Monday, March 31, 2014

April Happening: The Library of Joy

This post originally appeared on the March 21st edition of the Insatiable Booksluts blog

I’d like you to do something for me. Just real quick, I mean honestly-five-seconds fast. Open up a google image search in a new tab and type in miniature books. Glance at the results. Just a brief little browse. Then come back here. I’ll wait.

Okay, you’re back. Is your pulse raised? Is your heart full of longing? Do you feel covetous and greedy as a child with someone else’s shiny toys? I hope you do. Because if there’s one experience that seems to be common among readers, no matter how diverse their desires otherwise, it’s the throb of delight brought on by tiny books.

TINY BOOKS! Why are they so magical, exactly? My theory is that something happens when you take an object that is powerful in its own right and you shrink it down: somehow the amount of power in it doesn’t shrink with it, and so the tiny version is not only just as potent but somehow more so, because there’s this itty bitty thing containing all the vitality and energy of something much larger. That’s a kind of magic. Think of amulets in the shape of animals or human hands or hearts or eyes, like Zuni fetishes and milagros, versus a dollhouse miniature of a table and chair: the furniture might be cute, but tables and chairs don’t mean anything by themselves, so the small version isn’t something you’d carry around with you as a good luck charm or a talisman against evil. But a tiny silver heart, or a minute stone animal, has a special aura to it that comes from the liveliness of the thing it represents – both physically and spiritually, or at least metaphysically – being packed into something you can fit in a walnut shell.)*

Okay, sure, maybe, but whatever. TINY BOOKS ARE AWESOME, AMIRITE? Right. Okay, now do me another favor. Imagine you’re in your favorite bookstore. Or you’re at the library checking out a reference volume. Or you’re a kid at the laundromat picking through the faded, dog-eared romance novels on the one bedraggled take-a-book-leave-a-book shelf. You’re just browsing. Nothing’s leaping out.

And then you spot it. Tucked away on the shelf is an Easter egg. A bright, shiny, brand-new Easter egg.

An egg like this one!
By Brianjester (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ],
via Wikimedia Commons
You pick it up, of course. There’s definitely something in it. You open it up – and there’s a tiny book inside. The book, a little slip of paper informs you, is a volume in a series calledThe Library of Joy, and it’s the tale of someone’s singular, wild, honest, heartfelt, joyous experience. And it belongs, you lucky finder you, to you.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March Happening: Mystery Dances

At 7:45 pm on March 28th, 29th, and 30th, something unexpected is going to happen in a neighborhood of San Francisco known and beloved for its many kinds of performance. Here's a little clue:

If you don't know where I'm standing, that's okay. This isn't the kind of performance you buy tickets to. It's something you stumble across, something you catch out of the the corner of your eye as you're leaving a theater or exiting a train...the kind of improbable event we all dream of seeing in a city and sometimes, if we're lucky, manage to glimpse. Cities are such strange and wonderful and brutal places, full of magic and suffering, and all my life I've loved the sense one gets (especially at night) that anything at all could happen; there's a door into a junkshop with an alchemist's kitchen in the back, a stairway up to a secret garden, a window from which spills the music of some forbidden, haunting instrument. In a city, if you look just right, you may see dancers, acrobats, or angels. This is why living in a city is worth the money and the dirt and the disenchantment: because sometimes, every so often, something senselessly beautiful actually happens.

The Museum of Joy, unsurprisingly, wants to get in on this. This is what the happenings we do are all about: the joy of an unexpected gift that you didn't do anything special to deserve but get to have anyway because sometimes life is like that. That's what Poemflowers was for; that's what our April event, the Library of Joy, is all about. And our March event, the Mystery Dance, is all about it too. Following in the tradition of West Side Story, in which the street itself becomes a glorious stage, our choreographer has created...well, I don't want to tell you too much, but it involves some rad hats. Keep your eyes open - maybe we'll see you there...

Monday, March 10, 2014

May Happening: Memorial

If there's anything the Museum loves, it's fortuitousness. That's why I was so delighted when the very fabulous Hunter Franks, founder of the Neighborhood Postcard Project, finagled me an introduction to the founder of the Hope Chronicles, an extremely cool project that asks the simple question "What do you hope for?" as a opening for compassion through conversation.

If you know me at all, you know that I struggle sometimes with words like "hope" and "compassion" and yes, "joy" too, and that one of my great fears in life is winding up misquoted on someone's inspirational Facebook page in Papyrus font (or worse, Comic Sans... *shudder*) on a picture of a flower or a girl jumping on a beach. You know, the kind of thing that shows up on Inspirational Quote Bingo cards. When I talk about the Museum, one of the first things I try to express is that what I mean by "joy" isn't double-plus happiness, it's the feeling of being broken open by something inexplicably wild and vast and painfully lovely. Joy is a transcendent feeling precisely because you can't fit it inside yourself, because it's too big for you and it spills over the edges, and that's where you get that sense of being part of something bigger - because it kinda breaks you, you crack open with the size of it (and yeah, that's how the light gets in, etc.) It's not necessarily a happy feeling, and it's not always a pretty or even a pleasant feeling; joy, as I define joy anyway, is bigger than that, dammit, it's overwhelming and a little frightening and glorious and revelatory and those things depend on a certain degree of unmanageability.

The Chapel of the Chimes is, as usual, my first thought on contemplating
the connection between loveliness and pain: it's one of the most beautiful
places in this country, and it's a columbarium, a storehouse for the ashes
of the dead. Picture by me. 
So it was really exciting to hear Sam Lundquist, the founder of the Hope Chronicles, use the word raw to talk about his conversations about hope. I like the word raw. I like it because words like raw point to exactly that unprettiness, that larger-and-more-deep-down-true feeling that hasn't had its edges polished off and its meaning wrapped up in a tidy package with a picture of a dandelion or perfectly tanned model jumping in a field with a big smile on it. I like the word raw because it's how every experience that really, really actually in-my-bones mattered to me actually felt. Bigger and wilder and stranger and scarier and more beautiful and usually painful, that particular piercing, almost bittersweet sensation we get when our hearts feel too big for our bodies. That hurts, yo.
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