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

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