GISHWHES: A Story of Hope, Love, and Dresses Made of Corn Husks

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about GISHWHES and encouraged all our users to participate. Hopefully you decided to join us, and learned what a blast it is to let go of all sense of normalcy for a week. If not, though, don’t worry – there are plenty of ways to live vicariously through other teams. Just search “gishwhes” on any form of social media and have a look at the hijinks we’ve been up to for the past seven days. An example that might be fun to check out is Item #147, in which teams were instructed to use Photoshop to send actor Matt Cohen’s abs on vacation around the world. Our team, of course, chose to make it a pun:

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A Week of Craziness…and Kindness

As I begin to recover from my GISHWHES hangover, washing the cornhusk residue off of my hands and cleaning up the wilted flower crown from my kitchen table, I’m reflecting on the events of last week. This year’s Hunt more than most has been about not only having fun, getting creative, and teaching the world that “normal” is just a word in the dictionary, but also about doing good to others and spreading random acts of kindness across the world. GISHWHES is sponsored by the charity Random Acts, so this is to be expected, but my team found that this year, a much larger portion of our submissions were created with the intent to make people feel good rather than slightly uncomfortable.

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In addition to a new set of “Happiness Items,” in which teams had to make someone happy each day of the Hunt and submit evidence on that day, there were items such as “Bring a basket of homemade treats to someone struggling to get by or living on the streets,” and “Help out the first responders in your area by bringing ice-cream to your local police, fire, or EMS department while dressed as the world famous Dessert Fairy.” The former we did not document out of respect for privacy, but the latter was an experience worth noting. We originally brought the ice cream to the local police station, but the officer on duty informed us that there were more people currently at the fire station, and that they “probably deserve it more over there.” It would almost seem that our generosity was contagious.

Taking a Stand

With it being election season, and with this Hunt being organized primarily by Americans, the item list would be remiss if it did not include at least a little bit of political humor. From dubbing a “Beavis and Butt-Head” cartoon with voices of prominent political figures to illustrating the fairy tale “Trumpunzel,” several of the items poked fun at the upcoming presidential candidates. However, one item took this theme for a more serious turn, and one that I personally appreciated. In 2001, American Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence wrote an op-ed piece for his own Congressional campaign site that claimed “smoking doesn’t kill.” The item instructed teams to take a photo in front of the gravestone of someone who died from a smoking-related illness, Tweet it to Mike Pence, and hashtag it #quitblowingsmokeabouttobacco. Jumping at the opportunity to help with this cause, I hopped in my friend’s car and we made the two-hour drive to Philadelphia to visit my grandfather’s grave.

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Now, I’m not including this as a highlight to make anyone sad or imply that GISHWHES is a depressing experience. My point is that, even while we’re out having fun in the most unorthodox of ways, we can still find a chance to do good in the world, or stand up for what we believe in. My nana was very excited that I was able to make this point on such a grand scale, and we all knew that my grandfather would have been honored to be involved.

Back to the Fun Stuff

On a less serious note, I’d like to present some of the highlights from my team’s 2016 GISHWHES. This was our fifth year competing, and by this point, we’ve become a well-oiled machine. As I said before, a photo from the 2014 Hunt of one of our teammates modeling a dress made of toilet paper is still featured on the GISHWHES homepage. This year, we made two more dresses out of unorthodox materials, as well as several forms of battle armor.

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A dress made of old technology, modeled in a storefront window.

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Cornhusk evening wear.

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Battle armor made from items in a big box store – defending the women’s undergarments.

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Squaring off against the drone uprising using kitchenware battle armor.

We celebrated the holidays – all of them at once.

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We took a string quartet to the dentist.

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We showed how Stormtroopers would have assimilated into pre-Industrial society.

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A Lasting Effect

Even though GISHWHES 2016 is over, and I’ve got a full year left before I need to think about how to sew kale together again, I like to think that this year’s Hunt has inspired me to keep up with random acts of kindness even when it’s not a contest. My team delivered our basket of homemade treats to a local tent city set up under a bridge. We brought along some bottled water, and the people we met reported that they didn’t have any and really appreciated the donation. Maybe next week I’ll come back with another case of water and a pizza this time.

GISHWHES is designed to get people out of their comfort zones, both through crowdsourcing and random acts of kindness. If you’d told me five years ago that I could ask my dentist to let me bring four strangers into his office to pose with string instruments, I would have thought you were crazy. But I did that. If you’d told me five years ago that I could walk under a bridge with a basket of goodies to give to someone in need, I would have said no way – I would be too anxious or scared. But several of my team members have done similar things thanks to GISHWHES. And maybe, just maybe, the world is a little better for it.

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