The 42 Beautiful Things Project

[7/27/2018 Update: The 42 Beautiful Things Project Reboot!
New and exciting things are happening with The 42 Beautiful Things Project, including a traveling Box of Beautiful Things (more to be posted about that later).

Stay up to date by following The 42 Beautiful Things Project on Facebook and Instagram. And by all means, mail me a Beautiful Thing!]

Mail a Beautiful Thing from your world to mine

A hand-made postcard from a fellow artist.

How was it I had forgotten how wondrous it still is to open a mailbox and receive something beautiful from a friend?

How was it I had forgotten how life-giving it is to send beautiful things to others?

I had forgotten, but now I remember.

And now that I remember, I don’t want to forget. Instead, I want to multiply that joy.

Mail something beautiful from your world to mine and I will share it with the world!

Submission Guidelines

  • Fit your Beautiful Thing into one of these:On a postcard (be creative!)
    • In a standard or padded envelope (6 X 9 preferred maximum)
  • Mail a Beautiful Thing from your world to mine:
    The 42 Beautiful Things Project
    P.O. Box 42
    Larwill IN 46764
  • If you include writing, please limit yourself to 500 words.
  • MUST be anonymous. You may include your first name, but no full names (yours or others), return address, or other personally identifying information are to be included. Without anonymity, I cannot share your beautiful thing.
  • In sending a Beautiful Thing to P.O. Box 42, you are granting permission for public sharing via photograph form on social media, including The 42 Beautiful Things Project Facebook pageInstagram and blog, and for sharing in live events and public exhibitions. As this project might also evolve into an online or print book, please be aware of any copyright restrictions and send only objects that are not copy protected.
  • Open to all ages.
  • Questions? Contact me at

While efforts will be made to post as many Beautiful Things as possible, a submission does not guarantee publication. Dawn Burns reserves the right to post or publish as she chooses.

Beautiful Things are meant to be shared! Please spread the word!
YOU can help boost the number of Beautiful Things submitted by sharing this link through Facebook and other social media, liking/sharing The 42 Beautiful Things Project on FacebookInstagramand person-to-person.

Beautiful Things can be found everywhere–coffee shops, libraries, nursing homes, schools, community centers, shelters–so help me spread the word and increase Beautiful Things to share.


Why “42 Beautiful Things”?

The week leading up to my 42nd birthday, I worked on “42 Beautiful Things in My World on My 42nd Birthday–August 15, 2015,” a project to give to a local artist friend with whom I exchange work from time to time. The process of writing and presenting my original 42 Beautiful Things was something I needed to make as I reflected on my life at 42, a birthday significant both because the previous several months had been personally transformative in good but also hard ways, and because as a life-long fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy knows, I understood 42 to symbolically be the “Ultimate Answer” to the “Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.”

For me, “42 Beautiful Things” both my original written 42 and the resulting project has become a testament to the paradoxical randomness, unity, struggle, and beauty of that so-called Ultimate Question, made up of moments, in-the-body experiences, and the insights they birth.

The more I grow into myself, the more I distrust the merely abstract and analytical, instead favoring tangible beauty of moments no matter how fleeting, and perhaps because they are fleeting.

The more, too, I return to non-electronic forms of expression:  pen-to-paper writing; scissors-and-glue collage; crayon-and-pen designs; and postcards, handwritten correspondence, and gifts that pass physically from my hands into the hands of others, often through the intermediary hands of dedicated postal workers.

How was it I had forgotten in this social media age how wondrous it still is to open a mailbox and receive something beautiful from a friend?

How was it I had forgotten how life-giving it is to send Beautiful Things to others?

How was it I had forgotten that part of the thrill is setting foot inside my local post office to have familiar and friendly postal workers weigh and ship my packages?

I had forgotten, but now I remember.

And now that I remember, I don’t want to forget. Instead, I want to multiply that joy.

So with $42 birthday money (a dollar for each year of my life) in August 2015, I began by renting a post office box in Defiance, Ohio, where I then lived, wanting it filled with Beautiful Things I could hold in my hands, sent from others’ worlds to mine.

Three years later many things have changed: My name, my address, my family configuration, and my P.O. Box, now in Larwill, Indiana. I curate a collection of well over 42 Beautiful Things which continues to grow.

Joy multiplied.

Because Beautiful Things are meant to be shared.



 Re-purposing a tissue box as home for my 42 Beautiful Things

Of all these stages, the most personally transformative was the shift from long strips of paper spread out to fill the floor of half a room to a small pile of miniature scrolls that could be scooped up and held easily in my cupped hands before being placed inside the tissue box, the scrolls not even filling it half-way. And yet, for me, the moments contained on these scrolls are each so expansive, each such a part of me, making this in its physicality a project that, like Doctor Who’s TARDIS, is bigger (maybe even infinite?) on the inside than on the outside.

In its truest physical form, the original “42 Beautiful Things in My World on My 42nd Birthday” is meant to be experienced randomly and physically beyond the reading of the words on a sterile black and white page. The participant is meant to pluck a scroll from the box, remove the rubber band, read the Beautiful Thing as the scroll unrolls, then roll it back up, re-band it, set the scroll aside and take another from the box or drop the scroll back inside the box with all the others. The participant is meant to help make the meaning in how she chooses to experience the box of my Beautiful Things, the order of the “things” changing each time, the potential for experience and meaning-making shifting each time, multiplying in their arrangements and over however the participant chooses to engage the box.Unfortunately, a blog does not lend itself well to the hands-on experience, so a handful of photos and the text of the scrolls shall have to do for sharing here.

As a final note, I’ve never felt confident doing anything visual as an artist. I was a C student in elementary art class and so quickly gave up and claimed words as my sole form of self-expression. I couldn’t trust my hands to convey my imaginings, but I could trust my mind with words. I think in words, after all–they fill my mind every waking moment.

And words…they could be hidden away until I was ready to reveal them, were not a performance in front of peers and teachers unless I wanted them to be. Most days anymore I can claim for myself my abilities as a writer (but you know writers…we can be notoriously plagued with doubt and insecurity even so). In the words of Katherine Paterson, writers are “shy show-offs.” That’s me.

That what I present here really is in its truest form more than just words on a page is testament to a select few artist friends who have woken me up, granting me permission to play with words, colors, textures, and images across various forms–clay, postcards, collage, and engraving to name a few. I’m still a newbie in this arena, and I won’t brag about the quality of anything but my words, but I am playing in new ways, and at 42 (and now at 43), that’s a good thing!

There truly are so many Beautiful Things in my world.
So why not share?


by Dawn Marie Comer

[10/06/2018 Update: On July 28, 2016, shortly before my 43rd birthday, my name changed back to my birth name, Dawn Marie Burns. By then I had returned to live in Indiana, the state where I was born, with my kids to begin a new phase of life.

I have often wondered whether to remove or update my original 42 Beautiful Things. After all, many of the details have changed in three years and I would write a different list of Beautiful Things today.

Life, as I have found, is not static, and striving for permanence and fixed answers is a trap. So I choose to honor the continued flow of life by honoring this Project’s origins, those original 42 Beautiful Things in my life on my 42nd year, even as I am now 45 and counting.]

  1. The flatness of northwest Ohio, like the flatness of northwest Indiana where I grew up, field after field of corn and soybeans in summer, green and fragrant and full of life, the flatness stretching out for miles, interrupted only by the occasional patch of woods.
  2. A memory of my dad telling me that only in fall do trees show their true colors, when they aren’t busy making chlorophyll and working to be green, when they can rest and just BE as they really are. I celebrate that, the way autumn leaves reveal the true colors of trees. And it doesn’t last long, this moment of revelation, this moment of revealing. Still, I celebrate it, want to live in this moment.
  3. The starkness of winter trees, skeletal and hard, me remembering that they are not dead, just hibernating, simply still, storing deep inside the energy needed to generate life from within.
  4. Irises in spring. Their scent taking me back to a sandy lane where I walked barefoot as a child. The way I would pick them, take them home to my mother, place them on the kitchen table. The way there were always hundreds more I would not pick. Or maybe only dozens, but always it seemed like hundreds, enough to scent the air as I walked the lane to the woods I loved.
  5. French press coffee first thing in the morning, blended with evaporated milk. The perfect balance of creamy and bitter.
  6. Drinking from a brown flowered mug, a gift from a friend. Remembering drinking from it on the early morning drive to the Dodge City Amtrak station, her home a stopping point on my journey, her friendship a gift in my life.
  7. My poet friend’s apartment where I can come and go as I please, where I can center myself for writing. That I can come and go as I please, her door always open. That I don’t have to ask where to find coffee, tea, cups, spoons, snacks. That she sometimes sits and talks with me, reads me poems about crows, fish eyes, dragonflies, language, blood, and her mother who once dreamed of grinding garlic. That she hears my stories, lends clarity to my language. That she, too, I call friend.
  8. You.
  9. Zucchini casserole. Layers of steamed zucchini and celery, cracker crumbs (Ritz only), sausage fried with onion soup mix, drizzled egg, cheddar cheese. It’s not even that it tastes so very good, but it takes me back to my mom’s kitchen in my childhood home at the corner of U.S. Highway 30 and 450 West in Hanna, Indiana. Takes me back in the same way sorghum cookies do, and fried fresh pork side alongside corncakes with sorghum on a cold February morning, and sweet refrigerator pickles sweet with sugar and vinegar and slivered onions and the hint of celery seed. Zucchini casserole that I make for myself every summer with zucchini my dad still grows, connecting together all the parts of me back to myself, to my mother, to all the homes in which I have ever lived and all the homes yet to come.
  10. My son’s joy as he dresses and undresses his vintage dolls, organizes their clothing, researches their value on eBay (not that he will ever sell but just to know). That he can ask me without hesitation if he can have the dresses in my closet for his movies because he would wear them more than I do. That I can say to him, “You’re right. You would. They’re all yours.”
  11. Music. Just music. Through headphones as I listen, eyes closed, in the middle of the night when sleep won’t hold me any longer. Through car speakers in midday as I drive down a busy highway singing, “I am one and the same. I am useful and strange.” The freedom to choose my own music, no boundaries. The freedom to let what moves me move me. Anticipating the next note even while living in the present one, even while remembering the last.
  12. Gullifur in the morning, standing on her hind legs at the front door, mewing to be let in. The way she nuzzles my legs when I open the door to her.
  13. Avocados freshly peeled, chunked in a green speckled bowl with freshly sliced tomatoes, lightly sprinkled with salt and a squeeze of lime.
  14. Strangers. Watching them. Wondering about their lives, their stories. Overhearing with intention. Finding them interesting and also beautiful. Smiling and catching their eye, loving when they return my gaze. The small thrill of passing connection.
  15. Old postcards and the handwritten messages on them. Old photographs too. Detritus of other people’s lives given chance permanence in my mental world.
  16. The sound of the doorbell when I am awaiting a friend in expectancy but without expectation.
  17. The feel of dough between my fingers, the warm smell of rising yeast, the length and depth of a finished loaf, the taste of bread, hot, with honey.
  18. Watching my daughter and her dad at the edge of the driveway, helmets on, scooters ready to roll down the road, all the way to campus.
  19. When the mail arrives bringing something from a friend—a postcard, a piece of art, a letter, anything at all—something addressed to me.
  20. Sharing with friends I love the food I love to make. Caramels shipped out across the country. A pint of ice cream to the neighbor who mows our lawn. Lasagna to older friends across town whose names rhyme with each other.
  21. Watching my daughter draw, her freedom with lines and shapes that give form to her imaginings, just as my words give form to mine.
  22. Dreams. Of slugs, avocados, fish, friends, strangers, Santa Fe, houses I have known and places that could never be. The ache of loss. The hunger of desire. The joy of connection. The constancy of change. Fish and fish and fish again. Tangled beauties. Slippery symbols. Feelings, fears, and connections made manifest in symbols and stories that soon slip away.
  23. Fishing with my father. Him saying little more than, “You got one! Reel it in. Keep your pole up!” And then, “That’s a nice one” or “We found the hot spot” or “Need another worm?” as we reel in bluegill, sunfish, and bass until they number more than seventy.
  24. Breath. That I keep breathing through it all. That my body keeps on breathing in spite of whether I want to or not, and this on the roughest days. In. Out. In. Out. Breathe. As long as I have breath, I have hope.
  25. The limits of words to ever capture beauty, me, wisdom, anything. Still, the urge to do so, to try, to strive for that moment of coming close enough to glance—just glance—the beautiful with my words and then to let it go again.
  26. A steaming bowl of pho on a cold day. The crispness of bean sprouts, the texture of basil leaves between fingers, the hot savory broth. Slivers of pink meat cooking before my eyes.
  27. Water. Swimming through, diving under, floating on. The motion of it. The ungraspability.
  28. A therapist with whom I would just as gladly talk with over coffee as I would in a session. The way he helped me make sense of myself as a teenager, the way I trusted him then and now again at 42. A voice of insight in my world. A voice that helps me to better know and trust the voice that is my own.
  29. Early mornings doing precisely this. Giving myself to words, giving words to myself, even as the sun rises in the sky. Dawn, my name. Dawn, the best part of my day. The world awakens and so do I.
  30. Stars, especially falling ones, glimpsed from the corner of my eye.
  31. The company of artists and writers. Feasts of words. The thrill of creations shared. The learning of new forms through which to express. Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. SwampFire. Generative, celebratory community.
  32. Friends who are always and forever in my heart, even when not in my life. I carry with me always my many loves.
  33. Bruce Catburn who finds me in the evenings, whichever child’s bedroom I’m in, my faithful cat companion of fifteen years.
  34. The next person I will meet, whose name I will ask…or not…but maybe. Always, the possibility of new connection, even for a moment that passes soon into the next.
  35. The complexities of married life twenty years in. The security of daily routines. The uncertain work of growing one’s own self, growing a relationship too. That at the end of the day there’s still a shared late night snack, Father Ted on YouTube, a shared bed. Sharing a life together day by day.
  36. Me!
  37. Murky depths. For there are treasures here too.
  38. The moon, full and round and beautiful. She lights my way at night. Gives stars competition.
  39. My mother who loved me before I was born, and who loves me still.
  40. A late night shower, hot enough to redden my skin.
  41. The aurora borealis, which I haven’t seen yet but one day I will. The motion of colors and light against the darkness of night.
  42. The words of a friend on a Facebook chat: “It’s ok to be complicated. Relax about yourself.”

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