While washing my hands in the bathroom of the Des Moines Airport, I overheard two girls of seventeen or eighteen having this conversation:
GIRL A: I’m 136 right now. Which isn’t too bad, I guess.
GIRL B: No…
GIRL A: But this summer —
GIRL B: What were you this summer?
GIRL A: 128? 127?
The anxiety was palpable. Both of the girls were pretty, even dressed as they were in sweatpants and UGG boots.
The weight conversation pained me for reasons that tangled up in my head as I lathered up at the sink. I felt first the Ms. Magazine stab, angry that young girls were wasting breath on an eight-pound fluctuation in weight while they’re clearly still forming. I felt a stab of nostalgia for an age I will never be again; seventeen was lousy in some ways (e.g., school, acne, etc.) but so great in others (e.g., inventing sex.) I’m ashamed to admit that there was a flicker of jealousy (or envy? I never know the difference) as I glanced at their tanned wrists and thick hair. I feel so poor today, so compromised — I had a pretty grim setback last night. Ah, but to be a young adult in good health is a beautiful thing — for a split second, I longed to change places with either of those kids.
The pair also reminded me of a promise I made to myself many years ago. At Mayo Clinic in 2008, in the darkest hour of that period, in a lucid moment — there were many moments I was not present for — I looked down at my infected ileostomy site, at the four different IR drains woven through my belly and rear, the IV, the PICC line, and all the bruises and my rapidly disappearing pounds of flesh and I said, “If I get through this, I will never hate on my body again. I promise. I will never complain that I feel fat, I will never say I look bad. I will love myself.”
I have not kept that promise. I still complain that my thighs aren’t toned enough. I worry about my hips. I try various Retinol treatments to improve the quality of my complexion, which is never satisfactory, ever. The desire to measure up to a beauty ideal has shown itself to be — at least in me — stronger than the memory of all that mortal devastation. And it’s about the saddest thing I can tell you.
It’s good to look your best. You’ve only got one life: Dress for it. And eat right because you’ll feel better if you do.
But girls, girls, girls. Ain’t nothing wrong with you.
On this day in 1846, Johann Gottfried Galle discovered Neptune.
You know how, when you’re flipping channels in your hotel room, and you land on an episode of The Cosby Show, it’s the same episode of The Cosby Show you saw like five years ago when you were flipping channels in your hotel room? The one where Rudy finds the baby bird, right? Yeah, me, too.
It’s the same with the “On this day in history…” thing. On this day in history, some scientist discovered a planet. Every time. Could be Venus. Could be Neptune. But it’s always a planet discovery and those guys always have three names.
I took a terrific astronomy course at the University of Chicago. (I’m taking a leave of absence from pursuing my MLA at the moment, obviously.) I learned about red shift and wrote my term paper on Pluto’s demotion, and I went to Fermilab and everyone got a little colder because the universe is expanding. It was great, but we didn’t spend any time on Neptune. Since today is Neptune’s sorta-birthday, I thought I’d find out a few things about it.
FACT: The most violent weather in our solar system is on Neptune. It’s bananas up there.
FACT: Fourteen moons. (Do you think our human experience would be significantly different if Earth had a handful more moons? Like, culturally speaking?)
FACT: It doesn’t appear that anyone who could go (read: astronauts) is planning to visit Neptune anytime soon. Neptune has made no comment, but that could be because its just trying to keep warm.
When I went to the ER on Thursday, I went by myself. When I went to the ER on Saturday, I had an advocate. The difference between the two visits was stark. I’ve been to an emergency room alone before and I’ve gone in plenty of times with a friend or family member, too, but never in such short succession. Comparing the trips closely showed me plainly how one has to do these things:
You must have an advocate at the hospital.
If you are a solo person considering driving yourself to an ER tonight (or any night in the future), I urge you to call someone to go with you; at the very least, ask someone to meet you there. Of course, if your arm is hanging off or you’ve got visibly spreading flesh-eating bacteria working its way across your chest, you will probably get through the door with a minimum of hassle. I’m talking to the people out there who struggle with internal problems (e.g., possible appendicitis, possible internal flesh-eating bacteria, fissures, Crohn’s, etc.) because without someone to vouch for you, you are light years away from the care you assume you’ll get in a room created for the express purpose of dealing with people in emergency health situations.
Note: If you’re a person who doesn’t have a soul on earth to call, my advice would be to get to the ER tonight however you have to, get the hell out, and set about making some friends first thing tomorrow morning. Book clubs are good, online dating works well, and if you’re a quilter, run to your nearest guild and join the next sew-a-long. Any of these strategies will yield people clamoring to take you to the hospital before you know it.
On both trips, I was in identical straits. Pure agony. Any human being who took one look at me (and how could you miss me, howling like that) could see that this was a woman in trouble. Was I foaming at the mouth? Well, no. But I was flagging. And while I understand totally the need for proper identification and at least a cursory examination of a person before IVs and medications are flung around hither and thither, Thursday’s experience reminded me that the collective brain of the ER has been removed and a skeptical, bureaucratic, Policy And Procedures Manual has been wedged in its place. This is not news, I realize, but my shock and indignation is fresh, so it feels like news.
Additional Note: I’m sure there are at least a handful of folks reading who are now or have been professionals in the medical field. I owe my life to a number of you, first of all, and don’t think I don’t know it. I see the problem(s) I’m talking about having less to do with individuals and more with the medical industrial complex. Indeed, it is the lack of individuality and specificity in the system that does damage.
The nurse was working the night shift. I get it. That sucks. And we all have bad days. But she began from a place of inhumanity. She came past my curtain and asked quite casually, “What seems to be the problem today?” (I’m writhing on the bed at this point.) She almost snorted when I told her I needed a certain kind of pain medicine — I’m allergic to morphine — and when I refused a CT scan I felt a freshet of loathing from Little Miss Ratchett. I know roughly when a CT scan of my abdomen is needed and when it is not; it would’ve been useless to do one at that time, given my symptoms and my traveler status, most especially because my pain had yet to be treated. (It appears that hospitals do far more CT scans than they need to**, primarily because they can bill for them. To be fair, this over-scanning has something to do with protection from litigious customers, but I felt my hospital was being either lazy or thick with their order. Not that I said so at the time.)
Halfway through my time there, as I’m trying to explain my entire medical history again, somehow, and get what I need to feel better, I realized how silly it was to be there alone. It was my fault. My stoicism was ill-conceived. The nurse might’ve been a jerk, but I looked up some stats and it appears that fiending drug addicts make frequent trips to emergency rooms all the time, looking for a fix. Here I was, a woman by herself, from out of state, with no visible injuries, crazy eyes, and an increasingly petulant attitude (see: refusing CT scan), begging for pain medicine. If a junkie could pull off looking/sounding like me that night, that junkie would be pretty amazing. But I hear they’ll do anything, so maybe the nurse was right to be so totally unhelpful. I tried to get in touch with someone from the quilt show to speak with the hospital, but when I couldn’t make contact and feared waking up the whole team, I gave up. Not being able to call for backup did not help my case.
I left with the bare minimum of relief and went away, 10% better in one regard, 30% worse in others.
Tomorrow, the second visit, and the wonder of compassion, advocacy, and my friend Marlene.
**Between2000 and 2010, the National Center for Health Statistics showed the use of advanced imaging scans— CT or MRI—increased to 17% from 5% of all emergency-room visits. A Push For Less Testing in Wall Street Journal, Feb. 23, 2014.
Though I would like to write about how every few years the public must endure Fashion’s attempts to make denim overalls cool (oh, how they try and fail!) and how this is just silly and I can’t believe we haven’t learned to ignore Fashion on this, I think that ought to wait till tomorrow. To go straight from talk of ambulances and surgeries to ill-fitting overalls is not nice. It’s like going from a popsicle to a steak. Jarring. Rude, in some cultures.
And so as I went about my day today, I tried to think of a good bridge. “I could write about what I’ve learned since getting sick,” I thought, and mentally wandered down that road. But on the way I came upon all the things that I feel more confused about, and things that I observed that didn’t necessarily teach me anything so much as simply surprised me.
So tonight, a few lists; tomorrow, overalls.
My Oprah Winfrey, “What I Know For Sure” List
– The saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is bizarre and largely untrue. More often, what doesn’t kill you leaves you weakened, compromised.
– You can get used to anything.
– There is no time. You must do it now.
– Being in a hospital blows. Stay out if you can, but if you must go in, pack a bag. Take your phone charger, your sock monkey, your journal. Take your glasses (if you wear them), your laptop (if you use one) and anything else you would want if you have to be there for long. As bad as you feel, try, try, try to pack a bag from home to take with you. It will bring you great comfort when you wake up.
– Visiting people when they’re in the hospital is one of the kindest, nicest, most lovely things you can do for a person. I remember every last person who came to see me. Thank you. It meant everything, every time, bless your hearts forever and ever. (Rebecca, if you’re reading this, I’m looking at you right now especially. You too, Bilal.)
Curiosities – I’ve seen myself from the inside out: I have handled my own intestines. I am kind of a badass.
– Very few people in the Eastern hemisphere get UC or Crohn’s. These are maladies of the industrialized West. One day we will know why and keep people from getting sick like this.
– Losing my hair really sucked. It came out in clumps in the shower. That was one of the worst times in terms of feeling attractive (or not.) The stoma was rough; in some ways, losing my hair was harder. A female thing?
Disappointments – In a hospital in Tucson, AZ, in ’09 or ’10 (ER trip while visiting then-husband) I looked at my frail, perforated body and all the medicine bags hanging around my head and thought, “I will never, ever hate my body again or tell myself I should lose five pounds when I don’t need to.” But I still do that.
– You can’t go back. You can never be ten years old again, happy, healthy, running through the yard in bare feet.
Sometimes, I think I must be out of my mind to do what I do for work these days. I’m on camera a lot and I find it painful to be on camera. Why? Because:
– Whatever you’re wearing, however you style your hair, that version of you is out of date by the time the show airs and forever afterward. You’re like the new car that’s just been driven off the lot — and no one likes a depreciating car.
– I’m not sure the camera adds the proverbial 10lbs or not, but there is most certainly a widening that takes place; an unfortunate spread of oneself onscreen. Is it the worst thing to look a bit more zaftig than you are in person? No. Does it feel unfair when you’ve been working hard to keep fit precisely because you know you’ll be on camera in the near future? Yeah, it does. [Note to self: First time using ‘zaftig’ in blog, possibly first time using it anywhere. Mark in planner.]
– You think you sound one way, but you don’t. You sound that way.
– Editing can delete a multitude of sins, but you can’t edit down to nothing. Thus, the horsey laugh, the bad habit of interrupting, the weird thing you said weirdly — it’s all on tape. Forever.
If you find yourself having to be on camera anytime soon, don’t despair. I have come up with five ways to help you cope with the trauma. Here now:
Mary’s Top 5 Survival Tips For Watching Yourself On Camera
1. Enjoy several alcoholic beverages before you begin. Everyone looks better after a couple drinks, right? This applies to you watching you. If you can get to the point where you start hitting on yourself through the screen, you’re in a great place.
2. Have a friend watch with you. This needs to be a friend who loves you so much she/he can withstand two of you for the duration of the video. Put them in your will if they agree to this.
3. Worried about your hair or clothing choice? Those potential blunders fade quickly when you realize you were younger then than you are now. Instantly wistful and desirous of that outfit, now, aren’t you? Mm-hmmm.
4. Oh, come on. You must’ve said something humorous or intelligent. Find that instance and play it multiple times. Then let the video continue while you go to the bathroom or get more snacks/vodka.
5. Go watch a bunch of Beyonce videos. Isn’t Beyonce amazing? There you go, much better.
A poet friend of mine in Chicago used to do a piece about his heritage. Rather than examine his family tree, he focused on behaviors he had picked up over the years and memes that had stuck. His “heritage” was more about the people he knew or had known, rather than dead people he had never met. A certain expression he used came from his dad, for example, and years back he had consciously adopted specific laugh from a kid in school he thought was really cool.
I always liked that piece because it hit on something so true: we are the people we know. We know the things we know and care about the things we care about because of what we pick up from others that we feel looks good on us or works well. It can be a laugh or a political view. A gait. A preference. An entire life path.
There is perhaps no faster meme generator than The New Relationship. Yuri and I are swapping behaviors and ideas and memes right and left. I see it, I feel it; he sees it, he feels it. It’s great fun. (Think of the inside jokes you have with a loved one. That’s meme-swapping.)
Here’s a great example of what I mean by all this:
Yuri has shown me that I never need to buy deodorant ever again.
Yuri smells good. And so do I. Neither he nor I are advocating going au natural, here. What he has shown me is that baking soda — pure, straight up sodium bicarbonate — is the best deodorant money can buy. After your shower, you put a little in your paw, maybe with a little water so’s that it’ll stick, and you apply it in those cute armpits of yours and you will not smell. You will stay dry and fresh and you will not have purchased a cake of deodorant at the store that a) smells weird and b) costs a lot and c) has plastic all over it and maybe aluminum or weird stuff inside of it. I’m telling you: baking soda works. It works better than any deodorant I’ve ever tried. I’ve been using it for months, now, and it has not failed me.
The natural deodorants you buy at the store that use baking soda? Pffft! Skip ’em. Not only do those very expensive “all-natural” deodorants not work, they’re just puttin’ lipstick on a pig! (I don’t know if that’s exactly what they’re doing but I have been wanting to use that expression for several days.) Listen to me: you do not need to buy any of these products ever again.
Put. Baking soda. In. Your armpits. Put it in your armpits!!
I’m all worked up. But it’s just that wonderful. Think about the money a person could save over the course of a lifetime because of this tip! If you switch to baking soda, why, together we could save millions! At least a few thousand. That could go to a lot better things, that dough. I don’t know what.
And so it happened that I became a woman who has baking soda in her medicine cabinet. If anyone ever asks me about it, I will say, “Oh, yeah. It’s the best deodorant you can use. Just plain baking soda. I learned that from Yuri.”
I’m in St. Louis, attending a hosted event for a group of about 40 bloggers, designers, “sewlebrities,” industry folk, etc. to network, make stuff, and eat lots of snacks. In other words: I am surrounded by talented, hardworking, creative women, all of whom need snacks to keep going. It’s not a bad way to spend two-ish days, even with all that’s going on with work and (cough, cough) moving to Manhattan.
Did I really do that? Did I really move to Manhattan?
The event is being hosted by BabyLock, a sewing machine company owned by the attractive, beneficent Tacony family. I like BabyLock a lot because they make really, really great sewing machines, but I also like them because they believed in me. Back in 2010, I had an idea for a show called Quilty and they were the first company to sign up to underwrite. You always remember your first sponsor. (They all real pretty n’ nice, too.)
There are activities and learning stations and all kinds of cool things going on here, but tonight the organizers outdid themselves: 15 minute massages. The two people they hired to come in and administer these complimentary massages were, I have deduced, actually Sent By An Angel Of The Lord. Who knew the best back-and-shoulder massage a gal can get is in a suburb of St. Louis in the back room of a sewing education center? This is why you travel.
My turn came. I heaved my aching body into the room and slumped, weary, weary, into the chair. Once I got my face comfortably smashed into the puffy donut, Dawn began to work me over.
“Oooo, waaaaow,” Dawn said, somewhere down at my lower back. “You are…waaaaaow, you are reeeeeally tight.” I got the impression Dawn doesn’t speak in elongated syllables as a rule, but that the state of my back was just that horrifying.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, muffled. “It’s been a rough couple of weeks.” But I didn’t go into the six work projects due Monday, the move to New York City, or that I’m putting at least two or three Southwest Airlines employees’ kids through college at this point. Because I don’t like to talk during these things. You can’t waste a second.
“Hooo-hoo! Hooo-weeeeee,” Dawn said, and whistled low. “Yap, yap. Yeeeah. That’s tight.” And then she said, “Ya poor thing,” and clucked her tongue.
At that I could’ve cried, partly because she had her thumb jammed into my shoulder blade and partly because whenever someone sincerely says, “poor thing,” I get sad. We’re all poor things, aren’t we. It’s hard work being alive.
The fifteen minutes galloped away and zap! Massage over, next person’s turn.
I have, at various times in my life and for various lengths of time, seen a psychiatrist. Results varied: I’ve been aided, I’ve been nonplussed, I’ve ended up more confused — and I’ve been poorer as a result, for sure. I hate to sound provincial, but I’m starting to think a regular massage is gonna do more for a person than a shrink — this person, anyway. Look: I have never, ever left a massage feeling worse than when I went in; it’s a hey of a lot cheaper, and when Dawn goes, “Hooo-hoo! That’s not good,” you know it’s fixable, whereas a shrink won’t even say that, even if he’s thinking it, and how’s he gonna fix it, anyway?
I met my friend Mark for lunch today at the Walnut Room. We sat near the windows and looked out at the gorgeous Chicago spring day.
“I bought flowers for my mom online for Mother’s Day,” said Mark. “At the checkout, there was an option to pay with bitcoin.” Mark is extremely skeptical about pretty much everything, so he was grumpy: it’s hard to be wary of Bitcoin when it helps you buy flowers for Mom.
“That’s great!” I said, clapping. “I bought a mattress on Overstock.com with bitcoin. Did you read PaperGirl yesterday? It was all about bit –”
“Yeah, yeah, I read it,” Mark said. “That’s why I brought it up. I have questions. How do you buy them?”
I welcomed the interrogation. It was with some trepidation I dove into all this yesterday; talking to Mark might help me iron out the second half of my bitcoin treatise.
“You can go to Coinbase.com, set up an account, and buy bitcoin,” I said, “Or you can buy bitcoin in person, from a trader. I went on LocalBitcoin.com and found a trader with a great customer rating and met him and bought bitcoin from him. It was easy. It was fun.” Mark knows that that trader was Yuri. So romantic, right?? I know.
“And you use real money to buy them,” Mark said, eyeing me. The waiter came and we both ordered the tortilla soup.
“Yes,” I said. “And they’re not actual coins, you realize. Each bitcoin is a line of code. And you put them –”
“Where do you put them?”
“In a bitcoin wallet, poodle. Just like you put cash or cards in a physical wallet, you put bitcoin in a digital wallet. Each bitcoin has its own serial number. Those numbers live in your phone or your computer. Remember, dollars have serial numbers too — and your credit card is a string of numbers — a lot of how bitcoin works we already use everyday.”
Mark shook his head. “What keeps someone from making up fake numbers? Making a fake bitcoin would be way easier than making a fake dollar bill, right? No paper. And is there a finite number of these things? Who invented it, anyway? And who’s profiting?!” Mark slurped his soup and then — with his mouth extremely full — he managed to say, “You’re never gonna be able to explain all this.”
I told him I’d try. And I’d keep it short, too.
In 2008, a programmer — possibly a group of programmers — known as Satoshi Nakamoto, wrote a brilliant piece of code and put it out on the Internet for free. Even the most dour of bitcoin critics agree: Nakamoto’s digital currency model was (is) genius. This is because his bitcoin model, among its other elegant features, got rid of two huge problems with buying goods and services online: 1) no longer did every single online transaction have to go through a bank or credit card company, with all their fees, security breaches, and data gathering; and b) he solved the problem of double-spending.
The first problem is easy to get your mind around, even if you don’t agree it’s a problem. Now, to that second thing. If you don’t have a bank or credit card company to vouch for you, to say, “Yeah, you really bought that llama — it shows it right here on your statement,” how can you prove you did? Equally bad — just as Mark worried — if someone, like a bank, isn’t monitoring the system, who’s to stop some guy from making all kinds of fake bitcoin and buying zillions of dollars worth of stuff (e.g., llamas) with fake money?
Nakamoto designed bitcoin so that the community of bitcoin users verify the transactions. Instead of a bank making one central ledger of what’s circulating, the bitcoin users do it, verifying all of the transactions — yep, every one of them — at the same time. There are a finite number of bitcoins in existence (21 million) and they all have a unique serial number or code. If someone tries to use a fake bitcoin, the transaction is caught as it tries to get through the system and it’s rejected. So there is regulation: it’s just in the hands of the people using the currency, not A Big Bank, not MasterCard or Visa. (We used to get along without those things, you know.) How all the verifications happen is rather complicated and computer-y and I am willing and able (more or less) to explain it. My fear is that I have asked much of you, gentle reader, and you have been most faithful; perhaps it’s wise to discuss that last bit (!) of the bitcoin system another day.
Two last things, and then let’s finish with the love story:
First, Bitcoin has a PR problem because in the beginning, the anonymity of the currency appealed to people buying nefarious things online. I hardly need to point out that as I type, lots of people are buying nefarious things, online and otherwise, with U.S. dollars, too. But this early sketchiness (and a trading company, Mt. Gox, that was doing bad business) dealt a harsh blow to bitcoin and it’s gonna be recovering from that for awhile. A few shady apples hurt the bunch, but as Bitcoin grows, matures, goes through a modicum of regulation, and problem-solves, these early specks will flick out. (Also: the “crypto” in “cryptocurrency” refers to the encrypted codes within the system, but people see “crypto” and register “cryptic” as in “confusing.” It’s not a perfect word, “cryptocurrency.”)
Lastly: Bitcoin is new. Really new. Anyone reading this is way ahead of most of the general public — and good for you! Curiosity and inquiry = great! More and more merchants are accepting the cryptocurrency for payment (e.g., Amazon, Gyft, Overstock, etc.) but until you can pay your energy bill online with it, bitcoin has a ways to go. It takes a village, but remember: the Internet itself was new not so long ago, and people were skeptical and cynical about it, too. Look where we are now.
One of the reasons I care so much for Yuri is because he wants to build the village. He believes in the ability of bitcoin to make the world a better place, so he works tirelessly for his company, a bitcoin trading firm in NYC. He is a miner. He goes out of his way to patronize businesses that accept bitcoin. He gets involved in the growing, global community and recently gave a lecture at his alma mater about his work. A person with a passion is a beautiful thing to behold. And to, you know, hold.
“I still don’t know,” Mark said, pushing his empty soup bowl away. “But I think it’s cool you tackled the topic. Good job.”
I thanked him, and paid the check. With my credit card.
(This post — in two parts — is actually a love letter, but first we need to go over bitcoin.)
I’m pretty sure I know what you’ve heard about bitcoin, if you’ve heard of it at all: it’s sketchy, it’s complicated, it’s like money but it’s not actual money. Skepticism is a virtue, most attractive reader, and you’re right to have questions about any Next Big Thing, but if you’re working with incomplete or incorrect data, skepticism can quickly turn into cynicism, and that’s no fun for anyone, especially you, five years from now, when you smack yourself in the head for waiting on the whole bitcoin thing. I am not a bitcoin expert, but I have been using and trading the currency for well over a year now, and I think I can break it down for you a little bit so that it’s not so confusing or scary. Because bitcoin isn’t either one.
* * *
Do you remember a time when we didn’t use credit/debit cards to pay for absolutely everything we buy? I do. I was in high school.
My favorite thing ever was to drive to this record shop in Des Moines to buy bootlegged Tori Amos concert recordings. They were thirty bucks a pop, which was way too much, but I didn’t care. I’d find the CD I wanted most and, if I had thirty bucks cash in my wallet from waiting tables at Pizza Hut, I bought my record. There were no transaction fees. My purchase was not recorded in the Big Data cloud. The guy working the counter couldn’t steal my credit card number when I left. And, very important: if I didn’t have enough money to buy my CD I didn’t get to buy it. In other words, the whole thing was a cash transaction, great for all kinds of reasons.
I’ll say this a few more times, so you’ll have time to let it sink in: Bitcoin is cash on the Internet.
Right now, to buy anything online, from a cool scarf on eBay to a magazine subscription to a small llama, airplane hangar, franchise, etc., you have to use a credit card. (PayPal is linked to your credit card and/or your bank account, so same thing.) Whatever, whenever, and wherever online you buy, because you have to use a card, you’re traceable, data-mineable, and vulnerable to identity theft. You’re paying fees, the merchant is paying fees, and you are more than welcome to go into hideous debt if you wish, since credit cards let you buy all kinds of things (including small llamas) without actually having the money to pay for any of it.
This is not good.
I don’t particularly like ceding so much financial power/intel to MasterCard, Visa, etc. Think about it: do you want MasterCard all up in your business? Is it okay they’re tracking your llamas? Nevermind the agony of stolen card numbers. It happens so often, now. It happened to me this past holiday season, with the huge Target security leak. I had multiple charges in Lithuania on my credit card statement — and I was not in Lithuania at Christmastime. Not cool, Status Quo, and it wouldn’t have happened if I had simply paid for my milk and my chewing gum with cash.
Remember: Bitcoin is cash on the Internet.
My darling Yuri is a visionary. He believes, as many people believe, that Bitcoin is the future of money, not just in this country but in the whole world. Because something must change.
The government bailouts of the banks, the financial industry scandals, the weird economy, the projected $9.1 trillion dollars Mister Obama is setting us up to owe in the next few years — this stuff concerns Yuri and it concerns me, too. The U.S. dollar isn’t pinned to gold anymore, you realize: ours is a fiat currency, a monetary system that derives its value from government regulation or law. Pardon, but the words “value” and “government regulation” give me the willies when they’re in the same sentence. I’m a full-blooded American, what can I say? I’m into apple pie, eagles, and the government leaving me alone. All signs point to disaster with money being run like its being run these days, and as it gets worse, bitcoin will rise.
Bitcoin is a global, Internet-based currency available to everyone. Bitcoin with a capital “B” refers to the overall payment system; bitcoin with a lowercase “b” refers to the monetary unit. Bitcoin is considered “cryptocurrency” because it uses computer encryption to secure transactions. That’s all the technical stuff I’m going to throw at you right now. Tomorrow, we’ll get into how it actually works, okay? Okay. You’re doing great! It’s all really new, I understand, but you’re very smart and you’ll be helping to explain bitcoin to your friends at bridge club before you know it.
And I haven’t forgotten the love story, don’t worry. You see, I met Yuri because I bought bitcoin from him.
*Dangerously close to discussing politics on PaperGirl. Exeunt! Exeunt!
Music plays a strange role in my life. When I was in high school and college, I was typical, obsessed with the musicians that I was obsessed with: Tori Amos, Joni Mitchell, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple. I listened to their records over and over and over, through headphones, through “boom box” radios, via cassette mixtape in my Honda CR-X. If you had tried to take my music away from me, I would’ve snarled like a rabid cat. And I woulda’ bit, too.
I’m not so slavish to my artists, now. When I walk up Michigan Avenue the whole way, I usually listen to music. But I have longed moved from emo singer-songwriters to brash female emcee’s: Nicki Minaj, Angel Haze, Azalea Banks, MIssy, L’il Kim, and most recently, Iggy Azalea. These women fit me better right now: I don’t want obscure metaphor; I want life, served up cold.
Something’s trending though, in my head: lately, I’ve been choosing to take the earbuds out and just listen to the city when I”m walking or taking public transit. With no Prince blaring in my ears, I hear birds, traffic, conversations. I feel more in touch with the place. Headphone music is great, but it takes you away from where you are, and lately, I like being where I am. It’s confusing, it’s unknown, but it sure is exciting. And so I need to make sure I can hear when opportunity or goodness knocks.
I leave you with the lyrics of Prince’s immortal, “Let’s Go Crazy.” It’s a great song with a brilliant message. Besides, you can dance to it. Do a close read and be in a better mood, instantly.
LET’S GO CRAZY
Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today
To get through this thing called “life.”
Electric word, “life;” it means forever — and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you: there’s something else.
The afterworld. A world of never ending happiness.
You can always see the sun, day or night.
So, when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills —
You know the one; “Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright”?
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left,
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
‘Cause in this life, things are much harder than in the afterworld
This life you’re on your own
And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy punch a higher floor
If you don’t like the world you’re living in
Take a look around you; at least you got friends
Call my ‘ol lady up, for a friendly word
She picked up the phone, dropped it on the floor
“Ahh, ahh” is all I heard
Are we gonna let the elevator
Bring us down, oh, no let’s go
Let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts
Look for the purple banana
‘Til they put us in the truck, let’s go
All excited but we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ’cause we’re all gonna die
And when we do, what’s it all for
Better live now before the grim reaper
Come knocking on your door
Are we gonna let the elevator
Bring us down, oh, no let’s go
Let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts
Look for the purple banana
‘Til they put us in the truck, let’s wait it your turn.
When I was in high school, I made a thrilling discovery. I discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000.
I was up in my room one Saturday night. It was around Christmastime, well after midnight. Mom let us girls stay up as late as we wanted, pretty much. We were in high school, after all, and if we were home, reading or drawing or doing some kind of creative project*, as was our like, there was no harm in letting us stay up; when we were tired, we’d go to sleep.
I had the retired family TV in my room. (Still not sure how I scammed that away from my sisters, but it was awesome.) I was doing my favorite thing ever: painting a picture while watching all the late shows. That night, after SNL, after the show that came on after SNL and the show after that, I saw Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the first time. Someone at the Des Moines area NBC affiliate station was watching over me.
Here’s what Mystery Science Theater 3000 — or “MST3K” — is, from The Wikipedia:
“[MST3K] features a man and his robot sidekicks who are imprisoned on a space station by an evil scientist and forced to watch a selection of bad movies, as part of a psychological experiment… To stay sane, the man and his robots provide a running commentary on each film, making fun of its flaws, and wisecracking their way through each reel in the style of a movie-theater peanut gallery. Each film is presented with a superimposition of the man and robots’ silhouettes along the bottom of the screen. The film is interspersed with skits tied into the theme of the film being watched or the episode as a whole.”
The episode that came on that night was Santa Claus Conquers The Martians and it remains my favorite episode of all time. I had never laughed harder in my life or been more instantly in love — I loved this show more than I loved my realest high-school crush, Cary Hollingsworth. It was for real. My eyes were glued to the screen, my mouth hung open. This was magic. What was this?? I had to know. Mind you, it was 1995; we didn’t have internet in the house, yet. I didn’t know the name of this incredible program and I couldn’t find out everything about it in 4 seconds flat with a google search.
But it wasn’t getting away from me. No, no, no. The very first commercial break, I ran out of my room and bounded down the stairs to the TV in the living room. I didn’t care if I woke anyone up. I dug through a drawer of VHS videotape and found something blank enough. I crammed it into the VCR, turned on the TV and clicked through the channels to find my show. I jammed my finger on the big red button and was able to record three-quarters of the Santa Claus episode. I watched the whole thing again when it was over. I collapsed into bed around 4:30, deliriously happy.
I had found my people. My VHS tape was my evidence.
The show tapped a vein for me, tone- and humor-wise. These people were smart, hella smart, and totally irreverent — but they weren’t gross. If there was a fart joke, it was because it was the best joke that could be made at that moment in the film, not the easiest. This appealed to me. The sheer number of cultural references made in a single episode expanded my knowledge of the world: who was Johnny Mathis? What is a “wrathful Buddha”? I learned a ton while I wiped tears from my eyes, silently shaking with laughter till I had to gasp for air. I taped every episode while the show ran on that station, which was well over a year.
As it turned out, MST3K was beloved by a lot of people. It’s a cult thing, which means that the weirdness of it was so specific, it appeals to a huge number of people. (Fascinating how that works.) The show ran from ’88-’99 on various networks and there was actually a feature film in ’96, which I went to on opening night, naturally. Members of the cast perform a live version of the show from time to time even today and I travelled far into the suburbs a few years ago with a friend to check it out. It was a scene, that’s for sure. But it wasn’t mine.
I’m not a follower. I don’t get dressed up in costumes for movie screenings. I participated in a pub crawl exactly once in my life (never again.) The cult of MST3K ain’t for me: there will be no Tom Servo** tattoos. But you don’t have to be a part of the extended scene of something to love it. Last night while I was sewing, I watched one of my favorite episodes — Mitchell — on a well-worn DVD and I was so happy. I was sewing and chuckling and marveling that anyone ever believed enough in that bizarre and wonderful show to give it a budget and produce it.
I’m so glad they did. What a bunch of freaks.
**I once got a hold of a hot glue gun and attacked an old typewriter. Gluing plastic gemstones and fake flowers to an old typewriter is the kind of project one must do in the wee hours.
Here’s what’s happening: Yuri and I have been apart since…too long. He’s in New York. I’ve been crisscrossing the Midwest, flinging fabric around, leaving thread and gum wrappers everywhere. Unable to stand being separated a moment longer, we’ve hatched a logistically-challenged plan to spend about 36 hours with each other in Chicago before Monday comes around and spoils everything. I left Iowa this morning before the sunrise and arrived in Chicago just after it; he’ll begin his trek from the east coast within a few hours. I cannot wait till he gets here. I’m slightly freaking out.
“Yuri,” I texted him, “I’d like to make you something marvelous to eat. It’ll be all ready when you get here. What would you like, darling? Pick anything your heart desires — absolutely anything!”
I watched the little talk-bubble ellipsis shimmer on my iPhone. Then the text popped up:
“Can you make lobster bisque?”
“Absolutely,” I texted back, because though I’ve never made lobster bisque, it’s just soup, right?
Cooking is fun because it’s the closest I get to doing — and enjoying — science experiments. You take a beaker of this, a cup of that, you boil this, you mix that, and blam! stuff changes color, there’s oxidation, titration, solids, and who knows what else, but you can eat everything and people go, “Wow!” and there are no grades.
Here’s what I have very recently learned about making lobster bisque:
It’s expensive. I purchased four lobster tails (roughly 4oz. each) from the fishmonger at Whole Foods, and that came to a little over $35. Then I had to fetch the cream and the stock and so forth. Not cheap — and those little lobster butts don’t yield much. This some fancy soup.
It’s time-consuming. I recommend catching up on emails between steps. You’ll get a lot done.
It’s sorta gross. Have you made lobster bisque? If not, let me tell you a little secret: you puree the shells. The shells are cooked with the soup, y’all, at least in the recipe I used. Lobster bisque is basically a way to drink essence o’ lobster and that means you need to puree, pummel, extract, soak, simmer, reduce, and otherwise distill every morsel of that thing to git all you can git. When I was reading through the process I had to read twice that you use a food processor to puree the dang shells and then return them to the pot. You don’t eat the shells — that orangey muck is pushed through a sieve later — but you’re kind of eating the shells because, well…Cuisinart.
As I was going briskly about my bisque business, I thought about Maine, where “lobstahs” are to Maine folk as deep dish pizza is to Chicagoans: plentiful and fiercely protected.
In the summer of 2007 and 2009, I stayed a month on Maine’s picturesque Little Cranberry Island (known to the locals as “Little Cran”.) My artistic mentor and friend Sonja, along with her husband Bill, founded The Islesford Theater Project (ITP) on Little Cran and they asked me to be involved. Making theater with those people in the summer was a true gift and we made a lot of people happy, I think; whenever the ITP has a show, people from all over the Cranberry Isles get in their boats and skim across the water to come see.
And when you’re in the cast, you get to stay in Sonja and Bill’s house and eat Sonja’s home cooking every night. This is a very, very good thing. Blueberry crisps, tacos, Indian food — that woman can and does cook everything. Well, Sonja can get fresh lobstahs straight from the lobstahmen working about 500 yards from her back porch. She made lobstah mac n’ cheese once, which was transcendental. Once, everyone at the table got a fresh lobstah on a plate. Bam, lobstah on a plate. Dinner was served. There was a dish of melted butter for each of us, shell-crackin’ implements, and a whole lotta napkins. The flavor was incredible, but if I’m honest, I must confess: Whole lobsters kind of gross me out. The whole “sea bug” thing does not inspire hunger in me. And after making this soup, I’m not that excited to eat it. I’m excited for other things.
See that Scalamandre red wallpaper with the zebras?? Yeah, I see it too! Every day! In my bathroom!
Looks like I was a touch ahead of the crowd on the Scalamandre zebra wallpaper, friends. Neiman Marcus has licensed the print. Now, a person can get pillows and dishes with the motif and be black, white, and red all over. Just like me! The wallpaper was the highest-ticket item I purchased in my renovation, relatively speaking, and I love every crimson inch of it. Those zebras move, sistuh.
I’ve taken lots of pictures of both my bathroom and my kitchen with the intention of sharing them, but when I get to the “insert photo” moment here on the PG, I balk. I get letters from guys in prison, you know. That gives a girl pause when she’s about to post photos of her bathroom mirror, especially because she’s fully aware 99% of all nutcases and stalkers are not currently behind bars.
Plus, as stunning as my Scalamandre bathroom is and as drop-dead gorgeous as the navy blue subway tile and floating shelves are in my kitchen (it all turned out perfectly, almost gross in its awesomeness to me) isn’t it better to imagine these things than be even slightly let down when you see (for example) a bag of Stay-Puft Jumbo Marshmallows on my counter instead of leftover osso buco? What if you think I have a huge, ginormous house? I like that! Keep thinking that! When you see my galley kitchen, you may have to go find another fantasy and no one has time for these things.
You see, I cannot possibly post the pictures of my home on this blog.
Last night, I left a pair of gray Celine ankle boots outside the iron gate into the apartment building where I lived until this morning. If you happened to be walking west of Avenue A on 10th St. around 9pm last night, you would’ve seen them, placed nicely side-by-side against the brick wall. They were free to a good home, but you wouldn’t have wanted them. Even Celine boots aren’t worth much when they’re as trashed as those boots were. I blame Manhattan.
I’m hard on shoes, though. I didn’t know that was a trait one could possess until it was pointed out to me a few years ago. I don’t remember who did the pointing, but it must’ve been someone I cared about because I remember looking down at my feet and seeing my dinged-up shoes with scuffs deep like wounds and I remember feeling embarrassed about that.
It’s great when you make changes in your life based on feelings of self-confidence, but frequently it’s shame that compels us to change. Shoes are important. They communicate silent messages about how you feel and what you think about the world; certainly they affect how you move through it, figuratively and literally. I decided that I wanted to be the sort of person who cared about not just her shoe style but the state of the shoes themselves. I resolved to buy the best shoes I could afford, always, and take good care of those shoes.
And so I did: I’ve been a committed shoe-maintainer for many years, now. I visit a cobbler regularly. My cobbler in Chicago is located in my favorite building in the city, the Monadnock. Not only is the architecture of the Monadnock great, the lights in the building’s arcade are low, like gaslights, and there’s lots of wood and glass; the floor is mosaic and my heels make a great little tic! tic! as I walk the hall. The cobblers in the shoe repair shop know me well; they’re all Mexican and I get a “Buenos dias, Maria!” when I walk in. Orlando always takes my shoes and looks at the heels, first.
“Ohh, ohh. Yes, this bery bad,” he’ll say, and then cluck his tongue. There’s usually some catch to the repair he has to make. It’s not because he’s trying to take advantage of me; it’s that most of the shoes I buy are unique in construction or shape, e.g., the heel of the YSL pump is metal, the toe of the Marni pump is cloth, etc. We agree on a price for the fix and I come back the next morning to shoes that not only look better but feel better: maintaining great shoes is one of the most glorious feelings I know. I’m serious. There’s something so adult, so capable about a pair of resoled, polished shoes. Some people buy fancy shoes at full-retail prices and then they don’t take care of them. I buy fancy shoes on sale and take great care of them. I like my way.
So what about these Celine boots?
Oh, they were goners. I had them fixed twice. The seam over the instep was coming apart again and I could see my sock through the top. The stacked wood heels were chipped and battered, the leather was rubbed to discoloration. I walked miles and miles and miles in those shoes and they served me well. Very sharp, those boots.
There was a tiny shift in my brain a couple weeks ago that changed the way I see New York City. The shift will probably change the way I see a lot of things because it was so simple. The simplest concepts are the stickiest: work hard, take a jacket, crack is wack, etc. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but since it might help someone else, here goes:
You don’t have to learn the subway system in New York. You just need to figure out how to get where you need to go.
Let’s have that again:
You don’t have to learn the subway system in New York. You just need to figure out how to get where you need to go.
I’ve been coming to Manhattan with fair frequency since I was sixteen. Until three weeks ago, on every trip here,I operated under two subtle, negative assumptions: 1) to get around New York City properly (?) you need to know the subways and 2) figuring that out would mean seriously studying the system at length and doing the MTA equivalent of times tables or vocabulary drills. That was how I thought, and you can marvel at the weirdness of it, but I ask you to marvel with attendant compassion. I look at those assumptions and I think, “My goodness, who was in charge of this girl? Why on earth did she think she had to take graduate-level course work in the New York subway system? Poor thing, someone wrap her in a quilt and get her a piece of chocolate. No, the whole bar. The Ritter Sport. She likes the dark chocolate with hazelnu — yes, that’s it. Here you are, dear.”
(MARY eats chocolate, nods pathetically.)
All that business about being perpetually in the dark about the subway system ended the other day in a flash, don’t ask me why. You don’t have to know the trains. You don’t have to know where the A, C, E trains terminate. You don’t have to memorize the stops on the 6 from Fulton to 110th St. Not only do you not have to do that as a new New York person, you don’t ever have to do that. By osmosis and routine, you will naturally learn subway route details and shortcuts. But the vast majority of veteran New Yorkers don’t know when the 7 runs express to Queens and when it runs local and if you asked them about it, they’d say, “I don’t know, ask the ticket agent,” or “There’s a map over there, I don’t know, sorry.”
If you want to go somewhere, find your somewhere on the map, and then figure out which train will take you close to it. Thought I’ve done just that for years, I always came at it cock-eyed, as though the train system was my destination, not the Natural History Museum. There was this little, niggling voice that said, “You should know this by now,” and that voice distracted me from noticing what I was doing: getting around New York just fine.
Did any of that make a lick of sense?
It’s just a subway system, it’s just a map. It’s just a city, it’s just a person. But the shift in my head from “you’ll never get this” to “you already have this” has given me that singular feeling of “Oh, right. I’m not broken, I’m not wrong, I never was wrong, I was making it too hard, everything I need, I already have.”
I incurred a serious injury last week, and not one of the metaphorical or interpersonal sense.
A drinking glass exploded in my hand while I was washing dishes at the sink. I had my right paw and a sponge inside the glass when it burst and my pinky finger was, uh, compromised. The story is coming now because I wasn’t sure if it was over or not.
Looking at my right pinky at press time, I think we’re gonna be okay. By “okay” I mean we’ll have a gnarly scar but no sepsis. Today was the cut-off (too soon!) date for the “I need to see a doctor” discussion with myself. If the disgusting-weird part on the top of the cut had not closed significantly, we’d go for a consult and probably stitches; this was the deal I made with myself in the bathroom, gritting my teeth (yet again) to pull back the gauze and the tape and the Band-Aid (yet again) to see what was doing under there. When I opened the bandage however, lots of white blood cell fairies had apparently come in the night. My pinky looked like a finger with a nasty-but-healing cut, not something from a “before” picture in a Red Cross how-to field guide.
Good people of Earth, I beg you: spend a little more. Invest in good glassware.
The glass I was washing was an IKEA special. I like IKEA. I like Target. I am down with K-Mart when I’m here in NYC because there’s a huge one at Astor Place and I can get coconut water and a spatula there, for example. Discount retailers like the aforementioned are awfully handy, especially if you’re a real-estate firm in New York who rents out furnished apartments. Setting up a furnished apartment to put on the market means stocking it with items that you’re absolutely willing to never see again. When faced with procuring drinking glasses for Unit A7 on the 5th floor of the building on the corner of 3st Ave and Yo Boulevard, a trip to IKEA is de rigeur. Any other option would be a waste of money, though I hardly need to state that I want nothing to do with any of it longer than necessary.
And here we have the perfect example of why I believe in spending even a little more for better quality objects.
Cheap glass breaks. It doesn’t last. It’s like cheap shoes. Yeah, they’re really inexpensive, but you will wear a hole in the sole in two months, which will then make you believe that a) people don’t make shoes like they used to and/or b) it’s time to buy a new pair of shoes. Your second assumption is correct, but not your first: people do make shoes like they used to, but you ain’t gonna get ’em at the PayLess. And you don’t have to drink your tap water from Waterford crystal stemware (note to self: do that) but when you buy cheap glasses, they’re gonna shatter sooner than even slightly better ones that cost more.
When the glass broke, it make a disturbing “pop” and I gasped as the bubbles in my hands turned dark red and pink. I turned around and saw Yuri and my face sort of broke and I said, “I just cut myself very badly,” and I dropped to the floor to put my hand above my heart.
Yuri jolted from his position on the bed and was at my side in an instant. When a vital, intelligent, athletic man looks at a wound and goes, “Oh my god, oh no, no, oh, baby, no…” you know you’ve got a lil’ issue. I’ll spare you the medical attention I got (it involved peroxide, a lot of blood, and several shots of whiskey) and I’ll also preempt your inevitable cry of, “Why didn’t you go to the hospital?!” by telling you that I was too afraid to go to the hospital because I saw Adventures In Babysitting ten million times as a seventh-grader and I didn’t want to camp out all night in a busy NYC emergency room for “one stitch.”*
The finger will make it. Love of Quilting viewers, if they look closely, may catch glimpse of a scar on my right pinky in a future show, though. My pinkies don’t show too much on TV but it’ll happen sometime. I suppose I should’ve gone in for medical attention for that reason, too: my hands are more seen than most people’s hands and I need to keep them nice-looking.
My junior year of college, I went into a newly opened cafe in Iowa City with my boyfriend Wes. The Motley Cow was the sort of place I did not feel cool enough for: it was tiny, there were interesting objects everywhere (e.g., glass seltzer bottles), and there were words like broccoli rabe on the menu. I spied a pasta dish on the paper menu that contained…truffles? In my world, truffles were chocolate. We went in because Wes wanted to ask for a job. They didn’t hire Wes, but they did hire me. I’m still not sure how it happened; I truly do not remember asking for work. Besides, I was horribly intimidated by the whole operation. In conversation with Wes and the owner that day, I must’ve mentioned that I had waited tables all through high school. Within a week I was on the schedule as a waitress at the cafe. From there, out of curiosity and a deep desire to help that beautiful place succeed, I got into the kitchen. The Cow became my contemporaneous college. It changed me as much as normal-college did, probably more.
We ate five things in my house growing up: pizza, chicken tetrazzini, mostaccioli, lasagna, and chili. In a single-parent household where that parent is on the road much of the time — trying to make enough money for any sort of food — there is no food worship. There’s no interest, money, or time for it. And this was twenty years ago in small-town Iowa, mind you; that I even knew what a chocolate truffle was is saying something. I don’t mean that we were a bunch of rubes; I mean that it was a different time and that time did not include sauteed shallots or aged balsamic.
When I started inching into the kitchen at the Cow, I started from nothing. I didn’t know about the soup-starter triumvirate (carrot, celery, onion); I didn’t know hummus was made of chickpeas, nor did I know what a chickpea was; pan-searing and braising were revelations; I remember the day I learned what a roux was and I made one; I remember the day David needed me to make a soup and he said, “I need you to make a soup,” and I did: I made a delicious French onion and we served it. I made the soup! I fell in love with making simple, gorgeous, nourishing food and I owe it to the Cow and the people who were patient with a willing kitchen student who didn’t know anything at all.
In New York City, you walk out your door and before your very eyes is some of the best food in the world. (I actually think Chicago beats NYC for Best Restaurant City in America, but that’s another post.) But would you know that I’ve been cooking since we got here? I haven’t had a working kitchen in so long, it feels like the sweet breath of life to be standing at a stove again. The setup here is laughable: there is no countertop. No counter at all, just a sink and a tiny, tiny stove. But it’s a gas range, the oven works, I’ve fashioned a counter by putting a board across the sink, and I can use the small dining table if I really need more room. I’ve made lasagna, chicken-quinoa-vegetable chowder, penne caprese, maple cookies, chocolate chip cookies, Irish soda bread, rolled oatmeal with cream and almonds, and beautiful asparagus and salads.
Feeding myself and Yuri in this way feels like watering a plant and that plant is love and that love is five-star.
I can’t believe it exists. Drop-off laundry service. Pick-up and drop-off laundry service. I can’t believe my eyes.
I’m from small-town Iowa, from the plains. Where I’m from, we do our own laundry. The idea of someone else even seeing the family’s (used!) skivvies is insane, but actually handling them? on purpose? You can go to jail for that, son. And aside from the total (voluntary) intimacy breach in paying for a laundry service, there’s the “Well, now don’t you just think yer fancy!” part, which might be worse. The day you’re too good to do your own laundry is the day you’re sent to de-tassel some corn. That’ll bring you back real quick from any illusions about where you’re growing up. Hint: it ain’t New York City, sweetie, so put down your hairbrush.
But it’s amazing, the drop-off laundry service! It’s so great! And in New York, it’s not glamorous at all. It’s quotidian. But I’m new here, so for me, the magic has not yet been shat on by pigeons. Here’s how the wond’rous process of drop-off laundry service works:
You wear clothes. You get soup/grit/blood on them in various quantities, in various places. You put these clothes in some kind of vessel; an IKEA bag is a good choice. Got dirty sheets? Great. Musty pillows? Stuff ’em in. Take ’em to the laundry place. There’s one a half-block away, most likely. Smile to the nice lady behind the counter and get a ticket. You will see no washing machines: remember, this is is not a laundromat. Prepare to be weirded out because it’s weird. The cheery lady will tell you in a thick Korean accent that your order will be ready for pickup this afternoon. This afternoon? You nod, slowly, and say, “Thank? You?” and carefully, carefully back out the door. When you come back hours later, your laundry will be waiting for you. Clean.
It’s not just there and clean. Your laundry is the cleanest it’s ever been, ever. And it’s vacuum-sealed in plastic bags, all tidy. It’s as though your dirty, vaguely-smelly self lifted from your terrestrial body while you went out and did other errands and was sucked up into a big cleaning vortex in the sky where you were agitated, bleached, color-boosted, and dried with fluffing agents and then folded and vacuum-sealed…and you didn’t even notice. That’s what you’re paying for when you take laundry to the laundry. You’re paying for the cleaning vortex. And don’t you think that’s worth ten bucks a load or whatever it is?
I purchased your Bi-Sepia Ankle Wedge Boot w/Saw Sole last season from a designer discount retailer. You’ll be happy to know your boots were still hella expensive! I knew when I saw them that I was in trouble: they were singular and ferocious. I also needed a boot desperately, as I had actually worn through the leather of my old pair. They went into my digital shopping cart at once. Little did I know what a phenomenal purchase I had just made.
Yesterday, slushy, wet, fat snow came down in New York. It stuck to everyone’s hair and made all the wool in the city smell like wet dog, which was super. Though you are based in London, I have a hunch you’ve been in NYC a few times and have seen the state of the streets here. The state of the streets is not good, especially at the curb of any intersection in lower Manhattan. When the big snow grater in the sky opens up, Olympic-sized pools of evil slush form in these canyons and you find yourself quite literally at an impasse.
Unless you’re me. In your boots.
When my sister first saw them she rolled her eyes and said, “Okay, so you’re going to break your neck.” True, your boots do not look practical for snow and ice. But we know better, don’t we, Ms. Skovgaard. We know you have created the perfect city winter boot precisely because of the height. It’s like walking on wooden blocks 5” above the slush and snow! These things are freaking stilts! My socks never get wet! I can practically wade through the slurry! And I look hot doing it!
But that’s not all!
The saw sole is genius. I have never found a lady’s boot with this kind of traction, and that includes ladyboots found in the Circle B farm equipment store in my midwest hometown. The rubber teeth on these boots are for serious urban-winter walking. I do not slip. I do not stumble. I do not slide. I crunch. I stomp. I skump. (I don’t know what skumping is, but I don’t know what’s in that NYC slush, either; all I know is that I don’t get any on me when I’m skumping around in my sick, sick boots.) Your brilliant design of the heel must also be noted: as you know, it is very, very narrow. I was alarmed at first, thinking the extremely narrow heel would cause balance trouble. Quite the contrary. It acts as a damn ice pick if I have to scale a small (dirty) snow drift either here or in Chicago! Sometimes I hit a skump of ice with my heel first to get purchase and then I vault over it with a push from the other leg. Can you hear me right now? Slow-clapping and whistling my approval?
This is my second winter with my boots, Ms. Skovgaard, and I am as pleased this year as I was last. I feel like a character in a video game because a) I look like a character in a video game and b) I feel like I have special powers that not everyone has. Not that they shouldn’t have them, too. Everyone should. I hope this thank-you note leads to even one more pair of your boots sold.
Hats off to you and your team. Hats off, boots on and on.
This very morning, I passed a poster for a George Bernard Shaw play and thought, “Don’t wait, Fons; see a show.” When you’re in NYC for longer than a few days, it’s easy to allow art opportunities to slip away because the sense of urgency isn’t there. You have time, you can get to that show before it closes, you can see that exhibit before it’s gone, etc.
The actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died this morning, or maybe he died last night or Friday night; only the coroner knows for sure. Hoffman was found, maybe at the moment I was looking at that poster for the Shaw play, in the West Village where he lived. The New York Times reports he had a needle in his arm and that there was an envelope of heroin nearby. An addict’s nightmare would be one without the other, I guess.
When I was in the city in 2000, I went to see True West by Sam Shepard at Circle in The Square Theater on Broadway. Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly careened through that delicious brother-against-brother play, hitting the highs and the lows with this painful tenderness that made the crashes even worse (or better, depending on how you see your emotional manipulation as an audience member.) They made that theater ache, man. I didn’t come up for air the whole time. How could I? They weren’t breathing. That script was bare-knuckled before those guys got to it; in the hands of a director who had the foresight to a) cast Hoffman and Reilly and b) get out of their way, it was a life-changer.
I mean it. I was at a place in my life where I had to decide if I was going to get married to the theater. After seeing True West, I knew I would. I completed my theater degree from the University of Iowa and promptly moved to Chicago, still the best place in the country to make stuff to put onstage. I helped found the (now) wildly successful Gift Theatre Co., and found an artistic home with the Neo-Futurists. Someday, we’ll talk more about all that, but not now.
This is about the actor I saw in True West fourteen years ago who showed me that good theatre is so hard to make, you’ll see it about as often as you see a shooting star — and when you see it, your DNA changes. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one role, in one production, wiped every crappy college show from my eyes and removed the illusions I had about what I thought I knew about making theatre. His ferocious performance was in fact an act of kindness to me, and he had no idea I existed. But I did, in that dark theater, and I was watching him. He helped crystalize for me a vision of the kind of work and the kind of art American theatre is capable of and when I heard he died, my hand shot up to my heart and I could feel it beating.
I’m sorry you were addicted to heroin, Philip Seymour Hoffman. That is a terrible drug and I know you were afraid when you died. But it’s over, now, and in all the good ways — only the good ways — you’re still making great art. You made it in front of a lot of people who were watching, hard, and plenty of us are still alive, still trying to reach your standard.
* “A ghost light is an electric light that is left energized on the stage of a theater when the theater is unoccupied and would otherwise be completely dark.”
I take several magazines, but I’m editing. Elle has got to go.
Elle is good at what it does, reaching with almost surgical precision into the hearts and minds of its customer: the female of the species. Though the world of fashion publishing is slightly more fickle (and fraught, and funded) than the quilt one, I am a magazine editor and I can assure you: getting into hearts and minds is the difficult and never-ending job of any magazine that wants to succeed. Elle makes it look easy. Published by Hearst here in the U.S. since 1945, Elle wins industry awards frequently, and the number of ads inside speaks to its profitability. The editorial is solid (mostly), the photography and the layouts are tops, and if you want to know what’s fashionable these days, you will find out in Elle.
But it’s over, and it happened yesterday morning.
I was staring out the window, thinking about the concept of study hall and noticed the latest issue of Elle in my mail stack. Lovely! Historically, I have enjoyed fashion magazines, thus the getting one in the mail and all. I pulled the magazine to my lap and spent 20 minutes — not a moment longer — flipping through the pages and feeling increasingly ill. Page after page of peacock colors, nail lacquer, hair product, handbags, oils, skin cream, more shoes; miserable fourteen-year-old girls, hostile ad campaigns, backstage “candids” that took thirty minutes to set up; “up and comers,” “ones to watch,” and reanimated has-beens who have been given a page because it’s ironic to see a now-haggard Jennifer Beals in a leather jumper posing with Miley Cyrus. Or something.
What the hell are they doing to us?
The fashion industry is an easy target. It’s foolish, it’s vicious, it’s myopic, it’s preposterous: I am saying zero new things. I’m also not saying that fashion is frivolous. I care deeply about style and apparel. This is precisely the problem. The New York Times street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham said once, “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life,.” Correct. Every morning, I decide who I will be that day by choosing what I’ll wear. My mood and my mien are directly tied to what I’m in by 7:00am. I’m not alone in this. Fashion is powerful.
Fashion magazines are not. That’s why I’m done. Fashion magazines take the awesome power of fashion and kill it dead. Fashion magazines show one, itsy-bitsy tier of fashion: the one that proclaims, “Price is no object. Neither is location.” I don’t begrudge the people who take up this space; I’m genuinely happy they can access it. But I turned to a picture of a woman in a skirt that cost $6,995 and with deep conviction, I rolled up the magazine and banged it on the couch with a whap! whap! whap! I was furious. You know who buys and reads Elle? The 27-year-old admin assistant who just got a modest raise. She lives in the west suburbs and drives an hour in traffic twice a day. The married mother of two getting a mani-pedi in Omaha. The single girl in the city who has some disposable income but also student loans that wake her up at night. The aging sun-tanner. They all love fashion, too, so they look at fashion magazines. But the message shared with them isn’t one of inclusion: it’s either a) this isn’t really for you; or b) you should be able to buy this, eventually.
Shame on you, Elle. Shame on you and your brethren for totally obscuring fashion with money. I have an idea: you take that $6,995 skirt and you wear it. Go ahead. Put it on. That’ll be punishment enough. It looks as ridiculous on you as it would on the Omaha mom. Floor-length silk pleats? Are you drunk?
Silver lining: the rise of the street fashion blog. These blogs show actual citizens of Earth doing fashion and showing style, mixing the high and the low, getting bourgeoise a little smutty or classing up what’s grungy. In these images, the power of fashion returns. Consider me clicking — and not leafing — forevermore.
Every morning, I rise before the sun, make a pot of Earl Grey tea (milk and honey, please) and I write in my journal. I fill page after page with narrative just like this, except in the journal I gleefully put down every last nefarious, disgusting, turgid, and/or bodice-ripping detail. When I die, these books may be worth something, not because I’ll be Very Important but because there will always an interest in the market for steamy non-fiction, especially if that steamy non-fiction comes from a gal who enjoys making quilts.
These journals — there are thousands of pages by now — keep my brain in order and help me quash a deep fear: when I die, I will be dead and my life will be lost to the sands of time. I’m a realist, come on. Unless you’re a giant, a Mark Twain or a Queen Elisabeth, the average human gets maybe a couple generations of people who actually care that much that you’re not around. After they’re gone, you’re just someone in a photograph who “died a long time ago,” no different than all the zillions of people who existed before you showed up and then also died. Bleak? Oh, heavens yes.
I suggest keeping a journal.
Last night, I went out. Big and bold, dahhling. I wore very high heels with a very short dress and I had very big hair and a very small handbag. (These contradictions, they are fascinating — and smokin’ hot!) There was lip gloss, there was a sexy black jacket. There were multiple taxi trips due to epic venue changes throughout the evening. At the house party in Wicker Park, I did a shot. At Studio Paris, I was invited to join a party that had purchased bottle service and when I told one of the fellows inside the velvet ropes that I felt like dancing on the bar, he was enthusiastic about my plan and helped me up right away. At the dance club/bar in Lincoln Park, I just flirted and smooched on my man and that was maybe the best part. Well, that and the second Grey Goose and tonic. Hit the spot!
I tell you all this because this description, this chronicling of a night is proof that it happened. It happened to me. I did that. I may have a little baby someday and when I do, I will not be dancing on bars — not till the kid is eight or nine, anyway. Chronicling is important for nights in, too, and plane trips, and mornings in Chicago. A record of it all is proof of life and I am a person who demands proof, needs proof. Life is slippery; it’s easy to forget not just details but whole swaths of time, whole people, whole versions of oneself.
Though I frequently read through the journal in which I’m currently writing, the time isn’t right to pull out the entire catalog and start reading from, say, Oct 12-Dec 23rd, 2009. No, that will be saved for my old and wizened days, when my knees are shot from wearing high heels every day and my rheumy eyes drip tears onto the pages before I can even really cry about it all. I look forward to that, actually. (Not the rheumy eyes; the journal reading.) Really, I’m just following the advice given by Gwendolyn in Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest:
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”
Today, Yuri and I leave California. Our flight departs mid-morning and because we stop in Denver and because the rotation of the Earth, we will reach Chicago at 5:00 this evening. It will be dark and it will be cold.
Southern California hoards the sun. It’s just always sunnyhere; that is not a myth. Southern California is also the land of fake boobs. Not a myth, either. My first night here, Yuri and I went for a late dinner to a schmancy restaurant that had real citrus trees growing inside of it. They served a lobster bisque that tasted just like a fisherman’s hat (any respectable lobster bisque does.) The tea-lights were glowing in the atrium were we sat; the outdoor fireplaces popped sparks; the wine goblets were fishbowl-size. It was all achingly Californian and I did a little people-watching before my branzino arrived. I looked at the women, specifically.
Every era has its prevailing female silhouette. This doesn’t change in a single generation but over the course of several. I’m not talking about fashion: hemlines rise and fall on an almost diurnal cycle. I’m speaking of body shape, the figure cut by a woman in the time in which she lives — or, more accurately, the figure any woman wants to cut to be seen as beautiful in her culture. Let’s list a few iconic examples:
The Peter Paul Rubens woman: voluptuous to the point of meaty; the term “Rubenesque” remains very much in English language rotation The Gibson Girl: a full bust and hips with a painfully tiny, corseted waist; hair piled on the head in a breadbox-sized up-do The 1940s gal: plastics manufacturing and WWII exerted influence on the brassieres of the time, giving us the “Torpedo” or “Bullet” style boob so pointy it could poke an eye out (and a few surely did, ow) The Waif: the 1920s begat Twiggy, Twiggy begat Kate Moss, and the heroin-chic look that launched countless anorexic girls arrived in the 1990s.
It may not be news to others, as Kim Kardashian’s anatomy-defying shape (a Venus of Willendorf but with bronzer) has been appreciated for a number of years and her body is the best example of the new silhouette. Looking at the women of SoCal the other night, I saw that this new shape has truly taken root in the minds of men and women as being the beauty ideal of the day.
Here’s what you’ll need:
A full — and I mean full — bottom, but don’t you be droopy. The bottom must be lifted and perfectly shaped with the assistance of Spanx or some sort of “shaper panty” (formerly referred to as a girdle, let’s not forget.) And even if your bottom is really nice already, there’s a certain buoyancy and firmness that you want, so the shaper panty is needed, regardless. Seems a little unfair to strap a perky 20-year-old into one of those horrid things, but I don’t make the rules.
From there, you’ll need to do crunches to maintain a flat belly. The waist size is actually not so important, but a sloppy belly will never do. You can be thick but not flabby. In fact, thick is good, but there must be no jiggle when you cross the room, only a rub: your thighs should rub together, your buttcheeks should rub together (yep, under the Spanx) and your boobs should shift and rub together, too, and all of this should take place tightly bound with tight-fitting clothing. The hair is long and salon-fresh. The nails are manicured. The jewelry is precious stones. There is eyeshadow and false eyelashes.
Though skin tone has nothing to do with silhouette, it’s worth noting that if you have any sort of Mediterranean blood coursing through your veins, you are ahead. Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Albania, Spain — any country that produces tawny or olive-skinned people, these are the most attractive people these days when mixed with white people. Again, this is what I perceive and what I perceived in Newport Beach, CA the other night. I’m not advocating or not-advocating, just reporting.
Of this criteria, I have… Well, it’s not for me to say. I can say I’m about as pasty a white girl as there ever was. And I do not wear Spanx as a matter of principle and mental well-being.
I’ve said it, I’ll keep saying it: I love airports and I love flying in airplanes.
Flying around is one of my favorite things and that’s lucky because I’m set to jet all over the place approximately twice a month starting now and going through June, give or take a take off. Why, just the other day, I remarked to myself, “Self, it sure is great, flying around in the sky. Airplanes are the best!”
It was as though an evil airplane jinn heard me, rubbed his naughty hands together, and cackled, “Ooh-hoo! Well, let’s have a little fun, shall we?” My flight to Arizona yesterday was comically bad. I’m still laughing. And crying. And laughing. Mostly crying.
I fly Southwest almost exclusively. At this point, I’m putting several Southwest kids through college and thus have been granted “A-List” status. This means I get to choose my seat early in the queue, which has never been that big of a perk for me, as I am one of the only people I know who kinda likes a middle seat up at the front; A-List or not, I rarely don’t get a seat I’m okay with. But yesterday, I decided to use my Fancy Pants Status and take a coveted place by the window to see how the other half lives.
The moment I took my seat, I saw that I had made a terrible mistake. I had trapped myself in a cage of pain.
The pain began with the squalling — but it wasn’t a baby. Rather, it wasn’t just a baby.
It was a family, in the row in front of me and to my right. A family of screeching humans who, the entire time we were joined together in that unholy, winged union, yelled, insulted, and ignored each other into a frenzy. There were so many of them. Grandpop and Grammy. Mom. Brother. Uncle. Baby. And then there was Gracie. We’ll get to Gracie.
Watching this family interact could short-out wires in a normal person’s head. The social contract meant nothing to them.
Now, it’s a delicate thing, sharing the defining physical characteristic of my fellow journeymen, but it’s a fact: they were enormous. All of them, except the baby and Gracie — we’ll get to Gracie — demanded seatbelt extenders, which speaks to their size. Pointing out their obesity is not a condescension: it’s a problem. It was for me, anyway, because I was claustrophobically wedged in the onboard land they had claimed. The two square-feet of space I had for the next four hours had been drastically compromised. No one in the family was able to reach a decision about seating. Everyone changed their seat twice in twenty minutes, including Gracie — and we’ll get to Gracie. This seat-changing meant that the Doe Family girth was continually heaved up, over, down and back up again and I was tossed, tossed like a smelt upon the sea.
But I’m cool. It’s gotta be tough to travel with a big (!) family. But then Grandpop was extremely rude to the airline attendant and this I could not forgive. The pleasant-but-weary Southwest employee made a comment about moving to the side to let other travelers board and Grandpop, in a mean voice honed over years of practice barked, “Oh, relax, honey.” My blood boiled. My shackles shot up. My hyena-sense was in the fully upright and locked position. Oh no you don’t, you [REDACTED.] I bit my tongue and withheld the desire to punch the back of his seat. It was at that point the flight attendant spoke to the family. What she said proves this story is not a dramatization. The woman calmly stepped over to the family and said:
“Folks? There’s an easy way to do this and a hard way. You all have done it about as hard as I’ve ever seen. Take your seats. Now.”
I have a theory as to why it was so bad, pretty flight attendant lady. Her name is Gracie.
That toe-headed girl of six was a genius. She was running the entire show. From the pink barrettes in her pigtails to the purple laces on her shoes, that Damienette was 100% committed to fulfilling her needs 100% of the time and she was doing a fine, fine job of it. She was a puppet master, I tell you. One scream, one caterwaul, one throw of her stupid video game at her mother’s head and it was, “Gracie, honey, what do you need, sweetheart?” and the steady stream of “Gracie! Stop it! Gracie! Sit down! Gracie! Gracie! Gracie! Gracie! Gracie!” only served her purpose. Her bad behavior whipped her family further into a hot, smelly lather, making it easier for her to work her dark magic. (I think her goal was candy, but it was still dark magic.)*
We took off. And it didn’t get better. It got worse. Because that’s when the farting began.
I gasped when the first one hit. ‘Twas an evil stench; Macbethian in its foulness. I covered my nose and held my breath and tried to keep reading my book. But then, a few minutes later, another assault. I sat up, ramrod straight with a wild look in my eyes. “No!” I cried. “No, no, no!” The gal across the aisle looked over at me and then her eyes widened and she slapped her hands over her face. She smelled it. She was in this with me. (“This” = fart fog.)
Spluttering, choking, I folded myself in half to get to my wrap, which was under the seat in front of me — Grandpop’s seat, which was the source of the issue, if you know what I mean. I held my breath and dove down, grabbed the blue-and-white polka-dotted material and wrapped it around my head, making sure I had two layers at my nose. I spent the entire flight in a burka because Grandpop spent the entire flight as he spends it in his easy chair back home. Farting. Under a rock.
A bad flight can’t make me not love flying, but that was a rough one, comrades. When I told a friend about the experience, he gave me a tool to use the next time it’s that bad. He reminded me of the advice Queen Victoria gave her daughters on each of their wedding nights:
Lie back, grit your teeth, and think of England.
*Gracie is why I get scared to have kids. My kid won’t be like Gracie but my kid might meet Gracie and I love my hypothetical kid and would like to see him/her not be pushed to his/her death by a sociopath named Gracie.
On and off (mostly on) for three years or so, I was a Bikram yogini. Bikram yoga is the hottest of the so-called “hot yoga” practices. The room is heated to 105 degrees. For 90-straight minutes you stand in very little clothing in front of full-length mirrors with the rest of the class. The twenty-one poses in the practice are always the same. And it’s as hard as it sounds, which means that it feels fantastic. Exercise is like that: the tougher the better — at least when it’s over.
But I got a little too into Bikram. The practice is advertised (!) as being most effective when it’s done daily; I jumped onboard with the fervor of a new cult recruit. I would frequently take two classes in one day. Two classes a day! Once, just to prove I could — I’m hesitant to admit this — I did three. Three Bikram yoga classes in a single day. But why?
Subconsciously or consciously, I thought Bikram yoga could fix me, cure me, make me acceptable as a person. Acceptable to whom, I do not know. I spent much of my twenties, I see now, concerned about everything that I felt was wrong with me. I don’t do that anymore. There’s plenty wrong and I haven’t given up aspiring to be more happy, more helpful, etc., but rather than seeing myself as a damaged, cute-but-junky heap in need of major renovations, I simply make tweaks and modifications to a person that I actually like pretty well. Dammit, I’m not broken. You’re not either. That’s the key to the lock.
Bikram drifted away, eventually. At some point, there came some peace; I needed it less. But to tell the truth, there was also a traumatic event that helped me let go: my ostomy bag leaked in class. Oh, yes. Yes, it did. If you’d like to live a nightmare, I recommend that one. The combination of feeling like I didn’t have to kill myself in class everyday and the desire to actually die when that happened put me off my yoga.
To keep my figure these days, I do dance aerobics because I love to dance. I mean I love to dance, though I’m hopeless in classes. In classes, I have two left feet. My dancing is best when I’m at a club or in my living room. Even in the construction, my condo becomes my dance floor. I put on legwarmers and short-shorts and pull my hair into a ponytail and hop around like a bunny rabbit, leaping and twirling and whipping my hair all around.
When I’m dancing, it’s fun. It’s not punishment. It’s not obligatory. I don’t do it three times in one day for 90-minutes a pop. Dancing like this comes from a place of spontaneous joy: it doesn’t work, otherwise. I sweat, I keep my figure, I smile. And I hope the neighbors in the mid-rise building across the street can see me. I do better with an audience. Always have.