LET’S TALK ABOUT learning. How we discover, find, and make new connections. Ideas, shapes of thinking and the input that comes from places that might not be the ‘usual’ ones. No more boring meetings: What are the containers that make great conversations *happen*? Conversations that lead to better collaboration and better work? Those are important. Let’s not waste time. Let’s make things better, together.
It’s been three weeks since I got to Hồ Chí Minh City. I think. I’ve lost track of the days. There is good news, and better news. I’m happy. Things are going more curiously than they were, up in the Highlands, but maybe that’s because I’m changing. Not the world, but me. Inside-Outside Self was a prompt for ‘Papers’ this past few months, and writing about that, with others in my communities, both in real life and online, has been nothing short of transformational.
They say that happens, when you make time for reflection. I made time for that all my life, but now, it’s like, super turbocharged, or something, because… six months in a block in a foreign land where no one knows me longer than 1 year, et cetera. That’s different from other stuff. I’m reminded of Seven Years in Tibet, a book I really liked, and also, Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance because the author of the latter had spent, what was it, ten years in India?… wandering around… the wondering is the the part I’m doing now, whilst not-wandering, on account of… hi, the pandemic? Yeah. Whilst staying still, I had this idea…
‘Make it happen, DK’
Decided to bring ‘N’ into shape here where I am. Decided, also, to make it a four-person four-part series. Why? Social distancing, for one, but also, the place I have in mind, which, naturally, has an ‘N’ in it, is going to be somewhere that would get overwhelmed quickly with any more than 4 guests at a time where we would meet. That place reminds me of my favorite cafe in the world, Joe Bar, in Seattle. I miss it. I miss the feeling of there. Of going over there just whenever, often a Sunday evening around seven, playing cards with whomever I’ve met through the week and invited to join me, if not this Sunday, then next, why not. I get tired of these things where people are flaky and can’t make a decision about making time for talking in real life. I got tired of trying to make appointments with people largely because I found most people dull (being honest) and I much prefer conversations amongst mixed groups now. So, no more 1:1, for me, not really. Instead: N. Cause, yeah. Just go and host a party, gosh, make the magic moment *happen*. And only amongst those who say ‘yes’ to the invitations to show up for, we-don’t-even-know-what-it-is-yet. That kind of person is my kind of person-I-want-to-talk-more-with. I found a lot of them, too, through ‘N’: London, Bangkok, Phnom Penh was where I started it… and Hanoi, too.
A topic, this time, for this edition of ‘N’, is ‘Nhà.’
Which has emerged, naturally, from conversations of late.
HOW IT WORKS. Slowly, I’ll find the right guestlist for this. It takes time. I’ll just invite the people who seem the most likely to be a fit, as I discover them. Today, V. Wow. That was a great (and short, densely packed) conversation. *Thank you!* Also. Yesterday, T., who may or may not read this (T: if you are reading, it’s really just a small conversation party amongst people who I choose to invite, not so much of an elaborate thing, now that we are doing the social-distancing four-person four-part series version of ‘N’). Yeah…. It’s a conversation, anyway. And an invitation. And U? Did you get my email? Checkit.
Photography by Boss. Poetry by Dipika Kohli. They are a tag-team at DK for most of our zines from Southeast Asia 2018-2020. And one, I might add, that loves to celebrate search, query, and inquiry. In other words, asking more questions than seeking answers.
I thought I was done with ‘N’ for a while. I thought I had these rules around it: the old page for it and my best attempt to share the story so far, is here. (I had some other side sites going to “document the journey,” or whatever, but that became tiring. People wanted me to do that kind of thing, because they said it would be good, so sure, I was new at experience design project S P A C E jam stuff, back then, so I tried to do it their way.) Kind of went like this:
Them: ‘You need to explain it, DK. Don’t you have pictures? So they can see what it’s going to be like? You have to sell it to them.’
Me: ‘WTF, it’s art. You don’t explain art. You experience it. Then you decide for yourself what it means.’
‘Why am I even.. asking you? Gosh. You’re just not. Getting this, are you. F, f, f.’
‘Maybe I’m not that clever enough…’
‘You want to be spoon-fed or something?’
‘Yes! Tell it to me like–‘
UNDOCUMENTED. So mostly, there are no pictures. I think it gets in the way of the intimacy of the space. I do have one 16-persons-in-a-pic ‘N’ selfie. I did take a few shots in Phnom Penh and London, because, wow, it was just… beautiful to have the whole 16-way blind date idea in real life and so yeah, documented those but they’re like not that great of pictures because, iPad?, and also, dark. So? I have them. I have the memories, though, and I cherish those far, far more. I don’t have to share them anywhere. So yeah. I didn’t keep up with the whole side site journal documenting thing. Things like that to ‘maintain buzz’ and ‘include people who couldn’t be there’ got to the point where the mood to do that just… ended. So I casually was okay with it if I forgot the passwords or maintaining it got too hard and I just… let it go. These things happen, too. I said, after ‘N’ Penang: NOSTALGIA, that I was done for a while. That I would take a break.
But, then… I fell in love with a venue. Yeah, I did.
It just has that vibe.
It’s perfect, for ‘N’.
Yup, I found a crazy cool venue, with an ‘N’ in its name, in a city that has an ‘N’ in it, and *these are among the criteria* that I look for when I choose to throw an ‘N’ party. An ‘N’ party is a big blind date where 16 people show up to meet each other, in real life, to talk about a topic that starts with… guess what letter!
So yeah. I’m here, and I’m starting to go through the old conversations in old emails and seeing who might like to be part of ‘N’ in the secret city where I am going to be when it might happen. Yes! I am going to decide later! I am going to leave it open, for now. I am going to confirm, when I feel like it, when it’s closer to then, if it is happening or not. (To everyone, that is, who isn’t already ‘in’ on the conversations, where we confirm stuff and send agendas and meetpoints and homework. Not everyone needs to know. So I’ll be vague and casual and noncommittal with anyone who is not, of course, actually saying ‘yes’ to my direct invitation. If you just got email from me, this is the jam.
The hosting of an ‘N’
The people who come are the right people. The things that happen are the only things that could have. It starts when it starts (but we’ll probably say 7PM), and it’s over when it’s over (this can last years), and the last thing is, if you’re not having a good time or learning something, you can leave. That’s ‘the law of two feet.’ I didn’t make these up; these are the basic frame making rules of what’s called Open Space Technology, HT MC, who left the book Open Space Technologies on purpose for the random passerby to find it, in her cafe in Battambang, where said passerby (yours truly, DK) chanced to go (solo trip! Battambang 2014!!) and see it, read it, and begin to host everything in Open Space style, from that point on.
So… Who got my email? Email me back and I’ll send the next e-note in that sequence. I wrote it in 2014, but it still fits the mood of this cookie, and I’m ready to do an ‘N’ jam, again, with 16 people who are going to like what they see when they read this invitation and follow through the links.
Are you there, curious, reading, listening, and wondering? People have come from out of the city and out of the country to join ‘N’, so please get in touch if you are resonating with this. We’re looking for you, if yes. If you got the invite and said ‘no,’ that’s cool, really, it is, but, um, no way ever am I going to ‘keep you updated on future things!!’
‘N’ is a filter, for me. What kind of people say ‘yes’ to this wacky, crazy invitation to show up in real life for something that you don’t even know what it is yet?
My kind of people.
S P A C E kind of people.
Artful, curious, and ready-for-the-things people.
With that set, there’s no way that you can go wrong, as a host. Because the people who come, like Open Space says, are the right people. Guess what? We don’t care how popular or good-looking or smart or rich you are. We just want you to want to be part of it. That’s it. That’s the whole thing, the center of it. ‘N’ quests you.
Agile. Agile design, agile publishing, and agile ‘N’.
This is how we roll.
Comments are open for a bit, in case someone wants to say something about all this ? Email also open. The new new address, not the old new address. Tx.
The artists gathered for this co-created zine are four very curious people.
Art, natural patterns, and words intertwine in a collaboration between them.
The nature of art
Lee Moore Crawford, a floral designer and artist, once struck up a conversation about the Japanese art of ikebana when DK happened upon her arranging flowers at a coffee shop in Durham, NC, circa 2011. We never forgot it.
So when DK collaborated with another creative person who takes inspiration from nature to make the cover image of this issue (Dipika Kohli took the original photograph in Huế, then forwarded it to digital processing artist Nils don Sihvola in Finland), we wanted to ask Crawford what her feelings would be. Lots came of this interaction, including a short piece, ‘Bloom.’
To give the collection continuity, we then circled back to former culture editor Michael Bridgett, Jr., whose article, ‘Why I Art,’ opens yet another fresh perspective.
A poem, co-created with @reijovalta. Asemic writings. And the lead story, ‘Coat Check,’ inspired by a night of getting lost by design.
Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of writing. The word asemic means “having no specific semantic content”, or “without the smallest unit of meaning”. With the non-specificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning, which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret. All of this is similar to the way one would deduce meaning from an abstract work of art. Where asemic writing differs from abstract art is in the asemic author’s use of gestural constraint, and the retention of physical characteristics of writing such as lines and symbols. Asemic writing is a hybrid art form that fuses text and image into a unity, and then sets it free to arbitrary subjective interpretations. —Wikipedia on ‘asemic writing’
Get the zine when you subscribe this week to S P A C E. To subscribe, go here.
For the writer, it’s been said that the best thing to do upon waking up is grab the pen… or at least the keyboard, and empty out all your earliest thoughts or journal away the sins of yesterday. It’s a great method for any artist that is meant to really help get into the right kind of artistic mindset for the rest of the day.
These days, first thing I’ve been reaching for is the cell phone.
I have this grand compunction to know what time it is, even though I have gone out of my way to do the kind of work that is not time sensitive. I don’t have a place to report to by a certain time, nor do I have any specific deadlines I’m trying to reach. “Knowing the time” on the clock does little to help me at all, yet I keep reaching over as soon as I’m awake. I’ve been here before… Instead of being on “world time,” the intervals of reality where events happen when they happen and people awaken and choose to move with their needs and their hearts; I find myself on “corporate time,” the time invented to create a schedule to move items by rail that would allow people 200 years ago to coordinate and make a lot of money.
AT LAST, the picture of our guests at ‘N’ Hanoi: NARRATIVE. What stories do we tell to the world? Which ones do we tell ourselves? In this brief encounter, 16 people whose paths might not have otherwise crossed conversed and wrote, read and listened, in a space of just 2.5 hours. A magic moment. *!
[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?