I waffled about doing a year-end post for most of the last six weeks. As a concept, I tell myself I’m tired of year-end lists of all kinds, except I keep reading them, happy and grateful for the things other people have written, made, done. (And mad, big mad, when I see books I loved left off of those ranking lists, those industry things that don’t mean anything except for all the times they do.)
Of my own 2020, my knee-jerk reaction is to say that the less I look back on this year the better because I didn’t achieve the one big thing I wanted, and so everything in hindsight is dimmer for it. But I’d be a fool to ignore my own good fortune, and so this entry is me forcing myself to be somewhat less foolish. Good things happened. Own them.
First and foremost: KITTENS. Hands down, adopting Roo and Gil in May was the best part of 2020. They continue to be as ridiculous as they were at the beginning, only larger.
And everything that isn’t kittens:
My bid for tenure was approved. I went on my first sabbatical after 11 years of full-time teaching, and though I wouldn’t recommend sabbatical-during-pandemic to anyone (that certainly puts a damper on the research travel plans), it was an incredibly needed respite. I was able to do two residencies (one at Sundress Academy for the Arts and one at The Hambidge Center). I published an interview with Clare Beams and a review of Diane Zinna’s debut novel at The Rumpus: pieces about two of my favorite books of the year (The Illness Lesson and The All-Night Sun) at one of my favorite places to have been published. I was part of Baseball Prospectus’s Short Relief series from its inception in 2017 to its shuttering at the end of last winter, and I was invited to take part in a tribute to my very favorite baseball writer, Roger Angell, on the occasion of his hundredth birthday. I wrote a piece of baseball flash fiction, “The Steadying Hand,” that appeared in the Hobart baseball issue and was reprinted in Boog City 137. I got to be part of the American Antiquarian Society’s Artists in the Archive feature. Another piece of flash fiction, a strange little thing that leapt fully formed from the medievalist corner of my brain, “monsieur reynard,” was published this fall in Four Way Review. This might be my favorite thing I’ve written in actual years. Fiction Editor David Lerner Schwartz also did this very cool interview about the three pieces of fiction in the issue with monologging.
And a really lovely surprise was made clear this morning, when I opened the new print edition of Rain Taxi, their hundredth issue, and saw that my review of Nathalie Léger’s trilogy, the final two books of which were released in translation by Dorothy: A Publishing Project this fall, was the opening act for the edition. I loved these slim, agile books, adventurous in their form and emotionally affecting, and translated by Amanda DeMarco (Exposition), Natasha Lehrer (The White Dress), and Natasha Lehrer and Cécile Manon (Suite for Barbara Loden). It’s a great issue, full of interesting interviews and a wealth of reviews, including one for my friend Robert Long Foreman’s newest collection of short stories, I Am Here to Make Friends, which is out now from Sundress Publications.
Owning the good—which is different from the best, different from perfect, different from ideal—is so much harder to do than even owning failure for me. But I think about what I would say to my students who came to me saying that having done just this much, having seen just these few pieces make it into the world when their plans were so much bigger, doesn’t feel like much to celebrate. To anyone, anyone else in the world, I would never say, “You’re right. That isn’t worth celebrating.” To someone living outside of my own skin, I would never say that since we didn’t hit all, the only thing remaining, necessarily, is nothing. So here’s me, on the eve of another new year, just trying to take my own advice.