Last Years Model

I am trying to thread a needle on these posts such that they aren’t “self-help/self-actualization” content but also aren’t “bragging for my grandma” content. Fun fact about my grandma Arlene. who died several years ago–she rode a horse to school.  The horse would walk itself back to the farm and she would ride the school bus home in the afternoon.  She met my grandfather while she was working at a soda parlor.  Very wholesome content.

Anyway simultaneous to this needle-threading I have discovered that I don’t actually know much about anything, so writing content about what currently holds my interest feels a bit like reading source material for the first time while writing a term paper that is due in 4 hours. What I am getting at here is I am going to tell you some things I really liked about 2020:

Favorite book:  Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro was far and away the best book I read in 2021.  No wonder they gave this guy a Nobel Prize!  In all seriousness, Ishiguro’s restraint, his ability to create a narrator uniquely positioned to make sublime observations on the mundane, and his ability to depict, indirectly, the fullness and precarity of society and the human heart are at their apex  in this near-future consumerist dystopia.

My favorite non-fiction was I think How to do Nothing by Jenny O’Dell, though Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman was also great–both are in the same free-wheeling format, a kaleidoscope of non-academic synthesis and personal observation.  The format of both are refreshing and unorthodox, and the content of both provoke deep philosophical reflection.

As a side note, I am no longer keeping track of the books I read outside of a journal so I will switch to monthly updates I guess?  I don’t think I can remember across a year the best thing I read without notes.  Maybe I need to read better or fewer books.  Is the goal of a list like this to read only one perfect book a year?

Favorite album:  I was convinced that my favorite album this year would be Engine of Hell by Emma Ruth Rundle, but The Path of the Clouds by Marissa Nadler came out in November and just absolutely blew everything else I listened to out of the water.  Honorable mentions to SINNER GET READY by Lingua Ignota (my album of the year until the Marissa Nadler album) and Primordial Arcana by Wolves in the Throne Room (for making black metal deeply uncool again).

Favorite movie:  This is a hard one, since I think all but two of the movies I saw this year (DUNE and My Neighbor Totoro) I watched at Keith and Sarah’s outdoor movie theater, which is a delightfully social experience.  I have trouble disentangling the film itself from the context in which I watched it,  The best film was probably Son of the White Mare, this truly insane Hungarian animated folk tale from 1981. ThiefHard Boiled and the Japanese cult horror film HOUSE all deserve honorable mentions.  Really Keith and Sarah deserve an honorable mention.

Favorite meal:  Eating Tiny Chef at Silver Ballroom with Max and Kristina. 

Favorite bad thing that happened to me:  I was going to write about how I built a table for the bed of my pickup truck so we could have dinner in parking lots with it, then my truck caught fire on the interstate while we were driving to a restaurant called Fire Chicken, but that happened in 2020 (I had to check my email for when I bought a replacement truck engine).  My favorite bad thing that happened was probably that we spent a calendar year trying to buy a larger house and kept failing.  The experience of shopping for a house is such a cool adventure of imagination–when else do you so thoroughly reimagine your daily existence in such a utilitarian, non-fantastical way?  And if the horizons of our daily lives are so easily opened, what force makes us keep them closed?

Favorite good thing that happened to me:  We bought a (much, much) larger house, after spending a year trying and failing.  We move in next month. We’ll have you over soon.
Favorite skill:  Somehow NOT quilting.  I think I really mastered my pizza dough recipe in 2021, as well as croissants.  Like, I would give my croissants to a baker as a gift and not feel weird about it.  I am close to the perfect recipe for madeleines, too.

Favorite long-form explanation:  I have been slowly telling people that I no longer drink, but always feel it necessary to explain the circumstances, since I worry people assume I went on some hellacious bender or something. I heard Kristina tell someone on the phone “We can definitely go out!  Stuart doesn’t drink any more, but not because of anything bad” and I laughed a lot at it, and realized that was the subtext I was trying to get across.  What ego!

Anyway, I now tell people “I accidentally quit drinking.”  Basically I smoked crystallized toad venom with a shaman and had a very positive experience, but came out of it with a complete lack of attachment to alcohol, recreational drugs, or video games.  Or a host of other things, really, but this is a cohesive and coherent group.  It’s interesting because I came out of the experience able to pinpoint many of the feelings that would make me want a drink (or to play video games). nearly all of them are anxiety or fatigue related.  Writing about sobriety is decidedly niche stuff, though I think our culture’s relationship to the subject matter creates the niche rather than the subject matter itself.

Favorite Merlin memory:  I thought there would be some high point here that would stand out as the number one experience, his first steps, our first real vacation, taking him camping, his first words, etc, but what kept coming back to me was the rhythm of our days, going to the park/on hours-long walks, the mornings walking through IKEA when the weather was bad, him standing in the kitchen while I cooked and did dishes.  I finally settled on a bicycle ride we took to the Arch, where we ate a hot dog and drank lemonade.  The bicycle ride was fun, he was very interested in everything in a very “I have a personality” way and the whole thing was sweaty and charming.

Favorite STL thing:  Circus Flora came back for a short summer show, then for a longer performance in October.  Circus Flora was already my favorite cultural institution in town, but taking a child and watching his brain melt in real time highlighted for me just how special Circus Flora is, and how lucky we are to have it.

Three photos, for the price of one.

Favorite quilt:  In order to learn how to make a quilt for our bed, I made a bunch of baby quilts to practice.  While I like every quilt I have made, and I am very proud of the massive and complex quilt I made for our bed (the end of a year long process of learning and the entire reason I took up quilting as a hobby), my favorite quilt(s) is this pair of complimenting quilts I made for our friends’ twins. Something about the fabrics and the patterns hits a sweet spot for me and when I think of quilts I have made, these two come up mostest and firstest (side note, there’s a chance I already made my best quilt of 2022–I made a stunner in the first weeks of January.  We’ll see what comes off my sewing table as the year progresses).

This list of favorites is probably too long, but I am always looking for things to read/see/hear/do and maybe something in here will make your life more interesting and beautiful.

I hope you are all off to a peaceful and fulfilling 2022!