The Best Kind of Christmas Shopping

Child’s drawing, 2012. Image: Wikipedia.

 

We did it, gang.

My last class for the fall term was today. I am officially one semester away from completing my Master of Fine Arts in Writing (MFAW) at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC.) I feel really good. I know the ol’ PG takes a hit sometimes, with the coursework, but you know and I know: I’m never far. I won’t ever be far away.

When I left the newspaper office this afternoon and I realized the term really was actually complete, I thought, “Hey, I should celebrate.” I considered going for some Netflix, maybe picking up a fancy bottle of wine (by which I mean a $20-bottle of wine.) And if Netflix n’ drinkin alone strikes you as being kind of a sad way to celebrate something, you must understand that I am very, very tired.

But I didn’t get the bottle of wine (too many calories) and I won’t poke around on Netflix, either (too many choices.) The good news is that I found a better way to celebrate on the way home: I bought a Christmas present for a kid!

My friends S. and Z. have the most incredible daughter. Let’s call her Squirt. Squirt is around five, though I’m terrible at gauging/remembering the ages of anyone over about one week. What I do know about the child is that she is almost too smart and adorable to be believed. The kid bats her eyes and twirls around and you’re toast, just totally in love with her and her Squirt Way. But then she opens her mouth to say something genius and you think, “Please, please Lord, let this person use her powers for good.” Because she’s scary advanced, human-wise.

For example, about a year-and-a-half ago, I was hanging out at the pool with Squirt and her mom and Squirt fell and got a bad scrape on her knee. Of course, Squirt was really, really upset and crying; it hurt! We were all doing the boo-boo kiss thing and trying to make her feel better, but it was a tough one. At one point, between sobs, Squirt wailed to us, “I’m n-not d-doing very well … !”

I‘m not doing very well??

The kid was three. This is what I’m talking about.

Anyway, Squirt loves to make art. The last time I saw her and her, we made art together, and that was a blast. Drawing and coloring with this kid made me remember just how very, very much I loved “doing art” when I was wee. Oh, man. It’s really in the blood, you know, the art stuff. Some kids are just art kids. As Squirt and I scribbled together that day, I made a mental note that when Christmastime came, I was gonna blow that kid’s mind with a big haul of art supplies from Chicago.

So there I am, headed away from the office, trying to figure out how to mark this not-insubstantial milestone in my grad school existence, when it hit me: Go to Dick Blick! Of course! I could go into Dick Blick and buy Squirt her art supplies!

And indeed, I went into the art superstore there on State Street and knew it was just right. I looked over papers, markers, glitters. I picked up pens, cardstock, poster paper. My eyes loved the colors everywhere; I let the smell of canvas and glue and paint carry me away.

That kid is gonna freak out. I got her some good stuff, and I’m not even sure I’m done, yet. At the heart, I suppose I did retail therapy tonight, except I got the therapy and Squirt’s gettin’ the retail.

Christmas is working!

School’s Coming! School’s Coming!

The Art Institute of Chicago as it looked in 1908. The lions were there, but compare this picture to the way the city looks almost 110 years ago? Incredible. Image, Wikipedia; annotations, me.
This is the Art Institute of Chicago as it looked in 1908. The lions (aka, “My guys!”) were there, but compare this picture to the way the city looks almost 110 years later and you’d faint. The School’s buildings are across the street, as annotated by the arrow pointing off the frame. Image: Wikipedia; annotations, me.

 

School’s starting in two weeks and I am so excited I am vibrating.

Yes, I’m halfway through my graduate program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), the school within the world-renowned art museum in the heart of the Chicago Loop. It’s a heavenly place. My first year was a shimmering dream. Now, that shimmering dream just about killed me — I did 17 gigs last year while managing courses and the newspaper — but I loved every minute of the race. I have every intention of loving the second year’s race even more. You’ll see.

Incredible, how I’m halfway done. Didn’t I just tell you I had been accepted? Didn’t I just go into the wrong building on the first day and hike up 14 flights of stairs in a dress and heels so I wouldn’t be late??* The nature of time itself was one of my reasons for entering into a graduate program: I knew that two years would flash by regardless, so why not do what I’ve always wanted to do? Why not scare myself to death? Why not go into painful debt? Exactly! If the time is going to pass anyway, why not have a graduate degree to show for it? Sometimes, I am right about things.

I’m also getting ahead of myself. I have a long way to go and a lot of work ahead of me before I get to twirl down the primrose path with my diploma. Quite the visual, but they say it’s best to stay present in the moment, so… Can I tell you what classes I’m taking?? Well, since you twisted my arm…

Writing: Seminar: Literature of the Senses — Prof. England*
We will look at a wide range of poets and novelists and their explorations of the five senses: Proust on scent; Thomas Mann on music; Lady Murasaki and various poets on color; Colson Whitehead and Arthur Rimbaud on synesthesia. We will also turn to essays in popular science in order to enrich our own vocabularies: Luca Turin on perfume; Oliver Sachs on music. Students will write one critical paper and a variety of creative exercises. 

Writing: Process/Project Workshop — Prof. Nugent
This is a class for students to work on a single, extended writing project… Your project can be made up of many disparate parts, but those parts should be part of a single whole. [This course is] a forum for articulating and discussing ideas and process… While the class will include presentation and discussion of your work, we will approach it from a process-oriented perspective that focuses on open-ended questioning and exploring, rather than intervention and critique. 

Master of Fine Arts: Interdisciplinary Seminar — Prof. Anne Wilson
The purpose of this course is to provide an informal critique situation where students from various disciplines meet once a week to present and discuss their work. The faculty leader facilitates the discussion, which is designed to help students articulate a critique of their own work as well as the work of other students.

I’m so excited about the Literature of the Senses class, I started reading the books this summer. The Process/Project class is writer heaven. And the Interdisciplinary Seminar might sound less sexy than the other two, but I’m over-the-moon about it, maybe more excited about it than anything. Professor Wilson is a fiber art rock star (I had a class with her in this spring) and I would follow her to the end of the world. Wilson’s classes are serious: We will discuss complicated ideas, we will be expected to do a ton of work, we’ll read till we drop, and I, for one, will eat it up. I’m in grad school! Crush me with books! Crack the pedagogical whip! Isn’t that what I’m paying for, for Lord’s sake??

Of course, I’m paying for more than that. I’m paying for two of the best years of my life.

 

*Course descriptions slightly edited for length.
**And when I petted Butter at the animal therapy day, was it a subliminal push toward Philip??

The Textile Geek Is IN! (On Spring Registration.)

Crochet detail. (Hey, you never know!) Photo: Wikipedia.
Crochet detail. (Hey, you never know!) Photo: Wikipedia.

Registration for my second term of graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) was this week. I had forgotten how stressful it is to register for college classes because it’s been awhile since I did it. Here are the facts:

  • there are only so many seats in each class (i.e., you may get the classes you want)
  • there are requirements you must meet (i.e., you can’t fart around and only take classes about David Bowie)
  • students’ registration times are staggered (i.e., you might be dead-last for a registration time, which is bad)
  • you are paying a ton money (i.e., is it hot in here?)

I’m happy to report that my registration went great, but I know very well that this is lucky. Next fall, I might not feel so chipper — it’s really the flip of a coin. Therefore, I’m allowing myself to enjoy my good fortune while I’ve got it. This includes reading and re-reading the course descriptions for the classes I got and psyching myself up for January 26th, the first day of Spring 2017 term.

One of the jewels in the crown is “Micro/Macro Textiles” in the Fiber and Material Studies Department. Just look at this:

This seminar will use the Textile Resource Center of the Department of Fiber and Material Studies as the location for source material to explore artist research practices. Emphasis will be placed on research as hands-on knowing. Understanding textiles through possibilities of drawing, notation, photography, video, live action, and remaking will be considered. Close observation of textile structure, fiber spin, dyestuff color, fiber content, and formal resolution will be considered alongside larger frames of cultural context, meaning, and metaphor. Artist lectures and visiting scholars from areas including textile conservation, restoration, curation, and science will extend our learning alongside field trips to Chicago area museums and collections. Students will be expected to develop studio work, written research, presentations, and rigorous journals.

Darlin’, you had me at “rigorous journals.” Or maybe you had me at “close observation of textile structure” and “larger frames of cultural context.” Actually, no; I swooned in the first sentence with “Textile Resource Center.”

The professor? Internationally acclaimed fiber artist Anne Wilson, who is, as the graduate advisor for the Writing Department told me, “an absolute rockstar.” She warned me to have a solid backup, that I might not get into the class. But I did!

There are several weeks left of the fall term; I’ll have stories for you as I do my first “Critique Week,” where a panel of fancy people read my work and then peer over their glasses at me and talk to me about what they liked and did not like. And then there’s the ginormous project I have to finish for my Design For Writers class.

I can’t help it: I’m already dreaming in micro.

I’ll Take The Stairs.

Staircase at the Courtauld Gallery, London, England. Photo by Mike Peel via Wikipedia.
Staircase at the Courtauld Gallery, London, England. Photo by Mike Peel via Wikipedia.

 

Today, I had my first class in the graduate Writing department and I am in love.

I’m in love with my professor’s incredible brain and I’m in love with her syllabus. I’m in love with the bike ride to campus (six minutes!) and I’m in love with all my fresh new notebooks. What’s wonderful about this place is that when I say I’m a quilter, everyone wants to know more because everyone here loves art, pattern, color, and making things with one’s own two hands (and feet, if you’re a quilter or a potter, of course.)

I am not in love with the elevator situation, however. I had a rather harrowing experience this morning.

Many classes at The School of the Art Institute (SAIC) take place at 116 S. Michigan Avenue and 112 S. Michigan Avenue. These buildings are across the street from the Art Institute itself and they are both very tall. I don’t know how many floors each one has, but I’m quite certain both have at least 14 because I climbed 14 flights of stairs today. Before 9 a.m. With a cup of coffee in my hand, a tote bag on my right shoulder, and a purse on my left one.

In pumps.

Hey, man, I’m impatient. If I’m at the bus stop for too long and the bus is nowhere in sight, I’ll just start walking. Why stand around and twiddle my thumbs when I can move my tushie and get a change of scenery? Besides, bus stops are grody. This impatience applies to elevators, too: I hate waiting for them. If it seems doable, I’ll take the stairs every time. This “don’t wait” philosophy is hardwired in my general disposition, but it also springs from having experienced long periods of my life when I was so ill and so weak I couldn’t walk. I’ve been in hospitals for months and weeks at a time and it’s certain that I’ll be back in those places again. I genuinely do not take for granted when I feel well enough to take the stairs, so I do. Within reason.

The three (only three!) elevators at the 116 S. Michigan building are tiny and date to the Mesozoic period. Seriously, these are the slowest elevators I’ve ever experienced. I think they go up or down a couple floors and then just need to rest or something, maybe make a phone call before they get back to work. And at 8:50 a.m., there are big crowds of students — mostly undergrads — all waiting for them. One is usually out of order and the other two creak open every 5-6 minutes and let in a trickle of people inside before creaking away again.

What floor was my class on, I wondered? I took a look at my planner. Eighth floor. I sucked in some air. Let’s do it, Fons. Boot n’ rally. And I began to take the stairs.

I had to rest at the fifth floor. While I was doing that, a couple undergrads zipped past me, laughing and talking while they were zipping up stairs because they are small children. (Neither of them were wearing heels.) But when I got to the eighth floor, I realized I had made a terrible error: I was in the wrong building. I was in 116 S. Michigan; I should have been in 112. There’s nothing like being out of breath and sad and panicked because now you’re going to be late to your very first department class during your very first days of graduate school.

What was I to do? Wait there for the elevator and take it all the way down, then walk to the other building and then go up another eight flights of stairs? Even I have my limits. Then I realized something. The two Michigan buildings are connected at the 14th floor! This was a good solution: I could just go up to 14 and then back down to 8 on the other side and maybe still make it right on the money. I looked at the elevators through the stairwell door. I looked up the stairwell at six more flights of stairs. I thought about my life. I thought that if I died in the stairwell someone would find me eventually. I took a deep breath, cursed loudly (it sounded awesome with the echo), and began my ascent. Again.

I was in my seat at 9:02. I was sweaty and gross and happy, actually, because that’s how bad I want this.

 

How I Imagine the Interview for Employment Goes at This One Coffee Shop on Michigan Avenue

Latte art. Photo: Wikipedia.
Latte art. Photo: Wikipedia.

How I Imagine an Interview for Employment Goes at This One Chain Coffee Shop on Michigan Avenue
by Mary Fons

(The HIRING MANAGER and APPLICANT sit at a table in a busy coffee shop.)

HIRING MANAGER: Hi! Thanks for coming by. We were really impressed with your application and I’m glad you could make it today.

APPLICANT stares at HIRING MANAGER.

HIRING MANAGER: Awesome. So I want to start out just telling you a bit about the company and what we’re looking for. We’re a full-service coffee and tea shop. We have many locations across Chicago and are really leaning in, as they say, haahahahahaa, to disrupt the market, you know, as they say, which is cool. So we want team members, you know, to really be a part of the family. I want to see if you’re a good fit, so I’m going to just ask you a few questions. Sound good?

APPLICANT: Whatever.

HIRING MANAGER: Okay: hypothetical question. A customer comes in. Chipper thirtysomething. Smiling. She exclaims, in a cheery way, to you guys at the counter: “It smells great in here! Wow! What is that? Muffins?” How do you respond?

APPLICANT: Just…nothing. No response.

HIRING MANAGER. Well, you’re off to a good start. Okay, next question. When there’s a line — and there is always a line at this location, always — and a customer finally gets to the register after like, 20 minutes of waiting, ignored, what do you do?

APPLICANT: Just stare at them.

HIRING MANAGER: Good. And…?

APPLICANT: When they start to talk, I guess I’d turn to someone else behind the counter and ask them something and then go to the warmer and put something in and take something out. And then return to the register and then just wait.

HIRING MANAGER: I am…impressed. That’s exactly right. Okay. Hot tea. Serve it hot or stone cold?

(APPLICANT takes out phone, plays Candy Crush. HIRING MANAGER also takes out phone. Text messages boyfriend.)

HIRING MANAGER: Anyway, the tea, whenever… Did you already answer? About the tea temperature?

APPLICANT: (Putting phone away.) I don’t care.

HIRING MANAGER: (Laughs at her own text. Puts phone on counter and glances at it through the rest of the interview. She looks up at APPLICANT.) You got the trick question? Seriously? “I don’t care” is exactly right. Oh, and here’s a tip, but don’t tell them I told you: When a customer asks, super nice, if you can heat up her beverage, be extremely, extremely sour about it. And make sure it takes forever. 

APPLICANT: Cool.

HIRING MANAGER: All right, we’re almost done. I see on your application you have no prior job experience whatsoever. Nothing. That’s perfect. Oh, also… Yeah, there’s something called a cash register. Do you think you could use one?

APPLICANT: Is it hard?

HIRING MANAGER: Nope. A baby could do it.

(APPLICANT is silent, stares off into space.) 

HIRING MANAGER: I know it’s scary. But we’d train you. Well, another employee who has been on the register for one day would train you. Melissa. She’s the girl who gave you the application that came out of the printer that needs ink.

APPLICANT: I guess I could learn it.

HIRING MANAGER: You, my dear, are hired. Welcome to the family! Everyone here is family. You’re already invited to the Holiday Party! It’s here in the shop during business hours, so we’re closed on a Thursday afternoon at high traffic time. I don’t think people will mind.

THE END

*EDITOR’S NOTE: I don’t know what to write about California. I’m still mourning Paris. I can’t handle the anger and powerlessness I feel about citizens of my city being murdered by their fellow citizens every day. I can’t process, much less speak about any of this so I wrote this silly play. But I wanted to say that I’m as anxious and depressed as all of you and maybe this (possibly true) play will distract us for two seconds. I just want to know how a person chooses to cut a brother or sister’s life short. I can’t understand it and I try not to write about things I can’t understand. I fail all the time. But I can’t even approach this one.