The people from before


It might seem really strange to want to go to the cities of the world and find random people and gather them in one moment of conversation. Each. One moment each. In 16 cities: 16 people in each city. For about two hours, each. So they can meet each other.

Yeah, writing that seems really strange, even I can see that. If you don’t know me, though… it is. If you know me, it makes perfect sense. Because I’ve done a lot of learning and changing and traveling, and I guess in a lot of ways I’ve given up a lot of other things (things that people might call ‘security’). Personally. That’s just me, though. Maybe it won’t really matter, at the end of all of this. I guess thinking about the end a lot, too. Not in a dark way, just in a, ‘Huh. So that’s where we’re all going,’ sort of a way. The great, fat ending that is going to be the same no matter what we do in the meantime.

DESIGNING ’16N’. So I figure in the meantime, why not have fun. Why not play. Enjoy the day to day, but when that gets boring find people to talk to, to connect with. I used to do this in small tea party styles, at my house or apartment. More of the time, apartment. Small, humble, but always in a place where you might run into something or someone interesting. Usually. Yeah, if you wanted to. You could. But then weird things happened. Cities changed. People stopped looking at each other, and started walking with their faces straight ahead, avoiding you. Or poking their glowing pieces of rectangular plastic. Not being able to notice anymore that right around them were a whole bunch of others. Also doing the same. It became more normal to meet online first. To talk after you establish some kind of digital rapport. Then meet. For, obviously, a definitive reason. Not just because it’s fun to talk to people. In fact, it’s become weird. You become weird because you want to just talk.

But it’s not just about the talking.

HERE IS THE THING ABOUT ‘N’. Oh, I haven’t said anything about it yet. Here is the unfolding story. Okay, so now, now that you’ve read that? :), here it is. When we meet people, things happen. I’m talking about in real life. I’m saying, like, when you just happen to be somewhere and you happen to meet some people, that’s one kind, you know? That’s a real way. It doesn’t always have to be pre-arranged for it to be a meeting. It can be strangers who don’t already know the details of what you do for work, how tall you are, that you have one greenish-brownish eye, or that you wear size 7 shoes. They can just see you and see how you smile, and see how you see them. That is real. That is the stuff I miss. So I made ‘N’ because I didn’t want to weird people out. But I guess it does, in some ways, some of the time. What is the point of it?? Why are you flying around the world to try to get strangers together, in real life, just once? What’s in it for you?

Beauty is in the moment. Art is in the connection: a timeless, wordless conversation only the sender and receiver can know. I made that up, you know. It will resonate, I hope, with a few of you: 256, really, in total.

When you go somewhere new, you become someone else. Sort of. You at least grow a bit. Stretch yourself from your normal bounds. That is what is in it for me. And that is what I invite people to do, too. Maybe it isn’t fair, because it’s so much harder, perhaps, for people to take me up on the invitation. Want to come to ‘N’? It costs. We’ll agree on a date, together. In a poll. And then, I guess, for my part of it, I have to make sure that I can really really do it. Really get there. Show up. Ninety percent of it is showing up. I have been humbled and awed and deeply grateful to the 32 people who came to the ‘N’ events in Bangkok and Phnom Penh. Wow. I mean, really, wow. I have these faces popping into my mind, people who became real, who sort of walked out of the internet. And there we were, together, in 3D. All of us. The 16N events were about that moment of connection that happens when we set the stage like this. I’m a trained engineer, so a bit of a dork about how to design things. And I wanted to design a space for that eye contact to happen more easily than it does these days amongst strangers, that magic discovery that happens when we find people, when we happen to, you know? I’ve been so bored on pre-arranged meeting thingies, having to go to events I don’t want to, seeing the same people complain about the same people (KH, looking at you), but then, also, wondering what to do about it. There was twitter. There was instagram. I’m not a big FB person, so I don’t know how to use it. But there was that. There were ways to find people online and meet them sort of and then get together in real life. But what about just going and seeing if I could make it happen, live and on the spot? [I picked, unfortunately, Copenhagen in which to do this. I gave myself six weeks. When I started to realize that was going to be hard, hard, hard to pull off what I could pull off in cities elsewhere, on account of it taking time to get to know people in Scandinavia, and of course, that is so how I am, too, so I was respectful of that, but then I knew I would have to postpone it. And so I did. And in the meantime, I had time. To just explore. To see the city. Walk around. A lot. Find the venues that might work for ‘N’ when next I came. Find the people I had met online. See if they checked out with what my gut had said about them. I found out, wow, I found out sometimes I was so wrong. That I had one whole idea in my head about how it would be and it was not. I guess this is what blind dating must be like. Maybe the hookup apps are so popular because it’s so easy to go, ‘NEXT.’ But I’m not a ‘NEXT’ goer. Not easily. I am very, very selective about whom I meet and talk to, even when it’s in that just-walk-up-to-someone and say hi kind of way. Even then. I’m shy. Terribly. So it’s no wonder that sending invitations around about ‘N’ to the world and seeing most of them go unanswered and some people getting worried or calling me names or making assumptions about my intentions, which, I guess that’s fair, because who DOES this? Who does ‘N’? And that… somehow… that is what makes me want to keep going. Because someone has to do it. There wouldn’t be these magic moments. Just 16, all in all. After 16 cities, that’ll be it. The series. The end.

Or maybe, the beginning.

Because sometimes, the biggest and most beautiful step, is that one. Showing up. The dilemma is about the people… the people I haven’t met yet, and how to discover them… and the ones I’ve known forever and ever… the people from before. Where to focus? Who shares with me an ‘N’ kind of connection? Are memories of old conversations and feelings just nostalgia? And isn’t nostalgia dangerous? Because it stops us from expanding beyond where we are, into the front-edge, and just-past, to the New?

I’ll write more about ‘N’. In this way. More of the real story, of what it feels like to try to make something happen. A thing that is really about people meeting one another. In that old fashioned way of looking at ourselves in the eye, and, perhaps, taking the time to learn new views and in the process, discovering a slice of who we really are. In the biggest, broadest, most human way. We are here.

NEXT. Next stops: ‘N’ London: NOTEWORTHINESS, ‘N’ Copenhagen: NEARNESS. And Bologna and Hanoi, to be following thereafter. One day I’ll get to Portland, Ore., and also New York. You could be a part of it. Curious about ‘N’? Ask me anything: