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Ten Thousand Flowers and the Advice I Didn’t Take

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but I am a chronic procrastinator and the calcified layers of habit that had formed around not posting here made it hard to break through to actually posting here. But right now I’m convalescing from a car wreck (no bones broken but lots of bruising) and the pain has diminished enough that I can focus on writing for long enough stretches to bash out a blog post.

So. Of the five classical senses, drawing flowers only really engages sight and touch. (It would be pretty weird if it engaged the sense of smell.) Hearing gets left out unless I focus on the scritch scritch scritch of the pen on the index card. Because of this, I like to have something going on to engage that part of my brain. For a while, I was watching shorts and movies by RiffTrax, because I was familiar enough with them that I didn’t have to glance up at the screen very much. (Many of the shorts are just riffers versus authoritative disembodied voices anyway.) More recently, I’ve started using podcasts. One of the first ones I glommed on to was Bill Corbett’s Funhouse, hosted by Bill Corbett of RiffTrax fame. In it, Bill, his co-host Brandi Brown, and at least one other panelist discuss a topic, plug books and movies and other media that they liked and offer advice to listeners who write in.

So I wrote in.

This is what I sent to the designated email address:

Dear Funhouse Crew—

I’ve gotten myself into a mess, and I need some advice on how to get out of it.

Back in 2011, I embarked on something I called The Ten Thousand Flowers Project. The object is to draw ten thousand flowers on index cards and give them away to people. (I can’t really draw, but I don’t let that stop me.) I am quite convinced that I was hypomanic at the time, because I was churning the things out at the rate of ten a day, and figured I’d be done inside of three years. Then the Wheel of Bipolar took another rotation and plunged me into depression, and I was lucky to get one flower a day done.

Since then, I’ve been diagnosed (bipolar II, the less exciting sequel to bipolar I) and treated and have the worst of my symptoms under control. I have been making flowers at the steady rate of two a day, so I should be done in about a decade. (I’ve even started listening to the podcast while I draw.)

And here we get to the mess. I’ve been great about drawing, but absolute SHIT on the “giving them away” part. When I first started the project, hypomania convinced me that all I needed to do was set up a website, set up an address to send a SASE to, put up my flowers on Twitter (@wonderbink) and then sooner or later it would all go viral and I wouldn’t be lacking for interested people. I can tell by the way you’re shaking your heads right now that you understand why this particular strategy did not work. I started working up the nerve to hand out the flowers at various events where creative people gather. (I actually gave a flower to Bill at DragonCon, though I doubt he remembers.) That’s made a significant dent in the backlog, but I currently have over TWO THOUSAND FLOWERS in untidy stacks by my bookcase, waiting to be distributed. And the things are still stacking up at the rate of two a day.

I’m in a bit of a Sorcerer’s Apprentice situation here. Any suggestions on how to get out of it, short of quitting altogether?

Thank you kindly,

Sheila the Wonderbink

I didn’t expect much. I kept drawing flowers and kept listening to the podcast and then along came Episode 14 – Pea Sea, wherein they discussed political correctness, top ten movie lists, and a kid’s anime starring a polar bear who runs a cafe. After an interlude by Joseph Scrimshaw about Mary Poppins Returns, they got to the advice portion of the program, wherein they discussed a letter sent in by someone calling herself Sheila the Wonderbink.

The first one to speak up was the guest star of the evening, Bryan Miller. He urged me to see the project through to completion and suggested I put a stamp or a sticker on the back so people would know the significance of the flower. I thought these were both grand ideas and vowed to implement them.

Then Brandi stepped up to the mike and gave a very different take. She urged me to forget sunk costs and give up the project entirely. Bill seconded the motion.

This was my visceral reaction:

NO!

Nonononononononono!

WON’T!

Nuh-uh. Nope. Not.

Upon a second listen, once the outrage had died down, I noted that Bill and Brandi were urging me to quit if it was making me so miserable. Which it isn’t, really. If it was, my reaction would have been enormous relief rather than digging my heels in. So even if I didn’t take the advice, it was still good advice because it forced me to think about how important this project is to me.

As for the advice I did take, I used the mailing labels I already had on hand and found that they were a perfect size for putting on the back of a 3″ x 5″ index card.

I go through a lot of them.

The sticker reads as follows: This flower is part of The Ten Thousand Flowers Project. Thank you for your participation! www.wonderbink.com/10kflowers

So, has my problem been solved? Nope. I still have over three thousand flowers drawn and less than a thousand given away. I have gotten a couple of SASEs in my mailbox from a gent who also listens to the podcast, though, so that’s something. And right now there’s not much I can do in the handing out of flowers, given I’m using a cane to get around and I really need both hands free to give away stuff with.

But in the meantime, I can still draw. Think I may do that now, actually.

Even More Fun With Spam!

I returned from my long absence to this blog to find a slew of comments caught in the moderation queue. Unfortunately, every single one of them belonged there.

Yes! Finally someone writes about Лучшее порево.

Russian! The official language of spam!

Evenyore would benefit from reading this post

Well, by all means, tell Evenyore and direct them to this post.

Pokemon remakes for songs are awmoese, too. :DI’m not gonna’ Raichu a love song, cause you Ash for it, cause you Nidoran. CHANSEY!I don’t know if you’re in a straight jacket the situation demands a new name.

I’m going to guess that you had a lot of tabs open to a lot of different blogs and got your comment fields mixed up.

Shadow, Kallista.Haha. *laughs like a lunatic*Lemme see. I’ve given grnmeils food. And guns.Not to mention made zombies giants, and given them weapons. Andgiven vamps weapons.Lets also mention a teaparty withaliens.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that this one was directed to the post More Fun With Spam!

Every time i miss you, a star falls.So if you ever look up at the sky and the stars are gone,its because you made me miss you too much!Be my Valentine!

Why, thank you wiij2aavdny@outlook.com. By the way, it helps reading comprehension if you put at least one space between sentences.

Harry potter seires? Once.SP? Three times after I finished mortal coil, and when DB can out I read all my fav parts of it a million times. They’re all my fav parts.I used to know all the spells in HP, then I forgot some of them.

I’m very impressed that you were able to learn spells from the Harry Potter books. Perhaps you should demonstrate for James Randi.

My guy sucked on my neck and chest but it didn’t leave a mark. It still feels relaly good. So if you want one but doont want amark just tell him to suck but not hard.

I once dated a guy who gave himself a hickey on his leg so he could claim he got in an accident on his motorcycle in order to take a day off from work. (Seriously, I did.)

I’d like to try and do these more frequently. This is not a heavily trafficked blog, but I’m certainly not lacking for spam to make fun of.

Rich Living: Away From the Screens

I have an iPhone. I do not complain about this. I’m slowly learning Spanish with Duolingo, and I was able to lose all the weight that medication had put on me with LoseIt. But social media was threatening to become my downfall. I was checking things constantly and ignoring the world around me, which made me a bit of a hypocrite in terms of Presence. There was also a compulsive quality that I didn’t like about it. I’ve had soft addictions like that before, and eventually they stopped making me happy. It’s one of the reasons I left Facebook.

So I decided I needed to do something about it. I offer it to anybody else who would like to cut down on their social media intake and spend a little more time in Presence.

Before I had an iPhone to fill in the dull moments like waiting in line, I had a catbook to write in.  I still do. Any time I venture into the world, I have these four things in my pockets or purse–keys, wallet, iPhone and catbook. (I once explained my habit to a friend of mine by putting the catbook on the bar we were sitting at and saying “These are my cigarettes.” and then putting the pen next to it and saying “This is my lighter.”)

This is what I do–I stop myself from going through my social media streams by barring myself from doing so until I have written something in my catbook first. Or written anywhere–my diary, one of my blogs, a Sub-C session, or one of the composition books where I hash out notes for novels. I also use my ToDo app to earn a round of social media. I have tasks that renew daily ranging from “exercise” and “take meds” to “work on current writing project” and “practice guitar.” If I perform one of those tasks, I get to check my streams.  If I do two things in a row, I do not earn two sessions back to back–I get to do one, and then I have to earn a fresh one before I can go at it again.

When I’m out, I pretty much stick to the catbook to earn my social media session, except in emergencies like being in a dimly lit club where I can’t see the page clearly. Then I use Day One to pour out my seething brain. You can also use whatever kind of note-taking app that comes with your phone, if you’d rather not spend the money.

With the time that’s freed up, you can enjoy your surroundings and talk to the people in your vicinity. Unless, of course, they’re bent over their own phones.

Rich Living: One Sense at a Time

Much has been written about presence and mindfulness, so I won’t bore you be repeating it.  Instead I’ll simply cut directly to a technique I use to bring myself into the present moment.

Presence is when we get out of the ramblings of our heads and fully occupy the world around us.  Focusing on the senses is a common practice in mindfulness.  But it didn’t occur to me until quite recently that I don’t have to focus on all my senses at once to experience presence.  One sense at a time will do.

The one I use the most often is hearing.  When I make I cup of tea, I listen to the water pouring into the kettle, the clank of the kettle as I put it on the stove and the chime of the spoon against the inside of the cup as I stir the sugar in.  When I wash my hands, I hear the rush of the water and the flow of it down the drain.  When I can hear them, I listen to my footsteps.  Or the whirr of the fan in the space heater.  Or the whisper of the leaves outside my window.  I also notice the silences between each sound, and the murmury noises that keep things from being completely silent.

I also take in the things I see.  I notice the colors and textures of things and look at their shapes.  I can see how those shapes fit together–the table, the books on the table, the covers on the books, the shapes and colors on the covers of the books.  The important thing is to see the thing and stop there, without getting caught up in what the thing is or how you feel about it.  Writing is particularly distracting, but I can always read and then refocus on the visual.

We often ignore the sense of touch.  We notice it when we brush our fingertips against things, but every inch of our skin is laden with nerves that detect heat, cold, pressure, pleasure and pain.  Sometimes I go beyond my fingertips and feel my clothes against my skin.  I feel the ground against the soles of my feet as I walk, even with the intermediary of shoes.  When I’m driving, I’ll feel the steering wheel in my hands and my seat underneath me.  I feel the heat or the cold from the heater or air conditioning.  All of this brings my body and mind into the present, where everything happens.

The essence of rich living is to fully occupy your life, which you can’t do if you’re not paying any attention to it.  Engaging your senses allows you to capture all the miracles around you without letting them slip past.  Try it sometime and see how it works for you.

Rich Living: Unwandering the Mind

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in

And stops my mind from wandering

Where it will go

–The Beatles, “Fixing a Hole”

The mind wanders.  Whether this is a bug or feature depends perhaps on when it wanders and where it wanders to.  It can make tedious situations bearable and can bear the seedlings of great ideas.  But daydreaming can also lead to spirals of thought that send one veering downwards into worry and depression, especially when it gets stuck on one particular thing.

There are a lot of techniques for pulling out of that tailspin–meditation, mindfulness and so on–but there’s one that I stumbled on that I carry in my pocket that may be of some use to you.

In brief, it involves talking back to the wandering mind.  In detail, I’ve come up with a number of phrases–you can modify them to ones that work for you, of course, but feel free to use these as starting points–to interrupt the line of thought and shift myself back into the present.

“But that will never happen.”

“That’s not the way it happened.”

“It’s over and I can’t change it.”

But that will never happen

One of my most common wanderings involves conjuring up worst case scenarios for things in the future or somethings even in the present.  They can be theoretically possible things, or completely outlandish ones.  Either way, they are anxiety inducing and tend to catch up the mind in all kinds of ruminations–I’m going to fall and break this thing I’m carrying, they’re going to hate me, I’m going to say something incredibly rude.  (These are examples of worst case scenarios that I have indeed gotten my head stuck on.)  The antidote is a simple phrase: “But that will never happen.”  All at once, the daydream nightmare (daymare?) dissolves and the mind, with nowhere else to be, returns to the present moment.

Sometimes the thing I’m thinking about is a future event that will happen to me.  A meeting with the boss, for example.  I might find myself rehearsing the things I’m going to say and imagining the things my boss is going to say.  More often than not, I find myself mentally defending against the harshest possible questions.  In this case, “But that will never happen” still works for me.  Yes, the meeting with the boss is going to happen, but it will not happen in the exact way that I’m imagining it.  My predictions of what the boss is going to say are likely to be way off base, for example.  So I take a breath and let it go.  Sometimes I do rehearse, but I try to do it mindfully and deliberately instead of letting it rattle about it in my head while I’m waiting in the checkout line.

That’s not the way it happened

Another place my head gets stuck in is the past.  I rehash things that happened and often rewrite them so I can, for example, say the things I wish I could have said in conversation or restructure the sequence of events to the way I wish things had gone.  When rewriting, I stop it with “That’s not the way it happened.”  Once again, that stops the brain’s wandering and restores the present moment.

It’s over and I can’t change it

When I manage to rehash what did happen without amending it, it can be stopped with “It’s over and I can’t change it.  Let it go.”  (In point of fact, “Let it go” can work as an all purpose phrase to halt brain ramblings in their tracks.  Though it does run the risk of getting a Disney song stuck in your head.)  Accepting what was is crucial to one’s peace of mind.  Going over what happened doesn’t advance you, particularly when the things you’re going over are only making you miserable.

The essence of it is to bring the brain back to the present, where all life happens.  Spending your time in a swamp of negativity that is ultimately ephemeral doesn’t gain you much of anything.  But with a regular practice of pulling yourself out of that swamp, you can spend more time in the now and savor its riches.

Ten Thousand Flowers and the Courageous Offer

Naked City is something of a cross between an open mic and a game show.  People sign up to perform, they are called up at random and they are given five minutes to do whatever.  If they go over five minutes, they must spin The Wheel of Consequences, which can result in anything from free drinks (either for you on the hosts’ tab or for the hosts on your tab) to bags of booze and dollar store trinkets to being recruited for a short piece of performance art.

The Wheel of Consequences

The view from my seat

Each show has a theme.  The theme for this month was Courage.  I could have told a tale or two about the times I’ve shown courage in my life but instead I decided to do something courageous as a demonstration.  Instead of a written piece, I would do a performance of sorts–I would hand out my flowers to anyone who wanted them.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I’ve been reasonably good at producing flowers but not so good as distributing them.  Approaching people to offer them free art feels a little too much like salesmanship and I am not a salesman.  But I worked up my nerve to sign up and when my number was called I went up and explained what I was about to do.  I invited people to come up to the podium and receive a flower.

I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Or, rather, I had expectations, but they were contradictory ones.  My pessimistic self claimed that no one would come up at all.  My cautious self suggested a few would.  My optimistic self predicted that lots of people would come and that they would be happy to receive the flowers.

My optimistic self won the bet.  People were on their feet, lining up in what one person called a more fun version of communion.  They were delighted and I was too.  It happened so swiftly that I didn’t even have to spin the Wheel of Consequences either.

As per usual when I face down a fear, I felt a surge of bliss as a result.  People thanked me for the flowers and congratulated me for my display of courage.

I still have hundreds to give away.  I’ll just have to keep being courageous.

 

Click here to learn more about The Ten Thousand Flowers Project.

Freeing the Labyrinth

Just next to my local library, there is a labyrinth.  Instead of a minotaur, the center holds a white post which says “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in a multiplicity of languages.

A labyrinth in the snow

Not a recent picture.

The path is defined with brick and covered with gravel over bare earth.  Over time, the gravel has thinned and weeds and grass have taken hold.  In the thick of summer, the weeds can get so high that the path is obscured completely.  So I started pulling up weeds.

Half weeds, half weeded

Example

But I came to the hardest conclusion I’ve had to come to, which is the realization that I can’t do this alone.

So, what are you going to do about it?

My plan is to recruit help with this enormous task and beat back the weeds so they won’t need to mow the place just to keep the path visible.

How do you plan to do that?

First, I’ve set a date and time–August 23rd, 2014 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.  Next, I’ve put the word out in a few select venues that this thing is happening.  And third, I’m putting up this blog post to spread the word that way.

Where is this, again?

It’s just behind Sandy Springs Library at 395 Mount Vernon Hwy NE, Sandy Springs, GA 30328.  (Note: the parking lot closest to it only has an entrance on the Mount Vernon side of the library.)

What should people expect?

They should expect to come dressed for dirty work and bring whatever gardening implements they think may help.  There’s plenty of weeding to go around.  They should probably wear sunscreen and definitely bring water.

Why would anybody want to do this?

Because it’s a helpful thing to do that makes the place better for everyone.

Any other questions?  Leave ’em in the comments and I’ll try to get to them as soon as I’m able.

 

 

 

Ten Thousand Flowers and the Accumulations of Solitude

I think if this peculiar project has taught me anything, it’s that I never would have made it as a professional artist.  Because I can’t even give the stuff away.

A stack of flowers

Exhibit A

In terms of production, I’m still slightly behind the rate of a flower a day that I’d originally set for myself, because the Head Gremlins managed to stop me for long stretches and I haven’t quite caught up yet.  It probably doesn’t help that the number of Flowers As Yet To Be Given Away has stacked up to the point that a hundred people could suddenly hit me up for flowers and I’d still have another few hundred to spare.

I’m still figuring out the best way to give these things away in a way that doesn’t obliterate the message I’m hoping to send with this.  I don’t want to market or monetize these flowers and I want to make sure they are led to places where they will be kept, rather than discarded like advertising flyers and other such free things we take for granted.  (I found a few on the floor when I gave away a stack of them on New Year’s Eve and it absolutely broke my heart to see them there.  I picked them up, dusted them off and later found them better homes.)

Until I catch the viral infection of Warhol Syndrome and get that precious fifteen minutes to spread the word in, I guess all I can do it what I’ve been doing so far in my tortoise steps to that finish line marked by the ten thousandth flower.

I finished Flower 680 today.  I still have a ways to go.

Click this link to find out more about the Ten Thousand Flowers Project.

 

Ten Thousand Flowers and the Fate of Flower #71

Today, according to my calculations, is the one year anniversary of the day I embarked on this mad project.  The gremlins in the head did win enough battles, so that my current rate is a little less than a flower a day, but I hope to rectify that soon.

It was easy enough to keep track of things when I was mailing them out in the order I received requests, but when I starting going out into the world and handing them out personally it became a little harder to calculate what I’d given away and what I still had to give.  Fortunately, I number and date each flower as I draw it, so it’s not impossible, it just takes a little more work.

I don’t keep track of what happens to each flower by number, other than this one particular exception, because Flower #71 has a different story than any other flower I’ve drawn so far.

When I heard about Free Art Friday in Atlanta, my first thought was “That sounds like fun!  I want to play, too!”  The only problem was, markers and index cards aren’t exactly the most weatherproof of mediums.  My attempted solution was to paint up an empty Coke bottle, place the flower inside, cork it and wrap the cork in foil in the hopes of protecting the delicate medium from the elements.

A bottle, a note and a drawing of a flower

I hope that someone gets my . . .

There turned out to be two fundamental problems with this bit of presumed cleverness.  One was that it didn’t work.  The other was that it didn’t work.

It didn’t work because I placed it somewhere where nobody was really looking.  And it didn’t work because despite my best efforts to clean out the bottle and seal it properly, a bit of lingering moisture got in and when I finally extracted the flower from the bottle the results were not pretty.

a drawing of a flower with mold spots on it

This? Not pretty.

I held on to it for a few months, trying to figure out what to do with it.  I felt awful about the idea of giving it to someone in the state it was in and even withdrew it from circulation until I came to a decision.

This was my solution:

flower burning in improvised cauldron

...one day this will all be ashes...

I shot video for as long as I could manage before I needed two hands to light another match.  By the end of it, I was reduced to spiking it on a hatpin gripped with pliers and holding it over a candle like a toasted marshmallow.

It felt surprisingly liberating.  Now I can let my flowers go and know that whatever happens to them, it can’t be any worse than what I’ve already done to Flower #71.

Click the magic link to learn more about the Ten Thousand Flowers Project.

Ten Thousand Flowers and the New Domain

I’ve done a bit of tweakery to simplify the link to the Ten Thousand Flowers project and I decided to go ahead and register the domain 10KFlowers.com to point here.  (I’m still keeping Wonderbink.com, though, because who else would want it?)

It’s been not quite a year since I embarked on this crazy idea and it’s a bit disheartening to realize that my current flower count is rather less than it would have been if I’d drawn a flower a day from the start.  There were long stretches of time where the gremlins won out and nothing got drawn.  I’m still hoping to make up for that.

Still, I am further ahead than if I’d done nothing at all.  My little tracking system is still intact, and showing signs of some kind of progress.

219 and counting

...a progression of tiny dots...

And flowers 191 through 200 do look a touch better than flowers 1-10.

Flowers 191-200

(and they were all drawn on the same day, too)

Now that it’s warm enough to venture outside, there are more art festival type events where I can plant myself and try to find more people willing to take these flowers off my hands and give them proper homes.  I’m also glad to mail them to anybody who sends me a SASE.  And if you’re reading this and you’re one of the lovely people who already has one, thank you from the bottom of my fractured heart.

Click here to obtain one of these ten thousand flowers.