A Field Guide To Lamp & Love Letters

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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:

× × ×

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. 

× × × 


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.

× × ×

♦ 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. 

× × × 


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.

× × × 


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. 

× × × 


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. 

× × × 

* 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.

Love Letters Are Falling Out Of The Sky

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More than a year ago, I put out a call for strangers to send me their love letters.

They began arriving almost immediately. Heart-breaking attachments in my email, permanently creased folded notes in the mail. Some were letters people had been carrying since childhood. Secrets. Fragments of beautiful things that couldn’t be forgotten.

× × ×

My plan was to create a story out of them.

A story of letters, and memories, and love.

I would take the love letters that had been sent to me, and write a story of love letters around them.

× × ×

This is a picture of a sailboat named Aphrodite. I stayed here and covered every available surface in love letters, writing away. 


× × ×

I wrote one hundred of them.

× × ×

The story would begin with a girl putting letters in bottles, tying them to balloons, and sending them into the sky.

I would write songs around them, a soundtrack for lost letters, called LAMP.

× × ×

And last of all, I wanted it to be a story that people could be part of.

× × ×

The Saturday before Valentine’s Day, I am taking a small army of people, and hiding one hundred love letters all over San Francisco.

The letters made up of pieces of strangers and bits of fiction and things in-between will be strewn about the streets, waiting for people to find them.

Waiting for people to help unravel a mystery.

× × ×

Should you be interested in appearing in person, a secret organization called the Society of Lost Letters has been tracking the possible locations of these love letters.

This may be a good place to start.

For those not stationed near San Francisco, the letters that are discovered on Saturday will appear as they are found at The Society of Lost Letters’ website.

× × ×

There’s not much more to say, not yet. But suffice it to say, this has been extraordinarily fun, and there’s more untold things to come. 

Until next time. 

May 2013 Be A Delight

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May your upcoming year be filled with the good kind of mystery, delicious secrets that unfold before you like flowers, and surprises that will leave you grinning from ear to ear.

I spent the days leading up to Christmas– and Christmas day itself!– plinking away on toy pianos for long-ago Kickstarter rewards. Contenders for top favorite plinky-plinky songs are below, for you to enjoy as you get dazzled up for evening festivities, or to take in as you find yourself recovering from the night before. 




Twinkly champagne-fizzy hugs to all of you out there. 


This Is A Memory Of…

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I got chosen on Thanksgiving Day to send an email to the Listserve

The Listserve is an email lottery– the only rule is, every day, someone from the list is chosen to send an email to everyone else on the list. It’s usually an interesting slice of someone’s life from somewhere in the world, and at present, there are 21,632 people on the list.  

I decided to use it to make art. 

With several days suddenly free and everyone huddled indoors to make turkey and mashed potatoes, I started brainstorming with friends over how to convince twenty-one thousand people to make art with me.

There are a few rules to the Listserve. The main one being you can’t include links of any kind.  

I decided two things:

1. I wanted people to tell me stories.
2. I would set up a phone number where they could call me, and tell me those stories.

I wrote an email with a love letter nested inside of it, and an invitation to play a game with me. I wrote: here is a phone number. When you call it you will be asked a question. Answer it.

The letter is below:

The letter I sent to 21,632 people.

On November 30th, it got sent, and within minutes I was racking up Google Voicemail messages. 

They were heart-breaking. And beautiful. And all sorts of things, but ultimately, each was a tiny short story and a window into someone’s secret closet. 

There’s a quote by a woman named Susan Gregg, that goes, “Life is and then we tell ourselves a story.”

I love this idea.  A thing happens, and you record your own personal internal memoir of events, you TELL your life back to yourself, and this is what you remember.

Secretly, LAMP is about this. I even made stickers that say “We’re All Stories.” The idea that you are walking around with a personal history inside of you, edited and framed by however you decided to render events, is kind of magical.

It means you can write your life however you see fit.

Listening to these memories is like wading through people’s dreams. Full of the things they sometimes can’t admit to themselves. 

I spent the weekend collecting them.  My friend Kat Howard said today on Twitter, ” I think the thing I love most is that I truly believe we are all made of stories. What you’re doing makes that so clear.”

You can listen to them here:

This Is A Memory Of

Coming Out Of Hiding

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On Thanksgiving, I spent the day drawing messages on bits of paper. I saw a quote David Mack shared on Twitter. He was paraphrasing Die Antwoord, something that Yo-Landi said to Ninja:

“Imagine your most awesome future version of yourself. Now be that person.”

The image stuck with me. I grabbed a sharpie and drew the message over and over, sitting on my floor.

I made 20? 30? Of them?

And I decided I was going to fold them into paper airplanes, go to the movies, and throw them at people.

My best friend and I went off to the theater, and it was desolate. The trick then, was to throw the paper airplanes places people would find them. We hit elevator buttons and tossed the paper airplanes into empty elevators, as the doors closed. We sailed them down hallways.

We stalked the places we left them, and saw how people subconsciously stepped over them on the floor, never looking down. Knowing enough something was on the ground, enough to avoid it, but not interested in whatever it was.

The first person I saw pick one up was a small girl, maybe seven years old.

We said after, that this was probably the best possible person to get lost in imagining their best future self.

The next morning, we went to eat, and I had an airplane on the table next to me. I accidentally nudged it, and both myself and the waitress looked down just as it landed on the floor between us.

“Where did THAT come from?” She asked, delighted.

I shrugged, “I have no idea,” smiling. The waitress picked it up, laughing, and asked the wait staff if they’d been throwing paper airplanes. She drew her hand back in the air and let it sail into the air above us, into the kitchen.

Hospice, and My Father.

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My father passed away one week ago today, from late-stage gastrointestinal cancer. Below is a Storify I put together, assembling the things I documented on Twitter as I slept in Hospice for the last week of his life.

I’m putting it here if you find it useful, if you find it helpful, and to remember.

I’m keeping a running log of tweets while staying at a Hospice center with a family member. There is so much here that doesn’t make it to the world outside of the ill, dying. So much of the things that happen here loom larger than everything else.

The Sirens Sound

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Three minutes and forty-nine seconds.

Six months.

Two trips to the studio.

Countless nights mixing at home.

Lots of swearing.

An infinite amount of swearing.

That’s how Sirens– the third song off LAMP— was born.

Last night, myself, my best friends Jason and Allan sat around listening to Sirens on giant speakers, fresh from the mastering presses.

Allan hadn’t heard it before. Jason had, having written half of the music.

When the last strains of the song finished playing, Allan looked up, impressed, and gave me two of the best compliments he has ever given me.

And it is done. And I am relieved. And it is done. And you can have it, for your very own, for free, by clicking the download button below.

If you like it, pretty please share it with your friends. Send it in emails to strangers. Play it from boomboxes beneath the windows of your loved ones.

If you don’t like it, play it loudly from your car speakers while driving through the neighborhoods of your enemies.

Join the mailing list. Follow the Twitters. But most importantly…

Download the song. Take it home for your very own. Just clicky the wee download button below:


In the studio, photo by Shipwrek…


With Yosh of Dangerous Audio, listening to takes


La la la


Name in lights


Listen. Record. Listen. Record. Listen.

Three down. Seven to go.

In the meantime, the other parts of LAMP are simmering away in the background: finishing writing the last few few love letters. Planning the mystery event that will happen soon in San Francisco. Doing fancy things like getting a merch shop up and running.

Chantrelle took this amazing photo of herself wearing a LAMP necklace with the fabulous Tori Amos:


(You can see the necklace and other merch-bits here.)

And fancy fancy photos have been coming in from folks who got their Kickstarter rewards in the mail, from New York to Portugal to all the way in the Philippines. (Stupidly awesome.)

My favorite photo popped up on Twitter, and is here:

The Kickstarter merch reward bundle, photo by joss

Annnnnnnnd. People have been saying nice things about me. here and here. I updated the whole short-list of random press over here.

C’est fini! That is all. For now. More to come.



on honesty and metaphors.

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When I was nineteen, I wanted to be a stripper.
The social dynamics of stripping fascinated me. My first visit to a strip club was a hole-in-the-wall dive somewhere in North Florida, about an hour and a half from the nearest real city. Women got in free because women never came here: the clientele was made up of truckers driving cross-country, or cowboys out in the sticks looking for a thrill.
I was transfixed. I was visiting for fun, out of curiosity, but I couldn’t stop trying to work out the mechanics of the social interaction. Men slack-jawed and transported, watching the women on stage slowly gyrate to jukebox music. Women curled in the laps of customers, purring, working for tips. What were they all thinking? How did this interaction work? I couldn’t stop asking questions.
A single bathroom existed for both the dancers and the rare female customer. Notices plastered the walls: regulations and penalty fees regarding how to shave, how to dance, how to act. An article on a raid that had happened some months past. An article on a girl caught selling sex in the parking lot after her shift. Mostly the women here were college students, driven, quiet, there to make tuition. A few of the others were in it for life, and doing it to support their children.
I talked to everyone. Well, to everyone who would talk to me: half the women assumed I was a reporter, and wouldn’t give me the time of day. (There had been an article in the bathroom, too, on what happened to dancers who talked to reporters.) The rest of the dancers assumed I was looking for a job, and complimented on my body, trying to bolster my confidence, said I could be a stripper, easy. One girl insisted I didn’t leave without an application.
Months and months afterward, I considered it. The money was the best around, and the social experiment in and of itself was enough to tempt me.
And I had no problem being naked.
* * * * * * * * * *
At sixteen, I fell in love with a girl. The first time she saw me I was dressed as a princess, and being carried across a stage in a litter, during a play.
The first time I saw her was after curtain call, wide-eyed, at the front door of the theater.
We were spellbound.
She was beautiful, in a panoply of ways that fanned around me. We couldn’t stop talking.
It was complicated. I was already in a relationship.
We navigated.
Weeks passed.
One night she and I were curled on a couch of the theater we met in, cuddling, watching an audition.
Several of the adults commented how brave we were. To be so openly and unabashedly in love, at such a young age, in such a small town.
I’m not sure we were brave.
We just had no problems having our feelings laid bare.
* * * * * * * * * *
A few weeks ago I read a story by a nurse, on the regrets of the dying. The biggest regret, was this: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
I slept every night this week in a hospital, surrounded by people fighting for life. The things that are important fall into stark contrast: who we invite into our lives, what we choose to do with our time, and why.
The ways we choose to be, and not be, honest.
Growing up, I was more unashamed, more apt to spread out my life story on the table for a stranger. To say: we are all in this together. I’ll show you my mess, you show me yours, and together we’ll learn from all of this.
Because what do we have to lose?
As I get older, I’ve found myself making safer choices in spite of myself. Shared less. Hidden away more.
Been less myself, and less honest.
But the most honest thing I know is that one day, this will all be taken away from us. Maybe in a day, maybe in fifty years, but one day, these memories and hopes and fears and all that we love and are scared of, will end.
One day, we will be stripped more bare than we have ever been.
One day, we will die.
In light of that, there is literally nothing left to lose.
Or as Steve Jobs famously said, “You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
* * * * * * * * * *
I decided against being a stripper. Ultimately, the town I lived in was too small for it to not get back to my parents. (Though I still kind of regret it. It would have been fascinating.)
I opted instead to do nude modeling for artists at the local university.
Somewhere there are very awkwardly-posed photographs of myself doing naked guerilla-stunts in a Florida park, while photographers held blankets at the ready in case anyone walked by.
If you find them, let me know.
* * * * * * * * * *
I’m more naked in my music than anywhere.
Last month my friend Marc Scheff asked me to send him some photographs so he could paint them during a live video stream online.
I said sure.
And immediately spent the night turning my train caboose apartment into a photo studio.
I shot several self-portraits of myself, holding my gramophone.
In them, I am basically nude.
In some strange way, it feels like peeling away my anonymity. Like saying: here is all of me, everything I honestly am, and I am not afraid.
It felt like a relief.
Marc took the photographs and recorded the live video of his work in progress.

Watch live streaming video from marcscheff at

He’s still working on the painting, but sent me some of what he has so far.

I think, when he’s done, I’m going to release it as a limited edition print.
Because his work is beautiful.
Because we all need reminders.
Because we should all be as honest as we possibly can.
Because it all comes down to being naked.