Inspired by a year-end list made by my friend, colleague, and former student Olga Verkhotina, I decided to sit down and reflect on at least 10 good things that happened to me this past year.1. Sharing my 100 Days, 100 Portraits project
In the 100 days from Feb. 24 to June 2, I managed to make and post 100 portraits to my Instagram feed, a daily feat of artistic self-discipline that I still in many ways cannot believe I accomplished. Friends, family, and strangers alike embraced the project, and I felt lucky to present the portraits in three very different venues to three very different audiences: on a Central Valley art bus tour that ranged from Fowler to Pixley and back, in a statewide art festival at a big-city gallery in the heart of San Francisco, and inside a Tower District co-work space designed for Fresno creatives. The whole experience still seems surreal to me, and I’m thankful for the kind responses. 2. Contributing research and field work for KQED
I didn’t produce as much freelance journalism work in 2013 as I had the previous two years, but I learned to be okay with that. The journalistic highlight of my year came in the summer, working with friend and colleague Sasha Khokha of KQED Public Radio. I traveled to Huron, Avenal, and Hanford to contribute field recordings for Sasha’s important radio stories about Rape in the Fields, part of an extensive Frontline multimedia series that documented sexual assault against female farmworkers. And I logged nearly 50 hours as one of two field researchers for the Hunger in the Valley of Plenty project, a Center for Investigative Reporting documentary series on food insecurity in the Central Valley. I learned a lot. 3. Re-joining the Board of Directors at Fresno Filmworks
I’ve been a fan of Filmworks since its inception in 2002, and I’ve been involved with the cultural arts organization in some form since 2007. I decided to re-join the board in December 2012, and I served as Communication Director through July 2013. I then became President in August 2013, through the present. While working with sponsors, donors, and our audience members this past year, I’ve met so many interesting and unusual people that I would never have otherwise met. And on the marketing end, I’ve been plopped down on the other side of the newspaper notebook, TV camera, and radio microphone, now becoming the subject being interviewed by my broadcast journalist friends and colleagues. Representing Filmworks feels like a monthly whirlwind, and it has made me a much stronger media professional, teacher, and communicator in so many ways. 4. Working as a mentor to Filmworks marketing interns
One of my favorite parts of teaching is one-on-one mentoring, something I haven’t had much chance to do in recent years as an adjunct community college instructor with a heavy teaching load. So this past year, I made my own opportunity: At Filmworks, we created a Media Relations and Communication Intern position, with me as the supervisor. The interns have all served as hands-on content producers, creative consultants, and event staff. I got a chance to work with three young media professionals who are all really going places: Olga Verkhotina, Andrew Veihmeyer, and Colby Tibbet. It took a ton of time and energy to meet with them each week, give them feedback on their work, and generally design a worthwhile internship experience for them. But every minute was worth it to me. 5. Teaching film studies classes
Through my connection with friend, teaching mentor, and fellow Filmworks board member John Moses, I got an amazing opportunity to teach film studies classes at Fresno City College this past year. I taught intro to film in the spring, and I taught cinema history 1960-present in the fall. The whole experience was a real crash course for me in visual literacy and film theory, not to mention learning about, understanding, and applying international film history and national cinema movements. Some of my favorite film discoveries and re-discoveries of the year included: Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2,” Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon,” Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and Sally Potter’s “Orlando.” I fell a bit behind catching new movies over the course of the year, because I was so busy studying old movies! Watching movies sure makes for tough homework assignments (wink wink, nudge nudge). 6. Getting settled as an adjunct instructor at Fresno City College
Fresno State parted ways with me in 2009, after I taught journalism and advised student media there since 2002, and ever since I have bounced around quite a bit on the community college adjunct circuit. The semester-to-semester work uncertainty, especially during the recession, has been one of the most difficult parts of my working life, as I’ve taught multiple subjects and classes at multiple campuses now for five full years. But 2013 seemed to yield a semi-regular assignment for me just five minutes away from my house, all at Fresno City College: one journalism class, one film studies class, and one English composition class. I was assigned the maximum 10 units each semester– the most units a community college adjunct can accept in one district– and even though I was teaching three different classes in three different disciplines, I was still teaching a lot of the same types of material: media literacy, critical thinking, and writing. The volume is never easy; serving about 100 students in the three classes always proves challenging. But knock on wood, it feels like I’ve found a decent spot for now. 7. Assigning my Journ 1 students an oral history project
The Spring 2014 semester will mark the 10th semester in a row that I’ve taught one section of the Journ 1 intro to mass communication class. Of course, the materials change about every other semester due to the rapid changes in media. But in 2013, I made a big upgrade of my major assignments, inspired by my friend and colleague Susan Currie Sivek, who used to teach journalism at Fresno State but now teaches at Linfield College near Portland, Ore. The big assignment in the class is now an oral history project, where I have the students interview someone 65+ about their media experiences over the course of their lives. Students then produce a 2-minute multimedia clip for sharing with the class and also write a 1000-word paper analyzing the experience and connecting it back to their own media use. The projects are always a hit. It gets students to connect with, figure out, and use the media tools they already have in their pockets. But most importantly, it gives them significant quality time with an elder, and that time always yields profound results. 8. Reading for myself
I’m proud that I read a baker’s dozen worth of books this year, which averages out to about one book per month. I didn’t have much time for reading during the school semesters, but I had a fruitful summer that balanced out the year. For teaching, I read two dense but excellent film studies textbooks, and for my English 1 class I also re-read Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” (spring) and Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” (fall). I managed to read new books by James Ardaiz, Lee Herrick, and the Masumoto Family while writing three book reviews for Fresno Life Magazine, which was a lot of fun. Beyond that, my selections were eclectic personal choices: “How Music Works” by David Byrne; “Music for Chameleons” by Truman Capote; “What is the What” by Dave Eggers; “The Trial” by Franz Kafka; “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury; and “Orlando” by Virginia Woolf. My book list is already quite long for 2014! 9. Moving slowly forward on several home improvement projects
My wife and I didn’t have much extra money this year to do any major house upgrades, but we managed to make a few smaller projects into a reality. In the front yard, we started digging out what’s left of the lawn. We only got about halfway done with that, but this spring we hope to keep going. In the back yard, we planted three new trees– an apricot, a peach, and a nectarine– and we harvested our first crop from our meyer lemon, pomegranate, and tangerine trees, which are now 2-3 years old. We also dug out two new planter boxes for herbs and vegetables, to go with the two active beds we already had. Inside the house, we bought a new dishwasher, and we started working on finishing and painting the walls in the garage. It’s always hard finding the money, time, and energy for home improvement, but we were pleased with our slow and steady progress. 10. Eating healthier and losing weight
In 2013, my wife transformed our food life at home. In February, Tracy completed a 28-day vegan challenge through her yoga studio and then she spent the rest of the year teaching herself how to cook delicious vegan food. We eliminated all meat products and most dairy products from our kitchen, replacing them with vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. I decided that I would eat vegan whenever I’m with Tracy. The exceptions: I do still eat Greek yogurt and very small amounts of high-quality cheese, and I do indulge in meat or eggs from time to time when I eat out. But overall, my health and diet have improved drastically. I won’t disclose the pounds lost. But let’s just say that I’ve lost a significant amount of weight, so much that I’ve had to start wearing smaller clothes! Most importantly, on a mostly vegan diet, I feel healthier and happier than I have in a long time. Can’t wait to continue to make more lifestyle improvements in 2014.
What were some of your 2013 highlights? Please share them with me in the comments.