Top 20 of 2020

I yield my time, fuck you

I hesitate to call 2020 a dumpster fire or the worst year ever, not because it wasn’t terrible but because honestly, I feel like that sweeps it under the rug like oh, we’re done now, that’s over, thank god, things were good before and they were bad but now they’re good again, this is something to forget. I don’t want to forget this year. To borrow and put my own interpretation on a line from colonialist weenie Rudyard Kipling: “Lest we forget—lest we forget!” I don’t want to forget the appalling way the government responded to the pandemic, the substantial portion of the country that saw the last four years and said yes more of this, and the energy and activism and cooperative spirit that has always kept the world spinning away from the worst. I hope you got through this year as best as possible. Here’s what helped me in various ways:

  1. Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit

  2. Participating in mutual aid

  3. How a Vaccine Whisperer Gets It Done

  4. Toast with a lot of good butter (I really did not want to cook)

  5. Hot baths

  6. Business Erotica

  7. The long and public reckoning that followed the Holocaust shows a path forward for a United States that desperately needs to confront its racist past.

  8. My neighbor’s window displays which I need to create a hashtag for

  9. Working out to this corny jam of a remix I heard from one of the Twitch streamers my husband follows in a bromantic way

  10. My husband (happy second anniversary, sorry the universe gets us trash gifts)

  11. The occasional times I saw loved ones who live outside my household and the many times I talked to them via the Internet and text

  12. My writing groups, The Wag and Fantastic Worlds

  13. Graceland Too - Phoebe Bridgers

  14. The brilliant I May Destroy You

  15. I Hold a Wolf by the Ears by Laura van den Berg

  16. Seeing 9 1/2 Weeks for the first time

  17. Ed Yong’s coronavirus coverage

  18. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

  19. Local news emporium Block Club Chicago

  20. Lovely, low-key perfect sci-fi mystery The Vast of Night

Dishonorable mentions:

  • [redacted]

  • Depression and anxiety

  • My weird cat. We didn’t want to get out of bed a lot, but I did.

I’ll see you in the new year. xx

Hope is an axe

A world grounded in intelligence and love and good television

Right before we went to Japan last year, I read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. I try to read at least one thing about a place before I visit it for the first time. It can be fiction or non-fiction. I just want to get a sense of what a place is all about, it’s one of my favorite ways to get hyped up for vacations and learn something about where I’m going. The book takes place in the 18th-century Dejima (the Dutch trading post in Nagasaki, Japan) and it’s about (you guessed it) trading between the Dutch and Japanese. That’s a mass oversimplification, whatever, go read it if you’re ready for a dense and beautiful historical ride. Anyway, I really liked it. It was also a reminder of how often people’s lives were controlled by circumstance, chance, and luck. At one point the main character, Jacob de Zoet, is talking about a young man who’s the illegitimate son of a white man and a Japanese woman. His mother has passed away, and de Zoet says something to the effect of how he hopes the young man’s father has provided for him somehow, with the sinister implication that if that hasn’t happened, this kid is super screwed.

We’re a few centuries out from Dutch traders sweltering through a Nagasaki spring, but in many ways the world is still very much like this. If you have someone else providing for you, someone else who can pass along large amounts of generational wealth, you will probably be okay or at least more okay. If you don’t, you are always a breath or a month or a paycheck away from not okay. I’m privileged in many ways, and the few ways that I’m not — the few ways that circumstance does not favor me massively — stand out ugly and clear. It’s a lot worse for most people.

But in many ways, the world is better. I’m reading Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit, who puts it really well: “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.” Good news, things change. Bad news, things change. Rinse and repeat until hopefully we get it right, or a lot more right.

Another thing that stood out in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was how easily people died of common injuries and ailments. Though it has a long way to go, modern medicine is in many ways a miracle. You have a much lower chance of dying — unless your tribalism is so ingrained (and bolstered by government messaging) that you’ll stake your own life and others’ lives on it.

I was a pretty big shitshow in college and don’t remember large portions of the academia part, but one of my professors used to talk about a world grounded in intelligence and love. I don’t remember the context (see: shitshow), but I do remember that it penetrated my perma-hangover slash panic attack and stuck.

Last weekend I phone banked for Jon Osoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock’s runoff election in Georgia. My best call was a 95-year-old man who spoke very, very slowly and told me that, “They took away my driver's license but yes, I'll get a ride from the caregiver to go to the polls.” My worst call was a 46-year-old man who said he would not be voting because “I don’t do politics.” The funniest call was a dude who answered with “NEWPPPPP, this is the WRONG NUMBER and PLEASE STOP CALLING, THANK YOUUUUUU!”

A world grounded in intelligence and love was the kind of world I wanted to live in, and still do. I hope we can stay moving in that direction, because you need hope to not despair.

Thanks for reading this far. If you’re like me, you are restless and down and looking for something to break up your days. Here are some books and movies and TV shows I’ve been enjoying and I couple of things I wrote:

WHAT I’M READING


WHAT I’M WATCHING

  • The Vanishing (1988) (disturbing and amazing suspense)

  • Various 90s erotic thrillers

  • Swallow (2019) (strong performances and modern Yellow Wallpaper vibes)

  • Wayne (hilarious and extreme and cathartic teens)

  • We Are Who We Are (beautiful and experimenting and melancholy teens)

  • A lot of home improvement shows

I WROTE THIS

A bonedaddy with a message

In sickness and in health

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone

Everyone’s giving statements, and it’s performative and embarrassing and not enough, but this is as close as I have to a brand so I guess I’ll give mine. I’ll keep it mercifully brief and hopefully free of virtue signaling: The pandemic is unprecedented but racism is not. I always believed it, sometimes saw it, and never did enough about it. Or put better:

I’m starting with my job — I work in tech, a predominantly white, male industry — and I’ll keep you updated here on what progress we’ve made on a company level. This isn’t a pat on the back situation, it’s the very least anyone can do and feels more real than yelling on the Internet.

All this says it better than I can:

All this says it better than I can with fiction aka realer than real:

What else? I really didn’t see the virus coming and in spite of what feels like everyone reading their anxiety as fact (is this what I look like all the time?), you probably didn’t either unless you’re Bill Gates or an epidemiologist. It’s very surreal. I’m doing mutual aid in my neighborhood, I’m getting sick of my own cooking, I’m trying not to despair at this massive, systemic institutional failure because there’s no time for that, and I’m writing about childhood favorites and sexy djinn and chain restaurants and bodies in fantasy:

Here’s some other things that have helped me through the last few months:

I think that’s all I’ve got. If you want to hear me read an essay about being a city kid and a city adult and what that means during COVID-19, tune into Tuesday Funk this Tuesday. I’ll be sending my portion of the donations comes to My Block, My Hood, My City. I’m reading alongside Daniel Kraus, Lily Be, Stuart Ross and Mikki Kendall. I know!

How are you doing? Please take care of yourself during this time of unforeseen plagues and necessary revolution.

Amidst all this we’ve been married for two years, which has been great despite the universe’s shitty gifts

Islands

Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright / The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night

We went to Hawaii for a month and I thought a lot about the Internet. I’m enlightened now, and by that I mean I have an app on my phone called Moment. Moment tracks how much time I funnel into platforms created by dudes who don’t have anyone’s best interests at heart, who don’t seem to care about much beyond a sense of digital manifest destiny. It wasn’t just Hawaii that inspired this paddle into the shallows of mindfulness: while we lived with Sean’s lovely parents between December and January, I read Trick Mirror and Uncanny Valley, both excellent books that said loud and eloquent some of the things that have rattled around in my head for a long time. Then I had a couple of bad interactions online, observed many, many, many more, and yeah. It drove the point home: social media feels increasingly ugly and rarely the place for nuance. What I get out of it (and I get a lot out of it) can be found without willingly wading into a shitstorm of opinion and misinformation.

And it wasn’t just Hawaii but it also was Hawaii: there’s something about being an ocean away from the familiar (routine, friends, reliable public transportation) and living somewhere wild and lush that makes you think about systems and time and how you spend your days. I say spend, not fill, because time is a gift — ultimately, one of the few gifts we are sometimes able to give ourselves. I promise I’m not wearing white robes, watching night descend on a desert compound. I’m in my compact house in my grid city, which hums not with wind or rain but trains and industry. There are no teal oceans or verdant valleys, just many people and places I love and an energy that for better and worse gets things done. I’m back home and I’m working on changing who and what who gets my minutes, my hours, my days and years. I swear I am not in a cult, only overwhelmed in a way that seems unnecessary and more disturbingly, by design. It’s exhausting. It’s making me think. And get back to real live hangouts, group texts, and Slacks.

WHERE I’M READING SOON

WHAT I’M READING

WHAT ELSE

Good-bye for now you beautiful, thought-provoking place in the middle of the Pacific

Top 19 of 2019

I broke free on a Saturday morning / I put the pedal to the floor

I love a good list and I love to get weird about the passing of time. The year coming around the corner gives us so much to feel weird about, too: 2020. Twenty-twenty. The roaring next. What have you done with your last decade? Fuck, I don’t know. Not enough, but definitely some things I feel good about.

I was 24 when the decade started and I’m 34 now. I feel like I wasted a lot of time when I was younger and regret it a lot, less so these days for what I didn’t accomplish and moreso that I was really down and really anxious and quite often literally too scared to move. There’s an upside to this, though (also I promise we’re getting to the list, which is fun, I swear): although I threw my back out this year and no longer wish to get trashed until the small hours of the morning, my 30s feel bigger and brighter than any decade so far. When you spend a lot of the life you remember struggling hard with mental health, getting to a better place is incomparable. It’s like being in a dark, airless room, and then a blind snaps up and the window is opened. Things feel fresh and new, if still overwhelming and hard - but for different reasons. If this last decade was a second chance, a second act, a slow IV drip of possibility, I guess I’m ready see about the next one.

P.S. If you are one of those ghouls who takes perverse pleasure in telling someone it’s all downhill from here, please refrain. True, it might get worse! But it also might not. You are not me and you are not an oracle, ergo you don’t know. I don’t know either.

I do know that these were my top 19 of 2019. Something could sneak around the corner in the next two days, but I’m trying to go into the ‘20s with a spirit of optimism and confidence, because dear god we need it. In no particular order (except the first one, which could be the whole list), what stood out for me in the last year of the ‘10s:

  1. My husband is in remission.

  2. My first fiction! I published a short speculative story, The Lake House, in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. It’s about lakes and twins and the burn of gin in a bottle of Green River. There is something stunning about accomplishing what you’ve loved and admired forever, even when it’s often hard and confusing and you feel like a dope for trying. Also, and I’m throwing this in here because I’m trying to cheat less obviously with a 19.5: writing groups are good for feedback, commiserating, and keeping your head in the game.

  3. NARS Jungle Red might be my new favorite red. It’s classic and matteish but bright and slick enough to keep it from feeling dated.

  4. The 116th Congress has Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Deb Haaland, Veronica Escobar, and Sharice Davids.

  5. I made double stock six million times.

  6. The Body Keeps the Score is an amazing and important book about the effects of trauma, it rang a lot of personal notes and the science is fascinating. Here’s an interview if you want to get an idea of it.

  7. What are the cliché Chicago essays (or lack thereof)? The bigger question is, what is Chicago’s identity as a city? Who are we as a place? Related, not cliché: The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook (it’s on sale!)

  8. On a more daily level: there are so many ways Chicago can do better, and there are so many things we do well, and beyond good or bad there is so much going on. Subscribe to Block Club and get some reliable, nonpartisan, and essential coverage of our diverse neighborhoods.

  9. what great inconvenience: Anne Helen Petersen’s newsletter is always good and this one was very good, “Are you willing to embrace that truly slight inconvenience — and maybe pay a few dollars more — so that a person’s job is significantly less shitty?” Further reading from her and a response from Tiana Clark: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation, This Is What Black Burnout Feels Like.

  10. I’m in decent shape for the first time in my life and aside from smooching my baby biceps in the mirror every morning, exercise has done a lot for my brain. I hate when science is right but here we are.

  11. Jawline was a thoughtful documentary about digital celebrities. While my first thought was that these youth group preacher Justin Bieber influencer dudes the film focuses on can’t act, sing, dance, draw, or do anything beyond say positive things into a livestream, the emotions underneath (I want to be loved / I want to be rich / I want to be famous) should ring painfully real and familiar for anyone who has ever been a teen.

  12. Speaking of teens, that Greta Thunberg is saying some things everyone needs to hear.

  13. Speaking of trying not to trash the earth, I’m working on eating less meat and dairy and have mostly stopped buying new clothing. That’s not going to prevent the planet from boiling, nor should it be the responsibility of individuals to stop something that will only happen through big, systemic change — but every small action helps while we push for bigger ones.

  14. I finally saw 70s noir Klute and not only did I love it, 1971 Donald Sutherland and I will marry quietly upstate in the spring. Please join us for a small, private ceremony and light reception. No gifts.

  15. Undone is a well-animated television show that’s just killing the magical realism drama genre. I don’t see much else exploring spirituality, indigenous cultures, mental illness, and the things humans go through in such a beautiful, funny way.

  16. I only made one new zine this year, I Was a Teenaged LARPer, but I tabled at some really good zine events — Chicago Zine Fest and CAKE — where I enjoyed the company of friends new and older and read many a fine pamphlet. More Zines 2020.

  17. We went to Japan.

  18. I am so bad at keeping up with new music, yet determined to not to become like everyone who thinks good music stopped The Year They Were 23, yawn. I loved Go Ahead in the Rain by Hanif Abdurraqib which is a book not music, I listened to a lot of Billie Eilish and Carly Rae Jepsen and Sleepy Kitty and Lizzo and Joey Purp and Big Thief and Lana Del Rey and her long-lost country brother Orville Peck. What are you listening to that more people should know about?

  19. Eden Robins’ essay At Sea with Scientists, I Learned What It Means to Be an Explorer: “Science relies on observation and the ability to control the out-of-control, and the deep sea thinks this is hilarious. It’s an act of courage to try anyway.”

See you soon. In these pleasant netherworld days between the holidays and back to work, I’ll be trying to sit in my feelings about the new decade.

I couldn’t find a good image for 2019, here is a beach near my in-law’s house onto which you can project your intentions for the coming year. A whole ocean for your feelings.

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