The illustrations of Jessie Wilcox Smith have graced our home for more than 40 years. I have marveled at her ability to capture childhood since I was a grad student. When we walk through the rooms where her art is featured, my eyes are always drawn to them. I admire her choice of colors, her ability to focus on each child, but her choice of subjects is always intriguing. She studied with Thomas Eakins and Howard Pyle, she was one of the Red Rose Girls with Violet Oakley and Elizabeth Shippen Green, and she made a very good living by painting covers for Good Housekeeping, advertising art, and portrait commissions. Jessie Wilcox Smith was an extraordinary woman and I am grateful for her continued presence in our lives.
I don’t have the luxury of reading books I’ve already read—there are too many new books to be read for clients and reviews. There are, however, several books that I carve out time to re-read. One of them is At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf. I purchased it in 1977 when it was first published, when I began studying the history of children’s book publishing. His memoir is not primarily about children’s books but rather the beginnings of a large publisher, Random House. I’m grateful for the history and understanding At Random opened up to me.
Read this excerpt and you’ll want to order your own used copy.
“Meeting Horace Liveright, a publisher! I’d never met one in my life. So the very next day I went uptown for lunch with Dick and Liveright—and never went back to Wall Street [where he’d been working and making a good living, but it wasn’t about books].
“We went to the Algonquin, and Liveright pointed out the famous Round Table—the table where a group of bright young literary people met for lunch—and for the first time I cast my eyes on a lot of people who were going to be closely associated with my life: Dorothy Parker, Robert Sherwood, Marc Connelly, Franklin P. Adams, Robert Benchley. I was delighted! …
“Liveright looked like Barrymore and was quite vain, but he had a flair, and when he wanted to be, he was a very charming man. He sure charmed the hell out of me.” [Liveright asks Bennett to invest $25,000 in his company. And he needs it quickly.]
“This was very interesting to me, so I said, ‘Let me give it some thought.’
“He said, ‘No, I’ve got to know pretty quickly. I have to get back to the office now, because I promised to take Theodore Dreiser to the baseball game this afternoon. I’m bored to death by baseball, Bennett. If you want to get in good with me quick, how about taking Dreiser up to the ball game?’
“I’d never met an important author, and at this time Theodore Dreiser was a giant. He hadn’t written An American Tragedy yet, but he had long ago published Sister Carrie and Jennie Gerhardt.
“Well, that’s when I went to the telephone and called downtown and said, “I won’t be back this afternoon. As a matter of fact, I might not be back at all. I’m thinking of going into the publishing business. Goodbye, everybody.” [pages 27-28]
And don’t miss the photo with the caption, “Outgo J. Schmierkase Award” to Theodor Seuss Geisel “for twenty-five years of dazzling accomplishment,” October 1962. [page 155]
I will always be thankful for my roots in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. I was born there, I lived there until I was seven, and I spent every summer and holiday there until I was 16. It was my home, the place I still visit in my dreams. I breathe more thoroughly there. Growing up in a small town provided me with opportunities I didn’t have as a latch-key kid in the Twin Cities. This is a photo of Rice Lake with its 1926 Christmas decorations (before my time) that captures the spirit of this lovely gem in Wisconsin.
Each year, we work on modifying one behavior, keeping it simple. We’ve learned that it takes time. We have to be patient with setbacks. We have to forgive ourselves … frequently. This year, we have been learning to meditate. It’s not easy. It’s tough to still one’s mind for 20 minutes each day. The deadlines in our work are relentless and stress-inducing. We work with more than 120 clients. Expectations are high.
We began meditating in April. Although we felt a little silly about it, we tried Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s Shedding the Weight: Mind, Body, and Spirit. It sounds dramatic, but meditation has changed our lives. We’re calmer. We’re more focused. And perhaps, best of all, we’re becoming self-aware. That’s a big change for two people who can stare at their computer screens for 18 hours a day. If we miss a day of meditation, we feel it. Meditating is now an ingrained part of our lives. And I’m grateful for it.
How does a society descend into horrific intolerance? I grew up in a school system that emphasized the history of the Holocaust. We learned through reading, lectures from Holocaust survivors, film, but it was this movie, Cabaret, based on Chrisopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories and the play based on those stories, I Am a Camera, that put all the pieces together for me. I was a senior in high school when it was released. My friends and I saw it several times. We cheered when it won so many Academy Awards (although it didn’t win Best Picture). The images from the film, the scenes, the music still play in my mind today. I am grateful for this movie for opening my mind and heart.
As an only child, I am grateful that I grew up with so many second and third cousins. My grandmother had 11 brothers and sisters who frequently got together with their families. These are the MN and WI group in the ’60s … most of the family lived in SD, IA, and IL. That community of relatives was important for feeling loved, welcomed, and connected.
Today, something more mundane. We have been working for 30 years to reduce our consumer impact on the planet. It was hard to give up paper towels. I am grateful for these huck cloths. Washable, lint-free, the right size, they can do everything a paper towel could do … and did I say they’re washable? We color code them: pink for the bathroom, green for the kitchen, yellow for the laundry room. It’s further progress toward our goal to lessen our household impact on landfills. I know my grandmother would approve.
I am thankful for the mind-broadening books of Madeleine L’Engle, who introduced this sixth grader to the tesseract (and Mr. Rausch, who read it out loud). My interest in science began with Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin. “Yes! I dare disturb the universe.”
There are few songs that give me hope for our future the way this one does: “Common Denominator.” Written and performed by Tom Lieberman, Tommy & the Liebermen, this is an upbeat, meaningful song (and video) when you need help adding it all up. Have a listen.