Interview with Cindy A. Nguyen: essayist, dreamer, and maker.
[Transcript from video interview.]
1. First of all Cindy, tell us what you’ve been doing with Haptic.
Well, Haptic has been a fun project for us to explore different ideas. Haptic started randomly when I was reading a bunch of books about history of the book and the materiality of things. I study a lot about libraries and the importance of touching things—through the experience of being in a library.
In this new digital world — this concept of materiality, of touching things, things which are tangible is increasingly more important. And late one night at around 2am, I was just reflecting/rambling/thinking with Eric about what it means for something to be tangible. From there came the concept of Haptic.
2. What does it mean for you to be an artist?
I don’t think you can define art or being an artist. At times it feels purely self-centered, it feels like — you are meditating. I don’t mean to say self-centered in a judgmental way, but I mean that you are fully-immersed in your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
By making art and being an artist is to take a pause, to close your eyes, to open them, to squint your eyes a bit and see the world in a different way. In that sense, it feels very meditative.
On the other hand, art is a form of communication. Art is what you want to share with the world. And that makes it a very communicative or a social process.
For me, I’ve never been good at fitting into one identity. I think thats where being it’s not just about being an Artist with a capital ‘A’, but being a creator, or creative person. Just making things—this is important to me. It brings some sense of meaning and order to all the random bits and pieces of thoughts in my mind.
3. What do you want to give the world, or share with the world?
I think it changes a lot. In regards to my writing, with Haptic, or my research?
Everything. Start with your writing, because your personal essays have really moved me.
[In regards to my writing] I think that— I just want to give back to the world some sense of connection. For others to connect with some of my thoughts and emotions and to feel that feeling: “I’m not alone.” Reflecting upon my childhood, or even just now, I’ve spent so much time thinking that I was alone. My writing, and whatever it is that I produce— if it resonates with someone else, then I’ve brought something to their life.
4. Why do you do your research?
[My research,] it all connects because I’m all one person. It connects to Haptic, the importance of tangibility and thinking about history as something that isn’t so distant. History is lived, breathed, and experienced. There are so many people and experiences in history who are forgotten and slip away.
For me, studying history of everyday life— of culture, of social experiences in the library– makes for telling and talking about the past in a different way. It’s a past that is familiar to us today because we can connect with it in a human way.
It is also a political move too — if you’re from somewhere like the United States— you only think of the war (in Vietnam).
Vietnam is not just a war— it’s a complicated place with many different identities, spaces, and different types of people. It has such a rich history, and culture and diversity of which hasn’t been spoken about.
Furthermore, today there is a tension between what is the role of history in Vietnam. In a rapidly developing country–where the country needs to look forward rather than look back–what is the point of history? In that sense, vietnamese history is so essential.
5. How does this connect to Haptic?
Every endeavor comes back to your childhood or some sense of nostalgia. If you can’t already tell, I’m quite the romantic. I think a lot about the past, and cherish these little moments. That is why I love history.
I study the library because it was a way in which a child could travel. You can travel through places, minds, and times.
Through reading fantastical things, and non-fiction such as images and maps. It still is a way to empower a child— a young person, any mind, at any age. Studying the library gives you that sense where… I get to examine the mysteries of the universe, through how others study the mysteries of universe in the library.
6. Advice to fellow artists or romantics?
I’m still learning, so I’m not really an expert in any of this.
Part 1: You can start small
But as someone who is a dabbler and a curious mind, just something I would say is that, you can start small.
It is important to make a thing. It doesn’t have to be a tangible thing. It can be digital. If you make something small, even a haiku, or sentence, or one image or a 30 second video clip. It is still a thing. To make it, to pause, to look at it and say, yeah, I made that and I’m proud of it.
Don’t think too much in the future about what it means, or what I’m gonna do with it. Just look at it, and cherish it.
Like this cup of espresso. There is a saying in Vietnamese: ‘Small but packs a punch’. (nhỏ mà có võ) It’s a little thing that you can appreciate knowing that you made it.
Part 2: Sharing it.
Sharing it with one person, with your partner, with a random stranger on the street. Sharing it brings a new meaning too; it isn’t just a thing you made. It is a thing that others will be able to witness the joy you have when talking about it.
Maybe they won’t understand the thing; but they will feel the joy and your excitement from the thing you made.
Connect with Cindy
Personal Essays by Cindy A Nguyen
- The Slow Undoing of Velcro Shoes (2017)
- Imagining ‘America’: My Mother’s Refugee Journey to America (2017)
- Presenting my work, Presenting myself in Vietnamese (2016)
- How I had a feminist Asian American wedding (2016)
- I was raised on stories of a war-torn Vietnam (2016)
- Vietnamese: The foreign language I’ve always known (2014)
- Bilingual Friendships: Making friends in Vietnamese and English (2014)
- Vignettes of Contemporary Conversation (2012-present)
- Meditations on the Medium (2013-present)