I had a fight last night with Nick. Nick and I had a fight last night. We fought.
So I got back from Wisconsin and had 30 hours at home before I had to leave to fly to Nashville for Quiltfolk. I saw my beautiful friend Bets Ramsey down there and a fine time was had by the Quiltfolk crew working on the pattern project. The location shoot was all well and good — but I was about to find out that my otherwise fabulous Saturday would be an Airport Appreciation Day.
That’s what we say in my family when you experience what I experienced trying to get home: a delayed flight; a long while of just sitting on the tarmac; luggage that literally took 45 minutes to appear on the carousel in Chicago. The result? I got back to the far south side of Chicago too late to go to Sophie’s surprise bachelorette party on the far north side. That’s bad. I feel so rotten about it, I am now scared of Sophie. She will not be mad. She will understand; I couldn’t help it. But it was her bachelorette party. And we love each other. And I’m always out of town. And she’s getting married. So it’s like, “Yo, Fons. Where you at?”
Physically, I was in transit. Mentally, I was in anguish. Because of the party — and because of the fight.
I don’t like fighting. I don’t like the person I am in a fight. I wouldn’t say that I “fight dirty.” But I can get downright ferocious. I yell. Loudly. I also say bad words. That’s crazy to me, that I yell and curse like a sailor, but I do. In a fight, I’ll find myself YELLING at the PERSON for doing THE THING that made/makes me SO MAD, [INSERT EPITHET] — and I’ll think to myself, “Since when did you start yelling and cussin’??”
I think it was with Yuri. That was some yellin’, cussin’ love.
Anyway, I was yellin’ and cussin’ and then I hung up on him and then I was stabbing text messages in ALL CAPS, and that’s worse than YELLING but at least it’s quieter. Wow, but I was hurt. Nick hurt me. He didn’t mean to, but he didn’t … Oh, I won’t go into it here. But yes, I lashed out at him because I was hurt, I was tired, I was definitely going to miss Sophie’s party and then, because the fight was distracting me and I was crying, I actually got off on the wrong stop. It was the pits. It was all just the pits.
I don’t like to fight because I don’t like myself as a fighter.
Is that a good reason to not fight or a terrible reason?
ATLANTA, Ga. — Choosing flowers is tough. There are many options for photography. But if you’re getting married in Atlanta in almost-July, the wedding party favor is easy: Give ’em paper fans.
At half-past four in the afternoon, with the temperature in the high 80s, around 100 stylish guests on wooden chairs fanned themselves, waiting for the backyard ceremony to begin. Then, as family and close friends snapped a few more pictures of the lavish chuppah constructed entirely from twigs woven together with ribbon and fresh flowers, the three-piece band quietly closed out their rendition of “Love Me Tender” and switched gears.
All eyes turned toward the upper patio. And the bride descended the stairs.
Resplendent in an elegantly tailored, bone-colored peplum gown, it was confirmed by several official science sources that the bride was actually “glowing from within.” Ruddy-cheeked and radiant, her mane of thick, dark hair was worn pinned back on one side and topped with a feathered fascinator. Several official fashion sources said that her look was “pitch perfect,” and “timeless, but with sass for days.”
The bride’s mother (ageless!) and father (peerless!) greeted their daughter there in the family backyard and helped move her toward the aisle. Tears were shed by all members of the family and every single person in the tent, including the author, was blubbing and sniffing and sticking to our chairs in that heat and it was magical and perfect.
The groom — an adorably rumpled, Swedish artist — wore a powder blue linen suit and looked in wonder as his flawless bride approached the altar. Several official relationship sources confirmed that he looked like he was definitely taking this seriously and that he was “a good one.” The rabbi leading the nuptials hit just the right note in those remarks he gave in English. (As the author does not speak Hebrew, all remarks given by the rabbi in Hebrew cannot be confirmed as hitting the right note, but an official religious source was overheard to be saying that everything went just fine.)
Once the vows were spoken and the ceremonial wineglass was stomped, the band played a jazzy rendition of Guns n’ Roses’s classic, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” as the newlyweds made their exit. As the wedding party sat for portraits off-site, guests were treated to glasses of champagne and small, nibbly things like chocolate-covered strawberries and fancy cheese on fancy toothpicks. It was confirmed by several gastronomically-inclined sources that “the canapé situation [was] excellent, just excellent.”
Then it was off to the country club for dinner and dancing. And the author had an allergy attack (or something??) and had to leave early. But everything was so perfect. And you got married, Bari. And you got married, Magnus. And I got to see that, and see all the people who love you.
While I wait for my various moisturizers and creams to do their work on my face and legs, I shall recline on this bed and, with my laptop balanced on my knees, tell you about my friend Bari, because Bari is getting married today and she’s all I can think about.
Come back with me to the turn of the 21st century, to the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Everything was leafy and exciting. I was a sophomore undergrad. I finally had a handle on the school and the city, a Big Ten college town with beer cans in the gutter — but also a vibrant arts ecosystem! (There was more overlap than you’d think.) I was 19 years old, studying theater, something I could hardly believe I had permission to do.
The Theater department produced a lot of plays in a year. Probably 25 or something. Because visiting artists and tenured faculty cast shows with both grads and undergrads, there was some cross-pollination at the Theater Building, but not much. Grads were mostly older than we were. They were usually cooler, simply because they had been more places, and they had definitely done more theater. Grads were in classes that sounded scary and hard, like “Suzuki Seminar IV”, while we undergrads were just happy to get a spot in Voice for the Actor.
Bari was a grad student. She was probably in her late twenties? I don’t know for sure, and I don’t recall the first time I saw her on campus, but I remember the first things I felt about her.
Bari was beautiful and glamorous. She had rosy cheeks and mounds of jet black, corkscrew curls that cascaded down past her shoulders. She would often pull it all into a topknot thing and it would bounce around when she laughed, which she did a lot; this throaty, full laugh. I liked to be within 10 feet of her when she laughed because of the hair bobbing around but also she had the whitest teeth I had ever seen inside the mouth of a person. I could see those white teeth from 25 feet back, which was about how far I allowed myself to get to this Bari person because she was amazing and I was lame.
Bari had the best clothes! They were usually black. Bari wore cool, black clothes. She was from Atlanta, I learned, but she studied theater in New York. She wore a Tiffany necklace around her neck and lots of pink lip gloss. Bari was not from my world. Bari was glamorous. She twinkled, but she was deep. Word on the street among the underlings — I mean undergrads — was that Bari was in plays, sure, but she really wanted to direct.
It didn’t happen often that an undergrad would get a good part in a mainstage show. But my junior year, I did. I remember the play: It was José Rivera’s Marisol, and I played a character named June. Bari played Marisol, and we became friends. I think she noticed me because I worked my tail off, which I did, simply to keep up with the rest of the cast and crew, all grad students.
We got so close, Bari and I lived together one summer there in Iowa City before she left to do life after graduation. I drove with her to St. Louis to take some of her stuff to her grandmother’s house. Bari told me about her life; I told her about mine. Life is beautiful and it’s hard and it’s complicated, so we had a lot to talk about.
I visited Bari’s family here in Atlanta, once; I had never seen a house with two staircases before. That’s where the wedding is in about an hour. I’m assuming the lady will come down the front stairs, but you never know: Bari is utterly enthralling in her glamorous way, but she also loves silliness for silliness’s sake. She might surprise us.
Bari did direct, by the way. She is a theater director. She has been working professionally, steadily, with honors and accolades, ever since she graduated. I am so proud to know her. I am so honored she invited me to her wedding today.
Bari, may your wedding dress be as white as your perfect teeth; may your happiness know no boundaries. Like that hair!
Forgive me for being absent a few days, but there simply is no time to do anything whatsoever but repack my suitcase, answer emails, make rawther important phone calls, and smell Nick.
Yes, Nick, my PIO — that’s “Person of Interest” — smells so good, I need to smell him whenever possible. I’m glad most of my work requires me to go out of town, because if I had to work around Nick, smelling as good as he does, I would get nothing done. Have you ever tried to write a letter from the editor while sniffing the collar of someone’s t-shirt? Pointless!
Nick has always smelled great. He’s got that wonderful smell of a guy who cares about his laundry. He smells like a person who really scrubs the back of his neck when he takes a shower and he definitely reads the care labels on his clothes. Do you know what I mean? That sort of “this is just who I am” smell is enough to make me kind of woozy, but it’s worse, now, because Nick has become smitten with a certain cologne. This cologne smells great in the bottle but let me tell you: It’s downright criminal on Nick.
The fragrance: Neroli Portofino Acqua by Tom Ford.
It’s hard to describe the scent — scents are tough — but I’ll try. It’s got bergamot going on; it’s got a hint of lemon. It’s musky and dusky. It’s young but not frivolous. It’s smart but not stuffy. When I smell it, I think of a person who takes cool trips and does cool things and is kind to animals. Also, that person knows how to bake scones with currants and when you visit them in their country home for a week in the summer, they know you love them. It goes without saying that this mythical cologne person is rich. Because some colognes just smell expensive, you know? Neroli Portofino Acqua one smells like it has to cost a fortune, but it turns out that a small bottle isn’t terribly expensive at about $100 plus tax. The price surprised me and Nick, too, considering the fancy Tom Ford label and the way it smells like it has gold flecks in it or something.*
Nick and I have been talking a lot about fears and “what comes next” and we had a text message fight yesterday. I never have text message fights but it was a weak moment. We’re sort of at a point — and relationships have all kinds of different points all the time, it’s not just one — where we are either going to kick it up a notch … or not, I guess. The fear of failure, the fear of wasting time, the fear of “what if this” and “what if that” is terrible on thoughtful people. Text message fights may occur from time to time.
We patched it up. Yesterday, he brought me flowers. Today, I smelled his wrist. And you do the next thing.
*For another perfume-inspired reverie, you should definitely read this.
Fons ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ about ‘This Nick Fellow’ by P. N. Dennis
CHICAGO, IL — Writer, editor, and quilt world person Mary Fons announced today that she’s seeing someone named Nick.*
“Nick and I met back in November,” Fons said. “I had been on a string of truly hideous dates and felt sort of despondent about love in general, sadly. I was about to delete my [online dating] profile but then I saw this picture of this gorgeous guy with themost beautiful smile. I messaged him and we started chatting.”
It took several weeks before they could meet face-to-face, Fons said. “I told him, ‘Look, I’m in grad school and I travel. The first chance I could get together is two weeks from Thursday.’ It wasn’t a very sexy thing to say, but he said that sounded good.”
The two met for a drink at the Chicago Athletic Association. “When we saw each other, we just started smiling,” said Fons. “It felt so good to be excited about a person. It doesn’t happen every day.”
Nick, who was born in Chicago in the early 1990s, got his undergraduate degree in biology at Loyola University in 2015 and is currently applying to medical school. He works at several hospitals in the area and he is very sexy.
“I don’t think … you can say … Can you say that in a news article?” Fons asked, scratching her head. “It’s definitely true though. Nick is hot. Keep it.”
The pair traveled to New York City to attend a New Year’s Eve party held by Fons’s older sister, Hannah. They had a good time. In February, Nick brought a heart-shaped pizza to Fons’s apartment and that was nice. But Fons’s punishing schedule, a communication breakdown, and hurt feelings led to Fons “putting the brakes” on the relationship mid-February. “It’s a long story,” Fons said, rubbing her forehead. “But it was the right thing to do, to step away for awhile.”
As the months passed, there was communication here and there. Nick encouraged Fons as she approached the end of school. Fons checked up on Nick when he went on a med school interview, but there were no in-person encounters. Then, over the past few weeks, the two have been spending time together again.
“Mary is a very hardworking person,” Nick said in a text interview just now. “She is smart, understanding, beautiful, and kind. She’s got her stuff together. Mary Fons is a goddess and I will do anything for her, forever.”
“He said everything up until the ‘goddess’ line,” Fons said. “He didn’t actually say that last sentence. But all the other stuff he did actually say when I texted him to say what he likes about me.”
Fons admits being nervous about sharing relationship news. But as a widely-read blogger whose life is her material, she says she feels she owes it to her readers to provide some clarity at this point. “The truth is, I like Nick,” Fons said. “He’s smart. He cares about me. He fixes things that are broken. We help each other. He is very tender with me when I cry. And he is so handsome in those scrubs I just … Yeah.”
The two plan to have dinner at her place tomorrow night before Fons leaves for Lincoln, Nebraska, for the annual board meeting at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum.
It’s wonderful. It’s a small-sized hand puppet (as opposed to a large hand puppet or a finger puppet.)
The fur is soft. The paws are perfectly shaped so that when you put the puppet on your hand and make it clap, the gesture is so darling you’ll just die. The kitten’s eyes are shiny; the ears are in the perfect place. I’m a sucker for animal hand puppets in general, but I’m telling you: This is a good one.
How did I come to have this sensational kitten puppet? Well, I bought it. When I lived in the East Village in NYC with Yuri, I passed the toy store on 9th St. and Avenue B and it was in the window display. The moment that kitty caught my eye, I went in and I bought it, partly because I loved her and partly because I was in love and partly because the person I was in love with called me “Kitten.” So this kitten puppet, which cost 13.99 plus tax, represented a lot of things when I lived in New York with Yuri three-ish years back.
Do you remember that? When I lived in New York with Yuri? I do.
In fact, I remember living in New York with Yuri every time I come across this little puppet, which happens from time to time because I don’t know what to do with her. I don’t know where to put her because — and I know this might come as a surprise to many of you — I don’t have a large puppet collection display case where I display my large puppet collection because I don’t have a large puppet collection. I have one kitten puppet. (Okay, okay: I do have a couple other puppets, and of course there’s Pendennis, but I swear I am an adult with a broken dishwasher, not an adult with a large plush toy, puppets, stuffed animal collection … and perhaps I’ve got it all wrong.)
Anyway, I am not a person who holds onto many material things. I’m not a hoarder. I’m a non-hoarder. I’m so much a non-hoarder, I have made mistakes in the past in getting rid of things too soon or without enough thought. (Remind me someday to tell you about throwing letters from my father into the fireplace.) But I’ve held onto this kitten puppet because she’s so adorable and it’s a puppet! And I might not have a puppet collection but I do advise anyone to have a puppet or two on hand for emergencies. But of course I have another reason to hang onto it.
I was Kitten. And he was Yuri. And he is far away and I am far away and that chapter is over. But it was real. And it was real important. It mattered, it changed at least two lives; it was love. Letting go of this puppet is weirdly hard for me. I’ve gotten rid of so much stuff in the past three years: Why not this little cat?
So I need some advice. I’m doing spring/post-school cleaning and I found her again, in a drawer. Before she went into the drawer she had been in a basket. Before the basket, I had her on a shelf. There’s no puppet display case and there’s no way I’m going to stow her away in a shoebox only to find her 10 years from now and have a Proust moment that destroys me completely.
Give her to a child, right? To enjoy? But what about … What about love?
But none of the photos of the strip were right. The glitter of the casinos and the vibrating neon lights didn’t strike me as “eternal” or “resilient” in the light of the mass murder, which is what I was hoping. I figured the lights would read as beacons of hope, but they didn’t. They frightened me. They made me feel sick.
Focusing was very difficult today because I kept thinking how the people who got down on the ground when they heard shots were doing exactly what we’re all supposed to do when someone is shooting because getting down on the ground is safer. But it wasn’t safer this time because the devil had scopes and cameras. This time, doing the safe thing was the wrong thing. Down was up; up was down. And death swept the ground.
If you know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who was wounded or who lost their life at the concert, I love you and I am sorry for this. If you don’t know anyone (or anyone who knows anyone) I love you, too, and I’m sorry for this.
Last night, in under 75 minutes, patchwork quilts generated $5,300.00 in Hurricane Maria relief aid. We did that. Together. And this should give you a deep hope, this act we did together. If we can turn quilts into food and medicine; if we can say “Yes” to the question, “Can you help me?”, we can make it. We can make it in the face of all this.
The picture I found for this post is more perfect than I could have hoped for: It’s Las Vegas. The image is filed in Wikipedia, right along with the pictures of the city, because Las Vegas isn’t just the strip or the casinos, of course: It’s the desert, the sky, the sagebrush, the sun. Las Vegas is a girl, running in pink shorts, giving chase to her dog across the little rocks, running to dinner, or her new baby brother, or to get to the hide-and-seek game.
Las Vegas is a little girl, 16 miles northeast of the city, running purely for the sake of going fast, for the sake of feeling the air on her soft, perfect cheek.
Texas. Florida. Mexico. The Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico. There have been so many devastating weather events lately, I spend a good deal of time feeling depressed and frightened and useless when these reports come in. And I feel guilty, too, because what can I do? Does $25 to the Red Cross really help? Should I go to Texas, to Mexico and try to sandbag or something? But how does that even work and won’t I just be in the way? What if I make everything worse and what if I put myself in danger on top of everything else? You probably recognize at least some of this unhappy thinking which, sadly, is 100% ineffective in all directions.
This morning, after clicking through the (more bad) news, my brow furrowed and I sank onto the couch with a groan. Our countrymen and countrywomen in Puerto Rico find themselves facing a humanitarian crisis that could threaten the stability of the region for a long, long time. It’s chaos down there and can you just imagine being a little kid down there right now? How scary it must be? All of a sudden, thinking about that, I just got fed up. I decided that nope, not today, no more stewing, no more gnashing of teeth and groaning and doing nothing. Today, I decided, today I would act, I would do an actionable thing to help someone out there on that island. That’s a U.S. territory, dammit, and more needs to be done.
I have come to understand that what is very helpful in a crisis situation like the one in Puerto Rico, the best thing for me to do is to send money — but I simply do not have extra right now. So I thought, “How could I raise some money?” Walking to and fro on my carpet, sipping my tea (I’m back on tea, coffee’s for the birds, at least in the morning), I remembered that I’ve been needing to make good on something I say to hundreds of people all over the country: Quilters who make lots of quilts should give lots of quilts away. “Don’t keep your quilts in a stack in a closet,” I say, sometimes even shaking my fist. “Give your quilts to people who want or need them! Go make more quilts! You will, anyway! Give it away, people!”
“Mary, Mary, wait a second,” you say. “Calm down.” And then, scratching your attractive head, you ask me why I’m on about quilts when I said I wanted to send money to Puerto Rico.
Wait for it!
Despite my fervent “Give away your quilts” message, which I do stand by — fervently! — I find myself with a quilt surplus right now. Some of these quilts are from my book, Make + Love Quilts, available at fine quilt shops everywhere; some are from the days of Quilty magazine; one or two were “just-for-funs”; one is a sample I made for the fabric line. I’ve given away other quilts over the years but somehow I haven’t yet given these quilts away and you know what? It’s time to turn them into money for people in need.
I’m going to auction off ten (10) quilts tomorrow, October 1st, 2017, and all the money will go to Americares to benefit victims of Hurricane Maria. This is going to be fun and awesome. Ten people will get their very own Mary Fons quilt and hundreds of people will get at least a little bit of help down in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico! And I’ll have more room in my house! This is great!
All of this will go down tomorrow. No, I don’t know exactly what time. I have homework to do and I have to set up this online silent auction thing. All will be revealed, don’t get antsy. Actually, no: Do get antsy! Be excited to buy a quilt from me and help so many people! But because I know there are burning questions, here are a few details for now:
Where’s the money going?
I spent a lot of time looking at which organization I want to send money to and Americares wins. They recently air-lifted $1.8 million in food and medical supplies to the Virgin Islands, and that was just another day at the office, if you will. Their website says: “Hurricane Maria: Emergency Relief Fund; For every $10 you donate today, we can provide $200 in aid — that’s the power of giving to Americares.” Think of the math, you guys: If I sell ten quilts at a minimum bid of $100 and no one bids a penny more, that’s $1000! By Americares’ math, we’re raising $20k, y’all! We can do it!
Will you be offended if I ask you how we know you’ll donate the money and not just spend it on candy corn pumpkins for Pendennis?
Nope, I won’t be offended. I actually have thought of this already and am going to make this part really fun: I’m going to make a video of me writing the check and sending the donation to Americares! Pendennis will come with me and Sophie will probably film it. (Sophie, will you please film the video?)
I don’t live in the U.S. and am wondering if this matters?
I guess I’d better limit participation to folks in the continental United States. But actually, if you want to pay the shipping of a quilt to your homeland, go for it! But you gotta pay shipping because that will eat into the donation.
What size are these quilts? And what else can you tell me about them?
The quilts are all lap- or queen-size. All the measurements will be listed on the silent auction thingy I’m going to try and make tonight. All quilts will have a label on the back that gives the date and says that I made it, you bought it, and together, we did something to help our brothers and sisters in the human race.
Is my payment tax deductible? I’m not a 501(c)3, so I think…no. I’m not sure, but I think what’s happening here is that you’re simply buying something and instead of me taking your money and spending it on candy corn pumpkins for Pendennis, I’m giving it away!
But what about this and that and how does this work and Mary Fons!!!
I have never done this before and I don’t know what I’m doing. Please do not get mad at me if I screw something up. We are doing this together. This is not about us, it’s about helping people who have lost everything, everything. That said, I’m going to try and make this easy and fun. Gulp.
HOT TIP: If you don’t subscribe to this blog, I highly, highly recommend doing that now. Because when you subscribe, you get an email in your email box whenever I post a post. Like, instantly, you get an email when there’s a new PaperGirl and that means you’ll instantly know when this whole thing goes live tomorrow. Your email is safe with me; even if I wanted to “sell” your name, I wouldn’t have the first idea about how to do that. Sell what? To whom?
“Shirley Temple Wong sails from China to America with a heart full of dreams. Her new home is Brooklyn, New York. America is indeed a land full of wonders, but Shirley doesn’t know any English, so it’s hard to make friends.
Then a miracle happens:baseball! It’s 1947, and Jackie Robinson, star of the Brooklyn Dodgers, is everyone’s hero. He proves that a black man, the grandson of a slave, can make a difference in America. By watching Jackie, Shirley begins to truly feel at home in her new country, and that America really is the land of opportunity — both on and off the field.”
That’s the synopsis of In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. Do you remember this book?
We read it junior high school, all of us kids there in Winterset Middle School sixth-grade Reading. And even the kids who weren’t super hot on reading — the same kids who I was jealous of as they kicked butt in gym and/or chemistry and/or woodworking, I’ll have you know — well, we all dug In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. It’s about baseball, yes, but Betty Bao Lord’s story is also about crying and then smiling your face off because Shirley Temple Wong is so real and trying so hard. Just like we were, all of us kids. It’s the same now, too.
The school system in Winterset is small but mighty. Hometown of John Wayne! And as if that wasn’t cool enough, they knew — they knew — this was an important book. “They” were right.
The book is better, even, than the fact that after all the achingly excellent crowd-stashing suggestions re: my mom’s fabric — all of them incredible but ultimately leading to not-quiiiiite-enough yardage or yielding the brown version of the fabric instead of the black — Anna Griffin herselfheard about the whole thing and sent some to Mom so she could finish her quilt. Could you die??
I know. Me, too. But don’t die. Live, my loves, live! Live, and get to the library. Read In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson like you’re just a kid.
My birthday this year was so good, it’s going to go down as one of the best in my life. I don’t make such a statement lightly. Birthdays can be just the absolute pits, some years. This one wasn’t at all.*
There were so many perfect things that happened. I think the first thing I’ll tell you about is the flowers. So there I was, sitting in my jim-jams and robe yesterday morning, reading a book at the kitchen bar, idly chatting with my family, sipping tea; you know, all that strenuous Island work.
There was a knock at the door. Deducing that we had company (it seemed logical) and that it was sub-optimal for me to receive guests in my ‘jams, I leaped up and scrambled into the shower.
Shower complete and dressed like a person should be dressed at that hour of the day, I peeked my head out of the bathroom to see who had come to call. But there was no guest. Instead, Mom, Rebecca, and Jack, the three of them there in the living room, turned my attention to an absolutely enormous bouquet of the most gorgeous flowers I have perhaps ever seen: Black-eyed Susans, crown vetch, lilies, tiny-purple-flowers-I-don’t-know-the-name-of, mini-cattail thingies, lush greenery, and more. In its generous vase, that bouquet measured about as tall as I am from my waist to the top of my faux-blonde head.
I was confused. What? How did —? Did they come from my aunt? That was nice of her, but… The peanut gallery flapped their arms and pointed and said, “Read the card! Read the card!”
Slowly, I turned back to the flowers and inspected. There, tied with a ribbon wrapped around the glass, a simple message on a small, white square of paper: “Happy Birthday, Mary — With Love, From Claus. xoxo.”
Me, I made a little squeak and blinked back the tears instantly springing to my eyeballs. I had a towel around my shoulders to dry my wet hair and I kind of pulled it up and over my head. I needed to hide for some reason. I still peeked out from the top of my head-towel burrito with big, wide eyes, scanning every petal.
“Claus sent me flowers?” I said, and a big, fat tear rolled down my cheek. I looked over at my family. My heart was like, foofing around, doing some sort of foofing maneuver.
“Nice guy,” Jack said, and went back to the newspaper. “I always liked Claus.”
“Rebecca helped him arrange it all,” Mom said. She kind of sing-songed it. “Flower delivery, on an island, on a Sunday morning. Not baaad.”
I looked back at the flowers. They just didn’t seem real at all. My sister Rebecca was at her laptop on the couch. I asked her if it was true, if she worked on this with Claus. She nodded and said, “Sure did.”
Later in the day, Claus and I skyped. We’ve been doing that a lot lately, video chatting across continents. It’s so hard to love a person so much and they’re not here and you remember the last time you saw them wasn’t so great but that person is great so then you think you’re nuts but then you just feel so sad when you’re in contact but have no semblance of any next step, exactly, except/and then you remember how this person is not perfect but then you remember you’re not, either, Mary Fons oh my good lord in heaven, and then you feel like throwing up your hands and then you just feel like throwing up and then you get flowers, on your birthday, across an ocean and a lake. And that person sent them.
There’s no florist shop on the Island. Claus and Rebecca worked with the lady who simply “does the flowers” up there. That means that all those perfect blooms and blossoms were culled from fields and gardens on Washington Island. They were all local. They were of — and in — the moment. Just like me. And Claus.
That’s the flower story.
*There’s even more birthday to come. Sophie, the World’s Best Birthday Celebrator, has plans for me on Friday. Zounds…!
Sophie Lucido Johnson, a bosom buddy friendship in my life on the level of Anne Shirley and Diana Barry, is published this very day in The New Yorker. She wrote and illustrated a wonderful comic entitled, “Horrible Phone Calls I Assume I’d Have If It Wasn’t For The Internet” and, as you will shortly discover, Sophie’s cartoon is brilliant.
Being published in The New Yorker is a mammoth achievement. I probably don’t need to say that.
Maybe you read the magazine, maybe you don’t. Maybe you have a stack of New Yorkers on a chair in your apartment because you buy them when you’re in the airport and you swear you’re going to get through them all by the end of the summer (cough, cough.) Regardless of your relationship to the magazine, it cannot be denied that the editorial standards over there are about as high as they come. You gotta be good to get in that door.
And how do you get good? You know the answer.
And that’s what Sophie does. The girl. Practices. Constantly. She’s always writing, drawing, looking, thinking. When we’re in meetings or in the audience for something, Sophie pulls out her drawing pad and a pencil and sketches. She’ll draw people or things. She’ll make a cartoon or do lettering. She does it because she wants to get better andshe’s willing to do the work. Of course, Sophie draws and writes because she loves it, too, but I want to drive home how hard she works at all this.
Being published in The New Yorker is pretty glamorous. But I assure you, and Sophie as she reads this will be nodding her head vigorously: Making art and writing is notglamorous. This stuff is frustrating, it takes forever, you fail, you get sad, you ignore other things, you doubt. But then, if you’re like Sophie and a handful of other people I know, you go back into the salt mines. Because you have to. Because that’s what it takes.
This beautiful girl works so hard. She works so hard, she got a comic in The New Yorker.
Mom and I had the best conversation yesterday while I cleaned the house. We hadn’t talked in so long, it felt like, and we both had much to share. It worked out great to take turns: I’d mute my microphone while Mom told me something that required exposition so that I could vacuum and she wouldn’t have to hear it, then I’d unmute and do some dusting while I told her something. We talked for over 90 minutes before the cleaning jag and the conversation ended with a discussion of my health status and general disposition. And it was this last matter that led us to a discussion of Philip Larkin.
If anyone out there is tired of me talking about dream dog Philip Larkin, I’m afraid there’s simply nothing I can do about it and — wait a minute, hang on. If you are tired of hearing about a girl’s true love of The Tiny Puppy Of Her Dreams, I am sincerely worried about your general disposition and if you do choose to click away, I hope that you will click to a better place. I’m completely serious! This is serious stuff!
Okay, back to Philip.
“Mom, I think I’m going to do it,” I said.
“Well,” Mom said, “I do think —”
I cut her off, noticing that I did that and feeling bad but not willing to clam up just yet. “But I am not going to do anything rash,” I said. “It’s not like I’ve run off done it already. There are many steps to take to make it happen, most of which involve paperwork. I’d need to get all kinds of things filed — and approved — before I’d get permission. And after that, I have to find a breeder, which could take awhile. Ask me how I know.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve been emailing breeders, actually, which proves how serious I am, I guess. And I did look in Iowa first.”
My mother and Mark got Scrabble, a miniature Golden Doodle puppy, from a reputable breeder in Iowa about eight years ago. Mom has strongly advised me to “get an Iowa dog!” She’s not wrong about the quality of Iowa stock, not that I’m biased. But, as I went on to tell Mom, none of the Iowa-based Maltipoo breeders raise teacup Maltipoos, which is what Philip must be. (A miniature Maltipoo is a normal-small dog; a teacup Maltipoo is the size of a well-fed hamster.) I’ve looked in Illinois, naturally, but it’s the same thing here. The only places that have teacups are pet stores and I just don’t think this is the best way to acquire my furry best friend. I’ve read terrible things about pet stores being mills and the pups being sick — oh, it’s just awful. If anyone can make the case for the pet store, please make it. I am trying to get this right and hey, if a pet store like the one I visited a few weeks ago is a legit place to pick’a Philip Larkin, that saves me a great deal of footwork and many miles of travel. Yes, at this point, it looks as though I may have to travel a great distance for my dream dog. And I wince to share that, as this opens me up to a great deal of criticism, I realize, from people horrified that I don’t just go over to the animal shelter and get a worthy, needy pet that way. Again, I have my reasons for approaching this big change in my life in the manner in which I’m approaching it and if my life circumstances were different, I suspect my approach would be different, as well. Be gentle with me.
We discussed all this and then Mom had a great idea, which is not an uncommon occurrence.
“You should ask your PaperGirl readers if they know anyone who owns a Philip or breeds teacup Maltipoos. I’m sure you’ll get someone who either has one of their own or could get you in touch with someone, don’t you think?”
And so I ask you, pals: Would you be willing to draw upon your vast resources, your extensive network of professional associations, your thousands and thousands of social media friends and admirers, your high school sweethearts, your very children — yes! your kin! — to help me find my puppy? I just know a pure-hearted teacup Maltipoo breeder is out there and the coolest thing in the whole world would be to find Wee Philip because of a PaperGirl connection! I mean, seriously. Seriously, for real, I keel over with joy and then Philip Larkin would lick me back into consciousness.
In closing, I would like to give a major shout out to Suzanne, who commented on yesterday’s anguished post with something that made my day and is germane to this post in a big way. Get a load of this:
When you first brought up Philip Larkin, I had no idea who this was and went off to Wikipedia. And then some other sites, and then some more and thoroughly enjoyed my voyage. Months later, my book group decided to read Devices and Desires by P. D. James. In the introductory chapters, we learn the main character (Adam Dalgleish) is a renowned poet and appears to hold Philip Larkin in high esteem. I just sat and smiled this little glowy smile — I KNEW who Philip Larkin was. Thank you, Mary. And I’m reading a real, touch-the-pages book.
Thanks, Suzanne, and thank you, everyone, for any help you might be able to provide re: my quest. I think if I do eventually get that pup, I’ll have to start a video blog version of PaperGirl. It would be called PaperGirl: Extreme Philip Larkin Edition and it would feature hours and hours of video of that dog as he canters, cavorts, hops, yips, wriggles, rolls over, fetches, shakes, snorgles, twirls, chases his tail, licks my nose, plays with various items, drinks water, eats small food, and curls up in my arms.
Walking through and around the Chicago Loop and its immediate vicinity makes me feel connected and strong. I want to walk here for a long time.
I see many beautiful things: a group of teenagers cavorting in front of a 7-Eleven, their youth crackling in the air; a seagull, flown in all the way from the lake, perched on a sign for the Washington Blue line station; the sun when it dips behind a Willis Tower. The city flowers in their planters. The cornices of the Harold Washington Library. Women smiling to themselves.
This last one keeps coming up.
Lately, I have seen many women in the Loop who are up to something good. They’re smiling like they’re in love. Or lust. Perhaps it’s their spouse. Maybe a new lover. Maybe it’s just a crush. (“Just”!) Maybe they’re smiling about last night — or this morning. Without question, it’s good.
It happened again this afternoon. I was walking east on Van Buren toward State. At the front of the crowd of people coming from the other direction was a woman, about my age, Korean, I think, smiling to herself. I glanced at her as we passed each other. She did not notice me at all because she was not particularly aware of anyone, or even that she was walking on Van Buren Street in Chicago. She was somewhere else, thinking about someone. It was obvious, even in the 2.2 seconds I had to read her face.
Maybe she was thinking about a text message or a flirt session with the object of her desire/affection. I’d like to think the corner of her mouth went up because she thought about she got the best kiss of her life this weekend.
Whatever it was, it was fresh. Nostalgia is not present in the smiles I’m seeing. These are the quiet, beautiful smiles of women — ranging in age, ethnicity, and physical appearance — in whom spring fever has manifested. I guess. That’s got to be part of it, right? There are countless ways to smile, countless reasons. What I’m seeing is particular.
Part of my happiness in witnessing this phenomenon is understanding how they feel. I’ve been that woman. I’m not right now, and I can say sincerely that it’s okay. I’ll be that woman again. As sure as the El curls to the west at Lake; as sure as the pigeons love the red Calder sculpture outside the post office on Dearborn; as sure as my tea in the morning, I’ll be walking through the Loop someday soon with my head in the clouds and a smile on my lips because of him.
I hope you don’t think I’m being unfaithful to the Fancy PaperGirl Mailbox. But I do have a kind of official (okay, really official) pen pal. I’m not going to tell you who it is. That’s for you to wonder. But I will tell you that that this person and I have many things in common.
We are both quilters. That’s how we met. We both love the American quilt: what it represents, what it can do, what it hasn’t been able to do, yet, and what it can be, if given enough time and space and attention.
We both work actively in the quilt industry (#clue) and do various things within it. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve had unusual career tracks, if you could call them “tracks” at all; we’re both trained in disciplines other than Fiber Arts, Family and Consumer Sciences, or any other quilt-related courses of study (not that there exist such courses of study, but hello, let’s make that happen.) Neither of us — however surprising in my case — learned how to make quilts at our respective mothers’ knees. We picked up quilting later in our still both young-ish lives.
We have both felt misunderstood at times, for different reasons. Really, though, they’re the same reasons. When you feel misunderstood, it doesn’t matter how you’re misunderstood; it just hurts when people say mean things.
He’s good with the phone, a better friend than I am or ever was, at least re: text message/voicemail reply time — and this is why we write letters.
He owns bow-ties.
We dash off a postcard whenever we get one from the other, picking up a conversation right where we left off. For example, I wrote to him about a big crush I have on someone that I’m not going to try and blog about/pursue, ahem. I told my penpal that the crush gave me energy, that I wasn’t going to do anything about it, but that it gave me a driving energy that felt really good. A week or so after I mailed that sentiment on a repurposed piece of hotel stationary, I got a postcard from my penpal that said only:
I understand your crush. My friend Glenn would say we are built that way. (We = the type of person you and I are.) So I say take whatever drive you can find and run with it.
Of course, just as in any good, long conversation, we frequently will introduce new ideas, new thoughts into the mix; it’s not just call-and-response. The other postcard that came with the latest batch said:
Interesting movement of dilemma. Life is either:
a) pure biology, a.k.a. you die and that’s it, or:
b) There’s more to it, a.k.a., our efforts are towards a greater good (or bad.)
Choosing one of these should dictate all future actions. Instead, I’m working on a personal legacy, which doesn’t answer either. Which one?
Indeed, [PENPAL], I think about this a lot. But I’m going to break our letter chain (for a moment, hang on) and answer you here, tomorrow.
I’ve got something different for you today. I’m still unsure whether to post it or not, but as it involves no stories of wild behavior (me? never), or gossip or politics, it’s probably all right. So far, I have not regretted this kind of vulnerability on the ol’ PG.
The post you’ll see below was written in May of last year but never finished (and therefore never posted.) Thus, it stayed in the Drafts folder in WordPress, the blogging platform used to make PaperGirl.
In May of 2016, Claus was staying with me. It was the time before he left Chicago to go back to Berlin indefinitely. We knew the end was near. Our days were tender, sweet. I’m not sure why I didn’t finish this post about the pictures he showed me. I think I felt bashful and, looking over the draft of the post, I didn’t know quite how to explain my emotions. I was feeling the same vulnerability I feel now, I suppose.
And if you’re wondering why I’m writing about Claus again, well, I’m wondering that, too. These things are confusing. Let’s just say that I’m doing some spring cleaning. Or maybe that I’m finishing up a UFO.*
Here’s the post. Remember, it wasn’t quite finished when I let it be and I don’t know that I should go back and finish it. I think the fragment is the point, today. Leaving things loose like this is not something I like, but we get used to things.
I saw a picture of the most handsome young man yesterday. It was a picture from the past. I recognized the face of the boy because the person who was showing me the picture was the person in the picture. I was looking at Claus. And the picture I was looking at was of Claus at age nineteen or so. The picture was taken of him in his hometown outside Hamburg sometime in the late 1980s.
Seeing someone who left his teenage years decades ago suddenly be nineteen is weird. And fun. And funny. (That hair!) And if like me you overthink everything and refuse to just let a picture be a picture, seeing such a picture is really uncomfortable. Because it confers a kind of sad, caged-animal feeling. I’ll explain.
The young man in the picture was really, really cute. He was an objectively, aesthetically cute teenage guy, the kind of guy seventeen-year-old (give or take a few years) girls freak out over. Athletic build. Strong jaw. Dirty blonde. Great smile — which, I learned, was close-lipped because Claus had braces at the time, and this makes it more perfect because the picture was then more real. Long story short: The boy I saw in the picture was essentially made in a lab for me to be in love with at age fifteen. Swoon. City.
Like most of us, the year that I was forced to be fifteen was not great. I was not cute. I was too talkative. I was having terrible trouble with math. I had a lot on my mind at home, too, including dealing with a mom who was gone a lot (out of necessity! I don’t blame her!) and a broken relationship with my dad. And on and on. Everyone is unhappy in their own ways throughout adolescence; I wasn’t special. Like anyone that age going through whatever they go through, I would’ve given anything for a cute, nice boy to look my way. I would’ve given anything to be asked to the dance. It might’ve made all the other stuff not seem so bad. But with a couple rare exceptions, I was not asked to dances.
If you had come to me back then and showed me the picture of young Claus and said, “Hey, Fons. What do you think of this guy?” I would have pushed my big glasses up my nose and straightened my cloth headband before I took a look, almost as if he could see me from inside the photo and I could do something to look my best. Upon seeing the picture of the cutie-patootie, I would’ve smiled like a dweeb and rolled my eyes like, “Duh, he’s hot??” If you would’ve told me then that the boy was German and that the picture was taken inGermany, you would’ve had to peel me off the ceiling because what could possibly be more hot and amazing and dreamy than a cute boy who was from Germany??
And then, if you would’ve told me that the guy in the picture would care for me deeply someday, that he would kiss me most passionately, invite me to go on a journey across America with him and tell me — he, a bona fide philosopher! — that I was one of the most brilliant people he had ever met… Well, this is where the sad, caged-animal thing comes in.
Why must we live life in the straight line we’re given? Why are we forced to plod along, day, night, day, night, day, night, in this linear way? Why couldn’t my fifteen-year-old-self just get a hint that what seemed absolutely impossible (being liked by someone like that) was in the cards? It would’ve helped so much. It would’ve been so great, just a little “Chin up, kiddo, you’ve got a great family and moxie to spare — and there’s gonna be a lot of love in your life. Just… Standby.”
I guess I just
*An “unfinished object.” A “UFO” is quilter parlance for any quilt project you’ve started but not yet finished.
Winter break is nearly done; school is officially back in session starting tomorrow, though I don’t have class until Tuesday. I’m so excited to return to school; homework is like my favorite thing.
There’s something I’ve been thinking about since I took my trip to Germany. All right, I’ve been thinking lots of thoughts, but this one keeps poking me in the ribs and I figure if a thought is hefty enough to reach down and poke my ribs (knock it off!!), I’d better examine it. Welcome to the PaperGirl exam room.
My reports on the Berlin trip have concerned the emotional landscape I discovered when I got there; I haven’t adequately expressed how much I loved the city itself, how I biked through the streets with Claus, ate the most phenomenal food — mushroom and salsify raviolis, I’m looking at you — absorbed the rich, albeit somber history of the city and felt very much at home as soon as I touched down. (I did say the other day how much I loved Hamburg, but that post was more about the heart than the vibe of the city and the effect it had on me.)
So, yes, I loved Berlin and Hamburg — a lot — and as I walked across the cobblestones and sat in the pubs and cafes with my friend, as I took the trams and the trains, the thought would flicker through my mind: “I could totally live here.” And that thought terrified me.
As well it should, right? Remember how I left my beloved Chicago? Remember how happy I was when I came home? Remember how I took a chance on love, on life, on a new address (okay, a bunch of addresses) and how hard that was? When I got back to Chicago after being in NYC and DC, and when I walk up Michigan Avenue — every time, even now, well over a year after being home — I ache with happiness to be here. But as beautiful as it is to know where I belong, I feel that I must, I must keep lit the tiny flame of “What if?”
What if I fall in love again? What if I get an opportunity to move to Paris, to Moscow, to Hamburg? What if I find myself quite sad, or empty, or utterly unsatisfied and unhappy in Chicago? Anything can, and often does happen. I’m old enough to know that. Well, what if
If you ask me right now, “Would you consider leaving Chicago again?” I would narrow my eyes at you and say, in a very even tone, like I’m on a cop drama, “That’s not an option we’ll be considering.” I really do believe that my home is here and that I will be a Chicagoan till I croak, hopefully a long, long time from now.
But if I say “No, never” to the idea that I might live somewhere else — if I say, “That’s not an option we’ll be considering” — a piece of myself calcifies. To be unwilling to think of another way, to be absolutely resolute about something so fluid as life itself… It’s so hard, but I have to allow myself to fantasize about living in a European city, even as the thought of moving around the corner makes me just about burst into tears, forget moving to a different continent.
We just don’t know. I don’t know what will be best at different times for my life or maybe in the life of someone I love, someone I haven’t even met, yet. And that’s the other point I want to make on calcification: As painful as love is, and it’s been hard lately, I refuse to be hard-hearted. I’m sentenced, I think, to a life of loving a lot and if I’m lucky, there’s lots of love coming my way. But I have to stay open to it. Otherwise, it’ll find me closed up and go knocking on another door, you know? There are lots of doors, lots and lots of people who need love and who are waiting with their ear to the door, waiting on tiptoes for the knock. If there’s a “Closed” sign on my heart because I let the blues get to me, love might stay away for good.
I liked the architecture in Hamburg. I like the German language very much. I liked picturing myself at some point in my forties, maybe, living and laughing and drinking a beer in Berlin. (Doesn’t that sound fabulous?) I have to allow myself to fantasize about these things, even if they scare me. Otherwise, a hardness sets in.
That ain’t gonna work, man. After all, I’m a quilter. I’m into soft.
Most of the time, if you ask someone, “Hey, what were you up to Sunday afternoon?”, the answer is not going to be, “I was in Hamburg, Germany.” That would be my answer, though, if someone were to ask me. It’s a very specific thing to ask — “What were you up to Sunday afternoon?” — but it could happen.
The entirety of my trip to his country, Claus was a superb tour director; this cannot be denied. He asked me a month ago if I was interested in leaving Berlin for a day to visit Hamburg. The decision was not to be made lightly. With only a week’s worth of time, leaving Berlin explore another city might be best saved for another trip. “Next time,” right? There’s always “next time.”
It’s true that I wanted to focus my energies and get deep impression of Berlin. But when I thought about a train ride through the German countryside and how heaven on Earth is snuggling on a train; when I thought about seeing another city in Germany that would then give me perspective on Berlin; when I thought about adventure, ultimately, my answer could only be yes. “Let’s do Hamburg,” I said to Claus. So we did. Claus bought train tickets and we were out the door early, greeting the cold.
You know how you go to certain places and you’re instantly like, “Wow, get me outta here!” The place could be a party, a neighborhood, a city — even a whole country. But then there are other places that just zap you and you go, “Okay, well, I’m moving here.” That was Hamburg for me.
The aesthetic harmony. The harbor. The jaw-droppingly gorgeous new symphony center that has only been open two weeks, which made it extra exciting to see. Hamburg is called “the Venice of Germany” for its canals and channels, but I think it beats Venice with an oar; the winding streets and bridges were downright seductive.
The food was incredible (e.g., pumpkin soup, fresh fish, chocolate from the chocolate shop, micro-brewed beer.) I didn’t buy anything — hello, spring semester tuition bill — but the window shopping was great; there were many shops that offered German-made goods and if I could’ve spent lots and lots of money and checked nine suitcases, I would have come home with an entirely new wardrobe. Le sigh.
It was a dream day. Start to finish. Am I punishing myself, reliving it? Or is it giving a gift back to the day to describe it all? There’s a fine line between honoring and wallowing, I think, but damned if I know where the line is or where I’m falling on it now.
Being an adult feels lousy, sometimes. This is due in part because all the beauty of a city like Hamburg can be laid before you — even in memory — and all you see is a rain cloud.
I have returned after being in another country — and I don’t just mean Germany. My heart’s been in a strange land.
When you have had the kind of week I’ve had — was there ever a “kind” of week as this? — attempting to write it all down in any coherent way feels impossible. How can all the thoughts, emotions, panics, moments of hope, and moments of despair that occurred during my brief (but long), trans-Atlantic (trans-planetary?) trip be corralled into letters and sentences?
James Joyce wrote the strange and beautiful and at often inscrutable Ulysses out of a desire to capture in language what our thought process actually looks like. His assertion was that we don’t think in complete, organized, crafted sentences and paragraphs; it’s thought soup up there. Therefore, in Ulysses, you get sentences that look really strange but also closer, somehow, to how words and thoughts ceaselessly roll and zip and rumble around in our heads. You get sentences like:
“Our souls, shame-wounded by our sins, cling to us yet more, a woman to her lover clinging, the more the more.”
“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”
and this, oh, this:
“Love loves to love love.”
Truth: I have a copy of Ulysses I’ve never read. But it has officially come down off the shelf because I feel sad and empty about love and when you feel sad and empty about love, you don’t need medical attention; you need poetry. You need a great novel like Ulysses or anything by George Eliot. Art heals parts of us that doctors cannot apprehend. Grief, regret, a broken heart — ask your doctor about these things the next time you have a physical and you will elicit only a strange look. You will not be handed a cure, nor will you be handed a book of poems, though that would be way cool, don’t you think? If your doctor handed you a book of poetry and told you to call her in the morning? We laugh, but this kind of medical care could help a lot of people. It could help me.
Berlin was hard. It was hard because even though Claus and I aren’t together, I think in the back of my mind — truly, I have not been entertaining this thought consciously because I pride myself as having two feet on the ground — I thought we still might be. Or maybe we would be. Could be. But we’re not. Not now. Probably not ever. Sure, sure: Who knows? But after this trip, I feel like I just can’t hang a hope on that. For a lot of reasons. Neither of us are seeing anyone seriously; we talked all about that. It’s not that. We have the most marvelous time together. We love each other dearly. But there are major roadblocks in this relationship — and the Atlantic Ocean ain’t the only one, friends. (It might not even be the biggest one and that’s a very large body of water.)
It’s so sad when reality dumps ice water on a fantasy that kept you warm on bad days. You know?
We visited the Berlin Wall memorial. We toured a Stasi prison in the old GDR. When I say I was in another country, this is partly due to the fact I spent half the week in former communist East Germany and among German WWII memorials. There was a lot of looking at death this past week, a lot of witnessing an entire country’s pain. I didn’t write in my journal. I didn’t write to you. I just had thought soup the whole time; thought soup and heart-sickness.
I’m no James Joyce and even goofing around with his style is something I should probably not even try, that’s how good he was at writing. But the cool thing about writing is that these letters and words and sentences are as much mine to goof around with as they are anyone else’s, so here goes. Maybe these Ulyssean, “thought soup” sentences will do a better job at getting at how I feel today and better describe what Berlin was like than any of the ordered, normal sentences I’ve written so far.
Wet keyboard tears plop splash miss you miss you, oh well, oh well, oh no.
Snow in Berlin swirling round the crashing yes beard scruffy beautiful man this man who is this man who is this man I love.
On Wednesday, I am going to fly on a plane and land in Berlin! Just over a month ago, I got a cheap, cheap ticket for a quick, quick trip and now the journey is almost upon us.* It’s been over five years since I left the country so as you can imagine, I am very excited to go.
But if I was just going to Berlin for the heck of it, just to see Berlin or take a trip to a foreign land because the price was right, I’d be excited with the kind of excitement you get when you get a cupcake at a cupcake shop (yes, there are shops that only sell cupcakes and this is why I live in a big city.) You take the cupcake out of the box and peel back the paper and open your mouth to take the first bite and to be sure, this is a great level of excitement. But it’s not as good as it gets.
Because I know this wonderful person in Berlin. And I get to see him after saying goodbye to him seven months ago. So the kind of excitement I feel about going to Berlin is like getting a homemade cupcake from someone who made your favorite kind — yellow cake, vanilla fudge frosting with sprinkles — and not because you asked but because they love you. They love to see you smile. My friend Sophie made me a Funfetti birthday cake this summer, so I know these things do actually happen, these people do exist.
Tonight, I was fortunate to share a glass of wine and some french fries with two of my favorite people: the birthday cake-maker, Sophie, and Brian, a hot chocolate fan. Six months ago, I didn’t know either of them; we connected because of grad school at SAIC. If I get nothing but these friendships out of the experience, grad school will have been worth it. Seriously; come have wine and french fries with us and you’ll see what I mean.
We talked about our respective love lives. I asked Sophie about a possible engagement ring in her future; Brian spoke to the situation he finds himself in lately, introducing his newly-relocated-to-Chicago girlfriend to his friends; I spoke about my ongoing, satisfying dalliance with a certain young man. Of course we talked about my upcoming trip. Suddenly, the conversation went to a very deep place. Discussion of jobs lead to passionate feelings about Big Stuff — life and money, goals and reality, art school, the meaning of happiness, success — and several things were touched off in each of us that, over the course of the conversation, created some tears and frustration. (Full disclosure: I cried a lot.)
People will tell you that folks are most guarded and sensitive when talking about sex, but it’s not true: Jobs and income and money and making a living, owning what you have, wanting what you don’t and even not wanting what you do have — this is far more intimate stuff to talk about. We went there tonight and it wasn’t easy, but it was really important. If you don’t get vulnerable to the point of tears with other people at least sometimes, you forget that you can do that and the world doesn’t disintegrate and they don’t run away. And you don’t run away. And this can be the biggest revelation of all.
The reason I’m telling you about this in the same post about going to Berlin is because it’s all related.
I live by myself. I like living by myself. I like my tea in the morning and a hamper filled with only my underwear. But I am the opposite of alone. The people in my life, they push me to think harder, love better; they correct me, they encourage me. Berlin, Chicago, Australia (hi, Yuri), Iowa, or New York City — in these places, I am never alone. And when I’m in between those places? They’re with me in those places, too.
Ocean, schmocean. You know?
And then there’s you. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you what’s been coming in the mail. File my whole life under “Embarrassment Of Riches.”
I hinted at something a few days ago. I hinted that I was thinking of getting a pet.
And it’s true that I have been thinking. And researching. And thinking some more. And looking at pictures. And watching videos to educate myself. I’ve been thinking of logistics. And problems. And joys. And I’ve come to a decision. A firm-but-not-final decision…to get one.
If all conditions were perfect for a pet in my life, I would get a dog. Not just any dog: a caramel-colored Miniature Maltipoo. These creatures are technically dogs, but only technically; really, the Miniature Maltipoo — a mini Maltese and Poodle mix — is a teddy bear that is alive and made of Pure Good. I have a folder of pictures of these criminally perfect…objects on my computer and I look at them when I feel sad, happy, or confused about any number of things, really, because no matter what my state of mind, the Mini Maltipoo makes everything better.
But Philip Larkin (for I have picked out my puppy’s name and he shall be named after my favorite poet) is not going to happen. There are a number of reasons I can’t have a dog right now in my life. They include:
my goofy schedule (not okay for a pup)
dogs are not allowed in my building (bit of a deal-breaker)
Philip Larkin would be so cute and perfect and lovable I would hug and hug and squeeze and squeeze him and love him so much I might squish him! (a legitimate concern)
My friend Sophie was over today and we had such a wonderful time. I sewed and she worked on a commissioned illustration.
“You’re getting married. You’re pregnant. You’re going to Australia.”
“No, no. I have been thinking of getting a pet.”
Soph gasped, so excited by this she nearly knocked over her bottle of ink. I confessed to her my perfect pet would be Philip Larkin but that since Philip and I can’t be together right now for the reasons listed above, I have been considering getting… A kitty!
“You know, Soph, I think a kitty—”
“Don’t you think that would be sort of great? I mean —”
I’d never seen this woman so serious. “It would be good for me, honestly, to take care of a —”
“Yes. You. Mary. Cat. Yes.”
Sophie is one of the smartest people I have ever met. She loves me a lot. She has a heart as big as they come and she is also the owner of two cats that I happen to adore: Puppy and John. Sophie allayed my fears that getting a cat was some kind of a second-best option or a placeholder for Philip Larkin.
For me to have Philip Larkin, I would need to move, change careers, and/or live with another human being who could help me care for him. It seems a shame to have Philip Larkin or no pet at all, ever — or until my entire life looks different than it does today. This is not dress rehearsal! If I wait for the perfect time to go to grad school, do a 30-day yoga challenge (I’m on Day 11!), or design a line of fabric, that time may never arrive. We can all relate to this, no matter what the dream, the desire, the project, the life change. You wait and wait…for what? The perfect day may never come.
There could be a little cat in this world who needs me.
Something has been shifting in my heart over the past six months or so. I kinda want to take care of a being. A furry one, mind you; some will wonder if this is a biological clock thing and that’s fair, but I’ve searched myself and it’s really not a driving factor or a subconscious one, far as I can feel. My longing for a pet has something to do with the Literary Animal class I took this term. It has something to do with winter. It has to do with curiosity — about myself and about love. It definitely has to do with love.
I’m researching makes and models. (That’s a joke!) Some cats are better on their own than others. Some are more affectionate than others. I’m interested in shorter hair than longer hair. I’m going to go visit shelters and talk to cat owners. Sophie’s a great resource and has already agreed to come cat-sit if I’m going to be gone very long. I’m not 100% certain about this, but I am what you would call “seriously noodling.” The kitten would move in after I come back from Berlin, in mid-January.
p.s. Possible names include: Stevie Smith (other favorite poet), Pal, or…Philip Larkin.
This is partly because 2016 has utterly exhausted everyone, including me — and it ain’t over yet — and also because seven is a fetching number to have in a year, don’t you think?
There was something else… Oh! I’m going to visit Claus!
My dear friend, my favorite philosophy professor: Claus. You know the fellow: movie dates, trips to visit my family’s old farm, the one-man paper supply. When I was notified a very, very, very cheap ticket to Berlin online the other day (seriously, that ticket was so low I’m concerned they’ve got me on a kite or a pigeon or something) I rang the man up. And we made a plan. And we celebrated, because Ze American and Ze German are going to have a week in January together in Berlin. Sure, it’ll be cold, but that’s what wool coats and hot coffee are for, right? I have already practiced the following two German words:
But isn’t this just the best? I haven’t been out of the country since 2011, I’ve never been to Germany, and even before I met Claus, Germany was at the top of my wanna-go list. But of course the reason 2017 is going to be good is because Claus is there — at least for a week in January — and I miss that person.
There will be many pictures, much rejoicing, and probably strudel.
The election is over, and Grand Canyon seems tiny in comparison to the divide between US citizens today. I’m at Midway Airport, headed to the Kansas City Modern Quilt Guild. The airport is a strange place right now.
A very close friend of mine supported the candidate that I did not support in the election. There came a terrible day when I told him I didn’t want to talk to him anymore because of his position. I straight-up stonewalled him, told him I couldn’t be his friend. I was wrong to do that.
Thankfully, I figured out how dumb that was — there are benefits to being in one’s late thirties —and about a day later (okay, maybe two), I called him up, apologized, and listened to him. I really, really listened. I learned why he felt the way he felt. Then I asked him if he would listen to me. He listened. He disagreed but understood a lot more about how I felt by the time we were done with the conversation. We hung up saying, “I love you,” and we meant it. We still mean it.
The quilt block up there is a Union Square quilt block, but I actually am dubious about this; a google search of the Union Square block will yield a different-looking block but I swear, that’s what the thing was listed as when I made it some years ago for a Quilty episode.
It’s a good one. Three fabrics. Forty-five pieces. Geometry. Harmony. With effort, concentration, choices, and interest, I made that block. A lot of people helped me get to the place where I was able to make that block: teachers, mentors, helpers, students, designers. Lots of folks.
Union. The word looks weirdly like “Onion,” come to think of it. And “union” is not dissimilar to an actual onion: complex, multi-layered, useful, problematic if you have an allergy or something…and yes, my analogy ran out but I am very tired.
I meet so many people on the road. I love you and all those beautiful quilts.
But the overwhelming majority of American quilters are female, so in my line of work I spend a lot of time with a lot of women. Today, I feel like going on record to say that I love them. All of them, like sisters, because they are my sisters.
Just let me get this out.
Everywhere I meet these women — in Seattle, Richmond, Omaha, Phoenix, Orlando — I see beauty, grace, brains, compassion, passion, and strength. I love their stories. I love seeing girls of every age not know how to do something then figure it out. I love to see them bring out their favorite colors: This one has a dozen shades of blue from deep navy to snowflake; the lady sitting next to her has a collection of batiks so deep she could open a pop-up shop.
The women I meet and spend time with are kind. Dorie presses a seam ripper into my hand because I have to try it, it’s the best kind. Sarah makes cookies for everyone and laughs because she forgot to put egg in them but really, they’re pretty good, aren’t they? I see friends helping friends with sewing machines and iron settings and emotions too big to shoulder alone; I watch younger members aid older ones and vice versa; daughters and mothers sewing together, or maybe it’s aunts, nieces, granddaughters at the card tables. These are the women I sew with, who I work for. They are all ethnicities. They are 12 or 53 or 76 years old.
Dignified. Talented. Beautiful. Hilarious. Sometimes I look at these classrooms of women and I just shake my head and think, “We hold up the whole world.”
1. I am not psychotic.
2. I am not asking you out.
I implore you to let me explain.
I’m a writer. I write about stuff I see and how I feel about it. One of the things I write is this blog. Often, Receiving Room Guy (I know your name but would never use it without your permission), what I see is people and how I feel about those people is interested. I don’t mean romantically interested; I mean that I am interested in a person’s funny jacket, the contents of their grocery basket, the particular tone in their voice when they said goodbye on a rainy day. These sorts of things never fail to surprise me and surprise is the curious person’s reward. I am a curious person and the world is full of rewards if you look for them.
I’m particularly curious about the encounters I have with people because though there are some real jerks out there, most people are terrific and will make you laugh, think hard, or just feel like a part of the human race.
My encounters with you fall into the “terrific” category – and they have also surprised this curious person, Receiving Room Guy. This is all your fault, when you think about it. You can’t be a pleasant, intelligent new person working in my building who also plays a guitar on the clock who also looks like the guy on the poster in the Louis Vuitton window on Michigan Avenue without me wanting to write about you. So I did. As you now know.
But after posting yesterday, I realized I had done a terrible thing. Unless I write this post to you and come clean about this, we can never go beyond talking about the weather – and for a curious person, nothing could be worse. Talking about the weather is like death. Actually, it’s worse. I would much, much rather talk about death than the weather. But if we leave behind the weather, it won’t be too long after that that I will want to tell you I’m a writer and that I write a blog and maybe you’d like to read it?
Under the circumstances, this would be bad. Unless I confess.
If I don’t tell you about all this, we’ll never go any deeper than, “Hey” and “Hey” and “Do you want these pancakes?” and “I have band practice.” We can do better than that. That’s why I gave you my card and told you to read my blog and why, when I said it, I looked at you with a look on my face that said, “I am going to put my head in the oven, now.”
Receiving Room Guy, I never meant to creep you out. I’ve been called plenty of things, but I have never been called “creepy.” And for the record, I feel a little weird – okay, a lot weird – about kinda objectifying you, though if comparing a person to a Greek God is a punishable offense, I give up. I just wanted to write about my life. You’re in my life. Aren’t you so glad?
A brief word on #2:
You are highly ask-outable, which I’m sure you realize, but I have a number of very good reasons why a drink with you, like that, is not on this particular woman’s mind. My reasons for not wanting that are so many and so good, that if there were awards given out for good reasons – The Good Reason Awards – I would clean up. I would be giving acceptance speeches with mascara running down my face every five seconds for all my good reasons. So don’t worry about that. We’re cool.
Are we cool? Are you okay? How are you doing right now? I ordered something from Jet. I’m going to have to get it at some point. I am legitimately going to avoid you for a couple days, though.
However, if you feel like watching a blog post go viral, text me. People will freak if there’s an Update #4.
Let’s get something straight: I am a decent flirt.
I’m not the prettiest girl in the room. I don’t have the sexiest bod. But there came a point in my life when I realized that though I know very, very little, most people don’t know that much more, and if I ask questions, listen to folks, read stuff, avoid eating breadsticks dipped in frosting for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and refrain from taking myself too seriously, I’m a catch! (The same is true for anyone, by the way.) This understanding has given me confidence in conversatin’ with the opposite sex. I fear no dude. Usually.
Something very interesting happened when Receiving Room Guy put his guitar down. He didn’t go directly for my delivery. There was this discernable moment of, “So… How’s it goin?” But of course I couldn’t possibly let a moment pass without filling it with words, and that is when my flirt game died. My actual sentence was:
“Well… You know, I was just sewing. Upstairs. That’s…my thing. Like, you have a guitar. That’s your…thing. And I sew. I make quilts. I’m on television. I teach people how to make quilts on television. On PBS. Patchwork quilts. You know? Quilts?”
Receiving Room Guy’s eyebrows went up. “Really? That’s so cool. Awesome.”
I nodded, smiling. “Yeah. It’s a…thing.” And then he said:
“I’ve been doing some sewing myself.”
[Go ahead. Squeak with delight. I’ll wait.]
“Oh?” I said. “Well, that’s…awesome.”
“Yeah, you know, working down here, there’s a lot of sewing supplies.” I laughed loudly and said something like, “That’s hilarious!”
He continued. “Well, it’s not sewing, exactly. But I have a denim jacket and I’ve been sewing some patches on it.”
I need to pause here and say that the youth, the long hair, bass guitar, denim jacket, and Michelangelo-level beauty may be portraying Receiving Room Guy a wee dim. Not so, and I don’t think I’m projecting. He’s sharp, and our exchanges in the receiving room are always enjoyable and sort of funny, like the time I got a box of wine – I mean a case of wine, people – and as I struggled to carry it out, I was like, “No, I got this” and he was like, “Are you sure?” and I was like, “It’s a box of wine” and he was like, “Well, if you get crushed underneath it, it’s a good way to go.” See? His eyes are bright, his pelt is shiny. He’s no bimbo.
After he told me that he has been sewing for Lord’s sake, I thought of one, single amusing thing to say as I stabbed at the iPad on the counter where you sign for your package. “Well,” I said, stabbing, “If you ever run out of sewing supplies, you should, you know, ask your boss. But if he runs out of sewing supplies, you know, let me know. I have a lot of, like, thread and stuff.” He laughed and I felt very much like I needed to leave that place while I was ahead.
Receiving Room Guy handed me my package and I wished him luck at band practice on my way out. (He told me at one point he had a private lesson and then band practice; this was after I blurted out at some point, “Areyouinaband?”) When I got to the elevator I literally smacked myself in the forehead. When did I lose the ability to talk to a person who is cute? With a dawning horror I wondered if it was because I’m older than him – by a lot, probably. Is that why getting older is hard? Because you revert to junior high school around cute boys?
There’s one more piece to the story. Tomorrow, the last piece (so far.) I’m telling you right now: you have a part to play tomorrow. I’m going to need you guys, so get your thinking caps and your advice gloves on. Advice gloves? Advice pants. I’m going to need your advice.
Just one more thing:
He has a name, you know. But I’m not going to tell you what it is. Wanna guess? Ooh! Guess! That’ll be fun. It’s good, too; if you just list male characters from Danielle Steele novels, someone will hit it eventually.