The rain came.
The rain stopped, momentarily.
It was one hell of a rain, just now. And I got stuck at a cafe. I got stuck because it was raining so hard I didn’t want to dash even the less-than-four-minute route it would take to get from that spot to this one, where I am, thanks to the spell of a breeze and some sun.
Before the rain
Meantime, while waiting, I chatted someone up and it was incredibly dull. I mean, really dull. I should probably refrain from even saying that because, well, it’s dull and that’s that, right? But as much as I give out about being the way I am (occasional curmudgeon, fully admitted, and antisocial, etc), the truth is, when four plus days pass, having packed everyone off for their own adventures so as to FOCUS and WRITE SOMETHING, and I haven’t spoken to anyone in real life I get a little… wigged out.
An art of the moment: designing for it
Over at DK for the last 38 weeks, I’ve been writing and co-creating a weekly e-mag, S P A C E. It’s kind of been a labor of love, at first, mostly, but with time and continuations and brute-force figuring it out as I go, I’ve discovered a couple of important things.
For the last two years, I took a break from Kismuth and my personal projects.
I wanted to see if I could collaborate.
Like, for real. With new people. In foreign lands. Maybe where I didn’t know anyone. Definitely where I didn’t speak what they did.
Art is conversation
I guess I had it in mind that it could be a cool, beautiful and interesting way to see what else is ‘out there,’ and co-create with people I had yet to discover, and learn from.
Idealistic. Idyllic. And totally off.
This was a mixed bag.
I can’t stand blogs that go into the whole, ‘I’m so vulnerable’ and silly jazz like that, so I will refrain. But the short awakening was: I can’t work with too many people, and I know that, and I’ve known that for a long time.
Which. Was why. Of course it was why. I had started here. Writing Kismuth.
People would go, ‘Not everyone has the time and luxury to write and travel, like you.’
Writing is all sharing
But yeah. I’m writing more here now. I’ve put together the new issue of Briefly in Sheffield. I loved this story and how people reacted to the zine version of it, which many of us in design like to think of as ‘prototyping’. Although, yeah. Some people think I want to be a ‘zine master.’
I just want to quickly flesh out a story, print it, let people read it, see if they like it. If they do, ask why. If they don’t, ask why.
What else is there?
THE FIRST FEW TIMES I WAS THINKING, ‘I want to write,’ I guess I was still a kid. I had this notion that you could do it, you could do anything, if you just wanted to enough. Not knowing that there would be a whole lot of people trying to tell you, no, no no, that’s not what you do with your life. When you write, it’s your hobby. When you work, you know, you make money. That’s how it is. Writing is a dream for some people who are idle and rich. Focus. On the tasks at hand. Which are practical, which have everything to do with making it happen, for the things that make sense, because they have to, otherwise… well. Otherwise there would have been no point in existing the way I have chosen to exist… I imagine I hear these things—and I’ll come back to that—I’d imagine, and in this imagining, I’d verbalize it.
I’d state it, like was a fact.
To anyone who’d listen, I’d say, ‘You can hear these things in people’s heads,’ you insist, covering up for yourself on the why question, the why you’re not writing for real, the stuff you want, and you are working at a newspaper because it feels… like the right thing to do, instead. You intellectualize and come up with reasons not to put words together the way you want, the way that some of the most intriguing people, in foreign lands and closeby, will say really inspire them.
Then you will know, but only then that it doesn’t matter about practicals. Until then you are insisting. Saying you have to write for the papers, the magazines, put the freelance-y bits together so… you can… get more work like that. ‘You really, really can hear everyone telling you how it should go. They are there in the everywhere… ‘ Except the day you stop and see. That they are not at all in the everywhere. On that particular eve or morn, you see, at once and forever from that point forward, that they are ringing about, all right, but only in your head.
Accepting the new directions. They are making their own case to exist. —KM
THE FALL OF 2015. Sweden. A small boat harbor. A little bit of time and space. Me, my writing stuff. A couple of black pens and an empty grid notebook. The big idea was to go and discover about ‘uncertainty’. I mean, it was pretty open-ended. Sure it was. That was the point of it. I didn’t know this at the time, but I was going to run into a bunch of people who might, just might, change my outlook on how things are. How things go. What things mean, don’t mean, and what they might look like if you just shift the angle, change the lens. Another universe, for me.
Cool and Novemberish, the autumn. Such a discrete opposite to the same time of year in Cambodia, my home-away-from-home-away-from-home. A long story, this drifting into new territories.
You could say it’s inspired by Situationism, but I think it’s more about my situation. Getting lost on purpose starts with some degree of, let’s just be direct… necessity. Nobody who is comfortable where she is would really opt to get out there and get lost… would she?
To sort of figure out what the heck was going on with my life, I did something I very infrequently do. I wrote poetry. Poetry! Of all things. Yet it fit. The more the little boat rocked, oh yes, just a little gale, but also quiet sometimes, but then super cold and even -7 one day, that’s CELSIUS, I got faster and shorter with my notes. I didn’t write the novel. Not quite. I am in the middle of it now, though.
It’s two years later, for sure, and I’ve been to a bunch of other places in the meantime. But the story from there, the interviews and the conversations that shaped the new thinking (which inspired the title, a title I can’t share yet because you know how it is when you talk too much about something and then you sort of lose interest in your own idea? Well, yeah, that). I need to share the gleanings, the learnings. The Denmark and Sweden of my six weeks in Scandinavia. If you scroll down on this page, under ‘links to essays,’ you’ll find ‘Six weeks in Scandinavia.’ Oh! One of the people I met was playing an incredible song and I drew it, and now it’s on their CD. That’s what the pic is about. Chance. Uncertainty. Serendipity. The road.
If you’re curious about the new book that’s coming out, check it out.
Here we go.
It’s starting. The new writing.
I love this part.
AN UNLIKELY CONNECTION, but a powerful one. I have a lot to share about the conversations that began in virtual space and grew, and bloomed, into a remarkable collaboration. Here’s a hint.
A Punjabi-language magazine. A place for people to come and learn and write and make space to discover, and co-discover.
(Was I reading into it? I wasn’t sure. This is what my impression was, taking away from the internet gleanings on Wikipedia about Gurbaksh Singh, who edited Preetlarhi magazine.)
Took the risk in late 2013, from a hotel in Gangtok.
Could I ask about the writing residency there, I wrote into a form on their website. Could I know more about it, perhaps, since I’ve, um, I’ve got this story I want to write, and that would mean having to come to Amritsar?
I was typing on a digital tablet, which like me, was on the brink. Fumbling our way around India, with no plan or agenda or expectations. Or money. Could we make it to Punjab? If we got invited, we would find a way. And we did. A lot of bus transfers, via Kathmandu and this dusty border town at Nepal-India. Chandigarh. Et cetera. But that was just the road journey, to Preetnagar.
What happened next? So much. But the story continued, as we kept in touch ambiently through the next four years. Here we are in April 2017. And this month, Preetlarhi published in English the first chapter of Kanishka. All kinds of things to say about this, but for the moment, it’s just, ‘Wow.’
I’ve always written, but not always for myself and a handful of others like those who find Kismuth and me and what I’m sharing, and who read the stories I publish through this site. All of this started in 2012. With the launch of The Elopement, a true story of leaping from America to Ireland, with a soon-to-be partner, perhaps for life. Now, with The Village Report, read the rest of that story. How a couple together broke free of yet other mores, abandoning a way of life for the ‘practice of the unknown, uncertain, and different.’ With a kid.
THE VILLAGE REPORT: BREAKFAST IN CAMBODIA is the new name for the book I’d promised to share with you when I set out on this long, long trip. I remember talking to RF at the Y when this whole thing got formulated, in a tepid way. She said, ‘Shree* said y’all are going traveling around the world.’
At the time, Shree was just four, so he didn’t know that you don’t just blurt out stuff like that. Makes it seem like you have some kind of cheek, bucking the status quo and tapping some unknown quantity of hidden funds from somewhere. It doesn’t seem fair. Taking a trip around the world for a year, or more. Coming back, perhaps. Storing stuff in friends’ attics, basements, extra houses. Even your parents’ place, even if that’s a little awkward, given that you are leaving because you’re not sure what they think about your philosophy and your ideals about Life and Purpose and Meaning and most especially Parenting, and you agree to disagree (but not really) and you Go Away. You make a big deal about it. You are stubborn and boxy. You kick up a yard sale, leave stuff on the yard on Gregson Street in Durham, NC, with a note saying, ‘Take stuff. Leave some money in the mailbox,’ and you are mesmerized that people actually do leave money in the mailbox, and then you take the last of it, which is way more than you wanted it to be, and you pack it up in the old room that is the new room in the house that your parents have. You’ll come back and get it. You will. You solemnly swear.
THREE YEARS LATER you call your mother for the first time since you left. You have come to some realizations, you say. You don’t want this to be hard. You know it’s hard as hell. You still do it. You email. You say, ‘I’m ready to talk to you, if you’re on for it.’ You wonder how it got this way, how you got to be way far away from the land and people you used to know, and yet, and yet, you are still connected. In the ambient, internet-y way, you only have to do one thing. Email. She says cool. You call. You have had some thoughts. You aren’t sure where all the thoughts are going to land. You erase many of them, mid-conversation. You write, you delete. It’s like the creative process, all over again. Just like every fork in the road: that time at the border in Nepal, where you were freaked, or the one when you had to face the people you didn’t want to face on account of fear and diffidence and pride and stubbornness and, mostly, yeah, fear. You do this. You go. You go on the road for a year, maybe more, with no plan, no agenda, and no source of income. Fling of the die? Throwing yourself into the ‘net’ that is supposed to appear? Trusting the process. Diving into uncertainty. Calling 2013 the ‘Year of Enchantment,’ like dressing it up makes going vulnerable somehow okay (it does, actually, help in some way), and 2014 the one of caring and the next one the year of the mountain and then, finally, it takes this one to get to the point where you realize it’s time to call home, the 2016 year comes, and it’s, (Jung’s Great Unconscious, plugging into your personal one, that’s what did it, yeah? had to be): it’s, yeah. ‘The Year of the Relationship.’
FLASH BACK TO 2013. IT IS APRIL IN DURHAM. The flowers are going to bloom. I’d said to Shree*, when the flowers come out, then we go. We will. I promise we will. I have no idea where, or how, but we’re going to go.
Does he know how lucky he is? Someone from The Road would ask, way later. By that point I’d gotten into a groove. I’d grown cooler, more collected. This practicing uncertainty thing wasn’t so bad. Not yet. Not really. I’m a picture of repose when this young person asks it. ‘No,’ I say. ‘He’s just a kid.’But before. Before the whole moving over to Asia, before the airplane changes at Narita for the longest last leg of my life and trains and buses and too many suitcases, I’d had to face the others. The people. The old villagers. In Durham, NC, where I’d thought I’d had a bit of a home (but now am sure I didn’t). And answer the hard questions, the ones behind R’s, when she’d asked it. ‘Are you really going traveling with your kid? For a year? But how will you… how will you live? Are you going? Is that true?’ People were asking. They wanted to know. It was getting a little uncomfortable. It was getting hard.
Back then: Ohhhh, man. How do I explain this in a way that makes it okay?
Now: YES. I am. We are. It’s absolutely, definitely true. And I trust that it will work, because it has worked. And that is experience. What was that thing Einstein said, about personal experience being more important than knowledge? And what about the other stuff, Jung’s stuff, about finding your ‘tribe’ in the people you meet and feel a kinship to that’s outside of geographic, dogmatic bounds, but an ‘usness,’ a sense of that, which is of a variety uniquely its own?
In this frame of mind, from this opposite side of the world and having emerged from a long period of wondering what it was all about and now having written The Village Report to share the conclusions, some of which those reading along in the Kismuth newsletters will have seen me meandering towards and then veering away from and wondering about, later, or assigning less and less importance to the ‘figuring out’ of which, I’m relaxed. I’m also older. Sure. That helps. And so is Shree. That means it’s not so weird anymore. Expat kids are everywhere, here. Life moves. It happens. People find us. We work for them, from time to time. We invent new ways to keep ourselves alive, fed, happy, safe, together, sound, warm, cherishing, engaged, and most of all inspired, when we interact wholeheartedly with The Village. I can tell you more about it another time. Or you can read it in the book. Or we can meet for a cup of tea one day, if I’m in your neighborhood, and talk about it. Maybe a book tour will happen, in living rooms around the world. I’d never, ever send The Village Report to a traditional publishing house—that would ruin it. I don’t need someone to put it on a poster, to ‘market’ it for me, in order to know it’s good. I’m only sharing it through the Kismuth page. This one. And that’s it. Because if just three of you get it, then you’re the three that it’s for.
HUMANITY. The idea is that we are human, we are connected and connecting, are engaged and engaging. We see each other when we notice our differences as much as our similarities… we are human. We are all just part of it. The big thing. The village. And this book? It’s written by not just one of us, but all of us. And that’s it, you know? The village? The village is the sharing.
This book is for AKK.