Taxi Driver Wisdom No. 3927101

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Tips, Travel 0
Taxis. Photo: Wikipedia.
Taxis. Photo: Wikipedia.

There is something known to city dwellers — really anyone who has taken more than a dozen or so cabs — as “taxi driver wisdom.”

Taxi driver wisdom is anything profound or thought-provoking your cab driver says during the ride. Other people you encounter during the day may say profound things, but since a taxi trip is relatively short and maybe because you’re hurtling through space together, even slightly reflective or soulful things seem extra zen, extra woah. Taxi drivers are also contemporary romantic figures: they roll along all day, forearm on the window sill, meditating on humanity, meeting all manner of folks and talking with them, just as they’re talking with you now, under the intimate roof of a car. They must know something by now, right?

Of course, not all taxi drivers are wise; if they were, there would be less honking. If they were all wise, they would not try to get my phone number, which has happened five times. But if you have a chatty cab driver and you go deeper than the weather, you may find yourself having a real groovy conversation because taxi drivers are typically educated, interesting people who have come to this country from someplace else and who have plenty to consider and think about as they drive around the city. When they get someone interested in hearing about it and they’re not too grumpy, they often chat.

I got major taxi driver wisdom today. I learned all about the time this man spent living in Dusseldorf, then Monaco, then London. Israel, San Francisco. This was all in the 1980s, he told me, nearly forty years ago.

“I went on a trip to New Zealand once,” he said. “It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I went on a two-week expedition. Hiking. Camping. Nature. The expeditions left from an inn, and the other groups coming back would come back to that inn, as well. Well, one of the groups came back right as my group was leaving. A question came to my mind. I ran to catch one of the men in that group so that I could ask him.”

“I asked him, ‘What can you tell me about your experience that will change the experience for me?’ The man thought for a moment and then he said, ‘From time to time, stop and turn around. Look behind you. The journey is all forward, forward, forward, and that’s good. But stop walking. Turn around. Look where you came from.'”

“Woah,” I said. “That’s good. That’s really good.”

“Yes. It did change everything for me. I turned around a lot on that expedition. That man gave me a great gift. He told me not to forget where I came from. And I didn’t.”

$12.75 + tip.


Art School Girl Friday, On The Case.

One of the two lions in front of the Chicago Art Institute. Go Lions! Photo: Wikipedia.
Go Lions! Out front of the Art Institute. Photo: Wikipedia.

I applied for a job at the school paper. I have a school paper because I have a school!

The student-run paper at the School of the Art Institute is called F Newsmagazine. This would be a frustrating masthead for a newspaper/magazine if wasn’t an art school newspaper/magazine; fortunately, that’s what fNews is and being what it is, it can be — nay, must be — unconventional. It’s a fine publication; I remember picking it up downtown in years prior and admiring it. I would feel the thick, glossy paper it’s printed it on and look through the illustrations and read stories in never-before-seen-fonts-because-students-invented-them and think, “Wow. The people who make this magazine go to school at the Art Institute. That must be really fun.”

When I got my acceptance letter, I went to a reception and picked up the latest issue on the way out. Maybe could get a gig at the paper to help me pay for school, I thought. I saved up some money from my time making Quilty, but it’s not enough. It’s loan time. I applied to the school itself for a merit scholarship and I’ve done the paperwork for another small grant; the hunt continues. But rather than rely on someone/something else to give me money for tuition, I’m more comfortable rolling up my shirtsleeves and getting a job. This approach to things runs in my family and I’m glad, though I remain ever hopeful that some sane, at least marginally attractive wealthy widower reads PaperGirl and has fallen desperately in love with me and will offer to pay for my grad school in an attempt to get my attention and win my favor. I’m waiting, darling, and ready to coo about how you look in your top hat.

I contacted the F newsmagazine offices and met the people in charge. I was given the chance to audition, if you will, by writing a story on the first-ever, free online course offered by the SAIC. I wrote the piece and they accepted it; yesterday I had my official interview with the paper’s advisor-slash-publisher. The conversation was great and I can’t say I was hired-hired because Paul and Sophie need to put their heads together about exactly where I’m best used. A strong handshake and a “You’ll be working with us in some capacity, that’s for sure” makes me feel like I can even tell you all this.

My grandmother (on Mom’s side) started the town paper in Norwalk, IA. My mother co-founded the most popular quilting magazine in history. My sister Hannah is associate editor at a real estate magazine in New York City. My sister Rebecca writes at her job at the Chicago International Film Festival and has been doing some freelance around town these days. We are not an east coast media mogul family. We’re not a midwest one, either. We’re not intrepid reporters, we don’t keep up on the Pulitzers. But the women in my family, we have ink on our hands.

It’s gonna feel really good to work on a magazine again.

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.


Meditations On Theater or: Macbeth With Coconuts

posted in: Art 0
Tough crowd. "Performance in the Bolshoi Theatre," print from the Alexander II Coronation Book of 1856. Image: Wikipedia
Performance in the Bolshoi Theatre,” print from the Alexander II Coronation Book of 1856. Image: Wikipedia.

I wrote recently in my column about public speaking and how I’m used to it. In the middle of writing that piece, I got sidetracked for hours by two eternal questions. Well, they’re eternal to me; I’m not sure the rest of the world is bothering with them, but maybe the world should. And if the world meditates on my questions and comes up with something, I would appreciate if the world provided those answers. I have other questions, too, but the world can start here:

1. If a performer presents to an audience, this is making theater. If the performer presents to no one, is theater still made?

2. Does my identity as a performer run so deep that if I were shipwrecked on an island, would I write and perform plays for the squirrels?

My answer to the first question remains, after many years: “I don’t know; go ask Peter Brook.” The answer to the second question is “Yes.”

Were I shipwrecked on a remote desert island, I would without question look for a way to build a little stage in the shade. I would memorize my lines — lines I couldn’t even write down because there is no paper on remote desert islands from what I understand — and I would rehearse hours each day. I would gather split coconuts, which could be used for costume purposes. Were I to choose to produce a puppet show, these coconuts could make excellent boats. I could perhaps train a squirrel to come in on cue for a little comic relief during one of my real downers. “Just eat a nut or something!” I’d yell, and he would never, ever, ever do it. Which would be funny.

Yes, the love for getting up and being on the performance side of that ancient line in the sand runs deep. I wouldn’t change it if I could.

I don’t actively make theater these days. I miss the Neo-Futurists all the time. And how about that: the first sentence of this paragraph has led to a third question: If a person who makes theater isn’t presently making theater, is she still a maker of theater?



Small Wonders Wednesday: Random Blog Winner Takes All

The accessory pattern: tote, wristlet, and plucky headscarf.
The accessory pattern: tote, wristlet, and plucky headscarf.

In 1870, a Scottish immigrant named James McCall — odd, because “McCall” doesn’t sound Scottish  — put out an “illustrated guide” to a pair of gloves he was manufacturing. The McCall’s pattern was born.

Fast forward nearly 150 years, and I’m posting a picture of a McCall’s pattern on a phantasmagorical thing called the Internet. What would James McCall think? He’d probably go look at the books and see how his company was doing and whether or not it was being publicly traded. (I think it is, but it’s confusing.)

When the Small Wonders line was shown to the nice people at McCall’s by the fine folks at Springs Creative, they liked it a lot. In fact, they were immediately inspired. They felt the line could be put to use in their business. When making garments and the sewn accessory, larger-scale prints may be harder to work with for folks who don’t do these things on a professional level. Matching seams becomes a bit trickier; a large flower gets chopped in half and suddenly looks like something from Little Shop of Horrors and you just hope no one looks at you from the back. A toile can give fits. A damask languishes in the stash. Projects stall.

The small print is a lovely choice for an apron, say, or a painfully adorable romper outfit for a baby, because these problems cannot occur. Besides, tulips are cute. So McCall’s and Springs joined together and I worked with McCall’s to create an 8-piece pattern line for sewists. These are bag, accessory, and clothing patterns and I’m so pleased with them because I know you will be, also. And I’ve never claimed I was a garment-sewing person; I’m not, though I’ve made bags in my day. No, I’m just the fabric designer and pored over patterns until I found the ones that fit the best. It’s interesting to note that these are the first patterns McCall’s has produced for independent retailers in…ever.

Today, I’m giving away a 3-pack of these patterns — which, again, are available only at local quilt shops and independent online retailers like Fabric Depot, Missouri Star, etc. The 3-pack goes to Ms. Lou, who made an adorable bag of her own from the China group of Small Wonders. I think you’ll like the bag patterns you’ll be receiving in the mail soon, friend. You’re getting the pattern above, plus the painfully adorable romper outfit, plus the girl dress with matching doll dress one.*

Congratulations, Ms. Lou. Send me your mailing address (smallwonderswednesday @ gmail)  — and you keep totin’.

*I was never the girl with a dress that matched my doll. So I’m passing my pain onto the world to fix. Everything always works out. 

I’m Going To Canada!

posted in: Travel 2
A horse asks two children for directions in Montreal. Photo: Wikipedia
A horse asks two children for directions in Montreal. Photo: Wikipedia

I’d like to start my “I’m going to Canada!” announcement by saying hi to my only-but-who-needs-anyone-else Canadian friend, Cheryl Arkison. Hi, Cheryl Arkison! I’m coming to Canada! Unfortunately, your country is enormous and there’s no way I can drop by for a cup of tea. I’m going toward Ottawa; you live in Calgary. I looked up how far away Ottawa is from Calgary. It’s two-thousand miles! Google Maps tells you to go through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota to get there! Who does that?!

Indeed, I’m going to Canada in a few weeks for six or seven days. It’s high time I visited my neighbors to the cold, cold north, and I’m thinking about moving there. It’ll be easy: I’ll rent my apartment, sign a lease (sight-unseen), ship some boxes. What could go wrong?

This is almost not funny.

My end-of-February trip to Canada is partly for business, partly for the pleasure of high-fiving Canada. Many years ago I went to visit a college chum who lived in Seattle. We drove up to Vancouver and I remember being freaked out by the large number of heroin addicts on a street downtown, but I also remember cobblestone streets and friendly people walking them. It was rainy, but no more than Seattle, and Seattle doesn’t have Stanley Park, which has something to do with a governor and the Stanley Cup because hockey.

This is a car trip, not an airplane one, so that will be neat, especially if there are bears! Our route will hit Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal; after our final stop on the tour, we’ll turn around and come back to Chicago, which may feel temperate after our journey through a country closer to Antartica.

Cheryl, I wrote an entire paragraph about how I wasn’t going to trot out references to maple syrup, Mounties, the Canadian accent, etc., but then remembered I shouldn’t write checks my you-know-what can’t cash and I can’t cash my checks because you guys have different money.