Granted, this list is a bit premature. It may be another 5 or 10 years before I really know how 2011 changed my life, or which seemingly innocuous events have had dramatically unforeseen consequences. But, as I look back at 2011 from the vantage point of the year’s end, here are some of the moments that made me think differently than I had been during the moment before.
1. My Own Self-Made Financial Disaster
At the end of March, my finances fell apart. This happens, especially when you live your life like I did, as a distracted freelancer. Realizing I had failed to found a sustainable base for my own business despite having been self-employed for 6 years led me to see my whole life — and my means for living it — differently, and more practically.
2. I Stopped Paying Attention to Sports
It’s amazing what removing two items from your Firefox toolbar can do.
3. I Quit My Job
Inasmuch as a self-employed person can quit his job, anyway. What I really quit was corporate social marketing. What I’m going to do next is… well, you’ll see. 2012 is right around the corner…
4. The Baristas Began
When I moved to Baltimore in 2009, I thought I’d never make another episode of Something to Be Desired, the web sitcom I’d created and produced since 2003. And since STBD was part of my identity as an artist / “web personality,” I felt a bit rudderless for awhile, unsure of what my next creative move should be. But the cast from STBD still wanted to make something, so we devised an alternative: a smaller spinoff I could (theoretically) produce from afar, called The Baristas. And thanks to our fans, Kickstarter, some publicity, and my own refusal to live a logical life, we produced 20 episodes of a show I feel quite proud of.
5. The Baristas Ended (for Now)
I made a lot of mistakes when I was producing STBD, and I hoped to avoid them when I created The Baristas. Unfortunately, many of those flaws — like my propensity for stretching myself too thin, biting off more than I can chew, setting unreasonable deadlines, and failing to communicate clearly with my collaborators — proved to be recurring problems, rather than flukes that were exclusive to my earlier work. Realizing what I do well, what I do poorly, and how I can fix my own negative habits as a creator, producer and leader is imperative if I’m ever going to get better at doing what I love. And now that season one of The Baristas is over, I have an indefinite amount of time to figure out the smartest way to produce a second season without driving myself, our cast, and our fans crazy.
6. Ann Started Acting Again. (A Lot.)
Long ago, before she was my girlfriend, Ann Turiano was an actress on Something to Be Desired (the show I created). And she was good. But by the time she graduated from college, she’d become frustrated with the acting world in general, so she chose to pursue a career in the world of arts management instead.
Then, last year, she was asked to perform in a local Christmas play, and the acting bug bit her once again. Since then, she’s performed in three more plays, been cast in another one that debuts in 2012, and joined the professional Shakespeare Factory here in Baltimore. Seeing Ann recommit to something she’d been passionate about awhile ago makes me happy, but it also reminds me that I have my own longtime dreams that I should be pursuing, too.
7. Ann Talked Me Into Taking a Screenwriting Class
My girlfriend takes me more seriously when I’m actively pursuing my dreams, rather than just talking (or blogging) about them. So she talked me into taking a screenwriting class at Johns Hopkins University that was taught by Marc Lapadula, a writer whose students have occasionally gone on to have their scripts produced in Hollywood. (“30 Minutes or Less” was the most recent film written by one of his students.)
The class was aimed at entry-level students, which means a lot of it was a review for me, rather than a wealth of new information. But his guest speaker in the closing week was George Mahaffey, a former student and current screenwriter who recently sold a script to “Transformers” director Michael Bay. Mahaffey’s discussion of how Hollywood really works, coupled with a prolonged exposure to Lapadula’s screenwriting tips, rekindled my oft-considered-but-never-pursued aspirations of working in film and TV, and this has helped guide my new career choices in the wake of my divorce from corporate marketing.
8. Dave Ramsey Got Me Thinking…
When my finances collapsed, I looked for help. Not just with new work, but with new ways of thinking about money. Dave Ramsey‘s book Total Money Makeover is a simple, strictly-structured primer for getting your finances back on track. And while I may not agree with everything he says or advocates — especially as I’m an agnostic, whereas Ramsey has a habit of squeezing Christian themes in wherever he can — one of his comments made absolute sense to me.
To paraphrase him, he notes that people who possess money are usually considered “evil,” or at least the cause of many of the world’s problems. He points out that the money itself isn’t what makes people act selfishly; it’s their myopic worldviews that corrupt their use of their own abundant resources. Thus, if we really want to make a difference in this world, we owe it to ourselves (and the people we’d like to help) to make as much money as we can, so we can use it for what we believe is “good.” Think of it as keeping resources out of the hands of the people we believe would misuse them. Sure, this perspective is a bit tribal and oversimplified… but, strategically speaking, it also make sense.
9. Occupy Wall Street Got Me Thinking, Too…
It really doesn’t matter if they have a list of demands, or no demands at all. The fact that disparate groups of American citizens from all walks of life were compelled to demonstrate their disgust at the current state of the American system speaks volumes to me about the disparity between what we think our country stands for and what we actually empower our citizens to achieve. No, the 99% isn’t entirely correct in their accusations, and no, the 1% isn’t entirely wrong in their manipulation of capitalism to suit their own ends… but it’s nice to see bored Americans finally getting off their asses and coming together to discuss what America should be, instead of allowing us to be defined strictly by what we purchase and what we allow our politicians to get away with.
10. My Aunt’s 50th Anniversary of Becoming a Nun
In October, my dad’s side of the family convened upon our hometown of Erie, PA, to celebrate the golden jubilee of my aunt Mary Lou Kownacki‘s 50th anniversary of becoming a Benedictine sister. Nothing makes a man rethink his life quite like the one-two punch of A) having to explain himself to a wide array of cousins, uncles and family friends who wonder why he still isn’t married with kids, and B) realizing that no one — especially religious devotees — does anything for 50 years anymore. When I’m almost 70, what will I have achieved with my life? What have I accomplished thus far? Sobering questions that I hadn’t expected to consider during an otherwise mellow family reunion.
BONUS: My Assorted Cultural Influences of 2011
Everyone has their favorites, and your tastes may vary from mine. Nonetheless, here are:
15 Songs I Played a Little Too Often in 2011
“Insatiable,” CLP featuring White Gold Princess — (This party girl puts Ke$ha to shame.)
“Hold the Line,” Major Lazer featuring Mr. Lexx and Santigold — (Basically unstoppable.)
“VCR,” The XX — (Ah, minimalist puppy love…)
“The Step and the Walk,” The Duke Spirit — (Currently on endless repeat in my mind.)
“Lost in My Mind,” The Head and the Heart — (introspection + getting on with life = win)
“I’ll Form the Head,” MC Frontalot — (The best mighty morphin’ rap battle ever heard…)
“Wanna’ Get,” Reggie Watts — (For them special times…)
“Bohemian Like You,” The Dandy Warhols — (Not new, but never unwelcome.)
“Stomp and Holler,” Hayes Carll — (“I’m like James Brown, only white and taller…”)
“Grounds for Divorce,” Elbow — (The pub ballad Tom Waits wishes he wrote.)
“Clementine,” Sarah Jaffe — (So beautifully uncomfortable.)
“Repetition,” TV on the Radio — (It grew on me, due to… wait for it…)
“Mouthful of Diamonds,” Phantogram — (The thematic descendants of Portishead.)
“Up in the Clouds,” Darwin Deez — (Is “post-hipster” a genre yet?)
“New in Town,” Little Boots — (Your new Friday night anthem, if you’re still single…)
11 Films I Don’t Regret Having Seen in 2011 (in the order I saw them)
Somewhere — Sofia Coppola’s story of nothing in particular, which is actually the problem.
Another Year — Mike Leigh creates the screen couple we all want to grow up to be.
Biutiful — Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Javier Bardem turn tragedy into poetry.
Marwencol — Unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, I bet.
Blast! — A documentary about NASA, balloons, Antarctica and God. (And it’s funny.)
Milking the Rhino — You’ll understand Africa in a way you never did before.
Proceed and Be Bold — The true story of a printmaker who pisses off a lot of people.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 — The high point of blockbuster season.
It’s Always Fair Weather — A Gene Kelly musical that, inexplicably, no one knows about.
Moneyball — Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill deserve any accolades their performances earn them.
Anonymous — The “who really wrote Shakespeare?” mystery you owe it to yourself to see.
3 Books I Read in 2011 and Can Unashamedly Recommend to You
Crafty TV Writing, by Alex Epstein (explains why television works the way it does)
21 Things I Read Online in 2011 That Stuck With Me
A eulogy for golfer Seve Ballesteros that made me reconsider my own life.
Why Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts is my rock and roll hero.
How to talk to little girls in a way that makes (almost) everyone feel better.
Why it’s a good thing we’ll never know what this photo means.
Super heroes are real.
One of dozens of Dear Photographs that really don’t need words.
Visual proof of just how fucked up the London riots were.
… and anecdotal proof of how fucked up American politics is.
The happiest man in Los Angeles.
You’ll never see food the same way again. (But it’s awesome.)
The ultimate truth.
Your kids are really screwed up, in a good way.
Things you’d rather not know about Guantanamo, but should.
The best baby Halloween costume ever.
The good kind of riot.
The other ultimate truth.
Bloom like an artist.