When I was younger, but already married for years and busy with raising children, a reoccurring dream rattled some of my nights. Waking from this dream always left me on edge and feeling deeply mired in an unnamable happiness at the same time. The dream always played out as a variation on a single theme: the sudden discovery of a hidden space in a house, much like the one I was living in and which, up to that moment, couldn’t have been more familiar in its fully inhabited spaces. That there was more space in that place and that it was so unlike in its layout and decor, always (ahem, pun alert) floored me.
It was pure delight to keep finding these secreted new spaces inside the walls of the house that defined the proper space of home as far as the world was concerned. Secreted these spaces might have been, they were by no means to be secret places, for even in my dream I never thought of actually hiding out in any sense in them. Rather, I saw these spaces immediately as part of the “house” and common ground for all of us who lived there. The flip side, which wasn’t quite as clear to me back then, was that some day, the secreted space I might stumble on could turn out to be a dank cellar, a bat-infested attic, or even a chamber of horrors. Would I be so willing then to run back to the rest of my family and offer to share with them my discovery and invite them to come inhabit this expanded definition of home with me?
I was remembering these dreams recently as I thought about definitions of intimacies in the age of social media. These days, much of my social life, from the superficial to the more deeply trenched grounds of friendships, unfolds in the unchartable (but still diagramable) online world. Here even the “walls,” the user interfaces of the software keep shifting from day to day, and with these shifts goes the stream of chatter, be it data, information about issues, pictures of puppies, personal rants, pieces of conversation, and a few intimate moments that are like splinters from a shipwreck, there they go through the reassigned door frames that cannot be sealed or weather-proofed, since they will never have an actual door to shut a world in or out.
All this so far is a very long introduction to what I really wanted to record here. Which is not much, if you think of it only as a dinner with 18 strangers.
Last weekend, on the invitation of my friend Toni, I attended a crab and chardonnay dinner at the Signorello Estate in Napa. We arrived to the winery just as the sun was setting and taking with it the last of the golden dust over the fields and ridges of the wine country. The lights of the tasting room on the hillside, as we glimpsed them through the windows, seemed like the glow of embers from a big hearth.
We were surprised to find only one long table set, as we expected a crowd of sorts. But what we lacked in the number of people was made up for in the number of wine glasses that sparkled like miniature starry domes under the warm lights of the tasting room.
It didn’t take much time, or wine, to get us talking with our dining companions, all strangers. By the time the crab arrived, and even with the occasional moments of snapping pictures to post on our social media platforms, most of us at the table were deep in talk as if we had known each other long enough to carry on like this.
And here is where that odd sensation hit me: I felt a little as if I were back in the dream I used to have of discovering secreted spaces. This dinner was suddenly one of those spaces. In the relentless interchanges, exchanges, an interactions playing out in the placeless space of the Internet, I stumbled upon a small space, a physical one, with treasures that were at once familiar and strange.
Familiar because, instead of casting me to sea and adrift in busyness, so to speak, it took me to a new nook in the old house of experiences. Strange, because it made a gathering of strangers into an experience of intimacy … even without the endless stream of self-disclosures in the spaces of social that bind us these days into relationships, including the ones we think of as intimate.