And in its' conception, a form found itself stretching through past and present, representing its' creator in the now, and again now.
"I would describe you as a complex person with unexpected depths and a real soft side. You won't reveal the fullness of your being immediately but when you feel it is safe to express your loving nature, you give of yourself generously and it is a beautiful thing."
Since I logged on to view whether or not I was accepted to NYU in the early winter of 2016 and subsequently jumped up and down in our kitchen in Texas next to my parents in elation because I had gotten in, there has yet to be a moment when I was so overcome with joy. Earlier that year I had begun to conquer depression due to post-concussive syndrome, and I was conquering it in a manner that would prove to change my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I had conquered demons through hard work, self-awareness, and grit over the course of high school, and getting into NYU’s studio art program was the first sign to me that I had professional potential as a fine artist. I was no longer going to be just a photographer, I could be a painter, a sculptor, a draughtsman; that was immensely rewarding. Even though I want to work towards something other than becoming a fine artist now, I will always appreciate the time I spend learning the craft behind fine art. And I love the fight against depression these days, and living in New York City with its unapologetic pace is in part to thank for that. Yet today there is a new fight, not against mental illness, but one to get back to what I know, deep down, I have always loved; to what I would like to focus on learning about for the remainder of my time at New York University.
Before I moved to Manhattan my father shared with me a paradox of sorts: “Knowing less and less about more and more = knowing nothing about everything. Knowing more and more about less and less = knowing everything about nothing.” You see my solution to my depression in high school was to attempt to learn everything I could about our world that would allow me to make our experience in it, better; for as you could perhaps guess, I was trying to reconcile why my experience on earth had gotten so bad. I learned about art in all its forms, human psychology, economics; the list went on. I strived to learn more and more about everything in my spare time in high school and moving on to college. Over the course of my freshman year at NYU studying studio art, I learned about our universe, the philosophies and theories people have about it, the paradox of particularity and universality, Freud and Jung and other more contemporary psychologists, and a healthy dose of macroeconomics when the previous subjects made me feel insecure about the financial prospects of my choice to be a fine artist. That was outside of class. In class, at the same time, I was being enriched by Steinhardt’s insightful artists who doubled as professors teaching me in ways I didn’t know was possible before attending an art school. They were comforting, informative, and, above all, gave me hope. After all, they were successfully doing what I wanted to do.
Though despite being extremely healthy (mentally and physically) all that time seeking more and more knowledge about our world, its’ disciplines and different artists’ practices outside of class I was still left wondering what I actually wanted to do in my career as a fine artist. In other words, I was still confused about how to succeed at being me. While juggling many different mediums freshman year, and getting exposed to more than cameras and words, I began to wonder if I wanted to do what I set out to do when I applied to NYU: a fine artist of many different mediums. Occasionally while working on studio art projects I would fall back on my knowledge and talent for writing that I had developed before college (that was also being re-developed by freshman essay writing courses) and utilize writing due to a lack of inspiration working with other mediums, that before NYU, were essentially foreign to me. Additionally, I would find myself wishfully thinking about how I could incorporate filmmaking into an art practice as an up and coming fine artist. And while I never succeeded in reconciling my studio art practice with what I wanted to do deep-down (which is write stories) I also would not figure out what to do about the predicament for almost a year. I was too busy still attempting to find answers to questions in my spare time that, quite simply, we may never have the answers to.
The summer after freshman year was quiet. I was back home in Texas and was often alone with my thoughts. The fall of my sophomore year came around, the fall of 2018, and my search for knowledge was becoming a real set of problems in conjunction with the undiagnosed bipolar disorder that I would, a week or so into that fall semester, find out I had. After spending a week in the hospital in September and months of self-examination passing by, I began to plan out how the next year––2019––would go. From October to January I thought about not enrolling back into NYU. (While psychotic last fall I had dropped out of NYU; thankfully someone allowed me to take a medical leave of absence for the year.) I thought about moving back to Texas to become a construction worker and a volunteer for the rest of my days, perhaps making art in my spare time, but I would never allow myself to settle for that life. I had come so far, fought so many internal battles to get to NYU and to succeed there freshman year. I decided to go back, I got cleared mentally by the school in February and eventually signed up for summer classes that would begin to reorient me away from studio art’s wide range of potential mediums and exhibition formats, to something more succinct, something that, personally, I had never fully admitted to myself I loved: movies.
In March, I would watch the rather new television show, The Last Tycoon, and get affirmation that the film and television industry was for me: a hard-working artist with a dash of erudite business sense. This past summer, in preparation for applying to the film & television program, I took two classes: Understanding Story with Rosanne Limoncelli, first, which allowed my fragile—still healing from the PTSD of a psychotic episode—mind to explore how stories find a myriad of ways to come alive to a reader or an audience or a listener. The class allowed me to explore my own potential in an academic setting as a storyteller for the first time in a long time too. I told Professor Limoncelli the first day of class (as I had gotten there a little early) that I wanted to become a film and television major and she recommended two classes, one of which was Sight and Sound: Filmmaking with Bami O. Adedoyin. Working in the most sophisticated art class I have ever taken, I learned that I loved the process of the production of films, but over the course of the six weeks that I was making movies nonstop, something was nagging me, saying “don’t apply to the film and television major,” so I reoriented to the only thing I love more than film and television production itself: the stories behind the productions.
The stories behind the productions of film and television are the last item in my pandora’s box of things I love, and the reorientation from wanting to internally transfer to the film and television program to wanting to apply to the dramatic writing program was not reactive, it was inevitable. When I was about 12 I wrote a novel on my mother’s desktop computer called The Force, and I still have the one copy I printed in my writer’s portfolio that has accumulated all sorts of stories over the last 9 years or so. From stories written after school in elementary school like my novel to two creative writing classes in high school producing short stories and lots of poetry to writing a rough draft of a feature-length screenplay in my spare time before school started freshman year of college to writing in the Understanding Story class last summer, writing has consumed my heart, writing always will. It simply took some time to realize that I needed to focus on it in school as opposed to trying to learn everything about every art medium in order to find the best home for each idea (that was my theory behind wanting to become a studio artist). So whereas I used to try to learn everything about everything, now I want to learn everything about one thing, because, in my experience, words can house any creative idea, almost without question, that my head and my heart throw at them. And translating those ideas on to the screen is similarly a limitless venture for myself that I want to master and learn the mechanics of, for my head and my heart funnel ideas into words, unlike any other medium I have ever worked with. And as much as I still am a “fine” artist, I can’t put my screenplays in galleries (though that could be an interesting exhibition). My stories need another home, and I’m willing to put everything I’ve got towards finding them one. Learning how to write for the screen in particular, where my love of stories and production can dance together with a score and other artists in collaboration, would allow me to blossom within disciplines that I have loved since I was just a kid, and will love for the rest of my days.
As I write this I have just finished my first full-time semester post-bipolar-diagnosis, and I feel clearer mentally than I ever have. No longer am I burdened by a quest for all the answers; now, I just want to be knowledgeable about the film and television industry, and more specifically, how to format and sculpt my stories for the people who will help me get them made and seen. I’m ready to learn the craft of storytelling from perspectives other than fine artists at NYU, and Understanding Story, Sight and Sound: Filmmaking, and Media Moguls in the 20th Century, have undoubtedly set me on my way, but in terms of continued preparation for the new degree, next semester I will be taking two writing electives in addition to my required course load, one workshop for creative writing and one for writing memoirs. I can’t wait for them, because when I write I get to expend myself on a stationary forge, where I can lose myself in flow and passion, made of tiny plastic keys painted with letters on them so I don’t lose my way (though I know their whereabouts well by now) and a bright screen to keep my ideas tidy. My head and my heart (and my fingers) are ready to go home, and if I have another home at NYU, it’s the dramatic writing program; I can only hope you’ll open the door and let me in.
A personal statement for an internal transfer application to the NYU dramatic writing program
Home he had not found for too many nights in the lost city
Yelling at the walls he was quiet
Rage provoked the best of him
No one needed him in the world and
Why he knew was too much to bear
In the morning he awakes to dreams of horrific splendor and says not a word to anyone of them and tonight
Tonight would mark the anniversary
Not of a death, not of anything
Only pain would surface and only pain would cause his ship to sink
The man was poor in love, had nothing but his sensitivity to all
Home he had not found for too many nights in the lost city
Didn't he know it was inside him
Didn't he know it was there waiting
Waiting to be loved by him alone
Home he had not found for too many nights in the lost city
Walking around attempting to hit something other than that nothing
Running was futile
So he moped and hoped that something would occur
The days became the nights; the nights the days
The coffee became the milk and the milk ran clean spoiled which was of no benefit to his stomach, whom was yelling at the walls still and with rage, rage he thought, rage is what I have, why he thought, why was it there?
Home he had not found for too many nights in the lost city
Gallows of paint, ashes of cigars, broken pens and graphite crumbs lay next to a knife; he slices his thumb revealing a vein deeper, and deeper inside. Stop. No.
Home he had not found for too many nights in the lost city
A poem written early in the year
I don’t know who I am anymore,
And I have to grow up. Responsibility. Chores. Busy work. The day job. “The system” working its big revolutions against me; helping me? My antenna are up–tell me, where’s the signal? Where is it coming from? My unconscious gasping for air; persona sending hellfires that lock on to my every movement. Masks–stowing away the love we are all capable of; hiding the evil. Doors–left open. The smoke out the window. No rules. No father figure. A mother’s voice beginning to sound futile. No one to listen to. Who, to you? It took time to realize. But if we fucked up at least we were together. A forge. A faint fox in the winter snow. Imaginary. But as real as ever. I am an artist? A scientist? A man who loves words–nah–just a human. Keeling myself; healing myself. Has anyone ever been this lost? At least I know the location of the line between good and evil is metaphorically relentless. I know I’ve kept my sword sheathed. I know something is inside me, and I know it may be in-exorcisible. I don’t know who I am anymore and I have to grow up. I am alone. I am vulnerable. Wait–is this ‘perfect’?
The first art manifesto I ever read was that of conceptual art, by Sol LeWitt; and I even more so like Tom Sachs version he just released for exhibition in Switzerland. It’s on Instagram. I mean, what’s the point? You can say 1+1= 1 million and you can say “[blank] means nothing” but is it really doing anyone any sort of good? Is it now? Is it really? There is some unsubstantiated thought going on mixed among all the wild self-indulgence. Around a circle we spoke in one word what art meant to us, “selfishness” someone honest said, “death” said someone in candor too. We need to get our shit together. Put our shoulders back and stand up tall; speak the truth. We know we can help and we sit around and paint instead. I like to paint and sit around and indulge in an abstract work while I’m a little high too but this is not a career. Now is not the time for unhelpful art. Nor self-indulgence. We need to be direct. Calculate the permutations and revise and revise and revise. When the sand castle washes away we need to be very ready. But wait, Jacob, isn’t there a silver lining? Yes. Sometimes when someone takes something so particular–it soars to universality–but what do I call this but a miracle? “I do it for me and me only” says the artist. “How the hell did anyone come to empathize with that?” Asks another. Perhaps because the the artist is not who they are. They are what they do. Through their hands, their feet, their breast, their smell; through the vessel that keeps my heart going boomboom and my mind going zoomzoom. It is . . . surreal. Like–how did we get here?
In the manifesto of Surrealism, the word is defined “once and for all” as a “psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express - - verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner - - the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.” Well, this is dangerous. I find it interesting that 42 pages were written on how and why to do this. We’re smarter than this–now–are we not? “Reality is like allergies” said Donald Glover. I quoted him, is this human doing the right thing? Should we only do the right thing? “Dada means nothing” says its’ manifesto. Okay we’re on to something here; can we take it further? I know that was a lot fast–life is “Too Fast” (Sonder made a song about it.) Find your heart and run with it. Runaway.
The famous Bauhaus is not what it was cracked up to be. They still found nuances and bias enough to fuck up the mission. A. B. C. Architecture, painting, sculpture; seriously? What happened to “all art is equal”? What’s the difference between the craftsman and the artist? Responsibility. One makes a chair good for sitting and one makes a chair that makes one think, feel, reflect. I still don’t know who I am anymore.
“We have been up all night” says the author of the Futurist manifesto; have you though? Did you even put that much thought into it during the daylight? Speaking in riddles few will understand helps no one; thus it is self-indulgence. And more self-indulgence if the reader takes what is said for granted as truth. Critical eyes–of the visual and literal–are seemingly and increasingly rare. At least they know their challenge was “insolent.”
Art is long; life is short. So I create. I pick up the camera, the brush. I was in the forge. Getting hammered literally and metaphorically–curved on the anvil, more pliable. I had to find my heart and slam the doors that tie me to the mayhem. I sought order. In content and form. I seek chaos involuntarily. In my dreams I visit her. I could have offed myself and done no one good or I could have and did indeed endure, struggle. And then keep–going. Drop the ball and move on when it rolls down the hill. To pick up my responsibility and use it meekly (in the Greek sense of the word) is perhaps the greatest thing I will ever do.
Dada nails the nihilism of it all. But it neglects talk of responsibility in the hopes (and I am hopeful too of this being correctly interpreted) that it is mutually understood. But if we are to make progress it increasingly seems . . . perhaps surreally . . . up to us. The poet. The artists. The band of storytellers no one will ever forget. Our libraries will tumble and our ideologies will undergo a stampede. There is an “imminent” change in our psyches coming. And we are standing everywhere but the avant garde to do so.
Time to butterfly up. Let us look to the stars. To our past too (and do not repeat it!) Let us look in the absence of logic and make another staircase, another Number 30, another Guernica, more Leonard, more of Myles, more of Manet and less of Titian. Let us be as blunt as Courbet and as thoughtful as the fancy man Baudelaire. Let us be as revolutionary as Suprematism and let us be as calculative as Lissitzky. Let our color theory shine like Woman with Rake and let our mind dance as it does in Rodchenko’s work of the same name. Let our ambitions and dreams soar as they did with Tatlin’s tower, only to hope and never see them realized amidst the courtyard of the Royal Academy in London years later. Let us not worry and work instead. Let us take in what we can of the movement, now namely Futurism and Dada and make something better instead. Something not meaningless. Something incredibly meaningful: Life. Someone today asked me what my tattoo meant and said it was “dark” (it says memento mori–reminder of death). Life is dark and bright and short. Art is long and whatever it wants to be. Wait–which is which? Where’s the line? Where did it go? I need to grow up. I’m gone. Now I’m back. “I could of stayed where I was and have a life you’d be proud of . . . but I’d rather chase things never thought of.” Is it a trap? My wallet is empty. People screaming in the streets as I try to get a good night’s sleep. Sirens whale as I wake up to take a piss. I want to solve the world but I’m not strong enough to hold it up on my two shoulders. I know not to follow. And Mckenna says “don’t watch!” Things are getting complicated I need to be here. Encapsulating everything, and all that nothing. Be here I say as I repeat my mantra. Keep–going says the voice indirectly, “I see you.” Sensibility and character, that’s what I know? (I still don’t know who I am anymore.)
Written for an art history class at NYU
I’ve felt like an outcast for as long as I can remember. I cried my first day of school because I couldn’t take my raggedy Andy doll with me; something was then and always is now, setting me apart. As I grew through my primary education I continued to be unlike, seemingly, everyone. My neighbor, Luke, who I’ve known since nearly birth due to our parents, used to come over and we would pretend to be knights and magicians. It started with sticks that we delicately selected from the ground to be our own wands. Rowling’s stories–even to this day–have had an enormous effect on my perspective. We made up our own spells and used some she had crafted from Latin. It was incredibly exciting, it was make believe in its purest form. It was another world from our own where we were heroes, imagining together. Each time was endless. But as time went on and we got older, complications made what used to be straightforward fun convoluted. I remember the moment all the seams of our entangled imaginations burst, it was like discovering your teeth aren't being stolen by the tooth fairy. It was catastrophic all because of one word: pause. The sun was high in the sky. It felt comfortable outside, it wasn’t too hot for a Texas afternoon. My father had thrown a baseball with a long piece of rope tied to it over a large oak branch in our backyard to make the tire swing we were playing around, my mother had called us in, or for some reason or another, we had to stop playing in our world. We had to exit, and “pause” made the whole thing come tumbling down. Not for me, and not for his little brother, Sam–who had just started to come along with him–but for Luke. “Let’s just pause and go–” What? He said with fury. Pause? This specific interruption of action I made poisoned our entire imaginary world. To me it was just a way to do exactly what I said, pause. To Luke, it defied it all. That day, our creation ceased to exist, and my imagination and I were on our own. Today I can sail without wind, and row without oars, but I still find myself, more often than not, alone. There are flares of acceptance, moments where I feel I am finally home, but they never last. As I’ve gotten older, it has only become harder to find people with an imagination like mine. The closest I’ve gotten to not feeling like an outcast today, is through those who also imagine on their own.
No one is an outcast (I thankfully get reminded of this more now that I live in NYC).
The only way we get any closer to a better world, is not through grand gestures, but through careful, tiny, consistent acts (Like those of Luma and the journalist who shared her story).
You can't say I can't. You say: I'm having trouble, I'm not done yet. You do the thing 63 times and then say, “I could do better.”
A journal entry written in response to questions (unseen) in relation to "Outcasts United" by Warren St. John for a NYU freshman seminar
I wish it were easy to tell our stories; share our battles, our worst pains, our most precious memories. But, fortunately, it is not.
I am one of the lucky ones. I have two parents that love me, a bed to sleep in, a life that could live itself. I was a star athlete in middle school, and I played football freshman year, but the first season would be my last. After getting my first concussion in a game, I got my second wakeboarding the following summer. The day after the crash, I created a self-portrait with my camera in that miasma of uncertainty; I made a photo that could make someone feel. I remember how I felt today because of these self-portraits: the camera can see my subconscious in those rare moments. I figured out how to tell my story; the finest art I could provide to the world once was this.
I started a promising sophomore year unaware post-concussive syndrome was leisurely overtaking my mind. By winter, even the simplest tasks had become too hard to perform. A devilish concoction of depression and anxiety left me with no motivation; why should I keep trying if nothing makes me happy? How I was feeling, rigorous schoolwork, friends, and family that did not seem to understand; it all made me feel even worse. I fell asleep wondering if I would ever be happy again.
Then, on the 22nd day of February of that year, I ran away from home on what would be Texas' coldest night for years. I started driving my old Jeep north around eight p.m.; I watched the only movie on my computer–Silver Lining's Playbook, slept in my car on the side of the highway in a snowstorm, and tried to make coffee on a camp stove before eating eggs, sausage, and hash browns with a bunch of farmers the next morning. However, my millennial mindset thought it would be a good idea to bring my phone, and my mother lured me back home with unwavering threats to call the police on me.
But the real storm hit when I got home. My father, the single soul I could still find the strength to talk to, was gone. Mimi, my grandmother, had passed away and he left while I was away. My mother, as hard as she tried, could not help me then, and instead, only made things worse. That was the first night I thought about taking my life.
As time went on, there were flares of elation. Times when I thought about how things would get better. I made another self-portrait, the one that would go on to be in a museum near work by Salvador Dali, the one that would help me win "Outstanding Photographer" in 2015. But these periods of happiness were always short-lived; one way or another I got back to asking myself: what is the point to all of this? Every day I struggled to get out of bed. As I rotted away under the covers every spring morning, a permanent solution to a temporary problem began to surface again in my mind.
I remember thinking quickly in that monumental fork; the nurse's question, 'have you ever had thoughts of hurting yourself or anyone else?' bounced around in my head as I tried to come up with an answer.
After spending a week in a psychiatric hospital, my eyes opened up; I control the light that comes through my lens, and the light that comes into my life.
A personal statement written in response to a Common Application prompt
Throughout my life, stories have changed the way I think and live. From novels to ﬁlms to images; stories have inspired and molded me into who I am today. Whether it be in darkness or in light, I seek to tell those stories; of the world and myself in an attempt to inspire and change another.
Photography has become the method to my madness. Upon seeing my work, if even one unfamiliar thought goes through your mind; I believe I have succeeded.
For me, that is my purpose in life.
Written for a video title card made on a student expedition with National Geographic
The raindrops roll down my wrinkly face, the clouds loom over my mind. People in the upper stories of the surrounding apartments shout across from one balcony to another, but I remain silent, still, waiting. The final screech of the brakes from the transit sound and the bus comes to a halt. I rummage my left pocket for some change to board as I pull myself up off the bench. I stop. A puddle has formed in the gap between the curb and where the motorcycles drive past the rest of the cars, water droplets fall and make an excruciating sound to my ears. I no longer hear the rain, the air feels humid, my nose breathes in the hot air. I stand uncomfortably on the sidewalk. I start to walk towards the buses now open doors. I hear her voice, her melodies from a source I cannot seem to discover. The all at once that song, that shower, that morning in our bedroom that always seemed so usual comes flooding back into my mind like the hard rain from the sky that I look up into now and I cringe. I long for my memories to be a reality once more and I scream. The neighboring people pause their daily commute and stare. Some see my age, some my old tattered clothes, and some eyes notice the tarnished gold band bestowed upon my left hand so many years ago. I look up, blinking, as water hits my open eyes, a chill runs down my spine. I pull up my coat and continue towards the bus, but it is there no more. I sit back down on the soaked bench and peer at the unoccupied spot next to me.
"Guess I'll wait for the next one, huh Mary?"
A prose poem written sometime that year