I was minding my business, just settling into my seat for the start of the first day of speakers at World Domination Summit.
The couple in front of me, a man and woman, were getting settled as well. The guy started looking through his bag.
Everyone who comes to World Domination Summit gets a gift bag, which this year consisted of a lightweight messenger bag, a water bottle, socks, a shirt, programming info, a map and a blank notebook. These messenger bags have a front flap with a mesh front pocket – a little peek-a-boo window into what other people are carrying with them.
The man in front of me continued to dig in his bag and as he did, I thought to myself, what is that small white thing, with grey and some writing on it? I was pretty sure that this guy was carrying underwear in the front mesh part of his bag. This struck me as curious, but then the first speaker, Nancy Duarte, started speaking about the anatomy of a great speech and how to effectively weave storytelling into great public speaking. It was utterly fascinating! I forgot all about the guy with the underwear in his bag.
When we got up for lunch I saw that guy digging through his bag again and I was like, that guy has undies in his bag. What an unusual character!
I went to lunch and found I started having all these questions about why anyone would carry underwear in the mesh part of their bag.
Was he some sort of hyper-tidy person who changed his underwear part way through the day? Was he hoping to get lucky later and was traveling in a prepared sort of player fashion? And why would anyone put underwear in the front mesh pocket where other people (like me) could see it?
What was the story with the underwear?
You know how songs can be earworms – so catchy that they stay in your head all day? Well, this underwear in the bag became my eyeworm and it got bigger than just that one guy. I found myself with a generalized curiosity – what is in people’s WDS bags? What little snippets of other people’s lives would be revealed in that mesh peek-a-boo window?
So, most of Sunday I worked on a project in my spare time. I asked people if I could photograph the mesh part of their bags and everyone, I mean, everyone said, “Yes. You can!”
In the morning when everyone was lined up waiting to get into WDS on day two, and throughout that entire day, I went about photographing as many WDS bags as possible. I shared the underwear story with people as I photographed their bags.
Most people were totally cool with the mesh part of their bag being photographed, but a few people gave me a weird look. I couldn’t really blame them, but then I’d tell them the story of the guy with the underwear, and they would get these HUGE smiles on their faces and say, “Sure, you can photograph my bag.”
Over and over again people asked me, “Why was he carrying underwear in his bag? Did you ask him?” I explained over and over that I didn’t ask him and I didn’t know why.
And again and again people said, “If you find out, please let me know.” I said I would. I said I’d write a blog post about it.
People came up with their own underwear theories.
Some people thought that this guy just traveled light and only brought one pair of underwear for his luggage.
On Friday, the 5th of July, 2013, the WDS folks broke a world wide record for the most people floating together at one time. The final number was 620 people. Read more on my friend Tyler’s site.
Some people speculated that the underwear guy had only brought one pair and then got his undies wet in the float. He washed them that night in his hotel and they were still a little damp the next day, so he put them in the mesh part to dry. Totally conceivable, right?
Everyone had their own underwear theory.
As I photographed, I was more and more fascinated by what other people kept in the mesh part of their bags.
Some people kept it simple.
Other people had messy bags.
Some people had nothing at all in their mesh pocket, which had me thinking of the pocket as a metaphor for opportunities not taken. OK, you see? I was off the deep end with this pocket project.
Other people had randomness that really told a story about them. Like the woman who had a banana because I think she may have had food allergies and couldn’t eat the morning snack.
Or the woman with glasses, some bus tickets and miscellaneous other things indicating who this person is.
There was the person who had allergies or a cold.
For the mover and shaker the mesh pocket was a business card holder.
Or the bags with many unknown things. The beige pouch in front might have been an iPod case, but there were so many bags and stories about people’s pockets that I’m not entirely sure anymore.
Why so many swag bracelets? I appreciated the double pens clipped at the left of the mesh pocket.
What’s in the circular orange container? Candy?
What’s with the aluminum foil?
I didn’t even use all of the pictures I took. Some were out of focus or just too similar to other bags. This is a cross section of the bags I photographed.
All the while I was looking for the underwear guy.
I went to workshops like, How to Publish a Book, taught by literary agent David Fugate. Great workshop. I learned so much. For the hour or so of that workshop I forgot all about my little side project.
Once it was over, I was back on the hunt for the guy with the undies in his mesh pouch. I was hoping to find his mesh pouch again, to photograph it, and I wanted to share the story of the curiosity he created in me, how that curiosity grew larger and how I needed to know more about everyone’s bag as a result. And, most of all, I wanted to find out once and for all, why he had underwear in his bag.
It was Sunday night by this time. I’d been photographing mesh pockets all day in between my lead ambassador duties (in case you’ve never attended that’s the name they give for their volunteers).
I got some fun shots of the Bollywood dance party, which was led by Prashant.
The only things I could remember about the underwear guy were that he had dark skin and that his name may have been Hawaiian.
The night was coming and I began to think I wouldn’t find the guy with the bag who had inspired this random, impromptu project.
And then I found him.
I pointed right at him and said, “It’s YOU!” I grabbed his name tag so I could read it. I still don’t know his name, but it was the same long name that I remembered seeing before.
He looked a little startled by my pointing and name badge grabbing. I began to tell him the story. When I got to the part where he had underwear in the mesh part of his bag he said, “What? I didn’t have underwear in the mesh part of my bag. It was probably socks.”
He dug through his bag again and pulled out some black socks.
I said, “No, these were white, with grey and writing on them. Underwear!”
He said, “Oh, I know what you saw.” He dug around in what seemed to be the near-bottomless recesses of his bag and after a lot of digging he pulled out this.
I said, “A sock? Why would you carry one sock in the mesh part of your WDS bag?” Then he pulled a digital camera out of the sock. He told me,”It’s my camera case.”
He loved the story and all of the underwear theories, which are all now debunked.
I started this project on a whim, the last day of this event, because there was this question invading my mind. By the end of the day, I had the answer. In the process I met a lot of awesome people, had some great laughs and learned a lot about connection in general. It reminded me of a speaker I’d seen the day before, Jia Jiang.
On Saturday, July 6th, Jia spoke at WDS, about rejection – that he was afraid of it. That he decided he needed to expose himself to regular rejection to get over his fear – rejection therapy, which then set him on a quest to be rejected over the course of 100 days.
This isn’t the WDS talk, but here is a talk he did for TEDx Austin, which is similar.
Jia talks about how he sought out rejection, but over and over again people said “YES!” instead of “No” to him.
He said he thought he needed to learn about how to accept rejection, but instead he learned about the kindness of strangers.
I felt like this mesh pouch project had a similar feel to it. I thought I was just feeding a curiosity of mine and I did that, but there was so much more that happened here.
I connected with strangers around a story, which it turns out wasn’t even true, but we still had a shared story all the same. We had something in common, and really we all have something in common with others all the time – being human and all the strength and weakness associated with that.
It’s so easy to feel disconnected from people in today’s society. You can get through life almost never talking to strangers, just like our mothers taught us. It’s so easy to be alone in a crowd.
The WDS attendees are a kind and interesting bunch of people in general, but give them a silly story and they are IN, all the way IN, baby.
I’d see people over the course of Sunday, July 7th and people would say, “Did you find the underwear guy yet?” Or, “Did you photograph my friend’s bag for the pocket project?”
It was a great weekend. Making new friends, learning more about business, travel, blogging, creativity and humanness. All of us united in stories, in information sharing, in projects – big and small, in fascination, in underwear theories and in World Domination.
Did you go to World Domination Summit this year? If so, tell me a little story about your experience or share a link to your blog. If you haven’t been, here’s my unofficial pocket project, underwear theory version.
I have another post that is more about my overall experience at WDS and that has nothing to do with mesh pockets or pretend underwear, but it’s still a day away from being done. Sign up for my mailing list to get my posts delivered straight to your inbox (sign up at the right-hand sidebar).