A Field Guide To Lamp & Love Letters

By February 22, 2013Blog


On March 9th, 2009, I sent this photo to a friend with the words “I want to do this one day. Soon.”

Almost FOUR years ago.

Which is crazypants, as I have no memory of making that image.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, where I made the above image into a real, actual thing:

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My plan was to write 100 love letters, stick them into 100 bottles and tie them to 100 balloons. To create a story, built around the album I’m writing, called LAMP. 
That’s where the idea started. 

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It turned into me co-opting the techie skills of my roommate Kasima to help build a love letter mobile app. I would scatter the letters around San Francisco, and anyone who found one could scan a QR code, making the letter appear on a website.

It turned into creating a fictional organization called the Society of Lost Letters, who had discovered love letters were falling out of the sky, and called a CLASS-A LOST LETTER EMERGENCY, asking local San Franciscans to help volunteer in hunting out the fallen letters.

It turned into getting sixty-five businesses in the San Francisco Mission District involved, hiding love letters inside and out of their shops, and making a map of the whole thing.

It turned into making a flip-book that almost meant an ABC camera crew coming to my house*.

It turned into building walls, and creating tree sculptures, and outfitting a gramophone with an arduino to play mp3s and borrowing a suitcase that already had been outfitted with an arduino to play mp3s.

It turned into having a particularly awesome day getting a friend drunk and filming a video, where he played the part of a Society of Lost Letters Letter-Restorationist.

It turned into getting more than twenty volunteers to pitch in, including friends and roommates and strangers who became friends.

It turned into late nights co-planning with an amazing event-wrangler named orange who made all the hard the details somehow… possible.

It turned into long days with my oldest friend, writing scripts, going to the hardware store, and trying to figure out exactly the best way to make a Love Letter Specimen Collection Kit.

It turned into a successful Kickstarter, to jumpstart the costs. It turned into a grant from the Awesome Foundation, to cover last-minute costs.

It turned into a reporter following me around for two days, in a story that ended up in SFGate.

It turned into a six-stop, neighborhood-wide scavenger hunt that several hundred people came to on a Saturday.

It turned into something much, much bigger than I’d ever envisioned.

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♦ It’s not the cops you have to worry about, it’s the thieves
♦ If you build something with many moving parts, many of those parts will break 
♦ Surprise! You won’t know which ones 
♦ There is only one of you. There is only one of you. There is only one of you. 
♦ Let people help. Seriously. Do it. 
♦ Your idea will change 
♦ That thing about unknown unknowns? Will become very relevant to you. 
♦ You will fail. When this happens, don’t take it personally. Keep moving. 
♦ You will succeed. When this happens, remember to enjoy it. 

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The full quote is “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” – Donald Rumsfeld

During the course of navigating this beast– which is only, at this point, ACT ONE of a three-act project/album– many unknown unknowns appeared out of thin air.

The kind of things you don’t know you don’t know to which the only appropriate response is knee-jerk laughter.


When I started this project, I always envisioned, in some form, floating balloons with bottles tied to them. It was more than halfway through planning that I became suddenly aware of the worldwide helium shortage, and my event-planner-in-arms was convinced for a while that the only people who had helium were those with mob connections. NO ONE in San Francisco carried helium; they laughed when you asked. The ones that did, weren’t selling. It took calling everyone and their mom to procure a single tank of helium– which is larger than you think. It took four people to move, and a dolly. It was a miracle that it appeared at all, and we came up with all sorts of contingency plans<> to sidestep what was an unexpected international helium crisis.

Another example: I originally wanted to create these letters in a balloon release. Shortly after the successful funding of my Kickstarter, a game company released balloons over San Francisco which immediately went into the Bay, to the outrage of the entire city.

…I changed the game plan.

Last example: you can’t plan for everything.

The day of, people stole balloons, they stole love letters, they stole just the skeleton keys off the balloons, or they stole the whole shebang. I got very nice Facebook messages saying “hey, I didn’t know what this was, so I took it home with me.”

To be clear: the balloons were ZIP-TIED DOWN. You’d have to be pretty determined to set them free into your hot little hands.

Prior to figuring out how we were going to scatter the balloons, I consulted my roommate and his girlfriend, both of which are lawyers who do work for Apple. We came up with plans to get around getting stopped by police. We bought neon orange construction vests<>, to look important.

And in the end, it wasn’t the cops we had to worry about. It was thieves. They may even have been well-intentioned thieves, they may have just really needed a love letter that day– but it goes to show, that you can’t plan for everything.

And that has to be okay.

Volunteers appeared with a second-round of inflated balloons to replace the stolen ones, and I ran around re-printing out love letters, and in the end it was beautiful chaos. It somehow worked.

Never the way we think.

Never the perfect plan that we’d hoped.

But it always, somehow, works.

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You can read all the love letters, here. Love letters that have excerpts of actual love letters from Kickstarter backers, and some of you amazing humans reading this.

You can see how the whole Love Letter Scavenger Hunt fit together, here.

And if you want a hint as to where this is all going… I recommend checking out This Is A Memory Of. Especially the first entry. 

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Now. I finish an album.

This whole thing has been amazing, but it’s also taken time away from writing songs, and recording, and finishing music.

So now I go head-down. If you want to see how it’s going, Twitter is probably the best place, followed by the mailing list.

In the meantime, thank you for being awesome, thank for playing with me, and thank you for being willing to follow this weird careening adventure that I’ve created. 

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* ABC called, scheduled, called, rescheduled, called and ran out of time. They were super nice about it though, as were the amazing, amazing people at Flipbookit.

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