Such a gift: 24 years with WeatherGrrrl

One of Sue's cool art books
One of Sue’s cool art books

…a commodity has value and a gift does not. A gift has worth. – Lewis Hyde

Tomorrow (24 June) marks the 24th anniversary of our marriage!

There are so many things I’m grateful for, and no way to enumerate them or document them here, so I’ll settle for an example.

Among her many “strangely inventive” artistic talents, Sue makes books. Wonderful, handmade books, where she cuts and folds all the paper, sews together the signatures, builds the cover, and glues it all together. Some of these are displayed in galleries, while others (such as the one pictured here) are notebooks or journals filled with blank pages inviting us to share our thoughts in word or sketch.

For the past several years, Sue has made such journals as high school graduation gifts for our and, more substantially, Tom’s friends in that year’s graduating class. As he moves on to college, the numbers are beginning to contract, but over the years she’s made many dozens of these books, often for people we didn’t actually know terribly well. That’s a lot of work, constructing by hand an object whose future is far from certain. She is, after all, making blank books, in an age where the future of books is at best unclear, an age where most are far more likely to send a text message or post on a blog [I’M LOOKING AT ME!] than to write a letter or keep a journal on paper.

Thus these are, in the true sense that Hyde means in the opening quote, gifts. As handcrafted pieces of art, they have clear worth, but their value (and how they are valued by the recipients) is quite uncertain.

Yet she keeps making them. In a flurry of activity every May between the end of the University school year and the high school graduation she cuts and folds and glues and frets. She picks out different papers to use as covers, and has Tom give her feedback on which covers would make the most sense for which graduate. She increases the worth of the world (if not its value) through these gifts, each of which is in fact a multiple gift. It is obviously a gift to the graduate, but this effort is also a gift to our son, and a thank-you to the families of these students who have been important to him.

And, to the point of all this, these are also a gift to me. For while each of these books is made by her and is officially a gift from Thomas, her work enriches us all and the glow it casts as it goes out into the world reflects back on our whole family even if it was her hands that did all the sewing.

So I say “Thank You”, for this and the untold gifts large and small that she has shared with me. It has been a truly splendid 24 years together, and I look forward to many more decades to come!

With all my love,

     – Nic

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My letter to Egypt

Tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn, our son leaves for 3.5 weeks in Egypt. I’m fairly certainly he was six years old last week, with a wonderful high voice. Now there’s this 18-year old bass who’s just finished his second year of full-time college classes at UMM, graduates from high school at the end of this month, and is off to Hampshire College in August.

And has packed his bags for Egypt.

He’s going on a UMM course “Pyramids and politics on the Nile” led by UMM Poli Sci faculty Sheri Breen and UMM librarian Jayne Blodgett, both super cool people. This is a pretty structured experience (full itinerary as a PDF) using Cairo as their primary base but with trips down the Nile to Luxor and Aswan, visits to Alexandria, and time at a desert research station.

One of their requirements is to keep a journal during the trip, and they all had to write a “Letter to Cairo” before departing as their first entry, and I thought I’d play along.

Dear Cairo,

Please take good care of our son. I really wanted to start with something more profound, but to be honest this is the first thing that I thought of. I’m genuinely not worried. His mother and I survived a number of great study abroad experiences which did so much to define who we are, and we’re sure he’ll have an amazing and glorious time. Still, it’s an exciting time to be in Egypt, and I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d play nice.

Inspire some wonderful writing. People keep telling him to take lots of pictures, but they’re really barking up the wrong tree, as he doesn’t really do that. (Here the apple fell on a slope and rolled well away and down the hill.) Tom is much more likely to digest and record his experience in words than images. It probably won’t be straightforward journaling, however, and instead be more indirectly represented in his poetry. “Vulcan’s bed”, for example, is a response to his time with me in Lava Beds National Monument two years ago; it is his version of all my photos. So while I know that he’ll have phenomenal experiences in Egypt, I hope to see them creep (or smash) into his poetry and other writings.

Open some doors; I’m sure he’ll walk through them. Morris has been a wonderful town for Tom to grow up in, but it’s a pretty small world. Thomas has had the huge advantage of living in the UK twice, and travelling in Europe on both of those trips, but it’s still been a very European life. You represent such a fascinating crossroads of history and culture: Mediterranean and Arab and African and Islamic and pharaonic and crowded and vibrant and changing and old and new. In 3.5 weeks he’ll only be able to sample such a feast, probably taking more than he realizes in some ways and less in others. When he comes back, though, I suspect he’ll never quite see things the same, sometimes in ways that may take years to fully realize.

I know that he’ll be a tiny mite on the huge organism that is Cairo, so odds are that you’ll never even notice he was there. You’ll loom huge for him, however, and we appreciate all you have to offer.

Best wishes,

    Nic aka Thomas’s Dad

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