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.
Fall Quilt Market is the biggest trade show of the year for the 4 billion-dollar-a-year quilt industry I accidentally started working in five-and-a-half years ago. It’s a Quilts, Inc. production and it is intense. Here’s what people do at Quilt Market:
– Wear their Sunday best
– Write business
– Take meetings
– Booze (Not at the level of a pharmaceutical sales rep convention, but there’s a little drankin’ and aren’t you surprised? Mm? Quilters drink liquor? Scandal?)
– Go to dinner
– Make deals
– Take names
– Chew bubblegum
– Break hearts
So really it’s just another day in the life of a quilter who took her/his hobby to the Next Level. Hey, speaking of Next Level, this Quilt Market is a big one for me. Maybe the biggest one yet. For years — years! — I’ve been circling a dream project and for months — months! — I’ve known that the dream project would launch next week but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. At this point, the pain of withholding the thing is almost physical.
Do you want to know what the big project is? Do you? Are you ready to freak out? Are you ready for totally amazing, fully incredible, head-slappingly gorgeous images to flood your cerebral cortex? It will all happen so soon! I’m the world’s worst secret-keeper; if I wasn’t in fear of mucking up the whole thing for me and the brilliant company I’m working with, I’d just out with it.
But maybe I could tell you something else. Maybe I could let a different cat out of the bag. Maybe I could finally tell you the other secret I’ve got. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. Here goes: I’m pregnant. No, no, no. That’s not it. I’m not pregnant. Let’s see, what was it… Oh, right:
Last night, until about 1:30am and this morning beginning at 6:30am, I was sewing. I was sewing two baby quilts for The Big Secret Project that will be announced soon. Last night at 12:30am, I felt the announcement bearing down on me like a train. A train covered in a patchwork quilt, with a conductor who is running the thing on a sewing machine engine. If you’re not a quilter, you don’t know that some of these puppies (?) are so powerful, they could probably power a locomotive. Especially those BabyLocks. They’re engines that can. I have four.
Paper-piecing is my favorite way to make patchwork. Paper-piecing means to sew fabric to a paper foundation and then tear the paper off the back when the block is complete. You don’t have to do patchwork this way; there is “traditional piecing” as well, but I’ll not go on about all this too much for those of you who don’t care about patchwork, though you should.
I used to be afraid of the paper-piecing technique — used in quiltmaking for at least 150 years — because the process involves some brain training. Once I got the hang of it, however, I began to look at every quilt block and think, “Okay, yeah, yeah: but how can I paper-piece it?” It’s like starving guy on a desert island who looks at everything he sees as a steak.
The drawback to paper-piecing is that your floor looks like the picture above. All those bits of paper must come off before you join all the blocks together and the more blocks you have, the more you become a badger, scrabbling at the backs of your blocks with little claws, paper going everywhere, including in your hair. At the end of the process, if the quilt is large, you have a nest. You do sit in it because it’s comfortable there on the floor.
Such is the glamorous life of a quilter who makes quilts for shows or magazines, etc. Quilting under a deadline is not fun at all. It sucks all joy from the process, though the finished product is still rewarding, but mostly because you can breathe again and pry your shoulders from your neck.
Out running errands today, I stopped on the corner of U St. and 16th when the light turned red. I had a heavy bag of groceries and was bummed I missed getting across the street, but then I was glad that I hadn’t.
On the other side of the street, a man in business attire was holding a huge arrangement of red roses. Two dozen, I’d wager. It’s incredible how the eyes just zap! right to a bouquet of red roses. Everyone on all the four corners of that intersection caught sight of the flowers and of the guy.
So he’s waiting for the light, too — he needs to come across the street from the other side. And while we’re all waiting, he’s being totally accosted by the men who were standing on his corner hanging out.
“Oooooh!” one of the men laughed, “You in trouble now, son! What’d you do? C’mon! What’d you do? Somethin’ bad, man — that’s a lotta flowers.”
That man’s friend shook his head in mock anguish. “She’s mad, man. What is that, two dozen roses? Damn, dude — I hope it works, I honestly do. Good luck! Good luck, son.”
The man holding the flowers was as red as the roses themselves. He was smiling, embarrassed but shaking his head like, “Yeah. That’s pretty much what’s going on.” I put my hand over my mouth to hide my giggling. The flower guy knew the entire world was watching him get razzed, but I didn’t want to make it worse. The light changed and everyone crossed paths. As I passed the guys who were joking around, I gave them a big smile.
“He’s gonna get it,” I said, “Even with those flowers.”
“She knows what’s up!” one man laughed to the other. “Get it, girl!”
I woke up. I wrote for a few hours. I drank tea during those hours, tea with probably too much cream and honey. I don’t want to live in a world without pots of tea with cream and honey, so there you have it.
Errands were run. Dry cleaning. Grocery store, because I needed cream and honey. I didn’t get to the post office and I feel bad about that. I didn’t go on a walk to no place at all and I feel bad about that, too. I took a brief nap.
I did work. Emails, proposals, thinking-cap sorts of things. Correspondence. Invoicing. I called a friend of mine, I tidied the kitchen, I received a UPS box. It contained a quilt that has finally come home after a year of being out for editorial, or a show, or because it just needed to go find itself.
And at the end of all this, at the end of myself, what did I want?
I wanted to sew. I wanted to touch fabric. I wanted to turn on my iron to the hottest setting she’s got. I wanted to slice and dice the selected fabric and stitch it back together again, paired now with other fabrics, paired now with other patchwork in order to create a more perfect union. After looking at quilts, talking about them, reading about them, being steeped in the whole thing most of the day — more than anything in the world, I wanted to try a quilt block because I have wanted to try “Tree of Life” for about a year.
Isn’t it marvelous? Making quilts?
The hum of the machine as it sews is something close to maternal. The snip of thread scissors does something important in the brain. The steam that rises from the iron, if I may be a little woo-woo, is purifying. And the thing about the process of making patchwork is that it’s fun and engaging and satisfying, but at the end of your efforts, you have a quilt. You don’t have a puzzle that needs to be scooped up and put back in the box. You don’t have a model airplane, the function of which is now to collect dust on the top of a bookshelf in grandpa’s office. A quilt wraps around a body. A quilt is functional art. A quilt is for you, and for me, and forever.
To those on the fence or those who are stumped; to those who are searching for something that will make it all better — or increase the joy factor in an already wildly fun existence — I strongly recommend making a quilt. It works for me.
As editor of Quilty, I schedule, select, and edit a great number of features about the quilters of today. But this summer, friend and colleague Katy Jones, editor of the UK magazine Quilt Now, featured me. I was flattered and wrote a “Day In the Life” piece for her. Here is the text from that piece. It’s great until the part where I talk about how great it is to be in love. I forgot I wrote that part.
Anyhow, thank you, Katy! And everyone, if you can get your hands on a copy of an issue of Quilt Now, do it. It’s a great magazine and I’m honored to have been able to write for it.
A Day In The Life of Mary Fons
by Mary Fons
“Whether I’m traveling or at home, I wake early. Usually very early. Pre-dawn. When I was a kid, it was so hard get out of bed. I remember thinking how weird it was — weird and enviable — the way adults like my mom just naturally got up in the morning with minimal fuss. Of course, I would learn that plenty of adults would like to sleep in, but for most of us, getting up in the morning does get easier as we get older. This is likely due to the fear of responding in an at least somewhat timely manner to the crushing pressure of daily living.
If I’m home, I rise and immediately made a large pot of tea. If I’m on the road, I rise and immediately make hotel room coffee. Either way, there is lots of milk and sugar involved. I can do exactly nothing until I’ve got hot tea or coffee in my hand in the morning, and that’s that. The morning tea or coffee time is for me to write in my journal or read. Sometimes, when I’ve got a big event coming up or I’m under deadline, I’ll use that tea time to work. But I prefer to have my tea or coffee for an hour with just personal pursuits that involve both reading and writing.
Then it’s time to produce. I edit Quilty magazine, and plan and host the Quilty show online. I speak and teach across the land, host a webinar each month, I’m working on a new book, and I do numerous other projects at any given time, so there is always slightly too much to do. I do not, at press time, have an assistant. That would be amazing.** So I’m on my own to write copy, tweak copy, book travel, send bios and teaching plans, stitch, and otherwise coordinate All The Things. I also blog (nearly) every day and I see my blog, PaperGirl, as an integral part of the Mary Fons “thing,” so that is most certainly a priority, even though it makes me zero income.
I’m a freelancer, a contractor. It’s kind of an odd set-up, since I do the vast majority of my work for one company (F+W) but I’ve been a freelancer since ‘05 and I’m stayin’ alive. I like the freedom that comes with it, even though there are frequently invoicing headaches, checks to track down, and of course I have no employee benefits and have to do my own taxes. Still, for a creative person such as myself, I can see no other way to live. I can work at 6am or 6pm, on the road or at home, and there are no clocks to punch. (I would probably actually punch a clock if I had to “check in” for work at this point.)
There is a downside to working this way: I work almost constantly. It’s not the working I mind, but there are times when I wish a janitor would like, shut the lights off in the office and tell me to go home. There is no janitor. I do have a partner now, which is very good; he can tell me to stop working or not take on another project. When I was just a single gal, living for the city, there was no reason to not take another road gig. No one needed me at home to make dinner or, you know, just be home because that feels good. I’m not suggesting my existence was bleak — I rather enjoy being a career gal — but it’s been wonderful to have someone sort of put their hand on my shoulder and tell me to chill out for two seconds and sleep in once in awhile.
I do have my fun. I’m a Bikram yogini, so I go sweat it out in the hot yoga room. I just moved to Manhattan from Chicago, so now I have NYC as a playground and I do intend to start playing asap. I like to dance. I love to read and write. And I really, really love to design and make big scrap quilts. So that’s fun for me. And I mentioned the partner thing: I am wildly in love with someone who fascinates and delights me and teaches me all kinds of new and wonderful things. That’s my fun, too, just being with Yuri.
I think a lot about how short life is and how I, Mary Fons, have to do something extraordinary with my time here. I don’t have a choice. I don’t know when I go to bed. When I’m tired, I lay down. I suppose it’s usually around midnight. And I dream, dream, dream. And then I do it all again.”
Trudging through Kmart yesterday, my sister and I both had the same disorienting experience at the exact same time: we both caught a whiff of Electric Youth perfume. Here’s what that moment looked like:
MARY: “Dude. I just smelled Electric Youth.”
NAN: “Dude. Me too.”
Electric Youth was a perfume (never a “parfum”) unleashed on the marketplace in 1989. The target demographic was the tween, though that term had not yet been coined. Back then, it was the mighty “teeny-bopper” dollar that the fragrance was trying to capture, and capture it it did. Those out to profit were the record executives who ran the career of pop sensation Debbie Gibson. Electric Youth was the first in a long, long line of celebrity-inspired fragrances and I, for one, had to have it. I loved Debbie Gibson and had a cassette of her album. I believe that album was called “Electric Youth.”
There were two dueling pop stars when I was in fourth grade: Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, whose last name was withheld in hopes Barbara and Judy would more quickly recognize her as one of their own. I was on the fence as to who I liked more and my neutrality came at great peril: it was expected by one’s elementary school peers in those days to choose sides. Debbie Gibson was the good girl. She was blonde, blue-eyed; kind of a white-tube-socks-with-white-Ked’s girl. She wore scrunchies and boxy vests printed with geometric shapes. Tiffany, on the other hand, was understood to have weaker moral fiber. Tiffany was a redhead, for one thing. Nothing but trouble there. And her first (only?) hit was a cover of the Shondell’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which contained the lyrics:
“We’re runnin’ just as fast as we can/holdin’ on to one another’s hands/tryin’ to get away/into the night/and then you put your arms around me and we tumble to the ground and then you say: “I think we’re alone now…”
Tiffany had a little curl to her lip when she sang her song and she put a little stank on the “into the niiiiight” part, which clearly meant she was having sex. She also wore acid washed denim jackets, so… Mothers did not like Tiffany.
They dug Debbie, though. Debbie’s first single was the docile, sweet “Only In My Dreams,” which pleased these mothers. With Debbie, their daughters’ sexual fantasies were happening exactly where and when they should be happening: while they were fast asleep, alone, locked in the house.
If Tiffany had had a perfume, it would’ve smelled musky, with notes of Aqua Net and a car dashboard. But Tiffany never had a fragrance; only Debbie signed that deal. Electric Youth perfume was a deeply synthetic, fruity floral with no “notes” of anything, no “low end” of wood or caille lily or moss. This was candy in a spritzer. The fluid itself was colored pink — an easy decision for the executives, I suspect. And inside the clear bottle was a pink plastic spring, clearly showing the exuberance — nay, the electricity — of youth. And we loved it. We sprayed it on with wild abandon and our parents’ headaches meant nothing. Nothing!
Electric Youth is not made anymore. You can find it on eBay and Amazon, but these are bottles of old perfume; as you can see by the picture above, the pink has faded and reviews are mixed as to whether the scent is still any good (or there at all, for that matter.) But in its prime, Electric Youth left its pink, sticky fingerprints all over the limbic systems of young American girls across the nation and when Nan and I smelled whatever we smelled in Kmart yesterday, it transported us back to a simpler, cheaper time.
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.
I’ll be back in Chicago next month for a one-weekend-only event that is not to be missed. Well, I’d better not miss it, I’m in it. But you shouldn’t miss it, either.
JRV MAJESTY Productions, a powerhouse of a production unit, honestly, has put together a program of solo performers, monologuists, presenters, etc. to deliver an evening of pieces on the topic of being different. Some of the performers will perform pieces on being queer, some will discuss further rarified qualities of being “other,” and some — like me — will perform a brief (15 minutes or so) piece on what it’s like to live with a lousy chronic illness. I feel pretty “other” sometimes, but I’m honored to be a part of this evening of extremely talented, fellow “others,” whatever kind of “otherness” they cop to.
I posed for the portrait above a few weeks ago. My piece involves my journals. I’ve spoken about them before. I brought all my journals from the past three years to the shoot; we spread them out on the floor and then I lay on top of them. My current journal (and a pen) are in my hands. The photographer, Kiam, who was wearing a sari and made me feel instantly comfortable under his lens, got just above me on a footstool and dangled dangerously over me, contorting and cooing as he aimed for the perfect shot. I think we got one, though I keep peering at the words in the journals to see if anything scandalous can be deciphered. I think I’m good.
Chicago friends, hope to see you. And everyone: hug an “other” today.
I met my friend Mark for lunch today at the Walnut Room. We sat near the windows and looked out at the gorgeous Chicago spring day.
“I bought flowers for my mom online for Mother’s Day,” said Mark. “At the checkout, there was an option to pay with bitcoin.” Mark is extremely skeptical about pretty much everything, so he was grumpy: it’s hard to be wary of Bitcoin when it helps you buy flowers for Mom.
“That’s great!” I said, clapping. “I bought a mattress on Overstock.com with bitcoin. Did you read PaperGirl yesterday? It was all about bit –”
“Yeah, yeah, I read it,” Mark said. “That’s why I brought it up. I have questions. How do you buy them?”
I welcomed the interrogation. It was with some trepidation I dove into all this yesterday; talking to Mark might help me iron out the second half of my bitcoin treatise.
“You can go to Coinbase.com, set up an account, and buy bitcoin,” I said, “Or you can buy bitcoin in person, from a trader. I went on LocalBitcoin.com and found a trader with a great customer rating and met him and bought bitcoin from him. It was easy. It was fun.” Mark knows that that trader was Yuri. So romantic, right?? I know.
“And you use real money to buy them,” Mark said, eyeing me. The waiter came and we both ordered the tortilla soup.
“Yes,” I said. “And they’re not actual coins, you realize. Each bitcoin is a line of code. And you put them –”
“Where do you put them?”
“In a bitcoin wallet, poodle. Just like you put cash or cards in a physical wallet, you put bitcoin in a digital wallet. Each bitcoin has its own serial number. Those numbers live in your phone or your computer. Remember, dollars have serial numbers too — and your credit card is a string of numbers — a lot of how bitcoin works we already use everyday.”
Mark shook his head. “What keeps someone from making up fake numbers? Making a fake bitcoin would be way easier than making a fake dollar bill, right? No paper. And is there a finite number of these things? Who invented it, anyway? And who’s profiting?!” Mark slurped his soup and then — with his mouth extremely full — he managed to say, “You’re never gonna be able to explain all this.”
I told him I’d try. And I’d keep it short, too.
In 2008, a programmer — possibly a group of programmers — known as Satoshi Nakamoto, wrote a brilliant piece of code and put it out on the Internet for free. Even the most dour of bitcoin critics agree: Nakamoto’s digital currency model was (is) genius. This is because his bitcoin model, among its other elegant features, got rid of two huge problems with buying goods and services online: 1) no longer did every single online transaction have to go through a bank or credit card company, with all their fees, security breaches, and data gathering; and b) he solved the problem of double-spending.
The first problem is easy to get your mind around, even if you don’t agree it’s a problem. Now, to that second thing. If you don’t have a bank or credit card company to vouch for you, to say, “Yeah, you really bought that llama — it shows it right here on your statement,” how can you prove you did? Equally bad — just as Mark worried — if someone, like a bank, isn’t monitoring the system, who’s to stop some guy from making all kinds of fake bitcoin and buying zillions of dollars worth of stuff (e.g., llamas) with fake money?
Nakamoto designed bitcoin so that the community of bitcoin users verify the transactions. Instead of a bank making one central ledger of what’s circulating, the bitcoin users do it, verifying all of the transactions — yep, every one of them — at the same time. There are a finite number of bitcoins in existence (21 million) and they all have a unique serial number or code. If someone tries to use a fake bitcoin, the transaction is caught as it tries to get through the system and it’s rejected. So there is regulation: it’s just in the hands of the people using the currency, not A Big Bank, not MasterCard or Visa. (We used to get along without those things, you know.) How all the verifications happen is rather complicated and computer-y and I am willing and able (more or less) to explain it. My fear is that I have asked much of you, gentle reader, and you have been most faithful; perhaps it’s wise to discuss that last bit (!) of the bitcoin system another day.
Two last things, and then let’s finish with the love story:
First, Bitcoin has a PR problem because in the beginning, the anonymity of the currency appealed to people buying nefarious things online. I hardly need to point out that as I type, lots of people are buying nefarious things, online and otherwise, with U.S. dollars, too. But this early sketchiness (and a trading company, Mt. Gox, that was doing bad business) dealt a harsh blow to bitcoin and it’s gonna be recovering from that for awhile. A few shady apples hurt the bunch, but as Bitcoin grows, matures, goes through a modicum of regulation, and problem-solves, these early specks will flick out. (Also: the “crypto” in “cryptocurrency” refers to the encrypted codes within the system, but people see “crypto” and register “cryptic” as in “confusing.” It’s not a perfect word, “cryptocurrency.”)
Lastly: Bitcoin is new. Really new. Anyone reading this is way ahead of most of the general public — and good for you! Curiosity and inquiry = great! More and more merchants are accepting the cryptocurrency for payment (e.g., Amazon, Gyft, Overstock, etc.) but until you can pay your energy bill online with it, bitcoin has a ways to go. It takes a village, but remember: the Internet itself was new not so long ago, and people were skeptical and cynical about it, too. Look where we are now.
One of the reasons I care so much for Yuri is because he wants to build the village. He believes in the ability of bitcoin to make the world a better place, so he works tirelessly for his company, a bitcoin trading firm in NYC. He is a miner. He goes out of his way to patronize businesses that accept bitcoin. He gets involved in the growing, global community and recently gave a lecture at his alma mater about his work. A person with a passion is a beautiful thing to behold. And to, you know, hold.
“I still don’t know,” Mark said, pushing his empty soup bowl away. “But I think it’s cool you tackled the topic. Good job.”
I thanked him, and paid the check. With my credit card.