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The Gift Project – First One.

When I was first invited to go to Australia by GoMighty, they asked me “what will be your goals there?”

The first thing that came to mind was ocean. Vast, open ocean with an island nation in the center – I imagined Australia as this moving, surging ship that would show me new things. I could smell the salt and feel the spray, and immediately wrote down “I want to send a message in a bottle.”

I wrote a blog post earlier about how, after a bit of thinking and research, my idea evolved into something less recognizable than the romantic corked bottle with the deckled-edge note inside. After acknowledging that it was more about the message and less about the bottle, I set my mind to drilling down to the core of the inspiration.

operahouseWhat I really wanted was to connect creatively. To share the joy of my experience by giving somebody else an unexpected gift. While out shopping for craft supplies with my girls I stumbled across the perfect vessel for my as yet unformed gift idea – a small, attractive cardboard hinge-top box that looked like a book with a passport stamps pattern on the cover. Obvious? Maybe even a little corny? You bet. But I’m a sucker for fake old-fashioned things and I just plain liked it. (Plus it was on sale for two dollars.) I bought three of them and packed one in my bags.

During the ten days of our trip I experienced so many amazing adventures – hot air ballooning over the Yarra Valley, swimming with sharks, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the list goes on – but I was unsure of what to do with my little box. I waited until the very end of the trip, and one morning before Sean woke up I sat by the window and thought about what had been most surprising and memorable to me.

Since our return, Sean wrote a wonderful post all about the Sydney Opera House and it says most of what I feel so I won’t go into a load of detail here, but I will say that seeing the Opera House was an experience that will remain with me for the rest of my life. If I were to be nominated by Earth to offer up a representation of the human race to an alien culture to help them understand us, I would without hesitation point to the Opera House and say “That. That is humanity.”

The design, the location, and perhaps most importantly what happens inside are all simply beautiful. The Sydney Opera House is a perfect piece of architecture that at once captivates the imagination and is home to some of the finest artistic endeavors on the planet. Layer upon layer of pure creative wonder.

The soaring curves of the building gave me an unexpected sense of well being when I would sit and soak in the view; a distinct feeling of completeness and balance. It was weird, really – until I learned that if one were to take all the pieces of the Opera House and assemble them, they would fit together to form the surface of a perfect sphere. A genius concept for a building, and even more genius to pull off the engineering to make it happen. (Read more about the spherical structural challenges here)

The ethereal way the structure makes me feel made more sense after learning about its spherical nature, and elevated the building even further in my mind almost to the level of  Fibonacci perfection as found in the spiraling shell, the pattern of seeds in a sunflower, fern fronds unfurling – the unearthly beauty of nature’s mathematical precision, what some call the “fingerprint of God.”

If you can’t tell by now, I consider the Sydney Opera House a masterpiece, pure and simple.

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Opera House watercolor sketch in progress

I arranged myself in the early morning light on the floor by the window while Sean snoozed, pulled out my little travel watercolor kit and pencils, and set about sketching the object of my fascination. As I worked, visions of Venus emerging from her shell came to mind and I jotted down the words she inspired.

Here is the little poem that tumbled from my head through my pencil onto the page as I sketched.

the finished gift

the finished gift

walk by the Harbour
and watch sails, adrift
catching the sind, so
one behind the other
three, and then four
curved in foam
cream of the sea
shells from a fickle clam
agape to reveal their 
glistening moist

we are Venus, here
all soft curves
and hand over breast
pretending demure
while eyes dart
upwards to flirt
with the gods

When I sat up and looked at what I’d made, I felt like I’d just jotted off a thank you to Jørn Utzon for the great service he rendered when he designed his work. I think he would probably particularly enjoy the vaginal quality of my little poem. (Another thing I’ll admit comes to mind when I look at the Opera House – big, soaring, fertile vaginas. The ultimate creative vessel, right? Right!)

I felt myself hoping that the sexy bits of the poem weren’t too much for whoever found it, but over all I liked what I had made – though nothing groundbreaking, it was heartfelt and light and felt good. I was excited to give it away, to throw my message into the sea.

I rolled my offering up like a little scroll, bundled it with a snippet of ribbon I’d tucked away for the occasion, and set it gently inside the box. The only thing left was to find a place to plant it.

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Sean in front of the main vagina!

My first instinct was to leave it at the Opera House itself. Sean and I walked to it later that morning to get one last good look before leaving town, and ended up taking some great pictures – but I felt like some sort of terrorist even considering leaving a package there. The thought made my armpits sweat that weird nervous sweat you get when you think the police are pulling you over. So I gave up that idea and took it with me to our next destination, Bondi Beach.

There is an annual event at Bondi called “Sculpture by the Sea” which, just like it sounds, consists of scores of sculptures preening themselves in the oceanside sun and breeze while visitors meander along, stopping to comment on each artwork. I was excited that it was happening while I was there and headed straight over once we arrived.

"Concealed Craft" by artist Kirsten Lewis

“Concealed Craft” by artist Kirsten Lewis

The sculptures were a mixed bag from artists around the world. My favorite by far was a piece consisting of a clear perspex boat situated as if it had just landed on the rocks after a journey across the sea. It was immediately haunting, and I stopped for a while to look at it. To me it spoke of things big and philosophical, existential, the idea of personal journey and so on – it wasn’t until later when I looked it up online that I found out about its political roots. Entitled “Concealed Craft,” artist Kirsten Lewis intended it to be a comment on Australia’s asylum seeker policies. (side note: I was strangely disappointed when I learned that this sculpture had an overt political thrust; though I admire art that conveys a cultural message, this piece spoke to me of something bigger than the temporary nature of politics. I have some more thinking to do on this subject, perhaps I’ll write about it soon.)

As I made my way past artwork after artwork, I started to get really excited about leaving my own little creation along the trail for someone to find and keep. I wanted to participate in a small way in what had turned out to be a truly inspiring public art exhibition.

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The spot!

The cliffsides were littered with little hollows and caves, carved out over the centuries by wind and rain. I stopped by one of these and looked out to the ocean. It was perfect. My gift would be hidden in plain sight, next to thousands of visitors – one of which eventually would spy the little book and be too curious to pass it by. It would be protected if it rained, yet enjoy an open view of the sea. I envied the gift its spot, I wanted to sit there for a few weeks or a lifetime just looking out to the ocean and watching the people go by.

I would make a terrible drug mule, because even leaving my little box in this perfectly safe and welcoming location made me feel nervous. I held it behind my back and surreptitiously deposited it in the trailside alcove, and after glancing around to make sure nobody had seen me I quickly snapped a few pictures. After sharing the view with my gift for a moment I scampered away laughing to myself, feeling like I had just gotten away with some sort of mischief. It was the gleeful feeling of secretly depositing a present under the Christmas tree, without anybody noticing you were even there or knowing the gift was from you. I feel like I understand Santa that much better now – I think he’s addicted to the rush of being super-sneaky with his gift-giving!

It was done. Maybe the person who finds it will think my poem is utter garbage and my little painting is crap, but I don’t care. The joy is in the giving.

I had so much fun doing this project that I plan on continuing leaving little creative nuggets like this in random locations over the years. Stay tuned for the next!

If you are interested in helping with this project by placing a gift on my behalf, I would love to mail one to you – email me at rachel@racheldory.com and let me know where you live. Or, leave your own gift and send me your story!

I’ll leave you with the view my gift may still be enjoying today, looking out over Bondi to the ocean:

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The view from my gift’s final resting place