What’s with the Split Personality? (or A Little Bit about Yours Truly)
Let me begin by saying that no discussion about multiple personalities would be complete without a mention of the queen herself: “Sybil,” a.k.a. Sally Field.
Specifically, my celebrity encounter with Sally Field. Or even more specifically, my utterly pathetic celebrity encounter with Sally Field, which not only didn’t have multiple personalities, it was personality-free. Like Wonder Bread. Or melba toast. The flavorless tapioca equivalent of a celebrity encounter. You can read the whole sorry story here.
Okay. So now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the twin topics of this post: Me and me.
See, I’ve always been pretty good at two things (well, presumably more than two, but for the purposes of this post, let’s say two) — writing and design. But because I grew up in a house where careers were serious business and creativity was relegated to Hobby Land, it never occurred to me to go to art school.
For one thing, my dad wouldn’t have paid for it. And for another, I was completely unaware of the fact that you don’t need to be a fine artist to study art. Turns out there’s a whole world out there for people whose attempts at figure drawing invariably end up looking like a character from South Park. It’s called “design.” Oh well.
The sad truth is, I was a “good girl,” so I did what the guy paying the tuition told me to do and focused on my writing. And it actually turned out pretty well. In the end, the ability to string words together took me to some really interesting places — first as a journalist, and then as a screenwriter in Hollywood.
Along the way, I married my best friend and produced two delightful children. I also spent an inordinate amount of time decorating.
It didn’t help that we moved a gazillion times (long story), or that I am constitutionally incapable of concentrating on anything until I’ve finished nesting. Plus, I always had family and friends asking for help with an office, or a nursery, or . . . well, you get the picture.
Finally, I decided it was time to put a muzzle on that little voice in my head — the one that was always saying, “Amy, you need to stop decorating and get back to work!” — by turning the decorating into my work. Clever, huh? I went to art school and began to design interiors professionally. But I missed the writing.
Then, in one fateful “you put chocolate in my peanut butter / you put peanut butter in my chocolate” moment, I had an epiphany: I could write about design! (I know it looks obvious when I say it here, but peanut butter cups don’t happen overnight, people.)
So that’s what this blog is about.
And it’s why my homepage looks just a wee bit Jekyll and Hyde-y. (Like, what’s with the dual photos? You couldn’t make do with one?) Because along with helping people to bring a modicum of order into the chaos of their daily lives, I’ve also taken to writing about the role that design has played in my own experience.
Here’s the thing: I’ve often wondered why there seem to be so many blogs and books and memoirs about an author’s personal history with food (e.g. M.F.K. Fisher, Ruth Reichl, Gabrielle Hamilton), but not with design.
Why was it the taste of a madeleine that prompted a flood of early memories for Proust, rather than the sight of a Louis XV chaise? For me, it’s not so much the bite of a Hostess cupcake that brings the experiences of childhood rushing back to me (although, God knows, there were enough of them packed into my Snoopy lunchbox to activate a lifetime of flashbacks).
Instead, it’s a glimpse of indigo bandana fabric (Mom’s favorite), or the tomato red chinoiserie of my grandmother’s upholstered barrel chairs, or the mid-century lines of my best friend’s teak living room back in seventh grade.
Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in so many places, or because I come from creative stock. Or maybe it’s my spatial sequence synesthesia. But for me, memory is intimately connected to the shapes, patterns, and colors that surround me at any given moment. And I find those elements of design to be just as comforting and inspiring as the joys and solace of food.
“Food is never just food,” Molly Wizenberg wrote in the introduction to her book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table. “It’s also a way at getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be.”
I would argue that the same is true of the objects we surround ourselves with. Whether it’s a family heirloom or a favorite pattern or a piece of art you just can’t live without, decor that speaks to us holds all kinds of power: to comfort us, nurture us, motivate us . . . even make us laugh.
Design is woven through the fabric of all our lives, whether we notice it or not.
Done poorly, it can deflate and depress you. Done beautifully, it can uplift you, take your breath away, feed your soul. The effects of inspired design can be substantial. Profound. And even longer lasting than a well-prepared meal.
After all, a cookie is meant to be eaten. But a Harvey Ellis library table is forever.
There’s more where this came from…
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TALKING LATEX WITH SALLY FIELD
So it was the early 90s, and my screenwriting partner (a.k.a. my husband) and I had an appointment with legendary actress Sally Field. She was interested in discussing a script we’d written, thinking it might be a good choice for her first project as a director. (She later decided it might not be. Welcome to Hollywood.)
I was in my 20s then, awkward and shy, and even less comfortable with small talk than I am now. (Which is to say, not at all.) My husband has always been the loquacious one, and back then, I was more than happy to let him take care of the idle chit-chat while I reserved my fire for the actual content of the meeting.
But when we got to Sally’s reception area, Peter asked for directions to the bathroom.
“Oh no,” I said, panicking and (I’m pretty sure) grabbing his arm like a small, feral animal. “What if she’s ready before you get back? I can’t go in there alone! I can’t make small talk!”
Mr. Personality assured me that everything would be fine. First of all, he would only be a minute. And secondly: Because writers were at the bottom of the Hollywood food chain, pretty much everyone we’d ever met with had kept us waiting for ages. It was a run-of-the-mill power play, intended to prove their superiority. Peter promised that he would be back long before anyone even had a chance to offer me a choice of bottled waters.
You know where this is headed, of course. Sally was infuriatingly punctual, and asked her receptionist to usher me into her office mere seconds after my husband disappeared down the hallway. I entered, and promptly had a panic attack.
It wasn’t just that I was alone and expected to make small talk, or that Ms. Field was a famous person. I’ve never been the star-struck type, and had, by that point, dealt with plenty of celebrities without so much as the flicker of an eyelid.
No, the embarrassing truth is that I spent an ungodly amount of my childhood lying on the shag carpet in our family room, eating lettuce and tomato sandwiches, and watching what has to be the stupidest TV show ever created: “The Flying Nun.” And now, here I was, all grown up and sitting face to face with the white-winged phenomenon herself: Sister Bertille.
I could hardly speak.
Sister Bertrille smiled at me. I smiled back at her. Somewhere in the background, a clock ticked.
“So,” she said, “did you have a nice weekend?” Apparently, it was a Monday.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I did.”
She smiled. I smiled back.
The clocked ticked again.
“What did you do?”
“Oh-my-god,” I thought. “How-long-does-it-take-to-go-to-the-bathroom?-Where-the-hell-is-
“I am the biggest loser on the planet,” I thought.
The clock ticked some more.
“What color did you paint it?” she asked.
Oh. My. God.
“White,” I replied.
“Ah,” she said.
I’m sorry to say I can’t tell you what happened next, because, much like Sybil, I was so traumatized by the experience that I began to dissociate. For all I know, “Vicky” came out and spent the rest of the afternoon delighting Ms. Field with an affected French accent and ridiculous continental mannerisms. I can’t tell you when my husband finally showed up, or what Sally liked or didn’t like about the script we had written. I can’t even tell you how I got home.
There is, however, one thing I can tell you:
That was the last time I ever let my husband go to the bathroom without me.