We lost so much this year…the Obamas, pride in our nation, my long and beautiful hair (for which many are still in mourning)… but whilst the world melted down and we became closer and closer to nuclear annihilation, I found ways to stay entertained, delighted, and discovered ways to bring joy back into to my life. (Lolz, I sound like Oprah.) I took Prozac (which is a miracle drug), drank more red wine (boxed from ALDI), and found many ways to treat myself (Hello Fresh, tanning beds, and naps). And while I bemoaned the state of the union with regularity, I began to watch the news, and refused to ignore the constant micro aggressions in my life that I had learned to tone out. Life goes by so quickly and we don’t have that much time. Why not have more fun and be nice? Anyway, though 2017 was an awful year historically, I think it was a significant one for myself.
And so, I am proud to present to you, the ten best things, in no particular order, that happened to me on this bizarre year:
Attending Upper Iowa University:
When I graduated from high school a decade ago, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I just moved to France to be dramatic and do something that sounded like fun. And it was! I have absolutely no regrets about that whatsoever. A few years ago, I read an article by Kara Cooney, one of the more commercially successful Egyptologists in the field that profoundly impacted my future. I have always known that Egyptology is what I truly want to do with my life, but I was having nothing but difficulties understanding how to follow that path. Kara said to find some way to incorporate your passion for Egyptology into another career you love because you are more likely to find satisfaction and success that way. This sparked something in my mind and I decided to become a social studies teacher. I’m about 3/4 of the way there now, give or take a few months. This fall, I enrolled at Upper Iowa University, a small private school that has a satellite campus near me at the suggestion of a close friend. If it hadn’t been for her, I would never have known about the school or considered it. Their teacher education program is well respected and they provide one of the only fully accredited programs that I can take during the night. Every experience with the teachers and administration of Upper Iowa University has been great, and I feel like I’m finally making something of myself. It’s expensive, but I know that it will be worth it.
For years, I have had Seasonal Affective Disorder, you know that thing where once the days grow short you feel miserable? I’ve grown accustomed to it, but recently I have been thinking a lot about my health. Remember when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis? Of course you do. I never stop talking about it. But when I was having my blood work done, my neurologist told me that I have a rather profound Vitamin D deficiency. This made sense immediately because I was sad when the sun goes away each winter and most nights. And then I started thinking. I have been considerably lucky in my life and have found myself in diverse situations. When I go to Egypt, reader, under that blistering sun, I never feel better. Ever. Honestly. Luxor, Egypt is one of the sunniest places on the planet and all of that sunshine makes me feel so good. So I decided that I would experiment with fake sunshine and see what impact that had on my health. A friend and I decided to go tanning at Planet Fitness because they have an unreasonably affordable tanning package. I quickly grew addicted. (Not in a dangerous way, mind you.) Reader, and I know some of you are rolling your eyes, when I was in the bed or the booth for ten minutes, I felt like I was unthawing from the inside, like I was coming alive again. When I tan, I feel absurdly healthy. I feel like it’s summertime again and I have energy and a lust for life. I’m not going on at length because this is supposed to be a short series, but I am trying to emulate the Mediterranean Diet as closely as I possibly can here in Iowa. The tanning bed gets me the sun exposure that those people maintain daily. I have a mainly vegetarian diet and I drink red wine. When I do all of these things and don’t let myself get lazy, I feel the best I have ever felt in my life. That tanning bed has done wonders for me. I love it.
Technology is transformative, reader. Throughout this and many years, I have written about my all consuming love for Apple products. They have completely changed my life for the better. My very first iPhone changed the way I access digital media. My Apple TVs have completely changed the way I access television. My iPad Pro has become a library and a research tool for my academic pursuits. My Apple Watch keeps me moving and never lost. And my new iPhone X ties them all together brilliantly. I got the latest and greatest iPhone just as soon as I could. Yes it is expensive and yes other devices exist that do much the same, but they aren’t the iPhone X. This gadget is kind of the epitome of perfection. The battery lasts forever. The processor is speedy. The camera takes brilliant pictures. The available apps are endless and helpful. It reads my face to unlock, which is hardly a necessity, but is a convenience that I just can’t get over. And it charges wirelessly. This, more than anything, makes me feel like I’m living in 3017 instead of 2017. You simply sit the iPhone against a charging pad, and off it goes. Cutting the cord has been brilliant and one of the more delightful things that has happened to me this year.
The Painted Queen:
This year delivered what is supposedly the final volume of the Amelia Peabody series. I am devastated. If I go into full mourning during this post, it might run well into the next year, so I will endeavor to be brief. Barbara Mertz, the real name of the author Elizabeth Peters, was one of the first female Egyptologists to attain a degree from the University of Chicago. (She, like Kara Cooney said that it was a pointless degree to have because it’s so hard to get a job.) It was hard for her to get a career because she was a woman at a time when women were certainly not leading excavations in Egypt. So, she took her learning and her knack for writing and crafted one of the finest literary series in history. They are all about a woman named Amelia Peabody who falls in love with Egypt and with an Egyptologist. Over the course of nearly twenty books, they have many great adventures in the Middle East and these books, more than anything, are responsible for reigniting my all-consuming passion for all things Egyptians. I had let my love for those sands go dormant for too long, but these books brought me clarity, brought me back to my senses, and made me feel like I had a purpose again. And then Barbara died. I was devastated because Amelia died with her. Miraculously, she had left behind an unfinished manuscript that a dear friend of hers finished. I don’t believe in coincidences. By some wonderful workings of the cosmos, I acquired an early copy of this book many months before it was published. I tore through it and found myself near to weeping. It was perfection, and it was a perfect send off for all the beloved characters that were just as real to me as Harry Potter is to my generation. Amelia and Radcliffe and Sethos are just as tangible as Harry, Ron, and Hermione to me. In another delicious twist of fate, the estate of Barbara Mertz and I started talking on Twitter and they asked me to write a review of the book. It was the first one published on their site, and I have never had a greater honor. I cried. If ever they are looking for another author to pick up where Barbara left off, look no further. Nothing would be more satisfactory for me than to keep the world of Amelia alive for future generations. We can go on sulking through the souks, taking dahabiyas down the Nile, unearthing wonderful artifacts, and stopping murderers until the end of time.
Discovering Mexico City:
For decades, I had no interest in going to Mexico City. Nothing about it called to me. I didn’t understand why anybody would have any desire to visit what I presumed to be a chaotic and dirty city full of drug crimes. And, like most uninformed opinions, mine was completely wrong. I don’t recall now what changed my mind, but early in 2017, I was very poor. Getting back to Paris or Luxor was out of the question, and I didn’t think Canada sounded all that thrilling, so I booked a two-week stay in Mexico City not having any idea what was in store for me. Reader…oh my dear and darling readers…it changed me utterly. From the second I arrived in that huge place, my love for it grew exponentially. It felt like a love child of Paris and Cairo in ways that I’m still grappling with. When I let my mind wander, I’m there again, perusing the chaotic streets around the apartment that I rented, wandering through the Zocalo, dreamily filling up a cart at Walmart. I’m going back in 2018, I guarantee it. I hope I can go away for even longer. I haven’t fully figured it out yet, though, reader. Mexico City is one of those rare locations where I feel completely at ease, where I feel completely and more myself than usual, where I could be happy. I’m not really happy in Iowa. American culture doesn’t suit me. Life in Mexico City was better for my psyche. People were genuinely happy. They danced in the parks and sipped tequila and the street food was incomparable to anything anywhere I’ve ever been. The air was rich and every street was imbued with an intoxicating vibrancy. The dollar went a bit further and music was everywhere. The architecture was decadent, the streets chaotic, the feral street cats were adorable, the people were abundantly kind. I have only ever felt so welcome in Luxor. I could live in Mexico City for the rest of my life with no problem. I can’t wait to return a hundred times.
Martha Stewart’s Dogs:
When I was in New York City this March for Spring Break, I was annoyed by being in a blizzard. I have terrible bad luck with Spring Break. It’s always so damn cold, but for some reason, I’m always pulled to the East Coast. I have had any number of wonderful experiences, so I don’t regret it, but it’s so damn cold. When I’m in New York, I always have this delirious fantasy of bumping into Martha Stewart and becoming her best friend. It’s never happened. Someday it will. So this year I was at a wonderful play and I found out that Martha was a block away. I screamed and cried into my pillow that night. The next day was my last day in the city before boarding the train back home to the doldrums of Iowa, so I made one last pilgrimage to the Martha Stewart Café. I ordered a latte and then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a miraculous apparition. It was a red chow dog surrounded by one black and one white French bulldog. Those weren’t any dogs, reader. I knew those dogs just as well as I knew the children I might someday have. Those were Martha Stewart’s dogs. I felt like I was in a state of rapture. I felt so close to my queen. I felt so lucky. I felt so blessed. Her dogs were feet from my waterlogged Chelsea boots, and I have never been so happy. It was a moment for the ages, reader. And, I am quite sure that I floated all the way to Union Station. It was truly a bizarrely unexpected highlight of this year.
I am a ho for a good pyramid. These structures are all over the world, and if you listen to Ancient Aliens they’ll tell you that they are energy generators for the aliens that populated the Earth millennia ago. And of course you shouldn’t listen to that nonsense for anything other than entertainment. I could name you every Egyptian pyramid, but I have been largely ignorant of the ones on my own continent. Well, all that changed this year and I’ve now climbed two and a half of them! Mexico was like a daydream come true, as I told you before, and the pyramids were the cherry on top. It was so thrilling to go to Teotihuacan, those infamous pyramids outside of Mexico City. I didn’t really know what to expect when I took the bus out there, but when I was at the sight, I was just giddy. I love history so much and it was grand to see the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun soaring up to the heavens. And unlike in Egypt, you can climb these pyramids! So up I went to the very top of the Pyramid of the Sun and delighted in the youths up there playing “Despacito” on their portable speakers. It was magnificent and the scenery surrounding the archaeological zone was fabulous. That night I ate a meal that consisted mainly of deep fried grasshoppers, which I didn’t expect one bit. The memories are rich and wonderful. Such a strange day. I miss Mexico.
Harry Styles Concert:
Jessica and I are madly in love with Harry Styles. He is absolutely everything: talented, fashionable, beautiful, endlessly kind, and an icon. His ensembles give me life, and I do all that I can to emulate his fashion choices in ways that I can afford. I think I do a fairly good job of it, too. I’m just fatter than him. Working on that in the new year! It’s time for a return to my 2014 body. Anyway, this year Harry released an album and went on a tour. The locations were in small, intimate venues, and the tickets were impossible to get. Yet, I got them! I could not have been more delighted. Jessica and I felt like the most privileged people in the world. We had haters on the Twitter and jealous people in our lives. We were truly thriving. In September it was time for the concert and we drove out to Chicago to stay at the haunted Congress Plaza hotel on Michigan Avenue. It was oddly cheap. Must be the ghosts. Anyway, the concert was just a couple blocks away so we donned our gay apparel and hurried to the venue to stand in line with the three thousand lucky others who got tickets. We were ecstatic that we had decided not to wear florals because literally every other person in the audience did that. I wore my “Future Mr. Styles” shirt instead. A good choice that got many laughs. MUNA, my greatest musical discovery of the year opened the show and I have had this song in my head ever since:
The concert was fabulous and Harry was a queen in a sequined suit. We were so utterly happy. It was a grand time. So blessed.
California With Pam:
I am so lucky to have grown close to one of my cousins I spent most of my life knowing nothing about. It turns out that I have family that I absolutely adore in California, and now that I know them, I try to visit as often as I possibly can. This summer I was lucky enough to spend two weeks on the coast in central California with my cousin, Pam. It was great to chat and catch up with her. I truly worship that woman. She’s a wonder, and I’m so glad that I know her now. We have the best time together. Each time I visit, we drive up to Hearst Castle and daydream about the glorious manors built up on the hill in San Simeon. We go to San Francisco and Los Angeles and walk until our feet fall off. We eat the most delicious foods. And what I love most is the relaxation I feel. This part of the world, like all places near the water, are more at ease. Life isn’t so hectic. Humans just weren’t made to live so far away from water. Here at Pam’s, though, you can drive down to the beach, or climb up on the mesa and watch the sun plunge into the Pacific Ocean. It’s a wonderland that I consider my second home now. I can’t wait to get back. This year, I was so happy to spend so much time there, laying out in the sun, swimming in the pools, walking along the beach, shopping, stuffing my face with the best nectarines, talking, traveling, and dreaming. I need to get back just as soon as I can.
Meeting Dr. Bob Brier:
Bob Brier has been part of my life since I can remember. He’s Mr. Mummy! For anybody with a penchant for Egyptology, he is instantly recognizable. He’s in every textbook, he’s in every documentary, and he’s endlessly charming. There is no greater teacher of the subject that I have ever encountered. But I never thought that I would ever meet him. So, picture my shock and hear my shrieks when I discovered that he was delivering a lecture in New York City when I was there this March. I took a flight instead of a train to make sure that I made it to the lecture. And it was worth every penny I should not have spent. That first night in New York City, I made my way to a decadent location called the Explorer’s Club, and with my imagination already running rampant, entered the hallowed halls of the place, and reader, it was everything I have been looking for in my life. I felt as if I were entering a different time, as if I had slipped into London at the turn of the century, as if all the nonsense outside the front doors had never happened. The walls were covered in intricate wood paneling, the floors in delicious rugs, a stuffed polar bear stood menacingly in one corner, old flags hung from every surface, thick leaded windows let the remaining sunlight filter into the dark rooms, books upon books upon books, photographs of expeditions and paintings of explorers. It was just tremendous. And there was free wine and cheese and an intriguing elderly woman named Lenor who quickly became my dearest friend.
She gave me so much advice that I’m still processing. She’s one of those divine creatures that pop into your life for a moment and leave a lifelong impact. I cherish them. When Bob Brier appeared at the cocktail party, she veritably drug me in front of him and introduced me. I was gobsmacked, but it was such a moment. Bob was a wonder. Sitting in the audience I had a bit of an out-of-body experience. I had heard this man’s voice all my life, and there he was in front of me. It was wonderful. And I was reminded again as I have been reminded a thousand times that there is no truth in coincidences. You have to make your life wonderful. You can’t leave it up to chance. You have to put yourself in these glorious moments where you’re a child again watching Dr. Brier mummifying a corpse donated to science. And if you’re peculiarly lucky as I seem to be, nine months later, you’ll see that corpse with your own eyes.
And then you’re back again, sitting in a beautiful lecture hall. Lenor is smiling up at you as you cry softly to yourself lost in a rhapsody. Life is wonderful.
And so, honestly, the year was wonderful. Hillary should have been inaugurated, but it was still a grand and glorious year. I adored the things that I accomplished and the things I did, I will always look back on them with immense fondness and love. 2018 can only be better. Let’s not bother making resolutions we won’t keep, let’s just be good to each other and have a bit more fun.