I think after 2020 we all might be a little hesitant to make big plans or resolutions for 2021. But life has a funny way of working out and moving along even when it seems like everything is falling apart.

For example, my “30 day challenge” resolution ideas for 2020 included going on a walk outside every day for a month, paint every day for a month, and cook a meal every week for a month…and without me even trying, those goals all still kind of happened for me by accident. I went on more family hikes than usual in the summer due to outside activities being the only safe way to spend some time together, and in December I dogsat for 3 weeks, taking the dogs out on 20 minute walks every day. So that’s an accidental month’s worth of daily walks. From September-November, I was part of a huge mural installation, so even though we weren’t painting every day, and even though it wasn’t me painting little detailed personal things for fun, a few months’ worth of painting for hours 2-4 days a week technically more than fulfills that goal. And lastly, while I was dogsitting this December, I got into the habit of cooking myself a few simple meals (mostly eggs or pasta…but we’ll count it because it got me a little more comfortable with the idea of cooking daily stuff and not as a big event) so I think that somewhat qualifies for the weekly cooking goal also.

So, is this a win for believing in manifesting/the law of attraction? I think so. 😉 I really do believe that the act of putting a concrete goal into your mind, the act of writing it down and telling yourself it is something you want to achieve, something you believe that you can do, will eventually make it a reality for you. Heck, I had even been more vocal about wanting to paint a mural someday this past year, and the opportunity fell right into my lap! It was truly amazing. It’s not magic, it’s maybe a little bit fate or chance, or it’s prayers being answered. However you want to look at it, I think a little blind faith is really practical in life, even if you don’t notice how many pieces fell apart only for the right ones to fall together until you look at it in hindsight.

In 2021, I don’t really want many “resolutions,” I just want one overarching goal: be more present. Don’t let unlimited possibilities and trying to look too far ahead overwhelm you. Don’t try to have it all figured out before you take the next step. Just take one day at a time. One day is never too overwhelming to face, it will be over in a matter of hours. It’s good to have long term goals and short term goals, but sometimes you really need to ask yourself what you need to do just today to bring you one step closer in what you think is the right direction. 2020 was full of days that blurred together into months of similarity, and I want 2021 to be filled with more individual days and more present moments. I don’t want to wonder how other people find time to sip tea and journal and be early to things and take walks every day, I want to find that kind of presence and space in my own life before it’s too late. It’s something that I’ve been striving for for years, but that I finally have tasted in small bursts. It’s finally within my reach. 2021 will be a year of growth, but slow growth. Steady, intentional steps.

Here are my few small, hopeful goals:

Read 12 books this year. I don’t think I’ve read even 4 whole books in a year in a while. But I used to devour books as a child and as a teen, and heck, if I watched 196 movies last year while also finishing college, I think I can manage 12 books in a year, I’m not saying they have to be long or heavy content. I just might have to cut out a few movie nights this year to make room. 🙂 I actually technically finished one already, though I had read over half of it in 2019…but hey, I’m counting it! Haha, follow along at my new Goodreads account if you want to see what I’m reading.

Get a decent job. This is a little scary to type because it’s like…whoa. The rest of my life starts now. My career starts now. And I fully acknowledge that I am extremely privileged that getting a job isn’t a survival situation for me, that my parents like having me living at home for the time being, and I am in a position of currently having very minimal expenses. So while I have the luxury of having more options than someone in a more urgent position, and I have a college degree…it’s also a tumultuous time in the world, so I’ll have to see what I can get and where I can hopefully feel valuable. I’ve never been the kind of person who is concerned with establishing a “career” either, I’m kind of expecting to do a few different things in my life, but that adds another level of uncertainty to approaching where to start.

This also connects to a conversation I had with my best friend on New Year’s…we are introverts and homebodies by nature, and we feel that while the pandemic and stay-at-home orders were more tolerable for us than for more social-natured people, we also feel that it has made us regress a bit as far as social skills and comfort zones. Champagne problems, perhaps, but they are still real obstacles to overcome. Part of why I want to focus on being more present this year is because I really am overwhelmed at the idea of jumping back into the “real world” and interacting with people every day for a job, because it’s going to be a bigger and stranger transition now after this past year. I know it will be 10x harder for me to put myself out there and adjust after months of being cozy and safe at home most days than it would have been in 2019 when I was used to a much more busy and social schedule, but of course a lot of jobs are also more open to work-from-home setups now, not that I necessarily prefer that. Just getting started is often the hardest part. We’ll see.

Make better art. Last year, I made a fair amount of decent art, but I don’t feel like I progressed amazingly. I still feel that my art is often too “childish” for my own tastes, even though that’s my own personal criticism, and even though children’s art is my goal…I like art that can appeal to all ages, rather than art that is made for children specifically, you know? I want to build better technique, go back to basics a bit and hone my skills, work on my weaknesses, refine my color palettes. Have the patience and perseverance to tackle bigger projects rather than just simple little one-off drawings.

Propose that mural. Like I mentioned before, I had to come up with my own mural design and a fully drawn-up proposal with timeline and budget for my mural class final project. My instructor was actually very encouraging about my particular proposal because it is very approachable and realistic, and I also received similarly encouraging feedback from some people that work in beautification and neighborhood development for the city after my instructor recently shared our final proposals with them. So really, now it’s on me to ask the owners of the building about making my mural happen. Again, I’ve been in my comfort zone too much this past year, so I even hesitated to type this out as a goal because getting in contact with the business owner, and the process of making it happen if they say yes, feels very intimidating right now. But manifestation and all that…I know I’ll kick myself if I never put this into motion when I have it all ready to go.

Embrace a little weirdness. I think every year I shed a few more iotas of insecurity. I’d like to embrace my love of weirdness a little more this year, especially creativity-wise. I get so jazzed seeing illustrations of made-up creatures or reading oddball/surreal stories, etc. etc. and I know the weird-factor is what my art is missing sometimes that keeps it from feeling right to me. It’s almost like I see something really out there and think, whoa, we’re allowed to do stuff like this? As if there are some kind of unwritten rules I’ve been trapping myself within. I don’t know how I’ll find my own slightly strange stride, but I know I’ve been trying to be “normal” for the last decade to my detriment. I don’t want to suppress my natural personality in an effort to be “normal”…it’s just not me. 🙂 (the Creative Pep Talk podcast is a huge motivation for embracing one’s true self, weirdness and all, and I so appreciate everything Andy J. Pizza puts out, including the fact that he goes by Andy J. Pizza.)

So, I know specificity is important in making achievable goals, and half of these are more on the vague side. But to me, these feel specific in ways that only I can define for myself, in ways I can’t really put into concise words, or maybe that I just don’t want to try to explain, if that makes any sense at all. If anything, 2021 is going to be the year of embracing the unpredictability of life, because 2020 taught us all that lesson that our plans are never set in stone. I don’t want my plans to be set in stone anyway, I much prefer when things evolve naturally. 2021 is for being present, and growing slowly.

My year of movies

2020 was a year where many of us sought out small comforts to deal with the weight of the world’s issues, even if our own lives were not as terribly affected as others. If there’s one comfort I returned to time and time again the past year, it was watching movies.

I’ve always been a movie person. I used to love going to the video rental store up the street and using my report card A’s to get free rentals in the summer during middle and high school. I would pick an actor/actress I was into and rent only their movies for a week, and my friends and I were always jumping to see the latest comedies or blockbusters in the theatre. I’ve saved all my ticket stubs starting from age 3. When I was a freshman in college and my dorm was right down the street from the local theatre, I could walk there at 9pm to see a random indie movie just for fun, or after a tough week I’d look forward to immersing myself in a new release to take my mind off my stresses. After I moved back home, I loved catching old classics or obscure films on Turner Classic Movies on a Friday or Saturday night. But the last few years I had fallen away from movie watching. I shifted into less fiction overall, more self-improvement and shorter-form content, mostly podcasts and youtube videos, or the occasional good netflix series, and that was what I needed for a time.

My love of movies was rekindled with a new intensity when I took a History of Motion Pictures class in fall 2019, as I talked about in a previous post. My interest was so reinvigorated that I followed that up with a Foreign Film class this past spring. After the pandemic hit, and once my spring classes wrapped up, I was not ready to slow down my film viewing any time soon. I had also joined a social media platform for cinephiles, Letterboxd, and started rating and reviewing films as well as connecting some family members to the site so we could share our movie viewing activity. It became an addiction, really, but Letterboxd has given me a wonderful outlet amidst everything that has happened this past year. It’s pure hobby, and I’ve never before had a place like it to process and share thoughts after each viewing as well as being able to read other casual viewers’ current opinions of practically any movie ever made that hasn’t been lost to time. It also makes it so easy to discover countless movies you may not otherwise casually hear of, so a neverending watchlist is both a pro and a con. Movies have been on my mind in a big way this year, and I absolutely love to geek out over film history and what makes movies great. (I’m not the only one: according to the NY Times, Letterboxd has seen a big surge of new users and average user activity in the last year.)

In 2020, I watched a grand total of 196 films (undoubtedly the most by far that I’ve ever seen in one year, even though that includes a dozen or so short films), broken down into about 152 first-time watches plus around 44 rewatches of films I’ve seen before. Naturally, after all that I got to reflecting on what watching movies does for me. For sure, the biggest thing is empathy. Reading, watching movies, shows, etc., anything that puts you in a character’s shoes or shows you an experience you may or may not be able to relate to at all, helps with empathy. I’ve never lacked empathy, in fact I often feel like I’ve been blessed or cursed with too much of it, so maybe watching movies helps me to exercise it, to both strengthen it and burn off the excess a bit. This year brought an overwhelming amount of issues to weigh on the mind, and whether or not the film I’m watching has anything to do with a specific present or past issue of interest, I find that watching various stories play out onscreen can be a safe space to subconsciously process feelings, with a little separation from direct personal confrontation. Despite my natural sensitivity, there are still new things that I have never challenged myself on before, new perspectives I have been able to uncover or sit with, and I think I’m an overall better person for it. Sometimes movies can bring realizations to the surface, or surprise you with something that you didn’t expect would trigger a strong emotional response.

So yeah, empathy and letting the emotions flow is a pretty expected answer, but I think it encompasses why people even bother to make movies at all. To share stories, to provide entertainment, escapism, to elicit reactions and contemplation, to give voices and spread messages and perspectives, to bring ideas and worlds to life. Movies are one of the newest art forms, because the technology needed to create motion pictures has only been around for under 200 years. And there are so many creative ways to use the medium, that combine almost every other art form: writing, acting, music, graphic design, costume design, illustration or animation, set design, photography/cinematography, editing, there’s so much that can go into a film. There are so many options out there, movies for any taste, any mood, any language and culture. Plus, if you’re an avid crossword puzzle or Jeopardy! fan like I am (RIP Alex Trebek 🙁 ), knowing about movies helps as there are often movie-related questions or categories. 😉

A possibly unexpected benefit of the way I have approached movie-viewing this year is that I feel like it has helped me to be more present in my life. It sounds a bit backwards, because while movies do require your full attention for a couple hours, they of course transport you out of the present, especially for me since I tend to watch mostly classic movies (1920s to 1960s) which are even further removed from anything current. But what I mean also ties back into the empathy thing, in that I tend to readily connect the movie I’m watching to my present life, whether identifying a character’s experiences with my own, or even finding similarities or references to other movies I’ve watched recently. I find I often accidentally or semi-purposely watch multiple movies in a row that share themes, or a same actor/director, etc. I love the closure of watching a movie compared to watching an ongoing tv series or reading a book, and writing little reviews/journal entries on Letterboxd helps me to process what I’ve seen right away, so that even though I’m watching movies frequently, I am fully sitting with and absorbing each one before moving along to the next.

Letterboxd has sort of taken over my social media habits, and I spend more time on it lately than Instagram or Facebook, which has honestly felt more fulfilling, being able to connect to other people over a shared passion rather than mindless scrolling through stressful and pointless news and opinions. But also, I have noticed that for the first time in years, I have not been as wistful for the past or future as I have tended to be. I’m still a nostalgic person, I’m still a daydreamer, but in the past that wistfulness has taken me out of enjoying the present, so it’s interesting that in a pretty terrible year, I feel like I’m somehow more content than ever to take each day as it comes. Perhaps in effect, watching movies has become my way of concretely participating in a little dose of nostalgia or daydreams while being able to snap out of it after its 1.5 or 2 or 3 hour runtime, and call it a hobby/enjoy an artistic creation in the process. Or maybe I’m delusional. But regardless, movies have helped me through this year, and in a way, watching people make it through all kinds of situations onscreen gives me hope and motivation to make it through whatever life throws at me as well.

Now for a fun my-2020-in-movies review:

Favorite new (to me) movie of the year? The Apartment (1960), 5/5 stars for me! An instant favorite (in my top 4) and I even watched it 2.5 times this year (I didn’t fit in a full rewatch for new year’s, but I couldn’t resist viewing a few of my favorite scenes, including its perfect new year’s eve conclusion, to mark the occasion).

Honorable mentions? Here’s a list of my top 50 favorites of the movies that I saw for the first time this year. Wow, don’t know if I can ever top this many great films in one year. There were still quite a few more enjoyable classics in the 152 new films I watched, but I cut it off at top 50 for brevity’s sake.

Lowest rated movie of the year? Love on a Leash (2011), 1/2 star out of 5 from me. This movie is one of those you have to see to believe (it’s on youtube if you’re really curious). I’m not a harsh critic, but it’s hilariously bad…it’s at least a good time being incredulous about how it came to fruition.

My most-liked Letterboxd review? Letterboxd likes aren’t much to judge by, but it still feels pretty good when a few people acknowledge what you wrote. My most-liked review was for The Lady Vanishes at 6 likes, it’s nothing major but I had a lot of fun with that movie and it evidently came across in my review.

My personal favorite of my reviews? Hard to say, since I’ve written quite a few, and I try not to overthink them. These blog posts go through a lot of revisions, but with my “reviews” (which are meant to be casual on Letterboxd, they’re more “diary entries”) I try to string a few thoughts together the best I can, post it and move on, in order to keep it fun and spontaneous and not a chore. That said, my reviews for some old favorites, like Rear Window, Amélie, Spirited Away, and White Christmas (strangely two of those are from 1954 and two from 2001, just noticed that) are longer and more contemplative/personal than most of my reviews, so those are probably the ones I like the best.

Click here to see my full year in review. I upgraded to Letterboxd Pro with their black friday sale and I’m so glad I did, I love all the stats! I may or may not ever have a movie-watching year this prolific again, who knows.

Bonus: my hottest movie take?: The Wizard of Oz is practically a horror movie. I know it’s supposedly one of the all time great movies but it never impressed me and I certainly don’t find it heartwarming…plus if you read some of the trivia, it sounds like it was not fun behind-the-scenes, with multiple actors suffering from injuries and discomfort related to their makeup and costumes. Lol, sorry if you’re a Wizard of Oz fan, but it’s just one of those classics I’ve always had mixed feelings about.

Alright, I’m sure you’re like “cool it with the links already, not gonna click them all” but my organizing/archiving-obsessed self is loving having a well-designed social media site specifically for movies. I especially love finding others who appreciate classic film (1920s-1960s), and I think more people should try to venture back a few extra decades in their movie-watching…in fact, let me know if you need some convincing and think I may try to write a post sometime about what I love about watching older movies. Please feel free to geek out to me about your favorite movies of any decade or genre (or share film-related hot takes) any time. 🙂

2020 in review

What a year guys, am I right…hah. I have to laugh looking back at my 2020 resolutions post I wrote last January…it was an optimistic little list of potential “30-day challenges” to follow throughout the year, and needless to say that barely lasted two months before I, like everyone else, began to struggle with motivation to even get through day to day life. I even wondered if I would have enough to write about to make a reflection post for this year, but then I realized that I absolutely do. Even in the strangest year in recent memory, there are some bright spots and some accomplishments that I’m really proud of.

like…I graduated college!!

It definitely looks different than my 2019, where I got to travel a lot, act in a musical, be in a wedding, interview one of my favorite working illustrators in person, help plan/design flyers for a charity Halloween party…all those things that you can’t really do during a pandemic. It’s almost like I somehow knew what was coming and really packed a bunch into the previous year, which was lucky I suppose, because in a way I didn’t mind a slower year following up all of that.

But while I have been lucky in so many ways, and (knock on wood) have not even had COVID, I don’t want to only talk about the bright spots without acknowledging that this year was a big struggle, even for someone like me who had it relatively easy. I graduated college on December 13th, and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish, right up to the last day of finals practically. But I did, and it still seems almost too good to be true that somehow, while I’ve already taken longer than the “typical” 4 years, I managed to finish in 2020 during a pandemic when my motivation was taking major hits from all the subconscious stresses of everything going on. I definitely had some other low-motivation years in recent memory, but this year was hard for reasons outside of myself. So, let’s do a quick recap.

January-February: started to become an early bird with an 8am class I didn’t hate, kept up a reading habit every night before bed
March: lockdowns hit, classes switched to online, started a Letterboxd account to track my movie-watching
April: celebrated a quarantine birthday/turned 24, interviewed another of my favorite illustrators through video chat for my senior project
May: passed all my classes (even managed to ace a couple) even though I had gotten behind after the sudden total switch to online in mid-March
June: realized my Graphic Design minor was needlessly dragging me down and made the decision to pivot to an Interdisciplinary Art minor, which would make use of some old transfer credits I had floating in limbo, and lighten my last semester
July: housesat/dogsat for two weeks, Taylor Swift surprise-released Folklore, lost my (great) Aunt Marge to cancer, lots of family hikes outside in the summer

Clockwise from top left: Aunt Marge with her daughter (my godmother), her in the middle with friends in 1952, with her sister (my Aunt MaryAnn) almost 30 years later (though she barely looked like she aged from that photo up to this year!), her on the far left with friends (don’t know the context with the giant Schenley whiskey bottle, but they look like a fun group).
I’m so glad I recorded my Aunt Marge telling some stories with her siblings (she’s the oldest, my grandfather is the middle child, Aunt Maryann is the youngest) last year on the 4th of July…because who knew 2019 would be our last July 4th all together. I really miss her already.

August: got my wisdom teeth out, found out my last minor required class overlapped timeslots with my last major requirement, so long story short I was serendipitously allowed to sign up for a special new mural-painting class as a substitution
September-October: started work on largescale collaborative public mural! A dream of mine
November: Finished mural! designed a solo mural proposal for a local business
December: Graduated college!! Taylor Swift surprise-released Evermore, housesat/dogsat again (a different family) for 3 weeks over the holidays

taken on one of our last work days, November 9th

So let’s talk about this mural…it was my literal and figurative bright spot in 2020 (besides, yes, the two surprise Taylor Swift albums which I had to note because they were truly morale boosters also), and the physical work involved was ideal in a year where it was really hard for me to focus on mentally-taxing work for any stretch of time. The ability to show up to an outdoor class, keep socially distanced/wear masks, paint for hours at a time, and get college credit for it, was truly life-saving these past few months. I was definitely one of the stay late/volunteer for odd jobs people in the class because it felt so good to be able to throw myself into the work to the point of physical exhaustion. The instructor/orchestrator of the project, Dragana, might honestly rank as the best professor I’ve had over the years. She handled the class and the project with such energy, grace, flexibility yet firmness, and empathy, she is just one of those people with very evident emotional intelligence.

Abstracting landmarks, concepts and memories, designing the imagery, assigning numbers to colors, then color coding each section (and still changing our minds as we painted) was definitely a tough mental workout though
Projecting and tracing our sketch
I’m the one standing on the middle of the scaffolding in this pic

I’m very proud to have been a part of this project, where we were able to collaboratively design, transfer, and hand-paint a gigantic mural that the community can enjoy for years, adding color and subtle abstractions of nostalgic local memories and proud history gathered from Youngstown natives to a very industrial corridor of the city. While I had a senior research project I had to design and conduct using interviews for my Media Communication major, I consider this mural the true final project to end my college career (though for this class I also had to design my own, much smaller mural proposal for a local business that with any luck may come to life in the future).

Here I am again on our last work day finishing up the logo section honoring all the businesses that helped us bring this project to life.

It feels very fitting that we completed this mural in 2020. It represents community, working together, supporting each other, celebrating our town’s trials and history, connecting past, present and future, bringing color and brightness to a neglected spot on a fairly busy road. I can’t even count how many people honked enthusiastically or shouted words of appreciation and encouragement to us as they drove past the wall while we worked the past few months. The donations of funds, supplies, and services, and support from the city and local businesses that allowed it to happen. The fun, long days working (with an accidentally all-women class of artists!), laughing and chatting and putting the radio on, climbing ladders and moving scaffolding and freshman volunteers showing up to help where this was maybe one of the few in-person activities they’ve been able to participate in their first semester. And now we’ve left our own bright spot to last years and inspire more similar projects to come. (All photos in this post are my own, except those with me in them, which I borrowed from our mural website)

From bare wall…to color explosion 🙂

2021, let’s see if we can all work together to make you a brighter year ahead.