Mary Comes Through

posted in: Day In The Life 37
Thar she blows. Thesis and photo: Me.


Have you ever physically felt like you came through something?

I think we all come through things without realizing it.

If we’re lucky, sometimes old emotional pain slips away. You hold onto something for a long time but then, all of a sudden, you find yourself being calm about something you used to be agitated about. Something that used to trigger bad feeling or angst stirs no major reaction from you and you go, “How about that. I’m okay, now.” Do you know what I’m talking about? How you can come through things without realizing it? Emotions, man. Wild stuff.

There are other times, though, when you come through something or you enter a new space and you know you’re different. You know because you feel physically changed and it’s a light-switch moment.

I turned in my thesis yesterday. I have one class left to attend. There’s a reading and a paper to hand in but I say to you this night that the graduate school clock is ticking to a stop and I literally feel like a different person. (That’s “literally” as in “literally” and not just as in “totally.”) I feel like a new woman. I feel like I want to cry. New people cry, you know. Ask a baby.

I have been away for two weeks due to my job, the ending of school (see: thesis) and the website server migration, which is now complete.* The last time I saw you, I hadn’t spent three days and hundreds of dollars making two copies of my 1,512-page thesis. I’ll tell you more about the thesis later; for now, I just have to reconnect and tell you that I missed you and that I am not the same Mary.

Except, of course, that I am. And the foreword to my thesis, which I will post tomorrow, discusses this exact topic.

I missed you all very much. The PaperGirl break scared me. It really did. This blog is such a huge part of my life, a place I devote hours and hours and hours to every week, day after day, week after week, year after year. If I didn’t maintain it, what else would I be able to do?

Maybe a 1,512 page book? But you wouldn’t be there, so what’s the point?

I’ll tell you more about the thesis tomorrow and I’ll post the foreword, too. Fair warning: In the next week or so, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: I’m going to do a Pendennis / PaperGirl Pledge Drive. My student loans are coming due, I’m working at a startup, the server migration was not free, and … well, I asked a few friends if I should do it and they grabbed me and said, “YES, MARY.” If you want to get ahead of the curve, there’s a “Donate” button up there that should work beautifully, thanks to Julie.

Tonight, I cried in my kitchen. I asked myself if I should start up the ol’ PG again or not. And I wept to think I wouldn’t.


*I’m working with Julie to tweak and revamp the website. Now that school is 97 percent done, this is actually possible. I know it needs help — and I’m interested in working on the blog’s formatting for readability and aesthetic. So please standby and be patient. I’m going to make it very nice, I promise!!

**IMPORTANT: My blog used to weirdly, horribly, be a different URL than my website. Don’t ask because I HAVE NO IDEA WHY. Anyway, if you have a bookmark or a subscription, please, please, please change your whatchamacallit to this:  … Pendennis thanks you and so do I.

POP QUIZ!!! (See You Next Week)

posted in: Day In The Life 2
Doing repairs in China. Image: Wikipedia.


Pop Quiz! 

1. What has Mary put off for a long time?

a) revenge, served cold
b) that library fine
c) website maintenance
d) all of the above
e) B and C, but not A

2. IF one of the things Mary has put off includes website maintenance, why might she have put it off?

a) lol
b) expensive
c) confusing, scary
d) while it happens, she can’t blog
e) the mob is involved
f) A, B, C, and D, but not E

3. What’s so interesting about mobsters in the 1920s? Why is that still a thing?

a) speakeasies
b) cigars, hats
c) cool cars
d) funny voices
e) spangles
f) all of the above

4. True or False: Mary really does have to do maintenance on her (old, poo-ey) website because there have been horrifying email problems and extra charges and it’s just been a big ball of awful for too long.


5. True or False: Mary really won’t be able to blog while the maintenance happens. It’ll take about a week. The whole website will be down, not just the blog. It’s the only way!

T        F

6. Short Answer: If Mary is driving in Louisiana going 54 miles an hour in a 45 mph zone and she sees lights flashing behind her, will she get a speeding ticket and will she miss you and the ol’ PG while the website maintenance is being done this week?

Does Pendennis eat candy-corn punkins?? (Yes, and yes.) 

Well, that’s not surprising: You got 100 percent! I’ll see you in a week, gang. The website is going to look broken, but it’ll only be down for maintenance for a minute. It’s high time and probably good timing: My thesis is due in 2.5 weeks. I’ll stay in touch on Facebook, though, so look for me over there while Julie Feirer does her magic. Thank you, Julie.


Books! Books! Books! And Magazines!

posted in: Day In The Life 12
Bookplate of American painter and illustrator Edward Penfield (1866-1925). Image: Wikipedia.


Though there’s a lot of reading I have to do for school — particularly for my Contemporary Histories In Fiber course, holy weft — I do at least attempt to pick up and read other things. I wish I could sit down and sew, but when most of what you do is pick up paper or scroll over a screen and reading what’s printed on it, this is what you tend to keep doing.

So tonight, I thought I’d share a list of books/magazines surrounding me. And I mean that literally. My home is one big book nook. Many of these books and periodicals hang out on the floor next to my black leather recliner until they cycle back out; other texts are stacked high on the glass coffee table (where I also put my feet sometimes, let’s be honest); some books are perpetually falling off my bedside table. My home is tidy, but until I get a proper library, this is how things are. (I looked online at a condo on Michigan Avenue that had a library. The condo cost $2.2 million … but they allow dogs. Insert laughing/weeping here.)

Anyway, here’s a list of what I’m dipping in and out of. I’m forcing myself to write just one or two lines of description for each title because I have to get up super early in the morning: I’m flying to Des Moines to tape the PBS show on Monday! I’m taping three episodes with Mom and I’m so excited. I miss TV, sometimes.

What I’m Reading Lately (Non-Fiction)

Empire of Cotton, Sven Beckert
This book is the history of the world. And the history of the world is told in cotton. And it takes just about 700 pages to go through it all.

Craeft: How Traditional Crafts Are About More Than Just Making, Alex Langlands
I bought this book about artisanal work (in weaving, haymaking, etc.) because it was in the window of Sandmeyer’s Bookstore in my neighborhood and was so beautiful it lured me in. I judged the book by its cover and so far … Yeah, it’s worth it. I think.

The Age of Homespun, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
If you love American history, textiles, and LIFE ITSELF, get this book and read it. It was at my mom’s house and I started reading it. Hi, Mom! (I’ll bring it to you when we sew this summer, I promise.)

The American Bystander Magazine
Humor. There are misses, but it’s mostly hits. (And I need to laugh as much as I need my morning tea, so I’ve subscribed from the start.)

Lapham’s Quarterly: State of Mind
Every issue is a review, you could say, on a theme. An issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is a meal for the mind. Lapham’s gives me faith in humanity. I’m a subscriber.

Quiltfolk Magazine, Issue 06 : Arizona
The magazine where I serve as editorial director is getting better and better and better and better. And my whole heart belongs to this project. And I re-read the whole issue on my way back from Baltimore. Issue 06 is our best yet — that is a fact.

The Dumb Internet
Sometimes, even, on my phone. Barf.

What I’m Reading Lately (Fiction)

Not a single novel. Not even a short story. I’m not knocking fiction. I just have enough trouble with reality to “get lost” in anything else. I keep waiting to slip into a new phase of my life when I read only fiction. It’s an interesting idea, being a Mary who says things like, “I’m re-reading Ulysses. It’s …  Well, I suppose it’s as good the second time but since I know what happens … ” But this is unlikely to happen in the near future, as for the past 6-7 years, all I ever want to read is people who write with their actual voice, not via someone else’s. Is that weird?

I Kicked My Sandwich

posted in: Day In The Life 8
Amazing. This is a picture from Wikipedia showing the EXACT LOCATION OF THIS STORY. Pretty much. Image: Wikipedia.


I was hungry for pizza, but there wasn’t time.

This was three days ago, when I was connecting in St. Louis on my way to Baltimore. I know the St. Louis airport well, so I knew there was pizza to be had at the California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) but I also knew I couldn’t trust the St. Louis airport CPK to get me a pie before I had to get on the plane. Oh, they say they can make your pie in under 10 minutes, but they can’t. They are very nice people but they never, ever can ever do that.

I knew I’d have to grab a different snack, but I really needed something hot. You know how it is, how you get when you travel — or maybe when you don’t travel — and the thought of consuming a handful of dumb trail mix or a dumb bag of chips just makes you feel despondent and wan while the thought of a Hot Item Of Some Kind gives you the strength to go on. You know that feeling, right? That’s where I was the other day.

On my way to my gate, having resigned myself to eating trail mix and/or chips for dinner, I passed by a Starbucks. Because I am trained by Jeff Bezos* to want the things his company sells, I thought:

“Oh. That egg-white sandwich thing. That’s hot and not horrifying. I’ll get one of those.”

So I approached the counter and I ordered my egg-white sammy and waited for the gal to heat it up. When she wrapped up the sammy in the paper and handed it to me, I have to tell you: I felt happy. I felt a mini-frisson of energy, a zap of hope that I could take up arms against a sea of troubles — at least until I got to the east coast.

“Thank you,” I said to the nice girl at the register, probably too intensely. “Thank you … so much.”

And so I’m walking to my gate. And I’m adjusting my attaché and  re-hitching my purse up on my shoulder, when … plop.

Egg-white sammy down.

Ah, yes: I had turned the paper bag the wrong way as I was adjusting my things and that Starbucks sammy just fell right out onto the airport floor and came completely apart. I didn’t know what had happened at first; a rounded egg disc made for a Starbucks breakfast-style sammy does not make sense out of context. I mean, I felt something drop as I was walking and as I looked down, I thought, “Okay, I think I dropped my sammy,” but I didn’t stop walking because I was not yet computing, so as I’m trying to compute, I kicked the egg disc. Not on purpose, of course; it’s that I was walking and adjusting and obviously dropping egg-white sammy components and before I could stop everything and avoid contact with the sammy pieces and/or regain my dignity (lol), I kicked my own food.

I bought a sammy and I dropped it in the airport and then I kicked it.

That was new. That was a new experience, traveling.

Oh, I muddled through. Within 45 minutes or so I was nestled in 6D, munching airplane peanuts and drinking white wine. I had a drink coupon from Southwest, you see, so I got the wine. Because I fly a lot. And that’s what I get. I get coupons for white wine and packets of peanuts and when you are the kind of person who accidentally kicks her “delicious” dinner down an airport terminal on a Tuesday night, these kinds of perks are real. Real good.

*Wait, wait. That’s not right. Jeff Bezos is the Amazon guy. The Starbucks guy is the other guy. Zuckerberg. 

Viva La Past Post

posted in: Day In The Life 11
Joy in Concepción, Chile. Image: Camdiluv via Wikipedia.


Holy Easter Bunny! The readership hath spoken!

Verily, I say unto thee: I will not go back and edit past entries of the ol’ PG. At all. Ever. Except for glaring typos. And at least not until a Major Publisher wants to publish The PaperGirl Compendium Criterion Collection with an Introduction By Virginia Woolf.

Yes, almost without exception*, PaperGirl readers (a handsomer, delightful readership there never was) do not want me to tinker with the past. And that’s nice to know, partly because there is no time to go back and mess with history, but also because this log has been, for many years, a record of myself. One record, anyway: My diary holds another record; my essays another. My Instagram another. My email “Sent” list another. We all leave records all over the place; I keep a few extra going, just in case.

In the spirit of not monkeying with the past, however painful it might be to read, here are three old entries that I am not even going to glance at before linking you over. I know there are new readers who haven’t gone back and read the entire blog (what, you have better things to do??) so here’s a taste for you:

This post about seeing “Oklahoma!” at the Lyric Opera. (August, 2013)

This post, which I believe is the beginning of having my very own dream dog, Philip Larkin. (August 2013)

This post about yucky ice cream. (July, 2014)

Any typos? Any pre-AP-style guide moments? Any awkward grammar? Any weird stuff? It stays! It stays — and I ain’t going anywhere.



*One nice lady, also a blogger, said that I should do what makes me happy. A sentiment in the same vein as everyone else, really, just said in a different way. 

I Can’t Be Me, But I Can Be Her

posted in: Day In The Life 17
Well, they’re not my style. But what a woman! Shoes, c. 1720, England. From LACAMA, via Wikipedia.


I do this thing.

When I’m struggling to get something done, or when I have to make a tough phone call, or when I need to do/be/sound better than feel, I just pretend I’m someone else.

Now, I don’t go by a different name or anything. I don’t misrepresent who I am. That would be super weird. This is an internal thing I do, an inner monologue type situation. When faced with something I feel powerless to do — and you better believe sometimes that’s just like, getting out of the house and being a person in the world — I say to myself, often out loud:

“Well, I can’t do this. So I’m just going to pretend I’m a woman who can.”

Sometimes I pretend I’m a Katherine Hepburn type or a Madonna type. It’s not that I’m doing an impression or that I would trust Madonna’s judgement in all things. It’s that I need to channel a woman who seems like she would not be afraid of X, Y, or Z.

Shoes help me here, too.

If I am feeling weak, feeling sunk, it helps me every time if I put on a pair of smart shoes. I’ll brush the dirt off my shoulders (metaphorical dirt, usually, but you never know), buckle myself into a snappy shoe, and bing. Something changes. Suddenly, my feet are stronger, more … accounted for, strangely? Yes, I become more accounted for, somehow, on the Earth. And this makes me better able to pretend to be someone else who can do all the things I can’t.

It’s then that I can walk out the door. And wonder of wonders, the woman I’m pretending to be?

She does okay.

Survey About Quilting / Feminism for My Grad School Paper

posted in: Day In The Life 10

Crazy Quilt, by Tamar Horton Harris North, 1877. Image: Newark Museum, via Wikipedia.


Hi, gang.

I posted about this on my Facebook page this morning and I already have close to 1,000 responses. If you haven’t already, I would deeply appreciate you sparing under 20 seconds (unless you answer the optional third question) to take this 100 percent anonymous survey about quilting and feminism.

This is anonymous. I don’t require you to enter your name, email address, or anything of the kind in order to contribute your answer/thoughts. I’m writing a paper for grad school that is interested in this question — I’m not out to draw conclusions right now. It’s just a study. In case you haven’t clicked over already, the questions on the survey are:

  1. Do you consider yourself a quilter? (Y/N/Maybe)
  2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? (Y/N/Maybe)
  3. Is there anything you’d like to say?

And that third question is optional.

Hey, man: I need to graduate. And before I graduate, I need to write a final paper. Before my final paper, I need to write my midterm essay. This data is going to go a long way toward allll those things. So share the survey link with your friends and family and guild members — even your cat, if she quilts! I don’t discriminate between people and cats! I’m a catiminist!

Seriously, thanks to all who take the time.

L’il Miss Study Hall

The Benefit of a Theater Degree

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 4
The play’s the thing! Image: Wikipedia.


There are plenty of fun and exciting things going on in the great city of Chicago this weekend. I won’t see any of it, though, which sounds sad but it’s okay.

My weekend will be spent polishing my QuiltCon 2018 lecture slides and rehearsing everything 90,000 times before the big show next week. I assure you: There’s nothing else I want to be doing this weekend. I care deeply about this work: Besides, debut lectures at QuiltCon don’t come along every day. In fact, they only come along once a year, which makes them sort of like Christmas or my birthday, except that I don’t get presents and I spend months and months researching and writing and then dozens of hours making great slides for my slideshow and then I get in front of a huge crowd of people and talk to them and hope I don’t screw up and ruin my reputation and never get asked back to any show, ever. In this way, making and debuting two new lectures is not like Christmas or my birthday. At all.

As I was thinking through everything I need to get right, every detail I must lock down, I realized that there is one thing I am not at all concerned about: I am not concerned with freaking out up there once I’m onstage. Certainly, part of the reason I won’t lose my nerves or have a full-on panic attack is because I have nearly two decades of professional experience doing things onstage. But it’s also because in college, I actually studied how to be in front of people.

Yes, my master’s in writing gets all the attention these days, but I have a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa (’01) — and that degree is in Theater Arts. During those four, heady years taking Meisner I & II, rehearsing the next show, communicating with directors, and writing short pieces of my own, I learned a lot more than my lines.

I learned how to work closely with people. Like, really closely. Making a play — which typically goes from the table read to opening night in matter of weeks — is an incredibly intense, focused experience. Many of you know this from your own theater-making experience. You do hard work in small spaces, either with a tiny ensemble or a huge one, both of which come with their own challenges. You put in long hours. You must be professional, on time, courteous. There are long periods of tedium punctuated with periods of intense activity; your problem-solving skills are harnessed in all kinds of unexpected ways, I assure you.

And you have to memorize a script. (Some monologues are about as long as this post, for example.) You have to memorize your blocking. Then, once the play opens, you have to hope people come to see what you’ve made! Sometimes they don’t come and this is devastating, so you have to grow into a person who can accept that. Of course, sometimes the people do come and then you’ve really got to bring the juice. Can you? Will you? You’ll find out when the curtain goes up, honey. Break a leg.


So this is just a shout-out to all my theater people out there. Graduation is coming (!) and there are plenty of parents and grandparents out there who have a theater major in the family who is about to get their degree. Y’all might be worried about the kid, right? What she’ll do with a degree in theater for Lord’s sake??

I promise you: She’ll use it.

She’ll use it when she meets a new person and gives them a “Hello!” and a confident handshake. She’ll use it when she’s giving a presentation at work. She’s going to use her theater degree when she’s faced with a problem with her spouse and recalls what she learned about body language and tone of voice and maybe she can respond more thoughtfully to what she was trained to observe in this person she loves so much. She’ll use it when she reads a wonderful quote in a magazine that she wants to remember it forever. She’ll use her memorization skills and then she’ll have it forever.

She’ll probably use it (however subconsciously) when she throws parties, too. I’m serious. Go to the theater people’s parties. We have the party bone, take it from me.



How Do You Hire a Handyman? (Also, Valentine’s Day)

posted in: Day In The Life, Rant 29
A handyman on break, c. 1975, Georgia. Image: Wikipedia, via the US National Archives and Records Administration.


My friend Nick did a good job with Valentine’s Day yesterday. He paid me awfully nice compliments in a card (I am evidently brilliant, gorgeous, funny, and sexy!) and he brought a heart-shaped pizza for us to have for dinner. That’s right, a heart-shaped pizza. That pizza is going to get its own post, but not tonight.

Tonight, I need to ask you all how a woman goes about hiring a handyman, because I need one, bad, and I don’t have the first clue about to get one.

“Hang on, Mary,” you say. You purse your lips and put a hand on your hip. “We’re glad to hear you’re eating heart-shaped pizzas and getting cards, but we’d be really glad if this Nick person was handy.”

I dissolve into giggles.

“Not that kind of handy! Mary! Now, seriously: What do you need fixed? Can’t Nick help you?”

I pull myself together and I thank you for your concern. One of the I like spending time with Nick is because he is extremely helpful. He’s fixed my internet, my phone, my icemaker, my computer. He always tidies the kitchen when he’s over and sometimes I go into the bathroom and something looks strange and I realize the sink is totally free of toothpaste bits and this is because Nick enjoys rinsing things. It’s wonderful.

But though he tried his dead-level best, Nick can’t fix my dishwasher, and I need that dishwasher fixed. Now.

So I need a handyman, or a fix-it guy — or girl, or marmoset for heaven’s sake. I literally do not care, as long as they/it knows about water pressure and, like, “parts.” Because a girl working full time and going to grad school full time cannot have a broken dishwasher. Cannot, cannot, cannot. The hopeless, helpless, panicked feeling I got when I opened the dishwasher for the fifth time and saw the dishes were not clean but in fact now dirtier with hardened, shellacked food and soap on them? That was a bad feeling. I can’t. I need my dishwasher to wash the dishes I put inside of it. It’s not so much to ask, right? Please?

Beyond that, I need some heavy pictures hung. I need a new faucet installed in my bathroom. I need a new medicine cabinet stuck on the wall. I need a chain on the light in the pantry. I need the vent cover thing in my closet to stop falling of the blinkin’ wall or I’m going to start throwing my body against it until it goes in its home.

Tell me how to hire someone trustworthy to help me do these things. Please?

Now, of course I know there are services online, but it’s the wild west out there. I live in a big city. It’s a shot in the dark, trying to find someone who won’t take advantage of my household fix-it ignorance. Believe me, I’ve been here before: I hired a handyman a year ago to do a few things and it was an awful experience. He did a poor job. It was so expensive. Afterward, the dumb, big corporate company kept calling me and texting me with advertisements and things. Ugh.

Angie’s List might have worked years ago but Angie sold that business awhile back and now it’s just big, corporate, plastic companies who buy space on the thing. I asked Dion, one of the maintenance guys in my building, if he knew anyone who did this kind of work; he didn’t. (And yes, my building has maintenance staff, but they do building stuff, common area stuff, water shut-offs and the like. They don’t hang pictures and they don’t do fridges, washers, dryers, etc.)

What I’m hoping is that one of you dear people has a brother in Evanston who is the best handyman in three states and you can give me his number. Or you have been using the same handyman for 20 years and why, he/she lives right down the street from me! This is what I’m hoping, because I don’t know what else to do.

Thanks, everyone. I need you. Perhaps more importantly: The dishes need you.

Two New Lectures! QuiltCon! Pasadena! 2018!

posted in: Day In The Life, Work 10
QuiltCon? I know her. Image courtesy Modern Quilt Guild.


It snowed today in Chicago. I like snow. I like winter. But there isn’t anything wrong with going to California sometimes, you know, just to make sure your sandals are still in good shape.

Lucky for me and any other chilly quilters — modern or otherwise — out there, QuiltCon 2018 is coming! And this year, the most exciting happening of the quilt calendar year will be underway in sunny Pasadena.

Yes, at this exact moment, two weeks from now, the quilts will have been unveiled. All the awards will have been given out, which means we’ll all know who got Best In Show and isn’t that so exciting? Two weeks from now, vendors will be vending; neat classes will have gone down; “sewlebrities” will be soaking their autograph hands; after lots of emails and Instagram posts, internet friends will be hanging out IRL; and many, many, many, many, many, many, many pictures will have been uploaded to many, many, many, many, many, many social media pages.

And I’m excited. Though I don’t make modern quilts, I love them and I love the people who make them. I’m also deeply glad to have emerged as a kind of go-to quilt history geek for the modern set. Put me in, baby. I’m happy as a clam (?) giving historical lectures at QuiltCon; the full houses that greet me seem to indicate folks like what I’m puttin’ down.

The only downside is that I have to top myself every year. For example, two years ago, I debuted “The Great American Quilt Revival: The Reason We’re All Here Right Now.” It went well — too well?? — so last year, I brought the pain with “Standing On the Shoulders of Giants: A Brief History of the American Quilt.” That one was really good. (Well, it was! Ask anyone who’s seen my lectures: I have serious powerpoint game.) And the lectures I debut at QuiltCon go into my repetoire and have a life after the MQG show, but it’s neat to present them for the first time out there with the mod squad.

But I have to tell you … This year in Pasadena, I don’t have a new lecture … I’ve got TWO!

Talk about topping what you did last year. QuiltCon 2019 is happening in Nashville next year; maybe I’ll pull out my guitar.* Anyway, both lectures are in pretty good shape, but this weekend is going to have me hunkering down, smoothing out, and rehearsing. For real, these two lectures (see descriptions below) are literally my best work yet, so that’s one of 9,000 reasons to do QuiltCon 2018.

See you in Cali!

The AIDS Quilt: Comfort, Compassion, and Change
When the first panels of “the AIDS quilt” were sewn together in San Francisco in 1987, the U.S. HIV/AIDS epidemic had only just begun. At the peak of the crisis in 1995, 319,849 people — mostly young, vibrant men — were dead from complications from AIDS while 200,000 more had were testing positive for the virus. As the death toll grew, so did the quilt. The story of the AIDS Memorial Quilt is the story of a modern plague and exists as evidence of enduring hope for victims and survivors, friends and family. Learn about the beauty of the quilt and an essential, tragic period in our history in this must-see lecture by Mary Fons. Warning: This lecture contains graphic content.

*Note: I curated an exhibit of panels from the NAMES Project quilt which will be on display during the show this year.

The Modern Quilt: Roots & Frontiers
The modern quilt was born in the first decade of the 21st century — but it didn’t hatch out of an egg. Modern quilts have aesthetic roots in various 20th century art movements, draw from many cultural “moments,” and owe plenty to quilts and quilters that came before. Seeing those roots helps us as quilters look ahead — and the future of the modern quilt is nothing short of thrilling. Popular QuiltCon lecturer Mary Fons brings you the history of the modern quilt (so far) and predicts what’s to come as the moderns forge ahead in what she believes is the second wave of the Great American Quilt Revival.

*Note to self: Buy guitar. Learn how to play guitar, write music, sing while playing guitar. 

An Open Letter to Chicago’s Millennium Park Plaza Building: Please Fix Your Clock

posted in: Day In The Life 10
This is sort of hilarious: This is the view FROM the clock. Not of the clock. But it was on Wikipedia! Photo: Wikipedia.


Dear Chicago’s Millennium Park Plaza Building:

I am an enthusiastic supporter of all of the large buildings on Michigan Avenue. As such, I hope this message will be received in the spirit in which it was written: with friendliness. And some urgency.

Millennium Park Plaza Building, I’m writing to ask if you might consider fixing your clock. It is such a large clock, Millennium Park Plaza Building, and it’s been broken for such a long time. In fact, I don’t know when it’s ever been correct, and I’ve been clicking my kitten heels up and down your stretch of Michigan Avenue for some years. Just curious, Millennium Park Plaza Building: Do you recall when your clock was keeping the correct time? Was it perhaps in the 1990s?

There are many idioms that having to do with time. “Time flies when you’re having fun.” “Third time’s the charm.” “Better late than never.” There’s one I like very much that goes, “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” You’re familiar with the phrase?

The other day, Millennium Park Plaza Building, I was crossing Michigan Avenue, right there at Randolph where your grand, handsome clock is so enticingly placed, towering, as it does, over the citizens of this great city. I looked up at you and — mercy! Your time was right! I was so pleased, Millennium Park Plaza Building, I can’t even tell you. The deep satisfaction of seeing your chiseled face at long last showing the correct time; seeing you do what you were born to do … It was a remarkable moment. I cannot be the only pedestrian who looked up at you, thought, “Ah! It’s 11:14 a.m.! Right on the money!” and felt a warm sense of rightness with the world, even for a flicker of a flick.

It was 11:14 a.m., Millennium Park Plaza Building — but you and I both know you had nothing to do with it. Because even a stopped clock is right twice a day, Millennium Park Plaza Building, and you only happened to be right about the 11:14 a.m. thing. You were wrong at the right time.

Millennium Park Plaza Building, you’ve been through a lot. You’ll be 40 in a few years and it’s not been an easy life; you’ve seen a lot of changes, had a few identity crises. Maybe your broken clock is symptomatic of how you feel on the inside. I get it, buddy. Sometimes my clock doesn’t work, either.

But if you can’t manage to get yourself off the couch and fix your clock for you, dear, may I suggest fixing it for someone else? Or someones else? You see, a lot of times, if you’re really down, the best thing you can do is to do something for others, to get the focus off yourself and onto someone else. Seek to love, not to be loved. Does that make sense?

Well, you’ve got the whole city to love, Millennium Park Plaza Building! When that clock of yours is finally working again, innumerable people at innumerable intervals will look at you, love you, check you twice, and yes, curse you and say bad words when they don’t like what you have to show them — but it’s not your fault Paul is late for work (again) or that Jacinda just missed her train to Bloomington! You’ll be helping people, that’s my point. And I know you can do it.

If you can’t fix your clock, Millennium Park Plaza Building, will you consider taking it down for heaven’s sake? At a certain point, a big, broken clock on a busy street really gets to a girl. She starts feeling a little lost. She becomes dangerously preoccupied with time, as a construct.

She starts talking to buildings.

Mary Fons

The Quilt Scout is IN: ‘Binding Threads’ at Quilt House

Ahh … Quilt House. A museum just for quilts in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo: International Quilt Study Center & Museum.


Hey, gang!

I have a great time talking to myself, let’s be honest. But from time to time, I’ve found there’s nothing better than interviewing someone more interesting than me. Shocker, right? Yeah, well, it turns out I have a lot of interviewing to do. Like, a lot. Basically, I will never stop having people to interview.

I’d better get started.

Therefore, please enjoy this Quilt Scout interview with the delightful Marin Hanson over at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM) about a very cool exhibit happening in Lincoln right now. If Marin wasn’t so friendly and warm, she would be intimidating because Marin is wicked smart about quilts and, I’m sure, 90,000 other things. I enjoyed learning from Marin, who curated the show, and I think you’ll enjoy learning from her, too.

After you’re done, flick open your calendar, whether it’s on your phone or your desk or your wall, and figure out when in 2018 you’ll make the trip to visit the IQSCM. Some of you have been and need to go back; some of you have yet to see this iconic, exquisite quilt museum and in a way, I’m kind of jealous of the latter group. After all, you still have before you that incredible moment when you drive up to Quilt House and realize that the whole, huge, gorgeous place, honors quilts and only quilts. Well, this is the year to get there and have that moment — and if you go before May 13, you’ll see the Ken Burns quilt exhibit, too!

Speaking of interviews: Kenny, I’ve got you in my sights.

The Kindness of Clovis

posted in: Day In The Life 14
The famous “Gateway to the Sierras” suspended street sign in Clovis. Photo: Me.


I woke up in California today.

Specifically, I woke up in California’s San Joaquin Valley, in Fresno County, in the town of Clovis. I had a gig this weekend and the gig was marvelous. Lecture went great; class went great. All was merry and bright, except that I wasn’t feeling terribly well when I arrived on Friday. But what can you do? You keep calm; you carry on. By the time the class ended yesterday, however, sleeping for about 12 hours seemed like a real smart thing to do. And that’s what I thought I would do, except when the incandescent Jessi and the captivating Vicki (who I have a feeling is going to help me find my puppy, y’all) dropped me off at my hotel, I had to change plans. It was only 4 p.m. and I knew that if I fell asleep right that minute, I’d wake up at 9 p.m. and then … cut to 2 a.m. and I’m up, eatin’ chips … and potentially missing my 6:30 a.m. flight. No bueno.

“Fons,” I said, sitting down on the edge of the bed in my room. “Fons.”

“Yes?” I answered myself, weary, dreading what I was going to say.

“You’re a five-minute walk to downtown Clovis, Fons. C’mon! Go down there and check it out! It’s that cool, old town kinda thing, remember? It looked so neat when you drove through yesterday.”

“I am not feeling very well,” I said. “And my contacts are so crispy.”

“Wear your glasses.”

I whined. “It’s sunnnnnnny.”

“Stop it. One hour, tops. Take some pictures. You’re behind on your Instagram.”

I knew I was right, so I heaved me off the bed. I took out my contacts; I put on my glasses. I got a totebag and made sure my phone had a charge. I put on my flip-flops, stuck my hotel key in my pocket, and out I went.

Downtown Clovis was neat. There was lots to see: tons of antique stores; great old signs; good-lookin’ restaurants; a men’s store that has been in business since 1900 or something bananas like that. And it was Winter Formal or something, so I saw a some high school couples out in their finery. As I walked around this street and that, I realized how much I was enjoying myself, how I felt better just by doing “nothing.” Please believe me that I do not see it as some badge of honor that I cannot remember the last time I had an hour or two like that, just walking, taking pictures, doing nothing, totally off the clock. I’m so rarely ever, ever off the clock. But I was, in Clovis yesterday, for just over an hour. I’m glad it happened, glad I convinced myself to go for it.

But when the sun began to slip away around 6:30 or so, I realized I was on empty, for real this time. I needed water, too. I kept thinking I’d find a Walgreen’s or a CVS and my plan was to buy two big bottles of Perrier and a bag of popcorn and that would be my dinner. You know how sometimes, that’s the best dinner? Just popcorn. Well, I walked and walked and … Nothing. I started looking for a tiny market shop or even a liquor store, but no dice. I decided to just walk on out of town and back to my hotel, but this was the pits! Surely there was a place nearby I could get a bottle of water and a bag of popcorn.

I saw a woman walking a few paces ahead of me. “Excuse me, Miss?” I said. “I’m sorry; could you tell me if there’s a Walgreen’s nearby or something like it?”

“Oh, well, let’s see,” the woman said, and she pointed down the main road. “I think there’s one down that way … Maybe just a couple miles down?”

I thanked her and shook my head. “I’m on foot, I’m afraid. I’m here for the quilt show and just thought I’d come walk around a little, find some snacks. No worries! Thank you for your help.”

“Oh, I’m a quilter!” the woman said. “Want me to give you a lift? I’m happy to do it.”

Mind you, this lady didn’t know who I was. She sort of knew about Fons & Porter (and when I told her about Quiltfolk she was very excited) but she’s new to the whole thing and is just getting into longarming. So this wasn’t a “Oh! Oh my goodness! It’s Mary Fons! Eee! Do you need a ride??” kind of a thing. No, this lovely woman — Pam — gave a complete stranger/out-of-towner a ride to get popcorn and water simply because that’s the kind of person she is. Can you believe it? She didn’t know me from Eve! When I told her how grateful I was that she was taking the time to help me out, she shrugged it off and said:

“Honey, I’m a Christian. It’s my job.”

That’s my kinda Christian, Pam. And downtown Clovis, that’s my kind of sightseeing.

Well done, all.

My Candy Preferences Tell Me I am 89 Years Old

posted in: Day In The Life 9
Saltwater taffy. Image: Wikipedia.


I do not, as a rule, spend time on

In fact, I am not even going to open a tab and visit the BuzzFeed website and click on the”About” tab to see what BuzzFeed has to say about its vision, or mission, or evil plan for world domination. Because I do not want to be assaulted with what I will surely find there: pop-up ads, weird clickbait images that flash, and … quizzes. Lots and lots of quizzes.

Because what I do know for sure about BuzzFeed is that they are responsible for those infernal online quizzes that everyone was (still is?) posting every five seconds on Facebook and across other social media platforms. The quizzes are things like, “What Power Ranger Are You?” or “How Much Cooler Are You Than This Tree Trunk?” or “QUIZ: We Can Tell You Exactly How Old You Are By What Candy You Like.”

Now, these kinds of things can be fun. In small doses. If you don’t have anything better to do and … I’m not going suggest that you surely, surely have better things to do than take more than like two BuzzFeed quizzes in your whole, entire life but what do I know? Maybe you get great pleasure from knowing (for example) what kind of superhero sidekick you’d be if you were a superhero sidekick. I don’t know your life! Maybe BuzzFeed quizzes are research for you because you’re applying to be an actual superhero’s actual sidekick.

Anyway, I took one of these blasted things not too long ago. I cannot tell you why that was. The quiz I took was one of the ones I mentioned: the “We Can Tell You Exactly How Old You Are By What Candy You Like” quiz. Maybe I just wanted some candy at the time and didn’t have any and this dumb quiz was a stop-gap? There were big pictures of candy in the quiz, so maybe that was it.

Most of the questions were “this vs. that” questions, which basically made taking a BuzzFeed quiz like playing a video game. Click. Click. Click. Others were multiple choice, sort of. As I went through the questions, I jotted down some of them so I could tell you about it later. My selections in boldface:

Cape Cod Saltwater Taffy vs. AirHeads

vs. Jolly Ranchers

Skittles, Haribo Gummi Bears, Starbursts, Sour Patch Kids

Twix, KitKat, Almond Joy, Butterfinger

At the end of the goofy thing, I was informed EXACTLY how old I am, just as they told me I would. Would you like to know EXACTLY how old I am?

I am 89 years old. According to BuzzFeed. Because of what candy I like. On the internet. I am an 89-year-old woman.

That I am suddenly an octogenarian feels right in this situation. I’m awfully grouchy about the kids and their koo-koo crazy BuzzFeed internetz, after all. But I do feel a little defensive. Why are delicious candies like Werther’s Originals and saltwater taffy the selections for those beyond the bloom of youth? Why should liking a lame, lightweight KitKat make me younger, while sweet n’ crunchy Almond Joy makes me older?

But this is the problem with BuzzFeed quizzes and so much content like it on internet: The more you try to make sense of it, the more you are frustrated, because it doesn’t make sense. It’s not supposed to. It’s not designed to. Stuff like this is space garbage, internet trash floating around in a galaxy of zeroes and ones.

The good news is that I don’t have a single gray hair.

Let’s All Start Using ‘Viz’

posted in: Day In The Life, Word Nerd 12
“Woman Writing” by August Macke, 1910. Image: Wikipedia.


I’ve learned over the years that folks love the “Word Nerd” posts on the ol’ PG. The copy editing post was a big hit, for example.

Well, kids, it’s a Word Nerd Day. And it’s a good one, too.

I came across an abbreviation a couple weeks ago while (re)reading P.G. Wodehouse’s “Joy In the Morning” for the humor writing class I’m teaching. I’ll put the sentence in below; all you need to know for context is that it’s the incomparable (and incomparably funny) Bertram “Bertie” Wooster speaking:

… it had naturally seemed that the end of the world had come and Judgement Day set in with unusual severity. But to me, the cool and level-headed bystander, the whole thing had been pure routine. One shrugged the shoulders and recognized it for what it was — viz. pure apple sauce.

Viz! Do you know this one?? I didn’t, but when I saw it, I decided that if P.G. Wodehouse used it, I must start using it, too, and liberally. Here’s the definition:

viz. | viz |
adverb           chiefly British
namely; in other words (used to introduce a gloss or explanation): the first music reproducing media, viz., the music box and the player piano.
Latin, from videreto see” + licetit is permissible.”


Thinking through this “viz” biz, I’m now aware that I’ve been using “i.e.” when I should probably be using viz.

In case you need a refresher, “i.e.” means “that is to say.” It’s used to add explanatory information or to state something in different words, e.g., “I love going on spa retreats, i.e., spending hundreds of dollars to have someone smack me with kelp leaves while I pretend that the quinoa patty I ate for lunch was totally satisfying and also I am trying not to get cucumber water in my eyeballs.”

[See what I did with the “e.g.” up there? Because “e.g.” means “for example”! I know. There are so many of those and now there’s viz.]

Here are some sentences where I practice using viz.

The main point of Mary’s lecture, viz. that caramel should be a food group, was misunderstood.

Several of Santa’s reindeer, viz. Dasher, Blitzen, and Donner, were total jerks. 

But the hobo had one obvious problem, viz. he was wearing a tin can for a hat.

Okay, now you practice. Well, if you want. Practice using viz. if you’re a Word Nerd like me. (And if you’re reading this, you totally are, even if you didn’t know that about yourself.)

Pre-Dawn, No Yawn

posted in: Day In The Life 12
Dawn, someplace. Photo: Susanne Nilsson, via Wikipedia.


“The mornings are for thinking; the evenings are for feeling.”

Gertrude Stein said that. The mornings are for thinking, the evenings are for feeling. Don’t you love that? And isn’t it that just the way?

Though I’ve always been a morning person, a few months ago I started waking up earlier. I started waking up at four — and I’m pretty sure that’s gonna be the way it is from here on out because I love getting up that early.

It’s true. When I get up at 4 a.m., I don’t wake up in despair. Oh, I’m a little daunted when the alarm goes off, but it’s exciting for me to know that I have hours to think before the rest of the world gets up and need things from me and I need things from the world.

It started because I had no choice. Between school, Quiltfolk, lecture gigs, and the rest of my life, waking up in the almost-middle-of-the-night and getting to work became the only way out, as far as I could see. And sure enough, day after day, the mornings were for thinking. I saw that I could mountains of work between 4 a.m. and noon, all of it necessary — necessary, of course, if you agree that reading assignments are necessary; that responding to fellow students’ work is necessary; that turning in magazine articles and columns a least within a day or two of their respective deadlines is necessary; if working on my essay collection is necessary.

I think all that’s very necessary. I think those things create what my life looks like and I feel pretty necessary, if only to myself.

So I get up at 4 a.m. and make tea. I take my vitamins and my meds. I stare into space for awhile. If you were to see me there in my reclining chair, holding a hot mug of tea and staring into space at 4:17 a.m., it might not look like I’m doing much. But make no mistake, I am very busy.

I am thinking.

Cold Lungs, Warm Heart

posted in: Day In The Life 9
Yeah, that looks familiar. Harbor and skyline as seen from the Planetarium. Photo by Charles Weever Cushman (1896-1972); image via Wikipedia.


I am not a jogger.

I don’t do 5k runs. I don’t have one of those Garmin things, whatever those things are. I don’t dream of running a marathon. Actually, I did dream of running a marathon once: I woke up in a cold sweat and had to get a glass of water to calm my nerves.


There have been periods in my life when I actually was a Running Person, when I did feel the need to cross long distances moving my legs at a faster rate than they would be going if I were walking. Sometimes, putting on sneakers and taking off has struck me as a thing — even the thing — to do.

For example, one of the best memories I have of my relationship with my ex-husband was the day we ran from our apartment in Edgewater all the way to Navy Pier … and back. It was 15 miles! And we just did it. Neither of us were regular joggers. But we were in love and we felt like it and we could. Marvelous. It was less marvelous when my big toenail turned black — and I didn’t run much for the rest of the year — but I’ll never forget that and how good it felt, start to finish.

And before that, back when I was a waitress at an Uptown brunch joint, I would wake up at 5 a.m. and go jogging before I had to clock in two hours later for the truly insane Saturday shift. That is fairly remarkable, but then, I was 23 years old. What else did I have to do, really?

After some years of zero jogs, I have been going out and getting a few. I’ve been gathering jogs, you could say. And what do you know? Jogging feels really good. I’m diggin’ it. I’m almost — not totally, but almost — looking forward to doing it tomorrow morning.

“Oh, Mary,” you chuckle, and tenderly pat my hand. “You’re so sweet. You mean that you liked jogging a few months ago and you were too busy to tell us about it so you’re telling us now.”

“No,” I say, but I let you pat me because I have never refused a tender pat. “No, I mean I’ve been jogging lately. Like, now, lately.”

You look at me and I think for a moment I have managed to put an exploded pen in my mouth or something.

“Mary,” you say slowly, “it’s winter. It was nine degrees in Chicago today.”

Yeah, I know, I know. But the thing about me and jogging is that doing it in the winter is when I like to do it. Jogging in the heat, under the glare of the sun, dodging a zillion people who do not think it necessary to wear clothes that cover large parts of their bodies? No bueno. Winter jogging is where it’s at, my sisters.

Everyone’s first fear is that you’ll freeze out there or worse, that you’ll sweat and freeze, and that does sound pretty awful. But with the proper clothing, you’re fine. You need leggings, an undershirt, and a pullover. You need a hat, gloves, and a neck-thingy. And your shoes and socks. Why, in that getup, you’re downright toasty! And everything “wicks” now. All your winter running gear is going to “wick” moisture, so you won’t be cold or wet, I promise. You’ll just be a big wick.

Of course, one of the major benefits of winter jogging is that you’ve got the world to yourself. Most joggers are on treadmills this time of year, which means you’ve got wide open spaces to explore and all the trails and bike lanes are your private roads. Nice. And you’re out there, out in the clear, bright white world. The air is crystal clear. The sun glints off the snow/lake/rooftops and then you blow your nose on your sleeve and no one sees. I’m telling you, it’s terrific.

I’m not getting kookoo bananas with this “jogging” thing; going out a few times a week feels about right. It doesn’t mean I’m leaping out of bed to go out there, though; not at all. Some days, as it gets closer to the time I told myself I’d go for a jog, I resist. I look out the window and I think, “No, no. It’s too cold today …”

But then I suit up and I get out there. And this version of me shows up and she’s pretty cool.

No Dinner For You, Detroit

posted in: Day In The Life 16
Home cookin’. Image: Wikipedia.


The plan was to be in Chicago.

Right now, this very moment, in Chicago. Home. But I’m not in home. I’m in Detroit.

After two days teaching patchwork and lecturing on the Great American Quilt Revival for the Great Lakes Heritage Quilters, I was all set to scoot to the airport and get back to Chicago by 7:00 p.m. The days were great (that’s the good news) and home was important because getting home is important, but there was this one particular reason I wanted to get home as soon as I could, faster than ever, even.

You see, my friend Nick was going to make me dinner. He was going to make me dinner so that when I came home, there would be this … dinner.

Like, a dinner that was there. Made. For me. For us. A meal. A meal that was there. When I came back from a business trip. Like, a homemade dinner. When I walked in the door.

I can hardly get my mind around this concept. That there would be a meal for me when I came home from a trip … It just sounds really nice, you know? It sounds like the nicest thing I’ve ever heard of. I’m not sure when … I’m not sure I can remember the last time … Anyway, I was looking forward to that, you know? Especially after a four-day Quiltfolk trip last week and these two days of work in Michigan.

But my flight was cancelled. Not delayed; cancelled. The first time that happened — yeah, I said the first time — was this afternoon. I was in the workshop, helping Dee match her points, when Sue, my host, came toward me. She was looking at her phone with a furrowed brow.

“Mar,” she said, “it’s telling me your flight’s been cancelled.”

My stomach dropped, curled, flipped. I stopped breathing but I finished helping Dee with her points. As soon as Dee was sewing again, I dashed to the hallway with my phone and scrambled. It was weather. Snow. Ice. Flying monkeys. What did it matter, now? No getting home at 7:00 p.m. My eyes filled with tears and I felt so, so sad. That homemade dinner.

My only option was to get on a flight through Nashville. I would arrive in Chicago at 10:40 p.m., and even in Europe, that is not dinnertime. But when you really, really want to have dinner with someone, you make it work. I made a tearful call to Nick and let him know.

The reason I spend time with this person is because he says things like, “Nothing’s changed except the time you’re coming home.”

Sue gets me to the airport. I check my bags. As I’m walking to the gate, I get a work-related text and it is bad. It is bad news. It is really bad news. I can’t go into the bad news. Even if I could go into the bad news, I wouldn’t. You just have to believe me that the text I got, as I’m dragging myself through the Detroit airport, sad because the first home-cooked meal I’d be having in years was not going to happen — this work thing was terrible and I couldn’t breathe very well.

And as I am trying not to hyperventilate, Southwest announces that no one on the planet (or at least in Detroit) is going to Nashville or Chicago before tomorrow morning. Including me. There is no voucher. There is no shuttle. There might be luggage. Either way, I’d be in EST again tonight.

Hot tears spilled down my face and I felt tired. I felt overwhelmed. All the bad things that I think about myself when I do something wrong came crashing down on me and I thought, “You are a failure, you are a mess.”

The need to find a hotel room* stunned me into a numbness that at least got my feet moving toward baggage claim. My bags were the last to be put on the conveyor belt. Would they even come?? Right before I truly lost it, they came up on the belt. I collected them, looking for all the world like someone had just stolen my birthday. I took a taxi to the hotel I booked; the taxi and the hotel pretty much wiped out what I made in book sales; whatever. I was so despondent I didn’t even care. I texted Nick that I’d call him later, after I stopped crying. (My mom doesn’t like it when I cry on the phone so now, I don’t like to cry on the phone.)

I took a bath. I ate something. I tried to breathe, to chill. It was a good day, but then it just went so bad.

My flight is at 6:50 a.m., so I should try to sleep, but come on. I won’t be able to. There’s too much anxiety in me, too much worry. And I shouldn’t be here. I should be there. With …

With Chicago. I should be with Chicago.

This is how it is. Sometimes, you are on top of the world. Sometimes, the world is so on top of you, you are at least a Great Lake away from feeling good.


*My hosts would have totally come back to the airport, collected me, and put me up for the night at one of their homes, without question. I was so wiped out and bummed, though, I just couldn’t make the call.

There’s This Thing I Like: A Look at ‘Haul’ Videos

posted in: Confessions, Day In The Life 6
A Dollar Tree store in Commerce, Texas. Photo: Wikipedia.


It wouldn’t be PaperGirl if I didn’t make a confession every few weeks, so here goes the latest:

I’ve been watching — in fact, I’ve been listening to — what are called YouTube “haul” videos.

Do you know about this haul video phenomenon? If so, are you about to tell me that haul videos have been happening since YouTube began and where have I been living? And are you telling me that you have a problem with the rock under which I live? Well, missy, I like my rock — but I am also glad to peek out of it, sometimes, so I can discover things like haul videos.

In case you are an under-rock-dweller, yourself, a “haul” video is a video made for the internet wherein a person goes shopping and then shows you, item by item, what they bought. Sometimes the haul video includes the actual shopping trip, which means the shopper/vlogger has their phone out as they go through the store and thereby records the whole experience. But for the most part, the recording of the shopping trip itself doesn’t have much more than bouncy, jerky video of the aisles and of the person’s hand reaching at things to check the price on this or that item and saying, “Ooh, this is so cute, look at this!” Often, there’s no talking at all and the trip is set to goofy music. My point is that I’m not super into those videos.

But when the shopper sits down in her house (I have only ever seen female haul videos but I’m sure there are guys who do them) and she says something like, “Okay, guys! I’m just back from [insert store here] and I’m ready to take you through the haul! Let’s open the first bag” — when that happens, I’m hooked.

Again, I don’t watch the videos so much as listen to them. I open a browser window, hit “play” on some hauling vlogger channel, and turn the sound down so that I can work on other things.

In fact … Yes, there’s a video playing on my laptop right now.

This is weird, right? Or is it not weird? It can’t be weirder than this. Or this. But maybe if I try to explain why I do this, it’ll make sense. Let’s hope.

While I have friends and loved ones aplenty; while I feel largely satisfied with the life I am making; while I do very much enjoy living alone, I would be misrepresenting myself if I said there were not times when I wished for a little company around here. (My sweet Philip Larkin; someday soon, dearest puppy, but not today.)

Part of what I like about playing these videos in the background is that they provide a lovely white noise. It’s comforting to hear a nice lady chatting about nothing — and mind you, that’s not a dig. I’m not saying what she’s doing is “nothing” or has no value; I’m saying that going through six bags of discounted craft supplies from The Dollar Tree is not anything that I need to focus on. Particularly.

And that craft things is part of this. I’ve got a specific haul video beat, you see: I’m into the crafters. Not the quilters — do quilters do haul videos?? — and not the makeup girls or the clothes shopping girls. I’m sure there are haul videos for shoe stores and things. Nah. It’s the 50-something ladies who haul from Hobby Lobby, At Home, Michael’s, and whatever those other stores are, that really make me feel … better.


We all know that I can tell you anything. But when I told my friend Nick about this, I was a little nervous. Would he think I was a total freak? Would he think … What would he think?

One morning not long ago, Nick came over to me while I was working. I had just turned on a video, namely “Arlynn’s Country Craft Corner,” which is a favorite of mine (though I really wish she had spelled everything with a ‘K’ instead of a ‘C.’) He looked over my shoulder at Arlynn as she demonstrated her signature “funky bow,” which is very nice, though for the life of me I cannot figure out why it is considered “funky.”

“I get it,” Nick said. “It’s calming. She’s just a nice lady, doing a simple thing. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed.”

“You really don’t think it’s weird that I love it so much?” I asked. I noticed how handsome he looked in his lounge-y pants and his t-shirt. He looks handsome in everything, though.

“No, I don’t think it’s weird. I think it’s sweet.”

And that’s how you go from writing a post about watching/not-watching YouTube “haul” videos to getting all dreamy about someone who has now appeared in this blog twice.

Stay tuned.

The PaperGirl Predictor Machine-o-Gram Predictions for 2018

posted in: Day In The Life 8
Is that Philip Larkin down there?? (“Gipsy Fortune Teller,” by Taras Shevchenko, c. 1840. Image: Wikipedia.)


Thank you for being kind about my mini-story the other day; I was weirdly seized with the desire to talk about what was going on with me without actually talking about what was going on with me and it was a really interesting exercise. Several of you asked for more chapters and you know, I might just write them. Thanks, as always, for reading the ol’ PG.

Thank you also for sensing that I have needed a little rest. I am getting a modest portion.

Now, then.

This time of year, you see a lot of “Best/Worst” year-end lists and various wrap-up features (e.g., The Year In Pictures; The Year In Memes, etc.). It’s certainly important to reflect. But it seems there’s way more retrospecting than there is futurecasting. Instead of me doing a year-end wrap up of all the things that happened on this blog in the past year — it was all a blur, anyway — how about some predictions for the coming one?

Here is a list of people, places, events, and other stuff I predict you’ll be reading a lot more about in the ol’ PG in 2018. It’s stuff I’m hoping I’ll be able to write about, anyway. I used a special machine to generate the contents, as you can see:

The PaperGirl Predictor Machine-o-Gram Predictions for 2018

Quiltfolk Magazine (my dream magazine)
Philip Larkin (my dream dog)
Travel (to distant lands??)
A move to a new apartment?? (in Chicago, don’t worry)
Love?? (possible … )
Soaring income (look, this is my predictor machine! I’m going for it)
Completion of my master’s in May (it’s gonna happen!!!)
The return of a certain podcast project??? (who can say??)
Other Wonderful Things
Great clothes, baby
Hottest year ever (not weather)

Now, the PaperGirl Predictor Machine-o-Gram can tell no lies. So it also predicted things that I might not want but that must come to pass because hey, man. Life. So the following things will probably come up as you read along with me, but it’s okay:

Illness (but nothing serious, hopefully — Thanks Machine-o-Gram!)
General malaise
Crushing fear

Why are you looking at me like that? Them’s the breaks, gang. If I try to land a year with only good things and no bad things, I don’t think it would make for a very interesting reading experience for you. And I live for you.

(I’m only half-kidding.)

Happy New Year, everyone.

New York City / New Year’s Eve: A Quick Fiction

posted in: Day In The Life, Fiction 30
East Village, New York City. Photo: Wikipedia.


Chapter 1

It was early November when her sister asked.

For the first time in months, Mary was talking to Hannah over the phone. They texted each other, and there were emails here and there. But phone calls in the past few years, not so much.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Hannah said, “I’m having a party on New Year’s Eve. You should come!”

Mary’s heart sank. Her sister loved to throw parties and her parties were great. The two of them badly needed more quality time — actual, IRL, face time — and going to Hannah’s New Year’s Eve party would show her sister just how much Mary loved her, how she was willing to make the effort for the relationship.

But it would mean she would have to go to New York City for New Year’s Eve. It meant she’d have to go to New York City in winter. It meant she’d have to go to New York City, period.

“I’m in,” Mary said, “absolutely.” She rubbed her eyes and logged onto

Chapter 2

As the taxi inched its way toward the hotel, Mary’s friend Nick pressed his face up to the window, steaming it with his breath, then wiping off the condensation so as to clear his view. This was his first time in the city and it was nice to see him take it all in. The best way to be in New York City is to be there the first time ever or to have been there for over 10 years. Anywhere in between, Mary thought, and it’s too hard.

She would know; she tried living in New York City once. Love and curiosity were her reasons for trying it on. But when love went all wrong and she realized she had no feeling for the impossible, endless city, living in New York was excruciating. The cards were stacked against her from the start, though; a person shouldn’t move to New York at age 36. It’s a young man’s town.

“It looks like Chicago,” Nick said. “I mean, I see a lot of similarities.”

“That true, there are,” Mary said, and glanced out the window herself. “But it’s nearly dark out. It’ll look different to you in the daytime, I bet.”

As Nick took in the scene and laughed at just how close the taxi was coming to the delivery trucks and the pedestrians, Mary pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders and pressed her back into the seat. She let her head fall back a little, though she would be careful not to let Nick see her so weary. When the man you’re dating is a decade your junior, you’re forced to remain peppy and energized at all times. It’s a good thing, on balance — and most of the time, Mary didn’t need to fake it — but New York took it out of her.

Young man’s town.

Chapter 3

In the morning, she crept out of bed so as not to disturb Nick, angelic and gorgeous nestled under the down comforter and hotel linen. The outrageously expensive Peninsula for two nights was her Christmas gift to the two of them and she forced herself to forget just how much she spent. When the credit card bill arrived, she would not look. Standing on the heated floor in the generous bathroom, though, as she gave her hair a quick brush, Mary knew the room was worth every penny. All 96 billion of them.

She pulled on a jumpsuit and threw a sweater around her shoulders. Flip-flops would be fine; she was only after coffee and some writing time down in the lounge. Without turning on any more lights, she grabbed her briefcase and her phone and slipped out the door. Nick hadn’t even stirred.

Down in the lounge, she was alone and so, so glad. It would be the only time all day — and all night — that would happen.

She felt sad. It’s hard to know so much, hard to have failures and be reminded of them. The New York chapter, and Washington D.C. after that, was tough. No doubt about that, now, looking back. Oh, she kept her chin up through it all. And there were small victories. But overall, it cost her dearly in energy and innocence. It was death by a thousand papercuts, that era.

Mary looked out the tall window at the dusting of snow on the street. The news said tonight would be New York’s coldest New Year’s Eve since the 1960s. The dress and heels she brought were more suited for a spring night, even if she stayed inside the party most of the evening. Mary sighed and decided she’d have to go in search of a jacket before tonight. As usual, New York would insist she spend more money before she left.

It was getting late. She needed to pack up and get up to the room so that she and Nick could get a reasonable start to the day. He wanted to see Central Park and there was a quilt exhibit at the Folk Art Museum for her, thank God. Quilts would surely help.

A loud group entered the lounge, laughing and talking about work. Mary gathered her things, grateful again for the peace she was afforded this morning. She smiled at the group as she left, and as she threw her coffee cup in the trash near the bar, two more couples came in.

It’s so hard to be in place where you know you don’t belong, she thought, especially when the place is considered the center of the world. Guess I don’t belong in the center of the world, Mary thought, and made her way to the elevators.

[Maybe to be continued? I don’t know. I don’t write fiction.]



My Cell Phone Phobia, Part Two: 1986 Saves the Day

posted in: Day In The Life 19
Now that’s a telephone! Image: Wikipedia.


This post is the second of two. If you haven’t yet read what I posted yesterday, you should do that before continuing. If you don’t get caught up, the super weird thing I’m about to tell you will be even weirder and if you’re new around here … I’m just not sure our relationship can take that much stress, so maybe  click here and then come back when you feel prepared.

So I’m going along in my cell phone angst for years and then I get a job at the student newspaper at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC.) In keeping with the standards of any self-respecting media outlet, there’s a telephone in the F Newsmagazine office: a crappy, beat-up, yellowing beige-colored phone that was surely considered cutting-edge telephone technology in 1986. Maybe 1985. Well, it just so happens that the un-ironically retro phone is next to my computer, which makes me the one who answers it when it rings. The office phone doesn’t ring terribly often; when it does, it’s usually good ol’ Paul, the paper’s crusty-but-loveable student advisor. Paul calls from his office down the hall and barks at me to do the timesheets or ask if we’ve ordered toner. (I will, we haven’t.) But there are other calls, too, e.g., various SAIC offices, advertising people, etc.

Here’s what’s crazy: I love answering the F News phone.

Me! Phone-phobic me! The girl who puts her phone on silent and intentionally forgets to turn it back on because if she forgets to turn it back on, she can legitimately miss calls and not have to fib and say she “didn’t hear the phone” when she did hear (and see!) the phone but just couldn’t pick it up for the life of her. This girl who avoids voicemail for weeks doesn’t even let a voicemail happen at F News because it’s just so much fun to answer the phone when it rings! I know!

But there’s more. What could possibly be crazier than the fact that I love to answer the office phone?

I love to make calls on it. 

Making calls on that phone is literally my favorite thing to do in the office. I look for reasons to call people and places because the whole process is so much fun. I love it all. I love the click of the receiver as it comes off the base. I love to cradle the phone to my ear, there in the crook of my neck. I love the dial tone. I love to punch the buttons and if one hand is doing that while I’m looking at my computer to get the number, even better. And if I’m dialing with one hand, looking at my computer, telling someone in the office something like, “I’m calling right now” and if I happen to be wearing my glasses that day, I enter some kind of blissful fugue state. I’m not kidding.

So what’s the deal?

It’s the phone. You guys, it’s the old school phone. It does it for me. It’s the key to all my phone issues. The phone is the solution. And I told you this was gonna be super weird, but hear me out.

My theory is that when I use the old office phone from the 1980s, it feels like I’m playing office and how can I be anxious if I’m playing? Somehow, using a phone that is not super cool, super sleek, super advanced, etc., kind of puts things in perspective for me, somehow, and I don’t take myself so seriously.

The other theory is that using the old phone is me channelling my mother and every other awesome 1980s “working girl” I loved from the movies, e.g., “Working Girl”; “Baby Boom”; “9 to 5,” etc. My mother and those women in those big glasses and that long phone cord and their high-waisted skirts and feathered bangs??? That’s my jam! Those are my role models, my heroes! If answering the phone makes me like them, I got two words for you: Call me. Because then I can live out my phone fantasies.


Someone leaves the office and I roll my eyes because they’re sweet but they’re so much work and I have so much to do for Lord’s sake. I sigh and put my pencil between my teeth for a second and glance at my computer to check the phone number for Mr. Carlyle — I’ve left two messages already and I need to get him on the line today. My fingers fly over the buttons and I turn away from my monitor in my spinny chair, re-cross my legs and admiring my pumps. A co-worker — I need her name to be Sally — says she’s running out for a minute.

“Need anything, Mar?” Sally says as she puts on her scarf and gets her purse. Sally’s seeing someone new. A waiter of all things! That girl.

I tell her I’d love a coffee, and just when she asks me if I take anything in it, Mr. Carlyle’s ornery old secretary picks phone and says, “Mr. Carlyle’s office,” and I say, “Yes, this is Mary Fons for Mr. Carlyle, I’ve called twice this we —,” and that mean old hen says, “Yes, Miss Fons, just a minute,” and she patches me through. I cover the receiver with my other palm and whisper to Sally, “I’ll take two creams and two Sweet n’ Lows, you’re a dream,” and then Sally’s out the door.

“This is Bob Carlyle.”

It’s him, the stinker. I sit up a little straighter.

“Yes, Mr. Carlyle? Yes, this is Mary Fons. I’m glad to finally get you on the line. You haven’t been avoiding me, have you?”


See what I mean? Anyway, the guy from RCN came yesterday and installed a landline in my house. Really. I now have a landline in defiance of every advance of technology in the past 20 years. And do you suppose I ordered a crappy old beige phone? You bet I did. It’s delivered tomorrow and I cannot wait to take calls and make them. It’s a new day, people.

Hey! It’s a new year!


Make Mine Wite-Out

posted in: Day In The Life, Work 9
Liquid Paper display, Women's Museum, Dallas, Texas. Photo: Wikipedia.
Liquid Paper display, Women’s Museum, Dallas, Texas. Did you know Liquid Paper was invented by a lady? Photo: Wikipedia.


Before I discuss my love of White-Out, Liquid Paper, and other corrective fluids*, I would like to remind you that it’s not all Wite-Out and dryer lint around here. I write about serious things, too.

I’ve been thinking about Wite-Out because I have been dipping often (and dippin’ hard) into my 2017 paper planner, aka, my “papecal.” Nothing new, of course: My paper planner has long been an extension of my brain, more vital, I feel, to my life and mental health than my dumb ol’ phone. Yes, if I had to lose either my phone or my papecal, I’d hand over my phone without a second thought. Phones can be replaced. But papecals, with all their small notes, non-deleteable content, and margin doodles? Papecals are unique and special. Just like my family, each of whom holds his or her papecal close.

At any rate, it’s the end of the year, and because there is a lot going on in work and life, there has been more papecal’in around in my life lately. Which means there is more Wite-Out. Why? Because there are corrections to be made. There are adjustments to incorporate. Things shift. Appointments change. Meetings are moved.

“But Mary,” you say, taking a chocolate from the festively-decorated box of chocolates on the table between us, “Why do you need Wite-Out for changes in your papecal? Just write things in pencil and erase them like a normal person.”

“I don’t do pencil,” I say, and I realize I have just taken a bite of a chocolate-covered cherry. I don’t do chocolate-covered cherries, either. I put the half-eaten chocolate on my napkin and then I try a different chocolate and this time it’s a caramel, thank goodness. I continue:

“I only do pen. I’m a pen-to-papecal kind of gal.”

You don’t really get it, but you have spotted a mellowcreme-shaped chocolate (milk, not dark) in the box and you’re going for it, so you don’t press me. Have I mentioned you have a few bits of stray tinsel in your hair? It’s really adorable.

I don’t know, there’s just something about Wite-Out. I love its chalky ways. I love its opaqueness. I love that it erases in white. Like, it’s a color, but it deletes. This is zen stuff, this correction fluid.* And I recently discovered there is off-white Wite-Out, for legal documents or illuminated manuscripts or something. The shade is the exact shade of the paper in my papecal! I bought three bottles, one for my purse, one for my desk. One for my other desk.

Back to work.


p.s. Wait! Did you know a lady invented Liquid Paper? Yes, Ms. Bettie Nesmith Graham is who we have to thank! I think there must be a Part II to this post all about Bettie.


The Best Kind of Christmas Shopping

posted in: Day In The Life, Family 9
Child’s drawing, 2012. Image: Wikipedia.


We did it, gang.

My last class for the fall term was today. I am officially one semester away from completing my Master of Fine Arts in Writing (MFAW) at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC.) I feel really good. I know the ol’ PG takes a hit sometimes, with the coursework, but you know and I know: I’m never far. I won’t ever be far away.

When I left the newspaper office this afternoon and I realized the term really was actually complete, I thought, “Hey, I should celebrate.” I considered going for some Netflix, maybe picking up a fancy bottle of wine (by which I mean a $20-bottle of wine.) And if Netflix n’ drinkin alone strikes you as being kind of a sad way to celebrate something, you must understand that I am very, very tired.

But I didn’t get the bottle of wine (too many calories) and I won’t poke around on Netflix, either (too many choices.) The good news is that I found a better way to celebrate on the way home: I bought a Christmas present for a kid!

My friends S. and Z. have the most incredible daughter. Let’s call her Squirt. Squirt is around five, though I’m terrible at gauging/remembering the ages of anyone over about one week. What I do know about the child is that she is almost too smart and adorable to be believed. The kid bats her eyes and twirls around and you’re toast, just totally in love with her and her Squirt Way. But then she opens her mouth to say something genius and you think, “Please, please Lord, let this person use her powers for good.” Because she’s scary advanced, human-wise.

For example, about a year-and-a-half ago, I was hanging out at the pool with Squirt and her mom and Squirt fell and got a bad scrape on her knee. Of course, Squirt was really, really upset and crying; it hurt! We were all doing the boo-boo kiss thing and trying to make her feel better, but it was a tough one. At one point, between sobs, Squirt wailed to us, “I’m n-not d-doing very well … !”

I‘m not doing very well??

The kid was three. This is what I’m talking about.

Anyway, Squirt loves to make art. The last time I saw her and her, we made art together, and that was a blast. Drawing and coloring with this kid made me remember just how very, very much I loved “doing art” when I was wee. Oh, man. It’s really in the blood, you know, the art stuff. Some kids are just art kids. As Squirt and I scribbled together that day, I made a mental note that when Christmastime came, I was gonna blow that kid’s mind with a big haul of art supplies from Chicago.

So there I am, headed away from the office, trying to figure out how to mark this not-insubstantial milestone in my grad school existence, when it hit me: Go to Dick Blick! Of course! I could go into Dick Blick and buy Squirt her art supplies!

And indeed, I went into the art superstore there on State Street and knew it was just right. I looked over papers, markers, glitters. I picked up pens, cardstock, poster paper. My eyes loved the colors everywhere; I let the smell of canvas and glue and paint carry me away.

That kid is gonna freak out. I got her some good stuff, and I’m not even sure I’m done, yet. At the heart, I suppose I did retail therapy tonight, except I got the therapy and Squirt’s gettin’ the retail.

Christmas is working!

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