Mary Fons : The Rolling Stone Interview Pt. 1

posted in: Found Text, Nellie Bly | 18
Sure, this is a picture of Ratna Sari Dewi Soekarno, wife of the deposed president Soekarno of Indonesia at the Apollo hotel in April of 1970 — but doesn’t it *look* like she’s interviewing me for Rolling Stone magazine? Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

For well over a decade, writer, editor, quilter, and erstwhile poet and performer Mary Fons has faithfully maintained her blog, PaperGirl. Though the number of posts each week fluctuates slightly from daily to thrice a week or so, Fons’s thousands of subscribers rely on Fons’s unwavering commitment to post “fresh observations.” Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes outright strange, Fons’s blog is, at the very least, a respite for weary internet travelers, revolted by the endless news cycle and social media inferno.

But lately, possibly due to her demanding job as editor in chief of Quiltfolk magazine, or the ramping up of a major, as-yet-unannounced media project, PaperGirl posts have been sporadic. Her fans are wondering: Where is our PaperGirl? When imaginary journalist Ann Kotske called on her, Fons was at the (very real) family lake house in Wisconsin, sipping tea and wearing blue gingham check pajamas at 10 a.m. What follows is the first part of Fons’s first (imaginary) interview for Rolling Stone.

 

RS: It’s beautiful here. How often are you able to come up to the cottage? 
PG: Not often enough. The last time I was here was in November. I came up with friends from the school newspaper.

How has your life changed since you got your master’s? 
It sounds terrible to say, but I didn’t think the master’s degree would matter as much as it has. Certainly, plenty of people think an MFA in Writing doesn’t matter, that a higher education in the fine arts is too nebulous to have substance. There might have even been a part of me that thought that. But having done the work, knowing how hard it was, knowing how I was then compared to how I am now, it’s just night and day.

In what way?
I’m smarter! (Laughs.) Seriously, I can actually feel my brain working differently than it used to. I read a text or I sit down to write something and it’s like, “Oh, right. I actually know what I’m doing.” I’m also just two years older; I’ve been through more experiences and all that. But there is a kind of critical thinking I do now that I was absolutely not doing before. It feels … powerful.

I talked to a few of your blog readers — 
Wait. Really? You did?

Well, no. But many of them have been surprised there have been fewer PaperGirl entries lately. Now that you’re done with school, you should ostensibly have more time to blog. Is it something else?
(Sighs.) Well, I’ve been trying to figure out why it’s been slow lately. It’s strange to me, too. With Quiltfolk and this other big project I’m working on, there’s definitely time constraints, but I didn’t have time in school, either, and I did pretty well. There are times when … (Long pause.) There are times when I think I ought to be working on essays, on longer pieces, and that my hours spent blogging should be spent working on those.

What are the essays about?
My illness. Fashion. The DIY country craft home decor women I watch on YouTube. Chicago.

Have you thought about closing the blog? Even for awhile?
Absolutely not. The number of posts may ebb now and then, but there is no threat of PaperGirl closing or drifting away.

Why?
Because it’s not a brick wall. I’ve said it for years: Even though this blog is about my life, I do not write PaperGirl for myself. It’s always been for readers. It doesn’t matter if there’s a handful of them or an army of them. Look, I write my diary for myself. Those volumes are solipsistic and scandalous and inappropriate and navel-gazey and maudlin and there’s no spellcheck. PaperGirl is not my diary. It’s a conversation. That’s why it works. It’s a two-way thing. There is a living relationship between the writer (me) and the reader (you.) And it’s a long-term relationship — the longest relationship I’ve ever had, by the way. I close the blog, I close that relationship. It means too much to me, so no way.

You’re committed.
Right. No break-up. No divorce. We’re staying married. (Laughs.) 

You mentioned in your diary —
Sweet living — you read my diary??

Just a few pages. It’s very good. You should think about publishing it.
This is unbelievable. Where is my publicist? (Calling.) Publicist!

Sorry, sorry! I didn’t really read your diary! I’m an imaginary journalist! Can we continue?
Only because you’re imaginary.

You seem to foster a kind of “woman of mystery” persona in the blog by being vague about various “big projects.” On Instagram, you redact locations. Even talking about your “scandalous” diary communicates that there’s the you we get here and the you we don’t get, a Mary that exists in other places and is doing different things. What’s that about?
It’s so funny: In this world of public pages and social media, anytime you say you’re intentionally not mentioning something, you become a “woman of mystery.” But I know what you mean. On Instagram, I’ll redact the location if I’m on a Quiltfolk shoot, since we’re not yet announcing what state is next in the lineup. That will change, by the way.

Oh, Quiltfolk is going to start sharing where you’re going next??
Yup. We’re going to start “announcing the season”, if you will. I’ll talk about that more this week.

So you’ll be posting more this week.
Every day I’m up here in Wisconsin. There’s a lot to talk about.

We can start anywhere you like.
Good. Let’s start with the second half of this interview.

Fine.
Fine.

Are you repeating me?
Are you repeating me?

Stop that.
Stop that!

Okay.
Okay.

Nellie Bly + PaperGirl: Conversation #00172

Walkies.
Walkies.

(MARY and NELLIE BLY walk along the Central Park reservoir. NELLIE records the conversation on her iPhone. MARY wears Nike Dunk hi-tops.)

NB: Are you sure I should be here?

PG: What? Why?

NB: It may be too soon for another Nellie Bly post. You don’t want people to get bored.

PG: (Considers this.) After this, you should probably get lost for awhile.

NB: No problem. How are you feeling?

PG: Much better, thank you. It took days to feel normal after the morphine. That was bad. I’m a little spooked about what would’ve happened if I had had three injections instead of just two.

NB: You might consider wearing a medical bracelet. I wear one.

PG: Really?

NB: Yes, I’m anemic.

PG: Hey, so am I!

NB: You told me you wanted to talk about a comment someone made online. I assume it was something hurtful?

PG: Right, yes, the comment. The comment wasn’t hurtful at all. It was a thoughtful, “get better” comment from a nice lady named Becky. But Becky said something about being surprised to learn I’ve have a chronic illness with insane complications. She said that on the outside looking in, it looks like I have “a perfect life” because of my job.

NB: What’s the issue?

PG: That is so wrong. It’s dangerously wrong.

NB: Okay.

PG: You just can’t draw conclusions like that. It made me furious at the power we give television and media.

NB: Ah. You’d better clarify that you’re not furious at Becky. This could go the wrong way.

PG: Good heavens, no! We love Becky. Becky is not the issue. Lots of other people made similar comments when I wrote about my parents’ divorce. They said things like, “Wow, you never would guessed your family endured something like that,” and “Everything seems perfect, looking at you gals on TV.” I just… I can’t believe it. I can’t believe anyone would look at me on TV or Mom on TV or both of us and think that we are somehow different from any other human beings. We’re people. We have family drama and skeletons and horrible mistakes and regrets. Well, Mom doesn’t have horrible mistakes. But we have problems and struggles like anyone does.

NB: More than others?

PG: No! The same amount! That’s the point! It’s not okay that television has the power to make people believe something impossible — namely, that there is such a thing as “a perfect life.”

NB: You’re really chewing that lip. 

PG: Look, if my life is perfect, someone has a lot of explaining to do.

NB: You realize you’re doing the “celebrities are people, too” thing.

PG: It’s not healthy to graft narratives onto people just because they’re on a screen. The only difference between me and the camera crew at Iowa Public Television is that I’m on one side of the lens and they’re on the other. My life is not special. There’s no magic — there’s just more footage.

NB: It’s natural to draw conclusions from what we see, though.

PG: Yes, but I’m making quilts. All a person can deduce from watching me make quilts on camera is that I make quilts on camera. You can’t even deduce that I like it, though of course I do. I love it.

NB: I’m trying to understand the anger, here.

PG: It’s not anger. It’s animated compassion. I just want people to never, ever compare themselves to something they see on television, ever, even if it’s a friendly quilting show. Look, my dad is like totally out to lunch. I had a messy divorce after two years of being married. Just the other day, I accidentally double-booked myself for a gig in June. Do you know how bad it is to double-book yourself? It’s really bad. And last summer, I tripped on my own flip-flop.

NB: Really?

PG: Oh, yeah. Middle of the day. Tripped on my flip-flop blam! flat on my face. I almost busted my nose. And these are all examples of things I can say online!

NB: Yeah, let’s not go into anything from 2003.

PG: It’s not like I’ve done heroin or anything. (pause.) What if I had done heroin?

NB: I’d counsel you to not bring it up here.

PG: Well, I haven’t, so it’s a non-issue. I did do —

NB: Look at the time, Mary. I’m glad you’re better.

(End.)

Nellie Bly + PaperGirl #09726

Les Halles, Uptown.
Les Halles, Uptown.

(Nellie Bly and Mary are seated at Les Halles on Park Ave., New York City. Nellie wears a two-piece dress and scotch Ulster coat; Mary is in a fashiony black jumpsuit and McQueen lobster booties. Both women carry large handbags.)

NB: You look good.

PG: Please, Nellie! I look drawn and pale.

NB: (Considers this.) Drawn and pale is good in New York City. People spend a lot of money to look like you. (Pause.) But you’re right. You look a little rough. I’m sorry — I lied.

PG: I don’t feel well. I’ve felt pretty terrible since Thursday.

NB: Gut problems.

PG: Yeah.

NB: Okay, well, let’s… Let’s just briefly go over (Nellie takes out a pen and flips through her notebook) the history of your illness. I think there are new readers who will need context.

PG: God, Nellie, please don’t make me go through all that. They can read the archives.

NB: No, they can’t. The archives are all on the old server. A person might be able to dig and find them, but you’d have to have actual blog post titles to search and that’s impossible.

PG: Unless I have a stalker.

NB: (Nellie looks up from her notes.) Huh?

PG: I might have a stalker out there. He’d have all the old blog posts and titles and stuff.

NB: How is that helping new readers?

PG: (Chews on a fancy carrot stick.) I don’t know.

NB: Wait, wait. I’ve got the run-down. (She pulls an iPad out of her bag, opens document.) Here we are. Okay, “Level 3 ulcerative colitis diagnosis in 2008, Mayo clinic. Total colectomy with ileal pouch-anal anastomosis. Major surgical complications, including multiple internal anastomatic leaks, pelvic sepsis, multiple abcesses; stoma separation. Blood transfusions. Malnutrition. Hair loss. Extreme nausea, depression. PICC line. (Nellie pauses, flips papers.) Actually, two different PICC lines. Month-long initial hospitalization and several after that for various walls hit. Then in 2009, takedown of stoma.”

PG: That’s when the real fun started.

NB: “After takedown, loss of appetite, severe abdominal pain. Diagnosis: leaks still present in ileal pouch, abscesses. New PICC line. TPN for 10 weeks to try and ‘starve out’ the leak; you only made it six. Fistulae. Hospitalization. ‘Bio-glue’ inserted into leak. Bio-glue fix unsuccessful. Re-diversion surgery.”

PG: Yeah, my second stoma. Back to the bag. I had a stoma two different times.

NB: Which is not supposed to happen.

PG: Nellie, none of this is supposed to happen.

NB: (Continues reading.) Okay, we’re almost there. So. You had the stoma again for a couple of years. Then the second takedown in 2011. Things looked okay for awhile, but then you developed a fissure. And that had you in and out of the ER six or seven times over the course of 2012-2013. The good news is that you haven’t been in the hospital since… August. Is that right?

(PG, nervous, nods and sips tea.) 

NB: What?

PG: I don’t feel good.

NB: Okay, well now we’ve caught everyone up so we can talk about that. What’s wrong?

PG: I can’t seem to get on top of feeling terrible. I’m going to the bathroom a lot — more than usual, which is saying something. I’ve been trying to ignore all week that I feel extremely poor. Weak and tired. Dehydrated. Achy. And it hurts to use the bathroom. It’s… It’s so unpleasant to talk about.

NB: You don’t have to go into all the details. It’s bathroom stuff, intestinal stuff. Everyone poops. We get it.

PG: Well, no, most people don’t. And that’s good. I would not want many people to understand my life vis a vis the bathroom. We’d have a very depressed population.

NB: Are you feeling depressed?

PG: A little, yes. And that’s a bad sign. My surgeon in Chicago, Dr. Boller, she would get frustrated with me because I rarely run a fever when I’m getting sick. She’d be like, “Dammit, Fons! Could you run a fever once in awhile so we can catch this stuff before you need major surgery?” I don’t get fevers but I do get depressed before I get really sick. I’ll be sitting on the couch feeling crappy and then just burst into tears. That’s when I know I need a doctor, not when I run a fever. Crying is my fever.

NB: You should go to a doctor.

PG: I don’t have a GI doctor in NYC, yet.

NB: You should figure something out, Mary. Otherwise you’ll end up in the ER.

PG: (Looks at menu.) What are you having?

NB: Cassoulet.

Nellie Bly + PaperGirl: Impossible Conversations (Part I)

posted in: Nellie Bly | 0
Bly.
Yo, Nellie Bly. ‘Sup girl.

Beginning around 2006 or 2007, when PaperGirl was hosted by another server, when the layout was way different, when life was baffling and great but in totally different ways, I presented from time to time dialogues between myself and Nellie Bly. Long-long-time readers may recall these; I may dig one up one day for our fun. They’re all in the archives.

Nellie Bly is known to grammar school students across America as “the first woman reporter” and I doubt that that is true, history textbooks being what they are (watered-down and probably SEO-driven at this point.) Bly was certainly among the first women journalists to be recognized for their work in the profession, and that makes Nellie Bly cool. She’s cool enough to be the subject of innumerable 5th grade book reports, cool enough to have an amusement park in Brooklyn named after her**, and cool enough to be the only person I’ve ever wanted to be a foil to my brain in this blog.

When I was at my sickest in 2008-2009, Nellie Bly and I would have what I called “Health Chats,” where she would ask me questions about the state of my scary body and I would answer. I always told her the truth. On the days when I couldn’t possibly figure out how to otherwise narrate what was happening to me — either because I was too high on Dilaudid or because the news was too bad and too overwhelming to comprehend — writing a two-person conversation felt like my only option. But it was an option I loved. I just talked to Nellie; I just answered her questions. We talked about other topics from time to time, but for the most part, and definitely during my illness, it was “Health Chat” with Bly every week or two because it helped me get better. I believe it.

I only realized a few hours ago that it’s International Women’s Day. Re-introducing Nellie, vis a vis PaperGirl, is perfect for the occasion.

Stay tuned for the conversation.

**Recently renamed “Adventurer’s Family Entertainment Center” because no one cares about anything and everything is terrible.