Welcome to Movable Worlds
From Kuala Lumpur, Berlin, and places in between: a newsletter about how we seek and tell stories to make sense of a changing world & our personal and collective place in it. Sign up here!
“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
So glad you’ve found your way here, hello!
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, shaped by the great challenges of our age, and how we meet it with the worlds we’ve accumulated within ourselves.
Mostly, you’ll be hearing from me, and occasionally from other guests.
As someone who is both journalist and more meandering essayist (and who first came to love writing through fiction), I see the world in ways both informational and emotional, through both its exteriors and interiors. So each letter will hopefully come to you as a mixed parcel of delights—with, as one reader puts it, “literary overtures”—that heightens the texture of ordinary days.
At its core, what animates this newsletter is a deep and capacious curiosity about how different lives, even the most mundane parts of them, play out in different places—and how we make and remake places even as they make and remake us.
You’ll soon notice that I think a lot about how we navigate place: exploring it, understanding it, living in it, passing through it, simply being in it.
I’m also curious about the passions that propel each of us through the world in our attempt to find our place in it, and how the caverns of our private lives are impacted by public events within the context of a particular place, continuously reshaped by our memories and imagination. I’ll often ask others how they experience belonging and alienation 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 may be 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. So you’ll find, too, ruminations about reading, exploring, truth-finding, writing, imagining, and trying to live—in whatever little way possible—a creative life.
Readers here are everyday explorers, migrants, travellers, and readers from all over, of different professions and passions. Many are writers, editors, photographers, artists, and designers—storytellers of all stripes.
But at heart, Movable Worlds is for anyone who wants to belong to the world more fully and who is curious about how other people inhabit it. It’s about being out in the world as an act of communion and the interconnectedness of all things.
Despite any romantic talk on journeying, though, 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 access free previews of occasional paywalled letters.
If you have the means, you can instead opt to be a paying subscriber. As such:
you’ll be able to read, like, and comment on public and paywalled letters,
help me fund guest writers,
and gift me more time to write this newsletter.
Most letters will be public. Occasional paywalled letters tend towards more personal life updates, behind-the-scenes notes on my work, 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 let me publish more guest writers here and, hopefully, increase the fee—currently USD$150—in the future. Emotionally, of course, it’ll let me know you support my writing and curiosity, 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. Here’s to reading, exploring, and telling stories, over and over again.
Till we meet next between the lines,
P.S. I occasionally mention someone I call W.C., a.k.a “Willing Companion”, 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 😆
Wait, you started this during the pandemic?
The pandemic made clear how one’s experience during this time can be determined simply by where one is born or resides, and underscores how important the freedom of movement is—how much we’ve come to take it for granted; how the same rules don’t apply to everybody.
Should we always move? There are plenty of reasons not to.
But there are also plenty of reasons to, and I think the freedom to do so, with fair conditions in place, should exist—the fact that they are difficult to implement doesn’t mean we can shy away from it—so that everyone may pursue a life of meaning wherever they may find it.
More importantly: the fact that some others can only ever long for elsewhere, while others have no choice but to leave, and leave again, in pursuit of an ever-elusive dream of home, makes this even more important.
In this vein, I hope this newsletter will, as it slowly grows, also serve to broaden the idea of what we mean when we talk about “global citizens”, “cosmopolitans”, and travellers—to include migrants, refugees, and exiles, who are not always recognised as such in their own right.
What exactly will I receive in my inbox?
Letters belonging to one of these categories:
Dispatches from wherever my curiosity takes me. In short: on reading, exploring, and writing—on repeat—and just being a part of this world.
Letters by, and conversations with, friends, acquaintances, and familiar strangers about their work/passions, what they notice in the world, and how they’re finding their own place in it.
A round-up of essays, journalism, and fiction about how we make sense of a rapidly changing world and our place in it, and how we tell its stories.
I’m thinking of this newsletter as primarily a learning tool—through reading, noticing, and conversing. I’m thinking that what I put down here will form the raw material of things that may make it into longer, more thought-out, work. Think of this newsletter as a writer’s notebook, a work in progress. 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 clear my head.
Also, this isn’t a full-time endeavour. I squeeze letters in between other projects. I try to write at least once a month, sometimes more. There may be occasional 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 honestly 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 (Movable Worlds included), then you already have an account. On the login page, just click “Email sign-in link” to access your account. Alternatively, click “sign in with password”, then “Set a new 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—paid subscribers can also start Chats; and it’s only accessible by Movable World subscribers, free or paid. I write more here about how I plan to use both these social tools. Of course, it should go without saying: feel free to just stick with the newsletter and ignore the bells and whistles!
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
Being able to take you with me, every step of the way, means a great deal. So please sign up if you’d like to receive my letters in your inbox and to support my writing and curiosity ❤️
Anything else I should know?
I feel I should note, because of the way the internet is going: this newsletter is coloured by my own particular sensibilities, but not all the time. I sometimes recommend reads I don’t fully agree with or feature people whose world views don’t entirely align with mine—if they offer a good starting point for discussion and, more importantly, reflect the variety of lived experiences in the world. I may even change my mind from one letter to the next.
Writing a newsletter is, by its very nature, an ongoing conversation. While being somewhat intentional about what I do here, I also want to let things hang loosely enough so that I can feel free to follow what interests me at any given time. In this way, I hope Movable Worlds will be a continuous—if slightly haphazard—discovery, each letter building on the one before. In times of such rapid change, when old certainties are giving way, nothing can be the last word on anything.
How else can I show my support?
Take the Movable Worlds reader survey to let me know who I’m writing to.
Write a guest letter. I pay USD$150.
Follow me on Instagram. I’m also on Mastodon (which I use as a kind of notebook).
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
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 an 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!