I've started the new year with a wonderful new friend, an unexpected houseguest.
Flat Lotus arrived in my mailbox last Thursday and we have been inseparable ever since. As explained in a letter of introduction by my granddaughter's 2nd-grade teacher, Flat Lotus is part of the Flat Stanley Project, a fun and exciting geography class activity based on a children's book by Jeff Brown. In the story, Stanley Lambchop is squashed flat by a falling bulletin board. One of the advantages to being flat is that his parents can put him in a large envelope and mail him for a visit to his friends in California.
In Mrs. Bain's Union City (Michigan) Elementary School class, each student makes a flat version of himself or herself to send to other classes, friends or relatives in the hope that the recipient will welcome the flat person as a special guest. We're asked to complete an accompanying worksheet or write a story and mail our flat person back in a couple of months with photos or souvenirs, perhaps even dressing him or her in clothing that reflects our climate or way of life.
I had heard about Flat Stanley, but didn't know the details, so I went online and was surprised to learn that he's been around since 1964 - when I was the same age as my granddaughter Lotus is now. In 1995, 30 years after the book was published, a Canadian schoolteacher named Dale Hubert had his students make Flat Stanley cutouts and mail them to faraway friends and family as well as other classrooms. The idea exploded into a trend and today the project is included in the curriculum for 15 percent of U.S. elementary schools, according to the official FS website. Over 6,000 schools in 88 countries are registered and you can view online journals and photos of Flat Stanleys from all over the world. Besides being a cool geography lesson, it is an engaging introduction to writing as a means of communication.
Variations include "Flat Self," in which students send life-size likenesses of themselves rather than Stanley, and Mrs. Bain's version, with smaller, 9-inch Selves. I like the self-portrait modification. This way, I'm not hosting a total stranger. Flat Lotus looks a lot like my granddaughter, with shoulder-length brown hair, happy brown eyes with eyelashes for days and a huge toothy smile. She appears to be wearing pink Crocs; I don't know how I'm going to put rubber slippers on over those, but I'll figure something out. Of course, I'm making her a lei and a muumuu to wear on her trip home.
Flat Lotus came with a letter from Real Lotus, telling me all about Union City (pop. 1,706) and Michigan, where Henry Ford built the first car and robins come out in the springtime. Real Lotus wants to learn about Hawaii, as she doesn't remember visiting here when she was a toddler. So I am compiling a scrapbook of Flat Lotus' Maui adventure, filled with fun facts and stories as well as typical vacation photos.
In the last few days, I've photographed Flat Lotus on a canoe, in front of a taro patch, surrounded by naupaka blossoms, and buried up to her neck in sand. She rang in the new year at Ka'anapali Beach Hotel, where Wilmont Kahaialii and I co-hosted the year-end bash Saturday night and the next morning's "Recovery Brunch." At the buffet, while Flat Lotus posed for pictures amid giant mounds of crab legs and ahi poke, a few people approached us to talk about their own flat friends; one man had hosted a Flat Sam from Germany, another had a daughter whose Flat Stanley traveled to several states in the course of a year.
Of course, I'd rather be hosting Real Lotus, but flatness is a nice attribute in a houseguest. Flat Lotus takes up hardly any room, doesn't make much noise, and she never gets cranky. She's been a delightful companion, prompting the desire to share our island and culture, as I would for a flesh-and-blood visitor. I'm taking her to the crater this weekend and I plan to have her feed the Chinese New Year lion before she returns to Michigan.
She's also started me on a whimsical, wistful train of thought . . . wouldn't it be great if we all had flat selves? Reluctant fliers and introverts could send their flat proxies on business trips and to class reunions. A flat Congress couldn't be any less productive than the current one and would save us a ton of money. And I am seriously thinking about making a Flat Kathy for my next mammogram. Definitely before that colonoscopy my doctor says I have to do next year.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.