My dear friend Heather has been pregnant for about 8.5 months, which means that she is verypregnantright now. Kin-Kin (I like to call her Kin-Kin) always looks great with her curly red hair and flawless complexion, but she looks amazing pregnant. In fact, Kin-Kin looks so amazing pregnant, she should be pregnant all the time. I can hear every woman who has ever been pregnant, including Kin-Kin, laughing hysterically right now. I’m betting my sweet friend will look even more beautiful when she has that sweet little baby in her arms though, so I can accept if she rejects the suggestion of being pregnant for the rest of her life and goes for just having the kid.
And speaking of having the kid: Kin-Kin asked me if I would be willing to be second in command, if you will, when she goes into labor. My eyes got big and I said yes, yes, absolutely; I was honored she asked me. I signed a paper! On the wee baby’s birth day, I will be serving as the person in the room other than Sam, at the ready for absolutely anything she (or Sam) might need. I like to think of it as I’m Chief of Staff on Baby Day.
Me and Kin-Kin are pretty tight, but I’m also just a great candidate for this job. I’m single, for one thing, so I can take off in the dead of night and head to the hospital if need be — heck, sometimes I do just that for reasons that do not involve babies! But that hospital piece is actually hugely relevant: I have a ton of experience with Northwestern Hospital. I know how the elevators work (not all cars go to all floors), I know the food court, and I have a special way with nurses, which is to say nurses are angels and I treat them as such. What I’m saying is, if you’re going to have a baby in the Chicago Loop, you should probably give me a call. I’m like a midwife, but without any of the medical knowledge whatsoever. I can’t help you push, really, but I can get you a bagel and I can call your mother. I only ask that you name your baby “Mary” if it’s a girl and “Pendennis” if it’s a boy. Not a lot to ask. Do you want poppyseed or plain?
Heather, I’m so happy to help in any way I can when the day comes. Everything is gonna go great. I love you!!
A year ago yesterday, I was doing the feature performance at the original Uptown Poetry Slam at Chicago’s legendary Green Mill Cocktail Lounge. I was up there at the microphone saying poems at the Mill to a packed house. There was no way that night wasn’t gonna be awesome.
In the audience that evening was a person named Claus. He didn’t know much about poetry slams, he didn’t come for me. He was at the show with an acquaintance of mine. His friends told me later they elbowed each other during my performance because when they looked over at Claus, they could see “he was clearly smitten.” What can I say? He had been smit.
I got offstage and made the rounds (and had a round) and soaked in the pure magic and vitality of that place on a Sunday night; at some point I spotted my friends and sat down in their booth. They introduced me to this tall, German person, a visiting scholar, here to be paid to think about philosophy and write a new book.
“You’re a philosopher,” said Claus. “Your poems. This is philosophy.”
What can I say? I was smit.
That summer, we took a roadtrip west. I took a break from PaperGirl for the first time in ages in order to focus on that experience in a macro way, i.e., rather than wash clothes in a river and write about it that evening, maybe just wash clothes in the river and see how that feels.
In fifteen days, Claus goes back to Germany. His time as a visiting scholar is over. I don’t know what’s going to happen, how it will feel, what we’ll do. I hate Skype. I detest long-distance relationships. I have a talent for winding up in them and it is a damnable curse. All I can say is that tonight I sleep in Beaver Dam alone and the quiet is curious. It’s big. But it’s calm, too.
A couple years ago I bought a book called The Philosopher’s Handbook, ed. Stanley Rosen. The book is split up into six topic sections, e.g., Metaphysics, Epistemology, Philosophy of Art and Culture, etc. Within each section, Rosen compiles six or seven excerpts from A-List philosophers across time who have written specifically on these topics and contributed much to philosophical discussions at large. For a layperson like me who wants to know about Kirkegaard but not, like, really know about Kirkegaard, it’s an excellent resource. I pick it up from time to time when I want to read something short and feel smarter, as opposed to reading something short and feeling dumber, e.g., USA Today.
Then I started spending an eyebrow-raising amount of time with a professional philosopher. He has a “Dr.” in front of his name, that’s how good he is at doing philosophy. When he saw The Philosopher’s Handbook on my coffee table the other day, he picked it up like, “Oh, that’s nice,” and flipped through with “Mm-hm” sounds. Then he put it back down and asked me if I needed yogurt at the store.
So we’re sitting around later (eating yogurt) and I pick up the book. Completely joking, I flip to the middle and read a random sentence from the middle of the page, and ask Claus if he can guess who wrote it. Claus goes,
I choked on a blueberry. “What??!! That’s right! How… How did you –? Wow!” He really is a doctor, I thought; Claus was clearly pleased with himself. I felt happy that when a person has a double Ph.D in their chosen field, they may someday be able to share the depths of their knowledge in an impromptu parlor game. I was impressed — but it could’ve been lucky. Let’s see how good he really is, I thought. Ipso. Facto. I fanned the 600 pages, stuck my finger down, and read:
Man’s first sentiment was that of his existence, his first care that of his preservation.
I looked at him like he was an extraterrestrial. Rosseau was correct. He leaned back on the sofa and wiggled his feet, delighted. Could we go again, he asked? I flipped the book again, keeping my eye on him. I read this one:
Morals are assigned a special compartment in theory and practice because they reflect the divisions embodied in economic and political institutions.
Claus got this right, but I had to read a couple pages before he did. (It’s Dewey.) Out of 12 or so tests, the man got 9.3 of them right; which is about 80%. I would be as impressed to meet a poet who could identify that many poems by author in this way. It’s a beautiful thing to truly know your field; it’s comforting to me when people care so much and work so hard at one thing.
Here’s what I’ve figured out about philosophy since hanging around with a professional: it’s essential. It’s vital to look deeply into how we think, why we think it, how what we think affects what we do, and how what we do shapes us all (and in turn influences how we all think.) We must do it.
Because we’re always getting data — USA Today infographics like to help— with the latest conclusion from brain mapping technology that proves why more people are moving to cities; we get percentages of opinions from focus groups on how smartphones are changing culture. But science, sociology, psychology, number crunching — it comes after philosophy. No handling of information can happen without first understanding what information is in the first place, or how smartphones fit into the history of production and technology vis a vis culture (as opposed to straight timelines.) This stuff is so important and invisible, it’ll melt your brain. Philosophy has a reputation for being confusing and lofty because it gets down to this atomic level of systems of thought. But you can’t launch a rocket without a launchpad. Philosophy is our launchpad. It’s in us already, so fundamental, you don’t see it. You don’t hear it. But you breathe it.
We need philosophers to keep doing their work. I know a good one, if you ever have a question.
When you spend significant quality time with someone from another country — a country that lies on the other side of an absolutely enormous body of water — there is an invisible clock in the relationship and the clock doesn’t leave you be. It’s there when you have have tea in the morning together. It’s there when you’re trying to get under one umbrella. It’s there when you have an argument about…I can’t remember what it was about, but the clock was there.
What happens when the research project ends? What’s the visa status, again? What’s gonna happen next? More specifically, what’s gonna happen with this German philosophy professor I have come to care about quite a bit when Germany calls?
I don’t know. Plans have changed a few times and they’ll change again and again as we both sort out what’s going on with work, life, the two of us. I’ve said before that I’m frequently surprised that I’m an adult and let me tell you: nothing makes you feel more like an adult (or a character in a Woody Allen movie) than rescheduling flights to Europe.
While I bide my time, I’ve been making German food. Like spaetzle, which was a lot of work and mostly worth it. I said to Claus, “I made spaetzle!” and I said it like an Iowan girl would: “I made shh-PAYT-zul!” He looked at me like, “You are so acutely American but I like you very much in spite of this fact.” He then corrected me in an attractive way, pronouncing spaetzle properly and my name like it’s French:
While in the admission line for the Adler Planetarium on New Year’s Day, Claus and I looked at a pamphlet advertising something called the Chicago CityPass. For $96 bucks, you can buy a book of tickets to five of Chicago’s best art/culture destinations for half the cost if you were to buy tickets for all of them separately. The catch is that you have to use your book of tickets within nine days, which means you have nine days to see: The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, SkyDeck Chicago, The Museum of Science & Industry or 360 Chicago, The Adler Planetarium or The Art Institute.
It’s lousy they make you pick between The Art Institute and the Planetarium, both of them being potentially life-changing experiences if you’re on a family vacation and you’re six. “Look, Denny: it’s either stars or art. Make up your mind or we’re getting in the car and going back to your Aunt Rita’s. I need a bathroom.”
Claus and I went to the SkyDeck on Tuesday. The SkyDeck is the observatory on the top floor of the Willis née Sears Tower. It’s strange that I like flying so much; airplanes hang out at 30,000 feet or so. The Willis Tower is 1,450 in the sky and I hated being up there. I got nauseated. I got dizzy. And then I had to “face my fears” and step out onto “The Ledge.”
The Ledge is a clear glass box that extends 4.3 feet out from the tower. You’re supposed to walk out into the box and stand there. Stand in a 4-sided glass box 1,450 feet in the air. There’s nothing under your feet but a clear glass shelf. I do not ride amusement park rides. I do not sky dive. And The Ledge? I did not want to do it.
“You have to do it Mary,” Claus said. When he says “Mary” it sounds so nice, like, “Mah-rie” and this is dangerous.
“Absolutely not,” I said. I was feeling queasy again and wanted to go back to the gift shop to discern why they were selling those monkey toys with the velcro hands that hang around your neck. How was that a relevant Willis Tower gift shop item? Plus, the gift shop is at the center of the observatory, so I was safer there.
“Oh, come on, Mah-rie. Face your feers.”
I hate it when Claus or anyone else says that because then I have to. What, I’m going to live this life without facing at least half of my fears? Damnit! People laughed at me because I had to stick one toe at a time into the cube. Inch by inch, I made it out there, took one look left, one right, one out, and one down past my feet (oh sweet mercy) then immediately nose-dived back to what now seemed like safety. Relativity is a cruel mistress.
We checked the SkyDeck off the CityPass. Tomorrow: The Shedd Aquarium.
I bought some Breyer’s over the weekend, thinking I was buying ice cream. If you have considered yourself a fan of Breyer’s ice cream but haven’t had any in the past year, I hope you’re sitting down:
Breyer’s ice cream is extremely dead. Long live Breyer’s ice cream.
I don’t get too worked up when a consumer product I like goes away. It’s a product, after all, and there are so many of those. A lipstick shade, a floor wax, a car’s make or model — “nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.”* One must always look on the bright side: you might discover the new shade, the new wax, the new version of the old car is way better. Consider the postage stamp. The sticker-version replaced the older, wetter, “lick me” kind and I think we can all agree life is much better, now
This is not the case with the “new” Breyer’s. A little over a year ago, so I’ve learned, they changed their recipe. The milk, cream, fruit, salt, and dash of guar gum (or whatever) that used to make up their delicious ice cream is long gone. In the place of those sugary and fattening — but recognizable — ingredients, on the back of the Butter Pecan container I found the ingredients to be:
Whatever those ingredients in those amount make, it was inedible. I opened the little pint and started to dig in but something was way wrong. Why did it taste…whipped? What was the weird foam-like quality? I looked at the container and spied the truth: I had purchased a “frozen dairy dessert.” Breyer’s is no longer ice cream and I have no qualms about advising you to avoid this brand like the plague. I actually threw it away and I really, really like frozen things that have sugar in them, so that’s saying something. Besides, “Palmitate” sounds like “palpate” and I don’t want that word near my dessert, whatever it’s made of.
At my friend Sarah’s house growing up, there was a candy drawer. And an entire, unlocked drawer that was perpetually stocked with candy was the most astonishing and marvelous thing I had ever considered. There were SweetTarts in there, mini-Hershey’s, Bazooka Joe, lollipops; this was no elderly auntie’s candy dish that might contain a half-pack of Trident or a handful of ancient fireballs. This was a good drawer. Incredibly enough, the kids in that house never really cared that much about it (at least, not as much as I did) precisely because it wasn’t that big of a deal. “Oh, right,” they’d reply, bored in response to my excited inquiries every time I was over, “the candy drawer. Let’s go outside.”
In my family, our treat was ice cream and we usually had some in-house. Maybe Sarah and her siblings were as impressed/enthralled by our freezer as I was about their candy store, I’m not sure. But even if we didn’t view ice cream as being like, a huge wow, there was a hierarchy, an A-list, B-list, and C-list of ice creams and we knew what was what: Blue Bunny was standard, not that great, but better than nothing. Orange Sherbet? Meh, but I’ll have some. We’d dish it up out of a big plastic bucket and eat it while watching Tiny Toons. Then there was the better stuff, which was probably a gallon of Mint Chip or Peppermint Stick — Anderson Erickson, most likely, a Midwest dairy brand.
But Breyer’s, man! Breyer’s was like, Mom’s favorite. It was more expensive. The carton was fancy. It had black on the packaging! How cool was that?? And the vanilla bean flecks? It was from another planet, that ice cream, and it tasted so amazing. I’d go so far as to say that I first understood vanilla, like as a concept and flavor, when I had a spoonful of Breyer’s Real Vanilla Ice Cream in my mouth the first time.
I’m reading Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat: How The Food Giants Hooked Us, which won the Pulitzer and is sickening. The big companies that own the big brands, they will do anything to make a product cheaper, faster, and more efficient for them in terms of ingredients and resources. It’s bad. It’s bad like “frozen dairy dessert” bad. It’s inedible.
This summer, I’m going to buy ice cream that is made locally. There are a lot of places I can do that in New York City. It’s just something on my list.
*Why, yes that is a Kansas reference to “Dust In The Wind.”
Yuri is tending to a bit of business while he’s in town. This means I have an hour to spend with you. You look lovely this morning.
Trying to write anything right now that is not a frothy, gooey paean to the strapping young man in my life/house is useless: he’s all I can think about and our reunion has been most happy, but because I refuse to be gross, I’ve rifled through the big red binder and have a little something for you today from the PaperGirl Archive. I promise you’ll be entertained, and there’s no risk of me TMI’ing about Yuri’s perfect, uh, everything.
The entry, titled “Mary Fons, Freshman,” is dated January 30, 2012, and I chose it because it makes this post a post-within-a-post that also digs into the past for old writing. It’s so meta, I’m practically metallic. Bon-apetit!
PaperGirl, January 30, 2012 — “Mary Fons, Freshman”
And now, a report I found amongst my the boxes of things my mother delivered to me in her quest to rid the house in Iowa of questionably saved childhood artifacts.
This essay (?) was written my freshman year of high school, which means I was writing at the tender age of fourteen. I am more than a little scandalized by my flip, bratty attitude — and more than a little proud, friends. As I type this up for you, I remain indignant over the indelicate circumstances that compelled my math teacher to give the assignment. I’ve copied and formatted exactly, word-for-word, from the document itself.
Let’s do this.
“Under normal circumstances, I couldn’t give a damn about the history of mathematics, but since the students in my math class can’t seem to control their gastrol [sic] intestines, I am forced to write this report. Having encyclopedias from 1962, it makes it difficult to find an abundance of information on anything other than Lincoln, so my one and only source will be my math textbook, Transition Mathematics, (Scott, Foresman, 1992, All rights reserved.)
THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM
Do you recognize these numbers?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
You ought to, you’re a math teacher. We use numbers every day. But have you ever wondered how they came about? Well, I haven’t either, but I’ll tell you anyway.
Long ago, the Greeks and Romans had a number system. It’s wasn’t like ours — they used the letters of their alphabet to represent numbers. The Greeks used more letters than the Romans, which is a totally pointless bit of info but is has to be a page report and I have absolutely no material at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am one of the only ones in my class who actually completes this assignment! Anyhow, the Romans used L for fifty, C for one-hundred, D for five-hundred, and T for two. Europeans used this system from 100 B.C. to 1400 A.D.
During this time, the Hindus were hard at work on their own number system, which is the system we use today. It was called the DECIMAL SYSTEM! This system is the one that has made my life a living hell ever since preschool. I have never been good at math. If I was, I wouldn’t be having to deal with high schoolers who can’t stop farting. (Excuse the term, it’s so blue-collar.) But I digress.
The Europeans didn’t figure out the decimal system until 1202 A.D. A guy named Leonardo of Pisa, an Italian mathematician also known as Fibonacci, translated the Arabic manuscript into Latin, and that was the only reason the Europeans ever began using this system. Thus ends my report on THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM. Thank you.
Now, because I still have a half a page left, I will express my opinion on this situation. It saddens to me know that my fellow classmates cannot grasp the fact that they are in high school. Maybe farting was funny in second grade, but not anymore; at least not to me, or anyone else with an I.Q. over ten. Frankly, I’m scared. Are these the leaders of tomorrow? If so, for God’s sake, kill me now.”
[end of post]
My teacher put a red X through the words damn and “living hell” and docked me 10 points. It may not surprise you that I was considered fairly nerdy in high school, though socially-speaking, I was a floater: I had nerd friends, chorus friends, partying friends, and my older sister’s supercool friends, so I wasn’t terminally nerdy. But the general consensus was that I was a good at English, nice enough, and in no way serious girlfriend material.
Today, I absolutely think farts are funny and I am one happy girlfriend. Things do change.
Given as I am to hyperbole and dramatics, one could read the above sentence and figure I’m in love with a dress, or an author, or a particular kind of squash. But no, I’m in love with a man. It’s happened, and it’s time to say something.
Admitting that you’ve fallen in love is a bit (I hear) like sharing that you’re pregnant: you don’t want to say anything until you’re absolutely sure and everything looks rosy because, you know, things happen. And people are so excited when someone falls in love or gets pregnant because except in a very few sad cases this is a happy occasion. (Sad cases for falling in love include it occuring when you are married to someone else; sad cases for getting pregnant include when you have a gaggle of children already and someone just lost a job. These sorts of things.)
It’s going on five months, now, spending time with this fellow. I reckon that’s about how long it takes to go gaga and see a relationship of consequence grow and inspire. Think about it: one month is just enough time to understand the other person’s job. Two months is great fun but come on. Three months and you’re like, “Hm, now wait a second,” four months is like, “Holy crap, I like you so much and we’re sort of dating,” and entering the fifth month is the bare minimum in terms of acceptability for announcing the world that you’ve gone round the bend and there has been embarrassing levels of eyeball-gazing between the two of you.
Is this all too sterile an analysis? It might even sound defensive. Okay, then forget all that. Let me just tell you about this person.
He’s devastatingly good-looking. (I will spare you details of his perfect smile, his sparkly eyes, his abdominal muscles.) He’s gainfully employed. He’s an excellent writer — perhaps the only “dealbreaker” I have, much as I hate that concept — he’s witty, he’s responsible, he’s way too much fun, he’s trilingual, and ladies? Brace yourself: he’s an accomplished piano player. HE PLAYS THE DAMNED PIANO. Very well, I might add. Oh for heaven’s sake! The moment I witnessed that, I was toast. Toast!
I out with it now because at this point, I’m skipping huge swaths of juicy PaperGirl content for the sake of modesty. But the adventures I’m having with this person are too good not to write about. So here we are.
He’s marvelous. I’m over the moon.
And in a mad change of plans, I’ll be leaving the icy slick of Iowa tomorrow morning on a plane to sun-drenched California. He’s visiting his family there and we’ve been apart almost three weeks. We can’t stand it another minute, so I booked a ticket. When I arrive in Santa Ana at 2:30 tomorrow afternoon, it’ll be the smooch heard ’round the world.