There's no need to reiterate how bad 2020 was. It was arguably harder on me than on your average person, due to a death in my immediate family (not to Covid). But aside from that, as I've put it to friends, I didn't have a good year but I had a good 2020. So in the spirit of optimism, and to update you lovely List of 9 loyalists on what I've been up to, here are my top nine achievements for last year.
- I turned 50. Any idiot can turn 50. But many idiots have not. Many great people too. It's a milestone and I'm happy to have reached it.
- I started drinking coffee. I'm sensitive to bitter tastes, so I avoided coffee all my life. But I swore I'd start drinking it once I hit my fifties. That day came sooner than expected when my friend Mike alerted me to his new company, Jot, which sells fair trade coffee as a concentrated liquid. Just add hot water (or milk or whatever) and drink! To support Mike, I bought a couple of bottles. Now I regularly drink coffee – black, mind you, no froufrou cream or sugar for me – like a grownup.
- I started eating kumquats. In a similar vein, I long disdained kumquats because of their sourness and the difficulty in eating them. But the little kumquat tree in our patio was bursting with fruit last spring, so after a quick Internet search on how to consume them – in short, squeeze the sour insides out and eat the sweet skin, or else pop the whole thing in your mouth for a sweet-sour sensation that grows on you – I became a fan. You're never too old to start liking something new.
- I embarked on a fantastic new personal project: L.A. Street Names. While I regret not updating this site more regularly with Lists of 9 and movie reviews (I'm way behind on all the movies now available on streaming), it's because in May I began a new project, L.A. Street Names. In short, I am researching and writing about the name origins of streets across Los Angeles County. It's been sucking up all my time. This is a true labor of love, something I've wanted to do since 2010, when I was hired to write blurbs about New Orleans for the Blu-ray release of the HBO drama Treme. One of my resources for that gig was a whimsical old book about New Orleans streets called Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children. Leafing through it, I thought, "I'd love to do something like this for Los Angeles." Now, finally, I am. This project is incredibly rewarding, and I can't wait to share all the fun and strange history that I've uncovered. It will be a website and app sometime this year. I will of course be touting it once it's ready.
- I got to talk about Words to Live by at a film festival. Literally two days before the county went into lockdown last March, I had the chance to screen my short film Words to Live by at the Pasadena International Film Festival. I state the following with some embarrassment, because it's an admission of vanity, but one of my goals with this film was simply to talk about it to an appreciative audience – to explain my inspiration for it, what I enjoyed about making it, etc. I was denied that opportunity at the 2019 Lake Placid Film Festival, as they regrettably didn't allow for filmmaker Q&As. But I got the chance in Pasadena, and that provided closure after a punishing series of festival rejections.
- I saw a therapist. I've always equated psychotherapy with physical therapy: useful for those who have experienced trauma and need help processing it, so that they may live well again. Otherwise, why go? Yet I've known people who would see shrinks for years and years and make zero progress in addressing their flaws and insecurities. I think they just want someone to complain to, and aren't actually interested in bettering themselves. So no, therapy was never for me. But in late 2019, partly due to Words to Live by's failures, I found myself feeling deeply discouraged and couldn't pull myself out of it. So I turned to a therapist to help me find the tools to do so. He basically just said, "Get yourself a new project! One that makes money, if possible!" Not the most illuminating advice, but I was there to do the work and follow suggestions. As a result, I finally decided to embark on L.A. Street Names (see above). So in that respect, therapy worked. Soon after, the sessions devolved into me complaining like everyone else. I knew then that I was done with therapy, the therapist agreed, and we parted on good terms.
- I landed a volunteering gig. This therapist also encouraged me to give back to the community in some way, beyond donating money. In the past, I had had nothing but bad experiences with volunteering. There was always some Type-A personality in charge who wanted to do all the interesting work and only gave me the idiot jobs, e.g.,"Stand here and open the door for people when they need it." (That's not an exaggeration; on several occasions that's all I was asked to do.) Last year it finally struck me that I would enjoy being a docent at a museum or garden. (When I was 19, I was a tour guide at the Winchester Mystery House, and I quite enjoyed leading tours. The job otherwise sucked.) The lockdown prevented that, but one garden did offer me a gig as a volunteer gardener, pulling weeds and such on my own time, unsupervised. It turned out to be the perfect escape: me in a beautiful 6 acre garden, working alone, for a few hours every week. The garden has barely even been open to the public, so mostly I am just tidying it up for myself.
- I left Facebook. I gave up on Twitter years ago – it's a cesspool. I never got into Instagram. But I was hooked on Facebook for a good long time, incessantly checking it instead of doing more productive things. I had left it before, only to return months later, because I was so hooked. In 2020, however, my feed had become all politics, all the time. It was soul-destroying. I was no longer hooked. I signed off last June and can't imagine going back.
- I visited some new cities. In a year that negated most travel, I was lucky, first of all, to squeeze in a trip to Maui with my wife in early February, when lockdown in the US was still unthinkable. It was our first time there, so we got to check out a couple of towns. During lockdown, however, we had to limit our travels to safe, quiet getaways to nearby destinations. This included Palm Springs and Big Bear, neither of which, incredibly, I had ever visited before, although both are just a two hour drive from LA. It was a reminder that there are always creative ways to work within the constraints you're given and make the most out of life.