My Cell Phone Phobia, Part One: ‘The Problem’

posted in: Tips 6
Girls on phones — are they as anxious as I am? Image: Wikipedia.

 

How was Christmas?? Was everything okay? Did you eat cookies? I got a hairdryer! It’s the only thing I asked for, so I’m batting 1000. Now, onto a serious matter:

I have terrible cell phone anxiety.

The first cell phone I ever had I got the summer after college, right before I moved to Chicago. It was a Samsung flip phone, the pre-iPhone era. I remember being excited to have a number with a Chicago area code. I remember thinking the flip thing was cool. But I’m pretty sure that right away, I started to not like answering my phone when it rang. And when texting became a thing, I remember being extremely resistant to responding to texts in a timely fashion, most of the time.

But why?

To answer that question, I’m going to get a little armchair-psychologist on you; just bear with me.

When we don’t do something we’re supposed to do — or when there’s something we shouldn’t do but we keep doing it, anyway — it’s worth asking what deeper reasons might causing the detrimental behavior.

For example, if a kid is told over and over again that he shouldn’t hit his little brother but he keeps doing it, at a certain point it becomes more important (and far more effective) to ask lil’ dude what’s going on with his emotions and his heart. Is he frustrated with something? Is he sad? Maybe he needs attention. Maybe he doesn’t feel like anyone’s listening to him and he hits his brother so someone will look at him for once. The point here is that human beings have exquisite reasons for doing the things we do, even if the things we do are lame/weird/not helpful. Such as hitting your kid brother.

Or being “terrible” at cell phones.

I’m starting to understand something big about my cell phone problem because I’ve been looking at the whole situation with compassion instead of guilt and shame. (Amazing when you turn the tables on yourself with love, eh?)

The truth is, I hate that I have to have a telephone-computer-homing device with me at all times and that I will have said device, in whatever incarnation it takes, from now until I die. I deeply resent the tyranny of this small, plastic and metal box which pings and dings at me incessantly. It startles me. It breaks my concentration. And for the priviledge of all this, I pay an awful lot of money, just like you do.

I know I sound like a real luddite jerk. I’m not! I love GPS and being able to look up definitions of words while I’m waiting for an elevator. I love being able to check my email while I’m on the bus. I love Instagram! I love the Southwest app! And the other apps! Most of them!

In fact, part of the reason I hate cell phones so much is precisely because they allow for these kinds of things. My cell phone sucks me in when there are other things that could suck me in (e.g., the landscape, the beautiful woman sitting near me on the train speaking Swahili to her son, etc.), but other, real-life things are usually no match for flashing, beeping screen pictures, because people are like crows and crows are easily distracted by shiny objects. I am a person. I like shiny objects. I’m a crow, too. I get it.

So my friends and family get hurt because I turn my phone off a lot. I have missed important calls. I’ve played games of phone tag so long it approached being an Olympic sport. If you leave a voicemail for me … Woe, woe unto you. Checking my voicemail is like dental work for me; ergo, I don’t get around to checking it very often. This is bad. This is not good. Something has to change. I have to make peace with the phone thing.

Guess what? Peace is being delivered tomorrow — as in, UPS is bringing peace and will leave it in the receiving room.

I’ll explain everything tomorrow — and this time, I won’t leave you hanging. Hey! That’s kind of a phone joke. “Hanging”? Get it? Like a phone? Hanging up? Like …

Let’s just talk tomorrow.

Why I’m Staying In Washington.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Paean 1
It's you and me, Link. Photo: Wikipedia
How can this be wrong? Photo: Wikipedia

This blog is honest. Everything I tell you is real, and it’s true. Okay, it’s my truth — everyone has their version — but I come to the mat every time with the real deal.

But of course I can’t tell the whole truth, all the time. Sometimes this is because it would be inappropriate — someone else’s privacy needs to be respected, my privacy needs to be respected, it ain’t ready for prime-time, it’s too racy, it’s an over-share, etc. — but sometimes it’s because I’m scared.

Telling just how hard it’s been to move through my life in the past few months, this is something I haven’t been as honest about as I could’ve been. There was a moment of it, but I’ve held back the truly wrenching experience that has been choosing my next step. I am a naturally decisive person, so this back-and-forth has been nothing short of excruciating. Deciding where to live in a matter of weeks — Chicago or Washington — has made me realize that to be a woman with no boundaries presents as many challenges as someone who feels stuck in one place. I have no baby who needs to be fed. I have no husband with whom I make major decisions. I don’t even have a desk job. To be so free, I say unto you, is not so easy.

I haven’t been entirely forthcoming about how my heart has ached. For love lost, love found, love lost again. No one wants to read some maudlin, whiny girl mope about her love life — and this maudlin, whiny girl wouldn’t dare write the stuff — but perhaps I have over-pruned. Sharing that I find myself aching, longing, thrilled, excited, devastated, and confused in matters of the heart almost daily might help someone else out there. If you are that someone else, it’s high time I tell you that I understand.

Today, I turned in my lease. I’m staying in Washington, DC for another year and I’d like to tell you how I finally chose this. You might think what ultimately pushed me in this direction is odd, but to me it was perfect, it was right on time, and I was so grateful I cried.

I’m working on memorizing a Longfellow poem called “The Day Is Done.” Please take a moment to read the whole thing sometime. It’s about a person who wants to hear a poem in the evening — but he doesn’t want anything fancy or difficult (e.g., Homer). He says:

“Read from some humbler poet
Whose songs gushed from her heart
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start.

Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease
Still heard in her soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.”

That poem is why I’m staying in Washington. Oh, for heaven’s sake it’s more than that — perhaps I’ll detail more tomorrow so you don’t think I’ve lost my mind and am making choices entirely based on dead poets — but those verses were my tipping point.

Long days of labor? I know about labor. Nights devoid of ease? Yes, those. But through it all, I keep hearing these melodies. If I keep up the labor, if I’m not afraid of the night, I feel like the melodies will keep coming to me. And I can’t live without them. I wouldn’t want to.

So I’ll honor the melodies by laboring longer. I’ll give them new sights to see, here in the almost-South. I can’t wait to tell you all about the apartment I found on the 10th floor of a beautiful historic building. It looks over a valley so lush and green right now, you can’t imagine how beautiful it is. I’ll stay and watch the leaves in that valley turn to bronze and gold, then fall, then grow again.

Then we’ll see what the melodies want me to do next.

 

 

Shine On, Crazy Shoes.

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 0
Astaire in Royal Wedding. Can you imagine how shiny his shoes are? With the suit and the top hat?? Oh, brother.
Astaire in Royal Wedding. Can you imagine how shiny his shoes are? With the suit and the top hat?? Oh, brother.

I’m in downtown Chicago for the next twenty-four and I’m feelin’ fine.

The buildings look just like I remember them (tall, smart) and the weather is a familiar negative ten-thousand degrees. It’s great! I love Chicago so much. As I clippity-clopped through the city today, doing errands, I thought about the expression, “I know _____ like the back of my hand.” I’ll bet I know downtown Chicago better. I’ve seen the back of my hand a lot, but which one? And at what stage of life? My hands keep changing, but Chicago is Chicago is Chicago.

But a city is hell on shoes. The low-slung cowboy boots I’ve been hoofing around in for the past couple months were looking awful: dirty and dull, desperately in need of a shoe facial. So, after I turned in a bunch of work, etc., I went in search of a shoe shine shop. Find one I did, and I sat there trying not to smile like a weirdo through the whole thing because I had forgotten that there is perhaps nothing on Earth — on Earth — that feels better than walking out of a shoe shine shop with shiny shoes. Hey, don’t take my word for it: take Fred Astaire’s word for it. Take Fred Astaire’s word for everything. There’s a song he sings called “Put a Shine On Your Shoes” in the MGM movie The Bandwagon. This song says everything better than I could say on this topic. Consider:

When you feel as low/As the bottom of a well/And can’t get out of the mood/Do something to perk yourself up/And change your attitude/Give a tug to your tie/Put a crease in your pants/But if you really want to feel fine/Give your shoes a shine

When there’s a shine on your shoes/There’s a melody in your heart/With a singable happy feeling/A wonderful way to start/To face the world every day/With a deedle-dum-dee-dah-dah/A little melody that is making/The worrying world go by

Put a shine on your shoes/Put a shine on your shoes… [REPEAT AD INFINITUM.]

The number is marvelous. Astaire twirls up to the guy working the shoe shine stand and wins him over like he always wins everyone over; before long, the guy is killing the rhythm with his brushes and his towel as he works. Of course, all the extras in the background are happy, smiling at the song and dance. There are some charming slapstick moments — there so often were in these sorts of films — but obviously the best thing about it is that it’s a number about feet and it’s Fred Astaire, so what more do you want in life? In life! A number focusing expressly on Fred Astaire’s feet?? Just… Just stick a fork in me. I’m done. You’re done, too! There’s no way you’re going to keep reading this because you’re clicking over to YouTube right now to watch Fred Astaire dance, aren’t you? It’s okay. I left writing to watch it, too.

Have you come back? I hope so. I’m almost done. I only wanted to say that my boots look brand new after my shoe shine. In fact, they look better than when I got them. I’m a new woman. And the coolest thing was when the guy was almost finished, he did one final back n’ forth with the clean towel around each heel and quick whipped it off with a “thwap!” It was like a gun went off, it was so loud! Awesome. If it’s possible to tip too liberally, I did.

Shine those shoes.

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!

Tips: Best Shower Ever

posted in: D.C., Tips 0
Edgar_Germain_Hilaire_Degas_045
After the Bath, Woman Drying her Nape, by Edgar Degas, 1898. Pastel on paper; Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

The best shower you can take is a post-move shower. If you set it up correctly, this can be an almost ecstatic experience. Here’s how to do it.

1. Push yourself to make just one more pile of objects disappear.
2. Repeat No. 1 until you put your hands on your hips, survey your home, and go, “Nice.”
3. Because of No. 1 and 2, your bathroom should be primo at this point, but double check: your shampoo, conditioner, almond oil, back brush, shower pouf, exfoliating scrub, shaving cream, and bone-handled razor should all be in place.
4. Turn on the shower. Start with warm water so that you’ll be able to slowly increase the temperature as your body adjusts. You’re going for lobster, here.
5. For dramatic effect, to absolutely no one at all, shimmy out of your robe and wink over your shoulder as you step into the shower; swish the curtain closed with a flourish.
6. Scrub, soap, lather, clean, cleanse, and otherwise scour thyself into a wholly new creature.
8. Exit shower.
9. Wrap yourself in a fluffy robe and put slippers on your feet; pad downstairs to the living room and sink into overstuffed easy chair.
10. See another pile over by the side table.
11. Repeat No. 1.

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.

Statistical Interlude, With Tea.

posted in: Story 0
I have learned this evening that the Jean Luc Picard character from Star Trek drank Earl Grey Tea a lot, too.
I have learned this evening that the Jean Luc Picard character from Star Trek enjoyed Earl Grey Tea, also.

Today, my sister Nan and I moved boxes of my belongings to her place about four blocks away. It was cold and it was not what either of us would call fun, but we love each other and we got to feel that special closeness two people feel when the dolly full of boxes you’re pushing dumps over on Avenue A. Twice.

We took our last load over this evening, stopping the Trail of Tears long enough for me to stop into my go-to coffee shop for an Earl Grey tea. Nan waited outside with the dolly and my suitcase and I went in with my carpetbag.** I briefly waited in line. The gal in front of me paid and stepped to the side for her drink.

“Earl Grey tea, please,” I said to the bearded coffee guy working the counter. “Large.”

“Sure,” he said, then he half-turned to the other guy working with him (also bearded) and said, “That’s always kinda weird, when two people, like, totally independent of each other, order the same, somewhat less-usual thing.”

“Oh,” I said, turning to the girl who had gone before me. “Did you get a large Earl Grey tea, too?” She said that she had. “Yeah, that’s cool,” I said to the bearded men.

“Yeah, but what’s really weird is that this exact thing happened earlier today, too,” said Bearded Guy No. 1. “We had two girls order large Earl Grey teas, both in line by each other, but not together.” His eyes got big and so did mine.

“That’s like, statistically crazy,” I said. Everyone nodded. “I mean, it’s not magic. It’s not woo-woo. It’s just statistically nuts! If it happens again tonight, you guys should get a Lotto ticket.”

“If it happens again,” Bearded Guy No. 2 says, “I’ll just shut down the shop. That would be too weird.”

Relocation Options: Option Two, Wisconsin

posted in: Day In The Life, Travel 2
Me, showing off my quilt from the upper level of the Arnie J. Richter ferry boat, Washington Island, WI. It was about 10 degrees that day.
Me, showing off my quilt from the upper level of the Arnie J. Richter ferry boat, Washington Island, WI. It was about 10 degrees that day.

Picture me in barrister’s robes and one of those funny wigs, pacing back and forth on the wood floor as I offer for your review, ladies and gentlemen, a quick look at the facts:

1. Yuri and I have agreed that living together is not what we should do right now.
2. My condo in Chicago is unavailable, as I have tenants in the unit through mid-June.
3. I do not wish to stay in New York.

If you’d like to consider with me Option One, you’ll need to read the full post here. Now, in your mind, please take this wig off me and get me out of those barrister robes and into something sensible as I proceed with what, as I see it, is my second option:

Option No. 2: Sunrise Cottage — Washington Island, WI
My family has blood ties to an extraordinary place called Washington Island, a 23-square-mile island seven miles off the tip of Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. My grandparents are buried there. My great-grandparents are buried there. My aunt and six cousins live there. My mother taught quilting at the fiber arts school up there; two summers ago, I taught quilting there, too. As children, my sisters and I would spend weeks of our summer vacation, splashing in the lake waters and lazing around watching VHS videos, trying to get MTV on some old TV set. Even through the divorce and on through all four years of college, every summer we were (and are) playing and relaxing and communing with WiWi. (W.I. = Washington Island, W.I. = Wisconsin, ergo, “WiWi.”)

About six years ago, my family finally made a home up there. We had been cabin renters through the years, but now we have a cottage — a cozy, beautiful, light-filled, perfect cottage on the lake. Because of this happy event, we can now have Thanksgivings, Christmases, and winter escapes up there, too. There’s a fireplace, a boathouse, and lots of board games and if heaven is real, it probably looks a lot like a snowy afternoon on WiWi while a pie bakes in the oven and you’re smack in the middle of an amazing book. Sounds brilliant, right? Why not go there, sink into the comfort and joy of this magical island?

What are you, nuts?!

I can’t be on an island in the middle of winter! I travel for work a good 40% of my time! It’s a good thing I love airports because I’m in them a lot. Getting to and from the airport, to and from a gig, to and from a shoot, etc. is always a bit of a schlep. Adding an icy ferry boat ride, a 2-hour drive to the nearest airport (Green Bay) and Wisconsin weather from October through about May is not my idea of a wise plan.

The other problem with WiWI is that it is a remote place in psychic terms as well as geographical ones. Just 660 people live there year-round. I wrote most of my book up there during a two-week stretch in the winter of ’13 and I got a little squirrelly. The frosty, starry sky is beautiful at night, but the land is plunged into pitch black starting around 5pm until the sun rises around 6am. Staring into a roaring fire is super over a four-day weekend up there; staring into the fire night after night and you start becoming the one-woman sequel to Altered States. Mom and Mark aren’t there year-round for this very reason. Six months on WiWi and I might end up curled up on the couch, listening to the all-Catholic talk radio station, eating jumbo marshmallows out of a wicker basket.

New York out. Chicago out. Iowa out. Wisconsin out. Tomorrow, Option Three.

*Note: I cannot believe all of the gracious offers I have had since yesterday from people offering me to stay in their home or come to their city. Thank you.

 

 

 

“For Improving.”

posted in: Story 0
Well, it's something.
Well, it’s something.

I will be in New York City for the year, I think, but no more. I have yet to fall for this place. I’m waiting by the phone for New York to take me out, wine and dine me, leave me breathless, but apparently, New York is okay with me staying home to wash my hair. Fine, New York. But you don’t know what you’re missing. Besides, you smell.

So I will return to Chicago in time and reunite with all my stuff, not that I have a lot of it. I heard once that “every object in your home is a thought in your head.” There’s no room up there as it is, so I am ruthless in getting rid of things. Sometimes I cut a bit deep, e.g., the time I was up at the family cottage and sailed letters from my estranged father into the fire, one after the other. They were all from a particularly morose and self-drenched period in his life and there were just so many of them. Later, I thought, “One day he’ll be gone and you’ll regret that one, Fons.” But there’s nothing to be done about it now. Ashes to ashes and all.

For some bizarre reason, I have kept a chemistry award I got in high school. Oh, I was no chemistry whiz. As you can see by the scan of the award, my distinction was for “improving.” Not even “Most Improved,” just “improving.” I seem to recall that I improved from a D+ to a C-, by the way. I couldn’t have cared less about chemistry but I did care about a bad grade. My strategy in high school was to be so damned good at the things I was good at that no one would really care if I sucked at the rest of it. A+ after A+ in English, Speech, Reading. Those were all slam dunks. Algebra II? I’d rather not think about it.

What’s strangest about this award, though, is not that I’ve kept it, but that I brought it to New York. It wasn’t stuck in a book that I just found. No, I remember distinctly putting it into a box to bring here. The only reason I can imagine for doing this is that I planned to blog about it. That must be it.

That must be why.

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.

(Just) East of Eden.

posted in: Art 5
Salinas Valley, California. 2008.
Salinas Valley, California. 2008.

I made chicken with creamy pan sauce. I made a pumpkin pie. I made a batch of cookys for Yuri, (this time with white chocolate chips, regular chocolate chips, and pecans.) Right now, there are sweet potato fries in the oven seasoned with curry, cumin, and salt n’ pepper (plus some finely diced red onion) and this morning, there was a cheesy omelette for the man.

All the while, I thought of East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. I’m reading it. And if you have ever read it — or ever read any genius work of fiction, I mean really the cream of the genius crop — you know what I mean when I say I’m only half in my world. The other half of me in the Salinas Valley around the turn of the last century.

Have you read this book? Have you ever? You must. Do not delay. Put aside any non-crucial tasks for the next week and take up East of Eden. I can’t see how this novel could not enrich a person’s life.

 

Look at this:

“Tom, the third son, was most like his father. He was born in fury and he lived in lightning. Tom came headling into life. He was a giant in joy and enthusiasms. He didn’t discover the world and it’s people, he created them. When he read his father’s books, he was the first. He lived in a world shining and fresh and as uninspected as Eden on the sixth day. His mind plunged like a colt in a happy pasture, and when later the world put up fences he plunged against the wire, and when the final stockade surrounded him, he plunged right through it and out. And as he was capable of giant joy, so did he harbor huge sorrow, so that when his dog died the world ended.”

When I read that particular paragraph, my mouth popped open. I had to go read it to Yuri. “His mind plunged like a colt in a happy pasture,” I read, and the words landed in him as they had in me. “Woah,” said Yuri.

“Yeah,” I said.

The character of Cathy Ames is so terrifying, so cruel, that I am afraid of her. Afraid of a fictional character in a book! And the Trask brothers’ complex, violent, loving relationship make them more real than some people you’ve met in real life. I’ve hardly begun to learn about the Hamilton family, but it’s the Trasks and the Hamiltons who are at the core of this epic.

It’s all a juicy Bible allegory; Steinbeck said so. He also said all the books and stories he wrote before East of Eden were warm ups for East of Eden. He called it “the first book,” and he dedicated it to his sons. Steinbeck was married three times and he lived the final thirteen years of his life in New York City with his third wife, whom he loved very much. “I am in New York,” he wrote to his editor, “surrounded by love.”

I know the feeling.

The Handbag Effect.

That's her.
That’s her.

In Nebraska, you get an extra scoop of ice cream at the ice cream shop just because you’re nice. That actually happened.

You can’t get a good piece of fish anywhere, but what’s wrong with you? You’re as landlocked as a person can get in the United States. Eat steak.

In Nebraska, you can visit the International Quilt Study Center — a.k.a. Valhalla for quilt geeks. You’ll receive a near-stately welcome and be rendered speechless when you enter the galleries. Perhaps for the first time in your life you will see quilts given the honor and solemn respect they deserve. This is way, way better than eating substandard fish or even well-ordered steak. Please go there.

And if you’re carrying a Celine handbag within state lines, you will be mobbed in Nebraska.

Look, these are things I know and I tell you because I care about you.

My mother and I stopped by an outlet mall on our way into town. Mom needed pantyhose. We figured at the outlet mall we could get out and stretch our legs, find a cup of coffee, get those hose. And so we exited for Nebraska Crossing, a sprawling, newly-constructed discount compound. I’m not a huge fan of outlet malls; the shopping experience always feels a bit like a mouthful of styrofoam. But it was a warm day and there was a Brooks Brothers store on the grounds, so I was game. I like Brooks Brothers shirts.

So Mom and I are going along and twice in two different shops, I was complimented on my handbag. I am currently toting around a rawther nice handbag, it’s true: it’s a Celine Phantom bag from last year. It’s oxblood-colored (strangely tempting to use the UK spelling there — “oxblood-coloured” — but I wouldn’t dare) and is not the mini-version of the Phantom that has been showing up lately. This beast is the full monty, the real deal, and it’s head-slappingly gorgeous, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am. The bag was a gift, and that’s a story for another day, when you and I have a quality Zinfandel and about an hour to kill at an airport bar.

My mother found her pantyhose and that was all we bought the whole time we were at Nebraska Crossing, but we looked around the place for well over an hour, enjoying being together and not working. The last store we popped into was the Michael Kors store. We walked in and were just about to walk out when a twinky young sales assistant approached me.

“Oooh, I love your bag,” he said, eyes fixed on the smooth leather. “It almost looks like Celine.”

“It is Celine,” I said with a smile.

My answer appeared to throw the young man into physical pain.

“NO!” he gasped. “Braden!!!”

A second twinky sales associate levitated over. Both of them were 90lbs soaking wet, both barely in their twenties. They flapped their hands and were jumping up and down, touching my handbag and clutching their chests.

“That is seriously Celine,” said the first young man, fingering the tiny logo at the top of the bag. “Seriously, seriously, seriously Celine.” He was almost in tears. He looked at his friend. “Phoebe Philo is life.”*

“Can I hold it??” the second one asked me.

Of course he could, I said, and I let the boys try out the bag. One of them joked that he was going to take off with it and made a little motion of turning and running, which was slightly less funny to me than it was to his friend.

Two other sales associates came over, both girls this time, both every bit as hysterical as their colleagues. I now had a veritable gallery of youth cooing and fluffernutting over my handbag. It was fun for a moment, but then a terrible wave of depression came over me. These kids cared too much about this. I darkened right there before them, though they didn’t know it. To be complimented is one thing; to be conspicuously gagged over for an object you happen to possess is another. It was intensely uncomfortable, being the carrier of such wanton material love.

But I took a breath and allowed it to run its course. Because I know what it’s like to grow up in the sticks and see an artifact From Beyond. When you have your sights on leaving cornfields for skyscrapers, it’s a big deal when a high-rise shimmers into view. You gotta inspect it, you gotta fuel your next year of high school with that image or experience. For some kids on the prairie, it’s music From Beyond that keeps them going. For others, it’s pictures of Istanbul or Belize. For others, it’s fashion. It’s Celine. And it’s not fair to judge a kid for the obsession, not fair to make his love small or light; to him, it’s entirely serious, possibly life-or-death serious.

We left, and my mom, who hadn’t seen the full freakout, said, “What was that all about?”

“Fashion,” I said, and we went to find the car.

*Phoebe Philo is the British designer at the helm of the house of Celine.

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.

Lobster? You Brought ‘Er!

posted in: Food, Tips 1
Me, too! Image: Wikipedia.
Me, too! Image: Wikipedia.

 

I have just made a lobster bisque.

Here’s what’s happening: Yuri and I have been apart since…too long. He’s in New York. I’ve been crisscrossing the Midwest, flinging fabric around, leaving thread and gum wrappers everywhere. Unable to stand being separated a moment longer, we’ve hatched a logistically-challenged plan to spend about 36 hours with each other in Chicago before Monday comes around and spoils everything. I left Iowa this morning before the sunrise and arrived in Chicago just after it; he’ll begin his trek from the east coast within a few hours. I cannot wait till he gets here. I’m slightly freaking out.

“Yuri,” I texted him, “I’d like to make you something marvelous to eat. It’ll be all ready when you get here. What would you like, darling? Pick anything your heart desires — absolutely anything!”

I watched the little talk-bubble ellipsis shimmer on my iPhone. Then the text popped up:

“Can you make lobster bisque?”

Yikes!

“Absolutely,” I texted back, because though I’ve never made lobster bisque, it’s just soup, right?

Cooking is fun because it’s the closest I get to doing — and enjoying — science experiments. You take a beaker of this, a cup of that, you boil this, you mix that, and blam! stuff changes color, there’s oxidation, titration, solids, and who knows what else, but you can eat everything and people go, “Wow!” and there are no grades.

Here’s what I have very recently learned about making lobster bisque:

  • It’s expensive. I purchased four lobster tails (roughly 4oz. each) from the fishmonger at Whole Foods, and that came to a little over $35. Then I had to fetch the cream and the stock and so forth. Not cheap — and those little lobster butts don’t yield much. This some fancy soup. 
  • It’s time-consuming. I recommend catching up on emails between steps. You’ll get a lot done. 
  • It’s sorta gross. Have you made lobster bisque? If not, let me tell you a little secret: you puree the shells. The shells are cooked with the soup, y’all, at least in the recipe I used. Lobster bisque is basically a way to drink essence o’ lobster and that means you need to puree, pummel, extract, soak, simmer, reduce, and otherwise distill every morsel of that thing to git all you can git. When I was reading through the process I had to read twice that you use a food processor to puree the dang shells and then return them to the pot. You don’t eat the shells — that orangey muck is pushed through a sieve later — but you’re kind of eating the shells because, well…Cuisinart. 

As I was going briskly about my bisque business, I thought about Maine, where “lobstahs” are to Maine folk as deep dish pizza is to Chicagoans: plentiful and fiercely protected.

In the summer of 2007 and 2009, I stayed a month on Maine’s picturesque Little Cranberry Island (known to the locals as “Little Cran”.) My artistic mentor and friend Sonja, along with her husband Bill, founded The Islesford Theater Project (ITP) on Little Cran and they asked me to be involved. Making theater with those people in the summer was a true gift and we made a lot of people happy, I think; whenever the ITP has a show, people from all over the Cranberry Isles get in their boats and skim across the water to come see.

And when you’re in the cast, you get to stay in Sonja and Bill’s house and eat Sonja’s home cooking every night. This is a very, very good thing. Blueberry crisps, tacos, Indian food — that woman can and does cook everything. Well, Sonja can get fresh lobstahs straight from the lobstahmen working about 500 yards from her back porch. She made lobstah mac n’ cheese once, which was transcendental. Once, everyone at the table got a fresh lobstah on a plate. Bam, lobstah on a plate. Dinner was served. There was a dish of melted butter for each of us, shell-crackin’ implements, and a whole lotta napkins. The flavor was incredible, but if I’m honest, I must confess: Whole lobsters kind of gross me out. The whole “sea bug” thing does not inspire hunger in me. And after making this soup, I’m not that excited to eat it. I’m excited for other things.

Just hurry, Yuri.

There Will Be Mud: A True Life Kid Story

posted in: Family, Story 9
Awwww, yeah.
Awwww, yeah.

One day on Meadowlark Farm, my sister Nan and decided to get out into the timber for awhile. It was late enough into spring that stuff was thawing. There was a lot of mud out in the field between our farmhouse and the timber, and this was annoying. We were slightly feral, but we were also girls. Getting dirty was never the aim of our adventures; our adventures were the aim.

We put on our lighter snowsuit-overall-things, at Mom’s request. It was still cold and these would keep us warm, keep some mud off our clothes, and protect our little bodies from the burrs and pokey sticks out in the forest. We grudgingly put them on, followed by our galoshes. And we set out.

I’m sure we had fun, but I don’t remember what we did. I only remember that when we came back through the mud field to go home for lunch or dinner, something terrible happened.

Hannah (Nan) fell into a mud pit.

I’m telling you, that girl sank into a mud pit of Neverending Story proportions. She went down and she went deep, at least to her waist. Since we were small, the mud pit couldn’t have been that deep, but for a ten-year-old, a waist-high mud pit is a helluva mud pit.

“MARY!!!!” she screamed. I was 20 paces or so ahead of her when this happened. “MARY!!! HELP ME!!!”

I whirled around to see half my sister, flailing around in the mud. It’s so interesting to me to think what I must’ve said. I know what I’d say today, but at that age, I didn’t know those sorts of words.

“MARY!!!!” my sister kept screaming. “MARY! GET OVER HERE! HELP ME!!” and assessing the situation, I determined she really did need help. Her boots were totally, completely stuck and was she sinking further into the mud? Yeah, she was. Yikes.

I decided that this was definitely an emergency situation, but that I was definitely not going to help her myself. It wasn’t logical! I was smaller than she was! What was I gonna do? Pull my older sister out of a sucking mud pit with the power of my six-year-old will? I knew that if I gave my sister my hand, sloop! down I’d go into the mud, too, and at the time, I only came up to her waist, so I’d be totally drowned in mud. Hell, no. I wasn’t going down like that. I had cookys to eat.

“I gotta go home,” I said, a little scared at how my decision would land with my big sister.

There was a pause in the flailing. “WHAT??!!!”

“I gotta go home!” I yelled, and my eyes got real big as my sister understood that she was totally screwed. The expression on her face, even from 20 paces away, made it clear that if she was able to survive this mud pit problem, I was in serious trouble. As I ran away, I contemplated hiding places.

“MARY!” I heard her screaming, “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU!”

“I gotta go home!” I yelled again, and what I meant was, “I gotta go home for help,” but this wasn’t being communicated properly, so Hannah just sent daggers shooting out of her eyes into my back and I ran as fast as my little feet could carry me, out of the mud field, onto the gravel road, into the yard, and up onto the porch of the house.

When I told her what had happened, my mother looked out the kitchen window and saw her eldest child flapping around in a pink coat, far, far out in the muddy field.

“Oh, Mary!” she cried, and we went out and retrieved Hannah. She was fine. A little muddy. Furious at me, of course, but my point was made. A smaller person cannot retrieve a bigger person from a sucking mud pit. Mom could help, I could not.

This is crucial decision-making.