Sunshine And Self-Care In The Era Of Productivity With Michael Sun

To celebrate Syrup’s launch, we profiled five young Australians who are doing their very best at being their best selves—throwing typical ideas of career paths, style norms and patriarchal status quos out the window. These interviews are our way of foregrounding the diverse voices that are shaping our communities and digging a little deeper into the things that shaped them.

In a time when corporations are doing their best freakish impressions of people, and recruiters are telling us we need to be thinking about our ‘personal brand’, nailing down who you are and what you’re actually even about is a fraught task. What if you don’t want to link n build? Or worse, what if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be ~building~ in the first place.

When Syrup slid into Michael Sun’s DMs to organise the photoshoot for the cover profile you’re reading right now, he admitted, “my personal brand is literally indecision.” We felt that. Sun is a classic multi-hyphenate talent, in a powerful fire sign package (an Aries, FYI). A nuanced writer with a background in film writing and criticism, he also creates amazing design-led graphic art and keeps a film photojournal too, all on top of a day job at Sydney Film Festival. 

But, we are more than our productivity. Syrup sat down with Sun to chat dealing with the internalised and overt challenges of being a “third culture kid,” untangling the compulsion of needing to grind all the time to feel ok with yourself, and media representation beyond diversity buzzwords.

First of all, I love your design language and your love of ugly fonts. What is the ugliest font, though? And what makes a font ugly?

The ugliest font? Hands down Moon Flower — also known as the Live Love Laugh font. I think what makes a font truly ugly  (as opposed to loveably ugly) is its lack of versatility, AKA if I can’t imagine a single situation it could be used pleasingly (or even interestingly). It’s why Moon Flower is hideous—because it was built to serve one purpose and that purpose is inspirational quotes on suburban walls!

Speaking about ugly fonts though, my friend Elliot recently did a “12 Days of Bad Fonts” challenge where he re-purposed some truly awful fonts in very beautiful designs. So I’d love to see him try with Moon Flower.

Identity is a complex and ever-evolving thing. You’ve written before about the idea of being a “third culture kid”what does that mean to you and how does that affect your creative praxis?

I won’t wax lyrical on this for too long (there’s Subtle Asian Traits for that), but being a third culture kid means feeling permanently displaced. It means having to constantly prove your worth—to have to force your foot into doors that aren’t automatically open for you. 

Despite that, though—and this is going to sound super clichéd, but who cares!—I wouldn’t trade my identity for the world. It’s shaped both me and my creative practice in such a monumental way, and after years of internalised racism and self-hatred growing up, I’m glad I’ve reached a place where I can be proud of my cultural heritage. It’s something I may not always directly reference in my work, but it’s given me an understanding of the vitality of representation—beyond just surface-level buzzwords about “diversity”—in popular media.

I’m lucky enough to also be in a position of privilege now where I’m able to uplift other marginalised creatives and share opportunities and experiences where I can.

How did your experiences in student media influence your current writing?

Above all, it’s given me the ability to deal with STRESS!!!!!! I’m a super anxious person, and also a serial procrastinator—truly an awful combination—so I think my biggest takeaway from student media, where we had to put out a newspaper every week, was how to deal with the inevitable changes that were happening down to the last minute before hitting print. 

An unexpected learning, too, was what it truly means to take ownership over your words, and recognising that what you write has real-life impact, even if only on a small scale. Being locked in an underground student media office and thinking about that concept is quite different from seeing it actually play out, and it means that I’m very careful about what I write now—in making sure that what I say contributes something meaningful to the conversation, as opposed to writing a hot take for the sake of it.

You’re a truly prolific writer. What’s your favourite subject matter to write about?

I’m pretty much changing my mind every second of every day, so there’s no constant answer, but right now I’m digging deep into early Internet nostalgia! I’m thinking about: Blogspot, Ask.fm, fandom forums, online friends, the halcyon days of the World Wide Web before we realised how much of a hellhole it actually is. My background is in film writing and criticism, but I’ve been loving thinking about film in conjunction with all of these other experiences I’ve had. 

How long have you been Extremely Online for and where did you first spend a lot of time on the internet? ​

Ever since I can remember! My parents didn’t supervise my Internet usage at all, and it shows… I went on Omegle way too young. I reckon the first Internet ~thing~ I was addicted to was Neopets (wasn’t everyone?) and then this virtual reality space that my dad, of all people, introduced me to—it was called Exit Reality and where I made my first online friend/online crush, who then ended up ghosting me two months later. I still think about him sometimes.

What voices aren’t being heard in the Australian mainstream that you think should be?

Literally any voice that isn’t that of a white cis man. Marginalised voices, emerging voices, independent voices that aren’t funded by corporations with ulterior motives.  Voices that aren’t banks.

I mean this only semi-jokingly: do you know what you wanna be when you grow up? 

I’m with you there—no clue! But also it’s 2020, which means we’re all slashies, whether we like it or not. A friend recently shook me to my core by telling me we’d all been missing the second half of the phrase jack-of-all-trades: “A jack-of-all-trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” That’s the philosophy I’m living by from now on, baby!

What do you want Australia in 2100 to look like?

Queer, progressive, and sustainable.

You have an incredibly fun and distinct personal style. What inspires your fashion?

It-girls, skater boys, Chinese grandmas and Orville Peck specifically.

What do you think people get wrong about your generation?

If we’re talking boomers to Zoomers: that we’ll eventually “grow out” of left-wing politics. What they don’t realise is that our progressivism, and our agitation for change, isn’t a product of our youth—it’s the way only we can ensure our survival.

What do you think people get wrong about you?

That I can be ‘always on’. It means I’m always saying yes to things—personal, professional, social—because I find it so hard to disappoint others, but secretly I wish I was doing nothing at all times. Often I’ll find myself close to burning out and I’ll need to just decompress for a whole month—it’s something I’m still working on!

What do you think the biggest challenge facing your generation is?

Doomerism. And I’m totally guilty of this as well—getting too worked up in the idea that we’re already doomed and nothing we do can change anything. But the very idea that we’re happy to stay complacent is a privileged one—we owe it to ourselves, and those less privileged than us, to at least try.

What do you think is special about Gen Z’s relationship with their own identity?​

The way our identities are constantly in flux, and the way we can change our identities online so easily—for good or for bad. It means we’re constantly experimenting with our self-expression, learning more about our own tastes, our values at a greater rate than ever before. But it’s also anxiety-inducing! Knowing that there are infinite possibilities before us—and worrying that who we are isn’t enough. It’s tough to unlearn—I’m certainly still trying.

How do you want to be remembered (if at all)?

As a friend and a lover.

How are you practicing self-care in 2020?

I’m terrible at self-care, because I’ve become so conditioned to think in terms of toxic productivity culture—but I’m really making an effect this year to break that cycle. (Call it a new decade, etc.) My self-care is either silently doing Monday crosswords (the easiest) on the New York Times crossword app, snuggled up like a taco in bed, or it’s blasting Me and You Together Song at full volume through living room speakers and dancing with full frenzy. Both provide stress relief in different forms.

’80s fashion or 90s fashion?

80s (but let’s be real— ’00s beats ’em both).

Best golden hour location in the world?

Halfway across Gladesville Bridge, sweaty after an up-hill bike ride, when the light hits just right at 4:30PM on a winter’s day. STUNNING!

Who’s your creative inspiration?

Everyone and everything, but lately to get myself in the mood to write I’ve been reading and re-reading Shu-Ling Chua’s pieces in Meanjin—there’s something uniquely melancholy and aching about her reflections on self-discovery, while never coming across as contrived.

Design-wise, I’m constantly awed by Joy Li, who blends graphic design with on-point cultural politics so fluently, Elliot Ulm, whose dedication to daily designs I wish I could have, and Bradley Pinkerton, who got to work on Harry Styles’ album branding so enough said.

What’s your fav place on the internet?

This Instagram account documenting all of Shia LaBeouf’s fits.

What’s Charli XCX’s best album?

“Pop 2”, obviously!

Photography by Monisha Rudhran.

Jamie is a journalist, radio presenter, music nerd and shameless sneakerhead. When he's not writing, he's obsessing over the latest hip-hop and Nike releases. Is also baby.

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