Ann’s Fashion Tarot II: 3D Edition

So my friend Laurie’s like, yeah, I want a reading but I don’t think I want to know the future.

0 I II

     0. The Fool  I. The Magician  II. The High Priestess

I’m like, Laurie, they don’t do that. They can’t show you the future.


     III. The Empress  IV. The Emperor  V. The Hierophant

They’re clay.


     VI. The Lovers  VII. The Chariot  XI. Strength  VIII. The Hermit

They can only hug your finger and force you to stare at what’s right in front of you.

Which, if you’re doing this right, is a puppet. A puppet version of the Major Arcana. Those are the big-deal cards of the Tarot. The states and stages a person moves through over and over, like it or not, starting with 0.The Fool [open, empty, ready, assume nothing, zero] all the way to XXI. The World [wholeness, completion, fulfillment — not an ending, but completion of a cycle that starts right on over again at terrifying beautiful zero].


I’m like, Laurie, all the Tarot Puppets can do is help you see what’s in front of you. Things in your present. Things you weren’t already seeing, or things you kind of sensed were there but just refused or forgot to see. That’s all they can do.


     VIII. Justice X. The Wheel XII. The Hanged Man

To some people, when Tarot Puppets help them see what they kind of actually probably felt but didn’t want to see in their personal private hopes or fears or addictions, a lot of people feel like: OMG OMG HOW DID THEY KNOW?!?!?!?!


     XIII. Death XIV. Temperance XV. The Devil

But I’m telling you, they didn’t. They don’t know anything. They can only show you what you weren’t seeing.

I think what freaks people out even more than the feeling of HOW DID THEY KNOW is the fact that once you see what’s in front of you, and it’s huge and/or thrilling and/or stupidly obvious and/or embarrassing, you kind of expect the puppet to back off, like, be polite and get out of the way while you feel your feelings and decide what to do now.

But it doesn’t. They don’t. The Major Arcana are not polite and they also don’t judge. They just look at you.

That, I think, is the actual freaky part. The puppets keep on staring their lovestare, and they don’t damn you for not-seeing in the first place. Or for feeding any particular hopes or fears or addictions.

They also don’t damn you for starving any particular hopes, or fears, or addictions.

I mean. They’re puppets.


     XVI. The Tower

They are unflappable.


     XVII. The Stars

They’ve been around forever. Older than dirt. Technically speaking, they are actual dirt.


     XVII. The Moon XIX. The Sun

They have seen it all and they find all of it gorgeous.


     XX. Judgment XXI. The World

Including whatever Laurie’s not yet seeing but kind of wants to see but hopes somebody else will just see it first and point it out. Laurie. It’s gonna be cool. Call me when you’re ready.

mystic golden hanger


Wait, so how is this about fashion? A) Because you WEAR THEM. The puppets. B) Because I can’t give a reading without wardrobe suggestions at the end. Like, if your reading suggests that The Chariot is your thing — the yoking together of unlike forces which will move you forward all swift and steady — then I’m sorry but you’re gonna need to wear some very unmatching things to remind you of that. Pretty much all the time. Or start mixing your metals. Clash your shoes. I don’t know exactly but I think you have some shopping to do.

Here’s the original Ann’s Fashion Tarot if you want to see. I mean just if you want to.


December Style: Who wore it better

Mary, Queen of the Pageant known as Christmastime, has a signature look that breaks down to three basics: 1) Blue. 2) Tendrils. 3) Virtue.

Let’s see who wore it best during a recent gathering of Marys owned by Mankato collector Wilbur Neuschwander Frink.


This was close, because each of the three contenders wore her shade with a supersaturated confidence that was almost a swagger.  Hands-down, the win goes to Bedazzled Figurine Mary, whose blue here totally beams and dominates. Even up against her glossy walnut skin and gilded accents.


Bedazzled Figurine Mary won out over Peacock Halo Greeting Card Mary, whose blue is memorable but has disappointingly cautious yellow undertones.

servitudinal peacock

Also taking not-first-place was Framed Mary, whose nearly navy shade has some nice depth, and pairs well with the purple wall, but it comes across too inky. Too cold. She’s wearing the power pantsuit of vestments. And I simply cannot worship that.

i got yer blue right here

This goes to Monotone Sculptural Mary because contour is basically the only thing she’s got to express her whole look. Curves plus what I think is a tiny bit of color, just a blue wash. She really — and I mean really — works the contours, and of course I mean the ones in her hair but then also the thing she’s wearing or holding. Or maybe it’s an ethereal body part. Regardless, it is the tendril of tendrils rendered in both positive and negative space, and it says eeeeeverything.

Michael Cimino​. Madonna: Adorned #5. 2015. Ceramic, Glaze.

Michael Cimino​. Madonna: Adorned #5. 2015. Ceramic, Glaze.

It’s precise, yet organic. Flexible + infallible. Confident, but not showy, certainly not needy-whiny-showy.

[See also: Greeting Card Mary, above, who cannot win at this game at ALL, she just can’t. I blame the lillies at her feet. I wan’t raised Catholic but I had this one Catholic friend whose mom had a statue of Mary in their foyer, Mary with snakes at her feet. Once you see that, you can’t look upon flowers as an interesting style choice. It must be serpents. Serpents are to flowers as brand new John Fluevog teal/purple Babycake boots are to last summer’s dirty Keds.]


You’d think this category relates only to the eyes and the head tilt, but you would be wrong, because plenty of Marys accessorize with children. This is what it takes to win. Babies, and plenty of them.

And not just one self-sufficient toddler like the one here on Postcard Mary’s lap.

ombre periwinkle

Not the implied child, ie., the candle in Candle Mary’s hand. (I mean, I think the candle is supposed to stand for a child. Why else would she be holding a lit candle, while wrapped around an actual candle? We don’t need both. It absolutely has to be a stand-in for her light-of-the-world Son. And it does nothing for her look.)

pas de bleu

No, BEST VIRTUE goes to Behatted Figurine Mary who obviously just came from the hatmaker where she stood unruffled as her six baby children roamed freely up and down her gown. She stood there like that while all the other customers in the shop waited for the crown to be fitted and fixed in place atop the most beautiful barely-curled-under tendrils in the universe.

fertile peacock

And then, lo, each baby pulled a cookie from a secret pocket in Behatted Figurine Mary’s gently-but-firmly-blue gown. Secret but not too secret. Like, is if Mary made the pockets just secret enough to make the babies feel smart and special upon finding them.

And then Mary paid the hatmaker and drew up her skirts, and engaged her core so as to maintain balance, what with the babies clinging one-handed as they chewed. Babies hanging on, Mary standing all balanced and strong, and the mass of them strolled out of the store, baby wings flapping and crumbs flying and crown held high.

Because she is Mary, Queen of Balance. Queen of Secret Pockets. Queen of Blue, Queen of Tendrils, Queen of Virtue. Queen of Style.



Thanks for access to your magical collection of Marys, Wilbur Frink! I hope they know they’re all style winners. I mean they are. But I’m sorry but somebody has to win the pageant.



Black Friday: A lovepost in clay

I’m like, hey, Caitlin, you think I could get one of you guys to make me six bowls so I can push words into them? I have this idea for my fourth annual Black Friday lovepost to Steely Dan.

Caitlin says, sure, how big you want them. You want six? I can do six.


She did. She made six bowls while we talked about how deep, how wide, what to use for the letters. Important things.

A couple years into this job it still knocks me out how people who spend time here jump right into it like that. They don’t bother with “why.” Not “why bowls?” or “why six?” or “do you think Steely Dan finds it creepy that you do a  thing like this every year?” or anything. Everybody just gets right to the things that matter, they offer some help, and then they get back to their own thing that matters.

If you have a workplace like that, or a family like that, or a posse or whatever you have, spend a lot of time there. It is amazing. If you don’t have people like that of your own, but you’d like some, you can come hang out with ours. It’s the whole point.

Anyway. Couple hours later, bowls!

sure i can do six

Caitlin tells me to wait until they’re leather-hard and then do the lyrics. I don’t know what “leather-hard” means, though, and turns out it’s a not what I thought, so  the first line is sloppy. See the fingerprints on “gonna?” Turns out it doesn’t work to smudge away the first attempt and start over. But, you know, what’s done is done, and I’ve watched the people who hang around here turn screw-ups into fine fine things, so I find myself a paintbrush and go at it. 


The clay gets drier and the lyrics start looking better.


A little better.


Then I get cocky.


Also, it gets late. Midnightish late. Kind of expected this to be a quick thing, when Caitlin got started around 7 p.m. It probably could have been quick. Except that it felt so good, and silent, and, you know, the world falling away and all that.


Just the quiet and the clay and the sweetest damn set of letters.

let it roll

By now it’s reeeeally late and I clean the place up like I’ve watched them do in here, put my six bowls on the shelf to keep drying, lock up. Head home. Start wondering why I’ve never tried this. Like, what would happen if I did more of this.

Couple blocks later, St. Peter’s finest pulls me over. He goes, ma’am, you know you don’t have your lights on? Where you comin from?

“The Arts Center. I’m the director there.”

I don’t know why I added that. Upon reflection, I don’t think it elevated the Arts Center’s stature or my own.

The officer was cool, just let me go, also pointed out my driver’s side bulb was out and said to drive home with the brights on so I wouldn’t not-see any deer.

It’s a really supportive community for the arts we have here. Incredibly supportive. I didn’t ask whether he was a Steely Dan fan. Probably he was. Probably I didn’t ask because, you know, a person can only take so much bliss and still drive home.

oh man oh man

Get your own bowls — and vases, vessels, platters, cups, things you had no idea you needed — at This Show is For Sale at The 410 Project, an invitational of functional pottery curated by Juana Arias.  Reception tonight 7-9 p.m., and everything is for sale to take with you right then and there. Like, the $20-$50 range. So do-able. Such beauty. Happy shopping.


You can read the 2014 Black Friday post here. And 2013 is here. And 2012 is here. They haven’t called me yet to sing backup on a tour or illustrate an album cover. I know, I don’t get it either.

And the winner of the Uniforms of September is

The Uniforms of September players delivered, everyone!

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 5.52.59 PM


The month wore on. The team persevered.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 5.55.41 PM

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 5.55.53 PM

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 5.56.08 PM

here i still am

same thing at the end

With transgressions here and there.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 5.57.42 PM


Turns out the only one who really loved the daily uniform situation was me.

i guess it's me

So you’d think I’d be the winner but I am not! The winner is Gregory Todd Wilkins.


It wasn’t a contest until Greg’s descriptions became the reason for the season.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 5.59.24 PM

Like, the reason to hunt for your reading glasses, the first thing to check in the morning.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 5.59.51 PM

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 6.00.00 PM

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 6.00.11 PM

Here’s what Greg wore on the next-to-last day. He wore this to work. I don’t know Greg’s work agenda that day but I would guess it didn’t call for this. And yet, look. Look what he curated for his publics to see.


“Today, I am wearing a black velvet sport coat…a large Asian inspired necklace from Cambodia in turquoise, coral, and amber…


…lion head cufflinks that look like miniature door knockers with a metal ring through their mouth…


charcoal grey vintage trousers with cuff, two-tone wingtips in black and maroon by Joseph Abboud…


…a Calvin Klein white pleated tuxedo shirt with silver French knot buttons…


…I am wearing my hair down.”


God, man. Well played. Just really lyrically hand-stitchedly well played.

Thank you for the daily goods, Greg, and thanks to the team for going along with the game. The game of getting dressed in a way that may not have saved any time (I might have been wrong about that prediction) (personally I may not have made any progress on the book I said I was going to read with my newfound nine seconds per day), but hopefully brought on some weeding-out of crap that never made you feel good in the first place, or appreciation for what you’ve got that’s working. Which is not a bad way to wrap up one season and head into the next.


Mr. Wilkins is pictured with “Waves” (1974) by the late great Arnoldus J. Grüter. 

Black dresses, fancy aprons, humanity, shame: Announcing the Uniforms of September

Everyone! The Uniforms of September Street Team players have shared their choices, and I’m pleased to announce their public commitment to wearing these things, and (mostly) only these things, September 1-30.


Also, I’d like to fill in a gap I think was left in the article which inspired this project (“Why I Wear the Exact Same Thing To Work Every Day by Matilda Kahl for Harper’s Bazaar). The gap is the question of what to do with the 90 seconds or so gained when a person’s wardrobe choices have been forcibly narrowed.

Maybe it’s more than 90 seconds, maybe add a few more for when you check yourself out in the mirror and go “wait, this isn’t working” and change into something else. Maybe that happens every fourth day or so? So, total, that’s probably about nine minutes per week of brand-new free time. The assumption might be that we’re supposed to use the extra time to get to work faster. If so, I don’t think the exercise would add much value to our lives.

I propose instead that we blow that newfound nine minutes on something great. Something new. Something we’ve been craving, and it’s clear that we are people who crave or we wouldn’t voluntarily sign on for a 30-day wardrobe challenge.

I didn’t warn the Street Team about this, so in addition to announcing their uniforms, I’ll go ahead and suggest what they might do with their luxurious new pocket of time.

We will start with Rachael, who is an excellent example of how this whole deal is different than the kind of uniform you wore for high school tennis or whatever. Because it’s basically just a narrowing-down of whatever you like best or have the most of or both:


Variety, but with a theme. Choice and theme are the things.

Rachael is superextremely well-rounded, what with running marathons and biking marathons and publishing and teaching and getting a Ph.D. She does all this is because it’s how she was raised. Woman has a work ethic. You grow up reading books and weeding baby graves, this is how it plays out. I suggest Rachael use her newfound nine minutes per week to do absolutely nothing of substance. Watch recommended cartoons. “Recommended” like you can go so far as YouTube but don’t search for anything, just let the Internet feed you whatever. Empty silly candy, Rachael. You and your work ethic can work it off later.

Here’s Greg:


Greg’s got a bunch of jewelry thanks to frequent world travel. It is way too ridiculous for work. So guess what? Now it’s his uniform! This is now exactly and only what Greg is wearing to work. It’s his travel stories told without anyone having to fake-seem interested in his photos. Yay Greg! Yay uniform!

In addition to his bigdeal day job at MSU, Greg is an artist, and his giant multimedia portraits of people he’s encountered during all that travel are stunning. I would personally like to show them at the Arts Center of Saint Peter just as soon as he’s ready, which means as soon as he’s produced about 40 of the things. Therefore, for Greg’s nine minutes per week I would like him to daydream about the next piece. No, daydream about the opening reception, which will be spectacular. Hell, Greg, your plan here is so clean and simple, just take an extra-extra ten seconds per day and dream about both.

Here is Juana:


Juana goes around like she’s an artist but in my experience she seems to operate from a mindset of strategy and efficiency not usually associated with the artsy. To wit, she has a clause:


On one hand I’d like Juana to keep working at the Arts Center, but on the other, I can see where she’d make a good supreme court opinion-writer which I guess would mean she’d first need to become a judge. So for her nine minutes per week I suggest Juana think about how to fold law school into the mix along with the grad degree she’s doing at the moment, running the Arts Center’s clay studio and getting her daughters to Taekwondo. It’s fine that I’m saying this. It’s always ok to suggest adding one more thing to somebody who already thinks about hyperbolic space for fun.

And here is Michelle:


This I love. It’s uniform-upon-uniform, functional-upon-classy/dressy, the dirtiest of things upon the one thing we all know should not cannot get dirty: The white blouse. THE white blouse. What Michelle has here is a juxtaposition of different kinds of elegance, both of which play with boy vs. girl, clean vs. dirty, white collar vs. clay collar (that’s my new fashion term for professional potters — you are welcome, potters!). It’s just all-around really good.

Michelle has been through a whole lot of loss due to a tornado, and then recently, more loss due to a house fire. She’s been through those big things and more. You know what I suggest Michelle do with her 90-or-so-seconds per day? I suggest she save it until the uniform has been donned, and everything feels really good, and then she should walk up to a mirror and say: DAMN I look polished and complete. Because she does, and she’s learned how to get there from scratch a few times over. I would say her new nine minutes per week would be well-used on self-back-patting.

Also I love what Danielle is doing:


I don’t know Danielle very well but she strikes me as a creative who could go for miles and miles in many different directions. She’s done a hardcore job here of limiting her choices, so that probably gets her way more than nine new minutes per week. But then add laundry time, because we are talking about a single t-shirt and I don’t know if she has multiples, but then again laundry time is also good thinking time. God, Danielle, I don’t know if this means you have an extra hour per week, or just the nine minutes, or what. I do know that your purist interpretation of “uniform” entitles you to the most varied possible use of any new time it provides. So my suggestion is that you balance the admirably severe limitation of A-line-denim-skirt plus Campbell’s-Soup-t-shirt with as much free-falling creative chaos as you can handle.

Here’s mine:


The leather strips are cut from discarded remnants of luxury handbags and stuff like that. Some of them are scarred and most of the cuts are jagged. They are fantastic.

So is all the copper I keep buying from local artists. Do you have any idea how easy it is to justify spending money on local art when it’s basically your job to encourage people to buy local art? Not to mention when the stuff looks like this:


Check out how the copper is all pocked and lovely. Check out how it looks so completely at home and happy to be on a hand that’s slowly turning into the hand of a much older relative whose veins are popping out. You can see why the leather and the copper are the main things of my uniform.

You can also see why I need to spend my newfound nine minutes per week with this:


I found it on my bookshelf recently, a gift from a friend a while back, and at the time of the gift I was like mmmm hmmm that seems like an interesting read (but I didn’t read it). Since then I’ve taken to writing about personal style as if it’s the most important thing in the world. Probably a good counterpoint to that would be exploring something far far away from vanity, which is what Martha Nussbaum‘s got going on here.


I’m excited about this. Excited to read this stuff in the morning, and then think about it while I wear my fancy September getup to do stuff like, say, empty the Arts Center’s dehumidifier. Quick-clean a toilet after a kids’ group blew through the galleries. Which, now that I’m thinking about it, might make a nice photo gallery. Oh my God.

So this is the game we’re playing, Rachael and Greg and Juana and Michelle and Danielle and the rest of the self-appointed Uniforms of September Street Team (it’s only September 1) (you can still self-appoint, everyone else!). You look so great already. Really. I’m excited to hear how it goes, how you liked what you wore, and what you thought about instead of what to wear.



Happy wearing! Happy September! Do keep me posted. And, read more about my life-changing new crush on copper in the November issue of Mankato Magazine.

An open letter to men upon the dawn of spring/summer wardrobe season

This post originally appeared as a column in Mankato Magazine (May 2015). I’m sharing again in hopes of saving our nation from the “barrage of constant eye trauma” currently being suffered in Japan. The whole horrible story is here. You can read it after you read mine.


Dear Men,

Happy spring! I imagine you’re changing over your closet. Me too. And not a moment too soon. I mean if I have to look down and see my woolen leg warmers sticking out of dirty boots with YakTracks one more day, I just don’t even know.

I am guessing you feel the same. Sick of wool, sick of fleece, sick of scratchy bulk. I feel you, men, and at the same time I’m writing to stop you from the bad decisions that can happen when you’re in that last-straw state of mind. I am writing to caution you against one decision in particular.

It’s a choice you’ve been making for a few years now. I assume it’s a choice. I assume no loving partner would impose this on you. In fact, your partner might be so loving that they can’t figure out how to say what it is I’m writing to say, despite watching you leave the house every “casual Friday” for the past few summers dressed this way. It’s hard for them because you don’t seem embarrassed. You seem proud. Bold. Sassy. Daring the world to stuff you back inside your heavy winter garb.

I am writing to help you both. Ready? I’ll just say it. Stop wearing those slinky ribbed short-sleeved mock turtleneck shirts to work and I mean now.

As exciting as it feels to slip on something so light and soft, something you lucked out and found on sale, cheaper than golf shirts for sure, boom, your summer business-casual wardrobe completely figured out for the next however many years (I’m assuming there was a sale, or else why would you have so very many of them), it’s that very feeling that should be a red flag. A red flag that says, this is too silky and too excitingly priced to be shirt. It’s not outerwear. It is, my man friend, a camisole with floppy sleeves and a weak neck.

True to its actual nature as an undergarment, the slinky tee tends to show us more than necessary. A white cotton undershirt as your foundational piece might smooth things out, as might a pair of stick-on daisy-shaped adhesives sold in most fabric stores near the lingerie straps and clasps. Alas, you don’t believe in undershirts or adhesive daisies. Not that we’ve seen. So we are left to see, you know, you.

Please understand that this cease-and-desist order isn’t about wanting you to comply with a certain trend or template. It’s not about reducing you to an ornament or my own personal preferred scenery. Quite the contrary. This is about respect and wanting you to feel relevant and vital on the summer style scene.

And your shiny tee, my friend, while it shows certain parts of you, is not you. It’s flimsy and faux and kind of collapsing into itself. And you are not that. You are a man who goes to work on Fridays in the summer which, in itself, is fresh and sporting and strong. You deserve visuals that say so. You deserve a crisp hang, which flatters more than a damp cling. You deserve “tailored” versus “topography.”

So, go chambray. Go linen! Go button-down or regular collar, tucked-in or flat-bottomed hanging loose outside the belt. Go short-sleeved or long-sleeves-rolled-up at the right moment at the right meeting. You know the one. For sure, regardless, go with an undershirt.

For starters, go back into your rearranged closet. Bag up the offenders and drop them at MRCI or Salvation Army. And then go forth to the office every Friday this summer in an actual old-school cotton-poly crisp and structured safe-for-work shirt.




Thanks, Mankato Magazine, for indulging this and other urgent whims. Thanks, too, for nobody on staff having one of those shirts, when I asked around so I could get a photo for column. You are a classy bunch of cats.

In which birthday girl defines “classy macabre.” A guest post.

Seriously, last week I was in some out-of-town parking lot and a woman comes up and goes, “Are you Amy?” My sister Amy lives a billion miles away. I haven’t lived in the same state as her, haven’t been asked by a teacher “are you Amy’s sister,” for decades. So, when it happens now, I take it as a sign to yield to the truth that she’s the best writer with the most dramatic birthdays and more hair than me and WHATEVERWHATEVER. Here is a guest post. By Ann’s sister Amy.


Amy. By Natalya.

Everything I’ve ever submitted for publication, that’s been accepted, anyway, has related in some way to death. Religion and death, childbirth and death, dreams and their (metaphorical) death; you name a variation of a macabre punch, and likely, I’ve written it already. Even the time I was featured in a fashion blog, it ended up, inevitably, being about my death.

It wasn’t a choice. It’s more like an undeniable consequence of my father’s unexpected premature exit. It’s like being a vegan, or remembering that you’re allergic to latex, or finding an outfit that accommodates an insulin pump; day after day after day, it’s just there, like breathing. Part of maybe every fourth thought.

“When I die,” blah blah blah.

“I hate to spend the money on something that only lasts one summer, but I’ll be happy we did things like this when I’m dying.”

“Wow, WFMT plays the best songs. It reminds me of that song I want for my funeral. What was the name of it again? I totally need to look that up. I don’t want someone to just come along and plug in `Amazing Grace. ‘ What? Are we out of parmesan cheese again? How did that happen?”

It’s like that.

Many years ago, I sang up north at St. Gertrude on Easter morning, with the composer serving as accompanist. The choir was stacked with paid cantors from all over the city, all of us strangers until Jim started rehearsing his song. It’s the kind of rhythm, chord progression, and choral harmony mix that makes you instantly feel like lifelong friends with everyone who has their pitch, which of course in a paid choir, is everyone. It was such an uplifting experience that I took it back to my own conductor and said, “hey, you know, instead of one lone tenor and some tympanis in the balcony, we should really sing on Easter morning. And we should sing, specifically, this.”

He said no. That’s when it hit me: besides being macabre, I’m exclusive. I’m the kind of person who will only sing in a church choir so upscale that the conductor, as much as he loves me, won’t stoop to indulge in a Sandi Patty song, even as a prelude, even for my last Easter above ground. I’m like….classy macabre.

Miller Analogy: What my sister Ann is to fashion, I am to death.

The last time I saw my father was on Thanksgiving night. I had a really, really bad cold, the kind that seems like it must technically be some kind of dangerous pneumonia. I almost didn’t go home for dinner. I lived in Chicago, way up north in east Rogers Park, so it was somewhat of a commute on Thanksgiving morning to my far south suburban home. Normally I was up for a series of long train rides, but I could barely walk. In the end, something compelled me to drag myself out into the cold dark isolated morning and get to the only Metra scheduled before noon that day. We always put up the Christmas tree after dinner. My job was the lights. I basically just laid on the couch watching everyone work. “I’ll make it up to you next year,” I promised my dad as he strung every last light himself. I meant it.

Maybe he would have offered to drive me home even if I hadn’t been sick. It was my first Thanksgiving living on my own, so there’s no precedent. When we got to my apartment complex, he seemed to almost leap out of the driver’s side so he could get to my door and let me out. For the first time, our ride to somewhere I lived didn’t include carrying at least 15 loads of my things packed in backpacks, laundry baskets, and milk crates. I wasn’t moving in or out of college; I was home, and my home wasn’t his. Maybe that sudden realization was what the next few minutes were about.

We were directly under the streetlight at 1459 W. Morse. If you go there today, you can see how it almost makes a spotlight on the sidewalk. A theater lighting crew couldn’t have set it up better. A few panes down the sidewalk, someone once etched “Long Live God” into the wet concrete. “Make sure you bundle up. Chicago winters are cold. That’s why they call it the Windy City, you know. Well, that and the politics. I know you can take care of yourself, but I still worry.” Then he hugged me, for a long time. When it seemed like we were done, he pulled me closer for one last embrace. We both said I love you, heartfelt, not fake. He got into the car, drove away, and exactly one week later, the Thursday night after Thanksgiving, almost to the same hour that we said goodbye, he died.

Were I writing a narrative, the way it actually happened is so immaculate that my editor would insist that I cut or change most of the details to make it more believable. For a sudden death, we had basically a perfect ending.


I had a good friend in college, a non-traditional student (31 years old! The epitome of wisdom!) who rode a motorcycle and had worked as a professional photographer before deciding to pursue a degree in ministry. Many years after graduation, we met up at a restaurant and the first thing he said was: “Wow, you even smell the same.” I did. He remembered all kinds of details from the one time he’d visited my childhood home, had collected the best stories from every road trip (we were in a touring company together), and, as he’d been working some freelance hours as an airport limo driver, gave me tips on the little known routes. From that day on, I was hard core side streets. He’d been at my father’s funeral; he’d also been to the funerals of both his parents. We could talk like most people our age couldn’t, yet. Those few hours deposited me on fluffy clouds for weeks afterward. I was only in my mid-twenties, so an encounter with a friend that I hadn’t seen for years, picking right back up as if we’d never spent a day apart, was mostly still the stuff of clichés in which older people spoke. It was a threshold moment; I had one of *those* friends.

People mocked him a little bit for being so cautious. They called him “Mr. Safety.” That’s how I knew, when I heard he’d been in a motorcycle accident, that it couldn’t have been his fault. It turned out that the chance of a piece of flying gravel hitting one’s artery at the exact angle and torque to cause death before the ambulance could get there was something like zero.

My college roommate died shortly after her wedding, right as they planned to start a family. My graduate school professor, who I mentally cursed for giving me a B and scrawling a less-than-supportive note across the top, didn’t make it through the subsequent semester. A good work friend died in the hospital, about seven days after surgery. The best boss I ever had didn’t die, but almost did, didn’t wake up for almost a year after surgery in another hospital, was sent home to die, but survived, albeit with brain damage. A child, due on Christmas day, made it only a handful of weeks, exactly to Good Friday. Classy, and consistently heartbreaking. That’s less than half my actual stories. You can’t make a career out of writing the same random catastrophe over and over, even if it’s true. As Joanne Greenberg once told me, “At a certain point, you have to leave out some of the tragic details, so your reader doesn’t throw your book across the room.”

Over the years, I’ve developed a habit of going through my things pretty regularly and carefully, conscious of not wanting whoever has to come in and clean up after me when I drop dead to have excessive work. I’m not sure, if my father was still alive, that my files would be quite so carefully labeled, so my kids could find things like their social security cards or birth certificates if I suddenly wasn’t there. It seems especially important as December approaches, as I either outlive my father – or don’t. It also seems increasingly irrelevant. My grandmother on my mother’s side just turned 94. My father’s grandmother lived to be 101, 52 years past 49. Were I her, I wouldn’t even be at the midpoint of my life yet.

Were I my father, I’d have exactly five months left.

When my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer a few months after my father’s death, he contemplated out loud what it was like to face a terminal diagnosis, with time and enough energy for awhile to clean up after oneself, plan the funeral, have a few final adventures and a chance to say many goodbyes. Referencing my father’s sudden unexpected fall to the floor, he mused, “that’s the way to go.”

Maybe I will disagree someday, but for now, I think he was wrong. The chance to live life conscious of its impending end, whether it’s a few months or 52 more years, is all we have, really. David Nicholls, in One Day (which you really should read, perhaps right now), writes: “He wanted to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a cool photograph.”

I always assumed that when I got to the last age my father had ever been, the hardest thing would be not knowing whether I’d make it past the day he died. Now, I think that’s probably absurd. Even someone with my bizarre track record of sudden hyper-poetic tragedies wouldn’t have the luxury of knowing, to the day, when fate would strike. Maybe people who follow the assortment of law-of-attraction philosophies are onto something. Perhaps the way to go is to live like 101 is the new 49. I don’t expect to be followed by paparazzi any time soon, but I want to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a classy photograph.

And to that end, I need to go shopping.


OMG Amy. You are so old and hooray for that. Happy birthday.