Categories
Miscellany

100 things that made my year in 2021

1. Hanging three birdfeeders and becoming a full-blown bird watcher. Picking up field guides at the local library branch. Smiling at Anna’s hummingbirds at the feeder, squirrels trying to get to the suet block and dark-eyed juncos hopping around the front yard.

2. Sam Anderson’s writing in The New York Times Magazine, whether he’s introducing me to Kevin Durant’s career or the last two northern white rhinos on the planet.

3. Cheering on everyone’s efforts to have and share simple (or complex) hobbies.

4. Attempting to capture backyard birds and the full moon through the camera scope on my new binoculars.

5. Enduring another year of the coronavirus pandemic, looking back on the one we’d already lived through, and turning to art and small kindnesses to keep going.

6. The launch of a trained behavioral health crisis response team bringing a bit of hope to our struggling city.

7. Strong women telling their own stories. Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk. Know My Name by Chanel Miller. Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart.

8. Attempting cross-country skiing with only a handful of spills on a sunny, warm winter day on Mt. Hood. Drinking Barq’s and eating Burgerville takeout in the car on the way home.

9. Taking a virtual drawing workshop with the delightful, wildly creative Linda Barry.

10. Telling our families on Mother’s Day that we were expecting our first child.

11. Clinging to the gentle release of a short afternoon walk around the neighborhood.

12. Spending a lot of time unlearning work culture and thinking about my misguided millennial ambition. Caring less than ever about productivity and more about the small rhythms of my days.

13. Going downtown with Erika to see the cherry blossoms on the waterfront, and to see other people enjoying them, too. Eating green tea Kit-Kats under our masks.

14. Receiving my first COVID vaccine from my sister Aubrey in April.

15. Hunkering down in a cozy rental apartment in Bandon for Ryan’s 36th birthday. Looking out at the fog and taking long beach walks. Tidepooling among the rocks. Eating charcuterie and Dungeness crab with our hands. Watching School of Rock on DVD. Reading while listening to the ocean.

16. Falling for the allure of the Harry and Meghan interview with Oprah — and then watching The Crown in one glorious, cinematic blur.

17. Fleet Foxes’ SHORE, first on Spotify and then selections in this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert and this gorgeous recording.

18. Trying to prevent the internet and its various algorithms from learning of my pregnancy by googling things in incognito mode.

19. Reviving three jade plants that had root rot and replanting them in one big pot, where they are finally thriving again.

20. Turning to Emily Oster for data-informed answers on topics as wide-ranging as risk assessment with a newborn, foods to avoid during pregnancy and travel during COVID-19.

21. Attempting screen-free Saturdays whenever possible, as inspired by Katie Hawkins-Gaar.

22. Joining Rachel Syme’s Penpalooza exchange and writing to a pen pal who lives in England.

23. Baking chocolate chip cookies and Earl Grey tea cake.

24. Eating Taco Time when inclement weather struck (February’s record ice storm; the heat dome in June) and dubbing it “natural disaster takeout.”

25. Laughing out loud while reading Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy and No One Is Talking About This.

26. Babysitting my nephew and niece on a handful of summer and fall mornings. Reading books together. Getting outside. Being silly.

27. Taking books and magazines to the Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood. Finding a copy of Great Circle in a Little Free Library while walking on Fairmount Boulevard. Driving to the Capitol Hill library branch to pick up my holds.

28. Finally seeing a dermatologist to get my moles checked.

29. Piling into my parents’ motorhome for a spring day trip to Mt. St. Helens and tailgating in an empty, icy parking lot. Attempting to hike in the snow. Looking out and seeing nothing but fog.

30. Taking a leap of faith and leaving my job at the end of June to explore self-employment.

31. Pork rinds.

32. Finding a near-perfect reading experience in Sue Miller’s Monogamy.

33. Flowering trees.

34. Watching TV almost every night. Only Murders in the Building. Maid. Reservation Dogs. Mare of Easttown. The White Lotus. Hacks. Sex Education.

35. Hanging out in my parents’ pool on hot summer days. And the community pool in my in-laws’ neighborhood when we visited Kansas City in the middle of a humid July.

36. Finding endless motivation and positive reinforcement on The Writers’ Co-op, a business podcast for freelance writers.

37. Staying informed about the pandemic and slightly more grounded in a time of misinformation and hysteria, thanks to Ed Yong and Zeynep Tufekci.

38. Griping about my neighbors’ use of gas-powered leaf blowers.

39. Laughing so hard at the pitch-perfect Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.

40. Ignoring all food-focused media during the first trimester of my pregnancy, as well as most cooking. Avoiding mundane foods that suddenly grossed me out, including oatmeal, fried eggs and mushrooms.

41. Getting out of the house on Friday afternoons and starting the weekend with a local hike.

42. Feeling screensick for much of the year and yet still doomscrolling.

43. Ultrasound appointments.

44. Applauding Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka for changing how America thinks about athletic strength, well-being and health.

45. Getting out of the house and realizing how uncool we are at the Portland Flea Market. Buying ceramics and popsicles. Sweating through a PNW summer day.

46. Long conversations with friends at Maplewood Coffee and Tea.

47. Ryan teaching our nephew how to build his confidence while riding a bike. Kai pedaling toward us and announcing, “Comin’ in hot!” Biking the perimeter of Black Butte Ranch with my cousins. Finally getting a new Trek bike and building it during a Zoom session with Luke’s help. Riding behind Ryan on a long run around downtown Portland.

48. Summer smoothies.

49. Buying donuts while running errands.

50. Celebrating Aubrey’s 30th birthday with a long weekend in a weird vacation house in Depoe Bay. Getting silly with an elaborate treasure hunt and late-night dance parties. Watching bald eagles and ocean waves from the living room windows.

51. Liana Finck’s cartoons about motherhood. Edith Zimmerman’s slice-of-life comics depicting her new baby. Evie Ebert providing a bit about pregnancy that I would use over and over during my second trimester. Lydia Kiesling on pandemic parenting. Erin Gloria Ryan’s hilarious newsletter.

52. Hosting friends and family for dinner again. Pizza on the back patio. Big pots of soup. Giving tours of the house even though we’ve lived in it for over a year. Playing catch with our nephews in the front yard.

53. A garage baby shower, complete with forest-themed cookies and golden balloons and lots of happy mini-reunions. Getting the best advice from my teen and tween cousins.

54. Scoring Mary Carroll mugs during a rare local sale.

55. Finding pleasure and meaning in TV specials that spanned genres. Derek Delgaudio’s In and Of Itself. Bo Burnham’s Inside. Mike Birbiglia in The New One dropping the articles from his speech in a bit about how people refer to unborn children. Amy Schumer in Expecting Amy, which led us to rewatch her special Growing.

56. Sitting in the shade eating fries and drinking cocktails at Ça Va. Oysters on the patio at Flying Fish Company. Pizza under the space heaters at San Juan Island Brewing Co.

57. Drinking cider and eating soup at Topaz Farm on Halloween weekend. Crowding around the bonfire and watching an employee light another fire with a giant blowtorch. Listening to screams coming from the haunted corn maze.

58. Taking my nephew to the zoo on a chilly fall morning. Saying hello to the cheetahs and orangutans and penguins and otters and African wild dogs from the other side of the glass. Watching Preston watch the elephants play in the dust.

59. Making stuffing biscuits in late November. Eating them all in a week.

60. Hiking more than ever, even into the third trimester of my pregnancy. Exploring the Tillamook State Forest and Silver Falls State Park and revisiting some favorite trails on the coast. Staying stable with the help of trekking poles. Wearing tall socks and plenty of sunscreen.

61. Thinking more critically (and maybe slightly less judgmentally) about mothers who feel compelled to influence thanks to Kathryn Jezer-Morton’s excellent new Substack.

62. Joining an advisory council for Gonzaga Magazine.

63. Falling prey to the Twitter algorithm while thinking about rewilding my attention.

64. Drinking Italian sodas in the car on a day trip to Hood River for pears and apples. Meeting Carlos the steer and picking a bouquet of dahlias at Mt. View Orchards.

65. Watching Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy and then eating more pasta than ever. A festive late summer meal with an old friend at Montelupo Italian Market.

66. Celebrating my pal Shannon as he published his first book.

67. Reuniting with my best girlfriends for a long weekend in Seattle. Good pastries. A long walk around Green Lake. Talking about kids and childbirth. Laughing in the hot tub.

68. Sleeping in.

69. Listening to 101.9 KINK in the car.

70. Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR. Attempting to learn “driver’s license” on the ukulele. Feeling joy wash over me while watching her Tiny Desk Concert performed in a DMV.

71. Watching the Japanese maple in the front yard lose its leaves in a fiery burst of late fall color. Pretending that it was in a competition with the neighbor’s tree as they changed shades. Looking out the living room window at the sword ferns that sprout from the neighbor’s sugar maple.

72. Frozen pizzas.

73. Subscribing to a clothing rental service that made my last months of pregnancy feel a little less frumpy.

74. Walking through Multnomah Village with Ryan to get the hell out of the house on the weekend. Eating bagels and drinking coffee on the sidewalk. Doing some early holiday shopping and admiring other people’s handiwork.

75. Making daily blind contour drawings during the month of October, as inspired by Wendy MacNaughton.

76. Summer visits to the International Rose Test Garden.

77. Watching Jagged and becoming an immediate, late-blooming Alanis Morrissette fan. Blaring Jagged Little Pill on a long drive. Listening to Ryan reliving college memories and singing in a passionate falsetto.

78. English breakfast tea.

79. Ada Limón on learning different ways to be quiet. Putting some of those to practice in my own life.

80. Spending a long weekend connecting with friends and exploring the San Juan Islands on our second anniversary. Riding the ferry and looking for sea life. Sailing alongside a pod of orcas on a windy, rainy afternoon. Eating meals on chilly patios and splitting a pint of local ice cream on the couch. Watching half of Pretty Woman on cable TV. Finding it nearly impossible to get out of a foam-topped bed while seven months pregnant.

81. Playing Sushi-Go with my sisters.

82. So many good documentaries. The Mole Agent. Rebel Hearts. Dick Johnson is Dead. The Donut King. LFG.

83. Remembering Eric Carle and Beverly Cleary and Eve Babitz and bell hooks and Gary Paulsen and Joan Didion — and the worlds they built and ideas they explored.

84. Making the living room a little bit cozier with an electric fireplace.

85. Attending a Creative Mornings session with Portland cartoon journalist Sarah Mirk and making a zine that inspired me for weeks.

86. Peperoncini chicken.

87. Experiencing the “discomforts” of pregnancy. Achy feet. Compressed nerves along my ribs that made my torso tingle. Acid reflux. Swollen fingers. Always, always feeling like I had to go to the bathroom.

88. Ordering takeout on Wednesday nights when we had birthing preparation classes via Zoom. “Rehearsing” contractions by plunging my hands into a bowl of ice water while Ryan counted aloud. Watching birthing videos that were stranger and more ritualistic than I had imagined possible.

89. Watching Tua, the neighbor cat, explore his new catio. The time that Ryan attempted to rescue him from the busy road while he was on a run. Hoping to see glimpses of Tua in the living room window. The arrival of a new kitten, Kona.

90. Using terms like “plant-forward” and “lentil-centric” while working on a big copywriting contract for one of my first clients. Getting excited about diving deep into a new topic. Hearing my stomach growl on long afternoons spent writing about food.

91. Celebrating Mom’s birthday at Topgolf and swinging a golf club at 38 weeks pregnant.

92. Finding inspiration and an answer to my search for anti-racist action in Hope Credit Union. Planning to open a money market account with them in 2022.

93. Asking Ryan to tie my shoes when we left the house for a walk.

94. Lots of takeout and delivery. Rediscovering Little Big Burger. Bamboo Sushi. Hat Yai’s fried chicken for two. Soup dumplings.

95. Buying myself half of a pumpkin pie the weekend after Thanksgiving.

96. Jason Isbell on country music, nostalgia and white victimhood.

97. Being so tired that I misspelled my own name on our Christmas cards.

98. A very good pair of slippers.

99. Body pillows.

100. Giving birth to our daughter Maeve Lillian on the evening of my 35th birthday.

You can read all of my lists for past years here.

Categories
Miscellany

100 things that made my year in 2020

1. Refining our homemade pizza dough approach. Making it a near-weekly staple by the middle of the year.

2. Writing a pair of pieces for EarthBeat about millennial Catholics (including me) who are grappling with childbearing and climate change. Upping the cool factor by working with a talented, passionate illustrator on this project.

3. Dragging Ryan to a matinee showing of Little Women. Convincing myself that I’m a Jo while knowing that I’m probably just a Beth.

4. Falling hard for CHEER on Netflix and then going to an aerial yoga class in an attempt to recapture some of the slight acrobatic abilities of my youth.

5. A decadent, slow, lovely Restaurant Week meal out at Extra Virgin (made all the sweeter in my memory by the fact of the months that followed).

6. Gerard Mas’ medieval-girl-with-a-modern-twist sculptures.

7. Listening to podcasts in the bath.

8. Bringing home Utz chips and kettle corn seasoned with Old Bay after traveling to Baltimore for a conference. Taking a long evening walk through the city. Sharing a very French meal with colleagues at (now-closed) Chez Hugo and daydreaming about future travel.

9. Marveling at Ryan’s joy and the rest of the city’s on Super Bowl Sunday when the Chiefs brought home the championship. Getting sprayed with prosecco in the street in Westport. Crowding onto the sidewalks with thousands of other Kansas Citians in chilly February for the homecoming parade.

10. Becoming a runner. Getting outside three days a week since February to move for 2-6 miles, sometimes surprising myself, sometimes working through tough feelings, sometimes counting every step until I get home again. Running a solo 5K down a two-lane road in suburban Kansas City, and then another one on a curvy SW Portland boulevard on a very foggy Thanksgiving morning.

11. So much television. Pen15. I May Destroy You. Schitt’s Creek. Sex Education. The OA. Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi. Our Planet. Ramy. The Baby-Sitters Club.

12. Scheming to buy Ryan a copy of I Am Easy to Find on vinyl for Valentine’s Day — and receiving the exact same gift from him.

13. Roxane Gay on the big step and simple pleasures of moving in with her fiancé.

14. Eating Vietnamese and Italian food with colleagues in Anaheim. Working poolside on a beautiful evening. Taking long walks to the convention center in the mild winter weather. Listening to travel stories told by my 75-year-old colleague, a Catholic sister who has been to more than 30 countries.

15. Celebrating my cousin’s wedding on Leap Day. Ryan tearing it up on the dance floor and doing a front handspring during a Rihanna song. Flying for the last time in 2020 just as we began to hear about coronavirus cases in the U.S.

16. Martha Stewart’s easy basic pancakes.

17. Seasons 1 and 2 of The Dream podcast. Do the Thing with Melissa Urban. Esther Perel’s How’s Work. Rabbit Hole. OPB’s Timber Wars.

18. Exploring the Rock Island Trail by bike — and quickly learning it was uphill, all the way, and my tires were leaky. Digging deep for motivation to keep going.

19. Creating a quarantine zine.

20. Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Lianne La Havas. Mordechai by Khruangbin. Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore on endless repeat.

21. Riding, for too brief a time, a wave of cresting hope as I rooted in the primaries for Elizabeth Warren and her intelligence, kindness and extreme competence. Warren and Kate McKinnon flipping the script.

22. Pantry meals. Dried beans. Yes, homemade bread, a bit behind the curve. Baked risotto.

23. Making ugly collages and silly doodles in my journal. Participating in one of Wendy MacNaughton’s Draw Together sessions and hanging our artwork on the bookshelf.

24. Learning to cut Ryan’s hair at home. Receiving a hair clipper kit from Ryan’s parents as a going-away gift. Persuading him to trim my hair during a 10-month break from the salon.

25. Feeling soaring highs and gloomy, disengaged lows through a promotion that didn’t pan out.

26. Zoom chats with my college girlfriends, with my writing group, with my cousins, with my therapist, with a volunteer committee. Zoom fatigue at work. Learning to “hide self view.”

27. Gaming the hell out of the Go365 program through our Humana health insurance in the quest for a free bicycle.

28. Movies. Palm Springs. Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Portrait of A Lady on Fire.

29. Praising the heavens for takeout containers of premixed Negroni at Il Lazzarone.

30. Adjusting slowly to the work-from-home life. Propping my laptop up on thick books. Learning to get up from my desk often. Sharing lunch with Ryan instead of my colleagues. Being OK with not wearing makeup to every Zoom meeting. Starting my work day at 7:00 am. Finding freedom in restriction.

31. Watching livestreamed Mass for a few weeks during Lent. Celebrating Easter, and then ignoring the digital option entirely for months.

32. Writing a song on the ukulele with Ryan in the early still-creative stretches of sheltering at home. Playing that song on Zoom with a couple dozen extended family members singing along.

33. Learning coping mechanisms from the smartest people around: kids.

34. Buying a Nespresso machine and letting it bring us some small joy every weekend.

35. Reflecting on how in lockdown, it all changes and it all stays the same.

36. Supporting my yoga teacher on Patreon instead of in the studio. Buying a strap and a second cork block for my home practice.

37. Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener. Heft and Long Bright River by Liz Moore. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. Robinne Lee’s The Idea of You.

38. Feeling very fortunate as we made generous donations to local nonprofits with a chunk of our stimulus checks.

39. Accepting gifts of homemade masks from an upstairs neighbor and in the mail from my mom.

40. Participating in a gratitude photo exchange with my sisters during the first weeks of lockdown.

41. Keeping a StrikeThru journal to organize and clarify my work and home life.

42. Taking a Sunday drive to Clinton, Missouri, and getting startled by an Eastern Yellow-Bellied Racer snake while on a walk at the nature preserve.

43. Ordering takeout to celebrate birthdays and the end of another mundane week and in a tiny, futile attempt to “save the restaurants.”

44. Going on a virtual trip to Nashville to visit my sister instead of flying out for Memorial Day weekend like we’d planned. Shopping online at Nashville stores, listening to live music on Zoom and taking photos in front of “local” murals.

45. Crying about work stress and moving stress and the pandemic and Ryan’s unemployment and a gloomy Saturday and life not happening on my terms. So. Many. Tears.

46. Participating in Brian Benson’s Daily Write class on Zoom in April and May. Having a piece published in the resulting anthology, Proof That I Exist.

47. Saying goodbye for now to my dear friends and colleagues in Kansas City in a 2020-appropriate meetup.

48. Mailing a birthday card for Breonna Taylor to the Kentucky attorney general. Reading and talking and learning about systemic racism in this country during the summer’s wave of social unrest. Feeling helpless and hopeless and desperate for change.

49. Surviving several weeks of a bedbug infestation in our home. Commuting to and from my in-laws’ so we could get some sleep. Buying a new mattress.

50. Saying goodbye to Ryan’s Corolla and becoming a one-car family.

51. Dan Sinker’s son’s research project leading to an endless string of Bird Weeks.

52. Moving cross-country in the middle of a pandemic (after stressing about that move for endless months). Eating Taco Bell on the tailgate of our Budget moving truck. Almost running out of gas outside of Laramie, Wyoming. Wiping down every possible surface of our hotel rooms in Grand Platte, Nebraska, and Meridian, Idaho.

53. Watching movies simultaneously with friends and live-texting our reactions. Choosing yet another weekend film thanks to the inspiration (and Twitter threads) of Vulture’s Friday Night Movie Club.

54. Supporting Ryan through a rocky, prolonged spring of uncertainty at work and eventually, a few months of unemployment.  

55. Facetiming and Zooming and participating in car parades to celebrate holidays with extended family and grandparents. Masking up for distanced outdoor greetings. Waiting as long as possible to go to the grocery store.

56. A charming, simple look at the socially distanced life through the lens of a mom of teenagers.

57. The NYT Cooking app. Cheesy, spicy black bean bake. Dutch babies. Japanese-style tuna noodle salad. Somen noodles with mushroom broth. Korean barbecue-style meatballs. Mississippi roast.

58. Too much screen time.

59. Foraging blackberries from the end of the street.

60. Oliver Burkeman on the only life question we really need to ask ourselves: “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?”

61. Voting.

62. Escaping into a different reality through documentaries. Honeyland. Crip Camp. The Dawn Wall. Free Solo. This Mountain Life. My Octopus Teacher.

63. Saying hello again to a more bruised, angry, striving version of one of my favorite cities.

64. Eating (almost) every flavor of Kettle Chips in a summer obsession. Crowning Korean Barbeque as one of my favorites.

65. Settling into our rental house in southwest Portland. Hanging artwork on the plaster walls, after a few small emotional outbursts. Trying to revive our sunburnt houseplants. Purchasing real furniture.

66. The Oregon Zoo’s Twitter feed reminding us of our fuzzy neighbors while it’s closed to visitors. Uni! Juno!

67. Exploring our local parks and trails. Feeling more than a little awestruck when first stumbling across the old-growth forest in Marshall Park. Running in Tryon Creek State Park. Getting very familiar with the Springwater Corridor.

68. Nicknaming the neighborhood cats (Simon, Lindor, Mitt and Taffy), who mostly ignore us.

69. Hunkering down at my grandparents’ beach house for an incredibly restorative, restful, beautiful, slow anniversary stay on the Oregon coast. Building fires in the circular fireplace. Reading entire books. Hiking on muddy trails. Identifying jellyfish and crabs and anemones on the shore and in tidepools.

70. Passing the knowledge test to become licensed in Oregon again and celebrating that (and my legal name change) with a beer and several tears. (Still waiting on that Oregon license plate, though!)

71. Drawing so much hope and inspiration from the launch of The 19th* and its first year of coverage.

72. Playing and singing and generally just goofing around with my toddler nephew Preston.

73. Afternoon walks around the neighborhood with Ryan.

74. Learning to use our new Traeger grill. Happily reuniting with the abundance of Oregon produce in the summer. Filling our freezer with salmon fillets.

75. Missing book readings until I decided to find them on Zoom. Listening to Molly Wizenberg talk about her latest, The Fixed Stars. Delighting in BFFs Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow chatting on my screen. Looking forward to reading Yaa Gyasi’s sophomore novel, Transcendent Kingdom.

76. Trying to take a mental vacation when we couldn’t really go anywhere.

77. Remembering what’s really important with Ada Limon’s poem The Conditional.

78. Scratching my travel itch just slightly by exploring the aisles at Barbur World Foods.

79. Hunkering down during a long, scary 10-day stretch as Portland had its first true wildfire season. Staying indoors and refreshing air quality index readings hourly. Worrying about family friends and their homes. Having dance parties in an attempt at exercise and ease. Trying not to overthink headaches and scratchy throats.

80. Finding a perfect bit of peace in a rainy fall visit to the Portland Japanese Garden.

81. Looking at the full moon through my binoculars.

82. Trying to ground ourselves in the seasons. Eating a lot of squash and making homemade pumpkin spice lattes and watching silly Halloween-adjacent movies like Addams Family Values and The Blob.

83. Getting outside to work off some nervous energy the weekend before Election Day and taking a 20-mile bike ride on the beautiful Banks-Vernonia State Trail.

84. A.O. Scott on Wallace Stegner and the conflicted soul of the west.

85. A new job for Ryan at On running.

86. Worrying as family members and friends and colleagues contracted COVID-19. Trying to balance my sanity with my safety. Using hand sanitizer that smells like a college basement. Staying home.

87. Reading the archives of Orangette while Ryan watches Chiefs games.

88. Having a two-week dalliance with cold showers and loving the jolt of morning energy.

89. Finally getting our hands on a kettlebell and a set of resistance bands. Setting up a little workout area in the basement.

90. Lurking on TikTok and learning that even Catholic sisters are using the app to connect with Generation Z.

91. Sharing some of my favorite books in the #perfect31 challenge.

92. The radical quilts of Rosie Lee Thompkins.

93. Toasting to better things to come with Haus aperitifs.

97. Enjoying a gentler waking experience with a sunrise alarm clock.

98. Hand-painted signs at the coast that reminded us to go slow. “Slow down. Seal crossing.” “Slow is the new fast.” “Yo, dude. Slow down.”

94. New sweatpants. Crewneck sweatshirts.

95. Getting slightly lost on a 10-mile hike on the Oregon coast but finding worthwhile views and good company.

96. Watching grackles fight in the front yard and Steller’s jays hopping around the spruce tree.

99. Telehealth appointments.

100. Two of my sisters receiving their first doses of the coronavirus vaccine. A few extra minutes of light at the end of each day.

Read my lists for past years here.

Categories
Art

Letter of Recommendation: Send me SFMOMA

I’m 33 today. In honor of my birthday, and all of the lousy first drafts hanging out on my computer’s hard drive, I’m sharing today a piece I wrote a couple of years ago.

For the past 18 months, I’ve lived in a mid-sized, pleasant Midwestern city. It has a robust art scene and gorgeous, maze-like art museums that are, shockingly, free. I’ve spent many solo afternoons wandering through rooms drenched red or blue or cream, gazing upon canvases and feeling pleasure and discomfort and wonder.

Visual art has never been something vital in my life; it’s more like a language that I studied half-heartedly in high school but pretend to maintain so I can get through a conversation. It’s rare that I feel justified in understanding what the artist is trying to say, what I ought to be thinking and seeing as I look at the layers of paint or graphite. But an art gallery is a place where I can feel less alone in a new city, or at least more at home in my solitude. No one in a museum is expecting anything of me. I can simply stand and look at something that reflects my mood or broadens my mind with decades or centuries of perspective.

Lately, I’m not even leaving my apartment to find some beauty in the world. The Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco recently launched Send Me SFMOMA, a texting service that allows it to share its thousands of archived pieces with the smartphones of the world.

I text a message to 572-51 and it responds within seconds with a photo of original artwork and a caption with the title, artist, and year it was created. I type “Send me quiet” and receive Clarence H. White’s “Evening Interior,” ca. 1899. In the sepia photograph, a woman sits on a chair, facing toward the windows and away from the camera. Spindly plants line the windowsill. The windows are draped in filmy curtains. The woman’s hair is pulled up and she wears a long dress, creating a sweeping, graceful curve from her left shoulder to the end of the dress’s train bunched on the right-hand side of the chair.

I save the photo as my phone’s wallpaper and open my messaging app again. “Send me calm.” Vija Celmins, “Untitled (Ocean)’, 1977. Choppy small waves stretch out across the entire grayscale photograph. I exhale. I save the image to my photo library.

At time when I feel burdened or caught up in my emotions, I find myself texting SFMOMA, a friend who gives and gives and who is always ready to help to soothe my fears. If I request something that the service can’t find, I receive a friendly response: “We could not find any matches. Maybe try ‘Send me San Francisco’ or ‘Send me [wave emoji]’ or ‘Send me something purple’.”

A quick review of my texts to SFMOMA could tell anyone what I’ve been seeing and feeling in the past several months. On a trip home to visit my parents on their farm in western Oregon, I wanted the message stream to reflect the lushness around me: “Send me sky. Send me flowers. Send me [fire emoji]. Send me landscape.” 

Coming home from a late weeknight date: “Send me romance. Send me excitement. Send me red.” The images come flooding in, sometimes awakening me to the singularity of my thoughts. “Send me desire,” I type, thinking of a man’s jawline, the musk of his neck, and SFMOMA responds with Wayne Thiebaud’s ‘Display Cakes’, 1963. The clean painting features three round, perfect cakes on tall cake stands, throwing shadows onto the muted white background. Now I want dessert, too.

This service doesn’t cost me anything, except time, and yet it feels like a higher-minded pursuit than scrolling through over-filtered landscape photos on Instagram. This is art that has been forged in a fire of time and public opinion and market preference, art that has endured, art that now drops into my hand at my bidding and feels approachable. It speaks to me.

I wake up on a Sunday morning from a bad dream. In the dream, I was having an episode of dissociation, bringing back a flood of emotions that I’ve had put to bed by day for some time now. My dream world was dark and narrow and in it, I was panicking and unable to soothe myself. Getting out of bed, I feel a heaviness in my chest. I struggle to shake off the fear that the anxiety I felt in my dream is coming for me again in my waking hours. I reach for my phone. “Send me comfort.” In comes an untitled piece by Martin Kippenberger, 1990. It’s a simple line drawing, done on a sheet of paper from a hotel notepad. The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Frank Lloyd Wright, I think, right? Wright wanted to bring the outside in with his architecture. I urge myself to think about the earth, trees and plants, the ground beneath my feet. I look back at the image on my phone. I’ve visited Tokyo with my sister and I felt at ease and alive there. I link these small comforts, putting some distance between myself and my feelings. It’s OK. I’m not alone, I think, looking at the drawing of a woman holding a distressed man on a couch.

I type again. “Send me grounding.” SFMOMA can’t find a match. “Send me reassurance.” Nothing there, either.

“Send me ease.” I’m looking at Sid Grossman’s ‘Untitled [Portrait of painter]’, 1940s. In the photograph, a painter sits on a stool, holding a paintbrush to a canvas. His profile is thrown into silhouette by the window he sits next to, sunlight flooding into the room. I feel the corners of my mouth lift, almost imperceptibly. My jaw relaxes. The subject of the photo is a little blurry, but the lines are clear. His head and his painting hand are tilted toward the canvas with focus and intent. Like this artist, when I sit down to my canvas, the cursor blinking on a blank page, I know I am where I am supposed to be.

Categories
Art

Art imitating art

We honeymooned in Nice, France this fall and were enchanted from the beginning by its colorful buildings and soothing sea views and the food and wine. Nice was ideal to visit after the long wedding planning process, once the details had stopped stuffing themselves into our evenings and weekends and dreams.

A few days in, we took the bus to visit the Matisse Museum. Europe can be so charming with its rich history — once we found the museum, we realized we were within walking distance of both Roman ruins and a monastery that housed the Shroud of Turin in the 14th century.

The museum was small but showed the depth of Matisse’s work, including his cut-outs and some early drawings. I snapped two pictures in the same gallery, delighted by their similarity to the wedding we’d just celebrated.

Here’s Matisse’s The Windshield (1917). 

And here we are, as seen by Alixann Loosle through the window of my grandpa’s Model A car, which my uncle drove us in from the church where we were married to the reception venue.

In the same gallery as The Windshield, I snapped this Matisse sketch of anemones.

Anemones were the focal flower in my bouquet, captured again by Alixann Loosle, a Portland-based photographer who has an artist’s eye.