To draw outside the lines

The stories we love are filled with struggle, conflict, and failure, yet so often the stories we present to others are a highlight reel of accomplishments, perfect meals, and sunny days. In quiet moments with trusted friends, though, we share those embarrassing moments and painful mistakes, the missed opportunities and unpleasant conversations. Mistakes and failures don't define us, but they do profoundly shape us.

Uncommon is too young to have failed, but there have been many doubts and difficult lessons. I do regularly think about what failure would be, however. Dreams and aspirations can serve as guides, but it also helpful to have a clear picture of where you don't want to end up. Three things come to mind:

An all-day destination. I hope no one ever says, "Uncommon is awesome! I'm on that site all the time." Uncommon shouldn't be one more place that fills our days. Even if the site is wonderful and refreshing to visit (and that's certainly the goal), something has gone wrong if it consumes a large amount of our time. It should be a limited experience that pushes us toward people and exploration, not pulls us ever closer to our screens.

A mirror. This is the most important and most difficult undertaking for any community, online or in-person. How do you not end up with a bunch of people who are very similar to one another? There is a healthy mix of delightful people here from a number of different countries and backgrounds, but there is much to be done to welcome and make room for the full spectrum of marvelous people who we don't cross paths with every day. Many of you have already advocated for true diversity on this front porch. It must be central to everything we do and will only be accomplished together.

Common. We have places with ads and sites that sell data about us. We have Share this! buttons on anything that can be shared and newsletter sign-up forms that take over our screens. Notification counts remind us of what we're missing and there is apparently an urgent need to invite all of our friends. We don't need one more place that embraces these ubiquitous recipes for success. If you receive an email that says, "A friend tagged you on Uncommon! See what they said about you...", you'll know we've failed.

I believe we have a better chance of avoiding these failures by understanding them from the start. When failure is talked about, it's typically as part of the heroic tale of how something or someone achieved great success, but it's okay to talk about mistakes and fears, struggles and doubts, when you're living with them, too.

Invite people into the story, even when you don't know how it ends.


The latest dispatch asked, What was the first magazine you loved?

Ahmet wrote:

This may sound pretty geeky, but the first magazine I really loved was Dragon Magazine, a role-playing games magazine published by TSR. The first time I picked it up it had this picture of the green dragon on the front cover and the image was just amazing. It was a rainy day and I saw it in the window of a thrift shop in Hastings, UK, on an evening after being soaked in rain and having my first ever whisky. I was 15. The fantastic stories within, the adventures and the elaborate storytelling captured my imagination. Over time, I scavenged the magazine from flea markets and comic stores. since they were all in English, I had to translate the content before running a session. to this day my parents credit my reading of nerdy gaming magazines for my English skills ...which explains the bad grammar :-)

Heather wrote:

It's a tie between American Girl magazine and Elle Girl. I don't even know which came first all I know is I loved them both!

William wrote:

Several come to mind: Odyssey, the heyday of Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly, and the tower of old 1970s Cricket volumes my sisters gave me. But I think I have to pick 3-2-1 Contact. Just the publication of BASIC programs in a kids’ magazine would have been enough! But then add in all the other science and current events content that was educational and entertaining without being condescending; yeah, that was the best! I devoured every issue, and it helped me see the bigger world beyond my suburban surroundings.

Marjorie wrote:

Almost ashamed to admit the first magazine I loved was "Dynamite!," which many won't remember. Brings me back!

Jon wrote:

Cricket. They drew the characters as comics throughout the magazine. They had backstories and lives. There was even a copy, probably around 1985, where they went into detail about each of the characters. I never realized it was possible to draw outside the lines, so to speak, until then.

Karina wrote:

That's easy! National Geographic. How could you not? It's filled with a myriad of different universes - literally and figuratively. It's enabled me to travel and dream while laying in my bed, and has unleashed my mind unlike any other printed publication I can ever remember. Reading and treasuring these gems was a family tradition from my grandpa's time, who bounded them in leather volumes. Even our school teacher would forbid us from ever cutting anything out of a National Geographic magazine - these were viewed upon as mini-encyclopedias. I recently donated a bunch of magazines - my 14 year collection - to libraries and collectors so I could spread the joy to others.

Timmy wrote:

While I have loved other magazines in the past, the first magazine I have loved and bought with my own money is a recent purchase: Nautilus. Existing both as digital and as analog, this magazine claims to be, "the New Yorker of science". I can't vouch for this comparison (I have not read a single issue of The New Yorker cover to cover). Instead, I will offer my own: Nautilus is Radiolab in written form. All of the content is extremely thought-provoking and wonderful, and its aesthetic and design is of a really high quality. Math, anthropology, astrobiology, philosophy, chemistry, art, linguistics -- they even have fiction pieces! Please, do yourself a favor and read it.

Marina wrote:

The first magazine I loved was “George”, John Kennedy Jr.’s political pet project.  Everything about it was awesome – the celebrities on the front cover dressed like historical political figures, John’s editorials, insightful articles on the state of politics in the US, and a smattering of pop culture and humor thrown in.  It excited the political geek in me to no end! The publisher tried to keep the magazine going after John’s death, but it was really never the same and folded within a few short months.

Markus wrote:

The first magazine I loved was definitely "Visions", a German music magazine. I'm reading it for more than 10 years now. It shaped my taste in music considerably - opening my mind in various directions. I'm really thankful for that, since I like listening to metal core, post rock, alternative and Indie music as well as electronic and more pop-oriented music by now. How awesome is that?

Sara wrote:

The first magazine I loved wasn't a magazine exactly, but the dELiA*s catalog. As a teen, everything was way out of my babysitting-money budget, but I studied the pages carefully for style inspiration. And I cut up the cheeky words to use in collages I made for my friends and inserted into the sleeves of my binders.

Oliver wrote:

The first magazine I loved was the National Geographic. This was a time before the internet, before anything and everything you could ever want to see or know was a Google search away. NG was a way to explore the world, a way to learn about stunning new scientific discoveries, see images of the rarest and most bizarre things on earth, and imagine what life was like on the other side of the globe, or on Mars. NG was fuel for the fire of my imagination.

Amanda wrote:

It's absolutely mortifying to admit now, but as a girl raised in the 80s, I had an obsession with Tiger Beat. I could barely survive without knowing what Ralph Macchio's favorite ice cream was, or how Scott Baio spent his Sunday afternoons. (Like I said - mortifying!)

Shawn wrote:

The first magazines I loved were National Geographic and Mad magazine. While the years have shifted my attention away from Mad, I love when a Spy vs. Spy comic crosses my path. National Geographic remains a favorite. NG fostered in me a curious respect for diversity and all life that continues to grow the more I experience and learn.

Liz wrote:

The question about magazines brought back fond memories for me.  As a child, a family member gave me a subscription to Cricket magazine. I loved the stories and artwork, and do credit it as contributing to my lifelong love of reading & learning!

Bern wrote:

I fell in love with my first magazine when it was already too late. My father began a subscription to National Geographic when I was born, saving all the back issues for when I became old enough to read and/or appreciate the natural world. As a child, I went through a dinosaur phase and a princess phase and a space phase and an American history phase and a baseball phase, but I never got around to appreciating nature (or enjoying the outdoors). Dad gave up on me in this respect when I was about eight or nine, and the National Geographics stopped coming. I discovered the stack of back issues a couple of years later and read them all cover to cover. I don't know what happened to all of those magazines, but I'd read them all again now if I got the chance.

Sascha wrote:

The first magazine I loved must have been Nintendo Power. I devoured those pages whenever I could get my hands on an issue. I would spend hours sitting in an aisle in the PX and read about the newest games and analyze the drawings of maps and the crude screenshots. There was never an issue with the time it took my parents to shop if there was a new issue on the shelf. Oh do I miss those days. I mean, how could you not love a magazine with covers like this.

Steve wrote:

I was probably 8 (back in the 1960's!) when I started reading MAD Magazine regularly, so you could say it was the first magazine I loved. It was a strange but informative window into culture that has had a lasting effect on how I see things. I grew up in the rural west and midwest, but MAD left me with a lot of residual New York framing of how the world works. With a twist. MAD has changed and so have I and I haven't read new issues for many years (Color? Advertising?) When my own kids were growing up in the 90's, they read my old copies of MAD and my daughter says that it gave her a skewed cultural infusion from the 60's uncommon for someone of her generation! Much like reading old New Yorker cartoons at my grandparents' house informed me about earlier 20th century culture through its own style of humor.

Milo wrote:

Maybe the first magazine I loved was Rolling Stone, but like musical artists it is not a whole magazine I love but articles and writers. Many alternative magazines charge my imagination and inspire me, some recent ones like Butt, for example, but for me, it's magazine writers like Libby Gelman-Waxner, Paul Rudnick, and now Matt Taibbi.

Keith wrote:

The first magazine I loved as an adult was 2600. It felt like a peek into a secret society. I understood very little of the technical information in the beginning but the exposure to the hacking community left an indelible imprint on how I view freedom, privacy, and the power of technology. I would pour over every page marveling at the strange handles and shootouts and dreaming of seeing my name there someday.

Paul wrote:

2000AD. I got prog 2 (issue 2) and got it regularly after that. Sometimes I look on eBay to see what I could have sold it for if I kept hold of it. Fortunately it isn't so much as to make me regretful. At the time it was such a different comic compared to what else was around.

David wrote:

MAD, I wanted to be able to read the cartoons the older kids were laughing at.

Drew wrote:

Popular Mechanics – I was a nerd and loved sci-fi and this was a great addition to the Venn diagram in my head between ‘what is’, ‘what might be’, and ‘WTF’.

Brad wrote:

Highlights Magazine probably doesn't count, because I only looked at them at the doctor's office and only for the hidden things puzzle on the last page. I never really got into magazines much as a kid, so I think I'd have to say the first one I really fell into was reason. The idea that we can hold government accountable and argue for simpler ways to solve societal issues is one that has resonated with me for a long time. Their reporting is usually thoughtful, in-depth and free from vitriol—a rarity these days in the land of politics.

Uncommon reads

The Invisible Campfire of Online Communities by Lauren Bacon:

So this isn’t a rant about how the internet sucks, or how Facebook/Instagram/PopularAppDuJour is destroying our sense of meaningful connection. It’s not really a rant at all, so much as a contemplation on the questions, What kind of internet do I want to be a part of? What is the most spectacularly evolutionary potential of the internet? What constitutes meaningful connection and community? And, How can I contribute to building the internet I want to experience?

Pinboard Turns Five by Maciej Ceglowski:

I find that the longer I run the site, the more resistant I become to the idea of ever giving it up, even if I need to take the occasional break. It is pleasant to work on something that people draw benefit from. It is especially pleasant to work on something lasting. And I enjoy the looking-glass aspect of our industry, where running a mildly profitable small business makes me a crazy maverick not afraid to break all the rules.

Your turn

Is there a failure you're grateful for?