Today’s issue is dedicated to a small subscription milestone. Thank you to the 400 (!!!) of you who have subscribed to receive my writing in your inbox! The replies I receive in my inbox and the comments I happen upon give me so much joy and purpose. I read every single one (even if it takes me a longg time to reply, sometimes), so please feel very encouraged to let me know your thoughts and reflections :)
I have worried about splitting my Substack audience between my personal essay writing and my research pieces (and part of that worry has kept me from posting as honestly as before), but as it stands, I’m committing to the context collapse inherent in myself and what I feel drawn to write about. I’ve also been experimenting with posting more casual observations on platforms other than Twitter, like bluesky (@spencer.bsky.social) and the new substack notes. Excited to see the development of all of these alternative social spaces!
A tightness has been haunting me lately. Sitting at the base of my throat, somewhere between my Adam's apple and collarbone, I feel a bump like a fish bone burrowing into my throat. If you don't speak for a while, one day you may wake up and find that your mouth has been sewed shut. Flooded with half-finished drafts and essays that fail to find their way to a satisfying point, my breath becomes heavier and unsteady. Time runs faster than I thought possible.
I cope by going out into nature, sitting at the park, watching how the generations far from me live their lives. I seek solace in the everyday motion of these people rather than the melodramatic lives of fictional characters. A bald man stops in front of me to watch the sun set over the trees in Da'an Park. I like the way he walks, lifting his legs up to a 90-degree angle in a subtle march. A lady walks past swinging her arms powerfully, forming smooth rotating semicircles. Yesterday I watched a young girl screaming, feet lunged in the air as she sped towards pigeons, a little warrior on a tiny bike charging into battle.
When I describe the things I pay attention to, the everyday moments that are important to me, I worry whether anyone else finds them interesting. I fear my inability to do them justice, to grant them the poetic diligence they deserve. Words are my tool of choice, but they often feel so lacking, like friends turned strangers. Mastery of language comes in two parts: a commitment to the soul of each word, and an intuition for how they dance together. The more my commitment grows, the more I fear opening my mouth, knowing the ways my words fall short. Yet as much as I yearn to remain true to the world, every reference is a reconstruction, every story a retelling, every representation a misrepresentation. I've failed before I've even begun.
So why write at all?
I write to honor my existence. Not the professional achievements that make it onto a resume or in your official bio nor the big life events that could be summarized in a "facebook life update" (or could've been back when people still used it)—those get enough attention—I want to make space for the day-to-day moments that comprise a lifetime: the way the people around me move, how my friends' eyes sparkled in the reflection of the karaoke room TV, the way the sun sometimes impersonates the moon as it peeks out from under an overcast day before washing the sky in pink and orange.
The writing that stays with me—the parts I remember in the endless stream of content—are not the ones with perfect structure and bulletproof purpose. They are messy, fractured, and even contradictory. Yet at the same time, they are tender, loving, fearless in exposing themselves to the world. They resent clear-cut boxes, demonstrate irrational belief, and dare you to come along for the ride.
So here I am—typing away at my keyboard, allowing myself to let the words flow onto this screen, as a constant droning reminds me where they fail me. Here I am returning to the altar with my pen in hand, giving myself the grace to dance with the world through language. Here I am committing to sharing these moments of the ordinary—so ordinary to be profound. So that I might not lose my voice, so that these moments will be remembered, so that at some point someone somewhere might hear these words return to them and shiver.
A few recent life updates:
My net art piece, html garden, is out in the 2nd issue of the HTML Review! I’ve admired their work ever since their launch last year, and I’m so excited to be a part of this year’s collection along with some wonderful friends and artists. Read more about the origin here. A funny milestone happened the other day when I tried to explain the meaning / intent behind it to a Taiwanese man I happened to share a dinner table with.
I’m traveling in Taiwan and Japan this month as a real, long break from employment. I’ve been in Taiwan almost 2 weeks now, and I feel so at-home and welcomed despite having no family left living here. And I’ve been finding a lot of inspiration for communal digital spaces (more to come on this soon!). If you have recs for Tokyo and Kyoto (food, thrifting, fun off-the-beaten-path scenic spots), please let me know!
I’m excited to be working with an inspiring crew this summer as part of the Summer of Protocols program. I’m hoping to prototype speculative protocols, explore folk protocol manifestations, and develop a deeper understanding of the shape of protocols and how they shape our environments.
As a reminder that all my work is able to be free due to the generosity and support of readers like you. If you have the means, please consider sponsoring me on Github!
Rent an electric bicycle in Kyoto and fly through the sightseeing crowds!