Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.
I'm a firm believer in clinging to as much childlike wonder as possible. I love it when people take it upon themselves to inject a little magic and whimsy into the human herd. A few examples, one from my past that's stayed with me, one a recent discovery. Years ago, I was living in a group house. A woman came to visit, an artist and crafter who specialized in miniatures and dioramas. Her work, which she shared with us via a slideshow, was breathtaking – these pristine little dioramas, frozen scenes from some alternative kidverse of talking-animal storybook characters and various human strangelings, all going about their daily Lilliputian lives inside her little black boxes. She stayed for a few more days, and after she left, life on the commune moved on. We had a tree in our front yard which was itself something out of storybook, a big ol' gnarly tree with a humongous rotted knothole on one side. One day, I was doing some work in the yard, likely grumbling over the heat and the generalized ick of a Virginian late-summer afternoon. As I passed the tree, something caught my eye, something in the knothole. I peered in, and for a triple-take moment, all of the wistful fantasies of childhood overtook my adult reality. There, inside the dank hole, was a tiny overstuffed chair sitting on a braided rug, and next to it stood a floor lamp. Tiny pictures hung on even tinier nails on the inside walls of the knothole. A family portrait. Reclining in the chair, watching the TV inside the hole, sat a little rabbit-man. I think he had on overalls. And he may have been drinking something. A can of carrot juice? Honestly, I don't remember the details, and I'm sure time and memory have exaggerated them. But I honestly remember the impact. It was a simple reality hack with extraordinary impact, a rare moment when magic existed in the world. It worked me on so many levels – the fact that she never said anything to us about it, the amount of thought and work she'd put into it (all in secret), my chance discovery of it days after she'd gone, and that brief, delicious blurring of the mundane and the fantastic – a gift given only to those who happened upon it. This is all a very long-winded way of introducing my most recent encounter with someone doing the work of the fairy. Lea Redmond calls it the World's Smallest Postal Service. She writes little tiny letters on little tiny stationary and seals them with wax inside a little tiny stamped and canceled envelope. The letter is then placed by an official World's Smallest Postal Service employee (er... Lea) inside a little tiny blue post box. Then our ham-handed land of the giants reality takes over and the little magic letter is prepared for real-world mailing. It is put into a slide mount-like viewing envelope and then inside of a larger glassine envelope with a magnifying glass thoughtfully included so that the recipient can actually read it. You can order the letters online or you can check the calendar to see where the World's Smallest Postal Service will be setting up shop in the Bay Area. Online, you fill out a form with what you want your letter to say (up to 12 lines!) and where you want it sent. Each letter cost a measly $8. I bought a bunch of them for family and friends over the holidays and everyone seemed genuinely enchanted by the whole enterprise. Be sure to check out the rest of Lea's site. There's more clever whimsy to be had: matchbox theater, recipe dice, conceptual knitting patterns, earrings with flower seeds in 'em, and lots more awesomeness, If you ask me, we need a lot more surprise knothole dioramas and little tiny wax-sealed letters in this-here junkyard world. Are ya with me, people?
Gareth Branwyn has been dog-paddling the waters of sidestream culture, as a participant and chronicler, for his entire adult life. He's been involved in the commune movement, the DIY and zine scenes, cyberpunk, steampunk, punk-punk, and has written for bOING bOING (print), Mondo 2000, Wired, Esquire, Details, and numerous other magazines and dailies. He is the editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine's blog, and is currently editing a collection of his work: "Borg Like Me & Other Tales of Art, Eros, and Embedded Systems."