I’ve always loved Valentines Day, mainly because during my childhood, my mother did a great job of claiming it for family. She basically removed all of what we would now call the heteronormative aspects of the day, in part because — well, that was not our reality.
What a genius move that was, especially considering how things turned out – romance-wise – for her, for my sisters and me, and, well -- considering how romance tends to turn out for most people.
My mother and I sent Valentines cards to each other every year until the end of her life, and in her card to me, she always recalled two Valentines Day events that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
When I was in ninth grade, my mother drove me through the snow on Valentines Day to Bailey Hall, a lovely 1300 seat concert hall on nearby Cornell University’s campus, and we watched a recital by an up-and-coming singer named Luciano Pavoratti. We were sitting very close to the front. I have an extremely strong sense-memory of Pavoratti resting one hand on the piano. His other hand was occupied by a white handkerchief, which was roughly the size of a small parachute.
Pavoratti gestured, wiped his brow, and sweated through his tuxedo as he sang through his performance of leider, art songs, and some well-known arias. I was in no position to gauge Pavoratti’s singing, but I did know that I was in the presence of greatness. Pavoratti left it all on the field.
The following year, my mother treated me to a bus and truck performance of Carousel, staged at the creaky old State Theater, in downtown Ithaca. John Raitt was well-past the end of his career as a Broadway star. His formerly famously fit torso was straining the sweater his character Billy Bigelow wears. The theater was nearing the end of its first life, and it was drafty and tattered around the edges. But oh — that night was transcendent.
I remember waiting outside the theater afterward, watching the performers pick their way over snow drifts in order to get onto their bus. Did they feel sorry for us? I wondered. We were small-town lugs trapped in a sub-zero snow globe, while I imagined that these performers all lived glamorous lives in their massive apartments above Lincoln Center.
Now – looking back – I feel sort of sorry for them, traveling by bus from one snowy small town to the next, giving up their own night to give us a Valentine.
I learned from this Library of Congress blog that John Raitt deliberately kept his fees low in his later years, in order to tour to small venues and give little pipsqueaks like me the opportunity to see him perform.
That’s … a guy with a very big heart.
Railey Jane Savage’s JUNK FOOD: Left Hanging
Valentine’s Day. Feh.
In elementary school the day meant taping paper bag ‘mailboxes’ to desks, walking around to drop a little prefab, foldable valentine in every kid’s box, all accompanied by endless streams of chalky-yet-desirable conversation hearts. By the fourth grade I was channeling my fussy crafty tendencies into personalized construction paper cards for the whole class, and then some. By eighth grade, I’d stopped.
I was proud of, and charmed by my hand-crafted cards, and so excited to hand them out. But middle schoolers are hardly known for their tact or compassion, so my enthusiasm was met with confusion, and derision. So ended my outward facing Valentine’s cheer. Ever since I have kept the pink-and-red pressure at arm’s length to help keep my head straight, and my heart unwounded.
Which brings me to Picnic at Hanging Rock, Peter Weir’s 1975 powerhouse breakthrough to the global cinema stage. I remember renting the tape (which I now own) from the library when I was 14—about the same age as the girls in the film. I didn’t know what to expect, and got more than I’d bargained for.
The plot sees a group of young girls travel from their boarding school to a local geological landmark on Valentine's Day in 1900. But once at Hanging Rock something unseen and otherworldly calls the girls away from safety, and only one of them returns from the field trip that day. Accusations and investigations follow, but do not bring satisfaction; the mystery surrounding the girls is never solved. The audience is left hungry and wanting more from the Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Weir didn’t think he owed the audience closure, so there wasn’t any. Things happened, and then things changed. So it goes.
The middle schoolers who were so bemused by my twee cards didn’t owe me an explanation, and I never got one. So it goes.
I have since developed my own Valentines routine (Star Wars + box wine) that all but forfends disappointment. So, in spite of the mystery change in my classmates, I guess the overarching message from those final cards I made for Valentines 1998 still holds true: My heart will go on.
Happy Valentine's, dudes.
Railey Jane Savage is the author of A Century of Swindles: Ponzi Schemes, Con Men and Fraudsters, now available. She was recently interviewed for an episode of WSKG’s Off the Page, which you can listen to HERE.
LAURA LIKES: Where my friend Laura recommends good things
Laura writes: “Valentine's Day is always kind of fraught for me, being a person who is married to a person who has what I think of as Deep Gift Anxiety (henceforth, "DGA"). He kind of freezes up and gets brain gridlock when attempting to purchase something "awwww"-inducing for someone else. It really stresses him out. Perhaps you have that as well. Perhaps all the things you can think of to give as romantic gifts or tokens all come from movies, or are outrageously expensive and impractical suggestions from social media influencers.
I myself don't have DGA. I love giving presents, spend a lot of time thinking about what to get my friends, and get a lot of joy out of getting things for other people. But I understand that this is not everyone's particular jam. My particular love language, such as it is, is "what can I do for you?" Therefore, because I saw how much anxiety it was causing for him, I took both of us off the hook for this sort of thing. How, you ask? "Do you just ignore Valentine's Day and your wedding anniversary?" No. "Do you agree to just a card?" No. "Do you just spend the day glaring at people who go all-out?" No.
What we do is donation. We donate money or goods to a cause that each of us knows the other cares about. He usually donates something in my name to the local humane society. Sometimes he'll switch it up and donate to a local group that funds arts programs. I usually donate in his name to a food bank, or to charities addressing homelessness. Anyway, this takes the pressure off and allows us to allocate some of our annual giving at a non-peak time of the year, and we're not just throwing money at a stuffed bear or balloons that were bought at the last minute, possibly at the gas station.
All that being said, maybe this is no big problem for you, and I salute you well-adjusted, non-cynical folks for this. If you're here looking for unusual actual gift ideas, I strongly urge you to read up on The Language of Flowers, because offbeat, meaning-laden bouquets can be a fun gift to create (bouquet construction-wise) and to receive (decoding-wise).
Happy February! The spring equinox will be here before you know it!”
[You can follow Laura’s effervescent Twitter feed at @prairielaura]
EMILY MASON’S: Targeted Upsell — What the Internet wants me to buy
It’s Valentine’s Day!
I will be honest, except for the fact it means lots of chocolate will be on sale soon, I’m pretty much indifferent to February 14.
The internet has gotten wise; there hasn’t been so much as a whisper about V-day in any of the (many) targeted ads I’ve seen lately.
However, February 13, AKA Galentine’s Day, the holiday invented by Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation, is another matter…
I LOVE this recently made-up holiday to an almost absurd degree. So it’s not a big surprise that I’ve gotten a LOT of pitches for things to give friends for Galentine’s day.
The immediate standout? Jovi!
What’s Jovi? Great question…
It’s not a chocolate, nor is it a flower or a book or a piece of jewelry.
It’s a patch!
For what? Well…It took a surprising amount of digging to find out what this thing is for, but it appears to be a pain patch. Headache, cramps, muscle whatevers? Slap Jovi on and the pain goes away!
(It feels like magic? Ok if you say so…)
And it works! Because science! What’s the science? Sciency science!
Why am I seeing this?
The internet knows I want my friends to feel their best. I suppose it’s the thought that counts?
Did they sell me?
Oh man… or rather, oh woman.
No, and I cannot wait to tell you why.
It’s not just that I think this product is snake oil, though admittedly that is a factor. It’s not even that giving this to friends—as an ad I saw suggested— seems passive aggressive. It’s not even that Jovi is wayyy more expensive than just giving them advil.
Frankly, the most insurmountable obstacle is this:
Their website is…bad.
As a consumer of things and stuff, I spend a lot of time looking at crap on my phone. Jovi’s website sullies the name “crap.” When I was redirected from the very annoying instagram ad I got, not only could I not figure out what Jovi was intended to treat, but when I scrolled down to look at the supposed-benefits I found this:
(Ahh, nothing like the reassuring relief of “filler copy goes here.”)
Maybe kicking Jovi to the curb because of gaps on their mobile site makes me petty but…this is worrying for a supposed-wellness product. Plus, while I don’t care how I screw up my own body, I will go scorched-earth on anyone that messes with my friends’— they’re the best of me.
…I’ll stick with chocolates this year.”
[Emily Mason lives and shops in Chicago]
Thank you for hanging in there for another episode of Amy’s Deep Thoughts
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And I hope that everyone takes care of their own heart today!