Intimacy with the things of the world

I thought I'd try an experiment this year. I'm curious what it would be like to spend each week listening to a single album, starting a new one after the week is up.

I miss that feeling of knowing something completely, returning to it again and again, intimately aware of its flaws and perfections. I played a vinyl album so many times growing up that I'm a little disappointed when that one song doesn't skip.

I hear music all the time, but not in that way that it becomes part of me, when a melody triggers a memory and I anticipate (or even dread) the next song as another ends.

The book Still Life with Oysters and Lemon by Mark Doty is a mediation on a single painting by the same name. The author writes beautifully about being consumed by one thing.

I have felt the energy and life of the painting's will; I have been held there, instructed. And the overall effect, the result of looking and looking into its brimming surface as long as I could look, is love, by which I mean a sense of tenderness toward experience, of being held within an intimacy with the things of the world.

There is great joy in abundance, possibility wrapped in an overflowing buffet of sounds, tastes, and experiences. There is also joy to be found in starting again at chapter one, clicking repeat, getting lost in the familiar, and looking and looking into its brimming surface as long as you can look.


Last week's dispatch asked, Do you have a favorite story of serendipity?

Kris wrote:

I was living in Osaka, Japan some years back and had planned a short travel trip to Taipei, Taiwan for a weekend because it sounded like fun. For various reasons my travel partner could not come along so I was going solo. In her stead there was an older white-haired Japanese businessmen sitting in her reserved plane seat. When we got our mini meal I saw how he started digging right into the dessert first: cheesecake. As I'm not a big fan of the cake I asked him in my simple Japanese if he would like mine. He happily agreed and we spent the remainder of the trip chatting. I found out that he was headed there for the wedding of his son to a Taiwanese woman. He offered to travel together as I was on my own on a Friday night and I wasn't sure how to get to the city proper from the airport. I agreed. Turns out that his soon-to-be-daughter-in-law's family was picking up the businessman and they just happened to live nearish to where I was staying. Lucky! In the course of that car ride I found out that the businessman was headed back to Osaka on the same flight as me, too! His soon-to-be family immediately offered me a ride back to the airport with a pick up time at 4am so I could catch our early flight back. Waiting around outside a convenience store at 4am was definitely a nerve-wracking experience because I didn't have any way to contact that family and if they didn't pick me up soon I'd definitely miss my flight. But you know what? They appeared and I got to my flight on time and all of this from a simple offer of cheesecake.

Ryan wrote:

I remember when I first met my best friend Joe, in fifth grade. I thought he was unbelievably odd, and I never would have guessed we’d end up stuck to each other by an accident of birth. The only two boys of our year in our church’s youth group, we found ourselves constantly thrown together month after month, year after year, until we became friends by default. Over 20 years later, with a host of youthful misadventures, creative collaborations, perennial debates, and shared milestones in between, I can’t even imagine how my life would have turned out if not for this other kid, born just a couple months earlier than me in 1980.

Melissa wrote:

I got a job because of a retweet. Someone I follow and have never met retweeted someone in a nearby town saying they needed someone like me. I made a coffee date and got a job. I met a guy working (from a different city) at that company and fell in love. We did long distance for awhile, then I moved to Portland, and fell in love with this city, too. The last 3.5 years of my life would have been very different if I hadn't seen that retweet.

Stephen wrote:

Three years ago, I worked at the Apple Store as a Personal Trainer, empowering mostly elderly folks in the mysterious and powerful ways of Apple technology. One Sunday morning, a colleague of mine became ill, and I was called to fill in for her on a Training Session. Right on time, a spry older gentleman walked in. After a few minutes, he seemed far more interested in me than the training. You see, he was also filling in for someone -- his wife was the regular attendee, but she was sick that day. We discussed my love of computer history, his experiences as an Austin lawyer, the future of Texas transportation, and much more. It was pleasantly uncommon. Our hour flew by. I didn't see him again for two years. Then one dismal Fall day he returned to my Apple Store, for a completely different reason. "Let's have lunch," he suggested immediately. "I've got something I want to ask you." A week later he offered me a job helping him build a company to show the world a new side of Texas. I said yes and left Apple a few months later. The experience has changed my life tremendously for the better. All because a couple of substitutes had a memorable conversation. Life is beautifully bizarre.

Jenny wrote:

When asked for a story of serendipity, my boyfriend said once upon a time a guy missed a gig he wanted to see. He went to the following one by the same musician Benjamin Wetherill, and a girl sat down next to him. It is also my favourite story of serendipity indeed. <br><br>So this happened 8 years ago in Leeds, not long before Christmas. I bought a small indie magazine because of an interview that related to a close friend, in the same magazine I read about the singer/songwriter Benjamin Wetherill from Leeds. Little did I know about the lively local music scene so upon coming across this small article, I decided to go to Benjamin's upcoming gig, which turned out to be the one my now boyfriend had missed.<br><br>I enjoyed Benjamin's music tremendously, got a flyer of his following gig. Went there, entered the venue - a small room upstairs of a pub - where only one seat was left. I lost myself in the live music and random thoughts until the interval, when I bought a pack of crisps and offered some to people who sat next to me. People on my left said no, the lone guy on my right said "why not".  These small unlikely situations brought me and my boyfriend together at that crucial gig. It is no fairytale though as we have been working slowly on our relationship and are still at it!

Ben wrote:

Recent serendipity has come to me on Twitter. I'm a musician and I found two of the music services I use to distribute my music (@gumroad and @distrokid) randomly on Twitter. I'm glad I did because both of them are great!

Brad wrote:

My favorite story of serendipity would have to be the one that led to meeting my wife. She was a freshman at a university over a thousand miles away and she was trying to meet new people. One night, a guy in the dorm courtyard commented on her web-comic-related t-shirt and they soon became friends. It just so happened that I had known this guy through an online community of ex-gamers, to which he later also introduced her. It is through this improbable series of events that my marriage is indebted to Penny Arcade and dorm room friendships.

Uncommon reads

The paradox of joy by Sarah J. Bray:

Like most true things, joy is a paradox. We most often find it, not when we’re doing things that bring us immediate pleasure and gratification, but in disrupting our lives with something that is difficult, out-of-the-ordinary, inconvenient.

Give more attention by Josh Elman:

Over time, I feel like we are all giving less and less attention to anything. We now give continuous partial attention to many things at once. But this is not working. [...] So my resolution and focus for 2014 is to give attention to the things that are most important to me.

Inconspicuous Production by Mandy Blankenship:

Rather than collecting more in order to feel significant, one could contribute more, making goods and providing services. Add value. Not in order to gain importance or a feeling of worth, but for the joy of it.

The Builder's High by Rands:

Turn off those notifications, turn your phone over, turn on your favorite music, stare at your blank slate and consider what you might build. In that moment of consideration, you’re making an important decision: create or consume? The things we’re giving to the future are feeling increasingly unintentional and irrelevant. They are half-considered thoughts of others. When you choose to create, you’re bucking the trend because you’re choosing to take the time to build.

Your turn

Which album do you know best?