The Sunday Evening Post : You Look Good

posted in: Day In The Life | 193
A fête to end all fêtes? You bet. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

Say you’ve been living in the same city for over a decade and then decide to move away.

Before you leave, you’ll probably enjoy some intentional farewell-ing. If you’re an extrovert with a robust social life, you might get a going-away party. The party might be a big deal or a small deal, but either way a send-off would be a gathering of people who will miss you when you’re gone. At the very least, someone will want to grab lunch with you before you dip and they might pick up the check. For luck, you know?

Now, a couple years later, let’s say you move back.

You don’t slink back. You don’t return in shame under cover of darkness, but your return could not be considered triumphant. I mean, it’s not like you slayed a dragon or rescued a village of maidens — or even one maiden. And while (most of) the people you used to know are happy to see you back, it would be unwise to expect a fête with kazoos and signage. Seriously, don’t wait for that. People are living their lives. Your comings and goings are not as significant to them as they are for you, and that’s okay. The truth is, it’s “out of sight, out of mind” for most of us, squirt.

What I’m getting at is that it would be a mistake for me to burst into the room, as it were, and proclaim my return to PaperGirl, waving my best Queen of England wave, batting my eyelashes while wondering how many virtual roses may soon come sailing to my feet. I know many of you have missed me — and thanks for making me cry, dweebs — you’re busy. You’ve been living your life. You’ve got concerns that do not concern a blog or absence thereof.  And believe me, I know that some of you may have missed me for awhile but missing turned to annoyance because let’s face it: I ghosted. For a minute. And we have a … thing.

I’m sorry.

If you’ll have me, you can have me. I’m home.

And if there are any of you out there who might make a fuss; I appreciate it. A lot. But I don’t really have a choice. When I drifted away and put my head in the sand, I had no idea how drying all that sand was. I’m going through a lot of moisturizer — and I like the fancy stuff. It’s not sustainable. Besides, stuck in all this sand, I can’t hear or see anything, which means I can’t see you.

My idea is to write The Sunday Evening Post* every week. We have to set reachable goals. We have to ease into things. If I get too excited, I’ll spill my bowl of soup and then feel defeated and stick my head back in the sand.

I cannot express how good it feels right now to mix metaphors for you.

*We reserve the right to bend time and space.

True Confessions of a Real Estate Dropout.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life | 2
Unique advertisement for real estate "near Puerto Rico" c. 1973. Photo: Wikipedia.
Unique advertisement for real estate “near Puerto Rico” c. 1973. Photo: Wikipedia.

True confession: I put my condo up for sale.I didn’t tell you. But it’s not for sale anymore.

When I came back in November, Chicago felt like a soft, fluffy cloud that wasn’t made out of water vapor but a material that made it soft and fluffy. I floated down to my Chicago cloud and bounced once, twice, three times, and then fell asleep dreaming of Nelson Algren and Lou Malnati’s pizza. Chicago was perfect in every way and I knew in my bones I was right to come home. But my condo felt strange.

Oh, it was clean after my renters. We talked about this. The building management was the same. Most of my neighbors and doormen guys were intact. No, it was something else. Was the ceiling lower in my unit? Was the sink I picked for the bathroom just a total misfire? The windows weren’t big enough. The carpet needed to be redone, or maybe hardwood floors? All the cosmetic issues led to deeper ones. The truth is, I have experienced pure agony in this space of both the physical and relational kind. Hospital, heartbreak; it’s all the same when it’s at Level 10, it’s just a question of whether you need a surgeon or Tom Waits. Even the good stuff that happened here felt hard to meet with again, e.g., I dreamed up Quilty here and by the time I came back, the girl was gone.

And so I listed it a few months ago. I thought, “New space, new life, reset.” I mean, at this point, I sorta miss moving. (That is a joke.)

It’s an amazing thing to live in a condo that is for sale. The best part is that I’ve kept the place immaculate; it has needed to be ready for a showing at any moment so everything is put away and shiny. While Claus was here I had a cleaning buddy and I miss that; good heavenly days could that man clean a kitchen! My adorable, capable realtor has been chipper, energetic, and optimistic from the start, but has been more interest than there have been offers. There are reasons. There are no dogs allowed in my building and that’s a drawback; the monthly assessments are crazy high (vintage building, doormen, amenities, new elevators, etc.); the remodeled kitchen is stunning but narrow, stuff like that. Everyone who has come into my home freaks out and loves it: but coming over for a dinner party, a sewing group, or a nightcap does not involve mortgage insurance. Real estate is a big deal and I’ve curated this place for one specific person: me.

As the months went by and I wasn’t getting what I was after, two things happened: 1) I continued to settle in; and 2) I looked around. There’s a saying that getting over a breakup takes half as long as the relationship lasted. That sounds like some 8th-grade girl math to me but I am an 8th-grade girl in many ways, so I like it. Maybe it’s true for moving back into a home. I was gone eighteen months; maybe it’s taking nine to readjust. It’s been about eight so far.

It hit me the other day that I don’t need to leave this place, that I don’t even want to. I just need some paint. I need to get that painting framed, finally. I might just go find a new couch, although spending anything over $150 is unwise — hello, grad school! — and $150 won’t buy you a couch you actually want to sit on. But I can do a lot with very little; I did it in D.C. not so very long ago. (In fact, I did it twice.)

Condo, I’m sorry. I love you. What was I thinking? You’re my buddy. Let’s get messy this summer. Let’s paint and rearrange stuff and find vintage gems. Let’s date each other. I’ll buy flowers for you and you let me sleep over.

 

Dear Mr. Fancy Pants Faulkner, Sir.

posted in: Art | 1
William Faulker portrait by Carl Van Vechten, 1951 (courtesy Library of Congress.) Arrow and title me, courtesy me, 2016.
William Faulkner portrait by Carl Van Vechten, 1951, courtesy Library of Congress. Arrow and title me, courtesy me, 2016.

The Sound and the Fury. As I Lay Dying. Intricate, internal monologues woven through boundary-pushing modernist novel structures; characters so complex and layered they are thisclose to materializing on the couch while you’re reading; trailblazing treatments of racism in American literature; one of the longest sentences in all of literary history (just shy of 1,300 words) found in Absalom! Absalom! and he won the Pulitzer for Literature in 1949 so okay, fine. William Faulkner knows about writing.

But I picked up Volume II of the Paris Review Interviews the other day and I have decided that though Faulkner deserves his spot at the table of Best Ever Writers, he was not nice and I don’t like him. Does Faulkner need to be nice? No. Does he need me to like him? Certainly not, for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that he is dead. But while I agree with some of his rallying cry stuff about how an artist has to be painfully dedicated and driven and in competition with herself, I read some of his answers and became deeply depressed. Because the kinds of things he said directly contribute to countless writers — young and otherwise — who think it’s okay to develop into myopic jerks, okay to maybe nurture an alcohol problem, and definitely okay to not make rent, all because Faulkner was feeling passionate and grumpy the day he said this kind of thing on record:

“The writer doesn’t need economic freedom. All he needs is a pencil and some paper. I’ve never known anything good in writing to come from having accepted any free gift of money The good writer never applies to a foundation. He’s too busy writing something.”

I see. So a person should never apply for a scholarship? Never apply to a foundation so she can write her book? That’s cool. I’ll just keep working nine jobs and try to squeeze in my Sound and the Fury while I’m on the interstate. Did they even have health insurance in 1929? Then there was this, when asked if writing movie scripts could hurt a person’s writing:

“Nothing can injure a man’s writing if he’s a first-rate writer. If a man is not a first-rate writer, there’s not anything can help it much.”

Mr. Faulkner, how do you feel about success?

“Good [writers] don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich. Success is feminine and like a woman; if you cringe before her, she will override you. So the way to treat her is to show her the back of your hand. Then maybe she will do the crawling.” 

Wow! Yuck!

These words strike me as not just harsh but barbarous and he must’ve meant it, because who cares about words more than William Faulkner? He cares about words so much that he says barbarous things to keep them safe, I guess, from people who abuse them, don’t understand them correctly, rub them together in ugly ways while he’s around to have to smell it. Look, I understand there are a whole lot of people in the world who would be better off being an actuaries, for example, than writers, but you know what? They/we will probably figure that out. And if they don’t but are blissfully happy writing their romance novels or whatnot, who cares, Bill? You’re a real piece of work!

I’m probably missing the entire point. Some Faulkner society will get a google alert that this blog post exists and they will laugh and highbrow-high-five each other at reading group. They can go ahead because I’m on Team Orwell and Orwell wasn’t nice but he wasn’t fancy, either.

*I wrote about the Paris Review books another time.

 

“Eye-Eye, Doctor!”

posted in: Day In The Life | 1
Optometrist appointment reminder postcard, c. 1935. Image: Wikipedia.
Optometrist appointment reminder postcard, c. 1935. Image: Wikipedia.

I got to go to the optometrist today. I love going to the optometrist. I always have — and I mean that in two ways: I have always loved going to the optometrist and I have always gone to the optometrist because since I was in second grade or so, I have required vision correction. Whenever I see a shorty with glasses, I get a pang. Kids under six look adorable in glasses but most of them don’t think so (I didn’t.)

The optometrist is great because there are so many interesting tools used to examine you but none of them are sharp or contain fluid. You sit down in a comfortable chair. You put your chin in a cup. The doctor comes close and shines a tiny light directly in your eye but for some reason this is not a problem. You look at letters on the wall and try to read them. Whether or not you read the letters correctly, the optometrist gives you praise: “Okay, great. Let’s look at the next one.” You don’t know if you’re right or wrong about the letters and you don’t care that much. You’re just in a quiet place with someone who cares about your eyes.

You’ll think I’m kidding, but I’m not: the sound of test lenses dropping into place as the doctor goes, “Is 1 better? Or 2? Is 3 better? Or 4? 5 better? or 4?” — that entire sequence is my favorite sound in the world. There’s something calming and drowsy about it, but it’s impossible to explain. (Probably an ASMR thing, if you’re familiar with that.) If you’ve never been to an eye doctor, you have no idea what I’m talking about. If you have been to the eye doctor, you do know, and I’ll bet you love that, too.

It took some time to tweak my slightly-changed prescription, so my optometrist and I got to chatting as I swapped out this and that contact. Did you know optometry school takes four years? It take four years after an undergrad degree. I don’t know why I was surprised; a person who works exclusively with the health of freaking eyeballs should probably study for awhile before they do that.

My right eye has felt tired, lately. I was hoping it was because I was straining to see out of it, that I needed a stronger prescription. As that is not the case, I am still mildly concerned about this. But it only happens when I wear my contacts; when I wear my glasses, I’m fine. I’m not excited about wearing my glasses all the time, so I hope this tiredness goes away. I’d like to have options, which is precisely how I felt when I was six.

 

When Your Arms Are In The Wrong Place.

posted in: Sicky | 1
Actual document.
Actual document.

I was in the ER recently. It happens. An amusing thing happened this time around.

The triage nurses put EKG nodes all over my chest and arms to get my ee-kay-gee-zies. A male and a female nurse worked together to stick the suction cups all over my torso — unceremoniously, I’ll have you know — and then they punched EKG buttons on a machine atop a rickety cart. They looked at the reading that came out and I saw their eyes get very wide. They looked at each other, subtly panicked.

“Wait, wait…”

“Okay, so…”

I was understandably concerned. I asked if everything was okay. I got no answer right away, but then the male nurse sighed a huge sigh of relief and turned to his colleague.

“We’ve got the left and right arm nodes on the wrong side,” he said. He turned to me. “The machine thinks your arms are on the wrong side of your body.”

When you feel bad enough to be in an ER but have no flesh wounds and have been given sufficient pain medication, you are able to cackle with delight. Arms in the wrong place?! What a hoot! I managed to slap my knee before they came to switch the nodes.

“Can I have the EKG?” I asked. “I love the idea of a machine thinking my left arm was on the right side of my body and the right arm was on the left side of my body. I mean, how often does that happen? Can I have it?”

“Uh, sure,” the nurse said, and handed it over.

EKG paper is awesome; it’s onion skin-like, and it’s nice and pink. And hey, it’s your body in pen ink. I told him I wanted to blog about this. And I did.

Hang On, Hang On: A Gallstone?

posted in: Day In The Life, Sicky | 0
Cheesecake with berries, because you do not want me to use a picture of a gallbladder or a gallstone. Trust me. Photo: Wikipedia
Cheesecake with berries, because you do not want me to use a picture of a gallbladder or a gallstone. Trust me. Photo: Wikipedia

I must confess a strange sense of embarrassment when I the surgeon told me he saw a small gallstone on my CT scan. Aren’t gallstones what obese men in their late fifties get when they eat cheeseburgers all day, watch SportsCenter and smoke Pall Malls? My brain also connected “gallstone” with “kidney stone” and boy, I’ve heard some horrific stories about those things. Really, any time a doctor says the word “stone” in conjunction with the words “inside” and “your,” you’ve got some thinking to do.

When I got home and stopped barfing, I read up on gallbladders and what can go wrong with them. A person can get gallbladder cancer, but this is extremely rare. (There’s a terrible, terrible joke here, barely: Q: What did the gallbladder say to cancer? A: “What am I, chopped liver?”) No, it’s mainly just gallstones that afflict our gallbladders. But why and how? First, we have to understand what the gallbladder is for: it does stuff with bile. That’s it, that’s all I can tell you. It’s not important. Well, it isn’t! You can have your gallbladder removed, so how important can it be? Your honor, I rest my case.

Still, you don’t want things going awry in there, and then things do. Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid. Considering that my guts are made of cotton candy and popsicle sticks, that I would have a digestive fluid problem isn’t a huge leap. Many people have gallstones; most people don’t know they do and don’t have to know because most gallstones are small and harmless. They form for various reasons and yes, one of the reasons is having high cholesterol due to many, many cheeseburgers and no exercise, Pall Malls, etc. But some gallstones form because…well, why shouldn’t they? Don’t judge a gallstone for wanting to live. Gallstones are just like you and me.

My friend told me this morning that he had a terrible time with his gallbladder and nearly had to have it removed; he avoided this in the eleventh hour thanks to medicine and fluids. He did say the pain he experienced was the worst of his life. He passed out and he’s no fainting goat.

I have zero symptoms, though. I think I’m one of the people who will never have to deal with my stone (I like to refer to it as my little “gallpebble,” thank you.) If they have to take it out, though, I ain’t scurred. Actually, it would be kind of exciting. Taking out my gallbladder would increase the number of organs I’ve had excised from three to four. If you count tonsils and four wisdom teeth, now I’m getting to be a real conversation piece. Oh, and there were a couple suspicious moles removed a few years back. Hm. Parts of my body are just flying off into space, aren’t they?

Tomorrow we examine (in words, in words!) my cyst. What nerve! What gall!

You Are Not Shabby.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Rant | 0
This would be money. Photo: Rose garden at Castle Bank, Kirkcudbright; harbor view.
This would be money. Photo: Rose garden at Castle Bank, Kirkcudbright; harbor view.

Far worse than the feeling I had other day was that I allowed myself to indulge it for longer than .05 seconds.

I’ve connected with lots of fantastic people here in D.C. (quilters, I’m looking at you.) Lately, I’ve been spending time with a group of people who I would describe as fancy. These new friends are warm, they’re smart, and they’ve been extremely successful in their work. As a result of this last, their homes are — the two I’ve been in, anyway — exquisitely beautiful and well-appointed. Enormous art that costs more money than many folks take home in a year hangs on the walls; the lights are low. The wine glasses are fishbowl-size. The tiles in all five bathrooms are heated. The stereo system apparently works by way of air molecule; wherever you go in the house, Carla Bruni sings to you at a soft level that is surely scientifically-proven to be best for optimal aural pleasure. There are bidets, guest houses, pools. Stuff like that.

So I’m standing in the living room of one of these houses the other day and I suddenly felt a deep and terrible longing. And I felt like a guttersnipe. I’m just some dumb kid from Iowa. I’m a writer. I make quilts. Who cares? Sure, my shoes were fabulous, but I felt like a real phony-baloney, like okay, I have this great pair of shoes but these people have closets and closets of shoes and they don’t even think twice about them and here I am, excited about my dumb ol’ shoes. Envy, as it turns out, is less a toothy, green-eyed monster and more a sad, black mold over the heart. My life seemed small and I felt so far, far away from the life I saw before me. And I wanted that life. And I felt shabby.

And then I got mad. At myself. Really, really mad.

Unbelievable. How dare I? How dare any of us compare our lives to the lives of others in this way? Look, I’ve earned my place on this earth. To allow myself to feel less-than compared to anyone (even if they have their own table at Daniel) is a grave offense. It’s insulting; it’s also whiny and indulgent. I told myself to knock it off — and if you’re given to this kind of thing or have experienced it lately, you knock it off, too. To smack around or otherwise disrespect your hard-won experience, your unique outlook and perspective, to throw your life’s portfolio in the garbage or hide it behind your back because you want to be someone else, this is the only thing you should be ashamed of. Not your shoes. Not the space you take up. But at turning your back on who you are and what you’ve earned.

I love my quilts. I love my poems; after I left where I was that day and got over my damned self, I found myself loving them more. I’m proud of what I’ve done in my life so far and you should be proud of what you’ve done. It matters. You don’t need an invitation to a gala or a Maserati in the garage to be crucial.

My apartment is only a few square feet bigger than the master bathroom in the house where I was, no fooling. But it’s mine. And when I take a shower, I get just as clean.

 

Flyer Man.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life | 0
Coulda been worse, right?
As a rule, street flyers are to be avoided. Especially this one.

If you’re in Chicago in the early evening, any time of year, walking south on State Street just past Monroe, you will be offered a flyer by a tall black man. This is not an omen: it will absolutely happen, I can almost guarantee it.

This is because there is a dude that stands there at State and Monroe and hands out flyers. He’s always there. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night* keeps this guy from hanging out at his spot. I have passed him countless times in the past two years and said, “Nah, not today,” when he tried to give me his handbill. But in a city filled with hysterical street preachers, insane/vocal itinerants, and the jingling cups of a thousand beggars, here’s what’s interesting about this guy:

– he’s well-dressed
– he can’t be over 30
– he never says anything
– I’ve gotten tiny glimpses of the content on his flyers and have never detected hate speech, “Repent Now!!!” stuff, etc., which is typically the only content covered in such tracts.

Still, I never took what he offered — until tonight. My choice of evening was not great. I was walking with way too much stuff to carry by myself. It was eight degrees. I was hoping I could make it to the bus stop before the bus did, but it didn’t look good. I passed the dude and said “No thanks, man,” as usual, but I noticed he was offering a thick, perfect-bound book, not just the usual 8×10 photocopy. Hm. I walked a few paces, stopped, turned around, and went back.

“Hey, man. You know, I’ve been passing you for like two years, now, and never taken your stuff.” The plastic bag in my hand was about to rip open and was full of bedding that surely weighed twenty-five pounds if it weighed an ounce. The dude started to speak but I interrupted him. It had to be done. Remember, it was eight degrees.

“Wait, wait. The book. Is it full of religious stuff? Like, a lot of God stuff? I really wouldn’t be into that, so just tell me now.”

Up close, the guy did not in fact appear insane. He said, “Okay, well, there is God in there, I mean, but I write about all kinds of things.”

“Okay, cool. How much?”

Here was the pitch, which was to be expected. “The original price is $19.95,” he said, “But I’m selling it for ten right now.”

I hauled my bag over the other shoulder and dug into my purse. I opened my pocket book. I had exactly seven dollars. I showed him. “I got seven bucks, man. That cleans me out. Will you take seven?” He gave me dirty look but acquiesced. I gave him the dough, he gave me his book, that was it.

It’s pretty bad. For example, in the appendix (?) he talks about his process and says the following (all sic):

“The time inbetwee epipanies and lyrics will represent concentrated thought…absorbed by the reader and can be extracted or deduced or deconsentrated. For example, they would wonder what made you go from this idea to the next…This is how I write some of my literature.”

You see what I mean. But there’s heart, and in the dedication the guy thanks his elementary school teachers, saying that they, “did the best they could with whatever resources they had, to give us a quality education.” He also thanks his mother for her “constant home school lessons” and ends with a solemn and sincere, “This book wouldn’t exist without you all.”

Keep writing, man. I will if you will. And stay warm out there.

*Some may recognize this language; I’ve annexed the gorgeous U.S. Postal Service creed, which goes: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Stunning.