Common Discourse is a project designed to help others (and ourselves) think through creativity, focus, and intentional work—from Alex Tan & Alice Otieno.
Every Tuesday we share words from a journal, a few ideas, a quote from somebody else, and links worth sharing. On Fridays we invite a guest to share images from their camera roll and a sound that resonates with them.
From Alice —
In the fullness of time, the truth of anything will reveal.
I’m currently writing this piece several thousand feet above the ground, as I head to Los Angeles. This will be my first time visiting the city, as well as meeting my friends and colleagues at MOUTHWASH. I had a conversation with someone towards the end of last year who mentioned that LA always felt like possibility, but it wasn’t until landing, that I fully understood where they were coming from.
The city doesn’t feel real, and has always had a dream like quality when viewing it on screen. Palm trees encompass it, with tones of fuchsia, yellow and burnt orange that paint the floral landscape. That, coupled with the favourable weather (how is it sunny 90% of the time?!) makes it a place that one can’t help but fall for.
Much of my creative journey so far has looked a lot like leaning into these unknown spaces and trying to find possibilities in the midst of it. I find myself retelling the story often, of how I met this group of people in the first place. But after this experience, I think about it differently than I ever have before.
Around Spring 2020, I came across the studio’s work on Are.na and was blown away by the level of excellence and intentionality, coupled with the resonance in ideas that I was interested in at the time. A few months passed, and this overwhelming conviction that I would work with them, in whichever capacity, grew over time. I even drafted up an email to Alex, in June of 2020, but it just didn’t feel like the right time. Looking back, in hindsight, it probably wasn’t.
Fast forward to 18th March 2021, after waiting a few weeks from finally sending an email, and I was sitting on a call with Alex and Jason talking about working together on the journal. A year later, I’m on the way to meet the now team of 10.
While the narration of the story sounds linear, the path to get “here” certainly wasn’t. Throughout the trip, I found myself reflecting back on the moments that led me to this point in light of a comment someone left a couple of weeks ago on Helsinki’s Bus analogy.
I realised that a lot of times, when venturing into an unknown space, the only thing that you have to reaffirm and hold onto is the conviction you first had. Trusting that if it was placed in you, it was for a reason. I love the way Ben Okri writes about this idea in his book A Way of Being Free, where he challenges us to bear witness to the inner poet, that pulls us towards spaces of freedom and birthing of new ideas.
“Hunger is an antagonist. Different kinds of hunger. Society can be defined as the sphere in which all our hungers meet, as in a great chaotic marketplace. The poets hunger is our hunger, which is for more life. We all feel that terrible pull sometimes. We are being herded down, tricked along , illusionary highways which seem to lead nowhere, except only to the grave. Did we choose our roads? Did our roads choose us? Did we arrive on them by proxy?
— A Way of Being Free, P6
Fred Moten & Stefano Harvey share similar sentiments in The Undercommons, where they relate the wild beyond offered to us from Jazz to one’s calling.
“...the response is already there before the call goes out. You’re already in something.” You are already in it. For Moten too, you are always already in the thing that you call for and that calls you.”
Looking back, I can see how that invisible path drew and led me to where I am now. Much of what we’re called and purposed to do exists outside the ordinary—it exists in an other-place outside of our comfort zone. I mentioned to a few teammates on a call before I flew out that one aspect I love about travelling—especially flying— is the liminality that’s brought about by the experience. For a moment, it really feels as though you’re suspended in time. There’s something freeing about that. I guess this sense, more mental than it did physical, has made itself manifest throughout the past two years.
For much of this time, I’ve felt like I’ve been floating in an out of this space. Where you’re in-between the exit of one threshold and the entrance of another. A mixture of emotions, thoughts and frustrations fight it out in this space. Liminality as the birthplace of what’s possible. It’s the space where what’s familiar and unfamiliar divide leaving only a barren, unchartered land that awaits a courageous soul to journey the terrain.
I’ve been writing about timing a lot recently, mostly because I’ve found myself in places where I’ve had to surrender to it. At times, we may view this as passivity. But I’ve been learning that it’s in timing where we’re tested on how firmly we really want the things we say we do. When I said to myself, two years ago, that I’ll work with this group of people, I didn’t necessarily set a time frame for myself. But inwardly, subconsciously, everything I was doing was subtly preparing and shaping me to become the person I needed to be for that space, and to encounter these connections. It’s only upon being placed within a thing, that we appreciate the right timing and the beauty that comes from surrendering to the process.
Time helps us revere and honour the final outcome, tied to where we’re placed. Indicating to us that each stage is equally as important as the one following, the one prior and the end goal. Frustrations within the in-between moments, viewed from a different perspective, can be the birthing ground for purpose, calling and a renewed sense of vision. It’s only upon zooming out and looking down from a thing that you see the full path that you’ve travelled. You realise that every valley equipped you for the mountain, and every mountain is the apex point of your becoming—neatly arranged to unite into your final form, in due time.
“Keep sowing. Time will reap. Weave your songs by whatever means you can”
— Ben Okri, A Way of Being Free, p12
A few ideas
I. THE GARDENER
A garden is pretty only because the gardener’s hands are dirty.
II. GENEROSITY THROUGH CRAFT
Today, there is a radical obsession with the personal identity that is defined by our skillsets.
“I’m a designer.” typically surfaces a conversation before “This is what I’ve had the chance to be a part of.”
Hardly anything matters without generosity in mind. Designing, writing, and photographing is not what we do or who we are, it’s what we make possible for others.
III. THE POWER OF STORY
The most overlooked skill as a visually creative person is the ability to explain your ideas with words. When we only use visual reference to explain our idea, we risk fabricating something too close to what has already been established because the new creation lacks narrative.
The best creations are not informed purely by photographs, design, or videos. The best creations start with a story, that is manifested through whatever medium best fits in delivering the message.
So where the visual reference (or what has already been made) falls short to fully explain the idea, the story fills in the gaps to make it unique.
The difference between good and great in a highly competitive and dense market is your ability to tell a better story than the person next to you. So create with intention. Read and write as much as you possibly can. It can only make you better.
A quote from somebody else
“There is always the joy of rediscovering old ways of telling stories, of stumbling upon paths and roads not fully travelled along, of extending old lodes, old pleasures, of continuing old dreams.
There is always the joy of finding new ways of telling stories without telling stories, new ways of sustaining interest, of making the reader turn the page, new ways of lodging hidden or unstated narratives in the mind — compacted narratives, tangential fictions which are in fact whole long periods of folded time.”
— Ben Okri
Links worth sharing
⚙️ System is a free, open, and living public resource that aims to explain how anything in the world is related to everything else.
🏜 Frank Nesbitt reflects on California’s landscape, Generally Speaking.
⌨️ Space Type Generator, a kinetic type generator from kielm.
🎈Virgil Abloh’s Playground. An archive of Virgil’s world, featuring over 20,000 images and videos.
💐 Hands for Mothers Day by Nikki Giovanni.
🕰 Brad Holdgrafer is telling Super Brief stories on design.
Thanks for consuming!
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🗣️ This project is more fun when there is dialogue amongst those who are reading. Use the comment feature at the bottom of this article to start a conversation, we’ll use your ideas for future briefings and food for thought.
Very much appreciate your commentary on time and how it’s helpful to surrender to it. I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of time lately. It’s interesting how we always try to master time to somehow speed up a process. But I like how you reflect on time and accept it as an uncontrollable factor by choosing to not set deadlines on goals or milestones.
This week’s newsletter really hit me in a way unimaginable. It feels like I needed to see this message. I don’t necessarily have the words to express myself as well written the letter was but, I’d like to tell you guys what you doing with Common Discourse and each and every project and side project affiliated with Mouthwash studios feels purposeful. You can feel the intentionality with everything and I simply cannot thank you guys enough for it. Through words, sound and imagery you guys never fail to leave me inspired and in awe.
This is me simply saying thank you for not only this post but actually making your dreams and ideas into life/fruition. They inspire a lot of us