Over drinks at Bathtub Gin, as my co-worker Matt and I discussed my new project, “Hidden City Diaries,” he asked me how I intend to deal with randomness and preserve anomaly.
He interpreted my project as a complex math problem and offered to connect me with friends who specialize in mathematics and statistics, thinking that they can help me select the rest of the cities that I haven’t named yet.
I had to smile — exploring feelings and so-called philosophical journeys are not commodities in which Matt trades. He acquired too much hard-scrabble no-nonsense-ness from his years in Iowa and Nebraska to believe in metaphysical mysteries or emotional transformation.
But he does believe in good stories — and in straying from pre-determined paths to find them. Dealing with randomness and preserving anomaly… in my language, I call them the unexpected, serendipity, or chance, but they are the same.
Despite our seemingly opposed approaches to life, Matt and I are both attracted to concepts of the unknown and the unprecedented as means of uncovering truth — a hub of connection that feels juicy with potential. He’d say random pattern or calculated inevitability, I’d say magic.
Hearing his offer was like watching one’s invention spring to life, completing the fantastic task it was designed to do. In my mind, I jumped up and yelled, “See?! It works!” Our conversation felt like my first big clue, as these types of unforeseen connections are what I want and what I know will result in a richer experience than I can create on my own.
It turns out, without having those particular words in mind when came up with the idea, my project is all about randomness and anomaly.
Indeed, this approach was proven throughout my NIAUSI project — best to leave things to chance — when left to its own devices, the world reveals itself in surprising ways that far exceed anything one can hope for or envision. I confirmed this as I watched the final plot twists of my Italian fellowship journey come to a close this week.
The afternoon before I left Venice, I left Denis on the wood planks of the vaporetto stop near his apartment. As I pushed my way onto the crowded boat, my thoughts tinged bitter and sweet, I looked over my shoulder to find him still standing there, watching me go.
He lifted his hand and I lifted mine.
On the plane home the next day, I skimmed through my notebook, replaying conversations and details as I looked over my sketches and writing, feeling more at peace than I had over the past year. I was ready to come home — finally. Nothing felt undone, the way it did when I left Italy last October.
Upon my return, when I learned that a friend would be stopping in Venice at the end of month, I couldn’t resist tossing a pebble into the lagoon. One for a good story himself, Michael agreed to drop off a package from me to Denis at Gelateria Paolin.
There was no guarantee that the two of them would connect or that the contents would make it into Denis’ hands; that wasn’t even the point, really. For me, it was about releasing something into the world that I hadn’t realized I’d found until I returned home.
Reconnecting with Denis this year was like discovering a space/time anomaly — a rift just large enough to step through — a recapturing of time that influences future. While it afforded me the relief of completing something half-done, I also saw the experience as an immense karmic gift, one that could only be balanced by an act of child-like faith.
I received an email from Michael this week to say that he visited the gelateria a couple of times, but was unable to connect with Denis, who had taken a few days off. Instead, per my instructions, he left the package with the manager who, intrigued by the mystery and surprise of it all, promised that he would hand it to Denis upon his return.
Whatever happened to that package, I’ll likely never know.
When I consider what it symbolizes — the path of randomness that leads to connection, to friendship, to adventure, to love, and even to further anomaly — it confirms for me that my approach to “Hidden City Diaries” must not only be open to the unexpected, but characterized by it.
It doesn’t surprise me to see this new opus erupting with green shoots just as the harvest of my Italian fellowship journey comes to a close. It’s a random tangent that makes sense when I look back, but one that I certainly couldn’t have predicted when I set off on this path in late 2009.
From time to time, I’ll return to this moment of unknown when I need a nudge of inspiration — did the package ever make it to Denis, and did the surprise of its arrival garner something in him? How far out will the ripples reach?
When I reflect on it in coming months, as I know I will, it’ll be something that encourages me to embrace randomness, preserve anomaly, and seek out the serendipity that resides between them.