Sunday, December 31, 2017

tops of 2017

In keeping with last year’s pseudo-resolution to focus on my strengths rather than my deficits, I’m making a list of…well, “accomplishments” isn’t the right word, because I’m always trying to be more process-oriented and to just be period (while also trying desperately to accomplish all of the things). Most of the items on the list below are just milestones in ongoing challenges. Of all the generic inspirational quotes I might want to paint on a chalkboard in a curly font for 2018, Progress Not Perfection would be the winner.


With that caveat, here are my favorite things—about myself and in the arts—of 2017.

Six things I’m proud of:

1. Joining 826LA/knowing when it was time to grow: I was happy at Homeboy Industries. Or so I told myself. I’d gotten the hang of grant writing and I liked my coworkers. So what if there was a low hum of sexism and an organizational culture that didn’t cater to quiet worker bees like myself? I’d built a little box for myself and I was comfortable there. It took an encouraging boss and an opening at an org I’d admired for more than a decade to help me see that I wanted more. Changing jobs is a major life event—something I remind myself when I wonder why I’m so tired—and the past three months haven’t been easy on me, AK or Dash. I still have a lot to learn about development and leadership, not to mention doubts galore, but 826 is a delightfully functional organization, where I feel surrounded by my people (word nerds who care about social justice). I feel like I’m in the right place, and I hope they agree.

2. Raising a nut: Dash likes to streak through parties naked, sing mash-ups of “Jingle Bells” and “Wheels on the Bus,” yell for us to chase and tickle him, tell jokes (in his toddler way), pretend to cry, and pretend the spices in my dad’s cupboard are trash cans and that he’s a garbage truck collecting them. His imagination if in full bloom right now, and his energy level is painfully high. This makes him a pretty typical three-year-old, although I think he might be a little extra on the goofiness front. He loves to laugh and make other people laugh. I was always a well behaved kid, and while my parents never stifled me, they were serious types who either didn’t know how to cut loose or didn’t value it. When Dash is a little out of control in public, I get a vicarious thrill. I get to be the relaxed parent who has defied my own upbringing and I get to be a crazy preschooler whose brain is always asking What would happen if I threw this….

What would happen if I put my shoe in the water while driveway surfing?

3. Joining Weight Watchers/kicking my perfectionism: I’ve lost weight, but more importantly, I now have a handy little app and an encouraging support group to remind me that one cookie won’t kill me or, as used to be the case, make me feel good at first, then bad, which led to punishing myself by eating ten cookies and half a loaf of bread, which led to feeling even worse emotionally and physically, which led to declaring that tomorrow I would be perfect, and so on.

Until WW, I don’t think I realized quite how much I still equated food with moral purity. If I only ate carrots, I felt superior to the mere mortals around me; if I fell to their level, I would convince myself I was much worse than all of them and be overcome with shame. So WW is just one more stop on a lifelong journey of accepting my own humanity. I’m a fallible but lovely mortal who is capable of eating a smoothie for breakfast and a rosemary shortbread cookie after lunch (just finished one of those) and returning to vegetables at dinner.

"Encase it in gelatin" is the "put a bird on it" of vintage Weight Watchers recipes.

4. Continuing to think critically and speak respectfully, even (especially?) on the internet: We live in a time of extremes, where you’re either punching Nazis or one of them. I really value writers and thinkers who look for a third thing—something outside the standard narrative and the counter-narrative. Myriam Gurba is one, and I’m glad to see her getting buzz (even though I’m so envious because she’s a peer and that’s how I am wired; but if you’d asked me a year ago what kind of voices should be elevated and celebrated, hers would have been at the top of my list, so I’ll handle my envy in therapy). It wouldn’t be 2017 if I hadn’t blocked a couple of right wingers in my feed, but I try to call in rather than out, own my flaws and avoid easy virtue-signaling shit. Sometimes that means I just post pictures of snakes in sweaters, which I am not sure is the answer. But isn’t it, kind of?

Yet another stick-thin model promoting unrealistic body images.

5. Giving good text/being a friend when time is tight: I don’t see my friends as much as I’d like to, and I’ve never been much of a phone person (who knew I was such a Millennial?). In person I’m prone to interrupting and talking about myself, a habit I’ve been trying to break since college, but texting sort of forces me to pause and provide a thoughtful, if brief-because-text, reply. My sister and my friends Holly, Nicole and Sierra often text me down from my anxiety, and I like to think I do the same.

6. Still writing: It’s hard. It doesn’t happen enough. When it comes to my memoir-in-slow-progress, I swing between wondering why I’m dwelling on such an unpleasant chunk of my life (because I just want to force a silver lining on it?), and thinking it’s the most important thing I’ve written. But I’m writing. I am especially proud of this piece in Blunderbuss.

Twelve cultural things (books, movies, TV shows and podcasts) I loved:

1. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid: an immigration tale that is simultaneously hopeful, realistic and surreal.
2. Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon: a deep journalistic look at parenting kids who are different from the people who are raising them; this book will stay with me for years.
3. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond: Is capitalism (in the sense of land ownership) even more destructive than we thought? Is racism worse than we thought? Does eviction itself essentially push drowning people under the water repeatedly? Yes, yes, yes. Despite the depressing truths revealed in Desmond’s book, it’s a page turner.
4. Wind River: a murder mystery that draws attention to the dangers of being indigenous and female.
5. S-Town: a mystery and a study of thwarted genius in rural America.
6. Coco: a story about the tensions between following your family and following your dreams, covered in glowing marigold petals. I realized a week later that it’s also subversive: Calavera Hector first appears as a tricky criminal trying to illegally cross into the land of the living. Once we get to know him, we see he’s a hardworking guy who wants to be with his family. Take note, America.

No tiene papeles.

7. Carol by Patricia Highsmith: sumptuous mid-century prose, nuanced character development and a happy ending for a queer couple.
8. Closer Than They Appear: Carvell Wallace’s new podcast about race in America, as seen through an interpersonal lens. As co-host of Mom and Dad are Fighting, he made me love the way his brain works. In a cultural landscape of white people shouting about how awful white people are, I find it incredibly refreshing to listen to a black guy (and guests ranging from Van Jones to Carvell’s Aunt Bea) talk—thoughtfully, honestly, unflinchingly—about how complicated all people are.

Carvell Wallace puts the pieces together.

9. Better Things: formally odd, fantastically feminist TV show about a single mom and actress played by Pamela Adlon. Or as my co-worker Kenny has framed it, all the truth and awkwardness of Louis without the problematic Louis thing.

Sam, Duke, Frankie, Max: some of the best names on TV.

10. Get Out: as good as everyone says, for all the reasons everyone says, and it would probably be higher up on my list if it weren’t so terrifying as to be extremely stressful viewing.
11. Big Little Lies: juicy and true, with a great soundtrack and a great cast. Reese Witherspoon, keep going with your bad producing self.
12. Silicon Valley: Everything I know about coding, servers and the boom-and-bust tech world, I learned from binge watching the witty and sweet SV while recovering from the flu.

Happy New Year, friends!