Editor's Note: Happy Accidents | November 2021 | Editor's Note | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Editor's Note: Happy Accidents | November 2021 

Last Updated: 11/01/2021 1:03 am
click to enlarge Adam Monteverde and Lauren Mias behind at the counter at Apizza!, a new coal-fired pizza parlor in New Paltz. Photo by Benjamin Cotten
  • Adam Monteverde and Lauren Mias behind at the counter at Apizza!, a new coal-fired pizza parlor in New Paltz. Photo by Benjamin Cotten

I’m fond of painter Bob Ross’s trademark phrase, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” (Or something like that. There is no canonical version as Ross uttered many variations on his TV show, often invoking diminutive conifers.) Putting aside Ross’s demolition of personal accountability for a moment—admittedly, we’re talking about brushstrokes, not space shuttle O-rings—I love the two-word linguistic pile-up of “happy accident.” Accidents are almost always bad—a fender bender, an incontinent dog soiling a rug—while happiness, is, well, unassailably good. Think of that same incontinent dog when it was a puppy, blissfully rolling on its back on a rug in a pre-soiled state.

Together, they form a cognitively dissonant super-bond that’s perhaps best exemplified in the vintage Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials from the 1980s. These ads had a number of iterations, but my favorite remains a teenage meet-cute. Scene: A sun-dappled street in the commercial district of Anytown, USA. A young man is moseying down a sidewalk eating an oversized bar of chocolate. Around the corner, a girl is strutting along, eating peanut butter from a container with her fingers, as any lover of nut butters is wont to do on a sunny summer afternoon. (It should be noted that both are wearing Walkman headphones, thereby fully encased in private sonic/gustatory ecstasy.)

They collide (gently) at the corner, the chocolate falling ever so advantageously into the tub of peanut butter. Each exclaims, “You got your X in my X,” and continues eating without skipping a beat. Both conclude: “Mmmm. Delicious.” The very definition of the happy accident to me, which perhaps speaks as much to how I was indoctrinated by television into being an eager and compliant consumer as it does to the genius of the marketing of two great tastes that go great together.

Magazines, when they work, are sometimes a series of happy accidents. It’s like that saying about luck: It’s when opportunity meets preparation. You must work hard to prepare yourself for the brilliance of serendipity.

I was reminded of this as we were choosing our cover this month. David Perry, our creative director, had connected with Daniel Baxter, an illustrator who creates exquisite portraits on maps, a neat way to quite literally “map” a person’s history on to their face. David and I spent some time poring over Baxter’s work, looking at a range of mapped faces from Nina Simone (Mississippi) to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Brooklyn) to Greta Thunberg (the world). But the image we kept coming back to was of Dolly Parton, her eyes looking out through a colorful map of Tennessee like she was at a masquerade. The image seemed to capture many of the essential elements that make Parton an iconic figure: her humble origins, her ability to give part of herself to her fans while remaining personally inscrutable, how she’s been able to smile through adversity her entire career and come out stronger on the other side.

David and I loved the image of Parton, but it just didn’t work as a cover: Baxter had balanced the composition so well that another element—especially the 55-point typeface of the Chronogram logo (Template Gothic Bold)—couldn’t be added to it. What initially had drawn us to Baxter wasn’t going to work.

We went back to the drawing board—or the paste board in this case. Looking through the images again, we came across Baxter’s elegant take on Eva Peron. Half of her face is shrouded by the map of the country, obscuring and revealing simultaneously. (If you need context, I recommend the Webber-Rice musical “Evita,” which may not be the most factual primer on South American politics, but I wouldn’t want any other Peron than the tragic figure of this play.)

Once we mocked it up, it seemed inevitable, an instant classic. They only thing missing, perhaps, were some happy little trees.

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