(spoilers alert) who am I? and what do I want?
Construction (建設) by Fan Ho (1957)
Something I learned from R lately is how he has evaluated success on his independent journey. He only looks to the answers of two questions: who am I and what do I want? As long as the answers to those questions are developing, time is being spent well.
This whole independent journey has basically been me getting to know myself and what I want to do. I have the strangest days, which would sound absolutely crazy if I was still working a corporate job. For example, today, I woke up at 8:30 to get ready for a meeting to talk about “New Time Machines” at 9:30. I took this meeting walking to the bus stop because I needed to go down to Bayshore to Recology’s headquarters, the waste management company that serves all of San Francisco, to attend their Artist-in-Residence tour. I spent two hours there seeing what people have done with the waste of the city to make art and will never forget walking through the Public Disposal Area (PDA for short). All over the grounds of Recology, you’ll find the most unique combination of fixings, from statues that span the cultural gamut to Bauhaus-style furniture in bold colors with the paint peeling on one side to a giant robot and his friends: a huge chipmunk (perhaps Alvin?), a stormtrooper, and what appears to be the decapitated head of a Ken doll. After, I took the bus home, made lunch, and put the final edits on a piece for several hours (I’m slow at editing). I took a break to work out and then started working on a project that involves the physical design of bags. I foraged around my room for different found objects that could be refashioned into various kinds of pouches. I made one out of a black scarf and a mesh bag; an IKEA bucket hat, some spare shoelaces, and some tape (to be replaced with velcro), and a tiny Tupperware container that I’m still trying to figure out a nice way to attach or carry around. I made Hainese chicken rice, watched some TV (I’m rewatching Avatar the Last Airbender), and am now getting ready for bed.
the entrance of the PDA, featuring said large robot and chipmunk
Who am I? What do I want?
You could—do—spend a whole lifetime answering these questions.
I haven’t really known how to answer the questions lately. I’ve been restless, questioning the purpose of my work. I know I can probably never be a hotshot VC-raising-courting startup founder raising millions in a pre-seed round. I can’t put on the act of feeling unwavering faith in everything I do constantly. Instead, I’m constantly questioning everything. I’m interrogating whether things are good enough, whether they go far enough, whether the vision is compelling enough, whether the world I care about is possible in my lifetime. I’m all too aware of the difficulties I face and the uncertainty entrenched in every step of the way. I’m confronting the void, and coming out the other side every day.
I’ve been feeling the pressure of urgency again, wanting to accomplish all my ideas in the shortest amount of time. I suppose this stems from my obsessiveness with completion, preciously reflected in binging games or shows or even songs. I like flirting with ideas. I like trying on different hats. I have too many lives I want to live simultaneously (doing an artist residency at Recology, starting an indie software studio, making things that feel like magic to people, making poetic websites, returning to a “regular” job just to avoid facing the void so constantly). And then when it feels like my head’s about to burst, I take a few deep breaths and recenter myself. And I return to a gratitude for even being able to have such a strange day such as this. I’m stuck in a cycle of manic ideas and existential angst and overwhelming gratitude. It feels a bit like trying to get 100% completion on the video game that is life. But the more paths I travel down, the more stories unravel. The deeper I get the more I find I don’t know, haven’t done, likely won’t ever get to do.
In just the past 7 months, the answers to these have changed so many times (sometimes in the span of days or even hours!) that it intimidates me just to look at them. “Change” isn’t quite the right word here—it’s more like “evolved” or “deepened.” I’m gaining an awareness of how precise of a language I crave when I talk about this stuff, which makes my existing explanations feel insufficient. In this cycle, I’m obtaining precision in talking about who I am and what I want. It feels both deeply satisfying to have a taste for what feels right but also unnerving to have to constantly interrogate myself and my language.
But if I really dig into it, I don’t think what I want has really changed that much from what I wanted as a child (although I might have fancier and more detailed ways to express it now).
I want to make the world better in some way, I want to help people, and I want to surround myself with people I love. And I want it to be fun.
So who am I and what do I want to do?
I want to make the internet more human-first. I want to make computers that make you believe you can believe in computers again. I want to make an internet that does the same, the kinds of software that give hope, spark curiosity, and enable daydreaming.
Well actually that’s not true, or at least, not the whole of it. I am a noticer of the world. I am a friend, a partner, a son, a collaborator, an oxygen sink, a sun enjoyer. I am someone who enjoys sitting with the unknown, sipping water, tools for wonder, evocative writing, watermelon on a hot day, and much more (see the non-exhaustive list on my website). I am someone who loves the world and wants to believe that I can love everyone who’s in it, too.
I want to be a good human. I want to honor the world for all the beauty, wonder, and capacity latent in it. I want to love, deeply. I want to scream at the top of my lungs. I want to feel like if I was the last human alive, I’d be doing the rest of the race some justice, honoring their memory. I want to be petty when I feel like it, to laze around and scroll my hundreds of feeds and laugh at the absurdity of it all in the comments of my algorithmic neighborhood. I want to sit at the top of a park dotted with others sitting and kneeling and leaning and think about absolutely nothing, just letting the sun setting into the city and the very human sounds of existence around me seep into my soul.
“Embrace both the bitter and the sweet that come with working from the heart, working with one’s very life on the line. I live, I take pleasures where they are afforded. Everything starts from embracing life itself.”
— Yohji Yamamoto in My Dear Bomb
All that I do, I do to honor something. Everything I make is an ode to something or someone else. My websites are love letters, thank you notes, and dedications. My life is simply me saying “I want to remember this” on loop.
I’m primarily interested in making things out of the things we already have, to highlight new ways of looking at, talking to, and working with the stuff already in our daily lives. I used to be interested only with the frontier, the cutting edge. I wanted to invent things that defied people’s expectations. That feeling of discovery and magic upon encounter is still one of my favorite feelings in the world, but I’ve shifted where I seek it out. Rather than making an entirely new world for people and forcing them to move, I care about giving us the ability to make our own worlds and care for the world we share.
“It’s actually very hard work. You must see and think all the time. You have to think how to surpass your past work with a new angle or a new style or a new feeling. You must use your heart to determine that decisive moment which Henri Cartier-Bresson talks about. You must get the feeling and get a response from the subject you are shooting. At that moment you must care, breathe and love the universe – it’s not just about making a beautiful picture. I put my whole life into a single photograph.”
— Fan Ho in an interview (bold mine)
I don’t know what the future holds—I’m still figuring out what the next few months look like. But I know that as long as I can follow in Fan Ho’s footsteps and strive to put my whole life into the things I make, I’ll be answering those two questions, and that’s plenty for me.
Thank you for everyone who is reading this, and welcome to all the new folks (now 500 of you!!). If you’d like to support my work, I’d appreciate if you shared anything I’ve made that resonates with someone who you think would enjoy it (and I also have a sponsors page if that’s your thing)! I have a couple exciting things coming out soon that I can’t wait to show you all :)
Edit: I rewatched this ATLA episode the night after I sent this. What are the odds!?