“Wearing the Hat” is a series where staff writer Bella Taylor showcases the incredible people in the Isla Vista community and all of the “hats” they choose to wear as they bring their passions to life.
Liam Ereneta (@liam.oce on Instagram) is a 4th-year UCSB student from Berkeley, California who has since gained a great following after posting his first TikTok in September of this past year. His “this week in 20-something-hood” videos are supported by 79,000+ followers on Instagram with a whopping 6.7 million people viewing his most viral video about toast with olive oil and his best friend’s boots. He adds a poetic touch to mundane everyday activities in an effort to romanticize his life and inspire others to do the same.
I had the privilege to talk to Liam about his creative work and learn more about who he is as we discussed his process and his passions. Below are some of Liam’s answers to my icebreaker questions before we dove into our conversation.
What is your go-to Freebird’s order?
LE: I think if you’re going to Freebird’s you have to get the nachos. Everything’s pretty expensive anyway. Just get the nachos.
What is your favorite spot in Isla Vista?
LE: It’s probably the Bluffs at Dev’s. You can’t beat that, especially at sunset when you go out there and see everybody, like, it’s unreal.
What is one item on your bucket list?
LE: Ride my bike across the country. Summer before our senior year of high school, my 2 buddies and I, we had seen these people on the internet do “bikepacking” where you strap all your camping gear to your bikes and we were like, “We wanna try that” and so a week before our senior year of high school, we did our first bike trip and, I mean, it was so hard. We had no idea what we were doing but we loved it so ever since then, we’ve done a trip every summer and we rode our bikes to Montana a couple of months ago so that’s why I want to ride my bike all the way across the country and do that again.
What is something you truly value about yourself?
LE: I’ve been getting better at saying “no” to things I don’t want to do and I’ve just been loving that. It sucks to go to plans that you don’t want to go to.
What do you do for a creative outlet?
LE: I really like photography. I shot film for a long time because I think it’s also a really good way to romanticize your life and I would love to take more photos and maybe write some longer form stuff. I really enjoy camping and riding my bike so I think doing longer forms like, “Here was my trip to wherever” and just putting it on a website or something would be nice.
What is a day or moment in your life you’d like to relive?
LE: I went surfing under the full moon a few months ago with my housemates and our friends and that was an unreal experience so to do that again would just be amazing.
Like many other UCSB students who share the ocean as their backyard, surfing is a skill Liam picked up about 3 years ago when he first moved to Santa Barbara to start school here. He’s even joined the surf team, although jokes about not being good enough to actually compete. He shared with me his love for the outdoors, whether it be surfing, biking, or camping.
“I make videos and then I mostly just go do these outdoor things and I’m honestly kind of jealous of the people who get sponsored by REI. That would be my dream, but I guess I need to make more outdoor content,”
Liam comments. Although Ereneta hasn’t quite reached his goal of partnering with REI just yet, I would say the videos he does make, with outdoor content or not, successfully fulfill his main message that is the driving force behind his content. Liam’s goal with his videos is to “romanticize [his] life but more so to inspire other people to romanticize their life.” Ereneta gives us more insight into this thought process:
“I think if you don’t, life is just going to fly by and you're going to do it anyway, especially when we live in such a world with so much media. It’s so easy to see everybody else’s lives perfectly curated and I think documenting your life, even the day-to-day and mundane things, helps you enjoy it so much more and I think if you document your life throughout the day and go back and look through it, the days go by slower. Something I’m scared of is the time going by really fast so I think helping people romanticize their lives is my big focus right now.”
Liam’s goals don’t stop there, though.
“Initially [the videos] were definitely just for fun and I think for me to have a creative outlet. As they’ve gained more attraction, I think it would be really rewarding to write a book one day. A lot of people have commented and been like, “When are you writing a book” or “You should start a podcast” and I think whatever I do, I don’t want to rush into it. I want it to be something I look back on and am really proud of because I could write a book right now but I don’t think I would be very proud of that in 10 years. So I think the process of having to write 250 words per day or every other day that I’m really proud of and if that, in 10 years, leads to me writing a book that I’m really proud of, then I think that’s a really big end goal for me.”
As Liam mentions living in a world immersed in social media, I ask if his experience with it has been more positive or negative.
“It’s totally a double-edged sword, as you can imagine. The DM’s I get from people are like, “This helped me get through the week” or “This helped me with this” and those are so rewarding and so sweet but it is hard. Right now I’m working on waking up and trying to not check my phone for an hour because waking up and seeing that a video I posted is not doing as well as I thought it would is crushing but also such a weird problem to have, like, who even cares? Thankfully it’s not my full-time job right now so it doesn’t have to be that every video gets more and more views so I’m working on trying to let go of that.”
He communicates that he’ll rewatch a lot of his videos, especially the ones that have done pretty well, and laughs in shock that he is the one who made these videos. Liam says he thinks he will feel pretty nostalgic about his past videos once he doesn’t live in Isla Vista anymore, a page that seems pretty hard to turn as a UCSB student nearing the end of their chapter.
How do you think Isla Vista contributes to your videos?
LE: Every year people try documenting how special Isla Vista is so it’s just so hard to explain it because my friends will come to visit and they’ll be like, “Dude, this is trashy” and I’m like, “No, you don’t understand.” They’re like, “Why is that guy barefoot?” and I’m like, “No, you don’t understand.” I think if it weren’t such a place full of energy and life all the time, I wouldn’t feel such a need to document it. So I think if I didn’t live here, I wouldn’t be doing what I do. It’s just such a special place. It’s just all young people out all the time and it feels so special. I love seeing people, whether it’s in Word magazine or in The Daily Nexus, trying to capture IV for all that it is because you can never fully capture it but it’s so awesome to see people try because that’s what I’m trying to do too.
Ereneta and I agree that there is something magical in the fact that Isla Vista is typically temporary for many students here. We stand on common ground that it is actually beneficial that we are only here for such a short amount of time because it causes us to truly soak in our numbered days.
“I was thinking about that because someone I know graduated and stayed in IV this year because they loved it so much and it’s like, I get it, but that’s a dangerous game to play because you do that and you start to resent your life a little bit because you didn’t leave. That seems like a fine line to walk to me. So as much as I want another year here, I feel like you almost have to leave when you’re in love with it because otherwise, you're just going to fall out of love with it and then it’s going to be bad.”
Blake Kasemeier @blakeoftoday is someone that Liam draws immense inspiration from. Blake creates videos with the same format as Liam’s but about fatherhood rather than “20-something-hood.” Liam stated that after watching Blake’s videos all summer, he felt the urge to try to replicate Blake’s process. He explains his process some more:
“A lot of people will ask me, “What’s your process, what app do you use, blah blah blah” but I think if you want to do something bad enough, like, you’re just going to do it. So I downloaded Capcut cause I was like, “This is probably what he uses” so I just did that and I didn’t know what I was doing so I was like, “Okay, I’m going to write some stuff” and then I figured out that it’s around 250 words and then I just recorded my week as best I could and put them together. I think if Blake hadn’t done it that way, I probably wouldn’t have done it that way so I definitely drew a lot of inspiration from him.”
What was it about Blake of Today’s videos that spoke to you specifically?
LE: I think the fact that he could take, like being a parent, especially to young kids like he is, is not glamorous, or I imagine it’s not and I think thefact that he could take that process which, I’m sure is very rewarding in and of itself but also very draining, and review it every week because I’m sure that time is flying by for him as his kids get bigger. I think it was really appealing to see the way that he kind of slowed down his life and started romanticizing his life even if it’s not always romanticizing but just reflecting on things that happened that week. I think that was really rewarding for me to be like, “Alright, let’s slow it down” and “This thing was really hard for me this week and challenged me but what did we learn from that,” like, I think that was awesome.
Did you ever feel insecure posting these videos and gaining an online presence by putting yourself out there on the internet? Were you worried about the judgment you could receive from friends and strangers on social media?
LE: That’s a good question. I think Blake made a video about this recently where he was talking about why he makes these videos even though it takes a bunch of time and he says it really well and I’m not going to say it really well but I think for me, the first video, like, I wasn’t working, I was bored, I wasn’t in class, I just felt like I didn’t have anything to do and I think it was almost more stressful to not make the video or not write it down or not put it out there than to, like, put it out there and be afraid of what people were going to think. When you really need to say something, or you really need to make something, there’s just more pain in not doing it than doing it and facing the criticism for it. I didn’t even really think about the criticism because I just felt secure in that, like, my friends weren’t going to make fun of me for it so I was like, “Alright, that’s good enough.”
Liam has an applaudable attitude when it comes to validation and his writing. When asked if he ever pitches his ideas to others before he posts about them, he responds that he’s only ever done that once, and with what he now considers his favorite video he’s made so far:
“It’s funny so I’ve only done that with one video, the one about people coming to my house to see if we’re re-leasing. After I wrote that script, I wrote that first without a video and I liked it so much that I sent it to my friends from high school and I was like, “Guys, I really like this one.” That’s the only time I’ve done that.”
Ereneta takes me through his strategy for producing his videos. He elaborates that he’ll “have a story in [his] head that [he] wants to tell,” and then he’ll go shoot a video for it after writing it out or, more often than not, he’ll film his week and write something after he has his footage. When writer’s block takes over, Liam gets himself out of it by resorting to classic pen and paper for writing out his ideas because of the fact that he can’t “delete” it like he could on his original Notes app approach.
How did you get your start on writing and when did you begin to realize you have a deep passion for it?
LE: That’s so funny because I honestly avoided writing in high school and middle school. I think I was such a perfectionist about it that I didn’t want to put myself in situations a lot where I knew I would spend so long trying to write something and then hating it and having to just start over. I guess, maybe, in high school, my English teacher would give me feedback like, “This was really good” but I didn’t write personally or do any creative writing until, like, not even college, really. I think it was really just, like, I’m bored and I know I can kind of write so if I really wanted to I could do it so I was like, “Alright, let’s just try it.”
Liam notes that when you grow up with a knack for something, you think that it’s something everyone can do until people inform you otherwise. Even with the validating comments he receives from his supportive followers about his poetic writing, such as “This is the most beautifully written video I have ever laid my eyes on” and “Thanks for putting words to such wordless feelings” and “This is the best thing I’ve heard in forever,” he confesses that he doesn’t consider his writing to be anything special.
“I was texting my friend this morning I was like, “75,000 people think I have something interesting to say, like, are you kidding me?” It is funny because if someone was like, “What do you like to do for fun?” I would not say writing. I still don’t feel very good about it so it is crazy that so many people find value in it and I feel lucky that I can provide that for some people because I think it’s cathartic to see someone else describe exactly how you’re feeling. So, it’s nice that I can do that for other people.”
Liam says that for him, “feelings are this abstract, infinite shape and words are this finite, rigid thing and it’s trying to close the gap between how you put words together to describe the feelings and trying to get those closer and closer together because it’s so hard to perfectly describe feelings. I think that’s what I’m always trying to do, is closing the gap between what my words are conveying and how that comes off compared to how I’m actually feeling.” He continues on about his poetic form that really ropes people into his videos:
“I’ve consciously started to take something that somebody does in their everyday life and then apply that to a feeling. Now that I’ve consciously started to do that though, I just feel like there’s no boundary. I could make a metaphor out of anything, and it’s, like, the line between cheesy and super, super poignant is, like, so fine and I’m trying really hard to walk it.”
In regards to his short videos and reels, Ereneta articulates that he “keeps making videos in pursuit of trying to perfectly capture feelings.” He’s aware that this is something that is always changing for him, especially as feelings are more nuanced with age. He often thinks to himself, “What’s the best way to document this feeling or put it into words.” He gives credit to short-form videos like this as they were the kick he needed to start making videos. Now that he’s done it, he feels a sense of accomplishment and confidence although “there might totally be indecisiveness in what medium [he] uses to best capture what [he’s] trying to do.”
While Ereneta has only been recognized twice in public by other people as “Liam from Instagram,” it is not shocking to know that his videos have been reached by many from all over the country.
“Oh it’s wild, it’s so wild. It’s hard to embody it. My girlfriend was like, 'Somebody I went to summer camp with when I was 10 just sent me your video and was like, ‘Is this your boyfriend?’ and there’s been so many connections like that so, yeah, it’s so wild. It’s really cool to see that number next to my follower count but it’s so arbitrary until you hear those stories about like, “My friend from back home saw your video and sent it to me” and “My mom just sent me your video.”
Did you feel a form of identity crisis/imposter syndrome gaining a bigger audience and taking on this new persona/title of being an influential video creator on your personal social media?
LE: Oh, for sure. When I go home and see friends I haven’t seen in a long time, now they’re like, “Oh my god, how does it feel being an influencer?” and I’m like, “I am not an influencer okay,” like, no it’s total imposter syndrome, for sure. I think it’s hard when that video about people knocking on our door, like, that was the first video to get a million views and it’s hard to make stuff like that and have it do so well and then you have to keep making stuff and well, like, how’s it going to be just as good? So, yeah, total imposter syndrome and, like, brands DMing me being like, “Hey, can we send you some stuff?” and that’s crazy, I never expected that.
Do you see yourself ending these videos anytime soon?
LE: That’s a good question. There are days when it definitely feels like a grind to make something. My uncle over Christmas break actually gave me a great idea he was like, “You should write a script for a video you could pull out at any time and it would basically be like the season finale but then maybe there would be a cliffhanger at the end so it would be like, “Is he going to come back or not?” so if I needed to take a break then I could just use that. I haven’t thought about stopping anytime soon but I’m sure I’ll probably take a break at some point. I think right now I’m trying to capitalize on Instagram where I’m gaining 1,000 followers a day which is nuts so I’m trying to take advantage of that for as long as it’s happening and then, I don't know, maybe I’ll take a break this summer or something.
Do you feel you owe people to continue video-making?
LE: I mean, kind of, yeah, that’s for sure a part of it. Some of the comments I get are unreal like, “This is my favorite account” or “I wait for these videos all day” or “I only open Instagram for this.” It’s like, “Oh, wow okay” so for sure there’s an aspect of that but I think also the fact that they're only a minute long, and if you’ve watched all of them and you’re up to date you probably know a decent amount about my life and I think about Casey Neistat’s vlogs and I mean, I’m sure there was stuff in his life that he didn't put in there but you knew what he was doing in his life that was day to day and I think that’s a different level and I’m not like mentioning in my video like, “Alright, here’s this essay that’s due in, like, 3 weeks and here’s my progress on it.”I mean, yeah, the big life things for sure so I guess I would feel less bad about it if I stopped because, like, yeah my girlfriend has been in a couple of videos but it’s not like people watch me because they’re invested in my relationship, you know what I mean?
Do you experience Fear Of Missing Out, not getting to do it all, only being here at UCSB for a short time, etc. and how do you battle that struggle?
LE: I think in a similar way I think about like, “Wow, there’s so much time in life” or “There’s so many jobs in life I would love to do,” and it’s like you can’t realistically do all of them. Yeah, it is so hard. The waves are really good today and I went to go check them out with my housemates earlier and I just wasn’t feeling it and I went to the library instead and it’s, like, I was just struggling with that because I hope for these waves all year and they come and I’m not feeling it and then I’m like, “Okay, who am I, like, do I actually surf?” Yeah it’s hard I think I’ve just gotten enough practice saying no to things and before I started saying no to things I would go places and be like, “Okay, I don’t actually love it here” and so I think practicing that skill eases my FOMO but it is hard with 6 months left here. I’m still learning new things about UCSB where I’m like, “Oh, I should’ve done that” and I think that’s why you should romanticize your life because if I had told 10-year-old me about our life since then he’d be like, “Dude, you’re so cool” but yeah it’s hard.
Are you a believer in “Everything happens for a reason?”
LE: Oh, that’s so hard. This is so hard because a couple of years ago, my friend passed away, and if you had asked me that, that year, I would’ve been like, “Pshh, no what are you saying?” I want to say yes now but not wholeheartedly. There’s this really good Steven Colbert quote where he’s talking about his mom or his wife passing away, I don’t remember, but he’s like, “If you’re going to enjoy life, you’ve got to enjoy the hard parts too,” so maybe less so “everything happens for a reason” and more so “you’ve got to love all of it, the hard parts too.”
In true “this-week-in-20-something-hood” fashion, what is your screen time?
LE: I think it’s, like, 7 hours a day, down 1% from last week. It’s bad.
Liam’s final thoughts leave a lasting impression on all those who choose to listen:
“I think the only thing would be if you really want to make something, just make it. I definitely used to get caught up with “What equipment does that guy have?” and “What bike does that guy have?” and it’s like, if you want to do something bad enough, just do it and, you know, just go from there.”
Liam Ereneta does a strikingly fantastic job at reminding us all, 20-something-year-olds or not, to just do the damn thing. His magnetic words truly attract young adults and college students as he always hits the bullseye on describing exactly what people are thinking and feeling. In a world thriving off of fast-living and “perfect” lives, it is most important to slow down and romanticize our own to the best of our ability before we don’t have one to romanticize any longer. Thank you, Liam:)