This weekend I met hundreds of sweet, talented quilters at Meissner’s sew/quilt haven in Sacramento. Generous stacks of my book, Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century, went quickly, especially when you consider everyone in the shop was drooling over the newest BabyLock machines and waiting for my mom to come out of the bathroom so she could sign their first issue of Love of Quilting.
The good news is that there are books left! I’d love to sign a copy of Make + Love for you and send it to your house/apartment/yurt. The bookstore price is $22.95, but I’ll give you for $20, plus $5 shipping and handling. Yeah, it turns out to be about the same amount of money, but it’s signed. Can’t get that on eBay! (I hope.)
The book is my first and includes 12 original scrap quilt patterns for bed-sized quilts and a lot of sparkling content. You get full instructions, tips, and various extras in the book, including this quote from Marilyn Monroe: “It’s not true I had nothing on. I had the radio on.” I’m serious, that is in my quilt book. You’ll see.
Click on the Make + Love Book tab on my website. Scroll down and you’ll find a PayPal button. You don’t need a PayPal account to buy the book. Click the button! PayPal will give me your shipping address. Please let me know who to make the book out to if the name is different from the person paying. I will get books out as soon as I can; my goal is within three (3) days of ordering, but with my travel schedule, be kind. I’ll let you know if it will be much longer than that. Books will be sent media mail.
Isn’t it nice to buy something not through Amazon? If you haven’t done that lately, give ‘er a shot.
*If you live in a country that is not the USA, I’ll happily send a book, but we have to get together on shipping. So put a note in your order when you click it to me.
If power animals exist, my power animal is a deer. I’m not sure about the existence of power animals but what do I know? I do know that over and over again in my life, I have close encounters with cervidae of various kinds.
Today, back home in Washington, I set out to fetch groceries. There was not much in my fridge beyond a hunk of Parmesan cheese (good) and watermelon I should’ve thrown out before I left town (bad.) There’s a fabulous little organic grocery store in my new neighborhood, but “fabulous” and “organic,” when applied to “grocery” and “store” means yams are $5.00/ea. Close to that, anyway. I consulted the oracle and found a Giant supermarket close to my building.
Apparently, I had my Google Maps set to Hermes; what I thought would be a twenty-two-minute trip was at least double that. The Giant really can’t be the closest supermarket to me but these are the misadventures you have when you live in a new place. You have to go to the wrong places to find the right ones.
I’m walking along (and along) the sidewalk in a pretty neighborhood. I’m sweating from the humidity and sun. And coming from the other side of the street — casual as anything — steps a deer. Large deer. Deer with antlers. This deer walked into the street and was therefore about ten or twelve feet away from me. Seeing each other, we stopped in our tracks. The deer looked at me and I looked at the deer and for a moment I wondered, “Do deer charge humans?” and I felt fear. We looked at each other for a good 2.5 seconds; I’ve replayed the encounter many times and believe that’s correct.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I thought. It was right there. Wildlife in the city and we were crossing paths. The deer — surely feeling fear, wondering if humans charge deer — took a running leap over a high fence into someone’s yard where I presume he began munching begonias.
There was a FedEx truck way down the hill who might’ve seen the deer up ahead. I tried to make eye contact with him as he passed. I opened my eyes wide to communicate, “What the —-?!” but I didn’t get an appropriate response, so I don’t think he saw it. This was a me-deer thing.
I’m not so sure power animals are real, but that was mighty powerful.
Do you have quilts in your house that are just sitting there? Are they folded, perhaps in the closet, perhaps on a shelf? Put another way: is it time for you to give some quilts away? Probably.
Generosity is in quilters’ DNA. We typically do give quilts away, which is fabulous if you’re a person who knows a quilter, because if you wanted to buy a beautifully made, king- or queen-sized quilt, it would cost you several thousand dollars; if a quilter loves you, you get it for free.
I give quilts away because there is nothing worse than looking at a stack of beautiful quilts languishing in my closet or in baskets around the house. What good are they doing there? The joy is in the making. Once the quilt is finished — unless it’s one I’m going to use for teaching or one that means so very, very much to me personally it’s like a limb — it’s time to give it away. Everyone but everyone needs a handmade quilt.
Today, my bestest friend Sarah got her quilt. It was a wedding gift way overdue. It’s the cover quilt for my book, Make + Love Quilts (available at fine bookstores everywhere!) It’s perfect for her, her husband Seth, and their kids, Little Seth and baby Katherine.
The quilt is out of my studio, out of my home, out of my life. I couldn’t be happier.
“Can I have a another cooky first? You tell long stories.”
“Here. Anything else?”
“Good. Okay, then, PaperGirl. Well, once upon a time, long ago, I wrote a poem.”
“What was it called?”
“I’m getting to it. It was called ‘The Paper Poem,’ and it was an extended metaphor about the nature of existence being fragile like paper, but beautiful, too, like paper is beautiful.”
“Before your time.”
“Oh. Your poem sounds cool, grandma.”
“I liked it. Other people liked it, too, and I performed it in many places all over the country.”
“Like in Bismark?”
“No, never actually in Bismark, I don’t think. Maybe. It was a long time ago. Anyway, there’s a verse where I say ‘I will be your paper girl,’ and that’s where ‘PaperGirl’ comes from.”
“What’s the verse?”
“You want to hear the whole verse?”
“Is it long?”
“No, it’s not long. It’s the second-to-last verse of the poem and it goes like this:
But if you are a paper doll, too, then I shall know you on sight,
And if you are with me, come with me tonight; I will match up our bodies
by the tears in our arms —
We will form paper barricades against matchstick harm;
I will make paper love to you for as long as I can in this shreddable world;
I will be your paper girl.
“That’s nice, grandma.”
“And you named your blog that because of that poem?”
“Yes. And PaperGirl is the name of my LLC, too. And that small island I bought. And the Beaux Arts building you like so much in Paris. And my foundation in Dubai and all the vineyards in Spain. Everything in my empire, it’s all under the PaperGirl umbrella.”
“I wanna go to the zoo and see a rhinoceros.”
“Get your coat.”
[NOTE: I’ve been asked lately why the blog is called what it is, so it seemed fair to offer this again, an entry originally posted on this date.]
You spend lots of time in air travel, you’re bound to amass air travel stories. I’ve promised this blog will never be about one thing, but I’d better watch it or it will become Paper(Airplane)Girl before our very eyes. Unfortunately, the plane-related tale tonight is hardly as lighthearted as yesterday’s baby-on-a-crime-spree.
Our flight from Midway landed safely at LaGuardia last night. A delay at the jetway meant that everyone had to sit tight for a few minutes. I’m sitting in my aisle seat and suddenly I hear a barking dog. Not a real dog; I was hearing the sound effect of a dog. The barking was coming from a cell phone — it was the phone’s ringer.
The phone was inside the pants pocket of stout businessman of about fifty. He was standing in the aisle, his belt buckle too close to my head. His hand brushed my shoulder as he stuck it into his pocket to get at the phone. It was 8:30pm and folks were quiet and tired and everyone was hearing this barking dog.
“The bitch is calling,” he said with a chortle and silenced the ringer.
It was clear as a bell, or a gunshot: His wife was calling.
He had set his ringer to sound a barking dog when his wife called him and he thought this was so clever that he’d toss it out to a plane-full of people for our amusement, too. Sure enough, several men around the man sniggered.
She could be awful. Yesterday might’ve been the worst day of his life. Maybe “bitch” is a term of endearment for those two. You don’t know what goes on between two people. But I was coming in to town with a lot of questions, confusions, hopes, and fears about what comes next in life and his “joke” seemed so needlessly mean. We’ve all been cruel, me included. It’s nothing to be proud of. You can try to curtail that stuff, improve. Anyone can try to do better.
Greetings from just outside of Denver, Colorado, the city that boasts 300 sunny days a year! It was raining when I arrived yesterday, but I’ll let go.
I was inside a production studio and very much on camera all day today, filming online courses for Craft University (I’ll share details soon; these will be cool) and I also filmed one of three lectures I’m doing for F+W Media, which will be available online when they’re all done in post-production. The how-to classes are awesome but I have to say: man, am I stoked about these lectures.
I’m calling the series the “While You Sew” lectures. You see, when I’m sewing at my machine, I like some audio/visual company — but I don’t want anything that requires me to pay close attention. I don’t want an actual plot. I tried watching Mad Men once when I was making patchwork. Two things happened: 1) I did not track what was happening on Mad Men; 2) I made lots of mistakes in my patchwork and therefore did not enjoy myself. Because you can’t actually do two things at once; this is what they tell us. Our brains switch back and forth and it’s lousy.
Instead of watching drama shows, I fire up YouTube and find interviews with interesting people (thanks, Charlie Rose!) or I find lectures (TEDTalks work) or I’ll really dig deep and find long CSPAN BookTV clips with intriguing authors. (Documentaries are good, too.) This kind of media is edifying and pleasant but I don’t have to watch as much as listen and if I miss something, I can go back and hear it again or simply not worry much about it because it’s not like someone really important to the storyline just got shot or maimed. I don’t want anyone to get shot whether or not I’m paying attention.
Well, being the quilt geek that I am, nothing would please me more than to sew while listening to interviews with quilters or find a series of lecture from quilt experts. There are a handful of good documentaries (I praise them in the lectures I’m taping) but they’re not online. Really, there’s very little in the way of quilter interviews, documentaries, lectures, talks — any of that. A sea of how-to, but no geek stuff.
What to do? Make some, I reckon.
And so I am. We are. It’s happening. The lectures are around 30-40 minutes each. The visuals are awesome. The lectures are funny, they’re packed with fascinating information about quiltmaking in America, they clip along. They’re casual, but boy, are they researched. Honestly, I have worked so hard on these things, it’s reminding me of writing the book.
As soon as I know when they’ll be available, you’ll know. I’ll be selling them through my site, here, sort of: you can click a link and be taken to the site where you watch/download them. A lot of the projects I’ve been working on are set up so that if you “click-through” my site to get to the purchase page, I make some money on that. It’s a bit gross to talk about it but I’ve decided I have to mention it because I am trying to earn a living for goodness’ sake. Again, more info coming later and I so hope this sounds like fun to you. It’s nearly killed me, getting them done during the move in order to be ready to record this week, but here on my hotel bed tonight, I am feeling slightly more like a human being and less like a law student the night before the bar.
Because I’m renting my condo furnished this summer, I falsely assumed the task of moving would be less arduous and there would be no need to hire professional movers. I was wrong, and thus have spent the last two days in hell.
Fundamental truth: I am ruthless when it comes to disposing of excess stuff. I claim no bric-a-brac. I keep no old shoe. Being a purger (??) is made easier because I live and die by the words of Arts and Crafts giant William Morris, who proclaimed in 1880:
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
Yes, Willy, Yes!
I am the anti-hoarder. I keep nothing, buy nothing that is not useful/beautiful. If I need a can opener, for example, but can only find lame ones made of plastic, I will wait until I can find a basic metal one and go without canned things. A plastic can opener might be useful but it is not beautiful, so it’s out. A classic, metal can opener is timeless! an objet d’art! I’m 100% serious and I’d like to think my home is harmonious as a result.**
But for heaven’s sake, I’m a person with a home that doubles as an office and a sewing studio. I have so many objects. Harmonious or discordant, this move is gargantuan. Do it all myself? Or even just with Yuri? What planet was I living on? (No! Don’t answer that!)
The Russian and I got boxes, a storage unit, a cargo van. Horrible, all of it. Soul-crushing. I’ve been doing my Midwest-work-ethic best, packing, eliminating, Goodwill-ing, all while still answering emails and attending to work-related tasks! I also remembered to brush my teeth! What race am I running, here?? (No! Shush!!)
As one might imagine, my productivity and emotional fitness ebbed and flowed throughout yesterday and today. This morning, I was actually in a fetal position for a spell, curled up near my desk in a sea of paper, wailing at Yuri, who was in the other room:
“Help me! HELP! ME! I’m doing the work of ten men! TEN MEN, DO YOU HEAR ME! I hate you! I can’t do this! I HATE YOU AND I NEED HELP!”
One of the reasons I love Yuri is because in situations like these he does two things:
1) he lightens the mood by coming into the room with a grin, saying something like, “Aw, who’s on the struggle bus? Who’s lookin’ so fine, ridin’ that struggle bus?” and of course this makes me bust out laughing, still on the floor
2) he helps
But the hard part about moving is never the logistics.
The logistics suck all right. But the core of it, the real trouble in River City is that you’re kicking up deadly serious dust. The longer you live in a place, the deeper and more emotional that dust becomes; if you have a strong emotional connection to a place (like I have to this place) it’s a double whammy. In the past 48 hours, I’ve hit upon a lot of life — more than I really cared to hit right now, honestly. Books, pictures, fabric, dresses, quilts — what we own owns us. And when we move we’re at the mercy of it all, we’re possessed by those possessions, even when we think we don’t hang onto much.
I hang onto absolutely everything. I just store it differently.
I store it here.
**All this editing may be due in part to my peripatetic lifestyle. If I’m not harmonious, I’m sunk. I heard once that “every item or object in your home is a thought in your head,” which is to say that belongings take up valuable real estate in one’s brain. A cleaner home equals a clearer head; I need every advantage I can get.
Correction: Many people, not including me, are smoking pot!
I’ve been running errands all over town and I can’t make it two blocks without walking into, out of, or through a cloud of weed smoke.** It’s not because marijuana has been legalized in Illinois; I’m pretty sure we all would’ve heard if that had happened. No, all these people are out in flagrante because it is achingly beautiful outside: the Chicago winter was truly horrific and no social contract, K-9 unit, or stroke of blue lightening is gonna stop a grass smoker on a gorgeous May day in the city from takin’ it outside.
I couldn’t care less, you understand. I kinda like the smell of pot. That funky, piney, skunky smell, it’s kinda great. And around Chicago, where folks make a living trafficking in such things, you smell some pretty dank weed, too, real hydroponic stuff. To me, weed smells like contraband, like kids, like a party, like the woods. Those things are all right.
As for smoking it, no way. Oh, I’ve tried. But I hate it. Just hate it! Isn’t that something?
When various friends offer me grass or I find myself at a social gathering where people are smoking, I pass every time. This is because marijuana makes me sleepy, desirous of high quantities of food (any food), and swiftly renders any feeble powers of cognition I possess utterly useless. Twenty minutes into the whole thing, and I’m curled up on a chair (any chair), eating Nutella from the jar, going on incessantly (either in my head or aloud, always hard to say) about how I’m embarrassed I am that I can’t remember what I just said, or if I said it, or if how I said it came off right and do you have any almonds? orange juice? marshmallows? leftover broccoli? chips — oooh, chips??
I just get super lame. It’s almost like I have an allergy. Perhaps I’ll try that the next time I’m offered weed:
“Oh, no thanks. I can’t smoke. I’m allergic.”
“Really? Woah. What happens? You get hives or something?”
“No, I get completely lame.”
Smoke away, my smokey friends. Let the Mary Jane muses of spring call out to you, let the long holiday weekend follow a loopy, endless trail of purple haze; let your picnics be filled with really really really good fried chicken and sangria, and let your connection be in town and answering his phone. May you feel soft earth under your bare feet after our hard and punishing winter and may you have a lover to squeeze nearby (and may that lover finally not be wearing five layers and a puffer coat so you can get to more of him/her.)
I beg you all, above all, to be safe: don’t drive cars if you’re stoned or drunk. I like you too much, you and all your dopey, lopsided smiles.
**I like to think Weedsmoke is a little-known, low-rent version of Gunsmoke.
One month from today, there is going to be a neat party. I am personally inviting YOU to come to it.
But of course I am! Because I see you.
I see you there, scrolling down the screen in your adorable pajama pants. I see you too, you at your desk at work with your candy drawer. (May I have a piece of candy? Thanks! You’ve always been so incredibly nice to me. :: unwraps, chews :: ) I see you with your tablet on the couch, sir, and I see you, gal on your phone on the bus, reading the RSS feed of PaperGirl like a champ. You’re all fabulous! And you’re all invited to this here party.
On May 20th, 2014 — one month from right now — in the early evening*, come to The City Quilter in scenic Manhattan. We’re having a party for my book! Wow! Isn’t it a wonderful thing to celebrate the existence of a book?? Humans are so cool.
I’ll be there, selling and signing Make + Love Quilts. Really cool quilters and designers will be there, too. I can’t name-drop, but if I did, you’d like, WOAH because these are name-drop-worthy people.
And hey, if you don’t give a whiff about quilts but just really like PaperGirl, guess what? You will love the party, too, and be most welcome there. There’s a lot writing in my book. It’s a quilt book for sure, but it’s a PaperGirl quilt book. A non-quilter can actually curl up with tea and this book and not wonder why he/she is reading a quilt book. It’s a book-book. It’s for everyone.
So, come to the party! You guys! You ladies! Let’s do it! Let’s have fun! I want to meet you! Have you ever been in Manhattan in May?? It’s ridonk-a-donk! So beautiful! It’s like being in a Gershwin song!
Book a flight, take a train, hail a cab. Come to the party on May 20th. Live a little!
I found myself on a Chicago el train tonight, but I wasn’t supposed to be there. If my itinerary had gone as planned, I would be in Iowa.
After my gig in Cleveland, I planned to go straight through Chicago to Des Moines, no pitstop at home. (I’ll be in Des Moines for the next two weeks, filming Love of Quilting for PBS.) But when our flight was delayed (and delayed and delayed) out of Cleveland and most everyone missed their connections, I had an idea. I deplaned, slipping through the crowd of grumpy travelers to seek out a free Southwest ticket agent further down the terminal. I spied a friendly-looking blonde lady at gate A9 and went for it.
ME: (Exceedingly chipper, non-threatening:) Hello! How are you!
SOUTHWEST TICKET LADY: Hi there. How can I help you?
ME: Well! It’s cra-ray-zay! I was on Flight 313 from Cleveland and, you know, all that rain… Well, I have not missed my connection to Des Moines. I can absolutely make it. But the truth is, ma’am, is that I live in Chicago? And my home is here? And is there any way that I could, you know, go home to my condo tonight? Could I fly to Iowa tomorrow, instead? I don’t know if this is possible, but wow, would it ever be great to, you know… Could… My bed, and my…my bed.
SOUTHWEST TICKET LADY: Let’s see what we can do. (Clacks on computer. Pauses.) We can do that. No problem. I can put you on a flight tomorrow. Morning or evening?
I nearly hugged her.
My luggage went onto Des Moines, but I didn’t care. It would be safe in the baggage room overnight, and who needs mascara, anyway?* I got a boarding pass for tomorrow and waltzed out of the airport. I was going home! I wasn’t pulling any heavy luggage! The words “footloose and fancy free” came instantly to mind. I did a little two-step on the moving walkway. I had visions of a glass of red wine, a book, and my glorious, glorious bed, which would be waiting for me with fresh sheets because I had thought to change the linen before I left town.
I made my way to the train platform. Orange Line to the Loop. Right before the train left the station, a couple came in and sat in the two seats directly in front of me. They were early thirty-somethings; white, preppy and well-groomed but not so wildly attractive that I thought I was looking at prom king and queen. There was actually a touch of nerdiness about them, but they were both dressed like they worked in PR or at Deloitte and Touche, whatever that is. It was abundantly clear that the guy had just arrived and the young lady had come to the airport to meet him.
Let me tell you that they were excited to be together. Very excited.
The pair were talking rapidly and kissing each other in between sentences, then in between words. When they first started this canoodling, I was filled with happiness: lovers reunited is a beautiful thing to witness. This feeling was followed hot on the heels by a terrible pain, however; Yuri is in New York and I am not and I wanted nothing more in the universe than to kiss my lover between sentences, too. (And everywhere else while I’m at it — hey-o!)
My self-pity didn’t last long, because the canoodling couple started to annoy me. They were talking a little bit too loud about the guy’s trip, for one thing. And these kisses were sort of anemic; his lips were squished into a droopy grape shape that he kept smushing into her cheek. And she’d be halfway through a syllable and stop to pucker up. It was like this:
GUY: Yeah, he’s doing great.
GIRL: Did your mom saying anything about the oven mitt?
GUY: She loved it. Oh, Ronnie’s going to be in Chicago next month.
GIRL: Oh (Kiss) that’s (Kiss) awesome.
I pulled out my magazine and slumped down in my seat; I tried to get into an Atlantic article about helicopter parenting and fight the urge to wield, in this perfect of circumstances for it, one of the finest expressions in the English language: Get a room!!
But then came the food. And I was too grossed out to do anything but cover my mouth and look out the window.
The kissing and cooing sounds were joined by the sounds of a food wrapper being opened. Cellophane or paper was being pulled down what I perceived to be a burrito. Now, between syllables and kisses, there was…chewing. Mastication. Food. She would take a little nibble of this burrito and then, mouth full, would peck him on the lips. Then he would talk a little more, bend his head over to take a bite, and then talk more, and then smush his grape lips onto her neck. I was horrified. I could not get the vision of refried beans and saliva and bed sheets out of my head. It was a physical reaction; I felt ill. When you’re on a train, the people sitting in front of you are right there. I was almost directly implicated. It was almost that kind of party.
This went on. We were close enough to my stop that I didn’t get up and move. I also realized immediately that this was PaperGirl material, so I hung on. I stole two glances: the first, to try and catch the guy’s eye to give him a cold, hard, “EW” look; that failed. The second time I looked up from my recoiled pose was to confirm that these two people were actually making out while eating a burrito. I’m glad I took that second look because guess what?
It was a Rice Krispie treat!
I brightened considerably. Well! A Rice Krispie treat! That’s sorta cute! I kinda like these two, I thought, and I no longer felt like I could barf. Rice Krispie treats are sorta like kisses themselves: sweet, kinda sticky, well-intentioned. It was amazing to me how different I felt about the situation I was in when the food changed from a stinky, cheesy burrito to an innocuous rice-and-marshmallow snack.
See that Scalamandre red wallpaper with the zebras?? Yeah, I see it too! Every day! In my bathroom!
Looks like I was a touch ahead of the crowd on the Scalamandre zebra wallpaper, friends. Neiman Marcus has licensed the print. Now, a person can get pillows and dishes with the motif and be black, white, and red all over. Just like me! The wallpaper was the highest-ticket item I purchased in my renovation, relatively speaking, and I love every crimson inch of it. Those zebras move, sistuh.
I’ve taken lots of pictures of both my bathroom and my kitchen with the intention of sharing them, but when I get to the “insert photo” moment here on the PG, I balk. I get letters from guys in prison, you know. That gives a girl pause when she’s about to post photos of her bathroom mirror, especially because she’s fully aware 99% of all nutcases and stalkers are not currently behind bars.
Plus, as stunning as my Scalamandre bathroom is and as drop-dead gorgeous as the navy blue subway tile and floating shelves are in my kitchen (it all turned out perfectly, almost gross in its awesomeness to me) isn’t it better to imagine these things than be even slightly let down when you see (for example) a bag of Stay-Puft Jumbo Marshmallows on my counter instead of leftover osso buco? What if you think I have a huge, ginormous house? I like that! Keep thinking that! When you see my galley kitchen, you may have to go find another fantasy and no one has time for these things.
You see, I cannot possibly post the pictures of my home on this blog.
I have a friend who I haven’t seen in a long time.
I have a collection of those, I’m afraid; my track record for “staying in touch” is appalling. Scoff if you like, but this serial inability to keep in consistent contact with people that aren’t in close proximity to me is based in love: Friend A deserve buckets of attention and time; if I can’t give Friend A all of what Friend A should have, I should excuse myself and Friend A can find a Friend B, who is way better at returning calls and text messages. Like, way better.
There’s also the little matter of what I think is a bonafide phone phobia on my part. That’s a topic for another day.
The friend I’m thinking of this morning, we were close for a number of years; we met in college and he moved to Chicago shortly after I did. I found him an apartment in my building; we lived in units separated by the lot in back, almost close enough to string a tin can telephone betwixt our windows, though we never did, we just skibbled back and forth, sometimes in our pajamas. We were together so much, driving in his car, listening to rock n’ roll, working our crappy jobs.* Rent was forever due, it was cold and then it was hot, the laundry room was scary, and there was no nearby train, only a bus stop 1.5 blocks away that you could only get to by walking up a lonesome industrial corridor.
There were two reasons we didn’t slip into acrimony and defeat: 1) we had each other; and 2) we were creating things.
Billy was creating music and a persona; I was creating writing and a persona. Today, Billy is part of a wildly successful band that tours the world and sells out big concerts; I have been living as a full-time writer-performer for almost a decade. We made good, is what I’m saying. And dammit, we knew we’d make it. We knew. Our ability to withstand the bus stops, Comcast, entropy, etc. was due to youth, okay, sure, but also to a shared and indefatigable confidence that we were good enough to scale up, and soon. Oh, and we worked hard. There was that, too: Billy played his guitar whenever he was awake, which was about 22 hours out of every day; I wrote poems on the back of guest checks at the restaurant, wrote in my journal in the coat check room at 4am, and read nine books at once, on average. We were dedicated.
We were intertwined. We were coffee cups, or maybe cream and sugar. We weren’t lovers, but we slept in the same bed a lot. It was kind of a brother-sister relationship, I suppose, except sometimes we’d make out. We were always pretty hot for each other but there was something both of us kept back in order to preserve what was out front. It was complex, it was simple.
Billy told me something once that I hated him for. He said, “Mary, the truth is that I’ll never love a woman as much as I love rock n’ roll.” He was twenty-five and being platitudinous and dramatic, but he was also being honest. I was furious at the time because dude, but today I understand what he meant. His love for music is singular, untouchable; it exists within his bone marrow, shapes his walk and his spine. His love of making music will die with him — not before him or after him, like a partner has to die. Christians talk about agape love, a love distinct from erotic love or emotional affection; that’s what Billy meant about loving music more, or differently, than he could ever love a person.
I feel that way about writing. And I feel that way about Chicago.
Sitting here on my lily pad, I cannot believe my transgressions. New York bewitched me. Indeed, the city may get me in chunks (I have a return ticket even as I write this) and my favorite thing in the world is to get on an airplane. But I can never love a person or another place on this earth like I love this town.
It’s good, as they say, to be home. Yo, Billy; let’s get that drink.
*And I do mean crappy. I was a brunch waitress in Uptown and a coat check girl in two different/terrible nightclubs; he did the graveyard shift at a desk at mental health facility on Western and North Ave.
After making buttermilk pancakes for Yuri this morning (I had some buttermilk leftover from the pie and not everyone likes pie for breakfast, astonishingly) I hopped out the door and into New York. I was headed to the Yarn Co. for a good chunk of sewing time and I felt like I was wearing wings, that’s how excited I was to be sewing-machine bound.
I took the L line to 6th Avenue and then got on the 1 going uptown. On one single train ride I saw three quintessential, only-in-NYC, New York City moments. Let’s revisit.
Moment No. 1
At 34th St., the train pulled in and opened its doors. I saw a drawn, junkie-looking white dude in a stocking cap jump the turnstile right in front of me. He jumped it, gave a fast look around and then bam! he punched the Emergency Exit door to the left of the turnstiles. Through the door came his junkie girlfriend, every bit as strung-out as he was, maybe more. The alarm went off the instant he hit the bar to open the door, but they were gone just as fast. Junkie love in the city.
Moment No. 2
A kid of about eight, I’d guess, was sucking on a pacifier with fake teeth molded into it. It was a joke pacifier, I guess? I didn’t know they made joke pacifiers. If you had told me they existed, I would’ve been hard-pressed to guess at the audience for such things, but now I know. Eight-year-old New York City kids on the subway to school. And she was like, “What?” when I looked at her and in a very good-natured, friendly way, laughed a little. It was funny! Whatever, kid. You got a driver’s license? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Moment No. 3
Almost to my stop, I noticed a woman repeatedly digging into her purse. She was with a friend, clearly frustrated that she couldn’t find something important in her overstuffed, large handbag. There were two MTA employees across from her. Both older gentlemen, they were just getting off work or headed there to start the day. Kinda scruffy, both of them; one Indian, one of indeterminate (to me) ethnicity. The one guy took his flashlight off his tool belt and held it out to the woman with the nicest smile. She was so grateful and took the flashlight, shining it into her purse. It probably totally helped her. I had to exit the train before I found out what happened, but that was awesome.
All on one trip to the Upper West. This be the city.
When she left me to come see you she was guarded, uneasy about being away from me for so long. Six weeks is a long time, no doubt about it. She and I have been together well over twelve years, and though Mary travels extensively, even her longest trips are usually no more than two weeks; there loomed over us significant separation anxiety. Plus, who would get the mail?
She was also concerned because — though she had a serious crush on you for most of her life — Mary suffers from a mild case of New York City-induced low-level panic. The scale of you (huge) and your population density (dense) causes her to chew her lip and drink too much coffee when she’s with you for even short periods of time. It’s a mild case, but even so.
But that anxiety has disappeared. Her lip-chewing incident was last week and was an isolated event. Rather than feeling skittish, she’s relaxed. In place of the subtle “outsider” or “impostor” syndrome she has felt with you in years past, there is a wholesomeness to her experience so far and a peculiar calm — this is even with the pools of filthy slush she has to wade through, the constant honking on 1st Ave. and the really, really badly cut finger she has right now due to the cheap-a** drinking glasses in this furnished apartment that continue to break in her hands.
Mary is falling in love with you, New York, and this is not okay with me.
I am Chicago. I am her Nelson Algren and Saul Bellow. I am where Mary wrote poems for microphones. We became Neo-Futurists together. She is my lake beyond the slaughter yards. I reflect her in the windows downtown; I am her osso bucco; we have our own booth at Spiaggia. I’m leather, she’s lace. We read all the books, all the time, we have tea in the morning. We’ve gotten kicked out of bars and invited into libraries. Mary and I are involved, is what I’m saying, New York.
We have also recently renovated the bathroom and the kitchen.
While Mary’s with you and you hear her say things like, “I love it here,” or “I wanna move here,” please let me know. I will make sure to note the time and date of the sentiment and also be able to mobilize forces here to convince her to a) stop saying things like that entirely; or b) adapt the statements to something more like, “I love it here BUT I could never live here forever,” or “I wanna move here…but I’ll never give up my place in Chicago, the city of my dreams and where my heart is forever and ever, amen.”
Who among us (other than the vegans among us) can resist cashmere? The cold is punishing; the wool is combed. The chill is evil; the fibers are thick. My white cashmere turtleneck is in heavy rotation this winter and it’s starting to look ever-so-slightly dingy, like fresh urban snow. But as I only have a couple pieces of cashmere in my wardrobe, I have no choice: even dingy cashmere is better than boring old wool and infinitely more fabulous than some kind of sporty, wicking PolarTec. Oh, the humanity!
My pocketbook contains a dash o’ cash, a personal debit card, a business debit card, and only one credit card. That card is for a department store whose name rhymes with Schmacks Smith Flavenue. I have a very low limit on the card to keep me from getting into debt. I hate being in debt and simply won’t accept it as an option if at all possible. Though fashion often feels like an emergency, it usually isn’t and not worth going into debt for. Not for long, anyway.
But as cash flow is a little weird right now with the move to NYC, I thought I’d use my slightly-dusty credit card today for a purchase I actually needed. Charging something has its benefits and today’s errand was a good example. But o, sweet, mysterious Fate: whilst looking for that other item, I found a full-length cashmere robe/nightgown/caftan thing so head-slappingly on sale I bought it faster than you can say “snorgle.” The garment is 100% cashmere. It’s pale-pink. It zips up the front. The only way it could be more adorable is if it had feet and a hood. I would’ve paid double if it had, but I’ve got it on as I type this and it’s working out just fine.
So that I don’t go to sleep — wait, wait. No. So I don’t drift to the Land of Nod on pale-pink cashmere gossamer wings thinking I allowed PaperGirl to be only about buying a nightgown, here are three fascinating facts about cashmere you should know. You really should, because check it out:
1. Cashmere comes from the soft undercoat of goats bred to produce the wool. Something like two-and-a-half goats are needed to produce a single sweater! That’s one reason it’s expensive. The other reason it’s expensive is because this undercoat has to be combed by hand, in the spring, by men in newsie caps who smoke pipes and say, “Aye” a lot and drink dark beers at lunch.
2. Everything in No. 1 was true except the very last part about the men.
3. I would like some hot chocolate right now. Do we have any hot chocolate?
My junior year of college, I went into a newly opened cafe in Iowa City with my boyfriend Wes. The Motley Cow was the sort of place I did not feel cool enough for: it was tiny, there were interesting objects everywhere (e.g., glass seltzer bottles), and there were words like broccoli rabe on the menu. I spied a pasta dish on the paper menu that contained…truffles? In my world, truffles were chocolate. We went in because Wes wanted to ask for a job. They didn’t hire Wes, but they did hire me. I’m still not sure how it happened; I truly do not remember asking for work. Besides, I was horribly intimidated by the whole operation. In conversation with Wes and the owner that day, I must’ve mentioned that I had waited tables all through high school. Within a week I was on the schedule as a waitress at the cafe. From there, out of curiosity and a deep desire to help that beautiful place succeed, I got into the kitchen. The Cow became my contemporaneous college. It changed me as much as normal-college did, probably more.
We ate five things in my house growing up: pizza, chicken tetrazzini, mostaccioli, lasagna, and chili. In a single-parent household where that parent is on the road much of the time — trying to make enough money for any sort of food — there is no food worship. There’s no interest, money, or time for it. And this was twenty years ago in small-town Iowa, mind you; that I even knew what a chocolate truffle was is saying something. I don’t mean that we were a bunch of rubes; I mean that it was a different time and that time did not include sauteed shallots or aged balsamic.
When I started inching into the kitchen at the Cow, I started from nothing. I didn’t know about the soup-starter triumvirate (carrot, celery, onion); I didn’t know hummus was made of chickpeas, nor did I know what a chickpea was; pan-searing and braising were revelations; I remember the day I learned what a roux was and I made one; I remember the day David needed me to make a soup and he said, “I need you to make a soup,” and I did: I made a delicious French onion and we served it. I made the soup! I fell in love with making simple, gorgeous, nourishing food and I owe it to the Cow and the people who were patient with a willing kitchen student who didn’t know anything at all.
In New York City, you walk out your door and before your very eyes is some of the best food in the world. (I actually think Chicago beats NYC for Best Restaurant City in America, but that’s another post.) But would you know that I’ve been cooking since we got here? I haven’t had a working kitchen in so long, it feels like the sweet breath of life to be standing at a stove again. The setup here is laughable: there is no countertop. No counter at all, just a sink and a tiny, tiny stove. But it’s a gas range, the oven works, I’ve fashioned a counter by putting a board across the sink, and I can use the small dining table if I really need more room. I’ve made lasagna, chicken-quinoa-vegetable chowder, penne caprese, maple cookies, chocolate chip cookies, Irish soda bread, rolled oatmeal with cream and almonds, and beautiful asparagus and salads.
Feeding myself and Yuri in this way feels like watering a plant and that plant is love and that love is five-star.
I was there today, right there to the left of the red chair. You can still see my imprint! I have a yoga mat on my back and I’m wearing really insane winter boots with saw soles.
My NYC yoga studio is in the Lower East Side at the corner of Stanton and Allen, the very same Allen Street George B. Luks captured so brilliantly in his painting. His version of the scene in oil and the handful of versions I snapped of it in Instagram aren’t dissimilar. These days, there are fewer bonnets — or are those burkas on Luks’s women? — on Allen Street, but there’s just as much stuff for sale and there are dress shops and people stacked on top of one another.
Luks was an artist of the Ashcan School. If “The Ashcan School” sounds fancy, that’s just what the Ashcan painters want you to think, but the name comes from the actual object: the ash can.
These guys were a belligerent bunch. It was around the turn of the 20th century they were doing their thing. The grand poo-bah of the (loosely affiliated) group was a newspaper illustrator named Robert Henri. He said he wanted art to be more like journalism: hard, honest, unflinching. The John Singer-Sargent stuff was starting to rot everyone’s teeth out, and Henri and his band of super grumpy painters wanted to portray the real people they saw in the cities where they all hailed from, New York City and Philly. Down-and-out beggars, rag-pickers, elderly indigent women, the unwashed masses — these were the subjects for the Ashcan guys. They painted on wood panels they found, on boards, on window shades. They got into bar fights. Luks was such a bad boy, he actually died in a bar fight in 1933.
In New York, on Allen and Stanton, I can feel the past bear down so hard on me, I actually tend to walk a little faster. I love it down there on the Lower East Side, but the air has an edge and it ain’t the rock clubs. It’s the tenement houses, long burned down. It’s the rag-pickers. It’s that Allen Street was Asylum Street for a good while — why? Because it was where the New York Orphan Asylum was, of course. There’s something in the grime that produces slides in my brain: hungry faces and brawling drunks; the smell of boiling meat, boiling clothing, boiling hot days in August.
Yoga was good. I’ve returned to my Bikram practice. It wasn’t so rough today, but I’ve been in class when there were forty or fifty people packed into that room. It’s no more than 450 sq. ft. and it’s heated to 105 degrees. I’ve been in classes so packed that when I did my forward standing bend, I’ve hit the butt of the girl in front of me with my forehead.
I can’t believe it exists. Drop-off laundry service. Pick-up and drop-off laundry service. I can’t believe my eyes.
I’m from small-town Iowa, from the plains. Where I’m from, we do our own laundry. The idea of someone else even seeing the family’s (used!) skivvies is insane, but actually handling them? on purpose? You can go to jail for that, son. And aside from the total (voluntary) intimacy breach in paying for a laundry service, there’s the “Well, now don’t you just think yer fancy!” part, which might be worse. The day you’re too good to do your own laundry is the day you’re sent to de-tassel some corn. That’ll bring you back real quick from any illusions about where you’re growing up. Hint: it ain’t New York City, sweetie, so put down your hairbrush.
But it’s amazing, the drop-off laundry service! It’s so great! And in New York, it’s not glamorous at all. It’s quotidian. But I’m new here, so for me, the magic has not yet been shat on by pigeons. Here’s how the wond’rous process of drop-off laundry service works:
You wear clothes. You get soup/grit/blood on them in various quantities, in various places. You put these clothes in some kind of vessel; an IKEA bag is a good choice. Got dirty sheets? Great. Musty pillows? Stuff ’em in. Take ’em to the laundry place. There’s one a half-block away, most likely. Smile to the nice lady behind the counter and get a ticket. You will see no washing machines: remember, this is is not a laundromat. Prepare to be weirded out because it’s weird. The cheery lady will tell you in a thick Korean accent that your order will be ready for pickup this afternoon. This afternoon? You nod, slowly, and say, “Thank? You?” and carefully, carefully back out the door. When you come back hours later, your laundry will be waiting for you. Clean.
It’s not just there and clean. Your laundry is the cleanest it’s ever been, ever. And it’s vacuum-sealed in plastic bags, all tidy. It’s as though your dirty, vaguely-smelly self lifted from your terrestrial body while you went out and did other errands and was sucked up into a big cleaning vortex in the sky where you were agitated, bleached, color-boosted, and dried with fluffing agents and then folded and vacuum-sealed…and you didn’t even notice. That’s what you’re paying for when you take laundry to the laundry. You’re paying for the cleaning vortex. And don’t you think that’s worth ten bucks a load or whatever it is?
Let’s break down the [MOTHER] is to [AUTHOR] as [CHILD] is to [BOOK] analogy:
CHILD: A moment of conception must occur (i.e., orgasm.)
BOOK: A moment of conception must occur (i.e., great idea.)
CHILD: Blastocyst = cluster of cells formed early in mammal development
BOOK: Outline = cluster of ideas formed early in manuscript development
CHILD: The expectant mother may experience extreme tiredness, mood swings, carpal tunnel syndrome, nipple tenderness.
BOOK: Expectant author may also experience all of the above. WELL SHE CAN, OKAY??
CHILD: Needs a name.
BOOK: Needs a name that will sell.
CHILD: Though each woman’s labor varies, nearly all experience degrees of severe pain in labor and delivery.
BOOK: Author labor varies, but nearly all experience degrees of severe pain throughout the editing process and delivery of manuscript.
CHILD: May arrive diseased and malformed through no direct fault of the mother.
BOOK: Totally on you.
Let us leave the analogy, then, and let me tell you about the book coming out this spring from C&T Publishing. This is not the official book blurb, this is just me, PaperGirl, talking to you.
I wrote Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century is my book to delight readers, artists, and quilters. There are patterns for twelve original bed-sized scrap quilts, designed by me. There is instruction that takes you through the quiltmaking process, start to finish. There are tips and advice for creating good patchwork and a good life. There are quotes on love from all kinds of folks from Nietzsche to Montaigne to Marilyn Monroe. There is stunning photography of the quilts (gorgeous style shots as well as front and back flat shots of each), the fabric used, and the Quilt Charms I had engraved and stitched on the back.
The art direction is killer. When I was on a phone meeting with the book team in California, I reached for the sky: I told them to “make this book the most beautiful book you have ever made. Ever.” I promised them I’d do my part — and they held up their end of the bargain, I assure you. The book is more beautiful than I even imagined it would be. I’ve cried several times and I haven’t even seen a bound galley copy, yet.