February 13, 2014
At this point, we’re five episodes into the fourth season of the Showtime series Shameless. Before this season began, I had always viewed this show as an excellent form of entertainment that blended chaos and bad decisions with stories of poverty and rough neighborhoods and the people borne of them. It was sometimes poignant, approaching serious topics with a bit of humor, and always ridiculous. Trying to explain the plot to someone who doesn’t watch it only comes out sounding insane, like life couldn’t possibly be that f***ed up. Before this season I viewed this show as an excellent study for a writer because it delves so seriously into the lives of the people on the bottom rung, and all their unsavory acquaintances and all the ways they cheat and lie to make it by in the Southside of Chicago, where they are cut no breaks by the system or anyone higher up on the food chain.
When season 3 ended, it actually looked like the series itself could have come to an end. We saw Fiona (Emmy Rossum) finally excelling in a sales job that gave her a steady paycheck and health insurance, she’s finally got custody of her siblings, and Frank (William H. Macy), her father and the father of the five younger siblings she’s adopted, is dying of liver failure, after a lifetime of substance abuse and terrible decisions. Lip is heading off to college, after several teenage romances have forever altered his perspective, and Sheila is looking for meaning and a place to pour her OCD and manic energies after her nearly-brain-dead daughter heads off into the sunset with her husband to “heal” somewhere out West. I honestly didn’t know where the show would go from there, after we had spent three seasons watching Frank at his constant antics to find more money, booze, and ways to cheat the system out of every opportunity for both of those. It was time for all of these characters to face realities.
Season four has blown me away. It has taken these characters to places I never thought I’d see. Fiona has spent three seasons showing us that if only it weren’t for Frank, they would all be fine, because she’s the responsible adult holding up the household. Certainly, Frank has never done that and we’ve seen Fiona do an awful lot more than the average twenty-something has to. But here’s the thing — Fiona can no longer blame anyone but herself for the mistakes she’s been making now, and the mistakes she been making are huge. Life-changing things, like exposing her three-year-old brother to cocaine after an unstable fling leaves it at her house and landing him in the E.R. in critical condition and landing her in handcuffs in the back of a police car. That’s on you, big girl. She didn’t wind up in a terrible situation once again because of your drunken father or because the bills are due and the money’s dried up. She was industrious in all those years she had to scrape the bottom of the barrel and do what it took to survive, working a a grocery store where the manager took blow jobs from all the female associates in shifts and in a HAZMAT suit cleaning shit out of the city sewage pipes, covered in maggots and back slime. We’ve seen her survive things we could not imagine. As soon as the regularity of a 9-to-5 and health insurance got her feeling normal, and dare we say it, bored, we start to notice all the faults of this entirely human character. And when she does make a few bad decisions–sleeping with her boss/boyfriend’s brother and then using the cocaine he leaves behind at her house later–right in a row, she definitely, most certainly, will not get a break. Fiona, have you learned nothing about how the world works? That there are never any breaks in your world?
It’s the best place this show could have taken her. The same goes with Frank. Facing death, even entirely of his own volition, is giving us some deep insight on this detestable man who we’ve seen treat all his children like absolute scum throughout the entire series. We’re finally seeing his son Carl figure out that all this time, the scheming and the illegal activities countless, it hasn’t been bonding time; it has been his father using him, in every single case. Frank told Carl that Carl had cancer, was dying, in order to try and get some money or prizes from one of those Make-a-wish companies. Carl honestly thought he was dying. And Frank wound up getting nothing out of it, as usually happens. Now, we’re finally seeing him understand, and this season the stakes have been much higher. We’ve watched Carl spend the amount of time usually involved in a full-time job trying to find a replacement liver or any other means to help his father live, scoffing at Fiona and Li, his older siblings, for their lack of sympathy for their dying father. There is no way to feel any sympathy for Frank Gallagher, but do we ever feel bad for Carl, especially as he catches on now.
I like Shameless because the entire premise of the show–it’s the name of the dang the show–is to have these characters make the wrong decision, or at least a bad one, in every single situation they are faced with. Usually it’s been as a means to survive. When Kevin and Veronica inherit the local bar, The Alibi Room (which is the most perfect name for a seedy bar ever, can I say) and learn it’s a money pit that they definitely can’t afford to have drag them down while they have triplets on the way, the agree to let Mickey the angry closeted thug start up a Russian “massage” parlor in the upstairs apartment. Because, of course that’s how they would rent out the upstairs space. That’s what I mean. So far it’s been funny, insane, and entertaining, while often serious too, but it’s seemed wholly unsustainable. You can’t have that many characters doing these things season after season without an audience beginning to wonder how it continues to work out, and honestly, getting bored.
I’m less bored now than I ever have been. I try to imagine the writer’s room for a show like this. It has got to be epic the kinds of things they cook up.
This season, with Sheila (Joan Cusack) hanging out with her online dating find Roger Runningtree and making oodles of succotash since she’s 1/32 Menominee Indian, it might be the most “normal” I’ve seen her yet, considering she spent a season sleeping with her teenage daughter’s 40-year-old husband and turning him back into a kinky sex addict after he’d worked so hard to recover. (If you don’t watch Shameless, perhaps you’re beginning to understand what I mean by insanely ridiculous.) (And also, check out that fabulous log cabin quilt gracing the Gallagher couch now. Perfectly improvised, like them.)
All Sheila’s weird brand of normalness is helping to balance out the new extremes we see in Frank and Fiona. It’s been a fabulous introspection for these two main characters, especially as we watch Fiona begin to understand her own addictions, and how they’ve continually been plaguing her and ruining the otherwise happy home she’s been working towards for so long. It’s not just Frank who’s been wrecking their home. And with other problems fading into the background, like money flow and bad parents and people who want to kill various members of her family, fresh and clear light is shown on her own weaknesses. It’s not that we all can’t have our weaknesses either. It’s just that Fiona has spent the entire series ensuring us that she’s got it all together, if only the Gallagher household could catch a break for once.
But the writers have definitely not given her a break, even when they’re finally “moving up the food chain” as she puts it to Lip. And it’s bringing her to fabulous new “shameless” places, and shameful lows. I’m excited to see where Lip shows his true colors now, with Fiona potentially facing very serious criminal charges for hard drugs and potentially manslaughter of her own sibling. You know, one of the ones she’s worked so frickin’ hard to take care of.
Good, good television. Writers, be jealous of these writers. It’s seriously fun stuff to send a character down the path of a bad decision and see how they fail or succeed. It’s what I’m trying to do better every day with my own fiction.
January 30, 2014
By now, my story is not only one in a huge anthology of the Epic Snow Disaster of Atlanta 2014 (my title), it is actually seeming quite mild compared to the ones of people camping out in drug stores and Home Depots, sleeping in their cars, running out of gas, and giving birth on the side of the perimeter highway I-285. While my experience might pale in comparison to other dangerous horror stories coming out, it was by no means less traumatic or valid an experience, and it must be documented. In case you’re wondering, after five hours in your car and only a couple miles’ into a 22-mile commute, you are feeling all the same emotions as the guy next to you. Whether your journey takes 5 or 10 or 15 or even 25 hours at that point makes no difference.
I’m calling mine a “mental metamorphosis,” because that is the only way I can describe the course of my day, me and my automobile, alone together for that many hours, watching everyone go crazy around me, spinning out and spinning around across sheets of raw, treacherous, menacing ice. Just after my eighth hour in the car, still miles from home, I realized the progression, and noted the various phases of my mental state during disaster. It went like this.
Cool, there’s snow outside my office window! *Walks outside, takes pictures of dusting. Returns to office and drinks cup of hot chocolate.*
Annoyed. 12:30 – 2:00. This started everything off, as I was feeling excited to have a surprise half-day, which turned quickly into a surprise insane commute day (thanks to Shellie Haskins for perfectly phrasing the initial reaction). Ugh, I get this half day, and I’m not even going to be able to take advantage of it. It took me ninety minutes to get to the I-75 southbound ramp from KSU’s campus, which is literally right next to the ramp. I cannot even describe or fathom how this is ACTUALLY possible, except to say that I spent the whole time idled on Frey Road. I most certainly could have walked at least three times this speed. It’s now been beaten to a pulp, but everyone evacuating at the same time was a terrible, truly catastrophic event that created the larger event in store for all of us. There were two cars in one of the two lanes of Frey Road facing the wrong direction, both abandoned. Perhaps that had something to do with it. No police, except the ones directing traffic. It was not a day to call 911. (I’m not faulting the police, just saying that people can’t resolve the scene of an accident by themselves, so the scenes remain, are abandoned, cause more havoc. That’s the progression of things.)
Scared. 2:00 – 2:30. After I got to I-75 southbound, I started to actually get scared that I might not have enough gas, as I had 3/8 of a tank, but spent an hour just trying to get one exit down on the interstate. So I got off and navigated through the parking lot that was Barrett Parkway (more than it normally is!) and filled up my tank. I was actually surprised to find an open pump and find that it still had gas. But quickly feared leaving the place, as the parking lot was madness and cars were sliding down and up and back down the hill with the entrance. This is bad, I’m nowhere near home. I walked inside to pee and get snacks, afraid to leave my car in that madhouse parking lot, but sure as hell not going to try to move it away from the pump just to park and walk inside. But panic struck again when I saw how long the line was to the bathroom. Quickly resorted my priorities, knowing I had two slices of wheat bread in the car, I would only have time to use the restroom and would have to hightail it out of there before it got any crazier. There was a definite end-of-days desperation and chaos going around in everyone’s conversations, people stranded here or there, walking to their cousin’s or to somewhere they had managed to get a hotel room. Hotels were already booked solid, and this is when I first heard that students in Cherokee County Schools would be staying overnight at the school, unless parents could get to them (doubtful if you looked out the window), because the buses wouldn’t be able to traverse the roads. Honestly, that is the safest decision they could have made in the situation. But the Hispanic mother in front of me was panicked. Keep in mind that this was hours before the State Of Emergency was declared, and our city and state leaders would, the next day, claim that things only began to get really bad after 5:00 or 6:00 PM. We would hear plenty of tales of students who had gotten on buses and were stranded out on the roads with the rest of us into the night.
Thankful. I made it out of the gas station lot, onto the Barrett artery, and onto I-75. By now, I was no longer annoyed at losing my day, and just thankful that I had a full tank of gas and as long as traffic was slow or stopped, I wouldn’t be in much danger or wrecks, by my doing or another’s. Slow and steady. That quickly turned into stopped and stalled. The lanes were entirely masked now, so people began forming lanes where they thought they might be, including on the two shoulders. This annoyed me to no end, because if an emergency vehicle did have to get by to aid what was clearly a billion accidents ahead that had us all stopped, there would be no way to do it. Has everyone lost it? Obviously. I ate my two slices of bread in a quick frenzy, realizing it was long past lunchtime, thankful I had grabbed them. My original thought had been that I would stop lazily by the grocery store for egg salad to accompany said bread, back in the normalcy of my office. What a stupid, stupid notion. There was no time for grocery stores anyway now, and certainly they had all shut down too, and sent their employees out here to join me. I wonder if any of them have egg salad?
Complacent. I listened to my audiobook, the fittingly apocalyptic 1000-page epic The Stand, which is a 47-hour audiobook. And sat in my car in traffic on the interstate, waiting for something to give.
Content. Around 3:30, after I was over the character’s woes in The Stand, I propped my iPhone up against the edge of the dashboard and watched the full hour-long episode of True Detective that aired Sunday. I enjoyed it even more the second time through. I was stuck behind a truck that hadn’t moved in half an hour.
[There are no lanes!!!!]
Angry. 5:30 or so. Expletives and banging the steering wheel phase. I realized that the truck I was behind, blocking any chance for a larger perspective of what was going on, wasn’t moving either because he was stuck, or he was stuck because he was too near behind two other semi trucks that were stuck. I yelled and screamed and roared. I only ever roar when I am alone in my car and angry, because it is a pathetic thing probably. I bang my hands on the steering wheel. This is what I did as I pulled out from behind the truck. Lanes were long gone by this point, and we all just drove around the interstate like tiny players in video games, speeding past obstacles in the road. More accurately though, we crawled past obstacles. This was literally like I was in a video game. It required driving skill against the ice while we also snaked through, one singular car at a time, around the jackknifed trucks that seemed to stall in clusters. Throughout the day there would be three spots where we were bottlenecked by jackknifed trucks blocking multiple lanes, and they were always in pairs or trios.
Then it also got dark. Oh, shit. Excuse me. But that’s all I could think.
Below is a picture I shot of the second set of jackknifed trucks blocking all the lanes. Cars on the right, you can see, are turned off and have been abandoned, blocking the shoulder or rightmost lanes for passage as well. So we drove, single file, through the slot in between the big rigs.
Terrified. What I wasn’t expecting each time we got through these tiny passages was the absolute solitude of road afterward. You and couple other cars, spaced well apart, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles. Because now you can go as fast as you want. There are no lanes and no cars and certainly no law enforcement. But there’s also no one to help you if you flip, careen, spin yourself into a rut, injure yourself or your car at all. Proceed at your own risk. Every muscle in my body was tensed, my left foot pressing as hard as it could into the floor to calm the rest of myself as I drove, concentrating hard on my slow, even acceleration and braking.
(No lanes. True video game style. That’s just a sheet of slick, thick, totally untreated ice. This picture is INTERSTATE 75. All six-odd lanes. Insane to me.)
Confident. When I navigated the inclines and declines like a total pro, it was exhilarating. This phase was a short-lived one in between and immediately following each terrified phase.
Terrified. Yep, back to that. Just keep driving, steady steady. It was around this point that I watched a car fifty yards in front of me do an entire 360 turn after losing traction. They came to a stop in their fancy Infinity ahead of me, then slowly pulled over to the left shoulder/lane/part-of-road-no-longer-distinguishable. I was getting very comfortable with the terrifying situation of witnessing cars lose their traction and spin furiously. I yelled vehemently at them inside my car. THAT IS NOT HOW YOU FIX THIS HAVEN’T YOU EVER DRIVEN ON ICE EVER ONCE IN YOUR LIFE OR HASN’T SOMEONE EVER TOLD YOU HOW IT WORKS? SLOWSLOWSLOWSLOW. Easy on the gas, easy on the brakes. The downhills, they are still filling me with terror. But I do every single one like a pro.
Tired. I joked to myself that at least if I was still in my car tonight NPR would be airing the State of the Union Address. (By the time it actually did air, I was certainly still in my car but far too delirious and strung out and exhausted to care what the president said.) I’d seen one of those electronic signs that said that ALL LANES were BLOCKED at West Paces Ferry, so I got off, thinking I would take 41/Northside just for a mile or so and bypass it. An hour and a half later, after watching half a dozen cars struggle, fail, and slide back down the small hill I hadn’t even recalled on Northside, I turned around too and was back at the exact same exit I had gotten off at before. There were a number of phases included in this smaller highway period, which was probably between 6:00 and 8:00 or so.
Excited. I’m going to go around this! Oh wait, definitely not. A random guy heading the other way that helped a girl turn her car back around after it was clear she wasn’t making it up the hill rolled his window down at my expression and said “It’s really bad that way. Don’t go if you have any other option.” Cars were parked by the dozens all along the sides, too. Pretty much at every phase in this story, that is a fact, a sideline decoration.
Resentful. Starting to fume at those who failed us. This is when I start to blame. If they had closed the university a mere two hours before they did (they notified staff and faculty around 10 AM) that the university would be closing, I would have just stayed at home to begin with. Never would have left, or would have at least turned straight back around again. I hadn’t yet seen one salt truck or sand truck, even though weeks before, just for some extra cold, I had seen sand laid on the surface streets of my city. Where was all this preparedness we supposedly had after the last time we had a “Snowpocolypse” in 2011?!!?#$)(#$%*(@#)&*&*($*&()$%(#*%& That was this phase. Resentful to everything that had landed me right here in this logjam on the side of the interstate, seven hours after i’d begun my journey home.
[Below: Hmm, I haven't seen the Icy Mix yet but I'll keep my eye out...]
The Irish Music Phase. Giving in. Perhaps, delirious. The highlight of being stranded on Highway 41, by this point deciding I would turn around again and head back toward the scary interstate I’d just left, began my Irish music phase. I am most thankful for iTunes Radio, which has a killer Celtic channel. It was just the mood booster I needed, to get me out of the actual mood I was in, the I Want To Take A Nap Here On The Side Of The Road phase. Actually, the next day, I saw photos of people sleeping in the aisles of the CVS right by there, West Paces Ferry and I-75. In fact, whole reason I had gotten off the interstate was because right at that point in the highway, there was another cluster of stalled, jackknifed, or otherwise traffic-blocking vehicles and trucks. So at least, by getting back on the interstate on the on-ramp there avoided me going through that. It did cost me almost two hours of my life though…
Defeated. Yes, by this point it was getting pretty hard to feel encouraged or keep up the energy. Hunger sets in deep. At least if you don’t drink anything, you also don’t have to relieve yourself on the side of highway. In the real apocalypse people might stop caring about decency. But see, we’re all going to have to face each other next week when it’s 60 degrees out. Do not be fooled by this state of chaos. Do not leave your car on the side of the road, Jessie. Commandment to self. By now, stories are all over my Facebook of people just abandoning them and walking the last miles to their houses. All I can think of is, how is anyone going to be able to fix the roads later if we’re all littering our cars on them? Also, WHO is going to DRIVE me back a few days later? I won’t send Ben out in this because I gave up. I will not be defeated…
Exhaustion. When you stick with it past the defeated phase, it’s just exhaustion. I guess by this time the president was talking but I could not concern myself with matters of governance when the ones protecting me and fellow Georgians were failing so grandly right before my eyes. All the previous emotions are still in there somewhere, especially resent. The most basic purpose of government is to keep citizens safe, right? I have now been endangered going on nine or ten hours — who even knows now? — along with thousands of others. My car and body are healthy, but what if they weren’t? You do see how fragile it all is. No one could help anyway. In The Stand, hours earlier, I listened while a small group tried to perform emergency surgery on one of their own, who survived the Superflu that ended civilization but then had an appendix attack in the weeks after. He dies in the middle of surgery. But, as they point out to each other, he was certainly going to die anyway. They tried. I thought again how I might have stopped and bought some beer or liquor, because not a damn soul would have been there to tsk-tsk me for drinking in my car in the middle of this mess. My friend Katie said via text that reports were saying 911 was useless, they wouldn’t answer even if you called. So just don’t call. This reminds me of a very particular part in The Stand, as the survivors who have not yet gotten sick realize the responders they depend on are stuck in the same thing. EMTs and police officers and firefighters get the Superflu too. Those same responders are stuck in the same gridlock as me. We’re on our own, citizens.
Stuck. Stuck. Stuck. This is the Rite Of Passage Certain Failure Ice Hill of Interstate 75-Southbound at North Avenue. Turns out the reason I have been idling under the 17th Street bridge for over an hour isn’t because of all the GDOT trucks salting the road or freeing stuck trucks. It’s just because we’re all faced with this particular little stretch of the interstate where you slide and spin and slide and collide until you make it through the patch, or you block everyone while you fail. There is nowhere to go and no one to help, so you may as well just keep on turning your wheel, accelerating slowly, inching up. This is where, for the first time all night, I lose my traction and start spinning. But it is the most insane thing I’ve ever seen, where pickup trucks and school buses and semi trucks and trucks pulling open trailers full of stacked up, ramshackle rocking chairs (yes, there were two of them, traveling together) all slid around on the ice together, just trying to surmount this one single little patch of road. I was less than a mile from my exit. And less than two miles from home. It was after 10:30. I’m in L gear (which I assume is 1 on my little Scion) and I’m trying, trying, trying. People are honking, people are angry, people are pushing one another up the stretch. I think well over 1000 accidents were reported. But I’m telling you, if I had hit anything, I would have said, “screw it.” There was no way I would have waited for the police or anything. I would have just kept driving. Like everyone else.
I took this picture of one helping another up at the very peak of the bad patch, when I was spinning myself. The only thing to do was keep trying, because the alternative was creating even more of a blockade to those behind us. Nowhere to go but forward, slowly, in mayhem.
20 MPH! I make it up, I regain my traction, I haven’t collided with anyone! It’s all downhill now, towards the North Avenue exit and finally, to my exit, Williams Street/Georgia Dome/Downtown. I take it at my fastest speed all day, about 20 mph, and even the hilly Ivan Allen Boulevard doesn’t phase me, because as long as I can maintain my speed without disabled cars ahead of me, I got this. I drive the mile to our building with ease, and slide into my designated parking spot inside the lot.
Relief. Joy. Overwhelming tears. I stand up for the first time since 2:30 when I was in line for the restroom at the gas station. My legs feel the fire of blood again, of motion. It feels otherworldly. I am instantly crying. By the time I’m in the elevator I’m sobbing. I fall into Ben in the kitchen, he hugs me there. I open a beer. We eat taquitos, scrapping the scheduled red curry that would involve exertion beyond pressing a button on the microwave. He was sweet and waited in solidarity for me to get home before eating dinner. Four taquitos each. I was home almost exactly at 11:00, 10.5 hours after I’d begun the 22-mile drive.
[Below: Atlanta Tuesday Jan. 28 compared to the iconic Walking Dead image of the city after the zombie apocalypse. Image via Reddit.]
That was Tuesday, January 28, 2014. Since then, I have not inched anywhere near my car for 36 hours now. It is now Thursday morning, and hundreds of stories have been shared. Truck drivers who’ve spent decades traversing the country who say they’d never experienced anything like this, not in any state or storm, not ever. If I have any say, I won’t be going anywhere today either. KSU (my employer) has been closed yesterday and today, thankfully, because I most certainly would have taken yesterday as a sick day, to recover from the mental and emotional and physical trauma, and I’m thankful for today too. Yesterday it was all national news coverage about this, and there were many stories more severe and desperate than mine. But this one still matters. It was awful. It was failure. It was not organized. It was pure chaos.
So I’m interested to see what it’s like when I do go back out. Not because I’m concerned about road conditions, I expect those are shaping up to be ok by now. No, it’s because my relationship with these roads has changed. There is no way you can spend an hour under the 17th Street bridge waiting to approach the Rite Of Passage Certain Failure Ice Hill of Interstate 75-Southbound at North Avenue and then get to it, having never lost your traction yet that day, spin out at least 40 times as you accelerate slowly, shifting your wheels and your steering wheel, sliding backward, sliding right and left towards other cars as they try to pass you too, and finally, pass through it, without significantly altering your perception of that road forever. Was it even an incline? I’d never considered it before. Once you’ve seen the Howell Mill Road exit littered with abandoned cars, several facing exactly backward towards you, each an additional barrier to your passage, you can never unsee this. It was as I imagine an apocalyptic event. But one in which actually we’re all going to have to get our cars back after, false alarm guys, so it’s really not the same kind of reckless abandon people might feel in an actual end-of-world event. Oh, you mean I can’t just ram my car into everything and then leave it to die there, as I set out to find a small community with which I can start afresh? Damn…
I am so thankful I was able to get my car home with me that night, and that it incurred no damage. There were many times I considered all the cars flailing around on the road, times the sheer number of miles I had to travel, and thought there was absolutely no way I would get through this without some collision. It seemed inevitable. I am quite proud of my slow accelerating and deceleration, something I’ve shied from many times visiting my hard-ass brethren up in Northern Michigan. It’s the downhill that scares me the most. I let the sheer panic stay in my tense limbs, but drove to success better than I expected of myself.
But I cannot unsee the roads the way I saw them. Absolutely lawless. Why not make two new lanes on the two shoulders? This isn’t an emergency type situation where a medic or firetruck or police car might have to get through, right? You know, the reason that shoulder lanes exist? No, surely not, we’ll just use those for our sliding bumper cars, thanks. If I’d have been drinking, there would have been absolutely no consequence. There wasn’t enough manpower to aid in all the actual emergencies, let alone enough to badger some emotional basketcase with a beer in her hand. Alas, I was running dry.
As in any good survival story, I have a few thanks to issue. I would like to thank the good people in line with me at the BP station on Barrett Parkway in Kennesaw, for sharing our early fears and stories in solidarity while we all waited impatiently to urinate and scrunched our noses when someone had to go Number 2. Hey, it’s all out there now, guys, we’re seeing the world fall apart together. I would like to thank the people who sent me text messages (phone calls weren’t going through after 2 pm) sending their love, prayers, well wishes: normally I wouldn’t thank you for texting me while driving, but my actual driving was limited this day. And don’t worry, I wasn’t thinking of you guys when I was petrified-on-ice-driving anyway. I would like to thank my new Midas tires, purchased a mere two months before, for your blessed, blessed traction. I would like to thank my Michigan roots. Somewhere inside me, you knew what to do… even if I was outwardly panicked. I would like to thank the two slices from the loaf of bread in my office that I happened to grab, on a last-minute whim, as I walked out the door. It was the only food I had. Thank you, Wheat Bread. I would also like to thank Audible, HBO Go, and iTunes Radio for their major support in this saga. How ironic that my current audiobook is the epic saga of the end of the world, The Stand. So thanks, also, Stephen King.
This was not about Atlanta and her citizens freaking out over 2 inches of snow. This is about a confluence of events that created a perfect storm of chaos that no one “saw coming” that led to immense failure and breakdown of the system. We were endangered, left stranded, and it was a terrible failure of officials and their preparedness in the face of disaster. I hope that the memory stays fresh enough for all of us, taken in and helped by strangers, walking miles and seeing insane things on the highways, that it can lead to a very real discussion about how this happened and what we can learn from it. All I’ve wanted is an apology from leaders. We messed up, it wasn’t great, we’re working to ensure we learn from this. It’s been all exhausting blame game, which is frustrating. It’s many things, that fault lies a dozen places.
My story is a single episode in an epic saga that has played out on national news and within the small lives and communities throughout the metro area. It was a day of mental and emotional range I have not ever experienced. It belongs in the compendium of this event.
[Below: Atlanta from the bridge above Freedom Parkway, the same vantage point of the famous Walking Dead image, on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Image via WABE News.]
October 10, 2013
Some details for our guests…
I figured since we don’t have a website (we don’t have nearly enough to say to merit that), I’d post a few items to note here so that everyone knows what to expect and where to go on October 26.
Rooftop reception begins at 8 pm on Saturday, October 26. Invite only, please. It will be held on the communal rooftop terrace at our apartment building, and there will be either a person or some kind of decoration to let you know you’re in the right spot.
Parking is along Marietta Street, on the same side as the building itself. I have counted more than 20 cars easily on the street at others’ rooftop events, but even so, carpooling with at least one other person will help cut down on the number of cars taking up space. (I assume many of you are carpooling anyway, at least with your date.)
The desserts and drinks will be plentiful! Cakes, doughnuts, pops, and plenty of other delicious treats. A menu and fully-stocked bar. This is an after-dinner event – I don’t want any of you going into a sugar coma from the drinks and desserts because you came on an empty stomach! You’ve been warned. (We will be bringing in reinforcements for party-goers who stay past the half-way mark of the night.)
I would call this semi-formal. No tuxes in sight, but come wearing your most fun, fancy frocks! And a note, in the fall evenings, up on the roof, it can get a bit breezy, so a lovely little coat, shawl, scarf, or other coverup for the ladies will be a wise decision.
Please bring your smartphones or cameras (or both, heck!) and snap lots of pictures for us! We want everything candid, nothing lame like us standing in front of a brick wall. So we’re counting on you to take some really fun pics. We’ll have a few cameras on-hand as well. Maybe some props, if I can scrounge some up here somewhere… But I can definitely say that the backdrop will be gorgeous and you’ll want to take at least a few.
Sorry if we made it tough on any of you by not registering for gifts. We are blessed with many things already and didn’t want to ask for more stuff while also inviting you to a reception-only event where we don’t even feed you fancy chicken. But the good news is, if we’ve invited you, you’re part of a small group of people most special to us, and so it’s safe to assume you know us well enough to have an idea what we might like. All that said, though, we really just want to see your face! Please don’t stress about this part.
If you’ve got any other questions at all, please reach out to me! You should have either my phone number or email address, Twitter or Instagram handle, any way that works for you. I am more than happy to answer anything – hotels, shoe advice, whatever you need. Can’t wait to see you!
September 24, 2013
Today I am 26. Last year, when I turned 25, I made a few goals, which I posted for the world to judge on this blog. They were:
1. Not die while running. Or at least, run one mile without having to walk.
2. write a novel.
3. make a flying geese quilt.
Now, with 365 more days behind me, this is what I’ve accomplished towards those goals.
Goal 1: Run a mile without walking.
It is quite amazing that last year at this time I was only just a few weeks into my Couch-2-5k app. I remember the day in October when I ran a whole mile without stopping to walk, for the first time in my entire life. It’s actually quite inspiring to reflect on that now, since I’ve been in a running rut all summer and have needed to take walking breaks in between bursts of running. And I’m slow; I’ll always be slow. I’m ok with that. But I spent the winter being awesome at running, in no other way than that I kept on doing it, didn’t hate it, and felt especially great when I was done with a route. I really hope it comes back to me when the weather turns for good to those crisp fall and winter nights that witnessed it last year.
Not being able to afford a gym turned out to be the start of a pretty incredible challenge, new activity, and goal MET.
Achieved: Miles run October 15, 2012 – September 23, 2013: 287.88*
*(estimate only, this counts runs I clocked in MapMyRun.)
Goal 2: Write a novel.
Not only have I now been working on my first novel for a year, I’ve got a head filled with ideas for more and I know I could spend the rest of my life writing them down. It’s like the floodgates opened, with the start of that one. There is utter freedom in creating something from your imagination. As a trained historian, it is a process that is the opposite of everything I’ve been taught. Now, I’m not writing about magic or aliens or other science fiction or fantasy subjects (though at least one of the ideas in my head does involve a parallel universe), so there is still a significant grounding in reality and real events. My novel is based on a real murder that took place in 1988 in Michigan. I have a loose idea of the events that transpired. But, like the disclaimer notes:
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
I am ninety percent through the first draft of my novel, by my best estimate. So I can’t exactly check this goal off my list. But the fact that I didn’t give up either and I’m still plugging away is more significant than finishing by this self-imposed deadline anyway. And I’ve written, to date, 117,482 words towards my goal.
Achieved: 117,482 words (approx. 90 percent of a first draft)*
*The average novel is between 50,000 and 150,000 words.
Goal 3: Make a flying geese quilt.
Ah, yes. The flying geese quilt. Well, I did make some flying geese. I have a few rows of them and I’m liking them more and more the longer I fiddle and ponder them. But I did not, alas, finish a flying geese quilt by my 26th birthday. But the main reason for this is that it ended up being quite a year for births and marriages, and though the list of people I might make a quilt for is small, many of them had these major milestones in the past twelve months. So, I did make several other quilts in its stead.
For Alma, born November of 2012, because her mother meant so much to me during an uncertain time in adolescence.
Modern Sampler Quilt
These quilt squares taught me core quilting skills, many of which I’d yet to learn, in the Whipstitch Your First Modern Quilt online course. I finished it on Christmas Eve — just in time — so I could give it to Ben’s parents for Christmas. This was also my first official free-motion quilting project, since I usually tend towards straight line quilting, it was a fun challenge outside my comfort zone. This was also my first quilt with intentional sashing. Obviously the mac daddy square here is the tumbling block, with all those y-seams, but my favorites wound up being the Card Trick and Ohio Star blocks (third row, middle and right blocks).
Jake’s Diamond Quilt
This project was last-minute for sure, but I knew once I bought my plane ticket to Jake’s snowy April Michigan wedding that there was no way I could pass up the chance to make my closest cousin a quilt to celebrate his marriage. I used vintage mens shirts in bright, native prints that I’d been keeping in my stash for years, waiting for the right use. I found them together, red base and pink base, at a Goodwill years before. For this midwestern couple, I was picturing masculine winter wardrobes and cold nights where it’s cozy inside. This was another quilt that I finished the hand-sewn binding on in the hotel room on the day of the wedding. Check out how much snow was still on the ground in mid-April Houghton.
Lauren and Dave’s Michigan Pixel Quilt
I won’t go into too much detail on this here, because I’ve already explained the inspiration, technique, and process of the pixel quilt here. I’ll just say, this required the most prepwork, advanced planning, and math I have ever put into a quilt. It also marks the first time I created a pattern on my own that I’ve actually mathematically calculated and written out. My usual made up pattern is in my head and involves a process called winging it. (Like Jake’s quilt above.) Recreating the Great Lakes and the state of Michigan in 2.5-inch squares of fabrics obviously required the exact opposite kind of creative process. But it was probably the most rewarding and exhilarating quilt I’ve done yet, as I watched it actually start to look like something. Lauren and Dave are both natives of Michigan now living in Georgia, just like me. They were married in June 2013.
Baby Boy Watson Math Quilt
My best friend (we just celebrated or 13th “anniversary” on September 21, 2013) Ashley Watson is about to have her second child, a boy. Her due date is actually tomorrow (September 25) but I’m still holding out hope she goes into labor today and that we’ll share a birthday. (My mom’s due date for me was September 25 as well.) I don’t know the name yet, but I had this quilt in mind ever since I visited Austin, Texas for QuiltCon back in February, and I didn’t know the gender but knew I needed to use the math-and-grid fabric from the Archictextures fabric line, since both the kid’s parents are math teachers. I also used a chain link garden path quilt pattern I bought at QuiltCon on a whim — I rarely buy patterns for quilts. But I really liked the non-square shapes and those little angles in the corners. So I kept making squares until I ran out of all those fabrics. Hope it’s big enough for the little man Watson when he arrives.
Achieved: Five quilts, none that are flying geese, but all were given as gifts for people I love. Two wedding quilts, two baby quilts, one Christmas gift.
For clarity, because quilting friends might be wondering, the baby quilts are both about 35″ x 50″ and the other three are comfortable lap-size quilts, about 50″ x 65″ to my memory. Those aren’t exact numbers at all. But, for example, the Michigan quilt is quite large, not a wall hanging like it was originally conceptualized to be.
I’d say it’s been a pretty good year of goal-reaching overall. It’s been important for me to have these personal goals and creative outlets as I’ve struggled with finding meaning in the variety of positions I’ve had professionally in the last twelve months. Like many probably, my passions are in what I do after my day job. Shocking though it may seem, marketing an ad hoc reporting platform is not what I set out to do when I earned two degrees in history. Still holding out for the grand possibilities I see in the year ahead (and years ahead) within the field I’m trained for. But I’ll still be writing, and quilting, and yes, sometimes running, no matter where my career leads.
Here’s to the year ahead.
September 24, 2013
Write now, right now.
I think a lot of people have sort of suggested that the stuff that I do may be second-class because there’s so much of it. My response to that is, I’m going to quit and be dead for a long time. This is the time that I’ve got and I want to use it to the max. I really want to try and mine everything that I’ve got.
- Stephen King
August 20, 2013
New broke this morning of Elmore Leonard’s passing, at age 87, after a few weeks recovering from a stroke. I have to admit as someone who’s new to the world of crime fiction, I’ve never read any of his work. I am almost ashamed to admit it, reading all the great stuff people are saying this morning. But I’ve long known his name, since my dad has been an avid crime reader since long before I was born.
And his 10 Rules for Writing sound quite similar to Stephen King’s basic guidelines. So much so, I’m thinking he drew a lot of inspiration from them when crafting his own.
I’ll pick up some Leonard very soon. In the meantime, I’m enjoying these pithy reminders. (The first one, I’m definitely guilty!)
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
* Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”
August 18, 2013
This quilt was the confluence of several ambitions. The first was to make a Michigan quilt. I was born there, in Southfield, a suburb of Detroit, and lived in a couple sleepy towns in the Upper Peninsula until I was almost eleven. This corner of the country holds a special place in my life and memories, and I continue to explore its influence in my life as I plug away on a novel set in the U.P. and northern Wisconsin. (The culture of the Upper Peninsula is arguably more closely related to Wisconsin than it is to the Lower Peninsula.)
Anyone who’s lived in this region recognizes the shape of the state, it’s unmistakable, one of those distinctive combinations of land and water you can always identify. It’s the kind of iconic geographic image you’d surely know from space. So I wanted to put this image on fabric, make it from fabric. But my only ideas involved variations of appliqué, since the outline is fairly intricate. I didn’t really know how I was going to effectively portray the map in fabric.
The second thing was the impending marriage of my childhood friend Lauren and her now-husband Dave. Both were raised in Michigan and their families still live there. She and I went to Young Fives (kindergarten) and Kindergarten together in Negaunee, and Dave is from Lower Michigan. They now live in Athens, Georgia, funnily enough, just an hour and a half away from me, where they’re in a nueroscience PhD program.
I knew that this was my opportunity to make a Michigan quilt that I could actually share. I have far too many around my house already, so I always look for the kind of home that can benefit from a cozy quilt. Being far away now from their homeland, I knew if there was anyone who would appreciate the outline of my native state, it would be these two. I didn’t get it to them before the wedding, but sent it so that it was there right when they returned from their honeymoon.
So this pixelated image is what I used to convert the geography of the state and its Great Lakes outline into a patchwork of gradient fabrics swatches. I happened to mention that I wanted to make a Michigan quilt to one of my friends at the West Atlanta Modern Quilt Guild, and she mentioned pixel quilts. Had I ever thought of doing it that way?
I hadn’t. But there’s an online tutorial, she said, for turning a picture into a pixel quilt. It’s Caro Sheridan’s From Picture To Pixel Quilt, and it’s free on Craftsy. I highly recommend it. This concept seemed entirely intimidating to me until I walked through the steps and videos she’s laid out.
Creating the image above is the first step. The next one is below. It involves a lot of formulas in a Google Docs spreadsheet, and then breaking it down more and more. It helped seeing her go through it step by step to understand how few colors I really needed, and to perfect just how pixels I could include to maintain the shape without going insane. There are some really crazy quilts on the internet (just Google image search “pixel quilts”) that must have taken thousands of hours, portraits and very intricate renditions of photographs. The point was not to want to commit suicide, but to make a modern quilt that interpreted Michigan in a fresh way. So I kept that as my goal.
Section by section, I put it together. It came down to one shade of blue, two shades of grey, a dark almost-black (Kona Pepper), and a beautiful, rich cream for the lakes. I know technically the blue would be water and the white doesn’t make sense, but I just loved the blue-and-white image more than traditional maps that I tried out in pixelation.
Stacks on stacks on stacks of squares and rectangles.
Before long, actually, they were all there, methodically pieced and labeled each time I finished one. They’re really just 8 Patch squares, sometimes 16 Patches. Masking tape was crucial in ensuring I had them oriented correctly and in the right order left-to-right and top-to-bottom.
I threw in the mauve shades when I noticed the bits of purple and pink that popped out of the original pixelated image. I want to encourage you, if this seems overwhelming, to go through Caro’s tutorial. And don’t let the math intimidate you. I took this as a chance to learn some new skills, design my own quilt pattern, and work through all the cutting and planning and required fabric on my own. I’ve done this before for improvisational quilts, but by the very nature of an improv quilt, that rules don’t matter all that much, and measurements are only guidelines. This was a wholly rewarding process and learning experience.
This was when it all started coming together. Below, I was playing around with the order of the strips, once they were coming together, to see if I could make it incomprehensible. I’m pretty sure this looks like a whole bunch of pixeled nothing.
And there it is almost ready to be a whole quilt top, in correct order. Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, all present.
For the quilting lines, I decided to do straight line quilting, which I always gravitate to, but in a kind of echo pattern around the lakes, within just the blue. In the creamy lakes, I did a stitch-in-the-ditch outline all the way around, almost clockwise, if that makes sense. They’re all connected, so I didn’t have to stop the stitch lines anywhere, I just powered through, top-right corner of Ontario back around to the bottom-right corner. Eastern-most to eastern-most, technically.
The backing actually took a lot long to decide than any of the front fabrics. I don’t like to do very much piecing for the backs, and by this point, I was all out of patchwork energy anyway. But it’s always a struggle to find the right scale of a print. I did want a print, something reminiscent of a forest, the woods, trees, rustic nature, a lakeside vista, a cold winter morning.
My mom, living over in Italy, got about a dozen emails from me with links to certain fabrics on Fabric.com, none of which had quit the right aesthetic to match the front of this quilt. Too cutesy, too small a scale, too bright, too blue, too green, to traditional. I was getting pretty concerned.
And then, through some magic of clicking and searching across the site, my favorite online fabric shop delivered exactly the right thing. Nature’s Etching Birch Bark in Rust/Bark tone. Exactly. Dead-on. I am reminded of snowy mornings, and rusty cars that’ve driven thousands of miles on salty roads, and the blue-greens of an evergreen forest. It is exactly the fabric to represent the elements of a tough, beautiful landscape in a remote region of the country.
Once I found the right thing, it was a no-brainer. I was reminded how obvious and easy a choice it is once you’ve found just the right thing. All those other options I felt lukewarm about were clear warnings of the wrong thing. I was on the fence because it turned out I was in the wrong neighborhood anyway.
Appropriately, I named it HOME. Home for all three of us, in one or another or a hundred ways. I ran a stripe of blue along the back edge because, of course, I underestimated the square inches I would need for the back, as I often do. Imperfections give quilts their handmade character. I’m OK with it.
For binding, I did something I’ve never done before: I used a variety of prints in my long strip of straight-grain binding tape. This was my chance to use a few fabrics that went with the motif, but would not have worked in the quilt top. It was risky after all this to put patterns on the edge, but I always love when other quilters do bold things with their binding, and so I pushed my own boundaries. I’d already done this insane self-invented pattern, worked out all the fabric cuts and arrangement and gradation, and expanded my skills with all that. I might as well also make myself uncomfortable with a bright binding. I love how it turned out.
I shipped it off to Lauren and Dave a week after their wedding, and it was waiting for them on the doorstep when they returned home from their honeymoon. (They went to Newfoundland, Canada, perfectly appropriate for those two!)