without thinking. And when you look back
at what you’ve done
it’s too late. If this sounds
like the story of a life, okay.”
The last time I opened the document where I draft these lists was late July. I was apprehensive then, still processing the shock of covering Orlando, the sweat and despair and long hotel hallways and the creaky foldout bed. If I listen to the recording of my first interview that first morning, June 12, I can hear myself repeat the number of the dead without registering it. The next four days were sun-bleached and vacant except for the mission of work and the need to document those moments of terror. I took a photo of myself in the motel mirror on night three, when most of our team had gone home. My entire face is swollen and distorted. I had finally let myself feel the grief.
This is how the summer felt. Baton Rouge, Dallas, Minnesota, the country fragmented, moments of grace, grief again. The election looming, the knife edge of change. At least in Orlando I could bury my focus in spiral notebooks and urgent feeds tapped out on my overheating phone. After I left, I felt a desperate need to force myself to attention.
I turned 24. I cried at Pride, my tears melting streaks in the waxy rainbow on my cheek. My friends and I drank beers in the Gulf at sunset, cooked vats of pasta, threw my dog a birthday party. The long project I worked on for a year finally ran, resulting in paralyzing relief. I drank wine out of plastic cups at the best pizzeria of my childhood with my best friends from college, climbed a mountain in Arizona, touched a frozen lake in Colorado. I dog-eared predictable poems and walked my neighborhood every morning. A makeshift healing, or at least the steady accretion of time. (Well. And then.)
Lots of books. Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet went out with a bang. Maggie Nelson’s The Red Parts was a stunner (and a good place to start, I think, if someone wanted an entree to her work). Lorrie Moore’s Like Life delivered a reliable punch to the heart. I also liked Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, which I read on a plane above the Midwest, remembering the intensity of adolescence in a small town.
My favorite book of the year might be Nine Island, a dreamy technicolor ode to aloneness and loneliness in a Miami high-rise, and the truest depiction of Florida’s heat and hyperreality I’ve ever read. At its core it’s a poem about lust and longing and the pain of desire. And it made me cry in a way reminiscent of Fried Green Tomatoes, which is to say, I bestow upon it my highest recommendation.
A few more: Hood was perfect on grief and love and life halfway in the closet. I loved the narrator and would have followed her anywhere. If you were once an athlete, Swimming Studies will conjure the feeling of those black early mornings in the high school parking lot, slush on the ground, school bus rattling, teammates sleeping on cold vinyl seats in gray sweatpants. Grief is the Thing with Feathers was incantatory and strange and moving. And Mary Oliver’s Dream Work is my new favorite of hers. (“And nobody gets out of it, having to / swim through the fires to stay in / this world.”)
I’m so tired of election takes but these are a few pieces that have stayed with me. Trump in his own words. We all know Ivanka voters. “I cried because it does things to you to always come second.” Hillary Clinton vs. Herself. What Trump voters want now. “I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk.” A time for refusal.
“Try to praise the mutilated world. / Remember June’s long days / and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.” 2001.
Sit with this Jonathan Franzen piece. It’s about a trip to Antarctica but it’s also about the majesty of penguins and the ways we have to learn over and over again who our relatives really are. I haven't read any of his books but this totally won me over.
Somehow this writer managed to cram all of the magic and grief of life into a NYT Magazine piece about the search for a loved one who will never be found. It is really incredible, slow-moving and poetic, and worth your time. “He was never alone in the sea, always with Takahashi or another diver, and every month they swam slow and quiet as manatees over the seafloor. Their flashlights illuminated dog bones and bird bones like constellations in the sand. ‘What did you see?’ I asked. ‘All the things in a person’s life,’ Takamatsu said.”
Children don’t always live.
“It’s the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live/work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless ... Changing places can be as painless as reloading a website. You might not even realize you’re not where you started.”
Fleabag is a heartbreaker. / Lonely, holy, hip, irreverent blue / Old postcards / Off-kilter portraits / This killer of a four-line poem.
First gay bars. Frank O’Hara, dancing. Portrait of a Pulse survivor, desperate to make something of his life.
“‘At the end of the day, you know,’ one woman said. I burst into tears. In front of everyone. Partly drunk, partly still devastated from my last relationship, partly because I’d just finished a book about a not knowing narrator. I myself did not know. At the end of the day I did not know. And it was causing me strife, grief, extreme distress. I used to know myself so well. Maybe someday I would, again, but on this night around the fire in California, I did not.” The laziest coming-out story you’ve ever heard.
Dreamy photos / Third spaces / I’m a Guy Fieri apologist / Maggie Nelson’s favorite books / Steering into it.
This was just a lovely piece of travel writing. “In the morning we ate tomatoes and strawberries on the hood of the car, then drove all day, passing through Summerford and New World Island, and arriving at Twillingate before sunset. I was both giddy and apprehensive about whether the place could live up to its name, and pulled over so we could go by foot. Here was the lighthouse, red and white just as I had imagined it; here were the jagged cliffs lush with wild grass. I stood on a decaying picnic bench at the edge of an overhang to study the horizon. Icebergs thrust up from the glassy water, their tips tapered to points by the summer sun.”
“However bad life is, what’s important is to make something interesting out of it. And that has a lot to do with the physical world, with looking at stuff, snow and light and the smell of your screen door and whatever constitutes your phenomenal existence from moment to moment. How consoling—that this stuff goes on and that you can keep thinking about it and making that into something on the page.” Anne Carson.
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