This Is Good Material
A Guest Post by Kevin Esherick on Kierkegaard, NFT Jeans, and How to Live
n.b. Welcome to the sixty-four people who have tuned into White Noise since my last two notes on Good Friday and Sisyphus. If you have yet to do so, I invite you to visit my about page to understand the purpose of these writings and join nearly two thousand thoughtful, curious folks by subscribing here:
n.n.b. Lately I have devoted a great deal of thought to the often-massive chasm between two competing, yet commonplace forces in our individual lives: our aspiration and our actuality (i.e. where we are and where we want to be). Though still inchoate (future post forthcoming!), my current thinking is best encapsulated in the below two quotes:
Above: The ongoing, continuous convergence of metaverse and meatspace.
The below excerpt comes from a past edition of White Noise. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it marks when I last allowed a guest author to helm my small but mighty publication:
I once read that the act of writing turns one’s liabilities/limitations into assets/advantages. I, for one, have taken this wisdom to heart.
As longtime readers know, White Noise often touches on my personal pitfalls, irksome demons, and malicious maladies. It frequently covers the travails of Tourette, the syndrome that—quite literally—shakes me, but one that I cannot seem to shake.
Because I am self-conscious human, these topics fall squarely in the camp of “things rather not discussed.” However, I have found it almost a rule that the less you want to discuss something, the more you must; not only because of the potential for personal catharsis but also for your ability to touch the lives of others.
As C.S. Lewis once so eloquently wrote in The Four Loves:
Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one."
It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision - it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.
One such person with whom I stand “together in an immense solitude” is Kevin Esherick.
Despite attending the same university—Notre Dame—and residing in the same dormitory—Dillon Hall—we never crossed paths. Like both David and Sriram, we met only because I hit “publish” on a myriad of posts just like this one. That is, by thinking and writing and publishing in the digital town square that the internet has become.
His website’s byline—I aspire to learn, create, and experience everything. That’s hard. I will inevitably fail. I’m using this site to document my efforts.—should tell you all you need to know about the type of person he is.
In Kevin, I see a lot of myself (or, at least who I aspire to be). He is a man of genuine kindness, deep curiosity, and incisive intellect; the type of friend you smile with on the brightest of days and rue alongside on the darkest of nights.
His writing, like mine, comes from a deeply personal, often-tucked-far-away place.
When reading his piece, my mind drifted to a quote from late writer Jorge Luis Borges:
A writer—and, I believe, generally all persons—must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.
Like Borges, Kevin aptly uses his “humiliations…misfortunes…embarrassments” as fertilizer (or perhaps more appropriately, manure) to cultivate a garden teeming with “good material.” Below, he weaves an elegant, rigorous, holistic tapestry that ties together technology, philosophy, art, personality, and life as it is lived. Part time capsule and part visual memoir, it is not so much performance art as it is performance life, one stitched together across days, weeks, years, decades. Per Shakespeare—All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players—he is clearly onto something.
As you shall soon see, Kevin wears his heart very much on his sleeve—err, jeans. Though The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants may come to mind, this project is far more kaleidoscopic and mutable than its pale denim might let on.
I encourage you to find and meet Kevin so as to leave your mark on this dynamic work of art.
Nota Bene: The below has been edited slightly for clarity, length, and stylism.
This Is Good Material
On Kierkegaard, NFT Jeans, and How to Live
Material is a collaborative NFT art project. The canvas is a pair of jeans. That I wear. The artist is you. Or you. Or Yu Darvish. Who knows?
Whenever I wear the jeans, the canvas is live. When a person impacts me in a certain way, we forge a deep connection, or we share a memorable experience together, I may invite them to add a piece—an illustration, text, whatever—to the canvas then and there (I carry fabric pens with me).
Each contributor gets a 1-of-1 NFT for their piece, representing ownership in the jeans. Eventually, the jeans + NFT series will go up for auction, with proceeds split between myself and all contributors who opt in.
The NFT-holders will form a DAO that gets to vote on real decisions in my life, like where I (and thus the jeans) go, what I do, and who I meet. In doing so, they orchestrate the future of the jeans and play me as a character in a real-life video game—an IRL RPG.
There will be opportunities for anyone to become a contributor, starting today. Read on for details.
“This is good material.” I repeat it to myself like a mantra.
“This is good material.”
A sooner-than-expected goodbye. Staring at the floor for like four hours. Leaves falling in perfect little spirals at the cemetery, every October for seven years straight.
“This is good material.”
Good old-fashioned teenage heartbreak.
New York in the fall.
Waking up to a phone call too early in the morning, well past the point where it could possibly be a late night dial from some dumb, drunk friend, and never being able to pick up the phone without a racing heart again.
Not fun. But good material.
Getting punched in the face repeatedly.
Falling madly in love.
Feeling fucking insane, on account of said falling.
All good material.
Bursting with feelings of intimacy you don’t know what to do with, so you just stand there and explode instead. How pure.
Acid on graduation day.
Seasons go by in minutes. Material abounds. It kinda works.
The phrase is symbolic for me, even verging on spiritual. I don’t literally say it to myself through all of the above. There’s no need to at this point—it’s my default mode of processing now, for better or for worse. It’s how I take the raw, chaotic content that is life and forge it into something that at least feels meaningful.
It’s how I surrender.
It’s how I cope.
We’ll get into all that. But first, a pair of jeans.
At some point late last spring, I developed a deep desire for a quality pair of blue jeans. The pandemic seemed to be turning a corner, people were yearning for fresh air and fresh faces, and I wanted some good denim to accompany me back out into the world. Unable to find any in a size, cut, and wash I liked, I went out and thrifted a pair that had the right waist size but nothing else, resolving to take care of the rest myself. I bleach-dyed the once-indigo blue to a crisp light wash, then measured my desired fit and had the uber-baggy legs and seat cut to my liking.1
At the same time as I was cobbling these jeans together, an idea had been brewing in my mind. I admire and am inspired by fashion but have always had critiques and ideas for pushing it forward.
One critique bouncing around my mind during the jeans’ reincarnation was that fashion can often be excessively self-serious. Runway models almost always sport that same stare, vacant with a slight edge of contempt, as if you just happened to rudely barge in on them toiling away at the most boring, menial task imaginable.
There’s actually good reason for this—in fact, I would argue that keeping a straight face is the essence of the avant-garde—but I think it’s important to carve out space for levity and playfulness as well.2 Fashion, and perhaps modernity in general, has paid little due to this side of the equation. Clothing can be a conduit for conversation, connection, and playful, creative, interpersonal engagement. Done thoughtfully, slogans can spark questions, images might pique interest, and designs can compel comment. Yet this is far from the norm at present.
Another critique fresh on my mind was fashion’s tendency toward solipsism. Clothing is a means of expressing who we are, and yet what we wear often neglects many of the most central parts of our identities. We’re all inescapably defined by the constellations of people, places, and experiences we’ve orbited and collided with throughout our lives. Yet clothes tend to do little to evidence this.
I am my mom, my dad, my brothers, Silver Spring, pickup at Blair, Notre Dame, the girls I’ve loved, summer 2010, and that perfect little lake outside of a one-stop-sign town, to name but a few of the metaphorical stars that compose the constellation of my identity.3
How do you say all of that through clothing?
You don’t. You can’t. But you might be able to at least nod in that direction.
The idea that had been brewing, then, was twofold.
On the one hand, to render the experience of wearing and engaging with clothing more playful, loose, creative, and fun.
On the other, to make self-expression through clothing more reflective of the relational and experiential nature of our identities.
The jeans presented a perfect opportunity to put these ideas into practice. A few months after thrifting them, I bought a set of fabric markers and drew some pieces on their pale denim—illustrations and snippets of text—to serve as a conversation starter. I began wearing them around, bringing the fabric markers with me. When I encountered people who left a mark on me in one form or another—a deep connection, a meaningful conversation, a shared experience—I invited them to add a piece of their own to the jeans. It could be whatever they wanted, so long as they felt it contributed positively to the greater work as a whole.
The immaterial mark they’ve made on me thus materializes as a physical mark on the canvas of the jeans. This process creates a tapestry of the experiences and people that have shaped me, and thus indirectly each other, over the lifespan of the jeans; it extends the creative involvement with the garment beyond just the original designer, encouraging others to tap into their perhaps-dormant creative spirit; and it gives rise to shared laughs, thought-provoking conversations, a spirit of playfulness, and memories worth holding onto.
As this was all taking shape, I was learning voraciously about NFTs, DAOs, and the web3 ecosystem.4 At the same time, I had been wearing the jeans from time to time and a few early pieces had been added by people I’d encountered along the way. I was routinely receiving compliments on them and sparking up conversations with curious strangers who were intrigued by the artwork.
And then one day it struck me that for all the value generated by the contributors via the pieces they had added, they were capturing very little (if any) of it. It was all accruing to me instead—I owned the jeans, I got to wear them, and I benefited from the interest and compliments that their work so frequently gave rise to.
NFTs, it occurred to me, could be a way of meaningfully conferring partial ownership of the jeans to those who helped make them what they were, digitally decentralizing ownership of this physical, centralized work of art. By giving them each a unique NFT representing their contribution, I could help them capture some of the value that they had created (how exactly this works I’ll explain in a second). So, I decided that’s what I would do.
Thus was conceived this project, Material, which officially launches today.
You (yes, you) are a part of it.
Here’s how it’s going to work: Whenever I wear the jeans, the canvas is live, open to the addition of new pieces. When a person impacts me in a certain way, we forge a deep connection, or we share a memorable experience together, I may invite them to contribute to the canvas. Shortly thereafter, they’ll receive an NFT depicting the jeans in the state that they added to them (the NFTs will be revealed to the public in due time). The jeans are a living, breathing piece, changing with every wear. Each contributor’s NFT, then, captures the unique canvas that they helped create, frozen in time and stored in a digital time capsule. With each new addition, we’re “minting a memory.” Collectively, they tell a story.
Once a certain number of pieces have been added to the jeans—a number which for now will be kept a closely-guarded secret— both the jeans and the NFTs given to the contributors will go up for auction. Of course, since they own their NFTs, each contributor will have the option to hang onto them and not participate in the auction. This is the fun of social experimentation. If they opt in, they’ll swap out their NFT for a token which they’ll then burn in exchange for their share following the auction. The combined proceeds will be split 50/50 between the contributors and me. In this way, the contributors will be able to materially capture the value that they brought to the project.
Naturally, the NFT holders will be added to a DAO that gets to vote on real decisions in my life, like where I travel, who I meet, and whether I bleach my hair. They thereby get a real say in where the jeans go, who they come across, and what I do in them, orchestrating the future of the canvas from afar.
The DAO collectively controls me (and thus the jeans) like a real-life video game character. I call it IRL RPG. The contributors’ ownership over the jeans thus extends beyond just value capture to continued participation. With the addition of each new contributor, the network of people invested in the future of the canvas expands, and the limits of what we’re capable of as a collective fade. The possibilities of the jeans increasingly trend toward the boundless.
The first piece I added to the jeans was a quote: “This is good material.”5
It’s where I began this essay, and it represents something of a thesis statement for this project. It’s not a real quote, in that it doesn’t definitely derive from any one source other than my internal monologue, and even then it’s less a line in my internal monologue and more a general disposition. In any case, it had been on my mind a lot during the time that the jeans were coming together. It’s also the last of the threads which together weave the conceptual foundation of Material.6
As I mentioned earlier, the phrase symbolizes a mindset through which I endeavor to construct meaning in my life by viewing the ups and downs as essential parts of a greater aesthetic picture. Tragedy is part of a story, loss is fuel for art, failure is motivation to improve, et cetera. Through this lens, the vicissitudes of life are made bearable by their critical role in a larger narrative.
I lost my older brother when I was 20. I was a sophomore in college. In the months prior, my roommates and I had begun conceiving of the various dramas playing out in our collegiate lives as storylines in a TV show. Friendships turning to relationships, old flames rekindling, and a camping trip gone awry in the wintery Michigan wilderness had all collided within a 48-hour span to inspire the conception of the first “episode.” We continued discussing our experiences with reference to “The Show” for the rest of our college careers.
The ability to gain distance from the narrative and view ourselves in the third person, as characters in this drama, gave perspective that made the difficult things feel alright. The process was comforting, relieving, and amusing, like a laughter-fueled exhale at an existential level. It felt like it imbued our lives with a certain richness through which even the struggles we were dealing with in a given moment could be appreciated for their aesthetic quality.
When I lost my brother, I think a piece of this mindset crystallized deep within my psyche. I adopted it out of necessity. Reality was so unbearable that I had to disown it, to make it no longer mine—to write a story in which I was a character, observable in the third person. Through this new perspective, everything is material. Life is an aesthetic phenomenon, and every sorrow and joy is a source of beauty and meaning, another page in a moving memoir. Artists, musicians, writers, comedians, and creators of all sorts know this outlook well.
It’s all material.
Last summer, as I was preparing to add that first piece to the jeans, I had been reflecting on how this perspective on life has shaped my experience, for the better, but also possibly for the worse. I had slowly realized over the years that one side effect of this process is that the paradigm has a tendency to subtly flip, from art imitating life, to life imitating—even chasing—art. There develops an urge not only to take life and transfigure it into material for art, but also to intentionally live in a manner such that it might become material for art. I was subconsciously, and then less so, making decisions that would lead to a more aesthetic, interesting narrative. This can be a thing of beauty, but it can be corrosive as well.
If you put beauty as the paramount value in your life, and there’s beauty in pain, you may begin, unwittingly, to seek pain for the beauty it can bring forth.7 And pain never remains contained within the individual.8
Living life for a memoir is a dangerous game, and others besides the author are at risk. After all, the best memoirs aren’t written by saints.9
So to write a lasting memoir or to aspire to sainthood?
To embody beauty or virtue, the aesthetic or the ethical—to borrow a dichotomy from Kierkegaard?
Can some synthesis of the two be obtained?
What constitutes a good life?
These are open questions in my mind. Material is my process of exploring them.
On its face, the project appears emblematic of the aesthetic. It’s about art, beauty, narrative, and memorable experiences, and it’s going to involve my seeking out a whole lot of that. “This is good material,” the catchphrase for this mindset, is almost-literally written all over the jeans.
But the quotes are there for a reason. They imply a sense of irony, a second voice that’s not so much making the statement as questioning it. Like “Oh yeah? Really?” Through the jeans, these two voices are in dialogue. Because for each piece of art and memorable experience infused into the jeans, there’s an act of connection, a ritual of giving and receiving that looks much closer to “the ethical.” They’re right there, side by side.
The aesthetic says “This is good material.”
The ethical asks “Is that really so?”
I’ll be there listening. I invite you to come listen too.
So what the hell is this project? I’m not sure I want to answer that just yet. It’s many things, and many more will be revealed in time. I will say that in keeping with my nature, this is nothing if not an experiment.
It’s experimental art.
An experiment exploring the bounds of what NFTs and DAOs make possible.
An experiment in what clothing can be.
A social experiment.
And an experiment testing some hypotheses on the question of how to live.
As of today, Material is live. What does that mean for a project like this? Well, to kick things off, a real life game of manhunt.
The first person to find me IRL wearing the jeans gets to add a piece to them, receive their NFT, and become a Material member. Beyond that, it means that I’ll be wearing the jeans, the canvas is open, and the journey of the project will be publicly shared. I’ll be materializing in cities around the US and possibly abroad in the coming months, and there will also be opportunities for anyone, anywhere to participate as well—stay tuned.
If you see me, come up and say hey. Seriously. This project is for nothing if not for connection. And who knows—you may just end up leaving your mark.10
Per my about page, White Noise is a work of experimentation. I view it as a sort of thinking aloud, a stress testing of my nascent ideas. Through it, I hope to sharpen my opinions against the whetstone of other people’s feedback, commentary, and input.
If you want to discuss any of the ideas or musings mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links that you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of White Noise, please reach out to me by replying to this email or following me on Twitter.
With sincere gratitude,
"Seat" is a garment-speak euphemism for the butt area.
The avant-garde necessarily borders on the absurd. This is the risk inherent in it. It pushes the believability of fashion to the limit, teetering over the edge there until the world catches up. It's just shy of absurdity, or just absurd enough to be able to pass as if it's not absurd. To smile is to acknowledge the absurdity. For the avant-garde to lead the way, it needs to be taken seriously, which it's at perpetual risk of jeopardizing. It's consequently inherent in its nature to keep a straight face until the world learns to do the same.
Not comprise. We need to do something about comprise. We all misuse it, myself included. We like to use it because it sounds like a smart person word, but we're actually using it all wrong. It does not take the preposition "of" (i.e. "is comprised of"). A proper use would be to say that this sentence comprises thirteen words. It's thus synonymous with the phrase "is composed of." And yet we have plenty of words and phrases that perfectly express this already, so why can't we just call some council of wordlords and collectively agree to change the definition of comprise to fit the way we're already using it. A prescriptivist I am not. Nor am I a gung-ho descriptivist—I favor a balanced approach—but this seems to be an instance where the prescription may be outdated, warranting a new description. Yin and Yang, my friend.
EDIT: Well, after writing all that, I looked it up to double check and it actually it appears the dictionary has accommodated the more commonly used, though once-incorrect, definition. Score one for the descriptivists! Grammar sticklers be warned, your curmudgeonly ways may come back to bite you. I feel like an ass, but I'm keeping this footnote here anyway because I like the way it earnestly depicts my thought process. And yet we now have a bigger problem in that there is a word whose two primary definitions are almost opposite one other.
If you're not from the tech world and these terms read as nonsense to you, welcome! Don't hesitate to reach out to me or Google to get up to speed. I'm hopeful that this project will bring new people into the fold by demonstrating novel and compelling use cases for these technologies. Because while there is fluff and hype in this space right now, there's also real, transformative technology. To think that it's all BS is like witnessing the dotcom bubble and concluding that "the internet" will never take off. Here is a now-amusing piece from the 90s for perspective.
I must here acknowledge that this has, unintentionally, a Virgil Abloh-esque character to it. Virgil passed away last year, and if you're unfamiliar with his legacy or see him primarily as a totem of hypebeast culture, I really encourage you to go explore his life and work. He was a profound thinker and played a significant hand in shaping our culture over the course of the last decade.
Or at least the last such thread I’ll detail today 😉
Within this sentiment there's an important statement about the fetishization of mental illness and the concept of the tortured genius/artist. This tortured figure has become a cultural archetype that we now subconsciously model. Many of our greatest creators have suffered deeply, and we seek to emulate them by following their path. Mental illness is a psychosocial phenomenon. Unlike many, I am not of the belief that this archetype is pure fiction. There is something about the experience of being touched by great suffering that drives creative brilliance. But that doesn't mean there isn't another way to achieve these creative heights. It's a really complex and profound issue that I have many thoughts on and hope to write about another day.
I don't mean this in an insidious way, like intending to harm others. But something like pursuing a relationship that you know isn't ultimately right for either of you leads to pain for both of you in the end. It also makes for a good chapter in a memoir.
Save perhaps that of Augustine—Confessions—but that's precisely because he first lived a very profligate life before devoting himself to God. Does his timeless quote (i.e. “Lord, make me chaste (sexually pure) – but not yet!”) come to mind?