My Auntie Daina used to own a store in Little Rock called The Full Moon. It was the ultimate for a Magpie-eyed youth like myself — a maze of funky glassware, fancy atomonizers and fragile toy kits that dared shoppers not to break them. Daina stocked the prettiest gift wrap you’ve ever seen in your life: brown paper bags marked with clear-and-gold “Full Moon” stickers, polka dot tissue paper, bright curling ribbon. Oh, that curling ribbon! No one in my neighborhood could rework a Walker family gift bag without everyone knowing it was a Full Moon redux.
One of The Full Moon’s specialties (during one specialized chunk of the late ’80s) was Mary Engelbreit paraphernalia. There were magnets and cubed notepads and tote bags and greeting cards and posters and apparel, all decked with M.E.’s illustrations of little girls with rosacea thinking deep thoughts. You may remember such classics as “Life Is Just a Chair of Bowlies” and “It’s Good to Be Queen.” One print that made a particularly strong impression on my impressionable young mind was the haunting “REMEMBER: No Matter Where You Go, There You Are.”
Of course, Mary Engelbreit did not invent the phrase, nor did her bow-wearing muse. The true origin is tricky to map—with credit leading to such diverse sources as Confucious, the Buddha, Buckaroo Banzai and, at least once, the Bunch‘s Mike Brady, and root phrasing leaning toward “Wherever you go, there you are”—but for me, it started with M.E. and that image of a brave girl (bearing a chic chintz hatbox) exchanging pleasantries with a wizard-clown Lady of Summer.
In the late ’80s, I was still a bona fide kid and I hadn’t gone too far yet, geographically, but I often dreamed of the places I’d go, so this one really got under my skin, especially with that weight-bearing, all-caps “REMEMBER.” Sometimes the message read like a comforting assurance: Don’t worry! Even if you wake up in a Thai prison tomorrow, you will still have You with you! (Kids know about things like worst-case-scenarios.) Other times, it seemed slightly snooty and condescending: Dreaming of running off to The Big City? Hm. Suit yourself. Just remember: Wherever you go, there you are. [Cue doomsday music here.]
Some might call upon the doomsday tone when using the phrase “to pull a geographic,” which suggests an underlying delusion that a change of scenery will change everything, including the inside-stuff—a tactic also known as “running away.” I’ve overanalyzed, at times, whether my stomping ground shifts might deem me guilty of geographic-pulling. Did I think California would make me a different person? Judging from some of the blackmail-worthy photos in the back of my closet somewhere: Yes, I probably did think that. Did New York light me up in ways that pointed out dark corners I hadn’t known I was carrying? You bet it did, and I’m so glad for the illumination. Does Rock Island make my heart feel explodable from nostalgia? Is Little Rock a little bit like a Holy Land to me, tying me to one half of “my people” (the Southern side, bless its heart)? [Boldface, all-caps] YES and YES. Those bits of evidence, acquired through geographic exploration, bring me back to myself with the enhanced clarity and assurance that suggest the (ostensibly) intended reading of that M.E. poster: You’re you. Duh.
I always liked that one the best, anyway. If I’m gonna be me, I might as well do it well; and if I might as well learn the lessons, then I figure I ought to welcome their teachers, too. In my humble estimation, inviting experiences, relationships and places to serve as teachers seems like a very good way to learn.
Or, to switch metaphors, I’ll let them serve as nutrients. Like the bodies to which they are fused, I imagine our mind/heart parts as food-eaters, too, gobbling up essential nutrients found in friendships and feelings and beautiful views. Appetites vary: Some people’s bodies thrive on beans and quinoa and others feel best with regular helpings of filet mignon. Some people juice cleanse, others meal plan. Still others rely on Lean Cuisines. (Stop judging. Fine: judge.) I tend to think our heart/mind parts have distinct appetites, too, steering us toward nutrient-specific experiences and relationships—and places. Then it’s up to us whether we want to fast or eat up.
So yes, Mary (and muse): Wherever I go, there I am, which is the very best part of mobility. I’d like to think that if I’m fortified, I won’t have to settle for substitutes or hoard reserves of Vitamin Me (or M.E., as it were) when I’m out in the world, that I’ll be properly nourished to be my most useful self when a friend calls, seeking company, inexplicably craving a random road trip or big trip or walk around the block that, unbeknownst to us, won’t be random at all.
As for the girl with the bow, one should note that by 2004 she’d either been invited inside the Summer Lady’s house or found a spot of her own on which to plant a white picket fence with a view (which, for the record, sounds lovely, too). She’s still got the hatbox, though. You go, M.E. girl: Keepin’ it chic since 1987.