Marianne Fons.

posted in: Day In The Life 28
The lady herself. Photo: Me, c. 2014?
The lady herself. Photo: Me, c. 2014.


Dear Mom:

By the time you read this, it’ll be tomorrow.

You’ll be home in Iowa with Mark and Scrabble. Your morning ritual will be done. You’ll have had your coffee. You’ll have put in an hour or more of work on your novel. Whether or not your morning ablutions are done, you’ll surely have your mental to-do list going; you’ll have a plan for the day.

By the time you read this, I’ll have done my own morning ritual, except that I drink tea and write nonfiction. That’s a huge difference — tea and nonfiction vs. coffee and fiction —  but is also sort of no difference at all, and I think it’s good for mothers and daughters to ride that line.

We covered both serious and frivolous ground in the 30 or so hours you were here in Chicago. We spoke of work, the future, creativity, family, fashion, sacrifice, choices, romance, time management, death (same as time management), taxes, and more. We talked quilts, of course. We talked about feminism because I’m studying the work of Miriam Schapiro and to talk about Miriam Schapiro is to talk about quilts and feminism.

I have so many questions about how making a quilt for the Bicentennial united so many women from different spots on the frenzied, polarized political spectrum of 1976. You were there, I wasn’t, yet. You were a stay-at-home mom, you took a quilting class, then you built this incredible business while raising up three girls all by yourself. My sisters and I go through life sort of continually shaking our heads in disbelief. Our family has certainly had its share of storms and shrieking eels, but the ship is sound: She tends to right herself.

Thanks for coming to Chicago, Mama. I miss being on TV with you. Judging by the (hundreds of!) people that came to see us today at the convention center, I’m not the only one. We’re a good team. But even if we never film another episode, we’ll always have those shows. We got to sew together and someone taped it! Way cool.

Lastly, thanks for buying me that dress. We went into Nordstrom Rack and my eyes laser-beamed on it immediately. It was smooshed into an overcrowded display, the only one of its kind. My size. On clearance. I knew it was perfect; you were dubious and made me try it on. When I came out of the dressing room, you took one look and threw up your hands and said, “Well, it’s perfect!”

And I felt so happy because I love being a person you like, a person that reliably makes you smile and shake your head because she can find the clearance-rack designer dress that fits perfectly and she can do it in 5 seconds flat.

It’s nice to be loved by my mom. It’s even nicer to know that I delight and amuse her. My sisters do that for you, too, and this makes me deeply, indelibly content. I speak for us all when I say we don’t take this particular contentment for granted.

See you next in Iowa, Mom, for the opening of the theater. Remind me to do an interview update with you and Rebecca this week or next week.


Marianne Fons, One Year More Awesome.

posted in: Family 1
Mom, circa 1969. Photo: Not sure. Mom, do you remember?
Mom, circa 1969. Photo: Not sure. Mom, do you remember?

Happy Birthday to Marianne Fons.

Technically, her birthday was yesterday. Don’t worry: I didn’t forget. I sent her a card that arrived on time and she got an absolutely enormous box of notions as a gift. (Even quilt royalty need fresh rotary cutters, you know.)

But when I saw that my sister Rebecca had a copy of this photo of Mom back in the 60’s and posted it to Facebook, I had to pass it along and carry the birthday over a day.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

You are cool.


I Fell Through The Ice.

posted in: Story 2
I'm interested in the guy in the background who looks like he's about to mow down his livestock with a wood-chopping axe. 1820's illustration courtesy Wikipedia.
I’m interested in the guy in the background who looks like he’s about to mow down his livestock with a wood-chopping axe. 1820’s illustration courtesy Wikipedia.

I’m in Door County and will stay for about a week. There are many fun things to see and do up here. The last time I was at our family’s lake house there was a wedding taking place. There are no weddings going on right now because a) no one is engaged and b) hypothermia is real.

Washington Island is cold this time of year. Right now it’s five degrees outside. The Island has a year-round population of 660, which means 660 people don’t think a winter this cold and snowy is that big of a deal, though I think the number is misleading: there have to be some folks who take off for Daytona Beach for, say, the months of January and February. They’d still count as year-round, probably.

But cold and the ice make beautiful air and beautiful pictures, and that I’m here at all proves I like that air and those pictures a lot. When a bright sun shines off a subzero Lake Michigan and you’re on the puffy couch, with tea, counting swans, you don’t mind that you have to wear two coats later and pull on actual long underwear if you want to go on a walk.

Today, I fell through the ice on the lake and that was not great. When I say I “fell through the ice,” I mean that I fell through the ice. And when I say I fell through the ice, I meant that I took one step, then another step, then fell through the ice. I was not submerged. But I went down and I felt water. I was walking on the table rocks at the shore and, like an idiot, pranced over to look at a plant completely encased in ice that looked like glass and did not picture in my mind what the ground is like when it is not covered in ice, itself: big rocks with lots of spaces between them. In the summer, water is flowing around these rocks. Ergo, in winter, ice around the rocks. Ice that will surely be varying levels of thickness.

I’m okay. No blood, just sputtering. And don’t worry, I wasn’t alone. Claus was with me. When he heard the crash-splash, he ran to make sure I was okay but he didn’t come too far out on the ice. He could see I was going to make it. And I did; I made it back into the house and then I made minestrone and everything was fine.

But, for the record, I fell through the ice!

What, Me Writer?

posted in: Art, Paean, Word Nerd, Work 2
She was okay, I guess.
She was okay, I guess.

My mother is writing a novel. I may have mentioned it.

She’s had her concept for years but in the past eighteen months she’s actually started writing the thing. At the start of the process she was brimming with confidence and wore her task with no sense of burden or doom. As she’s descended further into the pain and agony of writing a book that she very much wishes to be good, she’s decidedly less chirpy. My mother is the first to say that she has a lot to learn about writing; she’s joined several writing workshops, she’s read or is reading lots of books on how to write effective, engaging fiction, and she’s working every day on this project. She’s going at it the right way, now. She’s going at it like she’s going into battle.

When I’m home in Iowa or up at the lake house as I was for the past five days, I am the first to greet my mother each day. This is because she and I wake up about the same time and do the same thing every day, wherever we are: we write. She gets her coffee and her laptop and stabs away at her novel there on the couch; I get my Earl Grey and my current journal and write away in that, sitting in an easy chair (in another room.) We don’t say much at that hour — it’s usually before 6am — because neither of us has gotten up to chat. We’re up to write, good, bad, or ugly. What is true for me is true for my mom, too: that morning writing time is usually the best part of our day. No matter where I find myself in the morning — a Holiday Inn in Omaha, a brownstone in Manhattan, an airplane, etc. — I find my pen and spend time on paper.

Why do it?

Mom and I have different reasons for writing, but whatever compels people to get up before dawn to put thoughts into words is complex, so it’s hard to sort motivational distinctions. Most writers want all the things being a “good writer” confers; the order of the list of stuff might change, but the stuff stays the same. My mom wants to write a novel because she loves to read; because she wants the sense of accomplishment that being a published fiction writer would bring; she wants to show the world she’s good at something other than quilts; she loves and believes in her book concept; because writing it is hard but it is frequently fun; because it’s a challenge. She wants to be interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air, too, and has a few of her replies already prepared for when the time comes.

I write for different reasons and before I say what those are, I must emphasize that Mom’s reasons are not better than mine, nor are mine better than hers. They’re just different reasons. I write because I would lose my mind if I didn’t. That’s not hyperbole; that’s the straight dope. The only way I can make sense of my life, this planet, what I see, what I experience, how I think, what I do, what you do, and what it all might possibly mean, is to write it down. If I don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. That’s figurative (read: “If it’s not written down, it didn’t matter that much”) but it’s also literal: If I don’t write it down, I fear it did not happen. There isn’t always reliable proof of the past. Were we there? Did she say that? Is he really gone? When did we go? What was I wearing? Could we have really felt that way and then felt another way? Life is but a dream: I’d better keep a record or risk waking up and forgetting it completely.

I also write because of something American philosopher John Dewey said that, when I came across it many years ago, stuck to my brain like a wad of gum on a theater seat:

“If you are deeply moved by some experience, write a letter to your grandmother. It will help you to better understand the experience and it will bring great pleasure to your grandmother.”

To make sense of the world, I have to write it down. If it brings pleasure to someone else, well, that’s some pie a la mode, right there. Most of it sucks. I’ll never be Mark Twain. I’ll never even be Erma Bombeck (who was great, in her Bombeckian way.) I’ll just be me, sorting it all out.