I did spend some time driving west on the H1 which takes you around the side of a mountain (volcano, technically). The problem was it was dusk so by the time I got out to the more remote part of Oahu it was pitch black and I was driving with a mountain (volcano) on one side and a 100 foot drop into the ocean on the other side. Needless to say that was terrifying. Heights terrify me.
You had mentioned the heights thing in a previous conversation where you had hung a picture relatively high up on your loft wall.. I was pretty sure it was going to be beach and not mountains because of that. I find your choice of urban setting interesting because so much of the urban landscape requires going up. When a place runs out of space, they go vertical. That being said, being drawn to an urban setting is a perfectly valid thing.
Joel: I think that’s a lot of what draws me to it. There’s a certain social and ecological responsibility with the efficiency required to sustain a huge city. Plus when you start building on an island or peninsula you have to start getting creative about using space.
Question 8: Other than NYC, are there any other large urban areas you want to visit/live in? Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Mumbai, London?
Joel: I had a chance to go to Paris years ago, I think that was the catalyst for my whole “I need this level of culture, population density and diversity in my life” thing. I’m sure that’s also why I gravitate toward the east coast, when New York and Boston popped up there wasn’t really American urban planning like L.A. or, more recently, Austin. I like Chicago since it’s sort of a hybrid of the old and new worlds of urban planning.
Coffee tangents, man. Right. Anyway.
I love Munich, it’s such a beautiful city. It’s clean, it’s easy to get around and everyone is so polite. Even without speaking German, you can get by and people are very patient if you put forth just a little effort.
I’ve heard great things about Mexico city, admittedly the most I’ve been exposed to it is the most recent James Bond film, Spectre.
Berlin would be really interesting, again I’ve heard great things. Apparently James McAvoy “Fucking loves Berlin!” - I really enjoyed Atomic Blonde, it was a really fun movie to watch -
Hong Kong would be really interesting, it seems like there’s a line for me where it’s just too much density and I think some of the East Asian cities are playing jump rope with that line but I’m really excited to see if that’s true.
I travel by myself a lot (it’s amazing, I think everyone should try it) but that’s mostly in the U.S. International cities are little harder, particularly if, like me, you don’t speak a lot of the languages. Plus spending 12+ hours on a flight kinda sucks.
Right now I don’t really have any plans. I want to get out to Boston to see a buddy of mine. I was thinking about doing an East Coast tour. Boston, train it down to New York, maybe Philly for another friend, D.C. and then Richmond to see my sister. My buddy in MIlwaukee is a D.J. and I, apparently, have become his tour manager so I think we’ll have some shows coming up for that too.
I have never been to Paris. I have been to London and Munich though. I did very much like Munich. You can get very far in Munich with “Ein brat und ein bier, bitte” and “Danke” when your beer and bratwurst arrive. You do not get nearly as far knowing “Es liegt im straßengraben.” The phrasebook Glen and I had did not help with that one. I think some of the more asian megalopolises seem like they would be much more fun to see than to actually go to. The mere concept of Tokyo is daunting. I would like to get back to Edinburgh, so I guess I can do some solo travel in the next few years.
Joel: The beer is so much better in Germany. I know you can’t partake but it ruined my taste for beer because the stuff here just can’t match up. Highly recommend the solo travels, it’s kind of like the ultimate self-gratification. You can go where ever you want, do whatever you want and when you’re done you’re done. I think a lot of people find travel stressful for that reason and if you allow a buffer of time and just sort of go with it, by yourself, that stress is gone.
You should embrace the tour managerness and become a promoter as well. Let us know who is the DJ and how can people follow this person?
Joel: Good call! I’m not great with shameless promotion. Jason Bay @jasonbay for you Instagrammers is my DJ buddy. He’s launching a music label called Our Love Affair, ourloveaffair.us and I’m working on the website (that I hope will be done by the time this comes out).
Question 9: Is house music really your thing? What music do you gravitate towards? You don’t seem like house/dj would be your thang.
Joel: I grew up skateboarding (still do) and punk rock was all the rage with those damn skaters.
Joel: yeah… as I was saying, actually I was watching a really great video about the evolution of punk rock and how the kids that grew up with bands like blink-182, Taking Back Sunday and NOFX (pronounced no-f-x) ended up with a deep appreciation for, what is now, Indie music. That’s definitely true for me, my daily playlist is a hipster’s dream. It’s also 230 songs that are just constantly on shuffle.
In the past couple years, some of the DJ/remixing work has been bleeding into Indie music as well. Phantogram, by far my favorite band, does a combination of sampling with more traditional keyboard, vocal, guitar, drum music. Samples, in House and in their music, are like another instrument and that’s super intriguing. It’s even better for someone like me, I’ve always played music but I’ve never had a tight knit group of people that I really like playing with. If you get creative about sampling and layering pre-recorded work (yours or someone else’s) you can still make original music.
I don’t really listen to house all that much, some Daft Punk and Prodigy which are kind of House-Lite. I started playing guitar when I was 10 (have I mentioned my parents desperately tried to find creative outlets for me as a child?) and I grew up right on the cusp of when computers in every home were normal so as part of my musical journey I ended up with recording software. I have a deep appreciation for anyone who can mix that stuff because it is TOUGH!
My buddy, Jayson, and I ended up meeting because he bartending at the time. He mentioned the label and the website and we started talking about it from there. He’s a cool dude, I have a knack for web design, we might end up with some spare cash and, really, how many people do you know that helped launch a music label?
A lot of the things in my life happen like that. It’s a combination of right place right time and I think this will be an interesting story. I’ve been told I have the New York hustle with my numerous random side gigs.
Sadly, I don’t know that having side gigs make you a New York Hustler as much as it re-enforces the fact that we are now in a gig economy. Hell, I have a side gig as a cartographer still. You have already been fairly introspective, so I am interested to see where this one goes.
Joel: If only. I’ve been fortunate enough to find some things that I like and then found out that I can monetize them without selling my soul.
I feel like introspection is my thing, plus there’s an implicit agreement when you answer questions like this. I could give you one word answers or something very straightforward but that’s no fun to read. Plus it’s kinda cathartic.
Question 10: Fill in the blanks: Others find that I am mostly ________. I find that I am mostly ___________.
Joel: I think others find that I’m mostly normal. I find that I’m mostly erratic.
I’m really good at hiding the craziness that’s just below the surface.
Interesting. I love it when a person’s perception of themselves is very different than how others perceive them or they think others perceive them.
Question 11: Why do you think your perception of yourself is so different with how you feel others perceive you?
Joel: I think it’s an interesting look into a person’s views about the world. Mine’s interesting, I feel like the more people get to know me, the more crazy people think I am.
Over the past few years I’ve found myself putting forth very little effort to be liked. I’ll be for the most part polite but I tend to not really go out of my way to impress people unless I’ve had some extra coffee.
So that’s part of it. I also hang out with a motley crew of people (not the band, fortunately). There’s a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds and life experiences and I end up hopping between the groups they end up in. That being said, I hang out with a lot of artists and creatives (which, duh) so I think that’s part of my view. Design is a far more mainstream creative profession than most and that’s an interesting dichotomy that’s been part of my life for a long time.
I think we all have versions of our “selves” that present differently than our intention or even our own personal view. I think you are being a little hard on yourself concerning the getting to know you means realizing how crazy you are. Most people I know consider everyone crazy at some level and the getting to know the person just helps categorize the crazy.
Here comes the most naval gazey of simplistic questions I ever ask. Question 12: Are you happy?
Joel: The simplest questions are the toughest to answer. I hesitate to say a flat “yes” but I’m definitely much happier than I was a year or two ago. You were there for some of that. There’s something to be said about “growing up” or whatever you want to call it. I know who I am now much more than I did a few years ago and that makes for a lot less uncertainty.
I feel like I have my shit together. I have a job, an apartment and a plan to pay off my student loans. My car…. works… most of the time. I can make time for things that I enjoy like drawing and playing guitar. I’ve cut out a lot of stuff that I don’t care about, I barely watch TV anymore (I’m actually watching/listening to music videos while I type this), I don’t have Netflix, Hulu or cable. I’m much more intentional about the things and the people in my life than I was in my early to mid 20’s.
The reason I hesitate to just say yes is that I don’t want to be (or am mentally not capable of being) complacent. It’s like the personal achievement version of not being able to sit still. I want to be the best version me that I can be and I push myself almost everyday to do something better or learn or make some kind of progress toward some kind of personal growth. All the hobbies and crippling coffee addiction start to make sense now, huh?
Your radical shift in hobbies and addiction to coffee make no sense and probably never will. I’ve just come to accept that.
I think you might be overlooking that happy is not a destination, it is an attribute for your travels. One does not arrive at happy after having not been, one merely is more happy for a bit than they were before. You can be happy and not feel complacent. I love that you seem mostly happy, your time in Columbus seemed to be fraught with existential crisis. You needed to get out of this town and do something else. The fact that this move has allowed you to increase your amount of happy you are taking with you is really a great thing.
Joel: It really was. I always used to say that town wasn’t big enough for the one of me but there were like 30 things going on all at once and none them were what the average person would call “good”. I do appreciate the support.
Question 13: Any superstitions or rituals in your life?
Joel: Tons. And I will list them out in increasing order of perceived absurdity (by the way, this has been edited down significantly).
I drink a coffee every single morning, with rare exceptions. I drink one almost every night too. Our group at work sits down around 3 to have one and kind of debrief for the day, if that doesn’t happen I go to a coffee shop and work or read for a little while after work.
That’s an addiction.
I should be doing that as well, the doggos don’t like me doing things on the floor (and I’m lazy).
I had a drawing practice for a few years. Everyday I would do a full color 3 x 5 index card drawing. I need to go back and start that up, but I need to finish the book up first.
Fan sleeping is a must for me. The air in my bedroom needs to be moving. I don’t need the noise as much as I need the movement.
I used to do this until I had kids… now I just run in superstitious fear.
I carry a sketchbook with me everywhere I go. I actually just bought a really nice, refillable, leather sketchbook that fits in my back pocket. I feel like no matter where you are, if you’re drawing something you look like you belong more than any other person. There’s probably a few exceptions there but it’s definitely a conversation starter.
More drawing is good.
Pics or it didn’t happen.
Father son bonding is always good.
We also play board games during the holiday. Which is funny, growing up my mom would always see me sketching or working on something and I think she assumed I was bored so she’d say “wanna play Yahtzee?” I would universally decline because I was a little asshole. So I’m really glad that we get to do that now and I’m not living my life in constant regret, thinking, I wish I just once said “Yes, mom. Let’s play Yahtzee”.
You need to expand your boardgames. Might I suggest adding card games to the options. My favorite family card game is Exploding Kittens.
Every year after Thanksgiving, since high school, my mom and I make turkey tacos with the leftovers. For context, her side of the family is Mexican (literally, my grandfather is from Guadalajara, Mexico. He came over the border in 1914). We both had a moment when we watched “Coco”.
I like tacos, but I am not keen on Turkey. So turkey tacos, might be okay, but most likely not.
My grandma on my mom’s side passed away when I was in High School, that was a really tough one for all of us. I wear a small angel that I got (all of the grandkids, actually got them) from her funeral on one of my favorite jackets and I have a cross on my keys for that reason. I’m not a practicing Catholic and I shy away from religious symbology but I made an exception for that one.
I have a small cross that is in my computer bag, but I don’t believe in those people’s nailed god of their death cult. Don’t @ me.
I will only use Strathmore 9x12 inch sketchbooks for work and general sketching purposes. My first design manager got one for me and, after a month and a half, when I filled all 100 pages (front and back) she gave me a second one. I think I’m on number 14 now.
Pics or it didn’t happen?
I wear a bracelet on both wrists. My right wrist is Tiger Eye spheres with a single white Halite sphere. The Halite is always on the bottom. I bought that one in Hawaii, it was made by locals with stones from the Philippines. My left wrist has a variety of stones representing each of the planets in the universe. Jupiter and Saturn are always on top. This one has a lot more meaning, as you know, but I’m not quite ready to share plans for that artwork just yet. I try to leave these out, in cold water, under full moons as that is good for the “energy” of the stone.
Do you even increase your vibrations, bro?
“Right” is so arbitrary. I imagine your food would definitely get cold occasionally.
I think that the guitar pick is so negligibly small that most people should see it. It makes me wondering if you are asking people “Did you see me with this guitar pick?”
These are only issues if you are broadcasting this information.
These are really good answers and super thorough. I am not sure if I have ever had anyone give me so many rituals. I dig it.
Joel: again, trying to be a good interviewee.
Question 14: Do you do anything to increase your mindfulness like meditation, intentional drawing, or prayer?
Joel: There’s a lot of moments I know I’m being intentional, moments that I don’t know that I’m being intentional and moments that I know I’m intentionally not being intentional. Confused? That was intentionally intentional.
I do draw intentionally. I was never very good at portraits so after I finished my first high effort drawing in a while, I switched over to portraits. I know I want to visit a few foreign countries so I’ve intentionally been working on my foreign languages. I know where I want to be in 5 years (big picture, big city (see what I did there?)) so I’m doing things to set myself up to do that.
Sometimes I just go in with absolutely no idea what I’m going to do because it’s more fun that way, or because planning is useless in that scenario. One phrase I’ve been using (an alarming amount actually) is “I have a plan, no idea what it is but I do have one.” It can be a little frustrating to the people around me, when things just sort of ~work out~ but I’m reminded of a moment in Fight Club, a character “let’s that which does not matter truly slide.”
The other moments are just me on autopilot. I know what I’m doing, it’s just a matter of turning my brain off and doing it. No need to waste creative energy, right?
That’s also where the first two moments come in. Intentional reflection on things that went well or didn’t is super important. This happens pretty naturally for me, I write a lot (clearly, says the reader) and that helps. I floated around in the ocean in Hawaii and worked through a whole mess of things, as they say. Sometimes I just hang out in Central Park or near Lake Michigan or one of the rivers in Chicago and let my mind wander and tell me what I need to think about.
I have recently started trying to meditate under the guidance of the amazingly funny comedian, Laura House, of whom I have also asked 20 Questions. I think that I might need to get better caught up on sleep though because often when I slow things down and try to be mindful of my thoughts, I find myself snoring.
Our mutual friend group is primarily made up of Gen X-ers to which you are the lone Millennial. Question 15: What do you want Gen X-ers to know about Millennials?
I think more than anything we need to have conversations. Real, honest, everyone is on the same footing kind of conversations rather than the talking down that happens on both sides. The kind of talks that happen at the end of a design project.
What’s gone well? What hasn’t gone well? What other things have you noticed and intrigued you?
My dad and I, more a boomer than gen-x, have started talking a lot about my grandfather who died in the 70’s. In a sort of Coco-esque way I think we realized those stories cease to exist if you don’t pass them on. It’s been a lot of war stories, he was a tail gunner in a B-17 bomber. So it’s like this little personalized museum of artifacts and anecdotes that you can start to piece together and you can start to make connections. For example, my grandfather spent a lot of time in England and saw a huge part of northern Europe, he was getting shot at but it’s still an experience that he had that a lot of people would love to have (minus the flak cannons and enemy interceptors).
… he said unintentionally deflecting the question.
I think it was an intentional derail. I will allow it, but you are on thin ice, buddy. I agree that more actual conversations between generations need to be had. I would say in today’s climate some conversations about how people got together to fight facism 70 years ago might be a good conversation to have… but enough about politics.
So this 20 Questions conversation looks like it will come in a tad above average in how long it takes to complete one of these. The average takes around 4 weeks and the longest one took over a year. This one will be coming in at a few months. Question 16: What has changed for you during the time from the start of this interview and now?
Joel: I think the most obvious is that our friend passed away. As we talked about, I never really wanted to come back to Columbus but that was something that definitely brought me back. Nothing makes you take a step back quite like that experience. It was good to see you, thanks for letting me crash in your haunted spare bedroom.
Side note, the night you told me about said haunting: Definitely woke up in the middle of the night said “dude, fuck off. I’m trying to sleep” and rolled over.
On a lighter note I got a new phone and I’m in the process of trading my MacBook Pro in for an iPad Pro/pencil combo. That’s pretty exciting. I firmly believe most consumers will be shifting from laptops to iPads in the next year or so and that’s backed up by Apple’s focus in their last few keynotes. I always wondered how they’d unify MacOS and iOS and they took a bit of a different route than I thought. For me though, it’s more about sketching, digital art and, again, those little side projects.
It’s also summer in Milwaukee, it’s a beautiful season. Actually, it’s not dissimilar from the climate of San Francisco. The problem is, it only lasts for a few months. The nice thing, though, is that everyone kind of wakes up from their hibernation so the city is a lot more lively and it has an energy that you don’t get during those -20 degree winter days.
AND! I just finished a huge project at work. That was very much an “ends not with a bang but with a whimper” sort of thing. The unfortunate part of software design is that you have to wait months for the thing you built to be a thing. I also have to review work that’s being built so it’s still a ton of effort to make sure everything goes “smoothly” but I’m not updating 200+ pages of documentation every week.