Now that four members of the Uncommon team are based in Austin, we've had a lovely time lately working together in-person. We have our favorite locations, but this weekend, we were compelled to try a brand-new spot, Radio Coffee and Beer.
Radio opened just a week earlier and the evidence was everywhere. A contractor measured for a canvas to shield people in the beer garden from the relentless summer sun. People at a table nearby were asked to relocate for a few minutes so a large print could be hung. A steady rhythm of loud hammering followed. The chairs were a mismatch of styles and comforts, though it's hard to know if that's temporary or not.
At the counter, lessons were handed out to new employees amidst brief moments of confusion. "Make sure to keep that area clean and organized. It's the first thing people see what they walk in." "Actually, we only have one size for iced drinks. I'll let him know." "How do you cancel an order and start over?"
The best part was watching people arrive for the first time. The tentative looks when they first step inside, followed by a distant browsing of the menu, without the benefit of past experience or reviews. Looking left and right at the people filling the tables, searching for that indefinable sense of belonging.
I was fascinated by this scene because at the exact same time, we were working on the finishing touches of the next Uncommon release. We're getting very close to sharing the site with the original founding members, who will help us improve the menu for a few weeks, so to speak, before we welcome any and all who'd like to join.
When it comes time to open the doors to something new, there is a natural desire for perfection. The experience should be flawless and every contingency accounted for. Watching the unfolding scene before me, though, I realize that what most people care about is who they find inside. They are looking for friendly faces, kind words, and above all else, hospitality. The menu may be limited at first and the rituals in flux, but it's the tenor and essence of the place—the warm welcome and intoxicating mix of laughter, conversation, and playlist—that are worth returning for.
Last week's dispatch asked, Is there an unusual list you keep?
A List of My Lists:
- Things to Do
- Books to Read
- Stories to Write
- Poems to Revise
- The Grocery List
- The House List
- The Someday List
- Wish Lists
- The list of how much my dog weighed at various ages of his life (Once a week until he was 1, once a month until he was 2, now once or twice a year.)
- The list of instructions for taking care of our cats when we're out of town (It's longer than you think, I promise.)
- The lists I make in my head at night to calm me into sleep (All the books I've read this year or a type of bird that starts with every letter of the alphabet or ten good names for a dog...)
- This One
I maintain that I got my list-making habits from my mom. She has massive spreadsheets of all the breeds of hosta she tends in her garden, of the first time she sees a new species of bird, and the volksmarches she's been on and in what states. She's a collector of sorts.
My list making habits aren't so hobby-centric, but they rival her scale. I don't know what I would do without Wunderlist, because it is my meta list of lists, ever synching and always ready to capture my next todo or follow up.
The favorite unusual list that springs to mind is one archived in a Word document from my Facebook interests, circa 2006: "allusion, beech sateen sheets, blinkers, the color green, finding before seeking, fonts, french new wave, gay cowboys, heteroglossia, magazines, making lists, mix tapes, monkey bread, movie theaters, napping, punctuality, queen elizabeth, shoes, skinny dipping, tabbed browsing, traveling plastic cows, tweezers"
I give one to three word name to every day of my life based on what was I doing or what made an impact on that day. From this list I deduct names for weeks, months, seasons and years. This gives me 5 lists of different length from which I can get a time perspective on my life. This helps me get unstuck or helps me make better decisions about the future.
I'm a chronic list keeper. Among the usual suspects (blog posts to write, bucket list, daily things to do, etc) some of my more interesting favorites are: trips I'd like to take, topics I'd like to spend some time researching or studying, conversations I'd like to have, books to read, creative and professional role models, people I want to spend more time with, things I want to see happen in my lifetime, favorite foreign phrases or words.
Some of them turn into blog posts and help me to set future intentions, but I'm conscious that they can reinforce a sense of "never enough". Some have served their purpose as soon as they're written down - as an easy and simple way to put thoughts down on paper. A favorite I tried recently was a daily Top 5, I didn't stick with it, but I found the process of reflecting on what you achieved or appreciated, rather than planning for what you haven't yet very satisfying and worthwhile.
Lists. Oh man. Lists are everywhere in my life. In many ways, my existence revolves around them. My memory is terrible, forcing me to write everything down. A ballpoint pen and an index card are never far from my fingers. What interests me about these lists is what comes through without me having to write things down. Sometimes simply a function of looking at it enough, other times it just stays there, floating in my head. And what sticks is often trivial -- quite frustrating for a chronic forgetter. Why do these things soar through my consciousness? Why does my brain find them worthy of remembering? Is there anything I can do to direct the flow of this mighty river? I wonder about these things, have been for awhile.
I have a list of inboxes - there are so many ways that people can reach out to you these days that I need assistance just to make sure I've checked them all!
I'm not a fan of lists. I feel like they're always constraining me and keeping me down. If the next most important thing that needs doing isn't immediately and obviously the next most important thing that needs doing, then maybe it wasn't that important, to begin with. This, of course, is as brilliant a procrastination technique as making a list and putting the scary things near the bottom. When I do make lists, it's generally work-related and pretty short-lived: These are the 5 files I need to edit to remove some feature from the code base, these are the 3 elements that make up this data-mining chore.
My wife makes a list for everything. She has a list she's used and honed for years to make sure she packs everything for a trip. I always pack from memory and thinking about the trip. To her, the list is a life line that might stave off disaster. To me, the list is restrictive and unnecessary process; after all, we're just going to Chicago for a week, surely they have stores that sell tooth brushes and wind breakers there...
My wife’s body is pretty mean to her—she is very frequently sick or in pain or suffering from inexplicable bodily phenomena. But when she visits the doctor, she never remembers to tell him about all the different chronic pains, recurring symptoms, or odd instances of nausea that afflict her. Since, in my opinion, this disparate collection of ailments may point to a more systemic problem of which her physician therefore knows little to nothing, I have started keeping a record of every time she says, “Oh, this hurts”, or “I feel nauseous right now”, or anything that seems suspicious from an anatomical or physiological standpoint. I just started this list, so there are only a few items on it, but I confidently expect it to grow.
Some people might find this strange, but it's an essential part of my career planning and sanity: I keep a list of all the companies I have come across for which I would be interested in working. I call the list “Other Ships” and I add to it regularly, not ever because I’m dissatisfied but rather to cultivate backup plans and alternate futures, always being ready for the next jump or unexpected fall. I’ve used the list twice when changing jobs in the past several years and it has served me well as a good pre-screen step.
I'm fascinated by lists. No discussion of them is complete without a mention of Eco's fabulous book The Infinity of Lists.
I don't think it's very odd, but I love adding to "songs what must be played at maximum possible volume".
I keep lots of lists, but I don't think any of them are unusual... Which makes me realize something: I've been so occupied with the move, that it's been a long time since I've done anything unusual!
I do have an unusual method of keeping one particular list, though. The places I'd like to visit are marked with tape flags on a large world map, which hangs on my wall.
Here’s a running list that I created this year.
Also missing to reply on the last dispatch reminded me of how each day I complete some items from my todo list but mostly miss important things and just ward off imminent threats. Sometimes it is nice to be reminded that I need to take the time to care more about what really keeps me in motion instead of running after the everyday work craze. And as a full circle I end up at the very starting thoughts of your Uncommon project about slowing down and taking the time. A very simple and basic idea but cannot be repeated enough to keep in focus.
Instagram, or, What Are We Doing With Our Lives? by Mikael Brockman:
We are always a few layers apart, seeing through our desires, our ideas, our expectations, communicating through media. Love does not require merging absolutely, just kind appreciation, and the willingness to see each other in a good light.
No Time: How did we get so busy? by Elizabeth Kolbert:
Keynes assumed that people work in order to earn enough to buy what they need. And so, he reasoned, as incomes rose, those needs could be fulfilled in ever fewer hours. Workers would knock off earlier and earlier, until eventually they’d be going home by lunchtime. But that isn’t what people are like. Instead of quitting early, they find new things to need.
News and such
Happy 2nd Birthday! Two years ago this week, the first conversations about this idea began. Uncommon was then, and I hope always will be, a community of possibilities. A huge thanks to each of you who shape and support this undertaking in innumerable ways. I could not be more grateful for how far we've come or excited about what's ahead.
As mentioned, we're making great progress on the site which will serve as our front porch. The latest addition was the settings page, where you change your password or add a location and bio.
Here's a little preview of what's around the corner:
- Adding a favorite thing in the world
- Adding an uncommonly good thing
- Honoring the things we love with original art
If you want to listen along with us as we assemble the remaining furniture, we've created an eclectic Rdio playlist. Please send along your fun additions!
What defines a great coffee shop for you?