I’ve been learning how to cut out photos in Photoshop and decided to use a cutout of my embroidered pizza-party-boy patriot as a starting point. The exhibition prompt: “Express creative activism and promote democratic participation in the lead-up to Election Day and beyond.” ✌️🖕✊
All the artworks in the exhibition (on view online and in the windows of Hubbell Street Galleries at California College of the Arts) have been made into free, downloadable posters that you can print out and share to encourage others to get involved in their communities.
I took a playful angle with my entries, but there’s some really striking work up there, including a participatory Google maps photo project that pins found, littered masks—American Values by artist Amy Tavern.
Go to creativecitizens.cca.edu to see all the stellar work and download your favorites. Then go vote and/or eat pizza while you wash your face mask.
Weeee! Today’s the day! My shop went live today at noon, and I hope you take a chance to poke around. Up now: original hand-stitched embroidery art, collage notebooks, and limited-edition prints of some of my favorite pieces.
I started building the website in April after it became apparent that any art and craft fairs for the spring and summer would probably be canceled because of the pandemic. Little did I know that art and craft fairs for the rest of the year would indeed be canceled too, and my opportunities to share, show, and sell my work at Chicago galleries and storefronts would also be gone with 2020’s germ-infested wind.
A friend of mine recently told me she had heard on a podcast that the best way to mentally get through the pandemic-imposed isolation so many of us are participating in is to do things that accomplish two objectives: novelty and progress. So, for example, cooking new meals (novelty) every Friday from one cookbook (progress). Building this shop has helped me achieve both of those things. The shop is new and, as I plugged away on it with the new spare time on my hands, I slowly progressed the thing from a blank page subdomain into a working shop.
I loved it. The time-consuming, trial-and-error process of building a website reminds me of the meditative work it takes to thread hundreds of stitches into a photograph. This kind of work is endlessly therapeutic for me. I did the design, the building, the inventorying, the anything-and-everything associated with the site all by myself on purpose. I wanted to own the whole thing so if something went wrong, I had the knowledge of how to fix it—or at least where to start looking for the problem. If that’s not a healthy psychological attempt to give myself a sense of control in 2020, I don’t know what is.
I had to develop my inventorying process, shipping workflow, and branding experience. I used Asana to manage my to-do list, because each step in the development challenged me with new questions big and small. Do I need a Cookies alert? How do I weigh packages? What does the UX look like after someone makes a purchase? Who is cPanel? Why the hell won’t my site load? ~et cetera~ (Shoutout to all my YouTube and Creative Live teachers!)
This, the year of our lord baby Beyonce, has been a doozy. Having a digital space to call my own, structure and design at my own pace, and turn to as an expression of creative optimism for the future, has been, well, essential. A new study released in September by Harvard’s School of Public Health found that an optimistic outlook may be a healthier one: “In a population of relatively young and healthy U.S. Army active-duty soldiers, we found that those who tested highest for optimism at the start of the study had a 22% lower risk of developing hypertension during three-and-a-half years of follow-up than those who scored the lowest.”
I’m certainly not soldier-level stressed, but the study’s findings aren’t surprising to me. Building out the shop has been an exercise in escape as well as positivity. It helped me escape into something productive and it pushed me to consider what my future creative practice would look like. Why build a shop if I don’t believe the future will be good? Why work toward something to share in the future if I don’t believe there will be one? Why share my art if I didn’t believe it was going to continue? The shop has been a lighthouse for me in a dark storm cloud year.
Pushing my practice
The other important benefit I discovered while building this shop is that it has helped put boundaries around my current visual art practice and consider how all of my work fits together under one big umbrella that is me.
I think of clearly defined boundaries/constraints in creative practice similar to bowling with bumper lanes on. It helps.
As I worked on laying out the pages, I had to think about how the shop would connect to this site, which then brought up questions of my content on here. I think of jackiemantey.com as an archive of my creative life, as well as a space to jam on current works-in-progress, but what does that look like when I now have a secondary site I want to drive people to, and how do I shape the experience so that it isn’t burdensome for me or the people who visit my sites?
Other questions this work answered: How do I maximize my time working on my many projects, and how do I do it with intention? Am I an embroiderer or an illustrator or a photographer or a writer? All of the above? I think I’m all of the above, but thinking through all of this forced me to outline a hierarchy of these practices and shape an idea of how I envision them all coming together and growing in my next visual project. This work will be pivotal to my decision-making about what I work on next. It gave me guide rails and helped me define what I want to do with myself and my creativity. That, my friends, comes as a relief to a narcoleptic overachiever with a million and one ideas. It gives me something to refer to when I need to say no to myself and get down tothe doing.
How did I go about all of that behind-the-scenes figuring-out-of-stuff? I journaled the shit out of it! In my professional work, I write about artists, their practices as individuals, and how they have come to find and refine their voice. And, bonus, I write brand guidelines about voice, tone, personality, visual language, and more for companies with seemingly disparate, quickly moving parts. So, I decided to do all of that work I usually do for other people, for myself.
I audited my current work and thought a few years ahead of what my dream life as a maker might look like. I defined my visual language (ie., Why do I use pink so much; what does the color represent for me? Why thread? Why old and found photos? Why do I love those slash marks so much?). I wrote out what I did and, importantly, did not want my work to be for me. I wrote about why I make all of this in the first place. I thought of ideas for how the illustration, embroidery, photography, and writing could merge together long term (a direct result of this particular piece of this exploration: My homepage design, which I made in Illustrator using cut-outs of a photograph of flowers I’d taken during quarantine).
In the final stages leading up to launch, the shop also presented an opportunity to learn and experiment with other modes of making. I watched YouTube videos on how to animate photos in Photoshop, and made a few animated videos to announce the opening on my embroidery Instagram gallery. I’m excited to play with this more!
Whew, OK. There’s a lot here, and I have so much more to tell you, but this will do for now. I feel totally geeked (and, per usual, annoyingly sincere) about how focused I feel now because of putting together something as seemingly basic as a website for my work. The project unlocked a lot of understanding about who I am, why this work is important to me, whether I’m a professional or not, and how it will all evolve in the future. Like they say on the Twitter, “Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.” Now, go visit my shop.
My visual art practice started with embroidery in 2016 because of sobriety, but I think I was particularly drawn to threaded work because I already knew my way around needle and thread. I had learned how to sew as a kid through 4-H projects. My Great Aunt Alice, an incredible seamstress (and elementary school secretary), was my guide. Several weekends every spring, Mom would drive my sister and I out to the other side of the county and drop us off at my aunt’s small brick house. There, we’d cut out our fabric, prep our bobbins, and get to work on the sturdy sewing machine she kept tucked away in her bite-sized kitchen.
I loved hanging out with my Great Aunt Alice—but I hated the work. Sewing is, like, mind-numbingly tedious to a pre-teen/teenager, and I just wanted to play outside! My favorite moments on those sewing sleepover weekends was when the three of us would walk the quarter-mile country lane between Alice’s house and our great grandma’s farm for a visit and a snack. (And that the one time we watched NASCAR at her house, Dale Earnhardt died. I watched the fatal crash while ripping out seams on a jumper, slack jawed and entranced. “Is NASCAR always like this?!” It’s the only car race I’ve ever watched. Weird.)
My bad attitude aside, those formative stitching experiences did teach me, at least, to be confident around needle and thread. So when I hauled my begrudging but hopeful self into a JoAnn Fabrics at age 30, after more than a decade avoiding anything of the sort, it was like finding an old, steady friend. And an old, steady friend was exactly what I needed in early sobriety (and exactly what I needed at the beginning of a visual practice as a writer who thinks she’s “bad at art”). But now it’s four years on. Why is thread still an ideal material for me?
Thread makes me slow down and take my time. Now that I’m no longer a jangly bundle of teenage hormones, I appreciate the meditative space of sitting still to work on something for a long period of time. I can’t rush a piece of embroidery without running the risk of ripping the photograph and, thus, wasting time and resources, so it has a practicality to it. However, my appreciation for thread is philosophical and psychological too. Like the Oregon Trail Millennial that I am, I remember life before the internet and recognize that technology has our lives going at an unusually warp speed. It’s the digital wild wild west and it’s cool but also awful and it’s, ultimately, exhausting. The act of pushing a needle through another material is some throwback shit that is simultaneously novel to me.
Working with thread is a physical experience. When I’m working on an embroidery piece,I’m using my fingertips to delicately thread a needle versus, as per 21st-century-usual, steering them toward a screen to unlock or a virtual thumbs up to give. This physicality is a complementary contrast to my writing practice. Writing is physical for one part of my body—my fingers, as I type. But embroidery of even the smallest of stitches requires many movements in one: pulling from my shoulders, a lean back of my spine, an in-breath as I push the needle in, an out-breath as I pull the thread through. And again. I enter a repetitive physical trance that centers me in my body and asks me to stay. To “stay” is an essential physical and emotional skill, and it’s one that embroidery helps me practice on a daily basis.
Thread can’t be saved on a hard drive. A half centimeter flower made of thread can take me half an hour to get right, and there are images I fuck up but keep working on in order to practice certain stitches or colorways. And, gasp, I never share these publicly. (Doing something expressive we enjoy without talking about it on social media is a cultural novelty at this point!) These practice uh-oh pieces are, I think, not unlike the delicate Buddhist sand mandalas that are purposefully swept away (to dust you shall return!) when they’re complete, an act that symbolizes the impermanence of, well, everything (RIP Dale Earnhardt). I can get lost in time while making an embroidery piece. More accurately, time becomes unnecessary, I become present in each moment and in each breath. With thread, I don’t feel that profound, full-body loss of time when I’m writing or designing something on my computer. What a gift!
“It is particularly pleasing for me to see that the language and imagery associated with embroidery is suddenly to be found everywhere in modern life. Words traditionally associated with needlework now permeate digital and scientific language—we talk of email threads, strands of DNA, the web, the new, and now, most satisfying of them all, string theory. An embroiderer will identify immediately with the idea that the universe and its contents are made up of sub-atomic loops and threads. // To admire a piece of hand embroidery is to appreciate time itself—your fingertips can almost touch the hours, days, and weeks embedded in every stitch. I urge the readers of this book to relish the relaxing pace that the medium requires. This pace and the attention to detail needed can be the perfect antidote to the distractions of modern life. The projects presented here will introduce you to core embroidery techniques—nurturing a focus, patience and precision that I hope will be as rewarding to you as the finished pieces themselves.” — Embroidery: A Maker’s Guide
Thread has a universality and timelessness to it that makes it a symbolically valuable material. Another artist once described my inclination to start embroidering as a method for entertaining myself in early sobriety as a symbol of doing the work of recovery—I was “bringing light to the darkness, one tiny needle punch at a time.” I love this analogy, and I’m not alone in using thread to heal and to, quite literally, unite. Thread has been a lifeline for the working class for centuries and every culture and generation has found a way to subvert both its utilitarian one-dimensionality and its aristocratic exclusivity (i.e., embroidered embellishments were once reserved for only the primped and powdered aristocrats) and transform the act of stitching by hand into an art form, a storytelling medium, and a connective lifeline between members of a spoken or unspoken community. It makes sense to me that the AIDS Memorial Quilt was a quilt, for example—that needle and thread were the materials they chose for something so representative of both sides of the coin, the joy and celebration of an individual life, a single stitch, a single breath, the sadness and anger tied to the injustice of not “clothing” these brothers and sisters, etc.
Thread is a demarcation of an expedition, each stitch a breadcrumb on the path. The stitches are small, but their size is disproportionate to their meaning. They hold so much in their strands.
My wristwatch broke a few days ago, the hands frozen in a random high V. I’m inappropriately bummed about it! It took me a while to find a watch I liked, and this one—a mesh banded and metal mixed babe, silver and gold—goes with everything, looks classy af, and has basically become my sartorial security blanket.
A 32nd birthday gift for myself, the watch has factored into my daily routine for the past two and a half years. I put it on each morning and take it off each night… like, well, clockwork. Now it is a phantom accessory. I keep catching myself staring at my naked left wrist after absentmindedly pulling it up to check the time.
I’ve decided to take the watch to a repair shop rather than simply buying a new one. The former has proven an infinitely more complicated choice than the latter. (But really not complicated at all, dear reader. I’m just comparing the work involved in finding, reviewing, and connecting with a reputable repair shop versus, you know, clicking around Macys.com for a few hours. Hours I can no longer track with my darling watch! <cue first-world wounded howl>)
Beyond the feeling of style and consistency a wristwatch offers me, I love my arm candy because it helps me pick up my phone less. And no need to light up my computer screen to check the time and risk dicking around online for 15 minutes before I come to and realize I’m late for a meeting. Just as a for example.
So now, as I find a place to fix my cheap but cherished timepiece and wait for her to be returned to me in tick-tock shape (ha), I’m considering a purchase of a wall clock to achieve a similar kind of stylish analog present-mindedness effect. Here are nine I’m choosing between from my macro.baby shop on Society6 as I hand off my Skagen to the nice clock man with the glass eye and await my beloved’s return.
Cool wall clocks
// by macro.baby on Society6
See in shop: 1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6 // 7 // 8 // 9
OK, look, this is very exciting because, ever since your breakup—a wretched, booze-soaked affair that ended with you prematurely exiting the shared apartment with a wobble-wheeled suitcase packed and not one but two chip-nailed middle fingers in the air—you haven’t owned a couch.
Door slams. Lock bolts.
That was two years ago. You’ve lived and lounged and lamented your life since then on a bed (a raft, really, in an OCEAN OF TEARS), moving from that stupid shared apartment back to your stupid parents’ house, then to a stupid studio that smelled like if moths had their own closets, then to ~here~…
Your new home. A gorgeous one-bedroom, bottom-right quarter of a falling down, white-and-brick house in a hip part of town. It doesn’t have windows that open, but it does have your cat, which your ex hated, and as of noon today—of all glorious, single lady days—it has this: A suede dreamboat in the color of “Stone.” It’s called the Darcy Sofa. It is seven-and-a-half-feet long, which is ideal for your five-foot-two frame and your feet-cuddling cat. It is perfect.
This Darcy Sofa cost you $500 and is officially one thousand times more valuable than any diamond ring, you’re sure of it.
You eye it now, mentally applaud how it looks on the hardwood living room floor, shoved up against the butter-colored wall you don’t want to paint because you’re renting so you’ll have to paint it back eventually and who has time for that, and across from the brick fireplace you can’t use because the chimney has been plugged-up with who knows what because squirrels or drug dealer Santa or something.
The couch looks familiar. It’s almost identical to the one you bought for your first apartment out of college. You remember, that $150 bear-brown thing that your brother and your cousin helped you transport from the Big Lots (née Odd Lots) where you bought it. Afterward, feeling oh so grown up, you offered for your moving mates to stay and hang out and here, have a beer, I bought it just for you! (even though you already drank half the pack).Your cat, a mere teenager at the time, hopped on the couch and onto your cousin’s lap and everyone had a perfectly lovely evening sitting on your brand new couch, bought and paid for by you and only you, until you probably blacked out and they went home.
It was the best day you had in that apartment.
Who knows where that couch is now.
Your friends are coming to meet the Darcy Sofa in just a few hours. You have decided to host a Couch Warming Party, because this is to be celebrated, an occasion to remember! It represents healing and independence, this furniture, this moving-on-up. This couch means a new world is opening up to you. You made it. Couch Warming Party is being held on the weekend of your terrible ex’s birthday. You didn’t plan this timing on purpose, at least you don’t think so, but it does make the second glass of wine at three p.m. taste even sweeter.
Now it’s nine. You are fuzzy and warm and a little bit sick. The couch, soft as a petal, feels like a lily pad beneath you. Bobbing, bobbing.
Your friends are here! Your friends pile in the aching red-rimmed door. Your friends clamor in the living room and oh and ah appropriately before tumbling down the long hallway to the kitchen and out its back door to the fire pit you share with the other dwellers of this broken home-you-love’s divvied-up apartments.
Your friends are good friends. They agree to pose for photos on your new couch. They make a big deal about it, even though this couch, it’s not that special.
They are just happy to see their friend happy again.
They bring you Couch Warming Party gifts they’ll know you’ll enjoy, like a new blanket, lounge pillows, cat toys, vodka, smokes, cocaine. By the end of the night, you are all outside howling at The Man and the moon, crouched beneath the giant tree you don’t know the genus of, that the city hasn’t torn down yet but will soon. Your backyard’s wooden fence stands guard. Tonight, as the fire licks the air and your friends lick each other, the perimeter feels like a hug and not a cage.
The couch has been forgotten. But that was the point.
At two a.m., you sit alone on your back porch smoking a gifted Parliment. Your cat has joined you, that loyal little thing. You both purr and wish every moment was a Couch Warming Party moment. You wish this especially because you know what awaits, what you’ve been running from. Morning. When you will wake up and every inch of you will hurt, including your heart. Especially your heart, and the yet-unknown thing rotting beneath its floorboards. It will be seven more months (exactly one month after your 30th birthday) before you wake up on another stranger’s couch—again!—and finally—finally!—decide it’s time to get sober. And you do it! You beautiful, goofy, grateful recovering alcoholic! You finally break through. Find a home inside yourself.
Tonight, though. Tonight is as bright and dark as a chewed up cherry pit, as twisted as the tongue-tied stem, and to be lived to the last briny drop.
You have so much further to go, but tonight you honor everything it took to get to Here. To the Stone-colored sofa. Your new Plymouth rock.
Are y’all still in lockdown mode? Justin and I are, and I’m confused about people who aren’t? Wtf is going on? Is the pandemic over? Hahahaskldjflaskjdfhahahaha aaaahhh!
When I’m not silently dread-screaming, trying to mentally prepare myself for a whole winter spent in our one-bedroom apartment, a time when we won’t even have a day at the park to quell our discontent (hahahaskldjflaskjdfhahahaha aaaahhh!), I’m focusing on my writing and visual art practices. Those, quite honestly, make me feel safe and in control.
I’ve spent the past six months building my own website/online shop for the embroidery art (launching October 10! aka 10/10 would recommend!). Building a website from the ground up has been surprisingly fun—surprising because I typically have very little tolerance for long term tasks of the technological variety, and fun because it has helped me understand my aesthetic and purpose a little more.
As I build the shop, I’ve had to think through many aspects of my visual practice, including theme, visual language, and intent. I always have a million ideas for a new collection or series, but having a shop to focus on versus, for example, the pursuit of a gallery show or getting into an art fair or residency or something (all on a pandemic pause), has put some valuable constraints around what I’m working on visually and the ideas I choose to pursue. It’s like bowling with bumper lanes on.
Here are three places I’ve been finding motivation as I work.
For education: Creative Live and Creative Mornings
I bought a year-long pass to Creative Live, an online learning platform, so I could watch hours-long lectures on how to use Adobe Creative Suite. And, friends, best creative investment I’ve made in a long time. I got my money’s worth the first month in, slamming through hours of Illustrator courses. With the year-long Creator’s Pass I can access any course and its accompanying materials, so I’ve been learning the technicalities of painting, photography, photo editing, email marketing, and so much more. My favorite aspect of Creative Live is that the classes—since they don’t need to fit into a one-hour time slot—can get deep in the weeds, a comprehensive journey I currently have the time to take. 😉
Other virtual spaces I’ve gotten fewer but still great tips from are free virtual field trip events hosted by Creative Mornings. Upcoming lectures around topics range from the technical (ie., how to produce your own podcast) to the manifestational (ie., how to ohm your dream career into existence).
For inspiration: City Arts & Lectures interviews
San Francisco-based City Arts & Lectures is a longstanding interview and events series held in the historic Sydney Goldstein Theater. In the spirit of Interview magazine, the format is supes-hot-artist-interviews-other-supes-hot-artist. Much to our non-Californians’ benefit, in the time of corona they’re streaming new discussions online for free.
For courage: Arts podcasts
What I’m listening to is in constant rotation because I am fickle, but recently I’ve been enjoying The Jealous Curator’s Art For Your Ears and a new Chicago output from Victoria Hines, Creative Journeys. Both pods feature interviews with working artists and makers about their process and approach.
A bunch of poets I follow on Twitter liked this Tweet today, so it magically showed up on my timeline, and it’s perfect:
Georgia O’Keefe is famous for her flower paintings that look like, ahem, hoohas. That’s a reductionist distillation of her work, but it’s genpop-accurate because, whatever, we can only maintain so much info in our brains so it’s easier to identify her contributions to the art historical cannon by the most “memorable” thing about her work.
Perhaps, though, with the following passage of her own writing, we can see beyond Georgia’s ~flower vaginas~, and remember why she picked flowers as a focus of some of her paintings in the first place. Because they’re freaking beautiful.
Georgia decided to zoom into the blooms and paint a magnified perspective of flowers after being drawn to a tiny flower in a still life painting by Henri Fantin-Latour.
Here’s what she wrote:
“A flower is relatively small. Everyone has many associations with a flower—the idea of flowers. Still, in a way, nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small—we haven’t time—and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. So I said to myself—I’ll paint what I see—what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they’ll be surprised into taking time to look at it. I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.”
That the busy New Yorkers didn’t see flowers, necessarily, and instead mostly saw vaginas (or at least the art history did) is totally predictable and, like, what are we gonna to do? Georgia’s voluptuous flowers have caused celebration for the fornication-fueled folds of the most tender of lady parts, and so be it. Hell yeah. Let us toast the vaginas! Long live the labia! But also, as we cheer, may her idea of magnifying flowers as a means to share with the world what a pause to stop and look at the lilies can do for one’s, well, soul, hold meaning for us as well.
What can you take time to appreciate more closely this weekend? Might I suggest Ram’s Head with Hollyhock? Or your nearest adult, consenting vagina?
Y’all. Ruth Asawa had six kids. Did you know that?
What an impressive human. To raise even one offspring and have an internationally successful and personally meaningful art practice seems like a near impossible achievement. Actually, having an internationally successful art practice AND/OR personally meaningful art practice child-free seems like a nearly impossible achievement.
I learned this fact about Ruth in ^this video promoting new USPS stamps featuring her work, intricate wire sculptures that explore how “the relation between outside and inside was interdependent, integral.”
How very relevant in a pandemic that has us all stuck inside and having sweaty pastoral dreams! Also relevant: Stamps, supporting the post office, sending care packages to all the people you miss, etc.
Also, also relevant: The following quote from the USPS video about how Ruth found time to meet her practice, continually pushing her process and forms (all while being, let me just say this one last time, a mom of six, in the mid 20th century).
“Use your little bits of time. Your five minutes here, your 10 minutes there. All those moments begin to add up. … Learn how to use time when it is given to you.”
I’ve finally landed on a word the best describes how this pandemic has made/is making me feel: Bewildered. (And, I guess, longing. I miss my family, my city, my lifestyle, etc.) That said, Justin and I have been having a lot of fun together. I can’t see being stuck inside with him for months as anything other than a lopsided gift. Justin’s a fun friend and a good partner.
Here’s an example:
In an effort to find different things for us to do together as the 2020 months crawl on, Justin decided to find a video game for us to play. To do this, he had to consider many variables. Well, two variables. 1) I hate video games; and 2) I hate video games because I’m absolutely terrible at them and have none of the hand-finger muscle memory that seems to be required for success in any of the adult games and when I’m bad at things I get pissed off and ruin the this-is-just-for-fun vibe and ok, back off, I’m working on it.
But this didn’t stop our sheltered-in-place friend! Justin spent weeks researching games that moved quickly and provided many a dopamine hit of congratulations by way of sparkly animated gems simply for showing up and pushing buttons. So, basically, games for children.
Enter: Castle Crashers.
It’s perfect for us/me because 1) it’s made for beginners/children and I can just mush all the buttons and still accomplish something maybe or at least think I did in the flurry of chaotic noises and special effects; 2) there’s a Pink Knight character that, duh, I chose, and my “magic” abilities include stunning opponents into dropping their weapons and giving peace signs by throwing stuffed animals at them and shooting rows of rainbows out of my hands to distract them; and 3) we can play the levels at the same time, so essentially Justin does all the work killing bad guys and strategically spending our gold coins on health potions and doing the things that get us moving forward, while I furiously shoot rainbows at the empty, endless void and try to figure out how to turn myself around.
This is so indicative of who we are as people and why we work together as a pair.
Quarantine Day 1,345. It was early evening, that time of day when the heat has started to fade but the light is still saying its goodbyes.
Justin and I strapped on our masks and headed out the door to take a walk around the neighborhood. “Let’s go get Italian ice,” he said. I was suspicious, not wanting to go to a restaurant. “They have a walk-up counter,” he said convincingly.
And so we strolled, taking a brand new route, a few side streets behind the local grocery store, streets that I’d never been down before. One block in, and I couldn’t believe how excited I felt. All the new things to see! After approximately forever-amount-of-days staring at the same walls and the same computer screen, chilling in the same park and running the same route, this walk was a novelty more delicious than any cold treat.
We said muffled hellos to an ancient Border Collie lounging among the pink blooms and behind the twisted iron fence of a brick one-story.
We joked about what we would do if we had to move into a three-story house towering above us, its boarded up windows framed by a white exterior turned a dingy browbeaten gray. I would fix it up and nurse its good bones back to health. Justin would burn it down because clearly it was haunted and something wicked lurked in the basement.
We passed by a wooden fence. It was too tall to see over, but if we could, we would see a family celebrating summer in their backyard. The scent of grilled corn and the sounds of mariachi carried over the fence, tempting us to join as we passed on the sidewalk. Hello, I said, wordlessly. Thank you for the reminder.
I’ve always loved looking at houses. That there are endless rows of them is one of my favorite aspects of living in Chicago. The neighborhoods, the overflowing residential streets with endless charm tucked away just beyond the hurried thoroughfares. It’s like knowing where to find a secret water source in the desert.
I tried to explain to Justin why I like walks like this so much. Looking at other homes makes me feel like I am here. Nowhere in particular, just here. On earth and un-alone. But though I like thinking of all the human stories stacking up in those houses they inhabit, what I enjoy most is the look of the exteriors, as an individual and as a whole. A street of houses all lined up, especially if those houses have completely different facades, looks the way a bowl of fresh, in-season strawberries tastes: A welcome mat for the senses.
Each house has a face and sleeps at night. Even the most humble of architectures here carries a gentleness for me, feels like a place where life unfolds unceremoniously (which is the most rewarding kind of unfolding, I think?). From the humble bungalows to the soaring million-dollar build right next door, I love looking at all of them. I don’t want to be inside them necessarily, just to behold them. The window panes, the flower beds, the curve of a doorway and all the knowing it can share just from its shape. Even the sharp angle of every roof taps a different feeling inside me. Oh! And, best of all, the trees! Dangling their drapery as a curtain to each house’s stage. Look, they say. Witness what is here.
We held hands as we ordered our Italian ice, a line of people with the same idea spaced six feet apart behind us. A string of brightly colored owl lights on the outside of the building shone stronger by the minute as the sun settled. There were pink and green plastic chairs on the small strip of grass near the order window—also six feet apart. We decided to keep walking and find a corner to stand on as we spooned the icy treat into eager mouths. Lemon, raspberry, watermelon. A woman riding her bike with a dog on a leash passed us. A new mom on her cellphone tutted along, baby peeking out of a blanket from the stroller in front of her. Cars blinked by with a rattle. Justin and I watched it all as we ate, the cold a relief on our hot tongues. The taste lingered, hidden behind masks, as we walked back. Dusk hitting the homes with a loving light, guiding us back to ours.