Within days of moving to New York City, three years ago, I was approached on several occasions by clipboard holding agents. Each of them asked me to commit to something different. “Love children? Sponsor one in Africa! Don’t have time to chat about the child in Africa? You must be pretty selfish.” “Want a puppy for that apartment you barely fit in yourself? We’ve got bags of them!” “Do you love the environment? Prove it. Stop and talk to me. If you don’t I’ll make sure to note that you hate the environment. Your carbon footprint is the reason our children will never breathe clean air.” It was in those first days that I made a vow to never hold a clipboard and approach people. Ever. Even if the rent to my apartment depended on it.
This past weekend I broke that vow. But I promise–it was for good reason.
A little over a year ago, I met Caley Vickerman. She is the founder of the Guerilla Haiku Movement, a movement that aims to inspire people to get out and create/make art; a movement that brings joy to people’s lives; and a movement that motivates people to explore and celebrate the temporary and the virtually permanent. How does the movement do this? It’s simple: Through chalk and Haiku.
(Quick reminder: A Haiku is a three line-syllable based poem. The first line must have 5 syllables. The second line must have 7. and the last line must have 5 again).
Throughout the world, Caley organizes events that ask people to take a moment out of their day to pick up a piece of chalk, find a free space of blacktop or sidewalk, and haiku away. Each haiku can be about anything a person wants their haiku to be about. Easy.
When I met Caley, I became enthralled with her movement. As someone who can often be caught on the subway counting syllables and noting haiku on her phone, I wanted desperately to be a part of Caley’s movement. Unfortunately, my schedule wasn’t matching up to haiku events, and I kept having to miss them. However, I felt so inspired by Caley’s chalking movement that in December of 2012, I set out on a quest to chalk the word happiness into each of the five boroughs.
The joy I felt in purely taking the time to write the word happiness and visit each borough was amazing. It was then that I had caught the chalk bug–I knew that I absolutely would need to take part in Caley’s Guerilla Haiku Movement–as soon as I physically could.
It’s difficult to explain how honored I felt when Caley reached out to me just a few weeks ago about an upcoming event in New York City. She asked me if I could be a haiku agent. Joyously, I went to type yes–but substituted yes, with an inquisitive: ”What is a haiku agent?”
“You’ll stand with a clipboard, a map, a scavenger hunt, get people to join you, and keep track of the hailing/get social media photos, and more.
I hesitated for a moment, while Caley patiently awaited my answer. I sighed. A clipboard. Can I really do this, I thought? I made a vow NEVER to agree to hold a clipboard unless it was for a television or film project. BUT this past year, I also made a vow to refuse the word “no.”
My friends, that is what we call a catch-22.
Alas, I decided that only the power of haiku could put a clipboard in my hand on the streets of New York City in order to approach people and ask them to do something–because I knew what kind of JOY it could possibly bring someone–even if it were just one person.
And honestly, I couldn’t be more happy that I broke my vow of going against the clipboard. Within minutes of chalking my first haiku of the day in Columbus Circle, I could feel the excitement bubbling. “Okay, this is awesome. Clipboard or not. I get to ask people to have fun doing this?! HECK YA.”
After penning a few more of my own haiku poems, I met my co-team leader, James and the rest of our team. Their excitement was contagious, and as a team, we decided that infiltrating the park may be our best course of action. Our second best course of action was choosing a small bridge on the south side of the park–where within twenty minutes, tens of people were on their hands and knees haikuing away.
This chalk traffic continued consistently for the next hour and a half. And through our chalk adventures…
We met people who wrote in Bengali….
And people who wrote in Gaelic
We met families!
We met a father and a son who decided to take a break and haiku, because they thought it would make a great memory on Father’s Day.
We saw a haiku written about zombies!
We saw people take a second to live in the moment. We saw people say yes to something they may otherwise not say yes to. We saw people leave their comfort zone–talk to a stranger–and slow it down.
And above all? We saw joy and we saw happiness.
What could have been a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?
If you are interested in taking part in a Guerilla Haiku Movement event (holding a clipboard or not), head over to www.ghm575.com and reach out to Miss Caley Vickerman–The Haiku Mistress.