So often, it seems that something which used to be a given — because we live in a civilizedworld — we are told, “I’m sorry, we no longer offer that. ” Or perhaps it’s, “That is no longer included in the price of this thing. ” Or maybe it’s, “The cost of this arguably simple and sensible thing will now be added to your total bill.”
Luggage is often no longer included in the price of your airplane ticket. You have to pay more for your checking account, but there’s really no reason given as to why. There are “service taxes” for many, many things and, if you’re in Chicago or New York, I happen to know, grocery bags (or department store bags, or any bag) is not a given. It is literally not given. You pay 10 cents a bag, because … Because they say so.
But here at this Hampton Inn, on location for Quiltfolk magazine, I have reason to bring you the good news. We have cause to rejoice. Because there is a holdout in this world of “no longer included.” Oh, but she’s a small, small thing, but she grants great gifts, and in the spirit of gratitude, I praise, praise, praise! the soulless, corporate monolith that is the hotel chain industry for leaving her be. She is the one, the only, the ubiquitous:
There she blows.
In every bathroom. In every hotel but the seediest, scariest, no-tell motel in the nation, it seems. Sometimes, she is screwed to the wall and she is ear-splittingly loud and barely effective, but she is there. Sometimes, she is very small, almost a toy. Many times, though, she is wrapped lovingly in a drawstring bag, tucked under the sink or in a nook. She may live in that bag in the closet, but she is there. In extreme circumstances, you may have to ask for one at the front desk, but you shall have one. For now.
Thank you, hairdryer for still being there. I don’t want to pack my hairdryer when I go on a trip. I don’t have room, I don’t have patience, and I just need you to be there, okay? And you are. You are always there.
Powers That Be of the hotel chain industry, please, please do not remove the hairdryers. Let the hairdryers live! I know how you’d remove them: You’d say you were protecting the environment, cutting down on energy waste. That’s what you did with the linens, you know, and you didn’t fool anyone. “Linen changes are done by request only. We’re saving the environment, one sheet at a time!”
Malarky! You’re saving your bottom line. But it’s cool, it’s cool.
I’m in Knoxville with Merikay Waldvogel. There, I said it.
Yes, here to visit the legend herself for a research project I’ve got going. This blog post, in fact, is brought to you by the Wald, as I like to call her: I left my laptop at her house and she brought it to me at my hotel. While we can all appreciate the Wald for her tireless research and quilt scholarship, we can love her eternally because she is a woman willing to hop in her car at 8:30 p.m. and bring this girl her laptop. She is a pathetic creature without it. Thank you, Merikay.
While I was waiting for La Wald to deliver the package, I leafed through an issue of NeedleCraft Magazine. Merikay lent me a few issues to look at tonight before we meet back up tomorrow.
“Hm,” you say, “NeedleCraft. No, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of NeedleCraft. Sounds intriguing. Is it new?”
In fact, the magazine is quite old. The publication was founded almost 100 years ago and closed around the start of WWII. If Merikay was with me right now, she could tell us specifically, but I can tell you that NeedleCraft was (is) beautiful. It’s bigger than your standard tabloid (11” x 17”), for one thing; I don’t have a tape measure, but I think this sucker might be as big as 13” x 20”, which is pretty freakin’ big. The font style on the coated newsprint is delicate, exact. The printing is fine; all the illustrations clear and crisp. The cover is the best part: full-color, lavishly illustrated, on glossy paper. And of course the content is what you’d think it would be: items, articles, patterns, news, etc., all related to various needle arts, e.g., embroidery, crochet, crewel, beading, and quilts, naturally.
There are also ads, and one of them is just too, too great not to share verbatim. I can only share the copy, of course; you’ll have to get the September 1928 issue of NeedleCraft and turn to p. 18 to see the visuals for yourself. Just look for the Art Nouveau illustration of a woman putting face powder on herself in a mirror … that a man is holding, I think? It is very sexy and weird. For now, ladies, I ask you: Do you have … Magnétisme???
Now … she is gay, fascinating!
WOMEN marveled — men were intrigued. Overnight the pale calla-lily had turned flaming peony! Now she was gay, enchanting, magnétique!
She had discovered the allure of a fragrance. Now her talc, her toilet water, her sachet, her face powder, all breathed the parfum of love … of romance … of melting moods — Djer-Kiss the unforgettable fragrance — the parfum that adds to mere prettiness the charm and mystery of magnétisme??
It has come to the attention of The Management that some folks are having trouble accessing this blog. Unacceptable! I’m sure it’s got something to do with the mischievous internet goblins who know that I’m thinking of deleting my Facebook account. More on that later. Anyway, I’ve got a call out to my brilliant web wizard, Julie Feirer. I’m sure there’s something she can do. She must not fail!
A N N O U N C E M E N T N O . 2
I am writing thank-you notes to the folks who donated during the First-Ever PaperGirl Pledge Drive, but I’ve got a problem. You see, if you donated via PayPal, I could simply email you a thank-you, but this is not my style. Your PaperGirl is, perhaps not surprisingly, super into paper. The problem is that I don’t get a person’s mailing address with a PayPal donation, so I am going to have to ask for it. It will be a slight nightmare keeping everything straight, but I can try:
If you donated will you please email me your mailing address? (If you haven’t donated, why, there’s still time!)
I’d like you to use my school email, since it’s separate and it’s funny how after you graduate from a school, you don’t have to really send emails about school anymore. Here’s that address:
m f o n s @ s a i c . e d u
Use no spaces, of course, when you enter that address into your “To” field; I’m just trying to keep the spambots away. (Robots crawl the internet looking for email addresses to spam. You know that, right? If you have a website or a newsletter or anything, don’t put your email address on the screen without funky spacing. I think it’s supposed to help.)
The thank-you notes are being written. I have a huge bag already. It’s going to take time, but it’s important to me that I send you a proper thank-you note. My mama raised me good.
You know I don’t do a lot of pop culture commentary. I don’t do political commentary, either. I really only do Mary Fons commentary — and I think we can all agree that is plenty.
But this Kate Spade thing. I gotta talk about it.
If you didn’t hear about the recent, tragic end of the mega-successful accessories designer, I am impressed. The story of her untimely end is so all over the news, even I heard about it. (There’s an adage in the world of journalism: “If it bleeds, it ledes”, which means that if a story involves sex; untimely, preferably gruesome death; and/or life-destroying scandal, make it the top story, since what “bleeds” sells newspapers.)
Empire-builder Kate Spade took her own life. That bleeds.
It’s a remarkable story because suicide is violent and ruinous no matter what, no matter who commits it. But when the person who commits suicide was the founder of a worldwide brand built with vibrant color and buttoned-up whimsy; when that person’s exuberance fueled the spirited tone that launched her multi-million-dollar empire; when the person who hung herself in her home was a success by every single measure in our strange society … This should give us all pause. We should all consider what we think we know about other people. And what we think we know about ourselves.
Honestly, I was never a Kate Spade customer. I dress pretty preppy, but her polka dots were always a little too big for me, her green too Kelly; her patent leather a tad too shiny. But I liked that she had a point of view. I liked that she used the card pip for her logo. It all made sense. I’m sorry she felt she only had one option. I’m sorry when a person thinks that and I’m sorry we don’t know, as a society, how to help them better.
Remember when people in this country died of tuberculosis? Today, we say: “We could have helped them. If only we knew then what we know now. We know so much more about germ theory and prevention and medicine. All those people died back then, but no more.” We’ll talk about mental illness and addiction like that one day.
Here’s a quote from an interview the late Mrs. Spade gave in New York last year to an online channel. The host asked her what inspires her. I like how she answered, how she personifies color:
“People inspire me. [People in] the environment. I’d love to say something more intelligent, like ‘art’ or ‘museums’ or ‘writing.’ But I would honestly say people. I look at the street and I’m not sure I reflect the street as much as I interpret it … I find color optimistic and enthusiastic … and I adore it. I don’t know how else to say it.”
MARY is on the couch in her stocking feet. Her hair is wild. She’s crying and throwing things. Not breakable things, and she’s not throwing them hard; she’s just flinging notebook paper, a neck pillow — whatever she can grab that’s handy. PENDENNIS is typing on a laptop.
MARY: Pendennis! (MARY throws a flip-flop.) Pendennis, are you seeing me??Pendennis!
(PENDENNIS says nothing.)
MARY: Pendennis! I’m throwing things! I’m throwing things because I’m upset! Pendennis, I’m upset!
MARY: Pendennis, people are so nice! (MARY bursts into tears.) People are nice and I love them. What do I do, Pendennis?? What do I do with my feelings? How am I supposed to live?? Are you even listening to me?? (MARY throws grapes. PENDENNIS says nothing. MARY throws one grape at PENDENNIS and it bounces off his hat. MARY gasps, horrified. She sits up.) Pendennis! Are you okay?
(PENDENNIS gently tips to the right about an inch.)
MARY: I feel the same way. I feel crushed by the weight of love. It’s so crazy, this life, this blog. I’m going to write a personal note to the people who donated money to the blog. I don’t care how much. Anything. I’m going to write them a hand-written note if they have an address; an email if that’s all I have.
(PENDENNIS slips a little bit.)
MARY: Now that I don’t have grad school to do, I can make time for that, don’t worry. But what do I even say?? (MARY picks up a book and squeezes it. Then she wrestles it. Then she just throws it down.) It’s just … I guess you’ll just need to help me, okay? Just help me. (Beat. MARY looks up at the monkey.) That’s it! You have to write the notes! You’ll help! Yes, you have to help. Because I don’t know what to say.
(PENDENNIS says nothing.)
MARY: Okay, fine. Sure. No more throwing things, no more yelling. I suppose you want me to comb my hair. (Pause.) I’ll do it. I’ll put on my socks and stop throwing things and I’ll comb my hair and I’ll get the list of people who donated and said nice things. And then we’ll get some nice cards and we’ll write the thank-you notes.
(MARY gets off the couch and picks up the books, the notebook paper, the neck pillow, the grapes. She picks up the flip-flop, then she picks up the monkey. They pad across the carpet, and they get into bed, and they go to sleep.)
Something pretty cool happened last week: I got to talk to Ken Burns about his quilt collection.
If you got to talk to Ken Burns about his quilt collection, what would you ask him? After you asked him, would you hang up the phone and fall over on the floor and replay every second of the conversation in your mind to recall moments when you sounded like a dork or loser? Upon discovering that you probably did sound dorky at least at one point, did you console yourself that at least you interviewed Ken Burns??
That’s how it went for me.
Last weekend, Team Quiltfolk went to the Ken Burns quilt exhibit in Lincoln, Nebraska and we have worked tirelessly for the past 7-8 days (yes, I worked on it while working on my thesis) to bring you this free — FREE! — Quiltfolk Exclusive. It’s a 28-page, online-only PDF that you can by clicking this link and friends, it is very, very good. It’s been making the rounds on social media, but if you don’t use it much (like me), I hope this blog post gets to you.
Ken Burns was so nice. And the quilts are so beautiful. And Quiltfolk is so cool. I want this kind of wonderful experience all the time, this kind of blissful story to cover, but I know better. Some days, you just like, eat toast and you have to work on less-fun stuff.
Most of the time, for most readers, this blog is a pair of slippers. Comfortable. Nice to slip on. Occasionally amusing, if you’re the bunny slipper sort. I figure if you’re the bunny slipper sort, you are still amused by your slippers after all these years. I want to be that for you. I want that relationship. Let me be your bunny slipper.
As such, most of the time our relationship doesn’t experience high-highs or low-lows. But every once in awhile, the ol’ PG is more stiletto, less slipper. More Doc Marten, less flip-flop. Some posts blow up a little.
Yes, over the years, certain posts on the ol’ PG have gone bananas in terms of reader response. The way to track this kind of thing is to be a wizard about website analytics and stats, but plebian moi just goes by Facebook likes and shares and what is, in this plebe’s estimation, the clearest measure of engagement: comments on the blog itself.
Here are a few of the most-engaged-with posts in recent memory. I’d go into the actual data and reach back further, but I’m serious when I say I don’t know how to do that.** The number in parenthesis is the number of comments the post got.
If you haven’t read some of those posts, it’s safe to say your fellow readers recommend them. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so much conversation, right?
The engagement-level examination has all come up because of the fabulous, thoughtful conversation that took place — and is still taking place — over yesterday’s post about breastfeeding in public. I keep this blog for many reasons; discourse like what I’ve seen in the comments section from yesterday is one of those reasons.
Hey, Marianne Fons?
Since you faithfully read my blog every time I post; since you are my biggest fan while still giving me full autonomy and freedom to find my own path in this life; since you personally commented on yesterday’s post, I’d like to take this moment to say thank you. I know you’re reading this.
Thank you for giving me life. My life is not easy, but I’m grateful to have the chance to try it on for size. Thanks for birthing me on August 6th. It was probably hot in Iowa! Yuck! Thanks for breastfeeding me, even if it was annoying/awkward when in public. I’d like to officially apologize if I was ever a nuisance in that regard. Thanks for weaning me off the breast and onto whatever it is I drank after that. Didn’t I do a soy formula for awhile?? Thanks for smashing my peas when I was ready for solid food. Thanks for dealing with everything that came after the peas.
To all the readers of this blog who think and engage with their fellow humans in a thoughtful, curious way: thank you. To all the mothers in the world, public nursing or not: Thank you, too.
** A website overhaul is coming soon, people, so I may actually know how to do that soon!
Tonight, I take you back to a post I found while looking for something else. Things turn up that way, as you know: You’re looking for your socks, you find your keys. You’re looking for your keys, you find your soul.
A dream hath come true. Except I didn’t even dream it. I didn’t apply for it, I didn’t suggest it. I didn’t flat out campaign for this dream fulfillment: It just happened.
The New Philosopher asked me to be in their magazine!
Warning: I have to crow about the magazine for a minute before I tell you how I get to be in it. I just have to, and you should know that the magazine is not paying me to say any of this, nor are they paying me to be in the magazine. This is just pure love, right here.
This magazine, The New Philosopher, is my favorite magazine in the entire world — after this one, of course. It’s quarterly, out of Australia, and it’s invaluable to me as a person who loves to think about and read about philosophy and philosophical questions but definitely can’t just haul out a copy of Heidegger’s “Being and Time” and have at it. Lucky for me/us, The New Philosopher breaks down huge, scary topics (e.g., property, fame, technology, etc.) in visual ways across its thick, glossy pages. Each issue provides the best aphorisms, thought-provoking art, amazing interviews, compelling tidbits, infographics — I could go on. The content manages to be fun while being thought-provoking, it’s beautifully rendered, and issue after issue deftly communicates big philosophical thoughts to non-academics like me. I’m amazed and delighted at the whole operation. Each issue is themed (e.g., Food, Growth, Fake News, etc.) and it’s just Christmas every time it arrives in my mailbox. If this magazine were a person, I would marry it.
I think I have made my point.
Now, in each issue, there’s a two-page spread called “Living Philosophy.” This feature spotlights five people — some fancy philosophy people, some just folks — who answer a short questionnaire. I have often thought how utterly, incredibly cool it would be to be included in that section, to be one of the “Living Philosophy” people. I never in a million, zillion years thought about even thinking it could ever, ever be a thing that would be real.
Well, it’s happening. A few days ago, I got an email from one of the editors: The New Philosopher has invited me to answer the questionnaire and be in the magazine. Me! In the New Philosopher! Answering the questions that I am about to share with you! Can you even stand it??
I swear, I didn’t not hint that I wanted to do this. There is no application process to be in the “Living Philosophy” spread. The New Philosopher just finds you. And the only way they could’ve found me is because a) I ordered a ton of back issues this summer and I sent my order with a pithy/praise-y note, and/or b) they enjoyed my one email to them a couple months ago which contained a copyediting suggestion. But … Then what?? Did they google me? What did the process look like?? Are they reading this blog??
[New Philosopher. Are you reading this blog.]
I need to lay back on a fainting couch or something. Before I do, I thought I’d share with you the incredible questions I get to answer. The questions are certainly no secret: This is a recurring feature in the magazine, remember. How would you answer these questions? Have you ever thought about some of them? Good luck! My answers and my headshot are due on Friday …
Top five books (fiction or non-fiction, they don’t have to relate to philosophy)
Documentary to recommend
Favourite piece of classical music
What is philosophy for you?
Why is philosophy important?
What is the biggest problem we face in contemporary society?
What do you hope to achieve from “doing” philosophy?
It’s the first day of December, y’all. I’m fairly sure that means it’s the holidays.
The holidays mean different things to different people. Some folks take ’em, some leave ’em. Some of the folks who take ’em take ’em real far; some folks who leave ’em get super grumpy about it and “Humbug!” their way through the entire deal. The grinches aren’t much fun to be around, but they have their reasons. The holidays can be hard. For so many of us, the holiday season is soaked in memories — many of them triggered by seasonal smells and sounds — that feel particularly intense. Those feelings have something to do with childhood; they’ve got something to do with time. I get it.
When I turned the page of calendar at my desk this morning, after I got over the shock of seeing the end of 2017, I decided to very intentionally ask myself how I felt about the holidays at this point in my life. Guess what?
I like ’em!
Yeah, I really like the holidays. There are specific reasons for this and I thought I’d share them in a series of posts here on the ol’ PG. It’ll get me in the holiday spirit and besides: Socrates famously said “the unexamined life is not worth living” and Socrates sure looked a lot like Santa. Ever think about that?
Tradition No. 1:
Saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Holidays’ to Absolutely Everyone I Encounter
I wonder if anyone has ever studied how many times in a year the average person says “Have a great day,” “Take care,” or any of the dozens of variations on such phrases. I’m sure the number is in the thousands: Consider that if you use one of these sayings even just twice a day, that’s almost 800 times in one year. But if you work with the public — especially in retail, customer service, or food service — you say it way more. Beyond that, most of us are (rightly) programmed to use, even rely upon, standard-issue human decency when someone hands us our change or our bag of groceries. “Have a good one” is just what you say when you interact with someone in the public square, unless they step on your foot. (If you’re me, you might say it then, too.)
Now, I’m a big, fat, word nerd, so maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s huge that there’s something else we can say to each other 1.5 months out of the year!
Getting to say “Happy Holidays!” to my fellow townspeople as I come and go from shops and cafes and such is one of my favorite things in the world. I love to say it. For one thing, “Happy Holidays” is just stylistically a better choice, what with the H-H alliteration. It’s also v. chipper. Structurally, “Happy Holidays” is more economic at two words than “Have a nice day” is at four. It’s better writing, people.
I love saying “Merry Christmas” every bit as much. It’s yet another economic, evocative alternative to “enjoy your day” or whatever. Besides, saying “Merry Christmas” to my brothers and sisters as we hustle and bustle through the city makes me feel like I’m a character in a Dickens novel, i.e., “A Christmas Carol.” (If only the weather were chillier, I could wear a muff!)
It’s okay if you don’t celebrate Christmas or if you don’t care about the holidays. Like I said, you surely have good reasons for it — and by the way, I have a big problem with the consumer frenzy stuff, believe me. There’s plenty to criticize about the holiday season in our culture, but trilling out a less-used salutation or farewell isn’t hurting anyone.
When my mom and my sister Rebecca Fons embarked on the project of the movie theater renovation in our hometown, I knew a few things for sure.
I knew they would do it “right,” aesthetically-speaking. I knew they would deal fairly in all business matters. I knew they would work hard. And I knew they would complete the project. None of this was ever in question.
And though I anticipated that, due to their approach, this non-profit movie theater/performance space would be financially viable, and though I hoped the whole project would be a success, I couldn’t know for sure if those things would come to pass. Well, the theater has only been open since late May and it’ll take at least a calendar year or two to understand how all this is rolling along, but so far, The Iowa Theater appears to have wind in its sails. The reason for this brings me to the third thing I didn’t anticipate:
The power of a well-run movie house in a small town.
To drive this point home, I need to tell you about Winterset’s annual “Festival of Lights” up on the town square.
The Festival of Lights is a kind of pop-up holiday fest that takes place the day after Thanksgiving around 7 p.m. A few shops stay open for business; vendors sell kettle corn and cider on the courthouse lawn (though you can be sure some grownups have something stronger in their cups); Christmas music is piped through the speakers; a horse-drawn trailer takes kids around the square; and various businesses, veterans groups, school groups, and cityfolk participate in a parade where candy is tossed to the crowd. The parade culminates in the appearance of … Santa, of course! And then Santa lights the Christmas lights on the square. It’s wonderful.
I was present at last year’s Festival of Lights when my sister and mother were neck-deep in theater renovations and plans, driving hundreds of miles back and forth from Chicago to Winterset and beyond, sourcing popcorn oil and dealing with studio screening contracts. The monetary and time investment was big. The work was intense. It was all happening.
My two sisters and I stood up on the square during the 2016 Festival of Lights last year, cheering for the parade floats as they went by, huddled together in the cold. Last year, The Iowa, which is smack on the square, was dark.
“This time next year,” my sister Rebecca said, shaking her head. “This time next year, we’ll be open. It’s gonna be awesome.” Then, in typical Rebecca fashion, she added, “I really hope there’s not some alien invasion before then or a global flood or something.”
No aliens, sis.
Last night, at the 2017 Festival of Lights, the cider was there, the kettle corn was there. Santa was there. And now, at the party, the Iowa Theater’s marquee blinkled and twinkled* and that beaut’ was there, too, open for business. Well, open for charity: If you brought a canned good or personal item, you got to see the 8 p.m. movie for free. Once Santa lit the lights, the theater was flooded, so many people on the square pouring into the Iowa with their food drive items and holiday spirits high. (I was working the door: I saw it, myself.) We ran out of seats way before we ran out of merry townspeople.
“We’ll do it again next year,” I said to the folks who got there too late. “Promise.”
So yeah, the Iowa is real. The community is responding to what they helped build. The theater couldn’t exist — nor can it continue to thrive — without all the support the community has given and continues to give, whether that’s approving grant proposals, buying pre-show ads, or simply showing up to watch the live performances or the movies.
“Wayback Wednesdays” are super popular; I went to see “Grease” the last time I was home and the place was packed, many attendees dressed up in Pink Ladies jackets and poodle skirts. At the screening of “Gone With the Wind,” a lady in her nineties stood up and said that she used to work at the Iowa as a teenager and when “Gone With the Wind” came out, she’d sneak in and watch it night after night, then go home and sob with love for Rhett Butler.
The “regular” movie nights are popular too, though some movies play better than others. Whatever the movie, with the Iowa Theater open again, Date Night is back in Winterset. Girls Night Out is back, too. Families come out together. Folks who need to get out of the house can get out of the house and come see a movie instead of … whatever else they had to do when the Iowa was dark.
This holiday season, there are a lot of good reasons to visit the Iowa; last night was just the beginning. The ballet group is doing “The Nutcracker.” The community players will present “The Gift of the Magi” later this month. You can see “Miracle on 34th Street” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” And since the theater will be on this year’s Winterset Tour of Homes, Rebecca’s planned to have”A Christmas Story” playing on a continual loop from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. — just drop in and out at your leisure, Ralphie.
Seeing my mom and Rebecca — and Steve and Marla and all the board members and the Chamber folks and everyone who has purchased a ticket or will in the years to come — seeing these people build this thing has taught me a lot. Namely, that it really is what you do locally that makes a difference in the world. It really is about our neighbors, about our backyards, about our communities.
Well, all that and lots of butter.
*blinkled and twinkled = a term I have just coined
The bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas. I just learned that.
A few hours ago, I learned there was a shooting in Texas today. Today is Sunday. The shooter opened fire inside a church in Sutherland Springs. Twenty-six people are dead, many more injured. By morning, I’m sure that number will change, which is to say the number will rise. The number will sink into further sadness and then it will be lost to the next news cycle. This is madness.
Like most states, Texas has a state song. But it also has a flower song.
In 1933, Texas adopted “Bluebonnets” by Julia D. Booth and Lora C. Crockett as the “official state flower song.” (This was House Concurrent Resolution No. 24 of the 43rd Legislature, in case you’re wondering.) The song’s lyrics are beautiful. I haven’t looked up the tune, yet. If it’s too tender, if the melody sounds less like a celebration and more like a eulogy, I’ll lose it.
For now, I’ll just read the words to Texas’s “official state flower song” and maybe you want to read them, too.
by Julia D. Booth and Lora C. Crockett (1933)
Correction: I want a professional wallpaper person to hang wallpaper forme. I love the way wallpaper looks. It’s like fabric, right? Printed cloth for the walls. I’ve shopped and found some I like very much; it’s now a matter of getting it ordered and installed.
My love for wallpaper runs deep. Out on Meadowlark Farm, when I was a small, small person, I ran through room after room of tiny floral prints on all the various wallpapers of our farmhouse. (I do recall one wallpaper featured a big paisley, though; forgive my parents for decorating a house on a budget, in the mid-1970s.)
The kitchen got a buttercream yellow wallpaper; the upstairs bedroom got navy blue wallpaper with tiny pink rosebuds and leaves. There was another, paler blue in the living room, and I remember fiddling with the seams that ran down the wall. Thought I don’t specifically remember getting in trouble for picking the peeling paper, that obviously must’ve happened.
Wallpaper makes me think of my mom.
I believe she and my dad hung the wallpaper together out on the farm, but I wasn’t around yet to see either of them papering any walls. When it comes to Mom and wallpaper, my mental image involves her alone: not with Dad. I see Mom scraping wallpaper off the walls of our new, not-yet-inhabitable house in town after Dad left us for the last time and we left him for good. I’m just sure she scraped wallpaper by herself, standing up on a ladder; I’ll have to ask my mother if she hung new paper after she was done. Sometimes, you can’t remember these things.
I can tell you, however, that if she didn’t hang paper, she painted. And then she went off to make money to feed our family. We had support from our friends and Gramma, but when I think about my mom during the time of the divorce and our move into town from being out in the country, I picture my mother scraping wallpaper on a ladder in a bare room. Then I see the whole house, and how wonderful she made it by the end.
When I started this post, I only wanted to write about how I want wallpaper in my condo, how I have wanted to put some up for a couple years, now. I wanted to ask if anyone in the Chicago area could recommend an honest/speedy paper-hanger.
My intention wasn’t to talk about my childhood, or the pain of my parents’ divorce, or the memory I have of a very lean and scary time when Mom had the weight of the world on her shoulders and my father disappeared in a cloud of confusion and angst. It wasn’t my intention to write about any of that; I just wanted to talk about the wonders of wallpaper.
I don’t know if you noticed, but a few weeks ago, I went slightly dark here on the ol’ PG. I don’t mean that I was making depressing jokes or being generally gloomy; I mean that my posts were spotty and “content-lite,” let’s call it. There was a very good reason for this, but I didn’t even have the energy to go into it.
What was going on is that I was working as a journalist, I guess, writing a piece for F Newsmagazine that took 95% of my time, focus, and energy, both physical and emotional. The story I wrote is something I am extremely proud of, not because it’s perfect — it isn’t — but because I did something I’ve never done before: I wrote a profile of a special person who passed away too early and to do it properly (which was the only way to do it, obviously) required investigation, interviews, historical documents, and intense focus.
I grew to care for this person who passed away in 1988 and I grew to care about the people who cared about her and who took time for me and this story. It all happened because of quilts, but quilts are only the start of the story.
I’d just love it if you read the piece. It’s a feature-length story, so it’s a longer read. But you’ll be rewarded, I promise. And here is the link. Enjoy!
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.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but things have been intense around here lately. Grad school is hard. If I stop for a half-an-hour, I’m behind. I love all of it, but I’m ridin’ the struggle bus. And whattaya know, but last night I woke myself up whimpering (!) because the scratchy throat I felt in the newspaper office yesterday had become agonizing. Even though it was barely 4 a.m., my body ached so bad and my sneezes were so hilariously powerful, I was not gonna fall back asleep. So I got up.
And in my email box, there was this wonderful, incredible piece of writing from one of my very first (and personal favorite) PaperGirl readers, Mark H. (You may remember Mark and Netta from my trip to Florida! And I’m sure I’ve mentioned how they send me fudge and pecans at Christmastime, swoon.) Mark had sent me an email a few days ago, his email subject line the same as it’s been for years: “Note from Mark.” He was checking in on me, you see: Mark’s been reading the ol’ PG long enough to be able to read between the lines and suspected I was kind of freaking out with all my activities and schoolwork. He had an idea for me, because Mark likes to help people.
“Maybe you could have your readers write a post or two,” Mark said, “about why they read your blog and why they keep coming back. I bet they’d like to do it and it would take something off your plate.”
What a friend, right? And the idea sounded neat, except 1) it would necessitate a bit of planning and organization on my part and I can hardly find time to floss; and 2) I was a little worried that if I asked people why they read or love this blog, it might be a little self-congratulatory or hoo-hoo-look-a-me. I told Mark he was amazing and kind, as usual, and that I’d keep thinking about a way to do it and indeed, I did think about it.
But before I had a solution, however — and suffering from my cold enough to really need a break — Mark wrote back and said, essentially: “Well, tough, kiddo. I’ve decided I might as well just give this a shot. You can post it if you want, but you certainly don’t have to. It was fun to write!”
Mark, you’re a true-blue friend. You made me cry with this. I appreciate you so much. Thanks, buddy. I’m so glad you’re here. Don’t leave. I won’t if you won’t, okay? And this is the first-ever guest post on PaperGirl. How cool is that?? 😀
* * *
“It was actually an errant internet search that brought me to this blog many years ago. My wife and I had to work in different parts of the country, and I was searching for love poems to tell her how much I missed her. When I entered the words “love poems” in the search box I accidentally searched the “video” tab, not the “all” tab. Mary’s video of her famous poem was near the top. So I clicked it. I didn’t know what slam poetry was, but I liked what she was doing. There was a little icon at the bottom that linked to her blog, so I clicked that one too. I wanted to know more about a person who could write poems like this.
The blog gave me great insight into the life of this stranger. I read along for a few months, never commenting, but decided to send a few encouraging words to her one night because she was particularly despondent about losing her hair. I don’t know if she knew how sick she was back then, but my medical background told me that she was in serious trouble. I don’t know if she knew this, or was just downplaying the situation, but I wasn’t sure if she would survive it. I wanted her to know how much I enjoyed her blog, so I sent her a short note about what it meant to me. I didn’t really expect her to reply, but she did. This began a years-long friendship between us, even though we have very little in common.
I use Mary’s blog as part of my unwinding process at night. It’s hard for me to shut off my mind at the end of my stressful days, so I follow an odd mix of bloggers to help me escape the mental replays of my day. When I started following her blog, she wasn’t a quilter. She was a freelance writer and performer. She wrote about her life and her thoughts, and it was fascinating to me. The blog took me to Michigan Avenue, or a cold slab in a hospital, or New York, or Washington, or Winterset, Iowa, or the Arizona desert, or on an early morning run along Lake Michigan.
While the blog is not meant to be educational, I’ve learned a great deal from it. I’ve been introduced to George Orwell’s six rules of writing (which I now use frequently), haiku poetry, various recipes, international philosophy, decorating tips on a budget, and even silly poems about fruit, which I’ve come to adore.
By far the most endearing quality of this blog comes from Mary’s vulnerability. Mary shares some deeply personal thoughts about her life, that some of my best friends would never share with me about their own. In some ways, I feel that I shouldn’t know this much about a stranger, but her easy writing style always draws me in. I’ve discovered that she’s actually an introvert, but that she does not shy away from relationships. In fact, I’d say she delights in them. Her ability to write about her emotions is at once humanly familiar and heart-wrenching, and for me, it’s the most authentic part of her site.
I’m curious what other readers draw from PaperGirl. No doubt, many of you are quilters, but I am not. (I might have sewn a button back on my lab coat a few years ago, but that’s it.) I’ve slept under a quilt most of my adult life. When my girls went away college, it was a quilt that went on their dorm room beds. When Hurricane Irma roared through my state last week, I hunkered down under my grandmother’s quilt. I’ve used quilts most of my life, but really just see them as heavy blankets. Some make their way to museums, but for me, the beauty and fascination of themisin the backstory of those who make them. Mary’s blog is just that for me. How ’bout you? What brings you here?
Fine. I moved five times. It felt like many thousand more times.
And hey, remember back in D.C. when I thought I wanted to try being a writing tutor for high school kids and I aced the interviews and the tests but I didn’t pass the background check because of all that moving around??
Actually, I don’t believe I did tell you, but yeah, that happened. Oh, the poor woman who interviewed me. We were besties by the time I left her office, so I can just imagine how disappointed and weirded out she must’ve been when she read my background check report-thingy. I can see her, shaking her head, saying to her receptionist with a heavy sigh, “I just don’t get it, Cynthia. That nice woman. I wouldn’t ever have guessed she was on the lam. Guess you never can tell.”
Thunk. Recycle bin.
When I finally got back to Chicago — still not sure how I managed that — I swore I’d never leave again and I won’t, not ever. I belong to this city; Chicago belongs to me. So when I say I’ve been fantasizing about moving again, rest assured: I’m talking about moving across town, not across state lines.
‘Cuz there’s this one building.
The Fisher Building at 343 S. Dearborn Street.
It’s strange to have a crush on a 20-story building. It’s hard to explain to one’s friends and family, especially one’s mother. But this is love. The Fischer is my heart’s delight. What’s not to love? It was commissioned by Lucius Fisher, the famous paper magnate. (I love paper!) And who built the place, you ask? Why none other than D.H. Burnham & Co., back in 1896. (I love 1896!) If you know anything about architecture in America — especially Chicago — at the turn of the 20th century, you know ol’ Danny Burnham was kind of The Dude. (I love Dudes!)
The Fisher’s spindly, golden, neo-Gothic beauty takes my breath away every time I’m near it and I try to be near it a lot. I squeak with glee every time I see the sun glinting off its broad windows; the whole structure looks like it’s beaming golden light. And oh, the facade. There are extravagant carvings in the terra cotta: aquatic creatures (fish, crabs, etc.), eagles, dragons, and other mythical creatures! Could you die?
I want lots and lots of money. Because there aren’t condos in the Fisher; only apartments. And they’re like $2,500/month for a two-bedroom — and at this point in my life, if I’m paying $2,500/month for a floor and a roof, I’d like to be slowly owning that floor and that roof, you know? So this is all just a fantasy.
Lord, I want to live in the Fisher Building. Because if I lived in the Fisher Building, everything in my life would be perfect. Nothing bad could happen. I’d be The Woman I’ve Always Wanted To Be. I’d be an adult, someone who’d never eat a liiiitle more Red Velvet Cake Ben & Jerry’s ice cream while I’m blogging, even though I put it away 30 minutes ago like a virtuous person.
I do not live in the Fisher Building, though, and I can’t, probably not ever, and I am not virtuous.
The picture isn’t big enough. I need an IT person. But nevermind that! There’s no time.
To begin with, if you haven’t read yesterday’s post, you must. You just have to. Go and read this, then come back. Trust me. Would I lead you astray? Are you back? Great.
So there we are, at the lake house. It’s like 2 p.m. on Sunday, smack dab in the middle of the anniversary of my birth. I’m already in a terrific mood because Claus sent me the most enormous bouquet of Door County field flowers and my sister Rebecca asked me before we left Chicago what kind of cake I wanted and I said “funfetti” (duh) so that Mother could make the cake before we arrived on Friday because, as she told us, and I quote:
“Why make a birthday cake on Sunday when you guys have to leave Monday morning? I figured I’d make it so we could have cake all weekend.”
Marianne Fons for president.
Okay, so it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m reading a book upstairs. It’s likely I had just had some cake, but I don’t remember. I do know that I was not planning to leave my comfy recliner until I was done with my book, so when Mom called up to me to “come downstairs for a minute” I was rawther displeased.
“Mom!” I yelled back. “I’m reading! This is vacation! I’m reading!”
La Marianne did not yield.
“Mary, I need you for five minutes. Come downstairs, please.”
In my best six-year-old whine, I replied, “Don’t make me dooooo anything! It’s my birthday!”
Then, from the kitchen, a firm, “Mary. Come downstairs.”After that, a pause — because the woman knows gifts are my love language: “It’s a birthday surprise.”
Greased lightning. Down the stairs.
Suddenly finding myself on the first floor of the house, my eyes darted around. What was happening?? Was someone coming to visit?? Claus’s flowers were there on the bar. A truly ridiculous thought popped into my head. I gasped and grabbed Mom’s shoulder.
“Oh my god. Is Claus here??”
My mother shook her head. “Come outside.”
She led me to the water and we took a seat on the table rock. On our beach, beautiful, wide, big, flat rocks separate the water from the land and you can run and leap across them and you can sit and bask in the sun on them and nature must love that line because she is always changing it, working with it, bestowing beauty on that line. We sat down on that very line and suddenly, I knew what was going to happen:
Charlie was going to play “Happy Birthday” for me.
And so he did. From far, far down the beach, almost too far to hear but not too far to hear at all, came the sounds of a world-class trombonist playing a world-class trombone.
I flapped my hands and jumped up and down and chased my tail and indeed, Chuck played on! The tune came once more. I didn’t know if that was because he wanted to make sure I heard it or what — I heard, I heard! Do it again, Charlie! Do it again. And now we know: If anyone out there has the ability to play “Happy Birthday” to someone on an island beach from a half mile away, take it from me: Play it twice. The first time you play it, the recipient is freaking out too much to even, like, understand her life. The second round is when it really lands.
When the second solo was over, I jumped up and down like a madwoman, waving like I was stranded on the rocks, hoping Charlie could see my flailing and understand it as ecstatic gratitude. Then, I scrambled up to the house to call the Vernon residence and thank them for making possible one of the most delightful moments of my entire life. I’m deadly serious about that. And if you think it’s odd to pair the words “the most delightful [moment] of my life” and “deadly serious” in the same breath, you have never had a Chicago Symphony Orchestra musician perform “Happy Birthday” to you across Lake Michigan on a perfect August afternoon on your birthday. (By the way, I know a guy.)
A few summers back, Mom was up at the lake house with Mark.
One perfect afternoon, Mom went down to the shoreline with Scrabble, who surely wanted to rustle up some seagull jerky. There at the water, from waaaay down the beach, at the bend about a half-mile south of our place, she heard what sounded like someone playing a horn.
Yes, it sounded to Mom like someone playing some kind of brass instrument, though she couldn’t place which kind. It wasn’t a trumpet. Maybe a French horn? This wasn’t the first time Mom had registered the sound, either. As she went to fetch Mark for a second opinion, my mother looked back once more and saw a golden flash of sun glinting off metal. It was a horn! But it wasn’t on shore. Was the player standing in the water?? Playing a horn while wading?
That’s how we met the Vernons.
You see, Mom was right. There was a dude out there practicing music in the water. But it wasn’t just any dude, and it wasn’t just any music, either. Our Island neighbor turned out to be none other than Charlie Vernon, one of the world’s most celebrated trombonists, a man who has graced the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) for over 20 years and counting. Charlie’s wife, the luminous, whip-smart, first-draft-pick-in-the-zombie-apocalypse Alison Vernon, is a musician, too. Her lilting soprano voice would stir even the iciest of hearts, and that’s when she’s singing on an actual stage. I haven’t heard her singing while standing in Lake Michigan, but I want to.
I tell you all this because the Vernons had a huge hand in this terrific recent birthday of mine. This post is in two parts because there are two equally terrific sections to share and I don’t want anyone skimming!
Jack, Rebecca, and I arrived at the Island on Friday. Mom had made reservations for five at the perch fry at Findlay’s restaurant that night. It was pretty much non-negotiable when we decided we were coming “up Island,” as Mark likes to say; the perch fry is not to be trifled with. The longstanding Island dinner only happens Friday nights; you have to have a reservation; you have to tell Mrs. Findlay when you call if you want baked potato or fries; you get cherry pie at the end, and if you’re local (or close enough, like us) you know to ask for your pie a la mode. The Friday night perch fry has been happening in this exact manner since the Pleistocene era because if it is delicious, please do not fix it.
We had just been seated when who should walk into the dining room? Charlie and Alison Vernon!! We immediately scooted so they could sit with us and it was cozy and perfect.
Toward the end of the last platter of fish, Mom asked us kids if we had ever heard the story about how Alison and Charlie had been integral in the campaign to get Maestro Riccardo Muti, the world-class, virtuoso conductor, to come to Chicago and lead the city’s symphony. We sort of knew about that, but no, none of us knew the full tale.
Now, I’d like to think my family has a catalog of great stories, but Friday night we were delighted to be out of our league, big time. The story Alison and Charlie told of how a community of musicians in a major metropolis fell in love with a conductor and wrote him personal letters to get him to Chicago — and how these two dear friends of ours were so committed to helping the whole process because they believed, to their core, Muti was The Man — kept us utterly in thrall. Oh! That story is a tear-jerking, nail-biting, heart-swelling, gloriously triumphant tale and two of the lead actors were our personal storytellers. Heaven.
Anyway, the next day, there were more gifts from the Vernons. And you won’t believe what I have to tell you. You just won’t believe what happened.
This will be my third and final “Reunion Report.” For now, anyway.
It’s just that there was so much to think about. I had to space things out. I had to plug in the iron, really press and smooth. I can’t figure anything out unless I write it out, as I’ve said. It’s been this way since I was in sophomore study hall, scribbling poems on the rubber sole of my Converse sneakers. I mention this again in case anyone from the reunion started reading my blog and is right now shaking their head, legitimately wondering why I can’t just chill and let the reunion be what it was: a great party. But I can’t help it. A sandwich is never a sandwich around here.
Whatever the occasion or experience, as time passes, impressions solidify, or they cauterize, or they get frozen in amber, or they disintegrate completely. Six-ish days after the reunion, I can finally get to what for me was the heart of it all. The thought started on Saturday evening and survived the night itself, the hangover on Sunday, the mulling, and the return to the city.
Time is the great equalizer. That’s what survived.
Every classmate I talked to last weekend, regardless of the tenor of our conversation — which did range from convivial to dark — was an adult. Time has no caste system, has no opinions about what you do for a living. I talked in the last post about “reverting to type” and I did, but not the whole time. Most of the time, I just felt like a person with people I admired simply by virtue of the fact that we’ve gone through a good deal of life since we were all in a room together. It’s been 20 years. Think of that.
Think of that.
Births. Deaths. Suffering. Ecstasy. Loss. Windfalls. Horror. Bliss. Addiction. Recovery. Jobs. Ruin. Success. Disappointment. Marriage. Divorce. Second divorce. Aging parents. Sibling pain. Fears for children, worry for friends. Disease. Redemption.
Living history, in other words.
The history we’re making and have each made in 20 years, all of us in our different ways (which are the same ways), that is the great equalizer. Time flattens us all and in this case, it’s a good thing. When I go on about feeling awkward, I’m being paranoid and small, even just taking up space to say that. Most of that night, we were all just folks, connected by the fact that two decades after we crossed the stage in the gymnasium wearing long robes and weird, betasseled cardboard hats, we are alive and we have earned — and paid dearly for — the space we occupy.
That’s what I figure. There’s more, but tomorrow I want to talk about how I rearranged all the furniture in my apartment this evening. What else am I supposed to do after seeing the grand pageant of humanity in the faces of my graduating class?
TELEGRAM FROM INTERNATIONAL QUILT STUDY CENTER & MUSEUM, LINCOLN, NEBRASKA, 8:46AM:
At board meeting. STOP. Quilt heaven. STOP. Lunch w/hero Jonathan Holstein. STOP. Total dreamboat. STOP. Strategic planning and acquisition viewing. STOP. Good coffee. STOP. Never leaving. STOP. Seriously though.DON’T STOP. STOP. I don’t want to leave. STOP. Okay fine. STOP. Gig on Monday in Irvine CA. STOP. Not possible to stay. STOP. Okay I need to take a shower and get to second day of meeting. STOP. This telegram is costing 9,000 dollars. STOP.
Greetings from Lincoln, Nebraska, where it feels like Christmas Eve.
This is because the annual two-day board meeting for the International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM) begins tomorrow morning. Since I’m a board member, I get to go. That’s how board meetings work, I have learned and yes I do feel fancy but mostly I just feel geeky and happy. Jonathan Holstein is here. The only person I’d be more excited about meeting and working with would be Barbara Brackman. After that, probably Madonna.
The only drawback to being here is that I couldn’t stay in St. Louis, which is where I was yesterday. I had to leave Common Threads, a very cool, annual BabyLock event, which — of course! — landed the same weekend as my board meeting. Common Threads is an invitational meetup/think tank kind of a thing for quilters and sewists who work with BabyLock out there in the industry. There were around 55 people at the weekend retreat, some of whom I had never met, some of whom I consider good friends, e.g., Jenny Doan, Vanessa Vargas Wilson, Amy Ellis, and many other terrific, talented women.
Like Kelly Bowser.
Before I tell you why Kelly deserves special distinction, know that Kelly did not ask me to write this, nor am I benefitting in any way from singing her praises and talking about how much I love the thing she designed and how I have used it every single day for four years.
So, Kelly and I met at the first-ever Common Threads four years ago. I liked her immediately: She was funny and smart and warm. Kelly’s atalented designer, a so-good-it’s-annoying sewist, quiltmaker, blogger, and pattern writer, and she’s a mom, wife, and she has a law degree. We got to know each other and became industry pals.
That night, when I dug into the swag bag in my hotel room, I discovered the coolest little handmade cloth pouch! It was kinda puffy and had a zipper and everything. The tag said: “Kelby Sews”, which is Kelly’s brand. I learned that Kelly had designed and made everyone in the group that year (40 people??) their very own pouch, which she calls the “30-Minute Pouch”. (I understand you can download the pattern for free on Craftsy, so check that out.)
I just loved my little pouch. I began using it immediately. It is the perfect size for my lipstick, compact, eyedrops, tiny mascara, and aspirin thingy. That pouch has been in my possesion for four years. It has traveled tens of thousands of miles with me. It’s been in fabulous purses, let me tell you. It went to New York. It went to Washington. It came back to Chicago. It went to Berlin. It’s gone on so many dates. It’s been with me on family vacation. It was at my sister’s wedding.
I’m telling you: Kelly’s 30-Minute Pouch is seriously part of my life. In material objects, anyway.
There’s a lot to love about Common Threads. But my favorite part? Finding Kelly Bowser and rummaging around in my purse to get my lil’ pouch so that I can hold it up and go, “Kelly! Kelly, look!” Last night, a bunch of us girls had a great conversation about the power of the handmade object. You never know where the things you make will end up. It’s wonderful. Not everything that comes in a gift bag stays so long, you know?
And it pays to take care of something: Kelly was delighted to see I’m still devoted to my pouch, but she made me write down my address so she could send me a new one. I’ll allow it. But I’m not tossing the original. She made it for me!
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.
In the newspaper office yesterday morning, Sophie asked me the best question I have ever been asked.
I was at my computer and Sophie was at her computer and she turned to me with her beautifully lipsticked red lips and her gorgeous tortoise shell glasses and she addressed me as “Miss Mary” because that is how Sophie often addresses me and I love that and she said:
“Miss Mary,” she said, “I made paleo chocolate-banana muffins last night. I have them in my knapsack. Would you like one?”
I know what you’re thinking. “That’s the best question you’ve ever been asked?? What about ‘Will you marry me?’ What about ‘What do you want for Christmas, little girl?'”
No, no, no. Sure, the proposal was great, but we know how that turned out. And Santa? Please. He’s creepy and you never really get what you want, anyway. What you want for Christmas is for peace on Earth and to be deeply, purely, supremely happy forever, which is impossible. No, a question can’t be perfect unless the answer is a) easy to give and b) certain not to ruin lives, regardless of what that answer is. Let’s look at Sophie’s question again:
“I made paleo chocolate-banana muffins last night. I have them in my knapsack. Would you like one?”
Saying yes to this is easy because Sophie’s baked goods are made of unicorns and nutrition. But even if I didn’t want to eat one of these (perfect-for-my-ruined-guts) muffins, no lives would be ruined. So, you see? A perfect question.
How I needed that muffin moment! How I needed Sophie’s unicorns and nutrition. I was coming out of my funk and this was the final, gentle push. I know, I know: It was a freakin’ muffin. But the timing. The timing, you guys.
Eating that baked good — it took three bites and then I licked the paper — I felt like a baby trying chocolate for the first time. That’s how great. And I knew about that feeling because of the picture you see above.
That’s me up there, out at the farm in Iowa, in the Yellow House. I’m pretty sure the photo is capturing my first chocolate experience, though Mom could say for sure. When I ate Sophie’s muffin yesterday, I was instantly reminded of this photo of myself — there’s actually a series of them. I emailed Mom for the picture, apologizing for the random request. But I felt the only way for me to express my gratitude to Sophie and her gift was to show her that picture, show her how she gave me more than a baked good. She gave me a memory of joy.
Mom wrote back right away:
“Hi, honey. Mark and I just arrived on Washington Island…but I have that picture on my hard drive. Tell Sophie hi. Love, Mom.”