the st(art)

Kanokwan Tungkitkancharoen
5 min readJul 4, 2022

an old blog I wrote a year and a half ago (11/27/2020) about how I started my gap year

books I packed for a 3-month trip

For years, I’ve added to a long list of passion projects and problems demanding solutions. This ranged from fun, frivolous things, like automating my Spotify playlists with Python scripts, to more systemic action, like building youth policy networks. I didn’t make time to pursue many of these, so a gap year naturally became a wonderful time to give them a try.

I began this gap year with an extensive list of activities and goals in mind, all scattered about spreadsheets and documents. Although, very quickly, I realized that this was the absolute wrong approach, at least for me. As someone who’s stuck by plans and has always been looking towards what is next, I have found it difficult to center myself in the present.

The external has always presided a bit more over the internal, pushing and pulling.

Thinking and living within social convention is something I’ve always been terrified of — seems like a numb, quiet killing. It would feel like living as life that has been lived before which makes sense, considering external forces tend to be the same throughout time (ex. work, family, ego). I want the internal to pick and choose for itself what it will do. Pushing away obligations and simply sitting down and seeing what sparks an interest became a recurring activity for me. This aired the thin line of laziness, though, so I actively sought no experiences. I let myself flood with artistic ventures.

There was an immediate magnetism for reading. I barely touched books throughout school and felt a hunger to dig in. My shelves were lined with books I had never read and my reading lists went terribly unchecked, so I set aside a stack to get through. In the former part of my gap year, I’ve read:

  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • M. Butterfly by David Hwang
  • Buddhawajana by Tathaga
  • An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi
  • Demian by Hermann Hesse
  • Falling Up by Shel Silverstein
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Willian Shakespeare
  • The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
  • Poetry of Flowers by Patricia Whittaker
  • They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
  • Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry

I would go more into these but that would be an exhaustive singular post, so I will have a separate section for book reviews. There is not much of a common thread that I can draw with these books, which is actually what I hoped for. Little overlap shows an eclectic mix of literature, though, as you can tell, I do love a Vonnegut book. He pries at reality and being in a way that I haven’t quite seen — with grace, wit, and dark satire. In any case with every book, I was actively looking for things I could take beyond the pages, whether it be personal values or tokens of conversation.

Within the realm of literature, letters to dear friends became a priority of mine. I’ve sent letters for years, but in the age of a lonesome pandemic, this time felt more important than ever. I wrote them at various times throughout the day, but found myself most active late into the night, as most do. The silence and lack of externalities bombarding made it the most peaceful of hours. I used to draft notes out online then transfer to paper, but have since transitioned to stream-of-consciousness straight on paper. I found it most raw and true: what more could you want from a friend? In conjunction, I spent 3 days straight consumed with creating a painting for one of my close friends. The image appeared in my head and it was a struggle to get it out. Experimenting with paper materials, brush conditioning, and paint mediums — even boiling off mixtures of powders and liquids to attempt at perfect consistencies — I finished and promptly sent it out. All letters have been accompanied with packets of my favorite teas. Thoughts are my favorite gifts, so art goes a long way. You could say that I’m a bit of a romantic for my friends.

3 paintings have been made: the one to a friend, a Mars skyline, and a 3D textural commentary on climate change. I hope for more to come.

There was a guitar laying around the house, so I decided to pick it up. I’ve always wanted to learn an instrument and actually dabbled a bit when I was younger. I had learned the piano, guitar, and drums — but all at very basic levels. The guitar felt right, something that transcends genres and is easier to carry around. Being someone always on the hunt for new music and on Spotify perhaps too much, I delved deep into the art of guitar. I signed up for a month intensive training and practiced nearly every day for at least an hour. As my calluses hardened and wrist strength grew, my admiration and respect for those in music did as well. I’ve learned quite a bit in this tough month, including relearning how to read musical charts, Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes, the Peter Gun Riff, and 12 chords. I surprised my mom with Happy Birthday when her day came, as she didn’t know I was learning guitar. I hope to carry this through the rest of my gap year and life.

Books, letters, paintings, and music were a lovely time to get a forgotten side of my brain working, but the biggest artistic change for me was in the interior design of my room. I’m a highly physically stimulated person, which is part of why I had an affinity for robotic engineering, Rube Goldberg machines, and other hands-on fields in high school. On an intermittent schedule, I get an unquestionable urge to completely rearrange my room. Furniture is moved, walls are collaged, and shelves are restyled. This time was notably different, though. I used to be an extremely monochrome person, stuck mostly between shades of black and white. There was a sense of comfort and knowing with this palette. When quarantine started, I instead opted for redoing my entire layout in royal green and burgundy. Dramatic contrast felt alive and sharp. Breaking away from my regular scheme, I’m eager to see what shift will be next.

This period was one of cathartic, intoxicating artistic projects. With no externalities clawing at me, I felt a deep peace. Independent thought is so rare and difficult to achieve, and I think this time has pushed me closer to it. I think about if I was here or there — basically, in any other circumstance — how different would things be? Going solo with creative mediums has helped me view my isolated psyche, to see things with a clarity of mind. It was if I was in a bubble and truly alone with my thoughts — what a wonderful place to be.



Kanokwan Tungkitkancharoen

MIT mech-e undergrad, pepper-challenge chaser, and big Spotify geek