Find an opportunity, Direct Change

I never planned to make my career in the arts.

During my sophomore year at La Quinta High School, I knew I wanted to write. I had already submitted to and was accepted for their student-edited and composed anthology during my freshman year, so I decided to join the class.

When February rolled around, our teacher and mental health advocate, Amanda LaPera, informed us that we would all be participating in a mental health advocacy contest called Directing Change, where we formed groups and created short films.

At the time, I absolutely didn’t want to do it.

I didn’t have a stage presence and wasn’t close with the theater company at our school. I had edited a few short videos, but a sixty-second PSA on mental illness was so much more than the simple snips and cuts that I had done before.

But since it was required, my table group got to work.

We had the option to choose animation or live-action, and since two of us could animate, we decided that choosing that would be a good option.

At the time of the project, I was deeply in love with the JPOP band, Yorushika, and their story of Amy and Elma. In the story, Amy feels a sense of artistic isolation, stating that “all the human parts of me are in the way.”

This concept inspired me as it relates to mental illness, more specifically depression. It’s not a weakness, but for people suffering from it, it does feel like all those “human parts,” those flaws, those weaknesses, are what’s keeping us from achieving what we want.

When there’s nothing to distract us, whether it be friends or something meaningful, that perception slowly creates a widening chasm between us and the distant shore of wanting to live, and at some point, we feel that we ought to just remove ourselves from our stories.

It was that sort of feeling that I wanted to capture, that “I wish I could just cut out these mistakes in my life,” but those imperfections will never simply disappear.

To convey that, the video started in a dark void with a vague form, and then gradually zoom in on a person ripping out pages in their life – pages with the exact words and thoughts that they just wished could go away. Intermixed in some of those pages though were all the things that they would have to leave behind with doing so.

In the end, the protagonist’s friend, their “Audience of One,” reaches for them, still holding all those papers that their beloved had lost. This was an acknowledgment that everything that their friend went through that all of their thoughts were real.

As the two embrace, a single page flies out of the ripped memories and towards the screen to conclude the film.

The process of making the animation was by no means easy. We decided the name of it would be “Audience of One” to represent the one person that most people need to live.

The animator for the first part of the film was a senior. While she did have time, she had to resort to remarkably creative ways in order to work on it at school. Our other animator was a freshman, still acclimating to high school. I was a sophomore director, and the final member, a junior, helped in planning.

Eventually, we did our paperwork and submitted our project. My group didn’t have high hopes. We figured there were much more devoted teams of animation students out there who would far outstrip our simpler presentation and style.

On April 3, we were informed that the film was selected for judging. It was an amazing feeling.

On April 28, I received an email informing us that we had placed first. I composed a speech to be presented in a bedroom still with its crayon-drawn, antiquated posters.

On May 19, I went to the ceremony and gave my speech. I mentioned that the title didn’t just mean another person. Rather, that “Audience of One” could very well be just oneself, and I still stand by that philosophy even today.

Over the years, my disbelief at winning has turned to acceptance. As my teacher said, maybe there was something profound in the ideas that we expressed in our film, even if our technical skill wasn’t objectively marvelous.

I started to consider it in the wider context of my sophomore year, a year consisting of choices, and no matter which path I took, I was set to lose something.

The choice I ultimately took was going into my creative writing class and placing in Directing Change, but I couldn’t have won by just merely being in that creative writing class.

I wasn’t actually set to join, though. During my registration, I had actually been placed in my school’s third year of Vietnamese, but I rejected it. Perhaps I missed out on cultivating my family’s history and past.

Or perhaps an extra year of yearbook experience would have been better. During my 2020 to 2021 school year, both of my yearbook editors-in-chief left, leading me to an extensive ordeal of attempting to self-study and learn graphic design amidst the pandemic while distance learning.

It’s that sort of chaos, that sort of opportunity in a single year, that’s come to fascinate me. At the time, I just wanted time to cultivate my skill as a writer, but it’s abundantly clear that choice has become so much more than that.

As I’ve gone through my first semester at college, I’ve made it a goal to be as aware as possible of all of the opportunities that abound me.

Regardless, I try not to regard missed opportunities as mistakes. The important thing is to recognize opportunity, take it and maintain it with the best effort possible.

On currents of chaos, who knows where life might go?

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