Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Animated Thoughts: 2019 in review

2019 was rough.

It started off well enough. I attended the TAAFI Screening in February -- lots of good films enjoyed with friends from the Toronto animation scene. Things at ASIFA Central were going well. January and March had two nice local anime cons where I was something of a regular. I was finding lots of opportunities to visit the Detroit Institute of Art as well as see animated films at my local theaters. And best of all, I had been approached by a colleague at Central Michigan University to teach a history course on animation. Then the hits started coming.

Mojo napping in his box
It started with my cat Mojo dying in March. Well, he was my brother's cat, but I was taking care of him and his "sister" Fuzzy. Both cats were having some serious behavioral issues and my brother and sister-in-law just didn't have the time to deal with them. So I took the cats in. Aside from the occasional respite, Mojo never stopped pooping on the floor and Fuzzy was as needy as ever. After trying for a couple years to retrain Mojo, I just gave up and kept a roll of paper towels handy so every morning we could play his favorite game of "find the turd". My rationale was that he was almost twenty and the carpet needed replacing anyways so as long as he kept peeing in the litter box, I would just deal with his scatological issues since I didn't figure he'd be around much longer anyways. It was still a shock though when I came downstairs after a nap and he didn't show up to be fed. When I looked for him, he was lying on his side in an unnatural pose and was so weak he couldn't lift his head. So, I called my brother and roommate and we spent the next couple hours comforting Mojo until he breathed his last. That was the first hit. I shrugged it off. Mojo was old and the signs were there, so him dying wasn't unexpected--just how fast he went was the shocker.

A week later, I went to Shuto Con, which had shrunk down to a fraction of its' prior size and was now just occupying one floor at the Radisson hotel. While we in the Lansing-area anime and cosplay community had been seeing the signs for a couple years now, in June, the official notice dropped that Shuto Con was shutting down for good. Having never missed a single one in its nine-year run, this one hurt. Being kind of a social recluse makes it hard to find people with similar interests and make friends. But it was easy at Shuto to make conversation with complete strangers and walk away as acquaintances, if not friends, all bonded over a shared love of anime, manga, costuming, and that narrow subset of Japanese culture that supports them. There are other cons in the mid-Michigan area, but they're just not the same. They don't have the same feeling of community that I found at Shuto. I started feeling adrift and more of a shut-in as I lost yet another place that made me feel not so alone in the world.

Smudgie reclining in "her" chair.
A month later, another family pet died. The family cat, Smudge -- whom I name my animation studio after -- died at around twenty-plus years of age. Mom and Dad were on the trip of a lifetime to South America with the grandkids and I was on cat duty. We spent her last two weeks sitting in the comfy chair together every day after work as I read a book on animation history and pet her. Then we'd invariably take a short nap before I fed her dinner and went home for the night.

But try as I might, Smudgie couldn't be convinced to hold out two more days for when Mom and Dad came home to say goodbye to her. I took Smudgie's death pretty hard. I know that she was over twenty years old and it was her time, but when a beloved family pet dies on your watch, it's hard not to take it personally and feel like you failed everyone.

Now, let's keep some perspective here: losing a yearly hangout and two pets in so many months isn't the end of the world, nor is it even really "tragic" compared to having a family member or close friend die or losing everything you own in a natural (or unnatural) disaster. But when your pets have been a part of your life for twenty years and you lose another one of your few bridges to the outside world, these non-linearities will still do a number on your head, even if you're trying to be stoic.

When Smudgie died, that was when I detached from life. Time didn't seem to have much structure or meaning as one day blended into another. Blog posts went unfinished. My animation desk went untouched. The library of animation books, unread. My historical research on animated films went to fallow. Even when I went to Ottawa that September, I still felt like I was just going through the motions. About the only thing I was able to keep working on during this time was writing the history course that I'll be teaching in January.

I would like to say that I spent the entirety of this time in quiet, productive introspection and reemerged as a stronger, more focused person. But in reality, I spent a lot of time trying not to think about anything. And when I did, my thoughts were mostly about how I had spent my time during the past twenty-two years since leaving Grad School. There were no epiphanies or grand revelations or anything like that. Just wondering what I could do with the next twenty-two years that would be different and hopefully more productive.

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