3.20.2017

A Tribute to Amy Krouse Rosenthal

This post is a tribute to Amy Krouse Rosenthal –– writer, curator of collective creativity, and all-around magical presence — who died last week after a fierce fight against ovarian cancer.


I started following Amy’s work almost ten years ago, when I first heard about the Beckoning of Lovely gatherings she hosted, beginning 08/08/08. I got to be at the last Beckoning of Lovely event on 11/11/11 at 11:11 a.m. at the Bean in Millennium Park in Chicago. I watched the video of that event last week, remembering our collective “I love you” text, Nick Gage’s Beckoning of Lovely song, and the temporary tattoos passed out that said “make the most of your time here” with akr’s signature yellow umbrella. I dug up the MISSion Amy KR quote book that I submitted a quote to—from Lewis Carroll’s Queen, who believed “as many as six impossible things before breakfast”—and recalled the copy of Plant a Kiss that Amy sent me and several other readers after I wrote about the book (and it’s “spectacular use of glitter”) here.

If you don’t know who Amy Krouse Rosenthal is, then I recommend you poke around her website, watch a few of her videos, or check out one of her memoirs or children’s books at the library. Her name started trending a couple weeks ago when she wrote a piece of piece for the New York Times “You May Want to Marry My Husband” — a tribute to her husband and their love story. She’s someone you’ll be glad to know.

My mom sent me a copy of Amy’s last children’s book, That’s Me Loving You, as we both sought to remember and grieve Amy, celebrate her work, and to remind me, her far away daughter, “that pouring rain?” (which I know all too well here), “That’s me missing you.” I love my mom for this and many other things. Fittingly, the illustration for that page shows a girl in the rain with a yellow umbrella—Amy’s signature object.

Amy launched her Beckoning of Lovely with a simple YouTube video about “17 Things I Made,” where she walked around her house and noted the sandwich, the boy, the mess that she’d made.

In tribute to Amy Krouse Rosenthal and her appreciation for numbers and lists, here are 7 things I learned from her, fellow Chicagoan, writer, and public artist:

  1. It’s better together.
    Most of AKR’s work happened in the public sphere, either through gatherings en masse like Beckoning of Lovely or books published, videos uploaded. She shared herself and her creativity with the world. And she was way more interested in doing something together than doing something herself. Her work is some of the most creatively collaborative I’ve seen and I think it inspired many, myself included, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

  2. Generosity & kindness are simple and totally doable.
    All of AKR’s making was oriented around these two simple gestures: generosity and kindness. If she published a new book, she gave some away. She reformed “ding dong ditching” into an act of anonymous kindness, leaving treats and notes on people’s doorsteps. Generosity can feel like it has to be this grand Chance the Rapper-sized gesture, but let’s be real, that’s not my size generosity. But if I could be half as generous as Amy was, I’d feel like I was opening my heart to something. I think Amy was so good at public creativity that was change-making because she knew that kindness and generosity are in our bones.

  3. Own your failures.
    In one of her TED talks, Amy talks openly about her greatest professional failure. After re-watching her TED talk, I thought, who does that?! Nobody gets on the TED stage to tell us about what they failed at. I love that she let us into her humanity. She may have been magical, but she was also real. And so much of creativity and life is about trying things on and shaking them off, moving towards something only to trip on the sidewalk, and hopefully someone will be there to help you back up. Amy owned her greatest professional failure without letting it stop her from creating again. We’re more resilient than we think we are.

  4. Do what you’re good at, what you love.
    This one’s tougher than it looks. Amy found a really clever niche that she was really, really good at: bringing people together, making things, inspiring many. And she leaned into it––even when there’s not really a LinkedIn profile for that kind of thing. As I approach the last few months of grad school, I’ve been thinking a lot about discernment and vocation and get a lot of questions about what I’m going to do next (ugh). I think discernment is more nuanced than its dictionary definition, and Amy courageously leaned into what she loved and was very good at, and the world is better for it.

  5. Love the ones you’re with.
    Dead simple. She did that with “You May Want to Marry my Husband.” She did that with her city, her online community, with the Beckoning of Lovely gatherings. She loved well. I think it’s also something cancer and death teach you: love the ones you’re with, while you can.

  6. Always trust magic.
    Amy hilariously adopted the “ATM” acronym for her own little Amyism “Always Trust Magic.” So every time you see an ATM, you can think about magic, maybe leave a note for the next guy. But so much of her work was magic. The simple human-sized kind, not just the Fairy Godmother, Harry Potter kind.

  7. Make the most of your time here.
    This is really the heartbeat of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the proverb she marched to with all of her be-ing. A fitting mantra for someone whose time on this earth was cut so short. It’s the benediction that she gave her Beckoning of Lovely followers. It’s a message that startles my almost-finished grad school heart with its sincerity and its underlying urgency. The thing is, we don’t have a qualifier for her use of either “time” or “here”—how much or how little time; here in this chair or on this earth? In this day or in this universe? It seems intentionally hazy, though the message is sharp: whatever it is, make the most of it. It was offered with an openhandedness that I find suits it, and Amy. A proverb that could easily get tossed about carelessly is given a renewed meaning with the life and death of a woman whose wholehearted living enabled others to listen keenly to their own heartbeat and march to that.
Amy was a unicorn of a human. The world will feel her lack.

Here's to you, akr.

With love,
J

6.12.2016

June 12, 2016


I sat down this weekend to at long last revisit this deserted task, with a sense of what I wanted to write, but after waking up to the news of another mass shooting, my mind and heart have been otherwise occupied.

I'm not sure there is much that can be written that hasn't already been spoken. The thought I am most occupied by is the fear that the shooting in Orlando will turn into an opportunity to pit the Muslim community against the LGBTQ community. As a believer in Jesus, my further fear is that the Church would start using language about God's righteousness and justice against either community. I hope to God that we all know there is nothing righteous or just in this. I imagine God is weary, even angry, over how his name has been so wildly misappropriated in events that are just as wildly outside of his nature.

Earlier this week I realized that this upcoming Friday marks one year since the shooting in Charleston. This massacre in Orlando, within a week's time of the anniversary of Charleston, is almost too much to bear. I am imagining the families of the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church are experiencing another layer of grief today, as they will this Friday.

As I write, I'm aware of the complexity of emotions in moments like these. Grief and pain are rarely clear-cut. And when we are distant from the tragedy at hand, there is a sense that we cannot know the grief of these families, and, in some ways, part of our challenge is to hold the complexity of emotions. I read the news and watched video of the President and the scene of the crime this morning, feeling grief for my brothers and sisters on the other side of the country and feeling indignation that our lives not be ruled by injustice. I have a responsibility to lament, to remember, to stand with, and a responsibility to walk on with a posture that calls for a different reality.

This means that today I will grieve for the victims in Orlando and their families, for the victims and families of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. I will read the liturgy at church this evening and participate in the eucharist. I will light a candle for the families in Orlando and Charleston, for the homeless man in my community who helped jump start my car, for my unemployed friend, for a friend battling cancer, and for the community of believers––that there would be a collective witness and a cry for God's peace.

In this, I am reminded of Negro spirituals. In Negro spirituals there is a lingering at the wound that bears witness to the bondage of slavery. There is also a collective call for freedom and a disarming hope. The tenor of this profound tradition calls to mind a poem I shared with a friend this week. All weekend I have had this line ringing in my head:

We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

As I read the news about Orlando and look ahead to June 17th, I am obliged to the nuance of my own mind and heart. Perhaps the task then is to also light a candle for the friend with a new baby, the couple newly married, my colleagues who are graduating, and a friend's new home.

May we take a nod from the Negro spiritual tradition, lingering in our lament and daring to hope that God will not allow pain without enabling something new to be born.

9.19.2015

I walked into year two

Sometime in the last two weeks, I have slipped into the role of a second year graduate student. Just before the whirlwind of a week of welcoming and orienting ourselves again to the rhythms of our academic community, I was gleefully road tripping around the Olympic Peninsula and the northern Oregon coast. The days were marked by extended glimpses of open ocean, beach-y walks, a one-of-a-kind playlist, tidal pools swirling with aquatic life, and a really special moment when a pod of whales appeared on the horizon. At one point I remarked that I wasn’t sure I could contain any more beauty. The return to cell service, work, and “real life,” as it’s so narrowly defined, was brutal. I felt ill-prepared for the onslaught of media and contact with persons other than my road trip companion. I so badly wanted to integrate the beauty and wonder of our time along the ocean and through the forests into my “real life.” I so hoped that such awe and beauty, overflowing from it’s wonder-sized gulf, would seep into the first days of our academic year.

At last year’s orientation, I had been in Seattle for barely two weeks. I was too doe-eyed and stunned to really absorb the words and warmth of the community I had just stepped into. I really didn’t have a clue what the year ahead of me would hold. When I entered the red brick building for the first time as a second year student, I was overwhelmed. It felt impossible that I had earned my second year status, but the arrival of more than 100 expectant first-year students confirmed it. At re-orientation, I saw a sea of faces, warmed by the many that are now familiar to me, and felt all the anxiety, fear, joy, and anticipation in that space. I was struggling to re-orient myself to the idea of school when dean Derek McNeil addressed our community. He spoke to us as academic dean—inviting us into a new school year—but also as a father-figure—containing the anxiety and fear in the room with his words, “This is the moment where I begin to fall in love with you.” My emotionally overwhelmed self wept at the love and care of Derek’s words. Because I knew that he spoke with sincerity, attuned to the students and stories before him. Last year I didn't know what I was getting into, but this year, I walked into year two with my eyes more or less open, knowing the profound healing and heartache this process holds. I couldn’t help but wonder…do I really want to do this? While my anxiety, uncertainty, and sense of overwhelm did not disappear, I felt cared for and loved in a way that enabled me to step into the week of welcome feeling just that—welcomed back. 

At Convocation later that week, I walked into the sun-streamed sanctuary of St. Mark’s and sat among students who I now know and love, remembering that last year I sat with near-strangers. As the alumni, staff, and faculty paraded to the altar, I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride, so honored by who I get to learn from, the community and leadership that guides, cares, and abides with us. As we encircled the sanctuary, I felt so profoundly privileged to be a part of this learning community, awed at the beauty of the space and the souls beside and before me. And as I went forward to receive the elements of communion, I wept at God’s overwhelming kindness and grace. I was entering year two with a new level of anxiety and angst, so aware of my own brokenness, and God met me in that place, surrounding me with the welcome, warmth, and hospitality of a community that said, “We’re so glad you’re here.”

In his Convocation message, President Keith Anderson said that he hoped The Seattle School would be a place safe enough to hold us but not to keep us there. We are doing this work so that we might go out and offer the same warmth, hospitality and healing to the world.

As I page through my syllabi and look at my stack of books, I’m still so overwhelmed and doubt whether I can really do it. But I also know that I will read, write and wrestle in a place safe enough to hold us, surrounded by voices that affirm we can do it, and with the reverberating word that, “He who called you is faithful.” 

8.05.2015

I like that about a season

When I woke up to see August 1 big and proud on my phone this weekend, I winced, realizing we are one month away from the start of school. I never want summer to end. Until this week, it's been hot and sunny and gorgeous every day. It feels like a summer that really knows itself, what it's supposed to be, and I like that about a season.

Summer in Seattle is kind of like heaven. People are outside as much as possible. I've hammocked in as many parks as I can, swam in as many bodies of water that I can, and I judge any potential eatery or coffee shop by the ability to sit outside. 

It is also the perfect time to have visitors. I'm so grateful for friends who remind you of goodness. Adventuring with friends, sharing the pure beauty of a place is one of life's greatest joys.

It is a season for watching the sunset from a hammock, exploring Deception Pass and poking around in the tidal pools like amateur marine biologists, eating the best sandwich in Seattle, having drinks with a view of the Olympics, and discovering the most beautiful hidden lakes in the Cascades.





It's also been lovely to read as many novels as I can. At the start of last year, one of my instructors told us to read something for fun while in grad school, otherwise we would hate reading by the end of it. So I kept a novel by my bed all of last year, and sure, it took me two months to finish a book, but it was a worthwhile reprieve. This summer's not long enough for all the books I hoped to savor.

Like everyone else in America, I just finished Harper Lee's new book. I approached Go Set A Watchman skeptically, afraid the rumors about one of my greatest literary heroes would be true, and afraid that the reclusive Harper Lee's 60-year-old manuscript just wouldn't resonate like To Kill A Mockingbird. While the rumors turned out to be true, they were also incomplete. And while it's not Mockingbird and we were wrong to expect it to be, the beloved characters still had something to teach me. I wept as the kindred-spirited Scout came to some heavy realizations.

I appreciate these words from Scout's Uncle Jack:

Remember this also: it's always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you'll get along.

And with that, I'm determined to make the very most of these next four weeks of summer. Don't let me down, Seattle.

7.07.2015

A Poem!

I don't write poetry often, and I almost never share it. But I've been learning a lot about taking risks and leaning into discomfort this year. I'm trying hard-ish to practice this ideology.

To that end, I recently had a poem published in The Seattle School's literary magazine Lit. It's about roots and belonging. Thanks for reading.


The Swede

I thought the red wooden horse would do it,
the candelabra, the crown
To satiate a deep-seated desire to be fixed 
to a people, a place.

They say you have to know where you’re from
to know where you’re going.
Where do you go to learn where you’re from?

I ferried to Ellis Island,
pressing into the summer crowd pilgrimaging
to a place of perpetual transition, of grief,
the promise of peace, prosperity, freedom
still ringing
hollow and empty in the great hall,
queued with ghosts.

The ghosts and I, we gaze up. 
A farmer, a watchmaker, a cook.
A girl.
We ogle and awe at the same tiled ceiling,
90 years between me and the genesis of belonging.

It is enough to make one feel rooted.
In a day when roots are so quickly yanked and plunged 
back into an arid soil,
clods of dirt in my wake.

What must it have been like to file in, fearful? 
Under that vast dome of collected and arranged 
white tile, burning hope.

I braid my hair, bake my bread. 
All the while, paying homage to 
the man, the farmer, the ghost. 

I am not so good at hope. 
It takes practice, 
said the girl
whose feet ache to meet the earth,
tendrils shooting from the pads of her feet
grasping desperately at anything that feels like grounding, like home.

How good it is—how necessary—
to remember, to know, to practice.
You have to look hard, dear heart, for those records, those roots, 
this terra firma. 

5.16.2015

If there is a task

This past month has seen profound heartache––in our own neighborhoods and in those worlds away. As I've been pulled back into the rhythms of school, it's been hard to know how to engage, what my role is in such tragedy. Several times over these past weeks, I've found myself writing and tracing the words "Nepal," "Baltimore," and the specific names of others in my world who are battling towards life––it has become its own sort of prayerful, palimpsest-like practice. When words seem less than adequate, I hope that presence and mindfulness can serve some sort of purpose.

There was an article posted to "On Faith" a couple weeks ago, a collection of voices on what to learn from the situation in Baltimore. This voice, in particular, has stuck with me:

"What is the call for people of faith when they are faced with the aftermath of a riot they may have helped create due to neglect or ignorance wrapped in arrogance? What do all riots have in common?

They are the phonetic and kinetic sounds and rhythms of the unheard."

(Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Trinity Church, Chicago)

With that in mind, it seems like we had better listen much, much better.
And this has made me wonder how well I have sought to listen to the unheard among us.

At the end of last term, I was meeting with one of my faculty. We were talking about race, intercultural competency, and asking hard questions of ourselves. At the end of our conversation, I was frustrated by not knowing where to go from here, as a student in a community of those privileged enough to go to graduate school. I asked him what my task was. He said, if there was a task, maybe it was something like Ezekiel's. In the Old Testament, a man named Ezekiel is called to be a prophet. The poor guy is commissioned to go to his own people––the nation of Israel, a people who will not listen, a rebellious nation.

The beautiful thing about this narrative is that God recognizes this is an impossible task. He says to the deeply distressed Ezekiel, "But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people." You see, the Maker of the Universe does not send Ezekiel to these hard-hearted people without first equipping him with a hard forehead. Nevertheless, God sends Ezekiel to speak to the nation of Israel, whether they listen or fail to listen.

If there is a task, maybe this is it.

And with the words of Rev. Dr. Otis Moss ringing, I wonder if we can afford to "fail to listen" any longer. The beauty of a prayerful, mindful, listening posture is that we don't have to get it together before we show up. We can take a hopeful chance that history does not have to repeat itself. My hope is that the things we face are greater and more important than the things we refuse to face.

4.04.2015

Leaning in so far that we fall

Last fall I wrote a paper on "The Essential Pause of Holy Saturday in the Triduum." And I was really into the paper. But I don't think it was really until yesterday that I saw the truth of what I'd written months before.

Though I had been recognizing the movement of Holy Week for years with Good Friday prayer, a Saturday Easter vigil, and of course, a big brunch party on Resurrection Sunday, I had only just learned that this three-day narrative arch was known as the triduum (trij-oo-uh-m). In my paper, I wrote about the role that Holy Saturday plays as a paradoxical space in which the silence of the God of the universe speaks volumes. I wrote that it is not merely a turn of events between the death and resurrection of Jesus but rather an essential pause in which Christ's descent into hell deprives evil of its power over our lives and all of creation. I wrote that in the stillness of Holy Saturday, Jesus bears witness to the suffering of the world and we are released from the binds of our grief. On Holy Saturday, we are invited to lean into the silence of the world's wounds.

And I think my hope is that we'll lean in so far that we'll fall right into the celebration of resurrection.

In reading these words again today, on this Holy Saturday, I see the truth behind the hunch of my creative process. I'm grateful to have these words to reflect on, and I'm grateful for a renewed richness to this day.

This past Holy Week has been rather bogged down by the weight of the final weeks of a graduate school term. And I know I've really missed out on the usual rhythms to this week. I'm 2,000 miles away from the people I usually convene with on Good Friday for prayer around the cross and the fantastic gathering of folks who ring in the resurrection with an Easter Vigil like I've never seen. A dear friend reminded me to be alert to how the Master of the Universe might break into these disrupted rhythms in a unique way, surprising me with his presence. 

I just love it when people are right in things like this, because I got to recognize Holy Saturday and anticipate the resurrection with row after row of tulips. 





It seemed fitting that we would be surrounded by such beauty in abundance and then get stuck in the mud. When we happened upon these white tulips splattered with mud, I couldn't help but see these as an emblem of Holy Saturday. 


It's neat how God sees us so well and meets us in that space.

Lastly, I'm grateful for the unexpected means of learning and reflecting. And yes, somehow we find ourselves reading just the right thing in just the right season. On Maundy Thursday, Mary Oliver's words graced the day:

Where are you?
Do you know that the heart has a dungeon?
Bring light! Bring light!

And yesterday, a friend shared these words from none other than the Tale of Despereaux:

Despereaux looked at his father, at his grey-streaked fur and trembling whiskers and his front paws clasped together in front of his heart, and he felt suddenly as if his own heart would break in two. His father looked so small, so sad.
"Forgive me," said Lester again.
Forgiveness, reader, is, I think, something very much like hope and love - a powerful, wonderful thing.
And a ridiculous thing, too.
Isn't it ridiculous, after all, to think that a son could forgive his father for beating the drum that sent him to his death? Isn't it ridiculous to think that a mouse ever could forgive anyone for such perfidy?
But still, here are the words Despereaux Tilling spoke to his father. He said, "I forgive you, Pa."
And he said those words because he sensed it was the only way to save his own heart, to stop it from breaking in two. 

I love when the words of a children's book nail it so profoundly.

And so, dear reader, go forth and bring light, lean into the ridiculous hope and love of the reverberating drum.