2023: A Year in Review

December 31, 2023

Yo. Time for that yearly recap. I really should do more of these. It’s important to quickly scrub through the past year to reflect and write down some highlight moments. I don’t expect any grand takeaways or surprises, just something to read years later and be grateful. I fell off on writing on my journal for the past few years, but I’m glad I have this website up in decent shape now to. I’ve got lots of catching up to do, and many ideas I want to write about. Something that’s been helping me is that I’ve shifted my mindset—from writing to express myself—to writing to think. To discover. This shift in perspective has helped me find a lot of solace in the act of writing itself. Anyways, off we go.

We started the year with my parents and older brother + sister-in-law visiting us in the Bay Area. It rained like nuts for 2 weeks nonstop and California was flooding everywhere, but we came out alive through a couple excursions to the city (and wine valley). It was fun showing them around and ringing in the new year.

Pallavi and I recorded another song called ustai, which means “one and the same” in Nepali. We wrote it about accepting the dualities of life equally, and taking value from both contrasting feels of sadness, happiness, yin/yang, that type of thing. It’s an acoustic/rock song that is sung in Nepalese. I had a voice memo on my phone of us jamming way back in 2017 where I had the initial chord progression and some chorus lyrics that I was proud of. She added some exciting new melodic ideas on top of it which I was super stoked about. Fast forward a few years, life happened.

Ustai in Voice Memos macOS App

I was digging through my old Voice Memos and was surprised that we never saw it through. We ended up having this sudden burst of inspiration to work on it for a few days and recorded the video right away. I had a blast producing it and doing all the instrumentation. It’s also my first time actually singing (!!), something I’m very very shy / nervous about sharing with others. Check out the video on YouTube / your usual music consumption platforms. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, I feel songs can still make you feel something. Super proud of us shipping this thing, and can’t wait to write many more songs together.

ustai cover art

I have been very sporadic with my violin practice, which is a bummer as learning a new instrument requires great dedication. Learning a new instrument when you’re proficient at one already is one of the most frustrating things ever. I know what I want it to sound like, and I know what I want to play, but my body physiologically doesn’t understand it yet. The story of finding my teacher is cool though! We were having brunch on Castro St (Mountain View’s town center) and happened to have an amazing violinist playing some fun pop tunes in front of the store. I approached him and complimented him for his playing, remarking that I wish I could play like him. He playfully joked that he’s looking for new students. Little did he know, that I was serious about learning. So we did get a quite a few lessons under our belt and he gave me a strong framework to work off of for my violin journey. Pretty much any song I have been making for the past couple years has it. It’s just such a beautiful instrument!

Violin on desk

Went to Oahu, Hawaii for my cousin’s wedding, which was pretty much Jurassic Park vibes all the way through. It was sick. Then, we saw one of our closest friends get married, and another one get married a few months later. Watching your friends get married is the absolute best.

We went camping to our spot in the Redwoods (5th time in a row–it’s our favorite), it was beautiful, as always. I made a short video about, too. Then, we went camping, again. And again. It’s become one our favorite hobbies, and the perfect way to decompress in nature. Northern California just has some unreal landscapes.

The Apple Vision Pro was announced at WWDC 2023. I was at the annouce event with all my colleagues as we anxiously awaited Apple’s signature “Oh and one more thing…” portion of the keynote. It was a grand moment of celebration and pride for everyone involved. I clocked 3 years at Apple this December. It’s been an immense privilege to have gotten the opportunity to write code which runs on that thing—the computer which millions of people will attach to their faces in the near future. Truly a career-defining highlight, and I don’t take it for granted. I would’ve never imagined 8 year old me fascinated by his dusty ole Windows 98 PC that I’d be working on a next-generation computing device. I truly can’t wait for spatial computing to become mainstream, though I imagine it’ll take quite some time before it gets there. I’ll reserve my thoughts for a later day in the future so we can wax poetic about augmented reality. Don’t get me started on how it will change the way we make music and art. Super grateful for the cool people I got to work with, too.

We went to Olympic National Park and Mt. Rainier National Park for Pallavi’s 30th birthday. It was a great long weekend of reflecting for her. 30 is a fantastic age, and it brought us lot of clarity about how we want to spend our short, vibrant life on this planet. And being the shutter bug that I am, I was snapping as many photos and videos as humanly possible of the lush beauty which surrounded us.

Olympic National Park

More music! I produced another song for Pallavi. It’s called Pahichaan, and it centers around the concept of identity, especially as a Nepali woman. I’m super proud of her for her lyricism and the melodies she wrote. This one is more on the ambient side. I simply took what she already had and wrote the chords underneath, adding various instrumental layers to keep it interesting. It was a fun day of filming in Big Sur, too. RIP to my drone which got eaten by the big waves… I got greedy and flew too close to the water. But I’ve been getting really into videography and color grading this year as I want to up my visual game. Please do check the video for Pahichaan on YouTube and let me know what you think! I also drew up a cute illustration in Procreate for the album art, which was based on some of the drone footage.

Pallavi Bhusal - pahichaan Cover Art

We celebrated our first Dashain and Teej together as husband and wife. We’ve been waiting to put Tika on each other for a very long time, and it was finally time to do it formally during Dashain. This is basically a mixture of rice, yogurt and vermillion which we put on each other’s foreheads as a signal for abundance. Ate tons of homemade food by my parents which always slaps.

I also turned 30, and as per usual, we had a grand momo party with a bunch of my friends. This has been an ongoing trend for the past few years and I think I will continue to throw myself momo parties for my birthday. It’s a great excuse to get people together for some delicious food and drinks.

30th Birthday Party

Spent another long weekend in Yosemite, which is undoubtedly the best national park in the US.

Oh, and we saw some great concerts ranging from prog metal / rock, to folk and EDM. A sick Aussie prog guitarist named Plini, a monster guitarist / producer kid from Poland named Jakub Zytecki, the super dope feel-good Jai Wolf, emotional dance music from San Holo and of course, the GOAT John Mayer.

Pallavi got her US citizenship (finally), via a drive-thru celebration, which open up the gates for easy international travel. So we celebrated our very first wedding anniversary by going to Japan for two weeks. It was an incredible trip, and you can read more about that in my For Nihon / 日本 photoset where I share all the details and banger photos, but here’s a sneak peak!

Yosemite Vernal Fall

I put the finishing touches on my first electronic song that I’ve made since 2016(!!). I’ve been working on it for a couple years sporadically, and somehow, inspiration struck me at the right moment to see it through. It’s my proudest work, and I’m so dang excited to share it with the world.

I’m finally mustering up the courage to finish and publish my songs. Perfect is the enemy of good, and it’s about time I heed that advice and take it to heart. The coolest part about it is that it’s a song, but also has an accompanying realtime audio visualizer that you can play with on your phone/computer. If you’re interested, I’m sharing all the gory details / creation process here – Weightless: Combing Music & Software to Create Art. This is truly a breakthrough moment for me, and the forward momentum I feel from having published this is unleashing all sorts of ideas in my head. You can watch the music video on YouTube, or listen to it on Spotify or Apple Music. - Weightless Cover Art

I submitted the song, and we promptly headed to México City to celebrate Christmas and New Years with some friends. That one also deserves to be its own photoset, so I’m still working on it, but you can check out the work in progress at CDMX: Enamórate de la Vida. Feliz nuevo año / Happy new year. I hope the new year brings you great happiness and joy, and may you thrive in putting your soul into the things you are passionate about. 🙏

Some key takeaways:

Family and friends are all we got: Maintaining friendships and relationships takes work, but is so worth it as we age and grow more distant from others in our lives. Moving away to California has definitely impacted us as our social circle is virtually 1% of what we had in Colorado. Still, doing those FaceTime catch ups with friends and family remains as important as ever.

Health is the greatest wealth. Taking huge strides this year with lots of daily walks around the neighborhood, at least 3+ hours of exercise per week, and giving up daily alcohol consumption, which has been a game changer. I no longer feel the need to be drunk to be creative, though I won’t say no to the occasional glass of wine if the situation calls for it.

Travel is incredible. Stating the obvious, but now that we’re taking on more international trips, I’m falling in love with travel / landscape photography and videography. I’m going to keep creating short videos and more involved photostes to explore this artform. Learning new languages, new cultures, trying different cuisines, it’s all just so much fun. We’ll be prioritizing it heavily this year. Aaand lastly, and very importantly…

Creative projects. It’s becoming increasingly clear to me as I age, what the biggest priorities in my life are. Career advancement and “working” in general has taken a backseat in my mind as my focus drifts towards the possibilities of working on my “own thing”. Don’t get me wrong, working on the Apple Vision Pro is a privilege I don’t take for granted. But, I can’t help but imagine what it’d be like to act on my own vision. The act of writing music and creating art full time — by myself, and with my wife — is becoming more and more of a compelling idea. I just need to figure out how to make a livelihood out of it. Maybe I’ll keep working and do it as a side-hustle. My head is filled to the brim with so many ideas about art, music and creative software. I want to heavily prioritize them over the next year. The longer I live my life without actualizing these ideas, the more resentful I become. In addition to that, I’ve entertained the idea of writing songs and crafting realtime 3D visualizers that people can interact with on their phones for years. I made some significant progress towards that idea this year, and I’m going to try to implement all of my skills (in a full-stack manner, per se) to create the art which I’ve imagined for so long.

Wherever you are, if you’ve read this far, I truly appreciate you. Can you send me a note? Why are you reading this, and what brought you here? Seriously. Please send me a note. I want to know who you are. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.

Prayash Thapa

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