Amy Krouse Rosenthal There comes a moment in every columnist’s career when he writes the inevitable Time Is Precious story, the kind of blatant treacle he secretly hopes readers will stick on their refrigerators. The sudden death of a loved one usually triggers the column, thick with breathless prose about how the clock is ticking and we should grab life with both hands.
This is not that column. I feared it would be when I met Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a dynamic Lake View resident who says things like: “What are you doing? Not just with your life—what are you going to do with your day?” Her philosophy is simple: Make the most of your time here. But to use Rosenthal as a springboard for carpe diem platitudes only belittles what she has done with her own life. Former copywriter for Foote, Cone & Belding. Best-selling author of 18 (and counting) books for children and adults. Host of a variety show on WBEZ. Mother to three teenagers. When she’s not writing or driving to soccer practice, she does exactly what she wants, which at the moment involves connecting strangers through quirky acts of humanity.
In the past year, Rosenthal has taped uplifting notes to ATMs, left chocolate treats on random porches (“Hostess Ding Dong ditching”), hung 100 one-dollar bills from a tree along Southport Avenue, and led a hootenanny on a Brown Line train—all of which she filmed and posted as irresistible videos on whoisamy.com. “Some label them social experiments, but I don’t have a grand agenda,” says Rosenthal, 45. “I do what feels right to me. If it resonates or plants some seeds, great.” Remember Fight Club, when Brad Pitt and Edward Norton trained an army for Project Mayhem, a plot to destroy civilization through acts of senseless violence? This is Project Mayhem in reverse. Call it Project Warm Fuzzy.
Rosenthal’s masterpiece, unfolding over the past two years, began with a YouTube video called “17 Things I Made.” In it, she invited viewers to meet her on August 8, 2008 (8/8/08), at 8:08 p.m. in Millennium Park to make an 18th thing together. That thing was a party. She expected a group of maybe 30, but roughly 400 curious people showed up, surprised to find themselves singing, dancing, blowing bubbles, and giving flowers to strangers. One couple met and fell in love. “I wish there was a word less obvious than ‘magical’ to describe that night,” Rosenthal says. “It was meaningful to everyone in some way.”
A video about the evening, “The Beckoning of Lovely,” urged viewers to send Rosenthal their own photography, poems, music, art, and films. More than 500 submissions arrived from all corners of the globe. The plan is to edit the 70 loveliest into a feature film and release it on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11; visit thebeckoningoflovely.com for updates). “I want it to be the best thing you’ve ever seen in your life,” says Rosenthal, half kidding. (OK, maybe one-third kidding.) “I want people to be moved to live how they want to live.” (One-eighth kidding.) At presstime, she had a related event planned for October 10th (10/10/10) in Millennium Park—something big involving Redmoon Theater—but she refused to divulge specifics.
The cynic might ask, “What’s the point of all this?” A valid question—but one with no real answer. Rosenthal doesn’t care whether you find her stunts to be self-indulgent gimmicks or deeply profound happenings; she simply needs a channel for her constant flow of ideas. The periodic inspiring letter from, say, a guy living on a submarine is just a bonus.
Even if you’re not the type to look for meaning in your everyday life, Rosenthal’s videos serve as a gentle reminder to be nice. Slow down. Make things. Play. Say “I love you” and “I’m sorry.” And do it now because . . . well, you know. “Being alive is a good thing,” Rosenthal says. “Too bad it has to end.” Thank you, Amy, for not making me say it.
Photograph: Drew Reynolds