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.

I Got a Mouthguard: Clearly I Am Cool.

posted in: Day In The Life, Sicky 21
A mouthguard from a boxing match at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, or so Wikipedia tells me. Image: Wikipedia.
A (grody) mouthguard from a boxing match, apparently. Not my mouthguard, not my boxing match. Image: Wikipedia.

 

Pop Quiz No. 1:

Q: Two weeks ago, I went to the dentist to get a filling repaired. How did I break a filling?

A: Because I chomped ice cubes for like two months straight before my labs showed my anemia was so bad I was .5 ice cubes away from the blinkin’ emergency room. 

You remember, don’t you, how I narrowly-avoided an ER trip — it has been known to happen — but got my iron infusions and avoided that at the eleventh hour? That was great. Less great is that my dentist, Dr. Tahbaz, confirmed that my ice-eating was probably the main culprit for my busted filling.

Pop Quiz No. 2:

Q: My dentist visit cost $250. Guess how much my iron infusions cost?

A: $3,600. After insurance. 

I’m not sure what my face did when I opened that bill from Northwestern. Did it twist? Or was it flat? Did it buzz and fizz or was it numb? I don’t know because I kinda blanked out. I regained consciousness somewhere in the next few minutes, though, because I remember that I started laughing. Not because I was happy, or because anything was funny. No, I started laughing because I somehow kept opening mail and it somehow kept being bills for astronomical amounts: hospital treatments, tuition for grad school, condo payments. And I pay my own taxes, so I have to put money aside for that every quarter, which means that the money in my accounts isn’t really mine. I kept laughing to keep from crying or hitting things.

Life, man. A girl could just gnash her teeth all day over it all.

Except that she can’t. Because guess what else the dentist told her?

“You need to get a mouth guard. You’re grinding your teeth at night. A lot. Get a mouth guard. Today.”

It’s not earth-shattering news that I grind my teeth. I vaguely remember other dentists mentioning this to me. But either they were never really that concerned about it or I wasn’t listening, because no one ever did anything about my bruxism. Did you know that teeth-grinding has a name? It’s a real affliction/condition and it’s called bruxism.

Pop Quiz No. 3: 

Q: If you’re a teeth-grinder (tooth-grinder?) and an annoying person at a cocktail party asks you about your theological, ideological, or political beliefs, how do you answer like a boss?

A: “I’m a Bruxist. Oh, look at the time.” 

What I’m trying to get at is that I had to buy a mouthguard. The good news is that it was $25, not $250 or $3,600; the bad news is that I have a mouthguard I’m supposed to wear at night so I don’t grind my teeth against themselves but against a piece of inert plastic, instead. The news is bad because a) it’s sad I need protection against myself via the nocturnal manifestation of anxiety and existential angst, and because 2) mouthguards do not inspire a feeling of attractiveness, exactly. Mouthguards are practical, but they are not sexy.

But I like my teeth. Healthy teeth are sexy. So fine: I’ll wear my charming! clear! dainty! mouthguard when I’m sleeping alone. But should I have company, well, that thing is getting stuffed into the medicine cabinet before you can say “iron supplement.”

Storm vs. City!

posted in: Chicago, Paean, Story 0
A summer rainstorm in England. Wikipedia didn't have any good Chicago rainstorm pictures. Photo: Wikipedia.
A summer rainstorm in Manchester because Wikipedia didn’t have any good Chicago rainstorm pictures. Photo: Good ol’ Wikipedia.

The most hilarious thing happened about an hour ago.

The radio people said there would be severe thunderstorms tonight, even flash floods. I only half-listen to weather reports, though; I’m close to the lake and weather around the lake differs slightly from the rest of the city. But why risk it? I decided to go absolutely nowhere and work on projects.

I was stitching at my machine, watching Project Runway on my laptop when I heard the storm start. I went to the window and gaped. Sheets of rain were coming down. I could make out a few people running around on the street far below me, the poor things soaked to the bone. Ooh, I just love summer storms. I felt happy that it’s summertime, that it was storming, and that I was not outside. I went back to my work.

A few minutes later there was a bolt of lightning so big and close it lit up my house for several seconds like there was a fireworks display in my living room. We all know what follows lightning, right? The crack of thunder that came after that lightning strike was about as loud as I’ve ever heard. It crept along, hissed for a moment, then whammed. It was like, “Khhhhhssshhhh….krrrrrrrr…kak-kak-kak..KERRRRRRRAAAAAACK!!!!!”

I jumped about six feet. Then I laughed and shook my head. Thunder is incredible. That sound can make a grown woman clutch her pearls and gasp. Thunder: Mother Nature’s tympani drum. My marveling was short-lived, though: that thunder was so loud, it set off car alarms for blocks. I ran to the window again and saw cars on the street and a whole parking lot full of them with hazards blinking to this hellish chorus of car alarms. It was hilarious because it didn’t last too long; people blipped them off pretty soon, surely because they didn’t want to hear all that, either.

When I was a kid, I watched thunderstorms roll in on the plains of Iowa. I would sit with my sisters on the porch swing and watch the sky get dark, the wind pick up. We probably had cats on our knees. We probably had a quilt. We had never heard a car alarm or heard of such a thing at all.

I’ll be thirty-seven on August 6th. I wish I knew how many summer thunderstorms I’ve seen so far.

 

Pigeons: It’s Us And Them.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 1
Me, just hangin' by a two-story Alexander Calder sculpture by the downtown Chicago post office. Photo: Claus
Me, just hangin’ by a two-story Alexander Calder sculpture by the downtown Chicago post office. I have a picture of pigeons from the same day this picture was taken but I can’t bear to use it. Pigeons are just gross-looking Photo: Claus

I was on the No. 3 bus that runs on Michigan Ave., heading south. The bus was full, so I had moved to the front; my stop was coming up and I didn’t want to have to throw elbows to get out.. In close proximity to me was the silver-haired bus driver, this really tall black dude with a pick in his afro, a tiny Asian woman of about sixty, and another white chick like me, who never looked up from her phone a single time and she got on when I did, way up at Chicago Ave.

Our bus got stopped in traffic. There was construction and a couple busses ahead of us, so we had a long wait at the curb at Lake Street. This brief party found ourselves looking out of the bus onto the sidewalk at our right. There were people walking along on the sidewalk, as usual; we hardly saw the scaffolding criss-crossing our view of the sidewalk because that scaffolding has been on that block for nine thousand years. (Maybe they’re just building scaffolding.) And then we all saw a couple boys of about thirteen or so running around chasing a big group of pigeons. The boys were clearly brothers; you could tell by their likeness and how a woman nearby was yelling, “John! Jake! Get back here! Where’s your father?”

The boys were tossing parts of their sandwich bread to the birds and some of the bread landed right outside the bus door. The bus driver shook his head. I jumped back, even though the door was closed, and went, “Eee!” The Asian lady clicked her tongue and gave the boys a fabulously disapproving look, which they will unfortunately never see. Longtime city dwellers know that pigeons are dirty and annoying, that they spread disease and are capable of pooping on your head.  My bus friends and I — being the wizened, hard Chicagoans we are — knew this and watched from our place of wisdom.

“Pigeons,” said the bus driver. “Just rats with wings. Those kids are in from out of town.”

The boys were running directly into the swarm of pigeons that had heard Subway sandwiches were being served at Michigan and Lake. One of the boys tried to pick up one of the birds.

“That ain’t even right,” said the guy with the pick.

We all looked at the sidewalk scene, at the people, the birds, the metal, the concrete, and I felt for the 20 millionth time in my life a comforting certainty: I belong in a city.

 

Atlanta, Silk Pajamas, and A Twist At the End.

posted in: Day In The Life, Story, Work 0
It could be an ad for silk pajamas. It could be an ad for something...else. Either way, image courtesy Wikipedia.
It could be an ad for silk pajamas. It could be an ad for something…else. Either way, image courtesy Wikipedia.

This coming week has me heading over to Atlanta to teach and speak at the Original Sewing & Quilt Expo. This is one of my favorite gigs to do because I get to see Marlene. Marlene is the brains behind the Atlanta operation among other, similar operations and has been a friend and mentor to me for years. She was most publicly my friend when I went down in flames in Atlanta a number of years ago; without her help, I might still be casting about in the halls of a hospital in Georgia, filling out endless forms in triplicate and not getting the good kind of pain medicine.

Whenever I go to Atlanta, I am reminded of the first time I went to Atlanta. I was traveling with Bari; like Marlene, Bari is the sort of person you want around when the zombie apocalypse comes. It was awhile ago, but I remember Bari needed to drive to St. Louis to deliver something to her grandmother. That sounds like a cover for something, but I think it was legit. Bari grew up in the Atlanta area and her parents still lived there; for some reason, it made sense for her to drive to Atlanta and then go on to grandma’s house. Bari and I were living together that summer and she asked me if I wanted to go. I had no plans and I loved Bari. We got in her SUV and got on the road.

Bari’s family home was the finest house I had ever been in up to that point. The architecture, the interior, the grounds — these people had impeccable taste in every area in which impeccable taste matters (e.g., food, art, dogs, etc.) And they were all so nice! Within an hour of being welcomed inside, I got used to the fact that there was a grand staircase in the front of the house and a back staircase in the back of the house. I wanted to live in the kitchen and could have, perhaps with ten or eleven other people.

Bari showed me to my own guestroom where I had my own bathroom and my own balcony, I think. There were silk sheets on the bed and I had packed silk pajamas. When I got into bed that night, I really slid around.

All the comfort of that home was thrown into sharp relief the week after: I went to visit my boyfriend Dan in New York City and we heard a dog get shot. Dan lived in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a decade before Bushwick began to be remotely cool or safe. I didn’t like being there, but I really liked Dan. One night, we were going nuts listening to this dog bark and bark and bark and bark and bark and then we heard a gunshot and the dog didn’t bark anymore.

In life, as in patchwork, contrast is what makes things interesting.

Here You Go, Internet: Speaking On Luke’s Art

posted in: Art 0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=47&v=5EnjMourqp8

On Saturday at QuiltCon in L.A., I gave my favorite lecture on The Great American Quilt Revival. I rehearsed the talk twice that morning though I’ve given the lecture many times; I’m a Girl Scout at heart and try to always be prepared. Usually, mostly, I am.

At rehearsal, there on my bed, wrapped in my robe, wet hair, stopwatch running on my phone, I realized I was finished with the talk with ten minutes to spare, which surprised me; I usually take about an hour with that one. Maybe I was excited and clipping along faster than usual, I don’t know. But there I was with the luxury of extra time. I thought to myself. I chewed my lip. I looked in the mirror. And I decided to use that leftover time to make a statement. As I say in the clip above, everything I think I know is up for revision, except in a case where someone I care about is getting beat up. Then I do know something, which is that I want to help. The road to hell, yeah, but there are times being neutral is as unhelpful as feeding flames.

Most of the kerfuffle about my friend has taken place online, which is not surprising and also disastrous, because no one is accountable. Not being accountable for character assassination seems wrong, but there’s a lot on the Internet that’s wrong (e.g., 9/11 conspiracy theories, etc.)

I’ve been guilty of online snark, but I can say with sincerity I’m cured of it. Last summer, I said something unkind about someone on this blog. It got back to her and it was awful. That day, I knew that can never be something I do. This little impromptu, impassioned speech is indeed an argument and shows ire toward those I disagree with on the issue at hand. The difference is that instead of writing a blog post or responding to comments online, I took a place onstage. You can see my face. There is no avatar. I’m not hiding behind a computer. I’m speaking to you, and you, and you, ready to take it on the nose.

You can disagree with me — I hope some do, for the sake of moving forward with an important conversation — but it seems that to be taken seriously, you must be informed and be willing to identify yourself as a whole person. Otherwise, your content is as good as my backhanded comment this summer, which is to say that it is no good at all.

I’d like to introduce you to my nose. Enjoy.

*Thank you to Jennifer Moore for taping.

 

 

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.

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

posted in: Plays, Rant 2
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.

Life Made a Pre-Washer Out of Me, Part I.

posted in: Chicago, Quilting, Small Wonders 1
If Small Wonders fabric was pretty and sweet before; washed and dried, it's angelic.
If Small Wonders fabric was pretty and sweet before; washed and dried, it’s angelic.

For PaperGirl readers who are not quilters, you are about to learn that quilters are a divided people. We are locked in a brother-against-brother conflict so deep, so indelible, generations of quilters from now will bear the weight of our differences. And it all comes down to how a quilter answers this question:

“Do you pre-wash your fabric?”

When a quilter gets home from the quilt shop or opens the UPS box, she has a choice to make: will she pop that cotton into the laundry first or will she just take it all to her fabric stash and just pull it out when she’s ready to use it? There are strong cases to be made on either side. What’s most important to know now is this: if you pre-wash some of your fabric, you must pre-wash all of it.

That’s the hard and fast rule. You can’t be a little bit pregnant and you can’t be an on again-off again pre-washer. This is because pre-washing pre-shrinks. If you make a quilt with some pre-shrunk fabric and some that isn’t, you are in danger of ruining your quilt. Stretching, pulling, snapped threads, rippling: fabric stitched together that shrinks at different rates wreaks havoc. If you care about what you made — which of course you do — don’t cross the streams.

Here’s the pre-wash argument: pre-washing gets rid of fixative chemicals from the factory; it obliterates any fear of dye bleed when the finished quilt is washed; you’ll use fewer pins because pre-washed fabric sticks together way better; if you use fabric softener it smells amazing; best of all, it feels incredibly soft and nice and it’s fluffy.

The non-pre-wash argument: you have to be insane to do more laundry what is wrong with you; any fixative used on the fabric is negligible; no one wants to wait to use new fabric; you’ll endure Thread Hell from unraveling edges; fabric from the dryer is super wrinkled and you have to press everything. No way.

It is a rare, rare occurrence indeed when a quilter leaves her team for the other. It’s like a Confederate soldier joining the Union Army. A Packers fan with a Bears jersey in his trunk. My friend Susan switching to Pepsi from Coke. (Never!) Aside from the convictions held by quilters on their respective side of the aisle, it’s a really, really big deal to stop or start pre-washing. Either you start in and pre-wash all of your stash one day, or you have to give away/donate all of your pre-washed fabric and resolve to not wash any fabric you bring into your home from here on out.

But I switched.

Right now, at this very moment, six washing machines in my building’s laundry room are sloshing and swishing yard after yard of fabric. Right now, four dryers in that room are tumbling, fluffing the material that I use to make quilts.

I’m doing it. I’m pre-washing my entire stash. I’m switching teams. I’ll tell you why tomorrow.

Hello, Denver! And Fort Collins!

posted in: Day In The Life, Quilting, Work 0
Bring dat sunshine, Fort Collins!
Bring dat sunshine, Fort Collins!

Hello, Denver!

On Thursday, I’ll be getting in an airplane and flying to Denver. That evening, I have the pleasure of giving a lecture to the Denver Modern Quilt Guild. I can’t wait to meet you all.

Then, on Friday and Saturday, I’ll be at Above & Beyond Sewing, frolicking among the BabyLock machines, doing lectures, demos, and a robust trunk show. My friend Bari said my life sounded glamorous, flying from here to there, working on a stage, flying through TSA pre-check. I corrected her and I’ll make sure you know: I love doing these events (love) but the glamour factor is pretty low, at least regarding the travel part. I wheel multiple suitcases full of quilts and often an extra duffel bag of them. I have to keep track of receipts, so when I pay for a coffee, I pull out a big, pink plastic envelope. The Starbucks guy is surely thinking I’m either a hoarder or a serious cheapskate. And I know the insides of a lot of Courtyard Marriotts. Which are actually really nice, but I like a Holiday Inn Express a little better.

Whatever the hotel, I’m thrilled to go on this trip and look forward to meeting all the Colorado quilters I can meet in the three days I’m there. Come on down; let’s hang out.

Did you know Colorado has an average of 300 days of sunshine every year? Did you know when I get back from Denver I have 1.5 days to finish packing before Claus comes to help me move to Chicago? Did you know I tried to hire an army of lilliputians to help me but they were booked?

The Pendennis Observer: Dispatch No. 382

posted in: Day In The Life, Paean, Pendennis 2
Pendennis as pretzel.
Up to no good, as usual. 

I’ve been traveling so much lately — home in DC this evening after a full week in Chicago — chances are good there are new readers to PaperGirl. I encourage people I meet at events or classes to visit and read this blog, but I still see fear in their hearts when I tell them PaperGirl isn’t about one thing but “just sort of about my life.” A gluten-free baking tutorial blog is an easier sell but what can I do? Surely some people were curious enough to visit and it seems like a good opportunity to take a moment and explain the monkey. I haven’t posted a picture of or given an update on Pendennis in some time; let’s get everyone caught up.

Some adults have an ironic connection to a childhood toy or a juvenile object and it can be cute or it can be weird. Either way, these peoples’ friends are actually happy when there’s a “thing” because it makes that person really easy to shop for. “I have no idea what to get Nancy for Christmas” is not a sentence Nancy’s friends will ever have to say because Nancy likes deer.

I don’t have a “thing” for sock monkeys; I have a thing for my sock monkey. His name is Pendennis and no, I do not sleep with him or cry hot, hot tears into his soft body. He does not come on trips with me. I haven’t had him since I was three and I do not suck on his tail. My high school art teacher made him for me when I was her teacher’s aide and Pendennis has simply been with me ever since, not because I need a stuffed animal to cope with life* but because I love him. My love is akin to the love I have for a special painting or a treasured photograph, except that I can cry hot, hot tears into his soft body. I love the monkey like I love my favorite sweater or my favorite snack. He is a comfort and we all need more of that. He went to New York. He came to DC. He’s my little guy.

But fondness springs eternal for Pendennis not just because he’s familiar: Pendennis is hilarious. I laugh out loud when I see him poking out from under a chair or twisted up like a pretzel under a pillow (see above.) I’ve been Pendennis’s personal photographer for years because I have to try and capture the joy he brings to me when I discover him in his natural habitat. This way, when I’m old and Pendennis has been chewed up by a cat, I can look at the pictures on my hologram phone and feel happy again. What’s crucial for readers to know is that I never, ever pose Pendennis. When I take a picture of him, you can be sure I am shooting what I discovered, not anything I created. The monkey needs no stylist, no art director; I simply point and shoot.

That’s the scoop on the PaperGirl mascot. And I’m glad you’re here.

*Untrue, but it sounded good up there. Also, you really need to see the stitched “Pocket Pendennis” made for me by the gorgeous and talented Margaret. Margaret, I’m looking at the PP as I type this.

Dairy Kween: Heather & The Cotton Candy Blizzard

posted in: Food 2
Blizzard in a cup, not to be confused for "gizzard in a cup," only in participating stores.
Blizzard in a cup, not to be confused for “gizzard in a cup,” only in participating stores.

On the way to give my lecture to the stately and gifted women of the Northern Lake Co. Quilt Guild on Wednesday night, my dear friend Heather and I stopped for a dinner of sorts at the Something Oasis on I-94. There were strangely no French bistros at the Oasis or one-star Michelin restaurants, so I ate a McDonald’s hamburger for the first time in lots of years — pretty good! — and Heather got a slice of Sbarro’s pizza. We were walking out when Heather gasped. I jumped a foot. I thought she had seen a spider on me.

“Cotton Candy Blizzard?!” she said, looking at a banner next to the DQ on our right. Indeed, Dairy Queen was advertising a Cotton Candy Blizzard. Heather was a sitting duck. “I’m getting that,” she said, and promptly ordered a mini. The guy handed her a cup of ballet slipper-colored ice cream with multi-colored sprinkles. I had a bite and couldn’t believe how much it tasted like actual cotton candy. A remarkable achievement, Dairy Queen. I could see how it would be easy to eat a large quantity of this food.

When I got home I researched the Cotton Candy Blizzard so I could write about it from an expert’s point of view. It turns out the DQ Cotton Candy Blizzard is a Thing. A Major Thing. The flavor debuted years ago but was only an experiment, a limited-time offering. The public went nuts for it and, in a brilliant marketing move (I imagine) DQ snatched the thing away and made people visit their restaurants again and again in hopes of seeing the flavor on the menu again. Well, this year they did a “Fanniversary” celebration and asked their customers what favorite flavor they’d like to bring back. Cotton Candy won by a landslide.

The flavor is available for a limited time, so get out there and get’cher self one. Note that the medium-sized Cotton Candy Blizzard contains 890 calories. Enjoy!

 

 

Twenty Questions.

posted in: Chicago, D.C., Day In The Life 0
Publicity photo for early-1960s gameshow, "Queen For a Day."
This photo is public domain, but let’s all hold ABC responsible for the time it held the copyright. 

I am wishing so hard that I could offer all the alternate names I’ve come up with for the gameshow pictured above. Sadly, that sort of content is best saved for PaperGirl: After Dark. So far, that blog does not exist, though it absolutely should. I’ll let you know.

As I mentioned recently, I’ve had a galaxy of question marks spinning ’round my head. With a ginormous project about to launch (just a few more weeks and I can spill the beans) and a Very Big Decision I’ve made (you’re gonna flip when I tell you), I’ve been asking myself many questions. Here are twenty of them.

1. What time is it?
2. Was that my phone or yours?
3. Did I seriously forget to buy yogurt?
4. What day in November should I move back to Chicago?
5. I’m so comfy in bed but I kind of need to pee before I turn out the light. Should I just try to sleep it off or get up and go now so I don’t have to get up at two in the morning?
6. Are PaperGirl readers passing it along to other people because that would be so wonderful?
7. Am I correct in thinking that a forty-year-old woman in good shape is hotter than a twenty-year-old girl in good shape?
8. Did you hear that?
9. Did my tenants in Chicago take good care of my home?
10. Did I come to Washington and stay a year longer than planned because I was running away from something and if so, what was it?
11. If I’m such a hardcore existentialist, how come I hated Crime and Punishment so much?
12. Are you kidding me?
13. Do I still enjoy eggs or do they gross me out?
14. Will the person I went on the road trip with this summer be in my life in a significant way in the future or was that whole thing just a brilliant, brightly shining, but ultimately isolated moment in time? (There were less-shining and isolated moments, like this one.)
15. Do my friends in Chicago miss me?
16. Is it wise to have a box of chocolates in the fridge right now?
17. Is Yuri reading this?
18. Will I ever have enough money to have someone do my hair every day?
19. When’s the next time I’ll be in a hospital bed?
20. Seriously?

Oh, this is fun. I could more. I could do really, really good ones on PaperGirl: After Dark. You’ll be the first to know.

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.

Relationship Styles: Think Flowbee

posted in: Day In The Life, Luv 0
Illustration by Kate Greenaway, b.1846.
That’s me the other day. I can’t remember why. Illustration by Kate Greenaway, b.1846.

I’ve been spending time with A Person. (Not the doctor, who was a one-date situation but I get asked about it a lot for some reason. I keep meaning to tell the rest of that story because there’s more; I promise to do that tomorrow.)

Person and I have spent enough time together over enough months now that parts of myself that I don’t understand have come back and are staying in my guest room. Relationships bring out sides of ourselves that don’t exist when we’re on our own. Unless you’ve been married fifty years and have done a lot of workbooks, the negative stuff that gets revealed is hard to change. The older I get, the more annoyed I am when I realize I’m doing X again in a relationship, or that I responded so badly to Y when I damn well knew better.

We all have a relationship style. Some people try out that style on one person their whole life; some people try it out on a whole lot more. There are fabulous elements in a person’s relationship style, (e.g., a photographic memory for how much butter you like on your popcorn); there are not-so-fabulous elements (e.g., yelling.)

Now that I’m seeing A Person, I am reminded once again that I am the most impatient person I’ve ever met. Now that I’m seeing A Person, I am reminded that I am moody. Now that I am seeing A Person, I must remind myself that it’s okay to let someone else chop the salad and that if it’s not done exactly the way I like it — which is of course the right way — no stars will fall out of the sky.

Now that I’m seeing A Person, I am reminded how frightening it is and frankly how exhausting it is at this point it is to stick my heart out.

Too late.

On Being Sick & Observed

posted in: Day In The Life, Sicky 2
She's asking for her laptop and headphones. Illus: A woman in bed in a sick-room, attended by a physician, receiving the blessing of the Madonna del Parto, 1872.
She’s asking for her laptop and headphones. Image: A woman in bed in a sick-room, attended by a physician, receiving the blessing of the Madonna del Parto, 1872.

A couple days ago I fell sick. I’ve been feeling well for a good stretch, so this was a drag on a number of levels. Living alone, such spells — when not hospital-bad — come and go and I do what I do to get well and that’s basically that. But my German friend is visiting and I am therefore not just sick but being observed being sick and I’ve been considering how this alters the sick one’s experience. I want to work in that quantum-physics phenomenon about how the behavior of something will change when being observed, but all I could find were five different names for it and something about a cat, so I’d better leave it alone.

There are three problems with having someone around when you’re ill. The first problem is that you need help but you also feel like going into a dark corner and snarling when anyone gets close, wounded animal-style. This is a conflict. The second problem is the mirror problem. When a little kid turfs out on her tricycle, it’s not the skinned knee that makes her wail; it’s the look on her parents’ faces. They panic or look really concerned and bam: the fall is now a Huge Deal, cue sobs. Being sick and observed is a little like that. Yes, my guts are mutinying; yes, I’m walking around like a ninety-year-old. But if I were alone, I’d probably just feel crappy, frustrated, and seventy-years-old. The look on my friend’s face when I shudder and sink into my easy chair makes my state way worse.

The third problem is the fixer-upper problem. Like any caring person, my friend wants very much to fix me, to fix the situation; I’ve dealt with this kind of beautiful, valued concern for years and you mustn’t think I resent it. But idea after idea (e.g., “What if you ate more yogurt?”), suggestion after suggestion (e.g., “You need to sleep eight hours; no less”), and indeed remonstration after remonstration, (e.g., “You put so much pressure on yourself, Mary” and “You travel too much,” etc.) serves to make a person feel guilty and that her behavior is the problem. If only I could find the perfect food formula, if only I would change one thing about my lifestyle, if only I would be someone else, then I would be okay — and be okay forever. Talk about pressure.

Should I live alone forever? Am I less ill if I am alone? Is any person with chronic illness or even a bad cold less ill when in solitude? This is a worthy question to consider and I’m sure I’m not the first to consider it.

It’s also true that I do not notice the gallons of tea I drink every day until someone points it out.

 

I Eat Ice: One Anemic’s Story

posted in: Day In The Life 3
Though ice wins in the end, I have a difficult time choosing what I want most in this picture: flowers, adorable sugar bowl, espresso, or perfect ice.
I have a difficult time choosing what I want most in this picture: flowers, adorable sugar bowl, espresso, or perfectly-sized ice. Wait, no: ice by a mile. Image: Wikipedia.

There are 400 different strains of anemia and they are on a scale of really bad to less-bad in terms of symptoms, long-lasting effects, seriousness, upkeep, etc. I have iron-deficiency anemia. This affects 7% of American women. It’s so nice to be so special.

The strain I’ve got produces an odd behavior that could be much, much odder: pica. Pica is compulsively craving and eating non-food items for longer than a month or so. People with pica have been known to eat clay, ashes, dirt, sand, metal, and all variety of things you are definitely not supposed to eat. And not only do these folks eat these things, they crave them. They seriously think to themselves, “Man, I could really go for some gravel right now.” It’s not so strange to me, actually. Because 44% of the people with my strain of anemia have the same desires, except our pica makes us want to eat ice. There’s a name for this and it’s pagophagia, the compulsive desire to eat ice.

I buy huge bags of ice when I go for groceries. I have a huge bag of ice in my freezer right now because I finished the other bag last night. I’d say I go through a frat party-sized bag of ice every three days. Boy, do I love ice. I love to fill a glass with cubes and put a little liquid in there and then ca-runch as I write and sew and so on. The satisfaction I get from eating ice is impossible to explain. I just like it. And I’m careful: I don’t crack through glass after glass with huge chomps. It’s kind of a suck-n-gently grate kind of thing. (I’ve just realized that fellow ice-eaters would totally love to jam on the kinds of ice we like best, the best places to get great ice, and our methods of chewing.)

Why do iron-deficient people do this? The Mayo Clinic says it may have something to do with inflammation in the mouth (I feel nothing of the kind, but what do I know about my mouth?) but no one knows a thing and everyone’s willing to admit that. Pagophagia is straight up weird. It would be nice to hear that from your doctor.

I share my pagophagia in hopes that it will confirm for someone clicking around the Internet with a Big Gulp cup of ice that yes, this is a thing, and no, you’re not the only one. The discovery here is similar to my discovery that my fear of ferns is a real phobia shared with one of the most important figures of the 20th century.

People are so weird.

Finally! Answers! I’m Pteridophobic!!!

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story 2
I do not know or care what kind of fern this is. I couldn't even put it into the post until I was ready to hit "Publish."
I do not know or care what kind of fern this is. I couldn’t even put it into the post until I was ready to hit “Publish.”

I took a pleasant walk with my friend Elle, her baby Miles, and her husband Brian at the National Arboretum on Saturday. This was after my first experience delivering groceries to seniors with We Are Family, which you can read about here; a full report on that tomorrow.

The weather was chilly — I have a knack for going to gorgeous gardens under steely gray skies — but the stroll was perfect. Brian stayed in the car while Miles napped and urged Elle and I to start off ahead. We went to the Bonsai garden and I learned a lot about Bonsai trees, namely that they do not grow like that on their own. It takes me awhile, but I get there.

We were remarking on life and plants and I thought I’d share something rather personal and embarrassing with Elle, something I don’t tell many people because it is just so totally weird. But in the circumstances… Well, I went for it.

“Elle? I have this weird fear. Like a phobia.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“I’m deathly afraid of ferns.”

Elle laughed, not cruelly, but in surprise. “Like, fern-ferns? Ferns.”

I nodded and tried to explain. “It’s the spidery-ness. The uncurling thing. They’re so big. And dark. Prehistoric, you know? They seem really, really old and really, really…intelligent. And they’re vascular. Like, they’re described as vascular plants. That is so…” but I shuddered and couldn’t finish my sentence. Elle granted that the fern characteristics I described had a slight creep-factor, but clearly she did not feel the same way about ferns.

Friends, I do hope you feel that when you read this blog you often come away having learned something of value, and not just about my hilarious family. But if you’ve never learned anything before, you’re about to: there is a name for my fern phobia. It’s pteridophobia. It’s a thing. It is so a thing that not only did spellcheck not freaking underline it — I’m not alone. In fact, there is a very, very famous person who also was pteridophobic. Would you like to know who that person was?

Sigmund Freud.

When I read this, I choked on my juice. Spluttering and coughing, I put my laptop to the side and jumped up so I didn’t get juice on my laptop or the couch, just on my pretty vest.

“What?!” I hollered. “Sigmund Freud was afraid of ferns??”  I picked my laptop back up and wiped my chin. My eyes were big as dinner plates and glued to the screen, now; I clicked this and that tab, trusting but verifying. It’s true: Freud was deathly afraid of ferns.

Do you realize what this means?? Sigmund Freud was not just the father of psychoanalysis, he was also the father of phobic baggage. He made people feel worse about their phobias than they already did! Some nice guy was afraid of banana cream pie and then Freud got a hold of him and you know what happened to that guy. And here I am, a person with the same phobia Freud himself had?? And it’s ferns?? Do I not brood enough? Am I not hyper-analytical (emotionally speaking) enough? I am now bound to Freud in our irrational fear. We are sister and brother in weirdness, bound forever by unbearable terror when we step into a greenhouse full of…

Full of…

I can’t say it. Please don’t make me say it… Siggy! Siggy, I’m afraid… Run, honey! Run!!!

This Is Not About The Weather.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 0
"Court of Honor, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893"; painting by John Henry Twachtman. [Could be worse: my last name could be Twachtman.]
“Court of Honor, World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893”; painting by John Henry Twachtman. [Could be worse: my last name could be Twachtman.]
I will not write about how cold it is in Chicago. I will not write about how cold it is in Chicago. I will not write about —

My god.

It’s so cold in Chicago, “minus twenty-five” actually refers to the number of people we’ve lost to frostbite in the last hour.

It’s so cold in Chicago, when your older brother tells you to chill, you burst into tears.

It’s so cold in Chicago, you’d think you be at a bar where all the chicks is models.

It’s so cold in Chicago, the ice machines in all the restaurants are out back smoking cigarettes because dude.

It’s so cold in Chicago, I put on a shirt, a sweater, and another sweater this morning. I carefully wrapped my scarf around and around my neck and face, put on my hat and gloves, and pulled on my flea-market fur coat. Double socks, then out the door to the Latin School to talk about poems and teach storytelling to some of the most incredible students on the planet. (They’re also some of the most hardcore; Latin stayed open while most public schools in Chicago closed for the “extreme weather.” It really was -25 today.) I walked to the school from my hotel thinking, “Well, I’m bundled up. I’ll get a little walk in this morning.” The cold took my breath away; it took a half-hour being inside before my toes stopped aching.

I’m headed to Austin now for QuiltCon. When I get to Texas tonight, I’ll hang my fur coat up in the closet and I will not look at it till I leave. Remind me to get an entourage, by the way. I love my life but the schlep is killing me.

For the Quilters: A New Way to Stash

posted in: D.C., Quilting, Tips 2
It's like the olden days!
It’s like the olden days, all colorful and random and cozy. In process: “George Washington’s Cabin,” by Mary Fons, 2015.

If you’re not a quilter, you probably don’t have a stash.

Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and make a “Well, my husband has a mustache” joke. But watch it: if there are quilters in your midst, they may be inching toward you, tightening their grip on their sharp rotary cutters. A quilter’s fabric stash is, in the simplest terms, the fabric that she owns that is not in a quilt, yet. A quilter’s stash is her library, her paint palette, her big lake of color and texture from which she brings great ladles of the stuff to put into her patchwork.

As you can imagine, some stashes are bigger than others. Quilters who have been sewing since the early 1980s have… a lot of fabric. Those who are new might have just the seeds of a stash. Some folks hoard and some folks cull (ahem) but if you make quilts in any serious way — and you ought to — you have fabric somewhere. And that is your stash.

Did I mention I moved around a lot in 2014? I moved around a lot in 2014. A good two-thirds of my fabric stash is in storage in Chicago, but I have a whole lot with me, too, and that means I’ve transported all this fabric many times in the past nine months or so. And something cool happened in the shuffle: I changed my stash organization style and this has made all the difference.

I used to organize my stash by color. All the reds, all the greens, etc., all together. Now, this is a fantastic way to do things and as a quilter who typically starts with color inspiration and goes from there, I fully support this mode of stashing. But because all my fabric has been in and out of boxes all year, keeping it all color-coded has been hard. So what’s happened is that my tiny red prints are getting thrown in with my wide, black stripes, my yellow chambray is all up in my calicoes, my browns and pinks are sleeping with each other — it’s mass hysteria. And it’s fabulous.

I’m seeing new combinations. I’m considering new styles. Fabrics I might never have put together before (e.g., pink, burgundy, navy) become, suddenly, very necessary combos.

So there you go. Mix ‘er up. Don’t be too regimented. A tidy stash and studio are essentials and I’ll keep preaching that gospel till I’m dead, but don’t be too strict with your materials. As I say in my book:

“Quilts are like dogs; the best ones are usually mixed breeds.”

Viewer Tip: Quilts As Soundproofing.

posted in: Quilting, Tips, Work 0
"Hitchens," made by me, 2013. 70 x 70.
“Hitchens,” by Mary Fons, 2013. 70 x 70. It could fit the ceiling. 

If you watch Love of Quilting on PBS, you surely know (and love) The Tip Table.

Mom and I sit at the Tip Table at the end of every show and share tips sent in from viewers across the country. The tips are clever, resourceful, and useful to quilters. We get way more tips than we can share, but we get to as many as we can each series.

Today, Mom and I had a fantastic day in Seattle doing the first of a two-day BabyLock dealer event. I woke up with lots of pep and the day was a rousing success for all (thank you, BabyLock, and the fine folks at Quality Sewing & Vacuum.) Before our second lecture of the afternoon, a lady named Lynn gave me a tip that I have to share.

“I live in an apartment,” Lynn said. “If you’ve got noisy neighbors, hang your quilts on the wall. They look beautiful and they muffle the sound!”

Isn’t that smart? I grew up with a few quilts (big ones) hung on walls in our home. There was a Tree Everlasting quilt on the dining room wall for over a decade. But I never thought about hanging quilts in any apartment I’ve ever had in order to soundproof noisy neighbors. And boy, have I had some. A brilliant tip!

Then Lynn added, with a wink, “You could put ’em on the ceiling, too, you know, if you had…well, that sort of a noise problem,” she said, and though all the ladies that were gathered in our little tip-sharing group howled with laughter…I can’t share that one on TV.

Thanks, Lynn!

List: 10 Things I’m Going To Do When I Get Back To New York City

I frequently google image search "kitten in a pocket" or "kitten in a sock." And I can do that from anywhere.
I frequently google image search “kitten in a pocket” or “kitten in a sock.” And I can do that from anywhere.

1. Make Yuri dinner.
Before I left for Atlanta, I made food for Yuri and packed it lovingly into labeled containers and stacked it all in the freezer. I’m sure he’s gone through it all by now and has moved onto Operation: Chipotle Every Day. (My darling!!)

2. Make Yuri breakfast. 
When we first began living in sin, I wowed this man with my oatmeal-making skills. “Do you like oatmeal?” I asked him. He said that he didn’t, exactly, but that he knew how good it was for him, so he could choke it down. Not a ringing endorsement for oatmeal, but then, he had never had my oatmeal. When I served up piping hot organic oats with real cream, slivered almonds, dried blueberries and a scoop of soft brown sugar, well. Yuri likes oatmeal, now.

3. Make Yuri laugh. 

4. Do an Aztec Mud Mask.
Yuri has this jar of weird “Aztec” clay powder that you mix with (smelly) vinegar and smear all over your face. It hardens in 15 minutes and when you wash it off, you have skin smooth as a baby’s for at least five minutes.

5. Get a glass of wine with my sister Nan at Bar Veloce.
Bar Veloce only serves wine and beer (and small sandwiches?? I can’t remember.) It’s kinda snobby but also kinda great, and you know all the wine is fresh. It better be, sister, at those prices!

6. See my NYC doctors and make sure they’re talking to my Chicago doctors.

7. Go to a live taping of an Intelligence Squared Debate!!
It’s not happening till November, but I am already wiggling. Google “Intelligence Squared Debates” and read all about it. Then look at the debate for November 13th. Andrew Solomon is of my favorite authors of all time and is possibly one of the smartest people alive and writing today — and he’s a freaking panelist that night. Live IQ2 and Andrew Solomon on the same night? The topic is less important than the event itself. Andrew Solomon could be debating whether quinoa is a seed or a grain and I’d be riveted. I will be in wannabe-intellectual, academiac heaven that night and I can’t wait.

8. Sew. 

9. Catch Mickey so he doesn’t eat my quilts. 

10. Try to get my head around New York City.
Because I haven’t, yet. Not really. Confession: Every plane trip I’ve taken since June, if I could avoid it, I’ve tried to not fly through Chicago. It’s too painful. I miss her terribly. I can’t bear to see Midway Airport because Midway Airport is so close to my home, my real home, in the South Loop. I ache for Chicago, I long for her shores. When I go back to New York, I must embrace New York again, go to the monolith differently; open up anew. There’s more than enough there for me, but if I don’t want it, I’ll be tossed nothing but scraps.

On Hospital Advocacy, Part 1.

posted in: Rant, Sicky, Tips 6
A friend, indeed.
The one on the left is bleeding profusely.

When I went to the ER on Thursday, I went by myself. When I went to the ER on Saturday, I had an advocate. The difference between the two visits was stark. I’ve been to an emergency room alone before and I’ve gone in plenty of times with a friend or family member, too, but never in such short succession. Comparing the trips closely showed me plainly how one has to do these things:

You must have an advocate at the hospital.

If you are a solo person considering driving yourself to an ER tonight (or any night in the future), I urge you to call someone to go with you; at the very least, ask someone to meet you there. Of course, if your arm is hanging off or you’ve got visibly spreading flesh-eating bacteria working its way across your chest, you will probably get through the door with a minimum of hassle. I’m talking to the people out there who struggle with internal problems (e.g., possible appendicitis, possible internal flesh-eating bacteria, fissures, Crohn’s, etc.) because without someone to vouch for you, you are light years away from the care you assume you’ll get in a room created for the express purpose of dealing with people in emergency health situations.

Note: If you’re a person who doesn’t have a soul on earth to call, my advice would be to get to the ER tonight however you have to, get the hell out, and set about making some friends first thing tomorrow morning. Book clubs are good, online dating works well, and if you’re a quilter, run to your nearest guild and join the next sew-a-long. Any of these strategies will yield people clamoring to take you to the hospital before you know it. 

On both trips, I was in identical straits. Pure agony. Any human being who took one look at me (and how could you miss me, howling like that) could see that this was a woman in trouble. Was I foaming at the mouth? Well, no. But I was flagging. And while I understand totally the need for proper identification and at least a cursory examination of a person before IVs and medications are flung around hither and thither, Thursday’s experience reminded me that the collective brain of the ER has been removed and a skeptical, bureaucratic, Policy And Procedures Manual has been wedged in its place. This is not news, I realize, but my shock and indignation is fresh, so it feels like news.

Additional Note: I’m sure there are at least a handful of folks reading who are now or have been professionals in the medical field. I owe my life to a number of you, first of all, and don’t think I don’t know it. I see the problem(s) I’m talking about having less to do with individuals and more with the medical industrial complex. Indeed, it is the lack of individuality and specificity in the system that does damage.

The nurse was working the night shift. I get it. That sucks. And we all have bad days. But she began from a place of inhumanity. She came past my curtain and asked quite casually, “What seems to be the problem today?” (I’m writhing on the bed at this point.) She almost snorted when I told her I needed a certain kind of pain medicine — I’m allergic to morphine — and when I refused a CT scan I felt a freshet of loathing from Little Miss Ratchett. I know roughly when a CT scan of my abdomen is needed and when it is not; it would’ve been useless to do one at that time, given my symptoms and my traveler status, most especially because my pain had yet to be treated. (It appears that hospitals do far more CT scans than they need to**, primarily because they can bill for them. To be fair, this over-scanning has something to do with protection from litigious customers, but I felt my hospital was being either lazy or thick with their order. Not that I said so at the time.)

Halfway through my time there, as I’m trying to explain my entire medical history again, somehow, and get what I need to feel better, I realized how silly it was to be there alone. It was my fault. My stoicism was ill-conceived. The nurse might’ve been a jerk, but I looked up some stats and it appears that fiending drug addicts make frequent trips to emergency rooms all the time, looking for a fix. Here I was, a woman by herself, from out of state, with no visible injuries, crazy eyes, and an increasingly petulant attitude (see: refusing CT scan), begging for pain medicine. If a junkie could pull off looking/sounding like me that night, that junkie would be pretty amazing. But I hear they’ll do anything, so maybe the nurse was right to be so totally unhelpful. I tried to get in touch with someone from the quilt show to speak with the hospital, but when I couldn’t make contact and feared waking up the whole team, I gave up. Not being able to call for backup did not help my case.

I left with the bare minimum of relief and went away, 10% better in one regard, 30% worse in others.

Tomorrow, the second visit, and the wonder of compassion, advocacy, and my friend Marlene.

**Between 2000 and 2010, the National Center for Health Statistics showed the use of advanced imaging scans— CT or MRI—increased to 17% from 5% of all emergency-room visits. A Push For Less Testing in Wall Street Journal, Feb. 23, 2014.

 

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.

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