Thursday, 11 March 2010


So today is day 101, properly referred to as "no longer part of the project". The big 100th day celebration was last night, and a load of the 100 day participants brought photos and papers documenting their exploits for the Museum of 100 Days exhibition.

The museum was in a dimly lit Dalston warehouse with rough walls, odd corners and low ceilings, but the combination of the London Word Festival team's decorations and the magic of the exhibits themselves meant the end result was like walking into someone's obsessive, half-crazed collection of curios and novelties: a true hobbyists' curiosity shop in all its glorious weirdness.

Seeing all the projects together was powerful because it made me appreciate the immense range of what had been happening: people making things out of Lego every day, people singing a song to themselves every day, people talking to strangers every day, people going for a walk every day (sponsored, for charity, I might add), people drawing, photographing, writing and creating things every day. Marking the end of the project by bringing together all these disparate, private activities was a wonderful thing. No gimmicks, no spin, just: things we made and did.

There was some great music and standup from Josie Long, Isy Suttie, Sara Pascoe and The Pictish Trail, all connected to their own experiences with the project. The standup was great in all kinds of ways: entertaining, funny, of course, but also inspiring and intelligent (Josie also dealt admirably with some fantastic heckling from a nine-year-old girl). I think the overwhelming message of the night was best summed up by comedian Sara Pascoe. I'm paraphrasing slightly, but it was something along the lines of: no one ever tells you that you're good enough to do something, no one ever tells you that what you're doing is right - you just have to shut up and get on with doing it.

I hope I won't seem ungrateful for saying though that the best bit of the night for me was browsing through the museum, opening a window into everyone's private routines for the last 100 days. Although we were all doing things with the idea that it would "make us better people", I think the main feeling of satisfaction has been generated not by the daily activities themselves, but from having had an end point, marking out a period of sustained achievement. It's a paradox though - it's only in looking back from the finishing point that I can say "wow, look - I did that", when the achievement is simply the accumulation of 100 small, simple acts. If only I could get the same satisfaction from each individual act every time, because that's where the real achievement lies I think.

I do feel a sense of satisfaction in having got through the project. I'm also mildly surprised to look back on quite how much I actually managed to do. I was learning a new word a day, but I don't think it really would have mattered what my activity was (unless it was something bad like "Punch a person every day.") What matters, I think, is that all of us actually did something, every day. If only everything in life was as simple as saying "I want to try and do this" to yourself and then going off and doing it - oh wait a minute: it is.

Another highlight from last night was meeting the couple who exhibited 100 love letters, written from one partner to the other, although I'm a little embarrassed to say I've forgotten their names. The recipient partner wrote something to introduce the exhibit along the lines of "I don't know if it made him a better person, but it made me a happier woman, which I think has probably meant he's been made happier too." Their presentation letter-box was overflowing, as was the wall behind it, and there was something admirably earnest and honest about that project - something really human - that I liked a lot. Of course, my second thought about the love letters was "my boyfriend and I are going to have words about this", but let's not spoil the moment.

I thought about continuing the project beyond the 100 days. It's been genuinely fun uncovering words I didn't know, words like roquelaure, jingbang and paxwax. Imagine if I continued at that rate for the next 100, 1000, 10000 days? Why - I'd be the best scrabble player alive. But inevitably something would interfere with it, or it would quietly trail off and die in a forgotten corner of the internet. That would be a sad ending to the current feeling of resolution I have about the project. As I said above anyway, I don't think the actual words or the specific activities were the important thing. It was about doing something every day just because you said you would; something you didn't always feel like doing; something you sometimes considered to be pointless; but, ultimately, something that was part of a wider project that you decided to be part of for no better reason than because it sounded like a good idea. A bad idea, by contrast, is the suggestion that we now restore the karmic imbalance by doing something for each of the next 100 days to make ourselves worse people (back to the punching people plan). But it illustrates a point: whatever we decide to do every day affects us. We affect other people, so what we do affects them. Small things accumulate into big things. This means that small things matter. What do you want to do today? Can you make time to do something small, or will you do nothing?

If I'm taking anything from this project, it's that good ideas are all around us all the time, as are creative people who are willing to dive in and play around with them. People are awesome, often, as this project has shown, in private, quiet, understated ways. It was nice to talk to people last night who hadn't been keeping blogs or showing off on the internet - they'd just been getting on with it, not looking anywhere else for validation. There's a lesson there.

I'm going to finish up with a few words from a Roisin Tierney poem that feel relevant, and that hopefully go some way towards explaining what I think the 100 days project offered us and what I think about small acts of kindness and creativity:

     and I picked up my pen and found true north,
     and formed an intention as solid as any:

     to write what can be said,
     do what can be done.

Thanks to Josie Long and the London Word Festival team for thinking up the whole thing in the first place, and here's my final, hundredth word. So long, and thanks for all the nouns:

congé n formal or authoritative permission to depart; an abrupt dismissal; a leave-taking; a formal bow.

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