On my last day of vacation, I helped Mom and Mark weed the big, circular raised bed at the front of the driveway. It took about an hour with the three of us going on it. We kids can often be found helping out with that chore when we’re at the cottage; it’s the least we can do. Mom and Mark feed us lasagna and take us for ice cream, they encourage book reading and napping, and there’s a moped up there. We weed.
It was hot the other day and there’s no shade out there. My stepdad was working pretty quickly because he hates weeds. “Filth!” Mark bellowed, throwing a particularly gnarly one into the big bucket. “These damn weeds! I went over this entire thing not but six weeks ago, Marianne!”
Mark and Mom are master gardeners, which I think means they have a certificate and field questions when anyone decides to plant a shrub. Being a master gardener does not make a person automatically organized and awesome when they go about their gardening, but Mom and Mark just naturally are. Case in point: Mark had divided the bed into “zones” and we each had our own zone to weed.
“There’s your zone and there’s your zone,” he said. “And Marianne, there’s your kit, and there’s your kit, Maru,” Mark said as we walked over to our worksite. The “kit” he made included a bucket, gardening gloves, a trowel, and a mat or towel to kneel upon. I love my stepdad so much. A weed kit? In a delineated zone? Who does that?? Mark. Mark — otherwise known as The Cap’n — does that. He’s also great because he says things like “Filth!” when pulling pesky weeds.
“Hey, guys,” I said, wiping sweat from my brow, “I have a great idea for a horror movie. It would be called The Gardener or The Weed Killer. I mean, look at these implements. They’re so scary!” I held up a tool Mark had put out in case we needed it, some sort of terrifying small rake-claw.
“This one would work, too,” Mark said, showing me a truly frightening-looking blade. “I call it my scalper. You could do some damage with this.” He stabbed the knife into the dirt and cursed at whatever green bit he vanquished.
Mom brought out some cups of water. A butterfly flew by. I was happy.
I have been a little relaxed about letting you all know when there’s a new Quilt Scout column up. But why?!
After all, this Scout continues to keep the home fires burning over there at Quilts, Inc., opining about all sorts of quilt-specific items twice a month. Besides, she’s been filing rather sparkling content of late, darnit. Most of the time, when I turn in my work to the (rakish) Bob G. and (steadfast) Rhianna G., I say, “This is my favorite column, yet, you guys!!” but lately, I’ve meant it even more.
If you go to the Quilts, Inc. Scout page, I guarantee you’ll find several pieces worth your time. What will likely show up first is my piece examining the similarity between music “zines” of the 1990s and the early publications of the late-20th-century American quilt revival. Fascinating stuff. The column I turned in last week might be up by the time you click, though, which is just as groovy: I offer tips for taking great quilt style photography. Trade secrets!? You bet.
Regardless of what comes up on the homepage, all my columns, most-recent first, are linked on the left of the page. These pieces shall surely provoke and entertain. Now, I mean “provoke” in a good way, as in “provoke thought” or “provoke reflection”, though I have been informed that several of my columns — presumably the post critiquing feminism/quilting and the one about the Smithsonian article — elicited angry letters! Yes! Several people were miffed and let their miffs be known in emails (okay, two) to my bosses. Well, I like that very much. Writing and/or reading about quilting shall never be dull because the quilt is alive and well and complicated. Let the discourse live!
See you at the Scout. And you know, speaking of feedback … If you like what you read and want the Scout to keep scouting — forever in service to you — let Quilts, Inc. know. We all need a little encouragement, even a fearless scout.
I vehemently oppose the “home assistant” device.
Alexa, Echo, Google Home — I don’t care which mega-conglomerate made it or how soothe-saying the device’s (female) personality sounds: They’re no damn good.
Do you have one of these? Have you, like Nick, welcomed an unblinking, all-seeing eyeball into your home that watches you and listens to you and records your data and sells it to [insert mega-conglomerate here]??
“Alexa,” Nick will say to the cylinder that lives and breathes in the corner of his room, “What’s the temperature?”
“The temperature is 80-degrees,” Alexa “says.”
It sounds so civilized. It even sounds helpful. Alexa may be, in certain cases. I understand there are arguments to be made for folks with limited mobility; I know certain tech gadgets can assist those differently abled. But for the majority of folks out there, these things are unnecessary. Just because we can have them does not mean we should! The whole thing is dastardly. Sick, even. These devices listen to and watch people in their homes, gathering data about citizens’ private lives for Lord knows what! “They” are watching our activity online already. Isn’t one mode of home surveillance enough?
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. After all, there is one home assistant I’m okay with. Have you heard of her? Her name is …
See, my mom and my stepdad and I were talking about this “home assistant” thing and got to joking around, shouting out questions to no one (and no device) in particular, asking things that couldn’t possibly be answered by Siri, Alexa, or anything without organically-grown brain matter.
“Verushka!” Mark yelled from the porch. “When did I learn to ride a bicycle?”
“Verushka!” Mom called. “What color of blue do I need in the quilt I’m working on?”
We started asking Verushka lots of questions — she didn’t answer a single one! — and while Mark and I were laughing about it, Mom, because she’s hilarious, actually fashioned a Verushka. A mini-monolith, an analog wonder, really just a cardboard box with a wifi signal drawn on with a Sharpie, Verushka is the best “home assistant” money can’t buy. She isn’t hooked up to the internet. She’s not collecting data. She’s free.
“She’s like a dog, except less expensive,” my mother said.
“She’s my new pet rock,” said Mark.
We ask Verushka all kinds of things. We ask her about the weather, but then we just look outside. We ask her if we have eggs and then, when she is silent as the grave, we ask the person closest to the fridge. We ask her about the meaning of life, obviously, but I happen to know the Siris and the Echos out there have a programmed answer for such “silly” questions. If you ask Siri, “What is the meaning of life?” she’ll say something like, “To think about questions like this” or “42.”
This is where Verushka pulls away from the pack. Because Verushka answers that question the only way a robot/invasive species should answer: She replies with silence. And in that silence, the people in the room can either talk to each other about it or, if, the woman is by herself, she can sit for awhile and think about it.
If you missed yesterday’s post, you’ll want to click here to get caught up. What follows is the second half of imaginary Rolling Stone’s interview with the legendary, the elusive, the deeply nerdy … Mary Fons. Ann Kotske reports. —Eds.
RS: You almost didn’t come back for the second half of this interview.
PG: That’s true.
I like to switch things up. I wondered if some people wouldn’t be into the Rolling Stone interview format they’d just skip today’s post because it would be the same thing as yesterday.
I’d like to think that sort of editorial concern has kept people reading me all these years.
You decided to go ahead with it, though. Why?
Continuity concerns me, too.
Let’s switch things up, then. We can leave behind heavy issues like —
— like life, sure, and —
Okay. But aren’t life and death connected?
If one is off the table, the other one is, too, don’t you think?
Who are you?
Come on, let’s have some fun. How’s Nick?
Achingly good-looking. Sweet. And going into a year-long master’s program in a few weeks. I’m crazy about him. We’re still taking things slow-ish. I think.
Tell me about your outfit.
Didn’t we said yesterday I’m in my pajamas?
You can have changed.
Now there’s a sentece: “You can have changed.”
I think it’s grammatically correct in this case. Now, the clothes.
I’m becoming a person that wears one thing: a classic-fit, Oxford-style shirt from Brooks Brothers with tailored black or navy trousers. I’m not interested in wearing or shopping for anything else, which feels strange but also feels right. This ensemble is perfect for every occasion, whether I’m in the city, headed to my office, or on location in who-knows-where, executing some photo shoot. I feel polished and practical. Of course, beyond the shirt and trousers I need great shoes and a great coat and handbag. That’s where I have my fun. But the crisp, white or blue-striped Oxford and the black pants … I can’t think how to improve on that.
What’s your fascination with unboxing videos on YouTube?
Watching people take foreign objects out of a box feels like Christmas. But there’s also a morbid fascination in it for me. Consumerism is eating the world alive, so watching unboxing videos is like partying on the Titanic.
How’s your mom?
Hi, Mom! You’re reading this, of course, so answer in the comments. How are you?
How’s your dad?
Haha. I don’t know. Dad, how are? Let me tell you: If my estranged father reads my blog and chooses to comment, any recent lull in blog posts will be more than made up for in the days to come. That will be interesting. So … Dad? Are you there? How are things?
I noticed you’re not blonde anymore.
After two years of being blonde — and loving it, I’ll have you know — I had to stop. My salon is great, but blonde is tough on a gal after awhile. I’m only biding my time until my hair is healthy enough to destroy again.
What’s on tap for tomorrow?
Like, what’s on deck?
On … deck.
What are you going to write about tomorrow??
Whatever it is, it’ll be true.
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.
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.
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.
Are you repeating me?
Are you repeating me?