One of the most compelling concepts in turning events into experiences is to cultivate a willingness to enter the DKDK zone. We have chances to do this almost every day. It is analogous to what John Updike explores in his short story A and P. The world offers us choices every day; simple—but defining—choices that we can either pursue or avoid. Most of the time we employ a variety of mechanisms to resist these choices. But when we embrace the un-known, when we are eager to un-learn, then magical, transformative moments can happen. Here is a recounting of one of those moments for me from a few years ago. In the next blog, I will talk about why this concept is so vital to facilitating experiences.
“If learning is the coupling of the previously unexperienced to the examination and reinvention of ones assumptions, there is no better place to pursue an education than in New York.”
Okay, I have come to the realization that I am obsessed. I was talking to Lee Stringer (many of you remember him as the former crackhead turned author of Grand Central Winter) the other morning- I guess it takes one obsessed person to know another- and he made the following remark; “The world must look like an intellectual and emotional Barnum and Bailey three ring circus to you every morning.” If you want to listen to Lee talk about writing (and how writers are familiar with the DKDK zone), here is an interview of a book talk he did a few years ago. I think Lee is right about me; and I think I know why. Turns out I am obsessed with exploring that epistemological zone characterized by the things I “didn’t even know I didn’t even know.”
One Saturday night I found myself crammed into a Honda Accord with four CITYterm students and our “guide,” Professor Karen McCarthy Brown, hurtling down the BQE deep into the heart of Flatbush, Brooklyn to go to a “birthday party” for the Voodoo spirit Gede. We are on one those classic CITYterm “non-field trips” where you have to invest part of your ‘self” rather than just come along for the ride. (The characteristics of “field trips” as opposed to “expeditions” will the topic of a later post.) Some of what we are investing this night is all of our assumptions about Voodoo. Try this for yourself right now- free associate the word “voodoo.” Did you come up with anything positive? Did you come up with a lot of things that were pretty scary, dark and foreign? Welcome to the stepping off point for the DKDK zone.
And that’s where the five of us are. Karen isn’t because she is a Voodoo priestess herself and author of Mama Lola, the story of another Voodoo priestess and also our choice of “assimilation and diversity” small group reading book for the previous two weeks of classes. We are about to spend much of the night (the 11:20 p.m. to Dobbs Ferry is not on the itinerary this evening) in Mama Lola’s Brooklyn basement where she will lead a ceremony (though really the altar looks more like a child’s birthday table littered with trinkets, presents and cakes) that will end up with her, and some other priestesses, being “possessed” by the Voodoo spirit Gede.
And during those rather fantastical hours, we will be engaged in the act of coupling our experience of something so unique, novel and previously unexperienced to the rather jarring and embarrassing realization that many of our assumptions about East Flatbush, Voodoo, Haiti and blackness have got to go. The mental models we held in our heads about all these concepts are no longer sufficient to explain what we have just witnessed. And as we emerge to the sedate, darkened street, in stark and heady contrast to the candle-filled festivities we have been immersed in, we are a strange mixture of people who want to babble incessantly and be quiet at the same time.
Another way to look at how to enter the DKDK zone was explored by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He posited that what happens when we sit in a theater is that we engage in a “willing suspension of disbelief, which constitutes poetic faith.” In short, we all have assumptions that, if examined and reinvented, would open up new worlds to us. But what if we see New York City (or wherever we live) as the theater where we can engage in that suspension? And even though the epigraph above comes from Empire City, the book Ken Jackson and I wrote specifically about what makes New York City distinctively New York City, think through some of the moments from your own life that you would characterize as “entering the DKDK zone.” What are those? And how did you get into that zone? What characterized that moment? What characterized your own learning state at that time? If we collectively can figure out how to access the DKDK zone, we could achieve our purpose of making our lives more experiential.
Recently, I got a postcard from a former CITYterm student with the following quote, “As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say that we know there are some things that we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” (From a Pentagon briefing conducted by Donald Rumsfeld)
Her only comment? “I didn’t know Rumsfeld had gone to CITYterm.”