The Other Problem With Losing Your Voice

posted in: Day In The Life, Fashion 23
Corset, XIXth century Poland. Image: Wikipedia.

 

“Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion.” — John Berger, 1972

 

I have nothing to wear.

Last winter, when my life fell into a blast furnace, there were eight items of clothing I could put on my body from day to day that didn’t make me want to crawl out of my skin. Those items were:

Levi’s jeans
L.L. Bean wool sweater (red)
L.L. Bean wool sweater (black w/pattern)
Brown leather hiking boots with red laces
Nike Cortez tennis shoes
Double-breasted wool topcoat (camel)
Wool scarf (gray)
Knit cap (navy)

Anything else, and I was wearing a costume. This was a dissociative experience, and I was grappling with enough of those, thank you very much. Why couldn’t I wear any of my other sweaters? Or my white Oxford shirts? An Oxford shirt is about as neutral as an item of clothing can get, but when I put one on and buttoned it up, I felt like an idiot.

Strangest of all was that I couldn’t wear what has been my winter uniform for years: black pants and a black turtleneck. You’d think when a woman is experiencing major depression, black is the only thing that will do. Jeez, aren’t the depressed issued a black turtleneck and black pants at the door? But to me, black clothing does not communicate sorrow or a lack of vitality. To me, black clothes, aside from being chic (and slimming!) communicate a person in command of herself, someone who wants to be taken seriously.

What was happening to me was serious but I felt in command of nothing, and chic? Chic was a planet other people lived on. Whose clothes are these, I wondered, as I moved hangers back and forth in my closet. At some point I stopped opening my closet at all, ceased to wonder or worry about it and I simply put on the same thing day after day. I laundered my clothes often because I wore them daily. Processing laundry took great effort but it was a simple enough task and the smell of Woolite never lost its charm. I’m still grateful for that.

How I dreaded the coming warm weather. I’d be screwed. Dressing for spring and summer is awful for me every year, regardless of mental state; precious few of us on Team Black Turtleneck cross the line over to Team Tank Top, even if the Tank Toppers seem more comfortable than we are come Memorial Day. This year, I feared would be way worse.

The season changed. And by the time my hiking boots were inappropriate — early May, I think — my disposition had improved considerably. But I had not been wrong to worry about the clothes and in fact the situation was worse than I had anticipated. Not only had I not caught a ride on a rocket ship back to Planet Chic, I did not want to go. It was time to bring out my low-heeled suede pumps and my Marni blouse and my side-zip, slim-fit black Vince trousers, but when I went to get dressed in all that, you would’ve thought there was a tin of rotting tuna fish in my closet. I’d wince and shut the door and then just stand there with my head on the closet door, trying to envision any assemblage of apparel that would not make me feel like I was wearing a dead woman’s clothes. It was that bad.

Not everyone cares as much about clothes as I do, and there are those who care far more. My reasons for caring about what I wear (if you’ll allow me to psychoanalyze myself for a moment) are not hard to figure out. I want to control the narrative. Well-designed things make life easier and less ugly. Beautiful clothes make me feel beautiful. And I think it’s important to evolve as a person. Clothes, because there are so many directions one can take with them, are tools we can use to reflect — even spur or solidify — who we are right now.

And that, my peeps, is the heart of the matter: I don’t know what to wear because my current evolution is still in progress. It’s the same reason I can’t whip out a PaperGirl post like I used to: That person moved out, and it appears the other problem with losing your voice is losing your shoes. On a purely material level, it’s a drag to lose all those shoes — I have really great shoes — but on a psychic level, it super sucks. I can’t walk around barefoot. I can’t wear hiking boots every day. Crocs are never an option. But I’d pick any of those options before I’d wear the shoes of the woman who left all her stuff in my closet before she died. That’s creepy.

What’s my new look? As my friend Irena would say, “What’s the mood?”

Ten months later, and I still don’t know. It’s doubtful the mood will ever be what it was before. Perhaps that’s a start; that’s useful data. As the weather cools, I am eyeing my boots and my red sweater, but this may not be the solution. The new fear is that I’ll put those clothes on and they’ll feel dead, too.

But I’m alive. And I will live to shop another day.

The PaperGirl Persona

 

If you’re reading this, I’ll bet there are some books in your house. It doesn’t matter what kind, but I’ll bet there’s more than 20. I don’t have hard data on this, but I was at an event in Indiana a few weeks ago and met a number of PaperGirl readers who were clearly book-owning people. It was a vibe.

If you’re like me, the books you’ve kept for years in your living room or den or office you’ve kept for an obvious reason: They matter. I think the books we keep are meaningful because they reflect to us and everyone else who we are — and/or maybe who we’d like to be. Our bookshelves speak volumes (I know, I know!) because they’re essentially an exhibit we’ve curated. The books on a person’s shelf say, “I’m a hopeless romantic”, or “My political views are central to who I am”, or “I’m a Christian”, or “I’m an atheist”, or “I’m an actor” or “Science fiction helps me deal with reality.” What do your books say about you? Maybe there are so many books on your bookshelves, they’re groaning under the weight of all that paper. In that case, what your books say is: “I can’t throw books out.” That’s your answer: You’re a person who can’t bear to let go of books.

The books on my shelves cover a lot of ground. I’ve got anthologies of humor writing wedged in next to a pristine set of Quiltfolk magazines, the ones I refuse to mark up, make notes in, or review incessantly so that the next issue will be better than the last. On the other shelf, I’ve got everything Camille Paglia has ever published. Next to all that is (for example) a collection of Saul Bellow letters and two or three Nabokov novels … which butt up against a tiny portion of my quilt history library. (The rest is in my basement storage unit at the moment.) To an outside observer, this quilt history/cultural fireband/chuckle fest/Lolita mix is super weird, but to anyone who knows me, the books on my shelves makes perfect sense: My library, myself. And it’s the same with you.

However mishmashed the subcategories may be, there is one prevailing genre within my shelves: Nearly everything fits into the genre of personal narrative. Personal narrative is nonfiction that comprises memoir, autobiography, diary, personal essay, and certain longform journalism. As a writer and reader, this stuff is my jam. It’s been this way since I was in high school. I don’t check novels out from the library, I don’t buy them, and I don’t read the few I still have in my possession. Why?

The way I figure, it’s unfettered reality I want — the “straight tea”, as the kids say. I’m curious about people’s direct experience being a human and if a person writes about that experience as honestly and thoughtfully as they can, I want to read that. In fact, I’m desperate to read it. Everyone has way, way more to learn than they think they do, and I know I’ll learn from people if I can access their respective alternate realities. Of course I realize that novels offer alternate realities, too, and that novels can weave reality in a lovely, different way, but I don’t want a surrogate. I don’t want a (however well-wrought) fabrication standing in between me and the story. I’m too impatient, as usual, but I’m also unapologetic about this: I want my reality uncut. Mainline me.

There are giants of the personal narrative genre. These people are my heroes. Those giants include James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf, Susan Sontag, Michel de Montaigne, Zadie Smith, Christopher Hitchens, David Foster Wallace … and Vivian Gornick.

It’s that last name we’re going to spend the rest of our time with, because Vivian Gornick wrote a book I have kept on my shelf for many years and I shall always keep it on my shelf. It’s like an old, worn, freshly washed bathrobe. The other day, needing one of those, I pulled that book down and leafed through, for old times’ sake. The content I found did two things: 1) it caused me to think about the books we keep on our shelves and 2) it broke open why I can’t get a grip on this blinkin’ blog.

First things first: Vivian Gornick is a genius at writing. Her writing is efficient and elegant — think Einstein’s theory of relativity. Her sentences have zero fat. There is no ego, no flourish. She doesn’t stand for that crap. She observes everything and then she writes down the truth of it, however mundane. She writes books and essays and critical reviews and they will inspire you and also depress you if you’re a writer, because guess what? There’s only one Gornick, baby. If you want a place to start, read her memoir about her relationship with her mother, Fierce Attachments. 

Okay, okay, so Gornick wrote a book a few years ago called The Situation and The Story: The Art of Personal Narrative. When I was teaching writing at the University of Chicago, I used this book a lot, especially in the blogging class and the storytelling class. The book is one big revelation, but perhaps the biggest, baddest one is essentially this: to write about your life, you have to craft a persona, because a persona will give you the voice you need to write the story of your life. Here’s an excerpt from the book, and I know I’m just diving in here, but I looked hard for the right passage so I hope you’ll track with me on this:

“The writing we call personal narrative is written by people who, in essence, are imagining only themselves in relation to the subject in hand. … Out of the raw material of a writer’s own undisguised being a narrator is fashioned whose existence on the page is integral to the tale being told. This narrator becomes a persona. Its tone of voice, its angle of vision, the rhythm of its sentences, what it selects to observe and what to ignore are chosen to serve the subject; yet at the same time the way the narrator — or the persona — sees things is, to the largest degree, the thing being seen. 

To fashion a persona out of one’s own undisguised self is no easy thing … Yet the creation of such a persona is vital in an essay or a memoir. It is the instrument of illumination. Without it there is neither subject or story. To achieve it, the writer of memoir or essay undergoes an apprenticeship as soul-searching as any undergone by a novelist or poet: the twin struggle to know not only why one is speaking, but who is speaking.”

This blog has existed since 2005. For more than a decade, save for a few periods when I’ve gone dark — as I’ve been lately — I’ve shared my life here and I have told you the truth. I am vulnerable here. I don’t bullshit you. I respect you, I respect myself, and I tell the truth and because of that respect, I cannot write things that are fake. The times when the blog has evaporated for a spell, it’s evaporated precisely because I refuse to be inauthentic, and sometimes it’s impossible to be authentic without turfing out. Put another way: If what’s going on with me is deeply private, if it is not for public consumption, yet, if it would compromise other people, if it simply makes no discernible sense yet, or if I’m just plain too scared to tell you, I don’t know how to write PaperGirl. 

PaperGirl is fun. Yes, she’s vulnerable and open. We know that. I talk about sad stuff and bad stuff and gross stuff. But she bounces back. She’s a total dork, a complete spaz. She has perspective and she knows who she is. I love PaperGirl. She’s definitely real. She’s me. She’s a part of me, anyway, which means PaperGirl is … a persona. Absolutely authentic, no fake-out, no bullshit. But a specific voice from me who can take “the raw material of [her] own undisguised being” and tell you about it using a specific “tone of voice”, “angle of vision”, and with a certain rhythm to her sentences. I don’t want to get too writer-rabbit-hole-y on you — too late — but believe me: For years and years, when it was time to sit down and write PaperGirl, I mentally and involuntarily slipped on my PaperGirl shoes, cracked my knuckles, and voila: I could write about my life.

I’m afraid that persona has left the building.

Wait, wait! I don’t mean that in some dour, gloomy way. It’s weird and yes, it is sort of sad: I liked her. I liked that goofy, chummy, weird, sensitive, earnest PaperGirlI hung out with her a long time, and so did you, and I love you very much, and she loved you very much. But after everything that happened this past winter and everything that has happened since, I can’t get those shoes on my feets. They do not fit. I observe things constantly that I want to tell you about, every single day, but I can’t get it on the page/screen. For awhile, every time I saw something I would normally zip out to you, I’d think, “Yes. That’s it. Tonight I can blog. Yes, I have to write about that, I have to share that. I love that and they’ll love that.” But that night, I’d try to put the shoes on and … I couldn’t write in that PaperGirl voice anymore and that was hard, but even harder was that I didn’t know what voice would take its place. Or if one would. That is a very scary thing for a writer and for a person.

The good news is simply that I’ve figured all this out, and I send my regards to Vivian Gornick. And because I’ve figured it out — that it’s impossible for me to blog like I used to because I’ve outgrown the PaperGirl persona/narrator — this means I can let myself off the hook. I’m not a bad blogger, I’ve just got a concussion. I’ll always write about my life; I just have to figure out who’s doing the writing.

In conclusion: If I let myself off the hook for not being “PaperGirl”, I think I can blog. I think so. There’s an opening. Thank you for all the emails and the comments and everything. You people are amazing. I’m doing pretty good and oh man do I have so much to tell you, big things and little things. I’m bursting to tell you, but I just don’t know what the PaperGirl 2.0 voice is, yet. I’ll get her. I’ll catch her. I get back on my feet. I’ll practice.

This is me, practicing.

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.

A Halloween Breakthrough!!!

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Paean 1
Me, not me. It's about time!
Me, not me. It’s about time!

Now I understand it!

I get Halloween!

All of my life, I have never understood nor enjoyed Halloween. I just didn’t get it. Why would anyone cover themselves in sticky fake blood and go out in cold weather to do jello shots? What can be accomplished by being a trollopy milk maid in public in late October? I’ve never seen the zombie zeitgeist as some sort of catharsis for a society living in fear and isolation; I see it as creepy and tacky, not to mention disorienting, especially when you see a pack of zombies doing jello shots or doing a 5k run or both.

But I figured out the appeal last night! It’s not that you have to be scary or uncomfortable on Halloween; you don’t have to dwell on the undead or be some bizarre, modern version of an ancient pagan. It’s that on Halloween, you can be someone else. You can take the briefest break from being you, and this is a great gift. Do you know how exasperating it is to be me? Sure, because you know how exhausting it is to be you. We’re all living, breathing (beautiful) disasters. Who wouldn’t want to jump out of your disaster and into another one once a year?

I’ve mentioned my fancy-schmancy home in DC — the Kennedy Warren building on Connecticut Avenue — has a beautiful bar inside the building. It’s all dark wood and chrome with lots of plush velvet chairs and couches, a grand piano. A jazz trio plays in the evening. Politicians hang out there, journalists hang out there. Well, there was a Halloween do last night and I went down to see what was what. Of course I needed to wear a costume, so I put on the pair of funny glasses I happen to have and attached to my necklace a bow-tie I happen to have. I went and put on black trousers, a vest, my best Prada patent leather shoes with the steel heel (haaaaay!) and my black trench coat. Suddenly…I was not me!

I had so much fun last night. I met many cool people and several came up to my place for a nightcap. It was a wonderful Halloween and I have made peace with the holiday as of now. Incredibly, I’m already looking forward to next year. How about that.

*To Hannah, the incredible fan who sent me a carton of candy pumpkins… Hannah, you are a treasure of a human being. Thank you. I ate handfuls of them when they arrived. Pumpkins from heaven.

The Quilter’s Trunk, or: Whatcha Doin’ Next Saturday?

posted in: Chicago, Quilting, Work 0
Hands down my favorite quilt shop logo ever.
Hands down my favorite quilt shop logo ever.

Chicago! Quilters! And friends! And friends of quilters! And their pets:

Did you know there’s a new quilt shop in Chicagoland? You didn’t? Well, now you do. Katie and Lisa, both handsome and imminently capable women, have opened up The Quilter’s Trunk and I’m to be the first big, juicy event they hold. (That is a terrible sentence for several reasons but mostly because it makes me sound like I’m a pig they’re going to roast in a barbeque pit.)

The event is next Saturday, October 10th, starting at 10am at the shop. I’ll be giving two lectures — one in the morning, one in the afternoon — signing books, doing mini-demos, takin’ pics, and enjoying the company of fellow quilters. If you live in the area, you should come because you can:

1. support a new quilt shop in your area
2. shop for things to help you make perfect objects (quilts)
3. hang out with me
4. probably eat snacks

Go to the Quilter’s Trunk website for more info and contact information for the shop. The lectures will have limited seating, so I wouldn’t wait long to call.

Byeeeeee

Press Release: Mary Fons To Write Exclusive Column for Quilts, Inc.

posted in: Work 1
A screen shot of the actual press release to be sent out tomorrow by Quilts, Inc.
A portion of the actual press release to be sent out tomorrow (across the globe!!!) by Quilts, Inc. Thanks, Quilts, Inc.

I told you I’d be sharing some surprises. Here’s the first one:

Beginning this month, I have the honor and pleasure of writing an exclusive, bimonthly column for Quilts, Inc., the esteemed institution that brings you International Quilt Market and Festival each year, making it arguably the central nervous system of the entire quilt industry. I’m happy to report my imposter syndrome kicked in immediately after they asked me to do this, which is really the only appropriate response to something so cool.

I’ve titled the column, “The Quilt Scout” because I’ll be going out and getting information pertaining to every nook and cranny “of quilt.” I wrote a long list of the different things I plan to do with the column, but I deleted it. You’ll just have to see. The Quilt Scout will be a little like PaperGirl, but focused around the one topic, of course, and Quilts, Inc. probably won’t let me tell stories like this, not that I’d try — at least not for awhile.

Look, I was a writer before I was a quilter. I supported myself as a freelancer for a number of years before tectonic plates slid me over into the quilt world. Having my two worlds converge in an official capacity is more satisfying than I can possibly express. It’s no surprise to me that the pieces I’ve been writing and turning in practically write themselves: there’s no friction here, no dragging myself to the computer. I didn’t realize it, but I’ve been dying to write The Quilt Scout for years.

Head over to Quilts.com and sign up for newsletter alerts, or just bookmark the page on your browser. I’ll have an official schedule at some point as to when my column drops during the month. Until then, know that The Quilt Scout is on the case, barely concealing her excitement as she fact checks, combs through back issues of Quilter’s Newsletter, interviews superstars, and chews on yet another pencil.

Word Campaign: “Thisclose”

posted in: Day In The Life, Word Nerd 2
That'll do it. Bullfight, Plaza de Toros, Madrid, Spain, 2007. Photo: Wikipedia
Oof. Bullfight, Plaza de Toros, Madrid, Spain, 2007. Photo: Wikipedia

Language is a living, breathing thing. It morphs, it adapts, it sheds its skin. Being that this is true, I would like to propose that “thisclose” to enter the English lexicon. One sees this word being used in certain cases and I feel thisclose is legitimate, needed, and rather elegant. Allow me to make the case.

I am beside myself that in the past few years the word “literally” has lost its original meaning. “Literally” used to mean “actually,” so if you said, “The hotel room was so gross, I was literally barfing,” it meant that you were actually barfing because you found your hotel room unacceptable. You were saying that vomit was coming out of your head because the definition of “literally” meant “taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or allegory.” But some point, “literally” came to mean something like, “I was totally barfing over that hotel room,” or “I felt like barfing.” The way I see it, this is a bad morph. Whenever someone says, “I was literally over the moon,” I just stare at them and envision him or her actually flying over the actual moon.

But I have to get over it. Because that’s what language does. This is the nature of the thing. Language adds to itself, e.g, “That dude’s jacket is on fleek” and it subtracts, e.g., “That dude’s jacket is aces.”

Now that I’ve buried the lede, let’s go back to thisclose.

When there’s a close call, or when someone is on the verge of doing something but chooses not to do it, “thisclose” is precisely what they mean. Examples:

“I was thisclose to throwing my computer out the window.”
“I was thisclose to asking her out but I just didn’t have the nerve.”
“The bull was thisclose to skewering that dude and it was a shame because his jacket was on fleek, dawg.”

Right? (The pronunciation would be “THIS-close,” by the way.) Golly, I think it’s tops. You see it out there, but it needs to be official. It might be the word-of-the-year at some point (the Times chooses one of these each year, along with the American Dialect Society and the Oxford Dictionary and when they do that, it goes into the dictionary.) Maybe I’ll start a campaign, except I’d be crushed if this great word would lose out to “fleek.” As in:

“My favorite new word was thisclose to being selected but it lost out. I feel like throwing my computer out the window.”

The Little Princess.

posted in: Day In The Life 0
"The Little Lame Prince and His Traveling Cloak," by Dinah Maria Mulock, 1909; illustration by Hope Dunlap.
“The Little Lame Prince and His Traveling Cloak,” by Dinah Maria Mulock, 1909; illustration by Hope Dunlap.

What’s wrong with me?

I go out on the open road, I long for my bed. I long for the crisp sheets that I washed in the morning and put lovingly on the bed for the moment when I’d sink down into the white. Out there is the lush green of Georgia, the thunderstorms over St. Louis, but once there I long for the sewing machine that is always right where I left it. I love my luggage, but I miss my sink. Even the dumb kitchen sponge.

I come home and I embrace my sponge and my french press with an almost uncomfortable enthusiasm; these are inanimate objects, Fons. I realize that, but god how I missed you, little kitchen sponge, little frenchy-french. Then, watch a week go by and what happens? I wake before sunrise, as always, and pad to the kitchen and lo, the faintest sigh of longing comes as I go about my ritual: fill kettle, turn on burner, rinse french press, put in tea, close tea container, pour cream into pichet, get spoon for honey. Put all on tray. Scratch. Yawn. Think about life. Look at counter. Feel desire to scour it later. Wait for water to boil. Wait for the quotidian to kill me, eventually.

When the tea is ready, I’m so happy to have that morning hit of sweet, creamy Earl Grey, I forget that moments ago, I wished I was out on the road. Out of the house. Out of me, I guess.

I can’t be pleased and it drives me to drink (tea.) Forget the grass being greener; I don’t care about green. I just want the grass to be interesting. And what I can’t figure out is if there’s more to be found by chopping wood and carrying water day in, day out at the homestead or more to be found seeking whatever’s new around every single corner that I meet.

George Harrison said, “The farther one travels/the less one knows.” And there was a Swedish painter I read about years ago who never, ever left his hometown and painted the most wonderful paintings. His thing was, basically, “What on earth is there more beautiful than this? Why would I go anywhere else? I mean… Look.” But come on. Where would we be without the peripatetic, the restless, the road dog? We’d be at home. Booooring.

On Thursday, I go to St. Louis for four days. I’ll be lecturing with Mom, which tonight makes me so happy I could cry. Most of the time I travel alone. With Mother, you see, I get the best of both grassy worlds: I have the familiarity and comfort of my very own mom mixed with the plane and the pavement, the hotel room and the view of The Gateway To the West from whatever hotel room I’m assigned.

Somebody please tell me what the Sam Hill I’m supposed to be and just what I’m supposed to do. I assure you I have no clue. None.

Poetic Interlude: The Sandpiper by Elisabeth Bishop

posted in: Art, Poetry 0
A sandpiper at the water.
A sandpiper at the water.

On this Monday, let us pause for poetry. Have you ever read Elisabeth Bishop’s poems? I’m only now discovering them. Have you ever seen a sandpiper hopping around on a beach? I hadn’t until I read this poem written by Bishop in 1956.

The Sandpiper

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

– Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn’t tell you which.
His beak is focused; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

“Why’s It Called PaperGirl, Grandma?” (Archive)

posted in: PaperGirl Archive, Poetry 1
WWII propaganda poster by Fougasse; ironic appropriation by me.
WWII propaganda poster by Fougasse; ironic appropriation by me.

“Why’s it called ‘PaperGirl,’ grandma?”

“Sit on my knee, child, and I’ll tell you.”

“Can I have a another cooky first? You tell long stories.”

“Here. Anything else?”

“No.”

“Good. Okay, then, PaperGirl. Well, once upon a time, long ago, I wrote a poem.”

“What was it called?”

“I’m getting to it. It was called ‘The Paper Poem,’ and it was an extended metaphor about the nature of existence being fragile like paper, but beautiful, too, like paper is beautiful.”

“What’s paper?”

“Before your time.”

“Oh. Your poem sounds cool, grandma.”

“I liked it. Other people liked it, too, and I performed it in many places all over the country.”

“Like in Bismark?”

“No, never actually in Bismark, I don’t think. Maybe. It was a long time ago. Anyway, there’s a verse where I say ‘I will be your paper girl,’ and that’s where ‘PaperGirl’ comes from.”

“What’s the verse?”

“You want to hear the whole verse?”

“Is it long?”

“No, it’s not long. It’s the second-to-last verse of the poem and it goes like this:

But if you are a paper doll, too, then I shall know you on sight,
And if you are with me, come with me tonight; I will match up our bodies
by the tears in our arms —
We will form paper barricades against matchstick harm;
I will make paper love to you for as long as I can in this shreddable world;
I will be your paper girl.

“That’s nice, grandma.”

“Thanks.”

“And you named your blog that because of that poem?”

“Yes. And PaperGirl is the name of my LLC, too. And that small island I bought. And the Beaux Arts building you like so much in Paris. And my foundation in Dubai and all the vineyards in Spain. Everything in my empire, it’s all under the PaperGirl umbrella.”

“I wanna go to the zoo and see a rhinoceros.”

“Get your coat.”

[NOTE: I’ve been asked lately why the blog is called what it is, so it seemed fair to offer this again, an entry originally posted on this date.]

Quilt Now: A Day In the Life of Mary Fons (Feature)

posted in: Day In The Life 0
A screenshot of the article because I have not the skills to post the piece as a PDF.
A screenshot of the article because I have not the skills to post the piece as a PDF.

As editor of Quilty, I schedule, select, and edit a great number of features about the quilters of today. But this summer, friend and colleague Katy Jones, editor of the UK magazine Quilt Now, featured me. I was flattered and wrote a “Day In the Life” piece for her. Here is the text from that piece. It’s great until the part where I talk about how great it is to be in love. I forgot I wrote that part.

Anyhow, thank you, Katy! And everyone, if you can get your hands on a copy of an issue of Quilt Now, do it. It’s a great magazine and I’m honored to have been able to write for it.

A Day In The Life of Mary Fons
by Mary Fons

“Whether I’m traveling or at home, I wake early. Usually very early. Pre-dawn. When I was a kid, it was so hard get out of bed. I remember thinking how weird it was — weird and enviable — the way adults like my mom just naturally got up in the morning with minimal fuss. Of course, I would learn that plenty of adults would like to sleep in, but for most of us, getting up in the morning does get easier as we get older. This is likely due to the fear of responding in an at least somewhat timely manner to the crushing pressure of daily living.

If I’m home, I rise and immediately made a large pot of tea. If I’m on the road, I rise and immediately make hotel room coffee. Either way, there is lots of milk and sugar involved. I can do exactly nothing until I’ve got hot tea or coffee in my hand in the morning, and that’s that. The morning tea or coffee time is for me to write in my journal or read. Sometimes, when I’ve got a big event coming up or I’m under deadline, I’ll use that tea time to work. But I prefer to have my tea or coffee for an hour with just personal pursuits that involve both reading and writing.

Then it’s time to produce. I edit Quilty magazine, and plan and host the Quilty show online. I speak and teach across the land, host a webinar each month, I’m working on a new book, and I do numerous other projects at any given time, so there is always slightly too much to do. I do not, at press time, have an assistant. That would be amazing.** So I’m on my own to write copy, tweak copy, book travel, send bios and teaching plans, stitch, and otherwise coordinate All The Things. I also blog (nearly) every day and I see my blog, PaperGirl, as an integral part of the Mary Fons “thing,” so that is most certainly a priority, even though it makes me zero income.

I’m a freelancer, a contractor. It’s kind of an odd set-up, since I do the vast majority of my work for one company (F+W) but I’ve been a freelancer since ‘05 and I’m stayin’ alive. I like the freedom that comes with it, even though there are frequently invoicing headaches, checks to track down, and of course I have no employee benefits and have to do my own taxes. Still, for a creative person such as myself, I can see no other way to live. I can work at 6am or 6pm, on the road or at home, and there are no clocks to punch. (I would probably actually punch a clock if I had to “check in” for work at this point.)

There is a downside to working this way: I work almost constantly. It’s not the working I mind, but there are times when I wish a janitor would like, shut the lights off in the office and tell me to go home. There is no janitor. I do have a partner now, which is very good; he can tell me to stop working or not take on another project. When I was just a single gal, living for the city, there was no reason to not take another road gig. No one needed me at home to make dinner or, you know, just be home because that feels good. I’m not suggesting my existence was bleak — I rather enjoy being a career gal — but it’s been wonderful to have someone sort of put their hand on my shoulder and tell me to chill out for two seconds and sleep in once in awhile.

I do have my fun. I’m a Bikram yogini, so I go sweat it out in the hot yoga room. I just moved to Manhattan from Chicago, so now I have NYC as a playground and I do intend to start playing asap. I like to dance. I love to read and write. And I really, really love to design and make big scrap quilts. So that’s fun for me. And I mentioned the partner thing: I am wildly in love with someone who fascinates and delights me and teaches me all kinds of new and wonderful things. That’s my fun, too, just being with Yuri.

I think a lot about how short life is and how I, Mary Fons, have to do something extraordinary with my time here. I don’t have a choice. I don’t know when I go to bed. When I’m tired, I lay down. I suppose it’s usually around midnight. And I dream, dream, dream. And then I do it all again.”

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.

 

 

 

Book Church: The Library of Congress

posted in: Paean 1
Not pictured: 29 million books.
Not pictured: 36 million books.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now — if you could zap yourself somewhere this instant — where would you put yourself? The zen answer is: “Why, I’d want to be exactly where I am!” and if this is how you answered the question, congratulations. You are an Enlightened One and may I say, the soft glow emanating from your head gives a lovely light.

For those of us who answered the question differently, I salute both your imagination and your discontent. I can only imagine the wonderful responses:

“I’d be at a racetrack!”
“I’d be at gramma’s house!”
“I’d be scuba diving in shark infested waters!”

Enlightenment sounds lousy, anyhow. What, you just sit around seeing the Nature of Things? Emerging from your nonage? Boooring. Bring a book. Speaking of books, if I could zap myself anyplace in the world, I would choose The Library of Congress.

I’ve never been inside but I have plans to visit soon. The Library of Congress, as many readers know, is located in Washington, D.C., in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It is the largest library in the world.** Contrary to popular belief, the library does not hold every book ever published ever in the universe, but the truth is so jaw-dropping there’s no need to dress up the stats: 158 million items can be found on the shelves of the LOC, shelves that measure a total of 838 miles. The LOC website tells us that the collections hold “more than 36 million books and other print materials, 3.5 million recordings, 13.7 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 6.7 million pieces of sheet music and 69 million manuscripts.” Also, the Gutenberg Bible is there. Also, a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. Also, my book!

It’s all contained in a Beaux-Arts building that looks like the enormous lovechild of a wedding cake, a sultan’s summer home, and The Coliseum.

When I find myself in D.C. next, I’ll take my journal and several books to the Main Reading Room in the Jefferson Building and sit myself down in the glory, glory. I’m sure I’ll have to get some special pass or I.D. sticker and I’m happy to do so. I am still a student, which should help.

So that’s where I’d zap myself. The LOC. There, the lights are low but focused. Like the light of Enlightenment, but available to us all.

**In the world!

Advice To Oneself.

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips 0
Josephine Bonaparte Mixed Media Sculpture by George S. Stuart. Photo: Peter D'Aprix for the Historical Figure Foundation.
Josephine Bonaparte Mixed Media Sculpture by George S. Stuart. Photo: Peter D’Aprix for the Historical Figure Foundation.

At dinner last night with a number of F+W Mediennes et Mediassieurs, I spied one of my favorite people in the group and began to flap my hands and wave my arms at her. I looked like I was having some kind of episode, but I wanted to get Aly’s attention so that she would come sit by me. I was not having lunch at a junior high cafeteria, I realize, but I never get to see this girl for more than five minutes at a time and I wanted to visit with her. This was my chance.

Aly works with the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo (an arm of F+W) and I’m certain her title has the word “coordinator” or “manager” in it, but I think of Aly as a producer. Because producers make things go. Producers solve small problems before they become big problems. Producers are the people you never want to get sideways with because they will save your hienie. (Aly’s saved mine a few times.) Whether they are producing a film, a stage show, or a quilt extravaganza, no good production ever happened without someone like Aly involved. It’s also worth noting that she is a kind of protege of Marlene.

So I asked Aly, “How’s life?” and she had lots of interesting and intelligent things to share, of course. Aly is twenty-five. If you remember anything about being twenty-five, you will recall that it is not an easy age to be. Whether you’re settling down or just gearing up to not, the world is big and choices seem to have either Godzilla-level impact or be so inconsequential to the rest of humanity that you feel like a bat in an echo chamber full of bats. Drunk bats. Drunk bats in an echo chamber with Facebook. Drunk bats in an echo chamber with Facebook and the latest iPhone. It’s hard, is what I’m saying.

“Mary,” Aly said over cheesecake, “If you could give your twenty-five-year-old self advice, what would you tell her?”

This is why Aly is going to be just fine. That’s a great question. I thought it about it for a moment because I took the question very seriously, but I knew the answer right away.

“I would trust myself more,” I said. “I made a lot of decisions at twenty-five that were based on a fundamental belief that pretty much everyone but me knew what was good for me. I thought I had to listen to them. I thought I had to fix myself. But I’m not broken. I’m not a failed human who has to use life as one, long fixer-upper. My instincts are good. I’m smart. There’s no one on the planet just like me, so hang the blueprints. Be original.”

Aly nodded, and I think she was satisfied with that. But I forgot to tell her something really important, a sidenote to the sentiment above:

“The marvelous thing about accepting your own originality is that you get to avoid the pain of living other people’s perceptions of how you should be. This is beautiful. But you still have a lot of work cut out for you, because you have to defend yourself your entire life. You’ll have to defend your path, your way, your schtick, your ‘thing’ the whole time. People like blueprints. A lot. You don’t use one, you get freedom — but it ain’t free.”

Aly, the picture up top is a figurine of Josephine Bonaparte, Napoleon’s first wife. I put “quarter life” (as in “quarter-life crisis”) into WikiCommons and I got all these pictures of historical figurines by one George S. Stuart. You see, the artist makes “quarter life-size” sculptures. Get it? I thought this one was a good one for you. Josephine was a badass.

Interlude No. 2: Chapters

posted in: Family, Luv, Story 3
Sleeping with my mom's dog, Scrabble.
Sleeping with mom’s dog, Scrabble. She’s good in a pinch.

1.

I miss Yuri.

Our New York City days have been so good. When he comes in the door in the evening, I leap up and run to him. I always like to look pretty when he arrives. Dinner will be almost ready or I’ll have been baking cinnamon rolls, his new favorite treat. He calls them “cinni-minis.” I jotted down the recipe and taped it to the cabinet above the stove and it says, “Yuri’s Cinni-Mini’s” and there are hearts and frosting smears all over the paper.

We have a mouse in the apartment. Naturally, we named him Mickey. Neither of us are really okay with Mickey being there but neither one of us wants to buy a trap. Maybe if Mickey started paying rent we could get comfortable with him running past on the parquet floor every once in awhile, at night, when I’m reading and Yuri is finishing up work for the day.

2.

All this rigmarole. The fears. Atlanta. Taping the TV show. New medicine that has freaking nitroglycerine in it. I made an appointment with my surgeon in Chicago because she has operated on me a lot. New York is full of smart doctors but I think it’s wise at this juncture to speak to the lady who has had her hands in my abdomen on three separate occasions.

The worst case scenario is that I was misdiagnosed in 2008 and I actually have Crohn’s disease. (That would mean an already colon-less me would begin small-intestine re-sectionings.) The best case scenario is that I am how I am now, which appears problematic.

3.

Last night, I let my mom’s dog Scrabble sleep with me in the bed. I’m mostly against animals in my bed (unless you take me to dinner first — hey-o!) but Scrabble is squeaky clean and very soft, with short, white curly fur. She looks and feels like a lamb. Scrabble is a miniature Golden Doodle and she can shake, roll over, and fetch three different toys by name, but she still jumps up on people when she sees them because she is so excited to have friends.

When she was a puppy, I would lay her on her back and give her a puppy massage. She was very hyperactive, being a happy puppy, but I would flip her on her back and use my fingers to do a puppy version of a deep tissue massage and she would just totally conk out. She loved it. It got so I would say, “Scrabble? You wan’na puppy massage?” and she would get this look like, “Is this seriously going to happen right now?” And I’d massage her little chicken wings and that’s how I fell in love with her, down on the floor of the living room, smiling at her happy puppy face, burying my face in her fur.

Interlude: The Zarf

posted in: Food, Word Nerd 0
Wait for it...
Wait for it…

The day has ended too late to write the second half of my cri de coeur on hospital buddies. I’d be up till midnight with it and that would be foolish of me. Big day today, bigger one tomorrow, filming the 2500 series of Love of Quilting.

And so, a brief interlude. A brief interlude on the zarf.

You know the sleeve that goes on your go-cup of coffee? The paper sleeve? It has a name. It’s called a “zarf.” Amazing.

When people started drinking coffee and tea (which is to say “when people started”) they put little holder-sleeve thingies on their handle-free cups to keep their paws from getting burned on the vessels of hot liquid. Tea- and coffee-drinking humans have kept this item in heavy rotation ever since, though modern day zarfs are made of cardboard, not porcelain or wood or ivory.

I learned this because my mother and stepfather play Scrabble so much. Also, crossword puzzles.

Also, it’s good to be home.

(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.

New York: Where Your Twin Has Been Living Since 1985.

Woman on subway, NYC 1973. Photo: Erik Calonius, US National Archives.
Woman on subway, NYC 1973. Photo: Erik Calonius, US National Archives.

My Big Apple bedazzlement continues.

In 2013, the Census Bureau reported 8,405,837 million people living in New York City. If nothing about that number has changed except that me and Yuri moved here, it’s now 8,405,839. If you count my sock monkey in the number, which you should, we can get to a nicer, roundish number of 8,405,840. I’m confident Yuri, Pendennis, and moi are not the only changes to the New York City population since last year, but this is why its funny.

All of these people. There’s one of everything.

I play a little game when I’m out and about. When I see someone totally one-of-a-kind, or outlandish, or remarkable in any way (and everyone is remarkable in some way) I note their characteristics and then try to imagine imagining them. Like:

“Could there be on this earth, at this moment, a person who is a nun, around fifty years old with pink socks, a guitar, and a suitcase with a Grateful Dead sticker on it? Could that person possibly exist in this wide, wide world?”

Then I answer myself that yes, there could plausibly be such a person because in that moment when I’m asking myself, that means I am looking at a person who matches that exact description. The nun was standing in front of Penn Station the other day, waiting for a bus, I assume. Then I play some more.

“Does a person exist who has a spiderweb tattooed on his face and wears corrective shoes?”

Yes, this person lives on my block. Yuri and I call him “Spiderman” and he is frightening to behold. He is acutely homeless.

“Could there be a 4’5 Asian-American girl with a panda backpack and a tattoo of a Pac Man ghost that covers her entire leg, who is screaming at her boyfriend that she wanted peanut butter froyo, not caramel froyo, dammit Reggie????”

Yes, that argument happened about an hour ago out on St. Mark’s Place.

“Is there a male model whose girlfriend is also a model, and are they both wearing large hats and are they both wearing all denim, and are they both Serbian?”

Yep, and yep. Just another piece of the crowd on any given day.

And consider what you’re wearing. Right now, look at your outfit. Someone in New York has that exact thing on, I’m telling you. I can’t say I’ve seen them in it because of course, I can’t see you in it. But someone has it on. They might even share your name.

There’s only one you, but New York gives that concept a run for its money.

Timeline, Part 2.

posted in: Sicky 28
Sweet n' lowdown.
Sweet n’ lowdown.

As the well-wishes and words of kindness came in last night/today regarding yesterday’s post, I felt subdued and grateful. I also became concerned that the sharing of my UC story thus far was potentially taking up too much air time in people’s heads, thoughts, prayers, etc. I shared the first half of the timeline with a desire to inform, possibly assist, and maybe even entertain (seriously, you can’t write this stuff.) But when the compassion came at me from all sides I suddenly felt guilty that I had directed all of this energy at myself when really, we’ve all got botched j-pouch surgeries. We’ve all got a health crisis.

We are all temporarily abled. That’s not just a politically correct catchphrase: it is one of the truest things I know. Our bodies are systems; systems fail. We are organic matter; organic matter gets infected, infested, and eventually rots away. There’s nothing to be done about it and to preface it all by saying, “Sorry to be morbid, but the funny thing about bodies is…” is to keep the yardstick in place that distances us from the reality of our rather absurd situation. It is my fondest wish that every person reading this is full of vim and vigor from their first day to their last, but it’s more likely that most of us will deal with significant health issues somewhere along the trek. Sooner, later, or now.

So hang my tale: we all need compassion. By virtue of being human, we all need loving kindness. It’s hard down here. And that’s when we’re healthy and well! Beyond that, many of us have diseases and afflictions that do not call for surgery and never will. There are those among us who are quite sick indeed but look perfectly fine. Those people need emails of encouragement, too. They need blog comments. And so it was that I felt I had gotten too much of the universe’s healing energy yesterday and today. I will send some along to the next fellow with your regards; maybe it will come back to you, as you also need it. Sooner, later, now.

With that, let’s dive down into the second half of what happened so far in my life, vis a vis being sick. When I returned to Chicago in ’09, things took a turn from awful to downright horrid.

Summer ’09 – My then-husband leaves for a year to train for the Army Reserves. A decision we made together proves disastrous. He was away, my entire world/existence was changing daily. A gulf formed that would never again be brooked.

August ’09 – I am declared well enough for the “takedown” surgery at Northwestern. The ileostomy (stoma) I had is poked back inside my belly and reconnected to the internal j-pouch. In theory, I should be able to continue my life now, albeit with a “new normal.”

September ’09 – My health rapidly deteriorates following the takedown. Turns out the leak has not healed. Waste is leaking into my abdomen from the pouch. I am hospitalized — can’t remember how many times —  over the next few months. (Silver lining: I begin to make quilts for sanity preservation.)

October ’09 – “Bio-glue” is squirted into my j-pouch in attempts to “plug up” the leak. Bio-glue is what they use to glue heart muscles back together after surgery, apparently? While the glue does its thing, I am told “No food allowed.” A PICC line (my third; a mega-IV that is inserted via ultrasound into your arm and travels through a major artery to dump medicine/food directly into your vena cava) is placed and I am put on total parenteral nutrition (a.k.a., TPN, a.k.a., “feeding tube”.) Twice a day, I hook up a gallon bag of white fluid into a port in my arm and sit still while it is pumped in. I have several IR drains, as well. I am a ghost among men.

November ’09 – TPN and bio glue deemed a failure. Pouch needs more time to heal after all. I will be re-diverted. (Translation: I will get another stoma.) Surgery at Northwestern. This time, I get an epidural. A psychiatrist visits me in the hospital post-surgery and recommends I go on an antidepressant. I take her up on that.

December ’09-’11 – Life continues apace. My marriage falls apart. I continue to work as a freelancer, building Quilty and doing work in the theater in Chicago to take my mind off my health issues and my broken relationship. Bag leaks in bed, painful rashes, etc., are par for the course with the second stoma as with the first but it’s a known quantity, at least. I begin to practice yoga with obsessive drive: I make deals with the universe that if I get healthy enough before the second takedown a year from now, I will make it.

June ’11 – Second takedown. Northwestern. Epidural. Things go well.

Fall ’12 – After a shaky but decent year, things begin to crack. I have a fissure. I also have a fistula. (I leave those things to you to look up. Do not image search.) Various methods are deployed to deal with these issues. I work harder than I should, afraid at any moment of hospitalization. There are several, usually related to the fistula or flora issues in my ruined guts. I make a series of self-destructive choices. I am wildly productive.

Fall ’13 – The fissure has come home to roost. I am crippled with pain. An ambulance comes to my condo to get me on the worst of the nights; they break my front door. I get into a pattern where I know when the fissure is about to do its worst; I frequently take the bus up Michigan Ave. to the ER. Hospitalizations. Pain medicine. Lying to everyone about how bad it is. Describing the pain to someone, I say it’s “like having a gunshot wound that you sh-t battery acid out of approximately twenty times a day.” (I stand by this description.)

Then, up to now – Good days, bad days. I got a pain doctor who recommended an internal pain pump. This is a morphine drip, essentially, placed into my abdomen, which I then pump when I feel the agony coming on. I decline, not yet ready for another apparatus. Probiotics. Lost days. Days packed so full, no one will notice the ones when I’m useless.

Remember, this is the timeline of the health crisis. One only needs to look back at PaperGirl, or the issues of Quilty magazine or the shows, or the other shows, to see that life has been much more than just this list of woe and setbacks. Joy and wonder, and gifts abound in my life. Success and learning and all kinds of wonderful life has been lived since 2008. And there have been all sorts of failures and good, old-fashioned crappy (hey!) days that had nothing to do with any of the body stuff, too — that’s the real kicker. Good, bad, or otherwise, though, this timeline is a specter. My experience and condition don’t define me, except that both kind of do.

I am going to make cookies for Yuri now. Good grief! [Correction: Cookys! I meant cookys!!]

Timeline, Part 1.

posted in: Sicky 23
This slice of birthday cake is the image for this post IN DEFIANCE OF PAIN!
This slice of birthday cake is the image for this post IN DEFIANCE OF PAIN! (Ironic note: I can’t actually eat birthday cake. Frosting, maybe.)

For folks who might be new to PaperGirl and/or my intestinal odyssey, I thought it would be appropriate to offer a brief timeline of events. I write it down less out of a desire to, you know, write it down, than to inform those who without it might draw incorrect conclusions about the trajectory of my illness or fail to see the pretty extreme case it represents. Most people do not experience the trouble I had with all this. If you thought what has happened to/with/at me is what happens to anyone with UC, you would be (blessedly) wrong, even though there’s no good way to have this intestine-chewing chronic condition.

It’s remarkable to me how many people, upon learning that I have experience (!) with ulcerative colitis, will say, “Oh, dear. My [family member, kid, self] has had Crohn’s since 2006; I know just what you’re going through.” Too many people say this. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Oof, that came off wrong, I think. I meant that “too many people have these diseases,” not that too many people offer their empathy! Heavens!]

Warning: I’m not going to mince words, surgeries, or diagnoses. Again, in the interest of providing information for those who are perhaps facing a diagnosis, or for those who care to know more about a worst-case scenario, I’ll give you the straight dope on what’s happened to me up to the present day. It’s like I’m donating my body to science without having to die! Yet!

August 2008 – Over the course of several months, the weird symptoms I had experienced on and off for years grow grim: I am passing quantities of blood and what seem to be chunks of tissue. The month or so before I go to Mayo Clinic, I am using the toilet 30 times a day.

September 27th, 2008 – My wedding day. No symptoms. Blissfully happy.

October 20th – Mayo Clinic. Drive through the night. Doc takes one look at me and sends me to ER. I am put on heavy steroids and NPO (“nothing by mouth,” not even water, for fear one sip will burst my colon) for seven straight days; this does exactly nothing to my colon, which is “in shreds,” as one doctor put it. I am diagnosed with advanced ulcerative colitis.

October 15th-ish –  Surgeons tell me I have two options but really only one option, since the steroids are not working: J-pouch surgery. This is where they remove your entire large intestine and fashion a new plumbing system for you out of your small intestine, called a “j-pouch.” While this new plumbing heals inside your body cavity, you pass waste through a temporary ileostomy, or stoma. A piece of my small intestine will come out of my tummy and I’ll wear a bag, in other words. I “choose” the surgery. I ask when it will be. “Tomorrow,” says the surgeon, and I sign on the dotted line. It snows in Minnesota that night.

October 20th – Surgery. I wake up screaming. Insufficient anesthesia.

October 20th-November 20-something – Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong. I have abscesses, infections. There is a leak in the new plumbing. This is not typical. An NG tube is placed. A PICC line is placed. Many IR drains are placed. My insides are “bathed in pus,” as a later doctor would say. TPN (feeding tube.) Thirty-pound weight loss. Horror show, fun-house-sized syringes extract fluid and pus from my abdomen. Stoma separation occurs, which means my tummy pulls away from my stoma and there’s an infected moat around the thing. My then-husband and mother are living at the hospital, basically. I am on a Dilaudid pain pump and live in a world of stoned dread interspersed by visits from residents with bad news. Mom asks lead surgeon if I’ll die. “I don’t think so,” surgeon replies.

November ’08 – Home to Iowa. Full-time care needed. Mom flushes drains daily. Husband gives Heparin shots. Everyone is depressed.

November ’08 February? March ’09? – Skeletal. Sick. Why am I not getting better? Trips to Rochester, MN through ice and snow. I remember very little, then or now, of this time.

Spring ’09 – Return to Chicago. Ditch Mayo for Northwestern. Infectious Disease team finally cures the bacteria swimming in my gut. I begin to eat again. Stoma healed.

…and I actually have to pause here because this is when the really bad stuff happens and I’m a little exhausted from recounting this much, frankly.

Second half of timeline tomorrow, if you dare. Get some cake, maybe!

Next Week: “Patchworkshop” at NYC’s Sewing Studio!

posted in: Work 4
It's almost obscenely enticing, isn't it? Sewing Studio, 134 W 29th St, New York, NY 10001. Phone: (646) 961-4747
It’s almost obscenely enticing, isn’t it? Sewing Studio, 134 W 29th St, New York, NY 10001. Phone: (646) 961-4747

See that picture up there?

Add some fabric, some friends, and some patterns to work with, and that’s a lil’ picture of heaven, muchachos.

Next week, I’ll be leading a “Patchworkshop” at NYC’s fabulous, adorable, info-rich Sewing Studio. I’m kinda pinching myself, honestly. Teaching people to quilt in New York City?? Whose life is this?! I feel very grateful. I’m working on all my packets of info, I’ve got a friend at Dear Stella who is making some goodie bags. I’ve got quilts to share. I can’t wait to meet my students.

There are still a couple slots left in the July week-long class; same for the August class but you should not tarry. Here are the deets:

Master Series: “Patchworkshop” with Mary Fons
July 21st-25th (Monday to Friday), 6:30pm-9:00pm; or August 18th-22nd (Monday to Friday), 6:30-9:00pm

“No matter how cool our gadgets are, no matter how fast we can pin images and send files, human beings still want and need handmade quilts. If you’ve ever wanted to make one, this class is for you. Primarily, we’ll focus on what comes first in any quilt: making the patchwork top (you will get some quilting instruction.) You’ll learn “the patchwork quartet” (cutting, sewing, pressing, and ripping); you’ll learn how to properly rotary cut fabric; you’ll get tons of pointers on fabric selection; you’ll construct blocks to either finish or get a beautiful, running start to your very first quilt. (You’ll get lots of quilt history, too, and tons of tips from the pros.) Come learn how to make patchwork — and probably change your life while you’re at it.”

About the instructor: Mary Fons, aside from being an avid quilter, national teacher, on-camera host, author, and magazine editor, is a self-proclaimed “beginner quilter’s BFF” and will never make you feel foolish for not knowing how. Mary is a celebrated quilter and TV host, and the founder of Quilty, a weekly online program for the beginner quilter. For more about Mary, visit MaryFons.com.

Course outline: Full course details will be posted the week of July 14.

Class limit: 10 students
Cost per student: $650
Materials: Bring basic sewing supplies plus a selection of fat quarters: 4-6 light, 4-6 medium, and 4-6 dark. (Bring more if you want!)

On Hollywood.

posted in: Day In The Life, Rant 8
This is a violent image.
Am I missing something?

For years, a conflict has raged within me:

Is Hollywood destroying humanity or am I just no fun? 

A couple months ago, my internal struggle was refreshed with the blood of Godzilla, which remains the last movie I saw, in the theater or otherwise.

Yuri and I had a night off, and I was actually the one who suggested we go. I’ve been to the movie theater maybe five times in two years. I completely get that many folks love movies — my sister and her fiance work in the industry and I have tremendous respect for them, their art, and their specific path — but feature films just aren’t my jam. I don’t see a lot of movies like I don’t read a lot of fiction. I’m a documentary-lovin’, non-fiction readin’ real-time junkie. I feel manipulated by film, I guess, and not in a good way. Still, every once in awhile, there’s a film that looks like such pure spectacle, such pure, 21st century American entertainment, I gotta do it. It’s like eating a Cinnabon or a Auntie Anne’s pretzel once every couple of years: indulging feels very wrong/momentarily good. The 2014 remake of Godzilla looked cool from the previews my sister Nan played for me; the monster was so big! The cities were so small!

“Yuri, let’s go see Godzilla.” 

“Seriously?”

We got our tickets and sat down with cups of tea and smuggled chocolate, fully prepared to be entertained. I had an open mind. I really wanted to have fun.

But I didn’t have fun. Because Hollywood sucks. Hollywood creates a facsimile of life for scores of people whose general well-being I care about. Hollywood cheapens the human experience. At its best, Hollywood inspires great floods of emotion that can be cathartic. But at its worst, Hollywood movies are irreverent, disrespectful, and hypnotic. And false. And confusing. And they are all expensive.

My main trouble wasn’t with Godzilla. It was not a great movie, but that’s okay. I was more troubled by the previews, the first one for a Scarlett Johannsen film coming out soon called Lucy. In the preview, we see a clip of Johannsen enduring forced abdominal surgery. The bad guys open her belly and insert something inside of her that she must transport against her will, the thing now being inside her and all. I’ve had multiple abdominal surgeries that might as well have been forced — if I didn’t have them, I’d have died so the choice was nil — and take it from me: There is nothing entertaining about being filleted. The reality of that sucks so much. I realize I have personal experience that most folks do not regarding this plot development in Lucy and clearly, I am going to be more sensitive to seeing such an experience portrayed fictionally, but like…can’t you pretend about something else? There’s so much to choose from.

Like…war. After Lucy, there were several previews for war movies where people were getting creamed right and left. Legs were getting blown off. Men were screaming, men were crying. After that, a preview for Non-Stop, which is about an airplane hijacking. Jet black guns, exploding pieces of airplane, crying women with hysterical, terrorized babies, a rugged Liam Neeson flinging himself backward down the aisle, shooting multiple rounds.

Am I missing something? Why is this entertaining? I’m not being rhetorical. I don’t understand. Surgical procedures, wars, gunfire, terrorist plots on planes, and death are things that create suffering. They are realities of life that require seas of compassion and support to endure and process. It’s not funny to see someone get shot to death on a plane flying at 35,000 feet. It’s terrifying. It should be terrifying. I beg someone to explain to me why people spend millions of dollars to create fictional suffering to last on film forever for people to watch in theaters while they sit eating snacks. Escapism? But how?

Maybe I’m just no fun.

That’s entirely possible! I do feel like I have blind spot, that there’s a “Kick Me” sign on my back and I’m just being snippy and snobby and old and lame. Everyone goes to the movies, right? Folks have preferences, too, and discernment. I shouldn’t say “Hollywood is this” because Hollywood is a lot of things and people and there’s good art that comes out of the place, I realize. But just when I was thinking, “Mary, chill. There is more to the movies than the crassness of Non-Stop,” the last preview presented itself. It was for a movie called The Other Woman, in which three hot blondes are real ornery about a man and exact their revenge on him for his misdeeds. There were boobs everywhere. And toilet humor, which is always better/grosser when there are girls involved, I suppose.

It’s just all so hostile. To be sure, there is great cinema in the world, but this is the stuff the general public is eating, the movies that are “in theaters everywhere starting Friday.” Mere blocks from where I sit, there are art house cinemas and legendary film centers that show incredible stories put to film. But people go see the Godzillas and The Other Womanses in Des Moines because that’s what’s playing there. I grew up not far from Des Moines, so I know. If you don’t have options, how can you discern?

No one should be stopped from making whatever sort of movie they want to make. Advocating for censorship will never be on my list of things to do, as much as I dislike these kinds of movies. I’ll just stay home.

(On my list of things to do, “Take on Hollywood” was also not there. Oh well.)

The Question That Must Not Be Asked.

posted in: Rant 16
The only thing worse that writing about your precious, precious writing is including a black and white picture of yourself looking directly into the camera. Let's get gross.
The only thing worse that writing about your precious, precious writing is including a black and white picture of yourself looking directly into the camera. Let’s get gross.

It wasn’t many moons ago, but like, a handful of moons ago, that a person said to me, “Oh, sure, Mary, you have time to blog but not time to [ACTION.]” He wanted something from me, see, and felt my lack of attention to the matter was inexcusable in light of the fact that I had posted blog entries throughout the week. If I had time to write about meeting Tim Gunn, well, clearly I had loads of time.

This person happened to be miserable that day for reasons that had nothing to do with me, so I coughed loudly and made the conversation stop in as loving a manner as I could. When I lay down at the end of the night, though, my jaw was still clenched.

I don’t get furious often. I’m not saying it never happens — if you care about stuff, you’re bound to holler at some point — but I know the Wrathful Buddha is not a good look for me. Besides, most of the time I’m too bewildered by everything to be angry. I’ve been wrong so many times in my life, even as it’s happening, furious feels like something I’m going to regret later. I’ve also spent time around a few perpetually angry people over the years. Those people are not good role models. Don’t get mad, get perspective.

Fury became me, though, when the thought was floated that my blog should take dead last in the race to Get Everything Done And Done Well. When it has to, and sometimes it has to, PaperGirl warms the bench. Contracts are contracts, contracts have deadlines that must be at least broadly observed, and I need to eat. (At present, PaperGirl does not put food on the table; strange, as it is arguably my most valuable asset.) But having a meaningful life means more than being a good soldier.

This frustrating conversation from several months ago came up again because I felt the same sentiment was dangerously close to being on the lips of someone else the other day. The “Well, you have time to blog” argument was almost launched. When it wasn’t, I was relieved. I didn’t feel like getting furious; I had just combed my hair.

I will always prioritize writing. Always. If I’m not writing here, I’m in my journals. If I’m not in my journals, I’m reading, the other half of writing. There’s time every day for one part of this endless, bizarre, oft-fruitless, occasionally ecstatic process of mine and I refuse to be told there isn’t. I can’t help it. I actually can’t. Without the writing thing in my life, I feel nothing short of impoverished. And when I feel like that, well, no one gets anything at all — not on time, not late, not anything.

Do I sound defensive? I am. I am defending myself. I’m like, at the castle, shooting arrows from the parapet. The big cauldrons of treacle come next. Stand back or be liquified.

Every so often, my eyeballs pop open when my head is on the pillow: am I missing everything good? Did I wind up in the circus when I’m supposed to be on the farm? Is there still time to chuck everything and sink the rest of my days into writing, just writing? But what a question. Who do I think I am? Am I a victim of circumstance? Which set of circumstances? Both my parents are aspiring novelists, you know: my beloved mother is actively writing her commercially-viable first novel; my estranged father is likely writing his totally non-commercially viable nineteenth. I don’t want to write a novel; I want to write whatever PaperGirl is when she turns into a book. I want time to figure out what that looks like, which will be the first arduous part of making it all come true.

When I’m in bed, thinking all this, my eyeballs start darting around like crazy. The only thing to do at midnight when troubling conversations linger or I fear the level of hubris that must be in place to consider whether one’s life is being misspent, is to snuggle closer to Yuri and stick my face between his shoulderblades if he’s sleeping on his side. We have designated that part of his body “the face place” because my face fits perfectly there, thank goodness.

It’s got to fit somewhere.

The Divine Miss L.B., Solo Banana

posted in: Poetry 3
Reclining, of course. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

As some readers know, I have an ongoing, personal project that is a collection of poems about fruit. It’s not that I have a thing for fruit exactly, but I most certainly have a big thing (ew) for light verse. Fruits are fruitful for this, it turns out. Nothing makes me happier than to break away from all the tasks at hand and work on a new fruit poem. Does it help me meet deadlines at work? No, but life is more than deadlines.

Each fruit is gets a unique poetic style; e.g., the pomegranate poem follows precisely the meter of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky because the syllables match exactly; the cantaloupe poem is written for a chorus; the as-yet-unfinished pineapple poem is a Victorian odyssey in A-A-B-C-C-B rhyme-scheme, etc. I hope to publish them all one day — if you know anyone who’s in the business of publishing entertaining poetry about fruit, do let me know. Taken together, they do have a certain charm, I think, and there are drawings I’ve done with them, too.

If you click on the “Poetry” tag here on the blog page, you’ll find the other poems in the collection that I’ve posted on PaperGirl. For now, let’s direct our attention to the newest of the bunch (hey-o!) and enjoy “The Divine Miss L.B., Solo Banana.” I chose a limerick for the banana poem because bananas are funny objects, a bit lewd, too — just like most limerick. I didn’t set out to write something bawdy, but what I ended up with is totally not what I expected. Isn’t writing poetry wonderful??

NOTE: It is crucial to the poem that you recite it aloud — yes, right now — in a syrupy, thick Southern accent. I’m entirely serious. It doesn’t work otherwise. Channel your best Blanche du Bois.

The Divine Miss L.B., Solo Banana
by Mary Fons (c) 2014

Said Divine Miss Lady Banana,
(Born and raised in deepest Savannah) —
“Hon, I’m all real,
With born snack a-peel —
Ah can’t help if you love me, now can’ah?”

Suitors came far and wide just to meet ‘huh,
They was John, there was James, there was Peet’uh;
But none of them fit,
So Banana split,
Waved “Bye!” an’ lit out like a cheetah.

“Solo life, it suits me just fine,”
Said Mademoiselle la B. Devine —
“Why be beholden?
My life is golden,”
And she turned to face the sunshine.

My Life As Alabaster.

John Hoppner, "Mary Robinson 1758-1810 as Perdita." Oil on canvas, WikiGallery imprint on screen. Pale skin recognized by author.
John Hoppner, “Mary Robinson 1758-1810 as Perdita.” Oil on canvas, WikiGallery imprint on screen. Pale skin recognized by author.

I do not tan.

Oh, how I’ve tried. In my twenties, like so many undergraduates, I donned those weird winkie things and lay back in tanning beds — not enough, I hope, to wreak significant UV damage. (I knew better and it never worked for long, anyhow.) But I didn’t stop chasing a tan, no way. I’ve bronzed. I’ve lotioned. I’ve spray-tanned a few times. But the fact of the matter is, my half-Viking, half-Scots-Irish self ain’t gettin’ nut brown for long. I am a pale thing.

When I’m in yoga, my near-albino-ness is more evident than usual. There’s more of my skin to see in the yoga room; in Bikram, you’re one sweaty strap away from nude. Even in winter, when most yogis are not actively tan, I stand out in the room as though there were a beam of moonlight shining on me. This observation is not clouded (milky?) by the fact that I’m commenting on my own body and it’s hard to be objective about oneself. No, it’s really true that I’m vampiric compared with everyone else in the room.

All through school and into my adult life, my palest pale skin was a source of shame for me. I was enraged that I couldn’t manage to turn more than barely-toasted marshmallow for more than a couple days. All these honey-colored girls seemed to prance about without a care in the world from May to September, their bare, sun-kissed shoulders tossed insouciantly at recess. Then the girls became women and were effortlessly tan at parties, at bars, at charity events.

But growing up is highly recommended. As years go by, you (hopefully) start to care slightly less about such surface things, or maybe you start to love yourself more. Sometimes it’s as simple as meeting more people — because the more people you meet, the more likely you are to meet people who are totally into what you’ve got going on. That’s the best discovery of all. Being told that my pale skin is pretty, even beautiful, is a great way to get over it. Someone told me my near-translucent skin was “gorgeous” once and that very day I stopped feeling like a cocktail shrimp.

Whatever physical difference you’re annoyed about, don’t forget for a second that there’s someone out there who thinks you are seriously hot precisely because of the thing you’re freaking out about. There’s someone out there who will howl at the moon for you and try very hard to take you out/kiss you/marry you/etc. because you’re so unique. Trust me on this. I don’t know a lot but I know this is true.

And so today, in beautiful New York City, as all the Soho fillies passed me by in their short shorts, enjoying their Coppertone souls, I donned a cute, lacy white dress I got at Neiman Marcus that perfectly matched my pale skin. I turned a few heads, too. Probably because the sun actually glinted off me. That’s what sunglasses are for, people.

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