This spring, I learned about a new creative project led by Suleika Jaouad that encouraged participants to “create one tiny beautiful thing each day” for 100 days as a way to bridge the isolation of Covid and return to an as-yet-to-be defined new normal. The choice of how to excite the imagination was to be determined by each participant.
When I was young, I enjoyed reading poetry but somewhere along the way, poems assumed an impenetrable guise and poetry become something I rarely read. Although I did take a significant plunge into well written verses during the summer of 2012 when I joined Karen Sandberg and Rose Mish in presenting a summer service comprised entirely of poetic readings. With the 100-Day Project the timing seemed right to revisit poetry. I decided I would read a poem each morning and discover (or re-discover) a poet every day.
I created a poem calendar to track my daily progress complete with hyperlinks so that I could re-read the gems I discovered. One such beautiful verse is Small Kindnesses by poet Danusha Laméris. She asked 1,300 teenagers about the small kindnesses that make a difference to them and then used their answers to write this poem:
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
I have fond memories of rhyming verses in Mrs. Miggawa’s third grade class. I wrote a published poem senior year in high school. (Although, to be honest, the small pamphlet printed as part of my Catholic all-girls high school curriculum had a minuscule readership.) And, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind is one of my favorite books. But somewhere between early enjoyment and today, poetry assumed an impenetrable guise. I blame this on too many instructors asking “What does it mean?” then being dissatisfied with my blue book reply when the real question was “What do I believe it means?” and, having missed his, her, their personal interpretation, my exam response messed with my college GPA.
My version of The 100-Day Project with Suleika Jaouad will be to read poetry. It may be a single poem each morning but I want discover (or re-discover) a poet every day. I intend to banish the judgmental “What does it mean?” question from my vocabulary and let the poem simply rest on the page. The poet’s meaning may leap off that page or remain mysteriously obscure, either will be fine.
A birthday post from 2020 introduced Knit+ Librarian as a new artistic outlet. In those early Covid days when we were wiping groceries before putting them on the shelves and quarantining the mail for four days before opening letters and bills, I took solace from reading Suleika Jaouad’s posts. She had just launched The Isolation Journals with a goal of kindling “creativity and connection in challenging times.” As someone who only dabbles in writing rather than breathing letters and words, then and now, I stayed on the periphery reading her weekly journaling prompts and writing only sometimes. Like a wallflower in a Julia Quinn ballroom watching the quadrille with curiosity but definitely not joining the dancers.
As Suleika undergoes her second round of treatments for leukemia, her latest inspirational endeavor is The 100-Day Project and she invites participants to incorporate one creative act into daily life, everyday; something small that gives joy but which may also blossom. Suleika will “paint one small, simple thing and call it a day—a flower, a palm frond, or a pillowy cloud.” As I already knit and read each day (Oh the joy of retirement life!), I am still contemplating what creative act I will undertake in solidarity with this courageous artist.