E X P L O R I N G _ T H E _ A R T
In search of meaning
Times, shifts, curiosity about new people and new ways of thinking, and the general crisscross of emails and vague fragments of thoughts are what we write and share about in S P A C E. Works are creative nonfiction short stories, co-created with members of Design Kompany’s team both in Phnom Penh and in the places where we are going to discover new and different voices ‘out there,’ in the field.
DK believe that the work of art is, in large part, ‘to show man who he really is*;’ Which is why we offer our cojournal this winter, ‘The Mirror 2018.’ Learn more about our spacemaking journey, so far.
Where are the new and unusual perspectives, hiterto underreported or cast aside as ‘ethnic?’ Let’s go find them. Let’s write them, share them, co-create them. In S P A C E Meet us there? Introductory offer: subscribe for just $4/week.
The ‘work’ of ‘art’
THIS WINTER, DK are making S P _ C _, the sequence, around the theme, ‘The Work of Art.’ What is ‘art?’ Who gets to decide? What are we talking about when we design, and what do we mean when we ‘create?’ Is commercial viability important? What about feeding ourselves, what about crust? In the themed issues, as outlined below, DK and others in Atelier S P A C E and in our online community together explore ideas of social mores, incidental chance encounters and the new influences those bring, love, and large-scale impresses when Nature shares her beauty. This is a series not to be missed, available exclusively here. To get S P A C E’s winter collection, subscribe for our $4/week online subscription at this page.
‘Art of the Z I N E’ popup at Kuala Lumpur // Photos by Muhd Muqhriz, 2018
I’VE JUST ARRIVED. It’s twenty to one. A man in a nice cotton blue suit-jacket, not quite a suit, mind, but a suit-like thing, was hanging around momentarily. Ostensibly waiting for his coffee to be made, fresh for a take-away (a pet peeve of mine, personally, the take-away cup). But there comes a woman. Equally well put-together. Both wear light cotton pants, hers are white, his are a little less white, but still, nicely offset by the blue. I think I mentioned the blue already. Yes, yes I did. I think I was thinking about the color emerald green… yesterday… I was thinking about a certain otherworldly Northern Europe color palette, a tendency towards the muted colors. Yes, I like those, too. Had gone through a phase of that. Bluegreys. Seattle. One of my homes. Another one is turning out to be Kuala Lumpur. Keep coming back here to host things, it feels like. And I love the atmosphere, the color, the texture, the city vibe. And all this great teh halia, too. See stuff DK and friends have hosted here, at this page, DesignKompany.com/Malaysia. (HT TS: ‘Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m local.’)
Beyond the edge of the world
SEATTLE. I remember. A lot of rain fell, and then, the cloudburst came, in the form of ‘The Dive,’ (Kismuth Books // 2012), which I realize I must have talked about a lot, in many places, but in short fragments, a lot of things come in short fragments, don’t they? And then you go into the quiet zones, and stay there. Perhaps too long. Because when you forget how to speak up, speak forward, speak without muting your voice too terribly much for fear you’ll be chastised, chided, critiqued, questioned, challenged, humiliated, or otherwise made to feel bad about the fact that you are you, and you alone, unique as DNA, then being purposeful and insistent in holding out and sharing with others the very you that is you becomes, well… hard. Because you’re worried. Anxious. Uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable to be the very you that is you. Of course it is. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t—it’s okay and it’s easy to say and words are cheap; sometimes they are, of course at other times they are very exquisite, not cheap at all, not cheap… but then there comes his coffee.
One now. Almost the time for the office workers to come in. I’m taking up two tables. I better collate this stuff. Maybe get going. Too many people; it’s uncomfortable. I might say I’ve become more Finnish, in this regard, but I think it was always there, and underscored when I had lived in Seattle. A tendency towards being more alone, than with others. Wanting a lot of room around me. Not liking the oppressiveness of being in the airspace of too many people in too small a room. It’s happening. I’m starting to feel it. Suffocation. But, wait. It’s not that bad. It’s still Malaysia. It’s still developed. There isn’t going to be a lot of noise and there won’t be dust or dirt. The people will shuffle in, and as quickly, shuffle out. They will. They are in motion. They are on the clock. Time. Time is a thing, for some people. I get it. They have to go punch in, punch out. Me? What am I? Slowing down. Slowing in the moment. But maybe this is the wrong environment for that. I’m wishing I could be in Melakka, too. I was there. I liked it there. The weekdays are a better time to be there. But I’m here, preparing for Phnom Penh. Sounds odd, writing that. Haven’t I tried, many times, to ‘move on’ from there? But… the question is a real one, and smacks and smarts: to where? Where is the next home? It’s a big, open field, and you can go in any direction. Instead of getting lost in the amorphous not-knowing, though, I’m learning to embrace it. The field is one of my homes, too. Like the road. And North Carolina. And Seattle. And, and…. Phnom Penh. Four years is a long time to be parked there. Four years, writing nothing much, really, except for, oh yeah, Breakfast in Cambodia. A two-year anniversary of that little book just passed. I’m happy about this. I can try again, for something different. Maybe finally finish ‘Socheata’s Comb.’
Back to KL. Back to right now.
Real life is the stage
I AM READYING to make a move. Or maybe not. If they leave, I’ll stay. If they stay, I’ll leave. She is asking him something. He is saying something else. They are acquainted. They talk about weathers. Not the hurricanes, like I am doing in emails with people in North Carolina, because of the flooding in the east of that state, but about… well, the sun and Melbourne and smalltalk. Smalltalk is nice, has its place, at times. No? Of course it does. Work colleagues, maybe. I try to assess. They are cordial. Do they work in some kind of fashion retail outlet? Perhaps they are middle managers. Perhaps, perhaps.
My mind makes up stories. Connects dots that aren’t quite there, but might appear to be in places if, after some amount of time observing the stage of real life, always the most exciting, could become rather realistic. Reality. The strangest sort of fiction. Or is fiction real? I don’t know. What am I talking about? These are the kinds of things that gather momentum here, when it is not yet lunch rush and the caffeine is starting to find its jolt. The jolt that makes the story. The sentences place themselves, one in front of the other. I go back to writing, perhaps. The man leaves, in a hurry; it is abrupt. She is not worried. She is not even moved. She barely acknowledged him, anyway, I noticed, at the start. No one was trying too hard to start talking. That’s okay. That’s fine. You don’t have to talk all the time. Gosh, if I didn’t learn that in Finland. She was on her phone. So was he. Both of them distracting themselves or pretending to. Looking at things. Texts and so on. He had tried to make eye contact. That is a thing unknown to some of the younger ones. They may dress impeccably, but they don’t notice the noticing. And that’s where the breakdown begins, isn’t it? Of communicating from ap lace that’s honest, real, raw, and unfiltered. Facades get in the way of relating. And I guess that’s why, for the first time in a long time, I’m okay writing again, in first person. More on the way. More to share. More, in the form of short books, long books, poems, novellas, plays. And, best of all, co-creations.
Listening in to other people’s conversations… stories of: moneymaking plans, insurance, school and work, weather banter, international transit, general exchanges on the exchange of services and goods, rubber, fear of other, mistrust, putting up with things, and, of course, celebrating a new government, with an optimism. The kind that says, ‘Some glimmer of things to come shan’t be smothered, now.’ That’s the feeling, this go around, here in Kuala Lumpur.
Join S P A C E and be part of the international, asynchronous forums and online salons from October. (Which is when we begin again with a select set of candidates from around the world newly discovered, for the salon, ‘Philosophy of the Moment.’) Scholarships available. Application required. Learn more here.
TODAY I WILL OUTLINE, in a short but detailed note, the creative process that happens when one is writing a book. A book, not a blog. A book, not some clickbait links that someone is going to pay you a lot of money for because you work as a copywriter at a fancy ad agency. A book, because books are where we have a moment to really get deep and moody, and write, not because the writing is for a purpose (to sell something, for ex, which is most often the goal it seems with a capitalistic system ruling everything nowadays), but because the writing conveys something stronger: emotion. I could talk a little here about the mourning that happens when one realizes how cheap things have become, and how transactional (as F. has just pointed out in a recent comment on this post, ‘Trust the Process.’)
But I will refrain from editorializing.
I know that writing in first-person is mostly just editorial, okay, fine. Admitted. But still.
There are times when certain pitfalls are there, and I have this weakness for falling into them. Pitfalls that, for example, are really just one’s own projections on things that one feels importantly committed to. Things like how X or Y is just so unfair, and how Z and T ought to be installed, instead. But you know what? That’s just more dogma. And dogma is getting us in trouble, in this world. Righteousness and an insistence on sticking to a thing and not budging, not a bit, no matter how educated you are or what you have built—staying unwilling to open to new ways of thinking and new points of view is going to be the thing that, in the end, makes it hard for you. (Yeah, editorializing and saying it ‘like it is.’ Must find a way to suggest my thought in a less black-and-white insistent way, but that is what we are trained to do, isn’t it, those of us who grow up on Western eduaction systems that love to be abolute and ‘right’ about what they think? Mmm-hmmm. Oi.)
FLASHBACK. Thinking specifically about a conversation in Durham, NC, with an old friend of mine; a conversation that became a sort of philosophical sparring. I put the best chunks of it, from memory, into Breakfast in Cambodia (Kismuth Books // 2016). Because that insisting that I recall, an insisting that insisted that her way was better than my way, for whatever reasons, reasons undisclosed, but there it sat, the whole thing: the righteousness and dogma, that one way supersedes by default another, that did it. That sent me packing. I was on the road not many months after that, uprooting the American Dream or whatever and setting foot out into the unknown. Well, Hanoi. The traffic, my gosh. That was then. That was 2013. Now, I’m used to Asia and its ways of moving around vehicularly. I just got to the place I’m typing you from by crossing illegally maybe four crosswalks, including one that was rather huge—a four-lane freeway cut in the middle by the thing that ran above it, the monorail. I’m in Kuala Lumpur. The city is saying ‘hello’ after a long summer away, writing and photographing for the book. Oh, right. I was going to talk about that, wasn’t I? The way it starts. The way you get started on a thing. Or at least, how I have managed to get started and in so doing, completed a series of books, so far. None of them are ever as good as the one that’s current, though, when you’re writing a lot. And so I’m going to put all my chips in on Koivu, probably my best one, of them all. Of course I would say that. I’m still writing it, so you know. I get to say that.
Part 2. The thread. The thread is important. Because it’s the thread that makes the necklace. Finding it can take a lot of looking through things, but also, letting things go. Pieces of paper, unwritten bits, written things that don’t fit the story. Not talking about the arc or the narrative. I know some people have more of a system that is linear, like that. Go with the outline, build each piece. Sequentially, maybe even. Not me. I’m a bricolage artist. So I go with what’s in front of me. What falls to hand. If someone right next to me starts to talk to me about a thing, guess what? That thing almost always informs where I go creatively that day. Today, I’m thinking about righteousness. (Can you tell, based on the above?) This morning someone told me that X was X, and not otherwise, and not listening, not a bit, to any falsifying evidence to the contrary. He was stubborn, and wouldn’t budge. Insisting. That’s why I brought up the story about my old friend and I arguing in the tea shop. She was really mad about things. I was less mad than stunned. I still remember the feeling, dry-mouthed and almost gaping. I had had, until then, quite a lot f respect for her. After all, she is well-schooled (more degrees than me, or most people I know), but… there was no scope for play. For improvising. For making it up as you go. For listening out for a new kind of angle. That, to me, was deafening. How could I stay put in a country where what’s valued is the insistence on being right, instead of the openness to dreaming outwardly and openly towards whatever might make itself apparent, and emerge? No wonder I loved the N. Bohr Institute, in Copenhagen. Guess what? I just walked in, the front door, just followed a PhD student inside, followed her to Auditorium A, I think it was, the famous one, listened to WS and GJB and others talk about dark matter and gluons. And then, to write about those things, of course, in that story that I was compiling in those days, at that time. Of course. Because part 2 of the process of writing a book is to find, and follow, the thread. Don’t second-guess yourself, when you seem to sense that you’ve got it. When you’ve got the thread, you’re mostly done.
Part 3. Framing and sequence. Now is when you add things to the thread. The details, the scenes, the story makes itself to you. It’s easy to start with a bunch of notes and feel like you’ve done your work already, and that’s where I am today. But you know what? I left all of them at home. I’m out into the space where I can start to remember things, instead of report them. I want to remember things as they come to mind so I can thread the necklace. Because this cookie is going to be good, I can tell, and I want to let it come forward naturally and organically, not in a too-formal way. If I was too insistent on making it into ‘a piece,’ with too much of too much, I think it would punch through the soft underbelly of this thing. It is delicate and unformed, as yet. I’m happy to be in this spot, writing and thinking and going through the photo archives from June, July, and August, as I work out the stuff of Koivu. Which means, ‘Birch,’ in Finnish. Did I tell you? I’m learning Finnish? Yeah, well. Kind of.
Part 4. Sharing. This part is where I think most people see what I’m up to. I’m all about ‘Hey! Lookit!’ but I forget to share the process, as in, steps 1-3 above. The process is where, though, the working-it-out happens. Sure, it’s really personal stuff, too. Writing about it even in this third-party style is a little strange, to me, in some way. But I’m changing these days. I’m going to share more about where things go, how they get to those places. Travel is like the creative process. You go out into the world looking for whatever might emerge, and that’s one way to travel. And that’s my way. And not most people’s, sure, but so? There are still a handful of us who are curious and seeking and going to the edges, like I talk about a lot here on this blog, and in real life, a lot. I mean, a lot. But I’m not interested in knowing all of what’s to come ahead of time—I remember this couple in Seattle who had downloaded the menus of the restaurants they were going to go to in Paris before they took their trip there. And they did this months ahead of time. They also had been to those restaurants before. They had these things in a clear sleeve folder. I think that was my first inkling that, well, DK and our style of making and doing and traveling and going around discovering was very much against the grain from what mainstream America thinks is kosher. Having a plan. Knowing what you’re doing. Knowing where you’re going. Knowing, instead of feeling.
And here we are, back to the start.
Writing with feeling.
Writing with heart.
Not for everyone, of course. But for the people who are seeking and curious, like some of us here in these online circles behind-the-scenes, well. For us, it’s all that matters. For us, this being open and curious and wandering around and seeing what might happen is, honestly, the whole thing. Is all there really is.
TO TIE IN with Oulun juhlaviikot on seitsemän festivaalin (the summer festival in Oulu), DK will make a popup installation of zines, drawings, and cutouts. This is part of an international series, TheBook of Songs. DK draws to live music, especially jazz, in cities like New York, San Francisco, Bangkok, Tokyo, and Kuala Lumpur.
Meet the artists, get the zine, and catch the poetry. And jazz. Free with RSVP.
RSVP through this form, location details will be announced only through email to those who get in touch. See you in Oulu!
In more than 50 conversations to date with people on the bus, on the street, in cafes, at pubs, passing through the town, looking left, discovering something, sitting still, not speaking, in libraries, distancing themselves, and telling me in some form or fashion that DK’s comics about this place remind them of ‘Finnish nightmares, and that I should look that up,’ well, in 99% of them, something uniquely common has popped up as a thing that everyone wants to tell to a total stranger. Maybe it’s because there can’t be judgment around it, or the fact that they’ll never see us here in Finland again. Maybe that’s why there’s an ease to it: the simple act of divulging personal data that, hey, were we to be living together as neighbors from hence forth, they wouldn’t ever, ever share. The thing is this. Mental disorders. As much as I want to share more about all the various things I’ve heard, I am not going to do that here, in this public space of the blog. Instead, I’ll collect the impressions and stories and 16 random people in Helsinki, and share at ‘N’ Helsinki: NEUROSIS, in the end of August when the time in Finland for Design Kompany’s team here comes to a close.
WHAT IS N? A conversation. A salon. A real life magic moment. For those whose paths cross DK’s, by sheer randomness, chance, and sometimes, internet discovery. I’m looking for people I don’t know—I’m engaging and connecting with some of you, here on the internet, and others, in real life. If you are in Helsinki or will be, you think, towards the end of August, hit me up. Or better yet, investigate on your own what I’m going to do by following the links at ’16N.’ We are just starting to make the move here, on showing up for ‘N’ here in Finland. It would be fascinating to see if we find all 16 people to make a ‘go’ of a thing that, honestly, wouldn’t be what it is were it not for 16 people taking a risk, showing up, and making magic together. A big blind date. Why not say yes? Read more about how to play 16N and then, if it’s a fit, I’ll invite you to register.
NEXT MONTH, we’re going to host an online conversation called ‘Slow Moment.’
It’s designed for writers, photographers and people who practice slowing in all its many, many forms. In this post, I’m going to tell you a little bit about how the online projects here at DK work, and also, why we’re doing the 12-week sequence on the theme, ‘Slow Moment.’ I’ll start with the latter.
The idea started when we hosted ‘The Mirror‘, in which one prompt was ‘Slow Moment,’ and the responses that came were so fantastic that it led me to dedicate an entire 12-week block to just this subject. We talked about family, the woods, walking. Hikes, oceans, and being on our own. We talked about wanting to go places, going there, and what happened when we did. Relationships. Journeys. Endings, and new starts.
OPEN SPACE. Popouts. Allowing people to spend more time talking together about the topics they are most interested in. That’s how Open Space works, and that’s how we’ve been conducting our four-years-and-counting online project, S P A C E. It’s a salon. It’s a workshop. It’s a community. (And it’s just celebrated its fourth birthday.)
For me, moving towards the focusing in 2018 on the conversations that have developed and progressed is a really cool, fun step. Maybe we’ll create an anthology, perhaps a photozine, to share sometime in the fall, based on where we take things now. You never know how things can flow, they can meander, they can fizzle, they can blossom, they can die. It’s not a big deal, really, what happens. It makes room for new things to grow. New input. Original thinking. Freshness, space… that sets the stage for innovation.
HERE’S THE THING. I could have continued doing design for the next hundred years, when the work was happening and I was getting into it, and clients were referring DK, and so on. But what did I do? Move to the other side of the country, start over. That’s how it changed into more of consulting work; but also, salons. Started doing weirder and funner things, like ‘Aether: Is the Medium Still the Message?’, a series in which we invited guests to talk with us about the old ideas and the new ones when it comes to making media. Took that from Durham NC up to Washington DC, then New York’s Bryant Park, then Boston. Came back and made even more, even weirder installations. (Like ‘I Went 2 the City (And There Was Nothing There’, and more. I can talk about them for pages and pages, but that’s not the purpose, here.)
I want to invite you to join us in S P A C E, if you are getting a link to this page from me personally, especially. When it comes to making this invitation, what I care about is the spacemaking. I show up. I have the thing designed. If people enter the box of S P A C E to play, and they do, they really do, sometimes, then I’m happy to host. That’s how it’s been and that’s what’s going to happen now. I’ve just received the first application for the 2 July start of ‘Slow Moment.’
IT’S A PLEASURE as always to read these applications. It feels like getting letters in the mailbox. It’s personal, it’s warm-hearted, it’s sharing. People write a lot of beautiful things. I can’t tell you what they are, because of confidentiality, but the whole thing makes me feel very humble. If writing for the sake of writing were all there was, we would keep our manuscripts in drawers and never show them to anyone. Of course, that happens, and it’s cool, if that’s your thing to just write and be a writer or photograph and be a photographer, and never share, then cool. That’s you. But it’s not me.
Sharing is a part of the experience, to me, of making art. And being ‘in’ on the process of how a thing is made is something, I’m just realizing as I write this, and as I make zines with people here in Finland, is a huge piece of my own approach to art. If you can’t see how it’s been made, what is the fun of seeing it in its final form? Especially now that we have this two-way medium of communicating (web!), why not enjoy the process of developing our works, as we are making them, with others to write with, share with, post pictures to, engage with. But I’m not talking about 1:N. I’m talking about very small circles. Like, four people in each. I’m inspired by my way back in the day fifth grade class, and the style we used to have there, in small groups. Four of us would have desks facing each other, and we had these little ‘pods.’ I’ve since learned about the ‘jigsaw‘ method of teaching, and realize what an impact it had on my own way of learning, approaching things, and asking peers for their ideas on what I want to know more about.
That’s probably why I’ve reached out, in recent months, to more than a dozen of my favorite photographers. People whose work I’ve seen in real life, or really admired and reached out to and subsequently met up with just to talk art-shop. People who are doing really cool things. Whom I wanted to ask, ‘What do you think about really seeing, really noticing, really going into the quiet spaces and enjoying them, and then, somehow, photographing or capturing them through written words? It’s a big question, for sure. But… what do you think?’
Some of their answers are already prepared for you, in the upcoming workshop… ahead.
But to give you a sneak peek, here’s some of what I learned.
SLOW MOMENTS let us remember what our story is. To ourselves, about ourselves, but also, who we are in relation to others. (And in an existential way, to the cosmos). In many ways, I think for many of us taking part in DK’s online salon-workshops, we’re just talking together in these online circles because it gives us a place to share.
I’ve been making S P A C E salons in real life for a while now, and the goal is to create a cozy space where people who don’t know one another can simply be together, and talk if they want, or not-talk if they feel inclined that way, and simply be who they want to be, which I hope, in S P A C E, is who they really are. So many other facades are out. So many guards are up. In the real world, I mean, and in the social media world, too. But who are we really? When I connect with people in S P A C E, I feel I’m talking directly to them, their real selves, without all the layers. That’s a privilege and a responsibility. But I think, I do really think, that I’m getting kinda good at this. That’s why I’m not quitting the salon-hosting online, not yet. I’m going to keep hosting as long as I get amazing applications. And I do. So I will.
S P A C E is where we write, talk, and comment; it’s asynchronous, and it’s international. I encourage pen names, too. It’s not about google-ability or sounding smart, or anything weird like social media commenting status quo goes. I don’t understand how social media got so out of hand. I really miss those days when twitter wasn’t algorithm-y, nor did it have promoted ads, and we could just say ‘hi!’ to @anyone, and it was chronological, and not driven by… agendas… Of all varieties.
A CONVERSATION. This is a chance to talk about the work you create, in words. ‘You need to be able to talk intelligently about your work,’ said one of our photographer friends in New York. It almost seems like if you google ‘artist statement’ you will get a bunch more advice about the how of that. In this very small and light conversation, we’ll work together to adjust and define, refine and connect with one another on the most basic level: in person, in real life. When you meet in person, you can say so very much. How about making a small space to just talk with others about your art? It’ll be light, easy, prompt-led, small scale, and probably insight-making. Challenge yourself. Perhaps you’ll find out something you didn’t know. THB 500. Ages 16+. Max 8. RSVP requested. All materials included. RSVP through the form:
MEET DK in Kuala Lumpur to talk about things related to creativity, learning, play, travel, journaling, and the journeys. It’s an open-space format conversation salon. If you’re curious about new and different others, and are interested in a chance to connect I ways that don’t involve hand phones, Google, CVs, or bars, this could be a good fit, for you. Ideas. Personalities. Really talking, and about things in depth, not trivially: that’s S P A C E. This is part of the Atelier S P A C E || Kuala Lumpur (17-30 January) programme. Location details to be shared with those who indicate interest in attending. Let us know you’re interested thorugh this form? Agenda, meetpoint to follow from there.
Now, that doesn’t seem so strange, does it? Except, this:
I had no idea that I could be in America again, the year after leaving for ‘the practice of the known, the uncertain, and the different…’ it wasn’t a tour, it was an experience, made on the fly in south and southeast Asia with neither income, savings, nor a plan. Could it work? Yes. But I didn’t know that. How could I? Fretting, fussing, moving around because of visas coming to an end, et cetera, we found ourselves as a studio in the emerging city of Phnom Penh. Which had a kind of magic to it, an anything-can-happen sensation. Things are built, things are taken down. Stuff goes up again, wham. Fast. This is different from what I’m used to. It’s intriguing, it’s new. But… California? That wasn’t… part of the plan. Or was the plan not having a plan? And that’s how we landed in S P A C E. Okay, wait. Bangkok, Hanoi, Vientiane, Gangtok, Delhi, Amritsar, and somehow, Phnom Penh. Where we are still, almost four years later. If it was March, already, it would be 4 years. Four years in Cambodia? What?? A long story. Let me break it up with subheds.
A tree I found in California
HERE WE GO. Right before I go to California, I’m in Phnom Penh, and I don’t know a soul. What do I do? Go on twitter, of course. Put together a quick call for interest for a tweetup, #pptweetup, through which I meet VJ and GB, and soon, EC. Along with a handful of new and different others, and we are in the swing of it. Talking in real life, showing up. The magic of this moment, however, isn’t clear to me, yet. (Back then, it’s still about ‘networking.’ It’s about ‘finding gigs.’ Oddly, a gig did happen, through this, but that was just a footnote, it turned out.) Another twitter contact led to a person far away, YZ, in California, who asks me to come and join a 9-week programme to get people talking together in new ways, reflecting on their purpose. Sounds lofty, but great. I say yes. The brief is vague, but I have an open hand. So I do the thing I can’t help but do. Like the tweetup, but different. An unconference. I get us talking together. In circles. At places like this:
ON THE LAST DAY, one of the participants wrote a very sweet, colorful card, in which she said:
‘My favorite part was the tree place.’
‘The tree place’ became a place. You name a thing, and it has value. By noticing it, you give it something different. That was the beauty of this whole thing. Not the setting nor the discussions, but the noticing of the tree, that she had noticed it, and that was cool. I know this is already getting kinda… whooo, but you know? You know what I mean? Here is where the bright note of conscious awakening slammed its feathery light upon us, and said, ‘Spacemaking is not about a *place*, it’s about a *feeling*.’ When you feel like you’re in a space, it’s space.
So, yeah. We did the whole thing in Palo Alto as an unconference. Let’s name it. Let’s call it S P A C E.
SUMMER, nice weather. I’m meeting people from the deep past. People I haven’t seen for five, nine and 20 years. It’s neat, it’s remarkable, and what do I do? I invite them, of course, to walks, concerts, and to S P A C E. Be part of it.See what happens. BO’K comes, magically appearing out of the aether after 20 years of not seeing one another. I follow her to the cafe where her friend, a landscape architect who’s come along just to see what this is all about, and I sit and listen to music for two hours, talking about the price of real estate and things that four and six-year-olds like to do. It’s simple, it’s life. It’s where we are at. But the noticing… did we notice it? Yes. YES. We did. I go to her house after things are done with my programme, catch brunch. I meet some more people. They give me their cards. They ask me what I do. I have no idea, really. My house and life is in Phnom Penh (did I say that, to them, out loud? Huh…) and, uh, this is a side tour from a side tour, and yet…
I say something.
For the first time, it sounds super cohesive, it strikes a note, for me, the high note.
I don’t say, ‘I’m a journalist’ or ‘I’m a writer’ or ‘I have a design studio.’
None of this is relevant to me, all of it is just the past, and incomplete, each idea. So I say this.
I say, ‘I’m a spacemaker.’
And it sticks.
Discovering the Art of Not Knowing
I GET BACK FROM PALO ALTO totally jazzed and then I design a mini-tour. To Bangkok to make SELF. To Singapore to see what the Singapore Writers Festival is doing, to see EC off before he goes to Los Angeles or somewhere and does some computer work far away from us in Cambodia. In Singapore, I get a press pass and pop around to Paul Muldoon‘s ‘Art of Not Knowing’ workshop, in which we are playing the game Exquisite Corpses. Then I notice it. We are in a circle. Like the tree place.
I meet people at my left elbow, my right elbow. It’s like school, but much funner. This is like the lawn, outside, in the picture above? See it? Of course I made the unconference stuff happen outside. Why wouldn’t you? Air and light, breeze. The story to emerge, outdoors. Outside the box of stuffy academia. Man.
The sharing and the circle and the unexpected in the Art of Not Knowing reminds me of the summer, just gone. I think about the music I heard, the people I met, the space that we made, together. We go into the interstitial, and it gets dreamy and wide and vast. It’s intimate but it’s not… too much, too soon, too fast. You don’t have to be anything. You just show up, and you automatically belong. In the AONK workshop, I make a quick note about a Grecian urn, because I remember that from English Lit, even though I wish that it had had more Asian Lit in it, and not gratuitous if you know what I mean. Somehow, someone later mentions Keats. This is dialogue. This is sharing. Someone right up front suddenly falls asleep: is it narcolepsy? We don’t know. It’s kinda fun, funny, light, and relaxing. This is how I like it, too. Same vibe. As what we did in Calif., with S P A C E.
I get back to Phnom Penh and the winter passes, but it’s sunny, so I hardly realize it’s already turned 2015. What will I do in 2015? I will finish Kanishka. It will be published in a serial format in English, for the magazine that hosted me for the residency program while we were ‘out there’, on the road. Days and months and people who show up when you most are in need of encouragement, a warm bed, a hot meal: these are the people whom you will never forget, and whom you will list on every acknowledgements page you write for the next five years.
In Phnom Penh, I will go to the same cafe pretty much every day and order the same thing, I still go there and they just nod and I get the same thing, and this routine makes me write Breakfast in Cambodia in the meantime while I’m trying to ‘figure it all out.’ What am I doing in Asia, anyway? What the hell is next? Where and how will we manage to pay for all this? Meantime, DK is starting to get a little known. AM is networking, this time. Used to be me, now I’m a hermit. But so? Weirdly, it doesn’t even matter about me being in hibernation. Gigs are coming, anyway. People are asking us to do things. Think about how to think about a thing: a project, a design, a story. It’s magic, again. It’s spacemaking. I’m not sure where things are going to go, but they go to: London, Copenhagen, and Battambang. They go to Kampot, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. They go around and around in circles and I’m there, I”m listing to the ambient note, that is playing, playing very softly, but is resonant. Something is there. In the aether. Like BO’K coming out of the internet and meeting me in real life, eye to eye, smiling and laughing and talking like we’re kids again in Kyoto, and wow, it’s there. All of it. The journey is not the journey. The work is not the piece. The here, right now, is the whole of it. The infinite vastness, the big black empty, the deep and mysterious magic of just being here. How did that happen?
A new physics of space
I’M GOING HOME. I’m going home. Which is what? Which is where? Phnom Penh. Home is now a little apartment. Now it’s flat. Now we’re moving to Toul Kork. No, no. Not it. For two months, I explore Hanoi. I get to know the places. I draw, write, think. Make poems. I meet SY, she is a poet, too. We are lost in the ‘out there,’ together. In Battambang I meet Y. He is on the verge of tears. I try not to get too involved, because, to get involved is to end the journey of noticing the *magic* of *simply being*. I go esoteric again, write a website about relational aesthetics. I share essays with a very small circle of people who read what I say and respond, in something called S P A C E. Of course it’s called that. What else would it be called?
Later, much later, and nearer to now (yesterday), I will email VJ and say that business, for the writing, is slow. I’m quitting. I don’t want to quit, but I can’t do it, now. The writing into the void, without feedback, is killing me. I don’t want to do it. I much prefer the forums. I say some of this, but incoherently, because I’m just not a line-by-line, develop the story kind of a person. I know that this is how you communicate, though, and so, I’m trying to learn it. It’s slow. I’m fine with going slow. Meantime I’ve become a very different person from the one I was when I was frustrated that ‘no one understands this!’ because, hey, you have to know a thing intimately yourself, first, if you want anyone to give a damn about it.
So yeah. I accept it. Writing what I want to write in the way I want to write it isn’t going to foot the bills. But AM, my partner at DK since the 90s, reminds me not to worry about that, to push the thing, to make it better. Make what better? Make it better: solve the problem that you are designing a solution for. He sounds different. The time apart, working separately, has evolved us in different ways. He is prototyping. I am playing. We move along the diverting paths of the fork. It’s good. It’s healthy. I finish writing Breakfast in Cambodia. I do Q&As with people who talk with me about ‘starting to start’, people I meet online, or how bitcoin works, or their own take on explorations of venturing into the unfamiliar, and how we trust the process. That stuff.
Figuring out there’s nothing to figure out
EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE, I take a mini-vacation. Solo. I put all these thoughts away and sometimes take some small pages, and put them in my back pocket, and consider them, alone, for a week. Offline. Deviceless. Then I come home. Once, I redesigned this entire website. Now it’s Atelier S P A C E. Lately, I’ve recruit people to help me share about it, spread the word, since I’m so… esoteric. Noted. Sure, I tend to get lost in the corners, go into the philosophical, stop and not think about how does this communicate? Because you know why? People want a ‘topic sentence’ and a ‘developing paragraph.’ But the world of physics that I love and adore (quantum, fuzzy logic), is not concerned with linearity. Or proving something. There is the uncertainty principle, of course. staring at us. Why don’t people respect it? Why do they insist on boxing the answer, proving it until death, submitting to academic journals ad nauseous, making us think that yes, this is a thing the we need to swallow, wholesale. But I don’t believe it just because you typed it. There are 10 dimensions, right? Or 11? What’s the latest research on that?
The next journey
LOTS HAS CHANGED since 2014. I’m no longer writing for the people who have the gigs to give me, because I don’t want the gigs. I want the stories, the collaborations, eye contact, the in-the-box conversations that go places, that move an intrigue. I want real life. I want a shared experience of beauty: that which we see, when we are in person, noticing one another. Together. Am going to make Atelier S P A C E because zines! Zines are light, fun, simple, tangible. You cans ee them. You can hold them. You can know where a thing is going. It’s a kind of container: what goes in it, how that happens, where we discover that which we’ll share is all an open question, but the box is there. That is the space. We already have the form. The work is in the going and discovering, now. I have to go and do that. I have to. It’s just not going to be okay to stay in one place and keep on writing into the void, in private page posts for myself, no matter how romantic the life of a recluse might appear to some (Y, I’m talking to you… remember that thing I said: find out what turns you on! Then go and offer that to people!), no matter how much I want dot hide in this box forever, I’m ready now to stop it. To get out of Phnom Penh, and make stuff, with others. Out there.
In the world. Can you dig it? Let’s do this, then. Let’s make something. In real life, together.
MAYBE WE JUST met, yesterday at the restaurant playing a game of cards. Or a design conversation, or I found you on the internet and emailed you to say hello. You might have met one of our team members out and about in Phnom Penh, over the course of 2014-now. Or a jazz show: I like these, and there seem to be a very small circle of us who go to the ones that happen. When they do. Did we meet over coffee somewhere in Toul Kork? Did we find one another at a meetup? I want to enjoy hosting a space this THURSDAY that, you might find, to be quite unexpected (read nothing like a boring meetup). The idea is to *mix together* a small handful of people whose paths we have been crossing, through *serendipity and randomness* and just being around, and *get us together*… but briefly, and once. It’s part of the Rooftop Phil. in PP series, but interestingly, in 6 salons so far only 1 person has joined more than once. That’s why I’m inviting *only* people I’ve met *since* the last one… half a year ago.
TURNING ATTENTION BACK TO THE CLOUD, in recent days. The ‘N’ in Hanoi was too, too fun. I want to take a nice long break from making more events, outside of the ‘Secret Event’ series here in Phnom Penh, that is. (More on our fb. I’m sure there are some links there now*.)
What I am having to do, in order to get to a place of feeling somewhat finished, somewhat like I have an idea of where the next series of S P A C E is going to go, is to sit quietly and be alone for long, huge, oceanswide stretches of time. Which will explain the hideout, here in Toul Kork. A place where I have only two or three particular outlets to go to in order to find the quiet room to go into the headspace that, you know, you need to if you are a writer-type, or a publisher of the big wide vast and uncomfortably probing question-asking that happens, in S P A C E. But so? I love it. I don’t care if no one is really going to be there, to read it. Because writing is the journey, a new kind of journey. And I am writing so much, so very much. Publishing things. So that, you know, my mother can read them. Ha ha.
*I don’t handle the FB here since I’m a terrible Luddite and don’t now how to post things, or make them sound interesting to read, or make you want to click to find this blog. This blog, however, I can manage. I like writing here, to you. I’m writing a lot, lately, in fact, with the others who are part of a group collaborative experiential project we call ‘A New Kind of Journey.’ The four-week orientation is ending next Monday, then we are moving forwards with whomever is ready to ‘N+1’ it with us in the next thing, ‘The Village.’ Find out more about these when you subscribe to Jas Plac’s free S P A C E.
Such a good group, conversing and connecting, and we are talking about some incredibly, ah, big topics. How quickly we can ramp up to the personal and large-scale, the big-picture kind of philosophical stuff that has nothing to do with what is going to happen on Friday or Saturday night (blech), nor the kind of thinking that has only to do with finan$ial engagements, which, when you really think about them, are a bit dry, aren’t they, as subject matters? I have to say when it’s time to close a contract I am terribly tired. It’s a fact.
Probably why I don’t do that side of the work here at DK anymore. I just was really, really bad at it. Leave it to the people who are terribly gifted at relationship management, and let me keep this blog as ranty as I like. Heck, it’s even funner, this way. I have no idea if I have to meet someone tomorrow who will be determining if DK is a ‘fit’ for them. I don’t even care, to be honest. I am happy writing away into the online forums, and also, at the subscription edition of S P A C E. Really good stuff is happening, this month. I can feel it. We have a new sequence underway, and an old one is getting packaged now as I compose it, properly fold it into a digital PDF that I can send to the subscribers, and newly subscribing. So that people can get a sense of what this stuff is, this ‘real enough to feel’ kind of motion that is imperative if I am, in any way, to show you that I am dead serious about this stuff. Publishing, in S P A C E.
Take, for example, Figure 1. Just immediately below, yes. Here:
MORE TO SHARE, especially if you are in the online circles. Curious about what’s happening? Learn more, after the jump. Meantime, I have to go. I think this couple that just came in (who are from my native country, and therefore extremely loud) are on some kind of work-one-upping conversation slash tindr date. Time to go.
AT LAST, the picture of our guests at ‘N’ Hanoi: NARRATIVE. What stories do we tell to the world? Which ones do we tell ourselves? In this brief encounter, 16 people whose paths might not have otherwise crossed conversed and wrote, read and listened, in a space of just 2.5 hours. A magic moment. *!
‘No. But I don’t want to get bored… well, not bored, but do you know how hard it is to try to get 16 people to commit and showup and pay and actually really, like, you know, do it, when they don’t know who I am, whew, wow, but so cool… and it’s… stressful and taxing and takes a lot out of me, even though it is magical and rewarding and beautiful, but you know, you can’t have that kind of intensity all the time, so in the meantime, less intense but more often kinds of conversations would be cool, and so rather than trying to expend every ounce of my energy trying to make 5N happen, which, it must and it will and it has to have enough space to enjoy itself when it is ready… and yeah. Not try at least to invent other things to try in the meantime… that would be stifling, wouldn’t it? It would be… silly. To get overly attached to N. Even though yeah, I turned this whole blog into the N journey thing there, for a while. Strange.’