2018: In Review

Well, 2018 is stubbing out its cigar. Closing its chapter. It was an important chapter in my life. In the story of my life it’d be a chapter with a true character turn, a tension point in the plot.

This year was a turn from a bit of normalcy into a great unknown. A great unknown that I’ve been anxiously awaiting for many years now. I’ve begun a career as a writer, writing my first  novel. I finished the first draft of that this year and have spent the latter part of the year tearing it apart in pursuit of further excellence. This will be a pattern I’ll become quite familiar with the further I go into it. And 2018 will be when it all materialized.

But it wasn’t just the writing. I reverted back to being a nomad, giving up my apartment and a home, this time in Chicago, for the road. I did quite a bit of traveling (listed below) but the crux of it was four months in Asia. I’m ending the year in Mexico City where I plan to be for several months.

Last year, in my reflection, I wrote that in 2017, “I spent more time with myself—meditating, reading, writing, floating. But Chicago is still a city of friends and I’m still an unabashed extrovert.”

So you see, things have changed. I spent much, much more with myself this year—traveling alone for significant stretches. And though I was in Chicago for the first half (and living my extroverted life), the writing life turned me much more introverted. Focused and dedicated to my project. I’ve asked myself if I thought this might be a pattern, which time will only tell. Exploring that idea and more on the writing-focused website I launched this year.

In summation, it was an exciting year. It revolved around one big change, sure, but it had moments of exultation as well. I officiated not one but TWO weddings this year. Grateful to have had those honors. I visited three new countries; rented houses with friends in Wisconsin and California, went back to New Orleans. Got to be a third-wheel roommate with some best friends who graciously took me into their apartment in the sky. I transitioned away from work with some relationships still strong and in tact from Uber. I kept up with people far and wide, visited friends all over the place, and read a tremendous deal of fiction and beyond. Another year down and another year of experiences that guide me into a fuller life.

I reflected upon that growth of experience in a poem I wrote at the very beginning of the year, for my 30th birthday, which I performed in front of dozens of people at perhaps my favorite event of the year—a house concert with my friends and family in my old apartment in Pilsen. It was the best way I could have imagined to start this whole year and it set the tone I hoped it would.

Other Notes

Travels: Chicago > San Francisco > Lake Geneva > San Francisco > Sea Ranch, CA > Phoenix > Napa Valley > New York City > Savannah > Cape Town > Garden Route >  Balule Nature Reserve > Johannesburg > Los Angeles > Minneapolis > South Korea > Indonesia > Sri Lanka > Indonesia > Laos > South Korea > Vietnam > Thailand > San Francisco > Los Angeles > Chicago > New Orleans > Mexico City 

Writing: Oh boy. 2018 saw more writing than perhaps any year of my life—even the creative writing years in Madison. Why? Well I wrote the first draft of a novel, clocking in above 160,000 words. And beyond that I journaled my travels, wrote letters, wrote halves of short stories, travel essays, and more. In 2019, I hope to spend more time writing, even if the word output isn’t as prolific. 

I tracked my word count for most of my first draft writing time in Asia. Here’s the average daily word output from each of the countries I went to:

Vietnam 4375
Korea 1,693
Laos 1,984
Indo 2 1805.9
Sri Lanka 1918.6
Indo 1 1,240

Reading:  Last year, only 20% of the books I read were fiction. This year will flip and be much closer to 80% fiction. This was purposeful. Much advice given from writers and articles is to read prolifically while you write. And so I picked it up in Fiction. There are two dangers with this: (1) you start to bend your sentences toward the style of whoever you’re reading, (2) you get wildly intimidated by reading fiction that’s way better than yours. I’ve been a victim of both. 

Here are the books I finished in 2018, with their date of completion.

1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon); March 25
2. The Secret History (Donna Tartt); April 23
3. The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt); May 6
4. Horace and Me (Harry Eyres); May 9
5. The Little Friend (Donna Tartt); May 20
6. Notes on Camp (Susan Sontag); June 12
7. Siddhartha (Herman Hesse); June 16
8. Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl); July 13
9. The Caveman’s Valentine (George Dawes Green); July 19
10. The Immortalists (Chloe Benjamin); July 21
11. My Absolute Darling (Gabriel Tallent); July 23
12. Less (Andrew Sean Greer); July 26
13. Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of a Fist (Sunil Yapa); Aug 2
14. Colorless Tsukuru Tazkai And His Years Of Pilgrimage (Haruki Murakami); Aug 6
15. A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara); August 18
16. American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis); August 24
17. Old School (Tobias Wolff); September 1
18. Lincoln In The Bardo (George Saunders); September 23
19. The City In Which I Love You (Li-Young Lee): September 25
20. The Hours (Michael Cunningham); September 27
21. A Way In The World (V.S. Naipaul); Oct 1
22. The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion); Oct 3
23. What Wast Lost (Catherine O’Flynn); Oct 8
24. The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead); Oct 21
25. The Game (Neil Strauss); Oct 23
26. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Renni Browne, Dave King); Oct 23
27. The Circle (Dave Eggers); Oct 26
28. The Sellout (Paul Beatty); Nov 13
29. Poetry Will Save Your Life (Jill Bialosky); Nov 21
30. Letters To A Young Writer (Colum McCann): Nov 27
31. Draft #4 (John McPhee); Dec 1
32. Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner); Dec 13
33. Memory Wall (Anthony Doerr); Dec 16
34. The Locals (Jonathan Dee); Dec 21
35. Bright Lights, Big City (Jay McInerney) Dec 23

For record-keeping purposes, I finished 19 books in 2015, 21 in 2016, and 24 in 2017.

Professionally: Well, I did a little bit of a wardrobe change here (probably literally—though interesting that on some days I get more dressed up to write, not quite Tom Wolfe status but still). I left my Learning & Development job in corporate America to make it on my own; writing my novel and freelancing through some connections to pay for some travels. And that’s been fantastic. 

Pearl Jam: No Pearl Jam this year. It was the first time I missed Pearl Jam playing Chicago since I stared seeing them in 2003. 

 

Favorites

Favorite 2018 New Thing: The Siblings Folder

This one comes with gratitude to my sister Sammi. She realized earlier this year that with her travel, mine, and our other sister growing up we would have less time dedicated to talking with each other, learning about each others lives, and forging our bond as siblings. In February, we started a dropbox folder where each of us asks a question to the group (that we’ll also answer). Then, before the end of the month, each person writes a life update and answers each of the three questions.

Most months, though sometimes every other, we gather for a siblings chat to go over answers and talk about life with one another. If we’re able to do it in person, we try. Otherwise we do it over Skype which will likely be the case going into 2019.

But it’s been fantastic to get to know my sisters better and to get to keep them updated in my life, as well as answer tough life questions honestly.

Other Favorites: Birthday House Concerts,  Vox’s Earworm,

Favorite book Read In 2018: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I read some good ones this year but none took my breath away like Tartt’s debut. I’ve written about this elsewhere on sites but I picked up the book without knowing much about it on a Heathrow bookstore en route to South Africa.

I was swept in immediately. It’s a brilliantly written book but also just speaks to other interests of mine—overly educated erudites at college, reading all day and debating dead authors and dead languages. So I loved that. Toss in a murder mystery, and an innocent narrator swept up in over-the-top worship for another character (her Henry is like a prep school Gatsby who speaks 7 languages and can knock a guy out with a single punch).

Anyway, I finished The Secret History in two days, of nearly non-stop reading, even as I got to Cape Town. My first day and a half there was reading in cafes and devouring every word in it. It’s my most dog-earred and marginalia-ized book of many years and I return to it as I begin writing my own.

Other Favorites: Less, A Little Life, The Hours, Angle of Repose

I haven’t made a category for new favorite quote found in a year but I’ve been coming back to this one from The Hours:

“We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It’s as simple and ordinary as that……There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.”

Favorite 2018 movie: Roma

This one surely carries both recency and location biases, but that’s okay. Watching Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Roma’ while in Mexico City was a special gift. Because there’s so many nuances he got right (of course he did). Dogs are always barking here, for instance. Garages are beautifully constructed and marvelous. And anyone doubting that street parades happen at random is dead wrong—I’ve encountered three in the 13 days I’ve been here.

But really what got me about this movie was its insistence that no matter what your circumstance (and each character is given their own), life around you continues on. Whether chaotic or in order (depending on your worldview), it marches on. And that’s what made Cuarón’s long panning shots on the streets so powerful. He does the same with water. It’s a masterpiece as I see it; a force combining the brilliant character studies and writing of ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ and the innovative direction (and editing, done by him) of ‘Children of Men’.

Other Favorites: Springsteen On Broadway, Three Identical Strangers, The Favourite, American Animals, First Reformed

Favorite 2018 album: ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ (Bob Dylan)

This wasn’t even close. And it’s also not an album. There was some good new, original music this year, but nothing groundbreaking as others have been. Or maybe my tastes are being left behind.

So 2018’s favorite album is a collection of unreleased bootleg versions (some aren’t even versions, just attempts) of Bob Dylan’s piece de resistance 1975 album ‘Blood on The Tracks’. Instead of spelling all of that out, you can read my thoughts on it here.

Favorite 2018 song: ‘Father Time’ Axel Mansoor

I may be biased here since I got to see a live versions of many of Axel’s songs at the memorable birthday party mentioned above. But know him or not, I’m going with ‘Father Time’ as my favorite new song of 2018. And the bias can be disproven with the numbers. According to the fact crunch of Spotify, ‘Father Time’ was my second most played 2018 song and in comparing the only above (Brian Fallon’s ‘Watson’), I’m going with Axel. Especially because this version puts it over the top.

In some moments, the song has been an emotional lift in remembering the existential inability we have to reconfigure time’s arrow. In other moments, it’s a simple and beautiful ode.

Well done, Axel. Proud of you for making this but much more grateful to be a listener.

Other Favorites: ‘Neptune’ Brian Fallon, ‘Young Lover – piano version’ St. Vincent, ‘Me And My Husband’ Mitski

(For non 2018 songs, there was a clear favorite from this year and that’s ‘Lover’s Spit’ by Broken Social Scene – both the original version and the Feist version)

Favorite 2018 Place Visited: South Africa

It’s always hard to pick a favorite here but South Africa was really an incredible experience—I think perhaps for containing so much in one country, I got to spend three weeks there, starting in Cape Town and ending in Johannesburg. Along the way was a few days in wine country, a roadtrip through the southern coast’s Garden Route and an amazing safari experience near Kruger National Park.

While traveling through South Africa, you needfully learn a lot about the nation’s history, as well as its amazingly diverse wildlife. These add to the richness of the country. It’s a fantastic place to visit and since it offers SO much, it can really fulfill any traveler’s desire. I loved that and I loved my time there.

(South Africa was my favorite new place visited. 2018 was also the first time back in South Korea since my year there in 2011; that was magical. I love that country!)

Favorite 2018 Meal: Bollywood Eggs (Samadi Cafe, Bali)

I love eggs. But I learned that I love eggs even more when you add in green chiles, mustard seeds, fresh curry leaves, tumeric, ginger, garlic, shallots and coconut milk. Add in sides of green sambal, coconut curry, warm chapatti bread and a side of kimchi and I’m sold. I think I got this three days in a row in Canggu, and pledged to figure out a way to make it for myself. That’ll be in 2019!

 

And now some pictures from 2018 (hover over for captions!)

 

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