The Original 52 Projects

Write in the margins of your books. Underline your favorite passages. Then, make sure to donate the books, or sell them to a used bookstore, to put them back into circulation.

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Remember in the movie Heathers, the big deal that is made out of the single word “Eskimo” that is underlined in the copy of Moby Dick?

The Original 52 Projects

Take a picture every day for a month.

Have your digital camera at the ready, and make sure to either take a picture of the same scene every day at the same time for 30 days, or just go about your day and make sure to take one picture each day for a month. You could also take a daily picture of yourself, or someone you are close to, for 30 days straight.

At the end of the month, get the photos printed and organize them into chronological order. Then, place the photos into some kind of a book or photo album, or make a poster out of them, put them in a special box, post them on a bulletin board, or hang them on a wall or along a clothesline.

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In the movie Smoke, the shopkeeper (Harvey Keitel’s character) of the smoke shop takes a picture of the street scene from the doorway of his shop every day at the same time. He’s done it for years, and keeps all the photographs in photo albums. He’s showing one of the photo albums to a regular customer (William Hurt’s character), and the customer is just hurriedly looking through the album, and the shopkeeper tells him to slow down, that he’s missing the point. The customer then starts to look at the photos more carefully, and then he finds one in which his wife, who is now dead, is captured just walking down the street.

The Original 52 Projects

Write some letters. Then, go to the library and place the letters in some books, preferably ones that aren’t checked out very often. Or, place them in books at a used bookstore, preferably books that might not be purchased for a long time. The letters can be about anything, to anyone, but keep them anonymous, untraceable. First names only, or no names at all. The people who find the letters get to imagine the lives outside of the words on paper.

The Original 52 Projects

Write down the story of the best night of your life. That’s a tall order, something that sounds good on paper, but isn’t really realistic — a million times harder than naming your favorite song or movie. So, alright, maybe this should be “Write down the stories of the most memorable nights in your life.” There are the easy ones, the landmark events: the night you lost your virginity, the night you got married (hopefully that’s not the same night). But I’m thinking more along the lines of past events that aren’t so easily identified, that might take some insignificant scene or obscure reference to bring the event back from the recesses of your memory, but once the memory is triggered, the whole event can play itself out in your mind like it happened just yesterday. The kind of event where the layers of significance are just laid bare, and without words, with just a feeling, you can fully understand how the event impacted the foundation of your character.

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It was Spring Week during my sophomore year in high school. That’s the week that has all kinds of events — rallies, competitions between the classes, a movie night — and then culminates with a big carnival and concert on Friday. But what it’s really all about is drinking and smoking pot. During lunch breaks, we were going to somebody’s house and raiding their parents’ liquor cabinet. At night, we were hanging out — in school yards or baseball diamonds or wherever we could mill about and not get caught — and doing more of the same.

So by Thursday, though we were having fun, the hanging out started to get a little old. We were restless. We wanted action. So around midnight, about 15 of us headed over to the school.

We weren’t quite delinquent enough to spray-paint graffiti all over the school, but that’s the kind of thing we wanted to do. Toilet papering the trees, well, of course that came up, but that’s old hat. We wanted to do something different.

And then it came to us. We were going to move all the school’s bike racks. And by God, for the next four hours, we moved every single bike rack from the bike rack areas. We put bike racks on rooftops, in the middle of the football field, in front of classroom doors, in front of the administration building, in trees, yes, in trees. We hoisted, carried, pushed, threw and towed bike racks until no bike racks were left to displace. We were on a mission.

The whole time, we were just beside ourselves with outright joy. We thought we were really sticking it to the administration, and that we would be the talk of the school. We were giving each other high-fives and laughing and feeling like the most powerful people in the world, that we could to anything. One guy kept screaming, “WE GOT THE BUG… WE GOT THE BUG,” referring to the spring fever bug, of course. All night long, “WE GOT THE BUG.”

The next day, I showed up to school expecting there to be all kinds of talk about the bike racks. But nothing seemed different. People were just walking to class, like they normally do.

Of course the maintenance crew gets to the school much earlier than the students. By the time we showed up, most of the bike racks had been put back. There were still some displaced bike racks here and there, but you wouldn’t have even taken a second look unless you had been involved in the effort to move them. The only people who had been affected were the people who had to move them back — the maintenance crew. No one else noticed a thing. So there was no fame, no glory, just disappointment and… guilt. But damn, we did have the bug.

The Original 52 Projects

The next time you get some bad news, or your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/best friend gets some bad news, pop open a bottle of champagne.

Don’t just go home and flip on the television, barely eat whatever happens to be in the fridge, and sit through Jag, Judging Amy, or whatever crap TV re-runs happens to be on the tube. Or if a person close to you tells you he/she’s just gotten some bad news, take it upon yourself to make sure this person doesn’t just sit on the sofa in front of the television all night and mope.

This isn’t a variation on going to a bar and getting smashed-up drunk, drowning your sorrows in beer after beer. Champagne is for celebrations — weddings, championships, election victories, job promotions, anniversaries. But at the same time, why does champagne have to be all about the good times?

Pick up a bottle of champagne, get it where it needs to be, and pop the cork. Pour the glasses and make a toast: “Shit happens,” or, “It’s always something.” Then drink it down. Because it’s, always, always something.

The Original 52 Projects

Wake up at 5 a.m.

Usually, it’s about catching a plane.

But do it just to take advantage of the quiet early morning hours. Take a walk. Go for a run. Read the paper, leisurely. Work on your novel. Read a novel. Write a note to a friend. Write a long, long entry in your journal. Make a huge breakfast. Just sit there, drink coffee, and watch the sun come up.

The Original 52 Projects

Make the perfect margarita. Then drink one, two, three or more.

Oh yes, lots of tests must be done. Second, third and fourth opinions will be necessary, so invite over your crew. Perfect for a hot, lazy Sunday afternoon, or after one of those long day’s at work, the type where a broken down copy machine leaves you mumbling curses and thinking about jumping through the window and ending it all as you make your way to the opposite side of the office to the other copier, which will no doubt be involved in a 1,000 sheet multi-sort and staple job.

There are many recipe variations for the perfect margarita, so diligent research and taste-testing is required: study your drinking guides and cook books, surf the web, ask the bartender at your favorite bar for advice, and most of all, consult your friends for details on their special, one-of-a-kind concoctions. Some notes: You don’t want to use tequila that costs over $50 a bottle in something you’ll be adding all kinds of sweet flavorings, but using Jose Cuervo is a sure fire way to keep your margaritas sub par. Just be sure to use 100 percent agave tequila. Second, forget the frozen limeade or store bought margarita mix — you definitely want to use fresh lime and lemon juice. Lastly, margaritas are best when they’re really strong but not too sweet, as are so many things that really matter in terms of the good things in life.

The Original 52 Projects

Set up an art gallery in your apartment/house.

What is it with that picture of the woman with her legs hoisted up on her dresser, sexily staring into the mirror while putting on lipstick, and the man slyly sitting back on that chair, gazing longingly? Or how about the scene of the couple wrapped up in each other’s arms and passionately kissing on a crowded street? Sure, great photos, but it seems like everyone has them hanging on their walls (especially in dorm rooms).

It’s time to take down the mass-produced posters. And yes, that includes your Matisse and Picasso poster prints.

Seek out original art, and buy it. There is original art available at whatever price level you can afford. Or, go buy some paint, brushes and some stretched canvas, and make your own paintings. Have a party and invite your guests to create a collaborative painting on a really big canvas. Frame some of your many photographs, or go out and take new photos with the intention of framing them. Build an installation in the corner of your living room. Make a sculpture out of broken coffee cups, empty wine bottles, or the scrap wood piled up behind the garage.

Put the art all over the house, of course, but designate one room, or one corner of a room, as the gallery. You don’t have to put up little cards with the name of the piece and the artist’s name, but you can definitely throw an opening party.

The Original 52 Projects

Write down the lyrics to your favorite songs.

Sometimes, you know all the words by heart. Other times you don’t know more than a few lines, especially if any of your favorite songs are by Tom Waits. Then there are songs where you know most of the lines, pretty much all of them, except for a few mystery phrases that you just can’t quite decipher, even after thousands of late night performances in your underwear in front of the mirror. A little research may be required, bit it’s worth it: You’ll definitely get a kick out of actually writing out the complete lyrics of a favorite song and seeing the words laid bare on paper. It’s surprising to see how they can either read like beautiful, layered, masterful poetry. Or, on the other side of the spectrum, the poetry of a ninth grader.

It really is the music that makes lyrics work. “Jump” by Van Halen sounds like a cool rock song. Aztec Camera’s version of “Jump” sounds like an anthem, mood and memory and all the rest of it flowing through your mind as you sing, “Oh can’t you see what I meeeeeeean.”

So make sure to play not just the music — but the right music — in your head as you write down the lyrics.

The web makes it easy to find the lyrics of most songs. Just go to any search engine and type “the name of the musician/band” + lyrics + “name of the song,” and dozens of websites will pop up with the lyrics ready for you to write up. Or, you can just pop in the music and write down the lyrics as the song plays.

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With some songs, I must admit, it’s not quite that easy. Two of my favorite songs are sung in languages I do not know. One of the songs is from a tape given to me years back by an ex-girlfriend of some musicians she met while living in another country. It was recorded in a living room. It’s an original piece with some of the most beautiful, haunting melodious singing I have ever heard. The other song is from a movie soundtrack, just a gorgeous song that rattles and shakes even the guarded fibers of practiced poker faced emotions. Part of me is afraid to get the lyrics translated — I don’t want the actual words to alter what these songs mean to me. But there’s also a good chance that these songs will have even more impact once the lyrics are revealed to me. Being a word man, it’s a chance worth taking.

The Original 52 Projects

Help your friends get lucky.

Have a dinner party on the next Friday the 13th. Invite all of your good friends. At the end of the meal, no matter what kind of cuisine you’ve served, bring out a tray of fortune cookies.

Make sure to organize the tray so that you know who gets which fortune cookie. The reason for this is because earlier in the day, you carefully pulled out whatever fortunes were in the cookies, and replaced them with fortunes specific for each of your friends. You know them well enough to craft just the perfect individualized fortunes: “Monica, you will lose your writer’s block and will write the perfect ending to your novel-in-progress,” or “John, you will pass the bar exam, no problem,” or “Alex, your trip to Europe is going to be full of adventure and will include not just sex, but sexual options,” or “Sam, those boots you just bought are going to quadruple your already potent knockout status.”

The Original 52 Projects