Sunday, August 6, 2017

More Lovely to Beckon (Amy Day 8/09)

I wake up every morning with the call to beckon lovely. This isn’t because I’m naturally optimistic with the drive to seek beauty, but because I literally see the words “beckoning of lovely” on my bedside table as my eyes adjust to the sunlight, I begin my day with these words on my mind and I think about Amy.
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I was first introduced to Amy Krouse Rosenthal through John Green and Hank Green’s YouTube channel, the Vlogbrothers. Finding this community of nerds who were unabashedly enthusiastic was a lifeline for me. I strongly identified with the nerdfighter call to decrease world suck. In his video, John described Amy’s idea of “Positive Pranking” as a way to heed that call.

 And here's Amy's original Positive Pranking mission video.

Invited to become part of the “Positive Pranking” movement and desperately needing a way to bring more goodness into the world, my friend Simone and I wrote inspirational quotes on sticky notes and clandestinely affixed them to doors in our neighborhood for strangers to find and enjoy. It made us feel like we were doing something to make the world more beautiful, if even just for a moment.

I attended the Beckoning of Lovely gathering on 11/11/11 at the Bean in Chicago. While I had heard much about these community gatherings that Amy created (and watched the videos from the previous years), events with lots of people fill me with all sorts of social anxiety so I was nervous to participate. But I made myself resist my fear and was incredibly moved by this experience. 

She shared a flyer about her Beckoning of Lovely film, which I used for my end table project. It seems fitting to use something from an experience making things to make an object commemorating an experience (ALA 2013) that really made me.

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I met Amy Krouse Rosenthal at my first NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English conference) in 2011 in Chicago. I was very green to the world of educational conferences and had no idea what wonders I would find. Her presentation with Tom Lichtenheld, “Exploring Language in Wordplay in Picture Books” was a revelation and a window into their creative process. This led to a deep dive into Amy’s work, especially Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, which magnifies the extraordinary in our ordinary lives. Later, during a signing in the exhibit hall, I was able to tell Amy how much I appreciated attending the Beckoning of Lovely the week before.  

After this experience, I made it a priority to seek out opportunities to see Amy whenever she participated in conferences or literary events like Printer’s Row here in Chicago. During the summer of 2014, Amy hosted a series of summer strolls, which concluded with a final stroll back at the Bean. Again, I pushed myself outside my comfort zone to become part of this experience. It was incredibly intimate and magical experience, with only a handful of people. Amy gave us each a light stick wand to illuminate our way. She revealed an entirely new side of the park and downtown, bringing us to the wishing pond near the Bean and supplying us with pennies. I don’t remember my wish but I remember that it was heartfelt. I was in charge of the chalk for people to write on the sidewalk. I always appreciate being given a job. As we took our walk, Amy made a special effort to talk with each person and get to know them. I was so lucky to spend some time with Amy and share my passion for teaching and literature with her. We journeyed to Buckingham Fountain as the sun set and I pushed myself to strike up conversations with those on the stroll with me, not an easy feat for this introvert.  At the end of this experience, I remember feeling frustrated with myself that I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity to connect with others, but also proud that I even attempted to join this event. I also felt a fervent sense that everyone needed an experience like the Beckoning of Lovely stroll, where magical and unexpected things were possible. Fittingly, our walk ended at Crown Fountain, surrounded by people playing and splashing in the water, laughing with delight.

Last summer, I had the chance to return to the Bean with my friend Christina, a fellow nerdfighter and gifted writer, to celebrate the release of Textbook: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I believe kismet follows her; I happened to stumble upon a signing she was doing at BEA in Chicago and received a galley of this phenomenal book, but more importantly, had a chance to reconnect with her. I was so moved when Amy remembered me from the stroll, which truly meant so much to me. Unlike other Beckoning events where I went alone, I was graced with a friend who shared the bliss of being in the presence of Amy's creativity, vulnerability and humor. Christina brought rocks for us to decorate for Amy, which we both did. We watched in awe as Tom Lichtenheld made incredible art. We got to celebrate the announcement of Amy Day from the city of Chicago. Christina and I had the opportunity to take a picture with Amy and express our love for all of the things she made. It was magical and meaningful.

This past March Amy passed away and we wept. Many were introduced to her for the first time through her Modern Love piece, You May Want to Marry my Husband. I struggled to put into words how Amy had impacted my life. These small moments are everything and yet, they did not seem to have form. Just being in her presence made me more aware of being alive - and her work called me to try to live my best life, to, as she always said, “Make the most of your time here.”

*Purchase this poster from Blue Bunny Books, created by Peter H. Reynolds. Proceeds from the sale of this poster will be donated to the AKR Yellow Umbrella Foundation.

I had told my students to make found poem as a creative practice - and had my answer. I created a found poem about Amy after immersing myself in other’s responses and using their words to express myself. Holding back tears (barely), I told them about Amy and read my poem to my students.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal Found poem 
Made of articles, videos especially Christina's below, eulogies, her own words, her Modern Love piece, tweets and other words not my own because I can’t find the words

I wish you more
days of yellow umbrellas
beckoning at the bean
for the sole purpose of making something
Positive pranking
random acts of kindness
more stories than stars
On March 13, Amy Krouse Rosenthal died
No wonder the word cancer and cancel look so similar.
Plan “Be,” existing only in the present
This plus that
All done + time to go = the end
I wish you more umbrella than rain

Amy's genius was in her generosity
something from nothing
we sang songs
we drew on rocks
we felt gratefully at home in her presence and somehow instantly more alive
we knew her through the words she wrote
For her, writing wasn't a way to make a living. Writing was living.
In the incredibly generous spirit of making the world a better place
blessed to have shared the journey
we’ll miss you—your stories will be with us forever
She loved words, ideas, connections.
the goddess of picture books
lived life in the moment
We're here because, we're here because, we're here

A Modern Love story
Amy’s final essay,
titled You may want to Marry my Husband
written under the most difficult of circumstances,
a love letter to her husband Jason,
was the ultimate gift to him and also to the rest of us
She seemed, quite appropriately, powered by love
As a parent, a writer, a spouse, and a friend,
Amy Krouse Rosenthal was who I wanted to be when I grew up
No one saw the world the way she did
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”
At the very least, I want to look at trees a million more times. Is that too much to ask?”
life’s seemingly small moments are not really small at all.
the ordinary is the extraordinary

A legacy of love and beauty and kindness
a delicate friendship based on small things that feel huge
you made us all a bit more lovely
“My first word was 'more.' It may very well be my last.

Later, during our Humanities unit, I read I Wish You More aloud, listened to Emily Arrow’s song and created our own “I Wish You More” art. For my storytelling class, I collected their I Wish You More art (inspired by the #moreforakr community, especially Kirby Larson) into a collaborative poem to help my students make something more together and see themselves as poets.  

We left them displayed in our classroom long after the semester ended, which I hope inspired others who encountered them.

I was lucky enough to visit Carrie Secrist Gallery's Amy Krouse Rosenthal: A Beauty Salon exhibit the day it opened and mingle among the crowds of fans and friends. According to Carrie Secrist Gallery, “All of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s (AKR) work had a profound simplicity to it. Whether it was her children’s books, adult books, visual art, happenings, musical events, videos, radio segments, or performances, she made the ordinary into something extraordinary. Her focus on the magic in seemingly small, mundane things cultivated a sense of community and universality. AKR: A Beauty Salon will be an amalgam of experiences designed to encourage visitors to experience and participate in the generous creative energy that AKR represented and offered.” I made my mark on the wall, explored the Little Pea dummy, compelled myself to beg for a quarter for the missions machine, and discovered books by Amy that I had never seen before, including The Book of Eleven.

Pages from newly discovered book by Amy, The Book of Eleven
Was this the origins of the Beckoning of Lovely? 

Was this the beginning of This Plus That: Life's Little Equations?

And now we’re going back to the Bean on Amy Day on 8/9/17. On August 9 at 5:05, we will meet at the Bean, at Cloud Gate, and celebrate Amy Krouse Rosenthal. We will then walk in a Yellow Umbrella Parade to the Carrie Secrist Gallery for talks/presentations/performances. More information can be found here.

I hope you will join in celebrating Amy Day, whether that's in person in Chicago or wherever you are, seeking ways to beckon lovely. As Amy said in her 2012 TEDxSMU talk, "We all of us together beckon and harness enough lovely together to save the world."

I'll be there with quarters to spare for anyone who needs them.

Amy’s influence will continue to shape me and anyone who has ever known her or encountered her work. As I was working on this blog post and trying to travel back in time to my experiences with Amy, I came across this video that I had completely forgotten. In this video, Amy speaks the words that I sent her for my friend, Simone. I had failed to share this video with her in the past, so instead, she received this message now, when she needs it the most. 

So even now, Amy continues to bring so much goodness and light into my life. She brings me more.

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