Honorary mom

A painting. And another painting. And another painting. And another ... Also, 7 other things worth your time.

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Meet Cindi Decker. She has a great, fun story -- and one that also contains a vital lesson for anyone who's ever had a message they wanted to get out to the world.

Decker is a teacher in Jacksonville, Florida. Last year, she took an art class with a friend, and came home with with her second-ever-in-her-life painting: an egret, or maybe a swan, on a blue background.

Her son thought people would like it. So he snapped a photo and posted it on Reddit. (It’s the photo on the left, above.)

“My mom painted this and said no one would like it. It’s her 2nd painting,” he wrote.

Boom. People liked it. Within hours, tens of thousands had seen it and “upvoted” it. But that's not the crazy part.

A commenter got an idea:

“Someone paint the photo of his mom holding her painting and repost it.”

An artist in Sweden named  Kristoffer Zetterstrand took the idea and ran with it.

(Zetterstrand’s is the photo in the middle, above.)

Clever, right? Maybe you can see where this is going.

A student in Canada named Laila Amer, painted a painting of Zetterstrand holding his painting of Decker holding her painting - and posted it.

(Amer’s painting is on the right, above.)

Then, an artist in Chicago, Seamus Wray, raced to paint Amer holding her painting of Zetterstrand holding his painting of Decker holding her painting. 

Around there, things start to branch out. Another Canadian artist painted an Amer-Zetterstrand-Decker painting, and yet another one, Traci Sethre, painted Wray holding his paitning of Amer-Zetterstrand-Decker.

Then another, by artist Travis Simpson in Indiana, in which he displays the Sethre-Amer-Zetterstrand-Decker chain.

It goes on and on and on, as another Reddit user diagrammed in this helpful (and slightly insane) flowchart

It’s a cute story, but I think there’s also a vital reason why the whole thing took off like this — something that is easy to explain, hard to replicate, and a sort of Great White Whale for so many people who have messages that they want to get out there.

The reason: Pure authenticity. By definition, it's hard to fake.

And you can see it come through in interview after interview that Decker has given about the whole thing.

  • On Reddit itself: “I am overwhelmed and over the moon how this has turned into a positive movement.”

  • “I am just a very ordinary mum who has had an extraordinary few days,” she told the BBC. (I'm guessing she said "mom," but that's how they quoted her.)

  • “So many people have been so kind. They say, 'Keep us updated and post your next painting.' But I'm not going to. I don't want to wear out my welcome,” she told The Washington Post, adding that she'd been nicknamed, “the honorary mom of Reddit.”

Lots of people look for shortcuts. They want the accolades and rewards, without being willing to truly give and show themselves. But in these moments, you can get a glimpse of what truly makes people react.

Vulnerability. Authenticity. And a chance for others to create and contribute as well.

7 other things worth your time

  • Halloween? Sorry, canceled, mostly, at least according to the Centers for Disease Control.

  • Pope Francis to parents of LGBTQ kids: “The church loves your children as they are because they are children of God." (America)

  • New FDA rules make it unlikely there could be a coronavirus vaccine by Election Day. Separately, only 9 percent of Americans say they’d trust one enough to take it immediately anyway. Another 30 percent say they’d be willing to get it “a few months” after it first becomes available.” (Washington Post, Axios)

  • Not surprising, but the CEO of United Airlines says the company will stay at 50 percent size until there’s a vaccine. (Skift)

  • Mike Bloomberg has reportedly now paid the fines of 32,000 felons in Florida so they can vote in November. (The Hill)

  • High-end Hollywood homebuyers have a new sought-after amenity: an Amazon room, where all the things you buy online can be stored safely and decontaminated before you open them. (Hollywood Reporter)

  • It’s official now, and nobody can say otherwise. Marvin Gaye, 'What's Going On' (1971) is the best album of all time, edging out The Beach Boys, 'Pet Sounds' (1966) and Joni Mitchell’s, 'Blue' (also 1971), according to Rolling Stone, which released its updated list of the 500 best albums. (Rolling Stone)

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