I smell it, I think of a person who takes cool trips and does cool things and is kind to animals. Also, that person knows how to bake scones with currants and when you visit them in their country home for a week in the summer, they know you love them. It goes without saying that this mythical cologne person is rich. Because some colognes just smell expensive, you know? Neroli Portofino Acqua one smells like it has to cost a fortune, but it turns out that a small bottle isn’t terribly expensive at about $100 plus tax. The price surprised me and Nick, too, considering the fancy Tom Ford label and the way it smells like it has gold flecks in it or something.*

Nick and I have been talking a lot about fears and “what comes next” and we had a text message fight yesterday. I never have text message fights but it was a weak moment. We’re sort of at a point — and relationships have all kinds of different points all the time, it’s not just one — where we are either going to kick it up a notch … or not, I guess. The fear of failure, the fear of wasting time, the fear of “what if this” and “what if that” is terrible on thoughtful people. Text message fights may occur from time to time.

We patched it up. Yesterday, he brought me flowers. Today, I smelled his wrist. And you do the next thing.

 

*For another perfume-inspired reverie, you should definitely read this. 

The PaperGirl Advice Column (and Summer Reading List)

posted in: Art, Day In The Life, Word Nerd 27
Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer, better known as Ann Landers, in 1961. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

 

I have decided that this blog should become an advice column — but not the normal kind where people write to the columnist for advice.

No, this blog ought to be an advice column where I bring you my problems and quandaries and you give me advice! It already happens so often! Anytime I ask for it, I get great advice!

Whether I’m wondering about how to feel about public breastfeeding or the matter of having an emotional support animal or what book to start with on my summer reading list, the advice and counsel I get from PaperGirl readers is way more interesting and helpful than what I might dole out to you sitting here on my tuffet.*

Honestly, don’t you think that’s a fun idea? An “advice column” where the columnist is the one asking for the advice? Hilarious!

Thanks to all of you, my summer reading list is set. I didn’t tabulate exact votes, but it was pretty clear how things shook out. I am going to read my five novels in this order, as per your advice:

 

1984 byGeorge Orwell
The Goldfinch 
by Donna Tartt
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
Tender is the Night by Ernest Hemingway

 

It was pretty close between Orwell and Tartt, but I think it’s okay for me to start with the shorter work before I dive into the really long one. Henry James was definitely in third place, and David Foster Wallace and Hemingway were neck and neck bringing up the caboose, but I decided to let Hemingway come in last. He so often comes in first, doesn’t he? He’ll be okay.

Once I’m finished with Orwell, I’ll bring you my book report. It’s interesting timing: I’ve been thinking about deleting my Facebook account. I was going to bring you the case and — wait for it — ask you for your advice. Reading 1984 with that in mind, that idea about deleting Facebook, will be most interesting.

Thanks, gang.

 

*I’m not on a tuffet. I just needed to create a visual of some haughty Advice Columnist who thinks she knows everything and putting her on a tuffet seemed right. 

Summer Book Club!

posted in: Day In The Life 45
Summer reading swag! I would LOVE wearing a summer reading pin! Photo: Rachel Larue via Wikipedia.

 

 

A few weeks back, I put on my librarian hat — a fetching chapeau! — and did some organization and pruning of my living room library. (I have a library full of quilt history books, but that is in the office.)

As I worked through the shelves, I found lots of titles I was ready to give away, and it felt good to watch that pile grow. Most of the books I didn’t want I put up in my building’s laundry room on the cute “take a book, leave a book” shelves by the elevator. Right now, someone is enjoying a gluten-free baking cookbook and my extra copy of the Lapham’s Quarterly on “Time.” (Interesting how I bought that particular issue twice!)

While it felt good to shed extra stuff and hopefully make someone happy, it felt bad to see all the books I own but haven’t read. There aren’t that many, but it cannot be denied that I have a good deal of fabulous reading material that I’ve never cracked. I think this is true for most people who love to buy books. You can’t wait to read the books you just bought, but then you get busy or you get interested in something else and then it’s five years later and you never read that biography of Eleanor Roosevelt or the complete history of polka dots or The Brothers Karamazov. 

For me, it’s always the novels I don’t get around to reading. I go for the essay, the article, the interview, the criticism. Non-fiction, in other words. But I do want to read a novel or two this summer for heaven’s sake, so I thought I’d ask for your help.

Here are five novels I own but have not yet read, and I want YOU to tell me what to read first.

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
1984 by George Orwell
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
Tender is the Night by Ernest Hemingway

I thought about giving you descriptions, but, since so many of you are book-nerdy like me, I thought you might enjoy looking into the books on your own. Of course, most folks won’t need to look up Orwell’s 1984; that canonical work is pretty well known and I am horrified to admit that I’ve never read it! Me! An Orwell fangirl! But this is what I mean about books you own: Sometimes, you just never get around to them, even if they’re classic works of literature that most people read their sophomore year of high school.

I can’t wait to see what you think, gang. Some of the books are (much) longer than others, but I’m ready for what you all decide. Oh, and if anyone wants to read along with me, please do: I’ll write up a book report when I get done with each title.

Let us examine the unread shelf!

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