in recent years

2021202020192018
2017201620152014
2013201220112010

totally top five: 2020

You ever spend at least five or six minutes a day staring into the middle distance and trying to process that we’re all living through like, three to five global catastrophes simultaneously? And then get up and put your clothes on and go to work anyway? Oh yeah of course you have that’s what 2020 was all about.

I know that, functionally and realistically, absolutely nothing is going to change between December 31, 2020 and January 1, 2021, but holy shit am I be glad to close the door on this shitshow of a year regardless.

My attention span went to hell this year, amongst other attributes, and I pretty much ceased watching or reading anything after about… August? I did continue to listen to new music as without it I die, but everything else was just a barren field of nothingness. My Goodreads year-end roundup felt particularly pointed this year, but what can you do, right?

ANYWAY, here’s my top five for the year. Just the one list, categories be damned.

Orville Peck was my most listened-to artist this year. Crystal gave me Pony at the start of the year when she did her annual comb-through of all the year-end lists; I was hooked from the jump and I stand by everything I said about it in January. Peck’s voice is so easy to listen to even though it’s deeply emotional and there’s something really magical about his arrangements. I’ve loved everything he’s done this year as well — the cover of “Smalltown Boy” is one of my favorite pieces of music from 2020 and “No Glory in the West” just absolutely kicked my ass across the prairie — and I also have to blame and thank him for really opening me up to country music this year. I had, obviously, moved away from my youthful “everything but country” attitude to music, but the algorithm responded to my listening habits and offered up a ton of new music I wouldn’t have necessarily been interested in before because it was country or country adjacent including some new legit favorites like Colter Wall and Evil and Sunny War.

Sarah Henstra’s We Contain Multitudes is still really the only piece of media I consumed this year that really fucked me up emotionally in exactly the way I like to be fucked up emotionally. My Goodreads review is still right on and what I said in May here still stands as well. This is just a really lovely story with characters it’s easy to care about and get invested in with complex life experiences that complicate how they relate to one another. I’ve bought, I think, almost ten copies of this book for other people since I finished reading it and if that’s not a ringing recommendation, I don’t know what possibly could be.

I joked earlier this year that since Crystal had decided to attempt to claim her Canadian citizenship, I was going to try to get into The Tragically Hip so that I could be adequately prepared for whatever it meant to live with a Canadian, but it turns out that they’re great and I was just missing out all these years. (Not that I necessarily assumed they weren’t good but like, you know… Canadians, right?) I would start listing the favorites I’ve accumulated here, but there are just too many to be honest. I do have a favorites playlist but it is incomplete, so tread with that in mind. Truly, RIP Gord Downie, and thanks for the boss tunes.

Letterkenny ended up being one of the only media experiences we had this year and I still stand by every word I said about it in March. Just thinking about it can make me laugh and we’ve held off on watching the new episodes specifically because we want to have something to look forward to. Crystal and I had a long conversation the other day that meandered over a bunch of media and it ultimately came down to the idea that not enough weird shit is getting made. Everything is a remake or re-adaptation or a sequel and I know we’ve all been screaming about that for more than a decade at this point, but it’s nice to watch something like Letterkenny that is weird and funny and has a big heart too.

As previously discusses at length (kinda), I watch hockey now! Again! Regularly for the first time since I was a youth. This was an exceptionally weird season in which to get invested in sports of any kind and by the end of it I had attached myself to thirteen teams (seven “primaries and six “auxiliaries” because I certainly cannot do anything normally) and several of those teams went to the playoffs, some of them deep, and one of them all the way to the Cup final! Which was rad, but also sucked because they lost, though it was tempered by my enthusiasm for the finals being between teams from non-traditional hockey markets! Anyway, I think cishet men should be banned from talking about sports where other people can see it, but otherwise I’ve been having a spectacular time and can’t wait for the new season even though having it happen under the current conditions of the world also terrifies me. The grueling mechanism of capitalism, etc etc.

      

Happy New Year! Here’s to high hopes and low expectations for 2021! I hope this year treats you kinder than the last and I hope you’re kinder to yourself than you ever have been before. I love you! Be safe!

totally top three: october 2020


I watched five entire movies this weekend — yay — all of which I had seen before — boo — but that I did watch and finish while mostly not staring at another device — YAY — and it felt unbelievable to actually do it. Attention span, friend, is that you? (Please hear this in a Kate Bush “Wuthering Heights” falsetto, thanks.)

Highly recommend revisiting The Rocky Horror Picture Show if you haven’t in a while. It’s still so, so fun and still makes me feel like I’ve got a whole community of weirdos and queers where I belong, even when I can’t be with them in physical spaces due to the plague and also living in a nightmare place. I only got to see it once “live,” but it was the 30th anniversary show at the Hollywood Bowl and it’s hard to beat Par-tici-pating with 8,000 other nerds, you know?

I got a new favorite hoodie in October, the Smalltown Famous hoodie from Ohio In My Mind. Marty’s a lovely person and the stuff they make is great and charming and makes me feel like I belong to the community of the Greater Midwest even when my Local Midwest is waving Trump flags and giving me constant low-grade anxiety. New stuff drops all the time and it’s making up my entire wardrobe right now. I even ordered a back-up of this specific hoodie and one in a different colorway just to be safesies.

I also finished a book recently! Devin Kelly’s Blood on Blood which is a poetry based on a Springsteen album I’ve never heard — I love the Entity, but the music’s not really my thing — and I loved it very much, especially each of the versions of “The Story of How You & Your Brother Grew Up.” Me, liking poetry! 2020 surprising me yet again.


      

It’s November. Tomorrow is election day. Please vote for Joe Biden, even if it hurts. Any other option will hurt us all worse. I’m sorry we haven’t done more. Please donate to mutual aid funds if you’re able. Wear a mask, wash your hands, stay safe. I love you.

totally top three: august 2020

It’s September! 2020! Already! Jesus! Hi! This is your reminder to please donate to mutual aid funds if you’re able! Wash your hands! Wear a mask! Stay safe! Stay sane! I love you! A lot!


I’ve been on a country kick lately — unfortunately I am now truly midwestern, rip the cool version of me — that started because I listened to Bonnie Raitt’s entire discography and then the Old 97s — one of the only contemporary country artists I listened to when I was still cool — dropped an album in my lap! And it’s great. This is really classic country storytelling and it feels very alt-Texas. I’m partial to “This House Got Ghosts,” “I Like You Better,” “Belmont Hotel,” “Our Year,” “Bottle Rocket Baby,” and “Why Don’t We Ever Say We’re Sorry,” which, you know, is most of the album, so they must be doing something right.


One of my personal projects this year has been to try to get into poetry because I’ve never read beyond what I absolutely had to when I was in college/grad school and that seems unfair to a whole bunch of writers! It has been… a largely fruitless endeavor because my brain just isn’t designed for it honestly, but I ordered Kimmy Walters’ new collection The Faraway [review!] and ended up loving a bunch of the poems in it, including “zeitgeist wants me in its mouth” and ten others I took pictures of to reread at whim.


Tomasz Jedrowski’s Swimming in the Dark [review!] was lovely and achy and richly written. It was really nice to drop into a time and place I haven’t encountered often before and see it rendered in a complex and interesting way whiles spending time with a narrator that I cared deeply about.


And three to look forward to…

unpregnant   rituals of mine, hype nostalgia   the boys in the band

totally top three: june 2020

It’s July! 2020! Holy shit! Hi! Please donate to mutual aid funds if you’re able! Wash your hands! Wear a mask! Stay safe! Stay sane! I love you!


I held off on watching The Half of It for a bit because I’d seen a thread on Twitter from writer-director Alice Wu talking about how it was based vaguely on a friendship from her youth and how it had ultimately ended badly and I was just not prepared for the chance that the movie might end similarly — I’m a big proponent of writing from your own history, but I also don’t know why anyone wouldn’t write themselves a better ending. What’s the point of fiction otherwise? — but I was wildly pleased to see that was exactly what she’d done and it was such a joy to watch. I laughed a lot, I cried a little, I felt immense satisfaction. Ellie, Paul, and Aster are all great and I loved Ellie’s dad very much too.

Based on what I saw in my Spotify friend activity bar, pretty much the only thing anyone was listening to was Run the Jewels’ new one and that was pretty much my MO for June too. Every song on this one is great, but I’m particular to “out of sight,” “holy calamafuck,” “walking in the snow,” “JU$T,” “never look back,” and “the ground below,” which, to be fair, is uh, most of the album. Run the Jewels always hit me really well musically — for reasons I don’t know enough about music to articulate, but I think it’s a combination of bass lines and tempo? maybe? — but this feels as lyrically pertinent as ever.

My review of Avon Gale’s Breakaway covers pretty much everything I loved about it, but as I was reading through my Kindle highlights right now, I ended up laughing and being wildly charmed all over again. Lane is one of the most fun narrators I’ve spent time with in a long while and I’m so glad I tried to reset my horrible attention span with this one. There’s not a single character I don’t like! The dialogue and sex are fun! There’s emotionally satisfying resolutions of parental relationships! People like each other! Professional athletes are chill about having a queer teammate! This was a great time and I’m excited to read more from Gale.


And three to look forward to…

dream wife, so when you gonna   jennifer honeybourne, the do-over   fontaines d.c., a hero's death

totally top three: may 2020

Black lives matter. If you think that statement needs a qualifier or a rebuttal, I am begging you to interrogate why you think that. Start learning and start helping. Amplify, donate, do good.

I thought about skipping this post entirely because it’s hard to talk about trivial things when massive, important things are happening in the world, but these posts are important to me and I hope, sometimes valuable to you, if you’re looking for stuff to get into. People need escapism and that escapism is always inherently easier for me because I’m white. Black people rarely have that luxury.

I try to do better by reading, watching, and listening to more things produced by people of color. I am going to work even harder at that now. Reading theory is extremely important even when it’s hard, but engaging with pleasurable content about and most importantly by people of color is incredibly powerful too. Fiction teaches us empathy and diverse fiction teaches us to empathize cross-culturally.

That said, all three of my faves were pretty fucking white this month. You can’t do better without acknowledging where you haven’t done great, right?


Sarah Henstra’s We Contain Multitudes really fucked me up in a way that I needed. I already wrote a sizeable review, so here I just want to say that I am a big crier in general. I cry at happy things and sad things and frustration and anger and pretty much constantly. I’m easily moved and I have a lot of emotions and emotional problems. But pretty much the second isolation started, I dried up. I wanted to cry; I needed to cry, but I just couldn’t, no matter what, and it was starting to make me feel awful. I needed some catharsis, you know? This book was the first thing to unlock me in 70+ days and god, was it satisfying.

Crystal’s been trying to get me to watch Field of Dreams for most of the course of our relationship so that I could be adequately horny about Ray Liotta’s version of Shoeless Joe Jackson with her, but I finally gave in because a friend and MFA classmate said I needed to watch it because it’s a weird as hell premise that everyone just accepts, which is one of my favorite things in the world and I wasn’t disappointed! It genuinely moved me — We watched it after I’d been unstoppered by We Contain Multitudes and I teared up! It felt amazing! — and it is another piece of evidence in how hideously backwards we’ve gone in the last thirty years. The protagonists stand up against book banning! And it’s presented as an absolute truth instead of an opinion. Also, it really is a weird as hell premise and everyone just accepts it and rolls with it. Refreshing.

Orville Peck’s “No Glory in the West” has also made me cry a whole bunch since it came out both because I identify with and am deeply moved by the isolation in the music video, but also because his beautiful, warbling voice reaches the dark, sad places inside of me and opens them up to the light. There are lots of talented queer people (and people of color and women!) making contemporary country music even if it’s sometimes hard to find, but Peck’s hits me in a way I couldn’t have expected, the parts of me that are married to the prairie where I live go deeper than I knew, I think, and I am grateful for the way his music makes me feel seen.


And three to look forward to…

bethany c. morrow, a song below water   run the jewels 4   miss juneteenth