I’m in Ho Chi Minh City (‘HCMC’ is this city, if you’re not familiar with that acronym).
We’re in social distancing, currently, and have been, since the beginning of June.
So many emails. So many zooms. I’ve had time.
Been writing the updates, but felt like starting a brand new slate for sharing online with those whose paths I haven’t crossed in some giant stretch of time. (Could you resubscribe to the mailing list if you want to keep in touch?) Cool.
The link is here:
update: 29 December 2020
Here’s a quick update with some more information that we gathered via email in a conversation with Beck, one of the three coordinators of the Festival of the Photocopier. The three coordinators and twelve volunteers together make this program. Beck told us about the history with the festival and the way it grew. ‘I started visiting Sticky in high school, back in 2002, and when I hit university there was an opening in the volunteer line-up, so I’ve been with Sticky for about 12 years, since 2008!’
New opportunities in a virtual setting..
A. Spaice talks with Beck, one of the organizers of Sticky Institute’s Festival of the Photocopier..
A. Spaice: What’s cool about the festival, to you?
Beck: The cool thing about FotP is that the growth has been very organic. Every year we offer the same thing – a free table to sell your zines on – and people come and they sell their zines and make some friends and have a nice time. So the next year when the fair rolls around again, those seasoned individuals want to come back which means we have to add on some new tables for people who have never been a part of the fair before. The community has really made the event what it is, 2020 was our 10th FotP, if no one wanted to come to the zine fair it wouldn’t be a two-day event held across two huge rooms. 2021 FotP will be our first online zine fair so it will be a different kind of fair, but we’re hoping people are as into it as the IRL fair.
A. Spaice: Any opportunities you foresee?
Beck: I think being able to open up the fair to zinesters globally, in a realistic way, has been a really nice side-effect. Normally we’re happy to take applications from people from outside of Melbourne if they’re happy to travel, but travelling from Adelaide or Perth to Melbourne is way more affordable than traveling from New Zealand or Japan.
The further away you are from Melbourne the more expensive that trip gets, so it’s unrealistic to expect people to spend thousands of dollars to attend a two-day event to sell a $2 zine. If they want to, and can afford to make that trip, then we’re extremely happy to have them, but it’s not feasible for a lot of people.
We’re seeing a couple of names we don’t recognise submit applications, so I think we might be getting a few more international entries.
A. Spaice: Yes! That was our situation, exactly! When we applied from Cambodia. I seriously thought about going there [in February 2020] but ike you said, a $2 zine doesn’t cover the cost of flights, and staying there.
Beck: We were glad to hear that you were able to find someone to table for you…! But yeah, we totally get the financial side of it. We get invites from interstate fairs and often it’s a matter of who is available to go and also can afford to? We’re all really aware that you aren’t really making money with zines, you make zines for the love of it, not to turn a huge profit.
So sometimes you can make a go of an out of town zine fair and sometimes you can’t, the good news for Australians is that there are more and more zine fairs popping up all over.
A. Spaice: And… Covid?
Beck: There was no resistance to making the FotP digital in 2021 because of the pandemic situation. As I’m sure you would have seen in the news, Melbourne has been through a pretty intense lockdown this year because of COVID-19, so for us it wasn’t really something that needed to be debated.
Our top priority is the health and safety of our community, so moving the fair online seemed like the best way to keep FotP alive and not have to cancel it or push it back to an undetermined point in the future.
Moving the fair online will also make it more accessible to people who might not have been able to make it down to the physical fair, so in a way it’s allowed us to open up applications to people= who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to participate.
We start planning FotP around September normally, so this year we were doing that while we were still in the hard lockdown here in Melbourne.
With the way things were changing for us at that time, we weren’t sure if we could legally have a 500-person indoor event in February. Even if we could have it, we didn’t know if our state borders would be open, or if the transmission in the community would still be in such a way that no one would want to risk the chance of exposure to come. The good news is that the lockdown worked and Melbourne is well on the way back to regular programming. But we know this isn’t the case everywhere, and that we could hit a third wave and go back into heavy restrictions if something were to go wrong.
It also means that people with physical or health restrictions are able to attend as well as people who are located interstate or overseas who can’t travel.
FotP is the largest zine fair in the southern hemisphere, and while it’s always free to table at the fair we know that if you’re traveling to Melbourne you’ve got those associated costs to cover while you’re in town. fotp.online is removing those costs for a lot of people so they can attend without having to worry about travel and accommodation and everything that goes with it.
Success, for us, would be to see people excited about the digital fair, come to the virtual events we have planned, and return to the site throughout the year to keep checking back in on artists they were interested in!
A. Spaice: Does it cost ?
Beck: The online nature of the event means that it’s literally cost-free for people to sign up from other locations now, so we’re hoping to see a few applications from people a little further out than usual.
All you need to do is visit www.fotp.online to apply!
A. Spaice: Thank you for the time you’ve taken to help us learn more. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close?
Beck: How do we pay for the fair? We get funding from the City of Melbourne! We were just approved for a two year grant, starting 2021, via the City of Melbourne’s Arts Creative Investment Partnerships so we are both appreciative and grateful to them for their support of us and zine culture!!
A. Spaice: Great! Thanks !!
A virtual zine fair..
We just got this really cool piece of news. The Festival of the Photocopier, which is run by the Melbourne group Sticky Institute, will be online in 2021.
DK had participated in this festival in 2020, which was a cool moment for us as it was our debut with S P A C E in real life. We’ve since also been at the San Francisco Zine Festival, which took place in September of this year, as it was virtual. Was cool. HT MB.
Now, we just learned, Festival of the Photocopier 2021, will be virtual.
So I wanted to let you know about this, because anyone anywhere can join for next time. Very excited about this.
I just submitted my application–sent!
Here’s my idea, for if we are accepted. I am going to angle the next few issues of S P A C E’s December collection, ‘Trust’, to an international audience. Of course they will be co-created with our friends and guests in Atelier S P A C E popups here in HCMC, so look out for some cool new bilingual issues to share in real life here, and also, hopefully, on the virtual international stage at FOTP 2021.
So, our agenda for December is this..
- Discover new voices here in Vietnam to make S P A C E with
- Design and publish 4 new issues of S P A C E in Vietnamese & English
- Distribute them virtually to everyone who contributes to our crowdfunding campaign in the month of January.
- Tell the world about our S P A C E programs in Vietnam if we get selected to participate in Festival of the Photocopier in 2021’s virtual event
- On the same day as the festival, we’ll host a real life event. A reading. It will be from the issues we make here in HCMC this month. We’ll have an Atelier S P A C E // HCMC launch party. It’ll be a chance to share our printed zines with the friends here who are creative, imaginative, able to think out of the box, and ready to try new things who have helped us so far to make some cool and fun issues already. I have a good feeling about the series to come.
I’m excited about the potential to launch the Atelier S P A C E // HCMC creations at the Festival of the Photocopier in Melbourne next year. Hopefully we’ll get ‘in’ and get to put on a great exhibit for people to see just how unique a hyperlocal perspective on ‘art from Vietnam’ can really look. [Aside: Ask us about ‘decolonization sometime!’. No, wait, ask AD! A zine about that, being art directed by AD, a member of ‘Papers‘.]
Here is a pic of our Phnom Penh reading from issues of S P A C E. I hosted this on the same day as our debut at the Festival of the Photocopier 2020:
And here’s the bit about how you can apply to be in the Festival of the Photocopier in 2021…..
If you make zines
Apply for the Festival of the Photocopier! It’s free to apply, so I just wanted to share this with those out there who might be wondering if they qualify. If you make zines, you qualify, is my understanding. Here, I’ll just paste in what I got in the email from Sticky Institute earlier this week…
Our digital fair will be hosted at http://www.fotp.online and applications are currently open for stallholders … facilitated by Sticky Institute!!!
As this is a digital fair, applications are open to zinesters located anywhere in the world. If you have a pen pal located outside of Australia, feel free to forward them the link so they can apply! There is no cost to have a digital stall on fotp.online and the website will be live for at least a year.
This has been a bit of a spiel but we’d really love for you to check out fotp.online and submit an application to be a stallholder or join FotP-Swap!. Applications will close on the 10th of January, 2021 and we don’t want anyone to miss out!
We know this is going to be a very different kind of zine fair but we’re hoping you’ll be there with us, on the other side of the screen!
I have been reading and researching. Not really in a deep way, or anything. Just reading Wikipedia pages about a few concepts that might or might not relate to a new work I’ve been offline to fashion. Out of myriad notes, some of them going all the way back to the time I did a writers’ workshop with my friends at Fish Publishing in Bantry, County Cork, waaaaayyyy back in the days that the Celtic Tiger was still aroar.
Thank you for creating Fish and the workshop, Clem Cairns. Thank you also, Maisie Parker, for encouraging me to apply and to actually go. Was so glad I did. I still remember that. We did a focused 20-minute writing session. I wrote a thing. I still have it. I am using it to craft the new work; ‘Penumbras’ is a section. Maybe.
Writing is all rewriting, they say, but sometimes writing is pushing the envelope so that a thing goes beyond its weak initial first draft and becomes more… developed. I really wish I could spend five hundred hours telling everyone what I feel ‘developed’ means. Work has to go into it. Love. Honesty. So as to arrive at something that has… more… gravitas. Than just a thing you made in 5 minutes or over a weekend or while you were in quarantine. You wrote a book in your week off ? Okay, so?
Meaning. Depth. Artfulness. And more: these things come when you spend time with your writing and your ideas, right? But for me, the work of developing story isn’t something I do alone all day and all night. It’s something I do in collaboration with others; that’s my way. That’s how I roll. Virtual communities that work for me are the ones here in S P C and also Kismuth. There are some great people I’ve met on my very many journeys in life, and now, I’m feeling really good about having the exact set of people in my world that I know will help me become a better storyteller because they know me, my work, and how I relate to them, and theirs.
We’re going to change it up quite a lot around here at DK in the coming months. That’s because we don’t need to do Atelier S P C anymore, nor do we have to invite the new and different to engage with us. We have discovered the new, we have emerged with the different. There is no need to keep making invitations.
A shift of phase
Thank you F, M, C, A, and R, for the recent conversations and exchanges on emails. Good stuff. Going offline again now. But just know that I’m well, here, where I am, and trust that things are good for you whenever this note lands. See you in the cloud.
Logic in all its infinite potential is the most dangerous of vices. For one can always find some form of logic to justify his [or her] action and rest comfortably in the assurance that what he [or she] did abides by reasoning. That is why, for us brittle beings, intention is the only true weapon of peace.
—Ilyas Kassam, author of Reminiscence of the Present
Photo: DK / ‘Good Morning,’ Dalat Vietnam 2019
Tuesday in S P A C E we publish the zine, S P A C E | Đà Lạt, ‘In the flowers’. This was a co-creation between Dipika Kohli and BOSS in January 2019. (So yes! Quite recently… just a few short weeks ago.) Something about making them up as we go, publishing while still in the vicinities that have inspired them, is a lot of fun. The energy is good. Momentum, too. We’re jazzed to open a new chapter in S P A C E, Spring 2019, ‘The Book of New Things.’ The title came from a very intriguing and cool, unexpected series of events that led to an unusual place, which is how all beautiful beginnings begin. Surprising new departures. More about S P A C E | Đà Lạt, ‘In the flowers‘.
Order S P A C E | Đà Lạt…
JUST FOUND this by happening to be in the right bus, at the right hour, in the right place, to happen to hear it. This is the very stuff of S P A C E. Chance encounters, serendipity: veer. You go where you don’t know what might happen, and you happen to run into something magical. I call this the ‘magic moment,’ when it happens. I was on the bus. There was a young woman in the row in front of me. The bus was pulling in, but this song. This song! What was it? It was in Finnish, but having been here for three months now, I could pick out the words that stunned me. The refrain (catchy, poppy) sounded exactly like the title of our new zine. How does that happen? It just… does. You go to a place and you look for the art, the things that people are trying to express, or that you feel they are sharing with you, and you make a piece. In the case of DK, a zine. That spells out our explorations into what people shared with us about ‘summer,’ and ‘love,’ and the ‘love story.’ In the case of Mariska, it was a song. ‘It’s like a love story.’
Ours is called Kesärakkausjuttu—A Summer Love Story.
There it is.
The chance encounter with… someone else feeling and expressing similar things to us. So even though it was a song over the radio, that didn’t mean it wasn’t important or connecting. It mattered. Mattering. There’s more to say about that, but not here, not yet. Saving it for the book, Kesärakkausjuttu. Editing this week. Almost done. Friday is my deadline. Whew. Almost there. But meantime, pausing to appreciate that another artist in the same country, in the same summer, also hit on this exact idea—our media of expression are different, but conceptually and aesthetically, our pieces are exactly aligned. Isn’t that what we call ‘good chemistry?’ It’s amazing when it happens—rare, beautiful, impossible to believe, at times, and almost always, the kind of sharp and pungent hit of dopamine that might be exactly what you need, in a particular place, time, and space. When you get the sharp high, everything moves from ‘this,’ to ‘adventure.’ And it’s adventure where DK loves to explore at the edge; that’s the ever-emerging shape of S P A C E.
ROAD TO ROVANIEMI. I heard it on the bus, yeah. I was in Rovaniemi, or just-about-to-be. It was kinda cold out, me and JŽ‘d gotten rained on, and I was like, ‘Let’s just get back and get warm and eat something.’ But then, um. The song. It struck a chord with me in a way that hasn’t in a very long time. Um. This! Wow. This? This. Yes. It was going to mean staying on the bus a bit longer. All the way to the train station. But I had to. To find out. Who was it by? How was I going to find out? Well. There is a young woman in the row in front. Let me just… ask her. Then there were phones, typing, googling, youtube, and the name of the artist… Mariska. ‘The title is Itserakkausjuttu,’ she said, almost as delighted as me for having helped me find out something that seemed important to me. I showed her this page of our website, and we were talking. Talking, talking, talking… all the way to the train station. Lengthenting the trip for J, but um. The song. I now had it. Which was exactly the nut I needed, in order to secure an important kind of bolt. Let me elaborate, to try to clarify what I mean. Hm, how shall I put it. Okay, here it goes…
All summer I’d been wondering what to write to take away from Finland, what to post, what to blog, what to publish, what to eZine, what to put into the whole set of printed pieces that will be sent by post this weekend. And then, with the song, something important happened. The pieces were there, the collection was ready, the channel of the bolt was carved, the bolt had been placed. Everything was loosely there, but the last bit was missing. The nut. The nut that tightened it all; the song was that nut. The aesthetics of this book and this song were importantly aligned. (That was my gut feeling; and as you know, if you read this blog, you know it’s from the gut that I move.)
A collection begins
THE BOOK, the summer, the story, the collection S P A C E || Finland. With this new little piece of a happened-upon sound clip, the aesthetics of Kesärakkausjuttu and accompanying pieces were now set.
A Summer Love Story is the name of our piece.
Hers is called Itserakkausjuttu, which translates by my bus companion in front who helped me find it as ‘A kind of love story.’
The nature. The calming.
These things: all of these things were swimming about in the brain, and then we wrote some stories with Alexis Jokela, and then we printed a few of those and shared them in Oulu and here in Kärsämäki at a short series of conversation parties called Hei Kesä. Testing things. Why not talk about summer and happy things, we were challenged, instead of melancholic depressing ones?
TALKING TOGETHER, working out the story, sharing in small snippets, testing, translating some of these, sharing those, limited editions, hidden chapters, Rated R things, stuff like that. All of it is part of the summer of Atelier S P A C E, writing, deigning, exploring, conversing, connecting, and discovery. It’s always that, but this was the first time we had expanded it to three full months, and not interwoven Atelier S P A C E with any other DK project. So that meant, focus. And concentration. And hopefully, a work of…. Art.
CUTUP. Those who know DK know that a big part of the zines made here are from the cutting-up of magazines, especially womens’ magazines. Why? I hate that these magazines try to tell us a story about what women ought to be into or how we ought to look. So when I google translated the song that I’m talking about and found a few lines about exactly that, I knew for sure I had hit on the right piece to listen to while editing the whole collection these next few days before leaving Finland. These are the lines, and the full Finnish lyrics are below. Thanks, Mariska!
Let’s see the women’s magazines again
How bad and bad I am
Although not true at all
I wondered, “what’s wrong …”
I like my life
I enjoy my skin…
Olen vihdoinkin käsittänyt sen
Mä oon fiksu ja kivannäköinen
Kaiken hyvän todellakin ansaitsen
Mitä tielleni sattuu
Helppo muista on kyllä välittää
Mut itteänikin mun täytyy silittää
Lupaan täst edes aina yrittää
Voi heittaajat sanoo mitä tahansa
Ei se mua liikuta, pitäkööt vihansa
Mut se mist aiheutuu vahinkoo on
Jos mä en itelleni frendi oo
Jo kiistatta oon paras minä
Ja muihin mä en vertaa mua enää ikinä, hä!
Tää on luultavasti sullekin tuttuu
Naistenlehdistä lukea taas saan
Miten väärin ja huono olenkaan
Vaikkei totta se ole ollenkaan
Mietin vaan “mitä vittuu…”
Mikä mussa on muka nurinpäin
Vaikka pärjäilen hyvin juuri näin?
Suosittelen sinullekin ystäväin
Viihdyn mun nahois
Mä väsyn jumittamaan
En dissaa vaan kehun ja kiitän
Kyl kelpaan jos tälleen mä riitän
Oon kritisoinut mua jo aivan tarpeeks
Teen sovinnon ja annan itelleni anteeks
Onni alkaa siit mihin ankaruus loppuu
Kaikki tarvii itserakkausjuttuu
THE LONG DAY is reminding me about old conversations, in many places, about time. Philosophical, you could say. That’s part of who DK is. It took a while to admit to it, but then, didn’t we do a TEDx talk about how there’s not that much time left? We did. Six years ago. Seems like a lifetime: I’ve been on the road for a year in Asia, then parked for four years in Cambodia, now I’m on the road again–in Scandinavia. Well, kind of on the road. Because I’ve learned that bouncing around from point to point is not as intriguing as sitting still in one spot and absorbing it more fully, I’m here for three solid months in the middle of northern Finland. Lapland is over yonder, there is talk of reindeer meat, or reindeer hitting your windshield, and how nice it is to see the sun. Lots of talk on the talk radio about summer. Festivities and the cheery feeling of it; the sun not going away, the lakes reflecting all of it, with a mesmerizing shade of light grey twinged with blue. Chillin’. I noticed it’s a quiet day, today, here. I saw some people getting their cameras out and taking pictures of the river. I saw some others getting gas and going in for a bite to eat–the hamburger place, the pizzeria, the cafe where I’ll be co-hosting a zine popup this month. Buncha stuff. There are people who come through this town because it’s a stop on the motorway from Oulu to Helsinki, a major throughline, though the road is only two lanes and looks like it’s any countryside road, to me anyway, in the smaller counties of North Carolina. One of my many homes. That’s another thing, though. That’s drift. Today, time.
Slow down to see now
SLOWING. That’s the topic, these days, here. Slowing down to sense. Slowing down to see. Slowing down to feel. Letting things catch up… feeling the ambient awarenesses that have been percolating for years, but haven’t had time to precipitate out into the here and right-in-front-of-you, because… time. ‘The way we live our days is, of course, how we live our lives,’ it has been said, and many times, and I am thinking about my friends who will say, ‘Yes, I wanted to, but I didn’t have time.’ I’m thinking of DB in Seattle, who, in his drawing class for freshman and sophomores, would make a comment about how texting and drawing nude models just isn’t a good idea, that you don’t need to multitask here, that, ‘we all have the same amount of time.’ Priorities are the thing to focus on, instead of how to make more time. How to do the right things, instead of just doing things. How to… well, wait. I’m turning into one of those productivity blogs. I don’t meant to do that. But I do agree with PT who said, ‘Relentlessly prune bullshit.’ You just have to, if if you want to move the ball further down the playing field, towards the end zones that you decide are worth pursuing. You can’t just… wait for things to happen, nor can you… wish for more time. All of these thoughts are trickling in and out of the S P A C E of spaces where I’m conversing with some of you, some new people here in Finland, too. And learning. Always, always curious. Wanting to know more. Where does the time go? What did we do with it? Is it important to plan? What are the benefits of not-planning? And: what will I do with my days, while I live? This is the question, ultimately, that the TEDx talk landed up, asking about. What will be your legacy?
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I was aiming to go up there and make a long philosophical statement about how people are being busied into being busy and forgetting how to slow down, notice now, and be present and aware of what it is they actually want their lives to be about. What is the story your life will spell? (DK always asked this of our clients, and then, added to it, with: How can you design for that?) Not that popular a topic. Thinking about the life you want to live and what you can do to make it happen? That’s big-picture stuff. That takes overarching grand views on things and letting some time go by so as to reflect. But who has time for that? The day to day details of getting things done are at hand. And that’s why, really, honestly, the pervasiveness of the ‘to-do’-ers and their insistence that making time is more important than making artful connexion and meaningful moments of their time is probably why I decided to come here to focus on ‘Slow Moment.’ It’s a long story. It’s going to have to be shortened, though, because ‘Slow Moment’ will be an 8-page zine. That’s later, though. Now, I’m thinking about a time I sat on a terrace and talked with someone I hadn’t seen for more than a decade, about what we did with our lives, in the interim.
‘The time,’ he said. ‘The time does not come back.’
I wonder if he remembers it as clearly as I do.
YES, IT WAS DIRECT, and sort of out of nowhere. ‘The time does not come back,’ he said. Did I detect regret? Resentment?
I remember looking out over the plates and chairs and people who were talking together in groups of two or four, drinking their wine and beers and partaking of desserts and salads, and the sun was setting, and it set, and we were still talking, and I remember this clearly, about that line, ‘The time does not come back.’ Of course, I’d wanted to say, and then add something about reversible time and physics and multiverses and some theory–but it wasn’t that kind of a party.
Time. Not reversing. But that’s why we have to notice it, right? Be here now. All that stuff. Notice it and do the things that feel good, make the work that matters–to us. It’s relative, after all. Why follow someone else’s prescription for ‘what counts’ and ‘what matters?’ A job is really you just selling your time. What is the work that matters to you? Are you doing that? What is the legacy you want to leave?
I’d wanted to ask such questions, of course. I always do. Was there something you had wanted to do with it that you didn’t? (This is mostly what I had wanted to ask, but couldn’t, of course. Acquaintanceship is different from friendship, after all.)
We parted. The year ended. The next one came. This is life. This is the cycle. This is how things go. Probably won’t ever see one another again, either. Something about feeling… a sense of distance. At not knowing why the action and initiative weren’t there. I felt he had regrets, but they weren’t faced on, not looked at, not examined, or questioned. Self-awareness of this was missing, too. There was some weird sense that there was a lacks somehow. A lack that could not be felt, or seen, until another day, and time, which, I got the feeling, would not come.
Because making the time and space to reflect isn’t for everyone. Those who do come out, I think, with a purpose to their life that goes beyond ticking boxes of filling in lines or paying bills. Those who are able to assess themselves clearly can do… living. Yes. Do living. Do it. Without trying so hard to conform to someone else’s pictures of ‘success’. Without avoiding looking in the mirror, and asking the hard questions, ‘Is this for me? Am I living the life I want? Am I being true to myself?’ So many people skip this. Well, of course. It’s hard.
But I think about these things a lot. I look for others who do, too. I count those people amongst my friendship circles. I listen for the curious, the ones who are saying, ‘There’s got to be more. Help me think about this.’
‘Did you see Waiting for Godot?’ I’ll ask them. ‘Or read the play?’
‘Beckett. Read it. Then let’s talk more.’
Philosophically, these kinds of existential queries—what is the point of it? what are we doing with our time? where is the meaning?–are the ones that we thinky-thinky types like to dwell on. (Sometimes too much. Acknowledged.)
‘IT WOULD BE UNINTERESTING, is why.’
‘What? You always kind of start from left field, I feel, with no grounding, scene setting, stage, or the like.’
‘That’s… just clutter.’
‘No. It’s context.’
‘Not many people would be this patient, you know. Writing has to grab you, hook you in..’
‘You sound like a coach! And from the nineties, at that. I met someone just the other day who is stuck in the past, so it feels familiar. The disinterest in new forms.’
‘Putting it into plain words is hard.’
‘Well, OK. There are these really interesting people everywhere doing interesting things, like the fake grass on the tuk tuk, that is so cool, and those garden-y vibes with the plants poking up the sides, I love that! It’s so modern! I love it!’
‘Then, you get the researchers coming in somehow mucking about with opinions and so called objective data, I’m being influenced, okay, by the books we are reading in book club here in S P A C E, but yeah. Those people aren’t interested in intrinsic beauty, or the emergent. They can’t see it. They’re stuck with old rulers measuring things that no longer count. It’s obsolete. It’s a waste of time…. Of resources. I want to tell them… Look at it. What’s there. Really look.’
‘Is this looking and seeing and reflection stuff you are making lots and lots of posts about lately, is this related to the bad metrics?’
‘YES, it is.’
‘OLD IDEAS get in the way. The cutting edge is the not yet obvious. The inner circles want familiarity, something trustworthy, something they can say, This has been socially validated. “Therefore, it must be Good.” Trouble is, what’s Good is changing, changes all the time, based on what is there, what’s potentially there, and like I said, what’s emergent. This is systems stuff. Systems thinking. And no, I’m not co-opting a term from engineering because it’s fashionable if I wanted to do that I would expound for four paragraphs on holography, illusion, projections, mind and consciousness, wholeness and the implicate order, not-real things that sound like sci fi, and you know, well, yeah, believing in the existence of atoms. And that hoax.’
‘Oh. I should talk about that some more. Maybe I will. Maybe in The Mirror, week 14 or something, after the last week? After Week 12’s New Geometries. I should, really. It’s so damn hilarious what those people did, what with these bollix academic writings and getting them published in a so called intellectual thing!’
‘Hoity toity journal of nothing really at all, because the words are bulky and the ideas are convoluted. Tell it clearly! Say it simply! Don’t cover it up with your pretentiousness and cumbersome vocabulary! How do you do that? Know your subject! Know what it is about it that turns you on! If I can’t see the you in what you are saying, even if it’s fact-y fact-y, then I don’t care! A lot of thinkers and philosophers and politicians got where they did because they didn’t put up a bunch of jargon nothingness, they just said it! What it was! Why it mattered! The best artists i know aren’t afraid to answer the question, “What are you into, mate?” Cause!… Cause yeah. If you can’t explain it to a five year old, you don’t know what you are saying.’
‘Did you? Explain this to a five year old?’
‘What did she say?’
‘”There is no point climbing over walls when a door would do, nicely.”‘
‘Mmm. You sure you’re not just mad though?’
‘No! I just steer way clear, usually. Of the misoneists.’
Excerpted from the S P A C E edition of DK’s eBook Nostalgia Ca Phe (April 2018). This post is part of a series, 100 conversations, underwritten by members of S P A C E.
PRETTY REMARKABLE SERIES of conversations in Kuala Lumpur. The goal was to make ourselves go in search of the unknown, see what we could discover in chance encounters. Getting on a train with someone with a map. Sitting up straight listening to O.’s frank reportage of her life as an escort. Making smalltalk in broken Hindi, finding the language irrelevant to the quality of the exchange. Meeting a line of new queries, breaking through unseen surfaces. And sharing the jazzy back and forth style of conversation-connection that we love, with a seasoned pianist. A lot of missed connections, too, with the ones who didn’t realize our invitations expire. (How else to press the point, this is a celebrating of real life, this magic moment of being here, now. In real life. Together.) On Tuesday we will post to our S P A C E community the fresh new zine, S P A C E || Kuala Lumpur. The story is called Kaunter Tiket.
Special thanks to No Black Tie.✨
[Update: Before Design Kompany became a roving atelier to gather people’s stories on the spot in real life, we were gathering perspectives in our online community, behind protected-pages at this blog. This post was originally an exclusive for a forum, ‘The Village,’ on work, life, and relationships.]
TODAY I INVITE you to read a short email conversation with Michelle Lynn Stephens, a poet I’ve been in touch with since the time we met at a fun open mic. We share roots in Durham, NC, and recently reconnected when I hosted a tweet chat about self-publishing. That opened a space for an entirely new conversation, in which I got to know more about where things have gone for Michelle since we met. Here’s our interview, which took place over email through the spring of 2017. This piece was originally published as an exclusive for our online community, S P A C E.
Venturing into the unfamiliar
DK: We talked in our email conversation about journeys. And leaving, and how that can inspire us. Can you talk about this a little bit?
MS: How interesting that you should ask this question, as I met you at the beginning of my open mic journey! I am definitely the adventurous type. I love trying new platforms and traveling to different venues. I have met so many wonderful people who have been very supportive and eventually became my creative village.
DK: Can you tell us about what you’ve written, so far?
MS: My book is The Divorcée Chronicles. And I co-authored an anthology, Single Mama Dating Drama.
DK: OK. Besides writing and traveling, I think we also talked about family. And… dating?
MS: The sequel to Diary of a Divorcée Diva is all about dating, but nowhere near finished. There is a tad bit of dating adventure in the first book and my short story in the anthology is about getting back out there after divorce. The anthology is focused on single mothers, so that may be where you are remembering the parent thing.
DK: But then, there is the massive adventure of parenting right? The ultimate adventure into the unknown?
MS: Kids are fun and inspiring! The only downside is losing sleep sometimes when they are young and finding courage to let them go off own their own when they are older… While my toddler is my only biological child, I have had a plethora of little ones in my life and don’t feel particularly new to parenting. I have always taken care of children and it feels very natural to me.
My mom tells me that I wanted to do whatever she did with my baby sister, such as feeding her, combing her hair, rocking her and such. I took care of my baby cousin, I have several godchildren who call me ‘Ma’, I volunteered at daycare and after school care programs as a teen… I once had stepchildren who I adored and I take my niece and nephews around with me quite often.
DK: After we met in Durham, where have the journeys taken you?
MS: My circle in Durham encouraged me to share my talents with so many others. I may have been afraid to venture back out after my California dreams faded into the working world, if it were not for my arts experience in Durham. It is a place that embraces and supports the arts tremendously. The path from Durham led me to the next town over, then to major cities like Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia to share my words. I gained the confidence to submit my work to some heavy hitters in African American literature and became a part of a book project that turned into a #1 National Bestseller. My territory is ever increasing and I dream of seeing my work on the big screen someday, but I would also like to remember where I came from and remain a part of the circle that started me on my way.
DK: On your way… to where? Curious.
MS: I have back and forth from the DMV area often, as my significant other takes on mostly government contracts. I love the arts up there as a spectator, but unfortunately have not been able to participate much as an artist. I have no support system there, as far as babysitting goes. There’s always a book festival, library event, or museum to stop by in DC and the scenery is quite inspiring…
DK: Venturing out seems important to you.
MS: I am a firm believer that venturing out into the unfamiliar serves to strengthen your creativity. It opens your eyes to things you have never seen and expands your worldview. I have not traveled as far as you have, but testing the waters up and down the East Coast has been very fulfilling. Even before I began doing poetry and publishing, I was off to California and exploring the performing arts world. I experienced being among the best performers, in the audience of great theaters, in studios, filming for television on Hollywood sets, at casting and modeling agencies and briefly attempted to form a singing duet. My time there was amazing and continues to influence my writing and stage performances today. There is, however, a time for stillness when it is time to gather your thoughts on the page.
DK: Who are your favorite artists?
MS: My favorite artists are two alumni of North Carolina Central University, my late aunt, educator Barbara Tuck Ebron and the incomparable Ernie Barnes, a Durham native.
DK: Art venues?
MS: My favorite museum is the Smithsonian American Art Museum. They have very diverse exhibits with everything from presidents to Native American experiences to African American musicians and writers on grand display.
DK: Can we share an excerpt of one of your books?
From The Divorcée Chronicles: Diary of a Divorcée Diva…
I never felt so free as I did on that flight to LAX. The sky was the limit and I was literally on top the world, looking down on it from Cloud Nine. No one could tell me anything would ever go wrong ever again at that moment in time. After chatting it up with Darren a little bit about my hopes and dreams as always, he suggested that maybe I should look into moving to Cali, too. It would be the perfect place to start a totally new path in life and get away from all my troubles. I daydreamed myself about it right on to sleep.
“Good evening, passengers. This is your Captain speaking. I hope you have enjoyed your flight. We are approaching our destination and fully expect a safe and uneventful landing. Thank you for joining us. Have a good night.”
Waking up to stare out the window at the stuff that dreams are made of was surreal. The view of the Concrete Jungle, with all that water surrounding it, was amazing. I saw nothing but miles and miles of highway and bright lights! I had on my cute little sleeveless cotton dress that was hit just above the knee and got a rude awakening when I stepped onto the tarmac. The cold, sweeping air hit me right in the face.
“Whoa!! How can it be freezing in California in the middle of July?!”
“Kay, this ain’t Cackalacky. Ain’t none of that humidity out here. Don’t you know this is the desert?” Darren was always so thorough in his ex-planation of everything. Always had been, even back in the days when he was trying to tell me why we needed to break up and just be friends.
“You gone love the way it feels outside tomorrow when the sun is out, though. I’m telling you, Kay. The wea-ther is addictive.”
“Ok, I’m just gonna have to trust you on that one ‘cause it’s just freezing my legs off right about now!”
That night as I looked out the 12th-floor window of the hotel at all the lights that put the dark, tree-lined streets back home to shame, I was hooked and my mind was made up. If the rest of Cali was like the view from here, I was gonna call it home and soon.
The next day, Darren and I headed out to paint the town. He was right about the weather being gorgeous and we checked out the usual tourist traps like the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theater, then watched the many talented hopefuls acting out at Venice Beach. We toured the star homes and rode past all the famous places like Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, Capitol Records, and the Hollywood sign. We even checked out South Central and in the words of Ice Cube himself, I gotta say it was a good day.
“Tomorrow we’ll go look at the apartments I found online”, Darren said.
“If you decide to move here, you can just find something when you get to town because people move in and out around here all the time. It’s not like back home.”
DK: Thank you! Last question: What’s the best advice you ever got?
MS: Never give up!
Editor’s note: First published in S P A C E in 2017, this short Q&A about the creative process still rings true today to those of us at DK who remain very curious about how to continuously improve on what we make.
OFFLINE CONVERSATIONS lately are turning to the process itself, and, to take it further, discoveries that happen on the way to ‘making.’ Maybe it’s in the air? Looking back on what creative people have told me about this work of making, I recalled something I learned from science podcaster Jai Ranganathan. (Find him on twitter at @jranganathan.) We had met at a science conference in NC’s Research Triangle Park. That was the kind of place where bunches of people convened to share tips on making science interesting to a general audience, more or less, and I discovered Jai was set to instruct scientists at University of California Santa Barbara on how to use social media.
DK: What do you need to think about when opening a wide-open project like a podcast? That’s a pretty big blank canvas.
JR: First, define your purpose. Then, what’s your scope? Do you want to be a local brand? Have a national audience? If you want a large audience, people really go for video.
DK: OK. So if you know your purpose, then what? Any tips?
- Think about where can you add value. Ask businesses, ‘What’s a problem you have?,’ and then share, ‘Here’s how we might solve it.’
- Give your product away so people want to know more.
- You can do latest tips. Interviews. You could have seminars.
- Just get started. Do it frequently. Keep it short—2 minutes.
DK: Wait, so you just have to be prolific?
JR: You don’t have to be flashy, or always funny, or the best-looking. But you have to be compelling in your voice. Be engaged, animated, and interesting.
DK: But what about talent?
JR: Talent is overrated. You have to be interesting/entertaining first, or else it doesn’t matter what you have to say!
DK: How do you do that?
JR: Boring podcasts are that way because people are checking boxes off a how-to list, as opposed to doing something that’s really them. Anything creative like this—podcasting, video, or writing—is about deciding what you want to say, and what’s your way of saying it. How to make that your own is key.
DK: How did you get into this?
JR: I was doing my postdoc in conservation biology. If you’re not a scientist, your job is to write papers. I was disenchanted after a while. How likely was it that what I wrote would lead to action? So as a hobby, I started interviewing scientists. I’ve always really liked radio. Someone found me and offered to pay me to do this, so now I have $2,000 broadcast-quality equipment and I make a good living. But, I had hoped more people would listen.
DK: What can others learn?
JR: It takes a while to figure out what you’re doing and why the heck you’re doing it. Don’t make it too scripted. You can have a script, but don’t read it. Imagine somebody giving a talk and reading a script–it’s death! And you know, you have to like doing it. And keep doing it, that’s key. Don’t wait to get good. No one sprouts out of the earth fully formed.
Published in S P A C E, 2016.