What were the bright spots in a year like 2016? It was hard, certainly last month, to think of any. I kept thinking back to my conversations in May and March with the same anxiety and trepidation I have when watching some teenager walk through the night alone in a horror film. Don’t you know what’s coming? I yell at the screen, but of course, they can’t hear me. That’s the whole blessing and frustration of human lives, not being able to see the future. As Rebecca Solnit puts it in her book Hope in the Dark (and as I’ve repeated too many times to friends in dim barlight, hashing out our plans), “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.”
Many of my favorite things that happened in 2016 were, as usual, book-related. A crop of excellent ones came out, and this year I felt privileged to see many of my friends publish their work—Ezra Glinter’s Have I Got A Story for You, Kat Kinsman’s Hi, Anxiety, Gabrielle Moss’ Glop, and, of course, Jason Diamond’s Searching for John Hughes and Tobias Carroll’s Reel and Transitory. In the next year, I have my eyes out for Jennifer Romolini’s Weird in a World That’s Not, and Piper Weiss’ true crime-memoir hybrid. Having a friend publish a book is like being able to finally introduce someone that you’ve been bragging on to everyone you know—you get a piece of their voice to carry with you, to send at whim to your relatives and other friends. It rules, is what I’m saying. I got to write about Kay Powell, a woman who did for obituaries what Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion did for narrative nonfiction. My own book, South Toward Home, got a paperback run and a note in the Times. Flannery O’Connor’s farm got two more peacocks to replace the ones that died from cold and weasel attack.
So there were good things, and there will be good things still. Here are some things I can recommend.
Embracing Casual Champagne Drinking
This is an ethos that I picked up from my friend and colleague Kat Kinsman, but it’s really true: sparkling wine is just as good and necessary on a Tuesday in September as it is on New Year’s Eve or during a wedding toast. Sure, you can’t always drink the very, very good stuff on a weeknight. But a $11.99 bottle of prosecco does the same festive trick, and if you invest in a champagne cork, you can just have it waiting in your fridge for an after-work drink. It just feels a little bit fun and luxurious to be able to have a glass of champagne with your reheated stir-fry leftovers and/or meal of cobbled together cheese rinds.
Off-Season Beach Days
I live in New York City, a place not renowned for its beaches, and yet beaches we have. Obviously in sunny weather, during the sweaty days of July and August, taking the beach bus or the A train to the Rockaways is a good move. There are other, farther-yet-still-accessible beaches, too—this summer, thanks to a generous friend, I took a ferry out for a weekend in Nantucket, and saw bros drinking boxed Chardonnay on the beach for the first time. (Where I come from, it’s Bud Lite all the way down.) But New York’s hometown beaches are pretty great. It’s an act of small magic, one that gets ironed out in the drudgery of using the MTA to commute, that you can take the same train that takes you to the office all the way down to Brighton Beach or Coney Island, a totally different world. Even though the summer is the obvious time for such trips, to go to Cyclones games and ride the bumper cars and debate a ticket to the haunted house renamed “The Ghost Hole,” my favorite times to go to the beach are in the fall and winter. This goes hand-in-hand with my proclivity for very long walks, something I picked up from my Dad. New York City is a walking town, really, and what better than a long, aimless stroll down the shore punctuated by a vodka or coffee and Russian snack? Beach days are for all times. Trust me.
Going to See Musicians You Love in Stadiums
After the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, I realized that I hadn’t seen many of my favorite musicians became of my college radio-era resistance to going to a venue that, like, has actual bathrooms and a bar that’s not a trashcan full of ice and PBR. But if I’m waiting for Beyonce to play in the basement of the Cake Shop, I’m probably going to be waiting forever. So I invested in actually going to some big shows, and it was well worth it, even if involved schlepping on the 7 train at 12:00 a.m. back from Metlife Stadium. I saw Beyoncé on her Lemonade tour, and Dolly Parton on her “now-I’m going-to-play-whatever-the-hell-I-want” tour. It was a very, very good choice. Plus, venues that have actual bathrooms also tend to have seating, which my 30-year-old-self really appreciates.
Everything Bagel Seasoning
This year I started a new job at Extra Crispy, a site that celebrates all things about breakfast and morning culture. And I found out a secret that is not-so-secret: everything bagel seasoning tastes good on almost everything. It is good on eggs, it is good as a seasoning on meat, it is good whisked into a vinaigrette on salad, and it is even pretty good on shortbread. Why we limit this stuff to bagels, I don’t really know. Also: restaurant supply stores are extremely fun to browse online. (Ordering 20 pounds of rainbow jimmies to your significant other’s desk is a cool prank, right???)
The Caftan-Poncho-Scarf Continuum
I have a long running love of garments that are basically just sheets with holes in them for my head. In the summer you don’t want fabric touching any part of your body except what’s really necessary, owing to sweatiness. In the winter, you need a portable blanket to fend off the wind-chill and also the seasonal angst. It was only this year that I realized that all my wardrobe items that I love are basically loose fabrics—the caftan-poncho-scarf continuum. Sack dresses are in there, of course, as are tunics, and maybe even togas. My favorite place to purchase flow-y things in non-drab fabrics is just down the block from my apartment, a boutique run by an incredibly friendly, positive vibes-only Jamaican woman named Debby. It’s called Martine’s Dream, and I recommend it highly the next time you feel that sleeves and “structured garments” are too restrictive.
“The Ecstasy of Gold” by Ennio Morricone
After the election, I listened to more Radiohead than I have since probably 2003. Finally, I have arrived out of that space into only listening to this song on repeat. Is it helping? Hard to say. But it is definitely still my favorite.