S.04: E.04

The Reflection Pool

with Indhira Rojas


October 29, 2019 • 25:22 min

E.04

  | The Reflection Pool (w. Indhira Rojas )

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Indhira Rojas has made an award-winning career out of the art of reality. Between global sensation Anxy Magazine, a publication dedicated to exploring personal narratives in mental health, and her boutique design studio Anagraph, we pull back the curtain to get a raw glimpse of the realities of creative entrepreneurship and the plot twists that come with reflection.

To find out more about Indhira's latest projects, find her on:
Twitter: @anxymag or @redindhi
Instagram: @anxymag or @redindhi
LinkedIn: Indhira Rojas

To read more about the future of Anxy Magazine, check out Indhira's Medium article.

Written, produced, and hosted by Kenzie Haynes.

Kenzie: Welcome back to It's Worth Doing Right. A collection of conversations about the creative side of strategy. I'm your host Kenzie Haynes. Today on the show, we're talking to Indhira Rojas, founder and creative director of Anxy, an award-winning magazine, highlighting discussions and perspectives on mental health. She's also the founder and creative director of Anagraph, a boutique design studio in Berkeley, California. Incidentally, Anxy just celebrated its two year anniversary and just released its bi-annual edition. Let's dive in. Welcome to the show Indhira.

Indhira: Thank you for having me. This is a pleasure to be here.

Kenzie: To start off, give us a glimpse of the path that led you to where you are now.

Indhira: I've had an interesting background, especially because I was first born in Dominican Republic and I didn't come here to the United States as a student until much later in my twenties when I went to Parsons through a scholarship. Through that I discovered the power of publishing and always been interested in storytelling. That brought me to California to do a masters and interaction design and delve into the digital world. After that I've been sort of working independently and working in-house, whether it's in branding or interaction experiences, product design, and all of that.

Kenzie: So I love your magazine, Anxy. Can you talk about what inspired you to found a print based magazine focused on mental health?

Indhira: The idea for Anxy came from the concept that I really was looking for personal narratives that would connect with my own personal story and I wasn't finding them. I knew statistically a lot of us struggle with mental health and especially in my case, someone who's experienced severe trauma at a very early age, and yet I found that I couldn't really find other stories like mine out there, and I wanted to find other people who were navigating, what is it like to have this lived experience and how it affects all our relationships in our lives.

Indhira: The other aspect that I noticed was that when I looked at the content that was related to mental health and mental wellness, it was definitely very medicalized, and in sort of oriented towards this notion of pathology, where we're seeing our stories through the lens of defining an illness, or defining a specific mental disorder. I wanted to focus on the felt experience. What is it like to live this life? That's where I sort of saw the opportunity to create something that didn't really exist using art and design as the vehicle through which we tell this vulnerable stories.

Kenzie: Yeah, and I wonder if it's kind of part of the zeitgeists right now, because I'm seeing a lot of therapy apps and communities springing up, and a lot of movement around the notion of opening up and being vulnerable and especially in the age we're in now, where sharing is part of the norm, where do you think Anxy fits into that?

Indhira: Millennials are much more open to talking about this experiences. I think it's because we are the children of a generation that was very closed up, and we live the consequences of that. What happens when we are in an environment in which we don't really talk about what's really going on? And I think millennials, have lived what that's like, and we are trying to create a different space for ourselves.

Kenzie: I think one of the first things that jump out to anyone looking at the magazine, it's a physical magazine, is how vibrant it is. You know, when I think of mental health, I tend to think of a somber mood and maybe gray toned. It's a very serious subject, but the magazine is very playful, it's colorful, it has holographic inks on the cover. There's a lot of play with type and images. Can you talk about why you chose that direction and the process of branding Anxy?

Indhira: The main anchor for the brand of Anxy is this concept of our inner worlds and our Manifesto video, which is what we launched this project with, focused on what is it like to really tap into our inner experience and let that be expressed. When we talk about expression, expression is bold, right? We just want to be able to let what's inside out. For us, that meant that art played a big role in that process, and in letting art be expressed to its biggest capacity through photography, through illustration, through color, to typography, through layout, and that's what we were trying to do with Anxy as a brand, that it could be the holder of all of that.

Kenzie: I think Anxy is pretty unique because each issue is united around a specific theme in mental health, and like you said, we traditionally talk about mental health as these diseases or things we can clinically diagnose. But you look at it from the perspective of personal narrative, and I think that comes across beautifully in the themes you pick. Like, your first issue focuses on anger, which is maybe not a surprising theme, but I would expect subsequent issues to be focused on sadness or happiness. But instead, you've chosen themes like masculinity and workaholism as mental health issues. Can you talk about where those themes come from? Or what they mean to you as a mental health issue?

Indhira: They're really very much ingrained in my own personal journey, and part of my journey was to first recognize my anger, not as something that's negative, but something that is understandable emotion, considering the impact of trauma in my life. And that was one of big theme on the anger issue, which is like, we all have this cultural perception of anger as something negative or something toxic, but we have to feel our anger towards our experience to be able to really process it.

Indhira: The theme of workaholism, I did learn through the process of therapy, that workaholism became my coping mechanism. When I needed to kind of calm myself or regulate, I would go to work, or I would stay overworked, to not deal with a lot of the heaviness that is behind a journey of repair. When you're trying to create new experiences with people in your life, one of the things that you learn that you need to do is to start to create new boundaries that honor you and honor what you need, and you're able to create a different dynamic with people.

Indhira: That's where the concept of boundaries came, in that journey of going from anger into understanding workaholism not defining the boundaries, and with the theme of masculinity, that one, it was more of an observation of what's happening in the world. I mean, we have all the stories that have been shared through the Me Too movement and me myself, understanding the relationship of masculinity in my life, in the associations that I have with it, and how it has impacted me. It sort of felt like a very important topic to address now, when we're trying to deconstruct, redefine and see masculinity from a different perspective, so that one was a combination of both something that has affected me, but something that I felt like the community was ready to discuss.

Kenzie: Another interesting dimension to Anxy is that it's only available in print. Can you talk about your decision to create a print only publication?

Indhira: Yes. For me I felt ... You know, I've worked in the editorial world for a while. I worked at the Bold Italic, I worked at Medium, and being on the screen. I also came from like a traditional print background. Like when I went to Parsons study communication design, I remember just being in love with designing books and publishing and all of that. I think one experience that we miss when we are in digital, versus physical format, is just like the plain juxtaposition of the page and seeing stories unfolding page by page, and having that tactile experience of the paper, and the layout, and all of that, it's something that you lose in the screen. The other thing that you lose in the screen is that we're so distracted when we're consuming our content online. How many tabs do people have open at all times, and getting notifications from whatever a thing that they're working on? Right?

Indhira: I felt like what we needed to have this real conversation about wellness, is to give people a space where you're creating an experience in which they already have to be at some extent, disconnected from distraction. Because, as you're reading the stories, first they're going to activate your vulnerability, and second, they're hopefully going to bring you to a place of reflection. So, doing it through a physical, printed object, we feel that we're starting to create that behavior by default, because ideally you're not reading the magazine while you're browsing online. Some people do that, but you know, by the fact though, you're have to have to be like, "Okay, I'm kind of focusing on this now, and that's going to be where my attention is."

Kenzie: As far as the actual production of Anxy, it sounds like you start with the deciding on a theme, and then, can you walk me through what happens next? How do we get from a theme to a product on the shelves?

Indhira: We start with a brainstorming process. What aspects in particular about anger or about workaholism do we want to tackle? Which conversations we think are relevant that we haven't heard of enough? Or they haven't been brought up at all? Where can we make a contribution that's different from what we're used to seeing, and what we're used to reading? That gives us what we call sub themes within that particular theme. From there we start thinking about writers, and concepts, and stories that we want to read about.

Indhira: Once the stories are, and we have the sub themes, and we have the general idea of the stories we want to tackle, we both create a brief that we open up to the community to submit ideas, and we also start reaching out to writers to see if they want to tackle some of these ideas that are initiated by us.

Kenzie: How hands on are you with your contributors? It seems like you have such a wide range of content creators that seem to come from professional backgrounds as writers and artists, and a lot that seem to come from non-professional backgrounds, so how hands on are you when they get involved? And is it more like, this is the content we're looking to get? Or is it express what this theme means to you? You know? How do you handle that?

Indhira: Yeah, so it is this Venn diagram of this is the space that we're looking to take in terms of this topic, and then having people submit, and finding the stories that fit in that space. So, when we have open submissions about anger, about workaholism, we already know the sub themes that we're trying to kind of touch upon and then finding the stories that are connected to the sub-themes. The other part of it is that editors, depending on the basically writing skill of the people who submit stories, they will assist them in articulating it in a better way. So, one thing that it gets me really excited about doing open submissions is, you might have writers who this is their first or second time submitting to a magazine and they have a powerful story and they're still honing their craft, and when an editor can give you guidance and feedback that you can really get to the core of that story.

Indhira: Then on the other hand, you have writers that are experts in their field and know their craft, and in that sense it's just a matter of working with them on length and making sure that their story hits the mark with the things that we want to talk about. In terms of the art direction and the creative direction, there's this sort of similar experience. Sometimes you have commissions where they hit it out of the park in the first try, and it's just a matter of approving it, and other times you have to go a little bit more back and forth with the artists and sort of say, "Hey, we want to avoid this imagery that is overused in this particular topic." Or, "We want to revisit this from this perspective, can we focus on this aspect of the story?" And things like that.

Indhira: Then at some point, words and images and graphics kind of meet, and then it's a matter of refining that and starting to turn it into a page by page experience. Now, there's a lot of revisions that need to happen, so we do print out the whole issue and it gets top edited and we do back and forth revisions and all of that until we have a final product that we feel comfortable with. Usually, that's with the printers deadline. That's our biggest busiest time like "Okay, we cannot do any more changes because it needs to be sent to the printer." But yeah, that's the process from just thinking about it conceptually, to started becoming it more concrete with commissions, whether to artists or writers, and then us ourselves, kind of putting it together piece by piece.

Kenzie: You know, you initially said that this project was to connect with other people who wanted a more human view of mental health and to share those unheard stories.

Indhira: Right.

Kenzie: But, you have a print magazine to keep the experience highly personal and create these moments to reflect and have your own relationship with the content, but I think another amazing part of this is the conversations it can open. So, how are you having those conversations and what kind of community have you built around this highly personal, yet highly interpersonal project?

Indhira: It's interesting because I feel like we have this synchronous connected community, right? Like, we put it out in the world, people respond to it, maybe creating community among themselves, around their friends, around family, and when we get to be part of that conversation without necessarily having to be actively face to face. But, I think the ways in which we've created community has also been through trying to meet some of our community members through events.

Indhira: So, creating spaces where we can go beyond the magazine to sort of have real life conversations, and it's something that we are very thoughtful and intentional about, but also careful to do because one of the things is, we're not trying to be a therapist, we're not trying to say we're providing that type of help. So, when we are creating an environment where we're sharing these personal stories, we have to be mindful of how that is going to create vulnerability in people, and how we're navigating those conversations.

Kenzie: Yeah.

Indhira: That's such a beautiful thing to have come to this project feeling alone and disconnected and wanting to find others with similar stories, and have effectively done that by creating the spaces where we get to meet in real life.

Kenzie: One thing that I really comes through is how highly personal this is, both in the sense that this has been a vehicle for you to explore your own journey in mental health, but also leveraging your professional skill set as a creative director and designer. So, has it been easy? Or has it been hard because you are so close to the work? Like, has that made those long nights to hit deadlines more manageable? Or can it actually aggravate the feelings you're trying to explore and understand?

Indhira: There is this phrase people say, "Oh, don't mix the personal with business," or that there should be this border between them, or things like this. I would say that Anxy has been the most significant and powerful work I've done in my whole creative career. I've never would have thought that that was possible through just going deeper into myself and my story, because we tend to look outside for the next bigger thing, the next bigger client, the next bigger project, or whatever, and sometimes that project is inside of us and that's where we need to start to look.

Kenzie: Right. No, yeah, that makes sense, because the more personal the work feels to us, I guess the deeper we're willing to go in our creativity and like you keep saying, the more vulnerable we're willing to be. I think creative work naturally needs a level of vulnerability, both from the creator, and the audience, to really have an impact. So, I guess my next question is what's next for Anxy?

Indhira: Yeah, so what's interesting about where Anxy is now is that Anxy started as, like I said, like a personal passion project, and we didn't really know what was going to happen. So, essentially our expectations has been to commit to Anxy, issue by issue, and wait to see what does the project need? And how this the project grow? We've kind of hit this inflection point where Anxy has become bigger than a passion project. It's a magazine that is being distributed and circulated all over the world, and we've won multiple awards and grew it a community of more than 30,000 people. That type of project requires a certain level of infrastructure that allows it to scale and expand, and as a small business with a small studio, I started to feel the tension of, "Can I hold what this project can become?"

Indhira: I thought about what would that require? And that would require some kind of capital investment and resources that would give us that boost to grow at that scale. One of the things that I was confronted with, was this notion that because we've been print oriented, and because we've been focused issue by issue, taking that leap was not going to be as easy as it seemed and that it required a lot of deep believe in the midst of what we're seeing is the collapse of the media publishing industry. I mean, in the past six or eight months alone, we've seen so many publication entities that have either closed, or scaled down, or lost their funding, or just been fully transitioned, and it's because we're moving into a world in which media is no longer funded by advertising.

Indhira: But, I don't think we yet know how is media going to be funded. Sadly, we've decided that we're going to close this project here, and we feel really proud with what we've done, and we know that this is a case study for how mental health can be dignified through design and art, and that others would use that as a spring forward into how we should be talking about wellness, and personal stories, and vulnerability.

Kenzie: Wow, the end of an era. I guess all my Anxy additions are collectors additions now. So, your studio Anagraph, well, I assume you're still doing Anagraph, right?

Indhira: No.

Kenzie: What?

Indhira: No, basically I've been like ... Well, this is interesting because the other thing that happened is, I had this huge surgery in July.

Kenzie: Oh my God.

Indhira: I never been hospitalized before. I was under for five hours, and as you can imagine, I was able to, the next day that you sleep one night at the hospital or more than one, depending on your recovery, but I was able to walk really slowly, and they were giving me all the meds you could imagine. But, I started to just have this moment of pause in my life where, here I am, surrendering to this experience. I can't use my faculties as I used to. I can't walk as well, I need assistance to do X, Y, Z. But that gives you a moment to reevaluate life. For me, it was realizing that running a studio while running the magazine, and trying to make these projects happen, was taking a space that was not sustainable.

Indhira: I really wanted to dive into Anxy as my main point of focus. I made that decision late last year, where I was like, if I had to choose between my studio and doing the work with Anxy, I think Anxy has so much potential of what it can give to the world, that I'm okay with moving away from consulting, to expanding the magazine. That's where the idea of thinking about what would it take to have it be bigger than a passion project, and starting to conceptualize that exploration of talking to potential people that could support us. It's hard, because as I've seen publications shutting down and losing their funding, it started to become really clear that something like Anxy succeeding in that climate, it's not going to be as strong. But yeah, so my life is taking a whole shift and it's really interesting because it's happening real time. I'm still making sense of it all. But, I feel like many times, again, we have this separation of personal and professional, and they're all sort of like informing each other, you know?

Kenzie: Yeah. Literally, this is like a major confluence of the personal and professional, and I guess a good lesson in how unexpected life can be. So, you decided to sunset your studio to focus on Anxy, and that gave you the opening you needed to evaluate how to scale Anxy-

Indhira: Right.

Kenzie: ... and that gave you the insight that the climate wasn't right, so where are you now? What's next for you on this journey?

Indhira: I am in the middle of that reflection right now, and what I'm really excited about is taking the lessons learned from this journey and building on it. I learned so much about myself that I didn't even know. Capacities that I have to solve problems when they seem really mysterious and complex. Capacities to build teams and work at a scale where you're producing content that is being consumed all over the world. I learned so much about what it takes to work in design at a higher level, where your work has that type of visibility.

Indhira: I'm really excited about building on that, and I don't know what that means right now in terms of where I'll land, or what role I would have, or how do I fit in that space, but I'm excited to find out, find organizations and institutions that are looking for people like me who have an entrepreneurial spirit and are really excited about the power of design.

Kenzie: This plot twist is actually really interesting. It's an interesting moment for me because I always have conversations about the inspiration and the drivers behind something, or like, a tangible project or thing. You know, like we can stand back and dissect something, but you've just pulled that conversation up a layer to something I'm even more passionate about, which is the art of reflection and finding purpose, and you're actually in that moment. Having come off these successful projects and achievements with Anagraph and Anxy, but now you're either fortunate to, or maybe forced to look at the great abyss of unknowing and do that hard work, that hard fuzzy work of defining what's next.

Indhira: It's not lost on me, this idea that, because again, coming here as an immigrant and working hard to get to where I am, we sometimes don't have the space or the privilege to dig into those inquiries, right? We have to do the work that we have to do. I've been able to slowly create a space after working in the industry for more than 10 years, and having many roles, to say, "You know what? I want to give myself a chance to explore what interests me." I think everyone should strive to connect to what's meaningful to them.

Indhira: When we look at what keeps people motivated and while we look at what keeps creative engaged, is really being connected to something that's more intrinsic, something that is not just a higher salary, or these benefits, but something that connects truly to who we are and that allows us to live with authenticity, and that's really important for me. I think that when we look at people who are doing their best work, it's coming from an authentic self-knowledge. I'm excited about that, because I feel like I'm in that path and it's about listening to what's happening now and observing it, and making sense of it, and just trying to stay authentic to who I am.

Kenzie: That's our show. If you'd like to learn more from the Accomplice team, visit us at itsworthdoingright.com, or drop us a line at podcast@itsworthdoingright.com. See you next time.