The Mistletoe Project
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
Do you stop to talk to a stranger on the street? Would you ever kiss that stranger? Under the mistletoe? In the middle of the day, completely sober- all because someone asked you to? If you said no, well, then you're like the majority of people who I asked to do just that.
SHOCKER, most people don't like to be bothered.
Kelsie and I dressed up as an elf and Santa, respectively, and set off for downtown Austin with [fake] mistletoe, my camera, her ukulele and some holiday cheer. The city was lit up with white lights on the trees, Christmas decor in full effect, and lots of rushed pedestrians paying no mind. We set out to get people to slow down and take a moment out of their day to connect with someone who they ordinarily wouldn't.
Kelsie, being a songwriter and musician, played her ukulele and sang to gain attention from those passing by. When they'd approach, we'd ask if we could take their picture, and then challenge them to kiss someone under the mistletoe. The *kiss* could be on the lips, cheek, hand, or even a hug, whatever- just some interaction to make a connection and spread some love. The answer was a resounding "No". Well, more like it was a "*giggle, giggle* umm... no". We quickly realized that two strangers weren't going to agree to kiss. It was hard enough getting one person to stop to talk to us.
So, we switched up our intent and began to approach couples instead. And you know what? The day turned out even better than we had hoped. Before, everything was about two strangers making a connection. Now, it was about us making a connection with these strangers. We still asked if they'd kiss under the mistletoe, but mostly we listened to their stories.
Marc + Jessica
These two were the very first people we approached, and they agreed to our proposal! (Woohoo!) The couples project was off to a success. They had just arrived to Austin a couple hours earlier from Atlanta to celebrate Jessica's birthday. We hope you enjoyed ATX, Jess!
Frank + Lily
Frank was one of the friendliest guys we talked to all day. He's originally from Austin but has been living in Florida most of his adult life. He was visiting with his pup Lily to scope out a place to live. His late wife passed away a couple of months ago due to cancer so he longs to move closer to his daughter. We hope the gentrification didn't scare you away, Frank! Best of luck finding a home.
Cody + Michelle
These two were just in ATX for the day, taking a pit stop from their road trip moving from Louisiana to San Diego. Um, jealous. Have fun opening Christmas presents under your palm trees!
Trevor + Natalie
These two made the entire day worthwhile. Meeting them made me humble, appreciative and introspective and gave this project a new direction. At this point in the day I realized how badly I wish I had asked the others more meaningful questions. Trevor and Natalie are traveling musicians who panhandle during the day to make ends meet. These two don't beg, they don't badger, they don't harass. They simply play their music with the hopes people will donate. While we were talking, a homeless man approached us and asked us for change. Without hesitation, Natalie reached into her pocket and gave him some dollar bills. I almost broke down and cried right there. Here is someone who hardly has anything and is still giving what she can. We can all learn so much from people who have so little. I didn't get their numbers, I'm not even sure if they have phones, to ask more questions, but here are some of the highlights: Q: Where will you sleep tonight?
A: We'll probably find a park.
Q: How long have you been on the road?
A: About two years.
Q: Where are you from?
A: Seattle and North Carolina
Q: How often do you go home?
A: We try to about every three months.
Q: How do you get home?
A: We jump on freight trains.
As you can imagine, my other questions abruptly stopped there because I wanted to hear every detail about this freight train business. SERIOUSLY?! Are they straight out of a movie? I was pretty stunned. They mentioned how they've had to run alongside one to jump up and catch the ride and how they've met other nomads sharing the car. I really wanted to take a photo of them on the train tracks. Make it their future album cover. Man, I wish I could get into contact with them. We invited them to an open mic later that night, which turned out to be canceled. Natalie/Trevor, if you ended up going to Green Mesquite, we are SO sorry for being absent.
Tim + Odina
I just love Odina's personality in this picture! Tim may be tall, but her charisma is bigger. Tim is from Dallas and Odina was visiting from Mexico City. Talk about a long distance relationship! They really must believe that love is magic (backdrop of pic) since it can grow from all different parts of the continent.
Demetria + Damani
Damani saw us take a picture of Tim and Odina and asked us to take a picture of "him and his boo", so cute. Demetria was reluctant at first but opened up immediately when she learned about our project. She even hugged us goodbye after we swapped stories. Demetria met Damani right before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. They fell in love instantly, so when their homes were damaged from the storm they decided to make the move to ATX together. Four months going on forever! We wish y'all the best of luck.
This gentleman approached us, asked us what we were doing and then asked if they could be involved. Um, yes, I think I love you. Although they didn't want to provide their names, they told us they had been married for 34 years. They had such a kind and utterly genuine demeanor. I'd like to pick their brains for marriage secrets. Secret one: be open to fun photo projects.
Spiderman Jackson, Mackenzie, Soylent + Elf
Lastly, here are our amazing individuals who DID agree to kiss a stranger- our one and only Elf, Kelsie.
Spiderman, known as Spideman Jackson in the LA music community, spit an original rap for us which was, to say the least, actually pretty amazing. It went through the all the different time periods- from Cavemen to Romans to Modern History and beyond.
Mackenzie is a pre-school teacher by day, entrepreneur by night doing everything she can to ensure her child has an amazing future. Her openness and willing to divulge details surrounding her private life were contagious – we can all learn a thing or two from strangers and the need for connection.
Soylent Man, I wish this guy could've walked around town with us all day long. When we asked if he'd be willing to kiss Kelsie (for lack of a willing partner) he was ALL FOR IT. He literally said "mama, lay it on me!".
It's remarkable to realize that we would've never talked to any of these people or heard any of their stories if we hadn't set out for this project. I don't know if any of these people will remember us, but we'll remember them. Not to get overly deep with this project, but the experience has resonated with me. I realize just how tiny my impact is. This isn't a new revelation- to realize how small we are in this life. But it is humbling to have it knock you off your feet when you aren't expecting it.
I've reevaluated how I respond to workers, homeless and strangers if they approach me. Everyone thinks that they would stop- but would you?
I want to do one photo project a month in 2018. Have a great idea for a project? Leave me a comment below or email me!
CLICK HERE to visit Kelsie's website and check our her music.