Katie Scarvey column: Shameless scrapbooking

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 29, 2007

By Katie Scarvey

Salisbury Post

A while back, Emily Ford from up the street popped by for a minute. I was on the couch, trying to hide the scissors in my hand.

“Are you scrapbooking??” she asked. It wasn’t said in the tone you’d use to ask someone if she was baking cookies.

I felt like she’d caught me cinching a belt around my arm while I tapped around with two fingers for a vein to shoot heroin into.

Forgive me Emily, for I have scrapbooked. Forgive me, Emily, for using “scrapbook” as a verb.

I’m not sure why I hesitate to be identified as a scrapbooker because I know many nice, normal ones. But when I hear the term, the image that pops into my head is the too-perfect woman, who can French braid her daughter’s hair eight different ways, who plans her Christmas card in June.

Scrapbooks have been around for a long time. My grandma’s old ones are full of sepia-toned photos from her teenage years, complete with funny captions and commentary. They’re wonderful, though not slick like their modern counterparts.

The first serious scrapbooking I did was for my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday. My bed was littered for three days with photos, paper, scissors and glue sticks.

I used construction paper, which would no doubt give the Creative Memories people a stroke. No ribbon borders or fancy embellishments. I knew if I approached the project with the attitude that my pages had to be perfect, I’d be paralyzed. My plan was just to pick some special photos and organize them somewhat thematically.

Oh yeah, and to make my mother-in-law cry.

I didn’t plan that.

I think it was the four pages at the end, on which we wrote letters telling her why she was special. Quinn, for example, wrote that she wouldn’t ever forget how when she was burning up in the hospital before one of her surgeries, her Meemers fanned her tirelessly — a lovely memory from a nightmarish couple of days.

I don’t often scrapbook for myself, but I indulged last weekend, using photos taken while we were in Manhattan this summer for the most recent of Quinn’s brain surgeries.

For one page, I selected a photo of my daughters lying together in a hospital bed. Quinn’s head is swathed in a gauze turban, and she’s looking serenely at the camera. For no discernible reason, other than the fact that she’s a goofball, Spencer is wearing sunglasses pushed down her nose, her eyebrows raised as she gazes at Quinn with theatrical curiosity. The photo calls up the relief we all felt when Quinn came out of surgery in all important respects the same kid who went in.

I placed it on a page along with a smiling pre-op photo of Quinn with disks glued on her forehead that look like lifesavers but which are actually MRI reference points; and a shot of Spencer from an afternoon the two of us took off from the hospital to go to the Museum of Natural History. She’s striking the same hand-on-hip pose of a life-sized model of a topless native woman featured in one of the exhibits. (Goofy she may be, but Spencer’s not topless.)

As I fussed over the page, I thought about what I’d write on it, something to capture the crazy surreal quality of those weeks in the city. (Words are, for me, a big part of scrapbooking.) Then it hit me — why people scrapbook.

It’s the same reason we write poetry or essays, paint pictures, or arrange flowers. It’s a way to impose order on our chaotic lives, to shape our reality in a way that pleases us.

We can take a point of view. We can showcase the beautiful and crop out the painful. Through ordering and composing, we can find peace, even if it’s temporary.

So the next time Emily accuses me of scrapbooking, I’ll say without a trace of shame, “Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am.”

Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@salisburypost.com.