I love being able to sit and take stock at the end of the year, but I’m behind on this, due to broken leg circumstances.
1. Enlightened: I miss Amy Jellicoe. I think Mike White and Laura Dern’s masterpiece was difficult to talk about if you were on its level (and I’ve gone to meditation camp, I am on its level) - since it had this goofy, flawed woman who was trying, so hard to be a better person and to make a difference in the world, and a lot of the writing about Enlightened was dismissive and cruel, at least from the same TV critics, mostly dudes (even if some people fought the good fight), who were like Girls: it’s the future since Emily Nussbaum raved and there are boobs. Enlightened was trying to say something about what it’s like to be a human person today, and Amy Jellicoe could be tin-eared and frustrating but she was trying, trying so hard, and there was a lot of grace in that struggle. Watching it, I felt like I was opening up to other people’s lives. Art that sticks with me feels like it’s working the empathy muscle, like you come out of the room a slightly different person with a bigger heart.
2. Orange Is the New Black: When I saw the preview for this, having been quite disappointed in the book, I felt like the Crazy Eyes character just seemed … well, offensive. And as Crazy Eyes became Suzanne, I realized that I was in sure hands, and something quite radical was happening.
3. The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud: This book feels really misunderstood to me. Unfortunately, the “likable characters” thing going softly viral took it over, when there’s so much more going on otherwise. Nora’s alone, mild, a Cambridge townie amongst the Harvard gentry, laden with grief for her family, vulnerable and subsceptible to this family’s charms and the idea of the life she should’ve or could’ve had. Messud writes like a dream - I love her Henry James-like control, her sentences, her particular words - and the book is a wicked, brilliant, late coming-of-age, but more importantly, it’s a howl of rage at the idea that women are just disposed of after a certain age.
4. Spending the fourth of July watching Lamorne Morris host the bananas kids show Brainrush where he quizzes tweens on rollercoasters for money and reading parts of Alissa Nutting’s Tampa aloud and making the Nick Miller turtle face to no end. #NewGirlForever
5. Rectify: Just marathoned this last week, and it’s a beautiful, contemplative southern show that takes an anthropological look at how the release of a man on death row shakes up his community. Abigail Spencer, who was one of Don Draper’s paramours (the schoolteacher), is on fire and brilliant as the man’s feisty sister.
6. Foraging for mushrooms and ramps and eating upstate. I spent the spring looking for mushrooms and ramps in the Hudson Valley. My dinner of onions and morels tasted of sweat and effort and it was the best thing I’ve eaten. Save the occasional meal at Blue Hill Stone Barns or Fish &
Game in Hudson, where I had some ham that was transcendent, I can’t even describe it fairly. (NYC-ers, go to Hudson for a weekend, have a fancy meal at Fish and Game for way less than it would be anywhere else.)
7. Parts of Frances Ha: I don’t feel like I have a fair opinion of the film for various reasons, but I did enjoy the cinematography and Frances running to “Modern Love” - cinema magic! - and you could just feel the love that Noah Baumbach has for Greta Gerwig coming off every frame. I wondered has a man ever loved a woman the way that Noah loves Greta, and then I thought about the week before when Stu had to put me to bed after a party and stayed up until 2am and watched me sleep so that I didn’t get sick. Which is not a lovingly framed movie, but it’s pretty analogous. “Modern Love” has felt like a theme song of the year, for me and for the things and the heroines that I loved. “But I try, I try.”
8. James Salter and William Kennedy in Albany. James Salter and William Kennedy are in their 80s and are longtime friends. They both wore sports jackets to the reading. When people asked Salter a question, he would answer with a short, sharp sentence, where Kennedy would have a monologue. It echoed their writing styles. It was a pleasure.
9. Stories We Tell: Sarah Polley fractures her family history, makes you ask questions about the nature of narrative in the process. Makes the stuff of writings by Janet Malcolm and Joan Didion look easy.
10. The end of Breaking Bad. Brilliant show. And it as a communal watching experience with friends and, somewhat, the internet, was pretty major. I wonder whether the fifth season will age well in people’s minds - as the show became too tightly sealed and hermetic, the new characters like the Nazis felt, to me, like plot devices and not real threats. In some ways the show could’ve ended after Gus’s death, with the promise of the next chapter. I loved the last shot of Jesse driving away in his car, downright 400 Blows-esque, but then there was that preview for Aaron Paul’s stupid film Need For Speed and it was hard not to think of that, something that perhaps encapsulates the good and the slightly meh of BB Season Five.
But the pleasure of watching this last season wasn’t something I’ll forget soon.
11. Okkervil River, The Silver Gymnasium. 2013 was the year that I listened to and got Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, which is another flat-out masterpiece. The Okkervil River album is not up to that form, but it’s a good collection of songs that seem to have meaning and mystery after I broke up with the band, and it had the most New England nostalgia of anything I’ve listened to or read in awhile, save Gilmore Girls repeats. I really liked it.
12. Holistic approaches to social media. This year I pulled back from having a “presence” on sites, at least for now, while I’m doing Secret Projects and need the time to focus. But I think it’s important to figure out the right balance on social media, which is difficult. Words in text can seem colder and crueler than they’re meant; particularly when combined with a deadpan tendency. People can seem more hotheaded. Ever get an errant remark on a Facebook post that seems rude, but it’s somebody trying to be “sarcastic,” badly? Social media is .0006 % of anyone’s life, and there’s a lot of mystery and, well, narrative, left out of this sort of public pleasing imagery.
13. Books written by people that I know that, happily, happen to be fantastic: Dangerous Girls, Abigail Haas, Double Feature, Owen King, Save Yourself, Kelly Braffet. Double Feature made me LOL, for real - and what writing actually makes you laugh? It’s rare - and it’s pinpoint accurate on movie love; Dangerous Girls and Save Yourself would make a good pairing of stories about girls and teens in trouble.
14. Moving back to New York City. I don’t live in Albany anymore. I miss the reckless beauty I saw every day in Catskill. But now I’m in the concrete jungle that dreams are made of, and I have friends I can see and it doesn’t take me 45 minutes in a car to get anywhere and there’s all this teeming energy: I’m so excited and hopeful for the future, and for today, that’s a really nice feeling.
In 2014, I’m going to get a kitten.