The 42 Beautiful Things Project

The 42 Beautiful Things Project is no longer accepting mailed submissions but remains on Facebook and Instagram for continued enjoyment. Those who wish to contribute a photo/written submission of a Beautiful Thing are welcome to do so by contacting me directly through email or Facebook.

As for the 83 Beautiful Things submitted between September 2015 – March 2019, I now display these in my office at Ivy Tech Community College in Warsaw, Indiana, where they continue to inspire.

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!

Why 42 Beautiful Things? The Origin Story

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 was exchanging work at the time. The process of writing and sharing my original 42 Beautiful Things was something I needed to do as I reflected on my life at 42, a birthday significant both because the previous several months had been personally transformative, 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 project it spawned became a testament to the paradoxical randomness, unity, struggle, and beauty of that so-called Ultimate Question, made up of moments, objects, in-the-body experiences, and the insights they birth.

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.

“42 Beautiful Things in My World on My 42nd Birthday–August 15, 2015″

The more I grow into myself, the more I distrust the merely abstract and analytical, instead favoring the 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.

By the summer of 2016, many things had changed: My name, my address, my family configuration, and my P.O. Box. Still, I kept growing my collection until 2019, curating a collection of 83 Beautiful Things which I presented on and shared in a variety of public spaces.

As people shared their Beautiful Things and I shared them with others, joy multiplied and conversations started. I continue to believe Beautiful Things are meant to be shared, and I continue to share them every day, though I no longer use a dedicated P.O. box to do so.

My Original 42 Beautiful Things Project in Pictures and Words

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.

My original “42 Beautiful Things in My World on My 42nd Birthday”

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?

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