Postcard Project Collects "Handfuls of Wisdom" to Make Connections and Raise Alzheimer’s Awareness
May 7, 2012
The Spaces Between Your Finger project encourages people to write advice or a memory in their handprint. The postcards are archived in the "Wisdom Library."
If you knew your time was short, and you could share with the world one piece of advice, what would it be? That is the question that Matthew Ross Smith, an adjunct writing professor in Drexel University’s Goodwin College and College of Arts and Sciences, has asked more than 5,000 people across the country.
The endeavor, called the Spaces Between Your Fingers (SBYF) project, was inspired by Smith’s grandfather, William B. McNamee, a WWII veteran who struggled with Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease progressed, it became increasingly important for McNamee to make connections and share his experiences. Smith decided to collect these memories and bits of wisdom from others as well, offering people a chance to reflect, create and connect.
In 2009, Smith traveled across the country, handing out over-sized, self-addressed, stamped postcards to whomever he encountered in parks, libraries and other public spaces along the way. He instructed the strangers to trace their handprints onto the cards—a unique “handprint signature”—and to write a single piece of advice in the space between the outlines of their fingers.
As the postcards are mailed back to him, Smith catalogues them into The William B. McNamee Wisdom Library using the same archival standards as the Library of Congress. The searchable online library will go live in 2013, and will include an app for iPads and other tablets. To date, Smith has received responses from more than 2,100 people in 46 states across the country, with messages from people ranging in age from three (“Don’t lick sand”) to 113 (“Do something for other people without being told to do it. That’s what you’re here for.”).
“The unifying theme of the project is connection—connection of hands, connection of strangers, connection between generations,” said Smith. “If everyone contributes just one vivid handful of experience—what you’ve learned from being in love, or in combat, or a student, or a farmer—we’ll create a rich, meaningful mosaic of what it’s like to be human.”
The grassroots SBYF project has grown into a community art initiative with the mission of sharing wisdom between strangers and generations, and raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. On the project’s newly launched website, www.sbyfproject.com, visitors can watch an interactive video about the project, read the "Secret of the Spaces Between Your Fingers" digital storybook and submit their own words of wisdom. The site also includes materials to encourage teachers to run “Wisdom Workshops” in their classrooms.
Smith will host a “Wisdom Workshop” at Drexel University on Friday, June 1, from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m., in the Creese Student Center’s Behrakis Grand Hall (32nd and Chestnut Streets) to introduce the project and invite the community to participate. Smith hopes to attract as diverse a group as possible in age, gender, race, background and education to gather in small groups and respond to prompts and questions, tell stories and share experiences. The event is free and open to the public.
From June 9 – July 9, Spaces Between Your Fingers postcards will be on display for the public for the first time ever. More than 100 postcards will be featured as part of a “Wisdom Wall” at the Alzheimer's Association's Philadelphia Chapter Headquarters (399 Market St.). Visitors will have the opportunity to contribute their own postcards to the project. The exhibit is free and open to the public from 9 a.m - 5 p.m. To celebrate the opening, on Saturday, June 9, at 8 p.m., Smith will perform with his band original music from a recently recorded collection of acoustic songs called Postcards, inspired by the people Smith has encountered in his travels.
Smith is the founder and director of the Spaces Between Your Fingers Project. He received a Bachelor’s degree in English from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., and completed a graduate fellowship in creative writing at the University of Auckland in Auckland, New Zealand. Smith is a writer, teacher and musician (www.matthewrosssmith.com).