The nothing, the whole
THERE IS CONSTRUCTION GOING ON, next door; I’m at my favorite hideaway, a poolside restaurant, here in Phnom Penh. Getting ready for Ubud. Thinking, feeling. These Americans visiting from Arizona and two other places I didn’t catch had a chat with me just now about what’s going on on the States. A crazy time. Things are nuts. Me, wondering how to talk to them, wondering how to share the angst that’s crept up, inappropriate?, the things that are bubbling up from reading online about shootings and hate culture and gay marriage and rights, yet all of this in the context of humidity and saturated air; it’s weird. I tell them. They listen. We move on. Angst. Worry about the nothing. This idea that something terrible is going to happen, any time, and when you try to define the ‘it’ that ‘one’ is worried about, then the answer is, truthfully, ‘Nothing.’ In sitting today with my xeroxes of Martin Heidegger‘s Basic Writings (Harper & Kim, New York, NY: 1817), I’m also gathering interpretations on what Heidegger meant, when he put his thoughts down, about ‘holding oneself out into the nothing.’
THE SUN IS GOING IN just as the pool is ready, or, I should say, as I am ready for it. Almost. Nearly. I always have anxiety around things like this. Starts. New ones. Urgh, let me just get on with the story, though, shall I? Been a strange breeze, these last few moments. The air thick but not so overwhelming as hot season. It’s okay. It’s going to be a coolness, shortly. The reflected buildings, buildings-in-progress, I should say, dancing and rippling on the surface of this place. I’ve been here countless times, now. I’ve gotten the same order, pretty much each one. I don’t know why but there is a movement, a rippling, but it’s not the water I’m talking about, now. It’s me. It’s terribly unsettling, this sensation of not-knowing. And yet, and yet, I know. Making space for uncertainty. That’s always been the whole work of it, hasn’t it? This journey that started before it officially did, maybe before my birth, yes, probably, if I want to get metaphilosophical. Did you know I will do this, if let to? I will. Friends let me go there. Sometimes and oft repeating phrasings, trying them out again over geographies and a decade, or two, or three. ‘You, um. You said that before.’ I let them let me, and we go together into the tepid areas. I think about this sort of thing as the water is too cold for my toe, my ankle, my calves. It’s okay. I’m going to do it. I push off the ledge, and then, I’m in.
I used to hang out at this poolside north of BKK1 but south of Riverside, so in the middle of Phnom Penh. I would bring along this notebook full of papers that had xeroxes for a class I never got to teach, long story, but the topic was metaphysics. That. Yeah. I guess you could say that not everyone is ready to go tehre with me, to ‘N+1’ it, as we say here now, it makes it easier to go ahead and do the thing you don’t really know what you’re doing but you do it because of what will happen after you do. The next. The next! That is the them for ‘N’ Vientiane. NEXT. But ‘N’ is another vector.
Today, thinking of Ubud. The next spot for S P A C E. I have left a lot of times. Left ‘home,’ then the adopted-home, then the places where I felt I had kinships (but didn’t, not really), to places where I was more useful creatively and later, insipirationally, and then, even after that, places where I pretty much talked to no one. And so it happens, that it becomes time to move, again. Time to move ‘on,’ wherever, but not with a clear path. This is also N+1 work, for us at DK. To be okay with uncertainty. To push the edge. To egg each other on when we start getting complacent, to push ourselves to keep moving, keep changing. To grow.
A base, of a place, for a time, to make conversation salons of the sort that meander and wander (much like this post) but with an aim. It’s not like wandering is aimless, if you really think abou tit. Soemtimes you need space to explore the edges, to push them out a bit, to poke a hole int hat paper wall that is abstract and possibly arbitrary (like time itself, yes?) A construct to hep us cope with our regular day to day, and not get lost in ennui or the enormity of ‘what it all is,’ or means, or does, or doesn’t do. Existentialism. Transcendentalism. All of them, all of those and more, and way less, too, but for now, the clippings that I am revisiting are these. Basics of metaphilosophy. ‘What is metaphysics?’ Thinking about it with David Bohm, Jiddu Krishnamurthi, Neils Bohr, and Martin Heidegger. (Who my favorite East Asian philospher says he feels sorry for. Mrrmmm.)
Out of routines, into nothing
FROM ‘What is Metaphysics?’:
‘PROFOUND BOREDOM,’ Heidegger writes, ‘drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. This boredom reveals beings as a whole.’ Just before this section he says: ‘No matter how fragmented our everyday existence may appear to be… it always deals with beings in a unity of the “whole,” if only in a shadowy way. This boredom,’ reveals beings as a whole.’
QUESTIONS come up. What does it mean to ‘hold oneself out into the nothing?’ Is this feeling normal? Is it a Western thing? Howcome so many of us born in rich countries worry about what isn’t happening, and fret about what might happen, and sort of get into this rut of anxiety and angst? More importantly, how does knowing about this overwhelming shadowy whole, the belonging stuff, how does that get applied in everyday practice to fix everyday boredom? I mean, how does Heidegger help us cope? Is that too big a question? Your thoughts?
So when we’re not really busy this ‘as a whole’ overwhelms us in, for example, real boredom. I think what he means is when we’re going about our lives we have this idea that there’s a bigger group that we belong to, and so, when we’re not preoccupied with watching YouTube or fussing over a report to our boss, when we actually have to sit down and be quietly with ourselves—alone—it hits us. The big everything, the big empty quiet thing.
Making S P A C E in Ubud…
S P A C E. Gathering very small groups of people together to talk about this sort of stuff. Click the date that’s highlighted to see what’s planned…
WOULD YOU LIKE TO hear more about what’s ahead, and what this S P A C E project is about? If yes, there is a way to get a four-email sequence that will orient you to the who, what, where, and why of this conversation spacemaking thing. Just click this box to go to a page where you can add your details. This is what to click, the white box…
Thank you for your interest.
DK are offering short e-Courses for 2017.
Registration is now closed for the February application window.
16N gathers 16 strangers in real life. To talk about a thing that starts with an ‘N’…
‘N’ Vientiane: NEXT
LET’S MEET IN REAL LIFE. Just 16 people. To talk together about the idea of ‘NEXT.’ This is the idea of 16N: to gather people whose paths might not have otherwise have crossed. Briefly. Once. For a conversation of the kind you’ve never experienced before: it’s not a workshop, it’s not a party. It’s nothing like you’d expect. That’s what people have told us, at ‘N’ events in Phnom Penh, Bangkok, and London. ‘N’ Vientiane is NEXT.
More information, including details of how to request an invite, is at this page >
[UPDATE 10 January: Try the COJOURNAL experience to see what this is like. You can do this from anywhere if you have an internet connection. We’re getting started on 31 January.]
FOR A LONG TIME I used to be like most of the people I know who claim to want to write. I mean, I wanted to get picked up.
By some kind of an agent, or a publishing house.
Then, get toured around the world.
Splashy dinners, press conferences, lots and lots of people asking me about my stories… all admiringly but of course asking the same repeating questions.
Got in the way of that.
Not because of drive… I had a lot of drive, back then. I guess I’m a Gen X slacker in other ways, but I do like publishing and I will do it, and blogging is a kind of publishing, and even though I haven’t been writing here very much for the last three years it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing and sharing.
Just not in public, like this.
I preferred small, private circles.
I still do.
Some of the time I wrote for newspapers, first freelance and then as a staffer. Then I got into magazine stuff. Then I decided it wasn’t for me, that piecewise thing you have to do (read: pitching) and not experimenting with the medium, which is way, way more fun. Thanks to a couple of internet friends scattered in timezones near and far, I’m able to connect more deeply through writing (but only with some people, of course. You can’t share intimately with everyone.) Maybe this is why I don’t care so much about getting famous, now. It just doesn’t matter. What matters is hanging out. The quality of the conversations. The people I meet, what we discover together, what we learn from each other. How we grow.
SO YES. IT IS TRUE.
I had this thought about fame, though. A lot, probably, through most of my early twenties. Back then, mostly in those big cities with yellow stuff pasted onto walls around subways, I picked up flyers about going to get my correspondence writing course started, and then, I left them behind.
I don’t know why.
Someone I just met said, it’s human to want to be famous. I’m not convinced that this is so true, though. I think it’s narcissistic, sure. And yeah, the Western cultures have a thing about that. But living in Asia for three years (and counting) will do something to you. Will make you think, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Who cares?’
Next steps: writing and publishing
THINGS NOW ARE INCREDIBLY NEW, and the old-school model is still nagging at the artists. Why is this?
Who cares if it’s ‘popular?’
JS wrote: ‘Do what moves you.’
Something about pining for fame… (JS is famous, by the way)… as much as this is so normal if you grow up in a place where fame is worshipped,… But well, something about the pursuit of #1, and that alone, seemed dodgy, to me. Who decides on the criteria, for one? What do you consider to be interesting, intriguing, alluring, mysterious? Because most likely, it’s not the stuff that’s going to top the pop charts. Well, at least, if you’re like me. I’m into other things. Philosophical stuff, going to the edges (literally, sometimes), looking out and over, maybe even taking a jump (literally, again. Like in India’s Himachal Pradesh, at Manali.)
Not saying you have to do it this way or that way.
Paying attention to the way, though. That’s important. Because along the way you’ll find the things that add to your story, the Book of You. (More about that is coming, but only for the inner inner circles, in mid-January, through the emails.)
Voicefinding is underrated, you know. Taking time is, too. Discovering, messing up, finding your way, the way again, there it is. Why are the Westerners so outcome-focused? I noticed in recent weeks that I had this one outcome in mind about a thing, and it didn’t go exactly as I had pictured, and on the one hand I was so disappointed I teared up a bit, but on the other, we had something else in its place. We had a different kind of thing. Another way. And it was fine; in its own way, it was beautiful all exactly as it stood, unjudged and unexpected. Is that the thing, then? Letting things happen?
Finding one’s voice, I felt, seemed like the most important journey, to me, when I was watching everyone follow the pack. The herd mentality is pretty crazy. Human, of course. But we gotta watch that. What are we doing, and why? It’s necessary to pay attention to this. Intention.
Even in my younger days, I knew that to experience life would be more important, than to try to make sense of what had happened, so far. There wasn’t enough of it behind me. I wanted to go. See. Learn, make, and do.
Of course people said that was stupid. These were the people who later went into investment banking and got houses that are now ‘underwater.’ They also told me that I was a ‘free spirit’ and wasn’t that just lucky-for-me, but twenty years later they are still looking for a weekend off to ‘go and write my novel.’ Yeah. A weekend.
Traveling opened it up, though, got me away from those people and their poisonous don’t-can’t thinking. (Total opposite of N+1. More about that in a bit.)
First job I got enough to save some to start this habit.
That’s how I got traveling. To East Asia. Southeast Asia, South Asia. Europe, too, of course. Moved there, even. Started things out. Made it all up as we went along. Slowly, surely.
One step at a time.
It became a kind of method, a sort of dance. Go, see. Suss. Learn, then make the next decision.
You know, the more I think about it, the more this isn’t just about a way of life that has nothing to do with wanting the praises and accolades that, I think, many many people that I would have known when I was, say, yeah, twenty-three, would have said they wanted.
The thing is, I met a lot of those people, along the way.
People who had made it. Were on the book tours. Were traveling the world, on other people’s dimes.
But they didn’t have the one thing that I had, in so many giant waves and troves and uncertain amounts, seemingly indefinitely.
They didn’t have time.
Phasing the Book of Time
THIS THINKING caught up with me, just this morning. I was writing and thinking and writing some more, and gearing up to set up the co-writing page for BH to join me on, soon. (B, yes, it’s coming up, on Tuesday). I’m going to write there, now. Co-writing. It’s certainly not a new idea, this. Many people have been doing it through the ages.
I don’t know when it went from writing because writing is fun, ideas are playful, and we can make anything when we do this together, to something else.
Everyone becomes a bit of a corporation.
You have to go around and PR yourself to pieces. Literally. I remember the writer in the mountainside, who looked wistfully after me as we made our parting goodbyes, and said, ‘I wish I could go and sit and write and look out of my window and just have no one in the world to answer to. I’m jealous.’
You don’t have to be jealous, I thought, right then. Just go and do it.
Shutting down the devices and cutting out the reception. Letting go of the has-beens and moving on to the next-ones. It’s part of my process, this closing of doors.
Opening new email addresses, dumping old ones. Starting new conversations with strangers, forgetting to respond to the ones who became less-strange, but more distant, with time and space and lack of correspondence and the thing that happens when that happens, loss of interest.
Editing is a thing you learn, the longer you’re at this game.
Editing is beautiful.
White space. Yes.
Copying Neils and morphing, too
SO I’M GONNA DO IT.
I’m going to write to B and ask if he’ll work with me on this new thing. The Book of Time. (Did you know Neils Bohr, my hero, had 400 correspondents? Yeah. He just wrote all these letters. I’m so into that idea. I think I’ll start with 1.)
But did I tell you about agile publishing, yet?
The cojournal, a precursor to S P A C E
THE COJOURNAL PROJECT that started all this writing into the void, into S P A C E, and other online spots, well, that was 2014 and wow, it was amazing.
I got to know a handful of people, and I got to know their writing style even better. Sometimes it was someone I maybe met just once, sometimes it was a colleague. Yeah. I know, right? I did this and I learned and we talked, and we shared. The growing came of the sharing, the process was the important bit. Sure, there was an outcome, there wast he PDF anthology that I’d sent out as a New Year’s Gift (with everyone int he projects’ permission, of course). Rounding up permissions sure takes some admin time, man. But I did, because I wanted to share that short eBook. It was nice. So then, after that, it was done. But some people didn’t want it to be done, so we carried on with a few of us for another year.
And then that morphed into THE FORUM, and it’s still going… And now this is growing up, too… but I have to have these small stairsteps.
I have to N+1 it, because not everyone is ready to go that far with the writing-together thing. It starts with inertia, of course, with convincing one’s self that yeah, it’s time, I gotta do this, I gotta write… Help me make it happen, DK.
That’s what used to happen.
I have other things now, that I want to do.
Arriving at N+1
BUT TODAY, just now, I was walking away from this cafe where a lady asked me what I was doing here, what I was doing for crust, as they say, and I said for the first time, ‘I’m not sure yet.’
Because this is the last day of the year.
And that means, this is the last day of the offerings of Old.
If N=2016, then tomorrow is N+1.
And that’s where the good stuff is. And that’s where I’m going. —AS
More like this, and exclusives…
IN 2017 DK are changing quite a bit about how we connect with people, and we want to share more about the process of making and doing. It’s been quite a journey these last 20 years, but the best-of highlights and learning is what we share with a small, inner circle. These are our patrons. You can discover more about how to become a patron of DK through this link…
[UPDATE 10 January: Try the COJOURNAL experience to see what this is like. You can do this from anywhere if you have an internet connection. We’re getting started on 31 January.]
MEET ME IN THE SKY?
Get together with a very small group of people to talk about things that feel more interesting than the usual drone of:
- ‘How long have you been in Phnom Penh?’ (yawn)
- ‘What do you do here?’ (Why? Are you job hunting?)
- ‘Where are you from?’ (How about ask me where I’m local?)
The idea. After a series of four really amazing ‘Rooftop Philosophy in Phnom Penh’ salons, limited to just a few people and small and informal in style, we bring back Rooftop Philosophy in Phnom Penh, this time the #5 edition, by invitation only. Share your availability with DK by email and we’ll choose a date and time that works for most. Max 6.
Agenda. Guided, prompt-led conversation. No experience or expertise necessary. Proficiency in English is best, but all are welcome. Light, relaxed, nice view. How to design space for great dialogue? Conversations that, I promise, will veer far from the vein of the above. That is the work of DK.
Fee. USD $15 per person to participate. Free for patrons of DK. (Want to become a patron? Here’s how.)
RSVP through the form below. Details to follow.