Redesigning means revisiting some of your favorites ideas.
The story Briefly in Sheffield is one of those, for me. I’m happy whenever people read this zine of ours, in the real life context. I’m happy when they put it down and smile and say, That was a good story.
It’s short and sweet, much like the real life encounter that inspired this short story.
Often I hear, ‘I can really identify with the main character…’
Well, yeah. He’s quite a lark. Which is why I wrote this—so I could share the feeling of meeting and becoming curious about… ZM.
Art for art’s sake
‘Briefly’ is for ZM, one of the first people who challenged me to become fast on my feet in articulating a response, not hefty, when someone asks me something pointedly that I really don’t want to answer. Why that happens, how it rolls from that moment of questing through to the one where you find yourself in an unimaginably close-knit bond, in a short space of time, is the subject and delight of the young love that this story shines a light unabashedly upon.
I finished it in a jiffy, more than a dozen attempts since the late nineteen-nineties, and then, wham. There it was. Typed. Printed. Zined.
Like most situations, the impetus to figure out my way to the feeling came after meeting someone randomly, someone new. Whose shoes, which I remarked upon, and accent, which I remarked upon further, reminded me in every way of Z.
[I will skip the parts that didn’t, like that ridiculous potato-sack hopping thing that a lot of thirtysomethings were doing. I can’t deal with this kind of architecture ‘playfulness’ that this age group have, but whatever. I sat in the corner and mused about Z., watching the grown adults race in bags. But the peanuts. The peanuts were good. That was over Khmer New Year in Phnom Penh, in 2017. A new muse, a new poetry. A new beginning. And a new art.]
Jazzy, this one. With a clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen…
‘Shall we dance?…’
Cue ‘Shall we dance…’
Short stories and fresh writings
And now, here it is, reworked. A new cover design. I’m putting it over at the store for Kismuth.
Lots of reorganizing, around here, these days. Redirections. Reinventions. Sorting out the clutter, getting rid of the dead weight. Thank you most especially to AM, and a few others. Who have helped me very much in recent weeks come to some new understandings and insights; as I hope, I always hope this, I hope I did for them, too. And others, too, of course. Granted. Sure. Not a whole hell of a lot of others, but a handful, to be sure. Acknowledgements. Count.
Who, exactly? Coming soon. I have to write down the next things and then I’ll be able to understand who it is that has been here, with me, in the learning and sharing, int eh connecting and conversing, in the opening up and being around and telling it like it is and not-stopping, even if there’s a little space in the midst… space is natural… but meaning it.
Caring. Showing up. Is huge, for DK. And what we do, here. Making. Making things. Artworks come from this intention… meaning it.
Hugely important. For quality.
In search of Quality
Quality! Is all I really want to make more of, around here. And everywhere. Putting more beauty into the world. Forgetting my platform, there for a bit. Too distracted trying to make meaning with people who don’t know what that even looks like. Letting go. Clean, fresh openings.
Another country, soon. Another round and boisterous new start. I made a new personal website, too. Seeing. How it all feels. Writing and designing and zining and publishing, all in one spot here, was maybe kinda a bit… much. Enter podcasting and more stuff like that and yeah, even I’m kinda dazed. So let me simplify things. Let’s make this page all about the publishing of things. In Kismuth, or in S P A C E. I do like to include people in those conversations that lead to things, like co-created bits and pieces. I’m inviting people to join me, now, but in an invite-only kind of way. If you’re curious, get in touch somehow. We have a million channels.
WRITTEN NOT LONG AGO, for the magazine column, ‘Kismuth & The Way’ that I do now every month is this one about going to Japan.
Here’s how it starts…
I am in Narita: as in Tokyo Narita, as in, right next to the airport. From the window of this hotel you can see the sun about to set behind a crop of trees: a scene that reminds me a lot of Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.
It’s so quiet here, right before I go, and I’ve found a moment to quickly jot impressions before going to meet the high school friend of my college friend, both of whom are waiting at a station a bus ride away. It’ll be good. Stern drinks this time instead of the sodas we used to share in rounds over in Kyoto and Washington D. C. at karaoke boxes years ago. We’ve all done a lot of growing up. Of course. Lucky to have longitudinal friendships, I realize, in these last few days: I’ve been catching up with some, here and there, these last few weeks. After all, it’s been eight years since I was last in Kanto, which is this side of Japan.
HERE IS THE LATEST story that was published in Saathee Magazine, as part of DK’s monthly column, ‘Kismuth and the Way.’ It’s called ‘New Currents’.
I had written ‘Just Being Honest’ for a year or so for Saathee when I had first gotten going on the road, in 2013, then took a break to write Breakfast in Cambodia which came out of those columns and another one, ‘The Village Report,’ that ran for two years under different editors at Seattle’s Northwest Asian Weekly. Subsequently, I got the idea in my head to do other things like conversation salons that led to things and people and smart, cool moments that reminded me the poetry of writing isn’t in the shaping of words and sentences, but in the connexion that comes of the spontaneous interactions that come up out of nowhere when you just make yourself open to receive them.
Such thinking opens worlds of doors. And luckily, I got to examine a few of them.
That made me do the next thing. Work with a very small team of people who helped me understand this better, clarify it, (thank you!), and then conceptualize the making of our mini-mag, S P A C E. Couldn’t have done this without the new inputs from people I have met since leaving the United States, and discovered on the road, but also, in Cambodia, and learned to be a part of conversations that are longitudinal, carry more weight with the history and time that gives and gives, reminding us that we are not alone but a part of something bigger, after all, even if the struggle to define that exactly becomes unwieldy and eventually falls into a thing that I now understand is ‘post post modernism,’ ie the tossing of definitions themselves, altogether. This is coming into focus for me, in yet another new place, another new country: Latvia. More about that for the next column, of course.
POLITICS x ART. I was going to write more here about how there are political events that are happening right now that are disturbing and upsetting, especially in countries that don’t even care about human rights (including my own country of birth). But I realize that I’m not informed enough to be able to comment on those things. Still, the state of the world and the oppression of voices of illuminating people who could be the ones who bring humanity towards a better, more equal place is upsetting to me, as it might be to many others who are, at heart, poets. I’m writing from a wild, wacky place right now in Latvia that’s fancy and has ‘Poet’ in its title, like for real. Where, there is one very chatty person who has been asking me a torrent of questions about why I write, how I decided to be a poet (does one decide?), whether I believe in knowledge (nope), what I think about my home country (which is where, again?) and what I might do to sell my books (‘I don’t sell’). Ask me about the boiled egg. It’s too funny.
Funny things are going on, around me, left and right, and reminding me of the absurd that I clung to for so long in my writing, and comics-making, at some point, during the late 2000s when I wanted to try my hand at ‘visual artist’ as, say, a job title. That was short-lived, soon as I found out that the reception for the art show, where people met one another in real life because there I was hosting the show and people were there because of the show, but for me, what I found out, for example at the reception for Today I Love You (2012, was it?) and later, the launch party for Breakfast in Cambodia (2016), it was the mix that was most intriguing to me. Real life. The stage of being there,e together, in a framed moment… a box, kind of, a box of ‘where’ and ‘when’…
Which was how I hit on the idea of framing the moments, altogether discarding the art show, the books, etc. Let’s have parties. Let’s call them S P A C E.
Hosting one tonight, in Latvia.
Here we go.
Off to the new chapters, discovering and running into the next.
War, climate, politics, fear mongering… these things are there. News is bad, people don’t care about each other, the modern world is one of disparity and ennui and disruption of the harmony that can come when we are able to enjoy each other’s differences, instead of parrying one another for no reason other than to fill a void, internally, that could have been prevented if we had had better parenting. Societies begin there, right? Good parenting. And here I am, opining. I don’t mean to do this, really.
But really. I can go on and on and on…
But I’ll spare you.
To the work of making art, which is the only thing, I think, that a poetically inclined person can do in this era to stay sane…
IT IS REASSURING and heartwarming to get the news today that there are readers following Dipika Kohli‘s new column, Kismuth & The Way, in Charlotte, NC USA-based Saathee Magazine. Here is the link to the first article for Kismuth & The Way.
If you started reading Kismuth as an e-letter in 2014, well, you might be surprised to see how things have updated. Practice. Can do wonders. The changes in writing are due to a medley of factors. First, a lot of conversations about how to slow down. Plus, an awareness now from some of the best of those that a written story isn’t so much about the observations or how well they’re relayed, but rather how the readers will feel to be taken on a journey. (HT J, and S).
This is good. The work is just beginning, however, to continue to write and design and narrate and most importantly, share the real, raw, honest and genuine stories. Real people. Real places. Made in-situ, right where they are. Together, most often, in conversation parties and one-on-one random connections that turn into strings that start to organize themselves in lines, sort of, and then, make a story. It’s starting to get interesting around here.
It’s part of our new work, to gather stories in real life on the spot made and shared around the world, at cities where we are finding them by talking to people every day who happen to cross our paths (or social media feeds) and designing the themes together. Currently in: Latvia. Discover more about S P A C E, the idea behind this work, and how you can support these efforts: at our crowdfunding page.
THUNDERSTORM. But not as bad as it might become, and quickly. so I’ll stay where I am yet a bit.
Am thinking about the conversation just now.
Motion and formula
The one about going with the flow. About going out of where you’re used to, in order to see what else is there. Taking risks. Stepping out. Going. Going, is the point. I remember talking about the coefficient of static friction being greater than the coefficient of kinetic friction, once, on a very different journey, to try to put it into some kind of easy-to-understand visual. But of course that is eleventh (or twelfth, depending on where you grew up) grade physics.
(The inclined plane, anyone? The mass and the force of gravity and the normal force, equal and opposite reactions, Newtonian physics, etc, and so on?) Those things change when we get quantum, but hey, most of the people in charge of things are still, let’s face it, in some kind of denial that there re still Things Not Yet Explainable by these Modern Methods of Science. We have no idea. In other words. We have no idea. Still, Bohr told them then to ‘Believe in the Existence of Atoms.’ I guess there is always going to be someone out there doubting something, smearing the thing that is emerging as a kind of paradigm shift, because it’s uncomfortable. And here we go, back to friction.) I want to talk about ‘frictionless coexistence,’ like we did in The Mirror. I want to talk about inclined planes. I want to continue my conversation with PC iabout d-v-a-t formulas and then start a new one with KE and MV about imaginary numbers and string theory.
The journeys are alighting.
The rain is starting. Stopping. And starting up again.
Let me change tables. Sit outside a bit. Where there is more airflow; where there might be a new nugget of a kernel of an idea that inspires the ripple of a tug of a stone on the surface of the new lake. A lake, say, in the middle of northern Finland, where the sun sets as the moon rises, simultaneously, in the month of June.
Koivu, DK’s new book about the summer of ‘white nights’ in Finland, is set to release autumn 2018. Learn more.
A new book from Kismuth Books is set to launch on 5 November in a small cafe with just a few people. Join author Dipika Kohli for this once-off low-key event, in which you’ll get to discover the creative process and ask any questions you have about how to start writing your own personal stories. Kohli was an editor for a small paper in southwest Ireland and a daily in Seattle before shifting to more work in sharing essays and first-person stories. Her book Breakfast in Cambodia (September 2016), was based loosely on two columns (for Saathee Magazine and Northwest Asian Weekly), about life and travel that landed her in Phnom Penh. Dipika was a Ted Scripps fellow in Boulder for environmental journalists in 2003, and the winner of two Japan Foundation grants for photography. She is currently co-hosting Atelier S P A C E with a small circle of people interested in co-creating something together, in sprints, and packing hyperlocal stories into short zines. Don’t miss this chance to connect in real life with a handful of others, and talk together about life, nostalgia, publishing, and the culture of drift.
WHEN DESIGN KOMPANY landed in Phnom Penh in March 2014, something incredibly magical took hold of me. I still remember the photo: I’m on a tuk-tuk, looking out at what was the Independence Monument, though I didn’t know it at the time. We’re rounding the circle, I’m staring. I’ve got one hand clutching the open-air tuk-tuk’s column, it’s like a movie, or a dream. After trying to put the experience of being here into words (my best shot, in Breakfast in Cambodia), I want to share with you the pictures and drawings of the aesthetic that moved me so much, in that first week, that I pressed for our team to stay here for a while. A flat to let. That turned into one year, then two, then three. It’s now almost been four years, and it’s time for me to look for the next place.
But before I go, this is the last dance. ‘Phnom Penh || S P A C E’ is the chapbook, a visual summary of some my finds when exploring the aesthetic of Cambodia. I didn’t train fully in art and design, I was an engineering major, and I spent my time abroad in Kyoto. But coming to Cambodia made me question this. Why wasn’t Phnom Penh an option when it came to where to study art, design, the ornament, ritual, symmetry, these kinds of things? When we were students, it was all about Florence. New York. London, Tokyo. But now, you can go anywhere. You can study anything. This was my self-designed independent study. I had no idea it would last more than three years.
What is Beauty? Who gets to decide? Here, in this place, it’s quite miraculous; never taught to us in art schools, but of a quality and temperament that only by being here, in situ, for a time, and absorbing, can you really feel. It’s not easy to articulate, but the pictures, I hope, and the drawings, will tell this story to the world, from the perspective of Atelier S P A C E. Can you dig it?
Free digital copy for those who join S P A C E in September.
DK: ‘A Nomadic Existence?’ asked one of my longest-term mentors. ‘What is it about, exactly? Can you name that? Can you paint a picture of what it IS? In other words, what is the content of your forum?’ Let me answer that. What IS it about. It’s about lots. It’s about the things that happen, magically, when we simply make *time* and *space* to converse, together.
AS: How does it work?
DK: I post on Mondays. We have a week to write a response. Then, on Sundays at 7PM ICT, I respond and craft the next day’s post. It’s emergent, one step at a time. It’s N+1. All of this is behind protected-page posts on this blog. Those who are taking part in the online forums are participant, see, and I truly mean are participating in the making of the content, as we go. We don’t have to know each other for a lifetime, heck we don’t even have to know one another for one hour. Or ever have met in real life. But… we show up together, and there’s a pattern of how this works, and what we can do with it, and you know? It’s a kind of community, without all the weird things that some communities turn into… I believe that this is a conversation space, and it’s also an exploration. I don’t know why I’m going into this much detail. Because I care so much? Because I lack editing skills? That’s where you come in, A. Thank you.
AS: Why is it interesting? What makes it different?
DK: We are looking for the a-ha. It comes, at times. I believe there is a way to design space for meaningful, magic moments. Connexion. Real connexion. I believe it has to be designed for, this kind of quality of truly well-collaborated, well-made space. There is design, but design is useless if it’s not inclusive and inviting and welcoming and made-by-the-collection of those who are there.
A DAY. A full day. All to myself. To write. No meetings, no fast internet connection to distract and take me away into the wide cyberspatial wonders. I am happy about this time. Making the time. Showing up for myself, to finish something that, hey, it’s been a long time in the works (everything important is, isn’t it?), but I’m really excited about the way it’s been developing, changing shape as it’s come around from being ‘a book’ to something else. An ‘experience.’ I am writing today.
This upcoming one is my first work that is… science fiction. It’s set in two of my favorite cities for peoplewatching and cafe culture: Copenhagen and Hanoi. Like the magazine we publish each week here in S P A C E, the book wants to connect and interconnect, to juxtapose people and places. But it’s all based on real life conversations, characters are drawn from those inspiring people I met on my journeys over six weeks in Scandinavia and more recently, eight in Hanoi.
Gathered my notes from random conversations, chance encounters. Telling the stories. Sharing them, but in probably one of the most unusual ways I have ever done so, to date. This is going to be a… set… of, um. Downloadable PDF pages. That go into a nonlinear set. Must be nonlinear! Of. Ready for this? Of… Zines. Writing, writing, shaping this thing. Making it work, fitting it into the bounded boxes. A collection. Really jazzed, on 1 September I’ll launch it. This one. It’s pre-orderable (USD $15). Checkit: Nostalgia Cà Phê.
[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?
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?