I go out on the open road, I long for my bed. I long for the crisp sheets that I washed in the morning and put lovingly on the bed for the moment when I’d sink down into the white. Out there is the lush green of Georgia, the thunderstorms over St. Louis, but once there I long for the sewing machine that is always right where I left it. I love my luggage, but I miss my sink. Even the dumb kitchen sponge.
I come home and I embrace my sponge and my french press with an almost uncomfortable enthusiasm; these are inanimate objects, Fons. I realize that, but god how I missed you, little kitchen sponge, little frenchy-french. Then, watch a week go by and what happens? I wake before sunrise, as always, and pad to the kitchen and lo, the faintest sigh of longing comes as I go about my ritual: fill kettle, turn on burner, rinse french press, put in tea, close tea container, pour cream into pichet, get spoon for honey. Put all on tray. Scratch. Yawn. Think about life. Look at counter. Feel desire to scour it later. Wait for water to boil. Wait for the quotidian to kill me, eventually.
When the tea is ready, I’m so happy to have that morning hit of sweet, creamy Earl Grey, I forget that moments ago, I wished I was out on the road. Out of the house. Out of me, I guess.
I can’t be pleased and it drives me to drink (tea.) Forget the grass being greener; I don’t care about green. I just want the grass to be interesting. And what I can’t figure out is if there’s more to be found by chopping wood and carrying water day in, day out at the homestead or more to be found seeking whatever’s new around every single corner that I meet.
George Harrison said, “The farther one travels/the less one knows.” And there was a Swedish painter I read about years ago who never, ever left his hometown and painted the most wonderful paintings. His thing was, basically, “What on earth is there more beautiful than this? Why would I go anywhere else? I mean… Look.” But come on. Where would we be without the peripatetic, the restless, the road dog? We’d be at home. Booooring.
On Thursday, I go to St. Louis for four days. I’ll be lecturing with Mom, which tonight makes me so happy I could cry. Most of the time I travel alone. With Mother, you see, I get the best of both grassy worlds: I have the familiarity and comfort of my very own mom mixed with the plane and the pavement, the hotel room and the view of The Gateway To the West from whatever hotel room I’m assigned.
Somebody please tell me what the Sam Hill I’m supposed to be and just what I’m supposed to do. I assure you I have no clue. None.
1. Make Yuri dinner. Before I left for Atlanta, I made food for Yuri and packed it lovingly into labeled containers and stacked it all in the freezer. I’m sure he’s gone through it all by now and has moved onto Operation: Chipotle Every Day. (My darling!!)
2. Make Yuri breakfast.
When we first began living in sin, I wowed this man with my oatmeal-making skills. “Do you like oatmeal?” I asked him. He said that he didn’t, exactly, but that he knew how good it was for him, so he could choke it down. Not a ringing endorsement for oatmeal, but then, he had never had my oatmeal. When I served up piping hot organic oats with real cream, slivered almonds, dried blueberries and a scoop of soft brown sugar, well. Yuri likes oatmeal, now.
3. Make Yuri laugh.
4. Do an Aztec Mud Mask.
Yuri has this jar of weird “Aztec” clay powder that you mix with (smelly) vinegar and smear all over your face. It hardens in 15 minutes and when you wash it off, you have skin smooth as a baby’s for at least five minutes.
5. Get a glass of wine with my sister Nan at Bar Veloce.
Bar Veloce only serves wine and beer (and small sandwiches?? I can’t remember.) It’s kinda snobby but also kinda great, and you know all the wine is fresh. It better be, sister, at those prices!
6. See my NYC doctors and make sure they’re talking to my Chicago doctors.
7. Go to a live taping of an Intelligence Squared Debate!!
It’s not happening till November, but I am already wiggling. Google “Intelligence Squared Debates” and read all about it. Then look at the debate for November 13th. Andrew Solomon is of my favorite authors of all time and is possibly one of the smartest people alive and writing today — and he’s a freaking panelist that night. Live IQ2 and Andrew Solomon on the same night? The topic is less important than the event itself. Andrew Solomon could be debating whether quinoa is a seed or a grain and I’d be riveted. I will be in wannabe-intellectual, academiac heaven that night and I can’t wait.
10. Try to get my head around New York City. Because I haven’t, yet. Not really. Confession: Every plane trip I’ve taken since June, if I could avoid it, I’ve tried to not fly through Chicago. It’s too painful. I miss her terribly. I can’t bear to see Midway Airport because Midway Airport is so close to my home, my real home, in the South Loop. I ache for Chicago, I long for her shores. When I go back to New York, I must embrace New York again, go to the monolith differently; open up anew. There’s more than enough there for me, but if I don’t want it, I’ll be tossed nothing but scraps.
Sometimes, I think I must be out of my mind to do what I do for work these days. I’m on camera a lot and I find it painful to be on camera. Why? Because:
– Whatever you’re wearing, however you style your hair, that version of you is out of date by the time the show airs and forever afterward. You’re like the new car that’s just been driven off the lot — and no one likes a depreciating car.
– I’m not sure the camera adds the proverbial 10lbs or not, but there is most certainly a widening that takes place; an unfortunate spread of oneself onscreen. Is it the worst thing to look a bit more zaftig than you are in person? No. Does it feel unfair when you’ve been working hard to keep fit precisely because you know you’ll be on camera in the near future? Yeah, it does. [Note to self: First time using ‘zaftig’ in blog, possibly first time using it anywhere. Mark in planner.]
– You think you sound one way, but you don’t. You sound that way.
– Editing can delete a multitude of sins, but you can’t edit down to nothing. Thus, the horsey laugh, the bad habit of interrupting, the weird thing you said weirdly — it’s all on tape. Forever.
If you find yourself having to be on camera anytime soon, don’t despair. I have come up with five ways to help you cope with the trauma. Here now:
Mary’s Top 5 Survival Tips For Watching Yourself On Camera
1. Enjoy several alcoholic beverages before you begin. Everyone looks better after a couple drinks, right? This applies to you watching you. If you can get to the point where you start hitting on yourself through the screen, you’re in a great place.
2. Have a friend watch with you. This needs to be a friend who loves you so much she/he can withstand two of you for the duration of the video. Put them in your will if they agree to this.
3. Worried about your hair or clothing choice? Those potential blunders fade quickly when you realize you were younger then than you are now. Instantly wistful and desirous of that outfit, now, aren’t you? Mm-hmmm.
4. Oh, come on. You must’ve said something humorous or intelligent. Find that instance and play it multiple times. Then let the video continue while you go to the bathroom or get more snacks/vodka.
5. Go watch a bunch of Beyonce videos. Isn’t Beyonce amazing? There you go, much better.
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.
Yuri is tending to a bit of business while he’s in town. This means I have an hour to spend with you. You look lovely this morning.
Trying to write anything right now that is not a frothy, gooey paean to the strapping young man in my life/house is useless: he’s all I can think about and our reunion has been most happy, but because I refuse to be gross, I’ve rifled through the big red binder and have a little something for you today from the PaperGirl Archive. I promise you’ll be entertained, and there’s no risk of me TMI’ing about Yuri’s perfect, uh, everything.
The entry, titled “Mary Fons, Freshman,” is dated January 30, 2012, and I chose it because it makes this post a post-within-a-post that also digs into the past for old writing. It’s so meta, I’m practically metallic. Bon-apetit!
PaperGirl, January 30, 2012 — “Mary Fons, Freshman”
And now, a report I found amongst my the boxes of things my mother delivered to me in her quest to rid the house in Iowa of questionably saved childhood artifacts.
This essay (?) was written my freshman year of high school, which means I was writing at the tender age of fourteen. I am more than a little scandalized by my flip, bratty attitude — and more than a little proud, friends. As I type this up for you, I remain indignant over the indelicate circumstances that compelled my math teacher to give the assignment. I’ve copied and formatted exactly, word-for-word, from the document itself.
Let’s do this.
“Under normal circumstances, I couldn’t give a damn about the history of mathematics, but since the students in my math class can’t seem to control their gastrol [sic] intestines, I am forced to write this report. Having encyclopedias from 1962, it makes it difficult to find an abundance of information on anything other than Lincoln, so my one and only source will be my math textbook, Transition Mathematics, (Scott, Foresman, 1992, All rights reserved.)
THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM
Do you recognize these numbers?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
You ought to, you’re a math teacher. We use numbers every day. But have you ever wondered how they came about? Well, I haven’t either, but I’ll tell you anyway.
Long ago, the Greeks and Romans had a number system. It’s wasn’t like ours — they used the letters of their alphabet to represent numbers. The Greeks used more letters than the Romans, which is a totally pointless bit of info but is has to be a page report and I have absolutely no material at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am one of the only ones in my class who actually completes this assignment! Anyhow, the Romans used L for fifty, C for one-hundred, D for five-hundred, and T for two. Europeans used this system from 100 B.C. to 1400 A.D.
During this time, the Hindus were hard at work on their own number system, which is the system we use today. It was called the DECIMAL SYSTEM! This system is the one that has made my life a living hell ever since preschool. I have never been good at math. If I was, I wouldn’t be having to deal with high schoolers who can’t stop farting. (Excuse the term, it’s so blue-collar.) But I digress.
The Europeans didn’t figure out the decimal system until 1202 A.D. A guy named Leonardo of Pisa, an Italian mathematician also known as Fibonacci, translated the Arabic manuscript into Latin, and that was the only reason the Europeans ever began using this system. Thus ends my report on THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM. Thank you.
Now, because I still have a half a page left, I will express my opinion on this situation. It saddens to me know that my fellow classmates cannot grasp the fact that they are in high school. Maybe farting was funny in second grade, but not anymore; at least not to me, or anyone else with an I.Q. over ten. Frankly, I’m scared. Are these the leaders of tomorrow? If so, for God’s sake, kill me now.”
[end of post]
My teacher put a red X through the words damn and “living hell” and docked me 10 points. It may not surprise you that I was considered fairly nerdy in high school, though socially-speaking, I was a floater: I had nerd friends, chorus friends, partying friends, and my older sister’s supercool friends, so I wasn’t terminally nerdy. But the general consensus was that I was a good at English, nice enough, and in no way serious girlfriend material.
Today, I absolutely think farts are funny and I am one happy girlfriend. Things do change.
After making buttermilk pancakes for Yuri this morning (I had some buttermilk leftover from the pie and not everyone likes pie for breakfast, astonishingly) I hopped out the door and into New York. I was headed to the Yarn Co. for a good chunk of sewing time and I felt like I was wearing wings, that’s how excited I was to be sewing-machine bound.
I took the L line to 6th Avenue and then got on the 1 going uptown. On one single train ride I saw three quintessential, only-in-NYC, New York City moments. Let’s revisit.
Moment No. 1
At 34th St., the train pulled in and opened its doors. I saw a drawn, junkie-looking white dude in a stocking cap jump the turnstile right in front of me. He jumped it, gave a fast look around and then bam! he punched the Emergency Exit door to the left of the turnstiles. Through the door came his junkie girlfriend, every bit as strung-out as he was, maybe more. The alarm went off the instant he hit the bar to open the door, but they were gone just as fast. Junkie love in the city.
Moment No. 2
A kid of about eight, I’d guess, was sucking on a pacifier with fake teeth molded into it. It was a joke pacifier, I guess? I didn’t know they made joke pacifiers. If you had told me they existed, I would’ve been hard-pressed to guess at the audience for such things, but now I know. Eight-year-old New York City kids on the subway to school. And she was like, “What?” when I looked at her and in a very good-natured, friendly way, laughed a little. It was funny! Whatever, kid. You got a driver’s license? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Moment No. 3
Almost to my stop, I noticed a woman repeatedly digging into her purse. She was with a friend, clearly frustrated that she couldn’t find something important in her overstuffed, large handbag. There were two MTA employees across from her. Both older gentlemen, they were just getting off work or headed there to start the day. Kinda scruffy, both of them; one Indian, one of indeterminate (to me) ethnicity. The one guy took his flashlight off his tool belt and held it out to the woman with the nicest smile. She was so grateful and took the flashlight, shining it into her purse. It probably totally helped her. I had to exit the train before I found out what happened, but that was awesome.
All on one trip to the Upper West. This be the city.
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.
When she left me to come see you she was guarded, uneasy about being away from me for so long. Six weeks is a long time, no doubt about it. She and I have been together well over twelve years, and though Mary travels extensively, even her longest trips are usually no more than two weeks; there loomed over us significant separation anxiety. Plus, who would get the mail?
She was also concerned because — though she had a serious crush on you for most of her life — Mary suffers from a mild case of New York City-induced low-level panic. The scale of you (huge) and your population density (dense) causes her to chew her lip and drink too much coffee when she’s with you for even short periods of time. It’s a mild case, but even so.
But that anxiety has disappeared. Her lip-chewing incident was last week and was an isolated event. Rather than feeling skittish, she’s relaxed. In place of the subtle “outsider” or “impostor” syndrome she has felt with you in years past, there is a wholesomeness to her experience so far and a peculiar calm — this is even with the pools of filthy slush she has to wade through, the constant honking on 1st Ave. and the really, really badly cut finger she has right now due to the cheap-a** drinking glasses in this furnished apartment that continue to break in her hands.
Mary is falling in love with you, New York, and this is not okay with me.
I am Chicago. I am her Nelson Algren and Saul Bellow. I am where Mary wrote poems for microphones. We became Neo-Futurists together. She is my lake beyond the slaughter yards. I reflect her in the windows downtown; I am her osso bucco; we have our own booth at Spiaggia. I’m leather, she’s lace. We read all the books, all the time, we have tea in the morning. We’ve gotten kicked out of bars and invited into libraries. Mary and I are involved, is what I’m saying, New York.
We have also recently renovated the bathroom and the kitchen.
While Mary’s with you and you hear her say things like, “I love it here,” or “I wanna move here,” please let me know. I will make sure to note the time and date of the sentiment and also be able to mobilize forces here to convince her to a) stop saying things like that entirely; or b) adapt the statements to something more like, “I love it here BUT I could never live here forever,” or “I wanna move here…but I’ll never give up my place in Chicago, the city of my dreams and where my heart is forever and ever, amen.”
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.
If you want to work in the quilt industry — and with a $3.5B+ annual market valuation, a lot of people do — you’re going to need to go to Quilt Market. Anyone doing serious business in the quilt world is there and though there are many shows throughout the year that serve the industry, when people ask you, “Will I see you at Market?” they mean either International Spring or International Fall Market, whichever comes next on the calendar. The answer to the question should be, “Absolutely.”
At Market, you see what’s new. You get the V.I.P. scoop. You make predictions. You discover new designers, new talent. You see who’s hot, who’s tepid, and who isn’t there at all. You make deals. You make friends and faux pas. If you want to be in the business, you have to be at Market because please. Everyone who’s anyone, darling.
Really, going to Quilt Market is a little like being in New York City. Everything happens here first. If you’re not here, you’re just gonna have to find out when everyone else does: later.
I’m staying in an East Village hotel while my NYC living situation sorts itself out. At 4:00am this morning, I woke with a stomachache and couldn’t get back to sleep. (When you don’t eat much during the day and then you eat steak, these things happen.) My hard and fast rule about insomnia? Get up. Tossing and turning is unacceptable. Just get up. Read something or clean something. If you’re in my situation, pad down to the lobby with your computer and talk about vogueing with Zachary, the night porter.
I was scamming some tea from the not-technically-open tea and coffee station when Zachary appeared. He startled me and I instantly regretting not combing my hair or at least putting on flip-flops. I looked like a barefoot, homeless crazy person.
“Please don’t throw me out,” I said, sleep-deprived and thieving. “I just knew where the honey was. I-I’m a good person,” I spluttered.
“You’re fine,” said Zachary, dressed in black skinny jeans and a cap, laconic and cool in that way that early twenty-something New York kids are laconic and cool.
“Thanks,” I said. “I couldn’t sleep, so I’m awake.” Even in the middle of the night, I am excellent at stating the obvious. It’s a talent.
We started chatting. I told him about being a writer and a quilter; he told me about a nearby gallery that is currently exhibiting quilts. I asked him what he did when he wasn’t working at a small hotel at 4am. He told me he graduated last year with degrees in art history and publishing, that he was also a writer, and that he is holding a panel discussion on ballroom culture on Thursday.
“Ooh,” I said, “Tell me more.” Because Zachary wasn’t referring to tango clubs or waltzing, and I knew it. Ballroom culture refers to the dance-centric, underground LGBT subculture that brought us such touchstones as vogueing and the “house” system, a way of forming alliances/collectives within the underground drag and dance community. Mainstream references to all this include the seminal Paris Is Burning film (1990), Madonna’s “Vogue,” and RuPaul’s “House of Love” and Lady Gaga’s “House of Gaga,” though one must note the mass-appeal versions of these things look different from the ground-floor ballroom world Zachary knows.
What he shared with me about the evolution and current state of ballroom culture was fascinating. I was getting the story, that Market-style scoop.
Vogueing has its roots in 1960s Harlem, it became vogueing in the 1980s and 1990s. But it’s been twenty-five-ish years since Paris is Burning and a whole lot has happened in the scene in that time, no surprise. There’s femme voguing (extravagant, feminine, beat-centric) and “dramatics” (jerky, hard, battle-centric) and those styles are already waning to make room for what’s next. The music has changed a lot, too; less wailing diva house, more crunchy, techy beats so fast and frenetic the standard measure of “beats per minute” ceases to be applicable. The Internet happened in there, too, so now the good DJs are instantly hot across the country, as opposed to how it happened in the old days: slowly, while mixtapes were transported from NYC to Chicago to San Francisco and back. Dance styles are instantly mimicked and adapted. We watched YouTube videos together for some time and Zachary showed me the vibrant and vital community of people who are keeping ballroom alive, well, and just as competitive and snatchy as ever. That’s a compliment, by the way.
Anything I’ve gotten wrong or weird in my report is to be blamed entirely on me and my lack of sleep, not Zachary. He knows his subject, he dances, he is more than qualified to host his panel on Thursday.
This is why you get up when you can’t sleep. There’s so much to learn. There’s so much to see, even at 4am. And in the center of the world (that would be New York City), it’s ever-so-slightly more true.
The phrase, “I’m just really stressed out” is a tired one. The phrase is tired. Upon hearing it, the listener is tired, and we all know the person saying it is extremely tired. I stay away from phrases like this because George Orwell said I should. But Orwell also believed in saying what you mean and this time I mean it: I’m stressed out.
On Wednesday, I get in a plane and fly to New York City. I will stay there for six weeks. Six weeks! If you’re new around here or if you don’t have room in your head for the details of my life (I don’t either), here’s why I’m leaving Chicago: I have a refrigerator, a dishwasher, a range, and a kitchen’s worth of cabinetry in my living room which was already layered with dust and compromised with construction zones. (I’m renovating a kitchen and bathroom in a 1500 sq. ft. condo.) Also, my main squeeze is moving to New York City. Also, my sister lives there. Reasons abound for a sojourn in Manhattan, but it’s no weekend jaunt: I’m going there to live for over a month and a half. It will be mid-March before I’m home again. Jiggity-jig.
Here’s the main issue: I’m a quilter. I make quilts. I ask you, fellow quilters: how do you pack up your studio for a six-week trip in the middle of a tremendously inspired and productive period? Seriously, your input — or commiseration — would be appreciated.
For those of you who don’t know, fabric to quilters is as paint is to painters. Fabric is our palate. I have a mad decent palate, too: my stash is sick. If I want, say, a black and white polka dot, not too big, mostly black, well, I just go grab it from the drawer. Whatever will I do in New York City? Yes, yes, I could buy more, but I’d rather not my NYC spell be doubly expensive because I’m 3,000 miles away from my fabric. Trust me: this relocation is gonna cost a few bucks already. And my design wall! And my cutting mat! Oy.
Here’s my solution so far: make up kits for the two quilts I have going right now. Pack them with fabric I want and additional fabric that I might want. Send my machine ahead of me. Commandeer a wall in the apartment to serve as my design wall: be flexible, gentle, and concessionary on everything but this in terms of space-sharing with the fellow.
And make my quilts. And do my work. And look out whatever window I end up with and smile, because my life is charmed, charmed, charmed, after all.
I wrote a poem for my friend Billy years ago. It goes like this:
In New York,
I think of you;
When I am,
I always do.
To tell the tale of this poem, however, we must leave New York for a moment and return to Chicago. When I moved to the city in 2001, I found a decent studio apartment for an unheard-of $420/mo. A year into my life there, Billy called to say he was moving to Chicago too. I felt like I had won the lottery. I was really lonely. Bill and I had met in college and instantly liked each other a lot. He was a tousled musician, I was… Well, it’s up to him to describe a junior co-ed me. But we bonded on enough occasions to become bonafide friends.
When he was on his way here, I nabbed him a unit in my building, so we were sort of like roommates except I didn’t have to wash his dishes, which was for the best. And so it was in the early 2000s, Billy and I were the best of friends during some tough times. We were both struggling to carve out lives in Chicago and we clung to each other. We never dated. We were just…Mary and Bill. He wrote songs. I wrote poems. We both worked nights: he worked the desk at a mental health facility on the west side; I worked coat check at a couple nightclubs downtown. We were simply there for each other, and even though he’d disappear for awhile or I would, we always came back together just in time.
Today, Billy is in a rock band that is doing very, very well. It was always so clear that that was exactly what he would do with his life. We always knew. And I always knew that it wouldn’t be long before I was making a living doing what I loved — and we were right about that, too. By 2005, I was a full-time freelancer, writing and performing; no waitressing or coat-checking needed.
So why is the poem about New York?
Because some of the best memories I have of New York City involve Billy. It hasn’t happened in a long time, but for years of our lives, even before that important time in Chicago, we would frequently end up in New York at the same time. And we’d connect and have an adventure, some bacchanalian night that ended up with him driving me in his red car to wherever I was staying. Sometimes we’d make out. Sometimes we wouldn’t. But there was always love, always creativity, inspiration, and learning.
One night, in Times Square, we were walking around. It started to rain. Billy was a few paces ahead of me. Suddenly, he turned around and grabbed me by the face and kissed me full on the mouth. He pulled back from me and smiled this huge smile and said,
“This the first night of the rest of our lives, baby.”
And we walked into the blur of Times Square, into the city, into the night. I’m pretty sure we were holding hands.
In New York,
I think of you;
When I am,
I always do.
I cannot stay in my home when the second phase of the renovation begins and so I am leaving on a jet plane. I will go to Miami, then Las Vegas, then Iowa, then New York City, in that order, and you’re coming with me.
First, I should say that the bathroom looks incredible and it’s not even finished. The Greek key tile inlay is exquisite and now that it’s done, the rest of the bathroom will go quickly, but this means that the kitchen is about to be dismantled with sledgehammers and picks and slathered with dry wall and plaster and wet tile goo and mortar and sweat. The dust produced by the bathroom work over these weeks has threatened to choke me dead or drive me insane for the simple reason that my house has become impossible to clean. A visible layer of powdered wall daily sifts itself down upon my books, my tables, my quilts (!) and no amount of dusting, wiping, swabbing, etc., ameliorates the situation for more than a matter of hours. The kitchen is twice the size of the bathroom and the thought of doubling my already sisyphean dusting attempts creates in my brain uncomfortable, hula hoop-like gyrations. I work from home, for heaven’s sake. There is no escape here. So I will leave.
Signs point to Miami for New Year’s, which I’m excited for; I’ve never been and wanna see the art. I’ll be in Las Vegas for just a few days in mid-January, randomly; I actually have a a mild affinity for Vegas — all those feathers! Then I think I should head over to Iowa and work in the magazine office for a spell; good for the job, good for the team, good for the parental units who live in town, as well. And then, if a few things fall into place, I’ll be off to New York City, where I’ll stay with my older sister and eat lots of chickpea crust pizza in the East Village and visit my favorite resale shops that sell used Balenciaga at 80% off 60% off. Only in New York can you get an exquisite Dries Van Noten, bias-cut, asymmetrical cape-coat-pantaloon, used, for $85 bucks. Combien j’aime la mode…
So. You wanna go?
You’ll see Miami through my virgin eyes. You’ll see Vegas through a filter of someone who’s a) been there before and b) never gambles. You’ll see Iowa; glorious, quotidian Iowa where there are only feathers on the birds, thereby giving us more opportunity for reflection and rest (a good thing after Miami and Vegas to be sure.) And then New York City, the huge, glittering onyx in Earth’s fancy cocktail ring.* Oh, it will all be a gas and I do so love to see new things and write it all down. We’ll have fun, you and me, and when I come home, the bathroom and kitchen will be done.
I have some packing to do.
*In fact, I am headed to New York on the 20th of this month, as well. The Fons Family is having Christmas in NYC this year, so if you read this blog regularly, you’ll get plenty of New York stories over the holiday; this may come in handy if you’re stuck in Boise and need something sensational to read.