I hung out with my new friend Carla last night at a cafe where everyone was way, way cooler than I will ever be. Carla and I were jamming on quilt world trends and interests. Carla is a proficient quilter and, in my view, has her finger squished squarely on the pulse of the Internet as it relates to quilts, quilters, and quiltmaking in America in 2015. I am not good at keeping up on all this because I am not good at keeping up on voicemail, let alone what hot UK designer is doing with partial seams. I’m not proud of it, but at least I know who to ask.
The conversation turned at one point to my own position in the quilt blogosphere. (I didn’t bring it up, please note!) It was uncomfortable to hear that in Carla’s estimation, I could do a lot better with sharing my quiltmaking process, the projects I have going, the day-to-day life I have as a person who regularly works with fabric and thread.
“It does seem that your projects sort of emerge when they’re done,” Carla said, munching a pear from her salad. “People like to see process. They want to know you better as a designer, I think, as a fellow quilter.”
Thus, a picture of my sewing table. My sewing table is also my table-table. I have no other table in this furnished apartment and it’s a good thing, too: to have a second table just for breakfast, say, I’d have to stack it on top of this one and then where would I put my washer and dryer? What you’re looking at up there is a fresh crop of fabric purchased in Kansas City; materials from the class I taught at the DC Modern Guild a couple weekends ago; my sewing machine; a candle that should not be there; flowers from my friend Jason that are very nearly dead but so beautiful I can’t toss, yet; and under all that, my mat, seam ripper, rotary cutter, a pattern I’m drafting, and previews of art for my upcoming fabric line.*
My design wall is directly behind the table and there are several things happening there, too. If PaperGirl were a vlog and not a blog, I would show you a full tour of my sewing area, but PaperGirl is not a vlog, will never be a vlog, and while we’re on the subject, I will never say “vlog” out loud, nor will I ever write it, ever again. Humans are capable of making good choices, as it turns out, and not allowing “v*og” into the vernacular is proof of this.
In the months to come, I plane to do a bit more curtain-drawing in this manner. There are big projects afoot and I’m champing at the bit to share about them. But don’t be surprised if one of these days “PaperGirl Too” pops up and Pendennis and I take you through how to make the quilt perpetually on my mind.
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.
Because I’m renting my condo furnished this summer, I falsely assumed the task of moving would be less arduous and there would be no need to hire professional movers. I was wrong, and thus have spent the last two days in hell.
Fundamental truth: I am ruthless when it comes to disposing of excess stuff. I claim no bric-a-brac. I keep no old shoe. Being a purger (??) is made easier because I live and die by the words of Arts and Crafts giant William Morris, who proclaimed in 1880:
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
Yes, Willy, Yes!
I am the anti-hoarder. I keep nothing, buy nothing that is not useful/beautiful. If I need a can opener, for example, but can only find lame ones made of plastic, I will wait until I can find a basic metal one and go without canned things. A plastic can opener might be useful but it is not beautiful, so it’s out. A classic, metal can opener is timeless! an objet d’art! I’m 100% serious and I’d like to think my home is harmonious as a result.**
But for heaven’s sake, I’m a person with a home that doubles as an office and a sewing studio. I have so many objects. Harmonious or discordant, this move is gargantuan. Do it all myself? Or even just with Yuri? What planet was I living on? (No! Don’t answer that!)
The Russian and I got boxes, a storage unit, a cargo van. Horrible, all of it. Soul-crushing. I’ve been doing my Midwest-work-ethic best, packing, eliminating, Goodwill-ing, all while still answering emails and attending to work-related tasks! I also remembered to brush my teeth! What race am I running, here?? (No! Shush!!)
As one might imagine, my productivity and emotional fitness ebbed and flowed throughout yesterday and today. This morning, I was actually in a fetal position for a spell, curled up near my desk in a sea of paper, wailing at Yuri, who was in the other room:
“Help me! HELP! ME! I’m doing the work of ten men! TEN MEN, DO YOU HEAR ME! I hate you! I can’t do this! I HATE YOU AND I NEED HELP!”
One of the reasons I love Yuri is because in situations like these he does two things:
1) he lightens the mood by coming into the room with a grin, saying something like, “Aw, who’s on the struggle bus? Who’s lookin’ so fine, ridin’ that struggle bus?” and of course this makes me bust out laughing, still on the floor
2) he helps
But the hard part about moving is never the logistics.
The logistics suck all right. But the core of it, the real trouble in River City is that you’re kicking up deadly serious dust. The longer you live in a place, the deeper and more emotional that dust becomes; if you have a strong emotional connection to a place (like I have to this place) it’s a double whammy. In the past 48 hours, I’ve hit upon a lot of life — more than I really cared to hit right now, honestly. Books, pictures, fabric, dresses, quilts — what we own owns us. And when we move we’re at the mercy of it all, we’re possessed by those possessions, even when we think we don’t hang onto much.
I hang onto absolutely everything. I just store it differently.
I store it here.
**All this editing may be due in part to my peripatetic lifestyle. If I’m not harmonious, I’m sunk. I heard once that “every item or object in your home is a thought in your head,” which is to say that belongings take up valuable real estate in one’s brain. A cleaner home equals a clearer head; I need every advantage I can get.
Have I said, explicitly, what’s happening? Does anyone know what’s going on? Am I just dashing off posts with no regard for my readers, kind, hard-working people who can’t possibly follow where I am in the world at any given time, why I’m there, or when it all might shore up? Would it be wise to debrief you and, in debriefing, might I find much needed answers for myself?
Is it ever good to lead off with a list of questions like that?
I am moving to New York City.
I own a home in Chicago that is dear to me. Thus, I do not see this move to New York City as being permanent or even long-term, if you’re using my entire (hopefully long) life as the measure. But as you can’t be a little bit pregnant, you can’t slightly have three people that are not you move into your home or kinda move operations halfway across America into an apartment on St. Mark’s that you’re a little bit renting. As I write this, in view are boxes of belongings that will go into storage, go to Goodwill, or come with me to New York. There is no halfway, here, no semi-move, even if I see New York as a kind of interstitial thing. I am faced with a choice and I have chosen to relocate, at least for the next year. And why?
“Why not?” is an acceptable answer, as ever, but there’s more. Look:
1) Why not?
2) Yuri and I fell in love. Four months later, he got his dream job and moved to New York. Not being together is not an option. I’m mobile, he’s not. Look at it this way.
3) The safe choice (try long-distance, stay here, risk nothing) is rarely the most interesting one.
4) New York City, though it’s cool to hate it these days, is still New York $&@#! City and I wanna see.
Yuri came to Chicago day before yesterday to help me and he is helping, though he can’t pack up my fabric stash, exactly. Mostly, it’s moral support I’m getting — moral support and bear hugs so good I’m moving to $&@#! New York City.
We were at the big table yesterday, drinking miso soup from styrofoam cups, eating takeout sushi. There is no time to cook, no sense in making more work with pans or bowls or spoons. There’s so much to do here and so little time before work deadlines crush us both. It’s all happening at the same time. It always does.
“It is insane,” I said. “People will think I’m insane. I can hear it. ‘But she just lived through a renovation! She just did her kitchen and bathroom! That’s crazy!'”
Yuri opened his eyes wide. “Do you really think people will think that?”
I shrugged. “Probably some people will. But I’m not going to say no to love because I like my backsplash.”
And then my eyes opened wider because what had popped out of my mouth was the truth, and the truth gave me the ability to keep packing.
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.”
“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.
I found myself on a Chicago el train tonight, but I wasn’t supposed to be there. If my itinerary had gone as planned, I would be in Iowa.
After my gig in Cleveland, I planned to go straight through Chicago to Des Moines, no pitstop at home. (I’ll be in Des Moines for the next two weeks, filming Love of Quilting for PBS.) But when our flight was delayed (and delayed and delayed) out of Cleveland and most everyone missed their connections, I had an idea. I deplaned, slipping through the crowd of grumpy travelers to seek out a free Southwest ticket agent further down the terminal. I spied a friendly-looking blonde lady at gate A9 and went for it.
ME: (Exceedingly chipper, non-threatening:) Hello! How are you!
SOUTHWEST TICKET LADY: Hi there. How can I help you?
ME: Well! It’s cra-ray-zay! I was on Flight 313 from Cleveland and, you know, all that rain… Well, I have not missed my connection to Des Moines. I can absolutely make it. But the truth is, ma’am, is that I live in Chicago? And my home is here? And is there any way that I could, you know, go home to my condo tonight? Could I fly to Iowa tomorrow, instead? I don’t know if this is possible, but wow, would it ever be great to, you know… Could… My bed, and my…my bed.
SOUTHWEST TICKET LADY: Let’s see what we can do. (Clacks on computer. Pauses.) We can do that. No problem. I can put you on a flight tomorrow. Morning or evening?
I nearly hugged her.
My luggage went onto Des Moines, but I didn’t care. It would be safe in the baggage room overnight, and who needs mascara, anyway?* I got a boarding pass for tomorrow and waltzed out of the airport. I was going home! I wasn’t pulling any heavy luggage! The words “footloose and fancy free” came instantly to mind. I did a little two-step on the moving walkway. I had visions of a glass of red wine, a book, and my glorious, glorious bed, which would be waiting for me with fresh sheets because I had thought to change the linen before I left town.
I made my way to the train platform. Orange Line to the Loop. Right before the train left the station, a couple came in and sat in the two seats directly in front of me. They were early thirty-somethings; white, preppy and well-groomed but not so wildly attractive that I thought I was looking at prom king and queen. There was actually a touch of nerdiness about them, but they were both dressed like they worked in PR or at Deloitte and Touche, whatever that is. It was abundantly clear that the guy had just arrived and the young lady had come to the airport to meet him.
Let me tell you that they were excited to be together. Very excited.
The pair were talking rapidly and kissing each other in between sentences, then in between words. When they first started this canoodling, I was filled with happiness: lovers reunited is a beautiful thing to witness. This feeling was followed hot on the heels by a terrible pain, however; Yuri is in New York and I am not and I wanted nothing more in the universe than to kiss my lover between sentences, too. (And everywhere else while I’m at it — hey-o!)
My self-pity didn’t last long, because the canoodling couple started to annoy me. They were talking a little bit too loud about the guy’s trip, for one thing. And these kisses were sort of anemic; his lips were squished into a droopy grape shape that he kept smushing into her cheek. And she’d be halfway through a syllable and stop to pucker up. It was like this:
GUY: Yeah, he’s doing great.
GIRL: Did your mom saying anything about the oven mitt?
GUY: She loved it. Oh, Ronnie’s going to be in Chicago next month.
GIRL: Oh (Kiss) that’s (Kiss) awesome.
I pulled out my magazine and slumped down in my seat; I tried to get into an Atlantic article about helicopter parenting and fight the urge to wield, in this perfect of circumstances for it, one of the finest expressions in the English language: Get a room!!
But then came the food. And I was too grossed out to do anything but cover my mouth and look out the window.
The kissing and cooing sounds were joined by the sounds of a food wrapper being opened. Cellophane or paper was being pulled down what I perceived to be a burrito. Now, between syllables and kisses, there was…chewing. Mastication. Food. She would take a little nibble of this burrito and then, mouth full, would peck him on the lips. Then he would talk a little more, bend his head over to take a bite, and then talk more, and then smush his grape lips onto her neck. I was horrified. I could not get the vision of refried beans and saliva and bed sheets out of my head. It was a physical reaction; I felt ill. When you’re on a train, the people sitting in front of you are right there. I was almost directly implicated. It was almost that kind of party.
This went on. We were close enough to my stop that I didn’t get up and move. I also realized immediately that this was PaperGirl material, so I hung on. I stole two glances: the first, to try and catch the guy’s eye to give him a cold, hard, “EW” look; that failed. The second time I looked up from my recoiled pose was to confirm that these two people were actually making out while eating a burrito. I’m glad I took that second look because guess what?
It was a Rice Krispie treat!
I brightened considerably. Well! A Rice Krispie treat! That’s sorta cute! I kinda like these two, I thought, and I no longer felt like I could barf. Rice Krispie treats are sorta like kisses themselves: sweet, kinda sticky, well-intentioned. It was amazing to me how different I felt about the situation I was in when the food changed from a stinky, cheesy burrito to an innocuous rice-and-marshmallow snack.
See that Scalamandre red wallpaper with the zebras?? Yeah, I see it too! Every day! In my bathroom!
Looks like I was a touch ahead of the crowd on the Scalamandre zebra wallpaper, friends. Neiman Marcus has licensed the print. Now, a person can get pillows and dishes with the motif and be black, white, and red all over. Just like me! The wallpaper was the highest-ticket item I purchased in my renovation, relatively speaking, and I love every crimson inch of it. Those zebras move, sistuh.
I’ve taken lots of pictures of both my bathroom and my kitchen with the intention of sharing them, but when I get to the “insert photo” moment here on the PG, I balk. I get letters from guys in prison, you know. That gives a girl pause when she’s about to post photos of her bathroom mirror, especially because she’s fully aware 99% of all nutcases and stalkers are not currently behind bars.
Plus, as stunning as my Scalamandre bathroom is and as drop-dead gorgeous as the navy blue subway tile and floating shelves are in my kitchen (it all turned out perfectly, almost gross in its awesomeness to me) isn’t it better to imagine these things than be even slightly let down when you see (for example) a bag of Stay-Puft Jumbo Marshmallows on my counter instead of leftover osso buco? What if you think I have a huge, ginormous house? I like that! Keep thinking that! When you see my galley kitchen, you may have to go find another fantasy and no one has time for these things.
You see, I cannot possibly post the pictures of my home on this blog.
I have so enjoyed sewing at The Yarn Company over the past few weeks. I’ve nearly completed my latest quilt for Quilty, a string quilt I’m calling “Majesty,” due to all the royal purple fabrics. A string quilt, if you don’t know, is a quilt made by sewing long strips (“strings”) of fabric to paper foundations. You sew, trim, and then tear the paper off the back of the units you’ve sewn. You sew the units together to make blocks, and from the blocks, you make the quilt top, and so on.
There is a myth that quilters are patient. It’s the opposite. We are extremely impatient. We must forever be doing something with our hands. We finish a quilt and immediately start the next one (many of us, including me, begin our next project before we finish what we’ve got going.) We look for efficiencies everywhere. We strategize. There is no meandering, no lackadaisical approach. We make patchwork and quilt quilts to calm ourselves down, not because we are some breed of serene creature with nothing better to do than sit around and (slowly) make “blankets.”*
I’ve calmed myself down in the middle of Manhattan by working on “Majesty” at my sewing machine. If I could’ve spent hours and hours more doing so, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten sick. (A more optimistic way to frame it: I might’ve been sicker had I not enjoyed many hours of sewing.) The whirr of my Babylock, the snic! of my scissors cutting thread; these are the sounds of patchwork science that have soothed my cerebrum when it’s been burnt crispy by the sirens and the subway. There are dishes to do, always, and dinner and cookies to make for myself and Yuri. There are phone calls and emails and fires — all of it important, none of it more important than anyone else’s phone calls, emails, and fires. All of this is laid down when you sew. You really can’t do much else when your foot is on that pedal.
My mom likes to say this:
“When I was a young mother, working on my first book, it seemed crazy to make quilts in my ‘spare time.’ But I loved making patchwork and quilts because they stayed done. The dishes didn’t stay done, the laundry didn’t stay done. There was always more homework, there were more bills… But a quilt block stayed done. You could say, ‘I made this’ and enjoy it forever.”
Chicago will see very little of me; the remainder of March is all we have together. I go to Cleveland, Iowa, Florida, Lincoln, and somewhere else before coming back to NYC in early May. Nothing stays done. Plane tickets don’t get framed. Suitcases don’t stay packed or unpacked. Kisses are like matches. Sandwiches are consumed. But “Majesty,” when it’s done, will stay done. And someone will cover up under it one day and see the Quilt Charm on the back. It will read, “Made by Mary Fons, NYC, 2014. Done.”
*Don’t call them “blankets.” Your CB2 knit throw is a blanket. We make quilts.
Incidentally, that Thiebaud painting lives in Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum. I saw it with my own two eyes, which, incidentally, are usually bigger than my stomach but never as large as my mouth.
My trip to California over the weekend wasn’t for business. I went and spent time with Leesa, my favorite aunt. She was my favorite aunt before the weekend; now I feel like we should fill out some kind of embossed certificate to announce it. Thanks, Auntie.
It had been a number years since Leesa and I had spent time together. The last time I saw her was when her father died in 2009. That was a suboptimal visit, as you can imagine. Everyone was sad about grandpa being dead and busy with funeral and burial stuff. “Sad and busy” is a dreadful state, and it inevitably comes upon you when someone you love dies. Me and my aunt wanted to reconnect without trying to work around a wedding or a funeral, so I flew out to California to see her, her adorable dog, Otto Lieberman, and the beautiful rosemary bushes that line the patio of her well-appointed California home.
We talked a lot. We drank a lot of coffee. We went to the Crocker Museum to have lunch and see art. We attended a black-tie dinner party. We talked more. We made another pot of coffee. It rained all weekend, so the main component of the visit was conversation. Lucky for me and my aunt, we’re good at conversation and share many (all?) of the same values and interests. And since 75% of my family members are also her family members, there was plenty to discuss in that area. The Fons side of the family was broken up into chunks early on in my life and it’s been a Humpty Dumpty ride ever since. This is true for me; I suspect it feels the same for other Fonses I know aside from my aunt, but I won’t speak for them.
Over the course of our visit, I got some information about my father. I haven’t seen him since Grandpa’s funeral either, but Leesa (his youngest sister) stays in contact. I am wary when I’m about to get information about him and hardly eager to ask for it; the presence of my father in any sort of reportage rarely bodes well. His issues are many. Despite my numerous attempts to make even a surfacey relationship work over the years, we have long been estranged.
I looked up “estranged” in the dictionary. I thought it meant “not in contact.” It’s a bit sadder than that:
estranged |iˈstrānjd| adjective (of a person) no longer close or affectionate to someone; alienated: John felt more estranged from his daughter than ever | her estranged father.
My aunt told me something by accident that made me at once very sad and very happy, which is an emotional combination more common than being sad and busy, but not any more comfortable. We were talking about pies, Leesa and I, our favorites and methods for making them. We were at the kitchen table.
“You know, we Fonses have a real sweet tooth,” she said, coffee mug in hand. It rained so hard that day, leaves and mud fell out of the gutters onto the sidewalks.
“Really? Like, all of us?” I asked, instantly brightening.
My love of sugar causes me much anxiety. I’m usually worried I eat way, way too much of it, but when I try to eliminate it from my diet (or even cut down on it) I see no point in being alive. That I was somehow not responsible for it, that my sweet tooth was a genetic sentence, that my love of pecan pie and pistachio ice cream actually served to count me among my tribe, well, this made me feel fantastic and warm inside. I instantly thought about eating another one of Leesa’s gourmet marshmallows from the pantry.
“We’re definitely sweets people,” Leesa said. “Your dad, he’ll eat dessert for breakfast. Always would, always loved to. Pie, cheesecake. That’s not for me, but that’s what he would eat for breakfast every day if he had the option. Isn’t that funny?”
I swallowed too much hot coffee. It burned the back of my throat but couldn’t melt the insty-lump that had formed there when Leesa said the words, “Your dad” and “dessert for breakfast.”
I love eating dessert for breakfast. It’s my favorite thing in the world. If there’s cheesecake in the house, I will eat a slice for breakfast and genuinely take no interest in it the rest of the day. In my world, apple pie and coffee are perfect 7:00am foods. Just today, a hazelnut Ritter Sport chocolate bar and a pot of Earl Grey tea constituted my breakfast and you betcher bippy I was at my olympic best all day.
I didn’t know I shared this trait with my father. I didn’t pick up my love for coconut creme pie with my morning coffee by seeing him eat coconut creme pie with his morning coffee. I couldn’t have; I’ve been seated at a breakfast table with the man no more than a handful of times since the divorce. To be thirty-something and discover things about your father, (e.g., he likes cheesecake for breakfast just like you) this information would be bittersweet if he were dead. But as my father is alive, these sorts of discoveries are bittersweet as well as bizarre. We could technically have cheesecake for breakfast together in the near future, my dad and I.
Technically, we could. But emotionally, we can’t. Philosophically, we can’t. Historically, we simply can’t.
I made a pie tonight for Yuri. Buttermilk-brown sugar. Seeing as how it’s delicious and wrapped in foil on the little table where we eat, breakfast is served.
Most people assume I have been making quilts since I was small. My mother, Marianne Fons, is a famous quilter, so it makes sense that she would’ve taught me how to sew from an early age. If I had shown more interest, she most certainly would have. We made a few doll quilts and a few quilts for friends of mine, but my creative pursuits took me to writing stories, putting on plays, singing…and creating and editing a magazine for my junior high school called TRUTH, the name of which I got from a film strip we watched about Russian communist propaganda newspaper, PRAVDA (translation: “truth”). I hired my best friends as columnists and we put out six issues with zero ad support. True story. Have I mentioned I didn’t have a boyfriend till my senior year of high school?
I started making quilts about six years ago. In my lectures to quilters, I talk about the reasons why:
I realized I didn’t have to make quilts that looked like what I saw in contemporary magazines or books; my quilts could look like ME, with solid black fabric, and teeny-tiny prints, and washed out shirting prints, and zero rick-rack
it was no longer uncool to be like my mom — in fact, it struck me as the coolest thing ever to be a part of my family’s place in the world
I got really, really sick and I needed non-medicinal healing (hello, patchwork)
the timing was right, age-wise. I was in my late twenties and ready to sit down for five seconds
And so I became a quilter and making quilts has brought me untold joy ever since. I’m not sure how many quilts I’ve made; it’s dozens, and they’re all kinda huge. Mom has always told me to make quilts that cover people, since that’s what quilts are for. The Fons women don’t do table toppers, though we support anyone who does. We support quilters, period.
A sewing machine with my name on it arrived in New York City yesterday. The fine folks at BabyLock are loaning me an Ellisimo while I’m here, and I carried that huge, glorious box 2.5 blocks and up 2.5 flights of Manhattan walk-up stairs with huge smile on my face. Anywhere I hang my hat for more than about four minutes simply ain’t a home unless I’ve got a sewing machine nearby. Making patchwork and making quilts isn’t just something I do: it’s something I am. The craft, the gesture, the sense-memory of the process is in my DNA, now. I quilt, therefore I am a whole person.
I have absolutely no idea where I’m going to put this thing. Seriously.
My junior year of college, I went into a newly opened cafe in Iowa City with my boyfriend Wes. The Motley Cow was the sort of place I did not feel cool enough for: it was tiny, there were interesting objects everywhere (e.g., glass seltzer bottles), and there were words like broccoli rabe on the menu. I spied a pasta dish on the paper menu that contained…truffles? In my world, truffles were chocolate. We went in because Wes wanted to ask for a job. They didn’t hire Wes, but they did hire me. I’m still not sure how it happened; I truly do not remember asking for work. Besides, I was horribly intimidated by the whole operation. In conversation with Wes and the owner that day, I must’ve mentioned that I had waited tables all through high school. Within a week I was on the schedule as a waitress at the cafe. From there, out of curiosity and a deep desire to help that beautiful place succeed, I got into the kitchen. The Cow became my contemporaneous college. It changed me as much as normal-college did, probably more.
We ate five things in my house growing up: pizza, chicken tetrazzini, mostaccioli, lasagna, and chili. In a single-parent household where that parent is on the road much of the time — trying to make enough money for any sort of food — there is no food worship. There’s no interest, money, or time for it. And this was twenty years ago in small-town Iowa, mind you; that I even knew what a chocolate truffle was is saying something. I don’t mean that we were a bunch of rubes; I mean that it was a different time and that time did not include sauteed shallots or aged balsamic.
When I started inching into the kitchen at the Cow, I started from nothing. I didn’t know about the soup-starter triumvirate (carrot, celery, onion); I didn’t know hummus was made of chickpeas, nor did I know what a chickpea was; pan-searing and braising were revelations; I remember the day I learned what a roux was and I made one; I remember the day David needed me to make a soup and he said, “I need you to make a soup,” and I did: I made a delicious French onion and we served it. I made the soup! I fell in love with making simple, gorgeous, nourishing food and I owe it to the Cow and the people who were patient with a willing kitchen student who didn’t know anything at all.
In New York City, you walk out your door and before your very eyes is some of the best food in the world. (I actually think Chicago beats NYC for Best Restaurant City in America, but that’s another post.) But would you know that I’ve been cooking since we got here? I haven’t had a working kitchen in so long, it feels like the sweet breath of life to be standing at a stove again. The setup here is laughable: there is no countertop. No counter at all, just a sink and a tiny, tiny stove. But it’s a gas range, the oven works, I’ve fashioned a counter by putting a board across the sink, and I can use the small dining table if I really need more room. I’ve made lasagna, chicken-quinoa-vegetable chowder, penne caprese, maple cookies, chocolate chip cookies, Irish soda bread, rolled oatmeal with cream and almonds, and beautiful asparagus and salads.
Feeding myself and Yuri in this way feels like watering a plant and that plant is love and that love is five-star.
Every morning, I rise before the sun, make a pot of Earl Grey tea (milk and honey, please) and I write in my journal. I fill page after page with narrative just like this, except in the journal I gleefully put down every last nefarious, disgusting, turgid, and/or bodice-ripping detail. When I die, these books may be worth something, not because I’ll be Very Important but because there will always an interest in the market for steamy non-fiction, especially if that steamy non-fiction comes from a gal who enjoys making quilts.
These journals — there are thousands of pages by now — keep my brain in order and help me quash a deep fear: when I die, I will be dead and my life will be lost to the sands of time. I’m a realist, come on. Unless you’re a giant, a Mark Twain or a Queen Elisabeth, the average human gets maybe a couple generations of people who actually care that much that you’re not around. After they’re gone, you’re just someone in a photograph who “died a long time ago,” no different than all the zillions of people who existed before you showed up and then also died. Bleak? Oh, heavens yes.
I suggest keeping a journal.
Last night, I went out. Big and bold, dahhling. I wore very high heels with a very short dress and I had very big hair and a very small handbag. (These contradictions, they are fascinating — and smokin’ hot!) There was lip gloss, there was a sexy black jacket. There were multiple taxi trips due to epic venue changes throughout the evening. At the house party in Wicker Park, I did a shot. At Studio Paris, I was invited to join a party that had purchased bottle service and when I told one of the fellows inside the velvet ropes that I felt like dancing on the bar, he was enthusiastic about my plan and helped me up right away. At the dance club/bar in Lincoln Park, I just flirted and smooched on my man and that was maybe the best part. Well, that and the second Grey Goose and tonic. Hit the spot!
I tell you all this because this description, this chronicling of a night is proof that it happened. It happened to me. I did that. I may have a little baby someday and when I do, I will not be dancing on bars — not till the kid is eight or nine, anyway. Chronicling is important for nights in, too, and plane trips, and mornings in Chicago. A record of it all is proof of life and I am a person who demands proof, needs proof. Life is slippery; it’s easy to forget not just details but whole swaths of time, whole people, whole versions of oneself.
Though I frequently read through the journal in which I’m currently writing, the time isn’t right to pull out the entire catalog and start reading from, say, Oct 12-Dec 23rd, 2009. No, that will be saved for my old and wizened days, when my knees are shot from wearing high heels every day and my rheumy eyes drip tears onto the pages before I can even really cry about it all. I look forward to that, actually. (Not the rheumy eyes; the journal reading.) Really, I’m just following the advice given by Gwendolyn in Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest:
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”
Given as I am to hyperbole and dramatics, one could read the above sentence and figure I’m in love with a dress, or an author, or a particular kind of squash. But no, I’m in love with a man. It’s happened, and it’s time to say something.
Admitting that you’ve fallen in love is a bit (I hear) like sharing that you’re pregnant: you don’t want to say anything until you’re absolutely sure and everything looks rosy because, you know, things happen. And people are so excited when someone falls in love or gets pregnant because except in a very few sad cases this is a happy occasion. (Sad cases for falling in love include it occuring when you are married to someone else; sad cases for getting pregnant include when you have a gaggle of children already and someone just lost a job. These sorts of things.)
It’s going on five months, now, spending time with this fellow. I reckon that’s about how long it takes to go gaga and see a relationship of consequence grow and inspire. Think about it: one month is just enough time to understand the other person’s job. Two months is great fun but come on. Three months and you’re like, “Hm, now wait a second,” four months is like, “Holy crap, I like you so much and we’re sort of dating,” and entering the fifth month is the bare minimum in terms of acceptability for announcing the world that you’ve gone round the bend and there has been embarrassing levels of eyeball-gazing between the two of you.
Is this all too sterile an analysis? It might even sound defensive. Okay, then forget all that. Let me just tell you about this person.
He’s devastatingly good-looking. (I will spare you details of his perfect smile, his sparkly eyes, his abdominal muscles.) He’s gainfully employed. He’s an excellent writer — perhaps the only “dealbreaker” I have, much as I hate that concept — he’s witty, he’s responsible, he’s way too much fun, he’s trilingual, and ladies? Brace yourself: he’s an accomplished piano player. HE PLAYS THE DAMNED PIANO. Very well, I might add. Oh for heaven’s sake! The moment I witnessed that, I was toast. Toast!
I out with it now because at this point, I’m skipping huge swaths of juicy PaperGirl content for the sake of modesty. But the adventures I’m having with this person are too good not to write about. So here we are.
He’s marvelous. I’m over the moon.
And in a mad change of plans, I’ll be leaving the icy slick of Iowa tomorrow morning on a plane to sun-drenched California. He’s visiting his family there and we’ve been apart almost three weeks. We can’t stand it another minute, so I booked a ticket. When I arrive in Santa Ana at 2:30 tomorrow afternoon, it’ll be the smooch heard ’round the world.
Let’s break down the [MOTHER] is to [AUTHOR] as [CHILD] is to [BOOK] analogy:
CHILD: A moment of conception must occur (i.e., orgasm.)
BOOK: A moment of conception must occur (i.e., great idea.)
CHILD: Blastocyst = cluster of cells formed early in mammal development
BOOK: Outline = cluster of ideas formed early in manuscript development
CHILD: The expectant mother may experience extreme tiredness, mood swings, carpal tunnel syndrome, nipple tenderness.
BOOK: Expectant author may also experience all of the above. WELL SHE CAN, OKAY??
CHILD: Needs a name.
BOOK: Needs a name that will sell.
CHILD: Though each woman’s labor varies, nearly all experience degrees of severe pain in labor and delivery.
BOOK: Author labor varies, but nearly all experience degrees of severe pain throughout the editing process and delivery of manuscript.
CHILD: May arrive diseased and malformed through no direct fault of the mother.
BOOK: Totally on you.
Let us leave the analogy, then, and let me tell you about the book coming out this spring from C&T Publishing. This is not the official book blurb, this is just me, PaperGirl, talking to you.
I wrote Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century is my book to delight readers, artists, and quilters. There are patterns for twelve original bed-sized scrap quilts, designed by me. There is instruction that takes you through the quiltmaking process, start to finish. There are tips and advice for creating good patchwork and a good life. There are quotes on love from all kinds of folks from Nietzsche to Montaigne to Marilyn Monroe. There is stunning photography of the quilts (gorgeous style shots as well as front and back flat shots of each), the fabric used, and the Quilt Charms I had engraved and stitched on the back.
The art direction is killer. When I was on a phone meeting with the book team in California, I reached for the sky: I told them to “make this book the most beautiful book you have ever made. Ever.” I promised them I’d do my part — and they held up their end of the bargain, I assure you. The book is more beautiful than I even imagined it would be. I’ve cried several times and I haven’t even seen a bound galley copy, yet.