Embellished

In which our heroine learns the art of scrapbooking. Sort of.

By

Framing memories with flowers and frills.
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Page one of my scrapbooking-weekend scrapbook would contain a cardstock minivan pasted onto a gray chalk outline of a Virginia highway. A photo of my face would be slipped into the driver’s window, and my hands would be cut out and pasted to a cardstock wheel at a sturdy 10 and two.

Renting a minivan to get to the Chantilly, Virginia, convention had been an inside joke with myself about going undercover as a scrapbooker for a story on the scrapbooking phenomenon. But the joke turned on me (as inside jokes with yourself usually do) when I ended up finding the van on the way to the convention to be a comfy and spacious drive with enough bass to make it sound like Jay-Z himself was carpooling with me to the convention. By the time I arrived at the center, I realized I didn’t look any more rocking than the average scrapbookers filing into the center, and I hadn’t even had to work at the outfit (a pony tail, a dated cut of jeans, and a tank top I’ve outgrown) to look like someone who spent her money almost exclusively on scrapbooking supplies.

Page two and three of my scrapbooking-weekend scrapbook would contain photos of the inside of the expo center. Most of the women on the floor looked happy to be out of the house for the weekend, walking around the expo in tennis shoes and generous applications of drugstore-pink blush with their elderly moms, their daughters, or their girl friends, and if their T-shirts were to be trusted, they knew exactly what their husbands and other non-scrapbookers thought of their hobby, and they lived to scrap anyway.

So despite my aesthetic aversion to everything scrappy (bubble letters, paper doilies, glitter glue, ferry stamps, posed portraits, close families) a crowd made up of individuals capable of feeling excitement at the discovery of the perfect cropping tool was endearing. I spent the day walking through all the aisles, where I watched vendors demonstrate ways to “jazz-up” prom pages and make military service layouts “pop,” and then I sat down in the cafe (not to be confused with a café) that sold hot dogs and nachos, and there I watched — a little too intently to be polite — a woman devour a can of energy  pudding. She wrote something on a keyboard when she was done, and her middle-aged daughter read the computer screen and laughed.

If they enjoyed scrapping, I thought, more power to them. For some people it looked like organizing and embellishing photos was a soothing, fun way to organize their familial and personal histories. Some people conduct symphonies, or paint, or dance, or tie fishing flies, or share at AA.  I try not to be the kind of person who begrudges anyone a form or a forum that provides them a sense of release.

The busy aesthetic of scrapping started to make me dizzy, though. When it comes to layouts, I’m comfortable with white space. When it comes to photographs, I think a well-captured frozen moment in time is arresting on its own.  So when I saw one vendor selling a plastic flip-flop kit for sewing together a book of large sized flip-flops to collage photos on to, I walked outside the convention hall for some sunlight.

The sidewalk outside was misplaced and didn’t fully lead to a destination, and some scrapbook convention attendees were driving the couple of hundred feet from their parking spots to the pack of fast food joints closer to the freeway. On page four of my scrapbook I would cut out the skyline dominated by a business park of buildings with tinted windows, a cluster of drive-thrus, and a Hooters.

And on page five I would jazz things up with a dye-cut parking lot filled with paper-piecing license plates to represent the inordinate amount of personalized license plates in the convention center parking lot: 1GODMOM, HOTXBUN, VELMA3, HAPIME, 1ONTHEGO, GS LDR, NOONISH, PAY4WRD. Some plates were held by personalized license plate holders; “Disney,” “This is not a minivan, it’s a shopping cart,” and, alarmingly if it were parked anywhere else except outside a craft booking expo, “Cutting Queen.”

On the concluding pages of my scrapbook, I wouldn’t be at the expo.  The page six-seven spread would contain a matte photo of me sitting on some concrete steps in Alexandria where I would be waiting for a locksmith, after somehow managing to lose the house as well as the minivan keys on a walk.  It might seem off topic to include a large photo of me locked outside of the house in suburban Virginia where I was dog sitting in a scrapbook that was supposed to be about the scrapbooking conference, but here I would be employing a device, scrapping off topic in order to illustrate a theme, and the theme as usual would be memory.

We — scrapbookers, non-scrapbookers — work obsessively on the narratives of our lives all the time.  We cling to a story about the past and the future, and we embellish and run it compulsively like we’re flipping through the pages of a scrapbook we just can’t get enough of.

I had no interest in considering the past that had led me to the point of being locked out on the steps, and the immediate future seemed a little rough; I didn’t really want to think about finding a tow truck for the minivan, or how I would pay the $240 for an emergency lock smith to unlock the house so the dog, Doogie, and I could have a place to sleep. So I tried to drop my dumb personal story for a while and just look across the street.

But without a story about the past and solid plans for the future, who the hell are you? Letting it all go for a second felt like a release, but it also felt a little like a death, and I know why scrapbookers and the rest of the world have an aversion to it.

Then a mother opened the screen door of the house across the street and started to interrogate her kid, who apparently had said the “F” word in the yard and been told on.  “Who did you hear that from?” she asked.

“No one,” he said.

“You don’t hear that from no one,” she said. “Who?”

“No one,” he said, and began to cry as she grabbed him by the crook of his armpit and started to yank him home.

“Who did you hear that word from?” she kept demanding, and by this time he was crying with shame and holding his free hand over his eyes.

Then right there on the sidewalk he leaned in to hug her thigh.  She kept walking and dragging him anyway.  He wanted to be comforted by her, even though she was the one making him cry.  And she was still mad at him, because I guessed she wanted him to grow up to be a good person, and in her mind a good person was not the kind that said “fuck” and then refused to tell his mom who he heard the word “fuck” from.

I don’t even know how you would capture that in a scrapbook.  Maybe you would embellish the border of the final spread with some journaling carried out with an acid-free pen. I guess though, if you had the mentality of a scrapbooker, someone interested in organizing the past to make it look like fun, and in order to create a cute keepsake, you might have to leave out a lot of the uncertain parts of the past and probably a lot of the little scenes where you cried. • 22 July 2008

 

When Emily Maloney is not traveling the globe, she lives at home with her mom in Oregon. Her column Emily’s World appeared weekly on The Smart Set. She can be reached at emilymaloney@yahoo.com.
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