I couldn’t sleep last night. I spent the hours past midnight watching videos, reading, thinking about what to do with my crisis.
When I say crisis, it sounds like something I can easily solve. But I can’t; I’m aware of it now. Some days, I say I can sort it out, but really, I can’t. In fact, I don’t even know where to start.
In the last three years I have seen a version of me I had never seen coming: making something out of what I’m good at. I’m actually good at something! Can you believe? My angsty underdog teenager self who wrote in her diary and doodled emo song lyrics would have been surprised for sure. I’ve been able to inspire people to follow their own passions, to make art a part of their daily lives. I’ve managed to write 5 books, contribute to publications, put up a magazine (despite the one-off thing, I still count it as a dream come true), work with remarkable people and brands, to say the least. In short, I could say my years so far leading up to this point have been full of accomplishments and successes.
But somehow, I lost myself in it. And it is the worst feeling I have ever experienced in my life (could be like a break-up, but I could be wrong).
In 2014, when I was scribbling down all these ideas of wanting to do this and do that, I was so eager. Eager to get to the other side, eager to try new things, eager to evolve and excel. When I got into this “other side”, aka pursuing this as a full-time career, I learned the ropes of becoming an artist in my own right. Did that make sense? Being able to draw was one part of the equation, but there are several factors that get you from point A to point B. The possibility of luck. The effects of hard work. The people you know. The friends you make. The values you live by. The ideas you create. The confidence you give yourself to represent your “brand” and make it work.
I managed to work through all those. I built up a tough exterior to make myself respectable. Who takes a 22-year-old author seriously? Of course, no one. I made sure clients respected my work and I learned how to negotiate accordingly. I met the right people who believed in me, who told me I could do it even if I always doubted myself. My following on social media sprouted because I posted an Owl City doodle on Tumblr, and got suggested on Instagram. It’s not like I willed it to happen, but it did, and I’m grateful. I worked hard even if I didn’t post about it online (because did I really need people to see that? the work could speak for itself). I created opportunities for myself because I realized in the design industry, people probably didn’t take me seriously because I’m considered some sort of “content creator” or “influencer”. I’ve been rejected by several design institutions in possible ideas to collaborate. I submitted my work to prestigious competitions and of course, got rejected. I wasn’t good enough for a certain standard. My Instagram is a hodge podge of not just my art, but my creative life. But I was okay with it. It was fine.
What wasn’t fine is this: I now make art to please an audience. It used to be because I liked something, reinterpreted it, and put it out there in the hopes that people would feel the same way. As an introvert, that was how I connected with my audience. Social media helped me express my true self without having to go out in the open and make connections in person. I was allowed to experiment in the four walls of my studio, making sure I get to create more with what I can. I already knew what I could and couldn’t do, after working on projects that tested my limits and writing books that made me realize which skills I can carry with me in the later stages of my career. So I think I’m in this bubble of my skills and ideas that people started to take notice of, and now I’m scared popping it because I will fall. I will have to start again.
I’m twenty five. People still think my art is a trend. But I’ve lived through four years of self-employment and made sure I get to travel and experience life independently because of this “trend” I helped start. I’m also tired of proving this fact to the world, and I’m looking for a way to recalibrate my creative process. And this is exactly why I’m writing from here in my little room in Queens, New York—an hour and a half away from Manhattan. Because it’s the only way I can be here, and the only way I can take a break. I thought I could escape my own thoughts and episodes of self-hate, but that’s a different story. So I have no other choice but to face it, and deal with it on my own at a foreign place. It sort of makes sense, I’d like to think.
I never choose comfort. I always choose challenge. It’s not because I’m selfish, but because comfort is too scary. It’s too limiting. If I stay comfortable I will never grow. As an artist you always want to push boundaries and keep yourself afloat; always on the lookout for what else there is to discover. I am generally interested in many things apart from art. My travels keep me grounded at the thought that I will always be in search of something.
But right now, I am searching for the things that I have lost my sight on. Why I wanted to do this in the first place. Why on earth did I impulsively send a resignation letter to allow myself to make art for a living. Why I decided to go back to school. Why I am writing this post and shedding tears as I type out these words (listening to OTH’s soundtrack doesn’t help, either).
In hindsight, making choices scare me because it could cause a huge part of me to change and adapt to whatever life throws at me. But I know I’m making a right choice now—to take a short hiatus for a few weeks and sort my crisis together. It’s been too long. I can never do this in the Philippines. But what the heck, I’m in New York. I’ll do it here. Who knows where I’ll be next year? I will never know until I find out.
I’ve given 100% of myself in the books I’ve written, especially the self-help title I recently put out. I don’t regret giving my all because I had always intended to write that to make my past self shut up, and to remind myself that what brought me here is a series of trial and error, experiments, and lots of risks. Risks to prove people wrong. Risks to rebel against what was accepted in an Asian family. Risks to keep myself grounded in the fact that I am here to make something out of my life, and make it count the best way I can.
I’m not leaving social media for good, but I could do away with a few weeks of not updating often. I envy some of my friends who don’t need to post about what they’re doing in a day because as I got older, I craved for that privacy. The best conversations I’ve had with people are just happily buried in my journal where no one gets to see it but me. Nowadays, I don’t feel the urge to broadcast all of my thoughts online—I delete my tweets from time to time because I sound so opinionated, and I’m not sure if I really am that kind of person. It’s just been this weird cycle of not wanting to miss out, but guess what, I missed out on myself in the midst of everything. Big time.
I’ll be back soon. I just need a little self-healing.
Photo by Ber Garcia