Zia Hassan

A Hodge Lodge Can Bring To The Edges Of Culture

I was at a place in DC called the O St. Mansion. If you live or visit DC, I highly recommend going to this venue. I was there recording a podcast but had the chance to explore the grounds after.

In essence, it’s a huge mansion that has a number of different rooms, and each room has a completely different feel. It’s a functioning hotel, but the hotel isn’t really themed in any meaningful way – it’s a hodge-podge of culture and art.

One room is a log cabin, another is a victorian room with super old furniture, another is a modern futuristic pod with stairs leading up to the bathtub that emerge from the wall.

There are hidden passages all around the entire building, 99 in fact, and it’s a challenge to find all of them. There’s a magician that comes through every week, which really fits the feel of the place (completely mysterious). Photos and videos are allowed and encouraged, which is great, because you need to see this place to believe it.

The thing that most surprised me in this place was the artwork and the books.

All of it is for sale. Everything. Every last piece of art, and all of the books… which are scattered among all of the different rooms. You can find old, tattered books on just about any topic imaginable.

Having used my Kindle for about a decade now, the experience made me remember what it was like to go into a dime book store and browse the bins of 99 cent books. These tomes were dreamt up by writers, and probably went through a very intensive review process, only to end up in a bin that isn’t even organized by genre. But some of the best books I’ve found have been random. Amazon would’ve never suggested Astonish Yourself, which is a collection 99 ways to blow your own mind.

It also made me think of the local library, and their music collection, and how random it seemed. Classic albums by Dire Straits, and then also the rare flop that no one listens to by Lyle Lovett.

Were it not for these mixed bins, these hodge lodges (a term I made up to describe a building of hodge podge) of culture and art, getting exposed to the edges of culture would become increasingly harder. It’d become something we’d have to seek out. Algorithms aren’t efficient at finding edges because algorithms aren’t built to surprise – they’re simply built to give us more of what we’ve already got.

But we don’t need more of what we already have. We need to discover new, we need to find the edges to truly delight our senses. And in order to discover, we have to put ourselves in places like the O St. Mansion, like the public library, or perhaps the local park that we’ve never explored.

When I listen back on the music I liked in high school and college, there are all sorts of oddities in there. Things that are sometimes uncomfortable to listen to, but interesting nonetheless.

These days, my playlists all sound like the same song… unless I make it a point to hunt for the edges of culture and art.