August is the month we get to welcome new full-time voices to the post calvin! Please welcome Emily Joy Stroble, who is taking over Andrew Orlebeke’s spot. Emily is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.
My fellow docent is sweeping out the corners of the porch with a meticulous motion you could use to frost a cake, and I startle him.
“Want to see something beautiful?”
“I guess,” he says.
In the drawing room, I let the green blackout shade that protects the artifacts from light creep up, revealing perfect soil-toned wings edged in gold lace. The butterfly has been trapped between the shade and the window panes and is still as a sepia photo in the morning sun splashing across the wool carpet to the fainting couch and victrola.
It takes only a few minutes to shepherd the butterfly out before the first visitors arrive.
Time travel involves more animal wrangling than you would think.
I am a historical interpreter at Rock Ledge Ranch Living History Site. Wednesday through Saturday, I lace up my boots and then my corset (it is impossible to perform these operations in reverse), roll back my hair into a mushroom shape, and lead visitors through a 1907-era manor house in a green valley between red rocks in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I also talk to a six-burner coal stove as I scrub out the rust and polish the coal cradle in her bosom. I Google things like “Hatpins outlawed 1900?” and “Will I die from inhaling mouse droppings?” Mostly though, I talk too fast about what it was like to live as a servant in a house like a miniature Downton Abbey.
But this part, this morning and butterflies part, this petticoat flounce swishing over freshly-vacuumed carpet that looks like an aerial view of a cornfield, this snapping up window shades and surprising dust with bright light, this ritual of animation that the tourists never see—this is my favorite part.
I get a similar feeling when I show a squirming child how to watch the needle of the victrola as the record spins. I put her finger gently on the arm-like piece holding the needle. It bobs to the rhythm of a waltz.
“See, you can feel sound,” I say. And she sways to the music.
I’ve also given boring tours. Sometimes I remind myself of a talking, greco-roman, marble bust—confident, immune to decay, unchanged since the day I was carved, and boring. Perfect presentation and lists of facts, I have learned, inspire no wonder. I’ve drenched my visitors in downpour displays of my research and knowledge.
In a research-based, question-answering job, you would think I would learn to prove something well. But I say “I don’t know” quite a bit for someone who crawled out of the identity-less purgatory of middle school by self-describing as a “hot-tempered intellectual.” I was always ready with a smart reply, idealistically committed to the salvific power of a fresh argument—“if only people knew this, they would believe in God/vote the ‘right’ way/see that what they are doing is hurting others.” My dream in life was to change the world with knowledge armored in righteous fury.
Simply new information, or new anything, is not always successful or beneficial.
In 1907 they decided that the wasp-waist corset was bad for you (for reasons that should be obvious from the name) so they came up with the “S”-shape corset—a contraption that bent your spine into an “S” shape and was marketed as a healthier choice.
And volume doesn’t solve every problem. I have often killed stove fires by smothering them in highly-flammable coal dust.
The secret of interpretation, of translating wonder, is not a new argument or information, but a new way of knowing—something like feeling sound.
My experience of time travel is about as far from fresh and new as possible. The losing battle to preserve gears of the turn-of-the-century sewing machine through constant open-bobbin surgery is no longer a testament to progress, but a monument to futility. All our best, new ideas will eventually clunk and groan. We cannot change by knowing and telling.
It is in the repetitive ritual of opening and closing the house each day—unrolling the broken shade by hand, wrestling with the deadbolt on the warped front door, seeing age—that I find inexplicable revelations. I don’t know where the butterfly came from. Maybe it spun its chrysalis hidden under the heavy drapes. The beautiful interrupts tedious, gloomy ritual.
Howard Carter, when he opened King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, said his first glimpse was “beautiful things.” In repetitively flooding dead people’s treasures with bleaching light, I sometimes find butterflies and have realized there is so much more joy in merely sharing something of great loveliness than in the security of being right.
Emily Stroble is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.