A Minute in the City 1-9-23: What is art?

At last fall’s art fairs, I showcased my print of 100 Above the Park, the new St. Louis building designed by noted architect Jeanne Gang and the January subject of my 2023 calendar. It drew more attention than anything I’d hung at a show before. Everyone had an opinion. Not about the art, but about the building.

I would argue that architecture is art in so many ways. And something about hearing all those comments last fall transported me back to art school, where we would critique one another’s projects weekly. Critiques, which often went on for hours, were my least favorite thing about college. It was not easy to have my work picked apart by my peers. It wasn’t easy to pick theirs apart, either. But it was required.

Forty years later, I think I understand why. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And when beholders speak, they steer the future of visual art. The people who came by my booth at the fall shows were doing exactly that by sharing their views on that crazy new building in the West End.

“Hey, look! It’s the artichoke,” somebody said. “It’s that pineapple building!” chimed in someone else. “It’s the coffee filter!” “It’s the Chinese take-out boxes!” “It’s the cheese grater!”

“I know someone who lives there,” a woman told me. “I want to live there,” said another. “I couldn’t stand to live there with those slanted walls. I’d be afraid to look out.”

“I would want to look out over the park.” “I’d want to look east, toward the arch.” “Can you see the arch from there?” “I don’t know. Do they have balconies?”

“I remember when it was going up. I said what the hell?” “All that glass!” “It looks different than everything around it. Out of place.” “It looks different than anything around it, and I think that’s good, you know?”

“Everybody gets a corner, I heard.” “That’s all it is. Corners.” “Depending on where you’re standing, it looks square or rectangular or some other shape. I can’t get my head around it.”

“I like seeing it from the park.” “Nope. From around back, the northeast, I think.” “It has a different vibe.”

Yes. The 100 Building definitely has a different vibe. And, with its stacked and splayed design, it does kind of look like an artichoke (and everything else it’s been called.) But, before I displayed it at my booth, I had no idea the buzz it would create. All the talk doesn’t mean the design is good, but it doesn’t mean it’s bad, either. It just means that it is seen, that people are responding to it.

Back in college, I was forced to respond to art. That was part of my visual training. Once, two hours into a critique, an instructor posed the question, “What is art?” which pretty much guaranteed that we’d be sitting there for another two hours. We didn’t reach a consensus on the subject that day. But 40 years later, I think we’re getting closer. When hundreds of people see the same picture in a single day and feel compelled to comment, it really does matter. It says that art is shaping our world, that raw inspiration and nonlinear thinking continue to work with science and technology to move us forward. You know the art is working when people respond.

Next month, the individual prints from my 2023 calendar will go on sale. And, by this time next year, I’ll have a pretty good idea which of the new images resonate most. Will it be the iconic ones that celebrate St. Louis’ history? Will it be those that recount a “day in the life” of customers? Or will it be those that get us talking? Whichever way it goes, the responses matter. The eye of the beholder shapes what comes next.



100 Above the Park is the January feature in my 2023 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. In February, it will go on sale as an 11 x 14 litho print. It is available now as a limited-edition 16 x 20 archival print. Both the calendar and prints can be found at ayearinthecity.com/shop.

A Minute in the City 10-22-22: A Print Primer

In the spring of 2018, about the time I sold my last calendar for the year, I discovered there was a market for my trimmed-down “calendar” prints. This was a surprising little byproduct of the calendar that I hadn’t even thought of before. That first year – and every year after – I was able to sell prints from leftover stock at the end of the season.

In late February of every year, I sign and package prints from my surplus inventory and put them up for sale. For my customers, it’s an inexpensive way to nab multiples of their favorite images. For me, it’s a responsible use of overstock and a way to extend the calendar season indefinitely. It really is a win-win for all.

I currently sell 58 different images as 11 x 14 prints for just nine dollars apiece, and I’m really comfortable with that price point. Like so many things in this city, my prints are affordable to all.

But these little gems are finite in number, and the per-unit cost of reprints is much higher than a full calendar run. It just isn’t feasible to go back on press for a single image. When a print is gone, it’s gone.

Earlier this month, at the Best of Missouri Market, that happened with my print of the MOBOT Garden Glow. The December feature from my 2021 calendar was the first of my prints to sell out completely. A few more are likely to follow in the coming months.

There is good news in all of this. First, judging from the interest in my 11 x 14 prints, it appears that the St. Louis experience is valued. That means a lot to me. Second, I still have 58 different nine-dollar prints available for sale. And third, every image I have ever created is still being sold as a limited-edition archival print, including the Garden Glow!

Archival prints are much different from litho prints – or “calendar prints” as I often call them. Here’s a side-by-side comparison to help determine which type of print is right for you.

I don’t know that I’d be doing this deep dive into prints, were it not for the fact that my sales seem to be nudging me in that direction. But, as sad as I am to say goodbye to that little print of the Garden Glow, I really am excited about the bigger picture. In just a few short months, I’ll have 84 giclée images on my site, prints that people can hang in their homes and pass down to loved ones, prints that will remind those in the next century just how much we loved St. Louis today.  


Archival prints and litho “calendar prints” are available for sale at ayearinthecity.com/newproducts

A Minute in the City 7-12-22: Your Home is Your Castle

My husband and I love houses. We love them so much so, in fact, that we’ve purchased ten of them over the years.  We buy houses like most people buy shoes, not quite wearing them out before feasting our eye on the next. And whenever we go driving, we always see one or two more we want. But, in spite of this obsession with houses, it’s rare that I get to include one in my calendar.

And that’s too bad. Because St. Louis has some pretty amazing houses. There are the gorgeous Queen Annes of Webster Groves, miles of mid-centuries in Crestwood and U City, the stately Victorians of Lafayette Square, the Arts and Crafts bungalows of south city. Like a box of assorted chocolates, each is more tempting than the last.

Inside, though, every house is a home. And our homes are our castles, safe places to kick off our shoes and forget our troubles. Places where we can zone out, be quiet, find rest.

But what if your home really is a castle? What if the place you live really is that place people are ogling from the outside? Well, if you live at the Magic Chef Mansion, you let them in.

Last weekend, we finally stepped inside the Magic Chef Mansion, a home we’d first learned about in 2019. It was built for the founder of Magic Chef, the world’s largest producer of stoves in the early 1900s. Then in the late 1900s – 1990 to be exact – the mansion was sold to a woman who lived a block or two away. Now people gather at the base of her driveway once a month, and she welcomes them in like friends.

Photo courtesy of the Magic Chef Mansion

Despite its stunning beauty, the authenticity of its furnishings, and its historical significance, the Magic Chef Mansion feels unpretentious. It is a home, first and foremost, a place with a life and a story that keeps on going. Its owner welcomes you into the foyer herself and chats amiably with you for as long as you care to stay. Docents in every room do the same. You’re simply a guest at your neighbor’s house, and that house just happens to be a castle.

When we lived in Olivette, we were often guests at our neighbors’ houses. One of those neighbors was a man named Frank, an artist I had worked for at the very beginning of my career. I still marvel that I got to work for him – he was a trailblazer among designers – and I still marvel that I got to be his neighbor some years later.

Many a night we stood in Frank’s kitchen, sipping wine as he and his wife made dinner. The kitchen, after all, was the heart of their home. And the Magic Chef range was the heart of their kitchen. You see, Frank had designed ranges for Magic Chef early in his career, which gave him a unique way of approaching graphic art. After his Magic Chef days, he started his own company, employing dozens of young artists (including yours truly) in promotional and dimensional design.

Frank’s home in Olivette was small, but it was definitely his castle, a space to let his creative mind take flight. The house had a bridge that ran over a little brook, and an addition that required its own basement on account of that brook. It was filled with the work of painters, sculptors, and industrial designers. It was once featured in a national magazine.

But for all its quirks and charm, Frank’s house was a home. A place with a life and a story.

I was secretly hoping that my tour of the Magic Chef Mansion might lead me back to Frank. I was hoping to find his prototype range on display with a picture of him as a young artist. But, alas, other than the logo on the kitchen appliances, I found no connection to my old boss. And yet, there was something familiar about stepping into a place so extraordinary and feeling 100% at home. That’s the kind of magic that happens when you’re welcomed into someone else’s castle.


The Magic Chef Mansion is featured in my 2022 A Year in the City calendar. It is also available as a litho and limited-edition archival print. You’ll find all these products at ayearinthecity.com/shop. For more information on the Magic Chef Mansion – or to sign up for a tour – visit magicchefmansion.com. Finally, if you’re interested in Frank’s design, you’ll find a delightful interview with him at https://vimeo.com/23928210.

A Minute in the City 6-3-22: Little Things Mean a Lot

In the first year of the pandemic, a friend of mine set out on the ultimate donut challenge, sampling every donut from every shop in St. Louis over the course of several months. When COVID cases finally started coming down and his family started traveling again, he went out for donuts in other cities, reviewing them on Facebook with his kids. He was taking on the monster problem of COVID in the smallest of ways… with just a little sweetness. And it worked.

My friend’s story was reminiscent of one from my own childhood. Every Saturday morning for eight years, my dad got up early and took me out for donuts on the way to orchestra practice. We went to Dippy Donuts in the mall at seven in the morning, before the other stores were open or the lights were on.

We ordered the same thing every week: one dozen assorted day-old donuts. We consumed them on site – two and a half for each of us – while standing at Dippy’s high-top tables. Then Dad took the rest back home to my mom and sister and brother while I was at orchestra. Looking back, it makes us seem so poor – to be walking through the darkness for a meager meal, to be taking the crumbs home for the rest of the family to divide amongst themselves. You can almost hear the violins playing, can’t you?

But this memory is anything but poor. This was my one hour a week spent as an only child, the one hour I didn’t have to share with anyone else. In some ways, that 2.5-donut allotment and Dad’s endless stream of silly jokes gave me the confidence to sally forth, to believe in myself.

I’m sure I needed that at the time, and my parents knew it. I was the middle child, after all, the one who didn’t get quite as much undivided attention as my siblings did. And I was scrawny and near-sighted and – oh yes – I played the violin, which, back in the day, was about the most uncool thing a person could do. In other words, I was in my awkward years, like everyone else my age. So Dad took on all my monster problems with just a little bit of sweetness. And it worked.

It was never about the donuts exactly. But somewhere along the line, donuts became a symbol in our family of something greater. To this day, when one of us has a job interview or a major hurdle to overcome, we buy them donuts as a small reminder that we believe in them. And this gesture always takes me back to Dippy Donuts, where this verse hung behind the counter:

As you ramble on in life, children
Whatever be your goal
Keep your eye upon the donut
And not upon the hole

I googled it and discovered it is known as The Optimist’s Creed. And it works. When sadness and doubt descend on me, I follow the crumbs back to my Saturday mornings with Dad, and there I find the strength to keep on going. Funny how much the little things mean.


I chose The Donut Stop as the June feature for my 2022 calendar after sampling donuts from several area shops. The gourmet in me was really smitten with Vincent Van Doughnut, the one-time party girl loved Strange Donuts, the sometimes history buff knew that World’s Fair Donuts had to be in the running. But, when The Donut Stop garnered top honors by Food & Wine Magazine, I had to give it a try. The cinnamon glob looks just like it sounds, but it tastes much much better. And it makes St. Louis such a sweet place to live. The Donut Stop image is available as a limited edition archival print or litho print at ayearinthecity.com.

A Minute in the City 4-26-22: The Thing About Moms and Dads

It was an idea that took years to materialize: greeting cards to celebrate moms and dads.

The reason it took me so long was that I had questions about the subject matter. What did it mean to be a mom or a dad? And how did adult children really feel about the once-a-year celebrations to honor them? The answer was complicated. There was no one-size-fits-all answer.

First, many kids – and let’s face it, we’re all kids – have an expanded idea of what a parent is. Some grow up with extra parents – aunts, uncles, grandparents, and family friends – who love them and lead them and help them explore their universe.

Others grow up with one parent. Or with two moms or two dads. Still others grow up in homes far from their countries and families of origin. How does one create a greeting card for all of them?

It took losing my own parents a few years ago to realize how complicated the parental role is. My mother was a witty woman who could think on her feet, so she could handle anything that came her way. She was a teacher, a domestic engineer, and a practical joker. And she was content to perform all these duties to her own high standards without ever expecting to be recognized for any of them. In fact, she really didn’t like it when I thanked her for being a good mom.

My dad, on the other hand, loved the accolades. And he deserved them. He worked hard all day and played just as hard in the evenings and on weekends. He threw the ball with us in the aisles of the grocery store. He took us swimming at the Y. He took me out for donuts every Saturday morning.

In other words, he was a dad. And my mom was a mom. And the older I get, the more I realize just how much that means. So it was with deep personal reflection and with a recognition of all families that I created Artcards “suitable for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.”

These cards aren’t specific to one parent or the other. And they’re not tied to a single day of the year. But they say what is sometimes hard to say on a daily basis. And they say what is especially hard to say to those who know us better than anybody else. An everyday message for an everyday 24/7 relationship. We’ll be looking up to them forever.



A YEAR IN THE CITY Artcards are designed to “matte in a minute” so they can be displayed as mini-prints after they are received. Packaged 8 to a box with brightly-colored envelopes and all-occasion messages: 2 birthday, 2 love, 2 Mother’s/Father’s Day, 1 “missing you” and 1 congratulations.  Click here to purchase or here to watch the quick little matte-in-a-minute video.

A Minute in the City 4-9-2022: Energy in Motion

I may have been deprived as a child. I didn’t have kinetic sculptures to teach me about science. I didn’t have wind tunnels and archaeological digs. I grew up in a time when science was serious and dangerous and even a little angry. Science wasn’t meant to be fun. It was meant to be intimidating. And my, how it delivered on that promise!

I played through eighth- and ninth-grade science, dressing up the life-sized classroom skeleton and drawing diagrams of Brownian Motion in my notebooks. (You guessed it. The pictures were of brownies running away.)

Later, I discovered that there may have been a reason that I didn’t take STEM more seriously. In an education course I took in college, I learned that girls’ brains develop differently than boys’ do – the right brain being dominant earlier in life, while the opposite is true for boys. Historically, this led educators to believe that women weren’t meant to be scientists. When I learned this, I felt vindicated. I was free to pursue my right-brain impulses! I had permission to ignore science!

And you have permission to judge me for that. Older Janet judges Younger Janet all the time. Especially when I consider the company I am lucky enough to keep now: professors, researchers, and doctors who happen to be women. Not only are they making a difference in the world. They are communicating what they know to the right-brained without prejudice, including little girls.

Only now is my left brain beginning to question the world around me, way too late in life for me to do anything about it. But, if the point of learning is not to advance, but to understand, that’s still something, isn’t it?

So back to the St. Louis Science Center, the largest part of which was erected off of Highway 40 (as it was then called) in 1991. We had just returned to the St. Louis area after a prolonged hiatus, with two little kids in tow. And the science center became one of our favorite places to play.

At the time, I hadn’t learned too much about science, but I’d learned a lot about kids. One thing I’d learned was that play was just another word for learning. And our kids played hard. In many ways, they were like the balls of the Energizer Ball Machine racing above their heads – bright, beautiful illustrations of energy in motion. It took only the slightest nudge and they were off and running – learning, playing, discovering the power within.


The St. Louis Science Center is the April feature in my 2022 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. It is also available as a limited edition archival print or litho print. For more information, see ayearinthecity.com.

A Minute in the City 3-21-22: Size does matter.

I was one of the lucky ones. I grew up with the arts. My parents enrolled me in preschool at the art museum at four and took me to the symphony before I was big enough to weigh down the seat. Later, they drove me to piano lessons and dance classes and orchestra and summer art programs. On rare occasions, they treated me to live theater.

In my childhood memory bank, the concerts and plays and museum visits still stand out. But in reality, they happened less frequently than birthdays. And they came with a lot of rules: Dress better than you’d dress for church. Act better than you’d act in church. Drink only one Shirley Temple at intermission… and only if it’s offered. Don’t clap between movements. Stay behind the velvet ropes. Don’t touch the artwork.

As a kid, I sensed that these rules were in play for older people, too, judging from appearances. People who went to concerts wore uncomfortable shoes and looked as though they had headaches. How in the world could they have been enjoying themselves? The people on stage were no better. They may as well have been grade school principals, the way they shut everyone up.

Sure, some of this may have been my eight-year-old way of looking at the world. But later in life, I still sensed a chasm between artist and audience. Unable to explain it, I chocked it up to greatness. Performers were higher, better. The best they could hope for was that others would admire their art, even if they never truly connected with it. It was just too overwhelming for ordinary people to share space with great talent.

Unless, of course, they were in the right space.

The night I took the pictures for my Sheldon illustration, we had just been to a concert at Powell Hall and were strolling down Washington Avenue, looking for our car. I remember saying to my husband that The Sheldon could probably fit inside of Powell! I googled it and discovered I was right. Powell Hall could hold three and a half Sheldons! And, largely because of that, Powell would never be able to offer the intimacy that The Sheldon could.

As it happens, size does matter. Especially to those who feel art is untouchable, or to those who feel great distance from performers, or to those who can barely tolerate being part of an audience. If “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” as the saying goes, the beholder can’t be too hung up on protocol.

Whether or not The Sheldon takes this into account when they line up their programs, I have no idea. But their offerings seem to suggest that they do. I saw local phenom Erin Bode perform there and felt like I was in her living room. I played trivia there and got the sense I was at a street party. I “golfed the galleries” and felt liberated playing in the presence of art.

The Sheldon brings art to ordinary lives. It invites us to forget ourselves and become a true and dynamic part of the artistic experience. This is culture at its most accessible.

Which is why, as I created the artwork for the March 2022 calendar, I had artists and patrons walking toward The Sheldon together. In a perfect world, all of us are part of the picture.


The Sheldon is the March feature in my 2022 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. It is also available as a litho print or limited edition archival print. For more information, visit ayearinthecity.com . Then visit The Sheldon!

A Minute in the City 2-4-22: Under the Sea

A year ago today, I finally made it to the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station. I had finished the rest of my 2022 calendar. Just a few quick photos of the fishies, and I’d be good to go.

It was sort of a big deal, not just because it was my first trip to the aquarium, but because it was my first trip anywhere in one year’s time. I was newly vaccinated, and I was ready to see the world that I’d been missing.

I feel the need to insert here that I never viewed the vaccine as a political issue. I just knew it was right for me. I hated fear and anxiety. It only made sense to me to minimize those feelings in any way I could. So I got my shots. And I headed to Union Station. I was fearless.

Funny, though. I discovered that I was also green. Curious. Wide-eyed. It was impossible to curb my childlike wonder, because the world outside my doors had grown much larger while I was away.

I tend to be a little that way, anyway. The world always looks big to me. My curiosity is stirred daily by things I see. But this was different. My visit to the aquarium tapped all my senses at once and brought up every emotion I knew. It wasn’t the fish. It was the people. Being around others was new again. Their universal message seemed to be “Welcome Back.”

There were, of course, still lots of restrictions in February of 2021 – stickers placed every six feet on the floor, areas cordoned off, hand sanitizer everywhere you looked – reminders of just how dangerous human beings could be. But, even with a six-foot barrier, I couldn’t believe how much I loved seeing them!

There was a family in front of me with little kids. And I quickly learned that the only thing more fun than seeing the fish at the aquarium was seeing little kids seeing the fish at the aquarium. They were nervous when the sharks swam right up to them, mesmerized by the diver cleaning the tank in the lobby clock, uncertain about sticking their hands into a school of doctor fish. It didn’t help when an aquarium employee said, “Don’t worry. The doctor fish won’t hurt you! They just want to eat your dead skin!”

And then it dawned on me. The kids had reason to be nervous. In their short lifetimes, outings had become a rarity, supplanted for months at a time by Facetime, Netflix, and birthday car processions, as their parents worked tirelessly to foster happy memories. These children had spent most of their lives under the sea, where they could only see part of the picture. But today, they had emerged at last, like the little fish they were, poking their heads above the surface and having a look around. When did the world get so big?

Revisiting this memory one year later, the question still bubbles up. When did the world get so big? I hope, like all the world’s children, I never stop asking.


The St. Louis Aquarium is the February feature in my 2022 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. It is also available as an archival print and – later this month – as a smaller litho print. For more information, see ayearinthecity.com.

A Minute in the City 1-15-22: Frozen in Time

On December 16, 2019, St. Louis got one crazy snowstorm. I know this because of a task I had on my to-do list that day, still archived on my computer: Drive to Art Hill to take pictures.

I knew better, actually. I had been stranded in a winter storm eight years before when traveling to Springfield, MO on business. Freezing rain was in the forecast, so I opted to leave the night before. But I honestly didn’t know what all the fuss was about. There were no problems on the highway at all…until there were.

Less than an hour into my trip, they shut down the highway. Strangely, I had never before considered just what that meant. The highway really was shut down. All the cars and trucks turned off their engines. All the drivers, I imagined, stopped sipping their coffees and tried not to think about going to the bathroom.

The big rigs eventually maneuvered onto the shoulder, and the other drivers – myself included – jockeyed for the vacancies they left. My goal was to get to an exit ramp about 50 feet away, and I accomplished this in just under two hours. But, when I got there, I still had to navigate the ramp itself, which had turned into a steeply-graded slip-and-slide.

The climb was well worth it. At the top of my little Everest, I found a gas station with a Burger King. I penguin-walked with my fellow motorists and shared a booth with them. We were shoulder-to-shoulder, delighting in our fast food. We had made it to the Land of the Whopper. We were in this together.

Eight hours later, the highway reopened. I ventured back out, a big cup of coffee and a box of Good n Plenty at my side. I still had two plus hours of travel time. Even if it took me twice that long, I figured, I would make my mid-morning meeting. I was doing the numbers in my head – if I averaged 40 mph, if I averaged 30 mph – when I came upon the scene of the accident(s). A semi overturned here, a car there, several more vehicles in the ditch. I gripped the wheel and slowed to a crawl. I was wide awake now, checking the rearview mirror for would-be tailgaters. But I needn’t have worried. I was the only car on the highway. All the smart people were still back at Burger King.

It took me 30 minutes to get to the next exit, and half again as long to find a place to sleep. I took a short nap in a church that had opened its doors to stranded motorists, and then I headed back home. The sun was coming up by then, the highway had been salted, and the traffic was moving at a pretty good clip. Much to my surprise, it took me no time at all to get home. I had spent the night just a short distance away.

I later learned that the ice storm had cut a narrow swath, closing down just a few miles of highway. A small matter really. So small, in fact, that MODOT didn’t report it right away. When I called my boss to tell him I’d been stranded, he wasn’t able to verify it online. Neither could my husband. Nor could the people I was driving to Springfield to meet.

Until the ice storm was finally reported – and even after it was – I thought of this as my Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe moment. While the world was sleeping, I went someplace else. I had an adventure. It was treacherous and scary and strange and beautiful.

Fast forward to December 16, 2019 and that crazy St. Louis snowstorm. I was back out on the highway, heading to Art Hill to take pictures. The roads were snow-packed already, and the snow was continuing to fall, wet and heavy. It took me two white-knuckled hours to drive the 18 miles to Forest Park and, during that time, I saw a couple cars go into the ditch. But most of the time, I had the road to myself. It was if the rest of the world was sleeping.

And yet, when I got to Art Hill, there were a hundred sledders or more – their toboggans, coats, and hats making a colorful confetti design on the hillside. Their voices punctuated the usual quiet of the snow with laughter, shrieks and calls to one another. It was exactly what I’d hoped to find.

The experience took me back several years to the night I was stranded on the highway. All these people had braved the storm to climb their little Everest, to have their day of adventure. One pure and perfect moment, frozen in time.


Art Hill is the January feature in my 2022 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. It is also available as an archival print. For more information, see ayearinthecity.com.


A Minute in the City 9-7-21: Back to School

As a kid, I secretly dreaded this time of year. As soon as the trees grew too dark and dense to hold their leaves, I felt the inevitable approaching.  Summer was over.

Well, it wasn’t over over. Technically, there was still that date on the calendar when the Equinox would do its thing. But after Labor Day, there would be no more swimsuits, no more vacations, no more long days to draw pictures from my imagination. There’d be no more meals at the picnic table. There’d be no more fun.

My parents were both educators, which made this time of year even more of an emotional hurdle, because they expected me to love school. In fact, they told me that I loved it. And, because I didn’t yet feel entitled to hold opinions of my own, I believed them.

When my own kids were school-aged, I took a different tack. In mid-August, I would treat them each to a full day of shopping and lunch and/or dinner out. In the evening, they’d model their new clothes and show off their school supplies. But I always felt like I was conning them. For these paltry gifts, they would be expected to give up their freedom for the next nine months.

If you think about it, we were all conned as children. We were given new wardrobes and crisp new notebooks, then cast into the unknown. We knew not what awaited us, only that our teachers were more likely to be dictatorial than not. And, by the time we hit middle school, we also had a pretty good idea that our social circles would morph into something unexpected before the year was out, earning us a spot at the wrong lunch table.

But we made it. We grew up. And we found out that uncertainty is part of the picture. The things we don’t know as we’re trudging into that classroom make us more open to learning something new.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been noticing that fewer people are talking about “returning to normal.” It’s almost as if they’ve given up on going back to something known. Instead, they’re going forward to something new. They’re like kids walking into new classrooms. New sneakers squeaking on just-waxed floors. New classmates watching every move. They didn’t ask for this. None of us asked for this. But we got it anyway. And we’ll get through it the best we can.

Actually, we all know how to find our way in the fog, because we’ve done it before. The post-Labor Day conditioning of our youth taught us at least that much. When we don’t know the way, we take note of our surroundings, we listen to ourselves and others, we search for the answers that make sense to us, and we keep looking ahead. For the moment, everything we’ve ever known isn’t enough. There’s no telling how much more there might be. And there’s no telling how great it all might turn out.


Central Library was the September page in my 2019 calendar and has always been one of my favorite back-to-school images. One might argue that it doesn’t belong to just one season. But it does speak to the deep dive we do this time of year. Prints of Central Library are available – along with my new 2022 calendar – at ayearinthecity.com. Wishing all students, teachers, and parents out there a happy and healthy year.