Consider The Lolla.

I smell funny cigarettes. Photo: Phil G. via Wikipedia.

I smell funny cigarettes. Photo: Phil G. via Wikipedia.

As I walked through the Lollapalooza throngs today – remember, there are tens of thousands of extra people in town for this – I wanted to swing my totebag around and yell, “I live here! I’m not like you!”

These people aren’t bad or wrong for wanting to spend hundreds of dollars to drink tepid beer outside in a crowd of sweaty people as loud music makes it impossible to talk and the only bathrooms are foul port-o-johns. It’s just that it’s my turf, you see, and I’m not used to gaggles of undergraduate girls wearing fringe vests and diadems being in my way when I’m headed to the bank. (It’s amazing: the Navajo Jezebel look is still all the rage! Kate Moss wore a poncho to Coachella in 2003 and it’s been floppy hats and hemp purses ever since.)

Crowded and crazy as is it, the people-watching is primo. As I muscled my way up Michigan Avenue, I considered…

…the parents of a just-graduated son who has been planning for months to come to Lollapalooza with his blokes. (There’s something about packs of young dudes, headed to a concert, in shorts, concealing cans of Foster beer that makes them “blokes.”) The parents’ fingernail count as of Sunday night: zero.

…the here-today-gone-tomorrow economy of this thing, e.g., people selling bottles of water on the corner, pedi-cab drivers, face-painters, etc.

…the VIP rooms for the bands and how tonight, someone who won a contest, maybe, will meet their hero.

…the Grateful Dead-style painted booze-cruise bus that made a hard left off Washington. That’s someone’s business model – and they’re probably doing pretty well.

…the panhandler guys in my neighborhood. Do they hate Lollapalooza or look forward to it?

…the girl from Lombard, IL who spent two hours making her hair look effortlessly tousled. It began pouring rain around 5:00 p.m. today; I pictured her furious about this, lashing out at her friend, “Becky, I am seriously not interested in your drama with Trevor right now. Everything sucks!”

…the weeks of planning the cops have to do to deal with all this.

…the ER doctors on call. They’ve been briefed it’s Lollapalooza weekend for sure.

That last thought lingers. I’ve heard so many sirens today. Oh, you guys. Please drink the water you bought from the guy on the corner. Please watch your stuff. I hope this weekend is the best weekend of your life thus far – and it can’t be that way if you have to head up to Northwestern.

And eat something for heaven’s sake!



This is what's happening in my backyard for the next four days. Photo: Ralf Lotys via Wikipedia.

This is what’s happening in my backyard for the next four days. Photo: Ralf Lotys via Wikipedia.

If you live in Chicago’s South Loop, the last weekend in July is a good time to go visit Uncle Dan and Aunt Carol in San Diego, or finally take that True Manhood Workshop over there in Michigan (you’ve been hearing such good things.) If you can’t leave town, the last weekend in July is a good time to practice your emergency preparedness plan: can you survive four days without going outside even once? Is there enough water? Tea? Are your library books good until Monday??

It’s Lollapallooza weekend.

Since 2005, the four-day music festival extravaganza Lollapalooza has taken place in Chicago’s Grant Park. Grant Park is my backyard. Well, okay: I can’t lean out the window and spit on Grant Park, but I can lean out the window and hock a really intense loogie with a lot of torque behind it and I will totally hit Grant Park. It’s close, is what I’m saying. Guess how many people come to Grant Park for the festival each year? It’s somewhere around 160k.

It’s sorta cool that I might see one half of DJ duo Flosstradamus at my Peet’s Coffee. And I’m always happy that Chicago is a desirable destination for people who like this kind of thing. But mostly what Lolla means (if you’re local, you can call it that) is hordes of people, most under thirty and inebriated, cajoling, shouting, and running in flip-flops through the streets in t-shirts covered with paint, mud, and the insanely long list of bands and DJs playing the show. Michigan Avenue is essentially impassable from today until Monday. State Street is just as bad. Lake Shore Drive is a parking lot from the I-55 feeder ramp to Lake Superior. Sometimes when I tell someone I don’t own a car, they’ll look at me like, “That’s impossible!” and then I look at those people who are trying to get through Lolla traffic and I pray for them.

Our building (and I’m sure all the nearby ones) hires extra security this weekend and there are notices up in the building that remind residents to not let people into the building without permission, even if they offer you the rest of their six-pack of Pabst. One year, I saw some kids walking through the lobby barefoot. I’m pretty sure one of the girls lived here; I hoped that was true, not because I was concerned but because if you’re the kind of gal who likes outdoor summer music festivals and you live in this building, you’ve got it made.

Me, I can’t do crowds. I got spooked at Fourth of July this year and had to leave my friend early. We were in a city park! With families and dogs! If some firecrackers make me nervous, imagine what the throngs of Major Lazer fans would do to me. I can’t do the big show, but in an interesting turn of events I was invited to a party on Sunday that is loosely linked to the Lollapalooza festivities. I think I’ll go. It’ll be a smaller crowd.

I can handle that.




An Open Letter To Receiving Room Guy (Update #3)

Safety poster. Image: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration via Wikipedia.

Safety poster. Image: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration via Wikipedia.

Dear Receiving Room Guy:

If you’re reading this, it’s because I told you I wrote about you on my blog. How many people read it? Nevermind that, everyone thinks you’re great! You say, “How could they think I’m great because of a single blog post?” Well, that’s funny. There’s been some content. It’s kind of a thing right now but it’s going to blow over.

We need to get two things straight right now:

1. I am not psychotic.
2. I am not asking you out.

I implore you to let me explain.

I’m a writer. I write about stuff I see and how I feel about it. One of the things I write is this blog. Often, Receiving Room Guy (I know your name but would never use it without your permission), what I see is people and how I feel about those people is interested. I don’t mean romantically interested; I mean that I am interested in a person’s funny jacket, the contents of their grocery basket, the particular tone in their voice when they said goodbye on a rainy day. These sorts of things never fail to surprise me and surprise is the curious person’s reward. I am a curious person and the world is full of rewards if you look for them.

I’m particularly curious about the encounters I have with people because though there are some real jerks out there, most people are terrific and will make you laugh, think hard, or just feel like a part of the human race.

My encounters with you fall into the “terrific” category – and they have also surprised this curious person, Receiving Room Guy. This is all your fault, when you think about it. You can’t be a pleasant, intelligent new person working in my building who also plays a guitar on the clock who also looks like the guy on the poster in the Louis Vuitton window on Michigan Avenue without me wanting to write about you. So I did. As you now know.

But after posting yesterday, I realized I had done a terrible thing. Unless I write this post to you and come clean about this, we can never go beyond talking about the weather – and for a curious person, nothing could be worse. Talking about the weather is like death. Actually, it’s worse. I would much, much rather talk about death than the weather. But if we leave behind the weather, it won’t be too long after that that I will want to tell you I’m a writer and that I write a blog and maybe you’d like to read it?

Under the circumstances, this would be bad. Unless I confess.

If I don’t tell you about all this, we’ll never go any deeper than, “Hey” and “Hey” and “Do you want these pancakes?” and “I have band practice.” We can do better than that. That’s why I gave you my card and told you to read my blog and why, when I said it, I looked at you with a look on my face that said, “I am going to put my head in the oven, now.”

Receiving Room Guy, I never meant to creep you out. I’ve been called plenty of things, but I have never been called “creepy.” And for the record, I feel a little weird – okay, a lot weird – about kinda objectifying you, though if comparing a person to a Greek God is a punishable offense, I give up. I just wanted to write about my life. You’re in my life. Aren’t you so glad?

A brief word on #2:

You are highly ask-outable, which I’m sure you realize, but I have a number of very good reasons why a drink with you, like that, is not on this particular woman’s mind. My reasons for not wanting that are so many and so good, that if there were awards given out for good reasons – The Good Reason Awards – I would clean up. I would be giving acceptance speeches with mascara running down my face every five seconds for all my good reasons. So don’t worry about that. We’re cool.

Are we cool? Are you okay? How are you doing right now? I ordered something from Jet. I’m going to have to get it at some point. I am legitimately going to avoid you for a couple days, though.

However, if you feel like watching a blog post go viral, text me. People will freak if there’s an Update #4.



Receiving Room Guy: Update #2

Closeup, denim jacket. Photo: Wikipedia.

Closeup, denim jacket. Photo: Wikipedia.

Let’s get something straight: I am a decent flirt.

I’m not the prettiest girl in the room. I don’t have the sexiest bod. But there came a point in my life when I realized that though I know very, very little, most people don’t know that much more, and if I ask questions, listen to folks, read stuff, avoid eating breadsticks dipped in frosting for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and refrain from taking myself too seriously, I’m a catch! (The same is true for anyone, by the way.) This understanding has given me confidence in conversatin’ with the opposite sex. I fear no dude. Usually.

If you’re just joining us, you’ll need part one of this story and then part two, from yesterday.

Something very interesting happened when Receiving Room Guy put his guitar down. He didn’t go directly for my delivery. There was this discernable moment of, “So… How’s it goin?” But of course I couldn’t possibly let a moment pass without filling it with words, and that is when my flirt game died. My actual sentence was:

“Well… You know, I was just sewing. Upstairs. That’s…my thing. Like, you have a guitar. That’s your…thing. And I sew. I make quilts. I’m on television. I teach people how to make quilts on television. On PBS. Patchwork quilts. You know? Quilts?”

Receiving Room Guy’s eyebrows went up. “Really? That’s so cool. Awesome.”

I nodded, smiling. “Yeah. It’s a…thing.” And then he said:

“I’ve been doing some sewing myself.”

[Go ahead. Squeak with delight. I’ll wait.]

“Oh?” I said. “Well, that’s…awesome.”

“Yeah, you know, working down here, there’s a lot of sewing supplies.” I laughed loudly and said something like, “That’s hilarious!”

He continued. “Well, it’s not sewing, exactly. But I have a denim jacket and I’ve been sewing some patches on it.”

I need to pause here and say that the youth, the long hair, bass guitar, denim jacket, and Michelangelo-level beauty may be portraying Receiving Room Guy a wee dim. Not so, and I don’t think I’m projecting. He’s sharp, and our exchanges in the receiving room are always enjoyable and sort of funny, like the time I got a box of wine – I mean a case of wine, people – and as I struggled to carry it out, I was like, “No, I got this” and he was like, “Are you sure?” and I was like, “It’s a box of wine” and he was like, “Well, if you get crushed underneath it, it’s a good way to go.” See? His eyes are bright, his pelt is shiny. He’s no bimbo.

After he told me that he has been sewing for Lord’s sake, I thought of one, single amusing thing to say as I stabbed at the iPad on the counter where you sign for your package. “Well,” I said, stabbing, “If you ever run out of sewing supplies, you should, you know, ask your boss. But if he runs out of sewing supplies, you know, let me know. I have a lot of, like, thread and stuff.” He laughed and I felt very much like I needed to leave that place while I was ahead.

Receiving Room Guy handed me my package and I wished him luck at band practice on my way out. (He told me at one point he had a private lesson and then band practice; this was after I blurted out at some point, “Areyouinaband?”) When I got to the elevator I literally smacked myself in the forehead. When did I lose the ability to talk to a person who is cute? With a dawning horror I wondered if it was because I’m older than him – by a lot, probably. Is that why getting older is hard? Because you revert to junior high school around cute boys?

There’s one more piece to the story. Tomorrow, the last piece (so far.) I’m telling you right now: you have a part to play tomorrow. I’m going to need you guys, so get your thinking caps and your advice gloves on. Advice gloves? Advice pants. I’m going to need your advice.

Just one more thing:

He has a name, you know. But I’m not going to tell you what it is. Wanna guess? Ooh! Guess! That’ll be fun. It’s good, too; if you just list male characters from Danielle Steele novels, someone will hit it eventually.


Receiving Room Guy: Update #1

Wrapping from my package and the twistie tie I literally wound around my finger as I was talking to him. What the?? Photo: Me.

Wrapping from my package and the twistie tie I literally wound around my finger as I was talking to him. What is happening to me? I am not this person! Photo: Me.

My thoughts on death. My musings on Faulkner. The people have spoken and the people say, “Whatever, Mary. Tell us more about Receiving Room Guy.” When I posted about the young man working in my building’s receiving room this summer 324 people “liked” it on Facebook. (Faulkner “like” count: 38.) Who am I to blow against the wind?

It’s a good thing that there has been a huge development. Two, actually.

First, I went in the other day to pick up a book I ordered. Receiving Room Guy was on the phone at the desk. I could hear through the receiver that on the other line was his boss, a man with a thick Korean accent. Receiving Room Guy reached over to get my envelope and made a face that said, “I’m stuck on this phone, I’m sorry!!” I flapped my hand to communicate, “That’s totally okay!” and I left. I thought it was nice that he felt bad about being on the phone. If I were in his place, I would’ve made the same face – especially if I had his face, which must be very fun to have. If I had that face, I’d just stare in the mirror all day and make it do things and be surprised that I couldn’t make it look anything but gratuitously attractive.

That was the first development. A moment of “I like you enough to wish I wasn’t on the phone when you came in so that we could’ve exchanged pleasantries.”

The second development came about two hours ago. Everything I am about to tell you is a true fact.

I open the door to the receiving room, go up to the counter. Behind the counter, off to the right, is Receiving Room Guy picking a bass guitar. It was a slow Saturday afternoon, you see, so Receiving Room Guy was using his time to practice his bass guitar because Receiving Room Guy is clearly reading the You Can’t Write This Stuff Handbook and I guess he can’t bring his baby kitten to work, so it’s bass guitar practice time. His long hair was not pulled back, so it was like, on the verge of falling in his face when he looked up and smiled at me. And so it was in that moment that all interesting, witty, or intelligible things I have to say left my cerebral cortex.

“Wow!” I said, noticing the embroidered guitar strap, clearly indicating Receiving Room Guy has a sensitive, introspective side. “Is that a bass guitar?” (See? I told you. Hang on; it gets worse.)

“Yeah,” he said, taking it off, looking shy. I caught him in the act, I suppose.

My knowledge about bass guitars begins and ends with this: they plug in. Without a cord that hooks up to an amplifier, they make next to no sound. But the thing is, Receiving Room Guy’s bass looked super weird, like Brooklyn hipsters made it out of reclaimed park benches and organic unicorn hair. There were no visible electric hookups, no nodes. So I said, at the risk of asking the dumbest question I have ever asked in my life:

“At the risk of asking the dumbest question I have ever asked in my life: is it… Wireless?”

You know how deeply happy you were as a child when you gave your mom or dad a picture you drew and they put it on the fridge? That overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment washed over me when Receiving Room Guy looked at me and said, impressed, “Oh, no, it’s not; see, it’s got the hookup right here. But yeah, actually, there are wireless bass guitars now, but only the really fancy rockstars have those ’cause they’re like, thousands of dollars.”

Total. Score.

There is much, much more to tell you. This is like, not even half of what happened just now.  But you know what? You’ll have to wait. I know when I’ve got a content tiger by the tail. In fact, I’m chuckling to myself as I write this because I know what I’m going to tell you tomorrow and you have no idea how much you’re going to love it. Until tomorrow, my little FedEx envelopes. My little Target boxes. My little Amazon returns.





Summer Lovin, Had Me Some Coffee.

Little do they know they're about to be eaten by a Bengal tiger! Just kidding. Photo: David R. Tribble via Wikipedia.

Little do they know they’re about to be eaten by a Bengal tiger! Just kidding. Photo: David R. Tribble via Wikipedia.

The title of this post may pique the interest of those excited about my summer crush, working in the receiving room as we speak, but I’m afraid I have not yet gotten any surreptitious pictures, nor have I been asked out for a second round of pancakes. In fact, alerted me that my new bathroom rug has been delivered but I cannot go down there looking like this. There’s too much work on my desk to stop and get cute right now; I’ll have to get my package tomorrow. Love stinks!

Love doesn’t stink for everyone, though. All around me, I see summer love blooming. Oh, I see bedraggled people emerging from the subway in 100-degree heat and I see women depressed that anything they did to their hair before they left the house vanished on contact with the outside world, but I see love, too.

Yesterday I watched a coffee date that went very, very well, for example.

I was working in a coffee shop in my neighborhood. The girl and the guy looked to be on summer break from college. The girl had done something to her hair that I knew she was trying for the first time, a kind of bouffant avec ponytial that got a little too excited but saved it at the last minute. The guy was a standard-issue, cargo short guy; sandy hair, Cubs t-shirt. They sat down at a table near me just after I had gotten myself settled and I heard enough of the conversation to understand they were meeting for the first time. Either it was an online thing or they had mutual friends who put them in touch. In my heart of hearts I wish they were pen pals. This is unlikely.

From where I was sitting, I had a clear view of the girl. It was hard not to look at her because everything about her was saying, I really really really really really like you and it was an interesting study in body language. She was leaning ever-so-slightly forward. Her eyes were big and shiny. She was either actively smiling when her tablemate was talking or she was on the verge. At one point, Dude must’ve said something that was sad or bad, because she made a “Noooooo!” face and cocked her head to one side. Then she stuck out her lip and she sighed, shaking her head. A minute later she was laughing again.

I wondered if the guy knew how well he was doing. At one point, he got up to use the bathroom and the girl waited a moment or two, looked behind her to see if he was gone, then pulled out her phone. Her thumbs flew over the keyboard as she surely texted her best girlfriends that he’s hot, he’s nice, he’s funny, etc.

Is it a terrible, terrible thing that I felt depressed? It’s not that I envy the situation – I do not. I am allergic to love right now. I need a break from the Ferris Wheel of The Heart after these love affairs. No, I was depressed because – I’m such a drag – the puppy-dog looks don’t last. Even if these two people fall in love, get married, and live together till their dying days, the eyes-as-big-as-saucers thing has a shelf-life. First-blush love is fabulous. It’s addictive. It’s an atom bomb of happiness. And then the spaceships of infatuation take off again and you have to make things work for real.

My birthday is on August 6th. I like the age I am. It’s a little weird to be in the second half of my thirties, but I wouldn’t go back for anything. Still, insights like these come with a ruefulness and I find myself crossing my legs in my cafe chair and wondering if that on-again off-again pain in my knee might be a real issue someday.


The Receiving Room Guy.

Could there be love inside?? I'M KIDDING. Also, that's not my table. Photo: Wikipedia.

Could there be love inside?? I’M KIDDING. Photo: Wikipedia.

In April, a small sign went up on the door to my building’s receiving room:


Two months later, the sign changed:

“RECEIVING ROOM HELP WANTED!!!! CALL 773-123-4567!!!!!”

It’s a tough sell.

In case you don’t know, mid-rise and high-rise condo buildings have a receiving room where UPS and FedEx leave packages and where large furniture deliveries and such are made. Florists go to the front desk, as does food delivery. But for your Amazon and your certified mail, you’ll visit the receiving room. It’s great to have one, because you never get one of those “we missed you” post-its, which always made me feel like the top scoop of my ice cream dropped off the cone.

Working in receiving at my building is not a gig a person with limitless options might choose. Well, it isn’t! It’s a windowless room, for one thing, and that can be hard on a person over an 8-hour shift. And it’s not a tiny space, but it’s cramped with heavy shelves and all surfaces are covered with boxes and things; plus, our receiving room is also the on-site dry cleaner, so there’s a big revolving rack of plastic-sleeved clothes in there, too. The gal who was working there for a long time was the daughter of the guy who runs the cleaners and whenever I picked anything up she looked like she’d rather be working as a dishwasher at Lou Malnati’s across the street.

Then one day about a month ago, the sign was taken down.

I walked into the receiving room and Adonis himself hopped up from behind the desk.

I’m not a hottie hound. (Is that a term?) I appreciate physical beauty as much as the next gal, but I have never understood the screaming mania that happens to some women when they see an airbrushed photo of a six-packed dude on the beach or at the gym. The dashing, Superman thing is nice, but I’m not —

Okay: he is gorgeous, people. 

Absolutely gorgeous. Not a day over twenty-two. Six-feet tall. Beautiful, swarthy, Mediterranean skin tone, a real “Oh-I’m-Sorry-I’ve-Been-Working-In-The-Olive-Groves-All-Day-With-No-Shirt-On” complexion. Megawatt smile. Whitest teeth I’ve ever seen. Longish, thick, dark hair that he ties back in what I understand is called a “man bun” and in theory I do not like this but in this case, I very much do. And he’s so nice. He knows my apartment number by now, so when I come in, he’ll go over to my place on the shelf without me having to say anything.

Whenever I have to look extra nice for a lunch date or a meeting, I’ll make sure to drop by and see if I have any packages. This is because if I don’t, he will think that I always look like a squinty, tired, messy-haired weirdo all the time, instead of just sometimes, since this is the way I typically look whenever I get an email that I have a package and I have two seconds to get to the receiving room before it closes. (This never happened when the owner’s daughter worked there, by the way.)

The other day, I had brunch and did not eat my pancakes. It was a full stack of pancakes, so I had the gal box them up. Upon entering my building – and because I looked adorable – I thought I’d see if I had any packages. I did! And as Adonis was getting my delivery, I thought: “I am going to offer him these pancakes.” Then I thought, “That is so weird, Mary. Do not do that.” And then, before my brain could stop me, I said:

“Hey, I just had brunch, like, just now. I didn’t eat my pancakes. They are 100%, completely, totally untouched. I even dumped syrup on them before the girl closed the lid. I know I’m not going to eat them. Do you want my pancakes?”

This amazing look of like, sheepish gratitude came over his face. He tucked a tendril — he literally has tendrils, people — behind his ear and said, “Actually… Yeah. I’m really hungry. Yeah, I’d love that.”

Look, my list of things to do does not include “Seduce Receiving Room Guy.” The reasons why this not on my list would be impossible to count. But if a single gal can’t give a cute guy her pancakes, well, what good is she?

Keeping My Ears Cool.

Hey, that's my neighborhood! Photo: John  Picken, 2010, via Wikipedia.

Hey, that’s my neighborhood! Photo: John Picken, 2010, via Wikipedia.

Because I’m from a small town in Iowa and I was never super popular in school, I have done many a foolish thing in my life to appear cooler than I am. Certain items of clothing, jokes told in bad taste, middle school disloyalty – they all lay upon the bonepile of attempts at cool.

Walking under the el tracks this morning as a train blasted overhead, I covered my ears. It took me years before I was willing to do this. It’s Chicago, man. It’s the el, man. Don’t be a wimp. Only old folks and little kids plug their ears when the train blasts by. The el is Chicago’s chi: energy traveling through the body. You’re either one with it or you’re not.

I believed this, in so many words, and would endure physical pain when walking in an alleyway if the el came through. (The buildings on either side of an alley trap sound; a train crashing past is loud as a jet landing.)

I’m not sure when it happened, but I finally got over myself and now I put my paws over my ears when I hear a train coming in those situations. The freedom I feel to do this is heady. Isn’t that funny? Isn’t it strange? What we put ourselves through to be acceptable. I used to grit my teeth and bear it when an ambulance passed at close range, too. I had never seen anyone in New York City plug their ears when an ambulance or fire truck would roar past; it must be really uncool to do so. So I didn’t, and would grimace and hurt when that would happen.

You know what’s cool? Since I’ve begun covering my ears for a train or an ambulance, I’ve seen more people doing it. I’ll detect a fire truck down State St., for example, and as it comes closer and goes by, I’ll have my ears protected. I’ll look around and often see a couple other people follow suit. Maybe I just never noticed them before, but I don’t think so. I think sometimes one person has to say, “I’m not cool and I don’t care” and then other people say, “Okay, me too.”


Uncle, Uncle: My Shoulder Is Not Okay.

Just look at dem bones! X-ray, chiropractor; photo of x-ray, me.

Dem bones. X-ray, chiropractor; photo of x-ray, me.

“Claus,” I said, “My shoulder hurts really bad.”

In May, the dull ache in my shoulder had gotten bad enough that I had to say something. It had hurt for a couple weeks and just when I’d think, “Aw, I’ll be alright,” I’d move it in some totally acceptable way and realize it was not getting better. Claus gave me a couple massages and that helped, but then he moved back to Germany and now what? I thought.

When I was working in Iowa, I saw my friend Julie, an orthopaedic surgeon. “Julie,” I said. “My shoulder hurts really bad.” She gave me some stretches to do and that helped, but then I went back to Chicago and now what? I thought.

Then a tiny section of my thumb went slightly numb. That was about a month back. Not numb exactly, but numb kind of. Then I woke up in the night from the ache. Then I realized when writing in my journal in the morning that my hand was not quite as strong as I remembered it being. Then, the last straw: the terrible ache extended to my upper arm and I woke up three times in the night from the pain. It’s hard for me to find a good position in bed at night. Okay. I call. It’s time.

Instead of taking the bus up to the hospital where I get all my glamorous medical care, I thought I’d try something else first. Because it’ll be my luck that I get an MRI and suddenly have surgery scheduled for next month. I’m good like that. I decided to get a first opinion and made an appointment at a chiropractor downtown. I’ve never seen a chiropractor before.

My step-dad swears by his; he’ll holler upstairs to me when I’m home at the house, “Mar! I’m headed to the chiro to get cracked! You need anything at the store, honey?” Mark’s back is considerably bigger than my shoulder and he gets good results, so why not.

It’s wild how divided people are about chiropractors. I wrote day before yesterday how I won’t comment on political issues on my blog; this includes my official position on chiropractic care. All I’ll say is that when I left, after stimulation nodes had been placed on my shoulder for 30 minutes, after the nice lady had made my spine do its best impression of Jiffy Pop, and after I opted-in for a 30 minute chiro-massage, my shoulder did feel better and I’m grateful. But I also emailed Julie; chiro or not, I’m going to get a third opinion. (The second opinion came from my neighbor; we were chatting in the elevator this morning and I told her about my shoulder. “Oh, just get a cortisone shot,” she said. “You’ll be fine.” Janine is a real estate agent and has nine earrings in her left ear.)

I took a picture of the chiro’s computer screen when she left the examination room. That’s my shoulder/neck x-ray. Isn’t it amazing? I’ve had a string of a few bad days this week and it was strange: when I saw my straight spine and that there wasn’t broken glass in my shoulder, I felt better. When you’re stressed about this or that, when you walk around with chronic pain and dread that it’s worse than you think, think on this: the back of your skull is lovely.




Political poster, England, 1905. Image: Wikipedia.

Political poster, England, 1905. Image: Wikipedia.

The tensions in my city are palpable. And that’s just Chicago.

There is upheaval and seismic news every day, everywhere. How much the news affects you personally determines how you feel about it. Well, all the news feels personal lately. The racial turmoil. The presidential election. ISIS. Mass shootings. Brexit. My head spins every day, right along with yours. But you don’t know how I feel about any of this stuff because I don’t talk about it here.

You don’t know if I support Trump or Hillary or someone else. You don’t know if I’m marching in the huge protests that are taking place every day here. You don’t know how I feel about the European Union and yes, I do have feelings about it. I didn’t blog about Treyvon Martin or the shootings in Dallas this week. I didn’t blog about Pulse, nor about San Bernadino last year.

Something will happen and I will think, “Today’s the day. I have to say something about [INSERT POLITICAL FIRESTORM HERE.] Surely now, surely after this, I have to say XYZ.” But every single time, I stop myself. Why?

Because you don’t come to me for politics and you shouldn’t. I’m not a political writer. I’m just a blogger you like. I’m a quilter, too. I’m not a person with the background/credentials/experience to speak intelligently about politics. “Well, a lot of people speak about such things without background/credentials, etc., Mary! It’s never stopped them!” You are correct. Unqualified people going off in an un-moderated public forum about things they feel strongly about and have little context or facts for is free speech and yay for free speech, but it doesn’t mean it’s helpful. It’s certainly not a reason to go for it myself.

I will not use this public platform to add another emotional screed, manifesto, rant, or praise song to the din. I won’t publish anger, fear, sycophancy, or an impassioned call to arms. There are enough of those on either side of everything already. It’s not my role. When I try to be something I’m not, the failure is total. I’m not qualified to write intelligent, informed political commentary so I won’t write it – not here, anyway. I have seen the damage done when people (including me) get irresponsible with a public platform for their opinions. I see the absolute, utter futility of those Facebook rants back and forth – I want no part of it. I recuse myself. The stakes are just too high.

My political leanings and opinions determine how I act in the world and how I vote. I am proud to be a U.S. citizen and I will conduct myself as such. But you’re not going to hear the details here. At the very least: this stuff is private. Or could be. That is still an option, you know.

I hear some of you wondering, “Just when, Miss-Recuse-Yourself-Pants will it be bad enough for you to say something, to stick your neck out?” This is a valid criticism. Some might even be angry that I won’t “go there” with so much happening. There may come a time when staying silent is more damaging than sharing with you how I feel about an issue. But I have started to “go there” about 90 times over the course of writing PaperGirl – 80 of those times in the past couple weeks – and every time, I stopped. So far, it just hasn’t been the right thing to do for me. 

Do what’s right for you.


My Calling In Life Involves An Eraser.

It might be true, or interesting, or worth publishing (Anne thought so, as did her publisher) but is it funny? Oh, person. Photo: Me.

It might be true, or interesting, or worth saying – it was published by a major publisher, which gives it some weight already – but is it funny? Oh, person. What secrets do you hide? Photo: Me.

I have found my calling. From this day forward, I pledge to have an eraser with me when I visit the library so that I can erase, page by page, any pencil marks found within the books I select. I have surprised myself by how grumpy this makes me. I’m a lil’ grumpy.

Generally speaking, if you read books you’ve checked out of the library, there’s a high probability that we’ll find some common ground, even if the books we read are different. (If they’re really, really different we might have to work at it, but I’m willing if you are, WWII-submarine-engine-repair-handbook-reading guy.)

But you cannot mark up that book. People who markup library books do not realize that when you go into a library, acquire a library card, check a book out at the librarian’s desk and get a slip of paper that tells you precisely when you are to bring that book back, that book is not your property. Not permanently. It’s your property for the length of time you have it checked out, but after that, it’s someone else’s, and this is the beauty of the library. You need to bring the book back so other people can use it – other people who might not want to underline that particular passage that you just underlined, starred, and put a smiley face next to. I know! It’s really good! But you don’t have to do that to make it more good than it already is.

The only productive thing I did yesterday was to amble up to the library to get a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. It’s a great book for writers and I wanted to locate a couple things in it for my class this week. I opened up the only copy they have and wouldn’t you know it: pencil marks on almost every page. Underlined passages, asterisks, and an excruciating “Imp.” absolutely everywhere. The “Imp.” meant “important”, surely, though one could argue the entirety of Bird By Bird is important, seeing as how it’s still in print after several decades, so couldn’t one just consider the entire book underlined and save a little time?

Of course, the underliner might have a good friend named Imp whom she knows would love this snippet and that one and if she doesn’t underline it and put Imp’s name next to it, why, it might be lost forever. What I like to do is have my journal nearby when I read. This is so I can copy down good stuff into its pages. I recommend this because then I have all the things I want to share with my good friend Imp in one place, you see. The difference between my journal and a library book is that I own my journal. Also, no one can check out my journal and read it. That would not be good.

You know what’s really funny? In every single book I’ve ever found that has markings in it, the markings never go all the way through. They always, always stop halfway (or even part-way) through the book. I’m not sure if that means the marker lost interest in marking or lost interest in the book; I’d like to think it’s the former, but I also would like to think I can have ice cream for breakfast every day without negative consequences.

Horace Mann said, “Until you have done something useful for humanity, you should be ashamed to die.” I have my Pink Pearl eraser in my library totebag, now, and I have already used it in Bird By Bird. I’m ready, Horace.


5 Blogging Essentials From Pendennis.

Pendennis, at this exact moment. Photo: Me

Pendennis, at this exact moment. Photo: Me

I’ve been working on my syllabus for the blogging class I’m teaching at the University of Chicago. It starts on Monday, goes from 6-8:30pm, and runs four weeks. There are a couple spots left if you’re interested and it would be so cool to meet you. Do it!

The syllabus is just a guide for the students to know what’s up and a little map for me, structuring how I’ll go about giving away absolutely everything I know about writing a decent blog.

“Writing” is the operative term, here. Anyone with a computer and a mouse can open a blog. Making space for yourself in the blogosphere via WordPress, say, is easier than setting up your new remote control. (Far, far easier. I hate remote controls so much.) But that writing part. That’s what my class is about. Uncovering your voice. Pushing yourself. Exploring. As hard as writing is – and it is hard – that’s how rewarding it is when you get cookin.

Since not everyone who reads PaperGirl can make it to class (I’m looking at you, New Zealand) I thought I’d share some blogging essentials. We’ll noodle on these in class and go deeper via writing exercises, discussion, practice. There’s so much more – but you’ll have to come to class to learn it.

Until then, here are Pendennis’s 5 Blogging Essentials. He’s the secret to my success, you see.

1. It is all about content.
Forget widgets, plugins, fancy web designers, social media, ads, and the rest. All that can come later. If you don’t have great content, you will have nothing to give. Content, content, content.

2. Your blog has to serve people. 
It has to help in some way. Your blog can help people by offering shrewd editorial, gorgeous photography, easy-but-yummy recipes, scuba-diving news – anything. But it can’t be about you. My aim for PaperGirl is to offer you one tiny spot on the internet that feels real. Life is funny, and sad, breathtakingly hard and unspeakably beautiful. I give you what I see because I want to see it with you. If all I wrote were complaints, if all I did was promote myself, if all I “gave” you was secretly – or not so secretly – all about me, I’d be giving nothing at all. (I have a diary for all the “me” stuff. A blog is not a diary.)

3. Show up. Do the work.
Tired? Feelin’ blue? Post anyway. I’ve been blogging for eight years. Eight! Gah!

4. Traffic doesn’t matter. Readers matter.
…which is why No. 1 is No. 1. Do you want a zillion clicks – or a few thousand readers who can’t wait to see you’ve posted something? Google Analytics tells you something called your “bounce rate.” That’s what percentage of people click on your site and then click right on out. I’ma brag for two seconds to make a point: my bounce rate is 8%. That’s…not normal. I hope it’s because people come over and take off their coat and stay awhile. I’m hoping it’s because I’m following No. 1, though Pendennis is pretty cute.

5.  Never, ever write a post about how you have nothing to write about. Ever!
No one, not even your mom, wants to read that post. And neither do you! Go take a walk, look around at stuff, think about stuff, then come back and try again.

You can do it. See you on Monday.


Girl On Film: Scorcese’s “The Color of Money”.

It all starts -- and ends -- here. Photo: Wikipedia.

It all starts — and ends — here. Photo: Wikipedia.

I’m not a film critic. I’ve probably only seen a couple hundred movies in my life, and that’s a whole lot fewer than most, I suspect. So what I have to say about it might be of zero consequence, but I gotta talk about The Color of Money. 

An article I read the other day referenced Scorcese’s 1986 film and I thought to myself, “Oh, yeah… The Color of Money. I should watch that.” Today has me feeling really puny, so my evening was me, tea, and a $2.99 YouTube rental of the classic pool shark vs. pool shark tale based on the novel by Walter Tevis. (I could get used to this, too; getting into bed and watching a streaming movie on a laptop balanced on one’s chest is one of the greatest things about being alive in 2016.)

It’s just a damn good movie. I’d pay a lot of money to watch Paul Newman and Tom Cruise just sit in chairs and make facial expressions, but in The Color of Money they do so much more. If you could bottle the swagger between them it would be do more damage than nuclear fission. Newman plays Fast Eddie, a first-rate but aged pool hall hustler. Eddie discovers Vince (Cruise), and takes him under his dark hustler wing. They go play in the fields of billiards and no one in their wake is safe.

Eddie teaches Vince his tricks. But then Vince plays Eddie. But then Eddie plays Vince right back. Turnabout, turnabout again. Newman — who, it cannot be denied, bears an eerie resemblance to my ex-father-in-law it almost ruined it for me — is so manipulative, so “Daddy knows best,” so “Let them hate so long as they fear” about everything you just hate him. But you find yourself desperate for his approval, just like Vince. And Paul Newman is my favorite male movie star of all time. I don’t think you can beat Newman for sex appeal, talent, and charisma. But Tom Cruise… I hardly have words. He was 24 when he made that movie. Twenty-four. He is boyish sex incarnate. He’s pure hormones. Phermones. It’s hot in here, I can’t think straight. Jesus, take the wheel!

But then there’s the girl. Yeah, the girl. An achingly young and pretty — but fierce — Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is Vince’s girlfriend and I realized that she is a Disney princess in human form in that movie. Watch it; you’ll see that I am right. Her character is great: layered, conflicted. One wonders if the film had a sequel, we’d learn Carmen was the one playing the boths of ‘em.

Perhaps the single most compelling reason to watch this movie asap is this: those boys are actually playing killer pool. Newman and Cruise can play the game for real. I said “Waaaat??” several times over the course of the movie; you can’t believe you’re seeing what you’re seeing. Tom actually sinks an eight-ball while he’s looking in the other direction, being adorable. There are dozens of sequences that are filmed in one take and you see shot after successful shot pulled off by these impossibly beautiful men who are supposed to be acting. Fabulous.

It’s funny and depressing to note that when this movie would play on cable when I was in high school, I distinctly remember thinking, “In no universe will I ever be interested in a movie about pool. Ugh!”

That was a long time ago, Eddie.




Julia, Part Three.

This is a fractal, categorized as a "Julia set." I don't know what it means, but it's gorgeous. Image: Wikipedia.

This is a “Julia set” fractal. I don’t know what that means, but it’s named Julia and it’s gorgeous. Image: Wikipedia.

This is the third part of the blog triptych about the birth of Julia. If you’ve just joined us, it started here (lions) and then went here (goo.) And now, like the tiny superstar herself, we’re here.

When she came out for real-for real, I couldn’t believe my eyes. She had a face. A face! Not a squinchy sorta-face, but a face-face with a nose and lips. She had a bluish cast and was balled up tight, but there wasn’t a sac around her or so much blood I couldn’t discern anything; I could discern everything, and it shocked me. (I can see every person who grew up on a dairy farm shaking their heads in wonder, doubting, even, that I took high school biology.) That she was so ready to go, so on her way to learning to read and write was revelatory.

Once she was totally free and could be given to Heather for those first, all-important, long moments with Mom, Julia was whisked to the salamander. I tiptoed over after Sam had had time over there and I took a look. Oh, my, I thought. That’s a really new person. 

When I put the back of my index finger against her head for the smallest, gentlest stroke, I marveled at how soft she was: soft hair, soft skin, soft head. (I didn’t poke at her to find out that last part, by the way; I just happen to know that babies’ heads are soft when they first come out. They have to be to get out of, you know.) Julia weighed in at seven pounds, eight ounces. She has all her fingers and toes. She didn’t cry a lot but I can confirm she has a good set of pipes. The baby has lots of hair, too; it looked dark at first but as it dried we could see that she has gorgeous, natural highlights…in red. Total heartbreaker.

After Heather was all stitched up and she and Sam were enjoying that internal endorphin cocktail that nature orders up in such situations, I took my leave. If I was concerned about being in the way before or during the birth, I was on high alert afterward; I seemed to remember something about bonding pheromones and attachment-forming neuron pathways being forged in the first moments of life and I wasn’t going to get in the way of any of those, that’s for sure. I hugged and kissed Sam and Heather and gave Baby Julia another touch on the head and slipped out.

When I went out the doors of the hospital, I was thrust, Julia-like, into the bright, bright world outside. I walked south on Michigan Avenue toward home. What I haven’t mentioned is that I was terrifically hungover that morning. All my pain went away when the call came from Sam and over the hours I had been with them I hadn’t felt a thing. But now, with the sun out and the summer crowds crowding the sidewalk, I remembered how badly I needed water and sleep. Julia is now four days old and she needs milk and sleep. We have a lot in common, baby.


Julia, Part One.

Watercolor painting of a birth room; artist unknown. Image: Wikipedia.

Watercolor painting of a birth room; artist unknown. Image: Wikipedia.

Yesterday, around one o’clock in the afternoon, after a standard-issue (more on that in a moment) labor and delivery, dear, healthy Julia Diane was born to Heather and Sam and to all of us, really; as members of the human race, we can all be happy today that Julia is here.

When Heather asked me to be her second-in-command on the big day, I squeaked. I had no idea what it really meant, though. I had no idea that she was giving me such a gift. In fact, I feel a little embarrassed I didn’t freak out and burst into tears and fawn and do a backflip when she asked me; if I knew then what I know now, I would’ve.

I could fill a book with my impressions from yesterday, there’s so much. This post will be in at least three parts; I like to be sensitive to your time and I also need a shower.

I want to begin by telling you that when I was summoned to the hospital, I brought a book, a snack, and an almost neurotic sense of propriety. I was there to do Heather wanted/needed, but I figured I’d leave the room when things were gettin’ real-real. I had zero intention of being awkwardly there as two people welcome their child into the world; if there ever was a moment not about me, that would be it. Heather did want me there, though, to be present for both of them for the duration — and I think I hit the right note. I sat at the side, helped with ice chips, helped with some washcloths, did some light back patting and arm squeezing. None of the doctors ever glared at me and I’m 100% sure the glasses of water I got Sam and Heather after the whole thing was over were the best glasses of water they have ever had in their life. All I’m saying is that I could possibly do this professionally.

Now, then:

Heather is a strong, brave, beautiful woman. But I had never seen her look like a lion until yesterday. It happened when the baby’s head crowned and pushing had to get really, really intense. With her carnal, ancient task before her, my friend was so powerful and gorgeous, she looked like the strongest animal in the kingdom, doing the bravest thing that can be — must be — done. She was ferocious, focused, and utterly natural. It helped that her loose ponytail was all messed up and her hair was all over the place; Heather’s got awesome red curly hair and it’s generally mane-like, anyway.

But then, just after she’d been a lion, my friend would sink back into the bed in between those major contractions and whimper. She wasn’t crying; these were plaintive sounds of pain and exhaustion. All the strength she had for each round of pushing seemed to entirely vanish when she stopped; then, impossibly, she would find new strength and go again. I thought of the Rudyard Kipling poem, “The Female of the Species Is More Deadly Than The Male.” The poem examines why women will always be more lethal than men because we are the ones who give birth. Look at this:

But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame
Proves her launched for one sole issue, armed and engined for the same; 
And to serve that single issue, lest the generations fail, 
The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.

She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast 
May not deal in doubt or pity—must not swerve for fact or jest. 
These be purely male diversions—not in these her honour dwells— 
She the Other Law we live by, is that Law and nothing else.

Heather did her duty to the generations, if you will, and in witnessing it, I understood Kipling’s poem far better — and I’ve known the whole thing by heart for a long time. As I saw a woman endure childbirth, as I watched “She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast” groan and whimper and gasp, I was deeply moved. I’m just not around this stuff very much. The last time I saw a brand new creature was when one of our cats had kittens. I was six.

Tomorrow: blood and stuff.

I Sing a Song of Carmen.

Clearly, I am the one in black and Carmen is chipper. Please also notice THAT DOGGIE! ("At Home" by Louise Catherine Breslau, 1885.)

Carmen (in blue) is wishing I would remember my password; I am too tired to speak, too tired, even, to pet my AMAZING PUPPY. “At Home” by Louise Catherine Breslau, 1885.

There has been a great development. I have hired an assistant. A real one this time.

Her name is Carmen and she is made of gumdrops and birthday cake. She is smart. She is organized. She cares. She’s already doing an incredible job. And Bizet wrote an opera for her, so.

Having an assistant sounds impossibly fancy. It sounds like I think I’m important. It sounds like I’m rollin’ in it and because of that assumption, it sounds super annoying. Here’s the funny thing: there have been times in my life when I could better afford to hire someone to help me out for 10-15 hours a week, but it has never, ever been so crucial as now. So I’m figuring out the math.

Look, you’re with me. You read this blog. You see me flying from Portland to Florida to New York to Phoenix to St. Cloud. It’s interesting and it’s beautiful. But it’s a lot. Starting in the fall and all through 2017 I’ve got a lot of jobs on the road, a lot of teaching and speaking commitments. “But aren’t you going to be in grad school?” you ask, then you jump out of your seat because my hysterical, hysterical laughter has frightened you.

The only way — and I mean the only way — this whole “work my way through grad school by being an itinerant quilt teacher” thing is gonna work is if I’ve got someone to help me. I can’t do it alone. I was starting to crack doing it myself before — what’s gonna happen when I have a novel to read by Friday and a poem to revise by Monday?

I thought long and hard about this grad school thing, I really did. I didn’t want to say yes to it if I’d be half in, half out, doing Quilt World Things while trying to get the very very most out of an MFA at the same time. For sure, if I tried to insert studies at the SAIC into what I’ve got going on now, I’d fail at both and it would be a hard, hard turfing out. (The saying “I shudder to think” is a chestnut, but I do literally shudder when I imagine trying to do what October looks like, for example, while going to graduate school.) But I believe that if someone can help me with back-end gig logistics (supply lists, bio, photos, travel deets, schedule, classroom assignments, contact persons, dossier, etc.) then how I make a living is actually sorta perfect. I go to school. A couple times a month I go and teach quilting and lecture about the history of quiltmaking in America. It sounds cool, anyway.

All this justification as to why I finally “broke down” and hired the inimitable and breathtakingly gorgeous Carmen has a few sources: I’m a woman who suffers from Imposter Syndrome; I’m not heading a Fortune 500 company so what could be so important I need help with it; I’m from the Midwest. But you know what? Not only have I created a job in the economy (woah! so cool!) I have admitted to you that I need help, Carmen. And look at that: I’m admitting it to you, too.


Taxi Driver Wisdom No. 3927101

Taxis. Photo: Wikipedia.

Taxis. Photo: Wikipedia.

There is something known to city dwellers — really anyone who has taken more than a dozen or so cabs — as “taxi driver wisdom.”

Taxi driver wisdom is anything profound or thought-provoking your cab driver says during the ride. Other people you encounter during the day may say profound things, but since a taxi trip is relatively short and maybe because you’re hurtling through space together, even slightly reflective or soulful things seem extra zen, extra woah. Taxi drivers are also contemporary romantic figures: they roll along all day, forearm on the window sill, meditating on humanity, meeting all manner of folks and talking with them, just as they’re talking with you now, under the intimate roof of a car. They must know something by now, right?

Of course, not all taxi drivers are wise; if they were, there would be less honking. If they were all wise, they would not try to get my phone number, which has happened five times. But if you have a chatty cab driver and you go deeper than the weather, you may find yourself having a real groovy conversation because taxi drivers are typically educated, interesting people who have come to this country from someplace else and who have plenty to consider and think about as they drive around the city. When they get someone interested in hearing about it and they’re not too grumpy, they often chat.

I got major taxi driver wisdom today. I learned all about the time this man spent living in Dusseldorf, then Monaco, then London. Israel, San Francisco. This was all in the 1980s, he told me, nearly forty years ago.

“I went on a trip to New Zealand once,” he said. “It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I went on a two-week expedition. Hiking. Camping. Nature. The expeditions left from an inn, and the other groups coming back would come back to that inn, as well. Well, one of the groups came back right as my group was leaving. A question came to my mind. I ran to catch one of the men in that group so that I could ask him.”

“I asked him, ‘What can you tell me about your experience that will change the experience for me?’ The man thought for a moment and then he said, ‘From time to time, stop and turn around. Look behind you. The journey is all forward, forward, forward, and that’s good. But stop walking. Turn around. Look where you came from.'”

“Woah,” I said. “That’s good. That’s really good.”

“Yes. It did change everything for me. I turned around a lot on that expedition. That man gave me a great gift. He told me not to forget where I came from. And I didn’t.”

$12.75 + tip.


Marianne Fons, One Year More Awesome.

Mom, circa 1969. Photo: Not sure. Mom, do you remember?

Mom, circa 1969. Photo: Not sure. Mom, do you remember?

Happy Birthday to Marianne Fons.

Technically, her birthday was yesterday. Don’t worry: I didn’t forget. I sent her a card that arrived on time and she got an absolutely enormous box of notions as a gift. (Even quilt royalty need fresh rotary cutters, you know.)

But when I saw that my sister Rebecca had a copy of this photo of Mom back in the 60’s and posted it to Facebook, I had to pass it along and carry the birthday over a day.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

You are cool.



"Secret Correspondence" by Carl von Bergen, Germany, 1891. Image: Wikipedia.

“Secret Correspondence” by Carl von Bergen, Germany, 1891. Image: Wikipedia.

A couple thoughts on the blog. I will employ sub-headings for organizational purposes. I’ve been working all day and don’t feel confident I can weave anything elegant right now. Thanks, sub-heading!

1. I like it when you read it. 
When I’m out teaching and speaking and dragging my suitcase around, folks come up to me and say, “I hope you don’t think I’m a stalker, but I read your blog… I have to ask: how’s your health? How are you dealing with Claus being gone? Congratulations on grad school! When do you start??” and so forth. Sometimes the person asking is sheepish in the extreme; they feel like they’re intruding. Don’t be sheepish! Actually, sheeps are cute, so be sheepish in a cute way, but know that I love that you read my blog. I write PaperGirl for you. I write it for myself, too; this is me practicing scales almost every day, trying to be a better writer like a flutist is trying to be a better flutist. This blog affords me opportunities to use the world flutist and say it in my mind: FLAU-tist. Now that’s entertainment. But yes: I love when I meet people who read the ol’ PG and you can ask me whatever you like. I reserve the right not to tell you, but I probably will tell you even more than you wanted to know.

2. The secret to a successful blog: consistency and variety.
I’m teaching my blog class at the University of Chicago in a couple weeks and have been working on my syllabus. The research is confirming what I knew already: the secret to a good blog is consistency and variety. This is what I say when I’m asked about blogging and this is what I’ll share with my students. You can’t expect to keep readers if you post once a month, then three times in a week, then three months later, then two weeks later, and so on. That’s true for any blog, be it political, mommy, foodie, or otherwise. What is also true is that variety is the spice of blogs. If I tried to be funny-ish 100% of the time or earnest 100% of the time or anxious 100% of the time or weird 100% of the time, I’d get bored, you’d get bored, and, worse even than that, we’d all be missing out on the breadth of the human experience. This is true even in a foodie blog. I want to hear about the bad meals as well as the good meals. Maybe that’s just me.

3. I still won’t advertise.
I should. I could. But I won’t. I hate those ads. I hate them so much. I hate how web ads know that I just looked at underpants on Amazon but didn’t buy them so now they want to get me to buy them someplace else. I can’t do it to you or to me, friends. PaperGirl is an oasis for me and I hope it is for you, too, just for a minute or two in your Internet life. No ads. Ever. I promise.


For the Good Advice File: Washing Your Face.

Woman Washing Her Face by Hashiguchi Goyō, 1920. Image: Wikipedia.

Woman Washing Her Face by Hashiguchi Goyō, 1920. Image: Wikipedia.

Some of the best advice I ever got was this: If you are feeling sad or lost or stuck in your day, go to the bathroom sink and wash your face. You don’t have to use soap, though doing a full wash is the best case scenario. If you don’t have soap or don’t have time for a full wash, turn on the faucet and splash your face with cool water for a minute or so.

If you’ve been crying, it’s a wonderful technique; it cools hot tear tracks and flushed cheeks. If you’re a woman who wears mascara, the water will also remove any dubiously sexy raccoon eye you’ve got going on after breaking down in whatever small or large way you just broke down.

But you don’t have to be weeping to use the cool-water-on-face fix. In fact, this feel-better method is almost more effective when you aren’t crying; feelings of despondency or anxiety can come and get the best of us, rob our days of better feelings. Splashing water on your face — cup your hands, make it count, you’re not flicking water, you’re doing this — washes away at least a thin layer of all that. Maybe it’s one of those ancient gestures and it just feels natural to do it, thereby returning us to a place and time with no alarming subject lines, no transaction fees, no social media blunders.

When you turn the faucet off and stand back up from being over the sink, the water runs off your chin; you figure it’ll do that. Gravity still matters. Gravity is not alarming. Gravity charges no transaction fee. Grab a towel and bring it to your face. Press. Now remove the towel. Daub your chin. Wipe at your hairline, away from the face. Take a breath. Look at yourself in the mirror.

You’ll be okay.

The Library, The Summer Reading.

That table full of books at a public library in Missouri is irresistible!  Photo: Wikipedia.

That table full of books at a public library in Missouri is irresistible! Photo: Wikipedia.

If you want to find me this summer, check the public library. I’m in the stacks!

My friend Sophie has a new rule for books. Let’s call it the Sophie Book Rule. “If there’s a book I’m dying to read,” she says, “I make myself get it at the library first. Once I read it, if I feel that I must own that book, then I go buy it.”

This is a good rule I am now trying to follow. I’m “trying” because I am faced with the desire to buy a book 1.2692 times a day; this is and likely forever will be an ongoing process. Why, just this very afternoon I discovered an intriguing author and what did I do? I clicked over to the Chicago Public Library website and put it on hold instead of clicking over to purchase it at any number of quality online booksellers who also have brick-and-mortar shops. (That’s Mary’s Book Rule.)

I’ll never stop buying books. But this return to the library is deeply satisfying. Being there regularly — I’ve been every couple days for about a month, now, returning or checking something out — connects me with a part of myself I forgot about.

Over the years, I drifted from the public library; I haven’t had this close a relationship with it since I was a kid. Was it the internet? Adult distractions? Of course I’ve been reading this whole time, but it’s been text on screens and books purchased at the bookstore or online. My sisters and I went to the public library in Winterset practically every day growing up. We would wait there for Mom to collect us after school or we were instructed to hang out there until our friends’ parents got home, stuff like that. The Winterset public library moved across town a few years ago; the old library building is the city building, now, but I bet you anything it smells the same and I still know all the rooms.

The summer was the best time to be a kid in love with the library because of Summer Reading. Summer Reading (this may not be a proper noun but I’m going with it) was a program to encourage reading in summer. The details of the program varied from year to year; some years there were lists, games, stickers, buttons, prizes for numbers of books read. The incentives I have forgotten completely; all I remember is the joy of a new stack of books with the check-out cards in the front envelopes. I remember the way the new books’ plastic covers were taut and the older books’ covers were loose and curled at the edges. I remember lazing on the couch in July, reading and reading and reading. This was a good way to spend a summer. It still is.

Sophie told me she used to feel possessive about books. I knew what she meant; sometimes you feel like a book was written for you and you alone and it can be hard to realize other people were also written to.

“But the library fixes that,” Sophie said. “Because when you check out a book from the library, you feel in the pages as you turn them all the people who read the book just like you’re reading it now, and it’s such a wonderful feeling. You’re together with them, you’re all in the book together at the same time. I love that.”

Storm vs. City!

A summer rainstorm in England. Wikipedia didn't have any good Chicago rainstorm pictures. Photo: Wikipedia.

A summer rainstorm in Manchester because Wikipedia didn’t have any good Chicago rainstorm pictures. Photo: Good ol’ Wikipedia.

The most hilarious thing happened about an hour ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Of Upholstery and Dorothy Parker.

Young Dorothy. Image: Wikipedia.

A young Dorothy Parker looking visionary and thirsty, as usual. Image: Wikipedia.

Since deciding to stay in my condo, all I see are possibilities for home improvement and refreshment. Gazing into my bedroom over the weekend, I considered my bed. It’s a Mission style — not “missionary style” which is what I thought it was and then thought I’d better look up, which turned out to be wise — with an upholstered headboard and footboard. It occurred to me I could reupholster this bed. It would be like a new bed. But this might cost a fortune. A large or small fortune, I had no idea. I remembered that my friend Craig used to do upholstery for a living, so I emailed him.

It’s been years since I talked to Craig. He wrote back right away and said it would cost probably $1k. Craig was happy to learn I’ve returned to Chicago. He read some time ago that I had fallen in love and moved away; he referred to this blog post. The instant I read the title, “Fons In Love,” this Dorothy Parker poem sprang to my head:

“Into love and out again/Thus I went and thus I go/Spare your voice and save your pen/Well and bitterly I know/All the songs were ever sung/All the words were ever said/Could it be when I was young/Someone dropped me on my head?”

That post Craig read is two and a half years old. Good grief, I thought. Things have changed and changed and changed again since then and yes, into love and out again is a big part of the story.

A student of mine at the U of C came to class late, missed one entirely, and told me several times, breathless, “I’m a mess, I’m sorry. I’m a total mess these days, I’m just a complete disaster.” I told her in a grave tone that she shouldn’t tell that story about herself. I told her, “You’re not a mess. You’re human. Don’t say that stuff; you’ll start to believe it.” This is a strong conviction of mine.

As I catch up with a friend from the past and detail my love life since he saw me, it’s important for me not to paint my own portrait as the hapless single woman and/or an embittered Dorothy Parker because I’ve been in relationships that “didn’t work out.” I don’t feel hapless and I’m not bitter about it — not yet. I don’t believe I’m a commitment-phobe. I don’t think I have “bad luck” with men. I never say, sarcastically, to girlfriends or sisters, “I sure know how to pick ‘em!” and then roll my eyes and slap my forehead. The portrait of me as flake, as “crazy” or useless at relationships is not one I want to draw, even in jest, because those sentiments can very well create a picture of a person to herself and to everyone else.

The men I have chosen to spend serious time and life with have all been exceptional. For one reason or another these relationships have not become marriages (well, except for the one) or decades-long partnerships and that’s okay. It’ll happen — or not. All I know is that when I fall for someone, it’s real. I can’t turn it off and why on Earth would I want to? Later, if there’s trouble that truly rots and stinks, or if I start to lose my identity, or either of us starts to compromise core values, (or someone moves far away) then the relationship closes that particular chapter. Does this make me hapless? Unlucky in love? Selfish? It’s hard to be single, sometimes, not because I don’t like being alone — I do — but because when you’re single and closer to 40 than 20, you start to be the subject of conjecture. She must be a nightmare to live with. She must be obsessed with her career. She might be repressing some aspect of her sexuality. She must be impossible to please. None of these things are true about me, but I found myself getting very self-conscious telling Craig that no, I was no longer in love, and the love affair he mentioned was a whole love affair ago.

Who knows. Give me ten more years of “into love and out again” and maybe I’ll eat my hat, erase this post, and drink vodka all day like Dorothy Parker did and make cutting remarks about men and their faults. But today, I don’t want to feel hard toward love or my choices in love. I don’t want to feel impoverished or insane as I tell an old friend about my heart’s thrashing around. I just want my bed reupholstered for under $1k because that is not happening right now.

Dottie, bring us home:

“Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song/A medley of extemporanea/And love is a thing that can never go wrong/And I am Marie of Romania.”