Sunday, February 07, 2010

"A Banner Year" in the Sunday Herald

Something funny happened today: my friend Jenna and I had stories running side by side in the Sunday Herald.

Jenna's is a theatre preview; mine is a feature story that, like many of my stories, seemed to find me.

It began with a flyer on a bulletin board. I saw it out of the corner of my eye on my way out of Flour. “I BELIEVE IN YOU,” it said.

I looked closer. The flyer offered “free advice” and “motivational banners” to “use as a reminder that you can get better, feel better, move on, learn more, have fun, or whatever it is that you’d like to do.” At the bottom were tiny strips of paper with an email address and a Web address:

I took one.

Back at my office, I shared this information with a few fellow romantics; it seemed too sweet to be true, like something out of a Miranda July short story or a film starring Meg Ryan.

Then a friend of mine, Christine, received her advice and banner in the mail. It read, “WORKING ISN’T WAITING.” Hung in her house, it grinned down at us like a rainbow-colored Cheshire Cat smile, and felt just as whimsical.

The advice, however, was down-to-earth.

"Your banner says, 'working isn't waiting.' Because it just feels good to be doing something, not only because it can help you get closer to whatever goals you have, but because doing things* and being active is intrinsically good for your mental health and happiness, right now. This is really important, and I think lots of people need this reminder. Feeling like you're waiting for something sucks so much because it's passive and stagnant. I hope the banner helps you remember that as long as you're doing something, and enjoying it, you aren't just waiting for something better. And that's such a relief, isn't it?"

From the return address, Christine observed that the writer lived just a few blocks away. “I wonder if I pass them in the cafe, in the market, on the bus, and we knowingly nod to our secrets,” Christine wrote later on her blog.

I asked the artist if we could meet; I already had an inkling that I would turn this into a story, but I was also just madly curious. She agreed. 

We set a time and date for a meetup at Flour, and a funny Herald photographer named Stuart joined us. She told us her name was Samantha Kattan, she lived in Somerville, and she worked near me, as an interpreter of art at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). We even shared a few mutual friends.

Stuart suggested we go to her house to look at her art. We piled into his pickup and headed to Union Square. There, Kattan showed Stuart her art supplies, and handed me a few books
by the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, whose obsession with creating “design that touches people" inspired her project. 

She also showed us the banner on her own wall: it simply reads “TODAY.” It seems fitting for times like these, when the future is so uncertain. 

I loved writing this story and am glad it exists in the world. And I keep thinking about what my banner would read, if I were to write in...but ironically, I'm not a stranger anymore, and it would not be anonymous. 

This is always the blessing and curse of being a journalist -- you are equipped and entitled to chase down the subjects of your curiosity, to find out what others can't, and it is so satisfying, but often, you lose something of the mystery of life, too.


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