Every year, I write one of these blogs about the past 365 days. I would go all out and do a detailed month-by-month recap that exhausted me and undoubtedly exhausted you. I’m sorry for all those lengthy installments. You probably didn’t read them, and for that I don’t blame you a bit. It was extra. It was mainly for me, though, I realize. I needed to know that I made strides forward in my life, that I did wonderful things, that the year I had just lived through had been worth living through.
As I sat down to write this year’s post, I found myself uninspired to type much of anything. This was a strange year, and I don’t feel the same urgency to remember the past twelve months as I once did. It was not a bad trip around the sun, not by any means, but I think I’m a different person now. I won’t go on and on, but I feel like I’m an adult for the first time. I can do things for myself. I’ve always been able to do things for myself, but I feel like I’ve started to figure it out. Maybe I haven’t and I’m living in a happy delusion. Who cares? I don’t anymore. I don’t care so much about anything, and I think that’s an incredibly healthy way to be. Could be the Prozac. I don’t know.
2018 taught me several personal lessons that I will take with me into the future. I learned that I’m not responsible for other people. If they want to live their lives in a certain way, well that has absolutely nothing to do with me. I’m not in charge of them and their dumb lives. I’m only in absolute charge of myself. And that’s how it should be. If I want to do anything, I can do it. If I want something, I can have it. Just like Ariana in that new bop of hers, let’s take a moment:
Ariana and I both learned lessons, even if I still love Pete. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ If I want to look like a fashionable clown, I will happily do it. It doesn’t matter what other people think of me. It’s none of my business.
2019 is going to be a big year for me with more changes than I’ve ever really had to process. I will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Upper Iowa University and looking for a teaching job. I will be student teaching in the fall. I will be trying to travel a bit. I will have to leave the comfort of the job I’ve had for nearly a decade (round up). I will be turning thirty years old. I will be self-actualizing, it seems. Everything is finally coming together. Over the past four — maybe five — years, I have put a lot of work into my higher education and personal passions, and the fruits of my labor are finally beginning to ripen. (Such poetic language, my apologies.) By this time next year, I expect to be in a very different place emotionally, and I hope to be in a different place in my living corpse. I need to take much better care of my body than I have been doing. I’m getting older and I have several chronic diseases and they aren’t simply going to go away if I drink a bottle of delicious red wine and nap for two days. A glass of red wine never really hurt anybody though…
I’m not going to go on and on about my 2018, but there were some sensational highlights that are worth mentioning. Even if my year wasn’t as wild as some — I didn’t cruise down the Nile to hold crocodiles, I didn’t meet one of the loves of my life, I didn’t even leave the North American continent — but it was still a good time. What follows is a recap of some of those vital moments that I keep coming back to. Please enjoy. And please have a fabulous 2019! We will survive this one like we survived before, and next year I’ll have a better job and inshallah, a better president.
My life has become a medical comedy over the past few years. You will all remember my multiple sclerosis diagnosis and all the crap that came with that. In 2018, my MS has been fine and I’ve been actively seeking solutions to some of the chronic symptoms that plague me. MS keeps me in something akin to a mental fog and some days I just can’t do much of anything at all. I’m so thankful that these days are few and far between. It could be so much worse for me. And 2019 is off to a roaring start with a new medicine that’s helping with my cognitive disabilities, so turn up, y’all.
For a spell, early in 2018, I thought my autoimmune disorder did get worse, because I suddenly and quite unexpectedly went deaf in my left ear. I had a fairly aggressive common cold and my body must have had at least twenty pounds of excess phlegm pouring out of my nose and eyes. It was disgusting. More annoyingly, the hearing in my left ear quickly disintegrated and went from bad to actually deaf. I couldn’t hear a thing. I was sure it would pass. At the height of my cold, I was at the University of Chicago lovingly studying a book of the dead and wondering when I’d ever hear again. At that point I still thought I just had fluid in my ears.
I put headphones in on the highest volume and I barely noticed a thing. It was awful, but I thought it had to do with the cold I couldn’t shake. Then it didn’t go away and I assumed it was a new Multiple Sclerosis flare and that I’d get a bunch of steroids and I’d get fat and suicidal but my hearing would come back. Turns out I was right the first time. After I saw an arsenal of new doctors and specialists, it was too late to save my hearing and I was diagnosed with Single Sided Deafness, a rather rare and stupid thing. In desperation, hearing specialists shoved a hypodermic needle repeatedly through my eardrum and filled my cochlea up with steroids. This didn’t do anything but make me sick. The hearing never came back and the chances of ever getting it back are next to none.
I spent months getting used to this, but there is just no getting used to not hearing. It’s more annoying than MS. It’s absolutely awful, and I was rather distraught because it didn’t seem there were any real solutions or even ways to help. Luckily, I qualified for a fancy hearing aid called a BAHA, which is basically a little sound processor that hooks onto a screw. The screw transmits sound waves through the skull and into the functioning cochlea and then, quite magically, you can suddenly hear again. It’s not the same, but I could hear whispers when I tried a sample unit, and I could have cried. Here’s a decent video on how it works:
That was just the demo unit though, to actually get my own I had to have a rather shocking surgery. I was blissfully knocked out and then a small hole was drilled into my skull. A titanium screw was affixed to this hole, and I was sent home to let the bone fuse to the screw. Isn’t that wild? I was high as a kite on painkillers and anesthesia and I finally had my dream come true of being wheeled out of a hospital like my beloved and iconic queen, Joan Rivers.
The area was numbed, so it didn’t hurt for a long time and I never noticed a copious amount of blood pouring out of my head whilst walking through Barnes & Noble shortly after. I have no idea why nobody mentioned that I looked like I’d been shot in the head whilst looking for a book to read during my recovery. One of the odder moments of the year.
While recovering I sent this to absolutely everybody, and I still think it’s hilarious:
It’s been almost three months since then, and I finally get the sound processor. After being deaf for nearly a year, I have some semblance of hearing back. This will be such a blessing in 2019. It’s been so damn annoying being deaf. 0/10 do not recommend. The hearing with the BAHA is not at all the same as actually hearing, but now I can hear when there’s a sound on my left! It’s been weird.
This post might read like my body is quickly falling apart, and if that was your impression, I can’t exactly say that you were wrong. When I was traveling this summer, I managed to do something absolutely atrocious to my shoulder. I blame carrying a bag full of too much cheese every other day. Was it worth it? …yes. But the pain was incredible. Over the summer months it was manageable, but as the season changed to autumn, I was no longer able to push buttons on the elevator with my right hand. I couldn’t lift anything. I couldn’t exercise, though it wasn’t like I was doing much of that anyway. I couldn’t even get dressed without wanting to scream.
I tried out different medications and movements, but nothing helped. If anything, the pain quickly became worse and worse. Out of desperation, I made an appointment with an acupuncturist that was recommended to me by a coworker. I was deeply skeptical, because I still don’t fully understand how acupuncture is supposed to do anything at all, but I went in full of hope.
A very nice man who studied traditional Chinese medicine had me lay on a comfortable bed and started sticking little needles all over my leg. This made very little sense to me as the excruciating pain was in my shoulder in a completely different limb. But I was willing to try anything, so I lay there for half an hour, my leg looking like an angry porcupine, listening to something that sounded rather like Enya covers. That was fine. I passed out. I didn’t think anything at all had happened, but the doctor took my arm and moved it in a position that I hadn’t been able to manage thirty minutes earlier. I couldn’t believe it.
In the end, I had to return five different times and take an herbal supplement that was specifically for the neck and shoulders. I didn’t truly believe in it still, I thought perhaps the newfound range of mobility in my shoulder was a placebo of sorts…but I’m a convert. After the five treatments, my shoulder felt as if nothing had ever happened to it. I still struggle to understand just how this was possible, but I am now very open to the idea of traditional Chinese medicine.
For two glorious months last summer, I moved to Mexico City. I was there on holiday, but I really just wanted to pretend I was living there. I rented the same apartment I had from the year before, and it wasn’t long until I was feeling like a native Chilango. I spent my days in decadent leisure, taking online classes and working on my Spanish. I would spend hours in the courtyard, reading book after book. I’d be delighted by the cats that lived in my building. I would take gorgeous siestas. I tried bunches of restaurants and decided to amp up my fish consumption. This year I finally decided to become a pescatarian instead of a vegetarian. It was a struggle to convert, but I had read so much evidence about the benefits that I couldn’t resist. I try my best to follow a Mediterranean Diet. I do fairly well getting my daily glass or three of red wine and plenty of olive oil. And so in Mexico City I had fish tacos, fish curries, and I started to make the most insanely delicious poached fish on the ancient gas range.
The days were spent in the most joyous and slowest pace. I didn’t have to accomplish anything at all each day, aside from the online classes that I was working on. That took up a healthy chunk of my time, but it made me feel like I was really living there. My online classes were my job.
I learned how to use the metro better, I found glorious old churches and gorgeous streets, I came upon new bakeries and new shops like Miniso that were life changing. I practiced my Spanish intensively, and felt myself picking up the language with greater and greater ease. I tried lattes from every coffeeshop near me, and I stopped for every single churro. I drank my body weight in jamaica and sat in gorgeous cafes under an awning as the summer rain softly soaked into every surface. Like Paris, Mexico City is even more beautiful when it rains.
I explored parks and castles and shops, and every day was a decadent reverie. I hope that I’m not being too poetic for you, but life in Mexico City was an absolute dream. I would wake up to the sound of church bells. Then I’d throw open my centuries-old doors onto the courtyard where I could exchange greetings with the neighbors, invite the kittens over for treats and cuddles, and sip tequila under the surprisingly bright starlight like I was Teresa Mendoza, La Reina del Sur, who would often speak moodily of the lonely grey time between dusk and dawn when she was sure she would one day die. I wasn’t so macabre, I was just enjoying my poorly calibrated circadian rhythm. Mexico City suited me down to the ground.
I decided last year that I should come back for such a long time to see if the spell it had cast on me was still as strong as it had been in 2017. Well, reader, it was even stronger. If I could have stayed on the Calle Simon-Bolivar for the rest of my natural life, I would be completely satisfied. Mexico filled me with absolute contentment and I knew that it would be a place that I’d return to a million times. In related news, my new goal in life is to buy a summer house in Mexico when I start teaching and have more income. This might not be viable for years and years, but I would love someday to have a little apartment in the Centro Historico or a little townhouse in Condesa or along the Calle Amsterdam. But that’s for years from now.
While away, I decided that I needed a vacation from my vacation and took a little side trip to a city called Cuernavaca. It’s a very popular tourist destination, and a haven for well-to-do citizens of Mexico City on the weekends. They flock there for the glorious views and the clean air. The mountains are so clear from here and there are two active volcanoes lingering in the distance. I fell unexpectedly in love with Cuernavaca. It again suited me completely, and though I will always be in love with the wonderland that is Mexico City, the eternal springtime of Cuernavaca soothed my soul. I loved walking through the streets with their pastel colored buildings. I wandered through churches and through the town square. I shopped for art and sipped pulque. I visited a jam packed market and dined in the finest restaurants in town. I looked at the Cortez palace from the best Starbucks in the world. I stayed at a gorgeous boutique hotel that introduced me to my new favorite cocktail, the carajillo. This is a shaken cocktail that is half fresh espresso and half Liquor 43. It is absolutely everything.
My best discovery in Cuernavaca was the Museo Robert Brady. I still can’t get over this. I didn’t even plan on going, but the day was lazy and there was hardly a fee, so I thought I should wander around the collections of art. I was impressed by the beauty of the place at first, but hardly felt anything other than peace. But then it all changed. I started wandering through the rooms of his old home and came across a collection of ancient Egyptian ushabti. Of course I lost my mind and looked Robert Brady up online. I lost my mind once again. Dear and darling readers, Robert Brady was born in Iowa, not far from me. He wanted to see the world, so he went off to Europe to became an artist. (I went to France to be a pastry artist!) While there, Robert found himself amongst some of the most iconic figures in pop culture. He befriended Josephine Baker and Chet Baker. It appeared that he was deeply involved in the European gay scene. And I wondered all of a sudden if he was me and that I was him and that this was some kind of reincarnation situation.
I spent the rest of the visit in an absolute daydream. His bathroom was filled with the most gorgeous paintings of important artists in the 1920s. And then in his private lounge, there were gorgeous framed pictures of him surrounded by handsome men and fabulous women, and he was beaming as he was surrounded by all these fantastic friends. I wanted to be him, and I think I was him.
Cuernavaca was a dream and Mexico City was a blessing. I had the most wonderful time away and I can’t wait to return. And I will be going back sooner than I originally anticipated! Stay tuned.
As you’re well aware, there are few things more important to me than the study of Egyptology. It drives me. It thrills me. It gets me through my day. If a day passes that I don’t even have a little hint of it, that’s a surprise. Some days I am traveling to exhibitions or bookstores or lectures, at other times I’m watching documentaries or reading studies, and sometimes I’m just doing little things like trying to memorize the various cartouches of Eighteenth Dynasty pharaohs. This is one of my latest obsessions and I’ve found it enormously beneficial. Each of the pharaohs had a number of different names that all represented themselves and so some read out like the name we commonly use, yet others seem to have nothing in common. This has been maddening for years, so I’m studying at length. That has nothing to do with this, though.
But for my 2018 recap, I had two significant things happen with ancient Egypt. I wasn’t able to make it back to that wonderful country in the sand as had been my ambition the last time I’d left. Don’t know when I’ll make it back, but every passing month brings us closer to the opening of the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and that is something I need to be present for! This year my trip to Los Angeles aligned deliciously with a variety of Egyptological events.
My cousin, Pam, and I went to the Science Center in LA to see the new traveling exhibition of artifacts from the tomb of Tutankhamen. While the museum in Egypt is finishing up, Tut’s treasures have gone on the road to boost interest and make money for the museum. Tut has always been a goldmine in so many ways. The exhibition’s first stop was in LA, so I was excited to have a chance to see it. This is an opportunity that I have literally been waiting my entire life for. Yes, I’ve seen them before in Egypt, but I have always dreamed of visiting a blockbuster exhibition like the ones of the 1970s. I have a picture somewhere of people lining up and down Fifth Avenue in New York City hoping to gain entrance to the museum to view Tutankhamen’s golden mask. As a youth, (which I don’t think I am anymore) filled me with a kind of awe, and the chance to go to an exhibit akin to that one was utterly thrilling.
And I was right to be thrilled. The exhibition was divine; it was an absolute triumph. I wandered from display to display with a sense of total awe. The presentation of the artifacts was fantastic, and I was so deeply impressed with the quality of the pieces on display. It was extraordinary to be in Hollywood and see the life-size statues of Tutankhamen that once guarded the entrance to his burial chamber for thousands of years. The lighting was extraordinary and the artifacts were even more beautiful than they appeared in print or on film. I was extraordinarily impressed.
And then there was an unexpected artifact that quite took my breath away. In the introduction to the second gallery, sitting before me was the alabaster wishing cup of King Tutankhamen. This is my favorite artifact out of the tomb, though it’s hardly the most beautiful or important. I don’t know why I love it, but my eye has been drawn to it for years and years. My grandpa bought me an old book as a child that had some of the original pictures from the tomb’s excavation. One of those pictures was focused on this, and I found it so lovely. Many decades later, I started to teach myself how to read the ancient Egyptian language, and there was something so tantalizing about the inscription that I had to look up the official translation. It is as follows:
“May your Ka live, may you spend millions of years, you, who love Thebes, sitting with your face to the north wind, your eyes beholding happiness.” And that was nice, but later on in life, it took on new significance for me.
Years after seeing the black and white picture in an old book, I finally found myself in ancient Thebes, which is the modern city of Luxor. I loved it so much I couldn’t stand it. It felt like a homecoming. And because I had been recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I was in something of a macabre mood. I visited an alabaster shop with Hassan and Yasmin and we looked at all the beautiful modern vessels. In the little shop on the West Bank of the Nile, I decided that when I died and after I’d be cremated, I would be interred in an urn made of Theban alabaster. And because I love Egypt so much, I want that hieroglyphic inscription to be a part of my urn. It is perfect for me.
And so it was an absolutely fabulous moment to see that little vessel that had captivated me for so many years. Nearly my entire life. The entirety of the exhibition was a delight. I couldn’t believe my luck at the end in the gift shop. I didn’t buy everything, but I did buy the exhibition’s official catalogue and saw that Zahi Hawass would be there a few days later. I could purchase a customized autograph to put into my copy of the book, so of course I did that. With great glee I wrote out what I wanted him to write, “To Benjamin, another lover of Egypt, Zahi Hawass.” I couldn’t wait.
But then I got really suspicious because I have a suspicion that Zahi knows who I am and isn’t a fan. I mean, I’m not very well known in the Egyptological community, but I’ve shaded him a couple of times. And I’ve shaded him with other Egyptologists in Egypt. But I have written on my blog that I don’t hold my old grudge against him anymore. The older I get and the more involved with this community, the more I understand him. Now, I think Zahi and I might be good friends, but I am deeply suspicious that he has a grudge against me now. I never received the fabulous individualized signature, and I’m sure Zahi threw it off his pile with glee upon reading my name. That’s my vision anyway, and that’s fun for me.
But this fantastic exhibition was not the only opportunity I had to pursue my passions while I was in Los Angeles, there was a lecture at the Getty Villa with two esteemed Egyptologists, Kara Cooney and Joyce Tyldesley. It was about powerful women in Egyptian history, and I simply had to go. I procured a couple tickets and Pam and I went off for a delicious historical excursion. The lecture was everything I hoped it would be. I was in a trance. The information was nothing that wasn’t known to somebody well versed in Egyptian archaeology, but to hear these great minds collaborate together in a live setting was absolutely fantastic. I was on the edge of my seat. Pam really enjoyed it too. I floated back to the apartment.
Kara Cooney brought up an intriguing detail about Nefertiti that I had never heard, so I sent her an email, and a few days later, she emailed me back. A very well known Egyptian scholar and I were exchanging emails and I have never felt happier or more smug.
I wonder what wonders my love of Egypt will bring me in 2019? I hope it’s more and more. Maybe I’ll get myself there, but I don’t think that will be happening until at least 2020. Still, you never accomplish anything without trying or dreaming a little. At the very least, I need to get back to California to reclaim my title of LA REINA DEL POOL.
CHER’S ABBA ALBUM:
What I’m about to write is done with absolute seriousness. And if you think that I’m being sarcastic, please know that I’m not. When I think back on 2018 and the things that brought me the most joy, I keep coming back to Cher’s album of ABBA covers called Dancing Queen. It might just be the greatest thing that Cher has ever done in her career, and yes, I’m including the genius that is “Dark Lady.”
I listen to this album literally every day. It’s absurd. When I get in the car, I put on Dancing Queen. When I clean my house, I put on Dancing Queen. When I’m getting ready in the morning, I put on Dancing Queen. There is never a moment of my life when Cher’s crooning fails to enhance it. I won’t bore you to tears with tales of how I feel I sound exactly like Cher, but just know that if there is ever an opportunity to sing karaoke, I’ll probably be singing “Waterloo” done in the style of our beloved Cher.
That’s the best song on the whole damn album. And speaking of karaoke, RuPaul had the greatest idea that he shared on Twitter some months ago. He wants to start a karaoke bar called Cheraoke where all of the performers sing whatever song they want but in the style of Cher. Would that not be a hoot? Think of the cocktail names alone. There’d be the Dark Lady, obviously, and the Turn Back Time martini, and a tequila flight with three selections that would be served on a board and each would be labelled Gypsy, Tramp, and Thief. Oh god it’s brilliant. The album is a bomb, reader. Get it.
And so, 2018 was a rather great year. I enjoyed it tremendously even if I couldn’t stand the things that were happening politically. Can you imagine the shame I felt in Mexico City when the story dominating the headlines was the president of my country putting immigrant children in cages? Awful. HIDEOUS.
But 2018 was nice and I so enjoyed the chance to lazily live my life for a couple months in a city that I love and loves me back. I don’t know what 2019 will hold in store, but if things are going like they are now, I’ll be procrastinating more than ever and stressing about my classes and getting ready for the next stage of my career. It’s going to be busy and I’m going to hate moments of it with intense passion, but this year will allow 2020 to absolutely be my year. I can’t wait.
Heading into 2019 like: