There's something different about friendships formed across great distance. My theory is the lack of proximity requires more intentional effort for these unique relationships to survive and thrive. That investment makes the moments when you do meet in person and bits become atoms particularly special.
This morning, I took a breezy walk to a cafe where I finally met Lisa, a treasured friend and Uncommon contributor.
Lisa has been part of this community since the very beginning and wrote many of the dispatches during the first year (including this favorite). Her generous spirit and eloquent words infuse Uncommon, from the warm welcome ("When was the last time you stopped...") to the carefully chosen poems (yes, poems!) on our error pages to "a front porch for the Internet".
Her contribution has been far beyond words, though. She has been a constant source of wisdom, perspective, and good cheer. Her belief in community and love of people is a refreshing reminder of why Uncommon exists.
Today's conversation went by so quickly. In our short amount of time, we spoke of many things, sharing stories of brave accomplishment and future trepidation, but we didn't talk about Uncommon. Funny enough, that's often the case when I get to spend time with Uncommon friends, and many of you have shared similar experiences. I love it.
Communities form around apps and games and shared interests all the time, and sometimes people get together in person and talk about that shared interest. It's wonderful.
But what's the shared interest of our community? It's a fierce belief in the inherent value of each person and each moment. Wherever people gather, in person or online, in restaurants or homes, that's what we talk about and celebrate. And as it's always been, long before bits bounced about the world, there is wonder and possibility found there.
Last week's dispatch asked, Do you have a recipe for inspiration?
I think most people think of finding inspiration like fishing - the fish bite or they don't. But I know better. Creating is more like painting a fence. Get started or nothing happens. Nothing comes for free.
I sympathize with your struggle to find the silver bullet, because for all my trying the only thing I've been able to find is to take your foot off the pedal, and go and focus on the small things. Perspective is a great precursor for inspiration.
Most assuredly, inspiration is rarely a bundle of creative energy crashing into me without warning. No - Insight is Motion, a train powering through the station that I must catch or be left behind. If I do catch it (to continue the train metaphor), I start at the lowly caboose but can quickly make my way through the boxcars to the engine room. When writing (usually it is poetry), I often write strings of meaningless phrases and statements until a certain word or phrase catches my eye and I chase after it. Regarding external circumstances: any place and time, although mornings are particularly fruitful. Especially in rooms with lots of natural light. Natural light rocks.
I find that when I talk to other people about the things I'm working on, I'm forced to explain myself in very productive ways. Sometimes the right phrasing or the right argumentative angle comes out of voicing it aloud. Then I rudely interject: "I have to write that down!" and I pull out my phone to jot it down. Sometimes I wish I had a Kapture wristband to seamlessly catch those last 30 seconds of unfiltered inspiration.
Truly good ideas are like puzzles, with many pieces clicking together perfectly to reveal a picture that would not have been predictable from any one. Now, imagine that someone just kept giving you pieces, a few per day, to a variety of different large puzzles. That's how life usually gives you the pieces of a good idea, in slow drips. A counter-intuitive fact yesterday, an illuminating analogy two months ago, all interspersed with flotsam and jetsam from dozens of other puzzles which you may or may not ever complete.
I've found the best way to make insights happen is to make a pile of your puzzle pieces. You can't be 100% certain which ones will end up fitting, but I've been stunned at how much more insightful I am when I stake a few minutes to sit down and think deliberately about what relevant notes, clippings, books and memories I have on hand. I've always been fascinated in how to improve the process of collecting and organizing these knowledge pieces so that they're ready to fall into place when I need them - please feel free to reach out if you're also interested in this type of thing. Here's some inspiration.
In a previous job, I had a terrible manager who made my life hell and eventually drove me to leave the company. BUT…she did teach me one extremely valuable and lasting lesson. I once submitted a project to her that I admittedly did not put a lot of effort into – I did the bare minimum, just enough to get it off my to-do list. She called me out on it and said, “if you’re going to do something, do it RIGHT.” This really resonated with me and has been my driving inspiration ever since. Now, when I tackle anything, whether it’s personal or professional, I do it to the absolute best of my ability. And when I feel myself losing interest in, or disliking, whatever I need to get done, I hear her voice in my head….and I course-correct to do it right.
My list of things to blog about, or things to create, is growing quicker than I set aside time to write or create. So I don't go looking for inspiration. However I do find the shower, as others do, prompts good thoughts. My cycling commute occupies an hour a day and I wish I was inspired during that, but I find that tiredness generates more negative thoughts than positive.
I'm proud to work for a company that hosts what we call Coffee Hours every Friday morning: They bring in experts in their craft, from authors and puppeteers to security and technology gurus, letting them talk about whatever they want. This week was appropriately Hugh MacLeod, a cartoonist with an arsenal of inspirational art and anecdotes for inquisitive minds and hard workers. I can't help but recommend them!
From the Porch to the Street by Frank Chimero:
My feed (full of people I admire) is mostly just a loud, stupid, sad place. Basically: a mirror to the world we made that I don’t want to look into. The common way to refute my complaint is to say that I’m following the wrong people. I think I’m following the right people, I’m just seeing the worst side of them while they’re stuck in an inhospitable environment. It’s exasperating to be stuck in a stream.
An incomplete list of all the things you are (apparently) failing at by Megan Garber:
We should probably stop with all this. The headlines are cheeky, sure, but in the aggregate, they are simply sad. In the name of helping people out, we have become a group of wanton, finger-wagging judgers.
Being a Better Online Reader by Maria Konnikova:
Maybe the decline of deep reading isn’t due to reading skill atrophy but to the need to develop a very different sort of skill, that of teaching yourself to focus your attention.
News and such
The dispatch will be on holiday next week and return on October 7, possibly with a new twist or two. More on that next time!
After a very busy season for the Uncommon team, we're looking forward to having a little more margin in the weekends ahead to expand and improve our online porch, and make room for more of you. If you happen to possess fine skills in front-end development or Ruby, and a love for online community, say hi!
Do you have a favorite memory of meeting someone for the first time?