Posts tagged self-awareness
Terrifying self-awareness

“I think now more than ever it’s important to be clear, to be singular...and to have a perspective, one you didn’t generate as the result of doing a lot of focus groups.”

—Jonathan Ive in Vogue

I occasionally mention that Composure is an exploration in self-awareness.

It's easy to assume that self-awareness is a natural or even trivial thing. But from what I can tell, genuine inner perspective is a vivid, terrifying thing.

In part because it requires believing that you have the capacity to say what's important and meaningful in the world. The much easier alternative to this kind of personal vision is to shift most or all of that power to make meaning off to others.

For a certain kind of religious person, that "other" is God.
For a certain kind of business person, that "other" is "the consumer."

Saying that an "other" is responsible for the meaning we get from things is a safe & simple alternative to understanding, believing in, and articulating one's own complicated inner perspective (not to mention doing the difficult work of sharing that perspective through the things we make). 

In other words, pushing vision off onto others means you don't have to make anything that says to the world: this is *me.* 

But I think that making these kinds of things is beautiful, and that they're important, and that they're worth it. 

Uncharted Territory

Today marks the launch of the first of a new series for our email subscribers. Each issue will feature a post from our photojournal series Patient Explorers. Which I'm really excited about, because this series will let Composure go in a direction that feels a lot more natural and focused for the kind of brand and lifestyle I want to build. And develop a more focused, findable and resonant audience finally as well. 

In a phrase, what I'm hoping to combine is the gritty exploration of Vice Travel with the emotional self-awareness of The School of Life. And from an aesthetic standpoint Composure has started to blossom among an audience that appreciates both the dark avant-guarde found in Rick Owens and the calm minimalism of Acne Studios.

Until these last couple of months I've never been able to concisely articulate those points, and my audience-building efforts have suffered accordingly. The reality is that in many ways, there's simply no way I could have realistically sat down 3 years ago and planed or strategized my way to the way I now think about these audiences; I simply didn't have the mental building blocks required to get there. In fact I feel like a lot of the world-building initiatives that have developed under the name of Composure (the Virtues and Artistry volumes of the newsletter, the various events & collaborations, etc) have been my way of digging around, slowly developing those mental building blocks. Or in other words, it's all been a way to sort of "fail faster" and "think by doing."  



I also know that a big reason that it took me a long time to get to a "lifestyle brand" that feels truly personal and authentic is because I have such a negative gut reaction to many existing lifestyle brands out there; kinds that are built entirely around concepts I consider to be rather shallow and generic ("inspiration" or "travel" or "hustle" or "art"). 

As much as I found myself talking about things like beauty and art, I always intentionally kept a distance from anything that felt a little too much like an inspirational poster. I mean, I fundamentally believe everything in the images above, and I know / am friends with many great people who have built large, inspired audiences in these worlds. But this approach just always felt a lil' too direct for me; as someone who believes that the most important and rewarding challenges of life are complex, not simple, I've always had a gut reaction to anything that says the answers are easy.  

The same "complex not simple" concept applies to travel and exploration as well. Almost every travel lifestyle blog I know is focused on the playful, easygoing, relaxing, or carefree aspects of travel; for as much as I talk about things like "exploration" I couldn't ever see the things like sunny beaches and "whoooooo we're so high-on-life!" cliff-diving that makes up a lot of travel lifestyle blogs being imagery that's part of the Composure world. 

(Maybe I just don't like water? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)



Once I started thinking about the more gritty exploration of things like Vice Travel, I was finally able to imagine a kind of "travel" lifestyle that romanticizes finding complex & difficult places over carefree & easy ones. A lot of things started to fall into place. 

What's nice about "complex" exploration is that it naturally resonates with something that has always been / will always be at the core of the Composure thesis: self-awareness. Nuanced, enlightening, brilliant, painful and terrifying self-awareness. I have about a million things to say about how difficult it is to find genuine self-awareness, how difficult it is to even start in the first place. Things to say about how many people live entire lives either not even trying to find it, or never even coming across a set of thoughts that would lead them to start thinking about trying in the first place. If Composure is truly truly truly about one thing, I'd be comfortable saying it's about "self-awareness," and I suspect I'll spend a least a significant number of years using Composure to try and express that in a way words probably never can. 

Anyway. There's something excitingly unique and personal about the prospect talking about self-awareness through the lens of difficult self-exploration. That we're all travelers trying to find difficult places deep within. What I'm building with the Patient Explorers series is a collection of vingettes and reflections on ways to find inner vision. I'm collecting human moments of calm, exploration and self-awareness through editorial lifestyle photography. Peaceful and uncommon moments of reflection. Maybe people who are exploring uncommon places and uncharted territory. It's something that finally feels natural and unique to me, and the audiences I've been testing this angle with on Instagram have responded in a way that feels entirely validating. 


"Today, with the Earth mapped, imaged and charted down to the last square foot, the frontier is supposedly in outer space: Mars, the moons of Jupiter, and beyond. But humans’ power to transform themselves and their environment suggests that the most important contemporary frontiers lie in the realm of inner space, in the possibilities for conceptual and moral transformation. It is at these boundaries that our future will be decided."

—Caspar Henderson, Death And Life Of The Frontier


I can say I'm genuinely and patiently excited about becoming better aligned with a more well-defined audience. And I know that through this process of intentionally (and admittedly, rather clumsily) building Composure in public, some people who loved elements of the first couple of years may not love elements of the ones to come. If at any point you feel that what we're doing is no longer for you I completely understand. Thanks as always for continuing to follow along. 


I can safely assume that many people didn't know Leonard Cohen wrote the song Hallelujah until last night's Saturday Night Live, because I didn't even know that until earlier this year. That's when I ran into this episode of the podcast Revisionist History which tells the story of how we've come to know the song we know now, the one popularized by Jeff Buckley. The short story is that Buckley happened to have heard it in the living room of a friend who had a copy of "I'm Your Fan," a relatively obscure Leonard Cohen tribute album on which John Cale (of the Velvet Underground)'s version first appears.

There's a longer story told by Alan Light, author of The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah." In the book and in the podcast, Light romanticizes the parts of the Hallelujah story that shares kinship with how I've come to talk about & romanticize the idea of "artistry": a long and convoluted attempt to articulating one's complex and conflicting experience of the world, all in a beautiful form that (most importantly!) matters to others. Here's one tiny way in which Light tries to capture it: 

"Cohen was chasing an idea with this song but he couldn't find it...he just kept writing and writing, and writing—depending on when he tells the story he wrote 50 or 60 or 70 verses for this song...and I don't know how much of that is variations on verses or entirely new verses or how much of it is exaggeration...but it doesn't matter because it's on a completely different level."

Honestly, I was only first introduced to Leonard Cohen in the opening title of True Detective's 2nd season. Say what you will about what many people felt was a disappointing follow-up to the series' first grand iteration—Cohen's work in the title credits is a rich and complex blend of both conflicted introspection within and twisted negotiation without. A tortured reflection on the question of how we might ever possibly navigate dark & difficult inner and outer worlds.

Which of course what also is expressed in the majesty that resonates with so many people in Hallelujah. And it's this story that I want to continue romanticizing through my work with Composure: that we're all just hoping to navigate a complex and conflicting world, that maybe we can only do so by understanding our conflicted, confusing selves. And that all of it is incredibly difficult. And that all of it is incredibly worth it. 


...For what it's worth, if there's one line I'd romanticize as one of the most beautifully conflicted expressions of the kind of self-awareness that is maybe felt only in coming to terms with the multitudes of this complicated world, it's the peaceful understanding of: "...but you don't really care for music, do ya?" And the way he goes on to share it anyway—my god as the very rare tears streaming right now might indicate, that kind of rare and deep understanding of the world is one of the very few things that gets me to lose my composure.