We’re thinking of creating custom writing prompts for the people who are interested in making space and time for serious, quality self-reflection.
It’s not for everyone, of course. Most people, I’m learning, really hate the idea of starting this kind of thing. Even though they know it’s good for them.
Like vitamins and yoga, journaling is this ‘extra’ thing that no one really seems to prioritize. Even though people at the forefront of business, technology and artistic pursuits know that you need to focus. Focus, focus, focus. When you do, you can move with clarity on the path that moves you to the mountain instead of distracts you from your own inner desires—even when you don’t name them explicitly, something in you knows that you are supposed to be doing something else with your life.
How will you use your gift of human life? asks Kathleen Singh, a writer I’d corresponded with back in the day when we were designing the first prompts for this project.
PRESENTLY DK now works, for the most part, P2P. Not B2B. Relationships! Relationships are everything. They matter. Big time.
Yet the fabric that is getting made as we knit a new network, one in which creative people everywhere are part of an ambient, ongoing weekly conversation, I don’t know yet what it will look like, exactly. I just know that it’s important to keep sharing about it, because sharing is the village.
So that’s part of why. The change. To this magazine, from a design commission sort of arrangement for our clients.
Instead of businesses and owners, I now work with individuals. 1:1.
Now, more than ever, I am enjoying P2P conversations.
That, I think, is where I can see myself being useful to you. Content sharing. The prompts are good ones and the short-form eWorkshop, which I’d sent the link to, is a streamlined 8-week sequence.
I’ve hosted THE MIRROR now twice. Really it works. And the people who like it tend to be interested in actually doing the big work. Actually writing. 🙂
Next up is a world in which we can design our own roles in conversation that’s hosted, guided and N:N. International. Creative people connecting, around the world, one designful moment at a time. Who wants to do this with me? —DK
[Update: AS OF SEPTEMBER 2017, DK is making Atelier S P A C E. But before we began roving the world gathering people in real life for conversations about the creative process (and hands-on programmes designed to get us doing instead of just thinking about doing), we used to have these conversations in virtual spaces. The Q&A series that we made for our online magazine, S P A C E, continues to be a place where we return for inspiration. A past life in journalism led to the style of asking questions and diving deeper to explore what it is a person cares about most, what she wants to say about her work and how we can contextualize it to make what we learn relevant to a broader audience. Everything we do in S P A C E has to do with the connections between people, with interstitial spaces. That is why we are starting to share more openly some of the early Q&A’s that were originally exclusives for our online community, S P A C E, which subscribes each week to our ongoing conversations, learnings, resources, links, and musings about how we make, who makes, where we are, and why we do this work. For more information about S P A C E, go here.]
A CONVERSATION TODAY with North Carolina ceramics artist and a personal friend, Ronan Kyle Peterson.
Here is what he had to say about our theme this month, IMAGINE. We are discovering some shared interests in, amongst a few other things: work, cycles, and practice.
DK:I’ve seen your work evolve quite a bit in the last decade. What is it you are up to?
RKP: Essentially, I am dealing with effects of agents of growth and decay and how these agents shape and embellish the surfaces of stones and the skins of trees. Employing an earthy background palette stretched across textured but quieter surfaces, I wanted to upset that quiet earthiness with intense splashes of vibrant color, patterns, and glossy surfaces not commonly associated with tree bark or the rough surfaces of rocks amidst fallen leaves.
DK: Tell us your thoughts on ‘work’—what is it, who is it for, and why does it matter?
RKP: ‘Work’ noun-wise, would be the pots that I make to sell. Which references my ‘job’ or the verb ‘work’ that I do to make a living. The work for me is learning about color, how colors work together, how color and pattern changes perception of form, and how color pattern and texture can affect a person’s mood or perception of a pot.
The work that interests me, or the energizing part, is figuring out forms for functional purposes—cups and mugs for drinking, bowls for eating or serving from—and decorations or surface treatments that complement and complete the form.
DK:Why do you do what you do?
RKP: I make… because it makes me happy, fulfills a need, keeps me searching. I’m just infinitely blessed that others, customers, want to buy my pots and are interested for the most part in what, the work, that I am doing. It doesn’t matter in a larger context, but it does matter to me, because in the doing I am happy.
DK: Is that where the magic is? In the doing?
RKP: For me, the magic is in the making or the doing. Talking, wishing, and hoping do not get the job done. The magic is in the doing.
DK: A lot of people say they wish they had more time be an artist, make music, travel, write a book, and so on. What you would say to them?
RKP: I guess I would say, you just have to make it happen. And it will not just happen. A lot of times there has to be a sacrifice of something else: sleep, long meals, vegging out, tv, income, family time, socializing… Making time or sacrificing something else to make time seems to be hard for some people, because they are energized and content through socializing, etc. For me, working, making new work, exploring new forms, colors, combinations, that is what energizes me.
DK:What does rhythm mean to you?
RKP: Rhythm recently is not contained in one working cycle. Work is started, but not finished until later, spilling into the next cycle, and the next. It used to be frustrating, but I have found that through continued experimentation with form, color, and pattern, that ideas tend to belong aside one another: they are a continuation of thoughts I build on. I guess this speaks to an overall rhythm? I’m making a healthy offering of cups and mugs each cycle, but I have more larger pieces waiting to be finished. Now it is kind of nice to think more about the larger pieces, figure out different decorations and surface approaches that fit better, better than my original plan. I’ve started reglazing older pieces, [and] making different lids for jars. Revisiting sometimes resolves some deficiencies of the pieces. I have a general set of forms, but I’m trying out new things, mostly decoration-wise, every cycle.
DK: Imagine two young people, maybe teens, who are thinking about artistic pursuits having a conversation, perhaps at a museum somewhere, and they know virtually nothing of the real experiences of people like you who have reached some sort of acceptance, it appears, in the methods you are using to make and do and share. What would you tell them?
RKP: I would say be patient. It takes a lot of time, and failing and observing, to figure things out. One thing that I try to keep in the forefront of my mind is how much help and support I have: I’ve worked for many potters with different styles and aesthetics, I have in-laws who let me use some of their space for a studio, I have galleries who work with me and for the most part allow me to bring them work that I choose to make. Growing that network, that support system, I think, is pretty crucial. And being patient, humble, and open to comment, advice and opportunities.
Programmes online from DK are, as of July 2018, by invitation only. To request an invitation and details of our online workshop-salons, tell us. If you’d like to be notified of SELF January 2019’s invitation-only opening, please add your name through the form on this page.
Thank you for your attention and interest in SELF—we’re excited to bring you the best of highlights of 10 years of conversations on how to find the ‘concept of you.’ To be continued! —DK
GUEST POST from a guest of ’16N,’ our international conversation series of salons: ‘When we met, it was like we didn’t have a long awkward get-to-know-you phase, it was easy to chat and talk about less usual things.’
A guest post today from Sarah Rhodes. Sarah had joined us at ‘N’ Phnom Penh, and reflects on that experience.
WHEN I FIRST moved to Siem Reap, I was attending a lot of different events to meet different people and try and find my place and friends in a new city.
It was at one of these events where I met [DK], who was hosting ‘N’, an event that sounded a bit interesting, and although we didn’t get to talk directly, it was a few days later that we ended up having a great chat watching the sunset on a rooftop in Siem Reap town.
Whether it was the first meeting or the sunset chat there was no doubt that the connection had been made, so when I was visiting Phnom Penh in April last year and it coincided with the ‘N’ event, I considered myself very fortunate.
It was during this visit that I realised the other attendees of the event had also had similar encounters with [DK], so it was no surprise that when we all arrived for this event we found that we automatically connected, as we had one main thing in common. The way the event was organised was well thought through; from the personal invitation, individually crafted official invitations, creative activities which with facilitated conversation beyond the usual ‘who are you?’ and ‘what do you do?’.
WHEN WE MET, it was like we didn’t have a long awkward get-to-know-you phase, it was easy to chat and talk about less usual things. I met many interesting people that night. I now have friendships with people in Phnom Penh from ‘N’, after all a friendship is formed by first talking with someone, and then talking with them again. —Sarah E. Rhodes (@saraherhodes)
GUEST POST FROM SANDRO GISLER. ‘I TREASURE the shouts, blurbs, dinner table fragments just as much. And likewise, the glimpses into the souls and lives of those I’m connected with through social media. Whom I would not see at a campfire or a dinner table any time soon.’
TODAY, A GUEST POST from Sandro Gisler. DK got to know Sandro through a collaborative writing project of Kismuth Books, which culminated in the publication of a small anthology. More than a year on, as we reopen THE MIRROR, we asked Sandro if he felt like sharing his thoughts on being part of that journey, and where he is now. And, this.
“THIS,” he says, “is precisely what campfires are for. The sharing of stories. There’s a spiritual connection between flame and narrative.” —V. M. Straka
CAMPFIRES. It has been a while. But the other day, I had once again the privilege to be a storyteller: My kids’ school hosted a Reading Night, and I volunteered to read a story. Equipped with a flash light, I sat in the dark in an old-school class room, a flock of five-year olds sitting cross-legged in a small circle, hanging on my lips as I told local folk tales.
Reading the Straka quote about the campfire made me reflect about Sharing Stories, and I soon realized: ‘Sharing Stories’ may be the most profound human experience. I have long held that language is at the core of what it means to be human.
Language can range from a simple tool for exchanging information all the way to provide comfort, to share value, to remember history and to form bonds. But in between, there is a wide spectrum of nods, of Hey-did-you-hear-about’s, of quick blurbs and fragmented reports. Standing at the water cooler, waiting at the bus stop, over dinner with loved ones.
Let me introduce at this point the Share button. Have you clicked one today? Several times? Was it a Share button that brought you here, to this post? Or did someone mention it at the camp fire last night?
What is the Share button’s value? Does it cut us off from others by driving us into Social Media isolation? Does it create that same social bond that the flames of a campfires or the shine of a flash light create?
Well, as much as I am a romantic sucker for camp fires and late night storytelling, I am also a pragmatist, and value a simple hug over a grand red carpet welcome. A quick coffee over an elaborate tea ceremony. That’s where the Share button comes in. The Share button is the global water cooler, the café at the corner of the universe, the pub of Earth’s town square.
THERE ARE FEW THINGS in the world I like better than sitting at a campfire. But let’s face it; had I only shared stories and formed bonds while sitting at a campfire, it would’ve been a lonely life.
I treasure the shouts, blurbs, dinner table fragments just as much. And likewise, the glimpses into the souls and lives of those I’m connected with through social media. Whom I would not see at a campfire or a dinner table any time soon. I want to know how they feel. About the bus ride that morning, about the election, about the refugees, about the lack of snow, about what will come next.
There is a value in every human interaction, no matter how mundane or how electronic. What matters is the connection. —Sandro Gisler (@sandrogisler)
NEILS BOHR: ‘There is no quantum world. There’s only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics is what we can say about nature.’
A surprising overlap in thinking: What Neils Bohr and Henry Miller both say about the creative process
SERENDIPITY LANDED IT ON MY LAP.
In a dusty, sun-caked patio of a lending library in Phnom Penh, the worn volume tossed towards me by a longtime friend, with the abrupt grunt, and a halfhearted recommendation. ‘This one, maybe. You might like it, A.’
Henry Miller. The Colossus of Maroussi.
I still haven’t returned it. One day, eventually, but it is too nice to read and reread the dense packets of prose that answer life’s big questions: what is our purpose, how can we reconcile our callings towards the esoteric (live artfully, miraculously) when the world is ravaging itself in global warming, apathy, fragmentation, and war. I lately read classics more and more. They seem to have some of these things organized and carefully, beautifully, and quite convincingly spelled out.
What we are, how we are meant to live, and what we might yet become are super giant metaphysical questions. When I talk about metaphysics, people get kind of all distant and a little weirded out. Science is hard, I get the rebuttal. I spent a lot of time in a part of America with the highest concentration of PhDs (this would be Raleigh-Durham), and often, more often than I care to admit, ran up against the celebration of logic over all.
Logic is a mess. Logic is killing us. And logic isn’t working. When we have the world upping in temperature inch by inch, the empire of Disney comes along and tries to put it out of our mind with a pretty little distracting animation about a world of cold and ice. A movie glorifying war comes out at just exactly the time as, guess what? Real war’s on. This is weird, but this is the world we are in. I was in this bungalow in a hippie outlay in a rural part of Cambodia one day, just hanging out on a hammock, and this older guy gets it that I’m getting him, and just tells me point blank, it’s all over. ‘The truth will be buried in a sea of irrelevance. You should read Aldous Huxley.’ ‘Tell me more.’
CAN’T SAY THAT I AM A BIG READER. I like talking, though. Correspondence in the written form is cool, too. What matters is the quality of exchange. The dialogue. Value is the awareness of something new, an input that is beginning to plant somewhere, and inform the old learnings. I am reading for the sake of curating a magazine. I don’t have much else to read, except what will engage the people I care about. The ones who ask questions.
Miller, describing his thoughts at being taken to an astronomical observatory in Athens along with his friend Lawrence Durrell:
The image I shall always retain is that of Chartres, an effulgent rose window shattered by a hand grenade. I mean it in a double or triple sense—of awesome, indestructible beauty, of cosmic violation, of world ruin suspended in the sky like a fatal omen, of the eternality of beauty even when blasted and desecrated. ‘As above, so below,’ runs the famous saying of Hermes Trismegistus. To see the Pleiades through a powerful telescope is to sense the sublime and awesome truth of these words. In his highest flights,musical and architectural above all, for they are one, man gives the illusion of rivaling the order, the majesty and the splendor of the heavens; in his fits of destruction the evil and the desolation which he spreads seems incomparable until we reflect on the greate stellar shake-ups brought on by the mental aberations of the unknown Wizard. Our hosts seemed impervious to such reflections; they spoke knowingly of weights, distances, substances, etc. They were removed from the normal activities of their fellow-men in quite a different way from ourselves. For them beauty was incidental, for us everything. For them the phsyicomathematical world palped, calibred, weighted and transmitted by their instruments was reality itself, the stars and planets mere proof of their exeellent and infallible reasong. For Durell and myself reality lay wholly beyond the reach of their puny instruments which in themselves were nothing more than clumsy reflections of their circumsribed imagination locked forever inthe hypothetical prison of logic.
Their astronomical figures and calculations, intended to impress and overawe us, only caused us to smiole indulgently or to very impolitely laugh outright at them. Speaking for myself, facts and figures have always left me unimpressed.’ —Henry Miller, The Colossus of Maroussi, published in New Directions Books: New York, 1941
Neils Bohr takes it further
THE WEIRD PART IS this. Henry Miller’s ideas about precision and logic and the people who profess that this is the prime tier of thinking itself is right in line with the physicist who gave us the model of the atom, Neils Bohr.
Now, I have been writing quite a bit here lately about my rambles in DENMARK. And the Neils Bohr Institute visit in particular, for example, features in a strong, central way in the new book I am writing (more on that some other time). Mainly, I wanted to get back to Phnom Penh and find a different library, one that has textbooks and not just novels, so I foudn the ___ university on the second floor above a moto parking lot and went on in, and got to the physics section, which I already knew about because of some old research on Bohm and qualia, and discovered, quite happily, a biography of Neils Bohr.
The man who became so well-loved in Copenhagen that taxi drivers taking physicists invited to study there took no money for their clients when they heard the destination was the Neils Bohr Institute has given us, as Miller, a lot of meaty and comprehensive thought on our collective work in life to be the best humans we can. Like Miller, he gets easily irritated with people who profess to know things, absolutely. What I learned from being in Denmark, as the biographer also comments, is that one must suspend his conditioning that directs us to speak and act as though we are ‘correct.’
There is no quantum world. There’s only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics is what we can say about nature.
THIS is the cover. The cover always is the last part, in the book-making process here at DK.
The reason is you just don’t know until the very end what might become, what is going to become and how it becomes is the work of the creative process. You have to start somewhere, for sure, but where and how to begin the compositions… that is the question for physics experiment designers as well as those standing and looking, at the canvas, whole.
There comes a time when you write and you collage and you find out that something exists that isn’t even in the words or the image. It is the intention. And when that intention came out in such a way that it was 10 people’s shared work, the work of looking deeply, within, well, wow, we had magic. Even though I’ve never met some of the contributors to The Mirror 2014, there are the connections that were built from correspondence and more than that, attention. Because attention is the highest currency now, isn’t it?
I don’t have any idea, right now from this vantage, what the new collection will look like. Who’ll be part of it, what stories will be loosed? What will be the cover, what will be that new collection’s title, look & feel, and list of contributors and their stories’ names? It is a mystery, this. But the invitation is the first part. Setting the stage comes next. These things I learned from a different kind of artist—the musicians.
Playing pen, playing line, playing words, or playing notes. The compositions flourish most brilliantly, don’t they?, when they start from… what…?
THERE IS SOME WEIRD CHRISTMAS JAZZ going on lately in my internet radio streams. This is irritating.
I’m into internet radio; a long time ago it used to be TODAY FM from out of Ireland, because, well, I like that station. Nowadays it’s jazz stuff from Denmark, since I was just there sussing things out. Tokyo in the 1990s. Other places, in the middle, for similar musical investigations, though I couldn’t have called them such, it was just hanging out back then, but most clearly the one I recall for its energy was Small’s. In New York. Cycling ‘cross the Brooklyn Bridge late late late after a show there or elsewhere, maybe not a show, maybe it was the nightclub scene. (Limelight. Yeah. Yeah.)
We never really change
ANYWAY, way back then and suddenly very recently once more, I’m on a new search. Open ears, conscious of the importance of sensing as you go, and going, and looking, listening and learning. (The work at DK in the last few years has been all about making space for people to also get lost in the uncertainty, which is of course rather esoteric but many people like to talk about Heidegger and the Nothing and I think that they are the kinds of folks who, perhaps, might be inclined to want to hear a little more. So it goes, that you find your 0.02% of the world population, if you’re lucky, that ‘get’ you and you ‘get’ them. More about that in a second, when you hit the moment of intrigue.)
Listening and learning
PEOPLE I CONNECT WITH and I share this: we’ve been looking for some new inputs.
To come back to the world of music, I’m going to many places, and lots of clubs small and smaller to see what I can hear. Many times it’s a whiff, that’s just how it is, but every so often you discover something really incredible or run into true intrigue. It happens when it happens and there’s nothing you can really say or do to create the moments of, ‘Hey, wow. This is cool.’ I used to call it ‘the a-ha,’ because that’s what designers like to talk about.
‘Yeah! That! Thatthatthatthatthat!’
It’s like this could be their whole conversation.
Boxes and edges
YOU GET INTO a box, which is in and of itself a huge amount of fussing and overcoming of inertia of the variety that you can ask me to pontificate about, if you meet me in some whiskey bar sometime. (Or if you read S. P. A. C. E.)
You see the edges a little but then you get to working out more of the details of the dimensions and the textures and you see the limitations. Yet we all have to have frameworks to make sense of things, or to let go of the pressing urgency to ‘make sense of things,’ altogether.
Play space, in the box, leads to opening of dimensions that are sentient and close, and these are the ones that make us human. Yes, human. It used to be unfashionable to talk about our humanness, but now, with the obvious limitations on what turning ourselves into machines (workworkwork) can do to our health or distract us from looking closely within to hear our own hearts, the songs there!, and discover a purpose, well. We all know how that story is going.
REAL ARTISTS are doing stuff. They don’t have to go around posting things on Medium. They just know. And so, with the heart open and the eyes wide, I looked in the corners and upon the stages to find the songs that felt right, that made me feel good. It’s a collection. And it’s gonna be called, uh…. what should it be called? Oh, right. It’s the Book of Songs. ‘Cause it’s here at the edges where things mix and come into color that the magic of the moment comes alive. Isn’t art about connection? Conversation? Discovery and making it up as we go, tripping and learning and then, a-ha!? I am writing. I am going to write the best bits into the Book of Songs. —AS
‘N’ IS A CONVERSATION installation in which 16 people whose paths never would have cross will meet ONCE. It’s an international series, and in each city (which will necessarily contain an ‘N’), we have a theme that starts with ‘N’. The theme for ‘N’ Copenhagen is NEARNESS.
‘N’ IS A CONVERSATION installation in which 16 people whose paths never would have crossed will meet ONCE. It’s an international series, and in each city (which will necessarily contain an ‘N’), we have a theme that starts with ‘N’. The theme for ‘N’ Copenhagen is NEARNESS.
At the time of this writing, DK has delivered three of the 16 tickets to guests for ‘N’ Copenhagen: NEARNESS. It is an evolving and intricately woven story, one that is invitation-only and designed specifically to bring us together in a conversation space that will invite, surprisingly, deep connection in a short burst of time with relatively unknown people. I know, it sounds crazy. But so far ‘N’ has happened in Phnom Penh (NORMALITY) and Bangkok (NOW), and more is on the way.
THE COOL THING ABOUT ‘N’ BANGKOK was that, up until right before, and even after the start, I wasn’t sure if everyone would be there. That’s partly because a few of the guests I had just met, and one of them, earlier that day. It was a sort of a hunch: for true spontaneous invitation, for the real and authentic practice of our theme for BKK, which was NOW, I’d need to simply go to the city and discover the last four guests in person, in real time, on the spot, and even on the day of. Why not? Thank goodness for CM, who came in to do that short, lovely improvisational piece that wasn’t what, I think, he had intended, but whom, I think, enjoyed the playfulness of ‘N’ BKK: NOW. I, for sure, did.
Since we had a short series, and since ‘N’ is designed that way and can’t quite happen in the same configuration (exactly 16 people, exactly once per city) again, I thought, why not invite a few who want to keep talking to an afterparty? A free one. It was, it so happened, to be this place that I’d been thinking about using as a venue for ‘N’, but which was small, too small for our intentions, when I’d gone there in person to suss it out. So I thought, since I’d been there, and liked it, and it had that vibe for being fun, it might be cool to do a small get-together with whomever would like to be part of Part 2, which was informal and collage and bricolage live session, with me and a few others making pieces together and taping them up on the window. At jazZ happens! It’s such a nice spot, and if you’re in Bangkok, I recommend a visit. If you’re into this kind of thing. Local, low-key, off the touristic scene, and very youthful, really, what with the college right next to it.
That was fun.
There was a Part 3, too, that was a few of us peeling off from this spot, finding a spot to talk some more not far from there, where it was easier to sit and hear each other and keep the conversations flowing since there wasn’t a lot of noise. So that was, unexpectedly, a highlight of the event, which really wasn’t the event itself, which of course was also bright and had its own sparkle, because ‘N’ is made for that, it’s designed for the magic moment to happen within and it happened there, and people wanted to go to another one, in another city, but no. ‘N’ is just once for the people it’s for. And in the whole world, there will be 16N in 16 cities. And that means, just 256. A finite number. I’m working my way towards inviting them, slowly slowly slowly. It may take a decade before I get to the last one, ‘N’ New York. But I know what the theme will be.
And why New York? That is where I started.
T. S. Eliot: ‘The end of all our journeying will be to arrive at the place where we began, and to know it for the first time.’
Apart from RM‘s shop, I didn’t see any art. More about timelessness, when I start to make the invitations for ‘N’ NY.
‘NOW’ IS AS EPHEMERAL AS EVER. Am I doing what is important to me, making the most it? Can I at least help someone else to answer ‘yes’ to that question? And would it be okay to just relish in not being exhausted for a moment, now?
Editor’s note: This is a joint essay by guests who had attended ‘N’ in Bangkok in October, 2015. Images and words came from them, in response to our theme, ‘What is NOW?’
BUDDHISM AND CONSUMERISM are both trendy right now, if you really stop and think about it. But they also go against the idea of the ‘now.’ Some say one’s cool and the other’s nuts. But now can you be both, at the same time?
NOW: the idealist keyword for change and peace, but what is NOW for the capitalist? ‘How do we benefit now?’ The soldier asks: ‘how do I survive now?’ And if a meteor hits earth, NOW is gone. Poof, just like that. So what is now is simply none other than a belief in which one places weight, and considers, earnestly, to be truthful. Or?
NOW: accepting ‘that in which it is,’ and doing one’s best to balance the equilibrium.
There are so many kinds of weights pulling and shifting, in flux, constantly—but what is alive and felt, and perceived in the moment, what is heard—like that thing about the tree that falls in a wood without people around to hear, would it make a sound? Like that. What is going on, just immediately, in this NOW?
I THINK TIME is like a big rain cloud with infinite drops. The nowness is when it rains
the drops of time and we are aware of it. If we’re not aware that the time is falling, it is
impossible to catch up with time, and then there’ll be no concept of ‘now’ at all.
Everything will end up on the ground, in the past. All we’ll have then are documents, like snaps. Speaking of which, what is a photograph? Is it really a piece of frozen time? A preserved form of ‘here and now’? Or just the past haunting us? Coded, strange.
WHAT IF ‘NOW’ equals ‘happiness.’ Paying attention to your life, the creaks and groans of your own body, the taste of passionfruit, the sound of your son watching YouTube in the bedroom. A deep breath. You are alive. And this moment is all we have. Let it wash over you.
Is arriving at that awareness a kind of, what do they call it… enlightenment? Perhaps that’s too esoteric. But, is that it? The noticing of NOW, the framing of the urgency of the moment, is that what we’re here to achieve? I confess I’m not sure.
[Gosh, it’s cold in here with the aircon on full blast. Very annoyingly, some keys on my laptop have been broken by our kids, so sorry I went over the word limit. Maybe it’s because I am a bit hung over. Can’t think. :)… ]
STRIKES ME THAT ‘Now’ is the realm of feelings, where ‘Past’ is the realm of the facts, and ‘Future,’ of imaginations. No wonder I have a hard time living the now—being distracted by the future and the past can be an addictive, escapist habit.
Wait, what was the question? Constraining to 50 words is a good thinking exercise. I did a few of them. I guess I’ll go with the ‘abstract and asking existential questions’ one:
‘Now’ is as ephemeral as ever.
Am I doing what is important to me, making the most it?
Can I at least help someone else to answer ‘yes’ to that question?
And would it be okay to just relish in not being exhausted for a moment, now?
But also, a poem. Untitled, as of yet, but I might call it ‘is-ness.’
Now I am
Now I know, now I sense and feel
Yesterday I was
And yesterday is over for now
Tomorrow I will be
Tomorrow I don’t know
So I hold onto this moment of today
Opening myself up to the experiences of this day
To the awakening of my senses
And to the energies… of today
Of now … just as it is
Breathing in and out this is-ness
Know what? On my 30th birthday, I gave myself the below lessons:
live with consciousness
live for yourself and worry less
help others as much as you can
avoid what hurts you
live to work, not work to live
don’t waste too much time on negative people
‘no’ is a complete sentence
life is too short to wait, if you want to do anything, do it ‘now’.
THAT’S THE REPORT I’ve got for you. For now.
Next stop, London. Or Copenhagen. Or Hanoi. Depending on the people, and the dates that the guests of each will choose together. Let’s see what happens?
Tickets booked. Transportation sorted. Even a place to stay.
This is way, way different from other things I’ve been doing.
HOW IT WORKS. Guests for ‘N’ Bangkok all had to commit to a ticket BEFORE we picked a date. Then, we chose together. This process took a little bit of time. Of course it did. But you know what? It wasn’t about the actual event itself, or the ‘what am I gonna get out of it’ thinking that will block us all from exploration, and lateral thinking, and going outside the lines—the very stuff that systems thinkers say you HAVE to do if you want to find new ways to approach (and even, let’s be big picture about it, REDEFINE) the problems and difficulties and hardships that exist. If there’s a knot in something, you don’t have to just untangle that knot. You can look for places where the real stressors are, and then you can—
Before I turn this into a shout-out for the benefits of doing things you’d never do SO THAT you can DISCOVER new approaches, perspectives, people, and ideation methods, I will just say this.
OMW Bangkok, I can’t wait to meet you again. I’m so looking forward to the conversation about ‘NOW.’ It’s been really fun meeting so many people online ahead of ‘N’. I’ve learned so much about the way it’s very, very different from real life. I’m much better in real life, so it was hard! But I didn’t want ‘N’ to be about ‘packing it up,’ as much as about Open Space, in which ‘whoever comes is the right people’ is a major tenet. Did they WANT to come? This is something you have to pre-commit to, so that means, no deciding at the last minute, and for me, as host, no entertaining the kinds of people who just want to use everything as a networking/date-finding opportunity, or who are bored and come along at the last minute as a ‘favor’ to you. Blech. That’s not ‘N’ at all. ‘N’ is much much more than that. It’s why it’s so special to me, personally, and why it made magic, in my opinion!, on April 26, 2015 in Phnom Penh. No giant corporate sponsor, no beer company, no obligation to buy buy buy something from someone. Just conversation. Pure. It’s like inviting you to my house, but of course, I don’t have a house in Bangkok. But because I’ve laid quite a few ground rules and talked extensively with the venue, everyone knows that for the time frame I’ve booked for ‘N’, it IS kind of like my house. And I will welcome my guests as though they are my real houseguests. Remember when we used to have people over, and talk, and just enjoy the art of conversations? It’ll be like that, if you are old enough to recall a time when we didn’t leave things open without RSVP’ing ‘no,’ and we didn’t cancel on the fly. In my growing-up time, these things were considered ‘rude.’ Because it’s so normal now, and because I can’t stand that, I made ‘N’ to push back on the culture of maybe.
SEE YOU SOON, BKK ‘N’ GUESTS! Maybe we were talking online, for a while, or maybe we met once, or maybe we were there for a small moment of shared space. ‘N’ is designed space. ‘N’ is just for you. Thank you, to the 16 people who have trusted me to hold the space.
See you soon. Agenda to follow. I’ll email, of course, with that. —AS
Today a guest post from Phnom Penh-based innovation consultant Akira Morita. Akira is a founding member of Design Kompany’s creative collective.
IT WAS DURING my third Startup Weekend that I was a coach at, in Siem Reap, when I realized I had no idea what it was like to actually participate in this world of quickly assembling ideas and forging them into a clear, well-formed business pitch.
Then I thought: ‘that’s not right. I need to change this.’
Which is how I wound up entering an ‘idea competition’ with a group of Cambodian youths this summer.
THE INKLING. I had watched, coached or spoken at these [startup event and pitching session] things before (I don’t know why—because I was a ‘design thinker’ and a ‘consultant,’ maybe? Is this why people ask you to sign up for things like this?) Whatever the reason, I was always happy to be asked and said ‘yes’. But like I said, I had never personally participated in something that gets people together to quickly come up with an idea for a thing that’s cool (and is needed. And works).
The ASEAN Impact Challenge was a chance.
Deciding to ‘do it’
First a little bit about the contest we are still awaiting word about this week. (Fingers crossed!)
THE CHALLENGE. ASEAN Impact Challenge is an idea competition that gathers people from ten countries in Asia, to compete in coming up with an idea and pitching it. It has to be a social innovation that exists, or gets thunk up on the spot.
It’s organized by SCOPE Group, an ‘international impact consultancy,’ and it’s also supported by Malaysian Governmental agencies, too. It partners with other private companies and organizations (More: AseanImpactChallenge.org/About.php).
The teams of 5 people each have to go through an application process (dead simple and virtually everyone gets accepted), then undergo a full-day workshop on human centered design.
Our ideas get made into 3-minute pitch videos that explain the big idea, then those are submitted to the judges in Malaysia. (This is our status presently, awaiting word on our entry—this week.) Eventually, two teams from each country will be selected to compete live in Kuala Lumpur in November. Coaching. Incubation. (I think. The details of this event is best conjectured at, since the organizers are not necessarily forthcoming with exact details, probably because it’s their first time organizing it.)
Why did I do this? Same reason I do everything. Practice. Trying new things.
To practice ideating for real—with a team. I wanted to do more than side-line coaching with the youths here, to see if I can work with them and help them experience something that results in real growth.
How I found my Cambodian teammates
I ATTENDED AN ORIENTATION session in July, and asked around in a wildly open-format way for teammates. ‘If you are still not sure about what you’ll pitch, I’m looking for team mates.’
Two people came up to me afterwards: one ended up forming her own team, but the other turned out to be a perfect match for me. A recent graduate with a business degree, TT had experience with his family tailoring business that made him eager to help garment sector workers (his sister was one once, before she started her tailoring business.)
We brought in our mutual friends SL and ST, who had professional experiences in media and marketing, to help us.
We found the last member, another ST, later in our video making process.
‘CHAOTIC.’ The process turned out to be more chaotic than I’d imagined. I’d thought, ‘We have a whole month, surely it will be quite simple,’ but I didn’t account for just how busy these young people were. We could only meet in the evenings and on weekends, and two of them in particular had to travel all the time for their jobs.
We had to meet in parts to refine our idea, write and plan the video, then shoot footage and edit in a three-day sprint. Luckily, the video guy, SL, and marketing gal ST had participated in Startup Weekend before, so they were used to the pace, and could deliver on what we needed, which is a video that’s ‘good enough.’
IDEATION IN PRACTICE. Coming up with ideas in a group was the trickiest part for me. I had three idea generating sessions, twice in three and once with just TT, and by the time we came to the final idea it was almost mid-August.
I had wanted the process to be driven by the other team members as much as we could afford to, given the time constraints. I wanted to respect and nurture their creativity. But in the end, I was the one giving more ideas out, and encouraging the others to pitch their ideas in, and think beyond their initial idea was tough. In the end, I had to synthesize the various input I gained from the members into an idea that addressed the needs put forward by TT of creating livelihood for the rural youth, which everyone is happy about.
Once the idea in place, going through a CANVAS process and making sure the idea holds up, and storyboarding the video and planning the shoot, were pretty straightforward, if not necessarily the most FUN part of the process for everyone. I led these efforts and the team participated as they could. We all worked hard to meet the deadline, and I’m very much pleased with the result:
Lots to say about this. But for now, I’m thinking about how my growth was in learning just how complicated a group collaboration could be, and at the same time, how much fun it is. I was lucky to have such open and friendly team mates and for me the biggest challenge was to forget my default role as a leader, and enjoy the experience fully! —AM