I sit in a burgundy waiting room, defying my 30-somethingness, waiting for a purple scrubs lady to summon me for my bone density scan. I look at the women in their 60s, with their motionless hair and pantsuits. I want to think about the delicacy of my bones later.
When I am called to get the scan, I take off my metal belt holding up my jeans and I sit on a chair beside the x-ray machine. The technician asks me to put my left arm under the scanner, and to be still. I look at her wedding ring. I put my arm on the table, feeling my breath move my arm. My bones slowly appear on the computer screen. I lie on my back and she asks me to be still again. My leg twitches. She puts her hand on my left hip bone.
My bones are out from hiding. We are not designed to see our bones, and yet, that morning not only do I see my own bones, but I also hold the image of other people’s bones in my bag because someone mistakenly gave them to me. Inside a different burgundy waiting room on Park Avenue, I return the images and wonder about these people. Wrist. Tibia. Clavicle.
Later, I run along the Bridle Path around the Resevoir, where the familiar dodging of European tourists eases my mind. I think about seeing and being seen. It always feels different, depending on the onlooker.
My days are not all about tulips and running and doctors. I also read. By day, I read The Ten Faces of Innovation. (By night, I read The Discovery of Witches). Tom Kelley, the general manager of the design firm, IDEO wrote the daytime book. IDEO’s culture fosters openness, multi-disciplinary collaboration, and innovation. I get the sense that being part of IDEO would feel like being watched by someone who loves me as I am. My colleagues would look at my bones, see their intrinsic value, and encourage me to eat sardines.
In the book, Tom Kelley writes about ten roles that he has observed people playing at IDEO. Embodying these roles – such as the Anthropologist, who does field work to understand the natives, or the Director who galvanizes the players to create something powerful – stimulates new ideas, unearths possibilities, and fosters creative thinking.
I love that IDEO sees the many paths towards creating value for clients. I love reading about the culture at IDEO, not only because it brings me back to singing “ideo gloria in excelsis deo” down the halls of my all girls school every Christmas, but also because I feel inspired. As I read, I feel inspired to reach out to strangers.
I reach out to Tom Kelley. When he mentions going to Oberlin College on page 111, and then Jacobs Field on page 201, I get excited. I am from Cleveland, and I also went to Oberlin. Cleveland is not that strange, but Oberlin is a place where unexpected and quirky things happen. I had no expectation that Tom would respond to my note, but he did. He even sent me a copy of his book, which was quite open of him, considering I am a stranger. I like people and organizations open to the free flow of ideas.
Sending Tom the note takes me back to being a student at Oberlin. There, I felt freedom to learn about myself and the world as I encountered people and ideas that felt limitlessness. There, I contacted strangers I wrote papers about simply because I was curious. I emailed my first stranger while writing a paper on performance artists – Karen Finley, Annie Sprinkle, Carolee Schneeman, and Linda Montano. I contacted Annie Sprinkle because she was so bizarre, and yet, a nice Jewish girl like me. She responded to the questions in my email, and a few months later, she ended up cuddling with my best friend’s cat in my house on West College Street, performing to an overflowing college audience, and later, leading me to the craziest jobs I have ever had once I lived in San Francisco.
The next stranger I contacted in college was Sarah Schulman. It was still the 20th Century, and I dialed 411. She answered the phone, and we talked. She sounded stunned that I called her. She never did meet any of my friend’s pets, but she did inspire me. Her book, Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America, stunned me – she showed me how experiences that are widely loved and mainstream can be deceptively oppressive. Her politics felt exciting, and calling her – me, the 18 year old girl from Ohio talking to a New York City activist – made me feel like the world of deep thinking, angry politics, and sartorial coolness was as accessible as Sarah’s phone number.
So here I sit in New York City over fifteen years later, not quite the renegade bohemian of my 18 year old fantasies, but not too shabby, either, having learned to apply cats eyes while watching this morning’s Today Show. I sit and read The Ten Faces of Innovation. One of the ten faces is the Experience Architect, a person who creates sensory experiences for people who are interacting with products and services.
Tom wrote about a public bathroom with a one way mirror. When you are inside the loo, you are having an intimate and private experience while seeing the world outside, and feeling like others are watching you. Imagine the performance anxiety. How does being watched transform us – the gaze of a lover, the gaze of a collaborator, the gaze of a boss, the gaze of a parent, the gaze of a stranger.
I want to dial 411 again. I want to talk to Monica Bonvicini, the artist who created the toilet with the one way mirror. I want to talk to Bjork and Isabella Rossellini. I realize this might be ridiculously improbable, but I’m willing to try. As I finish writing this, I get a call from my doctor. My bones are normal.
I think about Passover and opening the door for an imaginary Elijah to walk through and sip the wine at our table. I think about seeing and imagining. Elijah mystifies. I have been mystified into opening my door to strangers – not the kind who will give me candy with a razor blade in it – but the kind who will awe me. In Leviticus 19:34, it reads, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”