2016: In Review

In front of William Burroughs’ 1950s home; Mexico City, Mexico


2016 was, well these things are always so hard to whittle down to simple adjectives, but it was fun, surprisingly both stable and unstable at times, and packed full of new and unique experiences. All in all, it was a good year. I’m happy to say that upon reflection. I suppose that’s all we ever really want, yeah?

But it’s especially important since 2016 was the first year in a long time that I stayed put. I lived in one place for the year. I signed my first yearlong lease (since college, which really doesn’t count the same way). I built myself a room in an apartment with some friends and kept coming back to it like a boomerang. It’s the longest I’ve ever done that for in my adult life.

So I’m glad that I could find joy; both in the present and upon reflection, without needing the influx of new locations streaming through.

So the year. I’ll start with the highlights: the Chicago Cubs, my team of all teams, finally ended its famous drought and won the 2016 World Series. Since the baseball playoffs are a month-long affair, I got to enjoy their winning ways all through October and a bit into November. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget.

I got to go to Burning Man and check that off the bucket list. I was prodigious in my reading (less so my writing but that might be a 2017 focus). I finished my ebook and got it on Amazon. I got my first tattoo. I tried the ketogenic diet. I juice cleansed. I bone-broth cleansed. I’m currently in a bout of vegetarianism.

I said at the beginning of the year that I wanted to be in a relationship (since it went hand in hand with the whole being location-stable part) and I was able to do that—for most the year. I decided later in the year that I wanted to explore something else, but the relationship gave me great joy and I’m grateful for it. It’s a year that will be tied to many memories with that individual.

I wanted to spend the year in service to others. I set a very ambitious goal of volunteer hours that I did not meet (goal was 150, came out around 55). I do, in many ways, find my job to be a fulfillment of that idea, but I know it doesn’t always count when you’re getting paid for these things. Still, it’s a bonus to receive that sentiment—one of doing service to and for others—from my professional day-to-day.

My other three goals for the year are related to the above: read more books than last year (19 last year, 21 this year), get a tattoo (done!) and go on an experiential retreat (Burning Man). Accomplished. Nice! I set some professional goals as well and hit most of those, but that’s for a piece of writing and reflection outside of this blogpost.

Ups and downs. Swings to and fro. They happen in every year, but it was an important reminder for me that this year had them too. That I have an identity outside of being a nomad and a wanderer, and that life can and will reward me with its richness even as I do, like I said, stay put.

Home; Pilsen, Chicago


So, some other notes, highlights, and favorites from 2016.

Other Notes

Unique Destinations Traveled To: Roatan (yep, started here!) > Chicago > Madison > Phoenix/Scottsdale > Mexico City >  London > Dubrovnik > Mostar > Sarajevo > Split > Zadar > Plitvice > Rijeka > Venice > Crothersville > San Francisco > Black Rock City > New Jersey > New York City > Flagstaff > Los Angeles

Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Writing: In 2016, I finished my ebook on traveling while working (link). It was a project that started in 2015, got semi-abandoned in 2016 and then picked back up again. Though it’s not exactly what I pictured from my first (e)book, I’m proud to call it my own. There’s a lot of good nuggets of learning packed in there for my years traversing the globe.

Over the year, I published 9 blog posts. That’s a fairly slow year for me comparatively. (I did do a fair amount of notebook scribbling that I didn’t publish anywhere). I did have my single most successful (in terms of visitors/page views) this year; a letter to my little sister on the election of our future president (who shall go nameless).

Reading: Book list below. Goal was to read more books than last year (19) which I did! Dates are when the book was finished.

  1. Aunt Julia and The Scriptwriter (Mario Vargas Llosa); January 5
  2. Momo (Michael Ende); February 9
  3. The Principles of Uncertainty (Maira Kalman); Feburary 10
  4. Consolations (David Whyte); February 29
  5. Gilead (Marilynne Robinson); March 10
  6. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards (Kristopher Jansma); March 27
  7. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Daniel Pink); March 29
  8. M Train (Patti Smith); April 26
  9. Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett); May 30
  10. Tinkers (Paul Harding); June 27
  11. The Bonfire of The Vanities (Tom Wolfe); July 10
  12. Notes from No Man’s Land (Eula Bliss); July 23
  13. 33 1/3 Series: Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville (Gina Arnold); July 29
  14. The Sleep Revolution (Arianna Huffington); July 30
  15. The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov trans. Burgin & O’Connor); September 26
  16. The History of Pi (Petr Beckman); October 23
  17. Flash Boys (Michael Lewis); October 31
  18. Ready Player One (Ernest Cline); November 13
  19. Modern Lovers (Emma Straub); November 18
  20. When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi); December 2
  21. The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001 (Adrienne Rich); December 22

Professionally: This was my first full year at Uber and first full year at an office. It was nice to have that kind of stability, but it’s the unique opportunities that a year coming to the same place can afford you. This year I got to know my coworkers in a deeper way and got to enjoy the diversity of my specific office. As chaotic and challenging as my job can be at times, it’s rewarding in these ways and so many more. Several times over the year I felt a nice pang or rush of satisfaction for what I got to each and every day and the people I get to serve in my role.

Pearl Jam: 2 shows. Glorious nights at the Friendly Confines (Wrigley Field)


Favorite 2016 New Thing: Going to the Movies Alone

I don’t mean this as a knock to anyone I’ve been to a movie with, but there’s something so much free(r) about going by oneself. And it’s not just that I tend to be shyer about showing emotions surrounded by people I know—it’s the thinking and intaking. The depth of what you’re being shown. The “is”-ness of the movie (which a friend recently sent me) that you can become part of on your own. It’s just a simpler way to go deeper in the silence of your own mind (or the walking out of the theater after), and I love it.

I did this about a dozen times this year. Lied about what I was doing once or twice, and other times just flat out told people. Either way, I reveled in it.

(This section was originally Hardcore History, the amazing podcast by Dan Carlin, but I had done a podcast the last two years and really wanted to think about my favorite new “thing” in 2016. It was the movies thing).

Favorite book I read in 2016: Consolations by David Whyte

Definition as poetry. Poetry as an attempt to escape metaphor and become concrete. David Whyte merges these and more in Consolations. And it’s a whirlwind of prose and story and explanation and precision with shades of beauty.

The book is divided into chapters which seek to define a word. A common word. Friendship. Pain. 50 others. The full title of the book is Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words and there’s a sense that Whyte takes his mission to heart. Each chapter peels a word backward only to leap them forward in your mind. No more are there limited definitions for the ways we use these words; but wider maps (*) that each allow us to explore.

Reading Consolations was like opening a dictionary to find only obscured photographs begging you to interpret, realize, define, distinguish, and so on. I was grateful to do it 52 times over.

Other Favorites: Notes from No Man’s Land (Eula Bliss), The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)

Favorite 2016 movieMoonlight

It’s already a critical success—one of the biggest in the last few years, and I’m sure reading the heaps of praise put on Barry Jenkins’ movie swayed me in some ways. But there’s something undeniably unique about the way this movie brings you in. And, more importantly, how it spits you out.

Split into three parts, each seems to end abruptly. In the middle of some development (not necessarily action) and you find yourself aching to have that character back (or, really, that version/age of Chiron). You never get to. But you do get to see into that person’s future, and an almost fresh narrative forms around our character.

It’s a brilliant and brutal way to tell a story of an adolescent (and one just as daring, I might add, as Linklater’s extreme on the other end in Boyhood). Especially when that narrative revolves around the character’s search for his own identity. If the motif of a movie dealt with location, or a relationship, the chopped up storytelling style might play off easier. Instead, it’s hard. It’s hard to have three different actors play your main character. Hard to see the others around him grow. Hard to not see the middle parts, the ties that bind our Chirons together.

And, yet, it pulls this off beautifully. Both with subtle color and with dialogue acting as a a hammer to the emotional core.

Other Favorites: ArrivalAmerican Honey. To Hell or High Water. Demolition. Jackie

San Francisco Peak; Flagstaff, AZ

Favorite 2016 album: Teens of Denial (Car Seat Headrest)

There were some great albums this year, no doubt about it. This one stood out as something new, but also nostalgic. It brought me back to my days of listening to punk/pop-punk and doing so loudly.

The album has its moments, some concentrated in that punk tradition and others found it longer songs, nearly jam sessions themselves, sprawling out with tales of growing up and teens of all walks (some in denial, as the title suggests).

It’s a fine tuned album that has some creak to it and it kept drawing me back. It’s hard to separate the spring and summer of this year from it. And, in many ways, it will be a quintessentially “Chicago” album for me (alongside Coloring Book, a more appropriate home perhaps, but just the same for me).

Other Favorites: Masterpiece (Big Thief), You Want It Darker (Leonard Cohen), Painkillers (Brian Fallon), Coloring Book (Chance the Rapper)

Favorite 2016 song: ‘Same Drugs’ (Chance The Rapper)

I recently made a c.d. for my car with my favorite tunes from this year. On a long(er) drive back home, flipping through the tracks, it was this Chance song that stood out among the rest.

Not just for its different genre from the rest (see below), but for its uplifting soul and storytelling. It’s a sing along that instantly possesses you, a driving piano, background vocals, a gospel-like appeal.

In it, Chance uses “drugs” as a metaphor of identity and the story is one of displacement and separation from an old friend. It’s a tale of growing up, growing apart, and interests. It carries the aura of something potentially big: a play on Peter Pan (at least the internet thinks so) or a comment on American opiod addiction. But as much as it could be these, it’s a simple song with a driving piano to back its ballad. We grow up. Time makes no guarantee that those we once shared something (anything) with will always be together.

Other Favorites: ‘Fill in the Blank’ (Car Seat Headrest), ‘Paul’ (Big Thief)

(Favorite non-2016 song listened to in 2016: ‘Drive All Night’ (Bruce Springsteen))

Favorite Place Visited: Mexico City, Mexico

It’d long been a dream to make it to North America’s biggest city. The 2000s saw an increase in violence (whether real or perceived) in Mexico’s capital, but these days parts are booming, safe, and one of the more attractive traveler’s destinations I’ve been to recently.

Whether it’s streets lined with mansions, sprawling parks, delicious street tacos (3 for $1!!!), the city has an energy that’s moving millions and tourists from all over the world. There’s no doubt that it’s a city of the world and it’s reputation continues to build. And all for good reason.

Was only there for 5 days but it made an imprint on me for sure (Sarajevo did too, but alas my trip was so short there). It’s an easy jaunt there and I hope to make it back (and stuff myself full of tacos again!). Highlights were Frida’s house, a Lucha Libre night, a dance club with swanky 20-somethings, and just the opportunity to wander the criss-crossing streets of such a bustling metropolis for the first time.

Favorite Meal: Cevapi (in Bosnia)

Cevapi is a Bosnian sausage-like dish. I believe it’s made up of various meats but mostly veal. It’s stuffed into a pita-like bread and you’re given sauces on the side. It’s intensely caloric, and insanely satisfying. I had Cevapi in Croatia before I got to Bosnia and was impressed but it wasn’t until I got to Sarajevo that I had the meal of the year (and I had it twice!). I could write poems to these sweet little sausages and checks to the chefs who packed my plate full of ’em.

The specific place for this meal was called Zeljo (there are two in Sarajevo, not sure if I ate at 1 or 2) and it’s in the old part of town—the famous part, the part that looks like an 18th century Turkish outpost and just blocks from the place where Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated.

If only I could find some good Cevapi in Chicago (might get me to eat meat again immediately!)

And, that my friends, is a wrap on 2016! Some more pics!