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Why I wrote (and illustrated) Emet’s Box

After my son was born, I had a lot of time at home contemplating about the meaning of life. This time, I was not only thinking about myself but also about this new life in my care. What should I tell him? How should I teach him? Later, I realized that I am learning as much (if not more) from him than him from me.

I came across a quote by Joseph Campbell and it had a huge impact on me. He said:

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

I started asking what makes me feel alive? ( “feel alive” has made its way into Emet’s Box).

I love how my son wakes up every morning with a big smile and jumps right out of bed, ready for the day. At night, I can see that he is tired but he is still able to squeeze out energy to play. I want to have that kind of excitement waking up every morning and that kind of passion for living life!

I used to feel guilty if I am having too much fun. I would tell myself that I should be doing the more responsible (less fun) things. I think this idea was drilled into my head when I was growing up. Young children intuitively know how to live for a sense of life and they know being alive is the meaning of life! I wanted to tell children: don’t let anyone tell you how to be you. Only you know how to be you.

Joseph Campbell told his students to “follow your bliss.” The idea came from the Sanskrit Sat-Chit-Anada which means Being-Consciousness-Bliss. He said he didn’t know what being or consciousness was but he knew his bliss. He thought if he followed his bliss, it would lead him to being and consciousness.

I am trying to follow his advice.

Every time I visited the artsy district in my city, I would feel a surge of energy. I even wrote in my journal that I am destined to be an artist. I am going to art school.

I started drawing and painting with my son. He made this painting when he was one and a half years old. Grandpa was so proud he framed it and hung it in his room.

I also started taking art classes and volunteering at school art programs in my local art gallery.

Emet’s Box came out of my observation of young children. They are so carefree and creative, it’s inspiring! My hope is that they will always remember the spark, the brilliance and creativity that they were born with.

I want to encourage children to hold on to that feeling of being alive. Even if they have forgotten it like me (or Emet), it’s ok, as long as they look for it again.

The world nowadays is so complicated. There are so many different opinions and perspective out there (and more choices too). How do you know which one is right, which one is wrong? What do I tell my son? I realized that I am not going to be able to watch over him 24-7 and he wouldn’t want that either. I do believe that every one of us has a higher consciousness or inner guide that is all loving, compassionate and understanding. The only thing I can tell my son is to tap into this higher power to guide him in his life and the way to find that is to follow his bliss.

Joseph Campbell said: 

“…if you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you’re living somehow. And well, you can see it. You begin to deal with people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss, and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

Later, I came across Ken Robinson’s books and videos. His “Do Schools Kill Creativity” is the most watched TED Talk of all time. From his work, I understood the impact of the industrial boom and the need for schools to train future workers that follow the rules and not deviate from what the factory bosses wanted them to do. But now we are way past the industrial age. We need young people to be creative again, to think outside of the box and not afraid of making mistakes.

Ken Robinson encouraged people, especially young people, to try different things in order to find their interests and talents. When you are at the interception of your interests and talents, you are in your Element. (Some of his books are “The Element” and “Finding Your Element.”) Robinson also described being in your element as being “in the zone” which is very similar to “Bliss” that Joseph Campbell was talking about.

Both Ken Robinson and Joseph Campbell said finding your element (or bliss) is an organic process. You don’t know where it is going to lead you. You just have to follow your heart and trust that the path will light up. I always feel that everything that happened in my life happened for a reason. Maybe I couldn’t see it now but if I look back from a future point in my life, everything will make sense.

I like the original bio I wrote for Emet’s Box. It shows my acceptance of the uncertainty of life (it’s like an adventure) but they were edited out. Let me know what you think!

When Jeni Chen was a little kid living in Taiwan, she wanted to be Madonna (the singer) when she grew up, even though she could not carry a tune. She also watched a lot of Hollywood movies and wanted to move to America (later, her family immigrated to Canada which was close enough). In high school, Jeni fell in love with the magic of science. Because she liked working with her hands and was good at doing experiments, she ended up working in laboratories. Then she read some books about building businesses and buying real estate and she wanted to try those. Jeni thought about whether to get a puppy or a child. The baby that came inspired her to draw comics and obtain a Fine Art Certificate from Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Jeni never thought she would do public art until she was selected for a few in her city. She made a story about the feeling she got when doing what she loved and it became a picture book. Jeni realized that life was unpredictable but trying different things that she was interested in had led her to many wonderful experiences. Jeni has no idea what she will do next but is excited about the new adventures that she will be on! She would love to hear from you about what brings you joy and you can find her at

Note: Both quotes by Joseph Campbell came from The Power of Myth, originally an interview of Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyer.


  1. Lovely post, Jeni. I’m looking forward to your book.

    • Jeni Chen Jeni Chen

      Thank you Claire! I think you are the first comment on my blog that’s not spam =)

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