A message is being passed through Maine Facebook profiles, pushing people away from their keyboards and glowing desktops, and engaging their hands and minds in creating homemade gifts.
The message: “Getting creative in 2011. I promise to send something homemade to the first 5 people who comment on this status … Within a year, you will get your surprise. In turn, you must post this as your status and send something homemade to your first 5 comments.”
Let’s start with Claire Perry of Liberty, who scavenges for driftwood along Maine’s rocky coast and transforms it into whimsical fish. She became a link in the chain when she saw the message on a fellow artist’s Facebook, commented, and then posted it to her own Facebook wall.
“I never thought for one nanosecond as this being ‘chain-mail,’” Perry said. “I felt this was a wonderful way of reaching out to others, and doing something positive in the process.”
She didn’t comment on the artist’s wall in time to receive a homemade gift, five others already had commented. Nevertheless, she carried on the challenge, offering her own art, but knowing she wouldn’t receive anything in return.
The chain represents a challenge similar to the one posed by author Catherine Hyde in her 2000 novel “Pay it Forward.” It starts with one person doing something good for another person, without the expectation of receiving anything in return. The recipient of the good deed then goes forward to do something good for another person — ideally three people, according to Hyde.
“I felt it was such a wonderful idea,” Perry said. “I haven’t made my items yet. I’m not even sure what they will be; though, most people will probably hope for a fish to hang on their wall.”
One of the five people to comment on Perry’s “Get Creative” post and adopt the challenge was mixed-fiber artist Robinsunne (who legally has no last name) of Rockport, who will be gifting embellished crayon papers.
Kathy Hayes of Center Belmont was the first to comment on Robinsunne’s post. With a simple “I love!” comment, she became a link in the chain.
“[I joined the challenge] for fun and the intrigue — to see where it would go,” said Hayes who is a guidance counselor at Islesboro Central School. “It was sort of a little competition for some people to respond.”
When Hayes moved to Maine in the 1994, she joined a women’s spirituality group that encouraged her to participate in regular art projects.
“I would always laugh and say, ‘I’m not that artistic,’ and I’d always do something very elementary,” said Hayes. “So when I signed up for this, I thought, ‘Oh man. I really have to do something creative.’”
Since she enjoys photography, she’s thinking of asking her gift recipients to list three things important in their lives. Then, she’ll try to capture those themes in a framed photo.
So far, Hayes has passed on the challenge to one friend, Susan Erb of Cambridge, England.
About 70 percent of the people on Facebook are from outside the U.S., and more than 70 translations are available on the site. Therefore, the message has the potential to become a global challenge.
The chain also is moving to blogs. Jennifer of Midland, Texas wrote in her blog on Jan. 5: “So I’ve seen this little diddy on Facebook and a few blogs today…” She copied the challenge into her blog and said, “If you want to play along, let’s go! I think it could be one of those things that connects us across states, time zones, countries even.”
When Hayes saw the challenge on Robinsunne’s wall, she suspected Robinsunne came up with the idea, but she realized that the challenge was bigger when she found it on the wall of her friend Emily Naples, who has no relation to Robinsunne.
“And since then, I’ve learned that several other people have had it on their walls,” said Hayes.
Naples from Mexico, Maine, never joins chain e-mails, messages or posts. But the challenge got her attention on her Facebook news feed, which displays the posts of all of her Facebook friends, keeping her constantly connected to them.
Facebook, founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg as a site to help people communicate for efficiently with friends, family and coworkers, has more than 500 million active users. And the average user has 130 friends, is connected to 80 community pages, groups and events, and creates 90 pieces of content each month.
“I thought about [the challenge] for a few minutes,” Naples said. “I didn’t want to just post it. There’s a level of commitment to it.”
She became a link in the chain when she posted the challenge at 3:15 p.m. Jan. 20. Within 21 minutes, five friends had commented, asking for a homemade gift and thus committing to the challenge to create gifts for others.
“It struck me as a something that was a little more honest,” Naples said. “Spring is around the corner, and it makes you want to do something. It’s a reason to do something creative.”
Her stepmother and a few close friends responded, as she could have predicted, but she was surprised when some acquaintances she had met while bartending joined the list of gift recipients. One man, known to be an avid motorcyclist, responded with zeal.
“I took it as: You make one thing and give it to everybody. But these friends, they’re a whole variety of people in my life — young, old, close to me, not so close,” Naples said. “I might do individualized gifts. They were thoughtful enough to reply to this message, so I’ll be thoughtful with my gifts.”
An art major at the University of Maine at Augusta, Naples specializes in photography and printmaking, and is considering making hand-bound books, journals with screen-printed fronts or personalized photo frames.
Kendra Swails of Augusta responded to Naples, and she’s planning on making personalized gifts, too. With a new baby and a 4-year-old, Swails doesn’t have much time to work on detailed crafts — so she’s planning to make gifts of the edible variety.
“Some mint chocolate chip cookies, a cake and lasagna perhaps. It will all depend on what I believe the person will like best,” said Swails. “I joined the challenge because I want to see what Emily will make. She’s creative. Plus, it always feels nice to do something nice for someone.”
Within one year, every link in the chain is supposed to have made and sent out their homemade gifts, sharing their creativity by posting it forward.