wvfc bottle_(bookshelf)Photograph by Linda Perkins, 2013

Can a wave of traveling love stories change the world? Linda Perkins launched her storytelling project, 37 Vibrations, in early June, and already there are overwhelmingly positive reports from around the globe.

Linda’s project is called 37 Vibrations because the difference between a musical note that sounds happy (a natural note) and one that sounds sad (a flat note) is just 37 vibrations per second. And this project is all about happiness. Linda hopes that the 37 love stories she releases will vibrate within readers and contribute to creating a happier, more loving world.

It all started a year and a half ago, when Linda was struck by the message written on the cap of a bottle of coconut water that she was drinking: Happiness in a bottle. She started thinking about what “happiness in a bottle” would look like.

Around the same time, Linda had a brief but intense romance. Meeting someone new and falling in love made her feel excited and happy. She talked a lot about love with her friends, especially when the affair ended abruptly. As she listened to her friends talk about love and exchange love stories, Linda was impressed again and again by the bravery it takes to fall in love. That’s when she decided to collect other people’s love stories.

Almost everyone Linda knew had a love story to tell. Listening to each story, she was acutely aware of which parts the storyteller emphasized. Linda decided to write each story down in a first-person “I” voice, without name or gender. She wanted the reader to be addressed directly by the storyteller and to imagine who the storyteller is for him- or herself. Creating this ambiguity emphasizes the universality of love; while the reader knows the gender of the loved ones, he or she doesn’t know the names or sexual orientation of the people telling their love stories. In the first batch of 37 love stories, the youngest storyteller is 22 years old and the oldest is 75. The tales are wildly diverse: a perfect first kiss; a boyfriend who confides his deepest feelings to the furniture in his house; meeting a childhood crush years later; falling in love with a Buddhist monk; finding self-love. What the stories have in common is their universal human appeal.

As a child, Linda liked to put drawings and secret messages in bottles and set them free in rivers and oceans. Inspired by her childhood message games, Linda decided that she would distribute the love stories she collected in the coconut water bottles that she had been saving. She painted the bottles with colorful patterns and numbered each bottle and story. She put each love story into its corresponding brightly decorated bottle.

Initially, Linda was going to release the stories into the world and let them disappear like secret messages in bottles. But the stories were so wonderful and diverse that Linda felt that they should be available together as a collection for many people to read. She created a website where she uploads the stories as they are released. She also developed a system for tracking the stories on the website as they are passed from person to person and travel from place to place. Each story has a webpage that documents its unique journey.

The bottles are passed from person to person, with instructions to keep them moving. Some of the bottles are literally passed by hand, while others are sent by mail. Many of the bottles have already traveled by car or plane to a new destination and been passed on there. Whoever receives a bottle is asked to read the story, photograph the bottle, and upload the photos onto the website, along with information about where the bottle is. At some point, the receiver passes the bottle on to someone else who is instructed to do the same. 

 

“So you found a bottle!”

So far, 13 bottles have been released from Linda’s apartment on the Lower East Side of New York. Bottle 2 has been to the sea in Peloponnese, Greece, and to the beautiful beaches in Rørvig, Denmark. Bottle 5 has been spotted in a karaoke bar in Charlottesville, Virginia, at a fundraising event. And Bottle 9 has been to the Amazon Rainforest in Manaus, Brazil, and is now in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The bottles are getting around and, hopefully, the love is spreading.

Linda plans to release two new stories every Thursday until the first 37 stories are in circulation. If enough readers catch the vibe, Linda is planning to collect 37 more love stories and release them.

While it’s hard to measure the effect of a love story on readers, recipients of the bottles are already sharing the stories with friends, family members, neighbors, and even strangers. Groups of people are having fun photographing the bottles in interesting locations and uploading the photos to the website. And several recipients have already taken their bottles on sightseeing trips, to nightclubs, and to concerts before passing them on to someone new.

Linda has also begun receiving mail about how the love stories have led to people’s opening up and telling each other their own love stories. Linda recently received a letter from a friend who is bicycling across the U.S. with one of the bottles. The friend is traveling with 62-year old Chinese man who became preoccupied with photographing the bottle. After being on the road with the cyclist and the bottle for several days, the man shared his own tragic love story with his new acquaintance.

Linda is not surprised by the power of love stories to connect and heal people, and she knows that stories can be tools for individuals to heal themselves. She has studied storytelling with Nancy Mellon, a well-known teacher in the global storytelling movement. Nancy is an author, psychotherapist, and mentor. Last summer, Linda completed Mellon’s two-year certificate course in Storytelling as a Healing Art. The course focuses on understanding the importance of narrative approaches to health and healing, and it is organized according to the pairing of organs in Chinese medicine.

As a final project, each student is asked to make a presentation applying what he or she has learned from the course to his or her own life. Linda looked at the generational transmission of negative family history, and the organ she concentrated on was the heart.

As it turns out, most of the women in Linda’s mother’s family have had “broken” hearts, both physically and metaphorically. Linda imagined this affliction as a form of enchantment, and her story about these women was her way of trying to figure out how to break the spell. She wanted to stop the transmission of this curse to future generations of women in her family.  By exploring her family’s history, true and imagined, using the symbol of a broken heart, Linda was able to feel compassion for all her family members, understand them better, and care for herself in new ways.

The realization that stories can heal people is what ultimately persuaded Linda to create her 37 Vibrations project.  The fact that so many people were eager to share their love stories confirmed Linda’s intuitive feeling that the stories are important.

Next time you need a break, check out the 37 Vibration website and read a love story or two. If you feel like sharing one of your own love stories, you can contact Linda through the site and make an appointment to tell her your story. I did. And the story she wrote made me cry. But I have been asked not to disclose the number of my story. All of the love stories are anonymous.