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To The World on My Birthday: One Year In My Life

[Image by Flickr user ToniVC]
The physicist John Archibald Wheeler once opined, “Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.” In the past, I’ve found that sentiment mildly profound, but much more so recently, as I reach the end of another year of my life. At no other time in my existence have I so acutely felt the passage of time as in the past 12 months.

I’ll be straight-up with you about the relative scarcity of my troubles: No one close to me died. I didn’t lose my job. I didn’t lose any money off my retirement plan (probably because I don’t have one). I’m not behind on mortgage/car payments. I am not suffering from a severe illness. I still have a roof over my head, and three meals a day to give thanks for. I understand that relative to the rest of the world, (hell, even relative to a lot of people I know), I have much to be grateful for.

Nonetheless, during the past year, I have experienced tremendous personal and professional loss to an extent that I could never have predicted a year ago, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this has been the most difficult year of my entire life. I’ve spent many-a-day cursing myself over my colossal mistakes, wondering how I could have screwed things up so badly, squandered so much goodwill, wasted so much potential. Much of my time was spent in regret, and the fact of the matter is that I would give anything and everything I’ve accumulated over the past year (e.g. money, incredible and valued experiences, a modicum of internet fame) just for a chance to do my 2008-2009 all over again.

Some of my feelings for the past year are perhaps best summed up in this monologue from Synecdoche, New York, delivered by an actor playing a priest at a funeral:

In a recent podcast episode, I discussed how this scene, with its randomness and heavy-handedness, holds in synecdoche everything that’s wrong with the film Synecdoche, New York. But there is so much about it that speaks to me, not so much the “Fuck everyone,” but rather: “There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make. You can destroy your life, everytime you choose…You only get one chance to play it out.”

Up until this year, I haven’t really thought that any of my decisions have had significant or lasting consequences on my life. For too long, I’ve foolishly believed that, with enough hard work and perseverance, any of my mistakes could be undone. But this has been the year of irreversible decisions, a year where my stupidity has torn asunder bonds that may never come together again. I’ve learned the painful way that sometimes in life, you only get one chance at doing something right (or in my case, two or three chances. But then that’s it!).

So yeah, it’s been rough.

But do you know what’s awesome about life, and what’s beautiful about America? Despite everything that’s happened, there’s so much to be grateful for. For undeserving guys like me, there are such things as second chances. And most of all, there is hope. The future is awash with the possibilities of the unknown, and while it’s terrifying, it’s also exciting. As horrifically awful as the past year has been, I remind myself that there’s way too much good stuff to look forward to, even if I don’t know what it’s going to be. For those I’ve hurt, I take solace in the possibility of forgiveness. And for those who have benefited from my presence, I’m grateful to have shared in your lives.

The future energizes me and gives me strength. The possibility of a new chapter in my life constantly lurks around the corner, luring me away from the pain and regret of days past….

May the next 12 months be better than the last. For all of us.


Given all the teen-like angst and emo sensibility in the first half of this post, I should probably counterbalance it with some positive energy. Specifically, I don’t think people in general take enough time to be thankful for the good in their lives, or to say to people the things they need to say. Maybe they think about it at Thanksgiving, but I like to do it on my birthday too (conveniently, the two dates are separated by about 6 months, giving me a regular interval for thankfulness).

Thanks go to my close friend, Wayne, who has been instrumental in guiding me through this past year. Without his constant listening ear, his companionship, and his candor, I probably would be completely lost right now. I will be very sad when he moves away soon.

It’s been great getting to know my brother, Mike, better this year. I’ve always looked up to him for his monstrous degree of talent and for his tenacity. This year, I’ve begun looking up to him as a brother, a son, a leader, and a decent human being.

Thanks to Peter Sciretta, editor-in-chief of /Film, for plucking me out of obscurity just about a year ago and letting me play in the sandbox that is his powerhouse of a film blog. In the past year, I’ve reviewed Watchmen with Kevin Smith. I’ve chatted with director (and personal hero?) Rian Johnson. I’ve done a commentary on Groundhog Day with NED RYERSON (AKA Stephen Tobolowsky). Certainly, it’s been an unforgettable year for me in the realm of movies, and I have him to thank for that.

I am grateful for my /Filmcast co-hosts, Devindra and Adam. It is difficult to deal with me and to trust me. You guys have done both for longer than anyone (including I) could have possibly expected. The same also goes for all of our listeners, especially those who have written movingly about how our show has affected their lives. And of course, to all our awesome guests who make the show possible.

I am extremely grateful to Dan Trachtenberg, who has become not only a great colleague, but also a trusted friend.

I have been blessed to have in my life people like Sara, Gabrielle, Angie, Thai, and the countless other friends who I’ve made or become closer to this year (who I’ve rudely left off this list on account of the fact that it’s 3 AM as I write this), whose counsel and patience have become invaluable to me. I am so grateful for all of you, as you have helped me through difficult times in ways you probably cannot imagine.

And finally, to my true love: There is so much I have to say to you. As long as even the slightest chance exists, I will hope. I will pray. I will dream. Me ke aloha, a hui hou…

  • hmmmmm me and regret are good friends too, thats when I like to go outside an feel the breeze cause it reminds me, a good wind can always blow back to you.

  • Ever since I started listening to the podcast and following you on Twitter, I have been shocked that a guy who (a) acts so professionally and (b) sounds so light-hearted when with friends can be going through such a rough time. I think that alone should be a sign that the “this too shall pass” cliché is almost certain to come to pass. I wish the happiest birthday, bro –for helping a fellow film geek from down South exploit his passion, and because I can’t imagine a guy who deserves to smile more than you do. Feliz cumpleaños.

  • For someone who’s voice I’ve listened to over the course of such a tumultuous year, it is both humbling and hopeful to know that such a voice was traveling through similar, if not downright identical waters. Without going into too much detail, I myself have been going through struggles of loss due to certain foibles undoubtedly my own, as well as the expected separation of friends to whatever part of life or the world takes them. And despite all the pain, be it self-imposed, or not, it is mine to share with others via one safe outlet or another. It is comforting in knowing that there are so many of us out there looking and hoping for the same things, and perhaps this is a catalyst for new beginnings. We are here, Mr. Chen, and we are legion. We are conduits of change. May the best of possibility flow through.

  • Cheevil

    “Gratitude is the secret hope of further favors.”
    Best wishes for a beautiful birthday. Much Love, Chi

  • Happy Birthday Dave! After listening and watching you on /Film, it pains me to hear that you, too, are a victim of regret and redo. Though the past isn’t necessarily prologue, I hope for you and for the rest of us a good and hopeful future! Have a fun week, and remember: roll no snake eyes!

  • João André Farinha

    I really hope the next year(and the ones to follow) may be much better for you! Thank you(and the rest of the team) for making my very favourite podcast, it always cheers me up when something’s not going well (I’ve listed to every episode)! Happy Birthday Dave! João, from Portugal.

  • Cave, you’ve been a great form of inspiration and entertainment for a lot of people over this year, myself included. I’d like to thank you for your continued dedication to your listeners, and I wish you the best in the year to come.

    Happy Birthday David Chen.

  • Have a great birthday and a better 2009-10, Dave. I came late to the podcast but have come to thoroughly enjoy the work and effort you gys put in to the site an podcast each day.

    I don’t know exactly what happened during the last year, but I hopeyou can gather up and move on. Regret and hindsight are terrible drains on a man.

    “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!'”

    All the best mate


  • Happy birthday Dave! I am a big fan of the podcast and you personally. There is something about your self deprecating humor, choice of words, and humbleness makes you close to heart of your friends and fans.

    I can relate to your story, I too had some difficult times on my personal life, things that are beyond my control that make you really sad inside even if you elect to plant a smile in your face and act as if you are on cloud 9. You only have to rely on your faith and inner strength, then you lean on your family and trusted friends. The people who would go the greatest lengths to help you, support you, and love you.

    May next year be a better year for you, myself, and the entire world, amen.

  • rob

    I just discovered the slash film podcast a week ago. Just want to say it was so refreshing to discover other fans who are as passionate about movies as I am. I especially like your nitpicking mini-segments. Nothing is more enjoyable than watching a great (or bad) movie, other than discussing it in detail and analyzing it with friends afterwards (although I don't have the benefit of watching it with fellow enthusiasts such as Devindra and Adam).

    When I list to the podcast, I feel the energy and pure joy that you guys have towards movies. More power and keep 'em coming, don't stop reviewing and enjoying the films. Intelligence, passion, humor – all in the span of around three hours every week.

    Though it's hard to believe now, the difficult times will make you a better person, and maybe you'll even look back at it one day with puzzlement (this is from my own experience). It's just like a movie.