Friday, March 25, 2011

A Question for You

My apologies for not posting part seven of Arlene’s story sooner. I could give you a list of reasons but the truth is straight up procrastination. I wanted to write an introduction to part seven because I thought it was important to understand the powder keg that South Africa was at the time Arlene was at university. But to understand why, a short history lesson is needed. The history of this country, the tensions between its people groups and the events of the late 80’s were leading to the perfect storm of civil war. In his 1980 autobiography Asking for Trouble, journalist Donald Woods said, “To achieve the near-miracle of averting tragic civil war, the Afrikaner Nationalist leaders would have to free all political prisoners, enable the black liberation movements to participate freely and fairly in legitimate elections based on one-man-one vote, and demonstrate a willingness to abide by both. There is no evidence to suggest, however, that the grassroots Afrikaner Nationalist power-base would permit government leaders to go this far.”

But my history introduction turned into 1,600 word essay. I think this was because as I wrote about the evolution of South Africa as a country, I couldn’t help but comment on the parallels with United States history. Also, there were so many events, which led to larger events, that really shed light on why tensions were so high, not only between white and black, but between the white Afrikaners and the English. So I had a dilemma: do I outline all of this South African history or just summarize it in one paragraph? I thought I’d leave it up to my intrepid readers to decide.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How We Met

note: this post was inspired by a Rhode Island School of Design alumni magazine we received asking for stories of people who met their spouse at school.

Like the graphic designers they were, it was not enough to just call up people and invite them to for dinner. Justin (‘90 GD) and his roommate Bill hosted a “Spaghetti That Ate Providence” party complete with custom invitations. My roommate, Mariya, was told to invite me (‘91 AR). I didn’t know anyone else at the party but in true starving student tradition, I went anyway ‘cause it was a free meal. And a good excuse to not spend the night in the studio working.

When I arrived at the party, wine was being served in half pint canning jars. Justin was making name tags and asked my name. I told him, “Dawn,” and he replied, “How do you spell that?” In his defense, it was art school, an environment in which people usually take advantage of to express themselves in new and unusual ways (spiking your hair, changing your name, piercing various body parts). RISD was the only school I knew of that had a seminar for freshmen on “How to Explain to Your Parents How You’ve Changed.” Noticing that Justin was kind of handsome and funny, I tried to position myself in the dining area such that he would have only two choices left to sit; next to me or the blonde Swedish exchange student. And boy howdy, he picked me! Take that toppen flicka! We spent a pleasant evening laughing at each other’s bon mots, and parted ways.

Now one thing to realize about RISD at that time was that architectural studies was like the red headed step child of the school. At least that’s the conclusion I drew as our work space was a third of a mile away from the rest of the campus. That may not sound like much but try it on a windy day with a large sheet of cardboard. For kids without cars, this distance meant that nobody came down to our building unless they were in architecture or took a fancy to someone there.

So one day, three or four weeks after the spaghetti dinner, in walked Justin.  
“Oh!” he exclaimed, “Is this where your desk is? Did you get my notes?”  
“What notes?” I asked.
“I think I left the notes on the wrong desk.” he said, looking around.
“So you’re the one who was leaving me those notes?” asked my studio mate, Juliana.

I had to hand it to him for stopping by when three of his notes went unanswered. After having a good laugh over the affair, Justin suggested he and I walk up to the Silver Truck for a bite to eat. After consuming what was assumed to be food, we went to Store 24 to buy drinks. And this is where the real magic happened. There was a patron standing in front of the refrigerator case trying to decide on a beverage. Justin walked right in front of him and blocked his view. I heard the patron mutter, “Pinhead,” and for reasons I still cannot explain, I said to Justin, “Justin, you pinhead. You’re blocking his view.” I can only assume that he thought he needed to get know this girl who could be so insulting on a first date.

We dated for four months before he proposed to me. A year and a half later, we were married at Manning Chapel on the Brown University campus. I like what one RISD grad said about RISD couples: “They all plan the details of their weddings with such care, foregoing current trends to incorporate their own personal ideas,” I know for our own wedding, it was very important for us to have the ‘58 DeSoto limousine Justin had found. Design-wise, a contemporary stretch limo would just not do. Justin’s skills also came in handy the day before our wedding when we realized we had forgotten the wedding program. The night before the ceremony, he was in the hotel room hand lettering our program while we discussed paper choices. For me, that program is one of my favorite parts of our wedding.

When Justin graduated in ‘90, I still had my fifth year left to complete and being married while in school had its ups and downs. The upside was that he would show up at my studio with a picnic dinner so I would not have to subsist on Coke and chips. I also had a willing helper when it came time to put in the endless hours rendering my final project. The downside was I had no desire to spend anytime in studio when I could be home with my husband.

I think it’s a good thing for RISDoids to marry other RISDoids. My husband and I have been known to discuss color in depth while our non art school friends look at us as if we’re over-analyzing Jell-O. I don’t think any mere mortal non-RISDoid would be able to sympathize with a spouse complaining about the overuse of Trajan as a font.  Once you go to RISD, you look at the world in a whole different way.

What started out as a chance meeting at a spaghetti dinner has blossomed into six children (our “performance art” pieces) and twenty years of wedded bliss. These days, I’m no longer focusing on architecture. When someone asks me an architectural question, I have to laugh as my days are now consumed by babies and baking. Justin is still working in his field doing web design and even our kids have started to notice bad letter spacing.