Did you know that you can request a greeting from POTUS for a special occasion, such as birthday anniversary for those turning 80, and for veterans turning 70, for wedding anniversaries, and for a number of other special events?
Today my dear friend Ray turns 80. So I wrote to the White House a couple of months ago, hoping that a letter signed by the President of the United States would arrive on time to be included in Ray’s FromABirdie book of letters. Well it did. Only it got here one day too late, hours after we had presented the book to him at his birthday party last week.
So better even, I thought. Instead of including it in the book, I will hand it to him unopened, on his actual birthday. Only no one (including Ray) knows whether his birthday is on November 13th or one day later… But does it really matter?…
you figure out
how you do it
Teo, my 5-year old, has been watching us go through our daily grind of building a company. Apparently, he also has been having some thoughts of his own on just *how* to do something new. So he scribbled down this simple little poem. A kindergartener’s mantra of staccato-ed sounds. More for himself than for anyone else, of course. Yet I wanted to share it with you, all you brave beginners out there. For to be a beginner - at the age when you think “you ought to have learned everything by now” - is a vulnerable place to be in. You are full of doubt. You think you are alone. You put yourself out there and wonder, will I be understood? It takes a single-minded drive and an unquenchable desire to do whatever-IT-is-that-you-want-to-do. And then you find out that IT requires tuning into your beginner’s mind, into your own inner 5-year-old.
My friend Laura Miller writes so beautifully in her new article, Absolute Beginners: “Beginner’s mind is good for us. There is flexibility and fluidity in not knowing. It is not proud; it is pure. There is no room in a beginner’s mind for anything else but what it is doing. It takes in nothing but what is directly in front of it and requires its full attention. It is a true meditation. All parts of our self flowing together, cooperating, and integrating.”
What will you try doing today that you have been wanting to do for a long time, but never dared?… ;)
Sincerely yours, Agustin and Anita, recently talked to ABC40/Fox news about how we started FromABirdie, and where we are hoping to be headed.
This week, Memorier.com, a division of FromABirdie.com, is launching a new pilot program. It involves collaboration with 15 funeral homes across the U.S., and will serve families offering them a unique opportunity to create on-line Life Capsule for their loved one, and to print a book of memories, stories, anecdotes, photographs and other memorabilia as a keepsake for family and friends. We extend our deepest gratitude to all the participants!
On May 25th, FromABirdie delivered 112 books, 1902 letters, and 3314 pages to the teachers and staff at the Noor Ul Iman (NUI) school’s Staff Appreciation Lunch in NJ. The books of letters were coordinated by the extraordinary NUI PTO members. We are so thrilled and grateful to have had this opportunity, and hope to work on many future collaborations with PTOs and PGAs everywhere!
Here’s some of the feedback we received after that May event:
"The Staff Appreciation was a bigger success than I imagined. About an hour after lunch was served and gifts handed out, teachers started coming up to me asking if they could give me a hug. Some had tears in their eyes. We heard emotional conversations similar to, "She remembered me…", "This brings back old memories", "I will cherish this book forever", "This is invaluable", "This is so special", "You should’ve given us a box of tissue as well", "This is the best gift every", etc….
Since I started my kids at NUI, my exposure to most teachers has been limited to the Elementary grade. So it’s a surprise that teachers I don’t know are just coming and giving me hugs. It was such an emotional and sweet day for them. Hard to believe, but EVERYONE was smiling including the teachers/staff that don’t smile. :)
It was very special for me knowing that we made a DIFFERENCE in teachers lives. They went home knowing that someone does appreciate all that they do. They will be motivated to do better.” (Teacher)
"You all made this one of the most memorable moments for many staff members. Several teachers had said they were crying while reading their book time and time again." (Elementary Division Head)
"I simply loved the letter booklet that I received with all the heartwarming notes in them." (Day Care Staff)
"I saw a number of staff with tears when they read The Album of Letters that the PTO put together for each staff member through the Letter From a Birdie Program. I personally will treasure my book always." (High School Division Head)
"Thank you so much for the very special gift - it was wonderful to see and hear how much it touched so many teachers! Thank you for all the work that must have taken to have produced the books containing appreciative notes from students or staff for all of the teachers. It was truly such a thoughtful gesture." (School Administration)
I read a handout on a recent prescription and was warned of the following side effect: having a false sense of well-being.
Could be me. Seriously. How do I know if that good feeling I’m feeling is actually false? Will my good friends tell me? Isn’t that feeling a good thing? Is it optimism? Is it courage? false in terms of what? in terms of whom? If I believe it, it isn’t true? What facts will prove my sense of well-being is false, not true? I’m trapped in dualistic thinking, a side effect of reading prescription labels.
I knew as a child that I could develop a deep relationship with art and music, taste that richness, and the use of my mind was free. I joined libraries, read books. I walked in Nature, beach to mountains, waves to rocks, curbs to cliffs. I got a camera. I learned to draw.
I grew up with New England frugality - use it up, wear it out, do without. In the ’70s I was attracted to the Society of Friends notion of Simple Living as a spiritual path. It was not-selling-out. It was bohemianism. It was and still is one of my art forms. It’s been liberating. A life lived at human scale - the scale of one-to-one. To have enough and not be dragging around baggage, which is close to garbage. I’ve been lucky in my friendships; it’s where my real wealth is.
One summer I considered the corn growing in the fields; it kept me centered all summer as I drove past the ripening corn, hunting for a job, feeling bad. My boogiemen were named laziness, sloth, and slacking, but it was simply me rooting, growing, reaching.
I recently read about Mullainathan and Shafir’s research: "Poverty and all its related concerns require so much mental energy … there’s less bandwidth left to solve problems. Your cognitive ability starts to slow down."
I also know the feeling when simple living devolves into a scary, complicated reality.
Also seen in the news: “The prescription for Facebook despair is less Facebook. Researchers found that face-to-face or phone interaction — those outmoded, analog ways of communication …. Direct interactions with other human beings led people to feel[ing] better.”
Duh. That old human touch: a visit, a phone call, a letter. Everything in 2013 is touched by electronics, including our hearts. “Text me, follow me, friend me,” my e-heart says.
But hugs given generously give me a sense of well-being, truly, that a tweet never has.
- Roberta Fountain
*Image © anita līcis-ribak, 2013
Features fragment of ‘Diary of Elizabeth and James Dixon’ by James Welling
Today we want to share two recent academic papers that give backing to the ideas behind FromABirdie.
The first one, “Expressive Writing and Wound Healing in Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial" describes an experiment in which adults, after undergoing a biopsy that left a wound, were asked to spend 20 minutes a day writing either about their emotions or about regular time management needs. After just 11 days, 76% those who had written about emotions had the wound healed, compared to just 42% of the other group.
The explanation is that stress and depression are correlated with slower recovery times. Traditional therapies have focused on lowering stress through physical exercise, but this work shows that expressive writing (writing that focuses on deep emotions) can have positive results as well. We see this on people who write FromABirdie letters for sadder occasions, like a friend who has cancer or someone who has passed away — the initial reaction when invited to write is one of dread (what can I say?) but once they have finished their letter they write to us to thank us for an opportunity that leaves them feeling positive, happy to have made a difference for a friend.
The other paper, “Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults”, measures what we have been suspecting all along: that instead of making us feel better and more connected, Facebook leaves us feeling worse. Researchers sent text messages every couple of hours to participants, asking how they felt (right now, and in general about their lives) and how much they had used Facebook. The results indicate that
Facebook use predicts negative shifts on both of these variables over time. The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time.
And, by the way, “[These leves of decline] were […] not moderated by the size of people’s Facebook networks, their perceived supportiveness, motivation for using Facebook, gender, loneliness, self-esteem, or depression”
Correlation, or causation? Could the arrow go in the other way, and the low levels of satisfaction encourage people to use Facebook more? Maybe people use Facebook more when they feel bad, and it’s that bad feeling that results in lower life satisfaction (rather than Facebook use per-se)? The researchers explain that ”[sone of the] analyses we reported earlier partially address this issue by demonstrating that affect does not predict changes in Facebook use over time” (in other words, you don’t use Facebook more often when you’re feeling down), and “Facebook use continues to significantly predict declines in life satisfaction over time when controlling for affect” (in other words, even when they group all participants by their initial level of wellbeing, the decline within each group is still relevant).
There’s a lot more detail in the paper, which I recommend reading. Here, to make the point, are the authors’ concluding remarks:
The human need for social connection is well established, as are the benefits that people derive from such connections. On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling such needs by allowing people to instantly connect. Rather than enhancing well-being, as frequent interactions with supportive “offline” social networks powerfully do, the current findings demonstrate that interacting with Facebook may predict the opposite result for young adults—it may undermine it.
That’s what we’ve all been suspecting (see Sherry Turkle’s “Alone Together” to explore these ideas further).
And that’s why at FromABirdie we are trying to leverage modern technology to recover the modes of interaction and connection that have served us so well for centuries : slow, private, persistent.
- Agustin Schapira
Stardust Portrait No.11595
Infinity came up this morning. First the question, what does it mean when the word is used as an adjective, then the curiosity to imagine what infinity means within my so-finite life lived under “the constraint of time.”
I needed some uplifting this morning and participated in Sergio Albiac’s Stardust Portrait experiment using generative strategies to create art. He aims to “produce as many artworks as possible (during a limited time, beginning 18th of June 2013). An automated process will create human portraits as generative collages.”
I uploaded an unflattering selfie to my Google Drive cloud and a portrait was regenerated from images of space taken by the Hubble. I am drawn in stardust and bubbles of interstellar gases, my left eye revealed! The image generated is available to me in 3 versions on my Google Drive. Having spent my teen years obsessively reading science fiction (the way I now read mysteries), to see myself in stars—in space—I’m thrilled by this visualization.
Generated portraits are now exhibited at the flickr Stardust Portrait exhibition. These portraits are haunting and beautiful; this is a gift from the artist, an experience that money won’t buy. We see ourselves imagined differently, both by a distinctive notion and a different technique, imagined and drawn in infinite light.
I like the perspective of being stardust. I see myself in a new light—starlight—but I wish I had sent my glam shot instead. I’m portrait number 11595.
Participation is free; you need to have a Google account. Instructions are on the site.
Albiac: "What if we use technology to outsource the creation of art so more of these potential artworks are finally created? Modelling artistic decisions into software would provide a generative assistant that could even survive an artist in the creation of meaningful works of visual art. This project is a first experiment around this concept."
- Roberta Fountain
Stardust Portrait No.11581
Stardust Portrait No.11576 (Doesn’t he look like Messi?)
I rode a train, met a new young friend, who thinks I should blog. Say what?
She, a champion swimmer, claims she’s not creative. I said I doubt that very much.
I told her creativity is problem solving, making decisions. I forgot to tell her it’s also play.
And makeup artists are called artists for a reason; tell me making up a beautiful eye is not a creative act, ephemeral, enjoyed on the wing.
I don’t believe creativity is limited to using defined art supplies bought only from a store labeled as an art supply provider. Art supplies are all around, stuff yearning to be transformed, reanimated. Once I dropped out of art school because I didn’t have money to buy supplies to meet the assignments. I had an assignment to work with wood, but I had no money to buy wood to sculpt with. I looked around, but didn’t recognize the wood lying around in an old garden, twigs and limbs and living wood. Now, I recognize materials all around me as art supplies. What I put my hands to can be transformed with imagination and play.
I especially like artists who work with what the environment gives them in specific places - the work of Andy Goldworthy comes to mind. Goldworthy is a British sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist who has been producing ephemeral site-specific sculpture and land art for decades. His lovely work with wood, water, life, and time changes, shifts, melts back into the materials it came from. Sculptures of ice, streams of leaves, sand in tide – transient beauty existing in one day, documented, gone from real time, shared in archives.
I am looking for a way to reanimate relationships, to make an art of it: to express tenderness; to support a friend’s endeavor; to admire a lifetime’s work. Look around; a little birdie told me this creative service is free: An Album of Letters.
— Roberta Fountain
Hello Mars, I say. Recently I had the chance to communicate with Martians. Seriously, NASA’s Maven “Going to Mars” campaign let’s you participate by submitting an entry to be burned on a DVD flown aboard the Maven spacecraft on its journey to Mars late in 2013. You can simply send your name and a short message, or write a haiku for Mars. You get to print out a cool Certificate of Participation.
My message was short and sweet, just a hello, but I wish I’d taken time to compose a poem. You still have time, until July 1, to submit greetings. Throughout July there’s public on-line voting for the top haiku. Anybody on this planet can participate! Adults 18 and over may create a log-in to submit a name and message, either for themselves or on behalf of their child/student. Only one name and one message per person is permitted, and messages must be in English. The messages are being coordinated at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The DVD will carry every name submitted, and three haikus selected by the public. This is our chance to make a personal connection to space, space exploration, and science in general. Share the excitement. So my name is going into orbit! This thrills me. This connects my lifelong interests in science and space and the dream of reaching out, beyond earthly limits. Find out more on their website.
Closer to earth, is our own From a Birdie, an innovative interaction-based Slow Web way of communicating: Letters electronically written and delivered in a web-based album on the day of your choice.
Dear me, Who to get personal with? With whom? I have to make a list — people to be tender to, people to honor, people to acknowledge, to support, to woo. Letters of connection, even those I don’t have the guts to send, letters conceptual. I’m taking the time.
And you can also create an album for a closer friend.
And why is it easier for me to write a message to Mars than finish my letter to Massachusetts?
— Roberta Fountain