On Being a Host

The past two months of my life have given me a crash course on hosting. For the first time, my husband and I have over nine hundred square feet that are ours for the upkeep and nesting. A small apartment overlooking trees and a courtyard, with a dining room table and six chairs (four of which are usually open for the taking), several ceiling fans (for days where the temperature ascends ninety) and two nice but not *too* nice cars. I’ve been working two days a week at the Museum for Contemporary Art Chicago, where I research upcoming exhibits, observe visitors in our galleries and talk to guests one-on-one about their experiences, thoughts and abstract feelings about art. Lots and lots of chit-chat. Many guests coming in and out of both home and work. Dinners for two, three, maybe even four or five on our table most nights. A very hot kitchen that friends sometimes stand in to talk with me, beads of sweat on the back of our necks while asparagus roasts in the oven.

Last fall, I took a course called Community Art with a woman named Leah Samuelson. It taught me some things about art and a lot of things about people and vocation and compromise. One of the things we talked about was the concept of guesting and hosting. Everyone needs opportunities to both guest and host. That’s why conversations involve listening and talking. It’s why you get invited to someone’s house for dinner and instantly start feeling like maybe you should buy some place mats and track down the homemade pizza dough recipe. It’s why, after a long day of talking to people and answering questions and listening to concerns, you just want someone else to pour you something to drink and give you a place to sit for a while.

I put together an action-focused experiment halfway through the course and implemented it among my friends – even the ones I hadn’t known very long at the time. I was living off campus, in a basement apartment, but I invited over people every night, usually one or two at a time. Some stayed a reasonable amount of time and others lingered until ungodly hours. I listened, I made food, I baked brownies. I avoided looking at the clock. I hosted for my life. It was exhausting, but taught me something about the relative discomfort of giving and how much I actually loved it.

This evening, I was filling out a brief survey answering some questions about my internship, specifically in regards to the concept of human flourishing within an institution. I began to think again about what the concept of “flourishing” might mean to me. Art is an institution in and of itself. It has rules, artifacts, roles and specific arenas. My home is an institution, with Timothy and I enacting the roles of husband and wife, good friends and hosts. But what makes these institutions unique and worth participating in are their unique abilities to connect people.

Every day that I work at the Museum of Contemporary Art, upwards of a thousand people may walk through our doors. Couples, teenagers, families, groups of fabulous senior citizens… I get to sit down with many of them and ask them personal questions about art and the gallery. Sometimes they give me vulnerable answers. Sometimes they try to act smart. Either way, it’s yet another moment of host and guest. Asker and answerer. Listener and speaker. Five minutes to say what’s on your heart or come up with something witty. A person who helped to prepare a place for you and a chance to reflect upon your time in it. It’s a silly thing, really. But also an intimate one.

Our home is quite the same. A humble one bedroom with space to share. Extra spots at the table if someone needs them. No strict bedtime. Free parking and extra servings. One summer to start with, but hopefully a lifetime to follow.

As I said, it’s been a crash course.

May Fourteenth (Our Wedding Day)

One of my favorite things for I-can’t-remember-how-long has been reading people’s blog posts about their wedding days. Even when planning our own wedding, I poured over the same half a dozen blog posts over and over again, longing to figure out just what it was that these women wanted to remember about their own wedding days. It was important to me that our wedding be not only beautiful, but meaningful. For both Tim and myself, details were important. Knowing that our day was touched by more hands than our own gave us memories stronger than iron.

When we first started planning our wedding, we both knew instinctively that we wanted it to be in May. My parents were married in May, and when I was a little girl one of my favorite things to do was flip through their wedding album. Everything about their wedding was perfect. My mom’s backless, tulle dress and flawless smile. The pink chiffon off-the-shoulder bridesmaid dresses with the men in sharp grey tuxes. The outdoor ceremony in a flower garden and inside-outside reception full of food, dancing and laughter. I wanted my day to be just like my mother’s and the stories I told of our wedding to be just as joyous and sunshine-filled.

(My parents on their wedding day in 1993)

The other major theme that was important to me was that the wedding be distinctively celebratory. When Tim and I decided to get married, we did so knowing that we would be representing Christ to the world through our marriage. In the same way Christ rejoices over His bride the church, we rejoiced in and over each other. We wanted Scripture, prayer, music and words that would celebrate our marriage and the marriages of so many of our friends – as well as the joy that all of us, married or single, had found in Christ. I remember spending one evening months before the wedding addressing envelopes with half a dozen friends and being moved to tears at how beautiful weddings are. It’s no wonder Christ performed His first miracle at a wedding – it was the perfect opportunity to serve and love on each other.

The night before the ceremony, all of our out-of-town friends and family gathered into one gorgeous hotel to spend the night and get early the next morning. Early on in the planning process, Tim and I decided to have a slightly non-traditional late morning ceremony and brunch reception. I wanted sun, sun, sun all day long and lots of yummy breakfast food. It did mean, however, that we had a more chill evening beforehand. All the bridesmaids and groomsmen went out for deep dish Chicago style pizza and then hung out at the hotel all evening. I even found out later that some of my bridesmaids crashed another wedding going on at the hotel and danced pretty hard for a solid half hour. Getting in the mood, I guess.

Waking up the morning of the wedding, I noticed rays of sunshine peeking through the hotel curtains. The weather app predicted it would be 70 degrees and sunny all day long. Elaini and I whispered in bed for a few minutes while the other girls showered – neither of us quite believing the day had actually come. Getting nine girls completely dressed and camera-ready by 9:00 AM was a bit of a struggle, but I was determined not to stress and my bridesmaids took care of absolutely everything. My friend Lily sat me down by a window and did my hair and makeup (“simple, dewey, soft” were the only instructions I gave) and by the time our photographer Bekah showed up, everyone was running to and fro in a flurry.

My sister Hannah helped me into my gown by New Zealand designer Kelsey Genna. I’d been in love with Kelsey’s designs for years and chose my gown from a flash sample sale she held back in September. I had it shipped across the ocean, crossing my fingers it would fit. I never needed a single alteration.

The moment I saw my flowers is when I thought I’d start to cry myself. Sheer perfection. I’d wanted lots of pinks and lots of eucalyptus, and for a week or two it looked like the eucalyptus crop had failed this year and we’d have to substitute with something else. Luckily, those California farmers pulled through.

Originally, Tim and I were firmly against the idea of a first look. We wanted that moment of walking down the aisle for the first time to be pure magic. But after talking about it with our photographer, we decided to go for it and soak up that early morning light. The moment I finally saw Tim standing outside with his back turned toward me, it all felt 100% real. I started shaking with joy.

Tim’s deep green suit (a total risk that paid off) was from ASOS and all the groomsmen ties were from Stag Handmade on Etsy. All the bridesmaids wore different pink dresses from ASOS to create a rainbow of color. Even my pink shoes were from ASOS – really our one-stop lifesaver of a website.

Planning a wedding so far away from my family was really challenging at times, but seeing my mom’s eyes water up at how beautiful everything was made me feel so proud and happy. We planned our wedding on Mother’s Day and it held the distinction of being the only Mother’s Day so far that earned me an extra mother.

Tim’s father David is an ordained minister so he graciously agreed to officiate our ceremony. Our selected Scripture was Jeremiah 31:10-14, read by Mark Lewis, our dear friend and mentor in so many ways. “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry…” It summed up the joy of the marriage celebration. Our friend Max also composed original music for the processional and recessional, our friends Audrey and Emma sang one of my mom’s favorite hymns (“Complete in Thee”) while Tim and I took communion, and Tim’s grandfather read the most amazing Anglican prayer over us and all our guests. Smiles, smiles, smiles.

Our venue was the historic Columbus Park Refectory, built in 1921. It sits right on the edge of a pond, so guests could mingle outside on the patios, walk down by the water, or dance their feet off in t ballroom. We served a buffet breakfast of brioche french toast, sausage, bacon and macerated berries. (I overheard one friend incredulously realizing that he’d never before been to a wedding with BACON)

Almost all the little details of our day were created and organized by dear friends! Our invites were hand-painted by our friend Jill, the leaf detailing on the programs were painted by our friend Rebecca, and all the hand lettering was done by the incredible Grace. We also commissioned custom silhouettes by Boddington Studios to use for all of our programs and to display on the guest book table. The naked cake was a labor of love by our friend Kristina – who gave up a whole weekend to work on it and couldn’t even make it to the wedding due to an unfortunately-scheduled international flight. Walking into the ballroom and seeing that cake made my heart pitter-patter.

For our first dance, Tim and I chose a cover of “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” by She and Him. I think I could have lived in those two minutes and forty-four seconds forever.

I was a little unsure whether our friends would still tear up the dance floor at two in the afternoon, but they certainly didn’t disappoint. Two and a half hours of hardcore dancing to everything from La La Land to Beyonce to the Mulan soundtrack.

For the reception, I changed into a dress that my sister Hannah sewed for me! She brought it to Chicago a week early so she could do fittings and make sure it was tailored just right. I’d never wanted to be one of those brides who paid for two wedding gowns, but having something so flirty and feminine to dance in was exactly what I needed. How do sisters always know things like that?

When I think back on our wedding day, I know I’ll have stories of sunshine, laughter and music to tell our kids – just like the stories my parents told me. I could feel the hands and hearts of guests both present and absent gently pushing us along into this next stage of life. All I can say now is: I’m glad we didn’t elope.

Credits // Photography – Bekah Wriedt, Dress – Kelsey Genna, Shoes – ASOS, Florals – Gatherings Design, Tim’s Suit – ASOS, Groomsmen Ties – Stag Handmade, Bridesmaid Dresses – ASOS, Venue – Columbus Park Refectory

When Registering Leads to Discovering

I’m currently stuck in the airport waiting for my long-overdue (and very delayed) flight back to Virginia for Christmas, and while I was killing time I revisited the wedding registry I made this fall for mine and Tim’s May wedding. Making a registry was SO much fun (it’s like Pinterest come to life!) but one of the things I loved about creating ours was how many previously unheard of artists and small businesses I discovered while making it! It was important to me from the start to include as many pieces from artists and small business owners in our registry as I could. I walked the line between “want” and “need” and recognized that yes, some things do have to come from Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond. But I was excited to see what unique items I could discover for our future home and what creators we could support along the way!

So because I’m bored and because you might find it interesting, I thought I’d share with you some of the amazing creatives and shops I discovered throughout the process of wedding registry making. I didn’t include items from all of these shops on our registry, but I think they all contain pieces that would make amazing Christmas gifts or additions to your own home!

First off, I should disclaim that we made our registry through Blueprint Registry instead of going the traditional route. I loved that with Blueprint I could add items from any website, instead of having to find everything through one retailer. I get an email every time someone purchases something from our registry, and they ship the items right to our door! I can also add things as group gifts and multiple people can split the cost. So far, I haven’t had any problems! No, they’re not sponsoring me or anything. I’m just really happy we made that choice!

Okay, so breaking it down by category, here are some of the sites/artists I discovered and loved:

Home Goods

Leif

Leif has EVERYTHING. I registered for this pitcher (practical, right?) but I also can’t get over this pillow, these tea towels, or just about anything else.

MOMA Store

One of my favorite art museums actually has an online store and I actually love everything, but I especially love this mobile and these coasters (I am an art history student after all).

Blankets/Pillows

Twiggy and Opal

I’m obsessed with contemporary quilts (which you will soon see). I love Twiggy and Opal’s bold designs and color choices. I think my favorites are the Rainbow Lap Quilt and this equally Rainbow Lap Quilt. Oops. I guess my taste consists of one thing.

Weaving Mill

I met these two artists when they visited my school this past fall and had the privilege of seeing some of their pieces in person and writing an article about them for our newspaper. If money was no issue, I would definitely have this spread out over my couch someday.

Pottery

Lee Wolfe Pottery

I put this serving bowl on our registry because–hello–it’s gorgeous. But check out this mug and these poppy bowls. The saturation of that glaze is amazing!

Salt and Stone Pottery

This shop is pretty much exclusively ring dishes, which is pretty impractical for starting a home, so I didn’t save anything from it. But you should check out the beautiful collection of dishes. The color palette is dreamy.

The Clay Bungalow

This pottery has much more colorful, traditional folk flare to it. Most of the pieces feature animals, which I love because it’s so quirky and cute. I love this platter (but honestly, at that price point, I shouldn’t love it) but I also die over this pitcher and this platter (hello, orange!) and pretty much everything.

Art/Prints

Lucile’s Kitchen

I fell in love with these prints a while ago and really want the lemon because ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of yellow in my kitchen. But if you look through the whole shop, you’ll find hundreds of cute options–and the artist can even custom paint your family recipes!

Decor

Loom and Field

Definitely had to put one of these pom pom baskets on the registry (and it looks like it’s coming my way!). But oh my gosh these Moroccan RUGS. UUUUUGH.

Castle and Things

 

 

 

Honestly one of my favorite websites. I could buy everything. The felt prints? Slay me. I mean, just look at this. It’s so post-wedding! All the velvet floor cushions are so cute too. Also these colors. Maybe I’ll just buy the tea towel and frame it.

Taylor Cuts Paper

Why do I love all these paper plants? Honestly, tell me why. Paper plants make no sense. But they are so. darn. cute. I want this collection to scatter around our apartment since I don’t have a green thumb. The cacti are pretty adorbs too.

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And those are some of the cool creatives and websites I’ve discovered lately and had to pass on! Where do you love to online shop?

-Rachel

 

We Do This Well

Some friends of mine created a short theater piece last semester called “Women and Anger”. While putting the work together, they invited groups of female students to meet for short workshops where we explored what it felt like to be an angry woman. They put sheets of paper up on the walls that read “I’M NOT ANGRY I’M ______.” We filled in the blank with all the excuses we’d given in the past to justify our “bursts of emotion”. I’m not angry, I’m just tired. I’m not angry, I’m just PMSing. I’m not angry, I’m just frustrated. I’m not angry, I’m just sad.

I was thinking about that exercise this week in light of everything that’s been happening in the world of politics. I know I’ve been angry. You’ve probably been angry. Your parents, neighbors, friends, are probably all angry about something. Either you’re angry about who got elected or you’re angry about the people who protest it. You’re angry about the choices you were given or the choices other made. Call it frustrating, heartbreaking, painful, or sad, but chances are you, like me, are a little bit angry about something.

Anger is healthy, sometimes. But it’s also sickening. It hurts our souls and bodies. It’s okay to be angry for a moment and to protest the injustice you see in the world. But it’s also not okay to dwell on it.

Because I found myself dwelling on anger this week, I started trying to find ways to combat it. One thing I found helpful was to contemplate what I and the people I love do well. How can we love each other out of anger? I’m not saying we ignore each other’s faults or turn a blind eye to the hurting in the world. I’m just saying we start by recognizing that we are strong, and then build something beautiful out of that strength.

I started a running list and my hope would be that every time I recognize something beautiful in myself or a friend/family member, I can write it down and remember it as a strength. I also hope that other people might start a project like this too, or write the strengths of you and those you love below. It’s kind of like a quilt. With only a few squares, it seems thin. But with patience, over time, it grows and stretches and covers the ones who need it. That’s what I’m hoping this project will help me do with those around me.

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We Do This Well

A girl beside me in class said that I do a good job of listening to the scattered thought of the group and putting them into cohesive sentences. I believe her. I think I’m good at hearing and reiterating what people have to say. | My mother always hated saying no whenever someone asked her to do something. No matter how busy she was, no matter how many things she had to do, she almost always found a way to say yes. She does friendship well. I can’t imagine being as selfless as that. | I have an older male professor who cried in front of me once when talking about how much he cared about the rights and futures of the young women in his classes–how much he wanted them to believe that there were people in this space who would support and root for them, no matter what. He is a picture of steadfast activism. | It took me a long time to believe that clothing matters. That the things you put on your body could mean something and tell some story. I don’t know if I dress well, but I know that I dress happy. It makes me smile and it makes others smile. I think there’s something beautiful in that. | I was sitting on the floor one day and my acting professor walked over to me and put his hands on my shoulders, looking down at me from above. “Tiny Rachel Coker”, he said, and my name meant something good. | My sister Hannah just had surgery on her back after a year of living with an open wound. She called me one day, locked inside her bedroom, and cried. Then she sniffled and her breathing slowed down. I think about what it means to suffer and I picture swimming forever with a trunk strapped to your back. My sister can carry weight. | The Cubs won the World Series, and Grace bought a new hat. She skipped class on Friday and went to the parade with her dad and five million other people. It’s all she talks about. I hug her every time I see her that week. She is a celebrator, I think, and also a crier. There’s a beauty in this ability to feel both things. | I met a girl named Phoebe who is very tall and parts her hair to the left. Her hands are eager to help. She lifts things, arranges things, puts things back. Completes the tasks that need completing. Hugs spontaneously and quite often. The second time I met her, she left with, “Bye! Love you!” and I didn’t want to say it back. I didn’t know her. Didn’t feel ready. The third time, I responded “Love you too”, because I did. | I can type over eighty words per minute. I throw that out when I want to impress people, and it usually works. | One Sunday after church, I watched Timothy hug exactly six people. I was hungry and wanted to go to lunch. He was excited and wanted to say hi. He finds joy in finding and greeting anyone he’s ever met before. It’s an eagerness for community that I have never experienced. | “What do you do well?” someone asked me. I wasn’t used to seeking my own answer. I guess she asked good questions.

What do you do well?

-Rachel

Four Days in NYC

Tim and I got engaged on a Wednesday night in the middle of September, right in the midst of a busy week and semester and season in life. We celebrated, of course, with friends and balloons and chips with salsa. But it was one night of bliss and then immediately back to the bustle and routine of everyday life. We wanted a chance to get away and have some time alone to let it sink in that WOW WE ARE GETTING MARRIED and OH MY GOSH WE ARE GOING TO BE LIFE PARTNERS with maybe a dash of both rest and magic thrown in for good measure. So we decided on a whim to book a flight to New York over our five day fall break and go on our first of many adventures together. With the last homework assignment completed and the majority of midterms taken, we hopped on a flight Saturday evening and headed to the Empire State.

One of my childhood friends Jackie got married this past spring to a wonderful man named Stephen and they settled down in an apartment in Jackie’s hometown of Bloomfield, New Jersey. When we mentioned that we were interested in spending our fall break in New York, they threw open their arms and doors to us and invited us to stay with them for the week. After all, they were just one short 25 minute train ride from the heart of the city! They made up an air mattress in their spare bedroom and threw blankets and pillows on the living room couch. We got our own set of keys and the freedom to come and go as we pleased. It was surreal to be hosted by the girl I was a frizzy haired middle schooler with eight long years ago. Now she was hosting and spare bedroom owning–offering us cups of coffee or a ride to the bagel shop when we woke up in the morning. I never felt so perilously close to adulthood as I did seeing Jackie standing in it firmly.

Our four days in the city were magic. We wandered wherever we wanted to wander. We slept in, stayed up late, ate pounds upon pounds of pizza, macaroni and cheese, ice cream, soft pretzels, and bagels. We held hands. Sang songs–out loud, with skipping and sometimes spinning. We met up with friends, both old and new. Kissed in front of lit up fountains and in empty train cars. Napped under big trees in the park. Watched movies, went shopping, rode up and down too many escalators to count. We did a lot of everything and a lot of nothing and saw a bunch of stars and hearts in front of our eyes.

My friend Cara commented on one of my Instagram posts on the last day of our trip and said, “So cute! It sounds like you went on a honeymoon for getting engaged.” I paused when I read that and realized she was kind of right. Tim and I spent every waking moment for five days together and didn’t get sick of each other for a moment of it. We don’t live together here on campus, and had never spent the night under the same roof. But last week it felt so special to know that I could wake up each morning, throw on a hoodie, and find him sleeping on the couch. We could consult each other before every meal, trip, and decision. Time passed in lengthy discussions or no words at all. And it all felt so comfortable and right and good. I knew I was being taken care of and treasured, and that fact was like something I could tuck into my pocket and carry with me all week long.

All of this to say, we had a magical fall break in the Big Apple. There were too many stories and jokes to record each one, but I did want to share with you all some of our photos and a breakdown of where we went + how we saved money so that any of you planning  a trip to New York yourselves (or just day-dreaming) could have some ideas!

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Day One – Upper West Side

Sunday was our first full day on the East Coast, so we slept in late and then went and had a big meal with Jackie and her whole family (who I have known for forever, it seems). We ate lots of pie and played mafia and laughed until our sides hurt. Then Tim and I hopped on a 5 PM train into the city to catch the last night of the New York Film Festival. We met up with his friends Michael and Rebecca and we all ate giant, cheesy slices of pizza at some no-name pizzeria on the Upper West Side. Then we said goodnight to our friends and walked over to the Lincoln Center, where the lights and the fountains were aglow. We watched an independent French film in a small theater, then wandered out into the cooling night air and walked hand in hand for a while by the fountains, feeling alive and young and joyful. Then we took the long way back to the train, pressing through crowds of people in Times Square (which is always crowded and always bright as day) before getting home for the evening, well past midnight.

 Day Two – Lower Manhattan + Madison Ave + Central Park

Our second day in New York was definitely our fullest. We woke up bright and early for a fitting in Lower Manhattan at Indochino–an atelier I’d scoped out long ago in search of  a custom-made wedding suit for Tim. After the fitting, he walked me to TWO different Kate Spades (one on Broome St and a five-story one on Madison Ave), stopping for brunch in between at the very pink and very European Cafe Henrie . We sat in front of a big open window and people watched. After lunch, we took the subway back up to mid Manhattan and spent a few hours at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)–a spot that quickly became my happy place. We watched a forty minute long video of slides from the 80′s entitled The Ballad of Sexual Dependency that moved us both, waited in line for half an hour to see a special exhibit on the top floor in which no photos were allowed, and wandered through the 20th Century wing, coming face to face with Picassos and Van Goghs we had only ever seen in books.

In the late afternoon, we walked over to Central Park and met up with Tim’s friend Michael again. The leaves were all changing colors and the sun was golden. We sat on benches and watched tourists and New Yorkers walk by, then wandered over to the ponds on the edge of the park where kids ran around with sailboats in their arms. It was magic hour and I trailed behind the guys, my heart in my throat and all the stereotypes I’d always found to be true about New York one hundred percent on display.

As the sun went down, Michael went home and Tim hunted down a Japanese restaurant called Ootoya in Greenwich Village where we stuffed ourselves with rice, salmon, pork, and miso soup. We got home early that night and rested, our tummies full of fish and ice cream and our feet sore from adventuring.

Day Three – The Met + Brooklyn

We started off our third day with a simple and overwhelmingly good decision: to eat macaroni and cheese for lunch. Tim had been to S’MAC on a high school trip to NYC and, knowing that macaroni and cheese is my love language, we decided to go there for lunch and eat a big order of macaroni out of a skillet. It was perfection. Everyone should go.

After lunch, finding out that the Met was “pay what you choose”, we felt only a little bit bad for spending almost an entire day there for only $5 each. But really! It’s worth going! The museum was breathtaking and we wandered around with Michael looking at all the Ancient and Classical art, marveling over first century sculptures and Egyptian hieroglyphics. The light was perfect everywhere, and we even headed up to the rooftop garden for a spell to sit and look out over the city.

In the evening, we decided to take the subway over to Brooklyn, where Michael lives. We hunted for weird treasures in a crazy vintage store in Park Slope, then Tim and I went off and found bleu cheese burgers at a local joint called 67 Burger. After dinner, we walked over to Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)–a historic theater that features independent film, plays, music, and even opera. We caught a 7:00 independent film by a female director that was so boring we laughed about it for days. But it was fun to sit in the movie theater with a bunch of New Yorkers and just relax for a couple hours. The perfect ending to our last full day.

Day Four – World Trade Center + Financial District

By our last morning in New York, we were tired and slow. We wanted to make the most of our last day, so we headed into the city and down to the tip of Manhattan, so we could see the completed World Trade Center memorials. The last time I was in that part of New York, I was twelve and construction hadn’t finished yet. We were quiet and still as we stood by the memorials, watching people take selfies and buy souvenirs. We did neither.

After spending time reflecting at the memorials, we walked over to Battery Park and rested beneath a big oak tree. Tim laid his head in my lap and took a short nap and I felt full and sunny and content. We walked hand in hand over to the financial district and had lunch at a pub (tuna melts, hamburgers, and lots and lots of tater tots) before headed back to New Jersey and then back to Chicago–sleepy, worn out, but happy, happy, happy.

-Rachel

Kerry James Marshall at the MCA

Walking up the steps of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art last week, I saw a middle-aged African American couple herding a handful of children through the museum’s revolving doors. Once inside, they greeted a large group of friends, ranging in age from middle schoolers to white-haired ladies. I knew where they were going, because it was where I was headed as well: the MCA’s special exhibit Kerry James Marshall: Mastery, on display from April 23 to Sept 25, 2016.

I had first heard of Marshall’s exhibit at my last visit to the MCA in April, and was struck by the vibrant posters. Because Wheaton College IDs qualified students for the museum’s free admission to Illinois residents on Tuesdays, I made a trip into the city last week to see the exhibit for myself. What I expected was beauty, power and mastery. But what I encountered was a new and unexpected version of a story I thought I had understood.

In a video playing at the beginning of his exhibit, Alabama native Marshall provided an intellectual and courageous explanation of his portraits of African American men and women. It is clear he has an extensive background in Art History, drawing on classic models of the past such as an artist’s self portrait, an allegorical depiction of the Garden of Eden, and most famously, a “Portrait of Nat Turner with the Head of His Master” that serves as a modern recasting of Caravaggio’s “David with the Head of Goliath”. However, Marshall uses these traditional references to project his own ideals into the gallery — ideals that normalize the lives, history and value of men and women of color. Most of these paintings depict ordinary, everyday scenes such as sweet Harlem courtship scenes, inner city gardeners, and portraits of men and women who seem fully aware and content.

Perhaps it is the color black itself that is Marshall’s primary tool to create meaning in his work. The signature blackness of his figures throughout the collection was incredibly rich and stunning. Unlike many painters, Marshall does not combine black with any other colors for dilution. Instead, the black stands alone on the canvas, forcing the viewer to reconsider their pre-existing associations with the color. As I contemplated the dark faces stark against their vibrant backgrounds, I was drawn to the concept of black as a way of life, rather than a political statement. Contemporary media conceives so many connotations with the word “black” that in no way could it measure up to the richness of the men and women Marshall has portrayed in his work. By simply putting color on a canvas, he is inviting the viewer to reconsider what they mean when they talk about “black lives”. We think we know the story, but what are we taking for granted? How are our connotations from concepts like “Black Lives Matter” preventing us from learning about and appreciating the experiences of African Americans throughout history? While the world and media may work to politicize the lives of men and women of color, Marshall is simply trying to depict them.

In Marshall’s own words, “You can’t underestimate the value of a figure in an image that seems self-satisfied.” In fact, self-satisfaction seems to be what this artist does best. In each new space I entered, I was brought face-to-face with the gaze of men and women who carried no shame in their experiences, no apology in their existence. The gallery of people surrounding me was electric with unassuming pride. African-American mothers and fathers with their children, students with notebooks, young couples; all surrounded by large, vibrant portraits that seemed to declare with paint and color that, yes, black lives matter. Yes, the black experience matters, and yes, here is one man working to “normalize” that concept.

Kerry James Marshall places value on the color black. It is his medium — his norm. In an art world of dimpled blondes and pale-faced war heroes, he is telling an unheard story. Throughout history, the works of male and female artists of color have been received with awkward silence or placed in political categories. Stories that we, as Christians of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, have a responsibility to hold in both hands and continue to deliver to others. The unpoliticized, honest perspectives of African Americans may have been largely excluded from the art world until now, but Marshall’s work brings hope that the normalization of that presence starts today.

-Rachel

(I originally wrote this piece for The Record, my school newspaper, and it was published this past Thursday, September 1! You can find out more about the MCA here)

Friday Lists

Recent Thoughts

Can one ever wear too much color?

Adding art to a room instantly makes it a home.

Seeing a photo of yourself in someone else’s photo frame would make anyone smile

It feels good to know you were missed

Saying goodbye is never easy, but finding your way home is never hard

 

Blogs I Check Rather Frequently 

DesignLoveFest (where type & images totally make out)

Fire and Joy (journal-like storytelling about all of life’s tender, barefoot moments)

H. Nicole Martin (breaths and moments)

Red, Speckled, White (a friend from Chicago’s daily musings)

Kate Spade blog (of course)

 

Things to Buy 

New lamp/lamp shade

Spanish textbook

Black skirt

Comfortable flats

A week’s worth of groceries

Things I’m Excited About

Surviving and thriving in my first year off campus

Making lots of food at home

Visiting the city as much as possible while while the weather is nice

Having all my friends arrive this week

Splurging on a few great meals out

Thrifting, thrifting, thrifting for things for my new place!

 *

Happy Friday! xoxo

-Rachel

Meet the 2016 Workshop Dreamers

It’s always risky. Opening your home (your kitchen! your bathrooms! your closets!) to strangers. Saying “Come in” and “Take off your shoes” and “Tell me your life story”. But it’s always, always worth it.

I could talk for hours about all the things we discussed + places we went + discoveries we made + food we ate. But the best part (the big ol’ helping of whipped cream) is the people we shared it with.

These. Girls.

They are storytellers, dreamers, and doers. They know how to welcome and be welcomed in return. It was one of the highlights of my summer to get to spend a weekend with them, singing in the car and passing around popcorn on our upstairs couches. And it was beautiful to hear them, on the last day, talk about each other.

“I know you to be” is a big deal for me, and for all of my co-theater and story makers at school. “I know you to be” is affirming. It’s truthful. It’s full of the best kinds of things–joy and honesty and soul-building life. There is nothing casual or soft-around-the-edges about saying “I know you to be”. And so that’s why it’s so big for me to record these words here. To capture these girls’ beings. To remember them for who they are and how they see the world. It’s one of the greatest forms of storytelling we can share with one another.

Emily

Emily is sweet tea–the cool, icy, sugary kind. When she talks, her voice is soft but articulate, her words tinged with a glow of Southern, old-fashioned nostalgia. Mary described her perfectly when she commented on Emily’s “quiet but beautiful self-assurance” and the way she will “apologize over little things and not wish anyone to really go out of their way for her”. That’s Emily to a T. She takes care of herself and others. She’s quiet, but watchful. She knows how to “make-do and mend”. I’ve been reading her work for years, and I remember a scene she wrote once that was just brimming with twilight fireflies. Emily is a twilight firefly kind of sweetheart. A Georgia peach. Everything about her is gentle and nostalgic in all the best kind of ways. She’s the kind of girl the term “old soul” was coined for.

(Check out her blog here!)

Justice

Justice was our wild hippie child for the weekend. Named after “a John Cougar Mellencamp song!”, she bursts with light and color. Too much light to be contained. Light pouring out of her fingertips and the roots of her hair and every fraction of her smile. Olivia commented on Justice’s captivating words–on the way words flowed from her like music. And I can’t think of a more appropriate way to describe her or her work. She’s captivating. Words sound sweeter when they come from her mouth. She’s mostly quiet–thinking, watching, dreaming. But when she talks everyone stops to listen as she waves about her hands and tells a story from her head to her toes. There’s magic in Justice’s heart and in her words. And there’s still some leftover stardust lingering around our house that must have fallen out of her pockets as she left.

 

Mary

Strong. Stately. Determined. Mary makes me consider the word “thoughtful” and what it really means. This was her second Dream Factory Workshop, and I’m amazed at how much she’s changed and yet stayed the same. Mary is a person who puts thought into things. Who considers her words before she shares them. Who considers deeply the things that matter to her, but still laughs at the world she faces. Emily described the way people have a natural tendency to lean forward when Mary speaks, and the way she’s “forever looking for the beauty in things, and when she finds it, tells you so.” Perhaps one of the physically strongest females I’ve ever met, Mary knows what it means to be clothed in strength and dignity. Her head is always held high, but she is continually the first to go last.  Her exuberance is contagious. Her resolution is unnerving.

(“Like” her photography page here!)

Olivia

The “smile-er” of the group, Olivia lent an un-matched enthusiasm to every activity we engaged in together. Rachel described her as loving and sweet, noting that she “always wanted to help somebody with a task”. Olivia was gifted with helping hands. I can’t count the amount of times she asked me if I needed help with dishes or cleanup or meal preparation. I’ve never met someone so eager to be a part of the “dirty work”. When Rachel assigned her the adjective “observant”, everything clicked into place. Olivia is always observing the next opportunity to serve. To laugh. To share. To bond. She notes every little detail of the day and records them for her own memory. It’s just who she is.

Rachel

Justice described Rachel as “the last heat storm of the summer. The perfect definition of what August should be: intense and exciting. Breathless and unforgettable.” How could a tiny body hold so much life and energy? How could a young mind conjure up so many jokes and sarcastic remarks and unaffected compliments? Rachel was the dash of cayenne pepper in our sweet group of dreamers. The kick of life we needed. The burst of sun and color and bouncy brown curls. The voice I could hear laughing in the backseat of the minivan. The biggest heart in the smallest vessel, overbrimming with solid goodness.

-Rachel

Dream Factory Workshop 2016 Recap

Breaking stories like bread.

This past fall, I listened to a brief lecture by amazing Chicago theater-maker Nate Allen. I wrote for pages and pages in my journal on my reactions to his thoughts on catharsis, humanity, and the essence of storytelling. It was from him that I first considered the sacrament of story. The idea that story is something we break and share together. It’s something worth being in communion over.

This past weekend, with the flurry of activity in my home that accompanies every Dream Factory Workshop, I reconsidered the concept of viewing stories as a type of sacrament. As a person of deep and meaningful faith, I know sacraments to be holy. Considered. Ritualistic. When a church comes together to witness the sacrament of baptism, or communion, we are newly bonded in a shared expression of our unity, with Christ and with each other. There is nothing light, or casual, or commonplace about it. We know what it is like to regard something as holy, and set apart.

The best stories aren’t told on a platform, or in a best-selling novel, or on a podcast. The best stories are shared in living rooms, in cramped car rides, in sleeping bags late at night. They’re broken with grace over the dining room table and spilled into overfilling glasses. There’s something gritty and honest about breaking stories face to face, hand to hand.

The sacrament of story drives home the significance of humanity. The fact that every life, every moment matters. One big theme this weekend that I’ve been sharing with the girls is the idea that our weight matters. The pebbles of our everyday moments and experiences are piled on top of each other in big, giant heaps of mattering. Viewing those stories as sacrament means viewing them as important. It’s unapologetic. It’s holy. It’s declaring to the world that these crumbs of my life have meaning and yet I trust you with them.

Perhaps this is what Christ meant when He called us to a life of hospitality. Hosting each other’s lives, each other’s moments, each other’s stories. Always making room at our table for one another. Breaking stories, like bread, to nourish and feed us. Here, let me hold the crumbs of your life too. Let’s eat at the same table. Let’s share this world together.

The Dream Factory Workshop works because it isn’t a writing workshop, although we all did plenty of writing. It’s not a photography workshop, although we experienced dozens upon dozens of beautiful moments to photograph. It’s a workshop about living. About telling and listening. About being hospitable and being human and what those two mean together.

It’s something I fail at all the time, both this past weekend and in every aspect of my life. But it’s also something to strive and fail for. And I think that’s something we learned together this week.

*

The colorful assortment of iPhone photos to follow in no way capture the beauty of this weekend, but they will hopefully give you a small glimpse into some of the everyday adventures we embarked on together. Know that there were way too many giggles, inside jokes, Reese’s Cups, wide eyes, and Taylor Swift songs to ever fit in a single bog post. But our voices were heard and our hearts were made stronger and I think, in the end, that’s what makes these days worth it.

 -Rachel

P.S. Some of these photos were taken by Emily or Rachel. Thanks, girls, for sharing with me!

P.P.S. There’s already been questions asked about the next Dream Factory Workshop. I don’t have any plans yet, but if I do plan another I’ll be looking at late 2017 or 2018 in Chicago. Any interest?

Feelings

What I Wrote When I Wrote About Love

(a five year collection)

I. I told you one evening that beautiful moments make me sad.

II. And I can’t explain what the look of someone who wants to kiss you is like except with these words: It. Made. Me. Want. To. Kiss. Him. Too.

III. Some days, you wake up to find texts informing you that people you always liked actually prefer someone else. You learn that friends you would do anything for rely on the friendship of others. You realize that even big fish in a small pond are appetizers to whales in the cold ocean.

IV. So I voiced this regret, in the middle of a nice moment, and felt the air chill a bit at the pessimistic thought that something this special might not last forever. And I felt my words hang above us for a moment before you brushed away the invisible webs with a light tapping on my shoulder and the reassurance that “there will be more.”

V. Maybe I don’t really know anything about being in love. I know about the pressure of a heavy arm on your shoulder and the electricity that comes from an almost-kiss and the mixture of two ever-increasing laughs and the frailty in admitting your hurt. But love? What would I know about that?

VI. He cracked my world on a January night when I emerged from my room like a shell and cried into a paper ice cream cup.

VII.  Hand holding. There was a poem about it I read from a long time ago that goes like this:

| I don’t know what the thing is about

Hand holding

That I find so beautiful

Maybe just the simplicity of it

Because

Intertwining fingers can say so much

More than words can, or poems

That try too hard |

VIII. I would expand the memory of first holding his hand. I’d stretch out the feelings in letters and solidify the emotions in syllables but I think that’s just the point. It’s trying too hard. We held hands and. It. Was.

IX. And there was more. More moments where I looked at you with my heart in my throat and thought that if your heart was beating like a drum than mine must be beating like the hard footsteps of sneakers on asphalt. Nights where I stepped off the sky ride with knees made of marmalade, standing under the hanging white lights while you were off on the phone, wrapping my arms around my chest and realizing that in a park full of people and lives and stories, my heart was focused on a singular you.

X. Today, sitting on the couch, my head on your chest, I asked you What Have Been Some of The Greatest Moments of Your Life So Far? and you said I Don’t Know, But They All Involve You.

XI. And so I’m writing about it. So that I won’t forget and so that you won’t forget either. So that one day, whether we’re together or not, we can look back and remember what it felt like to be eighteen and nineteen. My curls on your not-so-bony shoulder. Your thumb pressed on the back of my hand. Kisses that taste like blueberries and peanut butter. Being young and feeling so certain of love and so uncertain of life and absolutely dizzy with the wonder of them both.

XII. But the last line, the final scene, the ending monologue, would be that night. The pulling back of lips and the opening of eyes and the realization that everything was new

and sweet

and would always

happen

again.