True North: A Love Story In 5 Maps

True North: A Love Story In Five Maps recounts a couple’s courtship through their travels and adventures.

The Heart of interviewing

The journalist Isabel Wilkerson once said the trick of getting ordinary people to open up about their lives is to create what she calls “accelerated intimacy” between her and her sources. Don’t ever lead the interview, she cautions, instead let it develop like a guided conversation.

I thought of that the other day when I sat down to interview a young couple for a Short Take they’d commissioned for their first wedding anniversary. They were easy-going and eager to talk, but describing the ups and downs of a love affair can quiet the most effusive among us. In their case, we were lucky, they’d come equipped with props: five maps.

As they told the story of the maps, connecting each to a moment in their courtship, they visibly relaxed into the conversation. What started as a formal interview quietly shifted gears into something less guarded. Of course letting a couple steer the narrative can feel a bit like watching a game of street basketball — he starts to dribble, she steals the ball, he recovers it, pauses, and passes back to her — but the process brings out the best of both partners’ tale-telling abilities as they pick up the thread of each other’s storylines and expand on the other’s thoughts and memories. It’s a delight to record.

In the best of personal interviews, what begins as a dry series of introductory questions quickly morphs into a fun and often even funny narration. It can be irreverent, intense, emotional and curious, but most often provides the makings of an openhearted narrative — a love story to cherish. — Caitlin Randall

The Soul of Design

The basketball analogy is apt. The subjects of our book — Jesse and Betsy — are athletes, and when they are in motion, they are at their least self-conscious. And so I embraced their suggestion that they be photographed while going for a run. Not only did that free them from worrying about how they looked on camera, but it created an air of spontaneity that resulted in images that pleased us all. Certainly their dog, Banjo, helped lighten the mood.

It was only after the portrait session that I read Caitlin’s text for the Short Take and began designing Jesse and Betsy’s book. Its subtitle, A Love Story In Five Maps, was a given, but the concept didn’t come together until I actually saw the maps that Jesse had drawn. His very literal interpretation of a compass rose — complete with thorns — was as romantic as it was clever. I thought, What does the rose point to? What is the heart’s desire? The answer was our title: True North. — Peter Crabtree

Taking the Leap to Propose: What Are Women Waiting For?

Amy Adams and Matthew Goode duke it out in Leap Year (2010). 

Leap Year, that weird calendar oddity that only comes every four years, has inspired a slew of stories and superstitions. The most famous — February 29th is the day women can ask men to marry them — was conjured up in Ireland sometime back in the 5th century.

Legend has it that an Irish nun known as Saint Brigid of Kildare bitterly complained to Saint Patrick that too many women were waiting too long for men to propose marriage. The country’s patron saint agreed to give women one day in the calendar — conveniently one that falls only every four years — when they could ask their longtime suitors to wed. If the man said ‘no’ tradition demanded that he buy his spurned girlfriend a silk gown. I wonder how many rejected women felt they’d won the better end of that deal.

For a woman to propose on any other day among the 365/366 in the Gregorian calendar was and, to a certain extent, still is considered a major no-no. Astoundingly, society clings to the notion that a marriage proposal is a male responsibility. The idea is so culturally pervasive that a woman dropping down on one knee to propose is still a rarity. The image of a ‘desperate woman’ prevails.

So what do you think? Does it really matter who proposes to whom — or why, or how? And a shoutout to all the modern women out there: Would you or have you popped the question? We’d love to hear your stories!

Here are a few famous women who have done the proposing:

  • Actress Kristen Bell to Dax Shepard
  • Pop star Britney Spears to Kevin Federline on a flight back from Ireland (where else?)
  • Singer/songwriter Pink to Carey Hart
  • Fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg to Barry Diller
  • TV’s Judge Judy to Jerry Sheindlin
  • Elizabeth Taylor, married seven times, but only asked one man, Michael Wilding, to marry her

We’re Offering a List, and Checking it Twice….

Fairdale Farms in the Snow, Bennington, Vt.

A moment of silence please for those among us who will sit down this holiday season to awkward conversations, prickly interrogations and unwelcome political jousting. Do we really need another round of Uncle Harry’s latest conspiracy theory gleaned from Facebook? And how many times in one year can Aunt Tilly ask when she’ll dance at your daughter’s wedding?

Despite the plethora of suggestions out there to guide us through the political and social minefield that is 2019, The Story Project is offering it’s own List. We begin by suggesting that everyone at the table or around the fireplace turn inward. Make the season a true family event. Here are five questions to help get you started:

• To Your Grandparents: How did you meet each other? Was it a long courtship? Did your parents pray for a wedding or beg you to break up?

• To Your Parents: What was the best-ever family vacation? What was the worst? How did you celebrate the holidays when you were young?

• To Your Siblings: What’s your favorite Christmas/Hanukkah/ holiday memory? And your funniest?

• To Your Kids: What traditions, favorite dishes included, do you most want our family to continue and to pass down to your children?

A few things to remember:

• Avoid yes or no answers by asking open-ended questions. For example, you met Grandpa in New York? How did that come about?

• A good interviewer gives the subject space and time to answer. Sit back, relax and let the stories wash over you.

• It’s about fun and tapping into family memories. If you ask heartfelt questions and listen deeply, you never know where the conversation will lead.

The Story Project team wishes you a holiday season full of memories and wonderful stories to tell.

Charles Graham, Christmas Eve. Image courtesy Clark Art Institute. clarkart.edu

A Snowy Evening

Robert Frost’s Stone House, Shaftsbury, Vermont (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Robert Frost moved to Shaftsbury, Vermont, in 1920, intending to establish an apple orchard. During his nearly two decades there, he wrote some of his best-known poems, including the iconic “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

In his honor, the Bennington Museum will mount a major exhibition next year, Robert Frost, At Present in Vermont, examining the poet’s life and work in the context of the landscape and culture of Bennington County.

In a prelude of sorts, the museum’s current exhibition, A Snowy Evening, features 31 regional artists responding to the poet’s work. Among them is Story Project co-founder Peter Crabtree, who contributed “After Frost: Do, Does, Did.”

After Frost: Do, Does, Did

Peter’s artist’s statement follows:

Did I really watch him on TV that January day in 1961 when John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, or was it later, in some grainy newsreel footage, that I first became aware of Robert Frost — stooped and white-haired, like some kindly grandfather — reciting from memory his poem “A Gift Outright” to mark the occasion? Either way, the impression that he had always been an even-keeled, mild old man would stick with me through high school and only be shaded somewhat by the mandatory reading of “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening.”

But in fact, a closer examination of the poems Frost wrote while living in South Shaftsbury reveals a person lashed by some dark inner weather. Read “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things,” “Spring Pools,” and “Acquainted with the Night” and you realize that impermanence was much on his mind and that the darkness must have followed him throughout his life.

And so this p­­­iece, “After Robert Frost: Do, Does, Did,” pays tribute to that man and his method. No one photograph could do justice to the way his poems work — building image upon image — or the passage of time, or Frost’s clear-eyed, unsentimental observation of the way we live as part of, rather than apart from, nature.

— Peter Crabtree

Robert Frost in 1959 (Courtesy Library of Congress)

A Snowy Evening runs through Dec. 30, although a closed-bid auction for the works in the exhibit ends Dec. 22 at 4 pm.  (The winning bid will be split, with half the proceeds going to the artist and the remainder to the museum.) For more information about the event and to see the other works in the show, please visit http://bit.ly/snowyevening