A Philosophy of the Moment · Ideas of Curiosity · In Việt Nam

The beginning is half of every journey

I AM WRITING FROM MY ROOM, and it’s morning, and there is a rooster telling me so. Except that rooster isn’t the first one up, usually. All of the other people in the house are already out. I heard that there was going to be some commotion, later in the morning. That people would be coming by to pick up some stuff, and move it out. Somebody else’s stuff. That’s been here since before I was, because this is a new living space.

This is a new chapter.

I guess you could define chapters of your life in that way, huh. By places where you’ve lived. Not just cities. Cities are great, cities are fantastic, but cities, I’m realizing the more I write about the things I care about from them, are no longer the same places they used to be. For me. I can’t speak for everyone, and I certainly can’t pretend to know something. But my particular experiences have led me to see that the city isn’t where, long term, I personally want to be. I think I had a hunch about this in New York City in the late 1990s when I was looking for the big road to the gold and the art world. Just writing that now seems funny and strange, and a little bit embarrassing, too. Growing up on the East Coast, though, New York was ‘it.’ Where you wanted to be if you wanted to be anybody in the arts. That was the programming. That was the conditioning. And now, I think about all that and pore through the pages of The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain, which my boss loans me, and points out the stories that are very good (‘Did you read “A Dog’s Tale?” Did you read “Is He Living or Is He Dead?” I go and read IHLOIHD and I laugh out loud and then blink: it’s the plotline for Posthumous! Then I read ADT and absolutely cry of indignation. I burst out my most bursting-out voice and the boss looks at me, and this time he blinks. Slow. ‘Some rich people are good,’ he says, sagely. That is the thing about bosses. They just know things, somehow.)

But the changing of chapters is where, I think, the good stuff is. Was it on the internet, or in a QM book, where I read: ‘Life happens on the edge of a change of state.’ Like, water boiling into gas, or gas turning into ice. Change of state. Transition. Life happens there. I remember being in Japan, this would also be in the 1990s. When I was studying in Kyoto. I remember Japan, because it was before New York, and I had never even been to NYC before I’d been to Tokyo. The falling-in-love with the city happened there. I know. A lot of people are like, ‘Tokyo?’ But the skylines and the things there were to draw with the line and photograph with the eye were multitudinous and out of my usual scape of seeing. That was why I stayed on, for a little while longer than I’d meant. Got to know the city well, got to hang out in Ueno often, got to see people and build a small life and meet people, and then meet them again, and in this small way, turn the place I found intriguing into a sort of a village. A place I could relax, a little, even if it was extremely lonely, most of the time. That was before internet. I can’t imagine what it must be like, now… I guess the internet is great though in some ways because I can live in a not-big city and run into people and run into them again and meet over time and then feel, in some way, a sense of connection and belonging. Even if this isn’t my town. Even if this isn’t even ‘my’ country. Less and less claim on the boundaries, now. I don’t have to wonder about the ‘where I’m from’ question as much as dive more deeply into the more important one, for me. The ‘who am I’ question. Which, obviously, can rustle people up if you start asking all about it. Who are you? What do you care about? What makes you move, sing, fly, dance, love? These are too big of a place to start with so many people, of course, but I am deeply curious about people and asking is how I learn, so that’s why I got into writing, and that’s why I got away from Tokyo. I couldn’t ask anything. I got away from New York, too, for the same reason. ‘Who are you? What do you want from me?’ F, f, f. So I went home and found the rest of the story waiting for me in the cupboards of the dusty room where I used to be when I was a pre-teen and then a teen and the magazines I’d collected. And then I started cutting them up. Bit by bit. The programming, the conditioning. Snip, snip, snip. The way women are portrayed, the way they are showcased, objectified. Men are also showcased, successified. There is something wrong here, I think, but not in words. I just cut and paste and write little things in comics and wonder if anyone will laugh along with me, but I’m cutting and pasting all winter long and then part of the spring, and then my parents ask me when I’m going to leave, already. So I do. I go away, not sure where. Without a plan. No idea. Thinking about how to turn DK into something ‘else.’ But not doing it, not until I find the right mode, the right impetus, for the thing to come. The change of state. Not just to Washington, but this time, further. Asia. Like, for a while. Like indefinitely. I go on a tour.

Book of Time

SLOWLY, THROUGH THE DISTANCE, the fog clears. This happens in Gangtok. It’s October, probably my favorite month. October 2013. I write a piece called “Cloudy feathers in Gangtok” and describe pigeons on roofs and the feeling of the mist on my face, and the way the light pinkens the tip of Mount Kanchenjunga, sending me into the tizzy that will not let me come back, not ever, to believing in anything I can’t see with my own eyes, or feel anything I haven’t felt in my own heart. There are sweaters in the suitcases in Delhi but those are heavy and far from where I am, and we are, because I always travel with Boss. Obviously. We are carrying around the people and places that matter most to us, no matter where we are. No matter where we go. Going is part of the work, though. Just like we are doing all this emailing to people to ask if they might like to come to ‘N’ in London and Copenhagen and later, Hanoi and Bologna and New York (see the pattern there?) is work in the other kind of way. Practicing the art of being there, showing up. Saying hi. This is hard for me, especially since 2016 has been, so far, a year of introversion. I mean, really. It’s actually not very good. I am the kind of person who needs new input all the time, so that is why the City was so appealing. But trips to Europe in recentish months have shown me that the City of old, the one where there is ‘energy and buzz and cool art,’ is really not that anymore. It’s just a marketplace. All reduced down, in that way, in my opinions. Everything is an opinion, though, that anyone writes. And media isn’t media anymore, or maybe it never was, and social media isn’t newsy, because I followed someone’s recommendation to the wrong part of the city for a snatch of breakfast and it was weird. It was like, ‘So now what.’ And then you go back to that old awareness. Nothing is for real, everything is subjective. An observer, observing a system, changes the system.

MOVERS CAME TO THE HOUSE AND TOOK HALF OF SOME STUFF that’s been stored behind the grand staircase away. I had wondered about it. Because the blockage of the front passageway in a home is bad feng shui. I’m not schooled in feng shui, but I do design spaces, and I’m sharing some of what the feeling of my ‘rooms’ for conversations and the installations and the once-off ‘events,’ which are really more, in my opinion, like ‘happenings,’ which are about people and connection and the shape of space, and the conversation, and the moment and the whohappenstobethere and not overly designed but half improvised, half make it up as you go, those are where I am learning how to place things and create the lighting and set the stage for these great moments to happen. Because it’s design. The architecture of the interstitial. Whoa. If that’s not esoteric, I don’t know what is. And I would never, ever block the front passageway. That just stifles. That stiffens, stagnates. It’s not a good thing. I open the windows of the room and let the air cross-ventilate, when it’s not raining so hard the drops poke their hands in and get on all my bajillions of scraps of this and nostalgia snips and the cut-up magazines from glossies that adorn most any of the many rooms and rooms of the chapters and chapters of the where I go, where I am, looking for Self in the Other, discovering the Stillness in the attentiveness to the Shape of Space. It’s getting there. Slowly, surely. I’m learning and changing, every day. To the journey, then. To boss-men, new old classics, text and the story to come. I don’t know where will be next.

But I’m going to investigate.

And learn. And think about the Next.

Because of course there will be one, and not in the too-far future. The only thing that will need to happen is the deciding and doing part. The beginning, as they say, is half of every journey.

16N · Experiments in Expression · Found in the Field · In Việt Nam

Guest post: ‘Skipping the awkward get-to-know-you-phase’

Published in S. P. A. C. E.

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A guest post today from Sarah Rhodes. Sarah had joined us at ‘N’ Phnom Penh, and reflects on that experience. 

WHEN I FIRST moved to Siem Reap, I was attending a lot of different events to meet different people and try and find my place and friends in a new city.

It was at one of these events where I met [DK], who was hosting ‘N’, an event that sounded a bit interesting, and although we didn’t get to talk directly, it was a few days later that we ended up having a great chat watching the sunset on a rooftop in Siem Reap town.

Whether it was the first meeting or the sunset chat there was no doubt that the connection had been made, so when I was visiting Phnom Penh in April last year and it coincided with the ‘N’ event, I considered myself very fortunate.

Sunset

It was during this visit that I realised the other attendees of the event had also had similar encounters with [DK], so it was no surprise that when we all arrived for this event we found that we automatically connected, as we had one main thing in common. The way the event was organised was well thought through; from the personal invitation, individually crafted official invitations, creative activities which with facilitated conversation beyond the usual ‘who are you?’ and ‘what do you do?’.

WHEN WE MET, it was like we didn’t have a long awkward get-to-know-you phase, it was easy to chat and talk about less usual things. I met many interesting people that night. I now have friendships with people in Phnom Penh from ‘N’, after all a friendship is formed by first talking with someone, and then talking with them again. —Sarah E. Rhodes (@saraherhodes)

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A Philosophy of the Moment · Experiments in Expression · Found in the Field · In Việt Nam · Mirror

Guest Post: ‘Sharing Stories’

TODAY, A GUEST POST from Sandro Gisler. DK got to know Sandro through a collaborative writing project of Kismuth Books, which culminated in the publication of a small anthology. More than a year on, as we reopen THE MIRROR, we asked Sandro if he felt like sharing his thoughts on being part of that journey, and where he is now. And, this.

Sharing stories

“THIS,” he says, “is precisely what campfires are for. The sharing of stories. There’s a spiritual connection between flame and narrative.” —V. M. Straka

CAMPFIRES. It has been a while. But the other day, I had once again the privilege to be a storyteller: My kids’ school hosted a Reading Night, and I volunteered to read a story. Equipped with a flash light, I sat in the dark in an old-school class room, a flock of five-year olds sitting cross-legged in a small circle, hanging on my lips as I told local folk tales.

Reading the Straka quote about the campfire made me reflect about Sharing Stories, and I soon realized: ‘Sharing Stories’ may be the most profound human experience. I have long held that language is at the core of what it means to be human.

Language can range from a simple tool for exchanging information all the way to provide comfort, to share value, to remember history and to form bonds. But in between, there is a wide spectrum of nods, of Hey-did-you-hear-about’s, of quick blurbs and fragmented reports. Standing at the water cooler, waiting at the bus stop, over dinner with loved ones.

Let me introduce at this point the Share button. Have you clicked one today? Several times? Was it a Share button that brought you here, to this post? Or did someone mention it at the camp fire last night?

What is the Share button’s value? Does it cut us off from others by driving us into Social Media isolation? Does it create that same social bond that the flames of a campfires or the shine of a flash light create?

Well, as much as I am a romantic sucker for camp fires and late night storytelling, I am also a pragmatist, and value a simple hug over a grand red carpet welcome. A quick coffee over an elaborate tea ceremony. That’s where the Share button comes in. The Share button is the global water cooler, the café at the corner of the universe, the pub of Earth’s town square.

Glimpses

THERE ARE FEW THINGS in the world I like better than sitting at a campfire. But let’s face it; had I only shared stories and formed bonds while sitting at a campfire, it would’ve been a lonely life.

I treasure the shouts, blurbs, dinner table fragments just as much. And likewise, the glimpses into the souls and lives of those I’m connected with through social media. Whom I would not see at a campfire or a dinner table any time soon. I want to know how they feel. About the bus ride that morning, about the election, about the refugees, about the lack of snow, about what will come next.

There is a value in every human interaction, no matter how mundane or how electronic. What matters is the connection. —Sandro Gisler (@sandrogisler)

 

16N · A Philosophy of the Moment · In Việt Nam

What’s normal? by ‘N’ Phnom Penh

Editor’s note: Guests of ‘N’ in Phnom Penh authored this essay, together. Read more about the project 16N here.

IN 2015, GIRLS WEAR PANTS, suits, have pixie hair, tattoos and even chase men. These are now normal.

Other normal situations are validated only when backed up by science, like what is a normal blood pressure? The rest are subjective. As Morticia Adams quoted: “Normal is an illusion.”

But… is it? Normal is something that has already been done, many times. The more something has been done, the more normal it is. Actually, there’s more. Way.

THE NORMAL DISTRIBUTION CURVE IS A GRAPH which shows the spread of random variables, or behaviours, in a population. It centres around the mean, or average, which is the sum of all expected behaviours divided by the population. 99.7% of all values are within 3 standard deviations of the mean. Like this:

Normal Distribution Curve
Normal Distribution Curve

When very recently I met with and tried to explain this concept of “normal” to DK, it was, um, funny. She didn’t quite know what I meant.

She had, I think, her own idea about ‘N.’ She said: “You mean, like the normal vector? Like, 90 perpendicular to the horizontal? And then when 16 voices converge, wham, on a plane, like this, see this animation? Yeah, like that, so when wham, that happens, that MOMENT, that’s when, whoo, you go UP, into SPACE, like 3D, like up the vertical that is the “NORMAL” vector!!! OMG!!!!”

Not quite, DK, but, that’s cool.

Then I thought, Morissey.

Morissey
Morissey

MORISSEY SANG ‘there is no such thing as normal’; a statement I believe and find comforting, in that I repeat it frequently whenever the need arises.

However, in recent years I have become more aware that a CONSTRUCT of normality exists, and if you don’t neatly fit into this, then prepare for questions!

‘We don’t have to agree’

NORMALITY IS WHAT YOUR ENVIRONMENT expected you to do or think, the referent environment mostly has referent expectation. With that in mind, here’s a thought.

We don’t have to 100% agree to someone, as long as we can find a common ground that’s acceptable to both sides. You get yourself an agreement. They said it right when they said: “Better communication skills will get a better outcome.”

May I be frank? Okay, these are my random innermost thoughts. Ready? I’ve never met a person who feels normal. Abnormal is normal. Normal for who? Dehumanizing in any culture is not normal. I don’t want a normal job or relationship. Describe life as vibrant, sticky, juicy, challenging, fluffy… my ideas about normality are negative. Is that my “normal” thinking pattern? Hm. Now I’m wondering.

Maybe it’s this, though. Normal is when we can live simply. Read books whenever we want to without being tested on. Paint because we want to, not because we’ve got something to prove. Enjoy the moment with no place to rush off to. We just want to be, boundless and infinite… Or? I’m still thinking…

—N

P.S. Some other things that came up after the event last Sunday, as I’ve been ruminating. Normality. Like the rest. Falling within a deviation determined by cultural narratives, science and, most importantly, perception. Normal shifts based on country, decade, household… Constantly changing, ever imperfect. It is those ideas and people outside the spectrum – that are abnormal – that are often responsible for greatness.

And this one: Normality. A quality that can only exist in reference to other things – the past, other people, abstracted rules. A quality of the self-conscious ‘I’ rather than the present ‘I.’ As a substitute for balance, it’s a quality forever at war with itself.

What do you think? What’s normal? Why do we think so?