To somehow harness the auspicious wonder

I was in my early twenties when I realized there were things my dad knew that I wanted to know. Parental knowledge seemed so distant, even a little inefficient, when I was growing up. When would I need to know that? And if I did, wouldn't I just ask someone? Of course, I wasn't keen on admitting I didn't understand something either.

My friends knew things, though. Not things you learn in school, but things you learn in life. Realizing that I had missed out, I asked my dad to start taking notes as he found himself doing something I was likely clueless about. "Hey, Brian should know how to drain a water heater" or "I bet he has know idea how to apply for a business loan." Without my presence and active involvement, the idea didn't have much of a chance.

Two great projects recently reminded me of the enormous value of mentors: How to be a Grown Up and There is a lot of advice and commentary online, endless talk of steps and doing it right or doing it wrong. What's often missing is someone asking the questions. There is vulnerability in an honest question and that encourages the same in the answer. The experience is very different from unsolicited advice.

Within days of the first blog post about Uncommon, I started seeking out people who could provide advice and well-timed nudges. Each person has been enormously helpful when I've been stumped, but almost equally so when I'm not. There's comfort in knowing there are people in your corner willing to share their wisdom and experience. When you're out on a limb, it helps to know there's a safety net.

All around us are people who could use a hand or would love to lend one. Start with an honest question and see where it takes you.

An Uncommon cause

Those of you who have been with us from the beginning know that working with a charity or cause is one of our goals. We want to support the good work of others. We've found the perfect partner in Ag47, an arts mentorship program serving young women in Chicago. What could be better than a small, all-volunteer organization focused on mentoring, artistic exploration, storytelling, empowerment, and exploring profound questions?

Through collaboration and one-to-one mentorship, women and girls share stories about their lives, take risks, ask questions and use arts to respond. By presenting their work to a public audience, Ag47 provides girls with the chance to be heard and their communities with the chance to listen. Over the course of twelve Sunday afternoon workshops, girls and mentors work together to produce artwork and writing about a central inquiry and aesthetic theme, such as "What makes up a neighborhood?", "How can you understand something you might never see?", and "How does the world infect you? How will you infect the world?". These questions inspire big, thoughtful conversations among the girls and women involved. It's incredibly valuable to have this kind of space for exploration and creativity.

A portion of every dollar we receive when someone joins Uncommon in the future will go to support the work of Ag47. With their annual showcase just around the corner, we sent our first check last month based on the money we received when 100 founding members joined in December. We'll also look for creative ways our community can encourage and amplify their work. If you'd like to support Ag47 directly or learn more about what they do, visit their site and get involved.


Last week’s dispatch asked, What's one of your favorite memories of making a mess?

Susan wrote:

When I was a tiny, little girl, my mom created an outdoor kitchen for me.  It was really just a simple shelf with some old pots and pans for me to enjoy.  She took an empty coffee can and somehow cut out a face with a wide mouth on the bottom of the can.  My can man enjoyed all the mud pies and other yummies, which I cooked in my makeshift kitchen.  When he was full, I would dump his contents and begin to fill him again.  As I think of the store-bought kitchens little girls play with today, I know none of them could compare with the amazing kitchen from my childhood.

Brad wrote:

One of my favorite messy memories involved being far too cold after pouring liquid mud all over myself and sitting outside in the biting wind waiting for it to dry. I was at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa in northern New Mexico with my wife and a few friends. We had decided to go enjoy the hot springs in a cool month before summer, and so reserved a private outdoor pool. The scenery there is stunning, with one full side of the private area open to craggy cliffs with desert foliage and striking skies, alternately sunny and storming above. Our brief foray into the public mud pool kept us laughing and shivering uncontrollably until we could make it back to our private enclave where the water was clean and warm. I've rarely felt as alive and in the moment as those times at the hot springs.

Uncommon reads

Doing things the long, hard, stupid way, a talk by Frank Chimero:

I believe in making things for other people, because making things for other people highlights our codependency, and by considering audience, it moves the edges of our beings further out and we gain more overlap in the process. My big do is this: to look at those overlaps, to talk about things that we have in common, to create situations that allow us to have more in common, and to really analyze those to make things for other people, and by doing so, to somehow harness the auspicious wonder that lies at the heart of making.

Private Lives by Barry Siegel, a long, fascinating essay from 2001 about an island fighting for its identity:

Let us have one place where things can be our way, Waldronites have long implored. Revel in your pop culture and mass-market comforts if you want. Just give us this one hilltop at the continent's edge.

Slow is Beautiful, a talk by Blue Bottle Coffee's James Freeman:

We want to be respectful to our customers and keep them from waiting too long, but ultimately our first goal is to make something delicious, to make a delicious product, and if it takes a little bit of extra time to do it, than that's just what we're going to do. Some people are alienated by that, but to my delight and surprise, more and more people are really happy about that. They like waiting for something that's made just for them.

Your turn

Have you had or been a mentor?