True Confessions of a Real Estate Dropout.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 2
Unique advertisement for real estate "near Puerto Rico" c. 1973. Photo: Wikipedia.
Unique advertisement for real estate “near Puerto Rico” c. 1973. Photo: Wikipedia.

True confession: I put my condo up for sale.I didn’t tell you. But it’s not for sale anymore.

When I came back in November, Chicago felt like a soft, fluffy cloud that wasn’t made out of water vapor but a material that made it soft and fluffy. I floated down to my Chicago cloud and bounced once, twice, three times, and then fell asleep dreaming of Nelson Algren and Lou Malnati’s pizza. Chicago was perfect in every way and I knew in my bones I was right to come home. But my condo felt strange.

Oh, it was clean after my renters. We talked about this. The building management was the same. Most of my neighbors and doormen guys were intact. No, it was something else. Was the ceiling lower in my unit? Was the sink I picked for the bathroom just a total misfire? The windows weren’t big enough. The carpet needed to be redone, or maybe hardwood floors? All the cosmetic issues led to deeper ones. The truth is, I have experienced pure agony in this space of both the physical and relational kind. Hospital, heartbreak; it’s all the same when it’s at Level 10, it’s just a question of whether you need a surgeon or Tom Waits. Even the good stuff that happened here felt hard to meet with again, e.g., I dreamed up Quilty here and by the time I came back, the girl was gone.

And so I listed it a few months ago. I thought, “New space, new life, reset.” I mean, at this point, I sorta miss moving. (That is a joke.)

It’s an amazing thing to live in a condo that is for sale. The best part is that I’ve kept the place immaculate; it has needed to be ready for a showing at any moment so everything is put away and shiny. While Claus was here I had a cleaning buddy and I miss that; good heavenly days could that man clean a kitchen! My adorable, capable realtor has been chipper, energetic, and optimistic from the start, but has been more interest than there have been offers. There are reasons. There are no dogs allowed in my building and that’s a drawback; the monthly assessments are crazy high (vintage building, doormen, amenities, new elevators, etc.); the remodeled kitchen is stunning but narrow, stuff like that. Everyone who has come into my home freaks out and loves it: but coming over for a dinner party, a sewing group, or a nightcap does not involve mortgage insurance. Real estate is a big deal and I’ve curated this place for one specific person: me.

As the months went by and I wasn’t getting what I was after, two things happened: 1) I continued to settle in; and 2) I looked around. There’s a saying that getting over a breakup takes half as long as the relationship lasted. That sounds like some 8th-grade girl math to me but I am an 8th-grade girl in many ways, so I like it. Maybe it’s true for moving back into a home. I was gone eighteen months; maybe it’s taking nine to readjust. It’s been about eight so far.

It hit me the other day that I don’t need to leave this place, that I don’t even want to. I just need some paint. I need to get that painting framed, finally. I might just go find a new couch, although spending anything over $150 is unwise — hello, grad school! — and $150 won’t buy you a couch you actually want to sit on. But I can do a lot with very little; I did it in D.C. not so very long ago. (In fact, I did it twice.)

Condo, I’m sorry. I love you. What was I thinking? You’re my buddy. Let’s get messy this summer. Let’s paint and rearrange stuff and find vintage gems. Let’s date each other. I’ll buy flowers for you and you let me sleep over.

 

“Ahm Frum a Town Cahled ‘Ninety-Six.'”

Not yet available on iTunes. Image: Wikipedia
Not yet available on iTunes, sadly. Image: Wikipedia

Being in Atlanta reminds me how much I love the southern part of this country. Women from all over this region came to the show; I met Tennessee ladies, girls from Alabama, and a South Carolina lady who stole my heart. You know how you just zap with a person, sometimes? It’s the face, the smile, or the laugh — it could be the accent — and you recognize it, somehow, and maybe you can’t say why, but you’re just happy to be there. I had that feeling with this lady. We’ll call her Sue. Here’s how the conversation went:

“Mary. Ah was so excited to get the chance to meet you. Ah just luve your show. Ah watch it ev’ry week. You and your momma are just so sweet together.”

“Sue, you’re too kind — thank you. Thank you for watching the show. I like working with my mom, so it’s not too bad of a job. Where are you from?”

“Ah’m from Ninety Six, South Carolina.” She gave me a warm smile as I cocked my head, which is what every person who does not live in Ninety Six, South Carolina has ever done to Sue when she tells them where she’s from. “That’s raahht,” she said. “The town ah’m from is called Ninety Six. Now, isn’t that funny?”

Utterly charmed and curious as everyone else, I asked her why her town was named after a number. Sue told me that as legend has it, a young Native American woman had a boyfriend in the British Army. I interrupted and said that did not sound like a good idea.

“Oh, you’ve got thaht raaht,” Sue said. “Mary, it’s just a legund, but ah lahk to think it’s true. Anyway, she rode nahnty-six miles to tell her little boyfriend the British were coming. And that’s how Nahnty-Six got its name.” Sue was quite proud of her town and its peculiar name. I’d be proud, too — especially because my town’s high school football team would wipe the floor with the team from Ninety Five.

We chatted. Sue told me she was a breast cancer survivor. I gave her a high-five and asked if she was staying on top of check-ups and things. Sue patted my arm and said quietly, “Well, ah’m afraid it’s back, honey. It’s in mah lung this tahm.”

My eyes burned. Dammit. She was just so awesome. Dealing with cancer at all, let alone again — the pointless, “Why?” lodged itself into my brain and nearly eclipsed the moment we were having. Sue said she came to the show to enjoy classes and exhibits, to spend time with friends and to meet me, too. “It’s been a wonderful tahm,” she said. “Ah told mah husband, ‘Ah’m going to that quilt show and if mah doctor says I can’t, you tell him ah’m goin’ anyway!”

Sue, it was a pleasure. Now you go wipe the floor with Ninety Five.

Summer Challenge: Watch Citizen Kane

posted in: Art, Story 0
Little known fact: Orson Welles came thisclose to calling it "Citizen Kale." Last minute change.
Little known fact: Orson Welles came thisclose to calling it “Citizen Kale.” Last minute change.

On my honor, I woke myself up the other morning saying, “dogwood.”

I’m not kidding. It’s super weird. I woke up as I said, “dogwood” — and I was whispering it.  I guess I was dreaming about a flowering dogwood tree and needed to tell someone? There are worse things to say out loud in one’s sleep. And dreaming about a dogwood tree is sorta sweet, I guess. I take a medication that from time to time gives me horrific, paralyzing nightmares (panic, gas chambers, blood, fury, etc., etc.) so even though I spooked myself, conditions were fair.

Whispering a two-syllable word that makes zero sense reminded me of Citizen Kane, of course, with the whole “Rosebud” thing. Citizen Kane is the movie that is perfect because it is on every Major List of Important Films as being always, always No. 1. Which makes it all the harder to say what I’m about to say:

I’ve never seen Citizen Kane.

It’s horrible. It’s so horrible I’d like to change the subject but it’s too late. There’s no excuse for this non-seeing of Citizen Kane. The “Rosebud” thing is all I know about Citizen Kane. The world’s most perfect film and I reduce it to a word and a reference so embedded in culture it’s not even a spoiler alert to tell you it’s the name of the guy’s sled! Right? Am I right? Rosebud? The sled? All right, I guess I know two things about Citizen Kane. If you didn’t know Rosebud was the name of his sled, I have zero remorse about spoiling that for you. You haven’t seen it either! What’s wrong with you?

My summer challenge, therefore, is to watch Citizen Kane. That’s it. That’s the whole challenge. Before the summer is out. My D.C. friends — I’m looking at you, modern quilt guild — there may be a Citizen Kane viewing party in my apartment. If I can get dogwood flowers, they will be in a vase on the table.

I’ll find out what cocktail was most popular in 1941 and make those for us, as well.

Deer In the City.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life 0
Put a paved road underneath his feet and you're close.
Put a paved road underneath his feet and you’re close.

If power animals exist, my power animal is a deer. I’m not sure about the existence of power animals but what do I know? I do know that over and over again in my life, I have close encounters with cervidae of various kinds.

Today, back home in Washington, I set out to fetch groceries. There was not much in my fridge beyond a hunk of Parmesan cheese (good) and watermelon I should’ve thrown out before I left town (bad.) There’s a fabulous little organic grocery store in my new neighborhood, but “fabulous” and “organic,” when applied to “grocery” and “store” means yams are $5.00/ea. Close to that, anyway. I consulted the oracle and found a Giant supermarket close to my building.

Apparently, I had my Google Maps set to Hermes; what I thought would be a twenty-two-minute trip was at least double that. The Giant really can’t be the closest supermarket to me but these are the misadventures you have when you live in a new place. You have to go to the wrong places to find the right ones.

I’m walking along (and along) the sidewalk in a pretty neighborhood. I’m sweating from the humidity and sun. And coming from the other side of the street — casual as anything — steps a deer. Large deer. Deer with antlers. This deer walked into the street and was therefore about ten or twelve feet away from me. Seeing each other, we stopped in our tracks. The deer looked at me and I looked at the deer and for a moment I wondered, “Do deer charge humans?” and I felt fear. We looked at each other for a good 2.5 seconds; I’ve replayed the encounter many times and believe that’s correct.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I thought. It was right there. Wildlife in the city and we were crossing paths. The deer — surely feeling fear, wondering if humans charge deer — took a running leap over a high fence into someone’s yard where I presume he began munching begonias.

There was a FedEx truck way down the hill who might’ve seen the deer up ahead. I tried to make eye contact with him as he passed. I opened my eyes wide to communicate, “What the —-?!” but I didn’t get an appropriate response, so I don’t think he saw it. This was a me-deer thing.

I’m not so sure power animals are real, but that was mighty powerful.

Let’s Talk About The Monkey.

posted in: Family 0
Existential despair? Or rapture? One cannot be sure with Pendennis, but one can always be curious.
Existential despair or pure rapture? One cannot be sure with Pendennis, but one can always be curious.

I am a grown woman and I have a stuffed animal. Like, right over there. On the couch.

I do not chew on this object. It does not come with me on business trips. I don’t rub it on my cheek to soothe me when I’m scared or advised to seek the help of an oncologist to figure out my severe hemogoblin problem. This stuffed animal is not exactly a security blanket; besides, he’s too small to properly cover a grown woman. He couldn’t possibly be a security blanket. It’s ridiculous.

Many years ago, when I was in high school — late 1990s — I was the teacher’s aide for Mrs. Silber, one of the coolest, prettiest, raddest teachers I ever had. She was brassy and blonde and sorta husky, but that description makes her sound like a waitress in Reno. No, Mrs. Silber was classy. She was an art teacher, so that says a lot. Just tops, that lady. I actually babysat her kids once but I was a terrible babysitter because children scared me to death. I let them do anything. Marshmallows, TV — anything.

I had discovered the joy of sock monkeys somewhere during this time. Knowing this and loving me, at the end of that senior year, Mrs. Silber made me my very own sock monkey. Thirty kids drew me cards of sock monkeys to go with it. I was headed to college; I needed cards. Of course, I was overjoyed with the gifts. It was love at first squeeze.

Now, there was, you will remember, a sock monkey zeitgeist that has recently, blessedly passed. My love for my sock monkey was something I felt I had to hide while the culture experienced a sock monkey craze. Sheets, fabric, keychains, pajamas, mugs — for awhile, everywhere you looked (in Target especially) there were monkeys. But I was stalwart. I kept my dignity. I knew my love was strong, original, and unwavering, that the fickle public would move on soon enough. I was not wrong: Frozen came and Legos came again and I no longer felt like a joiner. I refuse to join!

Regarding the monkey’s name: Pendennis is the protagonist in William Makepeace Thackeray’s The History of Pendennis, written in 1904. If my life depended on it, I could not tell you why I named my monkey Pendennis because a public high school education in Iowa is great, but ain’t nobody reading Thackeray. I feel like my friend Leia and I came across the name, somehow, and it was just too memorable, funny, and odd to pass up. However he was named, the monkey was named Pendennis and so he has remained.

Pendennis is on the set of every Quilty episode ever taped. He is the mascot and masthead of this blog. He has been with me through many periods of convalescence.The gestures he effortlessly creates; the way his body flop-mopseys around; that eternal gaze… I either laugh out loud or shake my head when I see him or see just the tip of his hat poking out from the covers. Pendennis is a metaphor, a symbol, a monkey-ersonification of what I see is the baffling, beautiful experience of living. Yeah, I know. All that from a monkey.

I’ve written of my wee friend before. I will again, too, because there are friends and then their are friends — and then there is Pendennis.

“Why’s It Called PaperGirl, Grandma?” (Archive)

posted in: PaperGirl Archive, Poetry 1
WWII propaganda poster by Fougasse; ironic appropriation by me.
WWII propaganda poster by Fougasse; ironic appropriation by me.

“Why’s it called ‘PaperGirl,’ grandma?”

“Sit on my knee, child, and I’ll tell you.”

“Can I have a another cooky first? You tell long stories.”

“Here. Anything else?”

“No.”

“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.”

“What’s paper?”

“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.”

“Thanks.”

“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.]

Poets Rejoice: Let’s All Vape

posted in: Poetry, Tips 1
Poets Rejoice: Vape!
E-cigarette by London manufacturer Vaepen.

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?”

or

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)

La Vita Belli.

posted in: Art 3
Belli (pretty much.)
Belli. Our version is rounder and in my mind, far cuter. (It’s different when they’re yours.) Little Cat Puppet by Folkmanis.

I am a (very) grown woman. I own several puppets — and zero shame.

You can attribute my puppet-owning to the four years I spent studying theatre in college or the nine I spent making it in Chicago. When I was a straight-up stage actress there was a dearth of puppets in my life and I didn’t even realize what a bummer that was. When I made the exhilarating break to be a performer rather than an actor — the difference between “firefly” and “fire” — the number of puppets in my life grew exponentially and I was a happier artist. It wasn’t that I was using puppets right away, it’s that I saw them more in the art I was exposing myself to; intricate, enormous, wild, complex, frightening, and fascinating puppetry seemed to be everywhere in Chicago. When I became a Neo-Futurist, the aesthetic wormed it’s way into my work — or maybe I just came home to the first version of me I remember, maybe I found my inner Sesame Street. I put googly eyes on mittens and stuck them on sticks and did a little play called “Mitten Time.” I put a bird on a wire. I made talking boxes that flew up into the grid on a string. I strung my retired brassieres on dowel rods and sang them to their death in a little play called “Bras I Have Known.” Searching my laptop tonight, I found the lyrics to “Bras I Have Known.” Why not put them down? It’s a simple cut-and-paste and then I’ll (quickly) tell you about Belli.

This was sung (in chorus) to the tune of “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” as the actual brassieres from my life were strung up on sticks and bobbed around onstage. Shocking? Nope. Great fun.

Bra bra old bra
Opposite of young
Lace torn, cups stretched
Underwire sprung

Purple ones, gold ones
Yellow, white, and pink
Cotton, lycra, spandex,
Time to say goodbye, I think

A fine job you’ve done here
To lift and separate
Rest dear, rest dear,
The garbage is your fate

Each bra before you
Tells a story of its own
That one was there the night
Sin came free on loan

This one was present
When Jeremiah died
That one I never wore
But trust me, I tried

The gold one was funny
Never looked quite right
But I wore it frequently
Cause I thought one day it might

I couldn’t toss these out without
Offering them some art
Sure, they’re just old bras but
They literally crossed my heart.

Thus ends the lesson
And your straps on my body
Time to go pick up a new
Thirty-four D.

Good times.

A month or so ago, I popped into the toy shop on 9th Street, about a block from where we turn in our laundry. The shop is called Dinosaur Hill, and if I wanted to have a baby before I walked past the windows of Dinosaur Hill Toystore, boy, do I want one now. Little painted wooden figurines, toy trains, princess costumes. They’ve got everything. They carry many hand puppets, too: I learned this when I went inside, a (very) grown woman with no child who was determined to buy a toy anyway.

I spied a kitten puppet. She was so cute. A little small for my hand, maybe, but soft and so realistic, with wide eyes and soft paws. I surprised Yuri with it when he came home that night. We sat on the couch and I whispered, “I have a surprise for you.”

“Oh?” he said, smiling. “What is your surprise?”

Ping!

The little cat had been on my hand the whole time and I pinged it up and waved a paw by moving my pinky finger inside the puppet. Yuri laughed, delighted.

“Hello! Oh, my! And what’s your name, little kitten?”

I hadn’t decided. Yuri said her name should be “Belly” but when he said it, he didn’t think how “belly” is a tough word for me to process as cute, what with my own belly being such a battleground. Funny thing is that I didn’t for a moment think he meant “belly” with a “y.” I figured he was being brilliant and going for something Italian, so in my mind, I instantly saw “Belli” as the kitten’s name. And so it was that the little cat puppet was named Belli and she has brought us great joy since that day.

“Epitaph In Bookish Style,” by Benjamin Franklin, Poet.

posted in: Paean, Poetry 1
"When Benjamin Franklin arrived in Paris, he was wearing a little fur cap to keep his bald head warm. To the French, the hat was the embodiment of the rugged American frontiersman and proof that Franklin was a true "natural man." In fact, Franklin sent back to America for a large supply of the caps, which he wore everywhere around Paris."
Portrait of Ben Franklin, c. 1776, Paris. I can’t locate the artist’s name. I have read that in this picture, he is supposedly wearing a coonskin cap to communicate his rugged Americanness. 

In observance of Independence Day, I will share a poem written by Benjamin Franklin. Of all the founding fathers, I know the least about him. I did know he wrote poems, though, and so I found and read a few of them today.

Epitaph In Bookish Style
by Benjamin Franklin

The Body of Benjamin Franklin (Printer)
(Like the cover of an old book
Its contents torn out
And stript of its lettering and gilding)
Lies here, food for worms.
But the work shall not be lost
For it will (as he believed) appear once more
In a new and more elegant edition
Revised and corrected
by
The Author. 

Happy Birthday, America. Please, please do not blow your — or anyone else’s — face off with a firecracker.

The Zebra Dance.

posted in: Day In The Life 4
From the NYC Capoeira website. This is a much larger event/group than I saw on Friday, but you get the idea.
From the NYC Capoeira website. This is a much larger event/group than I saw on Friday, but you get the idea.

In Shipshewana this past week, I had classrooms full of students. Before the lecture or session would begin, I would chat up the ladies in the audience. It’s nice to get to know people and breaks the ice a little bit.

I would say “Hi!” and they would say, “Hi! I watch you every week!” and I would say, “Yes, and I watch you every week,” because it’s funny to tell people that I can see them from inside the television. Then I would say, “What’s new?” and they would say what’s new and then they would ask, “What’s new with you?” and I would tell them that I moved to New York City. Then they would say, “Wow! Cool!” and then, invariably, “How come?”

“For love!” I would declare brazenly. Now, even though most people light up when you say you’ve done something for love, they still want to know you haven’t lost your mind. So I usually say I moved mostly for love but also for work reasons, and then I add the fact my older sister has lived in the East Village for over fifteen years and that I know New York City pretty well. Everyone feels a little relieved that I have family here and that there are reasons other than young Russian love for me to uproot my life and move to a city perpetually threatened by natural disaster, contagion, and terrorism.

This post is about going to watch my sister Nan practice capoeira on Friday night.

Nan used to be an experienced Brazilian jiu-jitsu star, but now she’s a fledgling Brazilian capoeira star. Jiu-jitsu was starting to take its toll on her body and she was a little burnt out, honestly, though I’m not sure she’d say so. But she is a talented combat-sport athlete, so when she left the body-slamming sparring sessions of jiu-jitsu, she didn’t go eat bonbons. No, she alighted to the New York Capoeira Center on the Lower East Side and proceeded to fall in love with the sport/game/dance/meditation that is capoeira. Yuri and I went to watch her and her class and it was extraordinary.

Capoeira has a fascinating, if spotty, history in the world; spotty because the art of capoeira has been concealed out of necessity and therefore not a lot has been written down about it from decade to decade, century to century. The bones of the story are this: millions of African slaves were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese beginning in the 1500s. From the motherland (the exact regions of Africa are speculated about but non-verifiable) slaves brought music and dance that then mixed with the people already living there.

The practice is part dance, part aerobic exercise, and part game, with people kicking, sweeping legs, and moving arms and feet in a perpetual, languid motion while repetitive music is played (think gourds and tambourine.) But capoeira is also part martial art, and that’s the incredible part. Those African slaves in Brazil were steadily developing a rather deadly form of self-defense disguised as this dance/game, practicing those pretty leg sweeps and languid moving arms with a secret purpose: to kick serious a** when necessary. People who saw the slaves practicing capoeira called it “the zebra dance” (the capoeiristas who really know what they’re doing absolutely look like zebras, back-kicking and going up on two legs and fiercely prancing around, defying gravity) and onlookers thought it was really beautiful and weird-looking — until they were knocked out, literally, by a zebra kick to the solar plexus. I read one thing that said a village defended itself for centuries against attackers using capoeira and left the enemies dazed, confused, and extremely injured or dead.

There is so much to say about capoeira. I can’t possibly give you a real history on it in a single blog post. But I can tell you that my sister Nan is so good at it and watching that room full of people dance, sweep, kick, go low, jump high, and sway, sway, sway to that tribal-sounding music (played live by a group of three people, one of them being the instructor) was beautiful. Yuri and I both were transfixed, sitting there on the bench, and we both had a profound New York moment: they do capoeira in a lot of places in the world, but the diverse group of people we were watching Friday night could only be zebra dancing together, here, like that, right then.

By the way: in 1889, Princess Isabel signed “The Golden Law,” that marked the official end of slavery in Brazil. We should be happy that there was a Princess Isabel, that her law was so gorgeously named “The Golden Law.” We should be horrified that that didn’t happen until 1889

Long live the zebras.

 

The Divine Miss L.B., Solo Banana

posted in: Poetry 3
Reclining, of course. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

As some readers know, I have an ongoing, personal project that is a collection of poems about fruit. It’s not that I have a thing for fruit exactly, but I most certainly have a big thing (ew) for light verse. Fruits are fruitful for this, it turns out. Nothing makes me happier than to break away from all the tasks at hand and work on a new fruit poem. Does it help me meet deadlines at work? No, but life is more than deadlines.

Each fruit is gets a unique poetic style; e.g., the pomegranate poem follows precisely the meter of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky because the syllables match exactly; the cantaloupe poem is written for a chorus; the as-yet-unfinished pineapple poem is a Victorian odyssey in A-A-B-C-C-B rhyme-scheme, etc. I hope to publish them all one day — if you know anyone who’s in the business of publishing entertaining poetry about fruit, do let me know. Taken together, they do have a certain charm, I think, and there are drawings I’ve done with them, too.

If you click on the “Poetry” tag here on the blog page, you’ll find the other poems in the collection that I’ve posted on PaperGirl. For now, let’s direct our attention to the newest of the bunch (hey-o!) and enjoy “The Divine Miss L.B., Solo Banana.” I chose a limerick for the banana poem because bananas are funny objects, a bit lewd, too — just like most limerick. I didn’t set out to write something bawdy, but what I ended up with is totally not what I expected. Isn’t writing poetry wonderful??

NOTE: It is crucial to the poem that you recite it aloud — yes, right now — in a syrupy, thick Southern accent. I’m entirely serious. It doesn’t work otherwise. Channel your best Blanche du Bois.

The Divine Miss L.B., Solo Banana
by Mary Fons (c) 2014

Said Divine Miss Lady Banana,
(Born and raised in deepest Savannah) —
“Hon, I’m all real,
With born snack a-peel —
Ah can’t help if you love me, now can’ah?”

Suitors came far and wide just to meet ‘huh,
They was John, there was James, there was Peet’uh;
But none of them fit,
So Banana split,
Waved “Bye!” an’ lit out like a cheetah.

“Solo life, it suits me just fine,”
Said Mademoiselle la B. Devine —
“Why be beholden?
My life is golden,”
And she turned to face the sunshine.

Shipshewana Quilt Fest 2014: Let’s Do This!

posted in: Day In The Life 2
Look at that lineup! It's Shipshewana 2014, folks!
Shipshewana Quilt Fest 2014 is almost here! Just look at that lineup! Google “Shipshewana Quilt Fest” and you’ll get where you need to go.

Next week, starting Tuesday evening, the little town of Shipshewana, Indiana is descended upon by quilters from near and far. What do they come for? Well, sit a minute and I’ll tell you.

:: pulling you up onto my lap ::

Is this weird?

:: you nod; I take you off my lap and set you down on the floor instead ::

Yeah, that’s better. What was I talking about?

Ah, yes! The Annual Shipshewana Quilt Festival!

Oh, there is so much to see and do, quilter. The whole town gets involved. Heck, surrounding towns get involved. There’s a big quilt show with lots of prizes — the Best In Show purse is $3,500! There are lectures and classes, “schoolhouse” demos all day, there are “sewlebrities” and autographs to get, if you’re into that kind of thing and you should be, because it’s really fun to have your book signed by the author (:: cough cough ::). There are events in the evening and supplementary daytime events, too, like garden tours and special exhibits and even outdoorsy things if you get tired of quilts, which you will not, but go ahead and get in a kayak for a minute, if you must. We’ll wait for you to come to your senses.

:: waiting for you to come to your senses ::

But perhaps the best part is that there is so much fabric at the Shipshewana Quilt Festival. So much. There’s a “Backroads Shop Hop” that takes you to a slew of quilt shops in the area and there’s the big kahuna, Yoder’s Department Store, in Shipshe proper. I have spent large sums of money in that shop, let me tell you, and I’ve never regretted a fat quarter of it.

So come on down to Indiana next week. I’m one of the featured presenters and I guarantee to put on a good show. You’ll make new friends, you’ll spend some of that money that’s burning a hole in your pocket, and you’ll get out of town for a minute. It’s summer. You’re supposed to do that.

Now, who wants a lolly?

Seeing Shorthand.

posted in: Day In The Life 9
From website gregg.angelfishy.net, " A Web Site [sic] dedicated to the perpetuation of Gregg’s Light-Line Phonography". Translation below.
From “A Web Site [sic] dedicated to the perpetuation of Gregg’s Light-Line Phonography” at gregg.angelfishy.net. Translation below.
Stop everything.

Shorthand.

I’m freaking out.

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.”

 

“While You Sew”: Coming Soon To a Sewing Room Near You!

The view of my monitor on set today. Look closely and you'll see a quilt reflected in the glass (and me taking the shot.) Outside of Denver.
The view of my monitor on set today. Look closely and you’ll see a quilt reflected in the glass (and me taking the shot.) Outside of Denver.

Greetings from just outside of Denver, Colorado, the city that boasts 300 sunny days a year! It was raining when I arrived yesterday, but I’ll let go.

I was inside a production studio and very much on camera all day today, filming online courses for Craft University (I’ll share details soon; these will be cool) and I also filmed one of three lectures I’m doing for F+W Media, which will be available online when they’re all done in post-production. The how-to classes are awesome but I have to say: man, am I stoked about these lectures.

I’m calling the series the “While You Sew” lectures. You see, when I’m sewing at my machine, I like some audio/visual company — but I don’t want anything that requires me to pay close attention. I don’t want an actual plot. I tried watching Mad Men once when I was making patchwork. Two things happened: 1) I did not track what was happening on Mad Men; 2) I made lots of mistakes in my patchwork and therefore did not enjoy myself. Because you can’t actually do two things at once; this is what they tell us. Our brains switch back and forth and it’s lousy.

Instead of watching drama shows, I fire up YouTube and find interviews with interesting people (thanks, Charlie Rose!) or I find lectures (TEDTalks work) or I’ll really dig deep and find long CSPAN BookTV clips with intriguing authors. (Documentaries are good, too.) This kind of media is edifying and pleasant but I don’t have to watch as much as listen and if I miss something, I can go back and hear it again or simply not worry much about it because it’s not like someone really important to the storyline just got shot or maimed. I don’t want anyone to get shot whether or not I’m paying attention.

Well, being the quilt geek that I am, nothing would please me more than to sew while listening to interviews with quilters or find a series of lecture from quilt experts. There are a handful of good documentaries (I praise them in the lectures I’m taping) but they’re not online. Really, there’s very little in the way of quilter interviews, documentaries, lectures, talks — any of that. A sea of how-to, but no geek stuff.

What to do? Make some, I reckon.

And so I am. We are. It’s happening. The lectures are around 30-40 minutes each. The visuals are awesome. The lectures are funny, they’re packed with fascinating information about quiltmaking in America, they clip along. They’re casual, but boy, are they researched. Honestly, I have worked so hard on these things, it’s reminding me of writing the book. 

As soon as I know when they’ll be available, you’ll know. I’ll be selling them through my site, here, sort of: you can click a link and be taken to the site where you watch/download them. A lot of the projects I’ve been working on are set up so that if you “click-through” my site to get to the purchase page, I make some money on that. It’s a bit gross to talk about it but I’ve decided I have to mention it because I am trying to earn a living for goodness’ sake. Again, more info coming later and I so hope this sounds like fun to you. It’s nearly killed me, getting them done during the move in order to be ready to record this week, but here on my hotel bed tonight, I am feeling slightly more like a human being and less like a law student the night before the bar.

Did someone say bar?

 

Live Performance: July 5th + 6th: QUEER, ILL and OKAY in Chicago

posted in: Chicago, Work 9
Promo image from the upcoming show.
Promo image from the upcoming show. Visit jrvmajesty.com for more info about tickets and such.

I’ll be back in Chicago next month for a one-weekend-only event that is not to be missed. Well, I’d better not miss it, I’m in it. But you shouldn’t miss it, either.

JRV MAJESTY Productions, a powerhouse of a production unit, honestly, has put together a program of solo performers, monologuists, presenters, etc. to deliver an evening of pieces on the topic of being different. Some of the performers will perform pieces on being queer, some will discuss further rarified qualities of being “other,” and some — like me — will perform a brief (15 minutes or so) piece on what it’s like to live with a lousy chronic illness. I feel pretty “other” sometimes, but I’m honored to be a part of this evening of extremely talented, fellow “others,” whatever kind of “otherness” they cop to.

I posed for the portrait above a few weeks ago. My piece involves my journals. I’ve spoken about them before. I brought all my journals from the past three years to the shoot; we spread them out on the floor and then I lay on top of them. My current journal (and a pen) are in my hands. The photographer, Kiam, who was wearing a sari and made me feel instantly comfortable under his lens, got just above me on a footstool and dangled dangerously over me, contorting and cooing as he aimed for the perfect shot. I think we got one, though I keep peering at the words in the journals to see if anything scandalous can be deciphered. I think I’m good.

Chicago friends, hope to see you. And everyone: hug an “other” today.

Dear Pittsburgh: Nice!

Florentijn Hofman's Rubber Duck, as seen in Pittsburgh last year.
Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck, as seen in Pittsburgh last year. 

One of the many reasons I enjoy traveling (and I do enjoy it, despite occasional grumbling) is because I am frequently proven wrong. It’s great to be wrong.

Well, not always. You don’t want to be wrong about how much room you’ve got while parallel parking you friend’s Mercedes; you don’t want to be wrong about the date if you’re supposed to get married this afternoon. But when you’ve drawn lukewarm conclusions about a place — say, Pittsburgh — being wrong is awesome.

I thought Pittsburgh was kinda scratchy and grimy and that Pittsburghers were cranky, but the last time I was in Pittsburgh I was in my early twenties on a poetry gig. Turns out it was me who was scratchy and grimy and it was the other poets on the gig who were cranky. Sorry, Pittsburgh.

This time around I’m in high heels, here for Spring Quilt Market (look who’s fancy) and this time, I am seeing Pittsburgh for what it is: a great American city with more character and sass than most. Did you know Pittsburgh has a building called The Cathedral of Learning? It’s the tallest educational building in the Western hemisphere for heaven’s sake! Right here in Pittsburgh! Also, any salad becomes “Pittsburgh-style” when you top it with French fries. True story.

I came in hot yesterday from NYC and went straight to a salon for the manicure I needed to get before I left. I was driven there from the airport by a retired coal worker who, aside from being a really good taxi driver, fought in the Vietnam War, is a native of Pittsburgh, and does all his own plumbing and electric. In his gruff voice, he said, “This is a great city — you’re gonna have fun here, you’re gonna eat great, you’re gonna love it, no doubt about it — but it’s confusing as hell to get around. Accept that now, you’ll be all right. Everything to one side of Liberty Avenue is a street; everything to the other side is an avenue. So, you tell me you need to go to 6th St., we need to confirm.” He pulled his fishing hat down on his head a little further and got me to my manicure (on 6th St.) two minutes early. As we approached the city, I gazed out the window at all the bridges and re-purposed warehouses lining the shores of town. This is when I began to feel I was wrong about Pittsburgh.

At the salon, my manicurist looked so much like Lady Gaga — face, voice, laugh, everything — that I didn’t notice I had picked a horrible nail polish color. We were talking about quilting and she was getting very excited about the prospect of making a quilt herself; I was trying not to stare at her because she looked so much like Lady Gaga it was making me uncomfortable. Now I have a color of polish on my nails that looks positively fungal. But the point is that Lady Gaga is doing nails in Pittsburgh and she is really, really nice.

The research I did about the city surprised me, too: Pittsburgh is consistently ranked, year after year, among the top five most livable cities in the country. This is because there’s a lot of art here (Warhol was born in Pittsburgh and he has his own museum, for example), there are lots of colleges here, the sports teams do pretty well, the municipal government seems to not be fleecing its citizens, and crime is low. Also, the majority of the 300,000-ish people who live here can find work. This was the most revelatory thing I learned: I had the Pittsburgh-as-fallen-steel-capital image in my mind and figured on unemployment and attrition. Not at all. Pittsburgh is vital, thriving, and able to support growth. To wit: Lady Gaga told me the restaurant scene is exploding in Pittsburgh lately. You don’t find a ton of great restaurants in a dying city.

I also discovered that a Dutch artist named Florentijn Hofman created a 40-ft rubber ducky sculpture and Pittsburgh was the first American city to sail it. The artist made the duck to float upon waterways around the globe to bring happiness and joy to the good people of Earth. You can bet your bar of soap Hofman approached Chicago about the duck. He approached New York. Did either city say yes? Nope. But Pittsburgh was like,

“Let me make sure I understand. You want to sail a 40-ft rubber ducky down the Ohio River.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I like it. Let’s take a lunch while Cynthia draws up the paperwork. Do you like salad?”

 

My Love, My Bitcoin: Part II

posted in: Day In The Life, Luv, Tips 11
Atta girl, Lucy!
Atta girl, Lucy.

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.

 

 

PAM’ing the Pan or “My Family Is Hilarious!”

posted in: Family, Food, Joke 12
PAM, ladies and gentlemen.
From the PAM can. (I love it when ingredients lists use 50-cent words like ‘trivial.”)

A few months ago, up at the lake house, an inside joke was born — and it’s one for the ages, too. I wasn’t there the moment “PAM the pan” came into existence, but by now the whole thing has a mind of its own and it doesn’t matter; family jokes are good like that.

Here’s what happened.

My sister’s fiancee, Jack, was making dinner. Jack is gifted in the kitchen and had made something delicious in a pan that unfortunately was giving him a little trouble. Stuff was sticking. My stepdad, Mark, not trying to be funny or ironic in any way, asked,

“Did you PAM the pan?”

PAM is a non-stick cooking spray, as most of us recognize. I am feeling very annoyed that I have to capitalize it like that, but it turns out “PAM” is an acronym: Product of Arthur Meyerhoff. Isn’t that something? Some dude figured out that you could spray canola oil on a pan and keep stuff from sticking to it and he actually named it after himself. Astonishing. Anyway, that’s what PAM stands for and none of that has to do with the story, though it is relevant that a) PAM is an inherently funny, plosive sound and b) non-stick cooking spray isn’t really Jack’s style in the first place.

So Mark’s question, “Did you PAM the pan?” was just too aurally/verbally fantastic to let go. Everyone in the room tried it out, and all were gleeful with the results — but they were not satisfied, no. I’m pretty sure my mom was responsible for the initial escalation because my mother is hilarious. Note: if you’re in a place where you can actually read these lines aloud, you should.

“Are you gonna make ham? Better PAM that pan.”

Then, my sister: “Damn! That ham pan need PAM!”

Then, Mark, chuckling: “Ask Sam. He’s got PAM. He’s got PAM for every pan.”

Mom again: “Look at that man, Sam. He can sure PAM a pan — why yes, he can!”

Then Jack: “Please stop.”

Jack is frequently the straight man to Fons women hijinks. He loves it, though — enough to marry my sister, which is solid evidence. All this PAM talk went on and on and finally made its way to me when Mom told me the story. My sister Nan in New York learned about it, too, and since then, we’ve had entire family email threads playing this game. Some of my favorites have included:

“Gram never PAM’ed the pan, no ma’am. Ham or lamb, she used a no-PAM pan.”

and

“Hotdamn, Stan, you better scram if you ain’t gon’ PAM that pan. Makin’ flan calls for a PAM’ed pan, man!”

The best things in life aren’t always free. I mean, I love a great handbag and those ain’t free, let me tell you. But there isn’t an admission charge to my family’s weird sense of humor and this stuff is priceless. You maybe had to be there, and that’s okay. But if you were there, you’d be laughing.

Just Give Me Three Robots and a Cute Scientist.

posted in: Paean, Tips 6
Best show ever. Yes, even better than The Beverly Hillbillies.
Best show ever. Yes, better EVEN than The Beverly Hillbillies.

When I was in high school, I made a thrilling discovery. I discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000.

I was up in my room one Saturday night. It was around Christmastime, well after midnight. Mom let us girls stay up as late as we wanted, pretty much. We were in high school, after all, and if we were home, reading or drawing or doing some kind of creative project*, as was our like, there was no harm in letting us stay up; when we were tired, we’d go to sleep.

I had the retired family TV in my room. (Still not sure how I scammed that away from my sisters, but it was awesome.) I was doing my favorite thing ever: painting a picture while watching all the late shows. That night, after SNL, after the show that came on after SNL and the show after that, I saw Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the first time. Someone at the Des Moines area NBC affiliate station was watching over me.

Here’s what Mystery Science Theater 3000 — or “MST3K” — is, from The Wikipedia:

“[MST3K] features a man and his robot sidekicks who are imprisoned on a space station by an evil scientist and forced to watch a selection of bad movies, as part of a psychological experiment… To stay sane, the man and his robots provide a running commentary on each film, making fun of its flaws, and wisecracking their way through each reel in the style of a movie-theater peanut gallery. Each film is presented with a superimposition of the man and robots’ silhouettes along the bottom of the screen. The film is interspersed with skits tied into the theme of the film being watched or the episode as a whole.”

The episode that came on that night was Santa Claus Conquers The Martians and it remains my favorite episode of all time. I had never laughed harder in my life or been more instantly in love — I loved this show more than I loved my realest high-school crush, Cary Hollingsworth. It was for real. My eyes were glued to the screen, my mouth hung open. This was magic. What was this?? I had to know. Mind you, it was 1995; we didn’t have internet in the house, yet. I didn’t know the name of this incredible program and I couldn’t find out everything about it in 4 seconds flat with a google search.

But it wasn’t getting away from me. No, no, no. The very first commercial break, I ran out of my room and bounded down the stairs to the TV in the living room. I didn’t care if I woke anyone up. I dug through a drawer of VHS videotape and found something blank enough. I crammed it into the VCR, turned on the TV and clicked through the channels to find my show. I jammed my finger on the big red button and was able to record three-quarters of the Santa Claus episode. I watched the whole thing again when it was over. I collapsed into bed around 4:30, deliriously happy.

I had found my people. My VHS tape was my evidence.

The show tapped a vein for me, tone- and humor-wise. These people were smart, hella smart, and totally irreverent — but they weren’t gross. If there was a fart joke, it was because it was the best joke that could be made at that moment in the film, not the easiest. This appealed to me. The sheer number of cultural references made in a single episode expanded my knowledge of the world: who was Johnny Mathis? What is a “wrathful Buddha”? I learned a ton while I wiped tears from my eyes, silently shaking with laughter till I had to gasp for air. I taped every episode while the show ran on that station, which was well over a year.

As it turned out, MST3K was beloved by a lot of people. It’s a cult thing, which means that the weirdness of it was so specific, it appeals to a huge number of people. (Fascinating how that works.) The show ran from ’88-’99 on various networks and there was actually a feature film in ’96, which I went to on opening night, naturally. Members of the cast perform a live version of the show from time to time even today and I travelled far into the suburbs a few years ago with a friend to check it out. It was a scene, that’s for sure. But it wasn’t mine.

I’m not a follower. I don’t get dressed up in costumes for movie screenings. I participated in a pub crawl exactly once in my life (never again.) The cult of MST3K ain’t for me: there will be no Tom Servo** tattoos. But you don’t have to be a part of the extended scene of something to love it. Last night while I was sewing, I watched one of my favorite episodes — Mitchell — on a well-worn DVD and I was so happy. I was sewing and chuckling and marveling that anyone ever believed enough in that bizarre and wonderful show to give it a budget and produce it.

I’m so glad they did. What a bunch of freaks.

**I once got a hold of a hot glue gun and attacked an old typewriter. Gluing plastic gemstones and fake flowers to an old typewriter is the kind of project one must do in the wee hours.

**One of the robots.

Can You Panhandle It?

NOT COOL, FLORIDA.
In Florida. Photo: Wikipedia

America is big and wide and I’ve seen a fair amount of it.

Before I gigged around as a quilter, I gigged around as a theater performer, and before that, I gigged around as a poet, if you can believe it. I’ve couch surfed in Massachusetts, I’ve lugged a duffel bag through California, I’ve been on stages in Maine and in all the major Texan cities (I think.) When you add in drive-throughs and personal, non-work travel experiences, it appears I’ve gotten on and off airplanes or in and out of cars in all the continental United States except Montana, Delaware, and West Virginnny. Oh, and Rhode Island. Always piping up to be counted, little Rhode Island.

SIDENOTE 1: May I remind readers residing in these last four (attractive, well-governed) states that I am available for booking and can be contacted via the booking form on this website? Wouldn’t it be fun to check these states off the list together? As for the Alaskans and the Hawaiians… Surely there is an over-achiever among you who would like to inaugurate me into the All Fifty States Traveler’s Club. You get me to where you are and you will be richly rewarded, bonus prizes for everyone if we can find a way to book Juno and Honolulu back to back. Think of the PaperGirl posts!

I write to you now from deep in the Florida Panhandle.

For the next couple days I’ll be working here, meeting and greeting and communing with quilters. The location itself is remote to be sure: the Pensacola airport is an hour away from the town where all this is taking place, and I was informed the dirt roads in the area were only recently paved with gravel. The simplicity of the area belies the commerce taking place within it, though; there’s a whole lot of sewin’ going on down here, and I’m looking forward to the action.

SIDENOTE 2: I am compelled to admit that until (very) recently, I never knew that the Florida Panhandle was named for the shape of the region. I knew it was geographical, the term, but I didn’t realize people were being so adorable about it. The stick part of the shape of the state of Florida looks like the handle on a pan! Could you die? No, you’re saying, I don’t want to die in or because of the Florida Panhandle. And you’re also saying, “You didn’t know that? But everyone knows that.” But that’s not true. There’s a lot everyone doesn’t know about the Florida Panhandle and a lot of other things. 

II also hope to see an alligator from far away. I also hope to eat fried chicken. I am 80% confident at least one of these things will happen on this, my current American adventure.

I Am A Cheetah

posted in: Family, Luv 6
Lee Meriwether, everyone. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

Let’s out with it: Yuri is younger than I am. Notably younger.

Notably, but maybe not noticeably. I moisturize, I don’t smoke, I hardly drink. I do my best to keep trim. But there’s nothing like dating a younger man to make you moisturize more, continue to not smoke, and pass up the pork belly appetizer and the second glass of wine you would definitely have ordered if you were dating a man who was, say, fifty-six. As opposed to a man (ahem) thirty years that man’s junior.

Do you see what I’m saying? Yuri’s in his twenties. Yes he is.

In the grand tradition of comparing women to cats, I have learned that there is a feline name for me. As a woman in my 30’s dating a man in his 20’s, apparently I am a “cheetah.”

I can’t be a cougar, you see, because cougars are women in their 40’s who date men in their 20’s, and cheetahs are younger than cougars? Anyhow, I’m not a Courtney Cox-starring sitcom pitch yet, but I am dating down, age-wise, so I must be given a moniker. How else could I be effectively marketed to? I’m sorry, my cynicism’s showing. I should stop. Wouldn’t want any fine lines forming when I furrow my brow in that cynical way I do when I think about Proctor & Gamble/Lancome/Big Pharma.

In the years since my divorce, I have done some dating. I have met wonderful, kind, interesting, intelligent men. They are out there. I met a few I didn’t click with, sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re frogs*; we just lived our lives differently and it wasn’t practical to pursue a relationship. Every one of these gentlemen were older than me, sometimes by a notable (there’s that word again) margin. I thought that’s what worked for me and what a gal generally wants: a fellow older than herself. I’m not sure why, but I think for many of us it has to do with security. It’s deep-seated. It’s not easy to explain, but the converse proves the rule: I would never have considered dating a person younger than myself if you had asked. Are you crazy? Younger men are immature! They’re still figuring out everything! They drink non-micro-brewed domestic beer. Ew!

But then…

Enter Yuri, The Younger Man. Exit Hamlet’s Ghost.

There is so much that’s wonderful about dating someone in their twenties, someone who is currently climbing various ladders. Older men have climbed. They’re in the business now of maintaining their perch. But I’m a hustler, so I love the guy scaling the cliff wall. The ambition, the drive of Yuri, this excites me because I recognize it. Every day of my life — and this was true before my illness but has been much stronger since — I am aware that I have a woefully limited time on the planet. I must work hard, must play hard, must go hard as I possibly can because this is a war with death. I can’t wait, can’t stop. And Yuri’s right there. His energy to go matches my energy to go. So we go, then check back at the end of a bone-wearying day, knowing we did wring every last drop of marrow. And we sure do have fun doing it.

There are other benefits. I will spare you any crowing about his physique, though you must pardon me while I fan myself with this here fancy fan on this here fainting couch.

:: fans self, faints ::

Do I fear the semi-significant age gap? From time to time. There have already been a handful of moments when a twenty-something chick plopped down on a barstool near us and I thought, “Ah, she graduated when he did,” or something equally self-defeating. I’ll take a deep breath and have to consciously remember that I have earned every single day of my life and am rather proud of the sum, thank you. In a way, these moments are good. I’m reminded that, as cute as that girl may be, I do not want to trade places with her. At all. I’m stoked that I’m a) still alive and b) wearing cuter shoes. The second isn’t so petty: when you work really hard for many years and can buy the shoes that make your heart sing, this transcends catty Girl Zone stuff and becomes more about loving oneself and setting an example. When I was in my mid-twenties, I totally wanted to be able to afford better shoes. Now I can, and that came from working hard. No shame in this, no competition. Just achievement, and all girls can claim it if they like.

I miss you, Yuri. I hope it’s okay I told everyone you’re younger than me.

 

*Men get amphibians, women get cats. I don’t make the rules, but I am happy with the arrangement.

Lobster? You Brought ‘Er!

posted in: Food, Tips 1
Me, too! Image: Wikipedia.
Me, too! Image: Wikipedia.

 

I have just made a lobster bisque.

Here’s what’s happening: Yuri and I have been apart since…too long. He’s in New York. I’ve been crisscrossing the Midwest, flinging fabric around, leaving thread and gum wrappers everywhere. Unable to stand being separated a moment longer, we’ve hatched a logistically-challenged plan to spend about 36 hours with each other in Chicago before Monday comes around and spoils everything. I left Iowa this morning before the sunrise and arrived in Chicago just after it; he’ll begin his trek from the east coast within a few hours. I cannot wait till he gets here. I’m slightly freaking out.

“Yuri,” I texted him, “I’d like to make you something marvelous to eat. It’ll be all ready when you get here. What would you like, darling? Pick anything your heart desires — absolutely anything!”

I watched the little talk-bubble ellipsis shimmer on my iPhone. Then the text popped up:

“Can you make lobster bisque?”

Yikes!

“Absolutely,” I texted back, because though I’ve never made lobster bisque, it’s just soup, right?

Cooking is fun because it’s the closest I get to doing — and enjoying — science experiments. You take a beaker of this, a cup of that, you boil this, you mix that, and blam! stuff changes color, there’s oxidation, titration, solids, and who knows what else, but you can eat everything and people go, “Wow!” and there are no grades.

Here’s what I have very recently learned about making lobster bisque:

  • It’s expensive. I purchased four lobster tails (roughly 4oz. each) from the fishmonger at Whole Foods, and that came to a little over $35. Then I had to fetch the cream and the stock and so forth. Not cheap — and those little lobster butts don’t yield much. This some fancy soup. 
  • It’s time-consuming. I recommend catching up on emails between steps. You’ll get a lot done. 
  • It’s sorta gross. Have you made lobster bisque? If not, let me tell you a little secret: you puree the shells. The shells are cooked with the soup, y’all, at least in the recipe I used. Lobster bisque is basically a way to drink essence o’ lobster and that means you need to puree, pummel, extract, soak, simmer, reduce, and otherwise distill every morsel of that thing to git all you can git. When I was reading through the process I had to read twice that you use a food processor to puree the dang shells and then return them to the pot. You don’t eat the shells — that orangey muck is pushed through a sieve later — but you’re kind of eating the shells because, well…Cuisinart. 

As I was going briskly about my bisque business, I thought about Maine, where “lobstahs” are to Maine folk as deep dish pizza is to Chicagoans: plentiful and fiercely protected.

In the summer of 2007 and 2009, I stayed a month on Maine’s picturesque Little Cranberry Island (known to the locals as “Little Cran”.) My artistic mentor and friend Sonja, along with her husband Bill, founded The Islesford Theater Project (ITP) on Little Cran and they asked me to be involved. Making theater with those people in the summer was a true gift and we made a lot of people happy, I think; whenever the ITP has a show, people from all over the Cranberry Isles get in their boats and skim across the water to come see.

And when you’re in the cast, you get to stay in Sonja and Bill’s house and eat Sonja’s home cooking every night. This is a very, very good thing. Blueberry crisps, tacos, Indian food — that woman can and does cook everything. Well, Sonja can get fresh lobstahs straight from the lobstahmen working about 500 yards from her back porch. She made lobstah mac n’ cheese once, which was transcendental. Once, everyone at the table got a fresh lobstah on a plate. Bam, lobstah on a plate. Dinner was served. There was a dish of melted butter for each of us, shell-crackin’ implements, and a whole lotta napkins. The flavor was incredible, but if I’m honest, I must confess: Whole lobsters kind of gross me out. The whole “sea bug” thing does not inspire hunger in me. And after making this soup, I’m not that excited to eat it. I’m excited for other things.

Just hurry, Yuri.

There Will Be Mud: A True Life Kid Story

posted in: Family, Story 9
Awwww, yeah.
Awwww, yeah.

One day on Meadowlark Farm, my sister Nan and decided to get out into the timber for awhile. It was late enough into spring that stuff was thawing. There was a lot of mud out in the field between our farmhouse and the timber, and this was annoying. We were slightly feral, but we were also girls. Getting dirty was never the aim of our adventures; our adventures were the aim.

We put on our lighter snowsuit-overall-things, at Mom’s request. It was still cold and these would keep us warm, keep some mud off our clothes, and protect our little bodies from the burrs and pokey sticks out in the forest. We grudgingly put them on, followed by our galoshes. And we set out.

I’m sure we had fun, but I don’t remember what we did. I only remember that when we came back through the mud field to go home for lunch or dinner, something terrible happened.

Hannah (Nan) fell into a mud pit.

I’m telling you, that girl sank into a mud pit of Neverending Story proportions. She went down and she went deep, at least to her waist. Since we were small, the mud pit couldn’t have been that deep, but for a ten-year-old, a waist-high mud pit is a helluva mud pit.

“MARY!!!!” she screamed. I was 20 paces or so ahead of her when this happened. “MARY!!! HELP ME!!!”

I whirled around to see half my sister, flailing around in the mud. It’s so interesting to me to think what I must’ve said. I know what I’d say today, but at that age, I didn’t know those sorts of words.

“MARY!!!!” my sister kept screaming. “MARY! GET OVER HERE! HELP ME!!” and assessing the situation, I determined she really did need help. Her boots were totally, completely stuck and was she sinking further into the mud? Yeah, she was. Yikes.

I decided that this was definitely an emergency situation, but that I was definitely not going to help her myself. It wasn’t logical! I was smaller than she was! What was I gonna do? Pull my older sister out of a sucking mud pit with the power of my six-year-old will? I knew that if I gave my sister my hand, sloop! down I’d go into the mud, too, and at the time, I only came up to her waist, so I’d be totally drowned in mud. Hell, no. I wasn’t going down like that. I had cookys to eat.

“I gotta go home,” I said, a little scared at how my decision would land with my big sister.

There was a pause in the flailing. “WHAT??!!!”

“I gotta go home!” I yelled, and my eyes got real big as my sister understood that she was totally screwed. The expression on her face, even from 20 paces away, made it clear that if she was able to survive this mud pit problem, I was in serious trouble. As I ran away, I contemplated hiding places.

“MARY!” I heard her screaming, “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU!”

“I gotta go home!” I yelled again, and what I meant was, “I gotta go home for help,” but this wasn’t being communicated properly, so Hannah just sent daggers shooting out of her eyes into my back and I ran as fast as my little feet could carry me, out of the mud field, onto the gravel road, into the yard, and up onto the porch of the house.

When I told her what had happened, my mother looked out the kitchen window and saw her eldest child flapping around in a pink coat, far, far out in the muddy field.

“Oh, Mary!” she cried, and we went out and retrieved Hannah. She was fine. A little muddy. Furious at me, of course, but my point was made. A smaller person cannot retrieve a bigger person from a sucking mud pit. Mom could help, I could not.

This is crucial decision-making.

 

 

When Wine Goes Bad.

posted in: Art, Food, Rant 7
Very nice, as beverages go.
Very nice, as beverages go.

We all have fanboy moments, geek-outs, obsessions. I sure do.

We identify ourselves vis a vis our preferences and interests. This strikes me as normal and healthy. It starts early, when as kids we swear allegiance to either chocolate or vanilla, and it goes on from there: consider Trekkies, (who get picked on more than is probably necessary) or model train collectors (who wish they’d get picked on more.) There are cupcake fanatics and Twilight fans and many millions of quilt geeks out there, with whom I proudly stand. Even choosing not to be a fan of anything is an identity choice; the antifan, the independent — this is a (paradoxically) popular option. It’s human to seek our bliss, whatever it is, and as long as no one is doing harm, I support bliss-finding of all kinds.

But let us linger on that “doing harm” part.

While I was sewing the other night, I watched a documentary about sommeliers. Somm, made in 2012 by director Jason Wise, followed four American males over the course of a year as they studied and then sat for the Master Sommelier exam.

The Master Sommelier exam is “an almost impossible to pass” test administered once a year by the Court of Master Sommeliers. There are three parts to the test, all more torturous than the next: there’s the theory part, where the subject must be able to do something outrageous, like correctly predict the temperature on a typical day in May in some ancient Mediterranean terroir; there’s the blind tasting, where the quaking, shaking young man or woman must suck down multiple mystery wines and accurately answer what they are and where they’ve come from, down to the vintner and the year; and then there’s the service portion of the test, where these pour (sorry) souls must execute pitch-perfect wine service to people who aren’t real customers, but the members of “the Court” who are actively trying to make them fail.

The exam is an exercise in absurdity. Only 135 people in 36 years have passed this course.

The four guys followed in the film were open and honest about how studying for the test had all but ruined their respective relationships — and their girlfriends concurred. The test created tension between the friends, took its toll on their bodies (no sleep, lots of wine, mega-anxiety) and though it wasn’t a major focus of the film, I can only imagine the economic impact of the experience on a Masters-bound somm. Most take off work to study full-time, and to try all these fancy wines one must eventually purchase them, I assume? And the Knights of the Court of the Round Table of Master Sommeliers of Camelot’s Men don’t administer the test for free, naturally: it’s $325 to register, and you have to get to the city where it’s held, find someplace to stay, and you’d better be rocking a killer suit when you show up all shaved, haircutted, two-bitted, etc.

I was more than a little grossed out by all this.

Though it cannot be denied that fine winemaking — “vinification” if you’re nasty — requires skill, craftsmanship, innovation, and a hell of a lot of work, at the end of the day, you’re gonna pee this stuff out. I apologize for being crass, but this is the reality of any beverage. Does good wine taste delicious? Oh, yes. Does it make you want to sing and make art? Totally. If you choose the right bottle on a date, are you going to impress the waiter and up your chances of getting lucky? You just might, Johnny. And these are all good things that you can’t get from ordering a Coke.

I also want to give props to people who know wine. Full disclosure: I dated a sommelier last summer. He has risen through the ranks of the Chicago restaurant scene, he’s extremely skilled in his job and he’s passionate. That’s cool; he’s not the problem.

It was the level of obsession and elitism on display in Somm that made me want to order a Mr. Pibb in pure defiance of a world that creates such monsters. I would’ve ordered a damned Diet Rite if I could’ve, and popped the lid with a flourish reserved for a pricey sauterne. When I watched one of the guys say, in a kind of trance, speaking-in-tongues state over a glass of white, “This wine is bright, this wine is clear, this wine is from the Loire Valley; this wine is medium body, this wine has vanilla notes, this wine…this wine is freshly-cut garden hose,” I stopped stitching at my sewing machine, hollered, “Oh for GOD’S SAKE!” and threw my half-square triangle in the general direction of the screen.

The Master Sommelier Exam prides itself on being exclusive, but they’ve landed backward: these folks have shut mere mortals out so completely, they’ve made us the enviable ones: we can still enjoy glasses of wine; they can’t. We can still get excited about a $30 bottle that we won’t describe much better than “really good” and we can move on after it’s poured to talk about other things that interest us, like…not wine. The tower they’ve built is all ivory, no stone. They can’t love the thing they love anymore because when you love something, you set it free.

(I don’t know how that works, either, but it was a perfect way to end that paragraph.)

Anything that can ripen can blight; everything, if conditions are right/wrong, can go septic. Find your bliss. But prune it.

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