In the spirit of practicing gratitude in the midst of this period of sustained, impotent rage, here are some really, really good things (both personal and public) from 2021, in no particular order, that got me through All This.
1. Good, Stupid, Ugly Cries
Oh it feels so good to cry. I’m not a natural crier, but yr girl is getting gooey in her old, isolated age.
I’ll avoid listing out examples of bad things that made me cry; I’m sure you can imagine them.
Some nice, dumb, softie things I’ve lost it over: trick-or-treaters (the teensy Mario, omfg); seeing the sunrise through my airplane window as I traveled up the East Coast for a business trip (those pinky oranges got me good); Bo Burnham’s Inside (a buzzed cry-laugh); Christmas carolers I could hear down the street; the thought of my 11-year-old cat’s nearing demise—her graying snoot—and how irreplaceable she is; a massage I had in which the masseuse pressed lavender into the crooks of my shoulders; the bucket list Edward Hopper paintings I got to see at The Whitney; some really amazing dumplings I ate; the smell of airport hand soap that reminded me of a Mary Kate and Ashley body spray I wore in middle school.
2. Moving Closer to my Parents
It was time and I am grateful to be nearer. It is a blessing to have good, loving parents that get to age. I don’t use the word lightly. I am so blessed to have them still around when years (and their quality) are so uncertain.
My mom recently had her spinal surgery, thanks to the generous donations from my friends and family, and seeing that sort of outpouring for a woman most of them don’t even know—hoo boy, the tears. They still flow. To see my parents’ bodies continue to decline in these small, incremental ways, knowing in my memory those resilient bodies from decades ago—bodies that took so many cumulative beatings from choices, accidents, environments, genetics, time, time, time—it’s sometimes too much to take. I have spent so much time trying to prevent or slow down aging in myself with goops and lotions and meditation, that for the longest time, I failed to see the bittersweet, heart-wrenching beauty of edging ever closer to The End. Bodies fail, but in that decline comes something I’m only beginning to see with new eyes: a profoundly beautiful resiliency. “Wisdom” seems so cliche. It’s something else, its contours only beginning to take shape.
Another dumb, softie cry thing: my dad seems to have an involuntary singing muscle. The gentleman is 100% tone-deaf, but there is something so beautiful about listening to him sing a Christmas tune several notes away from the root, no self-consciousness or inhibition, no self-awareness—just pure engagement in joy. It makes me envious, that sort of freedom.
(Note to self: in 2022, stop being so damn scared.)
3. The Expanse
I haven’t seen science fiction this good since Battlestar Galactica. I started watching it on a whim based on a random thread on Facebook. The first episode was a bit slow, but I stuck with it, and good golly this show has layers. Such good world-building and a complex narrative, viewing the central plot line from several different vantage points. This show was such a balm this past summer, when I was having pretty sleepless nights (though I was binging the episodes late into the night—later than a tittybaby like me should be awake—so this may be a chicken-egg situation).
The first season was a SyFy production, sort of schlocky, but really good storytelling. Since it moved over to Amazon Prime, the quality has increased exponentially. If you can get through the first three slower episodes, you’re hooked for life. I’m really glad it’s back, though I’m sad this is the final season.
4. Amy Schneider
Gosh Amy is kicking so much ass and with perfect cadence and perfect pink. Before Amy, I was enamored of Matt Amodio, who slew and charmed. But now I’m alllllll ’bout Amy. She just murders everyday and it is a glory to behold. And those pearls. Those are murderpearls. #murderpearls
5. Chili Crisp
This is a game-changer. It is a life-changer. It goes on everything, okay. I’ll never give it up. Sodium levels be damned.
6. Driving to Local Radio
I don’t know how it happened, but I’ve experienced a full regression to my high school tastes in music. Tallahassee plays a LOT of it, and I’m enjoying my drives running errands, rolling down the windows, and cranking Godsmack and Alice in Chains.
Just let it happen. Regress, baby. Let it wash over you. You’ll like it.
7. Black Marble
And when I’m in a more somber, working mode, ready to sink into my own bones, I have turned to Black Marble: “Influenced by coldwave, early-’80s synth pop, and the mighty bass playing of New Order‘s Peter Hook, Black Marble is the project of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Chris Stewart. When Stewart debuted in 2012 with The Weight Against the Door EP, he remained true to the frosty gloom of his influences, burying his monotone baritone with layers of echo, reverb, and analog synths” (Spotify).
Listen to Bigger Than Life and tell me you aren’t immediately somehow both relaxed and energized.
8. The Captain
Holy shit, this may be the blackest comedy I’ve ever seen. I’m adding it to the good things—because I like a challenge, and this was the most challenging film for me in 2021—not because it is, by any stretch of the imagination, heartwarming or good or remotely palatable.
At first I wasn’t sure where to place it, because it is built on some serious, devastating historical material: the Holocaust. But there are too many absurdist elements (dialogue, exaggerated interactions (nearly slapstick), music, etc) for it to be considered straight historical drama. And I think that because it is a comedy, it makes starker points about how easy it is for humans to do evil and how that evil is made easier by bureaucracy. Like shockingly easy, and boy does that resonate in the present-day. And that our main character is a defector doing this evil against other defectors…I would absolutely not call this movie funny, but it is the blackest of black comedies, not for the faint of heart.
9. Getting Back to Conversation with Strangers
Pandemic isolation fucked me up bad. A few weeks ago, I did a little outing and spent 15 minutes nervously talking at length to a very beautiful woman about soil types. I don’t know a thing about soil. I floated from the interaction for days, despite agonizing for several hours after over how much of a weirdo I was.
I look forward to dazzling y’all with my philosophical and cultural observations soon, rather than telling the same dick joke to my cat any time I have just two White Claws.
10. The Alabama Take (and Creative Pursuits)
I’m really thankful to have this outlet.
God I cannot tell you how important it is right now to have a healthy outlet.
For me, it’s been musing here—writing these little blocks on this white page—sewing projects, music projects, saying what I want on Twitter (and deleting it immediately) and rewriting what I want to say on Twitter. It’s sleeping as much as I can, moving my body, and eating things I like to eat. It’s making the bed. Making stupid IG stories. Taking scalding baths. Taking my sweet time. Taking up a little space wherever feels inviting in a time when I’m feeling extra small and insecure and afraid. It’s my Alabama Take (sorry, that was terrible). Here I go crying again.