Before the pandemic began, I had clothes that could be considered “outside” clothes.
Like so many of you, I tried to maintain some sense of normalcy amid the confusion and fear of those first few months. One of my strategies was to wear my outside clothes inside. I’d dress like like I was going to be seen in public, walk from the bedroom to my desk, perch on my chair and mostly meet deadlines. My desk was a tiny cafe table in the corner of the living room. Eric and I purchased it after we gave up the coworking space we had been renting downtown near the river. The table was barely big enough for my computer and keyboard but I made it work, wearing outside pants and an outside shirt. I even wore shoes for awhile.
But entropy always wins. As time passed, I stowed anything with buttons and zippers and embraced clothes that were soft and contained elastic at the waist and ankles.
That was two years ago. Today, I’m double-vaxxed and boosted. I mostly still wear my mask in public. (So weird that I sometimes forget.) Being outside is possible again. You can tell because today I’m wearing jeans with a button fly and my shirt doesn’t have a stain on the front. I put on my outside face almost every day.
It hasn’t been as fun as I thought it would be to get my outside clothes back into rotation, though, because most of my outside clothes have pockets. (None of my inside clothes have pockets.) As I hang things up, I check the pockets and it’s breaking my heart. It’s not just because the objects represent life pre-pandemic and that feels sad because the girl who last used these pockets had no idea what was on its way. That’s obviously part of it this time, but switching out warm-weather clothes for spring ones has always been painful for me. My pockets, myself: The objects people carry tell the story of their life (or at least part of a story.) It’s surprising how much you can learn about a person by going through them.
Here are the relics from my life in 2020:
lists (example: “H20, Wite-Out, Nutella, graham crackers, burrito stuff”)
used tissues (was I crying or did I just have a runny nose?)
plastic tabs for marking pages in books
awesome lipstick x 2
a wadded up five-dollar bill
a couple receipts
The lipsticks were dry but still useable. Plastic tabs will always be my #1 office supply item. I’m still on the same medication. The receipts were weird because a couple of them were from D.C. and I don’t go to D.C. anymore. I put the five-dollar bill in a drawer because I used cash in 2020 but hardly ever now. Lint is eternal.
The arrow of time only goes forward, but the arrow of time doesn’t have pockets. I’m not saying the arrow would ever turn around and go back if it had pockets, but it might slow down to catch its breath.
Talking to Nick today over bagel sandwiches, I recalled something frightening that happened to me when I was in high school.
Two things before I tell the story: The first is that while the ending of this story is eerie, our heroine (me) ultimately emerges unharmed. The other thing is that this is a story about a grown man preying on a young girl. So it’s not light reading and it might not be anything you want to read at all for a host of reasons that make sense, so please feel free to skip this one if you need to.
So I’m about 15 years old. Sophomore at Winterset High School. And because I’m a weird, creative, more-than-slightly-awkward teen, I was excited to get out of town whenever I could. This mostly meant going to Java Joe’s coffeehouse in Des Moines with a friend who could drive. My friends and I went to Java Joe’s because there were poetry slams and open mics and, because they didn’t serve booze (see: coffeehouse), me and my friends could hang out there.
I loved Java Joes. I loved going up to the mic. I loved writing poems in study hall knowing I’d be delivering them the following Wednesday — and yeah, I still remember that the open mic at Java Joes was on Wednesdays because it was church. The place was cool, so we felt cool, and my friends and I needed to feel that way. The lights were low, there were neon signs on the walls. The place smelled amazing, like fresh roasted beans and clove cigarettes … not that I would know about that part.
The frightening thing that happened didn’t happen at Java Joe’s, though. You’d think so, right? “Funky” coffeehouse. Adults. Open-mic poetry nights. No, Java Joe’s was great. What happened happened at a brightly lit, parents-everywhere Barnes & Noble bookstore — which also held an open-mic poetry night. (You just never know, is my point.)
My friends and I heard about the new monthly event and of course we added it to our social calendar. More space to practice poems, more chances to get out of town, etc. One night, I got up and read a poem and it turned out the Des Moines Register was there, and they put my picture in the paper in the Metro section. I was really on my way.
The second or third time I was at the event, a man came up to me during the break. He was in his 50’s, I’d say. Tall. Barrel-chested, I recall, or maybe he was overweight. I recall that he was not handsome, but then, I was 15, so I’m not sure what … There’s a lot I don’t remember. What I do remember is that the man said to me:
“Well, my goodness. You are incredibly talented. Mary, I have a publishing company. I’d like to talk to you about your poetry.”
I was speechless. I was over the moon. I don’t know what I said, but I’m sure his words had the intended effect: I was a 15-year-old girl who wanted to be a famous poet more than anything in the world. Why, my needs and goals and hopes and wishes must have been obvious to everyone — or at least to him.
I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly how it transpired, but I know that we set up a meeting to talk about making me a famous writer, essentially. I knew enough to not go with him anywhere; I knew enough not to meet him somewhere random, so we agreed to meet at that same Barnes & Noble. But that this meeting would take place at all without my mother involved …?
We met at the bookstore. Was it a week later? Was it after the open-mic the following month? I forget that, but I will never forget what he said to me when we were sitting at that cafe table.
“Mary,” he said, a strange twinkle in his eye, “what would you say if I told you I have a boat. And I’d like to take you sailing around the world. What would you say to that? We could leave tomorrow.”
I heard once that when we die, we go to a movie theater and we watch the movie of our life from start to finish. If that happens, I’ll be very curious to see how I reacted to that man when he said that to me. I’m pretty sure I was flustered in the extreme and said something like, “I’d have to ask … my mom.” But what could I do? This publisher? A boat? Sailing around the world? High school was lame most of the time … But … No, no. I knew there was something wrong with the twinkle in his eye and I didn’t feel right. I told him I had to go, but he got my phone number — and then he called a couple times. One day there was message on the answering machine.
“Mary?” my mother asked. “Who was that? A person from the bookstore?”
I was terrified. My sisters and I could tell Mom anything. I hadn’t done anything wrong. Why was I terrified?
“I don’t know him,” I said. “You can erase it.”
The story ends in an eerie way — so eerie that even now, knowing what happened, having lived through it, I can only shiver and shake my head.
The fall play was about to open. (And close; school plays only ran one weekend.) I had mentioned to the man that I was in the play; I probably told the newspaper, too. The point is: He knew about me being in The Miracle Worker that weekend.
On Saturday night, the last night of the play, I was rehearsing my lines in the band rehearsal room located off the brand-new auditorium — the new auditorium, which featured new seats, new curtains, brand new light and sound boards. There was a monstrous rainstorm predicted that night; the thunderheads were closing in on Winterset by the hour; there was a green cast to the sky, the kind of heavy, still green that comes when Iowa thunderstorms are about to get real.
I looked out the window at the sky and then my eyes moved to the parking lot.
The man. He was there. He was getting out of his car and coming toward the high school. He had driven to Winterset from Des Moines, he had come to the play. He was going to be in the audience, watching me, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. My heart rose in my throat. No, I thought, no this isn’t —
And then, with a clap of thunder so loud I jumped a foot, the rain came. I ducked down under the window and listened to the thunder. The lightening flashed, the wind blew.
And the power went out.
There was a blackout. The storm took out the new, defective light and sound boards in the brand-new auditorium, and the play was cancelled. The fall play was never cancelled. That night, it was. My castmates, eager to do the big final show, were inconsolable, but they found strength in me, who was gushing with consolations. It’s going to be fine, I chirped; how could we have had a better show than last night?? Better to go out on a high note, guys! They cried and thanked me for being so optimistic; the rain lashed at the windows and I stole glances when I could, praying I’d see the man running with his umbrella back to his car. I never did.
I don’t remember if he called again. But I didn’t go back to the open-mic at Barnes & Noble. And I never saw or spoke to him again. I told my mom this story at one point, years later. No, he didn’t put his hands on me. But he put his brain on mine, and it stayed there.
London Bridge is falling down, Falling down, falling down. London Bridge is falling down, My fair lady.
London Bridge is broken down, Broken down, broken down. London Bridge is broken down, My fair lady.
Build it up with wood and clay, Wood and clay, wood and clay, Build it up with wood and clay, My fair lady.
Wood and clay will wash away, Wash away, wash away, Wood and clay will wash away, My fair lady.
Build it up with bricks and mortar, Bricks and mortar, bricks and mortar, Build it up with bricks and mortar, My fair lady.
Bricks and mortar will not stay, Will not stay, will not stay, Bricks and mortar will not stay, My fair lady.
Build it up with iron and steel, Iron and steel, iron and steel, Build it up with iron and steel, My fair lady.
Iron and steel will bend and bow, Bend and bow, bend and bow, Iron and steel will bend and bow, My fair lady.
Build it up with silver and gold, Silver and gold, silver and gold, Build it up with silver and gold, My fair lady.
Silver and gold will be stolen away, Stolen away, stolen away, Silver and gold will be stolen away, My fair lady.
Set a man to watch all night, Watch all night, watch all night, Set a man to watch all night, My fair lady.
Suppose the man should fall asleep, Fall asleep, fall asleep, Suppose the man should fall asleep? My fair lady.
Give him a pipe to smoke all night, Smoke all night, smoke all night, Give him a pipe to smoke all night, My fair lady.
Postscript: It seems some people are not understanding the somber tone with which I post these lyrics. I didn’t want to explain it because I thought the message would come across and the doleful image would set the tone for it. I was wrong, it appears, in some cases. The very notion that I would make fun or post a trivial song in light of the London tragedy is absurd and offensive.
I’m trying to stay calm, here.
These full lyrics to London Bridge to me, echo the despair I’m feeling over the spate of terrorist attacks in the world of late. “London Bridge is falling down,” “Build it up, tear it down,” “Suppose the man should fall asleep?” and the other lyrics in the song echo the hopelessness I feel, the futility of fighting people who will end their lives in order to end others. I am furious. I am furious and inconsolable.
I can accept if the sentiment didn’t read. Writing is hard. But I would hope my readers know me better than to post a nursery rhyme when people have died. Have you ever bristled at being so misunderstood? I hope you never are. That is all.
The new coat of paint that the ol’ PG got a number of weeks ago (thanks, Sally!!) didn’t just make ‘er prettier; it also fixed several things.
You can comment on a post now, for example.
Comments never worked on the old platform. I don’t know why because that’s above my pay grade. (Pay grade = zero grades.) I would’ve liked to see reader comments on the posts themselves but bad things happen when Pendennis tries to change “widgets” on blog “dashboards.” (More on this below.) So my Facebook page was the place where beguiling, effervescent, almost wickedly attractive PaperGirl readers would leave comments. But as many of you have discovered, you can leave comments on posts now and I hope you will.
While we’re on the subject: PaperGirl readers are funny, insightful, compassionate, and have excellent grammar. I know this because of the comments, wherever they may be. I see few typos; I see critical thinking. I see thoughtful sentences. I am often moved to LOL.
I don’t comment back too much, however, because I simply can’t. I can’t! Writing this blog takes many hours a week; to reply to more than a meager few means to reply to everyone and that means adding many more hours to producing the blog. Right now, I can’t afford to do it. If there’s someone out there with buckets o’ money who wants to underwrite the ol’ PG, this will change immediately. You know where to find me.
The other fix that has been done has to do with the broken RSS/subscription button that had been giving me fits for awhile. Please re-subscribe if you haven’t been getting your email when I post a new post! I love you. I’m sorry.
The button was broken a month or so ago when Pendennis tried to be cute and re-write the “Mary Fons: New Post” subject line. He broke it, not me. I would totally know how to not do that. Totally.
So, friend, subscribe and comment and underwrite. Or two out of three.
The tensions in my city are palpable. And that’s just Chicago.
There is upheaval and seismic news every day, everywhere. How much the news affects you personally determines how you feel about it. Well, all the news feels personal lately. The racial turmoil. The presidential election. ISIS. Mass shootings. Brexit. My head spins every day, right along with yours. But you don’t know how I feel about any of this stuff because I don’t talk about it here.
You don’t know if I support Trump or Hillary or someone else. You don’t know if I’m marching in the huge protests that are taking place every day here. You don’t know how I feel about the European Union and yes, I do have feelings about it. I didn’t blog about Treyvon Martin or the shootings in Dallas this week. I didn’t blog about Pulse, nor about San Bernadino last year.
Something will happen and I will think, “Today’s the day. I have to say something about [INSERT POLITICAL FIRESTORM HERE.] Surely now, surely after this, I have to say XYZ.” But every single time, I stop myself. Why?
Because you don’t come to me for politics and you shouldn’t. I’m not a political writer. I’m just a blogger you like. I’m a quilter, too. I’m not a person with the background/credentials/experience to speak intelligently about politics. “Well, a lot of people speak about such things without background/credentials, etc., Mary! It’s never stopped them!” You are correct. Unqualified people going off in an un-moderated public forum about things they feel strongly about and have little context or facts for is free speech and yay for free speech, but it doesn’t mean it’s helpful. It’s certainly not a reason to go for it myself.
I will not use this public platform to add another emotional screed, manifesto, rant, or praise song to the din. I won’t publish anger, fear, sycophancy, or an impassioned call to arms.There are enough of those on either side of everything already. It’s not my role. When I try to be something I’m not, the failure is total. I’m not qualified to write intelligent, informed political commentary so I won’t write it – not here, anyway. I have seen the damage done when people (including me) get irresponsible with a public platform for their opinions. I see the absolute, utter futility of those Facebook rants back and forth – I want no part of it. I recuse myself. The stakes are just too high.
My political leanings and opinions determine how I act in the world and how I vote. I am proud to be a U.S. citizen and I will conduct myself as such. But you’re not going to hear the details here. At the very least: this stuff is private. Or could be. That is still an option, you know.
I hear some of you wondering, “Just when, Miss-Recuse-Yourself-Pants will it be bad enough for you to say something, to stick your neck out?” This is a valid criticism. Some might even be angry that I won’t “go there” with so much happening. There may come a time when staying silent is more damaging than sharing with you how I feel about an issue. But I have started to “go there” about 90 times over the course of writing PaperGirl – 80 of those times in the past couple weeks – and every time, I stopped. So far, it just hasn’t been the right thing to do for me.
I’m sitting here at the hospital getting another iron infusion and trying not to kink the line while I type. The girls tried several times to get the IV in and that always makes me upset because I’ve been a human pincushion many times in my life. One night in this very hospital a couple floors up, nurses tried on and off for six hours to get an IV into me; they even tried my legs and ankles. The search was fruitless and the doctor eventually ordered a PICC line. (I’ll let you look that up.)
I hadn’t cried about Prince’s death till they stuck me the third time. I’ve been dazed about it since Claus called over to my desk this morning, “Mary? Prince has died.” This time, his German accent didn’t make anything better. My brow has been furrowed all day, but I hadn’t actually cried till about 30 minutes ago. The man had at least twenty more years of music-making ahead of him. This shouldn’t have happened.
When grieving, it’s good to be with folks; in this regard, I am grateful for my appointment. As I walked up to the reception desk, the lady was talking to a woman in the waiting area.
“Honey, I can’t believe it. I just can’t.” She shook her head then looked up at me. “What’s your name, sweetie?”
“Mary Fons. I’m not a candlelight vigil sort of person, but right now, I swear…” The receptionist gave me my number and said she felt exactly the same way. The conversation already in progress picked up again, now with me in it. Though its circumstances are by definition lousy, grief-induced familiarity amongst strangers is a beautiful thing.
The woman waiting with her mother (asleep) turned to me and said, “I’m as sad about this as I was about Michael.”
“Me, too,” I said. “Was it really a flu?”
“Oh,” the woman said and put up her hand like, ‘wait till you hear this.’ She said, “You gotta ask her about that,” and nodded to the receptionist.
I went back over to the desk and asked Rhonda what she had heard. She told me Prince was a Scientologist and that he was HIV positive. Scientologists, she said, don’t believe in medicine. She heard me he stopped taking his medication because the church told him not to.
My brain broke. My heart further broke. I covered my mouth with my hand and then almost bit through it. If this was true, if a “religious” organization told a sick man not to take his medicine, there’s a guru in Hollywood tonight who will breathe his last charlatan breath. (To be nice, when I take my hands off his neck, I’ll tell the rest of the group I’m sure he’ll be back soon.) The good news is that I don’t think I have to fly to L.A. tonight; there’s basically nothing online about Prince being connected to the Church of Scientology and certainly no information about them being blamed for his death. You know those people believe there are aliens living inside of us, right? (I’ll let you look it up.)
I remember seeing video of Prince playing an outdoor concert; maybe Wembley Stadium, sometime in the 1990s. He was playing “Purple Rain” and I realized I was watching a person do precisely what he was supposed to be doing with his life. It’s rare to see someone fulfilling their purpose so exactly, so absolutely dead-on their destiny, I felt like I was watching a wild animal. He was so natural there with his guitar, in the breeze, alone under lights, I recalled a fox in a wood or a mountain lion on a rock. He was that free, that easy, if you will. I’ve thought of it many times since then as I’ve thought about my own purpose, and what my own natural habitat is on Earth.
Prince, you were great. Thanks for the hologram on Diamonds & Pearls and all those notes.
As usual, doing something important fast had consequences. Two Facebook fans, one born in Detroit and one who now lives in the suburbs, commented that Detroit has many good things going for it and should not be considered a lost cause. They are absolutely right: there are many positive things to say about Detroit and the people there are clearly not all addicted to drugs, indigent, or looking to break into your car. I apologize to the ladies and indeed, mean no offense by my commentary. It is fair to note, however, that the lady born there did not stay and the lady in the suburbs does not live in the city.
Before I begin this rather in-depth post, keep in mind that I am not an investigative reporter; I have no press credentials. I am but a naturally curious person who went to Detroit and has a blog. If you want source material for the stats I give and a list of the numerous articles I’ve been reading about Detroit — those showing reasons/data for growth and those denying any such thing — email me and I’ll share that immediately. Also, there’s no way in a PaperGirl post to cover the vast Detroit Thing. Don’t read this like it’s the news and don’t stop here if you have any interest in the topic. There’s a whole lot more, good and less good, about Detroit, MI.
Okay. The Census Bureau counted 1.84 million people in Detroit in 1950. In 2010, there were under 714,000.That’s a 60% decline in 60 years. Estimates from the Bureau put population at 700,000, so it’s still dropping. Big changes in the design of the US auto industry began all this, though it’s more complicated than that. But Detroit was Motor City, making basically All The Cars for a long time. Making All The Cars made Detroit the fourth largest city in the country during that 1950-ish period. (BTW: Motown music was born in Detroit; “Mo” = motor, “Town” = Detroit.) As the 60s and 70s came along, you had gas crises, racial unrest, foreign auto makers getting toeholds in the market, and labor getting shifted overseas to improve the bottom line.
Then the recession happened in the 80s. But according to the police officer I met and talked to for a good while, it was in the 90s things went from bad to nightmarish for the city he was born and raised in. Casinos were allowed to be built and helped only the corrupt officials who let them in; more addiction and poverty followed the casino construction. Perhaps sadder still is that school district segregation had a huge part to play in the KO punch of the 90s: neighborhoods were redlined, people moved out for better school districts. This was a racially- and socioeconomically-driven tide. The more people who left, the fewer companies wanted to invest in the city. The fewer investors, the fewer jobs, etc., etc. On the heels of the 90s, you get the 2000s: Iraq, financial crisis, etc. Oh, Detroit. Oh, honey.
By 2013, the city had to file for bankruptcy, a move that marked the largest municipal bankruptcy case in our nation’s history. Detroit was $18 billion in debt. Crooked officials, a problem almost too big to solve, and a lack of people to take a whack at it created that debt. Now, because the bankruptcy happened, Detroit actually is in better shape than it was: bankruptcy is designed to help a person — or an entire city — get right. It’s way better to pay your debts, though.
I’ve read for a couple years now that Detroit is growing and it’s getting “really cool,” which for a lifestyle magazine means that white hipsters are moving there. A one-page feature in, say, Chicago Magazine, picturing a guy with a mustache who has a food truck in Detroit is enough to make a lot of folks relax and think Superman saved the day. Superman does not run a food truck, though. This hype about Detroit becoming the next Brooklyn isn’t the case just yet. Detroit deliverance, from what I am understanding and from what I saw myself, is going to take years of deep thinking, actual doing, and leadership from people who are not stealing from the mouths of hungry Detroit-born babies.
Because when you have a small number of people living in a big city, you don’t have enough people paying taxes to cover the costs of living in a big city. Snow plowing, trash removal, street lights, public transit, etc.: these things require tax money. But if no one lives there to pay those taxes and no one who does live there can afford to pay those taxes, snow stays. Trash stays a long time. Lights literally go out. And no one wants to move into that city because the property taxes are insanely high. Huh? Yes, because the city is desperate for money. So the services are terrible and they cost a fortune.
There are gorgeous houses in downtown Detroit and just outside of it. I looked at many of them and part of my brain was freaking out, considering the possibilities. I could get a Victorian mansion for 50k or so. But most of the houses in these areas are in ruins. My ideal fixer-upper has been sitting empty since 2008. Animals live there. And pretend for a minute that I don’t work from home: if I moved to Detroit, into a “wait for it” Barbie dream house, where would I work? There are jobs in Detroit but many are in the suburbs, so I’d need a car. Not a big deal, except that car theft is so high in Detroit auto insurance premiums are the highest in the nation, hitting as high as $5000 a year.
There are 70,000 abandoned buildings in Detroit and 66,000 vacant lots. Forty-percent or more of the city’s residents live below the poverty line. In 2013, the violent crime rate in Detroit was the highest in the nation and five times higher than the national average. Roughly 40% of the street lights don’t work. These statistics go on and on. So I can’t move to Detroit right now. Not as a single woman. Not as a commuter who has to fly and out of my home city several times a month. Not as an Extreme Home Makeover story, not yet.
Look, I don’t wrap this up, I’ll be up all night and you’ll decide to read the rest of this later and likely forget to because it’s depressing to read about something once lively and energetic going on life support. As my Facebook friends pointed out, this is not the whole story of Detroit and it would take a post twice as long as this and twice as long again to detail one iota of the rich history and pride Detroitians (?) have and should have in their town.
I won’t end with some bromide about how I know Detroit will rise from the ashes, or that I hope it will. Everyone hopes that. I don’t have any conclusions or predictions. I saw Detroit and Detroit messed with me. That’s all I can say, except this one other thing: we actually witnessed a man actually breaking into a house. Two minutes after that, we saw a house gutted by fire. Two minutes after that, I saw a prostitute walk toward a man in a car at a gas station. It was all too much. The decay was killing me. I began to cry.
“Don’t cry,” said my friend. He had been most silent most of the drive, too. “It’s also beautiful,” he said. I was shocked. How could he say such a thing? “It’s hard to see, I know. It’s hard to look at all this and see how death has beauty, but you have to try. It’s part of life. Death is part of life.”
To the number of friends I need to return calls and texts from: forgive me. Feeling poorly then mustering the will to still get out and do things with my friend before he leaves has me stretched a thin. I will repay you in cups of coffee shared in an air-conditioned cafe. It is so blinkin’ hot and humid here everyone is constantly wet and warm to the touch. It’s sexy, really.
Yesterday, I spent time at the National Museum of the American Indian. Between that visit and the visit a few days ago to the Museum of American History, my patriotism looks like it’s been taken into a back alley and been given a lesson with a baseball bat.
Here’s a definition for you:
patriot (n.) A person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors
I’m on board with the “prepared to defend it against enemies” part. If Country X tried to invade my hometown of Winterset, IA., I’m on the next plane to Des Moines and I’ll be taking that baseball bat with me, thank you very much. I could not understand how someone would choose not to defend their home against someone who wanted to take it. There’s pacifism and there’s pacifism.
But Dictionary, you usually solve all my problems and this time you have not. This is not helpful, Dictionary: “a person who vigorously supports their country.” Dictionary, either you’re being vague or the word “patriot” (and “patriotism”) is problematic. I think it’s the latter, Dictionary, but don’t go anywhere, yet.
I support democracy as a concept. I support the idea of state’s rights and federal rights. I vigorously support freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble, definitely a free press, etc. But to “support [my] country” is impossible. Straight up, no chaser, support my country? No way. That would imply blind faith. It would imply the end of inquiry. It would imply I’m not reading the news. It would imply that everything I saw yesterday at the American Indian Museum about white settlers’ merciless cruelty toward and ungodly ruin of the people living peacefully in what is now Winterset, IA (for example) was justified and played out just the way it should’ve played out. I don’t support that. I reject that and need to excuse myself to go vomit. Am I still a patriot?
Perhaps being a patriot means questioning all of this, being an active participant in the discussion of one’s national culture or national identify. But that’s not what you said it means, Dictionary, and in a few days I’ll be at Monitcello and there are slave’s quarters there, so.
Yesterday was delightful. Our sunlit space was a workshop slam dunk. You students were friendly and talented. Lunch was excellent, dinner was excellenter, and though my voice left me, the language of quilts carried the day.
As promised, a few images from the lecture. Many thanks again for a lovely day with every last one of you. Quilters are the best sort of people.
Mary “Whispering Mouse” Fons
p.s. Don’t forget: compassion for the beginner quilter always!
I’ve stepped to a few mics in my day. I suspect I’ll step to a few more. I consider myself a writer and performer working in the quilt industry. Today, I write plenty, but most of it is within the sphere of the American quilt industry. And I perform in the same industry, as well; being in front of the camera is performing, even as you try hard to just be natural.
But in Mary B.Q. (“Before Quilts”) I wrote scripts for media companies, education companies, syndicated content. I wrote marketing plans and white board papers. Those were less fun than the tons of book content I wrote for a publishing company that makes books on things like dog facts, the United States, and The Top Ten Haunted Houses in America. It was a decent gig; I learned an astonishing number of random facts that slipped into the slurry of factoids sloshing around in my head, likely never to be retrieved again. What do bloodhounds and poodles have in common? Ask someone else because I have no idea.
The performance part of my life before quilting took over involved slam poetry in the beginning and evolved into performance art eventually, mostly with the Neo-Futurists here in Chicago. The Neo-Futurists are an ensemble of rare creative types who are slightly weird and head-slappingly talented; if you know Chicago, you know of the Neos. I was extremely fortunate to win a place in the ensemble and perform and tour with the Neos for nearly six years. (I’ll tell you more about the Neos someday.) I have been grateful to be invited to share work at many “live lit” events in Chicago and that still happens with fair frequency. So yeah, I’m a performer.
Clearly, I’m still writing — and the ol’ PG is outside of the quilt world, even with a post here and there regarding quilt-related work. I write all the time on my own, too. But I don’t get to step to an actual microphone as often as I’d like. There’s nothing like a mic stand, a mic, and a sound system. So simple. Elegant. Just a stick and a prayer, you know? Sound waves and things. I love standing behind a mic and sometimes, when I’m giving a lecture at an actual lectern, with a podium that separates me from the audience with that big block of wood, I miss the other part of me that doesn’t need (or want) to have any barriers up there.
Maybe I should just buy one and keep it in my house.
I pass by the Joel Oppenheimer Gallery on Michigan Avenue at least a few times a week when I’m home. It’s on the ground floor of the Wrigley Building, and for several years I didn’t go in because it appeared painfully fancy from the outside. The Wrigley Building, referred to as “the jewel of the Mile,” is a two-winged castle, Chicago’s Big Ben, a tribute to human potential and intelligence, it is among our finest hours as a city. A gallery worthy of space on the first floor of a building like this can’t help but be intimidating, but then I reminded myself one afternoon that the whole Wrigley empire was built on chewing gum. That day, I went in.
The Joel Oppenheimer Gallery, which is staffed by a small number of terrifically friendly people (including the handsome Sarah and Mr. Oppenheimer himself, who on the day I met him was wearing a snappy bow-tie I’ll wager is part of his daily ensemble), specializes in John James Audubon prints. Did you have Audubon’s Birds of America in your house as a kid? We did. Kids are nuts about animals and drawings and drawings of animals and I remember poring over the illustrations in that huge book for hours, freaked out by what I considered ugly birds (vultures, and I was right) and delighting in the sweet ones (lo, the tufted titmouse!) All creatures great and small may be wise and wonderful but some are more wonderful than others:
I had my eye on a print in the window for so long and when greeted by the kindly Sarah on the day of a big sale at the gallery, I pulled the trigger. I love my art and I now love the gallery. On their website they say, “Inquiries are received with pleasure.” With pleasure! Note: Sarah’s desk is a bit foreboding when you walk in, all lacquered and finely turned, but her ever-present, generous wine glass of orange juice atop it quells nerves.
There’s one other piece I’m after. Something about life in the last few years has made me more open to a certain strain of ugliness. The jolie-laide is cool with me, surely because I’m more of a realist than I ever was and there is comfort in looking at things the way they are and the way they are is not always soft n’ glossy. While I don’t plan to inquire to Joel or Sarah’s pleasure about any vulture renderings, I have been obsessing slightly about that guy up top. The warthog.
He’s huge. Several feet across and so tall. Where would I put him? The bathroom? Would I get ready faster in the morning? He couldn’t go into my bedroom; I’d scare my guests. Perhaps the hall, but he needs room to breathe. If the price is even within the galaxy of possibility for my budget (doubtful) I’d get him and figure it out later. Maybe he could go in the kitchen. He looks pretty hungry.
I like him because he’s ugly. I like him because he’s so ugly, he magnificent. He didn’t choose not to be a titmouse. He’s just a lil’ peccary, squalling and stomping, feral and powerful enough to go into any building, faster than me.
I am not new to blogging. From 2006 – 2011 and a little into 2012, I posted to my blog nearly every day. The long-term experiment was called “PaperGirl” and she was among my best of friends. Wanna see what roughly six years of blogging looks like on paper? It looks like that picture up there. As I begin this iteration of my blog, I have this probably unfounded and rather obsessive need to let everyone know that I’m not new to this, that this is like drinking water, that I’m not going to drop of the face of the planet, that you can trust me.
The reasons I stopped PaperGirl (unofficially but clearly, once it had been 6 months since my last post) was simple: life got complicated. My marriage failed. I got slightly famous in a small corner of the world and wasn’t so sure how to navigate the personal and private at first. I became the editor of a magazine, i.e., work heated up. There were reasons to stop blogging and they were all excellent. It was a matter of appropriateness and responsibility, of priorities and timing. I actually prioritize nothing over self-expression, so that didn’t go away: it just went offline. My volumes of journals will bear this out, but you won’t see those. Sorry — aside from being handwritten and hard to read, I think I have a moral turpitude clause in my contract.
It feels so good to be home. I mean, back. I mean home. I mean home.