Last year on New Year's Eve, my friends and I had a recurring phrase every time something went wrong (spilled drink, no cell service, etc.): "2016 strikes again!" Politically and culturally this whole year has absolutely felt like "2016 strikes again" as past actions and choices are bearing consequence. And while this is unsettling/nauseating/disheartening as a society, selfishly this year was an improvement over 2016 both personally and professionally.
In 2017 I made my first overseas trip, I saw the solar eclipse in South Carolina, I visited Washington D.C. for the first time on Halloween… As the end of the year approaches, I always like to take a look at my accomplishments of the year gone by and imagine if the year-ago me would be impressed. And by that standard, I do believe they would be. Here are a few of my highlights from 2017:
January 28 - Politicked Off! at Milkweed
I was one of 45+ artists to contribute to the Politcked Off! show at the community art space, Milkweed in Sugar Loaf, NY. The opening night celebration was a cathartic release after the political nightmare that was 2016, complete with a piñata of our newly inaugurated president. I submitted two pieces: a Bernie Sanders doodle (sold that night!) and a tryptic of Trump's head turning into an onion (framed and ready if you want it).
The Milkweed Poetry Workshop group (of which I've been a regular attendee since mid 2016) was invited to read "political" poetry, so I read a very angry, teenaged rant I wrote when I was a recent high school graduate, Vernon, NJ. Even though at the time I thought it was all very specific to my "Vernon" experience, as I've gotten older I realize it echoes teenage sentiment for a lot of people. That poem generally goes over well when performed for an audience, read with a Marilyn Manson-esque enthusiasm.
April 6 - Completed Jim's Introduction to Gender Identity
After working with Rachel Gitlevich on her puberty video for amaze.org, in late 2016 I was offered the opportunity to direct a short video myself to help educate kids 10-14 about gender identity. After extensive collaboration with my producer David Grandison Jr. and the subject matter expert from Amaze Nora Gelperin, we finished 2016 with a script and recorded audio (thank you Joe Avento), but it wasn't until 2017 I really got to dive into the animation process.
After lots of sleepless nights, an endless stream of coffee, and even a trip to my old university in Philadelphia to use their animation hole-puncher, I finally hit the "render" button in After Effects on April 6, 2017. Yes, I would notice a few minor masking errors and re-render it half a dozen times over the next few weeks, but April 6th is when I emerged from my production bunker and reacclimated myself to the world.
Jim's Introduction to Gender Identity would not be posted online for a few months yet (and when it was it was with the title My Friend Is Transgender), so at that point I did not know the positive response it would garner from the kids we were trying to reach, parents of trans kids, and people in the animation industry. At the time it felt like a very private, personal victory: my first completed film since college. I celebrated in the coming days by treating myself to a solo trip to the movies and a diner.
May 13 - Val & Brian's Wedding
My friends Val & Brian got married! Encouraged (I think) by a video I had edited of my friend Jess & my trip to Oregon in 2015, Val & Brian asked me to be their videographer. This was only the second wedding I had shot, but I took on the challenge with my limited equipment: a Canon T3i, one shotgun mic, and a tripod. Val told me I didn't need to be "on" the whole night, but that's just not my nature. With no backup I was always on the alert to avoid missing something important. I'm glad I kept recording late into the night: the dance to Death Cab for Cutie's I Will Follow You Into The Dark wound up being the foundation for the later half of the video, a somewhat self-indulgent dive into old footage I had accumulated of Val & Brian from past New Year's, Halloweens, etc.
November 14-16 - Manchester Animation Festival
I was simultaneously humbled and honored to be a part of the Manchester Animation Festival. Jim's Introduction to Gender Identity played alongside an incredible selection of other animated shorts. I could hardly believe my name was in the same program as Ru Kuwahata & Max Porter (Negative Space), Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman (Loving Vincent), and Don Hertzfeldt (World of Tomorrow Episode Two). I handed out lots of business cards, acquired new Twitter & Instagram friends, and met industry folks like the great Josh Weinstein (writer for The Simpsons, Mission Hill, Gravity Falls, etc.) who received the Fellowship Award from the festival.
Friends have been asking me how I enjoyed this trip and it has been difficult for me to articulate. Largely all I did was watch cartoons. I did a couple touristy things, like seeking out the concert hall (now hotel) where Bob Dylan had his infamous "Judas!" concert. But honestly the most gratifying part of the trip was that I knew I was there because people were responding to the film I made with Amaze. I was proud of myself and grateful to all of the people who had helped with the production.
Having the opportunity to travel overseas for doodles I made in my bedroom...that has to be the highlight of the year. But the sense of pride and gratitude in Manchester was not dissimilar to the feeling I felt when the film won by audience vote at the local Warwick Summer Arts Film Festival earlier this year and when it was accepted into the Merlinka International Queer Film Festival in Belgrade, Serbia (I was unable to attend the festival in December).
So to my 2018 self, I say this: In 2017 my voice was subtitled in Serbian at a queer film festival. TOP THAT.