One More From Ben: ‘Confessions’

posted in: Art, Chicago, Word Nerd | 8
Sleep, city. Looking north from the Adams and Wabash el station. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

Remember last week, when I told you about 1001 Afternoons in Chicago?

I’m still reading it, meting out the remaining entries in Ben Hecht’s book so that the miracle will last as long as possible.

Last week, I shared an excerpt, and for tonight’s Sunday Evening Post, I’m going to share a full entry from the book. The piece is called Confessions. It’s one of the best things I have ever read, I think. The humanity, the specificity, the simplicity — it’s remarkable, at least to me. So I typed up the piece, just for you. I like to type up or write out longhand passages of writing written by far better writers than myself. Like a painting student copies a masterwork in order to learn how to paint, copying down other people’s writing is one small thing I do as a writer. It’s an interesting exercise because guess what? Great writers also have to actually write the word “the” in lots of places. They also have to decide, finally, how a piece should end. And begin. We’re all faced with the blank page. We’re all using the same words. We’re all human — right, Ben?

Maybe you think sharing another Hecht excerpt this week is a bit lazy. “This again?!” some of you might say, though I don’t think any of you will say that because you’re not the type. The thing is, it’s been a good but super intense weekend, I’m deep in preparation for QuiltCon (!), and I’m not feeling well. And so, I can either rest on the shoulders of giants and make us all happy, or paste together something mediocre for you and make us all sad. Not a tough call, really. I’m pretty sure I’ll post again this week; my sea legs are feeling stronger.

 

Confessions, by Ben Hecht, from 1001 Afternoons in Chicago, 1921.

The rain mutters in the night and the pavements like dark mirrors are alive with impressionistic cartoons of the city. The little, silent street with its darkened store windows and rain-veiled arc lamps is as lonely as a far-away train whistle.

Over the darkened stores are stone and wooden flat buildings. Here, too, the lights have gone out. People sleep. The rain falls. The gleaming pavements amuse themselves with reflections.

I have an hour to wait. From the musty smelling hallway where I stand the scene is like an old print — an old London print — that I have always meant to buy and put in a frame but have never found.

Writing about people when one is alone under an electric lamp, and thinking about people when one stands watching the rain in the dark streets, are two different diversions. When one writes under an electric lamp one pompously marshals ideas; one remembers the things people say and do and believe in, and slowly these things replace people in one’s mind. One thinks (in the calm of one’s study): “So-and-so is a Puritan … he is viciously afraid of anything which will disturb the idealized version of himself in which he believes — and wants other people to believe … “ Yes,m one thinks So-and-so is this and So-and-so is that. And it all seems very simple. People focus into clearly outlined ideas — definitions. And one can sit back and belabor them, hamstring them, pull their noses, expose their absurdities and derive a deal of satisfaction from the process. Iconoclasm is easy and warming under an electric light in one’s study.

But in the rain at night, in the dark street staring at darkened windows, watching the curious reflections in the pavements — it is different in the rain. The night mutters and whispers.

“People,” one thinks, “tired, silent people sleeping in the dark.”

Ideas do not come so easily or so clearly. The ennobling angers which are the emotion of superiority in the iconoclast do not rise so spontaneously. And one does not say “People are this and people are that … “ No, one pauses and stares at the dark chatter of the rain and a curious silence saddens one’s mind.

Life is apart from ideas. And the things that people say and believe in and for which they die and in behalf of which they invent laws and codes — these have nothing to do with the insides of people. Puritan, hypocrite, criminal, dolt — these are paper-thin masks. It is diverting to rip them in the calm of one’s study.

Life that warms the trees into green in the summer, that sends birds circling through the air, that spreads a tender, passionate glow over even the most barren wastes — people are but one of its almost too many children. The dark, the rain, the lights, people asleep in bed, the wind, the snow that will fall tomorrow, the ice, flowers, sunlight, country roads, pavements and stars — all these are the same. Through all of them life sends its intimate and sacred breath.

One becomes aware of such curious facts in the rain at night and one’s iconoclasm, like a broken umbrella, hangs useless from one’s hand. Tomorrow these people who are now asleep will be stirring, giving vent to outrageous ideas, championing incredulous banalitiies, prostrating themselves before imbecile superstitions. Tomorrow they will rise and begin forthwith to lie, quibble, cheat, steal, four flush and kill, each and all inspired by the solacing monomania that every one of their words and gestures is a credible variant of perfection. Yes, tomorrow they will be as they were yesterday.

But in this rain at night they rest from their perfections, they lay aside for a few hours they rest from their perfections, they lay aside for a few hours their paper masks. And one can contemplate them with a curious absence of indignation or criticism. There is something warm and intimate about the vision of many people sleeping in the beds above the darkened store fronts of this little street. Their bodies have been in the world so long — almost as long as the stones out of which their houses are made. So many things have happened to them, so many debacles and monsters and horrors have swept them off their feet … and always they have kept on — persisting through floods, volcanic eruptions, plagues and wars.

Heroic and incredible people. Endlessly belaboring themselves with ideas, gods, taboos, and philosophies. Yet here they are, still in this silent little street. The world has grown old. Trees have decayed and races died out. But here above the darkened store fronts lies the perpetual miracle … People in whom life streams as naive and intimate as ever.

Yes, it is to life and not people one makes one’s obeisance. Toward life no iconoclasm is possible, for even that which is in opposition to its beauty and horror must of necessity be a part of them.

It rains. The arc lamps gleam through the monotonous downporu. One can only stand and dream … how charming people are since they are alive … how caring the rain is and the night … And how foolish arguments are … how ban al are these cerebral monsters who pose as iconoclasts and devote themselves grandiloquently and inanely to disturbing the paper masks …

I walk away from the must smelling hallway. A dog steps tranquilly out of the shadows nearby. He surveys the street and the rain with a proprietary calm.

It would be amusing to walk in the rain with a strange dong. I whistle softly and reassuringly to him. He pauses and turns his head toward  me, surveying me with an air of vague discomfort. What do I want with him? … he thinks … who am I? … have I any authority? … what will happen to him if he doesn’t obey the whistle?

Thus he stands hesitating. Perhaps, too, I will give him shelter, a kindness never to be despised. A moment ago, before I whistled, this dog was tranquil and happy in the rain. Now he has changed. He turns fully around and approaches me, a slight cringe in his walk. The tranquility has left him. At the sound of my whistle he has grown suddenly tired and lonely and the night and rain no longer lure him. He has found another companionship.

And so together we walk for a distance, this dog and I, wondering about each other …

Stay: Ben Hecht, Chicago, Me, and You

posted in: Art, Chicago, Paean, Word Nerd | 23
Ben Hecht’s book, opened to the first full-bleed spread, with illos by Herman Rosse. This alone is reason own “1001”, but it gets better from here. Image from the Newberry Library here in town. Don’t be mad, I’m promoting books!

 

Today, a book interfered with all the work I was supposed to do. I’ll have to get up very early in the morning to catch up, but I don’t care. There was nothing I could do. Today, there could be nothing in the world — thank God — but this book, the delicate snowfall, and the pub where I sat, in the window, reading for two hours. The barstool I selected was inside Miller’s Pub, est. 1935, a Chicago institution, shielded and admired by the el at Wabash and Madison.

The book, A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago, started as a column in the Chicago Daily News 1920s. The author, Ben Hecht, is a name some of you might recognize, but if you do, I’ll bet it’s because Hecht achieved screenwriting stardom in Hollywood in the 1940s, writing or doctoring scripts a whole bunch of classic films. But before he decamped for Hollywood, Hecht was a dyed-in-the-wool Chicago newspaperman. He started writing for the dailies here when he was just 15, and he was good at what he did. What he did was write well about stuff that happened in the city he dearly loved.

Some years before the column began, Hecht left the News to work in publicity. He wanted to make more money and get away from the grind of reporting round the clock, so he went for it. He hated the publicity business, though, and was quickly miserable. His editor wanted him back and had an idea of how to get Hecht and keep him interested. He asked Hecht if he’d like to write a different sort of column for the News, one that explored the people of the city, but this time with a decidedly narrative tone. Hecht could interview people as he usually would, but then, rather than file a Q&A or a “This happened and this happened” piece of reportage, he’d have license to make the vignettes almost … poetic.

For years. In the preface to the 1922 book containing dozens of these “afternoon” characters — this is the book I couldn’t put down this afternoon — I learned that Hecht loved writing this new column so much, he’d do it when he was sick, tired, traveling, depressed, etc. He called the column “A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago” (a Scherezade riff, obviously) and he filed a column every day.

The humanity in these pieces is almost agonizing. Page after page of poignant, funny, achingly true portraits await you as the author tells Chicago through its people: prostitutes, auctioneers, homeless people, businessmen, shop girls, tattoo artists — this is all in the early 1920s, remember, but every single word is as true today as it ever was. People lose jobs and lose their families, they hope and dream, they forgive — sometimes they die, too. I was crying at the bar, trying to hide my face from the nice couple sitting to my left who were in Chicago for a nice weekend. I’m glad they didn’t ask me what I was reading; I would’ve rhapsodised and scared them away.

The book is funny and beautiful and I want to share an excerpt with you.

If you know me, you know I love Michigan Avenue. I walk up that grand boulevard and walk it all the way back down as much as I can and much more lately, since some days I just don’t know what to do with myself. On those days or any day besides, Michigan Avenue, from 9th Street to Delaware is my spinal column and it keeps me upright. So, imagine my rapture when I turned the page of Afternoons to find Hecht vignette about my street that was so right, so brilliant, so true, big, fat tears plopped onto the page as I read. There is no comfort like the comfort that comes when you see that you are known by someone who knew you before you were born.

Here is an excerpt from the “Michigan Avenue” piece from A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago, by Ben Hecht, 1921.

I have squandered an afternoon seduced from labors by this Pied Piper of a street. And not only I but everybody I ever knew or heard of was in this street, strutting up and down as if there were no vital projects demanding their attention, as if life were not a stern and productive routine.

[There] was no sign, no billboard to inspire me with a sense of duty. So we strutted—the long procession of us—a masquerade of leisure and complacency. Here was a street in which a shave and a haircut, a shine and a clean collar exhilarated a man with a feeling of power and virtue. As if there were nothing else to the day than to decorate himself for the amusement of others.

I begin to notice something. An expression in our faces as we drift by the fastidious ballyhoos of the shop windows. We are waiting for something—actors walking up and down in the wings waiting for the their cues to go on. This is intelligible. This magician of a street has created the illusion in our heads that there are adventure and romance around us.

There are two lives that people lead. One is the real life of business, mating, plans, bankruptcies and gas bills. The other is an unreal life—a life of secret grandeurs which compensate for the monotony of the days. Sitting at our desks, hanging on to straps in the street cars, waiting for the dentist, eating in silence in our homes—we give ourselves to these secret grandeurs. Day-dreams in which we figure as heroes and Napoleons and Don Juans, in which we triumph sensationally our the stupidities and arrogances of our enemies—we think them out detail by detail. Sometimes we like to be alone because we have a particularly thrilling incident to tell ourselves, and when our friends say good-by we sigh with relief and wrap ourselves with a shiver of delight in the mantles of imagination. And we live a charming hour through a fascinating fiction in which things are as they should be and we startle the world with our superiorities.

This street, I begin to understand, is consecrated to the unrealities so precious to us. We come here and for a little while allow our dreams to peer timorously at life. In the streets west of here we are what we are—browbeaten, weary-eyed, terribly optimistic units of the boobilariat. Our secret characterizations we hide desperately from the frowns of window and the squeal of “L” trains.

But here in this Circe of streets the sun warms us, the sky and the spaces of shining air lure us and we step furtively out of ourselves. And give us ten minutes. Observe—a street of heroes and heroines …

The high buildings waver like gray and golden ferns in the sun. The sky stretches itself in a holiday awning over our heads. A breeze coming  from the lake brings an odorous spice into our noses. Adventure and romance! Yes—and observe how unnecessary are plots. Here in the Circe of streets are all the plots. All the great triumphs, assassinations, amorous conquests of history unravel themselves within a distance of five blocks. The great moments of the world live themselves over again in a silent make-believe.

The afternoon wanes. Our procession turns toward home. For a few minutes the elation of our make-believe in the Avenue lingers. But the “L” trains crowd up, the street cars crowed up. It is difficult to remain a Caesar or a Don Quixote. So we withdraw and our faces become alike as turtle backs.

Mary Fons : The Rolling Stone Interview Pt. 1

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fine.
Fine.

Are you repeating me?
Are you repeating me?

Stop that.
Stop that!

Okay.
Okay.

The PaperGirl Advice Column (and Summer Reading List)

posted in: Art, Day In The Life, Word Nerd | 27
Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer, better known as Ann Landers, in 1961. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

 

I have decided that this blog should become an advice column — but not the normal kind where people write to the columnist for advice.

No, this blog ought to be an advice column where I bring you my problems and quandaries and you give me advice! It already happens so often! Anytime I ask for it, I get great advice!

Whether I’m wondering about how to feel about public breastfeeding or the matter of having an emotional support animal or what book to start with on my summer reading list, the advice and counsel I get from PaperGirl readers is way more interesting and helpful than what I might dole out to you sitting here on my tuffet.*

Honestly, don’t you think that’s a fun idea? An “advice column” where the columnist is the one asking for the advice? Hilarious!

Thanks to all of you, my summer reading list is set. I didn’t tabulate exact votes, but it was pretty clear how things shook out. I am going to read my five novels in this order, as per your advice:

 

1984 byGeorge Orwell
The Goldfinch 
by Donna Tartt
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
Tender is the Night by Ernest Hemingway

 

It was pretty close between Orwell and Tartt, but I think it’s okay for me to start with the shorter work before I dive into the really long one. Henry James was definitely in third place, and David Foster Wallace and Hemingway were neck and neck bringing up the caboose, but I decided to let Hemingway come in last. He so often comes in first, doesn’t he? He’ll be okay.

Once I’m finished with Orwell, I’ll bring you my book report. It’s interesting timing: I’ve been thinking about deleting my Facebook account. I was going to bring you the case and — wait for it — ask you for your advice. Reading 1984 with that in mind, that idea about deleting Facebook, will be most interesting.

Thanks, gang.

 

*I’m not on a tuffet. I just needed to create a visual of some haughty Advice Columnist who thinks she knows everything and putting her on a tuffet seemed right. 

The Scene I Imagine On Days When There’s No Work Being Done On the High-Rise Construction Site Two Streets Over and One Street Down From My Building

posted in: Fiction | 16
This is a picture of a site in San Francisco in 2006, but what I look at looks a little like this. Image: Wikipedia.

 

So there’s a lot of construction in the South Loop. More all the time. Buildings being built to the south of me on State; buildings to the north of me on Wabash.

So far, none of what I like about my view is being adversely affected, so I just get to watch the coolest TV show out my window on the 16th floor all the time. I love the enormous cranes. I love the mini-elevators as they go up and down the sides of the steel beam skeleton. I love to watch the projects as they go up because I love that it’s even possible to build these things. I can’t even manage a gingerbread house. I imagine all kinds of things as I watch the people working on the buildings. Most of the time, there’s action. Seven days a week, from really early morning until the sun goes down. But some days, and it could be a Monday or a Thursday or a Saturday — there’s nothing. Not a soul on any of the still-raw floors of the 20 or 25 story mid-rise.

This change in the TV show never fails to stir my imagination.

And now, the second-ever fictional story I have ever written, composed right here, for you, this morning. I hardly need point out that I know exactly nothing about construction sites, how buildings are made, or the pecking order of the men and women who build them. If it were a real story, I’d look all that up, I promise. But I don’t write fiction, so it’s okay. My favorite bluff is the one about “strut work,” by the way. Strut work!? I kill me.

Out of Site — Chapter One

“Jimmy!” the supervisor roared through the tiny window and pounded the top of her makeshift desk. “Jimmy, get your Red Sox-south-side-hot-dog-eatin’ butt in here in the next four seconds or I’ll tell that concrete truck to let ‘er rip in your front yard!”

Jimmy threw down his cigarette and scrambled up the ramp. The double-wide trailer that served as the site office was so tight, he would be literally face-to-face with Nancy. He sucked air in through his teeth and pushed the door open.

Nancy’s hard hats were tossed around the room amongst Connie’s Pizza boxes and balled-up lunch bags from Petterino’s and Five Guys. She brandished her notepad at Jimmy then flung it him. “Why do I have the lead developer’s boss calling me and telling me to tell the guys not to come in today? Why might that be, Jimmy? Why might that voicemail be on my phone? I hate voicemail, Jimmy. I really, really hate voicemail.” Nancy’s face was red and a vein was pulsing in her neck. It was pretty gross.

“Nance,” Jimmy started —

“Oh, it’s Malinowski to you today, buster. Mrs. Malinowski.” Jimmy started to stammer out an apology but she cut him off with one of her classic contradictory Nancy orders: “Shut up! Talk!”

“Mrs. Malinowski, Super told me yesterday it might happen but to wait to let you know until we heard from Stan. He was supposed to find you before you left yesterday but I guess —”

“You’re good at guessing, Jimbo,” Nancy said, and she grabbed a toothpick from a box on her desk and bit down on it so hard she winced. She quit smoking a year ago and so far no relapse; on this job, she was hanging by a thread. “You wanna ‘guess’ what this means? Why don’t you ‘guess’ what 14 hours of lost work on this hunk of metal and concrete is gonna cost?”

Jimmy’s eyes got big. “Mrs. Malinowski, please, I can’t lose this job. I’ve got —”

Nancy laughed so hard her toothpick flew out of her mouth. “Who’s getting fired? I’m not firing you, Jimmy. Geez, get a grip.” Nancy rubbed forehead and jabbed another toothpick into her mouth. “It’s gonna set us back a week.”

“A week?” Jimmy asked. “Why a whole week? Stan’s got other guys.”

“Stan’s a dead man, for one thing,” Nancy said, “so I’d advise you to not say his name to me right now. We weren’t gonna get the scaffolding repaired until tomorrow and tomorrow’s Friday. Anderson Electric doesn’t work weekends and we’ve got strut work through Thursday, so I can’t get Stan and the boys back till the last week of the month. What an absolute clusterf —” Nancy stopped. She was trying to quit cursing, too. Her two-year-old was picking up everything these days and her mother-in-law would not appreciate construction-site vocabulary imprinting itself on her adorable granddaughter.

“Jimmy, just get ahold of John and you two start making calls, okay? Tell the guys not to come in. Tell ’em to drink a couple beers, take their wife on a date for God’s sakes. Lord knows the girls are missing the sons-of—”

“I’ll get John,” Jimmy said, cutting Nance off mid-curse so that she didn’t have to do it herself. She was a really good boss, as overworked as everyone else. As he turned to leave, he had a thought.

“Nance — um, Mrs. Malinowski? If we move strut work to Wednesday and work 5:30 to sundown, we could shift scaffolding to Saturday. Sundown is later than it was a month ago and the weather’ll be out of the thirties next week. We could grab some of the guys from Acme. I know the Indiana crews aren’t your favorite but they work pretty fast.” Jimmy paused, calculating. “It could work.”

Nance stared hard at the contractor in front of her, fidgeting with a buckle on his oil-stained Carhartts. This was the longest Jimmy had held down a site gig. But he was busting his you-know-what and she had come to rely on the kid, precisely because of moments like this. He was smart and he cared. Nance didn’t take that for granted.

After doing a little calculating of her own, she nodded. “Maybe. Yeah, maybe that would work.” She pulled her phone out of her jacket pocket. “Okay. I’ll call Acme, see what they say. But still get John and tell the guys it’s their lucky day. Tell ’em to enjoy it while they’ve got it. Next week’s gonna be a long one.”

Jimmy nodded and went out the door. As he headed down the ramp, Nance yelled out the window: “Tell ’em to take their wives on a damn date!”

Grinning, Jimmy shouted back: “Yo, Nance! Don’t you mean a ‘darn’ date?”

“It’s Mrs. Malinowski!!”

Ooooh … Quiltfolk Issue 06 : Arizona

posted in: Art, Poetry, Quiltfolk, Quilting, Work | 10

 

Are you ready for this?

On or about April 1, the sixth issue of Quiltfolk is coming soon, everyone. The bad news is that you still have to wait a little bit; the good news is that she’s the best-yet issue of Quiltfolk and I’m honored to be a part of the team. It’s cool if you watch this teaser video like nine times while you wait for your copy of Issue 06 : Arizona. Friends, you will not believe what we found when we went to the desert to investigate quilts. Wow, wow, wow.

Hold onto your cowboy hats.

xo
Mary

p.s. How about those red glasses on the blonde chick with the notebook?? I’m into it. 

Let’s All Start Using ‘Viz’

posted in: Day In The Life, Word Nerd | 12
“Woman Writing” by August Macke, 1910. Image: Wikipedia.

 

I’ve learned over the years that folks love the “Word Nerd” posts on the ol’ PG. The copy editing post was a big hit, for example.

Well, kids, it’s a Word Nerd Day. And it’s a good one, too.

I came across an abbreviation a couple weeks ago while (re)reading P.G. Wodehouse’s “Joy In the Morning” for the humor writing class I’m teaching. I’ll put the sentence in below; all you need to know for context is that it’s the incomparable (and incomparably funny) Bertram “Bertie” Wooster speaking:

… it had naturally seemed that the end of the world had come and Judgement Day set in with unusual severity. But to me, the cool and level-headed bystander, the whole thing had been pure routine. One shrugged the shoulders and recognized it for what it was — viz. pure apple sauce.

Viz! Do you know this one?? I didn’t, but when I saw it, I decided that if P.G. Wodehouse used it, I must start using it, too, and liberally. Here’s the definition:

viz. | viz |
adverb           chiefly British
namely; in other words (used to introduce a gloss or explanation): the first music reproducing media, viz., the music box and the player piano.
Latin, from videreto see” + licetit is permissible.”

Hm!

Thinking through this “viz” biz, I’m now aware that I’ve been using “i.e.” when I should probably be using viz.

In case you need a refresher, “i.e.” means “that is to say.” It’s used to add explanatory information or to state something in different words, e.g., “I love going on spa retreats, i.e., spending hundreds of dollars to have someone smack me with kelp leaves while I pretend that the quinoa patty I ate for lunch was totally satisfying and also I am trying not to get cucumber water in my eyeballs.”

[See what I did with the “e.g.” up there? Because “e.g.” means “for example”! I know. There are so many of those and now there’s viz.]

Here are some sentences where I practice using viz.

PRACTICE SENTENCE NO. 1
The main point of Mary’s lecture, viz. that caramel should be a food group, was misunderstood.

PRACTICE SENTENCE NO. 2
Several of Santa’s reindeer, viz. Dasher, Blitzen, and Donner, were total jerks. 

PRACTICE SENTENCE NO. 3
But the hobo had one obvious problem, viz. he was wearing a tin can for a hat.

Okay, now you practice. Well, if you want. Practice using viz. if you’re a Word Nerd like me. (And if you’re reading this, you totally are, even if you didn’t know that about yourself.)

Word Nerd: 5 Untranslatables

posted in: Word Nerd | 8
Tiny book. Image: Wikipedia.

 

I have a fondness for words. Does it show?

But there is woe in my life. This woe is real and comes from the fact that I do not speak another language. Though I do feel English is a boss language to know, I read somewhere that “speaking a second language is like having a second soul” and I want one!

I wanna second soul! I wanna second soul!

:: kicks feet, flops on floor of supermarket, wailing ::

Yes, I did take a few Spanish classes two summers ago; remember how I was, however briefly, “Chica de Papel“? It was fun, but look: If I’m going to learn a language I need to take a year off my life (or large chunks of it) and learn a language. One class a week for eight weeks, working in a workbook at Instituto Cervantes just didn’t take. Maybe I was a bad student, but I have lots of credit hours that would prove otherwise. I fear it’s immersion or nothing for me if I want a second soul.

So I make do. One way I make do is to continuously improve my working vocabulary, annexing both English and non-English terms. Which brings me to several untranslatable words that I would now like to share. These have been pulled from a couple different sources, one of them being The School of Life, which I have crowed about before.

Here are a few words from other languages/times with their definitions. See if you aren’t charmed, moved, and thoughtful as you read through them.

saudade (Portuguese)
A bittersweet, melancholic yearning for something beautiful which is now gone: a friendship from childhood; a great apartment; a successful business, etc. With this pain comes an attendant pleasure that we had such pleasure in the first place.

schilderwald (German)
A street that has so many street signs, you get lost.

pochemuchka (Russian)
A person who asks too many questions.

vade mecum (Latin)
A valued, even precious, book or guide that is kept constantly at hand for consultation; literally translates to “go with me.” [I see my diary as a vade mecum, for example!]

litost (Czech)
The kind of humiliated despair we feel when someone accidentally reminds us, through their accomplishments, of everything that has gone wrong in our own lives.

Hm.

Perhaps I don’t need a second soul. There’s an awful lot to do with the one I already have.

Goodnight.

New York City / New Year’s Eve: A Quick Fiction

posted in: Day In The Life, Fiction | 30
East Village, New York City. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

Chapter 1

It was early November when her sister asked.

For the first time in months, Mary was talking to Hannah over the phone. They texted each other, and there were emails here and there. But phone calls in the past few years, not so much.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Hannah said, “I’m having a party on New Year’s Eve. You should come!”

Mary’s heart sank. Her sister loved to throw parties and her parties were great. The two of them badly needed more quality time — actual, IRL, face time — and going to Hannah’s New Year’s Eve party would show her sister just how much Mary loved her, how she was willing to make the effort for the relationship.

But it would mean she would have to go to New York City for New Year’s Eve. It meant she’d have to go to New York City in winter. It meant she’d have to go to New York City, period.

“I’m in,” Mary said, “absolutely.” She rubbed her eyes and logged onto Southwest.com.

Chapter 2

As the taxi inched its way toward the hotel, Mary’s friend Nick pressed his face up to the window, steaming it with his breath, then wiping off the condensation so as to clear his view. This was his first time in the city and it was nice to see him take it all in. The best way to be in New York City is to be there the first time ever or to have been there for over 10 years. Anywhere in between, Mary thought, and it’s too hard.

She would know; she tried living in New York City once. Love and curiosity were her reasons for trying it on. But when love went all wrong and she realized she had no feeling for the impossible, endless city, living in New York was excruciating. The cards were stacked against her from the start, though; a person shouldn’t move to New York at age 36. It’s a young man’s town.

“It looks like Chicago,” Nick said. “I mean, I see a lot of similarities.”

“That true, there are,” Mary said, and glanced out the window herself. “But it’s nearly dark out. It’ll look different to you in the daytime, I bet.”

As Nick took in the scene and laughed at just how close the taxi was coming to the delivery trucks and the pedestrians, Mary pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders and pressed her back into the seat. She let her head fall back a little, though she would be careful not to let Nick see her so weary. When the man you’re dating is a decade your junior, you’re forced to remain peppy and energized at all times. It’s a good thing, on balance — and most of the time, Mary didn’t need to fake it — but New York took it out of her.

Young man’s town.

Chapter 3

In the morning, she crept out of bed so as not to disturb Nick, angelic and gorgeous nestled under the down comforter and hotel linen. The outrageously expensive Peninsula for two nights was her Christmas gift to the two of them and she forced herself to forget just how much she spent. When the credit card bill arrived, she would not look. Standing on the heated floor in the generous bathroom, though, as she gave her hair a quick brush, Mary knew the room was worth every penny. All 96 billion of them.

She pulled on a jumpsuit and threw a sweater around her shoulders. Flip-flops would be fine; she was only after coffee and some writing time down in the lounge. Without turning on any more lights, she grabbed her briefcase and her phone and slipped out the door. Nick hadn’t even stirred.

Down in the lounge, she was alone and so, so glad. It would be the only time all day — and all night — that would happen.

She felt sad. It’s hard to know so much, hard to have failures and be reminded of them. The New York chapter, and Washington D.C. after that, was tough. No doubt about that, now, looking back. Oh, she kept her chin up through it all. And there were small victories. But overall, it cost her dearly in energy and innocence. It was death by a thousand papercuts, that era.

Mary looked out the tall window at the dusting of snow on the street. The news said tonight would be New York’s coldest New Year’s Eve since the 1960s. The dress and heels she brought were more suited for a spring night, even if she stayed inside the party most of the evening. Mary sighed and decided she’d have to go in search of a jacket before tonight. As usual, New York would insist she spend more money before she left.

It was getting late. She needed to pack up and get up to the room so that she and Nick could get a reasonable start to the day. He wanted to see Central Park and there was a quilt exhibit at the Folk Art Museum for her, thank God. Quilts would surely help.

A loud group entered the lounge, laughing and talking about work. Mary gathered her things, grateful again for the peace she was afforded this morning. She smiled at the group as she left, and as she threw her coffee cup in the trash near the bar, two more couples came in.

It’s so hard to be in place where you know you don’t belong, she thought, especially when the place is considered the center of the world. Guess I don’t belong in the center of the world, Mary thought, and made her way to the elevators.

[Maybe to be continued? I don’t know. I don’t write fiction.]

 

 

A Very Good Joke: ‘I’m Afraid I Have Bad News About Your Husband, Ma’am.’

posted in: Joke | 6
Ah, love. A wedding in Barcelona someplace — because the language of love is universal. Image: Wikipedia.

 

For you, tonight, a joke:

A wife and husband are at the doctor’s office. The doctor finishes the check-up on the husband and looks concerned.

“How’d I do, Doc?” the husband asks.

“Sir,” the doctor says, “I’d like to ask if you would give me a few minutes to speak to your wife privately. Please have a seat in the waiting room and we’ll call you in just a minute.”

The husband says sure, and he gets up and heads out of the exam room, closing the door behind him. His wife looks at the doctor.

“What is it, doctor?” she asks. “Is … Is my husband going to die?”

The doctor looks pained. He takes a deep breath. “Ma’am, I’m afraid I have very bad news for you. Your husband is terribly ill. It’s one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen. He’s … He’s on his way out.”

The woman gasps; her hand flies to her mouth. “Is there anything to be done, Doctor??”

An intense look comes over the doctor’s face and he takes the wife’s hand. Very gravely, he says, “Yes, ma’am. There is one thing you can do to save your husband.”

“Tell me, please!”

The doctor takes a deep breath and says, “You must treat him like a king among men.”

The wife is confused. “What?”

“You must cook and serve him his very favorite foods. Any movie he wants to see, any sporting event — grab the keys, get in the car. You drive. He gets to play on his phone. If he wants to golf, go with him. Buy him presents. If he wants sex, you must have sex with him. You must have more sex with your husband than you’ve had in the past 35 years of marriage! And if he wants you to read to him, rub his feet, or scratch his back, you must do it. If you do all this, ma’am, your husband can expect a full recovery.”

The woman thanks the doctor and leaves the office to find her husband in the waiting room reading a magazine.

“What’d he say?” the husband asks.

“You’re gonna die.”

Start Smiling: I’m Teaching Humor Writing in January

posted in: Word Nerd, Work | 3
Dog with a pipe, c. 1933. Photo: P.B. Avery via Wikipedia.

 

As most of you know, I have been teaching writing workshops and short-term classes at the University of Chicago’s Writers’ Studio for a couple years, now. My popular 4-week course in blogging wrapped up a few weeks ago and a group of my students are taking me out to lunch next week, which I take as a sign that they enjoyed themselves and learned stuff!

About a year ago, I was asked to pitch a new class for the winter term and I knew just what I wanted to teach. Here’s what I pitched and, indeed, what I’ll be teaching in a matter of weeks:

Humor Writing Survey — 6 weeks
Mondays, 10:00 – 12:30 p.m.
Jan. 8 – Feb. 19, 2018

Q: What do SNL writers, standups, New Yorker cartoonists, Thurber, Lebowitz, and Freud all have in common?
A: They’ve all spent a lot of time thinking about what makes people laugh. Now it’s our turn.

In this seminar/survey course, we will read humorous writing and respond to it: everything from TV scripts to stage monologues, from essays to short stories (and much more) in order to better understand the how of humor. You needn’t be a comedy-writing hopeful to take this class! This is a survey for anyone wishing to better appreciate — or emulate — the greats.

Expect guests: Chicago improv artists, standups, and other humorists with experience. You’ll generate work, too, and we may take a field trip.

Would someone pinch me? I get to hang out with a classroom of people interested in reading funny writing and talking about that writing? I get to assign homework to people willing to try and write, say, a piece of satire or burlesque? Yes! I do! I get to do that! And I also get to share all I’ve been learning about the history of humor writing over the ages. There’s a lot to say about it, I won’t be able to get to absolutely everything (and it is a new class, after all) but my interest and excitement is hard to measure.

The good news is that the class is already half full; the bad news is that the slots will go quickly. What if you miss it??

If you’re in Chicago and you can manage a six-week course on Monday mornings for a couple hours, you will not regret it. Because it’s going to be amazing. What a way to start the year, right?? Reading P.G. Wodehouse and excerpts from The American Bystander and talking about the difference between parody and irony?? Sounds like a good idea to me.

You can find info about the course right here.

I’ll see you downtown.

A Monkey ‘Jote’ Because It’s Essentially Finals Week

posted in: Joke | 4
Wikipedia has offered me this picture of a “salt dough monkey,” and darn if the thing doesn’t look like it fell out of a tree. Thanks, Wikipedia.

 

And now, a joke.

Or, as my friend Irena would say, “a jote.”

It’s funnier, right? Jotes?

The reason that I am going to post this jote, which is very silly and slightly weird — okay, very weird — is that it’s finals week, I’ve got a deadline for the magazine and a deadline for the other magazine and intricately woven narratives are my favorite kinds of posts but I have to eat something for Lord’s sake and who’s gonna finish these captions? But there’s another reason why I want to post this jote: I like the jote. The jote is interesting. So we tell the jote.

Ahem:

Q: Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?
A: Because it was dead.

Goodnight!

:: drops mic ::

Words I Can No Longer Spell

posted in: Day In The Life, Word Nerd | 16
Spelling bee, 2011. Photo: Heather Temske via Wikipedia.

 

I have lost the ability to spell certain words.

Well, that’s not true. I could never spell “committment.” See? Still can’t. I never, ever get it that one right, ever.

But the words listed below I feel like I used to be able to spell but now just do not come out right. I’ve been noticing them more often. Because between writing for Quiltfolk and drafting essays for grad school workshops; between my bi-monthly Quilt Scout column and cranking out articles of my own for F Newsmagazine; between and editing tons of other peoples’ work for the paper or various classes; between entire continents of email and a myriad of other assignments I’ve got, I write a lot. (“Alot,” even.) So these words I seem less able to spell lately come up with some regularly, simply because my word input/output is so high.

Here are troublemakers, and I’m going to leave them exactly how I type them, straight out of the gate. Who knows: I might actually spell them correctly! Doubtful, but let’s see what happens:

concommitant
bourgeoise
persue
bureaucracy
recalcatrent
conscious [that’s a word, yeah, I know — but I meant to spell “conscience”!] reciept

I got “concommitant” and “bureaucracy” right, but that’s it, I think. When did I stop being able to spell “pursue”?? The only break I’ll give myself is that I actually can pull off “receipt” most of the time, but only with a full-stop pause over the keyboard so I can do the “‘I’ before ‘E,’ except after ‘C'” children’s rhyme in my head. I’m a grown woman! I don’t have time for “‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C'”! What is this, naptime?? Do I look like I need a carton of milk?

Actually, I would love a nap and a carton of milk. You can bring that anytime.

Anyway, the “I used to be able to do this thing with my brain and now I can’t” is a scary thing to say, but don’t worry about me. It’s not that I’m losing cognitive ability. If I were, I might have said “loosing cognitive ability.” (Is the “loose” vs. “lose” error everywhere online these days or is that just me?)

No, I feel like my vocabulary, both verbal and written, is generally always improving, even if it’s marginal. There will be a point when I cap out, but I’m not there, yet. Grad school and book readin’ means I’m learning new words all the time and I seem to be able to spell them without too much trouble. And some seemingly tricky words have always been no problem for me to spell. I have no trouble with “proverbial.” “Restauranteur.” “Withdrawal.” “Supercilious.” “Chandelier.” “Rhythm.”

“Bed.”

I can definitely spell “bed.” Watch:

B — E — ZZZZZZZZZ

Clean Copy

posted in: Word Nerd | 20
Ah, line edits. I know the feeling. Image: Wikipedia.
Ah, the red pen! I love it. Image: Wikipedia.

 

When I look back at entries from several years ago — like this one about the name of this blog, or this one about QVC handbags — it’s hard for me not to want to fix stuff. I feel like I hand over pretty clean copy here on the ol’ PG, but there was a time when I thought I should go back to the very, very beginning entries and revise/edit everything, but then I realized that I wanted to at least try and have a Normal Person Life.

It’s funny, though, because these days I actually feel happy to see how far I’ve come as a copy editor.

Because while it’s important to me that my style and syntax have improved (I think they have!) and while I hope my sentiments and how I express them have matured (have they?), clearly seeing that I’m picking up AP style skills is great news. All the sentiment in the world won’t connect with anyone if the writer doesn’t pay attention to the readability and consistency of her copy. And good copy editing is crucial to the writer as she tries to say what she wants to say. It’s all in the commas, man.

It’s funny, but it’s not my writing classes that get the credit for this improvement: It’s due to being an editor at the school newspaper, of course. When I was editor of Quilty magazine we had lots of eyeballs on all the text, obviously, and we were greatly aggrieved when we found a typo after the issue was printed. But rigorous, Associated Press-style copy editing isn’t the focus at most craft publishing houses, so if I were to go back through all those issues, I’d probably catch stuff.

Though I am well aware there are typos from time to time in PaperGirl, I’m confident that my hyphens, capitalizations, quotations, numbers, titles, etc., is as good as I can get it without the help of an outside editor. And I keep learning.

Just for fun, below are a few examples of sentences I wrote in an entry in 2013 — and  how I would edit those sentences, now. If you are into this kind of thing, you will be really into this. If you’re not, you will be like, “Mary, you are sweet but never give us copy editing examples ever again. Maybe consider describing paint drying.”

I know.

But for my fellow Word Nerds, enjoy. Just remember that I would surely make deeper edits on these sentences if I were working up a serious draft, but for now, the eagle-eyes out there will see the changes and it might make you smile.

All this stuff matters, it really does.

THEN: I bought $50.04 worth of hunter orange today to protect my kith and kin.
NOW: Today, I bought 50 dollars worth of “hunter” or “blaze” orange to protect my kith and kin.

THEN: [The] past few days have been ever-so-slightly tense — and it ain’t because we’ve been playing 6 hours of Yahtzee every day.
NOW: [The] past few days have been ever-so-slightly tense — and it ain’t because we’ve been playing six hours of Yahtzee every day. 

THEN: She was beautiful; pleasantly plump, with the creamy skin one can only achieve by being fed cheese curds from infancy.
NOW: She was beautiful. Pleasantly plump with the kind of creamy skin one can only achieve by being fed cheese curds from infancy.

Writing is so fun. Agh! I love it!!! 😀

I Wrote a Joke! I Wrote An Actual Joke!

posted in: Joke | 20
A dino!! Photo by Ashley Van Haeften courtesy Wikipedia.
A dino!! Photo by Ashley Van Haeften courtesy Wikipedia.

 

I wrote a joke! I wrote a joke, I wrote a joke, I wrote a joke!

This is huge! I’ve never written a joke before!

And when I say I “wrote” a joke, I mean that just now, as I crossed the room to get something, this joke came to me. It just came to me in my actual brain. Scout’s honor, I have not heard this joke, not ever. I have never heard this joke and that means that I wrote it, right?? Probably other people have written it, too — it’s not too wild n’ crazy— but if other people have come up with this, I have never met those people or, if I have, they did not tell me this joke. And seeing as how I like to tell jokes and seeing as how plenty of people know what I do for a living, if this joke existed before this moment, doesn’t it stand to reason I’d have heard it by now?? Yes! So I’m claiming it!

Don’t get too excited. This joke is not going to set the world on fire. But it’s not too shabby for a first-time joke writer! Are you ready for this??

Q: What’s a writer’s favorite dinosaur?
A: The Thesaurus.

The Thesaurus!! Dinosaur! Writers…!! *

I kill me!

Oh, man. That was great. That was just great, that moment. I wonder if it will ever happen again. I don’t care. Thesaurus! What a knee-slapper.

I’ll be here all week.

 

*Ugh! Now I’m wondering if the punchline should be just “Thesaurus.” And you tell it like, “The. Saurus.” You know? With a clean break between the syllables. You tell me: Is the joke better if the answer is “The Thesaurus” or “The. Saurus.” And you’d have to do a little mischevious waggle of the head when you tell it with the second option. If you tell jokes a lot, you know what I mean. Writing jokes, people. Not easy.

The Funniest Things I Have Ever Heard. (Don’t Get Too Excited.)

posted in: Day In The Life, Joke | 19
It's an outhouse! Image: Wikipedia.
It’s an outhouse! Haha. Image: Wikipedia.

 

On the bus the other day, I was thinking about the funniest things I have ever heard. I wasn’t thinking “What are the funniest stories I’ve ever heard?” and I wasn’t thinking about the funniest jokes I’ve ever heard, either. You might be thinking, “What else is there?” but I can explain.

You see, I remembered something out of nowhere that I hadn’t thought about in years — and I recalled that, at the time I came across it, I had never heard anything so hilarious in my entire life. I was eight, so don’t get too excited.

It was a little handwritten sign in a bathroom in Door County. The sign read:

“If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.” 

I was helpless with laughter. I had never known anything more genius and silly and funny and gross in all my life. It was a real gem for eight-year-old Mary, let me tell you. Clearly, it stayed with me.

So after thinking about that for awhile and, yes, chuckling a little (mostly about me at eight, giggling until I could hardly breathe, not so much about the pee thing), I wondered about other things like that. What were the other funniest things I have ever heard?

The second thing that came to mind happened when I was in high school, so again: No need to brace yourself for nuanced, sophisticated comedy, here. I was working as a waitress at the local Pizza Hut.

…and that’s it. That’s the funniest thing: Me, in high school, slingin’ pies at the local Pizza Hut.

I’m kidding! Although there is some comedic value to that sentence. It has something to do with the word “Hut.”

But seriously: The Pizza Hut’s manager’s name was Steve. That poor guy. He had a bunch of ne’er-do-well high school kids to corral all day and his “office” was a computer shoved into corner near the walk-in. He could’ve been a jerk — but he was so nice! He was understanding and cool but never inappropriately cool. Like, Steve wouldn’t buy us beer or let us take pizzas home for free. Steve was great. He was also a real cornball. That means he told corny jokes and was fond of puns.

One day, I got to work and Steve had clearly gotten a haircut. I said, “Hey, Steve! You got your haircut!”

And Steve snapped his fingers and pointed to me and said, “No, Mary: I got ’em all cut.”

I blinked. I cocked my head. And then I got it. And I loved it. I thought it was genius. Ha! Got ’em all cut! Because you don’t get a hair cut! You get ’em all cut! Oh, man. What a knee-slapper.

The other other thing I came up with was that my friend Nellie told me in college that she and her sisters, when they were kids, used to roll down this hill in the backyard. One day, her sister pooped her pants as she was rolling down the hill and after that, they called it “Poopy Hill.”

Yes, I am aware that two of the three of the funniest things I am claiming to have ever heard have to do with the bathroom. I sincerely hope that if I keep thinking about more wildly hilarious things, this will not be the case.

Song For Spring.

posted in: Poetry, Rant | 7
"Springtime" by Claude Monet, 1871. Image: Wikipedia.
“Springtime” by Claude Monet, 1871. Image: Wikipedia.

 

Memorial Day is often referred to as “the unofficial first day of summer.” Memorial Day was Monday and I suppose there is a sense of a changing of the guard, seasonally-speaking, but the actual first day of summer isn’t until June 20th. Seeing as it’s only the first of the month, we are very much still in spring. Officially.

I’m in no rush: Spring is my favorite season. The world gets washed in spring and after winter, we sorely need it. The smell of wet leaves, soaked garden beds, damp bark — that loamy, vegetal smell makes my heart break. I welcome the breaking. All over the city, the flowers are tender explosions that line the slicked streets and I don’t care that my sandals squish as I walk along. I’m alive.

On the way to the airport at 5 a.m. last weekend, riding the El, you cannot believe the sky I saw. A storm was coming in from the west making the sky a deep sapphire blue, almost purple around the edges. But the sun was coming up over the lake behind us and suddenly, all the metal storage warehouse buildings along the Orange line route were bathed in gold, dripping with the gold light of that early spring sun. The dark heaven behind them threw each bright square into even sharper relief. It took my breath away. Not even Monet could’ve captured what I saw through my train window. Only spring can deliver that kind of beauty in the first place.

Spring has a good reputation. It’s been known to inspire all kinds of things. Lovers. Poetry. Music. Hope.

If you need any of those things, if you need to rely on any of Spring’s gifts — pea shoots, caterpillars, rhubarb pie, breezes singing through your bedroom window, peonies — you can. Spring told me.

Officially.

Oh, Angela: Reading On The Couch.

posted in: Art, Sicky, Word Nerd | 21
Pre-1940s farmer's market, Ireland. Image: Wikipedia.
Irish farmer’s market, c. 1938. Image: Wikipedia.

 

It’s not like I’ve been flat on my back. Well, okay. Today I was flat on my back.

My day consisted of 2.5 naps and 2.3 bowls of miso soup with udon noodles. The naps happened because I am spooky tired and can’t seem to keep my eyes open. The udon happened because my weak hemogoblins are demanding quick carbohydrates. Normally I stay away from the demon noodle, but these are desperate times. As a result of all this drowsy noodle eating, I feel sort of worse than I did when I woke up. I’ve got that sick-in-bed noodle daze thing going on, you know?

Not every day in the past week has been like this, but there have been long hours on the couch or in bed. It’s very hard for me to allow myself to spend hours this way, but what can I do?

Well, I can read. So I’ve been reading. Most notably, I read Angela’s Ashes in about three days.

If you were even dimly aware of pop culture in 1996, you know the book I’m talking about. Angela’s Ashes was everywhere, a memoir of author Frank McCourt’s boyhood in Limerick, Ireland in the 1930s and ’40s. McCourt wrote it when he was 69 after a lifetime teaching high school English in New York City. The book won the Pulitzer Prize. It won the National Book Award. Angela’s Ashes won everything there was to win. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for three years. Six million copies have been sold to date. Hollywood made it into a movie. There are a zillion translations. It’s canonical.*

As for me, I was in high school in 1996 and too busy blasting PJ Harvey records in my Honda CR-X to care much about a tale of a hardscrabble Irish boyhood, so I skipped it. And I never did get around to reading it because, you know, life and a zillion other books to read. And if I’m honest, I do get a little resistant to anything that popular. I’m not a joiner and honestly, could it really be that great?

It’s better.

Angela’s Ashes is a masterpiece. It is perfect. A perfect book. Angela’s Ashes is a work of art that became a part of me, page by page. I moaned out loud as I read, anguished to the point of pain at the crushing poverty, the death, the cruelty of circumstances endured by this family. My eyes stung as catastrophe after catastrophe befell them; my eyes sting now to think back to the characters I grew to love.

And I laughed out loud, of course, because Angela’s Ashes is funny. It’s so funny you can’t believe it. I was shaking my head at what I read, wiping tears from my eyes from the laughter (or was it the sorrow?) marveling at this man, Frank McCourt. Not only did he survive his childhood, he found the humor and joy in it, too — and then he wrote it down so well we can survive with him and spew our tea all over our pajamas because he’s so entertaining while we’re with him. (Ask me how I know about that pajama/tea thing.)

My experience reading this book is universal to the point of being uninteresting, I suppose. It’s safe to say that everyone who reads Angela’s Ashes is deeply moved. Oh, I’m sure there’s someone somewhere who tried to start an Angela’s Ashes backlash, someone who “didn’t think it was as great as everyone said it was.” We’re all entitled to an opinion, but I would have a hard time understanding how anyone could encounter that rich pageant of humanity and beauty and misery and reject it in any way. Frank McCourt made the world a gift in the form of a book. And the copy I read I checked out at the library, which means it was free.

All of that, for free. ‘Tis a great world, indeed, Mr. McCourt. Thank you.

*Read the book if you haven’t; read it again if you have.

Homespun Handcraft by Ella Shannon Bowles (Part Two!)

posted in: Art, Quilting, Word Nerd | 17
"Square In a Square" quilt, c. 1880. Probably Pennsylvania. Image: Wikipedia, courtesy Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
“Square In a Square” quilt, c. 1880. Probably Pennsylvania. Image: Wikipedia, courtesy Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

 

Yesterday, I introduced the great book I found in a used bookshop. I promised to include an excerpt from the chapter on quilting and I kind of didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

The chapter on the “Old-Time Quilt” is really good. It’s so good that I tried to pare down the excerpt I selected but really could not force myself to cut out a single line! So I was typing for some minutes and you’ll be reading for some minutes, but I wouldn’t have kept typing or suggest you keep reading if I didn’t think it was worth it.

Here’s some of what Ella Shannon Bowles had to say about quilts back in the day. Remember, she was writing in the 1930s about “old-time” quilts in the “pioneer days.” I would go back to the text and pin down the exact years/timespans she’s talking about but I am very tired and still have homework. Let’s just call it “the nineteenth century” and call it good enough.

Enjoy. And may you all have full snuff boxes (!) and a “jolly feeling” all week.

“House-keeping was the goal of every girl’s ambition and her “setting out” was planned for years. When she had assembled a number of quilt-tops, a quilting was held. To it were invited every woman and girl for miles around. Usually the housewife planned to get the quilting out of the way before haying. The quilting-frolics, with their accompaniments of good cheer and jolly feeling, had an important social significance.

Before the guests assembled, the quilting-frames were brought in from the loom-shed. They were long pieces of wood, held together with wooden pegs thrust through gimlet-holes to form a rectangular frame large enough to hold the quilt. The frames were wound with flannel, serving as a foundation for sewing the quilt in place. First, the frames were placed upon the floor and the lining sewn in and pats of wool laid evenly upon it. Then the frames were carefully lifted to the tops of four kitchen chairs, and placed under each corner at such a height as would be most convenient for the workers. Then the patch-work top was laid across the wool-pats and pinned evenly all around the edge. Skeins of blue and white linen thread, braided to prevent snarling, a spool of red thread from the store, a needle-book, wax, and scissors were arranged on a table for the convenience of the quilters.

As early as one o’clock in the afternoon the guests began to arrive. The quilt-pattern was duly admired and then the consideration of the stitches to be used in the quilting was taken up. “Cat-a-cornered” and herring-bone stitch were favorites in rural parts of New Hampshire, though the pine-tree was liked by expert needlewomen. The women who could not gather about the quilt knit or worked on their own sewing. Tongues chattered as fingers flew and soon the quilt was ready to be rolled over the frames as far as finished. During this interval snuff-boxes were passed and then the guests who had not quilted drew up to the frames. When the last row of quilting was reached, the married women left the frames and, with jokes and rippling laughter, the girls began a contest to see who should set the last stitch. The damsel lucky enough to do this would be the first to take a husband!

Now the quilt was taken from the frames, shaken and folded and admired. Mrs. Rollins tells us that the finishing of a quilt was a gala day for the neighborhood. “It was unrolled and cut out with much excitement,” she says. “When Hannah took it to the porch-door to shake it out, the women all followed her, clutching its edges, remarking upon the plumpness of the stitched leaves, and the fineness of its texture. It was truly a beautiful thing, for it was the growth of the farm, an expression of the life of its occupants, a fit covering for those who made it.”

After the  men of the family were given their supper, the table was spread with a diaper-wove huckaback tablecloth. The cherished china was brought out and platters of cold meat, puffy biscuits, tarts, pound and plum cake were set out for tea for the quilters. Guests helped “clear up,” and then the husbands and the sweethearts came to take the women home.”

Homespun Handcraft by Ella Shannon Bowles (Part One.)

posted in: Art, Chicago, Word Nerd | 6
The book! Scanned by me.
The book! Scanned by me.

 

I found a gem today.

There’s a neat bookstore called Selected Works in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue, halfway between home and school. (I’ll talk more about the Fine Arts Building another time; that gorgeous building needs its own post!) My friend Justin said that all the books at Selected Works are half off right now, so after we were done at the newspaper office, Justin, Sophie, and I made our way over to check the stacks.

In the craft and home decor section, I found a copy of Shared Threads: Quilting Together — Past and Present by Jacqueline Marx Atkins, a title I definitely needed for my quilt book library. It seemed Atkins’s book was the only quilt-related selection on the shelves but then I spied a sweet-looking, tattered little volume called Homespun Handicrafts. As I lifted the other books out of the way to get at it, I thought, “I’ll bet that book is pretty old. And I’ll bet there’s a chapter on quilts.” I was right on both counts: The book, written by Ms. Ella Shannon Bowles, was published in 1930 — and there is a terrific chapter on quilts.

I was right on both counts: The book, written by Ms. Ella Shannon Bowles, was published in 1930 — and there is a terrific chapter on quilts. Here are the chapters, which I will list because they are great:

I. BASKETS, AND BROOMS [sic] II. HER HANDS HOLD THE DISTAFF
III. THE WHIRR OF THE WOOL-WHEEL
IV. THE THUMP OF THE BATTEN
V. THE CLICK OF THE KNITTING NEEDLES
VI. HONEST STITCHES
VII. MY SAMPLER SPEAKS
VIII. AMERICAN EMBROIDERY
IX. THE ROMANCE OF OLD-TIME QUILTS
X. FINE WORKS
XI. FOLKLORE IN HOME RUG MAKING
XII. THE ANCIENT ART OF NETTING
XIII. LACE LORE
XIV. CANDLE-DIPPING DAY

Great, right?

“Her Hands Hold the Distaff” is almost the best chapter title ever written, but since the quilt chapter gets the word “romance,” I’m gonna say it’s ours by a nose. The book is not a how-to; it’s an account of “pioneer handcraft…which lent so much grace and homely joy to the struggles of the colonists.” (I think/hope “homely” meant something less negative in 1930?)

Isn’t it great to find new old books? Isn’t it cool to go to a used bookstore and find something that you never, ever would’ve known to look for in a library but is exactly what you needed to find?

Tomorrow, I’ll excerpt some wonderful stuff from the quilt chapter; for now, here is an excerpt from the forward:

The study of old-time American handicrafts is a trail winding on and on into delightful bypaths and unexpected turnings. It is difficult for an enthusiast to cease telling the stories connected with these homely arts of our ancestors, so I have limited myself to describing those crafts in the development of which women have played an important part.

It is my earnest wish that this book may serve not only as a guide to the old-time arts, but that it may stimulate the reader to understake the serious study of the development of the crafts of our foremothers as have such workers as Mrs. Atwater, Mrs. Sawyer, and Mrs. Taylor.

I sincerely believe that knowledge in craftsmanship will add beauty to everyday living. Laurence Sterne once made a statement as true in the twentieth century as it was in the eighteenth. He said, ‘What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life, by him who interests himself in everything, and who, having eyes to see what time and chance are perpetually holding out to him, as he journeyeth on his way, misses nothing he can fairly lay his hands on.’

May I leave this message with you?”

 

 

 

It Was Bat Appreciation Day and You Missed It! (I’m Here To Help.)

posted in: Day In The Life, Family, Word Nerd | 2
As much as I like bats, they're not exactly handsome creatures. I went with free clip art. Image: Internet.
As much as I like bats, they’re not handsome creatures. I went with free clip art on this one. Image: Internet.

 

A couple weeks ago, Sophie and I took a trip to the Montrose Point Bird Watching Sanctuary. This sweet enclave of brambles and bushes and trees has gotten the nickname “The Magic Hedge” because over 300 species of birds can be found there, according to the Illinois Audubon Society. The Magic Hedge is one of Sophie and her partner Luke’s favorite places to go because Sophie and Luke are legit bird-watchers. In fact, the first time I ever met Luke, he and Sophie had just come from bird-watching. I swear the crazy kids were wearing matching shirts with birds on them. I might be making that up but it’s definitely something they would do.

The love those two have for birds has had an effect on me; I am more in awe of birds because of their interest and joy in seeing them. But the coolest thing Sophie and I saw at the Bird Sanctuary wasn’t a bird.

It was a bat! Yeah, a bat!

We were going along a hedgerow, picking our way along the path, when an elderly fellow coming the other way stopped us, pointed to a branch mid-way up a tree, and whispered, “There’s a red bat just up ahead. Look there!” There it was! A wee, sleekit bat was hanging upside down, sleeping the day away! Why, he looked like a little pussy willow up there, only with a reddish hue to his fur. Sophie and I couldn’t believe it! A bat! We looked at him for awhile. He didn’t do much but he was great. Then, when a lady came along the path, heading in the direction of Sir Bat, I stopped her and told her about the bat, just as the nice man had done for us.

The bat was probably my favorite thing at the Bird Sanctuary that day. My second favorite thing was witnessing Bird Sanctuary etiquette. I love when people get excited by simple things and help other people get excited about them.

Anywhoo, the very next day I was in the newspaper office looking at a website that lists the National Days. You know, National Donut Day, National PaperGirl Day, stuff like that. Well, what do you suppose I saw? I saw that not only is there a National Bat Appreciation Day, but it was coming up in a matter of days! Amazing.

So I wrote up a short, fun little item about this for F Newsmagazine and I thought I’d send you over there to check it out. I really stand by the reading selections I give you in this article. I know many of you are big readers and I promise: You cannot go wrong with the recommendations offered, even if you aren’t so sure about the subject matter.

Also, “Read All A-Bat-It!” is maybe the best headline I’ve ever written, so there’s that, too. Enjoy!

 

And Now For Something Completely Different: Oulipo!

posted in: Word Nerd | 17
Don't you just want to live inside a great Paris bakery? Like, inside an actual pastry? Me, I call the almond croissant. Image: Wikipedia.
Don’t you just want to live inside a great Paris bakery? Like, inside an actual pastry? Me, I call the almond croissant. Image: Wikipedia.

 

I’ve been learning about this fascinating (and, to be honest, frequently exasperating) group of writers who formed in France in the 1960s: the Oulipo. The word “Oulipo” is a shorthand mashup of letters from “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle,” which is roughly translated: “workshop of potential literature.”

There’s a lot to say about the group and what “potential literature” is, but for now, just know that the Oulipians were/are writers who like to play with writing. Specifically, the Oulipians play with constraints in their writing, many of which are born from math. The Fibonacci Sequence might be the guiding principle in a story, for example (Italo Calvino did this.) Or a writer might “translate” a text following an algorithm, like one called N + 7, where you take every noun in the piece of writing and find the noun that comes seven nouns later in the dictionary and replace the original noun with that word. Weird, right? Yeah, and silly, but also sometimes wonderful — or at least wonderful enough to inspire something you would never have considered if you didn’t try it.

Mostly, the Oulipo is something most folks who don’t dive real deep into literary movements and stuff will ever know about and honestly won’t ever need to know about. But there’s one work so far that has come out of the Oulipo that broke into the mainstream consciousness enough that some folks have heard about it. It’s a 300-page-ish novel by George Perec that does not use the letter ‘e.’ At all. Not once. No ‘e’ for 300 pages. It was written in French but was translated. The title: A Void. (<– See what he did there?)

When you write a piece of text that eliminates one vowel, it’s called a Lipogram. And you know what? They’re really fun. Well, if you’re me. I mean, some people think rollercoasters are fun. I think rollercoasters are horrifying, terrible, not-funny-at-all, why-would-you-do-that, why-would-you-stand-in-line-for that, nightmares. But some people love them! That’s fine. Enjoy. Me, I like barring myself from using an ‘e’ in a piece of text.

And now, my Lipogram! A piece written without the letter ‘e’. (I couldn’t choose to eliminate ‘i,’ for reasons you are about to discover.)

Oh, and this is NOT an official assignment or contest, but: I urge you, if you choose to comment, try to write your comment without using a certain vowel! I’ll let you pick your vowel. Example: “My name is Emma. This entry is interesting and PaperGirl is the best website writing experiment ever! I like Mary.” See? No ‘o’! So Emma couldn’t say “your” or “blog” or “post” or “love.” Cheap thrills, people. Cheap.)

 

Not Without An I (a Lipogram)
(c) by Mary Fons 2017

I can’t do this without an “I.”

Without an “I,” nothing I want to craft can or will stand. To my mind, without an “I,” nothing can bloom — nothing worth looking at, anyhow, nothing worth announcing or proclaiming. I’m a nonfiction author. Proclaiming is what I do.

It is a bit tiring, though, on a bad day, if I’m straight with you. My constant “I” has it’s drawbacks. It blocks a man or woman from my soul, occasionally. A constant I, I, I, is blind, off and on, to plights not its own. This is troubling, particularly if an autumn wind blows and it’s dark by four o’clock. At such an hour as that, my “I” is painfully solo.

But still it stands: I shall hold this “I.” No paragraph I put down can do without it. I am so fond of it, in fact, thinking of its bar or ban, oh! I could cry.

You may claim all words in our world with no limits. As for this girl; as long as I clutch my I, I shall want for no sign or symbol.

Word Nerd: Favorite Words.

posted in: Word Nerd | 36
Hello, Meadow. Photo: Wikipedia.
Hello, Meadow. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

The winners of the essay contest will be announced by Wednesday. The winners have officially been selected and I promise to do the big announcement on Wednesday. Until then, I would like to talk about favorite words. It’s sort of related.

Have you ever been asked what your favorite word is? Have you ever thought about how you’d answer such a question? In my life, this comes up at least a few times a year. I’m not sure if that’s true for you. You might be scratching your head right now. Maybe the concept of choosing (and remembering) a favorite word is something only word nerds do. Why, just today at the newspaper office I overheard a conversation about favorite words. Word nerds hang out in places like newspaper offices and bars.

I have been known to resist the idea of a favorite word. As a writer, after all, one really can’t play favorites. Or maybe a writer can, but a writer’s favorite word is going to be any word that could be classified as the right one at the right time, and what’s “right” changes with the sentence. Furthermore, since the most important thing a writer can do is read (yes, a writer should read more than she writes), she’s bound to come across new words as well as old words used in terrific ways, which means her favorite word(s) really ought to always be changing. If she’s absorbing things, you know?

Maybe I’m overthinking it. I usually am. Therefore, in the spirit of being wrong, here are three of my favorite words:

meadow
dimly [aware] poky

“Meadow” is obvious, isn’t it? To begin with, the word starts with “M,” which is a very smart letter to start a word with, e.g., “Mary.” More importantly, a “meadow” is a word for possibly a perfect thing; a pure, sun-dappled thing. A meadow is a place where fawns leap and prance in the bluebells; a place where cows named Buttercup eat buttercups and faeries zip around and charm little girls into naps where they go on adventures and meet magical creatures who let them bury their faces in their fur. Yes, I love a meadow. I knew meadows in Iowa because for every cornfield and timber in Iowa, there exists a meadow — or two. My sisters and I played in forests and oak groves and meadows. So, yes: “Meadow” is a good word.

“Dimly” is great on its own for awhile, but for the full punch, you’ve gotta pair it with “aware.” To pair “dimly” with “aware” is to pair wine and cheese or chocolate and peanut butter. Look:

She wondered, “Is he trying to insult me?”
She was dimly aware she was being insulted.

or

Eventually, he thought, he would need to go to the dentist about the crown. Until then, he continued to eat ice.
He crunched his ice, dimly aware that his dental work was in danger.

Is not the second sentence in each of the above examples better than the first?? (I realize I don’t have an editor to confirm this; welcome to blogging.) But I believe there’s an intelligence conferred when someone — anyone — is “dimly aware” of something, which is interesting since “dim” usually means the opposite of intelligent. I’ve heard that the mark of intelligence is being able to hold two opposing ideas in one’s mind at the same time, and maybe that’s what I like about “dimly aware.” It’s like, you’re thinking one thing but you’re also sort of vaguely thinking of this other thing, and that makes you a person who thinks. Maybe I like dimly because it rhymes with “grimly” and the tone that usually comes with being “dimly aware” of something is grim or resigned.

And then there’s “poky.” Oh, my lil’ poke!

There are two spellings of this word and they’re both good. Let’s consult the oracle, aka, the dictionary:

pok·ey
ˈpōkē

noun

1. NORTH AMERICAN
informal
noun: pokey
  1. prison.
    “25 years in the pokey”
pok·y
ˈpōkē
adjective
adjective: pokey
  1. 1.
    NORTH AMERICAN
    annoyingly slow or dull.
    “his poky old horse”
  2. 2.
    (of a room or building) uncomfortably small and cramped.
    “five of us shared the poky little room”

I know, right?? It’s so good. A slow horse that you love. A way to describe prison that isn’t a horrifying nightmare. A hotel room that is so bad but you can make it sort of funny instead of a vacation-ruiner. And I also think of my favorite Little Golden Book, The Poky Little Puppy, which is so sweet and good, I think angels wrote it for my grandma to read to me over and over until I knew all the words.

Speaking of words: What’s your favorite? You can choose…three. And you’re entitled to change your mind.

 

Baby, You’re a Star.

posted in: Art, Poetry, Quilting | 12
My first attempt at a Bethlehem Star. Block and photo: Me.
My first attempt at a Bethlehem Star. Block and photo: Me.

 

In the slam poetry world, there’s a famous saying: “The points are not the point. The point is poetry.”

This is usually said when a good poet gets beat by a bad one (something that happens with fair frequency in competitive performance poetry.) It’s kind of a “Better luck next time, buddy” thing to say, a condolence. But it’s also said because it’s true. The saying actually does get at the heart of the poetry slam. The idea behind the whole thing from the start was to get people to engage more directly and viscerally with poetry; who scored what or which poet won the night was never supposed to matter very much. (Note: When you’re the poet who won the night, it matters a lot.)

The picture up there is a process shot of my first-ever attempt at making a Bethlehem Star. The Bethlehem Star is an eight-pointed patchwork star and is notoriously tricky to pull off. For those who don’t do patchwork, it may look like I made this in the dark while drinking adult beverages, possibly blindfolded; the quilters out there will be able to see that I obviously just haven’t sewn together my eight “prongs,” yet. (Nor have I trimmed my dog-ears.) If I can get this post written in the next twenty minutes or so and still have some juice left, I’m going to try sewing it all together tonight and I might even try to cut my side pieces.

But quilters and non-quilters alike, take a look at those diamonds. The ones within one prong of the star. They’re not great. They’re not bad, but there are some jumps and some zig-zags, some places where the tips of the diamonds don’t kiss.* I may find that these eighth-of-an-inch imperfections add up to big problems by the time I go to set in my side pieces, and at that point, I’ll maybe have to un-sew things and make them fit better. I’m okay with that. I like to sew things accurately not because I’m a perfectionist or because I’m fussy, but because sewing is much more fun if you don’t have to keep fixing everything as you go along. Best practices make the process much more enjoyable overall.

However: If I find that my prongs work out and my set-ins work out, too, those not-perfect diamond points suit me fine. Because the points are not the point. The point is the quilt.

The point is the quilt.

I would rather have a quilt that I love, that is actively being made imperfectly, than a “perfect” quilt sitting in a box in my house, or a quilt that isn’t getting any love up there on the design wall. The points are not the point. My life is the point. The fabric that love, that’s the point. The quilt that I make that I will probably give to someone I love, that’s the point.

What else is there?

*Who ever said quilting wasn’t sexy? Ours is a world where diamonds kiss. 

A Day In The Life: High School Writer Gigs.

posted in: Day In The Life, Word Nerd, Work | 7
Picture of high school audience, Ladies Home Journal, 1945. Image: Wikipedia.
Picture of high school audience, Ladies Home Journal, 1945. Image: Wikipedia.

 

This morning, I beat the sun by a long shot.

I was up at 4 a.m. (gah!) so that I could have tea, go over my materials one last time, get all foofed-up, and get to my rental car, which I secured yesterday evening. By my careful calculations, I needed to be on the road to the northwestern suburbs of Chicago by 6 a.m. in order to be at the first of several high school gigs today.

Every year, a handful of dedicated high schools in the Chicagoland area hold “Writer’s Week” festivals. These festivals — which the students love but always struggle for funding and booster support, dangit — invite professional writers to share their work with the students and to talk and answer questions about the writing life. I have been a featured performer at a number of these festivals for well over a decade, now, which is great but also super weird, because I remember my first few times doing these gigs and it does not seem so very long ago. I remember being a young slam poet and freaking out the night before these gigs, timing my set until it was absolutely perfect because I had a limited repertoire; I remember rambunctious boys in the back of the auditorium one year who threw me off — and how I learned that day, the hard way, how to effectively stop any heckler. (Ninety-nine percent of the time, ignore them. I called the kids out that day and it wasn’t good. They wanted attention and they got it. I learned a lot that afternoon.)

I did first-and second-period at my favorite place, William Fremd High (they saw quilts one year), and then spent seventh and eighth at Bartlett High, a school with students were so respectful and courteous, one gets nervous. I did four shows today, in other words. In case you’ve never performed for 50 minutes in front of an auditorium of 300 or so high school students four times in one day, I assure you: It’s not for the faint of heart and when you come home, you will want to eat food and then face plant into the couch for awhile.

Twice today I was approached by quilters: a teacher at Bartlett and the mother-in-law of one of the Writer’s Week organizers. Both of them were excited to say hi and I could see that both of them were looking at me as the quilting person they’ve watched on TV while trying to square it with the high school poetry/writing presenter they just watched live onstage. Welcome to my world.

For many years, I have had a hard time telling people what it is that I “do.” I’m a writer. I’m a quilter. I’m a performer. I write about quilts. I write poetry and perform it. I perform, in a way, in the quilt world because of the on-camera work. I teach people how to quilt, but also how to write — it’s all this gorgeous, difficult slurry of words and fabric scraps and microphone cords. In the past couple years, I have been really working, with every project I take on, to combine these loves. How can writing and quilting and performance come together? Where do writing and quilting intersect — not for me, but for you? What can I give? And how can I help? (By helping others, giving my art away, that’s how I better understand myself. This is the win-win.)

These are the questions. Thank you, high schoolers and faculty and staff, for giving me an audience today. I move toward answers every time I go to work.

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