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Writer Jackie Mantey sits on a bench outside in the park

Notes on a Couch Warming Party


OK, look, this is very exciting because, ever since your breakup—a wretched, booze-soaked affair that ended with you prematurely exiting the shared apartment with a wobble-wheeled suitcase packed and not one but two chip-nailed middle fingers in the air—you haven’t owned a couch.

Door slams. Lock bolts.

That was two years ago. You’ve lived and lounged and lamented your life since then on a bed (a raft, really, in an OCEAN OF TEARS), moving from that stupid shared apartment back to your stupid parents’ house, then to a stupid studio that smelled like if moths had their own closets, then to ~here~…

Your new home. A gorgeous one-bedroom, bottom-right quarter of a falling down, white-and-brick house in a hip part of town. It doesn’t have windows that open, but it does have your cat, which your ex hated, and as of noon today—of all glorious, single lady days—it has this: A suede dreamboat in the color of “Stone.” It’s called the Darcy Sofa. It is seven-and-a-half-feet long, which is ideal for your five-foot-two frame and your feet-cuddling cat. It is perfect.

This Darcy Sofa cost you $500 and is officially one thousand times more valuable than any diamond ring, you’re sure of it.

You eye it now, mentally applaud how it looks on the hardwood living room floor, shoved up against the butter-colored wall you don’t want to paint because you’re renting so you’ll have to paint it back eventually and who has time for that, and across from the brick fireplace you can’t use because the chimney has been plugged-up with who knows what because squirrels or drug dealer Santa or something.

The couch looks familiar. It’s almost identical to the one you bought for your first apartment out of college. You remember, that $150 bear-brown thing that your brother and your cousin helped you transport from the Big Lots (née Odd Lots) where you bought it. Afterward, feeling oh so grown up, you offered for your moving mates to stay and hang out and here, have a beer, I bought it just for you! (even though you already drank half the pack).Your cat, a mere teenager at the time, hopped on the couch and onto your cousin’s lap and everyone had a perfectly lovely evening sitting on your brand new couch, bought and paid for by you and only you, until you probably blacked out and they went home.

It was the best day you had in that apartment.

Who knows where that couch is now.

Your friends are coming to meet the Darcy Sofa in just a few hours. You have decided to host a Couch Warming Party, because this is to be celebrated, an occasion to remember! It represents healing and independence, this furniture, this moving-on-up. This couch means a new world is opening up to you. You made it. Couch Warming Party is being held on the weekend of your terrible ex’s birthday. You didn’t plan this timing on purpose, at least you don’t think so, but it does make the second glass of wine at three p.m. taste even sweeter.

Now it’s nine. You are fuzzy and warm and a little bit sick. The couch, soft as a petal, feels like a lily pad beneath you. Bobbing, bobbing.

Your friends are here! Your friends pile in the aching red-rimmed door. Your friends clamor in the living room and oh and ah appropriately before tumbling down the long hallway to the kitchen and out its back door to the fire pit you share with the other dwellers of this broken home-you-love’s divvied-up apartments.

Your friends are good friends. They agree to pose for photos on your new couch. They make a big deal about it, even though this couch, it’s not that special.

They are just happy to see their friend happy again.

They bring you Couch Warming Party gifts they’ll know you’ll enjoy, like a new blanket, lounge pillows, cat toys, vodka, smokes, cocaine. By the end of the night, you are all outside howling at The Man and the moon, crouched beneath the giant tree you don’t know the genus of, that the city hasn’t torn down yet but will soon. Your backyard’s wooden fence stands guard. Tonight, as the fire licks the air and your friends lick each other, the perimeter feels like a hug and not a cage.

The couch has been forgotten. But that was the point.

At two a.m., you sit alone on your back porch smoking a gifted Parliment. Your cat has joined you, that loyal little thing. You both purr and wish every moment was a Couch Warming Party moment. You wish this especially because you know what awaits, what you’ve been running from. Morning. When you will wake up and every inch of you will hurt, including your heart. Especially your heart, and the yet-unknown thing rotting beneath its floorboards. It will be seven more months (exactly one month after your 30th birthday) before you wake up on another stranger’s couch—again!—and finally—finally!—decide it’s time to get sober. And you do it! You beautiful, goofy, grateful recovering alcoholic! You finally break through. Find a home inside yourself.

Tonight, though. Tonight is as bright and dark as a chewed up cherry pit, as twisted as the tongue-tied stem, and to be lived to the last briny drop.

You have so much further to go, but tonight you honor everything it took to get to Here. To the Stone-colored sofa. Your new Plymouth rock.


Mushroom graffiti on a dumpster in Chicago alleyway

Three paths to creative growth in a dumpster fire


Are y’all still in lockdown mode? Justin and I are, and I’m confused about people who aren’t? Wtf is going on? Is the pandemic over? Hahahaskldjflaskjdfhahahaha aaaahhh! 

When I’m not silently dread-screaming, trying to mentally prepare myself for a whole winter spent in our one-bedroom apartment, a time when we won’t even have a day at the park to quell our discontent (hahahaskldjflaskjdfhahahaha aaaahhh!), I’m focusing on my writing and visual art practices. Those, quite honestly, make me feel safe and in control. 

I’ve spent the past six months building my own website/online shop for the embroidery art (launching October 10! aka 10/10 would recommend!). Building a website from the ground up has been surprisingly fun—surprising because I typically have very little tolerance for long term tasks of the technological variety, and fun because it has helped me understand my aesthetic and purpose a little more. 

As I build the shop, I’ve had to think through many aspects of my visual practice, including theme, visual language, and intent. I always have a million ideas for a new collection or series, but having a shop to focus on versus, for example, the pursuit of a gallery show or getting into an art fair or residency or something (all on a pandemic pause), has put some valuable constraints around what I’m working on visually and the ideas I choose to pursue. It’s like bowling with bumper lanes on.

Here are three places I’ve been finding motivation as I work. 


For education: Creative Live and Creative Mornings

I bought a year-long pass to Creative Live, an online learning platform, so I could watch hours-long lectures on how to use Adobe Creative Suite. And, friends, best creative investment I’ve made in a long time. I got my money’s worth the first month in, slamming through hours of Illustrator courses. With the year-long Creator’s Pass I can access any course and its accompanying materials, so I’ve been learning the technicalities of painting, photography, photo editing, email marketing, and so much more. My favorite aspect of Creative Live is that the classes—since they don’t need to fit into a one-hour time slot—can get deep in the weeds, a comprehensive journey I currently have the time to take. 😉

Other virtual spaces I’ve gotten fewer but still great tips from are free virtual field trip events hosted by Creative Mornings. Upcoming lectures around topics range from the technical (ie., how to produce your own podcast) to the manifestational (ie., how to ohm your dream career into existence). 


For inspiration: City Arts & Lectures interviews

San Francisco-based City Arts & Lectures is a longstanding interview and events series held in the historic Sydney Goldstein Theater. In the spirit of Interview magazine, the format is supes-hot-artist-interviews-other-supes-hot-artist. Much to our non-Californians’ benefit, in the time of corona they’re streaming new discussions online for free.


For courage: Arts podcasts

What I’m listening to is in constant rotation because I am fickle, but recently I’ve been enjoying The Jealous Curator’s Art For Your Ears and a new Chicago output from Victoria Hines, Creative Journeys. Both pods feature interviews with working artists and makers about their process and approach.

The story behind Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers


A bunch of poets I follow on Twitter liked this Tweet today, so it magically showed up on my timeline, and it’s perfect:

“I have done nothing all summer but wait for myself to be myself again.”

Georgia O’Keefe is famous for her flower paintings that look like, ahem, hoohas. That’s a reductionist distillation of her work, but it’s genpop-accurate because, whatever, we can only maintain so much info in our brains so it’s easier to identify her contributions to the art historical cannon by the most “memorable” thing about her work.

OK, Georgia!

Perhaps, though, with the following passage of her own writing, we can see beyond Georgia’s ~flower vaginas~, and remember why she picked flowers as a focus of some of her paintings in the first place. Because they’re freaking beautiful.

Georgia decided to zoom into the blooms and paint a magnified perspective of flowers after being drawn to a tiny flower in a still life painting by Henri Fantin-Latour.

Here’s what she wrote:

“A flower is relatively small. Everyone has many associations with a flower—the idea of flowers. Still, in a way, nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small—we haven’t time—and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. So I said to myself—I’ll paint what I see—what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they’ll be surprised into taking time to look at it. I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.”

That the busy New Yorkers didn’t see flowers, necessarily, and instead mostly saw vaginas (or at least the art history did) is totally predictable and, like, what are we gonna to do? Georgia’s voluptuous flowers have caused celebration for the fornication-fueled folds of the most tender of lady parts, and so be it. Hell yeah. Let us toast the vaginas! Long live the labia! But also, as we cheer, may her idea of magnifying flowers as a means to share with the world what a pause to stop and look at the lilies can do for one’s, well, soul, hold meaning for us as well.

What can you take time to appreciate more closely this weekend? Might I suggest Ram’s Head with Hollyhock? Or your nearest adult, consenting vagina?


Roundup of Ruth Asawa stamps from the USPS

Ruth Asawa’s creative time management advice


Y’all. Ruth Asawa had six kids. Did you know that?

What an impressive human. To raise even one offspring and have an internationally successful and personally meaningful art practice seems like a near impossible achievement. Actually, having an internationally successful art practice AND/OR personally meaningful art practice child-free seems like a nearly impossible achievement.

Here she is with four of six. FOUR OF SIX.

I learned this fact about Ruth in ^this video promoting new USPS stamps featuring her work, intricate wire sculptures that explore how “the relation between outside and inside was interdependent, integral.”

How very relevant in a pandemic that has us all stuck inside and having sweaty pastoral dreams! Also relevant: Stamps, supporting the post office, sending care packages to all the people you miss, etc.

Also, also relevant: The following quote from the USPS video about how Ruth found time to meet her practice, continually pushing her process and forms (all while being, let me just say this one last time, a mom of six, in the mid 20th century).

“Use your little bits of time. Your five minutes here, your 10 minutes there. All those moments begin to add up. … Learn how to use time when it is given to you.”


Fun in the time of quarantine


I’ve finally landed on a word the best describes how this pandemic has made/is making me feel: Bewildered. (And, I guess, longing. I miss my family, my city, my lifestyle, etc.) That said, Justin and I have been having a lot of fun together. I can’t see being stuck inside with him for months as anything other than a lopsided gift. Justin’s a fun friend and a good partner. 

Here’s an example:

In an effort to find different things for us to do together as the 2020 months crawl on, Justin decided to find a video game for us to play. To do this, he had to consider many variables. Well, two variables. 1) I hate video games; and 2) I hate video games because I’m absolutely terrible at them and have none of the hand-finger muscle memory that seems to be required for success in any of the adult games and when I’m bad at things I get pissed off and ruin the this-is-just-for-fun vibe and ok, back off, I’m working on it.

But this didn’t stop our sheltered-in-place friend! Justin spent weeks researching games that moved quickly and provided many a dopamine hit of congratulations by way of sparkly animated gems simply for showing up and pushing buttons. So, basically, games for children.

Enter: Castle Crashers.

It’s perfect for us/me because 1) it’s made for beginners/children and I can just mush all the buttons and still accomplish something maybe or at least think I did in the flurry of chaotic noises and special effects; 2) there’s a Pink Knight character that, duh, I chose, and my “magic” abilities include stunning opponents into dropping their weapons and giving peace signs by throwing stuffed animals at them and shooting rows of rainbows out of my hands to distract them; and 3) we can play the levels at the same time, so essentially Justin does all the work killing bad guys and strategically spending our gold coins on health potions and doing the things that get us moving forward, while I furiously shoot rainbows at the empty, endless void and try to figure out how to turn myself around.

This is so indicative of who we are as people and why we work together as a pair.

Justin1 and Justin2 (aka Jackie), sittin’ in a tree…

Anyway, today’s our three-year wedding anniversary. 

Thanks, boo. I feel unsure about pretty much everything except you.

2017
2020

Two empty lawn chairs sitting side by side

Home is a feeling


Quarantine Day 1,345. It was early evening, that time of day when the heat has started to fade but the light is still saying its goodbyes. 

Justin and I strapped on our masks and headed out the door to take a walk around the neighborhood. “Let’s go get Italian ice,” he said. I was suspicious, not wanting to go to a restaurant. “They have a walk-up counter,” he said convincingly.

And so we strolled, taking a brand new route, a few side streets behind the local grocery store, streets that I’d never been down before. One block in, and I couldn’t believe how excited I felt. All the new things to see! After approximately forever-amount-of-days staring at the same walls and the same computer screen, chilling in the same park and running the same route, this walk was a novelty more delicious than any cold treat.

We said muffled hellos to an ancient Border Collie lounging among the pink blooms and behind the twisted iron fence of a brick one-story.

We joked about what we would do if we had to move into a three-story house towering above us, its boarded up windows framed by a white exterior turned a dingy browbeaten gray. I would fix it up and nurse its good bones back to health. Justin would burn it down because clearly it was haunted and something wicked lurked in the basement. 

We passed by a wooden fence. It was too tall to see over, but if we could, we would see a family celebrating summer in their backyard. The scent of grilled corn and the sounds of mariachi carried over the fence, tempting us to join as we passed on the sidewalk. Hello, I said, wordlessly. Thank you for the reminder.

I’ve always loved looking at houses. That there are endless rows of them is one of my favorite aspects of living in Chicago. The neighborhoods, the overflowing residential streets with endless charm tucked away just beyond the hurried thoroughfares. It’s like knowing where to find a secret water source in the desert.

I tried to explain to Justin why I like walks like this so much. Looking at other homes makes me feel like I am here. Nowhere in particular, just here. On earth and un-alone. But though I like thinking of all the human stories stacking up in those houses they inhabit, what I enjoy most is the look of the exteriors, as an individual and as a whole. A street of houses all lined up, especially if those houses have completely different facades, looks the way a bowl of fresh, in-season strawberries tastes: A welcome mat for the senses. 

Each house has a face and sleeps at night. Even the most humble of architectures here carries a gentleness for me, feels like a place where life unfolds unceremoniously (which is the most rewarding kind of unfolding, I think?). From the humble bungalows to the soaring million-dollar build right next door, I love looking at all of them. I don’t want to be inside them necessarily, just to behold them. The window panes, the flower beds, the curve of a doorway and all the knowing it can share just from its shape. Even the sharp angle of every roof taps a different feeling inside me. Oh! And, best of all, the trees! Dangling their drapery as a curtain to each house’s stage. Look, they say. Witness what is here.

We held hands as we ordered our Italian ice, a line of people with the same idea spaced six feet apart behind us. A string of brightly colored owl lights on the outside of the building shone stronger by the minute as the sun settled. There were pink and green plastic chairs on the small strip of grass near the order window—also six feet apart. We decided to keep walking and find a corner to stand on as we spooned the icy treat into eager mouths. Lemon, raspberry, watermelon. A woman riding her bike with a dog on a leash passed us. A new mom on her cellphone tutted along, baby peeking out of a blanket from the stroller in front of her. Cars blinked by with a rattle. Justin and I watched it all as we ate, the cold a relief on our hot tongues. The taste lingered, hidden behind masks, as we walked back. Dusk hitting the homes with a loving light, guiding us back to ours.

Couple in a private dance studio

Finding an old flame on the dance floor


I always frame my dancing in the past tense: “I used to dance.” I’ll say it wistfully and stand a little straighter as I do, like a ribbon is connecting my ponytail to the ceiling, a helpful visual technique for dancers with poor posture. I always had poor posture. And I had trouble remembering more than an 8-count at a time unless I choreographed it myself. And I never paid attention to the costume requirements and more than once ended up on stage in the wrong colored tights.
 
But none of those flaws stopped me from dancing. Time did that. As I entered my 30s, dancing sounded exhausting… was exhausting. Moreover, I knew my ability to dance would be on a continued, inevitable downward slope. My best dancing days were already behind me. A body’s flexibility, physicality, and strength is at its prime at a certain point, and that point is one I have passed. I didn’t want to dance because my self-competitive nature would be disappointed that I couldn’t leap as high, spin as fast, or bend as lovely as I could five years ago.

Then 2020 happened, and, damn, it has got me feeling d-o-w-n. My morale is the thing on the downward slope now. Justin (my bff/husband) has been encouraging me to get back to dancing ever since I stopped, but I have promptly ignored him, saying I’m happy to leave the barre behind me, which I think has mostly been true.

Last weekend, however, he made some moves himself. He took me to a dance studio that he had rented for a few hours from Peerspace (like Airbnb but for studio, meeting room, or venue rentals). And that was all I needed: A partner to take me by the hand and plop me back on the dance floor. My body instinctively took off. 

Dancing around the studio space was the b-e-s-t thing I’ve done since early March. So much sweat! It felt grounding, calming, and exhausting indeed! It felt like a turned-head to pointed-toe rejuvenation! To get out of our apartment and just move my body around, a body I have been staying put to protect in recent months (and, I realized, keeping in self-imposed bounds for the past few years), was mentally healing beyond measure.

The experience helped me see that hobbies can evolve, and that’s OK. I will never be as good a dancer as I once was, but was excellence really why I was dancing in the first place? Nah. Not even close. I danced because it was fun. And, it turns out, it still is. Maybe even more so because I don’t have to worry about showing up in the wrong tights. 🙂

What have you left behind because you thought it couldn’t help you anymore? If you reframed how it healed you, would it be worth another shot?

Grandpa in front of stone wall in Korea

Time doesn’t pick sides


My grandpa died this week. It has caught me off guard. He was always so full of life, I just figured he would live forever?

He was such a spry old guy, too! Grandpa had recently moved into an assisted living facility, an act he definitely DID NOT want to do but acquiesced to when COVID-19 hit. Why? So he could visit my grandma in the Alzheimer’s unit there every day (a through-the-window visit would no longer suffice). He took such loving care of her the past few years. From making sure she had outfits she would approve of, to bringing her a thermos of root beer as a treat when he’d visit. His love for her is probably what I’ll remember most. I can still picture him helping Grandma dye her hair in the sink whenever we had sleepovers. They were best friends. 

Grandpa was curious, adventurous, thoughtful, smart, and so damn playful. And he was a wonderful writer, writing and editing the Army’s Preventive Maintenance (PS) magazine throughout his career. I’ve always attributed any natural gift I have as a baton handoff from him to me. 

After college, I asked Grandpa to email me some of his stories. Him and Grandma kept binders of tales from their many travels—like #vanlife bloggers before their time. He said yes but did one better: He said he would write some brand new pieces for me and his daughters of memories from his life. Today I have this remarkable collection of stories he wrote (a few by Grandma, but mostly him). What a fucking gift! I loved getting to know him this way and I was always excited to get a new email with a story attached. It sparked a lot of interesting conversations between us. They’re now all stored in a binder he gave me when I moved to Chicago. 

I recently started adding new photos to the binder… printouts of photos he would text of him and of Grandma at the nursing home, screenshots of funny text messages he sent, a photo of him in a COVID face mask that he’d drawn a smiley face onto. Such a rascal.

I’ve been adding these to the end of the book. The day he died, I added a note about when, where, and how he passed. I feel tender toward making sure I give his story, in this binder at least, the ending… that I record it. He would always end his written stories like the grisled old magazine editor he was: with – end – at the end.

A story isn’t a story without an ending. And Grandpa had a hell of a story. You did good, farm boy.

I’m sad COVID forced me to cancel my March visit to Marion. He and I had a Bob Evans breakfast date planned, like we had been doing for the past year or so. We would eat together, bitch about the coffee, politely disagree about politics (he would always hear me out!), talk about about my hopes to roadtrip across the country with Justin, order some blueberry crepes to-go, and take them (and some root beer) to Grandma for our visit.

But. I’m so grateful to have had him as a grandpa and have had as much time with him as I did. I miss him already.

– end –

Wave on Lake Michigan beach in Chicago

Girl, wash your face mask


Hey, how are you doing? Overwhelmed? Me too. It’s surprising how all-consumingly intense life can be in lockdown, no? Nearly four months of time in which I’ve talked to a total of three people in person. But maybe that’s part of the problem—I’m worried about humanity because I am not experiencing it much beyond the screen. I’m like the baby monkey clinging to a wire-made mother, longing for but misunderstanding real love.

Some complain of feeling bored in quarantine. I feel anything but. I feel stressed and anxious and overwrought. Everything seems so B-I-G, even as the physical boundaries of my daily life are smaller than ever.

To help myself feel just a little bit better, I’ve been trying to focus on things I can control. I can control what I give my attention to, so after work each day, I’ve been plugging along at building an online shop to sell my artwork. There’s something cathartic about tinkering away at a thing I hope to launch in “the future” while listening to the news and the podcasts and the sound and the fury. Working on the shop symbolizes the shred of optimism I have buried underneath all this tension that’s seething and solidifying inside a worried self. It’s like embodying a strange paradox—I miss being around people, but I’m also very tired of “people.”

I’ve been thinking about restarting my blog too. As social media, which replaced a lot of blogosphere time and energy, becomes a place of exacerbated one-dimensionality and optical, oppositional grandstanding, the thought of having my own little Island of Internet is increasing in its appeal. 

How do we all come out of this moment kinder, more equitable, more closely tied to one another and our collaborative condition? Is that possible at this point? Do others feel as tired and disconnected as I do?

I don’t know. And writing all of this seems trite in the wake of a cultural revolution, a global pandemic, a paradigm shift of historical proportions… I feel increasingly tense as there seems to be no route out of this place but to keep on keeping on. 

I am plankton in a wave. 

I do my work, I add items to my site, I plan for “the future,” I read about the present and feel upset about the past, I go to bed. 

I wake up and do it all over again. 

Photograph of last dandelion seed hanging on

Planting the seeds


Well, damn. When I started my newsletter I thought I would use it to share anecdotes of joy or hope or humor from my previous seven days. This past week has been anything but joyous, hopeful, or funny. It’s been historic. We better get used to it. We are on a precipice of something. I hope that something is change and a more equitable criminal justice system. I hope it happens soon.

In lieu of anything joyous to report, I’ll share this instead: I’ve found a lot of solace during the pandemic by doing regular runs around my neighborhood. I am not a ~runner~ by any means. By “runs around the neighborhood” I mean I slow-jog about a quarter of a mile, then walk, then kind of run again but get tired and tell myself it was a valiant effort and we can’t all be heroes, and then sort of surreptitiously dance to whatever music’s spilling from my headphones to my ears, then sit in the park for a while and try to will myself to do sit-ups and pushups but mostly just stretch and inspect the grass.

You can see a lot by looking at the grass, while on the grass’ level. 

Like a mystical woman in polyester nylon, I conduct phony tasseography and stretch my hamstrings. Fortunes emerge through the layered leaves and fragile stems, the grasses map to answers (a rapidly disappearing luxury). A cross can mean a blockage—they’re everywhere. The wings of a bird, new freedom—they’re here but not fully formed. This is like cloud watching but for those who have found themselves tangled in the earth.  

The other day, while performing the last act of my running ritual and lying down in the grass pretending to do leg lifts, I spent some time watching the last two seeds of a dead dandelion struggle to detach, to fly away from home and grow near each other elsewhere. They were on opposite sides of the center bud, both pulling as mightily as they could, buoyed by the breeze, like a tug of war in which both of them would crumble away with their host if they couldn’t figure it out soon.

I left before either flew away.