Janelle Zhao

September favourites 2018

October 30, 2018

pLs IgNoRe the date. I wrote this in September and it's taken me a whole month to post it, but better late than never.

These days, I experience high highs and low lows in the span of a week. This September, I have entered my third and final year at the Algonquin Graphic Design program. I can only laugh now at my naiveté when I started. I thought I could do this program as a hobby while I figured stuff out. No. It is emotionally and physically all consuming. And for a long time I resisted its grip on me. I didn’t show up to all my classes, didn’t hand in all my assignments, and didn’t want to get to know the people around me.  I took my indifference as a sign that this was the wrong path. I mean what is the right path anyway? But I realized my indifference was a lie I told myself because I didn’t want to face the pain of failing if I actually tried.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that my fear of failing was a self-fulfilling prophesy. Working through my fear of failure was the key to unlocking my creativity. I am still working through it, but I am indulging in a lot of activities these days (like drawing with crayons again) to loosen failure’s grip on me, untangle some of my self-worth that’s inextricably tied to the work that I produce.

Anyway, I want to start sharing a list of random things I’ve found meaningful and/or delightful every month, starting this month.

1. The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming by Masanobu Fukuoka

This past summer, I briefly flirted with the idea of starting a farm. I was drunk on the warm summer rays, the bountiful farmers market, and the pots of plants that survived past their 3 month mark in my care. I dug deep on Youtube, listened to podcasts, read books, even started looking for land. No, I don’t plan on starting a farm any time soon, but I don’t regret getting into this subject because I’ve learned a lot and feel like I’ve encountered many truths. I cherish this book especially.

Masanobu Fukuoka was a pioneer in natural farming in Japan and a leader in the worldwide sustainable agriculture movement, but to him, it starts with the philosophy first. There were many moments in the book where he went deep in what seemed like existential despair, like:

“Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort. This may seem preposterous, but if you put it into words, that is the only way to describe it.”

And yet, the life he lived, tending to his farm, teaching the next generation, and spreading his method was the truest way to honour his existence. What will it be for us?

For this he has more to say:

“Before researchers become researchers they should become philosophers. They should consider what the human goal is, what it is that humanity should create. Doctors should first determine at the fundamental level what it is that human beings depend on for life.”

And finally:

“If you expect a bright world on the other side of the tunnel, the darkness of the tunnel lasts all the longer.”

A few weeks ago, I was in a complete frenzy trying to complete all my errands before going to class, wishing I had time to run errands. And then it occurred to me that I was foolishly wishing for time to do something while I was doing that exact thing. Life is happening right now.

2. Michiko Iwata: An artist that makes boxes

There is just something so intrinsically captivating (like the way a crow finds shiny things irresistible) about a beautiful box. Last month, I engaged in a polite back and forth with my mother-in-law as to who gets to keep the wooden box that came with a Japanese pound cake. I let her have it, but she ultimately forgot it at my house, so I ended up with it (I was secretly gleeful about this). Now it houses some of my teas.

This artist tapped into something fundamental by creating one of a kind, scuffed up boxes that can tell endless stories should the viewer choose to see them. I find artists making art out of ordinary objects so compelling. Check out Michiko's work here.

3. Grand Designs, Series 16, Episode 2, Horsham Fun House


My husband and I like to unwind sometimes by watching Grand Designs and dream about the perfect house we’ll build one day. This one particular episode where the family built a fun house, filled with illusions, tricks, and a Austin Powers inspired lookout room, tickled my imagination very much. We are surrounded by rules that we have absorbed at a young age. Like a house should have a certain number of rooms and look like certain people’s to be legitimate. But your living space is your most intimate space, why not think outside the box, literally.

4. Samuji


I’ve been peripherally following Samuji, this Finnish brand for some time, but was never compelled to purchase anything. This past summer, while shopping in New York, I stumbled upon its physical store. Immediately, I understood the brand’s essence; “Premium materials, original prints, art” is their motto. I finally felt understood in what I’ve been searching for sartorially. Touching and trying on these garments physically is the only way to truly connect to their beauty. How could the cotton poplin be the perfect balance of buttery, crisp, and thickness? How did this wool jacket manage to look classic and unique at the same time? And don’t get me started on the knits. Mind you, it’s not cheap, so I walked away with just a classic white blouse, but its billowy cut gives it just the right amount of quirk, which is generally how I like to dress.

5. These Muji slippers


Last but not least, a shoutout to these wonderful, affordable Muji slippers. The colour, the texture, the comfort was exactly what I’ve been searching for. I WILL be stocking up.

Until next month.