1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 10 lemons) 1 cup superfine sugar (or use as much simple syrup as you like to reach desired sweetness)
2 cups water
Strain lemon juice into a pitcher and mix with sugar; stir until sugar dissolves. Add water; stir again until well combined. For pink lemonade, stir in cranberry juice.
If you’d like pink lemonade, add some cranberry juice! If you like sparkling lemonade, you can use sparkling water. If you put some vodka in there, you’ll have a Vodka Collins. You can put a sprig of lavender in there for some lavender lemonade, or even some basil, if you’re feeling it.
For New Year’s Eve, I will be here in Washington and Yuri will be in Los Angeles. We texted and have arranged to talk at midnight tomorrow, which means that now I have plans for the evening. When I woke up this morning, I did not have plans. I don’t know if this suited me or not; New Year’s Eve is always a little problematic on account of all the people wearing paper hats and drinking Rumplemintz.
You know what’s hard? Breaking up.
You know what’s harder? After all that.
I’ve been working my house pride. There were leaves on my stone steps; I swept them away before any snow could fall and lock them into the corners. I’ve been sewing up a storm the past few days; I tidied my sewing table and vacuumed up thread this morning. I did laundry. I baked. Keeping the ship ship-shape is my tendency, but now, anything less than sparkly is non-negotiable. I can be on my own, in a new city, with colder weather bearing down; I can miss my boo and actually ask various people, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?” with no hint of irony, but I cannot do any of this with a sinkful of dirty dishes or mud on the living room rug. Only clean countertops will do.
Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice: If you are going along after a breakup and feeling relatively fit and optimistic, do not under any circumstances begin to hum the Rosemary Clooney rendition of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” This is dangerous. Circling sharks dangerous. You’ll forget one of the verses and be so crippled by how applicable this gorgeous, sad song is to your very life, you will have to go online and find it and listen to it.
I stood in line waiting to board my first flight of two today and my heart sank for a moment, thinking of landing in LaGuardia and maneuvering through New York’s soul-sucking taxi lines. Then I remembered that no, Manhattan was not where I was headed, that I would sleep tonight in a fluffy white bed in the District of Columbia. I was so happy, I mouthed Michael Jackson “shamone” and did a tiny version of the Thriller low-snap with the stanky leg. Possibly I did this all this out loud and more visibly than I intended, which would explain why suddenly I had more room in line.
I’ll only be in town a few days — New York for a nasty procedure on Friday, Chicago for Christmas — but I have sworn to avail myself of a Christmas-centric D.C. delight before they’re all over. I have many options. There’s the Russian Winter Festival, but that would make me miss Yuri terribly, so I can’t go to that. There’s a Norwegian Holiday Toy Train exhibit at Union Station that I will totally go to because I live two blocks from Union Station and I come from a long line of Vikings.** I could go to various tree-lighting ceremonies, but I want something D.C. specific. Serious research is rewarded; I found a neat thing to do on Saturday afternoon.
The marketing message for Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Garden is “Where Fabulous Lives.” Nice work, slogan people, because that’s darned good. Hillwood, located inside the city in its northwest quarter, is indeed an extremely fancy place. The person who bought it and made it that way was Marjorie Merriweather Post. You know the Fruity Pebbles you ate for breakfast this morning? Yeah, she was that Post. Her father started the Post cereal empire in 1895 and when he died, it was Marjorie — an only child — who took the reigns and actually made the whole General Mills deal happen. Marjorie was brilliant, clearly, and beautiful, and she had taste like Coco Chanel had taste, though it seems she was far more pleasant at a dinner party.
Marjorie bought Hillwood in 1955 and planned from the start that it would eventually exist as a museum. There are vast gardens, Faberge eggs in lighted, inset, cherrywood shelves, staff quarters — all the stuff you would expect from a billionairess’ fifth home or whatever Hillwood was for Marjorie. And during the holidays, the curators do a lot of neat exhibits, including a showing of Marjorie’s collection of Cartier jewels that “inspire” the decorations all over the house. I think this means that there are either real diamonds or excellent facsimiles hanging from Christmas trees in every room. They also said something about Cartier dinnerware for heaven’s sakes, all set up at the dining room table.
It’s not the crazy wealth I’m interested in seeing. It’s seeing sparkly things. It’s seeing what a woman’s home looks like when she can buy everything in the world but knows better. I’ll go to Hillwood to get into the Christmas spirit, D.C. style, and perhaps I will mark the occasion by purchasing a commemorative Honey Bunches of Oats pin at the gift shop.
**This is actually true. I’m half Scottish, half Norwegian, which should mean I have the soul of a Norse god and an iron constitution. The former is clearly true; the latter must skip generations.
I’m in South Carolina and this morning, I had breakfast with a group of women who dazzle me with their professionalism, their brains, and their hair. These are Women Of The Carolinas and I, for one, am impressed. “Good” stereotypes are really no better than the bad ones, so one has to be careful about saying, “All women in the South are this or that way.” But dammit, all these women are fabulous and they are fabulous in a way I’m afraid us Yanks only dream about. It’s the hair and the mascara, yes, but it also has something to do with their reactions to things. Down here, it’s like you get a .2 second grace period that isn’t available anywhere else in the country. You get just a moment more tiiiime with everythin’ and Lord knows we all need just a little more tiiiime, sweethaart. I have to think about it some more, what the difference is, but I’m full of dinner because they keep feeding me, which isn’t a Southern thing, just a fellow human being thing.
At breakfast, one of the Carolinians ordered a food I had never heard of. When she told the waitress what she wanted, the other women at the table wrinkled their noses and rolled their eyes. “You’re gettin’ that again, oh Lord.”
“What?” the young woman said, sheepish. “Ah love livermush.”
I set my coffee down. “I’m sorry; did you say ‘livermush’?”
She blushed just a bit. “Mm-hm,” she said. This girl is very good at her job and does it while looking like a cross between Botticelli’s portrait of Simonetta Vespucci and that character Elsa from Frozen. (Have you seen that movie? Do you know what I’m talking about? No? Frozen? Well, anyway.)
I asked this girl to explain what she had just told the kitchen to give her for breakfast. Turns out livermush is foodstuff made primarily in North Carolina that consists mainly of pig liver, head parts, and cornmeal. This…product is formed into a loaf and then sliced up and fried. When it is fried, it is then put between two pieces of bread and served as a sandwich, or it’s served with grits and eggs, or sometimes it’s served on its own, or it’s fried and then not eaten by anyone above the Mason Dixon line or any children anywhere, ever.
There’s another name for this food: scrapple. I know this because I just spent a half-hour researching livermush. When you read this blog, you know, you learn stuff.
I’ve had scrapple. I had it at a restaurant in Chicago not long ago. There was a moment in time when any self-respecting restaurant in any self-respecting city wouldn’t be caught dead without offal** on the menu. If you didn’t have a beating cow heart, a plate of entrails, or a cocktail served in a deer hoof on your specials list, well, kid, pack it up. I was never too into all that, but I did order scrapple once. I figured it sounded so disgusting that it had to be delicious. It just had to be, at a place like that, at that price. Indeed, it was delicious. There was a small portion. It was very protein-y, and the bottle of wine I was enjoying with my companion was extremely expensive, so really, everything tasted incredible.
“Ah I know it sounds gross,” my breakfast pal said, “But livermush is great. Ah’ve loved it since I was a kid. Ah know it freaks everybody out, I’m sorry.”
Go for it, Elsa. There’s all the tiiime in the world to have regular ol’ bacon. I’ll have what you’re having; let me live your life for awhile. Mine needs a Southern-style break.
**Offal: (n.) the entrails and internal organs of an animal used as food; refuse or waste material. I’ll have you know the secondary definition of offal is “decomposing animal flesh” which reminds me of this article I read about “high meat.” If you’d like to not eat anything else for the rest of the week, go google “high meat” and you let me know how that goes.
I went on a walk through Capitol Hill this morning and at the base of the front steps of the Capitol Building, I wept.
It’s fair to say that the widespread use of irony has flattened huge tracts of human experience in our culture. What I mean by that is that we say stuff all the time in an ironic way (e.g., “C’mon, I love fruitcake,” or “A rainstorm is exactly what I hoped would happen on game day,” or “Nothing like a pleasant stroll through Times Square on New Year’s Eve!”) and for the most part, we all recognize that irony (at least our American version of it) is happening. Art does this, too: Jeff Koons, though I really like his stuff, is totally ironic (e.g., a sculpture depicts the Pink Panther hugging a busty blonde; there’s a series of photographs where Koons is engaged in explicit sex with his wife, but it’s all styled in romance novel memes.) But one of the results of this style of communication is that it’s risky to have a genuinely sincere moment of vulnerability or sensitivity.
For example, when I say I wept at the steps of the Capitol, it would be easy to be like, “Yikes, that is really cheesy, Fons”; it would be easy to cringe a little because being touched by architectural beauty and the grand symbols of our democracy has so been done before.
Yo, irony: suck an egg. I was a grateful, wobbly, sincerely weeping American this morning and it felt fantastic. Not indulgent. Not grody. Just honest.
And as I stood there and gazed up at the dome and cast my eyes all around at the fountains and the sculpture, at the wide open space of Washington, D.C., I knew that later today, there would be crowds of protesters, exercising their right to protest. I loved that the grand space was so open; there are no gates to the Capitol, just sidewalks that lead right up to the door. I felt good to be a taxpayer and that definitely does not happen often. (“I love paying quarterly taxes, don’t you??)
Leaving New York was hard. The breakup was harder. But one has to trust oneself. I’m so much happier here it’s almost shocking. There are wide-open spaces, there is clean air, there are trains where you can find a (clean) seat.
“Can I have a another cooky first? You tell long stories.”
“Here. Anything else?”
“Good. Okay, then, PaperGirl. Well, once upon a time, long ago, I wrote a poem.”
“What was it called?”
“I’m getting to it. It was called ‘The Paper Poem,’ and it was an extended metaphor about the nature of existence being fragile like paper, but beautiful, too, like paper is beautiful.”
“Before your time.”
“Oh. Your poem sounds cool, grandma.”
“I liked it. Other people liked it, too, and I performed it in many places all over the country.”
“Like in Bismark?”
“No, never actually in Bismark, I don’t think. Maybe. It was a long time ago. Anyway, there’s a verse where I say ‘I will be your paper girl,’ and that’s where ‘PaperGirl’ comes from.”
“What’s the verse?”
“You want to hear the whole verse?”
“Is it long?”
“No, it’s not long. It’s the second-to-last verse of the poem and it goes like this:
But if you are a paper doll, too, then I shall know you on sight,
And if you are with me, come with me tonight; I will match up our bodies
by the tears in our arms —
We will form paper barricades against matchstick harm;
I will make paper love to you for as long as I can in this shreddable world;
I will be your paper girl.
“That’s nice, grandma.”
“And you named your blog that because of that poem?”
“Yes. And PaperGirl is the name of my LLC, too. And that small island I bought. And the Beaux Arts building you like so much in Paris. And my foundation in Dubai and all the vineyards in Spain. Everything in my empire, it’s all under the PaperGirl umbrella.”
“I wanna go to the zoo and see a rhinoceros.”
“Get your coat.”
[NOTE: I’ve been asked lately why the blog is called what it is, so it seemed fair to offer this again, an entry originally posted on this date.]
Trudging through Kmart yesterday, my sister and I both had the same disorienting experience at the exact same time: we both caught a whiff of Electric Youth perfume. Here’s what that moment looked like:
MARY: “Dude. I just smelled Electric Youth.”
NAN: “Dude. Me too.”
Electric Youth was a perfume (never a “parfum”) unleashed on the marketplace in 1989. The target demographic was the tween, though that term had not yet been coined. Back then, it was the mighty “teeny-bopper” dollar that the fragrance was trying to capture, and capture it it did. Those out to profit were the record executives who ran the career of pop sensation Debbie Gibson. Electric Youth was the first in a long, long line of celebrity-inspired fragrances and I, for one, had to have it. I loved Debbie Gibson and had a cassette of her album. I believe that album was called “Electric Youth.”
There were two dueling pop stars when I was in fourth grade: Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, whose last name was withheld in hopes Barbara and Judy would more quickly recognize her as one of their own. I was on the fence as to who I liked more and my neutrality came at great peril: it was expected by one’s elementary school peers in those days to choose sides. Debbie Gibson was the good girl. She was blonde, blue-eyed; kind of a white-tube-socks-with-white-Ked’s girl. She wore scrunchies and boxy vests printed with geometric shapes. Tiffany, on the other hand, was understood to have weaker moral fiber. Tiffany was a redhead, for one thing. Nothing but trouble there. And her first (only?) hit was a cover of the Shondell’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which contained the lyrics:
“We’re runnin’ just as fast as we can/holdin’ on to one another’s hands/tryin’ to get away/into the night/and then you put your arms around me and we tumble to the ground and then you say: “I think we’re alone now…”
Tiffany had a little curl to her lip when she sang her song and she put a little stank on the “into the niiiiight” part, which clearly meant she was having sex. She also wore acid washed denim jackets, so… Mothers did not like Tiffany.
They dug Debbie, though. Debbie’s first single was the docile, sweet “Only In My Dreams,” which pleased these mothers. With Debbie, their daughters’ sexual fantasies were happening exactly where and when they should be happening: while they were fast asleep, alone, locked in the house.
If Tiffany had had a perfume, it would’ve smelled musky, with notes of Aqua Net and a car dashboard. But Tiffany never had a fragrance; only Debbie signed that deal. Electric Youth perfume was a deeply synthetic, fruity floral with no “notes” of anything, no “low end” of wood or caille lily or moss. This was candy in a spritzer. The fluid itself was colored pink — an easy decision for the executives, I suspect. And inside the clear bottle was a pink plastic spring, clearly showing the exuberance — nay, the electricity — of youth. And we loved it. We sprayed it on with wild abandon and our parents’ headaches meant nothing. Nothing!
Electric Youth is not made anymore. You can find it on eBay and Amazon, but these are bottles of old perfume; as you can see by the picture above, the pink has faded and reviews are mixed as to whether the scent is still any good (or there at all, for that matter.) But in its prime, Electric Youth left its pink, sticky fingerprints all over the limbic systems of young American girls across the nation and when Nan and I smelled whatever we smelled in Kmart yesterday, it transported us back to a simpler, cheaper time.
If you’d like to consider with me Option One, you’ll need to read the full post here. Now, in your mind, please take this wig off me and get me out of those barrister robes and into something sensible as I proceed with what, as I see it, is my second option:
Option No. 2: Sunrise Cottage — Washington Island, WI My family has blood ties to an extraordinary place called Washington Island, a 23-square-mile island seven miles off the tip of Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. My grandparents are buried there. My great-grandparents are buried there. My aunt and six cousins live there. My mother taught quilting at the fiber arts school up there; two summers ago, I taught quilting there, too. As children, my sisters and I would spend weeks of our summer vacation, splashing in the lake waters and lazing around watching VHS videos, trying to get MTV on some old TV set. Even through the divorce and on through all four years of college, every summer we were (and are) playing and relaxing and communing with WiWi. (W.I. = Washington Island, W.I. = Wisconsin, ergo, “WiWi.”)
About six years ago, my family finally made a home up there. We had been cabin renters through the years, but now we have a cottage — a cozy, beautiful, light-filled, perfect cottage on the lake. Because of this happy event, we can now have Thanksgivings, Christmases, and winter escapes up there, too. There’s a fireplace, a boathouse, and lots of board games and if heaven is real, it probably looks a lot like a snowy afternoon on WiWi while a pie bakes in the oven and you’re smack in the middle of an amazing book. Sounds brilliant, right? Why not go there, sink into the comfort and joy of this magical island?
What are you, nuts?!
I can’t be on an island in the middle of winter! I travel for work a good 40% of my time! It’s a good thing I love airports because I’m in them a lot. Getting to and from the airport, to and from a gig, to and from a shoot, etc. is always a bit of a schlep. Adding an icy ferry boat ride, a 2-hour drive to the nearest airport (Green Bay) and Wisconsin weather from October through about May is not my idea of a wise plan.
The other problem with WiWI is that it is a remote place in psychic terms as well as geographical ones. Just 660 people live there year-round. I wrote most of my book up there during a two-week stretch in the winter of ’13 and I got a little squirrelly. The frosty, starry sky is beautiful at night, but the land is plunged into pitch black starting around 5pm until the sun rises around 6am. Staring into a roaring fire is super over a four-day weekend up there; staring into the fire night after night and you start becoming the one-woman sequel to Altered States. Mom and Mark aren’t there year-round for this very reason. Six months on WiWi and I might end up curled up on the couch, listening to the all-Catholic talk radio station, eating jumbo marshmallows out of a wicker basket.
New York out. Chicago out. Iowa out. Wisconsin out. Tomorrow, Option Three.
*Note: I cannot believe all of the gracious offers I have had since yesterday from people offering me to stay in their home or come to their city. Thank you.
“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for people who care about each other to terminate the living situation which has connected them with another and to assume among the powers of real estate, the separate and hopefully equal apartments to which the Leases and Landlords and/or Management Companies grant them, a decent respect to the considerations of mankind suggests that they should declare the options before them as to where exactly in Sam Hill they plan to go.”
Of course, I can only speak for myself. Here are facts:
Fact One on its own is manageable enough: find separate apartments. Unfortunately, Fact Three renders this possibility D.O.A. I don’t want to find another apartment in New York, especially one that I would be able to afford on my own. Sharing a one-bedroom is great in this city (or any other) because two can afford something together that one couldn’t possibly swing. I did the research. The furnished apartments I found that were within my budget made me extremely depressed. Did I look in every nook and cranny of the city? Did I look in Queens? No, I didn’t, because I don’t want to live in Queens. No offense to Queens, I just don’t want to live there.
All right, then just go back to Chicago. A fine idea, but for Fact Two. Sure, I could tempt my adorable med students with a free month’s rent and some cash to vacate early — everyone has their price and second-year med students are probably happy to let you know what that number might be — but I don’t like this plan. It’s disruptive to them and it would be painful for me. My relationship has failed and my move to New York has failed. Returning to Chicago before the one-year-gone anniversary would be too painful. I picture myself with a little hobo stick, riding into town on a broken-down palomino.
I could get a little apartment in Chicago and wait out my tenants till June, but that would maybe be more depressing. “I can see my house from here!” I’d cry, holding my hobo stick.
So no New York, no Chicago till June. Six months. Six months to go. Over these painful weeks, I have been weighing options and crunching numbers and going over and back over what my best course of action is, here. And now:
Option No. 1: Mom’s House — Winterset, Iowa
Winterset is my hometown. I was born there. My sisters were born there. I know all the bank tellers and the bank tellers’ kids. Lots of people move back home. A large number of people never leave in the first place.
There are many upsides to Option No. 1., including but not limited to; cost of living (essentially nil), being able to hang out with Mom and Mark a lot, a big kitchen, access to cars, Des Moines is a short 35 minutes away and Des Moines is alright, I would get to be with Scrabble (Mom’s dog who I love), I could say hi to the bank tellers, their kids, etc.
Downsides? Numerous. There is no public transportation system to use, so I have to drive everywhere and I don’t particularly like driving in Iowa on account of all the deer. Add to that that I love my mom and stepdad so much but six months is a heckuva long time. I’m more worried they’d get annoyed with me than the other way around. Besides, all those bank tellers remember watching my car die in the Homecoming parade. Turns out you can go home again, but do you want to?
The main problem with Winterset is that I need to save it. See, if I’m going to be at Mom’s house for six whole months, I want to be suffering from a bonafide nervous breakdown. I want to save the “I’m Going Home For Awhile” card for full-on crazy. I want people to ask my mom, “Did I see Mary at the grocery store the other day?” so Mom can go, “Oh, yes. Mary’s… Mary’s home for a little while.” Then the person will say, “Oh, is she okay?” and Mom will say something like, “I think Mary just needs a little…rest.” And I’ll be at home on the couch watching 19 Kids and Counting in the fetal position, combing my hair with a fork. It sounds amazing. I don’t want to blow that opportunity now, when I feel sad but otherwise totally functional.
So Iowa is out. Tomorrow, the next sensible option explored.
I have tried, but it is plain: I cannot live in New York City.
Instead of falling in love with this place — my plan from the start — I have grown to resent it and am itching to leave. The itching could be bedbugs, but I don’t think so.*
New York City doesn’t care what I think of it, of course. New York didn’t notice when I arrived and it has stayed utterly ambivalent toward me since. Anything I have to say about New York will fall on the millions of deaf ears here, which is part of my problem with this place: aren’t two deaf ears enough? Not for New York.
For the past few months, I have been doing research. I’ve been watching interviews and reading essays and op-ed pieces by people who say New York is dead. I realize this is not a good strategy if your goal is to fall in love with a place, but when I hit Month Four and began feeling outright hostility toward the city, I launched my gloomy search. I had to find out if other people didn’t get it, if other people here were walking around perpetually sour like me. The things I liked about New York when I would visit my sister over the past fourteen years were there, but the bottom dropped out entirely when I had my own mailing address. Why?
I had a feeling my problem had to do with the way New York is now, in 2014; perhaps I might’ve had a different experience with a different version of New York. Maybe it would’ve been perfect for me in the weird and dangerous 1970s, or the wild and dangerous Jazz Age. Maybe I would’ve done better as a New Amsterdam colonist, scouring my washtub. It’s a bad skier who blames the slopes, but I’m blaming the slopes on this one: I don’t think New York in 2014 is so fantastic. The research I did showed me I am not alone in feeling this way. I’m in a crowd, in fact, which is annoyingly appropriate.
If you adore New York or if you’ve already made up your mind that I’m a weenie who just couldn’t hack it, I hope you’ll stay with me. I agree that there are valid arguments supporting New York as awesome and I’m perfectly willing to grant you that I’m a weenie.
Fran Lebowitz (lifelong New Yorker, cultural Cassandra, personal hero) has plenty to say about 2014 New York being awful. For years, she’s been watching her city turn from the intellectual and artistic capitol of the world into a theme park. (I think Lebowitz was the first to make the New-York-as-Disney Park analogy and it’s a little worn, okay, but it fits too well to ignore.) Former mayor Bloomberg — a billionaire, remember — had a goal when he took office. He wanted to increase tourism and commerce in his city. To do that, he had to make it a kinder, gentler version of itself. The safer folks felt New York was, the more of them would come here, which would bring in money. Bloomberg served three terms (he changed the term-limit law to make that possible), and thus had years to work on his New York Beautification Project. And indeed, the place is Disney-fied. You must wait in lines for everything you want to do. Extras are never included in your ticket price. Grand, sparkly attractions replace smaller, older rides because they photograph way better and push ticket prices up. And it seems that, like the planters and fences at Disneyland, everything in New York these days is rounded, never sharp, for liability reasons.
And then there’s the matter of housing. If you tried to rent a one-bedroom apartment on Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland, in the shadow of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, I reckon it would probably cost you about $4000/month. They don’t rent apartments on Main Street in Disneyland, as far as I know, but if they did, that’s probably what they’d go for. And this is what it costs in New York for a one-bedroom, give or take several hundreds of dollars, depending on how good (read: sneaky) your broker is. If you want to live cheaper in Disneyland, you’ll need to find a room for rent way out in Toontown (a.k.a. Jersey City) or maybe further than that. Maybe just hit the parking lot and skip the broker and your silly visions of Main Street altogether.
But here’s the thing. All that can be fine. It is fine for millions of people (at least a few hundred thousand) because they have a dream. They have a dream of making it in New York or they simply want to be in New York to escape a life they couldn’t stand. That’s great — and that dream is the crucial. It is the key; it is precisely what allows the young man to squeeze into the subway at rush hour, what zeros out the rage of the woman who sees that the checkout line at Trader Joe’s begins at the door of the Trader Joe’s. You gotta want to be in New York real, real bad to put up with the bullsh-t and if you do, it can work for you. In summation: to live in step with New York, it would seem that you need either lots of money or a dream so dear you don’t care about living with four roommates in Toontown.
Well, I ain’t got Bloomberg money and I ain’t got no dream, New York. I’m gonna have to dip.
I came here for an adventure, and I’ve had one. But I can’t stay. It’s wrong for me. I never felt like I had to make it in New York City to Feel Whole. I feel more or less pleasant at least half the time in other places, but I grit my teeth and steel my face when I’m “home,” which, admittedly, isn’t that often. Perhaps I haven’t bonded with New York because I haven’t been in New York enough, but try telling that to the part of me who almost started yelling at someone on the street the other day. A woman was trying to open the door to her garden apartment on a really hairy section of St. Mark’s. There was garbage that had caught in the doorway and on the cement steps leading down. She had a baby in a stroller with her. I saw the baby and the woman and the trash and the crappy doorknob to the basement apartment that she couldn’t get into and I had to stop myself from screaming, “Have you lost your mind?? Get that child out of here! Are you insane? This place is filthy!”
There’s more to the story. More reasons why I have to leave. Where shall I go? Ah, now that is a very good question. But I think I’ve said enough for now.
Today in the kitchen, out of the clear blue, I thought about chasing Bobby Benshoff. Which sounds like a made-for-TV movie.
“A friendship changes suddenly… Love finds a way to last forever… Chasing Bobby Benshoff, tonight at nine on Lifetime Television for Women.”
When I was in elementary school, all the girls in my fourth grade class decided that we “liked” Bobby Benshoff. To “like” a boy meant that you were in love with him. To be in love with Bobby Benshoff meant that you would join a horde of girls who also were in love with Bobby. And if you liked Bobby, you were gonna have to work for it. You were gonna have to chase him at recess.
Someone started a game where the girls who liked Bobby would chase him around the Winterset Elementary School playground. You could practically measure that playground in square miles, so this was no kitten chase. We had an enormous hill. We had the “Tornado Slide” with its attendant jungle gym, monkey bars, and sand pit. We had a basketball court, hopscotch zone, swings, a track — even, weirdly, pull up bars (because second-graders are so into chin ups) and a crazy-dangerous slalom bar thing that no one knew how to properly use. This was our battlefield. For the long weeks that Bobby Fever gripped us, we’d all head out to recess, a girl would yell, “Go!” and poor Bobby would take off running for his life.
Bobby was the fastest runner in our grade behind Joel Loomis, so the challenge of keeping up with him was part of the game. But the giddiness of “liking” him with the possibility of catching him was the main event because Bobby was also the cutest boy in the school. We all thought he looked like a movie star. Dark brown eyes, great smile.** If you looked out onto the playground during Bobby Fever, you’d see a terrified, lone boy just paces ahead of a long line of running girls, squealing and shouting.
The game ended one day, not for lack of interest. Someone had grabbed for Bobby, made contact, and ripped a button off his shirt. It was a red shirt with a black pattern on it, as I remember. Bobby was shocked.
“My mom’s gonna kill me,” he said, dazed. He made part of his shirt into a little wick and tried to poke it through the buttonhole to keep his shirt closed. Not only had he lost a button, his chest was slightly exposed to the hounds of love, all of us trying to get a closer look while inching away to escape implication in Buttongate.
I wasn’t the one who ripped the button off. As I remember it, I didn’t think I was cute enough for Bobby to “like” back. I was popular for two seconds in fourth grade, but it was only because my parents were getting divorced and I was the first one in class that happened to. I was like an exotic zoo animal for awhile until everyone’s parents started getting divorced and wasn’t fascinating anymore, just depressing.
Bobby Benshoff, I hope you’re out there, contented and thriving. If you know anything about Google Alerts, you’ll probably get a notice that I’ve blogged about you — hope you don’t mind. Did your mom get mad about the button? It wasn’t your fault, exactly, though I have to wonder: Didn’t you kind of want to be caught?
**He kinda looked like Yuri, come to think about it.
I will be in New York City for the year, I think, but no more. I have yet to fall for this place. I’m waiting by the phone for New York to take me out, wine and dine me, leave me breathless, but apparently, New York is okay with me staying home to wash my hair. Fine, New York. But you don’t know what you’re missing. Besides, you smell.
So I will return to Chicago in time and reunite with all my stuff, not that I have a lot of it. I heard once that “every object in your home is a thought in your head.” There’s no room up there as it is, so I am ruthless in getting rid of things. Sometimes I cut a bit deep, e.g., the time I was up at the family cottage and sailed letters from my estranged father into the fire, one after the other. They were all from a particularly morose and self-drenched period in his life and there were just so many of them. Later, I thought, “One day he’ll be gone and you’ll regret that one, Fons.” But there’s nothing to be done about it now. Ashes to ashes and all.
For some bizarre reason, I have kept a chemistry award I got in high school. Oh, I was no chemistry whiz. As you can see by the scan of the award, my distinction was for “improving.” Not even “Most Improved,” just “improving.” I seem to recall that I improved from a D+ to a C-, by the way. I couldn’t have cared less about chemistry but I did care about a bad grade. My strategy in high school was to be so damned good at the things I was good at that no one would really care if I sucked at the rest of it. A+ after A+ in English, Speech, Reading. Those were all slam dunks. Algebra II? I’d rather not think about it.
What’s strangest about this award, though, is not that I’ve kept it, but that I brought it to New York. It wasn’t stuck in a book that I just found. No, I remember distinctly putting it into a box to bring here. The only reason I can imagine for doing this is that I planned to blog about it. That must be it.
For most of my life, I have had a relationship with poetry — the good, the bad, and most levels in between. In betwixt. Betwither? Anyway.
When we were little, my sisters and I memorized the Shel Silverstein catalogue. In junior high, I was unpopular; many days were spent alone, writing lyrics to Debbie Gibson songs. You might be thinking, “That’s not poetry!” and you are correct. But I was rhyming about love, so I’m counting it.
By high school I was writing angsty poems in study hall with titles like “ripped” and “truth”, always in lowercase everything because capitalization was “establishment.” I’d shove those poems deep into my jeans pockets with my pain. I read Nikki Giovanni and Dorothy Parker and listened to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos, so my poetic education, such as it was, continued apace. Plus, my sister and our friends would take Honky, my grandmother’s white station wagon (I named it) into Des Moines and a few of us would read at open mic nights at Java Joe’s, the only coffeehouse in a 200-mile radius. I had guts, I’ll give myself that much. My picture was even in the Des Moines Register once for sharing poems at the local Barnes & Noble open mic; this is probably because I had a full mouth of braces and a shirt that said “Marlboro” on it. Sorry, Mom.
Speed up. College. I made theater for four years, but isn’t theater just one big open mic? Also, my boyfriend Dan moved to New York City and got deep into the poetry slam scene. I saw him perform at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and thought, “I could do that.”
After college, I moved to Chicago and tried to keep being an actress but the bottom had dropped out. I didn’t actually like pretending to be someone else; I wanted to write and perform my own stuff. As it happens, Chicago is the birthplace of the poetry slam and the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge was the premier place for it, the place where it all started. For the next several years, I was there every Sunday night, listening, gagging, applauding, performing, laughing, crying, and above all, learning as much as I could about poetry. I also learned about gin and tonic.
Now that I’ve outlined this history, you’ll have context for what I consider to be the most significant moments in my poetical life thus far. And now, The Most Significant Moments In My Poetical Life Thus Far:
1. Getting a perfect score at the Mill (10-10-10)
2. Seeing my first poem published in a literary magazine that no one reads
3. Discovering Philip Larkin
4. The birth of the word “vape”
Let’s look at this most recent development. Poets — and I’m talking mostly to the slammers out there, but this works for everyone — do you realize what has happened? Do you understand what you’ve been given? The word “vape” has entered the lexicon! Earth’s metering, rhyme-scheming citizens will never be the same! Not only do poets have a new word to rhyme, we have a word that happens to rhyme with some of the most often used words in poetry: escape, agape, rape (and possibly crepe.) Just think of the possibilities:
Black hair like velvet Her face: a heart shape Her voice, my song: “You wanna vape?”
We stood in the rain Emotions escaping Under the awning Quietly vaping
This is big. Huge. Seismic. I’m just wondering if I’m the last to figure this out. It (almost) makes me want to go to a poetry slam and see what people are doing with the brand new word. It also makes me want to visit that hilariously named vape shop across from my sister and Jack’s condo in Chicago. It’s actually called “Let’s All Vape.” That’s the name of the store. I’d like to start any store and name it like that. “Let’s All Have Tacos” or “Let’s All Buy Shoes” or “Let’s All Get An MRI” — these are all viable shop names. Don’t wait for me, by any means — this is my gift to you. I fully support anyone who wants to name their shop “Let’s All [Insert Thing Here].” I will be your first customer, that’s how much I love that idea.**
New words, a basketful of retail possibilities — all of this, and I still have no desire to vape. Tough customer, I guess.
**I can’t stop: Let’s All Have Our Engines Examined, Let’s All At Least Have a Look at The Buffet, Let’s All Copy Something, Let’s All Get Gas, Let’s All Buy Things We Don’t Need, Let’s All Get Uncomfortable (sex shop), Let’s All Get a Headache (bath and body shop)
Unless you count the formidable health issues related to my intestines, I am a healthy gal. Yuri gets colds all the time and suffers from allergies, but I haven’t had a cold in years. When everyone else is moaning in bed with an achy body and a ring of dried NyQuil around their mouth, I’m peppy. I attribute this to washing my hands many times a day and being my mother’s daughter. That woman is invincible.
But then I went and did something stupid. I let the in the propu.
My ex-husband came from a Croatian family. In Croatia, there’s something everyone knows about called the propu. The propu is a draft, essentially, but a draft with a malevolent personality. If you leave a window cracked, the propu comes in and makes you sick. Croatians believe that if you’re sick, it’s probably because of the propu. The worst thing ever is to sleep with a window open in a room where you might be directly hit with the propu. From sore throats to back pain, if you’re feeling unwell, the propu is likely the culprit. And of course it sounds silly; clearly this is an old wives’ tale. It just smacks of superstition. But I’m telling you: there is truth to this propubusiness.
I’ve seen it. When someone has a cold, I will ask them if they had a window open in their bedroom. The answer is usually “yeah, so?” And I will tell them of the propu. Why, just this morning, I was on the phone with my publisher. She was out sick two days this week. I told her of the propu.
“Holy cow,” she said. “Mary, I wish you could see my face right now. That is so crazy. It was super stuffy in the house the other night, so I opened a window in the bedroom… And I woke up with a horrible cold!”
I nodded, solemnly. “Well, there you go, Kristi,” I said. “Propu.”
And yes, yesterday afternoon, I tangled with the propu, myself. I lay down for a disco nap around five o’clock. It was cold and drizzly in New York; an autumn day straight out of central casting. I wanted to hear the sounds of the rain. I wanted to snuggle under a quilt and smell that autumn air and dream about having a pumpkin latte, which I can never have because of the milk and sugar. I fell asleep. The propu came in. This morning, I woke up with a scratchy throat, an itchy nose, and a mild fever. Damn you, propu!!
What’s also fascinating about this propu business is that the prevailing wisdom of the Croatians is that if you open another window in the house or the room, you are safe from the propu, the idea being that the wind/draft has a way to escape and therefore ignores you, I guess. Again, crazy but with some validity. You can open a window in your house as long as you crack open another.
I tell you these things because I care about you. It’s like baking soda in your armpits. All I’m suggesting is that if you read PaperGirl, you will probably live a long and happy life, that’s all.
In a dress shop in Anacortes, WA last week, I overheard the salesgirl say, “Oh! It’s about to start!” It was Homecoming Week and the parade was due to begin near the shop and make its way through town.
We all spilled out onto the sidewalk to watch the classic, small(ish) town America homecoming parade, all banners and bass drums, streamers and tossed candy. I felt terrible for the pretty girls in the homecoming court, freezing to death in their formal gowns. Much better to be a band geek in the Northwest in September, if only for the opportunity to wear pants this time of year.
Seeing the hometown parade reminded me of a story. You will laugh. But it will be at my expense. That’s okay. I can take it.
I was a junior in high school. I had my first car: a VW Bug from the late 60s, I believe. Somewhere in my life, I had seen one of these cars and had decided it was the only car for me. This was before Volkswagen came out with the new Beetles, mind you. This was 1996 and there was only one kind of Beetle available at the time: an old one.
We found a red Bug advertised in a nearby town. We negotiated to a good price, and with some help from Mom, I got my dream car. It’s still a point of pride that I learned how to drive a stick shift in a vintage VW bug with transmission issues. After that, I can drive anything. The car was procured just before school started, so I was busy that summer cleaning it, getting things fixed, etc. I even got a homecoming date out of the deal. The family that sold us the car, there was a cute son about my age. I forget his name, but he was blonde and seemed cool and he was from another town, which was like, super-duper cool. I asked him if he’d be my date to homecoming and he said yes! I felt on top of the world.
In small town Iowa, the windows of the shops in the town square get painted with murals of rival death and home team victory and you can get prize money for painting the best window. It’s a really a big deal. We also paint our cars for the homecoming parade. Basically, there’s a lot of painting stuff; also, toilet paper is on everything. That year, it was obvious to my friends and me that we had to paint my awesome VW Bug and win first place. My bestie, Leia, is an incredible artist and she painted this slobbering, ferocious-looking husky (go Huskies!!) on the front hood that put all the other painted Ford Escorts and Geo Metros to shame.
Indeed, we won 1st place. Which meant we got $50 bucks — and more importantly, we were to be featured in the big parade.
Parade Day came. The sun was hot. The crowds were thick. Leia, our other bestie Annie, and my crush — not my homecoming date but the guy I really, really liked from jazz choir — and I were in the car. We lined up for the parade. The parade began. And my car began to break.
It kept stalling. It wasn’t me. I was driving that car as well as I knew how and okay, maybe there was a trick to it, or a “sweet spot” I hadn’t yet found, but the car refused to cooperate. The engine would engage, we’d go a half a block, and then “cha-CHUNG-CHUNG-CHACK.” Dead. Stop. Stall. Over and over. Smoke began to come from somewhere underneath the car. Everyone was sweating, but I was truly losing my nerves, silently, horribly. It was funny at first. Then it was hell. We were a clown car. We were a rolling, stalling, smoking clown car with a dog painted on the hood. I’m amazed my friends did not open the doors and run away before anyone recognized them. Their loyalty is touching.
It goes without saying that any chance I had that day of landing a smooch with my crush was as likely as my Bug suddenly growing a V6 engine and a GPS. It was so over. I looked like such a loser. I somehow maneuvered my car off the parade route and into a parking spot. I do think my friends (and certainly my crush) took off at that point. The car had died in a major way that day and the repairs it proved to need far exceeded my budget. We sold it not long after and I got a Honda CR-X that actually moved people from Point A to Point B without making me want to crawl into a large hole in the ground and never, ever come out.
The homecoming date with the guy who sold me the lemon was — wait for it — a little sour, too, but it could’ve been so sweet! He turned out to be very shy and I didn’t want to be too bold, so I didn’t tell him he could’ve kissed me. He sorta tried when he dropped me off at the end of the night, but then he sorta balked and I balked, and it just didn’t happen. He didn’t even know about the parade!
Sometimes, when people ask me for my autograph or stop me at a big quilt show and want a picture, I am amazed. I have, and always will be, a huge nerd with smoke coming out of my car. Always.
It sound a bit cute, but it’s true: I’ve got Restless Life Syndrome.
As a youth, I was not particularly wiggly. I seem to remember sitting quietly and being good. I was definitely not bad. My mom says I was a happy baby, an easy one. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I stopped being satisfied. I have been on the move ever since. Dammit!
From time to time, I read articles in magazines about some sad, harried woman’s magical transformation into a content, happy woman who stops working 24/7 and starts appreciating the beauty of the hummingbirds in her garden — the garden she now tends lovingly instead of stabbing at spreadsheets all day. One wonders if her perfect azaleas are stand-ins for her then-perfect quarterly reports, but to hear her talk she’s truly mellowed, is truly at peace because she stopped worrying about absolutely everything she used to worry about. She just “woke up.”
These articles do not inspire me. They make me nervous. Because I am not looking at hummingbirds. I am on a plane. I am trying to do something, here.
I don’t know what it feels like to check out. I can’t do it. I’ve tried. The people who do the hummingbird thing are mysterious to me. I do try hard to notice the world, but there can be no doubt I’m missing tracts of it right and left because I’m getting into another taxi in another city or making wheat-free bread that will supposedly save my health and so far is absolutely not doing that. My days are spent working; many nights too, because I feel workiness is next to worthiness (also because I’m lame in social situations involving more than two people.) To be fair, “working” to me means “making money to live on” but also “quilting” and “writing,” so no need to feel sorry for me. Besides, I make money doing (mostly) what I love to do. I’m grateful every day for that and will work hard to keep it that way.
Which brings me to the hummingbirds. I don’t think I’m “set.” I don’t take all this for granted. You want something big, you gotta do big things. You gotta hustle. There may not be as many diaphanous gowns in your life — or as many gardens — but there is beauty in the airplane. Beauty in the leather jacket you’ve got on.
If you watch Love of Quilting on PBS, you surely know (and love) The Tip Table.
Mom and I sit at the Tip Table at the end of every show and share tips sent in from viewers across the country. The tips are clever, resourceful, and useful to quilters. We get way more tips than we can share, but we get to as many as we can each series.
Today, Mom and I had a fantastic day in Seattle doing the first of a two-day BabyLock dealer event. I woke up with lots of pep and the day was a rousing success for all (thank you, BabyLock, and the fine folks at Quality Sewing & Vacuum.) Before our second lecture of the afternoon, a lady named Lynn gave me a tip that I have to share.
“I live in an apartment,” Lynn said. “If you’ve got noisy neighbors, hang your quilts on the wall. They look beautiful and they muffle the sound!”
Isn’t that smart? I grew up with a few quilts (big ones) hung on walls in our home. There was a Tree Everlasting quilt on the dining room wall for over a decade. But I never thought about hanging quilts in any apartment I’ve ever had in order to soundproof noisy neighbors. And boy, have I had some. A brilliant tip!
Then Lynn added, with a wink, “You could put ’em on the ceiling, too, you know, if you had…well, that sort of a noise problem,” she said, and though all the ladies that were gathered in our little tip-sharing group howled with laughter…I can’t share that one on TV.
As the well-wishes and words of kindness came in last night/today regarding yesterday’s post, I felt subdued and grateful. I also became concerned that the sharing of my UC story thus far was potentially taking up too much air time in people’s heads, thoughts, prayers, etc. I shared the first half of the timeline with a desire to inform, possibly assist, and maybe even entertain (seriously, you can’t write this stuff.) But when the compassion came at me from all sides I suddenly felt guilty that I had directed all of this energy at myself when really, we’ve all got botched j-pouch surgeries. We’ve all got a health crisis.
We are all temporarily abled. That’s not just a politically correct catchphrase: it is one of the truest things I know. Our bodies are systems; systems fail. We are organic matter; organic matter gets infected, infested, and eventually rots away. There’s nothing to be done about it and to preface it all by saying, “Sorry to be morbid, but the funny thing about bodies is…” is to keep the yardstick in place that distances us from the reality of our rather absurd situation. It is my fondest wish that every person reading this is full of vim and vigor from their first day to their last, but it’s more likely that most of us will deal with significant health issues somewhere along the trek. Sooner, later, or now.
So hang my tale: we all need compassion. By virtue of being human, we all need loving kindness. It’s hard down here. And that’s when we’re healthy and well! Beyond that, many of us have diseases and afflictions that do not call for surgery and never will. There are those among us who are quite sick indeed but look perfectly fine. Those people need emails of encouragement, too. They need blog comments. And so it was that I felt I had gotten too much of the universe’s healing energy yesterday and today. I will send some along to the next fellow with your regards; maybe it will come back to you, as you also need it. Sooner, later, now.
With that, let’s dive down into the second half of what happened so far in my life, vis a vis being sick. When I returned to Chicago in ’09, things took a turn from awful to downright horrid.
Summer ’09 – My then-husband leaves for a year to train for the Army Reserves. A decision we made together proves disastrous. He was away, my entire world/existence was changing daily. A gulf formed that would never again be brooked.
August ’09 – I am declared well enough for the “takedown” surgery at Northwestern. The ileostomy (stoma) I had is poked back inside my belly and reconnected to the internal j-pouch. In theory, I should be able to continue my life now, albeit with a “new normal.”
September ’09 – My health rapidly deteriorates following the takedown. Turns out the leak has not healed. Waste is leaking into my abdomen from the pouch. I am hospitalized — can’t remember how many times — over the next few months. (Silver lining: I begin to make quilts for sanity preservation.)
October ’09 – “Bio-glue” is squirted into my j-pouch in attempts to “plug up” the leak. Bio-glue is what they use to glue heart muscles back together after surgery, apparently? While the glue does its thing, I am told “No food allowed.” A PICC line (my third; a mega-IV that is inserted via ultrasound into your arm and travels through a major artery to dump medicine/food directly into your vena cava) is placed and I am put on total parenteral nutrition (a.k.a., TPN, a.k.a., “feeding tube”.) Twice a day, I hook up a gallon bag of white fluid into a port in my arm and sit still while it is pumped in. I have several IR drains, as well. I am a ghost among men.
November ’09 – TPN and bio glue deemed a failure. Pouch needs more time to heal after all. I will be re-diverted. (Translation: I will get another stoma.) Surgery at Northwestern. This time, I get an epidural. A psychiatrist visits me in the hospital post-surgery and recommends I go on an antidepressant. I take her up on that.
December ’09-’11 – Life continues apace. My marriage falls apart. I continue to work as a freelancer, building Quilty and doing work in the theater in Chicago to take my mind off my health issues and my broken relationship. Bag leaks in bed, painful rashes, etc., are par for the course with the second stoma as with the first but it’s a known quantity, at least. I begin to practice yoga with obsessive drive: I make deals with the universe that if I get healthy enough before the second takedown a year from now, I will make it.
June ’11 – Second takedown. Northwestern. Epidural. Things go well.
Fall ’12 – After a shaky but decent year, things begin to crack. I have a fissure. I also have a fistula. (I leave those things to you to look up. Do not image search.) Various methods are deployed to deal with these issues. I work harder than I should, afraid at any moment of hospitalization. There are several, usually related to the fistula or flora issues in my ruined guts. I make a series of self-destructive choices. I am wildly productive.
Fall ’13 – The fissure has come home to roost. I am crippled with pain. An ambulance comes to my condo to get me on the worst of the nights; they break my front door. I get into a pattern where I know when the fissure is about to do its worst; I frequently take the bus up Michigan Ave. to the ER. Hospitalizations. Pain medicine. Lying to everyone about how bad it is. Describing the pain to someone, I say it’s “like having a gunshot wound that you sh-t battery acid out of approximately twenty times a day.” (I stand by this description.)
Then, up to now – Good days, bad days. I got a pain doctor who recommended an internal pain pump. This is a morphine drip, essentially, placed into my abdomen, which I then pump when I feel the agony coming on. I decline, not yet ready for another apparatus. Probiotics. Lost days. Days packed so full, no one will notice the ones when I’m useless.
Remember, this is the timeline of the health crisis. One only needs to look back at PaperGirl, or the issues of Quilty magazine or the shows, or the other shows, to see that life has been much more than just this list of woe and setbacks. Joy and wonder, and gifts abound in my life. Success and learning and all kinds of wonderful life has been lived since 2008. And there have been all sorts of failures and good, old-fashioned crappy (hey!) days that had nothing to do with any of the body stuff, too — that’s the real kicker. Good, bad, or otherwise, though, this timeline is a specter. My experience and condition don’t define me, except that both kind of do.
I am going to make cookies for Yuri now. Good grief! [Correction: Cookys! I meant cookys!!]
Is Hollywood destroying humanity or am I just no fun?
A couple months ago, my internal struggle was refreshed with the blood of Godzilla, which remains the last movie I saw, in the theater or otherwise.
Yuri and I had a night off, and I was actually the one who suggested we go. I’ve been to the movie theater maybe five times in two years. I completely get that many folks love movies — my sister and her fiance work in the industry and I have tremendous respect for them, their art, and their specific path — but feature films just aren’t my jam. I don’t see a lot of movies like I don’t read a lot of fiction. I’m a documentary-lovin’, non-fiction readin’ real-time junkie. I feel manipulated by film, I guess, and not in a good way. Still, every once in awhile, there’s a film that looks like such pure spectacle, such pure, 21st century American entertainment, I gotta do it. It’s like eating a Cinnabon or a Auntie Anne’s pretzel once every couple of years: indulging feels very wrong/momentarily good. The 2014 remake of Godzilla looked cool from the previews my sister Nan played for me; the monster was so big! The cities were so small!
“Yuri, let’s go see Godzilla.”
We got our tickets and sat down with cups of tea and smuggled chocolate, fully prepared to be entertained. I had an open mind. I really wanted to have fun.
But I didn’t have fun. Because Hollywood sucks. Hollywood creates a facsimile of life for scores of people whose general well-being I care about. Hollywood cheapens the human experience. At its best, Hollywood inspires great floods of emotion that can be cathartic. But at its worst, Hollywood movies are irreverent, disrespectful, and hypnotic. And false. And confusing. And they are all expensive.
My main trouble wasn’t with Godzilla. It was not a great movie, but that’s okay. I was more troubled by the previews, the first one for a Scarlett Johannsen film coming out soon called Lucy. In the preview, we see a clip of Johannsen enduring forced abdominal surgery. The bad guys open her belly and insert something inside of her that she must transport against her will, the thing now being inside her and all. I’ve had multiple abdominal surgeries that might as well have been forced — if I didn’t have them, I’d have died so the choice was nil — and take it from me: There is nothing entertaining about being filleted. The reality of that sucks so much. I realize I have personal experience that most folks do not regarding this plot development in Lucy and clearly, I am going to be more sensitive to seeing such an experience portrayed fictionally, but like…can’t you pretend about something else? There’s so much to choose from.
Like…war. After Lucy, there were several previews for war movies where people were getting creamed right and left. Legs were getting blown off. Men were screaming, men were crying. After that, a preview for Non-Stop, which is about an airplane hijacking. Jet black guns, exploding pieces of airplane, crying women with hysterical, terrorized babies, a rugged Liam Neeson flinging himself backward down the aisle, shooting multiple rounds.
Am I missing something? Why is this entertaining? I’m not being rhetorical. I don’t understand. Surgical procedures, wars, gunfire, terrorist plots on planes, and death are things that create suffering. They are realities of life that require seas of compassion and support to endure and process. It’s not funny to see someone get shot to death on a plane flying at 35,000 feet. It’s terrifying. It should be terrifying. I beg someone to explain to me why people spend millions of dollars to create fictional suffering to last on film forever for people to watch in theaters while they sit eating snacks. Escapism? But how?
Maybe I’m just no fun.
That’s entirely possible! I do feel like I have blind spot, that there’s a “Kick Me” sign on my back and I’m just being snippy and snobby and old and lame. Everyone goes to the movies, right? Folks have preferences, too, and discernment. I shouldn’t say “Hollywood is this” because Hollywood is a lot of things and people and there’s good art that comes out of the place, I realize. But just when I was thinking, “Mary, chill. There is more to the movies than the crassness of Non-Stop,” the last preview presented itself. It was for a movie called The Other Woman, in which three hot blondes are real ornery about a man and exact their revenge on him for his misdeeds. There were boobs everywhere. And toilet humor, which is always better/grosser when there are girls involved, I suppose.
It’s just all so hostile. To be sure, there is great cinema in the world, but this is the stuff the general public is eating, the movies that are “in theaters everywhere starting Friday.” Mere blocks from where I sit, there are art house cinemas and legendary film centers that show incredible stories put to film. But people go see the Godzillas and The Other Womanses in Des Moines because that’s what’s playing there. I grew up not far from Des Moines, so I know. If you don’t have options, how can you discern?
No one should be stopped from making whatever sort of movie they want to make. Advocating for censorship will never be on my list of things to do, as much as I dislike these kinds of movies. I’ll just stay home.
(On my list of things to do, “Take on Hollywood” was also not there. Oh well.)
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.”
I love planes so much, I’d marry them. I’d marry planes and have plane babies. And those babieswould play with toy planes on planes. And they would be very well behaved, my children.
I like airports too, quite a lot. As a rule, I arrive at least two hours early to any flight I take just so that I can walk through the terminal a bit then find my gate and plop down to work. I get more done in airports than anywhere else. I’d wager there’s 15% increase in my overall productivity and a 10% spike in creativity. If I knew how to merge those numbers to yield some kind of work-probability number I could stick into a P&L, well, I wouldn’t be a content creator, I’d be doing something else and probably be flying first-class.*
People move through space in airports with a plan and a purpose and that is a comfort to me. I like the scale of airports, even the small ones. I like that I can buy stamps, newspapers, and hot coffee every fifteen feet; I like how airports are basically vast, continuous newsstands where planes drop down and scoop you up and deposit you someplace else.
It’s lucky I feel this kind of way, since I seem to be traveling by plane every other week right now. Maybe it’s because I fly so much that I’ve come to love planes and airports like I do; maybe it’s just the familiarity. After all, I have my rituals, like anyone else who travels all the time for work; everyone loves their rituals, travel or otherwise. (A few of mine: if I’m on a flight out of Midway before 10am I go see my friend Sam at Potbelly’s, who never charges me for extra cheese; I always bring my journal, a book, and and eyemask; I know where the secret bathroom is at LaGuardia; I visit the USO and donate money wherever there’s a USO and I have enough time. Stuff like that.)
I hear air travel used to be sort of glamorous, but I don’t know anything about that. I book my own flights. I schlep my own stuff. From time to (glorious) time there will be a car service waiting to pick me up and my name will be one of the names on signs when I come down the escalator, but that’s atypical. Usually, it’s a solo walk to a taxi line. Indeed, loving airports is loving them alone most of the time and in spite of the hiccups and the headaches that will forever occur.
But we can fly. And that’s the real reason I’ll always love being there.
Human beings can fly through the air. Airplanes, and the airports that facilitate their operation, are human ingenuity and effort, materialized. There were so many failures. It took so long. The Wright brothers were just one part of a really, really long process of creating viable air transportation — a process that has probably only begun, in the grand scheme of things. And to coordinate the hundreds of thousands of people who fly every day, to get their bodies and their belongings safely from one end of the earth to the other — it can’t possibly ever work. Of course it fails, sometimes, but more often, the system does not fail. And I love humans for that. I love what we make and that we know we need to make it better, now, so that air travel is gentler on the earth. (I don’t have a car, by the way, or a kid, or a TV, so I feel like I kind of offset my footprint in those ways.)
I love planes and airports so much, I would tattoo a plane on my body. Hypothetically.
*I am A-List on Southwest at this point! Glamour for days!!
I had lunch with a born-and-raised, lifelong New Yorker yesterday. He asked me how I was getting along.
“You seem a little ambivalent in your blog,” he said. “I can’t tell if you’re warming to the city or not.”
We were eating sushi in a restaurant only a local would know about, one of the best sushi bars in Manhattan, as it turns out, tucked away deep in Soho. There might have been a sign on the heavy wooden door, but I didn’t see one when I pushed it open.
“Oh, I’m great! It’s great!” I chirped. “I love it here!” That’s the truth, too. In no way has my New York City life truly begun yet, but the hunk of molded clay has at least been dropped onto the wheel. It will begin to take shape, if you’ll tolerate me extending that lame clay metaphor.
But then my lunch date spooked me a little.
“But how are you doing really?” he asked, eyeing me as I put more edamame into my face. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe me when I said I was doing well, he just knew he was asking a serious question that deserved a thoughtful response.
“The pace of this place,” he said, “is not for everyone.”
Correct. I’ve known New York City to stomp, chomp, and otherwise flatten people. It does happen, absolutely, every day I’m sure, and even though there are plenty of folks who lament the glossification of New York, who say the city is a soulless shell of what it used to be, all Carrie Bradshaw and no Joe Strummer, those people probably didn’t grow up in rural Iowa like I did. Please. New York is still a killer whale. Have some imagination.
I chewed. I considered. Okay, how am I really doing? Because there are a thousand thoughts a day that pass through my brain and right now, directly related to moving here or not, all those thoughts are tagged “New York City.”
“There are moments when I feel overwhelmed,” I said, and a mini-monologue suddenly poured out, because one had been waiting, apparently.
“It’s like… So you’re on a street corner here, waiting for the light. And you look over and you see the most beautiful girl you have ever seen in your life. Right there, a supermodel, maybe the supermodel of the moment that you just saw on the cover of a magazine. And then the light changes and you’re crossing the street and you see the craziest person you have ever seen in your life. Like, in a wig, with a parakeet or something, screaming into a transistor radio. Then, an old Chinese man zips past on a bike and you smell his tobacco and it’s this wild smell, totally from another world. Then a black, mirrored car snakes through the street and you wonder, who’s in there? Jay-Z? A congressman? The Shah of Iran? Maybe all of them?
And in those moments, you realize the layers of existence here. It’s like shale. And all these people, they all have their own realities, they all have their own days, their own New York City. And the truth of that can feel like a comfort, because everyone is just like you, or you can lose your mind, because that’s too much input, too much to think about and still remember to blink.”
This answer seemed to satisfy my lunch date. That I could identify the complexity and consider it, that is maybe proof that I’m keeping my head above water. And maybe proof that I have a chance to thrive, too. We’ll see.
At a cocktail party-ish gathering last week, I met two extremely accomplished women who shared with me that early in their respective careers they used to take shorthand dictation, also called stenography. I asked lots of questions that I have since had to look up the answers to (#wine) but I did manage to force them to write something for me in shorthand that I could keep. This was not because I didn’t believe they could do it — I suspect both women drive very nice cars — but because I had to see shorthand in action. I had only a vague notion of what the stuff looked like; I mistakenly thought there were English words interspersed with jots and tittles and such. When I saw the strange, magical scribbles on their napkins, my mouth dropped open.
Here are X things you should know about shorthand, most of which I have gleaned from a fascinating essay by one Ms. Leah Price about the history of shorthand in the December 2008 Diary section of The London Times, which you should promptly search for and read after you’re done here:
1) Diarists and court reporters have used versions of shorthand for a really, really long time. Samuel Pepys (b.1633), considered the world’s first diarist/journal-keeper, wrote his thoughts and feelings in a form of shorthand. (I’ve read a lot about Pepys, as when I get back to my MLA, my dissertation is going to explore the diary as literary form.)
2) We all probably know graph = writing, but steno = narrow. How about that?
3) Issac Pitman codified (hey-o) the Pitman shorthand system that was taught for well over 100 years before there was any major competition.
4) In 1922, a guy named Nathan Behrin set the world’s record with the Pitman system, writing 350 words per minute. Three-hundred-fifty words per minute. Per minute!
5) Miss stenography? Blame the typewriter.
Forget my dream to learn French. Forget taking time to learn Russian so I can tell Yuri in his native language to please pick up some milk. I want to learn shorthand bad. Apparently, it takes three years. But I could write in my diary in this cool way! Oh, I rail against you, life, so short and so long.
At the party, I asked both of the women to write, “Dear PaperGirl Reader: This is shorthand. It is a dying language, but it is still beautiful. You’re welcome, [NAME]” I still have both examples and would’ve scanned them in to serve as the image for this post, but my scanner is in a box at the FedEx right now, waiting for me to come pick it up. Instead, the image above is translated for you here; it totals 227 words.
“If agreeable to you I hope you will sign the enclosed agreement for the agricultural lands about which Mr. Teller wrote some time ago. The land company has been very aggressive, a fact which greatly aggravated Mr. Teller.
We do not anticipate that our antagonists in this controversy will be able to restrain Mr. Hollis in his aggressive views. We decline to take any part in the preparation of the declaration about which Mr. Henderson declaims so forcefully. He was inclined to antagonized rather than to electrify his audience by the out of his oratory.
Owing to the inclement weather I am inclined to agree with you that we shall have to declare
the game off for this week.
The magnitude of the magnificent construction enterprise introduced by Mr. MacIntosh was declared to be extraordinarily interesting.
Electric transportation is paralyzed all over the state, and it will be almost impossible to undertake the shipment of your goods for at least two or three weeks.
The eccentric individual rambled on uninterruptedly for what seemed an interminable time.
His unparalleled unselfishness and self-control were revealed in his disinterested discussion of the event. Miss Carew undertook to alter the paragraph about postage, which turned out the be a paramount issue in the controversy. The postmaster at Sarnia displayed great self-control and self-possession in the circumstances.”
I met my friend Mark for lunch today at the Walnut Room. We sat near the windows and looked out at the gorgeous Chicago spring day.
“I bought flowers for my mom online for Mother’s Day,” said Mark. “At the checkout, there was an option to pay with bitcoin.” Mark is extremely skeptical about pretty much everything, so he was grumpy: it’s hard to be wary of Bitcoin when it helps you buy flowers for Mom.
“That’s great!” I said, clapping. “I bought a mattress on Overstock.com with bitcoin. Did you read PaperGirl yesterday? It was all about bit –”
“Yeah, yeah, I read it,” Mark said. “That’s why I brought it up. I have questions. How do you buy them?”
I welcomed the interrogation. It was with some trepidation I dove into all this yesterday; talking to Mark might help me iron out the second half of my bitcoin treatise.
“You can go to Coinbase.com, set up an account, and buy bitcoin,” I said, “Or you can buy bitcoin in person, from a trader. I went on LocalBitcoin.com and found a trader with a great customer rating and met him and bought bitcoin from him. It was easy. It was fun.” Mark knows that that trader was Yuri. So romantic, right?? I know.
“And you use real money to buy them,” Mark said, eyeing me. The waiter came and we both ordered the tortilla soup.
“Yes,” I said. “And they’re not actual coins, you realize. Each bitcoin is a line of code. And you put them –”
“Where do you put them?”
“In a bitcoin wallet, poodle. Just like you put cash or cards in a physical wallet, you put bitcoin in a digital wallet. Each bitcoin has its own serial number. Those numbers live in your phone or your computer. Remember, dollars have serial numbers too — and your credit card is a string of numbers — a lot of how bitcoin works we already use everyday.”
Mark shook his head. “What keeps someone from making up fake numbers? Making a fake bitcoin would be way easier than making a fake dollar bill, right? No paper. And is there a finite number of these things? Who invented it, anyway? And who’s profiting?!” Mark slurped his soup and then — with his mouth extremely full — he managed to say, “You’re never gonna be able to explain all this.”
I told him I’d try. And I’d keep it short, too.
In 2008, a programmer — possibly a group of programmers — known as Satoshi Nakamoto, wrote a brilliant piece of code and put it out on the Internet for free. Even the most dour of bitcoin critics agree: Nakamoto’s digital currency model was (is) genius. This is because his bitcoin model, among its other elegant features, got rid of two huge problems with buying goods and services online: 1) no longer did every single online transaction have to go through a bank or credit card company, with all their fees, security breaches, and data gathering; and b) he solved the problem of double-spending.
The first problem is easy to get your mind around, even if you don’t agree it’s a problem. Now, to that second thing. If you don’t have a bank or credit card company to vouch for you, to say, “Yeah, you really bought that llama — it shows it right here on your statement,” how can you prove you did? Equally bad — just as Mark worried — if someone, like a bank, isn’t monitoring the system, who’s to stop some guy from making all kinds of fake bitcoin and buying zillions of dollars worth of stuff (e.g., llamas) with fake money?
Nakamoto designed bitcoin so that the community of bitcoin users verify the transactions. Instead of a bank making one central ledger of what’s circulating, the bitcoin users do it, verifying all of the transactions — yep, every one of them — at the same time. There are a finite number of bitcoins in existence (21 million) and they all have a unique serial number or code. If someone tries to use a fake bitcoin, the transaction is caught as it tries to get through the system and it’s rejected. So there is regulation: it’s just in the hands of the people using the currency, not A Big Bank, not MasterCard or Visa. (We used to get along without those things, you know.) How all the verifications happen is rather complicated and computer-y and I am willing and able (more or less) to explain it. My fear is that I have asked much of you, gentle reader, and you have been most faithful; perhaps it’s wise to discuss that last bit (!) of the bitcoin system another day.
Two last things, and then let’s finish with the love story:
First, Bitcoin has a PR problem because in the beginning, the anonymity of the currency appealed to people buying nefarious things online. I hardly need to point out that as I type, lots of people are buying nefarious things, online and otherwise, with U.S. dollars, too. But this early sketchiness (and a trading company, Mt. Gox, that was doing bad business) dealt a harsh blow to bitcoin and it’s gonna be recovering from that for awhile. A few shady apples hurt the bunch, but as Bitcoin grows, matures, goes through a modicum of regulation, and problem-solves, these early specks will flick out. (Also: the “crypto” in “cryptocurrency” refers to the encrypted codes within the system, but people see “crypto” and register “cryptic” as in “confusing.” It’s not a perfect word, “cryptocurrency.”)
Lastly: Bitcoin is new. Really new. Anyone reading this is way ahead of most of the general public — and good for you! Curiosity and inquiry = great! More and more merchants are accepting the cryptocurrency for payment (e.g., Amazon, Gyft, Overstock, etc.) but until you can pay your energy bill online with it, bitcoin has a ways to go. It takes a village, but remember: the Internet itself was new not so long ago, and people were skeptical and cynical about it, too. Look where we are now.
One of the reasons I care so much for Yuri is because he wants to build the village. He believes in the ability of bitcoin to make the world a better place, so he works tirelessly for his company, a bitcoin trading firm in NYC. He is a miner. He goes out of his way to patronize businesses that accept bitcoin. He gets involved in the growing, global community and recently gave a lecture at his alma mater about his work. A person with a passion is a beautiful thing to behold. And to, you know, hold.
“I still don’t know,” Mark said, pushing his empty soup bowl away. “But I think it’s cool you tackled the topic. Good job.”
I thanked him, and paid the check. With my credit card.
One month from today, there is going to be a neat party. I am personally inviting YOU to come to it.
But of course I am! Because I see you.
I see you there, scrolling down the screen in your adorable pajama pants. I see you too, you at your desk at work with your candy drawer. (May I have a piece of candy? Thanks! You’ve always been so incredibly nice to me. :: unwraps, chews :: ) I see you with your tablet on the couch, sir, and I see you, gal on your phone on the bus, reading the RSS feed of PaperGirl like a champ. You’re all fabulous! And you’re all invited to this here party.
On May 20th, 2014 — one month from right now — in the early evening*, come to The City Quilter in scenic Manhattan. We’re having a party for my book! Wow! Isn’t it a wonderful thing to celebrate the existence of a book?? Humans are so cool.
I’ll be there, selling and signing Make + Love Quilts. Really cool quilters and designers will be there, too. I can’t name-drop, but if I did, you’d like, WOAH because these are name-drop-worthy people.
And hey, if you don’t give a whiff about quilts but just really like PaperGirl, guess what? You will love the party, too, and be most welcome there. There’s a lot writing in my book. It’s a quilt book for sure, but it’s a PaperGirl quilt book. A non-quilter can actually curl up with tea and this book and not wonder why he/she is reading a quilt book. It’s a book-book. It’s for everyone.
So, come to the party! You guys! You ladies! Let’s do it! Let’s have fun! I want to meet you! Have you ever been in Manhattan in May?? It’s ridonk-a-donk! So beautiful! It’s like being in a Gershwin song!
Book a flight, take a train, hail a cab. Come to the party on May 20th. Live a little!