Birthday #3 in Seattle

This photograph was taken two years ago, after I first arrived in Seattle from Boston. I remember when I first got here, often looking out into the city and wondering what the future would hold. What would my life be like? Would I even have a life here?

While Seattle feels a lot like home now, it was never a slam dunk that this move would be a good idea. It’s not an easy thing, to leave everything you’ve ever known and loved, and set out to a different place (with very little in the way of a support network) hoping that you can improve your condition.

 In the past year, I’ve met so many cool people, been to so many beautiful places, seen so many awesome shows, and gotten to create so many exciting things. The ENTIRETY of my concert film project with Stephen Tobolowsky (save post-production) happened all within the past 12 months, including meeting all the talented people that would help make it possible. None of it would’ve happened if I’d stayed in Boston.

 So on this birthday of mine, I’m grateful that I’m here, where I am, at this very moment. And I’m thankful for all the people in my life, whoever/wherever you are, who’ve given me any support of any kind, who have followed and subscribed to my rantings and ramblings, and who have encouraged my wildly implausible dreams.

 Life in Seattle hasn’t all been easy. In fact, more often than not, it’s been really challenging and stressful.

 But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Two Years

Exactly two years ago today, I walked into New Employee Orientation at Microsoft and into a new life (I took the above photo that day). I still remember how nervous I was, surrounded by all these hyper-intelligent people and unsure of of how profoundly everything was about to change.

Starting work at Microsoft was just the precipitating factor that set in motion a massive chain of events, culminating in the recent completion of principal photography for my upcoming concert film with Stephen Tobolowsky. Along the way, I’ve met the most awesome, wonderful, talented people. It’s hard for me to even remember what life was like before Microsoft. As my friend Lisa put it, it simultaneously feels like a lifetime ago, and also like just yesterday that I was checking into my Seattle temporary housing for the first time.

Working at Microsoft can change someone’s life. It can GIVE someone a life. It can enable you to have a career, to work on products that are used by millions of people, to live in an amazing city, to buy a house(!). Getting a job here is transformative. There are few days that go by when I don’t feel gratitude for it, even though there ARE days that are really challenging…

I remain appreciative to my colleagues Audrey and Terri for recommending me for my first job, and KC for giving me an offer when few others would’ve. Sometimes, all someone needs is a chance to prove themselves. If you provide one, then who knows what good things can come of it?

One Year in the Life of David Chen

Here it is. After endless seconds recorded and a dozen hours of editing, I’ve finally completed this video that features one second for every single day of this year of my life. I don’t know how much I have to add beyond the previous blog posts I’ve made on this topic, but a few lessons learned come to mind:

– The biggest challenge is to continue making seconds each day. It becomes exhausting to either a) create interesting moments, or b) find unique images in day-to-day life. As days went by, my motivation started to waver, as did my willingness to pull out a camera whenever something spectacular was happening. In these moments, I had to trust that the final product would be worth it. But to be sure, when I show this to people and they get excited about doing it themselves, the one thing that I warn them about is to make sure they have the commitment and discipline to take this project to its completion.

– On that note, recording food became a huge temptation. The reason for this is because if you think about it, food is one of the few things that is noticeably different from day to day, especially if you work a regular 9-5 job. It was an easy fallback, a crutch. As a result, more shots of food ended up in the final video than I probably would have preferred.

– Storing, organizing, and editing the video snippets became onerous. If you attempt this project, I’d strongly recommend you update the video every few months or so, rather than doing them in one fell swoop at the end. Cesar Kuriyama’s 1 Second Every Day app apparently automates this entire process to a huge extent.

– Watching and editing this video was an emotional experience. I remembered profound moments that I might’ve otherwise forgotten. I re-lived moments of lasting significance. My heart broke while contemplating the connections I’ve lost, and swelled at the relationships gained. More importantly, the project encouraged me to try to live life to its fullest – to find beauty in every day, and in the subtle moments that we might not think of. I might not have always succeeded, but I tried. In the end, the production of the project became as worthwhile as the final product.

– I’m still looking for a way to go beyond this project. One Second Everyday can convey a lot, but I still find it restrictive and wish there were a better way to capture my life and the lives of those around me in a way that will result in a watchable, enjoyable final product. Oftentimes it’s within significant constraints that art is made. I’m just searching and hoping to try out some different constraints in the near future (let me know if you have any ideas!)

– I’ve put together a version of this video that features a no audio except for a soundtrack backing it. I’ll release it later. I’m pretty happy with the version featuring a soundtrack, but I think this version with audio is the definitive version.

– If I were to title the video, I’d go with this: Huge Stretches of Monotony, Punctuated by Moments of Awesomeness. Perhaps that’s an apt description for many of our lives.

On a personal note, it’s been an absolutely crazy year. I changed jobs, changed lives, changed everything I’ve ever known. The least I can do is thank the people who appeared in these seconds or made them possible. They have made my life in Seattle what it is and have inarguably changed it for the better.

Thanksgiving 2012 – Seattle Edition

I remember distinctly the moment it hit me — the magnitude of the changes my life had undergone over the past 12 months. I was in a taxi hurtling dangerously through the streets of New York on a crisp fall evening in September, having just flown in to support the launch of Nokia’s new Lumia 920 phone. And as the cab weaved and dodged through the smattering of hapless pedestrians on the Upper West Side, I took a moment to reflect on how crazy everything had become. Just days earlier, I’d been in a recording studio in Los Angeles to record the first few episodes of The Tobolowsky Files for Public Radio International. Now, on behalf of Microsoft, I was about to partake in an event with hundreds of the world’s top tech press. A year ago, these weren’t events I could have truly fathomed.

In fact, a year ago, things overall weren’t looking that good for me. I was temporarily living with my parents after a major job offer had fallen through, and I was about to graduate from Harvard into a pretty uncertain future. While I still don’t think my future is written quite yet, I cannot be more grateful for how the past year has unfolded.

Mostly, I’m just thankful for all of the unique experiences I’ve had. In the past six months alone, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing people in Seattle; of collaborating with a storied radio producer for Public Radio International; of working in the office next to one of the most talented PR people in the tech industry today; of being part of one of the world’s largest technology companies as it’s released some of the most important products in its 38-year history; of seeing my brother get married; of witnessing old bonds of friendship reaffirmed and new ones formed; of performing with Stephen Tobolowsky at the Moore Theatre to an audience of over a thousand people; of falling in love; of partying on Sarah Silverman’s rooftop deck; of seeing The Shins perform live as the sun set over the gorgeous mountains of Central Washington; of taking in the immense beauty of that place they call the Puget Sound. Even when times are tough, I cannot find it in me to complain with all of the blessings in my life.

It hasn’t all been easy and fun. In fact, a lot of it has been stressful, intense, painful. And looking towards the next 12 months, I can already predict there will be great difficulties ahead, professionally and personally. But even if my life went completely down the toilet right at this moment, I’d count myself lucky for everything that has happened. And I’d hope that somehow, somewhere along the way, I’d been able to pass at least a small smattering of that happiness to those who’ve crossed my path.

Happy Thanksgiving.

18 for 18

A super cool guy at Microsoft (whose work is tangentially related to mine) just announced he was leaving today after 18 years at the company. I was really moved by his going-away e-mail, which featured the following list: 

18 for 18 – Life lessons from a “lifer” at Microsoft

1995 Sometimes people just needs a chance to prove themselves.
1996 Quitting just because you may fail isn’t an option.
1997 Being good at something has value whether you get paid well or not.

1998 You have to work your tail off to get what you want.
1999 Sometimes failure is a better teacher than success.
2000 People are more than just what they produce.
2001 Having kids shifts your priorities.
2002 Not everyone has your back. (The bus hurts when it runs over you.)
2003 Listening is undervalued but you should do it anyway. It makes you wiser.
2004 Sometimes you have to force yourself into a new situation order to grow.
2005 Working for an idiot is really, really hard.
2006 Stand up for yourself but don’t compromise your integrity to get ahead.
2007 Hire people more talented than you.
2008 If you stay in one job too long you could become irrelevant.
2009 Never burn bridges. You don’t know who you will work with again. (Plus it’s stupid.)
2010 A rising tide really does lift all boats.
2011 Be kind, be direct, and speak truth.
2012 If you leave with friends, you have accomplished much.


Don’t know what trajectory my career may follow, but I can already tell these lessons will be helpful for me.

The First Three Months

I know updates have been sparse on here recently. Honestly, between my job, all my podcasts, and trying to do social things outside of those things to keep myself sane, I barely have any time to do anything else these days.

BUT! My 1 Second Every Day project soldiers onwards. Here’s a video that shows the first three months of my life in Seattle (approximately):

A couple of observations:

  • After three months of this, it’s difficult to fight some of the “sameness” that creeps into these images. By far, that’s the biggest challenge: trying to make sure what you shoot today isn’t similar to what came before it.
  • The biggest weakness of this project is that there is pretty much nothing here of my work at Microsoft. I don’t really do any shooting on campus because I don’t want to risk the possibility of revealing anything confidential, but it remains a huge part of my new life that remains undocumented.
  • When I’ve presented this project to my friends, the one thing they all overwhelmingly say is: “If I did a project like that, it would be incredibly boring.” As I mentioned in my initial post, maybe if that’s the case you should try and make some serious changes to your life. But I have a corollary now to add to that: you don’t need to have a super interesting life to make a decent video with this project. You just need to be able to find the beautiful, fascinating, amusing things worth highlighting in each day. I think it’s a challenge worth undertaking. 

What Kind of Week This Has Been

[This post appeared earlier on my Facebook, which you can also subscribe to]

There’s an episode of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION called “The Inner Light” (Season 5 Episode 25) in which the Enterprise discovers a strange alien probe. The probe knocks Picard unconscious, and while the crew struggles to revive him, Picard’s consciousness is transported to that of an alien world, where he inhabits one of its people’s bodies, QUANTUM LEAP-style. While there, he learns the people’s customs and basically ends up living an entire, meaningful lifetime in this world that was so unfamiliar to him not too long ago. But the alien species is dying; their planet’s environment is on the fritz. As Picard’s inhabited body is approaching the end of his life, we find out that the alien race will launch a probe into space, a means of carrying on the species’ memory as they face extinction. And turns out, it was Picard (the original one) who was chosen for this task. He awakes on the Enterprise to discover only 20 minutes have passed in the real world.

Sometimes it feels like a lifetime can pass in the blink of an eye. That’s what this week felt like to me, as though I have experienced enough emotion and learning and intensity to last me for a long, long while. In situations like these, I am overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion. I can only hope to make use of the lessons that I’ve learned, remember fondly those things that I’ve experienced, and honor those that have inspired me.

P.S. Damn, that was a good episode of Star Trek.


Sunset 7-8
This is the third of three posts covering a major transition in my life. You can also read the first one and the second one.

It’s been about two months since I decided to move to Seattle, and yet it has already felt like a short lifetime. I’ve started work at a totally unfamiliar environment, begun exploring some of the rich neighborhoods around downtown, hung out with some really great locals, and found a neat new apartment in Belltown. In the meantime, I’ve also kept producing episodes of all of my podcasts, including the /Filmcast, The Tobolowsky Files, and A Cast of Kings (plus, did you hear? I’m launching a new one too).

I was prompted to write this blog post because I got all nostalgic this week reading /Film’s coverage of San Diego Comic-Con. Not too long ago, I went to Comic-Con for two years in a row, back when my work for /Film was at its peak output. I remember the special place in my geek heart that Comic-Con had occupied since my college days. The place was supposed to be a mecca of pop culture, a place where you could really let your freak flag fly and no one would judge you for it. Indeed, pretty much everything I saw comported with that dream. People dress up in crazy costumes and just nonchalantly waltz around in restaurants and convention halls alike. The gods of the film world frequently make appearances. Every now and then, you get some actual insight into the creation of a film or a TV show, or something crazy happens, or something really adorable happens. It’s like a geek’s dream-world.

But covering Comic-Con was a challenge. I recall endless lines in the hot sun coupled with hours of waiting for no guarantee of making it into a panel, and staying up late into the night, trying to bang out some relevant stories for the site. It was all so thrilling and exciting and wonderful and terrible. But there was so much camaraderie there, amongst all the great writers I had the privilege to work alongside. Sure, we were regurgitating poorly veiled marketing material, but we were racking up a crapton of pageviews, paying the bills, and basking in our love of “the popular arts.” There are few experiences as exhilarating and as cathartic. I miss the people. I miss the insanity. I miss the video blogs (one of which was actually covered by The New York Times).

This year, I didn’t go to Comic-Con. In fact, I spent this past Friday at a business meeting in San Francisco, all day. My life is totally unrecognizable from what it used to be.

It’s remarkable, this culture of online pop culture writers that’s sprung up over the course of the past decade. These people travel around the world, interviewing celebrities, seeing stuff before we get to see it, getting their own stuff read by tens of thousands of people. It sounds like living the dream and for many people, it is.

Eight months ago, I was wrapping up my Master’s degree and thinking about my next steps. One of the options I considered was diving straight into doing all of this online stuff full time. Podcasting, blogging, interviews, etc., all of it. If I really made a go of it, I would’ve probably been able to scrape together enough money to get by. But other opportunities came my way and I decided not to go that route.

In deliberating, I was confronted with an unmistakable truth: I just didn’t love it enough.

I’m sure that many of my favorite online writers live comfortably, but it is difficult out there for an aspiring film writer. There are perils everywhere. Write about something in the wrong way or in violation of some arbitrarily established “rules” and bloggers will jump all over you on Twitter. Meanwhile, the old guard will look down on you if they think your writing is not “serious” enough, or if, god forbid, you actually want to make money doing what you do. All the while, everyone vies for a rapidly vanishing slice of nominal ad dollars spent on their sites. For many, these are all just minor inconveniences that are endured in exchange for the vast benefits enumerated above. But for me, it’s not  enough. At least, not right now. There are too many things that I want to do and to learn first, before I start living the life of Reilly. It may not be as outwardly exciting as going to Comic-Con or interviewing James Cameron, but I love the wonder and satisfaction of learning and overcoming and discovering in my current *gasp* corporate environment. That’s not to say that one can’t derive that from online work (it’s usually quite the opposite, in fact). It’s just to say that I can’t right now, at least without frantically worrying about my other life obligations.

At the /Filmcast, we recently marked the four-year “anniversary” of our first episode. It reminded me that while it’s certainly been a roller-coaster ride, the past four years have also been marked with a great deal of uncertainty in my life. I don’t know that I’ve settled into my final destination yet, but after a lot of struggle, things are finally starting to feel as though they have some momentum. I’m loving my new job, my new manager/boss, and all the awesome new things I’m learning. I like the way things are, even as I miss the way they were.

It’s possible that one day I will get back into the writing/broadcasting game and do it full-bore. But in the meantime, I’m content to watch from the sidelines, to remember the good old days, and to cheer on all of my colleagues. Regardless of how much of my life is in it, it’s a great time to be alive and to experience the pleasures of art, and the pleasures of loving it.


Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.