Saturday, December 31, 2016

tops of 2016

I just started reading Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon, a collection of essays about parents and children trying to love each other across different “horizontal identities,” i.e. non-inherited identities. (Being gay or, in most cases, disabled is a horizontal identity. Whereas being, say, Japanese or male or female would be a vertical identity.) Already this book is making my brain explode in the best ways, and I suspect it’s going to be on my Best Of list for 2017.

That is, if I finish it by 2017—it’s 700 pages long not counting the 200 pages of end notes. I’m still working on two other books that I hoped I could count toward my 2016 tally, but I’m writing this on December 30 and that doesn’t look likely.

Seven hundred pages of ways you can fail as a parent. Yet surprisingly enjoyable.
Every year I nerd out compiling my best-of list, because didn’t you know this was a culture blog? (I bet you thought it was a Cheryl’s-life blog. I can’t imagine where you got that idea.) Right now I’m really feeling how little I read, saw and wrote in 2016. But if I have a resolution for 2017, it’s to take a StrengthsFinder approach to life.

I didn’t read StrengthsFinder either.

I jumped straight to the quiz at the back to find out my strengths. Patience wasn’t one of them, haha.

Anyway, the thesis of the whole process is that you should work with others and yourself based on what your respective strengths are, not your deficits.

For example, don’t think “Cheryl is really whiny in the morning.” Think “Cheryl really kicks into gear around 10 am. Let’s schedule a meeting with her at that time.”

(On a related note, my dad and AK conspired to get me a latte maker for Christmas, which I think is going to change my life at least as much as any positive attitude. I mean, coffee is my positive attitude. Someone put that on a T-shirt, please.)

Thanks a latte.
Don’t think “You mentally ill hog, why do you keep eating every carbohydrate in sight?” Think “Now that you’re sort of getting a hang of this parenting thing, your food fails are fewer and farther between.”

As I told my therapist, I think I grew up with the popular narrative of hitting bottom, then making a change. So I’m always trying to shame myself into doing various things better. Eating better. Exercising more. Working harder at work. Writing more. Sending my work out more.

But shame isn’t very motivating, although it is somewhat motivating. A coworker once asked my former boss what her fundraising goal should be. My boss said “How about you-avoid-getting-fired dollars?” Not very motivating. If people knew how (sincere) compliments make me bloom like a happy little toadstool, they’d give me so many!

Is that too much to ask?
So I’ll say it to myself: Cheryl, you’re doing alright! You just had seven days of back-to-back socializing and travel—of course you’re tired and grouchy. That doesn’t make you ungrateful for your family and friends and travel opportunities. It makes you human, and a person who needs solo time with a laptop to refuel. Take this day, rest up, and worry about cleaning the house tomorrow. That is not a fail.

Okay, thanks for bearing with me through that bit of self-talk. Now onto my short list of favorites for 2016, chosen as always not because they are necessarily “the best,” but because they moved me.

Top three books I read in 2016:
I've had a small Colson Whitehead crush since 2003.
Top seven things I watched on screens in 2016:
  • Search Party, Season 1 (TBS): Starts out as a send-up of self-obsessed Millennials, but the characters’ self-centered behavior makes more and more sense as the plot thickens. No spoilers here, but thematically the ending reminds me of The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead.
  • Nocturnal Animals: Queer Eye for the Toxically Masculine Straight Guy.
Tom Ford shows how trying to be a cowboy destroys everyone.
  • Zootopia: Takes full advantage of the animated form to show animals in their natural and not-so-natural habitats as bunny-cop Judy hops through giant rhino worlds and tiny hamster worlds. Also kind of an allegory about the CIA starting the crack epidemic. Quietly radical, lots of fun.
  • Orange is the New Black, Season 4 (Netflix): All the amazing character development of the previous seasons with less of Piper’s panty-ring nonsense. As with real life tragedies, the people caught in this season’s controversy are hapless, well-meaning and flawed. The institutions and those at the top are the guiltiest, and they get away with everything.
  • High Maintenance, Season 1 (HBO): Short stories whose only connection is a weed dealer making his rounds. This is the kind of show I’d normally like in theory and then lose interest in, but it was actually really, ahem, addictive. Funny and human and expertly executed. 
Maintenance men.
  • Arrival: I was one of about three people who liked Interstellar, but I liked Arrival more—it has similar afterlife-as-fourth-dimension themes and a lot less self-indulgent excess. Sci fi doesn’t have to be all danger, warfare and “science-lite” exposition. It can be about connection, love and language.

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