This is the 2nd installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.
Just show up to class.
After many years of being a student in university settings, workshops, various training courses, etc., I really do think that getting your butt in the seat, week after week, is a fail-safe way to successfully get through any kind of schooling. Strive for straight A’s if you like; aim high and still just get B’s; do the bare minimum and land C’s, even D’s — it’s all the same in the end, at least in terms of passing the course. Just remember: “If you come to class, you will pass.” (I’m pretty sure I just made that up.)
Can you get F’s on all your papers and tests and still pass if you show up to class? Maybe. But the added benefit of attending every single class session is that you’ll probably learn enough to not get F’s in the first place.
I think the good attendance of a student is critical for teachers for a few reasons. Keep in mind that I have done my fair share of teaching, but I’ve been a student way, way more, so my thoughts here are speculative.
For one thing, coming to class is a show of respect. A student enrolls in a class. The student takes up a seat in that class, which means someone else cannot have that seat. And the underlying assumption is that the student will attend the class, sit in the seat, listen to the instructor, and participate, whatever that might look like for that particular course.
When a student blows off class (for a reason other than being sick or having an emergency) it sends a message that you, the teacher, aren’t that important, and that the class isn’t worth going to. This isn’t explicit, it’s implied. If it happens a fair amount, the teacher understandably has less patience with the absentee student when she is struggling with a lesson or asks for an extension on a paper, for example.
The other reason being absent from class is the fastest way to lose favor with your teacher is a purely practical one, from your teacher’s standpoint: When you’re gone, she has to work more.
She has to answer an email from you going over what you missed. She has to reply to your email back to her with a question about what you missed — and of course lots of people had questions about the same thing, but she went over it … in class. You might ask for more time to finish a take-home test, say, which means she has to grade all the tests for the people who were in class and then, a week later, she has to return to the task she thought she could be done with (grading the take-home tests) but there you are, handing over your peanut-butter smeared take-home test — come on, you know it’s got peanut butter on it — and now she has to find the answer key and lord knows where that thing went.
If you want to make your teachers happy, go to class. You can come to class in your pajamas. Don’t you dare be on your phone — I can’t deal with people who do that in an educational setting — but texting with your sister in class is better than texting with your sister not in class. And, though I know this sounds crazy, you can even come to class without your homework. You just have to show up.
I’d be utterly miserable if I were in the circus. I’d mope, I’d whine, I’d rail against the injustice of it all — because there are few circuses I would join willingly — and I’d end up taking it out on the other surely miserable creatures in my strange new circus family. This wouldn’t be helpful for me or fair to them, so then I’d feel guilty and feel more miserable but at that point, with all of us having to perform four shows a day, it might not matter.
Nevertheless, everyone would hear about it. That includes the new-in-town, understandably wary poodle trainer; the entire clown corps; the husband and wife acrobat team who works overtime every week knowing full well they absolutely should not do that given their line of work; the bendy girl; the other bendy girl who you pay extra to see (after dark, adults only); and Hugo, the old, old, old, old, old man who does all the costumes, including the tiny hats for the monkeys and my previously worn petticoat and velvet vest.
I’d fling myself into the shabby trailer Hugo uses for his workshop. “Hugo!” I’d cry. “It’s happening!”
Hugo has those wire spectacles with the thick, convex magnifying lenses that make his eyes so big he looks like a cartoon. He doesn’t look up from his sequins because it takes him a long time to move any part of his body. Besides, he’s heard this before.
“What’s the trouble, dear?”
I lie down on the floor for maximum effect. “Hugo, I’m not meant for this life. This classic vaudevillian, 1930s, Follies Bergère-style traveling circus life, I’m just not meant for it.”
“Sounds like you need a biscuit,” Hugo says.
I perk up but don’t show it and then moan again. “No, even a biscuit won’t help … I’m dying.”
“All right,” Hugo says, pulling out a spool of pink thread from a drawer. “I don’t think I have any left, anyway.”
Wait, what?! Hugo’s refreshments are legendary. No one knows where he gets the shiny blue tins of shortbread cookies, but he always seems to have them on hand when you really need one. And the tea he gives you on bad days is made with the same rationed teabags and powdered milk we all get from the circus commissary, but Hugo makes it taste creamier and gets his water hotter, somehow. No one can figure it out.
“Well, maybe it would help to have a bite of a biscuit. If you still have some.” I cough a couple times. “And … I think the sawdust is sticking in my throat. Do you have any, um, tea or anything?
Hugo smiles and gets up. He makes his creaky way over to the hot plate to boil water in a kettle as old as he is. “Yes, you ought to have tea right away. We can’t have you suffocating on sawdust; you go on at 6:30. And I think I do have a few biscuits left somewhere.”
I try to peek at which shelf he reaches into for the cookies but he looks back at me faster than I thought he was physically able to, so I squeeze my eyes shut and roll around like I’ve got a stomach ache even though I don’t. I hear the tin open and the rustle of crinkled cookie papers.
Hugo is bent over pretty far already so it’s easy for him to hand me a biscuit. “Sit up, darling. You don’t want to choke.”
“This circus is going to kill me,” I say, half the cookie in my mouth already. “Maybe today’s the day.”
The tea kettle boils and I get my mug of tea. It’s hot and creamy and tastes like my former life. Hugo, who dresses like Geppetto and smokes exactly two cigarillos every day, sits in his chair and I sit cross-legged on the trailer floor. I’ll have to have the Bearded Lady beat the dust from my skirts before my act. By the way, I’m with the lions on Thursdays and Fridays; Sunday through Tuesday I sell candy and peanuts and tell jokes, and on Wednesdays — my favorite day — I get to ride Trinket. (Trinket is our elephant.)
“Have you ever seen a performance of Cirque du Soliel?” Hugo asks me.
I shake my head. “No, actually. Are they any good?”
“No,” Hugo says. “They’re not real circus people, anyway. Oh, they’ll do some tricks. A few of them are double-jointed like Ricky. But their hearts just aren’t in it. There’s too much money in the thing, no doubt about it. You get too much money in a touring group like that, people don’t need each other. They go off after work and spend their money doing all kinds of who knows what. Here, it’s different. We don’t have much, but we get by. We help each other. And we have a good show.”
Puffs of smoke curl up into the costumes Hugo stores on hangers above his head. My vest and skirts came from that old stock. The cigarillo smell will never come out. I look over at Hugo, who has always been so kind to me. I hear Trinket bellow from across the grounds; it’s bath time.
This isn’t that bad, I think to myself. If I were in the circus, I guess I’d want it to be like this.
“Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion.” — John Berger, 1972
I have nothing to wear.
Last winter, when my life fell into a blast furnace, there were eight items of clothing I could put on my body from day to day that didn’t make me want to crawl out of my skin. Those items were:
Levi’s jeans L.L. Bean wool sweater (red) L.L. Bean wool sweater (black w/pattern) Brown leather hiking boots with red laces Nike Cortez tennis shoes Double-breasted wool topcoat (camel) Wool scarf (gray) Knit cap (navy)
Anything else, and I was wearing a costume. This was a dissociative experience, and I was grappling with enough of those, thank you very much. Why couldn’t I wear any of my other sweaters? Or my white Oxford shirts? An Oxford shirt is about as neutral as an item of clothing can get, but when I put one on and buttoned it up, I felt like an idiot.
Strangest of all was that I couldn’t wear what has been my winter uniform for years: black pants and a black turtleneck. You’d think when a woman is experiencing major depression, black is the only thing that will do. Jeez, aren’t the depressed issued a black turtleneck and black pants at the door? But to me, black clothing does not communicate sorrow or a lack of vitality. To me, black clothes, aside from being chic (and slimming!) communicate a person in command of herself, someone who wants to be taken seriously.
What was happening to me was serious but I felt in command of nothing, and chic? Chic was a planet other people lived on. Whose clothes are these, I wondered, as I moved hangers back and forth in my closet. At some point I stopped opening my closet at all, ceased to wonder or worry about it and I simply put on the same thing day after day. I laundered my clothes often because I wore them daily. Processing laundry took great effort but it was a simple enough task and the smell of Woolite never lost its charm. I’m still grateful for that.
How I dreaded the coming warm weather. I’d be screwed. Dressing for spring and summer is awful for me every year, regardless of mental state; precious few of us on Team Black Turtleneck cross the line over to Team Tank Top, even if the Tank Toppers seem more comfortable than we are come Memorial Day. This year, I feared would be way worse.
The season changed. And by the time my hiking boots were inappropriate — early May, I think — my disposition had improved considerably. But I had not been wrong to worry about the clothes and in fact the situation was worse than I had anticipated. Not only had I not caught a ride on a rocket ship back to Planet Chic, I did not want to go. It was time to bring out my low-heeled suede pumps and my Marni blouse and my side-zip, slim-fit black Vince trousers, but when I went to get dressed in all that, you would’ve thought there was a tin of rotting tuna fish in my closet. I’d wince and shut the door and then just stand there with my head on the closet door, trying to envision any assemblage of apparel that would not make me feel like I was wearing a dead woman’s clothes. It was that bad.
Not everyone cares as much about clothes as I do, and there are those who care far more. My reasons for caring about what I wear (if you’ll allow me to psychoanalyze myself for a moment) are not hard to figure out. I want to control the narrative. Well-designed things make life easier and less ugly. Beautiful clothes make me feel beautiful. And I think it’s important to evolve as a person. Clothes, because there are so many directions one can take with them, are tools we can use to reflect — even spur or solidify — who we are right now.
And that, my peeps, is the heart of the matter: I don’t know what to wear because my current evolution is still in progress. It’s the same reason I can’t whip out a PaperGirl post like I used to: That person moved out, and it appears the other problem with losing your voice is losing your shoes. On a purely material level, it’s a drag to lose all those shoes — I have really great shoes — but on a psychic level, it super sucks. I can’t walk around barefoot. I can’t wear hiking boots every day. Crocs are never an option. But I’d pick any of those options before I’d wear the shoes of the woman who left all her stuff in my closet before she died. That’s creepy.
What’s my new look? As my friend Irena would say, “What’s the mood?”
Ten months later, and I still don’t know. It’s doubtful the mood will ever be what it was before. Perhaps that’s a start; that’s useful data. As the weather cools, I am eyeing my boots and my red sweater, but this may not be the solution. The new fear is that I’ll put those clothes on and they’ll feel dead, too.
But I’m alive. And I will live to shop another day.
I’m here tonight to share the final stage of the nervous breakdown I experienced early this year. The month-long illness was diagnosed by two medical doctors as a textbook “major depressive episode” and this major depressive episode was the worst thing that has ever happened to me, not the least because it adversely affected other people, too. But, as I can (and should) only speak for myself, I can only share my side of the story. That’s what this is.
This entry is so awfully long but I had to go the distance. We have to reach the bluer skies. I’m ready for those, aren’t you? Yeah.
So tonight, let’s close down the how and the why of the breakdown as best we can on a blog on a Sunday night. It’s as good a place and time as any: Who can totally explain why a black hole opens up in the psyche? How can we say for sure when these mental wounds begin and how long they’ll suppurate before they burst and run and require serious medical attention? It’ll take me a long time to understand all of this, but these installments of the PaperGirl Sunday Evening Post are an attempt. The 300+ pages of diary entries I’ve written in the past four months are attempt. Talking to my shrink is an attempt. Talking to my friends is an attempt.
That’s where I want to start tonight — I want to start with my friends.
In the depression, the days were short and dark. Nights were endless. Hope and vitality trickled out of me by the minute and it was so frightening to feel this and to see it, I was finally scared into asking for help. That’s how hard it is for me to ask for help: I have to be disintegrating before I’ll ask. (Yes, I have learned this is not okay and has to change.) Once I realized I was in fact disintegrating, I texted friends or called friends to come over. I wasn’t going to hurt myself, but I was afraid to be alone. In the deepest valleys of the depression, being alone was the most terrifying thing imaginable because to be alone was to disintegrate for sure; having another human in the room meant I might not go away completely, or as fast. When I asked my friends to come over, even though I was crying over the phone, I tried to make light of things, offering to get pizza and wine or suggesting we go see a movie. Here are a few of the things my friends said to me:
“I’ll be there in an hour.” “Absolutely.” “Laura and I are comin’ over, Mar!”
“I love you.”
“Want to join me and Julia at the Field Museum?”
“I’ll head over right after work! I love you! Luke is coming over right now!!”
There was pizza and wine a couple times, but the moment any of these angels arrived in my living room, it was obvious these would not be social calls. The situation was not normal. My friends could see right away this wasn’t hanging out with Mary; this was sitting shiva.
Because no one had ever seen me like this. I had never seen me like this. My friends are otherworldly creatures made of dopeness and love, so when they observed me, they were kind and brilliant in their approach to care for me. These women and men did everything right. They brought me flowers, sewed with me, sent me jokes, talked to me on the phone, watched my favorite movie (Tootsie, duh), brought over — for example — a bag of white cheddar Pirate’s Booty and a six-pack, read to me, stroked my hair as I lay my head on their respective laps. They were brilliant, full of compassion and love for me; they were creative in their tending to me and relentless in their desire to help. But it was very hard to know what to do. Would I know what to do if a close friend literally could not stop crying for weeks? Two of my friends spent the night, sleepover style, during the final, awful week. They were with me when the worst of the panic attacks (I lost count how many), sank its needle teeth into my head and began to eat and pin-pricked every nerve in my body until I shorted out. That afternoon … that afternoon was terrifying for all three of us.
I felt guilty for those panic attacks, for shorting out. I felt guilty I could not entertain my friends, or be there for them. Their lives didn’t stop because mine was falling apart. But at that time there was nothing I could give them. I could only cling to them and beg them to stay just a little longer, which they always did, and without reservation. This neediness added to my sorrow, too, because depression is a sonofabitch. Nothing is safe. It eats everything it can, including good intentions and one’s ability to communicate love.
Remember how I told you there were five things that took me down? I was so busy getting on with the bitter end, I forgot to finish that list. Let’s do that now.
The other two blows to my life were money related.
My business is PaperGirl, LLC. In order to keep my expenses and tax stuff at least a little organized, I have a credit card for PaperGirl, LLC. I have a high credit limit on this card. I pay it off faithfully every month. (I think I’ve missed one payment in four years.) It’s got kind of a high balance right now — but not more than four digits — and it’s this is because I’m waiting on several reimbursement checks. I hate having a big balance on the thing, so I pay it off in big chunks if I can.
This credit card is my only credit card. It has my name on it and my business name on it. Outside of that, I have two debit cards. I have one store credit card. That’s it. Pretty tight, right? Pretty buttoned up?
Fun fact: If you have a credit card for your business, it does not count toward your personal credit score. Did you know that?
I didn’t know that. But I learned it when I applied for a mortgage to get a loan to buy a condo that would let me have my dog. The credit people were like, “Uh … so, you don’t have credit.” And I was like, “Uh … yeah, I do.” When I looked at my credit score, though, my credit card was not factored in. Because it’s a business card, it doesn’t count toward my credit. Even though my name is on the card. Even though my business is me and I am my business.
Without a personal credit card, one that just says “Mary K Fons” on it, not “Mary K Fons PaperGirl LLC, guess who got denied for a mortgage? Upon getting this news, I knew I was trapped for probably an entire year. A whole year more before I could have a puppy, a whole year more in the same space, in the building that broke my heart. It would be a year because I’d have to get a dumb (and “high-risk”??) credit card and “build up good credit for a year” like I’m a freakin’ 20-year-old undergraduate. I felt sick. I felt like a fool. I felt like total and complete idiot. And I wasn’t goin’ nowhere.
Dog. Breakup. Doctor. Money. Mom.
Details about that last thing, that fifth thing, that Mom thing, are absolutely nothing I’ll be going into. All I can tell you is that Mom and I had a fight. We never fight. Ever. We have never, ever had a fight. And then we did. And that was the last thing that happened that sent me down.
For two weeks — whether or not my friends were with me — I could not stop crying. I’m telling you: I was physically unable to stop crying. The tears would recede for a little while but then I’d shake my head and put my hand to my forehead and cry, and cry, and cry. Sometimes I could talk. A lot of times I couldn’t. There were periods during the breakdown when I just stared into space with tears rolling down my cheeks. One of the scariest things is that after a while, none of the circumstances that had brought me so low were front of mind. After awhile, I wasn’t crying about Philip Larkin, or the doctor, or the money. I was crying because … oh, my god. Oh, god, it was all just so sad. All of it.
The bottomless sadness of being alive. The death that waits for each of us. The despair in despair itself wasted me. Joy was something that existed on a distant planet. Sadness made me sad. Being sad about the sadness made me sad. And so I went down, and down, and down, and then, when I did not think I could go down more, I would remember that I was trapped, because of the money thing, and I would go further down. Or I would think of the fight and I would go further down. And I would think, “If Philip was here and I could pet him, I would be okay.”
The sadness monster was eating me alive. I have never felt anything more painful than that.
Next week: How I’m doing now — so good!! — and what medication I’m taking.
My last class for the fall term was today. I am officially one semester away from completing my Master of Fine Arts in Writing (MFAW) at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC.) I feel really good. I know the ol’ PG takes a hit sometimes, with the coursework, but you know and I know: I’m never far. I won’t ever be far away.
When I left the newspaper office this afternoon and I realized the term really was actually complete, I thought, “Hey, I should celebrate.” I considered going for some Netflix, maybe picking up a fancy bottle of wine (by which I mean a $20-bottle of wine.) And if Netflix n’ drinkin alone strikes you as being kind of a sad way to celebrate something, you must understand that I am very, very tired.
But I didn’t get the bottle of wine (too many calories) and I won’t poke around on Netflix, either (too many choices.) The good news is that I found a better way to celebrate on the way home: I bought a Christmas present for a kid!
My friends S. and Z. have the most incredible daughter. Let’s call her Squirt. Squirt is around five, though I’m terrible at gauging/remembering the ages of anyone over about one week. What I do know about the child is that she is almost too smart and adorable to be believed. The kid bats her eyes and twirls around and you’re toast, just totally in love with her and her Squirt Way. But then she opens her mouth to say something genius and you think, “Please, please Lord, let this person use her powers for good.” Because she’s scary advanced, human-wise.
For example, about a year-and-a-half ago, I was hanging out at the pool with Squirt and her mom and Squirt fell and got a bad scrape on her knee. Of course, Squirt was really, really upset and crying; it hurt! We were all doing the boo-boo kiss thing and trying to make her feel better, but it was a tough one. At one point, between sobs, Squirt wailed to us, “I’m n-not d-doing very well … !”
I‘m not doing very well??
The kid was three. This is what I’m talking about.
Anyway, Squirt loves to make art. The last time I saw her and her, we made art together, and that was a blast. Drawing and coloring with this kid made me remember just how very, very much I loved “doing art” when I was wee. Oh, man. It’s really in the blood, you know, the art stuff. Some kids are just art kids. As Squirt and I scribbled together that day, I made a mental note that when Christmastime came, I was gonna blow that kid’s mind with a big haul of art supplies from Chicago.
So there I am, headed away from the office, trying to figure out how to mark this not-insubstantial milestone in my grad school existence, when it hit me: Go to Dick Blick! Of course! I could go into Dick Blick and buy Squirt her art supplies!
And indeed, I went into the art superstore there on State Street and knew it was just right. I looked over papers, markers, glitters. I picked up pens, cardstock, poster paper. My eyes loved the colors everywhere; I let the smell of canvas and glue and paint carry me away.
That kid is gonna freak out. I got her some good stuff, and I’m not even sure I’m done, yet. At the heart, I suppose I did retail therapy tonight, except I got the therapy and Squirt’s gettin’ the retail.
Mom and I had the best conversation yesterday while I cleaned the house. We hadn’t talked in so long, it felt like, and we both had much to share. It worked out great to take turns: I’d mute my microphone while Mom told me something that required exposition so that I could vacuum and she wouldn’t have to hear it, then I’d unmute and do some dusting while I told her something. We talked for over 90 minutes before the cleaning jag and the conversation ended with a discussion of my health status and general disposition. And it was this last matter that led us to a discussion of Philip Larkin.
If anyone out there is tired of me talking about dream dog Philip Larkin, I’m afraid there’s simply nothing I can do about it and — wait a minute, hang on. If you are tired of hearing about a girl’s true love of The Tiny Puppy Of Her Dreams, I am sincerely worried about your general disposition and if you do choose to click away, I hope that you will click to a better place. I’m completely serious! This is serious stuff!
Okay, back to Philip.
“Mom, I think I’m going to do it,” I said.
“Well,” Mom said, “I do think —”
I cut her off, noticing that I did that and feeling bad but not willing to clam up just yet. “But I am not going to do anything rash,” I said. “It’s not like I’ve run off done it already. There are many steps to take to make it happen, most of which involve paperwork. I’d need to get all kinds of things filed — and approved — before I’d get permission. And after that, I have to find a breeder, which could take awhile. Ask me how I know.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve been emailing breeders, actually, which proves how serious I am, I guess. And I did look in Iowa first.”
My mother and Mark got Scrabble, a miniature Golden Doodle puppy, from a reputable breeder in Iowa about eight years ago. Mom has strongly advised me to “get an Iowa dog!” She’s not wrong about the quality of Iowa stock, not that I’m biased. But, as I went on to tell Mom, none of the Iowa-based Maltipoo breeders raise teacup Maltipoos, which is what Philip must be. (A miniature Maltipoo is a normal-small dog; a teacup Maltipoo is the size of a well-fed hamster.) I’ve looked in Illinois, naturally, but it’s the same thing here. The only places that have teacups are pet stores and I just don’t think this is the best way to acquire my furry best friend. I’ve read terrible things about pet stores being mills and the pups being sick — oh, it’s just awful. If anyone can make the case for the pet store, please make it. I am trying to get this right and hey, if a pet store like the one I visited a few weeks ago is a legit place to pick’a Philip Larkin, that saves me a great deal of footwork and many miles of travel. Yes, at this point, it looks as though I may have to travel a great distance for my dream dog. And I wince to share that, as this opens me up to a great deal of criticism, I realize, from people horrified that I don’t just go over to the animal shelter and get a worthy, needy pet that way. Again, I have my reasons for approaching this big change in my life in the manner in which I’m approaching it and if my life circumstances were different, I suspect my approach would be different, as well. Be gentle with me.
We discussed all this and then Mom had a great idea, which is not an uncommon occurrence.
“You should ask your PaperGirl readers if they know anyone who owns a Philip or breeds teacup Maltipoos. I’m sure you’ll get someone who either has one of their own or could get you in touch with someone, don’t you think?”
And so I ask you, pals: Would you be willing to draw upon your vast resources, your extensive network of professional associations, your thousands and thousands of social media friends and admirers, your high school sweethearts, your very children — yes! your kin! — to help me find my puppy? I just know a pure-hearted teacup Maltipoo breeder is out there and the coolest thing in the whole world would be to find Wee Philip because of a PaperGirl connection! I mean, seriously. Seriously, for real, I keel over with joy and then Philip Larkin would lick me back into consciousness.
In closing, I would like to give a major shout out to Suzanne, who commented on yesterday’s anguished post with something that made my day and is germane to this post in a big way. Get a load of this:
When you first brought up Philip Larkin, I had no idea who this was and went off to Wikipedia. And then some other sites, and then some more and thoroughly enjoyed my voyage. Months later, my book group decided to read Devices and Desires by P. D. James. In the introductory chapters, we learn the main character (Adam Dalgleish) is a renowned poet and appears to hold Philip Larkin in high esteem. I just sat and smiled this little glowy smile — I KNEW who Philip Larkin was. Thank you, Mary. And I’m reading a real, touch-the-pages book.
Thanks, Suzanne, and thank you, everyone, for any help you might be able to provide re: my quest. I think if I do eventually get that pup, I’ll have to start a video blog version of PaperGirl. It would be called PaperGirl: Extreme Philip Larkin Edition and it would feature hours and hours of video of that dog as he canters, cavorts, hops, yips, wriggles, rolls over, fetches, shakes, snorgles, twirls, chases his tail, licks my nose, plays with various items, drinks water, eats small food, and curls up in my arms.
Not quite a month ago, I announced that I got a post office box for PaperGirl. I’ve visited the box just once so far, a little before I left for Berlin. I got two letters! That felt so, so, so good. To dear Phyllis and the giver of the lace sample from Marshall Field’s (!!) you will be honored here soon as my first correspondents.
Now that I feel officially back from my trip — there’s more to say about Berlin but I just can’t right now — I’m excited to do errands. That’s how I know that everything is gonna be okay: when I get excited about errands again. (Note: It usually only takes me a few days and I get this fabulous, dust-yourself-off trait from Mom.) Probably my most looked-forward-to errand is to go check the PaperGirl mailbox tomorrow. I can’t wait. My innocent excitement, the big-eyed joy I get whenever I get a letter — in any letterbox to which I have a key — is immense, so go on! Send that postcard or box of gold bricks to Mary Fons/PaperGirl, P.O. Box 3957, Chicago, IL 60654-8777 today. Your mail will be cherished and kept. That’s a promise.
What’s neat about the letter I’m going to share with you now, though, is that it came to me before I had the box. I got this message via my mom (and maybe to Mom via the Fons & Porter office?) a few months ago. I put it into a stand-in briefcase I wasn’t used to using and misplaced it until a few weeks ago. Susan, I apologize: This piece of mail you sent is extraordinary and you haven’t heard from me, yet. Let’s do this.
Thank you so much for the fabric and the fabulous letter, Susan. You’re an excellent letter-writer, by the way, and of course I love your taste in fabric.
PaperGirl readers are incredible. Maybe there should be an annual PG convention. Or at least a retreat. We could all meet, swap fabric, stories, and read books and sew. I would seriously be into that. Anyone else? Okay, here’s Susan’s communique:
In the 1950’s my great aunt Vivian went shopping for fabric to make kitchen curtains and this is what she came home with. Now, in that era, many women in their 50’s and 60’s were proper and matronly. Aunty Vivian chose the fabric because she liked the colors, thought they would be perfect! Then, after she got home… She saw the design and was aghast; how could she ever let her friends see these ladies in her kitchen!
I was a teenager (good grief, where has the time gone?) and thought the Springmaids, from the ads for Springmaid sheets, were as clever as could be. Had no idea what I would do with the fabric, but I wanted it!
Eventually, I covered a lampshade and stretched one repeat on a frame to hang next to the lamp. Yet I still had the enclosed piece and never could figure out what to do with it. Didn’t want to cut it up for a blouse, didn’t need a curtain, already had a lampshade… and so it sat in a drawer.
And, now it’s yours to pet and find a clever use for. I hope you enjoy it.
One of the magazines I subscribe to is The Sun. It’s primarily non-fiction writing, photography, and fascinating (long, yay) interviews with anthropologists, artists, authors, and other interesting human beings.
And then there’s this feature toward the back called “Readers Write.” The editors give a one- or two-word prompt and readers send in their brief story (100-400 words or so) or anecdote relating to the prompt. (Upcoming prompts include “Losing,” “That Night,” “Mischief,” and “Bad Habits.”)
The contributions are always incredible: real, sad, hilarious, true. The Readers Write prompt for this month’s issue was “First Impressions.” On the plane to Kansas last night, I read one of the best submissions ever.
If I get in trouble with the magazine for posting this, I’ll take it down. But for now, please read this piece by one Ms. Rebecca Levenberg from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was a pleasure to type up your story, Ms. Levenberg; thank you for writing it and congrats for being published.
“Six years ago I was hit by a truck while riding my bicycle to work, and I had to have my leg amputated. At the rehabilitation hospital I was assigned a peer mentor. Rob was the first amputee I’d ever met. When he offered to answer my questions, I had none. I was riddled with pain from a limb that wasn’t there and overwhelmed by the change to my body. Though I felt obligated to listen to Rob, really I just wanted him to leave.
The one thing I remember about that meeting is that Rob had oe by on his way home from the gym, where he went in the evenings after work. Rob went to the gym. Rob went to work. Rob was an amputee. This information gave me hope.
Over the next year I learned to walk with a prosthetic leg. The second year brought more independence, and I went back to work and to the gym.
That summer a man waved me down on a city sidewalk. “Can I ask you a question?” he said, eyes fixed on my prosthesis. Sure, I replied. His voice got quiet. “Were you born that way?” Were you born without your leg?”
I told him no, that I’d had my leg amputated after an accident. I wondered why he was asking: he had all four limbs.
The man pointed to a nearby hospital and explained that his wife had just had a baby boy born without part of his arm. “The doctor said he’ll never know the difference,” he told me. “Do you think that’s true? Do you think he’ll never know?”
What could I say? I had no idea. We talked a bit more, and I asked if the baby was healthy. The man said yes.
“Congratulations,” I said. “What’s his name?”
He told me, and for the first time since we’d begun talking, I saw a proud dad.
After we’d parted, I realized that I was probably the first amputee he’d ever met. Walking away, I stood tall and confident, just in case he was watching.”
Today was a “Guess what happened to me on the train today” day. Citydwellers know what I’m talking about.
I got on the Red Line train around noon and took it north. I had an errand to run: Daniela, a preternaturally talented esthetician finally cleared up my skin last winter and I had to pick up a bottle of her witches’ brew. (If I found out that stuff is made from the tears of baby seals I’m not entirely sure I would stop using it, that’s how effective it is and how grateful I am to this woman.)*
After transferring to the Brown Line, I got off at Montrose. When I was at the stairs to go down to the street, a man stopped me. He was with his family: wife, toddler, and baby, this last in a ginormous stroller. No one in the group spoke English. Zero. I think “Okay” was the one word he got out and “Okay” is a word that exists in 90% of languages on Earth. They might also have been on the mute side because all of them were clearly spooked and sad. They were lost.
The father offered me, astonishment of astonishments: a printout from Google Maps. I smiled and nodded and took a look. They were nowhere near where they needed to be. They’d have to go back south on the Brown, transfer to the Red, then head back north. The mistake had taken them at least 30 minutes and would cost them another 40, depending on train times. As I looked at the sheet of directions, I shook my head in wonder. The numbers, the stops, the directions, the names of the El train lines — I know them backwards and forwards because I speak English and I’ve lived here, more or less, for fifteen years. But to these people? Gibberish. And they’re trying to get someplace. With kids!
I tried to imagine what I would do if I was lost on the train system in Beijing, for example. The mere thought made me shudder.
We figured it out. I did something just short of an interpretive dance for the father, communicating they had to go down the stairs (I literally did a “I’m going down stairs” pantomime) and over to the other platform (I flapped my arms to say, “OVER THERE, WAY OVER THERE”) and then I said, “Red train. Red.” I pointed to my fingernail polish and said, “Red?” The man understood, nodding vigorously.
The coolest thing ever is that picking up my unicorn serum took less than five minutes. By the time I was back at the Montrose station, the family was there on the platform, waiting to go the same way! I was able to go all the way to the transfer point with them and I made sure they got on the right side, on the right train. It felt great, and I think the woman just about cried she was so glad I was there.
World travelers often say, “Getting lost is half the fun!” I have never understood this. You get lost. I’ll help you. Deal?
Technically, her birthday was yesterday. Don’t worry: I didn’t forget. I sent her a card that arrived on time and she got an absolutely enormous box of notions as a gift. (Even quilt royalty need fresh rotary cutters, you know.)
But when I saw that my sister Rebecca had a copy of this photo of Mom back in the 60’s and posted it to Facebook, I had to pass it along and carry the birthday over a day.
The death of Prince sidelined the follow-up to my trip to NYC. I’m happy to report that I had the most wonderful day.
Well, it was wonderful once I was not in the act of waking up at 3:30am. That was uncomfortable. But once I was vertical, the day glided along like it was on rails. Since I was going to New York City and coming home within a matter of hours, I needed no luggage. I took my Jim Shore patchwork shopper (autographed, because he’s a good pal of mine and you betch’yer buttons I’m name-dropping) which easily held my laptop and all my personal effects; I also carried a modest totebag with a quilt, a book, and some Small Wonders swag for the people at the recording studio. Do you know the glory of walking into an airport and going straight to security with no stop at the ticket counter, no luggage check? It’s intoxicating. And I’m TSA Pre-Check, too, so it was me, an electronic boarding pass and a prayer, baby. Que bella.
When I landed at LaGuardia, I had time before I was to meet my sister for lunch, so I took public transportation into Manhattan. Why not? I had time and I had no luggage. Had that not been the case, I’m sure I’d have taken a taxi. But I was footloose! Fancy! Free! The sun was shining, the temperature was perfect: 69-degrees and all sunshine. I was a woman with time on her hands.
The bus took me to a train; after that train there was to be another to get to my sister’s office. But I bailed on the train transfer and got out at 63rd and Lexington in order to walk the remaining thirty blocks to Hannah. Thirty?! Yeah, sure. City blocks in Manhattan are short and pure entertainment.
I saw puppies playing in the window of a pet shop (see above.) I saw a tiny cemetery, restful and serene, stuck between two buildings; I saw a two different girls wearing tiny hats, so that must be the new thing; there was a man in a suit that I know cost more than most people make in a month or more; bodegas, murals, homeless, worker bees, dogs, babies. Muppets. Ballerinas. Unicorns.
The time I spent with my sister was like, soul good. We needed a good cup of coffee and that’s precisely what we had. If that was the only thing I was in New York to do, that would have been worth every penny. And the guest spot on the Good Life Project podcast went great, I think. I got choked up at the end, so it was certainly something. (The episode I’ll be on won’t air for several months; I’ll let you know when it goes up.) After the show, I headed back to the train and bus combo; I got to the airport with no issue. Walked onto the plane. Back in time for dinner.
New York, you’re all right. Your spring flowers up against all that graffiti looked so good to me yesterday, I came quite close to missing you. Chicago says hi.
To celebrate Easter, Claus and I took a bike ride to the lakefront.
We rode for some time, then needed a snack. Since Claus had not seen Navy Pier yet, we steered our bikes that way. I was happy to see that Navy Pier has gotten at least a partial facelift since I was last there. There are many more food options and there was a mini-Tiffany glass exhibit courtesy of Chicago’s Driehaus family, a family that has an entire museum in the Gold Coast dedicated solely to exhibiting their Tiffany glass pieces. The Driehaus family probably owns Navy Pier, so maybe the exhibit today is there because they needed extra storage. Either way, it was great.
On the way home, we got caught in the cold wind and rain that hit around 5pm. That was hard, riding home in that. We arrived in soaked jeans. My hair was plastered to my head and my glasses were pointless. Now hungry for actual dinner, Claus and I decided to take time only to get dry and then go back out for a hamburger; we also decided to take umbrellas.
Claus put his jeans over a chair and dried them with my hairdryer. I came over and sat by him while he did it. It was funny: to get the legs dry he put the nose of the hairdryer into the cuff and the air blew up the leg like there was a real leg in there.
The German looked over at me and said, “Mary, your hair is still very wet.” And he turned the blowdryer on my hair. He used his fingers to ruffle it the way you do when you dry someone’s hair, tousling it this way and that. The warm air blew all over my head and it was bliss to feel it on my neck, blowing just under my collar.
Then something strange happened. Suddenly, my eyes teared up. And my chest hurt.
I realized it that what he was doing was what my mother — even my father, if we go back further — did when I was a little kid. The sense memory hit me like a truck. The warm air on my neck, the large hand on my head, and the feeling of being helped in getting warm after being cold from playing outside. Though people touch our heads and blow-dry our hair in a salon, there is none of this connection there. Night and day.
I turned to Claus and I swear my lip trembled as I said, “That feels really good. Can you keep doing it?” He was a little surprised and said of course he could and was I okay?
Last night, when I laid out the itinerary for Lilly’s Big Day Out, I said something funny. I said we would do our last scheduled activity, “if Lilly [wasn’t] too tired out.” The thing about seven-year-olds is that they are rarely tired out; the thing about thirty-six-year-olds is that we often are. Tired out by work, family, or the crushing weight of our own existence, whatever it is, it’s enough to lie back on the fainting couch for awhile and promise to write all about Lilly’s Big Day Out tomorrow.
That’s the last picture I took today: Lilly headed down into the subway for her first-ever ride on a city train. In a sparkly St. Patrick’s Day ballcap, of course.
It’s been a tough few days. Battling anacondas. Liquidating a Fortune 500 company. Quashing a pandemic seconds before it’s unleashed on the Earth by a villain. Seriously, though: it’s been a tough few days.
Canada has been cancelled. Peru has been cancelled. Let’s call it health reasons and leave it at that. Bon soir, Montreal. Adios, Cuzco. (Balls, I say, and that’s plain English.) But life is consistently weird and often lousy and what can you do? Well, fun things. You can do fun things and try to not be as lame as you were yesterday. That’s all you can do — and that’s advanced stuff.
I walked up to a doctor’s appointment this afternoon and got done early. Feelin’ blue, I did what any red-blooded American would do in my situation: I went into the AT&T store to see if I could get a new phone. It turned out that I could, provided that I promised my firstborn child to the ghost of Alexander Graham Bell. Sure, dude. Do I sign with my finger or the stylus? Doesn’t matter? Right on.
The upside of getting a new phone at the phone store is that you don’t do any of the data transferring. You punch in your password and the tiny magic doo-dads are synched by someone who won’t ruin everything. The downside is that it takes a very long time. If you amble into the phone store and think you’re going to amble on out with a new phone in twenty minutes, you are incorrect. I learned today that “getting a new phone” may be something I procrastinate about when time comes to do it again. It’s not a “Let’s play hooky and go get a new phone!” proposition; it’s an errand.
That is, unless someone groovy helps you. Then it’s a blast. Bekie, an extremely pretty Hispanic girl with hair that I will never, ever have and could never even fake, greeted me at the door. I told her what I was after and she walked me through my options. I could have a dinner plate-sized phone or a turkey platter-sized phone. I went with the dinner plate, but it was tough choice.
While we waited for Samsung to transfer all the information it has on me from one X-ray spy machine — sorry, phone — to another, me n’ Bekie got to talking. We talked about men. Boys, really. We moved through relationship drama, jobs, other jobs, past lives, patterns, dreams, annoyances. We covered territory like we hadn’t seen each other since college, but I was just a customer, she was on her shift..
The tables at the AT&T store on Michigan Avenue are high-tops, so when you’re sitting down you have the feeling you’re in a bar. Several times over the course of my two-hour relationship with Bekie, I had to get over the uncomfortable feeling that our waiter was really slow bringing our drinks. It was just that friendly there in the AT&T store. Bekie told me her eight-year-old daughter recently turned eight.
“Oh, that’s great. I’ll bet she had a princess party. Is Frozen still cool?”
“Yeah,” Bekie said. “It’s still cool, but she didn’t want a party like that. She wanted to go to this adventure place, like an activity place. I took her. It was really fun.”
When my phone was done, I gathered up all my things and gave Bekie a big hug.
Sorry about yesterday. I was found not guilty of being a witch, but I can’t say the same about my friend Goody. She’s… Well, she really is a witch, so I guess justice was done.
Back to the fun. See those totebags up there? They exist only in my memory and in the hands of the few who grabbed one at Fall Quilt Market a few months ago. What you see above is a limited edition item, like a 45” of an early Beatles record only released in Kuala Lumpur. I’m telling you, I had to scrounge to find one to offer as this week’s prize.
The Heart Plus. Cute World Piece icons. Feminine, but masculine with the canvas and all. Sexy stuff, even though my name is on it. You could cross that out and write your name. It’s your bag, baby. For a price.
If you’re familiar with my quilts, you know I love quilt blocks. Scroll down 4-5 pictures on my Facebook page and you’ll see a quilt top I recently finished that proves it. (I’m planning to do 9,000 more kaleidoscope quilts in the future because good heavens, so gorgeous. The next one will be with — wait for it — the Small Wonders line, India specifically.)
You don’t have to make a kaleidoscope quilt to win the tote, don’t worry. You don’t even have to make a kaleidoscope block, which would be four quadrants or more, by the way. But make a quilt block using Small Wonders — France, China, South America, USA, Netherlands, or India — and email me a picture. I’ll pick a winner, and you’ll be the envy of your guild when you walk in all fancy with your tote. “Oh, this totebag?” you’ll say, nonchalant. “I almost forgot which one I grabbed. Where are the cookie bars?”
**Important! I never use a single group when I make quilts. I mix. That’s why I have all this pre-washed fabric! So you don’t have to use only Small Wonders. Butat least one of the fabrics needs to be SM, okay? It’s gotta highlight the fabric or you might be shooting yourself in the pincushion. Ouch!
Email me a picture of your block at smallwonderswednesday @ gmail.com. Winner picked in two weeks, and I’ll post your block on my Facebook page and your totebag will be delivered via Pajamagram. The cool thing about this contest is that you might really, really love that block and you’re already one block down.
*Actual prize may or may not be delivered via Pajamagram.
I’m in Door County and will stay for about a week. There are many fun things to see and do up here. The last time I was at our family’s lake house there was a wedding taking place. There are no weddings going on right now because a) no one is engaged and b) hypothermia is real.
Washington Island is cold this time of year. Right now it’s five degrees outside. The Island has a year-round population of 660, which means 660 people don’t think a winter this cold and snowy is that big of a deal, though I think the number is misleading: there have to be some folks who take off for Daytona Beach for, say, the months of January and February. They’d still count as year-round, probably.
But cold and the ice make beautiful air and beautiful pictures, and that I’m here at all proves I like that air and those pictures a lot. When a bright sun shines off a subzero Lake Michigan and you’re on the puffy couch, with tea, counting swans, you don’t mind that you have to wear two coats later and pull on actual long underwear if you want to go on a walk.
Today, I fell through the ice on the lake and that was not great. When I say I “fell through the ice,” I mean that I fell through the ice. And when I say I fell through the ice, I meant that I took one step, then another step, then fell through the ice. I was not submerged. But I went down and I felt water. I was walking on the table rocks at the shore and, like an idiot, pranced over to look at a plant completely encased in ice that looked like glass and did not picture in my mind what the ground is like when it is not covered in ice, itself: big rocks with lots of spaces between them. In the summer, water is flowing around these rocks. Ergo, in winter, ice around the rocks. Ice that will surely be varying levels of thickness.
I’m okay. No blood, just sputtering. And don’t worry, I wasn’t alone. Claus was with me. When he heard the crash-splash, he ran to make sure I was okay but he didn’t come too far out on the ice. He could see I was going to make it. And I did; I made it back into the house and then I made minestrone and everything was fine.
We have the Babylonians to thank for many things. They’re the ones who put 60 seconds in the minute and 60 minutes in an hour, a system called “sexagesimal” which is a word I think we can all agree is best left out of our vocabularies. We can thank the Babylonians (5500 to 3500 B.C.) for page numbers in a book. Very helpful, guys. Thank you.
And we can thank them for New Year’s resolutions. At the turn of the new year, the Babs had an eleven-day festival to celebrate the occasion, during which they made promises to the gods so the gods would show them favor. (Now that’s what I call accountability.) According to sources that I’m too lazy to cite, most Babylonians pledged to get out of debt.
I gave up resolutions years ago, mostly because I hate going with the flow. There’s one I flirt with each year, but as I know I cannot achieve it, I quit while I’m ahead. I resolve not to try and fix what I need to change. Want to know what I want to change?
I want to answer the phone every time I can see/hear it ring. I have a terrible phobia of talking on the phone, even to people I love. And I loathe voicemail. A week can go by before I finally enter the numbers to access my voicemail and when I do, my fingers feel like they have those little finger weights on them. “You seriously have to listen to voicemail,” I’ll say to myself, and it feels the same as when I say, “You seriously have to make a dentist appointment.” If I discover I only have three messages, I feel like I found twenty bucks on the sidewalk.
What is the root of this crippling phobia? Is it a control issue? Why am I this way? I just can’t do it. I can’t answer the phone. Text messages are the greatest invention since the telephone.
I cannot resolve to get better at this unless someone unlocks the problem. If you can do that, I’ll help you in your resolve to eat Marshmallow Fluff straight from the jar. I’ve got that down.
1. What am I doing New Year’s Eve?
a) going to bed
b) going to a wedding
c) going to a party where I don’t know anyone
d) going to get wasted
e) b, then later a
2. What were my goals for 2015?
a) make at least $100,000 and put it all into an attractive mutual fund
b) stay in one geographical location for more than five months
c) not buy more clothes until I have holes in the clothes I have now, seriously, like holes in them because I wear them that much that they have to be replaced
d) finish Middlemarch e) avoid writing an end-of-year pop quiz that gives me the uncomfortable feeling I’m pulling some Bridget Jones’s Diary thing by accident
If Bridget Jones’s Diary had been written just a few years later than it was, would it have been Bridget Jones’s Blog and if so, would it have been as popular and if so, would that have just been Sex In The City?
4. If Pendennis could eat one thing for every meal for the rest of his life, he would eat:
a) candy corn pumpkins
b) linguine with clam sauce
c) just sheets and sheets and sheets of nori
d) cotton balls
e) a and d but not b
5. What are you doing New Year’s Eve?
a) “Oh, right. I forgot. What night is New Year’s?”
b) having some friends over for games (e.g., Catchphrase, Twister “After-Dark” Version, etc.)
c) coming to that wedding with me (it’s going to be super fun)
d) taking a pop quiz
Answers: b, d, too tired to write it out but no and yes, e, c.
There were nights when I actually lost sleep obsessing about people living in my house while I was not in it.. These people were good people. Students. Film professionals. A professor. But still. Dishes break. Folks have (hopefully good) parties. Bad emails come in and you punch a wall. Would my cream-colored carpet be wrecked? Would my couch be all jacked up? Would the baseboards be really, really gross? I didn’t think anyone would damage anything on purpose or be wantonly reckless; I just had a lot of anxiety about it.
Well, guess what I found when I opened the door? Stewardship! Care! Consideration! I’m ashamed of myself that I had so little faith in people. I’m a jerk. Really, I am a jerk.
Every person who had a key to this place treated it with respect. Or, if one of them didn’t, the rest of the gang made it right. There were no bloodstains. There weren’t even wine stains. My planed wood dining table has nary a scratch. Are you kidding me?? I will absolutely scratch this table at some point in the next year — but none of my tenants did.
Okay: the mirrored dresser in my bedroom is cracked across the top. But that’s what a table runner is for! Anyone could’ve cracked that thing, including me. I did have a professional carpet and mattress cleaning company come in before I got home, which I think was smart. And yeah, the baseboards are really gross. And I was faced with confusing feelings in the kitchen: the entire top shelf of my open cupboards went totally untouched. No one used the vases, the china, or the unusual dishes up there (e.g., ramekins, fancy mise en place bowls, etc.). On one hand, it was like I never left. On the other hand, everything has a stubborn film of dusty grease because that shelf is high up over the stove. Ew.
I’m still deep-cleaning the whole place because I like deep-cleaning and mentally, I must do this. But tenants, if you’re reading this, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my wicked, faithless heart for being the civilized, thoughtful people that you always were but who I lamed-out on in my head. You’re welcome back anytime. I’ll open a bottle of wine and you can watch me trip on my shoelace and spill an entire glass on the floor.
Please read Part I of this story (one post prior) or you’ll miss the important setup.
I approach the family, who was spilling out of the booth. There were Cheerios everywhere, but we did not serve cereal at the restaurant, so these were brought in from home. Two booster seats were cramming the narrow aisle but it was cool; these folks deserved (?) brunch like everyone else in Chicago. A yoga mat was stuffed into the corner because Mom had just come from class. Even though there was jelly soaked into my apron and egg on my shoe, I was chipper.
“Good morning, you guys,” I say, “You’ve been here a few times — I bet you know what you want!” I’m doing the assumed close, you see. Three new tables had been sat behind me and had already gotten coffee. Let’s do this.
“Yeah,” the mother said, and she put her fingers to her chin to ask what I prepared myself to be a focused question. “Belle is going to have the corned beef hash — do you think that’s something she’ll like? Corned beef?” Belle was six, so probably not. I told Mom, “Probably not. There are lots of peppers and corned beef is kind of an advanced thing… It’s a big plate.”
“Okay… I think… Belle, do you want corned beef?” Belle colored her placemat and said “Whatever,” without looking up.
“Let’s do that,” Mom said. “And Slade wants scrambled eggs, but can you have the kitchen make the eggs flat like a pancake?”
“Eggs on a pancake, sure,” I said, scribbling on my pad, making sure to press my pen hard so the carbon copy would come out clear for the kitchen.
“No, not on a pancake,” she said. “I’m wondering if you can scramble the eggs, like, flat.” She cocked her head and she looked like a cockatiel.
I looked up. “Scramble them flat.”
“You know, like put them on the grill and smooth them out, so they’re scrambled but, like, flat. And then flip it? So it’s flat? It would be like a pancake?”
I couldn’t stop blinking at her. Teddy, my righthand man, the best busboy who has ever lived, squeezed past me to grab the twenty-fourth pot of coffee of that morning.*
“Well,” I said. “I’ll ask the kitchen,” I said. On my pad, I wrote the shorthand word for scrambled eggs, which is “SCRAM.” Then, cocking my head like a cockatiel, I wrote, “FLAT.” So on my pad I had “SCRAM FLAT.”
“Thanks,” the woman said, “Is that weird?” I told her it was really, really weird. And I left them with a thank-you and a smile and banged through the double doors to the kitchen like we all banged through the double doors because that’s what double doors in a restaurant do: they bang.
“Glen,” I said, approaching the line. I could see the Great Men through the metal line where they were putting plates up. It was like a ballet back there. “Glen, this ticket says SCRAM FLAT. They want…” I could hardly tell him. This was a grown man. This was a man with dignity. I just came out with it: “Glen, they want the scrambled eggs flat. Like, scramble the eggs… Flat.”
There was no time for pausing but Glen stopped what he was doing and asked me what the [redacted] that meant. I explained the best I could. And he said “Alright,” because that’s what a Great Man does when faced with a challenge and indeed, about fifteen minutes later, I had a plate with SCRAM FLAT, sprinkled with parsley, with a twisted orange slice on the side. And love in there, because every plate had love in there.
Belle sent back the corned beef; Slade ate every bite.
*Teddy once caught me in the coat closet, bent me back like we were on the cover of a romance novel and kissed me on the lips. “Mi amor,” he said, “I’m in love with you.” That’s a story for another day.
I am still quite ill. But laughter is the best medicine.
Mom read PaperGirl yesterday and saw that I was sick, so she called. She asked if I had a fever; I told her I don’t know because I don’t have a thermometer. I felt strangely embarrassed about that, like I was a twenty-two year-old dude living in an apartment with an X-box, an amp, and a bunch of Chinese take-out containers in the kitchen. That guy does not have a thermometer. Thermometers are things people have when they grow up. What does this say about me?
“You know, for all the things smartphones do,” Mom said, “They ought to be able to take your temperature.” She was driving with Mark and Scrabble back from Door County to Iowa. I laughed because she is so right.
“Just think,” she said, “You could put your tongue on the screen and it would read your temperature. Or, or! You could put it in your buttcheeks, like a baby!”
I was mid-sip and sprayed my tea all over my blanket and some of the couch. Mom suggested that putting your smartphone under your armpit would be better, maybe, than in your “buttcheeks.” I agreed. We decided if your smartphone could take your temperature in either of these places, there would be no more phone theft. Ever. Find a cell phone? Leave it right there. Some kid’s thinking about snitching someone’s new iPhone MXII when they’re not looking? Tell that kid to think about that person’s last bout with food poisoning. They were so feverish. So sweaty. They had to take their temperature… Several times…
“I really need to feel better tomorrow, Mom. There’s so much to do. I wish Scrabble was here to cuddle with.”
“Yeah,” Mom said. “She’s a good hot water bottle.”
All of my life, I have never understood nor enjoyed Halloween. I just didn’t get it. Why would anyone cover themselves in sticky fake blood and go out in cold weather to do jello shots? What can be accomplished by being a trollopy milk maid in public in late October? I’ve never seen the zombie zeitgeist as some sort of catharsis for a society living in fear and isolation; I see it as creepy and tacky, not to mention disorienting, especially when you see a pack of zombies doing jello shots or doing a 5k run or both.
But I figured out the appeal last night! It’s not that you have to be scary or uncomfortable on Halloween; you don’t have to dwell on the undead or be some bizarre, modern version of an ancient pagan. It’s that on Halloween, you can be someone else. You can take the briefest break from being you, and this is a great gift. Do you know how exasperating it is to be me? Sure, because you know how exhausting it is to be you. We’re all living, breathing (beautiful) disasters. Who wouldn’t want to jump out of your disaster and into another one once a year?
I’ve mentioned my fancy-schmancy home in DC — the Kennedy Warren building on Connecticut Avenue — has a beautiful bar inside the building. It’s all dark wood and chrome with lots of plush velvet chairs and couches, a grand piano. A jazz trio plays in the evening. Politicians hang out there, journalists hang out there. Well, there was a Halloween do last night and I went down to see what was what. Of course I needed to wear a costume, so I put on the pair of funny glasses I happen to have and attached to my necklace a bow-tie I happen to have. I went and put on black trousers, a vest, my best Prada patent leather shoes with the steel heel (haaaaay!) and my black trench coat. Suddenly…I was not me!
I had so much fun last night. I met many cool people and several came up to my place for a nightcap. It was a wonderful Halloween and I have made peace with the holiday as of now. Incredibly, I’m already looking forward to next year. How about that.
*To Hannah, the incredible fan who sent me a carton of candy pumpkins… Hannah, you are a treasure of a human being. Thank you. I ate handfuls of them when they arrived. Pumpkins from heaven.
First things first: It’s safe to say that Small Wonders Fabric by Mary Fons (and all the attendant pieces and parts) is a big, fat, juicy hit. I’ll be sharing hot news and directing you to all kinds of goodies online and otherwise in the weeks and months to come. I thought I’d better mention something about what’s happening now that the puppy has been launched** or you might think it fizzled. In fact, it is fizzing.
This morning I decided several important things: I would listen to my voicemail. I would not pack any boxes because I’ll start that this weekend. I would not make tea at home but go get coffee at Firehook, my neighborhood coffee shop and bakehouse. Sometimes I buy one of their chocolate-dipped macaroons for breakfast. They’re snowball-sized. They are macaroons of consequence. They make an excellent breakfast.
I was in the elevator heading down to the lobby and the car stopped at the sixth floor. As the elevator slowed to the stop, I could hear kids’ voices. Sure enough, the doors pulled open and two kids bounded into the elevator with their mom. The girl was maybe twelve, the little boy probably six. The little boy was telling a story and I caught the best part:
“And then? They were showing the Halloween cartoons? And this one cartoon? Well, Mom, it scared the shit out of me!”
I clapped my hand over my mouth and turned my head, trying not to show this was the best thing I had ever heard. I didn’t want to encourage him. A six-year-old doesn’t need to be using curse words — and the one he used is a particularly harsh one. But you gotta hand it to the little guy: his usage was perfect. The cartoon scared him! It scared the you-know-what out of him! He said what most of us would say in these situations!
“Marcus John!!” his mother hissed. “What did you say??”
Marcus was looking up at me. He saw my eyes. I was busted. I tried to give him a pursed lip and a tsk-tsk, but it was clear that in the world of adults, I could be trusted. I smiled and shook my head at him and he smiled, too. It wasn’t an evil Damian smile he had, just a mischievous one.
And mischief is what Halloween is for.
** “Now that the puppy has been launched,” is my new favorite beginning to any sentence.
Fall Quilt Market is the biggest trade show of the year for the 4 billion-dollar-a-year quilt industry I accidentally started working in five-and-a-half years ago. It’s a Quilts, Inc. production and it is intense. Here’s what people do at Quilt Market:
– Wear their Sunday best
– Write business
– Take meetings
– Booze (Not at the level of a pharmaceutical sales rep convention, but there’s a little drankin’ and aren’t you surprised? Mm? Quilters drink liquor? Scandal?)
– Go to dinner
– Make deals
– Take names
– Chew bubblegum
– Break hearts
So really it’s just another day in the life of a quilter who took her/his hobby to the Next Level. Hey, speaking of Next Level, this Quilt Market is a big one for me. Maybe the biggest one yet. For years — years! — I’ve been circling a dream project and for months — months! — I’ve known that the dream project would launch next week but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. At this point, the pain of withholding the thing is almost physical.
Do you want to know what the big project is? Do you? Are you ready to freak out? Are you ready for totally amazing, fully incredible, head-slappingly gorgeous images to flood your cerebral cortex? It will all happen so soon! I’m the world’s worst secret-keeper; if I wasn’t in fear of mucking up the whole thing for me and the brilliant company I’m working with, I’d just out with it.
But maybe I could tell you something else. Maybe I could let a different cat out of the bag. Maybe I could finally tell you the other secret I’ve got. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. Here goes: I’m pregnant. No, no, no. That’s not it. I’m not pregnant. Let’s see, what was it… Oh, right: