This post was sitting in my drafts folder. When I heard Amy had passed away, I went to write about her but instead just watched this video. I have said before that the key trait I want in a teacher for my children is kindness. The second, is that they are always learning. Amy embodied both of those things with an understated elegance.
Last week, I was at the American School in Warsaw as a Learning2Leader for the Learning2 Europe conference. Part of my job was to give an L2 talk. A short talk on a topic of my choosing that fit the theme of the conference: Include, Inquire, Inspire.
I was tossing ideas around when, like over 4 and a half million other people, I read Amy’s column in the New York Post, You May Want To Marry My Husband. I was shocked and saddened beyond belief and I was also clear on what my L2 talk would be about. Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
I went to Warsaw with this idea firmly planted but my actual talk, very much in the air. I kept writing a eulogy that I didn’t have the position or authority to write. I had to make it more about my connection to Amy while still engaging those in the audience who didn’t know this amazing person.
After much drafting and editing and re-writing, The Yellow Umbrella was created. And I felt great about it. It was equal parts homage and inspiration and the most heartfelt thank you I could create for this amazing woman.
Amy made wishes. She wished for me “Endless Bliss”. In turn, I wish that for her family who must be grieving her loss so much more deeply than anyone.
Here is the talk. The transcript is below. Who is your Amy?
The Yellow Umbrella
It seems somewhat weird or maybe even selfish to grieve the loss of someone you never really knew. But the grief and the loss are both real and the knowing comes through the willingness of a maker with an umbrella to share her passion.
Maybe you know Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Maybe you have read one of her books? Or maybe you have your own “Amy” who inspires you with their magic. This is not a eulogy for Amy. In all honesty, I don’t think I can do her justice. But it is my sincere wish that in sharing her story, a part of her maker spirit will live on in us all.
When I finished reading her book “The Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life” I felt like I had spent the afternoon with a good friend. I was convinced that she and I, at some yet to be determined point in life, would collaborate on a project together. I wasn’t sure what that project would be and honestly, it didn’t even matter, I was just inspired by her perspective and her vision and I wanted to be a part of that.
This isn’t the collaboration I had imagined but with heartfelt appreciation of her generous spirit, let me share three pearls of Amy-inspired wisdom.
Find the thing you can’t not do.
Amy was a maker. Among other things she made short films, salads, wishes and books. When asked, “Why do you write?” She would respond, “Because I can’t not.”
What is the thing that you “can’t not” do? What is the thing you find yourself doing above all other things? For me, I “can’t not” create. Whether it be doodles, a re-designed resume, a collection of art provocations, a book, or the slides behind me, I am constantly inspired to create and re-create. What is your “can’t not”?
Stand Under Your Umbrella
On the 8/8/08 Amy put a message out that at 8:08pm she would be standing under the Bean in Chicago and that anyone who wanted to make something with her, was welcome to join. She would be the one with the yellow umbrella. And the association between Amy and a yellow umbrella was born. Imagine an umbrella, yellow, hanging in your schools – in a shared space, a classroom, a teacher workroom. The umbrella would remind you that in this school, in this space, we
We have ‘blue sky’ thinking, why not “yellow umbrella living”? How would a yellow umbrella move you forward in the way you ‘do’ school? What would it amplify? What new things would arise?
More is a key word I associate with Amy. It is tattooed on her arm. It is in the title of one of her books. She believed that the more you looked, the more you would find. Her biggest more? Was that through her work she would connect with people.
Like all of us, I wear many hats and have a full schedule. To think of adding more seems near impossible. But then I think, what if I take some things away in order to add more things in? Less structure, more freedom. Less talk, more listen. Less work and more play. How would doing less make room for more?
This umbrella is new. I bought it a week or so after Amy died because I wanted something to hold on to that represented a great maker. Amy taught me to make.When I am stuck, when I am not sure, when in doubt, MAKE. Make good art. Make a connection. Make a difference. To be a maker was Amy’s passion. It almost seems as if it were her destiny.
Who is your Amy? Who inspires you to make the most of your time here. What magic will evolve from the maker in you?
It is the phrase any parent will know in their sleep. But why isn’t it echoing in our hallways at school? Where is the demand to be seen? To show off what has been created? To share one’s creative endeavours?
The other day I (somewhat) jokingly said to a colleague that we should “Banksy” the heck out of our school walls. Art Activists. Spreading a message. I think I would start with “Watch me!” – the war cry of children who create.
This leads me back to having a Bias Toward Action. Think of your kids. How often are they taking action? And don’t confuse this with “working” or “being busy” but actually making, doing, creating, producing of their own accord?
One of my Maker heros passed away last week. The phenomenal Amy Krouse Rosenthal. She was a maker. She was a creator. She was someone who looked at the same things as everybody else, but through “Amy colored” glasses. She was kind, lovely, generous, smart, and oh so creative. I miss her already. And I wish for more. I have more to say on Amy. But for now, in her honor, please think about having your kids make things. Challenge yourself to do away with worksheets and pre-cut shapes and cookie-cutter “art” projects. Let your kids MAKE things. Stop having them fill in checklists and tick boxes and conform to your timeframe and LET. THEM. MAKE.