The Young Man, The Young Woman.

posted in: Day In The Life, Luv 14
Portrait of a sixteen-year-old Franz Schubert by Leopold Kupelwieser, 1812. Image: Wikipedia
Portrait of a sixteen-year-old Franz Schubert by Leopold Kupelwieser, 1812. Image: Wikipedia.


I’ve got something different for you today. I’m still unsure whether to post it or not, but as it involves no stories of wild behavior (me? never), or gossip or politics, it’s probably all right. So far, I have not regretted this kind of vulnerability on the ol’ PG.

The post you’ll see below was written in May of last year but never finished (and therefore never posted.) Thus, it stayed in the Drafts folder in WordPress, the blogging platform used to make PaperGirl.

In May of 2016, Claus was staying with me. It was the time before he left Chicago to go back to Berlin indefinitely. We knew the end was near. Our days were tender, sweet. I’m not sure why I didn’t finish this post about the pictures he showed me. I think I felt bashful and, looking over the draft of the post, I didn’t know quite how to explain my emotions. I was feeling the same vulnerability I feel now, I suppose.

And if you’re wondering why I’m writing about Claus again, well, I’m wondering that, too. These things are confusing. Let’s just say that I’m doing some spring cleaning. Or maybe that I’m finishing up a UFO.*

Here’s the post. Remember, it wasn’t quite finished when I let it be and I don’t know that I should go back and finish it. I think the fragment is the point, today. Leaving things loose like this is not something I like, but we get used to things.

I saw a picture of the most handsome young man yesterday. It was a picture from the past. I recognized the face of the boy because the person who was showing me the picture was the person in the picture. I was looking at Claus. And the picture I was looking at was of Claus at age nineteen or so. The picture was taken of him in his hometown outside Hamburg sometime in the late 1980s.

Seeing someone who left his teenage years decades ago suddenly be nineteen is weird. And fun. And funny. (That hair!) And if like me you overthink everything and refuse to just let a picture be a picture, seeing such a picture is really uncomfortable. Because it confers a kind of sad, caged-animal feeling. I’ll explain.

The young man in the picture was really, really cute. He was an objectively, aesthetically cute teenage guy, the kind of guy seventeen-year-old (give or take a few years) girls freak out over. Athletic build. Strong jaw. Dirty blonde. Great smile — which, I learned, was close-lipped because Claus had braces at the time, and this makes it more perfect because the picture was then more real. Long story short: The boy I saw in the picture was essentially made in a lab for me to be in love with at age fifteen. Swoon. City.

Like most of us, the year that I was forced to be fifteen was not great. I was not cute. I was too talkative. I was having terrible trouble with math. I  had a lot on my mind at home, too, including dealing with a mom who was gone a lot (out of necessity! I don’t blame her!) and a broken relationship with my dad. And on and on. Everyone is unhappy in their own ways throughout adolescence; I wasn’t special. Like anyone that age going through whatever they go through, I would’ve given anything for a cute, nice boy to look my way. I would’ve given anything to be asked to the dance. It might’ve made all the other stuff not seem so bad. But with a couple rare exceptions, I was not asked to dances.

If you had come to me back then and showed me the picture of young Claus and said, “Hey, Fons. What do you think of this guy?” I would have pushed my big glasses up my nose and straightened my cloth headband before I took a look, almost as if he could see me from inside the photo and I could do something to look my best. Upon seeing the picture of the cutie-patootie, I would’ve smiled like a dweeb and rolled my eyes like, “Duh, he’s hot??” If you would’ve told me then that the boy was German and that the picture was taken in Germany, you would’ve had to peel me off the ceiling because what could possibly be more hot and amazing and dreamy than a cute boy who was from Germany??

And then, if you would’ve told me that the guy in the picture would care for me deeply someday, that he would kiss me most passionately, invite me to go on a journey across America with him and tell me — he, a bona fide philosopher! — that I was one of the most brilliant people he had ever met… Well, this is where the sad, caged-animal thing comes in.

Why must we live life in the straight line we’re given? Why are we forced to plod along, day, night, day, night, day, night, in this linear way? Why couldn’t my fifteen-year-old-self just get a hint that what seemed absolutely impossible (being liked by someone like that) was in the cards? It would’ve helped so much. It would’ve been so great, just a little “Chin up, kiddo, you’ve got a great family and moxie to spare — and there’s gonna be a lot of love in your life. Just… Standby.”

I guess I just

*An “unfinished object.” A “UFO” is quilter parlance for any quilt project you’ve started but not yet finished. 

The Farm, The Weariness.

posted in: Family 3
The bus stop my dad made for me and my sisters so we would have shelter waiting for the school bus each day. Photo: Me
The bus stop my dad made for me and my sisters so we would have shelter waiting for the school bus each day. Photo: Me

Claus came over from Chicago for a visit while I’m here. Aside from the interest he has in seeing where I grew up, it’s objectively great for him to see a quaint Midwestern village. It would be the same for me if I were in Germany; I’d probably travel miles to see a “real life” German village. I’ve shown him the theater; we went to see some covered bridges; we’ve eaten several meals at the local Northside Cafe; we checked out the high school football field.

And this afternoon, we took a drive into the countryside. But it wasn’t just any old Sunday drive; we drove seven miles south-ish and west-ish of town to the farm where I grew up.

Lord Almighty, all our old pains. So precious, so deep, so white-knuckled. Our most blinding pains are woven into us and the older we get, the older the pain gets and don’t you dare pull that thread. It’s the first tragedy of my life, leaving that farm, and the story of it — mythic, epic, now — has been squatting on my heart ever since, despite hours of therapy, true love, art. Despite travels to Chicago, New York City, Washington, DC, to the far reaches of the galaxy, to Florida. I’d love to say it was different, that I’m resolved and actualized and enlightened by age if nothing else, but I see that farm and it all comes back. Blah, blah, blah.

I was little. My sisters were little. My mom and dad were getting divorced. My sisters and I got on the school bus one day. We never went back to the farm. We didn’t know we wouldn’t go back, we just never did. We never slept in our beds again. We never saw our toy box again. We didn’t say goodbye to our cats. We were country kids, then we were not. Cry me a river. Amazon.

Why go out there? I don’t know. One may select from a variety of Sunday afternoon activities and ghost-hunting is an activity one may choose to select when you’re me, in Winterset. It’s all out there, just seven miles out, south-ish and west-ish of this particular and particularly quaint Midwestern village. The acreage looks a lot different from when I was eight, but it’s the same. It is exactly, exactly the same and I would know because I know every inch of that place.

There’s a long drive to the property from the road. It’s not possible to get to the house without making a big production of it: you don’t visit my farm by accident. I don’t know the people who live there, so Claus and just parked the car on the road. That was for the best. I wouldn’t be able to handle touching the yard, the doorknobs. I just know I couldn’t. Squinting at things from far away was plenty.

Claus took pictures of the landscape and of me. Of all the pictures he took, there’s one that truly works. It’s a closeup of me. I’m wearing my Iowa Hawkeyes hooded sweatshirt. The wind is blowing my hair around and I’ve got one hand up to hold it back. My nails are lacquered red because I got a manicure for TV taping tomorrow. The sun is glinting off the gold baby ring I never take off. I’m squinting because the sun is behind the camera. I look every day of my thirty-six years. I’m not smiling. But I’m not crying. The farm is behind me, blurry.

*There’s more about all that right here.



How To Fall Gracefully.

posted in: Tips 1
Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia

David Neville, the guy in the foreground up there, is an American sprinter who specializes in the 400-meter dash. He’s a gold and bronze medalist, and in a race in 2004, he clocked 9.8 meters per second. Almost ten meters a second. Basically, he bends time and space and practices a lot. That’s what we know about David.

The picture above was taken at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. It looks like David’s falling, but that’s actually him diving for the finish line. He came in third on this one which, whatever, David. Clearly, you didn’t want it enough. Five-thirty a.m., tomorrow. All-day practice and I’m bringing two stopwatches.

Yesterday at the airport to beautiful Puyallup, WA to headline the big Sewing & Stitchery Expo event tomorrow night (I’m also doing signings and a demo and basically hanging out and having fun, so check the program and come see me), I saw not one but two people trip and almost fall. Neither case was a serious one; these were able-bodied people who would not have sustained serious injuries if they had gone down. One lady was stepping onto the moving walkway and kinda gave her hair a toss as she did. Well, her inner ear didn’t like that too much and she pitched forward and barely caught herself. “Waa!” she cried, and then she was okay.

The other guy, he was wearing shoes with grippy rubber, I guess, because he was just walking and tripped on the airport floor. “Gak!” he cried, and pushed his glasses back up his nose. It goes without saying that both of these people did the embarrassed look-around after they tripped to see if anyone had seen them. Usually, someone does, but it’s really no big deal.

But if they do see, if you biff hard in front of a lot of people and you really do fall, you just say, “Haha, oh, no. I didn’t fall. I was diving for the finish line.” People will look at you like you’re not well in the head and that’s good: they will forget about the falling entirely. Instead of telling their friends later, “Oh, man. It was so hilarious. I saw this woman turf out at the airport today,” they’ll say, “Today at the airport I met the craziest woman I have ever met in my life.”

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

posted in: Art 2

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.



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.