Nothing like the friends who come forward on a milestone birthday to remind you where love and loyalty exist. Their roots grow deeper still.
Leaving the weeds and dust in the past life. May the wind take them far, far away.
“How will you feel if you wake up one day and you’re forty and you’re dying of cancer? Will you be able to say you lived your life doing what you were meant to do?” – Abe
I was 23 years old. The attorney I was interning for, Abe, was in his 40s and he would succumb to his cancer later that year. But in that moment, he challenged me to chase my passions. For the first time, someone gave me permission to live a thorough and fulfilled life.
I try to remember who I was at 23. I was frustrated. I knew I was meant for a creative career path, I just didn’t know how to get there. I had all these dreams and goals. I wanted to be a world-renowned artist like Barry McGee or Futura 2000. I wanted to be heard. I felt invisible in my country, in my school, and home. I wanted to grab the universe by the face and say, “Look at me! I have something you need!”
That fire burned deep inside. So, we built this locomotive – The Hundreds – and shoveled that coal deep into its belly. This train, it took us to faraway places and we got to see the world. We picked up so many people along the way and shared the journey with new friends.
I don’t know what would’ve become of me if I never met Abe and stayed being a lawyer. Perhaps I would’ve been able to quell that fire. Or maybe it would’ve manifested into charismatic advocacy. I like to think that I would’ve started a clothing brand at some point anyway. Perhaps I would’ve still written a book. What I’ve recently realized, however, is that Abe wasn’t telling me to pursue my destiny as a streetwear designer. When he said to do what I was “meant to do,” he wasn’t specifying a job title. In fact, if you remember, I wanted to be a renowned gallery artist and I never became one.
What Abe was talking about was acknowledging my curiosities and desires: the fire. I’d spent my life running from it and being bewildered by it. He was hoping I’d recognize those flames and harness them instead. Otherwise, this thing would consume me instead of setting the world ablaze.
Whatever that fire is in your life – whether it’s work or personal – I urge you to stoke it and tend to it. There is a lush existence awaiting, and it’s meant for only you.
This morning, I woke up and I turned 40. And I can answer your question with confidence, Abe.
photo by Ja Tecson
You can’t solve a problem you aren’t willing to accept.
My childhood friend Alan Yang has been working on this project for years (Alan was one of the people kind enough to read my book and add his blurb to the cover). I loosely knew about the film’s premise, but I was not prepared for the execution. Maybe it’s the circumstances, but I’m moved by the trailer alone. I can’t wait for its Netflix release on April 10.
I haven’t had a day like this in years, if ever.
I rested my fingers on the keyboard. I clicked around on my mouse. I waited for something to come. Something to make me feel alive.
I drove to my office. I turned around and drove home. The world’s longest U-turn.
I sat on the porch. I watched neighbors walk by, as if they had somewhere to go. Everyone gives the nod. “It’s nice to see you, but please stay over there. By the way, are we gonna die?” It’s universal.
I watched the clouds. Behind them, a very blue backdrop. I thought, “Up there, everything is still the same.” The sky seemed more distant than ever.
I noticed e-mails drip down like a leaky faucet, but I did nothing about them. They are slower and more intentional these days – the emails. I don’t particularly miss when they were hyper and obnoxious. Perhaps there will be a day when I clamp the water shut.
I returned texts and DMs to feel something – a connection. I have wonderful friends. They are so smart and funny. I tell myself how lucky I am to have their ears and hearts. God, I miss hugs and wine-drunk dinners and noise. Although I get tired when I go out, I even miss that.
I’m never tired anymore. Correction: I’m exhausted, but I’m alert. Everything is moving in slow motion. I feel every inch of my day, I’m sensitive to every movement. The days are moving faster now, but soon there will be no more days. Just one long, looping thread, like a mobius strip. The sun sets and rises like a yo-yo. I’ve been saying that life feels like a rollercoaster lately, but it’s more like a yo-yo. Up and down, but stuck in the same place. At least a rollercoaster goes somewhere.
It’s 6:57pm and I’ve done nothing today.
I’ve trained myself to think that every day is precious and it’d be a waste to be unproductive. What a shame. So many dead people would love to have just one day back. And I spent it learning about the nuances of a virus like I’m a fucking scientist. No, I design T-shirts. And I didn’t even do that today.
I’m boiling spaghetti now. I think I have a gluten allergy, so it’s gluten-free pasta. It tastes disgusting, but for 12 minutes, I get to eat this trash and fool myself into believing that I’m a normal person without a stupid stomach thing. I’m just like you – I can eat a loaf of bread and run a mile. I am a god.
I am waiting for something to happen.
But, maybe there is just nothing for me today. I’ll try again tomorrow.
It’s funny. We started in 2003, just Ben and I. Me, at my desk, blogging and designing T-shirts every day. If you told me 17 years later, we’d be in the same position (I’m blogging again here, working on T-shirts to keep myself busy, and our entire staff is now remote-working), I’d have body-slammed myself.
But, it’s kinda sweet.
I just designed a new T-shirt, inspired by my least favorite friend surprising me unannounced throughout the day: ANXIETY. This is a parody of a parody (High Anxiety, the film), by the master of parodies himself, Mel Brooks.
Watch my Instagram Highlight on the process behind the design.
You can now buy the shirt HERE.
– Social media hinges off of algorithms. Algorithms prioritize dramatic content because it evokes emotional impulse. Therefore, the bulk of what you see in your feeds is the most visceral, sensational, and jarring information. That also applies to the news. You only get the black and white hues now, very few shades of grey.
– We know too much. Let me rephrase that. We’ve been given too much knowledge at once, with little guidance on context and usage. The Internet disassembled power structures and broke down walls guarding information, which is a great thing. But, we are now arming ourselves with weapons we aren’t prepared to use. We’re self-taught experts on medicine and science, overnight masters of sociology and politics. It’s a lot to take on, wrap our heads around, let alone master. Yet, we’re wielding this information around like a flamethrower. Like handing a kid an AK-47 and telling him there’s a war outside.
– Humans are no match for the weight of the Internet. We are designed for personal interactions and organic cultural builds. The Internet not only expedites phenomena, it lassoes everyone together and swings them like a wrecking ball. When we make decisions, we move as an urgent, hasty mass: trends, social policy, shaming declarations… When we fail, there aren’t a few close members in the community to chastise us. Now, we have thousands – if not millions – collectively sitting on us at once. There is little allowance – or time – allotted for free, independent thought in this exercise. The staggering anxiety and ensuing mental health breakdowns are unsurprising.
– You will be affected by a world at the mercy of social media extremes, but you don’t have to participate in its reckless violence.
1) Read headlines as the most severe versions of themselves. Digest a range of opinions on the subject matter before you formulate your own conclusion. Once you reach the ending, break it down and start over again.
2) Although, sometimes, you gotta let the experts handle it. It’s their practice and art. It’s also their worry and stress to carry, not your burden to bear. Equipping yourself with superfluous knowledge doesn’t mean you’re any safer or more in control. In fact, it’s the opposite.
3) Be mindful that social media truncates thoughts into binary expressions. Like there are only two buckets. Remember that humans are complicated, vast, and beautiful. We each hold a spectrum of beliefs and opinions, constantly in flux. We are oceans and canyons and can’t be summarized in a tweet.
This is how to do the Internet.
On December 31, 1995, I was 15 years old. One of my favorite Sunday strips, Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes was ending at a time I needed it most. I saved this full-color edition paper in my drawer, a memento of my childhood naivete.
Watterson himself has continued to be a heroic figure to me. He stayed true to his art and upheld his integrity. He resisted licensing, merchandising, and commercially selling-out. And, he went out on top, on his own terms.
It’s funny to think back on my two favorite comics growing up – this one and Garfield. Both are centered around a boy/man and his imaginary/imaginative cartoon sidekick. Years later, I’d have the same relationship with Adam Bomb.
I bring this comic up today because of its outlook on the future.
When we wake up from this dread, the world will be a fresh slate. As terrified as I am some days, this is also the most inspired I’ve felt in years. With regimes toppling, paradigms shifting, and our perspectives adjusting to what’s most important, who will take the torch and run? I’m excited for new leadership and innovation. Every industry is confronted with unforeseen problems. Who will be the first to create solutions?
We are all being sent back to the starting line. We’re implementing new rules and systems. You have as good of a shot as anyone else now. Let’s explore.
In the beginning, there was Blog.
I mean, we had chatrooms and Tripod sites in the ’90s, but at the turn of the millennium, Blogger/Blogspot launched and turned the Internet from a library to a stage. We went from looking at the web as an information resource to a platform where we could express ourselves and be heard.
It was ripe timing for me. I was an attention-starved middle child, harboring han as a racial minority. I had so much to say. And so, I published my first blog circa 2000, writing essays about social issues, my fascination with international clothing brands like Evisu and A Bathing Ape, and showing off my art, photography, and sneaker collection. I used to say it was like printing punk ‘zines, but now that I think about it, it was more like how it felt to be a college radio DJ. At my alma mater, UCSD, I had a midnight program where I played only obscure hardcore, indie, and emo music through the campus station. I’d get a few requests a night from a handful of loyal listeners and that was enough. Playing the pop hits for the college mainstream audience was unappealing. I preferred to speak specifically. Kinda like how I’m not good at small, generalized talk in social gatherings. I’d rather move to the corner of the room and deep-dive into meaningful conversations. I’m happy with an audience of one.
When Ben and I started The Hundreds a few years later, the blog was critical. You have to remember, we weren’t trying to start a clothing company. In 2003, we called it a “lifestyle project.” The entire brand was about reflecting our interests, experiences, and opinions. It was less about T-shirts and more about relating as humans. We wouldn’t have had the capital to operate a media channel back then. The only options were television, radio, newspapers and magazines. Even a photocopied ‘zine was costly and limited in reach. The Blog landed in our laps.
For the greater part of a decade, my blog broadcasted the social backbone of this “project.” Our followers loved watching us grow an independent clothing label from scratch. For a generation of entrepreneurs (and those after), we were peers, mentors, and guiding lights. Then, the blog just exploded. We’ll never know if it was causative or correlative, but a series of cultural events in the streetwear scene turned all eyes on me (well, not me personally, but my documentation of this movement). Not only was I there to capture this newest streetwear wave, I was also reporting from the frontlines of Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles. Supreme LA attracted the Odd Future kids, who hung out in front of Diamond and skated on our street (Rosewood). By the early 2010s, despite a recession, business was booming.
The blog, however, wasn’t. I knew we were in trouble when Twitter broke in the late 2000s. My secret weapon wasn’t so special anymore. Blogging was democratized for all, plus it was easier and faster. “Microblogging” they called it. At least I still had my photography. Then, Instagram entered the room and nailed the coffin shut for the web logging generation.
The technology wasn’t the only thing that had changed. Streetwear changed. The underground still cared about renegade artists, but the mainstream labels spoke to a more surface-level customer. This consumer was largely uninterested in the history and storylines of the logos they adopted. Instead, they championed image, price tags and clout. So if anyone was still checking streetwear websites by then, they were bookmarking hype news sites to stay updated on releases.
Perhaps the most profound contributor to the deceleration of my blog was me. I turned 30 in 2010 and was spending less time on the street and more time in the office. I got married, had children, and was busy being a boss of a growing company. At one point, Ben and I were managing 100 people in our office alone, not to mention staff at our four shops. My role changed and my community required different things of me. And so that first iteration of my blog closed silently.
Of course, The Hundreds’ blog itself never ceased. It’s still being updated throughout the week with interviews, think-pieces, and lists. We just opened it up to new editors and authors who have kept the blood moving through The Hundreds’ veins. The intent has always remained the same – to tell you the stories behind some of our favorite brands, artists, and personalities. Everything we make has a reason and purpose and the blog is a venue for us to talk about them.
So, when people who grew up with my blog tell me “Bring it back!,” I tell them it’s impossible. I can’t bring back an uncharted Fairfax. I can’t make “streetwear” a secret word again. I can’t go back to being a kid on the corner with a camera, with nothing to do but chop stories and discover raw talent. No, that blog is done and gone forever. And, to be honest, I like it that way. There was a time and place for the streetwear blog and it got us – and me – to where we are now. I’m grateful for that.
But, this blog. This blog is something brand new and different and very much needed.
This blog is me at 40. At the start of a global pandemic. In a time where our lives and work are being reduced to rubble. I started off this year in a very bad place and just when I asked, “Can it get any worse?” I got slam-dunked. Many of you know the feeling. If you weren’t there already, you’re here with me now! It’s lonely and scary and ….strange.
This blog feels un-strange to me. The world is out of control, but this blog is under mine. I am going to use this microphone as a bridge. It’s just me and you, like it’s 2 in the morning and I’m playing you a new band I love. I don’t know what I’m going to post here. Probably not a lot of streetwear stuff, sorry. More like loose thoughts, snippets of art that mean something to me, and messages of hope. All in the spirit of connection. We must stay connected, it’s the only thing I know that neutralizes the loneliness and scariness and strangeness.
When I used to blog, because we didn’t have analytics or scorekeeping, I had no idea if anyone was on the other side. I just wrote into the ether, hoping my ideas would land somewhere. And you caught them.
Now, it’s the reverse. I know you’re out there. But, this time, I want you to know that I’m here too.
Let’s take this day by day, together.