Too Much Light Is Dead: Long Live The Neo-Futurists, Part II.

posted in: Art, Chicago, Family, Paean, Rant 11
Ensemble photograph of the Neo-Futurists c. 2009. That's me in the scarf — and Greg in green.) Photo: Andrew Collings Photography, Inc.
Ensemble photograph of the Neo-Futurists c. 2009. That’s me in the scarf — and Greg in green.) Photo: Andrew Collings Photography, Inc.

 

If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, definitely catch up first.

Okay, you back? Good. Did you change your hair? You look great. Here’s a tray of light refreshments and a beverage. Where was I? Ah, yes. Hand me the pecans. Okay.

In 2011, the Neo-Futurists suspended Greg from the company. Put more simply: We kicked him out. Remember, this person’s behavior over the decades — decades! — had been destructive and poisonous, but it hit a crisis point that year (and if you want details, just google “neo-futurist greg allen tml closing” and you’ll get all the news stories and at least some of the awful details.) Calmly, firmly, the ensemble informed Greg that he was not allowed to be in Too Much Light for awhile and that if he wanted to play again, he would need to petition the ensemble to come back and then be a better person. He never petitioned.

The show went on. I went “inactive” in 2012 because of Quilty and Love of Quilting, a divorce, more health problems, a move downtown, etc. And while the show was going on and I was doing my thing, it appears that Greg was plotting revenge. This is my theory. This is only speculation. You come to your own conclusions when I tell you what happened next.

One month ago, the Neo-Futurists got a surprise. After being in negotiations with the company about how much they would pay him for the rights to perform Too Much Light, Greg went quiet — and then came a press release.

In the press release, Greg said that he was pulling the rights for the Neos to perform Too Much Light after 28 years running because of Donald Trump. If you’re scratching your head, here are a couple highlights from the press release:

Faced with the pending inauguration of Donald J. Trump, Allen has decided to let the existing Chicago Neo-Futurists’ license come to an end so that he can rebrand the show with a new diverse ensemble that embraces a specifically socially activist mission.”

“[The new Too Much Light ensemble] will be comprised entirely of people of color, LBTQ+, artist/activist women, and other disenfranchised voices in order to combat the tyranny of censorship and oppression.”

“I could no longer stand by and let my most effective artistic vehicle be anything but a machine to fight Fascism.” [Greg quote.]

Oh, the trouble with this. There are almost too many problems to list. But let’s try!

  1. The current Neo-Futurist ensemble is made up of all kinds of folks, many of whom fit the description of the “new diverse” company he wants to build. So this can’t be his main goal.
  2. By doing this with no warning, Greg instantly put around 12 hard-working, low-paid-but-paid artists out of work. How is this being visionary?
  3. There is a New York City company and a San Francisco company, both of which also pay Greg to perform Too Much Light. He did not yank the show from them, only from Chicago. Interesting.
  4. The Neos have always done interesting, highly-political work — and there were a variety of political opinions expressed on the stage, at least when I was around. And all kinds of people who fell on different places on the political spectrum came to the show. To make an ensemble that exclusively makes theater about one perspective on Trump/his cohort, this is not going to create conversation.  This isn’t even going to sell tickets. I hope Greg is shopping for choir robes for his new, uber-progressive ensemble, because whatever show they make is going to be a lot of preaching to the choir.

So that’s all the bad stuff. Guess what? There’s good stuff.

The good stuff is that the Neos have been working so, so hard to get a new show up in the next few weeks. They’ve been raising money and have almost reached their goal of $50k. (I wouldn’t be a good Neo if I didn’t ask you to consider putting a buck or two in the hat; it’s easy and you’ll feel good knowing you’re…fighting fascism?)

And the other amazing thing is that when the news came out, all the alumni from 28 years of Too Much Light and the Neos, we circled the wagons, we lit the flares, we came together in support of the current ensemble and we’re doing a big benefit show for them on New Year’s Day. It’s the most extraordinary thing. You can’t get tickets because they sold out in five hours; I posted a note on Facebook and within minutes, it was too late. There are dozens of Neos, some coming from far away, to be in the show and be together, to remember, to play, to laugh, to cry. All that stuff.

We had a rehearsal on Tuesday and will rehearse all day Sunday leading up to the double-feature that begins at 7 p.m. The oversold house and the enormous cast, we will be proof that you can’t stop art — you can’t even contain it, can’t make it hold still.

By the way: New York and San Francisco? They quit. After hearing about all this, they didn’t opt to renew their rights to do Too Much Light. They’re standing with Chicago. Greg’s plan backfired.

As I said yesterday, being part of that company and being lucky enough to get to do TML for those years was like finishing school for my soul. I worked with people so talented it was almost embarrassing. We were rock stars. We were friends. The best art I’ve ever seen or made for the stage was the art I saw or made for Too Much Light and the Neos.

Too Much Light is dead. Long live the Neo-Futurists.

 

What Happens to a Resolution Deferred?

posted in: Day In The Life 2
Phone. Holger Ellegaard, 1972. Photo: Wikipedia
Phone. Holger Ellegaard, 1972. Photo: Wikipedia

We have the Babylonians to thank for many things. They’re the ones who put 60 seconds in the minute and 60 minutes in an hour, a system called “sexagesimal” which is a word I think we can all agree is best left out of our vocabularies. We can thank the Babylonians (5500 to 3500 B.C.) for page numbers in a book. Very helpful, guys. Thank you.

And we can thank them for New Year’s resolutions. At the turn of the new year, the Babs had an eleven-day festival to celebrate the occasion, during which they made promises to the gods so the gods would show them favor. (Now that’s what I call accountability.) According to sources that I’m too lazy to cite, most Babylonians pledged to get out of debt.

I gave up resolutions years ago, mostly because I hate going with the flow. There’s one I flirt with each year, but as I know I cannot achieve it, I quit while I’m ahead. I resolve not to try and fix what I need to change. Want to know what I want to change?

I want to answer the phone every time I can see/hear it ring. I have a terrible phobia of talking on the phone, even to people I love. And I loathe voicemail. A week can go by before I finally enter the numbers to access my voicemail and when I do, my fingers feel like they have those little finger weights on them. “You seriously have to listen to voicemail,” I’ll say to myself, and it feels the same as when I say, “You seriously have to make a dentist appointment.” If I discover I only have three messages, I feel like I found twenty bucks on the sidewalk.

What is the root of this crippling phobia? Is it a control issue? Why am I this way? I just can’t do it. I can’t answer the phone. Text messages are the greatest invention since the telephone.

I cannot resolve to get better at this unless someone unlocks the problem. If you can do that, I’ll help you in your resolve to eat Marshmallow Fluff straight from the jar. I’ve got that down.

Quilt Market Is Coming! (Plus: 1 of 2 Announcements.)

This picture was taken at Market a couple years ago in one of the hundreds of gorgeous booths at the show. The pom-poms were edible! Just kidding.
This picture of me was taken at Market a couple years ago in one of the hundreds of gorgeous booths at the show. Those pom-poms were edible! Just kidding.

International Fall Quilt Market is next week!

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
– Schmooze
– 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:

I’m moving back to Chicago next month.

Full story tomorrow.

When Your Arms Are In The Wrong Place.

posted in: Sicky 1
Actual document.
Actual document.

I was in the ER recently. It happens. An amusing thing happened this time around.

The triage nurses put EKG nodes all over my chest and arms to get my ee-kay-gee-zies. A male and a female nurse worked together to stick the suction cups all over my torso — unceremoniously, I’ll have you know — and then they punched EKG buttons on a machine atop a rickety cart. They looked at the reading that came out and I saw their eyes get very wide. They looked at each other, subtly panicked.

“Wait, wait…”

“Okay, so…”

I was understandably concerned. I asked if everything was okay. I got no answer right away, but then the male nurse sighed a huge sigh of relief and turned to his colleague.

“We’ve got the left and right arm nodes on the wrong side,” he said. He turned to me. “The machine thinks your arms are on the wrong side of your body.”

When you feel bad enough to be in an ER but have no flesh wounds and have been given sufficient pain medication, you are able to cackle with delight. Arms in the wrong place?! What a hoot! I managed to slap my knee before they came to switch the nodes.

“Can I have the EKG?” I asked. “I love the idea of a machine thinking my left arm was on the right side of my body and the right arm was on the left side of my body. I mean, how often does that happen? Can I have it?”

“Uh, sure,” the nurse said, and handed it over.

EKG paper is awesome; it’s onion skin-like, and it’s nice and pink. And hey, it’s your body in pen ink. I told him I wanted to blog about this. And I did.

The Glamorous Life of a Deadline Quilter.

posted in: Day In The Life, Quilting 0
My kitchen is just on the other side of this picture.
My kitchen is just on the other side of this picture. Photo: Me

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.

Love,
A Badger

Hang On, Hang On: A Gallstone?

posted in: Day In The Life, Sicky 0
Cheesecake with berries, because you do not want me to use a picture of a gallbladder or a gallstone. Trust me. Photo: Wikipedia
Cheesecake with berries, because you do not want me to use a picture of a gallbladder or a gallstone. Trust me. Photo: Wikipedia

I must confess a strange sense of embarrassment when I the surgeon told me he saw a small gallstone on my CT scan. Aren’t gallstones what obese men in their late fifties get when they eat cheeseburgers all day, watch SportsCenter and smoke Pall Malls? My brain also connected “gallstone” with “kidney stone” and boy, I’ve heard some horrific stories about those things. Really, any time a doctor says the word “stone” in conjunction with the words “inside” and “your,” you’ve got some thinking to do.

When I got home and stopped barfing, I read up on gallbladders and what can go wrong with them. A person can get gallbladder cancer, but this is extremely rare. (There’s a terrible, terrible joke here, barely: Q: What did the gallbladder say to cancer? A: “What am I, chopped liver?”) No, it’s mainly just gallstones that afflict our gallbladders. But why and how? First, we have to understand what the gallbladder is for: it does stuff with bile. That’s it, that’s all I can tell you. It’s not important. Well, it isn’t! You can have your gallbladder removed, so how important can it be? Your honor, I rest my case.

Still, you don’t want things going awry in there, and then things do. Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid. Considering that my guts are made of cotton candy and popsicle sticks, that I would have a digestive fluid problem isn’t a huge leap. Many people have gallstones; most people don’t know they do and don’t have to know because most gallstones are small and harmless. They form for various reasons and yes, one of the reasons is having high cholesterol due to many, many cheeseburgers and no exercise, Pall Malls, etc. But some gallstones form because…well, why shouldn’t they? Don’t judge a gallstone for wanting to live. Gallstones are just like you and me.

My friend told me this morning that he had a terrible time with his gallbladder and nearly had to have it removed; he avoided this in the eleventh hour thanks to medicine and fluids. He did say the pain he experienced was the worst of his life. He passed out and he’s no fainting goat.

I have zero symptoms, though. I think I’m one of the people who will never have to deal with my stone (I like to refer to it as my little “gallpebble,” thank you.) If they have to take it out, though, I ain’t scurred. Actually, it would be kind of exciting. Taking out my gallbladder would increase the number of organs I’ve had excised from three to four. If you count tonsils and four wisdom teeth, now I’m getting to be a real conversation piece. Oh, and there were a couple suspicious moles removed a few years back. Hm. Parts of my body are just flying off into space, aren’t they?

Tomorrow we examine (in words, in words!) my cyst. What nerve! What gall!

At The Chicago Botanical Garden, Early April

Me and a little dude with a tail.
Me and a little dude with a tail, Chicago Botanical Garden, 2015. Photo: Yuri

Yuri was in Chicago over the weekend, also.

We spent time together on Monday. After work tasks were complete, he took me to the Chicago Botanical Garden to walk, to talk, and remember each other for awhile.

The Chicago Botanical Garden is a world-class joint. Hordes descend upon the place in warmer months but somehow milling among thousands of people doesn’t feel bad at the Botanical Gardens; it feels communal. English gardens, Japanese gardens, fields of field flowers, a glassy pond, sculptures big and small — if it’s green and cultivated you want, green and cultivated you shall have and there’s a great cafe for when you’re exhausted from walking and have pollen all over your shirt. It’s also free to get in.

Yuri and I walked through the grounds arm in arm. We did this because we care about each other a great deal but we were also freezing cold. Nothing has bloomed, yet; there were a few brave shoots poking up here and there, but not many. All the plants are waiting, checking final items off the pre-production list before the big launch.The greenhouses were thriving — greenhouses do that — so when we were almost too cold to be having fun, we found a greenhouse and slipped in to warm up. Tip: if you’re feeling disconnected from nature, pop yourself into a balmy, breathing greenhouse. You’ll get fixed right up.

We had fun together. We got soup and a glass of wine at the cafe. We argued. I cried. We laughed. Walking on the main promenade under the cold, grey sky, Yuri picked me up and spun me around and I hollered, “No! Don’t! Yuri, stop!” but it was okay. New York, we have both decided, seems like a dream. It’s a trite thing to say, but damned if I know how else to describe it. The East Village? Really? Manhattan? But when? I know why — passion, risk, love, adventure — but as to the how, I couldn’t tell you if you put a Rhododendron ferrugineum to my neck.

Yuri and I aren’t together, but we’ll always be together because of New York, because of Chicago, because of that day in the garden, I guess. When do you stop being connected to a soul?

That picture up top is one of a series Yuri took of me being a mom to a hunk of bronze.

Quilty, My Quilty: The Last Taping Approacheth (For Me)

posted in: Chicago 1
If I had a nickel for every time there was a screenshot created of me mid-sentence, I would be very wealthy and would then pay to have them all removed from the Internet.
If I had a nickel for every time there was a screenshot created of me mid-sentence, I would be very wealthy and would then pay to have them all removed from the Internet.

When my St. Louis-to-D.C. flight landed late last night, we taxied on the runway; once I fetched my luggage I taxied on home and then I taxied my batooski right into bed.

Tonight and tomorrow, that’s all we got in Columbia’s District before heading onto Chicago to tape twenty-seven episodes of Quilty in three days. That’s just how good we are, brother. The days are long but the days are good and this time, they’ll be extra hard and extra good because it’s my last shoot. Many of you know now that the magazine is closing but they’re keeping the show going and I’m sure the person they put in the host position will be fabulous and do a far better job than I ever did; it’s my sincere desire that this is precisely what happens.

In St. Louis, I met so many devoted Quilty fans. It’s hard to leave. It’s really hard to leave. If I think about it too long, I feel wistful and sorry. But there are projects on the horizon that swoop in and take that maudlin business away and that’s what I grab onto. I can’t talk about anything, yet, because nothing is final, yet; counting chickens before they hatch is like, the worst job you could ever, ever want. Tedious, stinky, and you’re probably gonna be wrong.

I’ll just do the shoot this weekend and go from there.

 

You Are Not Shabby.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Rant 0
This would be money. Photo: Rose garden at Castle Bank, Kirkcudbright; harbor view.
This would be money. Photo: Rose garden at Castle Bank, Kirkcudbright; harbor view.

Far worse than the feeling I had other day was that I allowed myself to indulge it for longer than .05 seconds.

I’ve connected with lots of fantastic people here in D.C. (quilters, I’m looking at you.) Lately, I’ve been spending time with a group of people who I would describe as fancy. These new friends are warm, they’re smart, and they’ve been extremely successful in their work. As a result of this last, their homes are — the two I’ve been in, anyway — exquisitely beautiful and well-appointed. Enormous art that costs more money than many folks take home in a year hangs on the walls; the lights are low. The wine glasses are fishbowl-size. The tiles in all five bathrooms are heated. The stereo system apparently works by way of air molecule; wherever you go in the house, Carla Bruni sings to you at a soft level that is surely scientifically-proven to be best for optimal aural pleasure. There are bidets, guest houses, pools. Stuff like that.

So I’m standing in the living room of one of these houses the other day and I suddenly felt a deep and terrible longing. And I felt like a guttersnipe. I’m just some dumb kid from Iowa. I’m a writer. I make quilts. Who cares? Sure, my shoes were fabulous, but I felt like a real phony-baloney, like okay, I have this great pair of shoes but these people have closets and closets of shoes and they don’t even think twice about them and here I am, excited about my dumb ol’ shoes. Envy, as it turns out, is less a toothy, green-eyed monster and more a sad, black mold over the heart. My life seemed small and I felt so far, far away from the life I saw before me. And I wanted that life. And I felt shabby.

And then I got mad. At myself. Really, really mad.

Unbelievable. How dare I? How dare any of us compare our lives to the lives of others in this way? Look, I’ve earned my place on this earth. To allow myself to feel less-than compared to anyone (even if they have their own table at Daniel) is a grave offense. It’s insulting; it’s also whiny and indulgent. I told myself to knock it off — and if you’re given to this kind of thing or have experienced it lately, you knock it off, too. To smack around or otherwise disrespect your hard-won experience, your unique outlook and perspective, to throw your life’s portfolio in the garbage or hide it behind your back because you want to be someone else, this is the only thing you should be ashamed of. Not your shoes. Not the space you take up. But at turning your back on who you are and what you’ve earned.

I love my quilts. I love my poems; after I left where I was that day and got over my damned self, I found myself loving them more. I’m proud of what I’ve done in my life so far and you should be proud of what you’ve done. It matters. You don’t need an invitation to a gala or a Maserati in the garage to be crucial.

My apartment is only a few square feet bigger than the master bathroom in the house where I was, no fooling. But it’s mine. And when I take a shower, I get just as clean.

 

Maps The Clock Puts There.

posted in: Day In The Life 0
Bed illustration, 1869. Photo: Ward, Lock, & Tyler of London, via Wikicommons.
Bed illustration, 1869. Photo: Ward, Lock, & Tyler of London, via Wikicommons.

Dangerous things include:

Alligator hunting
Necking in the 1950s
Taking a job as a logger
Quoting your own poetry

The last thing could be the most dangerous of them all, but I’m going to do it, as I feel a kind of heady, delirious courage at the moment. I have been packing and moving boxes since dawn — right about when it began to snow. All the possessions have been transferred. I am in a new home. I no longer have keys to my little Capitol Hill treehouse.

Here’s the quote, from a poem called “A Cake/For The Fall”:

“The lines on our faces are maps the clock puts there/the forehead shows that path of the first worry/the cheek charts the hardest years/laugh lines are easy landmarks/but beware fatigue at the corner of the eye, my son/it belies the optimist’s gaze/I can spot a broken heart in a happy man a mile away”

The poem was written many years ago and when I wrote it I thought I was writing about a boy, but now I think I was writing about time. Days like these — periods of time like these — put lines on our faces. Today I picked up the third? fourth? duffel bag of fabric (Pendennis tucked into one of them for safe keeping) and I fumbled for the new set of keys for the apartment that is ugly and cramped compared to my darling little rat-infested house. I stomped snow off my shoes. I looked out at the view that I have; I saw not the grand dome of the Capitol Building but square, squat buildings that look like boxes, and a highway, and an empty lot. The apartment itself is a box inside a building that looks just like the others out there. Only the snowfall was familiar as I pressed my nose to the glass.

It’s not so bad. It has its charms. But oh, I cried.

And I thought about my poem because I remember when I was a kid and I’d look up at adults and think, “They look so weird and different from me.” It’s the lines. Adults have lines in our faces, and even if they’re not wrinkles yet, kids do not have even a whisper of these. They don’t have lines because they haven’t moved twice in a month, in winter, after love faltered in a different apartment in Manhattan. They haven’t forwarded their mail. Again. Of course, I don’t want any of that to happen to any kid, but it will. It’s the law of nature, little dude, little miss, and you, too, will grow up (and grow old) under the law. But it gets better after it sucks for awhile. That’s a law, too.

Tomorrow, my sister and her fiance are returning home from their 10-day trip to India. What stopped me blubbering on like a dweeb today was remembering that I want so many, many things, but most of all, I want them home safe and sound.

A Recipe For Lemonade (Because You Know What They Say)

posted in: Food 0
I am hiding in this tree.
I am hiding in this tree.

Delicious Lemonade
Makes 5 cups

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 10 lemons)
1 cup superfine sugar (or use as much simple syrup as you like to reach desired sweetness)
2 cups water

Directions
Strain lemon juice into a pitcher and mix with sugar; stir until sugar dissolves. Add water; stir again until well combined. For pink lemonade, stir in cranberry juice.

Tips
If you’d like pink lemonade, add some cranberry juice! If you like sparkling lemonade, you can use sparkling water. If you put some vodka in there, you’ll have a Vodka Collins. You can put a sprig of lavender in there for some lavender lemonade, or even some basil, if you’re feeling it.

Just play!

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.

Fly, Point, Shoot, Cut, Print: Quilty, Season Five

posted in: Work 0
It's a great show.
Quiltyworld. It’s like Disneyworld with thread and no rides. 

The only way to keep warm when I fly into Chicago on Wednesday is to come in hot, so that’s just what I plan to do. I’m finishing up preparations for the Quilty shoot and things look good from here.

We load into the raw space on Thursday. The shoot begins on Friday and will go three days. We’ll be taping the first half of Season Five for 2015. There is a new Quilty show every week online at QNNtv.com. We don’t take holidays off, so that’s a full 52 episodes a year. We tape 26 episodes at both shoots to fulfill that number.

I come up with all the content, I direct and oversee any demo materials that I don’t I personally sew myself; I select guests, write motion graphics copy, and host all 52 episodes, as well. (Guests are frequent, but they’re never on the show on their own — my goofy mug is there every time, for better or worse.) Every episode I plan has to coordinate with Quilty magazine, as well, and all of this is like herding cats, except that the cats are covered in grease and once you actually catch them, you have to give them eardrops.

Maybe it’s not quite that hard. But it’s tricky, is what I’m saying. It’s complex.

Listing all my duties and making teaching quilting on camera sound like the Human Genome Project is perhaps causing you to make a face at me. I don’t blame you, but wait, because I’m not finished.

All that I do is a drop in the bucket of all the things that must be done to make Quilty, both the show and the magazine. The man- and womanpower behind the shoots is epic. Not in terms of numbers — we have a core team totalling six, including me — but in terms of technical expertise and logistical slam-dunkery. Our unit is a machine at this point because we have made lots of mistakes over the years and this has made us better at our job. Quilty is antifragile.

The magazine has far more hands on deck than the show. A magazine, even a bi-monthly quilt enthusiast magazine, has its own nervous system. Limbic system. Subway system.

If you are a Quilty fan — especially if you’re a fan who has been with us from the beginning — you’re not really a fan of the show. You’re a fan of the work. And people do the work. So you’re a fan of the people. And that’s very sweet.

Thank you.

Meet Mickey.

Keep smiling, mouse. Your time shall come. Photo: Wikipedia
Keep smiling, mouse. Your time shall come. Photo: Wikipedia

We have a mouse.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “No, Mary Fons. You live in New York City. What you have is a rat.” But I assure you, we have a mouse. If it were a rat, I would not be writing this from inside the apartment because I would be in Toledo.

About a month ago, I was here, minding my owns and zip! The ol’ peripheral vision registered a tiny off-black dot moving extremely fast across the parquet floor. When you see a mouse for the first time, you don’t think you have. Reason scolds fact into thinking it imagined something. I guess if you walked into a small, windowless room and flipped on a light switch, if there was a mouse in there, you’d see it. But when there are rugs, table legs, and adult-onset exhaustion in the mix — and you aren’t used to seeing mice — you just go back to your book.

“I think I saw a mouse,” I said to Yuri several days later. My peripheral vision had caught the fast-moving off-black blur again. Fool me once, mouse, shame on you. Fool me twice…well, you’re not gonna fool me again.

“Naw,” Yuri said.

A few days later, I came home from a business trip. With wide eyes, Yuri told me about the astonishingly nimble, light-footed mouse that had been keeping him company while I was gone.

“That little sucker moves fast,” he said, he told me how he was up and working into the wee hours several nights in a row and saw the mouse once each night, lasering from one side of the apartment to the other. I said we should get some traps or ask my sister if we could borrow her cat. My sister’s cat was born sometime during the Jurassic Period; we opted for traps.

And we named him Mickey, naturally. We’re tell ourselves we’re battling just Mickey, but sure, that’s naive. Where there is one mouse, there are many; where there is one critter that can steal the cheese from the trap without getting caught, there are legions of them, all in Cheese College, learning the trades while stupid humans ask each other if maybe chocolate will work, or peanut butter.

Earlier today, Yuri said, “Mickey. Just like a woman. Can’t live with ‘im, can’t live without ‘im.”

This made zero sense. In no way did this make sense on any level. Sometimes this man tries out idioms just for fun, just to say them. He’s curious and provocative and I smacked my forehead and shook my head, lamenting this.

But he sets the traps.

On Hospital Advocacy, Part 2.

posted in: Day In The Life, Family, Paean, Sicky 4
Sally Field and Crystal Lee Sutton, the woman who inspired the 1979 film, "Norma Rae." Field won the Oscar for her role in the movie.
File under “Famous Advocates.”Sally Field and Crystal Lee Sutton, the woman who inspired the 1979 film, “Norma Rae.” Photo: Wikipedia.

If the first trip to the ER in Atlanta was harrowing and depressing, the second trip restored my faith in humanity. Oh, it was still harrowing and there was plenty to be depressed about, but I had a friend with me on the second trip and that made all the difference. (First half of this two-part post here; more on how I got here in the first place, here. )

So there it was, Saturday morning. I’m in my hotel room, and nothing good is going to happen. After agonizing deliberation (because I didn’t want to make a fuss, be dramatic, or admit defeat) I called my friend and colleague, Marlene.

A word about Marlene.

You know the feeling you get at Thanksgiving dinner when all the casserole dishes have been put out and your mom has finally taken off her apron and is sitting down for Pete’s sake; when everyone has wine and rolls, and the turkey’s out and the gravy pitcher is already making the rounds; that moment when everyone raises their glasses to toast and the kids are toasting with juice or milk and you’re just overwhelmed with love and gratitude because people are generally good and the world is spinning at the correct speed for once? That feeling? That is Marlene. She is the embodiment of the Thanksgiving toast. She is everything that is good.

She’s also a successful businesswoman at the helm of a national network of convention center-sized quilt shows — including Quilting LIVE!, the show that had taken me to Atlanta. Tools Marlene carries at any given time might include: a laptop, bluetooth headset, box cutter, first-aid kit, talent contracts, cash box, dinner reservations and a little gift she got you, just because. As you can see, Marlene is a good person to call when you’re slightly dying.

Marlene arrived in lightning speed and helped me down to the car. Her husband was waiting right outside. (Don’t get me started on Stan; if Marlene is the Thanksgiving toast, Stan is like, birthday cake the day before your birthday.)

Here are excerpts from conversations that morning at the hospital. These are pretty much verbatim and all illustrate the need for an advocate at the hospital — preferably Marlene:

Conversation No. 1
NURSE: (to me) What do you do, hon?
ME: (weakly) I’m a…quilter. Writer.
MARLENE: This young lady is a national television star. She’s a magazine editor, an author, and an expert quilter here for the quilt show in town this weekend. She’s a dear part of our team and we care about her very much. We’d like to see the doctor. Now.
NURSE: Uh, yes, right away!

Conversation No. 2
ME: (feebly, to NURSE.) Please… The pain medicine. Please, when you —
MARLENE: (to NURSE.) I’ve asked you three times for lidocaine and pain medicine. If I have to ask again, I will not be very nice. Thank you, we appreciate it.

Conversation No. 3
NURSE: Okay, here’s that pain medicine. This should help.
ME: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
MARLENE: Now we’re getting somewhere. (to ME.) I’ll go down and get the prescriptions, hon, you just sit back and let that take effect. That’s the good stuff.

The help with the nurses, the coordination to help cover my show duties that morning, and of course the ride to the hospital — all that was beautiful. But perhaps the best thing Marlene did for me was when I lay on the bed in the exam room, twitching and gnashing my teeth. She stood above me and smoothed my hair, stroked it softly as we waited for the doctor. That simple, compassionate action did more for me than the Dilaudid, I swear.

“I miss my cat!” she laughed. “You’re my cat right now, Mar.” And she made me laugh, and I felt better. And then, ever thinking, my advocate said, “Does this bother you? Do you want me to stop?”

And I said, “No, no. Please. It’s wonderful.”

 

A Morning Ritual, Changed.

posted in: Day In The Life, Sicky 1
I have one Versace teacup. It's in storage right now.
I have exactly one Versace teacup. I got it on eBay and yeah, the tea tastes better. Currently in storage.

This morning, I drank tea and wrote in my journal. It was the same as so many mornings, save for two differences: the tea was black and the sky was light. Not long ago, it was the other way around.

Almost every day of last year and into a healthy slice of this one, I would get up before the sun to read and write. I rarely set an alarm; I just woke up, sometimes at 3:30 in the morning, unable to go back to sleep. This was due partly because I was excited by the prospect of being up when so few others were. I felt as though the hours from 3:30am to 5:30am were on sale; perfectly fine hours that no one really wanted. They came cheap.

But I also woke up because like a newborn baby, I needed soothing. I was scared and sad and lonesome, “waking at four to soundless dark.”** Having my tea tray in bed in the middle of the night with my journal and books all around me was how I soothed myself. The routine was the gentle mother, swaying me to calm.

The fall of 2012 was the worst time of my life, health-wise. The despair of searing, chronic pain worked its way into every fiber of my frame. The sheer exhaustion of day-in, day-out agony management had constricted my world into a hard, glittering dot. I worked very hard. I was in a relationship I cherished, but there were limits to it and we both knew it. My social life outside of seeing Mr. X dwindled to zero, as most of the time I didn’t have the energy to make plans, much less make good on them. I fought with my sisters or I withdrew from them. My mom and I weren’t getting along, either. I didn’t want any of this whittling away to be true, except that I did, if it meant sanity. The hard, glittering dot I could focus on. Everything else was too hard. I was in the hospital all the time.

The medication I was taking made my head feel like a rainstick. You know those things you get in hippie music stores? It was like that when I sat up in bed. “Wffffffft,” my face and brain would go, one way, then I’d put my head on the headboard and breathe and “Wfffffff,” the rainstick would run the other way. I’d take a deep breath — not too deep — and determine if my guts were good, bad, or a real laugh riot. At that time, it was usually the riot. After gentle tummy rub and pat and an admonishment to stop flirting with cigarettes (there were days I’d have half a one, feeling it was justified, being in the trenches and all) I’d decide that I could make it to the kitchen. I’d usually have to stop halfway from my bedroom to put my hand on the living room table and let the rainstick go for a minute, but I never fainted.

Then tea tray preparation would commence and I so enjoyed it. While I waited for the water to boil in my stainless steel kettle (I brought it to New York with me, like a goldfish) I would do the things. Into the French press went the tea: Earl Gray Creme, loose, from Teavana or Argo Tea. No variation there; I’ve been drinking this tea for years. Then, into a little monkey dish my sister Rebecca made in her pottery class, almonds: Dry Roasted & Salted from Trader Joe’s. They had to be these almonds; no others would do. Then…Nutella. I’d scoop a big scoop of Nutella into the little monkey dish because Nutella and Dry Roasted & Salted almonds from Trader Joe’s is delicious. It’s like eating a candy bar in a bowl. Sweet, salty, and totally decadent without being half a cheesecake or a box of petit fours. (One of the results of being so physically miserable all the time is that you feel you have license to eat whatever the Sam Hill you want to, especially if you’re only managing about 1000 calories a day.)

With the honey pot, the pichet of milk, a couple spoons, a little dish of meds, and my fancy Versace teacup, I’d be ready. The water would reach pre-boiling, I’d pour it into the French press, and then I’d carry the whole operation back to my fluffy, lovely bed and sink into the cloud again.

I read all kinds of things. And I wrote pages and pages. I wrote my grad school essay that way and I would work, too, so there’s a lot of those mornings in Quilty, however invisible they may be in a happy quilting magazine. You never know; maybe the weirdness is there. Quilty is kinda weird.

The 4am mornings, they’ve been slipping away. This spring, when I was first in NYC with Yuri, I kept them up a little, but my body and brain were soon in agreement that sleeping in the arms of love is better than sitting alone, crunching hard almonds coated in the sugar that was probably killing you all along.

Yuri sleeps later than me still, though, so I still get up and read and write. But the tea is black. And the sky is light. And that rhymes and I love it, and I love that it rhymes.

**From Philip Larkin’s “Aubade,” the finest poem in the English language, in my view, and a kind of poetic soundtrack, if you will, to this entire era.

Cinnamon Rolls, No Fingie.

posted in: Day In The Life, Food 6

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The cinnamon rolls, from the Minimalist Baker. (Recipe in comments!)
The cinnamon rolls, from the Minimalist Baker. (Recipe in comments!)

There’s a real trick to living, a knack one has to get. I totally get the knack on lock for a minute but then I lose it again. It would be nice for the ground to stop moving under my feet; maybe then, maybe then.

Thank goodness this post is about homemade cinnamon rolls.

If I love you, I cook for you. I’m not a lusty Italian woman with an ample bosom and flour on her apron, caught in a perpetual loop of plucking ripe tomatoes off the vine (for love.) But I recently came across these words from that man about food, Michael Pollan, and he’s got it right:

“For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?”

We all know Yuri likes cookys, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned that my skills with cheesecake send him over the moon. But I got it into my head last week that I needed to bake something else special for this special man, something truly “Woah.” Cinnamon rolls seemed to be the “woah” ticket. Gooey, ooey, warm cinnamon rolls that might look right at home on a farmhouse table with a pot of hot coffee nearby. Lordy! Bring me my purse! We got groceries to git!

My rolls were interesting to make and they turned out beautifully. But as I was drowning the hot, cinnamony bombs of yum in thick cream cheese frosting, I knew there was something else going on, something other than the “Let me feed you” thing. There is nothing in a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls that is “legal” for me to eat except the cinnamon — and even that isn’t recommended for a few weeks. The cinnamon rolls, which I have never made in my life until now, were clearly me living vicariously through Yuri.

Which is okay. I mean, there are cinnamon rolls as a result, so it can’t be that awful. It is dangerous, though: I very nearly popped a frosting-coated finger into my mouth as I put the empty bowl into the sink. This is not an option for me today. Why make such a gorgeous city and lock yourself out of the gates?

Knack, knack. Who’s there?

A Laundry List (or Two.)

posted in: Day In The Life, Luv, Sicky, Tips 10
Free label, letters by me. Oh, to have a full-time graphic designer on staff. Oh, to have a staff.
Free label, letters by me. Oh, to have a full-time graphic designer on staff. Or a staff!

I saw a woman wearing denim overalls today.

Though I would like to write about how every few years the public must endure Fashion’s attempts to make denim overalls cool (oh, how they try and fail!) and how this is just silly and I can’t believe we haven’t learned to ignore Fashion on this, I think that ought to wait till tomorrow. To go straight from talk of ambulances and surgeries to ill-fitting overalls is not nice. It’s like going from a popsicle to a steak. Jarring. Rude, in some cultures.

And so as I went about my day today, I tried to think of a good bridge. “I could write about what I’ve learned since getting sick,” I thought, and mentally wandered down that road. But on the way I came upon all the things that I feel more confused about, and things that I observed that didn’t necessarily teach me anything so much as simply surprised me.

So tonight, a few lists; tomorrow, overalls.

My Oprah Winfrey, “What I Know For Sure” List
– The saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is bizarre and largely untrue. More often, what doesn’t kill you leaves you weakened, compromised.
–  You can get used to anything.
– There is no time. You must do it now.
– Being in a hospital blows. Stay out if you can, but if you must go in, pack a bag. Take your phone charger, your sock monkey, your journal. Take your glasses (if you wear them), your laptop (if you use one) and anything else you would want if you have to be there for long. As bad as you feel, try, try, try to pack a bag from home to take with you. It will bring you great comfort when you wake up.
– Visiting people when they’re in the hospital is one of the kindest, nicest, most lovely things you can do for a person. I remember every last person who came to see me. Thank you. It meant everything, every time, bless your hearts forever and ever. (Rebecca, if you’re reading this, I’m looking at you right now especially. You too, Bilal.)

Curiosities
– I’ve seen myself from the inside out: I have handled my own intestines. I am kind of a badass.
– Very few people in the Eastern hemisphere get UC or Crohn’s. These are maladies of the industrialized West. One day we will know why and keep people from getting sick like this.
– Losing my hair really sucked. It came out in clumps in the shower. That was one of the worst times in terms of feeling attractive (or not.) The stoma was rough; in some ways, losing my hair was harder. A female thing?

Disappointments
– In a hospital in Tucson, AZ, in ’09 or ’10 (ER trip while visiting then-husband) I looked at my frail, perforated body and all the medicine bags hanging around my head and thought, “I will never, ever hate my body again or tell myself I should lose five pounds when I don’t need to.” But I still do that.
– You can’t go back. You can never be ten years old again, happy, healthy, running through the yard in bare feet.

Funny Things
– I have my very own semi-colon.

How To Watch Yourself On Camera: 5 Easy Steps

posted in: Tips, Work 6
Screenshot, Quilty. Season Three, maybe? My head is 10lbs more pointy in this picture than it is in real life. Also, I have 10lbs better posture in real life.
Screenshot, Quilty. Season Three, maybe? My head is 10lbs more pointy in this picture than it is in real life. Also, I have 10lbs better posture in real life.

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.

Color Me Quilter: A Webinar You Will Like

posted in: Work 11
One many slides from the show.
One many slides from the show. Visit the “Booking” page on my homepage to sign up. It will be fun + informative.

On Monday, something unique and (hopefully) extremely awesome is happening from 1-2pm, EST: the first live, online webinar in the Color Me Quilter series is taking place. Let me tell you what this is.

I understand that you may be slightly skeeved or grumpy about the word “webinar.” I was both skeeved and grumpy when I first came into contact with it because it seemed trendy — goofy, even. But I was wrong to sniff at the webinar because as it turns out, webinars are great. I’ve taken a bunch of them and I love them.

A webinar is a seminar on the web. (You probably figured that out.) But what you may not know is that the seminars of days past, the ones you saw in college or at “a function,” they were rather dry and you had to sit in a darkened classroom or lecture hall try to not fall asleep. The Internet has changed all that. Now, seminars — webinars! — can be viewed by you in your fuzzy slippers at home, the best of them are bright and fast-moving, full of juicy content, and they are interactive. That’s right: you can ask the person leading the seminar (in this case, me) questions and stuff, while it’s all happening.

Quilters ask me again and again, “How do I choose fabric?” and that question is first answered in regard to color. The color value and its level of contrast in regard to other fabrics, the scale of the print — this is fundamental stuff when you’re making a quilt and you know what? I can help you. I know this stuff.

One Color Me Quilter webinar is one hour. There will be one each month for the next year. (You don’t have to buy them all or anything, don’t worry.) Each month, I focus on a different color — I thought it would be fun to set it up like that and so far, it’s so engaging and interesting, other work has taken a backseat to my work on the show — do not tell my publisher this. The color that will kick off the whole series on Monday and part of the reason I’m geeking out? It’s my favorite color: red. I go through the dyeing process, red’s placement on the color wheel, how to “audition” different reds. You get quilt history. There are patterns to download. There are pitfalls examined and advice is given on how to avoid such things. Visually, it’s a feast. Informationally, it’s Thanksgiving dinner. Let me feed you red.

Do you want to join me? I hope so. It’s $19.99. NOTE: For me to earn my living, it is extremely important that you go to this link first to buy the webinar! You’ll see the list of “Mary Fons Presents” links there, which will take you to the purchase page at Fons & Porter. Being self-employed means any traffic I drive through my own website returns me more pennies on the dollar. Is it sexy to mention it? No. Is it me, lookin’ out for my pennies? Yes! (Remember, I have to buy groceries in Manhattan now. Do you have any idea how much butter costs in the East Village?? It’s not pretty.)

Thank you all. Hey, here’s that link again — you’ll want the first webinar listed, on “Red.” I do hope to see you on Monday, friends. You will like it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Hood’s Real Downer: “Song of the Shirt”

posted in: Poetry 1
Quilted coverlet by Ann West, 1820.
Quilted coverlet by Ann West, 1820.

There was a tugging in my heart today and a longing I couldn’t place.

Oh, it was probably just nostalgia brought on by spring weather. The sweet, chilled spring air came in and I pulled out last year’s jacket. What was in the pocket but a pack of now-soggy gum and a book of matches from a fancy night out last spring. When these sorts of things happen, I need to read poetry. 

After slogging through an afternoon’s worth of paper on my desk, I went to one of my favorite poetry anthologies to find something expansive. I was hoping I might find a poem on moving or relocation: I arrived in Chicago this morning at dawn and I have one week to wrap up all the ends here before trundling off to Manhattan for the summer. (Or longer. Probably longer.) When you crush up your arm, you need surgery. When you realize you’re about to say goodbye to the view from your bedroom, you need poetry.

I did not find a poem about relocation. What I did find was really good, though, especially if any part of what you do for a living involves sewing. And I know you’re out there.

“Song of the Shirt” is a poem by poet, writer, and humorist Thomas Hood, written in the 1820s in England. It’s about the suffering of the factory drudge, told from her perspective. It’s pretty bleak; it also pretty damn relevant. The refrain, “Work–work–work,” is as imbedded in our discourse as ever. I read it and cackled like a crazy person; she’s got that right. The poem was especially interesting/fitting because she speaks of spring.

I hope you enjoy the poem, as much as it can be enjoyed. In its admonishing way, it’s a little like being forced to take a dose of nasty medicine. But I said I needed help from a poem and that is exactly what I got.

Song of the Shirt
by Thomas Hood

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread—
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the “Song of the Shirt.”

“Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!
And work—work—work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It’s O! to be a slave
Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
If this is Christian work!

“Work—work—work,
Till the brain begins to swim;
Work—work—work,
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
And sew them on in a dream!

“O, men, with sisters dear!
O, men, with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you’re wearing out,
But human creatures’ lives!
Stitch—stitch—stitch,
In poverty, hunger and dirt,
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
A Shroud as well as a Shirt.

“But why do I talk of death?
That phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear his terrible shape,
It seems so like my own—
It seems so like my own,
Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear.
And flesh and blood so cheap!

“Work—work—work!
My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
A crust of bread—and rags.
That shattered roof—this naked floor—
A table—a broken chair—
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
For sometimes falling there!

“Work—work—work!
From weary chime to chime,
Work—work—work,
As prisoners work for crime!
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
As well as the weary hand.

“Work—work—work,
In the dull December light,
And work—work—work,
When the weather is warm and bright—
While underneath the eaves
The brooding swallows cling
As if to show me their sunny backs
And twit me with the spring.

“O! but to breathe the breath
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet—
With the sky above my head,
And the grass beneath my feet;
For only one short hour
To feel as I used to feel,
Before I knew the woes of want
And the walk that costs a meal!

“O! but for one short hour!
A respite however brief!
No blessed leisure for Love or hope,
But only time for grief!
A little weeping would ease my heart,
But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop
Hinders needle and thread!”

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread—
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—
Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—
She sang this “Song of the Shirt!”

Me and Renaldo, We Figure It Out.

Surely a kitten in a bucket will improve my outlook.
Surely a kitten in a bucket will improve my outlook.

Black, black, black was my mood this morning.

Not even the spring weather, cartoonish in its perfection, could zap the cloud floating just above my head. It’s luxury problems: I feel out of shape because constant travel keeps me from regular exercise. Expense reports need done. I’m leaving Chicago in the morning for two solid weeks; I’ll see D.C., New York, and Pittsburgh before I see my home toothbrush again. But more than any of this, I was low because Yuri and I had an argument last night. Instead of things looking clearer in the morning, “things” looked crummy. I woke up feeling very bad, indeed, and nothing scheduled in the day ahead convinced me this would change.

Part of my ridonkulously long list of tasks to complete included the shipping of twelve — twelve! — rather large boxes to the winners of a recent Quilty giveaway. I do not have a car or an assistant, so shipping these boxes meant that I would need to haul them in batches by hand or small shopping cart — on foot, now — to the UPS Store several blocks away. It’s okay. I got this. No, no, I got this.

Dropping two boxes on the sidewalk by the 7-Eleven (and then getting them back into the stack I carried) was tough. My left arm nearly falling off because it was cramping up crossing State St. was tough. But I didn’t cry. Because when I walked into the UPS, Renaldo was working.

“Renaldo!” I said, immediately dropping the large stack onto the floor. “What’s the haps, my friend.” It was a demand: tell me what is going on, Renaldo, because I require it of you. I want our awesome conversation to carry me through the next thirty minutes of this crappy day.

“Hey, Miss Mary,” Renaldo said. “I’m chillin’, I’m chillin.”

Renaldo has worked at the UPS Store in my neighborhood since I moved here; that means I’ve known him for three years. He’s Puerto Rican, has lots of tattoos, and sometimes he will give me a break on my bill if I’m shipping 90,000 boxes, which happens frequently. Renaldo is severely overweight, and if I hadn’t been so happy to see him I would’ve been bummed that all the weight he lost last year is back. Damnit! You were doing really well, buddy.

Without a single word about how long it’s been since I’ve been in the shop (months), without one word about the weather, Renaldo and I fell into our favorite topic of conversation: relationships. I don’t know how it started, but for three years now, when I go into the UPS Store and Reny is working (and if there’s no one else in there, waiting in line) we rap about love. Given the argument I had last night, seeing Reny was perfect timing.

I asked him about his girl. Renaldo always has girl drama.

“Don’t know,” he said, shaking his head, gearing up to tell me a long story. “My girl’s actin’ the fool. I think it’s over.”

He entered the addresses in the computer and I listened and asked questions about the situation. His girlfriend is depressed. She’s refusing his love, saying she doesn’t deserve him, doesn’t deserve anyone because she had an abortion. She does have one child and lately, she’s been talking to her baby daddy. Renaldo has this girl’s name tattooed on his arm. Aye, papi.

I told him a little about my argument, but just enough to commiserate. There’s a lot that is a lot different about our situations, though all wars in love are the same. When each of the boxes had been labeled and moved onto the big palette to go onto the afternoon truck, I thanked my friend and told him it was good to see him. I gathered my things and was on my way out the door.

“You’ll be aiight,” Renaldo called after me. “Hang in there.”

I sagged and turned around. “I’m in love!” I said, miserable. “I have no choice.”

Renaldo hooted at this. “You’re screwed, Miss Mary. So am I.”

Yes, Renaldo. We are all screwed.

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

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

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

Here’s what happened.

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

“Did you PAM the pan?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Jack: “Please stop.”

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

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

and

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

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

The Deer Story.

posted in: Family, Story 9
This vintage die-cut will not ruin your car.
This vintage die-cut will not ruin your car.

One hot August afternoon in the year 2000, I found myself driving a shiny red convertible on a highway in Iowa. I was barely twenty years old, the top was down (convertible top, not my top) and this was a good day because, hey, convertible, and also because it was summer. On top of that, the car had a CD player and I happened to have all my Beastie Boys records with me. Bam!

The car was my mom’s almost-brand-new new toy, but she was allowing me take it to Iowa City for a few days. I was in college then, and that summer I split my time between my hometown and my college town, working as a waitress in both places. I’ve always been a pretty responsible kid and my mother has always been a pretty generous person, so I got the car for a spell. My plan was to rock out, get to Iowa City in one piece, work a few days, and then jam.

That is not what came to pass.

About an hour into the three-hour drive to Iowa City, somewhere between Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head, I became intimately acquainted with a wild animal.

Out of nowhere — in the middle of the afternoon! — while speeding along Highway 169, my peripheral vision picked up a huge, brownish mass bounding out of the ditch on my right. I was going about sixty-five miles an hour; the huge, brownish mass was matching my speed.

Before I had time to understand what was about to happen, the mass — a 10-point buck, give or take — chose to cross the road. Right that second. Mother’s convertible was in the way, of course, and I was in the convertible. The deer dashed up onto the shoulder and then charged, hard, directly into the road.

In a hideous flash: impact.

Ever been hit by a deer from the side while you’re driving? Ever hit a deer head on? It’s not good. Deer are huge. Even small deer are huge. They’re at least bigger than a Great Dane and Great Danes are enormous. Think about hitting a Great Dane with your car. Now make the Great Dane at least three times bigger with antlers and hooves. Bambi is a lie. Bambi is a cartoon animal with big eyelashes. Actual deer are big, wild, and painfully stupid. And they do not have rabbits as pets. So I’m like:

“AAAAAAAGGGGGGGGAAAAAAA!!!!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHGGGGGAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! GGAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!! GAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!”

…as the deer comes up over the side of the car and into the car with me. I felt its bestial heat. Its deer belly was five inches from my face. There came The Great Kicking, and I remember understanding a tremendous amount of weight very near me now, and I remember thinking how much blood a deer probably has and how I was going to know for sure very soon.

“AAAAGGGHHHHHHH! GAAHHHHHHH!” screamed the deer, as he kicked and scrambled over me.

While this is all happening, understand, I’m still driving the car — sort of. I hear plastic shattering and my feet are stabbing at the clutch pedal and the gas pedal and who knows what else. I’m downshifting, I’m pulling over, somehow, and as I’m doing this, the deer clears the car. He came up onto the road, came into the car, and left out the other side.

This is a true story.

When the car finally stopped, there was glass all over me. The deer had all but shattered the windshield; it sagged toward me, crackled into lace. The passenger’s side mirror was in my lap in 10,000 pellets. The entire console of the car was kicked in, totally gone. The Beastie Boys were silent. There was deer hair everywhere. I was taking Italian in school at the time and as I looked at the rape of the convertible, the first thought I had was in Italian for some reason; this probably has to do with my brain not functioning properly or functioning at some adrenaline-boosted peak level. The hair was three distinct colors: dark brown, medium brown, and white, so:

Tricolore,” I said to myself. “Capelli…deer…e tricolore.”

A woman coming down the road on the other side stopped and helped me. She had seen the whole thing. I wasn’t hurt. I thought my face was bashed in because my chin was wet, but it was just spit that had flown out of my mouth when I was whipping my head around and going:

“AAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

I used the lady’s phone to call Mom. When I told her what had happened, she did what any good mother would do: she thanked her lucky stars her daughter was okay and called a mechanic. It was no one’s fault; car insurance was deployed. I went onto Iowa City not long after the whole thing was resolved — you can’t keep me down for long.

But to this day, whenever I drive in Iowa (and I have been driving a lot while I’m here for TV) I end up with a terrible pain in my right shoulder. This is because I drive with it hunched up into my neck, subconsciously trying to brace myself for impact.

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