Monthly Archives: April 2009

By appointment or chance

there is a small used bookstore around the corner from my house. i have never been inside, but recently i was out taking a walk in the warm Easter sunshine, and happened to stroll by. it was closed, but i stopped to look in the window.

ever since college, i’ve been a used bookstore junkie, always dropping in to see if there are any good remainders, or anything i need to round out my collection. i don’t need one more book, but it doesn’t stop me looking. it’s always fascinating to see the titles they choose to put out, too…literary window dressing is a brand statement that shows what you might expect to find in this particular store. i found the selection at this shop fascinating:

  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (an old printing by a non-mainstream press)
  • The Transgressors by Jim Thompson (an old pulp noir novel put out by Vintage)
  • Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Book of Gold (an old book that looked to be the kind a 12-year-old would devour in a weekend, learning everything there is to know about the precious metal)
  • A book on Vietnamese history and philosophy (title and author escape me)

you couldn’t get a much more eclectic selection. well, i suppose you could if you threw in a B-grade romance novel by Danielle Steele, a collection of children’s nursery rhymes, and something about quantum field theory. but you get the point. just seeing what was in the window made me want to go in the store to see what else they have on their shelves, and also see who runs the shop. i’ll have to go back another day.

the other thing that caught my eye were the two hand-written signs in the window, each penned in blue ink by a slightly erratic hand. the first said, "We may, or may not, be open on Easter. — Mgmt (Thank you for your patronage)" at the bottom of the hours sign was another curious statement: that you could engage with the owner and store by appointment, or by chance. hours are for the world of the rational, this said to me…why not be open to chance as well? who knows what might happen?

by appointment or chance

imagine how it unfolds, how the happenstance walk could lead to a visit to the store, which is open by chance. a book lies on the counter, cast aside by a disinterested reader, but at that moment, in that state of mind, it is perfect somehow for what you need, the gem that inspires dreams or fills the soul or brings deep reflection and satisfaction. and maybe this book creates a thought, then an action, then a transformation. all by chance. just because the owner of the store decided to open their doors that sunny day, hoping to maybe fulfill a soul or fire a dream.

courage and the corner store

a new store opened up in my neighborhood recently. as it was being prepared, there was a sign that made it look like another corner restaurant was going in, which was cause for excitement…always good to have more local restaurants. once it opened, however, it turned out to be something different.

it’s called something like "Cafe Brasil," but it’s not really a cafe. it’s actually a Brazilian specialty shop, selling everything from pre-packaged Brazilian foods to cheap flip-flops to soccer jerseys. in other words, lots of random crap. as i first thought to write this entry, it was going to be a humorous jab at people who open stores that sell random crap. after all, how many more of those outlets does the world need? there’s more good crap to buy than anyone could ever possibly imagine or purchase, and the random crap just adds to the noise. one could also argue it leads to lowering the societal bar in terms of what we need (and very much don’t need) in our lives.

but taking potshots at people selling things we ostensibly don’t need is pretty easy, and actually kind of snarky. so i thought about that corner store a little more, and realized there is probably something to be admired there.

while i may not think that Brazilian specialty goods is the best thing to have in a corner store, someone did. someone had a vision for that store, and worked quite hard to realize it. the property was a disaster before they took it over, and had to be carefully remodeled over the course of several months. at least now, it’s clean and adds some much-needed character to the neighborhood. it also probably took a bit of effort to determine what speciality goods to bring in, where to source them from etc etc.

it took courage for someone to bring that tiny store to life, to try to realize their dreams (or at least, it seems so to me). that’s what they believed in and wanted to do, and they did it.

as i think about my own professional life, i ask myself, how much courage have i had? how willing have i been to take risks, to pursue my dreams, to follow a vision for myself that had heart? when i left my career as a scientist to pursue who-knows-what in the world of the Web, i took a great risk, and it paid off in terms of personal growth and happiness. but for the last 5 years at least, i’d say my professional life has been entirely reactive and risk-free: i followed a fairly clear path, without giving a huge amount of thought to where it was going. after all, i was making good money and didn’t feel entirely dissatisfied with what i was doing.

the time has come for that all to change, again. the time has come to find courage, to re-establish vision, and to pursue my dreams, wherever they may ultimately lead me. and whether or not they know it, those people in the corner store lead by example. even if they fail, they have followed a path with heart, followed their vision, and that is what i must do.