The Ties That Bind

This is a great blog post that appeared on Allison Arieff’s New York Times blog. Some definite food for thought.

by: ALLISON ARIEFF

[read original post here]

When my mother, Carol, passed in 2004, I found myself spending hours at her empty apartment, sitting amid her things, desperate to find traces of her. I pored over her hundreds of books on art and antiques, looked through the baskets of art postcards she’d collected on her travels for scribbled notes, and flipped through years’ worth of day-planners, searching for evidence of her presence: a signature, a sketch, a smear of her trademark orange lipstick. I found one manila envelope of old family photographs and another containing every postcard I’d sent her during my junior year abroad in London. I cursed my 19-year-old self for not being thoughtful enough to keep the ones she’d written back to me.

My mom used e-mail, of course. And, for a time, I’d been proactive enough to save the meaningful ones she’d sent. But having gone through various versions of Outlook, Entourage, Gmail, et al., I have no idea where they are now. For all that’s miraculous and innovative and convenient and (insert superlative here) about our digital reality, it often seems poorly designed for posterity.

My most treasured find was a falling-apart book my mom had made in a children’s book illustration class she’d taken in the ‘70s (she’d been trained as a painter). She reinterpreted the classic “Noisy Nora,” by Rosemary Wells, with my father, my younger sister and me taking the place of Wells’ family of mice.

This pre-digital era class project hearkens back to the days when graphic works were hand-drawn and assembled. My mom’s drawings were done with a fountain pen, the text typed on a typewriter, each phrase individually cut out with scissors and glued to the page. Not long after the birth of my daughter, my graphic-designer husband scanned the delicate, fading artifact and created a brand new book, one that will not fall apart at the binding as we read to our young daughter.

(Bryan Burkhart)I am grateful to have this small token. I do worry about what we’re all going to leave behind for those looking for tangible evidence of our existence.

It’s true that never in history have so many people been able to tell their stories, and I love that about digital technology. But will we be clamoring to read “The Collected Text Messages of John and Jane” or “E-mails to My Father”? (It’s no coincidence that so many bloggers are in search of book deals.) Call me old-fashioned, but I remain committed to paper, to something I can hold in my hands and, ultimately, pass on to future generations.

(Princeton Architectural Press)That’s why I’ve been so incredibly taken with two slim volumes published this year: “A Year of Mornings: 3191 Miles Apart” and “The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings” (both by the incomparable Princeton Architectural Press) These two books elegantly address various notions of impermanence, remembrance and observation.

In “The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings,” the photographer KayLynn Deveney befriends an elderly neighbor and begins to notice and eventually photograph the meticulous ways he orders and organizes his day.

Excerpt from “The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings.” (Princeton Architectural Press)Bert, 91, outlived his wife, daughter and grandson, and the absence of family is reflected in the attention he pays to the most mundane details of life: preparing a list of TV programs to watch, receiving his pension, checking his medication. Deveney observes his daily routine with sensitivity and indeed manages to elevate it to the level of art.

Excerpt from “The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings.” (Princeton Architectural Press)“A Year of Mornings,” by Maria Alexandre Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes, started out as a blog. The two women, who’d met through their work with craft, initiated a yearlong visual conversation with each other: Every day they’d take and post a photograph that in some small way documented their respective mornings.

Excerpt from “A Year of Mornings.” (Princeton Architectural Press)Akin to the images recorded in “Albert Hastings,” these are vignettes of simple everyday things: a cup of coffee, soft-boiled eggs, rain boots kicked off at the front door, the stem of a flower, many crumpled napkins, many spoons. Though the two women were 3,191 miles apart — one in Portland, Ore., the other in Portland, Maine — the images are complementary in their color and composition more often than not. Sometimes startlingly so.

The blog, and the book that followed after a year’s worth of images (and 3,000 visitors a day from Australia to Iceland), capture the rhythms of everyday life, often surprising the viewer by the sheer beauty of the most quotidian element. That each woman paused to record the curve of a daughter’s ear, a bowl of cereal or a shadow cast across the floor before sitting down in front of a computer is an act that carries with it the most clichéd, yet essential, of all messages: stop and smell the roses (and the coffee, the toast, the morning air).

We’re living in difficult times, and it seems it’s exactly these tiny details and fleeting moments that can offer us the most solace and even joy. Just as I hold “Noisy Nora” dear, so, too, I believe, will the children of Mav and Stephanie be grateful for “A Year of Mornings.” Its transformation from blog to book helps to insure its preservation through the inevitable, endless iterations of technological innovations to come.

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