Lots of people were doing ten-year photo challenges, and I got to thinking about who I was ten years ago. Then I decided to channel my best Janet Jackson and do my own Design of a decade, in spite of having no hits to speak of. The task was relatively simple; I chose one picture that I thought summed up each year of the last decade. Then I wrote a short essay reflecting on the milestones, the heartbreaks, and the moments that defined me. I’m a different person than I was at the start of this decade, and I’m ten years closer to the person I want to be. Here’s to ten more.
2010 felt like emerging from a coma. I was 24, and for the first time in years, I had a strong sense of who I was and what I wanted. I had kicked off the 2000s by coming out to myself for the first time in writing. I wrote it in a journal I kept hidden in my mattress. 10 years later I had finally come around to loving that person. So I got my first tattoo; an image of a snake fused with a revolver and pulling its own trigger. I could write at length about its meanings, but the simple version is this: taking a risk and owning the consequences. Sometimes we have to make bold choices, and we can’t know who we will be on the other side of them. Carving this notion into my skin was about celebrating both my successes and my failures. I kicked off this decade by setting an intention of being the person I wanted to be, and not just what others expected. New Years 2010 felt very much like a new beginning for me, and it was. 2010 was the year that Reed and I decided to make a comic book, the year I decided to move to New York City (though not the year that I actually did), and it was the year I reconnected with Blair and fell in love.
2011 was a year of upheaval and change. It was a year of falling drunk in love on the streets of Manhattan and finally leaving upstate New York behind. Blair also introduced me to his love for Detroit. Imagine a montage set to Talking Heads “Uh-oh, Love Comes to Town.” It was also the year I lost him, which happened on the same night I moved to Brooklyn. On Blair’s recommendation, I started reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower just before he died; I finished reading it after. There was an odd comfort in reading about a world that felt more bleak than my own. The mantras of Earthseed resonated with me in a way I couldn’t have anticipated when I first picked up the book. 2011 was home to the best and the worst moments of my life. It was a year of mixtapes and long-distance phone calls, of rooftop prayers by makeshift candlelit altars; of shifting ground and finding new meanings to old songs. 2011 was a year that changed me more than any other before it. In Blair’s own words: “There’s no such thing as slowly breaking through the glass, it either is or it isn’t.”
You can read my blog post on Blair’s mixtapes here.
2012 was a rough year. I felt like I walked around with a ghost in my pocket. Everywhere I went, I carried grief, depression, and all of the gravity they bring with them. The world had shaken me to my core and then simply moved on, leaving me behind to figure shit out. One of the best decisions I ever made was to adopt Coeus. I knew it was a huge responsibility, and I had barely managed to take care of myself up to that point, but it ended up being exactly what I needed. It gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It gave me a routine and something to smile about. Dogs have a way of reminding us to keep things simple; to be grateful for what we have instead of bitter about what we’ve lost. That’s not to say it solved everything, but Coeus made me feel sane for the first time since Blair died. His presence blunted the edges of my trauma and helped keep my head above water.
You can read my blog post about my first few months with Coeus here.
2013 is a difficult year to write about, and this is a picture I was hesitant to post. I chose it because I think it captures a genuine moment of joy. It was taken by my friend Joy at my surprise birthday party. Having so many people that I love show up for me that night meant more to me than I can put into words. It’s difficult to write about my ex who organized it, but it would be impossible for me to say anything about this period of my life without doing so. He was my closest friend during the most difficult years of my life. Even though that bridge has long since been burned, I can still hold love and appreciation for what was. 2013 was overall another long slog; I still had a long way to go in terms of getting my shit together. My depression was not quite shaken, but I could see some silver linings. This moment, this picture, was one of them.
2014 was a transition year for me. I like this picture, slightly blurry, taken on a subway platform after a long day of working at a job that I hated. It’s slightly out of focus, reflecting a distorted sense of self I felt trapped in. I remember discovering the song “Level Up” by Vienna Teng right before getting laid off. If I had an anthem for 2014, that would be it. It gave voice to a sentiment that I couldn’t quite articulate at the time; that I was tired of feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t want to be a victim of circumstance anymore. I was sick of not having my shit together. Although it set me back financially, losing that job ended up being the best thing that happened to me since moving to New York. It was the push I needed to redefine who I was and allow myself to begin again somewhere new.
You can read my blog post on my 2014/2015 bout with Imposter Syndrome here.
2015 was a year of big milestones. Reed and I finally published the first chapter of Dream Crasher. After years of talking about this comic book we had been working on, there was finally something to show for it. And we’re still going (Chapter 6 coming soon). I traveled overseas for the first time as an adult and developed some wanderlust as a result. I’ve still got the itch to see more. I also rediscovered my love for reading and biking, which remain a huge part of my life. Beneath the surface of highlights and accomplishments, I was also going through a year-long breakup for most of 2015. Or maybe it was a breakup that took a year to acknowledge. Regardless, it took up a lot of time in therapy and taught me a lot about myself; including the good, bad, and ugly parts. If 2014 was a year of new beginnings, 2015 was a year of finding my confidence and voice again.
2016 was a good year for me personally. I met and fell in love with Dierre. He took me to my first NYC Pride, where we took this picture. I knew early on that we were a good match; time has only proved me right. 2016 was also the year that Reed and I successfully ran our first Kickstarter for Dream Crasher. I tabled five different conventions. I broke even at two of them and lost money at the rest, but I learned a ton of invaluable lessons from the experience. It was also a year that saw an exhausting presidential election culminate in the worst possible outcome. We will be feeling the repercussions of that well into the next decade. And it was the year of the Pulse nightclub shooting, which shook me in more ways than I thought possible. I’ve been routinely wearing a rainbow bracelet ever since as a means of remaining visibly queer in spaces where I might otherwise blend in. It strengthened my resolve to not just accept my own queerness, but to truly love that part of myself. And it reminded me to never take the queer community for granted.
2017 was a year of huge milestones and painful learning experiences. This picture was taken at New York Comic Con, and there’s a story behind it. Dierre and I made the decision to move in together in the fall of 2017, which was a first for both of us. At the same time, Reed and I successfully ran our second Kickstarter for Dream Crasher. While we were successful, I underestimated how stressful the second go-round would be. I was tempted to pull the plug on it midway through. I was forced to confront and work through my self-destructive tendencies. I learned that I can’t just burn things to the ground and walk away, even when things feel overwhelming. I also learned that one should never do something as stressful as running a Kickstarter campaign while simultaneously dealing with a major life change (like moving in with your significant other). I endured, the campaign was successful, and a few hours after hitting our goal I got to sit behind a table at New York Comic Con and sell my comics for the first time. The ups and downs were jarring, and the lessons learned were difficult but necessary. I can’t thank Dierre enough for both supporting me and challenging me throughout the ordeal.
You can read my blog post about that whole Kickstarter experience here.
2018 took me to new parts of the world. I did a solo trip to Barcelona and got to travel all around Kenya as part of an eight-day immersive scholarship program. I like this picture because it was taken at the end of a powerful day spent with the Maasai women, and we’d just had a second flat tire on the trip back to Nairobi. The whole trip was designed to take us out of our comfort zones, become immersed in a space with strong socio-political divisions, and reflect on our own personal place in the world at large. At the end of the trip, we were asked to pick an image from a set of postcards to represent a takeaway from the trip. I chose a picture of the planet from space, which I deliberately kept displayed on my desk with the South Pole on top. For me, it’s a reminder that there are so many different ways to see and experience the world than the ways we are taught. Beyond travel and perspective shifts, I focused a lot on my health in 2018. I cleaned up my diet, bought a new bike, and started regularly doing yoga. I lost 20lbs, biked around 600 miles, and learned a lot about my mental and emotional well-being. I also started a new blog, which I am still actively updating. I’ll be collecting all of these into a post on there when I’m done.
You can read my blog post on Barcelona here.
2019 was a lot of things, but the best part of it was going to Amsterdam and reinvigorating my love for biking. One of the things holding me back from biking to work was the fact that my work commute is my reading time. Then I discovered audiobooks and it changed everything. I can’t listen to them while I’m in traffic, but the majority of my commute is on bike lanes. I ended up logging just shy of 1,000 miles for the year, and I finally got around to reading a bunch of the nonfiction I’d been putting off for years. Cal Newport’s book Deep Work had a particularly resonant impact on me, changing the way I think about focus and how it relates to my own creative goals. To put it simply; focus is like a muscle, it gets tired after a while, and my day job consists of lots of interruptions. So back in August, I started waking up and writing before work. I have never been a morning person. I’m still not and wouldn’t be if I didn’t have to be. But it’s really worked so far. It’s a habit I hope to continue and improve upon in the next decade.