The chance to sit still and let something happen
While the dispatch was on holiday, I had the chance to attend a performance at the Fisher Center in New York. Located on the campus of Bard College, the venue was designed by Frank Gehry. The inspiring experience is captured by Gehry's description of his uncommon creation.
It’s not a traditional theater building. It has a park-like setting. As you approach, you see the building glistening. It’s welcoming. Its scale is user-friendly and inviting. Its façade at the end of a meadow looks out onto an expanse of green that will stay green. Its entry canopy is not a marquee; it’s more like a covered porch, a place for visitors to mingle, to enjoy a sense of community inspired by the performing arts that the building celebrates.
An architect struggles to strike a balance between novelty and innovation, and convenience and practicality. When is it best to break new ground and when is it better to take advantage of standards? One of the best parts about working on Uncommon is wrestling with similar questions. Uncommon is meant to be different, obviously, but what does that mean? Is there an uncommon way to change your address? What about an error page? The temptation is to try to make every word, experience, and pixel unique in some way, but thankfully others often point out that sometimes a sign-in page is just a sign-in page.
The core elements of Uncommon deserve to be special, though. One we've thought about a lot is how someone is invited to join. When you becomes a paid member, you receive one invite to share. The invite provides a full year of Uncommon for free. We hope it's a delightful way to experience the community alongside someone close to you.
The dilemma concerns how the invite is created and shared. My first thought was that the invite should be something tangible, but each time I tried to figure out the logistics, it struck me as too complicated. For once, I was the one making the case for a simple, digital solution.
When I mentioned the tangible idea to others, though, the response was the opposite of what I expected. "Oh, you have to do real invites!" "I love the idea of an actual invite. That's totally worth the extra effort." "Do it!"
So, I started over and this time, found a way to create a physical invite and get it in the hands of a member, who can mail or hand it to a friend. We even came up with a twist on the dreaded invite code, creating fun three-word phrases from a list of favorite words.
As soon as the design is just right, we'll print the invites and include them in the site's debut. It's almost silly how much time has been put into these invites, but if it proves a meaningful introduction to Uncommon, an experience that reflects the importance of each person to this community, then every minute was worthwhile.
The latest dispatch asked, Do you have a favorite story of hospitality?
I was out of state and ran into a friend I had fallen out of touch with over the past decade. He invited not just me, but my (non-mutual) friends with me to his place for drinks and snacks. He set out food for us and made me an amazing gin and tonic. I didn't even know I liked gin and tonics. It was just extremely touching and sweet for him to be so unreservedly hospitable. Especially in a situation where a simple "Good to see you! How's life?" would have sufficed.
I had climbed through my friend's window, way after our freshman curfew, so we could talk. Her mom came in, so after unsuccessfully trying to hide in her closet, and I was carted out to the living room while my mother was called. It was almost midnight on a school night, but the whole family gathered. One of her sisters gave me a back rub while the mom and dad offered me some of their leftover popcorn. Someone else went to get me a pillow. They didn't yell, or ask what I was doing in their daughter's bedroom. They just treated me really nicely for about 15 minutes until I was picked up and taken back home. Things weren't nearly as nice there.
I've come across a lot of wonderful people who really and truly exhibit the gift of hospitality - and it is a gift, not everyone has it. My boss at the restaurant where I work treats everyone like family, my host mom in France welcomed me into her home and was so warm and loving, similarly my host family in Kenya, my mom. One of my best experiences with it, though, was at the beginning of this year. I had just finished college in December and gone home for Christmas, but still wanted to live in my college town. I didn't have a job or a place to live, but one of the families from church that I've gotten to know over the last couple years offered their spare room to me while I got on my feet. My parents were a little skeptical and kept asking if I was a nuisance to them or did they really not mind? I reassured them because the family really and truly didn't mind my staying at all. They welcomed me and expressed over and over that that's what that room was for. I lived with them for a month and a half. Now, a little boy from Ethiopia lives in that room; they adopted him and brought him into their family. Now that is hospitality.
My parents were famous (my father infamous, and soon you will find out why) for their hospitality. Every friend of our family knew that they could stop by any time, and they would be welcomed with smiles and food. Since we couldn't lock the doors on our hundred-year-old house, friends knew they were welcome whether we were home or not.<br><br>Hospitality wasn't extended for only a meal or a night. There was almost always someone living with us long-term (rent-free). Hospitality was quite literally a way of life for us. There was one time, however, that my father took hospitality several steps too far. Driving home from work, he decided to pick up a hitchhiker. This fact alone causes expressions of alarm when I tell the story now, but in the seventies - and especially for my father - this was something that happened with some regularity. I don't have any stories about the other hitchhikers my father picked up over the years because I never met them. I met this one, though, when my father brought him home. My sisters and I were excited about our impromptu guest. My mother was less so. It probably won't surprise you to hear that the hitchhiker ate dinner with us. And afterwards, with it being so late and all, it just didn't seem right to put him back out on a two-lane road in rural Virginia. He would be spending the night! My mother was sure that we would all be victims of a brutal crime that night. But luck, a knack for judging character, and a healthy dose of genuine hospitality meant that we all awoke the next morning, alive and well. My father drove the hitchhiker back to the main road, handed him $20, and wished him safe travels. We never heard from him again, except for later than evening, when he called to ask if he could come back for dinner. How far had he gotten? A mile.
Q. & A. with Brian Eno on the Best Use of a Television, Why Art Students Make Good Pop Stars and the Meaning of 'Visual Music':
I sneak into the back of my shows and watch people. I’m fascinated by it. There you have something that changes very slowly. Doesn’t have a story, doesn’t have a beat, doesn’t surprise you in any quick way. And people sit there for hours. The whole of television is built on the idea that attention spans are limited to a few seconds. I don’t see that. I see people who love the chance to sit still and let something happen to them—very, very slowly.
Looking for Intimacy in the Age of Facebook by Andrew Reiner:
On the heels of this armored bravado, I asked students to take on another experiment, one that challenged their Facebook ethos: to eat in a crowded university dining room without the company of school work, laptops or smartphones. Or friends. Then they had to journal about it.
What are three of your favorite words? If any are adjectives, nouns, or colors, you may find them included in a future Uncommon invite.