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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone looks healthy.

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

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

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

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

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

Journal Buddies #9 : I Can …

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

 

 

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

 

I can stay home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Mary + Pendennis

 

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

Journal Buddies #8 : Describe Sundays At Your House

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

In short, I do not like the beach.

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

Note: The picture was taken in 1975.

 

WOMAN WITH HER LEG UP

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

 

FACE-DOWN WOMAN

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

 

MAN WITH HAT

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

 

FLAT WOMAN 1

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

 

THE KID

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

 

THE KID’S MOM (Out of frame, right.) 

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

 

[The End.]

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

Two weeks ago, I unironically said,

“I need a one-way ticket to Boise.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I got on the plane.

#5 : Describe What Snow Feels Like …

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

#4 : The Joy of Today Is …

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have a great workout, Mary!”

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

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

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

* (That’s not counting yoga studios.)

#3 : My Most Embarrassing Moment Would Be …

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

Perhaps you tooted at dinner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2 : How Do You Keep Your Teachers Happy?

posted in: Journal Buddy 8
The humble chalkboard eraser/kitchen sponge. Image: Wikipedia.

 

This is the 2nd installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

Just show up to class.

After many years of being a student in university settings, workshops, various training courses, etc., I really do think that getting your butt in the seat, week after week, is a fail-safe way to successfully get through any kind of schooling. Strive for straight A’s if you like; aim high and still just get B’s; do the bare minimum and land C’s, even D’s — it’s all the same in the end, at least in terms of passing the course. Just remember: “If you come to class, you will pass.” (I’m pretty sure I just made that up.)

Can you get F’s on all your papers and tests and still pass if you show up to class? Maybe. But the added benefit of attending every single class session is that you’ll probably learn enough to not get F’s in the first place.

I think the good attendance of a student is critical for teachers for a few reasons. Keep in mind that I have done my fair share of teaching, but I’ve been a student way, way more, so my thoughts here are speculative.

For one thing, coming to class is a show of respect. A student enrolls in a class. The student takes up a seat in that class, which means someone else cannot have that seat. And the underlying assumption is that the student will attend the class, sit in the seat, listen to the instructor, and participate, whatever that might look like for that particular course.

When a student blows off class (for a reason other than being sick or having an emergency) it sends a message that you, the teacher, aren’t that important, and that the class isn’t worth going to. This isn’t explicit, it’s implied. If it happens a fair amount, the teacher understandably has less patience with the absentee student when she is struggling with a lesson or asks for an extension on a paper, for example.

The other reason being absent from class is the fastest way to lose favor with your teacher is a purely practical one, from your teacher’s standpoint: When you’re gone, she has to work more.

She has to answer an email from you going over what you missed. She has to reply to your email back to her with a question about what you missed — and of course lots of people had questions about the same thing, but she went over it … in class. You might ask for more time to finish a take-home test, say, which means she has to grade all the tests for the people who were in class and then, a week later, she has to return to the task she thought she could be done with (grading the take-home tests) but there you are, handing over your peanut-butter smeared take-home test — come on, you know it’s got peanut butter on it — and now she has to find the answer key and lord knows where that thing went.

If you want to make your teachers happy, go to class. You can come to class in your pajamas. Don’t you dare be on your phone — I can’t deal with people who do that in an educational setting — but texting with your sister in class is better than texting with your sister not in class. And, though I know this sounds crazy, you can even come to class without your homework. You just have to show up.

Any questions?

 

 

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

I know the feeling. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

Miserable.

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

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

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

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

“What’s the trouble, dear?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello, Darling: This Is a Job For Journal Buddies

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

 

Oh, the things I can’t do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing prompts. And they work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Journal Buddies 51 List

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