2020: The Retrospective

This year was nothing like any of us could’ve imagined. It started off as a beginning to something new and great: I got accepted into a graduate program at FAU and left my corporate job to learn how to teach. I spent the spring reading books and hanging out on campus at the Writing Center. My classes were tough but I managed to excel in them. However, all of this was brought to an abrupt halt when the pandemic became a serious concern for the country and beyond. Classes switched to remote learning and we all had to suddenly adjust to a new everyday existence. The semester ended with a lot of fear, anxiety, and isolation, and this all continues into the new year – something else we certainly didn’t expect. The pandemic has caused so much death, damage, and uncertainty, and our incompetent, unempathetic leadership has only managed to exacerbate an already dire situation. Fortunately, my family is healthy and has survived. But many families are not and have not. I know some of them.

It is bizarre to think about how we were very nearly going to sell our house at the beginning of this year. Not only does it feel like a lifetime ago, but we ultimately decided against at just the right time, since that’s exactly when the pandemic was starting to spread.

I didn’t do a jar for this year like I usually do. I really have just a few items I could’ve included: my acceptance letter from FAU, a business card for the Writing Center, and a postcard from a friend who actually didn’t go anywhere (like all of us). I think it makes sense that there is no jar. It’s a year that many of us wish would disappear and would be okay with letting go.

Despite the pandemic, there were some noteworthy accomplishments. I began teaching in the fall. Some of my colleagues taught in-person classes (despite poor attendance), but I was able to teach an ENC 1101 class fully online. It was an unusual, unprecedented time to do so, and because of this, much of it involved trial and error. I tried to be as flexible as I could with students given the circumstances – after all, they were just beginning their first semester of college during a pandemic and adjusting to their new adult lives. I learned how important it is to have a teaching philosophy based not just on the acts of interrogation and critical thinking, but on empathy as well. In this way, this fall was formative. I managed to also form a cohort of English teachers with whom I can commiserate. It makes the whole endeavor feel not only less lonely, but worth it. Sometimes you need those little reminders. Our group is so smart and funny. I look forward to meeting them all in-person for the first time, which is strange, because I feel like we know each other so well already without having even really met.

This past fall I also helped edit FAU’s literary journal, the Swamp Ape Review. It was fun, and I can’t wait to see the fruits of our labor in print. I’m looking forward to working more closely with the poetry team in the future. Here’s to good poems and their urgency.

It is so strange though, because this is the first year that I won’t actually meet my reading goal. Even though I read a ton this year in terms of student papers, magazine submissions, and literary criticism, I didn’t get to read as many book-books that I wanted. I think I finally understand how my husband feels when he says he’s tired of reading because of grading.

David and I celebrated our third anniversary earlier this month. The traditional gift for this year is leather, so I gave David a custom leather bookmark. Shout out to my sister for the idea! David gave me some books about love, so this was perfect. We are always in sync, whether we realize it or not. We paid a visit to Tree Tops Park because we hadn’t been in a while. The weather was cool and cozy, just like it was on our wedding day.

You should also know that we adopted a new kitty named Tommy. Well, really, she decided to adopt us. That’s the way these things work. One day she visited our porch and decided to stay. David fed her and she kept coming back. She is small and very fluffy. She was quiet at first but now she mews constantly and follows David to the mailbox. She was another bright spot in this terrible year.

Finally, here are all the pieces of media and art that defined this year and helped it be less terrible (in particular, shout out to all the cozy videogames that let us inhabit an idyllic fantasy world, even for just a little while):

Books:
City of Night by John Rechy
Another Country by James Baldwin
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
The Rain God by Arturo Islas
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
Memory Mambo by Achy Obejas
Sexile by Jaime Cortez
A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez
Lot by Bryan Washington
Boy Oh Boy by Zachary Doss
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Phaedrus by Plato
Beyond the Pleasure Principle by Sigmund Freud
The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault
Staying with the Trouble by Donna Haraway
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Most Dangerous Book by Kevin Birmingham
Undersong by Audre Lorde
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
Here for It by R. Eric Thomas
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Literary Publishing in the 21st Century by Wayne Miller
The Shadow of Kyoshi by F.C. Yee
Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod by Traci Brimhall
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz

Movies:
Birds of Prey
Circus of Books
The Half of It
Knives
Out
Douglas
Uncle Frank
The Boys in the Band
Wonder Woman 1984

TV Series:
The Dragon Prince
The Great British Baking Show
Grace and Frankie
I Am Not Okay With This
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay
One Day at a Time
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Parks and Recreation
Superstore
BNA
Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon
The Umbrella Academy
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts
The Good Place
Connecting…
The Conners
Mom
Animaniacs (2020)

Videogames:
Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Gris
Indivisible
Subnautica
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Tabletop Simulator
Coffee Talk

Blush Blush
Maneater
Summer in Mara
Shadow of the Colossus
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
Samsara Room
Monster Rancher 4
Yes, Your Grace
Hand of Fate 2
Spiritfarer

Day of the Tentacle
Grim Fandango
The Sexy Brutale
Star Ocean: The Second Story
Red Strings Club
Monster Prom
Sushi Strikers: The Way of Sushido

Music:
Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple
Petals for Armor by Hayley Williams
Gaslighter by The Chicks
Ungodly Hour by Chloe x Halle
Nectar by Joji
In the End by Sheryl Crow
Living With Ghosts by Patty Griffin
Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa
Bloom by Troye Sivan
Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers


Summertime Madness

This summer is decades long. Time no longer functions as it once did and cannot be trusted. The mosquitoes are the least of our problems. I’ve been meaning to write something, anything, but where to begin? Every day brings another disaster, another grave mistake that could’ve been easily avoided if we had strong leaders with even somewhat humanistic values and hearts in the right place. But we don’t, and this year has been a test of how shaky and precarious this country’s foundations truly are, how weak our democracy. There is a lot to be angry about. America’s leadership has politicized a pandemic, responded to police brutality against Black lives by inciting MORE violence, and continues to sow seeds of distrust in science and empirical evidence that extends and deepens our suffering. Florida has always been a complete train wreck, blitzed out and brain-dead, a window into the act of schadenfreude, but has become a nihilistic, anarchist paradise where people try their very hardest to live like they’re never going to die.

What to do? Everything seems so overwhelming, so irreparable, so far gone, that paralysis and withdrawal seem inevitable. It’s hard to say. All I can do is listen, share credible information, be skeptical of misinformation, raise voices that are better equipped with the language and experience, donate to organizations that are helping overcome deeply ingrained systemic issues, and vote. When I’m not doing these things, here are ways I’ve tried coping:

  • Playing many hours of video games, especially Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Summer in Mara (both of which allow you to explore and live an idyllic life on tropical islands and help well-intentioned anthropomorphic animals), as well as Maneater (you play as a bull shark and you can eat rich people on yachts and golf courses!)
  • Listening to music (examples: Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple, Petals as Armor by Hayley Williams) and funny audiobooks (like: Samantha Irby and R. Eric Thomas)
  • I want to say reading and writing, but I keep getting away from these activities because they simply aren’t escapist enough – at least, not the things I tend to read or write – and require thinking deeply about the world around me
  • Limiting my time on social media while still trying to stay informed
  • Reminding myself of the future goals I have, grad school, writing projects, and work

There is also this: I have to remind myself constantly that the craziest voices always carry the farthest. There are some lovely and tough minds left, some love and empathy, strength and hope to make everything better. All of this is getting drowned out because everything else is so overwhelming and overtakes the airwaves/our screen time.

I often tell my husband that nothing surprises me anymore. I anticipate Florida will get much worse. The virus isn’t going anywhere. I expect we will have multiple Category 6 hurricanes (a new hurricane for a new kind of terrible) in the fall. I wouldn’t be surprised that this year would be the end of all years. Maybe the Mayans were just a few years off.


The 2019 Memory Jar Project

Contents:

  • Acceptance letter from FAU’s English graduate program
  • Arcade card from Xtreme Action Park
  • Brochure for the The Cave Without a Name in Boerne, Texas
  • Little packet from Fangamer with order of Night in the Woods action figures
  • Bookmark from Malvern Books in Austin, Texas
  • Menu from Lemon Grass Hot Pot
  • Parking receipt from trip to Boulder, Colorado
  • Aggretsuko sticky notes for work
  • Little Peppa Pig figurine from my sister
  • Crash Bandicoot keychain also from my sister
  • Amethyst cluster from Cave Without a Name
  • Eiffel Tower keychain from my boss’ trip to Europe


2019: The Retrospective

It was very, very hot this year and continues to get hotter. There are fires everywhere. I stay inside more and more. I admire what Greta Thunberg is doing, even though a lot of people don’t seem to care. I’ve had loved ones say it doesn’t really matter what happens because they’ll be dead, even though their grandchildren won’t be. Which is a shame because this is the only planet we have and I don’t think we’ll get to the point where we’ll start inhabiting another planet. If we do, I don’t think the human race will be doing so great by then anyway.

As a respite from this hellscape, we took a trip to Colorado in the spring around my birthday. It was still snowing by the end of May. This was David’s first time ever seeing snowfall. We walked around a frozen lake, saw elk crossing roads, and drove through mountains. It was beautiful and I wanted to stay. I wrote a poem about it. We plan on returning with some friends next time.

We took another trip to Texas to visit family in the summer. It was hot as you can imagine, but probably hotter. We visited Austin again and paid another visit to Malvern Books, my favorite bookstore. We visited the Cave Without a Name. It was amazing to see all these huge natural formations underground. They have bands play in the cave for special occasions because of the acoustics.

I played a lot of mindless, repetitive phone games this year. However, at the same time, I played a lot of console games that were really, really wonderful and easily became some of my favorites. Among them: Night in the Woods, What Remains of Edith Finch, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and Sayonara Wild Hearts. For me, all these would be contenders for best games of the decade.

I listened to a lot more audiobooks and podcasts than ever before. They fit in perfectly with my long days at the office where time becomes an illusion/delusion. Also, this is South Florida, so I am always driving everywhere and always will be. Listening to strangers on the internet discuss things I love in my car distracts me from all the terrible things going on around me.

I lost my paternal grandfather this year. He was not doing so well for a while, but it’s been hard for my dad and uncle. We’d already lost my grandma at the end of last year. Even though this has been difficult, I am grateful that they both lived long lives.

I didn’t publish any writing this year and that’s okay. This doesn’t mean I didn’t write. I worked on character sketches for a novel. I wrote poems and some auto fiction. Publishing is the most tedious part of the writing life, I’ve realized. I’d rather spend my time actually writing and revising. Maybe this will change next year.

I realize I’ve actually been plagiarizing myself. On this blog and in my writing. Maybe my memory isn’t great. Maybe I only keep a small amount of things preserved and discard the rest. Those fragments preserved become mantras, literary tics. I wrote a poem about it. I guess I wrote more this year than I realized. Unfortunately, many projects remain unfinished.

The holidays this year were very busy. This was the first year that David and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house. Both sides of our family came over. We cooked our very first turkey and the whole process was disgusting. Our guests approved, but we will probably never do it again.

David and I celebrated our second anniversary. The traditional second-year gift is cotton, so I got us a little decorative pillow with our wedding date. This coming year we are decluttering our house in hopes of eventually selling it. Along with my starting graduate school and a new career path, this coming year is going to be full of big transitions.

Finally, here’s a list of all the cultural objects and media that helped defined my year:

Books:

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Why God Is a Woman by Nin Andrews
Black Wave by Michelle Tea
blud by Rachel McKibbens
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
From a Whisper to a Riot: the Gay Writers Who Crafted an American Literary Tradition by Adam W. Burgess
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Useless Magic by Florence Welch
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig
The Rise of Kyoshi by F.C. Yee
Telepathologies by Cortney Lamar Charleston
RED by Chase Berggrun
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Screen Tests by Kate Zambreno
Vincent and Alice and Alice by Shane Jones
Shrill and The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West
Meaty and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones
Brute by Emily Skaja

Movies:

Us
Captain Marvel
Booksmart
Downton Abbey

(and that’s it? Guess we don’t really go to the movies anymore…)

TV Series:

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Yuri on Ice!!!
The Dragon Prince
One Day at a Time
The Umbrella Academy
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Pose
Tales of the City
The Golden Girls
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Aggretsuko
Black Mirror
Shrill
Atypical
Disenchantment
Dear White People
The Great British Baking Show

Video games:

Overcooked 2
Night in the Woods
Spyro Reignited Trilogy
Battle Chef Brigade
Gems of War
Ghost of a Tale
Nine Parchments
What Remains of Edith Finch
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech
Lego DC Super-Villains
Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon: Every Buddy!
Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled
Magic Scroll Tactics
Dream Daddy
Planet Coaster
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Detroit: Become Human
Soul Calibur 6
Breath of Fire
Little Nightmares

Furistas Cat Café
Untitled Goose Game
Pokémon Shield
Sayonara Wild Hearts

Music albums:

Mint by Alice Merton
Blood to Bone by Gin Wigmore
Masseducation by St. Vincent
Infections of a Different Kind by Aurora
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go by Billie Eilish
Cuz I Love You by Lizzo
Let It Die by Feist
Amidst the Chaos by Sara Bareilles
Be Not Nobody by Vanessa Carlton
Love + Fear by Marina
Lost Girls by Bat for Lashes
The Bluebird of Happiness by Lotte Kestner
Cheap Queen by King Princess
The Sayonara Wild Hearts OST by Daniel Olsen


Logophobia with Transition

That sounds like a title of a poem, doesn’t it? Or maybe I’ve just been reading too much poetry this year and my brain has become a poem, oh no.

I am going back to school for the upcoming spring semester and I’m very excited. I was accepted into the English graduate program at FAU. I’m going to be reading a lot and I can’t wait. Alongside my studies, I will be assisting students with their papers at the university’s writing center. I’ve left my job as a content editor. This change in my life makes me nervous, but I am incredibly fortunate to have such a supportive husband as I continue my education.

When I was little, I used to play imaginary school. I was the teacher, of course. My class consisted of 20+ stuffed animals surrounding me in a circle. They each had a nametag and a last name. I’d do rollcall and give them homework assignments. After I graduated college, my family was surprised that I didn’t pursue teaching and/or continue to graduate school. At the time, I just wanted to find work. I didn’t find work for a while because the timing was not great in terms of the economy. I occasionally regret not immediately going on to graduate school a decade ago. However, if I did, I may not have gained the perspective of someone who worked as both a civil servant and as a small cog in the private sector, deftly navigating corporate culture and all the big personalities it brings with it. But who knows. Anyway, what-ifs will drive you crazy. Poetry is a testament to that.

Perhaps the most important experience I’ve gained in the workforce is how to be more assertive, especially when I know I’m right about something. Doubt is a plague for any thinking person, but I used to apologize for being correct, even when I was absolutely certain. Now I take a step forward and reiterate. I give ample explanation where necessary. Despite this, I struggled a lot with collaboration. This was not due to an inability to speak up, but a difficulty in dealing with a lot of different personalities, each with their own problem with language. Whether it was using their own jargon, deliberately withholding or omitting information, having English as a second language, or not responding to my messages, this huge breakdown in communication really tested my patience. I am a writer. I use words to the best of my ability. I cannot read anyone’s mind, nor do I wish that curse upon my worst enemy.

I am looking forward to being around people who love books as much as I do. I am looking forward to helping students become better writers. I am looking forward to a new year of change and possibility.