I don't know where I'm going
My cup is overflowing
The world is slowly spinning
No losing and no winning
The road is never ending
My compass point is bending
My compass point is bending.
-- lowen & navarro, Compass Point
No day without struggle, no day without love.
There'll be one child born in a world to carry on.
- laura nyro
Oh, 2011. You really were perplexing. Along with your sternness you gave me some marvelous gifts, some signposts, and some lovely people in my world. You expanded my trust in the people around me while you annihilated any remaining shreds of confidence I once may have had in institutionalized leadership, profit-driven media, and corporate overlords of every stripe. You confirmed my appreciation for beauty, truth, and integrity in the world, for the dreamers, Occupiers, visionaries, poets, renegades, iconoclasts, builders, makers, artists, and farmers; and you amplified my intense dislike of liars, thieves, narcissists, fame whores, greedy manipulators, and perpetrators of violence and bigotry, all of whom have far too much power in our culture.
You made me laugh a thousand times, and you made my heart hurt at least as often. You left me outraged and disappointed, and then you renewed and surprised me with some generous human act or beautiful creation or kind words or vivid imagining. You worried me with your sweeping omens about the destruction of nature and the prominence of plastics and poisons. You graced me with art and song and friendship and the absolute pure wonderfulness and hope embodied in my nieces and nephews and my friends' children. You showed me that even in the day-to-day blunt edges of a job that by and large leaves me frustrated and unfulfilled, I can find connections to extraordinary people who are a true pleasure to know and to sit next to every day as we do the best we can.
You humbled me with reminders that aging and life happen while you're making other plans. Sometimes it really is too late; opportunities are missed and wrong decisions made out of fear or some other demon, and you don't see it clearly enough until you've traveled some distance and there's no going back. You told me to keep on, look forward, and keep on again, to accept that the narrative of my life never had a chance of being conventional or predictable, and that comparing myself to others--especially the version of others that I see on Facebook or in marketing materials (and by that I mean many things, since almost everything in our culture has become a vehicle for self-promotion or selling something)--is a direct path to misery and self-loathing.
You reminded me that life is rarely fair. While some of my friends knew great good fortune, some of the most deserving and talented people I know faced true hardship and sorrow this year. You demonstrated again and again that the measure of a human being is never anything that can be tallied on a resume or a bank statement or by a search-engine-optimized social media strategy.
You warned me to draw some lines in the sand and find focus; you can't do everything, you said, and expect any of it to work. And indeed, there were days when I felt like a failure at everything, and others when I glimpsed the holy grail of joy. Choose what matters for the year to come, you said. Hang on to everything you love and let go of the rest. Let go, let go. That's the rhythm for this fancy footwork in the dance we call life.
So, 2011, there was beauty, there was drudgery, there was patience, there was good fortune, there were struggles, there was fatigue, there was healing, and then there was Paris. In the end you were gentler with me than with many people, and I hope I learned my lessons well. The best is yet to come, I'm sure of it.
I didn't blog a lot this year, but some of my bests did make it to the blog already, so I'll try not to repeat too much. My favorites in no way come out of anything like a comprehensive sample; I read about 1/100 of the books I'd have liked to read, and the same with music and movies. But here are some things that stood out for me this year.
Best thing ever over the airwaves: The series finale of my beloved Friday Night Lights. If you have a soul, get the DVDs and watch this show. Stop worrying that somebody might think you're a football-lovin' person (or a television-watchin' person). All those things I'm hungry for, and maybe you are too? They're in this show, y'all. And Coach Taylor is the magical antidote to all that revolting, sickening news about Jerry Sandusky and his ilk. Dillon, Texas. Forever. And also: Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.
Best movie: I'm not much of a movie-goer, so I'm always a few years behind by the time I rent something I want to watch. Cave of Forgotten Dreams was the favorite of what I did see, and I loved Midnight in Paris, but mostly for Paris; I've never entirely forgiven Woody Allen, not that he would care.
Best fiction book: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
Best nonfiction book: This one is tougher. I think Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget is an extremely important book (published in 2010), though it's hard to know how best to act on the insights it offers (other than to never do crowdsourcing). On the spiritual side, I am deeply appreciative of Sally Kempton's Meditation for the Love of It (I discovered Sally Kempton through an angry, articulate article she wrote for Esquire decades ago) and Rod Stryker's The Four Desires. I'm reading The Emperor of All Maladies but not far enough into it to call it best, though it was on many top-ten lists. In books, as with movies, I'm not really on top of the newest releases, though my wish list is loooooong.
Best surgical and ICU team: The renegade cowboy magician heart surgeon and his team at Johns Hopkins who got my brother through a harrowing open-heart surgery that nearly went terribly wrong. Fortunately, the beat goes on, as bro says, and I got to see him get a wonderful award for his inspiring work in Baltimore in September, surrounded by his fans and friends. Heart, indeed.
Best music: Steve Conn's Beautiful Dream album, East Village Opera Company's version of The Flower Duet, and my late discovery of Neko Case. I also love the new Gillian Welch and Paul Simon records.
Best self-improvement strategy: Be friendly to yourself but disciplined. This unassuming little mantra helped me lose 15 pounds, pay off my credit cards, and do what I needed to do. In 2012 I intend to use it to help me make a lot more art.
Rest in peace: Whew. I didn't lose anyone in my immediate circle this year but the mystery and finality of death was a sad thread woven through the year. Many of my friends lost parents; you don't know how that feels until it happens to you, grief is not a linear process, and if you had a tough or complex relationship (or even if it was perfect), it can take years to reconcile your feelings. My dear friend and colleague Rebecca and her husband were very close to Chris Hondros, and his loss was wrenching and profound. I was one of those who was affected by the death of Steve Jobs. The Buddhists tell us that our job is to joyfully participate in the sorrows of life. These were sorrows indeed, and yes, there's no choice but to waltz with death and offer it a drink.
Best meal: I'm not too interested in trendy restaurants; I like good, nourishing food in warm settings with lively conversation. Some friends happened to be in Paris on the same Saturday night that I was there. We had a simple, relaxed meal at a bistro near my hotel in the Marais district, then walked over to Ile Saint-Louis for ice cream and the gargoyles of Notre Dame in the moonlight. Sweet and smart companions in the perfect place on a warm spring night as April finished and May began. Also: any meal that my dear friend Lisa makes for me.
Best travel: Sorry to be redundant, but I left my heart in Paris, and if the fates are kind, I'll go back often. Remembering those spring days is going to get me through this winter. Chicago in March and Lincoln in May were special, too, for the people I saw and got to spend precious time with.
Best art I saw in person: The Denver Art Museum had a small, exhilarating gem of an exhibition of contemporary American landscape. Seeing the magnificent Monet waterlilies in France choked me up, but this small show of landscapes made me want to get to work.
Best class: The botanical illustration program at the Denver Botanic Gardens is fantastic. I took the basic prerequisite class (Pencil 1) and loved it. If you live more than 100 miles away, you can take online classes; I don't, but I live and work too far away to get there easily, so I am trying to figure out how to take more of the enticing offerings for 2012.
Best community: Slow Cloth, of course. A word about Facebook, though; if you're not already on it, I don't think I can recommend starting now. With each change - and they are frequent - it's more difficult to find and access the connections you want and more just an enormous advertising and promotion field.
Best Saturday morning at an outdoor market: An early autumn morning at the Fell's Point Market in Baltimore with Sonya, Glenda, and Carolyn, the amazing ladies that make Farm Aid happen. It was just a lovely moment in time with lovely people.
Best textile experience: ISEND 2011, without a doubt. I'm grateful for the grant I received from the Textile Society of America to attend. It was a terrific conference and an incredibly valuable experience. I got to meet Alison, Jane, Nicole, Maggie, and so many other people who are working, thinking, creating, delighting in all that is so magnetic and compelling about fibers and fabric, dye and stitch. I got in some trouble for critiquing some of the conference logistics online, and I'm sorry that my comments hurt the organizers, because it was truly a wonderful event and well worth attending in every way.
Best purchase: My easel.
Best causes: Among many excellent nonprofits, I like Vitamin Angel, The Sewing Machine Project, Women for Women International, Farmer-Veteran Coalition, and my local Community Food Share. There are so many worthwhile causes and so many people in need -- give a little when you can.
Best blog discovery: I have a big nerd crush on the Head Butler.
Best co-workers: I work with amazing, kind, creative, resourceful, interesting, patient people. Thank you.
Best reader: you. Thank you for being here despite all evidence that I'd abandoned you. I'm not making big blog promises for 2012, but we'll see; I do love to write and I love the connections it offers. I plan to write my 2012 intentions next week, so we'll see what comes out of them.