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Article: Putting Pen To Paper: Karman Tse


Putting Pen To Paper: Karman Tse

The Chronicle Notebook Series is an ode to special places that hold special memories, places that keep our stories, those told and those untold. A place is bound to change with time, as we do, but every story it witnesses remains — each memory becoming a part of its history, a part of its evolution, a part of its future.

With the launch of this unique collection, whose cover designs are inspired by four of Singapore’s iconic historical sites — Clifford Pier, Fort Canning, Emerald Hill and Kent Ridge — we invited four individuals — an entrepreneur, a writer, a creative director and an artist to join our "Chronicle: Places and Traces" campaign to share cherished memories held in these spaces. They also talk about their love of paper, and how putting pen to paper has become an important part of their day and work, a ritual by which they process thoughts, feelings, creative ideas, make dreams happen and as a means of self-care.

Karman Tse
@thisiskarmanCreator of The Cœur

Clifford Pier
The docking bay — an intersection where people, culture and ideas meet

Please introduce yourself. What’s your occupation? Can you walk us through your daily work routine?
Hello, my name is Karman. What I do for work doesn’t quite fit into a single name or label. Mostly, I write — poems, content for clients, and for The Cœur, a project I created to advocate self-love, mental wellbeing and a more intentional way of living. Photography, design and creative direction are also part of my work. If I must distil them into one word, I’d say “storytelling” is at the heart of it.

I don’t have a strict work routine. I used to wish I were one of those people who are extremely well-organised and disciplined, with a to-the-minute schedule which they don’t stray from. That sounded, and still sounds, so much like what “accomplished” and “successful” people do. As I got to know myself better and started to find and define my own way of working and living, I realised how foolish I had been, trying to follow the paths of others hoping to arrive at where I want to be.

Once I understood that I do my best work when I move from my head to my heart, I learned to give myself enough space to allow for creativity to flow, rather than to force it. I learned my ideal pace and rhythm. The world is too fast for me. It’s mercurial, and I’m more like Pluto — I prefer to take my time to create something that stays a while longer, that lasts. Productivity for me is high quality, not high quantity.

The most important work, I’ve decided, is inner work, so my day typically begins with an early-morning ritual that consists of yoga, meditation and journalling. Then I plan the day’s schedule by the hour, always allowing for flexibility. Writing and anything that requires creativity and imagination are always done in the morning when I feel most recharged, connected and still. I assign other tasks like photo editing, correspondence, and administrative work to the afternoon. Evenings are sacred time for rest. That’s when I switch off and create space for inspiration and ideas through books, a TV show, or music.

What significance does paper play in your daily life? How much do you put pen/pencil to paper, and for what purpose usually?
People say that the eye is the window to one’s soul. Paper, for me, is sort of a portal to mine. I put pen to paper as a way of connecting with my inner wisdom and creative source.
Whether it’s journalling, jotting down to capture ideas and inspirations when they come unannounced, as they do, working out my daily schedule and to-do’s, visualising a design/layout, or writing cards and letters to friends, I always do so by hand — by putting pen, pencil, colour pencil, marker or charcoal on paper, depending on the type of paper. Come to think of it now, my journey is a whole paper trail.

How has it helped with your creativity, organisation, or thoughts? 
It’s the journey that matters. Whether you write by hand or type them out on your phone or computer, words will make their way from your insides to the outside. But they take very different paths and come from different places depending on the means. Words that find their way out through my hand to the pen tip and on to paper come from a much deeper place within. This has been especially helpful and therapeutic in my journalling ritual.

Written words are more honest, more vulnerable. They’ve shown me alternative perspectives, answers, solutions. They’ve made me question myself, express myself in new surprising ways. They’ve transformed messes of thoughts into clarity. And many times, heavy clouds of emotions, when released onto paper, have dissolved to return me to a state of peace. They’ve helped to resolve inner conflicts. On paper, I meet my self over and over again.

When you’re clear about who you are, that clarity does wonders for what you create, and the decisions you make in your life. So yes, the written word has a sort of power, magic even, that for me, could never be found in typed words. Pen on paper — it’s a starting point for almost everything I do. It’s how I make sure I live and work with intention, and stay true to myself.

Share with us your thoughts and feelings on the Chronicle Notebook Series.
I’ve always had eyes that are greedy for beauty. The kind of beauty my heart knows. When I was asked to choose one notebook from this set, my eyes went straight for the Clifford Pier design without knowing it was inspired by Clifford Pier — the location I felt most connected of the quartet, and was going to be my choice anyway. Its description reads: “The intersection of people, culture and ideas.” Even that resonates, since all my life I’ve felt like I’m at intersections, never quite arriving, staying, or belonging in one place.

I opened the notebook to the first page. It says “Places And Traces For memories, bitter or sweet”. Bitter or sweet. Bittersweet. I love the real-ness in these words. It doesn’t ask us to remember only the good and happy. Not only the highlights. Be honest with your memories, with the stories you tell yourself. In a world that is constantly trying to mould you into something else, at least in these pages, you can feel safe and brave enough to face yourself, to be yourself.

Bitter and sweet. Black and white. And a whole world of tastes, colours, emotions in between. Life’s way more interesting that way. I love that the notebook bares its spine to us, as if to say “it’s okay to show them what you’re made of inside.”
Do you have any fond memories of featured locations?
I chose Clifford Pier because there’s an important part of my story that still exists here. I said earlier that spaces hold memories and tell stories. Although both the pier and I have changed significantly over the last two decades, the history we share remains. It is, and always will be, a part of what we are.

I was a rookie journalist at a newspaper. Our office sat on the 28th floor of a building opposite Clifford Pier with a sweeping view of a very different city skyline. There used to be a seedy beer garden where The Fullerton Bay hotel is now. With my colleagues, some of my best friends at the time, we’d stroll by after off-stone past midnight in search of supper and a little relief from the stress of the day’s deadlines. With 20 years’ hindsight, I see clearly now: Here was where my writing career began (I couldn’t know at the time because I hated writing — I hated it because I was really bad at it and thought I had zero talent for it). Here was where I had first learned a lot of what I got good at doing now. For this, I’ll always be grateful.

Much has changed. To be honest, the memories and stories of who I was then, the friendships and relationships I had, the struggles, the dreams… have faded and distorted with time like rain-smudged ink on paper. Strangely, when I arrived at Clifford Pier for this shoot, there was a moment when I felt a pang of comfort both distant and familiar, thinking: At least this place remembers.

Read more from Dennis Cheok, Joan Chang and Kah Mun Chan.

We would like to thank Dennis, Joan, Kah Mun and Karman for joining us in this Chronicle: Places And Traces campaign to share the significance of putting pen to paper, and their memories of Singapore’s historical landmarks. #byndartisan #PlacesAndTraces

Read more

Putting Pen To Paper: Kah Mun Chan

Putting Pen To Paper: Kah Mun Chan

The Chronicle Notebook Series is an ode to special places that hold special memories, places that keep our stories, those told and those untold. A place is bound to change with time, as we do, but ...

Read more
Putting Pen To Paper: Dennis Cheok

Putting Pen To Paper: Dennis Cheok

The Chronicle Notebook Series is an ode to special places that hold special memories, places that keep our stories, those told and those untold. A place is bound to change with time, as we do, but ...

Read more