I worked for Time Inc. during the creation of three lifestyle magazines that became so popular they re-energized the form: Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, and InStyle. These publications would come across my desk each month and I would particularly marvel over the party articles, especially in Martha Stewart Living, detailing recipes and decorations and showing Martha herself hosting as the party came to life with friends and family populating the room.

“Why go through the trouble of actually having the party?” I wondered. If all the effort was for the sake of the article, why not just photograph the food and decorations? Why have the people, unless you were just being conscientious of not wasting the food?

Still, the photos intrigued me. Something was going on in the space, something happening because of what the lifestyle expert had created.

I didn’t understand it before. I do now.

photo credit: Hallie Duesenberg Photography

Recently I made plans to visit Chicago and was looking for a bookstore where I could do a reading and celebrate my book Love’s Long Line (Mad Creek Books/The Ohio State University Press). Then my friend Debi Lilly contacted me and offered the opportunity to have something more than your average run-of-the-mill reading. This is Debi Lilly of A Perfect Event. She’s one of the top event planners in the field, on par with the Martha Stewarts of the world. When Debi spoke, I listened. I said yes and couldn’t wait to see the results.

I knew everything Debi did would be beautiful. How could it not be? But when I walked into DL Studio, one of her Chicago event locations, Debi and her team surprised me with the sky-high level of witty, endearing details. They created a wine punch inspired by my book and flavored with spiced apple, rosemary, and cinnamon. Even the container label featured elements of my book’s cover. Golden balloon installations and orchids and gorgeous furniture decorated the room. Towers of treats including cupcakes topped with my book’s cover filled a table. The whole studio sparkled with light and energy. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

But then people began to arrive.

It was like a spark ignited. There were friends from Women On Fire, the organization through which I first met Debi Lilly, and there were people I didn’t know. And my classmates–so many classmates!–from both Harvard and Vermont College of Fine Arts. One drove all the way from Indianapolis to be there. Some of these classmates I hadn’t seen in years and yet my heart did remember them. In fact my heart immediately flooded with affection and memory and the feeling was so full I wanted to weep because I’d come to understand deeply the meaning of these words: love never dies.

I’m not sure I can express how much I enjoyed being in that space with those people. Even now I feel like I’m babbling incoherently as I try to explain it. Yes, I read from my essays and I answered questions and I signed books. But this event was quite different from others and at first I wasn’t sure why.

But when Debi posted photographs a day or two later I looked at those pictures and saw it right away: I had experienced a real life version of those parties I’d seen so many times in the magazines.

And now I understand that both at my book event and in those articles,  these images weren’t simply people gathered at a party. These photos were showing that when you go through the trouble of such preparation, you’re creating a magical opening, a space of potential. When people enter it maybe they sense that potential (I know I did) and can open themselves up for connection, for discovery, for love. I’m attached to the people in these photos in a way that didn’t exist before. I don’t know how it happened. It just did. I guess that’s why I’m calling it magic.

I’m sharing some of these images with you so you too can feel the magic of Debi Lilly. I’m so grateful she wielded her brilliant power on my behalf. I hope one day you’ll have the opportunity to enlist Debi and A Perfect Event to do the same for you.