THIS IS THE POST where I talk about the things that are hard to put into discrete bullet points, and that will not easily snap into some template that Spells Out Everything.
Like some of the early writings that had appeared here in the 2000s, I’m just going to talk to you without aiming at a spiffy conclusion. Like NB said once, ‘We are suspended in words.’ Inadequate as it is, here. Let me try to say a thing. If there is resonance, then that’s as good a thing as I can hope for.
SEARCH, QUERY. THIS BLOG is a response, in part, to the ongoing dialogues with the people right near me, and the new ones who have emerged from the aether of real life and laid out What I Am Missing. These things are part of being on the road. The blunt honest responses to things that are murky, that are unclear, that are esoteric, that are apart from the usual consumptions of what we intake, day to day, whether we are participant in the decision to swallow the so-called news wholesale, or not. (The buzzwords here are critical thinking, and resistance to the status quo, and innovation, and other things I don’t know but can imagine are trending in fancy-pants offices in high rises in the big cities of the world.) Which blips of the narrative are scraps, and which are gems? That is up to each of us, isn’t it, to determine.
To show up and ask questions is not popular.
To keep doing this and investigate towards the next thing that feels right (to you), is not mainstream. But, so? Now that DK are warbling about in the fourth dimension, it’s okay to ditch those old frames of thinking. The ones that say ‘Home is __.’ Or, ‘You should ___, and ___, and definitely ___. And you better do it before you’re forty, or else.’
The programmes today we intake, about beauty power success et al, are shaped by the obsession of social media scrolls, all over the place you see it… people on trains, buses, in their dinner jackets, with their phones glued to their hands. Locked in an endless, streaming stream of illusions of what beauty and power and status and food look like. (Maybe if you want to buy a lot of products, bags, clothes, shoes, items that make you feel smart, or important, or gadgets that make you feel connected, that’s your choice. But loneliness is big, with this consumption stuff.) Bangkok. Kuala Lumpur. Singapore. Am seeing it every day, the hard cold fact that More is not landing people where they thought it would. That the pictures they, hey wait, I and they, once held fast to are disappearing in our hands, like that photograph in ‘Back to the Future’ that Marty had in his hand, at the concert, when it was looking dubious he would get back to the Eighties.
SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE. But now, Now is a fading photo. Hijacking real life are the online spaces. Where there is ‘ambient community,’ and a sense of place. Sometimes, sure. But not always, and not enduringly, at least not in my experiences, so far. On the road or in one spot, doesn’t matter. You will have to eventually request the time, the space, to look and really see. Who do you ask this to? Yourself, of course. Distractions are there but it’s us who have to cut them out. Editing. Disconnection for connection. Which means selectivity. Which means knowing who, where, when, and how to show up for, not always the same answers, of course. Time, distance, and our pasts and emerging present change how we think about what’s important, what’s frivolous. Scraps can morph into gems, and vice versa. Love can burn us. We can die in any instant. There is no certain future. All this is uncomfortable for those of us who believed in the Programme that says just follow the rules, connect the dots, 1-2-3, there you go, and voila. You get a trophy…but… Did you really? And if you did, who cared about it?
Did you win?
If yes, what?
GETTING SET here in Bangkok for our 6-10 March zine design atelier. Atelier S P A C E || Bangkok.
I’ll welcome just a very small handful of people to cocreate an eighth-page zine.
Read more under Upcomings and find out how to get involved in the international conversation that interweaves people and place, in S P A C E.
PEOPLE WHO ARE ALREADY IN MOTION know that the hardest part about starting a thing is, well, starting.
In classic high school Newtonian physics, the coefficient of static friction is greater than the coefficient of kinetic friction. Which means that if you had a mass on a flat surface, for example, you would need less force to push it and keep it moving at a certain velocity if it was already in motion (kinetic) than if, say, it was just sitting there, not moving at all (static). Friction exists. Sure it does. It’s a fact of life. It’s just… Coping with it. If you only have a limited amount of effort you can make, might as well do it where you know that it’s going to have more impact. This is a topic that we are discussing in our current online programme, The Mirror. It’s been quite a few weeks of learning and discovering how to talk more, how to talk more clearly, and how to shape a space in our online forums that, I hope, will continue to seed new inspirations and angles on things, for those of us writing and interconnecting. What would be the map for that kind of quality exchange? How would its arteries be shaped, where would be the high flow channels? (Forgive me, I’m a civil engineer by training… I tend to enjoy things like fluid dynamics and city planning, and building infrastructure for social [ex]change.)
INITIATIVE. Naturally, because of the friction thing, you discover when you are trying out stuff that something new is harder to get going when it’s standing still, or ‘to get it off the ground,’ or to initiate. So much gets in the way. Cloudy headed from your own self-doubt, that’s one, that’s the first hurdle, then there are more and more layers that impede you from moving towards, well, just the starting line. Let’s be honest about it, shall we? Today, I wanted to share a little bit about some people who have inspired me. Specifically, I want to tell you about their work to take an initiative, not just talk, but actually do, to get past blocks, and actually make a thing happen. Two are in Cameron, one is in Melaka. Malaysia. Asia.
So much more to say here about how hard it is to go against the grain of what’s socially acceptable, and what your parents say, and what your peer group is doing, and the general rules about what you’re ‘supposed’ to be doing which are so, so hard to get around. None of them knew, at the start, if their venture ‘would work.’ The Cameron story is just a few months old, and the Melaka one a little longer, but the bonus points that I want to give here for the people who are making and doing are there because they are making and doing in Asia. (I can relate. I come from Asian roots. Even in those United States, growing up with the steadfast rules that Asia extends even when its natives go away, far away, breaking out of the boxes is never a cake walk.)
ASIA. Yeah. Here, it’s extra hard, for the handful of reasons I just mentioned, but also because there aren’t a lot of examples of really interesting creative risk taking. On account of maybe government censorship stuff, too, but also, hey, there’re just not a lot (that I can find easily) of the creative class scene (which is difficult to define, but you have a feeling of it when you see it, right?). Understandably. It’s so hard to get a thing that is new and different to be valued: much simpler to follow the lines that have already been painted for you, go through the motions, live within the boundaries instead of breaking out of the margins. Starting a business and doing it for yourself is hard, everywhere. But it’s multiply difficult to do it, in my opinion, if you are young and taking the chance, and going against what’s accepted in these parts of the world, where enterprise isn’t seen as cool and edgy, but a risk that might embarrass not just you, but those who are near to you. And saving face is such a big part of everything, here, that the whole ‘fail early, fail fast’ rah-rah stuff that the US West Coasters like to run around in cities of Asia touting as the way forward just simply doesn’t blend in with the native program. Does it make sense? With that background, what I’m sharing next, to me, seems extra impressive. Here are the two businesses I wanted to talk about today…
Map Travelodge, Cameron Highlands
UP IN CAMERON HIGHLANDS, known locally as just ‘Cameron,’ I met a pair of cousins who started their own venture, and what struck me about it, was that, through dialogue and casual conversation over the course of four days, then ten, then, at the time of this writing, an embarrassingly lengthy perhaps 20, because once I find a place I like I tend to stick around, well, in the chats and learning I got to see that there are still people who are trying things, even when they don’t know what’s going to happen. Doing it on their own, doing it with their own gumption, and doing what they know a teensy bit about how is what Aaron Goh 吴秉洛 and Peter Goh 吴秉腾 are up to, in Cameron, their native town in the hills here in Malaysia, where I’m writing from at this moment. I wanted to come to the higher country and put down some thoughts about space, about geometry, about systems and emergence, but all of that is sitting in a pile of notes while I write today’s thing, which is about deciding to want to change.
You know, they could have continued doing their jobs: Aaron was working in a big hotel in Penang for six years. He’s now 26. His cousin, Peter, loves traveling and has tons and tons of beautiful photographs (and if you know me, you know I don’t just offer compliments easily, especially on photography). Based on his own travels, Peter told me he wanted to create a ‘backpacker’s home.’ He wanted it to have all the things you would want, if you were living out of a bag and being on the road somewhere. Cafe. Warm reception. Laundry. Food. Privacy in your own space, that sort of thing, And it does, this place, that the two of them co-founded. It’s called Map Travelodge, there’s a humongous wall map that you just can’t not look at for a long time, and I guess seeing that, straightaway, along with the rack of postcards that I found out only later were all taken by Peter himself (no Instagram, no big sign saying ‘look at my beautiful pictures,’ so rare and refreshing in the era of narcissistic exhibitionism. Taken together, to me these things add up to authenticity and being good. Speaking of which, I asked Peter what makes a photograph ‘good.’ He said it is about timing. Then he went and got a postcard with some lions. Their eyes really popped out, so deep and penetrating, and so did the azure of the background sky. Timing, he said, makes the difference. (The same could be said about relationships, how they develop. You watch you learn, you wait. It takes time to grow towards a thing, to feel yourself connecting with it. Right?）
Gastro Coffee Bar, Melaka
IN THE MIDST OF MY STAY IN CAMERON, I took a break to go down to Melaka, to see what my favorite cousin calls ‘hoopla.’ Touristy stuff. There, I discovered despite all the attractions and heritage stuff and people around taking pictures, that I only wanted to take one shot. It’s weird, doing this ‘just one shot’ in a place thing. In the past I was a freelance photographer full time. So that seems odd, but it’s what it is. These days, I only share them with people in DK’s online community, S P A C E. The cheapening of people and places through over documentation, the lack of attention to detail and relating to the people who are experiencing the detail, subverting qualify for something superficial and ‘sexy’, like food porn (?), or insta friendship… These are the sorts of things I got talking about with the owner and proprietor of Gastro Coffee Bar. It’s in a quieter street, not like you’d run into it if you stuck to the main one-day tour route. It took me a few days to warm up to talking about real things, but we did, and in depth, and I wanted to mention her here in this little note on the web about cool people, smart and talented, doing their best to make something out of scratch, despite the odds. (And frowns, from Society, and general I articulated but highly present, palpable dismissiveness, from The West.) Tough subjects!… But why avoid them? I got to meet the incredible Nisa Aziz, owner and proprietor, and the resident cat in her space, and to tell them that I don’t publish the most intimate pieces I write. Why? Relating. Takes time to work up to. A getting to know you. (Japanese-speaking friends might appreciate it put this way: a kaiwa that hazumu-s.) Well, yeah. Of course you want to relate. You want to feel your way towards knowing, a little, and being known is nice, if and when it happens, too. So you wait. Is there going to be a connection? That only time can tell. Or the lions, in the case of Peter Goh’s timing and photography. Letting themselves be seen, at last. Fully, fully naked, but only to the eye that has built the trust with them, a rapport. Relating. And now, let me return to Cameron, and complete the story there.
Being who you are
DOING THEIR OWN THING really impresses me, watching Gastro. And Map, and its day-to-day, and meeting the new staff who’ve come on since my return. Dealing with people, the front desk reception, isn’t easy work, especially when you have girls in the dorm who start obsessing arbitrarily about bed bugs, which I watched unfold one evening at about 1AM in a conference that, really, wow, to watch it… There weren’t any, bugs that is, there were just paranoid people who were taking pictures of flies or whatever and screaming away as they cross-referenced them with the Internet.
People are a little zany, at times. One girl talked for like 4 hours about it. There was an expert, a 22-year old who’d been talking with me quite calmly moments before about Love and Art, but subjects those are, too, and she came in to share everything she knew from having just experienced this, like how to cope with these things, yeah. She came in from another room, and started to give a mini lecture. This was what happened. Big-eyed people were shooting questions at her, and she happily replied in detail. ‘They look like this… you seem let me describe this, or wait, see, how this would be, the shape is this. Their feet look like this… They grow like this… The light changes it, they aren’t going to come out if there’s light… This is how to cope, and then… Make sure you… warm water… Don’t forget that these things are also good to know… And when that happens, this is what you can expect next…’ While all this went on, a dozen heads poked out, you had to open your curtain to hear, and we all leaned out, watching her. She lit up on that stage, expanding in long form about how bed bugs move around, reproduce, grow, and are eradicated. People jumped in with their burning questions. ‘Can they walk across the floor? Is my bag okay there? Have you seen one here?! Can they go through zippers? Can they eat clothing? Can they reproduce inside your sheets? Can they stay alive for days?’ I couldn’t help it. I just went, ‘Can they apparate?’…
All kinds of ways to try a thing
A BUNCH OF PEOPLE would be gone the next day, as happens in a place like this that rotates clientele regularly. They’d go and more would come, and you’d hear the same exact stories every time. ‘We just got here. We’re going to figure out what trail or tour we’re going to do tomorrow, then we’re going to go for dinner.’ There are card games, or chess, in the common room, which is nice to see. Wifi is spotty so you just have to wing it, and it’s kind of refreshing to see people talking talking instead of just zoning out doing what I’m doing right now (typing into a device).
These things make me happy. People who are making things, sharing things. Doing things. Not because they have to, but because they want to. They’re not in this because they want to make a ton of money, that much is clear. They’re making a space. Just like us, here at DK. To host people. To give you a place to stop in, for a while. Make sure you’re comfortable, that the space you’re in is safe, and clean. How much more could you ask, when you’re on the road for a while, far from home? Yeah, it would be neat to share this coliving experience with friends or family, one day, but my friends and family aren’t about to hop on a plane to Asia and stop in to a hostel with me for a while!… Ludicrous!
I guess there’s just a stigma around pushing out of your zone, challenging your static friction coefficient, in a way, and going and doing whatever you bloody well feel like doing. It’s a luxury and privilege, I recognize, to be able to do this moving forth and generally meandering thing, but now that I look back on the last five years, I realize it’s more than that. It’s wanting it. Change starts there. With wanting it. You can go and stay where you are and wish and hope and talk about things, but you don’t really go and do them not because you can’t, but because, deep down, you don’t really want to. Me? I’m not interested in turning this blog into a ‘how we did it’ thing. That’s just dumb. I’m interested in sharing tools and tips and resources with people like Nisa, Peter, and Aaron, who are young and on their way. They’re already experiencing the ups and downs that will continue to befall them, there’s no going around it, you just have to go through. But you teach yourself so much when you do… Go through.
Like business, like travel, like starting new chapters, change is the thing that has to come from within, from wanting it. Not for everyone. And to return to that question of what makes a thing good, I’ll love to tell you more about that, if you become part of S P A C E in March or April, where the theme is Quality. (Sharing, for me, has to start with relating, and I just can’t do that on the public Internet, these days. Not for everyone.)
LUXURY OF TIME. The space to create. These are things that a lot of people I’m reconnecting with, so far, this year have said they really wish they could have, and seem to think that I have, and therefore there is a sense of… How can I say to them, it’s not about having it. It’s about designing for it. What you want. That’s just not a popular viewpoint. But, so? It’s mine. And apparently, with the new people I’ve met and written about above… it’s theirs, too.
Proceed with caution. But don’t stop.
This story was underwritten by members of S P A C E. Join us.
PRETTY REMARKABLE SERIES of conversations in Kuala Lumpur. The goal was to make ourselves go in search of the unknown, see what we could discover in chance encounters. Getting on a train with someone with a map. Sitting up straight listening to O.’s frank reportage of her life as an escort. Making smalltalk in broken Hindi, finding the language irrelevant to the quality of the exchange. Meeting a line of new queries, breaking through unseen surfaces. And sharing the jazzy back and forth style of conversation-connection that we love, with a seasoned pianist. A lot of missed connections, too, with the ones who didn’t realize our invitations expire. (How else to press the point, this is a celebrating of real life, this magic moment of being here, now. In real life. Together.) On Tuesday we will post to our S P A C E community the fresh new zine, S P A C E || Kuala Lumpur. The story is called Kaunter Tiket.
Special thanks to No Black Tie.✨
DESIGN KOMPANY’s Akira Morita, Dipika Kohli, and a few others will be convening very soon in Bangkok. I wanted to extend an invitation to you today, to join us for something called SELF. Still making workshops. Still gathering people in real life spaces. Maybe you and DK first met at ‘N’ Bangkok, or at SELF a few years ago at the library. Or other parts of the city, just bumping into chance encounters and discovering each other. 🙂
SELF will be on 12 Feb. Other things are also on our website, now, under ‘Upcomings,’ for Bangkok ateliers. In the summer, we’ll shift to Scandinavia to host ‘N’ Copenhagen and a roving series of zine making workshops that we call Atelier S P A C E. Can talk more about everything, if and when we meet. Real life is best. ✨💖
SHIFTS AND NEW BEGINNINGS. It’s 4PM. My time. To write. To think, to free myself of the burdens of ‘obligations.’ I’ve blocked out this time frame every week for a long time, now, and I’m very particular about holding it and keeping it, all to me.
Funny that I open this wordpress thing at 4:05. It’s automatic, now. Like going for a long run, I imagine, would be for runners, or taking the night train home might be, for the commuters.
I’m writing, I’ve been writing, I’ve always been writing. Only… recently, I’m just starting to share again. Because I had gone into hibernation here in Asia for the last few years, to work out a couple of books, then those things got written and a new beginning began. Last year was the year of shuffling and trying out stuff, going to different countries in Asia and seeing if I could find ‘the next thing’ there. Not like, long term or anything. Just… for a bit. For a time. For as long as the visa would last, if I have to be really honest. Now I’m writing you from Malaysia. I’m two months into the three months they give you for my passport. I’ve been taking the time to do the things you have to do if you want to be really clear about what you are going to focus on, next. I guess I’ve resisted for a long time. Pinning things down too soon is my pet peeve; people getting locked into ‘the way I’m going to do it’ without exploring properly, and I mean really far and out there, way, in order to discover something you didn’t even know what it was going to be yet. You have to do that if you want real innovation. Real shaping of a kind of way of going about the problem-solving that does break the boundaries and make things better, stronger. (More to say here, about the status quo, etc., but I’ll save it, lah.)
Collaboration is a topic we are discussing behind the scenes, here at this very website, in something called The Mirror. Which was a build on a thing we started 4 years ago, something called the Cojournal Project. So, over time, and with input, and fresh and original thinking from so many mixed sources, and some reading, too, but well outside our usual scope of awareness, and even, yeah, living and immersing in Phnom Penh just to make it that much more different (for me), a lot. A lot!, to say. And we are starting to share again, here at this blog, and also in real life, and that means… we want to reconnect, rekindle and share what we know works. It’s no longer a matter of testing, really. I mean, yeah, sure, you’re always tweaking the design. But the design—spacemaking for high quality exchange is the goal of our design now—is ready. And working. It’s really cool to see this. I’m happy to talk more about that if you meet me or email us. I’m happy to do that because now I have the words. I have been sitting still thinking and writing for four years and now, I have the words to share, because sharing is as much a part of the design (and artfulness), I found out. Very good.
Thanks, very much, to M., who helped me put this together in a different way in my mind because M. only speaks Japanese and that meant I had to go back to an earlier time of my life when speaking in Japanese was more the way I was doing things every day, and with the words the way of thinking, or not-thinking, because speaking in the silent spaces is just as big a part of the communication as the feelings. Ne. (I didn’t say ideas. I said feelings.) And feeling your way towards the rightness of something is where this is leading… this new kind of design. A new feeling is emerging, now. That something is afoot, and it is about interconnecting and interrelating with people, in new and remarkable ways. I’m going to keep writing and sharing, now, but mostly through the emails that we share in our mailings with those who are replying and responding, and entering their comments into boxes on the comment forms, and so on. It’s an exchange, in other words. It matters what you, if you are there, and you’ve read all the way to this point, and you are sort of curious, it matters, to me, what you think about the big work of interrelating. So that, _____. What would it be, for you? Let’s talk about these things. Meet us at something online or offline, and let’s see where the conversations go. Discover the fourth dimension, the shape of space, and emergence. Connect, but in a meaningful way. In depth, not trivially. Curiouser and curiouser, towards the new we go. If I just met you and I was telling you aboutthe March programme, just go down to the bottom of this page until you see ‘The Mirror Section B.’ To the journeys, then. And to the making of more and better art. (M. and J., lookin’ at you.)
i wanted to tell you about a thing we are coming to make happen in CPH later this year. This is the event.
16N is a series, and it is going to be for just 16 of you.
‘N’ Copenhagen: NEARNESS. ‘What’s close? How does it affect me?
KM had asked me for a picture, in 2015, when I was making the first invitations. ‘A picture! That would help.’
Okay. I have one now. From Hanoi. It looks like this.
Total strangers to the idea of ’16N,’ meeting in a big blind date.
Honestly, it somehow works.
You put your phone in a box. You talk about a theme.
We were talking about NOTEWORTHINESS in London, NOW in Bangkok, NORMALITY in Phnom Penh, and NARRATIVE in Hanoi.
‘N ‘ for CPH is ‘NEARNESS’. I just felt like it made sense, as a theme, when I got there and walked around in your city and met peopleand bumped into conversations.
I can tell you more about that, if you email me through the form at the ‘about page!’, there is definitely more to share.
16N. Each city has to have an ‘N’ in it. And the venue? Has to start with an ‘n’. So it’s kind of… Weird, right? Then again, weirdness seems to be welcome, in a small way, whenever I go to DK. Hit me up if you want details? There are tickets for this, just scroll down on this website on any page to find ‘N’ Copenhagen info under ‘upcomings.’
THERE HAVE BEEN GOOD discussions lately in the Mirror about eduction. A big topic! To supplement some of the ongoing conversation this week in Notes, below are some paragraphs from Isaac Asimov’s ‘Those Crazy Ideas.’ But first, a little about how I got into Asimov.
Learning through doing
I WAS MAYBE about 12 or 13 when I started reading the sci-fi books of Asimov’s. A sharp contrast to all the usual pre-teen stuff, his stories about different worlds, out there in space, and the way we can imagine what might happen out there, on those worlds, became more interesting to me than the day-to-day drama of books about the things girls and boys think about in early teenagerhood. Reading this stuff early on influenced S P A C E quite a lot. (You kind of know what you’re interested in, most, when you’re young, right? Following that up and doing what you feel is interesting work, later, is harder because there are so many people and programmes telling you, ‘That’s not a good idea.’ Even if, you know, secretly, it’s the only thing that makes you feel like something cool is going on every day.)
Spaciousness. Yeah. I come from a very inquisitive and curious lot, my family just let me read whatever whenever. Encouraged it, even. I remember that. How I could just go to the library and pick out ten or twenty books at a time and nothing was a ‘no.’ I liked this freedom; now that I look back, I see that this isn’t usually how things go. You are educated by the people who decide what you will read, and your early days and your first impressions are molded by what those people think is important for you to know (or not know). Choosing for ourselves what we want to learn about is a big part of self-education, isn’t it? Making space to self-educate isn’t always encouraged, for so many reasons… We’re easier to deal with and manipulate, if we’re just sheep. Right?
The books that stuck with me most of Asimov’s (I’ll give you a general impression since I’m in the middle of Malaysia and not reading or referencing much these days), but what I recall about what stuck in my mind were the stories about computers starting to think. Fascinating and creepy, even back then, but now, well. What’s going on, anyway? I heard about something at a big Internet search company that had to be shut down because computers were starting to do things that people didn’t understand. A rumor? Real? We don’t know. (I am supposed to watch more films and read more books, my friends tell me, about this, but the technology has gotten so… I don’t even know…) Technology! Another huge topic. Bunches of shifts since those days when people wrote dystopic stories about humanity losing their heart to the ice-cold meticulous and calculating nature of machines. Will humanity make it? Would it matter? Does it seem arbitrary to you, too, that we’re even here? And so on. Pop up, these questions, once in a while. To this, my friend CN says, helpfully: ‘Why are you thinking about it so much? If the world’s gonna end, the world’s gonna end.’
I’ll cut to the important part: choosing how to add ‘bits’ to our knowledge collection… But for that to make sense, I need to now share the excerpts, about bits..
Different kinds of education
EXCERPTS. Here’s a couple of passages from Asimov’s essay, “Those Crazy Ideas:”
‘Every man [and woman*] in his lifetime collects facts, individual pieces of data, items of information. Let’s call these “bits” (as they do, I think, in information theory). The “bits” can be of all varieties: personal memories, boys’ or girls’ phone numbers, baseball players’ batting averages, yesterday’s weather, the atomic weights of the chemical elements.
‘Naturally, different people gather different numbers of different varieties of “bits.” A person who has collected a larger number than usual of those varieties that are held to be particularly difficult to obtain—say, those involving the sciences and the liberal arts—is considered “educated”.
‘There are two broad ways in which the “bits” can be accumulated. The more common way, nowadays, is to find people who already possess many “bits” and have them transfer those “bits” to your mind in good order and in predigested fashion. Our schools specialize in this transfer of “bits” and those of us who take advantage of them receive a “formal education”.
‘The less common way is to collect “bits” with a minimum amount of live help. They can be obtained from books or out of personal experience. In that case you are “self-educated.” (It often happens that “self-educated” is confused with “uneducated.” This is an error to be avoided.)
‘In actual practice, scientific breakthroughs have been initiated by those who were formally educated, as for instance by Nicolaus Copernicus, and by those who were self-educated, as for instance by Michael Faraday.
‘To be sure, the structure of science has grown more complex over the years and the absorption of the necessary number of “bits” has become more and more difficult without the guidance of someone who has already absorbed them. The self-educated genius is therefore becoming rarer, though he has still not vanished.
The ability to combine “bits” with facility and to grow consciously aware of the new combination is, I would like to suggest, the measure of what we call “intelligence.” In this view, it is quite possible to be educated and yet not intelligent.
Obviously, the creative scientist must not only have his “bits” on hand but he must be able to combine them readily and more or less consciously. Darwin not only observed data, he also made deductions—clever and far-reaching deducations—from what he observed. That is, he combined the “bits” in interesting ways and drew important conclusions.
IF YOU ARE READING, and you are part of The Mirror, we can continue talking about this in Notes.
Hat tip: D. Thanks for the good conversation. Will start the foundation work, tomorrow.
ON THE ROAD in 2018 is so different from the 1990s. One of the things that has been hard to get used to is the social media thing, the way someone can google you while you are standing there, right after ‘What’s your name?’ It becomes an incredibly strange dynamic, suddenly, when this happens (in line at an airport, on the bus, in a cafe), so I’m more careful about sharing details now, and I tend not to give out any kind of contact info. I guess I just don’t care that much about ‘keeping in touch.’ Especially if there isn’t much substance in the first conversation. Which is often. [More on this in Part 2.] I’ve been musing on why, and I think, after about two months out here in Malaysia, bumping into things and catching up with my old notes (mounds of paper, a suitcaseful), I’m seeing why it’s so awkward to be here, now, moving. And this is what I think it is…
INCONGRUITY. When the thing you meet doesn’t really seamlessly flow into the thing you thought you met, there is an incongruity. And that’s is dissonant. It creates a feeling of unsettlement, within. I meet people who act super interested in what I’m saying, or lean in, and try to make serious connection happen, and it would normally be like, yeah, this is conversation, real life, what I say I care about, for the S P A C E programmes and popup ateliers. So why is it so uncomfortable, then? Progression takes time. Developing a real relationship takes care. If you have neither time nor cRe, nothing interesting comes out of the engagements. Plus, people feel like they can just call or write or add you, on into the future, indefinitely. When you are the most interesting option.mbut what about now? I forgot that the urgency of this here, this now, is a huge part of the quality of my kind of S P A C E. Which is why I’ve kind of gone back into hibernation mode, and writing here, too.
Rare us the person who is who she says she is, who cares about one thing completely honestly, who is ttrying to package himself for you to ‘like’ on those in real life encounters. Rarer still is the one who can see this, discern that you are not into the weird selly first date they seem to be putting you on, and change gears, change key, adjust. I miss the 1990s. When eye contact told you information, when cues came from body language not emojis, when we would sit for hours and you would see people laughing, now, they text and message and someone else, or a slew of options, are always in their pocket. Is this quality? You decide.
Tell me what you think?… Contact page is here. In Part 2, I’ll share what some people I just met said when I asked them to read and respond to this, in real life, just now.
A SHORT NOTE to acknowledge the new and still newer conversations kicking up, lately. Real life or online, the real time synching is fun to play with, isn’t it? Thanks a lot to those of you who are taking me up on invites to talk, and showing up, paying attention, and hearing one another, too. Thanks to those of you whom I’ve been writing to about The Mirror for your fantastic questions, which have done big work to inform the designs ahead. DK shift with these inputs, and we are building as we go. I look forward to continued popup programmes this year, to host more and better S P A C E. A good party, so far. Gracias, P. That was neat.
THE ART of not knowing starts with showing up for the chance encounter, staying curious, and recognizing the opportunity to learn and grow when it meets you. This week, at AtelierSpace || Kuala Lumpur, this is the stage we are playing on: the open floor, the giant sky, the looking and searching that continue to get us going. The theme for the zine S P A C E || Kuala Lumpur, we found out, together, is #wanderlust. A passion for movement, open-eyed and if lucky, open-hearted. Proceed with caution, you might just find something out about yourself you never could have imagined being there. Concurrent with #TheMirror is 17-30 January’s popup zinemaking atelier, Atelier S P A C E || Kuala Lumpur. Welcome to the journey.
A HANDFUL, yet, of outstanding invitations for the 2018 edition of The Mirror. Hm. I wonder if they will get back to me. I guess I’m done writing the lots and lots and lots of emails, and ready now, to focus, on the people who have shown up. Said ‘yes’.
The party started on 8 January. So, last Monday.
So much to put in to the space between that last sentence and the next one, but it’s not for public sharing, so I’ll save it for another box.
A new mirror has begun, and my, what a start.
We are a week in.
This is different, from before. Is it because the world has noticed, as a handful of us tried earnestly to share before, that listening is important? That empathy counts? That there are qualities that are valuable, and meaningful, which a certain kind of dominant worldview simply doesn’t recognize as ‘counting’ as much. It’s time. For this idea. That we can make space for true connexion, for sharing in ways that bring us closer, and not divide. Letting go of boxes, dogma, identity. Letting to of the idea that ‘winning’ at an argument somehow… Matters. We see that there is a pain inside of us, all of us. A loneliness, too. The darkness isn’t just yours, or mine, or theirs. It’s all of us. Together. When you look at it like that, when you see the mirror as a unifying thing, that shows us all the bits and pieces that we are each feeling, and reflects it out there, to us, and others, magic moments happen. It’s not valued, though. Searching for them. And here I am, insisting this is good stuff. Changing DK into the architecture for designing a shape of space that invites quality, remarkable connexion. Yes! Am I out of my mind? I can hear BH asking that to AP, replaying that scene that I read in the other box, ‘Welcome to The Mirror,’ and I’m chuckling. BH. AP. In the same conversation. How did that happen? Remarkable (to me. Again, it’s important to qualify). Unbelievable that two people whom I met quite by chance and briefly on their separate excursions to ‘Cambodia, of all places!’, are talking and they don’t even realize they have both travelled these very roads, bumping into me is only just a blip, but they were on these same journeys. Just imagine. How many strangers have been where you’ve been? Held the same sadness, or love, or grief in their heart? You just have no idea… Unless and until you show up, like, really, and make time, and be there. And look. In the eyes. It’s all there.
Isn’t that cool? What if we could talk together about Phnom Penh, and Kampot, and Battambang, and Siem Reap? Such specific places, not always talked about, except in a side note about ‘exotic places.’ I read this ‘bestseller’ in parts, such a dumb book, because the author was going on and on about Phnom Penh and the killing fields, as per usual, and then quoting ‘a guard’ who gave him this (what the author thought, and described to be a poignant) quote about how the guard lost touch with an uncle: ‘He was in the Khmer Rouge.’ The author noting that, making the usual uninformed-by-real-listening boilerplate comments about how sad that is. We know. Give us something local?… Gain some real understanding first please it’s your obligation, get the best-you-can real story, as people will quote what you write, but I’m saying this… because I lived in Cambodia, four years, not long enough to pull that off but that’s not my work, it’s not my place to tell others’ stories… and I know some people who actually know some people who actually are ‘a guard,’ and you know what? They are feeding you a made-up story because, why shouldn’t they? It’s funny. Watching your predictable reaction. What a laugh. Makes me smile, thinking about it. Why not? They’re having fun, and that’s the thing that’s great about Phnom Penh.
Play. Walk play. Talk play. Come play. Go play. (CS, are you there? Thank you for teaching me this.) And KM: ‘You don’t say explore. You say… Walk play.’
Remarkable moments… Happening! Designing for them? Most people: ‘P-shaw.’ The Mirror? ‘Yeah!’
JD, thanks for the email! I just saw it. I woke up and I came to this cafe with a name that comes from a Beatles song, and I thought, well, well. There’s J. That’s funny. I don’t think we did talk on that day? I think maybe you saw me but I don’t think we actually talked in real life, did we? I think not because I would remember that. I remember Chapel HIll. What an encounter! I got a stupid C in that class. There was also a slightly derogatory comment that came from that person, and later in life, I look back, and I understand this is not because of inherent weird things that are wrong that for a long time, I’ve been angry about. It’s because of different values. Whole massive deeply rooted cultural values, very much there, in NC.
I value artfulness, play with words. She valued… Correctness. Following the script. I see that my life has been an investigation, of poetry and the poetics that can become clear when we allow them to emerge: in an architected space, for real dialogue.
MAYBE IT WAS NAEIVE to think that, with me, the search for meaning, and inquiry that leads to insights of the kind that are too big and too important and too personal to share out loud is a universal quest. People have things. They have books to read that tell them what to think about stuff, big stuff. But experience. Experience tells us so much, in such rich ways. Moving through the world these last few years without any real idea of ‘how it’s all going to play out,’ has been… Educational! You really see. You really do. When you get out there and move around, you discover with your intuition, not your head. I think that has been the biggest change, in these last four (five?) years. Since leaving the Triangle, and not going back, I’ve become a different kind of personal together. Like my grandmother had said, when we laughed out loud and talked about these things, when I was there, younger, but also glimpsing that the Way To Do Things is simply not that cool, and that she was cool with me thinking it wasn’t cool, and us bonding over that, well, she said this thing about me. ‘They will say, na, Ke oh, she came to India, and she changed… Altogether!’ And we both laughed our heads off because, yeah. They would. Did.
My grandmother, PK, was the first person I had a philosophical jam session with. I’m so glad I went there, quitting my job, taking the round-the-world flight, being young, not knowing, taking a chance, going outside the box, hoping the net would appear, hoping that this would be ‘the right move.’ Lessons? There is no net. You are always on solid ground. Because the world is composed of many, many kinds of people. And some of them, like you, are searching.
This post is for L. That was some conversation, yesterday
And M from Cameron. A new game? Emailed you. Our first move.
FRUITS. HOURS. It goes together, thinking about it. Sometimes, when certain hours go by, fruits come out of it. Yield. Is that what it is called? ‘Yield?’ Maybe it’s just fruit. Right? Let’s let it be. Fruit is coming, now. It took a while, to get things going, with The Mirror. I think that you could say that I almost gave up, a few times. You do that, when you get to the place where you think, ‘This is going nowhere. I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.’ It’s that ‘ahead’ part that gets you, I am learning. Because really, this isn’t a race. It’s not that linear. There’s no ‘going somewhere.’ There’s no ‘finish line.’ If there is, I think that’s the end of your life. Right? Why would you want to hurry towards that? Coming back to the hours. Timezones. I have software now set up for this so I don’t send mail at 4:22AM or try to get in touch with RS at the wrong time. Showing up out of the bluish, into the email inbox for R., who’s the first person I ever emailed, who is now in… Where? California?, and who might be like, ‘What the?’ (This next bit is for you, R. Remember? You were there, aesthetically, with me. About all this stuff. Relating, aesthetics, poetry. I remember. You, there, holding the light out. I saw. I followed it. Thanks for that.) A new year. Phone calls. The occasional letter. Real letters? Yes. I’m a fan. I have always, always been a fan of the long hand letter. Sometimes I lose addresses. I’ve lost all of them, now. Except two. Writing those addresses. Getting stamps. It’s not pressing ‘send,’ it’s dropping an envelope through a slot, sending it along with a little wave and a whisper. You do these kinds of things, when you’re… Interested. In round and not square relationships. In circumferences and not sides. In the shapes that emerge between people whose paths might not have crossed. In the art of just showing up, anyway, for this whole party. Reading the funny stuff. Enjoying the lightheartedness. A change. A lifting. And sharing that, more and more. But right. I already said this. In very small, trusted circles. Persimmons. I forgot to put in something about persimmons. Oh.
ONCE UPON A TIME, a very smart person wrote a thing about my art. I guess that was the thing that threw me off. ‘Art.’ It was weird, because I thought I was an engineer-architect-journalist-designer. But I was making things that someone with a real eye, experience, and like I said, brains, didn’t say wasn’t art. LW. (Thanks, if you see this.) What happened was this. AM suggested it. ‘There’s this person. She’s looking at people’s art. She’s gonna write it all up, a review. You should do it.’
‘Says it’s for “artists”. Or whatever.’
‘You’re an artist. How many times… Just. Go.’
Unconvinced and commitment-averse, I sat on that idea. No, it’s not for me. I’m a designer. I’m working. I’m not… Painting canvases. I’m…
But I did go.
Unannounced, with all the best ‘art,’ or whatever, that I had made, ‘best’, in my opinion, up until that point. Stuff from Kyoto, New York, Seattle. Stuff from way before. Stuff I just hit ‘print’ on. Word stuff, drawing stuff, comic stuff, sharpie stuff. A lot of stuff. I couldn’t know then which stuff to keep, and which to get rid of, because I didn’t know the ‘what this is’ thing, not clearly, not yet. Maybe she could look at it.
Blind luck: there was a cancellation. Or a no-show. What a missed opportunity for that guy. ‘Dipika… Kohli?’ ‘Hi.’ Let’s see what you got. Were we mutually asking? I think so. I still remember the moment that felt, within that scene, which was also pivotal, to be the one that switched us on to one another. A certain piece. A certain exchange of looks. A certain ‘getting’ of one another, right there. When a piece makes a person feel a thing, a thing that the person already has an inkling about in nonverbal ways somewhere within, floating around, but just hasn’t… Tuned into… Then the piece is relating to them. That relating is the art.
But that awareness would not come until 2017. Maybe a twinge came when I met MT? A glimmer… A hint. Yes, certainly there was an echo there. I think I even said ‘interstitial space.’ I think my plastic name tag was poking at a skewed angle. Talking geometry. Talking about space. But it was well received, and added to. That was why it was so exciting.
THAT’S KIND OF how it (it?) started. It? Everything, really. Work became project-making. Maybe it was art? I read about things that kids in art schools in foreign countries told me to google. I looked up words I didn’t know and found, through deeper and deeper investigations in that shallower and shallower place that is the Net, little gems.
But the review thing. Some people want to get their work in museums, have shows, travel and be seen. I don’t care about being seen, really. I care about about the art itself. And yeah. The relating, to me, is art. A thing doesn’t mean anything if no one is there to receive it. Et cetera. So yup. Everything from that moment changed everything I do now. It wouldn’t have even happened had it not been for curator BMC. Also important. The people who shake things up, right? You see them when you look back, on the long path. In the West it’s all about ‘me me me’ and glorification of a person and equating ‘success’ with material wealth. Not always, but often, I feel, in the East when it’s really good, that’s because it’s a collaboration, the beautiful things… There’s less of the ‘look at me! Look what I did!’ vibe. Now I have to talk about George Webber. No, no. I’ll save that for the S P A C E crowd. Anyway. Changing from West to East (2014-present, I’m Asia-based) has meant appreciating the people who helped me make the things we’ve made, since arriving in Cambodia, to reset all the buttons.
WORDS. I watched. The review. Being written. ‘Hey, that’s kinda cool.’ Next few years, I read it over and over, until the penny dropped (that’s an Irishism for ‘it sank in’). This: she had called it, like tarot cards. This thing. That I like to do. Show the process. Include new voices. Close-ups. Relationships, aesthetics… that are there when people connect, convene in new ways… She looked through my zines, papers, (I always have papers), my oversized black portfolio I got because you needed that, right? To be legit? (No. You needed a concept to be legit. That would take time. Practice. Faltering. Bracing. Returning to the next place, sticking the foot out, going again, letting go of the people who said, ‘What are you doing? Get a job!’, and trusting the process.) What design taught me was to not get too complacent with the first or 17th idea. Push to the edge. Then, go past. Out there is the interstitial. Out there is S P A C E. A very specific kind of space. (Writing about it. A checklist. Sharing in small circles.)
WORK. I think she saw me trying, in my immature-yet way, to poke a hole in that materialistic veneer that is so supersaturated… So not-critiqued, so upheld as ‘that’s just how it is’ mumbo-jumbo status-quo. I was doing things to provoke some response, maybe. Drawing kooky Sharpie comics. Blogging a lot. Too much, really. I didn’t want to stop, it was like a habit, but then the blog got deleted kind of accidentally and it’s a long story, but it was so amazing because the feeling wasn’t one of sadness or loss, but of… Relief. Now we can finally start something new. Ten years of a blog is a long time. Ten years of trying to keep saying the same stuff in interesting ways is boring. I don’t even know what we were doing there. Yup. I am saying that. I am. Saying it all. Honestly. Nope. I’m not a super-duper-well-put together kind of a person. My friend IK said, ‘Twitter is for the smart people. Instagram is for the beautiful people.’ That was… Insightful. Spot on. What if you don’t hang out in those ways? You just want to, like, chill? I learned when switching from East Coast to West Coast in those United States of (North) America, one thing: you don’t have to wear a suit. Or nice shoes. Forget New York Black and ‘a Manhattan minute.’ You can go around in a hoodie and some old jeans. You could be dressed like that, slumped in the corner of Joe Bar Cafe, and you could be a millionaire, or a scruffy writer, same thing over there. Seattle. Which is where DK started up as an official thing. That would be 2004. Does history matter? Why am I telling you this? Och. Another Irishism.
SHAPE OF SPACE. BECAUSE IF THERE IS ONE THING I learned from the last couple of years that I took away and kept in my most intimate drawers for revisiting, it’s the idea of ‘provenance.’ How have you held a thing, where has it been, who used it, where did it get shared. This is a hard thing to measure. Impossible, really. That same hoodie scenario… I still have this hoodie. I wear it all over the place because the buses are cold and the trains are colder. Oh. I’m on the road. (This is part of the reason I am blogging so many paragraphs.) There are no obligations other than to host The Mirror, certain ateliers here and there, and to dream up the next thing. Whatever it is going to be, it has to have meaning. And I find meaning in a couple of things, things that JŽ knows, but few others, because I shared those ideas when they were just starting to become visible… A sea of abstract ideas… And then, some emergence. I’m here, though, to listen, to field queries, and to show up for whatever comes to be. I am learning how, a little bit, once more. The road teaches you things. That’s what I’ve discovered, anyway. It’s important to share, sometimes, too, the little lessons. Blogging is kind of ambient way of sharing. I was getting bored of it because I didn’t know… How to… Share better. I guess, though, I got a lot of practice. You write, and you write, and you write some more, and you get a wireless keyboard and then you type some books into your little devices and press ‘publish, make this a PDF, go!’, and say, ‘Do you want to read this?’ And wait and see if relating happens. Sometimes, when you’re lucky, it does.
NEXT. ATELIER S P A C E || MELAKA. Zinemaking. With new and different others, in real life. It’s happening, and I’m jazzed. Popping up at the weekend. This one is gonna be low-key. By invitation-only, no buzz, no noise. Very fitting, this style, for Melaka. I’ve been here more than a week, gorgeous architecture, world heritage site. Yet I’ve just been walking around, getting my bearings, trying to connect with the place before photographing it. So I’ve only taken one picture. That’s this one. I hope you like it. —DK
I JUST HAD ONE OF THOSE moments, where you go, ‘Waitaminute. This is way, way out of scope.’ It’s like the time I was in Kyoto, this would be study abroad, and I was trying to study Japanese. Made a whole two semesters of college pretty much just about looking at old architecture in Kyoto and studying the language. The characters really got me excited, back then. I didn’t know how very different (simplified) they are from Chinese characters, of course, back then it was all (to me, that’s the important bit to qualify) to me, they were teensy picture-word things, that told you a bunch more info in the same kind of space than these kinds, words in English, they take up so much room. I like how Japanese is different. There’s so much space in the not-spoken… That’s where all the real conversation happens. At least, that’s what I think I understand. No definitive statements allowed, and that’s a good thing. I’ve gotten so tired of having to defend my way of doing things: leaving tons of room, space, for uncertainty and the chance encounter. To just… Happen into this path. And see. Today, I gave something to someone that really, I honestly, about four months ago, would never have given away. She was a girl in college on a trip with her bunches and bunches of friends. (M., if you are reading, this post is for you…) She had a nice quality about her, I can’t quite name it, you know, if I was still in the non-Asia version of myself, I would start to outline this, and put bullet points together, for a Post, so that it would make a Statement, something that you would Read and Be Interested or Informed by. But that is all nonsense. We all know now that there are no such things as Truly Objective Comments. All of us have the biases, the lenses, that of our whole past upbringing (and the things we cling to as truths). Until we can let the awareness sink in that maybe, just maybe, one way isn’t the only right way, then yeah. We can start a cool other thing. One of my favorite people to read about is NEILS Bohr (autocapitalized, just now. That’s interesting. I wonder why?). Who said, ‘How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.’ And: ‘No, no, no. You’re not thinking. You’re just being logical.’ And: ‘The opposite of a profound truth may be another profound truth.’ All of this I learned on this weird, random and improvised trip to Copenhagen in late 2015. I have no idea why I wanted so much to be far and cold, but it was autumn. They say ‘autumn’ there not ‘fall,’ like in the United States. The extra syllable made me happy, in a way. Like in the East, it was as if to tell me, ‘You don’t have to make it all sound perfect over here. Just go ahead and be. Just, yeah. Be.’ And that was it. The opening. (Of course I know that if I’d grown up in Asia or N. Europe I’d have a completely different attitude about these places, but the juxtapositions are nice.)
I’m gonna talk about ‘The Moment,’ but not out loud, not here in public. I’ll share quietly, in the behind-the-scenes conversations, where one step at a time, we’re developing. The Mirror. It’s happening. One group is all returning. One is all newcomers. I’m grateful and amazed, and humbled, and the way it’s going is pointing to a different door from the ones I’d been examining. That’s what ‘The Moment’ just showed me. I can’t tell you, not out loud, not publicly here, because… I’m writing more and more about things that count behind the scenes, with trusted circles, only.