Watching the world

This week, I have the privilege of sharing a contribution from Radhika. We met through a moment of online serendipity and she's been a special part of Uncommon's story ever since, including performing an enchanting set of songs at the Kaleidoscope gathering in March. Please enjoy this wonderful story.

One evening a few weeks ago, I took my other half out for his birthday dinner. We went to a restaurant in the Mission district of San Francisco. It was ... a restaurant in the Mission district of San Francisco. Smart menu printed on smart paper. Thoughtful fonts, designed to signal that you were in safe hands. Farmers' market to reclaimed wood table. A vibrant glow that you could feel and hear from where we'd parked our car, on a San Franciscan incline on this otherwise quiet, residential street.

There was music. It went largely unattended. Waiters and welcomes came and went. Drinks appeared. The dance had commenced and was in full flow.

And then the lights went out.

They didn't black out immediately. First, there was flickering. Then, the music stopped. Some lights by the bar went quiet. There was a momentary blip in the bulging conversation. And then it went dark.

In one gentle instant, seamless and unannounced, the night flowed in upon us. Moonlight had unfolded into the room. The end of piped music meant that the night started to speak. The breeze coming in from the ocean, leaves rustling in the tree-lined street - night sounds of yet another spot on the rotating earth, nestling again a bay filled by the Pacific Ocean. And I felt alive again. The air was now touching my skin, and I was no longer in my human-made cocoon. I could smell the night air. And I could hear it too. Calling. Calling, always. And there was peace.

The wait staff busied themselves with apologizing for the interruption to civilization. Each time they did, I would say: "No, I like it like this". But they either didn't hear me or didn't understand what I was talking about.

And just as suddenly, the lights came back on. There was a start, as all of the appliances whirred back into life, and the room applauded. For me, however, the magic had ended.

It made me wonder: what is it that we loosely call civilization? This state of being so wrapped up in ourselves and our man-made things, that we miss that magic going on out there, night after night? The stillness, the moonlight, the wind rustling and talking. They are talking to us, night after night. But we're not always listening. We have fluorescent light bulbs and taped music being replayed through black box speakers. And we have the sound of our own voices, talking endlessly, and drowning out the stillness that seems endlessly to be yearning for us. Come out with me and just be still.

Instead, we'll pay for the privilege to 'get away from it all'. Resorts will help us unwind; tour guides will show us unique spots; and out there on safari, away from my usual place, in some far flung destination, a song will be sung from a human throat, and I will be mesmerized.

I found myself wondering: how much of what we're seeking on those journeys do we already have here? We might just be too loud to hear it. — Radhika

Prompted

Last week's dispatch asked, What have you changed your mind about recently?

Jenny wrote:

Shanghai maybe? The city feels less harsh then I thought it might be but then it could be a premature statement since summer hasn't hit yet and I have only been here for 2 weeks. Overall, the cityscape is not all filled with shiny new buildings - some original neighborhoods still exist although they are being dressed up for Western taste; there is a good amount of greenery too.

On the other hand, I used to dismiss Shanghai air pollution as something exaggerated by media... Now I've changed my mind. For two weeks I haven't had a moment of stepping out on the street and inhale deeply. I wonder if it's something repairable? Will clean air ever return to this city?

Jon wrote:

I decided I couldn’t possibly say anything about the women in tech discussions happening online. Too easy to miss nuance. Too easy to invite pitchforks. No real upside. Even though I want to be involved.

I wrote a friend expressing my frustration, and she told me she understood … but that sometimes we just have to trust each other. So I sat down and wrote 3000 words in short story form. It felt good to get over the fear and just start writing.

Marina wrote:

I have changed my mind about the value of “good enough”.

Three months ago I left my significant other of 22 years because after having recently turned , I realized that settling for “good enough” wasn’t, in fact, good enough.

Now for the first time in my adult life, I am single – and it’s scary and humbling, but also exhilarating and wondrous. I have grown more in these short months than I have in years and I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I feel like a butterfly after being boxed-in as a caterpillar for so long – and as cheesy as that analogy is, for me it’s a truism. It really does feel like I’ve grown wings.

Don’t settle. Oh my god, don’t ever settle! No one is worth sublimating your true self for. Being alone may be scary, but the freedom to be true to yourself is unbelievably worth it!

Ryan wrote:

I changed my mind just two days ago, about a part of my job I was expecting to hate.

The marketing department at my company (I work in IT) asked me to attend a training about managing Google AdWords. As someone who hates most online advertising, despises the content models that cost-per-click advertising has fostered, and easily tires of minute data examination, I dreaded the training and set my metric for success at “did not obviously fall asleep”. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the hands-on nature of the training and the thoughtful, plain-language approach of the trainer turned what could have been opaque and tedious into a fun, day-long series of exercises and experiments that left me feeling actually semi-prepared to help manage our company’s AdWords account. I will probably never fully embrace the concept of CPC ads, but I now understand why my company needs to use Google AdWords, and I’m looking forward to diving into our campaigns more regularly.

Brad wrote:

I recently changed my mind about the immediate direction of my career. I was pretty happy working as a manager in software engineering at a medium-sized enterprise firm, but an opportunity sprung up to lead a software engineering team at a brand new startup, from the ground up. To top it off, I worked with the founders of this new startup before, so I already knew I liked working with them and knew that they held very similar values to my own. I hadn't planned on making a career change at all, but when such a rare opportunity comes along, sometimes it's best to change your mind!

Uncommon reads

I'm engineering a summer by Patton Oswalt:

I've become my own tyrant -- Tweeting, and then responding to my own responses, and then fighting people who disagree with me. Constantly feeling like I have to have an instant take on things, instead of taking a breath, and getting as much information as I can about the world. Or simply listening to the people around me, and watching the world and picking up its hidden rhythms, which crouch underneath the micro and the macro. But I've lost sight of them. And it's because of this -- there's a portal to a shadow planet in my right hand, the size of a deck of cards, and I can't keep myself from peeling off one card after another, looking for a rare ace of sensation.

[...] I want to de-atrophy the muscles I once had. The ones I used to charge through books, sprint through films, amble pleasantly through a new music album or a human conversation. I've lost them -- willingly, mind you. My fault. Got addicted to the empty endorphins of being online. So I need to dry out, and remind myself of the deeper tides I used to be able to swim in -- in pages, and celluloid, and sounds, and people.

Diary of a Corporate Sellout by Andy Bio:

What we didn’t anticipate was how giving up ownership sells the community instead.

Building an online community is like throwing a big party. You build the house, decorate it, and send out some invites. But it’s the people that show up that make it special.

When you sell the house, you’re not just selling a house. You’re selling everyone inside.

You Are Here by Jason Stirman:

It’s so easy to dismiss others as not like me, but I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where we went to extreme lengths to understand each other better, especially those who are different. It would be hard and uncomfortable, but probably worth it.

Your turn

What was one of your most memorable meals?