Categories
Reading

My year in reading, 2021

My social life suffered in 2021, no thanks to the pandemic, but that just meant I had more time to dive into books.

Here are 15 books I read and loved this year, in no particular order:

Monogamy
Sue Miller

Whew, I adored this novel. Probably because Annie’s family is the kind I sometimes wish I were born into: slightly WASPy, East Coast-based, heavy on appreciation of the arts and culture and good food and wine. But Miller is a talented writer, with the ability to braid several characters’ stories into a quiet, seeking, honest novel. Reading this felt like the ideal immersive experience, something I’m often chasing after but rarely find.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
Isabel Wilkerson

A stunning book, rich in research and beautiful writing. Caste gives important context and historical background to systemic racism as we understand it today. Wilkerson offers some truly shocking details from history (and the recent past) to build her compelling case that America has always known — has, in fact, been built on — a caste system.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength
Alison Bechdel

A delightful graphic memoir about Bechdel’s lifelong pursuit of self-improvement through exercise, from running to weightlifting to skiing and beyond. Bechdel levels up her third memoir with colored illustrations and a sprawling look at self-enlightenment, her own but also that of Beatnik poets and Eastern philosophers. Funny and searching.

Want
Lynn Steger Strong

I gobbled up this novel. I wanted to live inside Elizabeth’s world, even though it was depressing and sometimes claustrophobic.

Strong’s writing is gorgeous: “I want to tell her that I’m scared I’m too wore out, worn down, that this constant anxious ache that I have now isn’t about my job or kids or all the ways life isn’t what it should be, that maybe it’s just me, it’s most of who I am.”

And a bonus easter egg: Elizabeth is constantly reading as escapism, and her many novel references would give any hungry student of literature a reading list for the ages. 

Expecting Better
Emily Oster

I appreciated this book for its data-driven look at so many pregnancy-related decisions that often leave pregnant people feeling like they have no agency or like they’re being infantilized. I returned to it many times to help provide context to medical decisions and to reassure myself that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through. (For more in this vein, Oster’s newsletter ParentData offers excellent evidence-based information on pregnancy, parenting, and COVID-19.)

Crying in H Mart
Michelle Zauner

This is a heartfelt, appetite-inducing memoir about love and loss, written by a fellow Oregonian. I knew of Michelle Zauner first through her music as Japanese Breakfast and grew to love her witty lyrics and dreamy indie pop. When I read her 2018 essay in The New Yorker, I knew I’d be snapping up her memoir once it came out. This book would be helpful to anyone dealing with grief or difficult parent-child relationships.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
Katherine May

Gorgeous. I loved how May made the universal wildly personal — as someone stuck mostly at home craving novel experiences, I fell hard for the stories that brought this book to life.

I can see myself returning to this book in future winters that I’ll experience.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
Alexander Chee

Complex, sincere essays about writing and discovering one’s identity. This collection paints a portrait of how life can look when one is unafraid to dig into the bigger questions about what it means to be alive. Chee grapples with these questions as he explores different types of work, the intricacies of tarot, and the frustrations and joys of backyard gardening.

Leave the World Behind
Rumaan Alam

I love Alam’s writing voice, how he provides just enough detail and insight to have me feeling a familiar twinge of realization that in the end (if this is what the end looks like, which this past year has taught us that it may well be), neither race nor class nor wealth nor privilege nor youth will save us. Stellar writing on the trappings, comforts and distractions of the privileged life. 

Detransition, Baby
Torrey Peters

An incredibly compelling novel that taught me a lot about the queer and transgender experience, in all of its complexity and humor. The only thing I sometimes wanted was more plot — as much as I love a character study, these characters sometimes felt slippery and out of reach. That title, though? A masterpiece.

In the Dream House
Carmen Maria Machado

Wow. This memoir is flawless — engrossing, entirely original, compassionate, thorough, groundbreaking. I can’t recommend it enough. I’ll follow Machado’s writing wherever she wants to take me, even when (especially when?) it’s a little spooky and eerie and unsettling for reasons I can’t articulate as well as she can.

H is for Hawk
Helen Macdonald

A braiding of grief memoir, nature writing, literary analysis and introspection. Helen Macdonald is funny, openhearted and willing to tell her story as true as she can. I loved her lyrical sentences so much, I didn’t care about the answers to all the nosy questions I’d normally have after reading such a book. I respect a memoir (and an author) that willingly shares the grief journey, no matter how messy and muddled it may get.

Priestdaddy
Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood has a beautiful, wild mind with a freewheeling brand of homeschooled genius. This memoir is so loving and weird and hilarious. Her writing is laugh-out-loud funny, which I needed last year more than I realized. I particularly loved Tricia’s relationship with her cautious, capital-M mom and the grace that Tricia extended toward her as a key figure in her life, in all her wackiness and concern.

Know My Name
Chanel Miller

This memoir feels like the future — a searing, courageous account of assault and its aftermath, told with care and deep self-love and uncontainable curiosity by an emerging author and artist. It is a story that we need to hear more often. (I also recommend Miller’s Instagram account, where she illustrates slices of life, bringing incredible humanity and thoughtfulness to seemingly mundane moments.)

Great Circle
Maggie Shipstead

I can’t pass up a Maggie Shipstead novel, and this one is her most ambitious yet. It delivers on its promise, hearkening back to the tradition of the epic novel in a time when so many works of fiction seem designed to scratch a very trendy itch of subverting form.

Great Circle tells the story of a woman determined to live a life true to her own desires, and to chart that course at all costs. Daring and deeply satisfying.

Here are ten bonus recommendations:

Open Book, Jessica Simpson
(Yes, really. Especially if like me, you’re reexamining the reductive narratives we sold ourselves about young pop stars in the early aughts.)
The Overstory, Richard Powers
No One Is Talking about This, Patricia Lockwood
Yolk, Mary H. K. Choi
Luster, Raven Leilani
100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, Sarah Ruhl
Planetfall, Emma Newman
Smile: The Story of a Face, Sarah Ruhl
Arbitrary Stupid Goal, Tamara Shopsin
A Promised Land, Barack Obama

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
Reading

My year in reading, 2020

It was a slog to read at times in 2020, so I escaped into other worlds through novels and reread a small handful of favorites, too.

Here are 15 books I read and loved this year, in no particular order:

Long Bright River
Liz Moore

This is Moore’s latest novel, and while entirely different in tone and topic than Heft, it’s just as beautiful. At first glance, Long Bright River is a straight, no-nonsense crime novel, but Moore brings to it her literary approach, and her deep sense of compassion. Her characters, who are enmeshed in Philadelphia’s opioid crisis, made me call my own family members just to hear their voices.

Heft
Liz Moore

I discovered Liz Moore through her short story “Clinical Notes” in The New York Times Magazine‘s Decameron Project issue, and I loved her writing voice and the gentle humanity in it. She reminded me of another favorite author, Brian Doyle. Heft has that same gentleness, with sympathetic characters that leapt off the page and into my heart even after I finished the novel.

The Idea of You
Robinne Lee

I needed this romance novel as an escape portal this year. The Idea of You is a pure joyride, a smutty, unapologetic love story between an almost-40-year-old divorcée and the 20-year-old lead singer of a boy band. I enjoyed this story so much because of its specificity and its pitch-perfect art, travel and fashion references. I couldn’t stop reading.

Nothing to See Here
Kevin Wilson

Such a delight!

This wacky novel about an unmoored young woman in charge of young twins who spontaneously combust when they’re upset is strange and sweet and perfect for a quick escape in a “what do I do with this summer Saturday afternoon?” kind of way.

Uncanny Valley
Anna Wiener

I am already the ideal reader for this book, suspicious as I am of Big Tech and the effect its products have on our lives, yet also thoroughly dependent on it. This memoir is a fever dream of shrewd insight into Silicon Valley and the people who shaped it and were shaped by it. I both laughed out loud while reading this and wanted to hurl it at the wall with anger (over how good Wiener is on venture capitalists in all their self-absorbed smugness.) What a timely, satisfying debut.

Olive Kitteridge
Elizabeth Strout

As the internet likes to say, BIG MOOD.

I love quiet stories like these — evocative, expansive and yet uncomfortably intimate. Gorgeous writing. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to discover Elizabeth Strout.

Eve’s Hollywood
Eve Babitz

Babitz’s Slow Days, Fast Company still takes first place for me, but Eve’s Hollywood was still sublime. It felt especially delicious to read about a sunny, druggy, bright LA while mostly confined to my apartment. Eve Babitz is always a jubilant, seductive ray of sunshine.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language
Gretchen McCulloch

I’m nominating Gretchen McCulloch as the internet’s librarian. Because Internet would have been satisfying as an in-depth look at internet culture and how it has shaped and molded language, but McCulloch reaches a step further and maps linguistic differences onto different internet cohorts and life experiences, giving the reader a chance to broaden her view and have more empathy toward, for example, older bosses, younger cousins and less-extremely-online college classmates.

Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book
Courtney Maum

An essential reference book for anyone new to or curious about the publishing world, even if the journey leans more toward voyeurism than actually taking the steps firsthand. This book is funny, informative and packed with useful advice from dozens of literary writers.

Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation
Anne Helen Petersen

I am such an AHP fangirl, and this book solidified my love. Maybe most important in this book is how Petersen calls out approaches to burnout that place the blame on the individual (usually the mother/wife/underpaid woman). We need systemic change in the United States, and Petersen is a vital voice shaping the call for a better, saner, more secure country.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Ottessa Moshfegh

A delicious, perfect little novel. This was exactly what I wanted to read in the week leading up to the 2020 presidential election (if I couldn’t just take an Infermiterol on Tuesday, Nov 3, that is). I love Moshfegh’s dark humor.

The Fixed Stars
Molly Wizenberg

I love Wizenberg’s writing — always have, always will. Her voice is quiet and intimate and unravels ordinary moments in life in a patient, steady way. This book appealed to me for its frank exploration of sexuality and fluidity in mid-life, although I think it would have been a better book if she’d waited another handful of years to write it.

Her Body and Other Parties
Carmen Maria Machado

These stories are brilliant, creepy, sensual and haunting. (A good October read.) I read “The Husband Stitch” on a weekend away for my first anniversary and “Inventory” during, well, a pandemic — the stories were hitting uncannily close to home for a while, but they also lent a sense of wonder and curiosity to the seemingly ordinary.

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close
Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

This sweet book highlights the relationships that rarely get formal recognition in our lives but are often the true bedrock of our identity: friendships. Sow and Friedman excel at telling their story with honesty, wisdom and heart while making the reader want to hold her own friends a little closer. An important manifesto for modern society.

Educated
Tara Westover

This tale of escape and triumph over adversity is a bestseller for obvious reasons — I simply couldn’t stop turning the pages. I’m a sucker for a story about the power of knowledge, and Westover delivers.

Here are five other books I’d recommend:

That Kind of Mother, Rumaan Alam
The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, Brian Doyle
Weather, Jenny Offill
The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory

And three worthwhile re-reads:

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
Hyberbole and A Half, Allie Brosh
Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

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
Nature

Taking a mental vacation

I have found that I’m craving sensory input about other places since being mostly confined to our apartment and local parks. (Today marks day 73 of social distancing, and although Kansas City has officially reopened, our life continues to look the same as it has for weeks.)

I dug out my external hard drive last week to look at photos of past vacations, trying to remember what it felt like not just to have a trip to anticipate, but to feel my feet in the ocean or sand in my scalp. Earlier this weekend, after too much doomscrolling, we turned on the jungles episode of Our Planet. It’s comforting to focus on birds and bugs instead of huge, unanswerable questions. (We’re all bird-watchers now.)

In “I’m Going Back to Minnesota Where Sadness Makes Sense,” Danez Smith writes,

Have you ever stood on a frozen lake, California?
The sun above you, the snow & stalled sea—a field of mirror

all demanding to be the sun too, everything around you
is light & it’s gorgeous & if you stay too long it will kill you

The poem, as I read it today, grounds me in the possibilities of nature. I can picture the blinding light, feel the cold seeping through a down jacket and wool socks. I’m soothed by letting my imagination take me somewhere else.

Smith’s lines remind me of the lyrics in Brandi Carlile’s “Have You Ever”:

Have you ever wandered lonely through the woods?
And everything there feels just as it should
You’re part of the life there
You’re part of something good
If you’ve ever wandered lonely through the woods

While we can’t go far, we can imagine our way into the forests and tundras and coastlines. We can watch the bluebirds and cardinals in the neighborhood. I am finding that there are many ways to see the world.

Categories
Miscellany

It all changes, it all stays the same

I made two lists this morning: one of the things I’ve been doing more of since self-isolating and one of the things I’ve been doing less.

It was harder to fill the second list, which makes me feel hopeful. Even though my days feel emptied out — no more social events on the calendar, upcoming trips canceled, going to movies and restaurants now a distant memory — I have been filling them with other, smaller activities. I’ve been more gracious with myself and made more time to create in ways that can normally seem silly or frivolous.

These lists helped me recalibrate instead of letting my mind run away with fear and distress. They’re a reminder of what I’ve said yes to and what I have let go of when life doesn’t feel quite normal. As Amy Krouse Rosenthal said, “Pay attention to what you pay attention to.”

Things I’m doing more of while in coronavirus isolation:

  1. Baking
  2. Sleeping
  3. Practicing Yoga with Adriene
  4. Reading the entire Sunday edition of The New York Times on Sunday
  5. Reading magazines (Bon Appetit, The Sun, The New York Times Magazine)
  6. Talking to my grandparents
  7. Facetiming friends and their toddlers
  8. Crying
  9. Journaling
  10. Exercising outside (biking, running, walking)
  11. Staying up too late
  12. Ignoring my screen time limits on the Twitter app
  13. Playing the ukulele
  14. Drinking one beer to mark Wednesday evening
  15. Blogging

Things I’m doing less of while in coronavirus isolation:

  1. Driving
  2. Listening to podcasts
  3. Remembering which day of the week it is
  4. Spending money
  5. Wearing makeup
  6. Scrolling through Instagram (I gave it up for Lent — couldn’t have timed it better!)
  7. Planning ahead
  8. Wearing pants that zip and button up
  9. Taking photos
  10. Washing my hair
  11. Staying off of my phone
  12. Wearing sunscreen
  13. Using travel mugs and tupperware (no meals to pack!)
  14. Taking breaks during the work day
  15. Watching (aka being awake for) the sunrise

Categories
Reading

My year in reading, 2019

Here are 10 books I read and loved this year, in the order I read them:

Becoming
Michelle Obama

Yes, this is the story of a First Lady, but it’s also the memoir of a modern mother and career woman. I was moved and motivated by Michelle’s reflections on her career in the nonprofit sector and her growing family. She tells a beautiful story of how she strived for both with grace and determination.

Kitchen Confidential
Anthony Bourdain

The kitchen is a tough place to work and live, and Bourdain doesn’t shy away from the dark side. Knowing that he decided his own fate, in the end, made the darkness in these pages feel more bleak. The book ultimately is about love, though, about a undying commitment to food and the people who make it, to bringing people together despite the abusive veneer of the harsh language that unites them. His voice is singular and I miss it.

Slow Days, Fast Company
Eve Babitz

I love Babitz’s funny, droll, evocative voice. After my first-ever trip to Los Angeles, I wanted to know more about the city — to really get to know the city — and several readers I trust pointed me to her work. She does not disappoint. 

The Golden State
Lydia Kiesling

This voice of this novel is beautiful: tense and distracted, bored and self-conscious, in love and hopeless. I’m recommending it to all of my friends who are parenting toddlers. I loved Kiesling’s expansive, searching internal monologue.

How to Do Nothing
Jenny Odell

This book feels groundbreaking and yet timeless. Deeply helpful in a world that’s constantly vying for my very divided attention and limited energy. This is the kind of practical philosophy I am here for.

Horizon
Barry Lopez

This book is stunning in scope. Lopez is an author whose gentle perspective and lifelong studiousness I have long admired, and this is his opus. His research and wisdom on elders and self-sustaining communities should be required reading for every urbanist and every politician.

Once More We Saw Stars
Jayson Greene

This memoir stunned me. Greene writes with self-love and searing honesty as he works through heartbreak and deep grief. His story helped me to better understand what it’s like to lose a child, as those close to me have. I feel very fortunate that Greene so generously shared his story.

The Book of Delights
Ross Gay

For several months, Ryan and I ended the day by reading aloud a brief essay from this delightful little volume. Gay’s reflections on big and small delights in ordinary life helped us appreciate the ups and downs of our days.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
Lori Gottlieb

Written by a therapist about her experiences with therapy patients and as a patient herself, this book is a generous, open-eyed look at the human condition in all of our striving and struggle and confusion and love. I loved Gottlieb’s sense of humor, her humility and her ability to embrace both the light and dark in life.

A Pilgrimage to Eternity
Timothy Egan

Equal parts travelogue and spiritual memoir, with huge dashes of history sprinkled generously throughout. Egan’s voice feels as trustworthy as any, and I loved the way he wrote with perspective on his relationships with his wife, his children and the faith tradition that he lost but can’t quite shake.

Here are ten other books I read and liked:

Keep Going, Austin Kleon
The Collected Schizophrenias, Esmé Weijun Wang
Like A Mother, Angela Garbes
Tropic of Squalor, Mary Karr
Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino
Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
In Pieces, Sally Field
A House in the Sky, Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
Good Talk, Mira Jacob
Little Panic, Amanda Stern

Categories
Art

The world changes (a zine)

Inspired by Austin Kleon, I made a quarantine zine out of a single piece of paper and a December 2019 issue of The New York Times magazine.

Categories
Miscellany

100 things that made my year in 2019

1. Leaving Facebook. Taking several months away from Instagram.

2. Tex-Mex tacos and beers chilled in the snowdrift on the balcony.

3. Holding my father-in-law’s hand after his surgery.

4. A fresh Jade Yoga mat.

5. Watching Coneheads on the library rooftop with free popcorn and beer. Going to the public pool with Sally. Buying Sesame Street stamps. Celebrating the public option

6. Emily Raboteau’s vital perspective on climate change.

7. A February trip to Los Angeles. Palm trees and sunshine. Boba tea and ice cream in Little Tokyo. Looking out at the city from Griffith Observatory. A hotel room with two bunk beds. Walking through the floral and produce districts. Watching the Oscars at a bar like it was a sporting event. Chasing the trip with Eve Babitz’s Slow Days, Fast Company.

8. Ignoring the algorithm and forgoing curation when the mood strikes.

9. Marriage prep meetings with a 77-year-old priest who told us, “I’ve learned that people seem to feel comfortable telling me they have doubts about the Catholic Church. So do I!”

10. The Audrey Hepburn episode of Mo Rocca’s Mobituaries podcast. Death, Sex and Money. Mary H.K. Choi’s podcast Hey, Cool Life.

11. Looney Tunes instead of CNN on the televisions at MCI.

12. Having friends over for dinner. Not caring too much about the menu or the playlist. Asking more questions.

13. The caramel brownie at Messenger Coffee. Meshuggah bagels. Chocolate chip cookies from The Russell

14. Evelyn Ebert’s newsletter, Everything Happened. The short modern poems of POME. Emily Gould Can’t Complain

15. Seeing the Kansas City Symphony perform the score to Casablanca thanks to some generous neighbors.

16. Kashmir Hill’s very good series on blocking the Big Five tech giants from her life.

17. Buying steaks and cooking at home on Valentine’s Day.

18. Ibuprofen.

19. Packing an “adult Lunchable” for work: cheese, crackers, veggies, olives, chocolate. 

20. Bonding with Ryan’s family during a scary time. Teaching my nephew how to fly paper airplanes while spending hours in a hospital waiting room. Taking my mother-in-law back to our place to nap. Getting lost in a maze of hallways after meeting the pizza delivery guy. Annoying Travis with fake makeout sessions to break the boredom.

21. Spending a night in Las Vegas with friends to see Celine Dion before her residency ended. Teresa bursting into tears the moment Celine sang her first note. Wandering around by myself in Vegas. Writing outside and appreciating the sunshine. Buffets. A long afternoon chat on a patio near a manmade waterfall.

22. Propagating our houseplants to make even more of them.

23. Wedding planning feeling like an unending task. Punching a box when it got too frustrating. Walking off the feelings. Attempting to surprise Ryan with dance lessons before I realized the process is as arduous as buying a used car. Finding inspiration in surprising places. Remembering we’re in it for each other.

24. Celebrating Mardi Gras with a “food addiction” party at work. Eating Cheetos, macaroons, gummy bears and chips and queso. 

25. Saying an unexpected goodbye to my dependable 2010 Jetta and bringing home our first joint car.

26. Anne Helen Petersen defining burnout for my generation. The Collected AHP. Talking about her tweets with Ryan on weeknights.

27. Hating spring like I do every year and going outside to put my bare feet in the grass. Participating in a spring yoga mala and realizing I may never do that again.

28. Having a picnic on an airplane while stuck at SeaTac in the spring. Enjoying clams and crab salads at my parents’ dinner table. Watching A Star is Born in the family room.

29. Walks around Liberty Memorial. Admiring the wide-open sky. Looking out at downtown from the museum observation deck.

30. Monday nights at Heartland Therapeutic Riding. Breaking up mud dreadlocks in horses’ manes and tails with pliers. Listening to Samantha’s mantra as she told her horse, “Easy, Murphy! Go slowly! Steady. Be careful.”

31. Learning from desert monks how to resist the cult of productivity.

32. Derry Girls. Fleabag. Schitts Creek. Season 2 of Big Little Lies. Shrill. The pilot episode of Gidget.

33. A weekend at a gorgeous, architectural house in St. Louis with Ryan and Jessica. Playing Pac-Man and Clue at the Gramophone. Calzones at Sauce on the Side. Riding Lime scooters everywhere. Sliding and crawling and scooting through City Museum all while being a tiny bit scared.

34. The New York Times reporting on Steph Curry’s popcorn obsession.

35. Chilled Lambrusco in a bottle with a cork fastener that has to be removed with pliers. Bringing sparkling wine on road trips and giving bottles as birthday gifts.

36. Getting sucked into Slack and resonating with the idea that punctuation and syntax are the “social lubricant” of the workplace.

37. Maggie Rogers, jubilant and luminous in a white suit on stage. Brandi Carlile belting out “A Case of You” under a summer sky in Bonner Springs. Taking Ryan to see Celine at Sprint Center, me unable to wipe the grin of off my face.

38. Appreciating the lush nature abundant on those not-yet-hot spring days in Kansas City.

39. Good movies at home on the couch. Booksmart. The Peanut Butter Falcon. Young Adult.

40. Enduring a marriage preparation retreat at a nearby parish and having some important conversations amongst all the enforced public kissing and long, preachy lectures.

41. Educating my youngest sister on music history.

42. Having my ego bruised and my brain lit up by this searing piece on the collision of gentrification and millennial craft food culture.

43. The National’s I Am Easy to Find. Mike Mills’ short film as an added bonus to the album.

44. Driving around sinkhole construction on my work commute for weeks.

45. Flipping to the “What You Get” feature of The New York Times Sunday Business section and choosing one of the three houses I’d buy in a dream world, then passing to Ryan and comparing choices.

46. A restaurant week dinner at Corvino Supper Club. A birthday dinner at Novel. A cheeseburger and draft root beer at the Au Cheval counter in Chicago.

47. Walking off the Sunday Scaries. Enjoying the sunset sky and catching the streetcar at Union Station to head downtown for a scoop of ice cream.

48. Lots of (mostly failed) attempts to refine homemade pizza. Giving up on cauliflower crust or some other complicated option and rolling out Trader Joe’s pizza dough. Piling it high with veggies and polishing off an entire pizza between the two of us.

49. Watching Making Perfect on Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel with Ryan. Waiting to crack the Thanksgiving issue until we finished the series. Making the mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving and again for Christmas. 

50. Other people’s weddings. Rapping “Jump Around” during karaoke hour at Erin and Adam’s reception. Laughing and dancing to 90s songs at Lynsey and Ryan’s wedding. Bunking at my parents’ place with my college roommate and her husband and daughter. Joining Ali and Teuvo for a group yoga class before they wed.

51. Welcoming my nephew Preston Edward to the world.

52. Taking it back to fourth grade with an egg drop contest at the office on a silly spring day. 

53. Getting away for Memorial Day weekend in Hermann, Missouri. Giving the local wine not one, not two, but six tries… and deciding it wasn’t for us. Eating giant pretzels and too much cheese. Reading and writing on the back patio at the coffee shop. Watching a robin sit on her nest of four eggs just outside our bedroom window at the bed and breakfast. Petting the host’s dog and listening to live music in the yard.

54. Listening to estrogen. (And supplementing with progesterone.)

55. Poems that bring meaning to our madness. W.S. Merwin’s For the Anniversary of My Death. Mary Ruefle’s The Good Fortune of Material Existence. Wendell Berry’s A Poem of Thanks. 

56. Seeing Ryan’s old stomping grounds at Missouri Southern State University. Spending the night with the Millers. Playing with the girls and having a pool party where all the adults got sunburned. Naps on the couch before dinner. 

57. Spending far, far too many hours in big box stores creating wedding registries. Attempting to lift Ryan up so that he could scan a garlic press with the laser gun. Getting slap-happy looking at all the things we didn’t need and spending too much time overthinking the things we did need. 

58. Saying goodbye to Mary Oliver. Remembering what she taught us about paying attention to nature.

59. Hanging out at Black Butte Ranch with Dad’s family. Finally getting to show Ryan the trails and trees. Swimming with nephews and cousins. A beer pong game devolved into deep conversation in the garage. Rolling deep in our bicycle gang. Morning ice cream. Petting horses in the pasture. 

60. Hot dogs and chicken bakes at the Costco food court.

61. Taking Ryan to the St. Paul Rodeo and cheering when a dirt clod landed in his plastic cup of beer — good luck!

62. Identifying plants on walks and hikes with the Seek app.

63. Alison Roman’s bacon, egg and cheese breakfast casserole for dinner.

64. Kansas City art in the summer. The “30 Americans” exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins. “Ralph Steadman: An Introspective” at the central branch of the Kansas City Public Library. Being mesmerized by the “Reflecting Motion” installation while it lasted.

65. A dreamy stay at the Channel House in Depoe Bay, Oregon. Soaking and reading in the outdoor bathtub. Watching the sunset through binoculars. Sighting gray whales in the bay. Shopping local. Walking on the beach at Neskowin. Lunch at Side Door Cafe. Feeling like I live a charmed life for 24 straight hours.

66. Bringing home zucchini, tomatoes and Mexican sunflowers from yoga class.

67. Salad ramen.

68. Going on a trail ride on a cool fall day. Seeing Ryan on horseback. Watching a woman film the entire experience from the saddle.

69. Joni Mitchell in Rolling Thunder Review singing “Coyote.”

70. Challenging hikes that I sometimes hated in the moment but appreciated at the top. Getting stung by a wasp while hiking uphill on the Oregon coast. Marveling in the snow and waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park. Climbing up through the muck of wet clay in Annot, France. 

71. Public figures being human. Stephen Colbert at his best talking with Anderson Cooper about grief. Jason Kander taking care of himself first. Nancy Pelosi clapping back under duress.

72. Reading Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights aloud before bed. 

73. The Washington Post’s ridiculous TikTok account.

74. A friendly summer evening putt-putt golfing and being heckled by the older couple golfing behind us at the Nelson-Atkins’ “Art Course.” 

75. Lo-fi music in my headphones. Ventura, Anderson .Paak. Con Todo El Mundo, Khruangbin.

76. Wedding Summit 2019 at the Lake of the Ozarks. Finally introducing my mom to the wonder of lightning bugs. Taking the sofa bed and giving our parents the bedrooms in our rental apartment. Walking on the kitschy boardwalk. Touring Stark Caverns and appreciating the cool climate and the incredible stalactites.

77. C.J. Hauser’s essay on her failed marriage. Jill Lepore on finding solace on a late friend’s laptop. Reporter Rod Nordland reflecting on time, weather and how we make sense of anything.

78. Tea gifts: Harney & Sons wedding tea. A Jasmine Pearl Tea Company sampler. Tiny tins of Vadham chai.

79. Celebrating huge success on the horizon for a good friend and fellow writer. 

80. Buying eggs from family-owned Campo Lindo Farms and reading the little notes printed in Comic Sans tucked inside the carton.

81. Finding professional motivation in The Cohort, Poynter’s excellent newsletter for women in media.

82. Laughing so hard I cried while playing games with my sisters and almost all of my best friends. Swimming in Lake Coeur d’Alene. Feeling all lit up and loved by the women in my life.

83. Pool wine.

84. Realizing I share a birthday with Kansas City’s (and one of the country’s) best museums. 

85. Our wedding day. Serving communion to our friends and family in an unheated church that I love. Riding in my grandpa’s Model A from the church to the reception venue. Dancing with our friends so hard that we had to wind down the reception early. My sister singing part of her toast speech. Ryan doing a Dirty Dancing lift with Adam. Eating two Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwiches. Swaying to a National song that nobody but us knew before we waved goodbye.

86. Appreciating the little victories that come with living an extremely online life. 

87. Sr. Helen Prejean at Rockhurst University and her reminder to stay open to grace.

88. Writing morning pages.

89. Watching Ryan race in the Plaza 10K.

90. A streak of diner food dinners. Chili cheese fries. French dip sandwiches.

91. Going to the movies solo. The Favourite. Parasite. The Farewell

92. Honeymooning in France. Eating all the bread and cheese and olives we could get our hands on. Appreciating delicious, cheap wine. Splurging on a proper hotel. Walking everywhere. Sitting and people-watching at sidewalk cafes. Dipping our toes in the Mediterranean. Enjoying a six-course dinner courtesy of our country hosts. 

93. Powering through several big projects at work. Launching EarthBeat. Redesigning the Global Sisters Report website. Introducing GSR in the Classroom.

94. Appreciating artistic intelligence and enjoying watching the progress of Andy Goldsworthy’s “Walking Wall.” Watching Leaning Into the Wind. Researching Goldworthy’s installations everywhere from here to Digne, France.

95. Finding traces of our wedding in the Musée Matisse in Nice.

96. Michelle Obama’s Becoming. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. Barry Lopez’s Horizon. Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene.

97. Revisiting old writing and sharing it before it feels polished.

98. Making my mom’s lasagna recipe.

99. Welcoming a moisturizing hair mask into my weekly routine.

100. Dreaming about our move to Portland.

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.