Month: March 2012

Embracing the tiny, Day 19: Full of care

a packet of teas, nicely tied

It doesn’t take all that long to tie up a packet of teas with a nice piece of string. But doing it 640 times takes a long, long time.

Yet that is what the fine organizers of the conference I’m attending did. Along with a number of other small things I can’t disclose, lest I ruin the surprise.

But that today’s conference will be extraordinary? That’s no surprise. No surprise at all.

I cannot think of a better way of tying up March.


UPDATE: Of course, I discover after the fact that my friend, Jolie, is the tie-er of delightfully tiny ribbons. Among other small and wonderful things. Of course.

This is Day 19 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Embracing the tiny, Day 18: Land of the Super Grown-ups

brass door handle that says "pull"

Do you remember what the world looked like when you were four years old?

How tall everything was, and how mysterious? How grownups navigated these mysterious things with astonishing agility—driving cars, getting on and off buses at the right stops, counting change, ordering food. And how they seemed to just know, without anyone having to show them (much less show them again and again, as you needed to learn things like shoelaces and chopsticks and bedtime).

When you spied something with a sign on it, with letters or instructions, you clung to it: it was a hint, a clue, some foothold in this bewildering world you would never, ever master. You’d whisper the word to yourself if you could, working out the letters, testing.

You do master it, of course, or at least some of it: adding up numbers and signing your name and cooking a hamburger. Other parts remain always a little out of reach, the domain of SuperGrownups who know how to navigate the rapids of change, or can manage to remember that the blues, too, will pass.

Perhaps that’s what’s so comforting about coming across one of those old signs in the wild now, when you are tall enough to reach for the handle from the top. I learned this, you think. At some point, I will learn the rest of it.

And you whisper to yourself as your fingers curl around the dented brass bar.



This is Day 18 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Embracing the tiny, Day 17: Getting over yourself

the kroger building in cincinnati, from Over the Rhine

It is not,
as it turns out,
that hard to take a half-decent picture.

What’s hard
is taking 4,000 horrible pictures
first. What’s hard is
standing in the middle of the street
like a stupid tourist hick
taking two, three, seventeen horrible pictures
while people stare at you
with your doofus camera
and your zero credentials
acting (as if)
this is something
you do every day
because it is so much fun.

What’s hard
is going home
and sifting through
the ten, twelve, ninety horrible shots,
and trying to suss out which are really horrible
and which are just bad
and which are…okay?
and which are slightly better than okay
and which of those remaining two
is better because they look exactly the same

And what’s really really hard,
as it turns out,
is not taking the picture
at all
but putting it out there
for people to see
and judge
and form assumptions
about your talent
and your character
and your level of denial
and to not just do it once
but to do it the four thousand times
(at least)
that you have to be bad
before you can start
being halfway decent.

But taking a half-decent picture?
Is not that hard
as it turns out.


This is Day 17 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Embracing the tiny, Day 16: Ur kettle

the perfect tea kettle

To earn its keep on my cooktop, a tea kettle must do three things:

  1. Be as easy to de-scale as it is to fill. This rules out those ridiculous kettles with only a spout.
  2. Be easy to pour. All of those “helpful” kettles whose handles wobble? OUT. Double-ditto for those ones that leverage gravity so that tilting to pour releases the cap on the spout.
  3. Alert me to the doneness of water. What the hell’s up with those whistle-free tea kettles? I mean, the non-electric ones? At least with those, you can’t burn the house down. A little “ding” is fine under those circumstances.

Were you to view my own tea kettle—13 years mine, like the apartment—you would see it is missing the half-functional, half-decorative knob atop the cover. This is because when it broke, a mere year after I bought it, and I wrote off for a new one, the company informed me there was no way to obtain a replacement. Planned obsolescence, just like its higher-end cousins. Shameful.

I drink a lot of tea—just ask my dentist—so I have searched high and low for a kettle that meets these criteria, at any (reasonable) price. No luck, so same old kettle. So I’ve just had to use a pliers around de-scaling time, and adopt a wabi-sabi attitude about the rest of it.

Still, when such a small thing to fix is the first thing a company jettisons? Shameful.


This is Day 16 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Embracing the tiny, Day 15: Five dollars, long ago

label from a much-beloved scarf

On a rare Saturday off from my big, fat advertising job, I took the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan to meet my friend Claudia for a movie.

The weather that was gorgeous and sunny and at least warm-ish when I got on at Park Slope was New-York-awful by the time I emerged from my stop on the Upper West Side.

Desperate for warmth and a half-hour early to meet my friend, I ducked into a nearby shop. Tucked away behind the expensive jackets and coats and sweaters was one sad bin of five-dollar items: damaged or ugly schmatte no one wanted at any price, and a cotton jersey sash that was…passable. (Well, passable as a scarf, anyway; I still can’t imagine who’d want a big lump of cotton jersey tied around her waist.)

I figured that at five bucks, even a cheapskate like me could consider it a disposable item. I bought it, wrapped it around my neck, and wore it out of the store—and, then, much to my surprise, pretty much everywhere else for the next 25 years. The skinny stripes in boring, improbable colors (white, tan, taupe) ended up complementing almost everything I owned. The fabric grew softer with each wearing, and softer still with each laundering—it was delicious around my neck. When the blanket stitching wore out, I tucked in the ends. When the material itself gave way, it became my House Scarf.

Last week, the tag finally fell off in the wash. It had hung by a thread for days, much like the dragonfly on my little wish bracelet. When I found it, I chucked it into the God box, just like the dragonfly. I’m not sure what I’m hoping for this time: to slow down the alarmingly fast passage of time? To turn up a new scarf?

Or, most likely, an enduring awareness of the value to be found now and then in very small things.


This is Day 15 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Embracing the tiny, Day 14: Dingbats

dingbats on a tile, surrounded by petal-pink tiles

The building I’ve lived in for the past 13 years—a double-eternity-plus-one in itinerant Los Angeles—was built in the late 1950s.

Undoubtedly, something grand was razed to make this possible. Equally likely, the neighbors on the block, most of whom lived in substantial structures dating back to the 1920s, found it an abomination. The exterior is boxy and awkward, and the materials—most of them gypsum-cheap even then—have not aged well.

But when I stepped inside, the first thing I saw was all of the light in L.A.. It poured from both sides into every room, kitchen included, warm and golden and delicious. Rare, period, but especially rare for modestly-priced rental apartments, even in sunny Southern California.

The second thing I saw was the tile on the backsplash and countertops of that bright, bright kitchen: petal-pink, mostly, studded with the occasional ornamental dingbat tile. The look was straight out of Barbie’s Mid-Century Dream House, which is to say it was both ridiculous and perfect. That cinched it. I followed the apartment manager back downstairs to her apartment, where I signed the lease and turned over my deposit on the spot.

It may seem silly that kitchen tiles formed a main criterion in my selection of a home; then again, who hasn’t fallen in love over the small gesture? I have dated people for years based on something similarly microscopic.

When the apartments in the building turn over now, the management tears out the old cooktops and double sinks, replacing them with enormous, stainless-steel ranges and dishwashers. The tiles go, too; these days, most people seem to want granite countertops.

Which are probably more sanitary and definitely sturdier, but which will, for me, always lack a certain je ne sais tiny.


This is Day 14 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Embracing the tiny, Day 13: Slightly better

how to take a great photo with a point and shoot, by felicia perretti

My birthday photo lesson from Felicia Perretti

Early last year, I started touring my little how-to-market-yourself-without-being-a-tool talk at a series of conferences hosted by the American Society for Media Photographers (ASMP).

I like to keep things lively, so I tend to use a lot of photos, much as I do here on the bloggity-blog. And, because I’ve never been especially good—okay, because I’ve sucked at taking photos, I’ve tended to use a lot of screencaps or terrific photos from Flickr to do the illustrating.

But occasionally, I cannot find the image I’m looking for elsewhere, and am forced to come up with it myself. This is how a truly horrible photo of a truly awesome thank-you note ended up in the presentation.

horrible photo of a nice thank-you note

Click through to see this and all the other how-to photos

My point was—and is—that all the fancy visual branding in the world does you no good unless you have great behavior to back it up. In this case, Chris Guillebeau combines great visual identity work (designed for him by the delightful Reese Spykerman) with the right action of sending a handwritten thank-you note, something he did for every single one of the 500 attendees of the first conference he hosted. It turned what was essentially a piece of collateral marketing (albeit a pretty one—yay, Reese!) into a meaningful memento. And really, that’s what you want to do with all of your marketing: create stuff that either literally or metaphorically passes The Fridge Test.*

I did the best I could with my shaky skills and rudimentary equipment, then tacked on a self-deprecating credit line at the bottom, “Horrible photo taken by yours truly” and turned my nonexistent skillz into a joke. Because (a), play to your strengths, and (b), always head ’em off at the pass.

What I did not expect was for an enthusiastic young photographer named Felicia Perretti to bound up to me after the talk in Philadelphia and assure me in no uncertain terms that I could learn to take better photos, even with “just” a point-and-shoot, and that she could show me how. She seemed sincere enough, but as it was a heat-of-the-moment situation, I did not take it seriously. Nor did I take it seriously when she followed up with emails #1,2, and 3, a few days, weeks, and months after the presentation.

four tips on taking better photos

Click through for a better view on four tips for taking better photos

It was not until I received a birthday card in the mail—hand-drawn, with individual tips and a likeness of me holding a point-and-shoot camera—that I realized this girl not only was a woman of her word, but that she truly found joy in turning people on to the incredible things she’d already learned.

tips! on taking better photos

These will make your photos better. Just try 'em! Click through!

So when I had to expand my presentation from 60 minutes to 90 (and from 211 slides to 300!), naturally, the first great marketing story I had to add was the one about how selfless actions can end up being the best kind of marketing there is. Because some eight months after a sincere offer to help, Felicia Perretti was now a fixture in the canon, her name, story, and website plastered all over screens everywhere as an example of Doing It Right.

the author as as a happy Weegie

Look, ma! One hand!

There is no guarantee that a small thing you do will make any difference in someone else’s life, much less have a huge ripple effect. If you are using actions as lottery tickets, stop it now. (Or don’t, but know that’s what you’re doing.)

But the things you are moved to do, big or small, “successful” or “failed”,  will always make a difference to you. After almost eight years of writing posts here, I can promise you that. Many, many times when I hit the “publish” button, I was sure that THIS post was (god help us all) going to be the one that ignited the blogosphere, that THIS brilliant thought would make me, would usher in fame and fortune. No such luck—which is good, because it would have been the shittiest kind of luck.

It is not what ignites or explodes or propagates that matters. It is scribbling in journals, doodling on margins, pausing to take a photo—and another, and another, and then, applying the Rule of Thirds, thoughtfully, another—that matters. Conscious effort to improve yourself, your world, and the way you interact with it. Meaningful work, engagement with other life forms, and, as I am finally (finally!) on the verge of learning, having some damned fun in your life.

I have good teachers. Thanks to them, I am slightly better than I was last year, last month, last week, a moment ago.

And, god willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be slightly better than that tomorrow.


This is Day 13 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Click through to see the full series of how-to photos on Flickr.