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!

My Hair Struggles, or: ‘The Best Things In Life are at Walgreens’ (Part II)

posted in: Day In The Life 20
It’s clay, it’s clay!! Image: Wikipedia.


I told you on Saturday about my shameful hair/scalp secret and I told you I’d share about my big breakthrough solution the very next day.


First, I was eaten by arduous tasks. Then it was urgent to implore us all to be good citizen consumers (there is still time to be one, by the way!) These things had to be done. I had no idea when I posted that first post that it would all go down like this and I truly apologize for leaving you in the lurch. But it’s time to get down to business and I feel that the second part of this post ought to begin like the first one did. With a confession.

Over the past 18 months or so, I have spent an embarrassing amount of money in the pursuit of remedying my wimpier-than-ever hair. I don’t know how much I’ve spent, exactly; that’s a good thing. Consider that the last shampy I bought at Sephora cost 40 dollars. Forty dollars. For a shampoo! Not all of the products I’ve tried cost that much but … a lot of them did. I’m telling you, I was desperate.

And one of them should’ve worked! The fancy salt scrub that promised to rebalance and restore? Yeah, right. I looked like a frizzball and the big chunks of salt fell on my toes in the shower and hurt me. The bee pollen-whatever that was supposed to balance and bring my natural pH whatever to the whatever? Perhaps no bees were hurt in the making of the product, but no Mary Fons hair was improved, either. Thanks a lot, bees.

Some of you are thinking I should try a dry shampoo, maybe a decent hairspray. Oh, I tried ’em, all right. And they seemed to make things worse. Even fance brand dry shampoos would inevitably leave some crazy film on my hair that I felt put me back a few steps overall.

What a nightmare, all of it. I even bought a vitamin supplement! To take with my iron and my calcium! I took it for almost two months! No change. Zero. I was a wimp as wimpy-haired as ever.

So then the other night I’m at Walgreens waiting for a prescription. Out the window, fat, wet snowflakes were coming down. I saw my reflection. Sure enough, my hair was dying — it was 6 o’clock, after all, and I can’t have hair that lasts more than seven freakin’ hours or so without looking pathetic. I sighed audibly and thought, “Aw, hell, maybe there’s a shampoo at dumb Walgreen’s that’ll help me. Might as well look.”

I was at a big Walgreen’s in the Loop (State Street and Monroe, I believe), so there was a lot of shampoo on offer. Too many to navigate without help, I decided, so I pulled out my phone to and tapped in, “good shampoo oily scalp walgreen’s.”

And that’s when my life in hair changed.

That night, I discovered L’Oreal’s “Extraordinary Clay” line of haircare products, specifically made “for oily roots and dry ends.” The bottles were a bilious green, but I did not care that night, nor do I care now. I bought each of the components: the shampoo, the conditioner, the hair mask. I got home, put it all near the shower, and went to bed.

The next day, I grumpily went about my morning ablutions. Honestly, I had zero faith that the stuff would work. (Why would it? The super-fance stuff sure didn’t.) But I did the hair mask, anyway. It felt weird. I looked like a Kewpie doll. Whatever. I grumbled through my mask time, though I had to admit … I had never tried a hair mask. Maybe it would do something. Hm. Then I did my shower thing and used the shampoo and conditioner.

And after I combed and blow-dried my head, my hair was silky. It was not limp. Friends, my hair was better.

Like, way, way better. I hated taking so long to get back to you on all this, but really, it’s good thing; I’ve been able to use the Extraordinary Clay stuff for a few more days and now can give you a better review.* I’ve used the stuff twice, now — the mask just once — and I’m telling you:  My hair is fluffy. Let me repeat that:


That’s pretty exciting. I’ve got the fluff!

Maybe the Extraordinary Clay “system” will cease to fluff me after awhile. But for now, I’m telling you: This stuff is awesome. And it sure ain’t 40 dollars a bottle. So I’m in a good mood. I’m smiling like a dork. The best things in life are at Walgreen’s.

*NOTE: L’Oreal is not paying me in money, products, or anything else to say any of this, but THEY ABSOLUTELY SHOULD. 

My Hair Struggle: Back In 5 Minutes!

posted in: Day In The Life 4
Graffiti in Shoreditch, London, c. 2014. Image: Wikipedia.



I haven’t forgotten about the all-important follow-up to my last post. Believe me, this is knowledge I am excited to share and many of you said you’re looking forward to the intel. But yesterday got kookoo-bananas and today is the same; it’s maybe even double kookoo-bananas. I don’t often do a “sorry I can’t post” post — it’s like, just do it or don’t, Fons — but I really left you hanging last time and I feel bad. Saying I’m gonna write something straight away and then not doing it is no bueno. Pendennis let me know in no uncertain terms.

So it looks like I can get back here to write Part II tonight or I create blog magic tomorrow. Either way, you shall not be kept in suspense much longer, I promise. I know you’re arranging your entire day around the ol’ PG. (Just kidding. Unless … Are you?? I love it.)

Yours In Bananas,
Mary + Pendennis

My Hair Struggles, or: ‘The Best Things In Life are at Walgreens’ (Part I)

posted in: Day In The Life 17
My sentiments exactly. Image: Wikipedia.


I really deliberated about whether or not to share what I’m about to share. Because it’s embarrassing.

But the trouble is, it’s also good content. I mean, I know you’ll like this tale about my hair because ultimately, I like this tale about my hair. In this way, it’s inevitable: I have to tell you. This is the plight of the gal who has a blog about her life and who cares about being open with the readers who read her blog about her life. Sometimes, stuff gets real. Things are divulged.

Okay, here goes: I have a rather oily scalp.

Have you ever seen two words put together that were more unattractive than “oily” and “scalp”? I mean, “oily” ain’t ever good. It ain’t good in a puddle, it ain’t good in a pasta dish, and it sure as oil ain’t good when you’re talking about scalps.

And “scalp” has a hard, hard life. As a verb, it’s nightmarish; as a noun, it’s never not gross. No lover, ever in the history of the world, complimented his/her lover’s scalp. Scalps. Scalps! Just say it and you get the oogs. Scalps can be flaky. They can itch. They are differently toned than the rest of the body, oftentimes, and they feel chickeny. Most scalps involve hair, and hair is objectively weird.

Which brings me to my objectively weird hair. My hair, and yes, my oily scalp.

(It’s very hard to type when I’m groaning in shame with my eyes squeezed shut. I gotta get it together, here.)

So I have wimpy hair. My aunt Leesa used the term a couple years ago when I was visiting her in Sacramento. We were lamenting our hair issues and she said that it was a thing for Fonses, that wimpy hair runs in the family. (Thanks a lot, Gramma!) What “wimpy” means is that our hair is really, really fine. And while it doesn’t thin, it sort of is thin? If that makes sense? I’m telling you: It’s just wimpy. It doesn’t hold a curl well. It does not “volumize.” It might get “tousled” but it doesn’t stay “tousled.” It’s wimpy!

Well, over the past year or so, my hair has become more wimpy than ever because my scalp seems to be increasingly … you know, rhymes-with-foily. I don’t know much about hair, but wimpy hair like mine probably should stay away from, say, moisture; viscous substances; salves; pomades; goopy things; and, oh, I don’t know, maybe oil.

I used to be able to wash my hair every other day and that was good because of like nine reasons, one of which is that’s a lot of dough for shampoo, y’all, and another is that I do not have time to be washing my hair all the time for Lord’s sake. Yeah, well, these days, my hair is wimped out by the end of the day. Sometimes, it’s a matter of hours before I feel self-conscious about it. Please don’t picture me with Canola dripping off my head: It’s not like that. But whatever adorable poofiness I had going on when I left the house is so far gone by the time I get home in the evening, I’m baffled. And woe to me I run out of time to take a shower and wash my hair the next morning. Oh-ho, but I am a gross greaseball and I just want to put a hat on my head or cut the stuff off and be done with it.

And while I’m kind of making light of it, and “wimpy” is a funny word and it’s just hair, after all, we all know how tough the hair thing is, right?

One of the worst moments in my health crisis was the day my hair started coming out in clumps in the shower. And how inconsolable we become when we get a truly terrible haircut! And are “bad hair days” not a thing? They are. And the guys in our lives who lose their hair are often deeply shaken by the experience. Hair is complicated thing for a lot of people, including me. I want to feel attractive like anyone else. I want to feel cute, to feel sexy. And when the hair thing isn’t right, it feels really bad.

Tomorrow, I shall tell you how I have been battling all this, how I have spent a painful amount of money to remedy the situation, how many futile attempts I’ve made, and how I just might have found a solution in the most unlikely of places …

Okay, I found the solution in Walgreen’s. And a drugstore is not an unlikely place at all to find a solution to this problem. I just wanted to write, “in the most unlikely of places …” with the ellipsis after it, so you’d hear it like a line from a movie trailer or something.

Does anyone else have this problem, by the way?

See you tomorrow — with the good news.

The Deep Pleasures of Dryer Lint

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 47
It’s even got the peel going on at the lower righthand corner! Unbelieveable. Image: Wikipedia.


You know how I use Wikipedia for 99 percent of all the images used on the ol’ PG?

If you missed it, that’s the deal around here. I use Wiki images because they’re fair use on account of being in the public domain. I also use them because they’re often suuuuper weird, and therefore funny. I also like to be consistent.

The drawback of using a free-for-all like Wikipedia Images, however (and I’ve mentioned before), is that slick stock photos these ain’t. I’ll be looking for an image of something normal, like a bowl of cereal or a windmill or what have you, and all Wikipedia offers me are bizarre pictures of like, German bundt cakes or medical diagrams.

So this morning, I thought about how I wanted to write about dryer lint. And I thought about it all day. And then I sit down at this coffee shop to blog about dryer lint, but I pause. Because I think, “Aw, man! There’s not going to be any picture of dryer lint on Wikipedia.”

[I have never before wanted to use an emoticon in my blog so much as I do right now: I would use the face with the straight, horizonal line as the mouth.]

Because I go and look in Wikipedia and there are no fewer than nine pictures of different dryer lint situations. Like the one above. This is the world we live in! At least, it’s the world I live in. It’s very strange here.

Anywhoo, I keep meaning to write about dryer lint because I am compelled by it. Specifically, I am compelled to engage with dryer lint. When I do laundry in my building’s laundry room and it’s time to open the numerous dryers in the wall and put my clothes inside them, I get to take out the lint screen and pull the lint off — and I enjoy this a great deal. Especially if it’s real thick on there.

Wait, wait: I’m being very reserved. You need to know that I love pulling thick lint off a dryer screen. It’s so felty! And it just peeeeeeels off! In one … pad! And the slice o’ fuzz is so squinky, like you could just squink it between your fingers and it would be a ball. But then, when you let go, it would squanch back out. I like to scoop out the lint on all 10 dryer screens up there, even if I only need to use two or three to dry my clothes.

Do you know what I’m talking about? Do you feel me on this? It’s weird, maybe. But who does it hurt? No one!

If anyone else likes to scrape the lint off the lint screen, I’d like to know. If you don’t, I have one question for you — no, I have two:

  1. Do you realize what you’re missing?
  2. Did you know that, according to the experts, you really should clean your lint screen regularly to prevent … something bad? Does this make you want to try out cleaning your lint screen this very second? Go ahead. We’ll wait.

See?? And all those pictures on Wikipedia … Other people are part of this club. Now you are, too.

New Philosopher Magazine Calling, or, ‘Pinch Me, I’m Dreaming’

posted in: Art, Day In The Life, Paean, Tips 5
The Summer 2017 issue of my second-favorite magazine. Image: The New Philosopher.


A dream hath come true. Except I didn’t even dream it. I didn’t apply for it, I didn’t suggest it. I didn’t flat out campaign for this dream fulfillment: It just happened.

The New Philosopher asked me to be in their magazine!

Warning: I have to crow about the magazine for a minute before I tell you how I get to be in it. I just have to, and you should know that the magazine is not paying me to say any of this, nor are they paying me to be in the magazine. This is just pure love, right here.

This magazine, The New Philosopher, is my favorite magazine in the entire world  — after this one, of course. It’s quarterly, out of Australia, and it’s invaluable to me as a person who loves to think about and read about philosophy and philosophical questions but definitely can’t just haul out a copy of Heidegger’s “Being and Time” and have at it. Lucky for me/us, The New Philosopher breaks down huge, scary topics (e.g., property, fame, technology, etc.) in visual ways across its thick, glossy pages. Each issue provides the best aphorisms, thought-provoking art, amazing interviews, compelling tidbits, infographics — I could go on. The content manages to be fun while being thought-provoking, it’s beautifully rendered, and issue after issue deftly communicates big philosophical thoughts to non-academics like me. I’m amazed and delighted at the whole operation. Each issue is themed (e.g., Food, Growth, Fake News, etc.) and it’s just Christmas every time it arrives in my mailbox. If this magazine were a person, I would marry it.

I think I have made my point.

Now, in each issue, there’s a two-page spread called “Living Philosophy.” This feature spotlights five people — some fancy philosophy people, some just folks — who answer a short questionnaire. I have often thought how utterly, incredibly cool it would be to be included in that section, to be one of the “Living Philosophy” people. I never in a million, zillion years thought about even thinking it could ever, ever be a thing that would be real.

Well, it’s happening. A few days ago, I got an email from one of the editors: The New Philosopher has invited me to answer the questionnaire and be in the magazine. Me! In the New Philosopher! Answering the questions that I am about to share with you! Can you even stand it??

I swear, I didn’t not hint that I wanted to do this. There is no application process to be in the “Living Philosophy” spread. The New Philosopher just finds you. And the only way they could’ve found me is because a) I ordered a ton of back issues this summer and I sent my order with a pithy/praise-y note, and/or b) they enjoyed my one email to them a couple months ago which contained a copyediting suggestion. But … Then what?? Did they google me? What did the process look like?? Are they reading this blog??

[New Philosopher. Are you reading this blog.]

I need to lay back on a fainting couch or something. Before I do, I thought I’d share with you the incredible questions I get to answer. The questions are certainly no secret: This is a recurring feature in the magazine, remember. How would you answer these questions? Have you ever thought about some of them? Good luck! My answers and my headshot are due on Friday …

  • Top five books (fiction or non-fiction, they don’t have to relate to philosophy)
  • Favourite philosopher
  • Favourite quote
  • Documentary to recommend
  • Favourite artwork
  • Favourite piece of classical music
  • What is philosophy for you?
  • Why is philosophy important?
  • What is the biggest problem we face in contemporary society?
  • What do you hope to achieve from “doing” philosophy?
  • What is the meaning of life?

p.s. How am I going to tell Claus???

Mary’s Holiday Traditions, Part I: ‘Happy Holidays’ and ‘Merry Christmas’

posted in: Day In The Life, Paean 11
I like that lil’ snowman. Photo: Nevit Dilmen via Wikipedia.


It’s the first day of December, y’all. I’m fairly sure that means it’s the holidays.

The holidays mean different things to different people. Some folks take ’em, some leave ’em. Some of the folks who take ’em take ’em real far; some folks who leave ’em get super grumpy about it and “Humbug!” their way through the entire deal. The grinches aren’t much fun to be around, but they have their reasons. The holidays can be hard. For so many of us, the holiday season is soaked in memories — many of them triggered by seasonal smells and sounds — that feel particularly intense. Those feelings have something to do with childhood; they’ve got something to do with time. I get it.

When I turned the page of calendar at my desk this morning, after I got over the shock of seeing the end of 2017, I decided to very intentionally ask myself how I felt about the holidays at this point in my life. Guess what?

I like ’em!

Yeah, I really like the holidays. There are specific reasons for this and I thought I’d share them in a series of posts here on the ol’ PG. It’ll get me in the holiday spirit and besides: Socrates famously said “the unexamined life is not worth living” and Socrates sure looked a lot like Santa. Ever think about that?

Tradition No. 1:
Saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Holidays’ to Absolutely Everyone I Encounter

I wonder if anyone has ever studied how many times in a year the average person says “Have a great day,” “Take care,” or any of the dozens of variations on such phrases. I’m sure the number is in the thousands: Consider that if you use one of these sayings even just twice a day, that’s almost 800 times in one year. But if you work with the public — especially in retail, customer service, or food service — you say it way more. Beyond that, most of us are (rightly) programmed to use, even rely upon, standard-issue human decency when someone hands us our change or our bag of groceries. “Have a good one” is just what you say when you interact with someone in the public square, unless they step on your foot. (If you’re me, you might say it then, too.)

Now, I’m a big, fat, word nerd, so maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s huge that there’s something else we can say to each other 1.5 months out of the year!

Getting to say “Happy Holidays!” to my fellow townspeople as I come and go from shops and cafes and such is one of my favorite things in the world. I love to say it. For one thing, “Happy Holidays” is just stylistically a better choice, what with the H-H alliteration. It’s also v. chipper. Structurally, “Happy Holidays” is more economic at two words than “Have a nice day” is at four. It’s better writing, people. 

I love saying “Merry Christmas” every bit as much. It’s yet another economic, evocative alternative to “enjoy your day” or whatever. Besides, saying “Merry Christmas” to my brothers and sisters as we hustle and bustle through the city makes me feel like I’m a character in a Dickens novel, i.e., “A Christmas Carol.” (If only the weather were chillier, I could wear a muff!)

It’s okay if you don’t celebrate Christmas or if you don’t care about the holidays. Like I said, you surely have good reasons for it — and by the way, I have a big problem with the consumer frenzy stuff, believe me. There’s plenty to criticize about the holiday season in our culture, but trilling out a less-used salutation or farewell isn’t hurting anyone.

And it’s free!


Blogging Class: You’re Soaking In It

posted in: Day In The Life, Food 15
They brought me an apple last week! Really! Image: Abhijit Tembhekar via Wikipedia.


Remember that blogging class I talked about?

We’re in it right now!

I’m showing the class — which is made up of attractive, attentive, excellent people, I’ll have you know — how to publish a post. And this is that post.

Any questions?

Patchwork: It’s Not Happening Right Now

posted in: Day In The Life, Quilting 17
The “RMI Deluxe Tailor Super Model” sewing machine! I think it’s Chinese. Image: Wikipedia.


Ever had times in your life when you looked longingly at your sewing machine and sighed a deep sigh because you knew there wasn’t a bobbin’s chance in you-know-where that you were going to sit down and sew anytime soon?

Ever unplugged your machine so that you could vacuum real good around the table only to realize, two weeks later, you never plugged it back in because you have not even been over to that side of the room in two weeks?

Yeah, me, same.

Hey, man. There are seasons in our lives. There are seasons when we reap, and there are seasons when we — wait for it — sew. For me, it’s just not a “sewing” season and I have to be okay with that.*

Sometimes, when I don’t get any exercise for awhile, I get very dramatic about it in my mind and think, “That’s it! It’s over! I’ll never have what I used to have, which was a somewhat regular exercise regimen!” The same goes with quiltmaking. I look back at my output over the past six or nine months and, if it looks like it looks now, which is bad, I feel like, “Whelp! That’s it! I’m a phony! How can I even call myself a quilter?? I’m all talk!”

But of course, this is ridiculous.

Sometimes, I just can’t exercise because I’m flying all over the country, for Lord’s sake. Sometimes, I can’t make a big quilt (or five) because I’m in grad school and more or less working full time. It’s okay, I tell myself. It’ll smooth out because I like exercising. I like making quilts. These things are going to be there for me when I get done with this other stuff — and I’ll be there for them, too, ready and excited to pick up where I left off, hopefully.

Yes, the “I’ll get to it when I have more time” mentality can be a problem. It can lead to inertia and self-sabotage.

But sometimes, it’s just true that you’ll do it later. Sometimes, when you have to choose between sleep and a round of cardio boxing, you gotta go with sleep. When you have to choose between getting the reading done and working on something that does not currently have a deadline attached to it (aka, your latest-greatest quilt), the reading has to win. For you, you might have to choose the kids, the needs of the spouse, the upcoming move, the divorce, the second job — any of that, over the other stuff. For now.

When school is over in May, I swear, the rest of my life is going to feel like a vacation. I’m going be in very good shape and I will make two quilts every single week.


*You get the joke, right? Sow/sew? I had to make sure! 

Little Drummer Girl (In the Laundry Room)

posted in: Day In The Life 3
Her future view, perhaps? Chicago Civic Orchestra, 2007. Image: Wikipedia.


I swear, when I get a little dough, I’m gonna get my own washer and dryer.

There wasn’t one in my unit when I moved in back in 2011 and, since there was a great laundry room on the 20th floor of my building, I felt I could and should spend money on other things. Like a couch. Since then, my laundry room has done well by me; remember when I washed my entire fabric stash? Yeah, me too. The six washers and six dryers came in handy back then.

For the most part, I still like doing my laundry in the laundry room, but it’s time to bite the Tide pod and get myself my own washer/dryer. I’m an adult!

The only drawback I can see is that I sometimes meet interesting people up there and that won’t happen if I get my own appliances.

Case in point: About an hour ago, I went up to the laundry room to get my clothes out of the dryer and there was a young girl standing at one of the tall counters where people can set their baskets or fold their towels and things. I couldn’t tell right away what she was doing. Tapping? Typing? I craned my neck to look as I pulled my socks and sheets. Then I saw it:

She was playing a drum pad. Like, she was practicing drums. In the laundry room!

It was so cool, her whole set up. She had normal-looking drumsticks in her hands, but she was drumming on this sleek, super-thin pad that made a soft — but clearly strike-responsive — sound. It sounded awesome. She also had her phone out on the table and she was looking at it, playing the score from there. I’m not sure if the metronome was playing from her phone or the drum pad, but she had that going, too.

For a brief moment in my life, I played the drums. Yes, it’s true. When I was in junior high, I did the whole band thing, marching band included. I lugged a set of quad-toms (oy!) through the streets of Winterset, Iowa, for the homecoming parade, diddle-ing and paradiddle-ing my best “Eye of the Tiger” and “We Will Rock You” as my fellow bandmates blasted their tubas and trombones dangerously close to my head.

Oof, I hated marching band. And regular band. I do in fact have rhythm, but organized rhythm is a problem for me. There’s too much pressure when you’re part of a big band; there’s no freedom for improvisation. It’s the exact same principle with me and dancing: I can cut a real rug on the dancefloor, but only on my own. In a dance class, I’m hopeless.

Anyway, seeing the gal in the laundry room flooded back all kinds of memories about band and my short journey into drumming. I decided I had to say something. I like talking to strangers.

“Hey, that’s really cool,” I said, gesturing to her practice space. I headed toward the door so she wouldn’t feel like I was being a creeper.

“Oh!” the girl said, turning toward me. She was sheepish. “I barely heard you come in. Thanks!”

“I used to play drums, like, nine million years ago,” I said. Before the girl could ask me any questions, I shook my head. “For like two seconds. No, it’s so cool to see you practicing that way. That pad is awesome.”

The girl, who had loooong blonde hair and a space between her two front teeth, nodded. “Yeah! It’s really great. I hope it’s not too loud.”

“Not at all,” I said. Then, because I didn’t want to assume she was in high school (even though she really looked like she was in high school), I asked, “So are you … In a band?”

“I’m studying music,” she said. “I want to be in an orchestra.”

I readjusted my basket on my hip and opened the door to leave. “Well, if you’re practicing in the laundry room while you do your laundry, you’re gonna make it. Good luck.”

The girl laughed and said thanks. I said bye and headed back downstairs to write to you and tell you about it.

I meant what I said to her, you know. She’ll make it if she really wants it. Sometimes, you can just tell.

Words I Can No Longer Spell

posted in: Day In The Life, Word Nerd 16
Spelling bee, 2011. Photo: Heather Temske via Wikipedia.


I have lost the ability to spell certain words.

Well, that’s not true. I could never spell “committment.” See? Still can’t. I never, ever get it that one right, ever.

But the words listed below I feel like I used to be able to spell but now just do not come out right. I’ve been noticing them more often. Because between writing for Quiltfolk and drafting essays for grad school workshops; between my bi-monthly Quilt Scout column and cranking out articles of my own for F Newsmagazine; between and editing tons of other peoples’ work for the paper or various classes; between entire continents of email and a myriad of other assignments I’ve got, I write a lot. (“Alot,” even.) So these words I seem less able to spell lately come up with some regularly, simply because my word input/output is so high.

Here are troublemakers, and I’m going to leave them exactly how I type them, straight out of the gate. Who knows: I might actually spell them correctly! Doubtful, but let’s see what happens:

conscious [that’s a word, yeah, I know — but I meant to spell “conscience”!] reciept

I got “concommitant” and “bureaucracy” right, but that’s it, I think. When did I stop being able to spell “pursue”?? The only break I’ll give myself is that I actually can pull off “receipt” most of the time, but only with a full-stop pause over the keyboard so I can do the “‘I’ before ‘E,’ except after ‘C'” children’s rhyme in my head. I’m a grown woman! I don’t have time for “‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C'”! What is this, naptime?? Do I look like I need a carton of milk?

Actually, I would love a nap and a carton of milk. You can bring that anytime.

Anyway, the “I used to be able to do this thing with my brain and now I can’t” is a scary thing to say, but don’t worry about me. It’s not that I’m losing cognitive ability. If I were, I might have said “loosing cognitive ability.” (Is the “loose” vs. “lose” error everywhere online these days or is that just me?)

No, I feel like my vocabulary, both verbal and written, is generally always improving, even if it’s marginal. There will be a point when I cap out, but I’m not there, yet. Grad school and book readin’ means I’m learning new words all the time and I seem to be able to spell them without too much trouble. And some seemingly tricky words have always been no problem for me to spell. I have no trouble with “proverbial.” “Restauranteur.” “Withdrawal.” “Supercilious.” “Chandelier.” “Rhythm.”


I can definitely spell “bed.” Watch:


I Want The Coat, Part II

posted in: Day In The Life 19
Some Dior, which is also not in my budget. Image: Wikipedia.

I haven’t been back to Neiman Marcus to drool on the coat I fell in love with the other day, but I really haven’t needed to: You guys have kept the item very much in my mind — and I love it!

The huge response to this velvet-quilt dream garment has been super fun. Some PaperGirl readers stoked my desire for that puppy and encouraged me to get it, like Melissa Seegers, who said, “Buy it! You only live once!”

Slightly more of you were reticent about the whole business, seeing as how a person could get an actual automobile for the coat’s ticket price. Not a great automobile, mind you, but if I put $1,850 toward a car I could drive to Iowa a couple times at least, or maybe make it up to Washington Island once or twice, including fuel and McDonald’s.

Pamela Keown said, “Mary! You are a seamstress! All quilters are seamstresses. You can have this coat. Start looking for fabrics. And get busy if you want to wear it this year. If next year is soon enough, you’ve got some time. You CAN DO IT!!”

Oh, Pammie-Pam-Pam. In a fantasy-unicorn-dark-matter-galaxy-of-wonder, I have time to do this and I love your faith in me, but in this galaxy, it ain’t gonna happen. I adore you for suggesting I make a facsimile of a Paris-based, Vogue-darling designer’s velvet coat on my own. It’s a good solution, but it is not the solution for Mary at this time.*

After all the discussion (you know I read all your comments and love them, even if I can’t often respond), I remain resolute: Though it’s true the coat would make me a superhero, it would be irresponsible of me to purchase it right now in my life. I will have to be a superhero in my other coats, which I think is possible. No, there will be no Isabel Marant Log Cabin velvet coat for me, not yet. But I’ll be okay. (Oh, I’m sorry — let me just … wipe these tears off of my laptop … No, no, it’s okay. I’m fine. I’m just  allergic … to … sadness. Really, I’m good. Is there a bartender? Anywhere?)

The other fun thing about the coat post was being surprised that so many people were eager to respond with their thoughts on the situation. (Same for the copyediting post!) I’ve written here on the ol’ PG about fashion before, you know; if you click on the “Fashion” category there on the righthand side of the screen, you will see all the posts that I’ve ever written here that have to do with clothes, style, etc. I think this special coat has been the most popular of the Fashion posts and I’m sure it’s because it’s quilty-looking. That’s just fine with me. But it made me wonder if I had another Fashion post in me that would garner this much discussion.

I think I do.

Tomorrow, I’m going to post about the things that look good on me and the things that are a disaster. It’s a balanced list, believe me; at 38, I have a solid understanding of what looks great on me — or, at least, what I feel great wearing, which is usually the same thing?? — and what makes me feel (and look) like the dog’s breakfast.

I’ll bet you’ve got your list, too, but don’t tell me, yet! Tell me when I give you my “style guide,” as it were. That’s for tomorrow.

You know what I love? I love writing this blog. I love that you’re out there and you’ve been out there all this time. We have a good thing going, don’t we, now.


p.s. I just thought about how Isabel Marant should offer to send me any quilt-like garments to wear as promotional items!!! Seriously, do you think I should write to her??? Okay, okay: dumb idea. But what if I organized a letter-writing campaign and we flooded her office?? #lol #seriouslythough #maryfonsformarant

*special shout out to Jeanne B. who told me Santa may have heard my plea. Yo, Santa! How you doin’??

The Best Nurse I Ever Had

posted in: Day In The Life 15
I found this picture of “Nurse Yamy” in the Wiki file under “Nursing.” I think she looks really nice, too. Photo: Wikipedia.


I didn’t say why I came to Portland and I can’t just yet. Soon, though, and with great enthusiasm, I shall tell you why I came out west and what happened while I was here.

What I can tell you that I’m not scouting for places to live (heavens!); I haven’t fallen in love with a Portlandian (noo!); and I didn’t have a gig or event to do while I was here. Thankfully, I did not come expressly to relive this glorious moment in the Portland International Airport where I slipped and fell and launched wine and pizza three feet into the air. That was cool.

And though I did not come for medical attention of any kind (phew), I did meet a nurse this weekend. The wife of a business colleague of mine, my new friend was a gracious host, a terrific cook, and generally just nice to be around, so when I found out she was a nurse in a delivery ward, I was like, “Well, that is exactly right and everything in the world is as it should be.”

The three of us had some time in the car together and at one point the conversation turned to illness and medical histories. My business associate had never really heard my story and it was as good a time as any to share the whole dealio. I often struggle not to cry at a few key moments of my tale (e.g., when I woke up from the first surgery screaming; when I learned my first ileostomy takedown had failed and that I had to get a second stoma, etc.), but I did all right.

The only time I wavered was when I told the story of the Best Nurse I Ever Had and what she said to me that changed my life forever. At least, it changed the way I saw myself in the story of my chronic illness and the hardest time of my life so far.

Warning: This story involves super gross details. The squeamish should proceed with great caution.

My first surgery as a result of advanced Ulcerative Colitis was at Mayo Clinic in Rochester in October of 2008. The surgeons took out my entire colon (and some other stuff) and fashioned me with an ileostomy. But the surgery was a disaster. (Check those two links up top for the deets, if you dare.) One of the many v. bad things that happened was that my belly swelled up as a result of all the abscesses, which caused a separation between my stoma and the skin that it was supposed to be flush up against it.

This meant I had a moat around the piece of the small intestine that was coming out of my body. What was in the moat? Why, fecal matter, bile, and pus, of course. And blood. And infection. And just … It was awful. The goop had to be cleaned out with a big, long swab and then packed.

As one can imagine, this process was one I did not look forward to and it happened about every other day. (I was in the hospital for a month following that first surgery.)

When the Best Nurse I Ever Had would come in to my room for the cleaning/packing, I would clutch my stuffed horse, Thunderbolt, look at the picture of Jesus on the wall, and keen softly to myself and weep and shudder and pray, pray, pray it would be over soon. Every fiber of my wrecked, emaciated body would be, ever-so-briefly, pure iron. That’s how tense I was, how frightened. She was poking. A swab. Into my body. She was cleaning. Pus. From my belly. My guts. Were outside. My core.

Not great.

One day, the Best Nurse I Ever Had approached me for the procedure, saw me ready to retreat into like, total fear and my mental fetal position and stopped.

“Mary,” she said, “Would you like me to show you how to do this yourself?”

I whipped my head over to look at her. “You’re kidding me, right?” I was already hyperventilating in anticipation of the procedure.

She shook her head. “See, I think you think this is worse than it is. You’ve got it in your mind that it’s really bad. And it’s not good. But it’s not as bad as you think. I think if you do it, you’ll see that for yourself and it won’t be so awful. Would you like to try?”

I burst into tears. “No, no, no, no, no,” I said. “Just do it. Please, please just do it and leave me alone, please.” I wasn’t mean to her but I didn’t have anything to give in the way of kindness. She was giving enough for both of us and I had to let her.

She patted my arm and did the thing. Over the next two days, I thought about what she said. When people say things that are true, there’s a finality to it. There’s nothing you can do, no escape. Not unless you go into denial; not unless you put a ton of effort into belligerence, intolerance.

When she came in the next time, I squeaked out that I couldn’t do it, myself, but that I’d help. Just help her, a little, maybe hold the swab or something.

“Hey!” she said, smiling. “That’s the spirit! That’s great. Okay, let me get out all the stuff.”

When I poked the swab into the separation, I realized that the moat wasn’t bottomless. It had a bottom. The poking didn’t hurt, either, not really; it just felt weird. Because I hadn’t actually looked at it until that point (too scared), I hadn’t seen that it was really healing pretty well on the righthand side. The Best Nurse I Ever Had tore off little pieces of the wound-packing gauze (“It turns to gel!” she said), and I gingerly poked them into the moat. I probably held my breath the whole time.

When we were done and my ostomy bag was snapped back onto my belly, I let out a little laugh and said, “I guess this kind of stuff builds character, right?”

The Best Nurse I Ever Had smiled at me.

“No, honey. I think this kind of stuff reveals character you already had.”

So, that happened. And now I’m super-crying at the Portland International Airport, so I’d better go get some pizza to fling into the air. Thank you, Best Nurse I Ever Had, and thank you, all nurses everywhere.

Aliens Among Us

posted in: Day In The Life 5
Cover of the pulp sci-fi magazine Amazing Stories, October 1957. Image: Wikipedia.


The other day, I met a woman who is fully convinced that aliens are living among us. She was very nice!

As for me, with the aliens and all, I’m not so sure. But I figured maybe she knew something I didn’t, so I poured some more coffee and decided to ask a few questions. It occurred to me it might be imprudent to ask for details about such things at lunch. But I decided quickly that a person who believes aliens are living among us would likely not be shy in answering questions about them.

“Can I ask you more about the aliens?” I asked.

“They’re everywhere,” she said, jumping right in. “We’ll likely never know just where. Many of them don’t have actual bodies — or they have bodies we can’t comprehend.”

I nodded and took a bite of pie. No actual bodies, eh? I imagined a green vapor snaking its way through traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway or floating through State Street, scouting out Christmas present ideas. (Look, if these alleged aliens are in Chicago, that’s the kind of stuff they’re going to be up to: There are 48 days till Christmas, people.)

I asked the lady — who was very sweet and interesting for many reasons that did not involve paranormal activity, I’d like to point out — how she came to know about these aliens.

“I’ve long been interested in the topic,” she said. “And I recently attended a conference in Las Vegas. There were over a thousand people there: physicists, scientists, UFO experts. It’s all very real.” Then she leaned in a little to say, with a raised eyebrow, “We were only a few short miles from Area 51.”

What I loved about her is that she was so into what she was into. Seeing someone really into their “thing” is great. Everyone’s got their thing, and it’s great to see a person committed to that thing. The lady told me about a visit to a psychic and said more about the conference, e.g., how the moon landing wasn’t a hoax, but that there were six or seven alien spacecraft on the moon when Buzz and Neil got there. I told the lady I hadn’t heard about that and she gave me a nod like, “Yeah, well, there’s more where that came from.”

She might be right. About all of it or some of it.

Haven’t we all been wrong about something before?

How Old Are You?

posted in: Day In The Life 12
“Reverie,” also known as “The Days of Sappho,” by John William Godward, c. 1903. Image: Wikipedia.


I was always “young for my age” in relation to school.

This is because I turned five years old just a few weeks before kindergarten was to start. My Uncle Dave — who, fun fact, is my mother’s fraternal twin — had come to visit our family in Iowa that summer and likes to tell a story about how nervous I was about starting kindergarten. I guess I was talking to him about it.

“Well, kindergarten is a big deal,” he said. “Do you know how to count to ten?”

My uncle says that I counted past ten all the way up to 30 before he cut me off.

“That’s good. Can you sing your ABCs?” he asked.

I promptly sang my ABCs for him and like, did a twirl. He rolled his eyes.

“You’ll be fine, kiddo.”

So throughout my grammar school and high school years, I was among the youngest in my class. Then, once high school was over, I went straight into college at the University of Iowa, which meant I was one of youngest in that class, too. And I grew to like it. There was something satisfying about being the youngest in the group, though now that I’m writing about it, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the reasons why I felt that satisfaction. Did I think being younger than everyone else gave me some advantage? What kind of advantage? And if I was winning something, who was losing? Weird.

Well, whatever it was, it’s definitely over. I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned this on the ol’ PG or not, but 90 percent of the people I engage with at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) are younger than I am. Sometimes by kind of a lot. Whether it’s my cohort in the MFA Writing department, the other students in my elective seminars, or the gang at the school paper, the average age of these folks is probably 27, tops. For sure tops.

Which means I’m roughly ten years older than the majority of the folks in my peer group. Most of the time I don’t think about it, but sometimes I do think about it and when I do, either of these thoughts come to mind, depending on the day I’m having:

  • We are all basically the exact same age.
  • I am literally a different species than these people.

I mean, we’re all using Snapchat now, sure, but I got my first cell phone in college and these people had them in fourth grade. It’s pretty weird. I just keep wondering what will happen if there’s a party and I start dancing. Will I make a fool of myself? You can really tell age differences with the dancing.

Maybe this has come up for me more lately because I met an interesting young man. I’ve been spending a little time with him.

This young man is not quite as young as this young man, who, by the way, moved back to Miami some months ago. I never said too terribly much about the end of all that but I can tell you that though I grew to care for him a great deal and will always care for him a great deal, things ran their course. (Someday I’ll tell you more about all that when you and I get a margarita. It’s a great story that you could only read part of for a number of reasons. Maybe I should start a second blog: PaperGirl AFTER DARK!)

Anyhow, this newly-met young man definitely had a cell phone in fourth grade, you know? There’s a difference between me and him in terms of life experience and perspectives and all, and it’s way too soon to tell if this will be a barrier or a boon. All I know is that I have been going on some really lousy dates lately and then pizow! Here’s this great person and I like to talk to him and stuff.

So we’ve been talking. And I’ve been wondering how old anyone ever really is, in the end.

1 2 3 4 5 6 24