HAPPY NEW YEAR, READERS!
My “Humans of The Pfister” took a hiatus in December, but the Humans are back! What better way to jumpstart HOTP in 2017 than with this lovely mother-daughter team. I ran into Jayne and Grace at the hotel last week. Well, to be honest, I saw on Facebook that they were in the Cafe for lunch, promised them online that I’d be there as soon as I could, and got there in time to join them for a delightful conversation in the Lobby Lounge.
Grace graduated last June from The Prairie School, where I taught her senior English class. She has completed her first semester at the Santa Fe University of Art & Design, where she is studying concept art and character design. I remember Grace as a quiet, introspective student, shy in class but mildly bubbly with friends, more a follower than a leader. She was well known for her artistic abilities, though she never boasted, never made a big deal about it. What I remember most about her, though, is that she knows what she likes and dislikes–and is not afraid to tell you, ever so respectfully.
One thing she likes is real life. True stories. History. As a reader, not surprisingly, she tends toward nonfiction. So whenever I would introduce a new work of fiction for us to study, well, I knew it was going to be a chore. She’d give it an honest go, I knew, but she wasn’t going to make it easy for me. I came to expect, with every new novel, the calm but serious question: “So, why are we reading this?” I remember, though, our interesting conversations–just the two of us, sitting in the Commons–about the role of fiction, the nature of “happening truth” versus “story truth” (terms borrowed from author Tim O’Brien), and so on. I appreciated that she was willing to listen and debate and, even, willing to question my choices and objectives.
Another thing she disliked was writing. If she could just tell me, why did she have to write it? If she could just show me in a drawing, why did she have to write it?
So what did I learn about this quiet, young contrarian on this December afternoon? It’s not box office material, but here’s the movie script:
INT. THE PFISTER HOTEL - DAY DOMINIC sits down with his former student GRACE and her mother JAYNE to catch up on the last six months, especially with GRACE, who has been at school in Santa Fe. DOMINIC What program are you in again? GRACE It's focused on concept art and character design. JAYNE She's really doing what she loves. DOMINIC (looking at GRACE) And you get to do it in the background, behind the scenes, in a sense. Right? GRACE (nodding) Yes. DOMINIC How are your roommates? GRACE I live in my own place, which is nice. But the people I hang out with, they just sing--all--the--time. I don't mind it. They're fun. JAYNE It's an arts school. So there are so many students studying music and theater and musical theater. But Grace. You know how she's always been kind of shy. But because of the program she's in, with films, and all the new people she's around, she's already designed a movie poster for one short film and now she's acting! GRACE Yeah, I keep being asked to be an extra. It's weird. I've been a 911 operator, a news reporter, a background laugher . . . DOMINIC I can see you being a background laugher. Always smirking at something. JAYNE (eagerly) Tell him about your Mary Jane. GRACE I will. Being an extra is one thing, but I've never acted and the director wasn't sure if I was going to work out, but we tried it out and he liked me, so I got a role as Mary Jane-- JAYNE From Spider-Man. GRACE Yes, you know, Peter Parker's girlfriend. I am still shy, but doing all this really boosts your confidence. JAYNE You did all that Irish dance for so many years, so you were on the stage all the time. GRACE Yeah, you'd think that that would've helped. DOMINIC But it's different when you're dancing with a team. I know why you'd get nervous on the stage. I get nervous. And I can't stand a camera on me! JAYNE She'll get used to it. I think she's being open to all the possibilities around her. Like, you know, she never liked to write-- DOMINIC No kidding. It was like pulling teeth. JAYNE Well, her teacher had them write a research paper on anything they wanted. And you know Grace--if she's not interested in it, it's going to be very hard to get her to write about it. So I made a huge list for her and-- DOMINIC Oh yeah. That's when she wrote about Tim Burton, right? JAYNE She's been fascinated with him for a long time. DOMINIC This is just like I let her write about the Old West for her Senior Capstone project because that's what she wanted to research. JAYNE Yes. Her teacher liked her research so much that he entered it into a writing contest. DOMINIC (smirking at GRACE) Too funny. JAYNE So anyways. When I finally move out there next month, I want to start getting extra roles on campus. I could be the "adult woman" or the "old woman" whenever they need an adult woman or old woman. I am looking forward to moving and returning to the southwest. You know me--I love to hike and fish, I love the mountains. I'm looking forward to all the museums and Navajo jewelry and rugs and art. I'm just tired of how "American" things have gotten here. I mean, there are still places I like to go in Milwaukee, but there's just something. Maybe it's how modern things have gotten . . . or it's how busy everyone is, everyone on their phones. Out there, it's quieter. GRACE Yeah, everyone's calm and nice. No one hustles. JAYNE And that's what I'm seeking. I don't know what it's going to be like out there. I have a job or two lined up in my field, but everything else is new. I'm excited to start exploring again, creating a new life. And slowing down. DOMINIC And it'll be nice, I'm sure, to be close to Grace. You both get along so well. (They both nod in agreement) GRACE It's so calm and nice that I don't even watch the news. JAYNE She doesn't even watch the news. I have to tell her what's happening around her. GRACE There was supposedly a mountain lion lurking around campus. I didn't know about that. And one day we saw smoke coming from the mountains and thought it was a forest fire. It was a controlled burn. JAYNE I had to tell her about those things. If it weren't for me, well . . . she has to be careful. Tell him about the barracks. GRACE Ok. So there's what we call "the barracks" and it's an abandoned part of the school. JAYNE Back from when it was St. Michael's College. It was probably where all the priests lived. It's all fenced off and Grace and her friends found a way to kind of wiggle under it at night. GRACE (leaning forward, face beaming) The barracks are really cool. It's one of the movie sets for Manhattan. It turns out lot of movies are made in Santa Fe. Like Tina Feys's Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. And many are shot on our campus. We had to use our phones because we didn't have flashlights, and there were all these rooms with surgery tables and things, probably old movie props. JAYNE Grace is the ringleader. Everyone else was scared of ghosts, but not Grace. What she should have been afraid of were bats . . . or rats. GRACE (chuckling) There was that black widow. JAYNE See what I mean? GRACE (smiling) There was an Italian kid. He got bit by something, but we didn't know what, but after two days he called 1-1-9. Yep, he's from Italy and got the emergency number backward. But eventually his mom came from Italy and he had to go home.
So there you have it.
Quiet, graceful, gracious Grace who used to turn her nose up to fictional characters is now
- learning how to create concept art for fictional films,
- laughing for filmmakers,
- joining the ranks of Kirsten Dunst as Spider-Man’s girlfriend,
- leading a risky gang of trespassing, singing art students through abandoned buildings,
- braving the lions and bats of Santa Fe, and
- chuckling at the misfortune of black widow-bitten Italian boys.
I never would have guessed.
Maybe she’s realizing that a little bit of make-believe isn’t such a bad thing. Especially if you’re doing something you love.
If only we had let her do more of what she loved when she was in high school–right, Grace?