Storytelling has always been an integral part of what we do at STEADY—executed in our creative and embedded in our pieces. Often, these are stories tied to present and future aspirations. In this new segment, we’re completing the trifecta. CHATTERBOX addresses the past, specifically—the origin stories of kindred individuals.
In this installment of CHATTERBOX, we introduce Los Angeles’ JULIAN ALECXANDER, Tumblr-peak sensation turned storyteller—here’s how he came to be.
— Over Suehiro Cafe Hayashi Rice —
CAL: Tumblr! That’s something I haven’t heard in a while!
JULIAN: Back in ‘09 was when I made my Tumblr account.
But it’s an interesting story—I actually started off my life going to a Catholic private school from K through 8. I grew up with the same people the entire time. After middle school I got rejected from the high school I was suppose to go to. It was more like I got accepted but then some events happened that caused them to pull it back.
So I found myself a super socially awkward Asian kid (fat, chubby with a bowl cut) being thrown into LA Unified School District.
CAL: You LA born and raised?
JULIAN: Yea. Though, I was incredibly awkward and sheltered growing up and didn’t know my way around. I didn’t have any family my age. Everything was so different from what I grew up with.
Everyone in that public school was eclectic. But from there I was introduced to so many different things. Like, streetwear for example.
CAL: And that lead into Tumblr?
JULIAN: No matter where I was, I never really felt myself fitting in. And that’s where Tumblr came in.
CAL: What’d you use it for?
JULIAN: That’s where I started writing random posts. A lot of bullshit here and there to be honest.
CAL: A lot of angst? (Laughs)
JULIAN: Yo, definitely a lot of angst. I started branching out through there, meeting a lot of friends through it.
CAL: I guess it’s a social/cultural difference but, practically everyone we’ve spoken to here has had real life interactions with others met through Tumblr. Whereas for us east coast kids, it was just for likes, reblogs and follows. There were no Tumblr-meets or…
JULIAN: The funny part though was going off that angst was what actually propelled me. Some random bullshit smut sex story I came up with. That just blew up. And I made thousands of followers overnight.
JULIAN: I just watched my dashboard like, follower, follower, follower, follower, follower. It was crazy!
CAL: (Laughs) As much as you’re able to divulge—What kind of post was it? Long/short post?
JULIAN: There were chapters actually later on. (Laughs)
The initial post was probably like 6-8 paragraphs. It got reblogged like crazy.
CAL: How old were you? (Laughs)
JULIAN: I was like 16!
CAL: And that post is still floating somewhere online?
JULIAN: It’s somewhere online. Looking at it now, it’s kind of dumb. “Wow, what was I doing talking about sex? What did I know about sex?” (Laughs)
CAL: What made you want to write that?
JULIAN: (Laughs) So, I started dating girls through Tumblr—most of which were from out of state or just not from my area. Being long-distance, you don’t have access to sex, you kind of allude yourself to other resorts. That’s kind of what brought me there.
What also happened was one of the girls I dated from Tumblr was also a writer and we actually worked on something together. So she’d write a paragraph, and I’d write one back, paragraph back, paragraph back—so it was kind of like…
JULIAN: For everyone to see! (Laughs) Live on your dashboard!
It was hilarious. I look back at it now, a little 16 year old talking about all sorts of raunchy shit. But in a way I’m grateful for it because that gave me more of a platform. And from that platform I started moving elsewhere. But because I already had a following from what I did, they went along with whatever else I did.
Originally it was “Oh, Julian with the sex stories.” Then it became “Julian with the poetic sex stories.” It was basically just repackaged.
Setting: it's somewhere around 5:00 AM and the sun is rising, however, we remain sleepless — We're still drunk off the alcohol and still drunk off each other. You look up at me with a drooping gaze hung with exhausted lust, and in turn, while slowly slipping into a state bordering delirium, I kiss your forehead as you collapse onto my chest. Our restlessness ceases and we finally drift off to sleep.
CAL: How long did you do that for?
JULIAN: 2 years basically.
CAL: Going deeper (pun intended), what was that first one about?
JULIAN: I don’t even remember what I wrote in the first one—I honestly don’t. I remember some of the other ones?
CAL: Please indulge.
JULIAN: Uhh… There was a school assembly, which I ditched. In the story, we went to the back…
CAL: Behind the bleacher kinda deal?
JULIAN: Mhmm. (Laughs)
CAL: Did people come up to you? Cause for west coast kids Tumblr transcended digital.
JULIAN: Oh yeah! They wouldn’t say anything but I knew exactly what they were thinking. Sometimes I’d be at the mall or even out of the city—I’d be in San Diego at like Tap Ex and it’d be like
“Are you… Are you JulianFBeezy?”
CAL: Hold up! Your handle was JulianFBeezy?
“Are you… Are you JulianFBeezy?”
“Can I take a picture with you?”
And I was like “Oh god!” It was my first initial taste of “stardom.” But naive stardom because it was Tumblr. We were just a bunch of kids that had nowhere to go so we found ourselves online meeting up with other people online.
CAL: How did that feel?
JULIAN: Honestly, the very first time was weird. Cause like I said, I was very socially awkward. I was some awkward as hell kid that was thrusted into popularity and I didn’t know what to do with it so I milked the shit outta it. (Laughs)
It was cool though, over time it taught me how to talk to socialize. I really learned how to handle different situations, and in the end it taught me how to—
CAL: Open up?
JULIAN: Not open up per se, but be open to anyone because in the end we’re all people. It’s really hard for me today to fanboy over anyone after been on both sides of the coin. When I saw people back then fan over me, I recognized, I’m a normal-ass looking guy. I just happened to have angst. Even if people seem really awesome, in the end they’re still just people.
"And often people never challenge the concepts they are taught. They never seek for 'understanding' of a subject and settle for just 'knowing' about it. Rather, they prefer to remain in the comfort of the protective membrane they wrap themselves in, the translucent film of their relatively narrow knowledge, like flocks of sheep in a culture of ignorance". #captivatingchats
CAL: Were you always writing in first-person?
JULIAN: Always in first person.
I feel like, as much as I like writing in third-person, first-person is more intimate. It’s more in your face and like “Oh shit this is really happening.” I feel like when it comes to any kind of storytelling, you want to be as immersive as possible. And I feel like the level of immersion in first-person is the way to go.
CAL: What was it about writing? Why’s it your medium?
JULIAN: If I had to pinpoint a main inspiration, it’d probably be hip hop?
Hip hop, emceeing and rapping influenced me a lot growing up. The sexiness of wordplay and good lyricism. I wanted to participate in that. On YouTube, I watched Def Jam Poetry all the time—spoken word too. I always found words to be extremely unique.
The best part about writing is how accessible it is. Anybody can write! Whereas if you picked a different hobby, you’d have to buy a camera, markers, color pencils etc. To write, all you need is pen and paper or in my case, a laptop.
CAL: I prefer to write in the Notes app on my phone? What’s comfortable for you?
JULIAN: I actually spend a lot of time coming up with an ideal system that worked for me. Personally I like typing on my laptop the most. I have terrible penmanship—it’s garbage. I’d be writing a word [by hand] but my mind is already 3 sentences ahead and my hand just can’t keep up. The thing with typing is, I can keep up with my thoughts. I can just hammer it out. I also like using my phone. When it’s late at night, I’d wake up at like 4 A.M. I’d grab my phone, drop it down and go back to bed.
CAL: When you wrote that first story, you wrote it directly into Tumblr?
JULIAN: Directly into Tumblr.
CAL: Did you have any reservations in hitting that post button?
JULIAN: No everything was always a draft at that time. I’m sure if I looked back on it now there’d be a lot of sloppiness. But what I’ve been told at least is, what people liked most about it was that rawness. The imagery and the descriptiveness.
CAL: Your writing style has been described as being verbose, flowery?
JULIAN: It’s pretty euphemism rich and I tend to pay a lot of attention to minute details. It sounds kind of bad saying that but when I write I like to pull out the beauty in everything. It’s kind of like a metaphysical experience. Cause say you’re a photographer, when you frame a photo you want to pull out the very essence of what it is—the full capacity of how deep the subject can be. The soul of it. That’s my approach with my writing style.
I’m the kind of guy where small things in life make me happy. Same thing applies in the writing, it’s the small details. Going back to the sex thing, I’ll be honest (I think all of us could agree), it’s little things like a whisper in the ear that get you going. But people don’t focus on that, they focus on the actual act. The big things are very enjoyable when the little things build up to them.
— Collective sake “Kanpai” —
JULIAN: You’re suppose to drink it while it’s hot.
CAL: Oh it’s hot going down.
CAL: Did the fame ever get around to your family? Being catholic and all.
JULIAN: My mom’s pretty conservative but she’s open. My dad is…
CAL: Wait, have they read it?
JULIAN: No! I hope not! In the future I know they’ll read something along the lines—I still continue to write like that here and there and I’m sure somewhere down the line they’ll stumble across it. But I’d feel more comfortable because I’m an adult now—they know now I’ve had sex.
My dad’s actually very sexually open. He always makes fun of me. He says “I bet you don’t get any girls. You’re just lying to me.” One time this girl left my place and I had this large-ass hickey on my neck. My dad was like “How much did you pay her?” and I was like “Fuck you!” (Laughs)
But they know I write. They’re very supportive of it.
CAL: Post Tumblr-fame blow up and the milking of it, where’d your writing go from there?
JULIAN: For a while, my writing was on hiatus. If I did write anything, it was personal. I found myself in a serious relationship, and so [at the time] if I did do any writing it’d be in the form of love letters to her or kept in private. Journal entries about our time together.
It was the beginning of what transitioned my writing to a more romanticized prose-based writing rather than fan service sex smut.
CAL: A lot of your writing is accompanied by some sort of photography. When’d you get introduced to that?
JULIAN: I had a roommate who was a photographer. It’s funny too because we actually met though Tumblr friends. He knew of my background.
Having a visual artist around, I found myself delving into visual creative too. It took a life of its own.
CAL: Oh “he knew”?
JULIAN: He said “Oh you write!” (Laughs)
Fast forward, he became the editor for a startup fashion magazine. He asked me do interviews and articles for it. Which expanded me again. I was able to establish my own network through it—a more professional, now mature one.
CAL: He walked you through that type of work or was it like writing where you picked it up individually?
JULIAN: On my own. I tried out photography and blogging. Having friends that are social media influencers, I was around it.
CAL: Blogging became huge post-Tumblr.
JULIAN: Yeah I decided to give blogging a real shot as well. I’d have people take pictures for or of me and write on it after. But I stopped.
CAL: Why’s that?
JULIAN: To me personally a huge chunk of being a blogger is being a walking, living ad. And I realized I didn’t want to be that. I wanted to be a storyteller. In every aspect of my life.
CAL: What form(s) did your blog content take?
JULIAN: My blog content was very text heavy. It’d be a picture of my outfit with the most deep shit—like “What the fuck does this have to do with the outfit?” But I’d find a way to link the two.
For example, I wore “dapper” clothes one time, you know, menswear shit. Shot in Downtown LA. I wrote about how stagnant traditional menswear is. I looked at these menswear blogs and it’s just a suit in each picture except a different color. I wanted the photo and writing to be ironic in saying fashion has to evolve.
CAL: Instead of a bow tie it’s a sock tie.
JULIAN: Exactly, it’s the same rehashed. I found myself working with these people and as great as an opportunity as it was, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. The magazine introduced me to journalistic practices—which I enjoyed. I got to meet people, ask them whatever questions I liked, pick apart their mind and illustrate a story through these eyes.
CAL: I would imagine writing about sex in ‘09 was pretty outside the norm for most 16 year olds. Were there comfort zones you had to breakthrough?
JULIAN: Definitely, yeah! With the sex stories, after a while I found them to be redundant. It’s limited, only a certain extent you can do with the genre. How else can I say “I pushed her down and stuck it in” you know? The stories was what got me reintroduced to writing but forced me to realized that I shouldn’t stick to just this form. Plus I just outgrew it. I kinda want to forget it, but I’ll own it.
CAL: Tell me about the moments after that. The day you pivoted and posted something nonsexual, was there anxiety as to who it would be received?
JULIAN: Personally no. I feel like if you’re going to write, people are going to know you at your very core. If you’re going to write you’re deliberately choosing to address yourself in front of everybody—your mind, your thoughts and secrets about you. If you’re unsure of something, I’d say to not publish it.
CAL: There never was a thought of “Ahh I don’t know if they’re going to like this”?
JULIAN: It wasn’t so much “Are they going to like this?” but more like, “Do I like this?” Cause if I’m going to share something, I want it to be the best that I can do.
CAL: What was it?
JULIAN: I can’t recall specifically but I took an everyday item/occurrence and flipped it on it’s head— made something of it. For example, I think something I wrote was about a deer in headlights (when there’s no deer out here) (Laughs). When a deer sees a car speeding towards its imminent crash, it sort of just stares at it until it gets ran over, much like when shit hits the fan there’s always that moment where you’re caught staring and mouth agape at whatever’s coming your way. It became writing things like that.
From there I didn’t care if I had an audience anymore. It wasn’t about the audience, I just had to let shit go. And people liked it. My concerns [initially sex] diverged elsewhere somewhere along the road and so I tackled those new things [in writing.] I just felt like it’s having creative integrity to myself.
CAL: Through all its iterations—the sex and romantics, publications and self-publishing, the poetry and the prose—What has your creative integrity continued to ask of you?
JULIAN: What I want to do is tell stories. Bring out the humanity in something — to humanize what you least expect. There’s personality in everything and often times people don’t take the time out to get to know that personality or they’re reluctant to understand it. There’s always more than one meaning to everything and I want people to know the essence of something, more than what it is on the surface. The very first question a college professor of mine once asked was “Why’s storytelling important?”
He said, “Storytelling is the glue that keeps society together. It’s what adheres our morals, our virtues, our lessons and keeps our understanding of progress.” Because if it’s not recorded down we won’t learn from it.” And if people don’t get the stories of what came before or what’s going on now, “What direction can we go?”
Stories can be told 3 dimensionally, whether it’s culture, tech or streetwear. There’s so much space to be filled in whatever there is to write about. And in my time, I want to fill as much of those spaces as I can.