Let me blame it on 2016. 2016, a year that had a terribly low approval rating. 2016, which seemingly stole most things that brought us joy. 2016, of the ever-shifting, ever-heartbreaking, ever-maddening social/political/global instability. I know of very few folks who were sad to say good-bye to 2016.
My year can be summed up as follows: a crazy spring led into a fragmented summer, which led into a brand new fall and anxious winter. I read. A lot. I wrote for class, I wrote comments on student papers, and I wrote in a journal for a bit. I traveled, and I cried, and I fretted over decisions. Days turned to weeks, which turned to months, and then it was over. And I was fine with saying good-bye.
So, a recap. Sixteen Significant Things that Happened in 2016, in no particular order.
- Teaching full-time (at one institution) — I got to teach my dream class, teach upperclassmen, teach argument and narrative and technical writing. I was always exhausted and stressed. I was always grading.
- Ph.D. Institution Reveal Party — After months of applications, and some yeses and some nos, and an excruciating decision between four strong options, I selected the place I’d be giving my time, energy, and tears for the next four years. And I announced it to my favorite people with colored cake and cheap champagne.
- Traveling east (mostly) — I made monkey bread in Boston, avoided horse poop at Churchill Downs, and got drenched in Central Park. I rested my hand on Dr. King’s church on a sweltering day in Montgomery, saw the ocean in Mobile, wandered down Bourbon Street, rode the Kansas City streetcar. In December, I finally went west: to Seattle coffee shops and to Alberta snowstorms.
- Kelm Girls Take Manhattan 2016, aka the Hamilton trip — My sister and I took our first sister adventure as adults, and all we did, I kid you not, was eat dessert and see Broadway shows. The reason for the trip was, in one word: Hamilton. Seeing the show broke our hearts open and stitched them back together again.
- AP scoring in Kansas City — I stand by my characterization of this week as summer camp for teachers, if summer camp means a week of 8 hour days in a fluorescent convention center grading thousands of mediocre/poor essays written by teenagers.
- New delicious experiences — Traveling meant I had Ale-1-8 in Louisville, beignets in New Orleans, burnt ends in Kansas City, and British tea in NYC. Oh, and I ate amazing food (all of it unfamiliar, all of it delicious) at an iftar prepared by generous Muslim friends during Ramadan.
- Moving to the Big City — I said good-bye to my old, beautiful, drafty apartment in my weird little broken Texas town, and I moved north. Ninety miles north, to be precise. New city means new restaurants, coffee shops, and museums. Also, lots of getting lost.
- Podcasts — New city means much more driving, so I rediscovered my love for podcasts. Linda, Glen, and Stephen at NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour; Justin, Travis, and Griffin at My Brother, My Brother, and Me; Trayvon and Mike at The Room Where It’s Happening; and Josh and Hrishi at The West Wing Weekly are basically close personal friends of mine, by this point. Oh, I can’t forget seeing Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder of Serial fame give a lecture. Radio in real life, guys!
- Starting a doctoral program — Four+ more years of graduate school. When I say it like that, I feel tired, but when I break it down into component parts, I get panicky. But when I remember what I get to study and with who (brilliant faculty and brilliant colleagues), I feel lucky.
- Yoga and weight lifting — The day after my birthday, I went to my first yoga class (a hot one!), and I got hooked. It’s exactly my type of exercise: slow stretching. And then I found a workout buddy (shout-out to Rachel!) who has been teaching me the finer points of lifting heavy things.
- Kelms Invade Texas 2016 — All of my people came to visit me, all at once, over Canadian Thanksgiving: two parents, one brother, one sister-in-law, one sister, one sister boyfriend, all in one house. It was ridiculous and magical, and I felt loved.
- Selling merch at a show — To be specific, I volunteered to sell band merchandise at a Switchfoot/Relient K concert. It was a full-circle moment, for teenage/adult Sara.
- The election — I’m still at a loss for how to express my grief about what this recent election cycle and decision says about our nation and what its citizens believe about both people and words. This continues to be a significant and painful time, one that keeps teaching me the importance of being informed (locally, nationally, globally), courageous, and kind in a world that increasingly devalues each of these things.
- Revisiting old loves — When your heart is heavy, it helps to go back to things that you know give you joy. For example, the Great British Bake-Off, The West Wing, Parks and Recreation, Harry Potter, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Happy Endings, Sufjan Stevens, memoirs written by my favorite comedians, bands from my adolescence.
- Finding new loves — A few new things gave me unexpected joy over the past year of darkness: the utter weirdness of Twin Peaks, the joyfulness of Chance the Rapper, the companionship of the Royals (and the Cubs winning the Series), the unbridled nostalgia of Stranger Things, the smooth vocals of Leslie Odom, Jr. and Leon Bridges, the silliness of The Good Place, and the beauty of Chef’s Table.
- Reading good books — I remembered what I often forget: I love to read. This year, I read graphic novels/memoirs, illness narratives, baseball novels, comics about radio, rhetorical criticism, books about the prairie, and young adult fairy tales. I recapped all 53 books I read in 2016, but highlights were Moore’s short story collection Birds of America, Abel’s comic about radio Out on the Wire, Ansari’s Modern Romance, and McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.
There’s my 2016 in a nutshell, my way of saying good-bye to the year that was. My word for 2016 was “health,” and I’ll think more about how that word applied to the year as I try to figure out what my 2017 word will be. I have lots of thinking to do. Stay tuned — I’ll be back soon.