The Original 52 Projects

Take some chopsticks from your kitchen drawer (the one where all the take out chop sticks get thrown), and, along with $25 cash and a take out Chinese food menu, seal them up in an envelope. Mail off the envelope to one of your currently unemployed friends, your college-aged kid brother or sister, a person you know who is financially strapped at the moment.

Keep it anonymous. Do not hand write the mailing address or enclose a note. Include the take out Chinese food menu regardless of geographical issues. You want to be sure that the person you mail the envelope to gets the right message and orders up some good take out.

The Original 52 Projects

Create something during the time when you are doing your laundry. The deal with this project is that you can only work on this project when you are doing laundry. It will be known as your “laundry project.”

Some laundry project ideas:

Take photographs of the laundry mat. Take photographs in the area around the laundry mat.

Write stories that are all connected in some way to the chore of doing laundry.

Write erotic stories that all take place in a laundry mat.

Write letters to a friend. (laundry trip 1, Oct 11, 20__; laundry trip 2, November 1, 20__; laundry trip 3, November 17, 20__; etc.)

——————-

I have to do my laundry at a laundry mat. Since I hate the weekend crowds — fighting for dryers and hoping the kids running around don’t spill their canned soda (usually some bright colored orange flavored drink) all over my freshly cleaned clothes — I wake up early on a weekday and do my laundry then, when the place is empty and I have my pick of dryers. I have to get there by 6 AM so that I can still make it to work on time. Especially in the dead of winter, getting up that early is rough going. But a total lack of clean underwear or socks, not to mention a giant pile of dirty clothes, usually forces the issue. It just gets to the point where the laundry has to get done.

Once at the laundry mat, I usually just sit there bleary-eyed and tired, and zone out as I watch my clothes get soaped up and make their way through the various wash cycles. Same thing in front of the dryer. I watch the clothes tumble dry and act as if my staring will make the time left on the minutes display dwindle down faster.

Of course I bring reading material. Usually the paper. Maybe I’ll get through the gossip column, but mostly I just flip through the pages. Sometimes I pull out some paper and make a to-do list for myself, things that I have to get done once I get to work.

It’s so quiet in there, just the meditative hum of the machinery. No one around to bug me. It’s too early to make phone calls, and certainly no one is going to be calling me at that time in the morning. I’ve got a seat, as well as empty seats to the left and right of me. It’s the perfect place to get some writing done. Why do I just sit there and do nothing?

(Written on July 2, 2003, while doing laundry.)

The Original 52 Projects

List the years that you have been alive. Then, in a word, sentence or short paragraph, write down a significant memory from each year.

For years 1-4, maybe even years 1-8, you’re going to have to sit down with your parents and tap into their memories. It won’t be hard for them to come up with stories. Pull out the photo albums to make sure you’ve got the right memory for each particular year.

Distinguishing important memories from some years will be easy. The year you lost your virginity. The year you almost died. The year your first serious girlfriend dumped your ass and left you crying on the cold kitchen floor, pleading for just one more chance.

Some years won’t be so easy. You may have to make some calls and tap into the memories of friends who you hung out with during periods of time in which your own memory is kind of hazy. Some years just bleed together. Maybe you can’t quite put a finger on year 23, or 34, or 58. Thankfully, good friends have a way of remembering these years for us.

Other years, your most important memory might simply be a fragmentary piece of a fleeting moment in time, something that does not qualify as one of those significant life milestones, and yet it is without question the most significant memory you’ve got. The time you closed the door on a house for the last time. A midnight phone call that you didn’t answer, because you knew who was on the other end of the line. Reading a letter you weren’t supposed to know existed. Something someone said to you in one of those late night conversations that has shaped the way you think and feel to this very day.

This list — in the form of words, sentences, short paragraphs, or a combination of all three — is your life calling.

The Original 52 Projects

Go some place, alone. Once you are there, take a picture of yourself using the self-timer. Immediately after taking the picture, leave, and never go back to that place again. Ever.

The Original 52 Projects

On one of those rainy days when the season is not quite ready to make its shift into the next, those noticeably different, quirky days that bridge summer to fall, or winter to spring, take a picture outside the one window that you always go to when you just want to stare outside and feel comforted by the fact that you are on the inside looking out at the whole God damn world. Maybe it’s a landscape of backyards, clotheslines and patios and stacks of leaves. Your front yard and the quiet street in front of your house. A view of the city lit up at night, a sea of yellow cabs down below. The apartment building across the way, the guy on the fifth floor is just sitting in front of his window, like always.

Write down what you see. What’s always there? What changes? How long have you known the view? What do you think about when you look outside?

The Original 52 Projects

Track down a picture of every place you have ever lived.

Not the geographical location, but the physical structure that you called your home. From the house or apartment you grew up in, to your dorm room freshman year, to all the apartments in various cities and countries you’ve lived in over the years (for which you may or may not have actually been on the lease), all the way up to the place you live now.

Some of the pictures will be from parties that you threw. One will be a picture of the family in front of the house. Another will be an image of the cat sleeping on the bed. One will be of you, standing near the door and dressed to the nines, holding a beer. There may be one of a person you can’t even recall knowing sitting in a chair in your living room. There will be one place for which you won’t be able to find a single photographic record. One will be a picture of the hallway, probably taken just to use up the last picture on the roll. One will be of you and an ex, just hanging out on a lazy Sunday afternoon, taking pictures of each other because you’re still in the phase of being in awe of your mutual attraction for each other. And one will be just of the place, because you are so happy with how it looks and proud to call it yours.

The Original 52 Projects

Stay up all night.

Way, way back in the day, this meant making it through Saturday Night Live. Slumber party antics would then ensue — the dope who fell asleep first, well, he got his hand put in warm water, maybe even lifted out into the backyard if he was a real deep sleeper. I can remember vividly tying a pair of shoes together, and then, in the dark, hurling them up in the air and across the room. “Owwwww,” someone would scream. The lights would come on, and the person who got hit would spend the next hour demanding to know who threw the shoes. Eventually, everyone would be blaming everyone else.

Next phase: someone’s parents would go out of town, and the drinking would last all night. You sneak out, you stay out.

In college, we’d regularly pull “all-nighters.” How I spent all those late night hours pouring over economic theory, I’ll never know.

Soon, Jack Kerouac enters the scene. You read On the Road, and the next thing you know, you’re drinking bad coffee and writing even worse poetry at a dive diner at 3 AM.

Think about it — All the shit that can go down in one night. The party of the century. The best talk ever. Sexual reckonings. A painting. A short story. A short film. Old friends, good scotch, and the conversations you never get tired of having. New friends, cheap drinks, and discussions about favorite movies. A long drive through the middle of nowhere, stopping to get a large coffee every time you see a gas station. Pounding grooves that keep your body swaying, going way past the point where your legs feel tired. Talking and talking and just talking with the girl/guy who’s going to change your life, for one night, for years, forever. The fight that finally ends it. You lay your cards on the table, over and over again. All this and more can happen in one night.

Just don’t fall asleep.

The Original 52 Projects

Write down the story of an incident — perhaps the incident — in which you’re just lucky to be alive to tell the tale.

The Original 52 Projects

Photograph your bookshelves. Then, make a list of every book that’s on the shelves, putting a check mark next to the books that you’ve actually read.

Next, make a list of all the books that aren’t on the shelves that you’ve read over the years. Some you’ll have no problem remembering, others you won’t be able to recall. And then make still another list, this one noting all the books you want to read but haven’t — yet.

Update frequently, and keep the lists and photographs tucked away in your favorite book.

The Original 52 Projects

Find the first poem you ever wrote.

Read it over. Try to remember the story of why you wrote it, what inspired you, and who it was for. Write it all down.

Then, write a new poem. Once you’re done, date it, and put your first poem and the new one back in the place where you found the first one, so that they can both be rediscovered at some point in the future.

The Original 52 Projects