“Unearthing” is a series of longform interviews exploring the multi-faceted human conditions of living the modern life, through candid conversations with neighbours.
It is my passion project — an attempt to provide a voice, a platform, an opportunity, and a safe listening space, in exchange for expression, honesty, and really just having a meaningful chat.
This idea stemmed from somewhere in 2015, when I stumbled upon a publication called The Great Discontent (TGD). They do longform interviews with people from the creative industry — musicians, writers, designers, actors, filmmakers etc. I read a few pieces online, loved the concept and content, and proceeded to buy their printed editions.
Back then, my room was small. To help you paint a picture, it was student-sized. I remember sitting in the corner on the floor (my bed was broken), clutching the beautiful limited edition hardcover reprint of TGD’s first issue (which was definitely not student-priced), trembling and nodding ferociously and crying “yes yes yes”. This happened more than once.
The stories of the artists and creators resonated with me, to the core. These successful, professional, absolute industry-leading wave-making legends went through the same struggles as I did! Many of my fears were addressed. It was shocking how specific and similar their hardships were to mine, and no doubt to many other people out there trying to make it.
It was an immensely rewarding journey for myself, going through that magazine. Even now, I am still in wonderment of how the feeling of solitary suffering was stamped out so effectively just by reading about another stranger’s story. I began to think, now how can I be an agent like TGD and propogate content that can create such an impact?
Over the years this idea remained a bubbling stew. It wasn’t an issue about courage or knowledge — for me, it was about inaction. Paralysis. Fear of better options. But in a way, it was a bit of a blessing in disguise. If it wasn’t for that period of brooding and figuring, I wouldn’t have had the clarity, resources and experiences I have now (last year) to turn this into something tangible.
I like photography, I like books, I like humans. The unifying theme connecting all these was “story”. Human stories, through words and images. A conversation and a photoshoot sounded perfect.
A new lifestyle caught up with me after moving back to Malaysia, making things rather difficult. Soon though, an opportunity popped up at work, where I had to gather some content for marketing purposes. I thought an interview would be the perfect way to go about it, and so jumped right into it. You can read that virgin interview here.
Well that wasn’t too difficult at all! On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed the process; and no fake laughter was required! That sort of snowballed into the “why” of Unearthing.
I wanted to uncover aspects of the day-to-day modern life — go beyond the surface of just waking-working-sleeping. Hence the title “Unearthing”. We’re all aware that everyone is living their own story, going through their own problems. But how many of us actually take the effort to prod a little further? The work week passes in a haze, and weekends are spent mindlessly consuming. Maybe, if we slow down and get to know each other a little better, we can begin to empathize, understand, or God-willing, forgive?
Initially, I wanted it to be about creatives in the creative industry, like TGD. To keep things super simple, I decided to start with people I already knew — my friends. I didn’t have a huge network, so my candidates morphed from being only “creatives” to more of those that hold somewhat unconventional job roles.
I was always drawn towards humans. This project allowed me to further deepen my relationship with my friends. I discovered things I never knew about them. I’m fascinated by their lifestyles. How one chooses to spend a day speaks volumes about their character. It sparks my curiosity when someone speaks of their routines, habits, and little worries and victories. I view the seemingly mundane aspects of everyday life as opportunities for beauty. We find that, beneath our skin, we’re all the same — we’re all connected.
I love finding that thread of similarity between people, and with myself. Through this project, I thought I could unearth some. I did, and I loved it.
These conversations aim to highlight and allow. Highlighting the individual, and allowing them to say what they have to say. The conversations go on for some time, and thus their length is more than the average interview you might be used to. Hence “longform”.
Two reasons for this: Firstly, it usually takes a good amount of warming up for someone to become comfortable or natural with the camera/recording device present. Secondly and more importantly, I wanted to combat the instant gratification pandemic that has swept through the 21st century. We find ourselves gradually losing the ability to focus for longer periods of time. There is value in process, and I wanted the reader (you! hello, and thank you so much) to gently lower themselves into the warm waters that are my candidates’ life journeys. In other words, to be immersed, as you would in a good novel.
I have decided to retain most of the language and sentence structure from the live conversations, as opposed to heavily editing them to adhere to the grammatical accuracy and framework of the English language. The nature of this project remains casual and natural, so in moving away from the rigidity of structure, I hope it can better reflect the unique and diverse backgrounds, personalities and traits of my friends.
I take portraits too, because I like them and I like photography. That’s it really!
For now, I will be publishing here on Medium, over the next couple months. But I have a wee dream of turning this into a physical publication. A mini magazine, or zine. I’m a massive fan of print, so a little booklet of some sort that you can hold in your hands or have on your shelf (or drawer) would be absolutely amazing for me. I was going to wing it myself design-wise, but I’m open to options or collaborations.
In fact, I have ideas to turn this into something more than interviews. Illustrations, poetry, essays… curating honest art from everyday people. I’m exploring, and you’re more than welcome to join me!
If you’re interested in creating or curating good content, want to be interviewed (or just catch up) or know someone who might be, flick me a message anywhere. I’m not an influencer, so your messages don’t get buried, no worries! Everything and everyone will be considered!
I’m finishing up the final touches on the first interview now — it’ll be up later this week, so watch this space!
It’s not like I won an award or anything, but I’d like to express my gratitude to those that were willing to give up some of your time and awkward smiles to indulge a dreamy bum like myself. Not to mention the soul-enriching conversations we had! At least on my side…
Huge thanks too to the creators of The Great Discontent, Ryan and Tina Essmaker. Without them, I would never have come to know of the treasure in the deep end. In their own words, “…we just fucking did it.” POWER. Here’s more of them:
“…as you read through it, may you be inspired by the stories within. Whether you’ve taken a leap recently or are working up the courage to make the jump, we hope that you’ll be challenged to follow your instincts and be reminded that you’re not alone.”
That was part of their foreword in TGD Issue 1. Reading it now again, after 5 years… CHILLS.
I should flick them an email, hmm.
I’m @nickiscurious on Instagram, if you don’t have access to me. Thanks for dropping by!