2019: Annual Reflection

With my little baby Patron in Mexico City.

Between you and me, dear reader, New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday. Of course, Halloween is my absolute favorite, but you can celebrate Halloween all year. After all, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a ghost, witch, vampire, and/or a chupacabra at any point in the calendar year. Halloween is a state of mind and part of who I am, but New Year’s Eve is the only holiday that feels truly worth going all out for. I love the specificity of midnight, I relish the idea of reflecting on the good memories and preparing for better ones to come, and I thrive on the suggestion of reinvention. Each new year, though it truly means nothing, is an opportunity to try something new, learn, broaden, and seek. We don’t have to make resolutions, and I’m particularly opposed to resolutions — long story, but the advancing of the year gives us an opportunity to cheekily say, “New year, new me.”

With each year that flies by, I like to think I’m a little bit ahead of where I was the year before. I’m inclined to believe that the calendar will provide me opportunities to explore a new part of the world or uncover a hidden aspect of who I am. And, in fact, this behemoth of a website itself was born out of a special New Year’s Eve. I began blogging in earnest when I moved to Paris during the final few days of 2008 to study at Le Cordon Bleu.

New Year festivities in Paris on the Champs-Élysées.

I didn’t start writing for anybody in particular, but I’ve kept it up because I love the narcissistic process of documenting my life. Our time on the planet is so insignificantly small, and yet we can accomplish so much and share so much more. I learned today something that has left me in a kind of rapture. If you go back, random centenarian by random centenarian, there are only fifty-five centenarians between right now and the dawn of human civilization. Isn’t that wild? Like there are fewer than fifty specific people between me and Ramses the Great! We haven’t been documenting our existence here long, yet look at all we’ve done!

Whatever little documentation remains of me after I’m dead and cremated is my vision of true immortality. I can’t possibly know it, but these words might be read by somebody in thousands of years who will look upon them with the same intellectual curiosity that I am overcome with when I study ancient Egyptian papyri in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Every life has moments that are worthy of remembering forever. Maybe I’ve written too much or too little but at least there will be some remnant of me on this planet for the rest of time.

And though it may not seem like it, President Obama and I have so much in common. We’re both hella cool, human rights activists, the greyer our hair gets the hotter we become, and we both put together hotly-anticipated yearly summaries. His, I will admit, always seem to get a bit more coverage than mine. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Every year, no matter how politically ugly, can be wonderful, and I find that most years are actually all right. I lost some things this year, but I gained infinitely more. In this post, I will talk about the seven most significant and impactful things that happened to me in 2019.

Mail Cat:

ISN’T. HE. PRECIOUS?!?!?!?

Cats are, and will forever be my favorite animals. I love every single cat that has ever lived and every single cat that will ever live. I think of my Edwin and Clea as extensions of myself rather than animals kept for my amusement. If I could, I would adopt every cat that needed a home. I would take care of them and love them and spoil them rotten, but of course, I’m only one person, and I can only take care of a reasonable number. I live on a farm, though, and we always had cats that lived outside. We would love them with the same ferocity as the ones indoors, take a few select individuals in, but always thought of them all as part of the same family. Over the years, the clan of cats on my farm has died out. This happens with a limited gene pool and the rough living that is required for a farm cat. This year, I adopted a litter of kittens from a distant family member and gave them the chance to thrive at my estate. The parents of the kittens promptly left for greener pastures, but the two kittens have stayed and started the next generation of my family of farm cats. I didn’t know how much I missed having cats outside. I love when they walk around the yard with me, I delight in watching them scurry around, rushing up trees, playfully attacking each other when it is least expected. They are a delight and a joy and I named them Cuatro and Cinco. Long story. Cuatro soon distinguished himself as somebody special and even as I type this, I’m toying with the idea of inviting him to join my little angels inside. Each day when I got home from student teaching, Cuatro would hurry to the car and then walk with me to the road to get the mail. I quickly rechristened him Mail Cat, and that name has stuck to him like rubber cement. He’s an absolute sweetheart without a mean bone in his body. He purrs loud enough to concern his sister. He has crossed eyes, a leonine nose, and clear traces of Maine Coone ancestry. He’s the nicest little boy in the world and he’s taken to sitting on a planter in my kitchen window and staring in like he’s watching a reality television series. He’s absolutely perfect and I’m so glad he’s mine. He’s made 2019 rather special.

La Reina del Sur:

For a lot of people, a telenovela might not be much more than a pleasurable interlude or an exciting distraction. Telenovelas are different for me. I’ve watched them since high school, hardly religiously, but I always enjoy them when I’m flipping through the channels. Most of my early proficiency in Spanish came from a program called Asi es la Vida, and I honestly have no idea what it was about. But I loved it. The theme song is always stuck in my head. After my first visit to Mexico, I found myself extraordinarily homesick for the place, and I found a series on Netflix called Ingobernable starring the inimitable Kate del Castillo. In this original drama for the streaming platform, Kate plays the wife of the Mexican president who is hunted by the government after corrupt officials lay the blame on her for the assassination of her husband. I was sucked in immediately and I loved the gorgeous cinematography that showed my beloved Mexico City off in the best light. And I simply could not get enough of Kate, so I watched the documentary about her meeting with the cartel leader, El Chapo. This show talked a lot about Kate’s most infamous role as Teresa Mendoza in the hugely popular telenovela, La Reina del Sur. I started it without thinking much, but it wasn’t long before it became my favorite show of all time. I became obsessed with the characters and the situations, the absurdities and the tenderness of it all. I also learned everything I think I’ll ever need to know about the North African network of hashish trading. The episodes were addicting, each of them like the drugs that Teresa had to transport and sell to make her way in the world. And far too soon, it was over. I was lost, y’all, that show was something special to me and I still don’t know why. It was made about a decade ago, but because 2019 has a wonderful tendency to bring old things back, a second season of the show was announced. I’m not going to dive deep into this because if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’re aware of my feelings. I screamed and I cried, I shouted, I gasped, I clutched my pearls, I hardly blinked. Sixty marvelous episodes were mine to watch and once again I was on an adventure with Teresa and Conejo and Oleg, and it was too wonderful for words. There were no English subtitles, so I was forced to use the best of my Spanish abilities and my artistic sentiment to understand, and I have rarely had such a fun time. The show is deeply meaningful to me because it shows how far my linguistic abilities have come. (And because it allows me to shamelessly take part in a culture that is not my own but one I deeply admire. At heart, I feel quite Mexican, and though there are any number of reasons for that, that’s not important now.) It was wonderful to have an hour away from reality every night to fall in love with new characters, settings, and ideas. I reveled in the time I spent with Teresa fighting for her kidnapped daughter. The whole thing is on Netflix now, and I just might have to watch it all over again. This precious program was truly an unforgettable part of what 2019 meant to me.

The Bidens:

My year took a rather weird turn in the summer. As I was finishing up the requirements for student teaching, I had to do a series of odd little practicums in different schools. I was sent to Marshalltown for two of them, a town about an hour away from where I live, so I stayed in a hotel there for a little over a month and helped teach ELL and Reading to fifth graders. Not my usual summer getaway, but Marshalltown was wild. I’ve never been anywhere with such a massive Walmart. And they had an amazing Mexican restaurant and a first-class hotel that made sensational martinis. I stayed in two different hotels, only for a few days in the first because it had a strange feeling. It was a convention center with a weirdly lonely pool, a parking lot that felt dangerous, hallways covered in hypnotic carpeting that stretched on for what felt like miles, and bizarre pet accommodation. Cats and dogs were fine, but so were snakes and monkeys at the consent of the owner. Rules are usually made for a reason, reader; what had gone on in that insidious convention center before I showed up? Was there a circus? Did somebody actually try to check in with a monkey? I wasn’t particularly bothered by the permissibility of these creatures, but I was haunted by the story of why they were there. I asked employees but nobody was illuminating, which I found suspicious, so after the first week, I moved to the hotel across the street. Much nicer. None of that is particularly important to my story. While I was in Marshalltown, it was the Fourth of July and it was the year before the Iowa Caucus, so everybody was in town. At that peculiar hotel across the street that welcomed monkeys — which I don’t even think are legal as pets in Iowa — Joe Biden was campaigning. I have a weird connection to the Biden family, but that’s a wild ride for another time. I decided I needed to go. I have never forgiven myself for missing the chance to see President Obama and Oprah years ago when he was first running. It’s a hate crime that the only president I’ve ever seen is Donald Trump. So, I went to the speech and I was duly impressed, and I decided I wanted to chat with the former vice president if I could. I pushed and politely shoved and before long, Joe was holding my shoulders as we discussed the current state of medical research being done on multiple sclerosis. I was stunned by his depth of knowledge, by his kindness, and by his ability to connect with strangers. I know Joe is old fashioned and some of the things he says and does make us cringe, but he’s a good man. He’s a smart politician and would make an excellent president. I don’t understand why the Democratic Party is trying so hard to shoot itself in the foot with this election cycle, but again, that story is not meant for now. Joe and I spoke for quite some time in comparison to the other people in the ballroom. I introduced myself to Dr. Jill Biden afterward, and we had an engaging conversation about the state of public education. I left the hotel feeling quite encouraged by the possibility of a better America. I’ve met them again several times after. They’ve both sent me greetings through my Biden connection. It’s simply the strangest thing.

New Appliances:

One of the major ambitions of my life is to have a home that feels like a vacation home. If you’ve never gone to a decadent AirBNB that felt like the height of luxury, please correct this and then get back to me. I am obsessed with the idea of having a sanctuary that feels like a hotel, and I have been actively working on making this a reality for nearly a decade. I’m nearer now than I ever have been before and it has changed everything for the better — quite exactly as I anticipated it would. As I work my way through the house, upgrading whatever I can, I feel a sense of contentment wash over me. I can’t tell you how freeing it is to throw things away, to recycle, to donate, to toss into a blazing inferno in the middle of a blizzard. (Highly recommended, that.). Each piece that I get rid of makes me a little bit lighter. Walking out to the dumpster was not a highlight of my 2019, though, it was the replacements for the things that found themselves on the way to the dump. I came into a little money when my father passed away and some of this was used on hugely necessary upgrades. I put down a gorgeous new floor in the kitchen and from there…well, things got a little out of hand. I had a new refrigerator delivered and it is everything I’ve ever dreamed of. Stainless steel with French doors and, most importantly, it has filtered ice and water dispensers! If you have lived your life without these luxuries, reader, you don’t know how spoiled you are, you don’t know how fabulously you’ve been living. The new machine replaces an absolute nightmare that leaked water, that was filthy, that barely functioned, that was an absolute eyesore. My new fridge is blindingly bright and marvelously clean inside and I can’t get over sticking my cocktail shaker under the ice dispenser. It’s the epitome of class. I didn’t stop there, and I bought myself a very nice dishwasher, too. I have had several portable ones in the past, but I wanted something permanent. I decided to teach myself new tricks, and I managed to install the dishwasher myself. To do so, I had to remove a cabinet from my kitchen, add a new breaker to the house’s wiring, install wiring and an outlet, and then I had to fiddle with plumbing. It took several trips to the hardware store, several curse words, hours on YouTube, but in the end, I installed the dishwasher all by myself and it works flawlessly. I’m almost disturbed by how bright and shiny things come out. I accidentally put in a gold coffee thermos and it came out silver. It was so powerful it took off the plating! I made several other purchases, but I’ve saved the best for last. Reader, I bought a Roomba. I’ve dreamed of one for so long, but a friend finally convinced me that it was time. So I bought myself the Roomba s9+. It is not cheap. At all. Like…it’s absurdly expensive and I felt a bit ashamed of myself for ordering it. But ever since it arrived, I have no regrets of any kind. Reader…that Roomba has saved my life. Every day at nine o’clock, Rosie — that’s what I call the Roomba — comes out and sucks up everything in sight. It’s a triumph. I literally haven’t vacuumed in months. It’s so powerful it lifted off a linoleum tile from the bathroom. When the Roomba is full of detritus, it takes itself back to the charging station and sucks the crap out of it into a bag. I only have to dump the bag once a month or so. I literally have to do nothing. I can tell the Roomba to start from an app on my phone — even from another state! — I’ve done this just for the fun of it. I made other marvelous purchases like an August lock and a Ring doorbell and a Vitamix blender, but the appliances are really what made 2019 one for the record books. Shop reader. Shop until you drop!

Señora Pati and Simba:

Mexico City is a tremendously special place for me. I’ve written extensively about my trips and the unforgettable quotidian experiences I hold dear to my heart. This year, I was only able to get back for spring break, but the events of this little sojourn have tattooed themselves on my memory forever. Mexico has become my escape and I long for the next time I land in the maddeningly complex airport before hailing an Uber and rushing back to the Centro Histórico. I’ve only ever stayed in one place in Mexico and that’s the same studio apartment off the Calle Bolìvar. It satisfies me completely. I’ve described it to you already in my rambling expostulations, but I’ll give you the basics. The room itself is not important, the shower is lackluster, the range makes you worry about gas leaks, and the decor is begging for help — so I help it every time I go. The real thing that matters to me is the wonderland of the courtyard. In the center of an uneven stone pavement sits an enormous well where the inhabitants of the building do their laundry. One family keeps an absurdly big pet rabbit so large that I never believe it’s real. Others have dogs in desperate need of brushing. Some of the tenants get home late and play loud music and others play soccer at two o’clock in the morning. But the most sensational part, and the reason I always come back, is the cats. One neighbor had four grown cats and a litter of kittens, and I kind of catnapped them and called them my own. There is Patron and Little Chiffon and Simba and Bitch Cat and Frijoles and Taquito and Slim. I make regular visits to Walmart just to stock up on cat treats to feed them. I keep fresh filtered water for them. I pet them whenever I can. I nap with them whenever I can. I’ve made three separate trips to this spot now, and the owner of the cats has seemed to accept me as a weird uncle to her pets. She thought me silly at first, but this year, we became something a little bit different. You see, reader, Simba was nowhere to be found when Jessica and I arrived for our trip and I tried not to think the worst. On the second day, the woman was coming out to do her laundry and we struck up a conversation in my silly Spanish. We learned the real names of her cats, and with misty eyes, she told us that Simba had recently passed away. I was gutted. Simba had been my constant companion the year before. As I was writing a lengthy research paper on traces of ancient Egyptian language in modern English, Simba would sleep in my lap or on the table, purring loudly and staring up at me with his beautiful orange eyes. Jessica and I bought flowers for Señora Pati, for that was the woman’s name, and took them over to her. She wasn’t home, but when she came back, well reader, it was an emotional scene. She thanked us profusely, hugged us, blessed us, and shared her phone number with us. I showed her the keychain I had made with pictures of all her cats. And we never could understand each other perfectly, but our common love for cats made us lifelong friends. A few days later she sent us the above picture of Little Chiffon next to the bouquet we sent her. It was perfect, and though I’m devastated to lose Simba, I’m glad to have made a new friend in Señora Pati.

Death of Karl Lagerfeld:

My first piece from Karl!

Karl Lagerfeld was ridiculous. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been utterly obsessed and captivated with him. I was fascinated by the way he created a life around himself that may or may not have been true. He would relish in never being clear on his past. One of my favorite anecdotes about him is how he befuddled the press by celebrating his 79th birthday four years after an extravaganza for his 70th. Karl lived life in a way that I admire, making the most out of it for himself and not being bothered by anything but what he found interesting. As a young gay man and particularly as a young gay man who was enchanted by fashion and aesthetics, Karl Lagerfeld was an indelible icon. He was a link between modern luxury fashion and the 1950s realm of haute couture. He was timeless, seemingly immortal, and I wanted nothing more than to know him. I thought up the most ridiculous scenarios. If I saw him in New York City, I would ask him to autograph my arm. I would then have that autograph tattooed. If I was in Paris, I would always peer in the windows at Maxim’s, wondering if he was there for dinner. If I bumped into Baptiste Giabiconi or Ben Taub at Colette, I would find a way to befriend them and befriend Karl through them. And every single time I passed by Angelina’s on the Rue de Rivoli, I had to stop and wonder, was Karl in there right now? This specific mystery goes back to my time at Le Cordon Bleu. I was attending a workshop on a variety of traditional French bread and my partner, Allison, had recently gone on a class field trip to that famed bakery. Lo and behold, Karl Lagerfeld was in the dining room with a demitasse of their famed hot chocolate and a Mont Blanc. Allison never said if she saw him actually eat the pastry. I have doubts… And I would long for Chanel and spend as much time as I reasonably could in the boutiques. Once I apparently seemed so wistful that an employee let me look in on the famous mirrored staircase — a moment I will truly treasure for the rest of my life — but Karl was out that day. If there was a fashion show at the Petit Palais and I was in Paris, I would be lurking outside waiting for a glimpse of the mysterious man with his sunglasses, starched collar, half gloves, and ghostly white ponytail. The only person I ever saw was Jared Leto. I tried so many times; it’s a comedy of errors. I would wander the streets where he supposedly lived. I would spend hours in his bookstore, flipping through pages of his photographs. I would read every interview, every biography, everything I could. His security probably flagged me as some kind of stalker. I suppose they wouldn’t be wrong, but at least somebody connected to Karl might have noticed me. And in the end, I never did see Karl. I never met him and I never got to live out any of the delirious fantasies that I had of him. He died early in 2019 and it broke something inside of me in a way that death doesn’t normally do. In fact, I’ve never truly mourned the loss of anybody but Joan Rivers and him. They were both massive parts of who I am, who I’ve become, elements of the best parts of myself. And, for me, I think that it might be for the best that Karl and I never crossed paths. There’s an old saying that you should never meet your idols, after all, but I don’t think this is particularly true. (Dame Angela Lansbury was charming when we met, after all.) It’s impossible now. Karl’s dead, cremated, and his ashes are scattered. Now he will always remain the enigma he always was and I will always remember him with a love I really can’t explain.

Finishing School:

2019 was the year that I finally finished going to school…so that I could get a job in a school and never stop going to school. I’ll always be in education one way or the other it seems, but I’m finally free from being the student! I can’t tell you the glee this fills me with. I am beyond happy that my life went the way it has. I’m glad I went to Le Cordon Bleu and lived in Paris and had time to wander around Europe and the United States and Egypt before settling into the degree that was right for me. While I’ll always regret not becoming an Egyptologist, there’s nothing really getting in the way of that. I now have a bachelor’s degree, a license, and I’m a professional in a way I wasn’t before December of 2019. Completing my degree was wonderful, reader, don’t get me wrong, but I learned so much more from the extenuating circumstances of acquiring it than I did from the process. To begin student teaching, I had to leave a position that I was very comfortable in. I had no interest in doing this, and in fact, it rather perturbed me, but this taught me one of the most valuable lessons I learned in 2019. In fact, it’s probably one of the most important things I’ve ever learned in my thirty trips around the sun. Routines are deadly. Being comfortable is a good description of a mattress but not for life. You only get one shot at living, so you must squeeze the most out of life that you possibly can. Leaving my position forced me out of my comfort zone and introduced me to a world of opportunities I didn’t know existed. I don’t want to share all the specifics, but I learned so much from being free of old obligations and behavioral patterns. Life is so much fun, after all, if you let it be. As my beloved Joan Rivers once said, life is one big movie. Intuitively, I felt that she was right, but before this year it didn’t really mean anything specific or poignant to me. It does now. If you ever find yourself too comfortable, scare yourself somehow. Change something. Do something to remind yourself that you’re alive. So I finished my classes. I finished student teaching. (And I must add that student teaching was another highlight of my year. I truly had an unexpectedly wonderful time at Boone High School. More fun than I ever anticipated and it was beyond illuminating. I can’t thank the staff and students at that building enough for showing me another side of education. And yet another side of myself.) All I have left is to frame all my certificates and degrees and then start speculating when I’m going to shake things up again and head to UCLA or the University of Chicago or the American University in Cairo or University College in London to pursue Egyptology. It’s a matter of time. I’m only thirty. This has just been the opening act of my life. And it’s so nice to realize that. I suppose this clarity comes with getting older.

Also, I wear rings now and that’s changed everything. It was a good year. May we all have a happy and prosperous 2020.

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