‘Epistemology.’ [The branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity.]
‘Do you know what that is, DK?’
‘Well we should have coffee sometime. What you’re saying is very interesting. I’d like to continue.’
‘Well. I’m not doing coffee dates these days. I get tired of all the admin that comes with setting them up and moving them around. I like hosting stuff where you just combine everybody, now. Or trying to get a really intriguing discussion going, like a salon. Did that in India, a six-part series, talking about modernity and change in Sikkim… Beautiful place, have you been? Hm? Oh, Gangtok. Really great. Oh! I also really liked taking about the creative process in a thing called ‘MAKE.’ What? Yeah. I do. I really do. I like titling things. Concept art is that, really. You set it all up before hand and the art happens when it starts… you let it just play.’
‘But yeah. Salons. Fun. Plus, placing people together in a highly designed space, S P A C E, I call it now, is, um, waaaay more interesting to me. To share and connect across well, chords of a circle, in a way. Hm? Chords? Sure, I can explain. Like this, wait. Let me show you.’
[Takes out sketchbook and a black pen. Draw this:]
‘See? Isn’t that more interesting, now, than just one li’l ol’ chord, on its own?… I really prefer the relational aesthetics, to just this thing. I kinda talk about it a lot more on my website. But yeah. Chords. Remember geometry in tenth grade? Wait, here. Where’s my red pen… Oh, there. Okay, I’m ready:’
[Nervously] ‘Uhhh… Well I was thinking just coffee.’
‘Coffee dates with me tend to go on for two or four hours. Not even kidding. And with some people, 10 hours. And….’ [Smiling] ‘… once, for like, twenty days. Two years ago? That was fabulous, rare, beautiful, artful, insight-making, maturifying, two years on… even better. And we’re still talking. We talk like hell. It’s weird. I love it. But yeah. And I’m trying to get a new venture started, right now. A magazine called S P A C E. So, no? Besides, we just met.’
[Hurt] ‘But… but… I don’t get to have conversations like this ! You’re making me think. About things. In new ways. I can’t talk like this with my best friend, or my wife, or my colleagues. I really want more of this… Can we? Aren’t I just amazing? Besides, I’d like to get to know you better. Personally.’
‘Um. Well I only have a little time. So I could meet for coffee.’
[Ad-lib. Repeating the part about events and mailing lists. Elaborates on why. Goes into depth about the meaning of social spacemaking] ‘…. whatever remains after a set of ‘get to know you’ seasons, I like to make something. With them. S P A C E is the thing I’m interested in. S P A C E quests S P A C E…’ [Smiling]
‘Well. That sounds hard and time-consuming.‘
[Stubbornly] ‘Nothing worth doing should be an instant gratification. If quality is important, I mean. To me. To me, it’s like this: Art. Takes. Time.’
‘Are your parents Marxists?’
This is part of a series, 100 conversations. Underwritten by members of S P A C E.
Meet new people. Make a zine. Share the journey of the creative process over this unique, once-off weekend conversation salon cum real life workshop. We’ll meet three times over the 3-day weekend workshop. Date, time, and place to be shared with those who are selected to take part. We’ll add the final works to our S P A C E || Cambodia collection, which has featured at the Singapore Writers Festival and the Georgetown Readers and Writers Festival, in 2017. Discover more when you apply. Apply here.
A DAY AGO, I sent an email invitation to a handful of people in: Seattle, Durham NC, and the place that I affectionally call ‘The Road.’
What kind of invitation? To join me for an online salon in October called ‘Philosophy of the Moment.’ I’ll tell you about that more in a second. But the feeling is this. So many people. So much time. So many places. And so many great conversations. What if I could find a way to wrap us all into one space, to talk together about ideas and things that have popped up, from these, that we would all find curious? Or maybe handfuls of us would? And if that could happen, what might we learn, together? What could we make, too, if things got really interesting? An anthology, perhaps? Like The Mirror, in 2014? Something in print? What about zines? What about, what about? And that’s how I got excited about it. The starting of the thing–an interactive forum-salon, in protected-page posts, that is S P A C E.
LET ME ELABORATE.
Those places I met the people I invited? They’re from certain bases, of my past life in different parts of the world. Presently I’ve been thinking hard about such ideas as bases, because… well… it’s al long story, and one that I’m not totally sure I want to put here in the public space, but one in which a few of us explored quite nicely, in a 2016 writing salon called, ‘Home & Away.’ That was the first-ever forum-space. Some people really dug it. Some people left. But you have to take chances on things if you want to see innovations. And I like risk taking, if you know me you know that, but some of the time, I take much smaller steps than I wish I could. Writingwise and art wise, though, it’s much easier for me to take big jaunts out into the unexplored territories because, unlike most stuff, with writing and art I feel like I’ve had a lot of time and space to really practice. To get past my own qualms about, ‘Is this good enough?’ F yeah, it is. So go for it. So I do. I make S P A C E into salons, I do that because I like to correspond. I write a lot. Maybe too much. Maybe too often, certainly, too long at a time. This one, this [post] is long. I’m writing the extra bits in, I’m seeing that pargraphslong texts can be daunting, but… that the people I connect with best read. They read, to the end. And you know what else? They check links. AM and CW were among our very first clients in Seattle. (Hi, guys!) I still remember when they came to the office, that was my first one that I had ever rented, committing cold, hard cash to a thing as nebulous as ‘rent,’ because of a promise of it leading to ‘possibilities,’ which you know of course, it did. Big ones. Manyfolded. And at our meeting, I had said, you know, my blog has lots of long, long posts, that people don’t read. AM had countered, ‘I read. I read everything.’ And you know what? Most of the people I really like in life, they read. They read everything. The whole checking links thing was part of a post that used to be on this blog, about the Seattle-based DIY indie fair, ‘Urban Craft Uprising.’ I went to that not knowing what the hell to expect but finding
myself surrounded by a very specific type of person and writing a post called ‘Psychographics.’ In which I had quoted CJ, whom I’d met a the art gallery OKOK and run into again at UCU and he, there, upon hearing my comment, had said, ‘Yeah, yeah. These are very specific people all right. They’re the people that check links.’ Check links! Wow. Well, okay then. Let’s let that be a thing. ‘Kay, cool. Lessons learned: My favorite people, who are DK’s community and network and clientele and collaborators and friends, read til the end, read everything, and check links.
From out of left field
I GOT QUOTED ONCE, on study abroad, in the back of the ‘yearbook’ for saying something that, my goodness, my hero N. Bohr might have enjoyed hearing me say. I said, ‘I don’t make statements. I just say things.’ See? Statements imply you know something. But Bohr, good man himself, said: ‘The opposite of a profound truth may be another profound truth.’ The friends that I had in those days didn’t give two shites about quantum theory, or possibilities, or new angles, or the potentiality of multiverses and suchmuch. They just wanted jobs. Jobs! My jobs almost always turned into departments of philosophy. I can tell you some stories, but I’ll spare you. Because: Ichiro.
Instead of trying to ‘figure things out,’ or hit a homer for every single damn thing you try to do, the way that they tell you when you’re younger you need to, if you grow up in a country where I grew up, because success looks like a major league baseball game where all the lights are on full blast in midsummer and the crowds are loud. You go there and you watch and you see the big show. Casey at Bat notwithstanding, you go. You hit homers, if you’re good. That’s the thing. But me? I’m changing. I’m interested in other ways to do it, to show up for my own at-bat… Yeah. Show up like…
Yeah. I’ll rev up like Ichiro, try to make a poetic thing happen by just stilling into the moment. Show up for the on-deck circle, then head up to the plate. Batter up. A single to right field works for me, these days: no need to get high and mighty, trying to be Cecil Fielder, or anything like that. Work is getting around the bases. Work is making your way to home plate.
Arriving at home
Work is the work it takes to score the runs that earn the points for the team. Collaboratively. This. This is the new thing. Showing up, but also, being aware of the strengths of the rest of the team. And our team is pretty wide-ranging, now that I look at the whole picture. Some fascinating people have come through DK’s doors.
Things moved into cojournaling spaces, and now, we have the interactive magazine, S P A C E. And print zines, too. Lots, and lots, in other words: but the philosophy thread remains consistent. It’s where we are most intrigued. Exploring together the art of the conversation that gets us all thinking more critically and with an eye towards making our own lives more pleasurable. I read somewhere once that is the definition of philosophy. Then SY told me about Epicurus… And more to say, one day, about that. (But if you’re curious, read this fabulous poem that S had introduced me to, ‘Oriah’s invitation.’)
Clients, interns, part-time collaborators, commissioned artists, and more. I’m really lucky to have had that chance to make and share, and to work things out, in a way that’s evolved, these last, oh, I don’t know, what’s 2018-2005… okay… so, that’s what, 13 years. Thirteen years freelance studio-ing up at DK. I think we’ve learned where our strengths are: we have good pitchers, that’s pretty much the secret sauce around here. Pitchers who have a clear awareness of the simple but important fact that every at-bat is its own thing. That each batter up is her own ball of questions, struggles, philosophies, psychologies, temperaments, and triumphs. All of us are playing baseball, really. Just that, sometimes, it goes the way you think it would, like it’s a Cubs game from the 1990s, and you’re just watching them go through the motions. I can hear Harry Carey in my head saying it, ‘We’re just playing 1-2-3 baseball, here,’ and then, later, if things go his way, ‘Cubs win! Cubs win!‘ But the game is different, here. A wider field: the one that takes up the entire surface area of the globe. We’re going to play, now. A big game of giant rounding-around-the-bases. Batter up. And here’s the pitch…
Introducing ‘Philosophy of the Moment’
NOW THAT DK have been based in Asia, more or less, for the past four years, we’re using this angle on the way the world seems to have shifted to gather people in online forums and talk, together, about what to do to make stuff better. I know that sounds really heady, and lofty, but the truth is, that if we can make our own lives more clear to ourselves, and understand our own contributions to ‘the world,’ and I’m not talking about in a way that’s corny, cheesy, or ‘do-gooder-y,’ like toooooo many people [from abroad] come to Cambodia every single season (and last, if they’re lucky, three months to do… well, let’s see, what I’m really saying is… the stage is pretty giant, the stories myriad and numerous. Influenced by the new perspectives of having been, by sheer osmosis and inertia, in one place for so long (one year in motion in South and Southeast Asia, followed by four years at the time of this writing, in Phnom Penh, with the occasional excursions to Northern Europe–Sweden, Denmark, and [this summer in] Finland, and I’m not sure which spot is next but I’m going back, sometime, I can’t help it, the palette is what draws me, mostly, but more than that, the quiet spaces, but that’s a different story). And yeah. I’m ready. To share the conversations more widely: there are so many intriguing people whose paths have crossed with mine in these last five years, (the four here in Cambodia, and the one before that, on the road, in search of ‘uncertainty,’ or the practice thereof, long story, very esoteric, landed in no fashionable bullet-point list of outcomes, just lots and lots of e-correspondence in the time since with people all around the world whose ideas are still intriguing to me, people who have taught me very much, and people whom I’m really excited to interconnect, though S P A C E. More and more, lately. But in very small circles. Invite-only, kind of, since the end of the last registration period. That was for ‘Slow Moment.’ This time, it’s just a small circle of us probably who’ll join in to POTM. We’ll dive into philosophy. Of the moment. Ergo, ‘Phil. of the Moment.’ Like that?
Mm-hm. So okay. What is it? Philosophy of the Moment is a four-week side conversation online, nested in our ongoing interactive salons happening concurrently in our forum, S P A C E. We are going to spend some time over four weeks in
October talking together specifically about ‘Philosophy of the Moment.’ It’s open format. Four rules of Open Space: the people who come are the right people, it starts when it starts, ends when it ends, and the things that happened are the only things that could have happened. In other words, give yourself a break when hosting an Open Space because it’s about framing the thing and letting the jam just happen. As jazZ happens in Bangkok put it on email to me before we made ‘The Book of Blue’ together there, ‘Let’s let it roll.’
The people who come will be the right people. We’ll explore creative writing tips from experts whose advice has gotten us places. Collectively, sharing what we know from individual experience. Just like in our real life salons, like, for example, this one. We’re going to make things, too. A short anthology. This project is for people whose paths DK has crossed in recent months, whose writing and ideas have inspired, and intrigued us. We want to make a ‘room’ in a virtual space (that would be a protected page on this blog, with comment threads, and a password to get in), so that we can send weekly prompts to get us talking together, to get us learning together, too. From each other. I said that already, didn’t I. Guess it matters a lot to me: listening to one another, hearing each other’s voices and perspectives, being open to the possibility of being changed by what you hear. And all in a flat hierarchy. In which every. Voice. Counts.
‘The secret is to just begin’ –As told to DK by A. at AOTZ
MAKING SOMETHING through art or writing is one goal, but learning together is the main objective. Experiential publishing, this.
This is our method pre-start, this month:
Invite guests to take part. Make sure they are from a wide range of backgrounds, geogrphic locations, past experiences, and philosophies on life.
Ask people if they want to commit time to this project. Make sure they do have the bandwidth to do so.
Be interested in other people, and check through the application process if the guestlist also is so inclined.
Know that we are all going through this as if on a journey, together. That the outcome will be less important than the process of learning as we go. Being open to the veering and changing is hugely important, and we must communicate that up front: this is a journey we’re going to largely improvise, as we go. Are you cool with that? Then let’s begin.
Begin. Gather people to register before 8 October. Start on that date. Continue through the end of October. See what material has come together and. where we could push the envelope and see what kind of meaningful story or narrative or poetry or art we could fold into a short book. The anthology could be a collected work that becomes a digital book (if material is sparse) or a printed one. We’re in conversations with a book designer in Singapore about this, and we are quite serious.
Sample questions to get started: Travelers and artists, romantics and poets all know about the difference between time that is spent and time that is well spent. Kairos and chronos time, the shifting edge from one to another. Can we focus and look at these questions: when is it good, what makes it great? How do you know when to change things up?
With everything I make, I want people to relax. To feel air, space and comfort. Philosophy: the pursuit of making life more pleasurable through considering it from various angles. Let’s try this. (More about POTM is at this page.)
Let’s converse? Let’s play. Curious? Ask me anything. Leave a review. Comments are open. Say hi?
A party. A popup art installation. A conversation, or a set of them, in something we like to call S P A C E. This time, DK and friends are gathering for an informal party to share with new guests the feeling of going into the unknown, looking around, finding a story, and sharing it out. We’re celebrating zines and zine culture.
We’re connecting with people we know already, and inviting new acquaintances to join us. DK makes Connecting and interconnecting you. A remarkable, once-off event lies ahead–the question is, will you experience it? Take the S P A C E challenge. Meet us in real life for a special event like no other on the 2F of FEEKA. Explore, experience, connect, and discover. That’s what we’re doing, at 15 September’s party ‘Art of the Z I N E.’
Zines. Conversation. Real life.
Art of the Z I N E
A popup art installation
“ZINES” adalah koleksi artikel pendek yang disebarkan dengan quantiti yang kecil. Dalam era dimana berita internet yang boleh mengelirukan dan tidak benar #fakenews, “Zines” boleh membawa gambar dan kata-kata yang benar dan tidak ditapis. “Zines” juga membolehkan kita menyampaikan pendapat dan cerita antara satu sama lain.
Zines. Conversation. Real life. In an age where the internet can confuse and lie to us, ‘zines’ (xeroxed short publications we make ourselves and give our friends) give us a tangible grip on the *here and now*, and remind us that at the end of the day, *we* get to create and write our own stories: the stories of our lives, the stories that remind us who we are. Eat. Drink, and relax with us and others interested in zines, zine culture, DIY publishing, meeting new people, and trying new things. Hosted by artist Dipika Kohli, Design Kompany.
FEEKA Coffee Roasters
19 Jalan Mesui
Kuala Lumpur 50200
This event will be hosted by our founder and creative director, Dipika Kohli. She is an author and artist. She was an editor for newspapers in southwest Ireland and in Seattle, WA USA. Dipika was a speaker at TEDx (watch) and a guest author interviewed live on NPR (listen). Lately, she’s hosting Atelier S P A C E to bring people who love to write, talk together, and learn new things into conversation salons and workshops in which they can co-create short, 8-page zines. Discover the collection, S P A C E, at http://designkompany.com/space-the-zine.
** Special thanks to KJoe Wong for his help on the Malay descriptions. Also to Alex Anthony at Feeka for co-hosting Atelier S P A C E | KL events with us.
Not sure why, but it sure seemed to come up a lot in conversations. And maybe that’s why the next word I learned was ‘maybe.’ Things are always, it seems, in a kind of flux. You just have no idea what’s going to happen. You live in a countryside town, and you’re a farmer, say, and the things that evolve in the day have nothing to do with what you might have imagined, at the start of it. Staying flexible and being open to things suddenly veering is part of the everyday mindset. It’s actually kind of beautiful: you let things happen, you don’t go in there with an agenda and a list of things ‘to do.’ Summer in Finland and these things became clearer and less intense; the idea that you have to ‘produce’ is somehow out the window. For better or worse. Some of the new people I had met told me how they feel like it’s a bit of a drag, sometimes, like not having ambition could be a way you perceive this lack of momentum or the lack of some kind of urge to ‘do something.’ Thinking about things sometimes substitutes for doing things, as I learned, on my last night, talking away to the last person of the series of many, many chance encounters that informed the conversations that led to the knitting together of a new narrative. I’ll tell you more about that, tomorrow.
Meantime, let me get the final edits done.
There are a lot of people I wish to acknowledge, people who contributed to the making of this series, and I had first mentioned them at this page. Doesn’t hurt to underscore my gratitude, I think, by sharing again. So here we go. Many warm thanks for the great conversations to: Eveliina Karsikas, Asta Sinerva, Sirpa Heikura, Simo-Sakari Niemelä, Fırat Taşdemir, Johan Engström, Maria Raasakka, Sanna Upola, Rastislav Somora, Seo Jin Ahn, Ana-Maria Ovadiuc, Charles Tirkey, Saarah Choudhury, Benjamin Nwaneampeh, Joanna Ohenoja, Paavo Heinonen, Reijo Valta, Eero Österberg, and Merja Vedenjuoksu.
AT A CAFE. In between meetings. Next to me there are two people in good conversation, in English, but occasionally Japanese. This is my other language. I am resisting, it is hard, the urge to say something to them. I have this weird and occasionally surprising knack for chatting up strangers and somehow, making solid acquaintanceships in a very compact space of time. Why this is probably has everything to do with the charm of my father, which I think has a lot to do with finding the silliness in the everyday moment (at least, when my mother allows it). Rest of the time they are both pretty serious, or pretending to be. When I think back on the most extraordinary and fulfilling times with my folks, I always feel like we were in transit somewhere, far from the social programmes and mores of the places and communities in which we were rooted. Movement became the kind of thing that set the stage for engaging. Deeply. Curious and different others were somehow very attractive; sometimes my mother would hold back and let my father fly into his own world of talking away to people he didn’t know about topics ranging from thermodynamics and entropy to the kinds of things that one talks about in the middle of a trip from Away to Home, whatever those things were. I don’t know. I would just be hanging out playing cards or something with my little brother; the topics and their content were irrelevant. What mattered was the people who were there, smiling with my father, smiling away. Being in real life. Being in the throes of it. Being noticed. Noticing. For a moment, the shared space. Which nowadays I design for in my own world, making architecture of social spaces, and remarkable human connexion, in the thing that happens online and in real life in the project that since 2016 I’m calling S P A C E. It’s nerdy. I know. So? I like that. And the mentor for this was, of course, my dad. I still remember my father trading postal addresses in the 1980s with total strangers he’d chatted up at, say, Frankfurt Airport, on our way to and fro. My mother would kind of be like, ‘What the hell?’ But, I wish she could have just noticed it. My father likes the new and different. is curious. Is open to trying new things. That is the spirit of innovation, really, isn’t it? Going to the edge, and past it, and exploring to the next-to-now. It’s actually quite in-demand, now. This business of being open to the new. It’s called ‘innovation consulting.’ You go around the world a few times and you start to find ways to make your skills work for you in weird and curious ways. Be open. Say yes. Show up. Try new things. You just have no idea where the next gig is coming from. Just around the corner, you’ll find it, if you’re open to it. The gems. Staying put is boring, for the likes of people like me. (Dad, are you reading this? I think you should go on a trip sometime, maybe with me, maybe with Mom, but really. Trips are where we flourish.)
Starting all over
KEEPING THINGS IN CHECK, maybe, by not getting too carried away with being too joie de vivre-y. Sure. This is more normal, I suppose. I guess that is just a self-limiting thing. You have to do what you have to do in order to maintain a kind of decorum, ‘in the eyes of society,’ Words of the pragmatists, who used to be friends, who have been slowly but confidently let to drift on a long, loose line and not quite cut from my current life but, well, yeah, I guess more or less cut.
Here’s the thing. Caring about what society thinks… you think that you have to. But what if you don’t? What if you don’t have to worry about that? What if what other people thought about you, and what you say, and what you do, and how you do it, and even more importantly, what if you yourself stopped caring about your image, what your words are perceived to be (by you perceiving the predicted perception—you see how this is a little unwieldy?), what you do, and how you do it? What if, what I’m saying is this, now, what if who cares what the reaction is to your self-driven initiative to go out into the world and see what’s there?
What I’m saying is, ‘What if you could just be yourself, the real you, the honest you, the totally unedited version of you. The one you were when you were, like, 8.’ What if? Would you find it easier to chat up strangers? Or, would you come to the realization that it’s not even that important-–the most important thing is knowing what you care about.
You don’t have to pretend like you are some kind of a big deal just because you can get into a conversation with anyone. Even E., on a crosswalk yesterday, on her way from Sydney to England via everywhere that she wants to go in between. (Hi, E.! Yes, I was listening).
Making friends in the cafe.
Making friends on the bus.
Making friends in the…. crosswalk.
I love that.
Let’s keep it going. Let’s keep the conversations in flow.
Let’s chat up the strangers. But not now, not today. Today I’ve got to finish some books.
Here’s to the journeys, the new, the near, the now, and the next.
OMG. I couldn’t help it. Chatted. They are so nice!
CHECKING IN. Catching up. Conversing. In real life, on voice, through the space that is the forum ‘Slow Moment,’ and, in this odd but one:many way, through the blog. It was 2006 when the blog began; I remember. I had been to Gnomedex, a bloggers’ conference (HT CP), and while everyone else was on laptops typing and talking on twitter, I think, (‘this is the backchannel conversation,’ someone informed me, educating me on this digital stuff like no one had at my newsroom), I was there with an old-fashioned reporter’s notebook and a pencil. The notebooks had been in the closet in the storeroom at work. Work was a newspaper. A daily. I went daily, to write things. But the things that we were writing had, I saw fully and clearly, no relevance or bearing on this other group of people. The people who were writing what was going on now. In new ways. Ways that I hadn’t been even remotely aware of. Those of you reading who are digital natives, be forgiving. I am ill-adapted to the modern modes of communication, sorry.
FOR THE FIRST TIME, probably in a long time, instead of a long ramble, I’m going to tell you a story. About the time I met L.
The reason I want to bring this up is manyfold, but begins and ends, I think, in Kuala Lumpur. Which is where I have just returned to, and where I keep popping in, it seems, for two- or three-month blocks. Looking for the story, is what I had said, before. But it’s more than that. It’s looking for the life.
‘It’s not that I want to make a living from these zines,’ I had said, at that tea place with many shelves of carefully arranged books on feminism, cooking, and LGBTQ features. ‘I want to make these zines live. And you need to have great stories for that to work. To really work, I mean.’ What was I talking about? The dream quality was there, that day. You know that one, right? When time slows, almost stops. You notice this kind of thing, especially when you are alone, on the road, waiting for tea, waiting for the rain. Looking at the bookshelves, but only kind of. Most jacket spines were writ in Chinese.
So in the end, I was reading nothing at all, for once, instead writing in my head, writing blank columns into the aetherspace of just-zoning-out. Same like the moment I chose to amble up those stairs (unmarked, curious, vaguely intriguing), and into the cafe-cum-bookshop’s front atelier. But I peeked over the edges of uncomfortable-looking but perfectly-colored red sofas. Of course I did. Was there a backroom?
It had a large window that looked out onto a balcony. Floor to ceiling windows. I love those. I followed the sightline.
That’s when I saw her. L.
Her things arranged meticulously around her, but I could tell, for a long time, she wasn’t paying attention to those bits. Paper, a laptop, some cords, some phone stuff, maybe a few more electronic things that I couldn’t identify, really, because I’m out of touch with that kind of thing. I stick to paper, still, believe it or not. Pencil, paper, scissors, glue.
She was elsewhere. In the just-beyond, in a way, at least, that’s how it seemed, to me, on that afternoon with a soft rain, not the monsoon, but the lighter kind, about to fall.
‘Ever since I met you,’ she would say in not that much time, ‘which was ten minutes ago, I feel like I could really… connect.’
Enter the heart of S P A C E.
AS IT IS WITH BEGINNINGS, it is, too, with the middles, I think, of the space that is shaped when we go around the bend, see what might be there, and begin to go quiet into the space of just-being. Maybe a couple of minutes passed, maybe a few hours. I can’t be sure. I’ll never be sure. She was there, and I was there, and we talked at length about many, many things related to, hey, feminism, and showing up, and real life, and circumstances, and how things change, and where we are, and, of course, uncertainty. My beat. I write about this, I talk about this, I calculate nothing really, anymore. The second law of thermodynamics was how it all began, in a summer classroom half a world away, sitting there, Mann Hall, N. C. State. Was that where? It was. A summer of learning how things flow, where turbulence arises, how entropy works (or how we think it does), what professors can do with a constricted schedule that blocks classes into longer hour-periods, instead of longer weekly semesters. Summer and then. But… I’m getting nostalgic for another time; that won’t do. That is a distraction. That takes away from here, hijacking the moment. This moment. Now. (Not to get distracted further, but um. The future. Ask me sometime about an upcoming salon, ‘Kandinsky’s Window,’ which is about the viewfinder of the street window, and the life that’s just beyond… ask me sometime about the book Point and Line to Plane, too. I’m always more than happy to talk non-Euclidean or multidimensional bric-a-brac in the forum-space, ‘Strange Geometries.’) But first, let me quickly recount the short, real conversation that happened when I met someone who reminded me in every way of the people I love discovering, on the road, in the moment, away from everything, because they have that expressiveness in the eye that says, ‘Well, hello, who are you?’ But she said—
And I said–
(Things start so simply, don’t they?)
Geometries and strangenesses, the ever-changing shape of space. Is L. in Kuala Lumpur? Will we meet again? I don’t know. I can’t know. Nothing is for sure. (Remember, uncertainty is my beat.)
‘There is so much bad art in the world.’
‘Yes. Yes there is.’
What’s good? What’s quality? Where can we go to find it? We can seek theories in books, or write essays that philosophize about these big questions. But we can also go into the quiet space. The in-betweens—where, I’m finding, at least for me, things like ‘good’ and ‘quality’ and ‘beauty’ and, yes, I’ll say it, ‘magic,’ exist and co-exist. Here in the edge-finding rooms where we go, now, me and the people I write and talk deeply with, at length, in conversation salons or put-together-in-this-now gatherings that may be impromptu, spontaneous, planned or unplanned, well, here is where we are headed. The magic moment. I know, I know. You want me to spell things out. ‘Make it clear, DK, what this is and why it will make my life better.’ Well, truth is, I can’t do that. I can only show you what I feel when I feel the magic moment happening to begin. It’s really… um. It’s… well. It’s personal. I can’t share that kind of thing in the public blog space, which is why I resort to protected-page forums.
In which there is… well. Sharing. Conversation. Connection and interconnection. One designful moment at a time. I can’t really begin to describe all the magical things that happened when people connected across S P A C E here and there, like in The Mirror in the early part of the year, and currently, we’re going to be finishing something soon called Slow Moment. I’m humbled and grateful for the chance connections that have led to new thinking, new input, new… feelings. It’s where the world of imagination and heart can take us: it’s where we can begin to slow down, let go of our inhibitions, disclose things that might feel very hard to open up about, and, in this way, build new shoots and germinate anew.
On the bus on the way from Helsinki city center to Vantaa for the airport, I met someone from my part of the world. With my very accent. My style of speech. My idioms, my cultural references, my diction, my slang. But: we did not relate. I couldn’t. There wasn’t the same quality of space there that there had been elsewhere. Just because we share the same passport doesn’t make us familiar. What makes us familiar is the intricate and curious longing to go somewhere else, to seek, to quest, to discover. And not make it into a big deal: to just go.
The magic of now
LATELY, I’ve revised my thoughts about what ‘art’ is. Dislcaimer: I spent like ten minutes in art school, this was in Brooklyn, this was a zillion years ago, and I’ve been pushing around in the world, ever since, I think, trying to feel it instead of think about it. In moments, it arrives: that feeling. The one that says, ‘This. This is art.’ I’ll tell you more about that in a second. But first, what is not. (To me. Everything is relative, after all.)
It’s not a book or a novel or a painting or a YouTube video. It’s not a song or a worked-over collage that no one will ever see. It’s not the words in the diaries that someone who wrote them wonders if their great-grandchildren will read and somehow recall them, or at least, know a hint of a whisper of their having-been. No. Art is closer to us than any of those things. Art happens, to me, in the quiet stillness, in the noticing of: being here now.
Which happens at a specific kind of moment.
The moment of something that has turned, somehow, into a kind of novelty. A real life meeting, eye to eye.
These days, to me, the making of art isn’t the accruing of ‘stuff.’
DK and friends are traveling Asia in autumn 2018 and looking to gather new acquaintances in real life in popup conversation salons. These are together themed ‘Arts & Letters’ and the ‘Arts & Letters Society’ welcomes new input, new and different perspectives, and new thinking wherever it goes. See some pics at our instagram.
Starting in Kuala Lumpur and continuing through to Siem Reap and elsewhere, DK’s project is about architecting instances in which people who might not have otherwise have met (but somehow have discovered DK) can connect in real life and perhaps learn something new.
WHAT IS IT? Is it art? Is it a meetup? Is it a gathering for like-minded people? No, it’s none of those things: it’s a space in which art can *happen*, to us, because for us art is *showing up* and also, *noticing* each other. It’s not a typical meetup, in taht we aren’t gathering for an activity (hiking, kayaking, etc), but are really just looking to make a space for setting a time apart from our day-to-day routines. And when it comes to like-mindedness, well, we don’t think that’s very intereting at all. More to point, we are seeking the new and different. Exploring towards that which we don’t know, and inviting you, whom we haven’t met, to be a part of this journey. Is it philosophy? Maybe that’s the closest…. A philosophy of the moment, a moment in which new and different others can discover one another in real life for, voila, remarkable connection.
KINDLY RSVP. This kind of programme to connect with very new people in new ways is, of course, not for everyone. But if it sounds like your cup of tea, we are interested in conecting with you. We have spots for 8 in each session. Sessions will happen on the first Tuesday of the month through the end of the year. Locations will shift. There is a small fee of USD $7 to participate, and we are taking advance bookings only. This way, we can plan to be somewhere and show up for the event knowing who is coming and how to best host. Register on this page to confirm your spot.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON we hosted Arts & Letters Society at the cafe of the National Museum here in Kuala Lumpur.
Have moved over to Southeast Asia for the autumn tour to make more zines, meet more people, find new stories, and co-create works of creative nonfiction. (If that sounds like a tall order, well, maybe it is. But we’re on for the challenge.)
Why host popup salons?
I HAD GROWN tired of the usual meet ups around the places where I was living in the past. Seattle for tech events. Durham NC for the feelgood community spaces where, you know if I’m really honest, I never felt like I could be part of because me being me, I had one foot always ready to jump out the door and exit the country. See things. Go places. Meet people. Discover. Why? Because… the new. Searching and drifting, looking and listening. Managing to do this, somehow, in a wobbly way at first (2013 was difficult), but then, with growing confidence, and practice, and, hey, people who were interested in the same, and co-creating, and then, amplifying our work together because we’re moving in the same vein. Let’s do this, I’d say. Let’s play.
An art of the moment
HAVING BEEN AT IT making Atelier S P A C E for a year now (pics on instagram, zines in our store), we’re getting more practice at the ‘how’ of designing the spaces in which new and different others can find remarkable moments of connection. It’s very airy, I guess, to say it that way, but what it really looks and feels like is a cozy, fun, light and casual conversation party, and, when it’s good, you’ll see ridiculously deep moments of insightful breakthrough that occurs when we are talking together. This happens between, and this bit is important, because this is what makes it S P A C E and not a general meet up, it’s between people who haven’t ever met.
Shifting and growing.. Moving and changing. The art of noticing. The art of paying attention. Less talking. More ambient being-together. Not over-intellectualizing. Calming down. These are the shifts, of late. This fall there will be more of them, I’m convinced. But what, exactly, and how, are still open to discover. If there’s anything I learned from Finland, it’s this: we are where we are, right now, at the moment.
Everything ahead ‘depends.’ Katsotaan, ‘let’s see.’ You don’t have to know everything up front and have it all pre-defined, agendas outlined, bullet-point lists typed up to distribute.
The old style of DK (‘let’s get to the point, and make it snappy’) is morphing a little into a mellower, kinder new one (‘let’s play’). Why? We were always more about the play side of things, I think. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of that because DK turned into ‘a business,’ or ‘work,’ or ‘a consulting boutique,’ or, um.
What would you call it… ‘A job.’ A job? A job? WTF. DK is never a job. DK is DK because it’s a space for play, exploring, experimentation, discovery, co-creation, shifts, drifts, meanders, and the rest. I don’t want DK to look or feel like a job. So I’m writing this blog again, first-person, directly.
I hope you can enjoy with me the new stuff. Which, honestly, has been about stripping all the facades and getting back to exactly where I started, in 2005, right here. Blogging every day, from DK World HQ in Capitol Hill, Seattle. Telling whomever might find it interesting what my personal opinions were, back then. Embarrassing, really, when I think about it. But if it wasn’t for the blog I never would have found people like Seattle-based CE, or Durham NC’s JM, whose mentorship and patronage gave DK the boost it needed in those days to continue to evolve, to develop new programmes, and to test out some of the things that we had no idea about. I’m writing this as if it’s a big moment of reflection or some kind of wild milestone, or something, and it’s just… not that, but it… feels really good to go back to the original DK. Where we just played. A lot. Almost every day.
In real life with people we liked, going to the parlors and bars and cafes and parks and museums and theaters and otherwise ‘third places’ and designing S P A C E. Who remembers the party ‘Dazzle?’ Or ‘Sugar?’ Or ‘Pop?’ I still remember when one of our guests said she’d driven past the house, then circle back when she saw a giant plastic floor lamp, a kind of round thing that looked like a big fat flower, blaring light from the doorway. ‘I knew when I saw it that had to be the place.’ It was. It still is. Now our lamp is blaring in a different kind of way: conceptually. I know, I’m getting esoteric here again. Sorry about that. It’s really not that hard, or intellectual, or anything. We’re kind of um, just. Um. Always. I guess this makes it really not-work. But I’ll say it. We’re just having a really good time. Like a party.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME you struck up conversation with a total stranger, and found out something really cool about them and, in the process, about yourself, too? When did you last go out of your comfort zone to get lost in the sea of real-life conversation that wasn’t set up digitally first?
You are not a robot.
You are not your schedule.
You are a human being.
When did we all become option-seekers?
Can we go back to when it was different, when we used to just commit? Don’t wait to see if something better might come up – be a bold human being and just pick a date and show up!) And when was the last time you looked at another person, a stranger, like, really? Eye to eye, face to face. ‘You’re here, like me, in this world. Let’s converse?’
16N. ‘N’ gathers 16 people in 16 cities. Cities with an ‘N’ in them. Designing a way for people whose paths have never crossed to meet together, in one framed moment. Each city’s ‘N’ is themed. The topic starts with an ‘N.’ The big idea? Ever notice how people collect each other, as though we’re numbers? In each city’s big blind date, ’16N’ become 16 people. Phones and devices go into a box at registration. No recordings. Just real life. But briefly. And once. So far, DK have hosted: ‘N’ Phnom Penh: NORMALITY (‘What’s normal? Who gets to decide?’); ‘N’ Bangkok: NOW (‘What is ‘Now?’); ‘N’ London: NOTEWORTHINESS (‘What makes something remarkable?’); and ‘N’ Hanoi: NARRATIVE (‘What are the stories we tell to the world? Which ones do we tell to ourselves?’). DK are actively working on gathering participants now for a collage of new and different others in Helsinki for ‘N’ Helsinki: NEUROSIS (‘Let’s talk about it.’).
LOOKING BACK, it must have been at the conversation salon ‘The State of Publishing’ that I got the first inkling of what the thing is that today I call S P A C E. In which new and different others gather for a unique, once-off, real-life moment for remarkable connexion.
This is me, at that event:
SO MUCH happened there. So many old ties, crisscrossing with new ones. There had been a decade interval since the time I was in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, NC, for those who are not familiar). I had been there for university and my first jobs, including freelance work in photography and illustration, back in the 90s. So I of course had to invite some of the editors I knew from those days, including the people behind what was then the cool creative nonfiction-style not-a-magazine, and not-a-newspaper that was called the Urban Hiker. UH had run my first-ever first-person story, ‘Midmorning Lakeshimmer,’ which had been about sitting lakeside in Udaipur, Rajasthan, enjoying, guess what, a conversation. With a fellow passerby. The content of that conversation, and the publication in which it ran, set in motion, I think, to me, the notion that we can tell our first-person true stories, in the ways we like, if we just make a space to publish them. It was with great admiration that I continued to follow UH, until I read somewhere from the other side of the country, or perhaps when I was abroad in Ireland, prior to that, that it folded. Well, then. But the spirit of writing, conversing, connecting, and sharing: that was glittery. And that’s what I think I am carrying forward, here, in my own way, with the zines and salons in S P A C E programmes near, far, and online.
More to say about these ideas, about a hat tip to the past salons and of course, to the people who came, who shared, and who, in the end, made the magic moments happen. It’s all about showing up; showing up is Art, to me, and making the space for new and different others to convene in remarkable ways is what I’m up to here, at DK. Come a long way since freelancing for the then Spectator in Raleigh, I’d say. But then again, I remember walking into that office, asking what’s up, and getting a commission, on the spot. Not bad. Same thing happened over the years, repeating, telling me and confirming for me that yes, people want to hear about others, read about places, discover through the simple act of sharing what it is to go beyond the edges, and see what gems one might discover there. Thinking about these things, considering the tracks since I was back in NC, one of my many homes.
Another pic from State of Publishing:
OF COURSE IT IS IMPERATIVE that we have a strong sense of self before we can really engage in the kind of peaceful dialogue that will help all of us quell the ills of the world, what with its many division-making tendencies. Too this or too that, you’re relegated to too ‘out.’ You stay in the margins long enough and you discover other people are there, too. That’s how it happened, really. That’s how DK got going. We were wacky. We were curious. We were open. We were not buying into the program. We wanted new things, but didn’t know where to find them, or how they would change us, or why we felt compelled to go further into the ‘out there.’ The unknown. The not-yet-knowable. The uncertain, the different, the new. In the end, it’s because of the chance encounter with that one guest at SoP that led to the thought that it was no longer interesting for me to be in North Carolina, that I had things to do, somewhere else, wherever ‘somewhere else’ might be. I knew, after I put it down, and spent 9 hours writing a blog post that got circulated a little (and accidentally deleted when, well, it’s a long story, has to do with not making backups, something that people who aren’t as organized as they wish they could be have a tendency to fail to do), and yea, it was that time, and the people I met, and the things we said, and the books that got recommended, and the reading of those books, that led to new things.
Philosophy, I read recently, is the work to examine questions that will allow us to live more pleasurably. As I write from my very last night on the long, twelve-week stretch of being still for the ‘slow moment’ in northern Finland, I’m thinking about that. I’m thiningabout the chance encounters and the conversations and the people and what we made together. I’m curious about what will come of this, in my own thinking, and the style that will become what it will, as ar result of all the influences of being here. I remember a 17 year-old girl walking, at sunset, letting me stop and say hello, letting me say, ‘Thank you for participating in that workshop we did, the other day. It was nice to meet you.’ Letting me talk a little more about my feelings about being here, in a rural place, and sharing her own ideas, too. Then meeting her mother. Meeting a woman whose poise and patience were both of the highest level I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of leaders in my life, and I saw that she was of that kind of upper crust calibre, and I saw that she did that work of mothering with the kind of gentle hand that we need to see in leadership today, in every walk of life. Because the mothers of the world know how to be tender. How to listen, with love, how to give of our affection. We aren’t expecting anything, when we’re mothering at our best. We just do. We just be. That’s the lesson I’ve learned, too, from being here, in Finland.
To the journeys, then. The new, the near, the now, and the next.
THANK YOU to those of you who have been connecting with me off-thread for these last few weeks; we’re really jazzed to share some of what all these various conversations have led up to. In short, new stuff! A collection of print zines: S P A C E || Finland. Just a handful–we like very limited editions, so there are no more than 5 of each of the short stories. The pieces are titled ‘Letting Go of Dead Things,’ ‘Michaela,’ ‘Hei Kesä’ (which is Finnish for ‘Hi, Summer’), and ‘Kesärakkausjuttu’ (‘Summer Love Story’).
People and place
I’D LIKE to acknowledge a few people with whom I spoke in depth and at length, over teas and coffees in cozy spaces in Oulu and Kärsämäki. A story isn’t a story if it isn’t based on real life sharing in such moments, right? That’s why I am feeling incredibly grateful. Many warm thanks for the great conversations to: Eveliina Karsikas, Asta Sinerva, Sirpa Heikura, Simo-Sakari Niemelä, Fırat Taşdemir, Johan Engström, Maria Raasakka, Sanna Upola, Rastislav Somora, Seo Jin Ahn, Ana-Maria Ovadiuc, Charles Tirkey, Saarah Choudhury, Benjamin Nwaneampeh, Joanna Ohenoja, Paavo Heinonen, Reijo Valta, Eero Österberg, and Merja Vedenjuoksu. (Additional thanks to Merja, too, for the gift. A knife to cut magazines. Well, wow. It’s fabulous.) None of the stories in the pages of S P A C E || Finland would have been possible to make without you all. I’m a little bit of a nerd about relational aesthetics, so of course it’s a lot of fun for me to share about our conversations here, in a paragraph in which all of your names (and with them, my associated memories of our shared time together) are included. It’s the parts that make the whole. And a composition is only what it is because the parts are each unique. At least, that’s my take.
I had promised myself a year ago that I would go on the road in search of new people in new places, and interconnect real, contemporary, hyperlocal stories through a set of international zines. Creative nonfiction, and stuff. This is the beginning of starting to really see the fruit of all this intent. A character from ‘Briefly in Sheffield’ comes to Helsinki in ‘Kesärakkausjuttu’, for example. Everything’s based on real life conversations, real places I’ve been personally to ask a lot of questions. People interest me. A lot. And people you don’t often get to hear about, when you are reading the news. I was a reporter for a while… two years at a weekly, two at a daily. Then something changed. I felt like writing first-person stories, or at least, stories I felt like were about us just hanging out, asking our big philosophical existential questions, in some instances, or just telling damn good jokes. The absurd and the esoteric are flip sides of the same coin, are they not? Let’s see. How did we get here? Er… from journalism to design to… uhm. S P A C E. Chance, serendipity, veering towards what’s interesting. The thinking goes like this: Well, let’s just do that. Let’s just go there. If it sounds weird, good. If it wasn’t weird, it wouldn’t be DK. More like this is ahead.
Comments are open, for the moment. Say hei?
NOW, on to the ‘how to order’ bit. Want some zines? Limited edition and one-of-a-kind. Order today or tomorrow and I’ll put them in the post to you before getting the bus to Helsinki. Yay! Snail mail from Finland. And soon. Order here.
SLOWING. Stilling. Finding the quiet space. Wrapping the stories. Getting set for the road that takes me home. Always love this part: the feeling that anything is possible, around the next bend. In search of meaning, in pursuit of beauty, framing the sensation of urgency in this, this very thing: the new, the near, the now, and the next. In the meantime, this gathering of current flowers. My way of showing you what’s ‘on’ right now on the sandy banks by the river I’ve gotten to know a little bit better, these twelve weeks in Finland, wondering how to sit still.
DK AND FRIENDS TOGETHER co-host the zinemaking popup conversation salon and *happening* ‘Hei Kesä’ in Oulu. This is in collaboration with Kahvila Tuokio and Oulu Taiteiden Yö (Oulu Arts Night).
It was the delightful yellow bright interior of the cafe that got us thinking, ‘This would be a great place to host a zinemaking popup about summer, summer memories, summer stories, love, romance, all that kind of thing, and we’ll do it on 16 August to coincide with the citywide popup that is Oulu Arts Night.’
An idea. A chance encounter, or two, and voila. Special thanks to Paavo Heinonen for including DK’s event in the Oulu Arts Night programme and conversing with us about how to make it even better. A great collaboration like ‘let’s do this. Let’s make it really fun for people, and let’s talk about who would want to be there, and then, what we can do to design a magic moment.’
That’s what starts all this. Sparkly things like discovering people, places, and the brightness of a yellow interior that feels exactly like ‘Hi, Summer.’
Speaking of, big thanks to Anu Lakkapää at Kahvila Tuokio for offering
the space. DK loved meeting her and talking about her passion for making cakes. Plus, the espresso was really, really good. (A must for any venue DK chooses for our events, hah.)
A SERIES. Shout-out, too, to Eveliina Karsikas. Eveliina owns the cake and coffee place Cafe Onni in Kärsämäki, which is relatively new here. If I’m correct, it opened this very summer, and we happened to be in the same town, and found it. The colorful interior here drew our eye and that’s part of why we made a coloring-book to share along with our usual zines. Eveliina had kindly co-hosted this event, ‘Hei Kesä’, with us in that town earlier this summer, on International Zine Day. (See picture at left).
OULU. Now our team is looking forward to getting the popup installed, and opening up the new zine show on 16th. The first part of our programme is a workshop, and there are very limited seats. Tickets are €15, includes materials, plus coffee, for the zinemaking workshop. Here is our schedule for the day. We’ll have all of our new zines with us to showcase and share on the day, too. All were made in Finland this summer, the set we call our S P A C E || Finland collection. Here’s a picture:
16 A U G U S T
Zines. Coffee. Real life.
Oulu Arts Night
€15 (price includes materials, plus coffee) Ages 16+. Limited seats. Be sure to book in advance to confirm your spot: get tickets here.
IN NOT TOO MANY DAYS, this thing will be finished.
This thing that is the summer residency in Finland.
This thing that is the A4 zine, ‘Slow Moment,’ whose lead story is going to be ‘A Summer Love Story’ by Alexis Jokela.
This thing that is the smaller zine series, the set of stories created and co-created in the time since DK got here, early June… so many things have happened. Hard to think it all out. But I wanted to show the process a little, today. The conversations lead to things, they don’t just stay there, they lead to the making of things that are, in fact, solid and concrete. And if I’m lucky, have a particular unity to them. They have a meaning that will resonate, I hope, with people who read or view them.
Making a story, discovering the meaning
THE ART things are this way, are they not? If they’re good, they land somewhere–someone’s heart. I’ve seen people reading the short stories of Alexis’s now, and there are tears. Honest. There are. Talking with lots of people around us to gather the mood and feeling of one story to share in an 8-page A4 zine has taken all these weeks, so far 10?, and there are two to go. Wrapping up time. There are translations into Finnish, you see, so that means it’s easier to get into them. And so many people have told DK and our team at Atelier S P A C E here what they are feeling about summer.
The whole idea of making the show ‘Hei Kesä’ in Oulu next week, in collaboration with the team at Ouluntaiteidenyö, was born, in fact, of real life and contemporary, in the moment and right here and now conversations. How could it be otherwise? To learn about a place you have to go and see it, in real life, with your person. In Denmark I learned an expression, about how if you want to know a place you have to ‘go there and then put your finger in the ground.’ So that means you sit with it, you don’t just document things for five minutes and fly away to the next town. When people travel around and do that and say they ‘did Cambodia because I went to Angkor Wat,’ for ex., I have to stop myself from getting into it. But you can’t ‘do’ a place by ‘hitting’ a couple of things. In Ireland people would ‘hit’ the Blarney Stone and so on, and say they ‘did Ireland.’ I still remember that. Three and a half years in Ireland. Here, three months. Sure, I don’t know that much, but that’s where interviewing comes in. Learning to make the stories and the pieces that tell the stories that people are telling me. That’s why it was so amazing to run into Alexis. And learn. And share. I did a lot of photos for the new A4 zine, ‘Slow Moment.’ I’m going through them now:
ALEXIS JOKELA wrote the story, ‘A Summer Love Story.’ We’re trying to decide today if it will be in Finnish in the final print, or in English. Maybe both? I can’t decide. I’ll ask him, later, when he gets here. We’re going to go through this thing with a fine-toothed comb and make some important decisions. That’s the part of the creative process we are in, now. The concept is there. The story is mostly written. A lot of photos are already done, but maybe new ones will need to be taken, to tell the story better. To make the art unified, like I said, and with a particular cohesiveness. You have to know how to do that and it makes the whole thing ‘sing’. So we’re going to sit with this thing and tell it.
Atelier S P A C E || Finland gathers new people for new conversations to co-create an 8-page zine. This project made possible by supporters in S P A C E. DK wish to thank those of you who pre-ordered, and made this production possible. Thanks for supporting this style and approach to making art–art that doesn’t live in the walls of galleries, art that doesn’t get ‘picked up and promoted,’ art that just is what it is. Frank, honest, and contemporary nonfiction pieces made together, on the spot, in real life.
I REMEMBER going to the Cork Jazz Festival in the 2000s and being irritated that it was sponsored by a beer company. That wasn’t the worst part, though. It was the way people acted. Maybe they just didn’t like jazz. Okay, okay. I know it’s a niche thing, sort of. Fine. But… what was it with the whole ‘being seen’ thing? I still remember. A weekend up in the city, away from the quieter days in West Cork. A city break, yeah. That was it. And a festival of jazz. Amazing, right? In theory, yes. In practice, it was a zoo.
The overwhelming loudness of the people drowning out the music with boozy jokemaking was the start of a series of disappointments: more and more large-scale events in the years I would attend them since would seem to be less about the art, and more about ‘going there with my friends,’ ie, people ‘looking cool’ together instead of actually listening to the music, or having a good conversation. What about the craic, like?
Ireland, though, for what its worth, was where exactly I learned how to begin to design S P A C E. Space for remarkable connection. Space for really sharing, deeply. For poetry and art and music happen in that country, or used to, I don’t know what’s going on now. I went to my first writing circle there, at the West Cork Arts Centre. I went to the West Cork Literary Arts Festival, and met the people at Fish Publishing who helped me understand that writing isn’t about trying to sound like a writer, it’s about telling a damn good story. Or improvising one. I still remember that week of opening up, trying things, sharing, and lots of pints. Rounds, as they say. It was what you call ‘a formative experience.’ What some people who are interested in vocabulary words would maybe see as a chapter in: bildungsroman.
Writing to learn, learning to write
Later, I wrote The Elopement (listen to the interview on NPR), but I forgot to put in all the things about Ireland that helped me become the designer of S P A C E that I am, today. I make space the way Irish people taught me: hosting, welcoming, inviting, sharing. I make space the way, too, I learned how from the philosophy circles at my high school summer in Laurinburg, NC, at a place called Governor’s School East. Where I met four people I am still to this day in touch with and whose stories I have followed closely, so much so, in fact, that I still feel like if it weren’t for that summer, and it was only six weeks, I wouldn’t have been tuned in to the kinds of things that say, ‘You know what? Grades don’t matter. Heck, we’re not even going to have them, this summer. And you know what I want to do? Let you lead this conversation. Let’s sit in a circle. Let’s have a dialogue. The kind with a center and not sides.’ GSE, as we called it, was an even earlier formative step. In this narrative of S P A C E.
TODAY I AM GOING THROUGH lists and memories and archives. I am searching out the people who most inspired me, all these years. I don’t mean that they became financial success; that would be dull. Anyone who has the right connections, privilege, and gets to go to the right places at the right times because of those things, can make it with their wallets. But art. Art is different. Art requires tenacity and grit and sticking with it and saying ‘fuck you’ when you have to because someone tries to discourage you from going where you are going. It takes being okay with publishing drivel and knowing that it’ll be time, and only time, and practice, and only practice, that will make you get better. And you will be your only audience. At the end of the day, you have to make stuff that you like. This is the overwhelming refrain when I ask highly creative people near and far (or ask them to be a guest editor) what they are doing and how they are doing it and more than all of that, why. They want do stuff they want to do. Period.
DO WHAT YOU LIKE.That’s what I’ve learned, too, from conversations in S P A C E with some very talented and far people. We are inspiring each other and co-creating a tapestry together, int eh comment threads of protected pages. It’s not just ‘cool’ or ‘nice’ or ‘something to do to be seen at’. It’s because we care about our practice. Of showing up, making something, and doing the work. To. Get. Better.
Self-improvement is something I learned not from Ireland, though. I learned that drive for constantly challenging myself and seeking new opportunities from someone specific. I just talked to him, the other day. It had been about six months. It was nice to tell him, ‘The most creative person I’ve known now, all my life, is you. And I’ve traveled around quite a bit you know, well, that was inspired by you, too.’ The person was delighted, I think. His wife said, ‘He’s getting emotional.’ That woman was my mother. Because the coolest and most creative person I know in this whole wide world and all its seas and continents, is RK.
‘Art is in the moment’
SOMETIMES YOU FIND the red ribbon that threads the narrative of your life story. I think that for me, it’ about these ‘magic moments.’ Not just of self-awareness, but of simply being together. Noticing that. Sharing that time, and being truly present. Not in a ‘cool’ or ‘trendy’ or ‘yoga retreat’ way, but, like, for real. That’s what I experienced with S P A C E events and also ‘N’ ones, like in Hanoi. Wow. We did that. But it’s not just… me. It’s… us. All of us who are attendant. Who are making S P A C E. Quality, not quantity. Making it. Together.
Were this Ireland, someone would now say, ‘Ah, g’wan. Give us a song, like.’
And I would. (Since I’m not a singer, I’ll share something I had taped when I was working for the Skibbereen Day Care Centre kind of on a part-time basis as a help for teaching ‘internet,’ would you believe. But yeah. One day there were this kids with their musical instruments. Now, the contrast between that Cork Jazz Festival and its buzzy thing and the shared moment of intimacy and quiet and connection that I got to experience with this moment, well, wow. You can see for yourself, what it was like. I found the old video. Here it is…)
HT to all the members of ‘Slow Moment’ and S P A C E. And RK. Here it is.
ATELIERS ARE A WAY to bring some of this to the contemporary space of real life and now, wherever I go in the world. Hosting events is a way for me to bring to other parts of the world the good days of Irish pub life, when it’s early evening and you’re with your mates and things are cozy, and fine. It’s not hard to have a good time when you’re with people who are so clearly skilled at bringing conversation to the fore. Now I’m starting to get misty-eyed.