The Society of Smallness

Underachieving since 2012

Category: Uncategorized

Not a haiku / No es haiku

by societyofsmallness

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art & Architecture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Plate. Parts of skeleton, nude man pulling sock over leg.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.


not a haiku for margaret
by Nick Eliopulos

they lied
on the label
when they wrote
these socks
are one

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no es haiku para margaret
por Nick Eliopulos

en la etiqueta
cuando escribieron
estos calcetines

Almuerzo Escolar / School Lunch

by societyofsmallness

Paul Gauguin, Still Life with Teapot and Fruit, 1896
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Por Viviana Moreno


Las escuelas públicas de Chicago (CPS) siguen dando paquetes de desayuno y lunch para los niños. Todo es muy seguro y bien organizado. Fui con Gregorio, después de colocarle un cubrebocas, para salir un ratito porque el pobre ya estaba fastidiado.

La persona que nos atendió sólo nos preguntó para cuántos niños necesitábamos comida. Traía guantes y cubrebocas y nos entregó todo en bolsa. Ni siquiera entramos al edificio y no tuvimos que esperar. 

Nos dieron seis cartoncitos de leche, dos manzanitas, dos naranjitas, una bolsita con brócoli, una con zanahorias, queso en tiritas, un vasito con yogurt, dos barritas rellenas de fruta, una bolsita del goldfish, dos sobrecitos de cranberries, un sándwich regular y uno de mantequilla de cacahuate con mermelada y una tacita de cereal. Todo venía con sus respectivos utensilios.

Corran la voz sobre este recurso y recuerden que la comida que no se recoge se tira a la basura y son tiempos difíciles. En caso de que no les hagan falta, tal vez conozcan a alguien que sí los necesite. No importa que tengan niños que no vayan a la escuela, a ellos también les dan.

– – – — — — – – –

By Viviana Moreno


Chicago Public Schools (CPS) continue to provide breakfast and lunch bags for children. Everything is very safe and well organized. I went with Gregorio, after putting a mask on him, to get out of the house for a while because the poor little guy was so fed up.

The person who waited on us only asked us how many children were having lunch. She handed us everything in a bag while wearing gloves and a mask. We didn’t even enter the building, nor did we have to wait. 

They gave us six small cartons of milk, two apples, two oranges, a small bag with broccoli, another one with carrots, string cheese, a small cup of yogurt, two fruit bars, a a bag of Goldfish crackers, two pouches of cranberries, a regular sandwich and one with peanut butter and jelly, and a cup of cereal. Everything included plastic ware.

Please spread the word about this resource and remember that uncollected food is thrown away and these are difficult times. You may not need this food, but perhaps you know someone who does. It doesn’t matter if your children are not enrolled at the schools, they will still get lunch.


by societyofsmallness

Jean Louis Théodore Géricault, TheRaft of the Medusa (1818-19)

On this day, April 1st in 1905, the German government adopted the letters SOS as a maritime distress signal in Morse code. SOS doesn’t mean anything, but in popular use the letters have become associated with the phrases “Save Our Soul” or “Save Our Ship.”

The curious fact that SOS is also the acronym for the Society of Smallness and that we decided to ponder this on April 1st, 2020 is an instance of synchronicity, in the Jungian sense of “meaningful coincidence.” Add to this that humanity is grappling with a situation of chaotic and global proportions and it is beginning to feel less than a coincidence and more like a calling.

Perhaps the idea of a society of smallness can grow in our imagination, pointing towards new ways of living with one another and the environment. Perhaps it’s time to undersize.

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The invisible worker

by societyofsmallness

Lyza Danger, “The New Fred Meyer on Interstate on Lombard.” CC BY-SA 2.0

By Viviana Moreno

Suddenly, I’ve gone from being an undervalued employee to one who everybody turns to. 

When they decided to increase the minimum wage, many did not agree. They did not believe that our work was important. But believe me, working in a supermarket is not easy, especially now.

Supermarket workers spend many hours on their feet, which results in painful physical problems in the long run. We must learn where each product is and whether it is available. We work weekends and holidays. We work rotating shifts. We learn to deal with every type of customer. Some customers call us whores (yes, whores), immigrants, idiots, etc. Some shove the money at us when paying. Some snatch the receipts impatiently from our hands. Some even throw food at us.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, we are one of the few workers that remain on the job. We are at risk of contracting the virus and becoming a source of infection to our families. And we are overworked. I have watched colleagues pick up extra shifts, work all night stocking merchandise, and continue working another shift the next day for a total of 16 to 18 hours straight. In spite of this, we receive complaints and insults from customers who get angry because we ran out of products. 

But for the first time in my life, someone called me a hero (I thought it was a bit much). Yesterday, a customer thanked me for continuing to work. I am also receiving messages and good vibes from people who I had not heard from in years. Everyone tells me to take care of myself. And today, a CTA bus driver dropped me off at the entrance of the store.

I truly appreciate your expressions of support and concern. So far, thank goodness, all is well.

Por Viviana Moreno

De un día para otro dejé de ser una empleada poco valorada y ahora todos se vuelcan hacia mí. 

Cuando decidieron aumentar el salario mínimo muchos no estaban de acuerdo, no creían que nuestro trabajo fuera importante. Créanme, trabajar en un supermercado no es fácil. 

Los trabajadores de supermercado pasamos muchas horas de pie y eso a la larga genera problemas físicos muy dolorosos. Tenemos que aprender dónde está cada producto y si está disponible. Trabajamos fines de semanas y días festivos. Rolamos turnos. Lidiamos con todo tipo de clientes. Algunos nos han llamado putas (sí, putas), inmigrantes, estúpidos, etc. Algunos nos avientan el dinero al pagar o nos arrebatan el recibo. Hay quienes nos avientan la comida. 

Desde que surgió la epidemia de Covid-19, somos de los pocos empleados que seguimos laborando. Somos muy propensos a contraer el virus y a ser un foco de infección para nuestras familias. He visto a compañeros trabajar turnos extra que se quedan toda la noche para abastecer mercancía y llegando la mañana tienen que seguir en ese turno, laborando hasta 16 o 18 horas seguidas. He recibido quejas e insultos por parte de los clientes que se enojan porque no hay producto.

Pero por primera vez en la vida me han llamado héroe (no pensé que fuera para tanto) y me han dado las gracias por seguir laborando. He recibido mensajes y buenas vibras de personas con quienes hacía años que no me comunicaba. Todos me dicen que me cuide. Hasta el chofer del bus me dejó en la mera puerta de entrada a la tienda.

De verdad gracias por sus muestras de apoyo y preocupación. Hasta ahora y gracias a Dios, todo bien.

Start Dust

by societyofsmallness

Interactive infographic by Cary & Michael Huang

An invisible cluster of DNA has given us a clearer view of life and what is to be valued in a good life.

For much of history, but especially since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution when mass production effectively alienated workers from their rightful products, societies have ignored and undervalued the work of everyday people. The daily labor of mothers, farmers, artisans, food and sanitation workers, early childhood teachers, factory employees, (and on and on), has not simply been unappreciated but systematically dismissed within a system where the implacable production of largely useless commodities is given preference over the wellbeing of people and their environment. Gender and class stereotypes have buttressed a great ideological wall that keeps the plight and daily struggles of common workers out of sight and out of consciousness.

Now a tiny cluster of DNA, a virus imperceptible to the naked eye, is laying bare much that was invisible: gross inequalities in pay, lack of the most basic benefits for the most vulnerable sectors of society, and contempt for or just plain ignorance about the work ordinary people perform. The invisible is now visible and the small is augmented.

The Society of Smallness is a playful space, but also a serious space to provoke dialogue and forge ideas. Who and what matters? How big is too big? What small gestures if practiced rigorously by many could bring about the transformation of our daily lives, our society, and our consciousness? Do you have any ideas, stories, artwork or poetry on the above questions? Let us know.

In the coming weeks we will bring to our small readership voices, perspectives, and ideas that illuminate the meaning of a society of smallness—one where no life form or matter is too small or insignificant to be considered, one where life unfolds at a pace in harmony with nature, one where we might become humble in the understanding that we humans are but tiny specks of star dust in a vast and mysterious universe.

Registry of Aesthetic Impressions photo gallery

by Micromanager

Photos by Ulises Rangel and Matt Stone.

SoS Summer Happenings

by Micromanager

There’s plenty going on this summer. Come log in some office hours with Documents Bureau or take the soapbox at Bughouse Square in July.

Documents Bureau Presents: Nature’s Notaries
Caracol in the Burnham Wildlife Corridor
Saturdays June 29, July 20 August 24, September 28
All events from 11am-2pm

Documents Bureau Presents: The Registry of Aesthetic Impressions
The Art Institute of Chicago’s Block Party
Sunday, July 21, 12:00-4:30pm

The Society of Smallness at Annual Bughouse Square Debates
Saturday, July 27, 1-4pm

Detailed info about these events:

Nature’s Notaries — Office clerks can be found in a natural setting at Caracol Gathering Space on the Burnham Wildlife Corridor where, as always, they will provide permits, certificates, or affidavits that express your love of the great outdoors and put it in official language. Learn more about Caracol here.

Registry of Aesthetic Impressions — A special production of Documents Bureau will appear at the annual Art Institute Block Party. (Yes, THAT Art Institute.) At this esteemed institution we will hold our bureaucratic court underneath a stairway in Griffin Court. Enjoy the art at a discounted entry fee and then testify to your aesthetic experience with us.

The Annual Bughouse Square Debates — The Best Summer Spot to Spout off. In a tradition as old as hobos and tramps, the Newberry Library’s Bughouse Square Debates celebrates Chicago’s past as host to “the finest soapbox culture in U.S. history.” The humble and portable soapbox stage offers just the right amount of space, time, and distance from which to practice minor acts of disruption. It takes place in Washington Square Park in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood.

The poetry of bureaucracy

by societyofsmallness


The offices of the Central Social Institution of Prague, Czechoslovakia had the largest vertical letter file in the world. Electrically operated elevator desks rose, fell and moved left or right at the push of a button. Date: 26th April 1937, Photo Credit: UPPA/Photoshot 

Good poetry leads right into the heart of the subject — makeup-free, wrinkles and hairs all exposed. Diving into this deep well reveals truth that is beautiful in its brutality.

By Theodore Roethke

I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.

Theodore Roethke, Michigan native and Pulitzer Prize winner who spent his childhood in a greenhouse.

For the Love of Bacteria

by societyofsmallness

Some scientists are working overtime to ensure that tiny bacteria can be preserved and then be brought back to life intact in 500 years. And that begs the question: why are bacteria so damn important? While it’s common knowledge that bacteria can ravage our bodies (e.g. cause pus oozing boils and rotting flesh) not as much attention is given to the beneficial role that bacteria play in maintaining the balance of life. Without bacteria, the cycle of life would come to a screeching halt as the carbon trapped in organic matter would not be broken down and made available again as food for the living.

Bacteria may be small, but they are not to be trifled with. Not only are bacteria some of the oldest organisms that ever appeared on earth (a testament to their resilience), they are also EVERYWHERE: in soil, water, those romantic hot springs where you spent your honeymoon, and even in radioactive waste. Bacteria live in symbiotic relationship with humans and animals residing in almost every tissue of the body, such as the skin, where they feed off sweat and oils, and our guts, where they help break down dietary fiber for absorption and aid in the synthesis of vitamins. Bacteria claim second place next to plants in the total biomass of the planet. A study published this past week by scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Israel estimates the total weight of bacteria at 73 Gt C (gigatons of Carbon), that is 1,166 times larger than humans at 2.5 Gt C.

So what’s the dealio? Are these bugs rulers of the world? And why has it taken us so long to figure it out? It turns out that bacteria are mindbogglingly diverse but until very recently, it was difficult to grow them in labs for study. Today, scientists have at their disposal powerful imaging technology that they are able to take with them out in the field.  Breakthroughs in genetics have made possible the manipulation of DNA to not only study mutations but also modify and program genes in bacteria and therefore to use them for beneficial purposes, such as cleaning up big oil spills. Add to that developments in super computing that allow scientists to design models and make predictions at unprecedented scale and we could call our time the Gold Rush era of bacterial studies.

We have much to learn about the role of bacteria in our planet and we stand to gain great insights about our own survival by studying bacteria’s unsurpassed talent to mutate, specialize, and resist eradication. So, next time you are reaching for the hand sanitizer, consider what you’re up against: 73 billion metric tons of germs that have been around since the dawn of time and will possibly be here long after we’re gone. Proceed to wash with soap and sanitize, if you must, but not before humbling yourself before the mighty rulers of the living world.

Odysseus in a barrel

by societyofsmallness

jacques savin

Jean-Jacques Savin aboard his barrel.

On December 26, Jean-Jacques Savin, a 71-year old French adventurer, set off on a three-month transatlantic voyage aboard a plywood barrel that is just big enough for him, a tiny kitchen, a sleeping cot, and a carefully selected stash of supplies. He follows in the wake of mariners of yore, mythical and real.

Odysseus’s voyage lasted ten years and was fraught with danger, but at least he had a fleet of twelve ships. Savin has opted for a tiny craft partly inspired by the voyage of an earlier seafarer, compatriot Alain Bombard, a biologist, physician, and politician who in 1952 sailed across the Atlantic in a small, inflatable boat measuring a mere 15 feet. Bombard took only a sextant and a few provisions on his voyage. He lived on fish and saltwater for three months.

Savin’s equipment and provisions are more extensive. On his website, he lists safety, technical, and miscellaneous categories that include a fire extinguisher, a raft, a GPS reader, and a manual water making machine. Among the extras, “bonbonnes de gaz,” which we’d like to think are scientifically designed vapor pellets that turn into saltwater taffy when they come in contact with the surface of the ocean, or maybe they are canned farts so Savin can amuse himself on those lonely days at sea. But no, these bonbonnes are strictly functional, they are fuel canisters presumably for cooking his “nourriture lyophilisée,” or freeze-dried food. According to CNN, Savin also brought along “a bottle of Sauternes white wine and a block of foie gras for New Year’s Eve, as well as a bottle of Saint-Émilion red for his birthday in January.”

Savin has a fascinating past as a military paratrooper, a private pilot, and a ranger at a national park in Central Africa. A consummate sportsman, Savin has sailed across the Atlantic four times, swam across the Bay of Arcachon, and climbed Mont Blanc in 2015. But his voyage in a barrel is the most audacious feat by far for it entails, as Savin explains, a “crossing during which man isn’t captain of his ship, but a passenger of the ocean.”

Godspeed, Jean-Jacques Savin! We are inspired by your odyssey and will continue to follow your progress as you float across the ocean in your tiny capsule.

Learn more about Jean-Jacques Savin’s project on his website or follow him on Facebook.

JSavin_kitchen  JSavain_sleeping