2016: My Top 10

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I heard somebody refer to 2016 as a “dumpster fire.” I don’t really know what that means, but the visual makes me chuckle. And I am rather hopeful because fires inside of dumpsters are contained. They aren’t spreading. So, perhaps 2017 will be a bit better? I have doubt though, since the next president of our proud nation is acting like he’s bullying his way through a game of Monopoly instead of preparing to run the free world. Le sigh. I’d be a better president. And everybody is dying. And the Earth is dying. And I was diagnosed with a nasty disease. And I was so tired.

Every year, I do a lengthy and voluminous recap of the year, mainly for my own pleasure. I do it to see how wonderful my life was and if it could have been better, or if it could have been worse. I have no desire to go traipsing through the woes of my disease, or whining about college, or my aching heart at the election results, so instead of a four part analysis of every month of my life, I’m going to present the top ten moments of 2016. Even though it was really a rough one, and I’m not one to usually give into negativity like that, there were some highlights. I mean, honestly the year was shit, but some wonderful things happened. Even in the darkest moments (me on November 9 at 4:15 am or when I was pumped full of drugs and wanted to kill myself), my dear and beloved readers, bliss and wonder still existed. There was, and is, potential for delight.

Let’s have some music, and let’s go. Enjoy my reflections.

TEN – DISCOVERING ALDO:

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Look at my beautiful boots! I love them like a baby.

This is a recent discovery, like just two weeks ago, but it is truly one of the happiest memories of the year, which is vain, but whatever. There is a shop at the mall that I never go into because I don’t wear women’s shoes. I rarely buy shoes, since I buy everything at a discount. But when I was floating around the mall, more content than I have been in months because of my excellent Multiple Sclerosis checkup, I was paying more attention to my environs and smiling at everybody with love. Then I looked in the window display at ALDO and shrieked. A facsimile of my dream Saint Laurent boots was staring at me. I’m now the proud owner of them, and I don’t regret a single penny of the money I didn’t intend to spend. It was Christmas, after all, and there were no new lesions in my brain, and I needed these lookalike boots like I needed air to breathe. I now own a suede brush, too, which was something I didn’t even know existed, so what a year it’s been!

NINE – DISCOVERING ALDI:

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Heaven is a place on earth.

I know that you are probably sick to death of hearing me rave about ALDI, and if you aren’t to that point, yet, I know it’s not long distant until you’re all begging me to shut up. I get it. I do, but I won’t stop. EVER. ALDI has made a marked impact on my life for the better since I first entered the hallowed halls of their Urbandale location. Since then, I have adopted the Ames store as my own and have watched it grow and blossom like a proud parent. The newly opened location is one of the most magnificent and happiest places on this earth. I would, in all seriousness, rather spend a day in ALDI than at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. There is nothing better than the insanity of a thirty-nine cent grapefruit or mushroom risotto for $1.49 that tastes better than mushroom risotto that costs $15 at a restaurant. 2017 is going to be a budget year for me, so thank Beysus for ALDI.

EIGHT – DRIVING:

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This was my car.

I bought my first car late in December of last year, but it wasn’t until this year that I really got into the hang of driving. I never had any interest in it, which is why I waited until I was nearly thirty to own a lumbering metal behemoth. But, reader, I unexpectedly and quickly fell in love with the freedom a vehicle offers. I never knew what I was missing out on, and I became addicted to the glory of being ones own master. That was a fancy way to say it’s fabulous to go to the Olive Garden whenever the hell I want. I have had car issues…but I am sure they will be resolved very soon and 2017 will be another lovely year of motoring. Maybe I’ll even learn to drive one of those manual kind like they use in Europe and Africa?

SEVEN – GIGGLING WITH DR. WARIS:

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We were having such a fabulous time being fabulous idiots that we didn’t stop to take a photo together; one of my major regrets of 2016.

I have met so many fabulous people on my travels, but few have been as fun as Dr. Waris. We met in Doha, Qatar, on a free tour of the city by the airport and quickly became fast friends who shared the same sense of humor – a rare and lovely thing. We had a riot of a time teasing the guide, taking fast golf cart rides through the shopping promenade along the artificial lake, admiring saffron, spending the last of of our riyals in the souk, admiring the saffron, sipping this amazing tamarind drink, and talking the night away with Turkish coffee in the airport. She is a professor from Kenya who is working at a university in Vienna, and we had the most stimulating conversation. It reminded me of the salons that high society used to host in Paris a century ago. It was the most charming way to spend a night in a new city, a new continent, and in an otherwise dull airport. Dr. Waris is the smartest person I think I have ever had the pleasure to know and the pleasure to call my friend.

SIX – MEETING THE CROCODILES:

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I was so stupidly happy here!

You may not know this, but aside from the domestic cat, all of my favorite animals are in Africa. My absolute favorite is the camel. They are just the most magnificently absurd creations. The others are lions and crocodiles. Now, before this year, I have never been close to a crocodile, but everything changed in a Nubian village outside of Aswan. There, they allegedly hold onto the ancient worship of crocodiles, and people have them in their home as pets. This sounded fake to me until I was welcomed into a house and shown their menagerie of fully grown crocodiles. The beasts didn’t do much, just sat there, but I could see my reflection in their eyes and it was a monstrously humbling experience. And then the lady of the house came out with hibiscus tea and a baby crocodile for me to hold and I was squealing. My driver and dragoman couldn’t stop chuckling at my glee. It was so fabulous to hold the little prehistoric lizard and know that it would someday be three times as big as me. It was already probably stronger. I think about that creature every day with such fondness.

FIVE – “ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS” IN BRIGHTON:

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All theaters should have champagne available!

I discovered the iconic cult classic, Absolutely Fabulous when I was in high school a million years ago. I didn’t get it at first, since it was very late and it wasn’t the best episode, but there was something about the champagne and the money and the nonsense that really spoke to me, and soon I considered myself the love child of Patsy Stone and Edina Monsoon. I named my cat after Eddie. Well, partly after Dame Edna and partly after the fictional PR mogul. This turned out to be shockingly prophetic. You see, reader, Dame Edna has a large cameo in the Absolutely Fabulous movie, which leaves me concerned about how psychic I might just be if I could tune myself better into my powers. Anyway, when Jessica and I were in Brighton this summer, we saw the movie twice. The best night I had in a long time was at the Duke of York’s Picturehouse, holding a glass of champagne and squealing with pleasure with a hundred other lovers of the show. It was a magical evening as Ed and Pats sped through Villefranche, and I cackled my way through the streets of my favorite English city by the sea.

FOUR – RECOVERING MY VISION:

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My optic neuritis was not quite like this, worse around the edges. Awful time.

When I was first struggling with Multiple Sclerosis before being diagnosed or treated, I was deeply distraught because I was going blind. I had something called optic neuritis, and it is one of the most unbearable things I have ever experienced. In this situation, the optic nerve becomes inflamed inside of the brain and the pressure from the inflammation screws up the signals. Day by day it was getting worse, and I was about ready to accept blindness as my new normal. It’s one of my biggest fears. What is the point of living if you can’t see the big, beautiful, wonderful world sprawling out around you? For me, there is limited purpose in life without vision. A month or so after this nonsense started, I was being pumped full of steroids that made me bloat like a watermelon and want to jump off a bridge. It was awful, but in the weeks after I started this treatment, my vision started coming back. Slowly but surely, and now I can hardly remember the blurry nonsense I had to deal with. Being able to see is a moment I will never forget and will always appreciate.

THREE – BUYING A DISHWASHER:

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Look at my PROFOUND GLEE in this blurry picture of me the night I brought my dishwasher home. I’ve rarely been so happy.

Y’all, I’m still not over this. Early in the year, I was sick to death of washing dishes. Those lucky ones if you who have never had to wash a dish by hand in your blessed lives have no idea what a pain it is. It takes ages and there’s literally nothing good about it. I would let dishes pile up on my counter for weeks as a protest to the injustice of my life. I mean, people have had dishwashers since the fifties. So, I decided that I was done. I whipped out my credit card and happily charged a portable dishwasher that perfectly fits between my oven and my refrigerator. Reader, the machine was worth more than what I ended up paying for it. It’s worth triple. It’s priceless. It changed my life, and I still kind of want to cry blissfully when I load it and put the dishes away. They come out perfectly clean and it’s such a miracle and I just can’t get over how happy it makes me. I love that dishwasher almost more than life itself. It’s definitely a highlight.

TWO – BEFRIENDING THE JABER FAMILY:

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The sweetest people in Egypt.

This was the most lovely summer of my life, which is something I didn’t expect having multiple sclerosis and all that, but for whatever reason — perhaps I had a new lease on life? — I have never had more fun or felt better about the world. When I was in Luxor, I was basically adopted by the Jaber family on the West Bank of Luxor. The man of the house, Hassan, is a taxi driver who goes by Shakespeare to stand out for the English tourists. For whatever reason, he and I really hit it off and became friends during my lengthy sojourn in Egypt. I visited his house innumerable times, met all of his children, was doted on by his wife (who has since tragically passed away — I’m still upset. I worshipped her.) and was shown every kindness in the world. I was even the recipient of Hassan’s first email, and we have stayed in touch ever since. It is a special thing to have friends so different from me, but so close to me.

ONE – MY 27TH BIRTHDAY:

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I still get weepy thinking back on this.

This year was the very best birthday of my life, and in this mess of a year, what a remarkable statement that is to make. But, loyal readers of the blog and my followers on other social media are already aware that this summer was the most magical of my life. It was more than I ever could have asked for. Let’s set the scene: I was tired on August 10th, blissfully worn out from Egyptological passion and from the woe of turning twenty-seven and worrying that I haven’t yet accomplished enough. I didn’t even make it to midnight, but I should not have been so depressed. I mean, I haven’t taken a traditional path in life, but I would change nothing, and I should not have been in such a fussy mood. August 11, 2016 was a wondrous day. After breakfast, I sat in the sumptuous lounge of the Winter Palace, waiting for jovial texts to flood my phone when one of my favorite staff members approached me to wish me a happy birthday. Reader, I was floored. I assume that they knew it was my birthday because of their loyalty program, but it felt like magic and it made me believe in the innate goodness of the world. They were so good to me at the Winter Palace. I went over to see my friend Hassan and they insisted I stay for a birthday tea, which was charming. Back at the hotel later that night, I saw my suite’s door standing open, so I was suspicious and wondered if I was being robbed. Nope, several members of the staff were intricately laying a floral arrangement on my bed that spelled out Happy Birthday. I cried. When they left, the hall porter knocked on my door, and when I opened it, several staff came in with a flaming opera cake to sing to me in out-of-tune English. I cried again. That was damn good cake. Then at the Lantern that night, Debbie comped my nightly gin and tonic as a birthday present and Mina gave a little speech about how he hoped that my next year would be a wondrous and happy time. I sniffled all the way back to the Palace. I have never felt more special or cared about in my entire life. And I’m all weepy again thinking back on it. Egypt is wonderful. I belong there.

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On my birthday in my Winter Palace suite, looking over the dreamy Nile.

There were many delightful things that happened in 2016 after all. I was able to spend a lot of time in California with my cousin, I stepped foot on four continents, my writing was all right, I maintained a 4.0 in college, my health didn’t completely collapse, Hillary Clinton is prowling the woods beatifically, my cats are doing well, and there is hope for the future. And so, I bid adieu to 2016 and welcome 2017 with trepidation. I have multiple schemes in order. I anticipate seeing legendary actresses on the Broadway stage, hiking through the forests of  Transylvania, putting the finishing touches on my next book, and having a laugh. Best wishes, good luck, and the happiest of new years to you.

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