the 923 oak project


America is on my mind. Not in a political way – a human way. America as in land of Americans. I’m afraid we don’t recognize each other anymore.

It’s no wonder. Of the approximate 3,000 messages we encounter EVERY day, we read all about the bad and the ugly and gloss over the good, purely in an attempt to educate and protect ourselves. We’re on constant alert to shield ourselves and our loved ones from any threat, large or small. So we become increasingly disillusioned and troubled about the state of the world today, and pine for the simpler days of our past. We bury ourselves in our devices, soaking up the latest source of anxiety, and avert each other’s eyes. We’ve become suspicious and skeptical of each other.

It’s time to turn this boat around.

I believe there is still more good in the world than bad. There are countless more teeny tiny meaningful gestures that evoke wide eyes and surprised smiles in our everyday lives than random, widespread calamities that cause destruction and despair.

Not to get all new age-y here, but this I believe: there is magic all around us.

So to those who residents who receive a letter introducing this project, I get that your first reaction might be skepticism. Wondering what on earth would possess me to quit my job to spend a few months driving around the U.S. interviewing strangers. (I’m happy to put you in touch with my mother; you would likely have a lot to discuss.)

I understand your potential discomfort with disclosing any personal information on the internet. It’s pretty crazy how much is out there. I’ve found most of the 923 Oak residents through a simple white pages reverse address look-up. I did the same search on myself, and saw my address and apartment number for all to see. Including my landline number, which was supposed to be UNLISTED. Hmmph.

To be clear, the 923 Oak project does not include last names, or the city/town where people live — only the state. Any question I ask that people don’t want to answer, no problem. This is a project rooted in positivity, celebrating our uniqueness while re-discovering our likeness.

To my mother and all of you cocking an eyebrow at the screen right now, here’s what’s possessing me to do this:

The mission of The 923 Oak Project is for us to really SEE each other and remind ourselves how amazing we are. 50 states of different philosophies, accents, personalities and expectations. Through it all, America is a land of good people. I’m certain of it. With strong values and gentle smiles. With sad stories and warm memories. Who celebrate small victories and endure heartbreaking loss. Who, despite their own worries, help those in need, however they can.

Call me Pollyanna – wouldn’t be the first time. I pine too for the simpler, safer world I grew up in, riding bikes until dark without helmets and parents’ watchful eyes.  But you guys: we already live in the world we’re nostalgic for – we’re just too timid to acknowledge it.

I have this metal cake pan in the shape of America. My mom found it for me at a garage sale years ago. It might be among my most treasured possessions. I’ve always been sentimental about all things American. But now it’s taken on new meaning. It’s symbolic of this project. Of us, beginning to recognize each other.

We live in an incredible time and place, with wonderful, unique, good people.

Let’s celebrate that. Together.

america cake pan 923 oak