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Hello, San Francisco, Goodbye: Part 3

It was the moment I'd been waiting for, for months. Between the excitement and the exhaustion, I felt like I was either dreaming or a high-functioning zombie. It was in this sleep-deprived surreality that I got my luggage, signed for my over-priced rental car and stepped out into the ...cold?

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Hello, San Francisco, Goodbye: Part 1

San Francisco Bay Bridge in Fog 2022
Bay Bridge Fog, Meghan Tutolo (2022).

This isn’t the happy story I thought it would be.

I wrote and re-wrote this blog entry over the last month. It kept turning out as more of a chapter than a story—a brain mosaic of narrative tangled with memories and past traumas. Who do I think I am? Ha.

See, the San Francisco trip turned out to be more of a melodrama and less of a vacation, definitely not the event I’d been looking forward to for the last 4 months. The story feels important to tell, but it needs a little prefacing to make sense. So… buckle up? Or not. Boogie on out now, if you want. I totally get it.

Can we start with the song? I’ve had this song in my head since I landed at SFO on the 28th of July.

Hello, San Francisco, baby, I don’t ever want to die…

It was February when I planned the trip. In the middle of yet another Pandemic Winter, I was looking for a reason to keep going, you know? When you live in Pittsburgh—pandemic or no pandemic—February is pretty bleak. Groundhog Phil’s grim forecast didn’t help. So when the callout came up on my Facebook feed that poet Dorianne Laux would be workshopping at a four-day writing conference in California (on my birthday!), I perked up a bit. It definitely had those “meant to be” kind of vibes.

I love birthdays. Not just my birthday, but everyone’s. I love any excuse to celebrate the people I love in the cheesiest, gushiest, most ridiculous way. Still, July hits a little different these days. It was years ago now that Denise died 10 days before my birthday. If you don’t know, Denise was my soul sister—”my favorite person in the world,” I would tell her. So yeah, you could say there is some earned Birthday Abandonment™ trauma connected to this time of year. July rolls in hot and sunshiny, but with a weird ache. I feel it before I know it’s here.

Funny how it was her voice in my head as I was daydreaming about this solo trip across the country:

“C’mahhn. You have to live a little.”

There was more than one reason to visit the Bay Area: K lives there. K and I are what you might call penpals. We’d been posting each other (letters, postcards and packages) for over 10 years now, but she’s known me since I was just a silly, self-deprecating 14 year old posting on Tori Amos message boards online.  (In case you were wondering what kind of adolescent I was… haha. It’s a pretty good tell.)

I referred to K as “probably my best friend, though we’ve never met.”

In 2017, we did meet. And, you know, everything clicked. Though I was nervous as all get out, that same energy and connection were there from our letters. What a relief! It was a short first visit and I was looking for any reason to get out to see her again. This writing conference seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was the two things that convinced me to look into it further, seeing K and the conference. High-tailing it to the Left Coast for just a one activity seemed a little more than frivolous, money- and time-wise. So, two birds, as they say.

I texted K and a couple of my SF friends to see what they thought. To my excitement, K was super into the idea of getting more time together. And boy, not to be too dramatic, but I really needed it. The pandemic era has made mashed potatoes of my sanity and so much has felt overwhelming: health stuff, roof, chimney, a lawsuit?, the thousand small cuts of homeownership, etc. And just like any small business owner, I’d been working overtime to make the money to take care of this shit. The point: there was an excitement there that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I mean, I don’t really allow myself that kind of anticipation anymore. (I swear it’s more practical than pessimistic.) But I wasn’t on my game. I was on E—physically, emotionally—and so very willing to push myself harder for this opportunity.

So BOOM. Just like that, the plans were made: I would fly in, rent a car, book a hotel for 3 days in the Northern Bay Area to spend time with her, and then, drive down to Pebble Beach for the conference. Once it was over, I’d drive back up to the airport and fly home.

Let’s throw our bones away, get happy, babe. ‘Cause I’m seeing blue again… 

I’m not sure how to tell the story from here. You can probably guess that things didn’t go quite like that, right?

Spoiler alert: I still don’t know what the hell happened, really, and neither does anyone I’ve tried to hash it out with. But I’ll explain more in the next part.

Until then, go listen to that Margot and The Nuclear So and So’s song.


2019… what?

2019, what can I say?

It’s hard to sum up a year, any year, but especially this year. 2019 was loaded—for better or worse. I thought, how about a list? Maybe a list. I’m good at lists…

1. Stained glass! I had a decision to make this year… I had waited a couple years before taking the plunge into glass land. Hey, it’s a big commitment, dollar-wise and all. I mean, what if I didn’t like it? What if I couldn’t do it well? But I’m so glad I took the risk. A special thanks for Glenn Greene for believing in me and showing me the ropes.

2. I saved up for and bought my first motorcycle, a Suzuki TU250X.

3. I fell on my first motorcycle and injured my shoulder, but luckily not the motorcycle. Thank god for that AAA membership and Alex, who legit took care of me in that moment in a way I can’t even describe (three words: King Size PayDay).

4. Someone who I consider family and who I love a whole lot (one of my soul people, in fact) was diagnosed with cancer this year. Claiming this on my list feels strange and selfish or something, but when you love someone that’s just how it goes. FYI: she totally kicked its ass, which is probably the best thing about this year for me.

5. I bought a house. On paper, this is a win, but getting there was a lot more sad and stressful. We were kicked out of our home/apartment in Regent Square by a greedy 25-year-old rich white boy and his daddy who bought the building. They gave us 45 days to relocate. Maybe I should be rejoicing that I had the money saved up to make this happen, but there is so much more to this story. (Like how his family was in the yard out front the next day saying things like “God brought Tr*mp here to heal the country” to our Jewish housemate.) We almost went to court too… an uncertainty that was drug out for too long. To be honest, I think I’m still processing all of this. Luckily, though, we got a much better spot… and we never have to deal with being displaced that way.

6. “At least, you didn’t die at Walmart.” Sure, Abbie and I didn’t die at Walmart. Lucky us. Instead we were running for what might be our lives while gunshots rang out from behind… literally 3 days before we were moving. In hindsight, it feels dramatic, but in the moment, we were all terrified. The worst part about this event is how it felt like everyone used this afterwards to console us as we struggled through house buying and homeownership. Blah.

7. I said goodbye to Meredith Baxter Birney, the Scion. After 10+ years, a new transmission, some rust, and finally, a leaking head gasket, it was time to put her to bed. As you know, my luck with Meredith wasn’t great. In fact, she only had 117,000 miles on her when I discovered the leaking head gasket that drained my oil. That said, no more Toyotas for me. I moved on and leased a Honda CRV LX. His name is Frankie, as in Frank O’Hara. I needed something to haul my art and show stuff, and it has been a great choice so far. It’s so fancy. And the heated seats? Woo. Way luxurious. 

8. The pain. It’s not something everyone knows about, nor is it something I talk about too often. Before I experienced it, I never thought too much about chronic pain or nerve pain, etc. I’ve been trying for almost 4 years now to figure it out. I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars, wasted so much of my time and energy… and hope. It really is more maddening than it is painful. But if you have any sort of persistent pain, you know what I mean. At the beginning of the year, I tried to take another path—I went to someone who has experience with my particular issue, TOS (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome). Though he taught me some valuable things, he did not fix my pain. Actually, it got worse. This could be a much longer bit, but let’s just say I’ve got some new hope today—where foolish or otherwise, I’ve been finding some relief. So here we go, 2020.

9. 1flychicken creationsIt’s hard to explain what this small business means to me. What started as a hobby, then a side hustle, has turned into something much bigger and much more meaningful than I could’ve ever imagined. (I have all of you to thank!) It came out of my love of giving (making/finding) the perfect gift for my people. This is the heart of all I do, because let’s face it, thoughtfulness might be the best gift. It’s not so much about the physical thing as it is the time and energy and love behind it. Being able to make and offer those unique items (as gifts for others and for shoppers themselves) is the closest thing I’ve felt to pure magic. For real. And making things? It’s almost necessary for me to function at this point. Being creative and being productive are two things that keep me sane. And while it’s some of the hardest work I’ve encountered (both physical and mental), I am so very grateful to have the opportunity. Here’s to 2020 continuing the pace. (Did I mention all the amazing folks I’ve met along the way?)

10. Not sure if I’d survive the world—especially this past year—if it wasn’t for Happy Family. This is the name I have given to our lil’ collective of cats and humans. As much as I am an independent person, who probably annoys Abbie with my pride and drawn lines, I am wholly grateful for her love and support and supreme belief in me. I mean, she probably thinks I’m like 45% better than I am, which drives me bananas, but I’ll let her keep thinking that for a while. Ha! Need I even tell you how much my cats mean to me? I hate it. I hate loving something so hard and so helpless. But just looking at them makes me heart pee, you know? 

Man, after writing this, it still feels like there is so much more to talk about. AWP, poetry, losing my grandfather, new friends, old friends, art events, the fall semester, almost teaching a poetry workshop, etc… but I’ll stop here. Maybe tell some more in photos soon…

What was your year like? I hope through all of the challenges in your year, you can take from it, grow from it and give yourself everything you need to kick some 2020 ass.


I don’t know how I know, but I know.

Lake Chautauqua Sunset

That was my response after answering a question—with confidence—that I couldn’t possibly know the answer to.

Knowing but not knowing, you know?

These days, I live by logic. Mostly. I still run the gamut of emotions, often frustrated and bubbling over, but now I make decisions. I wait. Younger Meghan? Oh, she donned a reckless impulsivity that could’ve easily ruined me. No, really. I was somewhere like a 7 or 8 on the Richter Scale, a Tazmanian Devil sort of swirling around in a self-made tornado of sadness, loneliness and self-deprecation. I took it to a new level. I wore black girl-sized Dickies and dyed my hair a shade to match. Raise your hand if you feel me.

Knowing without knowing isn’t a science. It’s not sensical. It’s not even like the lesson of maturity I learned (late) in adolescence: Will you ever learn to think before you open that mouth of yours… damnit, Meghan!

(That was my mother’s voice in case you didn’t recognize it. “Damnit Meghan” was more of a household name.) And no, I will learn, but it’s something I’ll wish I could unlearn. At least a little bit.

Knowing without knowing is more like intuition, a phantom kind of thing I’ve always had but couldn’t count on. I’m no mystic, no wizard. But these days I’m counting on it more. Is this a getting old thing? 30 going on 80, yep.

“You need to learn to trust yourself. Right now,” warned the tarot reader who sat across from me, taut-lipped with her hands folded across the table.

But that was in 2012. I’ve made a conscious effort, really, but trusting my guts is worrisome for all kinds of reasons. Just the other day, my guts decided it was ok to spend an hour online trying to locate a rare book of short stories. The day before that, my guts thought it fine to indulge in a plate of General Tso’s Chicken—breaded, fried, glistening with grease, married to a huge helping of oily fried rice. I mean, for someone who relies heavily on logic to keep her in line, intuition is about as grounded as a beach kite. I mean, I stop at Sheetz gas stations at like 11 p.m. for gummy bears so what do I know? I find, however, denying ones guts leads to another set of issues.

So ok, it’s balance I’m looking for in my 30’s. Oddly, where my teens were teary, flailing and faltering, my 20’s were for exercising control and maybe, sometimes, too much (see: picking lint off the floor, having meltdowns cleaning bathtubs…). It only makes sense that I come to this, convergence.

The struggle is the limitations of balance, what the old me might have seen as boring—stagnant and idle—I should now embrace? Kind of like a see-saw, but just because it’s level doesn’t mean there’s no one on it… right? Maybe there are just two forces of equal weight. Precise, shaky, going nowhere? I’ve always hated even numbers…

Man, I could go for a smoke.

Livejournal or bust


Oh, I remember those days.

I used to spew my guts on like some sort of uncensored, four-eyed mutant with a lead role and more feelings than dollars in my weekly Giant Eagle paycheck. Writing often, I would weave my emo thoughts and rants with bolded song lyrics. I would choose 100×100-pixeled avatar images of faceless girls in sad corners or dead-flower GIFs with flashing text reading shit like “it doesn’t even matter anymore.”

But that’s just it, it did matter. Everything mattered. Probably too much mattering.

Today as I ventured back into that world of “Everybody Hurts” and ambiguous crush speak, I stumbled upon a quote that struck me:

“The more profound you are, the more meaning you need.”

It doesn’t feel too long ago that everything hurt. I was an open wound walking, or so the cliche goes. I walked around like that for years in corduroys and striped sweaters, a heart dangling from my seams like a loose thread.

But the years wore me down, maybe. Here and there, we lose people to lack of humility or pride, to distance, to miscommunication, to disinterest, to one-ups and to one-downs. Each time a gut blow. (It’s tremendous, honestly, how much friends mean to me. Without much of a traditional blood-related crew, my friends have always been my family.) And then came a divorce-like split after so many years.That loss was more than familiar or romantic or plutonic, but all of it. Necessary and healthy, maybe. But not without pain. Still, even then, I went forward with my guts between my teeth, handing them out like hard candy.

And then my favorite person in the whole world died.

So that was it,  I guess. The last time I really remember feeling like that, a live wire under my skin. And I say, if this is growing up, it blows.

I told A the other day (after dealing myself a nearly-all-reversed spread of cards): “I guess I had to shut something off recently… to deal with the stress of small and big things. And maybe I just haven’t turned it back on. That’s where I am.”

I’ve never seen a spread that blocked and I’ve been reading cards since high school.

But it’s been more than just recently (more than this jet stream of bad luck I’m refusing to whine about any more on my blog). I’m stuck now wondering, years later, after her death, will I ever learn how to turn it back on? Don’t get me wrong, I feel a flicker on occasion. I’m absolutely ok, and you know, sometimes my heart gets full and round and I can hear the blood pulsing in my ears. But is that it? I just want to know.

Is strength, is growing up, really just dulling the nerves and dumbing down our hearts… is the only thing that really changes the things that change us?

I don’t buy it. I can’t won’t.


Anniversary of bad things


We celebrate the past by dates and times.

But what is an anniversary anyway? What is time? We make this shit up and then decide to grieve or to pine or to celebrate at the same moment every year, as if every day isn’t as poignant or painful. Do we really save up all our tears or grateful gushing for just this one pin-point on an invisible time map… WHAT? Or is it just a permission slip?

Yeah, maybe I’m having some existential lapse, or a “Matt moment,” as I like to say about my former roommate’s vocal ruminations. On occasion (prompted by who knows what), Matt gets tangled up in the weirdness of the world, looking at it through an oddly “non-human” and objective way. For instance, we once melted a penny atop the metal grate of a fire pit in the backyard, for no reason other than we could. Matt couldn’t get over this. Instead he went on and on about how strange it was that the penny just didn’t exist anymore. Here, then not. No trace even, no liquidy metal puddle. No burnt round edge of where the thing was. It was just gonezo.

People can be gonezo too. And it doesn’t make sense either.

No matter how many times my brain circles it, no matter how many books I read or things I feel, I don’t get it. And I can’t decide whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate that my brain does this with everything that I can’t understand… it’s relentless. Like a lost helicopter or the cloudy grey debris stuck inside a tornado. But the only difference between that penny and humanity is that people leave and leave something behind. I know it’s on the inside or it’s supposed to be, but sometimes it creeps out, sometimes it’s just as tangible as a black eye or a broken bone.

But maybe that is the point of an anniversary: one day we don’t have to stuff it all in. Because Guts Out Mode isn’t necessarily a space one can live in. We have to do things like get out of bed, go to work, shower, dress, clean things, eat, shit, you get it. And grief, for one, is immobilizing. Maybe that’s why it feels so “go through the motions.” That’s what we do to survive, save it all up (the big part of it anyway) for 364 days.

Fuck that. I grieve every day. Still, when I wake, it’s one of the first things I have to remind myself. Maybe it’s a habit now. She’s gone. A part of me gone. But unlike that penny, I’m the liquidy puddle left behind, the burnt shape around where her body was. “The power of what isn’t there…” Somedays I feel like that void, walking.

I still can’t believe it’ll be two years since D died (tomorrow). But isn’t that how it is for everyone who has lost someone? It feels like both yesterday and forever ago.

I rarely put whole poems up here, but this one seemed fitting. Written last year around this time.


You are the only thing
that dies each morning.
Sticky with sleep and

too many cigarettes, I
reach for you, the coffee
you taught me, creamer

first. You are dead and
it’s 10 AM so I shower,
remind myself explicitly:

you were never mine, and
to leave the conditioner
in longer. I hear it’s warmer

than winter outside if
I’ll have it. Every time,
you die when I drive.

I have nothing. It’s
sudden. The radio hiccups
some song I never heard,

but the sky is on fire,
the day leaving in that
blaze, the same dress you wore

after you died, everyone
frozen how you left us there,
alive like that, living.





What’s with weather

The sky has been loud.

See, most days the only way I know how to feel is from this: sky, weather, the way the sun hits and colors. It’s not that I don’t wish it could be more personal, but lately the sky has been steering me, been more demanding of me. I’m not used to it.

Just this year have I become unlike myself, my self. I’d like to split them. “Self” as a word seems hokey, but recently it hasn’t felt like mine. This shift, I like to believe, is my trying to be healthy, the idea of relying on myself (my self?) for happiness, because this is what we are told to do. This is what I have resisted my whole life, for various reasons.

You shouldn’t depend on others for your happiness. It’s unhealthy.

I know, I know, I know. Really, at the end of it, there is nothing or no one you can depend on. “Depend” as a word seems faulty now, as does “loyalty” and “whole.”

So I’m sitting here in my button-down and my sweater and my khaki-colored corduroys asking: now what? I have shut down. I have shifted. No one has that ability now–or barely. Now that I have lost some sort of connection with “others,” or more aptly the “underworld,” I have begun looking up for answers? Not for some omnipresent guide or god or being, but for something as simple and surface as weather. C’mon… what’s worse?

Today when I stepped outside of my office, around 3:30 p.m., the world seemed at war: grey clouds huddled on top of each other like walls of puffy sandbags; the darker greys poked from beneath and east; and the sun, in an overwhelming orange, surged to topple it all. Every minute or so, a tentacle of light would peek out from its cage of clouds to grab me with an orange fist. I just stared. I don’t know what it means… what? But I knew that I felt: “hope.” And that pseudo-tangible thing called “sky” could mean things without words or touch.

I may have laughed to myself. I do this sometimes. If the cat isn’t around to join me in my tangled thought processes, I talk to myself (which is also new). To be fair, he talks back. Er… meows.

So now, hours later, I’m thinking again (surprise), but… if “hope” were an image, it just might be that sun trying to boulder its way through the clouds–all that brightness and warmth slamming its back against the grey blanket of Earth. And why, then, I hadn’t thought that way is beyond me. I mean, it makes complete sense now: maybe the sky is a way of feeling and telling and not really touch, but touching.

And so I thought of the day, the sound of my chiming alarm (one of five alarms set) and the sleepy sun that comes at us earlier than before… I imagined it reaching in with that same fist to shake me awake, to rattle me alive. Why am I resisting?


My History with Music & Trouble

I’d normally begin this history with a longer summary of my youth… something about arguing with my mom in the car about her Adult Contemporary radio selection. (Though, there’s really something about Phil Collins and Don Henley that really does it for me these days. HA!)  Or, taking it way back, let’s talk about how I accidentally taped over my cassettes, one Disney soundtrack at a time, with this kiddie recorder I had. In the middle of “Hakuna Matata,” there were, at least eleven, abrupt intermissions in the music, followed by a giggle or a squeal or a less original, “HELLLOOOOOO. 1 2 3.” Apparently that’s all the higher I could count at 5.

Proof of the wee chicken with her first exposure to stardom.

Anyhow, let’s bring it up to speed a bit. I have to admit this weekend seemed a little goofy from the beginning. I had no “legit” plans for Friday night. See, this is already trouble. There is something about ending the work-week with a bang. No matter how sleepy or lazy I feel by Friday at 5 PM, I’m ready for action. (Usually making time to nap first.)

After a feast of Southern-Style BBQ with friends (which fiasco I’m purposefully omitting from this tale because of my seemingly unhealthy obsession with food and over-eating), we gathered at my house to decide the next course of action. We had no ideas other than “not drinking,” which already makes me sound lame, I know.

Three guy friends and I stood on the front porch in a nerd-like panic. OMG?! IT’S FRIDAY NIGHT! DO WE HAAAVE TO GO OUT? DO YOU WANNA GO OUT? I MEAN, WHERE WOULD WE GO?… I GUESS I COULD. DO YOU WANT TO, THOUGH? After a long series of go-no-where questioning, spotted with vacant moments of expressive stares, and can-you-just-read-my-mind eyes, we finally caved. Coffee? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

There is nothing wrong with coffee: nothing wrong with the morning cup at work, the “Hey, let’s go get a cup of coffee” between old friends, and of course, the occasional caffeine mania when most every other young adult in this city is already, at the very least, tipsy and eyeing up some unhot bartender. It was 10 PM, and though, the tall/small/tiny/littlest was an option, I opted for the largest. We all did. “Go big or go home,” they say. I’m pretty sure that phrase had nothing to do with coffee, and more likely something a bit harder like Miller Lite.

For the record, I’m a huge fan of iced coffee. Especially since the weather has been giving us a little more sun and a little less snow. [Us Pennsylvanians are all feeling eager to smack ourselves into the next season (today, in fact!), SPRING.]

Yep. Like I said before, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a good ol’ caffeine rush among friends on your porch, on a Friday night. Until someone gets the bright idea to sing, that is. And still…

Now this is where I’m going to reverse for a moment and remind everyone (and myself) of my first high-school-aged offense. I had gotten into the routine of flailing down the hall in a silly way—specifically, doing my best opera-style “Hallelujah.” It was fun, loud, and best of all… obnoxious as all get out. What else is a freshman to do but live up to the stereotype? I obviously had no choice. My operatics had skidded their way under the radar over and over. In fact, when teachers did start catching on to my screechy proclamations, they laughed. I won.

Until one day, a certain math teacher decided to call me out on my inane (and honestly, awful) singing, when I barged into his classroom, the trail-end of my melody snailing with me. I was told to stop, mostly in a polite way. Still, I didn’t enjoy being told this in front of my peers, nor the made-up rule at all. And like most ridiculous crap teenagers had to endure, I protested. “Why? But I’m just singing? Is it really against the rules to sing in between classes? Do you not want us to be happy, Mr. So&So?” He ignored me. Of course. I was hitting too close to the truth, I thought, and decided I would do it over again the next day and see just exactly what this fool was after.  I hallelujah-ed the following day, ripping through the busy halls in song. And, boy, did I think I was brilliant with this one; I would silence myself at the exact moment I crossed the threshold into his classroom, a blatant sass-ass. Technically, I wasn’t singing in his classroom, so I wasn’t under his jurisdiction, right? I was immediately sent to the principal’s office, where after a good ten minutes of amazement at my “crime,” the principal sent me off with an obligatory detention slip. My second detention EVER was for writing: “My mom is drunk and naked on the street corner,” in Spanish. I was definitely the queen of getting absurd-sounding detentions.

Anyway, back to the much older, modern day criminals: we giggled and gabbed on my front porch on Friday night, until it was someone’s bright idea to sing. I don’t recall how it began. Perhaps someone just started and we all pitched in. Either way, our harmonies moaned and chirped over the dead-nothingness of my suburban neighborhood. The rows of houses were our acoustics, the feral rabbits our audience. We were quite pleased with ourselves, too: inserting the right “boo-ba-boos,” just the right tone or key, even the way we could mimic the sounds and backdrop beats of the original jams. And once we cleared the “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Mr. Sandman,” we realized we had no other song knowledge in common. So…

Bearded One and I started with “O’ Holy Night,” and, as a group, we ran the gamut up until “White Christmas,” boosted by the bass of Hat Boy’s low vocals. We were out there for about an hour, I’m sure,  laughing at ourselves, singing, trying to remember the words to obscure second verses. Until the cops came.

Apparently, someone ratted on us. I felt an immediate sense of disbelief. REALLY? Really? really? Just as ridiculous as my 9th-grade offense, only Mr. Cop Man was nicer. He told us someone called to say we were having a “really big party” and he could see this wasn’t true. I felt like a loser. A 25-year-old chick, surrounded by her guy friends, with nothing better to do on a Friday night than overdose on iced coffee in her pajamas and sing Christmas carols, mid-March, on her porch. It’s fine. It is really fine.

Life Lesson #1875: Next time the cops get called on you, actually be engaged in something worthwhile: like intravenous drug usage, or the selling of Black-Market handbags. <3