This was a difficult year, although whenever I compare our circumstances with people truly suffering I have to give thanks for how fortunate we are. I had a huge professional setback on the writing front (no longer have a book coming out with Putnam). Grant and I increasingly feel the energy drain of maintaining intense day jobs while trying to keep a writing practice. Someone Jules knew from soccer was shot and killed. My agency sister and all-around delight Kate Dopirak passed away tragically from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. And basically, we realize that with the kids headed toward college, we’re probably facing financial ruin (perhaps only a slight exaggeration). But the kids are fantastic people, so there’s no one else I’d rather be ruined by. Jules spent the summer living in a community in rural Panama. Simone continues her march to world domination while demonstrating impeccable shopping abilities and astonishing musical taste.
Meanwhile I’m trying to be disciplined about not subsiding into mental and physical mush. It’s too easy to glance at headlines on my phone, so I’ve tried to commit to doing something cognitively hard each day (which certainly doesn’t always happen) And perhaps more importantly I’m trying to be hopeful about the future. The news about the climate, our political dysfunction, and authoritarian malfeasance around the globe has at times overwhelmed me. I realize it’s so easy to feel helpless and give up — an attitude I’d never accept from a fictional character, so I refuse to allow it in myself.
So my beloved middle grade has suffered a setback and I’ve been grieving that. But I am writing something new, which gives me great hope, when it’s not giving me fits of uncertainty. I continue to struggle to find time to write – between the job and kids and other responsibilities it only gets harder and I have to be super careful about my energy and mood. I’ve found it helps to track my time, to think in advance of the scene I’m trying to tackle, and to begin each writing session with a visualization or affirmation. Even so, I’ve been facing major negative self-talk (“why do I even think I can plot?”) and I’m not always successful at fighting back. I hope to have a new manuscript in first half of 2019. Fingers crossed.
Spotify tells me I listened to close to 4,000 songs in 2018. I know streaming music has been hard on musicians, but speaking as a consumer, I couldn’t live without it. Standouts for me:
Travis Scott, Astroworld – I admit I didn’t used to respect Travis Scott. The kids and I would laugh through all the goofball catchphrases in “The Antidote.” But I straight up love Astroworld. “Sicko Mode” is such a beast of a song. But the entire album is great. I’ve been listening to “Stargazing” a lot.
Kacey Musgraves, The Golden Hour – Not my usual genre (country-ish), but this is amazing. Thanks to Pitchfork for turning me onto her.
Deerhunter, Death in Midsummer – I’ve been adding more Deerhunter to my writing playlists. Over the years I’ve been listening less and less to rock and more to rap and classical. Of the few rock acts I listen to these days, Deerhunter stands out.
Juice WRLD, Goodbye & Good Riddance – Super listenable and surprisingly tender.
Also listening to:
Kali Uchis (thanks to Sarah Vollmer for the intro)
Billie Eilish (thanks to my daughter for introducing me to her)
Leon Bridges (another Simone pick)
Lil Peep, especially “Runaway” from Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 2
Earl Sweatshirt, absolutely love “Minted, (ft. Navy Blue)” from Some Rap Songs
I haven’t seen Roma yet, so this list of favorites is probably incomplete.
The Favourite – So brisk and bold and delightfully female-centered. I wish all historical films were this sure and clever.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? – I loved this story of a writer in 1990s New York who discovers a talent in literary forgery. It features several scenes of antiquarian and used bookstores that had me melting into little puddles of nostalgia. And only after I left the theater did it occur to me that almost everyone was queer.
Eighth Grade –I don’t think I’ve ever felt such an intense identification with a character onscreen. I had my heart in my mouth for every moment, feeling every hope and mortification.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Smart, fun, with stunning animation. I fell in love with Miles Morales. I’ll happily keep going to superhero movies if they are anything like this.
If Beale Street Could Talk – Like a favorite poem you’ve memorized or a haunting snatch of music, this was a mood, a feeling—delicate and extraordinary.
Also really enjoyed:
I don’t have an exact tally, but I read maybe 30-40 books this year. Here are some that stood out for me:
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai – On a rainy day over Thanksgiving Break, I fell into this book and didn’t emerge from its spell until I was finished. Beautiful, life-affirming, and heartbreaking
Jade City by Fonda Lee – This had fantastic world building and I got caught up in the characters’ lives. This was an incredible series start, and I cannot wait to read on.
The Annotated The Big Sleep – I love Chandler as a prose stylist and a mood creator. The Long Goodbye is one of my favorite novels of all time. Of course he has all the faults of his era, but that is one of the pleasures of reading this annotated edition—misogyny, racism, and bigotry are called out, but also put into context, along with a host of other insights and illuminating facts.
The Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran – I’ve now read all three Claire DeWitt novels, and this might be my favorite. In a way, these are my ideal detective novels—very meta, unresolved, layered, and featuring a woman who moves through the world as a complicated individual who’s both compassionate but DNGAF.
Also really enjoyed:
Dead Girls: Surviving an American Obsession, by Alice Bolin
November Road, by Lou Berney
An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones
A Lucky Man, by Jamel Brinkley
Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado
I’ve read a bit less MG and YA this year. The industry seems to be making steps toward more diversity, which is really exciting to see. But I still find many books to be ploddingly trope-driven and predictable in a way that doesn’t quite engage me. I think I just need to step away from the genre for a little bit and come back with renewed interest. There are plenty of titles that look amazing and I hope to read soon, among them The Poet X, Darius the Great Is Not Okay, Finding Yvonne, and many others.
Health, hope, love, and joy to everyone in 2019!