Take the leap.


Stitch is at a half-point now. The artists are hard at work with the words, and we are busy finalizing the dates and venues for the events that will showcase their work in April. I’m busy preparing for the Kickstarter* campaign now, too.

Save the date: April 8 kickstarter launch for STITCH!

*Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing platform to fund creative projects. “Backers” pledge small amounts in exchange for “rewards.” If the projects reach their target goals, the funds transfer. But if there aren’t enough backers, no money changes hands. To ensure a successful project, we need lots of people to get what this is, and *why* it’s important for Durham. The more people who know about STITCH, and see what it can do, the better chances we’ll all have of seeing STITCH fully realized. Does that resonate with you? If so, read on…

The confession

Now, ready? Deep breath.

Perhaps a cup of tea, even.

This is sort of a time of reckoning for me and Stitch. I am fighting a lot of uncertainty and doubts. Will we be able to make a good show? Will our kickstarter be successful? And, will it all matter in the end? What if no one cares?

One of the things that’s becoming clear in all this self-doubt, though, is why and how much I care about it, too.

Why I want to do this, in a three-minute short.

Here’s a 3-minute video of me explaining the project, and why I’m doing it. Thanks to Nick Michael for taking the video!

STITCH Durham: What is it, and Why? from Orangutan Swing on Vimeo.

You see, it goes way back for me, this obsession with wanting to engage, and shift things. When I was 17, my four-member family moved from Tokyo to Peoria, Illinois.

I was in the final year of high school and wanted nothing more than to escape the drudgery that is the Senior year in Japan. So I jumped on the chance to be away, and “learn English.” All my friends were jealous, and we all thought it would be like the sitcoms we saw on TV.

Needless to say, that’s not how it turned out. I spent most of the next two years clammed up, writing home to my friends and studying what I could, but unable to connect.

My problem, I thought, was that I couldn’t speak the language. My English was terrible, I couldn’t understand anything other kids said to me, and I felt as if my voice was taken away.

Except, of course, it wasn’t my language, at all. I was just shy, because I felt self-conscious about my perceived inability. The point was made pretty acutely, though I didn’t really realize it at the time, when a friend from home, two-years younger and with much LESS English, came to visit for a few weeks, and promptly made friends with the whole school.

My problem, I realized much later, wasn’t that I didn’t have the language. It was that I was too focused on my inability to articulate myself. When I came to college, I noticed a lot of other kids from equally or more far-flung places like Zambia and Turkey, were totally at home communicating in their imperfect English, and asserting themselves, broken grammar and juxtaposed phrasing notwithstanding.

What slowly dawned on me, over the years, is this: what “connection”—the thing I so desired—comes down to is NOT how you present yourself, but how you open yourself to the differences and imperfect results. Being vulnerable. Chancing an arm. Getting “out there” and being different.

A practice in uncertainty, and trusting the process

This is the core of our practice at Orangutan Swing: being comfortable with not knowing what you are going to sound like, or how it will turn out, in every aspect of our activities—be it a conversation event about racism, an art project about productivity or a community project like Stitch.

I see that we, as a culture, are headed towards the same neurosis that I experienced as a high schooler: we are obsessed about how we look and sound to others, to a point where we are slowly suffocating ourselves into quiet desperation, in quiet corners of coffee shops, hiding behind screens, forever tweaking our “profiles.”

We need to practice being in the moment, as jazz musicians do on stage, listening to one another and ready to open up, rather than trying to capture, conquer and perfect these moments as something you remember, share and “like.”

This is why we are doing Stitch, and everything else Dipika and I initiate at Orangutan Swing. A lot of it isn’t well-planned or executed. We tend to do things with short notice (“agile! lean!”), or change plans at the last minute (“oh my God, nobody RSVP’d!”). Fully admit it. We are procrastinators, sure. We are dreamers.

But—believe me!—a lot of this open/vagueness/turning-on-a-dime is deliberate, too. We are experimenting with the idea that if we leave the details open, something unexpected can fill in the space created. Because, we noticed, when we have exact plans, things tend to go in the way that makes it necessary to adjust anyway. And in that moment, having a “Plan B” can perhaps hamper your ability to see the plan C that takes an advantage of the situation better. I know this, because when I was the organizer of then-fledgeling World Beer Festival here in Durham in the 90s, I’d stay up all night making these elaborate GANTT charts on Microsoft Projects, that I’d print out and stick on my wall. Then, something would change, and the whole damn thing was useless.

Stitch is a community project about Durham’s identity. And it is about the arts and artists. About the creative process, and making it accessible to all.

I believe in its transformative powers.

But personally, it is a practice in uncertainty and improvisation.

And getting out of that frame where we are painting ourselves into a corner by following all the plans and making sure the details are right. Lost in minutiae and not seeing clearly.

Who else feels like this? If you can relate, welcome—let’s experiment together! I’m always happy when someone suggests an idea. And if this is “wtf?!” to you; well… it will be a wild ride, but it should at least be entertaining to watch for you. 🙂

Cheers, and thanks, again, for engaging!