My father was a social worker and when I was born, we actually lived at a camp in Michigan which he ran. Every week during the summer, a new group of kids from Detroit would arrive at Franklin Settlement Camp. Located on the shore of a small lake, the camp was pretty much exactly what you'd imagine: a main building and cafeteria, a few large cabins, and a lot of room. My dad played guitar and each evening ended with songs around the campfire.
Even after we moved to a house a few blocks away and a slightly more normal life, the spirit of camp always felt close. Strangers drifting in and later returning as familiar faces, talking late into the night around the table or fireplace, music performances by the young and old, badminton in the backyard, and laughing and conspiring on the front porch of our 100-year old home, swaying on the swing until the quiet of darkness made our voices seem too loud.
When I revisit those memories, I see a lot of Uncommon — leisurely conversations, fleeting closeness, and peaceful surroundings. This is the fiftieth dispatch. Nearly one year ago, I wrote a post asking if there were others who thought it was time to rethink community online. I was terribly nervous.
Of course, it turned out that there are many of us. What a year it has been, a constant stream of inspiration, learning, and wonderful moments. The highlight has been the many stories of people within the community finding each other both online and off as introductions are made and new friendships formed. Here are some others...
- 582 people reading, shaping, and contributing to Uncommon
- 100 founding members
- 100 welcome postcards mailed
- 174 postcards received in reply
- 10 friends giving their time and talent
- 539 Git commits and 167 Basecamp discussions
- Our first donation to Ag47 Collective
- The first Tangibly Uncommon featuring an original print by @etherbrian
- A site that welcomes curious newcomers in a uniquely beautiful way
Meeting so many of you has been incredible. You are uncommon in every sense.
The year ahead is going to be a special one as we take these ideas and sketches and make them real. Grab a friend and pack your swimsuit, favorite book, and a deck of cards. We'll be waiting for you on the front porch.
Last week's dispatch asked, Which books do you identify with where or when you read them?
I definitely associate memories of reading with memories of space and place. Especially when it has to do with a very special space and place.
I read most of 1Q84 from my 24th floor balcony apartment last spring in Chongqing. It was the only time of year that it was comfortable enough to sit outside, and I made every effort to take advantage of those fleeting temperatures and relatively smog-free air that spring.
I also read most of Infinite Jest on the 45-minute bus ride to and from Mandarin class in the outskirts of Chongqing that fall. I maintain it was the only way to gain momentum on that book - just enough time and space to get through a tennis vignette and flip back and forth to the footnotes on my Kindle. And after about a month's worth of bus rides and rote memorization I quit the Mandarin course and found myself a tutor in my neighborhood; I continued on with Infinite Jest. (More here).
I took on those mammoth, imposing tomes because I had the space and time to tackle them that year abroad in China. And I'm ever so grateful for that luxury.
Interestingly enough, I don't generally associate my physical time or place with the memories of what I read. I do remember where words and passages appeared on a page, but I seem to insulate myself from the outside world in a bit of a bubble.
All of that makes it more remarkable that one of the only associations of physical place with reading I do have in my memory is vivid and from the age of eleven. I climbed high up on the endless mountain of pillows on top of my grandma's corner couch in her dim, peach living room. From my perch there, at least six feet above ground level, I read Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. I remember it being a short and engaging story, deeply intertwined with the various shades of peach cast by the shifting afternoon sun on those living room walls.
What a strange feeling now, eighteen years later, to know that my bubble was just a little bigger—and peachier—that one afternoon.
I feel like a lot of this dispatch resonates with me, but with a few tweaks. I usually become so wrapped up in a book, that the story takes over from wherever I may be physically reading. An exception would be books the Harry Potter series. I can remember some distinct places: on a road trip curled up in the back of a car, on a bench in Tahoe, in the first home where my husband and I lived.
I also liked the Neil Gaiman quote, "to get really bored" and feel that some of my great ideas come when my body is doing something physically repetitive (knitting, data entry, cooking) and my mind is free to wander. It's wonderful.
I read through my ears, through Audible. While biking to work, or walking in a new city, or riding the train, I'm reading. I discovered a few years ago that audio associated vividly with what I saw and felt at the time. The wormholes and alien colonies of Peter F. Hamilton's "Void Trilogy" interwove with the tall cedars and unfinished roads on my walking commute to the Apple Store. The undulating statistics and predictive complexity of Nate Silver's "The Signal and the Noise" complemented the undulating hills and cultural complexity of San Francisco MUNI rides. Years later, I can replay any chapter and time travel back to that evocative fusion of narrative and memory.
Into the Woods and Away from Technology, a weekend at Camp Grounded by Chris Colin:
According to a pre-camp survey, [campers] typically spent ten to sixteen hours staring at screens. At check-in, several campers admitted to regularly waking up with iPhones in their hands. One San Franciscan said that he had begun to catch himself blearily retyping the URLs of Web sites he was already reading. So, on a sweaty Friday afternoon, they followed a dirt road down to the eighty-acre campsite, looking to connect to something other than Twitter.
Twitter and Writing by Thomas Beller:
This is one of the central paradoxes of our culture—everything is swallowed into oblivion but nothing goes away.
How much space do we afford ourselves for private thought?
How Your Habits Become Productivity-Draining Distractions by Jack Cheng:
I've also come to believe there's another way, an alternative to shutting out technology. It’s a path that involves not leaving but staying: You just choose and commit.
Do you have a favorite memory of camp?