Additional criteria to help make it less obscene when a photo of an awful thing is a well-done photo

This is not exactly a conflict of interest I’m declaring. It’s a bias. I’m declaring a bias, or an agenda. The rules don’t say to do that but I think it’s fair.

the rules

It’s about that still shot of James Foley. I don’t often click through to stories about current events so it’s odd that that photo showed up with advertisements to the right of my feed. Ads for shoes, ads for design-your-own promotional products, and that photo. I’m assuming it showed up in everybody else’s feed too. So I don’t need to put it here. I don’t think it would be right to put it here, I’m thinking you know what I’m talking about. Also thinking we all made the same obscene observation that the composition was amazing. The colors, the way things were laid out with balance and symmetry and negative space.

negative space

His parents’ press conference was something. You are damn right that mom wore sunglasses the whole way through. She looked like Sophia Loren. You don’t get to see the eyes of that mom. Her eyes might be gone. They might be just burned-out holes at this point. I don’t think we get to see that.

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The panel starts tomorrow morning. There’s a 30-minute orientation first, with refreshments. I don’t know if there will be time in there to talk about any of this. It’s the literary fellowship program so we probably won’t get into the principles of design, or what to do about that photo, like what kind of responsibility we should take for that photo being in the world. But there should be something. You can’t really sit around a table judging works of art without some accountability to a thing like that. Just some kind of nod to the fact that basic principles of design or beauty or whatever can be applied to all kinds of content, making all kinds of messages and leading to a lot of different ends.

So it’s a big deal to give or get funding to do your thing. To get a grant that pays your rent while you finish your memoir or whatever. It’s a big deal bigger than suddenly awesomely having your rent paid for a couple months so you can adjunct one less class. That’s my bias. I mean I’ll follow the rules and evaluate the applications according to the official criteria, for sure, but additionally, I mean we all have biases, I’m just saying this out loud, the applicants I’m going to love most will be the ones who write like they believe in the big deal.

It’s two full workdays of reviews which can get kind of long. So I think it would be helpful to have a reminder to glance at now and then. It’s just a guess that there will be juice in the mornings, orange and other flavors, probably in a bowl with ice. So that’s a start but it probably won’t be enough. It would take an amazing event planner to think of standing up just a few OJ bottles on ice in the bowl, and putting a tall black carafe next to that, and using sand-colored linens and painting the wall that gray-blue. The bowl of juice bottles would need to be low on the table. That’s what it would take. There might be someone on staff who did think of this but I doubt there would have been time to paint the wall or order new linens by tomorrow morning. So I won’t share this during introductions or anything but I’ll have it in my folder and we can probably make color copies if necessary.

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mystic golden hanger

One More Year: A guest post by Amy Rosenquist

You know one weird, kind of salvation-y thing about having a severely disabled child? No matter how crazy things get, how unrealistic the possibility of getting a super-special-needs nanny for a yoga class or Sunday night candlelight meditation or trip to the women-only spa in Lakeview, or the dozen other “me-time” things you hear other moms talking about at the park as you push your oversized kid on the baby swings parallel to a slightly better-rested, slightly less resentful, alien species? The revelation is that you don’t need them. After awhile, you’re better at living in the moment than a Buddhist monk, because you don’t have a choice. The days and nights blur into an endless stream of cleaning expelled food in various forms from various surfaces, reconnaissance missions for potentially chewable clothes, cords, books, writing utensils, rolls of tape, sweeping the landscape to ensure you’re still in the same room, moving locks on the outside doors so they’re too high for him to reach, moving them even higher; then, when he towers over you and there’s no higher place to put in another sliding lock with small jingle bells, perusing the internet for the best, yet most affordable, permanent tracking system. I went with a Road I.D., though I still struggle with the choice. He never takes off the bracelet, but there’s no GPS component.

carousel

Amy, Noah, girls, horses. By Adèle Phung.

It’s an ironic silver lining. Where other people with other tragedies can and do linger over the permutations of finding meaning, I didn’t have a single cell left in my brain for that kind of thing for a long, long time. I lived moment to moment, grateful for each one, mostly, but not really thinking much farther than the lunches that needed to be packed for the next day or two.

My first boss had a brother who had died of a sudden massive heart attack when he was only 46 years old. When I worked for her, she was already in her 50s. She reported that every birthday she’d celebrated after 46 felt like she was living on borrowed time, which, she said, was sort of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it made a person appreciate being alive. On the other, there was always a storm cloud on the horizon. Would this be the last year? Day? maybe tomorrow, or the day after that? Her brother, her family for that matter, didn’t have a genetic history, or significant risk factors. It was the unknown, not being able to assign blame to a specific lifestyle habit and therefore choose a different path, that contributed most to the shadow.

noah on the way

Noah en route. By Amy.

When my father died unexpectedly at 49, I had a sense of how young that was. As a kid, many of my friends had lost a grandparent, but no one my age had even started to consider that they’d bury a parent. Case in point, I’d saved every letter, thank-you note, even the gift tags from all my grandparents, acutely aware it could be the last memento I ever got. There they all were, all four of them in perfect health, at my father’s funeral. I hadn’t saved his things, not wanting to burden my young self with a half-century’s worth of papers to carry through life. I figured I’d wait until he was old to start that box. Barely a legal adult when he died, I really had no idea how fast a life can fly by.

This July 1, I turn 48. If I were my father, I’d have one year left. As it draws closer, it’s almost visible, an approaching storm cloud. It causes me to forget that I’m a superhero single autism mom, not the kind of person who sits idly by hoping I get lucky, hoping fate deals me a better hand. That ship sailed. I’m the kind of person who painstakingly creates the topography itself, then maps out a route as if I hadn’t just invented the entire landscape.

noah on the lake

Noah and the lake. By Amy.

One of the things that still haunts me about the days right after my father’s death is that I discovered a book on his end table, next to his recliner, with a bookmark about halfway through. Who dies in the middle of a book? It seemed like one of the cruelest parts of the whole story. If I were writing my own ending, I’d plan better. I’d make a prioritized list of all the books I hadn’t read yet and a timetable for how to finish them in time to not die mid-chapter.

I mean because it seems like there are two choices: 1) Cry for the next twelve months about the randomness yet beauty of life, the universe, and everything (which would probably justify avoiding the Planetarium, even on free days), and then, if I make it past 49, live the rest of my life under that increasingly terrifying cloud. Or 2) Live my potentially last year ever so that if our genes match exactly, like they just, just might, I’m ready.

amy up high

Amy and the city. By Adèle Phung.

I am inclined to choose the latter. My father, impossible as it seems given that he quit mid-book, was a planner. I am choosing to live ready for the end, and so far, things are on track. Here’s what I’d like to lock down in the next twelve months:

  • I want my legacy to include that I had kids who valued local produce. It sounds trite, considering life, death, loss, the meaning of it all, the disabled older brother, and all that, but are our shopping habits anything if not a metaphor for how we live? Every week of every summer, I have had a reason why our family is too busy or overbooked or out of cash or whatever to get to the enormous Farmer’s Market that happens for four months, twice a week, one block – ONE BLOCK – from my house. I want them to think that the normal course of events includes walking to get vegetables from the farmers who grew them, then going home to make them into dinner – not just popping stuff from the freezer into the microwave. At least, not in the summer.
  • I want them to have been forced by their mother to take piano lessons, or violin, or in some way have passed down the gift of music we were given as kids. It’s a thing we just haven’t gotten around to squeezing in. I want my kids to have more memories of reading and dance parties and picnics, less of watching Netflix while I clean the next room. Not that I’m cutting down on cleaning. I’m double-half German (both grandmothers), so that’s not going to happen. But if I knew I only had a year left to live, I’d find a way to make it into a Pine Sol dance party more often than not.
  • I want to find a Christmas Eve babysitter from another religion, or one who isn’t going home for the holidays, although this would need to be due to logistical issues rather than some kind of bitter family drama, and sing one last midnight mass.
  • In this scenario I will quiet my inner Ronald Reagan long enough to take out wads of cash from the ATM on the way to some of Chicago’s legendary (but absurdly overpriced) festivals. Taste of Chicago, Square Roots. It seems senseless to endure the winters here without at least a little bit of subsequent temerarious summer celebrating.
  • I’d buy a better blender, and some frozen kale. Life is too short to spend any time at all, much less as much as I do, envying the smoothie pictures posted on social media by my friends.
  • I will stop forgetting to make everyone take their vitamins. I have a degree in natural health, I’m the most organized person I know, but I appear to have some kind of mental block when it comes to remembering to open the vitamin cupboard until after everyone’s asleep. Or perhaps I will pay the teenager an allowance to go around and hand them out, which I’ve been making her save for college (the college I’ll take her to visit four years early as an 8th grade graduation present, so we can wear the hoodies and have the pennants up around the house while I’m still around).

Then, if nothing happens, if I live, we’ll just be another northside organic-vegetable-eating, festival-going, vitamin-taking, college-bound family, living out our days with a lot of blanket-tent-flashlight-shadow puppet shows and dance parties that somehow end with cleaner surfaces than they started with. We’ll just be those people. And then maybe, with so many more things to fit into a day, I’ll mostly not notice the cloud.

amy et al

Those people. By Adèle Phung.

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Not kidding, right after I read this, I bought a new blender. Thanks, Amy.

amy beaming

Here’s Amy’s essay I’ve Never Told Anyone That My Great Grandmother Was a Slave: A Crazy Autism Parent Speaks. Here she is on Twitter

 

Happy graduation to the kid, happy diabetiversary to me

Today he graduates. So very happy for him, and so proud. Proud of his creative outside-the-lines accomplishments throughout K-12, yeah, but mostly right now proud that he hung the rental robe on a hanger to get the wrinkles out, just like the directions said. Just like the directions said! Public education, everyone.

props to education

Today also marks twenty years with diabetes, for me. Which makes it the anniversary of being told pregnancy wasn’t a good idea. It was the first thing I asked, because we were on the fence about when to start that whole deal. The doctor was like, well, you can try, but you’ll have a high risk of ___, ___, ___ (blah blah things nobody who wants to have a baby wants to hear). That nailed it. We knew that now was the time. How else do you know that now is the time, other than somebody with a clipboard telling you that now is not the time?

actual vs perceived

This isn’t my usual way. There was just something about that day and that doctor. Also, I’m married to a person who sees rules and restrictions the way some people see gnats. It’s artful, how he waves them away. Like tai chi but a kind of tai chi that erases cement, if that’s a thing. Anyway. Pretty soon Jake was in the world.

powers

Today, at this point, there’s very little for which we can take credit. I didn’t even art-direct these photos. Honestly. I just made sure there was enough chalk for him to do what he wanted and I got the suit cleaned afterwards. That’s how it is, at this point.

this is his only suit

I do take partial credit for the look in the eye.

this look

It’s not my look and it’s not Scott’s but I’ll take some credit because I think there was something that sprung up off that clipboard that day, and lodged. Something like OK, mmm hmmm, we’ll just see about that. It’s a good look. It’s a very good gift. Happy diabetiversary to me.

here we are

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Portraits by Claudia Danielson. She is the best.

You haven’t killed a darling until you’ve regifted lipstick

I can’t even tell you how bad I wanted this to work for me. Look at it.

this isn't working

Look at the packaging.

ooo the packaging

Look how it works with other primary colors.

this palette

Look how it graces a cup.

look how it graces

But it didn’t look anything like this on me, it didn’t look good at all, so I called my friend Amy. She’s raven-haired and aqua-eyed and blah blah. I was like, ok, that perfect red you keep saying you want? I think I have it. My mother-in-law gave it to me for Mother’s Day. I love her so much and I love that she risked a color, a red, a perfect red called “poppy,” and I love the packaging and how the natural waxy-wax smells but I can’t. I just can’t. It’s everything wrong for me. It’s like when I pierced my nose a few years ago. I wanted that to work so bad. Looking back, I think what I really wanted was for my face to rearrange around some new point, like a new pin on a map, so I would look on the outside the way I was feeling on the inside. I mean, I was in an MFA program at the time. I was writing a lot, I was carrying around one of those recycled Rolling Stone purses with Lenny Kravitz on both sides. That kind of thing.

i know right

2008. You see what I’m saying.

Nothing like that happened. I still had my regular face plus a stainless steel dot. Nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t what I was going for. After a few weeks I thought maybe it would work if I had a ring, not a stud, so to be cautious, instead of wasting money on an actual nose ring, I gave it a test run with a hoop earring. Which, it turns out, was a geometry problem I hadn’t thought about in advance. Nose piercings are at a different angle than ear piercings. I guess. So it went up into skin that wasn’t previously pierced. Handily, I backed out and re-bent the wire. This went on. It must have been a Friday night because I remember thinking, upon waking the next day to the right side of my nose ballooned and pink, and just really bad-looking, I remember thinking ok, I’m gonna need the entire next 48 hours in the bathroom with peroxide to get to not looking like a public health hazard. I did it. Then I gave all my nose jewelry (not the hoop earring) to my sister-in-law Julie whose stud looks perfect and always has. Whatever. I got through it. This is always the right thing to do.

So Amy got the lipstick.

this is the moment

It looks perfect on her like I knew it would.

i knew it

Then she started talking about the work she needs to submit for an upcoming writing retreat, and what should she do? Should she submit new stuff, or reworked stuff the instructor has already seen and liked? It’s a common dilemma. I knew what she wanted to hear. This is where I got to level the score.

No, I said, you don’t get to submit the same stuff because that’s just so you can get the nice thing of being affirmed. You can’t even submit similar stuff. You have to get risky and submit your fringe, an untested story or voice or whatever, and see what the instructor says, see what the group has to say. See what you get out of that. And you’ll probably end up having to let go of a thing you loved, a whole story or a crafty-craft technique you’re really excited about, probably something you love because you thought it would flatter you or rearrange you or whatever, but it doesn’t, and the more you hang on the pinker and more infected it gets. So get rid of it. Give it up and be better off. Amy seemed unconvinced so I read her cards.

here you go amy

Then she’s like, mmmm hmmmm, still not convinced. I left her sitting there at the Coffee Hag. That was a couple hours ago, and I AM NOT KIDDING YOU she just now sent me this:

guess what amy said then

Spoilers redacted, obviously, because we’re even. I mean she has my lipstick but all is well. Some people look supercute in extreme altruism, some look good in red.

hers

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BONUS: Here’s the Tarot interpretation Amy didn’t ask for but got. Applicable to all writers and wearers of makeup: 1) The World, reversed, means fulfillment turned upside down. Wrecked. A tidy thing undone. I guess that’s me upending Ms. Lipstick’s plan. 2) The Devil, reversed, is willing bondage that’s not doing you any good, any more. Time to let go of your plan and perhaps a rhythm that’s comfortable but kind of limiting. Confining. Limiting in a willing bondage kind of way. Which, in this case, isn’t working. 3) The Emperor, upright, means it’s time to move. Change. Something material, your home, your sense of home. Or, obviously in this case, your lips.

The legs, the lighting, the food trucks

pumps ii

say what you want about the south

lantern

they make things pretty

i can accept these nude sandals

they wear a nude sandal with subtlety, the way god intended

they understand garden parties

they understand taste

they understand taste

nude sandals ii

they value good posture

heat

they respect the need for heat

boys

they appreciate an airport shoe shine

this is the one

they know how to wear a sidewalk, a truck, a night

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The actual wedding was beautiful, too. But all this footwear! These shiny shoes in the moonlight, with food trucks, which were the best possible thing for a garden wedding. The best. And I’m not really even a shoe person or a food person, but wow. Congratulations, Steve & Stephanie, on doing it so right.

And this is why The Frye does weddings

i love an a-line skirt

because i love an a-line skirt

i know i know i know !!!

because this is how all brides should dress
I WANT TO WEAR THIS EVERY DAY

because of good lighting

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plates. shoulder. fork. flame!

not at all threatening to the frye. not at all.

this dress this dress
I DON’T EVEN KNOW

i want these everywhere, instead of walls

and who doesn’t love beaded fringe

and i want to wear this staircase

and this my friends is a bathroom

if the coat room is good you know it’s good

the band takes pride in geting the names right

twist little girl

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Eucalyptusexy: A tribute to winter, your wife, and Vicks VapoRub ®

There she is.

there she is

She isn’t lounging in that kind of light you love – late morning summer, bedroom window, leaded glass, sun shining in like golden oil on her shoulders, waves of sweet exfoliation touching straps that keep her tank top just in place. On those shoulders. Warm and freckled, skin on fire with inner glow thanks to you there in the bedroom, Mr. Husband, in your t-shirt, boxer briefs. Goodbye tank top. Hello, Sunday. Make. Me. Coffee.

make me coffee

That is not the way it looks in January. It looks dark. It looks dirty. Big dust hairballs on the floor, crunchy ladybugs from autumn still a crust inside the window where the leaded glass is frosted and the light comes through just barely, rather chilly, rather gray.

january

Nothing gold. Nothing with powers to warm your wife who’s like a grub rolled up in bed, rolled in layers upon layers of chenille, fleece and flannel. Maybe tank top in there somewhere? Maybe skin? But way down where you can’t quite see. For sure can’t touch. Because it’s cold. And if you cannot make it warmer then you’ll have to put on hold your thoughts of marriage interactions, sweet late morning satisfactions. Goodbye, urges. Hello, bathrobe.

like a grub

But! There’s hope.

There is something, Mr. Husband, you can use to reach the woman deep inside that insulation. Just lean over the cocoon of her, and on that bedside table past the tissues, past the bottles, past the book club books and vaporizer – careful not to fall on her – keep reaching till your fingers feel the cool, slick plastic ridges of the jar that has the power to grant your wishes. It’s the substance that has magic like medicinal Absinthe but it’s quite legal, it’s quite easy. It’s quite aquablue and greasy. The key to what you need, to white-hot January love. It’s the one thing she wants more than heat. It’s Vicks sweet VapoRub ®.

medicinal absinthe

Ask her, please, if you could reach beneath the blankets and the sheets, and slide her woolen socks off gently and just moisturize her feet. With Vicks ®, which, you might know, is noted to have properties that soothe the worst bronchitis when applied to the bottoms of the feet. It’s the oddest, truest thing, and that small bit of conversation is a very good distraction from the fact that you’ve now lifted up the blankets and your hands are on her skin. Granted, ankles – but you’re there.

when applied to the bottoms

You just keep rubbing. Warm it up first, make sure nothing touches her that’s not as nice and hot as summer on her soles, her heels, her soft unshaven calves. Keep it warm. Keep it moving. Keep it smooth, Mr. Husband, and the next thing you both know she’s taking big deep drags of bedroom air. That chest that’s in there somewhere, under blankets? It is rising. It is falling. And her neck? It might be arching just enough that you can see a slice of flesh like winter moonrise cresting over threadbare flannel. It’s her throat! It is – yes! It is something close to chest.

she is happy

Close enough. You seize this moment. Keep one hand down at the bottom, keep it moving, keep her happy, keep your balance, reach your other hand around to find that Vicks ®, and then, just lightly, really slow and very slightly, bring that pearl of eucalyptus close to where she can inhale it – as a service, as a kindness, you are Mr. Winter Selfless, taking care of feet and sinuses – and watch. Next thing you know, sure as your unshoveled snow, she will rise. She will peel the fleece and flannel and chenille. She’ll sit upright, or just enough that you can access things you haven’t seen in weeks.

she is warm

Do not pause to take it in. You do not risk air on her skin. You fast unbutton. Make a tent out of the covers. If the grease that’s on your fingers makes that clumsy? Tear the flannel. An advantage of it being old and ugly Is that no one’s going to argue hours later when a shirt is found in tatters on the floor. Hours later when you’re both quite newly warm.

Hours, or minutes. Doesn’t matter. You have turned it into summer In the bedroom, and there’s nothing out those windows that can touch the way it feels inside this minty cloud of sweetness, this hot seal of eucalyptus that adheres you to the woman who is worth all that and more.

She is close. She is yours. She is flannel on the floor.

on the floor

She is warm. She is happy.

she is flannel

She is eucalyptusexy.

oh yeah she is

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EUCALYPTUSEXY is now a micro motion picture by Jacob Strunk with music by Paris Zax and gorgeousness by Lindsey Vaerst. A warm and emotive gorgeousness that mocks Minnesota winters in a most brazen way. Ah, Hollywood.

Originally performed as part of Mankato Mosaic’s 2012 Brrrlesque show, featuring the quilt-wearing, sock-twirling, lovely Launa Helder. 

This post not (yet) endorsed by Vicks VapoRub ®.