Freddy n’ Me.

posted in: Art, Tips 1
Frederich Nietzsche, lost in thought, AS USUAL.
Frederich Nietzsche, lost in thought, AS USUAL.

I ain’t no philosopher.

But I like reading about the nature of existence and being, as long as the concepts are simplified for me by someone other than the philosopher him/herself. (Sorry, Kant, but I can’t.) Several years ago I caught an existential crisis which I have yet to kick. It’s like having chronic hiccups, except that we’re all gonna die. So I read philosophy stuff sometimes to try and sort all of this out.

Like so many before me (and countless souls to come), I found Nietzsche awhile back, my own private Nietzsche, a Nietzsche that ceased being a quip-machine or a bumper sticker punchline and became something like a friend from beyond the grave. It’s so odd to me now that the prevailing concept of Nietzsche (and I held this view once) is that of a dark, brooding fellow with a large mustachioed lip and a death obsession. The large mustache is correct, and he did brood about death, but only insofar as it was the end of life and life was his main concern.

Nietzsche could hardly be described as happy-go-lucky, but he was all about life-affirmation, in fact. This was a guy who said, “Without music, life would be a mistake” and whose concept of a person profoundly in love with life despite the constant suffering and struggle that attends it (the “overman” or Ubermensch) was arguably the tenderloin of his life’s work. It’s critical to note also that Nietzsche would’ve been horrified at how Hitler twisted his philosophy on the overman to suit his wicked Nazi ideology. Nietzsche spoke fearlessly of freedom and truth; he railed against racism, destruction, and dogma. He couldn’t stand politicians — he couldn’t even stand his home country (Germany) so anything you heard about Nietzsche being a Nazi, you can put that to bed.

Something terribly sad happened to Nietzsche in 1889. He was in Turin and not doing very well, suffering from nerves and dyspepsia and all those maladies that seemed to strike everyone in the late 1800s, usually in a parlor. Out his window, presumably while reclining on a fainting couch, Nietzsche saw a coachman on the street brutally beating an old mare. Overcome with grief at the sight, horrified at the cruelty he was seeing, Nietzsche ran out to the street and threw his body in front of the coachman. He gripped the horse around the neck and sobbed in the street at the inhumanity of it all.

After that, he wasn’t the same guy. He lived twelve more years, but he wasn’t well. Some say he had had syphilis for many years and that’s what melted his brain, in the end. Some say he was just fooling people about being nuts, that he was just eccentric and that was that. He died of pneumonia in 1900. And, because the truth is that the man really was a quip-machine, a few juicy aphorisms* from our pal Fred:

“Whatever is done from love always occurs beyond good and evil.”

“A man’s maturity consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play.”

“Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself.”

“Half-knowledge is more victorious than whole knowledge: it understands things as being more simple than they are and this renders its opinions more easily intelligible and more convincing.”

*Aphorism: a pithy observation that contains a general truth, such as, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”


On White Stuff.

Credit: Chicago Tribune archive photo.
A shot of the aftermath of the Chicago snowstorm of ’67.  They got 23 inches in 35 hours. (c) Chicago Tribune archive photo.

I live downtown on the sixteenth floor of a mid-rise building. I have a south-facing wall and that wall has five windows: two of them are in my bedroom, the other three line up in the main room. I’m not surrounded by skyscrapers, thankfully, so from my perch, I can see Chicago for miles. Sometimes, I’ll bet you I can see clear to Indiana, all the way to those fruited plains. I don’t see the actual sun rise (being that I’m looking south and all) but of course I get the slowly strengthening light. I wake up quite early to catch this; it’s my favorite time of day. I make my tea, read one of the three things I have going, and write in my journal. I take from 90 minutes to two hours to do this every day, come rain, shine, or — wait for it — snow.

It’s been sifting down for hours. Every so often the white stops to catch its breath and then starts up again, and it was the same pattern a few days ago. It’s winter in the midwest.

The town I love is quiet. I look down on the street and no one is out. I look across the tops of the buildings and see white billows of steam from the heating systems working in overdrive because it’s not just snowing here: it’s cold. We’ll have temperatures back in the minuses the next few days and when it’s this bad, I think about the homeless people who will die this winter. Macabre, sure. Also true. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do in the world.

To the couch. To the books. It’s Sunday and it’s a blizzard. I may have to venture down to the 7-Eleven for milk and chocolate later, but that’s later. For now, it’s time to hunker down and enjoy one of the many quilts I have made. I have quite a selection and I do believe they were made for this.

I’ll pick my favorite of all. It’s called “Whisper,” and it’s white.

The Proust Questionnaire: Your Year In Review

posted in: Art, Tips, Word Nerd 0
Marcel Proust, presumably watching the ball drop in Times Square.
Marcel Proust, presumably watching the ball drop in Times Square.

A couple weeks ago, I felt like doing a year-end questionnaire. It seemed like a practical way to assess the close of 2013 and I have a thing for questionnaires; I get to tick little boxes or fill in blanks regarding my preferences and this is endlessly fascinating to me.

I knew my online search for a quality questionnaire would yield plenty of corporate team-building versions and “life-coach” exercises, and I was right. But I figured there had to be at least one questionnaire out there comprising twenty-odd intelligent, non-saccharine questions to asses one’s year. I was incorrect.

And so I went for the classics. Marcel Proust’s questionnaire is something you may have come across if you’ve ever read Vanity Fair magazine. The back page of the magazine offers readers the answers to Proust’s edited questionnaire given by (often annoying) famous people. But Vanity Fair annexed the questionnaire; it was the world’s long before it was Conde Nast’s. Here now is the questionnaire. It’s not a “year-end” anything, just a very good list of questions for a human being. I encourage you to fill it out for yourself. If you have no favorite heroine, if you can’t come up with your favorite poet, perhaps 2014 is the year to find these people for yourself. We all need heroines, we all need a favorite poet or two.

Happy New Year to all; may 2013 be a fond memory, even so.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
2. What is your greatest fear?
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
5. Which living person do you most admire?
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
7. What is your current state of mind?
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
9. On what occasion do you lie?
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
11. Which living person do you most despise?
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
16. When and where were you happiest?
17. Which talent would you most like to have?
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
21. Where would you most like to live?
22. What is your most treasured possession?
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
24. What is your favorite occupation?
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
26. What do you most value in your friends?
27. Who are your favorite writers?
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
31. What are your favorite names?
32. What is it that you most dislike?
33. What is your greatest regret?
34. How would you like to die?
35. What is your motto?

Tops, Ramen.

Some things, they cannot be explained.
Some things, they cannot be explained.

When I had the flu the other day, I had zero appetite. The mere mention of eating was enough to make me holler in anguish from my sickbed. Except that one thing actually did sound good: chicken-flavored Maruchan Top Ramen.

Look, I don’t make the rules. I have no idea why a block of sodium starch is a curative for me, but when I am at death’s door, convenience store ramen noodles save the day. I can say with conviction because when I was gravely ill with ulcerative colitis and the first of the surgical complications years ago, Top Ramen kept me alive. Fine, okay, the horse pill antibiotics and the doctors did their part, but if it weren’t for the inexplicable deliciousness of cheap ramen, I would have had a feeding tube earlier than I did.

I would sit on my mother’s couch, an increasingly wispy wisp of a thing, dazed with morphine and woozy from the blood thinner delivered in my hindquarters twice a day via injection. I would watch something on television (I think?) and I would try and get up to walk because that was supposed to be important, but mostly I just waited till Mom or my husband at the time would come to flush my wound drains. I’ve described a fraction of it. It was horrid.

“Honey, what do you think you can eat?” my mother would ask, coming into the living room. She had new lines on her face.

We tried ice cream. We tried cheese. We tried pudding. We tried crackers. Chips. Soups. Cookies. I would take one bite and push it away and I missed my appetite. So many times as a twenty-something woman I had dieted for periods of time, fervently wishing I could have no appetite — it sounded so simple! — so that I could slim down my hips for the summer or whatever crucial event I felt couldn’t be fun or successful unless I was skinny. But when my appetite actually vanished, and for such a long time, I mourned it. Nourishment is not just about calories; it’s about vitality. I was not vital. There was no bloom in my cheek.

Then one day, I said, “Mom, I think I want some ramen noodles.”

I ate them. The whole block. They were salty and easy to swallow. They were fun to eat, those looooong curly noodles and the bullion broth was free of bits, chunks, vegetal matter of any kind. It is a benign substance, Top Ramen. There is nothing to avoid; there is surrender to simplicity. It is the anti-foodie food. The nutritional value is dubious at best, but dammit if there aren’t 400-something calories per block and at that point, that was 400 more calories than I was getting.

Every day, I ate ramen for breakfast, my sole “meal” of the day. I even looked forward to the moment when Mama would come in with my tray. It makes me cry to think of her now in her red robe, coming in with a chipper smile and the wooden tray with the big bowl. She always had a cloth napkin for me and a dinner fork. She’d place the tray on the big trunk we used for a coffee table and say, “Bon appetite, sweetie,” and I would say “Thanks, Mama,” and start to eat, slowly, bringing a forkful of noodles all the way up, high above my head. I’d tip my head back and open my mouth and the day would begin that way, looking up at the ceiling, at nothing but the moment and the noodle at hand. At that dark time, the moment was the wisest place to gaze.

My regards to Mr. Maruchan.


A Colonial American Cure All.

posted in: Food, New York City, Tips 0
These cures, they are suspect.
I blame voodoo!

I was felled on the last day of the Christmas trip.

A 24-hour flu bug is a nasty thing, indeed. I suppose anyone over the age of 3 months has had it in some strain or another. The version I had yesterday bestowed a virtual tango of hot-cold, hot-cold on my plagued, aching body. I spent the entire day — and I do mean the entire day — on my sister’s couch, audibly moaning in anguish. Though my frequent trips to the bathroom were rather…undignified, I did manage to keep down sips of water.

“What did you say?” my sister asked from the kitchen. I was flat on my back, staring at the ceiling.

“Oh god,” I croaked. And then softly to myself, “I’m dying.”

“You’re not dying,” my sister said, coming in with a mug. “This’ll put you right, she said. “It’s an old colonial America cure all.”

I opened one eye. “What is it?”


“But what is it?” If it’s possible to glower with just one eye, I was. The mug was steaming and smelt of the dark arts.

“Dude, I’m serious.”

I put the cup to my lips and a took a hot sip. “Gah!” I cried and recoiled into a cocktail shrimp.

We’ve come a long way since colonial America and I for one am quite happy about that. While DayQuil is awful and NyQuil is worse, they don’t taste like thick, lemony-cinnamon death — which is what Switchel tastes like. Nan told me the stuff is made with apple cider vinegar which explains the stinging, burning sensation I felt in my nose whenever I brought the mug to my face. I made a valiant effort and took most of the mysterious elixir. I couldn’t make it to the bottom of the cup because I would’ve needed a fork and they were all in the dishwasher.

My sister consumes strange things. While she was preparing the Switchel, I heard a loud pop! and looked over to see a can of white goo literally explode in her hands. She had purchased coconut probiotic yogurt called “CocoYo.” She takes droplets of rock juice each day. Rock juice is something that oozes from a rock in the Himalayas, I believe. There’s coffee flax (?) in her cupboard, a selection of unusual rice, and many other unidentifiable jars of things that would frighten small children.

The plague has abated and perhaps it’s due to the Switchel, perhaps it’s just time. I’m composing this on a morning plane back to Chicago and when I get home, I plan to jump into my day as fully as I can. Nothing helps me feel better after a plague than good old-fashioned bootstrap-pulling.

Bootstrap pulling –> bootblack calling –> blackstrap molasses –> backscatter scanning –> the end.

“Teach Me How To Do That.”

"I'm flyyyyyying!"
“I’m flyyyyyying!”

Today, we’re going to skate in Bryant Park in the name of Santa!

I have my own ice skates in Chicago, but I didn’t bring them. Placed in my suitcase, they left room only for a pair of panties and a toothbrush. Some people would argue that that’s all you really need when traveling to New York, but let’s not be those people.

I got my skates last year for Christmas after being a renter for years. Mama gave me a pair of pretty white ones with pink blade covers and a can of balm to keep the skates supple. I hooted with joy when I opened the box and promptly suppled up. When you love something, you should take care of it.

My first time with my very own skates was a cold night in January. In wintertime, the Millennium Park cafe space turns into an outdoor ice rink. The rink is a fifteen-minute walk from my condo, so I tied up the laces, slung the skates over my shoulder, wrapped a warm scarf around my neck/head and headed out. When I reached the park I looked like a character from a Normal Rockwell painting, all rosy cheeks and woolen mittens. I went through the gates, took a seat on a bench and laced up my skates. My skates! I was so excited.

That night, there was a group of teenage boys who were dominating the rink. Some would say they were terrorizing it, but they were having so much fun it was hard to be negative about them. The three boys were doing tricks, skating backward so fast they got the whistle blown at them, and doing spins and funky toe stuff. It was the backward skating thing that got me, though. I’m a decent ice skater but I have a really hard time going backward. I wanted them to teach me how to do it and of course the first thought was, “Well, it’s not like I can be like, ‘Hey, how do you do that?'” My second thought was, “Why on earth can’t I ask them?”

When the boys took a break and were hanging out just outside the gate talking to some girls, I skated straight up to them.

“Hi,” I said. I was out of breath and nervous, too. “I wanna skate backward. I don’t know how. Teach me how.” Saying “please” could come later, but in the moment, I felt a direct approach was best.

The boys were surprised, but they grinned after the initial “Who the hell is this chick?” reaction.

“Aiight,” said one of them. “I’ll teach you. Come on.”

And he taught me. To skate backward, you gotta stick your butt out. A lot. Yes, I was well aware that this young man was telling me to stick my butt out and that he might’ve had ulterior motives for doing so. But he was sticking his butt out, too, and he could skate backward like a champ. He also told me when I was sticking it out too much, which struck me as gallant. He praised me when I was getting it right, he helped me up when I fell, and he corrected me plenty, which — trust me — was appropriate.

Just ask for what you need. You might be surprised. Merry Christmas!

Sounds Good.

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 2
That's the one!
That’s the one!

The objects in my home that get handled the most would probably be, in order: house keys, tea tray, journal, little red radio. That last is my Tivoli SongBook (why, even the name is melodious!) and I hook it up to my computer to amplify the podcasts, music, and YouTube videos of the IQ2 debates I watch while I sew patchwork. If I could carry my tea and open my door with my Tivoli radio I would. (Replacing the journal would be tough.)

The Tivoli Songbook really is book-sized, if that book is the Penguin Classics edition of Great Expectations — and a satisfying thickness it is. The radio comes in several colors; mine is tomato red. There’s a tiny screen that glows a luminous ice blue when the radio is on and I appreciate the generous length of the antenna even though it doesn’t still doesn’t help me get reception in my condo. The SongBook gets loud, too, which is good for those moments when you need to bust out and dance like a maniac to the latest Lady Gaga record while you brush your teeth.

All of these qualities would be enough to to make my little red radio lovable, but I have another potent reason: I have gravely mishandled my SongBook and it still loves me.

I have dropped that thing a hundred times if I’ve dropped it once. I have plugged it into bum outlets and wiggled the cord like I was loosening a tooth; when I move papers too hastily it hits the wood table slap! flat on its back; the tip of the antenna snapped off; and when the Gaga is turned up way loud, the speaker threatens to blow out but never does. The wee radio keeps going. Sometimes I have to make a fist and bang it on the top to get it to work, but even that makes me happy: I feel like a soldier in WWI, smacking my radio receiver in the trenches: “Tivoli, this is Fons, do you copy??

The Tivoli company didn’t pay me to write this post, by the way. They certainly could, though I doubt most companies are in the business of finding free publicity and then retroactively paying for it. Still, I recommend the SongBook this year as an excellent Christmas gift for someone you love. It runs about $200 and that’s not exactly cheap, but I guarantee pleasure for years (of abuse) to come.

Did I mention I have used it as coaster?

The Truth Hurts.

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 7
Anchor, 1861. Photo: Wikipedia.
Anchor, 1861. Photo: Wikipedia.


Being a good friend is not easy; sometimes you have to deliver bad news.

My best friend sat me down the other day and gave me a bit of a talking to. This person loves me a great deal and his decision to tell me the unadorned truth about what he was seeing with me lately was born out of compassion and care; of this I am certain. Some people like to boss folks around, some folks delight in others’ pain; this is never the case with him. He read me because he cares.

He pointed out that I have boundary issues. I rarely set them and when I do, I dismantle them with almost comedic haste. I say yes when I should say no to another project, another class, another date, another lunch of chocolate and coffee when I swore I’d eat a salad; another coat. Wait, what? Mm. I have a thing with coats like some girls have a thing with shoes. I say yes because I can handle it and most of the time, I can. But my candle burns at both ends and lately I’ve been going after the middle. It’s a perfectly good middle!

Oh, I thrashed. I argued. I justified. But he was right. What do we do when we’re given the truth, however lovingly it’s delivered? We can’t change everything in a day and it’s foolish to think so, foolish to make some New Year’s resolution style proclamation. The words “Starting today, I…” are dangerous, useless. The only way to do something about what’s broken is to take action — or maybe just an ax — to them. We mustn’t just make a resolution because talk isn’t cheap; it’s expensive. It costs you. Change happens in deed only.

I went some time without a best friend. It just shook out that way after college. My ex-husband was my bestie for many years, but that’s hardly true now. Having a BFF today is worth its weight in gold even though friendship isn’t something we can weight. We can feel it, though, and in the feeling we can see its shape.

It kind of looks like an anchor.

On Spray Tans, On Bodies

Tan crayon! Image: Wikipedia.
Tan crayon! Image: Wikipedia.


I stood in a well-ventilated clapboard chamber, totally nude, while a gal named Heather worked me over with an airbrushing machine. I got a spray tan yesterday.

I’m hardly the first person to point out that a body paint job is a ludicrous concept, a frivolous, vain expenditure. That’s fair, but it’s something else, too, I realized today: Getting a spray tan transgresses deeply grooved boundaries of the public and the private, and I believe this has value.

It’s is the same transgression that occurs when I go for a bikini wax. Every time I’m in these situations, when I’m nakey in a tiny room with another person who is fully clothed, I think about these things. Why is being naked in the name of grooming okay while most of us will go to great lengths to cover up in the gym locker room? Weird.

This is an observation, not a complaint. I’m not suggesting we all run around naked and start dismantling body taboos. (I think we’re all in okay with most folks keeping their pants in place). But I do think these “intricate rituals,” as artist Barbara Kruger put it once, help us remember that we don’t have a body; we are a body.

What is it to be seen? What is it to be still, with your back to a stranger, without a stitch of clothing on? It’s certainly not comfortable. For some people, it’s their worst nightmare.

Ah, but the spray tan girl. She’ll make it better. Mine was chatting about her upcoming wedding.

“I really wanted a gold gown but no one would let me do it! It’s crazy how people just tell you no! The dress place was like, ‘You look like you’re going to prom. You look like you’re on Dancing With the Stars.’ And I was like, ‘Crap, you’re right.’ So I got a dress with lace but I’m getting gold shoes and my fiancee and I are going to Italy for the honeymoon but not yet, so we’re thinking a long weekend in Lake Geneva…”

It was a stream of small talk and we had very little eye contact from the start, especially when my gal knelt down for my lower half. I turned when she said, “Okay hon, turn,” and I made the namaste-like gesture so she could get my sides properly. We acted like there was nothing wrong or odd whatsoever that I was nekkid as a j-bird, as they say. Well, except for my shower cap.

I can’t believe I just told you about the shower cap. Perhaps that’s the thing to feel ashamed about?


A Broadway Actress Tells You How To Get Your Lost Voice Back

posted in: Art, Day In The Life, Tips, Work 3
'4′33″' is a three-movement composition by experimental composer John Cage. Composed in 1952, for any instrument or combination of instruments, the score instructs the performer(s) not to play their instrument(s) during the entire duration of the piece.
In 1952, experimental composer John Cage composed this three-movement piece called 4’33”. Written for any instrument or combination of instruments, the score instructs the performer(s) not to play their instrument(s). At all. It’s just silence for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Nice.

My voice has skipped town. Three days, now. No word from her. Very concerned.

In her stead, this bizarre, rather spooky sound is coming from my throat and it alternates between a barely audible squeak and an alarming baritone. The baritone only happens when I decide I absolutely must be heard and the only way that will happen is if I drop my voice down to my chest, furrow my brow a bit, and push sound out with a full-on bark. I was in the airport yesterday and did this while on a phone meeting and I visibly frightened three grown men who were reading newspapers at Gate A9. They all jumped a foot and looked at me like, “What in God’s name is wrong with that woman?!

It’s a cold, brother.

Which I don’t get very often! I’ve been smote by far worse maladies in life and thus I like to think I’ve been given a pass on the other stuff, the little stuff, like colds and the flu. But that’s silly, and the proof is in the mucus. The real problem is that I am in Oklahoma today and a whole lot of people are coming to hear me speak. I know, right? THE IRONY. I’m speaking alongside my mom on this trip and she can help translate any interpretive dances I need to do to communicate with the people, but seriously: I need to be able to talk. Really need that talking thing. So I sent a high-priority email to my friend Kristina The Actress. She’s been onstage her whole life and she’s done Broadway and all that, so she knows a thing or two about losing one’s, er, moneymaker.

“Kristina,” I feverishly typed. “I’m [REDACTED]. My voice. Gone. Totally. Lecture tomorrow. HELP ME.”

This morning, my voice is a 1,000 better and it has 90% to do with her sage wisdom. (The other 10% of improvement can be attributed to time and rest.) So mark the following practical advice in your mind, fair reader, and when you lose your voice at a bad time — isn’t it always? — you can say, “Well, a Broadway actress told me once…”

“Sweets: able to help…speaking to missing voice (which I totally thought was a metaphor at first): If there is mucus, Broadway agrees you must take Mucinex. Then chew/suck raw ginger and also put it in your tea. Then there’s a brand of cough drops called “Fisherman’s Friend.” Sucrets for pain. And then some doctor comes and injects steroids in your throat…I love you.”

See what I mean? That’s a serious assault from all corners and it worked for me, folks. I didn’t have the steroids in my throat (ew) but it’s good to know about the big guns. Thank you, Kristina. You are beautiful in many ways and lots of people love you, but now large crowds of quilters in Oklahoma will love you and when you woke up yesterday morning I bet you didn’t see that comin’.

Another Bathroom Story or, “Toilet Humor.”

posted in: Day In The Life, Story, Tips 3
We hang out.
We hang out.

I locked myself in the bathroom Monday night and against all odds, with nothing but human ingenuity and good old fashioned fear, I escaped.

The bathroom I was in is the one that today is absolute rubble and exposed pipe and tufts of insulation. Before it was rubble, though, it had to be a bathroom without any stuff in it. This is an important detail.

“Get everything outta there,” my contractor said on the phone, “’cause on Tuesday the whole thing’s going into a dumpster.” My eyes got real big and I began at once to move my belongings into my back bathroom with visions of Danny and his crew tossing my perfume samples and sea sponges into a bin with the old tile. By the end of the day, the bathroom was denuded, empty of mouthwash bottles, bobby pins, half-rolled up tubes of Ben Gay (when did I buy Ben-Gay?) and contact lens juice. I did leave a roll of toilet paper in there, however. Until they removed the toilet, the bathroom was still functional in that regard and I might as well use that part of it, right?

No. Dumb.

On Monday night I went into that bathroom to pee. (Well, it’s true!) I shut the door behind me, heard a tiny click, and A Great Dread passed over me. There was no doorknob on that door. What there was was the inner apparatus where there is typically an attendant doorknob. This meant that the door’s internal tumbler latch thingy was latched but there was no knob to turn the works. I stuck my finger in the metal and wiggled it. Okay, wow. I was locked in my bathroom. An empty, tool-less bathroom. Had I not taken every last item out of the space earlier in the day, I wouldn’t have been terribly worried. A toothbrush would jimmy the latch all right; one of those bobby pins would’ve worked great. But I had nothing. And I would need something to work in that door latch. Immediately.

I spun around. Ah-ha! The shower curtain! I hadn’t taken it down! I seized the curtain and pulled off one of the hooks. Yes, a piece of skinny metal! But it was useless; the curve of it was too thick and tight and it wouldn’t fit where I needed it to go. I tossed it to the floor. What else, what else? Ah! There, by the sink, an empty matchbook! I grabbed it and tore it into a hard little cardboard stick and jimmied at the latch. The stick bent. It bent into a wad and the door laughed. I was getting concerned. My ultimate “I will do anything to get out of here” plan was to body slam myself against the door again and again and again until I broke it open, but getting a running start from the tub was not going to be easy. It would be more of a flying leap from the edge of it and I foresaw a chipped tooth and a concussion, but I ask you: What price, freedom?

Just as I was about to start my flying leaps, I saw it: the doorstop. One of those spring metal ones. I wrenched it off the door and uncoiled it, bending it back on itself, fashioning a dandy and rather dangerous-looking tool. I worked it in the latch. Worked it some more. Turned. Jiggled. And then…


There was no fanfare. No picture in the paper celebrating my derring-do. I had but the personal satisfaction of a job stupidly done (locking myself in my empty bathroom) followed by a job well done (getting out.) Incidentally, I had an appointment with my shrink yesterday and when I got there, he had locked himself out of his office — the key had broken in the lock. The session would likely not happen, he said, which was fine with me. Sometimes I don’t feel like digging through the dirt. The weather was so rainy and cozy, I just wanted to drink cocoa and read a book.

“I’m so sorry, Mary. I’ll call you to reschedule,” said Dr. Herman. “Twenty years of practice, this has never happened to me before.”

“You’ll figure it out,” I said, opened my umbrella, and walked out into the rain.

Ten Reasons To Visit The Chicago Symphony Orchestra

DUDE!!!! This photograph was taken by one Mauricio Mejia. My compliments to you, sir.

My friend Yuri had a birthday this weekend. I told him I’d take him out. Sometimes, you need to do something nice for someone and really take it to the moon. Everything was a surprise, and we started at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for a concert.

I now present Ten Reasons To Visit The Chicago Symphony Orchestra for a concert the next time you’re in town. If you already live within a 25 mile radius of the CSO and have never been or haven’t been in a long time, for heaven’s sake, what is wrong with you?? Pardon me, but down that sandwich, finish reading this, and then click over. You will thank me — not that that’s why I’m doing this.

Let’s do this!

1. Tuxedos. Not on you, necessarily. But on the dudes. Hot.

2. Concessions for sale before the show and during intermission include sparkling wine, good chocolate, and cheese doodles.

3. There’s a big floating thing above the symphony stage that looks like a UFO made of lace, light, air, and wire. It’s my favorite thing in the whole theater. Research reveals that it’s referred to as “the artwork” and its job is to bounce and distribute sound from the stage out to the audience. Fact: the crispy white wires and pale green glass “artwork” weight seven tons. Seven tons!

4. My friend Charlie plays the trombone! Hi, Charlie! You killed it the other night! Way to go, buddy! I waved to you and got in trouble!

5. Hey, man. Take a nap.

6. It’s freaking hilarious to listen to all the coughing in between the movements. People wait…wait…wait to hack up a lung until the sonata is done or whatever and then its just “COUGH! COUGH! HACK! HACK! BRAAHHH! HORK! HORKHORKHORK!” and then the music starts again and everyone falls silent. Very entertaining.

7. There’s always someone who is clearly either a musician or wannabe musician who wants everyone to know they know the music backward and forward, so they make these funny faces and roll their eyes back in their head and wiggle their finger in time and shake their head like they’re in exquisite pain at moments in the score. You can make them feel good by giving them a nod and a smile when they catch your eye. They will try because they want to feel like an expert. It’s okay, we all do that kind of thing in some way.

8. Fancy.

9. You can go to a crappy bar afterward and balance out. It’s a big world. You can do the symphony and a crappy bar in one night. That’s not just something people do only in the movies.

10. Your symphony is the same symphony everyone else gets, if you want it. Cheap balcony seats? Same symphony as the season ticket holders. Half those people are asleep anyway or thinking about their condo in Sarasota. You go get your experience and you put it in your heart and keep it, you hear me?

You hear that?


Who Can Say What Is Good and What Is Bad?

posted in: Art, Tips, Word Nerd 4
It's a baby bunny who is seems to be clapping? This is inarguably good. Keep reading.
It’s a baby bunny who is seems to be clapping? This is inarguably good. Keep reading.

There’s a Chinese parable I like. It basically goes like this:

“There once was a farmer whose only son grew up to be a great horse rider. ‘How good it is that my son is masterful with horses!’ the man said, and the villagers exclaimed, ‘Yes, it is wonderful that he is so good with horses,’ and no one could disagree.

One day, the boy was thrown from his best horse and injured badly. Both his legs were broken and his back was broken also. ‘A tragedy!’ cried his father, and the villagers lamented the crippled boy, agreeing that it was a terrible tragedy that the boy was thrown from his horse. The farmer cursed the day he taught his son to ride.

Not a week later, soldiers came to the village to take the young men away to war. When they stopped at the farmer’s house, they saw his crippled son and did not take him to fight because he was injured. ‘What luck!’ cried the farmer. ‘How good that my son was thrown from his horse!'”

The point is a question: what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’? I was diagnosed with a terrible disease several years ago; that felt pretty bad. But through my illness I found a sweetness to life that was until then unknown to me. Was it good, then, to be ill? Debatable, but…well, solidly debatable. Getting invited to my first cool kid party in high school was so very, very good for a nerd like me — but then I drank mass quantities of rum and apple juice, the room began to spin, and I wanted to die. That was, um, bad. (Rum and apple juice?? Oy. Youth is wasted on the young.)

But isn’t there a hard stop on this? Aren’t there some experiences or ideas or situations that are unequivocally good or unequivocally bad? Coming up with examples is not an easy exercise, but neither are squat thrusts and we all know how good those are for you. Just for fun, here are two straight-up “good” situations to be in and two clearly “bad” ones, at least according to me, at press time:

– kissing the boy (or girl) you have a crush on for the first time
– getting a paycheck

– having to hide in a broom closet, quickly
– gum in your hair

Right? I mean come on, now.

Civil Disobedience Is Hard. (Do it anyway.)

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 6
I don't like you either, PETA. 'Case you were wondering.
I don’t like you either, PETA. ‘Case you were wondering.

If I were a betting woman, I’d wager 95% of human beans are trying to do their best 95% of the time. The 5% of people who aren’t trying at all are sociopaths. The 95% of people who take 5% of their time off are just tired. I’m with you. These odds mean that I cut folks a break most of the time and I cut myself a break, too. No need to get worked up over a cup of church basement coffee. No need to shout. No need to be rude to the waiter. We’re all trying. Be cool. 


This love and compassion for humanity dictates that I must stand up for true wrongs where they arise. If I don’t, can it be said that I have love for humanity? If I don’t stand for something, I’ll fall for any grievous act committed by the Transportation Security Administration. For example.

I ride in airplanes more than most, a lot less than some. After researching the then-new TSA backscatter machines a few years ago, I decided I would always opt out of going through one. Every time. It wasn’t the threat of radiation: I’ve had so many MRIs and CT scans in my life, I probably already glow in the dark. What bothered me about the machines was that they were so clearly about business more than security. A handful of companies got mountains of money to sell new scanners to airports — airports with scanners that worked just fine already. Dig about six seconds into the story and you’ll find that the three backscatter-making firms have ties to lobbyists and U.S. Representatives on both sides of the aisle. I’m a proud capitalist (we always are) but the deal smelled dirty to me and I felt my fear being exploited. That never feels good.

And then there was the whole “someone’s seeing me naked” thing which only bothered me after it turned out that yes, people were looking at your naked body when you went through, despite all protestations from the TSA officials that they weren’t. Hey, I love being naked. And on the special occasions when someone gets to see me loving being naked, that’s dandy. But the filthiest word in the English language, hyphenated or otherwise, is non-consensual and it would take a full bottle of tequila and/or a lobotomy before I’d consent to letting a sloppy TSA dude in a room on the other side of the airport look at my bare bodkin. This bodkin is mine, pal. You gotta ask first. Besides: you have clothes on, and that means we’ve got an abuse of power. And I hardly need to point out that where I live — in America, dammit — peeping is against the law. Pardon my French, but I figure the appropriate response to the entire no-clothes imaging thing is “F-ck you.”

But then came the true offense. For a number of years, and on two separate occasions, I had an ileostomy. Translation: I wore a small bag on my abdomen and that’s how I pooped. I was a very sick girl and that ostomy saved my life twice so I never exactly hated it, but it was a tribulation. Now, the old scanner machines were never an issue for an ostomate like me. An ostomy bag’s parts are 100% plastic, so unless you put something metal into the bag, which you could theoretically do (ew) there is nothing at all that would be of concern to the metal detectors, therefore no security issues.

Ah, but the backscatters, they see all. Sort of. They sure see ostomy bags. If you are the owner of one and you happen to be in the security line with the gal who doesn’t know what she’s looking at on the screen? Buckle up.

It happened in Detroit. They saw my naked, ostomied body and freaked out. I was treated roughly, questioned past my explanation of my medical situation. I was taken inexplicably into a closet — not a room but a closet — and made to reveal my bag and show it to the pair of bovine TSA women who with every passing minute revealed themselves to be less intelligent than I had initially guessed. I was in tears by the end of it, when they decided I had an ostomy bag and not a pouch full of terror. It might’ve been something like that for them, had they kept poking at it. It was the one time in my life I wished for a defective bag. Is that mean?

So I opt out of those machines and it’s a real pain, man. The opt-out takes longer because you have to wait for someone to do the pat down and then you have to do the pat down. The TSA people hate you because you have an imagination and because you’re interrupting their flow. You are stared at. People in line behind you think you’re suspicious; other people think you’re stupid because everyone knows there’s more radiation in your cell phone than there is in a backscatter machine. They heard that on CNN so it has to be true! And sometimes even I think, “Geez, who cares? It’s faster. Just do it.” Famous last words.

So I go the extra mile, every time. It’s the principle of it. It’s my instinct. And it’s my right.

NOTE: The management realizes we’ve misused the word bodkin in the above post. We like it, though.

Hi-Low, No.

posted in: Art, Tips 0
Hi, low, or otherwise, it's just awful.
Oh, for heaven’s sake.

We’ve all made sartorial mistakes.

In case I should forget mine, there are plenty of pictures and videos of me that prove I’ve made misdirected fashion choices. I’m thinking of the belted baby doll dress in the second season of Quilty, the “are-those-cornrows?” hairstyle in the third season, the yellow nail polish on the first Love of Quilting series I un-officially co-hosted. These were all mistakes.

But we learn — not in spite of these misfires, but because of them — to internalize the truth: just because something is trendy does not mean you should wear it. Ballet flats give me piano legs. Cap sleeves cut me across the widest part of my arm. Most bluejeans add ten pounds to my frame. (Until very recently, when I actually found a great pair by accident, I had not owned a pair of bluejeans in over six years. There are other things one can put on one’s bottom half, you know.)

If you are sixteen, you can pretty much wear whatever you please as long as you can get out of the house before your mother throws her body against the door to keep you inside. But I have spotted the “hi-low” skirt trend and it is so bad, I don’t believe even a nymphy, achingly pretty sixteen-year-old could pull it off.

The hi-low skirt is a short skirt with a long, sheer skirt over it. What can the designers be thinking? It doesn’t make sense. It is not aesthetically harmonious. The short skirt is not cut in a remarkable way to begin with and then there’s this long, gauzy afterthought, this sheer mistake wafting all over the place. I think it makes a gal look like she’s fallen from a great height and has hit tree after tree on her way down, leaving ripped bits of her real skirt on the craggy branches. Now she’s just got one bit of dress left — a bit of dress and a slip underneath.


Oh, but I see it! I see the “hi-low” on the streets of Chicago. Not all over town, but some. And I look with wonder and I put on a black turtleneck. Turtleneck loves me, hi-low loves me not.

Notes on The Walk of Shame.

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 1
"Shoe." McClurg Court, Chicago, IL. 8:45am, September 29, 2013.
“Shoe.” McClurg Court, Chicago, IL. 8:45am, September 29, 2013.

“Look at that!” my friend said, pointing across the street. “That’s a shoe.”

I looked over. It was a shoe. Just one. Nice, too. Pretty sexy. We crossed the street to investigate and I took a picture for you. My friend and I were full of breakfast.

Because you, gentle reader, are so gentle (and chaste and respectable and pious) I shall ‘splain to you something called “the walk of shame” because the shoe this morning was perhaps the best evidence of the WOS that I have ever encountered. The walk of shame happens when you spend the night at the home/apartment/dorm room of a paramour/booty call/random dude* and you have to leave and go outside. Sometimes you have to walk a fair piece because there are no cabs or bus stops nearby. A walk of shame can happen just to where you parked your car the night before; that definitely counts. Sometimes, you can’t find your purse/wallet and you have to walk the whole way. That’s gonna be the worst right there, because the only thing worse than the walk of shame is the long walk of shame.

The shame happens for the following reasons:

a) you have baggage about extra-marital sex (and you had some)
b) you are hungover (again)
c) you are dressed in the clothes you wore last night, as evidenced by the fact you are in a cocktail dress at nine in the morning, barefoot, your high heels wedged into your purse because your feet hurt
d) you’re being honked at (people not on the WOS love the WOS)

I did the walk of shame exactly once. I was in college. I was so far from home that morning that it makes me cry just thinking about it; there was no bus. There was no car. There was me, a sparkly blouse, and about a mile-and-a-half of questionable sidewalk between me and my sweet, sweet coffeemaker and bunny slippers. I got the honks. I got the cramp in my foot. I got the vodka headache and I definitely got the message.

But I had both my shoes.

*guys can do the WOS but because most dudes’ day clothes look similar enough to their goin’ out clothes, it’s less obvious. Also women + sex = societal shame, men + sex = “sowing oats”

Summer Ain’t Over Till The Cicadas Knock It Off.

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 0
"I ate the rest of the Chunky Monkey."
“Yes. I ate the rest of the Chunky Monkey.”

I have a friend whose favorite food group is ice cream. It’s no use pointing out to him that ice cream is not considered a real food group. He has no need for guidelines he had nothing to do with. In the world of my friend, ice cream is a food group and that, he would say with a mouthful of rum raisin, is that.

Iowa is hot today. Earlier in the week, it was hotter still; the temperature reached to triple digits. Whenever the temperature hits that high anywhere, I feel intensely depressed. I picture stifling attics, air conditioners that blow engine block heat, and days that don’t end when the sun goes down. It’s not that hot now, but I walked around the town square today and the word “scorched earth” kept pounding in my temple. When your skin is mad at you, the weather sucks.

Ice cream helps.

Summer is over — another guideline none of us had anything to do with — but it ain’t autumn for awhile. Pull out some ice cream. It’s Friday night! Smooth some mint chip on your tongue. Lick a twist cone. Suck melting vanilla off a pralined pecan. Take out a pint of strawberry — pure, simple strawberry — and go sit outside somewhere. Focus on it.

If you’re eating with a metal spoon, when you’re done with your ice cream, lick your spoon clean and press the back of it right between your eyes. It’ll feel cool on your skin. A little sticky, sure, but no stickier than the day itself.

I’ll bet you did three things well this summer, big or small, at home, at work, or out in the world. Think about those things while the cicadas or the skyscraper air units whirr. Ice cream is a food group and summer isn’t over till you say so.

Hot, cold. Hot. Cold.

A Chicken, A Salad, A Chocolate Cake.

posted in: Tips 0
"Essayez les huîtres des Rocheuses."
“Essayez les huîtres des Rocheuses.”

When I moved into my condo, I chose not to get a washer and dryer.

There’s a hookup in my pantry (nearly typed “panty”) for this, but I have my priorities. These piorities include high heels, quality prosecco, and a refusal to allow enormous metal boxes to hold my pantry hostage. Besides, there’s a cheery, spacious laundry room in my building. Let the 21st floor have the metal boxes; my calves get exercise anyhow when I take the stairs with a hamper on my hip.

The best part of the laundry room is that there’s this magazine shelf. Done with your magazine, kindly resident? Put it on the shelf for someone else to enjoy! Give a magazine, take a magazine. This is almost worth my entire monthly assessment. On the shelf with astonishing regularity are Town & Country, Vogue, W for heaven’s sake! I leave New York and Harper’s and Elle and though the magazines are not always current, it doesn’t matter. Is Town & Country any more relevant to me now than it was in April of 2011? You see my point.

There are often, gloriously, issues of Food & Wine and Bon Appetite, though these go fast. It was in a hastily grabbed March 2012 issue of Bon Appetite that I learned a simple, fascinating way to discern a good cook from a mediocre one. Ready for this?

Ask the chef to roast a chicken, make a salad, and bake a chocolate cake. That’s all you tell them. Here now, excerpts from the article by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer:

“You can tell a lot about a person’s cooking skills from these tasks. Take a roast chicken. First, there’s choosing the bird itself: Is it organic and locally raised, or one of those hormone-injected, bodybuilder-like things? Do the cooks rub the skin with butter, olive oil, or nothing at all? How are those trussing skills? Do they roast long and slow or high and fast?”

On salad:

“When they make the salad, what is the choice of greens–tender, crunchy, or both? How do they wash, dry, and store the leaves? Is the vinaigrette made with lemon juice or vinegar?”

And the cake?

“Even a simple chocolate cake requires some baking acumen, not to mention imagination. A sponge cake is really just two foaming batters folded together as the flour and cocoa are gradually sprinkled in. Visualizing those delicate batters, you can see and know how to carefully mix them together without deflating one tiny bubble.”

And so it is that I have a system for gauging my own cooking: In what manner do I roast a chicken? Just what is my chicken-style? If I have a signature salad, I can say with conviction that whatever it is, nuts are involved. As for the cake, I made a killer Sacher torte over the holidays last year and if I needed to impress, I’d do that again.

There’s a special feeling one gets reading words like, “rub the skin with butter,” “tender, crunchy,” and “two foaming batters” while doing a load of whites. To be learning and drying, well, it’s worth a nice roasted chicken for dinner, at least.

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