October 2, 2022.
Becs: seat 27G. Rhea: seat 27F. Armrest up. Tray tables down. We set up our little discussion space.
B: I am conscious of my hair, the density and length seem an insult amid all the hijabs.
R: Draped fabrics, little caps, relaxed poses and open toe shoes – clever feet. I sense a culture that
has learned to dance with heat, flirt with shade.
We first met, over a year ago, for coffee to make sense of fellowship funds we did not apply for. Let’s do this together, we bubbly proclaimed, and in hindsight, subconsciously, we sought each other’s nudge. A year of collaborating about nothing in particular, and everything at once, turned into an intimate space, where we delved into the nature and challenges of individual and professional practice, and the beauty and struggle of collaboration.
Even as the need and desire to collaborate across differences dominates the architectural discourse, in response to our world’s ever-compounding complexities, we’re terrible at it in practice. Perhaps it is competitive attitudes, a display of strengths, that structurally contradicts our ability to collaborate well.
We thought that our one-way ticket to Dhaka, from one phase of life to another, from one continent to the next, was the perfect, almost cheesy, spot to try letting our guards down.
We each developed six prompts with themes of “intimacy” in mind. Our intentions varied. Becs came in with some much-too-personal heavy-hitters, Rhea posed multi-layered theoretical prompts. We discussed why some questions felt inaccessible, halved the list and created a sequence for the conversation. We recorded on our iPhones.
B: I almost recoil at the structure we have imposed on what I usually consider stolen time in the air; inconsequential time, my time. But nevermind.
We talked about our relationships to airports, and the differences between chosen and forced
B: I feel comfortable in airports, even though I’m not a third culture kid. But I don’t relate to the feeling of comfort in seeing other people sharing this moment of transience with me. Mine is a chosen (and temporary) migration not a forced one. I question where you fit on that spectrum having grown up a little untethered, but now choosing this way of life yourself?
R: I grew up in a state of flux and, now, derive comfort from it.
We recalled moments in our lives where we’ve avoided intimacy, posturing the alternative as an imposition on someone else’s life, and recognizing an underlying desire to maintain a sense of control.
B: It’s not like I’ve changed my mind and really wish I had invited my mom to graduation.
We laughed about our hair. We talked about play.
R: Finding that play-mate means finding someone with whom there is a complete unfiltered freedom of expression, where one can simply enjoy a chemistry and dynamic that isn’t rooted in some opportunistic motive.
B: I’m intercepting…can you tell me a story about that?
We tested boundaries, defined limits. What’s too personal?
R: …maybe “too personal” depends on one’s own relationship to the topic at hand – a very personal, site-specific sense of embodied competency. Do I trust myself? Do I trust my context?
B: No, really, tell me a story about that.
R: I guess that one time you came over and you put me in the spotlight and I was talking through all these ideas because I was riffing off your “Yeah, you know what you want! Yeah you’re going to solve something!”, but then at some point I got self-conscious and was like [gulp], Becs is not being silly back.
B: [Gasps] Oh shiiit.
Collaboration requires the ability to define differences nonthreateningly, and to share shortcomings honestly. Even so, intimacy is not a given, a play space not guaranteed. Is intimacy the willingness to stay? Who has the time? Who can afford to unlearn a need for control?
We discussed the role of humor as a way to signal a safe place – to invite mess, unknowns, and “weird”. Because (stick with us) if everything matters, then nothing matters, so what matters to you, personally, matters all the more. Maybe, through the lens of play, collaboration at its best encourages and celebrates each other’s “weird”, our differences. The work is learning to trust how they can coexist. The outcome, though perhaps less defined, may be what we need.
We wrap up our attempt at structured intimacy. All the lights are off, safety belts on. There’s a little bit of a spotlight on us. Everyone else is in the shadows. It’s this weird intimate stage moment.