One of the reasons that I’m so fascinated by screens is because their story is our story. First there was darkness, and then there was light. And then we figured out how to make that light dance. Both stories are about transformations, about change. Screens have flux, and so do we.
So the pep talk is that things are starting to suck, but there’s a capacity for change in what we’ve made, who we are, and what we believe. Everything was made, and if we want, we can remake it how we see fit. We only need to want it.
Do you ever notice that when we look back at our lives, it seems like things were meant to happen the way they did? I find this interesting because in the moment, it doesn’t quite feel that way.
In the moment, there is the presence of whatever sensation we are currently feeling—joy, pain, sadness, euphoria, and everything in between. The reality we are experiencing is utterly vivid—literally happening in front of our eyes, or rather, that we are happening inside it—that even grasping the idea of destiny and extracting meaning from it almost robs it of its preciousness. It’s hard to reflect on something that is currently transpiring after all.
But what if that is the challenge? What if that is precisely the thing that liberates us from being too attached to what we thought ought to happen? What if we can re-program reflection not to be about analyzing the past? What if we can reconfigure reflection as living in a way that can zoom all the way in to our deepest sensations in the present but also zoom all the way out to the point that whatever significance we have attached to it vanishes in the distance?
In this way, we are truly reflecting the opposite sides of an experience. One that is full of meaning and emotion and one that is just another speck of dust in eternity.
This may feel like we are stripping our lives as we currently know it of its very essence. As if we are making our subjective realities less meaningful. That we are discounting the things we feel and labeling them as unimportant.
I think the opposite. In a way, our very realities become more robust: instead of seeing it from our singular point of view—which by the way is full of personal biases, revisions, and stories we attached it with—we can pull it back into this grand chain of events that are unfolding simultaneously, but also, connected to everything else that has ever happened before, everything else that is currently happening, and everything else that is yet to happen.
Because each of realities is not the most important thing any longer, it melts into everything else, sinks into the grand pool of time, and swirls into the ever-flowing river of eternity. All of a sudden, what is happening to each of us loses whatever importance we have attached to it, but also paradoxically gains importance because we realize it is not disconnected from everything else, and not just a part of everything else, but that it is everything else.
Nothing is singular. Nothing is detached. Nothing is alone.
We are merely reflecting what already is. And we are participants passing the baton in this dance known as the continuation of energy.
Sometimes we’re so caught up in what we’re going through that it becomes the lens through how we view everything in life. But our problems and issues and worries of the day are infinitesimal by comparison.
Thinking about “the grand scheme” can sometimes feel like it’s too grand to the point that it’s not helpful in what we’re dealing with. But maybe it’s not meant to be.
Rather, “the grand scheme” can create the context from which we can evaluate how much something truly matters. All our thoughts can feel like a collective raging ball of fire as big and as daunting as the sun.
But what is the sun in our solar system when you pull back and look at a whole galaxy, much less the entire universe, from which we don’t know how far it goes and where it ends?
All of a sudden, the worst case scenarios and the pain of suffering starts to melt away. Because now what start seeing in the eye of the mind are new possibilities.
We can create new meaning and see what the pain is for. We see can see more than just what is consuming us in the present moment. We get to defuse and detach from what is and start to foster the willingness to move towards what we can be.
All of a sudden, we move away from feeling trapped, to feeling liberated. Maybe not fully so. There is still plenty of work to do. But it starts with seeing things in a new lens. And we can see the light in this momentary tunnel we’re in.
And that can be the difference.
It turns out, that light we see in a distance, was us all along.
I was listening to a meditation app this morning and it was about perfectionism. Specifically, battling these voices in our head that claim we are not enough—whether through societal expectations, people in our lives, or purely from conditioning.
I struggle with this too. Present tense. It feels like I’ve been constantly chasing my whole life an ideal that I feel like I’ll never become. I wanted to be a great writer when I was in school, then I wanted to be a great designer when I got into the workforce. I don’t feel I’m either of those by any measure.
But whose measure? And why I am I measuring in the first place? And what is the measure?
When I was growing up, I was writing and designing because I found joy in it. It was intrinsically valuable to me for no other reason than I loved doing it. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought, or if anyone else knew for that matter. I sat down with a piece of paper and I applied myself, put my heart into something, felt challenged, but I kept going. Yes, there were many things I wanted to do that at the time I couldn’t, but I kept trying and kept learning and kept doing. I wasn’t measuring against anything. Technically, I don’t even think I was measuring against myself. There was no “I must be 1% better everyday!” or anything like that. I just did it because I liked to do it and I kept going just ’cause. I woke up and was excited at the idea that I get to write and design. Then I went to sleep excited that I get to do it all over again.
So now I ask: where does this notion of needing to measure ourselves come from?
In a global competitive landscape, where we celebrate “winners” because of who has the “edge,” everything has become about getting better for the sake of getting more. More money, more status, more prestige in order to buy more material things, get bigger apartments, dine at fancier restaurants, so on. And it’s created an atmosphere where everyone is trying to sell expertise and appear to be an expert because it sucks to be seen as a beginner. We must compete. We must not seem inadequate or mediocre or lackluster. Everything needs to be a masterpiece. Our egos are always on the line and no one dare their egos be hurt.
I want to battle this. I want to go back to being a beginner. I want to go back to trying things because it’s fun to try and there is joy and beauty and innocence in trying. There is no shame in starting and the reward is in the doing itself.
Let’s go back to that.
It starts with me willing to be a beginner each day. And being excited that I get to do it all over again. So long as I’m alive, there’s opportunity. Not to improve for the sake of some external reward, but to make art and feel what it’s like to be human.
Like the meditation app said: “I am Good. I am Whole. I am Worthy.”
I feel like I’ve just unlocked something monumental regarding my own relationship with anxiety.
I was reading The Courage to Create, a book published in 1975 by existential psychologist Rollo May and it introduced a powerful framing of anxiety that I hadn’t considered before but is potentially life-changing. I guess we’ll see.
I’ve felt different kinds of anxiety all my life. But there is one type which I was struggling to pinpoint, explain, and put into words. I knew it was different because it has especially been crippling the past few years of my life. I feel bouts of inexplicable emptiness, sadness, and oftentimes meaninglessness, which if you know me personally, might sound surprising because I can come off as a deeply engaged and passionate person full of joie de vivre. But this feeling isn’t exactly new, I just felt it a lot more recently.
This type of anxiety has both been chronic, something I felt regularly, but also has caught by surprise, often when I least expect it, and sometimes even in the most bewildering times, like when things are actually going great in my life. It has been particularly troubling for me because by any standard of measure, I’ve never felt more blessed: I’m healthy, I love and am proud of what I do for a living, I feel like I’ve never been better and confident as a designer in my entire career, I have a wonderful partner I love and continue to grow with, I have a great place I live in with food and warmth never an issue, I’m surrounded by love from family and friends (should I choose to be surrounded by aforementioned love, which is another topic on its own). In short, I’m at a point in life where I feel I have everything I need.
And yet, there is a nagging feeling inside that was ravaging me from within. It was like a boogeyman that would arise from the night after a hard day’s work filled with joy, pride, and satisfaction. Bam. It would hit me, not like a speeding train but more like a slow moving truck and I was half-expecting and yet I still couldn’t move away from it. And it would send me in a spiral. And this lingering dread haunted me on a regular basis. And my defense mechanism would be to retract from the world, to distract myself so I would not feel this simmering pain, and I would be in my own head and pretend everything is okay, until I wake up the following day, and do the cycle over again. Now, I’d still do my regular habits and things would seem fine, and I’d have a great day, and it would come back at night like clockwork.
What was deeply confusing for me was I do not recall feeling this particular anxiety this deeply when I had none of the things that I have now. Almost a decade ago I was struggling with where my future was headed, I did not have the same security I feel now, I didn’t have any money, access to food and warmth was not as easy, my relationships were not where they are today. I was still anxious then but that one felt clearer to me. It was an anxiety for survival: Am I going to make it out of my situation? Am I going to improve my life? Am I going to make something out of myself? But I did not have this feeling of emptiness that now feel despite having all the things I only dreamed of not long ago. By every definition, I should feel fulfilled, and yet I feel a deep void within me that I can’t quite put my finger on. What is it?
I hesitate to give it a name because I don’t think I’ve quite unlocked or understand it fully yet. But what I’m slowly discovering is what I feel deep down is an anxiety related to creativity, or lack thereof. Specifically, an anxiety felt because I haven’t been creating things that I felt allowed me to create meaning, an internal urge that is not related to any extrinsic reward or achievement at a job or anything else. This is purely related to a process of trying to create art for its own sake, to derive meaning out of life through one’s own lenses. In other words, I’ve been ignoring a calling I feel deep inside to try to carve out a “universality of meaning” through my own creativity.
This sounds really abstract but not for artists. Rollo May pointed out a study in which people where given Rorscachlike series of tests, and a group of “normal” people selected “the orderly, symmetrical cards as the designs they liked the most—they like their universe to be in shape.” The same test was given to “creative persons”—those who were recognized by their peers as having distinguished contributions to their field:
But the creative persons selected chaotic, disorderly cards—they found these to be more challenging and interesting. They could be like God in the Book of Genesis, creating order out of chaos. They chose the “broken” universe; they got joy out of encountering it and forming it into order. They could accept their anxiety and use it in molding their disorderly universe “closer to their heart’s desire.”
Reading “accept their anxiety” was a lightbulb moment for me. The anxiety I feel is directly tied to this immediate tension between being a particular kind of person and seeing chaos everywhere. And in that very moment of this realization, anxiety exists. This is not a new or special feeling. I’ve felt this since childhood. The differences was, even in moments where I felt I was fighting for my survival some years ago, I “accepted” this anxiety and did my best to create order out of chaos, to create meaning out of meaninglessness, despite my lack of skills and resources. I wasn’t as good nor was I equipped, and yet I still tried with all my might to create something—through writing, through design, through art. I tried to make sense of the world around me wrapped in emotion and vulnerability because I felt like I had nothing to lose and because it was a compulsion that I needed to address. In a sense, maybe it was my survival mechanism.
Whereas these days, I’ve thought of this creative process as a tradeoff—one where I am putting forward progress in my career, my job, my status, my finances in the back-burner should I choose to spend my finite time creating. I viewed it as costly because in logical terms, it didn’t add to the things I already had. It wasn’t an “investment” towards my future and creating had an “opportunity cost” to the things that do.
But the real cost was I no longer felt alive. I felt pain I didn’t know how to cure. I have all these things that I didn’t have before that I can’t even enjoy because I knew something was missing deep down. I viewed this anxiety as something to rid of, something to distract myself from, something to ignore, but it only came back to me, day after day, night after night, week after week, with a deep sense of dissatisfaction even when I have everything I could need.
This is when it occurred to me that this anxiety is actually a calling. That sounds absurd to read because how can crippling anxiety be seen as a calling? First, one doesn’t feel this particular anxiety if they don’t feel this tension between how the world is and how the world can be. This same compulsion to turn chaos into order feels like a curse because it is ever-present, it is not something one can just get rid of, and in a way, it may be something one can never fully satisfy themselves of. For some people—and I’m in this category—things can perpetually be better because things aren’t good enough. But more specifically, these kinds of people felt like they need to do something about it.
But in this exact moment of tension is where passion can come alive. Rollo May describes passion not as a “quantity of emotion” but rather a “quality of commitment”—it is precisely this openness and desire to confront the encounter that creates passion. You can’t confront the encounter between yourself and this moment of tension unless you first accept the anxiety. And you want to confront the encounter because it just might lead you to ecstasy—this heightened sense of consciousness, a “temporary transcending of the subject-object dichotomy.”
As much as it might feel like a curse, this is when it occurred to me that this particular anxiety can rather be a gift. It is an itch to be scratched, one that can only be relieved by accepting the anxiety, confronting the encounter, and having the courage to create something, to make something that was not there before, to create meaning out of meaninglessness, to hopefully reach ecstasy no matter how fleeting.
And this is only possible through the artist looking at themselves as a vessel, to allow themselves to be open and receptive to the things around them, to how they’re feeling, to the ebbs & flows of life, but to also have the courage to create not just to relieve themselves of this anxiety, but to make something out of it that hopefully contributes something new to the universe.
Radical love & radical gratitude for everything is a tough concept to understand.
We can’t possibly love and be grateful for everything that happens to us. Sure, we can love and be grateful for the good things in life, but it’s difficult to love and be grateful for every minor annoyance, for unsavory people, for difficult times, for traumatic experiences, for extreme hardships. And maybe we don’t have to. Not everything needs to have a positive spin on it. Sometimes shit is just bad.
Or can it be more?
In the thought exercise of radical love and gratitude, we might be able to radically accept things, situations, events, and people, and see things for what they plainly are. And through it, to see ourselves in the process as a totally separate and detached being from all of these. That we have our own reality, and our own person, and we are our own individual and it need not be consumed by everything else around us.
That through radical love and gratitude for everything, we might radically love ourselves and be grateful for our own lives, no matter what has happened in the past, what is happening in the present, and what might happen in the future.
To radically love and be grateful for all the things we don’t want to do, for people we encounter that we would rather wish to not be in our lives, for difficult challenges that send us to our brink. That it might be through these things that we can hope to find the things that we do want to do, find people we would love to spend time with, and find who we really are and what we are made of in our heart of hearts.
When there seems like there’s nothing to love and be grateful for, it challenges us to look around—literally look around—to your left, to your right, to your up, to your down, to breathe the air around you, the see the sights around you, to smell the smells around you, to hear the things around you.
To laugh at the absurdity of life and existence, to smile at all its pains and wonders, to cry at its surrealness and beauty. To absorb all of it, and be mesmerized by your very presence within it, as you play your own unique part in the vastness and history of the entire universe, without judgment, nor regret, nor attachment. Just as you are this very moment, you have already altered the shape of history and the depths of time.
It might be difficult to radically love and be grateful for everything. But through this exercise is how we remind ourselves of the radical love and gratitude we can give for ourselves, if no one else.
You are not just a human being. You are a moment in time, an entity as grand and as complex as any star floating in space. You are a miracle, you are here, and you belong.
Growing up, I was always about sharing my work: I shared things I drew, things I wrote like blog posts and essays, things I designed like posters, MySpace Pages, and websites, and even things I made like beats. I even shared skateboarding tricks even if I didn’t feel particularly good, but at least I felt like I was doing all of these things from the heart and out of pure curiosity.
It was about self-expression.
And yes, while much of that had to do with me trying to find my identity with a little bit of ego involved—I wanted to show I can do and show people I was good at it—there was still fear involved. Fear of embarrassment, self-doubt, and criticism. Who did I think I was to be sharing these things? But at the same time, I used my youth to shield myself from these fears. I was young and experimenting a lot, and felt like I had the freedom to make mistakes. If anything, my courage would bring me exposure and respect. I was willing to just give things a try because they piqued my interest. This continued on till college where I continued to explore my potential and what I could do. There was also definitely a superiority complex because I felt like I was better at a lot of things than my peers.
But overtime, this prolific nature got clouded by other things. Now, because “career” was on the line, I felt impostor syndrome more deeply. I became more aware of what I couldn’t do and how far I was from where I wanted to go. I felt Ira Glass’s “The Gap” in a way I hadn’t before. And it felt like if I show what I’m doing, it would reveal how much of a fraud I was—that I wasn’t really who I said I was nor was as as good as I thought I was.
And because I lived a very public life before that was very much fueled by ego—I wanted to look cool and sound authoritative, this eventually lost its appeal. I felt my insecurities deeper. Now, each thing I shared—all the good things felt like it was disingenuous. Or at least, it felt very showboat-y to me and I just didn’t want to be that person because I do not live a perfect life. There are a lot of things I’m afraid of, a lot of things I feel are holding me back, and going out into the public life felt like it was not authentic to these things I’m feeling deep inside. Overall, I just wanted a more private life so I can keep my private thoughts to my private self. And there was a sense of freedom in people not knowing what I’m up to (especially things in my personal life) and I no longer had this obsession about other people’s validation.
I think this had its time. I needed this in order to mature. To recalibrate at a personal and a subconscious level (therapy helped with this tons). And to just take control of my life because so much of it felt like it was not in my control. I had a lot of stresses at different parts of my life and I wanted to keep them close to the chest. And in a way, maybe I needed to in order to process.
But now, I feel a newfound hunger within me. I’m creating a moodboard and so many of the inspirations in it are creatives who are very public about how they work. They are prolific people who are constantly creating, collaborating, and sharing their process. Because of this, they are constantly inspiring people and making them think. This got me thinking a lot of Virgil who worked non-stop and just shared so much. Its superhuman levels how prolific he was. His process was chaotic, and no matter what people thought of his work, he at least had a point of view and wanted to put it out there, like he was running of time…because he was.
This speaks to me because if I really want to explore my potential, and be a “vessel from which my purpose is to be delivered,” I likely would have to get back to my mode of sharing: sharing my work, my thoughts, my inspirations, my lessons learned. And not for the sake of ego or for other people’s validation. But purely to help even 1 person out there to believe in themself and pick them up from tough times, as I was picked up by the people that inspired me. And do it in my way, totally authentic to who I am, and not making myself to be something I’m not.
In Virgil’s words:
Everything I do is for the 17 year-old version of myself.
I should think about 17-year old Jomi and think about how much energy, passion, and emotion he had. He wanted to put so much love and creativity in all he did. He wanted to get better everyday and try all the things. He would share things that he felt helped express himself. He wasn’t afraid—or he was, but he still did it anyway. And I need to do it for that person, but I also need to channel that same energy. I need to do it for him. And I need to do it for others like him.
Dreaming is powerful. And trying to reach our own dreams helps liberate others. And that is why dreaming in public is even more powerful. It might just collectively help us make our dreams a reality.
Interviewer:“You also said the intention behind the work becomes even more important. I’m curious: what do you mean by that? How can an intention of a piece of work be more important than the outcome?”
Trevor Jackson:“Because that’s all that matters. The reason you do something is what it’s all about. For me, what I do, this isn’t a lifestyle to me. This is my life. This is something I’ve grown up on. It’s helped me through really rough times. It’s pretty much fueled my life. And for me, right now, I said anyone can do anything that looks good. I’m not impressed by things that look good anymore. It doesn’t move me. I’m impressed by ideas. I’m impressed by people that may be the outcome isn’t great but the reason they did it is fantastic. Both in music and in visuals, that’s really what excites me right now.”