On Sonder

[What looks like a large, spherical drop of water hovers over a body of water, which is rippling out in a stylized way. Text over the image reads: Every thought, Every Action, Creates Ripples through this Infinite Field of Consciousness. You are far more powerful than you realize.]

One of the greatest joys in finding and using Are.na over the last four years is the freedom to be myself: messy and ever-changing. I’ve spent my entire adolescent and adult life online, a time frame that has been synchronous with the boom of platforms that reward the pursuit of idealistic curation.

On Are.na, cyber moonflower has questioned this type of curation well saying:

“do you truly believe that the whole of your multidimensionality can be neatly compressed into just one aesthetic?”

While many of the channels I have been building on Are.na over time have had specific topics of research or consistent throughlines, I created the channel “Sonder” as a self-awareness and honesty practice.

In this channel, I connect the thing that resonates with me most, at least once per week. I also don’t delete or rearrange blocks in this channel, so that it serves as a time capsule for understanding my growth patterns and thinking over time.

The original intent was for “Sonder” to be non-performative and non-specific, a break from how I’ve been trained to use social platforms on the internet from a young age. Through those constraints, I’ve come to understand that the most deeply personal things are also the most universal. This attempt to catch fresh air has collected others along the way, eventually shaping the name for this channel, which was living nameless for quite some time prior.

Sonder, by definition, is “The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”


We were in the early days of building MOUTHWASH Studio when I connected this block. I had a lot of anxiety about the risk of starting a company and potentially failing. What if things went wrong? What if I quit the job that I loved for something that might not work? This simple yet impactful bit of dialogue from Wong Kar-wai’s, Chungking Express grounded me.


Shortly after, I was locked in my apartment in downtown Los Angeles with the same questions that everyone else in the world had.


During the pandemic, I decided to get serious about writing, something I had always loved but would only participate in off and on, due to insecurities. I always thought: what would make what I had to say worth reading over everyone else’s? These 5 things helped me. Alice and I have grown a writing and research project, Common Discourse, a newsletter that now has more subscribers than I’d ever imagined.


At this time, MOUTHWASH Studio started to really find a place in the design world. We went from having nothing to do to having the luxury to choose which types of projects we wanted to take on. It was the same year that we realized informed thinking will always be better than just an aesthetic agenda.


My mom has a framed watercolor I made at four years old that looks identical to this.


A conversation between my friend and I that I posted to Twitter, which found its way onto Are.na. This is another example of private channels of communication finding resonance with others.


We host friends for dinner at our apartment, often for hours. We love a good meal and good conversation. It keeps us going.

Alex Tan is a creative strategist, art director & writer residing in Los Angeles. He’s the co-founder and partner of MOUTHWASH Studio, Common Discourse, and Public Display of Affection.