(Late) Summer Series #6

The existential Place

Hello! This, the 70th issue of Place, is, as you may have noticed, arriving a bit late. We’ve missed you! Unfortunately, no one is completely impervious to technical difficulties. But we are happy to say we can put that hurdle behind us and move along to the last of our promised summer series. In some ways, the fact that this particular letter ended up going out later than expected is quite fitting, because this week, we’re revisiting three pieces that examine place in an existential sense. Maybe its a sign that we are resisting the end of summer and are still somehow living in that warm Place – maybe its a reminder that Places, both physical, mental, and emotional, are fluid, complex, and lingering, like that faint smell of sunscreen on your last used bathing suit. Enjoy this belated exploration of the fuzzy places, the places of memory, and the places once visited, and we’ll see you next week in a return to our regular ol’ dispatches.

Have something you’d like to write about for Place? Or know someone who might? Check out our pitch guide. We really want to hear your stories, and the great news is, we can now pay our contributors thanks to our generous subscribers who have supported us through our membership program. Even if you’re unsure if you idea fully fits Place, please do drop us a line – we’d love to chat.

At Place, we believe that the experiences, sensations and conversations we have as we move about the world stay with us, stacking up as the years go by, forming who we are and the way we view the world. If you’re the social type, follow us on Twitter (@place_letter) where you can share your favourite pieces and Instagram (@placenewsletter) for a visual feast. Yours, The Place editorial team.

Summer Series #6: The Existential Place

I’m not sure about you, but when I’m feeling melancholic, or reflective, one of the first things to surface in my mind is a place. Perhaps its one I’ve been to in the past, one that encapsulated something I feel is currently missing. Perhaps its a place imagined, a mental space once occupied, or aspired to. When this newsletter was started, one of the first conversations our editor’s had was about the nuance between physical and abstract place. About the myriad stories that could be spun from such a seed of a word. How the word itself is synchronous to both things seen, and unseen. We quickly fell into an hours long conversation.

A quick search of the word place spawns a full dictionary page, with one definition listed as: “a portion of space available or designated for or being used by someone.” But what, then, does using a place look like? What does it mean for a place to be available or designated to us? Once these inevitable first steps are taken, how do we remain attached to these experiences? What do they mean for how we live our lives, or how we change them?

Place-editor Karis Hustad begins the journey into the existential in her essay, There You Are, Wherever You Go. In it, she ponders how places can actually impact how we think or feel, and asks if ‘the external’ can always (no matter how mundane or frustrating) be a guidepost to our ‘internal’ travels. In one passage, she writes: ‘Philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers have argued for the theory of “the extended mind,” the idea that “a person’s cognitive process is continuous with their environment.” In other words, our thought processes and mental functioning aren’t solely housed in our brain, but work in tandem with that which is around us, whether through remembering something by writing it down or working with someone else to solve a problem.’

Contributor Jens Renner continues this train of thought in his essay, (Existential) Inventories, as he interrogates the way that travel has changed in our modern world, and wonders what ways of moving around are most beneficial to imparting a changed perspective. Drawing on inspiration from one of his favourite travel writers and the philosophy of Buddhism, he revisits how his own outlook towards travel - and therefore of experiencing place - has changed over time. “In order to go to the outer edges of ourselves, we need to venture out into the world on our own,” he writes.

In contrast, sometimes it is not always about moving within new places that spark an existential thought in our heads, but in fact, the repetition of a trail well worn. In the case of place-editor Karis Hustad’s essay Accepting the Distance, a rabbit hole into our experience of distance and time, is opened by the colour blue – the intangible shade of the sky that bookends one of her favourite walks in London, one that she repeatedly journeyed on during the pandemic. Drawing on Rebecca Solnit’s book “A Field Guide to Getting Lost,” Karis contextualizes our (perhaps unreachable!) desires, and feelings of loss throughout the pandemic within the contours of her daily excursion.

We hope you enjoy revisiting these cherished pieces from our archive, and we send them out to you with the wish that they will meet you where you are at, wherever that may be.

1. There You Are, Wherever You Go

By Karis Hustad

2. (Existential) Inventories

By Jens Renner

3. Accepting the Distance

By Karis Hustad

Place Recommends:

An evacuation postcard,

and the borders of a fire.

Join us next week for another journey.