Discover more from Decoding Everything
David Chen's 2022 Year In Review
Looking back at an eventful year.
Our household receives a lot of Christmas cards. I generally find them sweet and innocuous — it’s nice to see what my friend’s families look like once in awhile and if it makes people happy to send them, why not.
But this year, among the cards was a 4-page letter that my wife’s friend had written. It was dense, raw, and bracingly honest — an unsanitized version of what this friend had gone through in 2022. I found it riveting. I learned so much about this person through this letter, but I also realized that there’s inherent value in just factually summarizing everything of significance that’s happened.
So I wanted to try writing an email that summed up my year. Because Decoding Everything goes out to thousands of strangers, I’m not going to be quite as honest as I would be if I were writing to close friends, but I’ll do my best. I’ve never done this before so let’s give it a shot.
In January, I became interested in music again. At around this time, I was still really into Tiktok and fascinated by how the platform could make sounds go viral (something that basically no other social or video platform is able to do). I realized that if I could figure out a way to create interesting and fascinating sounds, I’d be able to create yet another path to virality. It felt like a fun nut to try and crack.
I’d previously released a looping cello album years ago, but I’d stopped playing cello due to shoulder pain that would not go away. I decided to try to reignite my love for music by playing more piano and singing. I purchased several MIDI keyboards and watched hours of tutorials in an attempt to compose my own music. I am a classically trained musician in both cello and piano but I am woefully out of practice. I’d hoped I could revive my skills and try to make some cool stuff. But other priorities (specifically some health issues within my family and my other work) quickly took over and I’ve had to put down the keyboard again…for now.
Regarding that shoulder pain I just mentioned: After a seemingly unending series of chiropractors and massage therapists and doctors, 2022 was the year I finally find a physical therapist/chiropractor who was able to identify some of my issues and give me a set of exercises that helped me resolve my pain. While my shoulder is still not “normal,” I’ve made enormous progress on it and feel like healing is within sight.
In February, I moved into an office that was adjacent to my house. It would become where I did work for my full-time job, as well some of my podcasting and videos. I installed a projector in the office (this one) and was introduced to the pleasures of Projector Life - namely, being able to watch an image that’s over 150” large in your own house.
In March, I watched the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once for the first time and was dazzled by how it combined an immigrant narrative with a wild multiversal storyline and Michelle Yeoh kicking ass. In an interview, one of the writer/directors of the film revealed that my podcast (The Filmcast) is the first film podcast he ever listened to. I was deeply honored by this fact and we discussed it when I interviewed them a few weeks later.
April was an eventful month. My dad had a stroke and for the first time, I was forced to contemplate my parents’ mortality. I visited my dad’s neurologist with him and the doctor dispassionately explained what a stroke is: the brain is deprived of blood and oxygen for some time and a certain part of it is permanently damaged. My dad’s eyesight and speech will probably never be the same, but he bounced back regardless. He kept exercising, trying to eat right, and he’s made a really strong recovery. Months later at a follow-up appointment, the neurologist opined that my father was probably in the top 10 percentile of his patients in terms of his ability to regain back his old abilities after a stroke.
In May, I celebrated my birthday with some friends at a really lovely restaurant. I got to eat a dish with fazoletti pasta (pictured above) — one of my favorite things. Also: in past years, May and June have been the months where I’ve really enjoyed attending the Seattle International Film Festival. This year, still trying to avoid large crowds, I opted out of covering the festival but I did go to see my friend Megan Griffiths’ newest film, I’ll Show You Mine, which I found to be a great chamber piece.
I also watched Top Gun Maverick three times in theaters. The ensuing Summer Movie Wager episode of The Filmcast is pretty great, if I do say so myself.
In June, I made the enormously difficult decision to leave my job at Amazon. I loved working with all the talented people at the company. I enjoyed being a manager and I was fond of my team. But I also felt like I needed to take some time off to balance all the other commitments in my life. So, after five years, I joined the Great Resignation and set off to see if I could survive without a regular 9-5 job. That said: I suspect this won’t be the last time I see corporate life.
At around this time, it became clear that my longtime collaborator Joanna Robinson would no longer be able to work with me on our two podcasts, “Decoding Westworld” and “A Cast of Kings” due to her other commitments. I was really proud of the work that Joanna and I had done together and the communities that had sprung up around these shows. Joanna graciously allowed me to take over the podcast feeds and I was both excited and daunted to try and fashion them into something new.
I started looking for new cohosts for these podcasts - a task that felt impossible to me at the time. I was enormously grateful when Siddhant Adlakha accepted my invitation to join me in recapping what would become the final season of Westworld, and Kim Renfro agreed to cohost A Cast of Kings with me to cover the Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon. I combined both of these podcasts into a nascent paid podcast network called Decoding TV. Hundreds of people have signed up to support us since launch — enough to fund the venture through at least a significant part of 2023.
June is also when I started working out more seriously. I spent $50 on a workout program, bought some Bowflex adjustable dumbbells, and started lifting every other day — a habit I’m proud to say I continue to this day. While I haven’t lost any weight (maybe a 2023 project?), I’m considerably stronger and more fit than when I started down this path and I’ve enjoyed the process of getting to this point.
In July, my wife and I visited Port Angeles, WA. It was nice to get out into nature for a bit and see Lake Crescent (definitely a top 10 lake, would recommend). I also got really into using 360 cameras from Insta360 at around this time. I love the flexibility they offer to reframe the image after shooting and the cool effects they can create. One of my 360 videos even went mildly viral.
My brother and his family moved to Seattle in August. Getting them here turned out to be a pretty significant feat, as my wife and I spent weeks trying to make sure the move went smoothly and that they had all the furniture and supplies they needed. Now that they’re here, I get to see my brother and his family once per week instead of once per year! It’s been so lovely to spend time with them and their son (my nephew), who is full of curiosity about the world and has a playful spirit about him. My nephew’s presence really has breathed new life into our family bonds. It’s amazing to watch that happen.
August also saw me attend the Thing festival, an amazing creation by my friend Adam Zacks. I had the privilege of being the announcer at a show by Triump the Insult Comic Dog, who is performed by comedian Robert Smigel. The thing that struck me the most was how hard everyone on Smigel’s staff was working, and how high their standards were. I’ve been a fan of Triumph’s since my college days. Smigel’s performed in front of audiences of millions throughout his career. But all these years later, he was still working his ass off to put on the best show possible. For entertainers, the hustle never ends.
In September, one of my podcasts, “A Cast of Kings,” was prominently mentioned in a New York Times article about great TV recap podcasts. I made a video of myself telling my parents about this accolade, and that video went viral. I also watched the new Avatar 1 re-release in IMAX theaters. Twice.
October was a month of goodbyes. Our friend Carter, with whom we’d been living in a COVID bubble for the past two years, moved out of her house that was right next to ours and into a condo a couple miles away. It’s nice to still see her and have her a part of our life, but I will always treasure the fact that we helped each other get through an incredibly tense and challenging time in the early days of the pandemic. My friends Stephen and Raakhi also informed me that they would be moving out of Seattle to Northern Washington. I will miss them dearly as they’ve been a core part of my time here.
One other thing: Seattle continued to be beset by terrible air quality, a result of smoke from wildfires and no precipitation. It’s a concerning development for a place whose weather for most of my time here has largely been pretty predictable.
During the October/November time period, I was hosting multiple recap podcasts and churning out massive quantities of content. I was doing weekly podcasts for Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, House of the Dragon, A Cast of Kings, She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, Andor, and The Filmcast. For each of these podcasts, I was creating an ad-free version, a version with ads, a video version, plus cut-downs for Tiktok and Instagram and YouTube Shorts, plus occasional bonus episodes. I enlisted the help of several great video editors (such as the amazingly talented Curt Mega), but I still found myself burning out at the sheer quantity of material I needed to produce. This also led to me putting Culturally Relevant on hiatus, a fact that really bums me out because I loved making that podcast. In 2023, I hope to be able to find more production support for all my ventures.
October was also the month I launched Decoding Everything, the newsletter you’re reading right now. I did this because one of my primary methods of communicating with people, Twitter, was purchased by a billionaire far-right activist who has since used the platform and his audience to direct hatred and harassment at people from marginalized groups. I will miss Twitter greatly but I also feel strongly that the current owner will not last there for much longer, and when he no longer owns the place (which, at this rate, I predict will be sometime in 2023), I’ll be happy to return to it, if anything is left.
[Also: I’m aware that Substack is not exactly awesome when it comes to these matters either.]
In November, I was invited to attend the Hawai’i International Film Festival and present a talk to a group of up-and-coming film critics. I enjoy teaching (I have a Masters of Education) and any time I’m invited to give a lecture it reminds me of an alternate life I could’ve had as an educator. You can watch the full content of my talk over on my Patreon page.
I love Hawai’i and one of my favorite experiences there this time around was walking along a stone pier in Waikiki beach and watching the sun rise over the Diamond Head Crater. Because Hawai’i is several hours behind Pacific time, many tourists from the mainland usually gather there each morning, giving the proceedings a religious, almost holy feeling.
I also had a great time hanging out with my podcast collaborator Patrick Willems, who’d also been invited to give a talk, as well as Peter Sciretta from Ordinary Adventures, who happened to coincidentally be staying in the same hotel as us(!)
Finally, December was marked by more family time. Great meals and parents playing with nephews running around the house. Seattle was hit by a freakish ice storm that paralyzed the city and results in many viral videos of people trying and failing to walk or drive the hills around here. And I spent a lot of time thinking about this past year and reflecting on the journey I’ve taken to get to this point and what might lie ahead.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through my year. This is my first time doing something like this so any constructive feedback is welcome. Thanks for stopping by! If you enjoyed this newsletter, consider subscribing or sharing it. You can also support my endeavors via my personal Patreon, via the Filmcast Patreon, or via Decoding TV.
And if you’re someone who’s supported my work, or if you’re someone who I’ve collaborated with this year, whether it’s been on a Tiktok/YouTube video, a podcast, or a Twitter Space: Thank you.
Stuff I’ve Made
Over at Decoding TV, my wife and I were joined by Kim Renfro to do a deep dive on the first season of 1899.