The summer my body almost shut down

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“How do you have enough time to do everything?”

More than any other question, this is the one people have asked me the most over the past decade or so. When I was a younger man in my twenties, I overflowed with energy. I’d jog, bike, work, stay up till late at night using Lynda.com tutorials to teach myself how to use editing programs and take classes to learn the principles of photography. Even recently, I managed to direct The Primary Instinct while holding down a full time job.

Now I’m a bit older, and I find I don’t have quite the same amount of energy for getting things done. Nevertheless, life is for living! This summer, I still felt i could pack my days full of work and movie screenings and podcasts and still come out the other side better for it.

That principle was put to the test when my body almost shut down as a result of a series of illnesses. To be fair, this has been a stressful summer. I started a new, exciting full-time job at a large company. I hosted three podcasts simultaneously, two of which had pretty significant audience (i.e. over 100K listeners). I moved out of my apartment that I’d been living in for five years. I was going at life at a non-stop rate — at least, as non-stop as someone in my line of work can get.

Typically, I get sick once a year or so. I often come down with the flu during winter. It’s usually pretty debilitating, and it takes me out of commission for a few days, but its impact is quite limited and I move on with my life.

I was stunned when in mid-July, during the dead heat of summer, I seemingly contracted the flu again after getting it just a few months prior. After a brutal week of recovery, I felt things were better. I was lucid and felt good enough to go into work, even as I still coughed violently and felt generally miserable. The fact that Seattle was inundated by smog from wildfires significantly aggravated my condition and further slowed my recovery.

Roughly three weeks afterwards in early August, I was at work and waiting for my ride home one afternoon when suddenly I felt dizzy and cold. I barely made it out of the car and into bed. The flu-like symptoms returned with a vengeance, incapacitating me for several more days. It was time to see a doctor.

My primary care provider told me that he thought I contracted a sinus infection while I had the flu, and just never beat it. He prescribed me steroids, antibiotics, decongestants, and a few other things to get me back on my feet. Within two weeks, things were back to normal, even though I did get temporarily worried that the sinus infection had not been extinguished.

I thought that was the end of it, but three weeks after that in September, I went into work one morning and started feeling chills and aches and pains all over. It was like the flu, but much worse — a sort of illness I had rarely experienced in my life. A couple of hours later, I could barely move. My co-workers told me I was pale. I was confined to bed once more.

I went into see the doctor the next day, who told me that I likely had viral gastroenteritis (i.e. a stomach virus). One thing he said that will stick with me: “Sometimes, something like stress is all it takes to breach the immune system. Once that happens, the results can be all-encompassing.” There was no prescription for viral gastroenteritis, other than getting rest, drinking lots of fluids, and taking it easy on the stomach in terms of foods.

It’s now late September and I feel a lot better. I hope I’m out of the woods now, but I’m not going to count on that quite yet.

I realize that everyone has their own health struggles, and that overall, I’ve been pretty lucky for most of my life to not have to struggle with chronic conditions that are debilitating or life-altering. That said, 2017 has been the worst health “year” of my life. I’ve never had so many illnesses in such a short period of time, nor have they felt quite so agonizing.

I’m grateful to everyone who has done things to take care of me and express concern for me during this challenging time. These events have really made me re-asses my life goals and my capacity to accomplish them. If I’m to take any lessons from this summer, they’d be the following:

  • If you keep pushing the limits of your body and mind from a stress perspective, there may come a time when it can no longer take it.
  • Online connections and friendships are wonderful but when you get sick, it’s only the people who you know “in real life” who will be able to help you.
  • Whatever enjoyment you get out of the productive activities in your life, it’s not worth it if there there are significant negative health implications as a result.
  • People aren’t grateful enough for the ability to eat and pass food normally.

Take care of yourselves, folks.

I got sick again

A few weeks ago, I got sick. Updates for the blog stopped, as I tried to balance my other life responsibilities with getting better. I thought I’d kicked it, but this past week it returned with a vengeance. Aches and pains. Chills. Endless, endless coughing that disrupted my sleep every night of the week.

I went to see a doctor (finally) and turns out I likely contracted a sinus infection that simply never went away. I’m on drugs now to help beat this thing but between this ongoing illness and this smoke in Seattle that hasn’t gone away in weeks, it’s been one of my most miserable summers in quite some time.

In any case, I’m hopeful the blog updates shall resume with full force soon.

Happy birthday, Stephen

A big happy birthday to Stephen Tobolowsky today.

At this point, I’ve spent hundreds of hours of my life trying to bring Stephen’s stories into the wider world. The reason is obvious: When you see impact of Stephen’s stories in front of a live audience, you feel like you have to do everything you can to share what you just saw. Sometimes, we are called to just carry the fire, to just keep an idea alive, even if our resources aren’t that vast.

In return, Stephen has been game to work on most of my crazy ideas, like starting a podcast that would span 80+ episodes full of stories about his adventures, or making a movie based off the podcast. Or, more recently, doing a live show in Los Angeles this past weekend on three weeks notice, which we filmed and are planning to put out into the world.

I took this photo of him backstage at the Whitefire Theatre, preparing to go on. He killed it, btw.

Happy birthday, Stephen. Here’s to many more awesome years and stories.

R.I.P. Gen Pop

This month, Gen Pop — my pop culture podcast with Joanna Robinson — will come to an end.

Sometimes I’ll create a podcast that lasts 10 years (and counting). Other times, a show will last 6 months. Unfortunately, Gen Pop was one of the latter.

Out of all my podcasts, Gen Pop was probably the show that I worked the hardest on and stretched myself the most on. And while it didn’t have the largest audience, it had a really impassioned fan base. I’m so grateful to people who donated to the show and who supported us every step of the way.

The folks at Nerdophiles wrote up this lovely retrospective on the podcast, and it’s awesome:

I’m sad to see Gen Pop go, but happy for the other opportunities to catch Joanna and David still podcasting. Gen Pop truly was one of my favorite podcasts that really had its finger on the pulse of pop culture. It delivered a weekly interesting conversation that was topical and well-informed, often times giving me new insight and perspective.

I’m glad that people got something out of the show. It makes me feel like all the work we put into it was not ill-spent.

You can listen to the entire back catalog of Gen Pop here.

I’m joining Amazon

I am exceptionally excited to announce that I will be joining Amazon in June.

Amazon is one of the few companies that is shaping how humans interact with technology and the world, and it’s full of ridiculously smart people that I’m looking forward to learning from.

The path to this next step in my professional career has been a long one. I’m so grateful for all the Seattle folks who helped me to make it to this point. I couldn’t have done it without them. 

Welcome to the new davechen.net!

After many months of languishing on an old Blogger account, the new davechen.net is finally here! I’m once again hoping this blog will once again become a permanent, online repository for my writings, as well as links that I find interesting.

In the age of Medium, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter, it is so easy to spend all of our time building our online profiles elsewhere. Doing so confers many benefits, but there are also some important downsides. Personally, I like to own and control all my content, in order to ensure its longevity. Hence, this new WordPress install to replace the old blog.

WordPress is a fully-featured blogging platform that offers numerous benefits over Blogger:

  1. It’s open source and maintained by a distributed community, meaning it’s likely to not only last for awhile, but will continue being updated (Unlike Blogger, which seems to have been completely forgotten)
  2. I can finally implement some modern-day SEO for the site! Blogger gives you very little control over this.
  3. TONS of plug-ins can be integrated into your site, such as Disqus.
  4. Should I ever want to leave, many OTHER platforms support WordPress migration. Not so with Blogger.

From this point on, my plan is to try to post on here as frequently as I post to my Twitter and Facebook accounts. That means a lot more updates, some of which will be pretty short (maybe even a sentence long). I won’t always succeed with this rate of updates, but I’m going to try my hardest and it’ll be better than nothing.

Big thanks go to my brother, Michael, for his help with setting this up. And thanks in advance to you, the reader, for checking this site out. I hope you find it interesting.

More Thoughts on 1 Second Everyday

First off, I’ve been continuing my 1 Second Everyday project. Here’s an updated video that depicts my first two months (approximately) in Seattle:


After I made my initial post, I had a lot more time to reflect on this project and specifically, its constraints. I also had a fantastic, lengthy conversation with Cesar Kuriyama, who has helped to popularize this type of project.

Before I delve into some of the things we discussed, I should emphasize that there is no right or wrong way to do this. We are just at the beginning of an era when regular consumers having the capability to record and edit these types videos, so we’re all just writing the rules as we go along.

Cesar and I discussed the following issues:

First, a reminder for those attempting to do the same project – It’s best to record multiple “seconds” each day, as you may not know which one will mean the most to you until later. See more on this topic below.

Can it ever be longer than a second? – Limits encourage creativity. They force us to innovate and to avoid excess. Nonetheless, I wondered about the one second limit. Cesar saw changing it as a slippery slope: if you make some segments longer than one second, then you’re “privileging” certain days, when each day should get its own “chance” to be a part of the project. Taken to the extreme, this could destroy the integrity of the project.

Personally, this doesn’t bother me too much. I agree with limits, but one second occasionally seems arbitrarily short. One of the people that has done a similar project didn’t impose a one second limit on her project and the resulting project was still great.  If you watch the above video, you may notice that some of the segments are slightly longer than one second. Here’s what I can promise: the overwhelmingly vast majority of segments will be one second long. Some of them will be slightly longer than one second. None of them will be as long or longer than two seconds. 

Should you add music to the final product? The video I just mentioned is scored to LCD Soundsystem, and gained popularity partially as a result of that. Cesar is against scoring these types of projects. From his blog:

Being able to listen to any particular moment is crucial to remembering it. The sound of my dad laughing… Tina Fey’s Bossypants audio book while I’m driving through Tennessee… even the sound of slapping my cousin hello brings me back, haha :)Not to mention that music directs you towards a certain mood. And some of these seconds can switch from joy to sorrow, then back to joy in literally a heart beat.

A great discussion ensued about this topic on my Facebook wall. C. Robert Cargill defended the notion of using music thusly:

Those are interesting thoughts, though I would argue that it is hard for anyone to really glean real emotion from one second clips. I come from the Kerouac school of writing: “Be in love with yr life.” A piece like this *should* be a celebration. I should, for a few brief minutes, feel like you aren’t just living your life, but that you are living the hell out of it. The right piece of music married to that kind of footage could do just that.

I haven’t quite decided how I’m going to handle this yet, but it’s likely I’ll produce two separate videos: one with music and one without.

What about releasing the videos on a regular basis? – People who follow this blog know that I like to produce content. A lot of content. Photos, videos, audio: I get a thrill out of recording some slice of this world and presenting it for all to see on a regular basis. The idea of working my ass off for a year-long project and only being able to release a single video that might be seen by just a few hundred/thousand people seemed like a lot of work for not that much payoff.

Should I release monthly updates of the project? Maybe do a halfway point (6 months) video? There are disadvantages to this, of course: any sort of progress update would likely blunt the impact of a final video. Cesar chimed in on this topic with some of his thoughts: 

Much like my thoughts on music, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer, just personal preference. Off the top of my head I could think of at least a couple of reason why I prefer yearly.

– when I first came up with this idea, I was adamant about doing something that wouldn’t feel like a chore. I think posting per month for the rest of my life would feel a bit more like perpetual homework. (although the App I’m currently developing will largely resolve this)

– Like you so eloquently explained in your blog post, I often keep several seconds to represent a particular day. I’ve found that I often need time to reflect on what ends up being the second that I want to remember forever. Example: In my video, you’ll see me playing Settler’s of Catan a bunch. The first time you see my play that board game is actually the first time I was taught how to play by a friend’s husband. He’s explaining the rules in it. I remember that was the day I biked all over the Ohio State campus. And I had recorded a second there. I’d always wanted to check out that campus since I was in High School. I thought it was pretty obvious that would be my second of the day. In the months that followed, Catan became a HUGE part of the life of my friends and I. We love getting together to play the crap out of it. Because I didn’t post my compilation online until the end of my first year, I was able to change my mind and switch the second for that day. Learning how to play that game became a pretty significant event in my life. Obviously unbeknownst to me at the time. This ended up being the case for a considerable amount of seconds. It wasn’t until months later that I realized certain events became truly significant.

– a short reason. Much like yourself, I tend to post a couple of things online every day. Sometimes its a cool online nugget, and sometimes it’s something personal. I think demanding the attention of my friends once a year to get a glimpse of my life is much more absorbable than requesting 30 seconds of their attention monthly.

– I guess one of the things I’m getting at is… there’s a lot you can get away with if you wait a long time before posting… another example is the 2 horrible months when my sister in law was in the hospital. I was always petrified recording those moments. I wasn’t even on facebook during that span of time. I can’t imagine posting something like that while it was still happening. I was so scared my family would hate me for putting all that in a video. The night before my flight to TED I shared the video with my Sister in Law, her mom, & my mom… I thought: “well… if they’re not comfortable with me sharing this on the stage at TED and online… I’ll try to explain my reasonings… but if that fails… then I’ll just have to cut the video short because there’s no way I would do this without my families approval”. Luckily they loved it. It worked exactly as I intended it… a reflection of how bad things were, and how grateful we should be that we’ve moved on to better days.


– There was something exceptionally magical about how friends in my “seconds” reacted when they saw themselves in the compilation of my first year… most didn’t know they would be in it. For some weird reason, they felt a lot closer to me. They were often happy that I decided that they were a meaningful part of my life. I don’t believe this would have the same effect if we had shared a particular moment together, & I was posting it just a month later.


As a point of fact, I still think it’s possible to post monthly compilations, then switch out a “second” or two when it comes time to create the year-end project. I haven’t decided how I’m going to proceed, but it’s likely that this will be the last time you see a cumulative progress update on this project (at least until maybe I’m six months into it). 
***

That’s all for now. Thanks again to Cesar for his guidance. Hope you enjoy the video.

The First 30 Days

What is one year like in the life of David Chen? We’re all about to find out.

Earlier this year, a woman named Madeline released an interesting video on Vimeo. She had shot one second of video for every day of her life during the year 2011. I found the result to be unexpectedly inspiring and moving.

Several months later, /Filmcast listener and all-around awesome dude Cesar Kuriyama took to the stage at TED to unveil his own “one second every day project“, which he’d been filming every day for the 30th year of his life.

Kuriyama is passionate about the project and believes everyone should engage in it. I think the final result is fascinating, a seemingly endless series of context-less images. Context-less, that is, to everyone but the filmmaker. It’s a compelling snapshot of one’s life, a video that is evocative for the creator and intriguing and enigmatic for the viewer.

So, I’m pleased to announce that I am also undertaking this project. My birthday this year was May 20th, right around the same time I uprooted my life from Boston and moved to Seattle. Starting on that day, I have filmed one second of video every single day. Around this time next year, I’ll plan to publish the result, a chronicle of my first year here.

In doing this project, I’ve made a few observations about how best to approach it. First of all, I think this project works best when the second that you record is somehow representative of the day that you had, or at least, how you want to remember that day. In practice, this can get a bit tricky; often times the most interesting that happens to me is an interaction I have with someone else. While I can frequently “anticipate” when a good “second” will arrive, it’s often inopportune to whip out a camera and start recording. Secondly, it’s useful to record multiple seconds for each day, giving you the option to choose from a number of them. As a result, it’s also important to have a robust cataloging system for all of your “potential seconds.” Finally, I don’t have experience with this yet, but it sounds like it’s useful to create a master file for the final video, then stitch the videos together intermittently and continuously add them to that file, as opposed to doing them all at the end. Alternatively, one could also create videos for each month, then bind them all together in the end. I may end up going this path because it will allow me to release regular video content, but it also robs the final video of some of its uniqueness. We’ll see. 

As a proof-of-concept, I’ve stitched together my first 30 seconds, representing my first month here. You can find this video below:

When I began working on the project, I asked Cesar Kuriyama, “What if you do this every day for a year and the resulting video ends up being incredibly boring?”

Kuriyama responded, “That’s good! Because then you’ll look back on how boring your life was and you’ll resolve to change things.”

Not a bad point, that. I don’t know what the end result will motivate me to do. I can only hope it will show a life lived full, with love, laughter, and friends, a humble aspiration for the beginning of my new life.

[I am indebted to Cesar Kuriyama for his counsel and for helping me to establish a workflow for pulling these clips together. Be sure to check out his other work.]