I’ve been texting with a dead woman. But let me explain…
Someone from my group of writer friends recommended a book to me. She said it was as quirky and out there as some of the work that I’ve written.
So I got the book, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. The author, a middle-aged woman, shares thoughts that are just like mine, observations that are so very honest, and a kindness and humor and wit that constantly surprise me. The book is, like, random; little blocks of text on the sides or corners of the pages. Sometimes silly illustrations. It looks like a combo journal and doodle book, really. But somehow all the bits and pieces fit together and I keep turning the pages with delight.
This author also plants little friendship treasures throughout; her actual phone number, for one. Then an invitation to send her a text with “Hello.” Followed later by an invitation to send her a special wish, which she will make sure is put in a bottle and thrown out to sea in January, along with the wishes of everyone else who texted her. She even offers to get her first tattoo with someone else who wants to get her first tattoo; she says she’ll meet up with said person and together, they’ll get matching images permanently inked into their skin.
This last thing was really the kicker for me: I literally said out loud when I read it, “Whaaaat?!” Remember I decided to get my very first tattoo last June, the month of my birthday? Well, I haven’t done it yet. I’m still searching for the perfect design, and I’m still deciding on the perfect location on my body on which to place it.
I want to do it with her!
This moved me to take her up on her friendship offers. I paged back through the book and found the first text-message directive. From under my cozy covers late at night, I sent the first word she said to send: “Hello.” Yeah, I knew that the response I would get would be automated; I mean, it would be insane to give your phone number out to all of your readers and promise that you’ll literally, personally, text them a response. But how clever that she set this up, right? I couldn’t wait to see what she’d written for her automated reply. I mean, it was like a little finger of her book pulling out of the page and reaching across the ether to tap me on the shoulder for a miniscule, personal conversation.
And sure enough, within 5 minutes of my text, I got a response. She said, “Hi, it’s Amy. Well, it’s virtual Amy. I’m elated to share this part of the book with you. A few years ago it was a dream & now it’s a for real thing between us.”
Cool. Oh man, I thought, this Amy has got to come to Women At Woodstock!
The next text invitation followed a piece that she wrote about the sound that wine glasses make when you run your finger around the rim. She said to text ‘cheers’ to her and she’d send the sounds of three different people making their wine glasses sing.
I texted “cheers” while sitting in my car outside Starbucks before going inside to claim a table and an outlet and order a cup of soy chai to nurse while writing for the afternoon. I got a reply with a link to an audio file. First, Master Sommelier Alpana Singh made her wine glass hum; then Amy, my new author-friend, made music with her wine glass, and finally Amy’s cousin Terry Gross (really, that’s his name) shared his humming wine glass rendition. Ha.
A couple nights later I got to the place in the book where Amy invited me, er, her reader, to send my, um, his or her, personal wish. She said to start by texting “bottle.” This I did from, again, my cozy place under the covers. In a few minutes I received this response: “please share your message of good luck now.” I burrowed in and spent more than a little time composing. I allowed myself to be as hokey and sappy as I liked. I mean, Amy, if she actually read it, would understand, right? Or anyone working for her would surely be of the same mind and forgive my unguarded thoughts? Or the computer program that spit it out – oh hell, what do I care what a computer program that processed my words would think, artificial intelligence or not?
Finally, I wrote, “I wish for the best and most spirit-guided and loving luck to my dear daughters Hannah and Sarah. Their early life was so hard. May that transform into a well of compassion and understanding from which they will forever drink love for others, which will evolve into love for self, and eventually gratitude, and finally happiness.” I clicked send, a little teary-eyed. (OK, I was actually crying.) And I felt instantly a kind of magical goodness, knowing that Amy (or her assistant or some computer program) would print out my wish, and someone would tuck it into a bottle along with other readers’ personal wishes, and she (or her assistant or whatever) would literally throw that little collective of good luck hopes, mine pressed among them, out to sea.
(Please, don’t criticize me for this. Yes, I’m an environmentalist and yes, this is adding debris to the ocean, but come on… this little bit? And it’s so poetic, you know? Maybe the wishing and the writing and the printing and the collecting together and the literal launching of it out into the waters of mother earth would cast a spell… I mean, it could, who knows?)
OK… I know what you’re thinking. Seriously, don’t worry about me. It was late at night – the witching hour – and also I tend to think this way a lot anyway, but I assure you, I am a fully functional, if often dreamy and/or depressed and/or maudlin person. I’m fine, I tell you!
Then came the invitation to text about getting matching tattoos. Amy wrote in her book that if one was interested, one should text “tattoo.” I texted “tattoo.”
The response was, “The experiment has ended. In September 2016 a librarian from Wisconsin drove to Chicago & we got matching ‘more’ tattoos. See them here:” and then there was a link.
Dammit! Stinging a little with jealousy and feeling a little bitter with regret for missing my chance, I clicked the link and read about how that whole event transpired. I watched Amy laugh at the camera in a tiny-bit video as the tattoo guy began working on her arm.
Then I couldn’t take it anymore, wondering about this crazy, inventive, believer-in-spells and thrower-down-of-strange-gauntlets and wisher-of-good-for-the-world woman, and I looked her up.
This is the first thing that I read: “Amy Krouse Rosenthal was” (was!?!?!) “an American author of both adult and children’s books, a short film maker, and radio show host. She is best known for her memoir Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, her children’s picture books, and the film project ‘The Beckoning of Lovely.'”
Amy. Krouse. Rosenthal. My dear new virtual author friend, is dead?!
This beautiful woman with what I see is a beautiful family, died, tragically, of cancer, at age 51. Just 21 months ago.
At first I gaped at the news, feeling struck by tragedy. Then I was amazed and amused at my idiot self; I’ve been texting with a dead woman? And then I felt sad again.
I still feel sad.
I mean, goddamit, I know this woman. I get her. I like her. I admire her out-of-the-box creativity and her savvy use of technology to connect. I’ve shared some of my thoughts with her, and she’s reciprocated with kindness and good thoughts and understanding. I want to be friends with her!
I comfort myself with this: Amy Krouse Rosenthal is dead, but through her printed words, my interaction with her was very real.
Is this why I write?
(The book I read is Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal… not exactly a memoir. It was published seven months before she died. Read it. Then come back here and tell me in the comments section what you thought of it, and you and I can be friends. Hell, all of us who read Amy’s book and comment here can be friends!)