I love endings. Give me evening, give me winter, give me the end credits, give me a plane landing in my home airport. The end of an adventure or a year or a season or a book is the juicy time when we get to reflect, make meaning, mythologize. As 2021 wraps up, I look back on it as the year I didn't take a single good day for granted, and, with overwhelming gratitude, I had many of them.
Here are some discoveries that accompanied me through twelve strange good months.
I didn't keep track of Stuff I Loved in any organized way, so this is all from memory and there's no doubt I'm going to forget the most obvious important thing I loved in 2021. Sigh, an imperfect list for an imperfect year!
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander: My favorite book I read this year: a memoir overflowing with sensuous descriptions of music, food, love, and grief. This is my type of writer: one who joyfully mourns and mournfully rejoices.
The Spirituality of Imperfection: My other favorite book I read, ideal for mystics and failures (I confidently identify as both).
Obituaries: The obituary is my favorite genre; what a privilege it is to get to read a biography of a stranger, so generously offered by bereaved loved ones. A few beautiful ones I read this year: A heartbreaking ode to Brooklyn-based Sesame Street fan Francesca Kaczynski, a gorgeous piece of writing about Thomas Hammons, an absolutely delightful portrait of Lester O Gardner ('A Celebration of Life, Love and Humor'), a richly-painted picture of Gaurav Dubey's ambition, and this viral one that stunned me.
Essays about social media: I appreciate the boldness of people who wrote cutting pieces about the state of social media this year: It Is Obscene by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (the last paragraph stole my breath), Instagram Story-ing Our Way Through an Attempted Coup by Nisha Chittal, and On Online by Alicia Kennedy. All three of these made me think hard about my relationship to Instagram and create resolutions around which new norms I would and would not participate in.
Related: The book We Will Not Cancel Us by Adrienne Maree Brown (expanded on this essay) deepened, challenged, and transformed my perspective on cancel culture and call-out culture.
Taking a bath in the dark: When I was interning at a hospital ICU the first half of 2021, I met a new level of exhaustion that I'd never been acquainted with before. I quickly realized it was completely unsustainable to maintain this intimate relationship with exhaustion without also introducing a soothing antidote, so I committed to taking a bath at the end of the day in total silence, in total darkness. During the ritual I would literally scrub off the day, transitioning from Hospital Mari to At-Home Mari with epsom salts and sudsy soap.
It’s a Sin: I rarely watch TV shows in the era of streaming (this isn't a flex; I just get overwhelmed easily), but I gulped down this five-episode show while cleaning on a summer Saturday and still think about it months later. Emotionally and thematically, it felt like the British version of Pose—my all-time favorite show.
Media Challenges: My friend Karim is the most open-minded person I've ever met, and demonstrates this in one way by consuming a gobsmacking wide range of artistic offerings. Karim's philosophy about music is that, if he doesn't like a certain genre, that's a "Karim problem," not a problem with the genre itself. So, he puts in effort to expand his knowledge and taste until he can find something to appreciate in the heretofore-unappreciated genre. He's currently working through Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, inspiring me to take on my own media challenges for 2022. I plan to go through a few Sight & Sound lists of movies to confront my film gaps, and perhaps explore some book categories that wouldn't normally get my attention. Is this the year I learn to enjoy any sci-fi??
To Bless the Space Between Us: A magnificently tender book of blessings with agnostic prayers for most people: for one who is exhausted, for one who is suffering, an artist at the start of the day, for one who holds power, for the unknown self. When my own thoughts fail, I gratefully look to the precious words that John O'Donohue left with us.
Bodega flowers: Not a week has gone by without a vase full of flowers in my window from the corner store. The practice of buying myself cheap flowers every few days has plumped up my year with constant beauty.
Frozen samosas and labneh: Shout out to Deep Indian Kitchen for so many of my lazy weeknight dinners this year. The frozen samosas baked to a crisp and served with labneh and chutney are divine.
Speaking of, mixing labneh with za'atar and olive oil as an appetizer dip is the dinner party pro move I learned in 2021.
Half-Baked Harvest: For less lazy weeknights, I always look to Tieghan Gerard for knowing exactly what I want to eat. If I cooked for you this year, you ate a Half-Baked Harvest recipe.
Loafers: I enjoyed wearing loafers this fall. They go with everything and are comfortable for long walks while listening to emotive albums by men with beautiful voices. Don't sleep on loafers.
Lindy West’s movie reviews: I fell head-over-heels for Lindy's work ten years ago in the form of this iconic review of Sex and the City 2, and I'm thrilled she's continuing to write movie reviews in her newsletter. I will never watch It's a Wonderful Life the same way again, and I was uncontrollably guffawing on the train while reading her Save the Last Dance commentary.
My chat with Anne Lamott: Here's a personal highlight from the year—a talk with one of my favorite writers during which I think my spirit levitated out of my body.
Independent exercise studios: I started taking barre classes from a non-corporate studio this year, and it's added so much charm to my workout life. A non-shiny, non-threatening local gym is neighborhoody in a way that reminds me of exercise as interpreted by a Richard Scarry world.
Soulful books by phenomenal friends: I could write tomes in praise of No Cure For Being Human by Kate Bowler, The Wisdom of Your Body by Hillary McBride, and Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad. All three of these diamonds caused me to miss subway stops, I was so enraptured with their glittering words. These women have some of the wealthiest souls I know, and have ineffably enriched mine.
Hair vitamins: I've been growing out my hair the past few months to moderate success, and I suppose I must credit the village it took to get here: Nutrafol, fish oil, and castor oil hair masks.
Dissect: The most in-depth analysis of music I've ever heard, in podcast form. I listened to the Mac Miller season on the only plane trip I took this year.
Night blooming jasmine: I became a gardener for the first time this past spring, which means I've sent many plants up to the garden heaven in the sky...but these two grew spectacularly in clay pots and made me feel like a plant wizard. They smell like a Diptyque store at night.
Bird Paintings: I became a city bird fanatic during the pandemic, and grew to appreciate the playful, social, intelligent pigeons and doves in New York City the more I observed and contemplated them. I was over the moon to find an artist who specializes in sacred paintings of city birds inspired by Byzantine icons, and I commissioned my own piece of a mourning dove with her babies in honor of a family I hosted on my Manhattan fire escape last year.
Rainbow decal: My home erupted with color every afternoon in 2021, thanks to my window rainbow decal.
Brazilian jazz on Sunday afternoons: If you're in New York on a Sunday afternoon, take yourself on a solo date to Zinc Cafe and indulge in a couple hours of bossa nova. This was my favorite thing to do for months while it was warm enough to sit outside and pretend I was lounging on Ipanema Beach.
Books about nature: My favorite section in the bookstore in 2021 is the one where they put all the books about trees and being a human animal in a mostly unknowable world. I used to find my greatest inspiration in the middle of a city, but now I'm taking a cue from, uh, probably writer who has ever existed, and looking for my lessons in the natural world. I just finished The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, and up next is On Animals. Also on my list: Being a Human and How I Became a Tree...a pairing of two aspirations.
Call Me Mother: An eight-episode podcast interviewing LGBTQ+ elders that serves as an oral queer history. Loved this episode.
Mara Face Oil: Have you recently won the lottery and want to fill your skincare shelf with fragile jars of dewy elixirs with ingredients from the sea? Then may I suggest this oil?
Ribbons: My friend sent me a cheer-up present at the beginning of the year that included taper candles, a bar of strawberry soap, and two spools of stylish ribbon. The ribbon was such an inspired gift; I used it to increase pizzazz to every small present I bestowed for months, such as hand-picked floppy flowers from my garden or a bottle of less-than-fabulous wine. Instant upgrade!
Lasik eye surgery: Wearing a mask without glasses is a significantly better experience, vision-wise.
Non-alcoholic spirits: When I gave up drinking for Lent, I ventured into the expanding world of luxury mocktail-making. Thanks to completely non-alcoholic bottle shops in New York like Spirited Away and Boisson, I became un-shut-up-ably enthused with such spirits as Seedlip and Rivington Spritz, and enjoyed them well past Easter.
Smythson Notebook: I received one of these as a gift, and it's buttery-crinkly-delicious-incredible. My Moleskines are shaking.
A few podcast episodes particularly stuck with me this year: The Happiness Paradox with the outstanding philosopher Peter Rollins, How to Be Sad with Helen Russell, Agnes Callard on Anger, a fun interview by Marc Maron with Julie Delpy, Africa Brooke on Moral Superiority, and managing your partner's feelings on Just Break Up
And here are some articles I mentally feasted upon: These Precious Days by Ann Patchett, All That Vibes Must Converge by Brandon Tyler, Promoting My Book With Postpartum Depression by Maria Kuznetsova, Revolt of the Delivery Workers by Josh Dzieza, An Anxious Person Tries to be Chill by Coco Mellors, How We Survive Winter by Elizabeth Dias, and Remembering Desmond Tutu's Hope by Charlayne Hunter-Gault
I'm sure the new Almodóvar WOULD be my favorite movie of 2021 if only I could safely watch it at the movie theatre.