“This looks so wonderful! (In fact, breaking my vow not to sign up for new newsletters for this one!) Everything Emily writes is stellar.” —Abby Seiff
Hello! I’m so glad you’ve found your way here.
I’m Emily Ding 👋, a writer-photographer and editor—usually in Kuala Lumpur, sometimes in Berlin, or wherever work, travel, and family/friends take me.
Emailed at least once monthly, “Movable Worlds” encompasses the idea of a world in flux, and how we meet it with the interiors worlds we accumulate and carry with us wherever we go.
Mostly, you’ll be hearing from me, and occasionally from other guests.
As someone who is both a journalist and essayist (and who first came to love writing as a child through fiction), I see the world in ways both informational and emotional. I’m interested in how we learn about ourselves through the world’s stories, and how we learn about the world through our own. So, each letter will come to you as a mixed parcel of delights—with, as one reader puts it, “literary overtures”—that hopefully heightens the texture of ordinary days.
You’ll notice that I think a lot about how we engage with place—exploring it, just passing through it, living in it, simply being in it—and how we shape it and are shaped in return, especially as the world changes at an unprecedented space. At heart, what animates this newsletter is a deep and capacious curiosity about how our different lives, even the most mundane parts of them, play out in different places. As Suzanne Joinson wrote, “Stories of human nature are linked with pathologies of places.” And in a “boiling” world, this line of inquiry necessarily includes asking inconvenient questions about habits we’ve long taken for granted: to guide how we can better coexist with other living beings and nature.
Living as we are in a hyper-globalised world, I’ve also long been drawn to exploring how we move between places and the emotional terrain of migration. I’m curious about the passions that propel us through the world in our attempt to find our place in it, and how our private lives are impacted by public events in any place, continuously reshaped by our memories and imaginations. I’m always interested in hearing about how other people feel they belong or don’t belong somewhere, and how they steer their way through the possibilities and fault lines of overlapping citizenships: of our communities, of our countries, of the world.
During a time of multiple crises that can feel existential, when we are in need of new stories to live by, I also think a lot about how we make sense of the world and how we tell its stories, and who gets to tell them and for whom.
Movable Worlds is for anyone who wants to belong to the world more fully and who is curious about how others inhabit it. It’s about being out in the world as an act of communion and the interconnectedness of all things.
And despite any romantic talk about journeying, what’s most important is what happens in between: when we stop for a while and try to make sense of a single place—and if we’re lucky, some beauty and meaning for ourselves too.
If all this sounds good to you, please sign up to receive my letters in your inbox.
Doing so is free by default, and as a free subscriber:
you’ll be able to read, like, and comment on public letters,
but only read previews of paywalled letters.
If you have the means, you can make a paid subscription. As such:
you’ll be able to read, like, and comment on public and paywalled letters,
help me fund occasional guest writers, who are paid USD150 per letter,
support my writing and curiosity and gift me more time to work on Movable Worlds.
Most of my letters will be public. Occasional paywalled letters tend towards more personal life updates, behind-the-scenes notes on my work, exploratory essays I may want to continue thinking on, and curated reading lists to help the writers among you tell stories better.
All money received currently goes to paying guest writers, so your making a paid subscription would help me cover that cost and, hopefully, increase the fee in the future. For myself, your paid subscription would let me know you want Movable Worlds to go on existing, which is invaluable ❤️
In any case, whether you go free or paid, with so many things demanding our attention these days I’m grateful simply to have you reading!
I hope every letter makes its way to you as a little surprise, and that you find something in it that intrigues, tickles, and awes you.
Till we meet next between the lines,
P.S. Someone I call W.C., a.k.a “Willing Companion”, occasionally appears in my letters. It’s a cheeky reference to Martha Gellhorn’s U.C., “Unwilling Companion” (a.k.a Ernest Hemingway), in Travels with Myself and Another 😆
What exactly will I receive in my inbox?
Letters belonging to one of these categories:
Dispatches from wherever my curiosity takes me: on reading, exploring, reporting, and writing the world.
Letters by, and conversations with, friends and familiar strangers about their work and passions and how they’re finding their own place in the world.
Notes and readings on how we “see” the world and tell its stories.
I guess I’m using this newsletter as a learning tool—through reading, noticing, and talking to people. As such, I should note that just because I feature someone here, to whatever extent, doesn’t mean I necessarily endorse them or their work. Usually, it’s just because I’m curious and want to know more—maybe because I find they/their work interesting, but also maybe because I just want to find out how things I don’t know about work. I may even feature someone whose worldviews don’t entirely align with mine if they offer a good starting point for discussion or reflect the variety of lived experiences in the world.
I’m hoping that what I put down here will form the raw material of things that may make it into longer, more thought-out, work. For a long time, I was struggling with what to publish here and what to save for fuller expression, and I think this approach may help to clear my head. So, think of this newsletter as a writer’s notebook: always an ongoing conversation, always a work in progress. In this way, I hope Movable Worlds will be a continuous—if slightly haphazard—discovery, each letter building on the one before to help me piece together my bigger picture of the world. In times of such rapid change, when old certainties are giving way, nothing can be the last word on anything.
Also, this newsletter isn’t a full-time endeavour. I squeeze letters between other projects. I try to write at least once a month, usually more. There may be lapses, when life or work gets in the way, but I’ll make up for it by sending more letters in subsequent months or extending paid subscriptions for free.
Some housekeeping notes
You can adjust your profile settings to determine how you receive newsletter notifications for Movable Worlds (and other Substack newsletters you subscribe to)—whether by email only, or also on the Substack app. I would not recommend turning on “smart notifications”, as I’m not sure how it works; it seems to have led to some people missing out on new letters.
If you don’t remember ever signing up properly for a Substack account but have previously subscribed to a Substack newsletter, then you already have an account. On the login page, just enter your email address and a log-in link will be sent to you. If you know your password, click “Sign in with password”.
You can also join Substack Notes (something like Twitter) to read Notes from me and other Substack writers you subscribe to, or share your own. Substack Chat (a messaging tool) is where I post more private or casual updates, and it’s only accessible by Movable World subscribers, free or paid. I write more here about how I plan to use these social tools. Of course, it goes without saying: feel free to just stick with the newsletter. That’s the main thing!
More of what readers are saying
“It feels personal, insightful, on the ground.” —P.C.
“A good thing to read while waiting in line, or anywhere really, is @emilydingwrites’ newsletter.” —Florentyna Leow
“How to describe Emily Ding’s newsletter? I forgot to have lunch yesterday so I’m going to go with food—it is my nasi campur of newsletters. There’s a bit of everything and depending on my mood this or that will be delicious. The newsletter is about having a sense of place and storytelling, but there’s something else to it.” —Stuart McDonald
“I love welcoming new newsletters into my inbox and this one looks like it’ll be a ripper!” —Erin Cook
“I want to thank you for your contribution to some really interesting articles. I’ve been enjoying your newsletter; the subject matter is capacious and your writing style is succinct and unique. When I’m reading your webpages, it’s like going down another rabbit hole, but one filled with intrigue and relevance.” —Jan Setter
“Plugging old internet friend @emilydingwrites’ newsletter of curiosities and musings. I look forward to receiving it every time she publishes.” —Jasmin Wong
“For experiences of and insights on travel, for interesting things to read, and to feel your world expand again a little bit, check her newsletter out.” —Cristabel Tan
“Really enjoyed the newsletter, love the range of content on there, especially the article recommendations, and the quotes you picked out! It made me feel like I was reading an actual newsletter, and I was back in the early 00s, traveling around Asia, when Internet cafes were still a thing, and smartphones were not to be seen.” —Lu-Hai Liang
“We need to hear more of Asian solo female travellers! Keep those letters coming, Emily. Thank you for evoking once again the fernweh in me.” —Ying Reinhardt
“Yassssssssss pls follow, for amazing and introspective travel writing, one of my fav travel writers. I am immediately transported to another place reading her things.” —Yaner Lim
Dear readers, being able to take you with me everywhere I go means a great deal, and I would be forever grateful if you would sign up to receive more letters like this in your inbox. If you have the means, you can also make a paid subscription. Thank you! ❤️
How else can I show my support?
Take the Movable Worlds reader survey to let me know who I’m writing to.
Write a recommendation for Movable Worlds, which I’ll share publicly.
Write a guest letter. I pay USD$150.
If you’re a publisher, commission me to write, report, edit, or photograph. I’m always looking to explore different modes of storytelling too.
How can I get in touch?
Just reply to my emails, or write movableworlds-AT-gmail.com. You can also use this contact form.
I would love to hear about your experiences in relation to anything I write about, and I’m happy to receive story tips, collaboration ideas, reading recommendations, and any comments or suggestions you may have.
I would also appreciate a heads-up on factual errors or alternative perspectives. I try always to be accurate, but I’m sure to have my blind spots.
How this newsletter has evolved
It started out as a personal experiment, and I hope it’ll continue to evolve freely. It first began in 2019 as an ad-hoc reporting diary, in which I shared unpublished fragments of human stories I found while on assignment, as well as haphazard lists of reading and culture recommendations. I posted only sporadically, with months-long gaps between letters.
But amid the pandemic, I felt I wanted to be more intentional and expansive with this newsletter. I’ve since refined its mission statement and consolidated the archives, in separate categories, to better reflect the tweak in focus. Since June 2021, I’ve been publishing at least once or twice every month, and hope in time to build something of more consequence here.
In November 2021, I changed the overarching name of this newsletter to Movable Worlds, to better encompass everything I might conceivably want to do with it, and gave the name “The Great Affair” over to the guest section.
Thank you for being on this journey with me!