Skye Kimel recommended Jason to participate here. And I am so glad she did as our time together was so rich. We chatted at Jason's kitchen table over some tasty coffee while in the company of his two three-legged dogs, Rally and Charlie. I felt as though Jason and I connected in a very real way and I am very excited to share our conversation with you here. I hope that you'll find our sincere back and forth encouraging. Jason is a man of many hats and one of them is that of photographer. I always feel a little extra pressure when photographing a photographer, but today that was extenuated by the fact that Jason told me before my arriving that he wanted to photograph me with his medium-format, tintype camera. We had a blast together, which seemed like a meaningful way to mark this 150th interview.
JC: I'm Jason Chinchen. I'm an artist, through and through. I'm a dynamic, ever-changing, evolving human. And I think we all are — just not everybody wants to roll with that, I guess.
ACT: What do people mean to you, individual to individual?
JC: Increasingly I see others as I see myself, which is as a human that's doing their best and working through their stuff and working through life and trying to make sense of it. So, I think the older I get, the more experiences I have, the more I can relate to everybody across the board because, if you start there, then you automatically build in a lot of grace and a lot of understanding for others and what they might be going through that might cause you some kind of problem or issue in life. Learning how to relate to others through that — knowing that we're all sort of in the same boat — has been really good for me.
ACT: What concerns you about the state of the world and humanity? What affects you personally? And what motivates you to do something about it?
JC: Well, certainly we live in an interesting time. I think all the standard things that are probably concerning a lot of people right now are concerning me — the state of the politics in a lot of parts of the world, the climate. I've got kids so that stuff hits home for me. What's their future look like? In terms of how it makes me feel or what I can do about it, I definitely feel pretty helpless in a lot of ways. And I'm probably not the only one that feels that way. What I'm doing or what I can do is on the micro level -- just within my life and through my actions and hopefully just contributing to the greater good somehow. Sort of trusting the Universe at this point. I don't know how else to put that or what else to do about the state of things besides vote and get involved where I can.
ACT: Do you find there is a thing in particular that you get down on yourself about or keeps you up at night or you wake up with on your mind? What makes you frustrated?
JC: Having worn so many hats — I've worked so many different kinds of jobs for so many years in my twenties and thirties — I didn't have the people skills or the interpersonal skills or the tools within myself to interact and relate with people in a way that was appropriate or healthy all the time. And I think the older I get and the more humbled I become through life's experiences, the more I realize that that self-control has been a huge part of my growth.
It's funny because I've actually been mulling this over lately. I'm definitely a starving artist — whatever that means. Is that a self-fulfilling prophecy or is that just the state of who I am personally or that's a label I want to put on it or am I not trying hard enough or should I have gone to business school...? So, I think my biggest frustration really in life isn't that I don't make money — although money would be nice. I mean, I make a little bit of money — I'm fed and I've got coffee and my dogs are fed. I've written so many songs and played music for so many people. I've built guitars and been this inlay artist. I've just expressed myself through art in so many different ways. When will something hit? When will something stick? When will something be the thing? I think that's the frustration.
I have a really hard time sticking to one thing or just doing one thing solely in my life. I need to have different outlets. I've got to have my physical outlet and I've got to have my creative outlet and, increasingly, I think connection with others has become really important to me and nurturing connection without expectation, no matter who that person or people are in front of me — whether it's people I work with or people I'm dating or people I'm making images of. I think that interpersonal part was a frustration for me for a long time that I've solved to a great extent — or I'm working through. So I think now it's more about "success" or whatever. Even though I still understand inside that that doesn't mean anything. For me, the quality of my art is really the most important thing. When I look past all the other things, I want to be a really good artist. I want to make something that is beautiful and impacts people when they see it or hear it.
ACT: We could define community as our relationships with each other and the world we live in. And we tend to place a lot of importance on our relationships. Why then are we having such a hard time with equity and equality and considering all the different needs and having empathy and compassion?
JC: I think human nature might be one of the first things involved in that. As a child of the '70s and '80s and somebody that's kind of lived through the golden age of humanity — at least what appears is gonna be the golden age — I think seeing the arc of technology in our lives through my life points to that to an extent. Having phones with screens and [being able to ]do so many things with them, I think it pulls us apart from each other because we're focused on that. It's like a periscope into the world and we can see everybody else's lives in an intimate way that we could never experience before. The only way to get to know people before you had this space periscope or whatever you want to call this thing, you had to go and interact with them. You had to go do things. And you had to call them on the phone. You had to memorize their phone number. So, it's a huge crutch to fully interacting and experiencing other people.
And the first thing that's gonna do is make you feel inadequate in your own life. It's gonna make you feel disconnected because you feel inadequate. It's gonna make you resist interacting with others because you feel inadequate or because it's just as easy to sit on your ass in your pajamas and look at a phone for six hours. And I'm guilty of that. So, I think that technology and especially social media, etcetera... And I play that game; because I can make money through that; because I like to post about my life. I'm as much of a sucker for it as anyone else, but I see it. And I think a lot of people know it. We just don't know how to... it's the norm!
ACT: But why the homophobia, why the domestic violence, why the sex trafficking, why racism, why genocide....? It seems to be the same thing underneath all of them. What is that thing that makes what I'm doing more important than what you're doing in any given situation? We have a few iconic heroes (Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Jesus, etc.), which suggests to me that people aren't really all that good. Instead the annals are full of travesties and atrocities. Sure, we can say technology contributes to it these days. But there's something more.
JC: Again, I think human nature and [the'] evolutionary need to succeed. A lot of it has to do with history repeating itself. A lot of it has to do with greed and power and control from higher levels. And we act as puppets. We are the pawns. And that happens through control of media outlets and through political means and religious institutions, etcetera. There's a lot of different people that want a lot of different kinds of control and, at the end of the day, they're consolidating. So we are at a disadvantage — we being the peasants.
ACT: What makes you act in a way you're not proud of?
JC: Disrespect is a big one that really bugs me. Yeah, people that drive slow in the fast lane. That's the number one thing that drives me bonkers. Because it's a sign of... yeah, they don't care what you need or want or how fast you want to go. They're doing their thing. And there's something about that that just really annoys me. But those instances give me a chance to work on my shit. You know? Which is Breathe, they're doing the best they can. Have grace. It's still really hard.
ACT: You've mentioned it twice and I've often heard it as people are doing the best they can with the level of awareness that they have at any given moment. I dislike the sentiment and I'm not sure I agree with it. To use the example of the person driving slowly in the fast lane, I fully understand what you are talking about and it drives me crazy, too. When I am behind that person, though, I am never thinking they are doing the best they can. I'm usually thinking, Why are they so close-minded? Why are they so selfish? Who do they think they are? Can't you get it? Did you go through driver's education? How could you possibly be capable of doing anything in your life if you can't sort out this?!
JC: I don't believe that when I say it, either. That's not the point. I have no place or right in my life to make an excuse for somebody else. The point of that sentiment isn't that you actually try and convince yourself they're doing the best they can. It doesn't have anything to do with them. It's you. It has to do with me. They're doing the best they can. I know I'm doing the best I can. Am I doing the best I can in this moment? No, I'm not. I'm calling them names. I'm riding their ass. I'm making my partner uncomfortable 'cause I'm driving like an idiot. So it's not about them at all. It's about drawing that line, saying, I can't control other people; I can only control my reaction to what they do.
And that was something I had to learn when my dad disowned me because I left my wife; when my daughter won't speak to me for three years because I left that home. That's a much deeper thing that I have to apply that same principle to, which is that I can only control me. I can only control my emotions and my reactions. And I have to let go of what other people think. I can't spend my energy on that. That's what that means for me and I would hope for other people, too. You release a concern about whether or not they're doing the best they can. You stop looking for the blame outside of yourself.
And for me, growing up in a really domineering, Christian household with a father that told me that art school was for fags, and worrying about what that person thought of me or putting energy into that for so long was a waste of my energy and time. And I should do what feels right for me. So, that's what that means. They're doing the best they can.
ACT: Do you have a sense of purpose?
JC: Oh, hell yes. This moment. And now this one. And now this one. I don't know what else to do. And life is incredible and amazing and beautiful and hard. And I want every last drop of it. It's that simple.
ACT: We can hope for a better future, but it's really about working for it. Will we accept responsibility and work towards positive change?
JC: Part of me doesn't think we will and then there's that large part of me that doesn't want to accept that — that refuses to accept that. As humans, our time on this planet is limited. Period. I mean, the planet's been here for billions of years; it's gonna be here for billions more. We are but a blip in the evolutionary chain. Honestly. And I think attributing too much value to ourselves — to each of our individual selves -- is part of why we ask those questions. They're legitimate questions; it makes sense that we would ask that. That's why we're humans. That's why shit is hard — is because we ask questions like that. Right?
Will we right the current ship to a more utopian version of humanity? I want to say we can do it. I don't think we'll do it without a lot more suffering and war and disease and death and greed and power-mongering, but I think that we can maybe get there eventually. I don't think it will be in our lifetime. If we survive the next 50 years, as a race, the rich and powerful — where a lot of this feels like it comes from — are gonna be the ones that are gonna be surviving; not you and me. So, as much as that stuff stresses me out and bugs me and I want to change it, I also know that we really only have so much power and time to do much about what feels important to us right now. In the '40s there was a lot of crazy shit happening. And a lot of people died. And there was a lot of war and whatnot. You know? It seems to be a cycle. And if history tells us anything, that's gonna happen again.
ACT: I do get lost in the recognition that we're a blip in the evolutionary cycle and greed and power are running the show. It's a vicious cycle because in it I also get so judgmental about why other people aren't so concerned. And why people aren't trying and why so many people have bought into the game. And then I try to bring myself back by remembering, like you were saying, that it's my reaction to it that I need to worry about.
JC: When we're people of action and when we see problems and it makes us see things and we want to make them better and we want to do something, I think that's great and good and normal. And there are things we can do. I don't have a lot of knowledge when it comes to Buddhism or Eastern philosophies or whatnot, but I've done a little bit of reading the last few years in that vein and one of the things that I've learned through some Alan Watts and some Thich Nhat Hanh and some other things that I read this last year — kind of like what I was saying earlier about giving people grace — we can only control ourselves; we can only do internal work, really, at the end of the day. And it seems counter-intuitive to say I'm not gonna worry about the state of the world and change it: I'm gonna do what I can do to change me right now, but when we change ourselves, we change a part of the universe. We've changed the flow of the energies. We've changed the way that the future looks when we do our own work.
And so, as hard as it is to look inward and just do our own work, sometimes that's the biggest thing we can do to change the bigger picture. Because your work is gonna involve all the things that are gonna make you a better person and then you will automatically be a better person and the things that you do and create from there forward will make changes. It's kind of counter-intuitive, but it makes some sense. And I've been working hard on that lately - trying to do that internal work.