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Lessons Learned in 2009

Cambridge after snow
Photo taken by me

The other day, I was speaking with my colleague and friend Angie Han about what kind of year this has been for me. I wasn’t in a particularly good mood at the time, so the one word that I used to describe it was “Terrible.” She wished me a better 2010, and asked me if I’d learned any lessons from 2009. For the life of me, I couldn’t articulate any lessons I had learned, and that fact actually began to depress me even more.

It wasn’t until the next morning while I was in the shower, I was struck with a bunch of lessons that I’d learned this year. And I realized that the reason they hadn’t occurred to me is because even though I did learn a bunch of stuff, most of it isn’t particularly helpful or applicable. It’s just…stuff?

So here are my lessons of 2009, in no particular order:

The Films of the Coen Brothers Collectively Present a Compelling Worldview –
Money is not everything. The world is going to hell in a handbasket and there is nothing we can do to stop it. Only those who dare to be decent will be punished. The Dude abides. Accept the mystery.

The Vocal Minority – Let’s say you do a podcast, or run a website, or write a blog: As a general matter, your critics will be much more vocals than your fans. This means that even though the ratio of people who like you to people who dislike you is 10:1, the ratio of positive comments to negative comments will be closer to 1:1. This will create the illusion that most people don’t like your work and that your life’s labor is meaningless. On a related matter….

Encouragement – There’s the oft-repeated fact that it takes 43 muscles to frown and only 17 to smile, so we should all smile a hell of a lot more. Even though that “fact” is actually complete bull crap, it is actually a lot easier to provide encouragement than discouragement. If you’re eating at a restaurant and your waitress/waiter is great, take a few minutes and tell their manager how you feel about them. I guarantee you it will make their day. If you read a blog post that moves you or makes you think, send an e-mail/twitter/IM and let the author know how much you appreciate it. Positive vibes are a lot easier to send people than negative ones, and everyone will feel better in the end if you focus more energy on the former.

I’m a Mac and a PC – PCs and Macs have significantly different advantages. Neither one is definitively “better” than the other, despite what many internet writers may claim.

Today – No matter what people say about how you can always turn things around, many decisions you make today will affect you for the rest of your life. Occasionally, these decisions can have profoundly negative effects that will change you forever.

Opportunities That Are There Today May Not Be There Tomorrow – Seize the day, and don’t let go until you’ve drained out every last ounce of hope and possibility.

Proverbs 17:17 – “A friend loves at all times.”

Respect – On a long enough timeline, the respect you have for people you greatly admire will approach zero.

Lea Michele is a really good singer.

Stories – A well-told story can change someone’s life in ways you cannot imagine.

Mistakes – It is possible to screw up so royally that you feel no more desire to exist. How you react to your mistakes dictates who you truly are.

Challenge – Finding something you are good at can be a lot different than finding something that challenges you. In the best of worlds, you can do something that is both.

Hope – It can keep someone alive.

Twitter and the online film community – No one seems to care about the fact that when people see us bickering like schoolchildren, it makes us all look bad. To be clear, I am referring to all of us collectively, including me, and no one specific. But on that note….

Calling People Out – If you’re going to bother to do this on Twitter or anywhere else, do it by name. Don’t wuss out. It just makes things confusing and unpleasant for everyone.

Survivors – In general, the ones that will prosper may not be the smartest or the best. They just have to be first, business-savvy, and “good enough.”

Success – No amount of professional success can ever compensate for personal shortcomings.


I was talking with my friend Matt yesterday he said something that I hope will be prescient: “I sense great new things this decade, Dave. I sense this decade will be the decade of not giving up.”

I hope he is right.

  • I listen to your disembodied voice and in the past year on various occasions have been struck by the sadness I hear behind it. I sometimes imagine just giving you a hug.

    The podcast is genuine, funny, interesting, and enthusiastic. It's always a nice addition to my week.

    Keep up the good work & happy new year.

  • ALI Hamrouni

    hey DAVID
    I live in Germany and I adore your podcast (you and SMODCAST keep me company in my lonely apartment)
    I listen to you,devindra,adam,(kevin&mosier) everytime I wanna relax and do the dishes,laundry,go to school,etc.
    I like your attitudes, banter and your film-smarts …you are GOOD PEOPLES.
    I love what you (and stephen of course) created with the TOBOLOWSKY FILES
    …please keep doing it … till I DIE 🙂

    i wish u a happy new year
    ali hamrouni

  • Hey Dave, started listening to your podcast(s) this year, and your voice has become a regular part of my week.
    Love everything you're doing, keep up the good work.


  • Matthew

    Yeah, the part about encouragement is defenitely true, i think i listened to every of your podcast this year and never bothered to leave a positive comment, so here it is: i really enjoy listening to your podcast, mainly because it feels so personal and makes me laugh emberassingly in public. I dont know, i had a similar bad year, so better luck next year i guess.

  • For what it's worth, the /Filmcast is absolutely one of my favorite podcasts on the Internet, and I don't even really like movies all that much. It's because of the fun banter and intelligent thought that you, Adam, and Devindra bring that makes me so look forward to each new episode. (Kind of like how I love Top Gear but don't really care a bit about cars.) Thanks!

  • The internet didn't open up for me until I discovered film news/discussion sites and podcasts back in 2004/05. No one around me had the same interest or possessed the same knowledge about films as I did and this new discovery flooded me with a comfort and rapture I still carry to this day. The online film community had been exactly what I'd needed and the same goes for the podcasts I've collected throughout the years, most notably Filmspotting (Adam & Sam & Matty), the three of you at Watcher's/SlashFilmCast(Dave, Devindra & Adam) and Chris and Jimmy from Scene Unseen.
    I've followed the podcast from CLOVERFIELD to UP IN THE AIR and for whatever reason, I feel a certain camaraderie with the group and especially you. I am not proclaiming my love and I'm sure you are not taking it as such but I simply want to express the veneration in which I hold you.
    Over these last couple of years, life has taken a sharp turn for me and much of my days have been fogged with a definite stress and tension. Of course, it's not my business to read your life as a tabloid but I know the events of this past year for you have also formed a distinct parabola with its woes and joys.
    I want to express my deep and humble appreciation to you for the effort and labor you put in as it is apparent you feel the same love and adoration for this craft of film-making as I do.
    I used to wonder how great it'd have been if we were all friends growing up, with this same aching glee for film, but then a realization came to me. In this new generation of Web 2.0 and "life-sharing," friendship has taking a completely new form. Although you and I have only spoken once or twice and our daily lives may never intersect, I believe there would be no trouble getting acquainted if we were to meet thanks to this WorldWideWeb (much like the /Film crew getting together at Comic-Con, but I digress).
    Much like every great film we love though, we know nothing gold can last. One day, the /Filmcast, too, must end and I'm sure all of you will be moving to greener pastures with bright futures and enjoyable careers. This is the same I can hope and pray for myself. So, once again David, I want thank you for being a constant source of inspiration and a weekly one of solace. I share your awe for where you, Devindra, Adam and the Watcher's Podcast are today.
    I don't think it's inconceivable to hope that one day we may meet or even share conversation on the /Filmcast.

  • robdelacruz

    You forgot the part about slashfilmcast being the best podcast on the internet. I've been listening to the podcast since Jeff Cannata first appeared as a guest and have been a fan since.

    Keep up the good work and keep those shows coming! Congrats too to Devindra and Adam for being fantastic co-hosts to a great show.

  • Thanks for your comments, all. They are greatly appreciated.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Chen.

    I just recently started listening to your podcast this year and cannot stop. The reason I started was I heard about you guys thru Scene Unseen. I believe that you, Devindra, and Adam truly know your stuff about movies! You guys are doing a great service to the internet airwaves.

    Thank you personally for putting the podcasts (/Film, After Dark, and The Tobolowsky Files) together each week. Without these, I don't know what I would be doing for the time each day I spend listening (and most times re-listening) to them. Also, think about all of the spectacular interviews you have conducted and were able to give to the countless loyal listeners of the/Filmcast.

    Thank you so much!! I know that this year will be awesome!!!!

  • Abel Estrada

    Hey Dave,

    I have been listening since the Kevin Smith Dark Knight Episode. I just want to say that even though you may face haters, always know that there are many more who appreciate the show and your work. Never lose hope, and know that God will always be by your side.

  • Oogway

    As I've posted over at slashfilm, you and your colleagues make my favorite movie podcast.

    There is one point in your post I can't agree on enough :):

    "If you read a blog post that moves you or makes you think, send an e-mail/twitter/IM and let the author know how much you appreciate it. Positive vibes are a lot easier to send people than negative ones, and everyone will feel better in the end if you focus more energy on the former."
    Yesss! 🙂

    So on that note, here's a New Year's benediction for 2010 by Neil Gaiman to you me and everyone which I found wonderful to find on his blog yesterday :):

    Also, here's a quite upbeat Interview with an inspiring actress who last year got an Emmy for her playing a quite disctinct cheerful teacher. I hope it might make you smile :).:

    I wish you all the best for 2010 Dave and lots of pleasant surprises :). May you have better times than you could ever imagine :).

  • Hey Dave, just wanted to say that your words are very encouraging. I have been in a situation for quite some time no wherein i'm not able to be with the person i love. At least, not yet. Because of this situation i have changed quite a bit, and i really did become a somewhat bitter guy. Missing someone can make you feel sick in truly every way.

    But let's not dwell on the past. My viewings on the world changed, and i thank God everyday for the things i do have. For this thing called the internet, for example. The /Filmcast is my way of relaxing after a crappy day, and the words you put on this blog are encouraging me everyday to be positive. There is a lot to be grateful of.

    Thank you for a great podcast, and some very helpful words on your blog. Wishing you all the best in the new year, from a very cold The Netherlands!