Tag Archives: Walter Paepcke

Emma Interviews

Emma has been interviewing various family members.  So I wasn’t surprised when she wrote that she wanted to conduct another interview.  Except this time she wrote that she wanted to interview me.  This is part one of that interview…

Emma:  What sparks your imagination more? Words? Pictures? Music?

It depends on the situation.  I have been inspired and moved by all three at various times and can think of examples of each sparking my imagination.  If I had to put them in order of most moving and inspiring, I would have to say visual, whether experiential as in scenic or static pictures, painted, photographs, sculpture, visual art.  But even as I say this I’m thinking of music that has brought me to tears, and literature and poetry that completely captivated, even non fiction writing, particularly memoirs have completely enthralled me.  Each has inspired and sparked my imagination.  I don’t know that I can choose!

Emma:  Who do you wish you could have known and why?

My grandfather, your Great-Grandfather.  He is the one your granma, my mother speaks so highly of.   It would have been nice to have had the experience of knowing him.  He was also an extremely ambitious, smart and I’ve been told, fascinating man who lived a complicated and unusual life.  I would have liked the opportunity to have interviewed him the way you are interviewing me.

Emma:  What taught you more about life – notable happiness or terrible suffering?

In a strange way, both as they are both great teachers and I’ve experienced large doses of each.  I only wish I was a faster learner so the suffering didn’t have to go on for as long as it did.

Emma:  When were you decidedly happiest and when were you easily the most unhappy?

The most difficult time in my life was the years when I was bulimic.  I felt as though I was watching life pass me by as I remained stuck in my obsessive-compulsive addictive behaviors.  It was a terrible time of feeling I was betraying myself on a daily basis and couldn’t stop, though I wanted to more than anything. Sadly that period lasted for about 22 years.  That’s an awfully long time to be so unhappy.

This period of my life is by far the happiest.  I have learned and experience daily the power of gratitude, friendship, humility, family and the gift of giving back.  I am so grateful for the many gifts I’ve been given – Daddy, N. and you, extended family and friendship.  I have so much love in my life.  I am extremely fortunate.  Gratitude encourages misery to withdraw.  People say it’s harder to talk about unhappiness, but I have found the opposite to be true.  Misery came easily to me. Happiness I’ve had to fight for and once I caught slivers of it, I wasn’t willing to let it go.

Emma chose this photo of me to accompany her interview

Emma chose this photo of me to accompany her interview (I figure since I chose photos of Emma throughout her childhood, it is only fair that she now choose the photographs posted on this blog.)

“I Am In Here” – Autism

There’s a terrific new book entitled:  I am in here:  The Journey of a Child with Autism Who Cannot Speak But Finds Her Voice by Elizabeth M. Bonker and Virginia G. Breen.  The title is a line from the poem  Me written by Elizabeth when she was 9.   The story is yet another example of a nonverbal child with autism who was helped by Soma Mukhopadhyay’s Rapid Prompting Method.  Elizabeth’s mother, Virginia has tried any number of therapies with the hope that something, anything will help her daughter.  It is not a story about a cure, but rather a message of hope in the face of continual struggle and perseverance.

Virginia writes about using a three pronged approach in her battle with autism – Mind (academics), body (biomedical interventions and diets) and Spirit (the more difficult concept of something greater than ourselves, which Elizabeth seems to have a solid grasp of.)  The mind, body & spirit concept particularly resonated with me as it was this very idea which captured my grandfather, Walter Paepcke’s imagination when he envisioned a place of contemplation and learning in his creation of what came to be known as the “Aspen Idea” more than 60 years ago in Aspen, Colorado.

I can claim full allegiance to the mind and body portion of this, however I must admit the spiritual piece continues to allude me.  Though a close friend of mine said to me recently that for a person who professes not to believe, I certainly spend a great deal of time thinking, reading and discussing the subject.  She then said, “It’s kind of like the wife who’s husband everyone knows is having an affair.  She’s the last to know.”  When I answered her with a perplexed look, she said somewhat exasperated, “Come on, Ariane.  You’re the most spiritual non-spiritual person I’ve ever met.”

I’m pretty sure she meant that as a compliment.

For more on our journey with Emma through her childhood marked by autism, go to:   Emma’s Hope Book

Dedication to a Rock Star

Ariane arrived in Aspen Saturday with Nic and Emma. I’ve been here for a week already, attending the Literary Festival. Ariane’s mom Paula Zurcher (who I adore!) lives here and we come out about four times a year because we love to see her but also to some extent, because travel anywhere else is too difficult. Emma only eats about nine different food items and she only likes to do physically oriented pleasure activities like swimming and skiing. While I think it’s pretty safe to say that Nic wouldn’t hold up too well on a four hour tour of the Louvre, he would at least enjoy other sightseeing activities and have the thrill of visiting faraway places he’s read about or heard about.

No sightseeing for Emma. Unless the sight is a roller coaster or a water slide, which we fortunately have close by in Glenwood Springs, where Nic and Emma went yesterday. Ariane arrived here in time for the reopening of the newly renovated Paepke Auditorium, named after Ariane’s grandfather Walter Paepke, who founded the Aspen Institute,  Aspen Music Festival and Aspen Design Conference, which is now known as the AIGA – the professional association for design. He was a true visionary, a man who accrued his wealth making cardboard boxes, yet had the audacity to run ads for his company that featured art by Herbert Bayer and sayings by Lao-Tzu  — not one word about boxes.

The auditorium opening was amazing, particulary due to the hugely talented Anna Deveare-Smith who performed a reprise of her impression of Paula and her sister Toni DuBrul having lunch with her, which is profound and poignant and one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.  She ends her brilliant performance with a story told to her by the Paepcke daughters.  Elizabeth Paepcke, their mother, planted a young sapling in her backyard.  Afterward she said, “It will be beautiful in 50 years.”  At the time she was in her 70’s and when it was pointed out that she would not be around to witness that she replied, “I know.  But others will.”

Paula and Ariane would never mention any of this family history stuff on this blog, but there is a legacy to be celebrated that is inspirational and it impacts Emma as much, if not more, as any of us.  After all Emma is the great grand-daughter of those two powerhouses.

Claudia Cunningham is a dear friend of ours who has been incredibly supportive to all of us – the children adore her and when she stays with us in New York, it’s pajama party time. She and I always talk about our firm, no intractable belief that Emma is going to be a huge rock star (and maybe already is). We don’t say this in a half-kidding tone. We mean it. Emma is a natural born performer. She loves an audience, she has an incredible pitch-perfect voice, a set of pipes that can blow the doors off a taxi cab, a gift for the grand gesture and the big finish. And she is staggeringly beautiful.

Why not? Why shouldn’t she be a rock star? She was raised on Gwen Stefani. She loves singing and performing more than anything – even a carousel ride or an all day trip to the water park, and that’s saying something. Should we not dream big dreams for her? Are we over-reaching, not being practical, have our heads in the clouds, our feet off the ground? Are we kidding ourselves? Are we in denial?

Hey, if a business man from Chicago can turn his father’s lumber company into The Container Corporation of America and then go on to create the Aspen Institute, why can’t a beautiful, talented eight year old autistic girl grow up to be a rock star?  She certainly has a head start by having the ambition and vision in her genes.

Here’s to you Emma! You are awesome. And when you read this ten years from now in the back of your limo heading to a sold out show at Madison Square Garden you will always know we believed in you – and never settled for anything less than encouraging your dreams and fueling your heart’s desire every step of the way.

Rock on!