Twenty Twenty Annual Report and Twenty Twenty-One Goals13 Dec 2020
This is the seventh year of my annual reports. Here is last year’s, if you’re curious at what I said I wanted to do before a global pandemic kicked off. Although spoiler alert, my goals were to have less plans and travel less. Well, mission fucking accomplished, eh? I didn’t go anywhere and all my plans were cancelled. I was burned out, and I stayed burned out all year long.
I started off the year thinking in quarters, but I let the pandemic throw a wrench into that. I sort of wish I had kept track of the year in a quarterly context because it did seem to fit neatly. If I were to summarize it retroactively:
- Winter: Working, so burned out, and no idea how I am going to survive the next few months of very intense work and travel obligations and feeling utter panic at even the thought of having to get on another plane
- Spring: Stress from overwork was replaced with… something else…
- Summer: Pandemic and political stress synced up with awful neck/shoulder pain. I went to physical therapy all summer long and things are still kinda rough if I don’t spend 30-60m stretching every single day. I sort of feel like my level of burn-out moved from being just mental/emotional to being inside my body and it was excruciating to try to sit at a desk for a standard workweek (when I usually work a good deal more than that).
- Fall: Levels of being burnt all the way out alleviated and have started to heal (physically/mentally/emotionally), but still feel maybe 70% totally diminished. I feel like I’m still a long way from being out of a panic mindset, and also am not sure I’ve ever been outside of that kind of survival-mode in my adult life except for fleeting moments, so maybe this is as good as it gets.
Made it through
It was pretty rough. Most of my work problems (speaking in general, not tied to any one particular place – as you may know, I have a full-time job but also several other part-time jobs) seem to have all revolved around having a lot of responsibility for the happiness and success of others, but no power in actually being able to change things that would make this possible. It involved a lot of worrying about things but being stuck in the middle, which is exhausting. I just felt like a failure, over and over again, in new and various ways.
A lot of my work goals this year were focus on maintenance, which is hard to talk about as a concrete accomplishment. I think I’ve managed to keep people happy. I also did some major internal tasks to help my future self and colleagues understand the reasons/context around specific systems. The team I was on for most of the year has to handle so many unique situations – the nature of digital preservation – and it’s pretty exhausting trying to keep track of everyone’s One (Dozen) Weird Thing(s).
I also worked on a few digital preservation consulting projects, which were very rewarding.
For DVRescue, I kinda feel like I was doing the bare minimum for most of the year. I think the project is on the verge of being something cohesive, instead of a million moving parts. This project is really big/impressive, in terms of scope, contributions to multiple open source projects, working on multiple systems, working as a CLI and a GUI… so it has felt very “in the weeds” but seems like it is soon going to all come together, and invisible work can be made visible.
Pragmatic Audiovisual Preservation
I was asked by the Digital Preservation Coalition to come up with a helpful, easy-to-read guide to tackling the preservation of audiovisual materials. It’s currently available as a members-only preview, but it will be availble to the public at the beginning of 2021. It’s 40 pages of info!
Taught 2 semesters
I teach Information Technologies at Pratt (at least for now), and I taught in the Spring (solo) and in the Fall (w/ Josh Hadro). Teaching is very rewarding, but it takes up a lot of time! Instructors everywhere seem to be exhausted at trying to provide the same quality of teaching without adjustments in pay for redesigning courses. Spending so many hours in video calls and then another 3 hours one day a week is pretty brutal, too.
I started off the year working on this MediaInfoInfo project, which involved spending some time and research into improving the internal documentation in MediaInfo, while learning more about the potential for file formats / audiovideo streams. I’m a bit bummed this hasn’t made it into the core project yet but have been thinking about other ways to make this meaningful.
Enter the TikkiLand: MTV Spring Break Online
For Screen Slate’s “The Year the Internet Broke”, I wrote about something I’ve been obsessed with since I saw an ad for it in 1996 – MTV Tikkiland. You can read the piece by buying a copy of the zine, or I also put it on my blog here.
Exploring the Vasulka PDF Archive
As part of Recurse Center’s Never Graduate Week (a reunion of sorts, usually in person but this year, online), I spent part of the week looking into the Vasulka PDF Archive and ways to easily make this collection for accessible and easier to understand/research. The results are here on this page. Also it feels good to make a copy in case it disappears off the web one day!
Also as part of this week, I put together what I refer to as “network-based performance art”, Throttled. This links to a site that provides more context, because once you start watching the piece, you can’t “rewind” it or start over. It runs for around 13 minutes on a very intentionally slow server. I love it, it brings me a lot of joy. It was also included as part of this inaugural Small File Media Festival.
Teaching as Art
I took this Teaching as Art class at the School for Poetic Computation. I enjoyed it, but I should not have taken the class. It was during the peak of me feeling really terrible, especially physically. The extra few hours a week spent at the computer was too much for me, along with some unexpected timing issues (the class was delayed by a few weeks, and the class I teach was moved up a few weeks – pandemic accomodations). I don’t feel great about bowing out, but I have managed to feel good about being able to make the decision that the pain and stress I was dealing with had to be prioritized over any feelings of disappointment in myself. Usually I just suffer, so this was a ‘learning moment’. I did really enjoy the class, but I wasn’t able to really dedicate myself to it fully like I wanted.
I also “audited” Dark Matters, which was an amazing class and I highly recommend it!
With Lorena Ramirez-Lopez, I added FORMATS to the A/V Artifact Atlas. This should improve people’s access and ability to find problems with their media. I also set up the framework to add language translation to the A/VAA, but need to work on assembling a team of translators so we can make it happen. (An institution should step up and pay for this – triple expert knowledge.)
I had awful neck/shoulder pain all year long and went through physical therapy during the summer. Which helped, but didn’t make it go away. I feel like I learned a lot about what it is like to live with chronic pain, and how much that affects everything. I’ve been in some sort of pain almost every day this year. I seem to be on the mend now, and I diligently do PT exercises every day to make sure it stays that way (plus doing all the ergonomic desk things, like buying an expensive chair and split keyboard). I mean, I’ve spent 25 years spending as much time as I could hunched over a computer, so I should have seen this coming. I might make a zine about desk worker stretches.
After 3-4 years of threatening to do it, I finally did it and moved to Philadelphia. On top of that, my partner and I bought a beautiful rowhome. I think only my closest friends know that, because it seemed like such a shitty thing to announce while we go through such a devastating year where so many are losing access to their housing, health, and other stability. But we did. I love Philadelphia – it is the perfect Goldilocks-size of a city. I’ve spent my adult life mostly between two cities – New York, where I spent the most time as an adult, and a huge, overwhelming, massive and exhausting and expensive place, and in Columbia (South Carolina), a little too-small but friendly, affordable, boring but make-your-own-fun kind of city. Philadelphia is a perfect balance of both. My quality of life has improved a lot. I feel a particular kind of deep nausea when I think about rapid climate change and the imminent global collapse, but in the meantime, Autumn provided a lot of beautiful weather days and I’ve been able to explore and discover new parts of the city, including the incredible amount of murals.
One of my goals was to read more. I did a lot of reading but didn’t track it. Here are some of the books I remember enjoying a lot, although there were a lot more:
- Braiding Sweetgrass (thinking about indigenous wisdom)
- Such a Fun Age (comedy-novel covering race and class)
- The Vanishing Half (novel about race, class, “passing”, and family)
- Can’t Even (investigation into why we are so burned out)
- In Defense of Looting (reframing of the history of political action)
- Black Software (history of computers AND race)
- Truly Devious (light-hearted boarding school mystery)
- The City We Became (never read a book quite like this one)
Being on the mend
For the majority of the year, I didn’t even recognize myself because I felt so terrible. I was truly just barely getting by, mentally and physically. I felt so worthless, and like I was doing nothing, and totally helpless and just a horrible old suffering monster. I just kept thinking, “Is this it? Am I going to feel like this forever?” Recently I’ve been mending, which has been a huge relief for me – to want to get out of bed, to have ideas again, to feel anything at all.
Since moving, my access to more diverse and healthier food has increased significantly. Instead of access to very cramped and crowded grocery stores (resulting in me avoiding stores so much that I wasn’t eating well at all), I now have access to multiple big ones (average store, healthy/organic, and TWO huge Vietnamese grocers), open-air ones (the Italian Market) and a bimonthly CSA delivery. I already cooked a lot at home, and the pandemic obviously amplified that. But since moving to Philly, I feel like I’ve really been able to jump up another level in terms of making meals that are healthy and taste great, rather than just one or the other (or, during the Spring/Summer – neither).
Lately I’ve seen small signs of recovery and growth, like I’ll feel motivated to do something new, think fondly of a piece of art that I saw once instead of feeling exhausted by it all, or feel compelled to look into something more deeply than just what is minimally required to finish a task.
In conclusion, uhhhhhhhhhhh, it’s really disorienting to take a look a this blog post that sums up my year and sees all the things that I DID manage to accomplish while feeling how I did.
This year was such a destabilizing trainwreck. Is it possible to have goals for 2021?
I’d like to do more programming. That really fell off this past year, other than some basic HTML/CSS/JS. I’ve helped others but not myself. I want to do programming in a way that is challenging for me and pushes me to learn/grow.
I spent this year trying to get back to a baseline with my health, so I’d like to take that even further. I’m not going to go into details here, but there is some combo mental-physical work that I need to do more of.
Working less has been a goal of mine for the past five years. I just don’t think it’s going to happen, so really I need to establish more healthy boundaries around work.
I think I can be a better friend. This year, everything has just been so much. Honestly I haven’t even missed being around people because every tiny thing has been exhausting and stressful for so long and those warning signs were flashing long before this year, even things as small as “texting someone back” felt like insurmountable obstacles on top of a never-ending to-do list. I don’t think I’ll have to necessarily work on this if I am able to work through these extreme burnout feelings, but it’s there in my mind, the spaces in which I have been so lackluster.