Saturday, January 1, 2022

Year in Review: 2021

Hello! It's the end of the year, and this is my THIRTEENTH annual year-in-review post! See also: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. This is a self-centric and navel-gazey exercise, but I keep it up because it helps me keep track of my goals, remember what happened each year, and take a moment to say "thank you" for it all.

2021 Accomplishments / Highlights: 

  • I married my best friend! It was full-blown pandemic times, and I was in a 90-day-fiance situation with a tight deadline to tie the knot before we'd be torn apart again for who-knows-how-long. Our families had to watch via a livestream on their iPads (my folks had fun with it by dressing fancy on the top half and staying in PJs on the bottom half). We had a TINY, last-minute courthouse wedding in the dead of winter with a 6pm curfew. But still...I married my best friend! In Paris That "small, courthouse wedding" in the 20th Arrondissement City Hall was absolutely stunning, no decorations needed from us. We were only allowed a handful of friends, but they showed UP for us and made it THE. BEST. DAY. Chloé Vollmer-Lo took gorgeous photos of the wedding, plus she gave us a bonus photoshoot day running around empty, pandemic, dead-of-winter Paris in our suit & dress! It felt like the world really wanted some good news, and I was shocked how many strangers stopped to wish us well or just smile / cheer when they saw us.
  • Newlywed life! Y'all, we waited a LONG TIME for this, and it was worth the wait. Not having a looming date on the calendar, where my husband or I has to leave and go back to our country, is amazing. We finally get to build a LIFE together. Sunday brunches, gym dates, movies, raclette nights, framing and hanging up our Louis Thomas portrait, decorating our apartment for the holidays together...Even when we're just doing mundane stuff, like planning meals for the week and divvying up house chores, I love it. The romance side of things is awesome, but so is the cottage-core aspect of having a daily life partner. I finally feel like our life together has started in a way it never could before the wedding and before me immigrating here to be with him full-time.
  • FAR FROM THE TREE, the 7-minute animated short film I pitched/directed/wrote, premiered in theaters around the world in front of ENCANTO! I was in Portland for Thanksgiving the week of the premiere, and my parents arranged for a private screening with some family & Portland friends. I will never forget that.  The responses to the film have been fantastic. NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED interviewed me about the film. Every day I get teary-eyed and/or a good belly laugh from the reactions to the film in my DMs and on social media.
  • I moved to Paris in August to live with Le Husband, since US immigration right now is...well. (If you also tried to immigrate to the US during Trump/Covid, we feel your pain.) Immigrating to a new country means completing a LONG list of necessary tasks, with varying degrees of difficulty, cost, and annoyance. We're making good progress on them: I got my visa & vaccines, paid my immigration fees, went to the OFII doctor appointment & civics classes, changed my address on all of my forms/profiles/subscriptions, opened a French bank account and connected all the payments to that, got a French SIM card & phone plan, and applied for my Carte Vitale & tax number. There's always more to do, but I'm proud of us for all the progress we've made in just 5 months.
  • Paris is NICE. Paris is PRETTY. Paris has DELICIOUS FOOD and MUSEUMS and HISTORY. I am basking in the novelty of living in Paris! I feel like Abe Maisel every time I head out from the apartment to write in a cafe!
  • I accepted the Head of Story role on IWAJU. I got to oversee a superstar team of 15 Story Artists and Revisionists this year. It challenged me a lot and pushed me to grow in new ways. It's also a joy to get to work on a team with old friends from Disney like Marlon West and Fabienne Rawley. When I moved to Paris this year, I was even able to stay on the project thanks to all of the innovation that has happened around working from home. I work some funky evening hours, but hey, I'll take it!
  • I signed with The Gotham Group and my Managers have been wonderful so far.
  • I got to work with my buddy Jeff Parker, which is something I've wanted since, like, my early Helioscope Studio days, circa 2009. I got to illustrate a 10-page story that Jeff wrote for RED SONJA: BLACK WHITE RED volume 2!
  • After getting vaccinated, Le Husband and I were able to visit Maui for a belated honeymoon! We hiked, drove the Road to Hana, lazed on the beach, ate delicious local food, and even saw sea turtles while snorkeling on the last morning.
  • Looking back, we were surprised to realize that we actually did quite a bit of traveling in 2021. Some of it was for professional events, like THU and LICAF and FRAMES. We also saw my folks in Oregon and Le Husband's folks in the French countryside more than once. We did a lot of car/camping/hiking-style travel to limit covid exposure, and we got to visit Sequoia National Park and Death Valley with our dear friends Carrie and Sam. Le Husband and I also drove from LA to Portland, stopping in San Francisco, the Humboldt Redwoods, and Trinidad.
  • I made Hourly Comics again this year. That's a 4-year streak for me! Sharing honestly, even though I had a very bad mental-health day, opened up really nice conversations with other artists and readers who know that feel, bro. This was also the final straw for me, spurring me to finally set up my first tele-therapy appointment.
  • I worked with a great therapist this year! She said it would be alright for me to plug her business since she is open to new clients, so: her name is Marta Bringas, she specializes in Hollywood career issues, and she is *wonderful*. She helped me a lot to manage my stress, depression, and anxiety. Her goal is to teach people the tools they need, coach them for a while, and then get out of their life so they can successfully self-manage going forward.
  • I still feel a bit burnt out and uninspired, but my creativity was on the mend in 2021 compared to 2020. I tried not to pressure myself, and I saw some encouraging signs of recovery.
  • I made a couple more Youtube videos this year.
  • I got to team up with Josie Trinidad and start a studio initiative at Disney for Women and NB Story Artists. 
  • I hit "Coast" FIRE this year! I was in debt when I arrived in LA, but 6 years of working Animation Guild (union) jobs, living below my means, aggressively saving, and investing what I could added up quickly. I'm proud of myself. I feel more relaxed about money than I have in a long time. 
  • Le Husband is a good person who attracts good people. I got to meet 3 new people that I think I can call "friends" now.
  • My LA / Disney friends gave me a really nice going-away party at Idle Hour in Burbank. I get choked up just thinking about it. I met such incredible people in LA!! It was really hard to leave these people.
  • Moving abroad into a much smaller living space was the perfect moment to weed out my possessions. I arrived in Paris lugging 2 suitcases with just the bare essentials. I'll try to stick to a minimalist lifestyle here in Paris. It sure makes cleaning / organizing easier! I love my capsule wardrobe so far. Fewer pieces and fewer colors means everything matches everything, and it's easier to get dressed in the morning. The Cladwell app is a bit overpriced, imho, but it was helpful in selecting the pieces I would keep in order to curate that capsule wardrobe.
  • Le Husband also did a couple rounds of weeding out his stuff, which made room for me to move in and also just gave us a lot more room to LIVE in the apartment (and again: less to clean, YAY). We hosted a few apéros at our place after deep cleaning it. Pride!
  • I treated myself big before leaving the US to a new computer and a DSLR camera.
  • Did a big moving sale when I left LA. It was fun giving my furniture away to friends and neighbors, and donating boxes and boxes of books to Burbank libraries. I sold all my boxes of I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation and personalized them for folks all over the US (THANK YOU if you bought one!). Then I drove my trusty dusty Corolla up to Portland and sold her for almost as much as I paid for her 6 years ago, because of the 2021 car shortage. It felt very full-circle driving back up I-5 to Oregon, where the whole LA adventure began 6 years ago.
  • After 2 solid years of introspection and stress over the "should I have kids" question, I've finally settled into a peaceful place. I feel really good about the plan with my husband. I love our current little family with all my heart. It's a huge relief to have gone through all that questioning, research, and therapy, and to arrive at this place of peacefully knowing that we're going to have a great life whether we are 2 or 20.
  • I saw a dermatologist who helped me so much with my acne! She prescribed 3 inexpensive OTC products and 1 expensive prescription product, and they helped me so much - in just 2 months I went from feeling pretty down about my skin to feeling happy every time I looked in the mirror.
  • While I was still living in LA and home alone a lot of the time, Chloe Ting's channel was my free, quarantine, home-workout happy place. After coming to Paris, Le Husband and I found a bouldering gym that we LOVE, and it's been a real source of joy for me going there regularly with him! I had no idea what a great workout bouldering hits your arms, legs, butt, abs, and back. :0 The best part is: we don't have BACK PAIN anymore since we starting bouldering! Amazing!

2021 Shortcomings / Lowlights: 

(I'll stick to the personal here and omit the obvious / global lowlights of 2021)
  • It was really hard leaving Walt Disney Animation Studios. I got so much out of my 6 years there: friends, mentors, art education, fun Story Room experiences with incredible artists, and even the opportunity to direct 2 short films based on my own ideas. I had to move abroad because US immigration is such a mess that my husband could not join me in the US. I had to go where I could be with my husband, and I know in my heart that was absolutely the right choice, but...I hope this is not the end of my story with Disney. It was very hard to leave LA not knowing if I'll be able to work in that building again.
  • I spent the last 6 years living below my means, staying in rentals with multiple roommates well into my 30's, all with the goal of saving up to buy my first home. I showed up in France this August with my hard-won savings, ready to shop with my husband, turns out that I can't get a mortgage in France because I don't have a French tax history. It'll be at least 2023 before my income is recognized by French lending institutions. The apartment we're currently in was a great bachelor pad but not a great family home, so it looks like we'll have to move to another rental in the meantime. Ugh. I'm sick of renting and I'm sick of moving! It makes me feel like: what all the scrimping and saving for? Did I suffer for nothing?
  • I still miss my US friends and family like crazy. The pandemic is still going strong, and I just moved even further away from them.
  • I am NOT as good at communicating regularly with my family as I want to be. Especially my brothers.
  • The world has definitely made big strides toward a sustainable new "normal", but things like immigration, moving, and traveling are still incredibly unpredictable. We had flights canceled, trips shortened, and we paid out the nose for rental cars in 2021. I would have loved to take FAR FROM THE TREE to film festivals, but most of them were canceled or online-only this year. Le Husband and I had hoped to do a couple more things around the LA area before leaving, but planning trips was just too chaotic and expensive.
  • There was a long stretch of time this year when I did not have health insurance in France, and I'm pretty overdue for the dentist, among other things. I'm nervous I won't be able to get a tooth cleaning for another 6 months, because I hear that in French dental practices, new patients are the lowest priority to fit in. I'm nervous I'll have lots of cavities by the time I can see a dentist.
  • There was stress over health in our circles this year, Covid and otherwise. A lot of friends lost family members. I wish I could have seen them in person, offered more support than digital messages.
  • My husband and I did have some predictable friction when I moved in with him. He's been in the same apartment for almost 20 years, and it was definitely set up for HIM and his needs. It was entirely filled up with HIS stuff. And as much as I identify as a minimalist, I had to admit that my stuff took up a lot of space in the bathroom, the closet, and the kitchen. We had to find a new equilibrium that worked for both of us. We had to compromise, and we had to have a lot of mundane, uncomfortable conversations.
  • I'm still doing all of my work on a sawhorse desk set up in a hallway, sitting on a broken rolling chair that hurts my back, with my husband walking back and forth behind me, and zero walls blocking me from the kitchen or living room sounds. I've conducted some of the most important interviews of my life in a basement, with a water-stained yellow wall for a background, with my laptop balanced precariously on a laundry drying rack, with a shadow passing over me when my husband passes by to use the toilet. It's not great. I need an office. I fantasize about working in-person in a studio again.

What Did We Learn? 
  • Covid sure continues to bring my priorities into focus. I want to spend quality time with my husband (but not necessarily both work from home). I want to put time and effort into making our comfy little dream apartment. I want to spend more time with my family & friends. I want a better work/life balance.
  • The Story department culture I'm used to is very self-deprecating. We do all kinds of things to soften our notes & suggestions to Writers and Directors in the room, like saying "Bad pitch, but..." or "This is terrible and you don't have to take my suggestion, but..." Well, I got called out on my habit of doing this, from someone who felt that it made HER need to cut the legs out from under her own ideas, too. I never want to make someone else feel like they have to minimize themselves, e s p e c i a l l y other gender minorities. So I'm trying not to do this anymore, and to find other ways to be gently constructive with my notes to Writers and Directors.

Goals for 2022:  
  • Second year of marriage: keep honing our scheduling / cleaning / financial systems. Keep talking and spending quality time together. Make our first annual family photo album, and celebrate our first anniversary!
  • Move into a clean, comfortable new apartment with my husband! Spend time making it feel like HOME. Decorate it to suit both of our needs and tastes. Host more friends at our place.
  • Spend Christmas 2022 in Portland with my family
  • Ideally, land another Directing position on an animated project in 2022
  • Keep writing my own IP, workshopping it with my Managers, and pitching to studios
  • Make more spontaneous autobiographical comics. No pressure, no schedule, no judgement. Find the fun in comics again. Don't let my main job make me feel like I'm not allowed to do anything else creative on my own time.
  • Learn how to cook 5-10 new dinner recipes, as well as 5-10 new first-course recipes (veggie- and fruit-based).
  • Be more outgoing. I'm gonna need to strengthen my friendships in Paris in order to really thrive here. Put effort into the great friendships I already have, and keep my heart open to new friendships.
  • Renew my French visa! Don't get separated again!
  • Find my favorite writing & drawing cafes in Paris, and make a point of going out several times a week. That'll be good for improving my French, getting out of the house for my mental health, learning about my new home, and getting inspired in my work.
  • File French taxes and keep saving money towards our someday-house
  • Digital hygiene: find a good system for plugging my phone into a wall at night out of reach of the bed. Try to stop looking at it well before bed. Don't look at it in bed in the morning. Keep my news feed contained to a couple of pre-selected sources, and look at the news INTENTIONALLY at times when I can handle upsetting stories (not first thing in the morning or right before sleeping). Read or draw or journal in bed before sleeping if I'm not tired yet.
  • Stay healthy: keep going to the gym regularly, cooking meals at home, drinking plenty of water, and stretching daily. 
  • Find a dentist, primary care doctor, therapist, etc.
  • Whiten my teeth
  • Keep up my capsule wardrobe in 2022. Avoid spending money on things I don't need, but don't be shy about spending money on quality pieces I can get a lot of use out of.
  • For my own sanity, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook are for professional posts ONLY. I'll be happy if I log onto them fewer than 5 times next year.
  • Continue doing "no plan Sundays", so I have a day to be spontaneous or just rest
  • Take a Script Anatomy screenwriting class
  • I don't want to beat myself up for feeling burnt out - I am still working 56-hour weeks, at home, in a pandemic, after all - but I do hope that this year I can keep healing my creativity and make more things for myself. Journaling, sketching, figure drawing, writing, etc. all feel really good when I sit down and do them.

Notable Media I consumed in 2021:

Books / comics: La Passe Mirroir (tome 4), Le Pays des Autres, Corps des RevesStrates, All The Rage, Bringing Up Bebe, Like A Mother, Recettes des 3 Soeurs Pour Jeunes Fauches Gourmands, Nouvelles Vies, No One Else, Into The Woods, The Art of Dramatic Writing, le petit Nicolas

Podcasts: How to Make a Hard Decision (NPR Lifekit episode), The Screenwriting Life, Your Undivided Attention, Mom and Dad are FightingBirthful, Evidence Based Birth, Sweet Bobby

Films: Luca, Raya, The Mitchells vs The MachinesBelle, Robin Robin, The Witcher: Nightmare of the WolfEncantoWW84, Mindgame, Raya, Encanto, Ant Man, Action Man, The French DispatchThe Man from Rio

TV shows: Hacks, City of Ghosts, The Witcher (season 2), Resident AlienWhite LotusHis Dark Materials (season 2), The Expanse, Shadow & Bone, Arcane, Sweet Home, Bridgerton, The School Nurse Files, Squid Game, Astrid & Raphael, HPI, Lupin (season 2), Wheel of Time, Ted Lasso (season 2), Big Mouth (seasons 4 & 5), Aggretsuko (season 4)

Youtube: Auri Katariina, Lonefox, Alexandre Gator, Sorry Girls, (my covid coping mechanism of choice was interior decoration and cleaning content)

Favorite memes / jokes / whatever:
Lisa Gilroy is so funny! Her "Conversations with My Period" reels were some of the most-quoted media in our house this year. "TRITNEY!"

(Oddly Specific Playlists makes me so happy)