Tuesday, September 29, 2009

OM-elette Or
Suburban Satori

Back in August, I read about a website that I thought would be fun to participate in. It's called Book Crossing, and the idea is you register a book you wish to give away, (you can print numbered labels,) then you seal the book in plastic (if you wish) and find a spot and leave it, waiting to see if the finder goes back to the website to acknowledge the find and keep. Their term for this is a "travelling book," and if the book is never recorded as "found," then it is called "wild." At first I focused on the idea of someone recording the find and how cool that would be, but then I went into a more "release and giving" mode and found acceptance in letting the book go on it's way into the world.

I had been watching over a senior citizen who died last year, and in the process of cleaning out her house, I also had to deal with her voluminous book collection. I had done so much with all of her books: let friends come in and pick and choose, selling them on Amazon (which I continue to do,) and taking a lot of bags and boxes to local libraries where you get a tax deduction for their resale rooms. My friends were done, so I was pretty much reduced to winnowing out for library donation, but I thought, "Book Crossing might be more fun," and it appealed to my sense of street art.

Let me explain. I've always been a big fan of projects where you do something that goes back out into the world. One thing I've done for years is whenever I am on a beach, I bury pennies. This started at the ocean when I would see those elderly men with their metal sweepers and massive earphones, searching for pieces of eight and Spanish doubloons. I would get a little ahead of these men, dig, dig, digging (sometimes including a nickle,) then sit back and watch them come towards me. Eureka! El Dorado!

Another project I do on Cape Cod in Massachusetts is carving these elaborate pumpkins for Halloween, then after the season has past, going back to retrieve the pumpkins from people who were recipients, then leave them in Colonial cemeteries: on stone walls by the side of the road, or up in the branches of a lichen covered trees, or sitting on a skull tombstone aslant.

Cape Cod and beaches are rife with these ideas. I would also go to a toy or craft store and buy oh....1,000 marbles. KMart sold a set where different kinds each had their own little tray: cat's eyes and auggies and such and then in the center, the King of Marbles. A large black marble covered with opalescence sheen, and every evening when I went for a walk at sunset along Cape Cod Bay at low tide, I would toss some marbles out far into the water. My last night there was always reserved for King Marble. My hope was they would make their way back to the rocky shore and perhaps a few summers later, a lucky child searching for shells would find a marble--maybe even scrubbed down to plain glass. Even if they didn't come back, at the very least a curiosity for the lobsters.

I've gone into woods and created art in nature, leaving maps for the person receiving the gift to go on a treasure hunt. I was going to do one of those this Spring and ran out of time, so I can't describe it for now, since it's on hold for next year. So leaving things out for others to find was not a novel idea to me and leaving books seemed appealing.

I thought the elderly lady would like it, too. A few years back, I had gathered up a ton of books she was finally willing to release. Her idea was to donate Judaica books to her temple. Her rabbi, always the pill, demanded that someone provide him with a list of every book: it's title, author, publishing information and a brief summary, for his review. I do believe I cursed the man through the whole ordeal, and I know a control freak when I see one. More on him later this week.

Given the generous nature of this woman, and the breadth of the books she was offering him--basically an entire library, I thought surely he could find someone to do this for him, but...."no," so during a very hot period in August, I had to box up all of the books, (and I was recovering from a back injury,) haul them out to my car, haul them into my home, unbox them, create these "lists," rebox and wait. He did accept them, and then I had to haul them over to the synagogue where I believe, to this day, they continue sitting in a large storage space.

I half thought about approaching him about creating a memorial library for the old lady, since she was kind enough to give him this gift, but I'd fear he'd demand me removing them, following her death, and I was not opening the lid on that jar of herring. The sad thing is, they were great books: religious, history, novels, children, language, cookery...every aspect of Jewish life and most "like new" in condition. I could go on about this man, but won't out of respect for the dead, but to say he's a piece of work is not even beginning to tell his tale.

The first book I chose to release, (or travel,) was a book on meditation. At first I was going to leave it on an outdoor bench at a Buddhist Kaikon. Then I remembered a little park with a duck pond the lady had always enjoyed, and it was situated in an Orthodox community, so I drove there to leave the book. The day of the drop, it was just me and ducks for the most part, and the book is still listed as "wild" although I am sure someone took it and didn't follow through.

The letting go felt right. I am sure the ducks were thinking, "If that's not Wonder Bread, stop bugging us." And thus ended my first book drop, and I've done another since, which I will write about later this week. It involves feet washing and Charlton Heston.

The new Zen goose: We don't migrate. We meditate.

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Blogger Ronda Laveen said...

Is the next book about Mary Magdalene?

hat an interesting site. I would love to try this. I've done it before in my own way just by putting my name in a book that I've read that I think is important and leaving it somewhere so that it can go where it needs. It is fun to try doing in an organized fashion.

A number of years ago, when I worked with my best friend in the school districts, we got on this thing where we would leave our pocket change every day dropped serendipitously where others could find the money. Parking lot, hall ways, bathrooms, under books. We would do it every other day for about a month at a time. It was so enjoyable watching people find the $. The little bits would make them so happy.

Have you heard of Josh Simpson? He is an original glass artist. It is easy to Google his site. He makes these beautiful glass planets. Some are for sale. Others, he donates to people who have a good idea of where on Earth they would like to hide or place them. All you have to do is contact his site and read the process of requisition. If they like your idea, the send you a planet and you take a picture of yourself placing it and send it to them. They are all over the World and I think some have even gone up with astronauts. Cool post.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Ronda: I haven't heard of Josh Simpson, but I'm going to seek him out. I was sure others, like you, did similar things. It keeps life light when things get too heavy.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

P.S. The next book going out is Bloomingdale's Etiquette to Entertaining circa 1970's...and I think I'm leaving it in Bloomingdales. ;)

10:02 PM  
Blogger Ronda Laveen said...

Leaving Bloomingdale's Guide at Bloomingdales is perfect. Wouldn't work here though...we don't have one.

I think you've played the hide 'n seek game long enough that you could come up with a great idea for placing a planet somewhere unique. If you go to his site, there is a section that shows photos of where they have been placed. Lots of ideas.

2:27 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Ronda: Living in Washington, D.C. there are a LOT of places I could bury one. The only place where I don't think I could get away with it is The White House, but trust me...some real oddballs things came to mind, including J. Edgar Hoover's grave in the Congressional Cemetery.

5:09 AM  
Anonymous ma said...


This was an awesome post. I like the idea of giving a book up to the world. If only more people were this giving.

I'm still reading you! I still think about writing every day. :)

1:23 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

MA: I hope you don't give you your blog. There are so few that I really like reading, and you are one of them.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Loralee said...

I agree that Josh Simpson's stuff is gorgeous - little worlds. He is in Shelburne Falls, Cube, so if you feel like a day trip, I recommend.

It's almost like the where's George or paperbackbookswap, or geocaching, all in one.

I had a friend who used to drop a $5 in a parking lot, or get a roll of quarters and put one in every parking meter he walked past. He felt it was good for his Karma.


9:33 PM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

I'm glad to know that other people do this too. I like the anonymity of it - the fact that it can be completely private, the feeling of giving with no expectation or apprehension,(what if they don't like it?) and the thought that whoever finds will likely appreciate the randomness of it at least as much as the thing itself.

2:38 AM  
Blogger Hammer said...

But then I went into a more "release and giving" mode and found acceptance in letting the book go on its way ... I've always been a big fan of projects where you do something that goes back out into the world.

Standing, clapping, laughing over here. All because I'm absolutely with you on this, and because the largest of the side projects I've alluded to over at my place is EXACTLY this sort of thing. I'm very much looking forward to its "release" sometime this month.

So much of street art seems to involve shock and confrontation. There's good reason for it of course, but I typically prefer the wry, sublime little touches that cause double-takes, silent nods or quiet laughter.

In some small town in some alternate universe, you and I are doing stuff like this constantly. Never getting caught and always blaming the other person. "Dude, I was out of town when that happened. It wasn't me, it was TOTALLY Cube."

9:33 AM  

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