October 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
A few weeks ago, the House of Coates (a story in words and photos about drifter Lester B. Morrison) was reissued. Its launch was kicked off with its author, Brad Zeller, spinning vinyl while its photographer, Alec Soth, pulled transparencies on and off the overhead projector, using dying Sharpies to write blurred words and phrases on his photos. The evening was funny and disconnected, bordered on confused mayhem, and was quite enjoyable. And the venue, a vintage furniture store, added to the eccentricity.
I debated going to a second House of Coates book launch, this time at the Walker Art Center, thinking it would be more DJing and AVing (not that there’s anything wrong with that). However, I had just finished the book, adored it, and wanted to see what strange frivolity would ensue.
So I went. And in typical fashion when topics about sad lives are broached, I cried.
Zeller began by talking about his move several years ago to a small cabin in Vermont for eight months to get away from computers/email/social media and those whom he felt were disappearing behind it. He also explained his lifelong interest in outsiders and described people he’d known who walked on that periphery of loneliness, who were never really understood or valued or loved or given a place or purpose.
The tears made their appearance when Zeller read an introduction he’d written, which had been cut from the book, about different types of invisible people and why they are regularly discarded or forgotten. Not only were Zeller’s words beautiful and profound, but they triggered the deep sadness and worry I’ve forever held for misfits, along with a similar curiosity to understand their stories and lives.
When Q&A time rolled around, I was eager to ask several questions, but I didn’t for fear of starting to cry again. Instead I listened as Zeller shared details about a new project that involves finding obituaries of people with no known survivors and researching their lives. I’ve often had a desire to do similar work, more along the lines of going to funerals of people who die alone or whose families can’t afford to pay for lengthy obituaries, and trying to untangle the questions of their lives or to memorialize them properly.
I admittedly bought this book because I love Alec Soth’s photography, but Zeller’s story (both in the book and in his life) moved me in ways I never imagined when I paid my $20 three weeks back. It also got me thinking about my abandoned projects on the brokenhearted and forgotten and has renewed my interest in giving them another go.
The book is available through Coffee House Press and independent bookstores (and I’m sure it is at Amazon, too, but check with your local bookseller first), and an interview with Zeller and Soth on Minnesota Public Radio is a fantastic companion to the book. They’ve also been getting a lot of attention nationally, specifically from the New York Times, and I suggest you get a taste of some of their other work there.
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While at the Walker, I did stop by one of my favorite places in the city — Sky Pesher, the James Turrell piece. I hit it twice (before and after the talk) for some quiet reflection and also strolled around the sculpture garden and pedestrian bridge before heading home.
October 23, 2014 § 2 Comments
October 22, 2014 § 2 Comments
My evening swirled around two events ideal for aesthetic-loving nuts like me.
A friend invited me to a party celebrating Shelter’s tenth anniversary and its new digs in Northeast Minneapolis. Shelter is a funky architecture firm that has designed such great spaces as Icehouse and Bauhaus Brew Labs. And the party was pretty happenin’ too.
Next I sped back to my own neighborhood to attend a handwriting workshop at Christine Hoffman’s Foxglove Market & Studio. Wendy Brown from Brown Ink and Gina Sekelsky from Gina Sekelsky Studio led us through exercises to prep our imaginations for creative ideas that would help us resurrect the old-fashioned way of staying in touch. After an hour or so of practicing, mingling, snacking, and oohing and aahing over examples of beautiful handwriting, we ended the night penning our own cards and popping them in the mail.
When next in St. Paul, stop by Foxglove on Grand Avenue, and keep an eye open for other events offered at the shop. It’s an original gem that offers vintage and new furnishings and household goods, and it specializes in organic flower arrangements, stationery, and a whole array of eclectic, colorful, and beautiful gifts.
October 21, 2014 § 3 Comments
Hamline University is a small private college in St. Paul where I earned my undergraduate degree and spent my formative years trying to shake my shyness and become something more than the sweet, smart, quiet girl I was in high school.
The shyness eventually fell away but I didn’t quite figure out the “something more” in those early years. I rarely knew where I was headed, and I didn’t feel comfortable with the choices I was making. I considered pre-med but suffered through organic chemistry. Eventually I hid behind an English major, but wasn’t quite sure how I arrived at that decision. I loved and did well in English, but never thought I was particularly good at critical thinking or creative writing, although I knew I had a strange and clever imagination that held stories waiting to be told.
In school and for many years afterward, I never called myself a writer and never thought I was particularly good at the craft other than the basics like grammar and structure and fact documentation. I was sure my career would never evolve beyond business or technical writing.
And so far it hasn’t. I earn my living writing speeches or presentations or articles or white papers or process documents about complicated financial products or hotel customer service or truck hydraulic systems. I like it. I’m good at it. But the desire to write without barriers, for those who appreciate a good story, hasn’t abated.
Approximately 10 years after graduation, I stumbled upon The Loft, nestled on the edge of downtown Minneapolis and one of the best writing centers in the country, and I’ve continued taking classes there for nearly 15 years. Earlier today I finished a fantastic and challenging class on flash fiction, a genre that fits my weird imagination, condensing all my wild thoughts down into small, mysterious, funny, sad, succinct narratives. For days I fretted over the last story I wrote for class, but my instructor’s and classmates’ responses and comments allowed me to linger in that “maybe I am a writer” space for a few fleeting hours.
Hours that found me back at Hamline where all those dreams of one day calling myself a writer but never believing it began. I returned to my old college library this afternoon, a place where I’d spent many a day and night fretting about chemistry formulas and philosophies while trying to craft papers on symbolism in Toni Morrison’s fiction.
Every so often I’d find myself peeking out the third-floor window, gazing across campus to my old dorm and watching the current students passing underneath, wishing I had the chance to start over again with the knowledge and confidence I possess now but lacked 25 years ago.
But then again, why go there? What is life (and, for that matter, what is a story) without struggle and indecision and despair and doubt, especially in those early years? I guess that’s what the journey is all about. If everything was crystal clear that early in life, we’d stop searching and growing and coming back to where it all started, looking to see how far we’ve come.
So I’ll continue to go back to The Loft and Hamline and other places that remind me of where I’ve come from but that continue to give me hope that I’m headed in the right direction. And with each visit, I’ll try not to look back with anything other than gratitude, for there’s much to celebrate since those tentative, thrilling, confusing, exhilarating college days. And why would I want to miss out on the present and future my experiences at these places continue to grant me?
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One can’t go back to campus, of course, without bringing one’s camera. A few pictures from my afternoon at the place where I began adulthood.
October 20, 2014 § Leave a comment