AVAILABLE in both print and soft copy, this issue of S P A C E is a 2-volume, limited edition zine. It was released on June 1, 2018.
It’s set in Kuala Lumpur in December, 2017, when DK and others were gathered there for Atelier S P A C E to look for the hyperlocal story and make a zine. It relates the honest dialogue between two women (‘both middle-aged, single, and tough with men’). In the story, two main characters, both brassy in very different ways, open their innermost vaults of secrets to one another, swapping candid stories about ‘the way it is,’ in their respective opinions, when it comes to love, admiration, power, and sexuality.
Sweet dreams are made of this/ Travel the world and the seven seas/ Everybody’s looking for something… —Eurythmics
THE HEROINE of this piece is a woman whose real-life story left DK so speechless, that we completely overhauled the story originally published last winter. Since then, the team collaborating on the zine continued shaping the story, to refine the so that it is much more a portrait of one particular strain of a life, a style, and a philosophy.
In this work of creative nonfiction, ‘Kaunter Tiket,’ corporate exec Ritu Raj meets a remarkable and unexpected chance encounter, and sees in an insightful instant it will reframe her perceptions of material, and personal, success.
Worlds apart, but joined in their experience of a series of life experiences with common denominators, two women enter an all-night dialogue that will touch on all angles they can manage to delve into on the subject of love relationships.
Look forward in this short, packed zine to discovering an unexpected intrigue, witnessing closehand a superior poise, cutting up mainstream media’s images of female beauty, and being allowed to witness a bright, passionate resilience.
Set in the smoky billow of neither heartbreak nor apathy, but reality, the story starts somewhere behind Jalan Sultan Ismail.
New recountings of age-old narratives invite you to rethink painted facades and false illusion, to re-examine your own storages of untested so-called certainties that may just disintegrate when challenged arduously, (as was the real life experience that inspired this story), by someone who simply knows a thing, by living it, a thing very basic and primal, and yet, a thing that many of us will never be able to access. DK insist that true connexion starts with showing up, that means paying attention, noticing and being there when someone begins to let the floodgates open. In this case, an honest beginning of just such a kind of personal connexion led DK and the team at Atelier S P A C E to revise theories about ‘status’ and ‘motive,’ and to note with alacrity thanks to one woman’s wisdom, how nothing and no one are as they may at first seem.
It was November 2014. I snapped this pic in a public space in #Singapore, thinking, ‘I wish someone would meet me here and look out at this view with me, not a friend but a random architecture-design-art-writer acquaintance-for-this-hour.’ Not too intense, but interested in the new things, still curious, as yet unjaded. Was taking 5 from a slate of panel discussions that were, for me, too stuffy. I wandered, and bumped into a poet, who pointed out very articulately that sometimes what’s cool is not knowing who’s going to turn up, what’s going to happen, or how it will play out. The letting go started here, at this table, where I sat and wrote a page to myself in response. That note inspired all of what is coming, next month, 3-12 Nov at pre-events, salons and finally, Atelier S P A C E.
See ‘upcomings’ in the footer of this website.
Learn more about our 10-12 Atelier S P A C E || Singapore programme, including how to register, here.
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.
DK: ‘A Nomadic Existence?’ asked one of my longest-term mentors. ‘What is it about, exactly? Can you name that? Can you paint a picture of what it IS? In other words, what is the content of your forum?’ Let me answer that. What IS it about. It’s about lots. It’s about the things that happen, magically, when we simply make *time* and *space* to converse, together.
AS: How does it work?
DK: I post on Mondays. We have a week to write a response. Then, on Sundays at 7PM ICT, I respond and craft the next day’s post. It’s emergent, one step at a time. It’s N+1. All of this is behind protected-page posts on this blog. Those who are taking part in the online forums are participant, see, and I truly mean are participating in the making of the content, as we go. We don’t have to know each other for a lifetime, heck we don’t even have to know one another for one hour. Or ever have met in real life. But… we show up together, and there’s a pattern of how this works, and what we can do with it, and you know? It’s a kind of community, without all the weird things that some communities turn into… I believe that this is a conversation space, and it’s also an exploration. I don’t know why I’m going into this much detail. Because I care so much? Because I lack editing skills? That’s where you come in, A. Thank you.
AS: Why is it interesting? What makes it different?
DK: We are looking for the a-ha. It comes, at times. I believe there is a way to design space for meaningful, magic moments. Connexion. Real connexion. I believe it has to be designed for, this kind of quality of truly well-collaborated, well-made space. There is design, but design is useless if it’s not inclusive and inviting and welcoming and made-by-the-collection of those who are there.
PAUSE YOU who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day. ― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
IN THESE LAST FEW DAYS, I have been visiting a lot of weird thoughts. I know that might be an unusual thing to post on a blog. Then again, people post all kinds of weird everything now, and so much of it (to me) seems rather… Ah… How to put it? Attention-grabby-seeky. Exhibtionism and narcissism and Internet kind of seem to go together, now. Did it used to be this way, all the time? I mean, did it? I thought blogs were for propagating new and fresh thinking, or interweaving, rather, with new and fresh thought, sharing and open web-bing our way to something bigger, better. More artful. Than what we have become, or are in the midst of becoming.
Or maybe this is just the usual kind of stuff that comes with aging.
‘You sound a bit jaded.’
But. Do I? Or is it really kind of boring, now? Boring conversations. Boring meetups. Boring blind dates. BORING ART. That is probably the saddest, to me. Going all over the world and not seeing anything that is truly intriguing. But maybe that’s just because the real art isn’t in the galleries or the places where you used to think it was. Because, like science and media, even art people have to play a certain kind of tune to get their funding. This tune tires me. I think it’s designed for a set of people who, quite frankly, are out of context and irrelevant to me. I realized I must write the kinds of books I want to read. And so I do, from time to time. Slow going, this kind of jam. But important, I think.
Because… I don’t want to regress. Pros and cons, right? Technology?
I love the internet for helping me find others. But I hate it for overwhelming us with lots and lots and lots of mostly noisy blasts of ‘look at me.’ I think the ‘I had a baby’ and ‘I just got married’ posts are my least favorite, but there is the cynicism again. I think people are doing this to get attention. Why does the world need to know? I remember letterpress. I remember postage. I remember the feeling of crispness of putting pen to paper, long fountain pen letters. I miss those. Not because writing in this way I’m writing to you now is super different. It’s just way, way, way less… Intimate. Isn’t it? And without a boundary like limited edition of 1, which is what a letter is, there is a loss, necessarily. Of quality. This year, I’ve been thinking a lot about Quality. Following up on some old threads inspired by Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance, and then, after, poems by Tagore (and Gitanjali, especially). More stuff came into my world after arriving in Asia four years ago. More from the East that is hard to bring up, because it’s so locally important but not taught elsewhere. The whole thing about Western arrogance, Western riches, Western imperialism in all kinds of ways makes me very tired, from this angle on the old life, ‘over there.’ I guess this is such a giant topic that it’s impossible to continue without sounding like I’m not ever going to revisit. I will. Just, not in public like this. This kind of really… Ah… Comment-starting stuff is where I will put my things behind private walls. So that our comments add to one another, instead of troll.
BEFORE THIS BLOG ACCIDENTALLY got deleted, it had lived for 10 years as a kind of open question. A sort of question mark on a permanently blank page. The aesthetics of this blog are always going to be about possibility, spacemaking, and creating rooms for dialogues… Some of them online, some offline, of course, but… This used to be a kind of sharing spot. Then it got deleted. Then I started making private posts all over the place. I guess because of… Fear. Fear of showing too much of my real self. Fear of not looking this enough or that enough. Then someone tells me this blog is intimidating. Then I think, ‘Huh. That was not my intention.’
The rest of this post is a bit of backstory. On the evolutions from design to blogging to the new stuff. Skip to the questions at the end, if you like, and do leave a comment. Listening.
Going into the private rooms was mostly a result of, I think, the kind of warp in the Internet that makes it impossible (or so it seems) to locate thoughtful and original people whom I love to connect (and interconnect). I guess I am starting to wake up to it, now. That you cant’ stick your head in the sand. It’s not going to get better just because I turn off my screens and cover them with towels or placards that say, for example, ‘We have reliable motorbike, private car, bicycle for rent and sale.’ Well. Today I’m not in the market to buy a motorbike, but thanks for the info. INFORMATION. OPTIONS. These are what get in the way. In my opinion, that is. According to me, that is. I mean, who am I? Who am I really? But if I start to show up as an ‘I’ then I add to the collection of nonsense that is one-person’s opinion and not a collection of thoughts that are given a chance to percolate, in conversations… Together… And if humanity is progressing it is only because we can work together, truly collaborate, with the systems and technologies at hand. instead of texting useless strings of pizza emojis. Or. Maybe that’s just where it goes. (I guess I’m sounding like a grump. Sorry. I don’t meant to. The super young generation looks at me like, ‘What? What’s the big deal?’ But. I guess. I’m not sure. I’m writing my not-sureness. Is that… Even done anymore? Logic-boxes are such a drag. Even after the quantum theory of the world was proven to be right, in 1982. EVEN THEN. Sheesh. Do we really love the status quo that much? What the? WHY?)
What happened? To real life? Let’s make space for real life, then. Is that even… A thing? Like, does this really have to be. Need, now? I am learning: it DOES. So. Let me try. I am trying to gather handfuls of new and different others to connect. To get us talking again. Like it’s still the 90s. You just go, and you show up, and you are there, and it’s real. And there is no, ‘Oh, let me see what other options I have.’ Or FOMO. Or anything involving instant access to information online. There was not that much online, at least not for me, back then. And I miss those days. I miss just laughing and talking. I have been to the weirdest meetup now, of my life. Oooo. Creepy. I won’t ever do it. That’s a lie. I will. Banning something unconditionally is not in keeping with the whole ‘out of my comfort zone’ thing. But hey. I’m good. I’m hosting, again. I’m organizing S P A C E stuff. Sometimes in cities that aren’t my usual stomping grounds. Hanoi, for example. On Wednesday. This. Feeling good, quiet. Calm. Viet Nam. Processing things. Writing, for the inner circles.
Your thoughts? Is humanity regressing? Is technology making us nutty? Is real life so intense? Do people not know how to socialize without their phones to introduce them first? If yes, why. If not, tell us about the positives. I am listening. Comments are open for a time. Kindly go ahead.